Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy or Criminal Minds. Story written to amuse, not to profit.
A/N: Note, letters take a few days to receive-that's the nature of the postal system. And it's the nature of people not to write back directly after receiving a letter. I'm just mentioning that give you a better understanding of the passage of time in this chapter.
Chapter 5: Monsters I Have Been
"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves. We must die to one life before we can enter another." -Anatole France
Eight days. Three staked vampires. Two resolved mystical mishaps. And zero letters from Dr. Spencer Reid. No news was good news, right?
Yet there was a steady numbness to her limbs, a blur at her eyes, a haze filling her head. Because Dawn had called back, less than a day after she'd seen the flag on Dr. Reid. Buffy wasn't about to question how her little sister had managed to get more info than a national news network, but the younger woman had somehow accumulated a full report on the incident, including a few speculations from a local psychic amongst Georgia's finest, and perhaps most secretive, witches' coven.
Buffy had told Dawn she wanted the details behind Spencer's abduction. And she had. At the time. Now she wasn't so sure. It was a sad but true fact, Buffy Summers had suffered worse than that lone agent. She'd taken her share of beatings. She dealt them more often than not. Still, she was chilled at the thought of the man she'd been writing to tied to chair, fearing for his life. Watching people die. Utterly helpless.
Horror was an everyday occurrence for a slayer. And she'd seen so many strangers suffer from evil hands. But when she thought of Spencer Reid, the emotion that crept up in her… Buffy wasn't sure where it came from, but it reminded her of the time she'd found Xander hanging from a cross, bleeding.
She might not have known Spencer long, but somehow, his voice, speaking in each written word across that yellow parchment, was familiar. It was that of an old friend's. And without hearing it, without seeing her name in his handwriting…
"So, why don't you slay Pokemon again?"
Buffy was stirred from her Caramel Cocogasm, wiping off the bit of sugared liquid sliding over her bottom lip before she shot Xander a glare. She held the drink closer, letting the steam warm her chin. "Same reason we don't slay Smurfs. It's so someone elses' problem."
Xander smiled, balancing the two paper sacks of artery-clogging goodness he'd picked up for the girls on the railing. The small burger shack was overrun with patrons, but, somehow, the snowy shadow off the building was unusually secluded.
"So, you were listening this time," he stated. "Hard to tell these days. Something's bugging you, Buff."
"I'm that obvious?"
Xander handed her one of the bags to carry. "You're in the zone. I just can't tell which zone. Is there an upcoming apocalypse I need to be planning for? Because, I'd really like to be in the 'know.'"
The ghost of a smile passed across her lips. "Not that I know of, but it's still winter. World ending events are usually spring occasions. Much like formals and flings."
"True." Xander nodded along. He followed her gaze to the ugly gray pile of scooped ice on the side of the parking lot. Not exactly scenic. "So, I spoke to Giles last night. He said you'd called him back, told him you might be staying in Cleveland longer than expected. Not that you're unwelcome, but why am I last to know?"
Buffy shook her head. Hearing from Giles wasn't too strange. In fact, it was expected. But when the man had asked when she was planning to return come to Scotland… "Decision of the split-second variety. Mind having me a bit longer?"
"Since me casa is quite literally su casa? Nope." Xander put a hand on her shoulder, drawing her full attention. The grip was calloused, though from work or stake-carving duty, no one could be sure. "This have to do with the case of the disappearing Catman? And his idle threat?"
"You're going to be hunted, Slayer. Soon. And it won't be demons chasing you. Your precious humans. They'll seek your blood. . . and they'll find it."
Not exactly words Buffy would be forgetting any time this decade. Threats were called threats for a reason. As was also the case with warnings. However she interpreted it, Buffy was left on edge, and in no small way due to her involvement with just the sort of "humans" who would be prone to seeking her "blood." Of course, every time that thought swam to the front of her mind, she remembered that she was expecting a letter that wasn't coming.
"There's that," Buffy confirmed.
"Who are you?"
Buffy raised a brow at the somber expression on her friend's face, but he only shook his head, forcing her to hear the question again: "Who are you?"
She couldn't help the slight tug of a smile at the corner of her mouth. "I'm Buffy, the vampire slayer."
Xander stood a bit taller and withdrew his hand. "That's what I thought. See you in the car."
Buffy stared after him, her cheeks hot with a sudden rush of adrenaline. Sitting around, thinking about what needed to be done. That wasn't her. That wasn't Buffy. And that certainly wasn't the vampire slayer.
