Bright Lights – Matchbox Twenty
Reid had been asleep when Riley called him the first time after she returned to New York. She had let him know she was safe before hastily disconnecting. The calls had been regular for a few months but by the time six months had passed after their escape from Tucker Hill, all communications had stopped. Sometimes Reid lay awake on the couch and stared at his phone, hoping to hear from her but too afraid to call her himself. After an hour or so, he would give up and go to sleep, phone clutched in his hand.
That had been three years ago. The agent still thought of her on occasion, but the urge to call wasn't as strong any more. Morgan had insisted that Reid had waited too long. He insisted that Riley had undoubtedly moved on. Found a new life, a new love. Reid couldn't blame her for cutting ties. As much as he had wanted to tell her he was ready to love her, his guilt always got in the way. How long would he feel he was betraying Maeve by loving another?
Three years and a lot of "what-ifs" later, he saw her.
New York City, Christmas Eve. The BAU had been called in by the NYPD to capture a killer that was posing as Santa in department stores and stalking his victims' homes, to slaughter them while they slept, but not before tying each family member up in wrapping paper and bows. It was a strange case, no doubt about it, yet at this point the team felt they had seen it all, even if the killers were finding new and interesting ways to keep them on their toes.
Snow lined the streets in grey slush but fresh flakes were falling with a false hope of blanketing the earth in a purifying white. That couldn't happen here. Too many people. The sidewalk was bustling with people, rosy faced and laughing, their warm breaths forming puffs of white in the cold winter night.
Reid stood outside a department store in plain clothes, watching for anything suspicious. His hands were shoved deep into the pockets of his thick black overcoat. When he saw Riley he froze.
She was as beautiful as ever with her black hair falling in soft cascades from under her white knit hat. Reid grinned, watching the snowflakes light upon her raven locks and he could almost remember what it felt like on his cheek. The warmth in his heart quickly faded when her eyes met his. Flashes of memory knocked the grin right off his face. Everything came rushing back in an instant. Her laugh, her blood, her kiss, her pain, the confession of her love and her rejection at his hand. Everything reflected in her dull and tired eyes. She turned away quickly before she passed, pretending she didn't see him but he refused to let her go without a word. Gently, he brushed her elbow to get her attention. She flinched a little at his touch.
"Riley?" He tested. Slowly she turned to face him and he realized she was carrying a small child. He was about a year old with light brown hair and inquisitive dark eyes. His cheeks were pink with cold but he seemed more than happy in the chill, smiling at the Christmas lights in the department store windows. Seeing the boy made Reid bite his lip. He was exactly what Reid imagined his child would have looked like if he and Riley had ever settled down.
"Reid." She responded cautiously, her blue eyes watching the road as if she was afraid she was being watched. The baby regarded Reid carefully, his little pink mouth open, dark eyes hardly blinking.
"Spencer." He corrected gently, forcing a smile. How far had he fallen in these three years, reverting back to last name basis with her. It was a knife in his heart when he realized they were no better than strangers passing on the city street. "It's been too long, what have you been up to?" He swallowed hard, fearing the moment the conversation would end and she would walk down the sidewalk and out of his life forever.
Riley adjusted the baby, watching down the sidewalk again while she spoke. "I quit the FBI and got married." She stated plainly. When she looked away from him he knew everything he needed to know. Her whole demeanor had changed. No longer was she confident and comfortable in her surroundings. She was paranoid and afraid. She couldn't even meet his gaze. Gently, he reached out to touch her face but she shied away. "Don't profile me Spencer." She warned him, knowing it was too late. He had seen the fear, the way she refused to look at him. They were all tell tale signs of abuse that he simply couldn't ignore.
"He hurts you? Riley…why? You could have called me. I would have…"
"Saved me?" She interrupted him sarcastically. "Don't act like you don't know how this works Spencer. Leaving is so much harder than people make it out to be and you know I might not escape at all." Her voice was hushed now. It was true. The statistics were staggering and the possibility that she would die in the process of leaving a dangerously abusive person was high. "If I was alone, maybe I could do it. Maybe I could walk away but I have him now." Riley watched her son. "If something happens to me, he'll be alone Spencer. Shipped to God knows where under protective custody, hiding his whole life from a monster." Dark curls swung loosely as she shook her head.
"You can come with me now. Hotch and Rossi are inside and I know we could keep you safe. You and your son and everything will be okay again. You can come home." Reid's tone was desperate, yet Riley wouldn't relent.
