Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy or Criminal Minds. Story written to amuse, not to profit.
A/N: I'm back. Err…Surprise? I think I keep giving my stories abandonment issues. Apparently July is going to be my Give My WIP Stories Love month. I hope this chapter came out okay-I'm trying to get back in the groove.
Chapter 6: What Is and Never Should Be
"We fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal, private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict."
"Where do we go from here?" Buffy said.
It felt like those words were from another lifetime. They were old and stale and far too relevant for her liking. Buffy hadn't thought this through, not entirely. Maybe because a part of her didn't expect that Spencer would ever answer.
But he did. The letter in her hand was damp from the sweat at her palm, but she still held it tight against the kitchen counter top.
Xander looked up from the pot of spaghetti, dodging a splatter of tomato sauce from the adjacent skillet, and raised a brow. "You say something, Buff?"
Buffy felt like her throat was closing up. She stood a little taller and hid the distress on her face with a small smile.
"Xander, hey, do you know anything about a drug called Dilaudid?" She tried to keep the emotion from her voice, using her mastery of the fake-dumb-blonde arts to make the question sound like it had something to do with the TV show playing behind her.
"What?" Xander didn't look entirely convinced by the act, but the burn on his finger, dealt by a noodle gone rogue, kept him distracted. "Isn't that like morphine or something?"
Buffy rolled her tongue over her teeth. "Or something," she replied, softly. Even though she'd been the one to ask the question in the first place. What she really wanted to ask was do you know anyone who's ever been addicted to it?
Xander didn't seem to notice when she slipped out of the kitchen, muttering something about a shower. By all rights, she needed one. Buffy had taken a solo patrol for the evening and ended up walloped by a sleazy looking vampire in a mini skirt. She'd kind of wished the blood sucker had been a female. No such luck. An easy stake, and she wouldn't have toppled into a pile of fresh graveyard dirt if she hadn't been so distracted.
Yup. It was official. Spencer Reid was entirely to blame for the ruin of her new yellow jacket.
His letter had come yesterday and had been a constant fixture on her since. She had to reread it every few hours just to make sure he'd actually written those words… The confession, flat and detailed, including an explanation of the effects of the drug, including the memories it gave him access to, including the things he wished he could forget…The confession in itself was almost too much. But the closing words, those were the ones she kept pretending weren't real.
Buffy, sometimes I wish you were here. More than sometimes. I don't know how I can miss being near someone I've only seen one time, but I do. I wish I knew you.
He'd left it there, not even signing his name. Not taking back a single sentence. Buffy had looked for another page, one she'd missed. There wasn't one.
Buffy made it up the stairs and stopped at her doorway, leaning against it for support. She wasn't out of breath but the sob was deep and came from her chest. She didn't let the rest out. Buffy shrugged it off, trying to shut off the feelings rushing through her, and stepped inside her room.
Buffy hadn't had a place feel this much like home since Sunnydale sank. This room, it reminded her so much of her own. She was going to miss it when she had to go. Because that was inevitable. One day soon, she'd have to move on to the next battle.
She pulled her phone free then set it down on her bedside table instead of dialing her sister. She wasn't going to whine to her younger sibling, damn it. There'd been far too much of that going on lately. Nope, Buffy was going to stay firm. Buffy was going to suck it up. Buffy was going to eat a pint of ice cream while watching the Lifetime Movie Network.
She groaned at the break in her thoughts and fell backward onto her bed, glaring up at the ceiling as if it might hold the answers to the universe. And, it kind of did. Because she remembered, right then, what she'd been doing the last time she'd pulled a Dawnie and flung herself down onto the bed with the dramatic stylings of a screeching teenage girl, "Life's unfair."
Last time…last time involved a letter she was supposed to open. She'd drifted off to sleep before she'd ever gotten the chance. Forgotten it. Buffy rolled over, a frown on her face when she looked at her bedside table. No envelope. Had she thrown it away? Given it to someone else to read? She couldn't remember.
She slid down off the mattress, bending down in search. There it was. Buffy reached for it, tugged it loose from between—
"So that's where my fuzzy slippers went to."
