Title: Rock Bottom

Rating/Warnings: R/M [profanity; substance abuse and mentions of thereof; mental illness(es); not beta read]

Pairings: Hotch/Reid,

Summary: When Foyet attacked, Haley AND Jack were killed. Hotch doesn't know what to do with himself. Hurt/Comfort Dr. Reid to the rescue!

Word count: ~ 15 000 for now

Spoilers: All the way up to '100', happens around 'Solitary Man's timeline and very briefly references it.

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 to put them back when I'm done. I also don't own anything else you can recognize from other places.

Author's note: It was supposed to be an answer to a prompt from HotchxReid Prompt Meme before real life and writer's block got there. It's not done, it's not even close to being done, might be close to the middle of it but I'm not sure. As for Reid… in my honest and biased opinion he's, for a reason of course, quite Houseian, not exactly the man himself but on a good way to become as bitter and cynical as House.

I hope that You will find this story enjoyable. I would be the most grateful for constructive criticism.


Rock bottom is good solid ground, and a dead end street is just a place to turn around.

~Buddy Buie and J.R. Cobb

"Sometimes there are no words," he said quietly before he licked his lips, took a deep breath and continued, "no clever quotes to neatly sum up what's happened that day. Sometimes you do everything right," he paused because against his best effort to stay calm his voice had wavered and pitched slightly, "everything exactly right, and still you feel like you failed. Did it need to end that way? Could something have been done to prevent the tragedy in the first place?"

He straightened in his uncomfortable armchair, propped his bad knee over his good knee and twinned his fingers over it allowing his elbows to rest on the arms of the armchair. He knew that his companion would be able to read him but he didn't give a damn about it. He needed to let it out and he would let it out, period.

"From 1995 till 1998 George Foyet shot, stabbed and bludgeoned twenty-one victims, men, women, all ages all types. When he reappeared in March 2009 he shot, stabbed and bludgeoned twelve victims. He killed his biological parents long before his first killing spree when he was just a kid. One of the victim from the second spree was Mike O'Mara, detective from Boston PD, indirectly he also killed Tom Shaunessy, the leading detective from the time of his first spree. In August 2009 he had broken into the apartment of Aaron Hotchner and stabbed him nine times. In November 2009 he murdered Hotchner's wife Haley and his son Jack. Haley was shot multiple times, Jack..." his voice wavered again, "Jack was cut open with a knife...He was only four years old."

He took a deep breath and added, "I was two, maybe three steps behind Hotch when he entered his study to search for his son, in Jack's favorite hiding spot... I saw it... the exact moment when it hit Hotch that Foyet got to Jack first... Sometimes I can still hear Hotch's voice... that inhuman sound tearing from the throat of a man who had lost everything, everyone he loved. He would have died for Haley and Jack, he wasn't supposed to outlive them."

"Is that what you think, Doctor Reid?" his companion asked. "Aaron Hotchner wasn't supposed to outlive his wife and son?"

"You know very fucking well what I mean, Doctor Cameron," he spat. "We are federal agents, we are profilers. We catch criminals for a living: serial killers, serial rapists, serial arsonists, pedophiles. Some of them are psychopaths, some of them are psychotic and none of them would have much of a problem with drawing their weapons at us and either shooting or stabbing us to death. This is the hazard of the job, Doctor, there is always a chance that there will be a case from which you won't come back home alive and instead you will be shipped there in a sealed coffin. None of us expects that we will outlive our beloved ones, it doesn't mean that we are suicidal only that we know that some day, one day, there will be a case from which we won't come back. Hotch knew that..."

She nodded slowly.

"Hotch lost everything," he said softly. "We all knew that, we all saw it, we didn't let him out of our sight..." he shook his head. "In the end George Foyet killed forty people... You have no idea how many times I wished that I could turn back time and to come back to that night in Boston for just a second, that's all it would take, one bullet to the head, one single shot and everything would be different..."

"Aaron Hotchner is still alive," she said calmly.

"Aaron Hotchner is dead," Spencer said coldly. "George Foyet murdered the man who was Aaron Hotchner, what was left is the shell of a man that breaths, eats, drinks, urinates and poops, the man who was once Aaron Hotchner is dead, George Foyet had killed him," he added icily.

"We both know that you don't believe it," she said simply.

"You don't know what I do or do not believe in," Spencer said sourly.

"If you really believed that Aaron Hotchner was dead you would have picked one of the nineteen remaining counselors that the bureau hires. You were forced to attend counseling but choosing the counselor was left up to you and you chose me," she said. "You didn't chose me because I'm a genius, not because I'm the closest to being your intellectual equal and therefore harder to play. You were assigned ten sessions with me, we are already on number five, for the past two weeks you limped in here precisely at three o'clock in the afternoon, parked your butt in that armchair and for exactly fifty-nine minutes you kept talking only about Aaron Hotchner and George Foyet and we both know that's not why Section Chief Strauss and Unit Chief Morgan," Spencer barely resisted a grimace, "forced you to attend these meetings."

"I was forced to attend this meetings because I'm having a hard time with being taken out of the field because of my bum leg," he snorted. "I was shot in the knee."

"On 17th August 2009," she said. "Today is 12th March 2010 and according to your orthopedist you should be walking around without the aid of your cane at the very least for last two months if not three."

"My physical therapist is a sadist and my orthopedist is no better," Spencer grumbled.

"So was mine," she shrugged. "And as you can see I participate in marathons."

"As limb-impaired," Spencer said sweetly.

"But I do participate in them which is more than can be said about you," she smiled at him. "Have you watched House M. D.?"

"Charming sociopath," Spencer shrugged. "The series is successful only because they have good actors, who don't mind limping, I do."

"And yet you limp," she said.

"If I could walk properly I would have," Spencer snorted.

"You would be walking properly if you wanted to walk properly," she said.

"I was shot in the knee, that's a physical injury," he spat. "It's not psychosomatic!"

"Really?" she asked.

"Where did you get your degree in psychiatric medicine?" he snorted. "Out of a paper-bag?"

"Georgetown, Howard, St Elizabeth's," she shrugged. "Speaking about St Elizabeth's Doctor Reid, I have a patient I would like you to meet, once you will start acting like an adult you are supposed to be instead of a rebellious teenager with an attitude."

"What kind of a patient?" Spencer asked grimly.

"Mine," she shrugged. "If you will decide to come I will be waiting for you at the entrance gates to St. Elizabeth's tomorrow at quarter to ten, do not be late."

"You are making it sound as if this session was over," Spencer muttered.

"Because it is," she said.

"I still have twenty-five minutes left," Spencer grimaced.

"During which you won't tell me anything you already hadn't tell me so..." she smiled. "See you tomorrow if you will decide to come, if not I will see you here on Monday, the usual time."

With that she stood up and made her way to her desk before she sat down and immersed herself into writing down something in the notebook.

Spencer stared, more precisely he glared. She had no right...

"Bitch," he said.

She raised her head immediately and asked, "What did you say?"

"That I have an itch I need to scratch," Spencer said quickly before he hoisted himself into standing position.

It wasn't easy task, even with the help of his cane, due to those damned chairs. One would think that the limb-impaired psych would get good armchairs, at the very least for herself but no, her armchairs were low enough that one's knees always ended above their waist and weren't easy to get out even for healthy people, let alone someone who had his knee joint rearranged and was still suffering from lingering aftereffects of the three surgeries done on his knee.

The pain that tore from his knee, ran through his quadriceps making his left leg spasm wasn't surprising nor was the fact that the spasm caused him to stumble but in the last moment he braced the weight of his body on his right leg and his cane, allowing only minimal discomfort to show on his face. She wasn't going to win this round, he wasn't going to let her.

He gave her small, tight smile before he moved his cane to his left hand and limped out of her office with as much dignity as he could muster. Luckily for him the bathroom for handicapped was close by and he limped his way there.

He closed the door to the bathroom and made his way to the sink. His knee was still throbbing and throbbing he could manage, he just needed to get himself under control. He braced his hands against the edges of the sink and gripped it tightly. He could do it.

But then his knee wasn't throbbing anymore, the pain was searing and there was no way in hell that he would make it down all the way to the garage on his own.

They told him that his knee was going to regenerate and that within a year since the shooting he will be walking properly and if he will be a good patient and will do all of his exercises he would be even able to run on his own.

He had done his part, he was a good patient, he done all exercises in physical therapy, followed all advices and instead of walking on his own he was still limping and wasn't really able to put his full weight on his bad knee without feeling the pain radiating from that place.

He was a field agent damn it, he couldn't work like this and he was sick of coming in here day in and day out... and if it wasn't for the fact that he was a provable genius and had the highest rate of the solved cases in the entire BAU Strauss would have forced him into early retirement by the end of December.

