Title: Perfectly Imperfect
Fandom: Criminal Minds, Queer as Folk
Category: Sentinel, Fusion, Romance, Angst
Pairings: Aaron Hotchner/Ben Bruckner, Spencer Reid/Emmett Honeycutt
Characters: Aaron Hotchner, Spencer Reid, Ben Bruckner, Emmett Honeycutt, Alex Blake, Other QAF Characters, Other CM Characters
Summary: When Aaron and Ben met it was almost too perfect, but when Aaron found out Ben was HIV positive he wasn’t sure if he could handle losing another Guide, especially when his perfect Guide was killed when Aaron was still a child. Can he get past the pain of his past to find something that just might be perfectly imperfect?
Warnings: Grief, Emotional Angst, Talk of HIV partners
Tags: Romance, Bonding Sex, Safer Sex practices
Beta: None. No non-consensual Beta
Prologue – A
Ben had been feeling off for the last few days. He wasn’t sure what it was, but his emotions were spiking up and down, he felt like he was on an emotional roller coaster and didn’t know how to get off of it. He had always known that it would be difficult for him being in a relationship with a mundane, but he had fallen in love, even if he knew that for all that Michael said he loved Ben, Ben knew the truth. He may not be bonded to Michael like he would if he had his Sentinel, but he could always tell when his husband was lying to him, and Michael had been lying for a while now, he just wasn’t sure about what.
Ben looked down at his lesson plans but had no head for working on it. The Spring semester was over and he had declined to do a Summer semester. He was working on a third book, and he wanted the Summer to get ahead on it.
“Ben? Are you alright?”
Ben looked up to see one of his colleagues sitting down at the table he was currently occupying. Setting his pen down, he looked out across the campus to see students in various activities milling around the area. Was he alright? He really wasn’t sure because he didn’t understand this melancholy that had descended on him since his emotions started to spike.
“I don’t know. I’ve been feeling…off.”
“Everything okay at home?” His friend, Alex Blake an adjutant professor who teaches linguistics and the Anthropology of Language at the college form time to time asked him. He knew she regularly taught at Georgetown U in Washington DC. The two had become friends over the years and Ben always valued her opinion.
“I’m not sure, Alex. I keep getting…conflicting feelings from Michael. It’s difficult not really knowing what he is feeling. I know I should be used to this by now, but…” Ben frowned as he watched a group of students under a tree, laughing together as they had their papers and books scattered around them. The easy camaraderie of youth had him smiling and wondering at the current direction of his life.
“But you want a partner who is all in.”
“Yeah. There are times that I just feel like a placeholder for something that Michael will never have. Ever since Brian and Justin married, Michael has been moody and distant. Even Hunter has commented on his moods. Them getting married confirmed to Michael that he will never get his deepest desire and frankly I’m tired of playing second fiddle to his prurient unfulfilled fantasies.”
“Sounds like you two need to talk to someone. Someone outside your circle of friends. I know of a couple of people who are great with couples.”
“Thanks, Alex, but I know for a fact that Michael won’t go. I just have to get him to open up somehow and I fear what it will take.”
“If you need someone to talk to, you know I’m always a phone call away.”
“Thank you, Alex. I appreciate it.”
The two sat in silence as they worked on their own things. Ben was glad for the company, even if nothing was really resolved he was just glad that he wasn’t alone at the moment. Alex’s quiet demeanor helped to settle him and he wondered if Alex was a Guide. She felt like one, but he would never ask her, that to him was just as personal as asking someone about their sexuality or gender identity. Taking one last look at the group of kids studying together, Ben wondered where his life was headed because he had this terrible feeling deep down inside of him that everything was going to be changing for him, he just didn’t know what that would look like.
Gathering up his things he shoved it all in his briefcase, said his goodbyes to Alex and headed home. His classes for the day were done, he had just wanted the peace of the outdoors before he went home to the unspoken chaos that he was living in.
Pulling up to the house, Ben saw another car there. One he didn’t recognize. It wasn’t Hunter’s, he had taken his car to college with him when he left in February. Hunter was due home any day as his classes at Georgetown were ending this week as well. Ben knew Hunter worried all the time about him and Michael, but like any parent, Ben tried to reassure his son that everything was okay, even if the reality that it wasn’t.
Ben let down his tightly controlled shields on his mind and his emotions, but he wasn’t a Sentinel, he couldn’t determine much and not having a bond hindered Ben from knowing what was going on. He was almost afraid of going into the house.
Looking at the car again, Ben was trying to place it. It didn’t look like Mel or Lindsay’s. Mel often dropped by with Jenny so that Michael can spend time with his daughter. Ben had fallen for the little girl as well. She had a sassy attitude and both loved and annoyed her brother Gus. But, Ben knew the vehicle didn’t belong to either woman.
It also wasn’t Brian’s or Justin’s car. Ben had a bad feeling as he got out, gathered his things out of the back then walked up to the door. He stood there a moment wondering what he was going to find on the other side. This was the one time he wished he had a Sentinel’s enhanced senses. Sliding the key into the lock, Ben wasn’t sure he was ready for this and later on he would reflect on the fact that the little voice inside his head that had always been there told him that he knew what this was, but had refused to see it.
The house was quiet. Too quiet even for Michael being home by himself. There was usually music and some kind of storyboarding going on for Rage, the comic he wrote with Justin. In the last few years the comic had started to find a whole new audience and was doing so well, that Justin and Michael had branched out and created a couple of spinoffs. One was a female-led book title, and the other was an agender, asexual character that had already won a couple of awards. The two men might have issues with each other on a personal level, but their creative side was flourishing. They had hired a couple of new artists and writers and were coming up with ideas for new additions to Rage’s world.
But, Ben looked around and didn’t see Michael in any of his usual spots. Making his way upstairs he heard noises coming from the guest bedroom. Ben’s heart was pounding in his chest, his head was swimming with thoughts he didn’t want, his pulse was jumpy, and there was a kind of roaring in his ears that blocked out the sounds around him, and there was fear over what he was going to find.
The door was slightly ajar and when Ben pushed it open on its silent hinges, reality slammed into him fast and hard at the sight before him. Michael was being fucked by another man. Ben felt a rage deep inside him that he never had felt before. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t move as his heart was breaking. He felt the tears in the corners of his eyes but refused to let them fall. Ben stood there a moment and wondered how long this had gone on and how long he had been played a fool.
Turning on his heels, he made enough noise for the two men to realize that they were not alone. Ben stormed into his bedroom, grabbed a bag and threw clothes into it, not caring what he grabbed. When he was done, he ran down the stairs, out the front door slamming it behind him, got in his car and drove.
Ben wasn’t even sure where he was driving to till he ended up parked in Brian and Justin’s driveway. Laying his head on the steering wheel, Ben let himself breakdown. He knew if he had stayed he would have said and done things that he would have regretted. He knew he would have to confront Michael, but he wasn’t ready for that.
A tapping on his window had him sitting up and looking at Brian who was leaning against his door.
Ben and Brian had over the last few years found some common ground with each other. He no longer blamed Brian for Michael’s lingering obsession. And, when the man had grown up and finally given into his Sentinel instincts and bonded with Justin, Ben knew the man was serious.
“I…” Ben couldn’t find the words, they were stuck in his throat and he felt like he was going to break apart all over again. His door opened and Brian kneeled down next to Ben, a hand on his thigh and wrist had Ben keeping control of his emotions.
“Come on. Come inside and tell us what happened.” Ben nodded and Brain stood up and stepped back to let Ben get out of the car. A hand on his lower back helped to keep him grounded all the way inside the house and upstairs to a guest room. Ben’s emotions were barely being controlled as he was led to a bed and Justin was there, a sense of warmth and calm was projected towards him.
If anyone had told Ben that he would get to the point with Brian where he trusted him to the point that he was lying in bed, sandwiched between Brian and Justin, Ben would have called them crazy. However, the comfort and closeness of the two men was the only thing holding him together at the moment.
“Ben, what’s going on?” Justin asked as he curled himself against Ben’s front, while Brian spooned in behind him.
“Its Michael. I came home and found…” The emotions threatened to overwhelm him but two hands, one over his heart, the other on his hip kept that from happening. “He was being fucked by another man.” There, he said it and the truth of it finally did the job of breaking Ben into a thousand tiny pieces. Nothing Justin or Brian could do could stop the emotional dam from bursting.
Ben was thankful that neither Justin nor Brian said anything as he purged his emotions. After he was done he felt physically and emotionally spent. It wasn’t long before he was falling asleep trying to come to grips with the end of his relationship. There was no going back after this betrayal. Ben had given everything to Michael, the good and the bad, he never suspected that his husband would cheat on him. But then again, Michael had always secretly wished he could be Brian. But Michael didn’t want to admit that Brian had changed and mellowed out over the years. All Michael saw was the Babylon party boy, he refused to see that Brian had grown up and matured.
Loud voices and strong emotions had woken Ben up. He rolled up to a sitting position on the bed and tried to make out what was going on, but he was in a bit of a sleep fog. Standing up he felt and moved like a zombie towards the voices. His head was clearing with each step he took and when he started down the stairs he saw Michael at the bottom ranting at Brian.
“You know what, Brian, fuck you!” Michael yelled.
“Mikey, you’re treading a dangerous path. What the fuck were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t, okay? I wasn’t thinking. Just tell me where my husband is.”
“I don’t know if he wants to see you, Michael.” Justin was glaring at the angry man who was standing rigid with his hands curled into fists.
“Screw you, Justin.”
“Really? You want to continue this little temper tantrum when you are the one that fucked-up. Not me, not Brian, not Ben. You. You went and fucked around behind your husband’s back. How long Mikey? How long has this been going on, and why the fuck were you stupid enough to do this shit in your house?!”
“Because I fucking wanted to! I wanted to fuck without worry. Without some piece of rubber between us. I don’t want to have to always think about it.” Michael yelled back, startled at his own confession. Ben sat down at the top of the stairs and just watched the drama below him unfold. He was learning more about Michael in these moments than he had known in the years they had been together.
“Do you hear yourself, Michael? Are you hearing the words come out of your mouth? Don’t you get that you and Ben, your relationship is what made me wake-up to see what I had with Justin? You know, I think I’m the one that’s grown up and you are trying to stay that party boy we were seven years ago. I left that shit behind. Yeah, I may have bought Babylon, but it was because I wanted to rebuild it. To not let them win. To actually do something for the community for once and stop being a fucking selfish, partying asshat. I’d rather be home, with Justin.
“You just don’t see what you have. You can’t get over the fact that we never had sex with each other. Grow the fuck up, Michael. I did.”
Ben had never heard Brian like this. Oh, he knew the man had changed, but this was a man who had changed for the better. A man who worked on his fear and issues of commitment. This was a man who finally gave into his Sentinel and what it wanted.
“Only because this little twink wouldn’t let you go. You used to be great, Brian, and now what are you?” Michael spat and didn’t understand the danger he was putting himself in. When Brian’s cougar showed up, growling and hissing, Ben knew that Brian had been pushed too far. He had to act. He couldn’t let these men fight his battle for him. He had to face Michael on his own. When Templeton, Ben’s own spirit guide curled up in his lap and butted his head against Ben’s chest, he knew he couldn’t hide.
