Rating: PG13/FRT to R/FRM (same as the show, with some language)
Character(s): Reid-centric teamfic; Reid+Elle friendship
Beta(s):fabrisse and invaderk
Genre: Friendship, with supernatural overtones
Warnings: pre-story death of a former character
Prompt: anything with the team as a family (from antoinettemason on cm_exchange)
Summary: Reid is understandably befuddled when Elle Greenaway begins to make sudden appearances in his life. At first he thinks he's hallucinating, but then a case from the other side of the country catches his attention.…
A/N: I never meant for this to be a sort of supernatural style fic. I was inspired by the prompt listed above, the prompt about drunk Reid, and the prompt about an X-Files crossover…so voila!
The quotes in italics that separate each section are from Alexi Murdoch songs. Also, each one of the cuts is, I guess you could say, a different chapter, so you can skip around if you like.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Don't sue me, b/c you wouldn't get anywhere and we'd both be sad.
Slowly, slowly, I am drifting.
"Have another one," she advised, pouring tequila into the little glass and pushing it toward him.
"You know I'm a recovering addict, right? I shouldn't be drinking at all."
She shrugged and tossed back her drink with a practiced flick of her wrist. "You deserve it, way I see it. It was a pretty shitty day."
"They're all shitty days," he muttered into his glass.
"Then why do you do it?"
He considered the question with all the gravitas of the very nearly drunk, though he was stone cold sober. "It matters," he finally decided. "I do good. I help people." He gave an ironic snort and raised his glass. "I save the world."
"Who ya talkin' to, Spence?" The sunny haired media liaison appeared at his elbow, and Reid started, spilling tequila in a sad little puddle on the bar's wooden surface.
"Um. I wasn't talking," he managed.
A delicate brow arched. "We're all over there," she said with a gesture toward the team's table. "You should join us."
"I'm not really in the mood for company," he mumbled.
JJ glanced over her shoulder; the others were watching them with anxious expressions. She gave a little shrug and hopped up onto the stool next to him. "I'm not in the mood for company, either."
He cut his eyes at her, but he said nothing.
She flagged down the bartender and ordered a beer. Sat sipping in silence. She could wait him out.
The quiet between them lengthened; stretched; echoed. He could feel the way it strained. He could feel her concern. He stared defiantly down at the little glass, now only three-quarters full, and kept his mouth shut.
Spencer Reid vastly underestimated the patience of Jennifer Jareau.
"I didn't drink it," he finally said. "I'm working the steps. I'm doing OK. I just wanted to smell it."
She watched him with a steady, penetrating gaze.
"It was a really bad day."
JJ cast another look over her shoulder, and Garcia read the signal loud and clear. She excused herself from the group and attempted to look casual as she hurried to join Reid and JJ at the bar.
"Hi, kittens," she said. "I was thirsty."
"You have a waitress, Garcia," Reid said.
"She's busy, and the bartender's cute."
The bartender was 80 if he were a day—wizened like a gnome, stooped, and with wisps of hair about a mile longing springing from each ear—but Reid let it go.
"Must be a good listener, too," Garcia continued. "You were talkin' his fuzzy little ear off a minute ago."
"I wasn't talking," he said, his head so low his nose nearly touched the sticky counter.
JJ and Garcia's eyes met over his head. A silent conversation, carried out only in barely-perceptible tightening of specific facial muscles, occurred between the two women, and though Reid could sense it was happening, he tried to ignore it.
"Hey, baby girl, where're those drinks?"
Reid let out a soft groan as Morgan ambled over to join them. He'd come to the bar to be alone, and as he'd sat contemplating the liquor selections (without any real intention of drinking anything stronger than water), they'd all filed in one by one and taken the table behind him. They'd watched him, and finally they'd sent JJ as an ambassador of annoyance. Now it looked like the rest of the crew were joining in.
"I couldn't decide what to order. I was asking Reid about the tequila. Is it any good?" The question was directed at the young doctor, but Garcia's eyes were locked with Morgan's.
Reid pushed the glass away. "I wouldn't know. I haven't tried it."
"He's just having a bad day," JJ said. She reached out to rub his back, but he flinched away. Her hand hung in the space between them for several long, forlorn beats before she let it drop back to her side.
"I'd really like to be alone. I know you guys mean well, but…." He trailed off, and as he raised his head, the look of quiet, lonely desperation tore at their hearts.
But Reid was Reid, and he dealt with his pain in his own way. As long as he wasn't drowning it or shooting it into his veins, it was probably safe to leave him be.
"Yeah, OK," Morgan finally said. "You know where we are if you need us."
Reid nodded, and they at last abandoned the field of battle and retreated to their table. He let out a relieved little sigh and tapped the tip of his finger against the glass just to hear the soft ping.
"They would've been there for you, too, if you'd let them," he said, careful to move his lips as little as possible, lest they see and start the interrogation again.
"You're one to talk," she said in that arrogant, defensive tone he knew so well. "You became a drug addict. Don't you think they would've helped you?"
He shrugged thin, restless shoulders; tried to make it look like a casual stretch. "They wouldn't've understood. How could they?"
"They couldn't, just like they couldn't understand what it was like for me, or why I did what I did." She pushed the tequila toward him. "Drink up, kiddo. You're alone in the world, and you had a shitty day. What better reason?"
He sighed. Watched his reflection in the little glass. "It's always easy to come up with reasons to drink or use. It's much harder coming up with reasons not to."
"Then don't try."
"Why are you here?" he asked, face contorting in a sudden, puzzled frown.
"I'm not. You're imagining me."
