Choice of Secrets

Title: Choice of Secrets
Series: Choices
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Year: Season 5
Tags: Angst, Canon Divergence, Not A Happy Ending,
Ratings: R
Pairings: past Aaron Hotchner/Haley Hotchner, Aaron Hotchner/Spencer Reid,
Spoilers: Up through Season 5
Summary: Aaron Hotchner had a choice to make. He stared at the picture with the words OR and CHOOSE on it. He did but now he’s lost everything in the process.
Words: 12,568
Notes: Main basis of the story, Foyet going after Spencer is based on my idea but the rest with the picture and him having to choose is all thanks to chapter 27 of Rivermoon1970’s My Addiction story. I was thinking about that story and then thought of it and asked her if I could borrow a small part of it and play with it. This goes AU in Nameless, Faceless.
Warnings: Character Death (Not Main),
Beta: Charlie_Remington

“What did he leave?” Aaron asked as he closed his eyes. He wanted to be anywhere but where he was.

“I don’t know.” Prentiss sounded confused.

“He also leaves something with his victims.” Aaron breathed even though it caused him pain.

“I looked over your whole apartment, nothing felt out of place.”

“Where are my clothes?” Aaron was having trouble concentrating. Prentiss pulled the bag that had all of his things in them, including his bloody shirt. He grabbed the manila envelope and started to go through it. His credentials were first and inside it was a photo of Jack and Haley. He sighed and leaned back. There were bloody finger prints on the photo. “Haley’s maiden man is Brooks. I always listed her in the Bs in my personal information in case it fell into the wrong hands. He knows where they live.”

Morgan, Dave, and JJ left him with Prentiss and all he could do was stare at the picture. He finally pulled it out of his credentials and that’s when he noticed something else tucked behind his FBI ID. He pulled it out. He knew exactly what it was. He didn’t need to unfold the second picture and he didn’t want to, not with Prentiss still in the room. He tucked the photo back where it had been and slipped his credentials under his hip.

When he came out of his flashbacks to the night before, Prentiss was still not back in the room. He grabbed his credentials and pulled the photo out. He knew exactly where and when the picture had been taken. It had come out of his book at his bedside. Garcia had taken the picture on the way back from a case years before. Jason had been telling a story that had everyone on the plane laughing, him included. Spencer had been sitting beside him and the younger man was laughing so hard that he’d almost fallen out of his seat. Aaron had grabbed him to stop his fall. Garcia had snapped the picture then and Spencer was looking up at him with such a happy look on his face. The tech analyst had given Spencer the picture to send to his parents. Back before the team knew the truth of his parents. His mother being in a sanitarium and his father out of the picture.

Back then Aaron had never understood why he had found the picture in the trash. He’d kept a hold of it to give to him but then cases got in the way, life got in the way. The Fisher King case came about and Aaron had wondered why Spencer never sent for his father. But that was something he kept to himself. Then the case in Vegas and the whole team knew the truth.

Aaron had been happy he was in Quantico when the whole truth of Spencer’s family life came about. He wasn’t sure that he would have left Las Vegas without punching William Reid in the face. Of course, Aaron had long come to terms with his love for the genius by then. He’d figured it out on a car ride back to the BAU with Spencer riding shotgun while they talked about everything but the elephant in the car, his divorce and Haley wanting him to sign the papers uncontested. The first hour of the drive was him trying to figure out why he had provoked Hardwicke into trying to fight him. While he told Spencer it was the divorce it was more that he wanted to save Spencer the pain of trying to fend off the murderer.

The picture had been found again by him just after the divorce had been finalized. He’d started using it as a bookmark then. It was always in the center of the page, stuck in the spine so for Foyet to have found it, he’d have to have looked for it.

OR was wrote in the top in blood with CHOOSE under it in pen. He knew what the killer meant. He had a choice to make. It wasn’t even a contest. Haley and Jack needed to go into WitSec. Spencer was a Federal Agent. He would be easy to protect. The only problem was, how was he going to tell him?

Spencer was currently in surgery a few floors away for the shot to his leg. He understood why Prentiss had kept his status from the rest of the team but she’d tried to keep Spencer’s status from him. He wasn’t an idiot, the case had been wrapped, there was no reason that the genius wouldn’t have been there. Ignoring the question just put him more on edge until she had finally let it slip. He was still so pissed at her for that but the hospital was no place for that discussion.

Aaron just wanted to know one thing. How had Foyet figured out that he loved the younger man? There was no way he could tell anyone. He’d just have to keep a closer eye on him. Showing anyone the picture would just bring up a lot of questions he couldn’t, wouldn’t answer. He’d just have to make sure that Spencer was safe without tipping off the genius.

Two Months Later
Aaron was the first to the house. He didn’t know what he expected to see. Foyet hadn’t called and taunted him. What was his endgame? Gun drawn, Aaron entered the living room to see Haley sitting on the couch with Jack playing with toy soldiers on the coffee table. Haley looked up at him in shock. Her hand flew to her mouth.

“Aaron? But Victor said…” Haley looked at him with such shock on her face. Jack looked up at him and ran.

“Dad!” Aaron leaned down and pulled his son into his arms. Jack hugged him and he couldn’t help but hug him tight. “Dad, you are hugging me too hard.”

“Sorry, buddy. I just missed you. Do you and mommy want to come to work with me?” Aaron looked at Haley and she nodded. She at least understood some of what was going on. They would have to grab the car seat from Haley’s car. He’d get the seat changed over while they stayed in the house. The team was on their way. He’d wait for them, but then they were leaving. The squeal of tires told him that Morgan had pulled up, he was the only one that he knew could get that noise from SUV tires.

Morgan and Dave were the first in the house and when they saw Aaron standing with Jack in his arms and Haley behind him, they smiled. JJ and Prentiss were right behind and JJ popped back out and yelled ‘Clear.’ Then the solid thump of Spencer and his cane sounded on the entryway. Jack wiggled in his arms to be put down. Jack had been able to see everyone on the team before he’d had to leave into witness protection, except for Spencer.

“Uncle Spencer!” Jack ran at him but stopped when he saw the cane. “You got hurt?” The little boy looked on the verge of tears. His hand reached out and touched his leg.

“I did Jack but I’m getting better.” Spencer looked up at Aaron and then at Haley. “Why don’t you come with me and we’ll see about getting something to drink?” Jack smiled and nodded, taking off for the kitchen. Spencer nodded at Aaron and then he was heading towards the kitchen.

“Where is he?” Dave asked.

“I don’t know. There were ten minutes where he could have finished his plan. Did something spook him?” Aaron didn’t understand why Foyet hadn’t come in and tried to kill his ex-wife and son. Foyet was playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with him and he didn’t like it but the killer was staying at least two steps ahead. He wondered not for the first time if he should tell team the truth. It was too late though. There was nothing more they could do except for put Spencer into WitSec as well and he doubted the younger man would go. “We need to talk to the neighbors. I want a CSU team to go over the house, just to be safe.”

