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Give and Take

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The problem with working for the federal government is that you have to justify absolutely everything to a committee who fundamentally believes that you don’t deserve what you already have. Hotch spent too much of his harried life trying to validate expenditures for people who actually fought monsters in the dark to those who would wet themselves if they went through half of what his team did. Sometimes he just got tired of it. And since, you have to pick your battles in life, he didn’t often go ten rounds to get more accommodation funding for their away cases. Everyone was a grown-up; they could share rooms if it placated the bean counters back in D.C.

But this choice led to other dilemmas. Because it didn’t matter how brilliant or high-functioning you were in the daytime, everyone farts or snores or makes terrible noises first thing in the morning. Everyone. And over the years, Hotch had gotten to know too much about his team. He loved them like his own kin but Rossi snored like a chainsaw, Morgan had a nervous stomach, Prentiss hogged the bathroom, Gideon made so many disgusting sounds when he slept that Hotch thought he might be experiencing multiple organ failure… and so on and so on. He tried to set these things aside because no one is perfect, certainly not him, and it was also good to have a reminder that they were all terribly human as well as brilliant and high-functioning. Perspective was always a good thing, in his opinion.

But Hotch found that he had a problem with Reid. Reid was completely silent. As a roomie, he was a valuable commodity that the others fought over. He didn’t snore or hog the facilities or walk around half naked… he didn’t even yawn excessively. He was deferential to the point of ridiculousness, always willing to stay up late or go to bed early depending on what his room partner wanted, and he usually got up first and brought whomever he was sharing a suite with coffee in the morning. Everyone wanted to room with Reid. But Hotch wasn’t buying it. Everyone had human moments and Reid was hiding his. And because Hotch was who he was, he decided he needed to figure out why.

It didn’t take him long – just over three years, which in the scheme of their case load and rotating room schedule wasn’t as lengthy as it seemed. And Hotch was a patient observer. It wasn’t long after the Tobias Hankel case, and Hotch was already overly concerned for Reid because of his erratic behavior and Gideon’s insistence that he just needed space to figure things out on his own. Hotch wasn’t comfortable with that; he’d almost lost Reid in the worst possible way and he found that the experience made him want to keep Reid closer than before. They were working a frustrating case in Tampa and Hotch was already sleeping poorly. He woke before dawn and decided to get on with the day – he even considered pulling a Reid and bringing coffee back to their room for both of them.

That’s when he looked over at Reid’s bed and saw it was empty. He was on high alert then. They’d only made it back to the room four hours earlier – Reid should’ve been crashed out like a coma patient. Hotch got to his feet and quickly scanned the room: everything was still there. Reid’s clothes, go bag, credentials, wallet, phone and gun were all where he’d left them. Surely, he wouldn’t have wandered out in just his pajamas… As Hotch moved to the suite’s entrance he saw a sliver of light from under the bathroom door. He stopped and listened hearing nothing but the peculiar silence unique to hotel rooms. And then Hotch worried that Reid was sick or something.

He waited a full minute, standing in the silent darkness of the room hoping for some indication from the bathroom but nothing came. In the end, he fought his well-entrenched manners and pushed the door open hoping that… well, he wasn’t sure what he was hoping for because calamity was a possibility but so was embarrassment. What he discovered was Reid, not in distress, but instead being gloriously human.

His back was to the door and as Hotch found his reflection in the bathroom mirror he saw that Reid’s eyes were tightly shut as well. One hand gripped the edge of the countertop with the white-knuckled fervor of someone who might pass out, while his other hand worked his cock relentlessly. Hotch had experienced this ‘seen too much’ scenario more than once. He had a younger brother after all, and later, a college roommate without boundaries, and even a few awkward encounters after he first joined the Bureau. He left those previous moments alone preferring to pretend that he’d never witnessed them and allowing both parties to maintain some dignity. Voyeurism didn’t do much for him and he understood the psychological elements that underpinned the fetish, but this time he found that he couldn’t look away. Reid’s shirt was rucked up along his torso revealing the muscles of his abdomen as he strained into his grip. Short, light hair trailed down his belly to where his hand had pulled himself out against the stretch of his waistband. His whole upper body was curling into each thrust; he was still too thin and the violence of his movements looked like he might snap himself in two. His face creased with effort, a tremendous flush stained his cheeks and throat, his teeth bit into his lower lip hard enough to make the skin turn pale. And yet, he was completely silent. It was mesmerizing.

Hotch was no stranger to a little self-love as a release after a hard day or as a poor man’s sleep aid, but he couldn’t remember the last time he’d put as much effort into a jack-off session as Reid was putting into his. Reid’s intensity increased, the muscles in his arm ropey from the effort, and he nearly bent double over the counter as he swayed to his rhythm. After a short, but almost unbearable amount of time, Hotch watched as Reid’s whole body contorted and leaned dangerously while his hand pumped out his release into the sink before him. His mouth fell open as if to cry out, but nothing could be heard except an immense stuttered gasp. His climax took moments, not an instant, and he seemed almost frozen in the feeling as if he could stretch it out indefinitely. Hotch’s mouth went dry and he realized he’d become half-hard while he’d been transfixed by the incredible, secret moment. And then he felt sick that he’d done it and violated Reid’s privacy – he just couldn’t seem to help himself. He couldn’t look away.

Reid eventually sagged against the countertop placing an almost impossible amount of weight against the hand gripping its edge. His head drooped, and the movement woke Hotch enough to realize that he had to move. He couldn’t be seen – he couldn’t do that to Reid. He padded silently back to his own bed, now fighting his own significant hard-on, and slid under the sheets turning away from the bathroom as he heard the soft hiss of water running in the sink. He closed his eyes, feigned sleep, and waited. Reid was as silent as always because Hotch didn’t hear him return and drop into his own bed. He just heard a long sigh and the room settling around them.

Hotch couldn’t get back to sleep after that. All he could think about was Reid’s intensity, and the pink flush lining his long throat and how it matched the hue of his insistent cock. He wondered what Reid saw behind his eyes when he came, he wondered what drove him so hard, what could drain him so completely. Hotch had felt compelled to find Reid’s hidden humanity but suddenly he wished he hadn’t. Now he just had more questions and a secret knowledge that he knew he wouldn’t be able to set aside easily.

But they were professionals and somehow he did manage to put it aside, at least enough to get on with the work. Cases came and went, time passed, things happened to them all that had a greater impact than catching someone in an unguarded moment, and yet there were still times when Hotch couldn’t help but see Reid’s face in his mind as he came that night. He didn’t understand why the image struck him so, why it tenaciously lingered in his memory. Not only was it inappropriate, it held a disturbing fascination for him. Hotch had never had any homosexual impulses, but every time he thought about Reid in that moment he felt hot and agitated and if his skin were too tight.

Another year passed, and then another. Hotch found himself separated from his family, on the road to divorce, and more than a little battle-scarred from his career. It seemed that comfort was becoming more elusive but he just kept his head down and continued pushing forward. He didn’t know how else to handle it.

A case sent them to Los Angeles, and though they were all pros at dealing with time changes, Hotch felt sluggish and dull this time, as if he couldn’t find his legs. It was his turn to partner with Reid in the rooming rotation, but even that latent curiosity didn’t seem to sharpen him at all. He considered the possibility that perhaps it was time to transfer to another division or to take early retirement. If the work was no longer compelling, why was he staying? He might even be able to patch things up with Haley if he left the unit, and what with the damage Foyet had already done to him, no one would question his choice. He mulled the question in the shower as he attempted to get his head back into their case. His soapy hands brushed across his scarred stomach as he wondered if what he was considering was cowardly or not. He shook his head, pushing the choice aside as he always did, and angrily shut off the shower stepping out into the bathroom.