He dismissed that with a miniscule flick of his fingers. "I know that. But why you? Why now? And why are you trying so hard to get me drunk?"
She shifted uncomfortably; drew a pattern in the puddle of alcohol drying on the bar. "I always liked you. You were always nice to me. I thought we were alike in a lot of ways, you and I."
She hitched a shoulder in a little shrug. "Did either of us really belong in the BAU? I mean, you're smart and all, but you were just a kid back then. And me…well, we all know what happened to me."
"What did happen to you, Elle?" he said, startling himself—and admitting a truth he'd been reluctant to acknowledge—by using her name for the first time. The first time in…even he couldn't remember how long.
She glanced behind her as though someone would be there, watching; waiting. "I should go. Drink or don't, it doesn't matter to me."
"Elle, wait, don't—" But she was gone, out the door and into the street and then just gone. It's how it always went: he would ask her purpose, press her for specifics, and she would spook and run. It was ridiculous to question his own hallucination (especially when the better idea was to check himself into St. Elizabeth's), but he couldn't seem to stop himself.
He had been seeing her for weeks now, but only in the past few days had they spoken. At first he'd had no idea he was hallucinating; he would catch a glimpse of her in a crowded room, or on a busy street, and he just thought it a funny coincidence to be suddenly seeing her everywhere after all these years. She'd come and gone so quickly, like moments illuminated in the flash of a strobe light, that he'd wondered if he were really seeing her at all.
He sighed; fished into his wallet and dropped a few dollars on the counter. Without even a glance at the team, he left the restaurant. They watched him go, and they all wondered.
Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning.
Actually, it's more like most of the time.
Reid awoke gasping in the night. He pressed a thin hand against his chest and struggled to breathe. The dream…the dream was fading as quickly as he tried to remember it, and he knew it was gone for good. He was sweating and trembling, and as he swung his legs over the side of the bed, a voice in the dark made him cry out in a wavering, terrified yelp.
"Hey, calm down. I didn't mean to scare you," she said, settling onto the bed next to him (he felt her weight, he'd swear it). "You looked like you were dreaming, so I thought I'd just wake you up."
"Christ," he muttered, though he wasn't usually given to such oaths, "can't I sleep without you popping in to give me nightmares?"
"That wasn't your nightmare," she said, offering him a towel (he spared a moment to wonder, as he often did, how a hallucination could interact with the physical world). "It was mine."
He ignored the towel and rubbed his chest again. It ached. "I felt like I was drowning."
"Uh huh." She rose in a graceful, cat-like motion and paced the room. "When was the last time you looked at any of these?" she asked, pushing at a stack of newspapers with her toe. It teetered ominously, and she stepped back.
"I, um. What?" He was still distracted by the pain in his chest and the ghostly tendrils of dreamstuff fogging his mind. "I guess…it's been a while, I guess. I get busy and forget."
"Hhhmm," she said. "Maybe you should catch up. A lot can happen out there while you're stuck in here, dreaming."
He frowned. "I know what happens out there, Elle. I live the worst of it every day."
"OK, then, maybe there's some good news in here, like about puppies and kittens and unicorns. Never know until you look."
He raised his head to pin her with a glare, but she was gone. "Christ," he repeated. Shaking his head, he rose and stumbled toward the bathroom. On his way back he nearly tripped over the newspapers, and he kicked them aside with a savage sort of glee. Tomorrow he'd throw them all out, and that'd show her.
Figment of his imagination that she was.
He pulled the sheets up and tried to get comfortable, but no matter which way he turned he could imagine that forlorn stack of newspapers. Unread. The knowledge they contained melting away in some recycling facility….
With an angry sigh, he sat up and flicked on the bedside light. Stretching his long arm to the limit, he grabbed the top paper on the pile and began flipping through it. Freaking hallucinations were getting damn demanding these days.
I have been searching all of my days,
All of my days.
"Did you know about this?" Reid demanded of Hotch the next morning. The young genius had stormed into the Unit Chief's office breathing fire, and now he slammed a newspaper down onto the desk's neat, shiny surface.
Hotch stared down at the article in consternation. "What is this, Reid?"
"That's what I'd like to know." His thin frame was vibrating like a live wire.
Hotch's face creased in concern. "Calm down. Have a seat. Let me look." He raised a placating hand as he spoke, and his voice was soothing.
Reid refused to be soothed, but he did fold himself into one of the chairs opposite the desk. "It can't be right, can it? I mean, it can't be."
The grooves in Hotch's forehead deepened as he read. "This is the most recent article?" he asked without looking up.
"It's from yesterday. She's been missing for weeks, Hotch. How did we not know?" Weeks. Six weeks. The exact length of time she'd been visiting him.
"As far as I know, no one on the team has had contact with Elle since she left. It's only natural we wouldn't…." He didn't want to say "miss her," but that's what he meant.
Suddenly she was there, behind Hotch, arms crossed over her chest. She gave Reid a sardonic look, and he tried to keep his gaze steady, not react to her presence. "I think we should look into it," he managed through lips gone numb.
"We haven't been called in, and I think it would be a conflict of interest, don't you?"
"The article says they suspect she's the third victim. That makes him a serial. You know JJ can get us called in." He remembered, briefly, the conversation with Garcia months ago: I'm a blinker, he'd said. Well, he refused to blink now; this was too important, and he was too caught up.
The Unit Chief frowned; studied his young colleague over steepled fingers.
"She was one of us, Hotch. I know she screwed up, and I know we haven't heard from her in years, but she was one of us. What if it were Gideon?"