He felt how the bead of sweat rolled down his back. There was no way that he was going to make it down to the garage on his own like that.

He didn't even last three years and he hated the man he became. Useless, handicapped son of a bitch who made through three surgeries done his knee on NSAIDs and didn't even flinch because staying clean was more important to him than the relief from numbing pain that was radiating from his knee.

He didn't want to think about orange bottle with thirty white pills in his left pocket, new... unopened... tempting...

He wasn't going to make it down to the garage on his own. The pain was searing, it was burning his way into his brain, numbing him and leaving him as the quivering mess who was barely able to stand straight on his own.

He reached into his pocket, pulled out the orange bottle and without looking at it he shook out two pills out of the bottle into his right hand.

He looked grimly at his right hand and two pills nested in the hollow of his palm. Whatever he liked it or not he was a prescription drug-addict and the only difference this time around was that the doctors enabled his addiction and rather than Dilaudid which left visible marks he was on Vicodin which was relatively easy thing to swallow and hide.

He knew that addicts didn't get to have excuses but without Vicodin he wouldn't be able to even make it out of the bed. He knew how addictive the pills were but he needed them and he needed more than one since his counseling sessions had started.

'It's not psychosomatic pain,' he shook his head as he looked at his reflection in the mirror before he looked at the pills in his hand. 'One to get to the garage and one to get home and make dinner without having that useless limb propped up on the arm of the couch for about an hour.'

He wasn't self-medicating, he was in physical pain.

He looked one last time at the two pills in his palm before he brought them to his mouth and swallowed them dry. Soon the pain will be bearable enough for him to return home. He just needed to wait the worst out now.

By the time Spencer finally made his way home late afternoon had turned into early evening on its way out to moderately late evening because he had an errand to run in Silver Spring and if he wouldn't do it by today by the end of next week he would be contemplating putting a bullet through his head or his leg.

Naturally his late return considering the distance between Quantico and his home and Spencer's lack of fondness for fast driving caused the guest who was sitting on the front steps of his house to glare at Spencer pointedly as he limped his way towards his front door.

"You want me to do striptease for you here or can you wait until we are inside?" Spencer asked sarcastically.

"I know where you have been," Morgan answered. "How much you brought this time?"

"Enough," Spencer sneered as he climbed the two stairs to his front door. "My doctor's daughter is getting married next week, Vegas, big party, big money and before that he is attending a convention in Seattle and after the wedding he has another one in Boston. You can check it up with Garcia."

After short fumble with the keys Spencer limped inside and threw the keys at the table by the door.

"Would you mind if I kept it for you?" Morgan asked once he closed the door.

"Would you mind if I shot you in the knee?" Spencer asked pointedly. "I'm not self-medicating, I'm in actual chronic pain and every orthopedist with half a brain will tell you that I need painkillers to function otherwise I wouldn't be able to get out of the bed on a bad day and wouldn't last until lunch on a better one. So how was where the fuck you had been this week?" he changed the subject.

"Edgewood, New Mexico," Morgan answered. "It was fine and you are not."

"I'm not having this conversation either," Spencer spat before he limped towards the kitchen. "Right now the only thing that keeps me from putting the bullet through my head is this job and this pills," he fished out the opened bottle from his pocket. "If the doctors will chop my leg off it won't grow back, they won't attach a different one to take its place. Bureau's policy regarding active field agents is painstakingly clear: no limb, no field work. And while right now I'm just a cripple but I'm a cripple who is capable of taking care for himself without any help and with only few adjustments. If I would undergo amputation the doctors wouldn't be chopping off the leg below the knee but above it and I will not only lose my leg and majority of my mobility but I will also require constant supervision of medical personnel for months at the very least and I'm not even bringing up the possibility of suffering from phantom pain. Do your damn math Morgan and kindly sod off from making any decisions regarding body parts that don't belong to you."

"There are other ways than this," Morgan shook his head.

"Easy for you to say," Spencer snorted. "Knocked any door out of hinges lately?"

"You need help," Morgan said calmly.

"I'm getting help," Spencer said firmly.

"Reid, you are prescription drug-addict," Morgan raised his voice slightly.

"Didn't it cross your fucking mind that I already know it?" Spencer snarled. "The difference is that I traded Dilaudil for Vicodin. I was taking Dilaudil to get high, to be so high that I could forget what Charles Hankel and Rafael had done to me, to finally sleep through a night without a terror. I'm not taking Vicodin to get high, I'm taking Vicodin so I could get the fuck out of the bed, take a bath, eat breakfast, get to work, get the work done and come back home. My continued functionality depends on the bottle of thirty pills I need to take two to three times per day and if I'm having a really bad day sometimes I need four. Am I happy with it? No. Would I trade with you or Rossi or JJ or Emily? Instantly. Do I really have to take Vicodin? No, I can stick to NSAIDs popping them like Tic-Tacs for your entertainment and wait for them to cause liver failure if ulcer won't finish me off first. Any other bright ideas agent Morgan?"

"Addicts don't get to have any excuses," Morgan shook his head.

"You are right, they don't," Spencer snorted. "Do you want to talk about your excuses regarding continuous raids through the contests of my liquor cabinet?" he asked silkily. "At first there were beers, a can or two, then slowly a can became a small keg but it was heavy and not as effective as you wanted. Beer became wine, Spanish, heavy, sweet, heady, one bottle, two bottles until it was not enough. When it comes to numbing vodka is as effective as bourbon or whiskey. As long as you are in the field you can keep your head and get through but come Friday or the evening after you turn your reports..." he shook his head. "You keep coming to me because you know that I don't have any better right to judge you than you have to judge me but unlike you I know the difference and until now I chose to not act like a hypocrite because you weren't acting like one. So how it's going to be agent Morgan, you will tell Mama Erin that Spencer is big, bad junkie and needs to be checked into rehab while you would wait for said junkie to tell Mama Erin that Derek, her precious prodigious profiling progeny is having an ongoing drinking problem and in fact he had one for a longer while now?"

"I don't have a drinking problem," Morgan denied firmly.

"No, you just have a problem while you aren't drinking," Spencer shrugged.

"I don't have a drinking problem," Morgan repeated.

"Sure," Spencer quipped. "You can stop at any time, can't you?" he looked at Morgan as he raised a bottle of vodka from the fridge. "Like now perhaps?"

"I don't have a drinking problem," Morgan shook his head.

"You don't have to feel ashamed, not in front of me at the very least," Spencer offered as he placed the bottle of vodka on the counter and leaned against the cupboard.

Morgan opened his mouth to protest again but suddenly seemed to change his mind and turned on his heel before he left the kitchen. Soon after the door clicked shut behind Morgan and Spencer shook his head.

"Kubler-Ross One, Morgan Zero," he chuckled humorlessly. "At the very least I can put this away," he said to himself before he put the bottle of vodka in the fridge and took out a bottle of beer.

Once he opened it he brought it to his front porch and parked his butt on the stairs. For the beginning of March the night was quite warm and he occasionally enjoyed watching passing cars of people that hurried home to their beloved ones, to meet their friends. Fools who didn't know how precious was what they had until the very moment they lost all that they have.

Once he was sitting down with his beer by his right and cane on his left he reached into the inner pocket of jacket and pulled a pack of Camel Menthol and lit one. He closed his eyes as he inhaled the smoke, allowing it to fill his lungs and his brain with light-headiness smoking always gave him. He had been smoking since he turned eighteen and he finished cleaning and fixing up the house in which he and his mum lived in order to sell it to have money for her medical expenses. During the cleaning he had found thirty-eight open packs of cigarettes with one, at the most four cigarettes missing from the pack. At first he'd meant to throw it away but then he decided to bring them to Pasadena, his mum wasn't going to smoke them anymore but amongst his fellow young doctors of mathematics were few smokers who would be happy with a free pack or two.

In the end he distributed thirty-four packs of his mum's Camel Menthols for free or nearly for free either managing to negotiate a cup of coffee here and lunch there but the last three packs had remained in his possession for a longer while.

He smoke his first cigarette by the gates of Bennington Sanitarium on grim and cloudy Christmas's morning after his mother practically kicked him out of her room and called him no son of hers. Since then smoking became a vicious habit which butted its head when he was feeling really down or extremely nervous and as vicious habit as it was he had never became addicted to smoking, sure it calmed his nerves and allowed his mind to focus on something as absurdly simple as watching various shapes the smoke was taking in the air but he most certainly could live without smoking for weeks, months even.

