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So Heavy For The Lightness

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Aaron managed to work with Spencer Reid just fine for two whole years.

Spencer was capable. Perhaps not in a physical conflict, or running, or scaling fences – but he was attentive, insightful, curious, and had an alarming intellect that proved to be intimidating to everyone, Aaron included. He became a ruthless profiler in no time, and quietly made himself indispensable to the team. And he was personally deferential, warm, and empathetic, which won him friends when he wasn’t paying attention, and seemed to come as a constant shock to him. In two years, he never once brought up his past with Aaron, and made no efforts to establish any rapport with him that was more than professional regard. It was exactly the relationship they should have, and it quietly disturbed Aaron.

Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t always ignore how Spencer looked, all tall, lean, and sharp. He couldn’t always suppress the curl of a smile that snuck into his features when Spencer made a startling connection, or unleashed his brain with unerring accuracy. If Aaron was tired, he’d forget to tamp down on the spark of something that lit inside him when he saw Spencer whispering with J.J. on the jet, or spitballing theories animatedly with Prentiss, or watching him try to squirm out of a friendly headlock from Morgan. When he recognized the unwanted wisps of envy, jealousy, or, god forbid, longing, he reminded himself of who he was and where they found themselves.

That open, carefree version of himself from college was gone; Aaron had grown into a serious and formidable man. He was exactly who he wanted to be, doing exactly what he wanted to do. He had ambition, and personal rules that he never once thought of violating. And, perhaps most importantly, he had a boyfriend. Yet strangely, Greg was always the last thing he considered when he found his thoughts lurking around Spencer Reid, and that always made his spine stiffen a little. Aaron wasn’t that sort of man – he wasn’t – so he always found that lapse alarming.

Greg had earned his place in Aaron’s life. His best friend from his brief stint at the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, Greg had shamelessly flirted with Aaron every day until he finally landed a position at the Bureau.

“I’m not going to sleep with someone I work with, Greg,” he’d sighed one day over his endless stack of depositions while Greg leered at him beatifically. “So, just cut it out already.”

“Oh, I know you won’t, Aaron. But that doesn’t mean I have to stop reminding you how handsome you are until you finally break. Besides, it’s great entertainment, and this place can be so dull…” Greg grinned. He was a great grinner, like Aaron had been once.

They worked together instead, getting to know each other inside and out over three years. Aaron warmed to Greg’s inappropriate humor as well as his ruthless drive as a prosecutor. Few things turned him on more than capability, and Greg was a bloodthirsty attorney in the best possible way. A keen mind, an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, and a flair for the dramatic made him mesmerizing to work beside. Greg humbled and inspired Aaron. And then when they were alone together, Greg’s unrepentant silliness unwound Aaron’s determined ambition with startling ease. Over late-night take-out, endless paperwork, or relentless trial prep, Greg was Aaron’s shadow; so ubiquitous that Aaron discovered he had fallen for him without making a conscious decision to do so. The casual flirting remained and went absolutely nowhere for years thanks to Aaron’s personal code of conduct. But Aaron found that comforting and safe – a sort of flattering dependability that he eventually took for granted. That was until Aaron changed jobs and Greg showed up on his doorstep demanding an immediate date.

“We don’t work together anymore, so your stupid moral code remains unblemished. You can lord it over the rest of us with impunity,” Greg leaned against Aaron’s doorframe and smiled. “But may I suggest that you assert your superiority over us mere mortals with your dick in my mouth? ‘Cause I know after three years of PG-rated teasing and pretending not to check me out that you want some of this…”

Aaron sighed and dragged him inside. No use in fighting it. Then they became two guys who talked about their work, and still knew each other better than anyone else, and now had thrown some above average sex into the mix. They were compatible, developing a satisfying shorthand that made them both feel comfortable, and there was never any pressure for it to become something more. Greg never asked to move in, though he spent half his nights at Aaron’s apartment. They never discussed their future, though they both assumed they were a couple. It was fulfilling, so much more so than being randomly single in the D.C. gay scene, and they’d both remarked more than once on how lucky they were to have found each other. It went on that way, happily, for years, and Aaron never questioned it.

But Reid would walk through the office, face creased and nose-deep in some weighty book, and Aaron’s gut would kick out so hard and suddenly that he’d be temporarily stunned by the impulse before he could wrestle it down. And that’s when the nagging thought crept into his consciousness like a sliver he couldn’t get a grip on: shouldn’t I want more with Greg? Greg knew Aaron better than he knew himself. He was Aaron’s partner. He thought that maybe the disparity had arisen because Aaron had never told Greg about the significance of Gideon’s sneaky hire. So, Aaron decided to test that theory and told Greg the whole story.

“No way,” Greg whispered with a disconcerting grin washing over him. “Jason hired the kid you deflowered in college by accident? He had to know… c’mon, this is JASON we’re talking about…”

Greg held an unflattering view of Jason Gideon and not without cause. They had gone toe-to-toe over cases more than once. Greg held his ground against the profiler well, but often expressed concern that Aaron allowed him to get away with too much considering that they were supposed to be equals in leading the BAU team. Aaron was still working out Greg’s amusement at this turn of events.