“It was him, wasn’t it? He said he was Victor Collins with the Marshall Service and that Kassmeyer had been killed.”

“It was Foyet and Foyet killed Kassmeyer. I got to his house and rode with him to the hospital but he died. Haley, I need you to talk to Emily. She can go over with you everything that Foyet said to you. I’ll call the Marshall Service and we’ll get you and Jack back into protective custody.”

Haley nodded but she didn’t move, she turned to Dave. “He’s one of the worst isn’t he?”

“Yes. If he hadn’t attached himself to Aaron it could have been anyone. Aaron did what he was supposed to but Foyet took it as a challenge. He wants to destroy Aaron’s life and that starts with the two of you.”

Aaron sighed as Emily walked with Haley up the stairs. It was horrifying to think that if Foyet had gone after her and Jack, he would have been too late. He could have lost them both but there was one single bright spot in all of this. Spencer was safe for the time being. He sighed in relief that he wasn’t going to lose it all.

One Week Later
Spencer was looking over a consult for the Bangor Police Department. He sighed as it was a case that could easily become a BAU case if the arsonist wasn’t caught soon. So far no deaths had been reported but with the escalation of the fires, it would just be a matter of time.

The ringing of his cell phone drew him out of his profile of the arsonist. He looked at the caller ID and his heart froze. It was Bennington. Spencer grabbed the phone, knocking over his pencil holder. That drew the gaze of Prentiss over to him but he didn’t care.

“Doctor Reid.”

Spencer,” Doctor Norman started. Spencer wanted to run. He wanted to drop the phone and run. There was something wrong with his mom. Doctor Norman never called him Spencer. His mom had made sure that everyone knew they should call him by his title once she’d started speaking to him again after he’d committed her. “Spencer, Diana. She passed in the night, Spencer. We are performing an autopsy, with your approval. She started complaining of not feeling well and well, there is a stomach flu going around and with her vomiting and stomach cramps, we confined her to her room and then this morning on rounds. I’m so sorry, Spencer.

“Yes, please. Perform one. I just talked to her a few days ago.” Spencer knew that the second he was alone, he was going to break down but right now, right now he was in the middle of the bullpen and he needed to keep it together. “I’ll be catching the next flight out. We are not on a case at the moment.”

I’ll make sure to let the front desk know that you are to be brought to me as soon as possible. Again, Spencer I am so sorry.

“Thank you.” Spencer hung up and stared. He stared at his computer monitor. He could hear noises around him and he didn’t care. His mom was dead. She’d been just fine when he’d talked to her last. He dropped off all the letters he’d written his mom during the case in Nashville just this morning. The staff at Bennington was going to be upset when they got them. He needed to remember to tell them any letters from him that they received could just be thrown away. He needed his go bag. Thankfully he’d washed all his clothes in it the night before and restocked it. It was in his locker.

“Reid?” Prentiss asked. The tone of her voice told Spencer that it wasn’t the first time she had asked. He forced himself to look at her. She looked concerned. He didn’t answer her. Instead he stood up and moved towards Hotch’s office, thankful that the older man was in there. The door was open so he didn’t knock, he just entered and shut the door behind him. Hotch looked up at him confused.

“Reid?”

“I’m going to Vegas. I need to catch the next flight out.” Spencer wasn’t sure that he could say the words aloud. He needed to get away from here. He needed to see it for himself.

“What happened?” Hotch was up and around his desk before Spencer could even process what was going on. He reached out and Spencer moved out of reach. “Reid?”

“I need leave. I don’t know how long. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to take care of all of her things. I…”

“Reid, what happened to your mother?” Hotch’s face was right in front of his and the older man forced him to look up at him.

“They don’t know. Doctor Norman is making sure an autopsy is done.”

The sound that came from Hotch’s mouth was one that Spencer had never heard before. He saw the utter sadness in Hotch’s eyes and couldn’t take it.

“Please, Hotch. I just need to get out of here. Please don’t tell anyone until I am gone. I can’t take the pity and the looks. I need to get out there. She was sick but nothing that was life threatening.”

“I’ll have you a flight to Vegas by the time you make it to the counter. Did you drive in today?”

“No. I can take the subway. I don’t think I am in a condition to drive.”

“Go. I’ll take care of the flight and a car at the other end. Just go.”

Spencer was never so thankful that Hotch understood him. He moved to his desk and grabbed his things, ignoring Prentiss and now JJ. He saw Rossi standing at the upper deck of the bullpen for a second before he moved to Hotch’s office but Spencer didn’t care. Next stop was the locker room for his bag and then he was gone. He shut off his phone as he boarded the subway. He’d turn it back on when he got to Vegas. He didn’t need to hear the words from his friends right now.

Hotch was correct. He had a ticket waiting on him, first class and everything was cleared for him to take his gun with him and it was one of the easiest commercial flights he’d ever been on. He sat in his seat and stared ahead. His mind running over all his memories of his mother. Memories that didn’t involve his father. There were so many but unfortunately, the one that kept coming around was seeing his mom being escorted into the bullpen by agents during the Fisher King case.

When he walked into the rental car place attached to the airport, Spencer was shocked to see a man seemingly recognize him. He wasn’t a worker though. No, he was in a suit. Spencer immediately was on edge until the man flashed a badge at him.

“Doctor Reid, we have a Bureau vehicle for you to use while you are here,” the agent said as he stepped closer. He handed over a set of keys with a wane smile. “Agent Rossi called ahead and we are prepared to do anything that you need.” A card was next the man didn’t hand it over though, he just flashed it at him.

“Thank you, Agent Chance.” Spencer filed the direct cell number from the card away and turned to look outside. There were two Bureau SUVs sitting outside. One had another person in it. Whoever was there to pick up Agent Chance.

“Agent Rossi also has you a room booked in the Bellagio. He told me to tell you that if you don’t use it, he’ll make your life a living hell when you get back. Also that you have enough to worry about and where you sleep isn’t one of them.”

The chuckle escaped his lips before he could stop it.

“I want to pass on my own condolences and remember, if you need anything. Just give me a call.” Then Spencer was alone. Agent Chance didn’t even look back. The SUV was normal, routine. He’d driven one more over the last five years than his own Amazon. It was a piece of normalcy that he hadn’t known he wanted until he’d seen it. He was so thankful to Rossi at the moment. He and Hotch had done things he hadn’t even thought about. He’d left DC with no thought of where he was going to stay in Vegas. He hadn’t stayed at the house in years when visiting. The only thing of his childhood that he hadn’t gotten rid of that had bad memories for him. He just hadn’t been able to part with the house. A service checked on the house once a month as well as took care of the bills for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer just to keep the house livable.

Pushing thoughts of the house out of his mind, Spencer got into the driver’s seat. He drove the familiar streets, his memory wouldn’t allow him to forget them but this was still something that his mind knew better than anything else. He grew up on these streets. Bennington came into view long before he was ready for it. He parked in his normal spot and got out of the SUV. He barely remembered to grab his messenger bag. He expected to find a nurse at the station but instead, Doctor Norman was waiting. he had piece of paper in his hand and was staring at the door.