Eight days. Seven days too long.
Buffy stepped down the ramp, headed toward the cloud of exhaust pumping out of their truck. If she wanted to hear back from Spencer, she was going to have to take matters into her own hands. Write him back. And keep hope.
From that height, the fall always hurt. The numbness was there, of course, would be until another craving passed his way. But the hurt wasn't a physical one. It was emotional. It was the epitome of frustration. Because every part of him knew it was all downhill from here.
Reid licked the dampness from his bottom lip, rolled over on the sofa, kicking off the ice pack that had been pressed against his foot.
The frustration, though, this time, had little to do with the eventual downhill slide and more to do with the ride itself. Reid didn't like it when the present mixed with the past. But he especially didn't like it when she decided to make an appearance. Of course, he knew what that meant. His subconscious was trying to remind him of her correspondence.
Though the light of the room was dim, he could see the stack of mail on the end table, the one he'd picked up after he'd gotten back from the case in New York. There wasn't much. But there she was, sitting on top, stabbing him with a sliver of guilt.
Because Buffy had written him. Again. Even after he ignored her last letter.
No, ignored wasn't the right word. He'd done anything but ignore it. He'd memorized it. But as far as a response went?
Reid reached out without sitting up. He switched on the lamp, momentarily blinded by the brightness of the light, and let his fingers crawl over the table. He found the letter and pulled it free from the stack.
This one hadn't even been opened yet. Reid frowned. He shouldn't be feeling guilt, of all things. This woman was practically a stranger to him. He owed her nothing.
Yet his finger slid under the envelope, tearing it open. He told himself that he was simply curious to know what she had said. How she'd said it. What her handwriting looked like this time around.
A passing glance was all he needed to read the first paragraph. He promptly stopped, slapping the paper down across his chest because he was too tired to toss it to the floor.
After the politeness, the cute hello, she'd broken away, her handwriting tighter: Spencer, I'll be honest with you…
He knew it was coming. Before the split second it took his subconscious to absorb the page, he knew.
My sister has a friend in Georgia. She told us what happened down there. About the guy your team went after. You were on the news. I don't have all the details but I know enough.
He pushed himself up on this elbows, lifting the letter, giving it a second glance. There were double loops in the letter 'o' . Nothing definitive. Nothing she didn't use before. But their presence there, when they seemed to missing from the rest of the words…They were an indicator of deceit. Not necessarily a flat out lie, but a secretive personality, self-deceit. Still -
Reid shook his head, cutting his thoughts off. "She's trying to make me feel better, and I'm profiling her," he whispered. He sneered down at himself, feeling the need for a shower. "Well done, Spencer, well done…"
I know that you're not OK.
He folded the letter, slid it under his glass of water as if it might get up and walk away. His sweater hit the floor. Another loss of routine. Another moment that was completely not him. On his way to the bathroom, he looked over his shoulder, stared at the abandoned clothing, tempted to put it where it belonged, and resisted the urge.
The water pounding his back didn't help. And it did absolutely nothing to block out her letter. If anything, the constant sound of the droplets hitting flesh made her voice louder:
…And maybe that last letter wasn't exactly the best reading material for someone who'd just - you know what, I take that back. It was perfectly on subject, and you know it. That's why you didn't write back, isn't it? Well, guess what, buddy, I'm not going to let you hide out in your genius cave and drown in self-pity. Whether you write back or not, I'm still here.
He hated to admit it, but she had a knack for profiling. Reid smirked, getting shampoo in his mouth. "Maybe I should ask Hotch about hiring her," he muttered.
I'm here, Spencer. And you're going to continue to get crazy letters from your crazy stalker chick in Ohio. (Though, I'd greatly appreciate it if you didn't tell your friends I'm a stalker. Something tells me that's not taken lightly at the FBI headquarters.) Back on subject though, yeah, you can feel alone standing in a crowd, but that doesn't mean you are alone. And it doesn't mean you can ignore the people around you.
A towel blotting off his face, he stepped out of the stall, feeling a surge of anger at her words. He could ignore her. He could ignore all of them, if he wanted to. And those looks they gave him. The ones that said, "We know." It was his right; it was his choice. He didn't have to face a single one of them if he didn't want to…
So talk to me, Spencer. Or don't. But don't expect me to disappear. Fair warning, though, if you don't open up a new topic of conversation soon, I'm going back to the pumps versus mules discussion.