“All right, all right. I know I can’t stay up here. Come on.” Ben held the Maine Coon in his arms. The comfort helped to keep him calm as he walked down the stairs. Not trying to hide, he let his footsteps make noise as he approached the men at the bottom.
“Ben…” Michael’s face turned beet red in embarrassment. “How long…” Michael waved his hands wildly indicating the stairs.
“Long enough.” Ben set Templeton on the ground and moved the rest of the way forward after he took the last step. Michael started towards him, but Ben held up his hands to stop him. “Don’t. I don’t want to hear I’m sorry’s or any bullshit excuses, Michael. I’m done. I tried to give you love, respect, and a home, but time and again you have thrown it all in my face. You can’t grow up, you can’t move on. We’re done. I’m done being your punching bag and playing second fiddle to your teenage fantasies. You’re almost forty for fuck’s sake.
“Brian is in a committed bonded relationship. And no matter what you think you feel, no one will break their bond.”
“It’s all bullshit!” Michael raged as he flung an arm out toward Brian and Justin.
“You really believe that, don’t you? Even with all the proof around you? You’ve never respected my Guide abilities. I’m done, Michael.” Ben leaned against the stairway, his head down, his eyes looking at his crossed legs trying to control his emotions. He didn’t want to be the cause of a minor empathic event because he could feel himself coming apart at the seems. “Just tell me one thing.” Ben looked up at his husband and waited.
“What?” Michael frowned and Ben knew that petulant, childish Michael was emerging.
“Was any part of our relationship real?”
“Ben, how can you ask me that?”
“How can you fuck another man in our house!”
“I was stupid. I was…”
“No! No, Michael. I don’t want excuses, and you’re ditzy man-child act no longer works on me. I heard what you said. I heard you say that you wanted to. And that is the truth. Tell me, how long.”
Michael looked down at the floor and shrugged.
“Oh don’t give me that victim act. You aren’t the damn victim here Michael. I’m done with your gaslighting, I’m done with your unfulfilled fantasies, I’m done with your two-faced attitude. I loved you, Michael. I thought we were going to make it, but you’ve proven that you’re more an immature, impulsive child than Brian ever was. At least he was always honest about who he was. You never have been. So, I want the truth. How long have you been fucking another man behind my back.”
Michael looked up at Ben and glared.
Ben felt his knees go weak and thankfully Brian was fast enough to catch him. Brian used his Sentinel strength to walk Ben over to the stairs.
“I knew. I knew something was off, but I chose to ignore it. I thought we had passed all of the bullshit. I thought we had worked through me being Positive. That you understood, but obviously that wasn’t the truth. You were just hiding your real feelings from me.”
Ben took off his wedding ring and swallowed down the hard emotions that had gotten stuck in his throat. Standing up he found a strength deep down inside of him that he had not realized was even possible in this moment. He took the few steps towards Michael, put the ring in his hands and with a quiet goodbye walked away. He knew there was going to be a lot to do after this, but he couldn’t think about that. All he wanted to do right now was get stinking, blinding, drunk.
Prologue – B
Aaron let his senses out as he watched Reid sitting at the computer looking over the feed of the women being killed in their own homes. He knew how this was affecting Reid and Aaron wanted to be there for the inevitable fall out after the case ended. How the young Sentinel was keeping it all together, Aaron didn’t know, but it made him respect and care for Reid more than he would admit openly. That was for behind closed doors.
“Reid, I can have someone else work with Garcia on these feeds.”
Reid looked up and half-smiled. Aaron didn’t miss the scratching at the elbow, but with back straight and emotions clamped down, Reid shook his head.
“I’m fine, Hotch.”
Aaron wanted to call Reid out on the lie, but he knew it would undercut all of the work Reid had done on himself over the last two and a half years. Aaron had been one of the few people that had come to Reid’s aid when he needed it the most. Then, when Aaron had lost more than he ever thought he would, Reid was there for him. The two had a strong connection, able to buffer each other’s emotions and act a sort-of Guide for each other. JJ could buffer either of them, but with her bond with Will, it wasn’t as strong as before.
Derek and Emily were both mundane and couldn’t help in the way that Aaron or Reid often needed which left Dave. He was a strong Guide, but just like with Jason, the two Sentinels were often too emotionally strong for Dave to be effective. So, over the years Aaron and Reid learned to be each other’s emotional support.
“All right. But once this case is over…”
Reid nodded and reached up to wrap his hand around Aaron’s wrist, their sign in the field that they understood.
“I will, Hotch.”
The two chuckled softly even though the whole situation wasn’t amusing. Many times LEO’s were often confused by the relationship but Dave would quietly explain a portion of the truth to them and it settled them down.
“Okay, campers, I think I have a name…” Garcia’s voice came on and once again they were neck-deep in the case. Aaron sighed and knew that Reid wouldn’t open up again till they were home.
Another day and five hours later Aaron was stepping through Reid’s door. Gently he pushed the man against the wall and took his mouth in a kiss that seared the both of them right down to their very toes. Aaron had Reid’s hands above his head in one of his own hands pressed against the wall. Reid whined, needing more as he ground against Aaron.
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll get you there.” Aaron dropped his free hand down to Reid’s belt and deftly unbuckled it, the buttons and zipper were next, then he worked on his own. Trousers dropped to the floor around their ankles, naked cocks rubbed almost painfully against each other as Aaron again pressed Reid into the wall.
They had not meant to take their relationship sexual, but when Haley, Aaron’s ex-wife, and Jack, Aaron’s son, had been put into WitSec, and Aaron was healing from a brutal attack, Reid had stayed with him to help keep him keep as even as possible. One night the emotional toll was more than Aaron could handle and before they knew what they were doing, Aaron had Reid naked and under him. Ever since then, they satisfied their needs with each other and tried to ignore the emotional bond that had developed between them. Aaron knew it couldn’t last, when one of them found their Guide, if they ever did, this would end.
Aaron didn’t want to think about that. He wanted what he had, even if he knew it couldn’t really last forever. But, Aaron was a romantic at heart and often wished for things that could never be. Pushing thoughts about the future from his mind, Aaron got back to the task at hand, which was making Reid fall apart under his hands.
“Please,” Spencer begged and Aaron knew exactly what Reid wanted. To be taken out of his head, for the pain to ease, for his mind to settle and Aaron knew just exactly how to make that happen.
Hours later, restraints put away, a bath, and Aaron was curled around Reid holding him tight as the effects of what Reid called subspace started to clear and a natural sleep pushed Reid under. Aaron couldn’t shake the emotions he was feeling. He wanted to love Reid. He wished the man was his Guide, it would make everything so much easier, but he wasn’t. Aaron buried his heart deep down inside of himself, just like he buried most of his feelings, as he pressed his face against Reid’s neck, scenting him and falling asleep to that familiar smell. Reid’s two cats, Hypatia and Pythagoras had jumped on the bed, but it was Aaron’s spirit animal, who was curled up in the corner glaring at him that had Aaron wondering if his time with Reid was close to ending.
Waking up to the smell of coffee and frying bacon, Aaron realized he had slept the whole night through. He had not meant to, but it was nice, having someone next to him. Usually either he left in the middle of the night, or Reid would leave Aaron’s house early. Neither of them wanted to get Jack’s hopes up. He was still dealing with losing his mother and Aaron was still dealing with, well, everything. Sitting up he swung his legs over the side of the bed and noticed his go bag in the reading chair in the corner of Reid’s bedroom. Aaron assumed Reid had gotten up and run down to his car and grabbed it.
Closing his eyes, Aaron tried to center himself, he was looking down at his feet when he heard Reid come into the room, coffee in hand. Aaron had been glad that when he came online that he could still drink coffee. He knew many a Sentinel where they couldn’t, it was too strong of a taste for them, but not Aaron. He relished in the dark, rich brew and often lamented about the bad coffee at most police stations and other FBI offices.
Reid set Aaron’s coffee cup on the nightstand, then moved to straddle Aaron’s lap.
“I could practically hear you thinking in the other room. Just because we aren’t Sentinel and Guide does not mean that we don’t have some kind of bond. Talk to me, Aaron.”
Aaron laid his hands on Spencer’s hips, holding him there.
“I don’t even really know what’s wrong. I’ve just been feeling this weight lately.”
“I’m not surprised. You’ve been through more than anyone should ever go through.” Spencer pressed his forehead against Aaron’s, taking a deep breath. “We both have. I know that what we have, what we mean to each other is unusual, but I’m not going to worry about it today, Aaron. I know it’s hard for others to understand, but they don’t need to. All we need to worry about is ourselves.”
Aaron threaded his fingers in Reid’s hair, letting the soft texture and loose curls flow through them, grounding him. Ever since Haley was killed, Aaron was having a harder time getting a hold of his emotions, and his senses than before she had gone into WitSec. He was spiking more and he knew at some point he was either going to have to concede to a conservator or make the effort to find a Guide. But, how does one do that when you were falling for someone that you knew you couldn’t have.
“I’m a mess, Spencer. I’m still…” Tears formed, but Aaron refused to let them fall.
“No one expects you to be okay, Aaron. You put too much pressure on yourself to be strong. To show us that you’re fine when we all know that you aren’t. I’m not the only one that cares, you know.”
Aaron breathed deep and let himself settle. He still felt that weight, he wasn’t really sure what it was, or the dreams he had been having as of late. It felt like someone reaching out to him, but just when they would connect, he would wake, severing whatever connection was forming.
“Look, I need to get home. I didn’t…I mean…I…”
“It’s okay. I understand, Aaron.” Aaron pulled back and looked Reid in the face looking for the lie. But when it wasn’t there and all he felt was that quiet confidence that Reid had been building up inside of himself ever since the awful events in Georgia, Aaron nodded and let the man out of his hold. Aaron stood and walked into the bathroom to take a shower and begin to get ready for the day. As he stood under the pounding overly hot water, an overwhelming sadness enveloped him. He again had that feeling that he and Reid were ending sooner than Aaron would like, but he wasn’t sure where it was coming from. But, he wouldn’t break, he hadn’t as of yet, though there were those that were expecting him too.
Thankfully Erin Strauss, his boss, was no longer trying to push him into a bond with a Guide. Right now with how his life was still a mess, Aaron didn’t want a Guide. He was happy with how things were, even if he and Reid were hiding their relationship. The Bureau couldn’t really do anything about them, even Sentinel/Sentinel bonds, no matter how rare they were, still fell under the protection of the Sentinel/Guide agreements between the Center and the FBI. Aaron laid his hands on the shower wall and looked down at the tiled floor, watching the water fall as he tried to come to terms with the knowledge that Reid was eventually going to leave him. He had no idea where this certainty was coming from, but Aaron had always had an innate ability to just know certain things. It was typically a Guide trait, but Aaron had never been a normal Sentinel, especially the day that he came online. That was a memory that he didn’t want to explore, it still hurt too much, even thirty-three years after the event. Curling his fingers against the wall, his heart was beating too fast, his head was swimming as too many emotions hit him all at once. He tried using the techniques his Aunt and Uncle had taught him after they took him and Sean in, but it wasn’t working. Aaron cried out as he slid down to the shower floor and blacked out.
Waking up in a hospital room was way too familiar of a scene and Aaron wondered exactly what had happened.