Reid was there, fully clothed and concentrating on his reflection in the mirror as if his life depended on it. His face was half lathered in shaving foam as he meticulously ran a straight razor over his sharp angles. The side of his face that was already done flamed brightly, going from pale to crimson almost as soon as Hotch stepped out of the shower, but his eyes never left his reflection in the mirror. Hotch hadn’t heard Reid enter the room and felt naturally embarrassed, but he said nothing and froze in place. A towel was within reach but he didn’t grab it; he just stood, dripping and naked, within a few strides of Reid. What he wouldn’t realize until later was that his embarrassment in that moment was tempered by a rush of power that vivified him.

“Sorry,” Reid murmured, still not looking at him and taking a long, sure swipe with his razor along his throat. “I thought I could get in and get out before you were done. Just gimme two secs…”

Hotch didn’t say a thing. He watched as Reid made a few more passes with his blade and then splashed away the remaining foam. His cheeks and throat were so dark that they were approaching purple. Hotch watched it all in distracted fascination, as if he were only observing instead of participating. The air cooled his damp skin but he still felt hot all over watching Reid’s hands move and his body turn away from Hotch’s nakedness. Reid collected up some toiletries and moved towards the bathroom door so that his back was to Hotch, belatedly giving him the privacy that he’d already disturbed.

“I’m really sorry,” he said quietly and then was gone with the click of a closing door.

Hotch stood there alone for a while, open-mouthed, breathing a little too heavily and flushed all over. Eventually he reached for a towel, rubbing himself dry and realizing as an afterthought that he was half-hard. He scowled and moved to the sink to start his own shaving ritual trying to shake off the strangeness of the incident. It was then that it struck him how awake he felt. For the first time on this case, perhaps the first time in weeks, he felt the full effect of his attention and focus settle over him. He sighed when he realized how deeply he’d missed the feeling. He thought he ought to thank Reid for ‘waking’ him up, but knew that he wouldn’t: it would embarrass them both. He decided that they’d never discuss it and when he left the bathroom, dressed and ready for the day, he’d already half convinced himself that the whole thing hadn’t happened.

But it had happened and it joined the image of Reid from years before in the back of his conscious mind rising up when he least expected it. During their last night in L.A. while the team was out celebrating the close of the case, Hotch found himself back in his room indulging in that feeling of power he’d experienced. And then he let it happen again when he was home, stroking himself in the shower to a thick, lazy orgasm while imagining that hot, electric insistence that had flowed over him when Reid wouldn’t look at him. He told himself that it was natural, or just a tension release, as he watched the water swirl away the evidence of what he’d done. He didn’t even picture Reid when he did it and somehow that made it more acceptable in his mind. But then it became a shelter he fled to after a bad case, or a confrontation with Strauss, or an argument with Haley’s family; each time life knocked him back a step, he sought out that feeling of raw, naked power and the satisfaction it brought that was becoming an addiction to him. It wasn’t until several months after the Los Angeles case that Hotch realized the image of Reid’s face as he came had snuck into his masturbation fantasy. Hotch wasn’t sure when it had happened, but as he leaned heavily under the shower spray, gasping and shaking from a stronger than usual climax, he felt the shame of it hit him square in the chest. Reid’s face, frozen in time, still lurked in his mind when he closed his eyes. He didn’t know what was happening to him or who he was becoming. The fantasy was never quite as satisfying after that and Hotch quietly bore that disappointment along with all the others in his life.

The team was sent to Atlanta on a family annihilator case. It turned out to be a hard one for Reid when the team discovered that the UnSub was a high functioning autistic who had lost control when his wife threatened to divorce him and take his kids away. He’d been unable to express his anxiety and fear, and accidentally killed one of his children as a result. Then he decompensated, killed his remaining family, and went on a spree that shut down the city ending in a hostage negotiation that involved Reid’s unique talent for relating to the mentally altered. When the crisis was over and they were wrapping things up, Reid gave Hotch the standard non-chalant “I’m fine” but Hotch continued watching him in silence. He told himself it was professional concern. But when Hotch woke late that last evening before they flew home and found Reid’s bed empty, he knew that something was different this time. Hotch didn’t panic or hesitate; he rose from bed and quietly went to the closed bathroom door. He hadn’t caught Reid masturbating after that initial time in Tampa and wondered if Reid had stopped doing it or had become better at hiding it. Then Hotch wondered how long he’d been looking for this behavior from Reid whenever they roomed together. He realized that Reid had slowly taken up more and more space in his mind.

Standing outside the closed door, pulse thumping in his ears, he strained to hear anything. As before, there was nothing but silence and after a full minute in which Hotch’s propriety yelled at him to simply go back to bed, he caved into his need to know. He pushed the door open and it was almost an identical snapshot of the first time he’d seen Reid’s private side. Reid was in front of the sink, leaning hard on one hand while the other pumped his cock furiously. As before, his eyes were squeezed closed, in strain or shame Hotch couldn’t tell. Hotch watched Reid work, his own cock hardening in the process while he studiously ignored what that might signify. But something was off. Reid’s expression was pinched as if he were struggling, and though his pace was intense, he seemed stuck somehow. He appeared to have plateaued on a knife’s edge, neither able to find release or walk away and forget about the whole thing. And as Hotch watched, mesmerized again by this struggle, Reid moaned a single soft note of anguish that snapped something so quickly in Hotch that he found himself pushing through the doorway and striding up behind Reid before he could question it. He slid up against Reid’s back, the man’s movements jostling into Hotch and making him harder than he already was. One of Hotch’s hands went to Reid’s hip to steady him. He heard the shocked gasp, felt the body tense against him, and knew that Reid’s eyes were open staring at Hotch’s reflection in the mirror. Hotch shut his eyes then, not ready to see Reid’s reaction to this violation, and instead bent his face into Reid’s shoulder.

“Shhhh,” he breathed and waited to see what would happen next.

Reid didn’t make a sound and stopped moving entirely. Hotch only held him lightly at the hip, his body a warm line up Reid’s back but it was nothing that Reid couldn’t break free of if he wanted to. He waited, listening to Reid’s heavy breaths push in and out of him. His back pressed into Hotch’s chest a tiny bit each time he inhaled; Hotch thought that light contact alone would drive him nuts. When Reid didn’t move away, and Hotch still couldn’t bear to look at his reflection, he reached out his free hand blindly until it found Reid’s holding his cock. Again, Reid didn’t move or make a sound, but his chest stilled and Hotch thought he might be holding his breath. Hotch ran his fingers along the edge of Reid’s hand, felt the heat of his need rising from his skin, traced the sharp lines of tendons and bones until he skimmed along the fingers and came to the tight, solid weight of Reid’s cock. He ran his fingers along its length, reaching the tip and lightly swirling around the wetness cooling on its head. Reid’s chest moved expansively, breathing out once and then straightening and pushing back into Hotch so solidly that it nearly threw him off. Hotch felt his skin itch, tight and hot everywhere, as he swallowed down a groan produced by Reid’s pressure that trapped his cock between them. Hotch moved his face to lean against Reid’s neck. His eyes were still firmly shut but he could feel the flush of Reid’s skin. His breath came in staggered puffs as he wrapped his hand around Reid’s cock and took up the pace where Reid had left off.

Reid’s hand fell away, letting Hotch do what he wanted without guidance. He leaned back, letting Hotch bolster his weight as he gave in to what was happening. His neck arched, shifting his long hair and tickling Hotch’s face in the process. Hotch imagined what they looked like in his mind and was overcome by a throb that echoed through his body, then he was pumping his cock against the crack of Reid’s ass like it was the only thing he knew how to do. He felt powerful again. He wasn’t naked or all that vulnerable this time, but he was giving Reid what he desperately needed and taking a slice of his privacy in return. It felt like a secret that they urgently needed to share with one another - all other considerations faded into the background.

