Title: Let Him Not Deceive Himself… or Five Times Spencer Reid Called Aaron Hotchner Classic Narcissist.

Warnings: Profanity. Semi-ignorance of 7th season aside the beginning and since no one had seen it yet, certainly not me, references to the opening are minimal and after the premiere AU. The story is consistent with Famous Last Words but that one doesn't need to be read because important parts of the plot will be heavily referenced when necessary. Spoilers for up to the end of 6th Season.

Pairings: Hotch's and Reid's friendship. Others to be specified on later point. Might contain minimal slashy references but nothing too offending other than a small freak out and while I wouldn't mind to write Hotch/Reid I'm withholding the actual idea until after the premiere.

Summary: 'You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you do not trust enough' Frank Crane. Betrayal has consequences and Hotch worries if Emily's return would cost them Reid. He isn't planning to give up. Not this time. Friendship.

Word count: Around 7000 already and counting up.

DISCLAIMER: The Mark Gordon Company, ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television own Criminal Minds. I just took them out to play and I promise put them back when I'm done.

Feedback welcomed with open arms.


You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you do not trust enough.

Frank Crane

Spencer Reid

He kept his eyes closed and was breathing deeply, slowly. Faking sleep. From the distinctive prickling on the back of his neck he knew that he was being watched, very closely.

He knew that he should be seated somewhere around the briefing table, maybe not at the table itself but he should keep his eyes trained on Emily, ascertaining like the others did not so long ago that she was very much alive, exhausted and just there… back with them.

Except he wasn't. He crashed in the solitary armchair in the corner, with his back turned towards the rest of the team claiming complete exhaustion, mild headache, which he didn't have yet and the need to sleep.

But he didn't sleep. He couldn't sleep. Not when his mind was trying to rationalize everything that happened in past few months, trying to rationalize death and resurrection of Emily Prentiss, trying to rationalize the feeling of betrayal that was ragging inside him, tearing him apart, gnawing on the edge of his mind and wrecking his heart.

He trusted his team, he ALWAYS trusted his team because trusting them meant surviving. He trusted them all on many levels but he ALWAYS trusted them.

But from the whole team he trusted the two of them the most.

He trusted JJ because she always knew how to cheer him up, how to be strong for him when he wasn't. She was his closest friend, practically an older sister and she always had been emphatic with him. It was trust that build over the years, rooted inside him and she trusted him enough to make him godfather of her son…

She also stood there in the middle of hospital's waiting room, looked him in the eye and said that Emily didn't make it off the table… and when he tried to rush… to ascertain… to make sure… to see because he couldn't believe… just couldn't believe it… She stopped him, she let him cry in her arms…. She stopped him…

He admired her strength back then, he always admired this strength in her, the ability to provide support, comfort and a shoulder to cry on.

She looked him in the eye and lied. She lied. She fucking lied.

And he was so angry with her… so fucking mad that he couldn't stand to look at her.

And Hotch…

From the whole team aside of JJ he trusted Hotch the most. Always. Morgan was his best friend but there were things with which he couldn't turn to Morgan but he could turn to Hotch knowing that Hotch would understand him.

From the whole team Hotch knew him the best. He knew when to step up and shake him… He knew when to step down and just let him be… He knew when to take him seriously and when not…

Regardless of what Gideon, JJ, Emily, Morgan and Garcia thought about this it wasn't a spurt of the moment decision to trust Hotch when Rafael had him on the gunpoint. It wasn't… It wasn't because he knew them… He knew them all…

He knew that he couldn't trust Emily… Not back then. She wasn't around for too long, she wouldn't understand quirks, wouldn't remember references. He didn't know how she would react.

If he had given the message to JJ or Garcia they would end in tears. They would forgive him because he was in hell and the Satan was with him… he was going to die and dying people say things they don't necessarily mean to…

Unlike JJ and Garcia Morgan would take him seriously, he would take every word he would say and it would hurt him and Morgan had demons on his own to deal with. Even in his own private hell Reid couldn't help but protect his friend in the only way he had… by omission.

