“Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.” Salvador Dalí.
Reid woke up in pitch blackness, surrounded by the smell of death.
Fear clutched at his heart and he shot into a sitting position. Darkness closed in on him, looking to squeeze his heart until there wasn’t any life left in him, but he slammed his fists down onto the cold stone floor, reigning in his fear, forcing himself to think rationally.
His heart beat against his chest, spreading adrenaline to all his muscles. He unclenched his fists, spreading his fingers out on the floor, and pushed himself into a standing position. He reached out blindly into the darkness, darkness that seemed to be yawning open to swallow him whole, and after a stumbling footstep, he touched a wall. He ran his hand against the surface, walking around room with that as his guide. There weren’t any doors. There was only stone.
This was a nightmare. This was a horrible nightmare, and the darkness was going to eat him up—
No. No, he wasn’t going to allow his fear take him over.
Reid stopped dead in his tracks, keeping one hand on the wall and forcing himself to think. He was in a door-less, window-less room made of stone, and if it was a dream, he wasn’t waking up. He knew that he hadn’t fallen asleep there. He had woken up confused and disoriented, but he had fallen asleep…
He had fallen asleep in a motel room. The team was on a case in North Dakota involving the rape and murder of six young immigrant women. They had deduced that the unsub was rich, probably for his whole life, and that that money made him careless and entitled. Reid had been staying up late in his room, perched on his bed, sipping tea and flipping through the files, hoping to find something to go on…
Then he must have fallen asleep.
Reid swallowed past the knot of anxiety in his throat. This wasn’t a dream, therefore it had to follow the rules of reality. He had probably been drugged. If he was drugged, then he had been taken somewhere. If he had been taken somewhere, there had to be a door.
He reached up, and he found that he could touch the ceiling with the very tips of his fingers. He held his breath, taking step by careful step across the dark cavern, concentrating, until the smooth surface of stone finally gave way to smooth wood. A trapdoor. He was underground.
He went on tiptoes to push against the trapdoor, but as expected, it was locked. Reid gave a frustrated sigh, his mind whirring and struggling to not pay attention to the darkness. He started to pace across the room, examining every detail and trying to see what he noticed. He counted each inch of the cell, ghosting his fingers along the stone and murmuring numbers under his breath. Clean. Someone had cleaned it, but they couldn’t get rid of the scent of death and misery.
And they couldn’t get rid of the horrible darkness.
He didn’t know how long it was before the trapdoor opened. The light blinded him, and in the moment it took to adjust, a half-full bottle and half a loaf of bread were thrown down and the door was shut again.
Reid pressed his fingers desperately against the trapdoor, but it was locked. He cursed under his breath, sitting down on the stone, and groping at the ground around him. Eventually, he found the bread and water.
He bit into the bread. Stale, and rough on his tongue, but food.
It was food.
‘I guess I’m just looking for it again – for the belief I had back in college, the belief I had when I first met Sarah and it all seemed so right. The belief in happy endings.’
Reid didn’t need to reread the letter. He had an eidetic memory, after all. Despite that, he didn’t put the paper down. His eyes remained blankly fixed on the paper, but he was seeing another letter. He was seeing the letter his father had left behind.
He had no way of knowing how much time passed. Slowly, he folded the letter again. He slid it back into the envelope.
He tried to forget.
Three times, the trapdoor opened. Three times, a half-full bottle of water and a half a loaf of bread were dropped down. Three times, he had attempted to talk to his captor, warn him his colleagues at the FBI would find him, find some way to convince him to let him go. He talked quickly, feverishly, starting to reach a crescendo and beginning to hope that maybe, just maybe—
And then the trapdoor closed on him mid-sentence. Each and every time.
From his hunger and thirst, he estimated that he was getting food once a day to once every other day. And then he estimated that he was getting it once every three days. And then he couldn’t even hazard a guess. A while after the first time he was fed, his stomach started to growl. His throat became dry. He continually tried to moisten his mouth, even a little, but he couldn’t. His tongue became dry, and he felt himself becoming more and more sedentary in the darkness, trying to preserve what energy he had.
