Aaron and Rossi were sitting in a diner having lunch after the long session with Audrey Henson. The DA wasn’t happy with their findings, it wasn’t a typical battered wife syndrome. There were no bruises, no breaks, no visible marks. They were all mental and emotional, but no less powerful. Aaron didn’t really care that the DA was skeptical, and it took some convincing for her to see what they were seeing. A woman had been systematically broken down by her husband and her children to the point she felt there was no way out. He was toying with his coffee, lost in his own thoughts.
“Aaron, what’s going on with you?”
Aaron shook out of the funk he found himself in and looked up at Dave.
“You know, that was almost me.”
Dave frowned as he sipped his coffee, they were both waiting for their lunch to arrive as they sat in a corner booth at a local diner. Their flight wasn’t for a couple of hours. They could have driven, but neither man wanted to be on the road that long.
“What are you talking about, Aaron?”
“High School with Haley was good. We sort of became the it couple in our circle of friends. Even when I was sent to boarding school, weekends we were together all the time. When we graduated and were set for college we were going to different schools and neither one of us wanted to keep up a long distance relationship, so we broke-up. When I got out of law school we met up again, and well you know the rest.
“Anyway, those first few years, I was working so hard as a junior lawyer, trying to climb up the ranks I didn’t pay attention to the behavior at first. It was little things. Telling me how to dress, going so far as laying out my suits for me. Calling and reminding me to eat, or just showing up with food. Which from the outside is a nice gesture, but she would do it when I had important lunch dates. Decisions on what we would watch, the friends we made, the parties we threw. When and how we had sex. She even tried to get me to stop seeing a couple of my college friends because she didn’t like them.
“It wasn’t until we had a case, one of my first solo ones. A man had snapped and killed his wife. When we interviewed him, the officers laughed behind his back and was called ‘hen-pecked’. I had to stop and reevaluate the situation. He was mentally, emotionally and sexually abused, Dave. Why do we make fun of men in these situations, yet have unquestioning compassion towards a woman?
“Anyway, I realized what was happening in our marriage and knew it needed to stop. I demanded counseling for us.”
“You, Aaron Hotchner willingly went to counseling?”
Aaron’s laugh was almost bitter sounding.
“Yeah. I wanted to try to save my marriage. A lot of it had been her own issues with her parents, some of it was on me for always giving in, but the biggest was her insecurities. She assumed I was going to leave her at some point. Her insecurity over what happened with us in college led to her trying to control every aspect of my life.”
“I never knew that.”
“We worked past it, but recently it had started to come up again after Jack was born. She hated the hours on the road and the fact I took over as Unit Chief. It’s why I didn’t fight so hard on the divorce.”
“And now the two of you are back to living together.” Dave smiled charmingly at the waitress as she set their food in front of them.
“It’s not like that, Dave. We are doing it for Jack. We’re also talking, but neither of us wants to go back. We made a pact if one of us finds someone else we end this arrangement.”
Dave smirked as he ate his sandwich. Aaron narrowed his eyes at his friend’s expression.
“I know that look, and it’s never good for me.”
“Oh, my friend, you know me too well.” Dave sipped his coffee and set the cup towards the end of the table signaling he wanted a refill. “I think you, Aaron Hotchner, have your eyes on someone else. A young genius maybe?’
Aaron’s felt the heat in his cheeks as he ignored Dave and started eating. He hated it when one David Rossi got way too invested in his life.
“Nothing is going on there, Dave. Besides, I think he is still trying to figure out his life after the last year. He’s just a friend, and I’m his boss.”
“Right, just keep telling yourself that, Aaron.”
Aaron kept his eyes on his salad and didn’t even respond to Dave. He had no idea what was going on with him and Spencer. He knew a friendship was forming and liked the simplicity of it. He was in no shape emotionally at the moment to engage in any type of relationship. Ever since their encounter with Chester Hardwick, Aaron knew he had issues to work out on his own.
