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 2-33,920 Total 100k+
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 sighed as he left his last class of the day. His first year at Georgetown was shaping up to be a good year. He’d gotten through GWU as quickly as he’d been able. Now he was working on his law degree and was quite happy to be finally out of the reach of his mother. He’d been subjected to her mothering in a way that he’d been unused to given that she’d never given him the time of day up until the day that they laid his father in the ground. For the sake of not fighting he’d stayed with her in the summers when he wasn’t able to stay in the dorms, but when he turned eighteen, he’d moved into an apartment with a few others who were in his classes. He hadn’t gone back to her townhouse except to visit Sean.
Sean, his still distant brother. Aaron’s heart ached when he thought about the time lost with him and no amount of visits seemed to be able to get it back. Dropping down to a bench to sort through his books to figure out which one he wanted to start reading, Aaron felt eyes on him. He looked up and found a young man looking at him. He looked to be around Aaron’s age and there was something familiar about him but Aaron couldn’t place it. It was September and still warm but yet he was dressed in slacks and a red sweater. When Aaron’s eyes met his, the man looked away.
For an hour the two of them played a game of chicken with their gazes. The man was watching him and Aaron didn’t like it. Now that he was thinking about it, he’d seen the man a lot over his month at Georgetown.
When the man jumped up and took off around the corner of the building he was sitting by, Aaron followed, shouldering his backpack and just slipping his book under his shoulder. He rounded the corner and saw the man hurrying to go around another corner. Aaron stepped up his speed. There were at least ten doors around that corner that he could disappear into and Aaron wanted to know why the man was watching him.
Going around the corner, Aaron cursed. He had no line of sight on the man. The sweater wasn’t hard to miss and there was no flash of red. He’d slipped into a door going into one of the two buildings.
After that Aaron kept his eye out for the man. He didn’t see him for over a month. At a Halloween party on campus, Aaron was indulging in a little bit of fun. His studies were all caught up and he had nothing pressing so he allowed his apartment mate to talk him into a party. It was a masked party and Aaron had found a nice costume that covered only the upper parts of his face. His lips and chin were the only open parts.
There were a lot of people at the party and it was hard to recognize anyone but he figured that was the point of it. The house was large and every room in it had something going on. The oddest room was the one that seemed to have a guard. He watched as a guy and a girl left the room, peeking inside he saw that they were playing spin the bottle. He wondered why there was a guard when it was answered for him. One of the boys spun the bottle and it landed on another of the guys they leaned over and kissed. His mind went back to the kiss that he’d shared with Tristan. He’d never thought about it.
“Want in?” The guard asked. Aaron nodded. “You freak out. You deal with me and get thrown out.”
“I’ll be fine.” Aaron was allowed in and he waited for the group to make room for him. He was nervous but it was the thought of kissing a girl as much as kissing a guy that had him on edge. Relationships were never a thing that he ever thought about. It wasn’t something that he needed. The only relationship that he knew of was one that showed him exactly what not to do. He didn’t want anything like what his parents had. If he ever found himself at the point where he would want to be with another person more than his spouse, he’d leave before doing something as horrible as cheat.
Aaron was handed the bottle and he set it down on the ground, spinning it. It landed on the blonde with the skin tight black cat costume on. She smirked at him and instead of just leaning over like the other did, she stood up and moved to sit down in his lap. Her kiss was hot and heavy and the people around him cheered. Aaron didn’t know what to do with his hands so he just settled them on her hips but as soon as he did, she stood up again and moved back to her seat. The girl beside him took the bottle. Aaron loosened up as the bottle was spun time and again.
When the fifth spin after Aaron had arrived had someone yelling closet, Aaron was intrigued. The guy stood up and held out his hand. The girl allowed herself to be pulled up and then out of the room they went. He didn’t want to ask but then one of the group moved to the closet door of the room they were in and knocked before just jerking the door open. Inside were two girls who looked very much like they had been making out. Aaron had heard of seven minutes in heaven from his classmates at Hargrave. It had been something that had intrigued him. The girls left the closet and settled back into the circle of people at the same time another male entered the room. He was wearing a full cloth mask that covered his entire face. It was black and he looked a great deal like death. It made Aaron shiver.
The newcomer got to spin the bottle and Aaron watched at it spun around and around before settling down on him. Aaron leaned in and so did the man. He lifted up his mask just enough for his lips to become visible. He gripped the back of the man’s head to help steady himself and kissed him. It was so different than it had been when he’d kissed Tristan. Yet there was something else there. The man he was kissing gasped and Aaron felt brave and darted his tongue out to brush at lips.
“CLOSET!” The entire group called out. Aaron froze. He opened his eyes and looked into the eyes of the man he had just licked the lips of. There was anticipation in the brown eyes. Aaron took a deep breath and gave a subtle nod, he got a nod back. The man stood up first and they were escorted to the closet. The darkness of the closet was a little much but Aaron reached out with a hand and found the man’s cheek. He was shivering.
“What’s wrong? We don’t have to do this.”
“Scared of the dark. I’ve never liked it.” The voice was soft and full of fear.
“Then why did you agree to this?”
“Because I wanted to kiss you more. Kiss me and I’ll forget that we are in a dark closet.” The body shifted closer and Aaron leaned in when he felt breath on his lips, he closed the rest of the gap and found hot lips. Where he’d been unsure of what to do with his hands before he knew what to do this time. He wrapped one around the back of the man’s skull and kissed him hard and fast. His other hand scooted down body until he could grip hip and pull him closer. The man’s hands slipped down his chest and settled on his abs. He felt his mask shift on his face but he didn’t care. He took a step forward and the man moved willingly until Aaron had him pressed into the wall. Their bodies were pressed together from knees to chest and Aaron agreed that he was in heaven.
The knock at the door came all too quickly and Aaron only pulled away when he heard a hand on the doorknob. Light flooded into the closet and Aaron looked at the kiss swollen lips of his make out partner. The man stiffened.
“Aaron?” the man whispered and Aaron took a step back, trying to figure out exactly how this man knew him. The voice wasn’t familiar but then he sounded out of breath. Before he could reach out and lift the other man’s mask, he darted out of the closet and took off running. The exit door was open and he was out of it before Aaron could even think to follow him. When he got his body back into his control from the shock, Aaron followed. He could see the black hood of the costume even through the group of people. The man had been just as tall as him and it wasn’t a shock that Aaron could follow him. Into the backyard the man ran and Aaron followed. Over a fence he went and Aaron fell over the fence. When he was on his feet again, the man was gone from sight. Instead of going back to the party, Aaron went back his apartment. He was sitting on his bed when his roommate, Ben got back.
“What happened? I heard that you made a spectacle. Chased someone in a black mask throughout the house.”
“Seven minutes in heaven and my partner knew who I was but I didn’t know who he was and I wanted to find out. He ran.”
“It very much does,” Aaron said and turned his head back down. Ben took the message for what it was, dismissal. Aaron pushed the thought of the stranger who knew his name out of his mind because if he kept thinking about him, he’d never get to sleep and he had class in the morning.
Aaron heard her laugh before he saw her. It sounded beautiful. He was taking a break from studying. It was a Saturday and he had a whole weekend of work planned. He’d pushed off a visit to his mother’s townhouse under the guise of needing to study so he’d feel horrible if he didn’t at least spend most of his time doing that. He’d spent most of the day locked in his bedroom and when Ben had gotten back, the smell of crisp fall air had pulled Aaron outside for a little bit of studying before his stomach decided that he needed to eat. It was well past the dinner hour.
Scanning the room, Aaron saw her. She was sitting at a table by herself with a empty plate in front of her. Her legs were tucked into the chair with her and she had a book open, resting on her knees. Eyes were alight with laughter at whatever words she was reading on the pages. When he was through the short line of late eating students, Aaron made his way towards her. He passed behind her, his eyes on the table to her left when she decided to stand up. Her chair scooted back a good distance and bumped into him. His glass of tea fell off his tray and he could only watch as it fell to the floor. She jumped out of the way and thankfully only a little bit splashed on Aaron’s jeans.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” The girl said with a frown on her face.
“It’s fine. I shouldn’t have been so close. I wasn’t paying attention either. Good book?” Aaron nodded with his head at the book as one of the commissary staff came to clean up the spilled tea.
“It’s a wonderful book. Let me buy you a replacement tea.”
“Only if you sit with me and keep me company while I eat,” Aaron said.
The smile he got from her lit up the whole room. “Ok. Haley Brooks.” Haley held out her hand and Aaron shifted his tray to where he could shake it.
Aaron took a seat at her table while she moved up to get him a replacement tea. When she brought it back, Aaron noticed there was only one other man on the far side of the room. He was reading a book that was set on the top of the table. There was a glass of water at his side but no food. Aaron dismissed it as someone who obviously had been eating and was now studying. The man was looking around the room and his eyes narrowed when he saw Aaron looking at him. Aaron stared until the man looked away.
“So, what are you studying?” Haley asked, pulling Aaron’s gaze back to her.
“I’m studying at the Law School.”
“Oh, you look young.”
“I started college at fifteen and graduated early from pre-law.”
“What are you studying?”
“English Literature. I was thinking of getting an MLS but I decided to go just straight English Lit. I love reading and I love finding out everything hidden in stories.”
“That’s good. Are you going to try and become a librarian after graduation?”
Aaron ate while he kept Haley talking about herself. It wasn’t hard. The more he talked with her, the more he fell in love. He knew then that he was going to marry her. She was dedicated to her studies and was more than welcome to do study dates than actual dates out. She was perfect for him.
Aaron was seated at his favorite upscale restaurant in DC. He’d arrived early for his date with Haley. It was Valentine’s Day and he was really looking forward to how the night was going to go. Ben was gone for the weekend on a visit home as his girlfriend was back home. It was a Friday night and Aaron had made sure that his bedroom was spotless. Haley shared a dorm room with two other girls and it wasn’t going to be a place to go back to. It had taken Aaron a few moments to get what she meant when she had made mention of that two weeks before.
In the small drawer in his bedside table was a new box of condoms and, just in case he’d bought a bottle of lube. He’d heard talk of first times for some girls didn’t always go well and he didn’t want to hurt her. His hands had shook when he’d handed over the money for the condoms at the drugstore he’d taken a bus to on the far side of the city.
There had never been a time in his life when he’d wanted anything to do with Valentine’s Day. It was just another day. When he’d been younger he’d stayed far away from his parents on the day as his father was a time bomb usually. His mother was dispassionate. After they had both decided that it was better to spend it with anyone but each other, things had gotten better. There was the memorable Valentine’s Day when he was eight where he’d spent the evening cowering in Tristan’s arms. He still had the book that the man had given him.
Closing his eyes, Aaron tried to remember what the man had looked like. He tried to push harder on his memory but there was nothing. He pushed to remember the night of his father’s funeral but the only memory he had was longer hair and a face shadowed in darkness. The only face of Tristan’s that he could remember was four year old him. The first time that they met. That face could turn into anything though. There was too much baby fat still on his face to truly know the structure.
Aaron had entertained the fantasy that the man he’d made out with in the closet had been Tristan but Tristan never would have run from him like that. It had most likely been someone from one of his classes that had gotten scared. Aaron knew the face he showed everyone. He was no nonsense and while he smiled, it was rare. Haley got more smiles than anyone. It wasn’t hard to be happy around her.
There had been a moment in his life where Tristan had been the only thing he’d seen in his future. In the days and months that followed his father’s funeral. He’d known then that he’d been in love with Tristan but he was gone. Haley made him happy now. Haley was his future and Tristan his past.
The sound of Haley’s laughter drew his gaze up and Aaron watched as she walked towards him, a vision of beauty. He stood to greet her as the maitre’d escorted her over.
Aaron said a silent goodbye to that which he’d loved as a child and embraced the love of his adulthood.
Aaron was running where the water lapped at the sand. It was still early in the day but it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day out. He was happy with the vacation even if Haley had come down with some kind of stomach bug two days before. She was getting better but had forced him out of the house that morning telling him not to come back until the early afternoon. That he didn’t need to stay cooped up with her. Even though it was the peak of tourist season at the Hamptons, the beach was empty.
As he rounded a cove, Aaron saw an older man walking along the beach. Aaron stopped to catch his breath and watched him. There was a movement to his body that Aaron had gotten to know. He was or had been some form of law enforcement. It was the way he carried himself. Aaron could tell that he wore his gun on his right side. The man looked up and saw him, smiling and waving.
“Hi,” Aaron called back. He watched as the man came closer and closer. He wasn’t exactly dressed for beach weather with his slacks and button up shirt but he looked relaxed. Aaron tried to place his age but the only thing he could guess was he was around fifty.
“Lovely time for a run. Don’t let me bother you!” The man called out.
There was something though about him and Aaron didn’t want him to go away. “No. I need a break. Been running for an hour already.”
“My, aren’t you a fit minded young man.” The man’s eyes moved down his body but it wasn’t weird. More assessing. There was something else in his eyes. A sadness. “My partner used to run every morning for at least an hour. Now he takes a shorter run in the morning but still it drives me nuts.”
“Not much of a runner?”
“Not without something chasing me,” the man said back with a smile. Aaron took a few steps back from the surf and dropped down to his ass in the sand. The man moved with him and took a seat beside him. He reached down and picked up a handful of sand and let it fall through his fingers. “Never have been.”
Aaron laughed. “What brings you to the Hamptons?”
“Vacation. This is my partner’s favorite place to go.”
“Where is he?”
“At the gym. His knees can’t take the shifting sand to run in. I wanted to watch the sunrise though. What about you?”
“Vacation as well. Here with my girlfriend.”
“How long have you and your partner been together?”
“Almost three decades. It’s had its ups and downs but it’s so worth it.” The man reached down and grabbed more sand. This time he held it in his hand.
“Aaron,” Aaron said holding out his hand.
“Spencer.” Spencer shook his hand. It was a strong grip with the normal calluses that spoke of extended gun use but also a great deal of writing. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. You look to be around twenty. That means college. What are you studying to be?”
“Oh? I know a lot of lawyers.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m an FBI agent. Behavioral Sciences Unit.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“It’s rather new.” Spencer smiled and relaxed back, letting the sand fall out of his hand. “We go after the worst of the worst. We go after the killers like John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy.”
“That sounds interesting.”
Aaron listened as the man talked about it. The science behind the behavior and studies that had been done as well as the legal matters. That part brought Aaron into it and he lost track of time. He was having too much fun talking to the man about his job.
“I should go, he’s going to wonder where I am.” Spencer said as he stood up. The water was lapping at their toes and Aaron looked up to see the sun above them. It was after noon already. He hadn’t realized that they had talked that long at all.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize we talked so long.”
“Never apologize for having a good conversation with someone, Aaron. You never know what that person could need. I enjoyed talking to you. It reminded me of when I was your age. All spit and fire and ready to take on the world. Don’t ever lose the passion you have for life and your job, no matter what that job is.”
“I’m very happy with being a lawyer,” Aaron said as he held out his hand for a shake. Spencer shook his hand but the look on his face told Aaron that he didn’t believe him. The older man smiled and waved as he walked away and Aaron watched him until he lost sight of him then he made his way back to the rented beach house.
Haley was asleep on the couch when he entered. He smiled at her and crouched at her head to kiss her forehead. The fever was gone. Her skin cool to the touch of his lips. She moaned slightly and arched up into the touch. He needed to shower before he carried her into the bedroom for an afternoon cuddle while she napped. This, this and his soon to be job made him happy.
There were times that Aaron hated being his father’s son and times that he didn’t. The DC area knew his father and his legacy as a lawyer. He’d been offered internship after internship. He and Haley had spent night after night going through all of the offers and had picked what they thought was going to be the best for them. Aaron knew what he wanted and while it wasn’t exactly what Haley wanted, it would work for them for now.
The DC court system was the perfect place for him and what he wanted. Prosecuting attorney was what he wanted to be and this was the best way to get there. Many of his new colleagues had been opposite his father so they were shocked that he had chosen this as his career path but had welcomed him with open arms.
Aaron was working on a file when someone sat down at a table across from him. The man waited until he’d finished writing a sentence before shoving a plate with a sandwich on it over the file.
“Thanks. Time got away from me.” Aaron looked up into the face of Donaldson, the ADA.
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you. I saw your wife the other day.”
“Girlfriend. Haley is just my girlfriend.” Aaron sighed as he chewed the first bite of sandwich. He hadn’t realized exactly how hungry he was. He grabbed his glass of water and washed down the sandwich with a healthy drink. He knew that lawyers who seemed settled into a homelife go up the rank quicker. He had wondered if that was the reason his father had married his mother. He wasn’t going to marry Haley though, only because he wanted to get farther in his job. He wanted to marry her and he knew that he wanted to be with her the rest of his life.
“But the way you look at her. You are serious about her. What’s stopping you from putting a ring of any kind on her finger?”
“She wants to wait until she’s done with school. I’ll propose when she graduates.”
“Good. That’s good to have plans. What are her career goals?”
“She was thinking of being a librarian but she does want to have kids.” Aaron smiled as he thought about kids. They’d been unable to agree on a number. Aaron wanted at least two while she was quite happy with just one. Aaron figured that once she had the first, she’d come to agree to a second kid.
“How long have you been dating?”
“Almost two years. I knew though from the first meeting that I was going to marry her.”
“Good. Good. And she’s okay with the hours?”
“Yes.” Aaron nodded. Haley knew that he was dedicated to the job and what he wanted out of life.
“You wouldn’t believe that amount of women who marry a lawyer because they hope that one day the husband will become a judge and then run for some kind of office. Those marriages never make it to judge or if they do, there is heavy cheating involved.”
