After a cold night, the song birds had come out with the sun, and if it weren’t for a few patches of dirty snow, you could believe that spring had finally come to Nebraska. The old barn was like any old barn for fifty miles: broken windows, a sagging roofline, weatherworn barn board just a stiff breeze away from collapsing… But he couldn’t get in. Instead, Reid sat in the overgrown field letting the dew soak through his pants as the birds sang overhead and a man screamed inside a building that he was powerless to enter.
He’d been staring at it all night, each cry making him more desperate, until his fragile body turned cold and then numb from his focused concentration. He almost had it - he was sure. The wards were good but there was always a way past them. You just had to be patient, something at which neither demons nor humans excelled. Hence their current predicament.
This would be so much easier if I could simply possess him. Or any of them, for that matter. He shook his head slightly as he concentrated; falling into fantasies of taking out his frustrations on various tattoo artists wasn’t going to get him into that barn. He and Hotch could argue about his stand on possession at a later date and, oh boy, were they going to argue about it. Once again he thought about the ridiculous concessions he had given to his fragile, human, hunter pet and thought maybe he’d lost his demonic mind. He should’ve just taken what he wanted from Hotch or walked away. He could walk away now… Something inside his skin thrashed at the passing thought and he was reminded that when you’re topside wearing a human, you’re never entirely alone.
“Relax, Spencer.” He whispered to himself. Literally. “I can’t walk away… we both know why.”
The morning sun was weak but he realized that he was sweating under his peacoat. Last night he had been shivering, now he was boiling - humans are a mess, he thought. He unbuttoned his coat, told his body to chill out, and then the answer came to him. It wasn’t about the barn, it was about how the barn breathed. He scanned the building again in his mind, this time looking for what wasn’t there, and found what he’d been searching for.
A smile curled the corner of his mouth as he opened his eyes, rose from the field weeds with an awkward crack of his knees, and slowly walked towards the barn. There was always a way in…
“Just so you know, I’ve cracked harder nuts than you.” Dean turned back to his tray of instruments and wiped the blood from his blade before selecting a new tool. “I can do this forever.”
The bloody, broken man strapped to a chair in the middle of an impressive devil’s trap began to laugh. It didn’t last long though, as the guy started to cough on his own blood.
“No, you can’t, Dean. I know someone who can and you aren’t like him.”
“That’s what we don’t get, Hotch.” Sam stepped into the trap and did his best ‘good cop’ impression. “Your anti-possession tattoo is intact, you’re not responding to the… umm, usual exorcism techniques… if you aren’t possessed, what were you doing hanging out with a demon?”
“Who’s that again?” Hotch groaned as he shifted in his chair.
“Your fucking black-eyed partner, man - quit screwing around.” Dean marched past Sam with a set of brass knuckles that were inscribed with angelic script. “You think that we enjoy this? There’s few of us out there as it is - let alone a hunter who’s an actual cop - we need guys like you. But if you aren’t possessed, and you don’t give us a good-ass reason why you’re hanging with a guy who bought his human suit at Mr. Gangly & Awkward, I’m gonna beat on you until I come up with a better idea.”
“Dean…” Sam grabbed his brother by the shoulder. “We’ve tried that.”
“It’s worked out beautifully so far, hasn’t it?” Hotch coughed again.
“Sammy, that skinny guy took my knife. You know how much I liked that knife…”
“Now, the assclown is working for the FBI? With a hunter?!?” Dean pointed his brass knuckles at Hotch.
“To be fair, he’s always worked for the FBI. That’s where I met him.” Hotch tried to straighten himself in his chair again and fixed Dean with a conversational look. With the heavy bruising and all of the blood, it made him appear absurdly as if he were winking. “I’m not sure how you know him, but he’s an exemplary agent…”
“We met that black-eyed bastard working a case last year in Wisconsin. He put me on my ass and stole my favorite knife!”
“But you lived, didn’t you?” Hotch looked steadily with his one good eye. “As for your knife, I can’t say. Dr. Reid occasionally suffers from a surfeit of enthusiasm.”
