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Just When You Least Expect It, Just What You Least Expect

Chapter Text

Two FBI agents walk into a gay bar… Hotch’s mind provides the opening line to the joke the moment he and Reid walk into the club. He blinks his eyes to adjust from the blinding glare outside and shrugs off the brain hiccup as he realizes that they stick out like the outsiders they are. He suddenly wishes that he were following this lead down with Morgan; he’s much more the physical type to blend in with the crowd that’s heaving and gyrating and generally getting primitive in this dark hole in the middle of a Thursday afternoon. But then he catches a few envious stares, a few double takes and once overs, and looks to Reid beside him. Yeah, this could work too, but only if Reid’s faith in him is as strong as he thinks it is.

“This is a sex club,” Reid mumbles redundantly, eyes wide at the scene unfolding before him.

“Yes, I spotted that too,” Hotch deadpans. There’s no time for either of them to get weird about this. There’s a good chance that their suspect is here, possibly trawling for his next victim… People are starting to stare at them, like they don’t belong.

Hotch grabs Reid and pushes him until his back meets the bar rail. It’s dark there, away from the swirling lights of the dance floor beyond and there are already several couples taking advantage of the obscurity. Reid objects, his muscles going tense under Hotch’s grip as he huffs out a breath of surprise. Hotch grabs Reid’s jaw and pulls him in close, praying that Reid can hear him over the pounding bass that’s making everything vibrate in unison.

“Follow me,” he whispers a moment before his lips steals Reid’s automatic protest. And to his unending relief, Reid does.

There’s a moment of continued tension in Reid where he does his best impersonation of hardwood, and then he miraculously slides into what they’re doing. He grips Hotch back, one hand roughly pulling Hotch’s jaw closer as his other slips under Hotch’s jacket and yanks their hips together. It mimics the feral desperation of those surrounding them and Hotch finds himself amazed. His mouth opens - it could be shock or it could be something else - and then Reid slips in, rough and urgent, fingers digging into Hotch’s cheek. And then what started out as a tactic and then morphed into shock turns into something warm and immediate. Hotch’s body responds on its own, his arm moves around Reid’s waist, his head tilts into Reid’s hand because there’s something elemental about being wanted this way - it just activates you. Everyone wants to be touched, to be kissed, to feel the jolt of connection that shocks you and leaves you breathless for a second. He tells himself it doesn’t have a lot to do with who you’re with at the time…

He breaks away from Reid’s lips and trails his along the jawline until he reaches Reid’s ear.

“Do you see Hough anywhere?”

Reid is breathing heavily against him but when he whispers back, his voice is controlled. “No, but I can’t see the whole dance floor. Turn me to your left.”

Hotch shifts him roughly against the bar rail and then feels bad about it. He’s getting a little carried away with this role playing. Reid just matches his intensity wrenching Hotch hard against him until they’re practically glued to each other from hips to shoulders. Hotch buries his face into Reid’s neck, giving him a good view over his shoulder, and grazes Reid’s skin with his teeth.

“Anything?”

Reid’s hands tighten on Hotch and he shakes for a second before answering. “Yeah. Blonde male, eleven o’clock. He’s the right height and body type - too dark to be sure though. He’s all over some red-haired guy.”

Reid pushes hard against Hotch’s hip and pivots with a grunt, turning them so that Hotch is now pressed into the bar and has a view of the dance floor. He starts sucking at Hotch’s neck and Hotch puts a lot of thought into not reacting to a trigger Reid has accidentally stumbled upon.

“What do you think?” Reid breathes against his throat.

“Yes.” The affirmation comes out strangled as Hotch tries to get his head 100% back in the game.

“What do you want to do?”

The club’s music is pounding through him and it feels like it has control of his pulse as it throbs in time with it. He’s trying to think, to strategize, but he’s got someone pressed up against him breathing his air and holding him like a steel trap, and all he wants is to let the music guide his hips, his hands, his mouth…

But the suspect starts to move towards the fire exit, dragging his partner with a look that promises what everyone in this club comes here for. And suddenly Hotch’s brain jumpstarts with a roar.

“He’s leaving. Out the back.”

Hotch’s frame tenses and Reid drops the ruse like it’s nothing.

“I’ll go out front,” he says. “Circle around to cut off his exit.”

They push away from each other at the same time, Reid heading for the door and Hotch trailing the suspect through the club’s crowd. A thrill shivers his stomach muscles at how perfect it feels. He’s predatory and controlled again, but there’s also this assurance that Reid is exactly in step with him, like they’re sharing the same will, the same impulse without explanation. He’s never felt that sense of confidence in Reid before. He shakes his head and picks up the pace as he follows Hough through the exit door and out into the blinding sunshine of the alley way.

The suspect is fifty paces ahead of him trying to pull the redhead to a van parked at the mouth of the alley. But the redhead has other plans and pushes Hough against the club’s brickwork as if they’re gonna get down to business next to the dumpsters. Hotch hopes that the redhead is as distracting as Reid was; he trains his weapon on Hough and identifies himself. Hough doesn’t miss a beat, twisting to place the redhead between him and Hotch while pulling a gun of his own and training it against his victim’s temple. Hough starts backing up towards his van, dragging the redhead off his feet and only then does the guy get a clue about what is happening to him. He starts thrashing and it ruins Hotch’s line of sight.

“Don’t do it, Hough,” Hotch barks. “We both know how this ends. Don’t make it worse than it has to be.”

“This ends how I want it to,” Hough smiles as he uses his victim to cover his escape.

Hotch runs after him, gun still trained looking for a split second opportunity to even the odds, but he’s calm. He’s not re-strategizing or playing out high speed chases in his head. He feels the circle closing and the thrill it gives him is almost libidinous. He sucks in that thought, swallows it down into the excited tangle of his guts and steadfastly refuses to think about how dirty it should make him feel.

They’re almost at the head of the alley and Hotch still hasn’t had a clean shot. His confidence trembles for a moment and then he sees the hand with the .38 appear to Hough’s left, aimed at his head. Reid identifies himself quietly, like he’s interrupting a conversation, and the look Hough gives him is one of pure hate. Reid smiles a little and stands firm as Hotch rushes forward to disarm and cuff Hough. When the redhead gets free he turns on Hough, bleeding off his fear with an unschooled display of his fists. Reid grabs him and pulls him away as Hotch shoves Hough to the ground and calls in the arrest. Reid is trying to soothe the victim but he looks over his shoulder and catches Hotch’s eye. He’s smiling one of those toothy grins and there’s a flush to him that reminds Hotch of a runner’s high - a sort of manic, instinctual sense of victory. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen that look on the genius’s face before, but it becomes him.

Hotch smiles back as he talks to Morgan on the phone. He can’t help it: he feels high too. He can’t remember the last time he felt this great about a win, and he loves that it makes him feel ten years younger.

Chapter Text

Later on, he worries about Reid. After the thrill wears off, he thinks about how inappropriate the whole situation was. He’s known Reid a long time, and they’ve been through a lot together, but there are some things you just don’t do, no matter how good a friendship you think you have. While he’s still amazed at the level of trust Reid has for him, he feels the need to apologize. He doesn’t sleep well, tossing and turning as he tries to figure out what to say.

Sorry for sticking my tongue down your throat in the name of a case…

I apologize for assuming that homosexual role playing was in your wheelhouse…

I really value our friendship and now feel a little weird about how excited I got at the club…

Yeah, he can’t say any of that.

He gets into the office early and goes to the kitchen for coffee only to find that Reid beat him to it. Reid makes a surprised noise at his appearance and then smiles, automatically reaching for Hotch’s mug and fixing him his first cup of the day. The move is routine but Hotch can’t remember when that started for the life of him. Reid hands Hotch’s mug back to him while giving him a bemused stare.

“C’mon, Hotch. Out with it.” When Hotch looks at him questioningly, Reid’s fingers make a complicated gesture in the air in front of him. “Your face is full of confused wrinkles. If your brain chews any harder on whatever you’re thinking about, we’ll start hearing the chomping in the bullpen.”

Well, that’s embarrassing.

“I thought… maybe we ought to talk about a few things from the Hough case.” His voice falters a little and he takes a sip of coffee. It is just dry in the office, that’s all.

“You mean because we kissed?” Reid’s eyebrows rise. “I’ll admit, you caught me off guard with that, but I think that it all worked out remarkably well, don’t you?”

“Yes, it did.”

The look Reid is giving him is so earnest and familiar that Hotch starts to think that he’s the only one feeling weird in this situation, and if that’s the case, well, he can handle that. He should’ve kept his mouth shut.

“I just wanted to give you an opportunity to talk… if you felt you needed to. Not as your boss, mind you - as a friend.”

“Umm, well, thanks, Hotch. I appreciate the consideration, but I’m good. Are you okay?”

“Yes,” Hotch breathes in relief. “Perhaps I’m still a little surprised by how well we worked together in that situation. I know that social improvisation isn’t something you’re comfortable doing, and… well… you were pretty seamless yesterday. It was very impressive.”

“Thanks, Hotch, but I was just following your lead. I trust you.”

Hotch smiles because trust is something he can accept. Maybe what their lips and hands and bodies were doing is really beside the point. He’s feeling a little better about this already and it isn’t lost on him that Reid has managed to do that twice in two days for him.

“I trust you as well,” he says quietly.

“So then, we’re both fine about this?”

“Absolutely.”

“Good.” Reid sighs and slouches against the counter top. “Because I have tons of scientific and psycho-social references to the fluidity of sexual identity, but I’ve only had two cups of coffee so far today, and I’m not sure I have the energy to explain them all in a thorough and convincing manner.”

Hotch laughs and Reid cocks as eyebrow at him, which makes Hotch laugh harder. “That’s quite all right, Reid. You can keep that to yourself.” Hotch’s hand finds its way to Reid’s shoulder.

“I will,” Reid smirks and then straightens to walk out of the kitchenette. Hotch’s hand slides away casually. “At least until after this coffee.”

Hotch laughs all the way back to his office.

Chapter Text

A few weeks later, Rossi issues an ultimatum and demands that Hotch accompany him to a jazz club in some quixotic mission to seduce a singer. Hotch wonders where Rossi finds the energy to keep chasing that dream but decides that his friend’s optimism about romance is probably much healthier than his own, and sets his mind to finding an excuse not to go and be a wet blanket over the proceedings. But it’s late, and he’s a little brain dead from all the personnel evaluations he’s just finished writing… The light at Reid’s desk is still on in the bullpen and it feels like a gift. He shrugs into his jacket and heads toward the hoped-for excuse. Reid is packing up too. Hotch spots the spine of the Arthur Conan Doyle book he’s always toting around peeking out of his bag.

“On your way out too?”

Reid twitches a little and Hotch doesn’t quite understand why he’s offended by the movement. “I didn’t think anyone else was here.”

“I feel like I’m always here. The paperwork is never-ending.”

Reid huffs his agreement and then stands, looping his bag around his shoulders without a second thought.

“Wanna get something to eat? I forgot about lunch today.”

“What?” Reid looks offended and clutches his bag close to him. Hotch takes a step back trying to figure out the mistake he’s made. Everything’s been fine lately and all he wanted was an excuse to give to Rossi and Reid was just here and he wasn’t taking work home… he hadn’t packed any files into his bag-

The book. Suddenly the date pops into his head and he wishes that he’d been thinking of more than just himself before he walked over here.

“I’m sorry, Reid. I forgot what day it was.” He backs away. “Maybe another time.”

“No,” Reid says quickly and takes one step to follow him. “I-I mean, I planned on being alone, but… I’m not sure that’s what I really want to do.”

“Whatever you want to do is the right thing,” Hotch says gently. “Grief doesn’t have rules, Reid.”

Reid just sighs and looks a lot older than he is. He shuffles the strap of his bag and fiddles with a frayed end of canvas. Hotch wonders if he should just leave him to it or not. It doesn’t seem so bad to be Rossi’s social guinea pig for the evening now, not in light of this.

“I could eat, I guess,” Reid murmurs without looking at Hotch.

“Okay.”

“She might come up. In conversation, I mean. Would… would that be all right?”

“Of course,” Hotch breathes. Reid’s never really discussed Maeve with him, probably because they clashed in the effort to save her. He’s not sure that he’ll ever get over how much he regrets that.

Reid nods and walks towards him. “What were you thinking, food-wise?”

