Summary: It’s Hotch’s forty-fifth birthday party and he’s not feeling very festive.
Author’s Note: Written as kuriadalmatia ’s birthday present. Thank you for your wonderful stories, but most of all your friendship.
The Man in the Mirror
The man in the mirror wears his suit, his tie, his hairstyle, even his tired eyes, but Hotch doesn’t recognize him. Hotch thinks it’s one of those moments when you look at something for too long and it loses its meaning; its association disperses into bits and pieces that don’t belong anywhere. Polite knocks on the door draw him back. He readjusts his focus and sees Reid in the mirror, poking his head in, slight panic on his face.
“I would let you hide out in here if I had any other choice.” Reid slips inside. “But you know Garcia.”
Hotch looks down and inhales deeply, telling himself it’s irrational, this sudden frustration with his… Hotch has not yet found a proper title for Reid. They had one bad sex and one amazing one, and Reid has been so eager, so… comfortable with everything, like he was born to do this, to wait, to listen, to just… be there. Even right now in Hotch’s bathroom, Reid looks more a host than a guest.
“I know. I just needed…”
“A minute.” Reid finishes the sentence as Hotch feels a hand on his lower back. When he looks up, Reid is behind him, studying the man in the mirror.
“Take five,” Reid says with such care that Hotch finds it annoyingly reassuring. “Then come out and rescue your brother.”
He watches Reid quietly slip back outside. There is no demanding of explanations, no offering of patronizing kisses, all of which would have given more weight to this irrational frustration. Hotch should have known. He’s never been a lucky man.
* * *
Dave is standing by the bar, scotch in hand, daring Hotch to join him by not looking at him. Hotch hates it when Dave does that. The bastard has picked the only spot in the room where Hotch can be seen as a participant without actually participating. If only he could sneak out to Jessica’s and watch Jack sleep. Then again, he never wants his son to see him drink.
“Tell me again. Is this your birthday party or your brother’s?” Dave asks once Hotch reaches the bar. Hotch looks on. Sean is standing by the dining table, apparently explaining one of the dishes he prepared to his willing listeners. Well, Reid seems to be the only one doing the actual listening while Garcia, JJ and Prentiss the staring and Morgan the laughing.
Hotch doesn’t take the bait. Instead he pours himself a glass of scotch.
“Emily still doesn’t believe you two are related,” Dave adds.
Hotch can see why. His little brother is in casual clothes, wearing an open smile, like any thirty-two-year-old who has a bright and unburdened future ahead of him. Sean looks cornered answering question after question from Garcia but Hotch knows it’s nothing his brother can’t handle. Morgan’s laugh fills the air again but what catches Hotch’s attention is the awe on Reid’s face as he’s listening to one of Sean’s New York adventures.
“He’s a good-looking kid.”
“What?” Hotch turns, frowning at Dave’s remark. He thought he’s been careful.
The way Dave arches an eyebrow tells Hotch he has just bitten the bait. Damn it.
Hotch clears his throat and turns back to watch Sean and his admirers. “He’s got mom’s genes.” And I dad’s. Perfect.
The scotch doesn’t taste as good with other people in the room, but it seems to keep Dave from prodding further so Hotch keeps at it. Just two old-timers, drinking their problems away, watching the youngsters conquering the world. It’s the nature of things. It should feel right, fitting, like when he and Gideon discussed Reid’s incredible mind on Reid’s twenty-forth birthday, as if they were looking after the future of the BAU, except Gideon wasn’t. And Hotch? Hotch thought he was. He’s not so sure anymore.
“Why are you standing over here?” Hotch asks.
“I’m too old to pretend I give a damn about food preparation. What’s your excuse?”
Hotch can think of a few but none of them are for Dave’s ears.
“It’s my birthday. I can do whatever the hell I want.”
* * *
Hotch is not sure how long he’s been staring at it but it must have been a while because when Sean walks back into the living room, the dishwasher has already been loaded. Hotch starts to apologize for not helping but Sean dismisses him.
“Is that from Spencer?” Sean asks as he sits in the armchair. Reid’s first name sounds so easy and normal coming from his brother. An hour ago it would have pissed him off, but right now Hotch finds it depressing.
This is something he would have expected from Dave, not from a kid who doesn’t even own a car and has a mother in an expensive mental institution. No matter what Reid said about knowing a musician who knows a guy who knows a guy, the first vinyl pressing of The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ in almost perfect condition with the serial number so low must have cost Reid something.
“That is some birthday present,” Sean remarks.
Compared to a home improvement kit from Morgan, Blue Label from Dave, a bottle of French wine he can’t pronounce from Prentiss, a pair of tie pins from JJ and home-made cake from Garcia, Reid’s present seems so… personal, especially to an outsider.
“Reid is very… thoughtful.” Hotch guesses that’s not exactly a lie.
There is a chuckle. “That’s one way of looking at it.”
Hotch looks up from the record he’s holding to the daring look on his brother’s face.
“Sean,” Hotch warns.
“Aaron,” Sean echoes.
His brother has always been easy to talk to. It’s one of the reasons people are drawn to Sean, and Hotch has never felt the need to keep anything from him. But this? This is the one subject he hasn’t planned on discussing with his brother, or anyone, anytime soon.
“It’s just a present,” Hotch says and places the record on the coffee table before them.
“Wow, Jess was right. You are one hell of a profiler.”
