Fandom: Criminal Minds
Year: Season 6/7
Tags: Cancer, Brain Tumor, Sick!Spencer, Established Relationship, Angst,
Pairings: Aaron Hotchner/Spencer Reid,
Spoilers: Up through Season 7
Summary: JJ thinks that it’s grief. Morgan is too pissed at Doyle over Prentiss’s death to see it and Garcia is too worried about him. Rossi’s worried about Hotch and Hotch. Hotch is too worried about keeping up the lie of Prentiss’s death around his boyfriend. Too bad none of them saw how sick Reid was getting.
Notes: Set after Emily’s ‘Death’ and before JJ’s return to the team. Hotch never went overseas.
“Hotch, I need to talk to you,” Spencer asked for the fourth time that day. He tried at lunch the first time and the two others had been after meetings. Now the office was empty and he needed to get going if he was going to make his flight on time. He had to stop and talk to Jack before he left.
“Not now, Reid. We can talk later.” Aaron didn’t even look up from his papers. He just scribbled away. Spencer felt the tears at the corner of his eyes but he didn’t let them fall. Instead, he just turned away. The subway ride to the hotel he’d stayed at the last few nights was quick. He packed up the last of his things and then looked around to make sure he wasn’t missing anything.
Jessica had Jack at Aaron’s apartment and she knew that something was wrong as soon as she opened the door. He could tell by the look on her face and the way she looked at the three letters clutched in his hand.
“Spencer? What’s wrong?”
“I need to talk to Jack. You are more than welcome to sit with us but I couldn’t leave without telling Jack I was going to be gone for a while.”
“Come in, sit down. You look horrible.”
“Thanks. I know.”
“Spencer!” Jack yelled as he ran into the room with a book in his hand. Spencer leaned down and picked him up. It was hard to though. He was so weak. He could tell by the look on her face that Jessica was seeing him for the first time now. Taking it all in. He wasn’t faking it anymore. He wasn’t hiding it, not here. “Where’s daddy?”
“Daddy is still at work. I came over to talk to you.” Spencer moved over to the couch and sat down, setting Jack on the coffee table so he could look the little boy in the eye. “I need you to do me a big favor.”
“I’m going away on a trip for a little bit. I’ve caught a sickness that takes a little more than chicken noodle soup to fix. I wanted to tell you in person. I’ll write you letters and I’ll call when I can.”
“What’s wrong?” Jack looked worried.
“It’s nothing to worry about but the people who are the best at taking care of what is wrong with me aren’t around here. I need to go to them. So you aren’t going to see me for a few months. I need you to take care of your dad.”
Jack leaned forward and hugged him. Spencer soaked up the warmth of that hug. He’d stopped by and talked to Henry a few days before but Jack. Jack was the hard one.
“I hope you get better quick so that you can come back so daddy and I can make you feel even better.”
“I hope so, too. I’ll tell you everything when I get back.” Spencer wiped at the tears he couldn’t hold back. Jack wiped at a few as well and it just made more fall down. Jack was the perfect little boy. He loved him so much. “I need to get going to catch my plane. Do you think that you can go to your room so your Aunt Jessica and I can talk?”
“Sure.” Jack hugged him one last time and then he was off to his room. Before Spencer could even think of pushing himself up off the couch, Jessica was there with her hand at his elbow to help him.
“Spencer, what’s wrong? What are those letters? Where’s Aaron?”
“I’m not telling you where I am going but I will tell you that what I have been diagnosed with is diffuse Astrocytoma. Brain tumors. I’m going to get treatment. The letters. I’m leaving them with you and you are only to give them to the recipients if I don’t make it through treatment. There is one for Aaron, Jack, and Henry. As to where Aaron is. He’s at the office. I tried to talk to him earlier again but he won’t talk.” Spencer had been trying to months to talk to him but since Emily’s death it had been hard to get him to do anything that wasn’t work.
There was more than just guilt there over her death but the only thing that he could think of was that he knew something and wasn’t telling at least him. It had been in the middle of a phone consult with his doctor that he figured it out. His doctor had been going over who to notify and his next of kin and medical power of attorney. Aaron had never told Jack that Emily was dead. How could he tell his son that Emily was dead like his mother and then later her come back. It was the only explanation that Spencer could think of. How could Emily come back if Mommy couldn’t. Emily was alive somewhere and it was being kept from them.
Spencer had wanted to be mad but his own worry about his health overrode any grief at Emily’s death. Then working through that she was alive. JJ had to know.
“If it’s been diagnosed…”
“I went to the doctor for my headaches but there was nothing. I went back two months ago for a follow up and they found the tumor. I’ve tried to talk to Aaron and since Emily’s death, he’s pulled back from everyone. I am going away to get treatment for two reasons. One, the best are there and two, I need distance from Aaron. I love him but…I can’t do this alone with him right here. I don’t want to just blurt out that I have brain cancer. I can’t…I just need distance. I would prefer that you don’t talk to Aaron about this before he comes to you but I understand if you do.” Spencer leaned forward and kissed Jessica’s cheek. “Make sure that Jack knows that I love him. Unless something happens with my treatment, I will be gone around four months.”
“I’ll make sure, Spencer. Call me. You know when I have him throughout the day so call whenever you are up to it.” Jessica pulled him into a hug and then let him go. Spencer didn’t want to say goodbye. He’d made sure to not say goodbye to anyone. He was going to make it through the treatment and he was going to get better. Pulling the door shut behind him, he spared one last look at Jessica’s face before it closed. She looked devastated.
The taxi was still waiting for him at the side of the road and Spencer slipped into the back seat and waved for the driver to go. When they pulled up to the airport, the driver helped him get his things out of the trunk and then even carried them inside for him to the luggage drop off area.