“Chinese? I think I want dumplings.” Dumplings are Reid’s favorite.

“Okay, but no chopsticks.” Reid falls into step beside him and Hotch bumps him lightly with his shoulder. After a moment, Reid bumps him back.

“No problem.”

~~~

Hotch explains about Rossi and the jazz singer when they get to the restaurant, and Reid agrees that being Rossi’s social patsy sounds like an awful way to spend an evening. He’s happy to be Hotch’s excuse and Hotch thinks that’s pretty great of him considering how terrible he must be feeling today. Nevertheless, it lightens the mood and soon the dumplings and stir fry and Tsing Tao work their magic, and Reid goes off on a tangent about the value of rice as a commodity, currency, and, surprisingly, as a weapon. Hotch picks at his food absently until he realizes that he hasn’t said a word in nearly twenty minutes and has been smiling like an idiot the whole time. He straightens his back and rearranges his features, and suddenly Reid stops talking and stares down at his food instead.

“You okay?” Hotch ventures.

“Yeah, sorry. I was talking too much again.”

“No, you weren’t.”

“You’d think after all of these years, you guys would be better at telling me to shut up.”

“I tell you to shut up when I need to, Reid. I didn’t need to just then. And I don’t think I’ve ever been rude about it.”

“I wish you would,” Reid snaps and then looks embarrassed that he let it slip. “Sorry.”

“Stop apologizing.” It comes out like an order and even though he doesn’t mean to be that harsh, Hotch is happy that it forces Reid to look at him again. “What’s really going on here?”

“I…” Reid’s eyes seem impossibly huge as he stares at Hotch searching for a way to continue. “I feel like everyone thinks… I’m fragile, or something. There are all of these things people don’t talk about in front of me - like Maeve - as if I’ll flip out on them if anyone mentions her. They do the same thing about drugs or schizophrenia… or telling me to shut up. I’m not some headcase… I won’t go off the deep end if the conversation turns unpleasant…”

“You have a tendency to get… prickly about certain topics, Spencer,” Hotch sighs. “And you kept Maeve to yourself until you needed our help. That’s not behavior that invites conversation. Most people tend to avoid provoking negative reactions, especially when it involves someone that they care about.”

“You weren’t afraid to provoke me when Maeve was kidnapped.”

“I’m not proud of that.”

“Why?”

“It wasn’t helpful, and it hurt you.”

“But you were right. I screwed up and it compromised the team’s ability to save her. I was arrogant and it cost Maeve her life.”

“You were emotionally compromised. No one should have expected you to think clearly.” Hotch jabs a finger at the tabletop to emphasize his point. “It’s not a matter of who screwed up and who was right about it all. None of that means anything in light of the fact that she’s gone.”

Reid clamps his mouth shut and his lips go white. Hotch doesn’t want to see him lose control, he doesn’t want to embarrass him further, but wonders if maybe that’s exactly what Reid needs.

“You have to let go of the responsibility you’ve taken on about her death, Reid. You made mistakes - we all did. But Diane killed her. Everything else is psychological self-flagellation.”

Reid takes a huge, wet gasp and then stares down at his food again. His shoulders twitch as he swallows something back into himself, and Hotch’s hand slides across the table of its own accord and grips Reid’s painfully. He wants to help but just may have made everything worse - he’s no longer certain.

“Reid…”

“That’s what I’m talking about.”

“What is?”

“Telling me what I ought to know myself. Even if it’s unpleasant to hear. The others won’t do it, for whatever reason… but you will, when push comes to shove.” He looks back at Hotch and his eyes are red but his face is dry. “That’s why I trust you.”

Hotch doesn’t know what to say. He’s always felt like he let Reid down about Maeve, but here he is telling him again how much he trusts him. He gives Reid’s hand a tight squeeze and then finds himself speaking without thinking.

“May I ask… I mean, it’s really none of my business but… why did you keep her from us for so long?”

Reid pauses and then swallows hard but doesn’t look away. “I-I was afraid that it wasn’t real.”

The statement doesn’t make a lot of sense so Hotch just waits for more, like he always does, because that’s how Reid operates.

“I was afraid that it wasn’t really love, and that you guys would talk me out of it somehow. I was afraid of Morgan asking me how much I could really know about her if I’d never met her… I was afraid of getting that look that you’re wearing right now…”

Hotch feels like Reid just slapped him even though his voice his soft and his expression is earnest. Hotch pulls back his hand and looks to his half-finished meal as he tries to figure out why he feels so hurt.

“I’m sorry-” he starts.

“It’s okay, Hotch. I told you that I appreciate the honesty, even though it can be tough to take. I just didn’t want the relationship to be examined by those whose opinions… mean a lot to me. Maybe it was cowardice. I mean, who falls in love over the phone anyway?”

“There are as many ways to fall in love as there are people, Reid. That’s why no one knows how to do it properly. Just because you never met her doesn’t mean that it wasn’t real… though I’m certain that we would’ve questioned it exactly as you imagined we would.” Hotch sighs. “Sometimes I think we’re all too intelligent and jaded to ever believe that someone else could make us happy.”

Reid just ends up staring at Hotch and, once again, Hotch doesn’t know what that means, and he’s a little ticked off that he’s such a highly-trained professional but he’s just bumbling his way through this conversation. Finally, Reid smiles and it eases Hotch in a way that similarly eludes him.

“Thanks, Hotch.”

“What for?”

“For turning that brutal honesty on yourself as well. It makes it feel a lot less like judgment when you apply it evenly everywhere.”

Hotch’s laugh startles him. “I’m glad that my insecurity comes off as respect to you.”

“It is respect when you show it to someone who pretty much typifies the quality.” Reid raises his beer in a toast and smirks. “That way, we just seem like two guys working through some stuff, ya know? Like we’re normal people.”

Reid wiggles his glass, waiting for Hotch to lift his. He’s sort of stunned by how weird this conversation’s been and yet it feels like they both really needed to have it. Hotch gets that strange twisting excitement in his stomach again when his brain spits out we’re in sync again. His hand acts on the moment and clinks his glass against Reid’s as he feels a stupid grin return to his face; he has no idea what’s going on but he’s enjoying himself.

“Like normal people,” he murmurs before he drinks down the last of his beer.

When they finish their meal and the conversation naturally peters out, they decide to call it a night. They wait for cabs on the sidewalk in the D.C. drizzle and thank each other for being the convenient excuse that they didn’t know they needed for the evening. A taxi arrives and Hotch insists that Reid take it, even though Hotch lives farther away. Reid grins and then reaches out and unexpectedly pulls Hotch in for a hug. Hotch goes with it and he chalks that up to the beer, but his stomach twists harder when he feels Reid’s arms around him. It doesn’t last long enough to be anything other than friendly, it’s just not something that they do, so that automatically makes it odd. Reid mumbles ‘Thanks, I needed this’ as he pulls away, and Hotch finds himself grinning and responding with ‘Any time’, and he means it even though he’s not entirely sure what ‘this’ is. The cab pulls away and Reid doesn’t look back but Hotch watches the car disappear into the rain anyway.

Chapter Text

They’re in a family style restaurant in Tulsa - the kind that used to make him grind his teeth when Haley forced them on him - and it seems like a strange choice for a bunch of FBI agents, but it has big booths that can accommodate five people and enough room to spread out their case materials even if they have to put up with the occasional screaming child or a reluctant chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ from the wait staff. Reid keeps reaching over and picking fries off Hotch’s plate as Rossi spins out his theory of Intermittent Explosive Disorder in their UnSub. Hotch didn’t really want fries but found himself ordering them anyway in anticipation of this. Reid isn’t looking at him as he munches, he seems thoroughly engrossed in Rossi’s theory, but his hand keeps reaching out like they do this all the time. No one really catches on until half the fries are gone. Morgan blinks at Reid and then points to Hotch.

“Are you just gonna let him keep doing that?”

“He got them for me,” Reid answers without hesitation and Hotch feels his face get hot. “Why, Morgan? Do you want some?”

“Ooohhh, no way,” Morgan acts all huffy. “And get between Dad and his favorite kid?”

Hotch lifts the plate into the center of the table. “Settle down, children, or no one gets dessert.” And suddenly Reid is fighting off Morgan and J.J. for the fries. Hotch mutters something about not having favorites while silently loathing the idea that the team views him as a father figure. He doesn’t want Reid to see him as a Dad… And then he catches Rossi’s eye as he smirks across the table from him. It feels like Rossi sees something that Hotch ought to keep to himself but he doesn’t know what it is or how to hide it. All he did was order food he didn’t intend to eat. Rossi eventually leans forward and plucks a fry from the plate, chewing it with satisfaction.

“We all have favorites,” he chuckles, and it feels like he’s laughing at Hotch.

Chapter Text

“Thirty-seven across is ‘phalanges’.”

They’re on the jet and Reid is peering over Hotch’s shoulder at his crossword puzzle. He’s close enough that his hair is tickling Hotch’s ear. His sigh is long-suffering but he doesn’t look up as he fills in Reid’s unsolicited answer.

“Did I ask for help?”

“No.” Reid’s hand suddenly appears and makes an excited squiggle across the page. “Sixteen down is ‘haemophilia’.”

“It doesn’t fit.” Hotch turns and gets a close up of Reid’s jaw and hair.

“It does if you spell it the European way.” Reid turns to face him, hair tickling Hotch’s neck as he moves. “Trust me.”

“It’s my puzzle, Reid,” Hotch murmurs, valiantly keeping the smile from his face. “And I’m armed.”

“In a pressurized cabin at thirty-five thousand feet? That’s an idle threat if I ever heard one.” One side of Reid’s mouth lifts producing a sharp line that augments the other lines in his face. Hotch wishes that he knew how to draw because he thinks sketching Reid’s angular features would be diverting.

“I’ll do it, Hotch,” Morgan grins across the aisle. “I could take him down cleanly. No ricochets. Just say the word.”

“Where has the love gone, Derek?” Reid looks ahead to Morgan as his teammate laughs.

Hotch leans closer to Reid until his features blur in his vision. “He’s just jealous of your fancy foreign spelling skills. And no one appreciates a know-it-all.”

“Hmmm,” Reid looks back at Hotch and then pulls away until they are a more respectful distance from each other. Hotch smiles to let him know that he doesn’t really mind the invasion of his personal space, but Reid suddenly seems more circumspect about it. “At least one can depend on the Europeans for consistency. Americans just added a revised definition for the word ‘literally’ to reflect the modern misuse of the term. So now it is officially a descriptor for both specific and figurative events, thus rendering its original meaning redundant. Any culture confident in the belief that ‘selfie’ deserves a dictionary entry is not to be taken seriously. Cling to convenient nationalism if you want but it’ll screw up your crossword, I assure you.”

Hotch stares at Reid, who appears genuinely ticked off now. “Are you serious?”

“Literally,” he grumbles, and Rossi doesn’t even attempt to hide his amused snort. “You misspelled ‘Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli’ by the way…”

“What?” Hotch stares at the puzzle indignantly.

“It’s an understandable, if not excusable, error. That’s a helluva lot of strange consonant combinations for one word.” Reid sinks into the seat next to Hotch, which seems a lot further away than when Reid was leaning over it, and affects an air of disinterest. “It’s hard to be precise without picking up some ‘fancy foreign spelling skills’…”

Hotch isn’t sure what’s going on. It started out feeling like a game, and now it feels like something else, like Reid is upset. Morgan was the one who joked about murdering him… What had Hotch done? He stares at Reid while he skims his book and wonders what to say, and then he thinks ‘Reid works for me - why am I getting bent out of shape by this?’

“Do you want to do this with me?” He offers an olive branch even though he doesn’t think he needs to.

“No, I wouldn’t want to come off like a know-it-all, and it’s your puzzle.” Reid doesn’t look up.

“It is,” Hotch grumbles. The back of his neck gets hot and irritated. And then his mouth goes ahead and does something stupid. “You need a haircut.”

Reid looks up from his book slowly and his glance is withering. The lighthearted moment has definitely passed.

“I know that I tend to cut you some slack about your personal appearance, but looking like a homeless poet isn’t very professional. You represent the Bureau when you’re out in the field - I think you need to take that responsibility more seriously.”

The others don’t say anything but he can tell that they’re listening. Reid just stares, and then nods once before turning back to his book. Hotch feels like he’s just run over someone’s pet. He still has no idea why he said it and the hot itching along his neck gets so bad that he wants to claw himself out of his skin. J.J. gets up and walks over to Reid’s chair, reaching out to run her fingers through his hair.

“Henry’s hair is longer than yours. I told him he almost looked like a girl and that he should let me braid it. He did.”

“Oh man,” Morgan chuckles. “I’d pay money to see you do that to Pretty Boy here.”

“How much?” J.J. asks.

“Twenty bucks.”

Reid glares at Morgan and then looks over to J.J. “Could you use twenty dollars?”

“Sure!” J.J. whoops with delight and then plunks herself down on Reid’s armrest to go to work. Reid leans in so that his hair droops dramatically towards her and then shoots Hotch a look - it feels like he’s daring Hotch to spoil the fun again. Hotch goes back to his puzzle but doesn’t fill in any more answers - he’s gotten enough wrong today.