Reid felt amazing in his hand: heated and full, with a strange feel that was unique to him. It wasn’t like handling himself and then he realized that’s all he had it to compare to. Reid gasped quietly, his hips pumping, but Hotch wasn’t sure if that was because of what his hand was doing, or because of his own pressure from behind. He wondered if he was doing it right, if Reid was enjoying it. He wanted to ask but the question died in his throat. Then Reid’s hand landed on Hotch’s, fingers biting into his, and added force to the stroking, making the movement far rougher than before. Hotch groaned and pressed his mouth into Reid’s neck to silence it. His hand on Reid’s hip tightened as he slammed Reid against the counter and pulsed his cock into Reid’s back until it felt painful. Reid was breathing audibly now with every stroke, arching his hips as much as he could while being trapped by the counter and Hotch’s unrelenting grip.

Suddenly, Hotch wanted more. He wanted to squeeze Reid’s balls, feel their weight on his tongue, outline the curves of his ass and thighs with his teeth and lips. He’d never felt these things before, never thought about giving someone head or licking out a man’s ass but suddenly it all seemed possible and inviting and exciting. And it hit him all at once. The burn of it was searing his skin and he found himself pumping into Reid’s back fiercely. Just as he was considering what he could get away with, Reid pushed back against him with surprising force, the muscles in his back and arms tensing like steel ropes where they brushed together. Hotch’s cock screamed - impossibly full and trapped between their bodies - and then Reid’s body gave slightly and it was all the room Hotch needed. He burst in the tiny space between them. His back curled, his mouth fell open on Reid’s neck in a silent cry as wetness dampened his pants and his thrusts smeared it all over him. He felt lightheaded and was sure that if his eyes weren’t already closed that his vision would’ve faded out on him.

He kept pumping Reid mindlessly, brutally. It felt like the thing to do but also seemed to be an automatic impulse for him as he tried to recover. Reid’s fingers clawed at Hotch’s hand and his back arched dramatically as he gasped and hitched a few times. Then, with a tremendous intake of air, Reid ripped Hotch’s hand free to cup the head of his cock while Reid pumped himself through his orgasm. Hotch cracked an eyelid from where he was buried in Reid’s neck and watched his reflection as he came. It was like before - silent and intense, draining him completely. He gasped as if he couldn’t get enough air, he arched his back until he seemed impossibly tall, and he clamped his eyes shut like it was all too much to take in. Hotch felt him shoot into his hand again and again. Like before, it wasn’t over in an instant but took some time to work through. Though Hotch was drained, he found Reid’s climax arousing. It felt like Reid had staked Hotch out by coming on him; Hotch had definitely felt powerful, but at the last moment Reid had stolen some of that power back. Hotch liked that.

They sagged against one another, breathing hard and not saying anything for what seemed like forever. Reid didn’t look at them in the mirror and Hotch discovered that he couldn’t look away. He leaned his face solidly against Reid’s neck and felt the faint tattoo of his pulse beat into his skin. Resting like that, with his head and his hand still clutching Reid’s hip, he felt a certain something fall away from him. Though he couldn’t name it, he knew it felt good. After a time, Reid turned on the water, quickly rinsed Hotch’s hand and then his own before slipping from between Hotch and the counter. Hotch let him go wordlessly, feeling the loss of Reid’s back and shoulder once he heard the bathroom door click quietly behind him. It was only then that his intellect came back online.

He and Reid had just had sex.

He stared at himself in the mirror, hair cowlicked from sleep and skin flushed from exertion, and he finally asked himself what he had done. Splashing water on his face and trying to adjust his sticky sleepwear, he realized that he had no clue what would happen next. He took ages cleaning up, shaving, and making himself presentable for the day to come. It was too early but he knew he’d never get back to sleep. When he exited the bathroom, taking a deep breath and prepared to face whatever would meet him, he discovered he was alone in the room. Reid’s bed was made, his belongings were packed, and there was no sign of him. When Hotch headed down to the hotel restaurant at six a.m. he found Reid sitting alone, reading a book with two cups of coffee at his table. Hotch slid into the seat across from him just as Reid looked up.

“I’ve already ordered. I didn’t know what you wanted so I just got you a coffee instead.”

He smiled briefly and went back to his book. Hotch sat still and blinked. He guessed that meant they weren’t talking about it. He reached for the coffee and tried on his new reality for size.

“Thanks. Coffee’s good,” he mumbled.

A moment later the waitress arrived and took his breakfast order while Reid continued reading across from him.

They never did talk about it and things went on as they always had. It was months before the rotation put them in another hotel room together. Hotch tried to ignore how his masturbation fantasies had been reduced to just one about he and Reid in a bathroom. He tried to forget how often he’d jacked off to the memory in the intervening months. He hadn’t spent this much private time with his hand since he was a teenager. Still, the moment he dropped his go bag in the room with Reid he was half-hard. He sighed deeply and told himself to grow up.

The case involved multiple child abductions, which was bad enough, but then they discovered that it was in service of a multi-state prostitution ring. Child sex cases were a sore spot for most of the team and by the time they’d caught the initial targets and set up a task force to take the ring apart, everyone was snapping at one another and spending too much time alone seething about things. Hotch had called Jack so many times that the Marshals informed him he was becoming a security risk to their protective detail. He considered filing a complaint with the senior agent in charge and then thought better of it: you don’t burn professional relationships just because a case goes bad. And his family’s safety was too important.

He decided to take a shower instead and bleed off his anxiety in a more basic, private way. He’d refrained from indulging himself for the length of the case, but now that their part was over, and Reid happened to be out to dinner with J.J. and Morgan, he felt safe enough to let go. It didn’t take long to get soaped up and in the right headspace, but even so he was having difficulty getting there. His memory of Reid was usually enough but this time his brain was crowded with the faces of mistreated children and angry teammates and thoughts of Jack who was growing up without him.

Suddenly the shower door opened and Reid stepped in, naked, and with a confusing expression of anger and apology on his face. Hotch went completely still, his face flaming and with his hand still curled around his cock. Reid dipped under the spray, getting wet all over and then slicking his hair away from his face. He sighed as if it had been ages since he’d rested and then turned to Hotch. He stepped forward; close enough that Hotch could sense his body but not near enough to touch. He stared at Hotch for a long moment and then his gaze slid down Hotch’s frame to his cock. Hotch swallowed hard, still unable to say anything and then looked down Reid’s body. He watched as Reid’s dick stiffened and it sent a crest of want through Hotch that eclipsed his jerk-off fantasy and reinvigorated his hard-on. Hotch didn’t know if it was okay that they were doing this again, that they were coming together over another stark emotional hangover. It felt like a drug you took to block out reality and that would make then both addicts engaging in enabling behavior. Just then Hotch felt fingers along his jaw as a palm settled against his neck. He looked up and into Reid’s face: his expression suggested that he knew what Hotch was debating inside his head. His eyes told him that he understood, but also that he didn’t give a rat’s ass about it in that moment. He needed it too.

Hotch stepped into Reid, the warmth and assurance of his body against him enough to send a new throb through him. He released his cock and then reached for one of Reid’s hands. He slowly guided it to him until Reid wrapped his long fingers around him as they both sighed. Hotch’s hand then slid up and tangled in Reid’s wet hair. He pulled their heads together and let his eyes slip closed as he rested his forehead against Reid. Reid moved his hand along Hotch’s cock experimentally, mapping him out and gauging his reactions. Hotch wondered if Reid had ever been with another man. Was handling another cock as strange an experience to him as it had been for Hotch? Questions bubbled up in him. He knew that he should ask them but the silence between he and Reid suddenly felt a little sacred and he didn’t want to be the one who ruined that.