“You’re awake. Thank God.”
“You blacked out in my shower, Hotch. You had an emotional overload and wouldn’t come out of it, no matter what we tried.”
“No need to be sorry, but I don’t think my empathic abilities are strong enough to help keep you grounded anymore. Whatever is going on with you, Aaron, its too much.”
Aaron didn’t want to have this conversation. Not at this moment, maybe not ever.
“Ignoring this isn’t going to make it go away, Aaron.” Reid had stood and moved to the bed and sat facing Aaron. “And I know what you feel for me. I’ve known far longer than you know. I feel it too, but you know we can’t keep going on like this.”
“Why not?” Aaron wanted to reach out and touch, but Reid was keeping just far enough away to be out of Aaron’s reach unless he physically moved forward.
“You know why not.”
Aaron laid his head on the pillow and turned away from Reid. He thought he had more time, but it felt like Reid was already pulling away and it hurt, mentally and emotionally.
“Look, I’ll let you get some rest. The Doctor will most likely let you leave in a couple of hours. I already called Jessica to tell her what happened and that you were okay. But, Aaron we eventually need to talk.” Reid leaned forward and laid a hand on Aaron’s stomach, then he kissed Aaron. “This is hard for me too, because I never wanted to feel these feelings for you, but I do. I can’t help you anymore, Aaron, and if you continue on as you are, you’re going to get hurt.” Reid pulled back and cupped Aaron’s cheek.
“I know. But I don’t want to have this conversation in a hospital.”
“Agreed. I’m not going anywhere, Aaron. I will still always be your friend.”
“I know, and you mine, Spencer.”
The hospital stay was short, Aaron was released with promises of finding a conservator which Reid knew was bullshit, but he didn’t call Aaron out on it.
Aaron went home and spent the day with his son. The doctor wrote him out for a couple of days and though he wanted to get back to work, he knew he couldn’t ignore his own mental health. Taking those days to be with Jack was better than any conservator could be, in Aaron’s mind that was. He didn’t want someone else in his life that he would fail and disappoint. And, how could he bring a Guide into his home, his work and protect them when he couldn’t even protect himself, or Haley.
Weeks went by and Aaron and Reid had not changed anything about their relationship, but Aaron knew he needed more. It was becoming more evident every single day, but he was reluctant to do anything about it. He was still unwilling to bring a Guide into his life after what had happened to him and his ex-wife.
That decision, however, was going to prove more difficult than he wanted to admit to. Especially when Reid came into his office, pushed him away from his computer and pulled up a website.
Glaring at Reid, Aaron wasn’t really sure what the other man was doing until he stood up, then sat down on the edge of Aaron’s desk.
“Just look at your computer.”
Aaron glared for a minute more then, pulled up to his desk and looked at what Reid had been doing.
“A dating website? Surely you aren’t serious.”
“I’m completely serious, and don’t call me Shirley.” Reid didn’t even hide the smirk he gave Aaron and Aaron didn’t try to stop the laugh that bubbled up.
“You’re quoting Airplane now?”
“What? It was a funny movie.”
Aaron shook his head as he turned back to the screen.
“I knew introducing you to Tony was a bad idea.” Aaron half-smiled as he looked at what had made Reid so excited. “And just what is so special about this particular website?”
“It’s just for Sentinel’s and Guides. I’ve been working with a few of the computer guys at the Center and we all agreed that the meet and greets don’t always work out that well. We’ve been developing this for a while now.
“I’ve been working on it here and there. It’s tailored for those of us who are either uncomfortable at the meet and greets, or who have schedules that don’t allow them to interact with other Sentinel’s and Guides.
“Don’t worry, there are a lot of safety protocols built into the site. Each person who registers goes through a vetting process, as well as an extensive questionnaire. We’ve had it in beta for about three months and have already made about six matches that would have otherwise never found each other.”
Aaron took a few minutes to search around and found that the safety protocols were quite extensive. The questionnaire he was reading through looked very familiar.
“You used the FBI’s Sentinel and Guide hiring protocols?”
“You and Gideon wrote the book on them, and we’ve had less problems with those that have been hired than the FBI had before the guide was written. I was given permission to use it by the AD.”
“I’m not questioning you using it. I’m surprised, that’s all.” Aaron pushed back away from his desk and took his time considering what it was that Reid was trying to get him to do. “You want me to register with this site.”
“Yes. I do. Look, Hotch, both of us need to find someone, and in our line of work it’s difficult to find people to date, let alone a life partner. Yes we have been able to get each other out of a zone, but it’s getting harder.”
Aaron pushed up out of his chair and walked towards the window that looked out onto Quantico base. Slipping his hands in his pockets, he knew Reid was right and he hated that. But, was this the right way to go?
People assumed that Aaron, because he was personable in media and with LEO’s and outside agents that he was a social person, but it was far from the truth. He was as much of an introvert as Spencer was.
Turning around and seeing the earnest look on Reid’s face, Aaron knew he would give into the younger man’s whims. Who knows maybe he would end up finding his perfect match.
Laughing to himself he walked back to his desk, but not before touching Reid’s face to ground himself before he started to create his online profile.
“If this goes wrong, I am blaming it all on you.”
Reid jumped off Aaron’s desk, planted a kiss on his cheek and laughed as he left Aaron’s office.
“Cheeky,” Aaron said under his breath knowing full well Reid could hear him.
Chapter – 1A
Ben looked around his new classroom at Georgetown and liked the feel of it. When his class was added to the roster for the new Fall semester no one at the college expected that enrollment would fill up as fast as it did. The waiting list had also filled to the max. A last-minute change and Ben was moved from one of the normal classrooms and into a lecture hall. That meant he could take even more students past the waitlist. He enjoyed teaching as many students as possible. His classes had always been popular and it made him feel proud of his accomplishments as a teacher and an author.
Ben set out the materials for the semester onto his desk, the reading list and the syllabus were in easy reach for students as they entered the room. He also had an example of the books that would be discussed over the course of the next eighteen weeks. He was using a mix of good representations of gay and non-heteronormative characters, and ones that had a bad or stereotypical view of LGBTQ characters. He was also including some of the gay romance books written mostly by women, again good and bad representations of both.
After getting set-up, Ben felt a nervousness he had not felt since he first stepped foot in a classroom as a professor. The summer had not gone as he had planned. He had wanted to work on his next book, outlining his plot and his characters, and starting on a rough first draft. But, with finding out his husband had cheated on him, and for months, Ben’s life was turned completely inside out.
The call from Georgetown University had been unexpected. They had heard he, most likely from Alex, had opted to take a sabbatical from Carnegie Mellon. Ben had wanted to take the rest of the year to get some kind of normalcy back in his life, but he knew that was going to be impossible for a while. The opportunity to teach somewhere else appealed to him, and Ben found himself saying yes before really thinking it through.
Chuckling under his breath, Ben watched as Templeton curled up on the top of Ben’s desk, purring. His Guide was comfortable here and that was very important to Ben.
“You like it here?” Ben asked as he scratched at Templeton’s ears. The cat purred even louder and flopped around on his back to expose his belly. Ben laughed and just shook his head. His spirit guide was shameless, but he mirrored Ben’s current emotions.
“I think I do too, buddy.” The clock ticked closer to the time for class to start and Ben stood up, and slowly paced to get himself in the proper mindset for the next 90 minutes. The first days were always chaotic, and Ben knew this would be no exception.
Flopping down on the couch in his new place, Ben laid his head back and tried to meditate. The headache that had started just after lunchtime wasn’t going away.
“You all right, honey?” Emmett Honeycutt and Ben’s current roommate asked as he sat down near Ben.
“Just a bit stressed out. The first day is always chaotic.”
“You remembered to take your meds?”
Ben smiled and opened his eyes to look towards Emmett.
“Yes. I have reminders on my phone. I’m fine Auntie Em.”
“Hmm, I just know how the last few months have been and even the best of us can be forgetful.”
Ben sat up and leaned towards Emmett, taking one of his hands and holding it. The two men had become closer in the aftermath of Michael’s betrayal. Ben had practically dragged Emmett along. The younger man needed to get out of Pittsburgh for his own good. He was a bright, energetic young man with ambitions that were being held back by his circle of friends. Emmett needed to get away from Ted, and more importantly, Michael. After a night of drinking, talking, and some fooling around, Emmett agreed.
Ben had felt ashamed the morning after that he had come onto Emmett, but Emmett had told him nothing more than a few kisses had happened. The younger man wasn’t going to take advantage of Ben in his highly emotional, and very drunk state. Then Emmett went on a long ramble about Guides and how highly sexual they were and shouldn’t ever be ashamed of it.
Ben, for his part, had just shaken his head and laughed. Emmett had become part of Ben’s support system and his own circle of friends.
“I really am fine, Em. I promise.”
Emmett huffed as he shoved off the couch a little dramatically.
“Well, I have dinner for you.”
“You didn’t have to cook.”
“I know, but you are now my guinea pig.” Emmett smiled wide as he sashayed into the kitchen and pulled something out of the oven. Ben had not even registered the smell of food he had been so tired. Standing up he went to the kitchen and saw quite the spread. Emmett had been busy. “I made some contacts here in DC and started to spread the word. A little meet and greet is planned, and who knows, maybe I can get my little party planning business off to a start here.”
“I think you’ll do great, Em.”
“You know what? I think so too.”
Ben tried a little of everything that Emmett had made and declared everything delicious.
“So, you still talking to that guy you met online?” Emmett was leaning over the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room, fork in hand, playing with it. Ben felt the blush creep over his cheeks.
“Is he a big strapping Sentinel?”
“Em…” Ben rolled his eyes as he stood up and walked towards the office he and Emmett shared. It had been a third bedroom, but the two were able to turn it into a fairly comfortable workspace for both of them. The apartment was a little pricey but with the two of them renting they were managing it quite well.
“What? You, sexy Benjamin Bruckner, are a very good catch for any Sentinel in his right damn mind. The fact you have one who is interested, that is a good thing.”
“We are just talking, Emmett. Nothing more.”
“Hmm, I have a very good feeling that is gonna change real quick.” Emmett’s southern twang followed Ben as he walked down the short hall.
Ben sat at his desk and booted up his computer. He logged onto his chat program and hovered there a moment before he typed in his hello.
Hi. I’m glad you messaged. It’s been a hell of a day.
One of my team was bullied into the State Department even though she has turned down the offer several times. I don’t like this. I had no say in the matter which makes me think that something else is going on.
Is there something I can do?
No. I wish there was, but no. The team is a little frayed and it isn’t helping my own emotions. I’ve had a couple of sensory spikes and my boss is on my ass about a conservator again.
Ben sat back in his chair and ached to help Aaron, but they had not even met in person yet. The months leading up to Ben’s moving to DC and getting the position at Georgetown, Emmett had found the Sentinel/Guide dating site and told Ben about it. Of course Ben was reluctant at first, he was just coming off his divorce and dealing with the emotional toll Michaels’ betrayal had on him. But, after much cajoling from Emmett, Ben broke down and signed up.
Aaron was someone that Ben could find himself caring quite a bit for. That Guide part of himself kept reaching out, and when a large Norwegian Forest cat started to show up at the oddest times, Ben began to wonder.
