The Small-Town Lawyer & the Bookstore Owner

Title: The Small-Town Lawyer & the Bookstore Owner
Series: Fluff Bingo 2019 & A Universe of Meetings
Ratings: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Fandom(s): Criminal Minds
Category: M/M
Relationships: Aaron Hotchner/Spencer Reid
Characters: Aaron Hotchner, Spencer Reid, Jack Hotchner, Magdalena Reid (OC)
Tags: Fluff Bingo, Fluff, Alternate Universe, First Time, Romance, Public Sex
Summary: Aaron decides to put himself out there after the way that his marriage with his ex-wife ended. Now he’s got to find someone that he thinks is worth the trouble. He meets Spencer Reid, and everything else just slots into place.
Words: 69,597
Year: June 2012 forward
Spoilers: All of Criminal Minds
Notes: Prompts come from the Just Write Discord Server’s 2019 Fluff Bingo challenge.
Beta: Eff_Dragonkiller & NimueOfTheNorth

Chapter 1-Knitting/Crochet

Aaron Hotchner entered the small bookshop that he had been eyeing visiting for a very long time. He and Jack had moved to the small town of Paradise in Virginia seven months before, but Aaron had stayed very close to home. Jack was adjusting well and getting more and more settled in the new city. It helped that no one knew them here. No one knew the scandal that had ended with Haley Hotchner, formerly Brooks, killing herself and nearly killing Jack in a rage to get revenge on Aaron for leaving her after her third affair.

Life in DC had become untenable for Aaron after that. He had found his son retreating from life and never doing the things that he enjoyed because he was sick of the whispers. The divorce had been bad, but nothing like what happened several years later after Aaron pushed Haley away when she tried to seduce him back into a relationship.

Haley had been the love of Aaron’s life, but that love had started to fracture when he found her in bed with another man. He had been working in Maryland on a court case for the week and had chosen to take a flight home instead of waiting for the rest of the firm members to leave the next morning in the cars they drove up together in. Aaron had a bouquet of flowers in his hand, and Haley had another man’s cock inside of her, riding him like she was having the time of her life.

Counseling had happened after that. Aaron pushed for it because he wanted to make it work. Things had seemed to be going fine, and then Haley cheated again. They changed therapists, and for a year, they were blissfully happy. Until Aaron found Haley in bed with Aaron’s best friend and the other law partner at the Hotchner & Mills law firm. Aaron had started the paperwork while finding another firm to handle not only his divorce from Haley but suing to get his part of the firm and full custody of Jack.

Jack had been crying in his room with the door locked from the outside when Aaron had found Haley in bed with Jethro Mills. There was evidence of at least a day’s worth of food in the room. Jack had his own bathroom, and while he was newly potty trained, the stress of being locked in his room had caused him to not use the bathroom, but he just went in his clothes and took them off. Aaron had called the cops after cleaning up Jack and getting him into clean clothes. He let them into the house, and they took photographic evidence of the neglect, and then Aaron took Jack to the doctor where the evidence of the rash from soiling himself and sitting in it was very evident.

Aaron had got emergency custody and then full custody of Jack while Haley was left with supervised visitation. Three weeks after the divorce was settled, Haley was married to Mills. Then Haley ended up cheating on him as well, and he divorced her. That was when Haley had snapped. For nearly three years, the Hotchner family was in the paper between the divorce, the custody battle, and then the whole Haley trying to kill them all thing. Aaron was glad to be hell and gone from there.

A small family law practice had been set up by Aaron when a friend he had made in his court days mentioned wanting to retire but that it would leave the city of Paradise without a single lawyer. So, Aaron found it to be the best option in the world for him and Jack. Moving to the small town had been wonderful for Aaron as there was so much less stress. He didn’t even need to work at all between the settlement that had been placed on him after suing Mills. The Hotchner & Mills firm had gone belly up by the end of it, but Aaron didn’t care.

Aaron pulled himself out of his thoughts. He didn’t need to get into that all that much, it would be better for him and for Jack if the past was left in the past. Though it was hard after Aaron had been nominated the most eligible bachelor in Paradise just three days before. The news article had been short on his life before Paradise, which was at Aaron’s request.

Paradise was a tourist town, and Aaron and Jack had arrived at the end of the big tourist season. Now it was the start of the next, and Aaron foresaw his life getting hectic. Soccer was getting ready to start up for team selection and practices, and Aaron was going to be the team equipment manager. They had tried to get him to be a coach, but Aaron hadn’t wanted that, at least not this year. He might think about it for the next year.

The bookstore was a lot bigger than Aaron thought it was. There were stores on either side of it, but it seemed that those stores were only half stores. There was the yarn shop on the right, and Aaron could see the entrance to it by a door, but behind that area was more books. It was the same with the coffee shop on the left. Aaron had thought that the coffee shop was rather long, but it had ample seating. The whole building was mostly bookstore, Aaron could see now. It made a lot more sense than what he had thought before.

Aaron started to wander around the shelves in the bookstore. It was all laid out well. He walked through all of the adult and young adult fiction at the front of the store and then found the middle school kids section just beyond that which led into the large area behind the coffee shop that was for the young kids. It was a veritable playground of learning toys and just fun toys with bright colors and all of the favorite, new and old, characters from literature.

Behind the yarn store was the non-fiction sections for all ages. The store was charming. Before leaving DC, Aaron had made sure to buy all of the books that Jack had expressed an interest in reading. He hadn’t been sure what the book landscape was like for the small town, so he hadn’t wanted to have to deal with trips to other cities to get books or to order them online. Jack had run out a week ago, and while the local library had good books, Jack was reading well above his age level, and he had read everything that the library already had. Aaron donated most of Jack’s books to the library so that they could grow their collection.

“Can I help you?” a woman asked from behind Aaron. When he turned around, the woman’s eyes widened a little in shock. Aaron also realized that she wasn’t a woman but a teenager.

“I was just looking around, thank you.”

“Of course, Mister Hotchner. I’ll be at the counter if you need anything.” The woman turned and left.

Aaron still wasn’t sure what he thought about being the local celebrity, again. There was a wall of books dedicated to knitting, crocheting, and other yarn and string crafts. Aaron grabbed the knitting for beginners’ book and looked at it. He was interested in the craft. He had watched his grandmother do it for a long time when he had been a kid. He sat on the ground at her feet and read to her or just silently to himself while she knitted blankets and other things. Aaron had come in to find something to teach himself to knit from and to pick up a few audiobooks of his favorite series.

While Aaron’s stress levels were a great deal lower than they had been, the new doctor that Aaron was seeing in Paradise recommended he picked up a hobby other than running to help lower his blood pressure. Aaron had spent a week looking into things, and while he had a list, knitting was at the top of it. Aaron also found a few books that were full of small animal knitting patterns. He liked the look of a few of those things and grabbed the best one that he thought he would like. It was more advanced, but it would give him something to build up to. He could donate them to the closest hospital for kids who were in wrecks or in the long term care wards. Aaron was walking back to the register to grab a basket when he saw a book on knitting hats and various other things to cover the head. He even saw one pattern when he flipped through that was knitting patterns of yard onto hats to make fake yarn hair that was straight or curled or even just wavy. Aaron knew that it was for cancer patients, so he grabbed that as well.

“Finding everything, Mister Hotchner?” the teenager asked.

Aaron looked for a badge but didn’t see one on her. He didn’t like not knowing her name, but most of the people in town knew each other.

“Magdalena Lynn Reid, at your service, Mister Hotchner. You can call me Maggie or Maggie Lynn. I do prefer Maggie Lynn, but I understand if you don’t want to say the mouthful.”

“The way that I was raised, Miss Maggie Lynn, you call people by the name they want to be called.” Aaron gave her a smile. She seemed rather bright for a teenager, and her eyes were full of inquisitiveness as well as intelligence. Aaron wondered if this was her part-time job for the summer.

“Oh, Miss Maggie Lynn. I like that. Are you going to be doing other shopping? I can hold these for you if you are.” Maggie Lynn pulled the books across the counter to look at them.

“I need to get some more books. I was just going to get a shopping basket.

“Oh, we use the bags there that hang by the door. I can still hold these here until you find what you are looking for.”

“Thank you.” Aaron gave her a smile before he wandered over to where the books for Jack were. Aaron found a lot of kids’ books there, more than he thought, given the range of them at the library. Aaron found fifteen books for Jack, and he wasn’t sure that Jack would actually like all of them, but for now, it would do. He would be able to bring Jack back later next week. Jack was doing conditioning for soccer to make sure that all of the kids were fit enough, and there were no other issues that would be compounded by active sports during the summer. After that was swimming lessons in the afternoon.

Aaron was glad of the fact that he made his own hours. His phone number was on the office door that was actually the front part of his house. He had worried about it at first, but so far, it was doing well. Most days, even if he wasn’t inside of his office, he was in the house, but with Jack’s summer filling up fast, Aaron was finding that coming and going as he pleased was working out well. He saw a few end caps with audiobooks, so he grabbed the first three in the series that he liked to listen to as he knitted, or at least tried to learn to knit.

“Your son doing some light reading this summer?” Maggie Lynn asked as she waggled her eyebrows in a funny way when she said light.

“I hope these last the week,” Aaron said, and he tried to get it to come off as light, but it really didn’t as Aaron really did hope that they lasted the week.

“Oh, did you see the informational flyer about our summer reading program?” Maggie asked before she darted back up to the front of the store and grabbed not one but two flyers and then two booklets. She handed over the first and then the second. Aaron saw the words Between the Covers on the first before the second was in full view; it was a stylized logo that said Dream Big – Read. Aaron had seen these at the library at the end of May but hadn’t paid much attention to them.

“Doing this with the library?”

“Yes. Every summer. It doesn’t have to be library books. All the information needed on each for the adult and Jack’s age is inside of the pamphlet. It also works for audiobooks.”

“Really?” Aaron opened up the adult one and started to read about it. It was damned simple, and the prizes were staged enough so that everyone, no matter how much they read, got something, especially when Aaron looked at the kid’s one. Jack would make out like a bandit even if his reading did slack some over the summer with his soccer and swimming lessons. “I just fill these out?”

“Yes, and you can turn them in at the end of the summer, or when Jack hits each stage, you can come in here or the library and get his prizes each time. It’s all damned simple.”

Aaron saw that the prizes were all sponsored by local businesses and that even kids who were visiting for a week could read a book or two and get a prize. It was all damned good in Aaron’s eyes. He slipped the two pamphlets into the pocket of his suit jacket. He had a quick meeting with a client in a while, and they were driving from the closest airport to meet with him. It was the only client that he had kept from DC. Aaron had made sure that everyone was shuffled off to new lawyers that he liked and worked with before the whole firm collapsed. Alfred, though, was still dealing with all kinds of issues with his kids when it came to what they wanted, and this should be the last meeting about the Will that Alfred was going to have. It was the only reason that Aaron was in a suit, he had never met a client unless he was in a suit. He looked strange in the city with his suit on, but he didn’t care much. They had got used to him over the past months. Aaron had learned to scale down what kind of suit he wore, though.

Maggie Lynn rang up Aaron’s purchase, and instead of the books going into a plastic bag, they went back into the bag that she had grabbed for him.

“Keep on bringing that bag in, and you won’t be charged for it, but if you come in without it and buy more than three books, we charge you for the second, or you can’t buy the books.”

Aaron gave Maggie Lynn a weird look, but she seemed very serious about it all. Aaron knew that the city had banned single-use plastic bags and a few places that were visited a lot by tourists used brown paper bags that were recycled or cardboard boxes. Aaron had found the place strange when he first moved in, but he had got used to it, and after emptying his shopping bags, they went right back into the trunk of the car, so he was never without them. The bookbag would become the same.

“You can also use the book bag at any of the other local businesses with no issue. We are all pretty friendly, but we have to make money off of the bags somehow.”

“I don’t mind buying it,” Aaron said. He really didn’t.

“Oh, we know you don’t, but just remember that the first one is free.” Maggie Lynn held out her hand for the money that Aaron pulled out of his wallet. He carried more cash here than he had since cards had become a thing. Everywhere had card readers and the ability to take payment that way, but cash was just the way it was done here.

“I will remember that. Have a good day, Maggie Lynn.”

“You too, Mister Hotchner,” Maggie Lynn called out with a bright smile on her face.

Aaron left the store and walked to the opening of the yarn store. He could have used the other entrance he knew that connected the two stores, but he didn’t. There was a sign at the register that said that if they needed to buy something, just drop the money on the counter or yell up to catch the attention of whoever was working. Aaron looked up and around to see that there were steps behind the counter. Aaron wondered what was up there and started up them. There was no sign that said employees only.

What Aaron saw at the top of the stairs had him smiling. It looked like a beginner’s knitting class, and there were people of all ages and skills there. The skilled ones were helping others. There were several kids in the class.

“Oh, Mister Hotchner,” Sybil, the older lady who lived down the road from him, said. Everyone’s attention turned to Aaron then. He looked around at the faces, he might not know all the names, but he knew the faces, all except for the young man who came out of what had to be a doorway at the back of the room. Three of the four walls of the room were all glass, making it one of the best views in the whole of the city, as far as Aaron was concerned.

“I have that tea here, Sybil.” He was holding up a canister of tea, and he stopped and looked at Sybil, who was looking at Aaron. The man’s eyes darted up to Aaron.

“Oh, hello. I’ll be down in a minute to help you check out.”

“Oh, there is no rush. I was just wondering what was even up here,” Aaron said.

“Hotch,” Sybil said, and she stood up and ushered the other man over to Aaron. “Spencer, this is Aaron Hotchner, the new lawyer in town. Hotch, this is Spencer Reid. He owns the bookstore, the coffee shop, and this yarn shop.”

Aaron kept his mouth shut as the words that were going to come out were not nice to say in front of little old ladies, and especially not the kids as Aaron did not want to be the one to get yelled at for teaching them bad words. The man didn’t look much more than twenty-five to Aaron. He was looking at Spencer Reid when the name hit him. Reid. Magdalena Lynn Reid. Maggie Lynn must be Spencer’s little sister.

“Oh, Mister Reid. I met your little sister in the book shop.”

“Daughter, dear,” Sybil said, and it was a tone that Aaron knew well. It was the little old lady trying to sound nice, but really it was something that was quite the opposite.

“Oh.” Aaron looked at Spencer again, and he could see that he was slightly older than he looked when he had been smiling, but still, he didn’t think that the man was old enough to have a teenage daughter and not have had her when he wasn’t much older than she was at the moment. That wasn’t for Aaron to know, though. It really was none of his business. “Sorry. I’m going to look around at some things downstairs, but please take your time. I am in no rush.”

Aaron looked at his watch, he still had two hours until he was meeting with Alfred and Jack was taken care of between soccer and then swimming practice as a lovely lady who lived next door to him had a young son that was around Jack’s age and she offered to take Jack with her for the day as Jack and her son’s schedules lined up for the day at least. Clara had been a good friend to Aaron since he had arrived. She worked from home doing transcription for a part-time job while her husband worked for the Air Force and was currently deployed overseas. Aaron had become good friends with her since he had moved in and met the husband Jake just a single time, but the man had been happy that Clara had someone to help her. Aaron would sometimes take her son Matt so she could have a fun night out with friends, and she did the same for Aaron. Though Aaron’s nights out were much more lonely. He had been halfheartedly dating since arriving in town by going out to bars and other places where other single people were, but no one had even been on his radar.

“Spencer, Mister Hotchner is the summer’s winner of most eligible bachelor for Paradise,” Sybil said, and the look that she gave Spencer said that she would have thought he knew that.

“That’s nice. Gail, you are going to hurt yourself.” Spencer was gone, across the room to the teenager who was in the corner and trying to stand up while wrapped in yarn. Aaron watched as Spencer approached her slowly, and he was careful as he unwound her. Spencer never touched her skin at all and didn’t speak loudly to her at all. Her eyes were darting around the room. Gail was a name that Aaron had heard Jack say before, and while there could be more than on Gail in the small town, Aaron was pretty sure that this was Gail, Jack’s friend from school. Gail was on the Autism spectrum and more toward the non-verbal side of it. Aaron saw that the knitting needles she had were dull and made of bamboo and not metal. She had been knitting a very long chain, and it had got wrapped around her. It was beautiful, the colors were variegated.

Aaron took that moment to slip away from everyone and go down to look at yarn. There was every single color that Aaron could ever think that he wanted in various fibers. Aaron realized about five minutes into looking that he had no clue what he was doing at all. Aaron settled the bag down on the floor and sat in the chair beside the register counter to see if the beginning to knit book would help him. He was lost in those words when someone cleared their throat beside him. Aaron looked up and over to see that it was Spencer.

“Sybil called you Hotch, yes?”

“Yes, but I’m fine with Aaron.” Aaron held out his hand to shake it since they hadn’t done that upstairs.

“Sorry, I don’t shake hands with people or hug or do anything like that.” There was no blush to Spencer’s cheeks at all, meaning he wasn’t embarrassed by his own way of being, which was good.

“It’s fine. My mother raised me to be a proper southern gentleman in her eyes, and so I do a lot of things like that.”

“Including calling my Mags Maggie Lynn even when most of the town calls it a mouthful.” Spencer walked around to grab something from under the counter, and Aaron saw it was a reusable cup that was purple with a reusable plastic straw sticking out of it. Aaron saw a lot of people with matching cups, just different colors in the town. He figured that the coffee shop sold them. Spencer took a sip and then set it back down. “What can I help you with, Aaron?”

“Well, I need a hobby that’s not running, biking, or swimming.”

“Ah, knitting is an excellent hobby to have. Okay, so you have no clue what you are doing. There is a book over in-” Spencer cut himself off when Aaron held up the book that he was pretty sure that Spencer was going to mention. “Yes. That one. That’s a good one for someone who knows nothing about knitting at all. It’s why I stock it. Okay, so yarn and needles. I suggest the bamboo ones as they are easier to hold for some people. They also hold up well.”

Spencer started to move around the store, and Aaron followed. There was a wall of just needles for everything that Aaron never knew one could do with strings of material. Spencer didn’t try and sell him anything special or more than just what he needed to start out. He usually only stocked one or two versions of something, plastic or metal, or even metal and wood, but never so many kinds. All things were priced close together, so it was more of a preference thing than him having cheap things or expensive things. Spencer stocked the items that worked and worked well.

“If you need help with anything, please just stop in. There is usually at least someone upstairs, even if I don’t have a class on. Old men and old women like to gossip, and I have the best view. There is a hallway at the back of the room that connects to the coffee shop, so they just slip over and get drinks, food.”

“This is a wonderful set up that you have.” Aaron tried to picture the outside. It was a three-story building, and he knew that the top was all enclosed.

“Thanks. The part in the middle is storage for all three shops and Mags, and I used to live on the third floor. I sometimes stay the night up there if I stay too late here and have to come in early. I mean that about asking for help at any point, Aaron. Someone will help you at any point, and if they can’t, they will know who can.”

“Thank you.”

Spencer walked back over to the register and started to ring Aaron up. Aaron hadn’t brought enough cash, so he used his debit card for the purchase, smiling at the receipt, finally learning the name of the place. He hadn’t paid too close of attention as he had never thought that he was going to need a crafting store at all.

Aaron wasn’t sure what he thought when he stepped back outside with a bag from the knitting store as well as the book store over each shoulder, he looked back at the two stores. The coffee shop was the very odd one of the bunch, but the other two didn’t really look alike either. It was why Aaron had never put a thought into the three of them. Aaron made his coffee and his tea at home as no coffee shop back in DC ever made tea worth drinking in his eyes.

Just as he was about to turn the corner, Aaron looked back at Spencer as he bustled around the lower section of the shop, restocking things and just moving about. The man was an enigma. He seemed to be doing damned good for himself despite having had a child before he had graduated high school. Aaron knew a few kids who had gotten pregnant around the years that he had been in school, and while some of them were doing well, mostly, it had been not that great. Aaron wondered about them because Reid was not a name that was popular in the town, so they were either transplants or the rest of the family had moved away.

Aaron had not seen a ring on Spencer’s finger, but that meant nothing in this day and age. He could be in a committed relationship with Maggie Lynn’s mother or someone else, and it hadn’t got to a ring point. There was nothing in the way the man had treated him that had spoken to anything close to Spencer having an attraction to men. It hadn’t come up at all.

“He’s available, dear,” a little old lady said as she walked by Aaron toward the yarn shop. She had a knitting bag over her arm.

“Excuse me,” Aaron said.

The little old lady turned around and looked at Aaron. She gave him a look that Aaron knew well, and he felt like a schoolchild who had given the wrong answer.

“Our Spencer, he’s available and would probably not say no to a date from you.” She looked Aaron up and down before turning back to go where she had been headed in the first place.

Aaron just watched her until she was inside the shop before he started back the way he was heading to get some lunch. He looked back to see that Spencer was on the second floor and looking down at him. Aaron kind of regretted the whole coming out as bisexual for the first time in his life when he had given the interview. He had hoped it would put a kibosh on the whole thing, but the gentleman from the local paper who interviewed him had been the same excited man that he was when he had said it. Aaron had been nearly conned into three dates with single men and women from the older female population in the city since that damned thing had come out. Now they were trying to hook him up with a man that had to be nearly two decades younger than him.

Chapter 2-Tea

Aaron sighed as he entered the coffee shop. He had a day in court over a matter between two neighbors, and he really thought that they were both being stupid, and he would rather just slam their heads together until they were civil, but that wasn’t something that was done in Paradise. His coffee machine broke on him, and after he had cleaned up the mess and changed clothes, he was now precariously close to running late to court, which would not be good, but he needed coffee.

“Mister Hotchner,” Maggie Lynn said from behind the register.

Aaron knew that he shouldn’t be shocked to see her there behind the register, but he really was.

“Black drip coffee, please. Whatever the biggest size you have is.”

“Sure. Do you want a disposable cup or reusable one for five bucks, and the first fill is free?”

Aaron looked at Maggie and saw that the look in her eyes said that she thought there was only a single option.

“Reusable,” Aaron said.

“Black, blue, green, yellow, purple, white, orange, rainbow, or the shiny metallic rainbow.” Maggie pointed over her shoulder to the shelf behind her.

Aaron looked to see that there was a row of hot coffee cups as well as the tumblers that he saw nearly everyone using around town. “Metallic rainbow in the hot and then a rainbow one in the cold with iced tea, please.”

“Sure.” Maggie tapped a few things and then looked up at Aaron. “What kind of tea?”

“What do you have?”

“Today’s are black, green, white peach, or Earl Grey with lavender.”

“Oh, Earl Grey, with one pump of sugar.”

“Perfect choice. It’s my favorite though I don’t drink sugar in it. Ten bucks even.”

“No tax?” Aaron asked. He pulled out his wallet and dug out the ten he had got back as the change from dinner out with Jack the night before.

“Already in the price. Everything in the store is that way. It makes it a lot easier. You can pick them up down there.”

“Thanks.”

Aaron walked down as he put his wallet and found that both drinks were ready for him.

“Stuck a few ice cubes in the coffee, enough to get it to a drinkable temperature. Those mugs do good at keeping them hot,” the gentleman behind the counter said.

“Thanks.” Aaron popped the lid on the coffee and took a careful sip. It was the perfect temperature for drinking.

“Refills on coffee are two dollars, and the tea is a dollar, no matter the flavor.”

“Thanks.”

Aaron shook his head at the signage and saw the signs for the drinks. Every single drink in the place had the price for things as well as the refill prices on the larger mugs. Some of the more detailed drinks there really wasn’t that much of a difference, but as Aaron mainly drank black coffee and tea, he would save a lot of money if he got things from there instead of other places. He needed to get a coffee pot, but the big stores that sold things like that were further away than Aaron had time to go that week, so he would have to add this place into his routine.

“Oh, Mister Hotchner!” Maggie Lynn called out.

Aaron turned around just as he reached the door.

“We also run them through the dishwasher if you want! Bye, have a good day!”

Aaron chuckled and nodded his head before he exited the coffee shop.

The walk to the courthouse was short, but Aaron was still one of the first ones there. He double-checked the email he had received about the date and time three times before he saw another person heading toward the courtroom. The woman was half slinging on her robes. She stopped when she saw Aaron standing there.

“Dear me am I that late?” she asked. She looked at her watch; only it was covered up by the sleeve of her robe. She moved it back and relaxed. “No, no, I’m not that late. You Mister Hotchner are early. Have you not taken a case to court here yet?”

“No,” Aaron said.

“Ah, that explains it. We don’t have a lot of stuff. I’m a mom who is raising three kids under the age of seven. You have two jobs, and that is to never arrive before me, ever and to make sure that justice is served.”

“I’ll try on the first, Ma’am. It might just take me a while as there were a few judges back in DC that if you didn’t arrive two hours before court, you were late.”

“City boys with sticks up their arses are what they are. Come and join me in chambers. I have scones and a pot of coffee from Joselyn’s husband’s place. You can get a top off.”

Aaron followed the judge to her chambers and sat down in the chair she pointed to. She had an airpot that she grabbed as she had passed her secretary’s desk. The epitaph of Joselyn’s husband was one that Aaron had heard over and over since he had moved to town. He had yet to meet either Joselyn or her husband, and when he had asked once about who it was, the topic had been changed by someone coming into the conversation from the outside, and Aaron hadn’t felt like asking again. Whoever the man was, he was well-loved by the whole town.

“Ma’am,” Aaron said because while he knew her last name, he wasn’t sure that she would like being called Judge McEntire at all by him.

“Rosie, Hotch. Rosie.”

“Rosie, who exactly is Joselyn’s husband?”

Rosie looked at Aaron with such a look of shock on her face that Aaron was sure she was frozen in time. She didn’t move for nearly a minute, a scone halfway up to her mouth.

“How long have you lived here?” Rosie asked when she finally moved again. She sat down and stuffed a bite of the scone into her mouth before setting it down and started to get herself some coffee.

Aaron took a sip of his coffee before he set down his tea and took a scone when the tray was waved at by Rosie. The blueberry one looked delicious.

“Just over seven months.”

“You know sometimes we forget that people who move to town don’t know who Joselyn was. Joselyn Merrin was a lovely little young woman when she went off to college at the age of thirteen. She was loved by the town because while she was smart as hell, she had a genetic condition that was going to take her life before she turned twenty. We all hated to say goodbye to her, even just for four or five years, while she went to college. She came home every single summer. Then one summer she came home with a young man who was the same as her. In college, before most people were even in high school. Fifteen-year-old love birds. They wanted to get married. They wanted to be together for the rest of her life. The proper things were filled out, and it happened here in town at the beach. He had no family on his side. An absent father and sick mother. He loved her, though, as much as anyone could at that age.”

Aaron looked down at his scone and sat back. He was not expecting this or anything close to it.

“Her father walked her down the aisle, and her mother stood as his second person in place of his mother, who was too ill to make it. Then in March the following year, Joselyn gave birth to their daughter, and it was a rough pregnancy. Last three months, she was on bed rest. She still did her school work, and she got the astrophysics degree that she wanted before she died. She passed away in her sleep here just a month after she turned twenty. Her husband left with Joselyn but only long enough to finish his degrees, and then he moved back here and has stayed since.”

Aaron tried to figure out the genius that was all but hidden it seemed in the town. Rosie was looking at the wall on the far side of the room. Aaron looked over and saw a picture on the wall of a young girl who was playing in a pool with a boy. It was well-loved, and Aaron could see the woman in the boy. That had to be her son. The girl had a few features on her face that Aaron knew. Maggie Lynn, but it was too old to be Maggie Lynn in the picture, so it had to be her mother. Joselyn. And that made Joselyn’s husband, Spencer.

“Spencer loved her so much, and while he still loves her, he’s made peace with it. He understood that he was only getting a short amount of time with her. He has Maggie Lynn to help him remember her. So that’s the story of Joselyn’s husband, and like I said, I’m not shocked that no one’s ever called him Spencer when they are out and about. We don’t call him that to his face, but every other time he’s talked about, it’s always Joselyn’s husband. He’s been a Godsend to this place. You see little Maggie Lynn’s influence all over the city. She caught a duck tangled in a plastic bag in the ocean when she was a toddler and has been the champion of recycling and using less plastic inside of the city since then. She’s indulged probably more than she should be, but the whole of the city looks a lot better and gets a lot more tourists because of it.”

“She does seem to be a force to be reckoned with.” Aaron wasn’t shocked to find out that she was the one behind all of that. Or that it seems the whole town did what she wanted. To have lost Joselyn, even though they knew it was coming, was probably hard. Aaron had learned that this whole town raised kids together. They took the whole ‘it takes a village’ thing to a new extreme. It wasn’t bad, but it was something to adjust to.

“Oh, some time if you are in the city’s archives, you should look up the town meeting. They are all recorded and have been for a long time. She stood up there and gave an impassioned speech for a four-year-old. Then when it didn’t move a single one of them the next meeting, she and Spencer brought Daisy in. Daisy is the duck that they saved who had ducklings, and they now come back to his place every single year. The flock is getting rather large. Still back to Daisy, she had the four ducklings she had just had with her, and Maggie Lynn stood up there and talked about how none of them would be alive. Then there was a group of others who came in after that with pictures of the dead animals that they found in the city from plastic. It was dramatic as hell, but then the kids started to cry. It was the crying that got them. They agreed just to get the kids to stop crying.”

Aaron knew that it could be powerful. Jack had learned early on that crying at least got Aaron to soften up but not always give in to what he wanted.

“Well, we better go. Bring the scones, would you?” Rosie asked as she stood up. She closed the pump on the airpot and carried that into the chambers as well. Aaron followed behind her and sat the scones down on the table where the coffee pot was set, and then he went back for his tea. The courtroom was soft and more inviting than every other one that he had ever been in.

By the time that Aaron was done with court for the day, he figured that this entire city was insane. The jury was still out on whether it was the good kind of insane or the bad kind. There was still an hour before Aaron needed to pick up Jack from his swim lessons, so he walked back to Spencer’s coffee shop. Maggie Lynn wasn’t working the register again, but there were a few other faces that Aaron knew from seeing them around town. He got a refill on his tea and sat in a corner before reading a book. It had been in his briefcase that he had dropped off at the courthouse before he had gone to get drinks. His coffee mug was now in a bag inside to make sure that it didn’t leak.

“Hotch,” Steven called out before he sat down across from Aaron at the two-person table. He was wearing an apron that had the name of the shop on it. Brews & Magic was the strangest name ever for a coffee shop, but it seemed to fit the kind of man that Spencer was.

“Steven, how are things going?” Aaron had met Steven just a week after he had moved to town. The man was kind and lived a block away from Aaron.

“Good. How was your first day in Rosie’s court?”

“I feel like I might have done bad things and never got caught for them when I was a kid.”

“Miss Rosie is very different. No one ever wants to get there in court and be on her bad side, but they still do, and then they are all sullen. You look like you need a pick me up. We are trying a few new scones and proper English crumpets. Do you want to try one of each?”

“Sure.”

Steven got up and came back with a tray that had a few small scones on them, the size that was only good for tasting and nothing much else, and a crumpet and a small cup of marmalade on it. Steven left Aaron alone.

“Aaron,” another voice said.

Aaron looked up to see that it was Spencer. He was dressed in a pair of slacks, and his hair was up in a messy ponytail with a pencil sticking out of it. His t-shirt had a Ravenclaw house crest on it. He looked adorable to Aaron.

“Maggie Lynn said you were in this morning.”

“Yes, my coffee pot broke on me this morning. Well, actually, it blew up all over me. I had to clean up grounds and water from everywhere.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. I sell coffee pots here. Well, I have access to them, and they will be delivered with my next order. We can look at them if you want, or you can pick up one from the Wal-Mart a town over.”

Aaron could tell that Spencer thought that it was a sacrilege to buy a coffee pot from Wal-Mart, but Aaron wasn’t that picky on his coffee pot as long as it made coffee the way that he wanted. He didn’t drink much more than a cup a day, so it was also probably horrible that Aaron just reheated his coffee until the pot was gone after it went into the carafe. Aaron felt a little wicked, so he leaned forward, not getting too close and letting Spencer dictate how far inward he came in toward him.

“So are these fancy machines?”

“Some are, and some aren’t. Why?”

“Well, I hate to buy something that costs an arm and a leg when I make like one pot a week and then just reheat the rest in the microwave until I run out, a cup a morning.”

“You heathen,” Spencer hissed at him with a smile on his face. “What else do you drink?” Spencer asked. He leaned in just a little more.

“I drink tea all day long. I have iced teas in my fridge, some caffeine and some caffeine-free, and then after dinner, it’s water or sometimes a beer.”

“Oh, you should have said so. Bring your scones.” Spencer stood up and grabbed Aaron’s tea before he walked around to the side, where Aaron figured the steps to get upstairs were. Aaron wondered exactly what was up there because he had seen the tables that looked like they were for a meeting, and then he figured the rest was storage because there was a big wall that dissected the room from what Aaron could see from outside. Aaron picked up his plate and followed behind Spencer. When Aaron got to the top of the stairs, he found that Spencer was entering a doorway in the middle of the wall that wasn’t as noticeable from the street. Aaron stopped in his tracks at the canisters of tea that were all over the back wall of the place. There was a counter and digital scales, and everything needed to take the tea leaves to go. Aaron felt a little bit like he was in heaven. He could stop making trips to DC to get his tea for the month.

The canisters were plain with the name of the tea and what was in it printed on the label. There was also a little five-leaf scale that showed how much caffeine was in it. The colors of the lids helped with the types of tea. He saw a sign on the wall that declared what each one was. Black teas had black lids, green teas were green. Herbals looked to be a very pale pink while oolong was purple. Then there were red lids, which were rooibos, an herbal but a very different herbal. There were also white lids. Aaron looked down the list to see that they were mixtures, with at least two different kinds of tea in it.

“So, I am going to say that you did not know that this was here?” Spencer asked.

“No. I go to DC once a month and pick up my teas. Well, Bethesda, but still.”

“I know which place you are talking about, and my teas are just as good but priced a little more moderately. I get the things in for them and blend them myself.” Spencer walked around the counter and pulled up a water kettle and filled it before he turned it on. Then he pulled out a set of tea steepers. Each one had a different color lid, for the various types of teas. “So, is there anything you want to try?”

Aaron looked at the teas, watching Spencer out of the corner of his eye as he set up sugar and even a powdered creamer of some kind that Aaron wasn’t sure what it was. He walked around the counter when Spencer didn’t say a single thing as he edged closer to it. Aaron noticed there wasn’t a register. There were also bags that Aaron recognized from down in the main section. He had assumed it was bags of coffee, and some of it could have been, but it also could have been this tea. Aaron grabbed a few canisters before he noticed that there was one tucked down at the bottom that was a black tea, but it called a London Grey Chai. Aaron picked it up before he was even thinking about it. He saw that Spencer was watching him with an assumed but fond look on his face. Aaron set down the majority of the canisters but kept the London Grey Chai in his hands. He tipped it up and saw that it was made with a standard Earl Grey but also had a usual chai mixture in it as well as coconut and cream flavoring. Aaron held that out to Spencer.

“That’s a perfect choice.”

“So, how did this start?” Aaron asked. He walked back around and settled down on the stool that was nestled against the counter. Spencer was careful as he measured out the tea mixture into a steeper that was clear all the way through. There was, however, an S on the top of the lid.

“I had a nanny for Maggie Lynn at Caltech while I finished up my degrees before moving back here. She was this lovely old lady who had been Joselyn’s babysitter when she had been a child, and both of her parents had to work. I was not given a choice on who was going to help me. I was told that she was moving over, and she would also be buying a house out there so that I had a proper place to live as a widower. She drank nothing but Earl Grey tea, hot with two sugars, and a single teaspoon of this creamer that she loved; she got it from a specialty shop that is still in business. I order in several cases at a time as it sells fairly well here.” Spencer tapped the lid of the powdered creamer. “So Maggie Lynn was given it from a very young age. She grew out of the sugar and creamer, declaring that they covered the flavor of the tea. Miss Marie was affronted, but I could see her smiling at Maggie Lynn when she said that. When Maggie Lynn turned five, cancer took Miss Marie. She refused treatment as it might have given her more time, but at her age, it was going to be rough and make the time not worth living. So for two months, we went back to England and visited Miss Marie’s home with her before laying her to rest there.”

Aaron wondered how much death was in the family because it didn’t seem like there was another family around for them, and Aaron couldn’t see Joselyn’s parents just being gone like they were while Maggie Lynn was still there in Paradise.

“Two years later, Mama died, and Pop followed. Then Mom got worse in her illness.”

Aaron figured that Mom was Spencer’s actual mother while Mama and Pop were Joselyn’s parents.

“Sorry,” Spencer said. He wiped at a tear in his eye before grabbing a tissue.

“You don’t have to be sorry. You didn’t have to answer, you know.”

“Eh, you would have heard it from someone. You would have asked where Joselyn’s parents were.”

