He'd thought it would be easier behind the mask.
"The cool thing about Halloween is that it's a uniquely American holiday."
Okay, it did make it easier—to babble. Maybe if he yanked it off. "I mean, despite its obvious origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian All Saint's Day—" Though the glazed expression began skimming across her expression somewhere between "Samhain" and "All Saint's Day" he couldn't seem to stop himself, inwardly cringing even as his enthusiasm prodded the words to escape in an ever more rapid flood of useless trivia—"it really is a melting pot of various immigrants' traditions and beliefs. Became a little more commercialized in the nineteen fifties with Trick or Treat and today, it rivals only Christmas in terms of popularity."
Only Rossi's skeptical expression managed to finally put the brakes on, which left her the opportunity to explain their somewhat odd entrance.
"All I asked was what he was doing this weekend."
It's not as if he could blame her for the exasperation coloring her tone. All he'd wanted to do was ask her a simple question, but he'd been frazzled, running late, and then she'd greeted him with her question, a smile on her face as she took in the grinning jack-o-lantern candy basket he carried with enthusiasm. His original plan had been to leave it on her desk, filled with her favorite dark chocolate truffles and his written invitation, but the Metro had been running late that morning and rather than be the first one in and able to complete his mission with relative subterfuge, he'd been reduced to… babbling.
"You know, I'm toying with the notion of either going to the Edgar Allen Poe shadow puppet theatre or the reenactment of the nineteenth century Phantasmagoria."
Honestly, it was as if there was a mischievous imp somewhere in the vicinity of his voice box, winding him up like an old-fashioned Victrola and rendering him incapable of stopping until the mechanism wound down or someone interrupted, like Rossi with his dry, "I don't wanna know."
And the imp struck again, kicking the mechanism into a higher gear. "Oh—yeah, you do. Phatasmagorias are these amazing pre-cinema projected ghost shows invented in France where the showman attempted to spook the audience using science magic."
She liked physics magic. He knew she did. It had been one of their first bonding experiences, his completely unintentional beaning to her forehead with a film canister propelled across the bullpen. She'd liked it. Had eagerly wanted him to show her how it worked. And had indulged him when he indignantly claimed he couldn't show her how it worked, but he'd be happy to demonstrate the trick again. But while a true magician never revealed his secrets, it didn't mean he couldn't invite a friend—a really hot, brilliant, funny, just-as-nerdy-in-her-own-way-as-he-was, friend—to take in a show rife with science magic and full of plenty of Halloween horror.
"And—it just so happens that I have an extra ticket."
Before he could gauge any potential spark of interest on her part, Garcia broke in with a sarcastic, "Tempting," clearly indicating that it was anything but.
Of course it wasn't interesting. Not when presented by a babbling idiot who couldn't even get it together enough to ask a friend out. As just a friend or… well, yeah. Just a friend. Because… well, that's just how it had to be, right? If there was anything he'd learned over the years, it was that he was a great friend.
Not that any of that mattered because now they had a case. In Detroit. And who knew if they'd even be back in time for Halloween?
The case had been predictably terrible. Anything involving fire was never good. But this one… the unsub not so much an arsonist as a serial killer using fire as his weapon. Personal, horrific, and inflicting maximum pain as revenge for the losses he'd suffered.
But they'd solved it in a timely fashion and made it back in enough time for Hotch to take Jack trick-or-treating and for everyone else to indulge in whatever floated their particular Halloween boat. He'd spent the entire flight home telling himself he was still looking forward to this. Repeating it like a mantra as he dressed in the dark gray tweed trousers, with his favorite purple dress shirt and the darker-hued tie. As he threaded the chain through a buttonhole of his waistcoat and slipped his antique watch into its designated pocket. Some attendees would be clad in full Steampunk regalia, but while he had a frock coat and brass goggles he'd considered augmenting his outfit with, somehow, he wasn't quite as enthusiastic about dressing up as he'd initially been. But even though the situation was of his own making and no one else's he was damned if he'd sit around and sulk. He'd indulged in enough childish behavior already.