Soon, the bread and half-full bottle that were given to him couldn’t even scrape the surface of his need. Hunger gnawed at his stomach, pain spreading out from there as his body started to tear apart muscle in an attempt to prolong his life. The ache sank down into his very bones, making him feel utterly hollow.
Worse still than the pain was the thirst. The hunger pains left him lying in a fetal position, slowly sinking inside the void that was his own hollowness, but the thirst was constantly demanding attention, making his dried tongue swell and crack, leaking blood into his mouth, and making his head pound against the cold stone floor. His skin shriveled and tightened on his decaying muscles and hollowing bones, and the only movement he really made was to scratch his dry skin, even after he felt it split apart under his nails and blood stained his fingertips.
His heart fluttered against his ribs, trying to break out and fly away, to go somewhere that didn’t radiate pain. To go somewhere that it could lie down and see painless light one last time.
As he realized he was dying, he was struck by horrible fear. For a moment, he was utterly certain that he would waste away in that pit, and no one would ever know what happened to him. After everything he had been through, all the situations he’d thought his way out of, all the trials he had faced, he would die alone and helpless in a place made of nothing but blackness.
Panic gripped him, making his dry throat become tight, and he started scrabbling at the wall, trying to find purchase in the stone, scratching hard enough to tear his nails apart. His fingertips started to bleed, leaving sticky streaks on the rock, but he found seams between the blocks that had been cemented together. He pulled himself up, hissing at the pain in his fingers as the skin was ripped apart by the cement, but he relished the pain in his hands. It was real pain, the pain that came with life, not the horrible pain in his stomach and hollowing body that threatened to extinguish him.
Standing up made his head spin. He stumbled, hitting his temple against the wall. Blue and red spots exploded in his vision, and he instinctively reached out for them, catching himself against the stone before he fell in an attempt to touch that brief moment of color. The pain pounding his skull was magnified, his temple starting to throb, and blood rushed to his head, heating it up. His arms trembled as he held himself upright, waiting for the vertigo to go away. No. He wouldn’t just waste away on the ground. He wouldn’t lie down and let himself die. He’d survive. He’d find a way to survive.
He kept one hand on the wall, and took a step. Then another. Then another. He started counting the steps it took to get from one end of the prison to another, counting and counting and counting and refusing to think about the hunger and thirst. He fingered the Orula’s Ide hanging off his increasingly bony wrist, remembering the man who gave it to him and remembering that it was meant to protect him. He had to have faith he would survive. He had to.
The fourth time the trapdoor opened, it rattled at first. Gentle rattling, but it was so sharp compared to the regular muffled sound of footsteps above him that Reid started. It swung open, but he wasn’t blinded. Only soft starlight illuminated the world outside. This time, food wasn’t immediately dropped down. He had a moment to stop his counting and see outside, see the stars staring down at him, pick out the constellations and be reminded that the fear and darkness and hunger weren’t the only things in the world.
The figure above him was smaller than the captor that had been feeding him, but it was dark, so he couldn’t tell any more than that. It knelt by the edge of the door, holding out something he couldn’t see.
He pawed out, some awful part of him wondering if he could pull this person in and maybe use them as leverage to get out, but then his fingertips brushed against its arm. Its tiny, tiny arm with smooth skin. A child’s arm.
He immediately knew he wouldn’t harm the figure, not even to escape.
Then his hands found the figure’s gifts. Two full bottles of water, an apple, jerky, and a blueberry muffin.
The hunger and thirst roared with renewed vigor at the thought of being sated. He didn’t know why the child did this for him. He took the gifts quickly, his body trembling for some kind of sustenance, and before he did anything, he put them on the ground, taking one of the water bottles with shaking hands and draining it.
Water had never tasted so good.
He looked up again, seeing that the figure was still crouched above him, framed by stars, and he gave a hoarse “Thank you.”
The figure leaned further down, making a soft ‘shhhh’ sound.
