Title: That (Repeated) Moment of Déjà Vu
Fandom: Criminal Minds,
Year: Pre-Series Through Season 7
Tags: Time Travel, Canon Level Violence, Hotch Centric, Canon? What Canon?, Happy Ending,
Pairings: Aaron Hotchner/Spencer Reid, Aaron Hotchner/Haley Hotchner, Jack Hotchner/Henry LaMontagne,
Spoilers: Up Through Season 10
Summary: Throughout his childhood years, Aaron had a best friend. His name was Tristan but when Aaron’s dad died, Tristan never came back. He’s always wondered about him. Years later, he meets a young man, Doctor Spencer Reid, and he’s just as enamored with him. And he can’t figure out why, then past and present slam together in the middle of a life altering moment.
Words: Arc 1-21,762 Total 111,376
Notes: Based loosely on the time travel method of “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” I’ve messed around with some things.
Warnings: Child Abuse, Graphic Depictions of Violence, Murder, Rape, Canon Character Death, Spousal Abuse, Adultery,
Aaron Hotchner was sitting in his backyard listening to the silence of the house. The groundskeeper was gone for the day and the cleaning staff was as well. It was rare that the staff and his parents were gone but given that his mother had gone into labor two weeks early, it wasn’t a shock. It was early afternoon and Aaron had been trying to make himself go inside and get something to eat. He was hungry but didn’t want to leave the solitude of outside. Before his father had dismissed the cook for the day, she’d made him up some sandwiches that he could grab out of the refrigerator and eat when he wanted.
The rustling of a bush at the back edge of the property shocked Aaron. Animals rarely wandered onto their property. He waited to see what could be coming towards him when he saw a head of human hair bobbing in and out of the bushes. He wasn’t sure if the person was crouched or just really small because the head of hair was shorter than him. He wasn’t small for his age but to be out and about in someone else’s yard was odd for someone smaller than him. The only reason he was left alone was that his father didn’t care for him at all.
Watching, Aaron followed the small person as they moved from one end of the property to the other. He waited as the person stopped and settled down. When he was sure that the person wasn’t moving anymore, Aaron peeked into the bushes. Sitting there was a small naked boy wearing glasses. He looked to be very small. A lot smaller than Aaron.
“Hello,” Aaron said. The boy jumped up and scrambled backward from him. His eyes wide with fear and Aaron didn’t like it. He’d been tempted to jump into the bushes and follow the boy but he decided against it. He stayed where he was as the boy continued a backward motion. Until he tripped on a plant and fell backwards onto his butt. “I’m not going to hurt you. I promise.”
The boy just eyed him, not moving except for his eyes. Those eyes darted back and forth. Aaron was shocked at the look of the eyes. He looked smart. Aaron had been called smart. His teacher had wanted to push him up a year or two after only a month of kindergarten but his father had said no. Instead his teacher had given him homework that was closer to his actual intelligence than the rest of the class.
“My name is Aaron. What’s yours?”
“Sp…Tristan. My name is Tristan.” The boy pushed himself up to a sitting position and drew his legs to his chest to hide his groin. Aaron pulled his long shirt off. He had a t-shirt on underneath it. The cook had made him promise to keep both on if he stayed outside for more than hour. While it was May, there was still a chill in the air as night approached. Aaron took a step towards the boy but he didn’t try and move again. Another careful step and the only thing the boy did was tense up some and eye him harder. Aaron leaned over and handed him the shirt. He was close enough now that he could see the boy was shivering. He didn’t know if it was fear or cold.
“Put it on so you don’t get cold.”
Tristan looked at the shirt for a minute and then did as he asked, quickly. When his head popped through the head hole of the shirt, Aaron laughed. His hair was messed up. Aaron reached out and the boy tensed harder but when Aaron only calmed down the mess of hair, the boy relaxed some.
“What are you doing out here?”
“I woke up over there,” the boy pointed as he spoke and Aaron looked that direction. It was farther back on the property. His family owned a lot of the woods around the house. How did the boy get lost and wake up in the woods? He wondered if the boy’s parents knew that he was lost. He also wondered how he’d become naked? Had he wandered away and got his clothes wet or dirty and had stripped them off? There was pond and the stream that fed it on the property. Were his clothes there? Had he gone for a swim and gotten scared, leaving his clothes behind?
“Where are your parents?”
“Mom is at home and dad is at work. It’s rare but he works on some Saturdays. I was reading in our backyard when I wandered off to play and ended up here.”
“Your parents are going to be worried about you when they go to find you and you aren’t there.”
“I know my way home. I just sat down and must have taken a nap. Where are your parents?” Tristan’s eyes were on the big house behind him. Aaron turned to look at the house as well. He knew that his parents were well off. His father made a lot of money as a lawyer and his mother had money that she’d come into the marriage with. He’d heard enough fights between them to know it all.
“Mother is in labor. I’m getting a younger sibling. Father sent the help home. I think forgetting that there was no one to watch me. After this my sibling will be getting a nanny so I won’t be alone at home anymore. I’m five how old are you?”
“Four. I’ll be five in October.”
“I’ll be six on November second. What day were you born?”
“The ninth.” Tristan looked to the side, like his eyes were seeing something that Aaron couldn’t. His whole body kind of shuddered and then he smiled. “I’ve got to go and find my clothes.” Tristan stood up and pulled the shirt off and handed it back to Aaron. “Thank you for keeping me company.”
Tristan took off at a run into the deeper parts of the woods. Aaron listened to the crash of feet for a minute before the sound was gone. He slipped his shirt back on, the warmth from Tristan was fading fast but it was still there when he settled his arms in the sleeves. The sound of car tires on the concrete told Aaron that his dad was back. He ran into the house through the back door making sure that his father would not be able to see him. He settled onto the couch with a book in his hand.
His father came into the house with a smile on his face and a bottle of rum in his hand. Aaron tucked his feet up onto the couch, making himself as small as possible. His father didn’t see him. Instead he moved towards his office on the second floor. Aaron followed after him and waited to get close after the door shut.
“Yes, no. Labor went fine. I have a healthy son. Sean. I don’t know where Aaron is. Well, I don’t care where Aaron is. He’s not under foot. He’s finishing up kindergarten now. I’ll be finding a nanny for Sean and when she has the time she can care for Aaron. We don’t have the time. She’s going to be recovering from this. It was a hard birth and they’ve cautioned her to not have any more children. Well, if I find something younger, I’ll have to have that on the side. We have a prenup remember? She’d not remarry for the rest of her life so that I will have to pay for her. Yes, well my new secretary is already showing that she’s interested. It’s not like I’m going to be getting sex at home for the foreseeable future.”
Aaron moved away from his father’s office and climbed the stairs to his bedroom on the third floor. His parents’ rooms were on the second floor. Two bedrooms because while his mom had been pregnant she’d insisted on a separate room. So a second room had been set up for her, along with another bedroom turned into a sitting room. His father’s room and his office were next to each other. The master bedroom sat empty now. The room at the end of the hall on the second floor was set up as a nursery for his sibling, Sean, his mind supplied to him. Aaron’s nursery had been the room that was now his mother’s sitting room. As soon as he’d come out of the crib and slept in an actual bed, he’d been on the third floor of the house. One of the staff helped him keep his room clean. She ran the vacuum every day and helped to keep the dust out. He’d learned two years before to never have toys sitting out where his father could step on them, ever. Since then he’d always preferred to read instead of play. If he did play it was while his father was at work and he made sure to have the toys picked up long before his father got home.
The third floor of the house also had the library in it. His mother visited the room rarely and his father never did. It was full of books that adults read and Aaron tried to read them time and again. The cook talked his mother into giving her money and she went out and bought several children’s aged books for Aaron. He never read them outside of the living room, the library, and his bedroom. When he’d finished those, he’d asked his mother for more so the cook had the weekly job of getting him books. The books were delivered before the end of school every Friday. Aaron came home to find a box sitting on his bed. When he was done with each book, he carefully placed it on the shelves in the library so that he could read it again later or in a few years, he could teach Sean to read and they could read them together.
The sound of a slamming door had Aaron running to his bedroom. He slipped inside and ducked into his closet, pulling the door shut and grabbing his current book and gripping it to his chest. He heard his bedroom door open just two minutes later. He counted the seconds as he sat there. When he reached a minute, the door shut and then he started over at one, counting again. When he reached five minutes, Aaron clicked on the flashlight buried under the pillow he was sitting on. He lost himself in the words on the page, forgetting that he needed to eat.
Aaron was sitting in his hideaway when he heard footsteps. He cringed in fear until he realized that it wasn’t the hard footsteps of an adult but the steps of someone more his size. He looked out and saw longish brown hair. He thought for a second that he’d seen it before and then he saw a flash of skin on a small chest but there was something wrong with the size. Then the head turned and Aaron was gifted with the sight of Tristan’s face.
Jumping to his feet, Aaron ran to him. Tristan turned and tripped over a plant, landing on his butt again. It was early in the morning and it was downright cold. What was Tristan doing out in the woods naked again? Aaron was worried so he slipped off his jacket and draped it around the boy before he could say a thing. Tristan tucked his arms into the sleeves and then stood up. He’d grown a few inches and looked older than the six months said he should have been. His hair was also longer than it should have been able to grow. He’d read a book about hair and nail growth in science class the week before.
“Aaron, thank you for the coat.”
“Why are you naked?” Aaron asked. Tristan looked up at him shock and then smiled.
“Do you want to know a secret?” Tristan whispered after he looked around. Aaron nodded and Tristan took a few steps closer to him. “I traveled in time to get here. When you saw me before it was my first time and I was scared. I’ve traveled a few other times since then. This is the first time I’ve gone back to the same place.”
Aaron looked at him like he was crazy for a minute, but his eyes. Tristan’s brown eyes were truthful. He knew what lying eyes looked like. He knew that his father lied to his mother over and over about his secretary and their dalliances as his mother’s driver said one day when he hadn’t known that Aaron was there. Tristan fully believed what he was saying and Aaron believed him as well.
“That’s really cool,” Aaron said and the look of relief on Tristan’s face told him the boy was happy that he believed him. Aaron grabbed his hand and pulled him over to the little hideaway that he had made. He hadn’t made the majority of it but he’d decorated it. The previous driver of his mother’s had built the area for him. It had a wooden floor that was about a foot off the ground and a step up into it. The roof was made of wood as well but the sides were only tarps that Aaron could open or close as needed. It offered little protection from the wind and snow in winter but he never kept things inside that the wet would bother and if he did, he had them on the small bookshelf that he’d asked the driver to carry out for him. It hadn’t started snowing yet so it was still safe for his books to be outside. There were bottles of water that he used to drink when he got thirsty and a metal box that had crackers and other snacks that didn’t need to be in the fridge. Tristan’s eyes widened at the sight of the little hideaway. “This is where I spend most of my time when father is home. Lately I’ve been out to get away from mother as well.”
“This is cool. Did you make this?” Tristan asked.
“No. Mother’s former driver. He built it for me so that I could have a safe place to hang out all day.”
“Where is he now?”
“Father accused him of an affair with mother and fired him.” Aaron hadn’t understood what the word meant back then but he’d spent one day at school looking up the words he could remember his father using that day. The black eye he’d gotten from his father had taken weeks to heal up. Thankfully he’d fallen down and scratched up his arms and face when running away so it was easy for his teacher to believe that he fell in the woods and landed on a smooth rock.
“Oh.” Tristan seemed to deflate at that. Aaron wondered if he knew what the word meant. “I can help you with getting ties and braces set up so that in winter less snow and wind will get inside if you want.”
