A/N: This is not what I intended to post as my very first Crim fic. I've actually been working on something quite different, but this popped into my head and I wasn't able to do much else but write once I started. I doubt that I'll ever be completely satisfied with something I write (especially when I read some of the other CM fics out there... good God, this fandom is talented). But here you go! The time line on the show is a little wonky, but this story takes place somewhere between when Haley leaves Hotch and when we see Reid at the NA meeting.
Since this fandom has SO MANY characters and potential pairings, I will do as the LJ communities do and give you a quick rundown of relationships, genre, warnings, etc!
Pairing(s): Hotch, Reid. No shipping, just platonic BFF-ery galore
Warnings: Drug abuse, language, and illness
Summary: Hotch isn't usually the one getting this sort of late-night phone call, but that doesn't stop him from doing everything he can to help when Reid falls into a violent relapse.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
When the phone rings out in the dark, Hotch isn't asleep.
He's been lying in bed with his hands folded over his chest, staring up at a sliver of light on the ceiling and trying to figure out how he's going to finish all of the most recent case's paperwork before Strauss can try to get him fired again. The phone's ring snaps him out of the thought—all for the better, because he'd rather have to deal with a new case than watch his supervisor scowl at him in his mind's eye for the next three hours. These late-night calls from JJ have become routine in the past few years. He's learned to expect them as a patient waits for a bad diagnosis from his doctor. But when he reaches blindly over to the bedside table and answers the phone ("Hotchner."), he's quite surprised when JJ's voice doesn't answer him.
It's Reid. Calling him at—Hotch holds the phone away from his ear to get a squinty-eyed look at the glowing screen—2:37 in the morning.
The sound of a choked voice on the other line taps into the energy reserve usually devoted to hunting down serial killers. He's tossed aside the covers and scrambled out of bed before he even has time to realize he's done it. "Reid, what is it?"
A feeble cough echoes from the other line and Reid whispers back, "I—I need help."
'He's relapsed,' Hotch thinks grimly. He'd figured they were past this now, that Reid had finally figured things out, but he supposes that he should have known better. He's seen dilaudid's effects so many times during his years of crime work that part of him wonders why this is the first time he's gotten a late-night phone call.
"Reid, where are you?"
"I don't… I dunno. Outside." He pauses and Hotch hears what sounds like a cross between a sniffle and a sob. "I went outside to get f-far away from it, and I walked for a long t-time, and now I don't know."
"Stay on the line. I'm leaving now."
"M'sorry, Hotch," comes the feeble response, mumbled into the receiver.
"Find a well-lit place to stand and don't leave it. I need you to look around, Reid. Are you looking?"
"Tell me what you see…"
Grabbing the first pair of pants that he finds on the pile of folded laundry and pulling them on over his boxer shorts, Hotch listens to Reid's semi-coherent mumbling and tries to discern a location from it. He grabs the dress shirt he'd tossed on the floor and pulls it over his head, not bothering to fix up the last few buttons. Next Hotch heads for the kitchen, phone still glued to his ear. He finds his keys on the kitchen counter with his wallet, stuffs the latter into his pocket, and is in his car within a minute and a half of first hearing Reid's voice.
It doesn't take very long to find him, mostly since the roads are just about vacant at this hour. Hotch drives like a madman without fear of being pulled over, switching in an out of lanes around the few cars he encounters. Reid had only gotten about a mile from his house and found a streetlamp to stand beneath, just like Hotch had told him. He looks rather pathetic, clinging to his arms as he stands alone in the cold fall night. Hotch pulls over, gets out of the car to survey the damage.
As it turns out, Reid hasn't used in almost twenty-four hours. It's Sunday night now, and they got back from the most recent case on Friday. It had been an ugly one, too. Six dead, three more still in the hospital. Which means Reid had almost made it through the weekend, had almost been able to handle the cravings on his own.
