Author's note: This story was inspired by how Jack seemed to completely disappear from Hotch's life in the second half of last season. This is my explanation and resolution.
Hotch/Reid friendship, not slash.
Obviously, I don't own any of the characters...wish I did!
Spencer Reid had finished his work for the day. Nothing surprising there. It was a slow period at the BAU and the processing of paperwork was like cotton candy for him...seemingly voluminous but in reality without real substance to consume. Normally it would have been a day he could cut out early, maybe grab a chess game in the local park, research a paper he would be presenting, or, on rare occasion, head out for a beer (in his case brandy) with Morgan or his other team-mates. After all, it was Friday.
But Spencer Reid had an agenda this evening, a resolution that he was firm on making, no matter the risk. And he was wise enough to know there was risk. Tonight, he was preparing to confront Aaron Hotchner on a matter that was technically none of his business, but which he couldn't let alone. Depending on how obtuse (or ass-like) Hotch was opting to be, he could put his very job on the line. But Reid was no coward...and he wasn't weak. And when the fight was one he could believe in, he was prepared to risk everything in battle.
So when he'd heard Prentiss moaning about her stack of files still to be dealt with, preventing her from taking off early for a weekend at Virginia Beach with some girlfriends, he'd offered to take them off her hands. She couldn't believe her good luck; Morgan looked at him like some kind of a martyr; and Reid had quietly basked in the knowledge that he would purposely be the last man in the office with his boss. Sadly, since Haley's death, one could pretty much be assured that Hotch would never leave before them.
It was at precisely 6:32 that JJ took off, following Morgan and Rossi out the door. And as soon as he heard the distant elevator chime that indicated that they were truly gone, Reid rose and walked with some purpose. to his boss's office. He knocked just once, and then stuck his head in the doorway.
Hotch barely glanced up; his own stack of paperwork was before him. "You should head home, Reid. Any paperwork you have left can keep until Monday."
"And you can't say the same?" Reid asked, eyebrows raised.
Hotch shot him a cold, granite glare. "Did you need something? Because I'm not looking for advice on how to handle my paperwork."
Reid came all the way in the office and shut the door behind him. That made Hotch lean back in his chair, his forehead furrowed at the intrusion. His elbows came to rest on the arms of his chair, his fingers forming a tent in front of his mouth, as if to hold back his words.
"I've heard a rumor." Reid started, his voice not faltering, though the rumor he'd heard had made him livid. "Is it true that you're ceding full custody of Jack to Haley's sister?" He plunged forward.
For the briefest second, Hotch's face flinched, but it was so quick a reaction that Reid might have imagined it. His boss's eyes bored in to him. "I fail to see how this is any of your concern." He said, his voice terse.
Reid, to his surprise, matched the glare with one of his own. "I have known you for nearly eight years, Hotch. In all that time I've had nothing but the highest regard for you. I have considered you for some time as one of the best men I know. I've also considered you a friend. And as a friend, I cannot sit back and watch you do this."
Hotch didn't move. The seconds seem to tick away, with only the faintest twitch of jaw to indicate the war he was no doubt having; a war within himself on how to answer best. Or perhaps it was his fight to stay calm and not kill the person standing before him. Reid had no idea which way this was to go.
"You are not a friend. You are a subordinate." The words were cold and cruel; Reid knew they were meant to be. He also didn't put a huge amount of stock in Hotch meaning them; rather believing his boss was hoping by any means to push him away from a painful conversation. "And you are well out of line, Agent Reid. Now I would appreciate it if you leave, and we forget this ever happened, because if you stay, you will be putting your job in jeopardy."
Reid might believe Hotch's words were spoken in anger, but that didn't negate the possibility of him actually acting in his anger. But this was more important than his job.
"Then not as your friend. As Jack's friend. Advocate. Whatever. I speak as someone who knows what it is to watch your father abandon you and not have the slightest clue why. Do not do this to your son. You may think you're acting in his best interest. You're not. What is in Jack's best interest is holding on to the one parent he has left. Not having that person walk out on you." Reid's voice betrayed, just slightly, the anger that he was feeling.
Hotch rose abruptly, coming around the desk and standing just inches in front of Reid. Reid was slightly taller than Hotch; but his boss outweighed him by a good fifty pounds. Still, he would not cower.