“Doctor Norman?”

“Spencer, we…the doctor found leukonychia striata on your mother’s fingers. So we tested urine from her bladder. Arsenic. I locked down her room. I figured you would want to go through it just in case before we called the cops. We are testing all residents urine for arsenic as well.”

Poisoned? Spencer couldn’t believe it. Who would want to kill his mother? Spencer followed Doctor Norman to his mom’s room, as he moved he pulled a pair of gloves from his bag. He slid them on as he stepped into the room. Everything was perfectly in place. It looked exactly like it had every other time he’d ever stepped foot inside. He just stood there and looked around. It was hard to look at his mother’s room like he would a victim’s. The boxes with his letters were stacked where they are always were.

Half an hour later, Spencer sat down in his mother’s armchair in the corner. There was nothing. The person who had poisoned her had left nothing. Shifting to sit back, Spencer felt something poke him in the back. Leaning forward, he grabbed at a picture frame that was jammed between cushion and chair. It was a picture of him and his mom in the bullpen. JJ had snapped the picture just before they’d gone to the airport. But what he couldn’t look away from was the Eye of Providence in the middle of the picture. His blood ran cold.

The Reaper.

Spencer dropped the frame and grabbed his cane, pushing himself up out of the chair. He needed to talk to Doctor Norman. He needed to call the team. He needed to call Chance. There was so much racing through his mind. Doctor Norman was standing just outside the room looking at papers.

“I need this room locked down. No one but me in and out until the CSU team gets here. I need to see the visitor logs for mom as well as all the IDs copied. I’ll need to get out analyst access to the security footage for all visitor areas. The rest of my team will be here as soon as possible.”

Doctor Norman didn’t even question it, he just nodded and moved away from him. Spencer’s first call was to Chance, getting a CSU team to Bennington as soon as possible. He took a picture of the picture, his gloves still on and sent it to the rest of the team before he called Hotch’s cell phone.

Hotchner

“Hotch, I need you to look a the picture I just sent you.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone and Spencer waited. Then he heard the gasp. A crinkle of noise and then he could hear Hotch’s breathing.

“Arsenic poisoning. Doctors confirmed it before I got here. Foyet kill mom, Hotch.”

We will be there as soon as possible.

“I’ve got a CSU team on their way. Doctor Norman is going to get Garcia access to all visitor areas security footage.”

Who is on her visiting list?

“She doesn’t have an approved visitor list. That way students of her’s can come and visit her and not have to go through me. After the Fisher King case, Doctor Norman put in added security measure for her and that was all visitors have their ID copied and it goes into a file. He’s getting the file for me. I’ve been through her room with gloves and I can’t see that anything is missing. I also can’t find the B page from your address book but I’ve not looked through all of mom’s books yet. The frame…” Spencer stopped and turned to look at his mom’s room. She hated having pictures out. “Get here quick.”

Spencer walked back to the room as quick as his leg would allow and leaned down to pick up the frame. He jerked the back off the frame, nearly breaking it. The photo fluttered to the ground, his own face staring at him. He picked it up and with the light from the windows, he saw something was written on the back. When he flipped it over he saw it was two words. Two words in big, black, blocky letters. Two words that stopped his heart. He didn’t even notice his cane falling to the floor.

XxXxXxX

Aaron wasn’t shocked when the rest of the team appeared in his office at the same time. He saw that Spencer had sent the picture to all of them. He stood up from his desk and moved to the front of it.

“Foyet poisoned Diana Reid. Garcia, Reid is getting you access to security footage. We are going to be in the air as soon as we can.” The shock was the only thing keeping the team from badgering him for answers that he didn’t have. Twenty minutes later, after a quick call to Strauss telling her of Foyet’s attack on Spencer and the death of his mother. Getting her to delay the bereavement leave that he had just finished filing for the younger man. The team was finally in the air.

After they were cleared to move about the jet, Aaron had them all gather.

“From what Reid told me, anyone could visit Diana in Bennington. She didn’t want to cut off her students access. In the wake of the Fisher King case all visitors had to give ID to be copied to see her. Right now we are working off the assumption that it’s how he gained access to her. A CSU team is on route to Reid’s location. He used Arsenic to kill her.”

“Why would Foyet go after Reid’s mom?” Morgan asked. He looked at Aaron with such confusion on his face. “He’s been focused on you!”

Aaron couldn’t answer. He’d not even entertained the thought of Foyet going after Spencer’s family. It made twisted, perfect sense. If Foyet killed him, it would hurt but he’d probably move on. Removing the possibility of Spencer and him as a couple, removing the chance that Spencer would even want to be with him but keeping Spencer in his life? It was torture that would last forever.

How could he admit this to the team? To Spencer? He’d chosen his bed, he’d have to lie in it now. No matter Foyet’s endgame. Right now he needed to keep his head in the game to keep this from falling out even more. He needed to be ready for the taunt. Foyet had to be in Vegas still. He was waiting for Aaron to arrive to see the aftermath of his deadly game.

For four hours, the team bounced ideas and plans back and forth. What they needed to do when they landed. JJ was going to head to the local office and get set up. Everyone else was going to Bennington. There would be two SUVs waiting for them at the airstrip. When the call for seatbelts came across, Aaron was never more thankful. This was unlike any case they had ever worked before. No one could settle. There was no calm before the storm.

When Aaron disembarked last, he was shocked to see Spencer standing by a fourth SUV. There was a man beside him and three others by the third SUV. Aaron didn’t know what was up but his heart felt hollow. Spencer had an evidence bag in his hand.

XxXxXxX

Spencer wanted to march over and demand answers from Hotch but he knew that wouldn’t go over well. JJ ran to him and hugged him. Spencer allowed it but he didn’t answer any questions. Instead he took a hug from Prentiss and a shoulder squeeze from Rossi and Morgan. Hotch didn’t move towards him at all. He held up the picture for everyone to see. Hotch’s eyes flared briefly. Finally, he turned the evidence bag over and handed it over to his superior.

“What does ‘Ask Aaron’ mean?” Spencer asked. He watched as Rossi and Prentiss leaned over to see the back of the photo. Hotch’s face went white with the question. He did know something. The older man stumbled back from the group, nearly falling over the stairs.

Spencer looked back at Chance who nodded and turned to talk to his team. He’d asked them here just in case. He said that unless they got into a knockdown drag out to stay back but that he might not want to be around his team when they landed. “What does Foyet mean Hotch?”

“Haley and Jack’s picture wasn’t the only one hiding in my credentials.. There was one of you. It had written on it ‘Or’ and ‘CHOOSE’.’ I made the choice to send Haley and Jack away hoping he’d focus on them.” Hotch was still looking at the words on the back of the photo. He was talking softly like he couldn’t believe any of it but the whole team heard him. The others were shocked. Spencer felt a band on his heart lessen. Everyone hadn’t been lying to him. That thought had hurt more than any other. “He was going after them! He killed Kassmeyer!”