“No, Haley doesn’t think that. She knows what I want to do with my life and why I want to do it.” Aaron kept that he hadn’t exactly told her everything. There were parts of his childhood that she didn’t need to know. Tristan was talked about but he never told her about his unique aspect or that Tristan was the only reason that he had survived childhood as normal as he did. He was fairly certain that she’d put together that his father had been physically abusive. He found it hard to talk about it with her. He’d tried to start so many conversations about it but never had the guts to actually do it.
“Then I say you have a wonderful woman and don’t you let her go.”
“Don’t worry I won’t.”
And Aaron knew that he didn’t plan on it. He wanted to be with her for the rest of his life as she made him happy. Happier than he’d been since the death of his father. She made the long hours of studying worth it. Just to be able to have someone to look forward to talking to. Everything with her was easy.
Aaron sighed as he set down the rifle, pulling his ear and eye protection off his head. He was alone at the local gun range. He enjoyed the silence of the place, only marred by the sound of shot after shot, when others were there. Once he’d found the place after an older colleague mentioned it, he’d come. One could bring their own guns or they could rent one. Aaron always rented. It wasn’t a good idea to own a weapon with so many other students in and out of his and Ben’s apartment. Study sessions ran long and were horrible on keeping things hidden.
Recently, the summer meant more parties than normal were going on and it was starting to get on Aaron’s nerves. Ben was nearing the end of his studies but Aaron was still doing all the studying he could for the bar. It was under a year until he took it and he was worried. He knew that he didn’t need to be worried but he was. The strain of his less than perfect living arrangement was getting to him. He’d tried to talk to Ben, but the man made promises and then didn’t keep them.
It didn’t take long to take apart the rifle so that the owner could clean it before it was put up for another person to rent and use. He pulled the unused bullets into a little row at the lip of the station. Footsteps alerted him that he wasn’t alone. Looking up he saw the owner walking towards him.
“Hadn’t heard a shot for a few minutes and figured I either needed to check on you or call an ambulance.”
“No. I’m done. Was just doing some thinking.”
“Couldn’t do it while shooting?”
“Oh, I did the majority of it while shooting. This was the end result of it and was taking a little more brain power than normal. Didn’t have to have an accident and ruin your three year streak.” Aaron smiled at the owner and the man laughed back at him.
“Wouldn’t want to do that. Go ahead and go. I’ll take care of your things. Get on back to your girl.”
“Thanks.” Aaron clasped the man on the shoulder and walked past him. He had a lot of thinking to do. With his internship he’d actually gone out and bought a car. He didn’t want to rely only on the buses to get around the city.
Aaron drove the long way back to his apartment. He wanted the extra time to think. A for sale sign on a house caught his eye and he looked at it. It wasn’t a house for him but it got him thinking even more. Tactics changed and instead of going back to the apartment he drove around DC to find a house that he thought that Haley would like. She was getting ready to start her senior year and while they agreed no marriage until after he had passed the bar and she was out of school, living together wouldn’t be a big thing. He’d have silence to study and so would she. And they would have each other to come home to.
Five hours of driving around and Aaron found the perfect house. When he found it he copied the number of the agent down and then drove to get Haley. He looked at the time on his watch and knew that she’d be done with her tutoring that she was doing over the summer to local kids who needed help in English. This was the first summer that she had stayed in the DC area over summer break and her reasons to her parents had been the tutoring and how it would look good on anything she did from there out. In reality, she’d confessed to him that she didn’t want to be away from him for the whole summer. She knew between his internship and studying if she wasn’t here, she would have to come to see him as the travel time to her parents was horrible. So she’d found an apartment to share with three other girls.
“Aaron where are we going?” Haley asked after ten minutes of driving but Aaron just smiled and reached over to hold her hand. The sun was just getting ready to set when they pulled up in front of the house. It was smaller than the home he had grown up in but it was perfect for them. He could see them starting a family in it and being happy there together. “Aaron.”
“I have the money to buy the house. My trust fund was fully open to me on my twenty first birthday and I have the money from father’s insurance. I’m getting sick of the apartment with Ben. Too much noise and too many people in an out. I can still do study groups elsewhere but this would be just you and I. It’s not that bad of a bus ride from campus and we could even see about getting you a car if you wanted. I didn’t have the best childhood, Haley but I want to be happy with you and this…this house would make me a lot happier. A place to call our own. We don’t have to get married. I’m okay living with you before we get married.”
“It’s a smart idea. Dad’s not going to like it but he might feel better if I had a ring on my finger. So how about we get engaged? We won’t set a wedding date but what if we just do it so that people won’t talk?” Haley asked.
Aaron nodded as he saw the intelligence of it. It was a really good idea. An engagement ring was no bigger than moving in together. If it made her family happier, he would do it. “So, should I call the agent?”
“Yes.” Haley smiled at him and Aaron pulled her close for a kiss. She moved to straddle him in the seat and he wrapped his arms around her to hold her close while they kissed. This…this right here was happiness for him.
Aaron let himself into the front door of his childhood home. His mother had called and asked for him to meet her there. He was tired from taking the Bar Exam but he’d done it anyway. Tom was away for a few days but Aaron wasn’t worried. He looked around. It was empty of pretty much all furniture. He moved towards the back, what looked out over the woods at the back of the property. The large windows looked weird with no plants hanging in them and no chairs for looking out at the world scattered around.
The woods looked exactly the same and Aaron could almost see himself and Tristan running and playing in them. He unlocked and pushed the doors open, taking in the crisp cold air of spring. His feet moved him across the lawn and into the trees with an ingrain knowledge of where he was going.
The hideaway looked exactly the same. The box of things for Tristan to use was still sitting where it had been, Aaron noted when he opened the front flap tarp. The rope used to tie them down had been replaced but Aaron figured that Tom had done it. The fuel for the lantern was full and sitting where it had been outside the little hideaway. The lantern was up on top of the box of blankets. Aaron moved it off to look inside. He couldn’t remember what it had looked like before. He forgot how small the hideaway actually was and wondered how adult Tristan had been comfortable that night, holding him close and reading.
Stains on the floor drew his gaze and Aaron reached down to touch them. He cocked his eye to the side as he realized it was a crust of something. Using a short nail, Aaron scratched at it until it flaked away. He brought a few bits of it up and saw that it was dried blood. Had to have been an animal. Something had tried to hide in here after getting hurt. Brushing his hand on his pants he got rid of the blood and backed out of the hideaway.
“Aaron?” Sean called out and it scared Aaron and he nearly fell to his ass as he escaped the hideaway. He tied the tarp shut before he stood up.
“Coming!” Aaron called out. He was shocked that Sean was there. It was a weekend and he figured that Sean would be hanging out with his friends. It was his brother’s senior year of high school and he knew that Sean had been jumping around on exactly what major he wanted to be. Aaron wasn’t shocked. Sean rarely had to make a tough decision.
When he broke the tree line, Aaron saw that Sean had gone inside and was standing with their mother in what had been her sitting room once upon a time.
“Aaron,” his mother called when he stepped into the house and shut the door behind him. She stepped up and kissed his cheeks before pulling him into a very loose hug. Aaron wrapped his arms around her and gave her just as loose of a hug. “Have you got the results of the Bar Exam yet?”
“No. I won’t know until later.”
“Oh. Well, anyway. Sean has changed his mind on what he wants to do again and he’s also changed schools. He’s gotten accepted at Harvard and he wants to become a lawyer like your father and you. So I don’t need the townhouse. I was wondering if I could move back here?”
“Here?” Aaron asked. He figured that she would never want to step foot in the house again.
“Yes. Downtown DC was fun for a while but without Sean, I’m going to get lonely and all my old friends live in this area. I don’t want to buy the house from you but you have that house that you and Haley live in and well it’s nice but you aren’t going to want to bring her here to leave. I’d take care of the taxes and anything that comes up. I think that I just want a bit of familiarity with my baby leaving the nest.”
“Mom,” Sean whined.
Aaron looked at his mother. He couldn’t tell her no. He really couldn’t. He wasn’t using the house and Tom had said that no renters had been wanting it.
“Of course. Tom is away for a few days but I’ll get a new set of keys made for you. We had a renter that left with the keys and didn’t give them back so the locks on all the rooms and doors have been changed. If I go now, I might be able to find a locksmith open in DC. Do you want me to drop them off to the townhouse?”
“The townhouse is fine dear. I’ll start seeing about getting a cleaning staff lined up. Thank you dear. Coming back home just might be the thing that I need.”
Aaron nodded and waved for his mother and Sean to leave in front of him. When he was sure that the house was all locked up, Aaron exited the front door and found that Sean was gone but his mother was still there.
“Sean worries about me being in DC alone. I think this will make him happy. He has happy memories in the house.”
“He’s the only one,” Aaron said lowly. His mother just gave him a wan smile.
“The bad memories have started to fade for me. I don’t remember them as strong as I do the good ones. Your father and I had a good many years of happiness in this house.” His mother went to the car that was waiting with a driver in the front seat. He nodded at the man and the man nodded back. He had no clue who the man was but since the death of his father, his mother had been using a car service for things that a taxi couldn’t be used for.
Aaron kept his mouth shut as he unlocked his car door and opened it. He waited for his mother’s car to pull out and get out of eyesight before he turned back to the house. He couldn’t ever see himself happy there. There was something though that made him not want to sell it. Something making him keep it.
Aaron had always known that he was smart. He’d been at the top of his graduating class at Hargrave, GWU, and Georgetown. Passing the Bar Exam had been something that he hadn’t worried about. It was getting the best score that he could. He’d looked at the results of the essay first. No where near perfect but one of the highest scores he’d ever seen. The results of the test though had made him smile. He’s aced. A perfect score. Something unheard of. He knew that scores like that would open doors for him. More doors than being his father’s son would open. He just hadn’t expected this.
Aaron was sitting second chair to a big court case that had been in the works for months. He’d gone from internship to junior prosecuting attorney in shorter time than it took for most new lawyers to get even a job as a lowly clerk. It wasn’t hard to get used to the new way of his life. Haley was crazy happy for him. She was excited for what it meant for them.
Smartness hadn’t been able to save the case that he first worked on. He watched as a lawyer who reminded him of his father used charisma and misleading statistics to baffle and confuse the jury to get the man who had been on trial for killing his wife and kids off. The jury had reasonable doubt and the man could never be tried again for the crime. It was horrible and it made him ache. He didn’t want to go home to Haley. To have her greet him with a smile on her face and a meal that was ready. He did call and tell her that he would be late and that she needed to eat as he didn’t know when he was going to be home. It wasn’t a lie. He didn’t know when he’d be able to go home. To face the warmth and happiness that was there.
Instead he found himself sitting at a bar he’d never been in before, but it was a place that no one would ever look for Aaron Hotchner in and that was what he wanted. Thinking back though, he should have known that someone would find him. It just wasn’t anyone that he ever thought it would be.
“Bourbon and whatever my friend is having,” a familiar voice said and Aaron turned to look. It was the guy, Spencer, from the beach at the Hamptons. Aaron watched him take the seat next to him. Spencer opened his wallet and pulled out a hundred dollar bill. Aaron saw a picture of a little girl who looked to be around five with two young men.
Spencer caught him looking and smiled. “My son and his partner with their daughter, Candace.”
“So he’s gay like you?”
“No. We are both bisexual. He had a girlfriend all through high school and the start of college. She broke his heart when she married for money and dropped him like a bad habit. His partner was his best friend growing up and while he was helping to pick up the pieces, they fell in love. Been together for almost ten years now. His partner is gay though. Never looked at a woman in a sexual way in his life.”
“A very open and accepting family you have.”
“Yes.” Spencer closed his wallet and pocketed it. Leaving the change from the drinks on the table. “So…bad case?”
“How did you guess that?”
“Because when I last saw you, you were happily in love and on vacation. Given what we talked about you’d be just about passing the Bar. And no one from your social class comes here unless they want to forget.”
“Yet here you are.” Aaron knew he was being an asshole but he didn’t care. He wanted to be left alone. Spencer only took a sip of his drink and set it back down, staring at Aaron. Aaron stared back. He wasn’t going to back down. Aaron stared and stared and the other man just stared back at him. The intensity of the gaze looking at him told Aaron that this man was used to doing a battle of the wills with someone who was a lot stronger than Aaron. All that meant to Aaron was that he needed to get better at it. The brown eyes staring into his own were hard as steel and Aaron couldn’t do anything but look away.
“I saw you come in here and thought that it was you. You looked so defeated.”
“Lost a case. I was second chair but it was my first case.”
“What lost it?”
“Excuse me?” Aaron wasn’t sure what he was talking about.
“Was the defense better? Were the facts of the case lacking? Was it the first chair, was he not good enough?”
“No. It was the case. It was weak. The prosecutor thought that he could convince the jury with what he had but it was sorely lacking in a lot of departments.”
“It was obviously a local case so that means that the police didn’t do a good enough job getting all that you needed to win the case. You came into the case, I’m sure, after it had already been thrown onto the docket and such. But remember that a case is only as strong as it’s facts. If you don’t have all the facts, you are going to lose.”
“That’s…remarkably simple and very true.”
“The BSU builds strong cases and the only time that those criminals are not thrown in jail is when the lawyers mess up. This case though sounds like it was over before it began. It’s now always going to be the case.” Spencer drained his bourbon and smiled at Aaron. “Keep working on that glare, you almost had me there. Have a good night, Aaron.”
The man was up and gone before Aaron could even think to say a thing. He wasn’t exactly sure what had happened there. Still he drained his drink and then downed the one that had been bought for him. He wasn’t in a condition to drive and was thankful that he’d taken a cab to the bar. He’d call a cab and go home. He’d cuddle with his fiancé and let the worries of the day go away until the sun rose again. He wasn’t going to lose a case like that ever again. He’d make sure that every case he touched had everything needed to put the person away or he’d not take it. He knew it was cocky and upstart but he didn’t care. He’d rather pass on the case than lose it and the person never get put away for what they did.
Aaron wasn’t sure what to think as he entered the hospital. Sean was at Harvard and was in no shape to come to DC quickly. Aaron wasn’t going to drag him out of his studies until he knew for a fact that she was on death’s bed. The front desk directed him to the floor he needed. ICU. Growing up, he couldn’t remember a time that his mother had ever gotten sicker than a cold. The only time he remembered her being in the hospital was when Sean had been born.
The doors to the ICU were open so Aaron slipped inside. He found her room and looked inside. She was so small. Even as a grown up his mother had seemed so big compared to him. The doctor on the phone had admitted that she’d been in the hospital for over a week. That they had to respect her wishes that no one be contacted. It was only when she slipped into a near coma that they had been able to call her next of kin. The doctor hadn’t gone into what was wrong with her but that she was not doing well at all.
“Mr. Hotchner?” A doctor asked.
“Yes.” Aaron stepped into the room when the doctor waved him in and once the other man was in the room, the door was pulled shut.
“I don’t know what you know of your mother’s habits in life.”
Aaron looked at the man a little shocked. He’d never been around her a lot.
“She’s drank heavily for years and it seems that in the time since your brother Sean has gone off to college, her drinking has just gotten worse. Her liver is damaged and even if she lives long enough, she won’t be approved for a transplant with the drinking. We have a DNR on file for her but in all likelihood, even if she wakes up, she’ll die from the next thing that gets her sick.”
“She…I never knew that she drank that much. I was in boarding school from seventh grade and up.”
“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Mr. Hotchner but if she survives the night, she’s still not going to live very long after. No one is going to throw you out. Sit with her. She’s out of it and I wouldn’t be surprised if she just slips off into sleep.”
“Is she in pain?” Aaron asked.
“No.” The doctor clasped his shoulder and left the room. Aaron pulled a chair to her bedside and sat down. She was thin. So much thinner than what she had been the last time he had seen her. He wondered why none of her staff had told him. Why Tom hadn’t told him. Haley was at home asleep. He’d woken her to tell her that his mom was in the hospital and when she had wanted to come, he’d pushed her off. He had needed to do it alone.
If his mother made it to morning, Aaron would call Sean and have him come. He didn’t want to have his brother rush through the night to get there only for her pass before he got there. He reached up and did something that he hadn’t done in the length of his memory. He grasped his mother’s hand and held it. He leaned forward to rest his head on their clasped hands. He could do this for her.
No matter his feelings towards her. He could be there for her at the end. He didn’t know how long he sat there, listening to the machines beep and the oxygen of her mask hiss. Her hand tightened and his head shot up. Her eyes were open and he stood up and leaned over her.
“Mother, I’m here. It’s Aaron,” he said as her eyes tracked around the room. Her heart monitor started to beep and a nurse rushed into the room. He was on the opposite side from it so he was able to stay. The nurse frowned at him and shook her head.
His mother’s eyes moved back to him and she tried to remove her mask. The nurse removed it and his mother smiled. Aaron smiled down at her.
“I love you…” His mother said and Aaron opened his mouth to speak when she started again. “I love you so much, Sean.” Then her eyes closed and she was gone. Aaron stood there holding her hand as it went lax. He barely felt it as he was pulled away from her. He only came back to himself when the door to the ICU was shut on him as the doctor and another nurse entered the room. He found a chair down the hall and dropped down into it. He barely noticed that another man was sitting in the chair beside it until he near fell into him.
“It’s fine. You look like you needed to sit down before you fell.” The man turned towards him but Aaron didn’t look up at him. He just looked down at the hand that had been holding his mother’s when she died. “Do you need something?”
“No. I’m fine. Or I will be I just need to wrap my head around what just happened.”
“And what just happened?”
Aaron sighed. Taking in a lungful of air and then exhaling slowly. “My mother just died and I don’t know what to think about it.”
“Given that you are not a sobbing mess, I’m going to assume that things were not the best with her?”