“Good luck,” the driver said as he left. Spencer smiled. He hadn’t told him that he was sick or even what he was going away for, but he figured he looked pretty sick. Before boarding the plane, he took one last look at DC. He had a five hour direct flight to Las Vegas and then an eight hour car ride to his final destination.
The wind was pretty strong and it carried the tears off Spencer’s face before they hit the ground.
Aaron knocked on Spencer’s apartment door. He’d pushed his lover off several times the day before and he felt bad. He had to work on reports and being in the same room as him distracted him. He had to managed his reactions too much. Today he had spent the morning, afternoon, and part of the evening with Jack. There was no answer so he figured that Spencer was out it was only six and it was a Saturday, but he couldn’t remember for the life of him if Spencer had talked about having plans. Aaron dug his key out and it wouldn’t fit into the lock. He dialed Spencer’s house phone but the phone inside didn’t ring and the number went unanswered. He tried his cell next and it went straight to voicemail. Worried, Aaron called Spencer’s landlord next and got an answering machine. He left a message telling who he was and that he was worried. He was tempted to break down the door but he wasn’t going to until the morning.
Instead, Aaron went home and waited for Spencer’s landlord to call. When he entered the apartment, he was shocked to find Jessica just sitting on the couch. It wasn’t that she was sitting it was the look on her face and the despair on her face. She took one look at him and then left, going to the bathroom and shutting the door. What had happened?
The ringing of his phone pulled his attention from his former sister-in-law to it. It was Spencer’s landlord.
“Agent Hotchner, Doctor Reid broke his lease with me a month ago and moved out last week.”
“What do you mean that Spencer paid off his lease?” Aaron was shocked. He hadn’t gone to Spencer’s apartment for two weeks but surely if he had moved, Aaron would have known.
“Doctor Reid said he was leaving for a few months and that he was going to find a new place to live when he came back. I’m sorry, Agent Hotchner. I have a forwarding address for his mail but it’s a post office box here in DC.”
“Thank you.” Aaron hung up the phone and looked to the bathroom. What the hell was going on? Aaron took a step towards the bathroom to talk to Jessica but Jack looked up at him.
“Daddy, what’s wrong?” Jack asked.
“Nothing buddy. I’m just having trouble getting a hold of Uncle Spencer.” Aaron lied for the sake of not upsetting Jack. Why was he going out of town? How had he not known it? Forget being boyfriends, Aaron was his boss and he needed to know what a team member was leaving town. If he thought that he could sweet talk him out of bringing him up on censure for leaving his post, Spencer had another thing coming to him.
“Uncle Spencer stopped here last night,” Jack said like he had just remembered it. “He’s going away for a few months to get better,” Jack set his two action figures down and looked up at Aaron. Jack was on the floor in front of the couch. It was past his bedtime by a great deal but he sometimes couldn’t sleep without seeing Aaron.
“Get better?” Aaron asked as he sat down beside Jack on the couch. “Why does he need to get better?”
“He said he was really sick. He said when he got back he would tell me what’s wrong. He said that he’d send me letters telling me how he’s doing. I’m writing him a letter in my bedroom. Telling him I’m missing him already.”
“Did he tell you why he left to get better?” Aaron was cold. He hadn’t felt like this since the call from Haley just before she died.
“No. Just that he needed to get better. Dad, why didn’t he tell you he was sick?” Jack looked at him with wide eyes and Aaron found he couldn’t answer. He knew the reason but he couldn’t tell Jack. Every single doctor appointment that Spencer had since Emily had put placed in France for her own safety. He hadn’t thought a single thing of the appointments but looking back now, he could tell that he’d missed a lot. Hindsight was twenty-twenty and he was seeing more than he had months.
“I didn’t know he was that sick. Don’t worry, buddy. I’ll make sure Spencer writes to you.”
Jack nodded and turned back to his action figures. Aaron stood up and moved to his bedroom leaving Jessica alone for the moment. He dialed Garcia’s number hoping that she was at work. She’d said something about upgrades over the weekend since they’d been promised no cases.
“Office of All-Seeing.”
“Garcia, I need every single medical record you can get on Reid and I need them right now.” Aaron used his boss voice even though he wanted to lose it.
“Bossman, what’s going on? Is that why Boy Wonder took leave?”
Aaron’s heart stopped cold. “Leave? I didn’t approve any leave.”
“Yes, you did. The paperwork was filed two weeks ago. It was right around when you almost were sent overseas. What’s wrong with Reid?” Garcia asked.
Aaron just stood there staring. He signed off on a leave report two weeks ago but hadn’t really looked at it. Leave was the only way that some of them were able to get in doctors appointments. He hadn’t paid any attention to who it was or for how long. He tried to remember but he was coming up blank. Another thing to add to the list of things he had to make up for.
“How long is the leave?” Aaron’s voice shook as he spoke.
“Four months. Hotch, what’s wrong with him? I asked him about it and he said that he was working on a degree. He isn’t is he?” The sound of her fingers flying over the keys was the only sound in her office. He waited and listened. It was normal. “I have requests on our insurance for doctors’ visits. Onco…” Garcia gasped and was crying. Aaron felt tears at his own eyes. If Garcia was crying it wasn’t good. “Hotch, just get here.” She hung up on him and when he called right back, he got no answer. Onco…Aaron tried to think about what word she was going to say. There was only one word he could think of.
Aaron left his bedroom and found Jessica standing there. She had tears in her eyes.
“He wanted me to wait but I can’t. Diffuse Astrocytoma. Do you know what that is?” Jessica stared at him until he shook his head. “I’ve spent my day looking it up. Brain tumors with a sixty five percent chance of survival in his age range. He looked like death warmed over when he came here. I’ve not seen him in a month as our schedules are horrible but you…you see him every day. How the hell has your team not seen how bad off he is?”
