Title: The Frogs that lead to the Prince (2/5)
Pairings/Characters: Reid/Hotch, the team
Disclaimer: I don’t, nor have I ever, owned Criminal Minds, which really sucks for me! :)
Summary: The team is tired of watching Reid and Hotch pine for each other, so they come up with a plan: set Reid up on some awful dates that are sure to drive them into each other’s arms once and for all.
Morgan and the Lothario
JJ and the Mama’s Boy
“You okay, Spence? You seem kind of distracted today.”
“Huh? Uh, yeah, JJ, I’m fine. I just had a rough night that kind of spilled over into the morning.” Reid paused as the memory of eating brownie sundaes for lunch with Hotch flashed before his eyes: Hotch actually smiling, the utterly sweet expression on his face when he offered Reid his maraschino cherry, and the look of almost childish delight that replaced it when Reid laughed and insisted that he eat it instead. “But things got better.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” nodded JJ compassionately. “Listen, I was wondering if you’d like to come over for dinner Friday night.”
“Yes, dinner,” smiled JJ with a chuckle in her voice. “You know, you, me, Will, and Henry sitting down at my dining room table and enjoy the benefits that come along with me living with a man who happens to be an excellent cook. What do you say?”
“Sure – yes, I’d like that,” agreed Reid. He shyly licked his upper lip. “I mean, if I’m not imposing or anything.”
“Spence,” said JJ, all motherly exasperation. “I like you. Will likes you. Besides, it’s been too long since Henry’s had some good quality time with his godfather. My house, Friday , 6:30 – I expect you to be there.”
Will LaMontagne answered the door with his son Henry in his arms. “Pens!” cried Henry happily.
Reid knew from past experience that ‘Pens’ translated to ‘Spencer’ in Henry-speak. “Hello, Henry,” he said kindly. “Hi Will. I – uh – I brought Henry a present – I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all, Spencer,” replied Will with a Louisiana drawl that was still as thick as it had been when he’d left his home state. Spencer couldn’t help but noting he looked a little apprehensive. “It’s a godfather’s prerogative.”
Henry started wriggling the second he saw the stuffed dinosaur in his godfather’s hand. “Mine!” he declared, reaching out to Reid. “Pens, mine?”
“Yours,” Reid assured him. He took the excited child out of Will’s arms and handed him his new toy.
“Mine,” said Henry happily, hugging the dinosaur to his chest possessively. He planted a sloppy kiss on Reid’s cheek. “Fank-ou.”
“That’s right,” Reid told him with a grin. He knew Henry didn’t really know what he was saying, but it still delighted him every time the toddler said it – which was exactly why Henry said it whenever he saw his godfather. “You’re going to be a member of Cal Tech’s graduating class of 2031.”
“Yay!” cheered Henry, clapping his hands.
Will shook his head and chuckled. “It’s good to see my boy on the college track so early in life,” he noted. Reid smiled over at him and his expression immediately turned serious. “I’m sorry, Spencer. I had no part in this – I didn’t know what she was planning until ten minutes ago.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Spence!” chirped JJ as she came into the foyer. “I’m glad you’re here.” She gathered her son in her arms and gave Reid an encouraging, eager smile. “Dinner won’t be done for another few minutes, right Will? Why don’t we wait in the family room?”
Reid smiled guilelessly and headed inside. The second their guest’s back was turned Will sent JJ a pointed look. JJ responded in kind, sending Will a glare of warning as she followed Reid into the carefully set trap. Will had been perfectly clear that he didn’t like the way she was ambushing Reid, but JJ was sure he wouldn’t do anything to mess things up – not if he wanted to spend the night in their bed and not on the couch.
“Thank you for inviting me over,” said Reid as they all walked down the hallway. “It smells….”
His voice trailed off at the sight of a boyish-looking man standing in front of the fireplace. “It smells delicious, doesn’t it?” the man finished for him. “Will is quite the culinary artiste.”
