author's notes: i'm not even going to pretend to make excuses, i caught the slash bug and i've been completely unravelling, oops. i just thought i'd finish this before we actually hit the date from the prologue in real life? all of the dialogue had already been written months ago, but i'm sorry if it seems rushed!

characters: Reid/Leighton (OC), Hotch, Strauss, Rossi, Natalie (OC),


SCARS REMIND US WHERE WE'VE BEEN;;

chapter thirty-five


Change is a force that can't be stopped, can't be held back, can't be hidden away simply because one is fearful of it. Change is just something that happens, sometimes suddenly, sometimes gradually, but it moves with a steady overwhelming force that no one can control.

#

Hotch has come to accept that change is an essential part of his life, and when it comes to his job it's hit or miss, bend or break, and when he refuses to budge things go to hell. He lost his marriage, lost Haley for good, almost lost Jack. He lets change overcome him because he'd have lost his mind a long time ago, his job requires flexibility and the ability to adjust to new situations quickly.

Sometimes he thinks he's gotten far too comfortable where he is right now, with this team, these people, a family more than colleagues. At times he worries that this family relies on each other too much, and if anything ever happens–no, that's ridiculous, of course, they've stuck together through the worst of times, even though it's all threatened to slip from his fingers.

But somehow they managed to make it through.

He looks up from his files when there's a firm knock on his door, open as always.

"Ma'am?" he asks, meeting with Strauss' unrelenting gaze.

"A word, Aaron?" Strauss asks, and he motions for her to sit in the chair in front of his desk. He knows why she's here, she's been pushing him for weeks now. She wants to put Morgan up for promotion so that he can become Unit Chief of his own team. But that's not up to him. "Have you given any thought to what we talked about?"

"With all due respect, ma'am," he says. "I'll tell you what I told you before. This is not my decision."

He's not going to force a change on Morgan if he doesn't want it, even though he thinks it could be good for Morgan and his career at the Bureau.

"You could talk to him," Strauss exasperates, in that tone of voice that really tells him she's not here for a discussion. She's here for results. "He values your advice."

"Have you given any thought as to why you're doing this?" he asks.

Strauss draws a hand over her thigh, wiping at invisible lint. "If you're suggesting I'm doing this to further my own career–" she starts, and looks up at him.

He doesn't deny it. He knows how he can talk to Strauss.

"Talk to him, Aaron," Strauss says, and gets up from her seat. "That's an order."

Rossi sees Strauss leave Hotch's office no five minutes after she entered. He and Hotch are the only ones here already, the rest of the team on their way in for review of a new case.

"Come to try your luck again, Erin?" he asks, approaching her with caution as usual.

"I'm only thinking of the future of all my agents."

He knows what's going on, Hotch had told him weeks ago when Strauss had first brought it up. He understands Hotch's hesitation, it's Morgan's decision and if Strauss is so keen on this happening she's the one who should go talk to him. But he thinks Strauss came to Hotch because Morgan would see right through her as well.

"And the fact that your position as Section Chief is up for review–" he suggests.

"Don't push me, Dave," Strauss says sternly.

He holds out his hands in surrender. "I wouldn't dream of it."

Strauss retreats with her head held high, coming across Leighton and Reid as they make their way into the office.

"What's going on?" Reid asks, probably because Strauss dropping by this early in the morning has never been a good sign before.

It's not that he disagrees that Morgan would make an excellent Unit Chief, he's proven his leadership skills amply in the past and it'd be a great career move. And he thinks the change could do Morgan some good. Everything changes eventually and it's no use trying to fight against it.

"The wheels of bureaucracy turning," Rossi answers.

#

Reid has never been a big fan of change, it knocked him out of his comfortable routine of going to work every day, having the same coffee in the same mug with the exact same amount of sugar. It made the faces around him seem like strangers for just a split second before he came to his senses and realized change had been overcoming him for years.

His father leaving.

His mother slowly slipping away from him.

Gideon leaving.

JJ leaving.

Emily leaving.

Somehow he's equated change with absence, people ripped away where he'd come to depend on them, where he needed them to remain because what is life without routine if not chaos? He doesn't like chaos.

"... and they all lived happily ever after," he reads out softly, but he felt the boy nestled against his arm drop his head a while ago, falling asleep before he could finish the story. He looks down at Henry and pulls the sheets up over him. He gets up, careful not to shake the bed too much, and turns off the night light.

