A 2012 Criminal Minds Big Bang Story

by kuriadalmatia

Summary:When Reid quits the BAU shortly after Elle resigns, Hotch struggles to keep his marriage and new team together. The only things that get Hotch through the day are letters from Reid as the former agent travels the US. With two cold cases haunting the team and the murder of Gideon's longtime friend, Hotch reaches his breaking point and contacts Reid.

Pairings: Hotch/Haley, Hotch/Reid, BAU team
Rating: FRM
Warnings:AU, profanity, graphic case violence, sexual situations
Author's Notes:A few key points about this A/U – Reid leaves the Bureau shortly after Elle in Season 2 (prior to "The Big Game/Revelations") and Hotch and Haley never had a child. I've taken some liberties with S1 & S2 case timeline as well as replacements on the team. Please note there are references to canon cases but this does not necessarily follow the canon timeline. Some locations mentioned in this work have been fictionalized.

Special thanks to ice_ziggee for keeping me in line with the first half of the story, offering sound advice and for the encouragement. I adore her to bits. All the mistakes you find are absolutely mine. Thanks to Kitten0409 for tracking down the screencaps for Hotch's divorce papers. To daylyn for the "Banned Casinos" question. The artwork created by blythechild is absolutely stunning and I can't thank her enough for her patience and encouragement as I struggled with writing this story. Finally, to the mods at cm_bigbang for their patience and graciousness for allowing me quite an extension. Thank you all!

Disclaimer:The Mark Gordon Company, ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television own Criminal Minds and Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior. 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.

"A friendship can weather most things and thrive in thin soil; but it needs a little mulch of letters and phone calls and small, silly presents every so often - just to save it from drying out completely." – Pam Brown

The only reason why Hotch stopped his brutal, verbal profile of the smug man sitting in front of him—the only reason—was because he caught the look that flashed in Reid's eyes. Hotch was in the face of Craig Marcheon Senior, the uncooperative father of their prime suspect. Marcheon's alcoholism, womanizing, and systematic abuse of his eldest son were the foundation for the UnSub's psychopathy and Hotch explained that to the older man in very specific, harsh terms.

The analytical part of Hotch—the one not caught up in the fervor of taking this man down a peg—gave Marcheon credit for reading him so well, for choosing the exact moment to spit out a comment to incite Hotch's wrath. It was that moment that made Hotch loose his famed self-control.

Hotch would have continued to dismantle this bully, to dig deeper into the man's psyche and pull out all the skeletons that were hidden behind closed doors, except that—for whatever reason—he glanced at Reid.

The newest member of the BAU didn't attempt to stop him from going after Marcheon. Clearly, the man thought that interrupting would be a bad idea. Instead, Reid observed the exchange with an almost-blank look on his face. Except for that flash in his eyes, one which Hotch couldn't even begin to decipher.

It took an enormous amount of willpower, but Hotch reined himself in. He ended the interview with a sarcastic, "Thank you," and marched out of the bastard's home. They were no closer to finding Marcheon Junior, and all Hotch had accomplished was giving Reid a crystal clear picture of his childhood. Oh, and Marcheon fodder for his (possible) defense testimony.

By the time he and Reid were back in the SUV, Hotch regained control of himself. Embarrassed that he crossed the line and his subordinate had seen it, Hotch knew he had to explain … apologize … something…. The words were surprisingly hard to say to a rookie with barely six months of the BAU under his belt. "Reid … I …"

"You don't have to explain," Reid interrupted him softly. The younger man met his gaze, his empathy and warmth clear. "You really don't."

So, like a coward, Hotch didn't because he knew that if he tried to, Reid would launch into one of those unbearable rambles.

Reid never mentioned it again.

But the thing about Reid's eidetic memory—which was primarily visual but with some aural aspects—was that Reid never forgot.

Hotch would realize that later.

Much, much later.

David Rossi once said, "It's not the biggest cases that make you question why you're doing this. It's the 'no brainers' that really make you sit back, take a full swig from the bottle, and say, 'What the fuck?'"

In the ruthless way Hotch's mind worked, he knew it was easy to replace Elle. She was intelligent and intuitive, the type of agent that the BAU strives to recruit. Although the gunshot would had healed, she never mentally recovered from the damaged inflicted by Randall Garner. She rebuffed Hotch's attempts to reach out to her after her shooting; it was clear she still blamed him for her injury.

As much as he didn't like it, Hotch knew he would have to accept that. Still, passionate agents like Elle knocked on his door all the time (or were thrust in his lap by Strauss and he was forced to take them on).

Reid, however, was a different story. Hotch tried his best to follow up with his youngest agent beyond the Sunday dinners that became a weekly ritual since the man joined the team. He could see the guilt eating away at Reid, how Reid blamed himself for the entire Fisher King mess and especially for Elle's injury.