That hit home, Reid saw, and he knew it had been a low blow.
Hotch stared down at the article. He had always worried something would happen to Elle. She'd lived her life too close to the edge, burned too hot. When she'd walked out of his office, he'd felt like she'd left with a part of him, and that he'd failed her. Maybe if they found her….
"You know she's probably dead, Reid," he said gently.
He went pale. Gulped a little. "I know. But still. We could stop it from happening to anyone else. Isn't that what we do?" His eyes darted to her and back to Hotch.
He sighed. "I'll have JJ make an inquiry with the local PD. If they don't want us there, though, we drop this. OK?"
Reid nodded convulsively. "Yeah, OK. Thanks, Hotch. Really."
Elle flicked her fingers toward the young genius in a sort of salute, and he nodded again. Recognizing the odd look Hotch was giving him, he bid the Unit Chief goodbye and beat a hasty retreat.
He knew Hotch was right: Elle Greenaway was dead, had been since her abduction six weeks ago. The small amount of research he'd done into the case had told him the UNSUB didn't keep his victims alive…but the first two victims had been found fairly quickly. So where was Elle? Was it the same UNSUB? Was it even an abduction, or was the press getting hysterical?
Now Spencer Reid had a new puzzle to work through: was he slowly losing his grip on reality, as his mother had, or did he believe in ghosts?
And I've been trying to find
What's been in my mind
As the days keep turning into night.
"Were he and Elle that close?"
"No, no closer than any of the rest of us…but I know he felt sorta guilty after she left, like maybe he coulda done something to help her. I don't know; maybe this is his way of making up for it," Morgan said.
"It does look like a serial case. The victims so far have all been single women in their thirties, and they were all abducted from the park. It's a big place, but the lake seems to be a common denominator." Prentiss pointed out the area on a map, and Morgan nodded as he studied it.
"I don't understand why the local authorities haven't warned women about this," Garcia said as she typed frantically at her keyboard. "I've cross-referenced the victimology with abductions in and around that park, and it looks like I have seven women missing over the past year or so. Did no one put these pieces together?"
They were gathered in Garcia's cubby waiting on word from JJ. At this point they didn't even know if it could be a BAU case, but Reid was adamant that they look into it, even casually, so here they were. Garcia had sent him off to get them all breakfast; he was wearing himself out. To Garcia, he looked so thin she could see the light shining through him, and his eyes had a strange, feverish gleam.
Prentiss' brow was creased. She sipped her coffee and stared at the map without really seeing it. "You'd think the press would've made the connection, even if the locals didn't; the last three victims were taken within weeks of each other."
"And Elle the most recent," Morgan said. "But if these earlier four women were done by the same UNSUB, their bodies haven't been found, either. So why were these two discovered, and the other five haven't been?"
"I think I can answer that one for you, stud muffin. It looks like the two women taken before Elle—that would be Jennifer Hadley and Monica Westwood—were dumped in a remote part of the park, and they were only discovered because some hikers got lost when they wandered off the trail in a rainstorm."
"So he did make an attempt to conceal them."
Garcia wagged her hand back and forth in a so-so gesture. "They were well off the beaten path, but they weren't buried or otherwise hidden."
"Concealed from discovery, but not from him."
"Shades of the Mill Creek Killer," Prentiss remarked. She hadn't worked that case, but she'd done her homework.
"Or Ted Bundy. But if the bodies were so far out, he must be familiar enough with the area to get in and out without much trouble," Morgan said.
"There's a lot of wilderness out there," Garcia said. She zoomed out the Google Earth image as far as it would go, and Prentiss let out an impressed whistle. "The park boundary ends here, but the forest doesn't," the tech continued. "What the heck was Elle doing back in Washington state anyway? I thought she hated it there."
"About as far away from the BAU as she could get," Morgan said.
Rossi poked his head around the door. "Any progress?"
Morgan shook his head. "Not much. It looks like we have seven victims going back about a year, but only two bodies."
Garcia filled him in on the information she had found, and he looked troubled. "The victimology matches, and so does the abduction site, but…."
"It's hard to call it without more bodies," Prentiss concluded for him.
"Exactly. But I do think it's a possible BAU case; any word from JJ?"
"Nothing so far, O esteemed one, but if anyone can move the unmovable, it's our JJ."
His eyebrows quirked. "Well, keep me posted. And keep digging."
Prentiss let out a long breath as the older agent disappeared into the hallway. "I wonder what Hotch thinks of all this."
"It's Elle. She made a mistake, but she was still one of us," Morgan said, unconsciously echoing Reid's earlier argument. "Hotch looks after his own, even the black sheep."
She knew it was true, so after a quiet moment she let it go. "Garcia, why don't you start pulling financial and phone records on the victims. Let's see if they have anything in common besides the park," she suggested.
"Way ahead of you, my raven-haired goddess of deduction. Elle moved to Grover, Washington six months ago. There's nothing much unusual as far as I can tell—Starbucks, the grocery store, a mechanic. Oh, this is kind of interesting maybe."
"What's that, baby girl?"
She highlighted a line on the record. Harry's Gun & Pawn lit up, and Morgan shook his head as he read it. "She bought a weapon three months ago."
"She was former law enforcement," Prentiss reasoned. "Maybe she just wanted a gun."
"Could be, which is why I said 'interesting maybe,' except look at this. Of our seven possible victims, two more visited gun stores in the months leading up to their disappearances, and another two enrolled in self-defense classes."
"Five women who felt the need to protect themselves only a few weeks before being kidnapped and murdered," Morgan said. "That doesn't sound like a coincidence."
