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Two Seconds

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Hotch got a reality check for Christmas this year, and though he was a stoic man by nature, it still hurt a little. He had to admit that he was a bit slow in a way only high-functioning, driven, authoritative men could be; he missed the easy stuff, perhaps too busy looking for hidden things instead. The Reid thing had snuck up on him as if he were blind, deaf, and unforgivably stupid. Every time he thought about it, it embarrassed him – how he’d never looked beneath the surface of all the family dinners he’d invited Reid to, or the talks about some paper or other while killing time on the jet, or the way he lost his cool when Reid did something ill-advised.

There had been a time too when Reid eagerly sought Hotch out – for advice or a second opinion or even with a field-related ‘put me in, coach’ plea in his eyes – but that time had passed. The confidence blossomed, a sturdy independent streak rose to the surface born out of seasoning and grim experiences, and the hazel-hued pleas gave way to quick nods of acceptance as he got on with the job that he’d slowly suited to himself. Hotch didn’t want it any other way of course, but by the time he’d noted the change, and the resulting sense of loss it gave him, it was too late to reclaim any of it back.

He realized that the regret he felt was similar to how he felt about losing Haley. It was gradual and completely preventable, but he’d just let it slip through his fingers and hadn’t noticed until the weight of its familiarity was suddenly missing. Not that he thought people should remain static, but there was something about Reid in his mind… like he was a given, a solid center of optimism around which Hotch tentatively circled to ground himself. Now Hotch watched Reid with J.J.’s kids, or heading out for a drink with Rossi, or idly discussing case studies with Lewis, and knew that he was just one of many – important but no longer vital – and a hot, ungovernable panic itched under his skin at the thought.

It was three days before Christmas and they were having a party after hours at the unit that was just for them. It was mostly because Garcia was basically trapped in the building for the time being, and she loved Christmas. Hotch had helped her prepare and between the two of them much of the sixth floor looked like it had been blown up by a dirty bomb consisting of equal parts Norman Rockwell, Martha Stewart, and Bazooka Joe. He secretly loved Christmas as well, partly because his work family had become his actual family and it was a socially acceptable time to show his affection towards them. But he also longed for the sense of hope and goodwill that tripped alongside the season. He was too jaded to ever think it would stick, but for two weeks every year he indulged in reckless possibility. How could he not? Even Prentiss had showed up this year, flying over early from London in order to sneak into Quantico for some festive cheer before heading out to see her parents. His whole family was together again and that in itself was a reason to indulge in goodwill towards all.

He lurked, watching them from the perimeter of the party as Garcia sailed around effortlessly demanding the donning of paper hats and shoving shortbread at people and making sure that they were all drinking liberally. Prentiss and Rossi were taking turns telling stories and Hotch couldn’t decide who was better at it, though Dave probably had a slight edge simply because he had more of them. Morgan and Lewis were egging them on, shameless instigators that they were, and even Reid got into it, illustrating his tales with full-body miming and hilarity that broke out his face-cracking grin. It made a warm ache slide through Hotch’s belly to see it; love for his people rose up his chest, fierce and solid, and lodged itself in his throat making him blink back the sudden stinging in his eyes. He smiled at his reaction, and put his cup of eggnog down (it was mostly scotch but still technically had egg in it somewhere). He wished that he were better at this, but he’d take what he could get and at that moment he could watch them and silently beat out his love to them even if no one was paying attention.

At some point, someone decided that the mistletoe humiliation had to begin and one by one, a victim was shoved under one of the dozens of branches Garcia had gleefully hung up, and was forced to kiss everyone regardless of grumpy complaints. This was a Garcia tradition that they all knew well, but even so Reid resisted it every time. He squirmed and made faces and promised unanticipated nerd vengeance but eventually submitted to Garcia’s will. He made it through the gauntlet with determination – facing down J.J.’s hair mussing and Morgan’s cheek licking with equal horror – until he got to Prentiss. She smiled at him, all tipsy and warm, and he returned it before pulling her in and kissing her. It was just half a heartbeat too long to be friendly and when Prentiss pulled back, grinning and ribbing him like the others, there was a smudge of pink high on both of her cheeks. And that’s when Hotch got his Christmas gift, right between the eyes and making his stomach lurch at the same time as if he’d been hit with a sledgehammer. It’s not like it hadn’t happened before, but Hotch had never seen it happen like that with such ease and obvious familiarity. His legs went wobbly for a moment and he was happy that he was leaning against a desk when his mind helpfully offered ‘Looks like you missed something else.’

“Yeah. That one blew my hair back a little too.”

Hotch looked to his left and found Garcia cozied up to his side, sipping some eggnog and batting her lashes in Reid’s generally direction. A long moment of silence passed between them and then Garcia glanced up at him. After another slurp of eggnog she laughed.

“You should see your face right now. Priceless.”

“I just… feel a little foolish.” The words caught in his throat and he grumbled to add something more consistent with his personality. “I missed that – my professional integrity has taken a hit.”