Reid’s other hand slid to Hotch’s hip and pulled them together. Hotch moaned as softly as he could and then opened his eyes and looked down at them both. He’d never seen Reid naked and was surprised that he appeared as fit as he was; Hotch had always just thought of him as skinny, not toned. Their hips rolled gently together in time with Reid’s stroking. Hotch was leaking along Reid’s forearm but he was impressed to see that Reid was also leaking where his cock was trapped between his pelvis and Hotch’s thigh. They were flushed, smooth, and flexing, their hair made darker by the water streaming down their bodies; the word that came to Hotch’s mind was that they were ‘beautiful’ together like that.

Reid buried his face in Hotch’s neck and Hotch felt him choke a little against him. Maybe he was hiding as Hotch had hidden before. Hotch let him have that, his hand tightening in his hair to let him know it was okay. Reid’s hand left Hotch’s hip and reached for his fingers drawing them down to Reid’s cock. Then he stopped stroking Hotch and lined up their cocks together. Pressing as close as he could, Reid let them slide against each other as their hips continued to flex. Hotch could feel everything - balls, hair, straining muscles, soapy skin - and he thought he might end right there in that instant. Reid whimpered against him and it brought him back from the edge. A moment later, Reid wrapped both of their hands around their cocks and Hotch echoed Reid’s whine. They pumped together gently, but soon with increasing effort and strength. Reid gasped first and Hotch’s eyes flashed to his face for an instant before looking down to witness him spurt out over them both. Hotch followed a second later, groaning like something wild as he sprayed himself over their clenched hands.

He stumbled them clumsily back under the shower spray until he had Reid pinned to the wall. He pressed his face hard against Reid’s neck and gulped in air and his scent as the water ran over them and washed them clean. Reid held him close for a few minutes, one hand rising up Hotch’s spine and circling in the short hairs at the back of his neck. It felt like language of some kind but Hotch was too exhausted, too relieved to figure it out. When Reid pulled away, exiting the shower as quietly as he’d entered it, Hotch knew that he’d missed an opportunity. Silence is not an easily understood dialect, and once the shower door closed, he knew they’d never talk about this incident either. He went to bed that night and didn’t sleep wondering if Reid, who was just six feet away from him, was awake and wanting to talk as well.

Three weeks later Haley was murdered and it felt as though Hotch’s entire life had collapsed in one day. The option to retire was no longer an idea but an urgent suggestion from Strauss, and considering how empty and useless he felt, he wasn’t sure he had the resources left to battle her on it. And Jack needed him more than ever - he was all the little boy had now. But no matter how much Hotch wanted it, living for his son wasn’t enough. The problem wasn’t feeling too much, it was the complete absence of feeling. He was numb everywhere and toward everyone. He needed something to spark feeling again; he needed it so he could love his son through the death of his mother, if not for his own wellbeing. He’d take pain, anger, hatred - anything that was a genuine emotion and not something he mimicked to convince people he was okay. He just didn’t know how to do it and he couldn’t admit that to anyone. He hoped that if he kept moving forward as he always did, somehow feeling would return to him.

After being relieved of SSAC duties, he thought he might experience hatred or jealously, but nothing came of it. When he ended a case with a dangerous standoff, he thought he’d feel thrilled or scared, but even when Morgan chewed him out for his actions he didn’t feel anything, not even guilt or contrition for what he’d done to his teammates in the process. It wasn’t working. He went back to his room (one of the few cases where everyone got a room to themselves) and packed for home, then he poured himself some mini bar booze and sat in the dark because neither the thought of going home nor the possibility of sleep stirred anything in him.

Two drinks into his evening a knock sounded at his door. He ignored it but when it happened again, he called out that it was open not at all concerned that he was tipsy and nowhere near his weapon. Reid’s silhouette slouched into the room and then blended into the darkness when he shut the door behind him. Hotch didn’t say anything and waited for him to show himself. When he did, hovering as a grey outline in the moonlight streaming through the windows, Hotch fervently prayed that he’d become aroused. A dick twitch, a rise in temperature, a dry mouth - any damned little thing to tell him that he was still alive and human - but all he got was the overwhelming thought that he’d never feel ever again.

“What do you want?” he croaked out, hoping like hell that Reid wasn’t there to tell him how sorry he was or to offer help that was useless in every single way.

Reid shrugged in the dimness but didn’t say anything. Hotch should’ve been angry, but that would’ve been an emotion, so he just sighed instead and thought there was something calming about Reid’s silence and his not wanting anything. Hotch drank a little more while Reid watched. He didn’t offer Reid a seat or a glass of his own and Reid didn’t demand either. In time Reid came a few steps closer, like he was approaching a wounded animal. And from out of nowhere that irked Hotch.

“What?” he snapped, and Reid stopped in mid-stride. “If you’re here to babysit me, you can get out right now. I’m not in danger, certainly not from myself.”

Reid held his ground but still didn’t say a word.

“You have to be able to feel something before you can want to do anything about it,” he mumbled as an afterthought and felt a momentary twinge of exposure that he’d said it aloud.

He heard Reid gasp and his face burned with embarrassment. Each time he’d been with Reid had been about feeling powerful, relieved, lighter in an inexplicable way; he didn’t want Reid to see him outside of those boundaries. That seemed like… too much reality, too far to fall, and there was something about this impossible thing they had that he wanted to keep unmarred and perfect. It was a stupid impulse, already ruined by his reckless behavior that could no longer be ignored, and it made him want to walk away from everything and never come back to face the consequences of it.

“Get out,” he said too softly so that the words had no punch.

He felt Reid came to rest before him as he sat staring at his half-full tumbler in the gloom. It was going to take more to push him away; he’d have to show him that he was stronger, more in control than he actually was. Part of him bit down on the sharp flash of anxiety he experienced when he thought this is how we end it. He sat straighter in his chair and met Reid’s eyes squarely.

“Get out of here, Reid. I mean it,” he growled threateningly.

Reid leaned forward, dropping his hand to Hotch’s shoulder and Hotch quickly looked away. Reid’s hand squeezed, as if saying “Please look at me” but that just made it worse. Hotch swallowed hard, feeling his chest ache and his face blush. And then, almost perversely, he felt his dick twitch. All he could think was Really? but then had to admit that he’d hoped for something like that to begin with. The fact that Reid could just touch him and elicit that sort of reaction when Hotch couldn’t even muster tears or rage over his dead ex-wife left him sick to his stomach. And there it was: shame. He felt shame and guilt and a deviant urge to come all over himself simply because he was alive and he could, and because Haley would never be able to feel those things ever again.

His eyes got hot and his vision blurred as he breathed hard and tried to rein all of it back somehow. Maybe feeling was overrated when all you could experience were mean, base drives that no civilized person would admit to in grief. He felt fingers along his jaw lifting his gaze upwards. Reid looked at him as if his pain were his own. Hotch didn’t want that, he didn’t want Reid to know what was going on behind his eyes. He wanted Reid to continue to believe that he was strong or noble or whatever the hell he’d always thought about Hotch before all of this happened. He tried to break Reid’s grip but it tightened and Reid lowered himself so that he was eye level with Hotch, just inches from him. His expression hardened as if saying, “You’re not shaking me off”.

Hotch’s whole being flared with a need to hide away - he didn’t want Reid’s care or understanding no matter how miraculously enticing it seemed. A thought raced through Hotch’s mind and he felt certain that it would be enough to make Reid walk away. He suddenly grabbed Reid’s hand from his jaw and lowered it to his crotch wrapping it around his hard-on. That should do it. He blinked away a new wave of shame as he did it, this time for the disservice he was doing to Reid, and breathed out a stuttered gasp that sounded like a wordless apology. Hotch’s hand abandoned Reid’s as he waited for Reid to back away in disgust, but his hand remained where it was, a warm weight on his rapidly stiffening cock. Then Reid’s grip squeezed making Hotch look up at him again.

