Just Breathe - Hotch
The pain of the mind is worse than the pain of the body.
"How long will you have those?" Aaron Hotchner asked his youngest agent, Dr. Spencer Reid, as he came to a precarious stop on a set on crutches in front of Hotch's office. Hotch frowned severely, hating the fact that Reid even needed crutches. He blamed himself. He should have been there. Prentiss should have been there; she shouldn't have been running around town chasing—
He mentally shook himself, tuning in to what Reid was saying.
"...physical therapy, so it shouldn't be too much longer. I'll be glad to get rid of them."
"What are they giving you for the pain?" he wanted to know, dark brows drawing together in concern.
Reid looked away, unable to meet his boss' eyes. "Oh, you know," he said with a small, completely unconvincing smile, "Tylenol, Advil. The good stuff." Even he recognized that his feeble joke fell flat, and he winced.
Hotch studied the younger man through shrewd, narrowed eyes. He'd been dressing better lately, Hotch had noticed, less like a geeky grad student and more like an adult. His hair had grown out into a shaggy mane, and he had taken to wearing an elastic band around his wrist that he never actually used to pull the hair back with. He was fiddling with said elastic now, studiously avoiding Hotch's penetrating stare.
"You've been doing well, Spencer," Hotch told him in an uncharacteristically gentle tone. "Don't let this be a set-back."
Reid finally looked up in surprise, deep-set hazel eyes wide. "No, sir. I've been talking to my sponsor every day. I don't...want to go there again."
"Good. I'll see you at the briefing, then."
Reid nodded, a little relieved, and hobbled away. Hotch watched him go, a pained expression on his normally stoic face. I should have been there, he thought again. The thought of his youngest agent in harm's way (again) with Hotch not there to protect him (again) sent a white-hot lance of pain through him more vivid than the memory of Foyet's blades slicing his skin. Shaking, feeling a cold sweat popping out on his skin, Hotch beat a hasty retreat into his office.
He leaned over his desk, bracing himself against the solid surface, and took several deep, cleansing breaths. Straightening, he ran both hands over his face, then up through his short, dark hair, setting loose cowlicks that he struggled to tame on a daily basis. "Get it together, Aaron," he muttered impatiently.
The ironic part was he could deal with what Foyet had done to him. It had been painful, and traumatic, but he would recover. He was having far more trouble coping with the loss of Haley and Jack, and with the idea that Reid had to handle an UnSub on his own because he, Aaron Hotchner, indomitable leader, was bleeding in a hospital while Prentiss ran all over town looking for him.
He knew Morgan had doubts about his continued ability to lead the team. Strauss had more than doubts, but that was nothing new. He rubbed the back of a strong, blunt-fingered hand across his mouth. Were they right about him? Had he lost it? His decisions had been erratic of late, based more on his gut than on his usual careful, logical thought process. He was beginning to understand how Jason felt, near the end...
Hotch moved to the window, staring out over the bullpen and watching his agents as they prepared for the daily briefing. Prentiss was helping Reid with his crutches while the younger agent talked a mile a minute, and Prentiss schooled her face into the tolerant, patient expression she'd mastered over the years. Morgan and J.J. were laughing about something as J.J. handed the tall, good-looking black man a cup of coffee. Garcia was wearing some ridiculous flower ensemble on her head and mile-high shoes on her feet. Hotch felt his mouth twitch upwards, the deeply-furrowed lines on his forehead smoothing.
He took another breath and let it out, counting carefully to ten. Morgan was getting antsy. Strauss had been antsy. Maybe it was time for a change, to reassess, but he wouldn't abandon these people as Gideon had done. He'd already lost one family to Foyet. He'd be damned if he'd lose another.
Keep your head above water, he told himself, and just keep breathing.