Disclaimer: Don't own it. Yada yada. If I did it would be a year round affair. Like Days of Our Lives, with substance.

Author's Note: Beta'd by the ever patient, exceptionally awesome tfm. This is experimental at best. The pov isn't one I'm all that used to writing in but it's what the muse dictated so I don't want to go against her when she's actually in the mood to write something. Hopefully you all enjoy it and if you do, be kind, rewind. Er, that is, review.

Part One

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"Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation."—George Washington

They all come after the funeral. Stumbling in, one after the other, no previous agreement made to meet up, just habit and chance and the need you all feel to be somewhere else for a while.

You are three days into a mandatory five day paid leave, half the time of bereavement leave because apparently it doesn't matter that you spend less time with your biological family than any one person on your team. That in the course of a few years time you are closer to this haggled crew than you have been to most other people in your life.

Apparently a lot of things don't matter. Like catching the killer red-handed when that red was the blood of someone you care about. The satisfaction of putting the cuffs on too tight and pretending you don't see when Morgan manhandles the bastard, using a lot more force than was necessary, is short-lived. Very short.

Milliseconds.

A short enough a time period that you're not sure whether it existed at all.

You are the first one there, sitting at the bar sipping your second glass of Jack when the door opens and JJ walks in, Garcia right behind her dressed in uncharacteristic black, the only pop of color a bright orange hibiscus pinned to her 50's style, complete with black lace veil, hat. A small smile pulls at your lips when they join you at the bar and though they smile back there is no joy in the air.

Still, the bar feels a little less empty. A little less suffocating now that you're not drinking alone. No matter there were several people sitting at the tables, enjoying the beginning of their weekend, completely unaware that for one person, that weekend had not come.

You find yourself resenting them for it, and you know this is an illogical response but it can't be helped. Not as they laugh and talk and cheer the Nationals on from their seats. This is not a happy time and their joy is intrusive. The saying is true. Misery loves company.

JJ orders a glass of wine, Garcia some obscure drink you barely catch the name of and don't bother to remember. They are both silent other than this, not for lack of anything to say, just the will to say it. This is okay. The silence isn't awkward and no one needs to talk to provide what you, and you feel it safe to assume, what they too, need right now.

It is after a half hour passes, with maybe fifteen words spoken between the three of you, that Rossi walks in. His drink is scotch. Glenlivet 12 to be precise. He waits for the bartender to slide the glass in front of him, taking a healthy swallow before speaking.

"Nice service."

It is the first any of you have mentioned the reason for the somber mood. And in a way, you're grateful but that doesn't take away the sting.

It is Garcia who quietly agrees. "Very."

You hear JJ sniff, discreetly, and frown at the sudden swell of emotion that has put that familiar and painfully tight knot in your chest and throat. A good cry would probably alleviate that. At least temporarily. The respite would be nice.

Instead you finish off your drink, the ice having long melted, and give the bartender a surreptitious signal. Another magically appears and you reach for it but do not drink. Instead you twirl the glass with your fingers, ringlets of water appearing before your eyes as the glass moves slightly forward with each rotation.

It is quiet again, that small amount of conversation swallowed up in the tension, but somehow the words stick in your head. Nice service.

You remember exactly what it's like, something most people would attribute to the fact that only a few hours had passed between then and now. But you know it goes farther than mere cognitive memory, that this is something that will reside forever in the depths of your psyche.

After all, Hotch is your first. And it is different than you ever thought it would be.

There had been few tears at the church, none at the actual gravesite, even little Jack's face was stoically blank as he stood, one hand grasped in his mother's, the other holding a pale yellow rose. You remember vividly how much he had looked like his father just then, how you had had to look away as he left the rose on the casket's gleaming finish…

You lift your glass and drink.

Almost thirteen years in the bureau and this is the first time a fellow agent's death has touched so close to home. Maybe because the BAU is home.

So deep are you into your thoughts that Reid has escaped your notice until he's almost at the bar and you start slightly at his greeting.

"Hey." His voice is slightly graveled and thick, the way it always gets when he's struggling with his emotions. He looks tired and drawn. His skin is much paler than usual and you wonder if he's been sleeping.

"Hey." You nod and give him the same smile you had shown JJ and Garcia, the latter of whom pats the stool next to her. None of the usual witty comments about her baby boy or junior g-man accompany the gesture, just a comforting squeeze of his arm, firm and quick, a move that you're pretty sure the analyst hadn't meant to be observed.

He orders his drink, gin, which surprises you slightly. The times you've seen Reid drinking are rare. And even then a shot or two of midlevel whiskey had been as racy as he had ever gotten on those post case outings.

But Reid's choice of drink is unimportant now. Scotch, bourbon, beer, spritzer. None of it matters as long as it takes the edge off.

Because Alcohol is a magical liquid. It doesn't wash away the pain or drown it out or anything like that. But it does make it just that little bit easier to talk and that is a ability lot that none of you walked in with.

It's not long before the group has reached the point where laughter is indiscernible from tears. Stories are shared, and though it is not lost on you that everyone seems to have more memories of good times shared, more tales to tell, it does not bother you. Not now. Now you merely listen and laugh and drink until the ache is almost replaced by the warm glow of alcohol and shared reminiscences.

But the gathering can't go on forever, no matter how much you all wish that you wouldn't have to face returning to work and staring up into that now empty office. That you can pretend there is no sadness lacing each and every story. That there will not be such sadness for years and years to come.

Morgan had showed up shortly after the first few stories had been told—JJ recalling her first day at the BAU and Rossi sharing his first encounter with an in-over-his-head prosecutor that they all almost didn't recognize as Hotch.