“No. And she called me my brother when she died.” Aaron didn’t know why he was spilling his guts to a complete stranger. He watched though as a hand moved into his line of sight. The man was wearing some long sleeved shirt with his watch over the sleeve. Aaron looked at the watch. It had only been two hours since he’d arrived at the hospital.
“She was probably totally out of it. You don’t need to pay attention to that.”
“Sean and I look nothing alike. We really don’t. No one can confuse us for each other. I just…” Aaron dropped his head into his hands and startled when he felt a hand on his back, rubbing. Aaron let the touch happen. This wasn’t the time or the place to draw attention to himself and if he was at all honest with himself, it felt good. This man didn’t know him from Adam and wouldn’t ever see him again. Wouldn’t know him from a beggar on the streets. “God, I’m free.”
“I hate my job. I’ve come to hate my job so much. I feel like I am not doing enough but I spent so many years becoming what I am that it would have felt like failure in mother’s eyes if I had stopped being it.”
“What do you hate about it?” the man asked.
“I feel like I’m doing too little too late. I’m closing the barn door after the horses have escaped.”
“What can you do to repair that door before they escape then?”
Aaron thought back to Spencer and the BSU. Going after those who did the most harm. Catching them before they did the most harm. He knew that he had to get into the FBI first and do at least a little time in something else before he’d be allowed in. The BSU had become an elite unit but he could bide his time.
“You are pretty smart,” Aaron said still not looking up from the hand in his vision. He reached out and tapped at the watch. “Thank you. I think that I really needed that.”
“You are very welcome. Now I had better get going home.” The man stood up and Aaron’s eyes followed him but he didn’t turn and all Aaron could see was his back and the sling.
“What happened to you?”
“Shot by a very bad man but I killed him. Work kept me out of town but my doctor forced me in for a checkup when I got back, which was an hour ago. I came up to read to a little girl who is a few rooms down. She’s waiting on a lung transplant. He always tells me when someone is here that needs a little cheering up.”
“All around hero huh?” Aaron asked with a true smile on his face. He moved to stand up but the man started away from him. Aaron reached out but the man was gone. He wanted to go after him but he saw his mother’s doctor walking towards him with paperwork. He had so much to do. He’d have to have his mother’s will executed. Take care of her things at the house. Make sure her staff found other jobs and was paid enough to live until they did. He had to call Sean. Arrange a funeral. His first call was going to be to his boss though. He’d need a few days off. Thoughts swirling in his head, Aaron started to sign the paperwork that the hospital needed.
He’d never cared about the expectations of his parents but he’d still done what he thought would make them proud or in the case of his father piss him off. The death of his mother showed him that he needed to live for himself and do what made him happy. And that wasn’t sitting in a courtroom day after day. Once his obligations with his mother’s estate were handled, he was going to figure out when the next round at the FBI academy started and join up.
Aaron waited for the red light to flash to tell him it was clear for him to start to take his shots. His eyes tracked the flag that was telling him from which direction the wind was blowing as well as how strong. There were barely any ripples which told him it wasn’t blowing hard. He sighted through his scope again and waited. Today’s target was wearing a light green shirt. He could see the movement of the other dummies as they moved along their set tracks. A flash of green had Aaron moving the sight of the rifle that direction but the hair color was wrong. Black haired in a green shirt was his target not blond in a green shirt. He waited two more minutes before the next green shirt moved into sight. He only paused for two seconds to take in the femininity of the target before he fired. The only area that he could get a clean shot on was the head. The bullet ripped through the dummy’s head. He watched as all the dummies on the track stopped and he waited. His eyes never leaving the sight and his finger still curled around the trigger of his gun.
Lights flashed to tell him that someone was on the course so Aaron quickly released the trigger and flipped the safety back on. When he stood up to start taking his rifle apart he saw his main weapons instructor standing off to the side, along with another man. Aaron had seen him in the halls but had never figured out who he was.
“Trainee Hotchner, this is John Michaels.”
Aaron knew exactly who he was then. He wiped his sweaty hand on his pants before holding his hand out for the shake that was expected. Even those in the academy knew that he was next in line for the Associate Assistant Director spot.
“Sir,” Aaron said as they shook hands.
“Hotchner, top of your class. Frank tells me that you are a wonderful shot. I’ve seen your scores from Hargrave, that’s not a surprise. SWAT teams that need a new member are low but we have a request for you. One team really wants you.”
“Where?” That a team was requesting him was a good thing. He wasn’t being placed, he was being picked.
“Seattle. Effective the day of graduation.”
“Yes, Sir.” His instructor and the soon to be Associate Assistant Director walked away with no more words to him. Seattle. Almost as far away from Virginia as one could get while still inside the contiguous states.
Aaron let his mind only take in the thoughts of what he had to do. Graduation was just days away. His rifle was stripped and cleaned before it was put back together and put up until the next person needed it. He had actually been done at the academy for hours but with no one to go home to, Aaron hadn’t found the want to go home except to collapse into bed.
When Aaron had left his job as attorney, Haley and he fought and fought. By the time he had actually joined the academy, they were on the outs. She wanted space and time and Aaron was more than willing to give it to her. He’d convinced her to stay in the house while he’d gone to stay at his childhood home. It wasn’t the best option but he didn’t want to set up somewhere when he could be leaving at the end of his time at the academy. Tom had been happy to have him there no matter the amount of time he actually spent there.
“Everything okay, Aaron?” Tom asked after Aaron finally got out of his car.
“Of course. Got my marching orders. I’ll be going to Seattle to be a part of their SWAT team.”
“That’s great. And have you talked to Miss Haley yet?”
“No. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
Aaron smiled at Tom and waved before going into the house. There was a plate of food in the oven for him, left over from Tom’s own dinner. The man had moved into the house not long after Aaron’s mother had died. He’d never gotten married, he adored the grounds and to him it was more than worth it. There was a small room that Aaron had paid to have converted on the ground floor for him.
When Aaron had come back to the house, he’d gone right back to his old bedroom. He’d moved in his adult things but hadn’t wanted to use the master bedroom a floor down or any of the other rooms. When he laid down for the night, Aaron was exhausted but happy.
Aaron smiled as he let himself into his new apartment. Tom had found it for him and had all of his things moved from the house into it before he’d even finished closing up his apartment in Seattle. Everything was perfect and he was in love with the location. He hadn’t brought much with him from Seattle. His apartment had been furnished and he’d not bought much that he’d cared to bring home with him. His newer wardrobe of suits and the letters that Haley had sent to him over the two years were the only thing he’d brought back outside of pictures.
The ring of a phone had him looking around. He found the base on the desk in the corner of the living room.
“Hotchner,” Aaron answered.
“Aaron, just wanted to make sure you got into the apartment just fine.”
“Everything is perfect here, Tom. Thank you so much. This made moving back home so much easier.”
“Anything for you, Aaron. You know that. Get some sleep. Get to go be a big bad FBI Profiler tomorrow.”
“Have a good night.” Aaron hung up when the man said his goodnights as well and then Aaron got himself ready for bed. There was a three hour time difference between Seattle and DC and he needed to be fresh and ready for reporting to work at Quantico in the morning.
Stepping foot into the BSU bunker, Aaron smiled as he saw the man he’d met and worked with on a case that was still unsolved. When he’d done the interviews for the position he’d met with Jason Gideon and Max Ryan, who he was technically replacing. He wasn’t sure what to think of either man. He liked Rossi better. He knew that he’d be doing paperwork and case write-ups until he got used to things. The unit was a little bit different than other units. He’d be working solo more than with anyone else, at least once they trusted him to work alone.
“Hotchner!” Rossi called out and Aaron tracked his eyes around the room until he saw the man, making his way towards him. “Glad you found the bunker okay.”
“Yes, Sir. You can call me Hotch. It’s less of a mouthful.”
“Hotch. Get that nickname in school?”
“Your desk is here.” Rossi pointed at a mostly cleaned off desk. There was a pile of files and Aaron looked at them with an interested eye. “Those are the files we want you to read and then you and me are going to do some talking.”
“A question?” Aaron asked.
“Bathroom is over there,” Rossi said as he pointed to a corner. He pointed to a different corner. “Coffee is over there. If it’s under a cup left, make a new pot. Please.”
“Thank you but that wasn’t what my question was going to be. I met someone from here one time. A man named Spencer.”
“Spencer? Never been anyone in the unit with a first or last name of Spencer.”
“Oh. I must have got the units mixed up then.” Aaron dropped his briefcase at the side of the desk and pulled out his chair to sit down. Rossi walked away and Aaron allowed his thoughts to turn to the man he’d met twice now who had lied to him about where he worked. What use was there in lying to him? Why would the man tell him that he worked in the BSU? Pushing the thoughts away he opened the first file and started to read.
Hours later, Aaron sighed as he leaned back in his chair. There were a few people scattered around but Rossi had left for the day as well as Ryan, but Gideon was looking over files at his desk. He still wasn’t exactly sure about the man. There was just something a little off putting about him. The growling of his stomach seemed to echo around the room and Gideon looked up.
“Better go feed that. Pack up for the day, Hotch. Tomorrow’s another day and your brain will thank you for it.”
“I will.” Aaron quickly cleaned up his desk area to where it looked less like a bomb went off and then headed out. Instead of taking food back to his lonely apartment, Aaron stopped at a diner and ate dinner. The hustle and bustle of the people around him gave the impression that he wasn’t lonely.
While he’d been in Seattle, after the first two months, he hadn’t allowed himself to miss Haley. There was nothing that could be done about it. It was at the fourth month mark that he received his first letter from her. She’s gone to the house to get the address from Tom. The letters were innocent, nothing more than the description of what was going on in her life. Aaron always wrote back, his letters were shorter but he always closed them with his love. He knew that Jessica had moved in with her while she was trying to find a job after graduating college.
Dinner eaten and mind tired, if not body as well, Aaron stepped into his apartment and dropped his briefcase inside the door. He moved towards the couch and laid down on it, not even taking off his suit jacket. Once he was down he did toe off his shoes and then closed his eyes. He was almost asleep when he thought that sleeping in his suit was not going to be a good idea. Instead he pushed himself up to see that there was a message on his answering machine. He pressed play when he’d tipped forward enough to reach it.
“Aaron, it’s Haley. Tom gave me your new number when I went out to give him some cookies today. I hope that your first day at the BSU went well. I know that we’ve talked about what we wanted to do when you got back and I know that I was on the fence but I’m not anymore. I’m not saying that I want to jump back into where we were but I would love to go out with you. Dinner this week, sometime. Whatever day works for you. Just please call me. I love you.”
Aaron sat on the couch, just staring at the machine. His friends from Seattle had told him that he was an idiot for only signing a three month lease on his apartment but at the moment, he felt like he’d made the right choice.
Aaron spun Haley around the dance floor again with the crowd of family and friends watching. Their first dance as a married couple was almost over. Aaron never wanted to let her go though. His eyes tracked over the crowd and he found all smiling faces. Everyone was known to him.
The song ended and Haley moved over to dance with her father as her mother came to dance with him. He guided his new mother-in-law around the dance floor. When dinner was served, Aaron was tired from dancing with nearly every woman there, single or married. There had also been the dance with seven year old Riley, who wanted to dance with him after he’d danced with Haley. He was a boy who Haley’s cousin had adopted the year before. Aaron had been going around the dance floor with Jessica when he’d seen the boy crying. His new father had been adamant against him dancing with Aaron but the rest of the family thought that it would be cute. Jessica had smiled and left him on the floor, alone while she went over and fetched the boy. His father let him go since he thought that Jessica was going to dance with him.
When Riley had been handed off to Aaron, the father had nearly blown up but the family had presented a united front and stopped him. Haley had made the comment that her cousin was probably going to be divorcing him. Aaron vowed in that moment to help her and to make sure that she retained custody of Riley.
A late comer to the wedding had caught Aaron’s eye in the church. He looked familiar but Aaron hadn’t been able to place where he knew him from so he figured it was a distant cousin of Haley’s. His side of the family was sorely lacking but then only Sean was there. The rest of his guests were from his college days, former friends from the prosecutor’s office, and newer friends from the FBI, along with Tom. The man stayed at the edges of the reception and Aaron saw him on and off throughout the night.
It was gifts time and some of the guests had already started to leave. Since they already lived together their wedding registry had been full of things like picture frames or kitchen things that were expensive that she didn’t want to buy but hoped other people would get for them. It was a great deal of odds and ends that finished out their home. Then there was just a single present left. Haley opened the card that was with it and frowned when there were just initials telling them who it was from. STR. Aaron knew no one with those initials but the card was addressed to them.
Aaron opened the box and found a set of books. Classics, first edition classics at that. There were several that Aaron loved and the rest were ones that Haley loved. There was also a lilac purple tie for Aaron and a lovely pale pink purse for Haley. She oohed and awed over it. Aaron lifted out the tie and found that it was a lovely silk and handmade. It was beautiful. No one there claimed the gift and the only person that was gone was the young man who Aaron had thought was Haley’s cousin.
When he described the man to her, she said that it wasn’t anyone of her family, that she’d thought it was a co-worker of his, past or present. It had to have been him that gave them the gift.
The pictures from their wedding day were waiting for them when they got home and both of them combed over the pictures to try and find one of the man who had given them such a grand gift. Aaron knew exactly how much each of those books had to have costed and the tie and purse were no small thing either. There were no pictures of him. The closest that they got was a shot of the back of his head when he was leaving as they started to open presents.
Aaron spent a few weeks obsessed about it. His job had turned him a little paranoid but when he’d described the man to Gideon and Rossi, there had been no recognition on their part. Still the tie went into the closet and as much as he was tempted to wear it he didn’t. He had the reminder every single day that he opened his closet and saw it but he lost interest in figuring out who had given it to them. Nothing happened over the weeks and then months.
Aaron almost turned to head to the bunker when he drove onto the base. He had to catch himself and turn towards the academy proper. He wasn’t used to the new offices yet. Dave had retired not too long after the wedding and Aaron had been happy for him up until the entire BSU had gone through a makeover and it was still happening nearly a year later. Gideon was Unit Chief but a lead profiler had not been named at all. It was grating on everyone, coupled with the move.
His desk was exactly as he’d left it the night before except there was a note on it to go see Gideon as soon as he got in. Aaron looked up to the man’s office and sighed when he saw that he wasn’t in there. He wasn’t going to go chasing after the man. He’d sit and work on paperwork until Gideon decided to grace them with his presence. It was easy to get lost in the paperwork and the only reason that he knew that Gideon had come back was he raised voice in his office. Aaron looked up and saw that he was on a cell phone. That meant something to do with the CIA so Aaron stayed where he was.
When the door opened an hour later, Aaron was making his way back to his desk with a cup of coffee so he moved right up into Gideon’s office, knocking as he entered.
“Hotch, good. The committee has made their decision on who they want to be lead profiler.”
“Good.” Aaron wanted to know who was being brought into the unit from outside.
“They wanted me but I have no want to be both Unit Chief and lead profiler so they had to go back to the drawing board so to speak. Dave was consulted as well and so the committee would like if you would become the new lead profiler.”
“Me?” Aaron was shocked. He figured it would be someone else brought in that had left the unit. People who had moved elsewhere for other reasons but would come back to basically be second in command.
“It’s been pressed upon us that this unit is an old boy’s club. We are going to be expanding and changing and one of those things is trying to bring in new blood. I don’t have the temperament to be what they want me to be. I’ve never been good at building people up. That’s the other reason that I turned it down. You may be a cold hearted seeming man but we know that you’ll do what needs done. Everyone takes to you better than me. Of course, that means the office is yours. Someone will be by to help you get decorations and shelves and whatever else you need.”
Aaron nodded, grabbing his coffee mug, he started out of the office.
“If you want to take the afternoon to go and tell Haley, just meet with whoever they are sending to talk about the office and then you can go,” Gideon said as Aaron exited the office.
The rest of the morning flew by. Aaron tried to get as much work done as he could. A lovely lady from requisitions came by and they discussed his office. He liked the color as it was so it was just a matter of getting furniture in. She said that it would probably be done before he came back in the morning as the AD wanted to get the Unit going. When he signed the paperwork for her about the furniture, Aaron finally saw the new name of the Unit. Behavioral Analysis Unit. BAU. It was much better than BSU. Aaron was happy to be getting away from being called the BS Unit. When he was done, he grabbed his things and made his way home. He figured he’d be cornered by HR as soon as he got in the next morning to go over the changes.
Haley was in the kitchen, preparing whatever she was getting ready to stick in the oven for dinner. Aaron watched her for a few seconds. She still had her job at the library and she worked mornings there. Home in time for her to have dinner ready on the nights that he was home. Dinner looked like it wasn’t at a stage where she had to finish it. He hoped that it could be thrown into the fridge and saved for the next day. He wanted to go out and celebrate his new position.
Stepping up behind her on silent feet, Aaron wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close and burying his nose in her hair.
“Aaron!” Haley chastised as she tried to turn in his arms. He allowed her to do so after a few seconds. When she was fully turned in his arms, he kissed her. It was a long and deep kiss as once he tasted the sweets she had to have been eating, he couldn’t stop. She allowed the kiss for several long minutes before pulling back. “What are you doing home so early?”
“I accepted the position as lead profiler for the unit!” Aaron said with a big smile on his face. He leaned in again and kissed her, short but with no less happiness and love. When he pulled back, though, he could see that she was upset. “Haley?”
“That means more hours doesn’t it?”
“Yes.” Aaron took a step back from her, a frown starting on his face. He’d talked to her about it when Dave had left the unit. He hadn’t figured that he would get the job then but hopefully when Gideon retired he’d get the job. She knew that his goal was Unit Chief and the stepping stone to that was lead profiler. He loved his job. He’d loved being a lawyer at first but seeing all the horribleness that he was too late to stop had made him angry. His job now stopped some of those people from creating as much horribleness.