“What?” Aaron asked.
“I read a book about outdoor shelter creation the other day. Mom was at work and I went with her after I got done with school. She had an evening class so I sat in the room while she lectured and I read.”
Aaron looked at him. He knew that he was smart. His teacher and the other teachers told him that all the time. He was kept busy in class so he wouldn’t cause a disruption. But he’d never even wanted to read a book like that. He had trouble following a few of the Hardy Boys books he was currently reading.
“You must be really smart,” Aaron said and he didn’t miss it when Tristan flinched. The boy took a few steps back from him. Aaron seeing the fear on his face dropped down the ground just inside his hideaway. Tristan just eyed him. “That’s really cool. My teachers wanted to put me in second grade but father won’t allow it.”
“When I finish up kindergarten I’ll be going into the fourth grade. Mom says that I’ll be done with high school when I am twelve.”
“Wow!” Aaron smiled brightly at him. Tristan seemed to relax and moved to sit near the front, opened section of the hideaway. “So why are you naked?”
“When I travel, I only get to take my glasses with me. I don’t know why. My clothes and anything I am holding are waiting in a pile when I get back. Today I was at school waiting on mom to pick me up. I think she forgot to come and get me.”
“That’s horrible. Mother’s driver picks me up from school every day and brings me home. Sometimes if I have a good day at school, we’ll stop and I can pick up some candy. But if father is home, we don’t stop.”
“It’s only mom, dad, and me at home.”
“Father works all day and mother is busy with things so we have cleaning staff here throughout the day who take care of keeping the house clean. Sean has a nanny. Mom has a driver because she’s never learned to drive. We have a man who comes in and takes care of the landscaping around the house and keeps the woods back from the yard. I’ve never known anything else.” Aaron knew that others didn’t live like him. He could tell that on the little bit of television he watched and from the books he read but his school was filled with kids like him. Not all of the kids had staff like his house did, but the father’s all worked and the mother’s stayed at home.
“Who watches you?”
“No one. My nanny was fired when I was three. Father said he didn’t need to pay for someone to take care of me all the time that the rest of the staff could. Well, that’s what the cook says.”
“Why don’t you call them by their names?”
“Father hates it when I do that. He gets really mad. The last time that I did, I couldn’t sit right for two days.” Aaron looked away. The staff all knew what happened in the house but said nothing. There was no way to ignore the bruises on his mother’s wrists and arms and the bruises that Aaron had on his face, usually the place his father hit him lately. The cook had explained it once that she’s signed papers that she wasn’t allowed to talk about a single thing that happened in the house. He remembered when he was four and the police had come to the house. One of the cleaning staff had been escorted out and Aaron had never seen him again. He wondered if that person had told someone something that he shouldn’t have.
“Oh.” Tristan scooted closer, letting their legs press against each other. Aaron took the comfort.
“I have old clothes of mine that don’t fit anymore sitting up in my room. I know that mother’s driver has a few boxes in the garage that are empty that are supposed to keep water out of things. You are so much smaller than me but that just means that the clothes won’t be too small for you. When I go back inside tonight when father gets home I’ll pick out some clothes, I’ll get them out here for you after school tomorrow.”
“How long has it been since I was last here?” Tristan asked.
“Almost six months. Just after you left, father came home last time. Mother can’t have more kids and father is upset about that. The doctors did something to her to remove her ability to have kids.”
“Probably removed all reproductive organs that can be safely removed. It’s the best method outside of not having sex for making sure a woman doesn’t become pregnant.”
Aaron looked at him in shock. Tristan seemed to notice what he was saying and stopped talking.
“No. That was really cool. You never showed me before about making my hideaway more secure. Do you have time? How do you travel? Do you have a set time?”
“I don’t know how I travel. It’s something biological. Mom said she did it when she was young but stopped before she had me. There is no set time. I just get a really funny feeling in my stomach and then I go. The sharper the feeling the closer I am to going either to someplace or coming back from it. We have at least a little bit of time before I go back home.”
Aaron smiled and stood up; when he was to his feet he reached out a hand and pulled Tristan up with him. They spent the last few hours of the afternoon securing the tarps and setting spikes in the ground and Aaron marveled at what Tristan knew. Tristan was off in the woods trying to find a nice stick to use as a stake when Aaron heard his movement stop. He waited to listen for it to pick up again but it didn’t. Instead he moved to where the young boy had been and found just a pile of clothes in the middle of a small clearing. It must have been sudden because Tristan didn’t even call out. He sat and grabbed one of his school notebooks and made a list of things that Tristan had mentioned him needing and things he knew he needed to set out for the younger boy. He needed to make sure that he was safe for the times he came when Aaron wasn’t around.
Tristan was his first real friend, who he could be himself around. He wanted to make sure he was safe whenever he was visiting him. He also made a note to ask him where he came from and when the next time he came. He wanted to know more about wherever he came from.
The pain was sharp and sudden. The slap was first. Pain blossoming all over the side of Aaron’s face followed by a second one to the other side of his face with the back of the same hand. He felt the split on his lip from the first slap and the ring that his father wore all the time caught the top of his cheek bone and pain flared even more.
Eyes sought out his mother’s face and she was looking down at her meal. The cook was in the kitchen preparing the next bit of the meal so Aaron just took off running. His father didn’t even call for him to come back. It was in the middle of the afternoon but the grounds were empty as it was Thanksgiving and all the staff except cook and her helper were at their homes. He didn’t even break stride when he pushed the back door open after slamming the handle down to escape. He took a deep breath of chilled air and could smell the snow on the air. It had snowed in the night but Aaron didn’t care that he wasn’t dressed for the outdoors. His dinner jacket had been draped on the back of his chair. All he had was his thin button down shirt and a tie on his upper body. His pants were comfortable but nothing that would protect him much in the cold, biting wind.
Aaron only slowed when he slipped into the woods. He needed to be careful; the snow was hiding patches of ice and fallen branches. He didn’t want to fall and hurt himself. While it was still afternoon, the clouds above, full of snow, darkened the sky to where creepy things were at the edge of Aaron’s vision as he walked. The creepy things that went bump in the night and that scared other kids his age and older didn’t scare him. What scared him was the smell of rum and a hand grabbing him in the dark. The sound of bare feet stomping down the hall and shoed feet clacking on the hardwood of the house. He’d learned what true fear was and it didn’t come from hidden monsters.
The hideaway was in sight and Aaron sighed. His father had yet to find it. The green tarps and heavy plant growth around the area helped to hide it from prying eyes. His father also never came into the woods. He sighed in relief as he slid in between the two pieces of tarp that formed the door. The lantern was already lit and Aaron saw floppy brown hair, glasses, and one of Aaron’s own shirts on the boy before he threw himself onto Tristan. He could tell that Tristan was older. He’s bigger. Closer to Aaron’s own size. Tristan’s arms settled around him hesitantly and he buried his face in the black t-shirt that Tristan was borrowing. A hand started to rub up and down his back in a calming gesture. Aaron burrowed closer and just breathed. There was an odd scent on Tristan. He inhaled. He smelled almost sweet and musky. Aaron had smelled it once before at school when it had been hot during September and he’d been playing in the small sand box before he figured out that he didn’t like that the sand got everywhere.
Tristan didn’t say a thing, just sat there with Aaron draped all over him and his hand moving up and down his back. Aaron knew that he needed to tell Tristan what was wrong but he couldn’t.
“I was reading your book. Do you want me to read to you where you left off from?”
Aaron nodded his head and felt Tristan shift a little. It wasn’t long before the turning of pages sounded and then Tristan’s soft voice started to speak. His voice was steady and constant. It carried Aaron away from where he was. He let himself get lost in the story in a way that he never could when he read it. There was something about someone else reading to him that he hadn’t realized he missed. His nanny used to read to him, but Sean’s nanny had little time for him outside of making sure that he ate dinner at night when his father worked late and his mother had dinner with friends. He wanted to go home with Tristan. He wanted to leave his house and never come back but he couldn’t leave Sean and he knew that he had no way of caring for his infant brother so he stayed. He stayed to protect him.
It was full dark by the time that Tristan had finished reading the book out loud to Aaron. He’d stopped to take sips of water but Aaron was shocked that the boy still had a voice.
“I read to mom a lot so I am good at reading for long periods. You are a lot more dressed up than you normally are.”
“Oh. It’s not Thanksgiving at home.”
“When is home for you?”
“I’d better not tell you that. Just to be safe. It’s in your future. I found the paper you have out here. I’m not even born yet!” Tristan exclaimed. Aaron looked up at his friend and found that he looked older than what he’d thought.
“How old are you?”
“Nine. You don’t look much older than the last time I was here.”
“No. That was last month.”
“Do you want me to clean your lip?” Tristan’s finger reached out and touched his chin, just below the cut. Aaron nodded and pointed at the bookshelf where he had brought a few things from the medicine cabinet in his mother’s room when he’d been able to sneak in there. Tristan moved over to that side of the room and grabbed the things. Aaron also noticed then that Tristan had covered them up with the blanket he kept in another box that kept water out. He sighed and pulled the blanket closer around him.
Tristan was careful but Aaron still hissed when the cut was cleaned. When a finger skirted the edge of what was going to be a wonderful shiner the next morning, he nodded. His mother’s driver had poked at his black eyes before to make sure that nothing was broken. Tristan’s fingers were soft and gentle until he found the worst impact point and he pressed. Stars filled his eyes and the pain flared again.
“Whatever he hit you with cut your face as well. I’m going to clean it up and put a strip of the tape on it to keep it closed. Tell me if I hurt you too much.”
Aaron kept his mouth shut because whatever pain he got was less than the act that had put the cut there, and Tristan was helping him, not hurting him. His mother had never cared for him like this. Usually it was Sean’s nanny if the cook wasn’t there. They were never gentle like his friend was being. He figured that they didn’t try and care because caring would get them fired. This was the first time his father had struck his face in a while. Other than a slap to his cheek. Now that he was in school, coming in with mark after mark would raise questions, his father was more than likely to strike his chest or stomach.
“Did this happen at dinner?” Tristan asked when he pulled away from Aaron. There was a care to the way that his friend moved that told Aaron that he was afraid to startle him. He let Tristan clean up the gauze and strips of tape before he spoke.
“Yes. Father was upset that I asked to go on a trip with one of my school friends. They are going to DC for a few days over Christmas Break and want me to come. He asked me why I thought I should be allowed to go and I said that I was doing well in school and that I wouldn’t want anything else for Christmas.”
“Oh.” Tristan slipped under the blanket with him again and Aaron could feel that the boy was cold even with the jacket and the long sleeve shirt and sweatpants on. Aaron snuggled in close and Tristan pulled him even closer. “Dad’s working late and mom is not around right now.”
Aaron wanted to ask what that meant but he didn’t think that it would be a good idea. He thought about how he never told anyone about what his father was doing. He wondered if Tristan’s mother was just as bad as his father. If she struck him instead of loving him. He’d realized when he’d started kindergarten that children were taught that parents loved them no matter what but Aaron didn’t believe that. If his father loved him, he wouldn’t be hitting him. If his father loved his mother he wouldn’t hit her or spend more time with his secretary than her.
“Mom is sick. She’s really sick today. I am kind of happy to be here.”
“Promise me that you’ll always be my friend, Tristan,” Aaron asked as he turned to look the–this time–older boy in the face. Tristan smiled at him and nodded.
“I promise. I’ve come here a lot in my stretch of time. I’ll always come back here. Mom says that she used to always go back to places that made her feel safe. If I am coming here, I feel safe here. Don’t you worry. I’ll be back again and again. You won’t get rid of me!”
