Tuesday’s around the Hotchner house had unofficially become taco and board game night. Aaron and Jessica, or Aaron and Tony would work on putting together a taco platter that everyone could make their own, with sides of rice, beans, chips, and guacamole. Sometimes Spencer could be talked into joining them. The meat they would change up each week, anything from Ropas Viejas, or shredded beef Cuban style, to pork green chile, or grilled shrimp and fish. They all had fun as a family putting the dinner together.
The first half of the night was games that could easily be played with Jack, and Aaron was beginning to notice how it helped Jack with his reading, memorization, and comprehension skills. Then when it became bedtime, reading a story and cuddles. After Jack was down, the games would change to more adult games, like Carcassonne, Star Trek Catan, Game of Thrones, or any number of games for adults. Jessica often showing the ruthless side of herself that was hidden underneath the sweetness and smiles. When it got late, she would excuse herself and go home leaving Aaron and Tony alone.
This night was no different. The tacos had been some roasted pork with spicy corn salsa. The game after dinner had been a Dr. Seuss themed game called I Can Do That. Jack’s excitement when he matched the colors or pictures correctly was contagious. The puppy would circle around Jack catching Jack’s enthusiasm. Aaron and Tony couldn’t hold in their laughter at Jack’s antics.
A few games in and Jack had been put to bed, and the three or four adults would look through the growing collection of board games and pick one out to play. This Tuesday night was one where Spencer had joined them, but Jessica had gone home early saying that she had an early meeting at work. There was also the added curiosity of Shiny and Pretty as they tried to get in on the action of the adults.
Spencer had been charmed by the kitten, and she had taken quickly to Spencer. He was currently sitting cross-legged on the floor with Pretty in his lap, Aaron had the puppy in his lap, and Tony was laughing at the two men. They were currently in the middle of a riveting game of Arkham Horror. They had several gates open, letting The Old Ones out to roam the halls of Miskatonic University.
“Looks like I’m going to be going to try to close one of these gates.” Tony moved his piece into one of the otherworld areas.
“Hmm, I think I’m going to be going to see what’s going on by the docks. Spence?”
“The hospital has some interesting things going on there. And I’m very close.”
The three of them maneuvered to their areas, fought off monsters, and tried to close the gates of the otherworld keeping the Old Ones at bay. They laughed when the kitten walked across the board scattering pieces everywhere. Thankfully Spencer’s memory he was able to put it back to where they needed it. The men teased each other and had an all-around good time. When it looked like it was getting late, Aaron told Spencer to stay, the guest room was clean and ready anytime he wanted it.
“Thanks, Hotch, I think I will this time. I’m just going to read for a bit. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Spence.” Aaron smiled and watched his friend walk towards the guest room. Sighing, he frowned a little after he heard the door closing.
“Aaron?” Tony touched Aaron’s arm to get his attention.
“I worry about him, Tony. I know he hasn’t been dating for a while. I wish there were something I could do.”
“I think you need to let him figure it out on his own.”
“I know. He’s the little brother I wish that Sean was. I care about him a lot Tony, and I just want to see him happy.”
“You have to let him find his own way, Aaron. I know you two are close, but you find him a lover. He has to do it when he is ready.”
“Yeah, I know. Doesn’t stop me from wanting to try.”
Tony chuckled as he finished putting the game away. He stood and held his hand out for Aaron to take. Aaron stood and kissed Tony on the mouth before he did his nightly ritual. Aaron took Shiny to the crate and put him inside, which he was surprised that the dog didn’t protest all that much. Leaving a fresh puppy pad inside, he then went to finish locking up and closing down the house.
By the time he got to bed, Tony was there naked and waiting for him. The change in their relationship to a more intimate one was something Aaron wasn’t over thinking for a change. Things were happening organically, and he was going with what felt right.
“Can we just hold each other tonight? I’m exhausted from playing catch up.”
“Sounds good to me.” Tony snuggled close after Aaron slipped into bed and pulled Tony even closer. Aaron lived for nights like tonight. Simple, with the people he cared for most in the world.
The case the BAU had been called out on was horrible. Aaron flopped down on his bed at 2 in the morning and stared up at the ceiling. He knew he wasn’t going to get much sleep, and from the looks of Reid, who had files spread out all over his bed, he wasn’t going to sleep anytime soon either.
“Are you okay, Hotch?” Aaron turned his head to see that Spencer looked worried for him.
