The Assistant Who Scowls: Fel Introduction
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Fel was an unusual case. He always had been, so that wasn’t surprising. His family hated the idea of this facility, of ever losing anyone of their blood to it, and for a long while they were able to sit comfortably in their velvet seats pretending it didn’t exist. Of course, Fel would be the odd one out, the one who finally broke that peaceful chain of ignorance. When they were informed Fel would be taken there on his eighteenth birthday, they did everything in their power to prevent it. They bribed and lied until their efforts dried up. By the time he was twenty, Fel was finally taken. Despite all his efforts, he seriously doubted his parents cared all that much. They simply despised the association.
That was fine, really. He knew it wouldn’t work from the get-go. He had planned out ways to hide away until the storm blew over. He was going to run away from home until he realized it wouldn’t do him any good. The government basically had every house, store, and building chipped. They would simply find him anyway and he’d be treated as a rebel, only making it harder to escape. No, he didn’t want that, so, technically, he went willingly. Well, as willingly as one can enter a lowly lit judgment room, dragged by their wrists to that entrapping chair. The dragging really wasn’t necessary. As Fel was forced through his judgment, recalling his formative younger years, he noticed something odd. Usually, the jury had a member for every emotion; joy, sorrow, terror, shock, love, hatred, greed, neutral. In this instance, however, terror was sorely missing. He stared at the empty chair, baffled. There was a story behind that decision, he was sure.
“Is something wrong?” one of them asked, seeing as he spaced out and Fel was pulled out of his thoughts. He shook his head.
“Not at all. Please, continue.” He knew better than to inquire about it.
He was sorted quite quickly, into hatred nonetheless. He didn’t expect them to take their time on him considering he was a late case. His physical was rushed as well. He was told many others were coming in (“on time” the doctor had added scathingly, as if he should care) and they had to have everything sorted for him until then. The medicine was practically shoved down his throat, yet he didn’t scream or cry about it. Even when the horrid thing caused his eyes to burn and his tongue to go numb, he didn’t complain and he didn’t have much of a reaction. He wanted them to think he was some goodie-two-shoes so they’d leave him alone, for the most part. He knew he’d have hiccups later, spicy foods and drinks had never sat well with him. The doctor was shocked, told Fel he was the least reactive person they had known and that most others completely panicked. They said this as if Fel should have been proud of himself, or should look down on the others. He wasn’t really and, while he did look down on most people, he saw no reason to scorn them for this. It was rather intense, after all. Fel had felt a deep desire to punch something, anything when he had taken his first dosage, he was simply very good at controlling his urges. He feared what would happen to someone who wasn’t, and little did he know he would soon meet plenty of those types.
After being released from it all, he immediately began to build his circles. He would have loved to escape alone, but escaping from a place such as this was an impossible task entirely. The place was too massive, too well built, and too technologically advanced. Plus, he was new and, rather than learning things the hard way, he’d rather ask the others that had already experienced it. It was quicker and painless. Truthfully, he was out of the loop. Most of the people around him had been there a year, and he despised that, but he began to surround himself with them for a reason. He hated being the ignorant one, the one that needed to be taught, it caused him to lose his power, but it was convenient for him things were that way. If everyone was new he’d have nobody to gather information come. He ended up surrounded by three noticeable figures; Rex, one of the over-emotional ones, Tenka, one of the few assigned to a positive emotion, and Ewilyn, a mystery he was certain he would unravel at some point.
Whether he admitted it or not, Rex was an impressive liar. He managed to avoid being sorted into the proper emotion for a year or so, that is to say, he knew how to get around those dreaded observation rooms and knew how to hide his feelings fairly well. Then again, that wasn’t exactly accurate. He wasn’t that Rex could hide his feelings, Fel had learned, to his annoyance, that Rex was quite a vocal individual when pushed too far, he just knew how to focus on one feeling and shut the others out. He used his fear like a weapon, and the doctors couldn’t do anything about it because his progress was sufficient in that emotion enough. It didn’t matter if his progress between sessions was next to nothing, because his fear was always so strong in that moment they were forced to assume he had gotten somewhere. Oh yes, Fel knew Rex belonged in hatred just as he did. It was obvious, to him at least. He saw the glares he secretly gave to irritable individuals when they wouldn’t leave well enough alone. Furthermore, he couldn’t ignore the ones shot towards him specifically. They were quite similar, unexpectedly. They hated the types that blabbered on or pushed them to be more social. They couldn’t understand their excited ramblings, it didn’t suit the situation at all, and prolonged social situations made both want to crawl out of their skins. That was probably why Rex was so forgiving, despite clearly being irritated by Fel’s analysis of him.
Though really, the only reason he didn’t actually succumb to his fear or hatred was Tenka. Fel had accepted very early on that those two couldn’t and shouldn’t be separated. They functioned as a whole, and neither would be so forgiving to his blunt whims if they didn’t have the other. Basically, neither of them would get anything done. Without Tenka’s encouragement, Fel was sure Rex would completely collapse under the weight of it all, and without needing, no, wanting to look after Rex, Tenka would probably give in to that overgrown love everyone else in that category fell into. That is to say, they trusted each other with their lives. Dependency, Fel found the very idea disgusting. He couldn’t imagine being so weak-willed he’d just fall under the cracks like that. As is, he really wasn’t sure why Rex kept up the charade at all. Rather than living in fear, they could easily give in to their love for each other and spiral off into blissful Hell. He had expressed this to them both, and they acted completely oblivious to his point. So, they hadn’t seen it? With the way they treated each other, he thought it was obvious, but he didn’t push it. That wasn’t important. So, whatever, he needed them so it was convenient they hadn’t.
Speaking of which, despite Rex being louder when he wanted to be, Tenka was by far the more social of the two. It wasn’t that he was talkative or naturally social, he just rarely backed out of a social situation when he was placed in one. It was quite pitiful, Fel thought. However, it was through him that Fel kept up to date on the larger scope of things. Tenka was the reason he had met Rex at all. He had greeted him when he first arrived. According to Rex, he did that for every one new. The difference here being most of them told Tenka to leave them alone, while Fel garnered as much information from him as possible. Tenka seemed to find his constant questioning charming, strangely. Fel initiated the relationship by accident and they simply kept talking afterward. Now he asked him for status reports all the time. Who had disappeared, when did they disappear, what were they sorted in, how did they behave beforehand? “Is that really all important?” Rex would chime in and Fel would assure him it was. Of course it was. He wanted to gather as many variables as possible until he could start finding patterns and focus in on them. At first, he believed Tenka wouldn’t understand. He’d give them the information, yet not understand their purpose at all. Fel saw him as one of those social, preppy types who had little to nothing in his head, so he always just smiled and went along with everything. A dumb blonde, one would say. Yet, after a while, he seemed to catch on quite well and gave Fel more detailed information. He gave his own contributions too, here and there, if he thought they were important. Their arrangement turned out to be even more helpful than Fel could hope for. He supposed, between Tenka and Rex, Tenka also served as the brains.
Then there was Ewilyn. No one talked to Ewilyn, not even Rex or Tenka. As kind as they were, and worried for the man, they couldn’t bear to look at him without getting the chills. Fel didn’t share in their childish fear. He wanted to see the worst this place had to offer. Besides, he was the most knowledgeable here. When Fel could find him (the man acted so incapacitated, he had no idea how he disappeared the way he did), he always sat in the corner or near the wall, on the floor, never a chair. He was often curled up or hunched over in some way, eyes as wide as a deer’s when they were stuck in headlights. Speaking of his eyes, he must have been on intense medication before he was released here, because his eyes had this sort of unnatural, orange tinge to them. They almost resembled that of a cat’s, the orange seeping into his pupils and making them look smaller than they were.
Ewilyn’s whole demeanor put Fel on edge. It wasn’t that he was aggressive or anything, when one managed to sit beside him and encourage him to talk, he was quite gentle. His words always held a comforting sort of weight, and Fel found himself just nodding along. He knew more than he let on, that was for certain. It was just, similar to most people sorted into shock, he was incredibly jumpy. Yet, Ewilyn was jumpy in the sort of way where you could end up face-first on the floor if you weren’t careful (in that way, perhaps the man’s sneaking off did make sense). He was surprisingly agile when he put his mind to it. Actually, the first time he met him, he nearly had his feet kicked right out from under him.
