Sometime in February, Dave finds himself taking a very long drive to visit a not-so-very-old friend up in Toronto. His unit’s on holiday, as per the director’s orders, and after catching up on the accumulated errands and miscellaneous personal paperwork (which had taken all of eight hours), he’d started going right out of his mind; ergo, it seemed as good a time as any for a road trip. Turning up the radio in the car, at least, keeps him from thinking beyond the road.
He and Aaron have been doing… whatever it is they’re doing for two months now, vague dinners under the pretext of getting him out of the house and awkward goodnights with neither of them certain of the other's boundaries. It’s been eight months since Jason left—eight months of watching Aaron struggle silently to pick up the pieces and patch over the cracks—and the last thing Dave wants to be is a second iteration. The problem is he hasn’t the slightest clue how.
Which is mostly the reason why Ed Lane, head of the Strategic Response Unit, is huffing out a long-suffering sigh and shooting him a look of about three parts exasperation and one part what Dave hopes is affection.
“So you drove all the way up here,” his friend says at last, shifting on his barstool until he’s half-facing the agent, “to explain how you’re falling all over this man, and then you tell me you’re going to leave because he has kids.” He takes a sip of his bourbon, eyeing Dave over the lip of the tumbler, then shakes his head. “I don’t buy it. You’re chewing on this like a dog with a bone. Why?”
“I am not!” Dave retorts, in token protest.
“Nuh-uh. Don’t even try. You’ve only been going on about him for the past two months.”
Protesting that would be futile, and Dave knows it, so he just sighs and drops his head into his hands, elbows braced against the varnished wood of the bar. “Why did I come see you again?” he says to the table.
“I don’t know,” Ed points out reasonably, “because you haven’t actually told me yet.”
For a moment, Dave seriously contemplates dumping his drink over the other man’s head, but that’s no way to treat good scotch, so he does nothing. “C’mon, Lane, it’s me,” he replies at last, trying for jocularity and failing miserably. “Kids and I do not go well together, and my track record in relationships is precisely what Aaron does not need.”
Expression steady, Ed just watches him. “Has he told you that?” he asks after a moment; Dave had been hoping (except not really) he’d stick with the silence, but wish fulfillment never got anyone anywhere.
“No.” Grudging, because he’s not about to put words in Aaron’s mouth. There’s been enough of that already. “Not in so many—”
Holding a hand up traffic-cop style, Ed meets his eye and doesn’t blink. “Stop at ‘no’,” he advises. “You see each other more than most married couples,” he continues, though he does put his hand back down. “From everything you’ve told me you two are getting on well, and I gather if he wanted to turn you away he’d probably have already done so.”
The logic in that is undeniable, but the hesitation clings like grease, unsettling him. “His first husband upped and left—ran without a word.” The need to talk himself out of this relationship is winning; he knows he’s not the person who goes in and fixes relationships, not ever, not with anything resembling success.
“I know,” Ed answers patiently, “and his ex is an arse for leaving him, never mind for leaving their kids. But you’re not Jason, so explain to me again why you dropping him like a hot brick helps.”
The agent shakes his head, frustrated gestures an attempt to convey the sentiments for which he lacks words. “He could just want my friendship, the way it’s been for the past god knows how many years,” is all that comes out. "It’s just been dinner, brief things to get his attention on something easy. There’s nothing that says he wants anything else.”
Ed shoots him a look, all raised eyebrows and scepticism that says, “My god, David Rossi, but you really can be rather thick, can’t you?” Aloud, he says only, “Can we get another round?” to the bartender, who lifts his chin in lieu of nodding yes and starts to pour.
Of course, at the moment, Aaron wants to teleport his brother back to New York, but that’s neither here nor there, since at least the kids are asleep after a bevy of bedtime stories (they’re reading aloud from The Belgariad for Emily and Derek; JJ’s begging for Tamora Pierce; and Pen and Spence both have their own handful of demands that change with each blink of an eye). Small blessings.
“Five kids and a full-time job,” Sean is saying, shaking his head just hard enough so that his hair keeps flopping over his face. The lamplight is turning it fairytale-spun-gold, and no amount of grilling from his brother or silent glares from his bosses can get him to cut it. “It’s too much for one person, even if you’re Superman.”
“I know,” Aaron answers, placating the way the older brother should; they’ve had this conversation innumerable times since Jason left, and the fact that he wants to break down and agree is irrelevant. “But we’re making it work.”
“Sure you are, if by ‘work’ you mean forgoing things like sleeping.”
“You can sleep when you’re dead.” The words come out sharper than he meant, but the “I told you so” in Sean’s eyes stay the apology on Aaron’s lips.
“And I’d rather not see that happen earlier than it should because that bastard turned out to be a coward,” he shoots back. “If you work yourself to death, how does that help anyone?”
Leaning forward, Aaron sighs heavily, bracing his elbows on his knees and reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Sean, can we please just not do this tonight?”