“It’s okay,” Reid whispered.

Hotch let out a single sob but his face stayed dry. How was any of this okay? His wife was dead and he didn’t feel anything but the urge to fuck his subordinate whom he’d been silently harassing for months. He felt like a monstrous caricature of the man he used to be. When had he become so horribly and selfishly twisted? He whimpered Reid’s name without meaning to and again Reid whispered, “It’s okay” a moment before he leaned his forehead into Hotch and his hand began to work at Hotch’s belt.

“No,” Hotch murmured, making a last ditch effort to be a good person.

Reid ignored him, the hand on Hotch’s shoulder skimming up until it cradled the back of his head and massaged it in slow circles. Hotch moaned again, wet and low, because it felt so good, so much more comforting than he felt he deserved, and it was just heartbreaking that Reid could overlook all of Hotch’s flaws to give him that. Then Reid dropped to his knees and wriggled between Hotch’s thighs. Hotch tensed everywhere but Reid’s response was to shush him as his other hand successfully undid the belt and lowered the zipper. Then Reid’s hand was in Hotch’s boxers, cupping him in warmth and sending a spike a lust through him sharp enough to draw blood. Reid stroked him firmly, with strange authority, a few times in Hotch’s shorts until he was insistently hard, and then he wormed Hotch free into the cool of the room’s A/C with his waistband under his balls. Hotch tried to push Reid away again, this time with a hand on his shoulder and in a weak, half-hearted sort of way. Reid just gave him a stony look and then dipped down taking Hotch into his mouth without warning.

He wasn’t prepared for a blowjob. The claustrophobic wet heat, the sweet pressure of Reid’s tongue, and the slip of his soft sucking nearly had Hotch coming like a virgin who’d never been touched before. He withstood it for a long, anxious minute fascinated by the rise and fall of Reid’s tangled curls and the intoxicating sound of his mouth slipping over him, taking him in deep. Then he couldn’t handle it; he struggled, actually physically struggled in his chair, so much so that Reid backed off, looking up at him with concern. Hotch pulled him up and off with effort trying to breathe carefully and keep his climax at bay a while longer.

“I’m not shooting into your mouth,” he growled and Reid looked slightly disappointed. “I feel too dirty to do that to you.”

Reid was winding up a response when Hotch grabbed his hand and wrapped it around his cock, using both of their hands to rub him violently.

“Just make me come… just this,” he gasped, watching them work together. “It’s fine if I only come on myself.”

Hotch worked them hard, breathing through his mouth and clutching the back of Reid’s neck painfully as he clasped him close in a half crouch that must have been awkward. He just focused on the force of their fingers, the angry irritation of his dick, and the sluggish, heavy pressure lurking just behind his balls. He gulped away any thoughts as to why Reid was doing this, or what Hotch’s confused reaction said about him, or Haley, or Reid. It didn’t take long and Hotch whined in relief when he shot all over their hands and up along his chest staining his shirt. He let Reid’s hand go and milked himself until he went limp in his grip, gasping until the pain in his lungs and heart eased. Then he tried to bolster himself, straightened his back in the chair, and fixed Reid with a serious glare.

“Now you,” he murmured.

He could see that Reid was straining against his pants but the look on his face suggested that it wasn’t an option. But Hotch had other plans; only half of his need had been fulfilled.

“Pull yourself out and stroke until you come on me. I’m not going to touch you.”

Reid looked as if Hotch had asked him to participate in a ritual killing.

“Remember that first time in Atlanta?” Hotch used his most convincing prosecutor’s tone. “When you came, you made me catch it, like… you were marking me with it. I want that again. I want to feel like I deserve that recognition, because right now… I just feel usurious and ashamed…”

Reid’s eyes narrowed and Hotch knew instantly what he objected to.

“That’s how I feel because I can react to you but I can’t react to anything else. That makes me feel dirty because I’m using you just so I can feel again, and you shouldn’t be a means to an end for anyone. Least of all me.”

Reid didn’t move or speak as his expression changed from suspicion to something unreadable. Hotch reached out hesitantly, holding Reid’s stare as he did so. His hands landed on Reid’s fly and remained there, just a gentle pressure against his erection that he could either accept or push away.

“You made me feel something tonight - for the first time since she died and I’m grateful. You’ll never know how much. But it’s shame and I don’t want that to be the only thing I feel for you here… now. I don’t want to taint this - whatever it is - between us.”

The words caught in his throat and he had to stop, clear away the hesitation roughly, and then finish. “Please, Spencer, do this for me.”

A white-hot thread of panic flashed through Hotch when he considered that Reid might refuse him. Somewhere in their silent ‘whatever it was’ Hotch had come to depend on Reid, and since they never spoke of it, he had no idea if that expectation was allowed. All that Hotch was sure of was that Reid made him feel things. Not just now, in the new shade of grief, but consistently, since that first secret glimpse through a bathroom door years ago. Hotch didn’t want to use him - he was worth more to him than that - but he didn’t know how to say it.

Reid’s hands circled Hotch’s wrists and pulled them away from his pants. For an instant, Hotch thought that Reid would simply walk out on him. But instead he unzipped his fly and wiggled his cock free, flushed and already damp at the tip, and began to pump himself with the most serious expression Hotch had ever seen on him. Hotch stared back keeping eye contact even as Reid’s breathing hitched and he rolled his eyes, licking his lips as he stroked himself faster and faster. In time, Reid dropped his head back and let out a loud gasp just before his spine curled and he staggered a step closer to the chair spraying his release across Hotch’s chest. Reid’s aim was frantic, a little out of his control, and flecks landed everywhere from Hotch’s thighs to one, lone speck on his chin. Reid rolled his head forward as his orgasm eased, meeting Hotch’s gaze with a heavy-lidded question. Hotch just smiled, the kind of smile he only showed off once every few years.

“Thank you,” he whispered, truly touched.

Reid stumbled and then dropped to his knees again, limp cock still dangling outside his fly. Hotch’s hands went to grab him and then stopped realizing that he was a mess. Reid reached out with his free hand and cupped Hotch’s face drawing him forward until they met in a rushed kiss. Hotch tensed but didn’t pull away, Reid just held on like Hotch was his source of oxygen. Hotch tried to ease into it and when Reid began moving, tugging softly at his lips, Hotch melted. He wanted to reach out, to hold him, but he was sticky and still wary of tainting Reid. Reid continued on without the physical reassurance until breathlessness forced them apart. Then he dipped back in quickly and licked the spot of come he’d left on Hotch’s chin. Hotch blinked at him in wonder, and Reid smiled back for the first time, all blush and bruised lips.

“S’okay,” he breathed, keeping Hotch’s face close. “Take anything you want from me. Anything.”

Hotch stared at Reid and for a moment he felt nothing at all. He started to think that his relief had only been temporary. But then Reid’s statement detonated in him like a grenade and suddenly all he could do was feel. Sadness, gratitude, loss, acceptance, exhaustion, relief, connection, understanding… it happened all at once and all much too much. He breathed hard for a couple of heartbeats, blinking too rapidly, and then he broke, gasping, tears streaming down his face and suddenly clutching Reid as close as he could manage, stains be damned. He tried to say something, but it only came out as inarticulate, mournful sounds. Reid pressed his lips to Hotch’s to silence him. Hotch could feel the smile still curling his mouth as he murmured a litany of “It’s okay” over and over until Hotch stopped trembling. He thought that he’d never feel this grateful for someone ever again.

