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Hotch roams through the familiar corridors, looking to all the world like a man on a mission. He checks his watch as he walks; 08:14. Reid’s firearms test is due to begin in six minutes. And Hotch plans on observing.

He just doesn’t get it. He’s been tutoring Reid himself since before he failed the first time. But, by now, he’s a good shot. He’s seen Reid pass the 48 out of 60 shots-on-target benchmark by miles on numerous occasions, usually managing to at least scrape a pass. And yet one look over Reid’s test reports shows an entirely different story. He’d barely managed 32 in his first, 29 in his second, and a dismal 16 in his most recent. It just doesn’t add up.

He hasn’t told Reid he’ll be observing from behind the tinted glass. He just wants to watch and see what keeps going wrong, and see if it’s anything he can fix.

He doesn’t know what they’ll do if it’s not.

“Agent Hotchner,” he holds up his badge to the security restricting entrance to the firing range. “Here to observe the eight-twenty examination of Dr. Spencer Reid.”

The guard lets him through, and he walks down the narrow, dimly lit corridor behind the firing range, until he spots Reid.

Almost immediately, alarms start ringing in his head.

The test hasn’t yet begun, but Reid’s stance is defensive and protective, a million miles away from the calm, confident posture Hotch has worked hard with him to develop. Hotch can only see the back of his head, but he can tell Reid is skittish and nervous even from his limited view. Hotch’s mouth pulls down into a frown. Test day nerves are normal, but the level of anxiety radiating off Reid is closer to actual fear than nerves.

“Dr. Reid,” the testing agent greets, his voice filtering into the observation room through a speaker on the ceiling behind Hotch. Agent Holloway, if Hotch remembers correctly from the test application form he’d signed. He offers his hand to shake, and Hotch is surprised when Reid complies, shaking his hand quickly, the discomfort caused by the action obvious to Hotch’s familiar eye.

“Let’s begin. You know the drill by now.” There’s almost a sneer in Holloway’s voice, and it sets something feeling not quite right in Hotch’s gut. “Stage one: three yards. Three rounds, three seconds, strong hand only. Begin on the signal.”

Reid takes his position and dons the ear defenders. A high-pitched beep rings through the air, loud enough to penetrate the headphones, and Reid swiftly fires one, two, there rounds into the entire of the target. Hotch feels a tiny swell of pride, despite it only being one section of one round.

Holloway takes a step closer to Reid. Hotch thinks he’s going to observe the target and make note of the score, and then start the next test of the stage. But he doesn’t.

The agent, who is slightly older than Hotch and stronger in build than both he and Reid, steps even closer to Reid, into his personal space, and places a hand on his lower back.

The tension in Reid’s posture is immediately noticeable. He freezes under the touch, his hands helplessly gripping the pistol.

Hotch’s frown deepens. There’s no need for contact between the two, and if he can tell from his distance that Reid is uncomfortable with it, then he’s certain Holloway can too.

“Good shot,” Holloway’s voice is even, his tone giving away nothing of his intentions. The touch on Reid’s back lingers for a moment before he steps away, writing the score on the report on the clipboard in his hand.

Hotch debates whether or not to step in now, but he decides to continue his observation. Besides, Reid’s score is three for three so far. He’ll bide his time.

“On the signal,” Holloway says. Reid takes his position again and, on the beep, fires the same three shots into the target.

This time, one misses.

Like clockwork, Holloway moves in again, his hand finding the same spot on Reid’s back. “You missed one. From three yards.” There’s condescension in his voice, and Hotch doesn’t like it. He feels the hairs on the back of neck rise in distrust.

“It’s your posture,” Holloway says matter-of-factly. Hotch knows this is completely untrue; from his position, he can tell that Reid’s posture, while a little shaky and on the border of defensive, isn’t bad enough to cause him to miss from such a close range.

“You’re so tense. Here,” Holloway moves in even closer, invading Reid’s personal space once again. Then he places his right hand on Reid’s shoulder and gives it a firm pull, smirking.

Reid flinches away. Hotch sees his face for the first time, and finds a sickening combination of panic, discomfort and fear there. Hotch immediately stands, intent on putting an end to whatever game Holloway is playing, but Reid’s shaky voice stops him in his tracks.

“Please don’t touch me.”

Holloway laughs at that. Hotch feels anger flare in his gut.

“I’m trying to help you,” he says, faux friendliness lacing his tone like venom.

“I’ll do better if you don’t do that.” Hotch is pleased that Reid is at least trying to defend himself.

“Test three,” Holloway steps back, hands up in mock surrender. “Three rounds using your strong hand, switch hands, three rounds using your support. 8 seconds.”