Nodding to the usher, he settled himself in his seat and began thumbing through the program, even though the pertinent information had been inexorably committed to memory from when he'd ordered the tickets online. A recreation of an exhibition originally mounted at the Tate Britain, "Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination," was a celebration of the art form at its finest, recreating the fantastically scary presentations of the 18th and 19th centuries. He was expecting a lot of white-knuckled grips and terrified screams—maybe he'd even muster a few of his own.
Some people thought it was weird, his penchant for gothic horror but he found that fear of the most base and wholesome variety did a lot to counter real-life horrors he faced on a daily basis. Somehow, confronting false fear helped him cope with what was real.
Why couldn't he have just asked her?
"Excuse me, sir? Sir?"
It took a moment before he realized the usher who'd shown him to his seat was addressing him.
"Sir, are you Doctor Spencer Reid?"
"Uh, yes." Confused, he reflexively checked his pocket for his cell phone, making sure it was on and that no one from the team had tried to contact him. In the immediate aftermath of the case, they were on stand down but as had just been demonstrated the past few days, Halloween seemed to bring out a special sort of crazy. If for some reason the team was needed and his phone wasn't receiving a signal, it would be easy enough for Garcia to track him down here, given that he'd spilled his guts about his plans.
"Sir, there's a young woman at the box office asking if you'd arrived. Says that you have her ticket?"
Now he was really confused. And undeniably curious. Especially given the knowing wink and smile the elderly man gave him, looking like some benevolent Victorian fairy godfather in navy velvet and gold braid as he gestured for Spencer to precede him up the carpeted aisle.
"In my day, if a young man couldn't accompany his escort, he'd at least wait for her in the lobby. Not leave her to the mercies of some of these randy bucks."
"I'm fairly certain the lady in question would be able to handle their advances," he replied almost absent-mindedly as he caught sight of her across the crowded lobby. Wearing a deep red Edwardian gown, a black choker and long black earrings revealed by her upswept hair, her lipstick perfectly matching the rich shade of the gown. In one hand she held a small black beaded purse, in the other, a black fan, its silk cord stark against the snowy evening gloves.
She put every one of the other women to shame, making them look like they were all trying too hard in their elaborate costumes and hats and parasols.
She took his breath away.
As if feeling his gaze lingering on her, she turned, spots of color appearing high on her cheekbones. Glancing down at herself, she smiled faintly and quirked an eyebrow. As he drew closer, her color deepened.
"When in Rome, right?" she murmured when he was within a step, her gaze darting around the crowded lobby as if afraid to meet his.
"I'm not making a giant error, here, right?" she broke in. "You did intend to ask me the other day?"
"You mean when I babbled incoherently?" His voice emerged dry, self-deprecating, and completely steady despite his pulse hammering away at the base of his throat. It was amazing the self-discipline he was able to exercise outside of the confines of the BAU. Where he was regarded as a grown man and not just the resident prodigy. Then again, not like he went particularly out of his way to disabuse the notion. It was a mask that was as easy to hide behind as any Halloween costume. He was accustomed to being laughed at as the boy genius—that clumsy, awkward being who consumed so much of his persona. He was self-aware enough to realize he wasn't prepared to have the laughter and mocking extend to the existence he'd managed to carve out for himself beyond those boundaries.
"Yeah, I meant to ask you."
"I wondered… after I found the truffles on my desk."
He'd left them there after their arrival back at the BAU, fairly secure in the knowledge she wouldn't find them until Monday. He'd already planned his response, claiming them as a leftover Halloween indulgence, blah, blah, blah. So much for that plan.
"Wait—you'd already gone home."
"So you did leave them."
Heat prickled up from the collar of his shirt, making it feel two sizes too small. "And you found them… when?"
An answering flush swept across her chest and up her neck to her cheeks. She looked away and mumbled something that was lost in the ambient noise of the lobby.
"I'm sorry, Emily, what was that?"
"I said—" She squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. "That I found them this afternoon when I went into the BAU."
"But it's Sunday—why would you have gone into work?"
He didn't think it possible for her skin to flush any further, but in the mellow light provided by the gaslights brought in for the occasion and that provided the lobby's only illumination, he could barely discern where the fabric of her gown ended and her skin began.