"Oh, oh, hey! Monica Westwood and Tara Robinson, the two women who didn't buy a gun or take karate, were former military. Jennifer Hadley and Erin Torres were both retired cops, Tonya Surratt used to be a sheriff's deputy, and Elizabeth Mussen, the first and youngest possible victim, had just been accepted into the police academy."
"You found all that in ten seconds?" Morgan asked.
"I've been compiling it for a few minutes," she admitted. "Em got the thought train rolling when she said Elle was former law enforcement."
"He's going after strong women, women who would be alert for predators and who would know how to defend themselves," Prentiss said.
"It seems like he's stalking them. He would want to learn their habits, their routines…it would make it easier to abduct them when the time came."
"He feels threatened by them, and the only way he can have the control he craves is by killing them and revisiting the bodies after they're dead."
"Sounds like you're already beginning a profile," Hotch said, catching them all by surprise as he appeared in the doorway.
"Um, sir, hello," Garcia began with a nervous smile. "We just thought…that is…well, Reid was so upset…."
"It's OK, Garcia. I just talked to JJ; we're going to Washington. Wheels up in an hour." He turned to go, but hesitated a moment. "Elle was a member of this team," he said after a pause. "We all want to find out what happened to her, but let's not let our emotions cloud our judgment. That goes double for Reid; I expect all of you to keep an eye on him and pull him back if he gets too deep. He's not a child, and I'm not asking you to treat him like one, just…." Feeling suddenly awkward, he let the sentence evaporate.
"We understand, sir," Garcia assured him. "He's our Reid; we'll take care of him."
He nodded once, sternly, before stealing a piece of candy from the dish on Garcia's desk and making a quick exit.
"Stinker," Prentiss commented as she peered into the bowl. "He took the last mini Snickers!"
And the answer that you're seeking
For the question that you've found
Drives you further to confusion
As you lose your sense of ground.
The case was not progressing well. It was at least partially the fault of the local sheriff's department: while they seemed eager for FBI help, Reid got the impression it was just so the sheriff could get his face on TV and his picture on the front page. The two crime scenes they did have had been horribly mishandled; evidence was missing or destroyed; witnesses hadn't been questioned right away; and no one had issued a warning to local women about being careful in the park.
Hotch was stone-faced, Reid noticed warily, his expression that hard, blank "don't fuck with me" look. Deeply familiar with that particular Hotch Glare, the team steered clear.
Rossi and Morgan were sent to interview the hikers who had found the bodies; JJ held a press conference; Reid and Prentiss headed out to interview the coroner; and Hotch stayed behind at the station to whip the bungling, Keystone-style locals into some semblance of order and professionalism.
The coroner's lab was several blocks from the police station, situated next to the impound lot. "I guess most of their autopsies are performed on car accident victims," Prentiss remarked.
"The murder rate around here is pretty low. They get the occasional death from exposure or, even more rarely, an animal attack, but largely it's boating and automobile accidents," Reid said.
Prentiss gave him a sidelong look as she pretended to scan an intersection for oncoming traffic before easing through the stop sign. "This case's pretty important to you, I guess," she said after a few moments' silence.
"I.…" He shrugged. "Yeah, I guess." He glanced in the rearview mirror, but they were alone in the SUV. He was relieved. "Um…can I…can I ask you something?"
"Shoot." She watched surreptitiously as he stared out the window, his Adam's apple bobbing as his throat worked.
He clenched his jaw. Relaxed it. Cleared his throat. "I was wondering. It's stupid. I was wondering if…do you believe…I mean…."
"Spit it out, Reid. We're almost there." She smiled to show she was joking, but he wasn't paying attention.
"Do you believe in ghosts?" he asked in a rush.
"Do I…?" Of all the things he might've said, that hadn't occurred to her. She pulled the big car into the parking lot and cut the engine. Rested her hands on the steering wheel and stared out the windshield without really seeing the low, dilapidated building in front of them. "Yeah," she finally said, "I guess I do."
He turned to stare at her with wide, amazed eyes. "Really? You do?"
"I thought I saw one once." She waved a hand at his startled expression. "I might've been dreaming; I don't know. But it seemed real. It seemed so real…." She shook her head once, quickly, and then turned to him with a little smile. "Why do you ask?"
"I just…I just wondered. This case, you know. Elle. It's got me thinking about a lot of weird stuff."
She nodded; reached out to press her fingers against his arm in a brief, comforting touch. "If you need to talk…?"
"It's fine. I'm fine. Let's…not tell anyone about this conversation, OK?"
"Yeah, sure." Prentiss cleared her throat. "Grab the file; let's see what the coroner has to say about the two victims."
As he reached into the backseat for the folder, she was there. Their eyes met; her look was wry and almost scornful. He glared at her; closed his eyes and wished her gone; but she was still there, smirking now, when he opened them. With a glower he yanked the file off the seat and sat up to find Prentiss staring at him in bewilderment. "Let's just go inside," he muttered, shoving the file at her.
He slammed the door behind him and buried his hands in his pockets before slinking off across the parking lot. She watched him go with a bemused frown; checked the backseat; and hurried to follow his long, thin form through the murky day.
So much work to do;
I don't know if I can.
Trying so hard, so hard, so hard,
But I am just one man.
It was late and Reid was worn out, but the day had turned out to be fairly productive, despite the locals' general incompetence. Or, more accurately, inexperience: they were doing their best given the resources and training they had. With the team's help, the press were under control, the profile was in circulation, and at least one solid eyewitness had been culled from the pack of pretenders.