“Sometimes. I get less paperwork overall but what I do get is more complex. I thought you would be happy.”
“I’m happy for you, Aaron. I just thought that this was going to be later. More down the road. We’ve not even been married a year.”
“I know.” Aaron pulled her back into his arms, kissing her forehead. It wasn’t hard to forgive her for the little bit of unhappiness. “Let’s go out and celebrate!”
After a lovely dinner out and a little too much to drink on both their sides, Aaron was shocked when Haley just wanted to go to sleep. He showered and when he came out, she was asleep on her side of the bed with her back to him. He crawled into bed and laid there, wanting to touch her but not knowing exactly what was wrong. It took a long time for him to fall asleep.
The next morning dawned way too early and Aaron was up and out of bed long before his alarm was set to go off. He dressed for work and ate a quick breakfast of oatmeal before he went up into their bedroom and kissed Haley goodbye. She barely woke and the muffled words of love sounded exactly as they did every single morning so he pushed the night out of his mind.
Walking into the bullpen, Aaron looked at his office and smiled. He moved up, had set his briefcase in his chair and then started to move all his things from his desk into the office. It took half an hour to sort it all and get it set up. The bookshelves behind his desk needed to be filled and he knew the books he wanted to put in there. The texts from his law school days as well as some of the other books he’d collected over the years. He also thought about other books that would be a good idea to have in his office to make it a little more personable. He’d have to go back to his childhood home and find some of the ones in the library that he had made sure was bought for him and Tristan. His mind went right to Empty Planet with a smile. He’d make sure to bring it.
As he sat down in his desk to look at his office, Aaron saw Gideon moving fast through the bullpen. His eyes were locked on Aaron’s office so he got up from the desk to meet him at the door.
“Boston finally called us in on the Reaper. We have to leave now.”
“I’m ready to go.” Aaron would call Haley as soon as he got set up at the field office in Boston. Everyone in the unit had been keeping their eye on the Boston case, wondering when they were going to be called in. Grabbing his go bag, Aaron dashed out of the office. Gideon was on his heels with his own bag. Who knew when they were going to be coming home?”
When a case allowed it, Aaron liked to go to the graduation ceremony for the academy. It had been over a decade since his graduation, but he wondered what the older agents had thought of him at his own graduation. He’d stand at the back of the crowd and just watch. Seeing the families that were gathered to be happy for the happy occasion. His own graduation had been sorely lacking in anyone watching it. Haley had still been so upset with him that she hadn’t come. Tom would have, he knew, if he had told him. That was part of the reason why Aaron hadn’t told him. Sean hadn’t even come down from Harvard to view it. He’d gotten a short letter from him telling him that he was happy but that was it.
The names washed over him, going in one ear and out the other but when a young man stepped up on the stage, Aaron was intrigued. The man was familiar but Aaron couldn’t place where he knew him from. His hair was just past his ears and he wore thick framed glasses but there was something about him. Aaron’s eyes scanned the crowd, there was no one waving at him when he stepped off the stage. He was alone there exactly like Aaron had been. His heart went out to him. The young man looked sleight and Aaron wondered exactly how well he’d done on the physical side of the academy.
The tides were turning at the academy and in the FBI in general. So many were being brought in for their minds. He knew that some standards had been lowered to try and meet the growing tide of intellectuals that were wanting to get into jobs that were mainly desk ones. He knew several people in White Collar Crimes that had been on the edge of failing out when they graduated due to the physical side. People like that would never get into SWAT but there were a lot of jobs that didn’t need the physical people, they needed brains. He wondered if the young man was one of them.
Tuning into the names, he heard that the class was at the S’s. There wouldn’t be that many left. When it was all said and done nearly half an hour later, Aaron made his way inside the academy. He lectured sometimes when cases allowed it. Gideon kept a bigger presence in the academy but he was the main teacher of the profiling classes. The sound of quick footsteps around a corner had Aaron pulling back so that he wouldn’t run into someone but it wasn’t in time and he and another male collided and the male ended up on the floor.
Aaron leaned down to give him a hand up when he saw that it was the young man from before. Seeing him up close, Aaron knew that he knew him from somewhere.
“Agent Hotchner!” the young man said. His eyes blown wide in recognition. Aaron was fully shocked at that. That meant that he did know him from somewhere. “I’m sorry, Sir. I was rushing because I needed to get…”
“It’s fine.” Aaron held out his hand and he waited for the young man to shake it. The man moved his hand a few inches over for him to shake and then pulled it back before finally just clasping their hands together and shaking it. Given the hesitance, Aaron had expected a weak handshake but the grip was firm. “What’s your name?”
“Tr…” The young man stopped and swallowed before he spoke again. “Trey, Sir.”
“Trey what?” Aaron asked but the young man’s eyes widened comically before they started to dance left and right. He was looking for an exit. As soon as his eyes landed on something, he took off running. Aaron followed him with his eyes until he rounded a corner and was pressing a hand to his stomach. Worried Aaron followed him. When he rounded the corner the young man was gone but Aaron figured he was in the bathroom so he went there and knocked. He didn’t hear a thing so he entered. Afraid he’d find the young man throwing up in the toilet. What he found was emptiness. All the stalls were open and there was nowhere for him to hide. Worried even more, Aaron checked all the rooms on the hall. The young man was nowhere to be found.
When he finally exited the main building of the academy, Aaron found Morgan waiting on him.
“Hey, Gideon tried calling you several times. Said you phone would just ring and go to voicemail. He said I might find you here.”
“Sorry, I had my phone on silent for the graduation ceremony but I forgot to take it back off. Do we have a case?”
“Yes. Atlanta, serial child killer. Third body was found this morning. He wants to be wheels up as soon as we can be.”
“Just need to grab my bags.”
Aaron pushed the newly minted Special Agent out of his mind. If he was sick, someone would find him. He had a job to do and he couldn’t put it off to find a sick agent that wasn’t on his team.
Aaron settled into his office chair with a sigh. He looked out into the bullpen and sighed at the sight of Morgan and JJ just sitting on the top of Morgan’s desk, neither of them knew what to do. No one knew what to do. The bombing case in Boston had been JJ’s first on the team and it was a horrible first case to have. Garcia had been on the team only a month more than JJ and she was devastated.
Gideon was out at his cabin and had been for two weeks now. The whole unit was still in shock with the aftermath of the bombings in Boston and the aftermath of what Bale had done to show himself better than Gideon. So far, until everything was cleared, the team was on stand down. A second set of interviews had been conducted that afternoon of all FBI agents on hand during the case. Aaron himself had spent the last two weeks trying to figure out exactly how they could have stopped what happened.
“Aaron?” a female voice called out and Aaron had to look up to tell who it was. He was so lost in his thoughts that Strauss had gotten all the way up to his desk without him realizing.
“What can I do for you?” Aaron asked as he sat up straighter in his chair. His dislike for Strauss stemmed from the fact that she saw him as someone who wanted her spot as Section Chief and he didn’t. That spot had too much politics for his liking.
“The committee has made its decision and it’s siding with what you and your team have been saying from the start, that it was all just a mess that could never have been unraveled. The ADD is upset about the loss of that genius they were trying to recruit into the unit but he’s pushing for more staffing.”
“We probably could have done with a genius on the team to deal with Bale.”
“Agreed. As the world changes so does the evil that we hunt. Try and think about who you want as an addition to the team. Gideon is going to be gone for at least six months. That’s what he wants. He’s going to teach at the academy when his initial leave is done. You, as of now, are temporary Unit Chief. Everyone across the board has been made aware of this.”
“Thank you for telling me. I’ll make sure that the paperwork is filled out for it.” Aaron could feel her dislike of him. Putting him up to that position put him a step closer to her position. That was something he didn’t want but he couldn’t convince her of it. She’d spent too long fighting men to see that not all of them wanted what she had just because she was a woman.
“There is a pay raise for the position that will stay in effect if Gideon decides to come back as Unit Chief.”
“Is there anything else?”
“Yes. The ADD wants me to press upon you that maybe a team dinner out will make them feel better. An attempt at normalcy. Analyst Garcia’s already been taken off duty for the day and Agents Morgan and Jareau are waiting for you.”
Aaron looked at the time and saw that it was nearly dinner time. Haley was visiting her parents for the week. She’d quit her job at the library a few years before so that they could focus on having a child. She had found it cloying at first but she found friends in the neighborhood that she hadn’t really made before and she was enjoying having the time now. The second guest room had been set up with things for a child that were still boxed up. A mobile. A crib. Various other things. Her age was a factor but Aaron had been hesitant about children. He’d wanted them long ago but the pressures of the job had made him question his ability to be a parent after the horrible childhood he’d had but working the job had also made him feel better at it as he went along. Working with children over the course of cases showed him that he wasn’t going to neglect his child like his mother had or hit one like his father. He wasn’t his parents and he would love his child no matter what.
“I’ll do just that. I know a wonderful place to eat at. Have a good day, Chief Strauss,” Aaron said as he stood up. He grabbed his suit jacket and slipped it on before grabbing his briefcase. He’d added two files to look at for a case earlier in the day. He needed something to make his night go by. “Does this also mean that Agent Jareau can try and find us a case tomorrow?”
“Good.” Aaron stepped out of his office, waiting for Strauss to leave before he shut off the light.
With a heavy heart, Aaron took his team out to eat that night. He used the credit card attached to his trust fund that still grew at a massive rate each year. His lawyer had made him have Haley sign a prenuptial agreement. In the beginning, she hadn’t minded. It was his family’s money and she had told him time again that she didn’t marry him for his money. In fact, she hadn’t started to get upset until he’d refused to touch it when she wanted things. Oh, when her car finally died he dipped in and bought her a new one. Instead of leasing one or taking a loan out. He made sure that she had what she needed and some of what she wanted. He was never frivolous with his money. He didn’t see a need to be. He didn’t even touch his trust fund for money for his suits. He made enough at his job to keep them going. All of the money he’d gotten from his mother’s life insurance and various other stipulations of her will, he’d put that money in there.
Aaron kept his mind on the team as they ate dinner, laughing and acting like he didn’t want to be anywhere other than where he was.
“So, Haley’s out of town. What are you going to do tonight?” Morgan asked as he sipped at his glass of water. Dinner had long been eaten and the evidence of dessert was still scattered on the table. Garcia and Morgan had been talking the most but JJ had chimed in a great deal, Aaron let their words wash over him.
“I actually think that I’m going to go check on my parent’s house.”
“Oh. Are they out of town?” Garcia asked with a smile on her face.
“No. Father died many years ago and mother over a decade ago. I kept the house as I can’t stand to part with it. I have a gentleman, Tom, who lives there and takes care of it. I go and check on him in person a great deal.” Aaron didn’t mention that he had been going there more and more as his and Haley’s relationship got rockier and rockier.
“Sean didn’t want the house?”
“He was still a child when father died. Mother didn’t want it so she gave it to me. Sean is uninterested in staying in the area for long periods of time. He has his pre-law degree but has no interest in actually becoming one. He looked up to father and I think that he wanted to follow in his footsteps to try and show his love but his heart wasn’t in it. He was in New York the last I heard, working at a restaurant under a very good chef.”
No one asked why he had followed his father’s steps as well, only to leave. He was thankful that after that the team wanted to leave. It was getting late. He made sure that the team was in their cars headed home before he left the restaurant. It was going to be really late by the time he got to the house but he didn’t care. He felt like he needed to see the man so he drove. When he pulled into the area where he always parked, he found that Tom’s car was gone. Not worried, Aaron got out to at least walk around a little. He easily walked to the front and then moved to the backyard. The flash of a light in the woods startled him a little so he moved closer. The light was sweeping back and forth, back and forth at a low angle. Aaron stopped when he realized why it was familiar. Tristan used to wander the woods at night like that looking for weird things. Aaron made his way into the woods, following the light and trying not to make a sound. It was still pretty cold out at night so he hoped that the boy, or teen, or whatever age he was, was dressed like he should be. He was about fifteen feet away and could see that the boy was small. Without seeing his face, Aaron couldn’t tell his age. He got excited and wasn’t watching where he was going and stepped on a branch and it snapped, the sound was horribly loud to Aaron’s ears. The boy turned and flashed the light right into Aaron’s eyes to where he had to shield them not to be blinded.
There was silence and then a gasp and the sound of running feet. Aaron lowered his hands to see that Tristan had dropped the flashlight and was running towards the pond. Aaron picked up the flashlight.
“Tristan! Wait!” Aaron called out but the boy didn’t stop. Aaron took off after him. While his stride was bigger, Tristan knew the woods better than Aaron remembered them and he was able to duck in-between trees that Aaron had to go around. They crossed over the stream that fed the pond and Tristan just kept going. Aaron could barely keep up to him with the light so when the sound of his running feet stopped, Aaron stopped too. He looked around where he had last heard him. There he found the clothes in a pile, he’d gone. Aaron had scared him away.
Picking up the clothes, Aaron started back towards the hideaway. He shook out the clothes and put them up for the boy the next time he came. He saw new things inside. He remembered younger Tristan telling him that he’d bought clothes and that older Tristan made sure that there was money. He wondered exactly where Tristan was going for the clothes and the money, because there wasn’t a bit of clothes for an adult in there. He wondered then if older Tristan had a different hideaway for his things, just to be safe.
Sitting down, Aaron flicked off the flashlight and laid it on the bookshelf. Tristan had never run away from him. Why had he done it that night? What was he going to do in his future that made Tristan scared of him? Was there any way to change it? He closed his eyes to think and didn’t realize that he’d fallen asleep until he woke up the next morning.
A note from Tom was at his side, he realized as he pulled the blanket off himself. Tom was telling him to come up for breakfast but Aaron wasn’t feeling like it. He felt like he was intruding here. This was a place for Tristan now. Tristan had better memories than him. He needed to leave this place to him.
Aaron looked around the boat that they had ended up finding the victim on. She was dead in the cage and both of the UnSubs were in custody but the case had ended horribly. He looked over at Elle Greenaway. The strong woman was looking like she had a broken heart and Aaron understood. It was a horrible outcome for them. There had been no way to get to the girl quicker. They had never cracked the password on the computer. He wasn’t even sure there was a thing on the computer that could help them.
“Cameras,” Morgan said. Aaron looked where he was pointing and sure enough there were cameras in the ceiling of the room. “I’m having Garcia see if she can track them.”
“Good. Keep me informed. Where’s Gideon?”
“I think he’s outside.”
Aaron moved outside and looked for Gideon only to not see him at all. JJ was there, talking with the local field office agents. When she saw him looking at her, she nodded her head towards the SUV parked to the side of the dock. Aaron moved a few steps over so that he could see inside and saw Gideon sitting in the front passenger seat with his eyes staring straight forward, barely breathing. Strauss had wanted him back for the case, citing pressure from up above but Aaron wondered how much pressure exactly.
The sound of feet behind him had Aaron turning to look. He found Agent Greenaway walking towards the upper edge of the dock.
“Agent Greenaway, submit your application for the spot on the team again. Under references place my name.”
Greenaway nodded at him and continued on. Having a female on the team that wasn’t their communications liaison would help make the brass happy and Greenaway was more than qualified. If this was his last decision as temporary unit chief so be it. Looking at Gideon though, he didn’t think that it would be his last. There was something to the way that he was sitting that said that he wasn’t going to come back.
“He’s not going to be coming back is he?” JJ asked, her eyes were on Gideon as well.
“I don’t know. If we had saved the victim, maybe.”
JJ nodded and turned back to where the LEO and the local agents were talking. “We just need to close up shop and we can go. The Seattle Office is going to take care of everything. The jet will be ready to fly as soon as we get there.”
“Find Morgan and we can head back to the office to pack up.
The flight back home was dead silent. Morgan had his headphones on and JJ was sitting beside him reading. Gideon was in a corner just staring out of the jet’s window. Aaron though was thinking.
Haley was pregnant and given her age and how long it had taken for her conceive, she was going to be going onto bed rest at some point. If Gideon didn’t come back to the unit, if the outcome of this case pushed him away, there was little doubt that he’d be made unit chief. That would mean more time at work even when in town. With Gideon gone, Aaron was the last of the staff that had been part of the earlier days. The last who remembered what it was like to work with all three of the legends. Also if he did turn it down and stayed as just lead profiler, who was going to be brought in to replace Gideon? It might only be Morgan, Garcia, and JJ but they were his team and he wasn’t going to leave them, and he wasn’t going to let someone else in.
When the jet landed, Aaron wasn’t surprised to find Strauss waiting for him. Gideon went right to his car and was gone. The section chief looked at him and he shook his head no. Strauss frowned.
“Agent Hotchner, your team can leave for the day when their reports are filed. Analyst Garcia has dinner waiting for you, I think. When the reports are done, Agent Hotchner, do you mind bringing them to my office?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Aaron said, and then she was spinning to get into her car.
“Hotch?” Morgan pointed where the lights from Gideon’s car could just be seen.
“Leave him be, Morgan. Let’s head back to the office and get this over with.”
“Are they going to blame Gideon?” JJ asked.
“There is nothing to blame. We didn’t have what we needed to close this before her death. We just have to make sure that we tell the truth.”
The drive to the office was horrible. The car was even more silent than the jet had been. The breaths in and out were the only noises. No one moved. No one did anything. Aaron parked the SUV in the lot and everyone transferred back to their own vehicles before heading up. The bullpen was a ghost town. No one from any of the other teams were there.
Aaron got to work right away, he had two reports he had to fill out and neither one was exactly going to be fun to do. The first about the case was hard as it was a horrible ending but there had been no way for them to get it done quicker. The only thing that could have got them to the girl was finding out she was on the boat quicker and that could have only happened if they had been able to get into the computer. Lack of ability to do so was something that they couldn’t have predicted.