A beat; then, “Yeah. Sure.” It’s Sean’s turn to sigh, like some sort of macabre relay. “I’m sorry, Aaron, I just…” He trails off, but Aaron nods wearily.
“I know. It’s okay.” Me, too, he thinks but doesn’t say as he leans back and lets the use-softened leather of the sofa swallow him.
Another beat; then Sean’s trying to change the subject, a sort of unstated addendum to his apology. “So,” he says, “Dave.”
Just like that, Aaron almost wishes his brother would go back to harping on Jason. Almost.
“So, Dave,” he repeats; he likes to think he’s doing a good job feigning nonchalance, but he’s fairly certain he sounds like a teenager being set upon by parents interested in the new date. The metaphor leaves a lot to be desired.
Sean throws him a withering look, underwritten by an amused sort of ‘don’t fuck with me now’. He’d finally met Dave the other night, when the agent had stopped over for dinner, and since then he’s been shooting his brother meaningful, assessing looks when he thinks Aaron’s not looking.
“He seems nice,” is all he says, and Aaron rolls his eyes.
“ ‘Nice’ is what you say when you’re trying to be polite about the neighbour’s obnoxious new dog,” he answers, and Sean grins.
Aaron permits himself the freedom of throwing a grape at his brother, who catches it out of the air and eats it, utterly defying the purpose of throwing it in the first place.
“Do you like him?”
“Of course I like him,” Aaron scoffs, intentionally playing dumb. “He’s been my friend for years.”
Rolling his eyes, Sean shakes his head in affectionate exasperation. “You do realise he wants to take you to bed, right?” he finally asks, resorting to bluntness.
Unfortunately, it backfires just a touch, as Aaron chokes violently on his drink, and Sean ends up diving across the sofa to whack him across the spine instead of getting a proper answer.
“What??” he finally wheezes, and Sean draws back far enough to see his face.
“Are you okay?”
Aaron waves off the question with a nod, still trying to clear his airway and breathe properly. “What the hell?” he says finally, still hoarse but comprehensible.
“Dave,” his brother repeats, and Aaron makes a “continue” sort of gesture, rolling his hand through the air.
“Got that part.”
“He likes you,” he explains, the way he’d probably try to explain arithmetic to a five-year-old. All told, that would probably be an easier conversation. “As in, high-school-crush, wants to jump you sort of liking.”
Aaron’s wearing a wide-eyed look of denial that would be endearing if it didn’t give you the urge to smack some sense into him. “Where on earth are you even getting this?”
Groaning, Sean drops his face into his hand, forehead against his palm. “My god, Aaron, it’s like high school all over again—you never noticed people liked you back then, either.” Glancing up sideways, he points out, “I don’t even like men and I’d say yes if he wanted to sleep with me.”
There are the beginnings of the first genuine smile Sean’s seen from his brother in a while, though he still seems confused. Suddenly, Sean grins, the younger-brother-with-ammunition sort. “It’s not one-sided, is it?” he asks, and though Aaron’s startled into protesting, the blush spreading up his cheeks belies the flustered words.
With a gleeful laugh, Sean punches him in the shoulder and says, “Go. I’ll keep an eye on the kids—you should go tell him to stop being an idiot.”
Of course, it doesn’t quite work out that way, because JJ wakes up sick, and then nothing short of nuclear annihilation would have gotten Aaron to leave home. Given that he’d have arrived at an empty house, it’s not that much of a tragedy, and JJ turns out to have caught something of a twenty-four-hour bug. By the next evening, she’s feeling mostly fine and is content to curl up on the sofa with her sister and a cup of Uncle Sean’s hot cocoa, so Aaron manages to slip out long enough to drive across town to Dave’s without feeling too guilty about his absence.
The other man answers his knock with a surprised “Aaron!” that rapidly changes to concern. “Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine,” he answers with a grin. “Can I come in for a minute?”
“Of course!” Stepping back, Dave lets him into the foyer, then shuts the door behind him. “What’s going on?”
For a moment, Aaron says nothing, just standing there watching him with his hands in his pockets. Then his grin broadens. “You know, Dave, we’re both fairly intelligent men, as things go, but sometimes we’ve got the emotional sense of a brick.”
Before the agent can formulate a proper response, Aaron’s hand comes up around the back of his neck, and he’s leaning in to kiss him. It’s chaste and easy, all closed-mouth and gentle pressure, but with just enough push to suggest the promise of more; when Aaron finally pulls back, it leaves Dave wanting.
“Ah,” is the only thing he can come up with after a moment, bracing his forehead against Aaron’s and bringing his hands up to the lawyer’s shoulders; the younger man just laughs, open and amused, free of bitterness and sarcasm for the first time in months.
“Blame my brother,” he says, and then he shuts up, because Dave’s pulling him back in and talking is rendered irrelevant.