“Honestly, I don’t think he has any clue. You know how blinkered he can be. And Spencer – err, Reid – has never let on about any of it, so…”

Greg leaned back into the couch and laughed, his throat moving in a liquid line of hilarity as his fingers rubbed circles into the back of Aaron’s neck. “This is delicious. If this were on tv, it’d be my new favorite show: Federal Bureau of… Investigation” he lisped and wiggled his eyebrows, as heat rose in Aaron’s face. Honestly, sometimes Greg’s inappropriateness could be a little emasculating.

“So glad that my professional awkwardness is entertaining…”

“C’mon, hon, don’t be like that. It’s so ridiculous that you have to laugh about it,” Greg leaned in still smiling, always smiling. “Besides, you said Reid isn’t making a fuss, so, what’s the problem? You’ve been working together a while at this point…”

“You’re not… upset about this?”

Greg’s smile dimmed as he looked confused. “No. Why should I be?” Then he shuffled a little closer on the couch and got a wicked look about him. Oh no…

“You’re not thinking of slipping down memory lane with the Flower, are you?”

Aaron rolled his eyes, his face now bright red, stymied for an adequately censuring comeback.

“I always knew I was just the substitute for the one who got away,” Greg declared with mock wateriness and a hand slapped dramatically to his chest. “I’ll fight for you, lover! It’ll be boas at dawn! Unless he’s a bear – is he? I’m sorta intrigued about the ex-lovers you never mention… If he is a bear, it’ll be rustic chest hair at dawn!

Aaron’s face was on fire, and he felt it creep down his throat and over his chest. Greg always took things too far. It was hilarious when you weren’t the focus of it, but when that keen mind turned towards you, well, it could be mortifying. And Aaron wasn’t comfortable being exposed, not even by someone he trusted as much as Greg.

“You are one silly queen,” Aaron drawled in order to deflect, and received a cheeky wink for his efforts. Then Greg practically crawled into his lap, intriguing line of inquiry forgotten, arms wrapping Aaron up with skillful ease. Aaron sighed at its nonchalance, and at the sudden reprieve. And then Greg’s growing interest was front and center; he was the least insecure lover Aaron had ever been with. It was one of his more admirable qualities.

“Tell me, do I look like him? Do you have ‘a type’?”

“You don’t look like him at all,” Aaron husked before taking Greg’s mouth slowly and with authority, the way he knew he liked. It wasn’t a lie, and Aaron had no issues about how quickly and fervently Greg could turn him on. And there was something intoxicating about how Aaron could lose himself for a while with Greg; he could be wholly himself with all his unpolite need and roughness that he couldn’t show in his professional life.

Greg was the opposite of Spencer: dark, muscularly athletic, with rough-hewn, undeniably masculine features. He was aggressively charming, and the focus of any room he entered. Aaron often felt like an ‘also-ran’ next to him, which suited Aaron just fine; he’d learned that it was frequently better not to be noticed. But as he rolled Greg back onto the couch, fingers starting to work the buttons of his shirt, he couldn’t stop his mind from comparing Greg to Spencer. And then it was Spencer’s long, thin features and his shy glances through tangled hair, and the delicate, sharp lines of his body that weren’t quite authoritative or submissive that flooded through Aaron’s mind. Spencer noticed Aaron the first time they met, and Aaron continued to notice him now, even when he didn’t want to. Aaron tried to push that aside, but soon he was nothing but a dumb, mindless animal, eventually coming in a glorious mess of heated longing to a frantic mixture of lovers in his head.

But despite all of this, Aaron worked well with Spencer, and any unwelcome strains on his personal resolve were easily managed. It was a challenge, as he’d predicted, but certainly not an insurmountable one. Not until Tobias Hankel entered their lives.

Aaron watched Spencer being tortured on the closed-circuit video feed and was paralyzed for the first time in his adult life. He was mesmerized by Spencer’s howling, the way his blurry body tried to curl away from the abuse, the broken rasp of his voice as he fought to speak through a narcotics haze, over and over. It was all happening in real time, and he could do nothing but watch. And perversely, his mind disconnected him from the live feed, instead overlaying Aaron’s view with images of a younger, disheveled, lost Spencer, his gaze wide and seeking, his hands gripping denim-clad hips, asking for guidance. Spencer’s howls transformed into shared whispers, effusive gratitude, and the quiet assurance, “I never forgot you”.

He’s going to kill him. He’s going to kill him and I’m doing nothing to stop it. I’ve done nothing for Spencer in any way in the last two years. And I’ll never get a chance to change that. Tobias will kill him…

And then he did. For agonizing moments, everyone watched as Spencer’s heart refused to work. But in those same moments, Aaron’s stopped as well. He was immovable, standing straight, shoulders level, arms at his sides while he was silently dying along with the image on the screen. When Spencer sputtered back to life again, Aaron took a breath so deep and painful, he thought he tasted blood afterwards. His chest ached from the abuse, but then everyone’s eyes were on him, looking for leadership, and the effort it took to shove all of that aside and give instruction in that soothing monotone they expected was almost more than he could muster. Then the message came, because despite what Aaron’s brain was telling him, Spencer was a man with frightening capabilities, not a lost boy.

That’s it, Spence. Being extraordinary while dying is something I should’ve expected from you. Hold on, I’m coming…

He had no memory of getting to that graveyard, or who came with him; his mind jumped from the garbled message for him over the video feed to him running towards a shallow grave in the moonlight after a blistering gunshot.

