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Interoffice romances were discouraged and relationships between those with differing ranks were strictly forbidden. There had been exceptions over the years (Dave Rossi seemed particularly immune to this edict) but the opinion, passed from the Director on down, was that the Bureau set a higher standard that did not recognize the human failing of gravitating towards others who understood the unique stresses of the job. The language used in the FBI Code of Conduct Manual was much stronger and more condemning than that, but that’s what it boiled down to: leave your personal life at the front doors. Damn Hoover and his juvenile, institutionalized fear of sex.

Of course, it was almost impossible to enforce, and nearly every Section Chief knew that and had an uncomfortable story or two about liaisons happening in their departments that they chose to ignore. It was just natural to make connections to people with whom you spent so much time, and so often that time involved a certain amount of danger. The longer you lasted in this business, the more you needed the comfort of those connections. It wasn’t realistic to think that you could spend day after day wading through cult propaganda or underground snuff films or serial killer trophies and then go home to a Leave It To Beaver lifestyle. He knew from experience that it was too much compartmentalization to ask of anyone. That way led to madness and personal delirium that produced questionable choices.

He’d tried to bury it deep but he still remembered the Christmas party where he had enough beer to convince himself that screwing Kate Joyner in the copy room was a justifiable way to blow off the stress of three bad cases in a row and an unsuccessful round of fertility treatments with Haley. She understood what it was at the time as she smoothed her skirt and folded her nylons into her purse, his guilt already becoming apparent in his inability to look at her. She told him to go home to his wife and not to worry about it in that clipped accent of hers - she knew that he hadn’t meant anything by it in the first place. That made him feel worse than his guilt towards Haley because she was right: Kate could’ve been anyone that night. And now he was doing it again.

Hotch watched Reid from across the bullpen as he conferred with Rossi on some paper that he had bamboozled the senior agent into co-authoring with him. Reid was engrossed - fingers gesturing enthusiastically over the papers he held and eyes flashing to Dave as they talked. It ignited this slow ache deep inside when he watched Reid being Reid. He could be infectious; Hotch was sure that Reid was unaware of how he affected others. Even Rossi seemed carried away by his current excitement. Hotch felt the pull of gravitation that the Code of Conduct Manual said they should all be immune to. He’d been feeling it for months and, unlike Kate Joyner, Reid wasn’t easy to shake off. Reid wanted to talk about what they were doing - it had been an ongoing battle since they first started this - but Hotch failed to see the point telling himself that this was just another unavoidable connection that nonetheless should go assiduously unrecognized. It would end - good things in his life always did - and then, where would all of that talk have gotten them? As he thought that, pinpoints on his body heated beneath his suit, places where three nights earlier Reid had marked him with his lips and teeth and hands. They pulsed as one, as if they had a voice, telling him that this was different - the feeling was so much more than conditional comfort. But how could it be when every night he showed up at Reid’s place, his driving impulse was to end it and go back to the way things were supposed to be? It just never worked out that way because Reid was contagious. And the way Hotch felt when Reid held him down and worked his rawness to the surface, the look of pure delight on his face as he did it, the satisfaction Hotch felt afterwards curled in Reid’s arms - how on earth could he walk away from that?

But, 37b. And these things weren’t meant to last. And the sanctity of the Bureau might fail entirely if a Unit Chief fell for a subordinate and they still tried to work together. So sayeth the regulations.

Reid looked up suddenly and caught Hotch staring. He smiled broadly and then turned to Rossi for a moment. The gravitational pull was becoming too much; Hotch used every part of himself to remain leaning against his office doorway instead of walking towards the source of his secret joy. In the end, the pull worked in reverse.

“Hotch, we need your opinion on this…” Reid called out as he and Rossi circled the bullpen to Hotch’s office.

Hotch watched them walk, focusing on the way Reid’s clothes seemed to hold him in check against the world: his thin tie leading to a narrow vest, the vest harnessing the dress shirt and pants that all emphasized the holster sitting on his hip. Hotch throbbed in response, wanting to brush the edge of all that restraint with his fingers and know that he could set it free if he chose. But all he did was straighten his shirt cuffs, ensuring that the bite on his inner right wrist was hidden from view, and set his features to the scowl that everyone expected from him.