And held it up to the light.
Oh egads, she felt her face flush with embarrassment. She'd been so caught up in getting mail from Spencer that she'd completely forgotten about the single letter she'd received from Dana. The single letter that she'd received over four weeks ago.
Crap. This officially made her the recipient of the Worst Slayer Den Mother of the Year award.
Buffy held down her panic. If it was something important, the sanitarium would have called her, or Dana would have found another way to get in contact with her. Granted, Dana checked-out about half the time and wasn't quite balanced enough to know if something was… Buffy took a calming breath, told her inner nag to shut it, and ripped the envelope open with one finger.
There wasn't a letter inside, but there was a single sheet of paper, thicker than any stationary. The touch of it, the texture, was familiar, if only slightly. Drawing paper of some sort, probably what Dana used in her art therapy sessions.
Buffy unfolded it, her eyes unsure of what they were seeing. The drawing was more advanced than the other ones Dana had taped up around her quarters, but still in crayon. The slayer was getting better, her hand steadier, her thoughts clearer. Still, even here, there was a sharpness, a quickened jerk to the dark lines, as if she couldn't quite control her movements.
"What is this?"
Buffy didn't mean to voice the question aloud, but she had no clue what this was supposed to mean.
Not that he wasn't recognizable. Not that she had any doubt. It was definitely a rendering of Spencer Reid. His puppy-dog eyes, his long neck, his wide mouth. Hair maybe a little longer than Buffy recalled.
The picture was mainly of his torso and surrounding him were blocky shapes. Buildings. Places Buffy felt she should have recognized but didn't. A cityscape. All of it colored in with such dark shades, all of it but Spencer's face. But the darkest part, the part that sent ice down her veins was the wings. They didn't sprout from his back, but were spread against the shadowed wall of a building close to the agent, and they were colored so black that she'd first mistaken them for shading.
There shouldn't have been anything ominous about a pair of wings, but the image sent a chill across her skin. She wanted to scream at the Spencer in the picture, tell him to run, tell him to get as far from the wings as he could.
Buffy's eyes drifted up, to the top of the sheet, to the letters nearly bleeding off the edge of the paper. The handwriting she didn't quite recognize, but she knew the stiff jerkiness of it to be Dana's work. Only three words were written:
NOT NOW. SOON.
Freedom and fear were not such strange bedfellows.
Spencer remembered feeling this way before, when he'd applied to a new graduate program, when he'd put his chips on the FBI instead of one of the many other offers he'd received. The wait between sending the paperwork and receiving the confirmation always gave him a sense of freedom, because his part was done, the rest of the decision in someone else's hands. But that freedom was always followed by fear. Fear that he'd made the wrong choice. Fear of possible rejection. Fear of likely acceptance.
As soon as Spencer had dropped off the letter to Buffy, the confessional signed by his own hand, a weight had been lifted off of him. The burden was now shared. Freedom. And, then, of course, the nudging doubt appeared. It whispered his worst fear: Buffy wouldn't be able to handle what he'd said. Her letters would cease. Or, worse, she'd write him back and say…
No. Spencer felt his body tremble. She wouldn't hurt him, purposely. So what if he hadn't heard from her in days? Spencer knew exactly how long it took for mail to be delivered to Cleveland, Ohio, but he couldn't account for the time it would take for her to get around to reading the letter, then processing it, then… Then coming up with something to say in response.
For all he knew, her letter was already in the mail. Waiting for him.
Something deep inside his body tightened. Want. He barely recognized it, but once he did, it lightened his step, even if it did nothing to calm his nerves. Spencer felt weightless when he thought about her response. Not everyone had a journal that would write back.
He took a steadying breath, stepping off of the elevator, his head held high with the hope that nothing on his mind would be showing through his eyes. A sip of his coffee later, he was crossing the bullpen, pretending not to notice his other co-workers.
"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."