~~~

Two days after the jet thing, Hotch runs into Reid on the way to the conference room. He’s carrying a coffee mug and file folders pressed to the front of navy blue vest that fits him perfectly and Hotch knows is brand new. In fact, he’s never seen anything that Reid is wearing before. And he’s sporting a new haircut: an asymmetrical art piece that is long in the front and top, but gradually shaved up the sides and back. He looks like the front man of a hipster band with a clothing budget. Hotch bites the inside of his cheek to prevent from smiling. It’s not like this look is any more appropriate than the last one, and he’s delighted by that.

“Morning, Hotch,” Reid slurps his coffee. “I took your advice and got a haircut.”

“Yes,” Hotch murmurs. “This one meets the Bureau’s length requirements at least.”

“My thoughts exactly.” Reid smiles like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, and Hotch decides that he doesn’t want to hide his enjoyment of Reid’s willfulness under whatever stupid, personal impulse took him over on the plane any longer.

“Reid, I want to apologize for how I acted on the jet. I’m not really sure what happened and it was petty of me. Sometimes… I don’t know… I have a tendency to ruin things. I guess I’m a bit self-destructive.”

Reid blinks. “I wouldn’t go that far but I appreciate you saying that. Apology accepted.”

“Really?”

“Sure. Look, we’re friends and you’re also my boss. That can get confusing sometimes, right? I know that I occasionally get mixed up about which one I’m speaking to…”

“Yes,” Hotch sighs in relief. “Thank you for understanding. Our friendship means a lot to me.”

“Me too.” Reid rolls nervously on his feet but then he gives Hotch a mischievous glance. “But if you make fun of my knowledge again, half of your head will get shaved while you sleep and there won’t be any evidence it was me.”

“Message received.” Hotch smiles and gives Reid’s arm a squeeze.

“Good.” Reid brushes Hotch’s shoulder as he moves past him into the conference room. The pressure is light but deliberate, and then it’s gone. “So what do you think of my haircut?”

“It’s just terrible, Reid. I love it.”

Chapter Text

They’re pinned down awkwardly, huddled behind a half-masticated compact car, and all they have are three Glocks and a .38 against guys with semi-automatics and a healthy disregard for their own mortality. Tracking their suspect had led them to this junkyard, and Hotch had seen no need for a tac team to take in one skinhead, but he should’ve known better; these guys never travel alone. Now they were separated from Morgan and Rossi and quickly running out of options.

There’s another spray of gunfire and Reid contracts his legs even further into his chest or else he’ll lose a toe. He bumps hard against Hotch and then reaches out to grab him by his Kevlar so that he doesn’t inadvertently push him into the line of fire. He’s terrified but buttoning it down for Hotch’s benefit – they’ve got no one but each other to get them out of this and they both know it. Usually, Hotch would be thrumming with anxiety too because Reid isn’t great with violence, but he remembers that synced in feeling they’ve had a few times, and he sees the way Reid is holding his vest, and he suddenly thinks that they’re making it out of there. It’s a done deal somehow.

“We need a plan,” Reid shouts, barely heard over another round of gunfire and jeering.

“Okay.” Hotch takes a deep breath and waits for the taunting to start up again before he pops his head over the top of the ruined car that they’re behind. Reid lets out a hysterical noise and yanks him back down by the grip he has on his vest.

“Are you insane?!?” Predictably, the shooting starts again.

“No. There are three of them in a staggered V formation, two on the left, one on the right. And there’s a much bigger pile of scrap metal about fifty yards away that would improve our odds considerably.”

“I don’t think I’m going to like this plan…”

Hotch peels Reid’s hand off him and slaps his back-up piece into it. “You’re going to cover me while I run over there. Use the Glocks, not the .38. Don’t worry about accuracy, just keep them occupied. Once I’m behind that pile, the guy on the right won’t stand a chance – either he pulls back or I’ll take him down.”

“That still leaves two guys with more ammunition than the whole team brought to this location! And we’ll be split up.”

“Only momentarily. We’ll gain the advantage, and offering them two targets will confuse them further. Don’t worry, when I look back at you, that’s your signal to come to me. Don’t think, just run. I’ll cover your approach.”

Reid doesn’t look convinced. In fact, he’s giving Hotch something that qualifies as a ‘last look’, as if he’s trying to remember him without bullet holes. Hotch’s stomach twists with doubt – this won’t work unless Reid believes in it. They have to work as one person.

“Spencer, you trust me, don’t you?” Hotch grabs him by the bicep and squeezes. “Because I’m trusting you with my life here. We need to do this together.”

Reid swallows hard and nods as if he knows he’s just agreed to something stupid. “I trust you. Though I’m sure that you’re going to get us killed this time.”

“Reid-”

“I’m sorry, I’m not gonna spend the last few minutes of our combined existence lying to stroke your ego. If we’re gonna do this, let’s get it over with. Before I lose my nerve.”

His features set grimly, but at least the abject terror is gone. Hotch is momentarily in awe of how Reid can manipulate his own fear when he needs to. It makes Hotch want to pull him close and tell him how quietly impressive he is. But there’s no time.

“Remember, you’ve got my gun. I like it and I want it back.” Hotch gives Reid a smirk that he hopes will bolster him. “On three…”

Hotch counts off and then they both move without hesitation. He’s focusing on the right hand shooter but somewhere in the back of his mind he’s counting off Reid’s shots with the two Glock back-ups. He’s being judicious and laying down just enough fire to keep the skinheads from getting a lucky shot off, nothing more. Smart. Hotch makes it to the trashed car pile and slams against it for a moment while the skinheads struggle with what’s happening. Then, he imagines the right hand shooter in his mind and peers over the scrap metal, aims and fires. He was aiming for a kill shot but instead catches the guy in the upper chest and watches him collapse. It’ll do: he’ll probably drown in his own blood in the next few minutes and he won’t be any threat to them before that happens. One down, two to go.

The last two shooters cry out and begin shooting indiscriminately in anger. Their imprecise aim makes it impossible to get Reid to him, and there’s a terrible hatred for the shooters in Hotch suddenly at this realization; he cannot leave his partner to fend for himself. He wants to look back, to make sure that Reid is okay, but that’s the signal for him to run and it isn’t safe for him to do that. The back of Hotch’s neck is burning. He feels like his skin is stretched out over the distance separating him from Reid and it’s too far – he might burst open from the strain. He needs to get Reid next to him behind this pile of crap. He decides to do something that would almost certainly confirm Reid’s belief that he’s going to get them killed: he stands up and opens himself to the closest skinhead’s fire. But he also gets an unmissable shot at him. The skinhead blinks and it’s all the time Hotch needs. They fire at the same time and the skinhead falls back into the dirt, dead, as Hotch dives awkwardly back behind the trashed car. He hears Reid yelling his name in the distance.

That went better than expected, he thinks, but then he’s having trouble breathing and when he tries to turn and give Reid the signal, the left side of his chest spasms so intensely that he can't think of anything else. He curls into a ball around the pain and coughs. He feels around his chest but his hand comes away clean – no blood. He doesn’t understand…

The gunfire continues and Hotch is aware that Reid will be out of ammo soon. He needs to do something, to get up again and make himself a target so that Reid can break cover, but he can’t breathe. His vision is starting to white out at the corner of his eyes and he can’t pass out because then they’re both dead. He demands that his lungs stop coughing and take in oxygen instead, and when he finally makes that happen his throat tells him that’s he’s breathing acid and not air. The pain in his chest and his lungs become his world and everything else fades back. He pushes against it, pissed off that his body is sabotaging him this way, and reaches out to grab some scrap metal in order to heave himself over the car at the last shooter. He promised Reid…

He only makes it halfway, one leg folded under him to bounce him up. The last skinhead appears from out of nowhere and points his hand canon at him just eight feet away from where Hotch is hiding. He won’t miss at that distance and the asshole is savoring the moment. Clearly, if he’s standing in the open like that, he got Reid first. Hotch’s whole body contorts involuntarily as he thinks he’s going to be sick. He got Reid killed. Him and his stupid plan… the plan that Reid told him was stupid but trusted him with anyway…

The skinhead says something but Hotch doesn’t listen. Who gives a damn about what happens now? He sinks back down on his folded leg and sags against the crushed car, letting the pain in his chest wash over him. It seems fitting. Reid’s gone and he let that happen. He doesn’t even know if Reid died well or not. Then he closes his eyes and waits.

The shot isn’t nearly as loud as he thinks it should be and he flinches but the only pain he feels is the ache in his chest. He opens his eyes and the skinhead is dead at his feet, a single bullet hole marking his temple. Hotch looks back and sees Reid sprinting over, his trusty .38 still in hand. He can’t breathe again as he watches his partner get closer. Reid skids to a stop and drops to one knee next to Hotch. He’s gasping, harder than he needs to considering the distance he’s just covered, and his hands run over Hotch’s chest and sides until he makes some sort of determination. The vest caught it. Then he yanks Hotch by the upper straps of his vest and shakes him hard enough to make his chest complain again.

“What the hell were you thinking?”

The terror is back in his expression and Hotch is silenced by it. There’s something exquisite about the emotion on Reid now that they aren’t in danger. Hotch stares at the way it’s brought color to his face, lit his eyes so that they are huge and frantic; he’s still a little out of control and it’s just glorious. Hotch can’t do much but take it all in. Reid isn’t impressed though. He makes an irritated noise and then stands, pulling Hotch to his feet with him. Hotch grunts and stumbles against Reid who’s still holding him by his vest and staring as if he’d be happy to leave him in the junkyard for good.

“When we tell this story,” Reid growls, leaning into Hotch’s face. “We’re going to be meticulously specific about how terrible I thought your plan was.”

“Yes,” Hotch gasps against the strain of his chest. “Terrible plan. You called it.”

“Appalling. Professionally embarrassing. Possibly an evolutionary step backwards. You deserve the bruised ribs.”

“I do.” Hotch tries to look chastened but can’t seem to get the smile off his face. That only appears to make Reid more furious, which just compounds the whole effect. “Good to see you, though.”

Hotch isn’t certain but he thinks he hears Reid swear under his breath at him, and it probably shouldn’t feel as compelling as it does. Reid pushes him away gently but still gives him a deadly look.

“Let’s go find Morgan and Rossi. I hope they haven’t been shot up by Neo Nazis as well.”

Reid’s shoulders sag, making him look more like himself as the anger subsides. Hotch lets him get a few paces in front before he lopes after him, a hand holding his ribs. The moment passes and they slip back into the framework they’re familiar with. Hotch observes the transformation with a twinge of loss; a passionate Reid is something to behold. And then he gets a playful thought.

“May I have my gun back now?” he grins even though Reid can’t see it.

Reid’s shoulders tense. “Give a gun to an irresponsible bullet magnet? No way. Earn it, Hotch.”

Hotch’s delight warms him from skull to toes, and his grin stretches to match it. He’d earn it all right…

Chapter Text

Surviving well-armed skinheads is celebrated in the usual fashion: by drinking. The locals at the bar they’ve chosen seem to know who they are and what they’ve done. It doesn’t appear to be a small town, but word travels fast nonetheless. A lot of free drinks appear at their table and while it’s appreciated that folks want to offer their thanks, they’re all a little wary of drinking something from a stranger. Reid gets sent to the bar with a drink order while the others sit back and enjoy a rare moment of community admiration.