After a quick supper, the team had retired to their small motel. Reid had immediately stripped out of his clothes and jumped into a scalding hot shower; twenty minutes later he stepped out to find Elle Greenaway pacing his tiny room. He tried not to shriek, but his irritation was evident as he stalked past her to grab a pair of shorts from his suitcase. He made a gesture indicating that she should turn her back, and she did so with a grin. He dressed quickly and slid between the (surprisingly clean) sheets.
Pointedly not acknowledging her presence any further, he pulled a fat book from his bag and began to flip the pages in rapid succession. She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the wall to wait. He could feel her eyes on him like laser beams.
"If you're going to randomly pop up in the middle of my work day, you could at least make yourself useful," he groused after several minutes of trying to ignore her. "Point out the guy who took you. Show me where…um, where…." He trailed off awkwardly. Buried his nose in the book again. What were the social conventions in a situation like this, anyway?
"Where my body is. It's OK; you can say it."
Her Mona Lisa smile was driving him crazy, and he tossed the book aside. "Fine! Where your body is. Show me. Help me."
She shook her head. "It doesn't work that way. I'm not here to help you find my killer, or even to help you find me."
He fisted his hands in his hair; his face contorted. "Then why, Elle? Why are you here? What do you want?"
"I'm here to help you find you, Reid."
He let out a groan of frustration and fell back against the headboard. "That makes no sense!"
"I'm dead; I can afford to be cryptic."
"That's great for you, but what about me? The team already thinks I'm losing it. Did you see the look on Prentiss' face today? And Hotch…he's ready to pull me off the case and ship me back to Quantico if I so much as twitch."
"You're twitching now."
If she weren't already dead, the look he gave her would probably have done the job. "There are two options here, Elle: either you're a ghost, or you're a manifestation of my imagination. If number one, then everything I've ever accepted about the universe in general is wrong. If number two, then I either have the same illness as my mother, or I'm suffering from a brain tumor. I'm not sure which of those possibilities I prefer."
She sighed; perched on the extra bed and crossed one leg over the other. "It's not that simple. I mean, yeah, I'm dead, and I wish I could've told you that sooner."
"Why didn't you?"
She shrugged. "It doesn't work that way," she repeated.
"Why don't you save us both some time and just tell me how it does work?"
She looked suddenly stricken, like he'd slapped her. "I'm sorry, Reid. I'm…new to this too, you know."
He sighed; consciously relaxed his long-fingered hands so that they rested limply on the quilt. He was being an ass. She was the one who'd been kidnapped and murdered, and he was treating her like…. "I'm just having trouble accepting it. I was OK with you being a delusion. But a ghost? It's harder."
A smile flitted across her face like the memory of a dream. "Yeah. You should've seen how long it took me to accept that I was dead. Because, the thing is…I don't feel dead. I feel sleepy and hungry and grumpy and happy just like I always did before." She traced the pattern on the bedspread with a long finger. "Things are paler now. People. You're the first person I've seen who looks real to me."
"Is that why you chose me?"
She bit her full bottom lip; chewed a moment. It wasn't a gesture he remembered from her BAU days. "I decided to come say goodbye to all of you. I was dead, but I hadn't, you know, gone anywhere. I thought maybe I had unfinished business or whatever, and maybe I needed to make some amends."
"Like an addict."
Her mouth quirked in appreciation. "Something like that." Her face was naked and honest, vulnerable in a way he'd never seen her in life. "I realized you could see me, and I panicked. I didn't know what it meant. I'd spent all these years staying away from all of you, and suddenly…." She trailed off with a shake of her head. "I'm glad it was you."
"I'm not sure I can handle this, Elle."
"Don't make my mistake, Spencer. You're not alone; don't be afraid to ask for help. They'll be there for you, if you just ask."
She lifted her head to meet his eyes, and when he blinked she was gone as though she'd never been there at all. Exhausted and suddenly resigned to the bizarre new shape his world had taken, Reid flipped the light off and slid down in bed. He was asleep in moments, and when he woke he couldn't remember if he had dreamt.
Like all creatures great and small,
I took a fall and found out
I could bleed.
His name was John Novak. He was 38, divorced, and taught third grade at the local elementary school. He'd spent his childhood as an Army brat, both parents serving their country until they retired. His ex-wife had been military, too, and over the years he'd nursed a quiet, festering resentment for the disciplined strength everyone in his life—save Novak himself—seemed to possess. He lived by everyone else's timetable, on everyone else's terms, and he was tired of it. His anger had boiled over when Elizabeth Mussen, the pretty young thing he'd spied jogging one day not long after his divorce, laughed in his face when he asked her out.
He was impotent, both sexually and in life, and her laughter had made him feel powerless and small, like a grub squirming in the sudden sun when a child kicks over a rock. The rage and humiliation had surged through him, but he'd just smiled and walked away. He never forgot her laugh, and as he wrapped his large hands around her throat and squeezed the life out of her he had been the one laughing. Laughing and laughing and laughing.
There had been some peace for him after that. An oasis of calm in his otherwise turbulent existence. But eventually, as it always did, the oasis ran dry and the turbulence returned.
He found he preferred women like his ex-wife, like his mother: strong-looking, capable women, women who eyed him with a mixture of derision and something like pity. He watched them, followed them, learned them, and eventually he killed them. There was such a thrill in that, in watching their eyes go big and frightened, and then cold and blank.
He'd seen a sketch of himself on the news that morning. His face was all over the paper. With a familiar feeling of resignation he ambled into the sheriff's office and offered himself to them. When the young, newly elected sheriff asked him why he'd turned himself in, Novak just shrugged. "It's Saturday," he said. "I didn't have anything better to do."