“Don’t I know it,” smiled JJ, looking downright gleeful. She grabbed Reid’s sleeve and hauled him over to the stranger. “Spence, this is Ben. Ben, this is the Spencer I’ve been telling you about.”
The man – Ben – returned Reid’s hesitant wave with one of his own. Reid guessed they were about the same age, give or take a few years. Both his short hair and his clothes were neat, tidy, and conservative to the point of uninteresting; and he had a nervous, fastidious demeanor about him. Everything about Ben practically begged people not to remember him.
“So nice to meet you, Spencer,” said Ben with almost exaggerated politeness. “I’ve heard wonderful things about you.”
‘I haven’t heard anything about you’ was what Reid almost blurted out. JJ hadn’t said anything about inviting over another person – in fact, she explicitly said it would just be the four of them! And why had she been telling this stranger about him. This wasn’t…was it?
“Nice to meet you,” Reid managed to get out. He shot a look of significance and confusion to JJ. “Uh, JJ, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sorry, Spence, now’s not a good time,” JJ told him in a ‘oh, darn’ tone that he didn’t buy for a second. “I have to help Will get dinner ready. You know – stuff to stir, table to set, and all that. Henry, why don’t you come help Mommy and Daddy so Ben and Pens can get to know each other?”
She started toward the kitchen, stopping only when she realized Will hadn’t moved. “Will? Come on,” she insisted.
Will gave Reid and Ben a defeated look and obediently followed JJ and their child into the kitchen, leaving him alone with who was apparently yet another blind date. The young agent did his best to swallow back his panic. Sure, JJ had completely ambushed him with a blind date who couldn’t compare to Hotch in any way, shape, or form; sure, she was leaving him alone with a total stranger, and one she’d told all about him at that; and sure, Ben probably thought there was a chance for romance when in actuality Reid couldn’t imagine being attracted to him even if he wasn’t completely in love with Hotch. But he could see a bright side to the incredibly uncomfortable situation: at least this guy wasn’t going to be like creepy-James. JJ would never let anyone like James into her home.
“So, Ben,” said Reid awkwardly. “How do you know JJ and Will?”
“I live a few houses down,” Ben told him as he walked over to the couch and sat down. Reid, not knowing what else to do, followed suit. “I came over to say ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ when they moved in, and ever since JJ’s been very kind about inviting me over for dinner or tea.” He gave a rueful laugh. “If Mother and I didn’t live so close I would never be able to visit at all; between her and work, I’m afraid I don’t have much of a social life.”
“You take care of your mother?” asked Spencer, feeling a bit more at ease. This was, after all, familiar territory for him.
“I like to think we take care of each other,” said Ben. “But she certainly takes up a lot of my time. Sometimes it seems like everyone I meet thinks I shouldn’t live with her anymore, but I can’t bring myself to leave her, you know?”
“I understand completely,” said Reid sympathetically. His eyes stung with tears as he remembered his life from ages ten to eighteen. “My mother…I did what I could to keep her in her own home, but it finally got to a point where I couldn’t give her the help she needed anymore. It was…it was awful, but in the end it was the right thing to do. And I do my best to keep in touch – I write her a letter every day.”
“Good man,” said Ben sincerely, patting Reid’s hand. “At times I wonder if it would be best for Mother to spend her days at a senior center so she could be around other people, but she’s at least ten years shy of the qualifying ages for any of the facilities in the area.
Ben was caring for a mother in her fifties? She must be mentally or physically disabled, Reid realized with a growing empathy. He was suddenly glad JJ invited this friend of hers over, even if it was for a doomed sneak-attack blind date. It had to be nice for him to take a little time for himself. “I’m sure she appreciates all that you do for her,” he said, smiling kindly.
“Thank you,” Ben smiled back. He started to say something else, but was cut off by a buzz followed by an insistent ding. He murmured an apology and pulled out his phone to read the new text. “That’s her; she’s wants to know if I’ll be home in time to give her a bath.”