When they boarded the jet the following morning, Hotch felt lighter, as if years of burdens had moved on. He knew it was just a beginning, but his relief at taking the first step to recovery was palpable. Soon his mood spread to the others who found their sharp tongues and serious thoughts burn away in favor of idle chatter and much needed sleep. Morgan stared at him with a curious squiggle to his brow but Hotch didn’t look over to Reid, hoping instead that he could just trust that the man was smiling along with everyone else. After that, there was never a question in Hotch’s mind as to whether he’d ever be with Reid again, but there were always questions about when and why and what does it mean. And they continued not mentioning any of it to each other as if their silence was a pact they had grudgingly agreed to.

One night six months after Haley’s death, Reid showed up at Hotch’s condo when he knew that Jack would be with his aunt.

“If you’re not ready for this, just tell me to go,” was all he said, but Hotch dragged him in off the stoop and slammed him hard against a wall as if he’d said the filthiest thing imaginable instead.

It was the first time they’d ever been together on home turf and it was also the first time that they didn’t worry about making noise. Hotch was wholly unprepared for how erotic he found Reid to be, unbound and in full voice. The sound of Hotch’s name falling from Reid’s lips when he screamed into the mattress or bit it into Hotch’s skin could undo him for days. After that first time, Hotch didn’t feel hesitant about showing up at Reid’s place. They didn’t set up a schedule, and it wasn’t always a regular thing, but Hotch knew that he’d never be turned away when he arrived, even if all Reid offered him was a warm embrace while he slept. He still didn’t understand why Reid gave himself so freely; he wanted to know what Reid saw that moved him that way. But he found he couldn’t ask, too afraid to discover that Reid’s answer might be a mirage. He told himself that he just wanted to enjoy this slice of contentment and not let brain ruin it for him.

A few months after they began their back-and-forth, Hotch showed up at Reid’s apartment and silently offered him a key to his condo. Reid just nodded, half of his mouth lifting in a smile, as he reached into his wallet and offered Hotch a key of his own. Hotch blushed, moved by the synchronicity. The sex that night had been spectacular, leaving him sore for days and aching for more. But even after that, they rarely talked and their work behavior wouldn’t lead anyone to believe that they were more than friendly colleagues. Hotch still wondered about Reid’s private life, even though he was undeniably a part of it, and questioned whether he’d ever get any satisfactory answers about that. He needed Reid, but there was always doubt in his mind as to whether Reid needed him. The further they went along, the more that doubt grew.

Then Hotch helped Prentiss fake her death in order to chase Ian Doyle. He knew that it was just a matter of time until Reid discovered the role he played in it. Reid grieved so openly, so painfully at her ‘death’. Hotch sat through countless nights watching Reid cry, wordless and impotent, knowing that every day he withheld the truth from Reid it got exponentially worse. After a few months, Hotch stopped going around to Reid’s place, unable to hide his guilt and anxiety long enough for even the quickest of fucks. Reid took it as rejection for some unknown offense, his attitude evolving from confusion through sadness and finally, resentment. Hotch watched in paralyzed silence as Reid drifted from him. He ached as he saw him struggle through his headaches; he burned with jealousy when he learned that Reid had retreated to Rossi for advice and support. He bled inwardly at the lie that he didn’t want to keep, and the equilibrium-altering loss of Reid’s calm, giving assurance. And then when Prentiss returned, it just magnified everything tenfold. Reid’s anger was a physical thing, snapping out at anyone who got too close, adding this betrayal to the long list he’d already lived through and was incapable of forgetting. Hotch’s stomach soured when he thought about how Reid had cut his father out of his life, never to be forgiven. His own quiet apology one night in his office shortly after the close of the Doyle case was met with stony silence and a lack of eye contact. As much as Hotch wanted to explain, to ask for understanding, he knew the body language was Reid’s refusal to listen.

Reid started disappearing during lunch breaks. At first it was just here and there but it eventually became almost a regular occurrence. Hotch’s morbid curiosity was tweaked, fearing that maybe Reid was using again. He used that fear to justify behavior that turned him from a rejected lover to a creepy stalker. One afternoon he followed Reid as he escaped Quantico and ended up meeting a man at a local restaurant. Hotch was enraged and humiliated in the driver’s seat of his SUV in the restaurant parking lot. He sped away minutes later, knuckles turning white on the steering wheel as he resolved to wean himself off his delusional hopes about Reid. They’d never discussed what it was, and clearly, after months of increasing silence, Reid was done with him. It was only when he’d returned to his office and sat scowling at the afternoon sunlight streaming through his windows that the anger subsided and the pain of the loss flared up brightly. Sitting there, breathing like he’d been sliced open by Foyet’s blade again, he realized what it meant.

Like a masochist, he followed Reid two more times that week. At first he was confused when Reid met a different person - a woman - during lunch. But when the following outing saw Reid having lunch with a third stranger, everything snapped into place for Hotch. It didn’t ease the pain he felt at all, but his jealousy evaporated overnight. The final straw occurred when Hotch and Reid came up in the rooming rotation during a case, but when Hotch let himself into the Marriott suite he found J.J. unpacking her go bag with a smile instead. He figured that Reid had every right to avoid him for personal reasons if that’s what he wanted, but Hotch still had a responsibility to manage the team. He waited the case out, spent his off-time talking with J.J. about their sons, and tried not to think about how much he missed Reid’s weight next to him in bed. When they returned to Virginia, he decided it was time and beckoned Reid to his office from the bullpen with the wordless double-finger-point of a SSAC to a subordinate. Reid shuffled into his office, his face a perfect mask of blank professionalism.

“I know that you’re considering your options and your future at the Bureau,” Hotch began bluntly.

After his realization, it had been quick work to i.d. Reid’s lunch partners and the interests they represented. He watched Reid’s face for a reaction but all he saw was the wan complexion, the dark circles, and the complete exhaustion.

“I’ll give you the proper notice if and when I make any decision,” Reid sighed and then waited. “Is there anything else? Do you want the opportunity to talk me out of it?”

Hotch was shocked by Reid’s blasé tone and then did the math realizing that they hadn’t had a personal conversation in months. Perhaps that was long enough to break any connection Reid may have felt towards him. He straightened his shoulders and sat back in his chair.

“That’s not my job.” His fingers pressed into his desk blotter until the tips turned white.

Reid continued staring, slouched and unreadable, waiting for who knows what. A half-minute of pointed silence followed and then he shrugged, adjusting his bag as he turned to leave without another word. Hotch’s breath abandoned him, his stomach heaved ominously, and he suddenly found himself on his feet out beside his desk trying to shake off the subtle bindings that being a leader, and Reid’s boss, imposed on him.

“As a SSAC, I can’t compel you to stay,” he said quietly, trying to mask the urgency in his voice. Reid turned to face him. “But… I’m asking you… don’t leave. For purely personal reasons.”

Reid gave him a hard look. “What would those reasons be?”

Hotch swallowed thickly but it didn’t help. When he spoke, his voice was a rusty croak. “I need you.”

He saw the disbelief on Reid’s face and suddenly took a few hurried steps forward to match the tumble of words falling out of him.

“I know that lying about Prentiss angered you, hurt you, and I won’t defend that decision because… there is no defense. Nevertheless, it had to be done and I did it. If it was just you I had to consider, then I never would’ve agreed to lie.”

“It wasn’t just the lie, Hotch. You pushed me away long before I found out.”

“Can you imagine how difficult it was to keep that information from the one person I never wanted to lie to? You know me, Spencer… you know me like no one else. I was terrified that you’d guess, or see the guilt I felt at keeping you in the dark. And your grief for her… it was so raw, so sharp. It was tearing me apart that I was contributing to it.” Hotch’s vision got blurry and he blinked to regain some composure. “What choice did I have but to not let you see all of that?”