Almost. In the yellow glow of the streetlight, he looks like all hell. His hair stands in all directions, as if he'd just rolled out of bed and wandered out the door (a distinct possibility). A small stream of clear snot has run, unnoticed, from his sniffling nose, in the same way it does when Hotch takes Jack out in the cold weather. When Hotch asks if he's all right, he's not surprised that Reid keeps his eyes trained on the ground behind Hotch's left elbow. He has to reach out and grab his wrist to get him to look up, and even then the agent merely lets Hotch handle him, watching and waiting for instruction. His fingers are freezing and stiff and though Hotch can't be certain how long he's been wandering around these side streets, he's pretty sure that it's been a while. Upon looking down, Hotch sees a pair of mismatched socks and realizes that Reid's not wearing any shoes. His contemplative frown deepens.
What to do with this boy…?
Hotch manages to get him home without any trouble. When Hotch sets a hand on his shoulder to get him moving, he can feel the sweat that has seeped through Reid's button-up shirt and chilled. Reid's teeth chatter as he apologizes over and over again for calling so late, tripping over himself because his eyes are streaming as Hotch guides him to the car. It's all part of the withdrawal process, but as ugly as it is, Hotch would rather see him like this than flying high.
It should be a comfort to know that he at least got Reid before he could freeze to death, but it isn't. For once he doesn't feel responsible for what's happened, and yet with every look at Reid—the way he hugs himself with his shoulders shrugged up almost to his ears—he feels less and less confident that they're ever going to break from this cycle. And that drags him down beside him, regardless of his thorough understanding of this game's rules. Because, honestly, he would give less of a shit if it were just about anybody else. Reid's always had this aura of innocence about him, if he's sitting at his desk and examining the pink feathered pen that Garcia gave him for his twenty-ninth birthday, or poring over investigative files three times as fast as the rest of them. To see him diminished to a neglected rag doll with dirty, matted hair and no dignity… that hurts.
He blasts the heat the whole way home to thaw Reid into less of a human popsicle. The ride warms him up well enough—it nearly suffocates Hotch, who wasn't cold to begin with and generally prefers a mild chill—but it also triggers a nasty bout of nausea. Even in his semi-conscious, agonized state, Reid still has the courtesy to hold back until the sleek car pulls into the driveway. Before Hotch has even switched the motor off, Reid's fumbled for the handle and thrown the passenger side door open. He slides down from his seat, stumbles for a few steps, and nearly falls over again as he vomits onto the front lawn. Hotch sighs as he turns the car off and pockets his keys, thinking in the back of his mind that he'll have to hose the grass off in the morning before the neighbors see and tell Haley that he's been having drunken parties. That'd certainly erase any slim chance of reconciliation.
Hotch approaches the spot where Reid stands hunched over with his hands on his knees, panting between dry heaves while tears run freely down his pale face. A few more heaves pass, then nothing.
"Are you—" Hotch begins, moving to help, but Reid throws out a hand to stop him as another round of retching arises. Blinking at the stench of bile and stale breath, Hotch steps back a foot and waits for it to pass. There isn't another person in sight to see or hear Reid's choked gagging, thank goodness. As chief analyst and Reid's supervisor, this would be particularly hard to justify.
After a few more moments, the last wave seems to rise and fall, leaving him swaying to one side. Reid takes a few deep breaths, wiping his eyes and mouth with his rumpled sleeve. When it becomes clear that the vomiting has passed (at least for now), Hotch steps in and gently tugs him upright, pulling Reid's arm around his shoulder to help him walk. When that alone doesn't keep him steady, Hotch slips an arm around his waist and hooks his fingers through one of Reid's belt loops on the far side, holding him against his hip. He feels like a hundred-fifty pounds of wretched.
Reid can't seem to stop babbling in wayward fragments as they begin their slow trek up the driveway.
"I'll—I'm so sorry, Hotch. I can clean that up. Tomorrow, I'll do it."