“Oh,” replied Reid, suppressing a wince. It had never gotten so bad with his mother that she couldn’t bathe herself, thank God. ‘Poor Ben,’ he thought. There were few things worse than having to become like a parent to his own mother because infirmity had reverted her back to helpless childhood.
“I told I would be,” Ben went on, giving his phone an understanding smile. “I told her, ‘Mother, I’ll be home before you’re finished grocery shopping.”
Reid blinked. “She…goes grocery shopping?”
“Oh course!” laughed Ben. “She says it’s a mother’s prerogative, but between you and me I think she’s afraid if I do it I’ll come home with nothing but ice cream and candy.”
Well, this certainly didn’t fit in with what Spencer had been imagining. “How…?” he stammered, trying to think of an explanation that would make everything make sense. “How does she get to the grocery store?”
“She drives herself, silly,” Ben told him. “Last month I bought her that new Jeep Cherokee she’s been wanting, and I swear she’s been making up errands just so she can drive it around.”
“I’m sorry,” said Reid with a confused little chuckle that had a twinge of hysteria to it as the situation got more and more…odd. “I’m afraid I don’t quite understand. I thought – I thought your mother was…incapacitated in some way.”
“Only by the occasional speeding ticket,” said Ben cheerfully. “I keep telling her, ‘Mother, you can’t do 85 miles per hour in a 35 zone’, and she keeps telling me, ‘Benjamin, if I thought you knew anything about driving I’d let you get your license, so hush!’ But I know she’s just doing what’s best for me.”
A nervous tension coursed through Reid and he started edging away from Ben as subtly as he could. “I’m still not following you,” he stated apologetically, giving Ben the smile he usually reserved for unsubs who had no idea that what they’d done was wrong. “If she’s not…if she’s able to…then why do you bathe her?”
“Because that’s the way Mother likes it!” snapped Ben, suddenly defensive and more than a little hostile. Reid couldn’t help jumping back a little. Ben took a deep cleansing breath and gave him a smile which would have been pleasant had it been on anyone else’s face; on Ben’s it was utterly unnerving. “Mother has always needed me to scrub her back when she takes her bath – she even set my curfew early enough so I’m home in plenty of time. And I don’t mind, Spencer; after all, a boy’s best friend is his mother.”
“How’s everything going in here?” JJ’s voice came out of nowhere. Reid noisily exhaled a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding and stared at her in disbelief as she walked into the room. JJ didn’t seem to notice this as she smiled brightly at the sight of her two guests sitting together on the couch. “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but dinner’s ready. There’ll be plenty of time for you two to get to know each other while we eat.”
“Sounds great,” Reid feigned enthusiasm in a tight voice. He couldn’t stay there and pretend JJ’s friend wasn’t an unsub in the making. What if Ben tried to take him home to meet Mother? God, what if Mother dropped by during dinner and decided she didn’t like her back-scrubbing son dating? It could endanger the entire Jareau/LaMontagne family! But how could he get out of there without embarrassing or scaring JJ?
He almost cried out in relief when the answer struck him, but instead simply leapt to his feet. “Please excuse me while I go wash my hands,” he said with an obviously fake brightness.
He strode briskly to the bathroom, shuddering when Ben called after him “Mother likes it when little boys wash their hands!” After shutting and locking the door behind him, Reid turned on the faucet and whipped out his cell phone. Call me in to the office, he desperately texted to Hotch. Say it’s about a cold case or a report or anything – just call NOW.
With that task done, the young man took a moment to steady himself. He’d be safe soon; Hotch had always come through for him before and he trusted him to come through for him now. Drawing in a fortifying breath, Reid squeezed his phone as if it were a lifeline and left the bathroom.
The blessed device rang just as he walked through the family room. Reid ignored JJ’s frown and the curious way Ben cocked his head as looked at the caller ID. “It’s Hotch,” he reported, barely keeping his relieved laughter at bay. “Our boss,” he added for Ben’s sake. “I better see what he wants.” He pressed the talk button and raised the phone to his ear. “Reid.”