The beep sounds again, and Spencer draws his gun. The first three rounds fired are successful, but the nervous jitters that have started in him cause him to fumble too much when changing hands. The gun drops to the ground with a loud clatter and Reid steps away quickly, stumbling backwards.

Holloway takes large steps forwards and picks up Reid’s gun, clicking on the safety. He shoves it forcefully towards Reid’s chest, pressing it against him, causing Reid to hiss in pain as the solid edges of the gun press uncomfortably hard into his sternum through his clothes.

Hotch has seen enough. Holloway isn’t only being overly physical, he’s being rough. He won’t let his agent be bullied like this.

“What’s wrong with you?” Holloway sneers, stopping Hotch dead in his tracks. “Can’t handle a little touch? They really let little squirts like you out into the field?”

Reid ducks his head. Hotch sees his eyes dart to the exit, but his path is blocked by Holloway.

The lack of answer seems to anger the older agent, and he darts forward, taking Reid’s skinny upper arm in his grip. Reid lets out an indignant half-cry, trying in vain to escape his grasp, but Holloway holds tight, his fingers digging in painfully hard. “What, can’t answer? Come on, Doctor, what are you so scared of?”

Hotch bursts through the door, slamming it against the wall to make his presence known. “Take your hands off my agent,” he orders, striding towards the pair.

Holloway immediately releases Reid from his grasp, and the younger agent falls to the floor (a defensive instinct to drop and shield Hotch knows has been drilled into Reid from a very young age), scuttling backwards a few inches before pushing himself back up to his feet quickly.

“This is a private examination, you can’t just barge in here,” Holloway goes red in the face. He tries to square up to Hotch, but Hotch disarms him with his coldest glare, drawing up to his full height in an effort to intimidate.

“I’ve been observing,” he says, ignoring the squeak of surprise that comes from Reid. “I’m going to file an official report.”

“Go to hell,” Holloway spits.

“Reid, with me,” Hotch extends an arm to Reid, effectively shielding a small path for Reid to pass Holloway. Reid quickly makes his way past both men and scurries towards the door, shoulders hunched. Hotch follows him, throwing a parting glare at Holloway as he leaves.

When he gets to the door, he sees Reid already half-way down the corridor, walking as quickly as he can. Hotch jogs to catch up, calling the agent’s name as he goes.

Reid freezes as Hotch catches up with him, his posture tense.

“Are you alright?” Hotch asks quietly.

Reid stays completely still, like someone has hit pause on him mid-walk. “Sorry,” he barely whispers. “Sorry, I need– need to get out.”

“Okay, we can do that,” Hotch says calmly, eyebrows furrowing as he regards the younger agent. “Come on. Follow me.”

Hotch starts down the corridor, but stops when he doesn’t hear Reid following. He turns and watches him from a distance, and notices with a sinking feeling that Reid’s chest is rising and falling far too quickly. He’s panicking.

“Reid,” Hotch jogs to him, resisting the urge to put a comforting hand on his arm. “Alright. Calm down. You’re alright.”

“Sorry,” Reid repeats, sounding alarmingly close to a sob. He brings a hand up to clutch the fabric of his shirt at his chest, his knuckles going white. “I didn’t– I didn’t know what to tell you, so I just kept going.”

“I’m not angry with you,” Hotch says carefully. He really doesn’t know how he’s supposed to deal with a subordinate having a panic attack in the corridor. “How Agent Holloway treated you was wrong. I’m sorry you had to deal with that.”

“I don’t like being touched,” Reid says in a rush, as though it’s suddenly very important to him that he gets it out, makes it known.

“I know that,” Hotch takes a small step back, as if to illustrate he won’t touch Reid without his consent. “Holloway knew that. I can assure you that you won’t have to deal with him again.”

Reid seems to be calming down as his body realises there’s no imminent threat. He takes a few shaky breaths and releases his shirt from his fist, the fabric now rumpled and messy.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” he says quietly, meeting Hotch’s eyes. “I thought that if I kept going back I’d just get used to it and pass the qualification. That was all I needed, and then I wouldn’t have to go back. I didn’t think…” he trails off, shrugging.

“You should have told me,” Hotch says simply. “As your Unit Chief, it’s my job to support and protect you. I can’t do that if you don’t tell me when you need to be supported.”

“I know. I’ll, uh–“ his tongue flashes across his lips, wetting them, “I won’t make that mistake again.”

Hotch nods firmly. “We’ll get past this. I want you to take five minutes, refocus, and come back when you’re ready to work. Okay?”

“Okay,” Reid nods. “Uh– thanks, Hotch. For… that. Thanks.”