Word Count: 2650
Disclaimer: Does not own.
Summary: Hotch and Reid are carpool buddies, chase butterflies with Jack.
AN: Written for this comment_fic prompt: chasing butterflies
Thanks to sinstralpride for making me do this and for fixing my crazy.
The tepid Spring warmth of DC was a welcome relief to the agents after the stifling humidity of Arizona has soaked them through with sweat and tears. The case had been a hard one, emotionally draining as the agents watched the cops of a town slowly disappear, even one that had been on the investigation. Morgan was especially troubled, spending much of the plane ride home staring at the clouds passing by.
The plane had landed and the agents had dutifully filed back into the J. Edgar Hoover building, intent on filing away the paperwork and stepping through the bureaucracy of FBI protocol, to getting home quickly to their own homes and beds.
Hotch was always the last one to leave, squirreled away under the red tape and the hard to answer questions. He felt a small sense of relief when he saw his team quietly file out one by one, the ghost of a smile that never touched his lips stirring within him to think of them at home and safe. It wasn't unusual for Hotch to be the one to turn all the lights off and lock the door behind him, to come out to a mostly empty parking garage and drive home in nothing but the dim glow of the streetlights to keep him company. He walked out to see Spencer Reid bent over and huddled under the hood of his car, muttering things he couldn't quite make out.
"Reid," Hotch announced his presence with the name. Reid popped up, narrowly missing conking his head on the hood.
"Hotch," he said, that streak of coltish nervousness present in his voice. Hotch let his head tilt to the side slightly as he categorized Reid and the situation. The younger man looked almost ashamed to be caught by his boss, his long, greasy fingers twitching against each other low on his waist like he was trying to keep them out of Hotch's vision without hiding them. He chuckled nervously before he spoke again, "Burning the old midnight oil?" It was a nervous tic of Reid's, that catch in his voice.
"Is something the matter, Reid?"
"Uh," Reid looked quickly back to his car before his head snapped back to face Hotch, realizing that his actions were more telling than anything he said, "I can't get my car to start?"
"Battery?" Hotch asked, knowing that Reid was feeling helpless right now, cerebral and papery thin and useless. He'd seen that same skittish look in his eyes whenever there was something that Reid couldn't answer or research, something logic and philosophy and evidence couldn't provide for him.
Hotch moved forward, stripping off his suit coat and unbuttoning his cuffs. He stuck his hands under the car hood and took a quick survey of the engine. He knew exactly what Reid had been doing; he'd been assessing the scene, trying to follow the logic of the engine until his brilliant mind could figure it, create the simple algorithm he could use to solve this problem and every other one that popped up. "Go try and start the car." Reid's footsteps were quick and shuffling, the pop of the car door too quick, the heavy impact of Reid making the car bounce on its shocks when he had unceremiously plopped down on the driver's seat. Hotch listened to Reid's engine stubbornly refuse to turn over.
"Do you have any jumper cables?"
"I should," Reid said and Hotch could already sense the helplessness flooding out of the younger man's body. Spencer Reid wasn't stupid, not by far, nor was he prone to panicking in small situations, but Hotch could tell that Reid had just needed someone there, some sort of support, before he was able to function best. Reid emerged holding a frayed cord, an apologetic look on his face. "It seems I only have the negative lead."
"I'll check in my car," Hotch said, moving to rummage through his own trunk. He got down to the spare tire and jack before he realized he had left his set of cables in Haley's car because she was always leaving her lights on. "Seems that I've come unprepared."
"Couple of regular boy scouts we make," Reid said dryly, pursing his lips and rocking on his heels.
"Come on, I'll drive you," Hotch offered.
"What, no, I'll just grab a cab," Reid protested, gesturing vaguely to the streets outside.
"Don't be silly," Hotch said, "you don't live far from my exit."
"No, really, don't go out of your way-"
"Spencer," Hotch said, stopping Reid in his tracks, "it's on the way." Reid's lips pushed up in a semi-defeated frown, a face he often sported when he's been outvoted or ignored. He grabbed his messenger bag and slung it over his head, gripping the strap lightly as he jumped into Hotch's passenger seat.
"Thank you," he mumbled after Hotch had rolled the car out into the busy streets of DC, wondering why the streetlights were a little brighter and more alive against the inky black of late spring nights.