He had merged with the group silently. Instead of sitting at the bar itself he turns a chair from the nearest table and sits, nodding in response to the murmured greetings of the group as he takes the first sip of his beer. Morgan looks as bad off as the rest of you do, and somehow, slightly worse. You doubt anyone fails to notice that he hasn't really joined all of you but no one is going to make an issue of it, especially not today.

So the stories continue, Morgan finally contributing his first of three stories halfway through his second glass. The mood has shifted some. You are all still grieving, but there's been some healing too.

But all good things come to an end. That is a lesson taught first hand this week.

Rossi is the first to go. Glancing at his watch and saying something about needing 'more beauty rest than you kids'. The smiles you all give him are a little more relaxed this time, a little less pained. But it is like someone pulled the drain on a tub. Within the hour, everyone else has gone too, off to grieve in private now. Needing their space and time to try and make sense of a senseless thing.

Everyone except Morgan.

And you.

Neither of you seem ready to leave just yet but there is one dilemma: if you stay at the bar, you will continue to drink. And nothing good has ever come from pain and grief and an almost endless supply of booze. Not for you. And, you're sure, not for him either.

So you only sit around another half hour. Enough time to finish your drink and to wave off the bartender when he's ready to pour another.

Morgan had surprised you by ordering only beer. Even JJ had graduated from wine to martinis and it was rare that you ever saw the media liaison drink anything harder than a glass of chardonnay, maybe a beer. The reason was simple for that though, she wanted, needed, a clear head. Even in your down time there is never a guarantee that you won't end up having to fly off to God knows where and chase after some sadist, or thrill killer, or rapist. No need for such restriction when there would be no chase to go on. Not for another two days.

Your surprise over his choice of drink hadn't lasted long though. Liquor loosens tongues and Morgan, arguably the most imposing, rough and tumble member of the team, could also be one of the most guarded. Vulnerable, even. He would never admit to this and no one would ever dare say so out loud, but you all know. His scars have never fully healed.

He had moved to the bar once it had dwindled to a party of three, Garcia had rounded out the trio then. You turn to him now, a sigh leaving your lips. "I should probably get out of here…"

You're not drunk, never had any intention to get drunk, but you had cabbed it to the bar anyway. Not being drunk and being able to slide behind the wheel of a car are two different things. But it was simple science to know that two and a half beers would not have much effect on Morgan. And it's no surprise when he offers to drive you back to your brownstone.

You accept.

The building is cast in shadow when you two arrive, the hour late enough where curtains are pulled but the streetlights have yet to come on. It seems as dark and wholly uninviting as the idea of being alone with your thoughts. For a moment you almost propose that you both head back to the bar but instead you ask if he wants to come up for a minute. It's a bit of a desperate play but that's okay because you are desperate. You do not want to be alone.

Whether he picks up on that or not, you do not know. What's more, you do not care. He accepts and you lead the way through the halls of the brownstone, digging out your keys as you approach your door. You offer him coffee as you flip on a light in the kitchen but he declines. A good thing possibly, because it occurs to you that you may not have coffee anyway. But what you do have is a brand new bottle of amber hued liquid in a cabinet above the sink. A gift, you remember, though you can't recall who it's from.

Morgan wordlessly accepts the offer you extend and you gather two glasses from the cabinet, pouring a generous if not overly liberal amount in each. He takes his tumbler with a muffled 'thanks' and glances towards the living room. He has been here before, though not often, and he doesn't hesitate to move to the oversized couch in the living room, you following right behind him with your own glass and the bottle.

You talk as you drink, the conversation blessedly mundane and mindless. You don't want to think right now. Every time you do, your brain conjures up images of the casket and Jack and contrived but graphic visuals of Hotch's final moments. But then the conversation trickles to a halt and your mind begins to travel that road on its own.

It isn't until right then that you begin to cry. Silent tears that you seem unable to stop, that feel as though they have been building up since JJ first called you to tell you the news that Hotch was dead. And perhaps they have been. Grieving has never been something you were very good at. It wasn't something you could easily shove into a box and shut away from the working part of your psyche. It looms, like the darkest clouds of the most unearthly storms, slowly encompassing you until you're forced to handle it one way or another.

Vainly, you wipe at the stream of tears, feeling exposed and foolish. You try to excuse yourself, to escape to the privacy of the bathroom or bedroom until you could pull yourself together, but the hand on your arm stops you and you turn your blurred gaze to Morgan who looks as ragged as you feel.

"Don't."

His thumb on your cheek is not a gentle caress, and if you hadn't already known, the roughness of his skin would have told you he worked with his hands. It only lasts a second, the track he had managed to wipe away instantly reestablished by fresh tears but something has shifted.

It doesn't manifest itself until after you've almost cried yourself out, your cheek at some point having come to rest on his shoulder as he holds you, You feel foolish for breaking down like this, that you couldn't at least hold the misery at bay until he had gone and you were alone. But there is no denying that having a real shoulder to cry own seems to have helped ease the tightness some. Not much, but it does feel as though you're breathing just that little bit easier.

This time when he touches you it's softer. You would call it hesitant if not for the fact that his hand lingers on your skin. It distracts you for a moment, catching you off guard making you shift. His hand slips away as you raise your head to meet his gaze, you can feel it resting comfortably on the small of your back. His features are almost unreadable but, somehow, you know. You know and you accept it, welcome it, when he leans into you. Your eyes close just before you feel his lips ghost yours, your brain sending up the faintest of warnings before you silence it.

You don't want to think right now.