No. Absolutely not. He'd given her all his good statistics on shoe-caused injuries the last time the topic had come up, and she'd refused to listen to him.
"The price of fashion," she'd written, the words grave. So much for fractures and nerve damage, Buffy had insisted that she had to have three inches or higher in order to actually be seen over a check-out counter.
Reid smiled at the exaggeration, his head swimming. This letter, the last, the first: they all seemed to merge as one in his mind. He picked up a pen, sitting down at the table.
I'm fine. Though I might not necessarily look the part, I am an agent of the FBI, and I can handle difficult situations. I can't discuss work with you, so please don't ask.
And I absolutely refuse to continue any discussion on heel height or width. Quit wearing those things before you injure yourself.
Not what she wanted to hear. He knew that already. But those were words. She'd asked for words, and she'd receive them.
…Trust me, once you see me rocking a pair of six-inch heels, you'll quit pitying my feet. You'll be too busy attempting to scrape your jaw off the floor.
But, seriously, Spencer, you're still avoiding the subject. Which is fine. I'm not going to force you to talk about it. This is me being all non-forcing. I just want you to know I'm here. Still here. Which is kind of a funny story, seeing as I currently have a one-way ticket to Scotland in my purse. Care to hear why I'm staying in Ohio?…
…Actually, there's a lack of historical evidence that Haggis is actually Scottish in origin. But, I will agree with you, having stomach in one's stomach doesn't sound very appealing.
And, no, I have nothing to add about that case, Buffy. I've already told you, I can't discuss my work. If you continue to ask me…
…Really? Really? Did you just threaten me, Spencer Reid? Well, natural blond or not, I happen to know that the FBI can't call every shoe store in Ohio and insist on a ban of stilettos over two inches.
At least I hope not. You guys in Quantico are seriously abusing your powers!
Oh, and just in case someone hit you with the stupid stick over the past week, I happen to find you more important than a nice pair of heels. So, that threat won't work on me…
…Buffy, I mean it. I don't want to discuss this with you. Stop asking, or I'll be forced to stop responding to your letters…
The apartment was empty. Just as it was supposed to be. Reid had been living alone for years, and, usually, he coveted the silence. But, now its emptiness was a betrayal. No judging eyes. No hesitant questions. Far too much freedom to be found in the quiet.
He couldn't restrain himself long, not in these conditions. Reid released a breath, pretended the shaking at his limbs was due to nervousness. There was some merit to the lie. He'd waited for Buffy's reply to come before he'd left for his last case, but it hadn't.
And the lack of her words had left him… bitter. Angry. At himself. He knew it wasn't her fault. Buffy had a life. She had things to do that didn't involve writing a stranger. And, he'd been the one to issue the threat: "…I'll stop responding…" A part of him had hoped it would be enough to bring an end to the letters. To the responsibility of another friendship to keep alive. Or, at the very least, an end to the subject of their last few correspondences.
Still, another part of him was distressed that she'd been so easy to lose. The polar emotions hadn't helped him stay clean. He'd fiddled with the vials in his pockets more times than he cared to remember. He'd lashed out at his team. Been so negligent that, if it had been any other job and he any less qualified, he would have been fired.
And Ethan's words had left him hollow. Just more proof that even old friends from afar, virtual strangers, could see what was wrong with him. As illogical as the thought was, it terrified him that Buffy might somehow already know.
Like everyone else did.
"It wouldn't be so bad," he said, knowing no one would respond. "It wouldn't be so bad if she knew."
Reid closed his eyes, leaning his back against his front door. His go-bag, full of dirty clothes, hung from his shoulder, but it was the stack of mail in his hand that felt heavy. He hadn't looked through it yet. Didn't want the public to get a glance of his disappointment if he didn't find a perfume scented letter in the mix.
He pushed himself forward, dropping the bag and taking a seat. His fingers rattled the first envelope, an invitation to an alma mater event. The second, a credit card statement.
There it was, thicker than the rest, lavender stationary. He ripped open the envelope without another thought, and before he even looked at the words, he knew she hadn't let up.
It was long, long for Buffy, that is, and it started the same as usual, reminiscing about the day, the week. The dress sale she'd missed. Her kid sister's mysterious boyfriend. Her roommate's lecture on the proper use of an electric sander.
Buffy wasn't exactly an English major and her use of transitional phrases was laughable. Reid had a feeling that she moved from subject to subject much the same way she did when she spoke. One minute lamenting the loss of a lasagna, the next minute cutting him open in search of his innermost secrets.