I’m sorry you’re dealing with so much lately.
There was a long pause in the conversation then the question that Ben had been both dreading and looking forward to finally happened.
I ah, I know we have only really talked like this, but I think I want to see you in person. We’ve been given a few days off to recoup and try to find someone to fill out that hole in the team.
Ben looked at his schedule, he knew it by heart but it gave him something to distract him with until he could figure out his own mind. His teaching days were Mondays and Wednesdays. He also did some tutoring in the English lab for about three hours on Thursdays, but that was a loose schedule. He knew he wanted to learn more about Aaron Hotchner and he could only do that if they actually saw each other in person.
I have Tuesdays and Fridays besides the weekends. There’s a cafe I like near Georgetown, we could meet there for lunch around eleven?
The pause wasn’t long and Ben wasn’t sure if he was happy about that or not. Suddenly all of this was becoming more real. Aaron would no longer be a name behind a computer identity, he would be a real person in Ben’s mind.
Tuesday, then. Just send me the name of the place and I’ll GPS it. I look forward to meeting you in person. And hey, at least I know how to handle you if you’re a crazed stalker.
The smiling emoji had Ben laughing, Templeton jumped up on his lap and touched the computer screen. Ben had a feeling that his very nosy spirit guide was already giving his blessing.
“It’s just lunch, Temp. Don’t get overly excited.”
“Mrrow,” Templeton trilled as he circled three times in Ben’s lap, then curled up and started to purr away.
Ben buried his hands in the cats fur, settling himself. There was so much that he and Aaron needed to talk about, mainly the fact that Ben was HIV positive. He didn’t even know how to begin that conversation. It wasn’t that Ben wasn’t open about his condition, just that in the modern era, new diseases were beginning to infect Sentinels and Guides.
Extensive research after he was first diagnosed, Ben had discovered that there were few Sentinels and Guides with HIV and even a couple of cases of full-blown AIDS. Doctors at the S&G centers were baffled. Sentinels and Guides weren’t supposed to get sick. Childhood diseases like measles, mumps, chickenpox, and scarlet fever were rare in even latent S&G children. If they did contract anything, they fought them off as easily as the common cold.
But, with time and vaccinations, it was almost unheard of for an S&G to get sick with any of those conditions. Even certain cancers and other debilitating diseases were extraordinarily rare. But, from what Ben had uncovered was that S&G’s don’t have the antibodies to fight off any of the modern diseases that were popping up. HIV wasn’t the only thing S&G doctors were seeing. Ben had talked to many women who had contracted cervical cancer from being infected with HPV. Many of them were getting their sons and daughters vaccinated with an HPV vaccine specially created for Sentinels and Guides.
Ben had gone through a period of depression, anxiety, anger, and fear after he found out he was infected. He wasn’t a party boy and could count on one hand the number of partners and one-night stands he had over the years. When he learned his partner had infected him, it devastated Ben.
He knew he was going to have to have this conversation with Aaron and would accept whatever came after. Ben wasn’t emotionally invested yet, but he could admit that it would hurt if Aaron rejected him and Ben was well aware of that very real possibility.
“You look rather pensive.” Alex crossed her arms and leaned them on the table after pushing her tray aside.
“Sorry. I’m just really nervous about this lunch tomorrow.”
“The Sentinel you’ve been chatting with?”
“I can’t explain it, Alex. I feel this connection to him already, but we still haven’t discussed a few things. Things I didn’t want to talk about over a computer screen.”
“Ben, you just have to be honest with him and hopefully he is honest with you.”
Ben pushed his half eaten sandwich away from him and leaned forward. He had not really told Alex much about the person he was chatting with, and he knew she was an FBI agent as well as a Professor.
“He’s an agent.”
Alex lifted one eyebrow as she grabbed her tea and sipped. Ben knew it was her way to give herself a moment to ponder just exactly what she wanted to say. Ben was always amazed by the woman and her need to use precise language.
“That’s interesting. Do you know what department he works with?”
Ben rubbed his face as he narrowed his eyes.
Alex almost choked on her tea. She set her cup down and tried to quickly recover.
“Who?” Alex swallowed hard and Ben wondered if she knew Aaron.
Alex stared at him blinking several times. Grabbing her cup she took another sip.
“I am a bit shocked. I never took Aaron as anything other than straight.”
Ben heard something else in her voice and he wondered about it. He let out his empathy and did a gentle surface reading of her and found a confusing set of emotions. He tried to soothe her, hating to see his friend in distress.
“He told me that he is attracted to someone’s intelligence more than their biological gender. So, I take it you know him?”
Alex felt sad to Ben, he wrapped her up in his empathy and wanted to make her feel better.
“There was a case that I and two other agents were working. It went sideways and the three of us almost didn’t recover our careers. I fought hard to get back to where I am now. I was on my way into the BAU at the time, but I became a scapegoat.
“He was a young ambitious lawyer turned Agent. He and Jason Gideon, the then leader of the BSU as it was called, were charged with investigating. Aaron was fair to me and I always appreciated that. When our boss essentially blamed me, Aaron had gone to bat for me. It was his support that helped me keep my job.”
“He sounds like a good man.”
“He is. And when you become part of his pride, he is a fierce protector. He’s a good Sentinel and a good man.”
Ben drank his coffee as he looked out over the campus, hoping that Alex was right.
Chapter – 1B
“JJ, explain?” Aaron rubbed at his temple as Marlowe appeared on his desk meowing and pawing at his arm. JJ was sitting on the other side of his desk, legs crossed and an angry expression on her face, with their boss Erin Strauss next to her.
“Hotch, six months ago I received an offer from the State Department offering me a position. I said no. They’ve asked twice more, and again I’ve said no. I’ve told them that I am in a committed bonded relationship and I wasn’t going anywhere. I assumed since they stopped calling that it was over.”
“And why have you involved yourself, Chief Strauss?” Strauss’ lips were pinched and her eyes were narrowed as she glared at both JJ and Aaron.
“They called me and asked me to try to talk sense into Miss Jareau.”
“Erin, no one can compel a bonded Guide into another position, it doesn’t matter who they are. JJ is part of my pride and you really don’t want me to pull the Alpha Prime card here.”
“I don’t really see how that is relevant.”
Aaron leaned forward on his desk and glared right back at Strauss.
“Because if I tell the DC S&G Center that the FBI is in violation of S&G contracts, they will pull every single Sentinel and Guide from this building to start with. I have the authority over every S&G in this building no matter their status or department. You may be my boss when it comes to the regular day to day working of this office, but in S&G matters, my position takes precedence.
“Now, if JJ has declined their offer, that should be the absolute end of it.”
Aaron could feel Strauss’ frustration, but he wasn’t sure where it was coming from. There was something else going on, but they didn’t have time to deal with this, they had to head out to Atlantic Beach, Maryland and they were losing time.
“Look, we need to get going. Time is critical at the moment to get to Maryland. The plane is waiting and the team is ready to head out. If we must, we can discuss this when we get back, but as far as JJ and myself, the matter is closed.”
Aaron stood and shoved his files into his briefcase. Strauss stood like she was going to say something else, but just pressed her lips together and stormed out of Aaron’s office. Marlowe had been growling at the woman the whole time she was there, and Aaron did nothing to stop him. JJ’s songbird was perched on her shoulder rubbing at her cheek trying to soothe her.
“Thank you, Hotch. You didn’t have to do that.”
“You’re pride Jayje, and more importantly you’re my friend. No matter what happens, I will always protect you.”
JJ blushed a little as they walked out of his office together and headed towards the plane. They had two entitled assholes to interrogate and a young woman to save.
Aaron’s headache was getting worse as he watched as Spencer finally got to one of the men. Spencer was able to outsmart the smarmy little…Aaron sighed and needed to stop thinking so negatively, but he couldn’t help it. Men like the two they had been dealing with always got under his skin. He had come from money and privilege, but he didn’t flaunt it. He didn’t expect people, especially Guides, to fall at his feet and cater to his every whim just because he had more than others.
The young woman was a strong Guide and her strength and determination is really what saved her life. Aaron shuddered to think what would have happened if she had not found that buoy platform. Her Elephant Seal spirit had shown herself to JJ and the spirit guide had helped them to find her after the submissive partner gave up everything.
“All right, what’s going on with you?”
Dave sat down and handed Aaron a box of food and a cup of coffee.
“What do you mean?”
Dave leaned back and chewed on the inside of his cheek as he watched Aaron sip at his coffee.
“I mean you and JJ disappeared a couple of times and your senses have been spiking all day. If I had not buffered you when we went in to talk to Barrett you would have torn that young man apart. Not that anyone would have blamed you. The girl is a Guide and well within your rights, but you’ve been on edge.”
Aaron finished off his coffee and sighed.
“State Department is trying to get JJ to say yes to a job offer. There is something I don’t like about it Dave, and I am going to get to the bottom of this. According to Strauss, JJ has no choice. I’m fighting this, Dave, because I think Strauss has something up her sleeve.”
“Are you sure you are picking your battles correctly?”
“I know I am. If I have to I will invoke my Alpha Prime rights and take Strauss to task. First I will find out what is going on. JJ wants to wait until we get back to the office to say anything.”
“Aaron, have you ever considered looking for a Guide?”
Aaron picked up his box of food and started eating, not really saying much. He thought about Ben and how, even through the computer, the Guide had felt…good to Aaron. He didn’t want it to, he had so much baggage, but he began to think maybe there was a possibility with Ben. The Maine Coon that had been showing up in the middle of the night made Aaron wonder if it belonged to Ben and the spirit guide was trying to tell Aaron something.
“I’ve been talking to someone. Nothing concrete. We’re just talking.”
“Oh, nothing. Just…hmm.”
“You like this person.”
“We have only been messaging.”
“Yeah, but I know you Aaron Hotchner, and I say that you like them.”
“Okay, maybe I do, but we haven’t met face to face yet.”
“What the hell are you waiting for?”
Aaron pondered the question. He knew it was typical Rossi snark, but Aaron knew it was a valid question. What was he waiting for?
I’m glad you messaged, it’s been a hell of a day.
One of my team was bullied into the State Department even though she has turned down the offer several times. I don’t like this. I had no say in the matter which makes me think that something else is going on.
Is there something I can do?
No. I wish there was, but no. The team is a little frayed and it isn’t helping my own emotions. I’ve had a couple of sensory spikes and my boss is on my ass about a conservator again.
Aaron was glad that Ben had messaged him. He was frustrated and angry. Then Reid and the toll this was taking on him.
“So, who you talking to?” Jessica leaned over the back of the couch towards Aaron and he could feel her smirking at him. He had his legs stretched out, stockinged feet on his coffee table with his personal laptop on his lap.
“I don’t know if I should tell you.” Aaron teased. His sister-in-law has been a godsend. She had tried not to take sides in his and Haley’s divorce. She loved them both, and Aaron was glad that she had not blamed him for Haley’s death.
“Ohh, now I really want to know.”
Aaron knew he had taken a while to respond so he sent a short message back to Ben.
“Anyone ever tell you that you’re a nosy little sister?” Aaron quirked up the side of his mouth in a smile and Jessica just leaned against him as she laughed.
“I think Haley told me that every single day.”