Gideon would forgive him like JJ and Garcia would because Gideon was never able to understand it. Guide him, teach him, yes. Understand? Perhaps in the early years when Reid was just a rookie and Gideon wasn't jaded by Boston…

It took Reid a lot of time to realize that Gideon started slowly falling apart long before he abandoned his badge and his gun and left the team for good. Gideon would never understand the desperate plea for salvation. He didn't understand the lure of drugs and didn't understand the struggle, he thought that he did but he didn't. Most certainly he didn't understand that Reid didn't need a fucking permission to struggle, he needed a harsh meeting with reality. But that came later, after Georgia… Gideon wouldn't understand…

Not like Hotch did. Not like Reid trusted him to and knew at the bottom of his heart that Hotch would understand, would know right away that he didn't mean those words, that they were a rouse, a desperate, possibly the last cry for help from the man who was on the verge of dying… Man who already, albeit technically, died.

'I chose Aaron Hotchner… He is a classic narcissist. He thinks he is better than everyone else on the team. Genesis 23, 4. Let him not deceive himself and trust in emptiness, vanity, falseness and futility, for this shall be his recompense…'

He had chosen Hotch back then and he had chosen Hotch after Emily died. Chose to admit that the world stopped making any sense, that their job wasn't worth standing by when someone you cared for had passed away.

He was never fond of Carter, not like he was fond of Hawyer, Benton and Kirk they might not be friends but they let him be himself and accepted him the way he was, slowly but they did. He mourned them but he used the pain coming from their absence to continue doing his job, being better at what he was doing.

When Emily died… When Emily died the world became less brighter… there was no pleasure, no comfort to be found in work… in reading… in learning… finding interesting quirks… hunting bookstores for something new and tasteful which he could recommend for her… or old editions of the books she appreciated… finding movies they could watch together…

It took weeks before he even could look at his reflection in the mirror… Months before he dared to smile without thinking that he shouldn't smile because Emily would never smile again. It took months to find comfort in laughter.

And it took Cynthia to finally laugh without Emily's shadow looming over him.

Cynthia, his beautiful daughter. His precious little flower. His little angel. His northern star. His very reason to come back to work, to hunt serial killers, kidnappers, psychopaths, sociopaths… His everything.

He had a chance to walk away from the job before. Settle on less… or on more. He was struggling after Georgia and Gideon, he was never able to fully forgive the man for that, had given him a permission to struggle when all he needed was being placed on the edge of the abyss and being told that he had no excuses, that everything he had done to himself after leaving Georgia was him and him alone. That it was not Tobias, not Charles and not Rafael but HIM, that he had a life ahead of him and that he was choosing to throw it away, that if he only asked he would receive help and that it was his and only HIS choice to make a step into the abyss or a step back to the tract.

In New Orleans he learned that he could walk away from the job. He could board the jet, write a report from the case, come back home write down the letter of the resignation, from BAU, from Bureau and start a life elsewhere, somewhere away and that with time he would make a decision who he wanted to be. He could do that. Rationally. He could. He had that choice.

But knowing that he could walk away didn't make walking away easy or right because walking away meant that he was letting Charles Hankel and Rafael win, admitting at loud that he was weak and that they won, that they broke him.

And he was anything but not weak. So he stayed, to prove to himself, to Charles Hankel, to Rafael, to anyone… that he wasn't weak, that he could still do this job, still use his knowledge for good, that he could offer the members of the victims' families the comfort of putting people responsible for their suffering behind the bars.

It was his drive during the detox, showing everyone that he wasn't weak, that he wasn't going to break even if many times he wanted to simply curl himself into a ball and howl in pain, scream the defeat… Except… he was stronger than that…

It got easier with time because he had to be strong, not only for himself, for Gideon even if nothing good became of that; for Hotch because Hotch couldn't lose another agent; for the team because he was needed and later because he was curious about Rossi and curious of what he could learn from him and the one that kept him firmly at his post… he had to be strong for the victims, for their families because it was his job.