But he didn’t stay quiet. It wasn’t in his nature to. “Are you a prisoner, too?”
The figure did not answer.
“Listen, I have friends. Friends that could help us both. Please, all I need is a—”
The figure made a louder ‘shhhh!’ noise before there was the sound of heavy footsteps, louder now that the trapdoor was open. The figure looked up, then immediately straightened, closing the door and leaving him in darkness once more.
He wanted to scream in frustration, but that would do nothing. He didn’t have the energy to waste. Instead, he did what he had been doing ever since he woke in the dark. He stayed sane.
He forced himself to save the remaining bottle for later. He ate the apple and muffin, and he saved the less perishable jerky with the water.
And then he started counting the number of footsteps it took to get from wall to wall again, running his fingers along the Orula’s Ide on his wrist, and he remembered. He remembered his team. He remembered JJ’s wedding, and the smell of wet grass and champagne.
“Hey, is there room for two?”
Reid looked up from his position hunched over his sandwich. Emily stood there, her smile more nervous than he remembered. Strangely, she didn’t just sit down without waiting for a response. She stood there, and they were the only unmoving people in the café.
He cleared his throat, leaning back in his chair. “Sure. Go ahead.”
She let out a breath she had been holding. She sat down across from him, yet between them, a gap yawned greater and greater until they could hardly see each other. Reid recognized it in himself. He never wanted to allow someone close again after they left him.
He could only sit and watch as Emily’s eyes grew sad.
She was just as aware of it as he was.
Something victims of abduction never say is how the darkness starts to bleed into you.
There are cracks in a human body—seams between nail and skin, passages through orifices, even just fissures between skin cells. The darkness seeps in through these cracks. It doesn’t swallow you, nothing as sudden as that, but it brings you into itself. When you move, the darkness moves with you, like a singular piece of fabric.
When Spencer Reid breathed, he felt the black breathe with him. The air expanded and contracted with his chest, and the longer he was all alone, the further he felt his identity slip from his grasp. The beads around his wrist, given to him by Julio Ruiz for protection, only helped him for so long. Then it felt like they had fused with his skin, just blemishes in darkness.
The memories kept him from completely dissolving into the nothing. The memory of the joy radiating from JJ as she stood at the altar with Will. The memory of Rossi kissing his cheeks on his birthday. The memory of Morgan smiling, teasing, calling him ‘pretty boy’. The food given by his captor gave him life. The food gifted to him by the child gave him strength. Yet it was the memories, the experiences made with his friends, that gave him the power to keep his spirit intact. In the moments between dark wakefulness and sleep, he could imagine them talking to him. Encouraging him to stay strong. Telling him that they’ll come and find him.
By the time he had nearly become one with the darkness, he had to wonder where they were.
Sometimes he wished he had a lover, and for none of the right reasons.
After grueling cases, he didn’t want to be alone. He didn’t want to go to bed alone, he didn’t want to think alone, and he most certainly didn’t want to face the darkness alone.
Nonetheless, he knew they all had to go home eventually. He usually got his sleep out of the way on the jet. Then, when he was in that empty apartment, he’d spent his time reading. He would read and hope that his demons would be kept at bay for one more night.
He received the paltry meal from his captor three more times. He received the sustaining gifts from that blessed child two more times, saving his body from consuming itself. By now, he had given up trying to talk to them. Where were his friends? Where was the BAU? It felt like he had been down there for years.
He now knew how many of the abduction victims felt. Passing time with numbers, memories, sleep… No one to talk to. Nothing to read. Nothing but darkness.
He had taken to pinching himself on the back of his hand. Just small pinches, not even bruising the skin. Just reminding himself he’s alive. Reminding himself that the memories were real.
Then the trapdoor opened again. He expected the child because the food wasn’t immediately dropped down. Instead, when his eyes adjusted, he saw the great form of his captor.