He could live without cigarettes, he couldn't live without his pills and he had a right to occasional moment of indulgence in one of the few carnal pleasures he had left in this world, damn it.

"You've changed, Spencer," he heard soft, familiar voice coming from a little to his left.

He could practically hear the following thought going through the mind of the intruder which was, 'And not for the better.'

"I didn't change," Spencer answered without opening his eyes before he took another breath of menthol scented smoke. "I adapted which is more than can be said about you, Jason."

He knew that the use of his first name took the intruder by surprise and he knew that said intruder also realized that by giving the air of equality which they didn't have before he was really showing how much things had changed in last thirty months since they'd last seen one another.

He opened his eyes and glanced to his left at the intruder. Self-exile to God and Jason Gideon only knew where hadn't done the latter any favors, he no longer had a bald spot on the back of his head but was almost completely bald except from the area around his ears and those hair were almost completely white. Once well-built and reasonably filled out like the man who indulged himself into the pleasures of cooking and eating what he cooked now Gideon was much more thinner. His clothes were old and too big for him.

"Let's hear it," Spencer snorted.

"Hear what?" Gideon asked as he stepped closer to the front porch.

"You never really cared about manners and taking into consideration your inability to say goodbye properly like any normal person would I highly doubt that you came here only to say 'hello'," Spencer said simply.

"I was reinstalled," Gideon admitted.

"As a drama queen?" Spencer asked pointedly. "You didn't have to be reinstalled, you were always one and that hadn't changed."

"Sarcasm doesn't become you, Spencer," Gideon chastised him.

"You don't exactly have grounds to tell me what does or does not become me, Jason," Spencer reminded him. "You aren't my father nor my mentor and you hadn't been my boss for a very long time and even if Strauss and the Director had lost enough marbles to reinstall you as an agent of BAU they surely hadn't lost enough of them to reinstall you in superior position, they are happy with Morgan as Unit Chief and Rossi as Senior SSA. Additionally I happen to know for sure that only one team in BAU has an opening, it's my team and in only one position, Hotch's, on Morgan's old post as a Supervisory Special Agent, without the Senior part."

"True," Gideon agreed. "I wanted you to be the first to know..."

"Why?" Spencer asked. "I'm not the Unit Chief, nor the Senior SSA, I'm not even active field agent anymore, temporarily at the very least, but who knows what brass is going to decide for my own and team's good. Quite popular notion in recent months is leaving me behind in Quantico to work from the office, my office to be exact, perhaps you already seen the nameplate, it's right next to your old office."

"I've seen it," Gideon confirmed. "I was wondering..."

"If I will give it to you and move back to the bullpen?" Spencer finished. "JJ and Garcia convinced Strauss that having an office of my own would be beneficial for my continued efficiency and much desired recuperation and me having that particular office will be beneficial for team's closure. It's quite natural to expect seeing familiar face in the office of the man who is no longer with us."

"I'm a familiar face," Gideon said simply.

"But you aren't going to stay in BAU long, are you?" Spencer asked pointedly. "Private office is not on your contract, if it had been there you wouldn't be wondering if you can have it. As mad as it is Strauss knows what she is doing," he shrugged. "She brought you back because she needs an active field agent and somehow you passed your evaluations but she doesn't trust you enough to put you in superior position, more so she doesn't trust you enough to give you your own office so you can lock yourself away in your little world and close the door, you have to earn it and she knows you well enough to gamble that you aren't going to stay with us long enough to do so. You are going to be a fill in until someone maybe less experienced but more emotionally balanced will come along."

"You don't know that," Gideon shook his head.

"Not for sure," Spencer agreed. "But then explain this to me, if she knew that she was going to hire you then why this very morning she was still going through the applications and was lining up interviews?"

"Maybe because she wants to replace you?" Gideon suggested sourly and Spencer knew that to warrant such a remark he had to hit very low.

"Why would she?" Spencer asked innocently. "It's not that my overly inflated ego," he drawled the last part out almost exactly like Foyet did during his last call to Hotch and he barely managed to suppress a cringe, "got people serving under my command either killed or almost killed. I didn't order Turner, Malcolm, Hadrian, Jones, Hopkins and Norris to enter that warehouse in Boston. Turner's daughter is growing just fine, she is going to middle school this fall, her step-dad is a great man but he can't replace the father your order had killed, can he?"

Gideon looked down at his shoes.

"Who's next?" Spencer quipped. "That female agent who was shot in the safety of her own home because great Jason Gideon couldn't follow the rules, rules which weren't harming anyone because Garner's attention was solely focused on us. We didn't know enough about Garner's game to stray from his rules. Do you remember her now? Dark-brown hair, dark-brown eyes, she looked a bit like Sarah, she loved Mojitos, dancing to Salsa and playing Snacks poker. Her name is Elle Greenaway and she is fine, now. She works in Vegas's field office these days, she got married last year, her husband works in CSI, they have a beautiful five months old daughter named Haley. Did you know that?"

"No," Gideon shook his head.

"But I did," Spencer said. "Elle was and still remains my friend, one of the closest in fact. One who understands like no one else how it feels to almost die thanks to Jason Gideon's decision to deviate from the rules. Is this why you had given me permission to struggle in New Orleans? Because you felt guilty that I almost died thanks to your decision? And don't even start me on Flagstaff. The fact is, Jason, you have a history of making supremely bad decisions when you are in the position of power, bad decisions which never affect you directly but people around you, people who are supposed to trust you. Speaking about trust, did it ever occur to you why I've chosen Hotch over you when Rafael was playing Russian roulette with me? I bet it didn't. I trusted Hotch because Hotch saw me for who I was and always, even when I was the greenest of rookies, had treated me like his equal, because I knew that he would understand the message and wouldn't write it off as ramblings of a man who isn't in the right state of his mind, you would have."

"You are right," Gideon sighed. "I would write it off."

"Which is why I'm happy that I've chosen Hotch," Spencer said simply. "Which is why your permission to struggle didn't mean a shit to me. I was struggling on my own just fine without your permission, Jason. You weren't the one who helped me through the withdrawals, you weren't holding back my hair when I was puking my guts into the toilet, you didn't help me shower when I shit myself, you didn't spoon feed me with broth when I was too weak to raise my hand let alone hold a spoon, you weren't there where I was cleaning out my apartment from drugs, you didn't keep the visits to ER of my official records. I don't need to remember who had been there with me when I needed help the most because I know that they were people who actually were giving a damn about me. It was Hotch and Morgan who helped me to clean my apartment from drugs, who made sure that they were destroyed without a trace of evidence, it was Morgan and JJ who were holding back my hair when I was puking my guts out, it was Hotch who helped me shower and change clothes after I shit myself, it was Garcia who kept my visits to ER from official records and it was Garcia and Emily who alternatively spoon-feed me when I was too weak to move."

"You never asked..." Gideon started.

"I'm struggling?" Spencer sneered. "I wasn't asking for permission. I was asking for help, help I didn't receive for you. Playing chess with you? Hardly helpful. Elle and Emily were doing better job with teaching me how to cuss in different languages. Morgan practically had to drag me through the park running after his dog with leash-issues. Garcia played online scrabble with me in the middle of the night. Hotch was making up cases sorely for my benefits, once he almost turned one of them over to Strauss. JJ was attending Wizards game with me when she was in town and she was in town for almost every single one of them we were in town. You played chess with me and you let me win."

"You never said," Gideon sighed.

"I thought I didn't have to," Spencer grimaced. "You know what I learned after you left? Not only how to play through every permutation possible in a chess game, that was more of a side effect and my own way of handling your sudden departure. You know who was playing chess with me when I wasn't playing against myself? Mr Anal Retentive Neat-freak who color-codes his notes and is still as arrogant as he is brilliant. Dave Rossi had never given me permission to struggle. He didn't even like me in the beginning, he tried his best to hide it but he adapted and once he did and he saw me struggling he never allowed me to feel that I was alone in my struggle. He and Morgan saw me through a hell of a personal shit and they helped me get through it even if I could tell that they had their doubts about participation. Hotch didn't have doubts either, he hadn't given me permission to struggle but he had given me a shoulder to lean on when I needed one and a kick in the butt when I needed one too."

"Hotch is no longer here," Gideon said. "He is there," he motioned with his head towards the other side of the road.

"At the very least he didn't run away with the tail between his legs like you did," Spencer snorted. "He is getting help and somewhere deep inside there is a part of him that knows that we will always have his back like he always had ours. The same cannot be said about you, Jason. We were there for you, we offered to help you, it was your decision to turn your back on us completely. To the brass you might be a genius profiler who had few bad moments but to us, your fellow profilers, you are the pariah you always made yourself into, one that cannot be fully trusted to give orders and one whose decisions for safety measures need to be second guessed because he has a history of making some really bad ones. I want you to remember that you are coming back to BAU seemingly to fill in the void left by the model agent, devoted leader, husband, father and friend. One who always had his team's back just like the team always had his. You never fully had our backs Jason, don't be surprised by the fact that we won't really have yours too in return, especially now."