Her voice was soft in his head, an echo from those months ago, when he'd first heard her speak at Bennington, even though those words themselves had come from her last correspondence. It was easy to hear her, though; easy to picture the way her lips would move to make the sounds. He blamed part of that on his memory but most of it on his dreams. They'd provided him with a fair number of reminders concerning how she looked, what she would sound like saying his name, the way her mouth would form a little 'o' when she said—
Spencer coughed on his coffee, knowing the heat at his cheeks wasn't a result of the caffeine. He turned, hoping the blush wasn't showing when he spared his fellow agents a questioning glance. Of course, that worry was quickly swallowed by another one—that they'd think the flushed cheeks were drug related instead. They wouldn't be wrong.
The fresh layer of sweat on his forehead told him he was already starting to suffer the effects of withdrawal. He'd have to make this quick. Despite the reminder, he nodded politely at the pair.
Jason Gideon was standing a few feet behind him, a puzzled looking Derek Morgan at his side. There was a file held between them, as if they'd been discussing paperwork. And, more importantly, both of the agents were staring at Spencer as if he'd come to work in his underwear.
Spencer quickly glanced downward, and he breathed a sigh of relief at seeing his own khaki pants. Then he chuckled bitterly at himself, shaking his head.
Spencer's fingers tightened around his cup. "Sorry, did you guys say something?"
Morgan was staring at the back of Gideon's head, as if the older agent would be able to feel the glance and read its meaning. And maybe he could, because he picked up the cue automatically.
"You walked right past us," Gideon replied, his voice set to calm and steady, despite the early hour. It was the same tone he always used when interviewing. "Where were you just now?"
Spencer shifted his weight from one foot to the other, feeling restless. "In my head, I suppose," he replied, and tried not to make it sound curt. Before either of them could reply, he took a step back, giving the steps up to the next level of offices a glance. "Is Hotch in yet?"
"When isn't he?" Morgan snapped, making light. But his eyes were still narrowed. "Everything alright, man?"
Spencer shrugged. "Sure. Why wouldn't they be?" He knew it was a dare, throwing the question out there, begging one of the agents to grab hold of it and run. He quickly backtracked, feeling the words swelling like a fresh confession in his throat. "I think…I'm going to request a few personal days. To clear my head."
To clear my body. He didn't add that last part, but he might as well have. They knew. He'd been lying to himself since it started, pretending they weren't picking up on the signs, that they were purposefully ignoring his odd behavior. But, these people were more than co-workers; they were his family. They knew. They'd always known.
He chewed his bottom lip, waiting for the disappointment to show on their faces. Waiting for them to take the admission the wrong way.
Instead, Gideon's mouth curled into a small, crooked grin, like Spencer had said something worthwhile. "Why didn't you just phone in?"
Spencer cocked his head. Why hadn't he? Because, I foolishly thought the withdrawal symptoms from my last slip-up would take longer to surface. Because I thought the cravings wouldn't be as strong around my friends. Because I'd forgotten how much these lights could hurt my eyes.
Another shrug was his answer.
"I'll get it straightened out," Gideon said, drawing him out of his thoughts. "Go back home, Dr. Reid."
Spencer didn't make the conscious decisions to obey, but his feet were already headed back toward the glass entryway. He felt Morgan pat his arm as he passed, adding silent support to the decision. Spencer smiled in thanks at the two and then moved to the elevator.
"Doesn't mean you are alone," he said, at a whisper, as the doors slid shut.
Buffy was still on the phone waiting for the answer she needed when Xander knocked on her door. In the back of her mind, she knew that disappearing right before supper time wasn't the most convincing of moves, and that her favorite one-eyed carpenter knew her a bit too well to let it go brood in her room completely unnoticed, but right now, Buffy couldn't concentrate enough to come up with a decent lie for him. And, frankly, she didn't want to lie to her friends. She walked across her room, cell phone still pressed against her ear, and opened the door. Xander raised a brow when she ushered him in and shut the door back behind him. He stayed quiet, slumping down at her desk chair after a moment's hesitation.
Buffy could feel his stare at her back.
There would be questions, there would definitely be questions, when she got off the phone, but Buffy was fully aware of what she was doing. Her new friendship and her slayer world were colliding—she wanted Xander here.