Baby steps. One at time. Bit by fucking bit he inched himself to the point where he could freely admit that he could walk away as a strong man but he didn't want to walk away. And then was Chula Vista, then Morrison who got her friend and almost herself killed because she wanted to be on the top and later it was Chester Hardwick and realizing that one of the strongest men he knew was falling apart, that he almost got them killed because admitting at loud that he was going through a very hard time and he needed few days off to clear his head, settle his affairs in order… was too much below his own standards.

And finally Owen Savage. Fat load of good the whole case had done to him. He saved Owen from suicide by a cop only to three fucking weeks of having the team hiding from him that Owen died from lethal injection two years later.

The only good which had come from that was admitting to himself that he was an addict, that despite his best efforts there was still weakness inside him and a weakness to which he had once chosen to succumb and the weakness he needed to fight.

Hotch understood it and he did what Gideon wasn't able to. He put him on the edge of the abyss, while still holding on his arm and told him the truth, showed him that he understood and told him what he should do because the choice was still in his hands. Step forward or step back.

That was the real reason why Hotch wanted him around during Brian Matloff's trial. Not for schooling him in previously abandoned idea of one day making him an expert witness but because he wanted him to know that if he needed a crutch to lean on that Hotch would be there.

In a way he was and Hotch continued understanding why he elected to stay behind in Nichols house when Morgan was ready to body-haul him from the house…

They ended butting heads after Rhode Island. In the office, but not when the others could see or hear them. Rossi could get to Hotch because he knew him the longest but Reid didn't have to know him the longest to throw at Hotch double standards, to deliver him the same words he spoke in Georgia.

He knew that he walked very thin line between losing his job and losing Hotch's respect but someone had to confront Hotch for his own good and he knew that unlike from the others Hotch will take the criticism from him.

Stabbing… knives… needles… demons… psychopaths… Not only drugs could be addictive because rage was addictive too… because rage was even harder than drugs to step away from.

Hotch understood that too. It took a while to sink and weeks before they were on speaking terms again. What mattered was single precious moment of sitting at the station when the others were searching abandoned house for cop's family, sharing incredibly bad coffee and listening to Hotch admittance that if he went with the team and they would find the family dead then he would lose it. Admitting weakness, like he admitted to weakness almost two years earlier when he told Reid that what he wanted he wouldn't get.

And he came back even if he didn't have to not only because there were still families that suffered but because if Hotch could come back and still be the best father then so could he.

Fat load of good it did to him. Just two weeks after his return to work, a month after he learned that he was a father…

And of course it was Hotch who was watching him like a fucking hawk.

Emily was sleeping, so was JJ and Garcia. Morgan and Rossi were snoring too. Ashley wasn't with them any longer, she was transferred away to Seattle, to white collar crime.

"I can hear you thinking," Hotch said quietly as he slid into the seat in front of him.

"If you can hear me thinking then do yourself a favor and pick the other side of the jet," Reid muttered, still keeping his eyes closed. "This one is mine."

"She is alive Reid," Hotch said softly. "We have her back."

"I know," Reid shrugged. "I know that we have her back Hotch," he added quietly as he opened his eyes and looked at Hotch who had an unreadable expression on his face. "But I seem to be the only one who sees the price we paid, the price we are going to pay for having her back."

"Which is?" Hotch asked cautiously.

"I chose Aaron Hotchner… He is a classic narcissist. He thinks he is better than everyone else on the team. Genesis 23, 4. Let him not deceive himself and trust in emptiness, vanity, falseness and futility, for this shall be his recompense…" Reid whispered. "I told you during those charming grief counseling session that if we cannot keep each other safe then why we are making any of this," he said bitterly and he paused to lick his lips before he added, "And now I'm thinking that if we cannot trust each other then how we are so supposed to make any of this."

"Reid…" Hotch started.

"Don't, Hotch," he hissed. "Just don't. I have tons of days off to cash, I'm taking a week off as soon as we get off from the jet and I'm not taking no for an answer."

"I think we should talk it over…" Hotch started.

"We are talking it over right now, Hotch," he said sourly. "I'm making a decision and you are accepting it. Just like we accepted Emily's death, decision that was made for us and we had nothing to talk about, but we had to accept it. Good fucking night. I'm taking that week off with or without your blessing. If you have to write official reprimand you can start writing it right now, I will come to pick it up by next Monday."