“Obviously.” Sam interjected dryly. “But you’ve deflected away from why you are working with a demon.”
“Maybe he got tired of the fight. Is that the reason?” Dean smirked in a way that told you that a big hurt was coming. “‘Cause, hell yes, that’s a good reason for quitting the life, but it isn’t even in the ballpark of justifying why you’d hook up with the enemy.”
“He’s part of my team. We are working a legitimate case here in Nebraska for the Bureau.” Hotch sighed, making the blood at the corners of his mouth bubble. “And you’re asking the wrong question…”
“What question should we be asking?” Sam seemed genuinely interested, while Dean growled and turned back to his equipment to select a new tool.
“If he’s everything that you think he is, why did he let you live?”
Sam went very still but Dean turned back to Hotch and leaned in close enough to breathe in the guy’s blood. “Your rep was always good, man. We’ve never worked with you, so maybe that’s all bullshit, but if it isn’t - what made you go darkside?”
“Why not ask me instead?” Reid sauntered out of the gloom beyond the devil’s trap but stopped short of crossing it. “It should be obvious by now that Hotch’ll only tell you what you expect to hear. He’s a profiler, and he’s annoyingly good at it.”
Sam and Dean both sharpened into fighting stances while trying, unsuccessfully, to hide their shock at the appearance of their new guest. Hotch wheezed and let his head roll in Reid’s direction so that he might be able to see him out of his one unswollen eye.
“You’re trying to win over this crowd with flattery and manners?”
Reid looked at Hotch and an unexpected expression softened the sharp lines around his eyes and mouth. Dean snarled as Reid smiled, but Sam watched with horrified interest as Reid slouched and then stepped into the devil’s trap heading directly for Hotch.
“What the-” Dean made a move towards Reid, and Sam followed as he always did, but Reid waved in their direction without looking at them and they froze in midstep.
“Quiet, you two.” He mumbled over his shoulder kneeling next to Hotch’s chair in a pool of blood. He reached out a thin hand flattening it along Hotch’s battered chest. Hotch closed his one good eye and let out a complicated breath, and then the two men remained still as if mimicking the Winchesters in their own forced tableau.
“What took you so long?” Hotch’s voice cracked eventually.
Reid smiled warmly before smearing away some half-dried blood on Hotch’s face. He pulled his hand back and then touched a finger to his mouth for a taste. “Traffic.” He murmured. “You’re always complaining that I drive like a senior citizen…”
“Aww jeez, is this some sort of twisted bromance or something?” Dean’s made a stinkface because, apparently, it was the only part of his body still under his control.
Reid turned back toward the brothers viscously and let his eyes go dark. “That’s the pot calling the kettle black, isn’t it? Shut your piehole, Dean, or I’ll erase it from you entirely. Just try to do an exorcism without a mouth - I dare you.”
“Reid…” Hotch wheezed in warning. “Enthusiasm…”
Reid stood and walked past the frozen brothers, out of the devil’s trap, retrieving a blade from Dean’s supply, and then stepping back towards Hotch. Sam’s eyes went wide at the display while Dean’s contracted into a determined squint, but neither of them said a word.
“I promised Hotch that I wouldn’t kill you - any of you hunters - unless I was at risk.” Reid’s snort let them know just how likely he thought that scenario was. “But considering the mess you’ve made of him, without any proof of anything, I’m thinking about pulling a demon stunt right now and gutting you both. Hotch’s mortal jeopardy wasn’t addressed in my promise…”
Hotch made some sort of wet growl, but then Reid cut his bonds and he half fell out of the chair with a howl and the sickly crack of misarranged limbs. Reid caught him and eased him to the floor as he booted the chair away. Hotch closed his eyes tightly and whimpered as Reid laid his hands on his chest and focused.
“Shit.” Reid said after a long moment. “You’re a fucking mess. Why didn’t you just tell them?”