Garcia slung her arm through Hotch’s and leaned into him in a contented way watching as Lewis took her turn in the gauntlet.

“They hid it well. You know, they’re both pretty good with secrets and so damned private all the time… I didn’t even get it out of Emily until it was over.”

“Over?”

“Yeah,” Garcia sighed. “They were pretty into each other but Em said there was something missing. Even if there hadn’t been, her taking that job in London probably would’ve done it. The long distance thing rarely works out.”

“Hmmm, possibly,” he choked, the scotch heaving dangerously in his stomach.

“Anyway, they ended it well and are still very fond of one another. As you can see,” Garcia chirped brightly as she held him close. “What are you going to do about it now that you know?”

Hotch blinked at her, genuinely confused. “Nothing. You said it’s over and even if it wasn’t, they don’t work together anymore… there’s nothing for me to address.”

Garcia’s expression suddenly darkened and Hotch straightened his back and tried to parse her meaning. “Is there something for me to address, Penelope?”

“I’ll say,” she huffed, lips tightening in disapproval.

He had no idea about what was upsetting her, and he thought that they’d come to know each pretty well in the past year. Perhaps he’d missed another easy read. That distressed him and he idly wondered if he was only good at inferring things from diseased, evil minds; the possibility was depressing.

“Maybe I’ve had too much scotch. Could you be more specific, Garcia?”

Garcia stood up straight and thumped down her Dixie cup with too much force sloshing the contents over her fingers and the desktop. She grumbled a bit and then rolled her eyes at him behind her sparkling, purple glasses.

“Listen, you wanna know why it ended?” She popped a finger in her mouth and licked off the booze in frustration before aiming it back at the party across from them. “She left him even though she was nuts about him. Wanna know why?”

Hotch nodded because it was the only part of him still obeying commands from his brain.

“Reid has a type and Emily ticked off a lot of boxes for him: smart, strong, dark, loyal, sexy, serious with a secret fun side… she was nearly perfect for him. But only nearly perfect.” Garcia paused for effect, which was lost on Hotch. She raised her eyebrows and sighed as she continued. “Em said that when she figured that out, she couldn’t go on with it. I think it broke her heart but she said that everyone deserves a shot at perfect.”

“There’s no such thing as a perfect match, Garcia. That’s a cultural delusion,” Hotch intoned regretfully. On top of everything else, his heart ached a little for Prentiss; she shouldn’t have let Reid go over something as obviously false as that. She should have fought for him.

“Yeah, well, some people can get pretty damned close,” Garcia stared at him meaningfully. Hotch just sighed.

“I think this just illustrates that they both let something good slip away. It’s been my experience that you don’t get too many shots at ‘good’.” He picked up his scotch nog again and took a big sip. What the hell… being sober wasn’t too appealing at the moment.

“My point exactly,” Garcia clutched his suit jacket and suddenly lit up like the Fourth of July next to him. “Exactly.

Hotch felt a whole body exhaustion slip over him in an instant, as if a string that bound him together had just been cut. He ached with disappointment and a terrible sensation that he’d been lying to himself about something for years. He looked down at his hands, peeking out from his tailored suit jacket and dress cuffs that were precisely the correct length. He saw how pronounced the knuckles had gotten, how the veins now stood out against his weathered skin more obvious and ropey than they were when he was younger. He’d gone and gotten old, but inside he was still as volatile and confused as ever. Time was no longer on his side. The closing of another year didn’t seem so hopeful to him now – it felt like a signpost at the side of the road that told him he was closer to the off ramp than he thought. He found Garcia’s fingers curled at his elbow and held them, brushing her brightly coloured nails with his thumb.

“Garcia, I care for you a great deal so I hope you’ll take this in a kindly way, but you are a little frustrating to talk to sometimes.”

“Uhhhhh, back at ya, Boss Man,” Garcia shook her head making her blonde curls and reindeer antlers bobble. “Honestly, it’s like conversatin’ with a well-dressed retaining wall some days…”

“I’ve never heard that before in my life,” he said dryly and squeezed her hand.

Garcia sighed and gave him a playful shove. Then she straightened her antlers with care and retrieved her drink.

“The point I’m laboring to make here is that maybe you should spend less time retaining and more time talking. You never get what you don’t ask for, Hotch, and you give so much to all of us… it’s time to look after you now, ya know?”

He still didn’t understand what she thought he was missing in his life. What did she see in his face, his bearing, his words that caused her to worry this much? Her sequestering at the BAU meant that she’d seen more of him, and perhaps he’d given her too much to see. But he couldn’t let it bleed into his leadership - the team needed him to be their anchor. He’d have to try harder to keep his midlife whatever-this-was away from work. She huffed again at his silence, apparently tired of convincing the wall to act like a real man.

“Just try it on for size - in the spirit of the season. They say it’s a time of miracles…” She walked back towards the group and then added, “I think it’s your turn in the kissing gauntlet, Hotch. Apply some Chap Stick and gird yourself for some lovin’. I’ll go tell the gang the good news.”