Reid closes the bedroom door, finding Leighton waiting for him outside.

"See?" she says. "There's nothing scary about this."

Kids aren't really that scary when they're not his own, he thinks, there's not much he can do wrong.

Leighton had decided it was about time he babysat Henry for more than a few hours at a time; not only was he Henry's godfather, the boy absolutely worshipped him, hung on his every word, squealed at every magic trick, especially when Reid insisted he couldn't tell him how it was done–it was a powerful and satisfying feeling, knowing he had the ability to make someone believe in magic, the way his own father had when he was younger.

"But he's not mine," he says, because it's one thing to be someone's godfather, it's another to take up the responsibility of being a father himself. He clears his throat. "Ours," he corrects belatedly.

"Raising a baby is a big responsibility," Leighton agrees, "but we'll never be alone. You don't think JJ's going to be around for us? Or Emily? Hell, even Morgan."

He grins a crooked smile. "I guess I have a bigger family than I thought." But if he's being really honest with himself it's not the thought of facing this alone that scares him senseless, he knows he has people in his life that he can count on. What scares him is his mother's genes, his own genes, passing on something that'll leave a child crippled in his social life.

He's afraid that becoming a father will too big a responsibility, that he'll be overwhelmed and run like his father did, leave Leighton heartbroken, leave his future child scarred.

Leighton reaches her arms up around his neck. "We both do," she says, and presses a kiss to his lips.

They make their way into JJ's and Will's living room, but he lags behind. He stares at Leighton, weighed down by the thoughts that have been haunting him for a long time. He's accepted that Leighton thinks she wants this with him. But how can she be sure?

"Are you serious about this?" he asks, catching Leighton unaware because she turns around and frowns.

"About what?"

"Having a baby."

Leighton draws in a breath, twisting on her heels. "One day. Yes."

"But when is–one day?" he asks tentatively, the question making his heart beat faster. Leighton's been saying 'one day' for a while now. "I mean, we're both turning thirty-two in a few months and–"

"I don't want to rush into this," Leighton says. "I want you to be ready."

"I'm not–" He sighs. He thinks she should know this about him already. Maybe she's too afraid to say it. "I'm never going to be ready, Leigh."

Leighton blinks up at him, her eyes betraying her fear. But he chooses to word his fear outright. "I can get prepared, but I'll never–" He takes a deep breath. "This doubt won't go away overnight."

It might never go away, he realizes.

"And neither will I," Leighton taps into a fear that's laced far deeper and far more completely into his heart, the fear that Leighton will leave to find her true happiness somewhere else. With someone else.

Leighton closes the distance between them, her hands settling on his face. "I'm not going anywhere, Spence," she says. "I love you and I want us to have a family. Together."

At the end of the day he just can't picture himself in that situation, being a partner, a father, a family man. He knows the team's family, but that's different, there's parts of him they'll never know or understand, not like Leighton.

But he thinks maybe he should get prepared, because he absolutely doesn't want to lose Leighton. It's funny, because he's accounted for Leighton in his life, carved out a place for her and even though it took some time they're in a good place. He likes where they are right now, comfortable around each other, intimately and emotionally, a steady routine between work and a private life he never thought he'd have. A baby would mean adjusting again, throwing everything around to accommodate this new person that'll be completely dependent on them for everything.

In any normal situation he would ask his mother for advice, but she'd tell him to take care of his heart first and let his head catch up but he knows that'll happen anyway. He couldn't talk to his father even if he'd been alive because that's not the relationship they had. And he can't really talk to JJ.

So there's only one person left.

"Hotch, can I–talk to you for a minute?" he asks first thing the next morning, entering Hotch's office without knocking first, closing the door behind him before Leighton notices this is where he disappeared off to.

"Of course," Hotch says, seated on his couch. "What's on your mind?"

"I've uh–" He fidgets for a few moments, his hands never quite settling. This isn't really professional, but he doesn't know how else to ask. "Leigh and I–" But it's still not the right word. "What–made you want to have kids?"

A hint of surprise touches Hotch's eyes, but he manages to control it for the most part. It must be a strange question to be asked by a colleague. Hotch motions at the seat he's standing next to. "Have a seat."

He sits down, still feeling tremendously uneasy about this whole situation.