What had started out as a dead battery had quickly grown into a faulty carburetor, a timing belt that needed to be replaced, a rattly muffler, and a new set of tires. Every time they circuited his car, it seemed like one mechanic or another had found something wrong, something not up to specs, something Reid couldn't fix on his own. He had his car towed to another garage, hoping to call in a favor for some cheaper labor, and maybe an honest opinion. Instead, he got the brakes and windshield wipers added to the list of things wrong with his car. He resigned himself to the fact that this car was probably junk now, that fixing it would cost him more than buying a different car.
"Don't worry about it," Hotch had said, leaving no room in his voice for argument.
"No, really, Hotch, DC has a public transport system-"
"Reid, I insist."
"I don't want to impose-"
"Reid," the flat tone Hotch seemed to take the fight right out of Reid. "It's not a problem. Unless you don't want to wait here until I'm done every night." Reid nodded 'no', stammering our his gratitude.
And that had been the beginning of their little carpool. Reid had sold his car for parts (the few that worked) and started to save up the extra money to lease a newer car. It soon became an easy routine, Reid slipping into the passenger seat, the extra cup holder always folded out now for his coffee. Reid had tinkered with all the vents on the passenger side, adjusting them to his height and to where he liked to sit, slouched a little, leaning toward the door. It was easy, comfortable, companionable. Reid didn't expect conversation and Hotch didn't stop Reid when he spoke.
One day, late in the blooming spring of Washington DC, Hotch's cell phone rang as the pair wearily made their way to their homes. The team had just returned from a case in the early hours of the morning, staying at the BAU until late afternoon, running on the smell of coffee and the hope of home alone. Reid was slumped down in the passenger seat, the seat let back as far as it would go to allow him to stretch out his bad knee. The ringing made him stir slightly and he picked Hotch's cell phone up and out of the cup holder Hotch had thrown it in.
"'S Jessica," Reid mumbled, handing Hotch the phone. He laid his head back on the warming glass and barely listened to the conversation.
"It's fine, Jess," Hotch said, "No, no, I can pick him up." Reid turned to watch Hotch's face as he stopped at a red light. "No, really, it's fine. You can't control everything." Hotch ran a weary hand over his face before he stepped on the accelerator and set the car moving again. "Bye, Jess."
"Jack?" Reid said, not moving his eyes away from Hotch's face.
"Jess got held up at a doctor's appointment, says she can't pick him up at school today."
"Are you already a little late?" Reid said, glancing at the clock on the dash and adjusting the register to blow the cool air on his face at the same time.
"Yeah, but I can take you home before-"
"We should get Jack first," Reid said, pushing his horn-rimmed glasses up his nose. "The school will be calling." And Hotch knew it was out of Reid's way to go all the way to the school with him.
"Are you sure?"
"Of course, Hotch," Reid mumbled, already content to lay in the sunshine, eyes closed and head tilted back. Hotch watched as the air conditioning made Reid's hair wave, tickling the side of his cheek, and the way Reid's mouth twitched in response.
"Thank you, Spencer." Reid smiled slightly.
Aaron parked the car in the turnaround outside the school, leaving Reid in the passenger seat, snoozing like a cat curled up on a windowsill. He knew they kept the kids whose parents were late in the office so he walked through the front doors and quickly turned down the hall to find the office.
"Daddy!" he heard Jack exclaimed when he walked through the office door.
"Hey, buddy, sorry I'm late," he said that last part as much to his son as to the irritated secretary behind the counter. He signed his name on the line, picked up his son's much too big backpack, and took his son's hand. "Do you remember Dr. Reid, Jack?" Jack was too busy picking things out of his pockets to listen. Hotch opened the door and helped Jack climb up into booster seat, strapping him in. "Jack, this is Dr. Reid, my friend. Do you remember him?" Jack didn't answer but he didn't seem to mind Spencer either so Hotch took it as an assent and shut the door behind him. He climbed back into the driver's seat and turned the car back on, the roar of the engine turning over startling Reid enough to wake him up.
"Good morning," Hotch said, the slightest hint of a smile in the tightness of the muscles around his mouth. Reid turned around and saw Jack in the backseat.
"Hello, Jack," Reid said and Hotch almost smiled at the sleepy fluidity in Reid's voice. "Did you have a good day at school?"