...Let's just say, we have a better relationship with our Thai delivery man now.
So, I know, Spencer, about what you've been going through lately. I get it. More than you could imagine. I know you probably find that hard to believe, but I do. Just trust me on this.
I felt that kind of loneliness once. And I hurt so many people because I didn't want to talk about it. I was angry with the people I loved, felt like they should see what was wrong with me. And, yet, I wouldn't tell them. I pretended I was keeping quiet to save their feelings, for their protection, but the truth was, I was ashamed. For feeling the way I felt, for doing the things I did.
I was so alone that I clung to someone who wasn't right for me, punished him and myself physically and emotionally. Used him and let him use me. It was a dangerous game, but I suppose I was kind of addicted to the pain it caused. And he didn't deserve it. I didn't deserve it.
But that's what happens when you think you're alone. You get frustrated and you make bad decisions.
If you want to quit writing me and destroy the shoe industry, Spencer, that's fine. But, please, just think about what you're doing. You don't deserve to suffer. You're one of the good guys.
So. This is me dropping the subject now. Buffy out.
And the end. Reid pinched the bridge of his nose, wincing at the prick behind his eyelids. How could she do it? How could she say all of that and just drop the subject?
It wasn't fair, not in any sense of the word.
And the worst part? He was suddenly worried about her. Reid let out a short laugh, amazed. He was worried about Buffy Summers? No, that wasn't it. He wouldn't lie to himself there. It wasn't entirely worry; it was curiosity. A part of him was dying to know what was between the lines. Who was between the lines. The people who'd hurt her. The man she'd mentioned. The man she'd used.
Reid felt a heat at his cheeks. Embarrassed, he ran his clammy palm over his jaw and folded up the letter.
His phone was in his hand before he'd even realized that the curiosity had reached unbearable. It only rang once before Garcia answered.
"Why, if it isn't the good doctor?" The chirp was light-hearted, but Reid could hear the slight strain to her voice. She was tired, probably headed out the door. He chewed his bottom lip, suddenly uneasy about his decision.
"Hi, um, Garcia." He cleared his throat. "I was wondering if you could do me a favor."
"Oh, sweetness, please don't tell me this involves the case you just closed, because I am so not wanting to dig back into the tragic tale of little miss Ripper."
Reid gave the phone a sad smile. "No, it's not about that," he assured her. "Actually, it's kind of personal."
And then he lost his voice. He pulse quickened when his fingers ran over the envelope. He wanted to say Buffy's name. It was easy enough to do. Ask the all-knowing Garcia to look up a few things on his pen-pal. Nothing too deep, even if Penelope could leave him with a full file worth of info in minutes.
Then it would be fair, wouldn't it? He'd be on even ground with Buffy. He'd know what he could say and couldn't. He'd know what to not bring up. He'd know if she was telling the truth about understanding.
"Dana," he said. The word had slipped out so easily that he almost thought he'd imagined saying it.
"Dana?" Garcia echoed.
No, he hadn't imagined it. Reid ran a hand over his face again. Flustered, he gathered his thoughts.
"Yes." Reid sat up a little straighter. "There was a young woman staying at the same sanitarium as my mother, and I know we can't look into patient information, but… I just wanted to know a little more…"
"All you have is her first name?"
Reid was glad for the interruption. "Dana. That's all."
Garcia hummed a little note. "Well, at the very least, I can probably backtrack on our Miss Dana's journey to Bennington and get you a last name. Maybe not exactly in accordance to 'patient confidentiality,' but...Two seconds." The sound of her fingers tapping across a keyboard were almost musical. "And, lucky us, Dana seems to be a fairly unpopular name for that area… Ah-ha! There's a mention of a Dana DiAngelo in the . . ."
Reid cut her off, "Thanks, Garcia. Enjoy your day off."
"Well, ok." Garcia's reply was slow, confused. "Sure, you, too. Say, Reid…Are you alright?"
The phone was closed before she had a chance to question his reply. He hadn't meant to snap. Especially after she'd just helped him, but Reid didn't have time for a proper conversation, not if he was going to write this letter. Not if he was going to keep his nerve.
He took a breath and pulled a pen out of his pocket.
"It won't be so bad," he assured himself.
End Notes: I really must say, this story isn't going to be based entirely around his addiction. Btw, that last scene was set after "Jones," if that detail left a few of you scratching your heads.