Aaron hated the mall in December. It was packed with too many shoppers rushing around and too many displays that one had to dodge as much as the people. He hadn’t found a really good gift for Jack yet. He had several small ones, but nothing had jumped out at him for his main present. There was only a few weeks left before Christmas and Aaron was feeling the pressure. Knowing case history about the holiday’s, he needed to find something yesterday.
The bookstore was the last place for Aaron. He had a few books that he wanted to get for Henry. With JJ not on the team anymore and working for the State Department, he didn’t get to see Henry that much. It was hard losing JJ so close to Reid leaving. Aaron felt the guilt of losing JJ. She hadn’t fought the placement. In fact, she’d taken the job as soon as it was offered and he hadn’t even known that there had been an offer until after she’d accepted. Reid’s replacement on the team had been long in coming. They had gone through three people before Aaron had even considered approaching Alex Blake. Her history with Strauss was rough, but she was good at her job. It had taken a little for the rest of the team to accept her, but they had with open arms once the getting to know her phase was over. It wasn’t until her third case that she’d even let it slip that she knew who Reid was, much less knew him. He guest lectured with her a few times before he’d been injured and once after. Blake had only brought it up to him and it was never brought up again.
“Who are you shopping for?” a sale lady asked.
“I’m fine thank you,” Aaron said back. The lady nodded and moved away to help someone else. Aaron found the children’s section and looked at the books that Jack had loved when he was Henry’s age. He grabbed several and then stopped. Books. Books were Reid’s forte. Aaron set them back down as he pulled his phone from his pocket. He dialed JJ’s number and waited.
“Jareau,” JJ’s voice was full of laughter.
“JJ, it’s Hotch.”
“Hotch, what can I do for you?” The tone of her voice went from happy to guarded but it wasn’t an upset guarded, more that she wasn’t sure why he was calling.
“I was picking up some things for Henry and well…I’d rather get him something that he could use instead of a toy, so I was thinking books.”
“Oh. That’s good. What were you thinking?”
“I don’t know. I was going to pick up the ones that Jack liked at his age, but I was worried that someone else might have picked them up first.” Aaron looked at the Dr. Seuss books.
“Spence has already completed his Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle books. I can text you some titles. Anything by Laura Numeroff is good. Spence went to the library and read the entire children’s section. He recites them to Henry, and we gage which ones he likes and buys them. Oh! Do they have The Monster at the End of This Book? It’s by Jon Stone.”
Aaron moved down the book aisle and found the section where the book should be. Luckily there were a few copies of it sitting there. He grabbed it.
“Yes. I have it in hand.”
“Good. That and some of the Numeroff and you’ll be fine. He’ll like that.” JJ laughed and Aaron could hear noises in the background that said she wasn’t at home, but was out and about somewhere.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” Aaron said.
“It’s fine. We are just out having dinner with a friend.” There was more laughter in the background. It was almost certainly a male, so that meant Will. He’d interrupted family time. Even if she said there was a friend there.
“Still, I’ll let you go.”
“I’ll text you around Christmas and we can get something set up maybe the whole team can get together.”
“Reid’s doing okay right?” Aaron asked. He couldn’t help himself. He didn’t ask around the rest of the team but in quiet moments like this he’d ask.
“He’s doing as good as he can.” Was JJ’s answer. It was the same answer that he always got. He wanted to know more, but was always scared to ask. Afraid to be told that he didn’t need to know, or that Reid had said that he didn’t want him to know.
“Good. Send him holiday wishes from me?” Aaron asked. He did it around each holiday that passed and JJ always said she passed them along, and said that Reid said them back, but that was it. Aaron hoped that this time would be different, that something else would come with but he knew it wouldn’t be. He’d learned that hope was damning. Yet, he didn’t want to give it up.
“Of course. Bye Hotch.”
“Bye, JJ.” Aaron hung up and pocketed his phone. He passed by the N’s grabbing what looked like several of the books. He looked at the first and remembered reading it to Jack. He moved to the register and paid for the books. On display there at the register was a massive book on planes. It looked to be something for adults, but he just stared at it for several seconds before adding it to the the pile. Jack would love it. If he needed help understanding it all, it would be good time for them to spend together.
As he left the store, a bulletin board caught his eye. It was a local event. He wondered if there was anything that he could do with Jack, case willing. A small academic section caught his eye. He looked it over for himself, but stopped when a name caught his eye. Doctor Spencer Reid. He was going to be at GWU to give a series of lectures on mathematics, or that was what Aaron assumed the lecture was about. He looked at the date and time. It was an hour from then. He’d just have enough time to get there. Aaron didn’t even think as he hustled out of the mall to go. He dropped the books in the backseat and started his car. Thankfully, the traffic away from the mall wasn’t that bad.
