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Getting better

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"I'm sober," is the first thing he says when Hotch lets himself in his apartment. It's the first thing he's said every time one of them has let themselves in his apartment (twice a day for the past three weeks). He knows that’s why they come, first and foremost, and apart from Garcia none of them even attempt to deny it. He finds a kind of comfort in it, that they don’t lie to him.

He doesn’t know why, exactly, he’s not getting high. He certainly wants to, knows where to get some, and he’s not sure if it’s the five-year coin in his pocket, fear for his job or knowing that Maeve would be disappointed in him (not that it technically matters in the slightest what she would think, given that she’d never know), but he doesn’t get high.

“I know,” Hotch says, and if he’s lying, Spencer can’t tell. “I brought dinner.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“That matters less to me at the moment. You need to eat.”

Hotch sits quietly and watches Spencer polish off a generous helping of the casserole he brought. Afterwards, he clears the table and does the dishes, then makes Spencer promise to eat the rest of the food the next day or the day after, before it goes bad. Spencer feels a sudden urge to call Hotch ‘Mom’, and takes that as a sign that he might actually be getting better. They lapse into silence, but it’s not entirely uncomfortable.

“Jack asked me to give you this,” Hotch says, after a while, as if he only then thinks of it, reaching in to his back pocket and pulling out an envelope.

It’s a letter, written in an almost-eight-year-old’s scrawl, and Spencer has to bite his lip, hard, not to tear up. He looks at Hotch. “Did you read it?”

Hotch shakes his head. “I wasn't allowed,” he says with a vague smile.

“He writes about losing his mom.”

“I figured. He’s... trying to protect me. He thinks talking about Haley makes me sad, so he doesn’t, lately.”

“That’s healthy,” Spencer says, more acerbically than he meant to. The thought of a brave little boy holing up his feelings to protect his big, strong dad is almost physically painful.

“It’s a phase. I hope. Andi says it is.”

The therapist’s name hangs heavily in the air between them, and Spencer doesn’t look up. It might be incidental, Hotch bringing up Andi, but it feels like it isn’t.

“I’m not ready,” he says to the carpet.

“I know. That's not why I mentioned her. But she is ready when you are, Reid. So is Morgan, Blake and all the others. And so am I."

"I know."

"I don't know what you're going through, but I think it's fair to say that I might be able to imagine."

That's as close as Hotch has ever come to talking with Spencer about Haley - at all - since the day he signed the divorce papers, and Spencer nods, more to acknowledge the gesture than as an answer.

Jack may only be seven, Spencer muses, but he's observant. The only way Hotch is able to move on is by pushing his emotions down. He may love Beth, but talking about Haley threatens to break him, every time. Spencer fleetingly wonders what Hotch and Andi really talk about in their weekly sessions, because she’s way too good not to notice that, for all of Hotch’s deflection skills, but probably not good enough to coax the truth out of him.

Still, here’s Hotch, sitting across from Spencer, obviously willing to open up. He looks Hotch in the eyes for the first time since he walked in, and is struck by the sincerity there, unhooded, unguarded. Open, in a way Hotch hasn’t been for years. That’s when it hits Spencer that Hotch looks at him as an equal now. They have a shared fate, having lost the women they love to the villains they chase. The shock of the realization leaves him speechless for a moment.

"I want to talk to you," he finally manages. Hotch's expression changes a fraction, relaxing slightly. "When I'm ready," Spencer rushes to clarify, and Hotch nods.