“Agent Hotchner?” A voice called out from his door way. Aaron looked up to see an older man standing there, leaning on a cane. He was dressed in a very nice three piece suit that made him look very handsome, despite his age. Aaron put him at around his late sixties, early seventies. “May I come in and talk to you?”
“Sure.” Aaron didn’t like the disruption. He’d finished off the case file but now he needed a report on Gideon. The man smiled and closed the door as he stepped over. He sat down in the chair closest to the door and leaned his cane against the desk. “How may I help you?”
“You just got back from the Seattle. Pair of killers. Jason Gideon’s first case back after the bombing in Boston?” the man asked.
Aaron narrowed his eyes and sat up straighter in his chair, looking at the man. “Who did you say you were?”
“I never said who I was, Aaron. I could give you my real name but as of yet, you’ve never heard my real name. You knew me as a boy though.”
“Tristan.” Aaron looked over his face; he had to have been wearing contacts because there were no glasses on his face.
“How did you get in here?”
“Visitor’s pass. Wonders happen when you can talk security into letting you in to see your nephew.” Tristan leaned back in the chair and settled down. Aaron could tell that the cane wasn’t just a fashion statement for him, it was something that he needed. Had little Tristan lied to him? Had he been going forward in time instead of back, back then? “I am not going to tell you anything about the past or about the future, that I wasn’t already going to tell you. I just came to talk to you.”
“To talk to me?” Aaron stood up from his desk and moved around to lean against the front of it. Tristan only shifted in the chair to look up at him. “What do you need to talk to me about?”
“I’ve not found a point in my life where I’ve been able to change anything. What happens happens. You have to make the best decision for the team.”
“What decision did I make before?”
“To have Gideon put into a desk job.”
Aaron rubbed his hands down his face. “Why did you run from me?”
“I’m seventy years old, Aaron. You need to be a bit more specific.”
Aaron opened his mouth but shut it again quickly. He looked at Tristan with a frown on his face. The man only raised an eyebrow in response.
“You just lied to me.”
“I did no such thing. Do you think a seventy year old man can remember all the times over his life he would have run away from his best friend?” Tristan asked.
Aaron didn’t know how to answer that. He really didn’t. “Best friend?”
“I’ve counted you as my best friend since you showed me how to swim. There had been some years in between where we lost contact but don’t friends sometimes do that? It’s getting to be time for me to go. I just came to see you. Give you a slightly familiar face to tell you to do what your heart says but also what’s best for you and your team.” Tristan used the cane to push himself to his feet. He smiled at Aaron and reached out a hand to cup his face.
“You look like you miss me now.”
“No. I miss this version of you. Before everything had shaped you into what you become. I will always pick that version though. That Aaron, he’s the best Aaron. You just aren’t there yet.”
Aaron wasn’t sure how to take that. He really didn’t. He stayed leaning against his desk as he watched Tristan leave. He was happy that Tristan was alive. That he had proof that his friend had made it past the age of ten. He wanted to know exactly what had happened. As easily as Tristan had distracted him, Aaron was pretty sure that if that Tristan who had run from him had come to a child Aaron, he wouldn’t have run. He had done something as an adult to scare the kid. He just had to figure out what and not do it between now and then.
Sighing, Aaron turned back to his work. Hearing Tristan’s words in his head, Aaron looked at what he needed to fill out for Gideon’s return to the team. The man wasn’t ready and he might not ever be. He wrote what he needed and signed it just as Morgan was coming in with his and JJ’s files. Aaron took them and set out to meet with Strauss.
Aaron smiled at Jack as he lay in the bed that he’d been placed in. He had a son. That was the words that kept on going through his head, over and over. He had a beautiful son. Haley was asleep and the nurses had taken Jack back to the nursery as he’d been at work. He was waiting on shift change to be over before he could go in and see and hold his son. Jack was in his little bed, kicking in his sleep.
“Which one is yours?” A man asked.
Turning to look at him, Aaron saw that his eyes weren’t on him but in the nursery. His hair was long and it kind of blocked Aaron’s vision of him and even the glass wasn’t reflecting a good image. The soft shift of clothes had Aaron looking down. A boy of about seven was standing there. Aaron scooted over so that they could have more room.
“There,” Aaron used his finger to point at Jack.
“First born?” The man asked next, his face never moving to where Aaron could see him.
“Yes. Jack. We are going to name him Jack.” Aaron saw the smile on the man’s face as he looked into the room where the babies were. “What about you? Second?”
“No. This isn’t my son and it’s kind of complicated but yes, I have a son in there. I won’t go into the details but I love him like he’s mine and that’s the only thing that matters.”
Aaron could see the faint hint of a smile on his face. The boy was looking through the glass with rapt attention and it was when the boy turned to look at him that Aaron swore for a second that it was Tristan. Was it Tristan?”
“Grayson, come on. Your mother is waiting on you,” the man said. He looped an arm around the boy’s shoulder and pulled him away from the glass. “You’ll get to see him later.”
Grayson waved at the babies in the window and then followed behind the man. When Aaron turned back to the window, a nurse was stepping up to the glass with Jack in her hands. She pointed at the door and Aaron moved towards it. When he stepped up the light above the door flicked to green and he pushed at it. The nurse was stepping into the smaller room. Aaron held out his hands and the nurse laid Jack in them.
The first thing that he did was bring Jack close to kiss his forehead and then inhale the scent of him. He promised again, as he would every single time that he held Jack, that he’d never hurt him; never make him think that he was unloved. Jack was his treasure and he’d live every day of his life to make his son proud of him and to never lose the love of him.
“It’s always so nice to see a man so happy to have a child. We get too many here that rarely want to see their children much less visit them every single chance they get,” the nurse said as she handed over a bottle to Aaron. Jack was just starting to fuss a little and Aaron was sure that he was hungry.
“I don’t know when I’ll get called out for work so I am making sure to get as much time as I can with him before I go.” Aaron settled back and Jack latched onto the nipple of the bottle.
Jack was perfect and his future.
The sounds of shots fired sounded in the room. Echoing all around him and in his skull. Aaron tried to react, tried to move but he couldn’t, not from his position and not quick enough. Pain seared through his shoulder and then there was screaming. Another final shot fired and Aaron watched from the floor as Dowd went down in a heap. He stared into cold, dead eyes as SWAT finished swarming the room.
“Dead?” someone asked.
“Two,” someone else answered. Aaron closed his eyes and blanked it all out. He was mad. SWAT had no business coming into the room when there were no eyes in the room. He was going to make sure that whoever gave the order to breach was stripped of the job if they didn’t see something worse happen.
Dowd’s body was removed from his sight and then soft hands were on his face. He looked up into the worried face of JJ. Behind her was Morgan and Greenaway. Aaron blinked a few times to hopefully correct his vision and then shook his head to get his hearing back.
“I’m fine. It was just loud for a few minutes. Help me sit up.”
“I don’t think that we should. Hotch, you were shot.”
“Kind of hard to miss that. It went through and through. I want the civilians taken care of first. And I want the commander of SWAT here before the dead bodies are pulled out. I want to hold them responsible.”
“Hotch?” Greenaway asked.
“They had no eyes in the room and didn’t even try and get ones in here.”
It was hours later that Aaron finally was released into a room. The doctor wanted to keep him overnight even though he wanted to go home. He’d sent Morgan and Greenaway to the hotel and JJ was there with him. She was working on the press release for the team and the situation that had sprung up. The death of two hostages because of what SWAT did was looking bad but thankfully it was all on the Des Moines police for that.
“Hotch, I have the ADD on the line,” JJ said as she handed over the phone. Aaron cocked an eyebrow.
“Sir?” Aaron asked as he placed the phone at his ear.
“We are sending a press team to Des Moines to deal with it. I want you and your team out of the news. This is not a reflection on you or Agent Jareau, this is a reflection on how much Des Moines SWAT has messed up. I want the BAU pushed away from it. Agent Jareau said that the doctor might release you tomorrow. I want you on the jet as soon as you are released. The official statement is that the team is getting called back to deal with an active case.”
“And is there a case?”
“There is. If you are cleared for non-field duty by the medics, you can observe and help from the station. If you are not cleared for that we can work something out. You have a child at home and I think that Morgan, Greenaway, and Jareau can handle a case alone.”
“Yes, Sir. I’ll keep you informed.” Aaron heard the click on the other end of the line and looked at JJ.
“He called me.” JJ took her phone back and looked at him shock.
“I’ll be fine here. I’m assuming he told you the same that he did me. Tell the team and we’ll go from there in the morning. When you guys come back bring my go bag. I’ll be fine alone.”
“I know. I’ll be here at dawn. With clothes and a nice pressed suit.”
Aaron smiled at her as she nodded and left. When she was gone with the door shut, he leaned back in the bed. He’d taken the strongest non narcotics they’d give him because he’d wanted to be at the top of his game when dealing with the press but since he’d been pulled from that, he clicked the button for the nurse.
An hour later, Aaron was lying in bed near floating. Whatever the doctor had given him was helping him feel better. The pain was gone and he was near asleep. The door opened but Aaron didn’t see anyone in the doorway and it shut again. All of the machines were on one side of the bed and the sound of soft footsteps padding around the other side had Aaron tipping his head that way. He saw a mop of hair and then Tristan was pulling his way up onto the bed with him. He sat there at his side and just looked at him. He was small, like his four year old self had been. Aaron reached out to touch his face but as his finger would have brushed skin, Tristan disappeared. The tiny hospital gown he’d been wearing left with him. Like he’d never been there.
It hadn’t been Tristan but a trick his mind was playing on him.
Aaron looked at his team. Smiling as he did so. Morgan was gripping Billie tight in his arms as he carried her out of the house. He looked at Prentiss with a look of satisfaction. It was her first case on the team and she’d already proven Strauss wrong. The section chief hadn’t wanted to add her to the team given that she’d been brought in by Greenaway after a night of drinking, but Gideon needed replaced and she would work to have a body on the team.
Prentiss’s idea to call the Crimes Against Children Unit to figure out if the suspected UnSub was on their radar at all. There had been enough to get a warrant to search the house for child pornography and in that search; Morgan had found Billie in the attic.
“Good call, Prentiss!” JJ said as she moved over to where Prentiss was standing beside Morgan. Billie was on a stretcher. The Copelands were going to have a rough time of it, dealing with the fallout of Billie being taken and Mr. Copeland’s health issues. “We have a good ending for the news and no harm came to Billie. A wonderful end for your first case, Agent Prentiss.”
“Here, here!” Morgan called out. Aaron moved closer to them. A case well done was a case well done.
“When we get home, first round is on me,” Aaron said. The team turned to him.
“What about Haley and Jack?”
“I’ll see them after. I’m not going to stay as long as all of you but a good team outing is something that we need.” Aaron pulled out his phone and texted Haley. Telling her that the case was wrapped up but when the team got home they were going to go out. At the last second he put in that it was a way to get to know Prentiss better.
When Aaron stumbled into the house more from fatigue than the single beer that he had, he’s not shocked to find the house already shut down for the night. His go bag was full of dirty clothes so he set it just inside the living room so that he could do up the clothes inside in the morning. Strauss had given them the morning off and the whole team had been thankful. He looked up as he turned and saw that the couch was made up for someone to sleep on.
Frowning, Aaron moved up to the bedroom door and the light of the nightlight in the hall shone on the pile of clothes sitting at the base of the door. He tried the doorknob and found it locked. Sighing, Aaron grabbed the clothes and made his way down the stairs. All the fatigue from the case was gone. He moved to grab his go bag and started sorting it out into the bins in the laundry room. When that was done, he placed the bag on the dryer and then moved back into the living room, only stopping to grab his briefcase before heading up to the guest room. The couch was all well and good for a nap after a round of spontaneous sex but he wasn’t going to sleep on it. The bed was made up like it always was, just in case Jessica wanted to stay the night. Sean never visited so the room was only used by Jessica.
Once changed and showered, Aaron settled onto the bed to work on some files until the fatigue hit him again. When he’d worked on his fourth file, Aaron decided that maybe he was keeping himself up working on them so he closed them up and tossed them off the side of the bed.
The alarm on his phone ringing woke Aaron up from a dead sleep. He looked around, unsure of where he was. When he recognized some of the decorations he’d bought for the house, Aaron knew where he was. He stretched in bed before slipping out and making his way to the kitchen. There he found Haley sitting and eating a bowl of cereal. She looked up at him in shock.
“You stayed?” She eyed the empty couch.
“I slept in the guest room.” Aaron moved to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup. He leaned back onto the counter and stared at his wife. “We got back into town around eight, a quick stop at the office to drop off files and then we were out to the bar. I stayed for one beer and a round of watching Prentiss shocked at how many ladies Morgan ended up getting to dance with him and then I was on my way home. I walked in the door at ten oh two.”
“You should have come home!” Haley demanded.
“I have a duty to my team as well as you. Prentiss is new and I wanted to make sure that she felt a part of the team. I am not Gideon, I won’t leave them questioning their place on the team. The quicker that we can get over any lingering insecurities of having a new member, the better we function and the quicker we can save people.”
“At the expense of your family?” Haley demanded.
“No. Strauss knew our plans and we don’t have to be in until after noon today. I was going to take you and Jack out for a nice brunch at the place you like so much but instead, I think that maybe it’s a father/son outing day. Jack will be up within the hour yes?”
“Yes,” Haley said bitterly.
“Good. I’ll pack up a diaper bag and we shall see what we can get into today.” Aaron drained off his coffee and set the cup in the sink. He righted up the guest room before placing his briefcase outside the door for him to pack into the car. He changed into a pair of slacks and a polo, grabbing a fleece pullover to wear as his jacket for the day. He had his things ready, including his newly packed go bag. Before Jack woke Aaron made sure that he had the diaper bag packed and ready to go. When he had all their things ready, he carried them to the car, Haley watching him from the dining room.
Jack was just waking up when Aaron came back into the house so he set about changing him and giving him a bottle. He knew that there wasn’t a single thing for him to do that was on the age level with Jack as he was only four months old but he wanted the time with him, no matter what they were doing. So he loaded his son into a car seat after kissing Haley goodbye on the cheek. He just started to drive.
Aaron was shocked when he found himself in front of the Smithsonian. He grabbed the diaper bag and then carefully extracted Jack from his car seat. If he got tired of holding him, Aaron would come back for the stroller that was in the trunk. He was ready for a morning with his son.
Aaron was sitting in the car down the block from the house being used to send Prentiss in undercover. Greenaway had been upset that she hadn’t been chosen as she’d been on the team longer but Aaron thought that she had the better mindset, especially if William Lee actually made it into the house. There was something about Prentiss that told Aaron that she was good at undercover. There were parts of her file that spoke of hidden things. He didn’t dive too deep in. He just hoped that if and when the time came, she’d tell at least him if not the whole team.
“We have movement,” Morgan said.
Aaron watched as Lee got out of his car and made his way towards the house. Hand on the steering wheel, foot ready to switch from brake to gas, Aaron waited. The mics in the house picked up little.
Now it was a waiting game, waiting for Prentiss to come back. JJ had sent the signal that it was time when Lee entered the house. It was all planned and it was all going to plan. All they needed was time.
Watching Prentiss enter the house knowing that Lee was waiting on her was torture. It was pure torture. He hated to think that the man might get the upper hand, that she’d be hurt. He thought the same thing every single time that Morgan was sent in for things as well. It wasn’t because she was a she. It was that she was his responsibility. It was his job to make sure she came out fine.
The first scream sounded so real that Aaron was afraid. His foot lifted off the brake ever so slightly. He waited. Listening to the words that Lee was spouting. His talk of giving her what she wanted. And waited. He could hear the crash but she hadn’t said the code word that she needed help or that she had him under control. He looked at his watch. It hadn’t even been a minute since the first scream. He’d detailed entry at the five minute mark after she came into the home no matter what happened.
“Clear,” Prentiss said over the comms. “Lee is in custody.”
Aaron lifted his foot up from the brake and pressed on the gas. Everyone was moving. Morgan was the first out of the SUV, barely giving Aaron time to stop before he was launching himself out. When Aaron followed after, his gun drawn, he found Prentiss standing above Lee. Him on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back. He only let himself settle when he saw that Prentiss had no more wounds than a scratch at her face and a slightly twisted elbow from trying to subdue him.
When he got home that night, Aaron found Haley asleep in bed, he changed into his sleep pants and laid down in bed with her. He pulled her close and let the soft scent of her shampoo pull him into sleep. It was hard not to see Jack’s face in cases that dealt with kids but he’d thought that he’d been able to stop comparing all female victims to Haley.
“I love you,” Aaron whispered to her as he fell asleep.
Aaron was sitting outside the briefing room. He had no clue who was inside. He had a stack of files in his hand, prepared by JJ. This meeting that was planned was twofold. One, it was to go over exactly what had happened on the last case and for Aaron it was a plea for more funding. They had been willing before to add the genius for Gideon, Aaron needed someone else on the team, especially with Greenaway going to be gone for an undetermined amount of time.
“Agent Hotchner,” Strauss said as she opened the doors. “We are ready for you.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.” Aaron stood up, keeping the files in his hands from falling over. He took the seat that was open at the side of the table, only after he set his files down and had them in order did he finally look at who was there. He was shocked. It was only Strauss, the ADD and the Assistant Director. “Thank you all for meeting with me on such short notice.”
