Notes on story genre: I'm describing this fic as "casefile/romance." The casefile portions of the story take place a couple of years from current canon. Those sections are interspersed with substantial flashbacks, some spanning several chapters, which depict how Reid and Prentiss went from friends and coworkers to husband and wife. The front half of the story is flashback-heavy, the back half is casefile-heavy. So be warned that the casefile portion of the story takes awhile to get going, and the first half is more about the relationship.
How to fight loneliness? Smile all the time.
Shine your teeth till meaningless, sharpen them with lies
And whatever's going down will follow you around
That's how you fight loneliness
You laugh at every joke
Drag your blanket blindly, fill your heart with smoke
And the first thing that you want, will be the last thing you ever need
That's how you fight it.
Emily Prentiss had been to so many conferences that they were all a blur. The sameness of the convention centers with their high-traffic carpeting and towers of stackable chairs lined up against the walls like middle-schoolers at a dance, the temporary dividers that folded back into notches in the cinderblock walls, rank after rank of tables with skirts that were Velcroed to the edges, always some shade of dark blue or burgundy. She'd sworn she'd stop going to these things unless she was speaking, and yet here she was, dragged along to another one, this one some flavor of law-enforcement conference. Behavioral analysis fit into so many academic categories…criminology, psychology, forensics, police procedure…that if the BAU team members accepted all of the invitations to speak they received there'd be no time left for the actual profiling.
She wandered through the vendor room, killing time. Book publishers, professional associations, victim's-assistance programs, manufacturers of various paraphernalia for officers. You can tell it's a law enforcement conference, she thought. An academic one wouldn't have the Taser people here.
She turned toward the next booth and saw a slim, dark-haired woman standing there looking at the literature...it was Elle Greenaway, the agent whose place she'd taken on the team. She'd met her a couple of times when she'd been in DC and stopped in to say hello to her former colleagues.
Out of habit, Emily watched her for a moment before speaking to her. It was quickly obvious that she, like Emily, was killing time. She was looking at the brochure in her hand but not really reading it. Emily wondered why she'd come. She was dressed in a conservative suit that conveyed authority; Emily guessed she was here to make law-enforcement contacts. She remembered that Elle had gone into business as some kind of consultant; Emily wasn't clear on the details.
"Elle Greenaway?" she said, having gleaned all she could covertly.
Elle turned. For a split second, her face went blank, then she smiled as she recognized Emily. "Agent Prentiss," she said.
"Please, it's Emily," she said, smiling back and meeting her halfway, their hands clasping for a brief shake. "How've you been?"
"Very well, thanks."
Emily's liar-liar-pants-on-fire alarm was pinging. "Still living here in Dallas?"
"Remind me what you do again?"
"I'm an internal security consultant. Companies hire me to help develop profiles of employees who might be likely to commit fraud, that kind of thing."
"Wow, that sounds…really…."
"Boring? Yeah, it is, a bit. But it's nine to five, and there are no dead people." A shadow crossed her face as she said this.
Emily nodded with the sympathy that only another profiler could have. "I can see the appeal."
"How's everyone at the BAU? I haven't been back in ages."
"We're all fine. JJ and Will finally got married last spring, you probably knew that. Hotch is fine, Morgan is good, Rossi's writing another book."
"And how's Reid? Genius-like as ever?"
"I've discovered it's selective genius. Works great on serial killers and the history of table salt, but isn't so reliable when it comes to remembering to pick up coffee at the grocery store," she said, laughing.
Elle's eyes narrowed a little at this oblique domestic reference. "What?"
Emily was momentarily thrown off guard. She must have heard. "You…don't know?"
"Don't know what?"
"We're married." She held up her left hand and wiggled the ring finger, adorned with her silver wedding band and moonstone engagement ring.
Elle blinked. "You married Reid? Spencer Reid?"
"Yes," Emily said, keeping her expression pleasant while sighing internally. Sometimes it got tiresome having her choice of spouse met with disbelief.
"I'm sorry, I just…really?"
"Come on, let's get some coffee and sit down." Emily steered Elle back towards the main concourse of the convention center, where there was a coffee shop. Elle followed along, and within a few minutes they were seated, armed with caffeine. Emily watched Elle's uncomfortable affect with a mixture of impatience and sympathy. This wasn't the first time she'd been through this with someone. "It's okay, Elle. You can ask."
Elle looked up. "No, it's insulting."
"It's understandable if you're surprised. Not everyone gets us at first. People make assumptions about the type of person either of us would end up with, and it's usually not each other."
"He is younger than you."
"Ten years. I like to think of it as a life-expectancy correction."