"Withdrawal symptoms t-typically peak in a range from… fourteen to twenty-one hours and…" he breaks off to stifle a dry heave, almost knocking them both to the ground when he lurches violently to one side, "resolve in thirty-six to s-seventy-two hours, depending on… liver and kidney function. And also metabolism—"
"Reid, please stop talking."
Reid claps a hand over his mouth as another fit of nausea threatens to attack. He gasps, trembling against Hotch's side like a sick child, and is silent.
The steps they need to take align themselves in Hotch's mind with the sounds of their progress across the pavement. Hotch's shoes hit heavily, scuffling, a reminder of every necessary action. Reid's shoeless feet make no sound at all. They say keep me quiet, keep me safe. Because somehow he knows that if even Reid breathes too loud, he'll be back to hiding behind his secrecy and blaming his attitude on caffeine withdrawal, wearing long-sleeved shirts in the summertime even though they make him sweat like he sweats now. Because it's always an even exchange, isn't it? He can either sweat it out now, once and for all (again) or he can spend the rest of his life sweating under the prospect of being discovered, or labeled, even though the rest of them have figured him out long ago.
Hotch knows what Reid thinks of himself, that he's certain his family thinks of him in the same terms.
You addict, you worthless piece of shit.
They don't, of course, but he imagines that it must be difficult to convince himself otherwise when he has to call his boss at two in the morning to rescue him from killing himself via lethal injection. Every time Reid leans his hands on the porcelain sink to keep from collapsing when he's coming off a high, he hits the ground and he knows that it's never going to get any better unless he can stand up on his own.
Sometimes Hotch doesn't like being able to tell what everyone else is thinking. Sometimes he hates it.
First Reid needs to pry himself from the syringe and lean on something else in the meantime, before he can get his own legs to support him. That's where Hotch comes in.
He's going over the steps in his mind, each one to the sound of his heavy footfalls on the driveway. Make him comfortable so that he doesn't become overwhelmed with anxiety and try to escape back to his house. Get something in his stomach. That should make him feel a little better, even if he protests—plus, it'll keep him from falling into a horrible mood that won't let up once it starts. Then find a distraction, easy on the brain but heavy enough to keep those stabbing urges from becoming the only thing he thinks about. And then—
And then we wait.
They make it into the house at last, but Reid refuses Hotch's requests (demands) to settle down until he's had the chance to wash his hands. Typical germophobic behavior, present even when germs should be the last thing on his mind. Hotch sees this as a good sign, though—that his withdrawal symptoms aren't too strong to keep him from thinking about other things. It also means that tonight isn't likely to be a violent one, as some tend to be. Some addicts get aggressive, angry. Reid seems more ashamed than anything else. He reasons that there's some good reasoning behind that.
Hotch fishes a clean set of clothes from the dresser in the master bedroom and passes them off to Reid, who accepts them gratefully into his quivering hands. Hotch then leaves him in the bathroom but never lingers too far in case something changes, going only to the linen closet down the hall to find some spare blankets. He hears the occasional hacking cough from behind the door, then running water in the sink for about a minute and a half, and finally Reid emerges. He's still ragged-looking—an appearance unaided by Hotch's broad-shouldered t-shirt and too-short sweatpants—but he's had a chance to wash his face. That gesture seems to have brought him a bit closer to Earth, if just by a few yards.
"I used your mouthwash," he says, clearing his throat and wincing. "Hope you don't mind."
"Not at all. Come with me."
Reid shuffles into the dimly-lit hallway, slipping a little on the hardwood floor in a pair of Hotch's white socks. When he tries to take away from the enormous stack of blankets balanced in Hotch's arms, Hotch jerks them out of his grip and brushes past, back toward the living room. Sighing, Reid follows empty-handed, absently scratching at the healing scabs on one arm.
