Haley looked up from the menu as Aaron reached the table. "You're late," she said with a smile.
"I know," Aaron replied, dropping his coat over an empty chair before leaning over to kiss his wife. "I've been running damage control."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Haley said, squeezing Aaron's hand in sympathy. "How bad is it?"
Aaron shook his head as he sat down. "It's not because of a case," he clarified, because Haley never wanted to hear the details of his job, not that he blamed her. He didn't want to bring that darkness home. "It's Jason."
"Jason?" Haley repeated. "What happened? Is he okay?"
"I really hope so." Aaron paused as the waiter appeared to pour water, take their drink orders, then fade away into the background. "I'm just not sure if I'm overreacting."
Aaron sighed. He couldn't help it. "Jason wants to add a new agent to the unit."
Haley frowned. "From within the FBI or from an outside agency?"
She reached across the table, and Aaron took her hand in his, still feeling that shiver go down his spine whenever he touched Haley. "A recruit from college."
Haley's eyebrows went up. "That's a bit unusual, isn't it?"
Aaron couldn't stop a small smile from crossing his face. "There is absolutely nothing usual about Spencer Reid."
Haley twisted her fingers with Aaron's, and squeezed gently. "Tell me."
Aaron sat for a moment, composing his thoughts. "Well, for starters, she's twenty-one."
He watched Haley's face as his wife reacted the same way he had; thinking for a moment she'd misheard, realizing she hadn't, then the rest of it sank in.
"Jason wants to bring a twenty-one-year-old college girl onto the team?"
"Isn't he a little young for a mid-life crisis?"
Aaron smiled again. "That's what I asked him, but this kid... Haley, she's phenomenal. She has three PhDs, can read over twenty-thousand words a minute, and as far as I can tell has perfect recall over anything she's ever seen."
"The textbook definition. Which she'd be happy to update you on. At length."
"Ah," Haley said. "That kind of genius."
Their drinks arrived, they placed their order, then they just sat for a few moments. Aaron could feel the tension of the last few days slowly seeping away.
"What are Jason's justification on having Dr. Reid join the FBI two years before she's technically able to?" Haley asked after a few minutes.
"That her skills and potential are uniquely suited to our line of work, and waiting until she's twenty-three would be a criminal waste."
"Is he right?"
Aaron looked down at his drink, thinking. "Yes, he's right."
"But," Haley prompted. "Something's holding you back on this, Aaron."
Aaron took a sip of his drink. "I'm not sure if she's up for the rest of this job. She doesn't seem very..."
"What?" Haley asked when Aaron didn't continue.
"You know, I was about to say that she wouldn't be into the physicality of being an FBI field agent, but maybe I'm wrong. There's something about her, Haley, it's hard to put a finger on." Aaron glanced around the restaurant, thinking. "She starts at the Academy next week, we'll see if she makes it through that."
"So if she's starting next week, what damage control were you having to perform today?" Haley asked as the waiter brought over their plates.
Aaron shook his head. "I've been trying to position this as if Doctor Reid joining the FBI is for the good of the Bureau, and has nothing to do with Jason Gideon wanting a twenty-one-year-old co-ed at his beck and call."
Haley winced. "The gossip is that bad already?"
"Doesn't he see that's how it looks?"
"I honestly don't think he does," Aaron said. "I asked him directly and he looked at me as if I was speaking Portuguese. But it's not going to do anyone any favors if people assume that Dr. Reid got an early in to the FBI because of anything other than her qualifications."
"And because you trust Jason's instincts, you're going to smooth this over on the off-chance that he's right and Spencer Reid will be the BAU's new rainmaker," Haley finished for him.
"Something like that," Aaron said. He shook his head again. "I just hope this doesn't blow up in my face."
"Who knows? Maybe Dr. Reid will get through basic training and figure out she's better suited to the White Collar division," Haley said, mischief in her eyes.
"You haven't met this girl, Haley. I get the impression that she considers White Collar to be amateur league."
"She's from Vegas," he clarified. "In her preliminary background check, it popped that she's been banned from half the casinos on the strip for counting cards."
Haley's fork stopped midair. "How can she be banned from that many casinos already? You said she's only twenty-one?"
"Spencer Reid is nothing if not an over-achiever," Aaron said dryly, and Haley laughed.
"I need to meet her. Let me know when she graduates from the Academy, we'll have the unit over for a barbeque."
"You mean if she graduates," Aaron cautioned.
Haley rolled her eyes. "You said Spencer has three PhDs," she said, ticking the items off on her fingers as she went, "Plus perfect recall, has been banned from a handful of Vegas casinos, and managed to get accepted to the FBI academy two years early with her sights set on the BAU? This does not sound like a girl who lacks initiative."
Aaron laughed, and the conversation turned to other things.
Later, after they had settled the bill and were lingering over cups of coffee, Haley brought the conversation back around to Aaron's work.
"What's with her name?"
"Spencer?" Aaron clarified. "From the sounds of things, her mother is a bit... eccentric."
"But she still goes by Spencer?" Haley asked. "If I had a name like that, I'd pick a nickname in a heartbeat."
"I didn't ask," Aaron said. "But rumor has it that one of the guys in admissions asked her if she went by 'Penny' and she almost bit his head off."
"Duly noted," Haley said dryly.
"You'll see when you meet her, she's not really a 'Penny' kind of person."
Haley set her coffee cup on the table. "You do realize that you haven't told me at all what she looks like."
"And I thought you'd be above such things," he said, only cracking a smile when she kicked him under the table. "Do you remember Alison Stanze, in senior year at college?"
"Ah," Haley said. "Tall, gangly, mouse-brown hair, coke bottle glasses?"
"Never met a chair she wouldn't trip over," Aaron agreed. "Spencer has contacts lenses instead of glasses, but that pretty much sums it up."
Haley sat back in her chair, eyeing Aaron suspiciously. "If I recall correctly, Alison cleaned up pretty well for the senior formal."
Aaron cleared his throat. "Did she? I don't recall."
"Half the guys in that hall got whiplash when Alison walked in with some makeup on, and a slinky black dress."
"Really? You were one of them."
Haley rolled her eyes. "Honestly." She stood, and let Aaron help her put on her coat. "Jason's in over his head on this one, isn't he?"
"He tells me this is all about the unit, and I'm going to have to believe him," Aaron said, picking up his briefcase. "We'll see what happens, won't we?"
Haley took Aaron's arm as they walked out of the restaurant towards the parking lot. "I have a good feeling about this," she said after a minute. "It'll do the unit good to have a woman join the boys' club. You guys need a different perspective sometimes."
Aaron looked up at the night sky, at the stars settling in over DC. "I don't think you'll be able to get a perspective more different than Spencer Reid's," he said.