He closed his eyes and dragged his jacket to his neck.

"Reid…" Hotch sighed.

"Do I have to wish you nightmares or will you take a hint and sod off?" Reid muttered.

"We had to protect you, all of you…" Hotch said quietly.

"Well you are doing piss poor job when it comes to protecting…" Reid snarled. "Do you want names…"

"You are getting out of the line…" Hotch started.

"It's right fucking time someone should," Reid sneered as he opened his eyes. "We had your back after Boston. The higher ups were disinclined to believe that you would manage to head an unit with three dead agents and one severely depressed unit chief. You made it, not all on your own. You weren't the only person who bent themselves into a pretzel back then. We pulled through. We pulled through after Elle left. We pulled through when Gideon left and we pulled through after Haley left. We pulled through after New York. We got through Foyet. We made it even when JJ left. You know when things started falling apart? In the moment you had chosen to not trust us to understand the importance of pretending that Emily was death. In the moment you and JJ put yourselves above the team. You think I'm the only one who feels like that? We all do but Morgan and Garcia right now are too happy with good and shiny to concentrate on bad and ugly. Rossi? He knows you and he assumes that you know that already. Perhaps you do, perhaps you don't. We trusted you, Hotch. We had your back and we trusted in you when other people didn't, we trusted you especially when no one else did…"

"I know…" Hotch started.

"There were other passages, you know," Reid muttered. "Other passages that would make the message more readable, more disjointed, still enough for Rafael but not as hurtful. I know my passages and there were many discussions to chose from, discussions which I knew you would remember… Let him not deceive himself and trust in emptiness, vanity, falseness and futility, for this shall be his recompense… I wonder now if it was desperate plead for salvation or foreshadowing of the things to come?"

He closed his eyes and wrapped his jacket even tighter around himself.

"You know why I made a choice to not tell all of you?" Hotch asked quietly. "Because I knew you would understand…"

"Don't throw my own words at me," Reid hissed.

"… with time. I will leave you now. Take as much time as you need. Goodnight Reid," Hotch added and he stood up.

When the jet landed in Quantico he was the first one who left it, grabbed his bag and made it to his car long before anyone could catch up with him. He needed to be home. Need to concentrate on one thing that was left intact in his life and he needed to think.

Coming back to work was hard after Cynthia entered his life because every minute he spend out there was every minute he wasn't by her side. But he came back for her… and now he didn't know if he made the right call. He needed to think, he needed to clear his head, he needed to reexamine his decisions and this time, this time he needed to make the right call….

Aaron Hotchner

He had meet Spencer Reid for the very first time during a lecture at Georgetown. It was 8th February 2002, Friday. Standard lecture on negotiating techniques. Come in, give the presentation, give few examples and judging from the interest of the students run few exercises, come back home, pretend that he wasn't worrying that his marriage was slowly starting to drift apart, pretend that his job actually mattered to anyone and most of all himself. Pretend through the rest of his life that he wasn't becoming more and more jaded, more and more paranoid, more and more lonely.

He could always quit, move to Hawaii and start a new life. He could always live mundane life of a lawyer whose greatest worry was that his client's property was a square inch smaller in reality than it was on plans. It was wonderfully, annoyingly boring possibility that loomed over him. Possibility he had found more and more welcoming with passing days.

He knew he could, except deep down he knew that he couldn't.

For fucks sake he was barely thirty-six and he was burnt out like a sixty-six years old.

Gideon was getting on his nerves by shifting a crapload of work on his shoulders without as much as could you help me but with a lot it has to be done and I don't have time.

Dear God, keeping up with Morgan, Carter, Hawyer and Benton back then was a literal pain in the backside. They were supposed to be in their thirties? They were supposed to be bright future of the Bureau? How the fuck they made it to BAU?

He knew that he was being unfair but dear God… they were getting on his nerves more than Gideon did. He was tired, overworked and the four of them did little to help him.

Reid was different. Wholly and completely different. Intelligent, very mature and somewhat very childlike at the same time. He was full of enthusiasm, hidden drive and eagerness to use his talents for the best.