"You know Haley and I were high school sweethearts," Hotch says.

"Right." He nods and averts his eyes. Haley and Hotch had time to properly think this through, years of love and trust between them. With Leighton it sometimes feels like they're running out of time. Maybe they are. "You knew each other for years."

"You and Leighton have known each other for years," Hotch points out matter-of-factly and it suddenly dawns on him that it's been five years, five years since he walked into that room at a police precinct in Chesapeake and met Leighton for the first time, five years since he realized she wasn't like other people in his life, treated him differently, laughed at his jokes, didn't roll her eyes whenever he spewed a random fact no one asked for.

Maybe this is just the next logical step.

"Haley really wanted kids and I wasn't opposed to the idea," Hotch adds.

"So you didn't have any doubts?"

"Everyone has doubts, Reid," Hotch says. "I was already working strange hours. I wondered if it was justified, leaving Haley alone for days at a time."

This job destroyed Hotch's marriage, made him an absent father to Jack for a few years. He doesn't want to be that kind of father, he knows the pain of that too well. Could his own experiences be a cautionary tale to him?

"I still doubt myself," Hotch says. "But I know at the end of the day, I love Jack and I want what's best for him."

He can't imagine it, loving a person so quickly, so completely.

"How do you know what's best?"

"It's an instinct." Hotch gets up and walks over to his desk. "Not something anyone can teach you. But it'll come."

He gnaws at the nail of his thumb, losing himself in thought; he and Leighton have a strong relationship, and Leighton wants this more than anything. He'll never be ready but there has to be a point where he accepts that this is a real thing that's happening.

"You know she'll leave," he says.

Hotch sits down behind his desk and looks up at him, an amused smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "You know she doesn't like being profiled."

#

Leighton wakes up to the sound of laughter and screaming children, her body feeling like she could sleep for another eight hours, but when she looks up at the clock she notices it's already 10 am. She frowns, stretching out long on the bed; she can't remember the last time she's slept this long. It must be years.

"Uncle Spence, you have to stay still!" she hears one of her nephews squeal, Sam she thinks, but she can't be sure. She smiles and drags herself out of the bed, curious to know what's happening downstairs. They're with her family for a few days to celebrate Halloween; the whole team needed a break after the past few hectic weeks.

She dresses quickly and freshens up, her body still tired and sluggish, but she hopes that will go away.

When she reaches the bottom step she sees Reid standing in the middle of the living room, arms stretched out, being wrapped up in fake cobwebs by four flailing children. Reid catches her eye and smiles, clearly enjoying himself while he entertains her sister's four little rugrats. She loves seeing Reid interact with children, and she can't help but fantasize about him taking care of their baby, should they ever have one. What a sight that would be.

"Auntie Leigh, look!" Lucy runs over and hugs around one of her legs. She walks over to Reid haphazardly, trying to remain upright with a toddler twisted tight around her leg. She reaches up and presses a kiss to Reid's lips, immediately earning herself a soliloquy of complaints.

"Auntie, no," Matthew pulls at her hand. "You're supposed to be scared of him!"

"Can Spencer come trick or treating with us tonight?" Sam asks, and looks up at her with a pout.

Leighton smiles and brushes Sam's hair from his face. "You'd have to ask your Uncle Spence," she says, and all eyes in the room turn to Reid.

"I don't have a costume," he answers.

"You can go like this," Joshua suggests. "You can be the victim of a giant spider attack!" he shouts and starts chasing his sister around the room, Lucy crying for her mom.

"Josh, stop scaring your sister!" Natalie calls from the kitchen. Leighton leaves Reid to fend for himself in the living room and makes her way into the kitchen, reaching up for a bowl from an overhead cupboard.

"He's great with the kids," Natalie comments.

Leighton chuckles. "When it comes to Halloween he is a kid." But she thinks it's a nice quality for any father to have, cherishing some part of his inner child. She shakes her head, not sure why she's being so sentimental.

"I'm serious," Natalie insists. "He's been keeping them off my hands all morning."

Leighton checks her watch again: 10:20am. "Did I really sleep that long?"

"Are you okay?" Natalie asks and raises a hand to her forehead. "You feel a little feverish."

She bats at her sister's hand and shrugs, no longer hungry all of a sudden. "I feel fine."