Aaron turned back to where they were side by side. Tristan looped his hand around his shoulder and pulled him in tight. When his stomach growled some time later, Aaron grinned and blushed.
“I’m going to go in and sneak us out some turkey and things. Stay here.”
Aaron slipped out of the hideaway and snuck back up to the house. He found his father passed out at the dinner table with a half empty bottle of rum sitting beside him. The food had been cleared. He couldn’t hear his mother but he didn’t worry about finding her. If his father was down here she was safe. The kitchen was spotless but there was a plate of food made up for him in the fridge. Aaron quickly added a little more of everything to it and popped into the microwave oven. He grabbed a bowl and filled it with cranberry salad while the food warmed up. He stuck forks in his back pocket and grabbed two napkins and stuffed those into his front pocket. The microwave oven was getting closer and instead of making noise, Aaron turned it off before it could. When he had all the food gathered into his hands he set out quietly to get back to Tristan.
Tristan was waiting to open the flap for him and Aaron set down the food on the floor and settled in. Instead of the blanket going around the front of them like it had before, Tristan wrapped it around their back so they could eat. Silence filled the hideaway as the boys ate until the plate was clean.
“Want to see me leave?” Tristan asked.
Aaron nodded his head and turned fully to look at Tristan as he got a weird look on his face and then was just gone. He’d faded slowly but he was still gone in just seconds. Aaron stared until he started to yawn as the adrenalin of his friend being there was fading.
When Aaron woke up the next morning, he realized that he’d slept nearly the entire night. He also noticed that his room had a funny scent to it. Almost earthy but with a tinge of something he only smelled when he was in his father’s office when he was showing him his guns. Gun oil and the smell of a recently fired gun. He pushed the thoughts away as he thought about what he was going to do with his day.
Sean’s new nanny was living in Virginia and taking a few morning classes at college so she moved into the house and went in with Aaron’s father to work in the mornings and came back by bus in the afternoons when his mother would then take care of her things. Aaron had wanted to get close to her. She was a lot of fun for the first week but after that she was wholly interested in two things: taking care of Sean and trying to catch the attention of his father. That was when Aaron realized what a home wrecker she was. He’s heard one of the other mothers at school talk about her husband’s secretary that way.
Aaron realized the day that he came home from school early because of the holiday time that his mother didn’t care that his father was being with people other than her. She was off at her functions, or parties, or spending time with Sean. Aaron had learned how to move about the house silently. He heard more that way. Both of his parents were in his father’s office and they were not being quiet at all.
“You can’t take the nanny with you. I have too many parties and functions that I have to be at to take care of Sean. Take your secretary.”
Aaron slipped past the door so that he couldn’t hear what his father said to that. The nanny was down there with Sean in her arms, bouncing him. Aaron kissed his cheek and then moved to the back stairs that would take him out near the library. He slipped his backpack onto the table so that he could work on his homework before he grabbed books and slipped back down the stairs. He was out the door and trudging through the snow as quickly as he could go. He followed the groundskeeper’s tracks to the edge of the woods so that no one could find him. When he got to his hideaway and found that Tristan hadn’t been there at all that day, he slumped down into the pile of blankets he’d stolen from the trash piles as his mother had decided to change the décor and theme of the house so all the bedding went from shades of red to shades of green. The cook had seen him slipping away with them and had sent his mother’s driver to help him.
A week after that, a new lantern had appeared in the hideaway and his stock of fuel was filled whenever it got to half. The hideaway was now warm and bright, especially with the pile of blankets. He wanted to show Tristan, but the boy hadn’t been seen by Aaron since Thanksgiving Day. Even on the bad days, Aaron checked the hideaway. Today wasn’t that bad, the wind wasn’t blowing much and the snow was holding off some.
When it came time for dinner that night, Aaron slipped back inside to find that his mother was eating in her rooms and that his dad had already left for his trip. The cook had mentioned that his father wouldn’t be back until the first week of January. The nanny was upset about getting left behind but Aaron just stayed away from her as much as he could.
The days of his Christmas Break were filled with working on homework when he woke up until he got tired of it and then reading as much as he wanted throughout the day. The books that were left in his room over the past month had been nearly tripled in preparation of him being stuck inside for most of the winter.
Christmas Day rolled around and Aaron was excited for it. His mom was spending the afternoon and evening flitting to and from parties while the nanny was keeping Sean in her rooms while she watched TV. Aaron had the run of the house as only the cook was staying in the house. He spent the morning in the library reading.
After a lunch snack, Aaron moved up to his bedroom where he looked out and saw a flash of movement in the woods. Crying out in happiness, he ran from his bedroom down the back stairs and out into the snow, barely stopping to put on shoes and a coat. The snow crunched under his feet as he neared the hideaway and found Tristan curled up in the nest of blankets. The boy looked up at him and Aaron saw that he’d found the clothes. He looked younger than he had the last time.
“How old are you this time?”
“Six. You look to be six as well.”
“I am. What day is it?”
“CHRISTMAS!” Aaron yelled as he hugged Tristan tight, half lying on top of him in the blankets. Tristan laughed. “Dad is gone on a trip and mom isn’t home, it’s just the nanny, Sean, me, and the cook. Come inside and we can read all day long.”
Tristan nodded his agreement but before Aaron pulled him out he showed him how to work the new lantern and where the driver kept the fuel. They talked for a few minutes before Aaron finally pulled him towards the house. Tristan’s eyes grew wide as he looked at the house. They snuck up the back stair case on the off chance that the nanny was up and about.
“This is the library,” Aaron said as he threw open the library doors. Tristan entered, his eyes wide with shock. Aaron knew that their library was large. His father collected books even though he rarely read any of them. He’d told him once that he did it to look more intelligent to clients and other lawyers.
Tristan’s eyes roved over the books with an eye that Aaron had seen the cook use when looking at the cabinets to see what was needed to made dinner. His eyes were taking in every single book.
“Your father is a liar,” Tristan said. His gaze never left the books and Aaron just looked at him in shock until the boy figured out what he had said. He turned to Aaron then and looked at him with fear in his eyes. “I mean…I’m…I’m sorry. I’ll go.” Tristan was almost to the door when Aaron grabbed his arm. Tristan hissed and jerked his hand free and Aaron let him go.
“No. Don’t. I just have never hear someone call him that.”
“His books, there is no rhyme or reason to them. He collects books for the sake of collecting books. Fiction and non-fiction are beside each other on the shelf. Historical and contemporary. The books are beautiful but this is not the collection of a man who loves books for the words inside of them. They are a thing to him.”
“You sound a lot older than you look,” Aaron said, dumbfounded.
“Mom teaches literature. She’s read these kinds of books to me since I can remember. I know books.” Tristan smiled as he ran his hand down a book about King Arthur. Aaron saw the leather-bound note book on the table in the middle of the room where his homework was spread around. He walked over and grabbed it, bringing it back and handing it to Tristan.
“It’s not much of a present but what you can do is write down all the books you want to read and can’t get at home and I can buy them. My father doesn’t limit the books I buy and the staff goes and gets them for me. I can slip some of yours in each week and then you will have things to read that you want to read. I can bring them out. Mom’s driver found me a big chest that’s air and water tight. He’s going to take it out to the hideaway when he can and set it up. I can fit the blankets and the clothes and books inside of it for you!”
“That’ll be nice for the trips where I end up here and you are in school. Thank you!” Tristan pulled in him for a hug.
Aaron and Tristan spent the rest of the boy’s visit there reading and talking about books that they had read. Aaron had a list of books that he wanted bought just so that he could talk about them with Tristan. He realized as they talked that there wasn’t a lot of books that Tristan had read that he had. He hadn’t thought they were that different but Tristan seemed to like older books and nonfiction while Aaron liked the mystery solving novels.
It wasn’t until after Tristan had disappeared that Aaron remembered the way that the boy had hissed in pain when he had grabbed him. He’d said before that his mom was sick. Had he been hurt by her? He really hoped not. Tristan was too good to have a life like he did.
It was a nice day out and Sean had a bit of a cold and the nanny was taking a nap as Sean had kept her up all night so Aaron was sitting in his mother’s sitting room with Sean in the bassinet beside him. From where he was he could see outside, and believe that he was outside, but yet stay inside and help take care of Sean. His father was at work while his mom was out shopping.
Aaron knew that it was crazy but when he was home, he was always looking for Tristan. He’d only seen the boy twice since Christmas but he knew that he’d been there more than that based on the books that had been read. He was also fairly certain that Tristan was very smart. Smarter than he was trying to act around him but since he didn’t like to bring it up, Aaron wasn’t going to either.
Secrets. Aaron understood secrets better than most.
Movement along the edge of the woods alerted Aaron that they weren’t alone. The groundskeeper was long gone for the day, usually starting before the sun came up. He kept an eye on the movement until he saw the long brown hair. Checking on Sean who was still asleep, Aaron ran into the house proper to make it out into the backyard. Tristan was sitting with a book in his lap ten feet into the woods, leaning against a tree.
“Tristan!” Aaron called out as he breached the woods. The boy looked up and Aaron stopped in his tracks. He had a black eye. Tristan had a black eye that looked like it was only about a day old. His face was still swollen and the bruise was getting to its darkest. He dropped to knees in front of the boy. Without realizing it, he reached out and only stopped when Tristan jerked back from him.
“I’m inside today. Only the nanny is home right now. Why don’t you come too?” Aaron held out his hand as he stood up. Tristan reached out and Aaron pulled. He was so small. He looked smaller than he had been that first time but he knew that he wasn’t. When they got inside, Aaron pushed him into the sitting room and then moved to the kitchen. He found the food in the fridge and reheated a plate of it for himself as well as grabbed a sandwich. He’d let Tristan choose whichever he wanted. When the microwave oven beeped Aaron carefully pulled the food out, careful not to burn himself and then set off into the sitting room. He set the plate down and then went back for the sandwich and drinks. He found milk in the fridge and poured two glasses before heading back to the sitting room trying not to drop it all.
Tristan was sitting in the chair farthest from Sean, his feet tucked up onto his chair and his head resting on his knees. He’d drug the shirt that he was swimming in over his legs so that he looked like he was wearing a dress. Aaron smiled at the image and then set down the drinks and food.
“Sandwich or chicken and potatoes?”
“What’s on the sandwich?” Tristan peeked his head up to look at the plate.
“Turkey, lettuce, tomato, and some kind of weird cheese that tastes good but I don’t know the name of it.”
“Sandwich.” Tristan got up long enough to grab the plate and then sat back down, slipping the shirt on like he had before. That’s when Aaron noticed that he wasn’t wearing pants at all. Tristan’s eyes rose up and met his and followed the gaze to his own legs. “None of the pants would stay up. So I picked the longest shirt so that I could at least be covered. I figured since there were several sizes of clothes that you had set it all up for me. The books were nice as well.”
“I keep them out there for me to read when I am hiding from the house.” Aaron didn’t want to mention that it was a gift of sorts for a near two year older Tristan. He thought about how he was meeting Tristan all out of order and he had probably better start to write down at least when the visits happen and how old Tristan is so that he can keep track when he gets older. “Have you met an older me?”
“I don’t think that I should answer that. I’ve not been traveling long and I don’t know if I can actually ruin anything yet.” Tristan took a bite of the sandwich and smiled after he swallowed the first bite. “It’s muenster cheese. I love it!” Tristan ate like he hadn’t eaten in days.
