Reid's running out of options, and in his desperation for answers, he finds he'll do almost anything to make the pain go away. Even if that means giving himself into the care of some Hoodoo priest claiming his head's filled with spirits.
a/n: I apologise in advance for any butchering I've done in regards to the Santería religion. I've tried to use as little specifics as possible, but at the same time it's best to remember that this story is purely for fictional purposes and is entirely a product of my own imagination.
A cacophony of half-formed images stutter across his vision; bleeding birds and drifting feathers, the flickering of candles in a darkened room, the shadowed bodies of two men highlighted across white-painted walls. Sounds creep in, tinny and garbled, with words he can’t quite decipher, their chanting rising to a crescendo that swells and thrums in time with the throbbing at his temples, with the sharp shots of pain streaking through his head…
When the pain passes, when sounds from the world around him filter in and he can open his eyes to the moment, Spencer Reid tells himself that it’s a headache. It’s just a headache.
- - -
Hotch is looking at him from the other side of his desk and Reid tries his very best not to fidget under the scrutiny, as he finishes recounting his side of the events pertaining to their latest case in Allapattah, Miami.
Hotch drops his gaze momentarily to jot something down in the folder in front of him. The scratch of his pen against paper seems uncommonly loud to Reid and he clenches his teeth tightly against the urge to press his fingers against his ears. Instead he breathes deeply, slowly, in through the nose and out through the mouth and tries to ignore the first tentative spikes of an impending headache.
“Why did you remove your vest?” Hotch asks, looking up again and this time Reid does shift. “You know the protocols, Reid.” Hotch continues when he fails to answer.
“I don’t know.” He replies, honestly enough. He doesn’t know why he removed his Kevlar other than because it had suddenly become unbearably suffocating to wear; a weight so heavy he’d all but struggled to remove himself from it. It was a reaction he found himself unable to logically explain to himself, never mind trying to tell it to Hotch in a manner that didn’t cast question onto his mental stability.
The look Hotch shoots him is one of disbelief though he doesn’t push for Reid to explain. Reid is thankful for all of five seconds, after which Hotch resumes his questioning.
“Why did you leave the house?” Hotch starts writing again.
Reid blinks, brow furrowing. “I told you, I saw the picture and realised with all the victims having been killed in their own homes that it-,” Hotch holds up his hand and Reid falls silent.
“Let me rephrase that,” Hotch amends and Reid feels his stomach churn with anticipation. “Why did you leave the house and go into a potentially hostile situation without backup?”
Reid swallows. His fingers twitch against each other as he holds them folded on his lap. He thinks of the- hallucinations- he suffered, almost before they’d even left for Florida, of seeing glimpses of religious practices, the reoccurring image of the house with its front gate jarring open and closed, the sound echoing in his ears long after he found himself back in the present, his head splitting, ears ringing and rushing with blood. He thinks about the instinctual urge he’d felt upon seeing the picture, the knowledge- the calling he refused to consider- that he had to go, now. Now. NOW.
He shrugs helplessly and sees a flash in Hotch’s eyes. He knows that that isn’t going to hold as an answer.
Hotch puts his pen down, giving Reid his full attention. Reid finds himself looking at anything but Hotch, worrying about giving his thoughts away. His eyes focus on his hands and he touches at the beaded bracelet Julio had given him in the old foster house. He doesn’t believe it’ll protect him, not really, he just… hasn’t been able to bring himself to take it off. After his latest hospital appointment though, he’s maybe ready to believe in anything that’ll stop him from considering the possibility his symptoms are purely psychosomatic.
“Reid,” Hotch calls and his eyes flick quickly upwards. Hotch looks pointedly at the bracelet he’s wearing and he self-consciously pulls the sleeve of his jumper down over it.
“Does it help?” He asks.
“With the headaches,” Hotch elaborates. His gaze is hawkish in its intensity.
“It’s for protection,” Reid says, playing ignorant.
“Oh yes, you were only pretending, weren’t you?”
Reid breathes in deeply through his nose, his eyes narrowing to glare at Hotch and his sarcastic insinuations.
“I don’t know what you’re-,”
“You think we haven’t noticed that something is wrong?” Hotch interrupts without preamble.
“There’s nothing wrong.” Reid says, clenching his teeth.
Hotch’s face reflects his frustration, then: “I requested your medical records.”