After meeting Reid, once and then again and again Aaron found himself in completely horrifying position of questioning his own eagerness for weekly disputes about psychology and sociology, biology too even if he didn't have a chance to use it often in the field.

He was thirty-six, happily married for the most of the time, he loved Haley, he wanted to grow old with her, he wanted to watch their kids grow, wanted to live long enough to see grandchildren. That was his plan for life.

Becoming enchanted by someone fifteen years his junior and a male on that wasn't part of the plan at all. Except he couldn't help it, couldn't logically list in his head what was about Reid that drew him like a moth to the flame from one dinner to another, from one discussion to another. At least not then, not right away.

Sexual appeal? That wasn't Reid, at least not to Aaron. There was no tingling, no dreams with questionable scenarios, no allure whatsoever even if Reid did have the allure which drew other people to him. The incident from their walk to The Stranger, dimly lit bar with great beer, greater steaks and fascinating jazz music, was never talked after it happened by any of them, though once in Kansas City Aaron allowed himself to give small reference to that incident by saying that Reid was hit on by every prostitute they approached.

Sexual attraction wasn't the reason why Aaron found himself drawn to Reid.

Yet Reid was very interesting companion and they never run out from subjects during their talks. It was during those talks when Reid's insecurities and his knowledge started blending in an image which made Aaron choke on a fry.

What drawn Aaron to Reid wasn't sexual attraction at all. It was sense of intellectual kinship and dear God, realization that the line between abuse and abandonment was thin, very thin and it left marks deeper than skin-deep.

Sean as the youngest was never fully able to understand what wasn't mentioned in his presence, in fact for his sake of mind was avoided at all cost. Malcolm didn't understand because he hated being in a lower class than his four years younger brother and hated Aaron on principles. Thaddy had done a runner faster than father was able to say his full name as soon as he and Mum got married.

He had found a younger brother in Reid, one with whom he could share small bits of his past, intellectual disputes over anything and one whom he could teach and protect.

Getting Reid through the academy was pure hell. Academically Reid could end the training within twelve weeks. Physically? A year wouldn't be enough. So Aaron coached him, he set a peace so rigorous that it was a wonder that Reid didn't drown him in Potomac.

Reid's company awoke in Haley motherly instincts. Towards the end of the training it was actually Haley who ordered Reid to move into guest bedroom so she could monitor his calories intake because he was getting thinner instead of bulkier.

Oh, she also drove Reid up against the wall, well not in literal sense but Haley liked cycling and cycling helped to built up muscles. In Reid it mostly caused three dislocated fingers in left hand, each on separate occasion and quite severe aversion to cycling for a longer while. Aaron didn't blame him, Haley's peace was murderous even for him and he participated in cycling marathons.

Later it was only natural to keep Reid close by because Reid was his rookie and he needed to learn. Reid needed coaching, needed constant reassurance and approval… Aaron hated William Reid with the same passion he hated William Hotchner for the very same reason of being crappy father who left both of them full of insecurities and inability to trust people easily.

Aaron went down that path before and he burnt himself on his own insecurities and mistrust more than once before he realized that in order to gain control he had to give some of it in the first place.

Reid wasn't a control freak. Not at the beginning, he was too insecure of himself, of his abilities, of his knowledge, and for fucks sake he had three PhDs under his belt already and was making his way towards two BAs. Reid needed to trust in himself first and foremost in order to gain control and it was slow and painful process that sometimes required a push here, a pull there and great deal of patience.

Two years flew by and Reid rightfully worked himself into the position of SSA. He still lacked experience and still looked absurdly young but during those two years he had came a long way.

Then was Boston and Bale…

Carter, Hawyer and Benton were dead, Gideon was in severe shock and Aaron, Morgan and Reid avoided losing their lives only because agitated Reid mixed the reports on traffic in Boston and lead their SUV to construction site. During the ride Aaron was barely able to stop himself from chewing on Reid's stupidity only because he had to keep Morgan from saying something which would destroy all confidence in himself which Reid gained in past two years and the tentative friendship the two of them were trying to form.