“Wasn’t my secret to tell.” Hotch coughed. He was starting to go bone-white underneath all of the blood. “And it wasn’t their business.”
Dean snorted. Sam shot him a look that said ‘be smart and shut up’.
“What exactly isn’t our business?” Sam ventured. Reid glared back at him, eyes still black. “Listen, we’re through the looking glass now - might as well tell us.”
“Are you trying to play out some Bond villain scenario whereby I boast about my nefarious plan long enough for you to escape and then stymie the whole thing?”
“It worked all the time for Sean Connery.” Dean couldn’t seem to help himself.
Reid turned to Dean and matched his shit-eating smile. “Dare to dream, Huckleberry.”
Hotch made a tortured sound as if he were trying to expel a lung and Reid turned back to hunch over him. “Enough… foreplay, Reid. Fix me…”
It was disturbing to watch a black-eyed demon’s face crease with concern and… affection. “It’s going to hurt, Aaron. A lot.”
“Wasn’t that what you’ve always wanted?” Hotch murmured darkly.
“Yes and no. I have… a taste for it. But not like this.” Reid’s hand cupped the edge of Hotch’s jaw. “It’s taking a lot of my energy to hold the crack open between the warding symbols. I’ve also had to partition some focus to hold down those two yahoos.” Reid nodded obliquely to the Winchesters. He heard Dean suck his teeth and it was quickly followed by a ‘shut up Dean’ from Sam. “I’m diminished enough that I can’t do it quickly. You’re going to feel every break that gets mended, every puncture that gets sealed…”
“Then… just get on with it. Unless this… chat is part of your… kink as well.”
Reid leaned forward and licked some blood from an open wound on Hotch’s forehead. He let it linger on his tongue before he swallowed and visible shivered. “Your allure knows no bounds, hunter…”
“Sick puppy.” Hotch croaked.
Reid smiled. He quickly kissed the wound that he had just tasted and whispered an apology. Then he took a deep breath, his eyes flicked from black to orange, and he curled one hand that seemed to pull the walls of the barn in around them. He laid his other hand across Hotch’s chest and Hotch screamed at the contact. Reid tightened his grasp and the air around him twisted and warped as if reality were nothing more than a funhouse mirror. The edges of the devil’s trap lit up and smoked. The sigils and wards that the brothers had painted on the barn glowed orange and seemed to burn through the wood from the outside.
“Holy fuck…” One of the Winchesters blurted out.
Hotch continued to scream, though his eyes rolled back in their sockets, so that it seemed more instinct than fear. The screams were punctuated by snapping sounds, like dry branches underfoot, and things that shouldn’t move began to stretch and pull under his skin. When Hotch’s radial arm fracture realigned with a tremendous crack at the same time that all of his broken fingers reset, his torso arched away from the floor and his howl turned into something inhuman.
“Jesus…” Dean whispered behind Reid, almost drowned out by the screams and the barn twisting around them and the wet noises of meat remaking itself. Reid pulled a little harder on the delicate thread that made all of this happen at once. Hotch’s arm thrashed against his legs where Reid bent over him; he knew that he was begging him to stop.
“C’mon, Aaron… I know that you’ve got more in you. You’re almost there…” He was nearly drooling at the amount that Hotch had withstood already. He pulled hard enough that all light contracted and focused on the invisible link between his free hand and the hand that was pinned to Hotch’s chest. The whole barn appeared to throb - once, twice - and then as quickly as it had started, reality snapped back into view. The sigils disappeared, the devil’s trap smoked, Hotch fell back against the floor and went still as Reid leaned away and breathed harshly. His eyes flicked back to their human hazel and little puffs of grey smoke leaked from his mouth when he breathed. He reached out and felt Hotch’s neck for a pulse. A moment later he nodded once in satisfaction and then leaned back on one skinny arm.
“What the hell are you?” Sam whispered behind him.
Reid slowly got to his feet and brushed away the litter of dead leaves that clung to his pant legs. “Hotch asked me that when he finally saw me for what I am six months ago, so I’ll tell you what I told him: I’m something you’ve never encountered before.”