Elle smiled, and she seemed to have gotten over her surprise enough to remember the usual social etiquette for this situation. "Well, congratulations. How's married life?"
"It's pretty great, actually. Better than I thought it would be."
"I'm trying to imagine what it'd be like to be married to Reid and I can't quite do it."
Emily laughed. "It's an adventure sometimes, that's for sure. But it's worth it."
"How is his mother doing?"
"There are good days and bad. More bad than good as time goes by."
"I'm sorry. I met her once, she seemed like an interesting woman."
"She's really something. With how attached she is to him, I was afraid she'd view me as a threat, but we took to each other right away."
"Is Reid here with you?" Elle said, glancing around.
"He's speaking tonight. That's the only reason I'm here. I swore up and down I'd never go to another conference unless I was speaking, but then I had to go and marry another profiler. He dragged me along."
"Doesn't sound like he had to drag too hard."
"Well…maybe not. He comes along when I'm the one speaking, so it's only fair that I do the same. At least we get a couple of days away together, maybe squeeze in a decent dinner." Her phone rang; the name on the screen read 'Mr. Prentiss.' That was a private joke. He'd never even asked her to take his name, but she'd teased him that he could take hers, if he wanted to. Her calls to his phone came up as 'Mrs. Genius,' one of Garcia's favorite nicknames for her. "This is him now." She picked up. "Hey."
"I'm done with that guy. Where'd you wander off to?"
"I'm at that coffee shop across from the vendor room. I ran into an old friend, come meet us."
"Be right there." He hung up.
"He's on his way," Emily said. Elle nodded and crossed her legs, taking a big slurp of her latte. "So," she went on, casting for a new topic. "Anyone special in your life?"
"Just my pet rock, I'm afraid," Elle said, looking off towards the windows. "I read about the Duluth case online."
Emily nodded, not commenting on the smooth change of topic. "That was a bad one. We were short-handed because Hotch was on vacation, and the UNSUB's profile never made any sense. Honestly, if he hadn't walked into the police station I don't know if we would have found him."
"Suicide by cop?"
"Seems that way. He acted like he wanted to turn himself in, but before they could frisk him down, he pulled a gun and started firing." She shifted in her chair a little. "Reid took a minor hit in the arm."
Elle's eyes were cautiously sympathetic. "That must have been scary."
"He was fine. Just a flesh wound." There was no way she was going to sit here and pour out what that had been like. She could see it clear as day if she closed her eyes. The UNSUB drawing the gun, firing before anyone really knew what was happening. She'd seen Reid knocked over, and the sight had been like a knife in her guts. Then guns were going off all around her as the police shot the UNSUB. She hadn't fired a single round, because her whole world had just narrowed down to a tiny pinprick, and she cared about nothing else except finding out how badly he was hurt. At that moment she'd understood something of the rationale behind the policy against co-workers in personal relationships, because she hadn't cared at all about apprehending the UNSUB after she'd seen her husband shot.
"How are you two allowed to stay in the BAU together?" Elle asked, as if reading Emily's mind.
"Hotch smoothed it over. He made some argument that the rule was intended to prevent a subordinate being taken advantage of by a superior, and that since Reid and I are the same rank, it didn't matter. He claimed that we were both too essential, and the team dynamics were too well established…anyway, it was more or less bullshit, but Strauss bought it. I suspect Rossi might have twisted her arm a little." She saw Reid approaching over Elle's shoulder and waved him down. "Here he is," she said.
He came up to the table, looked down at Elle, and his mouth dropped open. "Elle! Wow, what a surprise!" Elle half-rose to embrace him while Emily reached over to the next table and dragged over a third chair. "How are you?" He sat, smiling widely, tossing his messenger bag over the back of the chair and reaching out for Emily's hand.
"I'm fine, thanks. I know, it's been a long time." Elle smiled. "You look good." Emily thought so, too. Reid's dress sense was quirky and ever-varying. You never knew what you were going to get, be it Disheveled-Grad-Student Reid, or Debate-Club-President Reid, or Retirement-Home-Chic Reid. Today he was Eccentric-Hipster Reid in a dark gray suit and a red-and-black houndstooth-check vest he'd found at some consignment store.
"Thanks, so do you."
"And congratulations," she said, glancing at Emily.
"Thank you," he said, flushing a little and squeezing Emily's fingers. "So how's consulting? Private security, right?"
"Kind of. It's like profiling, except without all the satisfaction of actually catching bad guys. How's that philosophy degree coming along?"
Reid hesitated just slightly before answering, and Emily knew that he was seeing what she'd been seeing since she and Elle had begun their conversation. "I completed it last year. For the first time since I was twelve, I'm not actually working on a degree right now. I barely know what to do with myself."
