Disclaimer: Not mine, never will be.
Notes: SPOILERS for Criminal Minds- Limelight. Cooperation 'Verse.
It was a crowded night at the bar. Reid, Zack, Garcia and Prentiss were engaged in a trivia grudge match against a team who’s matching t-shirts proclaim them the Triviapologists. Morgan was out dancing with an admiring crowd and JJ was wiping the floor with a bunch of frat boys at darts. Hotch has camped out at the bar next to Rossi, nursing a beer. He can hang out at the bar for as long as he wants, it’s not like the hotel will care when he gets in. There’s no baby to wake. Jack should grow up in a house, and Hotch wasn’t sure he could’ve lived there by himself anyway.
He shouldn’t be wallowing in his beer, but it had been a bad week, a bad case, and Rossi would’ve headed out for a drink without any of them if they hadn’t of tagged along. He was still standing on the outside of the team. And the team, well, if Hotch could still feel the Gideon-shaped hole, he couldn’t really blame the rest of them for feeling it too. Rossi was a good man, but he wasn’t Gideon. He had to give orders, explain himself, whereas Gideon had gotten by with a tilt of the head and infrequent pats on the back. Gideon was gone, and Hotch was still trying to clean up after him.
“Leonard Nimoy!” Prentiss shouted above the music, drawing both Hotch and Rossi’s attention. When the trivia master responded with a correct the BAU trivia team and their Jeffersonian ringer cheer and hug one another.
“Isn’t it sort of cheating to have Reid on a trivia team?” Rossi asked over the din.
“I’ve seen them lose before,” replied Hotch, “Not very often, but once in a while.”
“I’d have to see that to believe it,” responded Rossi with a smile. The first one Hotch had seen since Agent Morris had given her post-kidnapping press conference.
“Reid and Garcia are banned from playing in at least three bars that I know about, maybe more. If we were in town more often, they would have run out of places to play by now,” Hotch looked fondly at the team as they continued to celebrate.
Rossi went back to sipping his drink, he’s still to caught up in the case to do much else, and Hotch wanders over to congratulate the victors. The mob moved to an empty table, the conquered Triviapologist interspersed with BAU. Hotch flags down a waitress and orders two more pitchers of beer. He can afford to buy drinks for grad students, and it will make his team happy. They all need a break.
Reid and Zack sit together, legs touching, even though Rossi doesn’t officially know. He only doesn’t officially know because no one thinks he’ll approve and it’s not an argument Hotch wants to have. He doesn’t say anything to them, because they’re interrogating the sole male grad student, Tim, about the hyoid bone in Neanderthals, and Rossi is still sitting at the bar with another beer.
Prentiss has her own grad student admirers, Casey and Mattie, and she pours them both beers when the pitchers show up. Morgan plunks down at the table and Garcia leans her head on his shoulder as Prentice fills their glasses too. Another glass for JJ, and then she shoved the pitcher across the table, so that Hotch could pour for the rest of them. As Hotch poured for his side of the table, he noticed Rossi watching them, and wondered if he would join them, but once he notices Hotch noticing he goes back to his own drink.
“I could...” trailed off Morgan, following Hotch’s line of sight.
“Let him be,” he replied, and picked up his beer. It was the third one of the night, and he’s been going easy. Rossi was drinking whiskey, and Hotch hasn’t been counting. If he wants to join them, he will.
Morgan nodded and then turned back to Garcia. He rarely let her out of his sight these days, and Hotch is pretty sure he’s still camping out on her couch when they’re in town. What the arrangements are when Morgan isn’t in town he doesn’t know, but he’s sure that they’ve worked out something.
Hotch sat back and sipped his beer, listening to the conversations spinning around him. The road may still be bumpy, but his team is back on their feet, ready for the fight. Time will tell whether Rossi fully integrates or not.
“Hey, Hotch,” called JJ from across the table. “We’re going to go down to Amy’s and then home,” her gesture included Prentiss and her followers. It’s both an invitation and status update. After Morris’ kidnapping, everyone was going to update him on their location and plans for awhile. It wasn’t that he doesn’t trust two armed federal agents to get three grad students and themselves ice cream and then home safety, it’s just paranoia.
“Sure,” he nodded, “I’m going to stick around for a while.” He watched as they gather jackets and finished off beers, trying not to consider who is going to end up where by the end of the night. JJ won’t head home with Prentiss tonight, but he gives Emily even chances that it’ll happen before the end of the year. If they’re all still alive.
“We’re going to head out, too, Hotch,” said Morgan as Garcia slips on a jacket. Soon Hotch was alone at the table, so he settled up the tab and moved back to the bar next to Rossi.
“They all went home?” Rossi asked, only slurring a bit.
Hotch nodded, “Well, I think there may have been ice cream involved, but yes, we’re the only ones left.” Hotch stood as Rossi slugs back the last of his drink, “Let’s go flag down a cab.”
Rossi nodded, looking tired and drunker than he actually is. Hotch had performed this service for Gideon hundreds of times. It’s not the same with Rossi. Hotch got him into the cab with out a problem: Gideon could get damn belligerent if he didn’t think he was ready to go and Hotch was the only one left to see. The cab ride was in the wrong direction from Hotch’s hotel, but no one is traveling home by themselves tonight.
Rossi isn’t a man of many words, and Hotch didn’t want to be the one to start a conversation, so the cab ride was mostly silent. When they got to Rossi’s apartment, Hotch made sure he makes it inside and locked the door behind him before returning to the cab. If it had been Gideon… but Hotch tries not to think about it.
The cab driver waited until they’re back on the road, “Tough night?”
“Tough week,” responded Hotch, wondering how bad it really must have been for the cabbie to notice.
“Tell me about it,” said the cabbie, sounding exasperated and tells Hotch about his wife, his son, his dogs and all the little slights an average man deals with in a week. Hotch didn’t mention that his week involved a handful of dead women and a kidnapped FBI agent. Instead, he leaned back against the seat and let the noise of the traffic and the cabbie’s voice wash over him. For a moment, nothing pushed down on him: no responsibility, no stress, no lingering doubts. The cab jerked to a stop outside his hotel, and the moment of peace was gone. He paid the cabbie and reminds himself that tomorrow he would go to work again and together, his team would save lives. It had to be enough.