It was on his first day after Tenka and Rex left him. He says left, but it was more of Tenka prioritizing Rex over him and he hadn’t cared. Rex was overwhelmed by the crowd of the facility that day, and Tenka wanted to take him back to his room to lie down. That’s when Fel realized Rex wasn’t just another one of Tenka’s casual friends, which he seemed to be in no small amount of.
“I-I’m fine, really,” Rex kept insisting, despite the fact he so obviously was not. He was trembling and wheezing terribly, as if he’d just taken in a lung full of smoke. Fel raised an eyebrow.
“You don’t look it,” Fel commented and Tenka nodded.
“You look pale. Maybe you should lay down, Rex,” he added, his voice suddenly becoming terribly soft. Rex stared at him for a moment, then hesitantly nodded. He probably didn’t want to worry Tenka, Fel thought.
“O-okay...but oh, what about Fel?” Rex asked kindly. Fel didn’t need anyone to look after him. He’d be just fine on his own, unlike those two. Fel raised an eyebrow, but forced a smile.
“I’ll be fine on my own, so go ahead,” he said, shooing them with his hand a little. He needed the time to socialize, he couldn’t just stay trapped to their side the whole day.
“Are you sure? It’s only your first day,” Rex pointed out and Fel nodded sharply.
“Yes, really. Go on then, I wouldn’t want you passing out on my account.” The two hesitated, then finally left. Tenka let Rex sling his arm over his shoulder and they practically limped to the elevator. Fel had tried his best to come off as caring, something he admittedly had always been bad at. According to his next interaction, he hadn’t. They were surprised he even came back, they thought he disliked them. Well, he did in a way, so he supposed they weren’t wrong.
Anyways, it was when he was finally alone, exploring, that he first saw the man. He had stopped at the entrance of one of the hallways, cautiously looking in. This hall was...different, to say the least. While the rest of the place was rather polished, several things in this one were broken and, in that sense, it was no wonder it was so abandoned. The lights were flickering, practically begging to completely sputter out once and for all, and there was a set of broken TVs on the wall, protected by glass. A part of the glass, the one in front of one of the screens, was stained. With what he didn’t want to know, the whole place looked like a scene from a horror movie. Did the cameras even work there? It was difficult to fully see down the hall anyway, he had to glare to make out most of it. So, at first, he didn’t even notice the figure that was sitting there in the dark, head resting against the wall as they stared at the ceiling. From what he could see, despite their surroundings, they looked rather calm. Fel didn’t understand it, he hadn’t even taken a step into the hallway and he felt overwhelmed. Still, a loner was suspicious, and it’d be easier for him to talk to the ones that weren’t in groups. He just had to say hello, it shouldn’t be too hard. He wasn’t a child, he reminded himself. With all of that in mind, he took a deep breath and headed down the hall.
“It’s important...internalize...y-your medi-icati-ion,” the TVs chimed in the background, the sound and image constantly flickering in and out. Every step he took was slow, careful. He was embarrassed of himself, though he supposed it was good to be careful. He had no idea what this weirdo was like. He eventually made it up to the person, which he now saw was a man. He appeared to be around the same age as him, meaning he was most likely in his twenties. Fel was relieved, that meant he’d be more experienced than the other two. As he stopped by the man’s side, he hardly seemed to notice. Fel tilted his head and twisted his lips. Well, if he was that unobservant, maybe he wouldn’t be that helpful after all. He waited for a while to see if he would ever notice, then coughed.
“Excuse m-” he began but was unable to finish as the man suddenly turned. There was an intensity in those orange eyes that cut through his whole body, his muscles screaming in horror as the man’s foot swept out from under him, aiming right for Fel’s legs. He quickly jumped back, landing skillfully in a crouched position, ready to move just in case he attacked again. The man, only realizing now what he had done, blinked, baffled. He looked over at Fel, as if he was only now properly seeing him.
His eyebrows furrowed and he offered Fel a kind smile.
“Oh, I’m sorry about that...you startled me,” he said. He spoke in a voice with a slight twang that was never fully realized. His manner of speaking was light and airy, and Fel found his tense body relaxing at the sound. He didn’t sound aggressive, so it must have just been a mistake. Although, if that’s what he did when he was simply startled, Fel hoped he never figured out what he did when he was genuinely frightened. Fel stood up slowly.
“That’s alright,” he said, though it wasn’t, “I should have announced myself before approaching.” The man smiled in satisfaction of this shared understanding. His polluted eyes wandered from Fel to the TVs, or more of, the glass, staring at their reflections. Fel fell silent, observing him carefully.
“It’s alright. You don’t have to stand so far away. I won’t do it again, I promise,” he assured him. There was something about his voice and sudden still manner that compelled Fel to approach him once more. It wasn’t loud or demanding, but that’s probably why it ran under his radar, his usually rebellious and overly cautious nature melting.
He stood, towering above the man, mostly because he wasn’t sitting straight. Fel was 6’0” and he was unsure how tall the man was, praying he wouldn’t stand. He was more comfortable with this arrangement, staring down at him. Being so close, he could finally inspect his form. He was a skinny and lanky-looking man, with skin even paler than his and a delicate-looking face. His cheeks were slightly chubby, sloping into a small chin, and his petite nose was rather perky. It made him look immature, Fel thought, though there was something much more mature in his eyes and subtle facial expressions. The man looked up at him with dazed eyes, a glint of fear showing itself there, though he didn’t dare back up, let alone move. His body was completely relaxed, it didn’t fit his facial expression at all. His eyes searched Fel, then looked at the space next to his feet. An offer to sit down. Fel stayed put, refusing, and the man continued on as if it were nothing. He knew Fel was more scared of him than he was of Fel, so he was allowing him to have his small comforts. Fel’s attempt at having some power had failed miserably. He might as well have sat down at that point, but he was too stubborn.
“What’s your name?”
“Fel,” he said, tilting his head, “And yours?”
“Ewilyn,” the man said, then, “Do you want to sit down? I understand if you don’t. This place isn’t very pleasant.” Fel raised his eyebrow.
“Then why are you here?” he asked, brushing past his question. He just laughed a little, eyes scanning around.
“No one comes down here, it’s a good place to think,” he noted then, giving Fel a grin that could be perceived as playful, “except you, apparently.” Fel made a face, finally giving in and sitting down beside him.
“How was I supposed to know? I’m new,” Fel said, in case Ewilyn was annoyed by him invading his space. He wasn’t instead, his smile widened.
“What a coincidence, so am I.” Fel’s eyes widened. He was new, and he already found this place...no, wait. How could he be? At his age, that didn’t make sense. Did that mean...he was an unusual case like Fel? No, that was too optimistic, he could be lying. He could tell Ewilyn knew what he wanted to ask, and Fel knew he wanted to ask the same of him, but both remained silent. A show of respect that was quite reassuring to Fel. An unspoken alliance was made between them that day. Fel was grateful it was so discreet. With people such as Rex and Tenka, he always had to worry about them misunderstanding and saying something dumb. He never approached Ewilyn in that tunnel again. He had no reason to interrupt his time to think, and the alone time would only benefit them both. Fel was quite satisfied to have someone similar to him around, although, that meant he had to be all the more careful.
Knowing how he was, he kept his walls up with Ewilyn, just in case. If he wasn’t careful, he might end up using Fel then throwing him to the wolves. Yes, while he liked Ewilyn, he wasn’t above doing that as well. Not that he had any useful information to give...yet. He wouldn’t mind a partnership, he just wasn’t sure if that’s what Ewilyn wanted. He hadn’t the faintest clue why the man even talked to him, other than their shared understanding. He seemed knowledgeable enough not to need anything from him. Ewilyn’s motivations were unclear, for now anyway. By the end of his first week, Fel had three missions; one, gather information on the facility, two, learn how to cheat the tests and observation rooms, three, figure out who the Hell Ewilyn was and what he was hiding. He was working steadily towards the former two, at least.
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Correspondence, Chapter 06
Summary: An AU where Reid never joined the FBI, but got roped into consulting for the LA field office while working and teaching at Caltech. Hotch gets his email referred from a fellow agent, and they start to work on cases together – until they start talking on a regular basis. Regular becomes frequent, frequent becomes constant. They know nothing about each other, but they don’t really mind.
Rating: Mature/Explicit (eventually)
Chapter CW/notes: Slight offscreen peril, a bunch of POV changes, and we’re going to start introducing the team one by one so a whole lot of Rossi this chapter. Everyone will get their turn, and a few people (Garcia and Morgan for sure) get more than one. This chapter got very very long, once again. Set in season 6-7, self beta’d.