“I…” Aaron couldn’t say a word. He’d noticed he was looking thin but his headaches…Oh God all of Spencer’s headaches. He’d thought they were stress related and the supposed death of Prentiss had made them worse. “What did he tell you?”
“That he wasn’t telling me where he was going. He said he tried to talk to you several times yesterday and you kept pushing him off. That you’ve been pushing him off for a while. You know Haley always talked about how the team was a family and she thought that you loved them more than her and Jack. I never believed her about loving them more. I don’t believe it now. What the hell is going on with your team? He didn’t come out and say it but I think that no one knows on the team. He said he was leaving town for two reasons, the best doctors for his tumors are not here and he couldn’t be around you anymore. He needed to be away from you.”
“I…I can’t tell you what’s going on.”
“So it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Spencer has been grieving over Emily’s death but you’ve not told Jack that she is dead? When I brought Jack over for lunch last week on his day off school, the bullpen was like a ghost town. You in your office. Dave in his. Morgan in his. Garcia in hers. With Emily gone, there is no one out there with Spencer. That’s why none of you noticed. He used your own grief over her death to hide what was wrong. I know that you’ve mentioned how mad Morgan is over Emily’s death and not being able to save her. He’s looking for Doyle you said. Garcia is worrying more about him. I know her. Dave’s worried about you. Who is left to worry about Spencer because it’s sure as hell not you? You are too busy hiding from your boyfriend so that he can’t see the lie on your face.”
“How did you…know?” Aaron wanted to know how Jessica had figured it out and no one else on the team did.
“You manage yourself way too much around Spencer since Emily’s death. There are no carefree emotions, so I started to watch you more and then I realized that you had never said a thing to Jack about her death. Just that she was gone. Spencer wasn’t around for that. Jack brought her up once and he saw how emotional Spencer got so he never brought her up again. I’d be shocked if Spencer didn’t know. Morgan and Garcia are too blinded by grief and anger. I don’t know about Dave. I’ve not spent any time with JJ after her switch to the State Department.”
“You can’t tell anyone, Jessica.”
“Like I’m going to yell it from the rooftops? Come on, Aaron you’ve never treated me like I am stupid before. Don’t start now. I’ll stay here tonight with Jack and after that maybe you need to get your team in order. And your life.”
Aaron nodded and turned down the hall. Jack was asleep on the couch and he kissed his son goodbye. He got into his car and drove. His mind blank.
Aaron was shocked to find Morgan and Dave together in Garcia’s office when he got there. Morgan had Garcia wrapped in his arms. Her computer screens were active with cancer information. All on diffuse Astrocytomas.
“She won’t talk. She’s just crying,” Dave said as he stood up from the chair he had been in. His eyes were on the screens. There was one screen that showed Spencer sitting as his desk with his head in his hands. He thought it was paused until he saw someone move in the background. “What’s going on, Aaron?”
“I signed paperwork two weeks ago for leave. I didn’t look at it. I saw leave request and just signed it. It was for Reid and it was for four months. I went to his apartment to talk to him because I kept putting him off yesterday. He didn’t answer his phone, either one of them. I tried my key and it didn’t work. I called his landlord. He said that Reid was leaving town for a few months and he was going to look for a new place when he got back.”
“So where is he going?” Morgan asked.
“I don’t know. He’s been seeing a doctor more often than normal but I figured he was just…we all know this is a scary time for him.” No more words were needed about Spencer’s fears of schizophrenia. He knew more than the others but that was a given with their relationship. “He went to my place after work yesterday and said his goodbyes to Jack. Jack asked me why I didn’t know that he was sick.”
“Sick?” Dave asked. Morgan’s eyes went to the screens and widened in shock.
“No,” Morgan said but all Aaron could do was nod. “How the hell did you not know this, Hotch?”
“I am not the only one that missed it.” Aaron pinned the younger agent with his hardest stare. Right now he was holding on by a thread. “Jessica pointed out something to me. With Prentiss’s death, he’s alone now in the bullpen. There are the other teams but of our team, there is just Seaver and well, she’s in class more than not when we are not on cases. We are all too focused on each other and we all let it slip. Yes, I carry more blame as he and I are in a relationship but we all hold blame.”
That silenced the two men and Garcia just gripped tighter to Morgan.
“I tracked his flight to Las Vegas. It landed around midnight but he never checked into a hotel and hasn’t used his cards since then. As far as medical records go, I only have access to what our insurance has filed. I don’t know where he is going or why he is going to Vegas to do it.”
“He told Jack he’s going to the people who can help him the most. Where is that?”
“Brain tumor specialists?” Garcia pulled herself from Morgan’s arms and started typing. “There are five specific places in the continental United States. None are in Vegas.”
“So he has chosen a city to fly to that we would never think anything of him getting a flight into. What are the five cities?” Dave asked.
“I have the Big Sur area of California. It’s more a retreat type place than a hospital. It is still a treatment center and is eight hours away from Vegas. I have Augusta, Maine. New York City. Los Angeles. And Flagstaff. Travel from Vegas to LA is four hours and from Vegas to Flagstaff is three and a half hours.”
“There is no way that those places are going to give information over the phone.” Morgan was correct and Aaron hated that.
“Aren’t you his medical power of attorney?” Dave asked Aaron.
“No,” Garcia said as she turned to face the team. “He made Ethan that two months ago which from what I can tell of his records is when he was diagnosed.”
“Track Ethan.” Aaron’s heart was breaking.
“I did. He left to go to Vegas a week ago and other than regular withdrawals from an ATM there and a hotel that was booked through last night, he’s a ghost. He did rent a car in Vegas but he’s not returned it yet. The best we can hope for is that we can talk the rental place into tracking the GPS.”
“Which we can’t compel them to. How did he do all of this?”
