dhae_knight: (Redefining Hotch)
[personal profile] dhae_knight
Title: Hotch's ruin
Author: Dhae Knight
Word count: 5,641
Pairing or featured character: Hotch/Reid pre-slash. Hotch/Beth established. Kevin/Garcia established.
Rating: NC-17
Warnings and/or spoilers: You know about Beth? Good. Also, character death, heavy angst, killing of animals and breaking of various characters.
Author's notes: Well. This was supposed to be a short little thing, inspired by this house. I took liberties with... a whole lot of things, actually, but it's a pretty house.
Summary: Hotch has bought a ruined house in Kentucky and sets out to repair it. Why? Read the story and find out!


Hotch's ruin

It was clear that the house had been beautiful, once. In some ways, Hotch supposed, it still was.

He was determined it would be again.

He'd never been particularly handy, but he expected he could learn this, too. And an entire, colonial house now gone almost to ruin? Well. He would get plenty of practise.

At any rate, it was a beautiful location. Gently rolling hills, a grand view, enough room for some horses, if he wanted. Maybe he would. Once the house was restored.

"Daddy, daddy!" Hotch turned towards the sound of his son's voice and running feet. Beside him ran the Golden Retriever they'd rescued just before they left for Kentucky.

"Hey buddy," Hotch went down on one knee and was almost bowled over by boy and dog as they slammed into him. "What did you find?"

"There's a stream down there, and a wood, and there's an old ruin, and Mags chased a rabbit."

Hotch laughed. It didn't come as hard as it once had, and he was grateful. Time and distance would heal this, too.

"A ruin, huh? I'd like to see that."

"I'll show you dad. Come on!"

There was no one quite so energetic as a seven year old boy in a new place. Luckily, Jack kept a hold of Hotch's hand, while Mags ranged ahead of them, nose to the ground, tail waving high like a pennant.

***

The ruin turned out to actually be little more than a pile of broken bricks. Hotch guessed, by the location, that it had probably once been a watermill.

"You can play down here, but don't climb on top of or underneath this, okay?"

Jack nodded solemnly, and Hotch couldn't resist ruffling his hair, an action that earned him an exasperated look. A wave of longing slammed into him, and for a few moments he was breathless with missing it all. His work. His team. Haley, long gone. Jessica. All of it.

As always the wave of longing was followed quickly by the memory of why he didn't have it any more. He was getting better about dealing with it. Mostly he could shut the memories down with only a single frame slipping through.

This time, it was of Rossi, calm, implacable Rossi. "Do you want me to say it? I will. You can't do the job, Aaron. Go home."

"Daddy? Are you okay?"

Mags was snuffling at one hand and Jack had grabbed hold of another. And Hotch answered, the only way he could. "I will be." A promise. "I will be." A statement of intent.

***

The truth was that Hotch had only the faintest of ideas about what he'd need to do, or how he'd go about doing it. The first thing he'd done was to buy a trailer and have it shipped to where it now sat, a hundred yards from the house. The second thing he'd done was buy a lot of books.

The next morning, Jack safely at school for a few hours, he set about trying to figure out where to begin. Everything needed doing. About the only thing the old building had going for it was structural integrity. The ceilings might be caving in and the floorboards were rotten. There was hardly a single pane of glass left unbroken, and the roof looked like it was about to rust through. But the walls still stood, and the structural engineer he'd had check it out had proclaimed the walls and roof beams solid enough to last out another hundred years, if they were taken care of.

Hotch figured that the best place to start was from the outside, working his way in. And, more specifically, from the top down. He spent the day measuring and calculating, taking into account the angle of the roof and the size of the house. When Jack came home for lunch, he had a decent idea of how much tile he'd need to cover the entire roof. Jack jumped at the chance to go to the hardware-store, so they all went, Mags included, wandering the aisles, Jack asking curious questions Hotch didn't know half the answers to. Luckily an older woman, one of the employees, knew all the answers and took the time to talk to Hotch about what he needed and giving him advice in-between answering Jack's questions.