Reid started blinking too but his face remained immovable and pale. Hotch assumed that he was thinking over arguments in his mind.

“Maybe it’s too late for apologies. Maybe we spent years not saying the things that would’ve made this moment a lot more believable to you. But that case after Haley died… when you told me to take whatever I needed from you… that changed everything for me, Spence. And I’ve loved you ever since.”

Reid’s eyes locked on Hotch’s. Hotch took a huge breath and another step forward.

“If you feel that leaving is your only option then I won’t stand in your way. But if there’s even a sliver of a chance that you believe me, please don’t go. You are categorically irreplaceable, you transform every life that you touch, and if you choose to walk away, it will change everything for me again. I’ll never be the same.”

Reid’s throat moved but nothing came out. Otherwise he remained still, like a snapshot rather than a living, breathing person.

“I never said the words,” Hotch whispered eventually, feeling his face get hot as the moments ticked by and his plea seemed to have little effect. “I never told you that I wanted you to take whatever you needed from me too. It’s such a tremendous gift to give like that, Spence… I wanted to be that kind of man. I tried but I let you down. I’ll keep trying though. Until you tell me to stop.”

Hotch waited a moment longer and then took a hesitant step forward that seemed to snap Reid from his trace. He backed away and adjusted his bag over his shoulder restlessly.

“I need to think about this,” he said quietly, staring at a patch of carpet near Hotch’s desk.

“Okay,” Hotch gulped and nodded even though Reid wasn’t looking at him.

Reid waited another beat and then walked out of Hotch’s office with his eyes trained on his feet. Hotch watched him go and couldn’t help but wonder if that was the last time they’d speak to one another.

What followed were two agonizing days at the office where he did nothing but stare out into the bullpen playing out depressing Reid-free scenarios in his head, and one tortured Saturday with Jack before the boy threw a tantrum at his distraction and demanded to be taken to Jessica’s place because “she likes me and she has a Playstation”. Hotch tried to assure his son that he loved him and he was sorry, but the boy just stuck out his lip and brushed away his tears pretending not to care. In the end, Hotch gave in, and on the drive back from Jessica’s apartment he wondered dejectedly if he was just that bad at convincing people that he loved them.

It was well past sundown when the knock came at his front door. It snapped him out of his funk and he realized that he’d been sitting in the dark lost in his head. He rose from his chair, turning some lights on in the living room as he made his way to the door. Through the peephole he saw Reid shuffling back and forth, and his body instantly became this energized arrow pointing at him, swinging the door open quick enough to startle his guest.

“Whoa… hey,” Reid mumbled.

“Why didn’t you use your key?” Hotch wasn’t interested in pleasantries.

Reid blinked, caught off guard. “It didn’t seem right somehow. I need you to invite me in for this.”

Hotch swallowed and made a gesture inviting Reid into his condo. He scuffed through the hallway and wandered into the living room on instinct; it was the only room that was lit. And then he turned and faced Hotch distractedly.

“Where’s Jack?”

“At his aunt’s.”

“Oh.” Reid rolled on his heels and then he got straight to it. “I came to tell you I’m not leaving.”

Hotch tried to breathe through the squeezing across his chest and the pounding in his ears. He thought he did a good job of masking it when he just coughed and carried on the conversation like Reid’s sentence hadn’t just set off the Fourth of July behind his rib cage.

“Can you tell me why?”

“There are plenty of reasons, but only one that swayed the balance for me.” Reid walked across the living room taking in the pictures on Hotch’s mantel like their talk was an afterthought. Hotch waited for more, because, with Reid, there was always more. Reid turned back to look at him, shoving his hands in his pockets as if he were trying to make himself smaller.

“You know, there were times when I couldn’t sleep, when night surrounded us in our bed…”

‘Our bed’? Hotch held his breath as he waited on a man who understood the power of language.

“I’d look at you - look at us - just lying there… entwined and peaceful... A kind of overpowering wave would take hold of me in those moments, obliterating everything else. It felt too big for me and sometimes I was afraid that it would obliterate me too. But then I realized I was just a conduit. That incredible feeling just flowed through me to you. I didn’t have to worry about where I’d keep it - it was with you, and there’d always be more if you needed a little extra. Sometimes I wanted to wake you and tell you… but I never did. I loved like that, on my own, for a long time.”

Hotch just watched in stunned silence as Reid shrugged through his confession. It felt surreal, as if he were delivering a profile and got his notes mixed up. He suddenly looked up and met Hotch’s bewildered gaze.

“I didn’t know you loved me. And you didn’t know that I love you. It’s been six years, eighty-seven days, fourteen hours… right up to this minute. It still flows through me even when we’re apart and hurting. I hated the lie, Aaron, but that wasn’t what was driving me away. What I hated more was that all of that time didn’t appear to mean much to you. At least, I thought it didn’t…”

“Didn’t mean much?” Hotch stuttered as he tried to wrap his head around what Reid had just dropped on him. “Six years?!?

“Maybe it’s a stretch to define the feeling from the first time you spied me jerking off…” Reid ducked his gaze away again. “It definitely wasn’t love then, but I did appreciate that you acted as if you’d never seen it to avoid embarrassing us both.”

“You knew that I saw you in Tampa?” He could’ve sworn that Reid’s eyes had been closed the entire time.

Reid nodded. “I was terrified that it would be the end of my career in the Unit. Especially on the heels of the fallout from Georgia… But you continued to treat me like I deserved to be there. That went a long way towards solidifying my recovery.”

“Spencer, you’ve always earned your place on the team,” Hotch murmured, taking a step into the living room. “Your addiction wasn’t something you brought on yourself.”

“Still,” Reid shuffled and tried to look anywhere but at Hotch. “I was on my own then. It was a frightening time for me and your consideration eased it. You gave me what I needed without even being aware of it. When Haley died… I just wanted to do the same for you. I never… I never thought…” Reid’s voice cut out and he just stared out the front window instead.

“You never thought that it would mean something to me?” Hotch offered quietly.

Reid swallowed hard and nodded. Then he looked back at Hotch. “I never thought you’d love me.”

Hotch made an angry sound deep in his throat and strode further into the living room. He stopped six feet in front of Reid.

“Christ, Spencer,” he growled, causing Reid’s whole frame to tense as if he had to be ready for anything. “We should’ve talked more.”

There was a split second of silence between them before Reid barked out a laugh that shook his body and then he stepped into Hotch sliding his arms around him easily. Hotch found himself grinning into Reid’s neck as he wrapped him up and squeezed. It felt like a small miracle to feel Reid under his hands again, to smell him, to have the knowledge of love hanging over them both…

“So you’re really not leaving?” Hotch whispered in a shaky way.

“Nope.” Reid brushed the word into the skin of Hotch’s neck, making him shiver. “But for the record, I’m still pretty steamed about the Prentiss thing.”

“And I’m not too happy that you kept your feelings to yourself for six years,” Hotch grumbled back, squeezing him tighter regardless. “It’s sort of disturbing that you thought of me as an insensitive bastard that whole time, and you kept allowing me to do it to you with impunity.”

“‘Insensitive bastard’ is strong terminology.” Reid looked at him. “I just thought that you felt I was… convenient. That’s all. I was happy to give you what you needed but I couldn’t handle it when you pushed me away. I didn’t understand what I’d done wrong.”

“Spencer,” Hotch’s voice came out dangerously uneven. All he could think was how could I have done that to him after everything he’s given to me? “Take whatever you want from me. Everything. I want you to.”

Reid blinked as he blushed. Hotch dipped in and kissed him, savoring the soft unhurriedness of it. “I’m sorry it took me so long to tell you. This is… I’ve never felt anything like this and ‘love’ is just the insufficient word that comes closest to describing it.”

