Author: Dhae Knight
Word count: 1,287
Pairing or featured character: Hotch/Reid pre-slash. Hotch/Beth established. Jack Hotchner
Warnings and/or spoilers: You know about Beth? Good. Angst ahoy!
Author's notes: I've done my very best to not make Beth a bad person in this one (yes, I do feel slightly guilty for turning her into a crazed serial-killer in the last one), but my dislike for her might shine through. Unbetaed in the extreme. I'll post over the next five days, so check in again on Thursday, if you want to read it all in one sitting.
Summary: Jack has a secret, and he tells Reid. How will Reid handle said secret?
Spencer Reid didn't know exactly when or why Jack Hotchner had chosen him for his confidante, but the fact remained that when Jack had questions he didn't want to ask Hotch, he asked Reid. It had been puzzling the first times it happened, and Reid still wasn't overly confident in his own abilities to communicate coherently on the level of a 6-year old boy, but when Jack asks him, Reid can't just turn away.
And so, it wasn't as much of a surprise as it probably should have been, that Jack wanted Reid to tuck him into bed on his birthday. Hotch just smiled and nodded his permission and although Beth looked a little tight around the edges, Reid did as Jack wanted.
What Jack usually wanted was for Reid to turn off the lights and recite a bedtime story in the darkness. Reid could do that, easily even, and he thought that it was probably one of the reasons why Jack regularly picked him to tuck him in when Reid visited around bedtime. Not that he'd done that much in the past four or five months. Things were different now that Beth was around, and every time he got to tuck Jack in now, he worried it might be the last time.
This night, however, once Reid had turned out the lights and taken a seat on the edge of Jack's bed, Jack spoke before he had a chance to begin his story.
"Can I tell you a secret, Spencer?"
"Of course you can, Jack. You can tell me anything. You know that, right?"
There was a rustling of hair against linen that probably signified Jack nodding.
"I know. Spencer... Don't tell dad, but... I don't really like Beth."
Reid swallowed, hard. He hadn't been expecting that. Jack seemed happy and well-balanced, generally. If he occasionally had a need to pull away or times when he was extra clingy, everybody ascribed that to his mother being murdered. But this...?
"Jack... Your dad. He really likes Beth. A lot."
"I know." Jack's voice was small and sad. "That's why you can't tell him that I don't like her."
Reid's heart broke for the boy. Jack was Hotch's son, through and through. With so much empathy he sometimes seemed to forget that it was okay to need something for himself. And with such an enormous need to keep everyone around him happy at all costs it sometimes seemed as if it would break him. Just as it did his dad.
"I won't. I promise I won't tell him. Can you tell me why? Why you don't like her?"
Another rustling, this one of skin against linen, and Reid took it to signify skinny shoulders shrugging under the blanket.
"I don't know."
Reid took a deep breath. He didn't know how long he had before Hotch or Beth checked up on them, but he hoped he'd have long enough. Jack tended to like long stories, and usually stayed awake until the end.
"Does she do stuff you don't like?"
Another shrug. "Not really."
"You just don't like her?"
"Jack. It's okay for you to not like Beth. You need to know that. But you also need to tell your dad. He needs to know stuff like this, okay?"
Reid thought his own breathing sounded overwhelmingly loud in the silence of the room. So overwhelming that he barely heard Jack's whispered reply.
Next thing he knew, a small body collided with his chest, thin arms wrapping around his neck awkwardly, a face pressed into the juncture of neck and shoulder.
"I'm scared, Spencer. Dad is so happy with Beth, and he's still sad when he's with me. He tries to hide it, but I make him sad. What if he..."
Jack didn't finish the thought, too busy clinging and crying to make sense, and Reid hugged him close, trying to comfort him simply by being there.
"You know he'll pick you, Jack. He'll always choose you, you know that. Always. And you don't make him sad, I promise you."
Jack sniffled. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. He gets sad thinking about your mom. He gets sad thinking about you doing stuff she never got to see. But you don't make him sad. You make him happy, and that's what makes him sad, because your mom isn't there to be happy with the both of you, you know?"
Reid had no idea where the words were coming from. Much like with Hardwick years before, he found that he was terrified: if not for his life this time, then for Jack and Hotch's relationship. And as always, when he was terrified, words came out of his mouth and made a difference. He hoped they'd make a difference this time, too.
If not a difference, at least Jack wasn't crying as hard, anymore. In fact, he was pulling back, just a little, and a second later a small moist hand made contact with Reid's left cheek.
"I wish it was you."
Well. That was a non-sequitur as far as Reid was concerned.
"You wish it was me, what?"
Jack clung close again, and his voice was almost obscured by his mouth pressing against Reid's neck. "I wish it was you instead of Beth."
God, Reid thought, half-praying to a deity he couldn't rationalize believing in. He didn't even know where to begin to tackle that. Talking about how Hotch was straight and Reid wasn't even in the picture because of that would require a talk about sexuality Reid was not going to take on unless he had absolutely no choice. So really, that left only the option of love.
"It can't be, Jack. Love, the kind of love you have for a girlfriend or a boyfriend... it's not something you can force. You can't force yourself to like Beth, can you?"
The head under his chin shook. "No."
"And your dad... he can't force himself to stop loving her. Any more than he can stop loving you."
The body pressed up against him seemed to wilt. "I still wish it was you," Jack said plaintively.
The lump in Reid's throat grew to almost unmanageable proportions.
"I'll tell you what. You call me any time. Any time at all, if you want to talk, okay Jack? Even if all you want to do is listen to someone talking. Even if it's in the middle of the night. Okay?"
Jack hesitated, then he withdrew completely and crawled under his blanket.
Reid's heart hurt at the sound of his voice. Like a miniature-Hotch, who'd just retreated behind every shield he owned, pushed down his hurt and hid it. Jack was too young to do that. No child should even know how.
But there was nothing for it, and Jack was clearly shut down for the evening, so Reid stroked a hand over his hair. "You still want a story?"
"I just want to be alone right now."
God. Just like Hotch. And just like with Hotch, Reid didn't know how to push through.
He swallowed down his tears and said his goodbyes, first to Jack and then to Hotch and Beth before he was on his way. He'd give Jack a week. After that Reid would have to break his promise to the boy and broach the subject with Hotch. Jack's emotional health was more important than his own relationship with the boy, and Jack's relationship with Hotch was the most important one in this whole situation as far as Reid was concerned.
A week. Seven days. One hundred and sixty eight hours. Ten thousand and eighty minutes.
He hoped Jack would say something.
He didn't believe it.