Morgan watched Spencer through the case noticing he was calmer, more focused, almost hyper-focused. He worried for his friend because of all that he had been through over the last few months. As Morgan and Prentiss worked on the profile for the stalker, Spencer was working through the few letters that Keri Derzmond did keep as well as piecing the pictures together. He was focused, and every so often he would talk to himself. This was nothing new, but there was something that Morgan just felt uneasy about, he just could not put his finger on it.
“He’s trying to impress her. Going so far as changing his body, look at these pictures, then these here.” Spencer pointed out the obvious that they had been missing.
“This Unsub is a rare kind of obsessive stalker. Usually, most stalkers give up at some point and move onto another target. This man though will get violent if we don’t find him.” Derek sighed as he looked over at what they did have, his mind screaming about what they didn’t have. “We’ve got nuthin’ here guys. And Hotch is only giving us so much leeway.”
“We have to help her somehow, Morgan.” JJ rubbed her head in frustration.
“I know, but we can only do so much. We have a couple of days, but then we have to be back. I don’t like it either, but with as little as we have, there isn’t much more we can do.”
“I know, I know.” JJ flopped down in a chair and picked up one of the photos. She was frustrated, and Derek knew that feeling well. Obsessional crimes were his specialty. He didn’t want to tell JJ the statistics on how many of these guys they were able to find and prosecute, which was too low for his taste. The law only let them go so far, and cops could be just as frustrated with how the laws regarding stalking currently were.
“Alright, let’s put this away for tonight. We need to eat, and we need rest. Goin’ over all this again is just going to frustrate everyone. Come on.” Derek got everyone up and headed towards the hotel. JJ and Prentiss were sharing a room while he and Spencer were sharing the other.
“I’m going to take a shower.” Spencer practically ran to the bathroom while Derek chuckled as he watched his friend.
“I’ll go grab us somethin’ to eat. You got a preference?”
“Don’t care as long as I don’t have to use chopsticks,” Spencer yelled form the bathroom.
Derek chuckled as he left his go bag on the floor and left the hotel room. He found a deli that was still open and got a couple of sandwiches, chips, and a few drinks. When he got back to the hotel room he saw the door to the bathroom was slightly ajar. Walking over he knocked and the door swung open a little more. He stood there trying to comprehend what he was seeing.
“That’s some nice ink, Pretty Boy, when did you get that? And why have you been hiding it?”
Spencer turned around and glared at Derek.
“I could just tell you to go away and stay out of my business, but you won’t actually do that will you?”
Derek was about to protest that it wasn’t true when he knew all too well that is exactly what he would do. He knew he was nosy when it came to Spencer, but he cared, the man was like the brother he never had and it made him push past personal boundaries that he kept with other friends. There was just something innocent about Spencer and it made him protective.
“Is it too much that I care about you, kid?”
Spencer looked like he was going to protest, but just smiled and shook his head as he grabbed the t-shirt that was waiting on the back of the toilet seat for him.
“Plus, where did you get those muscles?” Derek smiled and tried to keep a light teasing tone.
“I started running and swimming. It was suggested to me after…anyway I keep it up. It helps and I find I can shut off my brain for a bit when I do. As for the tattoo, well get a good look because this may be the only time you get to see it.”
Derek watched as Spencer moved into the bedroom. He thought the Phoenix was gorgeous, and it wasn’t lost on him what it meant. Especially the tail that curled in at the elbow. There was a gorgeous red sunset behind the bird.
“What’s the red sunset for?”
“I just liked it.” Derek heard the lie, but seeing as it wasn’t a lie that hurt either of them, he would let Spencer keep the secret.
“Alright, alright I’ll stop pryin’”
“I highly doubt that, but thank you.”
Derek really wanted to know more. He wanted to try to understand Spencer, but as he sat down at the small table to eat his food, he knew the more he delved, the less he really understood about the younger man. Digging into his bag of chips he chuckled to himself at the analogy in his head. Just as you couldn’t eat just one chip, you could never get to bottom of one Dr. Spencer Reid, no matter how many layers one pulled back.