“How did he hide that he was living alone with his schizophrenic mother from age ten up?” Aaron asked. He knew well how much Spencer had to have hidden to get into Cal-Tech at that age with his mother as she was as well. He could lie and manipulate when he felt the need but he’d never felt that need with the team. Their grief over losing Prentiss had made it so that he felt he couldn’t go to any of them with his issues. While he knew that they felt bad, Aaron felt horrible. He hadn’t seen how bad Spencer had gotten. He looked back at the screen where Spencer was sitting.
“He sat like that for an hour last week. I started at yesterday and went backward, watching. Hotch, he sat like that for an hour and no one noticed. No one on the other teams, none of us. An hour rubbing his temples.” Garcia was starting to cry again.
“Just keep an eye out. It’s been a day since he left.”
“And Sir. Reid made a withdrawal of twenty thousand dollars from his savings last week. Well he made the request and the bank got it ready last week.”
“He’s paying with cash. He really is hiding.” Aaron nodded and moved out of the room. He went up to his office to sit for a little bit before going home. He had a lot to think about.
Two weeks and still nothing from Spencer or Ethan. Ethan had taken a few weeks leave from his job in New Orleans as a piano player and hadn’t been heard from since. Ethan’s car was not in New Orleans. Will had used his friends from there to look for it. Aaron figured that he drove to Vegas and left his car there while he drove Spencer to wherever he was going but he figured that Ethan would have popped up again by then. The rental had been returned to Vegas but there had been nothing to tell them where he had gone. The mileage could have been to any of the cities with a lot of driving if it had been LA or Flagstaff or just there and back if it had been Big Sur. Hell, they could have drove to LA and Spencer could have flown to Maine or New York on a private jet.
Spencer was too good at covering his tracks. Aaron sighed as he leaned back on his couch. Jack was asleep in his bed and Jessica had gone home for the night. The team had got back from a case that afternoon. Strauss had known of the leave and the medical reason for leaving but she had been unaware that the team hadn’t known. She hadn’t been pleased when told the whole truth of it all, except for the relationship. That she knew nothing about. She had a contact number for him but hadn’t even offered to give it and Aaron wasn’t asking as he knew the answer. Spencer had asked her not to. Strauss was loyal when there was cause for it and she seemed to have taken to the young man.
The pile of mail was sitting where he’d set it on the coffee table. He picked up the pile and sorted through it. Stopping when he saw a letter with Jack’s name on it. The postmark was Las Vegas. Aaron debated opening it up but he didn’t. The address lines were all typed. Spencer always hand wrote out all of them but given what he was going to be going through, it seemed he’d printed out envelopes to send to Jack. That made his heart ache. He’d worried the first time he’d brought Spencer to meet Jack, long before the death of Haley. Jack had been so young then and Spencer had been nervous, but they had got along. Aaron looked at the return address. It was Bennington. It was genius, but he expected no less from Spencer. He was probably writing to his mother and slipping in a letter for Jack. The envelopes were at Bennington and she only need put the letter in and send it off.
Aaron set the letter down. He’d go into the office later so that he could open the letter with Jack. To do that he needed sleep though and sleep was hard to come by. Spencer’s scent was faded from the sheets and only his pillow held a vague smell of him. Aaron had found the climate controlled storage unit Spencer had stored his things at.
Changing for bed, Aaron lay down and pulled Spencer’s pillow close. He buried his face into it and tried to fall asleep. He was on sheep number one hundred when his cell phone rang. It was a number he didn’t know.
“Agent Hotchner. This is Ethan. I wanted to let you know that I am home and Spencer is settled in just fine at his facility.”
“And you aren’t going to tell me where?”
“No. He’s come out of his surgery just fine and is resting. Right now he is healing and then in a week the decision on whether he has to go through radiation therapy or not or if another surgery is needed if they in fact didn’t get all of the tumor. The letter that Spencer sent out for Jack was before the surgery. I have a letter in my possession that I am mailing in the morning overnight. I would not call Diana to try and get anything from her. She’s rather…cross at the team at the moment.”
“Has she been to see him?”
“Yes. Spencer figures that by now you have narrowed the search down. He is on the west half of the country. You know. I told him once that there was no way that the men and women he worked with missed signs of what he was going through when you all were down on that case in New Orleans. When I picked him up in Vegas I just…I didn’t see how the hell any of you missed it. Best in the country? Too worried about yourselves is more like it. Diana is more than pissed at you, Agent Hotchner. She wants to scratch out your eyes. It was her and I that told Spencer a clean break would be better. Getting away from the team and just focusing on himself. Of course, he wasn’t going to just leave Jack behind. Loves that boy to the end of the Earth. If it hadn’t been for Jack, he’d have just left. You never would have tracked him to Vegas and nowhere after. Knowing that he is in one of three places gives you comfort. Something I don’t think you deserve but that’s neither here nor there.”
“If I promise that I won’t run a trace, will he call me?” Aaron needed to hear his voice.
“I don’t know but I’ll ask him. And for your information, I’m using a burner phone to call his direct room so don’t even think of tracing my number.”
“Please just tell Spencer that I hope he gets well soon and that…” Aaron paused. This whole thing had just proven to him that he loved him. He hadn’t been showing Spencer that he did love him. “Tell him that I love him and want him home as soon as he’s able.”
“That’s not how I was expecting this to go. I will pass on your words. Have a good night, Agent Hotchner.”
Aaron set his phone down and curled tighter around Spencer’s pillow. He cried himself to sleep.
Spencer felt the hand on his head and arched up into it. For several seconds he could believe that it was Aaron. Aaron had found him and come to him despite him not wanting him to. He cracked open his eyes though and saw her. Thinking that she was alive and seeing her there in front of him were two very different things. Had he died? Had he been wrong?
Emily was talking and took several lines for him to recognize Russian. He smiled as he recognized it. It was an inside joke between the two of them. Tili Tili Bom, a Russian lullaby from a movie that was really creepy. They had fallen in love with it and now when neither of them could sleep, they sang it to each other.