Hotch's arguments that Reid was blameless, that the only person responsible for Garner's actions was Garner, were met with a bland stare and a shrug of the shoulders. Even when Hotch ground out that he gave the order to send Elle home, that he didn't specifically tell Anderson to stay with her, and that he should have sent her to the same hotel where Haley was in protective custody made no difference in Reid's perception of his own guilt.

But when Elle crossed that line and killed William Lee? (Okay, she never admitted it and Dayton cops considered the case closed as did Internal Affairs, but … Hotch knew.)


"He's going to leave the BAU," Hotch quietly declared one night when he and Haley were in bed with the lights off. Reid left an hour ago after having dinner with them and watching Sunday Night Football.

"Spencer seemed fine tonight," Haley replied as she tugged on the blankets.

Hotch stared at the ceiling, recalling the evening's conversation. The verbal sleight-of-hand that Reid excelled at had been on full display. It was why Hotch sighed, "That's what worries me."

"There comes a time when you realize you can't catch them all. The question you have to ask yourself is: do I keep chasing?" – Katie Coles

"Maybe you just need some time off," was Hotch's immediate response after reading the opening lines of the letter Reid handed him. He knew it was what Reid was hoping he wouldn't say but the phrase just tumbled out. The words were what Gideon would say, what Gideon always said when one of his protégés wanted to call it quits.

What Hotch wanted to tell Reid was: I envy that you know your breaking point.

God knows, Hotch had no clue what his own was.

Disappointment and hurt flared briefly in Reid's eyes but it was replaced by a cool expression.

Neutral. Isolated. Almost disdainful.

"This is what I want, sir," Reid told him, tones formal and posture Academy perfect.

"My door is always open," Hotch managed to choke out as he extended his hand. He wasn't going to fight Reid's resignation. He couldn't. It wasn't fair. He hoped the, "On and off the record," didn't sound as desperate as he thought.

"I appreciate that, sir."

"Aaron," he corrected softly. "Please, call me Aaron. And I do hope you will continue to have dinner with us on Sundays. Haley is convinced she can make you like football."

Reid ghosted a smile. "Thank you for the invitation. I'll … I'll do my best."

"You know that it's coffee at nine in the morning but green tea with mint at three in the afternoon. You know what to order for lunch on a Tuesday if you're in San Fran's Mission District and when to purchase that gossip mag for the flight. You know their behavior. They know yours. But you know what? You don't really know them, and they don't know you at all." – Elle Greenaway

The new configuration of the team was working (sort of, not really), but it was the best Hotch could do with the talent available and the limitations set forth by Strauss. Supposedly because of budget cuts, he was only allowed to bring in one new person to the team. JJ took the steps to become an official profiler while Beth Griffith, recently transferred from CTU, took over the geographic and linguistic analyses for the team.

Reid's departure took more out of them than anyone was willing to admit, especially Gideon. The senior agent continued to withdraw from the group, and Hotch knew it was only a matter of time before Gideon completely dropped off the grid, whether by his own hand or simply disappearing.

They'd get through it; they always did.

Hotch hadn't heard from Reid for almost two months and he worried. Haley worried. She even called Reid's landline only to find it had been disconnected although he still maintained his old apartment. Reid's cell phone had been a Bureau issued one, and to Hotch's knowledge, the man never got a private line. Hotch was tempted to ask Garcia to track Reid; he wondered if she was keeping tabs on her Boy Wonder. Yet, he refrained.

Spencer Reid stepped away from the Job, and Hotch had to respect that, even though he didn't want to.

Sixty-seven days after Hotch's last contact with Reid (not that he was keeping track on his calendar or anything), a letter arrived at the Hotchner home. He recognized the stationary immediately; it was the same type of envelope Reid used to send his daily correspondence to his mother. Yes, Hotch pounced on it like an overeager child getting a letter from Santa, but he worried, damn it.

Reid's script was flawless, precise. It was nothing like the scribbled notes he would turn in with case files. This? This was elegant. His words? Lyrical. Reid wrote about taking Amtrak along the East Coast since travel for pleasure was something he had never done before.

The postmark was from Charleston, South Carolina; Reid included historical tidbits about what he'd seen. Four paragraphs were dedicated to how South Carolina was once known as the Iodine State and the SC Natural Resources Commission did a PR campaign in the 1920's and 30's to promote the high levels of the chemical found in the state's fruit and vegetation. There was no mention of serial killers or anything remotely about the Job.

Hotch read the letter twice. He shared it with Haley because she worried about Reid as well, and there was nothing in the letter deeply personal to Reid. He carefully placed it back in the envelope and made space for it in his home office desk.

The next day, he casually mentioned to Garcia, JJ, Morgan and Gideon that he'd received correspondence since the former agent had requested Hotch to do so. Garcia, Morgan and JJ were delighted about the update from their former colleague. The news hadn't gone over well with Gideon; Hotch could see the jealousy brimming just below the indifferent veneer.

Reid's former mentor did not like it when "talent was wasted," and he firmly believed Reid's was after the younger agent left. Gideon also didn't like being snubbed.

Hotch ignored him.