It wasn’t a fact that Emily liked to advertise, or particularly admit at all, but the issue with working with profilers is that they see every part of you, even the parts you attempt to hide. And she definitely could not hide this.
The truth was plain and simple; Emily Prentiss had many skills and talents, but accepting affection was not one of them.
It wasn’t her fault, really. Just like her team did with unsubs, she could trace her habits back to the people who affected her the most. Her parents. Elizabeth Prentiss undoubtedly loved her daughter, but it was the kind of love that went unsaid, and didn’t really make itself obvious unless you looked for it. It wasn’t until her late 30s that Emily began to see the subtle ways Elizabeth showed her love. The tone of pride when she talked about a case the team had solved. Fussing with Emily’s hair before an important dinner- a habit she developed when she was dragging a moody, teenage Emily to banquits and fundraisers, and never dropped after all the years. Little things that Emily didn’t realize had become routine for them, like analyzing everyone's appearances as soon as they stepped into the room.
(“Adeline Westing, 2 o’clock. What on Earth could have possessed her to wear that to a breast cancer awareness event?”
“I mean, she is raising people’s awareness of breasts, technically.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Emily.”
“Don’t be so stiff, Mother. To answer your question, I’m pretty sure Mr. Westing has been fooling around on her, and she just found out within the past week or so. See how tightly she’s grabbed onto his arm, and the ice vision she’s giving every woman within a foot of him? She doesn’t trust him. She’s hoping that, by wearing a dress that leaves nothing to the imagination, he’ll be so caught up on her, and her, ahem, assets, that he won’t notice other women.”)
Her father was a different, more complicated story. Alvin Reynolds and Elizabeth Prentiss had met in Berlin in the 60s, both of them there for very different reasons. For reasons Emily still couldn’t decipher, they had fallen in love, or at least infatuation, and a series of passionate nights between them had led to Emily’s conception.
Elizabeth knew that they came from different worlds, and she couldn’t picture a life with him. He drank recreationally, if not a bit more than he should, and lived in an old, run-down trailer park in the states. The only reason he could afford the trip to Berlin was a gift from an old friend. He wouldn’t accept financial help from Elizabeth, and she wouldn’t lower herself to his circumstances. In the end, they parted ways a few months before Emily was born.
As a child, it was just Emily and Elizabeth. Alvin called long-distance when he had the money, and when Emily had a select few years where she lived to make her mother’s life difficult, she stayed with him during the summers.
Alvin was much more outwardly warm than Elizabeth, though that was more general friendliness than actually knowing how to be a father to his rebellious, white collar daughter who knew more about diplomats than having a real family. During those summers, Emily was essentially given free reign to do whatever she wanted, and as long as she stayed safe and didn’t get arrested, Alvin didn’t make a fuss. Sometimes he was home by dinner and they ate dinner together in front of the tv. Other times they’d go a week without laying eyes on each other once. It all depended on timing.
She loved both of her parents, even if it wasn’t always easy, but there was no denying that they contributed to the fact that she cringed away from touch. She learned from a young age how to quickly sidestep hugs, turn her face to avoid a kiss, and back away from an uncomfortably close stranger without causing a scene.
When she first showed up at the BAU, she figured she’d have only one person to worry about being too touchy. One Penelope Garcia. Penelope was the queen of spontaneous hugs, and Emily had to be careful not to outwardly cringe at her physical contact, in fear of hurting the analyst’s feelings.
She certainly hadn’t worried about Spencer Reid being a touchy person.
Even when she was past the point of seeing him as the team’s useful but nerdy team mascot, he was still the man who refused to shake police detectives’ hands and could launch into a statistic-filled rant about germs at any moment.
She couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment things started to change, but it snuck up on her the way emotions and feelings always did. On the plane, he started to sit closer to her, leaning into her space to point out a curious detail in a file or an irregularity in an autopsy report. When the team went out on weekends, she was always seated next to him, their legs pressed pressed together in the booth, as if he had planned the seating arrangement ahead of time. Every once in a while, when they sat next to each other while questioning a witness, his leg would brush against hers and he’d keep it there. She felt the warmth of his thin leg deep into her bones, and she had to fight her basic instinct to jump up or shove him away.
This latest case was the real confirmation she needed, though she didn’t know something so significant would happen at the start.
They were in Madison, Wisconsin, where a number of execution style murders had taken place within the span of a couple weeks. The girls all had major scarring across their faces, which was curious enough for them to get Garcia to do some digging. All three of the girls had reported being attacked after they left town and tried to start modeling careers. They had all come back to town a few weeks before they were murdered.
While the team had surmised that the killer was the original attacker coming back for the women, they had nothing else to go on other than that. Tension settled in the shoulders of the team due to the knowledge that the the unsub was escalating and likely had their new victim in their trap already. Their unsub- most likely a cold, methodical white man in his mid 20s to early 30s- had disfigured a disturbingly high number of women, and any one of them could be next.
The team was sitting in the local precinct, mulling over the reports in their laps. Reid, as per the recent usual, was right next to her, leaning close to see what she was underlining every once in a while.