Aaron watched him and watched as he eyed Sean. The infant was still asleep which Aaron was thankful for because when he was awake all he did was cry. He was sick and Aaron understood that but Sean didn’t settle for anyone except the nanny and his mother. He had an hour before he was to go and wake up the nanny. “Sean’s feeling bad and the nanny is taking a nap as he kept her up all night long. I told her I would watch over him while she sleeps.”
“I’ve not been around a baby before. I mainly spend time with mom, dad, and some of mom’s college students. We have fun talking literature.”
“What happened?” Aaron asked.
Tristan didn’t answer at first, he just looked outside where it was starting to rain a little. “I was reading on the playground at school. I try not to talk too much during class. It just draws the bullies but when we were doing independent things, I asked the teacher a few things and one of the kids didn’t like me showing off. This was a reminder that no one likes freaks.”
“Tristan!” Aaron said. He didn’t like that he’d called himself a freak. He was glad it wasn’t Tristan’s dad who put the mark on his son’s face and he was really happy that his mom hadn’t done it while she was sick.
“Don’t worry. That’s what he said. I’m not a freak. Just because I am smarter than him doesn’t make me a freak. Dad saw the black eye first and demanded to know what happened with the school. They passed it off as boys playing but dad he…he threatened to sue if the whole truth wasn’t found out. Seems that the kid likes to bully others. Especially trying to talk girls into doing things they shouldn’t. Dad wouldn’t explain that but I am sure that it’s not good.”
“I am sure that it’s not. What happened to the boy?”
“Gone. His parents pulled him when it was found out that he was hurting girls.” Tristan finished off the sandwich and leaned forward to slip the plate onto the table. Aaron scooted the glass of milk over closer and Tristan grabbed it next. He drank half of it in one go. “I really like milk. Mom says I’d drink a gallon a day if she let me.”
“It’ll help you grow big and strong,” Aaron said, causing Tristan to start laughing.
“Neither of my parents is exactly in the big category. I’m going to be skinny forever. I might get tall though. Mom is six foot tall. Dad is five foot ten. The pictures I have seen of various other close relatives tells me that if I am under dad’s height, there is something wrong.”
Aaron giggled at Tristan’s words. The boy though just cocked his head and looked at him with a questioning look on his face which set Aaron off giggling more. Movement sounded in the halls and Tristan set his glass down right next to Aaron’s and ducked under one of the tables that held plants. The skirt on the table brushed the floor. Aaron grabbed a book and opened it up to a random page. He flipped the page as the nanny entered the room and started laughing again.
“Good book?” the nanny asked as she touched Sean’s cheek and then moved to pick him up.
“Very good. Very funny,” Aaron answered not looking up from the book.
“Sean’s fever isn’t going down like I would like so I’m taking him to his doctor. I’ve already talked to you mother, she called from one of the stores to check up on him. Are you going to be good?” The nanny looked down at him with a frown on her face. Aaron could feel her stare and only then did he look up.
“I’ve already eaten the lunch that the cook left for me. If you are not back by dinner, I’m sure that there is something in the fridge if I get hungry before she comes back and has dinner ready. I’ll be fine. Take care of Sean.” Aaron went back to his book and the nanny carried Sean out of the room a few seconds later. She stopped at the closet and pulled out a light coat and then she was gone. “It’s clear.”
“I’m glad that she’s not your nanny.”
“So am I. What do you want to do now?”
“Can we just sit here and read?” Tristan asked.
“I’ve got a better idea. Mother bought new furniture for the library and one of them is a big chair. We can both sit in it.” Aaron grabbed his milk and finished it off, prompting Tristan to do the same. They carried their dishes to the kitchen and set them beside the sink. “Cook will get them when she gets here.”
“Okay. I’ve never just left dishes sit before. Mom always likes me to rinse them off.”
“It’s fine.” Aaron pulled Tristan after him up into the library. He pushed the younger boy down into the chair and then moved to grab a book from the small shelf of the books he was reading. There was a quilt draped over the back of the chair. When he was settled he pulled it over the both of them, tucking them both in a little so that they could stay warm. Tristan snuggled down into his side, keeping his black eye and swollen cheek from touching Aaron. He found the first page and started to read. It didn’t take long for Tristan to slip off into sleep but Aaron kept reading after that.
An hour later, Aaron felt the weight at his side disappear and he looked to see just blanket in his gaze. He hoped that Tristan appeared where he started safely and that he woke up.
Aaron was in pain. He hated being in pain but lately his father was more violent to him than normal. His mother was out and about in the town, spreading their name and getting father cases and his father never touched the staff, outside of the nanny but that was something really different. So, Aaron had become his full time punching bag. The only escape that he had was school and when he was able to sneak away to his hideaway on the weekends. Today was Thursday and he had the rest of the day to himself. His mother and father had a dinner planned at one of his father’s partner’s residences. He hoped that they stayed out late and he was able to slip into bed and be asleep by the time that his father got home. It would be better for him. His face hurt and no amount of ice was able to dull the pain enough. The cook was off and the nanny had taken Sean out to a playdate with a friend. The only person left in the house was one of the cleaning staff and she would never get him pain medication. His father had taken to locking it in a cabinet in his office and the pills that his mother had in her medicine cabinet were not ones that he could or even would take. He saw how out of it his mother got after she took them and he didn’t want to be that vulnerable.
The sound of footsteps in the woods told Aaron that he wasn’t alone anymore. He pulled the blankets around him more. He had the tarp door open so that he could see. The footsteps were heavy and told Aaron that it wasn’t Tristan. He braced himself to take off running if he needed to when a man broke through the bush to the left. The man stopped and stared at Aaron as Aaron stared at him. He knew the sight that he had to be. His face had to be turning black and blue and he knew that his nose had bled a lot but the only thing that he had cared about was making a run for it and getting away from his father. The man was dressed in a pair of tan pants and a button up shirt with a sweater vest over top of it. His tie was loose at his throat but other than that he looked neat and groomed. His hair was a little weird looking, it was near stiff as a board. Aaron didn’t like it.
“Keep glaring like that and your face will keep that look for the rest of your life, Aaron,” the man said as he slipped a messenger bag off his shoulder and set it down just inside the tarp. He crouched and ducked into the hideaway, pulling the tarp closed as he did. Not bothering the blankets that Aaron was wrapped up in, the man moved over to where the rest of the blankets were. He pulled out two, folding one up and setting it down on the ground and wrapping the other around himself. His hand went back into the box and pulled out a book. Aaron read the title Empty Planet. When he had the book fully in hand the man sat down on the blanket and opened the book to where Tristan had last left off. His finger hovered over the exact line that he’d been reading aloud when he’d disappeared.
“Tristan?” Aaron asked. He looked up into the eyes looking down at him and he knew it was true. It was Tristan’s eyes. Soft and caring and looking like he wanted to care for Aaron.
“Of course. Do you have any supplies out here with you?” Tristan reached out with his hand, just stopping short of actually touching his face.
Aaron couldn’t take his eyes off of Tristan’s face but the man quickly reached over and pulled out gauze and the peroxide. The larger hands were just as gentle as the smaller hands always were. Except that he felt wholly safe with the hands touching him. He took the warmth from the hand that cupped his cheek to hold him still as his bloody nose was cleaned up and the cuts on his face were cleaned as well. He closed his eyes as he felt cared for in a way that he never had before. It felt wonderful and he wanted Tristan to take him with him. He knew that he couldn’t. He knew that but the dark moments before he could get his emotions under control were always the hardest.
“No pain medicine?” Tristan asked as he dropped another bit of gauze down to the floor.
“Father keeps it all locked in his office. Mother has some but even in small doses, it’s too much for me. I can’t be that vulnerable.”
“I think that I’m going to be here a while. Why don’t I slip away and get some for you? You can keep it here.”
“Don’t leave me!” Aaron begged and wrapped his arms around Tristan’s chest to try and keep him there.
“Aaron, I need to get something for you. I’ll come back. If I feel like I am going to leave before I get back, I’ll fight it until I can get you what you need.” Tristan’s hands tilted his face up and forced him to look the older man in the eyes. “I’ll always protect you however I can. I promise but that also means doing things you don’t like.”
“How are you going to pay for it?” Aaron asked, trying to find a way to stop him from leaving. He trusted that he would come back but he didn’t want to be alone and if he went with him, someone would stop them. Everyone in the area knew him.
Tristan laughed and dropped his hands from Tristan’s face to lean over and grab his bag. He pulled out a wallet and opened it. He pulled out money from inside of it. There were two kinds of bills, ones that looked like the ones that Aaron knew and ones that looked very different.
“I know how to get a hold of things that I need in any time I land in. You worry about staying here and keeping warm. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” Tristan pulled away from him then and moved out of the hideaway. Aaron watched him as he set the tarp to open again and then moved in the direction that was away from the house.
Aaron sat and waited. He had no clock out with him and so he didn’t know how much time had passed. He wanted to know exactly how long Tristan would be gone. He sat and watched, listening as hard as he could for any sign of him. He’d almost given up when he heard someone moving through the woods in the direction that Tristan had gone. When he saw the man clearly, he saw that he not only had a bag with him from the gas station a few blocks away but there were two cups in his hand. Aaron scrambled up to take the cups so that Tristan could duck into the hideaway. He smelled coffee and chocolate coming out of the cups. Aaron sat back down into his nest of blankets and waited for Tristan to finish pulling things out of the bag and setting them on the shelf. Then he pulled out a small weird looking box.
The box had a hinged lid and Tristan opened it up and started to fill it with all the things he’d bought as well as all of the other supplies that Aaron had outside to help take care of himself.
“There, you have a fully stocked medical kit now.” Tristan dropped back down beside him and took one of the cups, sipping at it and closing his eyes in happiness. “Yours is hot chocolate. No coffee for you because it’ll keep you up all night long.”
Aaron took a hesitant sip and found that it was the perfect temperature for drinking. He smiled at Tristan and that’s when he saw the pill in his hand. He took the pill and swallowed it with a healthy drink of his hot chocolate.
“Why don’t we settle down and read? I’m sure that you’ll feel better when the pill starts to work on you.” Tristan raised up his arm and Aaron tucked himself into his side. He was warmer than his smaller, younger self usually was.
Tristan started to read and Aaron lost himself in the world of the words’s making. He closed his eyes and sighed as he lost all meaning of time. Tristan’s voice was calm and easy and while there was a great deal of differences in the tone and the sound, he knew that it was Tristan.
Aaron opened his eyes, unaware that he’d fallen asleep. He looked around expecting to be alone in the hideaway but he found himself in his bedroom. The door was locked from the inside like he did every night but he didn’t remember walking up into the house. He was alarmed for a few seconds as he wondered if Tristan had bought the wrong kind of medicine for him. He sat up in bed and hissed when he moved his cheek and pain flared on his face. He slipped a little on the bed and his hand slid under his pillow, hitting something hard. He ripped the pillow up and found a book there. It was a soft cover book with the title of Self First Aid Care. He looked down to see that the author was Doctor Spencer Reid. He opened the cover of the book and found a message from Tristan.
You were asleep and I didn’t want to leave you outside so I carried you in and laid you down. I waited to fade so that the door could stay locked. Keep this book safe. I bought it just for you.
Aaron looked through the first few pages and saw that the publication date was two thousand and four. Thirty years in the future! Aaron wondered how he had gotten the book back with him. He looked around the room but didn’t see any clothes lying around. He thought about the weird money in the wallet. Tristan had figured out how to take things back with him as an adult! He’d have to ask adult Tristan about that the next time that he saw him. He wondered if it was something that he developed as he got older or if there was a trick that younger Tristan hadn’t figured out yet. He tucked the book back under his pillow so that he could slip it outside the first chance he got. He didn’t want his father to find it, or the cleaning staff.