"It had been three years and you are still angry with me," Gideon said.

"I'm not angry," Spencer snorted. "Anger is exhausting, all-consuming, passionate and heady. There is something much more worse than anger, Jason. It's called indifference," he smirked to himself as he reached for his beer, "I have enough of work and my own issues to no longer give a damn about who you are to me or others, who you want to be to me or others. Your presence in BAU is like chicken pox, it came, it itches but sooner rather than later it will go away, just like you will. I give you six months tops and I'm being very generous about it. Now get the fuck out from my front lawn, you are upsetting the growth of my grass and my peace."

"I'm sorry that you are feeling this way," Gideon sighed.

"It's the only sorry I ever heard from you aside from 'I'm sorry for your loss'," Spencer snorted. "It's the only kind of sorry you ever offered us. You were always sorry for how we felt, you were never sorry for something you did. Ciao."

"I apologized to you..." Gideon started.

"In a letter, never in person," Spencer shrugged. "My father was sorry too when he wrote that he was leaving me alone with my mum. You might want to get yourself acquainted with the records of Riley Jenkins's case, pay close attention to the primary suspect. And finally get out, it's a private property and I can have your ass arrested for trespassing."

"We are going to work together again, you are going to change your mind about it at some point," Gideon said as he started walking away.

Spencer didn't answer, instead he took a big sip of his beer before he flipped a bird with his free hand at Gideon's retreating back. He knew that it was immature gesture but it fit perfectly his opinion about Jason Gideon.

Gideon wasn't going to be a problem and soon the man himself would learn that while the team as whole might be replaceable, the agents as individuals were not. The Director knew that, Strauss knew that, Hotch knew that. Any less experienced and less successful unit following something similar to what happened would have been disbanded after the internal investigation but they were still working together, one and half a man down but they were working and they were as successful as they were when Hotch was still around. They owed it to him, they had to show the brass that Aaron Hotchner taught them well how to work together efficiently even if he was no longer with them.

"Are you having a bad day Agent Reid?" asked a new but at the same time very familiar voice but this one was sharper and louder than Gideon's.

"Certainly not the best of them, Madam," Spencer answered sourly. "If you came here sorely to inform he that Jason Gideon was reinstalled he came here himself to inform me about it. He left few minutes ago."

Strauss emerged from the shadows of the driveway and made her way to the front porch where she sat down on Spencer's left with a heavy sigh before she kicked off her high-heels.

"If Strauss and the Director had lost enough marbles to reinstall you as an agent of BAU they surely hadn't lost enough of them to reinstall you in superior position," she said calmly.

"I'm trusting my superiors, Madam," Spencer shrugged. "But trusting my superiors and liking every decision they make isn't exactly the same thing. You bugged Gideon."

"The Director trusts his sincerity to help the team recover from the tragedy, at the very least enough to let him on the team," Strauss said simply. "I don't have to share all of Director's views but I have to obey them when they take the form of an order, so do you, Agent Reid."

"I know, so what now?" Spencer nodded.

"No matter how far his contacts can reach Jason Gideon will never make it back to the position of Senior SSA or the Unit Chief," Strauss shrugged. "Doctor Cameron submitted the part of her assessment of you I asked her for."

"Do I still have to see her?" Spencer asked curiously.

"Yup," Strauss chirped. "You still have five sessions with her left and you are going to sit through all five of them even if you are planning to spend them a twirling your thumbs, heavily discouraged notion because by the end of the last one she will submit your whole evaluation and sure as earth turning from east to west she will write you up for another series of sessions with her."

"I think that she is interested in me," Spencer shrugged.

"The bureau ran a background check on her before she was hired to assess the agents," Strauss said. "She is a lesbian and pretty open about it, additionally she is a provable genius with doctorates in psychiatric medicine and psychology so you can't question her competency. She is like a bad flu everyone gets to have once in a while."

"Did you bug Morgan too?" Spencer sighed in resignation.

"I didn't have to," Strauss shrugged before she reached into the pocket of her jacket, pulled out something from it and held it up to Spencer. "It's not a permission to struggle."

"You are enabling," Spencer said quietly as he gently took out a prescription bottle from her hand.

"Maybe but I can tell a difference between someone who shots up for the sole purpose of getting high and someone who needs access to painkillers to function like any other person around him," Strauss said.

"If that was true then why your charming little one legged psych is trying to convince me that the pain is psychosomatic?" Spencer asked pointedly.

"Isn't it?" Strauss asked simply.

"I beg to differ," Spencer muttered. "I was shot in the leg, my knee was rearranged like an attic after spring cleaning, all the pain I feel originates from my knee and it's physical pain."

"That's what you think," Strauss said.

"That's what I know," Spencer corrected her.

"And what I know is that following Agent Hotchner's commitment to Rainbow Rehabilitation Center and further transfer to St Elizabeth's Hospital you threw yourself into work harder than any other agent on the team. Agent Morgan confirmed that you rebuilt the budget for this year practically all by yourself and that you had written every justification of expenses in such way that Budget Oversee Committee practically cried when they were reading it because it was so perfect."

"I was bored and I needed something to do with my time, Madam," Spencer shrugged. "I never do anything by halves."

"On that I agree," Strauss sighed. "Which is why Agent Morgan had been in talks with me for a very long time. It was his suggestion and a excellently justified one. Your injury at the moment prevents you from taking overly long trips and participating in cases which require man power and racing against the clock on a very tight schedule. You already have the highest rate of solved cases Agent Reid and in addition to that for the last few months you had been handling almost every paperwork you could have gotten your hands on and had official clearances to fill them."

"I'm not going to like it, am I?" Spencer grimaced.

"When Aaron Hotchner stepped down Agent Morgan made in painfully clear that his step up into the position of the Unit Chief was a temporary one, he agreed to continue leading the team following Aaron Hotchner's enforced retirement..."

"Thanks for that," Spencer interrupted her. "Medical expenses can be a real bitch."

"I know," Strauss nodded. "It was the only way I could help him after what happened. But we are straying from the subject which is Agent Morgan's decision that he announced to me at the beginning of February. Since then we started to look for his permanent replacement in the position of Unit Chief."

"Good to know," Spencer snorted.

"It wasn't an easy decision for him, you should know that," Strauss said. "He made it painstakingly clear that he would step down only if someone truly worth of filling in Aaron Hotchner's position came along and he was more picky about the candidates for this position than a teenager girl over her prom dress."

Spencer snorted under his breath before he asked, "So someone worthy finally came along?"

"He did not," Strauss said slowly as Spencer took a sip of his beer. "More accurate description would be he painstakingly slowly limped in."

Spencer chocked on the beer and spit out what didn't go down his windpipe.

"Morgan proposed me?" he choked out. "And you accepted?"

"No, I called him bat-shit crazy and told him to get his head checked at once," Strauss quipped.

"Very funny," Spencer muttered.

"I had my doubts at first, especially considering your physical condition," Strauss said simply. "But Agent Morgan convinced me that the issues with your physical condition can be easily amended by having the share your duties which require extended leg-work between your Senior Supervisory Special Agents, two of them, Agents Morgan and Rossi respectively. I also done some fishing amongst your teammates, team dynamics assessment conducted by Doctor Cameron."

"Who is now your genius lackey," Spencer chirped in.

"Genius psychiatrist and psychologist that handles the evaluations of the most hard-arsed BAUers. She makes assessments, it's in her job description Agent Reid," Strauss said pointedly. "It's my choice to follow the suggestions she makes in them. All your teammates pointed out that while experience wise having David Rossi step up to the position of the Unit Chief would be the most obvious decision to make personally and professionally they would rather see you in this position if Agent Morgan would ever step down," Strauss said.

"I remember that," Spencer muttered. "I sat through those assessments too. You told them that you weren't just fishing?"

"Not directly," Strauss grimaced.

"Not at all," Spencer corrected her.

"The offer wasn't approved by the Director yet," Strauss said. "And it still needs to be accepted or rejected."

"So I have a choice?" Spencer asked pointedly.

"In theory?" Strauss asked. "Yes, you do. In practice however if you don't want this position unlike Agent Morgan try to remember that I have other teams to oversee aside of yours and conduct your own interviews and get me engaged into hiring process once you will have something to consult on."

"Someone is snappy today," Spencer smirked.