"Hello, Buffy dear! Sue at the front desk told me you were on the line, and I thought, 'why wouldn't you know it!' See—"
The voice echoing from the phone was familiar, and Buffy breathed a sigh of relief that Nurse Rita, the gossipy older woman she'd spoken to during nearly every visit to Bennington, was currently at work.
"—just earlier today, we'd mentioned those wonderful little hair barrettes you'd bought Dana—isn't that a coincidence? But what a delight it is to hear from you! I sure hope nothing's wrong? Are we planning a trip to see our resident artist?"
"Hi, Rita," Buffy said, putting a smile in her voice as she cut the woman's off. "Listen, I know it's not the right time to call for patients, but I really need to speak to Dana. She sent me this letter a few weeks back, and I just found it—I'm really embarrassed, and I don't want her to think I meant to ignore her…I know that sounds silly…"
Buffy had come to know this woman rather well; giving the extra details would always work in her favor with Nurse Rita. Primary source gossip was like nurse currency or something.
"Ah, sweetheart, I'm sure Dana doesn't think you're ignoring her…you know what, just give me a minute. She's got some free time right now, anyhoo. I'll go see if she's up for a quit chat with her favorite person."
The floor phone went back to playing an instrumental tune she'd come to identify with the sanatorium, and Buffy took the moment to close her eyes in thought. When she opened them again, Xander was sitting back down, the unfolded drawing and its envelope in his hands. He was confused, she could tell by his expression, mainly because he didn't recognize the man at front and center. She was sure, though, that he knew it must be one of Dana's 'thank you PTB,' said no one ever, drawings.
The sound of the soft, husky voice made her drop into a seat on the edge of the bed. She hoped the other young woman was having one of her good days. "Dana."
"Did it help?"
Buffy chewed her lip, unsure of how to reply. "Dana, why did you send me that drawing? Do you know the man you drew? Had you seen him at the hospital?"
"There was an old owl in the dream, who liked the smell of blood and rode a wolf. Said he had a pet cat who'd killed a slayer long ago. Called him a name I didn't know. The cat, not the man. They were putting pieces together…Building up to something. They're killers of men."
Because, obviously, that was clarification enough. Okay, maybe she wasn't having a good day. Buffy couldn't stand to hear the other slayer when her mind drifted. She reminded her so much of Tara, after what Glory did to her mind, when the witch would spew out words and find herself frustrated when they made no sense. And when Dana was having a particularly intense Slayer history lesson of the dream walking variety, she reminded her of crazy-vamp extraordinaire, Drusilla. That was never a comparison Buffy liked to make.
"But the man in your drawing…? You don't know him?"
Dana was quiet a moment. "I don't know why he was there."
Because, of course, Dana had to know him in some way—she'd been the one who put his mother's letters in Buffy's purse in the first place. If not her, than one of the other patients…but the fact that she'd avoided the question seemed confirmation enough. Buffy opened her mouth, ready to ask why, but Dana cut her off.
"But the man called your name. Called for help. He chased killers of men, saw the picture they were painting, and then, the owl chased him."
The owl chased him. Buffy thought about the initial terror she felt when she saw the shadow of those wings so close to the rendering of Spencer, and she shivered, despite herself. Usually Slayer-dreams weren't quite so detailed, or sent to slayers they didn't concern. Of course, some of the girls received more cosmic messages than others…Buffy herself hadn't had any such nocturnal interruptions in a while now. It was as if the universe realized she was taking some time off from the major, end-of-the-world stuff. Was, being the right word, obviously, as her reluctance had spilled out on another slayer. She could no longer opt out of taking on a Big Bag, not if it was singling her out. Not if it was singling Spencer out.
Buffy definitely wanted in on the hunt now. She wanted to give Dana a spitfire list of questions, but she knew it would be almost pointless. If Dana knew what the owl was, she would have said by now. If she knew what the cat was, she would have… Buffy's eyes widened. Crap—Catboy with the weirdo threat about humans coming after me. And, she suddenly remembered Dana's letter arriving right after she'd run into the creature. Maybe, the visit had been what Dana had been warning her about, and the drawing had just arrived too late. As much as Buffy wanted to believe it was as simple as that, she doubted the theory.