It feels as though he’s been drenched with a bucket of ice-cold water, and all Reid can do is stare at Hotch with undisguised shock. He feels his stomach lurch with a sick nervousness.
“You had no right!” He finally spits out. He wants to lurch from his chair and leave the room but he forces himself to sit still, to fist his fingers in his lap and not give Hotch anything more to question.
“I had every right.” Hotch’s voice is calm in the face of his injustice, his tone almost daring Reid to prove him wrong. “As your supervising agent I am well within my rights to request your medical records. To request any records pertaining to you and your ability to function as a part of this team.”
“You think I can’t do my job?” Reid accuses.
“Your behaviour on our last case was questionable, Reid.”
“Because I didn’t follow protocol? I’m sorry, Hotch, but you know I’ve done that before. It’s not uncharacteristic of me to put my own life on the line to save someone else’s.”
“But it is questionable because you know better. We’ve been over this before.”
“Are we done here?” Reid asks, pointedly, knowing there’s nothing he can really say that’ll make Hotch back off. He does know better, of course, but trying to explain why he did what he did would involve him explaining the visions and, and the… calling.
“Reid, I’m just trying to find out what’s going on,” Reid gives a snort of contempt. “We’re worried about you.” Hotch continues, ignoring the sound. “You don’t think we haven’t noticed the headaches? The sensitivity to light? The fact that you’ve not been sleeping right? The irritability too.”
“They’re just headaches.” Reid muttered, cowed.
“You should have told me, Reid.” It’s the way that Hotch says it that has Reid looking up and meeting his eyes, seeing for a moment a glimpse of his supervisor’s worry for him.
“Look, I’ve had it checked out and it’s nothing, just headaches and they’re not stopping me from doing my job. It’s all there in my file.”
“The doctor doesn’t think they’re just headaches.” Hotch says, leading, and Reid pushes to his feet then, not wanting to hear what Hotch is clearly about to say next.
“Don’t even go there, Hotch,” he says. “I’m not…” he clenches his teeth together, heading for the door. “I’m going for a second opinion anyway. That guy didn’t know what he was talking about.”
“Reid-,” Hotch starts then stops, watching as Reid’s face twists into a grimace. Another headache. “I want you to take a few days off, Reid.”
“No, Reid. You will take a few days off. You will get your second opinion and then we’ll look into other options.”
“Other options?” He repeats with a frown, fingers pressing at his left temple.
“Have you considered seeing a psychiatrist?”
The look Reid shoots him should have been able to eradicate him on the spot.
Hotch sighs. “One thing before you go,” he rummages under the files on his desk and comes away with a post-it note which he holds out to Reid.
Reid steps forward and takes it cautiously, staring at the name and number scrawled across the yellow paper. His hand shakes.
“Detective Manny called, Julio Ruiz has been trying to contact you.”
- - -
There comes the flapping of frantic wings; bones snapping; a hiss as water touches an open flame; a chanting call that beats against his mind, again, again… again. A faceless body looming over him, darkness spreading across his vision; a candle flickers, gutters… dies.
- - -
Reid doesn’t call. He scrunches the number and shoves it deep into his satchel and tries to forget about it. It’s not that he doesn’t want to speak with Julio, it’s just that he already knows what the man will say. And if ‘spirits’ messing with his head isn’t some kind of euphemism for going crazy then he doesn’t know what is. He doesn’t need some hoodoo priest telling him there’s something wrong with him, he knows that very well himself, no matter how much he’s currently trying to deny it.
It’s been four days since Hotch put him on leave. Three since he sought out his second opinion. And whilst the new doctor had agreed to re-run the tests his initial physician had administered, the look he’d given Reid as he’d perused his medical records was nothing short of pitying. Reid had left his offices feeling sick and nervy, knowing the new tests were only being done at his insistence and not because his doctor expected the results to be in any way different from the original diagnosis.
He’s had this latest headache for two days now, three if he lets himself count the fact that it properly started not long after his appointment. He hasn’t left his apartment since then, choosing to keep himself huddled under his bedcovers, hiding himself away from all light and sound and trying desperately to will the pain away. He doesn’t think it’s ever felt this bad before. He doesn’t remember it hurting so much, the ache so intense he ends up clawing at his own head trying to dig out the pain.