“How do you know that I hadn’t known before now?” Aaron asked.

“Because in the yarn shop, you didn’t recognize me, and your eyes were normal. Then today, when you looked up and saw me, you had a little bit of pity in your eyes as well as sorrow for me. I knew that someone had told you who I was.” Spencer gave Aaron a smile just the kettle ticked off.

Aaron looked to see that it had temperatures on the side and a button for each. Aaron found that fascinating. Spencer poured the water over the tea in the stepper and then set it down. Aaron let him have the silence as he didn’t want to bother him.

“How do you take your Chai?” Spencer asked after a few minutes. There was a ding of a timer, and Spencer carefully split the tea in the stepper between the two cups that he had set up for it.

“Little sugar. How do you take this one?”

“Little sugar and half a teaspoon of the cream.”

“I’ll take mine that way. You never know what you might like if you never try new things.”

Spencer looked up at Aaron, and there was a look of shock on his face but also possibly desire. Aaron filed that away, but right now wasn’t the time for that. Even if it had happened about eight years prior, Spencer was too emotional from talking about his past to make a good decision on what he wanted.

“It’s rare to see anyone who moves here from places like DC be adventurous.”

“I always was before I moved there, and it never went away. Mother took me to enough parties that served weird things that I learned to, at least, show that I was trying what was on offer. Even if I hated it.”

“Did you learn to hide that you didn’t like it?” Spencer asked. He stirred in a little sugar and then a bit of the cream into the first cup and passed it over.

“Very much so.” Aaron took a sip of the tea, and he sighed as the flavor washed over his tongue. It was damned good like that. He didn’t think that he would like it without the little bit of sugar or the cream in it. “This is damned good.”

“That is a full blend that I made up one night while drunk. Maggie only drank tea and water growing up, so it was hard sometimes to find new things for her to enjoy. It’s why I started to mix up my own blends. At least then, it was small amounts, and I could trash it if she hated it. Then it grew because I made a special blend for Mags’ best friend when she was sick and couldn’t drink much of anything. I made an herbal blend that tasted good in small amounts but not watered down when mixed with other things. Then it just grew from there to where people wanted my teas.” Spencer moved over to the other side of the counter to sit on the stool that was next to Aaron with his cup of tea in hand.

Aaron turned around to face him better.

“I don’t know if anyone told you, but you are the first outsider to ever be nominated as most eligible bachelor here in Paradise. Outsiders are adults who move to town. If you arrive before you are a teenager, you are not an outsider, so Jack won’t be one, but you will be until you are dead.”

“Yes, I was told this by a very drunk man one day. It doesn’t bother me at all. I’m still treated the exact same as if I were anyone else. I still have no clue who picks who is the most eligible bachelor, but I think they are just having a go at me.”

“Oh no, they are not, and you met them in my shop. It’s all of those old ladies who were in the knitting class. They are the ones who rule this town for the most part, at least on the social aspects. They make everyone in the town bend to their will. They choose who will be the most eligible bachelor.”

“No one answered about why there is no most eligible bachelorette.”

“Spinster is the term you are looking for there. Using that world will get you laughed at.”

“That explains that,” Aaron said. He had been laughed at when he had asked that. “So why is there no most eligible spinster in this town?”

“Because it’s long believed that if there is a woman who is unattached, she is for a reason, and that is her reason alone, but a man, who is alone, needs a woman to make sure that he’s not going to do something stupid.”

“That’s incredibly…strange.” Aaron was about to say something else, but he stopped himself.

“Oh no, it’s backward, but they are trying to be kind. There hasn’t been a single male who has been voted as most eligible that hasn’t got married and lived happy, at least so far. Though, given what has been said about you, you might be the first just to spite them.”

“Yes, well, I wasn’t really given a choice when I was shanghaied into taking this. I mean don’t get me wrong, it was nice to show more of the community who I am, but I really didn’t think that people would try and set me up on dates.” Aaron reached out for one of the scones on the tray and broke it in half. Spencer took the other half when Aaron offered it and made sure not to touch their fingers. It was interesting to see his face light up in happiness as he chewed on the scone.

Aaron ate his half and enjoyed it a great deal. It was soft and sweet and just melted on his tongue on its own. He eyed the rest of them and debated how bad it would be to not share with Spencer as he really didn’t want to. He picked up the next but didn’t break it in half. He popped the whole thing into his mouth and chewed it. He was very impressed by the flavors that were layered into it, as well as the simple topping of powdered sugar that added sweetness to the scone as the scone itself wasn’t sweet. It was kind of perfect in Aaron’s eyes. He had a feeling he would be getting more of those scones when they were put on the menu.

“Like that one? Steven’s been wanting to try making it for a while. He finally got it down, I think, by the look on your face.”

“It’s delicious.”

“Then I am glad you didn’t share it with me as I am afraid I would have probably gone to get you another if you have given me a puppy dog look at giving away something so good tasting.” Spencer smiled as he said the words and then took a sip of the tea.

Aaron laughed and turned to his own tea again. There were a few more scones, and every time that Aaron offered Spencer half of one, Spencer waved it off. Aaron saved the crumpet for last, spreading the preserves over it and taking a bite. It was damned good.

“You know you are going to end up seeing me near-daily, right?” Aaron asked.

“As if seeing your face is going to be a hardship,” Spencer said back.

Aaron tried to take a few seconds to see if Spencer was flirting, saying it as a way to make Aaron feel all right about coming in daily, or he hadn’t realized that what he said could be taken any other way than the way that he said it. Aaron near jumped when he felt his phone vibrating in his pocket. He pulled it free and looked at it. It was his timer to leave and get Jack. Aaron shoved the rest of the crumpet into his mouth.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I need to go,” Aaron said, around his mouth full of crumpet.

“Okay.”

Aaron drank down his tea and grabbed the second half of the crumpet, and shoved it into his mouth. His briefcase was on the bottom area still, and he wondered how he had not grabbed it.

“If you want to leave your briefcase, Steven took it into the office, and you can pick it up at any point.”

“You guys close at some point, and Jack has co-opted my evening.”

“Mags and I live close, Aaron. You can ring the doorbell that says deliveries on the back door, and one of us come down and will let you into the office to get it. It’s connected to the house and the apartment above instead of just the apartment.”

“Oh, really? That would be great. I had hoped to go home and change, but everyone is used to me in suits.”

“You can ditch the tie and jacket with your briefcase; just give it to Steven.”

“I might just do that. Thank you for the tea. Do you do samples?” Aaron looked at the ones that he had chosen.

“I’ll get you some sample bags set up, and you can pay for them the next time you are in. Or tonight, whichever. Go and get Jack before he thinks you left him at swim lessons.”

Aaron was gone from the shop before he realized that he had not told Spencer where he was getting Jack from.

Chapter 3-Holding Hands

Aaron saw that most of the kids were still playing in the area of the ocean where there were ropes and things to make sure that none of the kids got swept out to sea. The huge nets stretched from rock to rock at the natural jetties made by the rock formations. It was a lovely area, and Aaron understood why the city holds most of the events there. It was easy to block off but also wasn’t too small for everyone.

Looking around, Aaron didn’t see his son anywhere. He was starting to get a little worried about that until he saw that there were a lot of kids that he couldn’t tell who they were in the water. Aaron started forward to where he saw Anita, the lady who was running the lessons and a very experienced swimmer as well as a lifeguard for the area. He made a beeline for her in time to see that she was looking down at an area where there was a group of kids who were sitting around a fire that was roaring up. He knew that bonfires happened a lot, with kids roasting marshmallows. Jack wanted to stay for it that night, but Aaron had been a little more leery about it. It was a perfect opportunity for men and women to come up to him and talk to him, and it would be bad for him to say no to their company.

“What’s got your interest?” Aaron asked.

Anita turned around and smiled at him. She was a fellow out bisexual in town, which meant that she knew what it was like to have everyone hitting on her, much like Aaron.

“So your son has a crush on a woman nearly three times his age,” Anita said as she pointed over to the bonfire.

Aaron saw that Jack was sitting down beside a girl who was in a bright pink wet suit. The girl moved a little, pointing at something, and he saw that they were holding hands. It was really damned adorable.

“Here,” Anita said as she held up her phone. Aaron leaned in as she brought up the pictures of the two of them from a few angles, but none of them were from the front. He had no clue who the girl was at all. Still, it was charming.

“Can you send those to me? Email is fine.” Aaron had been made part of a mailing list for the local kids’ events that Anita kept up, so his email address had been shared with nearly every single parent in the whole city. He wasn’t that upset, but he hadn’t been prepared for how in his face small-town life was in this town. He wasn’t going to be allowed to be a hermit, not when he had a kid.

“Sure. I’ll send you a few email sets tonight when I get home. It will be easier to just send straight from Google as I’ll send everything that has Jack in it from the whole of the lessons. He’s doing well, by the way. He’s learning well from Maggie Lynn and is a perfectly attentive student.”

“Maggie Lynn,” Aaron said, and he shook his head. She turned his head, and he recognized her. “She’s a little bit of everywhere in my life right now.”

“Yes, the word is that you have finally met Spencer after the old ladies have tried for months to get you to go into the coffee shop.”

“I’m sure that they-” Aaron stopped because the longer he thought about it, the more he understood that he had been pushed into going there. “I went to the bookstore first as Jack finally ran out of books to read that I had bought him. Then the yarn shop, and that was where I met Spencer. I’ve seen Maggie Lynn more than Spencer, though.”

“What made you take up knitting?” Anita asked with a glance at Aaron as she asked it.

“It was on a list of hobbies that are prevalent in the area, but I was the one that picked it. There were also ones that could be done with nothing needed.”

“I’m sure that knitting was brought up by your doctor, and then you kept it in your head without realizing it. You do realize that your doctor is the town psychiatrist as well, right? If there is someone to talk you into something without you knowing it, it’s her.”

Aaron looked at Anita, waiting for her to look at him. “How many people in this town are set on Spencer and I hooking up?”

“Well, if you count the ones that only want it because they think you two are hot together and they like that image in their head, nearly everyone that is over the age of thirty. If you are not careful, they are going to get Jack and Maggie Lynn in on it. Maggie Lynn has tried a few times to get her father to date anyone at all going as far as to get in trouble in school because she thought that Spencer and Mister Davis would be good together after Mister Davis was found going on a date two towns over with a gentleman there. That failed, though, as Mister Davis was smart enough to be a teacher but not smart enough for our Spencer.”

Aaron laughed because he could see that, not Spencer finding Mister Davis stupid just because he wasn’t a genius but only that he wasn’t that smart on another level. Spencer seemed to like logic from the little bit that Aaron had seen out of him, and if one wasn’t logical and practical, it could go very badly.

“Jack’s never got the urge to try and hook me up with anyone though he’s still a bit young for that. Spencer said that those who are most eligible bachelor rarely ever make it a year without finding someone. How come he’s never been put up there?”

“Because they all find it crass to do that to him. Oh, they will scheme to get him with someone, and he’s usually a good sport and will go on a date but never more than that. I don’t know if he’s just not got the heart for finding someone else, or he’s just happy as he is now. I fully expected him to get out there more when Maggie Lynn went to school.”

“She’s been in school a long time now.”

“OH, sorry. I should say college. She’s at GWU for a law degree. She’s home for the summer as it’s part of the whole deal with Spencer not following her to DC for it.”

Aaron looked at Maggie Lynn sitting there with Jack, holding hands with him, and just being a kind soul with a boy with a crush and tried to picture her in college. He really wasn’t that shocked, given that both of her parents were geniuses.

“Are you staying for the bonfire and roasting marshmallows?” Anita asked.

“Why?”

“Because Spencer is the main entertainment tonight. He’s going to do physics magic, and he’s going to need a volunteer, and the kid who did the best at the lessons for the day gets to be that person, and that was Jack. So you are going to be sitting beside Maggie Lynn alone for the evening until it’s time to roast marshmallows and whatever weird foods have been brought to try to roast. Tonight is also the community meal, so there will be burgers, and the kids will be roasting weenies over the fire as well. If you stay, you are going to be stuck until it’s time to leave as no one is going to let you leave early.”

“I have a single question for you before I decide that.”

“What?” Anita asked.

“Does Spencer really want to be in a relationship?” Aaron refused to try and do what the city wanted if Spencer didn’t really want to be in a relationship. He could tell them all to stuff it and be the first bachelor to refuse to do what the city wanted and settle down happy.

“There’s a long and a hard answer to that question. There is a short answer, and that is that yes, he wants to be with someone. The long answer is that he doesn’t want to just settle for someone. He wants to find someone that can and will love him for who he is. He went into the relationship with Joselyn with his eyes open, at least according to what they said. They understood that she was dying, and whatever they made had an end date that no one could put a date on. He still loved her. He was there with her, you know. All three of them in bed together, Maggie Lynn between them as she took her last breaths when they gave her enough pain killers to make her sleep through the last hours since she was in pain with her body shutting down. Spencer stayed after that while her body slowly died. I watched Maggie Lynn.”

Aaron looked at her, and he saw it. He saw a little family resemblance, but it wasn’t enough to be siblings.

“You know, I think this town is sometimes very backward. Most places you go and everyone rushing to tell you who is related to who but today I have found out that Joselyn’s husband is Spencer, and now you are a cousin?”

“Yes. My father ran away when mom was pregnant with me, and then mom died in childbirth, so aunt and uncle raised me alongside Maggie Lynn. We were as close as sisters, so I promised that I would look after them. I love Spencer like a brother, and that’s why I think someone like you would be good for him. He’s a damned good man. I don’t think there is a person in the world that would have fallen in love with Joselyn even after knowing she was going to die in about five years.”

“Has Maggie Lynn-” Aaron stopped himself because he wasn’t sure how to ask what he was going to ask.

“Yes. It’s a recessive trait that has to be on both sides. Spencer was checked for it before they had Maggie Lynn. It’s very, very rare and it’s something that is never checked for even now because it’s something like zero point zero zero zero zero zero one percent of the world has it. That’s about seven thousand people across the world, and two of them made a kid. Maggie Lynn doesn’t even have the gene at all.”

“Mister Hotchner!” Maggie Lynn called out. She jumped up, gently pulling Jack with her and rushed over to Aaron with a smile on her face. Jack was grinning as well.

“Hello Maggie Lynn,” Aaron said as Maggie Lynn let go of Jack’s hand so that Jack could rush forward and hug Aaron. He was still wet, but Aaron didn’t care about that. The dress shirt could be cleaned. He was glad that he took Steven’s advice and opened a few buttons on his collar. He looked less like a lawyer like that. “Hello, Jack.”

“You know Maggie Lynn, Daddy?” Jack asked.

“I do. I met her a few days back when I picked up your books. She was delighted that you were a good reader. She’s the one that gave me the pamphlet on the summer reading stuff.”

“We were about to go swimming for the last time today. Do you want to join us?” Maggie Lynn asked.

“I didn’t bring a suit with me.”

“Oh, I’m sure that we have your size, Hotch. We have a pile of suits that are donated to the community hoard. They are taken and cleaned up once a week or after they have been worn by someone.” Anita took Aaron’s arm and tugged on it. She was grinning, so Aaron figured that this wasn’t going to end well at all.

Aaron settled Jack down onto the sand and looked at Maggie Lynn. She laid a hand on Jack’s shoulder to show that she was going to watch him while Aaron went and got changed. So far, he had avoided swimming. It wasn’t that he didn’t like to swim, he loved it, but he didn’t like the attention that he got when he was shirtless. With the biking and running that he did as well as the lightweights to stay in shape for swimming in triathlons, he was very sculpted, or so he was told. Aaron would just live with it and get in some fun in the sun with Jack while he could. It would be better than sitting on the sand or a log and getting asked again and again to go into the water.

When Aaron came out, there were a lot more people there, families who were all swimming or scattered on blankets in the sand. He saw that Jack and Maggie Lynn were on a giant purple blanket that was spread out with small baskets at the corners. One of the baskets had water, another had cups in a clear bag, and then a pitcher of tea. Then there was one that looked like a picnic basket that he couldn’t see inside of, and then there was the final one that had towels and sunscreen in it. It was the blanket of an over-prepared parent. Aaron recognized it well. He had been that parent most of Jack’s life so far. Aaron had only really relaxed in the last year, being in Paradise with Jack had made him feel like he didn’t have to do as much to keep things safe for Jack.

Spencer came up the beach toward where the towel was with a smile on his face, and he was wearing a full wet suit just like Maggie Lynn. His was purple, though. It seemed that Spencer liked purple. He looked good in it. Aaron shook his head to clear it because Spencer looked better than good in it. He looked damned good, and Aaron’s mouth was a little dry.

“Aaron,” Spencer said as Aaron stepped up to the blanket. He looked at Aaron’s borrowed swimming trunks and frowned a little. “You don’t surf?”

“Never have in my life. I saw that there were lessons on it and I was thinking of taking that up next year. Still a little too busy getting settled down into life here at the moment.”

“Beginners classes run a few times during the summer, but I would also be willing to give you lessons when you have time. You seem like you are fit enough for it.”

“I did triathlons in DC, so I am sure that I’m fit enough for surfing lessons. I’ll let you know about the whole lessons thing.” Aaron looked down at Jack, who was putting on sunblock. He had probably reapplied it several times. Maggie Lynn was putting it on places on Jack that he would have trouble reaching. It was interesting to watch as Maggie Lynn made sure that Jack was covered, even doing his face. Jack held still in a way that he rarely did to for Aaron. Aaron also figured that it wouldn’t last. He was being good because of the crush that he had on Maggie Lynn.

“Dad, Maggie Lynn is going to take me over to the wading pool area, and we are going to look at the corals that are there until I can swim,” Jack said as he stood up.

“Sure.”

Jack took off, and Maggie Lynn kissed the side of Spencer’s cheek and said something into his ear before she walked away.

“I guess Jack’s my helper tonight?” Spencer asked.

“That’s what I was told. He’s going to love it. A friend of his had a magician at his birthday party last year, and Jack’s liked watching videos of them since then. It’s going to be interesting. He doesn’t want to learn it, he just likes watching it.”

“That’s strange. Most kids go through magic and wanting to be a magician phase.”

“I never did.”

“Oh, that’s more adorable in person,” Spencer said suddenly.

Aaron looked around to see Maggie Lynn holding Jack’s hand as they walked across the rocks to the area where they were headed. There was a large area that had a pool of water that was pretty stagnant unless it was high tide, and then it was full. Aaron had been around this area of the beach as it wasn’t too far from his house. It was a lovely little area that Aaron liked to walk at night when he was having trouble sleeping. Most people in the town were leaving him alone when he was like that, and he was very, very happy about that.

“It really is. Anita took pictures, and she’s going to email them to me.” Aaron watched the two of them for another minute or two before he looked around for somewhere for him and Jack to settle down.

“You can join us. The blanket is big enough for all of us, even if Jack starfishes like Maggie Lynn says he does when he’s drying off.”

“He’s always done that. As a baby, he would just stretch out as much as he could after we got him out of the bath. It wasn’t bizarre as we couldn’t hold him. So we ended up getting a soft and thick bathroom rug that we only got out when we bathed him. After we were done, we just laid him on it so he could stretch out and kick his legs, do whatever he wanted.”

“Mags wanted to be held. So we ended up just bathing her and then holding her against our chest with a towel wrapped around us. She wanted skin on skin contact, all the time. Joselyn thought it was because she knew that Joselyn would leave us at some point. Mags didn’t dislike me, but she did prefer her mother for those first years. Maggie Lynn wasn’t that hard to calm down after Joselyn died, not like I thought she would be. She seemed to accept that she was gone. Though there were pictures of her everywhere. Every single second of Mags’ life was documented so that when she got older, she could see how much her mother was in her life while she was around.”

“Jack has pictures of his mother, but I can’t stand to look at them, hell, Jack barely can. I have them, though, tucked away so that he can see them if he wants.”

“The case made the papers even here when it was going on. We all heard about it. When you moved to town, Sybil told everyone that the first person to bring up the whole thing with you would not buy a single dessert in the town or be welcome at a community day until they pay their penance. It’s a very effective means of making sure that most don’t bring it up. Shaming yourself by doing something like that would be a black mark that most would be unable to actually stand for too long.”

“This town is insane, you know that, right?”

“Oh, I know, but you get used to it. For a small town, we have a low rate of kids leaving and never coming back. Most go to college and then come back as soon as they have a degree unless it’s something they can’t do here. We have seventeen people who all work from a little location at the edge of town in one of the buildings with the best WiFi in town. They rent it out and work from there during the day doing online jobs. They don’t like working from home every single day, so they meet up there. High school kids go by with their laptops and work on homework or play video games. It’s a nice hangout. It’s also where a lot of tech help happens. They run that as a side business. I find it interesting that there are so many that work jobs over the Internet that have settled back here and made it work. They do their best with what they have.”

“This place is the strangest on the Earth,” Aaron said.

There was the screech of kids and then splashing. Aaron looked over to see that the tide was coming in more.

“Ready to hit the waves? I’m not surfing with so many kids and the net up, but it’ll be fun.”

Aaron nodded his head and stood up, the blanket was settled down and wasn’t going to go anywhere. Aaron reached out and held out his hand to help him up. Spencer took it with a smile and allowed Aaron to pull him up. Spencer stumbled and crashed into Aaron. He leaned against him for a moment as he got his feet under him. Aaron watched as he shook one of his feet. It must have fallen asleep on him. Aaron gladly stayed where he was to make sure that he didn’t fall down.

“Better?” Aaron asked.

“Yes. Thanks. Sorry for falling into you, I must have had too much weight on my foot. Let’s go.” Spencer didn’t let go of Aaron’s hand as he started forward toward the water. Aaron wasn’t sure that he wanted to let go of his hand. Aaron didn’t let go until the waves hitting the shore knocked them over in the water. Aaron laughed as he was swept up in the water and pushed back to the shore.

Aaron righted himself to see that the kids were playing in a less rough area of the water but having no less fun with it. He looked for Jack but saw he was still with Maggie Lynn over in the rocky area of the jetty at the side. He trusted that with all of the parents that were there and the ones that were arriving that Jack was safe.

The water started to fill up as the typical workday ended, and people arrived for fun. Aaron looked around for Spencer to see him heading toward the blanket. He dropped down onto it and looked up at the sky. Aaron saw him breathing to recover from his playing with kids. He looked beautiful to Aaron, laid out with his hair fanned behind him while it dried. As Aaron stood there in the surf watching, he saw that Jack and Maggie Lynn were running full tilt toward Spencer with a bucket of water.

Aaron laughed as Spencer screamed at Maggie Lynn before taking off after her and Jack. They all three landed in a pile in the sand laughing. Aaron walked up to them, Spencer had been soaking wet, so he was now covered in sand. The blanket was now soaked, but Spencer didn’t seem to care as he got up and moved over to throw himself onto the blanket. Aaron sat down beside him. There would be sand everywhere.

The whole of the beach was covered in blankets and chairs for people to sit in. It was mainly families that were out and about for a night of fun. The bonfire was roaring, and the sun was starting to set. Despite the air turning colder, the kids didn’t come out of the water. There were huge spotlights that got turned on at the beach and then all along the jetties. It was quite nice. Aaron was delighted with everything that he was seeing. This was the kind of place where Jack would grow up well.

“So, Maggie Lynn is at GWU?” Aaron asked as he sat down on the blanket when Maggie Lynn and Jack wandered away to play. Jack moved over to where kids his age were while Maggie Lynn settled on a blanket with a few other girls.

“Yes. She wants to study law. She’s doing minor work in mathematics, and then after she gets into law school at GWU or Yale, or anywhere she wants to go, she’s going to add in astrophysics like her mother. She’s dabbled in both mainly because of her mother and me, but she loves law. She’s not decided what kind of law she wants to get into yet. She’s smart enough for any of them.”

“Do you have a preference?”

“No. Whatever makes her happy. She could want to make crafts her whole life, and I would be happy.” Spencer tucked his legs up to his chest and looked around the area. His eyes didn’t stop that much as they sat there.

“So, how do you feel about Maggie at college?”

“She’s happy, and that’s really all that matters to me. I’m just glad she’s enjoying college. I let her set the pace on what she wanted to do. At ten, she decided that she wanted to graduate high school earlier than we had planned.” Spencer turned his head to look at Aaron. “What about Jack? He’s bright, he could probably skip a few grades at some point. The school is good here with that. After Joselyn and then Maggie Lynn, they have a handle. All of the sports are not school-based. There are travel leagues in the area that all of them take part in if they want to. Maggie Lynn played soccer. Last summer, she helped the team, but this year she wants to help with swimming.”

“She’s quite out there.”

“Joselyn was too, and I was after her as well. I was very insular, introverted. Joselyn cured me of that. You’ve been rather a loner for a while. We never knew how to approach you. Maggie Lynn wants to help your practice in any way that she can. There are Intern things she can do to help her with classes, but as your place is small, it might not be the best for actual practice.”

“I have friends up in DC that would take her on. In whatever capacity she can handle at her age. She tells me what she wants, I can set it up.”

“So, are you going to stay for the fireworks?” Spencer asked.

“Fireworks?”

“Yes. They will set them off in the field down the way. After the magic act, after the bonfire goes out.”

“I think fireworks will be fun.”

Chapter 4-First Kiss

It was dark out, and Aaron liked that. He could feel Spencer beside him. He could feel the heat from him. The sky lit up again with a massive firework.

“I love the way that my chest thumps when one goes off,” Spencer said.

“I never thought about that.”

“It’s like the echo of the explosion resonates in the chest cavity. It makes me feel alive.”

Aaron turned his head to look at Spencer. Most of the kids were enthralled at the edge of the area that was closest to where the fireworks were going off. Some of the younger ones were out cold asleep on the blankets spread around. Jack and Maggie Lynn were sitting a few feet in front of them.

Spencer’s face was full of wonder even though Aaron had heard him explaining to Jack how fireworks actually worked. Spencer knew every single detail of how fireworks were created, how they came to be. Everything. Yet he was still enthralled about seeing them blowing up in the sky. Spencer laughed at one of the fireworks, so Aaron looked over quickly to see what it was. It was a rainbow flower or as close as it was able to come, given the nature of the medium. Aaron really wanted to lean over and kiss him, but he didn’t think that it was the best idea he had ever had. It probably wasn’t the worst either, though. Aaron knew that he had no reason to do what he did other than that the look of Spencer’s face when it was soft with happiness and just plain wonder did things to Aaron that no one else had done in a long while.

Aaron leaned in, and when Spencer looked at him the next time, he kissed him. It was just a singles soft peck on the lips, but it was there, and there was no going back.

“Huh,” Spencer said when Aaron pulled back. Spencer’s eyes were closed, and the soft smile on his lips was still there. However, he stood up quickly and reached out his hand down to Aaron before looking down at him with his eyes open. There was a bit of fun and play in those eyes, so Aaron stood up and took the hand offered to him. Aaron allowed Spencer to skirt him around the families and kids that were everywhere on the beach and toward the surf at the far end of the area. While the sea was netted off the rest of the beach was not, so it was easy to slip up the beach to somewhere more private. Aaron wondered precisely what was on Spencer’s mind right until Aaron was shoved into a little natural indentation made in the rock that made up a lot of the beach below the house they were in front of.

Spencer pressed his lips to Aaron’s and touched Aaron’s hips, hesitantly. Aaron reached down and pushed them more confidently into his skin. When Spencer had a bruising grip, Aaron stopped and reached up to cup Spencer’s cheeks, holding him in place as he licked across the younger man’s lips, asking for permission. Spencer gave it, parting his lips and tangling their tongues.

Aaron lost himself in the feel of Spencer pressed into his body, in the way that his hands gripped Aaron’s hips. He lost himself in the sound of the fireworks above them and the slight smell of ozone that came from it but how Spencer’s smell of sea and salt and something else overrode that if the wind was still. He lost himself in everything about what they were doing. Spencer kissed confidently but gently. There was only hesitation at the beginning when he had been learning what it was like to kiss Aaron, telling Aaron that as much as he was alone, he remembered well what being with Joselyn was like.

Most people would be jealous of the memory of Spencer’s dead wife, but Aaron wasn’t. It had made Spencer who he was. If Spencer had never met her, he wouldn’t be there to be with Aaron, to be kissing Aaron. Maggie Lynn wouldn’t exist, and that alone was a scary thought.

“Papa?” a voice called out.

Spencer didn’t jerk away like Aaron thought that he would. He pulled back so slowly that Aaron would have thought he was deciding to do it on his own. Aaron figured that it was Maggie Lynn who had called out, but with the blood rushing through his body and his ears, he didn’t hear well at all.

“Over here, Mags,” Spencer called out, but his eyes didn’t leave Aaron’s. “I won’t hide this, so if you don’t want them to know, you need to stay here, and I’ll go meet her.”

“No. No.” Aaron pulled Spencer back into a kiss, it was just a press of lips on lips, but it was enough, Aaron hoped, to make sure that Spencer knew that he was totally okay with them knowing.

“I took Jack and laid him on the lounge chair in the covered porch. I thought he and I would stay there and sleep. It’s not supposed to be too bad of a night, and we have the tote of blankets.”

Aaron looked past Spencer toward where Maggie Lynn was, and she was standing there and looking at them with a smile on her face. She didn’t look shocked at all, but she did look thrilled.

“Sure. I figure that Aaron and I can take the bigger two that are on the porch as well. Make sure we’ve got enough bottles of water.” Spencer didn’t look back at his daughter, he just kept his eyes on Aaron the entire time.

“Sleeping outside?” Aaron asked.

“I have a nice screened in porch that Mags and I camp out on regularly. In the really nice weather, we will camp in a tent down on the sand. Come help me clean the stuff, and then we can crash for the night.”

“Sure.”

It was the work of just a few minutes, with both of them cleaning up the blanket and items. There was no one left around, so Aaron quickly changed back into his regular clothes in the changing hut at the top of the beach. He tossed the trunks into the dirty bin. Spencer looked up at Aaron as Aaron made his way down the beach. He had chosen to not button up his dress shirt and leave it open, his white undershirt was in his hand. It was kind of nice to see the lust-filled look that Spencer gave him in the dark. There was not a lot of light in the area, but there was enough to light up the beach enough to see where one was going or to allow geniuses to rake their eyes over other’s bodies.

“You are a dangerous man,” Spencer said.

The look and the words made Aaron feel great about himself. He knew that he was older than Spencer by nearly sixteen years, but that wasn’t putting the genius off at all. He didn’t care, and Aaron was slowly getting to where he didn’t care as well. Spencer was a young but not a stupid man. He knew what he wanted. He’d been through more than most was at his age. Yet, Aaron knew that Spencer wouldn’t give a single minute of that for anything in the world.

“Let’s go and check on the kids,” Aaron said because he didn’t know what to say in answer to Spencer’s words.

“Jack will grow out of the crush, you know, and Maggie Lynn’s not going to hurt him.”

“No, I know that. This is his first crush, so it threw me a little. Unless you count TV cartoon characters. Or book characters. He develops small crushes on a few of them as he reads books, but then he finds a new one.”

“One should always fall a little in love with the characters you read about in books. I think it’s like the best thing in the world to do that.” Spencer held out his hand, and Aaron took it, walking side by side with Spencer as they made their way toward wherever Spencer’s house was.

Aaron laughed when they stopped in front of the steps that led up to the house where they had been making out in front of. He didn’t let go of Spencer’s hand, even when Spencer loosened his grip on the hand as they started up the stairs that would take them up. Spencer’s house sat on a rock cliff, one of the few in the area like it. It looked well lived in for a lot longer than Spencer had been there. Aaron wondered if this was the house that Joselyn had grown up in. If it was, it was an excellent place to raise Maggie Lynn. She would be as close to her mother as she could get.

The porch was closed in like Spencer said with a screen to keep bugs out, and there were a lot of chairs all around. It was evident that a lot of time was spent there. The deck that the porch was on also had a lot of seating outside of the porch area and what looked like a well used but in good condition grill set up at the far corner. It looked like a perfect getaway, and it wasn’t that far from the house that Aaron had bought. It had been small, but with just him and Jack, they didn’t need that big of a place.

Maggie Lynn had already claimed a lounge chair and was covered up and seemed to be asleep. Jack was on the one beside her, and it had arms that were keeping Jack in the chair. He had a sheet pulled over him and was dead to the world. Aaron knew that he should be tired enough to sleep, but he really wasn’t. He looked at Spencer, who was putting up the things that had been taken to the beach into little nooks for the things that didn’t need to be protected as much and those that did went into a tote. Two loungers were close together that would work for Aaron and Spencer to sleep in, Aaron was pretty sure that they were the ones that Spencer was talking about. The top of the porch had a full roof, so it seemed that everything was well protected from the weather.

“Water?” Spencer asked.

“No.”

“I have wine, I think. It will be warm, though. Juice.” Spencer turned toward where the door into the kitchen was and was looking like he could remember everything just by looking into the room.

Aaron walked up to him and turned Spencer around to face him before taking his mouth in a kiss. Spencer submitted and wrapped his arms around Aaron’s neck, holding him close for the kiss. Aaron walked them backward slowly so that they could find a place to sit down to keep on doing this. Aaron was tired enough that he didn’t want to just stand up and make-out constantly. He felt his legs hit something, so he broke the kiss to look. It was the lounger. Aaron sat down, pulling Spencer down with him to where Spencer was straddling his lap. Spencer didn’t hesitate to dive back in.

They made out until their mutual yawning disrupted the kissing more than they were doing actual kissing, but Aaron didn’t want to let go. He had never craved much affection, but years of just having Jack had him feeling like he was hungry for touching now. Aaron slowly laid back before he pushed himself all the way up the lounger before rolling onto his side. Spencer followed, laying to where he was facing Aaron. Spencer’s hair was a mess from Aaron’s hands and the getting wet only to dry time and again as he played in the water over the evening. Still, he was beautiful to Aaron.

“You are beautiful,” Aaron said. He leaned in just enough to kiss Spencer’s cheek.

“I saw you, the first day you came to town to buy a house. Jack clung to you as he looked around. One would have thought we were a huge town after Jack had lived somewhere small. I watched you from my third-floor window in my office as you moved around town. You were looking to see what was there and what was good enough for you to live in. Your movements around town were watched closely as strangers are not good. Then the word got around about who you were. Like I said before, it made the papers, even around here. The gossip was something else but always was reported to be truthful. Oh, we have our gossipers, but they are mostly harmless. Who is getting divorced, who was seen leaving so and so’s place in the early morning. Harmless things that keep them entertained.”

“I knew that we would be watched a lot, but everyone was really good with Jack. They made sure to tell him hi and other things.”

“Kids are innocent, and after what happened to him.”

“He barely remembers her from before it. He’s blocked nearly all memories of her. He does have nightmares on occasion, but they are not that bad.”

“She had a psychotic break?” Spencer asked.

Aaron moved them to where Spencer’s face was kind of tucked into his neck. He couldn’t stand to say this and look him in the face.

“Aaron, you don’t have to beat around the bush. My mother is a paranoid schizophrenic who broke with reality a long while ago. It was very evident, and I ended up being taken away from her. My father took custody but wanted nothing to do with me so he set up a caretaker at Caltech, who ended up introducing Joselyn and I. Mom sees Maggie Lynn and me a few times a year as we head out to Vegas and then to California for an end of summer vacation before school starts and other times it’s during Maggie’s school breaks. Sometimes I go alone now, but I take a lot of pictures of Mags. I makeup books and take them to her, so she doesn’t really miss a single moment. The books are a little thinner now that Maggie Lynn is in college, and it’s enough.”

“The doctors don’t know what happened, really. It’s not like we could talk to her after SWAT took her out before she could kill Jack. She nearly slit his throat. The doctors did their best to minimize it, but when he gets a good tan going in summer, it’s noticeable on his neck. He doesn’t hate it like he used to when it was really visible, but he doesn’t like it. We were visiting a few monuments the last time we went back to DC for the weekend, and we talked to a few veterans who were there. One only had one leg, and Jack asked him what he felt when people stared at him. The guy told Jack that any wound that you walk away from with your life is the wound that didn’t kill you. That you should wear your scars with pride. Jack’s been a lot more mellow about his scar since then. Still, I have a cream he rubs into it nightly. He calls it an accident, but he knows that it wasn’t. I asked him why the first time I heard him say it, and he said that it was better than getting people upset all the time when he tells them that his mother tried to kill him.”

“His memories of her will come back when the trauma is more settled in his mind. When he isn’t scared of her anymore. Children’s minds are very resilient about life, and he will bounce back.”

“Getting away from DC has helped. I wasn’t sure I would be happy living in a small town again, but I think I’m enjoying myself more than I did back in DC when I was truly happy there. I could see myself settling here for the rest of my life.”