Word Count: 10716
Although the BAU sends teams out frequently to different corners of the continental US -- whenever they’ve been requested or invited in, or when they are interviewing captured criminals for research studies and papers -- for the most part they can do all of their work right there at home. In Quantico, Virginia.
Hotch’s team is one of four domestic Behavioral Analysis teams in the Unit, who work alongside three Behavioral Research and Instruction teams, as well as liaisons from the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crimes (NCAVC) and two international BAU teams. Hotch doesn’t directly oversee the international sectors, or the liaisons, but he is Unit Chief as well as the leader of his team and he seems to constantly be buried in a sea of paperwork. Especially when he is back in his office at Quantico, and can’t use the excuse of being called out on a case to defer some of the workload.
But one thing about being home that Hotch appreciates more than anything is the routine it creates; with his work, with his home, with Jack, and now -- with Spencer. Being three time zones apart is difficult, but it’s all they’ve ever known, and it becomes second nature for Hotch to always be aware what the time is in California. What time of day it is for the other man, what his routine might be and the little stolen minutes that are best to send texts, sneak in phone calls, and they become quite skilled at it. Spencer knows Hotch’s schedule better than he does himself, some days, and he always returns the favor in kind. Quite literally living in each other’s pockets, via a cell phone, and Hotch finds that thought amusing to no end.
It also means that the younger man is… always on his mind. Just a glance at a clock and he already knows what time it is across the country, and he often finds himself thinking about what Spencer is doing. What class he is teaching. If he’s grabbing coffee or actual lunch like he should. They’ve hit this point in their relationship where the constant communication is all but seamless and interwoven into their everyday lives. It becomes a common occurrence to always think about Spencer, to always check his phone as often as he might check his watch, and Hotch starts to realize that this long distance relationship has taken some deep roots within him. That he just very might be falling head over heels for a man he’s never met, and although it takes him a moment to grasp that concept fully -- he finds that he doesn’t really mind it, either. Because this is the happiest he’s been in a long, long time.
And after the past few years, he’s learned that that is not something he can afford to be cautious with.
So he lets it all progress unchecked, as nerve-wracking as that can be, instead of keeping it in the consistency they’ve grown so used to. The relationship akin to many of the experiments and projects Spencer regales him with; a constant that needs variables in order for it to change and ignite. It should have been jarring, this free fall that Hotch had begun to allow, but somehow it never was.
And just like that, they continued to grow closer, a little less wary than before.
After that week in December, their phone conversations become as frequent as their text messaging. Every night, sometimes over lunch and on the weekends, Jack has even jumped in once or twice during the daytime hours when their time together overlaps. Hotch was surprised at the younger boy’s enthusiasm to talk to whoever he has been messaging off and on for the better part of a year, and even more at how the two get on even over the phone. But Spencer points out one night that Jack probably is more used to speaking and connecting with people over long distance because of his father’s constant travel through the year. As often as Hotch calls and messages Spencer, he also talks to Jack every night that he’s not home, so it would be a very minute shift for him to be introduced to Spencer and find it as normal an occurrence as if Hotch was on one of his trips. This creates various juxtaposing emotions for Hotch, glad that Spencer and Jack can meet each other without it being stilted or awkward with the distance, and morose that he’s created this precedent in his son that could last his whole life. Thankfully, it only takes a few nights of Spencer’s stream-of-conscious lectures indicating statistics and case studies and small anecdotes speckled throughout, all connecting like constellations in the sky, to soothe his apprehensions.
Spencer always seems to have that effect on Hotch, when they talk.
They have come to find that just the sound of the other’s voice is enough to ease even the most stressful of days, and for Spencer as well. Through physical application they discover just how well, as the months pass them by. Through the Christmas holidays, a hard time for the Hotchners because it was always Haley’s favorite time of year, resulting in many a late night phone call that goes far beyond when even Spencer should have fallen asleep. On past New Years, and Spencer’s mom’s birthday in late January -- another hard time -- where the younger man confided in Hotch that his mother is permanently institutionalized with paranoid schizophrenia. Something he never shares with anyone, if he can help it, but a large part of his life he knows he wants Hotch to be aware of now. After all this time. They help each other through each and every instance, are there through the thick and thin of it, solidifying a trust that appeared as naturally as everything else about them.
And with it… the feelings grow. So much stronger than before.
And although their phone calls stay more tame than not, they do revisit the hushed tones and quiet gasps that they had lapsed into that night in Wyoming -- and they were getting very good at it.
But with the new development of spoken conversations as well as through text is so much more than just the sexual progression, that’s not how this all started. There’s a companionship there that transcends all the multimedia facets they explore.
Spencer becomes one of the most important people in Hotch’s life. And Hotch is Spencer’s… whole world, outside of Caltech. They mean so much to each other, have blended together through time and distance and millions of words and messages. It’s really a wonder that more people don’t know about their relationship. Private as they are, each in their own right, they hold a place in each other’s days and nights and thoughts at all times.
Once winter gives way to spring, and March bleeds into the calendar, Spencer mentions one night that it’s been exactly one year since Hotch had emailed him on that first case. An anniversary of sorts.
How had it been a whole year, already, and still felt so brand new?
And yet, neither man can even remember what their life was like before they’d met. How could they possibly have gotten through the day, and not have it speckled with those little moments of conversation? Filling the spaces where they hadn’t even realized they’d been lonely. Had no idea what they were missing, until they had it in their hands.
It’s a day in mid-March that finds the BAU oddly quiet. Everyone is home, for the most part: no urgent cases, no pending interviews, just mountains of paperwork and yearly evals paired with recertifications to keep them occupied. Rossi even takes the week off to go attend a convention in L.A. where one of his books is being featured, again. Hotch doesn’t bother to try and fight him on it, there’s really no need with everything seeming in a lull for the time being.
But, since one person got the week off, naturally everyone else starts to take it easier as well. Procrastinating by taking frequent snack and coffee breaks, sitting at each other’s desks in the bull pen and generally goofing around -- not getting much work done at all. Hotch can see his team, or most of them, from his office where he has been finishing up some reports that really should have been completed by the group horsing around all morning.
But it’s such a comforting sight, smiles and laughs in the place where they confront violence and depravity at all hours of the day. His team deserves a break, he decides, so Hotch finishes his report as if he can’t see the team out of the corner of his eye, and checks his phone again while waiting for a reply from Spencer. The professor has also been dealing with procrastination among his own students, the majority resorting to messing around in the labs instead of actually getting their work done like they should. The situational parallel alone enough to make Hotch bite back a smile that would be too much in plain view; not wanting to reveal that he is taking his work at his leisure, as well, that day.
“Garcia!” Prentiss calls as she walks past Hotch’s office door, always left open for easy access by his agents, and so he can hear the goings on of the BAU floor. “There’s some kind of alarm going off in your office? I’ve never heard it before.”
“What does it sound like? Is it the Doctor Who theme, or kind of ‘Mission Impossible’-y,” she asks as she relinquishes Morgan’s chair (which she had commandeered over an hour ago) and makes her way through the maze of desks. “Oh! Or is it the 007 music? I’ve been waiting for a message from our BAU friends abroad--”
“No, no this kind of sounds like an air raid siren.”
Garcia’s face drops, and never has Hotch seen that look on her face before. She spins on her leopard print heels and is hurrying back across the bull pen as fast as those four inch stilettos will allow.
“Baby girl, what is it?”
“No one panic! Not until I get there!” she calls back, with an edge of franticness in her voice that creates the exact opposite reaction she is calling for. Morgan looks up to Hotch, who is already out his door and following after the tech analyst, and they share a look of affirmative action. Whatever it is that has her worked up, it can’t be good.
It’s always on the quiet days. He should have known.
“Morgan, get the jet prepped if it’s available. Prentiss--” Hotch spins and points at her still on the high rise as he makes his way towards the elevators. “Be on standby for communication. JJ’s not due back until next week.” He had finally gotten her negotiated back from the State Department (and the Pentagon, too, he had cashed in quite a few big favors for that one), and Garcia has done a good job covering for her the past year and a half. But it would be so nice to have Agent Jearau back and running the place once more like the well oiled machine it is.
Especially when he needs her, like right now.
“Talk to me, Garcia,” Hotch demands, slipping into the elevator beside her before the doors can close. “What does that alert mean?”
