Title:Endlessly
Rating:PG-13
Fandom:
Criminal Minds
Characters/Pairing:
Prentiss, Reid - gen
Genre:Friendship/Angst
Summary:
Emily and Reid talk about their mutual yet contrary experience. Post Epilogue (7x06)
Warnings:
Frank discussions of religiosity and afterlife may not be to everyone's taste.

The atmosphere on the jet seemed darker than usually, and Emily didn't even have to guess to know why. The case had set a macabre shadow over all of them, and that was without taking into consideration what was going on in Rossi's life.

The senior agent was sitting at the back of the jet, no doubt mulling over his decision. Another day, Emily might have sat with him, given him a shoulder to lean on, a person to talk to. Today, though, she had her own demons to fight.

Reid was sitting at the small table, staring out the window. Usually on their return journeys, there was some kind of game going on; chess, or poker, or Go. Today, everyone seemed caught up in their own little world.

Emily slid into the seat opposite Reid. She vaguely wondered how long he would try to ignore the elephant in the room.

'Hey,' she said.

'Hey.' His voice had taken on that same distant tone when she'd talked to him about Cyrus.

'About the other day…'

'Did you know that eyewitness testimony is the least consistent form of evidence?' Reid interjected, which was absolutely not what Emily had been expecting him to say.

'You do realize I've been with the FBI for fi—' She stopped. She was about to say "fifteen years," but really, that was just a cover story. 'For seven years.'

'I know,' he nodded. 'The memory is a very strange thing,' he offered. 'Often we might think we remember something, only because it fits with the schema of the circumstances under which we saw it. For example—'

Emily cut him off before he could even start his spiel. 'I studied Psychology, too, remember?' He did know; after all, it wasn't exactly something he would forget. That was the same reason she found a cupcake on her desk every time the 12th of October rolled around.

'For a long time, I wondered if my mind embellished the feeling of warmth and light, just because that's a common experience.'

'Not a common experience for an atheist,' she pointed out.

'Actually, near-death experiences in atheists are a common reason for conversion to some form of religious faith. In many cases, experiences seem irrelevant to the faith practiced by the observer.'

Emily raised an eyebrow. 'I've been reading a lot about it,' he admitted. 'I'm attempting to formulate some kind of meta-analysis. Unfortunately, witness accounts aren't really something that can be peer-reviewed. They're open to interpretation and exaggeration. But I get the idea that any experiment looking to study the matter wouldn't pass the ethics committee.' He didn't need to explain why. The corpses still fresh in her mind did a good enough job at doing that.

'There are some researchers that suggest near-death experiences are a result of cognitive function. Dr. Rick Strassman conducted a study on DMT in the 1990s, where several subjects reported hallucinations similar to the traditional near-death experience. He postulated that DMT was produced from the pineal gland when the body was close to death, fostering these hallucinations.'

'Do you really believe that?' Emily asked.

'I'm not entirely certain,' Reid said eventually. 'Again, there isn't exactly an overwhelming amount of evidence for an afterlife. I'm not sure there ever will be; faith and science are two completely separate ideologies.'

'I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be insulted by that or not.'

'Not at all. I just think that the idea of using science to prove the existence of a God or Gods completely undermines the point of faith. An unshaken, unwavering belief exists independent of scientific evidence.'

'Well in this case, it's not so much an unshaken, unwavering belief. Just a…just a hope.' She paused. 'After everything I've done…everything I've seen, I want to believe that there's a reason for it all. If there's not, then what's the point?'

'"It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end."'

Emily frowned. 'Left Hand of Darkness?'

Reid nodded. 'Written by Ursula K. Le Guin in 1969, considered by many to be one of the first works of feminist science fiction.' He paused. 'I think…if I were to believe in a God, it would be a Deist God. The thought that God does not interfere in human affairs, but rather just sets things in motion. Of course, it's still a very subjective argument.'

'Most are,' Emily said, her words taking on a dark edge. After everything that'd happened; after Doyle, after Paris, her faith was not exactly a fixed point in her life. Too much had happened for her to believe in a benevolent God without reservation.

But she still wanted to believe, so damn much. She wanted to believe that there was some kind of life after death beyond that cold, eternal darkness she had felt. And maybe there was. Maybe it was just some afterlife that she wasn't privy to. That possibility, she thought, was more terrifying that any other.

And one of the wretches of the frozen crust
Cried out to us: "O souls so merciless
That the last post is given unto you,

Lift from mine eyes the rigid veils, that I
May vent the sorrow which impregns my heart
A little, e'er the weeping recongeal."

Here, frozen in the ice, are punished sinners guilty of treachery against those to whom they were bound by special ties. This is Dante's symbolic equivalent of the final guilt. The treacheries of these souls were denials of love and of all human warmth. Only the remorseless dead center of the ice will serve to express their natures. As they denied God's love, so are they furthest removed from the light and warmth of His Sun. As they denied all human ties, so are they bound only by the unyielding ice.

Of course, she knew better than to reveal that fear to Reid. His eyes would widen, and he would be quick to reassure her with a competing passage from some long forgotten text. But he didn't know just how tightly the tendrils of darkness had fused themselves to her heart.

Maybe that was just self-loathing.

There was a long, almost awkward silence.

'When I realized Doyle was back,' Emily started, and it seemed sudden, because they'd talked about her fake death, but they hadn't really talked about the things that had led up to it. 'For a long time, I thought that maybe it would be better for everyone if he just killed me.'

'It wasn't,' Reid whispered softly. Emily looked up and realized that there were tears shining at the corner of his eyes.

'I know.' She took his hand, and squeezed it. 'Believe me, I know.' Her words wavered, and she tried to hold back the sob that accompanied them. 'Every waking hour, the only thing I thought about was coming home. I hate that I had to do it, but I would make the same decision again, if it meant making sure Doyle didn't get to you.'

'He's gone now,' Reid said, matter-of-factly. 'And you're not. That counts for something, doesn't it?' It was a very straight-to-the-point statement for Reid, which was somehow simultaneously relieving and foreboding. She'd often wondered how violent Morgan would have been, given the chance to take his anger out on Ian Doyle. Only now, she realized that Reid was perhaps just as – if not more – terrifying.

'Yeah,' she nodded. 'Yeah, I guess it does.' She paused. 'But...could I have a look at some of those studies you've been reading? Just...you know, to get an idea of what else is out there?' He gave her a look, as if he didn't quite trust her intentions. Probably because reading the studies was secondary to her motivation of spending time with a friend she thought she'd lost.

'One condition.' He held up his right index finger as his left hand ducked under the table towards his go bag. 'Play for pretzels, and I'll see how good you really are at poker.' He set the pack of cards on the deck.

'You ever hear the phrase "never play poker with a spy?"'

'Let's just say I've learned from the experience.' He gave a small smile. 'Plus, I'm pretty sure you'll feel guilty every time you try and bluff me, now.'

'Oh, it is on, Doctor Reid.' She took her hand, and gave an almost conspiratorial laugh. 'May the best agent win.'