Author's Note: This series of vignettes takes place after the events of my novel-length story How to Fight Loneliness.
Hotch had to admit that the case was fascinating. It always felt wrong to feel any intellectual satisfaction or academic interest in a subject that involved the deaths of innocent people, but there it was. The UNSUB left cryptic clues in carefully chosen locations around the bodies of his victims in a way that suggested a ritualized form of OCD, and they'd all been deep into the killer's pathology since their arrival two days ago.
Hotch was writing progress notes for the file. Reid and Prentiss were at the other end of the table, sitting across from each other with both their noses buried in the casefiles. Neither of them had spoken much since he'd sat down, barring the occasional request to pass over a piece of paper.
Sometimes, when they were out working a case and everyone fell into their usual job-related roles, he almost forgot that they were married. True to their word to him, and his to Strauss, they were at all times professional on the job. They had relaxed a little when the team was out socially. It wasn't unusual to see them hold hands while they all walked into a restaurant or a hotel, and Reid's shoulder was Emily's favorite place to rest her head when she slept on the jet. But these things had become normal to him, just as normal as seeing Reid give a profile or Emily interrogate a suspect.
In front of the local police or families of victims, you'd never have guessed, and they never mentioned it. Sometimes it was even funny. It wasn't an unusual occurrence for Emily to get hit on by men they met on the job. Local detectives, local Bureau agents, witnesses, reporters. The ring on her finger didn't seem to put anyone off; in fact, Hotch thought it might have made it worse. Emily was a beautiful woman, and Hotch was always impressed by Reid's restraint as he ignored the flirty remarks and clumsy come-ons continually aimed at his wife. The fact that she always responded with polite disinterest probably helped. There had been one occasion when Reid had been the target of a local detective's romantic interest. That woman had found out that Prentiss did not share Reid's disinclination to address the matter.
Prentiss set down a file and picked up a new one. "There's got to be some significance to these items placed around the body," she said, her eyes on some crime scene photos.
"Sure there is, to the UNSUB," Reid answered.
"It's so complex. He chooses the items..."
"He decides where to put them and how to place them..."
"Does he need that for satisfaction, or is it more like..."
"...a compulsion, yeah. We had a case before your time of an arsonist who was compelled to light fires based on her observations of things having to do with the number three. The crime was almost incidental, it was a symptom of her compulsion. That leads to the question of whether..."
"The compulsion leads him to kill, or if it kicks in after the murder's taken place. He could have an anger-excitation pathology that we've seen in other killers, but then have a compulsion that makes him arrange the crime scene like this," Prentiss said.
"It's like that one other case. The one in..."
"I know, I thought that, too."
"Except he was..."
"Yeah, I know. That changes it."
"Check for the signs."
"I did already, but you should look, too."
"Hand me the thing."
"Here. Oh, take this one, too."
Pause. "No, see, it's different."
"Different because of..."
"...the wounds, yeah." Reid sighed and put aside the folder she'd just handed him. He looked up at her. "You don't buy it, do you?"
"No. I think his urge to kill and his compulsion are separate and distinct."
"The kill itself isn't ritualized or obsessively organized."
"Didn't this happen with..." Emily began, scrunching up her face in thought.
"No, that's a myth. Nothing was ritually placed at any of those victims. That story was fabricated by the sensationalist journalism of the time."
"This case doesn't have much in common with that one anyway. Just a thought."
Hotch shook his head in bemusement as he wrote in the file notes. Could they hear themselves? Did they realize how much information they were leaving out when they spoke? He could barely follow their conversation himself, and he knew this case.
He looked up and found both of them watching him, identical wry smiles on their faces. "What?" he said.
Reid launched into one of his spiels. "You know, it's well documented that married couples develop a kind of conversational shorthand based on familiarity with each other's facial expressions, word choices and body language. It's thought to be an evolutionary adaptation to help support pair-bonding and the establishment of stable family units."
"Translation: we know how we sound," Emily said.
Hotch smiled. "I was only wondering when you two had started sharing a brain."
After a few good-natured chuckles, all three of them went back to work. Their silent research was interrupted by periodic bursts of conversation, all of it incomprehensible. Hotch kept his observations to himself. He remembered what it was like to be that tuned in to another person.
"Reid, do you..."
"No, not really. What about..."
"I don't think so. It doesn't track with the disposal sites."
"Well, then the geographical profile will need to be adjusted."
"...the sites correlate. You know what, I'm actually thinking that..."
"Don't even go there."
Reid sniffed. "I wasn't going to go there."
"You were, too."
"All right, I was, but is it such a crazy idea?"
"Only to other people. Your mind is a strange place, honey."
Hotch glanced up. It was rare to hear either of them use endearments with each other in the field. But the three of them were alone in the room, there wasn't any harm. Emily was looking at him with an affectionate smile on her face. Reid dropped a quick wink at her, then their office-faces fell back over their expressions and they bent to their work again.