"Someone really needs vacation and they aren't coming fast enough," Strauss snorted. "And if you will continue stepping on my toes, Agent Reid, I will suggest to the Director making you Interim Section Chief for the duration of my vacation."

"Shutting up," Spencer mumbled.

"So?" Strauss asked.

"I don't exactly have a choice, do I?" Spencer sighed.

"If it's any consolation whole team is going to have your back," Strauss said.

"And that's what worries me the most," Spencer grimaced.

The copy of his newly signed contract was laying on the table in the dining area but he could see it from his spot by the fridge where he was finishing making his sandwiches for dinner.

Promoted from Supervisory Special Agent to Senior Supervisory Special Agent and Unit Chief in one night, without any forewarning. Him, drug-dependent addict with a bum leg which might never work as properly as it did before he was shot. Him, as of last few months, bitter, sarcastic, cranky bastard that was leaning on his pills just as much as he was leaning on his cane.

Morgan was bat-shit crazy for suggesting him and Strauss lost her marbles not only because she accepted his suggestion but also pushed all paperwork forwards for Spencer to receive this position.

He was Spencer 'Drop the Doctor' Unit Chief/Senior SSA Reid.

Maybe he finally lost it and OD on Vicodin because it seemed to him like a hallucination of a drugged man. It certainly felt like it.

He took out the phone from his pocket and pressed Morgan's number on speed dial.

"Morgan," Morgan answered.

"What would you do if I told you that there is an elephant in a pink tutu and with purple bow on its tail in my kitchen?" Spencer asked.

"That you should easy up on the pills or at the very least don't chase them down with booze," Morgan answered. "Of course after I would tell you to get out of the kitchen."

"And if I told you that Strauss came around and that she almost forced me into accepting the position of the Unit Chief on your advice?" Spencer asked pointedly.

"Unless she done so while she was wearing the pink tutu and purple bow on her tail you are one hundred percent fine," Morgan answered.

"Then I should thank you for the warning," Spencer snorted. "Now kindly explain it to me. You barge into my house, give me a hell over my pills, remain being hypocrite about your booze and behind my back you and the rest of the team are playing 'hot potato' with Unit Chief title."

"Can I come back?" Morgan asked.

"I will only give you cranberry juice," Spencer warned him.

"I'm not drinking tonight," Morgan said.

"Let yourself in then," Spencer answered.

But just in case once he hung up he poured the bottle of vodka into the sink. To get to other alcohol's Morgan would need a key and he will have to figure out where Spencer had hidden the key to it and as good profile as he was it would never occur to Morgan that Spencer would put the key to his liquor cabinet right in the middle of his drawer of goodies by his bed in an opened box of condoms.

Just as he was done with pouring out the vodka and stashed the empty bottle under the sink with the rest of the glass his phone rang.

"Reid," he answered without looking at caller's ID.

"Bad day today?" Elle asked.

Spencer smiled softly to himself. It was nice to hear her voice.

"I thought that it couldn't get any worse but then it did, I thought that nothing would top that and it did but I told myself that now it couldn't get even more worse than it already was but it did and at the very end of it can't get any worse I was promoted," Spencer sighed.

"So I heard," Elle said. "News travel fast."

"I just signed new contract, it's not even in the system," Spencer protested.

"It might not be in the system but I'm the lead agent on the case which might or might not take the team out into the field by Monday," Elle answered.

"Monday?" Spencer asked.

"I'm a wife and mother myself, Spence," she shrugged. "Organized, meticulous, serial killer who preys on sixty plus ladies..."

"... who travel alone, lose their money in casinos and ogle boys half their age minus five to seven," Spencer finished. "The unsub operates on a schedule, strikes only once per year on 18th March, lures them out of their hotel rooms into wide open and drops their bodies wrapped in saran wrap in the dumpsters behind their hotels. You don't have any overlaps or forensic evidence and two bodies."

"My, aren't you one cranky bastard, Agent Reid?" Elle quipped.

"Don't tempt me to take this case just to have a good excuse to go all the way to Vegas to whack you in the butt with my cane," Spencer snorted.

"I'm a married woman, Spencer and I love my husband," Elle said innocently.

"And you weren't that Elle Greenaway who cuffed me to my own headboard with my own handcuffs and for good ten minutes entertained me with a story about her friend who once went down on her boss's cane before she proceed to fuck me into a blackout?" Spencer asked pointedly.

"Ass," Elle quipped.

"According to you I have finely shaped buttocks for someone so skinny," Spencer said simply.

"You are lucky that Josh can't hear you," Elle snickered.

"Last time we shared similar talk he called me next morning and told me, and that's a direct quote: next time you will talk dirty with my wife once you will hung up give me a call and warn a bloke because I have so bad rag-burns on my butt and back that everyone in the lab is looking at me in a very disturbing way," Spencer said.

"Don't tempt me to call you Doctor in front of the whole team once you will get there," Elle quipped.

"Are we profiling or are we having sex over the phone?" Spencer asked. "Because Morgan is on his way to get there and profiling he can understand... however me having phone sex... He is still convinced that I'm a blushing virgin in a closeted relationship with whatever hand I have free at the moment."

"And you hate to disappoint," Elle chirped.

"I was raised by a Professor of Middle Age Literature," Spencer answered. "One of the things I was taught is that a proper gentleman should never kiss and tell and trust me nothing in so far could triumph my embarrassment of that moment when I was thirteen and getting closer to fourteen and I came back from Pasadena for vacation while my mum was at her most lucid and sent me out to run an errand for her while she unpacked my bags. I came back home to find a jug of iced tea on the table along with all the erotica novels I took out of the house after I came back home for Christmas and a bees and birds talk that ended with the statement that there was nothing wrong with being curious and that I really could have picked better authors. And believe it or not when I was leaving for Pasadena in the fall she packed few of the better ones into my bag. My old roommate to these days believes I turned almost purple when I opened the bag because my mum packed into my bag the handmade red woolen jumper with purple reindeer on it."

Elle snickered into the receiver, "That's so you, Spence but purple reindeer?"

"High-school project," Spencer shrugged. "Our art teacher decided that knitting will teach us some patience and discipline, it didn't but to these days I remember how to knit and crochet, though if you will tell anyone about it I will have to kill you and I'm being deadly serious about it."

"Don't worry, your secret is safe with me," he could practically see her smile. "Keeping it that way however comes at a price."

"Name it," Spencer sighed.

"Confirm or deny," Elle said. "You are coming to Vegas for my birthday."

"Yes," Spencer nodded.

"Confirm or deny," Elle continued. "You and Josh are scheming something naughty behind my back."

"Define naughty," Spencer shrugged.

"Josh is making arrangements to have Haley stay the night of my birthday at Mrs Hopkins place down the street supposedly because he wants to surprise me with a romantic dinner and a night at hotel," Elle said.

"I didn't know that," Spencer answered.

"Spence," Elle said patiently. "What he talked you into?"

"Nothing that will make you turn purple," Spencer said simply. "Besides it's a surprise, you are supposed to sit tightly and pout that we are refusing to answer."

"Is it related to geometry?" Elle asked pensively.

"I don't know and I most certainly don't know what's going through that mind of his," Spencer answered. "But I have been told to pack only bare necessities," he added innocently. "And as soon as you are going to hang up I'm calling your husband and telling him to stay away from the carpet."

"They won't let you on a plane without clothes Doctor Smart Mouth," Elle snorted.

Spencer snickered, "Now, who is talking dirty?"

"Don't make me email Garcia photos of you cooking spaghetti in my kitchen while you are wearing only my bathrobe which wasn't even long enough to cover your very naked butt," Elle quipped.

"You still have them?" Spencer asked curiously. "After all these years?"

"A girl can look," Elle said innocently. "Not to mention I girl needs occasional blackmail material."

"You know that you have a good whack coming, don't you?" Spencer asked.

"Enough with dirty talk," Elle declared. "Now let's be serious and act our actual age, how are you feeling?"

"Shocked," Spencer sighed. "Mortified and at the same time appreciated, worthless and undeserving. It's a scary feeling, Elle. If it's true and rather big part of me is still convinced that I either OD and I'm suffering from chemically induced hallucination or that someone above completely lost their marbles. This team is Hotch's team and I can't really imagine in charge anyone else but Hotch, I can imagine Morgan because Hotch left him in charge, he trusted Morgan to handle the team when he couldn't lead the team anymore and Morgan practically resigned. I'm twenty-eight, I only have been in BAU and consequently in FBI for a little over six years and that's not long enough. I don't have enough experience to be an Unit Chief and I'm a blinker, I'm not an alpha male, I don't have anything which would make me a good Unit Chief."