“I’ve been going over it my head. Why me? Has he gotten tired of you? Of playing with you? He goes after those who challenge him. I’ve not done a thing to him. So that means he’s still going after you. Rossi is your best friend. Why not go after him? Or Sean?” Spencer leaned forward but kept both of his hands on his cane. “Now is not the time for secrets, Hotch. Your secrets killed my mother. Now why the fuck did George Foyet go after me by killing my mother?”

“I thought you were safe! He…” Hotch stopped and looked at everyone on the team. The look on his face told Spencer that the man hadn’t meant to say that. He had known that Foyet was going to go after him. The others knew it too, now.

“Why didn’t you say anything,” Morgan asked.

“I never wanted anyone to know. There was no way for me to tell anyone he was threatening Reid without revealing too much. If I told the truth, I would loose everything.”

“You aren’t making any sense,” Spencer said. Rossi and Prentiss moved closer to Hotch, flanking him on either side. Morgan stayed at Spencer’s left while JJ moved in even closer on his right. Her hand landed on top of his on his cane.

Spencer wasn’t expecting, and judging by the looks on their other’s faces, neither were they, Hotch to step forward and grab Spencer’s face to kiss him. Spencer just stood there in shock. When Hotch pulled back, he could see so many emotions in the older man’s eyes and on his face. The most overwhelming was the love there.

It had always been Spencer’s wildest dream that Hotch would love him back. This was not how he wanted to find out though. There was nothing of this moment in his dreams.

“Spencer, I love you and I don’t know how he…”

Spencer didn’t want to hear it. Hotch had taken away his choice in the matter. Haley had known it all, but he hadn’t even know that he was in danger. He never thought of himself as a violent person but the urge to take a swing was too big for him to ignore.

The only thing, Spencer thought, that allowed him to be able to actually hit Hotch was that no one expected him to actually take a swing at him. With his bad leg and the momentum of his swing, he lost his balance and both him and Hotch hit the concrete. He landed on top of his boss and just kept swinging. On the second one, he felt bones break but he didn’t care. It was the fourth swing that he finally felt someone grabbing him to pull him off the man he was on top of. He recognized the sound of Morgan’s voice but couldn’t understand a single word he was saying. All he could hear was Hotch’s words over and over.

Hotch stayed on the ground and was just staring at Spencer but he didn’t care. His hand hurt and he wanted to get away from the man as soon as he could. He shook Morgan’s hands off of him and started away from the team. Chance had the the door to the back driver’s seat door open for him. The other agent shut the door as soon as he was settled. He only felt the pain in his heart and his hand but he knew that he’d walked on his leg without his cane. Looking out the window, he saw JJ walking towards the SUV with it but Chance met her halfway. She said something and he nodded.

“Where do you want to go, Doctor Reid?”

“Desert Springs is fine, Agent Chance.” Spencer didn’t care where he went but he’d always had good service at Desert Springs.

“Chance is fine.” The agent smiled at him in the rear view mirror. Spencer smiled back, even though his heart wasn’t in it.

“So is Reid.”

“Well, Reid, I had a call from Section Chief Strauss while you were talking to your team. She is unaware of course of what happened at the air strip but she wanted to let me know that for the time being, I am your bodyguard. She’s calling the rest of the team next to tell them.”

“Thank you, Chance. I’ll call Strauss when we get to the hospital. I need to talk to her about a few things as well.” Spencer knew that once Foyet was taken down, he needed a leave of absence. He needed distance and time to grieve and he wasn’t going to be able to do that while hunting his mother’s killer. He wasn’t going to make an rash decisions at the moment.

XxXxXxX

Aaron pushed himself up from the ground. He could feel the blood running from his nose. The team was watching as Spencer rode away in a car that none of them were in. Spencer needed space and Aaron was going to make sure that he had it, from him and the team if he needed. He’d felt his nose break on the second hit at the same time he heard several bones in Spencer’s hand break as well.

Dave was the first to turn around and look at him. There was anger in his eyes but worry as well. “Start at the beginning, Aaron.”

“I found the picture just after you, JJ, and Morgan went to get Haley and Jack. I knew what the picture was. It was that one that Garcia gave Reid to send to his mom not long after he’d joined the team. He threw it away and I picked it up. I always meant to give it to him to send to her then cases and life got in the way. I found it again just after the divorce and by then I already knew that I wanted him. The love came after but then it was the only thing of his I had. I’ve used it as a bookmark since then. I always keep in inside the book. For Foyet to have found it, he would have really had to have looked around my place. I don’t know how he got that I love Spencer from that.”

“He’s been stalking you, Hotch. Has been for a while. He probably saw things that made him think it,” Morgan said.

“Right now none of us are going to think clearly,” Dave said as he put a hand on Morgan’s chest to keep him back. Aaron wasn’t sure he’d stop the other agent if he decided to take a swing at him as well. He hadn’t stopped Spencer even though probably for the sake of his face and the younger man’s hand he should have. Hell, no one on the team stopped him at first they were so shocked. “Aaron, go get in a car. I’ll drive you the opposite direction of where Reid went and we’ll get your face looked at. Morgan, Prentiss, drop JJ off at the field office and then you two get to Bennington. We will meet you there or at the field office as soon as possible. Just keep us informed of what is going on.”

Aaron moved towards the second SUV in the line and watched as the rest of the other team got into the one they had been standing around. The other three members of the team moved to the first vehicle and drove off pretty quickly. Dave was standing outside the SUV on his phone. The look on his face was the one he always wore when talking to Strauss. Aaron sighed. This day probably couldn’t get any worse if he tried to make it worse.

Of course, he still had to go through the rest of the case and explain why he had done what he had. Why he had kept secrets from the team. He’d have to face Strauss. This was why agents weren’t allowed to be together but God, he hoped he could talk the team into keeping the reason why Foyet went after Spencer a secret. Between all of them they’d be able to come up with a good explanation on why Foyet went after him and why the picture. Not telling the team about the picture was all on him.

The trip to the ER was thankfully short. A quick X-Ray to make sure the fracture was simple and it was so it only needed set. He’d stopped bleeding before he got to the hospital so the nurse didn’t need to pack him to make him stop bleeding.

“How did the other guy fare?” The nurse asked as she taped his nose in place with a very simple splint. There was no way that the LEOs weren’t going to put two and two together and know that Spencer had punched him. His face was going to be black and blue. A text alert sounded on Dave’s phone as he was signing his release papers.

“Reid broke both of his metacarpal bones and proximal phalanges of his index and middle fingers of his left hand. He’s waiting on being casted and then he’s going to join the rest of the team at Bennington.”

“I am going to drop you off at Bennington and then drive to join JJ at the field office. I think that for now the less Reid and I are together the better.”

“You are a lot calmer than I expected you to be.” Dave looked a little surprised.

“I’ve been going through this in my head since the moment I chose not to tell the team about the photo. I never imagined this. He went after Haley, I figured he wouldn’t go after Reid. I’ve been talking him into letting me take him home most nights and picking him back up for work.” Aaron sighed as he and Dave moved towards the exit.