Hotch was suddenly horrified by Garcia’s suggestion and had an uncharitable thought that she was hiding devil’s horns under her antlers. As much as he loved them, he didn’t think he could disguise his frustration from the team under a showy, extroverted display of holiday cheer - not this year. It wasn’t their fault that he was old and unsatisfied and suddenly horribly aware of it. And he certainly didn’t want them to see it and pity him. He just needed time to adjust to his disappointment - it would sink in, he’d accept it, and then move forward as he always had. No need to make a big deal out of it.

He took one last swig of his eggnog, smoothed the lines of his suit jacket, and then covertly made his way to the emergency stairwell and out of the building.

----

Rossi threw legendary New Year’s Eve parties. Hotch always thought of them as an odd mix of 50s Rat Pack hedonism and 19th Century literary salon-cool. They were always staffed with an impeccable bar service, and there was always just the right amount of guests. You were bound to meet someone interesting but there were not so many people as to scare away the more timid guests. Hotch would definitely qualify for the latter; his leadership role was just a convincing skin he wore. He could pour on the bravado and charm for his job - and did do so successfully - but his natural tendency was to sit, to observe, to patiently wait for things to reveal themselves. The great and terrible thing about having Rossi as a friend was that he knew all of this about Hotch and didn’t spend too much time accommodating it. This meant that at least once a year Hotch might find himself in an unexpected conversation with a writer of naval histories, or a deep sea salvage specialist, or a vintage car mechanic - which was wonderful - but it also meant that Hotch had to prepare himself for such, and that often meant drinking a little too much. Rossi was always one to help with that too, having Hotch over for a few rounds in his study while the party staff set up; perhaps that was his way of conceding to Hotch’s secret introversion.

This year the pre-party event had included an attempt to coerce Hotch to meet a new, leggy assistant from Rossi’s editing house as part of a resolution to ‘turn over a new leaf’ for the new year. Hotch smiled and waved him off as he always did, telling him that he only wanted Rossi’s scotch, not his cast offs, and Rossi just smirked sadly while refilling Hotch’s tumbler. Hotch wondered if the ‘missing’ section that Garcia noticed was also becoming visible to Rossi as well. Perhaps that’s why he’d had too much to drink in Rossi’s study, and then forced himself to mingle in the crowd more aggressively. Maybe he was trying too hard to make a show of being happy - or as happy as he ever let them see at any rate. So when the room began to spin a little, he realized that he’d let his mask slip, that he’d let Garcia and Rossi get to him. Turning over a new leaf seemed like a good idea but getting plastered definitely did not. In the end, he retreated to the covered veranda that circled the house and sank back into his solitary behavior. He shivered, leaning against some furniture with a forgotten beer in his hand, and became mesmerized by the falling snow. Who knows how long he remained that way, lulled by the stillness, waiting for something to reveal itself to him…

“There you are. I’ve been looking for you.”

Hotch almost twitched at the voice and turned to see Reid’s scruffy silhouette highlighted in the doorway. He didn’t wait for an answer, instead weaving forward into the dark of the veranda and leaning against the railing opposite Hotch. He let out a long, contented sigh as he did so.

“Too hot inside. Needed some fresh air. What are you doing out here?”

“Better to be on the edge of a party, don’t you think?” Hotch smirked but didn’t know if Reid could see it. “There’s only so much noise and light and attention one can take in an evening.”

“Social anxiety is my bag, Hotch. Get your own neuroses.” Reid’s tone was amused, and also a little too casual to be sober. Hotch’s smirk warmed into a smile as he took a long pull from his beer.

“Why were you looking for me?”

“Oh… Garcia sent me this cryptic text telling me to go find you,” Reid waved a dismissive hand. “But I got sidetracked by the midnight ballyhoo. I had to get through a lot of hugging and well-wishing to make it out here.”

He paused for a moment and then cocked his head against the indigo backdrop of the snow falling just beyond the porch.

“Hey, you managed to skip out on both the New Year’s and Christmas kissing torture. That’s not fair.”

Hotch felt his stomach tighten as heat suddenly raced across him. He cleared his throat and clutched his beer as he tried to shrug it off, words condensing into white puffs as he spoke. “Boss’s prerogative. I find it a little awkward… I thought you’d sympathize.”

“Nothing wrong with a friendly kiss.”

Reid shrugged but when Hotch didn’t answer, instead raising a questioning eyebrow that Reid must have sensed, he began gesturing casually as he elaborated.

“My objections are expected so I trot them out every time… like a tradition. But, honestly, the whole thing is pretty harmless and I don’t really mind so much anymore. There’s a multitude of kissing categories and the platonic one has a variety of options to choose from.”

“Really,” Hotch tried to hide his amusement. “You analyze kissing options.”

“Please. The implied question in that statement does a disservice to us both - I analyze everything.” Reid straightened from where he had been leaning and then shuffled towards Hotch in two steps. He stopped well within Hotch’s personal space but did it as if it were no big deal. Hotch tensed all over but made no outward sign of his awareness; he continued to sag against the table edge clutching his beer bottle too intensely.

