Author: Dhae Knight
Word count: 1,311
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. Sorry I missed last night. I was... slightly distracted by my bank going belly-up.
Summary: Reid checks in with (and up on) Hotch.
It had been a bad week, and Reid felt bad about making it worse. It felt unfair that they had spent five of the seven days in Sweet Home, Oregon hunting an unsub who was doing her very best to make sure the town didn't live up to its name.
But he'd made a promise to himself, and past experience had taught him that to postpone what needed to be done wouldn't make it any easier.
So although they were both tired, and even though Reid really felt that Hotch should leave his reports for the night and get home to Jack, he braved Hotch's lair, where the man himself was still working.
A cautious knock on the doorjamb had Hotch looking up.
"Reid. I thought you'd gone home? Did you need something?"
"Uh... yeah. Do you have a minute?"
Hotch looked at his watch, then at the files on his desk before he looked back up at Reid.
"Of course." He watched as Reid closed the door behind him, not forcefully, but with finality. "What is it?"
"Have you... uhm. Have you talked to Jack?"
Hotch's brows tightened and lowered, confused. "I talk to Jack every day, Reid, you know that."
"I meant about... something... difficult."
Now Hotch's eyes narrowed, and Reid knew his grace-period for making sense was rapidly running out. "What do you know, Reid?"
Reid took a deep breath and gathered his courage. "When I tucked Jack into bed on his birthday, he... he told me a secret. Told me not to tell you. And I promised him not to."
"Then you should keep that promise," Hotch cut in, but Reid barreled on.
"I can't. Hotch, he's so scared, right now. Terrified that you'll find out and... and leave him."
That brought Hotch up short. "Why would he think I'd leave him?"
Reid swallowed, his mouth twisting to the side in discomfort. "I... Because." Another breath. "Because he doesn't like Beth."
Hotch's jaw-muscles clenched so hard they seemed to jump under his skin. "He doesn't like Beth?"
"He begged me to not tell you because he's afraid that you'll choose to be happy with her over being sad around him. He wants you to be happy, so he hides how he feels. You know what that means, Hotch, you know the long-term effects something like that can have."
Hotch covered his mouth with flat fingers. Reid had seen that gesture before. It was all about hiding a strong emotional response - usually a sad one.
"I don't... What am I supposed to do?" The words were plaintive, broken. In the months since he'd met Beth, his humor had returned, slowly but surely. He seemed less prone to having bad days, although he'd always hidden them well. Reid might not personally harbor too many fond feelings for Beth, but he loved the effect she'd had on Hotch. If anyone deserved a second shot at happiness, it was the man in front of him, and Reid might just have taken away his shot at it.
But Reid knew Hotch almost as well as he knew himself. He had, after all, been watching the man near-obsessively for ten years. And he knew that to Hotch nothing was more important than Jack. Nothing. The boy was Hotch's whole life. Even Beth had to find ways to fit in around Jack's needs.
"You need to talk to Jack. I couldn't get him to articulate why he doesn't like Beth, but maybe you can. And you need to talk to him about why you still feel sad around him. I know you think you're hiding it well (actually, I don't doubt that you do), but Jack's an extremely empathic child. He senses it anyway, no matter how you try to hide it, and, with the logic of a si-seven-year-old it becomes his fault."
Hotch took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Then another.
"What if he... what if he'll never get to like Beth? Then what do I do?"
Reid shrugged. "I don't know. I do know that single parents find new boy- and girlfriends every day. I'm sure not all of their children like these new extra parents they get. But somehow, everybody gets over it anyway."
"I want Jack to be happy. That's all. I mean, I like Beth. I really like Beth, but... Jack comes first. Always has."
Reid found himself smiling, just a little. Because he'd been right in his profiling of Aaron Hotchner, and that was always a thrill.
"I know. I can't help you with that, sorry."
They just were, sharing the silence, Hotch probably mulling over his options, Reid mulling over the second secret Jack had shared with him, hoping fervently Jack wouldn't see the need to share that secret with Hotch.
He figured Hotch probably knew he was bisexual. It had never been something he'd gone to great lengths to keep secret. On the other hand, he felt fairly confident Hotch didn't know about the inconvenient crush he was now battling for the one hundred and fourteenth month running. It was going about as well as could be expected, which meant it was under control ninety five percent of the time, and the remaining five percent it was concealed by distracting antics and rattling off trivia and statistics like there was no tomorrow.
It did not need the extra scrutiny Hotch could level if he got curious.
"What do you think of Beth? The truth, please, Reid."
Reid almost swallowed his tongue at that unexpected request, but he'd always been willing to descend into the pits of hell if Hotch asked him to, and this was no different.
"I think she's been good for you." That at least was the unvarnished truth. The entire team had begun wondering if Hotch would ever smile again. Beth had meant that happened, and it had been like watching the first rays of sunlight after a nuclear winter. "I'm not sure if she's been good to you, though."
"What do you mean?"
"I think... She seems to view the team as competition. I mean, I can see why anyone would see it that way; we do spend a lot of time away from home, and she's nowhere near as combatant about it as Haley seemed to be that last year or so of your marriage." Reid took a deep breath, then let loose with the most damning bit of profiling he'd done about Beth, even though he'd tried not to. "I think she's the kind of woman who thinks you'll be the perfect boyfriend once she's made a few adjustments. To you or your job."
Hotch looked poleaxed, but he'd asked for it, and so he didn't respond with anger as Reid would have normally expected. Instead, he thanked Reid.
Shaken to his core, Reid finished the conversation with Hotch's promise that he'd talk to Jack about his fears and his dislike of Beth. Reid got the distinct impression that Hotch would be doing some serious thinking about Beth as well, and had a sinking feeling that Hotch would do what he always did. He was as good as Jack about choosing to sacrifice himself rather than inflict pain upon those he loved.
He promised himself that he'd keep a close eye on Hotch for the foreseeable future, and that he'd make sure to go visit Jack as soon as possible, to give the boy a chance to talk. And possibly be angry about Reid's betrayal of his confidence.
He promised himself that if it broke his heart into a million pieces he'd make sure Hotch didn't go through the rest of his life as lonely as the rest of the team (with the exception of JJ and Garcia) were. He'd find someone for Hotch to love. Someone to love Hotch. And someone Jack would accept, too.