After the time Emily and Erin ended up at her apartment, the brunette had expected that to be the end of it. Strauss had used her shower, then put her clothes on and gone home. Or gone somewhere, since when Emily woke from a doze she'd been alone except for the cat. And then she'd made sure the door was locked before going back to bed.
Things at the office continued as usual. She'd gotten used to the rhythm of the job, the irregular hours and the stress of the field. And if she sometimes thought a little too intensely about that nocturnal visit, it was nothing she felt like discussing. Certainly not with the blonde in question. Hat trick or not, it was nothing to obsess over.
"Hold the elevator!"
Without thinking about it, Emily put her hand out and kept the door from closing, cursing inwardly when Strauss joined her in the smaller confines. Why was it every time she was resolving not to think about the woman, she was right there? One of the consequences of working in such a close environment, no doubt. The elevator started its descent.
Erin snorted, but she was going through her bag trying to find her wallet and didn't look up. "We're a little past 'ma'am', don't you think?" Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the brunette shrug.
"Not really. I woke up, and you'd left. I decided you were preoccupied with your walk of shame, because you didn't call me in the morning."
The blonde turned, and the agent was looking at her now. Erin couldn't vouch for her expression, but there was something perilously like amusement on the profiler's face. She had a sudden mental flash of pale flesh, the sensation of a warm body beneath hers, and she re-directed her gaze at the closed doors. Next to her, the other woman let out a snicker.
"Would you like to have lunch?"
She said it largely to maintain her equilibrium, but she felt as much as saw Agent Prentiss swing her attention towards her again. Because why the hell not? The burst of insanity she'd been going through when she'd gone to the brunette's apartment hadn't been all bad, and it hadn't so much been a Walk Of Shame as it had been wanting to get home before dawn. She never stayed overnight with any of her lovers, not since...
Her train of thought was blessedly interrupted when the brunette said in a bemused tone, "There's a decent Indian restaurant not too far from here. If you're paying, we can take my car."
The drive largely passed in silence, broken only by the occasional slightly awkward attempt at conversation. Emily was wondering if she knew what she was doing. She'd never hear the end of it if this.....liaison? Tryst? Affair? Whatever word she wanted to use, if the others knew, she'd face some serious hazing. Strauss was, if not the enemy, then not exactly a friend either, and her brief show of humanity towards Hotch didn't change that. Still, there was something challenging about her, and Emily had always liked a challenge. They looked at each other after she piloted the car into the restaurant's lot and parked, and then the brunette killed the engine.
The day was very warm, and when they stepped into the lobby, there was a blast of cold air from the AC. The black-jacketed host greeted them, and Erin realized this must be one of the profiler's regular haunts. "Have you visited India?" she asked, and Prentiss replied, "Not yet, but I'd like to. Mother held several posts in the Middle East, but I've always wanted to see Asia."
That broke some of the tension, and they ordered in a companionable fashion. Erin was used to having lunch at her desk, and asking a subordinate to join her was very much out of the ordinary, but just this once, she was making an exception. She was used to adversarial relationships, particularly at work. And the sex aside, Agent Prentiss had given her more than enough attitude to qualify as an adversary.
Despite the chill due to the air conditioning, they both ordered something cold to drink, and Emily looked into her glass contemplatively when it arrived. She'd heard vague rumors about Strauss having a problem with alcohol, but it was nothing she felt comfortable asking about. Certainly not in public. Maybe not even as pillow talk. The blonde hardly seemed like the type to cuddle.
"I suppose I could have left a note."
Erin said it grudgingly, and not for the first time she wished the contents of her glass were stronger. She was more or less freshly sober, and that meant she thought about having a drink all the time. Still, there were benefits to sobriety.
Emily shrugged again, but she was a little discomfited. She wasn't able - or particularly willing - to define this thing she and Strauss were doing, but the fact that it had happened three times wasn't insignificant to her. Whether she liked it or not, there was an attraction.
"At least you got home. Back to your own neighborhood."
The food arrived in short order, and they ate in silence for a bit. Both of them trying to figure out if it was even possible to have a conversation given what had already happened. After she'd finished a little of her food, Erin looked at the other woman, assessing her.
"I don't stay the night. Not ever. I have a husband and children, and they expect me to be home in the morning." No need to mention that the marriage was standing on quicksand these days, that Paul worked late as often as she did and that the kids were rapidly growing away from her. The brunette's lips pursed, and she nodded.