"I have to go Spencer. It was good to see you again. Even just one more time." The tears in her eyes told him she was telling the truth. This meeting would haunt him but he felt she might hold onto it. Perhaps he could hope that a seed had been planted. The seed had been planted in him as well. Now, for the first time in almost three years, he might have a reason to clutch his phone when he fell asleep.
"Wait, Riley." Spencer called out to her. "You never did tell me his name."He asked, motioning to the child, forcing a gentle smile. There was genuine interest, for sure, but for the most part, he didn't want to see her walk away.
Riley halted, then turned, her eyes puffy and red. For the first time since they started talking, she met his gaze. "His name is Reid." Without another word she disappeared into the crowd.
With a jolt Reid sat upright on the sofa. Trembling fingers ran through his hair, damp with sweat. It took a moment for his breath to slow but his heart didn't show any sign of relenting. He turned on the lamp beside the couch and scanned his apartment groggily.
The coffee table stood littered with books and papers, pill bottles had spilled their contents onto the surface, scattering to a million places. His brow furrowed as he tried to collect his thoughts. Had he taken pills? The way his head was swimming, he was sure he took something but he couldn't remember what it was, much less what it was for.
When his eyes caught the newspaper clipping, he felt a new wave of panic rising. The headline read, "Body of former FBI agent found in dumpster". It all came rushing back to him in an instant. Three days after their encounter, Riley's body had been found in a dumpster. Her son was gone, her husband nowhere to be found. It was suspected that he had fled the country before the body was discovered.
A new wave of grief turned into anger as he dropped beside the couch and with one movement he cleared the table of its contents, dropping his head to the cool wood. Tears spattered its surface, bitter tears of anger and sorrow. Riley didn't deserve what happened to her and all Reid could think about was how close he had been. He had touched her, spoken to her. He should have dragged her into that department store and locked away the world. He should have told her he loved her, that he was ready to love her. She would have stayed. His fist fell heavy on the table and the pain sent a shock through his body and he was back on the couch, staring at the ceiling.
This time he rolled over quickly, snatching the phone from the coffee table with lightning speed. Two missed calls and a text, all from Riley.
Spencer, I tried to call you. Hope you're alright.
The phone rang twice before he heard her voice on the other line. "Spencer?" Riley asked groggily. "It's three in the morning, are you ok?"
"Yeah I just…" He swallowed hard, his voice shaking as he let relief fight back fear. Riley was alright. It was all just a bad dream. "I had a nightmare. Are you alright?"
"It's ok, just relax. Spencer, this is the fourth time this week, are you sure you don't want to talk about it?"
The short answer was no. The dreams had been getting progressively worse, starting with her just being gone and becoming more and more elaborate as the nights went on. Having a new neighbor moving in upstairs wasn't helping either. Whomever it was had hired moving men and they came and went all the time, moving furniture and setting up the entire apartment. The change in his quiet routine had been interrupted and it was taking a toll on his sleep. One of the movers had assured him that today was the last day they would be there so that was comforting.
For days he had been calling her at odd hours, just to be sure she was alright. She knew about the nightmares but he never did tell her what they were about. In a way, he was afraid that if she knew the subject of his dreams, she would think he was being weird.
"No, I'm okay now." Reid rubbed his eyes with the heel of his free hand as he stood. "Just go back to sleep and I'll talk to you tomorrow night."
"Alright Spence." She yawned. "Tomorrow."
Silence on the line told him she had hung up. This was his stressor. Every day for the past four months they had spoken on the phone at least once a day, usually at night before bed. For the past week however, the calls had been short and she was very distant. When he used to call her about a nightmare she would stay on the line until he was calmed down. Sometimes she would leave the phone connected until she was sure he had fallen asleep on the other end before hanging up. Not anymore.
Morgan had warned him that she wouldn't wait forever. The other agent had been pushing Reid to make a decision soon before Riley was gone forever. Reid was sure that this wasn't helping his dreams much. Rossi on the other hand, told him not to worry about it, insisting that Riley was probably just very busy and things would return to normal soon. Spencer wasn't sure which one was the truth, but he hoped it was the later.
A heavy sigh escaped his lips as he reached out to take Riley's photo from the table. It was small, in a simple silver frame. From the darkness she smiled at him from her little silver home and he tucked the picture into his chest before falling into a deep, fitful sleep.