Hotch answers the door and finds Reid on his doorstep.
“Reid.” He is instantly nervous. “Is something wrong?”
“Hi.” Reid waves awkwardly. “Sorry to bother you so late but I needed to drop this off.”
Reid hands him an envelope.
“This couldn’t wait until tomorrow.”
“I think that it’s best to do it now.” Reid’s expression is strangely neutral. He’s normally very expressive.
Hotch opens the letter, makes it halfway through and then glares at Reid.
“What’s the meaning of this?”
“It’s time, Hotch.” Intense sadness leaks from behind Reid’s neutral mask and Hotch’s stomach suddenly threatens to expose his emotions right there on his front stoop.
Hotch looks down at the letter again because he doesn’t know where else to look. I hereby tender my resignation from the Federal Bureau of Investigation…
Footsteps patter behind him in the house. “Hi, Uncle Spence!”
“Whatcha doin’ here? We already had dinner. Did you come here to tell me a story?” Jack looks up at his father, his eyes alight with joy. “Can Uncle Spence read me a story, Dad?”
“No, Jack.” Hotch’s throats closes up.
“Some other time, okay, Jack?” Reid lies to his son effortlessly. Hotch knows that Reid will never come to his house again. “Maybe you can get your dad to have another bar-be-que and have everyone over. Remember how much fun we had the last time?”
“Yeah!” Jack looks back at his dad. “Can we do that Dad?”
“Sure thing, pal. Sounds good.” He forces a smile. “How about you go get ready for bed and pick out a story, okay? I’ll be there in a minute.”
Jack scampers back inside. Hotch turns to Reid and doesn’t bother to hide the shock and betrayal any longer.
“Don’t do this, Spencer.”
“I’m freeing you, Aaron. Look at everything you have.” He gestures vaguely towards the house. “A home, a son, your position at the Bureau… you have a lot to lose. You’re not ready to risk any of it. I don’t think that you ever will be. I can go anywhere, do anything…”
“Yes, well, we don’t all have the luxury of being coveted…” The bitterness shocks him.
“Aaron, please – don’t deflect.” Reid seems alarmingly in control. “We’ve never discussed this, never even admitted to it before tonight… I was half expecting you to give me the ‘we’ll miss you but I understand’ speech and a farewell chuck on the shoulder.”
“But part of you was expecting exactly this…”
“Which is why I did this away from the office and all of the watchful eyes there.”
The final token of consideration blindsides Hotch and he is overcome by all of the time that he had, and didn’t use. How could Reid betray him when he betrayed Reid first?
The silence stretches out awkwardly until Reid takes the situation in hand. “I’ll finish out my case load and then I’m gone. It’ll probably be a week, 10 days maximum. That’ll give me time to make my good-byes as well…”
A week! God, I just need more time…
“Where will you go?” Hotch croaks.
“I don’t know yet. D.C. for now, but Cal Tech has offered me a position… I might go back to Las Vegas to be closer to my mom…” He looks at Hotch and his face softens a fraction. “I’m not leaving the planet. You’ll be able to find me if you ever need me.”
If I ever need him… Reid reaches out and squeezes Hotch’s arm. “Good-bye, Aaron.”
Hotch lets him get halfway down the driveway before he calls out his name. He’s right behind Reid as he turns and crushes him to his chest pinning him there with his arms. He hasn’t held Reid this way since his kidnapping, back when Hotch was married and it was just professional concern for a colleague. That’s what he always told himself.
They stand in the driveway frozen in the first and last acknowledgment of what they could have had. When Reid pulls back, there are tears in his eyes. He has already said his good-bye so he just stands there and let’s Hotch hold his face in his hands.
“Good-bye, Spencer.” Hotch closes his eyes to prevent the tears and to hide the shame of knowing that the only thing preventing him from happiness is himself. Reid slips from his arms and walks away. Hotch watches him until he turns the corner at the end of the block and disappears. Reid never looks back.