“Don’t tell that to the others, they will make you sign paperwork.” Spencer laughed at his own words before shoving at Aaron until he was on his back. Spencer tucked himself into Aaron’s side with an arm thrown over his chest. Spencer yawned wide enough that Aaron heard the crack in his jaw before his body started to go limp.

Aaron stayed silent as Spencer slipped into sleep. He had never been like this with anyone. He really liked it.


Aaron felt warm and content in a way that he hadn’t in a long while. He tried to stretch but found that he was lying under a weight of some kind. It wasn’t wrong or anything, but it was a strange feeling. The smell of sea air had him waking up as he usually couldn’t smell it like that even with all of the windows in the house open. He forced his eyes open to see bright light filtering in from a side somewhere and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore from what seemed like down below. He sighed a little and looked down to see that he had two bodies on him. Jack was curled up nearly on his chest like he did when he was scared, and then beside him was a woman. Aaron frowned because for a few seconds until the location of where he was coming back to him. He was at Spencer’s, and it wasn’t a woman asleep on the lounge chair with him but Maggie Lynn.

No memory of either of them slipping into bed with him filtered in, just like there was nothing of the time when Spencer had to have left. He wiggled to get out from under Maggie Lynn’s arm and then laid down Jack beside her. He could see tear tracks on Jack’s face, so he must have had a nightmare and wanted Aaron and Maggie Lynn.

Aaron looked around, but Spencer wasn’t anywhere near on the porch or in the kitchen. Aaron walked over to the door that would take him to the deck, and there he saw Spencer standing down at the surf. He was dressed in a pair of pants that were rolled up to his knees and looking out at the early morning waves. Aaron didn’t let Spencer know that he was watching. Spencer didn’t seem like he wanted company.

“He talks to Mom every morning,” Maggie Lynn said as she settled in at the banister beside Aaron. Aaron hadn’t even heard her coming upon him. “Telling her about how the day before went and things that made him happy. It was his solitary time before I woke up, and he had to start doing things for the day. He’s been out there longer today than he has in a long time.”

“Should I…” Aaron waved out toward where Spencer was.

“He’ll tell you if he doesn’t want you around. He’s good at that. He tells me that I should be very frank with people as no one is a mind reader, nor should I get upset if they don’t do what I want if I don’t tell them what I want.”

Aaron laughed but only to help himself settle. He really wished that more people were like that. He wished that Haley was because he figured that they would not have made it near as far as they did as a couple if she had been truthful on what she wanted. He wouldn’t have Jack, and Aaron couldn’t imagine his life without him, and he wouldn’t give him up for the world. If they had never got that far, though, Aaron wouldn’t even know about Jack.

“We do breakfast at Marlene’s on days like today since it’s a Saturday. Jack wants to go.”

“Marlene’s is always closed by the time we get there.”

“Well, if you and Papa keep on dating, then you won’t miss another because we never do. We have a table reserved every Saturday. I talked to Marlene last night, and she made it a four-person table going forward.” Maggie Lynn gave Aaron a smile before she patted his arm and walked back over to where Jack was, cuddling into him as the boy slept.

Aaron looked down at Spencer one more time before he started over to the steps. He walked down them carefully, there was a bit of dew on them from the night. The sun wasn’t fully up yet, but it was turning the sky pretty colors. Aaron wasn’t quiet as he walked over to where Spencer was, but Spencer didn’t turn around at all.

“…I think you’d really like him, Joss. He’s kind, and Mags likes him. He loves his son so much that I know I could trust him with Mags. That’s what you wanted, for me to wait to find someone that could love her like you, and I love her, and I think I might have found him. He’s been hurt before, but it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been hurt before. He doesn’t seem to mind me talking about you. Which I know is really bad to do that before we’ve even had a date, but I refuse to act like you don’t exist.” Spencer stopped to take a breath, so Aaron stepped up behind him and wrapped his arms around Spencer’s lower chest, hugging him from behind. Spencer jumped a little but settle down when Aaron hummed in his ear.

“For someone who doesn’t like to touch you sure touched me a lot last night,” Aaron said. He pressed a kiss to the skin just under Spencer’s ear.

“Joss always said that I became an octopus when I slept. Mags calls me a leach as I try and steal all of the warmth.” Spencer laid his hands over Aaron’s and put his head back on his shoulder. “What are you doing for breakfast?”

“Maggie Lynn made your two-person reservation at Marlene’s into a four-person. I’ve not quite got Jack up and out of the house quick enough yet to eat there, so it will be fun.”

“You’ll love breakfast there. We should get going and get Jack woken up. There is a shower down in the garage that you can use really quick to get the sea and sand off while the kids use the ones inside. The garage one is more…for getting dirt off than cleaning, but you will survive with just that.”

“That sounds good. I think Maggie Lynn was going to wake up, Jack.”

“He had a nightmare just about daybreak and so Mags and I got him moved over. He didn’t want to let go of her, so she laid down too.”

“It was bizarre waking up that way. She’s…affectionate for a teenager.”

“Yes, the whole town says that she takes all of the affection that they don’t give me and transfers it to me through her. Even as a child, she didn’t do too much of the whole independence thing. Oh, she was fine doing things alone when I couldn’t, but she never told me that she didn’t want my help. She took it when I offered, and when I didn’t, she did it on her own. I made sure she knew I was always there if she needed anything, but I was more than willing to let her do what she wanted to do her way.”

“Haley wasn’t so good at letting Jack go and do what he wanted. He is a headstrong boy when he wants to be. He’s happiest when he was doing his own thing. She wanted to be there for all of it and put her stamp on it.”

“There are a lot of parents who think that they need to make their children either the perfect copy of themselves or make sure that they copy their life as much as possible.”

“And you didn’t?”

Spencer snorted and pushed forward enough to turn around in Aaron’s hold. He looked into Aaron’s eyes before cupping his cheeks. “I hate lawyers. I ignore that fact about you because you have proven to be a good man despite the fact that you are a lawyer. I looked into your record before ever agreeing to even think about going on a date with you. The whole town was about to do something stupid like locking us in the tea room or something like that to make sure that we did what they wanted.”

“I just assumed you didn’t realize that they were trying to set up us.” Aaron didn’t want to fully admit that he hadn’t realized it either.

“I’ve stopped us from meeting in various and more outlandish ways, including Mister Martin down the road threatening to sue me if I didn’t stop mowing his grass for him.”

Aaron laughed because he could see the old man doing it just to be contrary.

“This town has a single lawyer, how does that work?”

“You met Rosie. She just spends the entire time yelling at whoever is in her court. You would sit in there to make sure that no one does something that would actually get them in trouble like a regular lawyer would. If another is really needed for a serious matter, there is a lawyer a county over that comes into town when needed.”

“Why don’t you like lawyers?”

“Do you remember the murder case that made national news from Vegas?”

“Man was convicted of killing seven in a spree. The lawyer who defended him was pretty…he made my skin crawl with some of the things that he did to try and get his client off. I can’t remember his name now, though.”

“William Reid,” Spencer said the words with no affectation to his tone, but Aaron could almost feel the anger coming off of him.

“Your father?” Aaron kind of knew that it had to be him, but he didn’t want to just assume and go off of that.

“Yes. He was not happy with the whole getting married thing for me, so he made sure that everyone understood that if I did that, I was on my own. Mama and Pop promised him that I wouldn’t want for anything else in the world as long as they were alive. He’s never seen, Maggie Lynn. We sent a birth notice, but it was returned without being opened with a note written that he wanted no contact.”

“After that case, though, he dropped off the radar.”

“Well, a few things were coming to light about how I was raised and treated, the whole thing with Mom going into Bennington and him getting custody? His firm made sure it didn’t make the news. However, there were those willing to talk about how much of a bad person he was. How they felt about him leaving me with Mom and how he knew exactly how bad off she was and didn’t care. I wasn’t the son he could take to baseball and teach how to throw a ball. I was a freak in his eyes. Which I still find funny as what attracted him to mom was how passionate and smart she was, yet he hated that it got passed on.”

Aaron really wanted to know how the hell a man could hate a child for being smart. He didn’t know, and he would never understand how parents could hate the children they created.

“DAD!” Jack yelled.

Aaron and Spencer both looked up where he was, and Aaron saw that he was getting ready to go inside it seemed. Maggie Lynn had done well at waking him up.

“I am not missing breakfast!” Jack turned around and stomped off, giggling as he did. The sound of it just carried down to where Aaron was.

“Let’s go before he turns into a monster.”

“I thought that was feeding Gremlins after midnight or getting them wet?” Aaron asked.

Spencer turned around, and he looked at Aaron with his mouth falling open. Aaron reached out and shut his jaw.

“You’ll catch flies,” Aaron said.

“You, Mister Hotchner are the devil,” Spencer said with a laugh at the end.

Aaron gladly followed behind him up to the house to get ready to face the day. He looked down at his clothes and wondered if he should ask Spencer if he had anything that would fit when he saw that there was a stack of clothes already on the counter beside the shower stall. It was not his clothes, but they were close enough to things that he would wear. There was still a stiffness to hem that said that they were new but washed.

“Got into the clothing shop down the street and left the money for them on the counter. I’m in a constant war with a few places on their security. Yes, we trust each other, but it’s tourist season. So I break in and buy things.”

“You break in and buy things?”

“I hope I got the size right on your underwear. I washed them quickly so they should be fine to wear. Just come into the house when you are ready to go. I’ll entertain the beasts.”

“Sure.” Aaron turned to start to take off the clothes from the day before. He waited until he heard the door to the garage shut before he really started to get naked.

Chapter 5-First Date

After the wonderful morning that Aaron had with Spencer, Maggie Lynn, and Jack, Aaron wasn’t sure what to think when Spencer showed up at his door at four that afternoon.

“So this is last minute, and all of that-” Spencer stopped talking and waved his hand. “But do you want to go on a date with me? Tonight?”

“Why?” Aaron asked. They had parted that morning, and it hadn’t seemed like Spencer was chomping at the bit to have an actual first date that didn’t include the kids. Aaron had not been upset about that. They were already closer than Aaron usually got to most people that he had really just met. Yet, Aaron did want to go on a date, and he really didn’t care why.

“Have you seen the paper?” Spencer asked.

“I read the front page and the Out and About section. Why?”

“Ah, you didn’t read the other sections.”

“I usually save those for at night. Why?”

Spencer reached into his back pocket and pulled out the Local section of the paper. He showed it to Aaron. There, on the top part, was a picture that looked like it was taken from above, well above the area. It was Aaron and Spencer at the surf, looking at each other. It was too far away to see their faces well at all but close enough that it was evident that it was them.

“About a half-mile down the road is a teenager with an affection for drones. He builds them and tests them. He snooped on us, and now this is front page.” Spencer handed it over for Aaron to read the section.

The morning paper didn’t start to get delivered until the sun was up, so many hadn’t gotten to see it before Aaron and Spencer had gone to Marlene’s for breakfast. That explained why they hadn’t been mobbed out front of there.

“Maggie Lynn doesn’t work any of the shops during the weekend unless she’s really bored, so she’s promised to stay inside. I figured that she could watch Jack. She’s already agreed to do it. If we get out and about now on a date, hopefully, everyone calms down before it gets stupid, and the locals start to try and take our pictures all the time. It’s happened before.”

“Do you want to go on a date?”

“Yes, I do. We’ve spent a lot of time together over the past day, and I wanted to give you a break, so I didn’t ask. I figured I could call you tomorrow and see if you wanted to go out on Sunday evening. However, I would love for life to go back to normal as soon as possible.”

“What else has happened?” Aaron looked out toward where the street was to see that there were a few people who were watching them. He wondered if they were spying or just curious. Aaron wanted to step inside and have Spencer follow him, but he stopped himself. He knew that they needed to be in the public eye for them to stop wanting to follow them around. He didn’t like it, but the only other option was to stop things with Spencer, and that was something that Aaron didn’t want to do.

The desire for Spencer to be in his life bloomed fierce inside of him. He didn’t want to let him go. He had felt the same with Haley, but it was also different than when he was with Haley. This was less like he needed to be with him, and more that he just wanted to be in Spencer’s life. Less of a possession and more of a need to be close. He hoped that it was the start of something that would be a hell of a lot better.

“Why don’t you come and pick me up from Brews & Magic and you can see for yourself? I’ll make a reservation wherever you want in town.”

“You pick. I don’t have a preference for where we go.” Aaron reached out and pulled Spencer a step closer so he could kiss him. He figured it would help fuel the gossip and hopefully get it to die down a hell of a lot quicker. “What would they do if they caught us making out in public like teenagers?”

“Is that something you want to do?”

“I don’t know. I’m trying to see how quickly we can get them off of our asses.”

“Ah, I see well…” Spencer bit his bottom lip, and Aaron reached out to pull it free of Spencer’s teeth. “I’ve never been caught doing that. Joss and I were always very discreet because she hated the attention the town gave her. She would hate what Mags gets, but then, mostly, it’s because Joss is gone. If she were here, we would have less attention. Sorry I keep on bringing her up.”

“Spencer, never worry about that. Jack and I would talk about Haley more if the present weren’t full of horrible memories as far as she is concerned. We might one day talk about the fun and happiness that we had, but I don’t ever want you to think that you can’t talk about Joselyn. You’ve kept her alive for Maggie Lynn, and you don’t ever need to stop doing that. I don’t know what kind of assholes you’ve tried to date before, but I’m not scared of a ghost. You have enough heart that you can share part of that with me, and that makes me happy.”

“Wow,” Spencer said. He looked at Aaron with a strange look on his face. He backed up, but Aaron could tell that he was overwhelmed, not upset with Aaron. “I need to go back. I have a catering I need to get out before I go on a date. So just stop by the shop and we can go. I’ll text you the time if I can’t make it for seven.”

“You need my number.”

“Jack gave it to Mags this morning,” Spencer said just as he got to the edge of the sidewalk. Aaron saw that he had walked to Aaron’s, which really wasn’t that far from Spencer’s building. Most of the town could be walked to with little issue. Cars were still all over the town, but unless one was doing shopping or getting out of the weather, walking was the main way to get anywhere and everywhere. Aaron saw the people who went to church walking there most Sundays as well. The dress code was much relaxed, and instead of there being a church for each denomination of faith, there was a vast campus that made up all of them. There were different buildings of worship, and each one went into a separate structure and worshiped. Aaron found it strange but also welcoming. Then there were the ones that didn’t, and some of them would just meet and talk. Aaron had not been going to church at all since he was a child, but he did drop Jack off and pick Jack up from church each Sunday morning.

The afternoon and early evening passed by quickly with Maggie Lynn showing up at Aaron’s house with a backpack full of secret supplies to keep Jack entertained. Aaron had his teacup by the door, so he didn’t get a frowny face from Maggie Lynn about it.

“Have a good date, Mister Hotchner. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

Aaron wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he didn’t say a single thing. Aaron hadn’t asked if Maggie Lynn was dating, or if she had a preferred gender that she was attracted to. Aaron knew that Spencer wasn’t going to care as long as she was safe and smart about a relationship. Aaron tried to push down the feelings that he was having about that. He had really only know Maggie Lynn for less than a week, he shouldn’t be having paternal feelings about her.

Spencer was at the front of the shop at Brews & Magic, he was doing something with some kind of sauce in a squeeze bottle. His hair was up in a messy bun on his head with two chopsticks sticking out of it. Aaron found him adorable like that. He found him charming a lot. Aaron settled in at a table where he could watch as Spencer worked. He was decorating something, but Aaron wasn’t sure exactly what. Spencer was so focused on his task that he didn’t pay attention to anyone moving around him or notice the fact that Aaron was staring at him.

“Ready?” a man asked as he entered the shop.

Spencer looked up at the man with a grin on his face. “Yes, the cookies are all ready. Seth’s got the van in the back. Just bring it back when you are done. I made a few extra of the cookies to sell in here tonight and tomorrow. Wanna see?”

“Sure.” The man walked by Aaron, and Aaron recognized him as the youth leader for the town. There were not enough kids for any one denomination to have a summer youth camp to make it worthwhile, so they ran a camp for all of them. Even some of the kids who didn’t do religion went to it. There were sections for each religion or just a fun day out for the ones who didn’t. It was the most forward town that Aaron had ever seen in his life, and he considered DC forward thinking before moving here.

Spencer disappeared into the back, so Aaron slipped up to the counter to get his tea.

“It’s not nice to stalk people, you know that, right? As a lawyer, I think you should know this,” the lady running the register asked.

“I do know this. I just didn’t want to interrupt him while he was working. He looked like he was concentrating hard on what he was doing, and I knew that I would be a distraction.”

“He’s right. You know that Spencer’s tiger colors would not have come out well at all.”

Aaron looked around where Spencer had been working to see what they were talking about, and there were cookies that were in animal shapes with thin icing added on top to make them look like said animals. The tigers were cute, as were the penguins.

“You should see the ones he has for your dessert. Those are secret, and you shan’t see them until it’s time,” one of the other workers said. None of them were wearing name tags, which Aaron found strange again, but he just thought of it as a quirk of the town. “Those will be dropped off at your place when you drive him back there to pick up Maggie Lynn. There is one for each of you.”

“How did this get started?”

“We got bored one day. I started to make cookies. These, though, are not made by us. The bakery makes them, but at the moment, they are down a full-time decorator, and Spencer does well enough at it that he took over some orders while their part-time decorator handles the rest.”

Aaron wondered if Spencer had the time to date, anyone. He walked back to the table, and Spencer came back out a few minutes later to make himself something. Aaron watched him pull the shots of espresso before adding in chocolate sauce and something else in a bottle Aaron couldn’t read and then added in cold milk. Iced latte of some kind. Then he made another cold drink from a pitcher in the fridge. It didn’t have any syrup; there was just the milk, the stuff in the pitcher, and then the ice. Both of them were made in clear tumblers that Spencer put straws and lids on. Before he walked out toward Aaron. He had a smile on his face.

“Someone tell you I was here?” Aaron asked, and he took the second drink when it was offered to him. He took a careful sip and found it was an iced London Fog. “I don’t think I’ve had this iced before.”

“New. We had a few asking for it, so I brewed up a batch of Earl Grey this morning. It’s going well. I had to do another after I went to your place to ask you on the date.”

“Which I still find weird as hell. So how do you juggle three businesses?” Aaron asked. He sipped at the tea and smiled as it tasted really damned good. This was the kind of thing that he could get addicted to.

“The book store was first. It was something that I started when I finally moved back after college and then the yarn store started because I was knitting and buying things from all over the place and I got so many in the town into it that it was just as easy to actually buy the things and sell them than to juggle all of the orders I was doing with the people in town. The coffee shop was there before I moved in, and the couple who ran it moved to Florida when their twins moved down there for a job opportunity that they could not pass up. So I was offered it first since I already had the other two shops in the building. I jumped at it. Rebranded it, and now you see what I have. The tea is newer, and I love it.

“So the yarn store runs itself. People who shop there run it. I have a league of little old ladies who will gladly step up and help anyone who comes in. We don’t get much in the way of tourists there. The bookshop I have employees for, as you have seen when you have gone back this past week. I spend most of my time in the coffee shop or up in the tea shop. My bookkeeping is easy, and I send that off to my accountant every single day, and he takes care of the rest of it. I keep his children in their book and tea addiction as he calls it even. I do most of the work, he just has the programs that are best to take care of it and the paying people thing as well. I’ll get volunteers on occasion in the yarn shop. Teens who want to work for a little money on the side during the summer but don’t want to be tied down to a set schedule when they have sports and other things going on. I’ll pay them cash or sometimes in books or food from the coffee shop.

“Really, I only spend time places when I am bored. It’s less so when Maggie is home. Maggie works wherever she wants during summer and will swap shifts with people so they can get time off if they want. I make the schedules and let them move them around as long as I have coverage where needed. The clock in and out system is the same across the book and coffee shop and does most of that work on its own.”

“You sound like you have it all down. I just assumed that you were more hands-on with everything.”

“I was for a long time. I did the work while Maggie was in school here, but now I have a little more freedom. I have managers at my shops that I trust and are in it for the long haul. I make sure that they are happy, and then everything runs smoothly. I check in daily and make sure of it. I even have software that runs inventory for everything. There is a barcode scanner at the coffee shop that scans everything that goes out the door, and then the numbers are run weekly to see what else needs to be ordered based on how much we have been going through. Coded that myself off of the bare bones of another program that was free on the Internet. With it, I can tell you how many bottles of butterscotch syrup we have gone through in the past year and the average time to use one. It can warn us if we are going through more than normal and will run out based on what we order. I try and make sure that everyone has what they need to make life easier.”

“I’m shocked given the tourist angle of the town that there are not chains of anything at all.” Aaron wondered what had happened there, but he was pretty sure that the locals ran them out.

“We did have a fast food place at one point, but then the manager pissed off the town by making it more about money than making sure the customers were happy. We all know that the bottom line is the biggest thing, but you can’t have money if there is no one working there, and no one is buying food there. We had a coffee chain here for about two months. Someone in the county decided that we needed it and went over the head of the Mayor and got it put right at the edge of the town. It got tourists, but that was it. Come winter when a lot of the tourists went away, they were dead. Locals come here, and it wasn’t even in my hands at the time.”

Aaron laughed at that. He could see that happening.

“So we’ve not had any chains lobbying to get in here for a long while. We are all happy with what we have. Who cares if we can’t get the flavor of the month at the coffee shop? I’m sure I can make it just as well and for probably cheaper. We have people driving from other cities to us for things that they don’t have. We might not have all that the other cities do, but what we have we are proud of.”

“And it’s a town to be proud of.” Aaron glanced at the people watching them out of the corner of his eye. They all were very uncaring about getting caught. He hoped that they calmed down on that soon. “Do you have more cookie decorating to do?”

“Nope. I have nothing else to do for the rest of the day as far as work goes.” Spencer looked at the wall that held a clock that was in several different languages. Aaron was pretty damned sure that at least one of them was from books or movies. He had seen them before and not in language texts, but he swore in movies, TV shows, and books. The digital display was huge, showing seventeen different ones. It was interesting and fit the whole magic feel to the place.

“So Brews & Magic?”

“Well, I was already the town magician, so it just fit. Far Off Stories was named because well, anything that’s published is far away from here, no matter if it’s Hogwarts, Pandora, Endor, or even just California.”

“Pandora?”

“Avatar. We will watch it sometime. I mean, it is formulaic, but the CGI is just fucking awesome.”

“HEY!” a few voices called out.

Spencer grumbled and stood up and tossed a handful of change into the swear jar. Aaron read the note on it. It seemed that money was added when someone swore after nine in the morning and before six in the evening. Unless there was blood. Aaron laughed at that part because it was written in dark red like it was written in blood.

“That’s kind of funny.”

“You think so, but that fund is for Maggie Lynn’s prom.”

“Her prom?” Aaron hadn’t really thought about the fact that Maggie Lynn, in college, meant no prom. Most high schools were very strict about who was allowed and who wasn’t.

“You think that the school system here is going to have an issue with her going to what would have been her prom if she had stayed with her grade? I’m sure her class would riot. This place might be small, but her class loves her. She spends just about as much time with them as she does with me. She’s pretty popular though some of that could be that she spends a lot of time tutoring, even when she’s gone. If she has the time, she gets onto Discord and chats with her friends. They have a server just for that, and anyone can ask anything. I stay off of it, but I do have access just to be safe. Maggie Lynn doesn’t care, and yes, sex is brought up, but outside of the normal questions, no one says anything I worry about. I can search it and find what I want, looking for trigger words. It’s a safe place where they know they can talk about what they want. Sometimes doing it without looking at anyone is better.” Spencer looked at the clock again. “Want to go on a walk before we go to eat? I need to move.”

“Sure.”

They ended up at what was called the fancy dining place in town. There was no dress code for the patrons, but the staff were all dressed up, and Aaron remembered that Jack didn’t want to go there, so they never had. Aaron hadn’t really wanted to eat out without Jack, so it was nice to go there tonight. They were seated right away in the little corner booth that allowed them to shut a curtain so that they weren’t stared at. Spencer shut it as soon as they got inside.

“How do teenagers not spend the entire meal making out back here?”

“Because they don’t get to reserve it. Hell, I think I bumped the Mayor out of the spot. He’ll get over it though as he’ll just go somewhere else.”

“You bumped the Mayor, and you don’t care?”

“I’m sure he’ll throw us a party the day we get married as the little old ladies tried two weeks ago to make it a law that we had to go on a date.”

Aaron laughed because he could see that. He really could. Aaron might not know all of the people that well that were part of the old lady club, but he was pretty sure that they all scared the Mayor.

The waiter didn’t stare at them too long and took their drink orders before leaving again. The curtains made it really lovely.

“So, what is your favorite meal here?”

“Steak, shrimp, and a twice-baked potato with green beans.”

“You don’t get anything else?” Aaron asked. He looked at the menu and found that there were a lot of really random things on it.

“You asked what my favorite meal was not what I was going to get. Tonight I’m getting one of the specials. Pad Chai chicken.” Spencer was grinning as he said the words.

“You are full of snark, aren’t you?” Aaron asked. He liked it.

“I can be. When I know that it’s not going to turn someone away, but for future reference, if you want to know something, I’d ask that question.”

“You take things literally, I can handle that. I’m pretty picky on steaks. I like them cooked on a grill at home.”

“They do theirs over a wood-fire grill. I love them, and I think that soon you are going to have to do a cookout at my place. I have a really good grill. I splurged on it, and what you saw is just the simple grill. I have the big set in the garage. I haven’t got it all out for the season. I do random cookouts. I make enough for a small army, and whoever arrives gets food until I run out. The cake-baker for the town usually makes a sweet of some kind for steak. I will gladly work on getting that all setup, and you can feed me and Mags and Jack.”

“That sounds good. We can do that for a family lunch date tomorrow?” Aaron asked. He really wanted Spencer to know that he didn’t want to stop this.

“Sure. I don’t have plans. Mags will love that.”

The waiter came back and took their orders. Aaron chose Spencer’s favorite meal while Spencer ordered the Pad Thai and an appetizer that Aaron had not seen on the menu. It had to be something that Spencer knew they had the things for, but it wasn’t on the main menu. He knew that a lot of places had secret menus for good customers that caused no issues.

“Am I going to like that?” Aaron asked when the waiter left, shutting the curtain again.

“I have no clue. You won’t know until you try.” Spencer gave him a sly smile.

Aaron couldn’t help himself. He stood up and walked around the table, tangling his fingers into Spencer’s hair and pulling the chopsticks out. He settled them down on the table before tipping Spencer’s head up to where they could kiss. Spencer hummed into the kiss. Aaron knew that he couldn’t press for more than that, given they were in public. The curtain blocked people from seeing, but the waiter would be back with their appetizer at some point.

Spencer pulled out of the kiss slowly and brushed his cheek against Aaron’s. “I like kissing you.” Spencer’s words were whispered into Aaron’s ear.

“I like kissing you,” Aaron whispered back.

The waiter cleared his throat, and Aaron turned around to see that he was on the other side of the curtain and waiting for Aaron to sit down. He had probably got an eyeful and would spread the rumor around town. Aaron found that he didn’t really care all that much. It was a first. He had been used to the people who vied to take pictures of everything in DC to make sure they caught any scandal that was happening. Aaron had been caught up in it in the aftermath of what Haley had done.

Aaron leaned over to look at the tray that was set down. It was tiny crackers with a range of various toppings on them. There was enough for one each. There was a pepperoni and cheese, and even one that looked like it was peanut butter and jelly. Aaron started to laugh.

“That’s kind of adorable.”

“At the end of every grading period, I brought Mags here if she got straight A’s. She didn’t like anything that was on the menu for appetizers one time, so she told the waitress what she wanted, and this was what was brought out. Be careful with the pepperoni and cheese, it has sauce under the cheese. The other more adult-oriented ones were added so that I didn’t have to go without. It’s become a joke to the town so when they are feeling funny, they order this. The only thing that’s not always kept on hand is the crackers. If they don’t have another dish that has them, this is all made on tiny naan bread.”

“What other secrets does this place hold?”

“There is lobster on the menu, but you have to order it, and he doesn’t always carry them. That’s why it’s not listed on the menu when he’s out, he’s out until the next order of them comes in from the upper coast. He hates chocolate, so if there is a chocolate item on the menu everyone orders it no matter what just so he has to make more. Especially if it’s his chocolate cake. It’s like biting into damned good sex.”

Aaron shook his head because he could see that. The menu did have that chocolate cake on it for desserts for the week. Aaron figured that it was what Spencer was going to get, even with cookies at home. Spencer liked chocolate, Aaron had heard that from people in the town. Coffee and chocolate addict were the words most used to describe Joselyn’s husband.

The first one that Spencer ate was the peanut butter and jelly, so Aaron grabbed that as well. It was handmade, the whole way it seemed. It was damned good. Spencer chatted about what made Mags order each one when she had ordered it the first time. Aaron offered up stories about Jack and his love of macaroni and cheese, not the kind from a box, though. Aaron had to make it from scratch each and every single time. Spencer’s eyes lit up at that, and Aaron wondered if he was going to be treated to a macaroni and cheese meal with the four of them at a point in time. Aaron was okay with that. He really was.

Aaron thought the rest of the date went really well, their deepest secrets were already out in the open, so it was just learning more and more about each other. Like Spencer blushed whenever Aaron brushed his hand over his on the table or would give him a heated look when he made near sex noises while eating the food and then the cake. Aaron was looking forward to the cookies that were waiting for him at home, so he only snuck a bite or two of Spencer’s cake before calling himself done.

Spencer paid his half of the bill without Aaron even getting the chance to cover it all. Aaron was pretty damned sure the staff knew not to allow Aaron to pay for it all. Spencer just raised an eyebrow at Aaron in a challenging manner when Aaron had looked up at him when he looked at the bill. Aaron figured that he wasn’t going to get many chances at all to pay for things unless he started to talk to the waiters and waitresses around the town alone before a date. Aaron was okay with that, but he liked doing that kind of thing.

“So, how was tonight?” Aaron asked as they stepped out into the night air. It was dark but still perfectly bright enough with the light from the moon. There were also enough streetlights that no one would have any issue anywhere in town.

Spencer slipped closer to Aaron, wrapping an arm around Aaron’s and tucking himself into his side. It felt damned good.

“Tonight was great. If I weren’t so tired, I would say that I never want it to end.” Spencer yawned right after finishing speaking before he laid his head on Aaron’s shoulder.

Aaron felt a little bit bad about taking the long way back to his house. He knew that dessert was going to be eaten before Jack went to bed, but Aaron wanted just a little more time with Spencer as close to him as he was at the moment. The reality was going to set in soon enough, and that would mean that Aaron wouldn’t have this until the next date. Aaron was already looking forward to that even more now.

Chapter 6-Kissing in the Rain

Aaron laughed as he watched Jack and Maggie Lynn playing in the surf. It was a perfect summer day out, and Spencer had gone on a trip to DC to pick up a few things that he used in his coffees and teas that he liked to pick out himself instead of ordering them. Aaron hadn’t quite understood why and Spencer tried to explain, but Aaron had been distracted by the look of happiness on his face and the way that he was talking with his hands. He looked cute, and it had been very, very distracting. Aaron knew that he was gone on the younger man already. Aaron would never want to be separated from him for anything. He was in love with Maggie Lynn as well. She was adorable and so well behaved for a teenager, though Aaron saw that she still had her moods like other teenagers.

There had been the dinner blow-up of three nights ago that had caused neither of them to talk to each other for a day. Aaron had stayed far away because he couldn’t stop laughing about it and didn’t want Spencer to think he was insensitive. Aaron wasn’t, but the two of them had looked like pouty children when they had been fighting. It had all blown over in a day, though, so it wasn’t bad. Aaron knew that they were each other’s best friends, and from the talk of the town, while there had been fighting over the years, they never stayed mad at each other for long.

Jack splashed at Maggie Lynn and then took off, running down the beach. Even though it was Spencer’s private beach, it was full of kids. Aaron was just one of several parents who were watching the kids as they all hung around and played together. Aaron was pretty sure that it had not been planned for them all to arrive there, but word spread that fun was being had. Aaron didn’t mind watching any of them. He had his cell phone on him, and if someone needed him as a lawyer, they would call. Aaron closed his eyes for a few minutes, soaking up the sun that was hovering over them and just enjoying the smell of the salty air. When he was feeling up to it, he would get into the water and do some laps from point to point. Just like the other area where most of the community things happened, Spencer had two natural jetties on his land. Aaron was pretty sure that they were man-made in some way, but they looked very natural, and Aaron never asked.

It wasn’t going to be long before Aaron would need to pack them up and head them inside to get ready for Jack’s game. Spencer said he was going to be back in time for it. It was the first of the season, and Jack was looking forward to it. Most of the kids who were swimming at Spencer’s were from Jack’s team, with a few others scattered around from other sports that were no in season at the moment.

Aaron rolled over after half an hour and pushed himself up to his knees before standing up. He was ready to head into the water. Aaron was already without a shirt and just in his swimming trunks. He had a spare pair in his car now for random days where he was talked into the water by Spencer or even Jack and Maggie Lynn doubling up on him. Aaron walked down to the water. There was netting up that someone had put up before Aaron had really noticed how many kids were around. It kept the smaller kids from the more dangerous areas but allowed, the older ones and the adults to get into an area where the kids weren’t so they could do more things. Aaron found a lane of sorts and started to swim. He lost himself in the push of his body through the water. He used to do this kind of thing more when he was in DC, but he made the time during work to make sure that he was fit after all of the health issues he saw a lot of other lawyers developing from not taking care of themselves. It had made for a rude awakening when one of the men he admired had died of a heart attack at under fifty years old because he had eaten junk and never did anything to get in any exercise.

Pushing himself up onto the jetty, Aaron reached out to pull himself up more but stopped when he found flesh.

“AH!” Aaron fell backward, landing in the water. He surfaced, getting the water out of his eyes with his hands, and he saw that Spencer was sitting there in trunks and not a wetsuit. He was smiling down at Aaron.

Aaron moved closer to the jetty, paddling in the water to stay where he was with the water lapping around his body. Spencer scooted closer to the edge of the rocks and settled in at a spot that was perfect for sitting. Aaron had noticed it before he had started his swim.

“All done with work for the day?” Aaron asked.

“Very much so. I checked in at the bookstore and the coffee shop and then asked around where I could find my daughter. It wasn’t hard to find her when they said to head to the beach. There is a lot of noise coming from the kids. They are having fun.”

“I assumed it was okay as the people just kept on arriving, and the lifeguards just moved to this end of the beach as well.”

“Yeah, they do that sometimes. There are a few that don’t like it when they are not home, but I’m pretty good about it all as long as there are lifeguards. The kids, for some reason, just get sick of swimming; you know down the beach and want new things. Or at least that is what I was told very seriously by a pack of eight-year-olds seven years ago. Mags and the kids offered to do a science experiment out of it to show how much the kids enjoyed new learning experiences and varied stimulus to grow and become good adults.”

“That sounds like Maggie Lynn coached them.”

“I think it was more that Maggie Lynn just didn’t always want to go that far to have fun, so she wanted the kids to come to her. I’ve tried, but there are some things that show she still is very much an only child and used to getting her way.”

“Why don’t you join me?” Aaron asked.

“Because my sunblock hasn’t fully set in yet,” Spencer said.

“And what does that have to do with you getting into the water? You have a good tan already.”

“Yes, and I don’t let this set, I’ll burn.”

“Pah,” Aaron said before he found footing on the jetty so he could reach up and pull Spencer down into the water with him.

Spencer screamed but wrapped his arms around Aaron tightly before leaning in to kiss him. Aaron had figured out that Spencer loved kissing, no matter when it was. Aaron kept them afloat because Spencer wrapped not only his arm around to hold on tight but his legs as well, making Aaron hold the both of them up. He didn’t mind at all as he liked Spencer being wrapped around him. Aaron knew that he would start to get hard soon, but he really didn’t care about that. He had felt Spencer get hard a few times, but neither of them was ready for the step to even just rub off on each other.

They were still learning each other, and Aaron was learning to trust. That was a big deal. Haley had broken Aaron’s trust, so it was going to take a while to get that back. Spencer was a good person, though, so that kind of confidence would come quickly. Aaron already trusted him and Maggie Lynn with Jack. At least if Jack wasn’t with him when he and Spencer went on little dates here and there, he was with Maggie Lynn. Aaron thought that some days, Maggie Lynn was his favorite person in the world over top of Aaron. Most of that depended precisely on what they were doing together. If Aaron gave Jack extra cookies, Aaron was his favorite. If Maggie Lynn was teaching Jack to surf, she was his favorite.

“Hello,” Aaron said when Spencer finally pulled out of the kiss.

“You are a brute,” Spencer said. He sounded like a petulant kid saying it, but there was a smile on his face.

“You have enough of a tan that you are not going to burn. So tell me another one.”

