It had started out so well, Sean thought, scowling across the counter at his brother. Then again, most conversations with Aaron started out well enough. It wasn’t until they got to the parts Aaron disapproved of that things generally went to pieces. This time was no different. Once again, Sean found himself wondering why he thought it would be.
Perhaps because it was Aaron who’d come seeking him out this time. Aaron who’d come into the restaurant he was currently working in to offer up his backhanded apologies for their most recent fight. Aaron who’d tried to make amends with a smile and a card for a guy he knew in New York (just incase, he’d said, but the hint was clear).
It didn’t take either of them very long to realise that no matter how hard they tried, there would always be something that came between them, something neither of them could agree upon, that inevitably made reconciliation impossible.
“You working a case at the moment?” Sean had asked after Aaron finished grilling him on his proposed career change. He wasn’t happy about it by any means, but he was at least resigned enough over the idea to let Sean steer them onto other topics of conversation.
“Just finished one up in New Mexico actually,” Aaron replied, nodding his thanks as Sean refilled his coffee.
“Yeah, how’d that go?”
“As well as any case we get called in on can go,” Aaron said by way of answer. The slight grimace that crossed his face told Sean that though it wasn’t one the worst, it also wasn’t one of their better cases either. In so far as a case concerning serial killers could ever be considered better.
“That bad, huh?” Sean half-smiled and Aaron quirked his own lips in reply.
He should have quit then. Should have known that asking about Aaron’s cases, about the people he worked with, would only send up the kind of red flags the profiler in him would spot a mile away, but Sean had never been all that good at hiding his intentions, nor his reactions to being caught out on the things he- wasn’t hiding, per se- he just didn’t want Aaron knowing about them.
The thing is, Sean had been thinking about Spencer Reid on and off since he’d spilt the guy’s coffee all over him. He wasn’t sure what it was about his slight awkwardness, his shy politeness, the way he’d looked up so innocently at Sean through his eyelashes, that kept him in his thoughts, but Sean found himself wishing at odd moments that he’d get a call from Spencer asking him to make good on his promise of a coffee.
“And your team?” Sean pressed on, heedless of the risk he was taking by asking.
And just like that the almost-smile dropped from Aaron’s mouth as his expression hardened, his shoulders tensing as he levelled a sudden glare in Sean’s direction.
“Is everyone okay?” Sean immediately asked, concerned that his brother’s reaction meant that someone had been hurt. He found himself thinking again of Spencer and how unlike an FBI agent he’d seemed when compared to the likes of Aaron Hotchner and Jason Gideon, how easy it would be for him to become a target over the other two as a result. For one terrible moment he considered the possibility that the look on his brother’s face was put there by whatever had happened to Spencer.
“Are you asking in general, or are you asking because Reid hasn’t called you?” Aaron asked, voice deceptively calm.
Sean stilled, mouth working silently as he whiplashed between thinking someone had died for God’s sake, and realising that Aaron was just upset with him.
“Jesus, Aaron! I thought something had happened to him!” He snapped, shooting his own glare towards his brother.
“So you were asking because of Reid?” Aaron asked, ignoring his tone.
Sean just stared at him, heart thumping with adrenaline. Aaron sat waiting him out, knowing that Sean couldn’t just storm his way out of this conversation as he had the last one.
“The kid I spilt coffee over?” He tried, going for blasé.
Aaron scowled. “Let’s not play this game. What do you want with Reid?”
“Want with him? What kind of question is that?” Sean demanded, frowning.
“One I expect an answer to,” Aaron said and Sean bristled, fiddling with the frayed edges of the dishcloth he’d flung over his shoulder. He thought briefly of using it to wipe down the counter but dismissed the idea as quickly as it came to him. Aaron would see right through it for the stalling tactic it was.
“I don’t want anything with him.” He bit out, grudgingly.
“Then why did you give him your number?”