XxXxXxX

Spencer had told Hotch years before that he worked best under intense terror. While that was true, he did his best thinking at a card table. The rest of the team was staying in the hotel down the street but Spencer chose to keep his room in the Bellagio. No one had said a thing about it, even though standard protocol was for the team to stay together.

“Raise,” a voice called out from the other side of the table and Spencer looked up, knowing the voice. He’d only heard it once but it was enough. George Foyet was sitting across the table from him. His hand twitched and Foyet shook his head ‘no.’ Spencer stopped reaching for his phone. Instead, he just stared at the serial killer. There was a lot of anger in his mind for the man. He’d stepped in and ruined so many lives. Hotch had his hand in what had happened with his mom but Spencer knew where to place the full blame and that was on George Foyet.

The problem that Foyet had was that Spencer was armed. Foyet had sat down at the table after him and he was pretty sure that the man hadn’t been in the room when he had entered it. Two more hands were played with Spencer barely taking his eyes off the man. It was unnerving to the men and women they were playing with as well as the dealer. It wouldn’t be long before security was brought closer to the table to keep an eye on them and that was what Spencer was hoping for.

When the hand was over, Spencer saw two armed security guards responding to the silent alarm that had been tripped. It wasn’t a big “come here now” alarm. It was a “I have something fishy going on” alarm. Spencer kept an eye on them. A player at the table left cashing in his winnings and it wasn’t hard to make the man who replaced him as a guard in plain clothes. It was also simple to profile the man. Former military.

Tapping in morse code was easy. Getting the guard to pay attention to him was harder. It took another hand before Spencer got the guard to pay close attention. Tapping out that the other man was a killer and wanted wasn’t hard. The guard’s eyes widened in shock and he gave a small nod. When that hand was over, he left the table calling the game too rich for his blood. Under two minutes later, more security slowly made their way into the room behind Foyet and then the plainclothes guard had a gun at Foyet’s head.

The sound of the safety being clicked off alerted Foyet that guards were behind him and he turned to look. He looked back at Spencer in shock as the young man stood up. His gun was on his hip and he pulled his credentials to show the security.

“He’s wanted in connection with over twenty murders. The FBI will be sending more agents to collect him. He is to be under guard the entire time and never less than three. As soon as I call my team I will join you.”

“You surprise me, Doctor Reid. I thought this was going to play out a great deal different.”

“I do my best work under intense terror, Foyet. You really should have looked up more information on me before you decided to kill my mother.”

Foyet only smiled at him. Spencer watched him being led away. He moved away from the table and the dealer collected his winnings. Spencer nodded at him and the chips were set in a small collection area under the table.

Spencer dialed Rossi’s number.

“Rossi.” The older agent sounded tired.

“I have Foyet in custody of the Bellagio’s security. I don’t know what his plan was but I was able to alert security to him before he could finish his plan.”

“Shit.” There was muffled sounds and then the thud of feet on floor. “Hotch! Wake up. HOTCH!”

“Dave?” Hotch’s sleep filled voice was soft.

“Reid has Foyet. We need to get to the Bellagio now!” More muffled sounds. “Reid, we will be there as soon as I wake the team up.”

Spencer hung up and moved towards the room security had taken Foyet. The killer was seated in a chair with his hands cuffed behind him and five guards standing around him. He was dead center in the middle of the room.

“So Doctor Reid, how many bones did you breaking punching your boss?” Foyet looked smug but Spencer didn’t care. He knew the games. The Reaper was smart but he wasn’t smarter than him.

The guards looked at him with confusion on their faces.

“Four. So were you there for it? Watching from the sidelines like a pervert?” Spencer asked.

“I wasn’t there when your mother took her last breath. Do you think she thought of you?”

Spencer smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile and Ethan had once said that because of smiling like that, he was more worried about him than the UnSubs they were going to be chasing. Spencer leaned down and got his face just inches away from Foyet’s.

“I’ll make sure you get the death penalty. I’ll be at every single hearing you try to have to get it revoked but I will see you die by the needle. I’ll sit front row and my face will be the last that you see and then after that, I will never think about you again.”

“You’ll think about me every time you think of your mother. I know how that brain of yours works. You can’t forget anything.”

“Oh, I can forget lots of things. The first three months after my father left, I have very little memory of that time. I remember school and I remember mom but being home during her escapes from reality, I have no memories of that. If I think on it long enough and push myself. I can forget the name of the man who killed her.”

“So you want to forget Aaron Hotchner?”

“So smug. So arrogant. Hotch has his blame in all of this but you, you have all the blame. If it wasn’t for you my mom would be alive. You forced Hotch into making a decision and he made a really terrible one but you made him do it. I know what you want to hear though and I’m not going to give it to you.”

The sound of people talking was coming closer down the hall and Spencer stood up and moved away from Foyet. He was off to the left side leaning against the wall when the doors opened and the team entered.

“Okay for us to go, Agent Reid?” The head of security asked.

Spencer nodded and turned to his team. All of them looked as tired as he now felt but they were alert and awake.

“What happened?” JJ asked.

“He actually sat down at the table I was playing cards at. When I moved for my phone he shook his head. I stopped. It didn’t take long for me to freak out the dealer enough for him to trip the alarm that tells security to keep an eye on the table. When they could they slipped a plainclothes guard to play at the table. Thankfully he was former military and I was able to tap out that he was a highly dangerous wanted criminal and I was a Federal Agent. They surrounded him and here we are.”

“He’s strangely quiet,” Rossi said.

“That’s because Doctor Reid freaked him and the rest of us out,” a man said as he entered the room. Spencer knew the voice and when he turned, he was shocked to see the man looked exactly the same as he had fifteen years before. “Name is James. James Sinclair. I am the head of Security for the Bellagio hotel.”

“Hello James.” Spencer smiled at the man.

“Spencer. Sorry about Diana. I secured your winnings.” James handed over a slip of paper and Spencer pocketed it without even looking at it. “Agents, if you would like you can take Mr. Foyet out the back. My guards are clearing the way. I hope that we can figure out a tasteful way to spin this story that benefits both parties.”

Spencer cocked an eyebrow at the man. A smirk was all he got back. James was doing very well at being undercover. He wondered how many of his friends were around on the mission with him.

“JJ,” Hotch said and she moved over to the side and waved for James to join her.

“Morgan, Dave, Prentiss take Chance’s team and get Foyet to the field office. Keep him under guard the entire time. Someone has to have eyes on him at all times. It’s a Federal case as he’s crossed state lines twice now. Reid, I just need your report and then you are back on bereavement leave.”

Spencer only nodded. He wasn’t ready to talk to Hotch unless he had to.

“Doc,” James called out, turning to look at him. JJ was staring at the back of the man’s head. Morgan was hauling Foyet up and out of the room. “You’ll find your room minibar empty and room service has been told to not take any up.”

