Seven years was a long time to cling to twelve days-worth of memories. But Reid recalled each of those twelve days as vividly as if they’d happened last week, and he replayed them over and over like a needle stuck in a groove.
He tasted the bourbon on Hotch’s lips from the first time they kissed. He felt the howling need in his veins slow when he pressed his face against Hotch’s neck and breathed him in. He saw Hotch outlined in greys and indigos as they grappled with each other in the dark of anonymous hotel rooms. And he heard the terrible silence that followed when Hotch told him that he just couldn’t anymore. He returned to Haley and Reid did whatever he could to erase how awful it felt to be someone’s second choice.
An entire life lived in twelve short days, and being who Reid was, he was unable to forget a moment of it.
But then Haley left Hotch, and Foyet nearly killed him, and then successfully killed Haley. The horror spread out over years and Reid was useless against it. He wanted to help but Hotch pushed him away every time and it was almost worse than the initial rejection; Hotch didn’t want him to care at all. He felt sure that Hotch wouldn’t survive and it was killing Reid to just stand by and watch. But he kept it to himself, shoving it down on top of those twelve days and what they sparked in him - just another unwanted thing in him that he had to disguise.
And then Hotch chose Beth. Reid wouldn’t allow himself to think about that at all, ever.
When someone finally reached out and chose him, he was almost too confused to react to it. Poor, doomed Maeve - it still hurt whenever he thought of her, and yet her loss never cut as deep as it should. He wondered how real it actually was. They were both so desperate to be wanted; she by someone of her choosing, and he by anyone at all. If he’d managed to save her, would it have translated into something real? She’d always been a beautiful idea. It’s easier to love an idea than a person - he’d done both so he knew the difference.
After Maeve, he sort of gave up on the concept of personal happiness. Nearly a decade of attempts had given him nothing but memories that would never dim and chronic heartache that he didn’t believe he deserved. He became tired of negotiating things he didn’t understand and instead focused on the work. He was good at it and sometimes whole days would pass by when he didn’t give himself a second thought, just like everyone else. It was blissful.
Perversely, just when he got the hang of loneliness, it was then that Hotch began to pull him back in. There were the abbreviated conversations, stripped bare of everything but the essentials because they knew each other that well. There was the renewed softness in Hotch’s tone when he asked for Reid’s input. And then there were the gentle attempts at inclusion: lighthearted fistbumps and a hand on his arm and lopsided smirks to his bad jokes. Reid only savored the edges of these moments before he pushed them down on top of the twelve days. Happiness was not for him - he mustn’t lose sight of that.
But seeing how Gideon’s life ended threw him for a loop. It could’ve easily been him under that sheet in an isolated cabin. Gideon had never recovered from losing Sarah, and even having a son who desperately wanted him hadn’t been enough to bring him back to the world. He’d continued with the work as if it was all he had, and in the end it killed him. Reid was traveling down the same road: reading endlessly, trailing after killers, and playing chess by himself. He was Gideon 2.0 and he wondered who would be standing over his body when the time came.
They were in a Pennsylvanian forest waiting on the local M.E. to clear their access to a body when Hotch came to stand beside him.
“So,” Hotch left the word hanging for a long time, breath ghosting up into the canopy of pine trees. “How are you doing?”
Reid tried not to infer that Hotch thought he was in need of coddling. They both knew he resented that. “You mean in regards to losing Gideon?”
“No,” Hotch turned and gave him a look too soft for a crime scene. “I mean how are you doing?”
“It’s been a long time since anyone’s asked me that,” he said after a minute.
“I know and I’m sorry about that,” Hotch sighed and turned back to face the CSI techs swarming like flies. “Especially since you ask us how we are all the time.”
The memory of Day One broke the surface inside him… Hotch, almost too drunk to stand, burying his unspoken fears under an ocean of bourbon in some dim bar as Reid laid a hand along his shoulder and asked him how he was. Hotch turned and looked as if he might break right there, as if one more secret was too much to bear, and he reached up to clasp Reid’s hand like it was the lifeline he’d been desperately searching for…
Reid shook his head. “I ask because I care.”
“We care too. All of us,” Hotch cleared his throat, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Even if it appears that we don’t.”
“Well, intentions are one thing, but actions are what lingers.”
Hotch looked back at him and for an instant Reid saw that brokenness flicker across him before he reined it in. “You’re absolutely right.”
An M.E. drone trotted up and told them that they were free to examine the killing ground, and they went back to work. It wasn’t until half an hour later that Reid realized Hotch was asking permission for something.