“Doesn’t work if I am already asleep,” Spencer said as he opened his eyes fully.
“No, but I felt weird sitting here and you only have one book in here and I can’t read it. Scoot over,” Emily said as she shoved at him lightly. Spencer laughed and did so. He moved over so she could lay down on her back under the covers in his bed. He curled into her with his head on her chest, listening to her heart beat. The position was intimate but it was comforting and just what he needed.
“There are so many ways I can answer that but I need to know which how you are wanting to know.” Emily wrapped her arms around him, holding him close to her.
“How did you find out?”
“JJ said something without thinking in our last talk online. She doesn’t know I am here. I had a friend in Interpol help me get here under an alias. I wore a wig up until I entered your room here. It’s a nice place. Glad that the money in your savings account is going to something nice. I waited as long as I could to come. I wanted to give you space. I debated just slipping in and out but I knew the staff would say something so I stayed.”
“Aaron never told Jack you were dead. Just that you were gone. The first time I took it as grief but after the third time…It hit me. I tried so hard to figure out why it would be so bad to tell Jack that you were dead. Then it hit me, it would only be bad to say you were dead if you weren’t. Because how can you come back from the dead when his mom can’t.”
“I wondered what Hotch was going to tell him. It’s the middle of the night, Spencer, let’s get some sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
A light kiss on his forehead and he was closing his eyes again. She wasn’t Aaron but she was in some ways better. He could take what he could. It felt good to be held again.
The letter that came to Jack contained no more than the knowledge that he was settled in at where he was going to get better. There was a picture of his room, all medical looking and cold. At Spencer’s bedside was a picture and that picture hurt Aaron worse than Spencer leaving. It was a picture that Garcia had taken at the last team cookout. Henry had crawled into Spencer’s lap to take a quick nap and after a while Jack had wanted attention from his Uncle Spencer and so both boys had cuddled into his lap. Garcia had snapped the picture when Spencer had been smiling down at Jack and talking to him. It was the only picture in Spencer’s room and it didn’t have Aaron in it.
Picking up the picture again, Aaron looked at it, he smiled. There on his small table right by the picture was something he’d missed the first time he’d looked at it. The book at the bedside was the one that Aaron had bought for him just two months before. It was a first edition that Spencer had been looking for. He had taken something to remind him of Aaron.
The second letter had told Jack nothing more than he was happy to be where he was but missed him and that even in the short time they’d been separated he’d had a big step in getting better. Jack had proudly shared with him the address that he could write Spencer back at and the boy had faithfully wrote a letter a day. Aaron dropped them off every morning at the post office. Overnight mail. Spencer wrote back but there was little in the letters that wasn’t in response to what Jack had said in his own.
Setting the picture back down on his desk, Aaron picked up his case file. He was halfway through reading it when his office phone rang.
“Spencer.” Aaron’s heart leapt into his throat. Spencer sounded tired, even from just that one word. “Oh, Spencer.”
“I’m doing fine right now.”
“You sound tired. It’s too early there. You should be asleep.” Aaron said the words because he meant them but he regretted them as well. He just wanted to hear Spencer talk, laugh, even babble. There was silence on the other end of the phone and Aaron wasn’t sure that it was a good thing.
“I woke up early to call before your day started at work but after Jack was at school. I’m doing good Aaron. Strong and getting stronger. How have you been?”
“I’ve been good. Jack looks forward to your letters. Jessica has to take him by the apartment on the way to her house everyday so he can pick up the new one.”
“If I give you the address of the place where I am so that Jack can send letters here, will you promise that no one will come here. I’m not that strong yet, Aaron. I’m not ready for the team to come here. I don’t know if I ever will be.”
“I won’t even tell the team. I promise. I need you to listen. Please. There is a lot that I need to say to you. Are you ready for that?” Aaron didn’t like how defeated Spencer sounded.
“If I wasn’t I wouldn’t have called. I have a while before I’m checked on.”
Aaron grabbed his cup of coffee and took a sip. He settled back in his chair. “I can’t make up for what I have done. I should have been right there by your side the entire time. From first visit and right now I should be looking haggard from taking care of you and not because I can’t sleep at night without you in our bed. Worrying that every time my phone rings, it’s Ethan or a nurse or doctor to tell me that the worst has happened. I’m a colossal idiot, asshole, and jerk. I don’t deserve for you to forgive me but I want you to. I am so sorry.” Aaron started to cry. “I’m so sorry. Words can’t express how sorry I am that because I couldn’t see what was going on around me you are alone there.”
“I’m not that alone.” Spencer wasn’t crying. Aaron knew that wasn’t a good thing.
“Who is there? Did Ethan come back?” Aaron had never been jealous of him up until a friend he hadn’t seen in years was more willing to see what was in front of him anyone on the team. He’d taken better care of Spencer than they had over the past months. The team was still reeling and Aaron knew it.
“No. It’s not Ethan. ”
“Spencer?” Aaron’s heart near broke. If it wasn’t Ethan than it was someone new and Aaron couldn’t take the thought that Spencer was moving on without him.
“She told me to tell you that you are an asshole. Her exact words were tell you ‘Respectfully, Sir, you are an idiot and an asshole.’”
Aaron near laughed but worry set in. If Prentiss was there with him, was she safe? So many things flooded his mind.
“She also said to tell you that she’s safe. No one tracked her coming into the country. It was easy.”
“I’m glad you are not alone. The team’s arriving so I need to get off of here. Will you call me back later?” Aaron hoped that he agreed to do it.
“It depends on how I feel tonight. Have a good day, Aaron.” Spencer hung up before Aaron could say another word. He hung up the phone and let his head drop into his hands. That’s the position that Dave found him in near an hour later. He waved Dave off and was left alone.