“So I was thinking while I was in the shower…” And there he went. A ramble that at most times Derek would stop or walk away from, but this was one of those times that Spencer made an insightful connection. After food, hashing out Spencer’s theory and a shower, Derek was ready for bed. He hoped that the next day would bring a break in this case. Keri was terrified, and Derek didn’t blame her. She needed some closure and to be able to get back to her life. He just hoped they could find this guy in the time given to them. Derek did not want to think about what was going to happen if they left this case unsolved.
“You know, if you ever want to go running with us, it might be nice.”
“Yeah. Hotch and I have been meeting up at the park on the weekends, sometimes early evening, to get a run in.”
“You and Hotch?” Derek curled up his brow and didn’t even try to hide his surprise at that one.
“Yeah, me and Hotch. It just kind of happened organically. I didn’t want to be in the gym anymore, so I scouted out the best parks in the area and found one I liked. It happens to be sort of between us and one day we just ran into each other. Now we meet up as much as we can. It’s nice to run with someone else. Plus, outside of work, he’s a very different person.”
“I gotta see this. Next time give me a call and I’ll meet you guys.”
“Clooney is welcomed too. The park is dog-friendly.”
Derek just shook his head as he slipped into bed, turning out the light he wondered about this new thing with Spencer and Hotch. He hoped the kid wasn’t turning to some kind of new addiction. Then he hated himself for those thoughts as he turned away from Spencer. Derek had to trust the kid to know what he was doing with his own life.
Spencer was aware that Hotch was watching him. Had been watching him for a while now and he didn’t know what to do with that. It was bad enough that Derek had put him through his own scrutinizing, he did not need Hotch to be doing it as well. Taking matters into his own hands he invited Hotch out to lunch.
After getting settled at a table and drinks and food ordered, Spencer fiddled with the handle of his messenger bag that was sitting next to him. He was trying to broach the subject, then Hotch was talking to him.
“You and the rest of the team did a good job with the stalker. Though it isn’t something we should have gotten involved in, a consultation yes, but still. It was a job well done.”
“Thank you, Hotch. She needed help. I don’t think I could understand that level of obsession. It’s actually rarer than people think it is. The lengths that Hicks went to were extraordinary, to say the least. Did you know the average for most stalkers is six to eight months and often they will move onto another target? Only a small percentage turn as violent as Hicks did, but I will never understand why we just don’t have stronger laws to protect victims.” Spencer frowned and played with the condensation on his water glass.
“It’s also a big frustration in the prosecutor’s office. We saw a lot of these cases come in and yes a restraining order might be issued, but a piece of paper doesn’t stop anyone. The sad thing is that men get stalked as well, yet there is a stigma attached to it. No matter who it is, protections for everyone is needed.”
Hotch sipped his tea and Spencer noticed, not for the first time that his friend appeared to be struggling with something. That was the other reason he wanted to come to lunch.
“Hotch, are you alright?” Spencer let his concern for his friend come through as he leaned back in the booth they were sitting in.
“I’m fine, Reid. I should be asking you that question.”
“That is a deflection if I ever heard one.” Spencer crookedly smiled as he sipped his water.
“You know that some cases just get to you.”
“I read the reports. It always saddens me when we see these cases or consult on them. I never cease to be horrified by what people in relationships do to each other.”
“Family is often the most self-destructive kinds of relationships.” Hotch sighed as he scrubbed his face. Food was put before them and the two men lapsed in conversation as they ate.
“Hotch, you know I’m here if you ever need to talk. Don’t worry, I’m not as nosy as Rossi or as invasive as Morgan. But, I can lend an ear.”
Hotch leaned back and wiped his hands on his napkin. He wasn’t one known to open up much about his personal life. Spencer watched him close and knew if he prodded just a little, the man might give and open up.
“Whatever you say, it stays between us, Aaron.”
Hotch nodded and told Spencer some of what he told Dave.
“I know it just all goes back to my issues with my own parents. Is it a blessing or a curse that we know as much as we do about psychology, yet we can’t even apply it to ourselves.”