And. Well. At least that explained how his brother had jumped from ‘how’s your team’ to Sean having some kind of nefarious purpose towards one of them. It surprised him that Aaron knew about the phone number in the first place, even though he supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest. Spencer had probably told him himself, either not thinking anything of it or because he wanted Aaron to warn him away.
He didn’t know why either of those scenarios should upset him. It wasn’t as if he knew him, after all. He was just some guy he’d offered to buy a coffee for, right? Okay, so he may have insisted he buy a coffee for him, might have been a bit too handsy when he’d used the guy’s own pen to scrawl his number across his palm, might have given him completely the wrong impression and sent him running straight to Aaron…
“How did you know?” Sean asked, the fight leaving him.
Aaron deliberated a moment. “I saw it written on his hand,” he said after a long pause.
Sean blinked at him. “You saw-,” he stopped, the realisation that Spencer hadn’t gone running to Aaron washing over him. He found himself laughing despite Aaron’s continued scowl. “I felt bad for the guy,” Sean found himself explaining, “told him I’d buy him a coffee to make up for the one I spilt all over him.”
He expected Aaron to relent then. Maybe to drop the frown in favour of a contrite smile, or perhaps an apology for going all Spanish Inquisition on him. Instead, his brother’s frown only deepened.
“I know you, Sean, you don’t just offer to buy random strangers coffee.”
Wait. What? Sean felt more than a little taken aback by that seeing as he and Aaron barely had any contact outside of the occasional family gathering and the odd phonecall or two a year.
“You know me, huh?” Sean snorted, because honestly that’s exactly what he’d done.
“As much as you like to pretend otherwise, yes I do. And I know you’d just have apologised and gone on your way without another thought. So, why Reid?”
“That right there shows just how well you don’t know me.” Sean retorted, even though Aaron was half right. He wasn’t in the habit of handing out his number to complete strangers, that was true, so he wasn’t entirely sure why he’d insisted on giving it to Spencer himself. At the time it had just seemed like something he had to do. And if Spencer never called him, then fine, he could live with that. But if he hadn’t given him the option? He thinks he would have regretted that in the long run.
“No, seriously, Aaron. I’m not lying. I don’t have a hidden agenda. I told you, I felt bad for him. He was having a really shitty morning made even shittier when I decided to spill his coffee all over him. Okay?”
Aaron’s gaze wavered and Sean tried not to show his relief quite so visibly.
“Now how about you tell me-,” Sean began before cutting himself off. He’d been about to ask Aaron what his problem was but stopped because he suddenly realised that he already knew the answer. No matter what his intentions towards Spencer were, Aaron… well, he clearly didn’t think Sean was good enough for him.
Aaron was looking at him with something akin to an apology in his eyes but it was not enough to dispel the sudden fury Sean felt rising up in him.
“Jesus, Aaron, exactly what kind of opinion is it you have of me?” he demanded, his anger only heightening as Aaron deliberately stalled on answering by picking up his coffee and taking a quick sip.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he said, putting his cup back down. Sean was sure that would have had more impact if he didn’t have to think about it first.
“Like what? Like you’re his brother warning off an unworthy suitor?”
The words were barely out of his mouth before Aaron was turning the question back on him. “Is that what you are?”
“Are you actually asking me-, no. You know what, I don’t want to have this conversation with you.”
“You can’t run away from every conversation we have, Sean.”
“I’m not running away. This is me telling you that whatever I may or may not be towards Spencer is none of your damn business. You’re his boss, not his keeper.”
“I may be his boss, but I’m also his mentor. And it is my business to make sure he doesn’t get hurt.”
Sean stared at his brother, aghast. What exactly was he supposed to say to that? He bit his tongue despite himself, knowing that he should not have to defend himself to his own brother. He didn’t know what he’d done to give Aaron such a low opinion of him, and quite frankly he didn’t want to know either.
“You know what. Fine, Aaron. I’ll leave him alone. I’ll be in New York soon enough anyway, at least then I won’t be such a problem for you.”