The look on James’s face also told Spencer that if he tried to slip away for anything more, he wouldn’t like it. Spencer nodded. He needed sleep more than he needed Dilaudid. The itching hadn’t started and the craving wasn’t there but after the funeral? That would be a different story.

XxXxXxX

Aaron watched Sinclair as he was looking at Spencer. It was obvious that they knew each other. He wanted to be jealous but there was something paternal to Sinclair’s affection for him. Once the other man was done talking to JJ he moved over to Aaron.

“Why is the kid staying here and not with the team? This isn’t his regular hotel in Vegas.”

“It wasn’t figured out until after he arrived that it was murder and Dave set him up here as a way to alleviate guilt over none of us being able to be here for him. He turned down the offer of switching to be with the team.”

Sinclair nodded and looked solely at Aaron’s nose. “His hand is broke and your nose is. Doesn’t take a profiler to figure out he decked you.”

Aaron eyed the man. He just stared back. “That’s Reid’s story to tell. Not mine. You’ll have to ask him.

“Don’t worry, I will. There is going to be a man following Spencer until he goes back to DC. Roughly same build except he can actually stand up in a fist fight. Auburn hair long enough to pull into a ponytail. Don’t cause him any issues. I promised Diana I would watch out for him. Didn’t know I needed to watch her too.” Sinclair’s voice was rough with emotion. He cared for Spencer and Diana a great deal.

JJ’s cell phone rang and she answered it. The look on her face told Aaron who it was.

“So you knew his mom?”

“Known Spencer and Diana since he was eleven. Didn’t take long to figure out what was going on in that house. I made sure they were taken care of. While Spencer was at college, I checked on Daina when he couldn’t. I was the one that talked him into Bennington and I made sure he could afford it.”

“So you stepped in as father?” Aaron asked. Spencer had never mentioned anyone helping him when he’d been growing up. He was either ashamed or there was a great deal more to it. Sinclair didn’t strike him as the type to take advantage.

“No. Friend. Spencer didn’t need a father. His was enough of a disappointment. Unfortunately I’ve not seen him since just after the case with the female Jack the Ripper in New Orleans. Between his job and mine. How long are you giving him?”

“Two weeks. He has enough leave built up he can take more if he wants.”

“I’d get Foyet out of town as soon as possible.” The threat there was unmistakable. Aaron wondered exactly who this man was. He watched Sinclair leave, taking the threat for what it was. The man may have been slightly small but he looked like he could be deadly. He was tempted to have his face run through photo recognition software but Spencer trusted him and so he needed to as well. Even if there was the thought that he had seen the man somewhere before.

“Hotch, Strauss is having another team fly out to escort Foyet back to DC. She is sending them on the other jet and Garcia is coming with them. Our team is on stand down until after the funeral.”

“What does she know?” Aaron was afraid of the answer.

“Agent Chance told her about the picture but Spencer lied to her and said it was a threat to have us stop hunting him. That he was offering a deal.”

“Stop hunting me and I’ll stop hunting them.” The words would haunt him until the day he died.

“Yes. The jet should land in just under five hours. Agent Chance is going to meet them. I’m sure that Morgan will want to go as well.”

“I’m shocked all of you are even talking to me.” Aaron was truly shocked.

“We will get into all of that on the jet when we go home after the funeral. We discussed it that first day at Bennington. Right now Spence needs us more than we need to vilify you.” JJ sounded normal but he knew the whole team was hanging on by a thread. And it was his own fault.

XxXxXxX

Spencer stood at his mom’s gravesite. The former students of hers as well as all their family friends had already left. The team was standing off to the side, just in his line of sight. William was at his back. He’s told William the truth that morning. The first he’d seen his father since the Riley Jenkins case. He told his father that is was because of him.

William hadn’t gotten mad. No, he’d pulled Spencer close and held him while he’d finally let loose the tears he’d been holding back for days. They’d met at Bennington to sort through what was left of his mom’s things. Thankfully not a lot was in evidence as Foyet had only been in her private room the day he’d poisoned her.

“What about the house, Spencer?” William asked, his voice low so that hopefully no one could hear them. He settled his hand on Spencer’s shoulder. It was a solid weight and something that he was thankful for.

“I’m going to sell it. I…” Spencer paused. This wasn’t the place for those words.

“You have nothing left in Vegas. Don’t worry. I’m not upset. It’s the truth. We can go through everything and I can handle the sale if you wish. I wasn’t there when you actually needed me but I can be there now.”

“Thanks. That would be great. Then I won’t have to sell it on a rush. I’m taking leave from the unit. I have a lot of thinking that I need to do.”

“Don’t let this run you off from the BAU, Spencer.”

“There is a little more to this case than what I have told you. I can’t get into it. I love my job and I can’t see myself doing anything else but…I just need to think.”

“You’ll make the decision that is best for you.” William’s hand squeezed and Spencer leaned back into it. “Your team looks like they want you.”

“I’ll be fine. You can go.”

“I saw your shadow.” William’s voice sounded like he wanted to ask more but was afraid to.

“James doesn’t want me alone. I…have things we can talk more about later. Not here. Not at her grave. My shadow will step in with the team if need be. I’ll meet you at the house at nine in the morning, dad.” Spencer turned to smile at William and the man smiled back at him. With a final look at the team, the man was moving away.

“Call if you need me.” William got into his car and then Spencer was alone at the graveside. The team was staying back, waiting on him. When he relaxed, he heard movement telling him that the team was on their way over.

JJ slipped into his left side while Garcia pulled him into a side hug from the right. Prentiss’s head rested on his upper back. It was comforting. More footsteps and Hotch was stopping at the head of the casket. Rossi and Morgan slipped in front of him, blocking his view of the casket. Rossi shocked him by kissing both of his cheeks and forcing him to look him in the eye.

“You need anything, you call. I mean it.”

“Thanks, Dave.” Spencer gave him a thin smile.

“Any of us. Even if it’s three a.m. Pretty Boy.”

“And tell us the moment you come back to DC,” JJ said as she squeezed his shoulder.

“I will. Dad is going to help me close out the house and sell it.”

“House?” Garcia asked, her head popped up and she looked at him.

“Yes. The house I grew up in. I kept it, hoping that one day mom could move back in.”

“We just…” Morgan smiled and laughed reaching out and clasping his shoulder. “You always talked about staying in hotels.”

“Too many memories in that house for me to stay there alone. Hotels are easier. So much easier for me.”

“Who’s your friend?” Prentiss asked and Spencer looked to where she was looking. He smiled. His shadow had stepped out, more visible. Black pants and a dark purple silk shirt were visible as well as the glint off his sunglasses. It was the most visible he’d been since the start of the service. He was fairly certain the guy was a mutant but he wasn’t going to tell the team that. Just like he hadn’t told them that James was a mutant.

“A friend of the family. James was worried about me so I have a guard to make sure that I don’t do something stupid. Don’t know his name. He’s been the one following me since I went to my room at the Bellagio after catching Foyet. I am sure he will introduce himself to me when I’ve settled down.”