The only time Hotch can recall seeing this many blankets in one room is from way back, when Jack was barely old enough to walk. The two of them had made an incredible mess—okay, well, mostly it was just Hotch. Jack had sat on the couch, shrieking in delight as his daddy tore apart the living room, rearranging furniture and draping blankets all around at odd angles to make a "secret fort" where they could watch TV together. This is not quite the same, and he doesn't want to link a fond memory of his son with this situation, but the room quickly becomes something of a blanket explosion. Reid stands silently to the side as Hotch sets up Fort Rehab, as straight-faced and no-nonsense as if he were inspecting a crime scene. White down comforters are laid out over the couch and recliner. Striped sheets follow, with a hideous plaid blanket that Hotch's uncle had given to him as a wedding gift. When the lawyer turns to Reid and points at the couch, Reid complies without argument.
"Chamomile or Lipton?" Hotch asks evenly, studying Reid as he collapses onto the middle section of the couch."
Eyes covered with one hand, Reid answers, "I don't want anything."
"Chamomile it is, then."
In the full light of the kitchen, Hotch realizes two things.
The first is that he looks absolutely ridiculous, donned in sweatpants and a half-buttoned dress shirt over a wife beater. He fastens up the last few shirt buttons after fixing the kettle on the burner, yawning and caring less than he normally would about his professional appearance. Then, when he catches a glance at the glowing microwave clock, he realizes that he has to be at work in just under six hours. While he doesn't doubt his own ability to pull off an all-nighter, getting Reid to work is going to be out of the question. His symptoms are at their peak—maybe just beyond, since he seems more exhausted than anxious—but a fever, cold sweats, and irritability would be difficult enough to conceal from the average office worker. If the other analysts got one look at him, they would know at once that he had relapsed again.
Hotch stands around and arranges a plate of saltine crackers until the teapot whistles, then pours some hot water into two mugs and heads back into the living room. He finds the agent exactly where he left him on the couch, except that Reid's pulled the ugly plaid blanket up over his shoulders and head like a cape. Wrapped in the fleece, he seems to be no more than a pair of tired eyes that stare blankly at Hotch as he sets the food on the coffee table. Hotch stares back just as impassively, settling onto the recliner. Reid blinks. Hotch sips his tea.
"You should eat something."
"I'm not hungry."
"You don't have to be."
With an inward sigh of defeat, Reid reaches over and picks up saltine. He's careful not to let any crumbs escape to the blankets as he slowly eats it, taking small bites and letting them dissolve in his mouth before swallowing. Every so often Hotch catches him glancing worriedly in his direction, and like before, Hotch knows exactly what he's thinking.
He can tell that, more than he fears succumbing to the pain or even dying, Reid fears losing his job. They both know how it feels to be scrutinized and weighed by higher authorities. Are you more of an asset or a hindrance? The answer depends more on who's in charge than on the person in question. In Reid's case, they're looking at an investigation for possession, potential interference with cases (on so many levels that he can't be bothered to list them, even in his head), personal danger, potential liabilities on the Bureau's behalf. When faced with that much trouble, they'd be lucky if he makes it out alive.
No, it's best if they just let him ride it out and try to recover without being caught by someone who will actually do something about it. What good would it do to have him sitting around at home, getting high because he has nothing better to do but re-read every book on his shelves and wonder, fearfully, how his family is coping without him?
Reid shakes his head and sniffles and looks pitiful.
He won't tell on him. He also won't tell Reid that he won't tell on him, at least not until they've gotten him some real help and seen some progress. It might actually do him some good to have a life sentence of panic hanging over his head. It might give him the courage to change.
In their silence, Hotch can hear the clock tick from where it sits above the television in the entertainment center. He doesn't mind that the mug of tea burns his hands; it keeps him awake, and watching the little wisps of steam rise into nothing is a comfort, somehow. He takes a sip, barely letting the tea touch his mouth lest it scalds his tongue. Then, Reid speaks up from across the coffee table.
"It was their hands."