Spencer was pouting, so Aaron figured that it was one of those things that Spencer knew wasn’t a big deal, but his issues on letting it go were small in comparison to other things that he was fixated on. There were a few obsessive things that he did as well as some things he didn’t do because of anxiety. Aaron figured it was a host of issues from the life he had grown up along with his genius. Aaron did wonder if he placed on the Autism spectrum somewhere but never asked. He didn’t need to know, he just needed to learn how to deal with Spencer’s little quirks. None of them were enough to put Aaron off of going deeper and further with Spencer.

“Where did you go just there?” Spencer asked as he finally unwrapped his arms from around Aaron’s neck. He started to tread water a little moving them away from the jetty. There was no one else around in the area where they were. The adults, Aaron saw when he looked over, were all spread out on blankets, watching the kids. There was also a good bit of watching them going on as well. Aaron wasn’t shocked. It wasn’t like they were going to have sex in the water, but they were cute to most of the town, no matter their age.

“Just thinking about you.” Aaron gave Spencer a grin so that he knew it was good things. Spencer didn’t need to know what was going on in his head about things like that. Aaron figured that Joselyn had been good at maneuvering around his issues. Aaron would learn with time, and he knew it.

“Keep your thoughts to yourself then. I’ll just think that you were thinking dirty thoughts about me.” Spencer was grinning as he said it.

Aaron really wanted to wipe that grin off his face and replace it with new looks, so he wrapped both of his arms around Spencer’s waist and dunked them both down. He heard Spencer gasp just before they went under. Spencer let go of Aaron’s waist, and he wiggled free of Aaron’s arms as they both went under the water more. Aaron blinked to clear his eyes, the burn of the saltwater wasn’t enough to make him keep them shut to see Spencer swimming out toward the ocean. Aaron kicked with his legs to follow him. He snagged Spencer’s foot just as soon as he popped his head up to grab a breath and then pulled him back under to get a good hold on him before allowing them both to float up. Aaron gasped in a deep breath as he pulled Spencer close.

“That wasn’t nice,” Spencer said, and he lightly slapped Aaron’s shoulder.

“No, but you make such lovely gasping noises.” Aaron waited for the blush that he knew was going to start, and he was rewarded with it, but with the way that he was already flushed a little with exertion, he looked even prettier with the blush on his skin. His hair was up in a ponytail so that it didn’t get in his face when he was swimming. Sometimes it was up in a bun, but today it was just a straight ponytail. Well, the ponytail was considered straight, but his hair was anything but. Aaron had seen it once after Spencer had let it dry without brushing it out. He looked like rats had made nests in it when he pulled it down.

Aaron hoped that one day, Spencer would let him do more than just mess up his hair. He liked the intimacy that brushing out someone’s hair gave. Aaron had done it before to Haley to show that he cared. Spencer’s hair was soft and lovely to run his fingers through when they were just sitting somewhere or watching a movie with the kids. Spencer was much more clingy than Aaron thought he would be, but it was in a good way. Haley had never been clingy, so he had never had that much exposure to it. He had thought that it would be too much after a while, but Aaron hadn’t hit that point yet. Spencer did touch or cling a lot but never too much for too long. He would take breaks or get up and get something, and by the time he was getting close to sitting down again, Aaron wanted him back.

“Here!” Maggie Lynn called out.

Aaron looked over in time to see something big and purple being thrown at them. Aaron tried to get away, but it just fell on their head. It was some kind of inflatable. Which was not the greatest idea given that they could float out to sea. Spencer shoved the inflatable off of them, and it smacked into the water, and Aaron saw that it was a large disc with netting in the middle and huge air tube in a circle. There was also a rope attached to it as part of that was visible off the side.

“Is that safe?” Aaron asked. He knew that kids in small float things were one thing, but no one was going to be watching them.

“Yes. The rope has a hook at the end. I’m going to swim over and attach it to the netting. It will keep us about twenty feet away from the end of the jetty. I have a whole collection of these. Including a specially made one that fit Maggie Lynn’s entire baseball team on it and left them room to rough house on it. That is only blown up on special occasions, and Mags has already told Jack that if his team get to the finals of their division, even if they don’t win, she will throw a party and they will get to play on it.”

“So, you are telling me that you have floats that you can kind of keep in place to one single spot in this area that is big enough to have sex on, and you are just telling me about them now?”

“They are not-” Spencer stopped and looked at the float that was still beside them as the waves were not that strong at the moment. His eyes were taking in the whole thing and then bugged out of his head.

Aaron couldn’t help that laughter that reaction sparked. He nearly let go of Spencer in his fit of laughter but grabbed onto him tightly. Spencer was blushing even more now, and Aaron wondered if he was going to get a sunburn just from that. When Spencer wiggled to get away, Aaron let him go. He watched Spencer swim gracefully to the netting and hook the float rope to it. It was more than a hook. It looked like a carabiner clip. He swam back, his form perfect. Aaron figured that it was one of those things that his mind didn’t let him do imperfectly.

Spencer wasn’t sporty, but then swimming was something that he could see Spencer getting into. The float started to head out, getting to the end of the length of rope and just settled there. Spencer came up to the side and pulled himself up and into it. Aaron waited for him to get settled before he did the same. It dipped down into the water more, but that just made it all feel good. He could get the warmth of the sun when he wanted and then roll over to put that side into the water and get the other warmed by the sun.

Settling on his back, Aaron held up his arm and let Spencer settle into his side. This was kind of great. It was the thing that he had done in the pool at his house when he just wanted to relax. He rather liked this a lot. He wondered if there were other ways of doing it without going all the way out. He wouldn’t mind at all going with the water in an out for a while. He felt them start to be tugged back in toward the shore but knew that the netting would catch them. Yeah, he could get used to doing this kind of thing with Spencer. Just existing in the same place with no need for talking or anything else.


“There are fireworks in the next town over tonight,” Spencer said as he tossed his chair in the back of the Jeep that he drove.

Aaron kind of really loved that Spencer had a Jeep. It was a purple Jeep Wrangler with a lot of modifications. Aaron saw the mud that coated a great deal of it and wondered what Spencer did in his spare time that Aaron wasn’t sure he had a lot of that got it that covered in mud. Spencer didn’t have any doors on it, and the top was somewhere else as well. The seat belts were more constrictive to make sure no one went out sideways if they did crash, considering there were no doors. Aaron had no clue where Spencer had been keeping the Jeep as he hadn’t seen it before, and he had been in Spencer’s garage, though the empty spot was very understandable now to Aaron.

“And are we going there?” Aaron asked. He looked over at where Jack was still with the team talking to the coach. Jack looked like he was listening intently, so Aaron looked back at Spencer.

“Oh, no. We can see them and hear them well enough from here in town. There is a field that’s kept cleared for it. Well, that and later on, when we do our own fireworks, we let them off from there. Everyone is going to be heading that way soon to get good spots. No one will take mine and Mags as that means that it’s an all-out war, and no one wants to get into a prank war with me again.”

“Again?” Aaron asked.

“Never again,” someone said from behind Aaron. He turned to see it was a young man who looked to be in his early twenties.

“Earl now listen here, you were on my side for that, and you chose my side. It’s not my fault you didn’t listen to me, and your skin was green for three weeks.” Spencer was trying not to laugh.

Aaron wasn’t even sure he wanted to know what Spencer had Earl doing that turned his skin green for three weeks.

“Yes, well, the whole town learned in a single night to never cross you in a prank war.” Earl laughed and walked away.

“What happened?”

“My spot was stolen. I had been there since the first time that I had come to town with Joselyn, it was next to her family’s spot. It was a nice place, and the sound really was muffled, so it didn’t make me jumpy. Well, when Maggie Lynn was five, a new family took over the spot. They had been told by three other families before I got there that it was someone else’s spot. They didn’t care. So the next day, their mailbox was glued shut, and it just went up from there. A few in town got in on it and started to prank me back. So I did it for the whole town. I painted all of the downtown green overnight. It wasn’t that hard. A chemical compound that only sticks to brick and nothing else. The ground was a little battered, but all in all, it was just the bricks that were green. No one has messed with me since. That family didn’t last in town long, and it had nothing to do with me.”

“Really?” Aaron asked.

“Their kids were hellions,” Sybil said as she stopped walking right beside the back of Spencer’s Jeep. “The word ‘no’ was not in their parents’ vocabulary, and they were allowed to do what they wanted. Even if that was pulling up flowers, riding bikes on lawns, and the seven-year-old that threw a fit in a restaurant and the parents just ignored him and kept on eating. Even when he started to throw things.

“The parents were charged for every single thing that was broken, including a chair. They were not happy, especially when they refused to pay for it and were taken to court. They left a month later as the whole town stopped them from being inside of places unless the children behaved. They didn’t like the town trying to tell them how to raise their kids. So they were told if they weren’t going to make their children behave in public, then they weren’t welcome in public. One of the little dears ripped up five books in the bookstore because there was no copy of the newest that wasn’t out until the next day. His mother tried to demand that her dear little boy be given a copy so that she wouldn’t have to deal with him when she got home. The cops were called, and until she paid for the books, they weren’t allowed to leave, unless she wanted to go to jail for not controlling her child and damage to private property. I threw a party in the town square the day they left.”

Aaron snorted and shook his head. Sybil gave him a smile before she started to wander to wherever she had been headed before stopping to talk about the horrible family it seemed. Aaron looked at Spencer to see that he actually looked angry but not like he was mad at Sybil but at those people still.

“What else happened?” Aaron asked.

“Oh, the boy liked to destroy anything he could get his hands on, but the girl was a little bitch. I hate that term, but it worked for her. She was pretty but not a pretty that you knew she was going to turn out to be stunning, you know. And I’m not saying this in a creepy way. She got to where she would put down every single girl in town and call them ugly because they were prettier than her. I think that it was the last straw when Maggie Lynn and two other girls told her that while she might be beautiful, she was going to grow up sad and alone because she was never going to be anything but ugly on the inside and that no man would want her.

“Maggie Lynn is no vain creature, she’d just as soon run around with mud on her clothes than prance around in high heels and show off her beauty, but she knows that her face is very fair and it’s going to garner looks she doesn’t want. I made sure she could defend herself from anyone or at least run from them. So this girl, being told that she was ugly on the inside and it was going to rot her from the inside out, she attacked Maggie Lynn. Mags wore scratch marks down her face. When I got there as well as the cops cause the brother ran to get them, Maggie Lynn was sitting on her legs while the other two girls with her were holding her down on the ground by her arms so she couldn’t hurt them anymore. They all had scratches on their faces, and she had blood and skin under her nails. Too bad that all the people who worked and lived in that area saw it all, and she attacked first.”

“How did you get a perfect child?” Aaron asked.

“Oh, I didn’t get a perfect child. I have a child who has a mouth that matches my own and gave me a lecture on the logic of why she shouldn’t be in trouble from using cuss words when everyone around her uses them. Who has snuck out of the house more times than I ever did as a teenager, and she’s not even done being a teenager yet. She can be a little shit, and we have huge fights, as you have seen. I reaped what I sowed on how obstinate I was as a child with her.”

“Yet, she’s better behaved than other kids.”

“I was a well-behaved kid as well, I still did a lot of shit that I shouldn’t have done, mostly with Joss. I just got lucky that Mags is as smart as I am, and I can reason with her. Though when she was younger, it was very, very hard. I’m sure that she will have a shock or two left for me in the last of her teenage years, but so far she’s been pretty good.”

“Jack’s learning to be secretive and thinks it’s fun, so I’m sure I am going to have my hands full with him as the years get on.” Aaron heard Jack laughing, and then he crashed into him.

“Dad, there are fireworks tonight!”

“I know. Spencer was telling me about them. Let’s get you home and get the dirt off of you and some food inside of your guts, and then we can see about going to the fireworks.”

“But they are going to have food there!” Jack cried out. He ran back to where Maggie Lynn was.

Aaron looked up at Spencer, who was talking with a young woman. She looked like she might be interested in him, but he wasn’t even looking anywhere, but her eyes and his body language was like how it was with the whole town, friendly but not that friendly. Nothing like what it was with Aaron. Aaron gave the woman a smile as he stepped up to Spencer and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Yes?” Spencer asked as he looked at Aaron.

“Jack said there is going to be food at the fireworks?”

“Oh yeah, vintage hot dog cart with all the fixings, nachos, and cheese with optional jalapenos, shaved ice as well as soft-serve ice cream, and I think that someone did say something about baked potatoes and steak.”

Aaron raised his eyebrows at that. Spencer grinned and turned back to the woman. Aaron saw that she didn’t seem upset at being interrupted.

“I’ll have Maggie Lynn call tomorrow morning after I’ve got some coffee in me and can drive her over to pick him up.”

“Thanks, Spencer.” The woman leaned in and kissed Spencer’s cheek before she rushed over to where another woman was waiting. The two kissed, and then they were off.

“Maggie Lynn will be Sugar Glider babysitting for a week. They are doing their trip early, so he’s going to come and live with us as they are having work done on the house while they are gone.”

“A Sugar Glider?” Aaron asked. He knew what it was, but he wasn’t sure that Jack needed to know that they were an option in the town. Jack had wanted one the summer before they moved, but with everything up in the air, Aaron had told him a pet wasn’t a good idea.

“Between the two of them, they are allergic to cats and dogs. They have a few snakes, but the neighbor will take care of them. Slick needs a little more attention because Amy there works from home on website building, so Slick is used to a lot of attention throughout the day.”

“So, where is the closest, good place to pick up a Sugar Glider?” Aaron asked.

“Why?”

“Jack’s wanted one for a year now. This is just going to mean that he will not let me not get him one.”

“Ah, well. I’ll hook you up.” Spencer turned his head and kissed Aaron’s cheek before he slipped up into the Jeep.

Aaron saw that Maggie Lynn was staying there with a few friends. Aaron stepped back from the Jeep to allow Spencer to take off to wherever he was going until the town started to gather for the fireworks.

The night crept up on Aaron fast with him corralling a very hyper Jack who just wanted to go and have fun. Like he hadn’t played in the water most of the morning and part of the afternoon and then played a soccer game. Aaron really wanted to bottle up his energy and save it for the days when Aaron had none. He hadn’t felt like that in a while. Just seeing Spencer every day, even if it was only for a cup of coffee at Brew, was enough to make Aaron feel like he could do anything.

It had been a little cloudy before the sun went down, and now it was giving off sputtering bits of raindrops on them, but no one was turned off of setting up for the fireworks that weren’t even something the town was putting on. There was the food that Spencer had told Aaron could be there as well as cotton candy, which already had a few kids with colored skin around their lips and sticky fingers. There was the grill with steak and potatoes, and Aaron knew that he would be eating that.

There were real plates and knives for that one, as well as tables where they could sit to eat scattered around the back edges of where everyone was sitting on blankets. It was a very nice setup. Aaron had never noticed the field before. It was blocked from being seen from town by a huge row of trees. There was a path, but Aaron hadn’t taken to running or even walking any of the trails. He mainly stuck to the city when he ran and along the beaches where there was a running path laid out. It was a beautiful area.

Spencer was laid out on a blanket with Maggie Lynn sitting beside him. She was fiddling with something that Aaron didn’t recognize until he was closer. It was a Rubik’s Cube except for it was characters, not colors that needed to be matched up. Aaron watched her as she quickly worked on it. Aaron waited until she was done to get closer, but neither Reid noticed that he was there. Spencer was on his side, and Aaron watched as he flipped through a book. Aaron figured that he was looking for something, but hadn’t found it as he shut the book up before rolling onto his back. He jumped a little when he saw Aaron, but he smiled as soon as he saw that it was Aaron.

“Hey, you,” Spencer said.

“Hey, didn’t find what you were looking for?” Aaron asked.

“What?” Spencer looked really confused. He looked down at the book when Aaron pointed at it.

“Papa reads at twenty thousand words per minute, Aaron,” Maggie Lynn said as she finished the Rubik’s Cube and tossed it in front of her father. Spencer laughed and waved for her to go. “I’ll be back in time for fireworks.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek, and then as she passed Aaron, she pulled him down to do the same to him.

“See you later, Maggie Lynn,” Aaron said. He looked down at Spencer again, who was rubbing a finger across the cover of the book. Aaron sat down beside Spencer and looked him in the eye. “You read at twenty thousand words per minute?”

“Yes, and I have an eidetic memory as well as a very high IQ.”

Aaron raised his eyebrows.

“One eighty-seven, I have an IQ of one hundred and eighty-seven.”

Aaron reached out and brushed at the little bit of frizzy hair that was on Spencer’s forehead and gave him a smile. Aaron grabbed the book and moved it away to where Spencer wouldn’t roll onto it before Aaron stretched out beside him, on his side. Spencer stayed on his back and gave Aaron a smile.

“CHOW TIME!” a woman yelled, and the people around them started to get up.

“How quick are the steaks and potatoes going to go?”

“Quick, but one of each is being saved for us. Where is Jack?”

“He ran to talk to a few of his friends from class. He’ll be back when he wants to go and get food. It looks like there are more options than you thought.”

“I don’t take part in planning committees. I tried that one year and nope. Too much gossip instead of actually getting work done, but I hear people talk when they are up in the knitting room. They are all very chatty, and I hear the shit I don’t ever want to hear again, and really, I never needed to hear in the first place.”

“Yeah? Like what?” Aaron asked. He propped his head on his hand and laid his other hand on Spencer’s stomach. He felt the intake of breath at the touch, but Spencer didn’t do anything else.

“A ranking on who they think has the biggest-” Spencer stopped, and his eyes darted down to his groin before going back up to Aaron’s face. A group of kids ran by, and Aaron understood why Spencer hadn’t said the word.

“I see. I can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to hear that again, but by chance, where exactly did they put me?”

Spencer started to blush and shook his head. He pressed his lips together, and there was a spark of challenge in his eyes. Aaron slipped the hand that was on Spencer’s stomach around to the side of him and used it to help him get over to where he was leaning over Spencer. He got close enough to brush their noses.

“Tell me, please?” Aaron teased his lips over Spencer’s but didn’t push in with any kind of pressure.

“After wearing those trunks at community day, they put you in the top five.” Spencer’s words were barely a whisper, and they made Aaron laugh a little bit. While he had no clue what the rest of the town was like, he knew what his size was just compared to other men’s that he had seen while in locker rooms for working out or getting ready for marathons.

Aaron kissed down Spencer’s cheek, and Spencer willingly turned his head so that Aaron could whisper in his ear. “Based on the average, I think I agree.”

“You are a tease, Aaron Hotchner.” Spencer turned his head and caught Aaron’s mouth in a kiss.

Aaron tried not to think about the fact that the town’s people who were gathered around were going to watch them make out. It was probably going to be fantasy fodder for a few of the women and perhaps a few men as well. Spencer kept the kiss light and playful, which was a good thing.

The sound of Jack and Maggie Lynn had Aaron pulled out of the kiss. Maggie Lynn was carrying a tray, and Jack was as well. Maggie Lynn leaned over and settled her’s down on the ground. It had two plates with steaks and potatoes on it as well as Aaron’s mug with tea, and Aaron assumed Spencer’s. Maggie Lynn then took Jack’s tray from him and held it while he sat down. That tray had what looked like Jack and Maggie Lynn’s dinners on them. Jack had a corn dog with french fries.

“Oh, they got the deep fryer stand working again,” Spencer said as he pushed up, kissing Aaron’s cheek as he pushed him up as well.

“Yes,” Maggie Lynn said as she handed over a plate to Spencer. It had macaroni salad on it as the second side. Aaron looked at his plate to see that it had vegetables. “Jack said you would want those more than more carbs.”

“Very much so. I don’t know how both of you stay as thin as you do with what seems like little exercise and the carbs that you eat.”

“That’s because we run first thing in the morning before the sun is up three times a week.” Spencer picked up a bite of steak.

Aaron noticed then that it was already cut up. He had never had someone cut up his steak for him. When he was a kid, he wasn’t allowed to eat steak when his mother and father were eating it. He usually got cheaper chopped steak, even though the family had enough money to feed them real steaks for every single meal. Aaron pushed those thoughts away and looked up at Spencer to see him looking around at people as they mingled around.

“Wait, how did you pay for this?” Aaron asked.

“Oh, there is a registration fee for this, and you get vouchers,” Maggie Lynn said.

“Based on what you want to eat. There are a few things that are interchangeable. Or do like I do and buy one voucher for all foods for each person, and the ones that are leftover can be used the next year. Really the only ones that are not interchangeable are the steak ones. If you want to give the guy at the ice cream place a fry one, he’ll take it.”

“And yet, I didn’t register.”

“And yet you have food,” Spencer countered with a grin.

Aaron laughed and shook his head. The food was good, better than most food found at cookouts and the like. Aaron really hoped he could talk Spencer into a barbecue again soon. He had enjoyed Spencer’s cooking on the grill, and it had been fun to meet more of the more reclusive people in town. Aaron had figured out that Spencer was an introvert at heart while Maggie Lynn was an extrovert who pulled her father into the spotlight when he would rather not be. It was interesting to see the constant push and pull. Aaron had also figured out that it was part of what made Spencer cuddle with him more. When he was snuggled into Aaron, people left him alone.

“The fireworks are about to start,” Spencer said. He dropped down onto the blanket again with a grin on his face. Spencer’s eyes looked into the sky. Aaron laid back to get comfortable, and within two seconds of him getting settled, Spencer was curling into his side.

The show that was put on was good, but after a while, Aaron couldn’t take being ignored, even if he was ignoring Spencer as well. He pulled the younger man around to where he could kiss him as the rain started. Jack and Maggie were off at the front of the crowds so that they had the best line of sight of the fireworks as they exploded in the night sky. Aaron ignored the rain and the way that it was getting them wet. He focused on kissing Spencer and putting his feelings into it. Spencer didn’t pull away. He didn’t do anything to show that he didn’t want it, not even when Aaron moved to press his cock into Spencer’s hip, showing Spencer that he was hard. Aaron let his leg slip between Spencer’s so that he was balanced and wouldn’t fall. He felt Spencer’s answering hardness when he did that.

Spencer thrust up into him a little, dragging his cock along Aaron’s thigh. Aaron knew where they were going, but with the fireworks keeping everyone’s attention away from then and the fact that they were covered on two sides by trees meant that no one was looking back at them at all. Aaron felt himself getting closer to that peak with Spencer following along behind him. Spencer’s body was starting to tremble slightly, so Aaron turned a little more and ground down into him more than have him thrust up.

Aaron felt it when Spencer came. He shuddered, and his kissing stuttered before he just slumped down on the blanket. His eyes roved over Aaron’s face as Aaron chased his own orgasm against Spencer’s hip and thigh. He came when Spencer licked at his kiss-swollen lips.

“We are going to get into so much trouble if anyone figures out what we did,” Spencer whispered as Aaron laid down, hiding what had to be a growing wet spot on his pants.

“I’ve never done anything like that before,” Aaron admitted.

“Neither have I,” Spencer said.

“I figured that Joselyn would be up for things like this, given how extroverted she was.

“No, no. Never. She didn’t even like sex outside of the bedroom. The whole teenage hormone thing and sex everywhere just didn’t happen with us. I mean, we had sex, but it was always in a bed or in the bathroom. Let’s not talk about that right now.”

“Okay.” Aaron knew that Spencer asking not because he was afraid of upsetting Aaron but that he didn’t want to talk about him for himself. Aaron pressed a chaste kiss to his lips. “Just remember to never think I don’t want to hear about her. She loved you, and that’s a big deal to me.”

Aaron saw the nod even in the dark. He settled back down to where he was lying with his head on Spencer’s shoulder with a smile on his face. Spencer wrapped his arms around him, and they listened the last of the fireworks going off while they basked in what little afterglow they could enjoy while in public. Even if it was still raining and soaking them both.

Chapter 7-Sunset

Aaron laughed as he looked at Spencer and Jack dancing down in the sand. Maggie Lynn was laughing as she laid in a lounger that Aaron had dragged down there for her earlier in the day. She had sprained her ankle and was supposed to keep it up for a few days to give it a chance to start to heal. She had a boot with an air cast inside of it for after. For now, she wasn’t allowed to do anything. Jack waited on her hand and foot when he could. He missed her at lessons, but Jack’s crush on her was fading a little, and Aaron wondered if it didn’t have something to do with the talk that he had heard Maggie Lynn give him about what real dating eventually led to.

Dinner had been consumed and dessert, as well. Jack and Maggie Lynn were planning a movie in the living room before sleeping on the couches. Aaron had no clue what the plans for him and Spencer were just that they involved swimming trunks. Aaron was looking forward to what Spencer had planned. It had been just a little over a week since the fireworks. Sex had not happened since, but Aaron was okay with that. He didn’t think that they had it too soon even if that day he thought it would be too soon. It had felt good. It had felt natural.

“Don’t just stand and creep!” Spencer yelled up to Aaron.

Aaron shook his head and started down the stairs. Jack was running toward the water, where a float was waiting for him to jump into and float around wherever the sea took him. His skin had turned the same shade of tan that Aaron was. Aaron hadn’t seen him that dark even last summer when he trained and played soccer all the time. Aaron was darker than he had ever been too, but he blamed Spencer for that. Evenings were spent on the beach nearly every single night.

This was the best feeling that Aaron had felt in a long time, and it wasn’t all just because of Spencer and Maggie Lynn, it was because Jack was happy. He was coming out of his shell more and more after tucking down into it after everything with his mother over the years.

Aaron dropped down onto the blanket that was spread with various things scattered across it. There was the book that Spencer had been reading when Aaron had arrived to pick up Jack as well as the half-empty water bottle that Aaron had seen Spencer drinking out of. He snagged that to grab a drink of it. Spencer had seen him do it before today and had never said anything and drank from it after him, so Aaron wasn’t that worried. He tasted a little bit of something in the water and looked inside the bottle from the side. There was cucumber in a slotted cylinder in the middle of the container. Aaron shook his head and looked at Spencer, who was now in the water with Jack.

“You finding enough stuff to do to keep yourself entertained?” Maggie Lynn asked.

Aaron turned around to where he could look at her without straining his neck. He saw that she was facing up at the sky with her eyes closed.

“For the most part, though, I never thought I would find myself with so little to do this early in my life.”

“Papa said that you invested your money well, what you got from breaking up your law firm, and with what you had earned before that. That you don’t have to actually work at all, but you need something to keep yourself entertained, or you might take over the world.”

“Well, your Papa has me down right there. I’m finding though that I don’t mind having to look for something to do instead of having every single day laid out for me. I had that for a long time, and I like this life a lot better.”

“You were one of those lawyers who just wanted the next case and the next and to always win, weren’t you?”

“Before Jack was born, I was. He changed me a lot. I think that was when I really started to see Haley for what she was. She was a good wife for me when I was doing what she wanted. When I stopped being what she wanted me to be, she started to act out. She got drunk just after Jack was born and screamed at me at a public dinner. I could see it in everyone’s eyes when I left her there until she calmed down and joined me in the car. Every single one saw what she was doing as a temper tantrum. I just assumed that she had got drunk because she was upset about something else and was taking it out on me. She had just lost her position in a local group she was in. It was long after that I realized that she had found out that I had turned down a run at the Senate.”

“You hate politics. I heard about the night at the bar the other day and how much you and Old Man Greg got into it about politics.” Maggie Lynn was laughing a little as she said it.

Aaron knew the night that she was talking about because he had drunk a little more alcohol than he meant to and let his tongue get the best of him. He really had not intended to let it run away with him, but he had. Spencer had just sat beside him, helping him with facts as he busted Old Man Greg down into dirt under his heel. Every town needed that one person who made you hate old people, and Old Man Greg was the one for Paradise. He was holding onto the world that had been around when he had been a teenager. He was not seeing what had changed around him while he had been growing up and growing old.

It was interesting to see someone like that here, though. Aaron realized that most people just ignored him. They let him live the life that he wanted. He didn’t have any people that thought like him, so it wasn’t like he was going to get a group together and get them to overturn what the town as a whole wanted. There was just him and what he wanted, but no one else did.

“I do hate politics. I had to deal enough with it when I was a lawyer that I never wanted to go any further into it either. I’d rather go and work at McDonald’s than to go and work in politics.”

“Wow. Papa tells me that working at McDonald’s kind of sucks with the abuse that happens to the employees, verbally, that is, from customers. I mean, we have people here in town who can be assholes to the wait staff at places, but most of them just give it back. It’s a good give and take. Though when I turn eighteen and it’s summer, I’m going to go and get a summer job at the McDonald’s closest campus so that I can understand what it’s like. I know that we need jobs like that because it’s a needed service, I just wish that people would stop being assholes to wait staff.”

“Language,” Aaron chided, but all he got for it was a tongue stuck out at him. Aaron laughed and rolled onto his back to mimic Maggie Lynn as the sun warmed them up. Aaron knew that he would be drawn out into the water at some point with the laughter that was floating up, but he was content to just stay where he was.

A cool breeze woke Aaron up. He looked around without getting up to see that it was nearly sunset and that he couldn’t hear Jack, Maggie Lynn, or Spencer anymore. He sat up and saw that other than the blanket that he was on, everything was cleaned up. He frowned as he started to stand up, only to have Spencer literally drop on the blanket beside him. He had two bowls of ice cream in his hands.

“Morning, sunshine,” Spencer said with a grin on his face.

“How long was I out?”

“About two hours. Jack and Mags are already both asleep on the couch. It seems that Maggie Lynn’s medications zonked her out, and I wore Jack out enough that he’s dead to the world.” Spencer handed over the bowl that had three different flavors of ice cream inside while his own seemed to have just one. There was no real difference in the amount of ice cream that was inside, just flavors.

“What do you have?” Aaron asked as he tried to place it. Then he looked at his. “What do I have?”

“You have Rocky Road, butterscotch, and vanilla bean, and I have chai.”

“Chai?” Aaron asked. He dipped his spoon in and found that the texture of the ice cream was a little different than usual. He scooped up a spoonful of the vanilla bean ice cream and took a bite of it. It as sweet but not overly sweet, and the flavor of the vanilla beans was perfect. It was also much smoother and creamier than he was used to. Closer to soft-serve than traditional ice cream that was scooped like this.

“Yes, it’s the current flavor of the month.”

“Ah, this is Bella’s Shoppe, isn’t it?” Aaron asked. He had seen it, but he and Jack never seemed to make it inside of the place. They just got ice cream at the soccer field, where they had just simple chocolate, vanilla, and twist soft serve, or with a meal whenever they ate out. He thought about the flavor of what he was eating, as well as the texture. He realized that it was the same texture and flavor base of the ice cream that was served at the diner. “And she supplies the diner, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, and yes. I also have coffee flavor inside. Those three are Maggie Lynn’s favorites while I like the chai when she has it, and the coffee is year-round. She has other monthly flavors that she does that I like but not nearly as much as the chai. It tastes like I’m drinking an iced chai latte. I love it a lot.”

“So is the ice cream only broken out for special occasions?”

“Not so much that as just when we aren’t going swimming afterward. No one wants to puke this up; it’s too good.”

Aaron laughed at that but looked out at the waves that were turning yellow and orange with the setting sun. It was peaceful where they were with Spencer’s neighbors a reasonable distance away as well as around the little cove. Aaron hadn’t noticed before today that Spencer’s land was out more than others. It made it very, very nice.

While the sun slowly set and then started to dip below the horizon, Aaron sat there beside Spencer on the blanket and ate the ice cream as it melted. It was a really damned good day, even if he should have been working. He was finding that he didn’t miss working though as much as he thought he would. He kept busy, and that was really all that he needed.

“So you never did tell me what the plans were for us since the kids are out like a light and will be all night long.”

“Well, I was hoping to talk you into a little making out, and then we just go where we want from there. Once the sun sets, no one comes back here at all for fear of seeing me skinny dipping. Happened one day when Maggie Lynn was sick and puking. I finally got her down and had the monitor out here. She was up on the deck in a portable crib. I knew when she cried and everything, but I wanted to feel clean, and the sound of the shower woke her up no matter where I left her in the house. So I cleaned up some in the ocean. I dried off by laying up there after getting a pair of shorts on. It was a lot of work for me with a young kid who missed her mom.” Spencer turned to settle his bowl on the folding chair that was just above, with what looked like Spencer’s travel bag on it. Aaron had figured out that it had beach gear in it, so it probably held everything that he would need for a day of fun at the beach, even though the edge town was nothing but beach.

Aaron settled his bowl up there as well just in time because Spencer pounced and tipped Aaron back onto the blanket hard enough that Aaron’s breath left him a little bit. He watched as Spencer settled himself across his lap and grinned down at him. Aaron reached up and grabbed the neck of Spencer’s shirt to pull him down and kiss him. Spencer’s hands dug into the blanket and the sand just at Aaron’s head. He could hear the shifting of sand against itself and feel the tug on the blanket. Aaron got his hands under the shirt that Spencer had thrown on and found warm skin. Spencer’s skin was so smooth, and Aaron loved to touch it. He worked his hands up and down Spencer’s back, dipping his fingers under Spencer’s swimming shorts a little more each time until on the last he encountered the swell of Spencer’s ass.

Spencer moaned as the feel of Aaron’s hands under his shorts, so Aaron kept them there, his hands moving to where he was gripping fleshy cheeks instead of just rubbing. He used that hold to pull Spencer off of his knees and get their cocks rubbing together with their shorts between them. They kept on like that, bodies rutting together and tongues tangled for a long while.

Aaron groaned when Spencer pushed himself up to his knees again, disconnecting their mouths as well. Spencer was panting and looking down at Aaron with such desire in his eyes that it took Aaron’s breath away.

“Can I have you?” Spencer asked.

“Yes.” Aaron knew precisely what Spencer was asking. He didn’t need to think about it at all. While that step hadn’t really been something he had thought about before this, he was ready for it.

Spencer balanced on one arm and reached up, digging around in the bag, and when he came back to sit on Aaron’s thighs, he was holding a bottle of lube and a box of condoms. Aaron reached up and grabbed the condoms.

“I don’t want a barrier between us,” Aaron said. He knew that he was clean. He hadn’t had sex with anyone but his right hand since Haley and he had been given a clean bill of health since then, several times over.

“I’m clean,” Spencer said.

Aaron tossed the condoms back up toward the chair and was glad when they landed there. He was delighted that Spencer had bought the condoms as that meant he had been thinking about sex with Aaron, full-on sex, and not just bodies rutting.

Stripping each other took time, there was no rush for any of it. They only stopped to actually get clothes off when they needed to take a few deep breaths. There wasn’t a lot of clothes on either of them, but Spencer was much more dressed than Aaron, and really, they would have been naked sooner except for Spencer never took too long to actually get his breath before he was leaning in for kisses again.

Spencer looked beautiful with his hair a mess from being in and out of the water all day, as well as his body outlined with the dying light of the sun as it fully set. They moved near as one as Aaron spread his legs, and Spencer got between them. Aaron was more than okay doing this as he felt the first finger tease his hole. Aaron kept his eyes on Spencer’s face as he was quickly but gently opened up. Spencer hissed when he lubed up his cock, and after ever so slowly filling up Aaron, he paused there like he was going to go off if he moved at all.

“Aaron,” Spencer breathed, and his head dipped as he began to slide in and out of Aaron.

“Come here,” Aaron said, and he reached up and carded his fingers through Spencer’s hair to pull him down into a kiss. Aaron wrapped his other around Spencer’s back to keep him close. He could feel the small grit of the sand on Spencer’s back and knew that they would both need to take a shower to clean themselves up before they fell asleep anywhere inside of the house. Or at least slip down into the water for a bit of skinny dipping before going back home. Aaron’s brain wasn’t able to focus on which one he wanted more.

Aaron came long before he wanted to, Spencer’s cock inside of him and his slick hand wrapped around Aaron’s cock, slowly jerking him off in time with the thrust of his cock inside of him. Spencer came just a few thrusts of his cock later, his head curling in toward his chest and his whole body bowing inward. Aaron grabbed him and tucked him close as he came down from his orgasm, slumping over onto Aaron. Aaron wrapped his arms around him tightly and held on. It wasn’t long before the urge to wash the sweat and sand off of him became too much, so Aaron rocked his shoulder a little to get Spencer to move.

“Dip in the ocean time?” Aaron asked.

“Yes, please. I have a clean blanket we can throw down as well when we get back up. I wanna sleep outside tonight, it’s supposed to be warm enough.”

“Sure. Anything you want.” Aaron meant it too, he’d sleep anywhere that Spencer wanted him to.

Aaron felt like he should be worried about being so close to Spencer after so short of time, it was not quite as fast as he had fallen for Haley, but this want to be with Spencer was so different than it had been with Haley. He wanted so much more and so much less at the same time. Spencer was so devoid of subterfuge that Aaron knew that he was entirely honest in every single interaction that he had with Aaron. Aaron trusted him far more than he should, but he didn’t care. He just wanted to be happy, and Spencer was giving that to him with having to give nothing more in return than being happy.