"Agent Reid, I am giving you one last chance to walk out of this office while you still can." Hotch whispered, his voice controlled with difficulty.
Reid would not let it go. "If you do this, Jack will spend the rest of his life wondering why he wasn't good enough for you. If you do this, then every choice he makes will be made wondering how you would react to it. He might bend over backwards, trying to achieve your imaginary approval. He might go the other way, and make every choice he makes because he'd think it wasn't what you wanted. No matter how much Jessica loves him, he will go to sleep every night knowing his own father doesn't want him, and every relationship he ever has will be colored by that fact. He won't trust people. He will carry a hurt that you cannot even imagine..."
The fist came out of nowhere, Hotch's swift punch knocking Spencer in to the door. Reid put his hand up to his eye and his other arm defensively in front of his midsection, a flashback to too many bullies from his childhood. But though he felt his eye swelling, though he was well aware that Hotch was seconds from completely pummeling him, he stood his ground. And forced himself to keep his one good eye on his now clearly enraged boss.
"Do not tell me what I can imagine." Hotch hissed, suddenly grabbing the front of Spencer's shirt. "I can imagine too many things too well. Your memory might be eidetic, but mine isn't exactly flawed. You stand in front of me and project your own pathetic life on my son. Maybe your father DID leave because he saw what you would become...a socially inept outcast, a drug addict, a pathetic failure of a man in any way but PHD's. Jack isn't you. And I know what is best for him...and it isn't me."
Reid had flinched inwardly at Hotch's cruel words. But he was a profiler; a damned good one, and knew with his head that Hotch was purposely trying to deflect Reid's comments to him by turning the conversation in a different direction. Knowing that didn't prevent the words from hurting; they were words he too often said to himself. But he didn't matter. In some ways, Reid pretty much considered himself a done deal; what damage was done to him was permanent now. Jack still had a chance.
"You...are...wrong." Reid spoke with quiet conviction, lowering his hand from his swelling eye. "And I don't care if you fire me...I don't care if you beat me unconscious, I will not leave here until I make crystal clear the mistake you are making. I can't stop you from doing this. But I could not live with myself if I just sat back and watched you do it."
Ten seconds passed, Hotch still with a death grip on Reid's shirt, his eyes still not blinking. Then his lips twisted in to a cruel smile. "Fine, Reid. You've made your point. And you're fired. I'm sure that I can put together a compelling enough case for the action to Strauss from your vast amounts of past transgressions."
Silence. Hotch let him go and walked back towards his desk.
Reid slowly took off his gun, and his badge. He laid both down on the desk in front of his boss...his former boss. He kept control of his voice. "I'd suggest sticking with the drug addiction. It's the most unassailable. You can just say that you discovered I'd been attending meetings for the past three years. It's not like I told you about it. It's not like we'd ever had a conversation about it." A slight bit of bitterness did creep in to his voice then. "It's not like you helped me." He gave himself a shake, remembering his point. "And none of that matters. Honestly, Hotch, if you are capable of abandoning your son, then you are not the man I thought you were. And I would rather not work for the man you are."
With those final words, Spencer Reid turned and walked out in to the bullpen. He picked up his messenger bag, took one final look around the one place he'd been truly happy his entire life, and then walked out the door.
Hours later, he found himself sitting in his back yard. His house was a tiny two bedroom bungalow that he rented; he'd done so primarily for the postage stamp back yard it included. The yard was completely walled in on all three sides, affording him total privacy; it held a grill and a small patio set, along with a strip used for some light gardening. It was his oasis of sorts, where he went to clear his head from the worst of what he saw on the job.
Tonight he sat with a brandy in his hand and a pack of ice on his eye, staring at the fire he'd started in the grill, grate off, wondering what his next step was. Would Hotch use his past drug abuse as a cause? While he'd meant to sound blasé about encouraging it, he realized now it had been a mistake. Applying for a teaching position (his best option) became much more problematic as a past drug abuser.