His pupils contracted. He ran his dry tongue over his cracked lips. “Wh… wh…”
“Shhh.” The figure, a manly silhouette, crouched down and held out arms into the cell. After a hesitation, his desire for light and freedom won out over caution, and he took the silhouette’s arms. He was pulled, his feet losing contact with the ground, and he was wrapped in light.
He was placed on his side, lying down. The world spun as his previously useless eyes were bombarded with stimuli, and he dug his fingers into the fiber of the soft rug he was lying on. It was too bright to see for a moment.
“Is he okay?”
He trembled. Fear clogged his throat, but he struggled to maintain a logical train of thought.
His vision cleared as much as it could without glasses. He was in a sunroom. There were three glass walls and a clear ceiling. There were woods outside, along with a shoulder-high wire fence. Alright, his captor was taking him out of his prison in broad daylight in a place any passerby could see, so he must be in an isolated location that his captor was comfortable with.
“Is he okay? He’s not talking.”
The voice registered properly this time. It was small, feminine, and more than a little squeaky.
He took a deep breath, then carefully rolled to his other side to see who was talking, who had saved his life, and he tried to not irritate the headache that had started banging his skull at the sudden presence of light.
“He’s fine. He’s moving.”
The entrance to a relatively nice house came into focus. Standing just inside, the tips of her toes curling past the threshold, was a little girl with a long braid and a white dress, just catching a bit of light. Black spots danced in his eyes as they adjusted, making her look bluish and blurred, not even sparing him the ability to make out her face.
For a moment, he felt an uncontrollable rush of affection for the girl. The little hands clutching her white dress were the hands that provided for him. That gave him the sustenance he needed to stay human. That allowed him to calm the horrible pain. Had he been able to, he probably would have thrown all common sense out the window and just given her a big hug of gratitude.
Yet above him was the great bulky shadow of a man. Black hair. Intelligent eyes. Broad shoulders. His captor.
“It’s okay, now. Everything will be alright.”
He wanted to say something, anything, but the truth was he couldn’t. His throat was dry, his head pounded, and he only had eyes for the little girl in the doorway. He tried to moisten his mouth, but before he could, he felt a hand on his arm, pulling him up to his feet.
He staggered, blind, but the unsub led him towards the little girl. She stepped away from the door, allowing them through, but she tagged along by their heels, close enough for Reid to occasionally feel the hem of her dress whisper against his ankles. Inside, back in dim light, everything looked bluish.
“I ran a bath for you!” that small, feminine, squeaky voice said. “We thought you might like one after being in there so long. Your glasses are by the sink, too.”
He wanted to thank her, thank her for everything, but his mouth remained too dry. He tried looking around, but everything was just smears of different colors that he wasn’t given enough time to distinguish. He struggled to orient himself, gain some knowledge of the place he was in.
He felt a soft, plush rug under his bare feet. The unsub was pulling him along, and then they were climbing stairs with a long red carpet on it.
“You’re quiet. That’s a good thing.” The unsub’s voice. Deep, but not evasive or obviously disturbed. It sounded like he knew how to appear normal. Normal. “You’re going to get cleaned up. After, you’ll have a nice hot meal and we’ll talk. As long as you behave, things will work out well here.”
There were paintings on the walls, but Reid couldn’t make them out well. Just human-shaped streaks on red and brown, washed with a blue filter.
Then the unsub opened a door and flicked on lights in another room. “Don’t be in there too long.”
And then he was pushed in, the door closed and locked behind him.
Reid stumbled in place, catching himself on a counter. He saw his glasses besides the sink, and he snatched them quickly, pushing them up the bridge of his nose.
The world became clear, and he slowly blinked the blue filter away.
He was… in a very, very nice bathroom. He looked back at the door he came through, then half-heartedly tried the knob. Locked, just as he thought.
He turned away from the door and leaned against it, observing the room with his cleared vision. It was white, with clean ceramic tiles, a white marble counter (with fresh, untouched shaving supplies—the unsub went so far as to give him something to shave with?), a toilet, two white towels, a fluffy white mat, and a steaming bath.
It felt like he had traded in a black void for a white one.