Chapter 8-Kids

Aaron settled the kettle back down onto the base after pouring hot water into his teacup. It was just early enough that both Maggie Lynn and Jack were still asleep, so Aaron had a few minutes to himself. He was enjoying the silence as there had not been silence the night before. Aaron had never thought that two kids could be that loud. Jack had always been a quiet boy unless he was sick. Aaron could understand that part, but he had never expected Jack to be like he was last night.

A chime on his phone had Aaron sighing. He had taken the week off from being a lawyer. It wasn’t like there was a lot of need for him, but he had typed out the notification and hung it up on the door of the office section of his house. So far, no one had called him, but it was only Tuesday. He had left the number up just in case something big happened though if it did, Aaron would hear before the person could call him. He had been brushing up on business law just to be safe. He had covered it all as he had liked to be an all-inclusive lawyer for his clients in DC, not just someone who got them out of criminal things. It had padded his bank account really nicely and had allowed him to all but retire in this strange little town.

Aaron looked at who the text was from, and he smiled before he realized that it was six am where Aaron was, which meant it was three am in Vegas, where Spencer was dealing with something to do with his mother. Their current arrangement had started with a half-asleep Maggie Lynn on his porch step at midnight asking to stay the night two nights ago while Spencer was just getting out of the car. While Maggie Lynn was very much the age where she could stay alone, she didn’t want to, and her sprain had turned into a fracture when she had tripped on the beach and landed on it wrong, so she was on crutches and was supposed to keep it up. Staying by herself meant that she would have to do everything herself, which wasn’t going to work.

Spencer had said that he would call when he knew more information, but Aaron hadn’t heard from him other than simple texts telling him that he missed him as well good morning and goodnight. He had not got that the night before. Aaron frowned and read over the second message that appeared on his screen. Either Spencer was speaking a different language, or he was drunk. That would explain why Aaron hadn’t heard from him. Aaron’s heart ached for Spencer at the moment. He had no clue what was going on, but for him to be getting drunk while in Vegas, there was something awful going on. Aaron wasn’t sure that he could help in any single way other than being there for him when he got back and being a sounding board at the moment to let his frustrations out. Aaron was very, very happy that Spencer was able to go out and help his mother.

You awake? Spencer texted to Aaron.

Yes, I’m sorry. I got a little lost in my head. Just drinking some fancy tea that some guy left in my pantry before running away from me. Aaron hoped that it made Spencer smile a little bit.

Call? Spencer asked.

Aaron wasn’t sure if Spencer was asking if he could call or if he wanted Aaron to call him, so Aaron tapped the call icon on his phone and waited to see it connect before he raised it up to his ear. He slipped outside with his cup of tea, so his voice didn’t carry and wake up the kids.

“Hello,” Spencer said as a greeting. He sounded tired and not drunk, which was a good thing in the long run. Aaron didn’t like the thought of something so bad happening that Spencer had to get drunk. Outside of a few beers here and there, Aaron had never really seen him get drunk at all.

“You should be asleep,” Aaron said.

“I was just getting in. I…I have a flight set for Friday for Maggie Lynn. She’s got the whole row so that she can prop her leg up. We are going to be gone for a week. Mom’s not doing well. Early-onset Alzheimer’s. The diagnosis came back around seven, and I just left and started to walk. I just got back, and I’m tired.”

“Have you eaten dinner?” Aaron asked.

“No. I need to order food. I got a good hotel that does room service around the clock. The menu isn’t the greatest after like eleven, but it’s doable for me.”

“We can leave earlier, I can have us there as soon as possible,” Aaron said. His heart was aching at Spencer being alone.

“No, I need to get things settled on this end, and I’m not going to be good company, and I know you aren’t coming out to have me be a good company, but I need to do this part alone, Aaron. Please understand. Just keep things happy for Maggie Lynn for right now. She’s been looking forward to today for weeks.”

“I can do that. Just…call me at any point, Spencer, I mean that. You are not alone.”

Spencer snorted at that, and Aaron had no clue why. He wondered if a Google search of ‘you are not alone’ would get him something geeky at the other end of it.

“Mags is going to want to go to the beach early to find the best spot, so if you want to just spend today at my place, that would be fine. There is food and things so you shouldn’t have to go to the store and buy anything. I’m going to turn on classical music in a few minutes and hopefully pass out. I have no clue if I will or not. There is a lot on my mind.”

Aaron knew what Spencer was talking about. Their last sleepover as the kids called it, Spencer hadn’t been able to get his mind to rest, so he had been up half the night. Aaron had woken up several times when Spencer had moved. It wasn’t upsetting to Aaron as he had just wrapped his arms around Spencer to try and help calm him down. Spencer would settle and almost fall asleep when his mind would start to rush again. Aaron had learned to let it go and just try and sleep on his own because if he kept on trying to help settle Spencer, Spencer got worked up more thinking that he was keeping Aaron from sleeping. Spencer had almost gone to sleep in the guest room at Aaron’s that night. Aaron had not wanted that to happen at all, so he had laid there while Spencer tossed and turned, his head working at the speed of light.

“Did you bring the melatonin or your allergy medications?” Aaron knew that they sometimes helped, but it was so late for Spencer that if he took the allergy medication, he might not wake up on time in the morning. The melatonin could help, but it wasn’t nearly as strong.

“I did, but if I take either, I can’t make it to breakfast with mom. Doctor Norman is allowing her to leave for breakfast, I’ll pick her up, and we will head out. I might take the day with her and talk to her. Right now, she doesn’t want to try for any of the trials.”

“Would she have to leave?” Aaron asked. He knew only a little about Diana Reid, but he knew that she had been in Bennington for a long time, and Aaron could understand with her first mental problem, and now this one that she didn’t want to leave the place she had called home. It was home to her after so long, and with her forgetting things, it was going to be the only thing that helped to keep the paranoia of her schizophrenia at bay. It wasn’t the best thing to let her just linger until one of the diseases took her away, but it might be the best thing for her.

Spencer would take a while to accept that, though, because he had to do what he could to help her. Aaron knew that he had a lot of guilt over putting her there, to begin with, but that was something that was going to take a long time for Aaron to unravel inside of Spencer’s great big brain. Spencer hid his insecurities very well, but he had been letting more of them show with Aaron. Aaron loved it so much. Like the thunderstorm that had whipped up and took out the power for their end of town when it struck a transformer. It had taken all night to get going again as the storm just hadn’t left the area, and it wasn’t safe to go out until the storm was gone. Spencer had clung to Aaron most of the night. The darkness and the storm had made him shiver, despite being warm under the blankets. Aaron was pretty sure that he had fallen in love with Spencer that night.

The words had not been said yet, but Aaron figured that he would let them slip some point soon. He knew that it would be the perfect time whenever he did because it was the way that things were. He was going with the flow this time.

“So Maggie Lynn has been talking about tonight but not exactly what it is,” Aaron said when Spencer never answered his question. He wasn’t sure if Spencer was asleep or he just didn’t want to answer. Spencer made an unintelligible noise in Aaron’s ear, and then there was the sound of the bed creaking. Aaron felt his heart warm a lot at that because it meant that Spencer had fallen asleep while on the phone with him.

Aaron grabbed the book that was in the kitchen. It was a novel by David Rossi about the criminals that he had hunted as part of his job with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, but it was better than nothing, and Aaron knew that the topic didn’t bother Spencer as he had been the one reading it first and Aaron had borrowed it. Aaron kept on reading until he heard that Spencer’s breathing was deep, and even Aaron knew what he sounded like when he was dead asleep.


Aaron did not understand why anyone thought that traveling with more than one kid was a good idea. Especially if they were all under the age of ten. Traveling with Jack and Maggie Lynn just from Dulles Airport to Vegas had put Aaron’s nerves on the last trigger. They had both been good, for the most part. It was just that Jack was worrying too much about Maggie Lynn and wasn’t paying attention to anything else. Maggie Lynn was having too much fun trying not to hit people with her crutches or in some cases running into them on purpose when they were dicks, as she called them. It was proving to Aaron that this wasn’t the greatest idea that he had ever had.

The only other issue was that Aaron wasn’t sure that Spencer was going to be happy to see them. The ticket for Maggie Lynn’s flight had been held at Dulles, but Aaron had gone in early and paid to have it changed and then bought three more tickets in the row in front of Maggie Lynn. She had the back row seats for the area, so it was really nice to have that whole set to themselves. Jack could move back with her but also stay with Aaron if she needed to put her leg up. Maggie Lynn was one of the last on the flight; that way, she wasn’t holding up the works as it were. It had made it much easier for Aaron to keep an eye on Jack.

Vegas was just as bustling as it was the last time that Aaron had been there for a law convention ten years before.

“So, where are we going?” Aaron asked as he slipped into the driver’s seat of the rental that he had hired for them for the trip. Maggie Lynn told Aaron that Spencer usually just used the bus and to visit his mother a cab, but with Maggie Lynn, it would be hard, so Aaron had rented an SUV. It was a full back row one so Maggie Lynn could get her leg up while Jack had room to sit as well, and Spencer would fit in the front. Spencer had already upgraded to a two-bedroom in getting ready for Maggie Lynn’s arrival, so Aaron hoped that there was room for them. Maggie Lynn could get the second bed while Aaron and Spencer could share, and Jack would either be put on a rollaway or the couch, depending on if the hotel rented rollaways to visitors.

“Well, we can go to the hotel. I can get a key by showing my school ID. That’s what Papa told me. Then we can go and see if he is at Bennington.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Aaron forgot how much he hated Vegas traffic when he was pulling down the long drive that would take them to Bennington. Their items were dropped at the hotel. A bed had been secured for Jack that would tuck well into a small area, so he wasn’t in the way of anyone. Ice packs had all been bought. They were stuck in the freezer for when Maggie Lynn needed to ice her foot. Aaron hadn’t felt like carrying them back and forth, so they would be tossed or given to the hotel when they were done with them and getting ready to head home. There were minimal clothes with them as well as there were good places to get clothes washed quickly there. Aaron figured that the less he had to carry with them, the better.

Spencer was outside with a woman that Aaron assumed was his mother. She was tall and thin, just like Spencer was. They were walking around a garden area with her hand on Spencer’s arm. It looked like something from the olden times. Aaron couldn’t help but slow down and stop the SUV so he could watch it. Jack and Maggie Lynn said nothing as they didn’t move forward to park the SUV in the visitor parking. Aaron’s gut started to clench as Spencer kept on looking at the SUV with a strange look on his face. It looked like worry, and Aaron figured that he was acting very strange. The light was reflecting off of the windshield of the SUV, so it was very understandable that Spencer couldn’t see him in the driver’s seat.

“Are you sure about this, Maggie Lynn?” Aaron asked. He really didn’t want to mess up what he had with Spencer by invading where he wasn’t wanted. Spencer had not asked or even hinted at wanting Aaron out here for this.

“Papa doesn’t ask for help. Not this kind of stuff. His sperm donor made him never make himself vulnerable like that because when he did, it was always thrown back at him. If he doesn’t want you here, he will tell you and won’t be upset that you came. He’ll probably be happy you cared enough to escort me here. You can easily get your stuff from the room and go home. You got open-ended tickets because of that. If he does want you here, he will not exactly tell you, but he won’t tell you to leave. He’s not that kind of guy who says one thing and means another and hopes that you read between the lines.”

Aaron put the SUV into gear again and pulled up into a parking spot. Aaron was about to tell Jack to stay in the SUV when he threw open the back door and took off running for Spencer.

“SPENCER I’VE MISSED YOU!” Jack yelled as he ran across the distance between the SUV and where Spencer was with his mother.

Spencer barely got crouched quick enough to catch Jack as he threw himself at Spencer. Aaron had not told Jack what was wrong with Spencer and why he was in Vegas just that he wanted some alone time with his mother but that Aaron wanted to meet her even if they just turned around and left again. Aaron saw Spencer stand up with Jack in his arms. Jack held out his hand as Spencer talked, and then Diana was reaching out to shake Jack’s hand.

Aaron got out of the SUV and moved to the back door on his side to help Maggie Lynn out. She was pretty good at most things, but the SUV was a little high for her. Aaron steadied her crutches as she pushed herself out. She nodded when she was steady. Aaron left the cooler with their lunches in it in the back and walked with Maggie Lynn over to the trio.

“Mom, I would like to introduce you to Aaron Hotchner. Aaron, my mom, Diana Reid.”

Aaron held out his hand for Diana to shake, and she did with a very firm grip.

“So who exactly is this Aaron? You trusted him with Mags?” Diana asked.

“We’ve been dating. I wanted to tell you in person when I came out next month with Maggie Lynn as I don’t think this is something that you discuss in a letter.”

“No, I did instill that in you. You also didn’t warn me that someone would be coming.”

“I didn’t know. Maggie Lynn wasn’t supposed to arrive until tomorrow, and it was supposed to be alone. I can’t warn you of what I don’t know is happening.” Spencer gave Aaron a look that had a little heat of anger but not genuine anger in it. He was a little upset he hadn’t been warned but not that upset that he didn’t want them there. Jack was still in Spencer’s arms, his head on Spencer’s shoulder, and he looked sleepy. He had barely got any sleep in, excited to be going to Vegas to see Spencer.

“Let’s go and sit in the formal gardens,” Diana said before she turned and started to walk in a new direction. Aaron followed, matching pace with Spencer. Maggie Lynn thumped along behind them, taking the concrete slab path very slowly. It wasn’t a full concrete path as there were grassy parts between the slabs, so she had to make sure that she landed the crutch tips where they needed to be for safety.

The formal gardens were beautiful, and Aaron agreed that with the shade of them, it was a nice place. Aaron helped Spencer down into one of the padded chairs since Jack was now asleep, a dead weight on him. Aaron took the seat that was on the other side of him to allow Maggie Lynn to sit down in the chair that was on the other side of Diana.

“So Mister Hotchner, what do you do?”

“Aaron, please, Ma’am. Mister Hotchner was my father and not a man that I ever wanted to be in my life. I was a big city lawyer for a long time, but now I am mostly retired, but I still do some stuff for our hometown.”

“That sleepy little town doesn’t need much of a lawyer, wills, and the like, right?” Diana asked.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Aaron nodded his head.

“So, how did you meet?”

“Well, it was all the town’s fault. They worked for months to get us to meet and hoped that we fell madly in love in a split second. I think a few of them have already planned the wedding.”

“Busybodies, that town is full of them, but they take care of my Spencer and my Mags, so I can’t fault them for that. I’m sure you’re shocked that I am not upset at the age difference. When you smile, you might look younger, but I know you are a good deal older than my Spencer, but he needs that. Joss was close to him in age, but they were both older than their years because of their genius. You’ll understand him in ways that others his age can’t because you have the wisdom of being older, but he’ll also keep you young, and with a young son, that can only be good.” Diana gave Aaron a smile. “However, if you hurt him, I will scratch your eyes out.”

“MOM!” Spencer thundered, but he laughed as he said it. He shook his head and looked at Aaron with a wry smile on his face. Spencer checked on Jack, who was still asleep in his arms. “She threatened Joss with the same thing. Though the hurt that Joss gave me wasn’t something that scratching her eyes out would ever fix.”

“Spencer,” Diana hissed out of the side of her mouth. She looked at her son like she didn’t understand why he had said that.

“It’s okay, Ma’am. I like hearing about Joss. She’s a big part of not only Spencer’s life, but Maggie Lynn’s and the town’s really. Actually, it’s what the town call’s Spencer. Joselyn’s husband. I was hearing about him for a long time before I ever heard his actual name from them. I am not threatened by her. I know that he loves her, and he will for the rest of his life, but there is room enough in his heart for her and for me.”

“Okay, Spencer, never let him go,” Diana said. She gave Aaron a smile that said, for now, she was pleased with him. Aaron knew that at some point, she would want to talk to him alone, without kids around and especially without Spencer about, but that was okay. If it were Jack and his partner of choice, Aaron would want to talk to them alone as well to make sure that they were exactly who they were portraying themselves to be.

The day and the lunch picnic went well. Diana entertained both Maggie Lynn and Jack for a little while to allow Spencer and Aaron a short break. Aaron ended up on his back on a blanket with Spencer half draped on him, napping. Aaron kept on carding his fingers through Spencer’s hair as anytime he stopped, Spencer would start to wake up. Aaron figured that he had been getting little to no sleep over the past few days.

“Maggie Lynn is taking Jack inside to look at the kids play area that they have set up. We have had a few short term stays with mother’s with kids, so the room is nice for them to have family time in,” Diana said as she settled down into the chair that it seemed she dragged over with her.

“So, it’s time for the talk?”

“No. Not really. Spencer hasn’t let too many people in and that he’s let you in this far tells me that you are both very serious about each other. He doesn’t love easily. I think that Joselyn had to drag him into it. It was interesting to see it all from the outside. She loved him with all that she had, and she wanted him to have a part of her to carry with him forever besides the memories. He has clung to her for a long time, Aaron, and I never thought that he would let her go so that he could have someone else in his life that wasn’t Mags. I love my boy to death, but he’s a hard nut to crack.”

“I think that I had an in with Maggie Lynn.” Aaron turned his head a little to look at Spencer’s face. He was still deeply asleep, so Aaron wasn’t worried about him hearing this. “I met her first. She was very herself around me, but then it was just something that drew me back to the area and then the coffee shop. He drew me in quite easily, so I figure that part of it was just chemistry, and the other was that we were both ready for something else.”

“What about Jack’s mother? Where is she?”

“Dead. She had a break with reality and tried to kill Jack and then did kill herself. We were already divorced after I had found her sleeping with my law partner. It’s what got me out of the big city kind of law. I liked the idea of the backwoods, small-town kind of law where the worst I had to deal with was family that loved each other fighting over who got the figurine collection.”

“Small towns can be nice if you’ve lived in big cities for a long time. I was a small-town girl until I moved here for college and then stayed to work at the college. So I understand the want of something different. I sometimes missed small-town stuff when Vegas got to be too much for me.”

Spencer shifted on Aaron, and Diana stopped talking.

“I’ll leave you and check on the kids. Young Jack is such a good young man. I’m thrilled that Spencer has you and that he has Jack. He’s not going to do well when Mags leaves and goes to other colleges that are further away, but having someone else around to help him become happy again will be good for him.” Diana gave Aaron a smile before she stood up. She didn’t take the chair with her, but Aaron figured that he could get it when Spencer woke up.

Spencer moved, and his breathing changed. He was waking up, slowly, but still waking up. Aaron kept on carding his fingers through Spencer’s hair, hoping to help him sleep for a little while longer. The more sleep he got, the better the mood he would be in. He hadn’t been in a bad mood, but he hadn’t been himself. Aaron didn’t like that. Still, he would take all the time that he could with him while also making sure that Spencer spent time with his mother. Aaron had never been that close to his mother. However, he knew that there were a lot of people who were. It wasn’t on him to make the decision that Diana wasn’t worth love. She hadn’t seemed to hurt him on purpose, but she also wasn’t to blame for her mental issues. That was just horrible luck on her genetics. With everything else that had happened and how Spencer had been because of it, Aaron wasn’t sure that Spencer or even Aaron wanted things to be different. If they had been, who knows what would have happened. Spencer could have been anywhere in the world and not where he would have crossed paths with Aaron, and that thought wasn’t something that Aaron liked.

Chapter 9-Puppies

Aaron sighed as he woke up alone in bed for the third morning in a row. Spencer had been waking up every single morning and going on a run and then sitting at the water’s edge and just watched the sunrise. Aaron knew that he was not adjusting well to being home, but Diana had near forced him to leave because this was his home, and this was where he needed to be. Aaron understood it. Spencer felt guilty that he didn’t make it out to see her as much as he thought he should have, but he had a life here on the other side of the country and being able to drop three businesses and go to Vegas for days at a time was hard. While he trusted those who ran the stores so he could have a life, there was a difference between being in the city and checking in every single day in person and not being there at all, checking in over the phone.

Grabbing his robe, Aaron slipped it on before he went to the deck that was outside of Spencer’s bedroom that looked out over the ocean. Aaron had been pretty much staying every single night at Spencer’s. He wasn’t sure that Spencer was going to like him intruding, but Aaron knew that something needed to be done because Spencer’s funk was spreading. Maggie Lynn had been upset most of the day before, and Aaron had not been able to figure out what was wrong while Jack had just been sullen. Aaron was pretty sure that soon, he would be affected by it as well. Though part of that was the lack of sex after they had been going pretty steadily at it since sex had entered the relationship. It was one thing when Spencer wasn’t around, and then they were sharing a room with two kids.

Spencer was done with his run, Aaron saw as he opened up the gate that blocked the stairs. It didn’t really stop anyone from getting it, but it had been put in for Maggie Lynn when she had been young, and Spencer just never removed the wooden gate from there. Aaron could understand that as it did make the deck look good, being enclosed. Aaron took his time going down the stairs. There was dew on a lot of things as well as a lot of fog in the area. Aaron could see the fog getting thicker as he walked down. It wasn’t that going lower was making it thicker as it was just getting thicker on its own. The sun was hiding behind clouds, so it wasn’t burning it off. Aaron knew that it was supposed to be cloudy all day, but he hadn’t thought that it was going to be cloudy and foggy at the same time.

“Morning,” Spencer said when Aaron was about five feet away from him. Spencer’s body was shivering a little bit. Aaron frowned before he dropped down behind Spencer, not caring about the sand. He had got used to sand being everywhere. Aaron wrapped the robe around Spencer to help warm him up. Spencer leaned back, borrowing into Aaron for the warmth.

“Good morning.” Aaron kissed the side of Spencer’s face before he sighed. “Talk to me.”

“There is a higher rate of suicide among schizophrenics, but mom’s never been a risk. Even when I had her put into Bennington for her own safety, she didn’t threaten it, she didn’t attempt it. That’s rare for people like her. That she has lived this long is a good thing, but it’s outside of the norm. I guess I let myself believe that she was going to be around forever. I don’t want to lose her, but there is no way for me to stop it. She was always going to leave me in some way, shape, or form, and I’m just trying to wrap my head around that.”

Aaron didn’t know what to say to that. He really didn’t understand the thought at all, but he understood the reasoning behind what Spencer was saying. Aaron had been glad when his mom had no longer been an issue in his life. It had appeared really wrong to think it, but it was the best thing for Aaron. This wasn’t the best thing for Spencer, but there was no way to stop it. Aaron wrapped his arms around Spencer tighter, and Spencer laid his head back on his shoulder. Aaron let him rest there in silence for as long as he wanted. The sun making a trek through the sky as it raised up.

“Breakfast!” Maggie Lynn called out from the lower deck area.

Aaron looked back at her to see that Jack was there as well, carrying a pitcher of what looked like grape juice out to the table.

“Kids made us breakfast,” Aaron said as he rocked his body a little. Spencer wasn’t asleep, but he did seem to be out of it. The sun had come out from the clouds enough to burn off some of the fog that was around them, but it was still rolling in from the ocean.

“I’ll try and eat,” Spencer said.

“That’s all that I ask.” Aaron stood up first, waiting for Spencer to turn around to get help up. He was still in his running clothes, and Aaron knew that he would change out of them, but Aaron had no clue what he was going to change into. He had taken a few days to right his head before jumping back into work. Aaron figured though that when he did jump back in, he was going to do it feet first and with a narrow focus to push all of his personal life out of it.

Spencer walked past Maggie Lynn, dropping a kiss on her cheek before he fully passed her and slipped into the house to go and change. Aaron saw that the food spread was pretty simple biscuits and gravy along with a fruit salad. Aaron dished up his and then Spencer’s before helping Jack with his while Maggie Lynn poured out juice for all of them. Spencer was back, pulling a t-shirt over his head. He had a smile on his face and settled in at the seat that had been saved for him.

Breakfast was quiet, but Aaron didn’t expect anything other than that because breakfast had been silent since they had got back home. Jack and Maggie Lynn were done first and headed off to whatever they were doing for the day. Jack still had swimming lessons, and since Maggie Lynn’s air cast could get wet, she was still able to swim as long as she crawled without putting pressure on her ankle by just using one foot. Aaron had laughed a little seeing her do it the first time. She was adaptive, and Aaron knew that Spencer had instilled that in her.

“How do you go through every day and know that your parents aren’t around to help?” Spencer asked as he ate the last of what Aaron had plated up for him.

Aaron hoped that Spencer would eat more, but he didn’t reach for the plate of biscuits or the pan of gravy. Aaron knew that pushing wouldn’t get him to eat more. Aaron set his fork down and steepled his hands in front of him. “Well, I never had them to rely on for help in the first place, Spencer. I knew by the age of about three that they would never help me with anything. I had a nanny that taught me to read, write, even how to speak. Oh, mother made sure that I had a good Nanny, but that was it. Then it was school, and while I went to the best school, they didn’t care about the grades that I made. They only time they cared about what I did was when I did something they thought was wrong. So I made sure that I could do everything for myself. I became a lawyer just to say fuck you to my dead father. I wanted to show him that I could be a better lawyer, a better husband, and a better father than him. I proved him right on at least two of them.”

“Haley cheating on you had nothing to do with you. She was ill-prepared for a life with someone who worked and made sure that she had everything that she wanted. She wanted all of the things that you working your ass off got her. However, she also wanted you around to do her bidding all of the time. The affair that she had lasted only because your ex-partner made time for her, and then he started to do what you did as well, you worked to get her what she wanted. She didn’t know what she wanted, and she wasn’t prepared to change but demanded that you did.”

“That’s what the therapist I went to said.” Aaron laughed. He held out his hand, and Spencer took it. There was hesitance but not fear, just that he didn’t know what was coming so he wasn’t sure what to do. Aaron pulled him over to the edge of the deck. He let go long enough to take off his robe before he tugged Spencer in close to him. It was just seconds, and Aaron had one hand around Spencer’s back and the other in Spencer’s hand, and it held up. Spencer laughed and relaxed into Aaron’s arms as Aaron started to move them across the floor in a mockery of any dance move that Aaron had been taught as a child. Spencer didn’t try and stop the movement at all but just followed Aaron’s lead.

The sun was high in the sky as the sound of barking filtered through to the two of them. They had gone from dancing to just swaying back and forth to sitting on the lower deck in the lounger with both of them reading. The barking got louder and louder, and then Aaron saw two dark copper-colored dogs running down the beach. They were puppies, by the way, they were moving, and even from a distance, Aaron could see that the paws were more prominent than the rest of the body should suggest they were if they were adults.

“Apollo!” Jack screamed as he came around the edge of the rocks that helped to separate Spencer’s land from others. Aaron frowned.

The dogs were running away without a care to the names that Jack was yelling towards them.

“I think I have my daughter to blame for their names.”

“Apollo and Artemis?” Aaron asked.

“She’s going through a twin phase. Everything she reads has to do with twins, fiction, and non. It’s rather interesting, but not when it comes to naming dogs.”

“Why would someone else let Maggie Lynn name their dogs.”

“Oh, no, I am pretty sure that those are ours.”

“What?”

“Corey down the road has a new batch of puppies, and those seem about the right age for what they are. They are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, and there is only one person in the area that has them. Maggie Lynn has wanted one of them for a while, but with her going away to college, I talked her out of it. It’s not like she can take a dog to the dorm. She thought about that for a long while before agreeing that even she wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to make a dog be quiet all of the days without harming it.”

“So you think that Jack agreed to take care of her puppy when you can’t so that she can have one waiting here when she gets home?”

“Yes,” Spencer said. He stood up as the dogs turned around and passed Jack again to head to where Maggie Lynn was carefully walking with her crutches. She whistled, and the dogs came toward her with the energy that only puppies could have. “What do you think you are doing?”

“Corey hadn’t found homes for these two yet. They are already fixed, so we don’t have to worry about that. We have that fenced-in patch of the yard next to the house, and Jack and I are going to patch up the fence so they can’t get out. I’ve already saved up enough money to buy a house for them. There is this cool one that Roger builds in that is two stories. The top part is covered in a huge roof that allows for it to be protected from the weather but doesn’t have walls. Roger is going to bring it by when he has it done later today.”

“And how long have you been planning this?”

“Well, Roger’s been building it for two weeks, and Corey promised me that I could have the twins if no one else came by for them. If he did end up giving them away, Roger was going to hold the house while I found other puppies to get. They love to swim, though, so Corey said that he made sure no one wanted them.”

Spencer was glaring a little bit at his daughter, but she was giving him a grin that said she knew that she was going to get her way. Aaron knew that she was going to get her way, as well.

The first puppy came running up the stairs and gently slipped past Maggie Lynn while the other waited for Jack to start up the stairs before it came up. The dogs climbed up as one onto the lounger that Aaron and Spencer had been sitting on. They flopped like they were tired. Aaron moved to where he could look at them to see that they were near-duplicates of each other. The only thing was that they had eyes that were opposites. The one on the left had a green eye on the right and a blue on the left while the other was the opposite. It was strange to have them both staring at him with their near mirror image faces.

“So, who is going to take care of these mutts when you are at school?” Spencer asked. He sat down on a chair that was pretty much as far as one could get away from the dogs but not out of the sun that was filling up the deck slowly. Maggie Lynn followed him over to where he was sitting and stood in front of him.

“Jack will. He’ll come by on the way to school and feed them and make sure their water is full. Then on the way home from school, he’ll take them for a walk along the beach and play with them before heading home or just doing homework here on the deck. We’ve already got a full plan laid out on what he’s going to do. Then the weekends, I’ll take care of them when I get into town on Friday nights. The new train stop will be up and running two miles outside of town, and Victor has already told me that he would make sure the bus went out that far if I called and told them when I would be there.”

“How long have you been planning this?”

“Months, then Jack happened, and I knew I could do it better. He wants dogs too, and he liked that Sugar Glider, but he really wants a dog he can play in the sand with.”

Aaron didn’t say anything even though he knew that logic would win with Spencer when little else did and that Maggie Lynn was going to win the argument because she had been planning this for a long while.

“And who is paying for the vet bills, the dog food, and everything else that they need?”

“Corey already has them with what they need for the next while as far as shots, and everything goes. They’ve already been to the vet, so the record will just change to my name with Jack’s as the second. I will be working in the library this fall, I’ve already been approved to do so. I’ll be able to afford a lot of things because you pay for everything else. I’ll have plenty of time for my school work and working in the library as I can do both at the same time.”

“I still have to sign off on that before you go back to school.” Spencer raised an eyebrow at the fact that she was probably just now telling him about this by the look on his face.

Aaron imagined how it was for Diana to raise Spencer nearly on her own with the way that Maggie Lynn was. Maggie Lynn was stubborn, but Aaron had learned that Spencer was even more so.

“Every single time that I have to end up doing something for these dogs that is not something that’s too dangerous for Jack to do or an emergency like a storm coming through the area, you are going to end up paying me.”

“Yup, it’s just like my fish when I was little. They are mine, and I will take care of them or get a babysitter to take care of them. Corey has already offered if Jack is away with his dad or sick.”

Aaron pursed his lips to stop himself from laughing at the stern look that Spencer still had on his face. It was not going to go well on the sex front if Aaron laughed at him. He was pretty sure a contract was going to be offered next. He shook his head and looked at Jack, who was settling in on the lounger with the dogs, both of whom were already asleep. It was strange as hell to watch this, but he was enjoying himself doing it.

“Go to the store and get what you need.” Spencer held out a card that Aaron had no clue where he had been keeping it. Though Aaron hadn’t felt him as they were in public and it was way too early in the day for that kind of stuff in the light of day. There were also many who liked to peep at them.

“Thank you, Papa.” Maggie Lynn let go of her crutches and let them fall down so she could wrap her arms around Spencer in a huge hug.

Aaron picked up her crutches and held them until she was on her feet again. He laughed as she hugged him even though he hadn’t done a damned thing at all.

“Let’s go, Jack. Papa will watch them while we are gone.”

“So, that’s what negotiations with her look like?”

“Not really, that was fun and games there. I’ll get you a key to the house for you and for Jack so you can come over whenever he wants to play with the dogs.” Spencer looked at the dogs, and Aaron saw that he really didn’t care that they were there. He wasn’t excited at all. He didn’t hate that they were there, but he wasn’t overjoyed like the kids were.

“Have you ever had a dog?”

“No,” Spencer said in a way that told Aaron that he didn’t want to talk about it at all. Aaron thought about the scar that was on Spencer’s calf on his right leg. Aaron hadn’t asked about it as it looked pretty jagged like he had ripped it open at some point. Aaron wondered if he had been bitten before.

Spencer moved away from where he was and into the house. Aaron followed behind, hoping the dogs didn’t run away.

“I never had one either. It wasn’t something that would have fit with the kind of family image that mother and father wanted. After I was off at boarding school, my little brother Sean got one. He rubbed that in my face when I was home, but I never let it actually get to me. The first time that Sean stayed out late and when he did come home, and he was high, father made him get rid of the dog. Though mother bought him another. It was a revolving door of dogs until they died.” Aaron watched as Spencer started a pot of coffee; he had to have a bit of a headache as Aaron wasn’t sure that he had drunk any caffeine so far that day, and Aaron was pretty sure that he was addicted to it. Aaron stepped up behind him and rubbed his shoulders as Spencer watched the coffee pour down into the glass carafe.

Spencer sighed, and his shoulders slumped down. He turned around in Aaron’s hold and looked up at Aaron, their heights were a near match but with Spencer slumped down, Aaron was looking down at him a little.

“There was this dog that was near campus at Caltech. The owner never leashed it, and it would run around all the time. There was this little girl a few houses down that loved to play on the sidewalk. I think the game was called hopscotch and other things like jumping rope. There was a lot of things that she did. Her parents watched her closely, but it was a different time and a different city then. The dog usually wouldn’t go outside of what he thought was his area. I don’t know what was up with him that day, but he was strolling around the neighborhood. I don’t know if his owner just didn’t take him in, and he left. So the girl was skipping around on the chalk outline she had made on the sidewalk.

“Then there was the sound of horrible barking. The dog was making a beeline for her. I rushed over as I was walking back from buying a book at the local bookstore. I pulled her up and used my bag to try and get the dog to run, but it grabbed my bag and ripped it out of my hands. I tried to run, but the dog grabbed my calf and ripped through a few muscles. I went down. He used my leg as a chew toy until someone else came to help. The thing was that there was a cop patrolling the area. He ended up tasering the dog, but it was still put down. It attacked a child that seven people gave a report that she hadn’t even been near it.

Spencer stopped for a moment and took a few shallow breaths before going on. “There was an older lady who had actually called the cops who saw it, but there was no way she could have helped as she couldn’t move well. She watched as the dog came around the corner and then just looked at the girl and took off like a rocket toward her. The dog owner had to pay for my hospital bills and the girls’ therapy bills. It wasn’t that bad for me as I was able to get around the campus okay after I passed the point where I wasn’t allowed on my leg, but the school and the professors were good. Recordings of the lectures and tests were given to me in my room. It was just after that I started to date Joss.”

“And you’ve never told Maggie Lynn this why?”

“She doesn’t need to hear about a dog almost ripping a little girl apart. Those dogs are not that dog, but it’ll take me time to get used to hearing a bark. I’m sure that they will be lovely pets for Maggie Lynn and Jack, but I’m just not a dog lover.”

“I think those two are going to be sweet. I’m sure we can teach them to ride your surfboard.”

“I’m sure I just need time, not exposure therapy. I’ll get used to it on my own, and I don’t need the dogs thrown at me all the time.”

Aaron figured that someone in Spencer’s life had done things like that before with dogs and him. Aaron could see someone doing it. It wouldn’t have been Joss but probably someone in the town who thought they were helping. Aaron would love to figure out who and find out their worst fear and stick them into it a room full of it. They wouldn’t ever do that again.

“I promise that I won’t, and I’ll run interference on things with our kids.” Aaron watched as a small smile came over Spencer’s face at the mention of their kids. Aaron rubbed his nose across Spencer’s before he pulled Spencer in close for kissing.

“I’m looking forward to when the kids are asleep tonight,” Spencer whispered when Aaron pulled out of the kiss.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, I like having you at my mercy.”

Aaron laughed and pulled Spencer in for another round of kissing, his hands tangled into Spencer’s hair to hold him in place.


Aaron let himself into Spencer’s house because that was where his son and his lover were. He really wanted to just slip into bed with Spencer and sleep. He had been in DC for a few days when one of his old cases that he had been a first chair on as defense lawyer had gone to court again when it seemed that new evidence that the prosecution had suppressed had been found out to be a lot more critical than Aaron had thought. His client was walking free now with no mark on his record. The DA was going after the man who had framed him. Aaron had hoped that it would have come out the first time, but he had been working in his spare time to find what he needed to open it up.