Aaron didn’t even have the decency to apologise for this whole sorry conversation as he nodded his head once and stood, pulling out his wallet as he prepared to leave, apparently done with Sean now that he’d gotten what he came for: namely, Sean’s backing off of something that hadn’t been there to begin with.
He held up his hand, “No, it’s okay, I’ve got it.” He said with faux politeness. He just wanted Aaron to get the hell out here.
“Thanks,” Aaron said. And Sean wondered if he was just thanking him for the meal.
“Before you go,” Sean said, stopping Aaron a moment. “I make no promises on what should happen if he calls me.”
It was childish to feel so vindicated by the way Aaron’s nostril’s flared and his mouth thinned in anger, but Sean wasn’t feeling particularly mature right now so he’d take it.
Aaron opened his mouth and Sean braced himself for another round of fighting words when instead his brother said: “I’m sorry we can’t talk anymore.”
And. That threw him a little bit. The anger was still there, he could see it in the tense lines of Aaron’s shoulders, the way his fingers were curled tight enough together as to make his knuckles strain white. But his words. His words were sincere, almost contrite. Sean felt the fight leave him a little bit at that.
“Yeah,” he said, “me too.” And he was a little surprised to find that he meant it.
He wished things were different between them. He’d always looked up to his big brother, had always tried to emulate him, to gain his approval and pride, and Aaron had always been there for him, had always praised him for his achievements, but only in so far as Sean did the sort of things Aaron approved of. He didn’t know when he’d started disappointing his brother so much, when the urge to keep pleasing him had fallen away. They’d been growing further and further apart over the years and yet it wasn’t until he’d decided to quit law that he’d actively gone against everything Aaron wanted for him, everything he expected of him, and instead pursued something that was uniquely his own.
Aaron tapped once at the counter, his lips twisting in a humourless smile before turning away. Just as he was heading towards the door however, Sean felt the vibration of his phone going off in his pocket.
The number came up unknown. He felt his heart jolt a little in hopeful anticipation as he hit the call button.
“Sean Hotchner,” he answered whilst half-turning away from the counter, peripherally aware that Aaron had stopped and turned to look at him.
“Sean, hi… um, it’s- ah- Spencer…. I don’t know if you’ll remember…”
“Of course I remember. Reid, Spencer Reid, right?” and he was smiling even as he said it, unable to contain the wide grin taking over his mouth. He could feel the burn of Aaron’s glare from across the counter but he paid it as little heed as possible.
“Um, yeah, um. Hi.”
“Hi,” he said, still smiling. “Does this mean you’re taking me up on that coffee?”
He could almost see Spencer hesitating in his minds eye, the same way he had when they’d met in the lift with his eyes peering up Sean through his lashes.
“Only if you still… I mean, not to presume…”
“Don’t you dare sabotage this, boy wonder!”
Sean frowned hearing a multitude of voices overriding Spencer. Had he phoned because he wanted to? Or because he’d been made to?
“Of course I do,” Sean said, nipping at his bottom lip. “Just… I know I came across a bit strong. I just want to apologise for that. I don’t want you to feel obliged-,”
The words were blurted, sincere. Sean felt his smile return to him.
“About that coffee, then…”
The conversation was a little stilted, filled with awkward pauses and nervous laughs, and clearly being listened in on at Spencer’s end of the line, but by the time they hung up, they’d made tentative plans to meet for coffee at a little known coffee house Spencer had suggested in a few days time.
The bell above the door gave a chime and Sean looked up, suddenly remembering his brother. But it wasn’t Aaron, just a new customer come in for a cup of coffee and the daily special. It occurred to him to wonder how much of his conversation Aaron had hung around for, and what he’d have to say about the whole thing, before the remembrance of their own conversation came back to him. What did he care what Aaron thought? He’d had enough of Aaron’s opinions of him to last a lifetime.
And Spencer had called him.
This- whatever this was, whatever they wanted it be- had absolutely nothing to do with Aaron Hotchner.