He glanced at the mirror above the counter. He half expected to see a man made entirely of darkness staring back at him. Instead, he just saw himself—Spencer Reid, with soiled clothes, hollow cheeks, and pasty skin. It was a jolt, seeing himself. He reflexively reached up, tracing the contours of his gaunt face, becoming familiar with his own features once again. The only splashes of color on him were the red of his healing scratches and the green and yellow of his Palo Mayombe bracelet. The sight of the beads, the only things that hadn’t degraded from the darkness, gave him an inexplicable feeling of calm.
He was tempted to just sit there and contemplate the colors, but the concept of actually getting clean after so long in that awful place was irresistible. He quickly ran water over his palms to clean off the surface, and then took a long drink from the tap, finally calming the thirst that had still tormented him despite the girl’s efforts. Then he stripped off his ruined clothes, letting the stained rags fall to the floor before he carefully stepped into the bath.
He flinched at the heat, but slowly settled into the water anyway. Filth floated off of him, cleansing the darkness from the cracks it had needled into. He breathed, and for once, the air around him didn’t breathe with him.
He started cleaning the dried blood from his scabbed fingertips and flesh, and then analyzed the situation. He didn’t know where he was, who had captured him, or what they wanted him for. What he did know was that he had survived the pit and he would find a way out.
He would find a way out.
“Here, make yourself comfortable.”
Reid felt horribly exposed, but at the same time, it felt fantastic to have finally been able to bathe after so long in that horrid pit. He instinctively hunched over and wrapped his arms around his chest, trying to give himself the protection that his captor’s bathrobe couldn’t provide, and slowly sat down at the kitchen table, eyes darting around as he readjusted his glasses. This was a beautiful home, now that he could see it. The kitchen had state-of-the-art equipment, all kept shiny and clean, with a table in the center, which he was sitting at. Most of the doors he had passed thus far were able to be locked from the outside, with even the locks looking perfect and shiny. All he had noticed that was not the best of the best was the fact that there were not many windows—just artificial lights.
Alright, so the unsub was rich, liked to control where people could and couldn’t go, and didn’t like windows for some reason.
Before he could make any more observations, he heard small feet shuffling against the kitchen tile. He turned to look, strange excitement bubbling in his chest, and as expected, it was the little girl. Reid frowned, and he immediately knew why there were so few windows.
The girl was an albino. When one said someone had ‘skin as white as snow’, they were usually being hyperbolic. Not in this case. Deathly white skin with white hair to match, pulled into a long braid which she kept playing with. She looked surreal, like someone covered in costume makeup, but he felt another rush of affection for her nonetheless. For the girl who saved him.
She gave him a nod, big pale blue eyes looking him over, and then she scurried to the table, pulling herself up on a chair across from him where there was already a place setting.
The unsub—a sharp-eyed man about twice Reid’s size, though that wasn’t saying much—sat between the girl and the agent, putting down a plate in front of them both. On the plates was breakfast—bacon, scrambled eggs, and toast, with a knife and fork already put in place. The girl tucked in, but Reid eyed the food warily. He decided to eat, though, since he didn’t want to let onto the kindness he had been shown during his time in the pit and he couldn’t think of a reason for the unsub to drug him now.
The unsub gave a smile, but the corners of his eyes didn’t crinkle, making the look shiver-worthy. “There you go. Isn’t it nice to have food after that?”
Reid nodded cautiously, trying to weigh the man’s intentions. Kidnapping an FBI agent, keeping him in a dark prison for who-knew how long, and then suddenly treating him like a guest? Probably an attempt to induce Stockholm’s Syndrome, but to what end?
The girl looked up from her toast, a shy smile flickering across her face. She looked so tiny, all the way on the other side of the table. Reid guessed she was maybe… five years old? Six? It was difficult to tell. “It’s okay if you talk now, if you like. Right, Darcy?”
The unsub—Darcy—nodded, lacing his fingers on the tabletop. “I’m sure you have questions. You can go ahead and ask them.”