Laying back down and covering himself up, Aaron wondered about older Tristan’s life. What was he doing? Where did he work? Had the bullies gotten better? Where was Aaron in his life? He fell asleep thinking of all the things he wanted to ask the next time that he saw him.
Aaron was wandering around the woods behind the house. The summer thunderstorms had knocked down quite a few trees and he was having fun seeing what had changed in his domain. His father had paid for a fence to go up around the entire property over the summer. Aaron liked knowing exactly where the property line was. Thankfully his hideaway had not been found by the crew that put in the fence or if they did find it, his father was not aware of it.
“Hello, Aaron!” Tristan called out. Aaron turned to where the boy was. He hadn’t been there two seconds before. Tristan was smiling and waving at him and Aaron couldn’t help but smile back with just as bright a smile.
“Tristan!” Aaron stepped up and hugged his friend. Tristan gave him a weird look. “I bought you a present!”
“Aaron slow down!” Tristan called as Aaron pulled him towards their hideaway. Aaron looked back to see that he was going too fast for Tristan’s gangly legs to keep up. He dropped his friend’s hand and slowed down. Tristan kept up with him the rest of the way to their hideaway. The second he broke through the tarps Aaron dropped down beside the box that held the blankets and books. He grabbed the swimming shorts that he’d snuck into the purchase when Sean’s nanny had taken him shopping for clothes. There were a few pairs of them. He’d gotten smaller ones for when Tristan was four and ones that looked like they would fit him when he was six and when he was nine. He figured the other ages would be able to fit into one of the three pairs, even if they had to be tied tightly.
“Swimming shorts?” Tristan asked as he held up the pair that Aaron thought were going to fit him at his current age. “We can go swimming today?”
“There is a pond in the middle of the property. We can swim and do whatever we want today. Father is away for work and mother took a trip as well. Sean and his nanny are out for the day. The only staff still on hand is the groundskeeper and he told me he was going to stay out of the woods today.”
Tristan smiled even brighter and slipped the shorts on. Aaron grabbed the two towels that he’d snuck out of the house. He handed the younger boy a purple one and he kept the blue one. When he was sure they were ready, he walked out of the hideaway and made sure that Tristan knew the way to the pond. It was easy to get to. Aaron always just walked until he found the stream and then followed it. Tristan dropped his towel down to the ground and moved to the edge of the water. He dipped his toes in and smiled.
“It’s warm!” Tristan dove right in, shocking Aaron. He watched as his friend swam out into the deeper area of the pond and then ducked under the water. It wasn’t until he came up on the far side that Aaron even thought to start to change into his swimming shorts. He dove into the water once he was changed and took off towards where his friend was.
Tristan was an awesome swimmer, Aaron thought as he watched him. His thinner body was perfect for it. The only time they were out of the water was when Aaron went back into the house to get food for them for lunch. While they were waiting for their food to digest enough to where they wouldn’t get sick, Tristan told him all about the various aquatic life that could be found in the pond given where they were. Aaron was shocked that he knew that.
“I like to read and when I figured out exactly where you lived, I started to learn as much as I could about the area. Like what plant life I can eat during summer so I’m not snacking on the crackers and stuff you have in there unless I want to. This land has a lot of wild bushes growing on it. It’s really great.”
“Wow. That’s really great. Maybe next summer you can show me all of that!”
Back into the water they went until dinner time. Aaron went in and had dinner with his mother and father but had the cook sneak him a sandwich. He figured that she knew he was feeding someone else because she snuck him two bottles of pop as well. They were too tired so Tristan ate dinner in the hideaway with the tarps all open so the breeze could reach them. He’d stayed in the swimming shorts and was smiling, despite the sunburn on his skin. Aaron made a decision that he needed to get some sunblock the next time he went to the store with the staff, or just ask the driver or nanny to pick him up some.
Tristan was reading a book on mathematics that Aaron had found in a yard sale down the block a few weeks before. He’d heard Tristan mention that he liked math and had bought it. Aaron was working his way through the Nancy Drew books, having finally run out of Hardy Boys stories and a few others series.
Aaron stayed outside until he heard the nanny calling for him at the edge of the woods.
“Stay here. I’ll be back as soon as I can. We can sleep out here tonight, together.”
“Okay,” Tristan agreed. He was laying down on a blanket with the book now resting on his chest as he looked at Aaron. Aaron made sure that Tristan knew to stay and then he took off for the house. He jumped into the bath and washed up without a fight and was snug in his bed long before his normal bedtime. He was tired but he wanted to sleep outside. He just had to make the nanny and his mother think that he was asleep. They were creatures of habit. His mother always checked on him first followed by the nanny half an hour later. Sean was four and gave the nanny a run for her money so she checked on him even earlier that day. When the door shut, Aaron jumped up from bed and changed into the sweatpants that he’d laid out at the foot of his bed.
Aaron crept out of his room and down the back stairs. When he hit the landing for the second floor, he paused. He listened and didn’t hear a thing so he kept going down and slipped out one of the side doors that he kept oiled so that it wouldn’t squeak when he came in and out of it. He skirted the far side of the property and once he was far enough in the woods, he dashed across to head right where he wanted to go.
Tristan was exactly as Aaron had left him. Lying on a blanket with the book on his chest. The only difference was that he was fast asleep. Aaron crept forward and plucked his glasses from his face and set them off to the side on a shelf for safety. He picked up the book next and set it back into the box where it belonged and covered up his friend. He settled down on the blanket next to him and scooted as close as he could. It wasn’t going to be cold out as it was still summer but Tristan was only wearing a pair of shorts and Aaron didn’t want him to get cold.
As he laid there listening to Tristan breathe, Aaron figured that he had probably better get a sleeping bag for him, just in case since the weather was going to be turning cold again. The blankets were nice but he’d be warmer with a sleeping bag.
Just as he was slipping fully into sleep, Tristan rolled over and laid his head on Aaron’s shoulder. He curled into his side and draped an arm over his chest. Aaron froze but Tristan didn’t move again. Aaron had never slept in the same bed as anyone and he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. He settled down again pretty easily. Tristan’s scent was calming and the breathing was nice. As he finally drifted off, he thought about how nice it would be to have Tristan there all the time and that they could sleep outside together all the time as well.
Aaron waved at the cook as she drove away to do the shopping for him and her for the week. His father and Sean were away for a trip to Maine while his mother had taken a trip to New York. It hadn’t been until after his mother had left that anyone realized that no one was there to take care of Aaron. Quick calls and the new cook was taking over as his caretaker for the week. The old cook had retired as she was getting too old and wanted to go and live near her children and their kids in Georgia. He wasn’t sure if he liked the new cook yet. The groundskeeper was gone for the day and the cleaning staff was taking a few days break since the house was pretty much empty.
“Aaron?” Tristan’s quiet voice asked from behind him.
Aaron turned to find a four year old Tristan standing there with one of Aaron’s too large shirts on but he could just see the edge of swimming shorts underneath.
“Want to go swimming?” Aaron asked. He was shocked when Tristan’s eyes widened in what looked like fear and he shook his head no as quick as he could. Aaron turned to see if anyone was behind him but there wasn’t anyone there. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t know how to swim.”
Aaron just looked at him in shock. He thought back to the Tristan’s that he’d swam with. He’d never swam with one that was under the age of five. Sean had been taught by the nanny over various trips to the local pool. Aaron had been taught when the groundskeeper had shown him the pond years ago.
“I can teach you!” Aaron said.
Tristan looked up at him in shock but nodded his agreement. Their first stop had to be the hideaway because they needed towels and the sunblock that Aaron had made sure had been picked up when someone had gone shopping early in spring. No one had questioned its purchase and Aaron had been happy about it.
It didn’t take long for Aaron to learn that Tristan learned things at a very fast pace. The younger boy had admitted to learning the mechanics of swimming from a book but hadn’t put theory into practice yet.
“Mom thinks that the only muscle that I need to grow is that of my brain. Dad wants me to play t-ball but I don’t want to,” Tristan admitted while lying on the grass at the edge of the pond. Aaron wasn’t that shocked. He knew enough about Tristan’s home life to understand that intelligence was valued. While it was a good thing, he needed to be active as well.
“Do you know how to ride a bike?” Aaron asked. Another shake of the head and Aaron thought about how he could teach him. Then he remembered that Sean had gotten a bike for his birthday. “Sean got a bike. If we wait until the cook is done with dinner I can show you how to ride a bike as well.”
“Really?” Tristan looked so happy that Aaron wanted to show him then but he knew that he needed to wait. He didn’t want the cook telling his mother or his father about his friend.
Dinner was quick, in and out and Aaron even helped by clearing his dishes and he and Tristan waited in the bushes at the edge of the woods until the kitchen light went out and the cook went up to the room she was using until one of Aaron’s parents got home.
Tristan took to riding a bike even quicker than he had swimming and Aaron had a lot of fun teaching him how to ride it. When he was sure that he had a grip on it, Aaron found his own bike in the back of the garage and they rode around the neighborhood until they couldn’t see around them anymore.
After they put up the bikes, Aaron snuck Tristan into the house. They settled in the library, Tristan eyeing some of his dad’s law books but going for the newer fiction instead. They settled into the chair, sides pressed against each other. Aaron kept looking at the boy expecting him to leave at any second. Instead he was still there. Finally, Aaron found that Tristan was asleep.
Putting their books on the end table to his left, Aaron then shifted to pick up Tristan and carry him to his bedroom. He settled the boy down and then changed. He got into bed, pushing Tristan to the edge near the wall so that hopefully if the cook looked in on him, she wouldn’t see him.
Aaron brushed Tristan’s longer locks from his forehead and watched him sleep for a few seconds before closing his eyes. This time the boy didn’t curl into his side. Instead he stayed on his side of the bed and Aaron wondered if this was what it was like to have a little brother that he actually loved. Sean was kept distant from him. Sean was the golden son. He wanted to love him and he hoped that when Sean got into school fully, that he’d be able to start some kind of relationship with him.
Aaron threw another t-shirt into his bag. He’d packed up almost everything he wanted from the bedroom, except for his clothes. He was throwing the last of them into the bag. He needed to get away from the house. He needed to just go. His parents and Sean were out to a meal and Aaron had been left home alone to think on what was coming for him in September. The only thing that had been keeping him tied to the house was protecting Sean. He might not know his younger brother well but as long as Aaron was there, his father didn’t seem to want to hit Sean. Aaron could feel his ribs protesting his movements. His face barely hurt from the slap that had dropped him to the ground but his ribs were hurting really bad from the kicks he’d received while on the floor. His mother had just watched and said nothing. Sean had been out playing with the neighbors when Aaron had been called into his father’s office.
There was only a single way to escape going to Hargrave Military Academy. He had to run away. He’d figure out where Tristan lived and he’d go there. He’d take a sick mother over the one that he had. Tristan loved his mother to the ends of the earth and he figured that he could come to love her as well. He could help Tristan learn all the sports that his father wanted him to learn and he’d help Aaron in his school work. Anything was going to be better than Hargrave.
Aaron knew that once he was there, there was little chance he was going to come home. There was nothing that Aaron had ever done that had made his father hate him. He’d been born and his father hated him for that. He looked more like his mother yet and Sean looked like their father but was that enough of a reason? Since he’d been spending more time with his revolving door of secretaries and the nannies when he could get away with them, he’d stopped hitting mother. Aaron had been happy about that but it also just meant that he got it more. It was hard not to hate his mother for that. After she’d stood by and watched him get the snot kicked out of him, Aaron found that the last bit of love he had for her was gone.