Hotch wonders if he could glare until his brother drops the subject. No such luck.
Sean leans forward and looks Hotch in the eye. “Come on. I’m not blind.”
Hotch wishes he could disappear at will. “Reid is…” Hotch tries. Reid is what? “He admires me. I’m the only father figure he’s got.”
Sean gives him a don’t pull your profiling bullshit now look and says, “The way you looked at his present just now tells me you’re not feeling very fatherly toward him.”
For someone who disapproves of profiling, Sean sure does a lot of it.
“Doesn’t mean anything happened.” Hotch looks down.
“No, it doesn’t.” Sean agrees. “But something happened, or you wouldn’t be freaking out.”
Sean dares Hotch to contradict him but Hotch can’t think of a working argument, so he leans on the backrest, closes his eyes and tells himself to breathe.
“Don’t tell me I’d make a great profiler.”
“Wasn’t going to,” Hotch says before opening his eyes and sitting up.
Hotch puts the record back in the paper bag it came with and pushes himself off the couch. As he collects the car key, cell phone and wallet by the door, Sean calls, “I’m not waiting up.”
“Smartass,” Hotch says without turning around and reaches for the door.
As he steps out, he hears a ‘You’re welcome!’ Hotch chuckles, closes the door, presses the paper bag to his side and starts walking.
* * *
Reid is in his glasses when he opens the door. Hotch forgot how young Reid looks in them. Reid takes one look at him and invites him in. The TV is on but muted. Reid switches it off and turns to face him.
“I’m not taking it back.” Reid looks at the bag in Hotch’s hand.
Hotch looks down at the bag, then looks back at Reid, frowning. “I’m not returning it.”
“Oh.” Reid pauses. “I thought it was customary for people to return items with sentimental value to the other party when the relationship comes to an end.”
“Come to an end?” Hotch’s frown deepens. “That’s not…”
“So you’re not here to break up with me?” Reid asks, reluctant.
“I…” Hotch doesn’t know how to phrase what’s in his mind. He puts down the bag on the sofa and looks back at Reid. “I was considering it.”
“And against my better judgment, I’m not breaking up with you.”
Reid stares at him wordlessly and Hotch wishes they had telepathic ability.
“You work for me.” Hotch begins. “You’re my little brother’s age. You don’t need a middle-aged man with baggage, my kind of baggage, who can’t even show you public affection. You can do better than me.”
Reid opens his mouth to protest but Hotch won’t let him. “Don’t tell me you can’t. Statistically you can, and you will. You’ll meet someone your own age, unattached, who can kiss you in front of their friends, who can give you a proper family. Then I will have to let you go.” Hotch steps forward until he’s only an arm reach from Reid. “But I’m willing to take that chance because… because I’m happy. I didn’t recognize it at first because it’s been a while. And I want to stay happy. For me. For Jack. I just need to know that you are too, and that when you’re not, you’ll tell me.”
The last time he poured his heart out like that was at Haley’s funeral, but that was to say goodbye…
“Can I say something now?” Reid asks.
“You and I both know this is a good thing,” Reid says. “I’m not going to go into what we’ve been through and how my trust issues and your conditional self-worth overlap.”
“This is you not going into it?” Hotch asks, suppressing a smile.
Reid rolls his eyes before stepping forward and cradling Hotch’s face in his hands. “All I’m saying is I’m with the right Hotchner.”
“Isn’t that what you’ve been hinting at?” Reid asks.
Hotch wants to deny it but nothing comes out of his mouth.
“Statistically, there are younger, attractive, single men with less… complicated lives, like your brother,” Reid says. “Some of them will find me suitable for a partnership, that is true. But this is also true: no two individuals are exactly alike. There will never be another you,” Reid points out. “Well, until consciousness cloning is made possible.”
Hotch doesn’t realize he’s been staring at Reid’s lips until he catches Reid’s eyes and spots the flushed cheeks. Then he is leaning in, closing the space between them. Reid’s lips are soft and sweet and parting slowly. Arms and hands entangle as their bodies mesh. Reid smells of soap and tastes of toothpaste and feels incredibly warm against him. The prospect of feeling this warmth all night, every night makes Hotch’s chest tighten a bit.
“Is this going to become an annual thing?” Reid looks at him. “You freaking out like this?”
Hotch outlines Reid’s cheekbone with his thump and finds himself smiling. “Probably.”
Reid chuckles. “Then I guess I should give you a heads up about my holiday depression.”
Hotch’s smile widens before he leans in and steals another kiss. “Thank you,” Hotch says. “And not just for the gift.”
Reid twines their fingers together and tugs at Hotch’s hand, “Come on, I’ve got you another one.”
“I have one condition.”
“Keep the glasses on.”
A playful grin breaks on Reid’s face and Hotch lets himself be pulled toward the bedroom.
* * *
The sex is… not necessarily better than their second time, but it is intense. Reid passes out right afterward. Hotch tiptoes into the bathroom in search of something to clean themselves with. He finds a small towel by the medicine cabinet. He soaks it in the sink. As he turns to leave, something stops him. It is the man in the mirror again. Hotch notices that the weary lines are still there but the man’s eyes are not as tired. It’s no longer impossible to imagine that man with a smile. This time Hotch sees someone he knew a long time ago and he has a feeling he’ll get to know that person again.
 On the sleeve of The Beatles’ White Album, there is a unique stamped serial number. The lower the stamped number the greater the value.