Reid stared at the man warily while eating the eggs. He had to think about how he wanted to phrase things, worried as he was that he might trigger a violent episode in the unsub. “…Who are you?”
The man kept smiling, but Reid still wasn’t comforted in the slightest.
“I am Darcy.” He gestured to the girl across the table. She finished her toast, but her eyes stayed on Reid, big and curious. “This is Angeline.”
Reid hesitated. Angeline. That was the name of the girl who saved him. In his admittedly biased opinion, it was fitting. He gave her an awkward wave, which she returned. “Hi, Angeline. I’m Sp—”
“No need for that,” the unsub cut him off, something flashing behind his smile that put Reid even more on edge. “You don’t have a name. I’ll decide when you have earned one.”
Reid swallowed, putting both his hands in his lap. Stripping his identity away—could be a sign of plenty of things. Possibly that the unsub was a control freak, or he was reenacting the process he suffered when he was forced into some kind of institution, or… or he knew what he was doing, and he was trying to break Reid.
“A-alright.” It’d be best to not argue. Take time to gather more information, then make his move. Reid looked back at Angeline, forcing a smile. He doubted she was fully aware of the effect that stripping a name away could have, and he didn’t want to scare her. “Nice to meet you.”
Angeline smiled back at him, then looked at the unsub. “I like him, Darcy.”
“Good.” Darcy’s eyes lingered on the girl. It made Reid uncomfortable; he was always uncomfortable when children were involved with any unsubs. “That’s good. You’re here for her, after all.”
“I am?” Reid wished he had something to fiddle with. It was so hard to keep his nervousness from showing. “H-how so?”
“A lot of reasons.” The unsub nodded, standing up from his chair. “I’m a busy man, and I can’t teach her everything. You will take care of Angeline, and you’ll never want for anything again.”
Reid glanced back at the little girl, who was still smiling. To her, this was normal. Had there been other people like him? “W-why don’t you just hire a babysitter?”
The unsub just laughed, walking to Reid’s side and clapping him on the shoulder. The agent winced—the grip was painful. “Just do what I tell you to.”
Without waiting for an answer, the unsub started walking to the door. “Teach her how to read.”
The man left, a loud clicking telling Reid that the door was locked.
Angeline’s smile fell away. She didn’t look upset, but she looked serious. She pushed herself off her chair, taking her empty plate to the sink and starting to wash it. “Don’t try to escape. There’s no way out of this part of the house.”
Reid looked up at her, squeezing the edge of the table. “O-oh? Did other people try to escape?”
“Yeah. And he took them away.”
Angeline turned off the faucet, grabbing a dishtowel and drying off the plate. “The windows are locked. There’s a house alarm on in case anyone tries to get in or out without the password, there are locks all over the house, and he has an electric fence if none of that works.” She turned to look at Reid. He took a moment to examine her. Flawless complexion, very well cared-for hair, symmetrical features…
“It gets lonely around here without anyone to play with, so just stay around, please?” She opened up a cupboard placed under the counter, placing her dish on top of a pile. Reid continued eyeing her carefully, not entirely sure how to respond. Was she a victim? Or the unsub’s child, who he was desperate to spoil for some unknown reason?
He stood up, taking his own plate to the sink. There wasn’t enough information. He needed to figure out the layout of the house, where he was, why the unsub took him, and how many leads his team might already have. To figure that out, he needed time. For time, he needed the unsub to let him live.
And to live, he apparently needed to teach a little girl how to read. How hard could it be?
“Uh…” He cleared his throat, watching the little girl watch him. “You… do you have any books?”
Her little nose wrinkled, just like how Henry’s did when Garcia or JJ tried to get him to eat vegetables. “Why don’t we play chess instead? Or cards?”
Reid wrung his hands awkwardly. Somehow, a night of babysitting Henry and an episode of Mr. Belvedere didn’t seem like enough experience to deal with this. “Why not Boggle instead? Or Scrabble?”
