There was something mildly annoying to Spencer that this safe house seemed more like a home than the place he actually lived. The coordinated bedding, throw pillows in the window seat, collection of African sculpture carefully arranged and lit—it all felt like a comment on his own knickknack-less shelves, the gathering dust in the corners that he routinely ignored, windows still bare even though he'd been in the apartment eight months already. Paranoid, he realized, but he could hear his mother's voice in his head. See? Even the FBI knows how to accessorize. Don't tell me you can't learn.
Of course, the point had been to make this place look convincing. Inviting, even. Gideon was certain it was envy driving their unknown subject to attack gay couples, always in their own homes, always in the same elaborate, vicious way. The unsub begrudged his victims a life he believed he himself could never have, according to Gideon, and in his deformed thinking, felt the need to make them pay for it, destroying their happiness to assuage his own misery. If they wanted to lure the killer to them, it stood to reason, they'd have to shine an appropriate target in his eyes. Spencer and Hotch had volunteered for the assignment.
JJ had taken Spencer shopping, because they all knew he couldn't be left to his own fashion devices. "We'll have you looking the part in no time," she'd said, as she sorted through boot-cut jeans and shirts made out of shiny fabric.
Spencer dutifully tried on everything she picked out, waited while she pursed her lips and declared "not quite right," or else smiled her approval. To Spencer it all seemed too much like Halloween, and he was dressing up as a trophy, someone worth killing over, something he was not and would never be.
The outfit he had on now certainly felt like a costume. Oh, JJ had told him he looked good, but the clothes made him feel itchy in his own skin. The black velvet pants hugged his body, his butt in fact, rather too obscenely. The shirt was nearly as bad. He could clearly see the outline of his nipples beneath the tight-fitting material. Whenever he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he thought longingly of sweater vests and khakis.
Hotch knocked at the bedroom door. "Good. You're ready." He hesitated, waiting for an invitation, and Spencer waved him inside.
He'd noticed this before, Hotch's careful respect for boundaries. There were so many things he could guess about his boss from this one detail, demons of his past, if he put his mind to it, but he never did. Spencer's mother used to tell him: you can analyze things to death. Spencer preferred simply to believe there were some lines you shouldn't cross.
"We should go over this," Hotch told him, "before we go out to the club."
"You want to—" He didn't say it, couldn't risk assuming Hotch meant that. Maybe he just intended to go over strategy or protocol. Hotch liked to be prepared for any eventuality. Maybe he'd worked out a system of signals just in case they got into trouble. If I say "carpe diem," you head straight for the nearest exit.
But Hotch quickly canceled out that possibility, "We need to make this believable."
Spencer flinched just a little. He couldn't help it. Hotch gave him a look that was pure reassurance, like settling a nervous virgin, and Spencer chose not to think about the aptness of that analogy.
"So you're saying we should…practice?"
"The unsub watches his victims closely. If you startle when I touch you, he's going to know something's off."
Spencer nodded. "Okay. I'm, uh— Whenever."
"You sure?" Hotch asked, looking mildly concerned.
Spencer took a deep breath, drew himself up, made his voice firmer, "I'm sure."
He thought he was, too. But then Hotch moved in, and Spencer's hands got twisted up between their bodies, and he took a panicky step back. "There is something I probably should have mentioned before. This—" He waved his hand in lieu of words. "Let's just say my knowledge is more theoretical than practical."
Hotch didn't smile, for which Spencer would probably be grateful for the rest of his life. "Just relax, Spence. This isn't a test."
He put his hands on Spencer's hips, waited until Spencer stopped squirming. Spencer had the rather overwhelming desire to blurt out that this wouldn't be his first kiss, if that was what Hotch was thinking. But then, he might actually have to give details, and really it was best kept to himself. He'd been thirteen, and her name was Vickie Valley. She lived on his block, and was always asking him to come over and help her with math. Whenever he did show up with his stack of textbooks, she'd take him down to the basement, and they'd sit side by side on the dusty old couch down there. He'd flip pages, explaining binomial expansion theory and quadratic equations. She'd just stare at him.
"If you're not going to listen," he finally told her one day, "I should probably go." That's when she'd done it, fisted her hand in his button-down shirt and gave him a taste of her lip gloss, bitter and artificial, a whiff of skin-warmed baby powder that made him wheeze. Her mouth puckered as it moved on his, like fish lips, and then it yawned open, all loose and wet. Spencer had never guessed that people did things like that with their tongues.
As soon as he could get free, he'd scrambled up, run all the way home, a tight feeling in his chest that made it hard to breathe. Later, much later, when he could think about it without being mortified, he'd told himself it was okay. He never had been like other people, and the fact that he didn't like kissing was just one more way he was different.
Honestly, Spencer could only imagine how panicked he looked right now. Hotch said nothing, just rested a hand lightly on his shoulder, the way he did when he took Spencer to the firing range, trying to calm him down enough to be able to shoot straight. Familiar gesture, and slowly the tension unknotted in Spencer's spine. Conditioned response, he thought idly, although he was rather glad for it.
Hotch took that as his cue, tilted his head, leaned closer. "This isn't going to hurt, I swear."
Said with a quirk of the lips, and Spencer would have answered back, but apparently Hotch's strategy hinged on surprise, because suddenly his lips were on Spencer's, pressing warmly. Spencer's first thought was that Hotch's mouth felt nothing like Vickie Valley's, the thin, firm line of it, strangely comforting. He relaxed a little, and Hotch must have felt it, because he took a firmer grip of Spencer's waist and started to move his lips, softly, dry brush of skin on skin. Spencer's hands had been dangling awkwardly at his sides, but now they came up, flat against Hotch's chest. It was not to push him away.
Hotch lifted his head, just enough to ask, "Okay?"
Spencer nodded, still a little nervous, and licked his lips, to be ready. He could hear his own blood in his ears. That had only ever happened before when somebody was shooting at him.
Hotch smiled. "Good. I'm going to do it again."
The next kiss started much as the other had, but then Hotch's mouth softened, and the tip of his tongue darted out, traced the line between Spencer's lips. The shivery sensation of it made Spencer draw in a surprised breath, mouth parting in a silent gasp, and Hotch's tongue touched his then. Spencer couldn't stay quiet at that, a pathetic, strangled little sound coming out of him. Hotch didn't seem to mind. He stroked his tongue against Spencer's, softly explored his mouth. And Spencer understood at last. It was only Vickie Valley he hadn't liked.
He arms came up in a tangle around Hotch's neck, and Hotch pulled him closer, their bodies touching for the first time. Hotch smelled like man things, warm skin and the wool of his suit, faint hint of cologne and the underlying scent of soap, sharp and clean. They kissed in easy tandem, and it reminded Spencer of the way they worked out in the field, effortlessly together. In fact, this might have been the most important insight Spencer had ever had in the line of duty. That intimate things, things that involved touching, weren't in some separate, special category that didn't belong to him. It was just life, an extension of things he experienced every day, care and respect and closeness. Not so mysterious, after all.
Hotch broke the kiss and gave Spencer a long, searching look. Whatever he saw must have satisfied him, because he nodded, took a step back.
"See? I told you it wouldn't hurt." Spencer made a face at him, and Hotch gave him a crooked smile. "We should go."
Spencer took a breath, let it out. "I'm ready."
This time he meant it.