Aaron’s office, when Dave steps into the BAU, is still lit up. Two years ago, that wouldn’t even have been worth looking for, no matter the crazy hour; today, Dave stops, blinks, half-expects, when he makes his way up the stairs, that Aaron will have gone and left the light on.
He hasn’t; he’s hunched over his desk, suit jacket still on, pen moving smoothly across a yellow legal pad. Dave’s been away for a couple of days, but it feels like it should have been longer, for how the lines of tension have crawled back into Aaron’s body.
"Good evening," Dave says, quietly enough that Aaron shouldn’t startle, not with agents still moving around the bullpen. When Aaron does, he looks like it hurts.
"You’re back," Aaron says, before Dave can say anything about it. His left hand uncurls, slow and stiff, from around the pen.
"And you’re still here." Dave closes the door, and then can’t quite figure out where to put himself; Aaron usually comes around his desk when it’s just the two of them, even if Dave can’t often tempt him to break out the scotch. He settles for the chair in front of Aaron’s desk, furthest from the window, where he sits when he’s sitting there.
"Jack’s with Jessica tonight." Aaron doesn’t straighten up, and after a moment, Dave realises that it’s because he can’t, not without hurting enough that he’ll have to show it. "Can we – I wanted to talk to you. Ask you something."
"Sure," Dave tells him, because Aaron already knows he can ask for anything, and not just because Aaron’s the unit chief.
"Can you talk to Reid, about Maeve and that last case? That can’t happen again, but I don’t think I really got it through to him." Dave takes a breath to say yes, of course, but Aaron looks away, and when he speaks again, it’s much softer. "I know it’s my job to do it, but –"
But Haley, the ghost who’ll never really leave, not even now Beth is around. Losing Carolyn, so soon after she came back into Dave’s life, wasn’t easy in any way, but he knows that it was easier, and more than that, he suspects and will never say that there’s a part of Aaron that can’t help comparing Reid’s loss to his own.
"If Gideon was still here, he’d have done that," Dave points out. "Never let it be said that I can’t live up to his legacy."
Aaron cracks a poor approximation of a smile. "Thank you."
"Of course." Dave should really leave, but just looking at Aaron is making his own body hurt, and there’s something wrong, something he can see the shape of but not the lines. It makes him hesitate, and he’s glad for it when Aaron looks at him and asks, "You heading out?" like he knows he won’t like the answer.
"I wouldn’t mind a second opinion on the consult, actually. I do believe that scotch you gave me is still in this office somewhere."
The scotch is part of a young and stupid tradition, one that made Dave’s heart feel wobbly when he realised why Aaron had, the first time, gifted it to him on a random day (not a random day at all; exactly six months from his birthday, now that his birthday isn’t worth celebrating).
Aaron looks down at his paperwork again, makes an aborted reach for his pen, then says, "Bottom shelf of the bookcase," the way they both knew he would.
Dave honours the moment of vulnerability by busying himself with digging out the bottle and glasses, keeping his back turned until he’s sure Aaron will be on his feet, the worst of his stiffness and pain wiped from his face. It’s part of Foyet’s legacy, in more ways than one, and the best way Dave knows to show Aaron he’s aware and cares is to let them Aaron pretend like it doesn’t exist; pretend like Dave doesn’t know.
He’s a little startled when Aaron takes one end of the couch, shifts a little closer when Dave sits next to him. It could almost pass for reaching for the glass, except that Aaron doesn’t move away again.
They don’t talk; Dave sees no point in maintaining the fiction of a second opinion, now that Aaron has tacitly brushed aside the need for it. The bullpen is slowly emptying out, quiet settling over both of them, and he knows that Aaron will say what he needs to. That if he doesn’t, it will be because what he needs is something he’s getting without speaking.
"I asked Jessica to take Jack," Aaron says eventually, eyes fixed on the carpet, untouched glass curled between his hands. In the dim light, his hands are all bone, and his voice sounds the same way. "I’ve been – since the Replicator, I –"
Everything slots into place in a rush, like the moment the case becomes clear: late nights, tension, too much coffee, files folders flipped closed when he walks into the room. Dave’s tactile in a way Aaron isn’t, and he wants to reach out, has to stop himself.
"I know that he’s dead," Aaron says, voice laced with self-deprecation. "And the Replicator has no way of knowing about him, but every time I go home, I’m afraid he’ll be there again."
They don’t talk about Foyet, not since the hearing after Aaron killed him, but even so, Dave suspects Aaron won’t say his name. "That’s not a foolish fear," Dave tells him, instead of saying that it’s a trauma reaction, the same as the month Aaron spent in Dave’s spare room after Foyet’s first attack, the same as the way Dave visited Aaron and Jack every day after Haley was killed, for weeks.
"Jack can tell that something’s wrong," Aaron says, still talking to the floor as though Dave hasn’t spoken. "We – it’s like the stomach flu, I think we’re passing the anxiety back and forth. His nightmares are back."