Angeline scrunched up her face, then turned around, walking towards the only unlocked door. “You need to know how to read for those games.”
“That’s the point!” He followed her, only halfway paying attention to the conversation as he examined their surroundings. From the kitchen, they walked into a grand dining room, with a big table that Reid identified as mahogany and a plush Persian rug underfoot. The walls were adorned with artwork, but not by any artist Reid recognized. They were all paintings of pale men and women with white clothes and light-colored eyes and hair, usually doing something like ascending a palatial staircase or dancing alone in an empty theater. Very repetitive subject matter, but even from his brief glance, the painter seemed to have gone through painstaking lengths to make the people beautiful—symmetrical and flawless in every way. “You see, children are statistically more likely to retain knowledge if it’s presented to them in an interesting way, like through a game or—”
“I don’t like trying to read.”
She pushed her way out of the dining room, forcing Reid to follow before he could examine the art at all. They came out to a living room, lined with plush couches and bookshelves going from floor to ceiling, and a large plasma TV sat on the far end.
Pretty normal. Still very few windows, but normal. “Well… do you like magic tricks?”
She froze in place, then looked over her shoulder, arching one white eyebrow. “Magic tricks?”
When she stopped walking, Reid stopped walking. Huh. JJ was right. Kids loved magic.
“Y-yeah. I’m a magician, you know.”
Angeline considered him, then turned around, crossing her arms and pouting. “Are you lying to me?”
“No! I’m a magician, honest!” Reid sat down on a plush red couch, putting his hands on his knees. “I can show you a few, if you like.”
She crept forward, obviously enticed by the offer of magic. “You’re gonna ask me to do something before you do.”
“You’re a smart kid.” Reid smiled, keeping his eyes on her even as he was furiously analyzing the situation he was in. “If you spend twenty minutes trying to read with me, I’ll teach you a magic trick.”
She scowled, but she still crept a little closer. “A magic trick, and you play a card game with me.”
If Reid weren’t so nervous, he would have laughed. To her, he was a playmate. Not a victim, not a hostage, not an FBI agent—a playmate. “Sure, we can play a card game too.”
The child—Angeline—perked up immediately, then scampered to one of the bookshelves, running her fingers along the spines of the books. “Darcy wants us to use… this one.” She pulled out a book with a black cover with giant gold letters spelling ‘The Weeping Woman’. “The one with the shiny words on the front.”
She scampered towards him, sitting on the couch and immediately scooting up close against him. Reid winced at the unexpected contact, especially when he was wearing a bathrobe, and she immediately scooted away, not even commenting. Odd. Children her age shouldn’t be able to pick up on things like that and act on them yet.
“Um, well…” Reid held the book between them and promised himself that he’d give her some kind of affection when he was properly clothed. “How much do you know about reading? Can you sound out the words on the title?”
“Easy.” She shrugged, tracing the golden print and reading out loud without hesitation. “The Weeping Woman. A lady who’s crying, right? I think that’s what weeping means.”
“Right. Weeping comes from the Old English wepan, which means to shed tears, and wepan itself comes from Proto-Germanic wopijanan, so it—” He stopped himself, imagining Morgan or Hotch giving him a look and shushing him. The kid doesn’t need to hear about etymology, pretty boy, his mental version of Morgan said.
Yet the girl didn’t seem perturbed. She was just looking up at him with interest, fingers hovering over the book.
“…You’re right, that is. Good job.” This would be easier than he thought. He opened the book, turning past the title page to a picture of three masks: two sad ones on either side of a blank one. He tapped his finger at the start of the paragraph--This is a story that the old ones have been telling to children for hundreds of years. It is a sad tale, but it lives strong in the memories of the people, and there are many who swear that it is true.—and looked down at her. “You want to try this?”
She immediately scowled, pushing the book away. He took a breath to remind her of the magic trick and card game, but she didn’t make him drop it. Instead, she just yanked the book out of his hands without warning, holding it at arm’s length and squinting.
Reid frowned, and he immediately knew why she could read the title perfectly but still apparently couldn’t ‘read’.