“You know, like, the quick peck on the cheek,” Reid swiftly dipped forward and brushed his lips against Hotch’s cheek before retreating just as quickly. “That’s a pretty standard friendly kiss - nothing too alarming or offensive in that. Or there’s the European double-kiss,” Reid demonstrated that one as well, rapidly placing a dry kiss on either side of Hotch’s face. “Even people who barely know each other use that one - straight, gay, or otherwise it doesn’t matter. There’s no implied romantic connotation.”

Reid paused for a split second and cocked his head again. He appeared to be thinking something through while Hotch watched him in silence. Then he stepped forward again and brushed his lips against Hotch’s forehead, one hand gently cupping his jaw to hold him still.

“A kiss to the forehead is reserved for known acquaintances but is still considered platonic. It’s usually reserved for family members, like a parent or grandparent to a child, or as a symbol of reverence. It connotes care and love, but not passion. Any of those would be fine for the mistletoe torture test or a New Year’s congratulations.”

Reid stepped back and Hotch’s brain exploded with the realization that Reid had just kissed him three times in a row and all he’d done in response was freeze in stunned disbelief. He needed to do something but couldn’t feel his body except the small, quickly cooling locations where Reid’s lips had touched him. Despite Reid’s lecture on the matter, Hotch hadn’t felt that any of those kisses were platonic, but he didn’t trust himself to say so because that was obviously only a truth inside his head.

“You may have thought about this too much,” he eventually croaked out and then hated himself for saying it.

“I prefer to think that everyone else just hasn’t thought about it enough,” Reid countered and Hotch could hear the smile in his voice. This was all just an entertaining mental exercise for him. Hotch’s guts twisted at that idea, and the fact that Reid hadn’t moved to continue his kissing treatise. His lips ached to touch Reid’s skin, he burned to reach out and pull him back into his personal sphere, to feel the heat of him leak through his clothes and warm a line up Hotch’s body against the evening’s chill.

“Is that all then?” he huffed, amazed that it came out soundly only mildly interested.

“No, there are many more in the category. The kissing of a hand or foot, for example - usually reserved as a token of respect for someone of an elevated social status like royalty or a religious leader. There’s the air kiss, which is generally only used by women on other women, but it still counts… the blown kiss - that one’s just for fun, nothing serious about it… and the inexplicably named butterfly kiss, which isn’t a kiss at all as it doesn’t involve the lips.” Reid stopped, shoved his hands in his pockets, and took a breath. “The short answer is that there are lots of safe options so there’s no reason to feel awkward about it and there’s certainly no reason to avoid it. Unless you have other reasons.”

“No, no other reasons,” Hotch lied and tried to bury it in a huge gulp of beer. The scotch buzz was starting to rear it’s head again and he thought that he should stop with the beer as well because it wasn’t helping matters.

“Well then, you should know that your absence this year was noticed.” Reid scuffed a toe against the porch absently and then looked over his shoulder at the drifting snow, as if he couldn’t care less. “The gang wants you around, that’s all.”

“Is that why Garcia sent you after me tonight?” Hotch whispered carefully.

“I dunno. Maybe,” Reid shrugged. “Much of any conversation with Garcia involves reading what she implies and that she leaves hanging in the air above her. It takes some practice.”

“Tell me about it,” Hotch smiled despite his heavy heart. He shifted and tried to focus on what Reid had said about the team because that was a relationship that he had a shot at maintaining. “I could make a greater effort with the team. I didn’t realize that my introversion was being interpreted that way. You all are my family but it’s difficult for me to show that sometimes. I’ll try harder.”

And he would because he loved them. His sad, inappropriate affection for Reid notwithstanding, he loved them all and they needed to know it without a shadow of a doubt. He would try to be less inwardly focused in the future.

“We love you too,” Reid said quietly even though Hotch hadn’t mentioned the word ‘love’ aloud.

Hotch looked at Reid standing before him, slouching and outlined by the night sky behind him, and felt a great swell of regret for time lost. It takes only two seconds to say ‘I love you’, but those seconds can change a life. Even the two seconds it took for Reid to tell him that the team loved him had permanently altered him. It was such a small thing, so easy to gloss over or rush past, but you had to take time to make the moments matter. It was just a shame that he hadn’t learned that lesson earlier in life when he might have used it to his benefit. Hotch nodded and then decided to put his self-absorbed mourning behind him as a gift to himself for the New Year; no one else knew about it but him and it was just a waste of energy. He didn’t have the luxury of time to waste on such things anymore. He took another sip and decided to direct the conversation back to something more lighthearted.

“So, given your extensive consideration into the matter, do you have a favorite kiss?”

Reid’s silhouette twitched as if Hotch had caught him off guard. “I do.”

Hotch waited. “Are you going to tell me what it is?”

“It’s the Second First Kiss.”

“Beg your pardon? I’m not sure I know what that is…”

“It’s the kiss you give after the first kiss.” Reid stepped forward again, this time close enough that Hotch could feel the pull of his body as his shadow obliterated everything else from view. “You see, the first kiss is problematic. Neither party is sure of it when it happens, so it tends to be hesitant, anxious, hopeful, and uncomfortable all at once.”