“We know that this last case was a mess up from the word go but it wasn’t anything that you could have stopped, Agent Hotchner,” the ADD said. He opened a file in front of him. “Agents Greenaway and Jareau went to a house thinking they were going to talk to a witness not a suspect. We’ve read the files from both agents. The two ladies stayed together until they were separated at the cornfield. It was then that Agent Greenaway was knocked out and taken captive. Your Deputy Assistant Director has pushed away your request for a year now to add a new member to the team. When we reformed the BSU into the BAU, the main team was going to be made up of six members plus your analyst. It was going to be a slow build but when that genius that Gideon was chasing turned down the BAU, the DAD stopped trying to fill that spot. Greenaway was added as allotted and Prentiss replaced Agent Gideon. It was never meant to be like this. We’ve reviewed all of your cases since you took on the job of lead profiler and have given a hard look at the cases since you took over as the then temporary unit chief.” The ADD looked at the AD who cleared his throat.
“We’ve approved a sixth agent to be added to the team. You can start interviews as soon as you would like. We would prefer a senior agent is added but if you can convince us that a newer agent is a good fit, we will allow it. You and agent Morgan had the seniority on the team. I know that you have been operating as lead profiler still, once the new agent is found and added, we would like that passed onto someone else.”
Aaron looked at the three people in front of him in near shock. He didn’t allow anything to show on his face but he was truly shocked. He looked at Strauss and saw that she wasn’t happy. Had she not known what was coming?
“There is only one thing about the case we would like to discuss. Agent Greenaway, do you think that she can come back from this and do you think that the team can accept her back?” The ADD asked.
“Agent Greenaway is strong and I think that with the right help, mentally, she can come back from what she suffered at the hands of the father personality of Tobias Hankel.”
“Agent Greenaway documented that he raped her seven times yet you and the team only documented four.”
“Four was all that we saw and after a review of the evidence that’s all we can confirm. I am sure that Agent Greenaway is not lying. There were vast periods of time where the cameras were off and not recording.”
“She only refers to him as Tobias in her report. The rest of the team differentiates between Tobias, Charles, and…” The AD looked at a sheet of paper in front of him. “Raphael.”
“The state of the house profiled like that of a person with DID. It’s our first case of true confirmed DID in the case of a serial killer. Agent Greenaway’s naming her captor just as Tobias is not out of place. She suffered horribly at his hands. She did all she could to get out. She shot and killed her captor and then walked ten miles to find a place to phone us and tell us where she was. I find no fault in what she did and what she survived. I am sure that for the first case or two after Greenaway is returned to the team that things will be tense. We have to find footing again. There will always be issues. Every single member of this team has a certain set of cases that make us hyper aware. After the birth of my son, cases with kids had me hyper focused. We’ve all learned to compensate.”
“So you recommend Agent Greenaway to return to the team when her mandatory health leave is over?” The ADD asked.
“No. That is not up to me. That is up to whoever she sees as her psychologist. If they deem that she is okay to return, I will gladly welcome her back.” Aaron was being truthful. He wanted her back on the team.
“I know that you have been putting in a great deal of time here at the office since the case was closed three days ago,” Strauss started. Aaron turned to look at her. “We are putting your team on mandatory, paid leave for the next week and a half. Come back on the Monday, fresh and ready to work. I’ll put out the word that the team is looking for a new member and we shall see what trickles in.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.”
“Go and tell your team to stand down. I know that Analyst Garcia has been meaning to do a shutdown back up of her system, you can tell her that once she’s done with that, she can take the same leave.” Strauss stood up as did the AD and the ADD. Aaron leaned over and shook their hands as he stood up as well. That meeting had gone a lot better than he thought it was going to.
The team was ecstatic about the leave, needing time to unwind and decompress after the hell that Georgia had been. Morgan planned to go home to Chicago, Prentiss talked about just spending the time in DC getting to know everything again, JJ was also going home. Garcia spoke of gaming nearly the entire time after the computer upgrades and backups were done. Aaron was looking forward to spending time with Jack.
Jack was walking and babbling and Aaron was having the time of his life playing with him. His love of Jack only showed him that it had never been his fault that his parents hadn’t loved him. He spent every second that he could with Jack and unfortunately Haley was taking it as a slight. He never knew what her reaction was going to be when he spent as much time with Jack as he could right up until either he or Jack went to bed.
The lights in the house were all off when he pulled up. After getting paperwork that had to be done before a near week and a half off, it was after seven so the dark house was a little bit of a shock. He grabbed his briefcase and walked up to the door. When he slid the key in the lock, he felt something off. It wasn’t an off feeling he got when someone was watching him or he knew something dangerous was about to happen. It felt off like when he’d gone to the hideaway that first time after his father had died and found no evidence of Tristan. Pushing the door open, Aaron took in the lack of Haley. She wasn’t watching TV and the kitchen light was off as well. Setting his things down, Aaron moved up to the second floor.
What he found in Jack’s room upset him. Jack’s things were gone. The crib was there and the rest of the furniture but clothes, diapers, all the things needed to take care of him were gone. He moved to their bedroom next.
Haley’s stance was clear. She wanted out.
Aaron spent the next two hours packing up everything he needed out of his office and the bedroom. No matter what was happening between him and Haley, Jack deserved to live in his house. He was fairly certain that she had gone to Jessica’s, but she only had a one bedroom apartment that was small, the hospitality of being in that cramped place with another adult and a toddler was going to run out. He’d set aside one single thing for him to look at later.
By the time that he was done it was too late to drive to the house and crash with Tom, so Aaron laid down on the couch in his office. He’d bought it with sleeping on it in mind. Haley was more pissed at him for sleeping in the guest room than whatever fights happened that caused her to kick him out of their bed. So he’d found a nice comfortable couch that he would be comfortable sleeping on. She’d been upset with him for that but he didn’t care.
The feeling of anger at Haley was there but it wasn’t because she left without a word. It wasn’t from the passive aggressive way she was telling him that they were over. It was that she’d taken Jack away from him while he was home to see him. He’d fix that the next morning. He’d go to the house and get his things set up and possibly even go out and get a nice bedroom set for Jack that he could transfer to whatever apartment he bought to live in. If she fought him on seeing his son, he’d file a quick action to get visiting rights set down while he and Haley were working through the divorce that he was sure she wanted. If she wanted out, he wasn’t going to fight her. He wasn’t going to beg, and he wasn’t going to plead. She’d go her way and he’d go his, if for no other reason than trying to keep a relationship between them that wouldn’t have Jack stuck in the middle.
Settling onto the couch and throwing the soft blanket over him after he’d changed into a pair of sleep pants, Aaron picked up the book he’d set aside. After a horrible case two years before he’d pulled the book from his office and brought it home. Empty Planet’s cover stared back at him and Aaron cracked the spine so that he could read it. He pushed all thoughts of his job out of his mind and only allowed Tristan in as he read through page after page. By the twentieth page, Aaron only heard Tristan’s voice in his head. When he got too tired to continue to read, he fell asleep with the book on his chest and his head on the pillow. He swore though that Tristan kept reading to him.
Aaron had felt Dave’s eyes on him the entirety of the case. He didn’t have the time to worry about the senior profiler. Of all the cases to be Greenaway’s first case back after Georgia, this one had to be it. Morgan was escorting the UnSub out of the hotel room while Aaron was working on untying the victim from the bed. Thankfully a burst of brilliance on the part of Rossi and Morgan had them finding the UnSub before she could kill her latest. LaMontagne was waiting there for Morgan at the door and the detective helped Morgan escort her out the door. The detective and his connection to his father had been what had saved the last victim. Aaron wanted to make sure that the local PD knew what a good cop they had on their hands there.
The attraction between JJ and LaMontagne was a shock but as he watched the man, Aaron could see what JJ liked in him. He was a very kind and sweet man. Aaron’s own failing marriage hadn’t jaded him. He’d been jaded since the age of two but he was happy for her, especially if it worked out for them. This job robbed families of their happiness but some could make it. Other teams showed that. It was all a matter of finding the right partner.
Once the UnSub was booked it wasn’t long before the team was ready to head out. Aaron looked at the team. Run ragged from a hard case and a new member.
“Dave, why don’t you and JJ find us a nice bar. I’ll call the pilot and have him schedule a nice morning flight time out. Morgan, I need to talk to you but Prentiss, Greenaway, go ahead and go with Dave and JJ.”
The team members that were released scattered while Morgan seemed apprehensive about what Aaron wanted to talk to him about. Aaron waved him into the room they’d just cleaned of all their things.
“The higher ups want me to give up the title of lead profiler.”
“And you are worried that I’ll be upset if you give it to Rossi. No. I know that technically he should be unit chief except for I don’t think he wants that and neither do the brass. If it was anyone else, I’d be upset but he is one of the originals, Hotch. Make the brass happy, give up Rossi for slaughter.”
Aaron laughed and Morgan looked a little shocked at it. He’d been thinking the exact same thing. Dave would hate it but he’d do it. “Let’s go see if we can figure out exactly where the rest of our team has decided to tuck themselves away in New Orleans.”
Finding them wasn’t hard and Aaron sighed as he slipped into the booth with Dave. It was some kind of jazz bar that had a man playing at the piano. Morgan, Prentiss, and Greenaway were on the dance floor while JJ was at the bar, her eyes glued to the door. Everyone on the team knew who she was waiting for.
“So, I remember when I left the unit, you used to text Haley several times a day and you always called her when she woke up in the mornings.”
“I’ve moved into an apartment. I am fairly certain that Haley is gearing up to serve me with divorce papers.”
“She didn’t like that I took the position as unit chief when Gideon pulled a runner after the case in Seattle. She hadn’t liked me being the temporary after Boston.”
“And you won’t leave the unit.”
“No. If I left the unit for her, I’d come to resent her and then we’d end up horrible. I’d rather just cut the ties now for Jack’s sake than to try and draw this out. I came home after the hearing about the Georgia case to find that she’d pulled all of Jack’s things out. It wasn’t just enough for a few days. It was all of his stuff. I ended up having to have visitation rights set down over the forced leave I had after that. She had the judge changed twice because the first two were ones I knew from my short days as a prosecutor.”
“What were you awarded?”
“Until a divorce happens or I move back in when I am in town on a weekend but not more than two weekends in a month, I have him. Also I can take him for up to three hours three nights a week. So far it’s working. It’s only been a few months though.”
“That’s good. You two were so in love. It’s that she quit her job isn’t it? She only has the house and Jack now.”
“I don’t know. She quit on her own. I didn’t ask or tell her to. We have the money; we could have hired a nanny for Jack for the hours where she was working or even day care.”
“She lived through you in college years. I remember reading the statements from some of your professors. I don’t know why she thought that dedication was going to go away.”
Aaron shrugged. The piano player changed out to another man. This man was taller with facial hair and slightly long brown hair.
“Ethan Marks. From Las Vegas, Nevada,” Dave said as he sipped at his drink.
“That’s who that is. He came into the academy with another friend, some genius that I can’t remember the name of. John Michaels asked me to see if I could find him while I was down here for the case. Last anyone knew he was playing piano in bars down here. Anyway, he up and quit and never gave a reason. His genius friend, he at least lasted though graduation before quitting. Michaels said he was tapped for the BAU. Straight from academy to your team.”
“Gideon’s genius. You know, as much as Gideon wanted him on the team, he could never remember his name. Just kept calling him that doctor cadet. Have you asked Marks why he quit?”
“No. It’s part of why I picked this place. I had Garcia trace him. As to the genius, Michaels was tight lipped about him. I asked if the FBI had kept track of him and ever tried to recruit him back but I was just blown off. Aaron watched as a little boy with hair to his shoulders stepped up to the piano beside Marks and sat down to start playing. It was just dark enough that Aaron couldn’t make out the boy’s face but given the smile on Marks’ face, he was happy to see the boy.
Aaron closed his eyes and let himself drift as he listened to Marks and the boy play.
Every single member of the BAU at one time or another had been called upon to testify in a court case. Even JJ who was just the communications liaison had been there at certain points in a case that made her eyewitness testimony valuable to the prosecutors. It wasn’t hard to recognize the interior of court rooms. The only difference with this case was that they weren’t being called on for what they had seen at the scene of the crime or what the UnSub had done.
No, this time the BAU was being called up to testify in front of the court on what had led up to that. From that day in Georgia where Greenaway had been taken by Hankel up to the day that she shot and killed Joe Smith while he was in handcuffs in his basement of his Milwaukee home. With his son present.
Everyone on the team knew that Greenaway was having problems, but no one had expected this. She hadn’t done a single thing that told the team she would ever go off on an UnSub like that. No one had seen her draw her gun and it wasn’t until Smith had said the word ‘no’ that anyone had even paid attention to what was going on around them. The sound of the shot had rung through the basement and even nearly a month later, Aaron couldn’t get the sound out of his head when he slept.
Every night that first week he’d woken up drenched in sweat, fear gripping his body. Sometimes his mind didn’t stop there. Sometimes she opened fire on the team around her. Sometimes she planted one in Aaron’s head before Morgan was able to return fire and take her down.
The case was being tried in DC because she was a Federal Agent and had been on a case. Milwaukee gladly handed it over. The jury came back in. Aaron felt like he couldn’t breathe. JJ was tucked into his side and he wrapped his arm around her. Greenaway had been found competent enough to stand trial by three different doctors before her lawyer had finally given up and just tried his hardest to get a reduced sentence.
Giving the testimony on Greenaway had been hard. Watching the look of betrayal on her face as he described the attitude that she had adopted after coming back from Georgia. Knowing that she blamed him. He and her lawyer had beat that horse dead on that. The only blame that Aaron claimed in her ordeal was sending her out there but that he had to send someone. The whole team backed him up on the fact that it was supposed to be a witness. It wasn’t until after the girls had left that the information had come in that the witness they were going to speak with and the UnSub was the same person.
“How does the jury find for the count of second degree murder?”
There had been no other verdict they could have come back with and Aaron knew it. He knew it wholly and he also knew the sentence that the prosecutor was going to go for. Twenty five years to life. She hadn’t said she was sorry and she hadn’t seen that what she did was wrong. In her eyes, she had gotten a criminal off the streets, no matter that he was already dying and that she had done it in front of his son. Aaron knew why he kept coming back to that. Even though he had hated his father’s guts and had wished him gone all the time, to see someone kill him in front of him would have set Aaron off.
The judge thanked the jury and Aaron waited for the court room to clear before he even made a move. The team was waiting for him outside the door with another man. The man looked up at him, a look of recognition passed through his eyes before he stepped closer.
“Sorry.” The man handed over a packet of papers and Aaron signed the clipboard. He knew what was inside the envelope but what irked him was that Haley knew where he was going to be that day. He would rather have been delivered the papers at the office, the best place would have been home but no. She had to have her lawyer serve them on a day that he was stuck in court all damned day.
“Hotch?” JJ asked. Garcia at her side. Prentiss was on the other side of Garcia. Morgan and Dave were off to the side.
“Haley’s filed for divorce.”
“Oh,” Garcia said, and she looked like she wanted to hug him. Aaron softened his face, and she moved forward. He allowed her to tuck her face into his shoulder as he cupped the back of her head. There was movement along the side and years of watching everything had him looking. A man had been staring at them but he was moving away then. Aaron didn’t pay him any mind. The only thing that he remembered was the look of utter desolation on his face. Aaron figured it was someone else who got really bad news at another court case.
“I’m sorry, Hotch,” Morgan said as he clasped Aaron on the shoulder. Aaron nodded his head in thanks.
When Garcia finally pulled back, Aaron opened up the packet and read it over. It was exactly as set forth in the pre-nup that she had signed with the addition of the arrangement they had agreed upon for Jack. She’d get anything that she needed when it came to Jack. He was going to be her only means of money but it was basically just enough for her to live on. If she wanted anything frilly, she’d have to get a job. He was sure that any of the local libraries would take her back on part time so she had that option. Jessica would probably watch Jack if needed and Aaron would take him anytime that he was in town. He turned to Dave. “Got that pen on you?”
Dave handed over the pen and when Aaron turned to find a wall to sign the papers on. Morgan turned his back and leaned over. Aaron smiled as he used Morgan’s back as a hard surface. He signed and initialed in every single place that he needed to. The divorce agreement also detailed the custody arrangements. Aaron wanted shared custody. She hadn’t fought him on that, thankfully. The same arrangement as before except for this one had every other holiday and at minimum two weeks of visits in the summer. He could live with that because he’d make sure that Jack understood that he was not going to leave him. That he loved him more than anything else in the world.
Aaron slipped into the classroom at Georgetown and sat in one of the back seats. Thankfully the woman, Alex Blake, he was coming to visit hadn’t seen him enter but the man who was sitting at the side of the room had. Aaron listened with one ear but he watched the young man who he assumed was Blake’s TA. The man watched him just as much and wasn’t shy about it. He looked like he wanted to throw him out of the class but for some reason wasn’t.
The team needed someone, and he hoped that someone was Blake. Since Greenaway had shot Smith, they had been through three new prospective teams members. The first two had only lasted two cases each with the third lasting a whole four cases before calling it quits. When the class was over a few students moved up to talk to Blake and Aaron just waited. The TA’s eyes still hadn’t left him. At that point Aaron realized that he’d seen him somewhere before. The outfit was throwing him.
The TA was very beautiful, and Aaron could see that he had a sharp mind because he was one of only a few who laughed at a word pun that Blake made. If Aaron wanted to get to know him better, he’d be right up his alley in looks. He wasn’t looking to start anything though.
“Come on up, Hotch!” Blake called out.
Aaron was startled. He looked away from the TA to see Blake smiling at him. Aaron smiled back and stood up from his seat and walked down the rows of seats, passing the last few students as he went.
“Aaron Hotchner, this is my TA Spencer Reid. Spencer this is…”
“Agent Hotchner of the BAU yes. We’ve met before,” Spencer said as he reached out his hand to shake Aaron’s.
“Have we?” Aaron asked but it was the shake. The same grip and the look in Spencer’s eyes. “The graduate four years ago!”