“Bullshit.” Dean growled.
Sam quickly followed with “We’ve seen a lot…”
“Then explain what you’ve just witnessed.”
The brothers were silent before giving each other matching looks of ‘you got anything?’
“We’ve shown Lucifer his own ass.” Dean spat finally.
“Lucifer… he’s petulant ‘tween compared to me.” Reid chuckled and shook his head. “I know what you’ve done, Angelic Vessel.” Reid bowed to Dean. “And Chosen One.” He bowed to Sam. “You guys are like the Rolling Stones in Hell: your shit is outrageous and no matter how tired it gets, you just keep on touring, don’t you?”
“Mick’s a legend.” Dean mumbled.
“Mick is ours. How else do you imagine that such an ugly man with no appreciable singing talent became so famous?”
“Well, if Lucifer is small fry to you, what are you doing here rescuing one, human hunter?” Sam arched an eyebrow.
“This one lowly human,” Reid stabbed a finger at Hotch. “Is mine. And I don’t mean that in the way that demons claim to ‘own’ things: he isn’t mine the way this body I wear is, or how your viscera could if I wished it to be. He hasn’t signed away his soul or bound himself to me because of some demonic contract…”
Reid waved his hand and the Winchesters relaxed, unexpectedly finding themselves in control of their bodies again. They looked at each other quickly, uncomfortable with the sudden evening of the playing field.
“He’s mine because I asked, and he granted his permission along with a whole lot of annoying strings to which I choose to adhere.” Reid looked back to Hotch, unconscious in a pool of his own blood, and turned his back on the hunters, kneeling next to his partner again. “I’ve lived lifetimes, had millennia to become inured to the antics of you wet, angry monkeys. But this man has brought me to the edge of myself - where human and demon knit together. It moves me… So much so that I would harness what I am for him - sort of like putting a leash on a ballistic missile.”
Reid was still for a moment, laying a hand on Hotch’s chest as he breathed, then he turned and shot the Winchesters an unambiguous glare. “You are probably two of the luckiest idiots in human history that you did not manage to kill him before I arrived…”
“You’re all Underworld Charles Bronson, but you can’t resurrect one guy?” Dean huffed. “Just make him into a demon if he’s your ‘Brokeback-I-can’t-quit-you’ guy…”
“I will never turn him!” Reid’s eyes flicked to orange again and Dean backed up a step. “And, one day, he’s going to set me free in return.”
“Set you free?”
“He’s going to kill me - something permanent that I can’t come back from. He doesn’t know this yet, of course…”
“Wait…” Sam raised his hands and shook his head. “You’re protecting him because you want him to kill you?”
“As if that’s the strangest demon plan you’ve ever heard, Sam.” Reid snarked back. “But, no. I’m protecting him because he’s my ‘can’t-quit’ guy…”
“Brokeback.” Dean nodded and smiled as if he’d won Final Jeopardy.
“Yes, that, I suppose - though we’re still working on trust at the moment. But mostly, I’m protecting him, my team, other hunters, you two because I want to keep Hell in Hell and I can’t do that without human help.”
“So, that’s what you call shoving me through a warehouse wall last year?!” Dean stepped towards Reid. “Help?!?”
“I call that great restraint on my part.”
“What do you mean by ‘human help’?” Sam’s forehead creased with worry as he mulled over the new intel. “Does Crowley have a new plan?”
“Hell always has a plan, and it’s usually disastrous in execution. Crowley’s a bureaucrat, Lucifer was an anarchist, Abaddon’s a dictator, but they all amount to the same threat: they just want more of whatever gets them off. It’s demon nature. Whoever comes out on top down there cannot come topside - they’ll just make a mess of everything like they always have.”
“And you think humans can accomplish that?” Sam’s experience etched lines in his face as he voiced his doubt.
“Humans have always made the difference, every time since the beginning of above and below. Because demons were human once, and their multiplicity lingers in us.”