Ben had messaged back and Aaron responded, he didn’t even hide anything from Jessica.
“I don’t know, Jess.”
“You should ask him out.”
“This isn’t freaking you out?”
“What? That you’re talking to…oh no! A boy…” Jessica exaggerated and covered her mouth in fake shock making Aaron genuinely laugh. “Aaron, I know Sentinels aren’t supposed to care about gender, but you and I both know that’s bullshit. There is just as much prejudice among you guys as there is among mundanes. Haley told me a long time ago that you were bisexual. In fact, one of her worries was that you were going to leave her if you ever found your perfect Guide.”
Aaron looked at his computer screen, Ben’s picture, a candid shot of him laughing, leaning against a wall in a very fitted blue button-down. Aaron had felt attraction the first time he saw Ben’s picture. He also felt something else, a pull on that thing inside of him that made him a Sentinel.
“Ask him out.”
“Aaron Hotchner, I know a part of you still loves Haley, but she’s gone and you can’t live your life alone. I know you wanted things with Spencer to work out, but even I know it doesn’t work that way. You need someone so I say go for it.”
Aaron slowly shook his head. His sister-in-law could be a pain in the ass sometimes, mostly because she was usually right.
Taking a deep breath Aaron looked at the screen for a moment and knew he had nothing to lose. If Ben turned out to be someone not right for him he at least proved to himself that he could actually meet someone. Maybe they could end up being friends.
I ah, I know we have only really talked like this, but I think I want to see you in person….
Aaron made a few calls, and called in a few favors to get the whole story behind what Strauss and the State Department were really doing. What he learned made him angry enough to call a meeting with SecDef, the Director of the FBI, and since he was in DC for a meeting anyway, US Omega Primes, Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. Strauss was already there and Aaron was pacing trying to calm down.
“Aaron, I think you need to tell us why you called in your favors to have us meet.” SecDef, Jack O’Neill leaned towards Aaron, while his Guide Daniel Jackson sat on Director Mueller’s desk.
“I called this meeting because what I found out breaks every single Sentinel and Guide protocol that Jim and Blair have worked very hard to put into place.”
Aaron stopped pacing and glared at Erin Strauss.
“Section Chief Erin Strauss gave my media Liaison, Jennifer Jareau the impression that she had no choice but to accept the assignment. Now, this got me investigating because JJ is a bonded Guide and any assignment given to her must also be given to her Sentinel. When Will said he had known nothing about it, that’s when my suspicions rose.
“You see, Chief Strauss, what you failed to understand was that no meetings that reassigned Sentinels and Guides could take place in DC without me being a part of it. That tells me that you truly do not understand Sentinel and Guide protocol, or you think you have the right to go behind my back and get around S&G protocol with no consequences.
“When I reached out to the State Department, they indeed confirmed that JJ did get a job offer with them. When she turned down the second offer, they easily backed off and told me that at no other time was any other offer onboard and at no time did they cajole or force a bonded Guide into a job they did not want.”
Strauss was glaring at Aaron as several spirit guides had now manifested themselves in the room, all of them looking upset.
“Hotch, what the hell is going on here.” Jim turned and looked at the section chief who had the decency to swallow back any retort that was on her tongue.
“Strauss, under a secret program was going to send JJ to Afghanistan. A woman who is untrained in combat, is not a profiler and has zero military experience, was going to be sent to Afghanistan to interrogate women who had been close to Bin Laden’s camp, and possibly Bin Laden himself. And, again, a bonded guide who was not going with her Sentinel.”
O’Neill leaned back in his chair and laid his left ankle on his right knee. Daniel was sitting close and had a hand on O’Neill’s wrist. Aaron knew SecDef was pissed, but keeping his emotions under control.
“Whose fucking idea was that?” O’Neill didn’t mince words and Aaron was grateful the man was on his side.
“We thought a woman, one who has dealt with victims, would be able to get through to some of these women.”
“And just why were you involved, Erin? The FBI has absolutely nothing to do with Afghanistan and the conflict going on over there. Why the hell were you?”
“Because the General in charge asked for my help.”
“And you should have said no. It wasn’t your place to get involved. Jack, what the hell is going on over there at the State Department that this went on?” Mueller glared at Strauss as he tried to get a handle on this conversation.
“Who was the General, Chief Strauss.” Jack was barely holding back his Sentinel voice and Aaron wouldn’t blame him if he used it. Strauss was being overly difficult.
Erin pressed her lips together and kept her mouth shut.
“Erin, you need to tell us what the hell you were thinking.” Mueller was glaring at her as well, but not as strongly as Ellison and O’Neill. The two Sentinels were pissed off as they watched the woman, who was becoming uncomfortable under their gaze.
“If you don’t tell Director Mueller what the hell you were doing, what you were thinking I have no choice but to cancel all Sentinel and Guide contracts. Oh, don’t worry I won’t let any of them go without a job, I’ll just open that Sentinel/Guide agency that I’ve been wanting for the last fifteen years.” Ellison continued to stare at her and Aaron really thought Erin was going to be stubborn, but even thinking about the loss of so many Sentinels and Guides in one agency had to be an untenable situation for her to even consider. Sentinels and Guides made some of the best agents at the FBI, and she knew it.
“Fine. It was General Braithwaite. He just wants to find Bin Laden.”
“How am I not surprised.” O’Neill groused under his breath. “The man has been a thorn in my proverbial side for the last seven years. His ambitions are going to get him killed. Don’t worry, I’ll haul his ass into the Pentagon and have a….talk with him.”
Aaron did not want to consider what that talk would look like.
“You get this mess cleaned up, Mueller. We don’t want to have to pull all of our people from your employment. You know the FBI’s reputation has never been better. With Sentinels as heads of your departments they have ferreted out the corruption that had infected the FBI for a long time.”
“Yes, Ellison. As you keep reminding me.” Mueller looked upset that Jim was right. “Aaron I see now why you wanted this meeting. Strauss stepped outside of the bounds of her authority. I will personally see to it that you get your media liaison back.
“And, I will try to get more answers as to why they chose her in the first place. There are several women who have trained for those types of duties. I had several at the SGC that dealt with trauma victims and were trained, combat soldiers. Probably even better than most earthbound ones.”
Aaron knew a little about the SGC and what that was about. He had read reports that were declassified in recent years. He still didn’t believe half of them, but he had seen his fair share of strange things over the years.
“Do you need anything else from me?” Aaron asked as Marlowe rubbed at Aaron’s legs.
“No. You can go. And thank you for bringing this to our attention. I promise it will be dealt with immediately.”
Aaron nodded his head and headed out of the Director’s office only to be called out by Ellison with his Guide following after.
“Aaron. It’s good to see you again. I haven’t had a chance to come out to see you since Haley’s funeral.”
Aaron’s smiled didn’t quite reach his eyes as he nodded at his friend.
“I’m fine, Jim. I just need to get JJ back and my team on an even keel once more.”
“I really don’t think you are, Aaron. I could feel your senses spiking, and that’s only because we’re friends. You need to have a conservator.”
Aaron leaned against the wall and crossed his ankles. Taking a moment to pull his senses back and even out, he took a deep breath.
“I don’t want a conservator. I don’t want to bring someone into my life that my son could potentially get attached to. Right now, I need to think about him. He’s doing well, and I don’t want to rush into anything that will interfere with that.”
“I know you’re thinking about him, Aaron. But, if you have a sensory collapse, what is going to happen to Jack then?” Blair stood next to Aaron, helping him to even out some of those frayed edges.
Aaron knew Blair was right and that was why he was going to give Ben a chance. He just didn’t want his friends to be nosy and push him to fast into something before he was ready for it.
“Look, I’m talking to someone, and no I am not giving you their name or anything about them. I need time. It isn’t just me I have to think about, it’s Jack and my career. I’m not ready to give up the BAU, not even for a Guide.”
Jim leaned against the wall on the other side of Aaron and crossed his arms.
“I understand that. We’ll stay out, for now.”
Aaron knew they would, but he needed to do this on his own, to figure out what he wanted and if Ben really would fit into his life. There was so much they had to discuss before that could happen.
“Thank you. I ah, I need to get going. I have a lunch date.” Aaron didn’t even try to hide the smile as he thought about Ben. He was thankful the man understood about the last-minute meeting, now he was going to change, he didn’t want to be in a suit. His suits were a kind of armor for Aaron, he didn’t want to be guarded when he met Ben face to face. He wanted to try to be open and honest. That was the only way this was ever going to work between them.
Jim and Blair left with promises to meet for dinner while they were in DC, and that they would keep in touch after they got back home. Aaron was glad everything went in his favor, he just wasn’t sure what was going to happen now. He supposed that he would find out after the team’s days off were over. Putting all of that out of his mind, Aaron went to his office, grabbed the go-bag he hand in there and quickly changed. Forty minutes later he was pulling up to the cafe and tried to tamp down on his nerves. Taking a minute to center himself, Aaron got out of his car and walked inside. He saw Ben sitting at a table by the window and something in Aaron’s chest constricted for a moment.
The man was gorgeous, and even this far across the restaurant Ben’s aura felt good to him. He could get lost in the sea of calm that surrounded the Guide and Aaron almost let out an unmanly whine at just how good it felt. The Sentinel was unconsciously reaching out and Aaron had to fight hard to pull back and calm down. Ben looked up abruptly and their eyes locked for what felt like eternity but was just a mere moment. Aaron knew then he was fucked.
Chapter – 2A
Ben was sitting by the large window of the cafe. It was one of his favorite spots. Had a nice view outside and the window was tinted just enough to keep the brightness muted, but not blocked completely. He knew Aaron might be late, which was fine as they had discussed some of what was going on. Aaron had sounded on edge, even through the computer Ben had wanted to reach out to him, calm him and help those frayed edges he knew the Sentinel was trying to deal with, but they just had not built up enough trust as of yet.
Ben was reading E.M. Forster’s Maurice. It was a book he had read several times and was one of the first literature books he had discovered that dealt with sexuality in a time when being gay was against the law. It had spoken to Ben at a young age when he was already questioning his own sexuality. Forster’s book was one of the cornerstones of his syllabus and an important work in his mind. He knew there were better, deeper explorations of homosexuality, especially in modern literature, but Forster’s book had an impact in the raw frankness of the novel that Ben appreciated.
He was about to the part where Maurice was meeting one of his lovers for the first time when he felt Aaron walk in the cafe. He could feel just how frayed and on edge the Sentinel was and Ben, not even really trying to hold himself back, reached out and just gently touched on those edges. The Sentinel’s relief was almost a living thing and Ben ached to help him even more. But, he knew trust had to be built up between them first.
Finally, he looked up and locked eyes with Aaron and felt a kind of relief inside him. That part of Ben that was Guide had been buried for so long that it was waking up and it was both painful and beautiful at the same time. They stared at each other for only a mere moment, but to Ben it felt like lifetimes were going by that it took everything in him to pull back. When he started to breath again, it was a relief. Then, Aaron was walking towards him and Ben could feel the controlled danger in the man. This was someone you didn’t want to screw with and that danger kind of excited him.
Ben was far from a violent man, he was a pacifist, but Aaron was like a stalking cat, grace, beauty, and fierceness all rolled into one. He attributed the confidence the man was exuding to the Sentinel, but also to years of honing himself into a leader. Ben felt his breathing go ragged as he stood up and reached out a hand to shake Aaron’s.