Zipping the bag up, Aaron marched out of his bedroom and wasn’t silent about it. He saw the cook out of the corner of his eye but he didn’t care. He wasn’t leaving yet. He was just getting things ready and getting what little he cared about in the world out of the hands of his father. He went right for the hideaway, needing to pack a few things from there.
Over the years, he’s snuck money here and there from his parents. Sometimes when his father was drunk, he’d give Aaron money. Aaron always encouraged that. He had almost a thousand dollars saved up. That would get him wherever he needed to go. He just had to wait on Tristan. It never even entered his mind that Tristan wouldn’t want him to live with him.
“Are you going somewhere?” Tristan’s voice was soft like always but there was something else to it. He sounded scared. Aaron turned around and looked at his friend. Tristan looked to be around eight. He was getting better at guessing his age.
“I want to go and live with you. Please, Tristan. Tell me where you live so that I can come and live with you.”
“Aaron? What happened?” Tristan moved forward and pulled Aaron into a hug. The pain flared in his chest and he couldn’t help the hiss that escaped his throat and he fought the urge to shove the younger boy away. “What happened?”
“Father is sending me to Hargrave Military Academy. Boarding me there. I don’t care that your mom is sick. I don’t care that your father doesn’t get you. I just need to get away from here. Please.” Aaron wasn’t going to cry. He’d learned a long time ago that crying wasn’t going to solve a thing. And what he’d said was as close to begging as anyone was ever going to get from him.
“Aaron, I…you’re eleven right? This is nineteen seventy seven? I’m not even born yet. I won’t be for several more years.” Tristan dropped down to his butt at the edge of the wooden floor of the hideaway. “You can’t come live with me. I can’t take you with me and you can’t just show up on mom and dad’s porch. I’m sorry. Why is he sending you away?”
“I don’t know. Mother isn’t even fighting him.” Aaron dropped to his butt where he was standing. He didn’t want to be where he was but he also knew that Tristan was correct. “They have Sean and he’s perfect and I want to hate him but I can’t. I barely know him.”
“What’s so bad about the Academy?” Tristan asked as he scooted a little closer.
“I don’t want to be in the military.” Aaron had no want to have anything to do with the military. He wanted to be free and the military wasn’t free at all.
“What do you want to be? What do you see yourself doing?”
“I want to be a lawyer. I want to be a better lawyer than father. I want to work on the good side of the law and put people like him in jail.”
“If you run away, you won’t be able to be that. Why not use this as a way to get what you need?”
“What do you mean?” Aaron looked at Tristan. He could see something in his eyes. “What do you know?” Tristan wouldn’t meet his eyes. His friend had never lied to him before but what hadn’t he told him. Aaron could feel anger rising in him.
“I know that you go to Hargrave. I’ve visited you at least once in your future and my past there.” Voice soft, Aaron almost didn’t hear Tristan as he spoke.
“When?” Aaron wanted to know when Tristan had visited him there and why he hadn’t told him about it. He could feel the anger getting higher and higher.
Tristan looked like he was thinking. “Hargrave is a nice place. I looked it up after I visited you there.”
“So you knew that father would be shipping me off there? You knew and you never told me?” Aaron moved to stand up but at the look of fear on Tristan’s face he stayed down but the boy was moving. Aaron tried to grab his leg but Tristan twisted out of the grip and before Aaron could even try and get to his feet fully, he was crashing through the woods. Aaron tried to follow him but the crashing was echoing around and he couldn’t pinpoint where he was.
Instead, Aaron moved back to the hideaway. Tristan would come back or he wouldn’t. He thought about what he’d done. He knew that he could be scary looking. One of his teachers called him emotionless and she was kind of correct. He’d learned to not show anything but the one emotion that came through his facades was anger. If his father smelled even an ounce of fear, his beatings would be worse. He knew that he needed to apologize. Tristan was the only person in the world that he could be himself with. If Tristan left before Aaron could apologize he’d be stuck feeling like this until the roughly the same age Tristan came back and that could take several visits; if Tristan could find him more than once at Hargrave. He knew that Tristan came to places that were really important but how important could Hargrave be.
Aaron knew that he’d be safe there. He’d stop getting hit and stop being in pain from cuts and bruises. He’d be safe. He hadn’t known what that word meant since he’d been an infant. Crossing his legs, Aaron propped his elbows on his knees and let his head rest on his fists. He couldn’t protect Sean from Hargrave but hopefully their father wouldn’t take up his abuse on Sean. He hated himself for thinking it but he really hoped that his father took up hitting his mother before he hit Sean. The first time that Aaron had gotten a bruise from his father, his mother should have left with him. It would have been long before Sean was born but she’d done nothing. The one time the cops had come to investigate a claim made by a family friend, she’d lied and said that her bruises were from Aaron. He’d been four and the memory was burned into his mind. He’d never forget the look of happiness on his father’s face when he was accused of hitting his mother. It was then he thought that his love for his mother had started to die.
The only noise that was made to tell Aaron that someone was coming close was the rustle of a few leaves. There was no footfalls, no snapping of twigs. There was just a soft sound of leaves moving and then Aaron was looking into Tristan’s face, ten feet away.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…I didn’t mean to yell and I am sorry for trying to grab you.”
“I only keep things a secret because there is nothing that can change what happens. What point is there in making you sad for years instead of weeks? I’ve seen and I know so many things but nothing can be changed!” Tristan didn’t move any closer but his words rose in volume and Aaron just sat there. He’d never seen Tristan as anything but afraid, silent, and happy. “You usually don’t make demands and you just shocked me and then you looked so angry. I know that statistics on the rate of children who had been abused and the chance that they will abuse those around them and I just…”
“I would never hit you. I…that wasn’t anywhere on my mind. I just wanted to stop you from running.”
“But at what point does grabbing to stop turn into hitting to keep someone still as well.” Tristan’s eyes were trained on him and didn’t leave and Aaron couldn’t look away. Even though the words struck his heart. He wanted to protest but he couldn’t. “Abusers don’t just say one day that they are going to hit someone. It’s slow and gradual. A leads to B to C and so on and then they are monsters.”
“I’ve never thought of it that way.”
“What’s so wrong about Hargrave?” Tristan took a step forward and Aaron stayed still. “You don’t have to join the military but the teachers there have got to be smart. Your father has denied you the right to jump up in class. You are going to have to take placement tests to be placed in classes. Do your best and get placed the best you can. See if you can skip grades there. The people who run the place are not going to be bullied by your father. You can’t protect Sean any more than you have. You said that your mother will lie and Sean has never seen it and he’d never hit you hard enough to put you in a hospital. There is a record here that you’ve hit your mother. He may be a horrible father but he’s a good lawyer. The best thing that you can do is to help yourself as much as possible. Go to Hargrave, keep your head down. Graduate as soon as possible. If you ran, your father would be so mad, he could do what you fear is going to happen.”
“He could hit Sean.” Aaron sighed and let his head droop. “Does it make me a horrible person that I hope he hits mother instead of Sean?”
“Your mother made her choice, Aaron. Sean is innocent in all of this.”
“I don’t want to leave you behind either, Tristan.” Aaron looked up and he let his emotions crack his façade.
“I found you once. I’m sure that I’ll find you again and again. We are friends forever!” Tristan smiled and threw his arms around Aaron pulling him in for a huge hug. He wrapped his arms around his friend and let the emotions flutter around in his head. Tristan might get scared of him but he’d come back. He’d proven that. He wasn’t going to lose him, ever.
Aaron looked around the campus of Hargrave Military Academy. He’d already been there three weeks and he was enjoying his classes. It was nice. It had taken a few days for him to get used to sleeping in barracks but now he kind of enjoyed it.
Tristan had been right. He had been given a placement exam. He’d placed high in almost everything. He’d be getting out early and already been told that he could probably get emancipation. The teacher that had overseen student drop off for the year had gotten to see Aaron get out of the car with his few bags and as soon as the trunk was shut, the car was gone. There had been no goodbyes. His mother hadn’t even come at all, just his father. He’d been shocked it hadn’t been his mother’s driver that had dropped him off but he figured that his father was trying in some small way to protect his own image.
Today was Sunday and he pretty much had the day to himself. He’s attended the morning service and the evening service was voluntary. Some weeks he went because he was bored. It wasn’t hard to love the grounds. There was a large set of woods where he and the other students would run. There was also a large concrete track where they could run. He’d never thought that he’d like running. In gym it was always horrible but here it was silent and introspective. He only had to listen and pay attention to commands and he was good.
There was a happiness at Hargrave that Aaron hadn’t known that he could like. He got along well enough with his classmates, both in age and in education but he kept himself distant. He didn’t need someone else. He just needed to get through school.
Aaron was making his way towards the woods. He’d already been told that when he had free time he could go into the woods as long as he was back in the mess for meals at the right times. The best path in the woods started right near the track and the locker rooms. He was passing by the locker rooms when he saw a young boy, naked at the doors. Considering that the starting age for boys was seventh grade, this kid was way too young. It wasn’t until he got closer and saw the mop of hair that he realized it was Tristan. He stopped and watched as Tristan used something to pick the lock on the door. He was amazed at that. In a way though it made sense. Naked kids drew attention and the only way to get not naked was to find clothes. At Aaron’s home, he always had access to clothes that Aaron had set out.
“Tristan!” Aaron hissed, worried that others might be around. The boy spun around and took a step back but when he saw Aaron he smiled. Aaron crouched and the boy ran to hug him. He looked to be around the age of five. No wonder older Tristan had been a little vague about Hargrave. They hadn’t known each other that long the first time that Tristan had come. “Did you get it open?”
“I’ll get you a shirt from my locker. It’s going to be big but I think it’ll be fine. Today is Sunday so we can spend the day in the woods. Most of the boys are watching TV or visiting family.”
“You didn’t want to go home for the weekend?” Tristan asked, his eyes sad. Aaron was sure that Tristan knew the answer. Aaron found his locker and opened it, handing over a long t-shirt. The boy would swim in it but it was better than being naked.
“I wasn’t given the offer of going home. I think that father made a nice donation to keep me here all the time. And a few of the teachers here have talked about emancipation when I finish school here. When I turn sixteen I can access my trust fund but I might be able to access it earlier if I am at college to pay for college and things.”
“That’s good.” Tristan wasn’t acting like normal. He was looking around as they walked out of the locker room. Tristan was good at keeping secrets and he’d kept his knowledge about Hargrave secret at every age.
“Tristan, you don’t need to worry about telling me about this. You keep it a secret from me and you keep it well. Let’s enjoy today and not worry about anything else.”
Tristan smiled and nodded but they stayed silent on the small trek to one of the foxholes that had been dug. He knew that the older boys would sometimes take local girls out into the woods for things that were better not brought up while Tristan was there with him. It would give them a good place to hide and it would be really easy to hide Tristan if someone came along.
Aaron jumped down in first and Tristan just stood at the edge, looking wholly unsure. Aaron held out his hands and Tristan gave him a weird look before he jumped down into Aaron’s arms. The boy was a lot lighter than Aaron thought he would be. He was skinny yes but he looked to have a good bit of baby fat still on him, but it was deceptive. Aaron was pretty sure that he could toss the kid a good distance.
“You are the one that talked me into coming here instead of running away. I wanted to. I wanted to run away so bad but you talked sense into me.”
“I’ll always talk sense into you, Aaron.” Tristan looked around the foxhole and smiled as he dropped down onto what looked to be the only dry spot. Aaron laughed and moved over to tower over him, lifting him and sitting back down with Tristan in his lap. The boy shifted but settled easily enough. He was the only person that Aaron was tactile with. It was like second nature to him.