“I’m fine, Reid.”
“You need to stay safe. Especially after…”
“Tony already forbade me to get hurt.” Aaron tried to keep good thoughts of Tony in his head as he hauled himself off the bed and into the bathroom to shower. His thoughts were a jumbled mess, and he knew Tony was going to hear about the victims from Garcia and probably freak out a little. Tony had been promoted and was her direct supervisor along with Aaron.
Five bodies, all male, hands, and legs bound in rope and hung from trees. All the men had been between 5’10” and 6’2”, broad shouldered, dark hair, all ambitious and upwardly mobile. All of the men had professional careers. When the victimology was presented to the team, all eyes immediately went to Aaron. He lectured his team on victim bias, yet even he couldn’t ignore what was right in front of him. Dave and Morgan both bullied him into never being out alone.
Standing in the shower, the hot water running down his back, Aaron closed his eyes and tried to let the tension drain away with the water pooling around his feet. Those days of his recovery were some of the darkest days of his life. He had thought how easily his son could have been without a father and Tony…Aaron never wanted to leave Tony by himself. Tony had lost so much, suffered more than any person should have to, and Aaron had been stupid. That moment of stupidity almost cost him everything, including his very own life.
Aaron had talked with the Bureau psychologist, but he knew exactly how to dance around and make it sound like he was okay, when in reality he wasn’t. The weekend was supposed to clear his head, let go of his guilt, and let him move on in his relationship. While he and Tony had worked things out and they were getting closer, Aaron knew he had not really dealt with the fact that Tony’s father had tried to kill him. And now this case. He was a perfect target. While he could, in reality, use the opportunity as the Unsub’s exact preference in victims, he wasn’t going to willingly do something that could potentially take him away from those that loved him.
Clearing his mind as he finished his shower, Aaron grabbed a towel, dried off and pulled on the pajama pants and t-shirt that was waiting for him on the closed toilet seat. Stepping out to the room, Aaron was greeted with a plate of food in Spencer’s hands.
“All night diner down the road. Rossi, Morgan and I called over and ordered. I know you didn’t eat at lunch, Hotch.”
Reid stared till Aaron took the plate.
“Thanks.” Aaron gave Reid a wan smile, he felt so tired that he wasn’t sure if he could sleep. Sitting down on the bed, Aaron ate the club sandwich and freshly made potato chips. After taking the first bite, Aaron had not realized how hungry he was, and before he knew it, when he looked at his plate, the food was gone.
“Thank you, Reid. I didn’t even know how hungry I was.”
Aaron knew he wasn’t going to win. Spencer Reid could out-stubborn anyone, and he knew it. Shaking his head, Aaron ate the pie. After gathering their plates and tossing the bag in the too small hotel trash can, Aaron stretched out on his bed with a book Tony had packed for him.
An hour into reading, Aaron felt his eyes get heavy as sleep pulled at him. Setting his book aside, he pulled the covers up and turned off his bedside lamp. Aaron was used to Spencer, and the light he had on didn’t bother him. Between one deep breath and the next Aaron fell asleep.
Waking up Aaron looked around and found himself in some kind of crude concrete structure. There was very little light where he was, and it wasn’t till he turned around and saw the cutout, almost like a window. Trying to understand what was going on, he looked out of the cutout and saw a man dressed in a designer suit, much like his own, walking across the dry ground towards a tree in the distance. Frowning to himself, Aaron turned again and saw a door. He walked through and around the structure towards the man and the tree. Tilting his head to the side, something shifted in his vision. He couldn’t make sense of what he was seeing.
The man he had watched was gone, but where he went, Aaron couldn’t tell. Swinging his head around he saw the tree and something was there. Carefully making his way across the dry grass, Aaron approached the tree. His heart was pounding, his breathing shallow as the anticipation of what he was trying to make sense of made him a little afraid. Every step he took towards the tree Aaron thought he knew what he was going to see. One, two, three more steps forward and he was even with what was hanging. When he touched the body, it swung around, and Aaron stumbled back looking at his very own face.
“No!” Aaron bolted upright in bed, heart pounding from the nightmare.
“Hotch?” Reid asked in a sleepy voice.
“Just a nightmare, Reid. Go back to sleep.”
Aaron rubbed his hand over his heart, vowing to call Tony first thing in the morning.