Reid appeared to need to reboot his brain in the wake of that statement. “We’ve got some work to do here, if we’re going to turn this into something lasting.”

“I know. But I’m not afraid of a little work,” Hotch smiled, stroking Reid’s jaw absently. He’d work like slave labor to make things right between them. “Are you?”

Reid shook his head, no, and gave Hotch a smile that went miles towards bolstering his belief that they could do this. It gave him some of his power back and made him feel as if he could accomplish anything. And, as it turned out, ‘hard work’ was the new gear Reid shifted into as they eased back together. It inspired Hotch that Reid would offer a full-hearted second chance as readily as he’d offered other comfort in the past; he didn’t let the opportunity go to waste. They spent time talking and not fucking, working through the logistics of being a boss and subordinate, as well as figuring out who they were as two guys who realized they were becoming increasingly indispensable to one another.

Hotch worked up to explaining it all to Jack, and when Jack asked why he was in love with a man instead of a woman, Hotch told him that it wasn’t the gender that mattered, only the person inside the skin.

“Spencer comforts me, he protects me, and he cares for me even though I make a lot of mistakes. It feels like no one will hurt me if he’s around.”

Jack gave him a confused look and Hotch strained to find a less nebulous, romantic justification for the attraction.

“He’s like a German Shepard,” Hotch added lamely feeling his face heat up.

“He’s a guard dog?” Jack seemed dubious but also perked up at the mention of dogs.

“Sort of. You know how dogs love and protect their people if they’re treated well? That’s how he is with me. He wants me to be happy, and that makes him happy too.”

Jack giggled and Hotch was mortified by the analogy, but it worked. And Jack started calling Reid ‘Pooch’ whenever he visited. The nickname meant that Hotch had to be mortified all over again as he explained his talk with Jack to Reid and watched as Reid turned almost purple with embarrassment. But eventually Reid started mock barking and growling whenever Jack teased him, and so Hotch wrote the whole thing off as a strange bonding moment for them.

Figuring out how to fit ‘them’ into work was another thing entirely. After the time in Atlanta, Hotch had quietly removed himself - on paper at least - as Reid’s supervisor. He’d convinced Rossi to take over Reid’s personnel evaluations and performance reviews by claiming that he was trying to reduce his workload so he could have more of a personal life, which Rossi had always encouraged. Rossi never questioned the move or looked into Hotch’s motivations. So, technically speaking, there wasn’t a work conflict between them so long as they kept things professional on the job. But they still had to let the team know somehow… It just felt wrong to keep it from them.

In the end, Reid came up with the solution and it was: just act like this has always been. Hotch found it appealing; anything that did an end run around further German Shepard-like explanations was fine by him. So, one night when the team was out celebrating and Reid slung a casual arm around Hotch’s shoulders while laughing at one of Morgan’s stories, Hotch looked at him and knew the time had come. They were both just drunk enough not to overthink it, and as they laughed, Reid gave him a moment to make up his mind and Hotch nodded ever so slightly in answer. Reid leaned in, tugging Hotch close with the arm hooked around his neck, and kissed him. It was soft and familiar, not in any way friendly, but when they broke apart a moment later they were both still laughing as if it hadn’t happened. The bar was noisy but Hotch could tell that the laughter around them had died down. He just kept his eyes on Reid.

“They’re watching,” Reid murmured in the din, still smiling.

Hotch grinned back. “Let them watch. This has always been, remember? Nothing to see here.” And then he dipped back in for another kiss.

They let it last longer than the first one and when they slipped apart Reid’s amusement had changed into something darker and more liquid. “Well, now I want to take you somewhere that people can’t see us,” he growled.

“Sounds good. Why don’t you go get us a cab. I’ll settle up here.”

Reid slid away and no one said a thing to him. Then Hotch turned to face the team and was met with a flurry of averted glances and awkward not-really conversations as everyone pretended not to notice. A corner of his mouth lifted in a smirk: Reid had been right about that after all. His eyes flicked over to Rossi who was the only person staring directly at him. Rossi waited a beat and then cocked an eyebrow, Oh really? Hotch responded by raising both of his eyebrows slowly and deliberately, What? They stared each other down like that for a full minute before Rossi caved first and waved Hotch off with a dismissive huff. He looked away towards the others but Hotch saw his mouth curl upwards as he did it. Hotch chuckled to himself as he stood, flicked a few bills from his wallet and dropped them on the table, and then leisurely followed Reid out to the street with a shit-eating grin on his face. He grabbed Reid by the lapels of his coat and drew him in as if the man was going to be his next meal, and then they went back to Reid’s place and fucked like the world was ending.

It suddenly seemed to Hotch as if everything had lined itself up. In the early glow of dawn as they lay tangled up with Hotch watching Reid sleep for once, he no longer felt as though his life was about moving forward through inertia; now, it was leading somewhere - to the person curled against his side, and beyond. He woke Reid slowly in order to tell him, first stroking his hair, then his skin, and then finally to a luxurious orgasm. They ended up pressed together, sweating and panting, Hotch still unable to stop his hands from skimming over the person who changed it all for him.

“What was that for?” Reid gasped, a blush high on his cheeks as the first rays of sun lit him up in the mess of sheets.

“I had a conduit moment.”

Hotch felt a little self conscious as he admitted it, but Reid reached up and pulled him to his lips with such vigor that the feeling burned away. Hotch sank into Reid with a moan of relief that he was understood; he felt wonderfully, confidently human. He licked deep, over and over, fingers threading into Reid’s crazy tangles as they rolled together. Reid held him close, his strength surprising and possessive, and the only thought in Hotch’s head the whole time was you flow through me. When he pulled back to look him in the eye, Hotch loved the view: they were a knot of limbs and linens and this crazy, indefinable feeling that bound them to each other like no one else.

“I want to feel like this forever,” he blurted before he could stop himself. He was too pragmatic to believe in words like ‘forever’, but their flow - their give and take - felt like a kind of balance that had a shot at redeeming that concept for him. He wasn’t sure that he could find a way to tell that to Reid though.

Reid just smiled and drew him in for one last, lingering kiss before they both got up and made themselves presentable for the day. A week later he showed up after canceling plans the night before with a bandage around his left wrist. Hotch used the double-finger-point to bring Reid to his office and then stood there, arms crossed, and jutted his chin at the gauze. Reid broke out into a mischievous smile that was all teeth as he slowly unwound the bandage. Under it was a fresh tattoo of a lemniscate. He held his arm out, palm up, and Hotch walked forward mesmerized by the mark. His fingers landed on either side of Reid’s hand, careful to stay clear of the still-healing symbol.

“For me?” he whispered.

“For us,” Reid murmured warmly. “Forever.”

Hotch stared at the black, endless curve until he could blink back the sensation that his heart was suddenly living in the back of his throat. His fingers aimlessly stroked the edge of Reid’s wrist while he struggled. Then he looked up with a ferocious glare.

“I really want to kiss you.”

Reid’s mouth hitched to one side in a smirk. “Not at work, Sir.”

Hotch growled, which caused Reid to laugh out loud.

“We need to talk about our living arrangements,” Hotch said once Reid’s bout of hilarity subsided. Reid’s eyes got serious but his smile remained.

“Yes, we do,” he nodded and Hotch’s heart nearly burst. Sometimes the flow was just that easy.

No one knew they were looking at real estate or realized that they’d moved until it was all over. And though the team might have privately wondered after the night at the bar, no one had any clue whether they were serious or not until the day Hotch showed up to work with a lemniscate symbol of his own peeking from the edge of his left shirt cuff. After that, no one had the balls to ask any questions at all. Their wrists did the talking for them. And over the months that followed, as they eased into displaying the casual smiles, the enviable give and take, and the occasional fistbump, no one doubted that it was forever.