“Yes.” Spencer smiled at him.
“You introduced yourself as Trey that day,” Aaron hedged. Trying to get Trey out of Spencer or Reid.
“It’s a nickname that I got saddled with at the academy for my three PhDs. You startled me and I gave it. I wasn’t feeling well that day.”
“I see. I tried to find you but you slipped out before I could. I wanted to make sure that you were fine.” Aaron only then realized that he still had a hold of Spencer’s hand. He dropped it and looked at Blake who was looking at Spencer’s own hand in shock. “Do you have time for a short talk, Blake?”
“Of course, Hotch. This is actually my last class of the day. Why don’t you walk me out and we can talk. Spencer you better hurry or you’ll miss your last class.”
Aaron watched Spencer look at his watch and sigh as he grabbed a messenger bag from a chair and walked at a brisk pace out of the class. He wanted to ask what Blake was so shocked about with Spencer shaking his hand but he decided not to, so he didn’t draw attention to the fact that he’d held the younger man’s hand for so long. He didn’t even want to think about it either. Three doctorates meant that he was very smart.
Stopping, Aaron looked at Blake who took a few steps before she realized that he’d stopped. “That’s…is he the genius that Gideon tried to recruit into the BAU?”
“Yes. He quit for health reasons. Something came to his attention the day of graduation. I’ve never pressed him for it. He teaches here at Georgetown and TAs for my classes. I’m sure that you are here to ask me to come back and join the BAU?”
“How did you know?”
“I keep track and I know that the team’s a member short. Given that you are here and didn’t call it doesn’t mean help on a case. You also don’t have that this is a case face. So you are going to ask me to come back.”
“Yes. I am. Dave and I think that you may be a good option. The last three have flaked out. With everything that’s happened we need stability. We need a lot of things and I hope that you are the start of getting those things.”
“I need to find a teacher to cover my classes when we are on cases. I still want to teach as much as I can and we’ll keep going over what I can handle semester by semester. Agreeable?”
“Why does Doctor Reid TA your classes if he teaches here?”
“I’ve never asked him his reasoning past his first answer of he wanted to. Sometimes he can’t do it for all my classes and I get another to do it. The Dean will probably have him cover my classes as he’s most familiar with it all.”
“How is James?” Aaron asked he pushed open the door leading outside. When he was fully outside he inhaled a deep breath, settled for the first time in a while.
Aaron hung up and looked at Rossi and Morgan. “Blake thinks that he’s going to Jordan and I think she’s right.”
The drive to the police department had Aaron thinking back over what Blake had said about bullies. How her TA had spent his entire pre-college years bullied for his brain and size. How he had been tied to goal post and no one watching had tried to help him. Aaron had never felt the sting of a bully but given how Morgan had reacted he had at least at some point. There really wasn’t a line between bullying that bullies did in fun and that bullies did that was harmful, like it was in this case.
At what point can the school be held responsible for what the blind eyes causes. At what point can parents get in trouble when their children are the reason another child takes a gun to school because it’s the only way to get the abuse to stop. All teenagers profile like psychopaths but why wasn’t more being done to protect children and teenagers. Many schools had a no tolerance policy but nothing was truly done to put that in effect.
Aaron pulled the SUV to a stop just in time to see Owen Savage taking a step towards Blake. His hands were in a giving up pose but one of the cops took a step forward, raised his gun and before Aaron could even get out of his vehicle, the cop pulled the trigger. The sound was deafening even from the distance they were at. After the first shot, many others went off and Aaron watched as a teenager was gunned down. It brought back Chula Vista to his memory and the ordeal that it had been.
Blake was fine. Aaron ran up to her and pulled her back. She was still. Just standing there. When he had her pulled back, he got a good look at her face. There was blood all over it. Spray from where Savage had been shot.
“I told them not to fire. Hotch, he was surrendering. He was laying down his gun,” Blake uttered.
Aaron pulled out a napkin from his pocket and wiped at her face before the blood dried more. When he was done, Morgan handed him another one, this one had been wet down with water from the bottle in the SUV. Dave, JJ, and Prentiss had the locals in hand and were making sure that Blake couldn’t see the dead body.
There couldn’t have been a worst case for Blake’s first one on the team, Aaron thought as they disembarked from the plane hours later. He didn’t want Blake to go home to an empty house but he knew that James was overseas somewhere. When he looked up he saw Blake’s car there along with a man sitting on the trunk of the car with a book on his lap. Aaron watched him as they moved closer to the car. He looked up, a pair of thick rimmed glasses on his face and a large smile.
“Alex.” Spencer Reid jumped off the trunk of the car and tossed his book down onto the messenger bag that had been hidden by him. Before Aaron could say anything, Spencer had Blake into the passenger side of the car and off they were. Aaron could only watch as they drove away. He couldn’t remember seeing Blake move on the flight back much less call or text anyone. She must have done it though because how else would her former TA know to come and pick her up?
Going to their own vehicles, the rest of the team scattered to the wind. They’d all finished off their files on the jet so that they could have what remained of the evening for themselves. Aaron got into his own car and started to drive away. He wasn’t paying attention and truly thought he was on his way home when he found he’d turned off to head to what had been his parent’s house. He kept going though instead of turning back.
Tom was outside on the front porch smoking when he pulled in. The man smiled at him and stood up to greet him. “Aaron.”
“Tom. All quiet?”
“As a church. Going to go into the back?”
“Yeah.” Aaron went back that way, not even getting close enough to the other man to shake his hand. He’d promised that he’d leave the hideaway for Tristan but he couldn’t. He needed a piece of that back right then. He didn’t stop to even think that Tristan could be there until he heard running footsteps as he stepped into the small clearing in front of the hideaway. The steps didn’t go far. Aaron ducked into the hideaway and settled onto the floor. It was springtime and he wouldn’t freeze if he fell asleep but still he pulled a blanket out of the box, it was a thin one and he draped it over himself. He knew that the cold he was feeling was from emotions. The person outside moved around to the back of the hideaway.
A poke at his shoulder through the tarp was his only answer. Aaron laughed. He shifted around to where he was leaning against the box. He heard Tristan move and then felt the box shift as Tristan leaned against the end that was up against the tarp. There were only inches between them but it felt like so much more. A book slid under the tarp. Aaron wasn’t shocked at what it was. The Secret Garden was one of the few children’s books that Tristan had loved to read. He’d read it when he wasn’t feeling well. When he really wasn’t feeling well, Aaron would read it to him.
Opening the book, Aaron started to read. He read and read until he fell asleep.
When he woke the next morning he was on his side with a pillow under his head and he had the distinct impression that someone had covered him up and kissed his forehead telling him that they loved him but he couldn’t remember the voice. Had that just been a dream from being alone without Haley or had it been Tristan? It hadn’t sounded like the way that he told Jack he loved him with parental love. It had sounded like an ache. Like a love that wasn’t there yet but almost. a one sided love that was lost to time.
Aaron was walking towards the SUV when it happened. A little boy was running through the street and bumped into him. It was New York and too late at night for the kid to be out alone so Aaron turned to call out to him when he felt something weird. The kid was five feet away when he checked his pocket that he carried his wallet in, it was gone. He looked up at the kid who was now at least ten feet away.
“HEY!” Aaron yelled out. He looked at Kate before turning back to the boy and taking off running. The kid was fast but Aaron was slowly catching up to him. The kid was wearing a hood and when Aaron got close enough, he grabbed it. The second his hand closed around it, Aaron’s whole world shook. He felt the blast of air and heat and the pressure in his ears. He turned, hand still on the hood and saw the devastation. He turned back to the kid, to make sure that he was fine but the kid was gone. His hood still in Aaron’s hands and down on the ground was Aaron’s wallet. He looked and saw the kid round a corner and then was gone.
Aaron dropped the hood and only picked up his wallet for his ID and then took off towards the SUV, which was now a burning hunk. He looked inside trying to find Kate but it didn’t look like she was inside. He started to look in the surrounding area. He found her twenty feet away. She was burned badly and Aaron was afraid to touch her. He couldn’t even tell if she was breathing.
“Kate?” Aaron ran his hand down her arm to her wrist, barely touching until he found skin. He pressed there and there was no pulse. He lifted his hand next to lay it under her nose. There was no breath. She was dead. Aaron gulped in air to stop the tears that were threatening. His ears were ringing but he pulled his phone out and called the field office. He reported his status as alive and seemingly uninjured and Kate as dead before the cell network crashed. He just hoped that the rest of the team was made aware. He slipped his jacket off and laid it over Kate’s head, covering her face. He looked around then. His eye looking for the secondary set that would be coming. This bomb had been in or under the SUV. Where was the other set up?
The blockade was set up and when the coroner van got to the edge of it, Aaron picked up Kate and carried her to the van. Bomb squad was on their way and would clear the area. When Aaron had laid her down in the black bag, he turned to Morgan.
“What happened, Hotch?”
“We were on our way to the SUV when this kid pickpocketed me. I chased after him. Just as I grabbed his hood the bomb went off. When I turned to check to make sure the kid was fine, he was gone and his hood was still in my hand. He’d dropped my wallet probably in the explosion. When I got to Kate she was already dead.”
“You would have been right there with Kate when the bomb went off. The kid saved your life. Have you checked your wallet to make sure he didn’t take money or anything?”
“No.” Aaron dug out his wallet and opened it up. All of his cards and things were there so he moved on to check the paper money. There tucked in the middle of the two twenties was a slip of paper. He looked down at it and knew the writing. He knew the writing before he even registered the words.
I’m sorry for Kate but I’ll always choose you.
It had been Tristan. Aaron looked around to see if he could see the kid. While he scanned the crowd, he thought about what that meant. Had he been the one to die if Tristan hadn’t pulled him away from the SUV.
“Hotch?” Morgan asked.
“Nothing’s taken. I don’t think that he had time.” Aaron closed his wallet, leaving the note where it was. He’d deal with the thoughts on it later. Right now he had terrorists to worry about and not a child who had saved his life.
When the second bomb went off, they were ready. It was seven blocks over. Two teenagers were injured in the blast. A third wasn’t nearly as injured. Aaron wondered exactly why the bombers were leaving them alive. Footage of their bomb had been combed by Garcia and the trigger puller had eyes. He hadn’t see Aaron take off though and had set off the bomb.
“What’s in the shared radius of the two sites?” Aaron asked, looking at Dave and Prentiss who had a local map stretched out on the hood of the SUV they used to get to the new blast site. JJ was safely in the field office. Blake was with her as well, in place to handle any calls that would come through, even though Aaron was near one hundred percent sure none would.
“We have various businesses and a hospital.”
“That hospital is on bypass. It’s shut down, not accepting anyone,” one of the agents said.
Aaron looked at Morgan and Dave. A plan started forming in his head.
With three guns trained on one of the terrorists, Aaron watched as the bomb squad worked at the bomb. Garcia’s protection was going to fail soon but hopefully by then, the bomb would be disabled. A shout of triumph echoed to their right and Aaron smiled. The terrorist lunged at them and Aaron took aim, shooting out his knee.
Aaron sighed in relief. Their part was done. The rest was up to the locals to get what they needed out of this guy. The entire area was a rush of activity.
“Agent Hotchner?” someone said. Aaron turned to see a local standing there with a hand on the shoulder of a kid. The kid was standing there with his hands crossed on his chest and a frown on his face. “I saw the face of the kid in the footage that your Miss Garcia had up and when I saw him I knew. Did you want to press charges?”
“I don’t know. I want to talk to him first.” Aaron looked at the kid and it was when the kid looked up at him that Aaron knew it was Tristan and knew that he was who had picked his pocket. The cop shoved the kid towards him and Aaron pointed at the SUV so that Morgan and Dave would know where he was going. When they got close, Aaron opened the door. Thankfully no one would be able to see inside so he wasn’t shocked that when he sat down that Tristan crawled into his lap. Aaron cupped the back of his head and he felt the hot tears on his skin. “It’s okay. I’m okay.”
Aaron fumbled Tristan’s hand from where it was curled in his shirt and pressed it to his throat. Right where he could feel the beat of Aaron’s heart. He could hear the boy saying something. Over and over, just under his breath. He tipped his head down to where he could hear him.
“Don’t hate me. Don’t hate me,” Tristan uttered over and over again. Pressing a kiss into Tristan’s forehead, Aaron pulled him in tighter. Tristan shuddered but didn’t try and get away. He clung close, his hands slipped to wrap around Aaron’s neck. He sighed and pressed in a second kiss.
“I’m not mad and I don’t hate you. How long have you been here?”
Tristan shook his head in a no. His breathing hitched again.
“Okay. Don’t…please don’t. Look, I’m going to be here for a while but you…I’ll get you in a cab and send you off to my hotel. I’ll give you my keycard. Slip in through the back or something. Do you think you can do that?”
“Yes,” Tristan said, his voice strong despite the shudder from tears in it. Aaron pulled the keycard from his pocket and handed it over. Tristan’s hand wrapped around it. He grabbed his wallet next and pulled out money. He handed Tristan a twenty and palmed a fifty before closing it and putting it back. He sat there with Tristan in his lap until the boy was breathing normally and his crying was almost stopped. “Time to go?”
Tristan climbed off his lap and sat in the seat beside him while he opened the door and got out of the SUV first. He stood there while Tristan climbed out next. He kept his head down like he was properly chastised, a hand snuck up and wiped at his face. He let out a sniffle.
“Thank you, officer but I think in this case he won’t be doing it again. The bomb kind of scared him straight.”
“If you are sure.”
“Yes. I’m going to go hail a cab at the end of the blockade and send him home.”
Aaron kept a hand on Tristan’s shoulder more to keep a feel for him. He knew the signs meaning that Tristan was going to travel. He just didn’t want him disappearing in the middle of a group of cops. He found a cab easily as many were on hand to take people who couldn’t access their cars due to the blockade home . Aaron gave the driver the address. He turned to Tristan. “There is a little twenty four hour shop about a half a block down. Go get yourself some food before going back to the room, okay son?”
Tristan looked at him in shock for the word son but he nodded and slipped into the backseat. The driver didn’t even blink an eye just took off. Aaron had given Tristan both bills. He could pay the driver and if there was no money left after he fed himself, it wasn’t a big deal. Getting a good look at him in the streetlights, Aaron could tell from the bags under his eyes that he’d been here at least a few days. If sleeping in the hotel had him feeling better, that was all Aaron wanted.
It was two hours before Aaron could get back to the hotel. He’s lied to the desk and said that his room key had been lost in the explosion. Given that the hotel knew they were FBI, it hadn’t been a stretch to believe it. The clerk handed him a new key with no issue. When he let himself into the room he didn’t know what to expect. Would Tristan already be gone, leaving nothing but a pile of clothes on the floor?
That the TV was on was the first that thing he noticed. The second was the smell of his own body wash and shampoo. Tristan was sitting up on the bed with one of Aaron’s sleeping shirts on. His knees were tucked up to his chest and under the shirt. Aaron smiled at the sight. Slipping the Do Not Disturb sign out, Aaron shut the door. The team would honor it unless it was an emergency.
Tristan’s hair was still wet from the shower so he hadn’t taken it too long before then. Eyes just watched him from the fringe of the long brown hair. Aaron pointed at the bathroom, he grabbed clothes. He wanted to be clean of the smell of smoke and free from grime. Tristan didn’t nod but he didn’t move at all.
Aaron took the shortest shower of his life but made sure that he was clean before he stepped out into the main room. Tristan was still in the same place but he had to have moved because there was a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a bottle of water on the foot of the bed. He sat down on the edge of the bed and cracked open the water to take a drink.
“Do you have anything that needs medical attention?”
Eyes still just watched him which Aaron took as Tristan didn’t want to lie but he also didn’t want to tell the truth. He wasn’t used to him being so silent; his memories told him that Tristan liked to talk. He’d always filled up Aaron’s silences.
“Tristan.” Aaron glared at him. Tristan glared right back.
“The Hotchner glare won’t work on me. It never has. Just cause you are bigger doesn’t mean you are any more scary.”
“Let me take care of whatever is wrong.”
Tristan sighed and nodded. He scooted down the bed and settled on his stomach after he pulled off the shirt. Aaron gasped as the mass of bruises and cuts his back was revealed. “Happened at home. Bully at school dragged me by my feet across hot concrete. It shredded my shirt.”
“How long have you been in New York?” Aaron moved to his go bag. He didn’t have a lot of things in there but antiseptic and antibacterial cream he did. It was then that he noticed that Tristan was wearing boxers. Kid boxers. He was happy that he had given him more money than he needed then.
“Two weeks tomorrow morning.”
“How did you know that I was going to be there?”
“Older me was there. I saw him. He looked anxious. I asked him. He told me.”
Aaron wondered how he’d missed it. He got up to grab what he needed from the bathroom, towels, water. The initial damage was done two weeks ago but he’d been hurt since then because the bruises were fresh and some of the older wounds looked like they’d been reopened. Two weeks of being alone. Two weeks of fighting for food.
“Did he tell you how long you are going to be staying?”
“He said I’d go back tomorrow night.”
“I’ll have your clothes washed tonight. I don’t have the hoodie. It kind of got lost in the shuffle. But you shouldn’t need it. The nights are warm.”
“I only had it so that you wouldn’t recognize me.” Tristan hissed as Aaron cleaned the reopened wounds. He was as careful as he could be but his back was a horrible mess. “I didn’t expect the cop to grab me.”
“They are hyper aware with the threat.”
“The BAU wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t bad. I’ve been kind of following you around since you got here. I hang around the FBI building a lot when I can. Less people are going to bother you.”
Aaron laughed. He had gauze and tape and it would work to cover the wounds at least for the night. It wasn’t long before he had Tristan back into his t-shirt. The boy sat up on the bed and smiled, pushing the food closer. Aaron opened the sandwich wrapper and found it was turkey and swiss. He took a bite and Tristan opened the bag of chips.
