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Gideon had told Hotch already that Reid had a visitor. Someone who wasn’t any of them.

It’s still hard to prepare himself for what he finds upon getting to his youngest agent’s hospital room.

There’s a stranger by his agent’s bedside. It takes all his self-control not to bristle, because the girl isn’t a stranger. Not really. Not to Reid.

The young woman has her head dipped down, face hidden by a curtain of blonde hair that hangs down.

Her hand clutches Reid’s limp one, thumb tracing gentle circles over the pale skin.

Hotch steps into the room, making his presence known.

“He’s alive,” he says softly.

Lila Archer looks up. There are tear tracks running down her cheeks, which she quickly wipes away with her free hand. She sniffles, nodding her head mutely.

He’s thinking the same thing she most surely is.

He almost wasn’t.

It was close. Too close for his tastes. Too close for anyone. And looking at Lila, he knows it was too close for her too.

Hotch wonders just how close the actress and Reid have become over the past year.

He glances across the room. There’s one other seat. His first inclination is to pull it up and take a seat by Reid’s bedside.

Something stops him and instead he finds himself looking to Lila for permission. “Do you mind if I sit?” he asks.

She shakes her head, dabbing at her eyes. “Go ahead,” she whispers and Hotch does so.

It’s easy enough for the quiet to remain. Neither of them seems eager to be the one to break it. They’re both content to simply watch Reid breathe, to remind themselves that he’s still alive.

Hotch studies him. In the hospital bed, he looks so fragile, breakable like glass.

It bothers Hotch, seeing him so still, especially considering… considering the last time he had seen him like that, it had been minutes after he’d literally been beaten to death at a serial killer’s hands.

But there’s a contrast here. Hotch can watch the rise and fall of his chest, console himself that he’s not dead, only sleeping.

Hotch shifts. “You and Reid are close,” he observes. It isn’t a question and yet it is at the same time.

Lila nods. “We… kept in touch. A few phone calls.” She smiles a little offhandedly. “I visited him once.”

That surprises Hotch, but Lila doesn’t volunteer anymore details and he doesn’t ask.

The silence doesn’t last long before Lila is speaking again. “It was on the news, you know,” she says quietly.

Yes. Hotch does know. He lets her continue.

“It scared me to death.” She chokes a little on her words and, maybe it’s only his imagination (he doubts it), but she clutches Reid’s hand a little tighter. “I thought… I thought…” But she trails off and, in the end, she doesn’t tell Hotch what she thought. (But he can guess well enough.)

“What happened?” she finally whispers.

It’s not an accusation, but it weighs heavily on his shoulders as if it had been.

After all, he’s the one responsible for his agent’s current state.

“I sent him,” Hotch confesses. His hands are folded, hanging between his knees. He can’t take his eyes off Reid, but he can sense Lila staring at him in muted disbelief.

So he keeps talking.

Hotch has no idea what entity possesses him to suddenly start pouring his heart out to the actress.  Maybe it’s because, despite the short amount of time he’s spent with her, he knows that she truly loves him. She wouldn’t have flown all the way out here just to be with him if it had been otherwise.

“I sent him to the unsub’s house,” Hotch continues. His voice, which he struggles to keep toneless and clinical, nearly cracks with guilt. He’d sent Reid and JJ to Hankel’s house- in the same way he’d sent Elle home… and into the waiting arms of Randall Garner. He leans forward, runs one hand down his face. Even though he knows that she already knows this part, he adds, “He was taken.”

Hotch finally forces himself to look up at her. He’s faced the grieving loved ones of victims before.

But this is different. This time, the victim is Reid. This time, he was the one who hand-delivered him straight to the unsub’s door.

There’s no accusation in Lila’s eyes. But there isn’t quite understanding there either.

He understands that.

Reid is still alive, but she’s dealing with the fact that she’s almost lost him. She’s shaken. It’s understandable.

Hotch tilts forward, as if bowed by the weight of his responsibility in the matter, pressing a hand over his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. He doesn’t know if he’s apologizing to his agent in the bed or the young woman sitting beside him.

Hotch isn’t sure what he expects from her.

He’s surprised to suddenly feel a soft, warm hand placed over the hand resting on his knee.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she tells him. Her voice is unsteady and there are tears shimmering in her eyes, but the conviction is there.

Hotch isn’t quite sure what to say. He’d expected her blame, but now he doesn’t know how to accept her forgiveness.

“He talks about you, you know,” Lila says. She withdraws her hand and uses it to tuck her hair back again. She bites her lip, looking almost uncertain, but then she plows ahead anyways. “How much he trusts you.”

The word hits Hotch with all the force of a dump truck head on. It almost takes his breath away. Scratch that. It does take his breath away and he finds himself regaining it step by slow and shuddery step.

Because he knows it’s true.

“I knew you’d understand.”

Hotch thinks back to those words. Because even after Hotch had let him down, after he’d sent him right to the enemy unknowingly, Reid had still trusted him completely to get him out of there.

The weight of that trust sits heavily on his shoulders.