It wasn’t until she had read through the details of every known victim that she had an idea, and it was like an imaginary light bulb lit up above her head.
“Guys…” she started.
Reid lifted his head from his own files to gaze at her curiously, shifting his body so he was giving her his full attention. Around the table, JJ, Hotch, Morgan, and Rossi did the same.
“What are you thinking?” Hotch questioned.
“Okay, so, we know that each of the girls had originally grown up in the Wisconsin area, all within an hour of here. And that they were all likely attacked by the same man, who stalked them and followed them here when they moved back.”
“Alright, that's true,” Morgan said, not unkindly. “But we already knew that.”
“Yeah, but we didn’t know why. If the girls were surrogates, there would have been more rage in the initial attacks. And there was that same lack of rage in the murders. He profiles more like an angel of mercy than a sadist.”
“That would make sense with the murders, but what about the initial attacks?” JJ asked.
“Yeah, that's what stumped me too, so I started thinking.”
“And?” Rossi raised a brow.
“I think the girls may have been part of an elaborate experiment to our unsub. Think about it. The girls described the attacks as almost methodical. He didn’t cause any more pain or suffering than he had to.” The more she spoke, the more confident she got. “Everything he does is cold, calculated. There’s no rage in his attacks, because there's no emotion in it at all. If we looked in his past, I bet we'd find victims that died of their lacerations. Failed attempts.
“He was studying them. He sliced them open and disfigured them, then left them alone to see how they’d adapt. He probably kept tabs on them throughout the year, and when they came back, he recorded how they reacted and killed them to tie up all loose ends.”
“Yes!” Reid’s eyes lit up the way they often did when a puzzle finally got solved. “That would explain why the recent deaths are so clinical, unemotional. He isn’t killing out of rage, he’s simply finishing the experiment!”
“Yes!” She snapped her fingers, thrilled that he’d picked up on her thoughts so easily. “His experiment was to see how girls he saw as ‘vain’ would react to their looks being taken away from them.”
“Mary Wilkens attempted suicide, Carlee Anston turned to prostitution, and Abigail Kent developed agoraphobia and refused to leave her house. Once he recorded what he'd learned, he had all he needed from them, so he killed them.”
Suddenly, the team was energized again, abuzz with the newfound revelation.
Morgan dialed Garcia, who answered with “Well, I was hoping my sugarplum would call me! What do you need my brilliant brain for today?”
“Alright, doll, we’re gonna need you to look up a possible unsub here. He’s gonna be a white man, mid 20s to early 30s. He grew up in the Madison area, and would traveled frequently during the months the attacks were happening.”
“I’m looking it up now, but unless you’re saving some miraculous, important detail for the end, I’m afraid the search is going to be too vague.”
Emily chimed in. “Alright, look for anyone who fits those perimeters and went through a trauma right before our first victim was attacked. Anything that might make him fixate on the idea of ruining physical beauty. A car accident, a fire, a surgery gone wrong, anything that would leave someone disfigured.”
There was sounds of tapping on the line, and then a gasp from Garcia. “Oh my God. Emily Prentiss, you really are a miracle worker.”
“You found something?” Morgan asked.
“Uh, yeah. A lot of something. A lot of really sad something. In March of 2003, Margery and Evan Thompson were driving home from a couple’s night out when a drunk driver smashed into their car. Both of them survived, and Evan only had a couple of hairline fractures and a concussion, but poor Margery wasn’t so lucky. Reports included broken cheekbones, a smashed jaw, her eye was- oh, eww. The initial report included very graphic pictures. Wonderful. Skipping all the gory details here, she retained a lot of damage that couldn’t be undone, even with multiple surgeries.”
“That’s only a few months before the first attack,” JJ noted. “How did Evan react?”
“Uh, the Madison PD reported him to be shaken, but hopeful for her recovery. He didn’t seem to be that worried, when he was asked about the statistical probability of suicide in disfigured patients, he was quoted as saying that it didn’t matter because Margery would never be so selfish as to leave him.”
“I think I can guess how this story ends,” Rossi said wryly.
“You probably can. Margery got released, and the first day he left her alone, she shot herself in the head, leaving a note that said, essentially, that she couldn’t live looking the way she did, and that anyone in that position would do the same.”
“That’s one hell of a stressor,” Morgan said.
“Did Evan leave town right after the funeral?”
“Oh, literally the day after. And then he went to the locations all the victims were attacked, which no one thought was odd, even his family, because who doesn’t like to travel your sorrows away? But then he came back to town at the same time Carlee Anston left the streets of Chicago to ask her parents for money.”
The team all agreed that Evan Thompson was their unsub, and plugged the address into GPS as soon as they got it from Garcia.
Everyone piled into the cars and sped towards Evan Thompson’s home. Reid, Emily, and Rossi were the first to arrive, and slowly staked out the place.
“FBI, open up!”
No one answered, so Rossi opened the door slowly, with Reid and Emily following close behind, their hands inching towards their guns.
A noise like something falling echoed through the room from the room over, and they raced over, only to find Evan Thompson holding his gun to the head of a petite girl with an ugly, jagged scar across her face.