He sleeps restlessly and wakes nauseous, with blood crusting his face, his pillow, lying thick beneath his fingernails, and he knows he has no choice. He knows he can’t go on like this.
Reid doesn’t need the crumpled post-it note stuffed at the bottom of his bag to dial the number Hotch had handed him.
“Spencer,” the sound of Julio’s voice is like a soothing balm to his troubled mind and he finds himself closing his eyes in relief. His throat is tight and he forgets to speak for a moment. Julio waits him out, content simply to stay on the line until Reid is able to compose himself enough to speak.
“Can you help?” He manages after a few minutes, his voice cracking on the words. He doesn’t need to ask how Julio knew who was calling. All that matters is that he answered, that he can—
“Yes, Spencer,” Julio promises. “I can help.”
The sheer relief of those words is enough to pull a sob-like sound from his mouth and he clenches his eyes tightly shut.
- - -
Wings on the wall, flickering in the candlelight. the scent of blood and smoke thick and cloying at his throat; bodies writhing together upon the floor, moving sinuously through blood and feathers; moans, screams- pleasure or pain?; and the pounding... the pounding... in his head, his heart, his body... and then...
- - -
He tells Hotch where he's going, for no other reason than because he knows the man will have Garcia trace him if he doesn't check in. He doesn't want any of the team following him. Or even knowing where he's going. He doesn't quite understand his own actions and desires right now, he just knows that he's running out of options and that this is his last hope to stop the pain that's been dogging him on and off for months now.
He can hear Hotch's frown over the phone and braces himself for his response. He digs the fingers of his left hand into his eyes as he clenches the phone- knuckle-white- in his right. Colours burst behind his closed eyelids and he rubs, rubs, waiting...
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Hotch asks, voice deceptively calm and Reid fights the urge to cry. No, he doesn't think this is a good idea, but it's the only idea he has right now.
“Did you get the latest copy of my medical records?” He counters, voice a little hoarse, throat scratchy and dry and he licks ineffectually at chapped lips.
“I did.” Hotch confirms, and though he means to keep his voice free from inflection, Reid can hear the pity.
“Then you know,” he says, voice hitching on the words. “I don't-,” he shakes his head and lapses into silence. The results had been the same. Just as they'd both known they would be despite Reid's vehement refusal to accept the inevitable. The headaches were psychosomatic. The recommendation was for psychiatric treatment.
“Come to the office, Reid,” Hotch says, “we can talk this over, look at the available options-,”
Reid shakes his head again, defeated. “There aren't any.”
“You don't know that,” and he's- not quite pleading, but it's close.
“Yes,” Reid says, “Yes, I do.”
- - -
Whispers touch at his ears, words caressing his skin, chants dancing over his body... he shivers; fingers touching, pressing... he squirms; hands holding, clenching... he moans; he feels a pressure building inside him; liquid fire burning through him; something screams, and he thinks it might have come from him; more words, urgent and demanding, commanding him to obey, release, give in, give up... he sees ghosts, dancing on the walls, lurching with skeletal fingers outstretched towards him... again, he screams...
- - -
Julio’s hand on his naked thigh is large, his fingers a thick, dark squeeze against his pale flesh and Reid shudders, helplessly, as Julio moves his hand up in a slow drag, his fingers curling possessively around the narrowness of his hip and pinning him to the hard floor beneath them.
He turns his eyes heavenwards, chest heaving, and tries to focus on the paint-peeled ceiling but finds himself unable to focus; he blames his lack of glasses, blames the constant headache pressing harshly at his temples. He will not blame the stroke of Julio’s fingers as they paint secrets onto his skin, the very touch of him setting his body alight with a fire he’d hardly felt before now.
He hears the whispered chanting of Julio's deep voice, the scratch of a bowl being dragged across floor beneath him, the slick slide of the animal blood he dips his fingers into and presses to his skin. Each sound is new and frightening and only the touch and hold of Julio's hand is enough to calm him, to ground him and keep him from outright panicking.
“I will offer myself to Eleguá now,” Julio says, drawing Reid's attention to him. The preparations are complete and all that now remains is for the ritual to begin, for Reid to be cleansed. “Do what you are commanded and you shall be healed.”