No, no, no, no… don’t die… don’t you damn-well die on me…

Then he leapt into the grave with a bent shadow, crushing him to his chest even before he could make out the silhouette.

“Spencer,” he huffed into the dirty hair tucked under his chin. It was the first time he’d called him that in two years. It was always ‘Reid’ out loud, though he’d never ceased being ‘Spencer’ inside his head. Thin arms wrapped around him cautiously, and Aaron clamped his eyes shut and held on tighter that Spencer didn’t know how to act around him after nearly dying. He swallowed painfully and made a rash decision. “You okay, gorgeous?” he whispered just for them, because Spencer needed to know that what happened was so far outside the boundaries of professionalism that Aaron would’ve done anything to bring him back. Spencer stiffened against him for a moment, and then sagged so hard into the embrace that Aaron staggered back a step and made a soft noise of worry. Spencer’s arms squeezed.

“Not okay,” he croaked, voice still slurring. “But you came. You understood. I knew you’d understand, Aaron…”

Aaron made another distressing sound and hauled Spencer as close as he could, until the weight of him was a vertical line mirroring Aaron’s body. He heard shouts from behind them, and hastily shoved everything back under his polished exterior once again.

“C’mon, let’s get you out of this damned hole. Can you walk?”

Spencer stumbled back a step, even with Aaron holding him firmly, and gave Aaron a look that didn’t have an ounce of the agent he’d spent two years becoming in it.

“I’m gonna need help,” was all he said, his mouth a pinched, white line in the bouncing beams of flashlights.

“I know,” Aaron leaned close and murmured before they were set upon by Bureau agents. “I’ve got you, Spence, and I won’t let go.”

He didn’t know what he was promising in that moment, and he hadn’t thought about it before speaking, but when Spencer’s hand found his and squeezed like steel as they heaved him out of the shallow grave, Aaron’s stomach flipped so suddenly that he wondered at what point in his life he’d stopped feeling with such alarming sharpness.

 

The drama of Tobias Hankel’s death smoldered out into day-to-day life, as drama invariably does. Aaron found himself in Spencer’s lobby buzzing his apartment a week later, entirely unsure of what his motivations were.

“Hello?” Spencer’s voice crackled over the intercom. Aaron felt a flash of doubt, of shame. What was he hoping for anyway? He was Spencer’s boss, for chrissakes…

“Umm, hey, it’s me. Aaron. Hotch.” He cringed. “Just wanted to check in. See if you needed anything…”

He dropped his thumb from the call button and cursed aloud, safe in the security that he couldn’t embarrass himself further if Spencer could neither see nor hear him.

“Oh. You wanna come up? Come up…” The door buzzed before Aaron could stammer a refusal, and then he held it open for a full thirty seconds mulling over the cowardly idea of simply turning around and leaving without explanation. That would certainly be the smarter choice.

“Man up, Hotchner. He’s a subordinate, not a drooling maniac,” he growled before trooping through the door and marching up to Spencer’s floor.

Spencer stood in the open doorway to his apartment, wan but smiling, and it was such a smile; a casual welcome with the familiarity that he’d shared with everyone on the team. Everyone but Aaron. And now it was given to him freely, as if it had always been there. Aaron asked himself, had it always been there?

“How are you doing?” he murmured too breathlessly as Spencer hobbled aside to let him in.

Spencer was wearing something that looked like it had been stolen from a mannequin in an Italian menswear shop window, except it was thrown on without much care. All long, subtle lines, and random creases. Aaron thought, he wasn’t expecting me – does he just always wear suits, no matter what? Is he always so… pretty? He felt slightly underdressed, and he’d come from the office in one of his power suits.

Thankfully, while rolling this around in his head, he became distracted by Spencer’s apartment. It was full of rich colours, worn furniture, and packed to the rafters with books. But it was also pin-neat, and Aaron suspected that it was all ordered in some Byzantine organization of Spencer’s devising. His eyes flashed about quickly for signs of disruption, minor chaos, distraction – anything that might point to someone struggling or hiding – but he didn’t find that. He was, however, more than overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things Spencer had accumulated.

“The foot’s still giving me grief,” Spencer mumbled as he hobbled behind Aaron and waited for him to sit on his couch. “But every day it’s a little better.” He stared down at Aaron, smiling, with something knowing crinkling his eyes. Aaron’s stomach tightened, thinking he might have given the wrong impression, even as his internal monologue began to wax poetically about Spencer’s eyes.

“Nice of you to come over. Are you here to check if I’m high or not?” Spencer asked conversationally.

Aaron felt like he’d been slapped. “Uh, no… well, not entirely. Honestly, I just wanted to see-”

“It’s fine, Aaron,” Spencer’s smile got broader, then worry dampened it. “Is it okay if I call you Aaron when it’s just the two of us? I still trip up over ‘Hotch’…”

“Yes that’s… of course, outside of work, of course…” Aaron nodded too aggressively and then cleared his throat, trying to figure out when he’d lost control of the situation. “Listen, Spencer, I am checking up on you, because I’m concerned. But I’m not a parole officer-”

“I’d be worried about me too, if our positions were reversed,” he waved Aaron off. “But I’m not high. You can check the place if you want – I don’t mind. Would you like some coffee?”