“Hotch wants to talk to you. Do you want one of us to stay?” Garcia asked, her voice so low that Spencer barely heard her.

“No.” Spencer took the hugs from his friends and then said goodbye. Hotch stayed where he was until the rest of the team was in the limo with the door shut. His guard stepped even closer. If the wind was blowing right, Spencer was sure that his shadow would hear every single word said between them. He found that he didn’t care. He knew that every single word that was overheard would be told to James but he trusted James not to do something stupid.

Hotch stopped several feet away from him. “Strauss would like you to call her when your bereavement leave ends. Your extended leave is approved for a month after that. If you need more call her.”

“Thanks. When are Haley and Jack coming out of WitSec?” Spencer truly wanted to know the answer.

“When Foyet is sentenced and settled in his new home. When is your friend going to stop watching you?” Hotch’s gaze slipped over to the man and it was then that Spencer knew that James had told him more than he probably should have. James had always been able to read him well and knew the whole truth of the situation before he’d left the security office that night.

“Probably around the same time as Haley and Jack come out of WitSec. James is overprotective for not being a father figure.” Spencer smiled despite where he was.

“You didn’t have to lie. I would have taken the censure and whatever punishment I was due.”

“While I was playing poker, before Foyet sat down, that’s all I could think about. What had the better statistics for the best outcome for me and the team.” Spencer looked at Hotch. He hadn’t been able to since the jet. “Agent Chance is going with the story as well as it’s all he knows. He’s putting the punches up to grief, as is Strauss. You told them you didn’t want to press charges so she is going to let us handle it internally.”

“Still. Thank you. I don’t deserve it.”

“The team doesn’t deserve what would happen if Strauss and the higher ups nose into our way of working.” Spencer said the words with force.

“I can’t bring her back, Spencer. No matter how much I want to. I want so much to change it.”

“Who knows what could have happened. You could have lost Haley and Jack. I’ll never be able to forget and I’ll probably never be able to forgive you, Aaron but Jack…I know you. You wouldn’t have survived the loss of Jack. This might have been the best possible outcome.”

“Don’t,” Hotch said taking a step towards Spencer and closing half the distance between them. “Just don’t.”

Spencer nodded. “Were you ever going to tell me? That you loved me?”

“Yes. I made up my mind on the Turner/Hightower case that I needed to. Even if you didn’t feel the same way. I couldn’t move on while there was hope. Then Foyet and the picture and it wasn’t the right time. I made a promise that I would tell you after Foyet was caught.” Hotch straightened his tie, which had been straight before he’d touched it. It was the only sign of how nervous he really was. “I am probably going to regret this but I think I need to know. What do you…did you feel for me?”

“Right now? Indifference. Regert. But underneath that is love. But not a strong enough love to survive this. It could have turned into that but it didn’t get a chance. As my boss I can still trust you but on a personal level, I don’t think I can again. I believe you when you say that you never expected this, that’s the only thing keeping me here talking to you.”

“I understand. Thank you for being honest.” Hotch looked away from him and for the first time ever, he was unable to read that look on his face. “Keep Morgan informed on everything. Please.”

“I will. Take care of yourself. Don’t let this destroy you. You are a good man, Aaron. You just made a bad decision.” Spencer closed the remaining distance between the two of them and he laid a hand on Hotch’s heart. “I need time to get my head and heart on straight. If I don’t take it that love, could turn to hate and I don’t want that. I don’t hate you and I don’t want to.”

“I’m not going to force you to do anything, Reid.”

“No, I know that I mean. I need distance. From you. From the team. Just…please ask them to not contact me, I’ll contact them.”

“Of course. Your friend is getting a little antsy so I am going to take my leave. If you need anything, call the team. We will do whatever we can.”

Spencer watched Hotch as he moved towards the limo. The door opened as he got close and then he was gone from sight.

“Ready?” a voice asked behind him. Spencer spun to look at his guard. “I know you rode with the team. My rental is over a row. I’ll drive you.”

“Thanks…”

The man just smirked at him and started walking, expecting Spencer to follow. Spencer thought about not doing it but he didn’t need James calling him.

One Month Later
Spencer smiled as he entered the bullpen for the first time in just over a month. He was happy to be back at work and excited to start working again. The house in Vegas was still for sale but his dad had called and said that several couples were looking at it. It had only taken a week to finish sorting all the things in the house and what was left of her things at Bennington. Spencer had stayed with his dad in Summerlin during that time and the Bureau SUV had still been his vehicle of use, even though he’d tried to turn it back into Chance. Then he’d stayed another week, just for the sake of not going back to DC just yet. He was still thinking.

In the end, he’d left after two weeks and had called Morgan to tell him that he was headed home to DC. He wasn’t shocked when his guard followed him back home. In fact, there wasn’t a lot that shocked him about his guard. He still had no clue on the man’s name but he knew that James trusted him. His first night back at his apartment had been a test of wills. It didn’t feel like home anymore. It was too small and he felt choked staying there. He’d started the search for a larger apartment or even a small house.

The nightmares started on his first night home and it was the first time he woke with his guard sitting beside him on the bed. His voice soft, he’d been just uttering nonsense to try and calm him down. It had worked. After three nights, Spencer went out and bought an air mattress and sheets for him and it was set up in the small office. That way he didn’t have to break in every night just to help him through his nightmares. This morning, Spencer had woken up with the man wrapped around him. It had felt weird as it had been a long time since he’d slept in the same bed as someone.

Guessing the man’s name had become a game to the two of them. He answered to ‘Hey You’ when Spencer called it out. The game was something distracting and it worked so well. If he didn’t know better, he swore that he’d known his shadow for years instead of weeks. Having someone in his apartment felt better than it should and he knew that the was growing attached but it had been so long since he’d had someone in his life. He’d not asked how long he’d be under guard but he was sure that once James finished his job in Vegas he’s come around to talk to him.

The decision on his professional life had been easy. He loved his job and he didn’t want to be doing anything else. He’d told Hotch the truth, on a professional level he trusted the man but on a personal, there was nothing left. He wasn’t sure he could call them friends at the moment. The light in Hotch’s office was on and Spencer made his way that direction. No one else was in yet. He knocked on the door and Hotch called for him to come in.

What Spencer saw shocked him. All of the law books were gone from behind the desk and there was very little furniture left. Just the desk and the chair that Hotch was sitting in and the two chairs in front of the desk. The man in question was hunched over a stack of files. When there was no noise, Hotch finally looked up.

“Reid.” Hotch swallowed and set down his pen. “Come in and have a seat.”

“What’s going on?” Spencer didn’t step any farther into the office than he had to, to shut the door.

“I was put back up to Unit Chief the moment we got home from the funeral and…I can’t. I went to Strauss and talked to her. I was offered full retirement. I took it. Today is actually my last day.”

“Why?” Spencer didn’t want it to be because of him. He’d hoped they could work through the issues and at least become friends again.