She looks only mildly nervous, but the panic bleeds through now that they’re closed off from the rest of the team. “It’s a friends and family alert I customized, for if a 911 call or emergency is issued around someone important to us.” She looks at him through her red rimmed glasses and Hotch can plainly see in her expression that it has been a while since this particular alert has gone off. “I have it linked to everyone’s homes, homes of family, old team members, schools for the kids, places of work. And the parameters are narrowed down pretty specifically, after I was getting alerts every other day in Chicago around Morgan’s mom’s house. That neighborhood is going downhill fast.” The elevator dings and they make their way to Garcia’s office, Hotch already pulling his phone out and texting Jessica to see if she’s alright and if Jack got to school okay.
“So could this be another false alarm?” he asks, keeping his voice steady and calm to counter her franticness. His deep tone seems to remind her to breathe evenly until they find out what caused the alert. Which is, indeed, going off like an old fashioned air raid siren, circa the London Blitz.
Garcia spins into her swivel chair, custom-ordered and much more comfortable looking than even his in his home office. With a few seconds of rapid-paced typing the alarm goes quiet and she is pulling up the details of the alert.
“Where is it?”
“California,” she says, still waiting for zeroed in coordinates and police reports.
“Rossi?” Hotch asks, remembering the man is in L.A. at a conference, and the chance a bomb has gone off there is slim to none, but the chance of criminal activity in the vicinity is statistically high.
“Not quite, a little further Northeast --” she trails off, and Hotch feels his stomach drop just as Garcia’s eyes go wide at the report appearing on the screen. “Pasadena. CalTech.”
His phone is in his hand and calling Spencer’s number before she finishes speaking.
The tone rings once, twice, “C’mon, Spencer, pick up,” he mutters, his tone no longer even or calm.
“The number you have called is out of service. Please contact your local provider for maintenance requests or inquiry--”
“All phone lines are down around the campus,” Garcia tells him over the automated voice in his ear. “They were knocked out by an explosion at one of the science labs.” A few more seconds of typing, creating a tension filled backdrop that can’t be good for his heart. “In the… Physics and Engineering Complex, building 254--”
“That’s Spencer’s building. Garcia patch me through, I don’t care to who or where. I’m calling Dave.”
“Roger, Roger,” Garcia complies as Hotch turns and paces the room, a dial tone once again ringing in his ear. Los Angeles is only a 20 or 30 minutes drive from Pasadena, depending what side of the city one was on. No matter which way he looked at it, Rossi was the person most likely to get there first.
He has to call twice to get the man to pick up.
“Please tell me we don’t have a case.” Rossi sounds as self-suffering as ever, and Hotch barrels right over his premature complaints.
“No. I need you to get to CalTech as soon as possible,” Hotch tells him, straightforward as he can be. “As in right now.”
If there’s one thing he’s learned from phone conversations with Spencer, it’s how to tell that someone is making a gesture or facial expression from just the slightest nuances of sound. That’s how he can hear Rossi smirk on the opposite end of the call, and years of friendship cast a pretty clear picture of it.
“Something to do with Dr. Reid, I’m guessing?” he deduces, and sounds so smug about it Hotch has to resist rolling his eyes. “Y’know, until that case in Wyoming I’d thought you had stumbled upon some hidden virtual dating line within the FBI consultant network, but I have to say I’m still stuck between the ‘friend of a friend’ scenario or--”
“Dave.” Hotch snaps, short and concise. “There’s been an explosion at the CalTech physics lab, and all communication has been knocked down. I need you to get over there and find Dr. Ried and --”
He stalls, realizing he hadn’t gotten that far yet. Hotch just needed to know Spencer hadn’t been in that explosion, that he wasn’t being rushed to a hospital, he needed to know what was going on and Rossi was his only chance at finding it out. Nosey, means well, but always in his business friend that he is.
“Just, make sure he’s okay?” Hotch says, and his voice changes a little on the last syllable. Opens up a window to something more vulnerable, because damn it all he’s worried and Hotch schools that cadence in his voice as quickly as it reveals itself. “I’m sure there’s a swarm of police presence there but all cell service is offline and I can’t get a hold of him.”
Rossi doesn’t answer, just waits patiently as if there’s more to say.
Because of course there’s more to say. Hotch just hadn’t planned on saying it in such a plain context.
“Yes, it’s Dr. Reid I’m… seeing. Dating. I just need to know he’s alright.” The carefully controlled tone of his voice threatens to break apart, but Rossi nor Garcia would know that listening to him. Aaron Hotchner has had a lot of practice dealing with grace under pressure, and even his loved ones in danger under pressure -- last time had been devastating. This time, not just yet, but going through it twice is not something he is looking to experience.
“Okay, alright,” Rossi tells him, as if he’d somehow been hysterical about it and Hotch frowns at his phone. “I’m walking to my car now.” Those questions Rossi wants to ask hang unanswered between them, and Hotch doesn’t know if he has the patience for them at that moment. “Anything I should know before I meet him?”
Rossi is not slick, like he thinks he is. Hotch has known him far too long to not know what he’s doing, baiting the question without asking it. Hotch pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs long and drawn out before answering.
“I gathered,” Rossi deadpans. “And--?”
“He’s very young.”
“As in scandalous young? You’re turning into me.”
Hotch snorts. “He has 5 Ph.D.’s and runs three departments. I think our side-by-side comparison weighs in my favor.”
“So… how young is young?”
“Dave, don’t make this a thing,” Hotch all but begs the older man, now sounding as self-suffering as Rossi had when he’d answered the phone.
“Oh -- that bad?”
He’s not going to drop it. Hotch can hear cars and the sounds of a parking garage echoing through the background, and the last thing he wants is for Rossi to stall -- holding his assistance hostage while Hotch stands there and worries about if Spencer is okay or hurt or dead because Rossi can also be an asshole at the worst of times.
“... He’s 30.”
“ 30? As in three-zero, 30?”
Hotch frowns further. “ You’re judging me?” They both remember the 20-something barely in grad school from Greg Peterson’s wedding four years ago, Hotch doesn’t even have to bring it up or remember her name to make Rossi scoff in answer.
“Yes, but that’s me. This is you.” Rossi pauses, and if he’s stopped outside his car without getting inside of it Hotch will reach through the phone and strangle him like an old-school looney tunes cartoon.
“ Don’t bring it up to him, Dave. I swear -- just, make sure he’s alive. Please.”
“Yes, yes, I’ll check on your scandalously young boyfriend and call when I can,” Rossi tells him. Almost too easy, despite the struggle it took to get there that’s making a headache build behind Hotch’s eyes.
“-- But we’re talking about this later.”
“No, we aren’t.”
“Oh, yes we are.”
“I’m hanging up.” Which is exactly what he does, Rossi’s low, smug laughter echoing down the line before he can disconnect the call. Hotch turns back to Garcia, who gives him a grimace of a smile and a shrug. “That went about how I expected.”
“I actually thought it would be worse,” she tells him with a laugh, and Hotch can’t help but agree. “No communication yet, but there hasn’t been an ambulance sent out from the site, as of two minutes ago. So that’s good news, right?”
“Yes,” Hotch answers, even though his mind whirls at all the reasons it could be bad news and still fit that scenario.
He’ll just have to wait until Rossi makes it to Pasadena, finds Spencer, and can re-enter the land of cell service once more.
However long that might take.
Spencer sighs through his nose as he helps the paramedic hold one of his doctoral students still, applying burn treatments to their scalded arm as the young man babbles a stream of nonsense that might have been some kind of explanation. At least it was a form of apology, but Spencer isn’t the one he needs to apologize to.
“I’m so sorry, Dr. Reid,” the 22-year-old sobs, wincing at the paramedic’s medical application once more. “We didn’t think it would combust, we didn’t account for--”
“The parameters of extra weight and testing it outside experimental procedures, I know Jesse,” Spencer sighs, wiping at his own face and smudging more soot there as he does. His clothes are covered in it, and damp as well from the building sprinklers. He does everything in his power to not think about his books in his office, or his half written papers and experiments he’s been conducting personally -- or any of his students’ work. Years of experiments and dissertations and data, gone up in flames if the fire spreads beyond the lab.
He had sealed in the fire as best he could, they have safety protocols in place for this very thing after all, but not everyone had their data backed up. And then with the cell tower knocked out with the explosion, and the landlines a mess from the electromagnetic currents running rampant through the campus, there’s no saying what protocols were still online to keep the whole building from going up in smoke.