"Not now, soon—that's what you wrote Dana." Buffy's voice hardened. "What did that mean, exactly?"
"The owl… the owl didn't know yet. Too busy making plans to know."
Buffy didn't have to ask. She already knew what "the owl" was missing—the connection between Spencer Reid and herself. That couldn't be unrelated, could it? Coincidences didn't exist when demons and prophetic dreams were involved.
"Does this owl demon know now?"
"It's time for group," Dana said. The sound of the phone being hung up announced that neither the answer nor a goodbye was coming.
Buffy held the phone to her ear a moment longer before dropping it down onto the bed and catching her face with both hands. This wasn't supposed to happen. With the rise of the new generation of slayers, the balance of good and evil in the world, Buffy had, for some reason, thought that would mean the load would be lightened. In several ways it was, but mostly…Mostly, it was heavier than ever. Her life was not about patrolling the cemeteries of one moderately-sized California town. Her life wasn't about keeping one Hellmouth closed or just managing to stay alive. Her duties had gone international—it was about all towns, all Hellmouths, all the lives of the girls who looked up to her. And, apparently, that meant that no one would ever be safe with her. Not even a penpal.
Buffy snorted in laughter at that, trying to cover the sob at her throat, because it sounded way too pathetic right about now. Because it was still too amusing a concept to pass up, she looked up at Xander, quietly seated across from her and looking more than a little distressed by her shift in moods.
"I have secret penpal," she announced, and then gave a loud, full laugh.
Xander smiled back, his eye betraying the gesture. He was still stuck in confused mode. "Say huh?" He straightened, glancing down at the drawing and back up again. "Wait…you're telling me the girls are right, and you've actually been writing letters to a complete stranger?"
Buffy sobered up. "I'm sorry, Xander. I should have told—"
"Buffy Summers writes?" He gawked at her. "You can write?"
Her pillow sailed into his chest a moment later. He caught it, holding it tight a moment before he shifted into a seat beside her on the mattress. A second later, Buffy felt an arm wrap around her shoulders. She fell into the half-hug, pressing her cheek against him.
"Don't get fresh with me, Mr. Harris," she warned.
"Oh, I gave up on that dream a long time ago," he assured. "Purely platonic cuddle-buddies here. And, I mean that in the manliest way possible."
Buffy snorted and then pulled away, shaking her head. She'd thought, for a short while, that she'd lost this side of Xander when Sunnydale, and Anya, sank into the earth. Even before that, he'd started to grow into a different man, burying that light-hearted nature she'd always loved so much, but being around the junior slayers, taking on a normal job, living in a house that he could call his own…It was good for him. Good for all of them. It reminded her of old times.
"I really mean it, though. I should have told you about…my friend. I don't know why I didn't just fess up to it. It's not like it's anything scandalous."
"Fess up to what exactly? Having a friend outside the Scooby circle—oh, this isn't you telling me that you've been writing smut, one letter at a time? Because if it is, I hope you made copies to share with the rest of the class…"
"Seriously, Buffy," he mocked. Then he sighed. "We're not kids anymore, Buffy. You can choose to have friends, you know. I mean, it's not like you've never dated anyone before. And, I don't recall you passing all those decisions on to your friends…Okay, so maybe I have no clue why you'd want to keep your writing—gets funnier every time I say it—to yourself, but I'm going to chalk that up to crazy things girls do to keep the romance fresh."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "There is no romance. He's a friend."
"Uh-huh." Xander looked convinced. Not. But, he didn't press, and the humor had completely disappeared from his face. "As much as I love girl-talk, you think maybe we could skip forward to the part where Dana's involved? I'd really like to believe all that talk of owls involved taking a celebratory trip to Hooters, but I somehow doubt that's the case."
"Well, remember my encounter with Catboy?"
The story was in no way short, but speed babbling seemed to make it so. Buffy started with Dana's letter and worked backwards to her last visit to the sanitarium, how she'd accidentally arrived back with Spencer's letters, why she'd been distracted over the past day… She hadn't meant to tell him that much. These weren't all her secrets. They were Spencer's. But, once she started to speak, it all flowed out in one massive run-on sentence.