“Reid, we need to go over the report you turned in this afternoon,” Hotch told him. His voice was all-business: brisk and in control. It sounded like safely and sanity to Reid, giving him a dose of much-needed calmness. “I must insist you come in now.”
“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” promised Reid. He hung up the phone and graced JJ with an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, JJ, but Hotch needs me back at the office.”
“It’s not a case, is it?” asked JJ a little too innocently. Reid would have noticed it, and Ben elbowing her, if he wasn’t virtually blinded by giddy relief.
“No, no,” he assured her as he trotted in the direction of the dining room. “He just needs some clarifications on a report. Thanks for inviting me over, JJ; and it was…interesting meeting you, Ben.”
Reid hustled into the dining room, where Will was putting Henry into his booster seat. “You have to go?” asked Will before he could open his mouth.
“Duty called,” explained Reid. He winced slightly as Will gave him a friendly clap on the shoulder, but leaned in closer to say in low voice: “Hey, keep an eye on Ben, okay?”
Judging by the way Will grimaced Reid figured the other man already knew something was off about his other guest. “I’m sorry about tonight, Spencer,” Will told him sincerely. “I promise it won’t happen again.”
Reid nodded his appreciation and turned to his godson. “Bye, Henry,” he said, not seeing Will give JJ and Ben the stink-eye as they came into the room. “I’ll see you soon, okay?”
“’Kay,” agreed Henry, clutching his new dinosaur. “Bye-bye, Pens. Furry-one – yay!”
“Yay!” echoed Spencer. He flashed a crazy, elated smile and finally, finally escaped that horror show of a fix-up.
He’d just thrown himself into the Amazon and locked the doors behind him when his phone rang again. “Are you all right?” demanded Hotch anxiously.
“I’m fine,” Reid assured him. He pressed his lips together, struggling to calm down, but he couldn’t control the relieved giggles coming out of his mouth. “I’m fine, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Unsurprisingly, the mixture of hysteria and babbling spewing out of him did nothing to allay Hotch’s concern. “Reid, calm down – it’s going to be okay,” promised Hotch in a strong, in-control tone that, as far as Reid was concerned, was more effective than Valium. “Do you need me to come get you? Should I call in the rest of the team?”
“No!” burst out Reid. He sucked in a few breaths and forced himself to relax. “I’m fine, I swear. I’m just about to drive home.”
Hotch was silent for a moment; Reid could almost hear the other man’s internal debate. “Okay,” he finally relented, not sounding at all happy about it. “But I want you to call me the second you’re back in your apartment.”
About a half-hour later, Reid was at safely at home with his front door locked and deadbolted, explaining the evening’s events to Hotch. “It was bad enough JJ sprung a blind date on me,” he moaned miserably as he leaned back against his couch and sighed. “But Ben was…he was so…it was…I can’t even begin….”
“She had no right to ambush you like that,” fumed Hotch indignantly. First Morgan and now JJ; he didn’t know if it was just a coincidence or just the beginning of his subordinates trying to fix up Reid. Either way he didn’t like it – okay, maybe he was relieved nothing seemed to be working out, but he hated that going on them was making Reid so upset. “Jeez, it sounds like the guy tonight was even worse than Morgan’s friend.”
Reid had to take a moment to consider the comparison. “I wouldn’t say that,” he said pensively, shifting the phone to a more comfortable position against his ear. “It’s like the question about whether it’s worse to die due to drowning or falling off a cliff: both suck in their own unique ways.” He laughed in spite of himself. “God, I feel like burying myself under a pile of blankets and hiding from the world for the rest of the weekend.”
“That sounds like a good plan to me,” said Hotch warmly. “Give yourself a break and spend the next two days doing something completely brainless.”
“What, like watching the all-weekend stand-up marathon on Comedy Central?”
“Well, you’re full of surprises tonight,” remarked Hotch. “I wouldn’t have guessed you knew what channel Comedy Central’s on, let alone watched it.”