"You are being very unfair to yourself, you know that, don't you?" Elle asked pointedly. "Of course I don't know Morgan's motivation because you are the only person from the team with whom I remain in touch but I know enough about both of you to tell you that while yes, Morgan is more experienced in overall as an agent and out of the two of you he is more alpha male than you but it's you and not Morgan who makes more sense as a leader."

"You are biased," Spencer snorted.

"Perhaps," Elle shrugged. "But you are forgetting that the team is used to having Aaron Hotchner in charge of it. Regardless my personal feelings about Hotch and Gideon, especially Gideon, what this team needs is a strong leader, one that leads not by fear, not by force but by the example. One that gets the job done efficiently without complaints. One that knows the protocol and follows it but also one who knows when and where the protocol should fly out of the window. One that doesn't advertise his teammates distress but calmly lets them know that if they need help or want to talk he will be there to help and listen. One that stands by his decisions as much as he stands by his team."

"Sounds like Morgan," Spencer muttered.

"Morgan always struck me as this kind of guy who yes, happens to be an alpha male and can lead when required but also one who feels better not as the leader but as leader's right hand. Deep inside under his bravado he needs to have someone he can trust in charge and I think that he doesn't trust himself to lead the team in a way which in his opinion would make Aaron Hotchner proud."

"And I can?" Spencer snorted.

"Hotch in spite of his alpha male persona when I was around was always more of Mum than Dad, being Dad was Gideon's job and like all the kids we sought Dad's approval because we knew that we had Mum's. Mother's love and approval is unconditional, Spence, it's Father's love and approval that has to be earned. Hotch more than Gideon was always able to give us benefit of doubt and benefit of trust..."

"... especially when we felt that we couldn't trust ourselves," Spencer finished.

"Albert Schweitzer wrote, 'Example is not the main thing in influencing the others. It is the only thing,'" Elle said simply. "I might not know Morgan's motivation to step down but I happen to know that you stepped up before Morgan decided to step down."

"I didn't step up," Spencer denied.

"But you did. At first it was convenient, you knew that all of you needed closure over what happened to Hotch and part of that closure was seeing familiar face in his office, office to which he might not return. You, all of you, couldn't stand the thought that because of that Hotch's old office would go to someone else, that's why Garcia and JJ convinced Strauss that you should have it, seemingly because you needed more workspace because you were man down and you needed a place to rest when your leg was acting up but it was never about workspace and place to rest. It was about knowing that there is a familiar face in this office, someone who knew and still knows how much Hotch mattered and matters to all of you."

"You are making it sound..." Spencer started.

"It wasn't just the office," Elle continued. "Deep inside you knew that the team was under close observation of the higher officials and that you were given a benefit of doubt in order to prove that you weren't a rouge team that doesn't bow to protocol and that one wrong step, one mistake would mean disbanding the team. Someone had to make sure to keep that threat away, that's why you started staying at the office longer, double-checking after Morgan to make sure that everything was in perfect order, you trusted Morgan to turn nothing short of perfect but you both needed that. Am I right? He needed to know that there was someone on whom he could one hundred percent relay when it came to paperwork and Hotch was no longer there to ease his worries and you needed to know that the brass wouldn't have any excuse to disband the team this time. But that wasn't enough, not with your limited mobility and the need to do something productive so you started to plan ahead, you started making sure on your own that all 't' were crossed and all 'i' were dotted, you started planning budgets on your own, you made sure that you had warrants when you needed them. You stepped up long before Morgan stepped down."

"I'm not Hotch!" Spencer protested. "I'm not an alpha male, I'm politically inept, I'm..."

"You aren't Hotch," Elle agreed. "But you are the one who comes the closest to being the leader of Aaron Hotchner's caliber and we both know that you are going to accept this position eventually, not only because deep inside you are convinced that you owe Hotch leading the team the way Hotch would have wanted but because somewhere very deep inside you blame yourself for underestimating George Foyet 's intelligence, for not putting the bullet through his head or at the very least his spine when you had a chance, you blame yourself for not being fast enough to stop him. During your first call after you were shot you told me that the other night you wanted to come with Hotch to his home because you needed to went about what happened in Canada more than you needed to sleep and that if you were with Hotch that night Foyet wouldn't have walked away because he wouldn't expect you to come with Hotch and that Foyet wouldn't be able to overpower both of you at the same time."

"I told you that because it was the truth," Spencer said.

"But you are still going to take it, aren't you?" Elle asked.

"Strauss didn't exactly leave me any choice," Spencer admitted. "If I don't want the job then I need to look for my own replacement and in the meantime someone has to lead the team," he sighed. "I don't know," he shook his head.

"Think about it," Elle told him sympathetically.

"I will," Spencer sighed again, somewhere in the distance the front door clicked open, "Bye."

"Bye," Elle said softly.

Morgan knocked on the kitchen door just as Spencer hung up.

"Hotch trusted you," Spencer said quietly.

"Hotch isn't with us anymore, Reid," Morgan grimaced. "It has been three months man and instead of getting better he is getting worse. Two months, hell even six weeks ago he was catatonic but right now he is cataleptic. He is no longer responding to the stimuli or medication, he stopped eating, they have to force feed him, he didn't even mutter a single word for over six weeks. The man we knew is no longer there and what's more whatever had been left of him doesn't want to be there anymore. He wants to die and there is nothing we can do to stop him."

"Where there's a will there's a way, Morgan," Spencer grimaced. "He didn't die yet."

"But he isn't going to be around long, not in this state, is he?" Morgan asked pointedly. "I can't do this anymore. I have tools to do this job but I no longer have tools to help the team because I'm unable to help even myself. Hotch should have asked you in the first place."

"I wasn't ready yet," Spencer shook his head. "And I don't think that I'm ready now but you didn't exactly left me a choice, did you?"

"I'm sorry," Morgan sighed.

"It's better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission," Spencer snorted.

Doctor Katherine 'Limb-impaired' Cameron had told him that she would wait for him at the gates of St Elizabeth's Hospital at quarter to ten on Saturday morning even though she could have said to come to her office at the hospital at the same time. Spencer didn't know her very well but he knew her well enough to know that she hardly said or did something without an ulterior motive which was making a painstakingly obvious point which she had seen and her patients either didn't or pretended to not see it.

Non-threatening in her appearance, with a patient smile and inner warmth that one could practically felt emitting from her to most she appeared the easiest counselor to fool, like an old concerned grandmother whom you weren't telling your misdeeds but white lies to appease the curiosity of the old woman whom you didn't want to hurt, but Spencer knew better than others. He saw her for who she really was and she was a provable genius who wore her intelligence not as a shield but as a full-body armor that fit her so tightly that any untrained onlooker would completely dismiss it and she still managed to fool the trained ones and play pretend that her diagnosis and observations were occasional moments of brilliance any person could have once in a while.

Spencer knew better than that, after all he was used to carrying his own intelligence like a shield and under the air of pretended ignorance he actually listened to rumors and formed his own opinions and his immediate opinion about Doctor Cameron was that there was more about that woman than what appeared on the first glance. Morgan tried to argue that one couldn't tell a genius at the first glance and had even made an example of Spencer himself, he even went as far as to bet Spencer to fund their lunch for a week if Spencer was correct in his assessment of Cameron's intelligence, which he was.

And it was Cameron's intelligence, her intellectual equality to Spencer that in the end made him chose her as his counselor, a decision which he quickly came to regret. Other counselors he could fool without much effort but the one-legged bitch took one good look at him and she knew that the man in front of her had more personal shit to deal with than any other of the agents she was counseling. If she didn't know she wouldn't have asked Spencer to met her by the gates of the hospital and Spencer was too much of a genius and too much of a stubborn ass to not see the point she was trying to make.

He lived at 1107 Alabama Avenue SE, Washington DC, less than two minutes away on foot from the gates of St Elizabeth's Hospital even for a cripple like him and about ten to fifteen minutes away from the hospital itself. He had been living there since late January, almost three weeks after Hotch was moved from Rainbow Rehabilitation Center to St Elizabeth's but in almost three months which Hotch had been at St Elizabeth's not even once Spencer had stepped through the hospital's doors, let alone entered the grounds.

He pretended to not notice that behind his back the rest of the team were speculating why Spencer's name wasn't showing on hospital's logs and neither did his limp on security footage, most probably they didn't attempt to check it. In the end they convinced themselves that it was Spencer's way of coping with Hotch's commitment to a psychiatric hospital.

Only Garcia knew and Spencer knew that she wouldn't betray him under the pain of death and technically what she had done wasn't betrayal, she simply reacted to what she was seeing day in and day out and only signaled to Morgan that Spencer was having hard time with Hotch's commitment without telling what actually was Spencer's biggest problem.