And the next question was, where? Did he stay in the area? True, all of his friends were here...the only other logical option was Las Vegas, if he wanted to be closer to his mother. He'd grown up in Vegas, though, and for the most part the memories were bad. Hurtful. On the other hand, 'all of his friends' had been co-workers. Well, maybe not all...but most of them. The ones he was closest to. But how much of a friend was Morgan, really? Or Emily? Garcia? He'd privately always been afraid that they were bound to him by the job, not because of who he was. On the good days, he realized he was being stupid. Today was not a good day. JJ, of course, had bound him to her by making him Henry's god-father, but Henry was still a toddler and JJ was more than busy.
Besides, even if his team-mates had the best of intentions in staying close to him, they would be gone more often than not. Cases took them far and wide, for weeks at a time; squeezing in a lunch or a few beers with them would be a challenge in the best of circumstances.
Maybe he should start somewhere brand new? Only...he didn't have a whole lot of confidence in making new friends if he did that. Hotch's personal assessment, however cruel, pretty much mirrored exactly how he felt about himself. He trusted his brain with a profile, with remembering exact quotations from specific folios, with the lyrics to twelfth century folk songs and complex logarithms, but not with anything even remotely social. For better or worse, that was the legacy of his childhood; he'd been different his entire life and his father walking out and leaving a ten year old in charge of a mother who probably should have been declared incompetent had warped him.
It was those feelings, however complex they were, that had made him fight so hard for Jack tonight. Fat lot of good it had done. But someday, when Jack was confronting Aaron Hotchner about a myriad of baggage and hurt, he wanted Hotch to remember that someone, at least, had tried to stop it. Even if Jack would never know.
He just wished it had worked. Jack deserved a better than the fate Spencer Reid had been dealt. Hell, Jack's hand might even be worse; a dead mother was worse than one with Schizophrenia. He never doubted his mother loved him, however many bad spells she had; there were still times, even now, where she made sure he knew just how much. Jessica loved Jack, but an Aunt wasn't a mother.
Reid sighed one more time, put down the ice pack, and once again began to wonder what was next.
"It doesn't look as bad as I was afraid it would." A voice spoke from the area by the garden gate that led towards the driveway.
Reid looked over. Hotch was standing there, hesitating.
With the faintest spark of hope in his chest, Reid replied, "Turns out you don't punch any harder than you kick."
Hotch took that bit of familiarity, a peculiarly good memory between them, as an invitation to come forward. He did so, looking uncharacteristically awkward. "I could smell the fire from the front door; when you didn't answer, I figured I'd come around to the side." Coming up to the table, Hotch returned Reid's badge and his gun, placing both down almost reverently next to his brandy glass. Reid met Hotch's eye with a question, and Hotch sat down in the chair opposite him.
"Reid...what I said to you was inexcusable." He began, looking anywhere but at the younger man's eyes.
"What you said to me was true." Reid corrected. "Why do you think I am fighting so hard for your son?"
Haunted eyes now did look him over. "Reid...I have to let Jack go." He pleaded. "I don't want to, but I can't risk...can't risk..." Hotch cringed and looked away once more. "Please believe that I have to do this."
"Hotch..." Reid interupted. "Just tell me why. Are you afraid of another Foyet, of some unsub targeting your son?" Spencer guessed.
Hotch almost laughed, and then suppressed a sob, two of the least expected sounds Spencer could have imagined. "God, no. That I can fight. That I can prepare for. Protect Jack from outsiders? I will fight to the death to keep him safe. No unsub will ever get near him again. But Reid...how do I protect him from myself?" Hotch wiped his eyes.
Reid reached forward, grasping his boss's arm. "What happened, Hotch?" He asked, in as gentle a voice as he could.
Funny...Hotch was the better profiler, not that Spencer was bad. But where Reid was better was at talking an unsub down, at getting one to lower his defenses, at opening them up and getting the pain to pour out. Empathy. It had gotten Reid in to trouble on more than one occasion, in fact; he remembered Hotch chewing his ass out over it once. But now it was the best weapon he had.
"Reid...I...I..." Hotch cringed, looking away. "I hit him." He whispered.
Now he understood.
"Tell me exactly what happened." Reid repeated, his voice still gentle.