Now the team, the sheriff, a CSU team up from Olympia, and John Novak were tramping through the woods surrounding the park that had been Novak's preferred hunting ground. He claimed he could find the bodies without much trouble, but night was coming on, it looked like rain, and so far they hadn't found squat.
"Tonya is close by here," he said. "There's a tree…a really big tree…."
"A tree in the woods," Prentiss remarked with a snort. "Imagine."
Novak gave her a long, steady look. "I wish I'd met you sooner," he said quietly.
"Me too," she told him. "You'd be in jail by now and those women would still be alive."
He smiled, but Hotch stepped between them before he could say anything further. "I'm calling it. You're leading us on a wild goose chase, Novak, and we're done playing your games." He lifted his walkie, but Novak forestalled him.
"Wait, there it is! That's the tree." Hampered by the foot restraints, he hobbled across a small clearing, Morgan and a deputy hot on his heels, and indicated a huge conifer with a knobby, moss-coated trunk. "She's here," he said.
Hotch glared, but he relented with a curt nod. "If there's nothing here, we're done," he warned. It was the fourth time Novak had claimed to find the right spot; Hotch suspected he was doing this for attention, and for the thrill of watching so many people jump at his command. Once he killed a new woman and placed her body, he probably forgot completely where he'd dumped the last one.
The CSU team was scrambling around the clearing setting up a perimeter for the ground-penetrating radar they would use to search for Tonya Surratt's remains. After so long and in such verdant conditions, corpse-sniffing dogs were unreliable, and it wasn't worth the time or effort to dig everywhere Novak indicated. A tech was peering at the monitor as the images began to come through, and for a long time the clearing was silent save for the occasional instruction or comment passed between the radar operators.
Suddenly the tech at the screen let out a whistle. "Agents, I think we've got something. Look at this."
Everyone huddled around the screen, and he pointed out the lighter blob among many other blobs. "It's not a rock; too much air." The image became clearer with each pass, and eventually they all could pick specific images out of the blur.
"Three skulls," Reid said. He turned to blink at Novak. "You said this was Tonya Surratt's grave."
"So it is," the man said. "I didn't want her to be lonely. I always try to make sure they have company."
You keep it quiet,
But you think you might disappear
Before the end.
Time had slowed to a crawl. Once they realized Novak was (finally) telling the truth, the long, slow process of excavation had begun. The skeletal remains of three women were uncovered, but he refused to identify the other two. He wouldn't even confirm or deny that either one were one of the other six known victims. He just shrugged and smiled and remained smugly silent.
"We're wasting time," Reid said. "We need to find those other women, and he's just standing there twiddling his thumbs."
Rossi nodded agreement. "Novak's loving this. It's sheer luck we stumbled on this grave. I don't think he'll lead us to the others."
"Like the Green River Killer," Morgan said. "Once he's done with these women, he just forgets them. They barely even register for him."
"Let's hope to God his victim count isn't that high," Rossi said.
"Garcia doesn't think so," Prentiss said. "She's been searching pretty hard since he turned himself in, cross-referencing his past addresses with missing persons, but so far it looks like Elizabeth Mussen really was the first victim."
"He got a late start," Morgan commented, "but he made up for it with speed: at least 7 women in a little over a year."
Reid stepped away from the group under the pretense of freshening his coffee. He paused when he saw her, but he wasn't terribly surprised. It was raining, but she was dry. It was chilly, but she wore only a thin sweater and seemed unaffected by the cold. Her face was composed, but he could sense the tension running through her. "You're not here, right? They've been here a lot longer." It was a stupid thing to say, he thought, but it was all he could think of.
She wiped her dry nose with a quick pass of her sleeve. "Am I crying?"
"No," he said, face contorting in confusion. "You look fine."
"It's cold. I should be cold."
He cleared his throat. "I thought you said…I thought you felt the same. Now. As before."
She looked away, out toward the brilliantly illuminated crime scene. "I guess not. I guess I hadn't noticed before. No, I'm not here. I don't know who they are."
"Where are you? I'd like to find you, Elle. You deserve—"
"I told you it doesn't matter," she said. "I'm not here for that. I came to look at him." She nodded toward Novak; a grim-faced Hotch and a nervous sheriff were guarding him. They made sure he couldn't see what was going on at the gravesite.
Reid followed her gaze. "Is he the one?"
Her mouth quivered for an instant. "Yes" was her brusque reply. The angular planes of her face were tight, the skin stretched over the strong bones like a mask. A muscle twitched in her cheek.
"I'm sorry, Elle." There was a tremor beneath his whisper, and she shook it off.
"It doesn't matter," she repeated. "You couldn't have stopped it, even if you'd been here. Things happen; good, bad, ugly, beautiful; and they'll keep on happening no matter what any of us do about it."
"Death's made you a philosopher," he said with a small attempt at levity.
A slow smile unfurled across her features, and she seemed to relax a fraction. They watched the excavation in silence for a time, but eventually she spoke again. "He won't tell you where I am. These three," she said with a wave toward the scene, "don't matter much to him anymore. They've been here a while. He won't tell you where I am, and you're lucky those hikers found Jennifer and Monica."
"We figured as much. I wish—"
"Don't." She closed her eyes; pressed her fingers against the lids. "Go back to your motel," she told him. "Get some sleep. I'm not sure when I'll see you again."
"Wait, what?" His face scrunched. "You're leaving? You're done now?"
"You didn't think I'd haunt you forever, did you?"