“I will obey, Santeros,” Reid murmurs, using Julio's official title as his priest. He's consented to this, to becoming one of Julio's many god-children. He shivers, terrified of what that means, of what will be asked of him, but at the same time desperate to be rid of this pain- of these ghosts Julio insists are eating through the very core of him, spoiling his soul and his head, killing him from the inside out.
Julio's fingers curl around his wrist, index finger pressing against the bracelet he'd given him those many weeks ago- it's the only thing he's been permitted to wear for this ritual. Julio squeezes once, then releases him. Reid shivers at the loss of contact, watching as Julio pushes to his feet and reaches for the blessed water sitting just outside of their circle.
...the splash of water to his skin burns and he writhes to get away from the pinpricks of fire flaring up over his body...
Julio's voice is deep and steady, unwavering as he calls upon his Saint and Reid tries to focus on the chanting timbre instead of the prickling sensations he feels creeping up his body.
...there's an itch beneath his skin, a deep rooted irritation that causes his fingers to twitch and flex against the flesh of his thighs, fingernails sharp and clawing, craving to tear and rip and scratch through flesh and muscle and bone...
He knows the moment Julio is taken over- the moment he believes he is taken over- and Reid can't explain his own reasoning with logic or understanding, just an instinctive knowledge that the man in the room with him now is not the same man who was with him moments before. And he knows, he knows, because the second it happens, Reid feels a searing spike of pain flare through his head. And he screams.
...screams and screams, but makes no sounds, his body arching, thrashing upon the hard floor, heart pounding, mouth pulled open wide and he hears nothing but the white noise whooshing through his head, feels nothing but the unbearable pounding in his head- tiny fists smashing at his skull, trying to escape from the inside out. He cries, he begs, he prays...
Hands hold him pinned to the floor, his name a mantra that eventually filters through and draws him from his suffering to the present. The air is thick with cigar smoke and fresh blood, soaked through with sweat and the putrid tang of vomit and Reid swallows against the bile and the knowledge that he smells only himself.
Julio leans over him, fingers digging deep into his shoulders, eyes boring into him, tearing through the very soul of him and searching out everything he is made of. Something flares bright and white against his vision and he chokes back a cry, wrenching his eyes from Julio's and squeezing them shut, as if closing himself to the world around him will somehow appease the ache.
...fingers touch at his eyes, cool and wet, stroking across his brow and his cheeks, the touch dulls the pain, steals the strength from the headache as he shudders, panting for breath as he gives himself up to the touch, leaning into it, accepting and pleading for it, wishing that it would never stop; his head begins to tingle, there are voices being whispered into the air around him, into his ears, against his lips, inside his head and he feels those self-same fingers curl and clench and pull as if trying to tear the ghosts right out of him...
Julio drags his hands from Reid's head, pulling them with hard strokes down the length of his body and he knows it's irrational, that it's impossible, but with each stroke of Julio's hands as they travel from sternum to navel to groin, Reid feels the burn of his headache lessen, as if it's being pulled unwillingly from his head and down into his body instead.
He feels something squirming inside him- itching inside of him, twisting and struggling to escape Julio's hold and leech itself back in his skull; hears it SCREAMING fire and pain- and he screams, voice hoarse and burning with sick as it reaches his stomach and kicks against the softness there and he fights- he thrashes as he feels the fingers tearing through him, scratching from the inside out- even as Julio continues to pull it further downwards.
He wants to beg Julio to stop, to tell him it hurts too much, that this pain is worse even than the pain he's been living with for months now, that he'll keep the ghosts, he will, he will, just please... stop, please...
“Please,” the word is pulled from his lips between gasping breaths and screams, but Julio doesn't- won't- hear him, he never stops in his chanting, his voice growing louder and harsher and faster, the sounds blurring together and thrumming through Reid as if the words were a physical thing washing over him, through him.
“Please!” he begs again, fingers scrabbling at Julio's hands, trying to push his fingers away. Julio holds his ground, fingers pinching tight fistfuls of flesh, holding- holding- then dragging and Reid screams as he feels Julio's hands move to his groin and take hold of him in one swift move. Reid feels himself stiffen, harden, but there is no pleasure, only pain and the need to make it all stop.