"Heck, I didn't know any more than you do now when I bought my place, 20 years ago. I learned along the way."

Hotch left with a trailer full of supplies, a head full of advice and a phone number. "You run into trouble, you call me, you hear? And ask for me next time you're in here. Name's Annie. Annie Hansen."

***

Taking down the old roof was a lot more work than he expected. Everything was rusted together, and had to be pried apart using sheer force. He wished for Morgan's brute strength more than once, but quickly suppressed those thoughts. A few memories slipped through, anyway. Morgan's left arm, broken so badly the bone was sticking out, garishly white in the midst of all the blood. Morgan, teasing him about having a date with Beth.

The good part was that his hope this grand project would help was turning out to not have been in vain. The work was sufficiently exhausting and the mental exercise of figuring out how to do everything kept the worst of the nightmares at bay. Jack helped with the cooking in the evening, and did his homework in the trailer at night. His afternoons were spent roaming the area with Mags faithfully loping by his side, companion as much as protector.

Hotch had put up scaffolding, taking Annie's advice on which kind to get. Rigging up a pulley-system to bring up larger quantities of materials in one go was entirely his own idea. Finishing it had been one of those moments when he'd remembered; Reid looking at him like he used to; like he had in that courtroom in Roanoke, like Hotch was the most impressive man alive for showing a stuck-up defense attorney the power of profiling in the hands of an expert.

He managed to stop the second memory before it was more than Reid's eyes, begging Hotch to save him.

It was still enough to ensure a nightmare.

***

By the end of March, the roof was just about done, and Hotch began working on the drain-pipes. Annie took to stopping by about once a week, looking his accomplishments over, making encouraging noises or telling him point-blank to redo something. They discovered that the access-road at the bottom of the hill ran just about straight past Annie's house, cutting the distance between them to just over two miles.

Hotch tried to not think about his team. He failed almost as much as he succeeded, but at least he managed to think mostly around the edges of the abyss that truly threatened. He thought about Garcia and Kevin. Wondering if Kevin Lynch had finally allowed himself to be headhunted by the NSA, taking Garcia with him, away from the BAU. He thought about Will and Henry, wondered how Henry was doing and whether Will ever thought about moving back to Louisiana.

He didn't think about anyone else.

***

It was early April that he and Jack were invited over to Annie's place for dinner the first time.

"I don't see enough people," Annie had explained. Hotch assumed she meant socially, since she surely saw enough at the hardware store.

She'd promised roast chicken, and the cackling of hens as they got out of the car made Hotch realize she'd probably raised it herself. Her farmstead was just that; a little farm. A chicken-coop housed a flock of rotund, brown chickens. A couple of fat-bellied goats were staked out and chewing placidly on grass. A couple of cats scurried past, and a big brown Labrador came to greet them, tail wagging.

Jack was entranced.

After dinner (indeed, homegrown chicken with homegrown potatoes, sweet-peas and corn), Annie gave them the grand tour. Her barn housed a foul-smelling Billy-goat and two very pregnant cows (for the milk, she explained), and a happily cooing loft of pigeons.

She explained, at some length, about her vegetable garden, mostly empty at the moment. It sounded worthwhile, though, and Hotch decided that that would be his next big project once he was done with the house.

"In fact," Annie said, while Jack had raced off to investigate her cats in more detail, "I could use a hand. How would you feel about Jack spending a few hours with me in the afternoons? Maggie is welcome, too, of course, and I'd pay him for the work he does."

Hotch's first instinct was to turn her down, protect Jack by keeping him close. He knew that wasn't possible, but that didn't change his gut-reaction.

"Let me think about it," he asked and really meant, 'give me time to profile you'.

***

It took him just about two weeks to get over his gut reaction. To get over the fact that he'd missed an unsub right under his nose; caught on too late and very nearly lost everything because of it.

He'd certainly lost his faith in his own abilities as a profiler.