When the two men touched, there was a spark inside of Ben and he knew without a doubt that Aaron was not just a Sentinel that might be compatible with him, but Aaron was his Sentinel, and he suspected the man was an Alpha. Didn’t that just complicate matters all to hell?
“Aaron.” Ben found himself at a loss for words because at that moment he didn’t want words, he wanted more, but he needed to regain control form the Guide part of himself or this was going to not end well at all.
“Ben.” Jesus Christ, Buddha, Krishna, and every other deity that Ben could think he both cursed and prayed to as Aaron’s melodic baritone slithered inside of him. Then the smile.
“Anyone ever tell you that the combination of that smile and your voice is devastating?” Ben lifted the corner of his mouth in his own smile and the reaction he got from Aaron was a bit of an ego boost.
“Maybe I should sit here stone faced and quiet. I’ve been called Agent No-Smile in the office.”
“Really? That’s not a very nice nickname.” Ben finally let go of Aaron’s hand and sat down with Aaron doing the same. Aaron chuckled and leaned in a bit towards Ben.
“I can’t blame them. I admit to being a bit closed off and hyper professional when at the office or in the field. I purposefully didn’t wear a suit today because I did not want any armor on when we met. I want to be as honest with you, Ben, as honest as I can be.”
Ben sat back and picked up his glass of iced tea and took a long sip. He wanted that to, and he knew he was going to have to tell Aaron the whole truth before this lunch date was over with. He could admit to a bit of fear about that.
A hand on his had him looking up.
“Where did you go?” Aaron asked.
“Just, this is all a little overwhelming.”
Aaron threaded his fingers with Ben’s with Ben allowing it. The simple touch felt better than it should, but he wasn’t going to deny the instincts that were leading the both of them.
“I feel it too. This is probably where I should tell you that I am the Alpha Prime of DC. I have a large pride that I’m responsible for and take that very seriously.”
“Wow.” Ben shook his head once and processed that bit of information. His earlier assessment that Aaron felt like an Alpha was confirmed, but not just an Alpha, a prime which meant “…oh shit.”
The smile Aaron was giving him had Ben groaning and leaning forward. He let go of Aaron’s hand to bury his face in his own hands to try to come to terms with what this meant.
“Yeah, that means that you, Ben Bruckner are most likely an Alpha and if we bond, you’d be a Prime Guide.”
“I can see why you didn’t want to tell me this over a computer screen. This…is a lot to take in.”
“I should probably say I’m sorry, but I’m not. I’m done trying to downplay who I am and what I am capable of. There’s going to be some shake-ups in my department after this morning’s meeting. I don’t know what that’s going to look like, but I’m going to have to prepare my team once our days off are over.”
“Aaron, I know we’re still getting to know each other, still navigating this between us, but I can feel how frayed you are and,” Ben reached out and took Aaron’s hand in his, once more threading their fingers together. “I am feeling compelled to help you.”
Aaron didn’t let go as he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes a moment. He nodded and reached out with his other hand, threading that one with Ben’s as well.
Ben carefully let that part of him that was Guide carefully open up to Aaron, he knew he had to be careful or the two could end up in a bonding imperative and Ben still had not told Aaron about his positive status. That was an important piece of information that Aaron needed before anything even remotely physically intimate happened.
He let a warm, soothing wave of calm wash over Aaron, filling in those cracks and helping the Sentinel to smooth out those edges. He eased Aaron’s heightened senses and helped him to try to make sense of his emotions. It wasn’t long enough, but since they were in public, Ben knew they had to curb what they were doing so they didn’t draw more attention to themselves than they already were. He pulled back slow and gentle trying not to startle Aaron.
“Thank you. I do feel better.”
“You’re welcome, and it was my pleasure.”
A waitress came over and handed Aaron a menu, he ordered iced tea and then there was a short period of awkward silence.
“I guess there are things we should talk about, but I’m not sure where to start.” Aaron set the menu aside and sipped at his tea again.
“Well, you know about my divorce. I didn’t mention my son, Hunter.” Ben’s face softened and the smile that came over him as his emotions ramped up had Aaron lifting his eyes. “He’s a great kid. Finishing up college. He came online as a Sentinel when he was a teen after he had been hurt by someone he thought was a friend.”
Ben decided to test the waters and start the conversation he was dreading.
“Hunter has HIV. He was diagnosed after being hurt. He had been living as a street hustler in the LGBTQ area of Pittsburgh. Michael and I took him in and that first year was rough, but eventually, he came back home and started to get his life together.”
“That must have been rough being diagnosed so young, and being a Sentinel.”
“It was, but he’s on a new cocktail and he’s doing well. He makes sure to keep up his doctor’s visits and he’s having fun. He promises he’s being safe. He’s not ready for his Guide, but I think Hunter will find her when he’s ready.”
“Yeah, he’s very sure that his Guide is female. Hunter is straight, but when his Mother forced him on the streets to hustle he found he could make more money with men than with women. He had a very hard beginning, but after counseling and getting through school, he’s on a good track.”
The waitress came by to take their orders and Ben could see that Aaron was a bit pensive.
“I’ve only told you a little about my job. We hunt serial criminals. My team’s specialty is serial killers, but we also specialize in most serious serial crimes. What I didn’t tell you was that last year, my ex-wife was killed by a serial killer who fixated on me. I went feral, Ben. I ripped the man apart. It took several unbonded Guides to bring down. If I hadn’t stopped him, he would have killed my son, Jack. He was only four at the time.”
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry, Aaron.”
Aaron looked up at Ben and reached out for his hand again.
“A few months prior to that, Foyet broke into my apartment and attacked me. He stabbed me seven times and it took months to recover physically, but emotionally I know I have bouts of PTSD, depression, hypervigilance. In fact, sitting with my back to the door makes me itchy and the Sentinel inside of me very nervous.”
“We can switch seats if you’re uncomfortable, Aaron.”
“No. My therapist and I have been working on my hypervigilance. I need to learn trust again. I know instinctively that if there was a threat, the Sentinel would take over and respond. It’s been rough and I’m still dealing with some of that. I’m better, but I’m not all the way there. I have a lot of baggage and my job is dangerous.
“I’m also a workaholic, which I am working on as well, but I’m not sure it will ever completely go away. I care too much for my team, they are my family and anyone that comes into my life has to understand that.”
“I think that’s good, Aaron. You should care about the people you work with. And I imagine that traveling as you do, you would be closer than at other kinds of jobs. You have to know that what happened with your ex-wife, that is not your fault, Aaron. That was someone who drove you to do what you did.”
Aaron was about to say more when their food came. The two men ate and talked small talk through the rest of their lunch.
“I know what you said earlier, about Haley, and intellectually I know it wasn’t my fault. I taunted the man, Ben. I practically put a target on my back, I wanted Foyet to come after me. That scared me. I know it was that thing inside me that makes me and Alpha Prime. It’s that imperative to always protect the tribe. But it cost me.”
Ben picked up his napkin and quickly wiped his hands, then set it down, taking the time to consider his next words carefully.
“All of our actions have a cost, no matter what we do, or who we love. Sometimes the cost is a good thing. You get what it is you’ve always wanted. Sometimes the cost is high and you don’t know what that is till after your actions. But, you can’t blame yourself for someone else’s actions. Foyet was the one that caused the harm, not you.”
Ben knew it was time to tell Aaron his whole truth. He felt they were going somewhere, but they would never be able to move forward without it.
“Listen, I need to tell you something. And, believe me, I am more afraid to tell you than I have ever been with any other potential partner.”
Aaron pushed his plate away and took Ben’s hands in his. He gently ran circles around the backs with his thumbs. Taking a deep breath, he looked up and nodded.
“I am HIV positive.”
Ben was sitting in the window seat with all the lights on low sipping at the drink in his hand. He rarely had hard alcohol, but at the moment it was the only thing keeping him from falling a little bit apart.
At first, Aaron had appeared and felt to have taken it okay. They continued to talk long enough that lunch had turned into dinner, then coffee. Aaron had walked out to Ben’s car with him and even kissed him. That kiss was the best thing Ben had ever experienced. Aaron had held him so closely and then, soft slightly dry lips pressed to his and it was like everything inside of him exploded in a world of color and light. The kiss deepened and Ben’s whole world tilted, here was his Sentinel. He knew it right down to his very soul. When they broke apart, Aaron had pressed his forehead against Ben’s and quietly under his breath he had uttered one word, Guide.
Getting home Ben had been on a high, he thought everything was going well, they were still getting to know each other, but there was forward momentum and that had given Ben a lot of hope.
He sequestered himself in his office to work on his book, the high he was riding on let him work steadily for almost three hours. When he came up for air, so to speak, he had gone to get something to snack on and drink. A note from Emmett said he had a date and would be back late. Ben smiled and was glad that Emmett was finding his way in DC.
When he grabbed his laptop he flopped on the couch feeling really good about the day. Opening up the chat program and saw that Aaron was on. It took Ben a few moments to actually process the words that were there. They were from Aaron and Ben felt them like a punch in his gut. It was two words, two words that gutted him.
After that Ben told himself fuck it and grabbed a glass a poured some of Emmett’s whiskey and sat in the dark trying no to think. It wasn’t the loss of Aaron specifically, it was the loss of his Sentinel, the loss of potential and Ben was trying to hold it all together.
The door opened and Ben barely registered Emmett walking in.
“How was your date?” Ben felt hollow as he looked out the window at the darkened city.
“Oh no, we are not talking about me, honey. We are talking about you and why you are sitting in the dark drinking whiskey and looking as lost as a lamb on Easter morning.”
Ben chuckled and looked towards Emmett. He held out his hand and the younger man took it. Ben pulled him onto his lap and wrapped his arms around Emmett grounding himself. He told Emmett about the lunch and how it turned into dinner and everything had just felt right. He tried to describe the kiss, but words failed him.
“What happened between then and now?”
“He rejected me, Em. I thought it was all going well, and he rejected me.”
“Maybe he just needs a little time, sweetie. Come on, let’s get you into bed and hopefully some sleep will come.”
Ben took Emmett’s hand and was pulled towards his own bedroom. Stripping down to just boxers he got into bed. Then Emmett slipped in behind him holding him close. Before he knew it he was asleep. He really did hope things looked better in the morning because right now they looked and felt really damn awful.
Chapter – 2B
Aaron stood at the window in his hotel room and looked out towards the city. He was slowly sipping the glass of bourbon he poured from the mini bar, something he rarely ever did. He had almost lost it in the field. He knew he was on edge, cases with kids, even kids as the Unsub got to him.
“I brought something to eat.”
Aaron looked over his shoulder to see Spencer moving towards the small table. They had been sharing a room for years and Aaron felt most comfortable with the other Sentinel on the team.
“Thank you, Spencer.” Aaron turned back to looking out the window.
“Aaron, are you all right?”
Finally turning around, Aaron moved stiffly as he walked towards the table and sat down. He put his glass down and tried desperately to dial back his senses.