Aaron didn't believe in luck or coincidences or fate. But his mind couldn't help but supply to him rational and logical scenarios. If they didn't get stuck in traffic they would be on the site with Carter, Hawyer, Benton and Gideon. Reid's rookie mistake had saved their lives.

Reid was right in his accusations. After Bosto Aaron wouldn't have gone anywhere without them. Without JJ, without Morgan, without Reid… They went without Gideon. Aaron had been made Acting Unit Chief when Gideon broke down and the only reason their team was still on rotation was that they didn't fall apart after Gideon did. Back then it was JJ who helped them the most, who signed in as a field agent and relieved Reid, Morgan and Aaron from their hardest duties.

He might have been Acting Unit Chief but JJ was their driving force. She was their nagging mother who pulled her boys out from the sandbox, dragged them to dinner and forced them to their beds. If she didn't travel with them for the first few weeks Aaron was sure that they would live on takeaway and sleep at the stations just because they wanted to prove to Strauss and bunch of higher-ups that Alpha Team still could work, with or without Gideon.

Then Penelope came in and JJ traveled with the team a bit more, she relieved Aaron, Reid and Morgan from the harsher duties of cooperating with local offices, making accommodations, handling death notifications, being the contact with families and handling the media.

They all worked their asses off to prove their worth and when Gideon recovered enough to consult from the office the higher-ups had found other, temporal, objects of observations… until Seattle.

In the meantime from Acting Unit Chief Aaron went to Unit Chief. Gideon didn't think that he himself was strong enough to accept all the load it had carried, not again. As for Morgan, Morgan might have experience required to step up but he still didn't trust the team enough to be trusted with the team. Not back then.

They learned with time to trust each other's strengths, support each other in weaknesses. They clicked in.

It was difficult for them to adjust to Elle, more than it was for Elle to adjust to them. In a way Elle was promoted too soon and too late at the same time. She wasn't in Boston and didn't understand the closeness with which they were protecting one another. They opened up to her, but too slowly and too late.

Elle was slowly cracking on the surface before she was attacked. Small cracks at first. First the realization that BAU was prestigious and elite unit but also a hell of a pressure cooker. Second, the attack in her own home… cabin fever and PTSD were fatal combination, Aaron knew that from self-experience. Third, William Lee, alleged serial rapist, one that would go away because they trusted that Elle would be able to keep it together.

After Elle it was a downward spiral. Chicago, Golconda and Marshall Parish… One fucking nail after another. Carl Buford, Frank Breitkopf and Tobias Hankel… weeks apart.

Morgan held himself together. Putting Buford behind the bars in a way exorcised the demon of the past and Aaron knew that Morgan won't lose it.

But Reid…

Three days of hell. Three days of knowing that Reid, innocent, childlike and so full of life Reid was tortured by a psychopath. Watching how Tobias Hankel tortured him. Physically and psychologically… Staring at his unconscious form on the dirty floor.

Aaron remembered his promise to Diana Reid he made shortly after Reid joined the team and the two of them had ended in Las Vegas on a case. That he would protect Reid from harm.

Over almost three days he promised himself repeatedly that they would bring Reid home, alive and in one piece, that they wouldn't allow Reid to slip away like Elle did and this horrible realization that everything they were doing for the past two days they were doing only to bring Reid home for a funeral, his funeral.

If only Gideon didn't tell Garcia, didn't order her to hack into the site and post the warning…

Then Tobias Hankel brought Reid back… Only to hold a gun to his head to torture him further. Asking for names…

Reid passed psych evaluation with minimal damage, minimal case of PTSD but while Reid could fool Bureau's psychologists he couldn't fool Aaron, Morgan, Gideon, Emily, JJ and Penelope. PTSD, drugs, the need to escape, the struggle to keep it together. They all saw the downward spiral and they all tried their best to drag Reid back to the surface. But each of them had their own problems.

Miraculously after New Orleans it all had stopped. Reid was still struggling and he still kept them at arm's length but he was clean and started to smile again and step by step he was coming to peace with himself, coming to control.

When Dave came around Aaron allowed himself to step away a bit because Reid needed to relay on someone with clearer head than Aaron's and if Dave was able to adjust to Reid he would be able to adjust to the team as whole.