“A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins as thick and hard as an Ox’s, or bear’s cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.” Spencer looked up and grinned at the amused expression on Hotch’s face.
“Meister Eckhart was quite the philosopher. He suffered much for his teachings. Believing that the Church and the clergy were losing sight of what was truly important. Do you think that’s happened to us, Reid?”
“I don’t know Hotch. I don’t always understand humans and their motivations. Sure, we study them, and any one of us in the BAU has as much training and knowledge as most psychologists, but does it really help us to understand the person? Will we ever get to the root of psychopathy and sociopathy? I can’t answer that, but it doesn’t stop me from trying to understand.”
Hotch pushed his plate away from him and picked up his coffee. Spencer could see that he had something on his mind still. He knew his friend needed a little prodding and to do that Spencer did what he did best, he rambled. When he was rewarded with a true Hotch smile, it made something in the pit of his stomach flutter.
“I never pegged you for a reader of 14th-century philosophy and religious mysticism.”
“I’ll tell you a secret, a part of me almost went into Seminary School. I wanted an out, I needed an out. After boarding school, and breaking up with Haley, I was lost. Took me about a year to get myself together and go to college. Then I never looked back.”
“Family can either be the biggest source of encouragement, or they can tear you to shreds. Then you have ones like mine. Father left, abandoned his family because he couldn’t deal with it. Yet, my Mother was my biggest fan.”
“My mother was indifferent. As long as I could be shown off to her friends, I was useful. Other times she just didn’t care. Then Sean came along and suddenly I wasn’t nearly good enough. My Father was a bastard.” Hotch looked away from the table and focused on something outside. Spencer knew he was being given a gift, an insight into the man that was Aaron Hotchner, not just Unit Chief Hotch.
“I took it. I only wanted to protect Sean, and for five years I did. Then my Father died and my Mother focused on him.”
“Does Sean know? Does he know that you took your father’s abuse to spare him?”
Hotch jerked his head around and glared at Spencer.
“Didn’t realize you revealed something about yourself? Hotch, I’m not stupid. I’ve seen the signs. Cases with abused children, Perotta, even the couple of times Sean has shown up at the BAU. I’ve noticed things, but knew it was never my place to ask.”
“I should never forget just how insightful you can be.” The wary tone in Hotch’s voice had Spencer sighing.
“Hotch, I will never break your confidence. What you tell me stays between us, okay?”
“I know. I trust you, Reid. I’m sorry, just a little maudlin.”
“I think you are allowed to be. It has not exactly been the best year.”
Hotch nodded, agreeing with Reid. He pulled his plate back to him and finished his lunch. Spencer had long ago finished his and knew that he and Hotch were finding their way back to being friends. Their relationship had been rocky since the Owen Savage case, but Spencer was feeling more settled, better in fact then he had in a very long time.
“I told Morgan about our runs. Invited him to the next one if he wanted to. I think he is more intrigued than he let on.” Spencer waved down a waiter and ordered dessert. He wanted something decadent to get through the rest of the day.
“That might be interesting.” Hotch only scrunched up his brows at the brownie and ice cream that was placed on the table between him and Spencer. The younger man pushed the plate so it was sitting between them and passed Hotch a spoon. Protesting at first, Spencer prodded till he took the spoon and took a bite.
“I think we need to do this more,” Hotch blurted out after finishing several bites of the rich brownie with mocha ice cream, surprising Spencer.
“I would like that, Hotch.” Spencer ‘s grin had Hotch smiling once more and right then Spencer vowed to try to get the man to smile even more. He was not letting himself wonder why he felt the way he did from getting just one of those smiles. It wouldn’t do for either of them for him to develop any deeper feelings. Spencer knew Hotch was straight, he would just be happy with the friendship that was beginning again between them.