Now, he dusted off that part of his mind and very deliberately set it on Annie Hansen, wishing he felt like he could call up Garcia and get her to do a background-check. He made do with talking to people all over town.

By the end of the first week he felt reasonably sure she wasn't a crazy killer, and that she was really offering to take an enthusiastic Jack on because she was lonely, even in a small community where everyone talked to everyone, because loneliness sometimes has nothing to do with how many you talk to. And, probably, because she genuinely liked both Jack and Hotch and wanted to give Hotch a few more hours to himself.

By the end of the second week, two bikes arrived, complete with helmets. Jack was ecstatic. The access-road was a little rough in places, but easily traversed on bike, and Annie was thrilled to have Hotch give his blessing. She put Jack to work at once, feeding the kid that had made an appearance since last and whose mother didn't produce enough milk.

Hotch looked at his son and smiled. He still had Jack, and Jack was worth it. Jack was worth everything.

***

The windows turned out to be a massive undertaking. Hotch set up a temporary woodworking shop in a fairly decent room at the back of the house to deal with them. Figuring out how they were put together by taking them apart and replacing the bits and pieces that had rotted over the years and fitting them with new insulated glass was an almost vertical learning-curve.

Painting them wasn't turning out much easier, but Hotch was slowly beginning to feel like all the splinters, cuts and bruised nails was earning him some faith in his own abilities.

Painting brought back memories, though. Of Prentiss, painting in her apartment. He hadn't known she was an artist, but she was, covering great big canvasses with bold colors and bold strokes, then gentling it all with fine, fine brushstrokes, so tiny they were almost invisible, yet added something undefinable to her work.

"I don't do it a lot," she'd said, that Sunday he'd caught her, come around to her place to pick her up because her car had broken down. She'd been wearing old jeans, splattered with red paint, that day.

Now, Hotch found, he couldn't remember that sunlit day without remembering coming into the ruin of her kitchen first, a lump of meat and blood and bones on the counter recognizable as her cat only once you noticed the tufts of fur where the poor thing had been skinned alive. And then, the rest of the apartment, knowing that an unsub who did that to a cat...

Just the memory was enough to make Hotch retch, so he tried not to think of Prentiss at all.

***

By June, he was about done with the outside of the house. His skin was already burned leathery and dark, and his hair hadn't been so light since he was a child. Jack was sunlight and rain, filled with energy and fire, and Hotch loved him more than he had ever thought possible. He spent three or four hours every afternoon in Annie's garden or with her animals, learning fast and hard as all small children do, and loving every minute of it, even when he came home with blisters on his hands or rifts from the cats' claws. Hotch suspected they would be the proud owners of at least one and possibly two barnyard cats by fall.

The last big thing he wanted to do outside was paint the house. And with two weeks of stable, good weather in the forecasts, he set to work with a warm peach color that he'd found hidden in crevasses and on bits of brick, cracked off and protected over the years.

Compared to his last projects, painting was relatively mindless, which was a bad thing. It gave him too much space to think. To remember things he didn't want to remember.

It made him remember the later days of the horrifying month of increasingly suspicious and terrible events. How Reid had moved in with Morgan, hoping for safety in numbers after Rossi, JJ and Prentiss had all been attacked.

It made him remember how futile that hope had been.

Morgan's dog, in the kitchen, as dead as Prentiss' cat. Not skinned, this time, just cut open and its intestines pulled out. The entire apartment in absolute ruin. The window, broken, and Morgan outside, lying on a bed of glass and blood, the bone of his arm shining white and surreal. And Reid, gone. Kidnapped by this unsub that Hotch was beginning to feel shouldn't, wouldn't be unknown to him.

Hadn't been.

Hotch gritted his teeth and painted on, blind with tears.

***

It was the middle of June when he moved indoors, windows wide-open and secured with brand new insect netting to keep out the critters. He decided to start with the living-room, so they could at least have a place to sleep that wouldn't be as scorching as the trailer.