"The teacher, she put catepillars in the box and they went to sleep." Hotch quirked an eyebrow at the sentence but he noticed at Reid's face wasn't quite as quizzical as he would have expected.
"Do you know what the caterpillars will be when they wake up?"
"The butterflies go to sleep and they wake up and then they fly away." Reid smirked and Hotch let his eyes drift up to watch his son in the rearview mirror. He was picking around in his backpack like he had something exciting he wanted to show Reid.
"We are going to let them fly away when they wake up," Jack persisted on and Reid looked across the seat at Hotch, smiling secretively.
"Do you know what they are called when they fly away?"
"Butterflies!" And Spencer smiled, wide and proud.
"That's right, Jack!" Reid took a quick survery of the streets before he leaned forward and pointed to the left. "Turn here, Hotch."
"You live that way," Hotch said, confused.
"I know," was all Reid gave him. Hotch trusted his collegue, getting into the left turn lane with a perplexed look to his right.
Hotch soon understood the little detour as he saw a large park come into view ahead. The flowers were in bloom and the grass was long and bright green and Hotch wasn't sure the last time he had been at the park with his son. They all hopped out of the car, little Jack unbuckling himself and practically jumping out of the car and landing with a little thud on the asphalt. He took off into the grass as fast as his tiny legs would let him go.
"Thank you, Reid," Hotch said, his hands deep in his pockets.
"I wanted to show him butterflies," Reid said, like it just that simple. He walked away from Hotch, his glasses sliding down his nose again as he gingerly picked his way through the grass to catch up to Jack.
Hotch ended up sitting on his suit coat under a tree on the far edge of the field. Reid had shread his coat as well, leaving it under the tree with Hotch and Jack's backpack. Aaron watched as Jack and Reid were huddled quietly around a shrub, the little flowers blooming brightly. Hotch could tell it was hard for Reid to be bending down to be at eye level with Jack. Reid kept readjusting his bad knee, moving and stretching it as Jack prattled on to Reid about the things he had learned in school and how one of the little boys brought in his teddy bear for show and tell and a whole mess of things that Hotch was amazed at. What amazed him more, though, was the patient, easy look on Reid's face as he listened. He let Jack go on and on, encouraging him to tell him more. Jack had a brightness in his tiny face that Hotch hadn't seen since Haley's death.
"This is the Eastern tailed Blue butterfly," he heard Reid say, presenting a light blue butterfly to Jack as it perched on Reid's finger.
"Oh, that's cool," Jack intoned, trying to poke at the feathery wings.
"Gentle," Reid said, moving his finger back slowly, "you can't touch their wings."
"Is it going to fly away?" Jack said, the slightest hint of sadness in his voice.
"Well, yes, it is," Reid said slowly.
"And never come back?" Reid bit his lip, feeling like this was question that flowed deeper than just simple curiosity. He looked back at Hotch, a little bit of that lost look back in his face. Hotch looked him in the eyes, nodding just once. That was all Reid needed to look back at Jack with the confidence to answer his question.
"It might seem like forever," Reid said before he flinked his finger up slightly and let the butterfly flit off into the sky, "but you never know when you might see the butterfly again. Or find a new butterfly to be your friend." Jack looked up at Reid through his eyelashes before he looked up to where the butterfly had flown off.
"Let's chase it," Jack yelled, running off after the little blue creature, the moment of sadness gone as quickly as it had come. Reid got up and hobbled slowly behind, his bad knee stiff from crouching down for so long. The day passed by quickly, Hotch running after his eager little boy as his son chased butterflies but could never quite catch them, leaving Reid to lean his back against the rough bark of the tree, The sun had moved low in the sky and all the butterflies seemed to have move off as the chill settled over the park. It was too early in the year for fireflies and Hotch had had to carry Jack back to the car, his little body exhausted and slumped over Hotch's shoulder.
"Thank you, Spencer," Hotch said for the second time, after he had buckled Jack into his booster seat and he had settled into driver's seat himself. The air was too cool now for the air conditioning and Reid gently flicked the vent up to blow away from his face.
"I wanted him to see the butterflies," Reid said. "And you deserved a day with your son, Aaron." Hotch started the car without a word, pulling out into the quiet streets of DC.
Reid never bought another car.