"I don't get many trick-or-treaters at my brownstone. It was either go into work and finish up paperwork or sit around with a jumbo bag of Milky Way Midnights, a bottle of wine, and Frank Langella's Dracula." Her glance darted around the lobby, seemingly fascinated by the woman twirling an elaborate brass and silver parasol. "I chose the option that was kinder to my waistline."
"Wine and Milky Way Midnights?"
Her mouth set in a mutinous line she shot back, "It's well documented that red wine pairs well with dark chocolate."
"I don't think that's exactly a recommended combination."
"Whatever. I didn't do it, did I?"
"No," he replied slowly, taking her in once again. "You didn't. But that still doesn't exactly explain how that brought you here."
"Isn't the show going to start soon?"
His eyebrows rose expectantly as he crossed his arms. They still had time—and he could be patient.
She sighed again, clearly resigned to coming clean. "Once I got to the BAU and saw the chocolate, it… I don't know—just kicked into place." And like a flash of lightning, her mood changed from resigned to just this side of belligerent. "And you know, this could have been avoided if you'd just taken the hint."
Hint? There had been a hint? His eyebrows lowered and drew together as he mentally rifled through the past week's worth of conversations with his colleague and nowhere in any of them could he recall anything that could be construed as a hint.
"Jesus, Spencer, why do you think I asked what you were doing this weekend in the first place?"
"You wanted me to ask you to come to this?"
She stared down at the fan, absorbed in opening and closing it with practiced flicks of her wrist. "Well, not this, necessarily, but something. I know how you love Halloween and I figured you'd have something more fun than red wine and Milky Way Midnights planned."
He winced. "I was going to ask." Then he straightened. "I did say I had an extra ticket."
One eyebrow rose, her voice cool, as she parroted, "'And it just so happens I have an extra ticket' doesn't exactly have the same ring as 'Hey Emily, there's this really cool thing that involves science magic—you think you'd like to come with me?'"
This time, he had the added sensation of the tips of his ears feeling as if they were burning as he winced. "Point made. Although you could have just said you wanted to do something."
"Look, I'm not… good with rejection."
"Neither am I," he snapped. "And let's face it, who, between the two of us, do you think is more likely to get rejected on a regular basis?"
Silence fell around them as they stared at each other, sealing them in a bubble apart from the ebb and flow of the crowd.
To his everlasting shock, she broke first, her gaze dropping. "I should leave."
She turned toward the coat check but before she could take a step, his hand was on her elbow, the cool satin of her glove warming rapidly beneath his skin.
"Hey Emily, there's this really cool thing that involves science magic—" For a split second, his voice cracked. Pausing to clear his throat he swallowed and added in a softer voice, "You think you'd like to come with me?"
Head turned slightly, she asked, "You sure?"
Tightening his grasp, he turned her until he could tuck her hand into the crook of his elbow. Leading her toward the theatre's entrance he said, "I don't share my good dark chocolate with just anyone."
The corners of her mouth curved up slightly. "Well, I do have a fine bottle of Merlot that I suspect will go pretty well with high quality dark chocolate."
The imp that resided in his voice box chose that moment to pipe up. "I also happen to be a huge fan of Langella's Dracula."
But before he could cringe and stammer that he didn't want her to think he was hinting or anything because, you know, he wasn't, even though he actually was, she replied, "Really? I would've pegged you for a straight up Lugosi guy."
Now feeling himself on firmer footing he responded, "Lugosi projects the pure horror but Langella more fully embodies the sensuality that has made the vampire such an enthralling and, if you'll forgive the pun, immortal icon. The juxtaposition of irresistible attraction with terror is pretty compelling."
"Well played, Doctor Reid. Very well played." As she gently squeezed his arm and smiled, he could feel himself standing taller. "As it so happens, I have both Lugosi and Langella. Perhaps you'd be interested in conducting a compare and contrast?"
While her tone was light, even teasing, he could now hear the faint hint of uncertainty. Fear that he might reject her. Guiding her into their seats, he waited for her to get settled before immediately reaching for her hand, drawing it through the crook of his elbow once more, keeping his hand resting comfortably over hers.
"You know, I'd really like that."