Spencer didn’t wait for an answer and hobbled away to the kitchen, forcing Aaron to follow.

“I wouldn’t presume to invade your privacy like that – I’m not gonna toss your place. If you say you’re clean, I’m gonna choose to believe that.”

Spencer turned back from where he stood next to a coffee machine. “That’s quite a gamble. Especially if I’ve become an addict and am trying to hide it from my boss.”

Aaron felt slapped again. Maybe he deserved it. Two years of nothing but professionalism and rules…

“Alright, I just… You said you weren’t okay. Back in that grave. And I said that I’d be there for you, and then… I don’t know. I chickened out and it’s taken me a week to even get over here.” Aaron had to take a breath. It was the work of a moment to shuffle off his professional concern into this, but it was a monumental shift in his outlook. He rocked slightly, feeling as if the ground was literally moving beneath him.

“A lot could’ve happened in that week, and… I pride myself on being a man of my word. So, I’m sorry. I should’ve been here, and I can’t pin down why I wasn’t.” He straightened his back and squared his shoulders, facing down Spencer’s shocked expression. “I’m concerned for you, and I’m here now. What do you need me to do?”

Spencer stared at him for a minute, those eyes flicking over and pulling him in without moving a muscle. Then he took an audible breath in as his shock melted into something akin to sadness. “What happened to you?” he murmured. “When did you take on everyone’s problems like they were your own? I’ve wanted to ask that for two years… You used to smile, Aaron. I don’t have a single snapshot in my mind from ten years ago where you’re not smiling…”

Aaron flinched a little and hated that it was such a tell. This was clearly a mistake. He should go.

“Listen to me,” Spencer continued, hobbling forward a step, eyes earnest. “You don’t owe me anything. If… spending time alone with me makes you so… stiff, it’s not an obligation you need to fulfill. I’m doing okay. Really.”

He paused for a moment and then his expression shifted to something more isolated, apprehensive. “In the spirit of full disclosure: I’m having nightmares. And the first two days after, I thought about getting high.”

Aaron’s gut tightened into a sour knot. Fuck. Didn’t get here quick enough…

“Maybe if I were younger, more naïve… I might have,” Spencer continued. “But in these past few years I’ve seen enough addicts to know that the relief is temporary, and the price is high. Life is full of pain – there isn’t a drug in existence that can solve that.” He stopped and held Aaron’s gaze for another long moment. “Thank you for what you said to me in that grave. I was… vulnerable, sort of lost… and you brought me back. It was a reminder that I mattered, and I needed that in that moment. It meant a lot. It’s part of what I think about when I consider getting high, or quitting.”

Quitting? He’d considered quitting the team? Aaron’s stomach heaved once, immensely, like a storm wave crashing inland and wiping out everything in its path with one, brutal swell.

Spencer shuffled on his feet and winced as he landed on the bad one.

“You have professional commitments, and a team to run. You don’t have to carve out time for… me. Because I’m gonna be alright.”

“Spencer, why do you think I’m here?” Aaron asked before he could think about it. It’s not professional concern.

“B-because I asked for help and you agreed in a moment amplified emotions and adrenaline?”

Aaron sighed. “I’m here because… you almost died. And if you had, I’d have lost the most interesting, challenging person I’ve ever met. My team would be less for it, and… so would I, personally.”

Not professional.

“I’d… I’d have missed out on the opportunity of becoming your friend.”

Spencer’s eyebrows shot upwards. “You want to be my friend?”

“I know… I haven’t shown that.” Aaron’s eyes flicked around Spencer’s pokey kitchen nervously. What are you doing?

“I have… rules about professional distance. My boyfriend mocks me about it ruthlessly…” he chuckled and then saw Spencer’s face go carefully neutral. “See? Distance. I have a boyfriend. We’ve been together for years, and only Gideon knows about him. Well, Gideon and now you.”

Spencer didn’t react, didn’t give him any indication of how this information landed for him. Aaron sighed – that was probably wise – and went on.

“My point is, I’ve established these boundaries and I never break them, but… you’re not just an employee, Spencer. It’s ridiculous to continue acting as if we don’t know each other. If you’d be interested, I’d like to get to know you as you are now, beyond your capabilities as an agent. I’d like us to be… friends, if possible. That’s why I’m here.”

Spencer stood in his kitchen with a forgotten coffee scoop in his hand, blinking for a considerable amount of time.

“O-okay,” Spencer said eventually, still looking dazed.

“Okay?”

“Friends,” he reiterated, nodding and then meeting Aaron’s gaze again. “I’d like that, I think.”

Aaron felt himself smile in a way he never did with co-workers. But that was exactly the point: they were going to be friends instead. So, it began that day with a semi-awkward coffee as Spencer rambled on about the highlights of his pre-Bureau career. But Aaron made a point of visiting frequently while Spencer was on medical leave, and, in time, the familiarity of it wore down the awkwardness.

At first, Aaron told himself it was double duty: he was concerned that Spencer’s isolation could lead to complications from the Hankel case. Spencer had been upfront about that, and there were times when they were watching a movie on Spencer’s sofa and Aaron would find Spencer’s eyes glazed, staring at nothing with a pained look of concentration on his face. The first time Spencer was caught doing this, he apologized, but that wasn’t what made Aaron’s fists clench where they lay along his thighs.