“So exactly how good are you at picking locks?”
“I’ve not found a lock I can’t pick given enough time and the right tools. Locks now are easy, the farther forward I go they get harder but I always pick them in the end. Older me has a lock pick set that I’ve used. He hides the most stupid stuff behind locks. I’ve found that he hides the best things in plain sight. There’s one lock I don’t try and pick though and that’s his safe. He’s told me not to. I do as he asks.” Tristan leaned his head back to where it was resting on Aaron’s shoulder. “How do you like your new classmates?”
“It’s a fresh start. No one knows me. They only know what I want them to know. I like it.”
“What’s your favorite class?”
“Right now literature but I’ll be in the Marksmanship class soon. I’m kind of looking forward to it.”
“Yes.” Aaron couldn’t express how much he was looking forward to learning how to shoot a gun of any kind. He’d seen his father’s. His dad really didn’t do anything with them, just a thing of a man needing to own a gun. “I think it’ll be nice. I do enjoy my morning run as well. I think it’s something that I’ll keep up past the academy.”
Tristan hummed and Aaron realized exactly how lax the boy was in his arms.
“Your mom sick again?”
Aaron started to talk. He talked about his classes, his teachers, and the few classmates of his that bunked around him that it was hard to not talk to at night and in the mornings. He talked and talked until he knew that Tristan was asleep in his arms and he kept right on talking past that. He didn’t stop until Tristan’s small form disappeared. No one questioned when Aaron showed up in the mess and was silent. There were several kids who everyone knew had come from kind of bad homes and that Hargrave was a place to escape. Aaron took a table to himself and no one sat down with him. He could feel the teacher’s eyes on him but he didn’t care. He was safe here and when he got older, he’d find a way to keep Tristan safe as well.
While Tristan used the word sick and didn’t like to talk about what exactly was wrong with her, when he was tired things slipped. Whatever was wrong with her, it came and went and as he got older it was getting worse and worse. It wasn’t the kind of sickness that one got over it seemed so Aaron kind of figured that it was a mental illness. Tristan never seemed scared of her but he could see a fear in his eyes sometimes when he showed up. When he got older, he could do more to help his only friend.
Aaron always wondered what a real Thanksgiving was like. With a family that loved each other. Where the smell of cooking turkey was something that calmed instead of scared. Aaron had never had a Thanksgiving like that. He always wondered though. Tristan had talked about his on the few occasions where Aaron could get him to open up but it was always with Thanksgiving’s when he was younger.
The mess hall was empty and Aaron kind of liked it. Four teachers had stayed on campus over the small holiday break. The cooks had prepared food for the day yesterday and Aaron was kind of happy about that. He was allowed to meander in and eat when he wanted. He had been the only student to not go home. Up until he’d seen that several teachers had stayed behind, Aaron had been upset that someone had to stay with him.
The letter had come in the mail two weeks ago and when he’d received it, he’d given it to one of his teachers to pass along to whoever would need to take care of it. His father was going out of the country for the week and his mother and Sean were going to New York. He’s seen the pitying looks that he’d received but thankfully no one said anything. He liked it better that way.
Food was eaten in the mess hall but the rest of the time, if Aaron wasn’t sleeping, he was in the library. He’d already finished up the work that had been given for the break and was working on his independent study classes. His teachers had taken to him well and his want to learn and to get out of there as quickly as possible wasn’t seen as a slight to them, thankfully but as a student wanting to learn. Tristan had been monumental in helping with him getting what he wanted. The boy was proving to be a wordsmith and he was clever. Their visits were less but longer as well. Sometimes while on a run through the woods, he’d spot Tristan hiding from sight but he knew what to look for so he saw him. If he came during the week, Tristan stayed hidden in the woods but when he was there on the weekends, they were inseparable.
The library was where Aaron was now. He had a table covered in what books he could find on law degrees. There was a surprising amount of information on it. While most it had to do with the military aspect of things there was a lot on civilian law as well. As soon as he’d met with a counselor to talk about his career and life goals, it hadn’t been long before she had wanted to know why he wanted to become a lawyer. He’d been truthful. He wanted to be a better lawyer than his father. The woman had been shocked but he’d shown an aptitude for it and he was enjoying learning.
The sound of the library door opening and shutting didn’t bother him. The teachers were in and out to check on him several times throughout the day. He wrote out a few more lines of the paper he was working on and only stopped when a shadow fell across the table he was working at. He chose not to look up and instead just waited to see if the teacher was going to say anything to him. A chair was pulled out and someone sat down across from him. Aaron finally looked up and was shocked to see Tristan sitting there. He looked to be around ten years old.
“How did you get in here?”
“Locked doors mean nothing to me. Found your barrack and stole some clothes too. What are you working on?”
“Homework. I’m taking three independent study classes this year and I’m getting as much done over break in them as I can.”
“Cool. So…did you hear back about the mock trial team?”
“I’ll be joining in the spring.” Aaron smiled at Tristan. “Go knock yourself out in the books. Science is over that way.” He pointed and Tristan sprinted off towards those books. Just as he rounded the corner, the main door opened and one of the literature teachers stuck his head in. Aaron looked at him and then gave a little wave. He waved back and then was gone.
When Tristan came back he had over a dozen books stacked in his hands. He set them down on the floor beside him. Aaron watched as he easily shifted around to cross his legs and settled a book down into his lap. Over the years, he’d realized that Tristan read at an amazing rate and that it was just getting quicker and quicker but he didn’t like to call attention to it. Aaron let him have that freedom. He was sure that he spent day after day with people remarking on it. He would love to know the actual words per minute though that he topped out at.
Dinner time came around and Aaron went to the mess and Tristan went to the barracks. Once dinner was over, Aaron wouldn’t see a teacher until the next day. They would be safe up there. He gave Tristan a different t-shirt to sleep in. One that was a little bit bigger.
“You’ve not made any mention of your own schooling. You are still set to graduate in two years, yes?”
“It’s okay. I’m bored in a few classes but it’s the only math and science classes that I can take. I should have tested out of them but I needed the credits. Gym class is horrible as it always has been.”
“And the bullies?”
“Same as always. I spend most of my time in the library so they don’t bother me as much as the librarian hates disruptions of any kind. From there its bus home and I spend the rest of the day there. Dad’s given up on sports.” Tristan looked away from Aaron for a moment. He let his head slump and Aaron could now feel the sadness wafting off the boy. He moved over to the bed and sat down beside him. He pulled the boy closer. “I think that dad’s close to giving up on a lot of things.”
“And I’m in high school and there are girls there and many of them are very pretty but I just…” Tristan stopped talking and looked at Aaron through the mask his hair was making. It was dark in the barracks, only the light of the moon giving them anything to see each other by. “What do you think about gays?”
“I’ve never thought much about sexuality. I know what my father spouts about it. I know what my family thinks but I’ve never thought much about my own sexuality. I want to be happy. I want to find someone who makes me happy. Look at father and mother. I’m sure that at one point they liked each other maybe even loved each other but I can’t help but wonder if they should have never married. Heterosexual couples can be horrible but what if that’s because the person they are married to is not who they are supposed to be married to. If they love each other why not let them be together.” Aaron looped his arm around Tristan’s shoulders and pulled him in even closer. “Why?”
“One of the girls that lives down the block from me. She’s a year younger than me. She kissed me yesterday and I just…I know that I am ten and I know that I shouldn’t be thinking about it but I would have rather had her brother kiss me.”
“And you want to talk about that?” Aaron asked.
“No. I…” Tristan rolled to his knees and turned to face him. “I feel safe with you and if I’m going to upset someone over kissing them, I’d rather it be you because you won’t hit me.”
“You want to kiss me?” Aaron asked. He looked at the younger boy in shock. Tristan nodded his head and didn’t move from the spot. He just stared at Aaron’s face. Aaron knew that at thirteen he was a little odd in that he didn’t care about trying to hook up with a girl. Many of his classmates spent the weekends trying to get with local girls but he stayed and did schoolwork. He’d never thought about kissing a girl much less a guy in anything more than an abstract way. Before Hargrave he’d kissed girls. It was easier to kiss them when they wanted it than to live with the names he’d be called.
“Yes. I don’t know if it’s just that I’m too young or that I really am gay.”
“And you want me to be your first boy kiss?” Aaron asked. Tristan sighed and rolled his eyes. Aaron glared and he just stared back. “Fine but we have to go to bed after this. I have to be up early to get a good run.”
“Fine.” Tristan just stared at him but Aaron didn’t move. Tristan wanted the kiss and Aaron was going to make him work for it. It didn’t take long for the boy to figure it out and he leaned in. Aaron kept his eyes opened and watched as the other boy moved closer. When their lips were just an inch or two apart, only then did Tristan close his eyes. Aaron kept his hands in his lap and eyes locked on him as their lips brushed hesitantly and then with more pressure. He stayed still and let Tristan dictate what happened. After a few seconds the boy pulled back, licking his lips just as they separated and the wet tongue brushed his but Aaron didn’t react.
When Tristan settled back, he opened his eyes again. It was one of the few times that Aaron was unable to read the emotions in his eyes. He gave it a moment but the boy wasn’t offering anything.
“It didn’t feel any different,” Tristan said with a huff and he dropped from knees to his butt on the bed.
“You are just too young. Give it a couple of years. Crawl off the bed. We are going to have to share because I don’t want anyone to think I slept in their bed.”
Tristan nodded and pushed himself off the bed. Aaron moved off and untucked the blankets from the bed and laid down. Thankfully he slept on his side as it would mean that Tristan had enough room. When Aaron was under the covers, the boy moved in with him. He also laid on his side but instead of his back to Aaron’s front he tucked his head under Aaron’s and shuffled close. Aaron looped an arm around him to hold him close and willed himself asleep.
When the sun rose the next morning Aaron was alone in bed and he couldn’t figure out why that hurt so much.
Aaron was looking forward to Christmas day for the first time since he’d turned three. There was only a single person left on campus other than himself and that was his marksmanship teacher. The man had a few simple rules, eat two meals a day with him in the mess and don’t do anything stupid. Aaron could abide by those rules. It wasn’t hard. His mornings were spent working on independent study classes. He’d finished off all the work for the whole year for two of them. By the time break was over, he thought that he’d have the other done as well. If he was, he could fit another two classes in for the second half of the year.
The second day of the break, the teacher had come up to Aaron and waited to be acknowledged before he’d started speaking. He’d talked about the school wanting their boys to go out and be the best that they could be. The speech that he heard all the time when parents visited before sending their sons here. He hadn’t understood why the teacher was telling him this.
“To do that, our boys need to have good records. Your record at your previous two schools were perfect. Your record here is going to be exemplary. It’s your before school record that concerned the president and I. We looked into it.”
Aaron’s blood had run cold at what he knew the man was talking about. Aaron had turned his face back down to his paper and continued to work. His teacher hadn’t been affected.
“That charge report is gone. The President has some friends and no matter what kind of background check is done on you, it’ll never come out because it never existed. I know the kind of young man you are, Aaron. Reading that report and knowing what your parents did. It made me understand you more. Why you never told anyone. Why you let it happen. As well as why you don’t care that you don’t go home. I’m a single man who has no want of a wife and kids. Every single time that you stay behind, I’ll be staying too. This Christmas. Easter. Summer will be a revolving door of teachers. If she won’t press charges and seems to be willing to lie, there isn’t much you can do. But remember this, you are not weak.”