Reid’s gone for ages and finally Morgan complains that he’s dehydrating. Hotch peers through the busy crowd and sees Reid talking to a man at the bar. The guy’s well-dressed and about Reid’s age, and he’s leaning into Reid’s personal space a little too much for Hotch’s liking. Before he even realizes it, Hotch is sliding up behind Reid at the bar and taking in the well-dressed guy cautiously.

“…it’s a small enough place that meeting someone new is refreshing…”

Hotch catches the end of Well-Dressed’s sentence just before the guy’s eyes flick up to his. Reid obviously catches the movement and then turns to see Hotch. He twitches a little, which Hotch always finds oddly upsetting; he thought they were past that reaction now.

“Hey,” Reid grins a little too widely.

“Hey,” he smiles back, wondering if Reid is asking him to stay or to get lost. “Morgan was complaining that he’d die of thirst before you returned, so…”

“It takes as long as it takes, I’m afraid,” Well-Dressed speaks up a bit defensively. “He seemed in no hurry to get back.”

Reid’s only been at the bar for ten minutes so Hotch doesn’t like Well-Dressed’s territorialism at all and he tells himself that it is a well-honed professional instinct and not a personal one. He stands as straight as he can and gives the interloper the full effect of his stare. He’d like to take him someplace dark and teach him some things about entitlement and consent, but even he is self-aware enough to realize that he is way out of line in that reaction. Reid is an adult and can make his own decisions, but that still doesn’t mean that Hotch has to be happy with this one. Then he feels a hand ghost along his abdomen. He looks down and sees Reid brushing him obviously but lightly.

“The order should be ready momentarily. Wanna give me hand taking it back to the gang?”

Reid’s smile has changed to something knowing and familiar. He’s being casual, like they act this way all the time with one another. Hotch receives the message and slides his hand along Reid’s arm until he cups his elbow. He makes certain that Well-Dressed gets an eyeful.

“Sure thing,” he murmurs as he smiles back.

“Hey,” Well-Dressed gets Reid’s attention again. “You didn’t say that you were here with someone.”

“You didn’t ask.” Reid turns to face him but leans back against Hotch from waist to shoulders.

“Not cool,” Well-Dressed’s expression darkens.

“I thought we were just having a conversation.”

“Spoken like every cock tease ever born.”

Hotch’s whole frame tenses but Reid immediately pushes against him in an unspoken ‘Don’t’.

“Sorry if you felt that I wasted your time,” Reid continues blithely. “It’s also ‘not cool’ that you believe a brief conversation entitles you to a compensation of your choosing. I’m not sure that many here would find that demand attractive, but to each their own.”

The bartender interrupts with the last of their order and Reid pays, sliding half of the drinks over to Hotch. He collects the necks of the beer bottles in one hand and drops his other to the small of Reid’s back. Reid gives him such a candidly affectionate look back that Hotch is temporarily stunned; he knows it’s an act but it’s so damned convincing… Then Well-Dressed brings him back to earth again.

“Fuck you,” he growls as he takes a step closer.

“I think not,” Hotch murmurs with a finality that he’s used to end arguments and shut down suspects for years. Then his free hand rises slowly and strokes the line of Reid’s jaw in an obvious display that he’s never used on anyone, not even Haley. He focuses all of his attention on Reid, shutting Well-Dressed out like he never existed, and smiles. “Ready?”

Reid grins at him as he nods. Hotch thinks he’s blushing a little too but it’s hard to tell. Reid collects his half of the drinks and they walk back to the table. Hotch’s hand slips to Reid’s back again until they get within sight of the team, then it falls away entirely. He feels Reid bump purposely into his side just before they sit down.

“Thanks,” he murmurs.

“You didn’t need the help.”

“Maybe, but it’s nice to know that I have back-up just in case.”

“Does that mean that I’ve earned my Glock back?” Hotch grins as he puts the beer on the table to a chorus of cheers.