Few bad cases, one after another. Reid's issues, Aaron's issues, Dave's issues… they played huge part into what could be a catastrophe for the team. Then was New York and the aftermath, then Colorado.

Too much, too soon, too bad and after that from bad to worse and from worse to the worst. They pulled through. He pulled through.

Reid knew when, where and what to say. Reid had courage to hold him to double standards. Reid pulled through and if Reid pulled through then so could Aaron even if physically Aaron recovered faster than Reid. Aaron didn't try to apply double standards any longer, not to Reid.

And after Haley was murdered…

If it wasn't for the team… If it wasn't for their almost insane but admirable loyalty, their uncanny ability to have his back…

Morgan took some of the reports load without asking and Aaron wouldn't even realize what Dave, Reid and Emily were doing behind his back until he had enough time and peace to count his pile of cases left for him right after he arrived to work and later around lunch break.

Fifteen in the morning, twelve by lunch, five of which he managed to tackle in the meantime. Three were missing.

On next day the pile waiting for his approval got minimally higher but he was down four files by lunch and six by quitting time.

On the third day he had enough of that mystery of disappearing files so wrote down every detail he needed to recognize them and pretended through the rest of the day that he didn't discover that his files suddenly grew legs and wandered away on their own. By the quitting time seven of his cases decided to runaway and all seven turned up next morning they in the pile of cases waiting for his approval.

Dave took two, Emily took two, Reid took three. He smiled at the gesture and headed out to bring the lunch for the whole team. When he returned he realized that the pile of his cases had gotten smaller again, this time by ten and since he managed to write down their details for further recognition he laid in wait for them turn up.

They turned on Monday. Dave took three, Emily took two, Reid took four, Morgan took one.

What was more fascinating was when they managed to find the time to do so. Once he took out whole team for lunch and he was the last one by the elevator. He remembered leaving ten cases in his office and he returned to five files.

It took him few days to figure out the exact mechanism of the kidnapping and he couldn't help but admire their nerve. All they needed was getting him out of his office for a minute before either Emily or Reid tapped against the wall separating their desk and either Emily or Reid made their way up the ramp, into his office, grabbed quickly the files, dropped some of them into Henderson's waiting arms and proceed down the ramp to Dave's office, seemingly for a consult and then down the stairs on Dave's side back to their desk. Once the kidnapper was seated in proper place Henderson was slipping them the files they ransacked. Then, if time and caseload allowed either Emily or Reid disappeared from the bullpen for about ten minutes and if not Dave sometimes came by to pick a case file or two and proceed to disappear for few minutes.

But that was months ago and in the meantime JJ left to Pentagon, against hers and theirs protests. Reid and Garcia took it the worst but they did their best to hide how much they missed JJ. Slowly Reid started withdrawing himself from the team, talking about what gnawed on him less and less.

Miami shook them to their very core because it was obvious that there was something wrong with Reid and he was doing his best to hide it and failing. And the way he said pretended. There was nothing to pretend. Reid had a migraine.

It gnawed on Aaron. Only he didn't know if it was one time thing or if there were more. But he trusted Dave and Morgan to handle the issue. Jack was having nightmares, Strauss was breathing down his neck and finally Doyle…

Emily's death hit all of them but it hit Garcia and Reid the hardest: denial and depression to the contrary to Morgan's and Dave's anger and resigned acceptance Aaron worried about the two of them the most.

Reid's despair was tangible, his depression evident and getting out of Reid simple quip about reconstructing the skeleton of the first victim in Jacksonville in two hours rather than three which Aaron gave him was surprising.

Reid was still grieving, privately and Aaron knew this kind of grief, he grieved in the same way Haley's death in which Reid grieved Emily's.

Aaron knew that if they ever were blessed with being able to get Emily back Reid would unleash everything which weighed on his mind, heart and soul. He knew that even if Reid himself didn't. Not until it happened, not until it sunk, not until it would start hurting as hell even more.

Morgan was hell-bent on getting Emily back and he was their driving force during recovering Emily. Reid? Reid was a zombie during whole operation, a robot, an automaton and he was holding himself together thanks to tremendous amount self-control. Self-control that slowly started slipping away when Aaron confronted him.