"Last weekend, we'd just returned from Hartford...that case...five children left without parents because of that unsub. And Jack was...whining. I was tired. He wanted my attention. I just wanted to sleep for a year. He was complaining about everything...nothing I did was right. He refused to eat his sandwich; I told him he wasn't leaving the table until it was gone. And he threw it at me. And I...lost it. I grabbed his arm, picked him up off the chair, and swatted him three or four times. He screamed...he was terrified...I'd never struck him before. And he ran up to his room...I could hear him sobbing...and I just sat there..." Hotch had tears running down his face now. "I just sat there and listened to him cry himself to sleep...and I...I called Jessica and told her she needed to take him, that I couldn't be around him anymore...I can't risk that, can't risk.."
"Can't risk becoming your father." Reid answered for him, seeing that Hotch had lost all ability to form words.
They all knew...without ever having spoken about it...that Hotch's father had been an abusive control freak. How could they not know? Funny thing about pofilers. Two things were true, as far as Reid could see: nobody who was completely whole would be able to become one. And nobody who became one would have a shot in hell at keeping their demons from other profilers, however well hidden they were to the world at large.
Hotch wiped at his eyes with his arm, and looked desperately at Spencer. "You understand, then, why I have to do this?"
Reid chose his words carefully. "I understand why you feel the need to do this, Hotch. But I still don't think you're right." He held up a hand to forestall Hotch's further comment. "Hear me out on this one, please?"
Hotch sighed, and nodded for him to continue.
"What you just told me...Haley's been dead for little more than six months. Jack was cranky. He's five. It's going to happen. You were exhausted. He wanted your attention, and wasn't above trying to get it in any way he could, even in a negative way. You lost your temper. I know you didn't want to, but you did it, and it can't be gotten back. Now, do you think you left bruises?"
Hotch looked horrified. "God, no..."
"I wouldn't have thought so either, from how you described it. So I would imagine that Jack was more frightened than hurt. So...you're a five year old kid, your mother is dead...and your father just did something completely out of character. You freak out and run to your room." Reid paused. "Did your father leave bruises?"
"I...what?" Hotch blanched slightly.
"I know what kind of man I think your father was...but it's not like it's something you've ever talked about. What I've always thought was that he was viciously violent, and cruel...I've thought that because of some cases we've been on with unsubs, and because of how I've watched you interact with Jack...because of the look you'd get on your face when we were dealing with children who'd been abused, even if they went on to become unsubs. Am I right?" When Hotch just stared at him, Reid ran his hands through his hair in frustration. "Talk to me, Hotch. You know it won't go any farther."
Hotch nodded, feeling pulled in to the past. "The last time was the worst..."
The memory assailed him.
He had been out at basketball practice, and he felt that familiar grab in his stomach as he approached his silent, perfect house. The perfect house with the perfect white picket fence that hid a score of horrors. His brother Sean was just three years old, twelve years younger than he was, and as Aaron had walked through the door, he heard Sean crying. Swallowing hard, he'd run in to his father's study.
The old man was hitting Sean, repeatedly, with a wooden ruler. Hotch had looked around, and saw a spilled cup of juice…he did not yet know what profiling was, but within seconds he figured what had happened…Sean had toddled in to the office to see what "Daddy" was doing, had spilled his drink, and his father was now deranged with anger at a simple accident.
"Dad…Dad…" Aaron called. "Dad, let Sean go…he's too little…" Aaron dropped his gym bag and came forward, running his hands frantically through hair. "Please…I'll clean it up!"
"He has to LEARN…" His red-faced father grumbled, still swinging the ruler. "Not to make messes." Sean wailed; seeing his brother, he sobbed out, "Aaaaaaarrrrrrrroonn!"
Aaron made the decision in seconds. He reached over to the wall, grabbing his father's prized, framed photo taken shaking hands with the mayor at a local golf tournament. And he screamed. "DAD!"
Catching his father's eye, Aaron gave him a falsely brave glare, and the most arrogant smirk he could manage. And he lifted the frame high over his head, then swung it forward, down on the desk, shattering glass and destroying everything.
His father roared in anger and let Sean go…Sean smartly ran like hell out of the study, for the safety of his room.
There was no safety for Aaron. The man grabbed him by the shirt and threw him down, on top of the shards of glass. Instinctively he tried to curl in to fetal position as the kicks started it, before the man began to slash at him with his belt. Aaron didn't scream…there was no point. He did his best to hold quiet the sobs that eventually broke from him…it hurt…EVERYTHING hurt…the glass digging in to him, the belt slashing through his tee-shirt and shorts, the kicks that threatened to cave in his ribs whenever his old man's arm needed a rest. But Sean was safe, and that was all that mattered. Sean was safe.