“If you’re struggling… I’m not your boss. Not when I’m here anyway.”

“I know,” Spencer sighed. “But I’m okay. I promise.”

“Would you… tell me if you weren’t, Spencer?” he asked, worried about the answer.

Spencer turned to face him, looking more tired than usual. “Yes. I think I would,” he said after a long moment of consideration. “After all, I don’t have anyone else.”

That, more than anything, erased the idea of double duty in Aaron’s mind. He wasn’t there to police a subordinate. The words cut him deep, down to the bone, because a part of him felt that way as well: set apart. After that, he showed up because Spencer needed a friend more than he let on, and so did Aaron, and they had a chance at solving that together.

At work things remained as they had been: Aaron kept a discreet distance from the team, including Spencer. He was careful not to praise him too much, not to seem overly interested in the strange tangents his mind went on during any given case. But his weirdness fascinated Aaron as much as it had on that single night back in college. They began to have dinner together, after a long day at the office or during an away-case, and it gave Aaron a chance to press Spencer for further details about medieval commerce, or the rise of genetically modified foods, or the psychological underpinnings of furry fetishism. Spencer’s love of oddness seemed endless. He was always happy to oblige, often with a surprised smile curling across him, delighted to know that his boss’s “that’s enough, Reid” during daylight hours was for the benefit of others and not himself.

These evenings together – just a handful of them amidst chaotic months of work and travel – took on a quality of rare joy for Aaron. They had a flavor about them – like the strange quietness that comes with the deepest part of night, when you feel swaddled and safe, equally far from either dawn or your nightmares to feel anything other than calm. He never spoke much, but he felt himself lengthen and relax as Spencer unspooled his strange knowledge like Scheherazade in the sultan’s tent. There was something soothing and compelling about him. The stories were always new to Aaron, topics that he had little or no knowledge about, and they weren’t always interesting, but Spencer had a way with them. His animation and enthusiasm, the staccato movements of his long fingers, the obvious wonder he held at being able to tell all of it to another – Aaron found himself mesmerized by the mix. Sometimes he’d walk away from the meal remembering only two things. One, that Spencer Reid was indescribably weird, and two, the man was in such need of new things to fascinate, Aaron wondered what he got out of their decidedly one-sided friendship.

“I’m boring you, aren’t I?” Spencer would say from time to time, ducking his gaze away and trying to hide behind his hair.

“You really aren’t.”

Spencer looked back and must have seen something in Aaron’s face that made a smile burst through his embarrassment.

“Well, I’m not entirely convinced that’s the truth, but I don’t think you could fake a smile like that if you were completely disinterested in competitive cheese-chasing.”

Was Aaron smiling? That probably made him seem like a weirdo as well. “It all adds to the archive of ‘things I might need to know someday’. And I’m waiting to find out if cheese-chasing ends in cheese-acquisition. Don’t leave me hanging now…”

“I’m sorry to say that the cheese always gets away,” Spencer laughed loudly, colour rising up his throat and blooming across his face. “That’s not the point of the race. Honestly, Aaron, how could you possibly be interested in this?”

I am because you are. You make things fascinating.

“I dunno. I just am,” Aaron murmured, watching Spencer crack up across the table from him.

Despite his care, people began noticing a change in Aaron. Perhaps it was inevitable. But when Gideon slid up beside him in a police station in Baltimore while Aaron watched Spencer confer with the locals about his geographic profile, his well-honed wariness sharpened him once again.

“I knew you’d warm to him eventually,” Gideon mumbled smugly, making Aaron’s shoulders tense under his jacket. “Brains does it every single time. And, hell, it only took you two years to give him the benefit of the doubt…”

“I gave him the benefit of the doubt the first day, Jason,” Aaron corrected quietly, because he had. “Like you asked.”

Gideon made an unconvinced sound and continued watching Spencer. Then he overstepped his invitation, as he always did. “He’s attractive too.”

Aaron turned his scowl on Jason but said nothing. Jason stared back at him, a fake look of innocence trying to mask how he was hoping to catch a snippet of something in Aaron’s expression. “How are you and Greg doing?”

“We’re great. Same as always.”

Gideon stared a moment longer and then looked away with a huff. “I admire your consistency. Never managed that myself. Maybe you and he should teach a class.”

Aaron crossed his arms and went back to watching his team work, sighing at Gideon’s tiresome mind games. But it raised an uncomfortable thought, because he didn’t know if he and Greg were the same as always. He was spending more and more of his limited free time with Spencer, and though Greg hadn’t mentioned it, Aaron was certain he’d noticed. He decided this was a situation that could be easily fixed if he applied himself. He’d reached out for a friend, and that had worked out nicely. There was no reason why he couldn’t reach out for Greg and get similar results; it didn’t have to be one or the other.

When the Baltimore case finished, Aaron took the afternoon off and prepared a lavish meal, surprising Greg with both an invitation and his enthusiasm when Greg showed up. Perhaps Aaron had been nervous, but he couldn’t figure out why. Their meal went cold, though Greg was happy to eat it later, his sparkling grin making him seem even cheekier for being naked and rosy all over.