Reid slides into the banquette and drops him a quick smile but doesn’t say anything. Hotch slides in next to him and tries to tamp down the happiness that’s bubbling up in him. He takes a long pull from his fresh beer and sinks into the enjoyment of whatever story Rossi is regaling the table with. He laughs too hard and smiles too much, but everyone is too relaxed to notice the change. Beside him, Reid is pressed against him from knee to shoulder.

~~~~

They all stumble back to their hotel rooms and for the first time in a long while Hotch feels the profound ache to wrap himself around another body in his bed. He’s gotten good at being alone; Beth called him efficient at it, which is probably why they were never going to work out. She always wanted more of his attention, but he’d already learned to live off less. He hasn’t felt this need since he and Haley first separated - it isn’t the need for sex, it’s the desire for connection. For all of Beth’s fine qualities, he never wanted that with her. He thought perhaps this desire had died with his marriage. Now, he thinks it’s probably just the booze talking.

He lies in the dark and tries to calm his mind. He needs to sleep - his ribs are a mess and a solid eight hours is a good start to fixing that - but instead he just stares at the ceiling and watches the headlights from the street strafe across the stippled plaster. It feels like the beginning of a long night when a knock sounds at his door. He looks at the bedside clock and sees that he’s been staring at the ceiling for over an hour. The knock sounds again, but this time it’s softer and hesitant. He throws back the covers and navigates the room in the dark. Opening the door, he finds Reid on the other side of it looking sheepish. Hotch doesn’t say anything but moves aside to let him in. He closes it but doesn’t turn on a light and that doesn’t strike him as odd.

“What’s up?”

“Umm, I wanted to give this back.” Reid presses a gun into his hand and Hotch chuckles.

“Reinstated and it feels so good.”

Hotch hums the repurposed lyric unconcerned by how much it dates him. And then Reid is pressed against him, lips locked to his with an intensity that really should’ve come with some warning. Hotch freezes feeling out of the loop with Reid for the first time in months. When his brain finally sends a message to his body, his hand lands on Reid’s hip and pushes him back. It’s the complete opposite of the scene in the sex club and that frustrates him so much that anger rears up in him. What if that only felt as good as it did because he wasn’t allowed to have it? What if he’d been blindly chasing down a high all this time that was never real in the first place? Reid obviously feels the tension and backs away until they are no longer touching. He doesn’t say a thing; all Hotch hears is his breathing.

“You kissed me,” he whispers, hoping that he doesn’t sound as confused as he feels.

“Yes.” Reid steadfastly refuses to elaborate, which makes Hotch angry again because it’s doing nothing to move the situation along.

“But I’m not gay.” It’s not what he intends to say but now it’s out there and he’s not sure if it’s the truth or not.

Reid sighs. “Neither am I. Except for you, I guess.”

Now Hotch is well and truly frozen. He can’t think, he can’t move, he can’t breathe, and he’s pretty sure that his heart has stopped beating as well. He wishes for something, anything, to activate him because this is a conversation that he needs to participate in, but all he does is stare at Reid’s silhouette like an idiot. Finally, he sees the outline slump.

“Sorry,” Reid whispers. “I’ll go.”

Oh, for God’s sake, you’re a grown man… say something!

“Reid…” is all he manages.

“It’s fine. I misread the situation. Wouldn’t be the first time, right?” Reid tries to laugh it off. “But I’ve got a handle on it now, so… let’s set this aside, okay?”

Reid’s halfway out the door but it feels like he’s already down the block and turning the corner. He’s so far out in front of Hotch on this that there’s no way he’ll ever catch up at this point. All he can do is watch Reid go.

“I… Reid…”

“Get some rest, Hotch.” Reid smiles briefly before turning away. “I’ll see you at breakfast.”

Then the door closes and Hotch is left staring in the dark, clutching his gun, and considering exactly when he was transformed into a gutless wonder.

Chapter Text

Breakfast with the team in the morning is a non-event, as is the flight home, the next status meeting in the office, and the next big case. Reid is as he always is and doesn’t treat Hotch much differently than he did before he blundered in his hotel room.

Much.

They still run into each other in the kitchen, and Reid stills fixes Hotch a cup if he makes it to the carafe first, but he slides the mug across the counter when he’s done and is careful to avoid touching him. He’s still enthusiastically awkward and can laugh about it, but it’s always with the rest of the team around. Hotch finds that they have almost stopped having one-on-one conversations altogether, and when Reid looks to him now it’s for instruction, not interest. Reid sits with Morgan and J.J. on the jet, and seems to get himself assigned to field tasks that will keep him away from Hotch, and when they end up in the same room he’s always at the opposite end of it. He does it all with a frustrating sense normality and it settles like fog across Hotch leaving him chilled and irritable in his bones.

Hotch misses him, but when he catalogues what’s really changed he has a hard time dealing with the list. He’s always considered their behavior to be the product of friendship, but the list of what he’s lost isn’t exactly ‘friendly’. He’s not sure when things changed but it feels as though the Hough case was a turning point; things took on greater significance after that and though he may not have been actively encouraging it, he hadn’t put the brakes on either. He can’t blame Reid for getting his wires crossed.

But now he doesn’t know what to do about the ‘missing’ part because what he misses is inappropriate and yet it feels that they only have a modicum of friendship without it. And he desperately wants his friend back – it’s not as if he has so many that he can spare one.

He decides that it’s up to him to salvage things because he’s the boss and Reid has made such an effort to make things seem normal between them; it’s the very least he could offer in this situation. On an inconspicuous Thursday evening, an opportunity presents itself as they both find themselves leaving together and sharing an elevator.

“You’re leaving early, aren’t you?” Reid breezes while staring at the numbers above them.

“Rossi accidentally left a paperclip in my office and I picked the cuffs chaining me to my desk. I’m trying to get out of the building before the Director releases the hounds to track me down.”

“That’s quite the mental image,” Reid chuckles, and Hotch’s chest expands when he hears it.

“If my place were anywhere near the Potomac I’m sure he’d unleash the Kraken.”

Reid actually cackles. “Who knew you had enough geek cred to use that reference appropriately?”

“I’m full of surprises.”

“You are.” Reid turns to look at him for the first time and smiles. Hotch takes a deep breath and goes for broke; they’re almost at the ground floor.

“Do you feel like getting something to eat? You know, watch a doomed man enjoy his final meal of freedom?”

Reid’s smile fades. “Oh… sorry. I already have plans tonight. Maybe another time.”

“Sure,” Hotch murmurs and looks away to hide his crushing sense of failure. “Rossi’s bound to leave another paperclip lying around sooner or later…”

Reid laughs again but it sounds forced and when Hotch looks at him from the corner of his eye he sees him staring at his shoes. How did it come to this, he thinks… Do you know what it costs to leave things this way? What do I have to do to get you back?

All you had to do was kiss him like you meant it, his mind burps. Because you wanted to, and you WOULD’VE meant it. All the backpedaling in the world won’t change that and he probably knows it. He’s trying to do you a favor.

The elevator dings and the doors slide open on the lobby. They both slip out without looking at each other, then Reid turns and gives him a weak smile.

“Enjoy your freedom revels. Smote the Director’s minions with your burnished blade and make them rue the day they fell enthralled to his dastardly service.”

“Okay, that was nerdy enough that you lost me.”

“Well,” he sighs. “That tends to happen to me…” Losing people.

Hotch’s chest gets tight and he rubs it absently, but Reid just waves at him over his shoulder and heads for the parking lot.

“See you tomorrow, Hotch.”

“See ya.” He watches him go and it feels like it’s for good this time.

Chapter Text

Hotch watches Reid pack up for the weekend through his office window. He’s collected up a Herculean amount of case files, but it’s nowhere near his maximum capacity, which means that Reid has plans other than work this weekend. Hotch sighs loudly because he thinks he’s alone, but Rossi suddenly appears, laughing, and he sort of hates how his friend creeps around the office.

“Jealous?”

“What?” he breathes out defensively.

“I bet the kid’s got a date. He’s been seeing some surveillance expert from Organized Crime for a couple of months now. At least that’s the rumor that Garcia’s been spreading. Something about both of them speaking Russian and liking Dickens or something equally weird that only Reid could pull off…”

“Well, that explains the hickeys,” Hotch acts disinterested while shuffling his paperwork.

Rossi laughs again as he leans on the doorframe to Hotch’s office. “Yeah, and that time he showed up in the same suit he wore the day before…”

That had not been a good day for Hotch.

“You gotta admit - it’s nice to see. I mean, after Maeve? Well, I didn’t think he’d try again and he’s too young to give up trying.”

Like I did, Hotch thinks miserably. “I guess he took a page from your book.”

He doesn’t mean to sound so bitter, but he does and he knows that Rossi’s caught it. “Sorry. I’ve got a headache and a pile of work to do this weekend. Maybe I am a bit jealous after all.”

He smiles and waits to see if Rossi buys it. His friend just smiles back, unreadable.

“There’s a standing offer to set you up with one of Celine’s friends, should you ever get off your ass and make your personal life a priority.”

“Maybe next weekend, Dave.”

Rossi nods slowly. “Sure, sure. Whenever.”

Hotch looks out into the bullpen again just as Reid makes a final check of his desk. He looks around quickly, but his gaze never lifts up to his boss’s office. Hotch’s jaw flexes and he swallows back things he has no right to feel. Reid bounces up the stairs towards the elevators and is gone. He sighs and begins to pack up his own work when he sees Rossi still staring at him.

“Did you want something, Dave? I was just going to head out myself…”

“He’ll still need you, you know,” Rossi murmurs.

“What are you talking about? Reid?”

“He’s your special project. It’s hard to let them go. I still find myself scanning the desks for Prentiss… but they move on. It’s natural. It’s part of our job to help that along.”

Hotch’s throat closes up and he coughs to clear it. Is that all it is? Some sort of mentoring growing pains?

“Doesn’t that mean that we should move on as well, Dave? We’ve gotten old doing this job.”

Rossi laughs. “Maybe we’re not self-aware enough to evolve anymore.”

“There’s no need to be cruel, now…” Hotch smirks, rising from his desk with a briefcase full of work tedium.

“My point is… Elle, Emily, J.J., Seaver… they all left when they had to. Reid’s still here. He may be moving forward, but he’s not done needing you. So, cheer up already.”

This conversation feels like the opposite of ‘cheering up’, though it’s obvious that Rossi means well. “Who says I’m upset?”

“You are.” Rossi slaps him on the back as he shuffles through the doorway. “After all, he’s your favorite.”

Chapter Text

The suspect gets a read off of them moments after they step into the interrogation room and it becomes obvious that he perceives Reid to be the weak link. Hotch doesn’t even look in Reid’s direction, but when he settles in the chair next to him Reid’s leg presses against his almost imperceptibly under the table. It’s on then, he thinks and hopes that he’s interpreting his partner correctly.

He goes at the suspect hard; typical tough cop routine all the way but delivered with the soft-spoken menace that he’s honed over years with the Bureau. He wants the locations of the body dumps, he wants the trophies, he wants to know where the last victim is, is she still alive… The suspect plays with him in an array of smirks and veiled comments that are designed to fritter away time and to amuse him. He focuses all of his attention on Hotch and the perceived mind game they’re playing out, and doesn’t give a rat’s ass for the skinny guy lingering behind the desk like a forgotten piece of furniture. The suspect tries to negotiate a plea bargain while dangling the possibility of saving his last victim when Reid starts flipping through the folder in front of him like he’s confused.

“Why would you bury her alive when her greatest fear is spiders?” Reid’s brow knits and then he looks up at the suspect and taps his file. “Says right here: arachnophobia."

“Reid…” Hotch shoots him a censuring look.

“She’s afraid of being buried,” the suspect gives Reid a pitying smirk. “Something that I’m helping her experience as we speak. Clearly, I did a more effective investigation on her than you did.”

“But her parents said-”

“I don’t care what her parents told you.” The suspect snaps, offended at being questioned about something so obvious. And then he turns back to Hotch. “Is this guy an intern or something?”

“Something like that,” Hotch dismisses and then presses Reid’s leg back more forcefully. “Now, if you give us the location of-”

“Sir,” Reid turns to Hotch. “He’s wrong about the last victim. I interviewed the parents myself and they were certain about the spiders.”

“Enough, Reid. What does it matter? Spiders or burial?” Hotch growls back.

“It matters because he’s playing you.”

“Fuck off, pansy-ass. Just admit you were wrong and move on.” The suspect affects an air of boredom but he’s getting irritated by Reid’s insistence. It’s diverting Hotch’s attention away from him and that’s getting under his skin.

“Reid, you’re out of line.” Hotch’s tone almost matches the suspect’s for irritation.

“I’m not wrong. It’s spiders, Hotch.”

“It’s not fucking spiders, okay?” The suspect leans across the table at Reid.

“I don’t make mistakes.”

“Well, you did this time.”

“Reid, I don’t think this is hel-”

“I can prove it,” Reid pleads with Hotch, purposefully cutting the suspect out of the equation again.

“You know what? So can I, you snotty little weasel. You think I’d screw up something that big? This is what I do, asshole, and you don’t get as good as I am at it by making mistakes. She wasn’t worried about spiders when I locked her into the sewage tank, and she wasn’t screaming about insects when I recorded her for her parents’ benefit. She wasn’t pounding on the walls of that thing when I lowered her into the ground because she was frightened of an itty bitty spider.”

The suspect slams the table when Reid tries to refute his argument.

“She’s locked in, covered up, and so far from any of you that the only way you’ll find her is if I decide to give her back. I told her that just before I left her there and she screamed like the fucking pathetic animal that she is. Told her if she kept doing that she’d use up all her oxygen before her parents had a chance to deliver the ransom, but she just screamed louder.”

The suspect sits back and laughs at Reid. “Spiders my ass.”

They just stare at the suspect for a second and then Hotch turns to Reid. “What do you think?”

“Got it,” Reid nods once and leaves the table heading for the door without waiting.

“Got what?” The suspect sits up.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” Hotch says before he collects his own file and follows Reid out.

“Hey! Wait a second… got what? What about my deal? I’m not saying anything else withou-”

Hotch shuts the door behind him and finds Reid and Rossi gathered in the observation suite.

“We’re gonna need Garcia,” Reid says to Rossi and then Rossi waves his phone at them both.

“Already done.”

“I’m here, Cerebro,” Garcia calls across the speaker. “Gimme something good.”

“He said the victim’s in a sewage tank,” Reid’s gaze gets unfocused. Hotch knows that he’s picturing information in his head and he briefly wonders what that’s like. “Industrial sewage containers come in three sizes but only two are big enough to contain a human being.”

“That can’t be right,” Garcia says. “You mean people are burying coffin-sized tanks in their backyards all over the country? I can’t search that.”

“I’m not talking about septic systems, just industrial waste storage, and yes, I’m correct.”

“Go with it, Garcia,” Rossi smirks.

“Assuming a worst case scenario in which he chose the smaller of the two containers and elected not to provide the victim with any additional oxygen, and factoring in accelerated respiration due to fear and a possible struggle to free herself…” Reid pauses as his lips move but his calculations remain silent. “That’s approximately four and a half hours of air before she loses consciousness.”

“He’s been in custody less than an hour,” Hotch prompts.

“And he wasn’t running when we picked him up,” Rossi adds. “The place where we found him looked like a home base.”

“He gave the parents until noon to come up with the ransom, so the victim’s burial location has to be within forty square miles of where he was arrested. Garcia, look for industrial level landfill sites, scrap metal yards, waste repurposing facilities, and abandoned factory locations within the search area.”

“Standby.” Keyboard clacking can be heard over the phone.

“He wouldn’t give the parents the opportunity to find her alive,” Rossi murmurs.

“No,” Hotch crosses his arms over his chest and scowls. “But he’d want to time it so that they found her just after she died, so that they’d live with the maximum amount of guilt.”

“And he’d want to watch that,” Reid interrupts. “So, he’d have to be able to get there quickly to observe it.”

“Okay,” Garcia returns. “Bad news, crime fighters, there are forty-two possible locations on my list.”

“Exclude any household landfills or reclaiming facilities open to the general public, Garcia,” Reid leans closer to Rossi’s phone. “He’d need privacy and access to earth moving equipment. You can’t bury a sewage tank by hand.”

“ ‘Kaaaaay, that leaves… twenty-one sites.”

“How many locations are under EPA investigation or are regulated by a government agency?” Hotch looks meaningfully at Reid, and Reid nods back, impressed.

“Ummm, eleven.”

“Take those off the list too. They’d be subject to unexpected ground testing, security checks, inventory reviews… too much of a risk of exposure,” Hotch explains because Rossi looks curious.

“That’s still ten sites left.”

Everyone falls silent for a moment. Then Reid raises a finger and waggles it at the disembodied presence of Garcia.

“How many facilities are green certified or were developed in the last ten years, Penelope?”

“Uh… seven. Why?”

“Take them off the list as well. He’s been planning these events for a long time. He’d have had the location selected long before the rest of the details fell into place – it would be his primary concern. He’d want history… a sense of permanency, and he wouldn’t want it soiled by any distracting elements like if the place got press for its impressive recycling efforts.”

Hotch nods in agreement.

“Well, that leaves three locations. Three’s good, right?” Garcia strains to find the silver lining.

Reid rubs his forehead and squints at his shoes. Then something comes to him and he smiles as he rolls up onto his toes. “Are any of the sites near water? A lake or a river?”

“Yeah, one is. It’s in the process of being closed down due to water table leakage.”

Reid turns to Hotch. “That’s the one.”

“Why?” Rossi asks.

“The ground’s softer,” Reid shrugs like it’s obvious but when he gets a blank look from Hotch as well as Rossi, he continues. “He wouldn’t want to waste time struggling to bury her. She’s not important, only the fear and grief that she can create is.”

“But he’d be using a backhoe or something anyway,” Rossi challenges.

“It doesn’t matter. The less time he could spend prepping her, the better. It leaves more time for him to savor the outcome. And he’s a guy who prides himself on details – he’d have considered this ahead of time.”

Reid looks to Hotch and raises his eyebrows because it’s Hotch’s call, but his eyes tell him that he’s absolutely certain about his choice. Hotch wouldn’t have made the conclusion that Reid just did but the reasoning feels solid to him. And more than that, there isn’t someone Hotch trusts more to make that sort leap and stick the landing. He breathes deeply and lowers his arms.

“Garcia, send the river location to Morgan’s phone. Tell him Rossi will meet him there. I’ll get with the locals and arrange the search and rescue team. We’ll get there as soon as we can but I want Morgan searching for the tank as soon as he arrives – we don’t have much time left.”

“Aye-Aye, Captain. G-woman out!”

“I’m on it,” Rossi nods, pocketing his phone and leaving without further comment. Hotch and Reid remain in the darkened observation suite. Reid is staring at the suspect through the window, a slight frown on his face, thinking who knows what.

“That was… very good work,” Hotch murmurs, feeling a swell of pride that he beats back down and then hates himself for doing it.

“Tell me that when we find her. It’s not over yet.” Reid doesn’t look away from the window.

“We will, Reid, and it’ll be in large part to what you did in there.” He gets closer but stops short of touching him. Reid looks at him, eyes a little startled as if he thought he’d been talking to Hotch inside his head.

“You would’ve gotten it from him eventually.”

“But we didn’t have that kind of time,” Hotch says softly. “I’m a knife, but you’re a scalpel, Reid. You slipped under his skin without him even noticing.”

It’s hard to tell but Hotch thinks that Reid’s face is flushed. He ducks his head and huffs out a laugh that doesn’t sound amused at all. “Huh… that’s easy enough to do when you’re used to going unnoticed, I guess.”

The statement squeezes Hotch’s chest uncomfortably. He wants to tell Reid that he sticks out, that Hotch notices him all the damned time.

“You could’ve done your rundown in there, you know,” Hotch juts his chin towards the suspect through the glass. “You could’ve shown him just how much he underestimated whom he was up against. It probably would’ve been satisfying.”

“A bit showy though, don’t you think? And there’d be all kinds of swearing and threats, I’m sure. Subconscious dick-waving isn’t really my thing. So tedious.”

Reid smirks and Hotch laughs out loud at it. Then he quickly packs it away and squeezes Reid’s shoulder instead; he can’t help himself.

“You’re so right.”

Hotch stares too long, smiling in a way that’s unusual in his professional life, and then Reid reins it all back in.

“You’d better go tell the sheriff what’s going on.”

“Yes,” Hotch clears his throat and straightens his shoulders, his hand falling away from Reid. “You and J.J. go to the victim’s house and inform the parents of what’s happening. Keep them there – we’ll call as soon as there’s word.”

“All right. Good luck.”

Hotch turns back from the observation suite door and shakes his head. “We don’t need luck – we have you.”

And then he’s gone, feeling more certain of a day’s outcome than he has in a long time. That synced in feeling with Reid excites him again even if it isn’t all that it once was. He wonders if he can live off of just this, whatever it is now, or whether it’ll always be tainted by the knowledge that it might have been so much more.

Chapter Text

Hotch heads for the parking lot and is momentarily shocked at how dark it is. He checks his watch but it’s not as late as it seems. It’s just November and the days are much shorter than they used to be. Christmas will be upon them before they know it, and then a New Year. Time is getting away from him and he’s gotten to an age where that sentiment is starting to scare him.

He sees a figure standing under a safety light in the distance. He’d know that silhouette anywhere and picks up his pace until he meets him.

“What are you doing here?”

Reid thumbs off his phone with a look of distracted irritation. “Hey. Morgan was my ride today, but he got stuck in court and now he says he won’t get back here for at least another hour.”

“Where’s your car?”

“Where it always is: sitting in a mechanic’s garage costing me thousands while being undrivable.”

Hotch can’t help but laugh. “You should get a new one.”

“Where’s the challenge in that?”

Hotch laughs harder and Reid grins back. It’s been a while…

“Could you give me a lift to the VRE station?”

“I can do better - I’ll drive you home. C’mon.”

“No, Hotch, it’s so out of your way-”

“Stop it. We’re going.”

Reid frowns a little in thought. “Well, if you’re going to be like that, you’re staying for supper.”

“You’re going to cook?”

“Of course not - I’ll order in. You’re saving me from public transit, not an assassin’s bullet or anything… Perspective, Hotch.”

“Right,” he chuckles and directs Reid to where he’s parked with a touch on his arm. Reid grins and doesn’t remark on it at all.