"Well, no, but—"
"I don't know what'll happen now. I just know I'm tired, and I wish I could cry. That's all."
He didn't know what to say to this, so he thought it best to remain silent. The woods seemed oppressive; the rain dripped in a steady tattoo. Reid shivered and continued the vigil, his friend's weary, dry-eyed ghost at his side.
Time to sleep now;
Time to sink way into the blue, dear.
He hadn't seen Elle in over a week. They'd returned from Washington with decidedly mixed feelings about the case: they'd caught the UNSUB, but only five bodies had been recovered, and Elle Greenaway's wasn't one of them. They also didn't know for sure if seven were Novak's actual victim count, as the man still remained cagey about it. Of course they were all glad he was off the street (and out of the parks), but they couldn't shake a lingering sense of things left undone.
He still didn't understand what Elle had meant when she'd said she'd come to help him find himself. He tried to put it out of his mind; it was a cryptic, schmaltzy thing for her to have said, and he thought she'd done it only to annoy him. Spencer Reid knew perfectly well who he was: FBI agent, child prodigy, Star Trek fan, nerd incarnate—though the latter had never bothered him as much as it seemed to bother other people.
Reid, in an attempt to find a bit of closure for both Elle and the team, had planned a small memorial for their former colleague. It wasn't much, just the team together at their favorite bar knocking back drinks and swapping stories about the woman they'd known so briefly. Stories about Elle had segued into stories about Gideon, and those had segued into Rossi regaling them with tales of the BAU's earliest days, when they'd occupied the "dungeon" at Quantico, and everyone had regarded profilers as either quacks or snake oil salesmen.
She'd been there, he had noted, watching them in wistful silence. He had wished she could sit down at the table with them, but he'd known she wouldn't have even if she were actually there in the flesh. She'd looked wispy, he had thought, a bit more like he'd always imagined a ghost would look. He had seen her smile when Hotch told Rossi and Prentiss about how she'd sometimes called Gideon "Dad," and how Gideon had hated it. He had watched her brush her fingers across her cheek as JJ stood to make a toast; searching for tears, he'd thought, or wiping away the ones that should have been there.
That was the last time he saw her. He was a bit disappointed by the cliché of it all: she'd haunted him, they'd found her killer, held a memorial for her…and now she'd found closure and moved on. He shouldn't miss her; it was ridiculous to do so. How often had he missed her in the years since she'd left the BAU? Hardly at all, and it made him feel like a hypocrite.
These were the things he pondered as he sat alone in his dark apartment. Part of him wished for Dilaudid, but it was a dim, distant pulse of want, and not enough to prompt him to call his sponsor or seek out a meeting. What would he say, anyway? "My former colleague has been haunting me for the past six weeks, but now she seems to be gone. It's weird, but I kinda miss her. What step does that fall under?"
He opted instead to take a hit from the demitasse cup warming his hand. Garcia and Prentiss had given him a fancy espresso machine for his last birthday, and at first he'd found the thing confounding and frightening; he'd used it to store stacks of bills and other clutter. One night, after an especially long and grueling case, he'd unearthed it determined to decode its buttons, levers and switches. He still refused to steam milk (the first try had been a disaster he didn't care to repeat), but he did enjoy the dense, bittersweet shots of espresso it dispensed into the tiny cups JJ had given him as a companion gift.
"Why is it always so dark in here?"
Her sudden appearance, as though he'd conjured her, made him start in surprise and nearly spill his small cup of coffee. "Why do you insist on doing that? Does it give you some sort of ghostly thrill to scare the pants off me?"
She smirked, the expression barely perceptible in the faint light. "Next time I'll rattle my chains on the way in. But if I'm disturbing your quiet contemplations, Dr. Reid—"
"No," he interrupted hastily, "don't go. I thought you weren't coming back." He reached out and pulled the cord on a nearby lamp. Golden light illuminated chest high stacks of books, knee high stacks of VHS tapes (Morgan despaired of ever converting him to DVDs; he also had an aversion to both CDs and MP3s and kept his music on vinyl or cassette), and various scattered piles of papers, files and old mail.
The cracked vinyl sofa didn't creak as Elle shifted her weight, and he couldn't feel her movement the way he had been able to before. "I almost didn't. I figured we'd…said what we had to say, and I should just go."
"So what happened?"
She hitched a shoulder. "I changed my mind. You know, you should really think about hiring a maid."
"There's a system. A maid would just mess it up."
She rose with a slight sigh and began circling the room. No papers fluttered as she passed, and unlike with the pile of newspapers in his bedroom, none of the stacks of books seemed to be in danger of toppling. She stopped at a plant, a spider plant in a blue pot, and tugged at one of the brown leaves. "Poor thing. It's as dead as I am."
"I kept forgetting to water it," he admitted. "And then with all the traveling I do…." He trailed off with a guilty little quirk of his lips. "I should throw it out, I guess."
"That memorial thing was nice," she said after a few moments' silence.
"It was nothing."
"No, it wasn't. It was nice. I didn't realize any of you even thought about me anymore."
He opened his mouth but found nothing to say. Feeling foolish, he closed it again.
"Prentiss seems like a good agent. And Rossi; I've read his books. You guys are all really good together."
"I…Elle…why are you here?" It came out ruder than he intended, but he was growing weary of these meandering, non sequitur filled conversations.
She turned to him; she looked a little lost. "To say goodbye, I guess. But I don't really want to. I'd rather just go. We don't really need each other anymore, and…." Suddenly she smiled. "I'm glad you found him. He was already hunting someone else, and it was really pissing me off."
"Why do you say that?"