“Okay,” he drawled. “So, what did you do?”

Aaron’s eyebrows popped from where he was picking at cold brussel sprouts. “What?”

“The meal, the mid-day texts, the explosive attack-sex the moment I walked through the door… what have you done, lover?” Greg chuckled through a mouthful of roast beef. “My extensive knowledge of Mexican soap operas tells me that this is guilt about something. Is the maid having your love child? Say it isn’t so, mi amor…”

Aaron rolled his eyes, an effect most likely diminished by his nudity and scruffy hair. “Ridiculous. Are you complaining about getting food and sex? Really? Who are you and what have you done with Greg Reardon?”

“Babe, I will never complain about free food. You know that,” Greg waved his hand around. “And as for the sex, well, I won’t complain about that at all, although I’m more than a bit curious about what’s gotten into you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Aaron, we haven’t gone twice in under an hour in years. You were… aggressive.” Greg leaned in, smile melting into something warmer and less mocking. “I loved it. I’ve… missed that, ya know? But it leaves a guy wondering: why now?”

The roast beef formed a hard lump in Aaron’s stomach, and his mouth went dry. “Maybe I just missed you,” he said quietly.

Greg watched him for a moment, and then his expression turned unexpectedly tender, new colour rising to his cheeks. “I’ll take that. Gladly.”

So, they seemed fine after all. Aaron had worked himself up over nothing. He chalked it up to being so rusty at friendship that he’d become confused about how to share himself around. His college-aged self would have mocked him for being such a blunt tool about it. But, apparently, he wasn’t the only one thinking about it.

“You know I’m okay, right?” Spencer said out of the blue one evening as they watched Doctor Who on his saggy sofa. “I’ve been fine for months now.”

Aaron shifted to look at him, causing them to slide further to the center of the springless couch. “I know,” he said cautiously, wondering if he’d finally outstayed his welcome. Maybe the lack of give-and-take had proved him to be boring, as he always suspected he was. “Would you prefer that I didn’t come by so often… or anymore?”

A look of panic flashed over Spencer and Aaron felt a hand land on his arm just below his rolled sleeve. Then it was gone, almost like it had never been there.

“No, no. That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what did you mean?” It came out sounding measured and reasonable, but Aaron was tense all over, almost breathless with sudden anxiety.

“Well… you don’t have a ton of free time, and you’re spending a lot of it with me. I’m just saying… I’m okay, and if you need to focus some time elsewhere, I get it, you know? You don’t have to worry about me.”

“I’m not here because I’m worried.”

“Maybe not.” Unexpectedly, a shy smile curled one side of Spencer’s mouth and Aaron’s anxiety momentarily faded to allow for a painful throb behind his chest. Then it was back to full anxiety again. “Maybe you’re here for my obscure sci-fi collection and endless opportunities to eat take-out. That would be a wonderful, super-geeky revelation if it were true.”

Spencer chuckled, and it forced Aaron to do the same even through his rioting body. They let the amusement fade and then Spencer sighed, his body sliding deeper into the unsupported part of the couch by accident.

“I mean, what does your boyfriend think of this?”

“Greg?” Aaron blinked and then shrugged too casually. “He’s a trial lawyer. I travel 180 days each year, give or take. We don’t live together… I guess we’ve gotten used to the absences. It’s normal for us.”

Spencer’s eyebrows quirked. “How long have you two been together?”

“Eight years.”

“Wow.”

“What?”

“Nothing, I guess,” Spencer shrugged. “Eight years is quite a commitment, and yet, you guys don’t have rules about how you spend your time, or – more importantly – jealousy about it…” Spencer shuffled to move away from the dip in the couch, but the movement only brought him closer to Aaron, their thighs aligned from hip to knee.

“Do you think that’s strange?”

“I think it’s enviable. And rare. You’re lucky to have found a partner who understands you so well. He must be remarkable.”

Aaron stared at Spencer, though Spencer turned his eyes back to the images onscreen. His cheeks were rosy, but other than that, he didn’t seem bothered by the topic. Aaron wondered why he didn’t feel pride at Spencer’s analysis. Greg was remarkable, and Aaron was lucky to have him. But the only feeling that circled in him was a hollowness as Spencer’s eyes flicked along with the action on the tv.

“So, this isn’t about being bored by my company, then?” Aaron tried to infuse the question with laughter, but he was still genuinely worried about it.

“Of course not,” Spencer waved the thought away. “I was just concerned that you might be making unnecessary sacrifices for my benefit. That’s all. If everything’s cool on your end, forget I mentioned it. Probably just being neurotic.” Spencer glanced away from the tv to make eye contact for a moment. “You’re never boring, Aaron.” Then he went back to watching Doctor Who.

Aaron kept staring at his profile. The sharp edges, the hollows under his eyes, the too-long hair half-hiding his lengthy neck. Aaron was vividly aware that Spencer’s leg was still pressed against his, a warm line that was both reassuring and frightening at once.

“What about you?” he choked out without thinking. Spencer turned to face him.

“What about me what?”

“Boyfriends. Umm… other commitments on your time… stuff like that.”

It was a dangerous topic, and one that he’d actively avoided even thinking about asking for months. Spencer stared oddly for a long moment, and then snapped back to himself with a shrug.