Stopping at the sight in the living room, Aaron smiled. Spencer was asleep in his pajamas on the couch with a dog laying on his upper body and the other tangled in his legs. Apollo was the one on his legs, the blue-collar the only way to know since they were all asleep. That meant Artemis was on Spencer’s chest and stomach. While they were still rather small, Aaron knew they were medium dogs and would get some nice weight on them. Aaron pulled out his phone and made sure that it wasn’t going to make noise as he took a picture of it. Maggie Lynn had been texting him that the dogs had been slowly making Spencer warm up to them. Artemis had taken to sleeping on Spencer’s feet when he was reading a newspaper in the morning. Aaron hadn’t seen that yet, but he was looking forward to seeing it.

Artemis was the first to move. She rolled and opened her eyes. She let out a growl at the figure in the room until she saw that it was Aaron. Her tail started to wag, wapping her brother in the face. Artemis, however, did not get up off of Spencer at all, she waited for Aaron to come over to her.

“You know he’s not going to be happy with you,” Aaron said. He worried about the fact that Spencer might wake up with not just one but two dogs on him until he saw that Spencer’s hand was buried in the soft fur of Artemis’ neck. It looked like he had fallen asleep petting her.

Apollo started to wake up and shifted on Spencer’s legs before slipping down to the floor to trot over to the corner. Aaron watched him and saw that huge bed that was there. It looked soft and comfortable, and it was not something that Maggie Lynn and Jack had bought at the pet store with Spencer’s credit card. Aaron laughed a little and then shook his head at his lover. Spencer had been hesitant the first few days of the dogs being there. He hadn’t been able to say no to Maggie Lynn and something that she wanted. It seemed that Spencer had thawed to the dogs a lot sooner than Aaron thought he would.

“Bedtime, Artie,” Spencer said before he yawned. As soon as Artemis jumped down from Spencer, he stretched like he hadn’t moved in hours. He cracked his eyes open as soon as he turned his head to look at Aaron. “She follows me everywhere. Including work. She jumped the damned fence and followed me to work at the bookstore. So now, there is an area for her to stay in the bookstore with a pillow and water bowl and everything. Apollo is content to stay home in the shade.”

“So, you are enjoying your daughter having dogs?” Aaron reached out to pet Artemis, but the dog took advantage of the fact that Spencer hadn’t moved yet to jump back up on the couch.

“I think that at this point, Artemis is my dog and not hers.” Spencer laughed a little as Artemis just flopped on him and tried to become one with him. “You would think that I would have learned this a little better by this point.”

“Bedtime, Artemis,” Aaron said.

Artemis slipped off of Spencer again and made her way to the bed that Apollo was in. She flopped and looked at Spencer like he had taken away her favorite toy. Aaron shook his head at that. He helped Spencer up off of the couch, and they started for the stairs to go to bed proper. Spencer was nearly asleep again, but Aaron just held him when he swayed. The bedroom was already set up for bed, with Aaron’s sleep pants draped on the bed. Spencer paused in the doorway and sighed. He looked at Aaron and then at the bed.

Aaron wasn’t sure what was wrong until Spencer shrugged his shoulders and patted his leg loudly. It wasn’t, but seconds later that Aaron heard Artemis making her way up the stairs in all of her puppy enthusiasm. She came bounding in and ran right for the bed, settling in in the middle of it but down where she would be between their legs.

“She’s been sleeping with me all week. Since you left. I think that Maggie Lynn put her up to it, but I can’t be sure. I just woke up with her laying over my ankles.”

“That’s why she was pouting down there. It wasn’t because you were making her get up off of you but because you were making her sleep down there.” Aaron pulled Spencer in for a kiss. He cupped both sides of Spencer’s cheeks, and seconds later, Spencer’s fingers covered his hand, keeping them there. Aaron kept the kiss short and very sweet. “However, I will not have sex with her in the bed.”

“I’m too tired for sex.”

“So am I, tonight. Tomorrow morning is a very, very different story. I’ve missed you, and I want to show you how much I have missed you.”

“Big promises. I mean, I’ve had a nice and cuddly bed buddy for days.” Spencer was grinning, but there was a lot of tiredness to that grin.

“Keep that up, and she’ll not be allowed in the bed.”

Spencer’s pout was too cute, Aaron couldn’t help but lean in and kiss him. Spencer hummed into the kiss but started to walk toward the bed. Spencer pulled out of the kiss and got under the covers, taking what had become his side of the bed. Aaron quickly stripped down and changed into his sleep pants before getting under the covers, as well. Aaron wrapped his arm around Spencer and pulled him closer. Artemis moved around to where she was between both of their legs but touching them both.

It would take some getting used to having the dog in the bed with them, but Aaron was pretty sure that he could get used to it in time. Jack was the only interloper who had ever graced Aaron’s bed when he had still been married to Haley. Artemis would be a slightly better bed partner as she could actually move if one of them rolled over or yelp to let them know that she wasn’t doing well.

Aaron felt Artemis wiggle until she was under the blankets as well. Aaron leaned up to look to see that her head was sticking out of the end of the blanket. It looked really adorable. Aaron figured she would get more and more adventurous as she got used to both of them being in bed. Aaron thought that she was going to be good just long enough for Aaron to get to where he wouldn’t kick her out of bed.

“Be prepared,” Spencer said as he rolled in Aaron’s arms to where he could bury his face into Aaron’s neck. His hands were up at his chest, pressed between their bodies.

“Why?”

“I guess Corey had a runt that didn’t get picked either, and Maggie Lynn wants him for Jack now that Artemis has claimed me.”

“I don’t have the land for a dog or a pen already set up.”

“Yeah, but who would want to split up siblings?” Spencer asked. He yawned, his jaw cracked as he did. “Maggie Lynn wants to house him here. It’s not like lately, you guys haven’t been staying over here more than I’ve gone over to your place. He’s already doing well at coming over and checking on the puppies even when he’s out and about with Maggie Lynn.”

“Sleep, Spencer. We can discuss the dogs in the morning. All three of them.” Aaron knew that the runt was going to come home with them, and all that meant was that they were going to spend more time at Spencer’s. Which wasn’t a big issue at all. Aaron liked the house that he bought, but it didn’t feel like home yet, but Spencer’s was already feeling that way.

It seemed between one breath and the next, Spencer was asleep. Aaron envied him that he could do that at all. Aaron had never fallen asleep that quick, though he had been sleeping better since he was sharing a bed with Spencer. Aaron had never thought that he would sleep better with someone else in bed with him. He had been kind of happy when he and Haley had stopped sleeping in the same bed when she started to get pissed that he wasn’t cutting back on work. Though Aaron had also had issues just sleeping in bed with her in general.

Aaron knew that this was very different, and it was why he felt different about it all. Spencer was guileless unless he was trying to surprise Aaron with something. Aaron kissed the top of Spencer’s head and let himself relax onto the bed. He was having a few issues falling asleep, so he started to card his fingers through Spencer’s hair, it wouldn’t wake up Spencer, but it would hopefully help Aaron fall asleep.

Artemis stood up at the end of the bed and shook herself, the covers thankfully not falling off of Spencer’s or Aaron’s feet, that would wake up Spencer. Artemis trotted up the bed and laid down on Aaron’s other side, on top of the blankets. She laid her head on Aaron’s arm and huffed before becoming one with the bed. Aaron wrapped his arm around her so he could pet her too. He felt his eyes starting to droop and laughed. Maybe Artemis was going to be good for both of them.

 

Chapter 10-Walk in the Country

Aaron wasn’t sure what they were doing out in the wooded areas of Virginia. There was a big camping thing going on in the town square. Literally, all of the kids in the city were taking over the town square and camping there that night. The rest of the day today and tomorrow was going to be activities and the like.

Spencer had asked to take him around for the day, and so they had loaded up the Jeep and went out and about for the day. Spencer had packed food and drinks from the coffee shop for them for the day. There were also jugs of water in the back.

“So how do you feel about camping out here?”

“You didn’t bring a tent, and I’m not sleeping without a tent and a sleeping bag,” Aaron said. He looked around the area where Spencer had parked the Jeep. There was a nice clearing, but it wasn’t that nice.

“My gear lives out here. I come to this area and camp usually at least once a week during the times where I am not going to freeze my ass off. I’ve not because of spending time with you.” Spencer waved for Aaron to follow him, so Aaron got out of the Jeep and followed behind Spencer. At the edge of the clearing was a camouflaged box of some kind. Spencer opened it up and there inside was camping gear, including two sleeping bags rolled up. “Waterproof box. Me and a few others use a few clearings in the area to camp like this, so we all bought boxes. As we take a walk today, I’ll check on their things and grab anything that needs replaced or let them know if something needs some TLC.”

“I didn’t take you for the camping type,” Aaron said as he started to help Spencer pull things out of the bin. The tent seemed like it was a good one, nice and sturdy, given the weight of it.

“I learned to like it after finding a few guys who helped me understand what the hell to even do. I grew up in the desert, and I didn’t venture far from the Caltech campus when I was going there. I mean, why would I want to?” Spencer gave Aaron that smile that had Aaron’s heart doing stupid things like trying to stop beating.

The two of them tucked into getting the camping site set up, which included a cover to keep a lot of the sun from the tent as well as give them an area to move around if it started to rain. The ground was already very wet, so Aaron was glad that a good tarp was under the tent. The whole town had spent the day before morose because of the absolute downpour that had happened all day long, but Spencer had been excited, even Maggie Lynn had been. Spencer had woken up and just seemed so full of energy that Aaron fully realized the age difference between them. Those days for Aaron were few and far between and getting fewer, and much more time passed between them.

“So, what are we going to do now?” Aaron asked. There was a lot of daylight left, and it wasn’t even close to dinner time.

“We are going to go on a walk.” Spencer held out his hand, and when Aaron slipped his into it, he was tugged behind Spencer until he caught up. Aaron let go of his hand and wrapped that arm around Spencer’s shoulder to bring him close. Aaron looked down and was glad that he had been talked into digging out his hiking boots. There was mud everywhere.

It was so quiet, with just the sounds of the animals of the forest around them. It was a calming influence on Aaron, who could understand now why Spencer liked this.

“You know, you don’t have to spend every single second you can with me.” Aaron wasn’t so needy that he had to spend all his time with Spencer. Yes, he missed him when he was away, but that didn’t mean that they had to become conjoined twins.

“I know. I just want to. I like spending time with you, but if I want to spend too much, just tell me.”

“No, that’s not what I mean. I mean, you had a life before me, a much richer life than I was leading. I don’t want you to give up what you want to do to be with me.”

“Never, I’ve just been including you in on it. That’s why we are doing this. I want you to like the things I do, but if you don’t, well, then I can’t help that, and I’ll just have to find you other things to do when I am out and about doing that kind of stuff. I’ll get it figured out.”

“Well, I like hiking, so that’s going to be okay with me. Camping I don’t mind as long as it’s not really rough and this doesn’t seem like it’s going to be. This will be just fun enough for me. Jack’s never really been camping this way so we can see about how he does with camping in a town square before we take him out here.”

“Maggie Lynn loves our weekend excursions out into nature as long as we have a good setup. I’ll have to get another sleeping bag for the two of you, but that will be no big problem. I gotta go pick up a new kit for my Jeep, and those places are right next to each other about sixty miles away.”

“You don’t have to buy our stuff.”

“I don’t allow just anything into my camping kit, Mister Hotchner.” Spencer ducked out and under from Aaron’s arm and pushed him into a tree before kissing him. Aaron wrapped his arms around Spencer and kept him right there.

The rest of the walk through the wooded areas of Virginia was filled with frequently stopping for more kisses, pressing each other into tree trunks randomly until they were back at the camping site. Dinner was just simple sandwiches, chips, cookies, and some tea. Aaron was enjoying just being with Spencer without anything pressing on them.

“So, what are we going to do after dinner?” Aaron asked.

“That’s a surprise,” Spencer said with a wink.

Aaron figured that camping sex was something that Spencer would be up for. It wasn’t like the animals in the area were going to creep on them. He was going to enjoy just spending the evening with Spencer. He hoped that they could see the stars from where they were. They could roll back the cover to where they could lay on the ground still on the tarp that was laid out for underneath the cover and look up into the sky. The tree line around the area was very sparse, allowing a good view of the sky above. Spencer had found a perfectly wonderful camping spot for him to claim.

The sound of a car horn was not something that Aaron would have thought to hear out in the middle of the woods. He was shocked when Spencer’s face lit up.

“It’s surprise time, Aaron Hotchner.” Spencer looked him up and down, and Aaron and whatever Aaron was wearing seemed to be approved by him.

“What is that?” Aaron asked when another horn went off. Then before Spencer could answer another did except it was the same tune as the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard. Aaron was very, very confused by it all.

“That is a caravan. So do you want to see what kind of really fun things I get up after it rains so much that the countryside is nothing but mud?”

“Yes.” Aaron was very intrigued because mud and Spencer Reid were not two things he would put together. The last time that Jack and Maggie Lynn had thrown wet sand at him, he had freaked out a lot.

“Then load up.” Spencer walked over to his Jeep and started to take the doors and the roof off of it.

Aaron watched him, fascinated by the way that he took care but was so well versed in taking the parts off that he rushed through it all. There was little for Aaron to do except for grab the doors and the parts of the roof as they came off and slipped them under the cover. Spencer loaded up, securing himself in the harness that was hooked up instead of the standard seat belt. Aaron jumped in and got ready, as well. Spencer started up the Jeep but didn’t put it into drive until Aaron was fully fastened. Aaron was still getting used to buckling himself in a very different way.

“So, where are we going? And what are we going to be doing?”

“Well, both of those are a secret, but I’m pretty sure this is something that you’ve never done before. Not straight-laced, buttoned-up Aaron Hotchner, a lawyer for the rich and powerful from DC.” Spencer said the words with a grin on his lips, so Aaron didn’t feel like they were a jab at him. There were a lot of things that Aaron had never done in his life because he had thought that how people looked at him was more important than just being happy.

Spencer took them back out the road they had come in on but went a different way and pulled into the middle of a line of other Jeeps. Aaron looked back to make sure, and it was nothing but Jeeps. There were all colors, including one that was at the front of the line that was orange. That had to be the one that had Dixie as it’s horn. Spencer honked his horn a few times, and another at the front honked back.

“What was that?”

“Telling them that I’m the only one coming from the campsites. Everyone who has a camp around here that I’ll check on does this with us. So now they won’t wait for anyone else to arrive.”

“This is insane. I have never seen so many Jeeps that weren’t on a car lot somewhere.”

“This is about half of the people in the area that do this with us. A few come from about an hour away. There will be beer and other drinks for the passengers, but none of us drivers will be drinking outside of one small shot long before we head out. It might get a little rowdy.”

Aaron sat there as they made their way through trees on a gravel road and tried to figure out just what the hell was going on. He saw a few other Jeeps in the line that was just as clean as Spencer’s, but more were already covered in mud. He had no idea what was going on. Spencer followed the Jeep in front of him, and after about twenty minutes, the trees gave way to a giant circle where the rest of the Jeeps were already parked. Some of the first ones to arrive were popping doors and tops off while others had been that way before they had started out. Aaron wondered if they were all going to just sit around and talk and drink. Spencer had made a point of saying the drivers weren’t going to drink.

“Hey, Doc, you camping tonight or going home?” one of the people asked.

Aaron watched a hulk of a man-made his way toward them.

“Camping, why?”

“I brought some of that cinnamon moonshine you like.” The man handed over a cooler. The cooler had Reid written in perfect letters on the side, so Aaron knew that the cooler was at least Spencer’s. “Thought you and your man might like some for tonight.” The man waggled his eyebrows at them. A few people around started to laugh.

Aaron felt the blush creeping up on his face. He knew that the blush was going to be visible. Spencer took the cooler and opened it up. There was a good bit of moonshine in there. Much more than they could drink in a single night. Spencer grabbed one out and Aaron was shocked when he saw it was a little like shot glass with a lid. He pulled out a second. One was handed over to Aaron before Spencer took the cap off of his and downed it. He shuddered but was grinning. That was the shot that Spencer mentioned drinking.

“Drink up, Aaron.” Spencer handed the shot glass back to the man with a laugh as Aaron sniffed at his. He could smell the alcohol part and the cinnamon. Aaron down the shot, and it burned the entire way down. Aaron shuddered a hell of a lot worse than Spencer did. The laughter picked up, and Aaron figured that they weren’t trying to make him feel bad.

“We will make a country boy out of him yet,” the man said before he slapped Aaron on the back.

“That’s Jim, by the way,” Spencer said.

“Nice to meet you!” Aaron yelled at the man, which made everyone laugh even more.

“You aren’t going to remember anyone’s names really, but I’m sure that you will Jim’s. Everyone else is just a group of people who love to have fun.”

“Fun is good,” Aaron said. He wasn’t sure what kind of fun they were going to have, but as long as it was legal and not that dangerous, Aaron didn’t care. He just watched as people milled around, moving into small or large groups to talk. When the last of the Jeeps were parked, Aaron counted forty-two of them. Spencer’s was the only one that was purple, but there was nearly every color of the rainbow and in between in the Jeeps. It was a party, just one that Aaron had never been to before.

“So, Doc, are you leading us today?” one of the women asked as she and a group of three others came over some time later. Two of them were twin males who Aaron could not tell apart at all.

“I can. I’m sure that it will make Aaron scream a little, not knowing what is coming. Is your Jeep still getting fixed?”

“Yeah, gotta ride with Dick today,” one of the twins said.

“It’s not that bad, Ricky,” the woman said.

“You can say that you still get to drive. Dick doesn’t let me drive.”

Aaron tried to figure out if one of the names was a nickname. Ricky and Dick were both used for Richard.

“Dickon is a Jeep hog,” Ricky said.

Aaron hadn’t heard the name of Dickon in a while, outside of The Secret Garden, which Jack still liked to watch and to read on occasion. Richard and Dickon were strange names for a pair of twins, though.

“Rickon!” someone called out, and Ricky sighed.

Aaron felt his eyes bug out on him a little bit. He had only heard Rickon once before. Spencer had talked about a character in a TV and book series with that name.

“We loading up, Doc?” Dickon asked.

“Yeah, we are. Let’s get Aaron’s cherry popped.”

Aaron’s head swung around so fast to look at Spencer because of what he said he was sure that he was going to get whiplash. Spencer was laughing as Aaron stared at him.

“Oh, come on. You are so uptight right now.” Spencer wrapped an arm around Aaron and pulled him close before they started back to the Jeep. “Hard trail in five minutes. Get your asses in line behind me!” Spencer yelled to where everyone around had to hear him. A few horns were honked in response.

Spencer walked over to a different Jeep and settled the cooler of moonshine in the back of it. He kissed the woman on the cheek who was sitting in the open back hatch area of her Jeep. Aaron pulled his eyes away from his lover and got into the Jeep. He started to buckle himself into it so that Spencer didn’t have to wait on him.

Aaron was finished with the harness when Spencer got into the Jeep.

“Ready to get wet?”

“Really? Sex jokes?”

“What? You are strung taut like a wire right now. I’m shocked you haven’t figured out what we are doing, but it’s evident that you haven’t. You’ll be fine. I would never do anything that would hurt you. And really it’s these people who just bring it out in me. I bought the Jeep because Maggie Lynn liked to feel the wind in her hair, and I didn’t want a standard convertible.

“Well, it’s a nice Jeep, even though it’s purple,” Aaron said.

“Not everything can be standard blue, Aaron Hotchner. Sometimes you gotta let your hair down and live a little.”

Spencer pulled out of the spot he was in and started for the trees. He wasn’t going back toward the road.

“Um, Spencer. That’s woods there and trees.” Aaron grabbed the handle above his head and fought closing his eyes as they neared the trees. As they got closer, Aaron realized that what he thought was a small hole was big enough for a Jeep to get through. Spencer pulled right in, and all Aaron could see in front of them was a path filled with rocks, and mud and a few downed trees that were sunk so far into the ground that the Jeeps could go over them.

“I know it’s woods and trees. There is also a lot of mud, so I hope you don’t mind getting dirty.”

The path opened up a few feet inside, and Aaron saw the tracks where the Jeeps went through. There was water and mud everywhere, and Spencer didn’t miss a single bit of it. It wasn’t something that Aaron would have thought would be fun, but his blood was pumping, and he couldn’t help the smile on his face. Especially when Spencer landed them in mud that Aaron was sure was coating the entire inside of the jeep. This was something he wouldn’t mind doing again.

Aaron had heard of people doing this, but he had never realized that it was Jeeps that they did it in. He heard hoots and hollers from the back of the line as they kept on going. At some points, Spencer was going fast enough that there was the feel of the wind in his hair. The Jeep slung mud behind them, and Aaron turned around a few times to watch as the Jeep behind turned on its windshield wipers with the water to clean it off.

They didn’t head back the way they came but turned around a right angle and went that way for a while. The path back did go close, and Aaron got to see Jeeps through the trees and even got splashed once by one.

Aaron was covered in mud and drenched by the time that they were back in the large clearing. Another group looked to be headed out a different way. Aaron wondered if they were going to take that trail. Spencer came around to Aaron’s side of the Jeep and climbed up into where he was leaning against where the door would go. He was grinning. Aaron was about to ask him something when a towel slapped Spencer in the face.

It sounded like a kid laughing, so Aaron looked to see a small gaggle of kids with buckets that had wet and dry towels, some clean and some very dirty in them. One was tossed at Aaron after it was wrung out, and when he was done wiping his face off, a dry was offered. Aaron waved that away. Spencer did as well.

“So, Aaron, did you like getting dirty in my Jeep?” Spencer asked with a leer on his face.

Aaron didn’t answer verbally. He reached out and grabbed Spencer’s shirt before tugging him in close. Aaron made sure to do it slowly so that Spencer could find places to stick his body until he was straddling Aaron’s lap. Aaron kissed him, hard and deep, his hands on Spencer’s hips, keeping him close so that Spencer couldn’t get away from him at all. He wanted to show Spencer what he was feeling after that.

Losing himself in the kiss, Aaron pushed away the catcalls that were happening around them and even a few whistles. Even if the kiss turned more gentle, Aaron didn’t let Spencer up out of it. They weren’t going to have sex right then, but this was a pretty damned good feeling. Aaron heard another convoy head out to one of the trails, and the laughter of kids made him look. It was getting dark, but that didn’t seem to be stopping them. A fire was going at the center point.

“I did like getting dirty in your Jeep, Spencer. That was a very unexpected thing.”

“I started it because I went with one of the other parents one time because they wanted to take Maggie Lynn along. So I went in my Jeep. I learned what to do and what not to do and had a hell of a lot of fun doing it, so I researched it. They took me on a simple trail as I needed to get my Jeep upgraded to be able to handle anything rougher. These are still some pretty easy trails more for getting everything dirty than real offroading. Those trails are less fun, especially if you have someone drunk in the seat beside you who hoots and hollers.”

“Sounds like fun. Sorry, but I want to remember this. Next time I can be the drunk hooter and hollerer in the seat beside you.”

“It’s fine. I’ll borrow someone else who is drunk if I really want it.”

“You are all flushed with happiness and smugness. If we were alone, I’d make you strip naked and fuck you right here.” Aaron checked to make sure the kids had moved on. It was all clear, and most of the Jeeps that had been around them were gone as well.

“I’ll take you up on that sometime just not now. I like these people but not that much. You are mine, and no one else is allowed to see you naked.” There was a feral look to Spencer’s face when Aaron pulled back to be able to see his whole face. It was a look that sent a shiver of lust down Aaron’s spine. He usually wouldn’t like such a possessive claim, but with Spencer, Aaron knew that he didn’t mean to be a controlling jerk but just possessive of what was his. And Aaron was his. He was Spencer’s all the way down to the bottom of his soul. Just like Spencer was his.

“I don’t think I like anyone seeing you naked either, Spencer.”

“Oh, really? What are you going to do if I want to strip naked? Chase me down, hit me over the head and drag me back to a cave?” Spencer was smiling as he said it, but there was a spark of challenge in his eyes.

“I might. Or I might just open my pants and fuck you in front of whoever you want to see you naked. Make them see how you like being fucked by me.” Aaron knew that they were just playing, but what they were discussing was making him hard. Spencer realized it too and started to grind down onto Aaron’s cock. “Tease.”

“But I’m your tease,” Spencer said before he crashed his lips onto Aaron’s.

Aaron didn’t feel the need to tell Spencer that he was because Spencer already knew that.

Chapter 11-Cuddling

Aaron knew it was going to happen at some point. There was too much good in the town for someone not to fuck up enough to where they would have to go to a serious court. There was something for small-town law, but fucking up across the town line meant that it was a county issue, and that meant the county court. Aaron sighed and dropped his briefcase into his office before walking to his bedroom. He wanted to get out of his court suit as soon as possible. He near ripped off his tie and felt the mark that would probably be left on him. He really didn’t care. Spencer was working the coffee shop today, and Aaron had been happy as that meant that Spencer wouldn’t be bored, but then they had thought the case was going to go for longer than it did. Like days longer. Instead, the young man who had done something so stupid as to start a fight over his girlfriend was now going to spend a few months in juvie.

The suit followed, and Aaron walked naked from his closet to his bathroom to shower. Spencer had been watching Jack, so there was no issue of Jack coming in while he was naked. Aaron stepped under the water, not caring that it wasn’t warm at all. It warmed up quick enough. He really should have just gone to Spencer’s as he wasn’t calming down like he wanted and hoped that he would.

It was horrible that he felt more at home at Spencer’s than he did here. He had no attachment to his house as it was one of the only available. It hadn’t fit him emotionally, but he had figured he would renovate later to get what he wanted. He could easily move his office anywhere, even to a spot in Spencer’s place. The apartment part of the third floor was empty, Aaron knew that. That could at least partially become an office for him. It would be way too big given what little he actually did, but it was better than being anywhere else. At least if he was there, he could just stay at the bottom, and when someone came to visit him, they could talk up on the third floor. Aaron would talk to Spencer about that. They were moving fast, faster than Aaron usually would be comfortable with, but it all felt so damned good and so damned right.

Aaron quickly showered, getting the feel of a hotel off of him. Drying off took little time at all, and he was then faced with what he wanted to do. Aaron walked to the closet and grabbed some of his lounge pants. They were a little better than sleep clothes but were not suitable for going out in public in but he could get away with them if someone stopped over. Aaron grabbed a T-shirt and pulled it over his head as he walked out of the closet and stopped. His bed had been robbed. There was nothing left on it. No blankets, no sheets, nothing. Aaron wondered how one reported that in town. There were cops, but they dealt mainly with tourists who were drunk.

Looking around the room, Aaron looked to see if there was anything else missing. He walked to the closest in the hall to see if there was anything missing there. Most of the blankets for beds were gone. Aaron wasn’t sure what was going on and why someone would break into his house and steal the sheets from his bed and closet. Aaron walked to the guest room to see that it was fine while Jack’s room was missing pillows but nothing else.

Aaron went downstairs to see if anything else was messed up, and the first thing that he noticed was that his couch was moved. He could see the back of it from where he was at the bottom of the stairs. That should not be because it was far enough inside that Aaron had to take several steps to get to where he could see it. Yet, now, he could see it as well as Jack’s pillows. They were piled on the couch near the arm, stacked up, so they were pretty high. The rest of the bedding was spread on the floor where typically the couch was as well as the coffee table. It looked like a nest. Aaron shook his head as he saw Spencer in the middle of the nest. His glasses were gone from his face, and he was sprawled, asleep. There was a book lying with its back cover open, but the pages all shut where it had fallen down.

Aaron walked around to the edge of the blanket nest and picked up the book before moving it somewhere safe. Spencer’s glasses were on the coffee table, which ran down one side of the nest and held Spencer’s coffee and what looked like a plate of snacks. It looked like a wonderful place to settle. Aaron made sure the front door was locked before he moved back to the living room. Jack and Maggie Lynn had keys and could let themselves in. Aaron grabbed the blanket that had fallen off of Spencer at some point and wrapped it around himself before he laid down, covering up Spencer as well.

The sound of barking told Aaron that Artemis was outside. There was a small area where Spencer had set up an electric fence so that Artemis, Apollo, and Hermes could play around. It had been an expense that Aaron hadn’t thought needed to be made, but it seemed so far that Artemis was the one to use it the most, usually when Spencer was visiting Aaron. Though it was rarely for long at all before Aaron was convinced to go back to Spencer’s.

Spencer moved back a little bit, pressing into Aaron’s front as Aaron wrapped an arm around Spencer’s middle and held him there. This was going to be a good way to calm down. The smell of Spencer wrapped around him and just relaxing. He buried his face into Spencer’s neck, not caring about the hair that was tickling his face. He had got used to that. Spencer’s hair was rarely tamed when he was going to bed. He had started to sleep with it pulled back after Aaron had woken him up tangling his hands in it, trying to move it away from his face, but he had stopped that soon after when Aaron kept on pulling the ties free. Aaron loved him when he had his hair up and had a pen, pencil, or even a time or two, a pair of chopsticks sticking out of his hair.

Aaron grabbed the blanket with his free hand and tugged it up a little more. He felt his eyes closing on him.

It was warm when Aaron woke up. He was on his back with Spencer sprawled over the top of him. Spencer was already awake by the feel of his hand, drawing nonsense patterns on Aaron’s stomach under his shirt.

“You were a pleasant surprise.”

“Your texts were sounding worse and worse, so I figured out when your court time ended and you were headed home, so I got this ready. I used to do this back when I was younger and had a bad day at school. I would get inside and just sit there and let it all go away while I read or watched TV.”

“It was good.”

“It’s not done. We are going to eat dinner here, and we are going to just relax here all day. Mags is going to keep Jack entertained at the other house, and we are going to veg here. How does that sound?” Spencer asked.

“That sounds good, but I’m hungry,” Aaron said.

“Stay.” Spencer slipped to where he was straddling Aaron’s waist and pressed him down into the bedding. “I want to take care of you today. Let me.”

“Sure,” Aaron said as he reached up to cup the back for Spencer’s head and draw him down for a kiss. Spencer forced Aaron to keep it chaste. Aaron wondered how much it would take to get Spencer to agree to sex. There were more than enough blankets to swap them out if they got them dirty, but lately, sex was a comfort to Aaron. Just being with Spencer that way was more comforting than anything they did other than just being together.

Aaron watched as Spencer got up. He was dressed in a pair of soft pants that were more like leggings that he had seen some of the women in town wearing when working out. It reminded Aaron of the shirt that had a strange cut the other day when they had gone out to eat. It had reminded Aaron of a woman’s shirt, but he had been distracted by the story that Spencer was telling about the tourist who had come into the coffee shop and hadn’t liked the reusable cup thing. Even though they could be dropped at any place in town and brought back to the coffee shop to be cleaned and used again.

“So, did your friend come back today?” Aaron asked. He was grinning as he said it, and Spencer laughed.

“Yes, he did. He brought in a mug of his own to add to the collection we have started for regulars who get drip coffee. It was a very pretty mug.”

“You wanted to keep it, didn’t you?”

“Oh, he bought it from somewhere out of the city, if someone had made it here, I would have known. He was hitting on me. I didn’t notice it at first until Maggie Lynn started to laugh, and Jack told him to stay away.

“Really?” Aaron asked.

“Oh, yes. Jack was quite a little knight in shining armor. He told the man that he had no right to hit on someone who didn’t want his advances.”

Aaron sucked his lips inside his mouth and clenched them slightly between his teeth to stop himself from laughing. The words that came out of his son’s mouth since he had been spending time with Maggie Lynn and Spencer. Jack had always seemed smart, but Aaron had wondered if that was just him being proud of his son.

Spencer came back into the room with a tray of something. Aaron turned onto his side so that he could look at Spencer as he walked over, and he could eat in that position. The tray had finger sandwiches on it. They were cut in the standard way that finger sandwiches were for fancy dinner parties, not the regular triangles that Aaron did for him and Jack. Aaron grabbed one and looked at what it was as soon as Spencer set down the tray. He went back into the kitchen for more things and came back with another tray that had not only a teapot on it but two cups, and the various additions that they added to their teas. Aaron was intrigued by the sugar cubes. He knew that they existed, but he hadn’t bought them ever, so those had not come from his cupboards.

“Are we having a tea party?” Aaron asked.

“Sort of. I think you’ll enjoy this.” Spencer picked up the remote after he settled the tray down. He turned on the TV then the DVD player.

Aaron was too engrossed in watching Spencer pour the tea, so he jumped a little when the theme song for Doctor Who started up. He had caught a few episodes of the new series on TV when he could but hadn’t sat down and watched it all the way through. Spencer had found that to be horrible, so it seemed he was taking that into his own hands.

“I’m already enjoying it, you are here. I am here. There are no kids, though that wouldn’t make me enjoy it less.”

Spencer blushed as he added a single sugar cube to his cup before he used a dainty spoon to stir it. Spencer had gone all out it seemed with a lovely tea set. Aaron picked up his cup and then settled onto his bottom. He took a sip of the tea and found that it was an Early Grey variety with, it seemed, coconut in it.

“This is good,” Aaron said as he raised up his cup. The sandwich was good, too, a cucumber sandwich. There were other varieties there as well, and a few scones, and other treats.

“I’m glad you like it. It’s a new blend that I am trying as an iced tea. I like it hot myself, but it’s summer, and that means more iced tea gets sold than hot tea. I still mostly drink hot coffee and hot tea during the summer, but if I am out and about, I’ll drink cold.”

“I worked with a guy once on a case who had moved here from London for his wife’s job, and he went through our colleges to get the process of being a lawyer done here, and he hated cold tea. Even the thought of it. Tea was drunk hot, and if it got to room temperature, it was dumped.”

“That’s a waste of perfectly good tea, I think.”

“I thought so as well. I loved to drink iced tea in front of him just to see him shudder.”

“You trolled him.” Spencer was smiling.

“I did, and I loved it. He called me a lot of bad names because of it, but I didn’t care.”

The topics turned to smaller things while Aaron ate his fill of scones, sandwiches, and treats. His stomach was full, and while he didn’t feel like he could take another nap, he didn’t feel like doing anything but laying down and watching TV. Spencer cleaned up everything, and Aaron settled on the blankets so that he could see the TV while lying down. He propped his head upon a stack of pillows and grabbed one of Jack’s smaller ones, and used it to get him the height needed without pushing him outward.

Spencer started up the first Doctor Who episode as he entered the room, after unmuting the TV from where they had been eating dinner. He leaned back against the couch and tugged at Aaron until Aaron was half sprawled on him. Aaron rested his head on Spencer’s heart and listened to the beat of it as they laid there. It was a good day for him just because of that. He loved feeling closer to Spencer in a way that he hadn’t with anyone else.

Aaron knew he could sit there and not do anything, and Spencer wouldn’t care. He would enjoy the show and, if needed, fill it in the way that Spencer did all the other silences that needed to be filled. He loved Jack in a way that Aaron was pretty sure that not even Haley had loved him. There at the end, before the divorce, before finding Haley in bed with his partner, Aaron saw a lot of traits in Haley that he had seen and disliked in his mother. He wanted Jack to be a kid. Even though Maggie Lynn had jumped through school, it was evident that Spencer had kept her happy and her life full of fun things. It was the kind of life that Aaron wanted for Jack. Aaron had been giving it to him the best that he could. With Spencer at his side, Aaron would be able to provide Jack with precisely the kind of life that he wanted to give to him.

“I love you,” Aaron said.

He heard the intake of breath from Spencer, and the younger man started to move, but Aaron pushed him back to where he wasn’t able to move.

“Aaron,” Spencer said when Aaron didn’t let up.

“You don’t need to say it or make a big deal out of it. I just wanted you to know. I’ve known for a little while that I do love you. Sitting here with you, you didn’t push to have me talk about my day or make me do something that I don’t want to do. You made a nest and an afternoon tea for me so that I didn’t have to worry about food. You understand me in a way that makes it hard for me to want to do anything but never leave you. So even if you can’t say the words yet, I just want to know that you are mine in all the ways that count.”

“I’m yours, and you are mine.” Spencer pressed a kiss to Aaron’s forehead. “I love you, too, Aaron Hotchner.”

Aaron said nothing else as he watched the Doctor Who episode. He didn’t need to say anything else, just like Spencer didn’t say anything else.

Chapter 12-Game Night

Aaron watched as Jack and his teammates warmed up for the game later that night. Spencer was working at the coffee shop, covering for a young lady whose little girl was throwing up, and she had to take to her to the ER. It was scary as the town didn’t have an ER that was that close, but there was a free-standing one not too far, and if it were big enough to need more attention than they could give, the person would get a transfer to the better-equipped ER inside of a hospital.

Jack and his team finished their warm-ups and dropped down onto the ground. There was going to be a meal while they rested before the game started. Aaron was proud of Jack and his team. They had gone the furthest in the local teams’ championship bracket. The game was an hour away, and that was why there was going to be a big meal before the kids headed out.