~~~~

Hotch sits back against Reid’s couch and watches Reid attack what’s left of the pad thai. And that’s after he’s watched him polish off a generous serving of ping gai, egg drop soup, and an endless amount of spring rolls. He just sips his beer and stares for the longest time until Reid clues into what’s happening.

“What?” he says around a mouthful of noodles.

“I’m waiting for you to unhinge your jaw,” Hotch laughs. “How can you eat so much and still look like… well, like that?

“Practice, practice, practice…” he muffles and Hotch nearly chokes on his beer in response. Reid chews thoughtfully as he smiles and waits for Hotch to get control of himself. “I’ve missed that.”

“Missed what?”

“Making you laugh.”

“Clearly, all that’s required is you impersonating a starving anaconda.”

“I’m being serious.”

Hotch waits a moment and then takes another sip from his beer and looks away. “Yeah, I know you are. I was hoping you’d let me lamely deflect that one.”

“That was a baseless hope.”

“Huh,” Hotch’s laugh is a little jaded now. “Yeah, I guess.”

“I was hoping that you’d missed me too,” Reid says quietly, pushing the remnants of his meal around.

“I did… I do,” Hotch stammers.

“Then why don’t we do this anymore?”

Hotch just stares at Reid incredulously. He can’t help it. “You know perfectly well why we don’t.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“It’s not about-”

“I honestly thought we could get past it.”

You did,” Hotch snips and then catches himself. In all fairness, Reid hasn’t handled this poorly - Hotch has no right to his resentment at all. “I’m sorry. Maybe it’s time to call it a night.”

He plunks his half finished beer down but Reid grabs his wrist before he has a chance to do anything else. “What do you mean?”

“It was what it was,” Hotch grumbles. “Maybe I got confused by our mentoring relationship. Rossi seems to think that’s what it is anyway. He says he went through the same thing when Prentiss moved to London.”

“He was sleeping with Prentiss.”

Hotch feels his mouth fall open.

“He didn’t mention that part, did he? Well, he was, and I’m pretty sure he was half in love with her as well. So, his advice is a bit of a mixed bag.” Reid tugs on Hotch’s wrist. “And I’m still here, Hotch. Why are you treating me like I’m already out the door?”

“You’re seeing someone.” It just slips out. He really doesn’t want to discuss it.

“You’re the one who told me ‘no’.”

“That’s not what I said,” he pulls his wrist from Reid’s grip with too much force. “It doesn’t really matter what I said… there was an uneven balance to our relationship. I’m your boss, I have experience that you don’t have and you have a desire to learn from that. You weren’t the only one who misread things. I got confused too…”

“Really? Are you still confused about it? Because we haven’t been close for months and I’m no longer baffled.” Reid’s expression hardens, like he’s done dancing around this.

“You’re involved with someone,” Hotch repeats stupidly. “That agent from Organized Crime…”

“Your blinders must block out the light of the sun,” Reid grumbles before he slides up Hotch’s chest and pushes him back into the couch with a kiss.

Again, Hotch is stunned, but this time his body goes liquid on him and he fills in the spaces separating him from Reid without thinking about it. His hand clutches Reid’s neck and pulls him close, his mouth opening with a moan as Reid slides into him easily. They’re clinging to each other, fingers grasping each other’s faces, sliding down the lines of their bodies and clutching at the fabric of their shirts. Reid twists into Hotch’s mouth with a painful whimper and then his torso follows pushing Hotch hard into the couch and pressing his body against him mercilessly. Hotch breaks away from the kiss trying to collect himself but his hands find Reid’s hips and pull them into him until they both groan. Reid dips down and sucks Hotch’s throat while his fingers slide into Hotch’s hair, making him utter thanks to a deity he’s long since lost his faith in.

“Been imagining this since the day we arrested Hough,” Reid nips into his neck. “I wondered if it would feel as exciting when we actually meant it.”

Hotch pulls back far enough to get a look at Reid’s face. He needs to see his intent. “You told me you were fine with it… said it didn’t bother you…”

“I was fine with it,” Reid tries to kiss him again but Hotch dodges it.

“You said you weren’t gay.”

“So did you but look at where we are now? I don’t care what you call it; I only care how it feels. I want this… and it’s not some mentoring transference b.s. either. I’ve been a more than capable field agent for a long time and we both know it. You shouldn’t let Rossi get free room and board in your head like that.”

“What about…” Hotch hesitates.

“Loker? I was tired of being alone. After Maeve, after you… I wanted to try something that wasn’t doomed. Maybe I thought I could put my ‘gay for a while’ impulse behind me if I got back to dating.”

Hotch feels his expression change and then Reid is pulling him close and whispering urgently against his cheek.

“But, as you can see, that didn’t work out so well.”

Hotch doesn’t want to think about this anymore. It hurts to think and Reid feels so warm and certain pressed against him that it’s all too easy to just sink down into pure sensation instead. He grips Reid’s sides and rolls him back into the couch, kissing him in rough, sloppy passes. Reid moans and it reverberates through his torso and out into Hotch in sympathy. It primes him - like he has a secret on switch that the noise found and activated. Now he doesn’t even think about stopping. He just wants to discover what other sounds he can get Reid to make, and part of him is back in that sex club letting himself be carried away by the deafening music and the unrestrained sensuality and the willing body that’s offering himself up to him. He remembers thinking, at the time, that Morgan would’ve been a better choice and that perhaps it didn’t matter who it was against him, urging, pulling, needing… But now, as his mouth steals Reid’s breath and his hand traces down Reid’s torso until it finds him aroused and willing, he realizes that the ‘who’ always mattered. Hotch outlines Reid through the seams of his pants and Reid arches into the touch while gasping out ‘Aaron’. It was just a pass of his hand, and Reid almost never uses his first name, so the combination both floors him and makes him harder than he can ever recall being. Then he’s pulling his lips away from Reid’s, pressing into his forehead instead and staring down the length of them as his fingers awkwardly fumble with Reid’s belt.

“Let me,” Reid whispers and takes over, Hotch only able to make a feral grunt in the back of his throat as he watches Reid’s fingers dispense with the obstacles and wriggle out of his pants.

For a split second, Hotch wonders what to do next. He’s suddenly aware that he’s pressed against Reid’s thigh and his hips have started a rhythm of their own without his permission. One of Reid’s hands is on his ass urging him to keep moving, and his pants are too tight and he thinks that it might be a good idea to take a moment to get out of them as Reid did. But then Reid shifts and his purple dress shirt reveals the smallest strip of his abdomen, and Hotch just moves. It takes Reid by surprise because he sort of yelps when Hotch slides off the couch and settles between Reid’s legs and begins sucking that patch of skin like it’ll sate some fundamental hunger in him. But then Reid arches under Hotch’s mouth, making the muscles flex and sending a shot of pure lust to Hotch’s groin, and Hotch just loses himself in the wet circles that he’s making with his lips, tongue, and teeth. Reid clutches at the fabric of the couch as he moans Hotch’s name again, and the pulsing in his hips gets urgent once more; Hotch presses into Reid’s calf and groans as he tries to ease himself.

“Jesus, Aaron, get out of those pants already,” Reid huffs and tries to push Hotch’s head back to get his attention.

He ends up pushing Hotch lower until Reid’s cock brushes his chin. Hotch doesn’t flinch away and that surprises him because he’s never been in this position before and there’s no way to predict how you’ll react to it the first time. His brain just tells him that he wants more, and a moment after that his intellect sends out a grateful note of thanks to his limbic system for that impulse. He sinks lower until the length of Reid rests against the side of Hotch’s face; he’s warm and firm and there’s an earthy scent that Hotch has never experienced before. He turns his face into the crook between Reid’s thigh and pelvis and breathes deeply. Reid gasps above him and then Hotch feels both of Reid’s hands dive into his hair, pressing him closer. Hotch smiles against Reid’s skin and then traces the area slowly with the tip of his tongue.

“Oh my God…” Reid breathes as his hands tighten in Hotch’s hair.

Reid tastes like salt and musk, and Hotch likes that he tastes and smells exactly the same, and that the combination doesn’t evoke some metaphorical response in his sense memory. Reid just tastes of man, plain and simple, and that’s attractive. As he thinks this, his own cock pulses painfully and he grinds himself into Reid’s leg until he cries out. Reid whimpers something above him that he doesn’t catch because all he’s thinking about is tasting more of Reid. He turns his face and breathes along the length of Reid’s cock for a moment before taking the head into his mouth. He doesn’t even think about it, and he’s fairly certain that he would before going down on a guy for the first time, but there he is. It’s nice to know that he can still surprise himself.

Reid makes a sound like someone’s strangling him and then arches so violently that he shoves his whole length into Hotch’s mouth and Hotch chokes a little. Hotch pins one of Reid’s hips down with a firm grip and a growl that warns him not to do that again.

“Sorry…” Reid whines as he struggles under Hotch. “Fuck, wasn’t ready… sorry…”

Hotch nods his answer and Reid’s cock slips in his mouth, and then he’s only focused on that, moving with deliberate care along his length with his tongue and his teeth. Reid’s hips are futilely pumping against Hotch’s grip now and he seems unaware that he’s doing it; he’s mumbling freely, a long litany of things that Hotch can’t make out and probably wouldn’t make any sense if he could. Every once in a while Hotch makes out ‘Aaron’ and he wants to tell Reid to cut that out because every time he hears his first name said like that it takes all the reserve Hotch has not to come on the spot. It’s a bit embarrassing and ridiculous to think that Reid could probably sit there fully clothed and just say his name like that - with desperation and longing - and Hotch would just collapse into a heaving mess. There’s no way that’s a normal reaction to someone…

Hotch ups the ante, beginning to suck as he moves. It appears to clear out Reid’s intellect entirely as he devolves into a moaning, thrashing creature. He stares up Reid’s chest, hollowing out his cheeks on the backstrokes, and watches Reid’s face twist in a delicious sort of pain he’s never seen before. Reid’s eyelids flutter, his hands tear into the cushions beneath him, his head pushes back into the couch until his neck cords under the strain… His dress shirt has ridden up his body and Hotch sees Reid’s stomach muscles throb and riot under the stress of his movements. He’s smooth and fluid, like some pale ocean cresting in a storm, and Hotch can’t get over how beautiful it is, how great it feels to have Reid this wild under him, because of him. His own dick throbs with a wave of inevitability and he moans as he grinds into Reid. He pulls Reid in until he hits the back of his throat and Reid calls out his name, feverish and aching. Hotch looks up again to see him bow almost beyond belief, his face twisted to the side as he tries to bury his yell into the couch cushions. Hotch stretches a hand up to land over the twitching plains of Reid’s stomach, tracing the thin line of hair that leads back to him. And then his mouth fills and he shuts his eyes and focuses on not choking. Reid throbs under him over and over - it feels like it goes on forever. Hotch just listens to the sounds they’re making and hangs on, and there’s a part of him that’s proud he can do that.