“I’m still so sorry, I didn’t mean for it to happen,” the poor kid feels terrible, that much is obvious, and the pain stimuli doesn’t help his emotional state. Hence why Spencer is consoling him before he has to go convince his other doctoral students that life is still worth living if they have to start from scratch on their dissertations.
“He doesn’t seem to be exhibiting any smoke inhalation symptoms that aren’t severe. But I’m still going to take him to get checked at the E.R,” the paramedic relays as she finishes up with his burn wounds.
“We have to wait until we’re clear to leave the scene, it’s a science lab there’s too many unknown chemicals and variants,” Spencer tells her with no room for argument. His student, Jesse Simmons, was still having a very severe freak out -- and Spencer was doing his best to console him so he has more information on the explosion, but it’s been a while since he had to use any kind of bedside manner training outside a classroom. “Jesse, I need you to try and breathe evenly, and tell me if anything doesn’t seem right.”
“Pretty sure I’m hallucinating,” Jesse tells him, dazed and manic and in shock all at once.
“Yeah, that would do it,” the paramedic murmurs under her breath, sharing a look with Dr. Reid.
“What are you seeing?” Spencer asks.
“The true crime author?” The paramedic asks in confusion. Spencer can’t help but be in agreement at it’s randomness.
“Yes, you should take him in. I’ll see if the hazmat teams have decontaminated the lab yet and take a look around for what he might have inhaled--”
“Is one you Dr. Reid?”
They all look up and there, in broad daylight, is a famously familiar face watching them expectantly in a black and grey suit.
The paramedic is the first to speak.
“Holy shit, it’s David Rossi.”
Spencer blinks, running mental cognizant tests to make sure he’s not out of sorts. But mass hallucinations wouldn’t apply as a side effect, here, so he clears his throat and tucks hair behind his ear -- no doubt smudging more soot on his face but he needs to look at least a little bit put together like the department head he is.
“Um -- yes, hi, I’m Dr. Reid,” he tells the older man, fully turning towards him only to be met by mild surprise. Mild only in that Mr. Rossi appears to be a very subdued man. But his eyebrows raise, looking him over openly, and Spencer has to fight the urge not to scowl. He hates being judged for his age more and more with each passing day -- Hotch has brought that out in him, and the ever looming day that they get the chance to meet. “How can I help you Mr. Rossi? I don’t usually shake hands, but I’m also covered in--” he gestures to the soot and ash covering his suit. Or what’s left of it. There’s singe marks on his pants and his jacket is removed, never to return. The item a lost cause after he’d used it to shield Jesse’s face as he dragged him from the lab.
Mr. Rossi holds up a hand, indicating it’s no trouble -- not too fond of formal gestures and greeting, either, it seems -- and puts his hands in his pockets instead.
“Aaron sent me,” is his answer, paired with a patient stare that observes every minute twitch of Spencer’s face and body language. He knows this easily, can see the profiler in him turned all the way up to 11, and suddenly -- Spencer can’t control his face or appearance in the slightest. Not after --
Aaron? As in--
The kid looks stricken, surprised with tinges of worry bleeding through.
“Hotch sent--” his eyebrows knit together in confusion, looking in the direction of the fire crews still trying to put out the building behind them. The lab explosion is still a fresh occurrence, smoke streaming into the sky and no one even allowed to leave the scene, yet. Garcia must have gotten the alert the moment it happened.
“Penelope has you on a friends and family list,” Rossi explains. “She is alerted as soon as there’s any trouble with anyone -- and the cell towers are down. Aaron called me as soon as he couldn’t get ahold of you. Probably pacing a hole in the floor of his office as we speak.”
There’s a fondness in the way one side of Dr. Reid’s lips tilt into a small, surprised smile, gaze far away as if trying to see 3,000 miles across the country. A complicated mix of touched that Hotch was worried about him, and sorry for worrying him in the first place -- although the moment he recognizes Rossi profiling him where he stands, he schools his expression into one hell of a poker face. Even Dave is impressed, the kid has some gumptcha about him after all.
“He moves fast,” Dr. Reid murmurs, again fond and maybe a little embarrassed, heightened when Dave snorts and raises an eyebrow at him.
“You would know better than me.”
Okay, so he might be trying to rile the man up, but Aaron is obviously head over heels for this kid and Rossi is nothing if not thorough in his scrutiny of his prospects.
The kid gapes at him, eyes narrowed again and about to say something when the paramedic interrupts them with, “Dr. Reid, I just got the okay to take him to the hospital. Are you riding along?” He turns and addresses her, as Rossi continues to profile him beneath the soot and damp. A slight thing, tall as Aaron is and dressed like a movie extra in a prohibition flick. Taking the academia style to a new extent, probably to counter his age if he’s had his doctorates as long as it looks like he has. What had Aaron said? Five Ph.D.’s and runs three departments, and he’s 30? That’s not just a genius, that’s unprecedented. Dave is surprised no one from the bureau snatched him up while he was still young and impressionable.
“Jesse, just call or text if you need anything, I’ll talk with the dean and try to get things at least marginally smoothed over,” he assures the younger student, and they see off the ambulance as it pulls out of the over-crowded parking lot, sirens blaring. “I apologize, this isn’t a common occurrence around here.” He’s giving Dave his own appraising looks, now, and he can’t help but be amused as well as curious in his speculation. “You know Hotch -- Aaron, from the BAU, then?” he phrases it like a question, but they both know the answer and Rossi lets the formality slide. The kid is used to speaking with people not on his level of perception, just intellect.
“We’ve worked together off and on a long time,” Dave tells him, face as open yet stoic as Dr. Reid’s. “I’ve known him since he was your age, fresh and green from the prosecutor’s office. He was running out of the Seattle field office, back then. Bright and eager thing that he was.”
That draws another smile to Dr. Reid’s face. The same soft, sentimental one that definitely looks smitten if Dave’s ever seen it. “I’d love to hear some of those stories,” he admits, and Rossi nods slowly in agreement.
“I’m sure you would.” It comes off a little condescending, even he will admit, and that tugs a frown back onto the young doctor’s face. “I’m a good storyteller. Made a living off of it.”
“I’ve read all your books, I’m aware,” Dr. Reid says, and there’s a tone in his voice that says Rossi need not be impressed that he’s done so. The kid must read a lot, if it causes such a small blip on his radar. “And from the eleventh chapter of your third book, as well as the seventh chapter and acknowledgements of your second one if I can be so bold to assume, you seem to have some underground ties with the Italian mafia as well. Unofficially.”
Okay, the kid is sharp.
“Unofficially,” Dave parrots, a tease of a smile on his face. Impressed. “Did you work that out on your own? Or would some of my… old friends know of you if I mentioned your name?”
“Not unless they have ties in Vegas,” he says cryptically, hands in his pockets and continuing to peak Rossi’s curiosity by the minute.
“Vegas? Got into trouble there one weekend?”
“I’m from Vegas, born and raised,” the kid reveals. “And I’ve been banned from every casino floor for my card counting abilities and algorithms in poker and slot machine statistics.”
Vegas, huh. “Well, that explains the poker face,” Dave tells him, making a circular motion to his own which still mirrors Dr. Reid’s in not giving anything away.
Aaron picked a winner, it seems.
“So, is this is your version of… what do they call it… a ‘shovel talk’?”
Dave decides to play the part. “You could say that.”
He pauses, then, the two having progressed through the equivalent of a verbal chess match and Rossi already has a highly different opinion of him than he had walking in. First impressions are a bitch, and apparently he is going to continue to be surprised. Dr. Reid licks his lips in a unique nervous tick and chooses his next words very carefully, if the prolonged quiet was anything to go by. “I’m glad Hotch has a friend like you, that treats him like family.”
“He is family.” Dave would do anything for Hotch, and he is vehemently reminded of that in this moment. “I love that man as if he were my own son, so you understand why I’m protective of him. After everything he’s been through, he doesn’t deserve another second of trouble, and he has been through enough for a lifetime. More than you could ever know.”
Dr. Reid crosses his arms then, his first tell, but it’s a purposeful one. His way of leveling with Dave about something they probably shouldn’t be speaking about in public like this, but Dave wanted to get the kid on his toes. Make him uncomfortable. He’s smart as a tack but does he have the heart to go with it? The kind that Aaron deserves?
“... I do know. We’ve… discussed it, a couple of times.”
“Really?” The kids nods. “All of it? Foyet? Haley? Jack?” He still nods. “So you do know about Jack. You’re aware that Aaron isn’t just a one man show, he’s a package deal.”