"I wasn't expecting breakfast in bed," she said evenly. "If anything, I was surprised you stayed long enough for a shower."
And damned if that didn't make her recall the other woman's body. Unlike most blondes, Strauss didn't freckle. Emily made a face at the memory, and the other woman snorted. She reached out absently and touched the back of the profiler's hand, remembering that determined, if not overly practiced, touch.
"I'm not sure I like it any more than you do, but..."
Emily could tell that Strauss was about to say something else, but that was the precise moment in history when another dark-haired woman approached the table. The agent withdrew her hand, picking up her utensils to return to her food. That had been dangerously close to an intimacy she wasn't sure she wanted. She glanced up, noticed that the other brunette was older, well-dressed, dark hair worn loose around her shoulders.
Is this the new model, Erin?
God help her, but she almost said it out loud. Alex wasn't stupid, nor was she naive enough to believe that Erin would take up celibacy just because they broke up. They'd run into one another occasionally in the years since her demotion, while the linguist rebuilt her career, and every now and then she'd spot the blonde with a random woman. And she always wondered. Always. Erin was so damn good at hiding that if Alex didn't remember what she looked like naked, she'd barely have believed it herself. Maybe that was why she sometimes felt like a wife who had been summarily replaced.
She made herself smile, act casual. "Well, long time, no see. If I can use a cliche, that is."
Now the blonde really wanted a drink. Maintaining her position in the Bureau meant she'd become a creature of habit, and that in turn meant her routine was largely set. Running into Alex, though, always threw things into disorder. Emotional disorder, at any rate, and that was uncomfortable enough. The linguist still wore her wedding ring. Suddenly, Erin no longer felt like eating.
"Alex Blake, Emily Prentiss," she said, making the introductions a little mechanically, and the two brunettes studied each other for a silent minute. Emily with a vague wariness, and Alex with a suspicion that made her hate herself. Be careful, the linguist thought. She'll leave you scooped out as soon as look at you. As if it was even her place to be concerned.
Something was afoot here, and it wasn't just Emily's experience as a profiler telling her so. She rarely believed in such things as women's intuition, but she had seen Strauss' face before her expression closed up. An ex, or even possibly the ex. The wariness took root, but she offered a polite smile.
"Are you with another branch of the Bureau?"
"I was." Best to leave it at that. As much as Alex wanted to blow the lid off of Erin's calm little world, she refrained. If only out of nostalgia for what had once been. "I largely teach at Georgetown now."
"I thought about Georgetown," Emily said, breathing just a touch easier. "Chose Yale instead. Working on tenure?"
"Actually, no," the other brunette replied, and she could feel Erin sitting there as if she'd suddenly turned to stone. Well, it served her right. It wasn't only her career she'd had to work to rebuild. "I have been on the lecture circuit, but I've got interests beyond an office with my name on the door."
The blonde looked up, found Alex looking back at her. There were moments (more than moments, really) when Erin deeply regretted her past actions. She suspected that Alex hated her, and perhaps she had a right to. But getting sober meant coming to terms with not being able to change things. Make them right.
"Would you like to sit down, join us?"
Not if you paid me.
"No, thank you," Alex demurred, and she girded herself against the brief flash of disappointment on the blonde's face. Time had passed, and she had mostly moved on, but that brief time when she and Erin had been together was burned on her memory like a brand. "I'm meeting a colleague, and then I have to prepare for class." She paused, glanced over her shoulder, then directed her gaze towards Emily. Felt a hurt and a jealousy she shouldn't have.
"It was nice meeting you, and maybe if we run into each other again, we can talk more. Have a good afternoon, you two."
The linguist made herself walk away from the table, keeping her dignity just barely intact. She'd made enough of a fool of herself over that woman.
Emily looked at Strauss briefly in the wake of Alex's departure, saw regret and melancholy, and then her expression tried to close up. There was more than a little history there, clearly. Maybe the blonde hadn't always been such a cold bitch.
"Erin?" It was the first time the brunette had used the other woman's first name rather than 'Ma'am', and that drew her attention away from the retreating figure. "Are you....okay?"
No. No, I'm not.
"Of course," Erin said instead, because she wasn't about to sacrifice her dignity either. Not when she'd already thrown away something she valued almost as much.