Aaron had flown into New York the night before the conference and had stayed in the hotel it was being held at. It was a three-day series of meetings and presentations on terrorism and threat assessment. He had been talked into giving the opening presentation and had looked forward to it until the remainder of the team had caught a case and he’d been forced to come alone. He’d sort of hoped that at least Garcia would be able to come so he wasn’t left to fumble through his slides by himself, but the unsub the team was chasing was heavily using social media.
Aaron stood in front of an empty room at five-thirty the morning after his arrival, over an hour before the conference was to start, and wondered when he’d started to be so reluctant to stand in front of a group alone. Once upon a time he’d chased the thrill of being front and center in a courtroom, all eyes on him. His thumb played with the remote that would change the slides as he reviewed the full color print out, with notes in the margins, that Garcia had given him. The notes made him smile, they were almost entirely irrelevant to the speech, things like ‘look up!’ and ‘imagine the people at the first table naked!’. The mental image of her bright, giggling grin as she would say something like that made him smile. He figured that was the purpose.
Movement in the room made him glance up just as a blonde woman walked between the tables.
“Nervous?” She asked, softly, a small smile playing at the corners of her lips teasingly.
Aaron shook himself, he hadn’t realized he’d been openly staring. She was tall, about the height of the women he worked with, and she wore heels, but not for the height. Unless, like the women he worked with, she was used to working around taller men. Her hair was pulled up and she was wearing a conservative suit, but he wasn’t about to believe for a minute she was simply someone’s secretary, he could see it in her gaze, she was assessing him, cataloguing him. When he caught her blushing and ducking her head, he realized he hadn’t responded. “Ah, sorry. Yeah, maybe. I was just thinking I’ve gotten used to having some or all my team around to help with these things. I had hoped at least my technical analyst would be able to come, but…” He trailed off.
“Your technical analyst?” One manicured brow arched as she challenged the possessiveness of the statement, smirk still in place.
He’d referred to Penelope that way before, in her presence no less, and had walked away unscathed, so he shrugged. “Until she tells me otherwise. I guess you could say she’s my Girl Friday.” He watched her smirk blossom into a full-blown grin. “She was kind enough to print my slides out for me and leave me notes.” He lifted the narrow binder off the lectern as a sort of demonstration. After a previous presentation where Aaron had nervously played with the edges of the pages and sent them all cascading over the stage mid-sentence, Garcia had insisted from then on out that he must use a binder. “I was just reviewing her notes so nothing catches me too off guard.”
The blonde had walked up to the stage as he’d spoken and was looking up at him now. “What sort of notes could take you by surprise?”
He chuckled. “You would be surprised.” He passed the binder to her and watched her read.
“Save the Furries?... The Force is with you?...” She flipped the pages. “They are your captive audience, Bwa ha ha…” She grinned as she accentuated the word. “Remember that case where you did that thing? Yeah, don’t do that.” She looked back up at him now. “She sounds…different.”
Aaron accepted his binder back with a nod. “Very.”
He started to speak again, but her phone rang. “Excuse me.” Aaron watched as she connected the call and walked out of the hall. He had no idea who she was, but he really wanted to find out.
Aaron’s mind had never quite gotten back to task after the woman had left him. He played the way she looked, the way she smiled, over and over until the room began to fill and it was time for him to step on stage. It was then that he realized he’d forgotten to step out for breakfast or even a cup of coffee. Boy, Garcia was never going to let him travel alone again once she found out.
Three slides in, Hotch got to the one where Penelope had written to imagine the first table naked. His eyes almost reflexively went to the table mentioned and he instantly lost his train of thought. There were three men at the table, not that he saw them, and then her. The hesitation was only for a second, only the length of a breath, but for Aaron it seemed to last an eternity. She was here, in the room, listening raptly to what he was saying.
And he had to find out who she was.