“What did you eat?”
“Same thing and a fruit cup. They only had boxers in my size. No shirts. You don’t mind me…” Tristan picked at his shirt.
“Never. Where did you put your clothes?”
“In the corner in the bathroom behind the door. That way if anyone on the team comes looking they won’t see them, I hope.”
“Good thinking.” Aaron finished off his sandwich quickly not realizing how hungry he was until he started to eat. When he was done with that he grabbed up Tristan’s things and easily threw them in the bag from the store the boy had stopped at. He went down to the desk to have the clothes cleaned, throwing in a few of his own things. If anyone asked, he’d say it was his son’s clothes and he hadn’t realized they were in his bag.
When he got back to the room, Tristan was stretched out on top of the covers and was mostly asleep. Aaron turned off the TV and the lights and lifted up the boy so he could lay him down under the covers. Tristan nuzzled his face into the pillow and curled onto his side. Aaron slipped into the bed from the other side and made sure to keep space between them. Sleeping in the same bed as kids had been rare. He could count the times on one hand.
“Aaron?” Tristan asked.
“I’m glad you aren’t mad.” Tristan sounded tired. More tired than just no sleep. Reaching over, Aaron pulled on his arm until he was lying against him. Tristan settled his head on Aaron’s trapped arm and sighed, closing his eyes. There was just enough light from the bright moon that Aaron could just barely see his face.
“Sleep, Tristan. Just sleep. I’m here and I’ll protect you.”
“Always.” It wasn’t a question. It was a statement but still Aaron couldn’t not answer.
“That was quick thinking on your part, Blake,” Dave said as he shook her hand as the team came back. Aaron was happy to see him and didn’t begrudge him the hug he wanted. The rest of the team submitted to the hug from him as well. The case had been a near miss. The quick thinking of Dave and Blake had saved the team. As did Blake knowing about the symbol that Grace had on his neck meant. Quick texts back and forth between her and Spencer, her TA, had the location of the children and babysitter narrowed down in short order.
The man’s obsession with the golden ratio hadn’t been hard to profile and once they applied it to his life and the profile, they knew that only one set of people were going to be killed. Since he’d already killed two of the hostages, there was no way he would kill the team going after them unless the hostages weren’t dead. It was easy to find the gas and disable it and save themselves and the hostages.
“Drinks on me,” Dave said loud enough for the entire team to hear and then looked at Blake. “Bring that TA of yours. If he hadn’t known what the symbol was we would have been way behind.”
“Spencer’s a little awkward but I’ll see what I can do. Though this meeting might just be what brings him in.”
“Oh?” Dave looked a little shocked. Everyone on the team knew that her TA taught some math and sciences and covered her classes at Georgetown.
“Spencer is Gideon’s genius,” Aaron said.
“What THE genius. The one that quit the FBI the day after graduation? That’s your TA?”
“Yes. Spencer was in the FBI but some health issues popped up and he had to quit the FBI.”
“Then you need to bring him in. I heard Gideon bitching to me enough about him that I feel that I know him already.”
“Bring up the FBI and him leaving. Yes. Yes. I’m an ass but I’m not insensitive.”
Aaron wasn’t so sure that he would have held Dave to that but two hours later when the whole team was seated about a large circular booth table. Blake had said that she hadn’t heard back from Spencer yet so she didn’t know if he was coming.
Eyes wandering the bar they were in, Aaron caught sight of a man standing at the bar. His face was turned towards the bartender but his hip was leaning against the bar. He was in a three piece suit with curly near shoulder length hair. He was on the skinny side but Aaron just looked at the way the suit hung on him. It wasn’t until he turned after the bartender handed him his drink that Aaron recognized him. He looked so different than that day in Blake’s class. Spencer Reid. That stopped Aaron cold. He’d been checking out Blake’s TA. And there was only one spot left to sit and that was beside Aaron.
“Agent Hotchner, Alex, BAU team,” Spencer said as he got close. Aaron stood up so that he could slide into the booth, next to Alex and then sat back down again. Aaron tried to keep to the edge of the seat but that position was lacking in stability so he scooted in a little farther, his side pressed against Spencer’s. The scent of his cologne was familiar but Aaron couldn’t place where he’d smelled it before.
“You can call him Hotch, kid,” Dave said as he leaned forward to look at him. Spencer smiled and ducked his head down a little. Everyone was looking at him.
“So my knowledge on the golden ratio helped?” Spencer asked, looking at Blake.
“Yes, very much so. My name is Emily Prentiss.”
“Oh, I know who all of you are. Alex has told me a lot but I’ve been told that knowing people’s names before being introduced to them is kind of creepy. You all work with Alex, she talks about you a lot.” Spencer sipped at his drink and Aaron could tell that it wasn’t what he was trying to pass it off to be. The glass was dressed like a Long Island Iced tea but he was pretty sure it was just iced tea. He watched more than listened to Spencer talk to the rest of the team. He talked with his hands and Aaron found that the sound of his voice was soothing yet exciting at the same time. He switched to water when the next round of drinks was ordered. No one commented on it. He rarely drank too much. A drink or so when out and sometimes two when he was home. Spencer nursed his drink up until Blake went up for the third round. He just shook his glass at her and she nodded.
“So how long have you known Blake?” Morgan asked.
“Since I started taking classes at Georgetown which was right after I left the FBI.” Spencer tensed like he was waiting to be asked about it but no one did. He started to talk about how much fun he had TAing her classes while teaching his own. When Blake came back with the drinks, Aaron and Spencer stood to allow her back in. When Aaron sat back down, he didn’t realized that he’d pressed as close to Spencer as he had until he turned to look at him and saw that his face was right there.
Spencer didn’t seem to either notice or care but Aaron did. He freaked out a little and drained his drink. It was time for him to go. It was really time for him to get out of there and go home. He had work the next day and he needed to be sharp because it was a Jack weekend for him. He said his goodbyes and ignored the look on Blake’s face as he left. He didn’t need or want to think on what that look meant.
There were cases that were considered wins. There were cases that were considered losses. Then there were cases where not a single person wins. Aaron wasn’t sure what to consider the case that he had just got home from. Adam Jackson had been a victim long before he’d become an UnSub. It was another case of it never should have come to that.
Adam was locked inside the mind of his alter, Amanda. Adam’s father was dead, never to pay for the crimes that he had committed. And Adam’s victim’s families would never see him tried for the crimes he’d committed.
Aaron didn’t want to go back to his empty apartment. He didn’t want to go to Dave’s. He didn’t know what he wanted. So when he arrived at what had been his home before to see Haley cleaning up Jack from his dinner, he wasn’t all that shocked. Instead of fighting it, Aaron got out of the car and he wasn’t even all the way up the walk when Jack spotted him. Haley had the door open by the time he got there. She took one look at him and smiled.
“Want a few hours?” Haley asked.
“There is some shopping I can do. Call when you are ready to leave and I’ll come back.”
“Thank you.” Aaron pressed a kissed on her forehead when she passed him on her way out the door. Jack was all for it. Was all for playing with his dad. Just as dusk was settling in, there was a knock on the door. Aaron looked out the peephole to see nothing so he cracked the door open a little. Standing there, in an outfit that Aaron knew, was Tristan. A four year old Tristan. He smiled and waved at Aaron.
“Tristan. How did you know how to find me here?”
“Cause older me was with me when I showed up at the other house. He dropped me off to play.” Tristan wiggled between him and the door and slipped inside the house. Jack was in the middle of the living room with toys all spread out. “Hi! My name’s Tristan. What’s yours?”
When Aaron was finally unshocked enough to shut the door and step into the living room, he found the two boys playing with the action figures on the carpet.
“Have you eaten dinner yet, Tristan?” Aaron asked.
“Yes, Sir. I ate on the way over. I had pizza.”
Aaron tried to figure out exactly how the other Tristan had gotten him there. He ended up just asking him.
“He drove me. He was waiting for me in his car.”
“Yes.” Tristan looked up at him for the first time since he’d come into the room. “Are you okay, Aaron?”
“Yes. I’m just a little lost.”
“It’s real me. He lives here in DC. I see him sometimes instead of Tom. Last time I came for a visit was a while back. Tom invited me inside for hot chocolate.”
Jack demanded Tristan’s attention after that, and Aaron just sat and watched his childhood best friend play action figures with his son. He wondered how much Tristan was going to be popping in and out of Jack’s life now. The real Tristan lived in the area and was driving. That meant he was at least sixteen. That had Aaron shuddering a little. Seeing child Tristan was always a little weird but as he sat there he thought about how he hadn’t seen a young Tristan. Ten years old was the oldest outside of the seventy year old one that he’d met. What was so bad that Tristan wouldn’t want to see him?
Unless he had met him in the time but hadn’t known it. If it had been him, he’d have probably hugged the crap out of Tristan the first time seeing him as an adult. He tried to advance the image of Tristan in his mind from New York. Tried to turn the face of a boy into a man but he just couldn’t. He sighed and relaxed back onto the couch to watch the boys. When Jack started to get tired, he climbed up into Aaron’s lap. Tristan just cleaned up all the toys and sat back down on the floor.
“I can share my daddy,” Jack said. Tristan just looked at him, not understanding. “Daddy’s lap is big enough for both of us.”
Aaron felt a tear leaking out of his eye as Tristan smiled and climbed up onto his lap. He ruffled Jack’s hair and kissed his head. He and Haley were doing all right with him. He grabbed the TV remote turning it on and finding a show that he knew Jack liked. Tristan settled down and it wasn’t long before both boys were out for the count. Aaron didn’t want to move though. He was afraid that moving would cause Tristan to go or Jack to wake up.
Finally, when he couldn’t take his dead arms anymore, Aaron shifted Tristan down on the couch and then carried Jack up the stairs. He settled his son in his bed and kissed his forehead. He wondered not for the first time how parents could ever harm their own children. When he was sure he wasn’t going to wake up, Aaron went back down to find Tristan sitting up on the couch. He was rubbing his eyes and staring at Aaron.
“I was told to tell you to just take the clothes back home and I’ll find them next time I need them.” Tristan raised his hands like he wanted picked up and so Aaron did. Tristan wrapped his arms around his neck and hugged him tight. “I love you, Aaron. Big or small.”
Aaron kissed his forehead and laughed a little. “I love you too. Big or small.”
Aaron felt awareness come back to him. He didn’t know where he was and he didn’t know what was going on. There was a light on at the edge of his very blurry vision. He tried to sit up but pain flared in his head and he laid back down with a groan.
“Skinny little thing.”
“With a big bite.”
“I’ll take care of you and then deal with him. What would the rest of the team think about the fact that the boss takes it up the ass from something like you? Because there is no other reason to be in a man’s apartment this late.” The words were said from a voice that he knew. What had been happening? Reaper. Aaron tried to sit up again but the sound of gunfire echoed around the room and Aaron felt himself going away again.
Aaron remembered moving but not how. He remembered the click of something and then the thud of something else. Then there was more movement.
“Just, don’t move, Aaron. God, don’t move at all. I’m taking you to someplace safe. You’ll be safe, I promise. And if I see Foyet again. I won’t miss his heart again.” The voice was soft and Aaron was thankful as he wasn’t sure if his head could take the pain of a loud voice. His head throbbed and he knew he’d be passing out again soon.
Then there was nothingness again.
“There’s a man inside with a massive head wound! I need a gurney, STAT.” Aaron tried to move but a hand on his chest stopped him and when a bright light was shone in his eyes he passed out again.
The next time that he woke up, Aaron was sound enough to not open his eyes. He tried not to move and he just listened. There was the steady beep of a machine and the sound of someone next to him, breathing. He listened and found that beyond that he heard the noises of other people and then the beep became something he knew. He was in a hospital. The person next to him coughed and that’s when he knew it was Dave. The voice had promised him somewhere safe and it had done what it had said.
“What happened?” Aaron asked.
“Aaron?” Dave asked back.
Aaron blinked his eyes open and regretted it. Pain spiked through his head. He shut his eyes and slowly worked on getting his eyes used to the light. When he could stand to keep his eyes open he looked at Dave. Prentiss was now standing behind him. “What happened?”
“We hoped you could tell us. Someone in your apartment called in three gunshots. You were clocked over the head at least once if not more than once. We were alerted once it popped in the system that you were a federal agent. We’ve been taking shifts waiting for you to wake up.”
“A case popped up,” Prentiss said.
“It’s all handled and the UnSub is dead.” Dave pushed him back on the bed. “Walk us through what you remember. You got in your car and drove home.”
“I opened my door and set my things down. I was so tired from the case but I couldn’t settle so I poured a glass of scotch. I knew something was wrong and turned around.” Aaron tried to remember what happened next. He closed his eyes.
“Aaron?” Dave asked.
“I can’t remember. I just remember the feeling of falling after a gunshot. I remember hearing two men talking. One man said that he was going to deal with the other man and then come after me. Then I passed out again. When I woke up again, I was moving. I don’t know what happened. The man who was talking to me told me that next time he saw…” Aaron shot up in the bed and his heart monitors started to go haywire. His couldn’t talk. His heart was in his throat. It all came back. “It was Foyet. Foyet was in my apartment. He shot at me and when I didn’t flinch he attacked me. We fought. He smashed my head into a table. I started to lose it there. Then someone spoke and Foyet turned to him. I punched him and he hit me on the head with his gun.”
“You were talking about a man telling you something.”
“He said that if he saw Foyet again, he wasn’t going to miss his heart again.”
“That goes with what we found. We found the first hole in the wall from the first shot. Then a second in the wall with blood on it. The third shot was dug out of the wall with all the drywall scraped from around it. We will run the blood on the second slug and compare it to Foyet.”
“You and your car were dropped off in the ambulance bay of the hospital. The driver was seen getting out on camera but the image doesn’t match Foyet. We don’t have a face. He was wearing an FBI hat. We presume he got it from your apartment. The rest of the team is on their way.” Prentiss sat down on the edge of his bed as a nurse came in to check on him. He allowed the poking and the prodding.
“Haley and Jack?”
“Anderson is sitting with them at their house. Do you think they are in danger?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t know I was in danger.”
A few minutes later, a doctor came into the room and Dave and Prentiss were ushered out. He allowed the poking and the prodding and listened as he was told what happened and what to expect. His skull had been crack with the blow from the gun. He was going to be kept for at least another day and then it was a few weeks light duty. He settled down into the bed and was bored in a few minutes after the team left.
A volunteer knocked on his door. Aaron looked up at the older woman. “Package for Aaron Hotchner?”
The woman smiled and handed over a paperback book. He looked at it and smiled. Casino Royale. He opened the cover and found just a single line.
I’m sorry I didn’t kill him. There was no name attached but he knew the writing. That saved him worrying about the second person who had broken into his apartment and who dropped him off like that. He wondered if Tristan showing up like that meant that he was going to meet adult him soon. He’d always said that the places he went were important and that Aaron was important but he’d never shown up at the apartment before that Aaron knew of.
As he settled back in the bed, he let his thoughts about finding Foyet go to the wayside. The book was Tristan telling him not to obsess and for now he could. He couldn’t do a thing until he got out of the hospital. He needed to relax to have a nice and fresh mind. And a spy novel was perfect for that.
“Hotchner,” Aaron said as he picked up his phone. He was reading a report on the newest search for Foyet through his medicine. There was nothing.
“Aaron, one of your friends from Seattle is here.”
“Friends from Seattle?” Aaron looked up from the paper to try to clear his head. He saw Blake at the door and waved her in. “Who?”
“He says his name is Peter Rhea.”
“I don’t know a Peter Rhea.” Aaron wracked his brain trying to figure out if he ever knew a Peter at all, much less from Seattle. The last name of Rhea didn’t ring a bell either. He watched as Blake waved at someone else outside the room and then looked out the window to see the whole team coming up to his office.
“Well he knows you…” Aaron pushed Haley from his mind as Blake sat down with a piece of paper and wrote out the name. Aaron frowned into his phone as Haley described something from his SWAT days that never happened. The team arrived in his office. Blake was fiddling around with letters of the name. Making words out of them. Aaron had seen her do it before when she was thinking.
“Haley, that’s great but…” He stopped when Blake’s eyes widened and she turned her pad around. THE REAPER was written in large letters. Aaron jumped to his feet, slamming the phone down and grabbing his cellphone and tearing out of the office. He didn’t take the elevator he just ran down the stairs. He was in his car before he knew it and on the way. He dialed the house phone and waited but no answer. Next he tried Haley’s cell.
“Hello, Aaron,” Foyet said.
“If you’ve touched them…”
“Now, now just calm down.”
Aaron could hear Jack in the background. It sounded like he had the phone on speaker.
“Aaron?” Haley sounded scared. He was glad. Her being aware that things were not on the up and up would help to keep her alive.
“Jack, buddy. Do you think you can help me work the case?” Aaron asked. He hoped that Jack remembered. While Aaron’s office had been emptied of his things, sometimes when Haley wanted to go visit her family he’d stayed with Jack at the house and he’d do work in the office. He hoped Jack remembered what it meant.
“Okay, dad.” The sound of his running feet echoed on the phone and Aaron sighed. Foyet hadn’t stopped him.
“It’s okay, Jack! I’ll come find you soon.”
Aaron clenched the steering wheel tightly. He wanted it to be Foyet’s neck. He wanted to feel the life of the man leave. He was only ten minutes away. He just needed to keep him on the line for ten minutes. Heart in his throat he stepped on the gas.
“Say goodbye, Haley.”
Before Aaron could say a word, the sound of a gunshot happened. Aaron closed his eyes briefly. There was one and then a pause and two back to back. Then silence.
The End of Arc 2