They’d gotten past the years of denial and believing that it was just a curiously improbable friendship. They’d gotten past the intricate dance of workplace impropriety, the mockable age difference, and the career-instilled belief that they were too damaged to want. They’d overcome a spouse, not-really girlfriends, pathological awkwardness, drugs, drinking, stabbings, bullet wounds, explosions, kidnappings, murder, betrayal, institutionalized lone-wolfism, and the gauntlet of wanting but not knowing how.
Oh, and there was that Anthrax thing too.
So, they’d been through all of that and they’d come out on the other side of eight years in one piece, but Hotch still couldn’t get near Reid. It had all but eroded his legendary reserve. So when Reid ducked out of his arms for the umpteenth time, Hotch finally admitted defeat.
“I can’t do this anymore. I don’t think that I can give you what you need.”
“Aaron…” Reid looked as if he’d been gutted.
“What is it, Spencer? Just tell me.”
Reid’s mind appeared to have taken the scenic route to his response, but eventually he came up with: “I’m a freak.”
Hotch sighed – not this again. “You’re not, and even if you were, I don’t care. I’d want you even if you were average, balding, and had a vestigial tail.”
Reid twitched and then attempted to cover it, which was a dead giveaway.
“Do you have a tail?” Hotch tried not to sound incredulous.
Reid shook his head in misery. “It’s worse than that.”
“Worse?” Hotch crossed his arms in a classic ‘explain yourself’ pose.
“I’m sorry, did you just say ‘tentacles’?”
Hotch was about to demand why Reid chose this moment to make an obscure sci-fi reference that he was doomed to miss when he looked over and really saw Reid clearly. He didn’t make eye contact and kept himself well out of reach – his entire body screamed out SHAME, and Reid wasn’t one to espouse shame easily.
Reid’s head snapped up in horror but Hotch held his ground. He adapted his gruffest FBI Unit Chief glare into a ‘give me tentacle proof’ demand. Who’d have thought that he’d ever have to make that statement? There were no brakes on this weirdness train.
Reid unbuttoned his dress shirt and slowly shrugged out of it. Then he shyly turned so that his back faced Hotch.
Oh my. This went a long way to explaining why Reid dressed the way he did; Hotch had once seen him in a button-down and sweater vest in ninety percent humidity.
“Can I… can I touch them?”
“What?” Reid meeped and looked over his shoulder – looked over the squiggling appendages just under his shoulder…
“Is there a reason why I couldn’t?” If Reid was determined in his refusal, Hotch was going to make him work for it.
“No.” Reid sounded as if he’d just agreed to a root canal.
Hotch approached and reached out for the nearest… arm? stalk? The warmth of it was the first thing that shocked him. It was just like an extension of Reid himself, like a longer, boneless version of his fingers. Hotch wasn’t sure what he had expected, but when the tentacle wrapped itself around his hand, his brain produced the sensation he experienced when hugged and sent it out to all of his nerve endings.
“They are very tactile. And, umm… friendly.”
“Are you saying that they… act independently of you?”
“Not always. They are harder to control when I’m excited or angry. They are sort of a physical manifestation of my id, I guess.”
The tentacle squeezed Hotch’s hand gently as another one began to trace his arm in curiosity. He laughed in surprise and all of the tentacles retreated for an instant, but then returned again with greater attention as they determined that he wasn’t a threat.
“I think they like me.”
“I know that they do.”
Hotch caught Reid’s mix of relief and watchfulness, and reached out with his other hand to trace a finger along the edge of Reid’s jaw.
“Since I have their approval, perhaps now I could have yours as well?”
Reid’s eyebrows rose slightly and his mouth pulled at its edges where he was trying to stifle something that he was still holding onto tightly. Hotch had known him long enough to realize that hope wasn’t something Reid trusted at first blush.
“We’re the same creature. There’s no ‘me’ and ‘them’…”
Of course there wasn’t – Hotch would have to work on that. He tipped Reid’s chin towards him as he leaned in to brush his lips against that amazed architectural face. The tentacles squeezed a little more and pulled his hand closer.