“Of course I know about Jack,” Dr. Reid says with a more intense frown. “We talk about him all the time. I’ve even talked with him on the weekends here and there; he’s a sweet, smart kid. Hotch loves him more than anything, how could I not know about him?”
“You’ve spoken with Jack?” Rossi is genuinely surprised by this. Aaron wouldn’t have introduced them if this was still an experimental thing. He’s only asking all the uncomfortable questions because they need to be asked, Dave worries about Aaron all the time and how lonely he’s been -- but the past months or even longer he’s been better. Happier. All because of this kid. Every sign and notion here is pointing towards this being a very serious thing -- and they haven’t even met.
The kid seems to read his mind, because he looks at least a little sheepish when he nods. “We’ve been talking for a year, now,” as if that was somehow an explanation. And in a way, it is. A year is a very long time. Hotch trusts him enough to introduce him to his son, even over the phone, and that’s no small step. Rossi needs to at least appreciate that much.
“So -- genius, accomplished, good with kids. Seems like Aaron has struck gold, finding you.”
Dr. Reid is watching him again through squinted eyes, guard all the way up and frown ever so slight -- but more intense for it. Interesting. “I can’t tell if you’re making fun of me or not.”
“I was, but not in a bad way,” Dave explains, and that deepens the frown on the kid’s face. Although it loses a lot of the seriousness when he does. “I’ll keep grilling you in the car.”
“Yes. You’ve been cleared to leave the scene, and I’m assuming you would like to chance clothes,” he indicates to Reid’s ruined suit, the kid looking down at himself and trying to dust off some of the soot that has soaked into the fabric. “Also, we should probably call Aaron before he has an aneurysm. Hmm?”
“Yeah, I suppose so.” It’s clear he knows Dave’s game, but is going to play along with it anyway. He really looks uncomfortable in those dirty clothes. Dave has an inkling the kid might be a bit of a germaphobe, which will be interesting in a house with a six-year-old boy, but that’s counting the chickens before they hatch and Dave has quite a bit more profiling to do before he’s made a decision about this Dr. Spencer Reid.
Although, his gut is telling him that Aaron might have indeed struck gold, somehow.
It’s in Mr. Rossi’s rental car that Spencer finally enters a area with cell service, his phone buzzing in his hands from missed calls and voicemails and messages alike. Apparently, word had spread fast about the explosion in his building -- it was nice to know that so many people were worried about him.
But he ignores them all, and dials Aaron’s single missed call back. It barely rings more than once before the man picks up.
“You are such a show off,” Spencer scolds gently, with no heat but more than a little amusement. “You had David Rossi come and check up on me?”
“--Dave is actually an old friend of mine and we work together, he owes me more favors than I can count. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Spencer assures him, quiet and enamored all over again. “One of my students miscalculated a calibration in their experimental combustion engine and it set the lab on fire. Everyone is out safe and the student suffered minor burns, although I’m pretty sure he’s getting suspended for this.”
“But you are okay?”
“When I saw him he looked a little like a chimney sweep, but he seems no worse for wear,” Rossi says next to him, out of the blue and loud inside the car cab. Spencer winces as Hotch sighs heavily through the phone.
“I don’t have you on speaker, I swear,” Spencer says quietly.
“No, Dave just has ears like a fox.” The other man groans. “No conversation is private, especially with him sitting right next to you. Hi Dave.”
“Hi Aaron, anyone else with you.”
“I am! Hi Dr. Reid,” Garcia chirps cheerfully in the background, bringing another smile to Spencer’s face. “I’m glad you’re alright, sugar bean. You had us worried sick.”
“I know, I’m so sorry Ms. Garcia--”
“Sweetie, you better just start calling me Penelope because -- if Rossi didn’t tell you -- you’re on the BAU family radar now. I’ve always got my eyes on you.”
Spencer laughs as her voice gets a little farther away, Hotch back to pacing the room and probably shooting her a look that doesn’t quite meet reprimand but is on the spectrum of scolding. He recognizes the tone from evenings when Jack is being over zealous in wanting his turn with Spencer on the phone.
“Where are you now?”
“Mr. Rossi is just driving me home so I can change clothes, but I need to go right back afterwards and assess the damage,” Spencer relays to him. “Talk some of my students off the ledge if they have to start their research dissertations over.”
“Okay. Just, be careful.” There’s such a heavy sense of worry and the frown so evident on his face that Spencer can’t help but want to smooth it out in any way he can.
“Of course. I’ll message you when we have cell service again, or when I get back home if we don’t.” It’s a needless assurance, but he hopes it helps ease Hotch’s still very obvious apprehension.
“Alright, I’ll call you later tonight.”
“Okay, sounds good.”
There’s a heavier pause, then. An unspoken word or several that hang very prominently in the air, and Spencer almost thinks he hears Hotch’s mouth part around them -- about to speak before he stops himself. Spencer knows his brow furrows in confusion, his own mouth open about to ask if he’s alright when--
“-- Bye, Spencer.”
“... Goodbye.” He adds, still confused, a little stunned and feeling like he’s missing something, which is not a place Spencer finds himself in often. Very suddenly lost in contemplation after Hotch hangs up, still looking at his phone.
Beside him, Rossi doesn’t look confused at all. In fact, he looks like something was just confirmed to him, and he makes a sound in his throat of affirmation.
“-- I think I hear church bells ringing.”
It takes Spencer more than a moment to understand what he’s indicating, and he has to tamper back any embarrassment or admonishment because… it’s not like he hasn’t thought about it.
“I’d settle for just hearing his voice across the room,” he admits quietly, still cradling his phone in his hands and glancing out the window to keep any open-ness in his expression from the seasoned profiler.
“Hmm… time will tell.”
Spencer stays deep in thought the rest of the drive, and Rossi blessedly leaves him be as they make their way through the streets of Pasadena.
They arrive at Spencer’s apartment complex not ten minutes later. A small series of two story white stone buildings with terracotta roofing, making it appear more like an Italian villa than temporary housing. Spencer explained, after Mr. Rossi inquired, that this was the faculty transitional housing, and he spent a lot of his doctorate years here since he had been too young to sign a lease on his own apartment or house. When he came of age, he just bought out his condo on the end to keep, as it had become more his home than Vegas had ever been. Then, when he returned after his doctorates at MIT he became somewhat of the permanent resident for everyone to turn to about anything on the campus.
“How did you afford a condo at 18?” Mr. Rossi inquires, and Spencer rolls his lips to keep any kind of smirk or smile off his face.
“Like I said, I was kicked out of every casino in Vegas. I also don’t have any student loan debt,” he adds flippantly, unbuckling his seat belt once Rossi has parked outside. Turning to the older man, he decides to cut to the chase -- because he does really want to change his clothes. “I assume you’re about to invite yourself in for coffee--”
“Oh? I thought you’d never ask.”
“So you can profile my living room while I change clothes? Sure, why not.” How dangerous could that be?
It’s more than apparent that Mr. Rossi knows Hotch well, holds him in high regard, and if Hotch has him on speed dial at a moment’s notice he must be someone that’s important in Hotch’s life… and he is also the first person that Spencer has met to fit that entitlement. As loathe as he is to admit it, Spencer finds craves the approval of the older man that he and Hotch are as good for each other as he hopes they are.
Maybe letting him poke around his apartment would help in that endeavor. After all, Spencer really doesn’t have anything to hide.
Dr. Reid’s apartment very much looks like the inside of a professor’s office, but extended to multiple rooms. There’s custom built bookshelves lining the walls of the living space, turning it into a library that is overflowing with books, and yet there are still more stacked in every room. In the kitchen against the backwash, in his actual office organized on low-rise shelves that hold collector’s editions even Dave raises an eyebrow at, and he doesn’t dare venture into the kid’s bedroom but he bets there’s even more books there as well. Art work from no known artists Rossi has ever heard of are framed on the walls, abstract things that are interesting and interpretive and probably belong to students (though not necessarily the doctor’s own), and there’s an absurd amount of coffee in his kitchen but at least the kid has taste.
His interests are varied, extensive, sophisticated, and yet -- in the corners he’ll find vintage Doctor Who figurines, Halloween decorations, a well-worn chess set sun-bleached under the window seat, and Go set up in the library that looks like he’s playing himself. But the most lived in room is his office, and Dave has a very good inkling why. Besides the kid’s work literally being his life, as is shown by the doctorate degrees lining the walls there, his laptop is open and the keys near faded from typing, and Dave knows it’s from countless late nights talking with Aaron. Because Aaron’s work laptop that he takes home with him looks the exact same.