Hotch looks up from examining his mug to find that the blanket has slipped down around Reid's shoulders. His hair is matted to his face on one side, but he doesn't seem to notice in his sudden need to explain his reversion. He speaks quietly to Hotch, as if afraid someone might overhear them. Here, where they sit alone in this big, empty house.
"The kids," begins Reid, in that breathless undertone. "Their hands were so little. I know it seems like an obvious thing to say, but I don't ever get to interact with two-year-olds unless I'm trying to figure out who killed them. Nikki Arnett had green finger-paint under her nails, from painting a picture for her mother on the day she was abducted. What got me was—I couldn't stop wondering, after we found them… he'd bound them with twine."
Now Reid holds his arms up in front of his face, wrists together and palms facing up towards the ceiling to demonstrate how the unsub had tied the children. The look he gives Hotch over his splayed hands, blank but somehow still dark… it gives him the chills.
"I couldn't stop thinking to myself… if the unsub had noticed the finger-paint under Nikki Arnett's fingernails. So I made myself forget." Reid's fingers curl slowly into fists, then fall to his sides. His fingers rub absently up against his new tracks, Reid shivering visibly. "Thanks for finding me. I would always call Morgan when I—when I couldn't do it on my own." He looks down at his arm, runs his thumb along the bruise left by a shoelace tourniquet. "It's been so long since last time that I didn't want to disappoint him."
Hotch nods slowly, just once, just to show that he understands.
"Sometimes I think I can't do it," Reid continues, sounding both panicked and subdued and looking across at Hotch but also looking right through him. "If I wasn't strong enough to keep it from happening in the first place, what makes everyone think that I can stop?"
"You were handcuffed to a chair," Hotch says, flatly.
"But I could have walked away after."
"It was too late by then. You know that."
Wiping the sleeve of his shirt against his sweaty face, he answers bitterly, "I guess so."
"What you need is a program," Hotch says.
"They have specialized twelve-step groups for federal agents—"
"I know, I know!" Reid cuts him off and then, seeming to remember that Hotch just scraped his skinny ass off the side of the sidewalk, takes a breath to collect his temper. "I'm sorry. I just—agh. It… it hurts, Hotch. It—"
Frustrated, Reid pushes his straggled hair out of his face with one hand, pulling the blanket tighter about his shoulders with the other. At this moment, Hotch can't tell whether he's steeling himself against his mood swings or his disobedient body. Hotch sets his mug onto the table and leans forward to get a better look at the man slouched sideways on the blanket-pile couch. If he's slipping, he might try to leave. He knows that neither of them wants it to come to that, and that Reid probably wouldn't be strong enough to make it to the front door anyway, but it's possible. Hotch needs to be prepared for anything right now, even if it means locking Reid up in the bathroom and ignoring sob-filled pleas for help.
Fortunately, it doesn't come to that. The bout of pain leaves almost as quickly as it came—or perhaps Reid was simply able to suppress it—but either way, it renders him speechless and doused in a layer of sweat that doesn't help him feel any warmer. Hotch shuts him down when he tries to explain the scientific reasoning behind his agony, and again when he starts talking about how this time it's not so bad, because he's only used once ("There's no itchy b-blood. It's okay… it's okay…"). It takes a good ten minutes for him to recover from the fight, and even then he looks paler than ever.
They sit there for some time—it may be hours, but Hotch is too tired to tell. Reid would be better off with some sleep, but sleep won't come for some time still because insomnia is all too common during the withdrawal phase. Other than one cracker and one sip of his cooling tea, Reid's eaten nothing. What he needs, Hotch considers as he watches Reid try to rub the sweat out of his eyes with equally sweaty fingers ("Ow, ouch—stupid. That was stupid."), is a distraction from the entire process. Reading won't do him much good, though, and he's too feverish to get up and move around. Talking seems to bring them back to the same subject every time.
Then, it occurs to him, in a flash of brilliance.