He tore up the floorboards; excavating deeper, insulating and laying down pipes for heating. He pulled down the ceiling, coughing until he surrendered to Annie's prodding and invested in dust-masks. The walls were stripped bare, redone and repainted. And finally, finally, just in time for the 4th of July, Hotch and a couple of young men Annie knew, moved in the furniture.

Having one room done and finished felt like a huge accomplishment, and for the first time he felt like calling up Garcia, just to hear her voice.

He didn't, of course, remembering in time why he couldn't.

It didn't stop him from waking at three thirty, shaking and crying, from a dream where Garcia scolded him for bringing an unsub into their lives, and stealing away the lives of the entire team; her whole family by choice.

The next day he scrapped the plans for taking Jack on a few days' road trip, and began tearing out the downstairs bathroom. Clearly he wasn't working hard enough.

***

The bathroom was slow going, even with help from Annie and a plumber. And they both looked at him as if he was crazy when he insisted on putting bulletproof glass in the window and replace the old door with a new safety-ditto.

He couldn't explain to them, the horror of getting that first, midnight call from the police, informing him that Rossi had been attacked, nor the relief that Rossi had gotten himself to his safe-room and that that had probably saved his life.

He couldn't explain how seeing the blood-soaked bathroom where Rossi had held out with a bullet lodged deep in his shoulder-joint, was only one reason he wanted a safe-room for himself and his son.

Rossi had been lucky. His shoulder had been ruined for good, but he already had the experience retiring. He already had a life outside of the bureau.

Hotch didn't think it was enough.

***

By August, the sweltering heat kicked up a notch, and Hotch started working on the kitchen. He started by knocking down the wall between what had once been the dining-room and the kitchen, determined to turn it into one room, separated by a breakfast-bar. Jack had a persisting love of barstools and other high chairs.

The old kitchen had been grand, but was now useless. Annie suggested he save a few bits and pieces, but Hotch didn't think that was his style. An odd, blue coffee-pot he found in the ruin of a cupboard got set aside, though, if for no better reason than Hotch was curious.

Putting in the new kitchen, once the room was stripped bare seemed much easier than Hotch would have expected, and he began thinking that maybe he'd end up being handy after all.

Cooking the first meal in the kitchen should have been a great triumph, but it became a mixed blessing when he flashed back to the last meal he'd cooked in his old kitchen. He'd cooked with Beth, and despite the no-longer random attacks on his team, it had been fun and romantic and nice.

That was, of course, before the dizziness sat in. Before Beth had slumped on the couch and Hotch had lost consciousness.

Before he'd been woken by the phone informing him of the attack on Morgan's place, and he found Beth gone.

***

September saw him getting started on a room for Jack. He'd begun asking about bringing friends from school home, and Hotch could read between the lines that a sleepover would probably be forthcoming just as soon as he didn't have to share the room with his dad. Thankfully, Jack's old room had escaped mostly unscathed from the devastation that had swept the rest of the apartment, and it was currently in storage. Hotch picked the second-largest room upstairs, the one with a sweeping view out and down to the creek that had become Jack's favorite place to play when he wasn't spending time with Annie.

He repeated the process that had now become familiar. Break down (or up), insulate, put in heating, put up (or down) the new wood. Jack picked out the carpet; a deep purple one Hotch actually liked, but which would probably be more golden than purple in short order given how much Mags liked it, too. Then he picked out a light dusty green for the walls, and Hotch enclosed part of the loft to make a cave-like addition above the room, with sufficient room for a custom-made mattress. Access was made with craftily hidden foot- and hand-holds that clapped into the wall when pressure was applied, but which were otherwise invisible. He went back outside and exchanged some tiles for small windows, and ended by installing a trapdoor that could either be open, providing easy access, or closed and almost invisible.

Jack loved every secretive, crafty bit of it.

Hotch didn't tell him that it was so he had a place to hide, just in case.