“Did you learn anything?” Dr. Reid asks, appearing in the doorway in corduroys and a sweater vest over a new button down and tie ensemble. The layering helps fill him out, make him look less willowy than he is, and he seems to have tried to tame his hair but it’s still a curled, disheveled mess from the sprinkler systems at the lab. The kind of disheveled people pay hundreds of dollars to get through product alone.
“That you really, really like books.”
It’s such an absurd thing to say, and it takes the kid a beat but he laughs and there’s a set of dimples there on his face framing his wide smile and -- oh, Aaron is in trouble when he meets this kid.
“Um, yes, astute observation.”
“Have you actually read all of them?” Dave asks, peering into a glass china cabinet that’s been converted to hold very delicate first editions of Shakespeare and Proust and a few things that aren’t in English.
“Those I have, but the rest I haven’t,” Dr. Reid tells him, coming up on the other side of the desk and keeping a few feet between them. Allowing Rossi to continue to pick apart his life, indicating either some kind of power play or… this kid really has nothing to hide that he thinks Dave won’t find. Or that Aaron doesn’t already know about. “When I was visiting Prague for a conference once I was invited to the French ambassador's house for dinner. He has a library even larger than mine, and I asked him the same thing. He told me, ‘No, of course not, and I also haven’t sampled all the bottles in my wine cellar.’ ”
Dave ticks his head to the side in thought, and can’t help but agree. “Smart man. A real library isn’t for showing off a collection, it’s for giving yourself options.”
“All books are just waiting for the right time to be read, and I’ll get to them all eventually,” Dr. Reid shrugs, glancing around his office at titles that probably have been calling to him recently. “I read very fast, and once I’ve read them I either give them to people I think would enjoy them or I donate them.”
“Why not keep them? Won’t you want to read them again?”
“No need, I have an eidetic memory. I can recall everything I’ve read verbatim,” he says with a shrug, like it’s a common occurrence and Dave can’t help but stare at the kid. Who exactly was this guy?
“Why on Earth are you working at a university and not for a multi-million dollar think tank? Or for us? The bureau had to have contacted you at some point.”
“Oh, they did,” Dr. Reid says with a half smile, glancing to the chess board under the window. Avoiding eye contact that lasts longer than a few moments. “Jason Gideon tried for months when I was at MIT, but I backed out at the last minute. Don’t think he’s ever forgiven me for it.”
“That sounds like Jason,” Dave mutters, recalling his old partner and what he would have thought of a boy genius that soaks up everything he reads like a sponge. Doctorates already under his belt and just waiting to be molded into the perfect successor. He would have been chomping at the bit. Dave had been much the same about Aaron, when he first met him.
There’s much to consider about this Dr. Spencer Reid, but there’s also a handful of things to be wary of.
The kid is impressive, that’s for sure -- but he’s buried into this villa like a tick, under a pile of books and very much is used to a bachelor’s life. Everything is impeccably neat, the amount of soap and hand sanitizer he’s found does indeed confirm his theories of him being a bit of a germaphobe, and although there is a lot of stuff around his apartment everything also has its place. Cluttered, but lived in and cared for. If he and Aaron were really going to try and be a thing, would he be surprised by Aaron’s more minimal approach to décor? To his tendency to hold on to nostalgia items? Or the messiness of a young boy’s toys and children's amenities taking up all space and corners left unattended?
“You sure you know what you’re doing?” Dave asks, before he really thinks about it, and the beat of silence as Dr. Reid takes his question seriously is more comforting than he realized it would be.
“No. But, I don’t think either of us really do,” Dr. Reid admits, leaning against his desk, thoughtful and honest. “What we have has... very much grown all on it’s own.” And Dave believes him, he’s seen it happen first hand. How it’s affected Aaron so slowly and over such a span of time he almost didn’t notice it.
“And the long distance thing works?” Dave pries further, skepticism barely kept out of his voice but there enough he knows the kid can hear it. “You really have feelings for a man you’ve never even met? Who you don’t even know?”
That gets the younger man’s attention, and not in the way Rossi thought it would. His gaze snaps up, shocked, and… offended.
“Of course I know him,” he states, quiet and matter-of-fact. Light brown eyes as alight as they are defiant. “I know him better than I know anyone. I just don’t know what he looks like, and that doesn’t matter. Not to me.”
Again, Rossi almost believes him. He sounds like he means it, in a near naïve sort of way, but Dave has been around the block a time or two and experience tells him differently.
“Looks always matter.”
The kid shrugs in response, not at all fazed by his stubbornness. “I have a pretty accurate spoken description, if that eases your mind.” And oh, does Dave want to unpack that one, but this isn’t the time to delve into it when he’s giving the kid the intellectual third-degree.
“Does he have one of you?” he asks, accusing without specifications. Everyone always keeps a bit of themselves at bay, when speaking to another person, but if they were sharing physical descriptions then it sounds like those barriers are falling away bit by bit and there’s no knowing what Aaron has actually shared of himself to this kid.
His question creates a moment of unexpected pause.
“Yes? I mean, I cut my hair recently but I’m sure I mentioned it,” he murmurs, suddenly a little concerned, and Dave almost finds himself laughing.
All the skeletons he could have in his closet, and the first time this kid’s face has cracked is at the thought he forgot to mention he cut his hair.
Okay, Dave is sort of laughing. In utter disbelief, because the genuine-ness of this kid is near overpowering. He’s factual, he’s private, but he’s not sinister or plotting anything and he’s definitely got the quiet, book worm thing going for him. Maybe Aaron did strike gold, after all.
“Relax, kid, if a haircut is what you're most troubled about keeping from him I don’t think I have much to worry about.” The array of emotions that crosses the younger man’s face is almost comical. The frown at Dave calling him kid, the embarrassment that he’s worried he kept anything at all from his better half, to relief -- relief that Dave has given him a stamp of approval. It hits him then that the kid views him almost literally as the father-figure he had claimed himself to be to the other agent, and this was his version of meeting the parents.
Well, then, better make it worth the stereotype.
“Just… be careful with him,” Rossi levels with him, and Dr. Reid gives him his utmost attention. Direct eye-contact and all. “Don’t break his heart, because I don’t know if he will have much left over if you do. After the past couple years, I never thought he’d be the same, but he’s come back into himself and I’m grateful to you for that.” The softness in his face is palpable, and Dave knows the other man feels the weight of what he’s telling him. “But if you hurt him, I’ll make what happens after look like an accident. Capisci? ”
Dr. Reid nods seriously, and answers him back in kind, “Capisco.” The verb connotation actually catches Dave off guard, enough that his own expression finally softens into half a smile.
“So… I talked with your boy toy.”
“God,” Hotch groans, head tipping back and already regretting answering his phone in the middle of the afternoon. “Do not call him that.”
“I just dropped him off back at the lab, it’s still a mad house but he went in looking to set a lot of people straight so I think he’ll be just fine.”
That’s a relief to hear, and Hotch feels his shoulders and spine begin to relax where they’d been tense and creating knots in his muscles for hours on end, ever since he’d been in Garcia’s office.
“Thank you, Dave,” he says, and means it more than he can really relay accurately. Rossi makes a sound of admonishment, passing it off as if he hadn’t made Hotch metaphorically bend over backwards to get him to go there. He can’t even imagine what the man had asked Spencer during their time alone together, but if anyone would get a good character assessment out of the interaction then it would be David Rossi.
The beat of silence is as heavy as it is long, and before Hotch can come up with something that doesn’t sound leading, Dave sighs and barrels over him.
“Go ahead, ask what you want to ask.”
“...What did you think?” Hotch’s words are low and careful, not entirely sure he wants Dave’s opinion but… he’s actually met Spencer, now. The only person Hotch knows who has. “What’s he like?”
“You know him better than I do, Hotch, and it’s obvious that you are head over heels for that kid. But if you really want to know what I think -- you are going to have your hands full, and you are going to fall hard and fast if you haven’t already.”
“Yeah, a little late for that,” Hotch tells him, hints of a smile in his voice and on his face, and the response surprises even himself. There’s a lot of revelations that have hit him one after the other today, and they all seem to be pointing towards the same direction.