Aaron closed his eyes, as his skin was slick with sweat, finger’s on his back tried to find purchase, but ended up scratching him. He groaned at the feeling as he snapped his hips faster chasing that release his body was after. Legs wrapped around his waist, mouth open in ecstasy. Obscene noises spilled from his lover’s mouth as he pushed in harder, faster needing to let go. His partner stiffened under him and let go, their body shook in pleasure from the orgasm. Aaron felt the hard pulsing around his cock, then he too came in the condom he was wearing.
“Shit,” Aaron panted as he looked down to see his partner’s face in pure bliss.
“You can say that again.”
Aaron pulled out and fell to the side on the bed they were sharing. He wanted to get his breath back before he went to go clean up. His bed partner stood and wandered into the bathroom on unsteady legs to clean up before coming back and collapsing next to him. A moment later Aaron did the same, disposing of the condom and cleaning up. He laid on his side smiling at the person next to him.
“I have to ask, what prompted your call?”
“The last case. It really got to me, and even though I talked it through with Dave and with Reid it was still rattling around in my head.”
“I can’t say that I’m not glad I accepted. When you and Haley weren’t coming around to the Club as much I will admit, there was some disappointment.”
“Jack changed a lot for us. Then getting the Unit Chief position after Gideon left. There was a lot going on all at once.”
“Does this mean that you are going to be showing up more?” His partner turned on his side and laid a hand on Aaron’s hip.
“I don’t know. It’s tempting.”
“Hmm, I think I would like that.”
“Un un. Remember?”
“Right. Julian, then. I heard you are going on an excavation adventure.”
“I leave in a few weeks. Why? You going to miss me?”
Aaron chuckled and pulled Julian to him and kissed him soundly.
“I miss the hair. Why are you hiding, Julian?” Aaron frowned as he pushed back the bit that fell in Julian’s eyes.
“You just can’t turn it off can you Aaron? I just needed a fresh start, a break from my past. Please, let it go.”
“Does it have something to do with this Harry person I’ve heard you call out in your sleep?”
Pain flitted through Julian’s eyes as he turned away.
“Aaron, leave it alone. That’s a past that I have to let go, I can’t go back there. Too much happened, too much between us that we may never be able to forgive each other for. I came here to get away, from my father, from where I grew up, to reinvent myself. I told you what I did in confidence. I ask you to not push it, please?.”
Aaron knew he had pushed too far. The profiler in him wanted to get to the bottom of one Draco Malfoy, now Julian Albert, Criminologist. Aaron knew he had been hurt deeply, but he was also aware the man had done terrible things himself. The guilt ran deep and Aaron knew that was why Julian had started showing up at the Club. It catered to those who were lost and seeking something to help them through this crazy life. He saw a bit of himself in Julian, the guilt, the hurt, and he thought maybe he was projecting his own problems onto the other man.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I’m a jerk, I know. I find it hard to turn it off sometimes.”
Julian looked over his shoulder at Aaron and nodded his understanding. Standing he moved to the bathroom to take a shower. Aaron watched with a bit of a heavy heart. He had not meant to try to profile Julian, but he was honest in that it was hard to sometimes shut it off. Getting off the bed he made his way into the bathroom, then into the shower behind Julian.
“Hey. I know this is one reason Haley walked away. I can’t always stop it, but I hurt you. I pushed when I shouldn’t have. I just wish there was something I could do. Somehow make it better for you.’
Julian turned around and leaned into Aaron, who brought his arms around him. They stood like that for a few minutes, letting the warmth of the water penetrate deep inside.
“You really miss the hair?” Julian finally said as he quirked his lips into a smile.
Aaron laughed as he gently pushed Julian away, then kissed him.
“Yeah, I kind of do.”
Julian snorted as he moved under the water, Aaron reached out and touched him, his eyes skimming down his body noticing how Julian’s cock reacted to his touches. A wicked gleam in his eyes, Aaron got down on his knees and gave Julian the best apology he could.
Getting home later that night, Aaron went up to Jack’s room to see the boy still awake.
“Daddy, read to me?”
“Of course. Let’s see, what do you want me to read?”