Hotch knew he wasn't just hyper-vigilant but near-paranoid. He couldn't help it. Once, his hyper-vigilance in teaching Jack to hide on command had saved his son's life. Once, his paranoia in sending off Jack to spend time with his mother while an unsub was stalking his team had saved his son's life. If he was creating more security than would ever be needed, Hotch would be a happy man. He far preferred to have it and never need it, than to need it and not have it.

He wondered about Henry. Wondered if Will and JJ had installed similar security measures for him, now.

Wondered how JJ was doing. The unsub had run her car off the road, just after she'd dropped off Henry. An officer, passing by chance just after had saved her life when he'd scared off the unsub. That had been when they realized that the attack on Rossi hadn't been random. That someone was out to kill Hotch's team.

JJ had broken both legs in the accident. Hotch remembered her in the hospital bed, pale. Her eyes huge as she told how she'd seen the unsub reach for a gun before the officer stopped and the unsub drove off. How she'd been sure that had been it.

That night, as Jack celebrates his new room, Hotch cries silently on the couch in the living room for the innocence he'd seen dead in JJ's eyes. All because of his failure to see what was right in front of him.

***

By October he hired someone to set up the heating in the house. It was becoming decidedly chilly. While they worked on that, Hotch began working on the largest room on the second floor. He didn't really feel like he needed a room that big, just for himself. God knew, he wasn't going to try dating, possibly ever again, but it seemed only right that he turn the room into the master bedroom.

Work progressed faster than he expected, even with the inclusion of a walk-in closet and knocking a hole into the room that would eventually be the master bathroom. The toughest part turned out to be chosing furniture and colors.

In the end, he went with a dark rich stain on the oak floor and bright, Scandinavian style solid maple wood furniture. A deep-blue carpet sat under the bed, complimented by a painting Prentiss once gave him in blues. He felt ready to put that up, now.

It wasn't that he stopped wondering how she might be doing; he'd been wondering about that since they carved five bullets out of her torso along with her spleen, a good chunk of her liver and about a foot of smaller intestine. It was more that he’d begun remembering that Prentiss was a strong woman, and he’d like to know what she'd done with her life, when she couldn’t be a field-agent with the BAU, any more.

He didn't kid himself he was okay. He wasn't yet. But he was beginning to think that maybe seeing a therapist wouldn't be a terrible idea at some point.

Of course, the first night in his new bedroom, he had a nightmare.

No.

A memory.

The doctors had declared that Morgan would be fine. His left arm would never be the same again, but he'd survive. In a daze, Hotch had made to return to Quantico, forgetting that he was the only member on his team not out on sick leave or kidnapped. And he needed to find Reid.

Needed to figure out where Beth had gone, too.

That was when Rossi had told him, point blank, that he couldn't do the job any more, and sent him home.

The apartment had been a ruin. The door neatly locked, but inside wallpaper and pictures were slashed. The furniture looked like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it, and the kitchen cabinets had been opened and everything swept to the floor. And in the middle of all this, Reid had sat, tied to a chair, head yanked back and to the left by the grip on his hair, his own gun shoved under his jaw, hard enough to bruise.

And behind him stood Beth. Sweet, gentle Beth, now looking like a madwoman, hair in disarray, mascara running down her cheeks. Eyes like calderas of an erupting volcano.

"Throw your gun over there," she ordered, "or Doctor Reid will have a seventh hole in his skull."

"Actually, depending on how you count..."

She yanked his hair even harder, shutting him up. It didn't keep his eyes from meeting Hotch's for a split-second. That glance saying he'd follow whatever play Hotch opened.

Hotch reached for his gun, slowly. Removing it, slowly. He couldn't shoot her, anyway. Too great a risk of the gun under Reid's chin going off.

"Your ankle-holster, too," Beth ordered, and Hotch wondered how he hadn't noticed this in her.

"Why are you doing this, Beth?"

Her nostrils had flared unattractively, and Hotch felt like he was losing touch with reality, to be noticing something like that in a situation like this.

"Why? Because you love them more than anyone. There's no room for me, while they're around, so... They have to die."