Reid’s hand brushed the underside of Hotch’s jaw and as he sucked in a shocked breath, Reid’s mouth closed over his, aim slightly off and a little bit dry. He held him still with his lips and his fingers for too long to be accidental; Hotch thought he could feel the faint, rapid double-beat of Reid’s pulse thrumming through his lips. Or maybe that was Hotch’s own hammering heart beating out in a confused echo. Then, it was over. Reid pulled back and watched Hotch for a reaction, his hand still lightly holding his jaw.

“The First Kiss is too lade down with possibilities and expectations to be any good,” Reid murmured eventually. “And then there’s the risk that you misread the situation, that the kiss is unwanted. If that’s the case, then all of the possibilities and hopes that it carried evaporate.”

Reid went silent again and waited. Hotch was still maddeningly inert. He wanted to reach out for Reid and hold him until he bruised; he wanted to demand that Reid stop lecturing because everything about this was real for him. But he’d seen the way Reid was with Prentiss, the comfort and ease and, well, love that was there between them, even after it was apparently over… This wasn’t like that at all, so it couldn’t be what he wanted. That meant the only thing left to deduce was what this was, and he felt sure it was another one of those easy reads that he was doomed to miss. Hesitantly, Reid took a half step closer placing him near enough to brush Hotch from waist to shoulders while unconsciously forcing Hotch’s thighs apart at the same time.

“The Second First Kiss is my favorite because it means that your instincts were right, and it becomes this incredible release and mutual celebration of reading another person’s desires correctly.”

Reid’s other hand rose to cup the opposite side of Hotch’s head and then he slowly drew him forward so that they met each other halfway. This time his aim was true, his lips softer as they pulled at Hotch. Hotch was assailed by warmth and the security of Reid’s grip; there was this completely alien assurance of Reid standing before him, pinning him between his body and the table behind him. It felt inexplicably like the grounding that had been missing from Hotch for ages. A surge of confidence flared up brightly at that thought suddenly burning away his paralysis. He heard the beer bottle topple and the soft hiss as the liquid spilled to the porch floor when his hand reached under Reid’s suit jacket and his fingers dug into his hip. He pulled their waists closer and Reid made a small, surprised noise. As he did, Hotch slipped in, licking hungrily and arching up to meet Reid when their closeness made the angle more acute. He didn’t care if it was a mistake or the booze or just wishful thinking; his whole world contracted to the space they occupied in the dark of Rossi’s porch, shivering in the cold as the snow fell and the beer dripped and they shifted and pulled softly into one another.

Reid pressed even further until it seemed impossible that he could get any closer, his mouth inviting Hotch to take what he wanted while his hands bit into Hotch’s jaw hard enough to betray his own fears. Hotch’s other hand slid under Reid’s jacket and crawled up his back, clutching and warming as it moved, pressing him closer in his own plea against retreat. When Hotch felt Reid’s tongue brush his, his mind abruptly sputtered to life again ditching the whole-body sensory delight in favor of Why is this happening now? He broke away suddenly, gasping to stave off his lightheadedness, and felt Reid vibrate against him where their foreheads met.

“So… uh, the Second First Kiss is the best because it’s… a-about possibilities…” Reid gulped after an awkward silent moment. “It can be the instigator of a-anything from a one night stand to the f-first moment in an association that could span a lifeti-”

“Really, just… shut up already.” Hotch pulled him back in.

Reid sighed as they met again, this time more languidly, and Hotch swallowed it down as if it were the only thing that would sustain the terrible, desperate energy that had overtaken him. His stomach had launched into his chest fighting for space under his ribs with his frantic heart and it felt fantastic and suffocating at the same time. So, he was either in deep trouble or having a heart attack. One of Reid’s hands had slid back into his hair gripping hard and tugging as Reid made his best effort to crawl inside Hotch. The vibration that he noticed before intensified as Reid’s hands began to roam, seemingly anxious to map out as much of Hotch as he could before his time was up and permission was revoked. Hotch’s head began to spin again and he realized just how little he’d eaten that day, how much he’d had to drink, and how he was compounding all of that by denying himself oxygen as well. He backed off once more but keep strong pressure against Reid’s back with his palms to tell him that it wasn’t rejection. Reid twitched a little anyway as they slipped apart and then sighed deeply as he rested his cheek against Hotch’s face.

They held together like that for a full minute, breathing in the cold and listening to the muted laughter and music from inside Rossi’s house. A lump formed in Hotch’s throat as he considered all the possible paths leading away from this moment and that so few of them offered him hope, and then it was as if he just couldn’t retain anything that he felt any longer.

“I felt…” he whispered, very unsure of his next move. “I thought… I mean, I saw you with Prentiss at the Christmas party.”

Reid’s body tensed as he pulled back to look at Hotch. Hotch gulped and tried to get on with it.

“What I’d been thinking seemed pointless in light of that.”