Tony did not have a good day at work. He had finished up some information for the IRT, hacked some things that the Director needed to know about, checked up on his analysts to see how they were doing, and that’s when he found out about the victim pool of the case Aaron was working. Tony wanted to be angry but knew he couldn’t. It wasn’t Aaron’s fault, but Tony could worry, and that was what he was doing before bed.
“Come on DiNozzo, he’s going to be fine. You need to trust that he’ll be fine.” Tony flopped on his side on the bed, he was staying at Aaron’s to help Jessica watch Jack and to give her time to herself. Jack was an awesome kid who surprised Tony because he didn’t often like kids. Thinking about when he read to Jack after putting him to bed helped to chase some of the dark thoughts away, and Tony was able to finally get to sleep.
Tony looked around the room he was in and noticed the all black surroundings, except for the one item in the room that appeared to be on some kind of stand. Tony walked over to give it a closer look and couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing. It seemed to be a camera of sorts, and when he looked through it, all he saw was a beautiful blue sky. There was a space where his face fit perfectly, almost like a mask. Tony leaned and put his face inside the strange camera thing. The stand melted away from him, the dark walls looked like there were melting away and Tony felt his heart beating hard.
Lifting his hand, Tony felt like he was on autopilot, he started the camera up and was filming something, but he was having a hard time discerning what it was. His other hand came up and touched the bottom of the camera, but it felt…odd. Something was covering his chin. Tony tried to pull the camera mask thing off of his face, but he couldn’t, it had melded to him.
Panicking, Tony kept trying to pull and pull, but the mask wouldn’t budge. Running forward past where the walls had been, Tony was trying to scream for help. No one could hear him, and everyone he passed by acted like he wasn’t there. When he turned around to look at the others around him, they all had a similar look to Aaron, but when Tony looked at their faces from the camera eye lens, there was death and pain on their faces. Tony started to run trying to find someone, anyone to help, but all he saw everywhere were all these dead men until he almost collapsed from the pain and the terror he was feeling.
“Tony?” the voice said.
Oh, thank god, Aaron . Tony tried to speak, but nothing was coming out, and he was panicking. Aaron touched the mask, and there were tears in his eyes.
“Tony, come back to me, please.” Aaron was begging as he fell on his knees and held Tony in his arms. Confused, Tony looked around trying to understand what was freaking Aaron about.
“Tony, come on, you can’t die on me, please Tone.” Aaron was holding him so close, but Tony couldn’t feel it, he couldn’t feel Aaron’s arms around him.
I’m not dying, Aaron . Tony tried to say, but again no words were spilling from Tony’s mouth that was covered by the mask. Panicking anew, he pushed Aaron away and turned his head where a mirror appeared in front of him. Looking at himself he saw the half skull, a garish blue, smiling back at him. Pieces of the skull started to break off and float away. Tony grabbed the sides of his head and tried to pull the mask off, but it had so thoroughly melded with his face, that it actually had become his face. Tony started screaming knowing he was losing everything, even himself.
“What the fucking hell?” Tony bolted upright in bed and searched for his phone. Dialing with shaking fingers, he had to know, he had to hear Aaron’s voice, he didn’t care what time it was.
“Hotchner,” came the sleepy reply, then an audible jaw-cracking yawn.
“Um, hey sorry I woke you, I needed…” Tony’s voice caught in his throat preventing him from saying anything more.
“Hey, Tony, what’s wrong?” The concern in Aaron’s voice had Tony feeling a little like an idiot for calling.
“I just…I was in Garcia’s office and saw the victim pool. I wanted to call you, but I knew how foolish that was. I was trying to sleep, and I had the strangest nightmare.
“I just had to hear your voice. I needed to make sure…it’s stupid, I know.”
“Tony, it isn’t stupid. I’m right here, and I’m fine. Dave and Morgan aren’t letting me out of the station without someone with me at all times. I should have called you, I’m sorry.”
“No, Aaron. Don’t be sorry. You have a case, and it isn’t your fault on who the Unsub’s target is. Just, be careful, please?”
“I promise you, Tony, that I will come back to you and Jack.”
Tony sighed and felt the lead weight in his belly melt away. For a moment there he thought Aaron was going to say something else, something that they were both not quite ready to voice or hear, but Tony was close to being ready. He just needed a little more time.
A simple goodbye, but it put a smile on Tony’s face as he hung up, reassured that his lover was going to be okay. When he laid back down, Pretty had jumped up on the bed to snuggle at his feet, and Tony thought his life was just about perfect.