Reid lashed out and he used everything he knew he could say to hurt Aaron just as much as he was hurting inside.

They were too much alike for Aaron to miss the signs. Self-control was everything which could hold either of them together. Reid grieved on the surface longer than Aaron did, he needed more time to compartmentalize loss but inside…

Right now the only thing that kept Reid from pulling Gideon and running away or turning his own gun against himself was his daughter. After he found her Reid returned to BAU not for Aaron, not for Morgan, not for Garcia, not for JJ, not for Dave. He returned for Cynthia, just like Aaron returned to BAU for Jack.

But unlike Reid Aaron had more time to adapt to being single parent, the sole parent, because Cynthia's mother was most likely dead due to advanced lungs cancer. Garcia was screening hospitals across the states for the woman that fit the description of Cynthia's mother but she was still coming with nothing.

It wasn't easy process but Reid was very slowly adapting. Since he came back to work after two weeks of leave of absence they went away on two cases, each lasting three days and three nights and in a matter of those six days Reid made more personal calls in a single day than he usually made during a month.

On both cases they ended splitting three rooms between the five of them. First night of sharing the room with Morgan lead Dave, who shared the room with Aaron into offering to switch the rooms. What made it even more curious he made that offer to Morgan and not to Reid.

Aaron understood why on the second night. Reid slept like a newborn. After telling Cynthia bedtime story Reid promptly fell asleep and slept through Jack's bedtime story and Aaron saying goodnight to Jack and his cousins Molly, Zack and Rory. Unable to fall asleep instantly after that Aaron settled on reading Green Mile and within half of an hour since he started reading Reid woke up again, pawed the nightstand for his cell phone, called Cynthia's caretaker, asked how Cynthia's day passed, how Cynthia was feeling, apologized for waking her up (the caretaker, not Cynthia), asked about Ginger (whatever he was referring to spice or a person Aaron was unable to tell), wished her goodnight and fell asleep again. Then Reid woke up three hours later, woke up Aaron in the process, proceed to talk about Paddington for full seven minutes (Aaron counted) and fell asleep again.

It happened again on the next night and Aaron (this time armed with his watch) realized that Reid woke up and called his home on almost regular three hours worth intervals, never on the whole hour, always fifteen minutes past.

Their second case took them to Savannah, which in contrary to Portland happened to be in the same time zone as DC. The pattern in calls was unmistakable. Fifteen minutes after eight – half of an hour for a minimum. Then fifteen minutes after midnight and finally fifteen minutes after three in the morning. The latter calls never took more than five to ten minutes and Reid was instantly falling asleep after making them.

Next night Aaron slept through midnight call but awoke to three o'clock call and amusing story of Billie Brave Rabbit and Friendly Cabbage and Reid was fast asleep after prancing with the rabbit through the garden.

It made no sense whatsoever. Reid's daughter was three and half years old, not a newborn.

But waking up pattern didn't affect Reid's job, even better, considering the circumstances Reid improved and worked harder than ever with renewed enthusiasm.

And now Aaron wasn't sure if Reid would be able to return again.

Aaron knew that if it wasn't for the support of the team he himself wouldn't return and right now Reid felt as if he had no support in the team whatsoever and even worse as if he couldn't trust anybody. Certainly not Aaron.

What Reid didn't know was that this time Aaron wasn't going to stand in the shadows and watch how he was slipping away. He had done it too many times in hopes that Gideon, Morgan, JJ, Dave, Garcia or Emily would get to Reid before he slipped.

None of them would be able to address with Reid the most gnawing, most pressing and most secretly hidden issue. The issue, Aaron wasn't sure if Reid himself was able to fully realize, at least not yet in all this mess.

Being in love with the woman he wasn't going to spend the rest of his life with.

Aaron took a deep breath and let it out hopping that Emily's return wouldn't cost them losing Reid.

No. He wasn't going to allow it and he won't be waiting for Reid's personal Chester Hardwick to admit that what he wanted he wasn't going to get.

Not this time. Not this fucking time.