Reid sagged a little and then took a huge breath before nodding slowly. “Emily is the most remarkable woman I’ve ever known other than my Mom. And I love her, but as she pointed out and to my own shame, I don’t love her enough.”

“I don’t understand.”

“She was the one who noticed it, said it aloud for the first time, and then forced me to look at it.” One of Reid’s hands moved to rub his forehead nervously. “I care for Emily deeply, but… when you walk into a room, gravity shifts. Everything tilts towards you and I can’t fight the pull. It’s always been like that.”

Hotch blinked in disbelief.

“For years I’ve been telling myself ‘don’t stand too close’, ‘don’t stare too long’, ‘this isn’t something you can have’… so I just got on with the work instead. And, as it turns out, I found myself in a relationship with someone very much like you. It was something I should’ve wanted, and to my mind it was the closest I’d ever get to it because we were both straight and it would never, ever happen.”

Hotch’s mouth opened and closed a few times in futility. His mind was blank, either because he couldn’t think of a thing to say to that or because he had too many things to say and they wouldn’t all fit in there at once.

“I’m still not sure it’s happened…” Reid’s voice wavered. “We’re a little drunk right now.”

“Spencer-”

“I kinda took advantage of that. I figured one time at a New Year’s party… we could both overlook that if we had to.”

Hotch’s stomach was now clawing it’s way up his throat and he had a panicked moment where he thought he might be sick. With his head spinning and guts churning he fought his inertia and stood away from the table just as Reid tried to back out of his grip. One of Hotch’s hands flashed up to Reid’s neck and clamped down hard trying to hold him steady.

“Do you imagine there’s any amount of alcohol that could move me to do that against my will? After admitting that my introversion gets in the way of expressing how I feel, do you reall-”

A voice suddenly called out from inside the house making them both jerk.

“Pretty Boy! Where are you, man?”

Reid quickly stepped away placing a suitable distance between them and turned to the door just as Morgan’s shadow filled it.

“Dude, what are you doing out here? It’s freezing…” You could hear the brilliant grin in Morgan’s voice. “Come back inside. Rossi has produced Jello shots and J.J. wants to see if you two can beat last year’s record.”

Reid forced a laugh and shook his head. “No, no way. I’ve had enough. I feel like I’ve already shaved twenty points off my I.Q. as it is. I came out here for some air but I think that I need to go home.”

“Nah, man, c’mon… the night is young.” Morgan went to grab Reid in a bear hug.

“I’m warning you, Morgan, any sudden movements and I’ll barf on your shoes.” Reid dodged Morgan easily proving that he was soberer than he seemed. “Why are you bothering to chase me down anyway? Shouldn’t you be sweeping Savannah up in a hurricane of New Year’s affection or something?”

“Yer a drag,” Morgan pouted but then raised a finger and pointed at him. “But ‘hurricane of affection’ I like… good one.”

“Consider it my parting gift,” Reid chuckled. Hotch stepped forward into the dim glow from the doorway.

“I think I’m calling it a night as well.”

Morgan jumped a little as if he hadn’t seen Hotch until that very moment. “Hey Hotch… you’re out here too? We sorta assumed that you bailed at midnight…”

That stung a bit. He’d have to work hard to fix this reputation of disappearing from things without explanation. Instead, he shrugged and acted like it was inconsequential.

“Too much scotch. Then too much beer. I thought the cold would wake me up.” Then, without waiting for a response, he turned to Reid and raised his phone. “I’ve managed to get through to a cab company. We could share if you’d like?”

Reid hesitated for only a moment. Morgan probably would’ve missed it entirely. “Sure. Makes sense… being New Year’s and everything.”

“You two suck at partying. There… I’ve said it.” Morgan pointed at them both accusingly and then weaved back into the party grumbling something that Hotch didn’t catch.

He may have been drunk to the gills, but Hotch thought that Morgan made a good point: Hotch was a fifty year old man who couldn’t manage the easy things, like loosening up or asking for what he wanted. He looked over at Reid’s shadow and just stared.

“Cab should be here in fifteen,” he mumbled.

“Sounds good,” Reid mumbled back.

----

The taxi driver was an angry man who took the curves too fast and rode the brakes too hard. Ten minutes into the ride and Hotch leaned his head back against the vinyl seat and prayed that he didn’t throw up before they reached the city.

His head was swimming - with booze, with doubts, and with a profound urge to say something but the words wouldn’t come to him. Reid hadn’t said a word since they’d collected their coats and given their goodbyes at the party. Hotch wondered if he was already attempting to ‘overlook’ what happened on the veranda. Another hard turn had him rolling against the slippery backseat until he felt his thigh bump into Reid’s and immediately warm at the connection. He thought about shuffling back, but he was so tired and trying so hard to control his nausea that he just let it go instead. Minutes passed, lights flashed over his face as they reached the city and sped past the streetlamps, and then he felt a hand settle across his thigh. He opened his eyes and rolled his head to find Reid staring back at him.

“You okay?”