Stepping into the lecture hall at GWU, Aaron had just moments to spare. It was packed. There were more than just students there. Aaron figured that the average age was somewhere around thirty years old. Reid was already standing at the podium, sorting papers. He wasn’t looking at the crowd, but as the second ticked by the room got quieter and quieter. At thirty seconds to start time a woman walked across the room to stand in front of the podium, and finally Reid looked up. His hair was just as short as it had been when Aaron had seen him over a year before.
“Thank you all for coming tonight. The man behind me needs no introduction, but I’ll go ahead and give one. Doctor Spencer Reid. He holds doctorates in Mathematics, Chemistry, and Engineering. Bachelor’s in Psychology, Sociology, and Philosophy. And is currently working on a bachelors in Physics. This is his final lecture here at GWU for this round. All questions are to be saved for the end.” The woman narrowed her eyes at a man in the front row. “That goes for professors as well as students.”
The man raised his hands in supplication and Reid smiled at him. Aaron listened as Reid started to speak. Every single thing that he said went over Aaron’s head, but the people around him were enraptured with him. He never moved from behind the podium, instead he used a projector to illustrate the concepts he was lecturing about. Aaron watched him typing away at a computer, and then the screen changed to a new image and Aaron smiled as the crowd laughed. It was a drawing of something that Aaron didn’t understand, but the blue cow that was drawn over it was adorable. Aaron’s heart constricted a little bit at the smile that was on Reid’s face when he looked at the image.
“That’s what I get for leaving my notes out so that my godson can get to them, but it helped me.” There was another image that popped up that circled a section of the cow. Aaron didn’t understand, but the whole of the room gasped and several men and women who looked like professors leaned forward, intrigued.
Reid looked good. He was dressed in a nice suit and he looked more sure of himself. Aaron could see that he was a lot better than he had been from what he had seen at Haley’s funeral. He was wearing glasses and barely touched them. None of his cues that he used to give to show that he was nervous were there. He thought back to what JJ had said. This was the best thing for him. Getting away from the BAU and the team. He’d never seen how much they had treated him like a kid until the fallout of him getting shot. How much they never let him branch out, and kept him in the kid shaped hole the team had put him in. He was never going to be the one to break down doors like Morgan, but he’d never been allowed to shine. There were breakthrough moments, but then he was set aside. On that stage, talking about math, he shined, and Aaron could feel his heart ache. He hadn’t allowed himself to think about what could have been, but now there was nothing else in his mind. He was guilty of just as much as the rest of the team in not letting him shine. Part of it was fear because if he shined too much, he’d go away. Keeping him in the BAU kept him there with Aaron, kept him where he wouldn’t not find someone else. Aaron had been insanely jealous for the brief time that Spencer and Austin had been talking, before Aaron had got his head out of his ass and admitted to the younger man that he had feelings for him.
Aaron didn’t even realize that the lecture was over until some people started to file out, and then he looked at Reid again, seeing him closing down the laptop and slipping it into a bag at his feet. He straightened up and a young woman came over and took it from him as well as handing him a new bottle of water. He smiled at her and she blushed back. He was handsome, there in his element. Sure of himself and the area that he was in. Aaron could see him as the hot professor that everyone wanted to try and seduce.
Then he started to move away. There was a slight limp to his first step and then Aaron saw the cane. Even from the distance he could tell that it was expensive and wasn’t something someone would buy who was using it from time to time or temporarily. It was over a year from him being shot and he was still using a cane. That gunshot had not only injured him it seemed to have robbed him of the ability to walk without a cane. He’d have been given a desk job. That was why he had left the bureau. It wasn’t just the team. It was having to watch them go without him when cases came up.
That small sliver of anger at Reid about not being there to help find Foyet and get to him before he killed Haley was gone now. Even if he’d been allowed to work, he would have been sidelined to a desk job until off the crutches. There was no way that he’d have been able to help with Foyet, not in a way that would have ultimately mattered. He wasn’t able to keep the tears from his eyes as he watched people flock around Reid, talking to him. Questions were asked and he answered. His eyes never going to the people hanging out at the back of the room. If he had looked up, with no one around Aaron, he would have seen him, so Aaron decided that it was time to go. He turned at the door and looked back at him. Allowing that love that he had for the younger man go. Filing it away in the same place where his love for Haley was. Because it was the only way he could function. He had to let go and he had to move on and he hadn’t been able to over the past year.
Jack was now his sole focus.