“No. I…” Closing his eyes he thought back to almost a month ago and his single date with Ben. It had all been so perfect and then he kissed Ben. That kiss, spontaneous and wonderful, had felt so right to Aaron. He felt Ben’s longing, his want of his Sentinel, and Aaron felt the ache inside of himself, that part that always ached for a Guide waking up and reaching out. If he hadn’t pulled back, Aaron wasn’t so sure he wouldn’t go into a bonding drive, Ben had felt good. More than good, he felt right and that scared Aaron more than he wanted to admit.
“You haven’t talked about Ben these last few weeks.”
Aaron didn’t even try to hide the guilty look on his face. He had told Spencer about the date, but not everything. Aaron’s hand shook a little as he lifted the glass and took another sip.
“I can’t, Spencer. Please don’t ask.”
Spencer pulled out sandwiches and chips from the bag of food. The team had to stay for another day or so, the Unsub being underage, the BAU had to be even more transparent and thorough than usual. There were protocols they had to follow even though the case was over. Aaron felt Spencer watching him.
“You should eat.”
Aaron turned around in his chair and sighed as he picked up his bag of chips and opened them up. He ate without really tasting anything, it was almost mechanical. Aaron stretched out his neck and rolled his shoulders as he took bites of his sandwich.
“You rejected him, didn’t you?”
“You rejected him. It’s in your scent pile, Aaron. I know what you smell like when you’re depressed and angsting over something stupid you’ve done or not done. Maybe you should talk about what happened instead of burying it. Because form where I’m sitting, you are a barely controlled mess. You were doing so well, you liked him and from everything you told me before, he liked you as well.”
Aaron set his sandwich down on the table, he couldn’t really eat anything at the moment, his stomach was churning at what he had done.
“The date went well. We both laid our cards on the table. I told him about Jack, we talked about a lot of things and it felt…” Aaron shoved away from the table and slowly started to pace, Marlowe was pacing with him, butting his head against Aaron’s leg. Aaron knew his spirit guide was upset with him and let him know every chance he got.
“It felt right.” Aaron stopped in the middle of the room and scrubbed his face trying to settle the emotions that had been plaguing him for the last few weeks.
“And you, what? Help me understand this, Aaron because I don’t. You’re hurting and you’re projecting which isn’t good for the team. JJ kept wanting to help, and Rossi just keeps side-eyeing you. We care about you Aaron but you’re fraying even more and none of us want to see you in a sensory collapse. So, tell me why did you reject him?”
Aaron wiped at his eyes not wanting Spencer to see more than he already was.
“Ben has HIV.”
Aaron could feel Spencer’s shock and then his friend just glared at him.
“While it’s rare for Sentinels and Guides to contract any type of diseases, the newer, more virulent ones have been known to cause problems in our community. HIV, AIDS, and certain cancers from the HPV virus. Newer strains of Hepatitis B and C, which can both have long-term consequences, have been showing up in our community. The drive to bond often precludes safe sex. I know we are a highly sexual community, even in our drive to find the other half of ourselves, we often aren’t as careful as the mundane community and now it’s beginning to bite us in the proverbial ass.
“But, Aaron, you have to know that the survival rates for those with HIV have been increasing exponentially as new antiretroviral drugs have come on the market. I know for a fact that you have probably studied this to death over the last few weeks. Ben isn’t going to die in the immediate future. He has as much of a chance at a long-term life expectancy as you do.
“I know exactly where your head is at. You lost Haley and it gutted you, I know because I was there. Ben having HIV isn’t the real issue. The slim possibility of Ben leaving you is the issue. You don’t want to get close because you’re afraid of opening your heart to him.”
Aaron collapsed down on his bed and wrapped his arms around his waist. It wasn’t just Haley. Aaron had lost someone in his youth, someone he never talked about and had kept locked deep inside of him. It was the main reason Blair and Jim were so concerned about him.
Aaron was looking down at his feet, not wanting to meet Spencer’s eyes.
“I was ten when I came online. It was violent and I don’t like to talk about what happened. It was because of my father. Sean had just been brought home and he and Mom were fawning all over him. I wanted to see, wanted to reach out and hold him. He was my little brother and all I wanted to do was protect him. My father didn’t want me anywhere near him and,” Aaron took a deep breath before he stood and started to pace once more. He didn’t talk about this, ever. It was deeply personal and he never really told anyone about his life growing up. He had told Rossi on one particularly bad case and only because he was drunk off his ass.
“He threw me across the room so hard I broke my collarbone. My mother was shocked, she had never actually paid attention to the abuse. Father usually chose his office, or another part of the house that she never went to. She actually yelled at my Father and it was like a fog was lifted from her. Later, we would know the truth.
“She called the cops and an ambulance, he tried to stop her, but she was able to fight him off. She had also suddenly come online. Her family assumed she was dormant, but my Mother’s side is where both myself and Sean get out S&G genes. I was taken to the center immediately and had to be put into isolation. Mom and Sean were also sequestered. Thankfully they were able to help stop him from coming online as well. But, they could do nothing for me. It took days to get me evened out. And, another six months of training. At that time, I had met other kids at the center.
Aaron looked up to the ceiling and swallowed back the emotions that had surfaced. He tried not to think about Thomas because it always hurt.
“I found Thomas. He was a year older, but this vibrant, creative, wonderful boy and he was my Guide. He was actually my perfect match. The center was thrilled, and they appointed us a conservator. Mother was in the process of getting a divorce because after she came online as a Sentinel, she found out my father was manipulating her. He had acquired some black market drugs that could make even dormant Sentinels complicit. He was a narcissist and master manipulator.
“When Mother realized what he had been doing she not only filed for divorce, she brought charges of mind rape and Suppression of her Sentinel side. Being a lawyer he tried to represent himself, but Mother had family she turned to and the family lawyers tore him apart. I had to be there, but they did a closed circuit testimony with me. Thomas had not left my side. We had been together for almost a year at that time. I thought we would be together forever.”
Aaron stopped pacing and he felt gutted once more. The pain spiked through him as if it had happened just yesterday.
“Aaron, what happened to Thomas?”
Aaron wiped his eyes and took a deep breath.
“We had to go back to the house to get some things. We were going to move in with some of Mother’s family that was living in Virginia. Father wasn’t supposed to be there. He had slipped the guards and was waiting for us. Thankfully Sean wasn’t with us. Mother had left him with her cousin.
“Before anyone could do or say anything…my father shot and killed Thomas. I felt and saw him die. He was going to do the same to me, then Mother…
“I don’t really know what happened afterward, but I woke up in an isolation room with Marlow wrapped around me. My Mom was holding me close and wasn’t letting anyone near us. She had gone feral, and apparently so had I. When I woke up, I started screaming for Thomas, I couldn’t believe he was gone. I almost fell into sensory collapse and it took them three days to get my Mother to calm down. I was changed, Spencer. It took me a long time to even trust anyone again.”
Aaron walked to the table and picked up his glass of alcohol and knocked it back in one go.
“I can understand why you never talk about this. I’m going to assume your father died?”
Aaron nodded and when he turned around he saw Spencer right there. He was pulled into a hug and held close. Aaron fisted his hands in Spencer’s shirt to try to ground himself. Thinking about Thomas always hurt, so he tried hard not to ever think of him. It didn’t always work.
“You can’t let your past rule you, Aaron. Ben is not Thomas. You are not children. Yes, you have lost more than anyone should have ever lost, but you are also one of the strongest men I know. I think if you tell Ben all of this he will understand and the two of you can learn to work through all of this together.”
“I can’t go through that again, Spencer. I can’t lose another Guide. It hurts to always open myself up to someone and then lose them. I’m losing you and it kills me.”
Spencer pulled back and cupped Aaron’s face in both of his hands.
“You aren’t losing me, Aaron Hotchner. Yes, our relationship is changing, but you aren’t losing me. I’m right here. I will always be here when you need me. But, you need your Guide more and if you give him a chance, I am confident you can find something special.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“You know I am.”
Aaron laughed, but it held no joy.
“I think I just want to go to bed and get through this case.”
“All right, but don’t think I am letting this go.”
Aaron had no doubt about that.
Aaron had meant to call Ben. He really had, but with Strauss being fired for her actions against JJ, cases coming up, having to fill in on some of the Section Chief duties for a while, his life had gotten infinitely more complicated.
He was trying to spend as much time with Jack as he could and Aaron was once more so very grateful for Jessica and her help. Jack was doing well in his classes at the Center and sessions with the psychologist, he no longer had the nightmares he used to have. Life was crazy so when he got a text on a Saturday morning from Spencer telling Aaron to meet him at the restaurant The Blue Crab, Aaron sighed.
“What’s wrong, Daddy?”
Jack was on his lap and the two of them were reading one of Jack’s books. The boy had graduated quickly past the picture books and was reading chapter books already.
“Spencer wants to go out to dinner. You okay with that, Buddy?”
“Un-huh. I like Uncle Spencer.”
Aaron kissed the top of his son’s head and held him close. The baby Darwin’s Fox that Jack had still yet to name was curled up on his lap. The spirit guide had manifest when Jack was hiding in the storage cabinet when Foyet had them captive.
“I do too. All right. Why don’t we have some lunch, then you’re ole Dad will have to get ready.”
“Okay, I go wash my hands.”
“Do you need help, Buddy?”
“No, Daddy, I can do it myself.”
Aaron sighed and watched his son, who Aaron could see so much of himself in the boy.
Lunch was with Jessica in the backyard of the house that Aaron had bought just before things had gone crazy at work. But, it was perfect for them. He played with Jack for a little longer, then he took his time in the shower and getting dressed.
Jessica and Jack with Jack’s fox were ensconced on the couch cuddled up together and watching a movie. He kissed Jack on the forehead and said goodbye to the both of them.
Traffic was terrible, but Aaron made it to the restaurant in a little over an hour.
When he got there he looked around for Spencer, but he didn’t see him. Who he did see was Ben. Aaron wasn’t even upset. He actually felt relieved as he made his way towards Ben who looked up and looked towards him.
“I think someone or someone’s has manipulated us into actually talking.” Aaron sat down and took a deep breath. Ben’s scent and his aura had once more felt so good to Aaron. He tried not to feel like a fool for his last message, but he did.
“It seems that our two someones know each other and set about getting us here.” Ben picked up his water and Aaron knew he owed the man explanations.
“I know this is going to sound trite, but I’m sorry. After our date, I went home and I admit being with you had felt good. Better than anyone in my life had ever felt. You felt like…home. And that scared the hell out of me.”
Ben had set his glass down and a waiter came over to deliver something to drink and set an amuse-bouche on each of their plates.
“I’m sorry we didn’t order yet.
“Oh, don’t worry. Everything has already been taken care of.”
Aaron knew it had to be Spencer.
“Seems like they also set-up our dinner as well.”
Ben picked up the spoon that had a scallop that looked like it was in spicy oil.
“Spencer knows me quite well and he must have conspired with someone you know to get this all set-up.”
“Emmett. He’s…different, but he’s a great guy.”
The two of them were silent as they both sipped some of the wine that had been poured for them.
“Explain this to me, Aaron. Because I really thought we were going somewhere.”
Aaron set down his spoon, took a few sips of his wine and recounted the same story to Ben that he had told Spencer.
“I cannot even imagine the pain of that. So, our meeting so close to losing your ex-wife and breaking your tether with Spencer, when I told you about me being positive, you thought that meant I was somehow going to get sick and leave you.”