Hotch nodded a little unconvincingly. “Just lightheaded.”

“Yeah, me too.”

He watched Reid’s face, leaning against the seat back and bumping along with the taxi’s vindictive inebriation revenge. It was open, calm, and Hotch hadn’t expected that but what shocked him more was the look in his eyes. The plea was back after so many years of absence, and maybe he finally ‘got it’ or maybe he just decided to ask.

“What happened back at the party… I won’t choose to forget it. I wanted it. I still do.”

It took just a few seconds, a few really important seconds.

Reid’s pupils dilated and his mouth fell open. Then he shuffled a little closer until they were only a breath apart. They watched each other like that, breathing one another’s air as the cab sped across the dark, snow covered city. Eventually, the car lurch through a pothole and the momentum was enough to push Hotch to act; he bumped against Reid’s nose and then drew his lips to him. They came apart almost as quickly as the driver braked too hard at a corner, but Hotch reached out and pulled forcefully until they crashed together again. Reid moaned quietly and Hotch’s breathing sped up so rapidly that he had to alternate between sloppy passes with his teeth and tongue, and desperate gulps of air. His fingers curled in Reid’s peacoat until they cramped, Reid’s hand abandoned Hotch’s thigh and clung to his neck hard enough to make Hotch hiss in discomfort. Reid whispered ‘sorry’ into his mouth and then set his hands to grabbing at Hotch’s overcoat until he could get enough leverage to roll him closer. Then their legs were tangling and their grips cinching and their tongues slipping together in breathy murmurs and half-formed phrases.

The cab stopped sharply nearly sending them both into the seats and Plexiglas shield in front of them.

“None of that funny business in my cab, funny men!” The driver glared at them through the rear view mirror. “No messes, no drink, no funny business! If you want that, get out - hump in the street like dogs and let God judge you!”

Being torn away from that moment with Reid - so hard-won and frantic - produced a sudden, scorching anger in Hotch that made him lean forward dangerously, stomach be damned.

“You cannot deny your service to a passenger based on bigotry, personal bias, or prejudice. If we were in fact engaging in ‘funny business’ you might be able to get away with it because public sex acts are illegal in the District. But since we weren’t, and we are intoxicated, if you put us out on the street right now and something should happen to either of us, you are legally complicit and personally liable for those resulting actions.”

Hotch’s blood was roaring in his ears and his nausea suddenly evaporated. He fumbled in his coat pocket until he produced his badge and slammed it up against the plexi shield.

“And I know all of this because the law is my business. Are we going to have any further disagreements on this matter?”

“Aaron,” Reid hushed and tried to pull him back. “Settle down. My place isn’t that far from here. I can get out… I can walk-”

“No, he’s taking us,” Hotch growled as he turned back to face Reid. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve fought this inside my head? How I tried to convince myself that it didn’t really matter to me? Well, it matters, and if I can get over it then he can get over it too.”

He swung his gaze back to the blinking taxi driver. “Isn’t that right, friend?”

The driver nodded and mumbled something about not wanting any trouble and having a proper green card and everything. The car lurched forward again.

“Just take us to the first address we gave you,” Hotch grumbled and then sagged back into the seat taking a few tries at putting away his i.d.

Reid watched him as he attempted to control his breathing and settle his pulse. “Is that true? What you just said about trying to convince yourself that you didn’t want this…”

Hotch felt his face heat and then nodded.

“Then what changed?”

Hotch sighed. “You tilt everything for me as well. That never goes away.”

Reid reached out for Hotch’s hand, long thin fingers lacing through rougher weathered ones and squeezing.

“I’m old,” Hotch sighed again. “And I’ve wasted a lot of time. Are you really sure that you want to take this on, Spencer?”

“I am.”

Hotch watched his features to gauge his answer. “Less than two seconds.”

“Pardon?”

“It’s nothing,” Hotch shrugged. “Just that many important things take very little time to say. It took you less than two seconds to make me believe in the value of hope again. Maybe that’s why it’s easy to overlook those moments. I think I’ve missed a lot of them in my life while clambering to get somewhere else…”

Reid grinned. “That insight sounds like something I’d come up with.”

“I knew you’d understand,” Hotch smirked.

The cab came to a skidding halt again, but this time they were outside Reid’s building. Reid quickly stuffed some bills into the money chute in the plexi shield and then swung the door open and shuffled out toward the street. He stood, holding onto the door as if to steady himself, and then he peeked back into the cab with a confused look on his face.

“Well? C’mon…” He held out his hand to Hotch.

“Oh. I don’t…”

“I’ve got a second wind. Must have been all of the swerving. Out you get… you’re coming up.”

“I’ll… I’ll never get another cab tonight…”

“You won’t need one,” Reid said quietly and smiled again.

Hotch raised his eyebrows in surprise but then recovered and slid out of the cab while Reid laughed at him. The cabbie set a land speed record making it down Reid’s street from a dead start after Hotch slammed the door.