“Because I don’t trust myself anymore. This is worse than after Foyet attacked me. I can’t make a decision and trust wholly that it’s a good one. I need space from the unit. I was offered leave but I don’t think I’ll come back after that. I don’t think I need to come back. I don’t want to turn into Gideon. I think I’ll be better off with a clean break. I should have never written the report as I did after Boston.”

“What were you going to do if I didn’t come back today?”

“I would have been here the day you came back. I was going to tell you. It just was a coincidence that you came back on my last day. The team has a dinner planned tonight. Garcia made the plans. She figured that something out in public might be best.”

“Morgan wouldn’t tell me anything,” Spencer said as he moved forward to finally sit down in a chair. Hotch moved around the desk to sit in the one right beside him. “How have things been with the team?”

“On the jet back from Vegas they let me have it. We talked until I think all of us couldn’t talk anymore. Morgan is still pretty upset but he’s doing really well at keeping down and as soon as I put in my notice, I moved him back up to Unit Chief. He’s been doing really well at it. Knowing that this is permanent I can tell he’ll do just fine.” Hotch reached out a hand like he wanted to touch but pulled it back. “How are you doing?”

“Better. I’m doing a lot better. Knowing that other than signing papers on the house and then I’ll be done with Vegas is relieving. My friend is still guarding me. I’ve set up a place for him to sleep in the office. James isn’t done with his job in Vegas yet so he’s not been able to talk to me.”

“So I was right. He was undercover for something.”

“Yes. And don’t even think of having Garcia look him up. I’m sure you won’t find a single thing on him. Or you’ll get some nasty people after him.”

Hotch sat back in his chair and crossed his legs, putting distance between them. “He was good to you growing up?”

“He made sure that I had what I needed and that mom was taken care of. He was a great friend growing up and when he was in the area he’d pick me up at Cal-Tech and drive me in for the weekend to see mom.”

“I’m glad you had someone. I have a lot of reports I need to get through, Reid and I have to finish them up if I want to go to my going away dinner. Morgan left files on your desk to get caught up on the cases while you were away. I think that there are also a tin of cookies from Garcia.”

Spencer nodded and stood up, heading towards the door. He was thankfully off the cane now. He still had the cast on his arm and would for a few more weeks but he’d been cleared to return to limited field duty. “How is the nose?”

“Just fine. I won’t have any issues from it. How is your hand? And knee…” Hotch’s eyes widened. “You aren’t using a cane anymore.”

“No. I stopped using it a month ago. My hand is healing fine. I had a new set of X-Rays done by my regular doctor and he said it’s healing just fine. I am sorry for punching you. I wasn’t planning on it.”

“Well, I don’t think that anyone was considering it took four hits before anyone tried to pull you off me. You are really taking to those lessons that Morgan has been showing you.”

“Yes, well. My shadow has decided that I need to learn to throw one without breaking a bone. He’s been making me train a little at night. It’s been interesting. He’s teaching me more than anyone at the academy has.”

“Sounds like he might just be what you need right now. A really good friend with no past issues and allegiances.” Hotch smiled and it was a true smile. It had been so long since Spencer had seen one like that on his face. Mind made up, Spencer knew what he was going to do that night after the rest of the team had left the restaurant.

Coming back after a month off and finding out that Hotch was leaving put a damper on the day but it was still nice to be around the rest of the team. No one was shocked that he was buried in his files when the others arrived, all nearly at the same time. Rossi had made it in not long after Spencer and then all at once Morgan, JJ, Prentiss, and Garcia entered. Half an hour of talking and then it was back to work for Spencer and everyone else scattered around. Morgan was still in his office for the moment but as soon as Hotch was fully gone, he was already planning on moving, just to be closer to the team.

Dinner came around a lot quicker than Spencer had thought it would. He’d texted his guard who was just named Shadow in his phone to tell him the plans. He’d gotten a text back that said that James was in town and would be at his apartment when he got back from the dinner.

The team tried their hardest to keep the tone of the meal light and happy but the undercurrent of sadness couldn’t be kept away. They all knew that this was the last meal as a unit, as a family. Garcia was the first to start crying when dessert was long done and everyone knew that it was it. She ran to hug Hotch and then left with Morgan escorting her out. JJ and Prentiss were next. Hugs were passed between the three and JJ lost it when Hotch kissed her forehead. The man’s eyes were not clear when the two women left and while it was sad, Spencer could see in his eyes that Hotch was making the best decision for him, just like Spencer had for himself.

“I don’t know if I should leave the two of you alone. We need Reid in top form for work and not broken anymore.”

Spencer laughed as he took a sip of his water. “We will be fine, Rossi. Don’t worry. I’m not going to punch him. The anger is long gone and we have both moved on.”

“That’s a lie there but I’ll let it pass. Aaron, I’ll be around this weekend and we’ll talk then.”

Hotch nodded and shook Rossi’s hand. Then they were alone. Garcia had booked them in a private room so that they didn’t bother any of the patrons.

“I think we’ve both said all that we need to,” Hotch said as he moved over to stand by Spencer’s chair. Spencer agreed. He stood up and stuck out his hand. It was going to hurt to not see Hotch nearly every day but he knew that it was better that way. He’d probably always be in love with the man but he was right that he’d never be able to forgive him, not all the way and if they even tried a relationship, it would destroy them both. A clean break was better. “You have my number if you ever need anything, Spencer. I’ll do whatever I can to help you if you need it.”

“Same here, Aaron.” Spencer stared into Hotch’s eyes and he saw desire there. He knew what he wanted but he also knew it would hurt but the look in Hotch’s eyes told him that he wanted the same thing. Using their linked hands to pull him forward, Spencer kissed Hotch. It wasn’t desperate like the kiss at the jet. This was cleaner but needier at the same time. When Hotch moaned, Spencer opened his mouth and felt the caress of the other man’s tongue. It was heaven and hell at the same time but he knew he’d never forgive himself if he never knew what Hotch tasted like, what he felt like. He wanted more than just this single kiss but if he did that, he knew he’d never let Hotch go and he needed to. Pulling back, Spencer took a step back as well. Hotch’s hand reached out and cupped his cheek. No more words were said. After a minute, Hotch let his hand drop and then he was leaving. Spencer stood there until he knew that Hotch was gone from the parking lot and then he left.

His guard was already in the driver’s seat of his car when he got outside. Spencer said nothing as he got into the passenger seat. He stared unseeing at the passing buildings, traffic, and people. When the car finally stopped at his apartment, he allowed himself to be led inside and into the bedroom. He changed into his sleep clothes and laid down. When his guard laid down in bed with him, holding him close, Spencer finally let the tears fall for his lost love. He could have been happy with Hotch, he knew that. He was right though, that love wouldn’t survive the lies Hotch had kept to himself. It was better to regret what could have been then become whatever twisted thing they would have become.

“Shush, cher,” his guard spoke, for the first time Spencer heard a different accent in his voice but he didn’t care. He laid there in his arms and cried himself to sleep.
The End

To Be Concluded in Choice of Happiness

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