She made a frustrated sound, squirming in her seat and not listening to a word he said. “This. That’s the first word.” She slammed the book shut, glaring at the golden letters on the cover. “This gives me a headache. Can I see the magic trick now?”
“Angeline, you’re an albino, right?”
She plopped the book on her knees, looking up at him and pulling her white braid over her shoulder. “You mean I’m really really white? Yeah, Darcy says he really likes that about me.”
Reid turned so he could face her, gesturing with his hands as he launched into lecture mode. “Albinism is usually caused by inheriting two recessive genes, which makes the body not produce melanin, which gives humans color in our skin, hair, and eyes. Because melanin is used as protection against UV radiation and light, albinos are more susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer, but more importantly, the eyes are heavily affected by the lack of melanin and, often, poor transmission from the eye to the brain, astigmatism, or underdeveloped optic nerves. Therefore—”
“There’s nothing wrong with me.”
It was said with the sort of certainty that an adult in denial would have. She crossed her arms, those icy eyes staring him down, and he could swear he wasn’t talking to a child. “There’s nothing wrong with me. My eyes are fine. They’re pretty and they’re fine.”
Reid blinked quizzically, fidgeting nervously. “Well, they’re, they’re very pretty, I’m not commenting on that. It’s just that, if you can’t read regular print and get headaches when you try, then you’re probably—”
“I’m fine.” She stood up sharply, letting the book drop on the couch. “Let’s play that card game now.”
Reid gathered himself up, trying to think of why she would react like this. “Look, there’s nothing wrong with it. I could just talk to your father and—”
She spun around, her white dress swishing at her ankles, and she put her hands on her hips. “You can’t tell Darcy. I’d get in trouble.”
Reid frowned, cocking his head and furrowing his brow. “What do you mean?”
She sighed in frustration, as if he asked a stupid question. “If I don’t act like a lady, I get in trouble. If I don’t look perfect, I get in trouble. If there’s something wrong with my eyes and he can’t fix it, he’ll get really mad.”
Perfection. Perfection. It made sense—the perfectly symmetrical art, the spotless rooms, the little girl with symmetrical features and flawless complexion… the unsub had an unhealthy desire for perfection. But why?
“What do you think he’d do if he got angry?”
For a brief moment, her lower lip trembled. Then it became still again.
Emotional control. Actual emotional control that was usually possessed either by children at least twice her age, or children who are ‘gifted’ emotionally and intellectually.
“I don’t want him to get angry.”
She was abused. How so, he didn’t know, but he’d seen that look too many times to not recognize it.
His brow furrowed again. From just the first interactions, the girl displayed perceptiveness uncommon for small children, abnormally high emotional intelligence, developed verbal skills and comprehension, and the ability to compromise—which isn’t usually a concept children grasp until maybe when they were seven, and Reid would swear that this girl was closer to five or six.
Was she a victim as well as him? The concept made his heart pound in his ears—he, an adult, could handle pain, but a girl her age shouldn’t have to.
“…Well, he doesn’t have to know you have sight problems.”
In the moment it took for her expression to change from stony to quizzical, he was already almost finished with a plan.
“How could you do that?”
An unsub with a need for perfection and control who has killed captives before when they attempted to escape. He could work with that. He’d find a way to work with that.
“Trust me. The last thing I want is for you to get into trouble, okay?” Reid forced another smile, but it was out of habit more than anything. He had a feeling the girl could tell the smiles weren’t real. “But first, I need to know what prescription you need. I can make an eye test quickly and test you myself.”
“And then we can do the magic trick and the card game?”
“Of course. I promise.”
She scowled for a moment, thinking it over. Luckily, despite her uncommonly advanced development, she was still enough of a child to be won over by the promise of magic. She relented.
Reid figured he could find a way out. Gain the unsub’s trust and find a way to contact the BAU, if they weren’t already triangulating his position somehow. He thought he would be out in a couple days if he wasn’t murdered.
He was wrong.