#

Emily likes change. It was something that got forced on her at a very young age, her mother's job taking them to another country every few years. As a teenager she would've claimed to hate change, never sticking to one place for too long, never enough time to make friends or having to leave friends behind. It wasn't an easy life, but it's made her into the person she is today, linguistically talented, flexible enough to adjust to new situations when asked or forced to.

Yet her time with this team, with these people, hasn't been subject to that much change. It's been seven years and it's the longest she's ever held a job, the longest she's ever been with people for a prolonged period of time. And she's not so sure change would come as easy again, not after Doyle.

She returns to the small precinct conference room with a handful of snacks Leighton had asked her for, only to find Leighton asleep on the table, hunched over in her seat, head resting on her arms. The rest of the team was chasing down a suspect now, she and Leighton rooting through files.

She shakes at Leighton's shoulder, Leighton jolting upright almost immediately. "Sorry," Emily says, and sits down next to Leighton at the table.

Leighton shakes her head.

"Are you okay?" Emily asks. "You don't usually fall asleep on the job."

"I'm fine." Leighton rubs at her eyes, attempting to chase her drowsiness away. "I just can't seem to catch up on sleep."

"I don't suppose you still want these," Emily says, pointing at the snacks now on the table.

"God yes, I'm starving." Leighton lunges forward for a bag of chips. "I feel like I've been eating for two weeks straight."

Emily raises an eyebrow; it's true, Leighton's been eating a lot more than usual and she's not the only one who's noticed. JJ had pointed it out to her a few days ago, but neither of them had made a big deal out of it. Still, it's possible that–

"Don't look at me like that," Leighton says, tuning into her curiosity.

"You think you could be–" Emily starts, but doesn't finish her question. It's not such a strange notion, Leighton being pregnant, but she doubts this is something Leighton and Reid planned.

"No," Leighton answers perturbed, but there's a distinct sense of uncertainty to her tone. Leighton's eyes glaze over, and she can see the gears in her head turning, maybe going over the typical pregnancy symptoms, sleeping a lot, eating a lot, weight gain, and somewhere in there she can see Leighton making the calculation.

Leighton looks at her, a strange panic in her eyes. "Not a word to anyone," she says.

She holds up her hands in surrender. "My lips are sealed."

She's not sure Leighton's ready for this change.

#

Change is inevitable.

Leighton never had an opinion on change one way or the other, it was something that happened and she rolled with the punches. And then the Ripper happened and it put things in perspective-maybe she'd been taking change too lightly, because suddenly here she was cut open and bare and it was a change so big it left her scarred, literally. She'd developed a steady aversion to change during her recovery, PTSD interfering with her emotional balance.

It was only after she'd fully healed and dealt with her emotional problems that an acceptable status quo returned. But she was never the same again. After the Ripper she was forced to take a step back, figured that she'd always had it too easy to really appreciate the impact change could have on a life. She still rolled with the punches, but she became more aware of it.

She's all too aware of the change that could take place once she looks at that stick again, a minus or a plus sign waiting for her at the end of it.

She'd bought a pregnancy test at the grocery store around the corner while Reid was in the shower; they needed some food anyway and this way she could keep it from him. Emily's question, fair as it was, had scared her out of her wits. She'd gone over her behavior these past few weeks, the excessive sleeping yet somehow she was still tired, the occasional nausea, the eating. And then she'd done the math, calculated the last time she had her period and to her horror it'd been two months. She'd just been too busy to notice.

She waited for Reid to go to sleep before sneaking into the bathroom, opening the box with the test inside and reading the instructions carefully before taking the inevitable plunge.

How could she not have noticed?

How had this even happened? She was on the pill and they were always safe, so she shouldn't be pregnant. Maybe this was just stress getting to her.

She knows she should talk to Reid, and the thought of keeping this from him almost tears her in half, but he's averse to the idea of even talking about babies. She always thought that if the time really came, possibly even years from now, she'd need all the arguments in the world to justify having a baby together. But this—what if he leaves? What if it's too much too soon and he can't compartmentalize this fast enough?

She glances at the pregnancy test, having waited the prescribed amount of time.

It comes crashing over her with the force of a tidal wave, unstoppable, cascading through her and leaving her cold. The little plus sign is unrelenting and no matter how many times she blinks it doesn't disappear.

She's pregnant.


#

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