...he sees again; eyes closed and lips a silent plea... bodies writhing together, shadows on the wall; hands reaching, clawing, holding forever; no, please no... let go, Spencer... voices in his head- ghosts- let go, Spencer... everything hurts, and everything thrums with blood and pain and sweat and tears; he tries to hold on, hold on- let go, Spencer, let go- he just wants this to stop, he fights, resists, screams and-
“Let go, Spencer. Let go, now!” The words are not spoken in English and yet through the haze Reid finds himself understanding them. He promised. He promised to obey.
“Eleguá,” he breathes, once, consenting. And then he screams as something is ripped out of him- a searing burn that explodes from him, splattering fire across his belly and Julio's unyielding hands. He screams until he can scream no more, and then, nothing...
- - -
He wakes without pain for the first time in what feels like years and takes a moment to simply lie there and not move, fearful that one twitch will bring on the full force of the headaches that have been his constant companion these past few months.
When he dares to open his eyes, he finds himself breathing a sigh of relief as the sunshine-bright room he's in fails to assault his eyes. He pushes himself up, conscious of his still unclothed state as the bed sheet covering him falls to his waist. He grips at it, frowning as he tries to think over the ritual cleansing Julio had done on him, but finding his memory pulling up only half-remembered images and a distortion of sounds and smells.
“You are awake,” Julio states. Reid starts, looking up to see Julio standing in the open doorway to the room. He hadn't heard him arrive and wonders, briefly, how long he's been standing there.
“How do you feel?” He asks, stepping into the room. He passes over a glass of water and Reid accepts it gratefully.
“I feel-,” he hesitates, not sure how to describe the lightness he feels, the sense of freedom to think without the fear of acrimony from his own head.
Julio nods at him, understanding. “You are cleansed. Eleguá has accepted you, and you have accepted Eleguá. You will forever be under his protection.”
“Thank you,” Reid says, reaching out to touch at Julio's hand. He's surprised himself by his own initiation of contact but he doesn't pull away. Julio allows the touch.
“It was Eleguá who cleansed you.” Julio says.
Reid shakes his head. “But it was you who led me to Eleguá. Thank you.”
Julio nods, accepting the sentiment. “You should rest some more. You will feel drained for a day or two. I will show you what to do if the spirits try to touch you again, but without regular cleansing-,”
“I'll come back,” Reid interrupts. “As often as I need to.”
Julio's answer is to smile, laughing at the eagerness Reid can't quite keep from his voice. He claps his free hand over their still joined ones and squeezes.
“You are welcome here whenever you wish. I always have time for my god-children.” He releases Reid's hand and makes to stand.
“What-,” Reid starts and Julio looks at him, “What happened? I mean during the ritual. I don't remember much just... shadows and sounds.”
Julio touches at his forehead. “Some things are best left forgotten.”
Reid stares at him, eyes searching Julio's own for a long moment. There's a part of him that wants the answers, that needs to question the half-remembered things that happened to him in that room, but then there's another part of him that breathes a sigh of relief that it's over, that lets him know he can afford to puzzle these things over on his own if he should so desire without the constant pounding to distract him from his own thoughts. He nods his head, once, obeys.
- - -
“How was Miami?” Hotch asks, the casualness of his voice belies the seriousness of his question.
“It was... rejuvenating.” Reid says, settling on the last word. He still doesn't know how to describe the way he's felt since Julio cleansed him, but it's as close as he can get without having to explain things he doesn't quite know how to explain.
“The headaches?” He's straight to business now, but Reid finds himself smiling. Hotch blinks at him, clearly surprised by the change in him since the last time they sat together in his office.
“Gone,” Reid says, his inflection equal parts relief and excitement.
Hotch's face twitches, resisting the urge to frown over Reid's words. He tries not to squirm under the scrutiny but knows he's failed when Hotch's gaze drops to his hands, watching as his fingers play with the bracelet Julio gave him the first time.
“Does it help?” He asks and Reid smiles, remembering their first conversation.
“Yes,” he says. “Yes, it does.”
[ written for Caspe-Wri-Mo 2012 : 4438 / 50000 (8.88%) ]
♥ Two new fandoms this month already? I must be feeling inspired ;)
♥ I’ve wanted to write this story pretty much from the get go, but for some reason have been more than a little afraid to dip my toes into writing for this fandom. I’m not entirely sure what was stopping me but I’m glad to say I think I’m over it and look forward to trying my hand at some more (preferably Hotch/Reid) pieces!