Aaron had long lost any sense of time standing at Haley’s graveside with Jack in his arms. The boy was more than content to just be there in his father’s arms. He wasn’t sure if it was the boy wanting the comfort that being held was giving him, or wanting to comfort his father by staying in his arms. Aaron’s thoughts were not ones that he should be having. He knew that, but he couldn’t stop them. He truly couldn’t stop them. He wanted to but the thought that Haley could have lived. They could have gotten to her quicker if they had been at full strength. Instead, Reid had run away the first time he got truly injured. Aaron had laid in his hospital bed, waiting for him to come to him. His mind holding onto the younger man as the world around him collapsed. He’d never shown. Prentiss had assured him that it was a flesh wound after he’d woken up and the team had all been there except for him. That he was in McLean being seen by a doctor. That he’d be fine and right as rain in no time at all.
Then Aaron’s days in the hospital passed and nothing. Strauss had banned him from work, so he hadn’t been able to see the report on the case, which would have been a summary of injuries. He had known that a call to Reid would give him what he wanted, but he didn’t want to be the one to reach out. He’d been stabbed by a killer, his ex-wife and son were now in Witness Protection and Reid was acting like a child. He hadn’t wanted to give Reid the satisfaction of being the one to reach out. Instead, he’d played the waiting game.
On Aaron’s first day back at work, he had been shocked to find that Reid wasn’t there. He should have been back to work long before Aaron. Unlike the others, his desk was always neat and tidy, unless he was actively working on things. There had been something off about the desk but he hadn’t cared to look at it to figure it out. Then the case was being presented and Reid didn’t show up. He’d asked the team and they all told him that they didn’t know, Strauss had told them that she was handling Reid. So Aaron had gone up to his office. Somewhere in his files was the one about the case. He found it and there was a summary write up of Reid’s injuries, along with the note to see employee file. Aaron dug around and found a file with Reid’s name on it. At the top was his exit interview. Aaron had closed the file, he hadn’t had time to actually look at it. He’d set it down but then opened it back up and signed off on his resignation. He’d wait to tell the team until after the case.
Movement on the high ridge had Aaron turning and looking. His heart stopped at the sight of a man on crutches. His suit was dark but Aaron could see the brace that looked like something from the future, all metal and severe, encasing his leg from upper thigh to what looked to be his mid calf. Only then did he look at the man as a whole. Even with the crutches and jerky movement of it, he knew it was Reid. It had been over three months, why was he still on crutches? Reid never looked back as he climbed into the cab waiting on him. Then the cab was gone.
Reid had looked so different. His hair was the shortest that the younger man had ever had it. At maximum, it was two inches long. Aaron wanted to get back to the office. Reid’s file was still on the corner of his desk, he’d not figured out why he’d been unable to send it off. Strauss had to have known. She’d handled Reid’s leaving. She had known. She had known how injured he was. He looked at the team around him and wondered exactly how they hadn’t known. Why were they hiding it from him? He thought back over the months. They had only ever referred to it as a flesh wound. Except for JJ. She never chimed in at all. Aaron caught Jessica’s eye. She moved towards him.
“Jack, Aunt Jessica is going to take you over to the limo. I’ll see you soon, okay?” Aaron made sure that Jack was okay with it before he handed his son over. Jessica started towards the limo that would take them to the wake. She slipped inside but the limo stayed. Aaron turned to the team. They all looked at him. “How injured was Reid?”
The team all wore looks of shock on their faces. Will kissed JJ’s cheek and then he was leaving. He moved towards their car. JJ’s face was like stone.
“Hotch, it was just a flesh wound. He was fine. He was totally fine. He just got scared. He’ll probably come back in a few months with his tail between his legs,” Prentiss said as she tried to direct him towards the limo. Aaron fought her hold. His eyes hadn’t left JJ, so he wasn’t shocked when she snorted. She knew everything. She knew everything about Reid and hadn’t said a word.
“I overheard Erin tell her secretary that he had surgery to repair some muscles,” Dave said, looking at Prentiss with a strange look on his face. Dave was starting to get that it wasn’t just a flesh wound. Aaron had been so angry on Reid not coming to him that he’d let it fester. He’d allowed it cloud his mind. Reid had come back after being at the hands of Tobias, Charles, and Raphael before he should have. He’d been hurt and abused and had come back. A gunshot was nothing compared to that. Aaron let his whole body slump down. He’d failed not just Haley but Reid as well, only he thought that while he hadn’t been fast enough to save Haley, he hadn’t even tried to save Reid.
“Did you hear her tell her secretary when he would have been allowed back?”
“Hotch, he should have been back at work before you. He got scared, like Prentiss said.” Morgan looked at Aaron like he was worried about his mind.
“Why are you asking this?” Garcia asked Aaron as she stepped closer to Morgan.
Aaron got it in that moment. He looked at JJ and saw the sadness in her eyes when she finally looked up at him. The sadness that said she knew that he got it. He wanted to chase down the cab but he had no clue where it was. He thought about where Reid lived for the first time. Reid lived in a walk up and no one else had even thought about it. Crutches and a walk up were not good friends. No matter how bad, a gunshot would have had him on crutches for a while and no one seemed to care about that. The days following that horrible day flashed in his mind. JJ had been handling the press about not only Aaron’s attack but the case in McLean, she’d been busy. He’d seen her only a little, but the rest of the team, he could account for them almost every single second of each of those days and none of them were at Reid’s side. No one had gone to him.