"Um? Because he's a killer, and I—"
"No," he said with a wave of his hand, "not that part. Why do you say we don't need each other anymore?"
"Oh…well. You found him. He's going to jail and all that good stuff."
"Right, OK, that's why you don't need me anymore, but…maybe I do still need you. Maybe…?" He turned the cup around and around in his hand, swirling the dark liquid inside and avoiding her steady gaze.
Her smile deepened to reveal the dimple in her cheek. "You never needed me, Reid. That's the point. Besides," she said, nodding toward the door, "you have them."
And all of this life
Moves around you;
For all that you claim you're standing still,
You are moving too.
The chime of his doorbell forestalled what he might've said next, and when his head rose with an astonished snap, she was already gone. For good this time, he thought. The bell went again, more insistently, and he set the cup aside to go answer.
"Hello, my pretty young genius!" Garcia crowed through the small crack between door and jamb. "Open up and let us in!"
"Us?" he echoed blankly.
JJ's bright head appeared around Garcia's shoulder. "It's cold out here, Spence, and I'm hungry. Open up."
Wide-eyed, he closed the door to unhook the chain. Garcia and JJ. OK, he could handle them; they probably wouldn't stay long anyway.
"I brought take out from that Indian place you like," Garcia said as she plowed past him. "I hope I got enough for everyone."
"Everyone who?" he asked. They ignored him.
JJ offered him a smile and a Tupperware container. "I made cookies for Will's birthday, and I had a bunch left over. I thought you might like some."
Thoroughly nonplussed, he started to close the door behind them, but it was pushed open before he had the chance.
"I brought wine and soda," Prentiss said. "The soda's for you."
"Hey, kid, what's up? Garcia told me we were havin' Indian food." Morgan stripped off his scarf and coat and hunted for a place to hang them. "Anything like a coat rack around here?"
"The, uh." He shook his head. "Just throw them on the couch, I guess."
"Reid," Rossi said with a nod as he followed Morgan through the door. "I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd stop by to borrow that book we were talking about last week. You remember the one."
Hotch's head popped through the open door. "Reid, good, you're home. I thought I'd return that movie you loaned me."
"That was six months ago, Hotch."
"Better late than never. Do I smell curry?" He rubbed his hands together and his olive eyes brightened in anticipation.
Reid watched his colleagues flood into his small, crowded apartment with a furrow of consternation across his brow. Garcia and JJ were busy in the kitchen gathering plates and utensils; Prentiss was pouring wine and soda for everyone; Rossi and Hotch were trying to figure out his book sorting system; and Morgan was plugging some contraption into his TV.
"A DVD player," he said in answer to Prentiss' questioning look. "I brought the Die Hard movies. I thought we could have a John McClane marathon."
"Die Hard," Garcia said with a wrinkled nose as she poked her head through the kitchen pass through. "I hate those. Too many explosions."
"That's what makes it art, Garcia."
"I could go for some Die Hard," Rossi said. "I can't find that book anyway."
"Jack's with Jessica," Hotch said. "Garcia, did you bring any lamb tikka masala?"
"But of course, my fearless leader. I also brought tandoori chicken, curried tofu, spice-rubbed—"
"Guys!" Reid cried.
The room went still. Six faces turned toward him.
"What are you all doing here?" he demanded.
Garcia smiled; carefully navigated the room and gave him a gentle pat on the cheek. "We came to see you, of course. We were worried."
"I'm fine. You didn't need—"
"Yeah, we did," Morgan said. "The case was weird for all of us, Reid, but we couldn't help but notice how it affected you."
"We thought it wouldn't be a bad idea if we spent some time together. Just as, you know, a family," JJ said with a gesture that encompassed the whole group.
He bit his lip; his eyes found the dead spider plant in the corner and stayed locked on it. "She never really was part of the family, was she?" he asked softly.
"She didn't try to be," Morgan said, an unexpected gentleness tingeing his voice.
"It was a bit different then," JJ said. "In her defense, things were different."
"She wasn't ready to come back," Reid said. "She shouldn't have come back yet. And then that case…."
"We couldn't make that decision for her, Reid," Hotch said. "She made her choice, then and later. These days I'd like to think we're there for each other, and something like that wouldn't happen again."
Prentiss put a cup of sweet, fizzy liquid in Reid's hand and offered him a small, sad smile. "We're here now," she said. "None of us have to be alone like that again."
He knew she wasn't talking about Elle, and he managed to meet her smile with a wavering one of his own. As though coming to a decision—or a realization—he knocked back the drink in a few swallows. "Morgan, unhook that thing; we're not watching Die Hard. Rossi, the book you want is in the third stack from the door, second one down; blue cover. Hotch, you returned that movie last month, remember? Garcia, um, after we eat, maybe you could show me how to steam milk on the espresso machine?"
She nodded, pigtails bobbing. "Sure, I—"
"I refuse to sit through any of this science nerd crap you've got around here, Reid, so unless you're hiding a stash of real movies somewhere…yippee-ki-yay," Morgan interrupted with a scowl.
Good-natured squabbling—interrupted by Rossi's exclamation as he found the book and then toppled the stack in his attempt to retrieve it—broke out in a homey, familiar cadence. Garcia tugged Reid toward the kitchen, fussing about the mess, and he found that he was smiling in spite of himself.
He paused on the way to the kitchen to nab the dead plant. Tossed it into the trashcan and felt a weight slide off him. With a relieved sigh, he stood straighter than he had in months. Elle was gone, and nothing was going to bring her back. Gideon, too. But the team—his family—was here, together, and life carried on.