The day blurred together in a way that he didn’t like. He was parked outside a park, half an hour after getting away from the office. He knew what he wanted to do and it was going to make Spencer mad but he didn’t care. He had roughly three months before Spencer’s leave was over and he had a lot that he needed to do in that time. His life outside of work was going to be busier than his work life on his days off but it was going to be worth it. Or it was going to be a horrible mess.
Aaron smiled at the sun as it shone on his face. He stood outside the facility where Spencer was still staying. This was going to be the make or break moment in their entire relationship. Everything in Virginia was ready for him to return in a month’s time with Spencer in tow. He inhaled deeply before exhaling as he stepped away from the rental car to shut the door.
During their talks, Aaron had learned from Spencer that Prentiss had gone back overseas two weeks ago. It was the only thing that had kept him from coming out. There was a bond those two had that was different than the sibling bond that Spencer and Morgan had formed over the years. It was a bond that Aaron would never be able to understand and he didn’t want to try. It wasn’t his to understand, it was his to accept. He’d accepted it and why Prentiss’s death affected him so much.
“Can I help you?” A nurse asked as she stepped up to him. He hadn’t realized that he’d stopped walking halfway up the walkway to the facility.
“I’m here to visit Spencer Reid.” Aaron smiled at her. He was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, hoping that seeing him in his very relaxed clothes would make Spencer less mad at him. He’d not been given the okay to come to him. He’d not told him he was on the way either.
“And your name?” The nurse seemed friendly and looked happy that someone was coming to visit him.
“Aaron,” Spencer’s voice said from his left. Aaron turned and found Spencer sitting in a gazebo of sorts that was tucked into a row of trees. His hair hadn’t grown out much from where it had been cut for the surgery or the short round of Chemo he’d endured following. Aaron though had never seen him looking so lovely. He didn’t even hesitate to move over to him, crouching at his legs. It was still early and the wind had a bit of a nip to it. Spencer was ensconced into the corner of the gazebo with a blanket wrapped around him. Aaron dropped to his knees and raised up to be face to face with him. “What are you doing here? I never asked you to come. I never told you that you could come.”
“I couldn’t stand it anymore, Spence. We missed you. I missed you. Jessica and Jack are at a hotel close by but Jack doesn’t know that we are close to you. To him, it’s a vacation. I’m not going to make you see him or me. I just wanted to see you at least for a few moments. I wanted to let you know that I was here, but that I am not going to force myself on you.” Aaron leaned up a little and kissed his forehead. He’d said what he needed to and seen him. That was the only reason he had come. To see him. “I’ll leave you now. I have my cell phone so you can call whenever you want.”
Aaron stood up and turned to move but before he could take the first step, he felt warm fingers close around his wrist. He turned his head to see Spencer gripping his wrist, a smile on his face. He pulled Aaron’s hand back and brought the palm of it up. He laid the palm against his cheek and his eyes closed in happiness. Aaron turned and brought his other hand up to cup his other cheek.
“There is a little street festival two towns over. I heard one of the nurses talking about it. It opens at ten. It’s only a little after six. What do you say we get me checked out and we can pick up Jack and Jessica, find a nice place to have breakfast and spend the day having fun?” Spencer’s eyes opened and he stared up into Aaron’s face.
“Only if you are up to it. Jack would be more than happy to spend the day in the hotel, watching the waves crash.”
“We can sit at the beach any old day.” Spencer pulled one of his hands back from his face and kissed the palm. “Come, take me to my room so I can get dressed.”
“Of course.” Aaron held his arm out so that Spencer could raise himself up using it. He knew from conversations with him that he was good once he got up but sometimes he found himself a little weak after he’d sat still for a while. When Spencer was on his feet, he slipped his arm to link with Aaron’s and picked up his blanket. Aaron held his free hand out but Spencer shook his head. “Be stubborn.”
“I will be. You love me for my stubbornness.”
Aaron kissed his cheek in agreement. Spencer directed him towards his room, passing by many nurses and a few doctors. Aaron was shocked at how many looked pleased to see him with Spencer. The door opened when Spencer pushed at it and inside on his bed was a woman.
“So this is your Aaron?” The woman asked.
“This is my Aaron. Aaron this is Doctor Selena Snow. She is my doctor.”
“Aaron Hotchner, Ma’am,” Aaron said as he let go of Spencer and stepped up to her. She stood from the bed and shook his hand.
“I’ve already sent a nurse to pack up anything you might need today. We just need contact information for Aaron and you can go. It’s good for you to get out. Since Emily left, you’ve not got out of the facility. I think that a day out with your beau is going to be a good thing.”
“And Jack,” Spencer whispered as he moved over and touched Jack’s face in the picture at his bedside. Doctor Snow smiled at him before looking at Aaron. She nodded out to the hall and then walked that way.
“I’ll be right back, Spencer.”
“Huh?” Spencer looked up and Aaron pointed after Doctor Snow. “Oh, yes. Rules of what I am allowed to do and not allowed to do as well as instructions on what to do if I do any number of things. Go.”
Aaron pulled the door shut as he left, figuring that Spencer would also use the time to change.
“Spencer is nearing the end of his treatment and so far his scans are good but he had a round of Chemo two days ago. He’s still a little weak from it. He gets cold easy so no matter what you are to take a coat with you. I’m assuming that he wants to go to the street fair?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“Because Mary has been talking about nothing but it for weeks and I knew he was interested. We were discussing getting him out to it for a day this weekend but you’ve come and helped us out on that. Now Spencer knows better what to do if anything happens than a long list of things I could tell you. He’s smart and he hadn’t done a thing to compromise himself getting better but we are here for mental as well as physical health. I had to let go giving you a call two days after he got here. I don’t know what happened but the fact that he’s willing to go with you tells me that your talks on the phone have been healing that part him. So, if he wants to stay the night at the hotel, that is fine. He’ll just need to call and someone will run him his pills. We are a whole health facility and understand that sometimes getting out is the best thing. Now I don’t know the particulars and I don’t want to know but if sex is something that the two of you do, he is cleared for it, if he’s up for it. Anything extended will wear him out so don’t be freaked out if he goes to sleep afterward.”