“I have the same job as you. There’s not a lot of free time.”

“Well, sure. But before that?”

Spencer shook his head. “I mean, some casual relationships here and there. But I moved around a lot. Sort of itinerant teaching. It was tough making anything last. And I get distracted easily, remember?”

Aaron felt rebuffed, which was ludicrous. Spencer’s mouth lifted in a smirk.

“Remember what you said about sex making people dumb? You were really right about that. I think about that a lot, actually. I take care of it when I have to, but I don’t have much time or interest in anything else.”

Aaron’s stomach heaved awkwardly, forcing him to clear his throat to regain control over himself. He wanted to move away from Spencer on the sofa but didn’t know how to manage it without being obvious. His reaction was too extreme, his mind swerving away from the implications of it. He wanted to go. He should leave… If Spencer saw any of this on him, he ignored it.

“Things were easier when we were younger, weren’t they?” he said with a smile. “Just lighter somehow. Maybe it’s because we had no clue what we were doing. Sometimes I miss that joyful brand of ignorance…”

Aaron didn’t say anything, and eventually Spencer returned to the tv program. Aaron sat through the rest of the episode before he made an excuse to call it a night. He thought about college – the nights spent gleefully fumbling with handsome strangers in the dark, the days spent learning, exploring. Maybe the best, freest times of his life were behind him. He didn’t even have a chance to really enjoy them. Watching Spencer as he watched the tv, Aaron replayed the moment he stumbled into the frat house bedroom, all flushed and confused, uncoordinated limbs and unexpected, undeniable beauty that he had no clue how to use. Aaron felt the hard kick in his gut – the same as it had been that night – but the lightness he’d felt back then was gone now. He wouldn’t reach out and try to draw him in. Not for fun. Nothing was for fun anymore.

He rested next to Spencer in the dip of the couch, feeling him and knowing it was nothing special. Just muted, animal memory. He watched Spencer’s hand as it rested on his knee, just inches from Aaron’s on his own. He promised himself that after that night, he wouldn’t think about these things again, and then he went home.

 

He kept that promise to himself – to forget about the way he used to be, and the way Spencer could still make him feel – for another six months. It felt like a victory, over himself or the situation he wasn’t exactly certain. But a victory nonetheless. He made more time to be with Greg, and that was satisfying, like airing out a home after a long, cold winter. He still spent time with Spencer, but made it more measured, and didn’t allow himself any further opportunities to accidentally trip into the feelings that had crept up on him that evening they spent watching Doctor Who. If Spencer noticed the change or questioned it, he kept it to himself. Things were as they should be, Aaron asserted aggressively in his own mind, but a nagging sense of incompleteness remained that he couldn’t pin down.

He shoved it aside, as he did to all things that defied his analysis, and forgot about it for a time. Mostly. Only in that secret part of night, when he couldn’t sleep and his mind had full dominion over him, did the subtle sense of something absent become too loud to ignore. He tried to roll away from it, to watch Greg sleeping next to him instead and find peace in it, but it never seemed quite enough. He felt… alone. In his days, his nights, in his life, and it quietly terrified him. What more could he want? What did he hope for? What was this secret, unidentifiable need that scratched at his mind so persistently? It horrified him that he fundamentally didn’t understand what he needed in order to be happy.

“You okay?” Greg said cautiously one morning over coffee, eyebrows raised with a practiced casualness that Aaron immediately recognized as focused worry. “You tossed a lot last night… Is it a case?”

Damn. He thought he had been hiding that better.

“It’s nothing. Just random restlessness,” he shrugged and slurped at his own coffee.

“Very little about you is random, Aaron,” Greg offered a reassuring smile. “You sure you don’t want to talk about it?”

Aaron sighed. “If I knew what it was about, I would.”

He hadn’t meant to be that honest about it, and when he discovered he had, he wondered why he didn’t want to be honest with Greg. Greg, for his part, noticed Aaron’s resignation and his focus sharpened in an instant, like zeroing in on an inconsistency in a cross-examination. Aaron stiffened defensively, but all Greg said was, “Well, give it some thought then. And when you have more of a grasp on it, lay it on me, okay?”

“Okay,” Aaron murmured with relief and then brushed his lips against Greg’s cheek, feeling ashamed at how he felt he’d dodged a bullet.

But, as before, he put it aside quickly and thought Greg had as well until two weeks later, when it all fell apart. Greg sauntered from the elevator and into the BAU bullpen like he owned the joint, all dazzling smiles and a suit so expensive only a lawyer could justify it.

“Hey, Hotch,” J.J. called out from where she was hovering next to the staff kitchen. When he turned to face her, she pointed and mouthed ‘Federal Prosecutor’ then wiggled her eyebrows. Any lawyer other than Aaron on the sixth floor put everyone on notice.

Aaron watched Greg walk up and pat him on the back like they were racquet ball buddies or something, and gave him a loud, “Hey, Aaron, how ya doin’?” Aaron was glad that Gideon wasn’t around to cause mischief for once. He straightened his back and gave Greg a stiff nod of recognition back. Purely professional. He could almost feel Greg rolling his eyes at him.

“Is Agent Morgan around?” Greg asked conversationally, ignoring Aaron’s discomfort. “I have some questions about his deposition and wanted to clear it up before he testifies.”

