Follow Through

Opening his eyes, it took him a moment of blinking at the strange, red numbers of an unfamiliar digital clock showing 3:17 am and wondering what had woken him to remember where he was and why he wasn't in his own bed.

A motel outside of Des Plaines waiting on their 8am take off back home to Virginia.

Dragging himself out of bed half asleep, Spencer shuffled carefully through the dark until he located the edge of the open bathroom door by feel. Closing the door behind himself so he wouldn't wake anyone, he flipped on the light, wincing as the brilliant flood bore into his skull after the almost total darkness of the bedroom. The one thing he hated most about being kicked in the midsection, other than the annoying stiffness, was the increased frequency and urgency of having to pee.

Once finished, he debated flushing but decided to go ahead; though the door was closed, turning on the light had probably already done the damage anyway. Washing his hands, Spencer was reaching for a hand towel to dry when his reflection in the standard over-the-sink hotel mirror caught him, taking him somewhat by surprise.

No wonder Hotch had looked so guilty, even if the damage done to his face hadn't been his doing. Spencer remembered getting hit with a very big gun - he didn't remember getting beaten as badly as it looked from under the harsh fluorescent lighting.

His bottom lip had been split and he suddenly remembered the taste of blood in his mouth though it hadn't seemed important at the time, drowned out by more immediate concerns of the unsub with the gun. Apparently, that one strike had caught his eye as well. Squinting a bit, he winced at the sharp, aching pull that was the immediate result; the swollen flesh over his cheekbone already starting to color an ugly purple.

Compared to all of that, the shallow bruises along his stomach were not even a twinge. But then Hotch hadn't really been angry and trying to hurt him. Though to make it look good for Dowd - make him believe Reid was a failed, wet behind the ears burden to a senior supervisor - Hotch had needed to at least make contact.

And it had hurt, even if Hotch did kick like a nine year old girl…

Coming up behind him, Aaron slipped his arms around his waist. Resting his chin on his shoulder, their eyes met in the mirror. "I'm sorry," he said softly.

"It wasn't your fault."

"Yeah, it kinda was," Hotch refuted dryly. His body a warm presence behind him, his fingers trailed gentle passes under the white t-shirt Spencer slept in in deference to chilly hotel rooms everywhere, tracing the light bruising peppering the lean muscles and soft skin. Just as it had been standing by the ambulance Spencer hadn't needed, there was self-recrimination and real regret in the low tone. "I kicked you. I hurt you knowing you had no choice but to let me."

Which, on its face, was true. It was also a hazard of the job, for both of them.

Spencer sighed. They had been over this before and he didn't know what else to say that hadn't already been said. So he settled for distraction instead. "Well…you could always kiss it and make it better."

He was rewarded by a lightening of the seriousness in the dark eyes; the thin disapproving lips softening into a mischievous smile. "Didn't I already do that a couple of hours ago?"

"You did," Spencer admitted cheerfully. "But I'm thinking it's going to be more along the lines of 'adjust dosage as needed'."

The smile grew; blossoming on the older man's face and Spencer was treated to a tightening of the arms around him, Hotch still careful to hug him gently. "I can do that."

In the silence that followed, broken only by the slight buzzing of the fluorescent lighting, Spencer was thinking about making a comment about Hotch becoming his new drug of choice when Hotch broke the silence with a quiet, "Thank you."

Spencer was confused. "For what?"

"For forgiving me." Hotch told him seriously, even though there had been nothing to forgive. Though telling him that – for the sixth time – would do no good.

"You're welcome," Spencer told him firmly instead. "And…I should thank you."

Hotch drew back an inch or two in surprise, deliberately echoing Spencer's words. "For what?"

"For believing in me," Spencer told him quietly.

Again their eyes met in the flat one-piece mirror, Hotch offering him a solemn nod. "I knew you could do it, Spencer. Make the shot. All you needed was a good enough reason to focus."

Well Hotch leading the unsub on, downplaying Spencer's role in the unfolding drama while placing himself firmly in the line of fire certainly had been that. All he had been able to see in that moment Dowd realized Hotch had tricked him was the disbelief turning to fury on the man's face before the automatic came up, and he knew he couldn't risk a body shot. One reflexive pull of the trigger would have sprayed the entire ER with bullets, taking out Hotch and who knew how many others in the process…

…front sight, trigger press, follow through…

…Hotch's voice, calm and encouraging, the familiar body around his, hands supporting and guiding his aim while Spencer faced the paper target at Quantico…

…overlaid by a harsher version interspersed with insults, panted as Spencer struggled to hold on to the leg kicking him long enough to get the gun out of the ankle holster with hands that were flex-cuffed together…

…front sight, trigger press, follow through…

"I think he got the message."

…silence and then the sinking realization that Dowd knew…

…the panic that stole his breath as he rolled up, risking the certainty of the head shot…

Rather than dwell on the darkness the memory dredged back up, Spencer twisted his lips in a wry grin. "I think I found that reason."

"Yeah. You did good." The arms around him tightened again. "Now – about that TLC…."

"Come back to bed…" Standing in the doorway to the darkened bedroom in boxers and t-shirt, Gideon smiled at them both, chiding, "I'm cold and lonely."

Shaking his head, Spencer didn't bother wondering when his life had taken this strange direction, or when his 'one' had become 'three'. All that mattered was that, having once more been made aware of his surroundings, Spencer realized the pebbled tile was cold and uncomfortable on his bare feet, his ribs ached from standing in one position for so long and the bed behind them was looking more and more inviting.

Despite Hotch's warmth at his back, he was freezing.

"Well we can't have that, can we?" Hotch asked him, and Spencer just grinned.

Gideon only raised an eyebrow and deadpanned, "No, we really can't."

"Heaven forbid," Spencer agreed.

Turning off the light in the bathroom banished the image of his battered body, and Spencer followed his lovers back to bed. Once again firmly ensconced between Gideon and Hotch, Spencer sighed and relaxed back into the warmth of his human cocoon, snuggling down until Gideon's fond chuckle ordered him to go to sleep.

Rubbing his cheek on Hotch's shoulder, feeling an answering kiss to the top of his head, Spencer found he was more than able to do just that.