Cool. Collected. And utterly crazy.

"Rossi got away with just a wound to his shoulder, but it should slow him down enough that I'll get him next time. I got interrupted by that damn cop when I tried to get rid of JJ, but I got both Prentiss and Morgan good, didn't I?"

Hotch thought fast. Would it be best to play along or try to burst her bubble? Clearly she was delusional, so he probably stood a better chance of getting her away from Reid by playing along.

"You did. Beth, please. I want to be with you. More than the team. More than my job. Please, let's get out of here before the neighbors call the police."

Her eyes flickered. "Really?"

Hotch felt sick, but he nodded, infusing his voice with as much confidence as he could manage. "Really."

Then she blinked, and he knew it was about to go south.

"Good. I'll just kill the Doctor, then, and we'll go."

"No!"

She looked confused. "No?"

"The neighbors will definitely hear," Hotch said, dangling his very best bait alluringly. "We won't have time to get away."

Beth looked at him appraisingly, and there was a moment Hotch knew he'd lost. No time to think, he sprang forward, knocking both her and Reid over. He was both bigger and stronger than Beth, but she had the strength of insanity on her side. They wrestled over the gun.

The gun went off, and the world stopped.

Hotch woke up, eyes filled with the sight of Reid, head bloody and cracked open; ears full of Jack's crying and weighed down by Mags lying on top of him.

Her weight was nothing compared to the heaviness of his heart.

***

Working on the master bathroom was slow and half-hearted at best. That memory cracked open, there was no refuge from the facts.

Beth. Beth, whom he'd loved. The woman he'd invited into his life, into Jack's and his team's lives, had been so unhinged she'd set out to kill the members of his team. And not only hadn't he seen that potential in her, she'd gotten away with attacking his team for three weeks before she'd made her last stand by kidnapping Reid.

They had been looking, and still he hadn't seen.

Last he knew, Reid was still alive. The bullet had torn through the left side of his skull. By all rights, the man should be dead, but Reid had always been good at exceeding expectations. Unfortunately, this time he'd exceeded his way right into a coma the doctors weren't sure he'd ever wake up from again. And even if he did, he would certainly be severely brain damaged.

Hotch had walked away.

Beth killed herself in jail. By her incompetence or a miracle from God, she hadn't actually managed to kill anyone else. But no one would be the same again.

Rossi would never qualify with a firearm again, with his shoulder hurt the way it was. Morgan probably wouldn't, either. Neither JJ nor Prentiss would ever meet the physical qualifications. And Reid was in a coma. Hotch's team was gone, so Hotch had bought the house in Kentucky, packed up and left.

Garcia had promised she wouldn't find him for anyone.

Since he hasn't heard from anyone, he thinks she still keeps her promise.

***

On the fifteenth of November, Annie's truck rumbles up in front of the house, and she helps a man out of the passenger seat. He walks with a cane, and he's tall and thin, and if Hotch could tell against the low-hanging sun, he might have said it looked like Reid.

Jack races past him, Mags hot on his heels, shouting 'Uncle Reid, Uncle Reid' the whole way. When the man sinks to one knee to hug Jack, Hotch feels his own knees give out and he finds himself sitting heavily on the porch stairs he was walking down. Because that is Reid. Out of the coma. Walking.

Coming towards him, leaning heavily on his cane in one hand and on the shoulder Annie's offered with the other.

"'ello, 'otch."

His voice sounds funny, and he's got a broad swathe above his left ear where there is no hair at all, just a giant, ugly scar, but... It's Reid!

Just as abruptly as he sat down, Hotch surges back to his feet and is hugging Reid hard before he even reaches the conscious decision to do so. He barely notices Annie laughing wetly as she disentangles herself from the both of them, leaving Reid to lean on Hotch.

When Hotch pulls back, he keeps a firm grip around Reid's shoulders. In part to help hold him up, in part to reassure himself that, yes, Reid is really there, in his hands.