"Yeah, he's such a slacker that he's only published four papers so far this year," Emily teased him.
He turned in his chair a little to address her. "I actually just came by to tell you that I forgot to add in the new slides to my presentation, I have to head back to the room and do that before my talk. So I can't stay."
"I'll get some dinner and bring it up."
"Whatever." He rose. "Elle, I'm sorry I have to run, but it was great to see you again. Leave Emily your card, we'll have to get together next time you're in DC, or we're back here."
"I'd like that," Elle said.
"See you later," he said to Emily. He leaned over and kissed her, a quick polite-company peck on the lips. "817," he said.
"818," she replied, waving as he dashed off.
Elle looked bemused. "What was that about?"
"Oh…yeah," she chuckled. "Well…the thing is, he's a little shy about saying things, especially when others could hear."
"You know. Three little words?"
"Oh, I get it."
"Early in our relationship I discovered that, Reid being Reid, he'd been…keeping count. Of how many times we'd said it."
"He kept count? No, wait, of course he did."
"So we started using the count instead of the words. At first we just did it in public but now we pretty much do it all the time. There's a pool at the office that they don't think we know about regarding what day we'll hit 1000."
Emily let herself into their room, carrying a bag of Chinese food. Reid was hunched over his laptop at the desk, but he got up when she entered. "Tell me you got Kung Pao chicken," he said, coming over to take the bag from her.
"I did. Who's your best girl?"
"Oh ho, wanna try that again, Special Agent Not Getting Any Tonight?"
"Sorry, I meant the beautiful and brilliant Emily Prentiss, who is way too good for me."
"Damn right, and don't you forget it." She kicked off her shoes and flopped down on the bed. "Did you fix the thing?"
"Just about done," he said, cracking open one of the containers. He didn't need to ask if she'd brought him a fork. "You want some of this?"
"No, just some lo mein noodles. Don't eat them all."
"Okay," he said, around a mouthful of chicken.
She let her eyes fall closed for a few moments. "Nice to see Elle today. Kinda random."
"Yeah," he said, sounding uncertain. She watched him save his file and shut down the computer. He put down the Chinese carton, got up and sat on the bed next to her, propped up against the headboard. They said nothing for a few long beats. "Tell me I was imagining it," he finally said.
"You weren't. It started the minute she saw me."
"Damn," he muttered. "I was half hoping it was just me being oversensitive after too many years of profiling."
"It's not like we can shut it off. No, she was hiding something. She deflected personal queries, redirected the conversation back to me, and when she asked me if you were here with me, she seemed anxious, like she didn't want to see you. And when I told her you were on your way, she closed off her body language."
"She was too neutral with me," he said. "She was making small talk like we were strangers, and her expression was too controlled, as if she was afraid I'd see something."
"She was. You know her so much better than I do. If she wasn't expecting to see you, I bet she wasn't sure she could fool you for too long."
"Do you think it means anything?"
"I don't know. Maybe she's embarrassed about her career, or regrets leaving the BAU."
"Seemed like more than that."
Emily sat up. "Well, we can't do much about it now."
"What if she's in some kind of trouble?"
She twisted around to look at him. "We could ask Garcia to dig around a little when we get back."
He made a face. "That's a little creepy, isn't it?"
He watched her putting her shoes back on. "Leaving?"
"Yeah, I'm going to go see if Werner Garrison is still downstairs. Hotch will kill me if I don't pick his brain when I have the chance."
"Still coming to my talk?" he asked. Emily smiled at the fake nonchalance in his voice, like he didn't want her to know that it was important to him that she be there.
"Of course," she said, leaning over him and tucking a stray lock of wavy hair behind his ear. "Front and center." He smiled sweetly at her, grasped her hand and kissed the knuckles. "See you there." He nodded. She got up off the bed, grabbed her jacket and went to the door.
She turned back. Reid was off the bed too, walking slowly toward her, hands in his pockets. He looked like a shy schoolboy. "What?"
He met her eyes. "I, uh…." He cleared his throat, shuffling his feet a little. "I love you. You know?"
She went back to him and put her hand on his cheek. "I know, honey. I love you, too."
He smiled at her, his eyes searching her face like he was looking for signs that she meant it. He pulled her against his chest and hugged her tightly. Emily wound her arms around his shoulders and tucked her head into his neck. No one would have suspected the strength that was in his rail-thin body, but she felt it every time he held her like this. He was her safe place, and she was his, and sometimes she wondered how she'd handled the job they both did before she'd had him. She never had to explain, not about anything. He just understood.