“You sure talk a good game, I’ll give you that.” Dean wasn’t convinced.
Reid stared down the Winchesters almost daring them to live up to their convictions about him. But time ticked forward and the hunters stood still, ready to defend themselves but not prepared to attack. The old barn creaked around them making the only comment on the scene. Then Reid slowly leaned towards Hotch, hunched him over his shoulder in a fireman’s hold, and rose to his feet as if it were nothing.
“I’ve been topside in this body for ten years. I’ve known Hotch and worked at the FBI almost as long. When he accidentally discovered me six months ago, he was hostile and skeptical of my motives as well. I’ve said that he’s an excellent profiler but he’s a good hunter as well… dedicated. His instincts should not be impugned by my presence – I didn’t use anything but reason on him. He’s come to believe what I believe.”
“And what’s that?” Sam asked.
“I came here as part of a grand scheme, but the only thing that really matters is life. Life is the sympathetic compromise with one’s environment knowing that the eventual end of that negotiation is death, for everything. It’s simple and beautiful and it works. I just want to keep us all from screwing that up. That’s my only agenda now and I’ll partner up with anyone who feels the same way.”
Reid turned away from the brothers and walked out of the devil’s trap adjusting Hotch over his shoulder as he left.
“I could use your help, gentlemen. But if not, I’d suggest that you give me and those under my protection a wide berth. I still have that knife and I’m aching to demonstrate how much restraint I used today to have this little conversation.”
The winter-scrubbed farmland whizzed past the rental car in a blur of umbers, ochres, and soft greys. Reid was driving faster than he normally did, but on the rural back roads there wasn’t much in the way of threats other than the odd tractor or a loose farm dog. He pressed into the accelerator as he thought about how the team had always mocked his driving abilities; there was nothing wrong with a little frisson of danger now and again but it was important to keep that addiction in check. If only for the sake of his human cover.
His eyes flicked sideways to see Hotch still asleep in the passenger seat. He’d be fine but his body was taking its time adjusting to the rapid reversal of its imminent end. The hunter brothers had almost gone too far. Almost. That Dean had a taste for torment much like Reid’s own. It was probably wise to never mention that to him if they should meet again. As it stood now, he and Hotch had been missing from the team for eighteen hours, and Reid had had to do some fast talking to convince J.J. that Hotch had come down with a wicked flu bug and that he’d taken him to a local hospital out of concern. J.J. had left the jet at their disposal to get back to D.C. while the team carried on without them, but Reid thought that a cross-country drive would allow them time to discuss the awful plan that Hotch had put into action without even giving Reid the heads-up first.
“So, did the deprogramming work?”
Reid looked from the road back to Hotch who had turned to give him a sleepy look of interest. Damn that man’s arrogance and his pragmatism and the way the lines around his eyes softened when he forgot to scowl.
“Partially, I think - they are both blunt instruments. The interest is there. You can see that they are tired of the endless war - but their beliefs are rooted in family, buttressed by experience. It’ll probably take more to convince them.”
“I’m not sure that I’m convinced…”
“Yes, well, perhaps we could discuss that right after we discuss your reckless disregard for your own existence.” Twelve hundred miles between wherever they were now and D.C.: they’d have time to discuss it and then some.
“We got the access that we needed.” Hotch rolled his head against the seat back so that he was facing the road ahead of them.
“That’s hardly the point! Why wouldn’t you let me possess you if you were going to let them beat you within an inch of your life? Or let me possess them? Teaching them from the inside would’ve been more effective…”
“They’re protected.” Hotch thumped his chest where his new dress shirt hid his anti-possession tattoo.
“Burn the tattoo and I’d have myself a brand new suit. Easy-peasy.”
“You promised…” He growled.
A spike of electricity flashed through Reid from skull to groin at the thought that Hotch might be jealous of him inhabiting another, no matter how temporarily. Reid hadn’t considered leveraging jealousy to embed himself deeper into Hotch’s psyche, but now he rolled the idea around inside him and licked the edges of it. Tantalizing…
“We need them if your strategy is going to work.” Hotch continued, oblivious to Reid’s piqued interest.