“Thank you,” Aaron has said. The teacher had left after that and Aaron only saw him at meal times. Most days the man prepared dinner for them while lunch was whatever Aaron could find and breakfast was cold cereal or oatmeal.
The day before Christmas, Tristan showed up. With a haunted look in his eyes and sadness wafting off him and for that first day nothing could make him smile so they stayed in the library. Halfway through the day Aaron needed a break and he looked up and watched Tristan reading. He watched as a small finger trailed down the page. He’d blocked out the sound of the ten year old flipping pages but now he noticed. When it came time for him to switch books, Aaron went back to work on his paper and only looked up again when he was sure Tristan wasn’t looking at him. He’d never seen the boy read that fast. Either he’d gotten a lot better at reading or he was finally reading at the true speed that he could. Aaron didn’t bring it up. He knew that Tristan was having a hard time in high school and that it was weighing hard on him.
Every time he tried to get Tristan to talk about why he was so upset, the boy would deflect onto something else. He wondered if his dad had finally left.
Tristan ended up staying for four days. Aaron made sure that he ate and that the teacher never saw him but their usual discussions of their lives never happened. Tristan lost himself in books and Aaron in his work. It felt good but weird at the same time. He wondered what it meant that he felt better around a boy of varying ages than he did teens and other’s that were the same age as him.
Aaron had been alone all day. He’d gone to the funeral like a good son would and then he’d come home on his own and had holed up in his bedroom. There had been knocks at the door and even a few people who demanded that he come out of his room but he’d responded to none of them. He’d stayed where he was.
Summer had seen him returned to his home. Construction over the summer at Hargrave meant that no one was allowed on campus for the first six weeks of summer vacation and the president had made sure that Aaron’s parents had known that Aaron was expected to go home for the summer.
Visits from Tristan had been few and far between over the past year. Aaron missed him a great deal. He really wanted him there but he had no way of forcing the boy through time to be there when he needed him. And Aaron hadn’t seen him since he’d come home.
His father had died from a heart attack and that pissed Aaron off. He’d followed his father expecting to have a lover who was not his current secretary, who according to his mother was his only woman on the side but instead he’d found out that he had cancer. Using his skills that Tristan had taught him at lock picking, Aaron had then broke into his dad’s home office and found out that it was fatal. There was no way to recover from it and he’d chosen to live out his time in his own way. Aaron had wanted that. He’d wanted his dad to suffer through all the pain that dying of cancer was going to give him.
It was hard to be around Sean who looked up to their father and near worshipped the ground he walked on. His younger brother had never suspected a single horrible thing about his home life. Aaron hated him for that but it was out of love that kept that aspect a secret as well. It had only taken a single day for their father to hit Aaron again once he’d been home.
Fourteen year old Aaron was bigger and due to his training at Hargrave, he was stronger but there was always the fear that the abuse could be turned to Sean. Sean was only nine and if the only thing that Aaron could do to protect him was take a few hits, he could do that.
Moving to the window, Aaron looked at the people gathered in the backyard. Family members that had never cared that his father was hitting him. Family who Aaron had told after the third time it had happened when he was three. Coworkers of his father’s who ignored the fact that he adored his younger son and his eldest was never seen. If it wasn’t for the gathering of people outside, Aaron would have long slipped away to his hideaway.
The sound of his doorknob trying to turn told Aaron that someone else was trying again to slip into his room. He didn’t turn around to look because there was no one with a key. He’d taken all the cleaning staff’s copies the night before he had even broken into his father’s office again to steal the master key to the house. The only clue that whoever it was had actually made it into the room was the click of the lock back into place.
Aaron turned around ready to yell at whoever it was but instead he just stopped cold. Tristan was standing there in a pair of slacks and a shirt that didn’t fit him right and he could tell that there was a tag still hanging off the shirt. It looked like clothes from the little shop a mile away that his mother never let them buy clothes from because those that shopped there didn’t have enough money to get real clothes.
“Hi,” Tristan said.
“Hi,” Aaron said back. Tristan was there and he had no clue what to say to him. He was shocked though that it was ten year old Tristan. He had been the one coming around more and more it seemed. He wasn’t sure what that meant. “Where did you get the clothes?”
“An older me left some money he’d earned in a safe place in the woods. Just in case I needed something and you weren’t around. With you at Hargrave, it’s been a little hard to get food sometimes. The new cook notices when I eat more than the old ones used to.”
“Yeah, he’s a very observant man.” Aaron wanted to move over and hug him but he was stuck by the window.
“So…” Tristan said as he crossed the room. He stopped at Aaron’s side, looking out onto the lawn in the backyard. “He died.”
“Yes.” Aaron clenched his fists because if he didn’t, he was going to put his fist through a wall. He took a deep breath and exhaled sharply. He didn’t miss the sudden tensing of the other boy’s shoulders.
“Heart attack. A fucking heart attack!” Aaron near yelled. He pushed himself away from the glass of his window. Tristan stayed where he was but Aaron stalked around the room. If he didn’t stop moving he was going to do something that he regretted. He didn’t want to scare Tristan.
“And you wanted him to die another way?” Tristan asked.
Spinning to look at the boy, Aaron just stared. Tristan didn’t back down though. He just stared right back.
“How else would he have died?”
“He could have waited and let the fucking cancer kill him!” Aaron yelled. He couldn’t contain it. He moved to the door to his bedroom and kicked at it. He kept on kicking until he felt the hot tears falling down his face and a hand on his shoulder. That touch did him in. He dropped to his knees, leaning on the door and he let the tears fall. “He could have died in pain with a body that’s wasted away. He could have given me back a little pleasure in seeing him die in a horrible way.”
“Oh, Aaron.” The voice wasn’t familiar but the smell was. Aaron tipped to the side and let the strong arms catch him. He curled into the heat of the body next to him. Arms surrounded him and pulled him closer. He broke down with only the two Tristans to see. Letting out all the frustration. All the fear. All the horribleness that was his life before that moment. He didn’t care that he was tucked into adult Tristan’s lap like a child would be. He wanted this. He needed the comfort. It was wonderful. To not have to be so strong.
“What can I do?” Younger Tristan asked.
“In the office there is a bottle of brandy behind the encyclopedias. Over there in the drawer is the master key to the house, go and get it.”
Aaron heard the words and he wondered how adult Tristan knew where he’d hidden the keys but he couldn’t stop crying to ask. He heard the door open and then shut again. Tristan moved only long enough to throw the lock and he barely disturbed Aaron. Before he settled again though, Aaron heard the sound of something heavy being set on the floor. His breath hitched and he tried to talk but Tristan just shushed him.
“I’m not going anywhere. It was just my gun. Just calm down, Aaron. I’m not going anywhere. Just try and breathe.” A hand was moving up and down his back. He breathed out when the hand hit his shoulders and in when it was on the down stroke. He was still crying and he was sure that Tristan’s shirt was soaked and covered in snot but Tristan didn’t seem to care so neither would he.
A subtle knock sounded on the door. Aaron tried to figure out what it was but he couldn’t place it but Tristan had to have because he threw the lock again. The door was shut again in seconds and the lock sounded again. Aaron kept his face buried in Tristan’s shoulder. He didn’t hear a word but after nearly a minute a glass was pressing at his lips. He tipped his head back and drank whatever it was in the glass. It burned and he coughed but warmth was spreading in his limbs. He buried his face back in the hollow of the man’s neck and tried to stop shuddering. He was done crying but he couldn’t stop shuddering. The sound of feet on the floor told him that younger Tristan was moving around.
“Let’s get you up and into bed, Aaron.”
Aaron let himself be moved. Tristan didn’t have him strip out of his clothes, instead just tucked him in and sat down on the bed beside him. Aaron threw his pillow away and laid his head on the older man’s thigh. It was getting dark out and the light in the room hadn’t been turned on. There were shadows everywhere and Aaron couldn’t even see Tristan’s face. The whisper of cloth behind him had him trying to look at what caused it but his head was held in place.
“It was just younger me leaving. I can tell you haven’t slept in days, Aaron. Just sleep. Everything will look better in the morning. Just relax and sleep.”
Tristan’s hand wasn’t on his back anymore. It was on his head and near petting him. Between the alcohol that Tristan had given him and the utter exhaustion from not sleeping coupled with the crying, Aaron couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. He let them fall closed and just let himself go.
Aaron looked around his bedroom one last time. He was the only one left in the house. His mother and Sean had moved out within weeks of his father’s will being carried out. The house was left to his mother but she didn’t want it so she had it handed over to Aaron. With her own family money plus the assets that had been left to her, she had bought a townhouse in DC and moved Sean with her. Sean was liking his new school. Aaron had finished up at Hargrave and had come home to close down the house.
The groundskeeper was going to stay on and take care of the house and the grounds. Aaron was even thinking of renting it out. The family lawyer who had taken care of his father’s will had been retained to take care of Aaron and Sean’s trusts.
“Hotch?” Stephen asked as he entered the bedroom. He was there for another set of boxes. Stephen had been one of the only friends that Aaron had made at Hargrave and when he’d asked if Aaron needed help moving his things out of Hargrave and then his childhood home, he hadn’t been able to turn him down. Stephen had been the one to give him the nickname of Hotch. He liked it. “Anything else?”
“No.” Aaron turned off the light and shut the door behind him as he left the room. The groundskeeper, Tom, was waiting at the base of the stairs. Aaron handed over the duplicate master key to the house. “Take care of her for me?”
“Of course, Aaron. Go have fun at GWU. We’ll be waiting for you.”
The lawyer had tried to talk him into selling the house but Aaron couldn’t. He couldn’t sell a place where Tristan could come back to. He hadn’t seen the boy or the man since his father’s funeral. Not at Hargrave and not here at the house when he visited and packed up things to sell.
“I’ll meet you at the truck,” Aaron said as he stepped out the front door. Stephen nodded and Aaron turned towards the backyard. He walked the distance into the woods to find the hideaway. He had written down the address of his mother’s townhouse, where he was going to be staying until he could move into his dorm on the GWU campus. There was no evidence that anything had been disturbed. The clothes looked folded the same. The blankets were the same.
“I’ll keep an eye out for your friend,” Tom said behind him. Aaron spun to look at him. He hadn’t heard Tom sneak up on him.
“What do you mean?”
“The little thing that comes sometimes and spends hours reading books or just wandering the grounds. I’ve seen him for years. He always hides from me but sometimes he doesn’t see me when he’s swimming in the pond. I’ll make sure that he don’t freeze in the winter. I know where you keep the fuel for the lantern. Your parents may not have ever seen him but the staff here had. Gladys said that he was the only reason you survived your childhood here in this house. I’ll take care of him.”
“Thank you.” Aaron smiled. He worried though. While it was good that he wasn’t the only one who had seen him, it was the hard and lonely nights where he thought that he’d gone insane and imagined him that had been the worst. Whatever happened that caused Tristan to not come to him had to have been horrible. He couldn’t find a kid named Tristan in the world though. No matter how tempted he was. He never had actually gotten a date of birth out of him. He’d also found it odd that he’d seen an adult Tristan twice now but never an adult between that age and eleven. He’d seen ten year old Tristan many times but never a teenaged one. It was as if between eleven and whatever age he was when he’d come that first time as an adult, he’d stopped seeking out Aaron. Had he done something or had Tristan? “If he needs me, you know how to get a hold of me.”
“Of course, Aaron. Now go. You have a full life ahead of you. Forget the bad that you have suffered here and go live. Go be happy.”
Aaron smiled and moved towards where Stephen was waiting on him. Tom was right. He did have a life waiting on him. A life that he could make his own.
End of Arc 1