Rossi can’t seem to help but smirk at him down the line, an upbeat sound in reaction to Aaron’s own subdued happiness -- because his friend really is, finally happy -- and of course it’s in an impossible situation. Now Hotch has to scoff a laugh. That sounds just like him.
“He’s quite a looker, too,” Rossi teases, baiting, and Hotch can’t help but scoff for a whole different reason, then.
“And how would you know?”
“I can appreciate a handsome fella without being attracted to them.”
“Sure, Dave,” Aaron deadpans, not even wanting to humor the man.
“Little too ‘pretty’ for my aesthetic, though--”
“O-kay, thanks again Dave. Happy to have your stamp of approval.” But he can’t help but wonder what ‘pretty’ is supposed to mean. “Have fun at your conference, I’m sure you’re going to be late to the cigar room.”
“Worth every missed minute to meet your mystery man.”
Hotch hangs up with a roll of his eyes, not sure how or why he picked up David Rossi as one of his close friends and not really finding much reason to keep him other than he has a whole lot of heart. But that’s always been reason enough. He turns with a half smile still on his face, and freezes when he sees Garcia in his doorway of his office, a secretive smile all her own on her neon bright pink lips. He doesn’t even reprimand her for sneaking up on him, just levels a look at her and mutters, “What?”
“For what it’s worth, he is very pretty,” she out right smirks, coy and loving Hotch’s reaction as he narrows his eyes at her, brow furrowed and searching. “What? I ran his background check months ago, I know exactly what he looks like. And Rossi is right, you’re going to be so smitten, sir.”
Oh no, now the whole team is going to know.
“I think I’m going to take your word for it over his,” Hotch admits, and relinquishes the smallest traces of a smile. Just for the tech analyst, and no one else. “Thanks, Garcia. For today, and for… keeping an eye on him.”
“Always, sir,” she tells him, biting back a too wide grin all her own. “It’s good to see you happy again, I’ve missed those dimples.”
“Right, on my way,” she giggles, and leaves in a colorful flurry of clicking heels and retro skirts.
Cell service doesn’t return that day to the CalTech campus, and although Hotch is acutely aware that Spencer is probably busy cleaning up the mess and wading through mountains of reactionary protocol and hazmat jurisdiction (he’s been there himself before, on cases with bioweaponry and science tech labs) he can’t help but feel like he’s holding his breath until later that evening. When Spencer finally messages him once he has the cell range to do so, letting him know he’s on his way home. Meaning Hotch had been left to his thoughts all afternoon and evening, awaiting the younger man’s presence once more.
And Hotch has had… much to think about.
They never really talked about Hotch’s near death experience months ago, when Spencer had quite literally saved his life with just a phone call. Day in and day out Hotch is faced with dangerous situations, knows all the proper procedures and training to navigate them safely and effortlessly. But when it comes to the unexpected accidents? The ones that occur outside his sphere of influence and control, he doesn’t always quite handle them the way he should. Either shutting down entirely in order to regain that control, or drowning in the emotional turmoil it can cause.
It isn’t until he hears Spencer’s voice on the phone later that night, just past dusk for the other man in California, that he’s able to put all of this in order. Unpack it in a way that he can articulate and convey, because Spencer knows just from the way he greets him that something is wrong. Weighing heavily on his mind, and has been for hours on end.
“Is it selfish of me to say I don’t like the idea of you in harm’s way?” Hotch starts with a jesting, rhetorical thing that doesn’t quite hit any kind of punchline.
“Well, luckily for you, I’m not in the profession of dangerous scenarios,” Spencer tells him, pointed and yet with an aim for comfort. Hotch supposes he had that one coming.
“Like you. I always worry about you, although I know you’re more than capable.”
Hotch sighs, because he knows that Spencer puts up with this very situation constantly. Just as Haley had, when they’d been married, until she hadn’t been able to stand it any longer. “I just… don’t know what I would have done if you’d been hurt. Fly out there? Show up at the hospital, maybe -- that wouldn’t have been the greatest first impression, I’m sure.”
“I’d be mortified if we met and I was in a hospital bed.”
“You know I wouldn’t care.”
“I know.” It’s Spencer’s turn to sigh. He’s exhausted from the events of the day, Rossi’s visit and interrogation, but having the older man still so attentive and caring on the other line has him warm with too many emotions and chemicals to name. Even though he can, composition and all: a warm bath of monoamines, dopamine, neopinephrine and serotonins flooding through him. All seeped in phenethylamine, which is well known for creating the chemical reactionary symptoms of… well...
“Hotch, I’m okay,” Spencer insists, soft and gentle, tenderness there he doesn’t give to just anyone. “I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”
There’s a long silence following that. It’s heavy and prominent, and Hotch keeps opening his mouth, the words wanting to come out but… he doesn’t know if he should let them. A year’s worth of time and words piling up behind it until he isn’t sure he can really hold it back much longer.
“Hotch?” Spencer asks, worried again. “What is it?”
Another long pause, a sigh that’s… weighed down with even more emotion than before, and Spencer feels his own breath catch as he waits.
“I love you.”
It’s said so profoundly, softly, it resonates through the phone and Spencer finds he can’t even breathe.
A series of heartbeats progresses, and despite every attempt he can’t find his voice again.
“You don’t have to say it back, I just wanted you to know.”
Spencer’s brain kickstarts into a mild panic, and words suddenly spill forth like a broken damn.
“No! No, it’s not that -- you have no idea how long I -- I just…”
He’d had a plan, daydreams on daydreams, compounding and building and this wasn’t the moment he thought it would happen if it happened at all and Spencer finds himself near speechless with how it has appeared before him. Completely unprepared.
“I always thought… hoped, that when I told you I would… be saying it in person.”
Not through a phone. He wants one milestone that isn’t through the damn phone, his lifeline and his bane and what connects him to the man he can’t even imagine living without anymore.
Hotch makes a sound that’s more winded than vocal.
The thought of seeing Spencer in person sends a flurry of fluttering sensations through his chest and stomach, and Hotch can’t help the warm, soft smile on his face. Because between the lines, Spencer had already said it back, and that alone is enough to floor him. Spencer loves him, too, and he wants to say it to his face. He wants to meet. He’s thought about it, he was planning on it.
He wants --
“Then wait,” Hotch tells him, reassuring and adoring and unbelievably smitten -- just like Garcia had said. “Save it for then. I don’t mind the waiting.”
“But I --”
“I know.” Hotch all but sighs out the words, heavy and wonderful and full of promise. “I do know, Spencer, and the knowing is enough. You can tell me when we… when we meet.”
Some day. One day.
“Soon. I promise.”
Spencer is… not crying, he doesn’t cry. Hasn’t cried in years and years, the only time close had been those months ago when this wonderful man almost slipped through his fingers and out of his grasp, but his vision goes blurry and it has nothing to do with his glasses steaming up. He takes them off and rubs at them, clearing his throat so he doesn’t choke out his response. “Okay.”
The strain in those two syllables makes Hotch’s heart ache, and Spencer’s feels so tightly wound in his chest the heart-strings are more than binding. They hurt they ache so badly.
“How can I miss you this much without ever having met you?”
“I miss you too,” Hotch smiles, sadly.
“Maybe that’s not the right word. We’re as close as we’ve ever been, how can we miss a proximity we’ve never experienced?”
“It feels like the right term, I don’t have another way to describe it. That’s your area of expertise, I believe.”
Spencer huffs a humorless laugh, curled up on his couch and realizes he wants to hear Hotch say it again. Wants those low tones in his ear reminding him why they are doing this. Knowing he has no right to ask that of Hotch when he won’t even return the favor.
Then Hotch breathes out happily, slowly, and says it anyway. “I love you.”
Spencer smiles and exhales in relief, a mix of a laugh and a strangled sob. “You always know.”
“I can hear you fretting through the phone--”
“Oh yeah? Any ideas to get me to stop?” he jokes, half kidding, because he feels like he’s shaking out of his skin and he can’t pinpoint the source.
“...One,” Hotch says with an amused lilt.
A slow pause. “--What are you wearing?”
Spencer burst into laughter, high and hysterical, and relief floods through him. He bites his lip as he hears Hotch chuckle quietly in turn, and then answers the older man in the same teasing lilt -- bordering on coy. “Still in my work clothes. Actually… I was just about to get undressed.”
“Hmm, lucky me.”
“I was going to change, Hotch,” he laughs in reprimand.
“Oh, there’s no need for that…”
And they dissolve into quiet laughter once more, perfectly timed and blended and the most wonderful sound in the world.
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