Aaron was pretty damned sure that the whole town was going to be heading to the game, which was going to embarrass the kids, but it was well within the normal of what it was like to live in the town. Aaron was going to be taking a few kids in Spencer’s Jeep as it was all decked out for the trip. Instead of taking a bus, a few parents were going to caravan the kids to the game early, and then the other parents were going to be following when they got off of work. A few businesses were closing early or just not even opening up. It was so strange to see this after DC and the soccer league that was not affiliated with a school at all, so it wasn’t a big thing. This was a big thing for the town. The soccer team was the first team in a long time to get any sort of recognition. It was a big deal, and the team was reveling in it. Aaron was pretty sure they hadn’t paid for ice cream since the end of the last round of games. Which was the best thing ever to all of the kids.

“Ready to go eat?” Aaron asked when Jack walked to him. Jack looked delighted, and Aaron knew it wasn’t all just the way the town was treating him. He was just delighted with life in general. He was getting to know the kids that he went to school with better. It seemed like the standoffish way they had been after Jack and Aaron had moved to town was slowly going away. Though, it also could be that Jack had scored the winning goal in the game that put them where they were now.

“I’m starved,” Jack said.

Aaron laughed and ruffled Jack’s hair. Jack reached up and flattened it back to his head.

“Can we go to Spencer’s after? I wanna take a nap on the couches after I eat. Spencer has new books for me as well.”

“Sure, you are talking about the coffee shop, aren’t you?” Aaron asked.

“Duh,” Jack said.

Aaron snorted and turned Jack around and marched him in the direction that the meal was happening. As with nearly everything else in town, it was just better to walk there. There were crowds of the kids and their families all walking that way, so they didn’t have to wait on traffic as much since it was pretty much at a standstill.

Lunch for the kids was in the center of town at the little park that was used for a lot of town activities. It wasn’t the town square, that was in the middle of a grouping of businesses.

“SPENCER!” Jack yelled, and he took off, running toward where Spencer was. Spencer had his back to Jack and didn’t hear him with the rambunctious kids that were all around, so he wasn’t prepared to have Jack barrel into him. They didn’t crash to the ground, thankfully, but Spencer did stumble. He turned around and looked down at Jack, and there was such a look of love on his face that it took Aaron’s breath away. Aaron knew that they had exchanged the words and that Spencer loved Jack, but the look on Spencer’s face was so close to how he looked at Maggie Lynn when she did something that taxed his thoughts. The whole ‘I love you, but you are stressing me’ look.

Aaron had already been talking to a realtor. He was going to work on getting the house cleaned up a little before getting it on the market. He hadn’t talked to Spencer about it as he hadn’t made up his mind entirely, but today, maybe today was the day to ask him. He didn’t think that Spencer would mind at all.

There was the sound of barking that pulled Aaron out of his thoughts. Artemis was trotting out from between some tables and letting Jack know that she was there.

“Where’s Apollo and Hermes?” Jack asked.

“Maggie Lynn is taking them home. They were getting too active and wouldn’t stay here. I think they both need to go into training.” Spencer gave Aaron a smile as he got close. “Or their humans do.”

“I don’t need training,” Jack said. He laughed and hugged Spencer again before taking off. He was getting in line to get food.

“Artemis is as laid back as her human,” Aaron said. He leaned in to give Spencer a hello kiss. It was short and sweet, but still, Spencer blushed when Aaron pulled back. Spencer was okay with holding hands in public, and he was fine with the kisses, but he wasn’t used to them yet.

“She just doesn’t like to be excluded from anything, so she makes sure she’s on her best behavior. When the rest of the kids arrive with their families, she’ll trot back to the bookstore and settle on her bed. Or settle under my feet wherever I am.”

“Only you would get the most laid back dog in the world without having to train them,” Aaron said.

Spencer stuck his tongue out at Aaron but was distracted by someone calling his name to come back to the coffee shop. “I need to get going. I was just getting the tea and lemonade set up for this. I need to make sure they are set up for tonight before I leave.”

“Is there going to be anyone left to buy anything?” Aaron asked.

“I have no clue.” Spencer leaned over and kissed Aaron’s cheek before he turned to head back into the coffee shop that was across the street. Artemis followed behind him without a leash. She split off for the bookstore when Spencer opened the door to the coffee shop. Aaron shook his head at the sight. Jack was back within seconds and asking where Aaron wanted to sit as he had their drinks. Aaron saw that Jack was indeed holding their tumblers filled with tea. Aaron had taken to leaving a set at the coffee shop just to be safe as they ended up there more often than not just randomly to visit with Spencer, and they were always given drinks. Aaron made sure to pay for the fancy drinks, but when Spencer gave them tea or black coffee, he didn’t feel the need to pay.

“It’s Spencer’s good tea,” Jack said as he took a drink of his tea.

Aaron took a sip of his and found that it was the good tea, usually not served in bulk. It was a peach chai, something that he had come up with that worked well, the fruity flavor of it made Aaron not want sugar in it. Aaron took a bigger sip of it and looked around for a place for them to sit. He walked a little ways away and found a spot that allowed him to sit where he could watch Spencer as he made drinks through the glass of the window. He was working the mainline, which meant he was going to be busy the entire time, plenty of watching opportunity for Aaron.

Lovesick was a term that Aaron had never thought of concerning himself, but it was very much how he was at the moment. He was sick with love, but it wasn’t a sickness that he wanted to get rid of. Instead, he was just glad to have Spencer at his side. Someone he trusted with Jack and someone that he loved.

“Hungry?” Jack asked when he settled his plate that was full of food in front of him. Aaron reached out and snagged a chip.

“Not quite yet. I didn’t work off a whole bunch of food chasing a ball around a field.”

“I could eat another plate just like this.”

“How about you start with that, and then if you are still hungry, you can pick food off of my plate.”

“Spencer’s devil eggs are over there.”

“Deviled eggs,” Aaron corrected, which made Jack laugh and stick his tongue out.

Aaron really wanted to just spank Spencer for that. Jack had never done that all that much before Spencer and Maggie Lynn had entered their lives. It was cute when they did it, but Jack, like any other child who didn’t understand time and place, did it all the time.

“There is a lot of good stuff up there. Better than the picnics we went to back in DC.”

Jack had stopped calling DC home about a month before, and Aaron was happy about that. This was home now for both of them, and Aaron didn’t think they could have picked a better place to go.


Aaron heard the barking that said someone had brought their dog. It was too far away, but as soon as Aaron looked around, he knew precisely who the dog was. Artemis was decked out in a dog-sized jersey for the team while Spencer was in one of the t-shirts with a pair of matching color shorts, and his socks were matching in the only way that he allowed alternate colors. One was red with the logo for the team in blue, while the other was blue with the logo red. Aaron knew that they belonged to the home and away jerseys, respectively, but it worked for Spencer. Even his shoes were red. Spencer’s hair was up. He was wearing a ponytail holder that would not have been out of place on a cheerleader with the frill of it. It was also in team colors. Aaron felt a little underdressed in just the team shirt.

It really wasn’t a shock though, given how into everything Spencer was. It was a good thing though that the kids that Aaron had brought were going home with parents. Spencer and Artemis would ride back in the Jeep with Aaron. It had always been the plan, just Artemis hadn’t been part of it.

“I couldn’t leave her at home,” Spencer said. He had a grip on her leash, while she wasn’t leashed much in town, Aaron understood wanting her to be now.

“Of course you couldn’t,” Aaron said. He wrapped an arm around Spencer and tucked him into his body as they walked to where Aaron had found a spot for them. Aaron had brought all of their things with him, including the bleacher pillows that Spencer had bought at the start of the soccer season for them. Aaron enjoyed sitting on them, and when they had a cold spell, and it had been a little rainy, Spencer had unfolded his into the blanket and wrapped it around himself. Aaron had found him cute then. Well, there wasn’t much that Spencer did that Aaron didn’t find charming.

“What do you want to drink?” Aaron asked. He waved at the lady that Spencer had ridden with from the coffee shop, she was new, and Aaron still couldn’t remember her name. Her youngest daughter was on the team with Jack, so it was easy for them to carpool.

“I need to eat dinner. I was working too much, and I forgot.”

“Spencer,” Aaron said. He sighed.

“I know. I know. I was just so distracted. Then there was the stalker who was staring at me for hours this afternoon while his son slept on the couch on the second floor,” Spencer said with a smile.

“I like watching you work.” It had become a joke to them as Aaron knew that Spencer didn’t mind Aaron watching him. Aaron reached up and shook the ponytail that Spencer had going on. “Especially when you have this going on.”

“Oh, you’ve not seen me in full fun gear yet,” Spencer said.

“Fun gear?”

“OH!” a voice said. There was a teenager there in front of him. Maggie Lynn was with her. “I have a picture of Mister Reid in his fun gear from the game last year!”

“Now Miranda,” Spencer started, but the girl had the phone turned around, and there was Spencer in the middle of an arena with his face painted, and even his hair was colored. Aaron recognized the arena and the team. The Washington Capitals hockey team. Aaron even remembered the man as Aaron and Jack had been at that game last season. It had been the last home game for the Capitals of the playoffs. It had been worth it for Aaron to take Jack as the boy had been so happy as they had glass seats and even ended up with not only a puck from the game but a stick from Alexander Ovechkin himself. That stick was still hanging on Jack’s wall in his bedroom. The puck on his nightstand.

Jack pulled the phone down to where he could look at it then he looked at Spencer with a shocked look on his face. “I remember you!”

“What?” Spencer asked. He looked at Aaron with a perplexed look on his face.

“Jack and I were at that game.”

Spencer closed his eyes, and Aaron looked at Maggie Lynn, who was smiling.

“I think that he’s trying to remember if he saw you there. Going over the night in his head,” Maggie Lynn said.

Aaron knew that Spencer remembered every single word that he read but that images were a little less certain.

“Jack got Ovechkin’s stick and a puck from the game. We were sitting behind the Capitals box row C corner seats. You guys were in row A and closest to the box.”

“Yes,” Aaron said. He shook his head and wondered what would have happened if they had met that night. He wasn’t going to go down that path, though. They had what they had now, and it was enough.

“Let’s get me food, and then we can watch Jack and his team warm-up.”

“Where are you sitting?” Aaron asked Maggie Lynn.

“Oh, we have top of the bleacher seats. That way, we don’t bother people when we talk the whole time,” Maggie Lynn said. She leaned over and hugged Aaron before starting over to where they could get into the fenced-in area around the soccer field. Aaron looked up at the top of the bleachers and saw that there was a group of high school kids that were taking up a corner of the area.

“No one wants to be around them and hear what they are talking about,” Spencer offered as they headed to the concession stand. Aaron was shocked that the concessions had full meals, which included fries. Spencer got a pulled pork sandwich with chips and a pickle. Aaron got a large drink for them to share after Spencer’s small was gone. It wasn’t long at all for Spencer’s to come up since he got chips. Aaron would see about getting chili cheese fries later for them to share. Spencer was going to be hungry as he put away nearly as much food as Aaron but never seemed to go up a single bit in weight.

There was a parent section so that they could all yell and scream all they wanted and jump up and down and not block anything for anyone behind them. It was a smaller section of bleachers. Aaron tugged Spencer into the area, and no one batted an eye even though Spencer was just going to sit down on the area right next to it.

Aaron had been around a lot of soccer parents that had been horrible, and it seemed that the other team was full of them. Everyone from their town, though, was kind and didn’t yell things at other kids that were horrible. Aaron was also pretty sure that there wasn’t a single person who was louder than Spencer every time a kid on Jack’s team did something really good. Aaron was half-convinced that there was something in the water as the town was still too damned good to be true.

When the game was done, and Jack’s team had won, Spencer was hoarse. Aaron wasn’t much better at all. It wasn’t even fully dark yet, but it was creeping there with the nights getting ever longer as it got toward fall.

“WE WON!” Jack yelled as he ran at Aaron when Aaron got onto the field.

Aaron barely had time to stop and crouch to catch him before Jack was flinging himself at Aaron. Aaron caught him, standing up with Jack in his arms.

“I know you did, buddy, that’s so awesome!” Aaron hugged his son tightly, and kind of shook him back and forth. Jack giggled and wrapped his arm around Aaron’s neck.

“Spencer, I won,” Jack said. He wiggled to get down and move to hug Spencer’s legs.

“Yeah, you did, Jack-Jack.” Spencer ruffled Jack’s hair, and the boy protested with a glare.

“Maggie Lynn is heading home with her friends, yes?” Aaron asked.

“Yes.” Spencer crouched to pet Artemis who was enjoying the attention of Jack after he let go of Spencer’s legs.

“Can we go and get breakfast in DC tomorrow morning. I want IHOP,” Jack asked. He wasn’t just looking at Aaron though, he was looking at Spencer as well.

“Sure,” Spencer said just a second after Aaron nodded his head in agreement. “I need to pick up a few books from the college for Maggie Lynn as she doesn’t want to go back even to do that yet.”

“I heard her meeting with her professor about her schedule and such. I can’t believe it’s almost time to send her off,” Aaron wasn’t sure what he felt about that. He had never thought that he would not want to see her off to college even though this wasn’t even her first year, and she wasn’t his biological kid. Though Aaron did love her just as much as he loved Jack.

That thought rammed through Aaron’s brain. He had never put those words together, in his head, for how he felt about Maggie Lynn. Aaron nearly tripped as he walked from the stands toward the Jeep. Spencer turned around to look at him with a frown on his face.

“You okay?” Spencer asked.

“Um, yes,” Aaron said. He really hoped that Spencer didn’t push him at the moment. Spencer seemed to get that, so he just nodded his head and started for the Jeep again. Aaron followed behind him. Spencer got into the driver’s seat and called for Artemis to jump up in. She did, going under his legs and appearing in the middle at the back. She barked, and that made Jack laugh. Jack rushed around the Jeep and got into the back of it before he buckled his belt and started to help get Artemis strapped into her harness that would protect her during a wreck.

Aaron climbed in last and checked that Jack had fastened Artemis into the seat correctly before he bucked himself in.

Jack kept up the talking the entire way home, his words being broken up by yawns more and more until Aaron heard snores. He looked back to see that Jack was dead asleep in the seat. He had trailed off halfway through a story about how it felt when he saw the soccer ball go through the net the last time and then when the clock went down, and the other team hadn’t scored.

“So, are you two staying at mine?” Spencer asked.

“Do you want us to?” Aaron asked.

“Yes.” Spencer glanced at Aaron as he pulled onto the road that led into town. “I never mind you two staying over, and you know it. So just stay so we don’t have to call to coordinate anything in the morning. Maggie Lynn is staying over at her friend’s house for the rest of the weekend, so she’s going to miss IHOP, but then she gets it enough during the school year. She sends me pictures all the time.”

“She’s a little troll,” Aaron said.

“Very much so, but then I text her things that she misses in town. Like when the second-grade class silly stringed the tree in the middle of the town square. She hates missing those things, but her degrees can’t really be done anywhere else, not like she wants them and especially not at a community college.”

“I would hate to see her trying to stay busy at a community college.”

“I’ll get Jack,” Spencer said as he pulled the Jeep into the garage and shut it off. He looked back at the sleeping boy in the backseat. Jack was dead asleep, and Aaron could tell just from the sound of his breathing.

“Sure.” Aaron unbuckled and waited for Spencer to slip out of his seat before Aaron reached behind to unbuckle, not only Jack but Artemis as well. The dog was grateful to get out of the seat, and she took off outside, probably going to the bathroom. She had drunk nearly an entire bottle of water herself while they had been at the game. She had barked as much as Spencer yelled.

Aaron tipped the seat forward so that Spencer could get to Jack and get him pulled out. Aaron wondered at the carrying Jack as Spencer had never offered that before. He followed behind Spencer as the younger man walked up the stairs to the second floor of the house to settle Jack into what had become his room.

Jack woke up enough to get stripped off but not get cleaned up. Aaron figured that a shower first thing in the morning, followed by getting the bed stripped, would be on the agenda. Spencer brushed the hair back from Jack’s forehead and gave Jack a smile as Jack pulled the blankets up to his chin.

“I love you, Spencer,” Jack said.

Aaron held in the gasp that wanted to escape. It was like Spencer and Jack didn’t know that he was there, so he didn’t want to break whatever they had going on.

“I love you too, Jack. Now sleep.” Spencer reached over and turned off the light, and the room lit up with the glow in the dark stars that were on the ceiling. It was just enough light to help Jack get to sleep and wasn’t a nightlight.

“Okay,” Jack said, and he trailed off like he was falling asleep right then and there.

Spencer got up off the bed slowly so that the movement didn’t jostle Jack awake, and he slowly crept from the room, shutting the door part of the way.

“Hey,” Aaron said as he snagged Spencer’s hand so that the man didn’t freak out when he touched. The hall light was not on, and Aaron could barely make out Spencer’s shape.

“Hey yourself,” Spencer said softly.

Aaron tugged on Spencer’s hand, drawing him down the hall and into the bedroom.

“That was okay, yes?” Spencer asked as he turned on the light when they entered.

Aaron let go of Spencer’s hand so he could shut the door. He turned around to see that Spencer looked a little worried.

“Of course, it’s all right. I know you love him, and it just hit home today with me that I love Maggie Lynn as well. I consider her mine, and that sounds horrible given that we haven’t even moved in together yet, but I would not be happy if she were hurt, and if we stopped seeing each other I would hate not seeing her and being around her like that.”

“You could move in at any point, and I wouldn’t care,” Spencer said.

Aaron laughed at the wording a little, but he reached out and pulled Spencer in close, cupping the sides of Spencer’s cheeks. “You wouldn’t care? So if we didn’t, you wouldn’t be upset?”

“No, I would be upset. I would hate it. You already stay over, and those nights where you don’t, it sucks. I want you in my life in all the ways that I can get you at the moment.”

“Good because I want the same thing. We can spend tomorrow and Sunday moving our stuff in. I’ve already got a hold of a realtor to sell my place.”

“I’ve already got part of the old apartment set up for your office for work when you actually do any work.” Spencer was grinning, and his eyes were shining with happiness.

“Same brain, huh?” Aaron asked, but he didn’t allow Spencer to answer. He pressed his lips to Spencer’s and then delved deep when Spencer’s lips parted, and he was allowed inside. Aaron wanted to make sure that Spencer knew precisely how happy he was. Aaron hated moving, but this was going to be painless because the furniture and everything was being sold with the house. All of it was new and barely used. Jack didn’t like his bed all that much, so until they found one that Jack liked, he could just stay in bed in Spencer’s guest room.

“Yes,” Spencer gasped when Aaron finally let his mouth go.

Aaron wasn’t sure if it was an answer to the question he asked or the fact that Aaron’s hands were working his pants off of him. Either one was fine with Aaron, as he wanted to keep on going. The first of many rounds in his new place of living.

Chapter 13-Walk on the Beach

Aaron opened his eyes and smiled as he felt Spencer draped over the top of him. It felt good to be in bed with him. It was the end of August, and tomorrow they would be taking Maggie Lynn back to college and leaving her there. A few of her professors were doing a few things before classes officially started that she wanted to do. Aaron wasn’t ready for it. Which felt really strange as he didn’t think that he would have such feelings about her going away. He would have to see about going up with Jack and Spencer to see her a good bit. Even if it was just dinner one evening during the week.

Maggie Lynn had a full schedule but enough stuff that would keep her having fun as well. Aaron had tried to reign himself in on not hovering and being a nuisance to Spencer and Maggie Lynn while they had been talking about everything to do with schooling for her. It was strange to feel like he wanted a say in something that he really had no reason to need a say in it. Maggie Lynn had come to him to ask about a few law classes and the teachers if he had an opinion on them. Still, it had been hard to reign himself in on it all.

“Morning,” Spencer said. He rubbed his cheek on Aaron’s chest between sternum and clavicle. It was a favorite spot for Spencer to rest his head at night. It wasn’t over Aaron’s heart as it was the wrong side of his body, but it was still charming to Aaron.

“Morning,” Aaron said. Reaching up, Aaron carded his fingers through Spencer’s hair. He did it again but used it to grip Spencer’s hair and pull his head up to where Aaron could give him a good morning kiss.

Living together had been so much more than Aaron through that it would be. It hadn’t been awkward or uneasy at all. They all four fit together well enough that Aaron worried that the worst was to come. Spencer was an early bird and usually did his runs throughout the week, but on the weekend, he waited for Aaron to get up, and they did it together. Since leaving DC, Aaron hadn’t felt as much need to stay super fit. He was still very fit compared to a lot of other people, but he wasn’t one of those ones that used workouts to get rid of energy or stress anymore.

“What are your plans today?” Aaron asked. It was Friday, and he knew that Spencer had to work the coffee shop, but he wasn’t sure what else Spencer had planned as he was getting up later than usual to get his run in.

Spencer stretched, and Aaron heard Spencer hiss in pain and remembered that Spencer had said he thought he pulled a muscle or overworked it the day before cleaning at the bookshop.

“Well, I have to work the coffee shop, and since I don’t think I can run, I was hoping we could just take a walk up and down the beach before I head into work. What about you?”

“I was going to pack up my laptop and head into the coffee shop and work on it for a few hours.” Aaron didn’t tell Spencer what he was going to do on it. He had an idea for a book series to write. Plucky young genius Aurora Carr as she finished out college, got her law degree, and then jumped into the world of prosecution. It wasn’t like he needed to work at all with the money that he had. It was well invested, and Aaron was making way more money than he spent. Jack had a good college fund set up that was also earning a good bit of money, and when the house sold, Aaron was going to drop that money into Jack’s fund to make sure that he was very well covered through at least one extended degree.

“That sounds good. I deserve eye candy for running the shop alone.”

“Alone?” Aaron asked. He looked at Spencer as the younger man sat up.

“Yes. It’s not too bad since we don’t have a drive-through, but I do like to see the challenge of it on occasion and run the place alone for the morning rush. Most people stand and chat, and they email their order in if they are in a rush. I guess you’ve never been in the shop for the last Friday of the month before.”

“No, I haven’t. So when does help arrive?”

“Lunch hour given how the new protein shakes have been going over for people.”

“Well, it’s a good meal to eat on the go and still have what you need, and there is coffee in it.” Aaron liked the peanut butter one, and it didn’t taste horrible and had minimum added sugar that wasn’t in the natural additives unless someone got flavoring like for the chocolate one, strawberry was a commonly added flavor, and it added sugar but not too much.

“Yes. I set the coffee pot out, and people drop their money on the counter for drip coffee and for tea, and they just come around the counter and get it themselves. Tourists are already mostly gone from the area, so it’s not going to be as crazy.”

“And what happens if someone stiffs you?”

“Then the rest of the people in the shop yell at them and will call the cops.”

Aaron remembered the sign that hung beside the door leading in. He hadn’t noticed it until a few weeks before, it said that people who stole would be verbally assaulted before the cops were called and he could see the town doing that. There wasn’t a lot that he couldn’t see the town doing, which was very, very strange. But pack mentalities and morals were always very grey, and the town would protect their own over someone else.

“I just wanna see that some time.”

“Yes, I had a tourist do it once, and they were the one who got yelled at. When school is in session, I have a basket of fruit that kids can grab something out of on their way walking to school. Apples, bananas, oranges, and pears. A group of them came in and grabbed the fruit and left. The tourist actually called 911 on them, and it was quite funny when the cop laughed at him. There isn’t a sign on the basket, but the kids know. The adults do too, those that come in. I don’t do it during tourist season because most of the kids are hell and gone from heading into the main area of town to do anything, but I have a few that will come in. Little Miss Susie loves oranges, but her mother is allergic to them, so she comes in and eats one at least once a week and then washes her hands really well before leaving to go home or go and play. Even the scent will send her mom into anaphylaxis.”

“That’s a good thing there.”

“We have all walks of life here in town, and not everyone earns as much as others, and with medical insurance, some people are strapped, so if that bit of fresh fruit is the only that some kids get, it’s at least better than nothing.”

“It is,” Aaron agreed. He shifted on the bed then sat up so he could kiss Spencer again. He really hoped that he never stopped wanting to kiss Spencer all of the time. Aaron almost wanted to do it more than he wanted sex with Spencer. Almost.

“Ready to face the day?” Spencer asked when Aaron let him go.

“Yes.”

Getting dressed didn’t take long at all, and a quick check on Jack showed he was still dead to the world. Today was a day for just Maggie Lynn and Jack to hang out. Spencer had his day with her on Wednesday, and they had come in late in the day. Aaron had spent a good bit of the day before with Maggie Lynn, and he had felt good that she wanted that. Tomorrow for the trip to DC, it was going to be a family day. Official move-in day wasn’t until Sunday, but a few of the students were moving in early that had things planned with the professors in the sciences for that day.

Aaron had figured that Spencer and Maggie Lynn would want to do Saturday alone, but they had both wanted Aaron and Jack there. The day was planned. According to Spencer, it had been the same thing over and over again each year since the first year that Maggie Lynn had gone to college.

“It’s cool out,” Aaron said.

“Yeah, a storm headed this way from what I read in the paper. Not a hurricane or anything like that. Just a cold spell that will dump a lot of rain on us. Later today, maybe even evening.”

“What about the giant cookout?” Aaron asked. He had heard nothing but talk of the cookout. It was the back to school bash for the kids and took place the last Friday of August. Jack hadn’t been able to go to it the year before because they hadn’t lived there, but they had both heard about it.

“Big tent. After one too many times getting rained out, a large outdoor event tent was bought, and it holds pretty much everyone who comes to these kinds of things. It was a good purchase, and everyone pitched in a little, even some kids did a few lemonade stand drives. Businesses put up more of course, but city tax money wasn’t touched to buy it. That money goes to the roads and tree care and the like in public places.”

The beach was stretched out in front of them, the fog of the morning thick. The beach seemed like they were all alone, and Aaron knew that a lot of the people in the houses sat out and ate breakfast on decks during good weather. Aaron had seen them enough when he did run with Spencer on the beach. Yet even the houses were barely visible at the moment.

Spencer was slow as he stretched out his muscle in his hurt leg. Aaron wondered if Spencer had taken anything for it, but then he thought that Spencer hadn’t. He didn’t take anything on an empty stomach, and it was still just over an hour until the coffee shop was going to be open at six. With them walking, Spencer wasn’t going to need to take a shower, and he would split off when needed to walk to work and get the shop open. Aaron had been inside of the shop enough to know the open procedure and that it only took about ten minutes, given that most everything was easy to do between orders like getting the main food parts set out. The coffee brewing was the longest part of what it took to pen up, but Spencer had three pots that could go at the same time. Aaron wasn’t sure which one he liked better for the morning, the dark roast or the medium, but in the afternoon, if he needed more caffeine than tea had, he would do the blonde.

While there were signs for private property, if one was just running along the beach or walking, they could be ignored, Aaron had learned. Playing in the water was a no-no for those areas. They were silent as they walked up and down the stretch of beach that ran the entire length of the town. It was this kind of silence that had made Aaron accept that they were good for each other. There was no need to keep up a conversation or anything like that. They could just exist together, and they were happy with that.

Aaron reached out before they started back and linked his hand with Spencer’s. Spencer looked at him with a smile on his face before he leaned in closer and laid his head on Aaron’s shoulder. Aaron knew that it wouldn’t last long, not the head on the shoulder part, but he was okay with that. He got plenty of cuddles at night and in the morning.

“So, what are your lunch plans?” Aaron asked.

“I don’t have any. I’ll be worn out, so not going home and making food like I normally do. I was thinking, maybe Mexican. They do good fajitas for lunch, and I think it’s what I want. I can walk there easily.”

“Hmm, fajitas do sound good. I think that I’ll go with you. Do you know what the kids are doing?”

“Nope. Maggie Lynn said it was secret plans that adults weren’t allowed to know.”

Aaron laughed and looked around to try and figure out where they were. It was near time for Spencer to head into the shop, and Aaron had been paying attention to almost nothing but just walking and being with Spencer. He really had no clue where they were until he saw the rocks that meant that they were near Spencer’s places. They were still in the distance, so they would just keep on going, and Spencer would cut through someone’s beach area to head into town. Aaron wasn’t dressed for sitting in a coffee shop all day, and Aaron knew that Spencer had a change of work clothes at the shop for the days where he was called in to deal with someone calling off or getting sick.

Spencer only let go of Aaron’s hand when they stopped for Spencer to head on to the shop, and Aaron needed to turn around to head back to the house.

“I’ll see you soon?” Spencer asked. He nuzzled his cheek into Aaron’s and wrapped his arms around Aaron to hold him tight.

Spencer had been clingy the last few days, and Aaron knew that it was probably because of Maggie Lynn going back to college. Aaron was almost tempted to see about renting a hotel room for Saturday night, so they could stay as late as possible, but he wasn’t sure whether that was going to be a good thing or not for Spencer. Sometimes a clean break was better than dragging it out. Spencer trusted that Maggie Lynn was safe at college, and Aaron had to trust that as well. Spencer knew the dangers better than Aaron did about her being at college the age that she was. Aaron had no clue what to expect on that front.

Aaron hadn’t gone to college all that early, really given he was born late in the year and started a year behind the kids who were born the same year as him. Still, he had been well able to handle himself on campus. Maggie Lynn was a fierce girl, but she was still petite. Aaron watched Spencer as he walked away from pressing a kiss to Aaron’s mouth. Aaron figured that Saturday night at home, he was not going to be able to get Spencer off of him. He was well used to sleeping with him at this point, though, so that was a good thing.

Getting ready to face the day, Aaron thought about how he was going to handle Jack on Sunday as he missed Maggie Lynn. He was going to have two people in the house moping. Spencer would probably go to work to focus on staying busy, so he wasn’t missing her near as much, but that wasn’t a guarantee at all. He could just hide away in his library or working on his Jeep. Aaron would be much more prepared for what was to come next year after this year.

Aaron was shocked that he was going to miss her as much as he was already missing her, and she wasn’t gone. Aaron was not looking forward to the future when Jack was off at college, and they were alone in the house. It wasn’t going to be a good thing for either of them at all. Empty nest was something that Aaron hadn’t thought about at all, but right now, it was very real to him, even though Jack wasn’t going to be going to college for over a decade.

Deciding to walk to the coffee shop, Aaron grabbed his laptop and got it packed up so that he could work on it all day long. He would be able to slip it into the office of the shop when they went to lunch. Spencer had already planned on spending all day at the coffee shop.

The shop was full as Aaron entered it. There were a few business people around sitting at various tables and working on things. A table already had a cup of coffee in Aaron’s standard cup sitting in the middle. Aaron walked over to take full possession of his table. He settled his bag into the chair that he wasn’t going to sit in and pulled out all of his items as well as the mouse pad that Maggie Lynn had given him. It was a photo mouse pad that had a picture off all four of them on it. It was mostly their faces. Aaron had whipped cream on his nose, Spencer chocolate sauce all over, and the kids were spotless. They had been attacked with ice cream toppings by the two kids, and someone had snapped a picture of them after they had been yelled at for making a mess.

“Need another?” Spencer asked as he reached out to take Aaron’s cup from the table.

“Oh, sure,” Aaron said. He looked to see that his cup was empty, and he was over halfway through all of the character profile worksheets that he had found on the Internet to help him flesh out his characters and not make mistakes. He had found a lot of things to help him get his book off the ground on the right foot to make sure that he didn’t get stuck. He was having fun world-building as he had found it was called.

Aaron looked at Spencer to see him smiling at a little girl who was babbling in the high chair that her mother had pulled up to the table. There was a cut-up bit of croissant in front of her, and she was noshing on it while also looking around. Aaron figured, given the way that Spencer was looking at her, they were regulars.

Spencer was laid back about a lot of things, but Aaron did wonder if Spencer wanted another kid, besides Jack. Spencer was still very young and could adopt with little issue, given his track record with Maggie Lynn, his age, and his money. Aaron could as well given his high profile status and his wealth. It wouldn’t be that hard for anyone to decide that he was suitable for raising a kid. Jack wouldn’t be that much older than them, and Jack would love a little sibling, Jack had asked for one for Christmas the year before because he thought that it would make Aaron happier.

Jack wasn’t that good at understanding that one couldn’t replace a wife with a kid and be happy. Though Jack had been heartfelt when he had laid out reasoning, Aaron explained that he wasn’t ready for a baby, and a baby was what Jack wanted. Though less than a year later, Aaron wanted a baby. Someone that he and Spencer could raise together. He loved Maggie Lynn, and even though he hadn’t told her, thought of her as his. There was something about raising a kid with the person you loved. Aaron was pretty sure that it wouldn’t be that hard to talk Spencer into it if he was hesitant. Aaron was in this for the long haul, the rest of his life if he had his say in it.

“Thanks,” Aaron said as Spencer set Aaron’s cup down with fresh coffee in it. Aaron scooted his chair back and pulled Spencer down into his lap so he could kiss him for a moment. It seemed like a lull for now, and he hoped that he could get what he wanted from Spencer before the younger man was called back to work. He wasn’t all that sure that it would last as long as Aaron really wanted, but he would take what he could get.

“This is scandalous, people will think that doing this will get them refills delivered to the table, and then I’ll have to fend off all manner of advances,” Spencer said as he threw an arm around Aaron’s neck and leaned in for the first kiss.

“They would never do that. Sybil and her horde would kill them for horning in on their well thought out plan to get us together.”

“Speaking of Sybil, has anyone talked to you about living in sin with me?” Spencer brushed his lips over Aaron’s for a few seconds before pressing them in a little more.

“No.” Aaron cupped the side of Spencer’s face and kissed him again. The sound of the door opening and the soft chime of the electronic bell that Spencer had instead of a metal bell filled the room.

“Your realtor is doing good at keeping that to herself, and no one has gossiped that you are moved or moving.”

“I’m really shocked, I mean, I would have assumed that they all would have. Though, when Jack starts school next week, I’m sure the gossip won’t take long when I change his address and add you onto the emergency contact.” Aaron looked at the couple who had entered the shop. Their eyes were looking over the menu, and they didn’t seem to have decided yet, but were nearly there. Aaron kissed the tip of Spencer’s nose and gave him a push-up and out of his lap. “Go back to work, you slacker.”

Spencer just laughed and turned to walk toward the counter. Spencer greeted the couple with his usual working smile and a very happy greeting. Aaron watched him as he worked on making their two drinks. He was so focused on what he did and his movements precise. Aaron figured that Spencer loved working in the coffee shop because of the preciseness of it. He loved his books, and he loved reading, but that was a pleasure art; this was something he could take a lot of pride in. Aaron wondered if he could set up as a worker in the book shop. He could write in there between customers and the such. The stock wasn’t that hard as Spencer took care of that when he needed a break from the coffee shop, and he was very precise and peculiar about all of it, and Aaron didn’t want to mess that up. Spencer was quick about it all and usually stocked the bookstore when it was closed on Sunday.

Aaron looked back at his laptop and started to work on the profile for Aurora’s father. Spencer would know that it was based a little on him no matter what Aaron did, so he might as well make it really good and give the character a few of what Aaron considered Spencer’s best features as well as a few of the worst and then make the rest up. Like being a heat thief. With nights being cold, Aaron had a leach all night long. He didn’t mind, but Spencer held on tight. It was a little strange, even after sharing a bed for as long as they had done it. He would have to get used to it as Spencer wasn’t going to get better at it with winter coming on soon.

It was something for Aaron to look forward to.

Chapter 14-Breakfast in Bed

Aaron rolled over in bed and frowned. Spencer wasn’t in bed. He looked at the time to see that it was just past seven. He heard the front door shut and remembered that just because they were taking a day from working at all, Aaron, on his book and Spencer the coffee shop, Jack still had to go to school. It wasn’t that horrible, really, as Spencer’s shop was fully staffed at the moment, so he wasn’t needed as much but was always welcomed by his staff to work as he was just so good at it all.

Grabbing Spencer’s pillow, Aaron tucked it into his chest to wait for his lover to come back to bed. He wanted to cuddle with Spencer, but that seemingly wasn’t going to happen, so he was going to lay there until the urge to pee got too much, and then he would face the day.

Aaron realized that he must have dozed back off again as he smelled wonderful bacon and something sweet. He frowned and forced his eyes open. Spencer was standing at the edge of the bed with a tray in his hands. It was one of the breakfast trays that Aaron had seen Spencer buy the week before that was covered in pumpkins. It was getting to be autumnal in feel outside, and the closer to Halloween they were and then Thanksgiving, the more things like that were going to be out. Aaron figured out that Spencer had a small obsession with Halloween.

“Good morning,” Aaron said. He sat up in bed, and before Spencer could get the tray over his lap, he slipped off of the bed. “Gotta go to the bathroom.” Aaron pointed like Spencer wouldn’t understand the words.

“Good morning,” Spencer said.

Aaron pressed a kiss to Spencer’s cheek, ignoring the tray of food, so he wasn’t tempted to steal something before he scooted to the bathroom. Aaron quickly took care of business, even taking his time to actually brush his teeth a little. Breakfast didn’t mean there wouldn’t be kissing. Aaron ran his fingers through his hair. He had found that Spencer like him with bed tousled hair, so he indulged him when they were home.