"Tell me, Reid. Tell me everything."

"'ould hwe gho inside?" Reid asked, struggling to get the words out, but smiling all the same.

"Sure. Sure," Hotch says, and soon they're sitting in the living room, Jack and Mags on the floor, and Annie has made tea.

Reid fishes out a cellphone, dials, then puts it on the table. Just a second later, Garcia's voice comes out of the phone. "Her royal grumpypants wants to know where you are today, Mister."

Reid's grinning broadly as he answers. "In 'otch's livin' room, 'arcia."

The squeal makes Mags cock her head, but she otherwise stay quiet. "You found him? OhMyGod, you found him!"

"No t'anks to hyou," Reid grumbles, still smiling.

"I made a promise!" Garcia says indignantly. "Sir, are you there?"

"Garcia. It's good to hear your voice again." Hotch says and means every word.

"Entirely right back at ya, Sir. Wait. Let me conference everyone in. They'll want to hear your voice as much as I did."

One by one, she does her magic until they are all there, in spirit, if not in the flesh.

Morgan, from Chicago, where he's settled down as a full-time contractor, determined to turn the tide on the spread of the ghettos by improving them from the outside in. "Hell no, man. This is good. My mom's thrilled to have me close enough to come to Sunday dinners, and my sisters keep setting me up with this one lady. Think I might have to start dating her, just to get them to stop." He sounds happy enough about that.

Rossi, from some God-forsaken little town, where he is on a book-tour with his latest book. Fiction, this time, and obviously based on their team and their cases. "I'm going to have to invest in Morgan's business-schemes if this thing continues to take off," he grumbles, but Morgan laughs and say; "Any time, Dave, any time at all."

Prentiss, sounding tired, but happy, having moved into Rossi's house and brought not one, not two, but three foster-children with her. "I always wanted children, but time was starting to run out. So I figured, why not give these kids a chance."

"And you live in Rossi's house, why, again?" Garcia pokes, and Hotch swore he can hear Prentiss blush over the phone. It’s Rossi who answers, anyway. "That's none of your business, and that place was too empty, anyway."

And JJ, soft-spoken as ever, having moved to Oregon, of all places, where she is currently running for mayor in a tiny little town. "Looks like she"ll win, too," Will opines in the background. "We wanted to move somewhere with a big yard, for Henry. And Will should tell you he's running for Sheriff."

And Garcia, who is all set to marry Kevin in spring, and who threatens them all with bad credit-ratings if they don’t all show up. Of course, they promise to do so.

And then quiet settles again, Jack gone to his room to play with Mags, Annie gone home, only Hotch and Reid left in the half-dark room.

"'m not a djenius any more," Reid says quietly, almost to himself. "But 'm still pretty smar'."

Hotch smiles, despite himself. "You had a lot of IQ-points to spare." Then he sobers. "I'm sorry."

"No' hyour f-fault," Reid assures him. "M' balance's sho', an' I don' t-talk well any more. But all the m'mories. All t' crim's an' pict'rs an' bodies. They'r gone."

And Hotch gets it. He'd always been grateful he didn't have Reid's eidetic memory. To never forget anything you see or read, and hardly anything you ever hear? All the monstrous, terrible things they'd seen. Yeah. He understands why Reid sounds like he sees that as a bonus, not as a loss.

"That's something, at least. I still wish..."

"A'so?" Reid interrupts him. "Life's shor'."

Slightly puzzled, Hotch nods in agreement. "It is."

Reid struggles futilely to get to his feet for a few moments before he gives up. "S'ill need trainin'. 'elp me up?"

Hotch complies, and finds himself with Reid too close, free arm wrapped around Hotch's neck, and not letting go.

"Life's shor'," he says again, and this time Hotch just nods dumbly. "'m gonna kiss hyou now," Reid informs him, and Hotch just stand there, letting it happen.

"Okhay?" Reid asks afterwards, and Hotch finds himself smiling. Maybe he would, eventually, need that big master bedroom, after all.


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