Eventually, Reid sags under him, twitching and breathing like they are both afterthoughts. Hotch finds himself painfully twisted around Reid’s leg and has to work hard to ease himself off. His face rests against Reid’s thigh, the wrinkles of his half-abandoned pants biting into Hotch’s cheek as he coughs roughly.

“You okay?” Reid gasps eventually, a hand running lightly through Hotch’s hair.

He coughs again because his throat feels thick and sore. “Yeah.”

“You sure?”

“Uh-huh. It’s been ages since I’ve had a mutual orgasm. Gonna need a minute.” Hotch presses his face into Reid’s thigh in lieu of further explanation.

“Really?” Reid says after a moment, shifting up onto his elbows.

Hotch nods and moves uncomfortably. “Haven’t come in my pants since I was a teenager either. I’m ticking off all the boxes tonight it seems.”

“Overachiever,” Reid chuckles and flops back into the couch. “When you’re ready, the bathroom’s off to the right. There are fresh towels in the closet.”

“Thanks,” he sighs into Reid and then loses himself in the soft circles Reid is tracing across his scalp. He thinks that he could stay there forever listening to them breathe.

But eventually practicality wins out and he lurches off to the bathroom leaving Reid disheveled and semi-conscious behind him.

Reality settles back in with a heavy thud as Hotch showers. He realizes that he’s compromised not only his working authority but also a decade-long friendship, and all in the name of getting off. Sex isn’t really his endgame; what he craves is connection and he isn’t sure that Reid is offering that. He isn’t even sure what Reid’s relationship status is now. He feels embarrassed because they were unbelievably in sync just moments before, but now he has no clue what happens to them. He doesn’t want to be like Rossi who fell for a subordinate only to discover that he wasn’t compelling enough to make them stay once the boundaries that separated them collapsed.

He takes a deep breath and walks out of Reid’s bathroom, re-dressed and with glossy hair, the only sign of his personal lapse balled up in his hand. Reid’s put back together too, showing no sign of how far he let himself go in front of his boss. He walks up to Hotch and stares, waiting. It only makes Hotch doubt himself even more. After a long moment, Reid sighs and shakes his head.

“And we’re right back where we started, aren’t we?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re trying to talk yourself out of what just happened. You’re doubting me, or yourself, or trying to make it feel temporary…”

Reid steps up into Hotch’s personal space. He’s not touching him at all, but Hotch can feel his body heat pressing out toward him.

“I don’t know how to get you to a place where you feel secure about this. We’ve achieved it from time to time… you know we have - when we fit into each other’s grooves and just work…”

The synced in feeling. Hotch thinks that those moments are becoming a dangerous addiction.

“I’m not sure that it’s my job to convince you,” Reid continues quietly, a bit dejected. “We’ve been at this for a long time now, longer than one random event on my couch, Hotch. You let me know when you figure it out.”

Hotch feels as if Reid just pummeled his ribs but he nods and mumbles ‘Okay’ because he has to say something. What he wants to say is Promise you won’t make a fool out of me and I’m yours. He waits to see if Reid will say anything else but the silence just stretches out until it seems impossible that they’ve ever been close enough to read each other’s intentions accurately. Hotch’s chest seizes as he turns away.

“I’m gonna go now.”

“Yeah, okay. Thanks for the lift home.” Reid’s voice is unsteady.

“Thanks for the meal,” Hotch responds before he thinks about the double entendre and then he winces at his own crassness. “See you tomorrow.”

“Yep,” Reid smiles and then gently shuts Hotch out in the hallway, connection lost and on his own again.

Chapter Text

Life gets in the way of figuring stuff out. Hotch doesn’t want another sun to set on this conundrum with Reid but they get a case and it swallows them completely for nine days. When they get home and stagger back to their cars at the airfield, they look like extras from The Walking Dead. He can’t even muster up the courage to ask Reid out for a drink, because no one would question them going out for a drink after a case like this, right? But even that doesn’t happen and Hotch feels that every day slipping past him is another step that leads Reid further away from the path that he wishes they could step onto. His inaction makes his skin itch and he tosses around in his own bed thinking just how useless a concept wishing is.

Sleep deprivation makes him cranky and inattentive, which is what he tells himself when he almost stumbles onto Reid and Loker in the front lobby as he heads for the elevators. He catches them from the corner of his eye as he’s scanning the front page of The Washington Post, and then he’s mesmerized and can’t look anywhere else. They’re off to one side out of the flow of traffic and they’re close, having an intense conversation. Reid’s hand cradles her elbow as his other hand flicks up to brush a strand of hair from her face. She’s listening intently, eyes wide and serious, and he’s leaning in practically leaking a sense of earnestness through his pores.

Hotch doesn’t realize that he’s stopped moving until another agent bumps into him and then apologizes with a ‘Sorry, Agent Hotchner’ that carries through the marble lobby. Reid hears it and his head snaps up, looking around until he finds Hotch’s eyes staring back at him. He just looks stunned and Hotch thinks that the feeling is mutual. He swallows and forces himself into his professional scowl as he concentrates on placing one foot in front of the other until the elevator closes around him. He doesn’t look up to see if anyone registered anything out of the ordinary. He makes it to the sixth floor on autopilot and manages to say hi to Rossi and Morgan, get a cup of coffee, and confirm their meeting time with Garcia without putting any conscious thought into it. He finally makes it to his office, shutting himself in and closing the blinds before slumping behind his desk and letting out the wet sigh he’s been holding in since the lobby. He smacks his head back into the leather headrest of his chair and swears impressively.

“You’re a fucking idiot.”

He grinds his knuckles against his eyelids and stays that way until the pressure produces shapes against the blackness behind his eyes. Then, he takes a deep breath, sits up straight, and forces himself to open the top file on his massive ‘pending’ pile. He goes back to work and only allows himself to think about killers.

~~~~

A knock sounds at his office door and he growls. He doesn’t answer; if it’s something urgent, whoever it is will knock again. If it’s Reid, he’ll take a hint and leave. But neither of these perfectly reasoned outcomes happen as Reid just lets himself in, shutting the door quietly behind him and turning back to Hotch with a silent dare on his face to throw him out again.

“What is it?” Hotch uses his most formal tone.

“Aaron…”

“Yes?” He looks up, not giving Reid an ounce of personal insight to use in this conversation. He lays a hand across the file he’s reading like an unspoken ‘I’m working here’.

“What is it you think you saw in the lobby just now?” Reid folds his arms across his chest. Clearly, an apology isn’t coming.

“You and your girlfriend.” Hotch dismisses it and looks back to his file. “It’s fine - it was before official office hours…”

Aaron.

Reid’s tone is angry and it makes Hotch angry in response. Where does Reid get off taking that position with him?

“Reid. I have a lot to do this morning. What is it that you wanted?”

Reid storms forward until he’s right at the edge of Hotch’s desk. “I want you to admit that you’re upset with me because you saw me with Dorian Loker and you’ve erroneously intuited that I’m going back to her.”

“I haven’t ‘erroneously intuited’ anything. We were together one time and you told me to figure things out. We haven’t talked since then and today you were back with your girlfriend. You’re not gay, so it stands to reason-”

“Jesus! We have got to stop saying that to one another,” Reid huffs bringing color to his cheeks. “Listen, we clearly are gay for one another since I just told Dorian I couldn’t see her anymore because of it.”

Hotch sits back into his chair. Thank God he’s sitting because he can’t feel his legs at all. “Y-you just told her you were gay?”

“No. I figured that might be unnecessarily pitiless. I just told her that there was someone else in my heart and there had been for quite some time. I didn’t feel I was being fair to her by constantly comparing her to another person. That seemed cruel enough under the circumstances. She probably thinks it has something to do with Maeve… everyone knows about Maeve.”

Reid’s hand is spread across Hotch’s file on his desk and that’s all Hotch can focus on: his long fingers, the cuff of his grey dress shirt fitting snugly around his wrist, the cuff has two, small black buttons…

“I intended to do it sooner,” Reid’s voice softens. “But we got that last case and I haven’t had a chance until now.”

“But…why?” The question barely makes a sound. “You left it all up to me and I haven’t said a word to you…”

Reid perches on the edge of Hotch’s desk and then leans forward, one hand landing on his shoulder. He lets the tips of his fingers brush the skin above Hotch’s collar.

“A smart guy once told me that there are as many different ways to fall in love as there are people. Even if you don’t want me, I’m useless to Dorian now. We’re better off apart.”

“I do want you,” Hotch gulps, trying to keep it together.

“I know you do, Aaron.” Reid leans in until he rests his forehead against Hotch’s. He closes his eyes and Hotch feels a shiver run through him at the same time. “You just needed to be able to admit it out loud.”

“And what if I hadn’t?”

“I trust you, even in no-win scenarios, remember?”

Hotch’s hands flash to Reid’s face and hold him in place too tightly. “Christ, Spencer… this is going to turn us inside out. You know that, right?”

“I know it scares you, Aaron.” Reid pushes forward and brushes his lips across Hotch’s as he speaks. “But those moments when we’ve clicked over the years? They weren’t random… they mean something. We just have to figure out how to string them together into something consistent. That connection we have, though - I trust it completely. I have no qualms about throwing caution to the wind for its sake. Haven’t I proven that already?”

Hotch catches Reid’s lips and pulls him in; he’s gentle and he takes his time. Reid slides against him, fingers trailing up into the short hair at the back of Hotch’s neck as Hotch sighs into his mouth. Reid lingers, dipping in and pulling away again and again, each time eating a little part of Hotch’s anxiety with the slow slip of his lips. They separate to catch their breath and Hotch stares in wonder at the flush across Reid’s face, the smile of understanding that’s blooming across him.

“You should see your face right now,” Reid chuckles. “You’re the perfect picture of confusion.”

“Well, that makes sense.”

“What are you perplexed about? Is it still the gay thing?”

“No. I abdicated that decision to my body and it has no problem with it.”

“Excellent,” Reid dips in and sucks at Hotch’s throat. He hisses in warning.

“Careful… that’s a hot-wired zone for me…”

“I know.” Hotch feels Reid’s grin against his skin. “But finish your thought. If you can.”

“Smartass,” Hotch grumbles. “I’m wondering about… you’re sure that this isn’t some mentor thing, or a surrogate father figure situation?”

Reid pulls back so quickly he could almost give himself whiplash. “Wow. I am so not thinking about my dad right now, and please don’t ever bring that up again while I’m kissing you.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Listen, you wouldn’t be so hung up on that aspect if it were anyone other than Gideon who recruited me. He was overbearing and paternal to everyone and it was just more obvious with me because I was that much younger and sheltered. But Gideon abandoned me eight years ago and, I’m sorry to burst your bubble, Hotch, but I never considered you his replacement. Why is our friendship always the last thing you consider and not the first?”

“It isn’t,” Hotch’s hands slide to grip Reid by his jaw and his shoulder. He squeezes and doesn’t want to let up. “Well, I don’t think it is. It’s just… I want to be completely certain that’s who you want. Not your boss or a senior agent or some sexual experimentation adventure…”

Reid stares at him for a long time with an unreadable expression. Then he sighs and places his palm flat across Hotch’s chest.

“I can’t promise ‘forever’. No one can,” He cocks his head and then gives Hotch a look of such genuine honesty that seems impossible to dispute. “But for now, my view only holds you: my friend, the guy I trust with my life, my thoughts, and my abandon. Boss? Colleague? Teacher? None of that comes close. Do you understand?”

Reid pokes a finger into the center of Hotch’s chest.

“You get all the way in, Aaron. And I’m giving that to you based on faith and friendship.”

For once, Hotch isn’t at a loss for words. He strokes the side of Reid’s face and smiles. “Okay, I’m not confused anymore.”

“Thank goodness,” Reid sags dramatically. “I didn’t know how many more ways I could come up with to explain how bad I have it for you.”

“Well, at least we’re on the same page there,” Hotch breathes before he pulls Reid back in for a kiss. “If this hadn’t worked out, I was planning on being miserable until the end of time.”

“Another terrible plan…” Reid smirks against Hotch’s lips.

“I know. See? I need you.”

Reid moans at that and they both sort of go for broke with each other when it’s obvious that words won’t do. Hotch can feel the urgency in Reid and it’s his turn to soothe him, letting him know with caresses and his presence that Hotch believes in them too. When Reid finally pulls away and stands from the desk, he’s flushed and sparking at his edges with tamped down excitement. He runs his hands through his hair and looks a little embarrassed at how carried away they’ve gotten, but then he rocks on his feet and shrugs, as if it can’t be helped.

“Well, I should go. I’ve got a meeting with my boss in twenty minutes and I need to go somewhere and cool down, I think. You know, before he notices that I’m a mess…”

Hotch smirks. “Good idea. Perhaps I should do the same. I’ve got an implacably serious reputation to uphold.”

“Well then, your first task is to wipe that smile off your face.”

“Thanks for the tip.”

Reid rolls up onto the balls of his feet and heads for the door.

“Spencer,” Hotch calls after him softly.

“Yeah?”

“You’re not a mess.” He wants to thank him but says this instead.

Reid laughs out loud and then points to his chest. “You don’t know the half of it. In here? I’m like a squid in a blender, and it’s all your fault.”

He opens the office door and waves, still chuckling. “See you in twenty, Boss.”

Hotch’s office gets quiet again and he focuses very hard on marshaling a serious expression over the huge grin he’s sporting.

Chapter Text

Hotch is halfway across the darkened precinct when he sees the lights in the conference room are still on. He grumbles as he heads for them; he told everyone to clear out and get some sleep but he knows exactly who wouldn’t take that seriously.

“Hey. You’re still here. I told the team to head back to the hotel for some rest…”

He pokes his head through the doorway and gives Reid a censuring look that’ll probably be as ineffective as his words. Reid is in deep with his geoprofile: his sleeves are rolled up, his fingers are colored from marker stains, and he’s peering intensely through the glasses he only uses when he finally can’t handle his contacts anymore and he really has to concentrate. When he gets this engrossed it’s hard to tear him away and, even though it’s frightening to watch, Hotch admits that it secretly turns him on as well. Reid jumps at Hotch’s voice and then runs his ink-stained fingers through his hair as he squints at Hotch’s silhouette.

“Can’t leave now,” he waves Hotch off after a moment. “I’m in the zone.”

Hotch lets out a frustrated huff but he’s smiling; after all, he likes this side of Reid, infuriating though it may be. He’s not sure how Reid came up with the name for his mania, but Hotch suspects Morgan had a hand in it. He wanders through the door and looks over the hurricane of files and maps Reid has amassed. He ends up standing next to Reid’s chair, laying a hand along his shoulder as he tries to make out Reid’s chicken scratches.

“We’re all tired - we need the rest. It’s no good exhausting yourself this early in the case.” Hotch squeezes Reid’s shoulder but he ignores it, scribbling away. “He’s on a cycle… we’ve got some time to figure this one out. Let it go for tonight.”

“I told you, I’m in the zone. You know better than to toy with my zone.”

Reid is completely distracted and doesn’t realize what he’s just said. Since Hotch knows that he won’t win this battle, he decides to have a little fun messing with his opponent before retreating. His hand drifts from Reid’s shoulder and into his hair, drawing it away from his neck, and then he bends low and leaves a soft, wet kiss along his throat just above his worn shirt collar. Reid yelps in surprise - almost as if he’s unaware that Hotch was in the room with him - and then represses a shiver that Hotch feels anyway. He smiles against Reid’s skin, licking as he speaks.

“Toying with your zone is something I take great pleasure in.”

“You know what I meant,” Reid growls. “You’re being a bit obvious right now, aren’t you?”

“The station’s empty - I’m not concerned.” They no longer lie about what they are, but neither do they flaunt it, especially when in the field. They have a few rules, but Hotch is confident that he isn’t breaking any at the moment. And it’s too much fun messing with Spence. “Finish the geoprofile tomorrow, Spencer. Let’s get some dinner…”

“Thank you, but no. I really want to finish this while I’m on a roll. I’ll take the sleep deprivation - you know I can handle it.”

Hotch’s fingers slide up to cup the back of Reid’s head, his hair becoming gloriously tangled in the process, and he licks his way along Reid’s throat until he pushes against his collar. Then he takes a deep, languorous bite - his lips make it sound louder than it needs to.

“Aaron…” Reid whines as he involuntarily sags against him. “This is totally unfair.”

“I thought you like it when I fight dirty.” Hotch is gasping into Reid’s skin, nipping and then swirling his tongue over the bites as if Reid is shaping up to be his next meal.

“There’s dirty, and then there’s obscene…” Reid pulls Hotch to his mouth and gives as good as he’s taken. He pushes into him and sucks his tongue until they separate breathless and a little dazed by each other. Then Reid gently pushes Hotch away by his shoulders. “Enough already. You know that you’re not gonna win this one.”

Hotch smirks and wiggles his eyebrows. “Yeah, but who says I can’t have fun trying?”

“You’re not being especially professional at the moment.”

“Says the guy who just stuck his tongue down his boss’s throat in an attempt to manipulate a direct order…”

“Screw you.” Reid’s glare is unimpressed.

“Oh, if only!” Hotch says with breathy drama and then has to shuffle down the table to avoid being swatted by Reid. He grins as Reid glowers. “So, that’s a hard ‘no’ on dinner then?”

“You are distracting. Go away.” Reid waves him off again and then settles back into his work pile. “It’ll probably be just a few more hours.”

He goes back to work almost immediately, sinking into his deep concentration as if their flirtation hasn’t happened. His brow knits, his fingers start dancing over his notes again, and Hotch finds himself just watching him in silence for a few minutes. This is part of why Hotch trusts Reid so deeply - this unconfused commitment to whatever has his attention. Sometimes it’s him, sometimes it’s the work, but it’s always impressive no matter what it’s aimed towards. Hotch feels fortunate to be a part of that, to be compelling enough to catch Reid’s interest. He clears his throat softly but Reid still jumps, obviously believing that he is alone again.

“Wake me when you finish,” he says quietly.

“You mean come to your room?” They don’t share rooms or fool around while on field cases. That’s one of the rules. But Hotch is the boss, so he figures he can shake things up if he wants.

“Yeah. I don’t care how late it is, okay? I want to know when you get in.”

“All right,” Reid nods and then just watches him, waiting for something more.

Hotch smiles and turns back into the gloomy precinct. He goes back to the hotel and eats, sitting up with a pile of his own reports, and waits. But he doesn’t last and sleep takes him as he stretches out over crinkled bedspreads and paperwork, leaving a man-sized space empty beside him.

