Title: Widower's Guilt

Author: Kuria Dalmatia

Rating/Warnings: FRT/PG (mild profanity)

Characters/Pairing: Hotch, Prentiss/Reid

Summary: When Prentiss is declared dead, Reid naturally turns to a fellow widower, and Hotch struggles to deal with it.

Word Count: ~1,100

ARCHIVING: my LJ, DW, AO3 and FFNet account... anyone else? Please ask first.

TIMELINE: Spoilers for Season 6's "Lauren"

December 2011-February 2012

COMMENTS: Unbetaed. Not my usual pairing, but I wanted to dabble with Hotch as a fellow widower when dealing with Emily's 'death.'

Feedback always welcome.

DISCLAIMER: The Mark Gordon Company, ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television own Criminal Minds. Salut! I just took them out to play and I promise put them back when I'm done. I'm not making any profit just trying to get these images out of my head.

No one knew except Hotch, he was sure of it.

And Hotch? Well, he figured it out pretty much from the get-go.

Well, maybe not exactly. But still, it was early on.

Hotch figured it out the first night Reid and Prentiss came over to his apartment, fourteen days after he had been released from the hospital following Foyet's attack.

Spencer Reid and Emily Prentiss. Together. Lovers and … maybe, if things worked out (more specifically, on the day the job stops gnawing at their souls and their hands stop feeling cold), married.

Oh, they had tried to keep their interactions to a minimum. Tried to mask the easy banter that went beyond just being good friends. Beyond affection for sci-fi, Vonnegut and Gibson. But the aftereffects of being stabbed by Foyet included extreme hyper-vigilance on Hotch's part and the need to ruthlessly profile anything and everything as proof that he was still on top of his game.

So Hotch knew.

While part of him wanted to be furious that they were shamelessly flaunting their secret relationship, another part of him realized that they weren't. It was just him paying attention to all the small details that he refused to acknowledge before.

He knew.

Because in those horrific months after Foyet's attack and Haley's murder, the only two people he could bear to be around were Prentiss and Reid. Because Prentiss and Reid didn't act like a traditional love-struck couple. They worked. They functioned.

He wasn't fussed over, but loved with their unique style. They helped get him through those moments where he just wanted to dive off the proverbial cliff.

Contrary to popular belief, Hotch wasn't impervious. His kryptonite wasn't necessarily the threat against Haley and Jack. His true kryptonite was that he hadn't been able to stop it.

Prentiss and Reid knew it. Dave did as well. Hell, Hotch supposed the entire team knew. But only Prentiss and Reid really pushed him on it. Dave tried but only succeeded in having his head verbally taken off more than once. Hotch couldn't do that with Prentiss and Reid, and he wasn't sure why.

Maybe it was because Hotch felt bad about snapping at Reid when the man was healing from a painful injury. A man unable to take heavy-duty painkillers because of an addiction forced on him by an UnSub, yet he sat on Hotch's couch and was just there.

Emily and Spencer were just there.

Silent. Strong. Supportive.

It was the reason why at that hospital in Boston, when the only choice they had was to fake Emily's death, JJ delivered the news: "She didn't make it off the table."

Because Hotch knew the horror of losing someone he truly loved. He knew the nightmares and the what-ifs and the flashbacks that hit out of nowhere. He knew the despondency and the anger and the anguish.

He knew.

If his liquor cabinet was a sentient being, it would tell his story.

I didn't get to say goodbye.

Hotch had vomited in his mouth a little at those words, because he knew just why it crushed Reid so much.

Hotch couldn't repay the debt properly, to show up at Spencer's door with a bag full of groceries and DVDs; he was a single parent. He couldn't offer that selfless shoulder of a fellow widower.

More importantly, he couldn't betray Spencer like that.

He just couldn't.

The one-on-one counseling sessions were bad enough.

The most he could offer Spencer was a choked out, "My door is always open," which was never a lie. Hotch just hated himself for hoping that Spencer never took him up on his offer.

Of course Spencer did. He didn't even blink an eye when Hotch explained that he didn't tell Jack that Aunt Emily had died.

Hotch never wanted to explain to his son about a faked death. Ever.

If Spencer wasn't in mourning for the loss of (for all intent and purpose) his wife, Spencer would have picked up on the distinctions … the precise wording … the fact that they never outright said that Emily was dead. It was all just implied (except the part when they buried her and gave her a headstone and went through all the motions of honoring the dead). Spencer would have realized that there was much more going on that what was in the public eye, Hotch was sure of it.

But Spencer was a grieving widower who didn't have the luxury of public acknowledgement, which made it all more poignant and painful.

All the more harrowing.

Yes, Spencer did show up on Hotch's doorstep more than once. Usually near midnight. Twice at two in the morning. They didn't talk. They just sat on Hotch's couch and stared at the blank television screen, Hotch drowning in guilt while Spencer drowned in sorrow.

It was the reason that when the assignment in the Middle East came up, Hotch did the most cowardly thing possible. He accepted it without a word of protest. He bargained with Jess to watch Jack for ten weeks while he was on assignment. He left his only son, the son he swore he would do anything and everything to stay close to.

He left a grieving widower who had simply asked (as was his right) for understanding from someone who had been through what he had endured.

Before he made the announcement to the team, Hotch pulled Spencer aside. He spoke slowly and carefully, wondering if his hints at Emily's actual status could be deciphered. Yet Spencer was distracted, skittish almost. As if Hotch were leaving him at the worst time.

People often thought that the worst times after a beloved spouse's death were in the days that immediately followed.

It wasn't.

For Hotch, it was about six months afterward and sitting in Jack's classroom as the parents went around introducing themselves. Being a single parent wasn't an aberration. Being Aaron Hotchner, the man who lost his ex-wife to the Reaper, was.

So Hotch's desertion three months after Emily's "death" was really shitty (self-imposed) timing.

"I'm sorry," Hotch said earnestly.

"There's nothing to be sorry for," Spencer countered.

"Whatever you need …" he offered, although they both knew those were just words.

"I know."

The embrace was eerily similar to the one they shared on that dismal night in Georgia, the night when Spencer dug his own grave, shot a man, and began his journey down the road of addiction.

It only added to Hotch's guilt.

He hoped there would be a time when they were reunited again. Hoped that Emily could walk through the door of the BAU and become part of their family again.

Hoped that this deception did not destroy what Spencer and Emily had built together, that they could weather this storm and live happily ever after.

They deserved that. They really did.

###### Finis ######