She was in this too deep to fully betray Spencer but not deep enough to not have an opinion on her own that Spencer was bottling up in himself for far too long what really happened. Garcia knew, Doctor Limb-impaired suspected, Hotch wouldn't say a word and Spencer didn't want to talk about it, with anyone. He would lose everything if he ever breathed a word.

'Did you know how long it takes to stab someone nine times?'

He didn't know and when he did he wished that he never learned.

His left quadriceps started throbbing painfully and he moved the cane to his right hand before he started to massage it with his left hand. His body wasn't accustomed to long walks without much rest and the one to the hospital was long enough to strain his leg in spite of the pill of Vicodin he had taken right after he woke up from uneasy slumber this morning. He should have wore a brace this morning.

'Did you know how long it takes to stab someone nine times?'

He leaned against the wall behind his back and closed his eyes. Maybe he could ignore the pain for a while longer, at the very least until he would be able to locate a bathroom where he could take a pill without being seen.

"Look who came," he heard a chirp. "Good morning sunshine. I thought that I told you to come to the hospital's gates at a quarter to ten."

"We both know what kind of a point you were going to make. I'm not one of your usual patients whom you can lure into false sense of security with your overbearing warmth and caring of an eighty years old grandmother," Spencer replied without opening his eyes.

"You know what would be the perfect cure to your grumpiness Mr Pain in the Butt?" Cameron asked simply. "Night with a hooker and mother of all orgasms you had in your life which number is obviously not high enough."

Spencer cracked one eye open to look at her before he asked, "Your last girlfriend dumped you yesterday?"

It seemed to him like she did. Regardless his personal disinterest in how Cameron was looking she was always elegantly and appropriately dressed. Today she was wearing washed off jeans and thick, dark green, woolen turtleneck that looked a two sizes too big for her. Her hair usually neatly arranged were hanging down in a curly mess and she wasn't wearing any makeup.

"No," Cameron said simply before she opened the door to her office and held them open to Spencer. "If you really want to know which I know that you don't it was the other way around, I came home to find her engaged in a sexual intercourse with three men at the same time. I told all four of them that they have three minutes to get the fuck out of my house before I will call for a wagon from St Elizabeth's and put them on psych watch for seventy-two hours and once they were gone I chopped the bed and mattress into tiny pieces before I burned it into my backyard grill."

"Ouchie," Spencer snorted as he slipped past her into her office. "You know that burning fires is a part of homicidal triad?"

"I know," she answered simply. "Did you know that Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief don't only apply death and dying but also to any catastrophic personal loss?"

"Like the loss of a cheating girlfriend?" Spencer supplied ironically.

"I know that I'm angry and I know that I will be angry for a longer while," she shrugged. "You on the other hand? You aren't in denial, you aren't bargaining and sure as hell you didn't accept what happened, if you did you wouldn't be seeing me twice a week."

"I'm depressed and I'm angry because I feel depressed," Spencer said sourly as he made his way to the armchair by the desk. "There is rather big part of me that is convinced that we could have stopped Foyet before he killed Haley and Jack, before he destroyed Hotch and before he called all those people whose greatest fault was existing and being in the wrong place at the wrong time," he added once he sat down.

"And you aren't angry at Aaron Hotchner?" she asked as he leaned against the back of her desk. "He was your probationary agent, your mentor, your boss. He was supposed to be indestructible foundation of the team and instead of being your rock he fell apart. He's been here since 20th December and not even once you visited him even if you live less than ten minutes away from the hospital."

"I'm a cripple," Spencer protested. "I'm handicapped, I can't walk without rest for too long."

"Bullshit," Cameron snorted. "You cover greater distance every day you are in Quantico than you would have by coming to the hospital to visit. You didn't have that problem when Aaron Hotchner was in Rainbow Rehabilitation Center in Dale City. I've checked the logs, Hotchner was admitted to RRC on 4th December after he slit his wrists with broken glass. Your name is given on incident report, you were the one who was watching him that night, you were the one who almost threatened the EMT to take him to RRC rather than one of the closest hospitals and you were the one who visited him every day since that day until 17th December which happens to be the day when your name officially appears on the security logs for the last time."

"Officially?" Spencer asked pointedly. "You think that I visited him after 17th December and somehow I managed to bypass security point?"

Cameron sat on her desk and reached with her right hand for one of the files that were laying on her desk before she opened it and said, "Aaron Hotchner was transferred to St Elizabeth's on 20th December 2009 after spending two days on anti-psychotic medication and being strapped to his bed for almost forty-six hours following a psychotic episode during which he attacked a Robert Harper, the grandson of terminally ill and demented Felicity Harper and stabbed him with a cutlery knife nine times in Mr Harper's left lower tight. To RRC luck Mr Harper didn't file the charges against them for allowing mentally unstable patient to roam the halls and even if he done so he would learn that all security footage from the center from the time of the incident was completely destroyed."

"Fascinating," Spencer muttered.

"I agree," Cameron said as she put the file down. "Stand up."

"Why?" Spencer asked simply.

"Because I'm asking nicely and next time I will whistle for the orderlies to help you stand up and I will make them remove your pants by force, Mr Harper," she said sourly.

Spencer snickered, "You are insane and you are supposed to help insane patients get better."

"I'm not insane," Cameron said grimly. "I'm simply good at the job, now take your pants off."

"You are so not my type," Spencer snorted.

"Neither you are mine," she shrugged. "Pants down."

"Did you know how long it takes to stab someone nine times?" Spencer asked sourly. "I will tell you, twenty-three seconds once you remove torture and bragging about torture part. It's just hoisting the knife up in the air, letting it pierce the flesh as deep as your hand can drive it and yanking it out before you will repeat it eight more times."

"Let's ignore for a moment the fact that you are hiding from your superiors secondary injury of your once injured leg," Cameron stated as she looked at him. "You convinced yourself that if you guarded him better than night he wouldn't hurt himself. That's why after he was admitted instead of going home every night you came to his room every evening and tried to coax him out of his stupor, you were bringing food and you brought cutlery. That night you were working late and you were exhausted, dinner was heavy, it made you sleepy, your guards were down, he was calm and resting, you thought it wouldn't hurt... but you woke up to have the knife which you used to cut the pork driven into your left quadriceps. You screamed, tried to struggle but Hotchner was in the middle of a psychotic episode, he was stronger, heavier and you were scared of hurting him. When the night shift personnel ran into the room you dismissed your own injury and legitimated yourself as Robert Harper, luckily or not you saw him before, you knew that you could pass for his twin brother from the distance, you told them that you wanted to eat your dinner in peace. High on adrenaline you fled from RCC, called Penelope Garcia and had her pick you up and check you into Sentara Potomac Hospital under Harper's name. She secured your emergency leave of absence on which you stayed for following twenty days, you remained on leave until you were sure that the stitches dissolved and the wound had healed enough that the swelling and redness could pass for an infection, you convinced your doctor to put you on broad-spectrum antibiotics but when he asked you how you injured yourself you told him that you had a cramp while you were shaving. He should have noticed that you are right handed but it was your left leg that was injured, not your right. Do I have to keep going or are you going to stop me?"

Spencer lowered his head, "Like you said yourself Hotch was in the middle of psychotic episode, for him it wasn't me in that room but George Foyet."

"Hotchner killed Foyet with his bare hands," Cameron pointed out.

"We both know that the psychosis doesn't have to make sense to any normal person just as long as it makes sense to the person who is suffering from psychotic break," Spencer said flatly. "For Hotch George Foyet was in the room with him that night and he attacked not Spencer Reid, not Robert Harper but George Foyet and George Foyet alone."

"Anti-psychotic medication seemingly calmed Hotchner down," Cameron said grimly. "He was restrained so he couldn't hurt anyone anymore for his own good just like other people's safety. But instead of coming down from his psychosis he spiraled even deeper into his delusion. RCC dismissed his fevered mutters that Foyet had you because they knew that you were very much alive and that Foyet was not."

Spencer raised his head to look at her.

"Your teammates come around to visit and during their visits they speak of you in present tense but to Aaron Hotchner's mind George Foyet got the hold of you and because you don't visit him he convinced himself that you are dead. In his mind he lost his wife, his son and his agent, people he was supposed to protect," Cameron continued. "He tried to communicate with your teammates but they dismissed his ramblings as a psychotic episode and finally, finally he stopped communicating at all and he became the prisoner of his own mind but he isn't the one who holds the key, it's you."

"Me?" Spencer whispered.