Looking at himself in the mirror, Aaron saw that a lot of his stress lines on his face were gone. He looked like what he thought was years younger, and while some of that was getting out of DC, the majority of it was Spencer. The town so far had not let them live it down that they had both been so resistant to being hooked up by them. Spencer had known and refused, but he hadn’t known who they were hooking him up with. Aaron had been oblivious through all of it. He was glad though that it hadn’t worked like the town wanted. He liked how natural it had been with them.

The creak of the bedroom door told him that Spencer had either left or had left while he had been taking care of business and had come back. Aaron opened the bathroom door to see Spencer setting down a second tray on the bed. It was filled with breakfast foods, just like the first. There was also a carafe of coffee on the nightstand. The cups on the trays were empty, so Aaron figured that however Spencer had made the coffee; he was going to be drinking it. He was fine with that. Spencer usually made it flavored in some way when he did that.

“Come eat before it gets cold,” Spencer said as he carefully crawled into bed and settled his tray over his lap.

Aaron came over to the bed and picked up his tray and got into bed. It was full of pancakes, that did not look like plain ones, and eggs and bacon on a different plate. There was also a cup of fresh fruit and what looked like syrup, but he had no clue what kind. He dipped his finger into it and found that it was regular syrup with what tasted like a little bit of something else in it. He wasn’t sure what it was.

“Pawpaw. It’s what the tree is on the far side of the property. It’s over there because the flowers smell like shit, but I love the fruit. It took a long time to get it growing and producing a lot of fruit. I freeze the fruit that I don’t use when it’s ripe. It makes it easier to work with it all year for things. The pancakes are pumpkin spice, and then the syrup is just simple with some pawpaw pulp cooked into it. Try it.”

Aaron looked at Spencer with a frown on his face. He cut into the pancakes and then dipped a bite into the syrup. The flavors were kind of nice together. He picked up the syrup and ignored the smug look on Spencer’s face about it. Aaron stuck his tongue out at him. The bacon was cooked perfectly for Aaron, which was a little more crispy than Spencer liked his. The eggs were perfect, as well. Spencer might not cook breakfast like this often, but he did well at it. Breakfast was one of the few meals that were almost always eaten out, or it was something simple like oatmeal. Aaron didn’t mind oatmeal, but this was kind of nice.

“So, what’s the occasion?” Aaron asked as he picked up a strip of bacon and bit off about half of it.

“No occasion other than I was awake and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I made breakfast for all of us. Jack ate his before he was shipped off to school.”

“Did he like your strange pancakes?” Aaron asked.

“Yes, he did. He wants them for breakfast this weekend when Mags comes home.”

“Maggie Lynn is coming home this weekend?” Aaron was happy about that. She hadn’t been home yet as she wanted to get settled into school before she went home. They had gone to her every weekend for dinner on Saturday night before they went home. It was worth it to Aaron. Aaron and Jack had been given a tour of the school as they hadn’t done that when they had taken her to school. Aaron knew the college, but seeing it through Maggie Lynn’s eyes had been something that Aaron had enjoyed. Though, Maggie Lynn had been a little upset when a few of the teachers had wanted to talk to Aaron. Aaron had tried to not talk to them long at all, but as a lawyer, Aaron had given lectures in a lot of the classes over the years for those professors.

“Yes, she texted me this morning to prepare for the invasion as she calls it. One of her friends is going home and is going to drop her off Friday after their last class. He’s a good friend. Same classes as her.”

“Does he have sights on her…” Aaron stopped because he had never asked what her sexuality was. She was a teenager, and for the summer, she had been with friends, but Spencer had never mentioned someone that she was seeing that way.

Spencer laughed and picked up his coffee. He took a drink of it humming. Aaron reached over and picked the carafe and poured himself a cup of coffee. It was milky, so there was flavored creamer of some kind in it. He sniffed it. Pumpkin spice and it wasn’t just coffee; it was a large carafe of a latte. He could smell the sharp tang of the espresso. He smiled before taking a drink. Aaron figured that everything was going to be pumpkin for a long time for them. The diagram for the decorations had been on the kitchen table and then taken into work with him every day that week. Aaron was a little afraid of what the house was going to look like as Spencer’s diagram wasn’t easily figured out by Aaron. The code he used was only known to Spencer’s brain, and Maggie Lynn wasn’t there to help him decipher it.

“Maggie Lynn has let every single guy who had even entered into a passive bit of flirting with her know that they have the wrong set of genitals for her.”

“So, lesbian?” Aaron asked. He wanted to make sure that it was what Spencer meant with that. The range of sexualities had grown by leaps and bounds, and Aaron tried to be careful around the labels, but he knew that Spencer wouldn’t be that upset about it all.

“Yes. She told me when she was five, and while she did kiss a boy at one point when she was thirteen, she’s stayed firmly in she only likes girls range.”

“So, I don’t get to sit on the porch with a shotgun?” Aaron asked.

Spencer laughed, his eyes sparkling. Aaron knew that Spencer liked it when Aaron made comments that claimed Maggie Lynn as Aaron’s as much as she was Spencer’s. It had taken Aaron a little while to allow the comments to come out of his mouth more and more. Spencer started to make comments like that about Jack, and Aaron had thought that he would feel something negative about that, but all he felt was warmth. Jack needed more people who loved him for who he was. He still had nightmares on occasion about Haley, but they were lessening, and even now, they had to be bad ones for him to come and cuddle in bed with Aaron and Spencer.

The first night it had happened, Spencer had been so good to Jack, and the three of them had cuddled in bed. It had felt so good.

“I’m sure that you will be allowed if you want the first time that she brings anyone home. Girls can be just as horrible as guys. She’s not that interested in dating at the moment as most everyone is older than her at college, and she’s jail bait to those in her classes. Steve is the guy who will be dropping her off. He’s gay, so they have bonded in the way of protecting each other. He’s kind of adopted her as a little sibling and broke a guy’s nose who didn’t take no for an answer at an event the college put on for students.”

“What happened?” Aaron started to cut into his pancakes, with the rest of his food gone. He could eat it in small bites so he could answer Spencer if there was a conversation going on that would need him to talk. It was a new habit that Aaron had picked up since getting together with Spencer. He used to stuff his face with food.

“Well, Maggie Lynn had made up a shirt that had her age on it and called anyone who hit on her stupid. So here she was fourteen and at a party that did have alcohol for those who were above age. Those who were above the age of twenty-one wore a bracelet, and she was not wearing one. The guy offered to get her a drink, and she told him no. He offered to take her back to a bathroom and have sex with her. She said no. He called her a frigid bitch and was about to do something else when Steve broke his nose. The idiot then called the campus police, who asked him if he wanted to press charges, and he said yes. The police were quite happy as that meant that they could arrest him for not only soliciting a minor but also agreeing to purchase something illegal and give to a minor. Everyone around had heard him. They told him this, and he still wanted to press charges. In the cold light of day, he was sober and realized how stupid he was being and tried to drop the charges, those did drop, but the other did not, and he wasn’t allowed out of jail. He’s still serving his prison sentence from what I have heard.”

“Wow,” Aaron said. He tried to think about that and what would have happened if it had been him and Jack in that situation.

“Yeah, Maggie Lynn never goes to places like that unless Steve or one of the other guys from her advanced classes goes with her. She’s made friends with nearly every single football player and half of the basketball team. Last I heard she was working on the baseball team.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yes. They treat her like a little sister. Though she also helps them with their games. I did the same with the basketball team at school, so Maggie Lynn calls it a family duty. The ice hockey club team kidnapped her once and tried to get her to just hang out with them. She told them off but goes to their games and helps a few with some of their classes. She’s in the library all the time when she’s not in class during the week, so everyone knows to go there to find her for help. One time I went to take her to dinner, and there were seventeen sports kids around her. I ended up taking them all out to eat, to thank them for watching over her. She can defend herself, but she’s small.”

“And mouthy,” Aaron said.

“Only here in town, unless someone pisses her off. She knows what might get her hurt when she’s out on her own. She’s smart and is street smart, I made sure of that. During her first semester at college, I stayed in an apartment nearby for the first three months. Steve adopted her first thing, and it helped to settle me down. He’s the eldest of his family with three younger sisters.”

“That’s good.” Aaron wondered how most of that had never come up. He could understand Spencer being protective of her. There was still a lot of all of their lives that they hadn’t shared with each other. Aaron was looking forward to finding out everything at their own pace as they moved through life together.

“Yeah. She loves it that at GWU. I was just happy that she stayed close. I mean, Joss went from here to Caltech. Mags could have wanted to follow, and I would have wanted to follow as well.”

“Well, I, for one, am happy about that.” Aaron was very, very glad that Spencer had not followed Maggie Lynn elsewhere.

“Maggie Lynn thought she would have to stage an intervention and get me to leave DC, but I had only rented the apartment I was in for three months, so I had a built-in leave time. I meant to check in on everything here, but the town was glad to step in and make sure things ran smoothly. I came home to there being no real issues to take care of except for the books. I wasn’t missing any money, and things were well taken care of in my absence, including some renovations in the book store I had wanted to do but had never got in contact with a contractor about. I guess it was something to make missing Maggie Lynn a little less since it was her renovation ideas.”

“She’s got a good eye for some things like that.”

“She studies whatever she wants. She took shop class in high school here in town and is doing something like it this year at GWU. It’s an informal thing and won’t be on her college credits, but it’s an offered class on rounding out some things that are not needed for degrees but for a well-rounded education for life skills. She is looking forward to it.”

“It sounds like it might be fun.”

“Parents weekend is coming up next weekend. Jack’s more than welcome to come with us if you want him to.”

“Us?” Aaron asked.

“If I don’t bring you, Maggie Lynn might kick me off of campus, Aaron.” Spencer pushed his tray away, and Aaron noticed that he had eaten all of his food while he had been talking. Aaron’s was mostly gone as well, but Spencer had been the one to talk more, so it was a shock.

“I just…figured that we would have a weekend like that later. I mean, you are her parent.”

“And she views you as her step-dad, even if we aren’t married. I’m sure that if we did break up, she would be requesting visits with you and just try and get us back together.”

Aaron moved his tray to the floor and then grabbed Spencer’s and moved it down there as well. He coaxed Spencer to where he was straddling his lap like the tray had been. Spencer settled there easily with his hands on Aaron’s shoulders. He gave Aaron an indulgent smile. Aaron reached up and cupped the sides of Spencer’s face to pull him down into a kiss. Aaron didn’t want sex or even just rubbing off on each other. He just wanted this. He rubbed his lips across Spencer’s before pulling Spencer just a little closer and wrapping his arms around him as they traded lazy and chaste kisses. It was this kind of thing that Aaron loved about living with Spencer.

There was a lot that Aaron loved about living with Spencer, but just being together like this with the knowledge that he didn’t have to leave was the best.

“I love you,” Spencer said as he pressed a kiss to Aaron’s forehead.

Aaron hummed in answer and pulled Spencer down to where he was fully sitting on Aaron’s lap. “I love you too.”

“I’m sure that you can work up the paperwork that we need for you to become a legal guardian to Maggie Lynn and get it signed in front of the judge, right?”

“Yes,” Aaron said. The word caught in his throat, and he forced Spencer to look him in the eye. As much as Aaron didn’t want to think about a time where Spencer couldn’t make a decision on Maggie Lynn, it was practical. Aaron knew that it was just another step toward that last legal step of getting a civil union. He wasn’t sure that he was ready for that step, but he was more than willing to do paperwork. He trusted Spencer with Jack if Aaron was not around to be able to take care of him.

“Do you want to do that?” Spencer asked. He threaded his hands through Aaron’s hair, his nails scratching a little, making Aaron’s eyes close in a little spike of pleasure.

“Yes.”

“Good. Good. Soon?”

“I can work on the paperwork on Monday. I promised you no working today or this weekend. So I’m going to keep to that.”

“Okay.” Spencer didn’t sound upset or anything, just happy.

Happy was a good term for both of them over the last while. Happier than Aaron had been in a very, very long time, and Aaron loved it.

Chapter 15-Sunrise

Aaron heard the rasp of sand behind him as well as the coo of Grace. So much had changed in their lives since the beginning of October when one of Aaron’s old law buddies had come to him. It had been a big shock to hear the knock on their door and for Aaron to open the door to see Greg outside. He had a baby with him. Aaron had been a little too shocked to say a damned thing, and it had taken Spencer coming up to him and inviting Greg in for Aaron to come out of his stupor.

Grace had charmed them both at just over two months old. Spencer had gravitated to her while Aaron got Greg a beer. Aaron was still shocked about the baby as Greg and his wife had never wanted children. They were dedicated to being ADAs, and hopefully one day, one of them would make DA for the area. Children were not in the books.

Which was what Greg was there for. They had not wanted to put Grace into the foster system. They knew full well what it was like, and they didn’t want to be entirely cut off from her, even if they wanted a closed adoption, so they were going to Aaron to see if he wished to take her before they went to other friends.

Aaron’s sticking point had been that he was not married. Greg hadn’t cared about that or that he had taken up with a man. He only cared about his daughter being raised right, and the profile that had been done for the anniversary of the horrible death of Haley had shown that Aaron was well adjusted, and Jack was doing well. Aaron hadn’t even known about the whole thing as the reporter had never actually talked to him but just talked to those around him. The reporter had been more than willing to give Aaron his peace. There had been a part in the article about Spencer and Maggie Lynn as well. It had been strange to look it up afterward.

So now a month later, Aaron and Spencer had both adopted Grace Marie, and she was officially Grace Marie Hotchner-Reid. Greg and his wife had stopped by once and brought the rest of her things and the pictures that they had taken of her as a baby. They hadn’t wanted her, but they had not treated her like garbage. They loved her as much as they could, and that meant giving her up for a life that would be good for her.

“Here,” Spencer said as he handed over a cup of coffee to Aaron before he settled down into the sand and took the coffee back.

“None for me?” Aaron asked as he picked up his coffee cup and drained it.

“You already drank two cups. I know how much the pot makes, Aaron. I know exactly how much it makes. If you want coffee, you can go and get more.” Spencer leaned into Aaron a little and turned Grace around to where she was stretched along his legs, her feet digging into his stomach.

Grace was a wonderful baby, and while it was an adjustment to living with a baby when it had been over five years since Aaron had, and over a decade since Spencer had, it was still damned good. Maggie Lynn had come home just after Greg had left Grace with them, and of course, they had to go back to DC to finalize the adoption of her, even if it was a private, closed adoption. So Jack had been kept out of school the day that it happened, and they had driven up the night before so that they could settle into a hotel room for the evening. Maggie Lynn had met them, and they had dinner out.

Aaron expected Jack, or even Maggie Lynn, to be a bit upset by them taking in a baby and feeling like they were going to be pushed out but, other than a few hiccups when they couldn’t do what Jack wanted because of Grace, there had been few issues. Maggie Lynn was all for it. She was glad that Spencer would have another little girl to dote on.

The biggest issue had been Artemis and her getting used to sharing Spencer’s time. Spencer actually took Grace into work with him, leaving her in a bouncy thing on a table near the front line or in a backpack device that allowed them to do things hands-free. There was also one that would allow her to be in the front as well as what Spencer called a sling. He had used all of them to carry around Maggie Lynn when she had been this age – not those exact ones as those had been given away when Maggie Lynn had grown out of them, but newer versions had quickly been bought. Spencer had found them practical, especially with issues that Joss had near the end. Aaron was very, very glad that what Joss had been afflicted with wasn’t something that could be passed to Maggie Lynn since Spencer wasn’t a carrier as well.

“How is she doing?” Aaron asked as he reached over to let her grab his fingers. She loved to do that and was only happy when they were both touching her when they were both near her, and she could see them.

“She’s doing good this morning. She was playing with the mobile in her crib when I went in to get her. So I changed her and figured that we could sit out here and watch the sun come out since you were already out there. She wanted her Dada.” Spencer gave Aaron a shy smile.

“I still can’t believe that you just agreed without even talking it out with me,” Aaron said, finally discussing what had been on his mind since Greg had been there, and Aaron hadn’t felt that it was the best time until now. Spencer had agreed to keeping Grace after Aaron told Greg that he would have to talk to Spencer. Aaron had no clue how Spencer knew that Aaron wanted her. Hell, that he wanted any baby. Aaron wasn’t upset or angry, he was still just a little shocked that Spencer had been so easy to agree to it.

“You think that you are so sly, Aaron, but you are not. You’ve been eyeing every single baby in town, couples with strollers, babies in arms. Two days before Greg came to the house, you were staring at a cute little dress for a six-month-old in the consignment shop window while Jack and I went to get ice cream. You wanted a baby, and outside of us using a surrogate, we weren’t going to get one that was biological. Greg seemed to want to give her the best life, and he knew that it wasn’t with them. I can understand their want to not abort but at the same time, not raise her themselves. They made the best choice for themselves. I’ve seen parents who are forced to raise kids they don’t want, and it’s horrible all around, but I can also see not wanting to put her into foster care, especially since they do want to see her on occasion.”

“You are a marvel, Spencer Reid.” Aaron laid his head on Spencer’s shoulder and looked out at the water. The sun was coming up over the horizon. It was a golden halo reflecting on the nearly still water. It was beautiful, and Aaron loved it a great deal. It was still early, and Jack wanted to sleep in after a night where he had got up a lot to get water with his cough. He was a little sickly, a cold that had started to go around the school. It had got worse last night, so Aaron had called him off of school. Jack hated to miss trick or treating, but he could at least hand out candy to kids as long as he cleaned his hands with a wipe or sanitizer between each cough and promised not to cough on anyone. Grace was much too young to head out and do it.

“I know that I am, and I’m also the man in love with you, and I want to see you happy. I’m still young enough that a baby or even one or two more won’t be that big of a deal.”

“One is more than enough,” Aaron said with a smile, but he knew what Spencer was doing. Spencer wanted him to understand that Spencer knew him and was happy with Aaron in his life.

Aaron knew that most people would think that Spencer would agree to anything to keep Aaron in his life, but Aaron knew that Spencer was not like that at all. He was happy to do things that made Aaron happy, but Aaron did the same with him. Aaron did things that Spencer liked, and while Aaron would give a little on things that he didn’t quite like doing but he didn’t hate, Spencer wasn’t made that way. He enjoyed life.

Spencer looked at each day as if it was a gift, and it was intoxicating in a way that Aaron had never felt before. Spencer knew how life could be ripped away from those who deserved a long and happy life, and he also knew life wasn’t fair, so he lived like each day might be the last without doing stupid stuff all of the time. It was a good way of living, and it was really just damned good in Aaron’s opinion. Aaron wasn’t sure what kind of life they were going to have together, but it was going to be a good one, even if Grace was the last kid that they had.

After the death of Haley, Aaron hadn’t seen himself trusting anyone with Jack, much less wanting another kid with them, but the desire for a kid had been growing over the months. He had been days away from asking Spencer about adopting when Greg had entered their life with Grace.

“She’s happy,” Spencer said as he laid his head onto Aaron’s.

Grace was looking up at the sky above as it started to turn to red little by little. She loved the color red and would look at it all the time. She kicked her feet against Spencer’s stomach and screeched as a seagull flew over the area letting out a call to the others that the sun was coming.

“She’s very happy,” Aaron agreed.

Grace had been a little withdrawn the first few days, but that had given way to pure happiness. Aaron figured that some hindbrain instinct of hers told her that she was safe and happy here with them. Aaron figured that all babies had a knowledge of what someone felt like when they were not good for them. Years of hearing family friends talk about how much Aaron didn’t like to be held by his father, and his own mother most of the time and preferred the nanny were seared into his brain. Many of them had taken it to be about the fact that the nanny had held him more, but Aaron chose to believe that it was more about how little his parents had wanted him after he was there. Sean was the loved one. He was the wanted son.

“As if there was any other choice for us,” Spencer said.

“You had taken on a lover and two new children just when you thought you were getting rid of your first one, Spencer. That’s a lot to take on when you were near the end of it all.”

“Maggie Lynn is not being gotten rid of, ever. She had no plans to move away at all. She was going to drop her little ass down into her room and just live there until she found a good job that would take her around the world, but she was always going to call this home. She’s not going to be leaving her nest for the rest of her life any time soon, if ever at all, and I’m okay with that. She wants a good job, but she wants one that will take her around the world some. She’s already working on some consulting contracts with a few companies, but also wants to help people in need with her law degree. I could see her taking up with a cause in the world that she knew she could make enough money to support herself, knowing that I would always have a place for her here.”

“And you are a wonderful father for that.”

“This house was too big, but it was the family house. It’s where Joss grew up, and I couldn’t see taking Mags away from that. I was not looking forward to actually being alone in this big place, so having you and Jack move in made me really happy for the future that was spread out in front of us. The addition of Grace just means that I get to try again to make a perfect child.”

Aaron laughed as he pulled his head off of Spencer’s shoulder and just looked at him. Spencer was giving Aaron that grin that said that Spencer knew what he said was insane.

“You know, your ego is something that many would find to be scary.”

“It’s not ego to feel proud about what you have done as long as you don’t talk it up all the time. We are discussing the raising of our daughter. I mean, I have a perfect specimen to show off on how well I do raising a child alone. Can you imagine Grace when she’s older? We are going to make mistakes, but nothing is going to be so horrible that she’s going to turn out horrible. She’s got two very willing older siblings who love her already. Have you not seen the clothes that Maggie Lynn has talked some of the students who are in fashion to make for her? I mean, her Halloween costume that arrived last night should have been the first clue.”

“I know. It’s scary as hell how many friends that Maggie Lynn has made at college. I mean, don’t get me wrong she has this entire town wrapped around her fingers, but that’s very different. She has made a lot of friends at college.”

“I worried about that. I mean Joss all but forced me to be her friend, and I was left to try and make friends with this town without her around. I tried to make sure that Maggie Lynn was better able to make friends because I sucked at it growing up. My genius was a burden on me, fitting in with those kids around me. Maggie Lynn, though, was thankfully like her mother in that way. She was happy and content to be a child but also show that she was smart enough to do anything that she put her mind to. She watched a few shows when she was a kid, and she wanted friends like that. Friends that would stick with her through thick and thin. Friends that would keep her happy. She made sure that no matter what, every single one that she made, knew that she was into females and she made sure that they knew that it did not mean that she was into every single female.”

“Yeah, that sounds like her.”

“She had a few ups and downs with a few parents who thought that it meant that they needed to fear that she was lusting after their daughters while having a sleepover. There are a lot of people who think that just because you like females, you like every single one, and it’s the same with men who like men. I’m pretty sure that Mags likes the brain and personality more than a body type. She does look at a few, but I’ve never seen her look at one body type or face type more than another.”

“She’s better off than most people, then.” Aaron had near fallen in love with Haley with a look while they were at school. He had done what he could to get close to her, and he hadn’t ever looked back from that. He had made a lot of his decisions around giving her a good life and being as happy as he could.

The short time that he had been with Spencer overall was something that had shown Aaron that what he thought he had with Haley had been nothing but a lie. Spencer held him and loved him in a way that no one else ever had. Aaron felt with him he could take on the world and not worry about anything else ever again.

The sun was sufficiently above the horizon now, and the red had faded to orange and gold, and it was just beautiful. Aaron reached out to take Grace from Spencer and turned her around to where she could look out into the water. She was flapping her hands to try and grab the shining water that was in front of her. The water wasn’t entirely too cold to swim in yet for her, but Aaron knew that the little bit of lessons that Spencer had been giving her on getting used to the water would just move to the bathtub.

Watching Spencer in the water with Grace in his arms was one of the best images that Aaron had ever seen in his life, and it had nothing to do with Spencer being in just swimming trunks. It was the way that he held Grace and the way that he showed his love for her. There really wasn’t much more that could make their life better than it was at the moment.

Chapter 16-Sharing Body Heat (Free!)

Aaron watched as Spencer laid down the last of the presents under the tree for Maggie Lynn and Jack. Grace’s presents had been set out first as they were a lot bigger. She was small, but her presents were inversely large compared to the bigger kids and their small presents. Jack’s biggest was the laptop that he wanted so he could play a game called Minecraft and not be stuck in his bedroom and play it on his Xbox. Jack had limited access to a few games on there, and he couldn’t buy more, but he had fallen in love with Minecraft after Maggie Lynn had bought it for him for his birthday.

“What are you looking at?” Spencer asked as he straightened up and looked at Aaron with a smile on his face. His hands moved, and Aaron caught sight of the dark line on his finger. Aaron looked at his own finger in response. The colored lines were hard to miss, even in the room that was only lit up by the Christmas tree lights and the fire in the fireplace. Aaron loved that Spencer had the fireplace and that it worked. He hadn’t paid much attention to the empty area before the first night that it had dipped down to near freezing, and Spencer had got all of the equipment out for it. It was an excellent little setup. Spencer burned real logs in it instead of going for the whole fake logs and gas. There was no gas line to it, and Aaron agreed that it was a better experience.

“My husband,” Aaron said.

Spencer blushed as he always did when Aaron called him that. Spencer had readily agreed to the proposal that Aaron had made in the ER. Aaron had made it at the hospital in DC, where Jack was being checked over by a doctor, and the words had just spilled from Aaron’s mouth. Jack had been run over by an adult on a Segway that hadn’t been paying attention to what they were doing while Spencer and Jack were visiting Maggie Lynn at school. The concern and the whole being so damned worried and upset that Jack’s head could be injured had told Aaron what he already knew; he loved Spencer and wasn’t going to find anyone better. However, it had also proved to Aaron that he wanted him all the ways that he could have him, which included a civil union in the middle of town. It had been a low-key affair, well as low-key as the town could get. It wasn’t that horrible of an affair. The town had run with it, and Aaron hadn’t cared about a single thing as long as at the end of the day, Aaron got to call Spencer his husband.

Their rings were not standard or traditional in any manner. Spencer hated the feel of metal on his person; he had clocks everywhere so that he didn’t have to wear a watch. Though with a cellphone it was kind of moot, but then Spencer was leaving his lying around in strange places when he was home. It was the only thing that Aaron had worried about. They had a set of metal rings that were beautiful, but Spencer had touched it and took it off so much on their honeymoon that Aaron had started to look into something else.

The wedding had been planned and executed in three days after Aaron had proposed. Maggie Lynn had put together the honeymoon, sending them to LA, where Spencer had wanted to take Aaron to show him his old stomping grounds but also be some place large enough that they could get food ordered into the hotel or room service if they wanted it. The cost had been split down the center with Maggie Lynn taking money from each of their accounts using credit cards and cash when she could, with their permission. She had also found a place for Jack and Grace to stay while they were gone for a week.

Two days into the honeymoon, they were walking back from an intimate dinner at a place that Spencer loved to eat at when he had been going to college there, and Aaron had seen the tattoo shop. Three hours later, they had walked out with rings tattooed on their fingers. It was strange at first, but after getting used to it, Aaron really loved it. It was as close to permanent as they could get. Aaron didn’t have to worry about losing the ring or taking it off for various things. He was claimed, and no one was ever going to mistake it.

Aaron caught Spencer staring at his sometimes, and the look of happiness, of love on his face, always took Aaron’s breath away.

“Is your husband really that worth staring at?” Spencer asked as he walked over to where Aaron was sitting down in the chair that was close to the fire. Jack was up in his bedroom asleep, and the baby monitor was turned on so they would hear if Grace woke up. She was pretty much sleeping through the night now. It was a good thing, too, as it meant she would be good for when she got older. Jack settled on sleeping through the night pretty quickly after birth, as well. He hated being woken up for feedings when he had been sleeping. Grace was much better at that, but then she was kind of perfect to Aaron. He had felt the same way about Jack, so Aaron didn’t worry about that.

“I think that he is,” Aaron said as he grabbed both of Spencer’s hands and pulled him close. Spencer slipped onto Aaron’s lap, straddling it. They were both already dressed for bed as they had plans to get enough sleep before Jack and Maggie Lynn woke them up for breakfast before presents. Yet, Aaron wasn’t tired, and if he went to bed, he was just going to toss and turn, and he knew it. Spencer didn’t look that tired either. Aaron let go of Spencer’s hands and cupped his cheeks to bring him in for a kiss. “Merry Christmas, love.”

“Merry Christmas, Aaron,” Spencer said with a sweet smile on his face when he leaned back enough so that Aaron could see his face.

“So who gets the last cookie?” Aaron asked.

“The last cookie?” Spencer’s face crinkled in confusion.

“The cookies we set out for Santa.”

“Oh. I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Aaron had known that Spencer had been a little confused about the whole milk and cookie thing with Santa, but surely he wasn’t that confused about it all was he?

“Did you never set out milk and cookies for Santa with Maggie Lynn?”

“Oh, no. By the time that it was something to make a big deal out of, she had already asked me how Santa got around and when I answered it was magic, she told me that magic was just science that no one understood yet, so it was impossible for Santa to get around unless he had a TARDIS or stopped time. Both of which are impossible.”

“You know, I thought that having a smart kid was the way to go, but I think not. So no tooth fairy?”

“Nope, or Easter Bunny and the one at the mall to get pictures with? Freaked her out, so we never even got to do that. She never told other kids that they weren’t real, and she would make lists for Santa and the like at school, but she did that as an indulgence for the minds that couldn’t grasp what hers could.”

“Well, Jack ate one of the cookies when he thought I wasn’t watching so we only have five, and the milk is going to go bad, even in the ice bucket it was put in, so we need to do that soon.”

“You can have the extra cookie as long as I get the two chocolate chip ones that are left.”

“You knew he snuck it?”

“He split it with me as the price for not telling you.” A grin broke out on Spencer’s face as he said the words.

“You know you are not supposed to talk the kid into doing that kind of thing,” Aaron said.

“Heh, I learned how to bribe a child from the time that Mags first started to try and talk me into things. It’s a perfectly legitimate form of education for them. He wasn’t doing something that wrong, and he agreed that Santa was going to get enough cookies elsewhere that it wasn’t like he was going to miss it or know that there were supposed to be six. I also did not know that we were going to be the ones to eat them. If so, I would have made different cookies and set them out.”

“Like those dark chocolate brownie cookies that you love to make?” Aaron asked.

“Yes.” Spencer leaned in again and kissed Aaron. It wasn’t simple and chaste like the one before. This was hot and heavy right from the get-go. Aaron gladly allowed Spencer to kiss him as well as work his shirt off over his head, the kiss pausing only briefly during that. Aaron shuddered, as Spencer’s hand found his cock through his sleep pants. Aaron had been slowly getting hard since Spencer had kissed him. He was full-on now.

“I want to ride you,” Aaron whispered before he grabbed Spencer’s head and crushed their lips back together. Spencer moaned in answer to that. Aaron had found that he loved the position, especially in front of the fire. He loved looking down at Spencer and seeing the reflection of the fire glinting off of Spencer’s sweaty skin. The only position that was better was having Spencer riding him while Aaron looked up at him with the firelight at Spencer’s back. They had been having too much fun in front of the fire since Spencer had got the fireplace ready for it.

“Okay. Lube?” Spencer asked because the tube they had been using had been emptied three days before.

“Slipped a new one in there,” Aaron said. He slipped to the edge of the chair, wrapping an arm around Spencer’s waist and holding him tightly to him. Aaron paused while Spencer wrapped his legs around Aaron’s waist so that they could move as one. Aaron wanted to ride him, but he also wanted to hold Spencer down to the ground and kiss him. It was a move that Aaron had been hesitant about at first, feeling like Spencer might not like the show of dominance, but Spencer had never protested it. Aaron slipped off of the chair all the way as he got his body steady with Spencer’s weight on it. He started to walk on his knees across the carpet to the fireplace. There was a rug that was hooked to the stone of the hearth of the fireplace and protected the carpet from the ash from the fire but was also their favorite place to land for the evening.

Aaron lost track of time as they lost themselves in each other’s bodies. There was no moon visible outside with the light snowstorm that was dropping what was going to amount to two inches of snow by morning, according to the weatherman. Aaron didn’t mind it much at all. The town was prepared for snow, as there were some tourists who came down for the winter holidays as an area to live while the north was gripped with much more snow. They were the ones who didn’t want to brave Florida and the heat and mugginess there. Aaron loved Virginia; even here by the beach, the temperatures dropped just enough to call it winter, but it was not nearly as cold or as snowy as some of the places that got horrible storms that made the news the further north you went up.

Spencer was on his front on the rug, a sheet under them to make sure that it was easy to clean up. The only issue was that there was no other sheet in the small box, and therefore they couldn’t cover up, and Aaron wasn’t getting dressed to go get another. Instead, Aaron wrapped himself around Spencer, covering his body as much as he could. Spencer was in a half doze as his body calmed down after sex and the work of trying not to throw Aaron off of him and taking his wants that way.

“Sleepy?” Aaron asked. He rubbed his hand up and down Spencer’s arm that was tucked close to his body.

“Yes,” Spencer answered.

“Do you want to go upstairs?”

“No. I want to clean up and lay down and sleep in front of the fire.” Spencer yawned and reached out to snag Aaron’s arm and pull him down that little bit more. Aaron laughed but let Spencer put him where he wanted him. Soon, Spencer would want to clean up. Aaron already had, but Spencer had just laid on the rug in front of the fire. When the sweat had gone from their skin, Spencer would get up and get cleaned up before putting on clothes again and throwing the sheet in the wash.

It wasn’t long like Aaron thought, but it wasn’t until they were down on the floor with Aaron on his side and Spencer tucked into him, also on his side but facing away from Aaron, that he remembered that there were no blankets in the bin. Spencer had a death grip on the arm that was wrapped around him. He was not going to let go unless Aaron woke Spencer up, but Aaron didn’t want to do that, so he just stayed there. At some point, Spencer would wake up enough to where he would allow Aaron to get a blanket, even if it was just from the back of the couch.

This wasn’t something that he had ever seen in his future. Not even just the whole falling-in-love thing, but the getting-married-again thing. Aaron wouldn’t want his life any other way, though. He loved Spencer with all that he had. He didn’t want to ever be apart from him for more than was needed. He was content with the small lives that they lived here and the life that had sprung up around him. He was enjoying taking over the main running of the bookstore with Maggie Lynn in school for the year. Aaron had more than enough time to do all kinds of writing as well as finding books in Spencer’s catalog that he could purchase to help him get better at writing.

Spencer had caught him writing one day when Aaron had been so into a scene that he had not noticed Spencer coming up behind him and reading over his shoulder. Aaron hadn’t been embarrassed, but he had wanted to get his story done before letting Spencer read it. He had moved on from the first as he had finished it. Aaron was now working on an adult story since he had the hang of world-building. A spy thriller with a gay male as the main character and his sometimes lover as a spy from another agency after they crossed paths a lot working for their respective countries. Spencer had been more than excited to read the book fully when Aaron was done.

Aaron had put his foot down that he would only read it all when it was done, so he didn’t influence what Aaron was writing. Spencer had already started to work on picking apart his kid’s book and getting it ready to submit to a book company for publishing. Aaron wasn’t sure which book Spencer was more happy about, the kid’s book that kind of featured Maggie Lynn or the adult book that had bits of them in the main characters. Aaron was a little more than afraid to get it back and see how many red lines there were in it. Aaron was ready for it, though, or at least he thought he was. He knew that he would probably not actually be ready for it until he got it back and worked through it all. There might be tears involved if Aaron believed people online.

“Quit thinking,” Spencer said.

“Sorry,” Aaron said with a smile on his lips. Spencer was damned good, even when he was half asleep, at figuring out when Aaron wasn’t sleeping when he should be. There had to be something about the way that Aaron moved or something. Probably breathing too much or his heart beating too fast. Aaron settled in, nosing in at Spencer’s neck as much as he could with the hair in the way. He smiled as he smelled the scent of sex that still clung to Spencer’s skin. They would have to wake up early to take a shower before the kids came down and figured out what they had done. Though in all fairness, Maggie Lynn knew what they got up to, but sex wasn’t a thing on Jack’s mind, and Aaron didn’t want it to be for a long time. Aaron really didn’t want to have the sex talk with Jack before he got into the double digits on age, so they would have to keep a good vigil on making sure they weren’t caught in places they really probably shouldn’t have sex.

“Love you,” Spencer said, and his body slipped into a stillness that only came with the first bit of sleep.

Aaron hoped that Spencer stayed warm enough as the fire died in the night, and only Aaron’s warmth was there to keep him warm.

“I love you, too, Spencer Reid, so damned much,” Aaron said into Spencer’s skin before he finally allowed himself to tip over into sleep, his last thought was on how the rest of the years of his life stretching out in front of him didn’t seem like enough time for him to spend with Spencer.

The End

I write fanfiction for fun. It’s a hobby and a stress relief. I refuse to stress over my writing. What you see is what you get. Errors, plot holes, and all. Thank you for reading my story!

I can be found on MeWe here, join me there and we can discuss my fics and whatnot.

2 thoughts on “The Small-Town Lawyer & the Bookstore Owner

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