Aaron took a breath and nodded his head.
“I started to do research. Read articles, some I needed Spencer to help interpret for me. I went to the library and read as much as I could get my hands on. I wanted to know for sure that if I hadn’t screwed up too badly and we had a chance, I would understand what I was getting myself into.
“And, I know that no matter how careful we are with each other, there’s always that very small chance I could become infected. I know we’ll always have to be conscious when intimate. I had to ask myself if I was willing to take this on or was I going to let fear and doubt rule me.”
Aaron stopped speaking because he was becoming overwhelmed. Their next course was brought to them, a lightly seared fatty tuna Nicoise salad with a very light fresh Meyer lemon vinaigrette. Aaron almost moaned as he closed his eyes on the first bite. The explosion of flavors had him almost purring in pleasure.
Aaron could see the war going on inside Ben, it showed in his eyes
“And what did you ultimately decide?”
Aaron heard the apprehension in Ben’s voice and he didn’t blame him. He would have been apprehensive too if he had been rejected by the Guide. He ached to reach out, to touch, but he didn’t know if Ben would allow it. Almost as if Ben had read his mind, he reached out and laid his hand on the table, palm open. Aaron took it for the invitation that it was. He curled his hand with Ben’s and just that minor touch had Aaron sighing in relief.
“I decided that I would be a stupid fool to not take the chance. That is if I haven’t completely screwed up.
Ben lifted their still connected hands and kissed the back of Aaron’s hand. He looked up and smiled.
“You’re human, and you were scared. I can understand that, Aaron. It was very brave of you to admit that to me. No, you haven’t completely screwed up.”
Aaron smiled and for the first time in too long, he felt he was one step closer to feeling whole.
Chapter 3 – End
Aaron and Ben talked all through dinner, but there was an underlying anticipation simmering between them. Aaron chuckled to himself inside that the meal was very light with no garlic or onions in any of the dishes. Shaking his head, he sipped the wine once more.
“You know, I don’t know if I want to finish this meal.” Aaron swallowed a few times looking directly in Ben’s eyes. He could see the want and need within his Guide. It wasn’t too much to ask the restaurant to box up the rest of their meal. Aaron and Ben insisted on leaving a tip since Spencer and Emmett had paid for everything.
Aaron’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He frowned because the AD had approved Aaron’s request to have his team off for the next two weeks. They had been going non-stop for too long. The only cases they were allowed to be called on were missing children. Aaron really hoped it wasn’t that.
Taking his phone out and looking at it, Aaron laughed.
“Everything okay?” Ben asked as they walked out of the restaurant hand-in-hand.
“Oh, yeah. Everything is perfect.” Aaron showed Ben the text.
Emmett spending the next few days with me. Don’t worry about us.
“I think my roommate and your colleague might be bonding. That’s perfect, leaves my apartment empty.”
Aaron felt the warm flush on his cheeks as they came even with his car first.
“Are you really ready for this?” Ben asked as he curled his fingers around Aaron’s hips, standing so close he was almost pressing his goin against Aaron’s thigh. Aaron didn’t answer verbally, he pulled Ben in close and kissed him. The slow slide of lips against Ben’s had Aaron moaning and pulled Ben impossibly closer to him. One arm wrapped around Ben’s waist, his hand fisted in the man’s shirt, but Aaron never stopped the kiss.
Aaron opened his lips in invitation and Ben took advantage and slipped his tongue inside. The heat between them was almost a living thing as Aaron felt a tentative bond begin to form. He had already imprinted on Ben’s voice and looks, and now the taste of him as well.
Aaron pulled back first in deference to where they were and the fact they were in public. Burying his face against Ben’s neck, Aaron took a deep breath and almost growled in pleasure at the scent that curled itself deep inside of him. He would know that scent anywhere now.
“I think,” Ben’s voice was thick with emotion, lust, and need all rolled together. “We need to get someplace more private.”
Aaron pulled away and attempted to get his breathing back under control. Ben lifted his hand and cupped Aaron’s chin, letting his thumb run a short trail along the Sentinel’s jaw.
“I’m not going to say that I love you, I think we have more to work out, but dammit Aaron you are already so deep inside of me. I feel the bond starting and I want you, need you and this time I’m not letting you get away.”
Aaron almost laughed.
“You sound like a Sentinel. But, I feel the same and I’m not going anywhere except to follow you home.”
Ben leaned in for one more kiss before he broke off and strode back to his car. It wasn’t long before they were actually in Ben’s apartment and Aaron was practically ripping at Ben’s clothes, kissing him and pushing him towards the bedroom.
“Slow down, we’ll get there.” Ben smiled as he walked backward pulling Aaron along. They didn’t stop near the bed though, they went into Ben’s bathroom. Aaron frowned, but Ben turned him towards the sink and wrapped his arms around Aaron. “Before we do this, you need to understand the reality of my life. Yes, my viral load is low right now and I am managing it well, but I don’t want surprises or regrets. Open the cabinet.”
Aaron looked at Ben in the mirror and took a moment to settle. Nodding his understanding, he opened up the cabinet and saw the boxes and bottles of medication. There was a pillbox on the bottom of the cabinet with pills laid out for every day.
“This is what I take every day. I have to portion it out each week and every three months the doctor checks up on me. If we have to change something in the cocktail, I see him more often to monitor if I have any side-effects. If I do, we do something different.
“Condoms. That isn’t negotiable, and I know you already know that. But, and I mean this Aaron, at no time can we forget. Even now I can feel your bonding drive, but we must be vigilant. It would devastate me up if we forget and you become infected. This is the reality of my life, Aaron and I need you to be really sure.”
Aaron took a moment to let it all sink in. Even knowing what he now knew, it didn’t change how he felt. Turning in Ben’s arms he pushed his Guide against the wall and kissed him. His hands weren’t idle as they touched everywhere, including Ben’s quickly filling cock.
“I am really sure. I will be with you for all of it, Ben. I want this, I want you.”
Ben groaned low in his throat as he returned the kisses. Aaron grabbed Ben’s hips and turned around so his back was towards the bedroom. Ben had grabbed the condoms in one hand but had his free hand on Aaron’s hip. Aaron walked back towards the bed, then spun them around, pushing Ben onto the bed. He had also grabbed a cloth from the stack that was on a shelf and threw that to the side.
“I don’t know how much longer I can last. I need you, Ben. I need to be in you.” Aaron’s breathing was ragged and his whole body was vibrating with need. The months of sensory overload and Aaron’s frayed edges were beginning to heal, but they wouldn’t be completely healed until the bond was settled between them.
“Then have me, Sentinel.” Ben’s legs splayed out to his sides exposing himself for Aaron who moaned at the sight.
Aaron didn’t take long to prepare Ben after he shoved a pillow under the Guide’s hips. He wanted their first time to be face to face. Quickly rolling a condom on his cock Aaron had to grip the base and take a moment or he would have come too quickly he was so keyed up.
Ben smiled up at his Sentinel as he grabbed the bottle of slick and poured a little in his hand. He knew Aaron had used a generous amount already, but he figured that once Aaron started to enter him the bonding drive would take over.
Aaron’s head dropped back, his eyes on the ceiling as he attempted to control himself while Ben slicked the condom just enough. The pleasure became almost unbearable as Aaron grabbed Ben’s hand and pressed it down onto the bed. Gripping underneath Ben’s knee with one hand, he guided himself inside Ben’s hole with the other.
The bonding drive hit him full force and Aaron pushed in fast and hard making Ben groan at the sudden burst of emotions that hit him. Aaron didn’t hold back as he drove into Ben hard and fast.
The only noise in the room was the sound of flesh on flesh, the two men were so caught up in the bonding drive as Aaron pushed them both closer and closer towards the edge. Warm light built up between them as Ben dropped his shields to allow Aaron to feel everything he was feeling. Aaron dropped his head against Ben’s shoulder, practically bending the man in half. He was panting hard as he again took in Ben’s scent and let it wrap further around him as he felt Ben’s very presence in his mind. Aaron opened himself more, let his senses glut on the sound, taste, and feel of Ben.
He was close and knew he wasn’t going to be able to hold back as he lifted his head and pressed his lips to Ben’s, the bond growing stronger. Aaron felt those frayed edges he had been living with for so long begin to smooth out, that part of himself that makes him Sentinel was practically singing inside him as Sentinel and Guide wrapped around each other, binding one to the other as they both released at the same time.
Aaron didn’t stop thrusting right away, it had felt too good to be connected to his Guide, but as his cock finally softened he knew they would need to clean up, but the feel of Ben in his arms was better than anything he had ever experienced.
Finally, he stood on shaky legs and stumbled towards the bathroom, ripping off the condom, knotting the end and throwing it away. Aaron quickly cleaned up, then grabbed a clean washcloth and wet it with warm water so he could take care of his Guide.
Aaron was on his back with Ben laying in his arms, the bonding drive still there, but subdued.
“I can feel you in my mind. It’s far more comforting than I thought it was going to be. I honestly wasn’t sure if…” Aaron held Ben closer, not wanting to let him go.
“You weren’t sure if it was going to work because we had to use condoms?”
“I know I sound silly.”
“No, you don’t. It was a valid concern, but obviously it didn’t interfere in anything.” Ben leaned upon his arm, splaying his hand across Aaron’s stomach. After a moment, his fingers traced the prominent scars. Aaron almost reached out to stop him, but Ben just lifted an eyebrow.
“I’ve only let one person close enough to see them.” Aaron watched in fascination as Ben leaned down to kiss each scar. The emotions he was feeling coming from his Guide were almost overwhelming.
“They don’t make you less, Aaron. I don’t see scars. I see strength. I see power. You overcame something profound. A violation that no one should have to ever experience. This does nothing but make me admire you even more.”
Aaron closed his eyes as he threaded his fingers with Ben’s.
“After it happened, I wasn’t in a good place. I made some decisions that frankly I should have been fired for. It wasn’t until I was staring down the barrel of a gun, no weapon, no vest that I realized just how far I had gone. That’s when I started to see someone outside of the Bureau. He didn’t let me get away with anything and made me face that what happened was close to what some have felt after a rape. That made sense to me even if it made me angry at the same time.”
Ben leaned down and kissed Aaron.
“If you ever feel uncomfortable, you tell me.”
Aaron opened his eyes and looked into blue ones and felt a calmness and safety he had never experienced before.
“Always.” Aaron took a moment to bask in the emotions he was feeling from Ben. “You know you’ll have to come out on cases with me for a while. At least till the bond settles. Then it will most likely be cases I know are going to be hard on me.”
“I already talked to the head of my department. Just in case. He’s going to get me a TA. A Grad student I can quickly train to take over when you need me.”
“We haven’t even talked about living arrangements, our children meeting, Jessica…”
“Shh,” Ben cupped Aaron’s cheek and smiled down at him. “I know there is a lot we need to still talk about, but I believe that we will work out whatever we need to. I already care about you in ways that I never had with Michael. You’re a part of me now Aaron, I hope always.”
Aaron used his Sentinel strength to flip them to where he was straddling Ben’s waist.
Ben sighed as the two of them looked over and saw their spirit guides wound around each other at the end of the bed.