A grimace of pain brought Hotch back to the present, back to the cozy back yard and his persistent agent who would not let him run from his problems. Not this time. "Did my father leave bruises? No, not at all. Four broken ribs, three cracked and fifteen lacerations from broken glass, and about seventy or so welts, twenty of which had broken skin…that doesn't quite qualify as 'bruises'." He looked away, a sour feeling in his gut. "You've underestimated him."
Reid gave an understanding nod. The silence ticked away, as his young agent allowed him to collect himself.
Finally, he gave half a shrug. "Even before that time, in the course of his abuse, I'd had two broken arms, broken collarbone...and too many bruises to count. Then he got cancer...and I had to act sorry about it." Hotch's face contorted in pain. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to pretend to mourn a man you'd come to hate?"
"No." Reid answered truthfully. "My father isn't dead yet."
He drummed his fingers quietly, watching his boss, before proceeding. "Have you ever discussed this with your brother, Hotch?"
A deep sigh then. "Sean doesn't remember it. Doesn't remember much about Dad at all, except what other people have told him, which, naturally, is all glowing and wonderful. I broached it once, in a round about way, and it was clear he had no idea what I was skirting."
Reid's eyes were thoughtful, and watchful. "You've never told ANYONE about this?"
"Not until this moment. Like you said, we're all profilers...people know...but nobody talks about it. Like what you've been through." A sudden, painful stab made Hotch look down at his feet. "All the shit I've been through on this job, Reid, all the things I've SEEN, and do you know what the single worst moment for me was, outside of Foyet? That incident in Des Plaines...Philip Dowd. Trapped with you in that hospital...screaming at YOU, kicking YOU, for all the word to see acting like HIM..." Hotch's voice rose with each word.
"Hey...HEY!" Eyes wide, Reid reached over to his boss, grasping both of his hands firmly, afraid the man would completely lose it. "Hotch...that was more than FIVE years ago! We're both ALIVE because of what you did, not to mention we saved a score of other people who were hostages. Hotch, you are NOT your father. You may have, in that moment in time, used what he was in order to get us the hell out of there...but for what motive? You put me in a possition to shoot him...you trusted me with that. It's one of your worst memories? Hotch, it's one of my BEST!"
That brought his boss to a full blown stop. "What?" He asked, all befuddled, brow furrowed low.
"I'd been on the job just a few years...the youngest agent ever. Most people still treated me like a teaching assistant. You never did. You took all the time with me you could to get me qualified for firearms, but when that failed, you never made me feel like less of an agent. And when the time came to move, you trusted me, despite having seen me shoot, with bringing the son of a bitch down." Reid let go of his boss's arms, but did not break their stare. "Hotch, that case is the first time I really knew I was an FBI agent. A few bruises were a very small price to pay for that moment." He tried to force a smile. "Besides which, I am assuming your old man never bothered to apologize?"
"Ha." Hotch snorted, sitting back just a bit. "I don't think the words 'I'm sorry' were ones he even knew." He sighed. "I did know that you never blamed me for any of that, Reid...though I never realized the slightly bizarre spin you DID put on it. But even knowing that...the place that I had to let myself go at that moment just wasn't very comfortable for me. It's haunted me."
"Clearly." Reid started to say something else, then decided against it for the time being. "We've gotten rather far afield from the issue at hand, namely, Jack."
Hotch once again returned Spencer's gaze with one that was both open and raw. "I don't want Jack to hate me, Reid. But...I can't risk his safety. Attacking you that day was a plan. Attacking him, even if not nearly as violent, that was uncontrolled."
"Okay..." Reid said slowly. "Let's go back to that night. Let's put ourselves in Jack's shoes...he's scared. He's never seen you this angry. And then...did Jessica just pick him up from you?"
"He was asleep when she carried him out." Hotch replied.
"Right. So, he wakes up then at Jessica's house. You're not there. The last time he saw you all he knows is that he made you very, very angry. And now suddenly people are telling him he's going to be living with Jessica permanently. I would imagine that what he's thinking now is that he's made you so angry, he's been so bad, that you don't want him anymore. And I don't think that's what you want him thinking." Reid grasped Hotch's forearm once more.