Jack scrambled off the bed and went to his bookcase in the corner of his room. Aaron smiled as his son carefully looked through his books and picked out three of them then ran back to the bed and crawled up onto it.
“Oh, I see what you are trying to do. Well, it isn’t going to work, little man.” Aaron sat on the bed and pulled Jack into his lap, the boy was giggling as they settled down. Aaron picked up the first book and saw it was one of the original Winnie the Pooh books. Aaron wrapped his arms around Jack and opened the book to the first page.
“Here is Edward Bear coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump on the back of his head behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs.” Jack giggled as Aaron read in an imitation of an English accent. Smiling down at his son, Aaron continued on as Jack mouthed the words as he read. Every so often Jack would look up at Aaron and the look of love and childlike faith and trust clenched at Aaron’s heart. This, moments like this are why he took Haley up on the offer to move back in. He didn’t regret the decision at all.
When Aaron finished the first story in the book, Jack was fast asleep in his arms. He sat there holding his son and the emotion it brought up, Aaron had to swallow or it would overwhelm him. Gently he stood and, though Jack stirred just a bit, he went right back to sleep when his head hit the pillow. Aaron took the stuffed Pooh off of Jack’s shelf and tucked it near his little body. He stood back by the door and leaned in, just watching for a moment. He reluctantly tore himself away, realizing that it was creepy watching someone sleep, especially your own kid, but he couldn’t help it. He wanted to soak in as many happy moments as possible.
Padding out to the kitchen he made some coffee to take to his office to look over some of the files that JJ had given him. She had several cases she wanted his opinion on. He worked for a bit when he looked up and saw Haley bringing in a tray of snacks and more coffee.
“I figured you could use a bit of a break. I know you have a lot on your mind, Aaron, but you also need rest and food.”
“Thanks. It looks delicious.”
“Just something to snack on. You were gone all afternoon.”
“Haley,” Aaron tried not to get exasperated.
“Sorry. I know we aren’t married anymore I have no right to ask where you were. Old habits.”
Pursing his lips a bit before he picked up a cheese-topped cracker and ate it, he wondered how much to tell her. They had once told each other everything. Somewhere along the way, they had stopped trusting in each other. He took on most of the blame, internalizing more and more.
“No, it’s alright Haley. I spent some time with Julian.”
“Oh…” Haley walked over to his desk and sat in the chair, crossing her legs and smiling. “How is he?”
“He’s going on some kind of artifact hunt. I wish I could help him, Haley. Whatever he went through, it was bad enough that he wants to erase his past even from his own mind. I think he lost someone, but he won’t talk about it.”
“And I bet you tried to profile him.”
Aaron threw down his pen and rubbed at his face a moment.
“I did. He’s a good man, Hales. But I think he carries guilt from something he did in his past. I just hope he finds what he’s looking for.”
“Aaron Hotchner, why is it you are always attracted to the ones with tragic pasts.”
Aaron snorted as he picked up a piece of fruit and ate it.
“You don’t have a tragic past. And I knew I was going to marry you the first time I saw you.”
“I remember. Your efforts to woo me were endearing. And even when you went away to boarding school, you always made time on the weekends.”
“Thank you for letting me be here. Having this time with Jack, I don’t know how I could ever repay you, Haley.”
“You don’t have to repay me, Aaron. Just be the best father you know how to be. Now, I’m going to bed. Don’t stay up too late.”
Aaron looked down at the files scattered on the desk and decided they could be looked through later. Grabbing the tray he took it to the kitchen, putting the coffee in the fridge to have iced coffee later. He covered the plate of snacks and set that in the fridge as well. After going around and locking-up, Aaron went up to his room and settled into bed. Haley had been partially right. He was a magnet for those with tragic pasts. He wasn’t sure if it was a byproduct of the job, or from his own childhood, he just knew that maybe he needed to change. To branch out more, maybe take Dave up on one of his offers to go to his club. He knew if he did though, Dave would try to set him up. Aaron was not sure if he was ready for that or not.