Aaron just stared as she moved away from him. He could feel his cheeks were heated and knew that he was blushing. He felt exactly like he had when he’d gone with Haley to an appointment after Jack’s birth and her OB/GYN had cleared her for sex again. A nurse walked to him with a small backpack and went over the pills inside as well as when Spencer needed to take each one. Which ones had to be taken with food, even if it was a handful of crackers. She also told him that while his caffeine wasn’t regulated, he would get jittery with it as he was slowly being worked back into it.
When he knocked on the door to Spencer’s room, he got called to come in and found Spencer sitting on the bed in the corner. He was dressed in slacks and a polo shirt. Aaron could tell that the shirt was smaller than the size he’d worn before. He could see now exactly how small he was. His love was looking down at his hands, rubbing the palms of his hands together. He was nervous. Aaron stepped over to him and set the bag down before crouching again. When he was down on his knees, Spencer looked up at him. He smiled but it was weak.
“You are so beautiful,” Aaron said. He laid both of his hands on Spencer’s knees before trailing them up his thighs. He gripped his waist and pulled him closer to him. Spencer spread his legs so that Aaron slid into the V of them. He nosed in at his neck and then back to his ear. “So beautiful. You are never not beautiful to me. You’ve been fighting a sickness that is hard and your thinness means nothing to me.”
“Aaron,” Spencer said but his voice was fond. Aaron pulled him totally off the bed and into his lap. He wasn’t going to do a thing in the facility but he could show him that he was wanted, was loved. “Aaron?”
“I love you. I want you.” Aaron pulled their groins in closer. Spencer’s eyes widened as Aaron’s hardness pressed into him. “You are lacking in no way, love. Now please, let’s go make Jack a very happy boy.”
“I’m not…I don’t…”
“I don’t expect anything, Spencer. I’m just showing you that I don’t care about what you look like. I don’t love you for your body. I love you for the person you are.” Aaron slipped his hand under the polo shirt, pulling it from his pants. He ran his hand over Spencer’s stomach and up to his ribs. “This doesn’t matter to me. Your health does. When you come home, we will work on getting you up to weight when you are totally off your Chemo.”
Spencer cupped the sides of Aaron’s face and pulled him in for a chaste kiss. Aaron could feel his body trembling. Aaron wrapped his arms around him. He held him close. He settled back onto his butt to be able to support Spencer better.
“I didn’t want you here because I was afraid that I’d be unable to not go with you when you left.”
“I know. The rest of the team is working at the academy. Extra classes and in depth looks at UnSubs. Jack and I are here until you go home.”
“What?” Spencer tried to pull back but Aaron didn’t let him, he kept him there in his arms.
“I wasn’t there and I should have been. I was truthful that I can’t make it up but I can try my hardest by being here. I gave you the time and space you wanted and I didn’t lie. I’m not going to force myself on you. Even if after today, all we do is talk on the phone, I’m staying here. I’ll be a phone call and a short drive away. I was a poor lover, an even worse boss, and the absolute worst friend in the world. I didn’t see any of it. You and Jack are my world and I did a piss poor job of showing you that. You know my reasons as weak as they are, I was only thinking of her and keeping her safe. I didn’t see that I was losing you.”
“I forgive you.”
“No.” Aaron didn’t want his forgiveness. Not yet. He hadn’t earned it.
“Yes.” Spencer tipped his head up to look him in the eye. “I can’t heal with anger and resentment in me. I can’t take the two sides of my heart waring inside me anymore. I forgave you weeks ago. You don’t need to wait on me hand and foot. Show your forgiveness by being here when I need you. By loving me.”
“No. Only I can grant you forgiveness and you have to take it. That is the way it works.” Spencer kissed him again and Aaron could feel his own tears as well as Spencer’s on their lips.
There was something anticlimactic about coming home after a month and finding nothing changed. His apartment was the same. Jessica had come back after a week in California and had been taking care of his place. Spencer was resting on the couch while Jack unpacked his clothes and putting the dirty ones in the hamper and his clean ones were being put up. Aaron had already taken care of his own clothes as well as Spencer’s. Aaron was back to work the next day.
“Dad? Can we have Spencer’s beef stew for supper?” Jack asked as he dragged his hamper towards the laundry room.
“Sure. I’ll run to the store and get what we need as soon as I get everything unpacked. Do you want to stay with Spencer or come with me?”
“I’ll stay with Spencer.” Jack called out from the laundry room. It was several minutes before the boy came back out with his empty hamper.
Aaron worked for another half an hour before he thought he’d done enough work to be able to stop. The trip to the store took only a half an hour and then he was coming back into his apartment. Spencer was still napping on the couch. He was near waking though. Aaron got out the crock pot and set it to low while he browned the meat. He added the mix that Spencer had made up to the water in the pot. He worked on peeling two onions and setting them in with the broth. The rest of it came easy.
The smell of the stew is what finally woke Spencer up. The flight home had been hard on him. Aaron had watched him getting stronger over the month though. It would take time to get him back up to where he could pass the requirements to be a field agent again but Aaron was sure that he’d be good for desk work. He’d talk Strauss into letting him come on cases as long as he stayed at the stations. It would help him more than just sitting at a desk. Working on his body but letting his mind atrophy wasn’t going to help him at all.
“Aaron?” Spencer called out as he stepped into the kitchen area. He smiled as his gaze fell on Aaron. “I thought I was dreaming beef stew.”
“No. It’s what Jack wanted. So, we need to talk. Your doctor hasn’t cleared you for back to work yet.”