By the time she stopped for a breath, Xander was leaning back onto her bed, clutching her pillow against his chest, and staring up at the ceiling in much the same way she had been an hour earlier. He didn't move in the least but to frown.
"That was quite the babble-session, Buff," he noted. He grew quiet again, still looking thoughtful when he propped himself up onto his elbows, catching her eye. "You haven't even figured it out," he said, so quietly even she barely heard it.
She made a face. "Figured what out?"
Xander swallowed, as if something were caught in his throat, then rolled up into a sitting position, picking up the drawing as he moved. He held it out to her, making her take it.
Buffy stared up at him, not sure she recognized the uncertain look in his gaze.
His smile was crooked. "You need to be sure. Trust me on this one."
He knew his friends and co-workers often referred to him as a genius, but Spencer stood firm with his belief that intelligence couldn't be accurately quantified. If ever he needed more proof that he was not a genius…
He groaned in frustration, his cheek pressed against the ceramic side of his bathtub.
By the time he'd made it home from work, Spencer had realized that, despite the moderation of the doses he'd taken, despite the on-again-off-again nature of his addiction, the detoxification process was not going to be easy. He began to lose track of time that night, every hour feeling like three as he pressed through his cravings and spent most of his time on the bathroom floor, waiting for new symptoms, most of them humiliating, to overtake him.
He knew from his research that the next day would be no easier, but, for some reason, a foolish, illogical part of him had believed that the information provided was wrong and that things would be better. They weren't.
The dizzying numbness that had settled over his mind had lifted away to make room for too many coherent thoughts, too much anger at himself and everything in existence. He rocked his body against the onslaught of an abdominal cramp, for the first time realizing that, at some point, he had made his way back to his bed. The covers beneath him were damp with sweat.
This was worse than the last time—and then, he had failed to abstain. Spencer wasn't sure why he thought this time would be any different. Accept it had been, so far. Still, he wished he'd done more to prepare, but he couldn't stand the thought of checking into a center, being medicated to ease the suffering to his body. He refused to believe he was that far gone…Close, but…
The body aches lessened for the moment, leaving him tired.
He wished he'd, at the very least, told one of his teammates. Morgan would have been there in a heartbeat to watch over him, make sure he didn't suffer alone. The thought made the loneliness at his core all the worse. He could remember feeling like this, disoriented and beaten, when he was a child, home with a particularly bad case of the flu. His mother had been too lost in her own head to be there beside him. She was just in the other room, but it could have just as well been a million miles away.
When he heard the knock at the front door, he first thought it was his heart beat again, drumming against his sternum. The noise sounded again, and he jerked up. His instinct was to ignore it…but if that was Morgan, he could honestly use the help right about now.
Barely managing to pull a fresh t-shirt over his head, he stumbled out of the bedroom. His body didn't like the movement, but he found the front door quickly enough.
And then he realized it had all been his imagination at work. He'd had this dream before, of course, where Buffy Summers appeared at his front door, staring up at him with those curious green eyes.
He blinked, but she stayed in place. Water dripped off of her hair and onto her jacket, and she shivered at the touch, but her gaze stayed locked on him.
By the time he said her name, his breathing had quickened with panic.
No. No, this wasn't happening…She wasn't supposed to see him like this. How was she even…? How did she even...?
Her hands caught his arms, holding him still. He hadn't known he was swaying until then. She reached up, pulling him down so that his face was resting against her shoulder. His shaking arms tightened around her, but she managed to not fold under his weight. Spencer realized what he'd already known from her letters; Buffy Summers was a strong woman.
Her cheek rested against his hair, her breath hot against his ear. "It's alright—I've got you," she promised, tightening her embrace. "I'm here, Spencer."
A/N: Please, please, please, if you're suffering from a serious addiction, seek help. Don't try to go through withdrawals on your own. It's dangerous. This is fiction. Okay, disclaimer over. Hope you enjoyed!