And though it may come at a high cost—namely his dignity—Hotch suddenly knows exactly what Reid needs.
Hotch rises from his seat and crosses over to the entertainment center. Peering through the glass door of the cabinet at his DVD collection, he skims over the titles of the movies he and Haley have accumulated over the years. There's West Side Story (he hates that one, but Haley loves it, and cries every time they watch), and Pulp Fiction, and too many of Jack's sing-alongs than he cares to count. But on the second shelf to the bottom, behind the complete series of Dharma and Greg, sits a more treasured jewel. He eases the box set from the shelf and wipes it clean with one hand, examining the cover as one might examine a photograph of an old friend.
Straightening up with the box set in hand, Hotch turns around.
"How about a distraction?" he says to the unmoving lump of blankets on the couch.
Reid shifts, squinting up at Hotch through his fingers. His eyes move from his boss's furrowed brows (it's an expression of resignation, though Reid is in no condition to notice), down his extended arm, and come to rest at the DVD box set in his hands.
"A distract—? What's that?" Reid mumbles, eyeing the box. "A movie?"
Hotch, for the first time, almost smirks. "Really, Reid? 'what's that'? I'm disappointed in you. Take a closer look…"
Slowly, and after a long pause, Reid reaches up to accept the box.
"As long as it's not The Young and the Restless, I honestly don't care what we—wait, what?"
Reid seems to come alive for the first time this whole night, barely struggling to sit up as he examines the DVD box set. Hotch stands there in silence, uncertain of what to expect from Reid but certain that it will be interesting. At long last, Reid looks up from the box in his hands, his jaw slack and brows contracted in a dumbfounded expression.
"Really, Hotch?" he manages to say, sounding thoroughly injured. "For years, the rest of the team has mocked me, and all this time you've been a closet Trekkie."
"You choose to set yourself up for mocking, Reid. I may be the only one in the BAU who really knows why it takes three Klingons to screw in a light bulb, but even I didn't think that joke was funny."
"…I thought it was pretty funny."
"You should probably just stick to profiling. Your delivery's much better."
"I don't think I can ever look at you the same, Hotch."
This time, Hotch really does smirk. He gently pries the Star Trek: The Complete Series collector's edition box set out of Reid's reluctant hands and goes to set it up on the television. Afterward, he goes back to his chair and sits down with his cup of tea and a few saltine crackers. It's not a cure-all. They both know this. Reid will spend the rest of the night drifting in and out of pain and nausea, distracted only modestly by the opportunity to mouth every line silently as the characters speak them aloud.
But it does help.
Hotch looks over to where Reid is still gaping at him, a look of both shock and newfound admiration. Hotch tips his mug to him as a sort of toast before lifting the rim to his mouth and taking a long drink. Reid nods once in turn, blearily. Then, together, they turn to the television and watch as the opening credits play out in a warbling 60's tune. This moment serves as an unspoken pact, an acknowledgment by both parties that no one will ever find out about this night. They need to know about Reid's relapse just as much as they need to know that Hotch has shamelessly watched Star Trek reruns every Sunday morning since college.
Tomorrow, Hotch will drink enough coffee to sustain an army and head to the BAU headquarters while Reid sleeps on the couch. It will rain all day, and he will barely keep from nodding off at his desk, but nobody will suspect a thing when he announces that Reid has called out with a fever. When he gets home that night, he'll find the blankets folded and placed neatly in the linen closet, the dishes clean in the cabinets, and his clothes in the bathroom hamper. There will be no sign that Reid ever spent a night half-dead on the couch. The only indication that someone had ever stepped foot in the house at all will be the yellow sticky note Hotch finds on the coffee table, the one with only two words scrawled across it: Thank you.
But for now, neither Reid nor Hotch contemplates anything about the future—as it stands, Reid can barely cope with the present. Simply trying to get through this first night will be enough. So together they sit in silence, watch the story play across the screen, and wait for the storm to break.