“It’s really funny that all of you are standing here talking about how minor that wound was. How he’d just been scared. When did you last see him?” Aaron looked at each of them as they answered. He didn’t look at JJ and she didn’t offer. Prentiss hadn’t seen him since she’d left the doctor’s house and the others hadn’t seen him since the ambulance had taken him away. Garcia hadn’t seen him since Canada. None of them had visited him, not even Dave. When he asked about talking to him, it was much the same. “Then that explains it.”
“Explains what?” Dave asked.
Aaron pointed up where the cab had been. They all followed his gaze. “That’s where he was not even ten minutes ago. Up there, not down here. He got into a cab, still on crutches and his entire leg encased in a brace. So tell me this, if it was such a small wound, how come he was still on crutches and in a brace? That doesn’t seem that minor.” Aaron felt disgusted with himself. He’d allowed his anger and the words of others to keep him away from Reid. He didn’t even try to place himself in Reid’s shoes. Laying in the hospital with no one around him. He wanted to throw up. “I was on the good side of my injuries when Prentiss found me in the hospital. He’d just been shot and you all decided that I was more important than him. No wonder he left and has been ignoring all of your calls over the past two months. So how did you know it was just a flesh wound? Was it that he was talking? That he was more worried about someone else? He took drugs while working and was lost for months and it wasn’t until he missed a plane that any of us worried about him enough to care. And he was left alone after being shot on a case while everyone went to me.”
“He wasn’t alone,” JJ whispered. Every eye was on her as her words sunk into the team’s mind. Aaron nodded at her when she looked at him. “Will was with him the entire time and I got updates as he did. I didn’t even realize that no one else had seen him until he told me that he was quitting. I stood there in his hospital room and looked at him. He was devastated, but I couldn’t refute a single word that he said. The nurses backed him up when he made a comment about no one but Will visiting him. I just thought that he was asleep when the rest of you visited, but Will only left his room at night. Our neighbor watched Henry. Will knew that something was wrong and he didn’t want him to be alone. I’m thankful.”
“You didn’t try and fight him? Get him to stay?” Garcia asked. She looked scandalized. Like JJ had let her down.
“You don’t understand. None of you do. He stayed in this job because he liked it. I’ve been to his apartment after cases. Where his mail has piled up. Offers from colleges and science labs, even infinitely funded think tanks. Jobs where he can make two and three times what he did with us. Without getting shot at, without trying to save someone’s life that hangs in the balance. Where he could be his own boss. You see him as this little kid, but to the academic world, he’s one of the top minds. He’d been reading one and left it on his kitchen table when he went to grab the dinner he’d ordered for us. It was Boeing. They were offering him a million a year as a starting salary. Why would I want to keep him here? He was faced with a reality that I never thought would happen when he was alone when the doctor came in and told him that he’d have a long road to recovery.”
“But we’re f…”
“DON’T!” JJ interrupted her. She stared at Garcia and Aaron was sure that if she was a different woman, she’d have slapped her. “What family leaves him alone? What kind of family did what you five did to him? What was I supposed to do? Beg you all to see him? He would have hated me for it. I chose to do what he wanted. Spencer called Strauss and tendered his resignation over the phone, telling her that she’d have his handwritten one as soon as a courier was able to take it to the offices. She woke one up and sent him out to get it. I was dealing with the media and he did this all before Will got to him. By the time that I found out, it was too late. He asked me to keep my mouth shut about all of this and not even bring him up unless someone else asked first. I wasn’t going to piss him off and have him go away to only be a name on letters and mailed presents to Henry. I had to make a choice and that choice was to keep him in my life and in Henry’s life. He’s my brother and I am always going to choose him.”
JJ turned on her heel and moved towards where Will was.
“JJ!” Morgan called out. She stopped and turned to face him.
“What do you want Morgan? Do you want to know more about him? I don’t care. I’ve told you all that I am going to tell you. He’d hate me if I gave you more, and I don’t feel that you need to know more. He’s alive and he’s leaving DC. That’s all you need to know.” JJ continues towards Will. Morgan started after her but Aaron grabbed his arm.
“Hotch?” Morgan looked at him like he could fix it. Like Aaron could take it all back and make it all better.
“We made our bed, Morgan. We have to lay in it. We may not like it, but given that he’s been dodging all of your calls and texts, and I know that Prentiss went by his place a few weeks ago and didn’t get an answer. I doubt he’s in his apartment, given it’s a walk up and he’s on crutches. All we can do is give it time and maybe she’ll tell us how he’s doing.”
“And you can live with that?” Dave asked.
“We have to. We did this.” Aaron started towards where Jessica and Jack were waiting on him. He slipped into the back of the limo and when Jack crawled into his lap, he just held him. Staring at the passing world. He’d been so angry that he’d ruined his own future. He lost a chance at happiness with Haley years before, putting the job first. Now he’d lost his chance at a happy future with Reid over his own pettiness.
Reid had admitted his feelings for Aaron in the aftermath of the anthrax case. Aaron knew that his feelings had been strong for him, but he’d still just passed it all of as Reid acting like a child in the wake of Foyet. It had never once crossed his mind that there was more than just a flesh wound going on with him not until seeing him on crutches. The younger man had had one of the worst cases on an emotional level and had toughed out going to see JJ in the hospital. The only way that he’d have not been at Aaron’s side in the aftermath of Foyet had been because he was unable to. He’d let the others color what he was seeing and they had just been worried about him. He pulled out his cell phone and texted Reid.
There was nothing else he could say about it. It was in Reid’s hands to decide what was next but Aaron knew what he would do in the same situation. He knew all about Reid’s past with his family and how abandoned he’d been in the aftermath of his father leaving. Being alone for putting his mother in Bennington. He’d never leave someone who needed him alone unless he had no choice.
If Aaron was Reid, he’d leave and never come back. He’d never think about the BAU again.