His boss's face had contorted in pain, his head twisted away. "Oh, God..." He tried to pull from Spencer's grasp, but Reid wasn't having any of that. And he was stronger than he looked.
"Hotch...talk to him. Go there...tonight, if possible...and talk to him. Tell him what you told me now. Tell him that you love him. Tell him that you're scared too. Kids understand more than we think they do." Reid managed a smile. "Even ones without eidetic memories."
Hotch forced a huff that might have been a laugh. He wiped at his eyes with his free hand. "Reid...I am scared. What if it happens again?"
"I don't think it will." Reid said, thoughtfully. "Like you said, this has scared the hell out of you too. And Hotch...you're NOT your father. Your father wouldn't be sitting here with me trying to figure out how in the hell to do what is best for his son." He paused, pulling his hand away, leaning back in the his chair. "Can I ask you something?"
Hotch gave him an incredulous gaze. "Seriously? At this point, could I stop you?"
Reid smiled wryly. "Did you ever get therapy after what happened to Haley?"
The sigh he got in return from his boss answered him before the words could be spoken. "No. I sent Jack for some...but I...just couldn't. I passed my psych evaluation."
"Which cleared you to go in to work with a staff of six people who are at best quirky, and handle jobs that require you to look into the bowels of human nature on a daily basis. The psych eval wasn't looking at how you were doing in your daily life." Reid paused, folding his hands together in thought. "I don't have a lot of regrets, Hotch, but the one I do is not seeking therapy after Georgia. I passed my psych evaluation too...but I wasn't alright. I did my damndest to not let anyone see that, but it didn't make it true."
Hotch's eyes were clear now. "I am sorry I didn't step in to help you, Reid. I wanted to. Gideon talked me out of it. He said he helped you. And I...was a coward. I wanted to not get involved because I'd be reliving what we'd seen you go through; I wasn't comfortable with doing that. I felt like enoiugh of a failure for what you suffered."
Reid was marginally surprised at Hotch saying that. "Hotch, YOU didn't kidnap and torture me. You can't blame yourself." Reid shrugged. "And I think Gideon did help me...as much as he was capable of. He wasn't actually real good at that kind of thing. I don't think, honestly, he ever really understood how badly the drugs sucked me in, or what hell I went through going off of them, or the daily battles I suffered afterwards. He wanted me to work it out for myself...but although any addict needs to make the first move on their own, they do far better with a support group. Eventually, I found one."
Anger tinged Aaron Hotchner's countenance. "If I had known that's all Gideon was doing for you, I WOULD have done more. He kept telling me I was better off not officially knowing, because then Strauss could never call me on it."
"He wasn't wrong about that." Reid admitted.
"Yes, because I make a habit of doing things 'officially' and 'by the book'." He scowled in to the darkness.
Reid shook himself slightly. "Stop making this about me. I've been sober for over three years now. This is about Jack." Reid got up, and extended his hand to his boss, lifting him from the chair. "Please go talk to him."
Hotch paused a moment, then pulled out his cell phone. Reid watched as he dialed. "Jessica? It's Aaron...I want to come by to see Jack..." Pause. "Yeah, I am reconsidering...someone made me see that I was being a colossal idiot." Another pause. "Yes, I know you told me that first." Reid found himself smiling. "You weren't as persuasive." A few seconds went by. "As fast as I can get there." He whispered, before hanging up.
"Don't speed." Reid warned, as he gathered his gun and badge. "Can I assume I am not fired?"
Hotch gave him the steely-eyed boss glare. "Your ass better be in your chair Monday morning, or I will have you hunted down."
Reid smirked, and went to douse the dying embers with water before heading in for the night, assuming Hotch would be seeing himself out. He was surprised then at the touch on his shoulder, and looked up in to Hotch's eyes.
"Reid...thank you." He said, with so much earnestness that Spencer found himself unable to do more than nod.
Then Hotch was off, to go retrieve his son. And Reid trembled just a bit, in relief at how it had all turned out.
Jack was going to be okay. So was Hotch. And he still had a job. Sometimes, things really did work out for the best.