“Yes, I’m afraid that you’re right about that. They are perhaps the two most haplessly fortunate individuals in all of human history - we could definitely use some of that luck, though it sort of boggles the mind when one views the source material...”
“Says the Royal Demon running around as a glorified science nerd for the FBI…”
“Ah,” Reid smiled and raised an instructive finger from the steering wheel. “But you have to admit that there’s something about me, isn’t there? There’s nothing so treacherous as a hot nerd, Hotch.”
Reid could almost feel Spencer expanding with excitement inside him. Steady there, Spence… no need to have a heart attack from anticipation while doing seventy down a Nebraskan dirt road. The movement in his chest settled but his heart, he noticed, was still beating far too fast.
“You’re too much some times, Reid.” Hotch chuckled beside him.
A minute passed between them when all they heard was the muffled sound of the car’s engine and the random ticking of pebbles kicking up into the wheel wells. “Have I made my displeasure about using yourself as hunter bait clear?”
“I honestly didn’t come to Nebraska with this plan in mind.” Hotch sighed. “I didn’t know that they were here until I saw them in Lincoln. And I saw that they noticed you – it had to be dealt with so it seemed as good a time as any to make the introductions...”
“You let them almost kill you. That’s unacceptable.”
“I expected you to show up sooner than you did.” Hotch mumbled.
“The place was warded to Hell and back, Hotch… literally! Even I have limits.” Reid exhaled noisily even though he was not required to breathe. Sometimes ‘human’ moments were more eloquent than words. “I had to sit in that field all night and listen to you being torn apart… perhaps you could try to imagine how difficult it was to endure that and still focus on finding a way inside…”
Another moment of silence passed along with the grubby Midwest scenery. Reid flexed one of his hands with a crack and then let it fall to the center console. He tried to subdue some of his frustration at the man beside him by calculating the distance between buttfuck-nowhere and the closest rest stop.
“I’m sorry, Reid.” Hotch’s voice was barely a murmur above the engine growl. Then Reid felt warm fingers circle the wrist resting on the console. Spencer’s pulse jumped under his skin. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Oh, well, that ruins everything,” Reid smirked to try and distract Hotch from Spencer’s racing pulse in his grip; his excitement almost matched Reid’s and together it was a dangerous rush. “Because I want you to hurt me, just not in the way I experienced in that field.”
Reid focused on the road as Hotch’s fingers skimmed from his wrist to his palm, and then raised his arm upward. He had to focus a hell of a lot harder when he felt breath heat the skin between his thumb and forefinger, followed by a brush of lips. Then Hotch stretched Reid’s hand with his fingers and took a slow, deep bite at that same juncture. Reid didn’t know if it was he or Spencer who groaned as his nerve endings lit up from hand to neck, but Reid was willing to share the credit when he got half hard as a result. As messy as humans were, sometimes it was just glorious. And then Hotch took another bite.
“If you keep that up, this car may end up flipped in a ditch. That could be very problematic for us.”
“You started it.” Hotch exhaled against Reid’s hand.
“Yes, I did.” Reid was suddenly having trouble breathing and he found that annoying. Maybe he should stop for a while. “But I didn’t anticipate you taking me up on the offer now while we’re racing out of state like a pair of fugitives.”
“You are driving fairly fast. I’m impressed.”
Hotch flipped Reid’s arm to expose the underside of his wrist. Breath haloed the skin there a moment before Reid felt the brush of teeth. Cunning bastard…
“I can go faster…” Reid whispered, eyes riveted to the road as Spencer nearly simmered under his skin.
“Maybe you should.”
Reid pressed the accelerator almost to the floor as the engine leapt to the limits of its engineering specifications. He didn’t worry if it was something that Spencer would do; the only witness to it knew exactly who he was, and wasn’t that a perverse little thrill? Reid added that excitement to the rest, and took full credit for the arousal that he was no longer required to ignore.