"He convinced himself that he had lost everyone he ever loved and you are the only person who right now isn't buried six feet underground," Cameron shrugged. "The question is, can you forgive him that he stabbed you so he can forgive himself enough to see that he still has a reason to live?"

Spencer licked his lips.

"Or you can continue pretending that you don't give a damn about Aaron Hotchner anymore because he is no longer the man you fell in love with," she added.

Spencer was too shocked to stop himself from uttering, "How did you know?"

"I'm good at the job and the fact that I was born and raised in Atlantic City actually helps," Cameron shrugged before she looked down at her watch, "The orderlies should be done with bathing him by now so we can go."

"Vegas can kick Atlantic City's butt any day," Spencer muttered.

"Right now Vegas is playing chicken and Atlantic City holds the whip," Cameron quipped.

"For the life of me I can't imagine you in leather lingerie and I have quite vivid imagination," Spencer retorted as he hoisted himself into standing position. "You are more like Victoria's Secret kind of girl," he quipped and added quickly, "with big pink dildo named Freddy."

"Men will never truly understand the beauty of a cunnilingus," she snorted.

"Just like women will never fully understand the beauty of a fellatio, guess that makes us even," Spencer snorted.

"Jerk," Cameron sighed.

"Bitch," Spencer quipped. "That makes us even too."

"You are so lucky that you are a man," Cameron shook her head. "I can convince Erin Strauss to write you up for sexual harassment seminar."

"If you do so I will do my damnest best to convince her that you aren't a lesbian," Spencer said dryly. "Besides you started it with the whip thing."

The walk wasn't very long or overly complicated but every step he was taking was becoming more and more harder to make.

Instinctively he knew that he should trust Cameron to be if not completely then at the very least partially correct in her assumptions. She had a point, Hotch hadn't seen him since the night he attacked him but was convincing himself for far too long that seeing him was what triggered Hotch's psychotic episode in the first place. Spencer not only failed Hotch as an agent but also prevented him from taking his own life.

Soon he would learn which one of them was right, him or Cameron and for Hotch's sake it better be Cameron.

Hotch's room was a small room with baby-blue walls, hospital bed and cabinets. It was clinical, impersonal, depressing. Hotch was sitting up on the bed, propped on the pillows with his head turned towards the window. He didn't move when the door to the room opened, in fact from the distance it seemed to Spencer as if Hotch was sleeping.

"Aaron," Cameron said calmly. "It's Doctor Cameron, I brought you a special guest I told you about yesterday."

Spencer stared at her pointedly and when she looked back at him he mouthed, 'Gambler.'

'Atlantic City,' she mouthed back before she turned to Hotch and said, "I will let you two say hello to each other."

Hotch didn't turn his head towards Spencer. Spencer swallowed almost audibly. Cameron rolled her eyes and motioned with her head at the bed.

Spencer took a deep breath and approached the bed slowly before he sat down on the edge of it and reached out with his left hand towards Hotch's motionless one. Somewhere behind him the door clicked shut.

"Hotch," Spencer said quietly. "It's me, Spencer Reid. The genius magician that can't shot his way out of a paper-bag, the twerp with the history of really bad haircuts, the guy who is eagerly anticipating the day when coffee IV drip will be invented."

Hotch didn't respond, he was still staring at the window without actually seeing it. Spencer took a shaky breath and slowly allowed his left hand to rest on the top of Hotch's left hand.

"We need you," Spencer said quietly. "Morgan resigned from his post as Interim Unit Chief and you will never guess whom Strauss appointed as your more permanent replacement, at the very least I hope that it's not permanent replacement. Gideon is coming back and he is acting every inch of an annoying, arrogant son of a bitch he is at heart under that genius profiler mask. I talked with him for twenty minutes and I wanted to stick my cane so far into his ass that he would be coughing splinters. That would be quite funny sight you know and sure I would have gone to jail for that but at the very least I wouldn't have to work with him anymore. What else had happened why you were here? I'm quite convinced that Garcia and Rossi are having an ongoing 'connection'" he made the quote marks around the word with his free hand, "they deny anything when asked but Rossi has this kind of a spring in his step which can be associated with only one thing and he has been having way too many 'new technology' talks with Garcia and she wants us to get tablets, she has been dropping less than subtle hints about it to the Unit Chiefs, both past and present."

"Chi," came a rasped whisper.

Spencer's heart jumped in his throat because he realized that Hotch was actually looking at him when he said it. So Spencer gulped audibly before he took a deep breath and continued rambling like a man possessed, whom he in a way was.

"Oh yes, the Chief," Spencer said. "I'm not sure that you are going to love the bugger, I don't, I mean I like him in some way but I don't like him in the position of the Bossman. He is one sarcastic son of a bitch with an attitude and pain management problem which makes him the pain in everyone's ass, now even more than before. He has taken your office, you really need to get out of here to kick him out, through the railing and into the bullpen would be the best and if you would be able to kick hard enough maybe he would land on Gideon and would break his neck which will get rid of all of our current problems."

"Chiv," Hotch rasped and Spencer blushed furiously.

It shouldn't have been obvious that after not talking for so long Hotch's mouth was dry and that he needed to drink so Spencer leaned closer towards the bedside table and poured some water into the paper-cup before he helped the man to drink.

"Reid," Hotch whispered as he grasped Spencer's hand as tightly as he could which wasn't tight enough. "Reid," he repeated. "He," he chocked out, "he didn't? Foyet didn't?" he looked at Spencer expectantly.

"Foyet didn't come within twenty feet to me ever since we captured him in Boston. He couldn't have taken me because he is dead Hotch, you killed him," Spencer assured him.

"I saw," Hotch whispered.

"You had a nightmare," Spencer said calmly. "What you saw wasn't real Hotch. Foyet is dead, I'm not."

"Haley," Hotch rasped. "Jack. He killed them."

"You killed him Hotch," Spencer said softly. "It's over now. George Foyet isn't going to hurt anyone else again, you made sure that he won't."

"But Haley... Jack," Hotch whimpered. "He killed them."

"You gave all of yourself to stop him, Hotch," Spencer sighed. "We underestimated his intelligence, the extent of his narcissistic disorder, he fooled us all, we learned the lesson. He is dead and we will make sure that nothing like that would happen ever again to anyone, we learned our lesson."

"We," Hotch whispered.

"We," Spencer confirmed. "All of us, you included. Deep inside you don't want any other man to go through what Foyet had put you through, I know that, it was that Aaron Hotchner which kept holding on, the same Aaron Hotchner who is speaking with me now after his three months worth self-exile. You wouldn't have snapped out if you didn't have anything else to hold onto, your job, your team, your family, your need to help the others. You defeated him Hotch, Foyet is dead, you aren't and yes, he killed Haley and he killed Jack because he was hoping that it will completely destroy you... it almost did, deep inside you know that every day you are spending here lost in your own misery is another day which that son of a bitch is taking away from you. Aaron Hotchner I know is not a quitter. Aaron Hotchner I know placed his own life and lives of nearly thirty hostages in hands of an inept rookie who couldn't shot his way out of a paper-bag. Aaron Hotchner I know went head to head with this country most deranged criminals, corrupted cops and regular son of the bitches and he always came on top. Aaron Hotchner I know wouldn't break a single rule for his own benefit but he would bend himself into a pretzel to protect the people he cares for. This Aaron Hotchner doesn't belong here and we both know that."

Spencer was staring into Hotch's eyes through the whole speech without a single blink.

"Chief," Hotch said softly and a small smile spread on his face.

Spencer sighed heavily, they were back to monosyllabic mumbles but at the very least the man who listened to his speech was focused and completely coherent.

"Unit Chief," Hotch said even more softly.

"That's you," Spencer said. "That's you we need to get back and I'm planning to drag him out of you whatever you like it or not."

"Unit Chief," Hotch repeated and his smile deepened. "Unit Chief."

"Yes, Aaron Hotchner, the Unit Chief," Spencer said.

"I'm not," Hotch protested weakly. "You are," heh clarified. "Cocker spaniel with bulldog's teeth," he snickered.

"So said toothless German Shepherd," Spencer quipped. "I'm Mama's new pet and Papa got us some weird cross between a Shar Pei and Standard Schnauzer that had his mustache cut off and he was trying to steal my kennel before Mama told me that I'm going to be the new leader of the pack. I'm so going to chew off his wrinkled ass at the earliest opportunity that will present itself. I'd rather have my own bed with other doggies in the bullpen but the Golden Retriever and Labradoodle with little help of Afghan Hound convinced Mama that the Cocker Spaniel with wonky hind leg should have the kennel and the Bloodhound and Rottweiler readily agreed."

To Be (Hopefully) Continued…