“No. Not for another two weeks, I’ll see the same doctor here who diagnosed me. And he’ll decide if I am ready or not.”
“I don’t want you going back to an apartment,” Aaron said bluntly. Spencer looked up at him. His eyes were clear even though he had just woke up.
“Aaron,” Spencer started but Aaron stepped up and silenced him with a kiss. He’d been touching Spencer in the past month. Little brushes of fingers over neck, over his hands, over wherever he could touch. It had never been like that with Haley. He knew that he’d never settle being alone in bed at the apartment without him there. He thought about his surprise. After dinner he’d show it to him. When he pulled back, Spencer looked at him with a sharp eye. “I have to live somewhere.”
“I know. I was thinking with me and Jack. I know you are allowed to live alone but I…I don’t want to be away from you unless I have to be.” Aaron cupped his face and made Spencer look at him. He kissed the younger man’s forehead reverently. “I love you so much and I know that you are still hesitant and I understand but I don’t want to sleep in a bed without you in it unless we are one a case. I want to wake up and know that if I stretch my hand out, I’ll feel you. I want Jack to be able to run into the room and jump down into bed and cuddle when he wants to on the weekends.”
“Aaron.” Spencer looked on the verge of tears. He tipped his head forward and started to rub his nose on Aaron’s shoulder. Aaron just wrapped his arms around his back, holding him close. Maybe the surprise would be better before dinner. He waited until Spencer laid the side of his face against his shoulder before he tilted his face up to kiss him.
“I have a surprise for you and I was going to wait but, how do you feel about a small trip while the beef stew cooks? It’s still going to have to cook for a while.”
“A surprise?” Spencer asked just as Jack came into the room. He looked up at his dad and when Aaron nodded, Jack took off towards the front door, grabbing their coats. He slipped his on quickly before bringing in Aaron and Spencer’s. “So Jack knows what this surprise is.”
“Yes. I…” Aaron looked at Spencer and wondered exactly how well blindfolding him was going to go over. One of the first time that Aaron had ever covered his eyes while walking him to the bedroom to surprise him with a candlelit romantic room, he’d freaked out a little bit. “If you promise to not look, you can close your eyes.”
“If you’ll feel better we can try a blindfold.” Spencer looked unsure but resolute. Aaron looked at him for a few seconds before he moved to his bedroom and grabbed a tie off his tie rack in the closet. He held up the tie for Spencer to see. It was silk and was one of Aaron’s favorites, but what made it that wasn’t the fact that Spencer had bought it for him, that was only a small part of it. What the best part was, Spencer had used it before to jack him off, to gag him one night the first time that Spencer had rimmed him, and even tied his hands to the headboard and ride him until they both came. It was nothing but good memories for them. Spencer nodded at the makeshift blindfold.
Spencer played with the tie in his hands as he sat down in Aaron’s car. Jack was happily buckling himself into the backseat, so excited he was bouncing. He wondered what this surprise was. He looked at Aaron as he got into the car. There was worry in every line of his body. He was worried about what Spencer’s reaction was going to be to his surprise. He handed over the tie when Aaron held his hand out and allowed the older man to tie it around his eyes. Once it was tied and he couldn’t see, Spencer buckled himself into the seat. Aaron would never humiliate him. He’d never do what had been done to him in high school. Still, Spencer wanted the feel of Aaron’s hand in his. To reassure himself.
Aaron put the car in gear, Spencer could hear the man as he moved his hands around from gearshift to steering wheel and back again to put it into forward. As soon as they cleared the parking garage, Spencer felt a hand settled over his on his thigh. He felt it squeeze and he squeezed the fingers that were on the underside of his palm.
“It’s not that long of a trip. I promise. Just focus on the turns and see if you can figure out where we are going.”
“I know we are going to the residential area of this part of town. Where the bigger houses are. Aaron?” Spencer felt his heart start to race. Moving into an apartment with Aaron was one thing. But a house? Was he ready for that? He was still so hesitant around him. He’d been there for him over the month in California but now they were back to reality. There was a difference. Was he going to be able to handle it if Aaron pulled away again if they had a house?
Spencer was so lost in thought that he got lost in his mind. When the car stopped, Spencer had no clue where they were. Aaron got out of the driver’s seat and Spencer heard Jack getting out as well.
Seconds later, Aaron was opening his door and helping him out.
“Curb.” Aaron slipped his foot under Spencer’s to show him how high the curb was. He stepped up and allowed Aaron to lead him to the sidewalk. “Are you ready?”
Spencer nodded and waited. Aaron settled at his back, pressed close. He felt the knot loosen and prepared himself for whatever was in front of him. He looked at the house. It was a three story, brick Victorian house. It was perfect. He looked for the for sale sign but it wasn’t there. He turned to look at him. “You bought it already?”
“Yes. Months ago. I’ve already furnished it. It’s ready to move into. The third floor is two guest rooms and a game room for Jack. The second floor is a library and our bedroom and Jack’s. The library is already filled with your books and some first editions I found. All the ones you’ve wanted. There is a nice sized living room, a kitchen with dining area. There is a sunroom. I was thinking that for a while you can spend time in there relaxing. We have an office. The basement is finished and I was thinking a den could be set up. For us and Jack can watch movies with friends.” Aaron wrapped his arms around Spencer, holding him even closer. “The backyard is beautiful. We can work on getting it all set up. We can move in whenever. I can see us happy here. Forever. Because that is what I want. Forever.”
Spencer looked at the house. His imagination coming up with all the scenarios that a forever would have. “Yes. Can we stay here tonight?”
“We can go and pack up clothes, eat dinner and then come back. We’ve not stayed the night. We wanted to do that with you.”
“Sounds heavenly.” Spencer looked at the house and felt not just happy for the first time in his life but content to. With Aaron and Jack, he had a family.