~~~~

He doesn’t hear him come in, or bump around in the dark, and that’s a bit scary given the kind of people he deals with in his job. Hotch only wakes when Reid flops down onto the bed beside him making a sleepy interrogative noise as he lands across Bureau reports.

“What’s this?”

“Paperwork,” Hotch slurs as he reaches over and pulls Reid close.

“Sexy,” Reid chuckles softly and settles his back against Hotch’s chest. Hotch can tell that Reid is still fully clothed.

“What time is it?”

“Quarter to three,” Reid yawns.

“That was more than a few hours.”

“Yeah. It’s done though. We’re gonna make this guy uncomfortable, Aaron… we’re gonna nail him with this. I can feel it.”

Reid yawns again, clearly exhausted, but Hotch holds him painfully close, burying his face into the back of Reid’s neck while his chest stutters. He feels as though his ribs will crack under the pressure of this emotion that’s boiling and expanding inside him.

“What’s wrong?” Reid tries to turn in Hotch’s grip but his hands keep Reid still.

“Nothing,” he murmurs. “It’s just… you’re so damned remarkable sometimes I find it hard to moderate my reaction, that’s all. You meet all of these horrible challenges with the unwavering fervor of a radical priest or something, and it makes me believe that we’re on the side of the angels, that we can make the world better by our work. After twenty years in this business, Spencer, that’s no mean feat, and I love you for it.”

Reid is silent for a long time, and Hotch begins to feel foolish.

“I’m really the furthest thing from a radical priest that you can get,” Reid says eventually. “Which is probably fortunate for the team because most of those fervently committed clerics would be diagnosed with serious mental illnesses in modern times-”

“You may be missing my point.”

“I don’t think I am. I think your point is that I revitalized your passion, and that you love me,” Reid whispers. “And that your metaphors are disturbingly ecclesiastical."

Hotch laughs squeezing Reid until he squeaks, and then he kisses him along his neck until he gets below his ear.

“I love what we do because it’s important. I love doing it with you because I trust you and I’ve never had such unshakable faith in another partner before. And I love having you here, like this, now - I love that we’re partners here as well as out there.”

“I love it too, Aaron. All of that.” Reid’s pulse is full and fast against Hotch’s lips as he presses into his throat. “I haven’t had a lot of success with ‘belonging’ in my life. But everything in me says that I belong here. That acceptance means the world… it makes me feel as close to normal as I’ll ever get.”

“I’ve never thought of you as abnormal, Spence…”

“And that’s my point. Because I am abnormal and that’s usually all anyone ever sees, but from the first case we worked together you made me feel like I was just some guy on the team - no better or worse. And when you trusted me with the things that most people wouldn’t - those life or death things - well, it made me feel important like everyone always claimed that I was. I felt it for the first time and didn’t just know it. Do you see the difference?”

“Yes.”

“When you give something like that to someone, they’re bound to love you a little for it. But it turned out to be a lot in my case.”

“I’m glad.”

Reid twists in Hotch’s arms enough to be able to look back at him in the dark. “I know that you wonder what I get out of this relationship. Does that explain it adequately?”

Hotch swallows hard.

“I’ve always seen you watching me when you thought no one was looking, Aaron,” Reid whispers. “I see how you feel and I know you worry that my interest in you is temporary. I hope that you can start to comprehend how fundamental this feeling is that I have for you. It’s not going away any time soon.”

Hotch doesn’t know what to say because he does worry about those things but he thinks he’s been better at hiding it. His voice catches in his throat and then Reid silences the effort with his lips.

“Nothing I’ve ever felt before comes close to this, Aaron. Even Maeve pales in comparison. You are what I need to bring out the best in me - you are essential. I won’t give you up willingly.”

Hotch’s mouth closes over Reid’s; he can’t bear to hear anymore because it’s breaking him down and rebuilding him at the same time. This is all he’s ever wanted: a connection to someone that sustains them both. He just never thought to look for it in someone so different from himself. He knows he’s in love for the last time in his life, and he’s grateful that he’s saved the best for last.

They roll into each other making the reports crinkle and tear beneath them. Hotch is going to have a hell of a time straightening them out in the morning. But right now all he wants is the quiet give and take of their mouths and hands, the unmistakable note of want in Reid’s voice as they shift, the elemental sigh Hotch makes as he wraps them together in blankets and scattered pillows… They throb and ebb together until their heart rates sync up and their breathing calms and their hands start to soothe them down from the high that their words have driven them towards. Reid tucks his head under Hotch’s stubbled chin; he yawns across Hotch’s neck and Hotch recognizes the exhaustion grabbing a hold of him once again. He strokes his fingers through Reid’s hair.

“You need to sleep.”

“Don’t wanna sleep. This feels too important. Doesn’t it?”

Hotch kisses the top of Reid’s head. “It does, but we have work to do in the morning. I can’t have you drooling through the profile meeting.”

“Wouldn’t drool,” Reid tries to sound offended but the gigantic yawn ruins the effect. “How uncouth.”

“And that’s why you need to sleep. We’ll never catch this guy without a sufficient amount of couth,” Hotch chuckles and wraps Reid up in the tangle of his limbs. “Sleep now and I promise you that we’ll finish this conversation when we get back home.”

“Naked,” Reid mutters, his grip on Hotch already easing up. “…Finish it naked…”

“Of course. That goes without saying.”

“Mmmmm.”

Reid rumbles once against Hotch’s neck and then relaxes so dramatically that Hotch actually wonders if it’s possible to simply switch on unconsciousness. Surely if anyone could manage it, it would be Reid. He adjusts himself to fit against Reid and then closes his eyes thinking that they might have to amend the ‘no sharing rooms during field cases’ rule. Because it just feels too reassuring to be curled up next to him.

“Unexpected…” Reid mumbles.

“What is?”

“Aaron… Aaron is unexpected…”

“You’re dreaming.”

“ ‘M not…” he asserts but it’s obvious he doesn’t know where he is. “Aaron loves me… never expect’d that…”

Hotch pulls him close and buries his face in Reid’s hair. “I never expected it either.”