“Evan Thompson,” Emily stepped forward, and he trained his gun on her. Despite this, she put her own gun back in the holster and took another step forward.
If she wasn’t so accustomed to Reid’s little microexpressions, she’d have missed the small flash of fear and worry on his face, but she didn’t have time to dwell on it.
“I know you’re still hurting over what happened to Margery. And I know you’re trying to understand why she committed suicide. Why she left you. That’s why you’re doing all of this, isn’t it? To try and understand?” she prodded.
One lone tear fell down Evan’s face. “She promised we’d be together forever. We may vows! I loved her more than anyone else, I was completely devoted to her, no matter what she looked like. Why wasn’t that enough?”
Emily schooled her expression into a look of sympathy. “I know, Evan, and I know it’s hard to accept what she did. But you won’t understand what was going through her head by hurting these girls. That isn’t how you get closure.”
“B-but I’m figuring it out! My subjects, they’re teaching me everything about how Margery felt. I- I have it all written down, I have notebooks filled with data. Page after page on every bad thing that happened to them afterwards, every bad choice they made.”
“It was easy to get that data, wasn’t it?” Emily questioned. She slowly took another step forward. “You were a bartender at the most popular bar in town. I bet you heard a lot of stories.”
“I heard every story. How Subject 6 started selling her body because she was too insecure to fuck anyone if it wasn’t for money. How Subject 5 tried to overdose. How Subject 9 wouldn’t even leave her house.”
Emily’s blood went cold. Subject 9. That meant there was more victims that they hadn’t found yet.
“Okay,” Emily breathed out. “Okay. Let’s talk about your experiment, you and me. But I need you to put your gun down. Mine is, see?” Evan considered for a long second, and then placed his gun at his feet.
The girl in Evan’s arms jerked violently, half scared and half defiant, and that gave Emily an idea.
“Thank you. Evan, I want you to listen to me, and then you can tell me about your experiment. Is that okay?” Evan nodded stiffly. “Okay. The girl you’re holding, can you tell me her name?”
The man looked sharply at the girl. “Hester Natsworthy. Her name is Hester Natsworthy. I entered her into the experiment July of last year.”
“Okay. I’m going to talk to Hester now, alright?” Once again, he nodded, and Hester looked up, her eyes alert and fierce.
“Hester, I know you went through hell after the attack. But I read your file. You’re planning on going back to school, aren’t you? Your life didn’t end after he cut you. You’re so much more than what he did to you.”
“Yes,” Hester spit out. “I’m going into criminal justice. I’m engaged.” She turned to Evan, eyes blazing. “I’m not your lab rat. I am not your toy. I survived, hideous and damaged, because of me. I’m not your subject, you deluded motherfucker.”
Evan tightened his grip on her, his face contorting in fury. Emily watched him go to grab for his gun, and before she could even think, she was throwing herself at him, knocking him off his feet and releasing Hester from his grip. As Hester scrambled back, Emily tried to subdue Evan by pinning him down, but he was stronger and grabbed a fistfull of sleek black hair, and with all of his strength, slammed her head against the unfinished floor.
She felt the gash break open, and watched dizzily as blood red mixed with jet black in a horrible swirl on the floor. Then, she saw stars, and then nothing at all, as she closed her eyes, grimacing with pain.
Distantly, she heard Rossi run over to her, and listened as a punch was thrown and landed. Evan let out a howl of fury as Rossi snarled, “It’s over, Evan! It’s over,”
Then, Reid was crawling to her side, lifting her head gently to inspect the damage and whispering something sweet and inaudible. More voices joined and she knew the rest of her team was entering the room.
“Oh, God,” JJ gasped. “Reid, is she-”
“Evan Thompson slammed her head against the floor, hard. She needs to get to the hospital,” Rossi told them.
The next thing she knew, careful hands lifted Emily onto a stretcher, and a constant, steady stream of paranoid chatter let her know that Reid was coming with.
As she was lifted into the ambulance, she blearily opened her eyes.
“Emily,” Reid whispered, his voice shaking. “You’re-”
“Fine. I’ll be fine. He just knocked the wind out of me,” she tried to laugh, but that hurt her head even more.
He shook his head in disbelief, and she just looked back at him.
Slowly, hesitantly, like he was having an inner debate with himself, he reached his hand towards her face. The pads of his long fingers brushed against her cheekbones, nose, her brows. Vaguely, she wondered if she was having some blood loss induced hallucination, but she figured that was a quandary she could worry about when she wasn’t bleeding from a head wound.
“You can close your eyes,” Reid told her. “We have approximately 15 and a half minutes until we reach the nearest hospital. I’ll poke you when we’re there.”
“Okay…” her voice slurred. She let her eyes slip shut.
A minute passed, before she felt the air move slightly as Reid stood up. He leaned over her, silent and still, and then after a moment of hesitation, kissed the spot right between her brows tenderly. He jolted back immediately after, and if her eyes were open, she would have seen him blush and touch his finger to his lips in shock.
She didn’t need to see to know. She felt her heart beat fast in her chest. When she would look back, months from now, this was the moment when she realized the change that made him more affectionate, lengthened the warm looks, and charged the air between them.
Oh, she thought.