Reid scoffed as he groped between the couch cushions for the remote control. “Hey, I didn’t get cable just for the educational documentaries – I do know how to laugh,” he said, a teasing smile spreading across his face. “Besides, look who’s talking! No one on the team would believe you’d even heard of Comedy Central.”
“I know how to laugh too,” Hotch defended himself. “I just don’t do it at work.”
“You should.” The words slipped out of Reid’s mouth before he took the time to think about them. He mentally smacked himself upside the head and hastily continued: “I don’t mean you should laugh all the time or anything – that would be inappropriate – but when we’re not on a case – when everyone’s just talking and joking and everything – you-you should join in – I mean, you’re funny when you want to be and you have a really nice laugh.” What had he just said? God, why couldn’t he stop talking! “I didn’t – I just think – I mean, your laugh is pleasing in an audible sense in terms of, you know, intonation –”
“I, uh, I know what you mean,” Hotch broke in. He fought the sudden urge to add ‘I’d like to hear you laugh more too’. He was a middle-aged man, FBI agent, supervisor, father, former prosecutor, and former husband, for God’s sake – he wasn’t going to let himself act like some awkward teenage boy just because Reid said he liked his laugh!
There was a pregnant pause where everything unspoken seemed to clog the phone signal connecting them. “I should probably go,” Hotch finally said with just the barest hint of regret in his voice. He closed his eyes for a second before blurting out: “Hey, Reid, will you do me a favor?”
“Sure,” answered Reid, his heart beating so hard he could almost swear it was painful. “What is it?”
“After we hang up, turn on that marathon and spend the rest of the night laughing,” requested Hotch around the lump in his throat. “You…you’ve had a couple of rough evenings, and I’d like to know you ended such a lousy week doing something that put a smile on your face.”
“I will, Hotch,” promised Reid softly, his heart thumping hard in his chest. “Goodnight.”
Reid sighed wearily as he hung up and tossed his phone aside. God, he wished he was braver: brave enough to tell Morgan, JJ, and whatever other teammates that decided to fix him up with someone to back off. Brave enough to drive over to Hotch’s place, ring the doorbell, and kiss the man senseless when he answered. Brave enough just to call Hotch back and tell him that he’d already made him smile that night.
Instead he turned on his TV and flipped to Comedy Central and the pretty good stand-up special that was already in progress. As he spent the rest of the evening fulfilling his promise to Hotch, his nervous tension melted away and Reid felt like he could breathe easy again. ‘Hotch always knows how to make me feel better,’ though Reid warmly as he wrapped himself in a quilt and pretended the man he loved was sitting right there next to him.
In a house twenty minutes away, Hotch was watching the same special, pretending the same thing.
“…Hotch called him again right after he left the house,” Garcia reported to her co-conspirators as they gathered in her computer lair Monday morning. “That call lasted only about a minute, but then our little Reid called him back 28-minutes later for a 23 minute chat.”
“Mama, should we be worried about how easy it is for you to pull up our phone records?” asked Morgan, only half-joking.
“Of course not,” replied Garcia dismissively. “I only use my powers for good.”
“Well, we all saw the way Hotch came straight over to Reid the second he came in today,” said Morgan, still eying Garcia dubiously, “so I’d say were definitely making progress. JJ, do you have anything else to report?”
JJ shook her head. “Everything went according to plan,” she said. “Well, Will didn’t exactly approve, but he kept his mouth shut. And Ben couldn’t resist using Norman Bates’ best-friend-is-his-mother line, but Reid didn’t seem to catch that. And this morning I had to promise Reid I’d do a thorough background check on Ben, but it’s under control. The important thing is Ben was absolutely brilliant – Reid pretty much ran screaming to Hotch after five minutes alone with him.”
“I can’t believe this is actually working,” grinned Prentiss. “Garcia, do you think your guy can keep the momentum going?”
“Oh, don’t be naïve, my dove! You should know by now not to underestimate the power of Garcia.”
Part Three: Garcia and the uber-Trekkie