Dave doesn’t ask about Aaron’s; Aaron knows that he sometimes calls out in his nightmares, and that he sometimes wakes from them sobbing, and he won’t let Jack find out any of that.
"But every time I go into that house, I know Foyet’s going to be there, and there’s nothing I can do, he’s going to hurt me and kill Jack, I –"
Aaron’s shaking, suddenly, so hard that liquid splashes over the side of his glass before Dave eases it from ice cold fingers that curl around his own the moment Aaron’s hands are free. "I’m sorry," Aaron manages, gasped out like he can’t get a breath, and Dave would do a lot for Aaron to look at him right then. Instead, he dumps the glass, wraps both hands around Aaron’s and holds on tight enough that Aaron doesn’t try to get free, just clings back and doesn’t look at Dave and shakes like he’s going to shake apart.
"I’m right here," Dave says, when the shaking gets worse. "You’re safe, I’m right here, and even if I wasn’t, there are armed security and Metro cops out there, not to mention highly trained FBI agents." And several doors that require key card access, but Aaron’s apartment had three locks and an alarm system, and Foyet still got in. "Just keep breathing, you don’t need to do anything else, not right now."
Aaron makes a terrible broken sound, but he keeps breathing, and when Dave says, "That’s it, you’re doing good," the shaking eases for a moment, brief but there, enough to hold onto.
"Do you know what he did?" Aaron asks, later. The lights in the bullpen are dimmed, Dave’s lost track of both glasses, and Aaron’s leaning half into him, half into the back of the couch, wrung out and still holding his hand.
"Yes," Dave says. He doesn’t need to clarify; they both know that Aaron’s not asking about him being stabbed.
Aaron turns bloodshot, exhausted eyes on him, curiosity just showing through.
"I didn’t know," Dave tells him. He’d suspected, wondered, acted as though it was true, but he hadn’t known, not for sure, not at first. "We were on the jet, talking through a stabbing case – I don’t remember which, a couple of weeks before you stepped down for Morgan. All the usual rundown, and when I looked over your shoulder, you’d written ‘not always true’ next to a note about stabbing as a substitute for other forms of penetration."
"Oh," Aaron says softly, and Dave doesn’t tell him that, long after they’d realised the stabber was a woman, Aaron had referred to their Unsub as ‘he’, completely unaware, as far as anyone could tell, that he was doing it.
"I don’t know, for sure," Aaron says, words slow like he’s halfway to sleeping. "I passed out, and the tests at the hospital were inconclusive. I just – I woke up there and –" He cuts himself off on a strangled sob, and even in the dim light, Dave can see the glint of tears. "I thought – I told myself, after, that if he had, he’d have done it while I was awake, and – and he didn’t get that far, not before I passed out."
Dave doesn’t ask how far Foyet did get. Selfishly, he doesn’t want to know; not what Aaron doesn’t want to tell, anyway.
"But I have nightmares, and I don’t know whether they’re memories or not," Aaron says, fast like he has to get the words out. There’s a very long pause before he says, "I think that’s what he wanted. So I couldn’t ever – so I’d always wonder and never know, for sure."
He’s almost certainly right. The way Foyet pursued Aaron – the Fox, Haley’s murder – Dave thinks, on the bad days, that Foyet knew he wouldn’t make it out of that house alive, and that he planned it all so that he’d live on, in Aaron’s trauma and terrors.
"I wish I knew what to do with that," Aaron says, tears catching in his voice. "Or that I could get on the plane and leave it behind, like our other cases."
Dave eases his arm around Aaron in a loose hug, because Aaron needs it so badly, Dave can’t do anything but give it to him. "It doesn’t work like that when it happens to you," he says, as though Aaron doesn’t already know that. The next part is harder to say – they had more than one terrible yelling fight about it in the immediate aftermath, and Dave never won any of them, unless he counts winning as apologising because Aaron had been right, he’d had no right. "I know you know that none of the people we save just go back to their lives afterwards, not even the ones who try." He runs his thumb slowly against the grain of Aaron's suit jacket. "You said that the grief counselling helped Jack. You might think about some kind of counselling for you, as well."
"It’s supposed to be better now." Aaron’s crying for real, half tucked into Dave, like he can’t stop it and doesn’t have the energy to try. "It was going so much better."
"I know," Dave tells him. "But I’m not sure even you thought that it would go on like that indefinitely."
"I hoped." Aaron hiccups the bastardized cousin of a laugh that breaks into a sob before it really gets started.
"I know," Dave says again. "But I don’t think any of us get to make it all this time without the bad years overwhelming the good ones sometimes."
Aaron shivers, wipes his face with the back of his hand, and Dave presses his case, just a little. "A friend of a friend specialises in trauma counselling. He does a lot of work with people who can’t do the whole hour-a-week, face-to-face thing. I could get you his card."
Aaron shakes his head, but what he actually says is, "Tomorrow. I promise. Just – I just want to sit here for a while."
"Of course," Dave says. "As long as you need."