“Weird guy,” Reid pointed as the taxi screeched around the corner without a hint of brake lights. “And that’s coming from me…”

Hotch collected Reid up against him with a huff and kissed him before he could get a word in edgewise. They stood together in the street muted by the late hour and lit supernaturally by the drifting snow.

“It was the funny business,” Hotch puffed into the snow falling over them. “He must’ve thought it was communicable.”

“You were a little territorial there,” Reid’s arms squeezed tighter, and Hotch noted that he was vibrating again. Arousal snaked through his bloodstream as he considered the implications.

“Is that a problem?” Hotch caught Reid’s lower lip and gently tugged.

“People will object,” Reid gasped and then nuzzled into Hotch’s neck, breathing him in. Hotch’s knees went a little weak. “Maybe even people we know…”

“One problem at a time.” Hotch cupped the back of Reid’s head and held him close, thinking that the feeling of him buried into his body was the best sensation he’d experienced. So far. He tilted his face up into the darkness and let snow melt across his cheeks - hope and goodwill seemed very close and tangible at that moment.

“Gotta figure out how to explain this to my son, how to tell the Bureau that I fell for my subordinate,” he mused to himself, holding Reid tightly. “Gotta figure out what I’m even supposed to do with you - with us - next, gotta survive tomorrow’s crushing hangover…”

“I can help with those last two,” Reid licked his way slowly up Hotch’s neck and them skimmed his lips over Hotch’s. “Got a great hangover cure - you’ll love it.”

“Really? Because I think I’ve tried them all. The only thing that works is water and ibuprofen.”

“My cure is better. You’ll actually enjoy it.” Reid licked into Hotch’s mouth with a smile before sucking his tongue mercilessly. “You’ll even ask for it when you haven’t had a drop to drink.”

Hotch was shivering and feeling very unsteady as his blood circulated away from his brain. He shifted his hips to avoid Reid and hoped that he wouldn’t embarrass himself too much in the immediate future.

“Well, are you going to talk about it, or be a gentleman and invite me in?” He gave him a deep kiss and then gently shoved him away towards the foyer of his building.

“My apologies,” Reid stumbled and then grinned as he fished out keys to the front door. “I got carried away with a sequence of events in my head… but I guess I have to get you there first, huh?”

As Reid fumbled with the security lock, Hotch walked up the steps behind him only coming to a stop when he could feel Reid’s body heat through his coat. Reid stilled and stood straight but didn’t turn to face him, and then Hotch slowly lowered his lips to Reid’s neck where it cleared his collar and scarf. He latched on gently and sucked, Reid’s back curling and pushing against him. One of Hotch’s arms crossed over Reid’s chest and pulled him closer just as Reid turned the key in the door with an impressive snap. He shoved the door open and Hotch in turn shoved them through, his lips still worrying Reid’s neck, and then Reid broke away suddenly turning to look back with a revelatory smile.

Hotch braced the door with a foot and looked at Reid questioningly. “What is it?”

“You’re really here. This is really happening,” he said breathlessly, face pink from the drink and the cold and the shock of it all. “I actually get to have you…”

It almost took the legs out from under him because Reid was the person that Hotch wanted and never thought he’d ever have. His grip tightened on the foyer doorframe to steady himself.

“We’ve shaped each other over the years,” he said quietly, thinking about orbits and gravitation and unconscious patterns that we are compelled to repeat. “Who else would we have been made for?”

He moved into the foyer and let the door slam behind him as he pulled Reid to his lips, hands cupping both sides of his jaw. He was done trying to figure this out; he was falling and happy and way beyond the reach of rational thought. It was an easy moment, and for once, he’d had the foresight to grab a hold of it for all he was worth.

“Please take me upstairs, Spencer,” he whispered against Reid’s lips when they parted. “I don’t want to waste any more time wondering about us. I want to know.”

Something changed in Reid’s expression; an emotion that had taken time to grow and was now finally realized. There were years in that look, thousands of seconds that passed by unremarked except by one person. Hotch felt his fingers lightly brush the lines around the edge of Reid’s eyes as he took it all in. He couldn’t get any of those lost moments back but he could make the ones in front of them count.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

“Don’t be,” Reid answered as if what Hotch were thinking had been out loud. “We made it - we’re finally here. Don’t look back.”

“Okay. Maybe that’ll be my resolution: no more backwards analysis, and to make the time with Spencer matter.”

Reid grinned with an almost childlike delight. “Happy New Year, Aaron.”

He laced his fingers through Hotch’s and pulled them through the interior doors towards the stairs. His grip was tight, sure - Hotch knew that Reid wouldn’t let go first. Hotch floated contentedly in his wake thinking only of the stairs, then Reid’s apartment, their next kiss, and then all the moments that might unfurl from there. He’d turned a new leaf and found that there were only possibilities in front of him, and perhaps for the first time he thought that he had a shot at extending his seasonal hope and goodwill into the foreseeable future. He’d love Reid as best he could for as long as they could manage. And he’d try not to worry about it - he’d just let it happen.

“I promise,” he mumbled to himself as Reid pulled him into his apartment and shut the door behind them.

It took just two seconds.