Aaron suddenly became irrationally angry. Quantico was a long drive from Greg’s office in the District, and his mission wasn’t urgent. It could’ve been handled with a phone call or an email; Greg had made a decision to challenge Aaron’s work boundaries. And what was even more infuriating was that Aaron didn’t know why.

“I don’t know…” Aaron’s face heated as he looked around.

“I think he took Garcia to lunch,” Reid suddenly appeared with a smile and an awkward wave. “He might be back soon, if you want to wait. It’d save you making the drive out here again…”

“Oh, I don’t mind the drive,” Greg smiled and rumbled with the typical charm he threw at anyone he hadn’t met before. “I like the view, you see…”

Aaron cringed but didn’t twitch a muscle.

“Besides, it gives me a chance to visit my old pal here. Right, Aaron?”

Reid looked at Aaron expectantly and Aaron felt his stomach twist. Then he shoved that too aside telling himself he was being foolish and paranoid.

“Greg Reardon, this is Spencer Reid. Reid, this is Greg…”

Reid smiled pleasantly but Greg’s smile vanished in an instant as he stared without a shred of his characteristic charm. Reid’s smile faltered a little.

“This is the Flower?” Greg murmured eventually, and Aaron twisted to glare at him.

“What?” Spencer asked as if he hadn’t heard Greg clearly.

“Greg,” Aaron growled in warning.

“Wow, you are not what I was expecting,” Greg ignored Aaron and focused on Spencer, gaze sizing him up from head to toes and back again.

“Um… thanks?” Spencer cocked an eyebrow.

“He’s mentioned you,” Greg flicked a finger at Aaron without looking at him. Spencer froze in place with a bland expression. “Don’t worry – it was complimentary. Aaron’s always polite about his… adventures.”

Aaron found himself shouldering between them, facing Greg down with a scowl that actually hurt his face. “Could you wait for me in my office?”

Greg gave Aaron a smirk that wasn’t in the least bit kind, and Aaron wondered where the hostility had suddenly come from. Greg was always so easygoing, so confident – this pettiness was completely foreign.

“Sure thing, buddy,” he purred softly and then walked away as if nothing was wrong.

Aaron took a breath to calm himself and then turned to face Spencer, whose face was red but still without expression.

“I’m sorry,” Aaron murmured, feeling heat rise to his face as well. “He’s not usually like that. I don’t know what’s gotten into him.”

“Sure,” Spencer turned back to his desk and shuffled some file folders around. Aaron’s gut twisted again sharply.

“Obviously, I told him how we met.”

“Obviously.”

“Spencer… I’m really sorry.”

Spencer turned back to face Aaron. “It’s not your fault. It’s natural that you would discuss your past with your partner. I just wasn’t prepared to face that from a total stranger.”

“I know. And I’m pissed about that,” Aaron said quietly but firmly. Spencer glanced at him and his bland expression softened into something else, something forgiving, perhaps.

“Go talk to him,” he said quietly back. “Maybe I’m just an excuse he’s using to get your attention. I’m fine and I have work to do. Go on.”

Aaron stood a moment longer until the side of Spencer’s mouth curled into the smallest of smiles. Aaron’s gut eased, and he felt himself loosen, rolling his jacket across his shoulders to relieve the tension.

“Thank you,” he murmured and meant it with every inch of him. Then he strode off to his office to deal with Greg and his sudden lack of manners.

In the end, they agreed that a windowed office in a building populated entirely by investigators on a military base wasn’t the best place to hash out a relationship tiff. Aaron found himself driving Greg back to his office in D.C., and they both seemed content to wait until they were trapped on the Beltway to rip the masks away.

“Just get angry and be done with it, Aaron,” Greg sighed, looking out the window in boredom. “I don’t particularly feel like tip-toeing around your silent resentment for the next few days…”

“Do you feel even slightly sorry?” Aaron growled at the car in front of him in the traffic jam. “What the hell was that all about anyway? What has Spencer done to you?”

“Okay, okay… I was a dick,” Greg waved an apology that didn’t feel genuine. “More than usual. I’m sorry about that. I didn’t think he’d be a twink, that’s all.”

“He’s not a twink. And why would that matter?”

“Okay, maybe he’s too old to be a twink. But he’s skinny enough that he could slip through the floorboards if he’s not careful…”

“Greg, what is this really about? Why did you come out here today? It wasn’t to chat with Morgan, I know that much.” Aaron sighed, frustrated. “You’re not like this.”

“Like what?” Aaron heard Greg turn in the passenger seat.

“This feels like… jealousy. Spencer works with me. We’re friends – nothing more. You know that.”

Greg barked out a laugh, crackling with something dark that Aaron had never heard from him before. “But you’ve fucked him.”

“Over a decade ago. It was a different time. I was different.”

“I know!” Greg’s voice was too loud inside the car and Aaron turned to find him leaning in, face pink and angry lines all over him. “You were fucking different.

Aaron was a little taken aback by Greg’s passion, and the growing sense that something was irking him and had been for quite some time.

“He got to know you before – when you were open to… things. Not the controlled, guarded guy I’ve fought to understand. I never got the guy who’d get high and fuck someone simply because it was a beautiful thing to do. I’ve never been able to bring out the man who felt so freely that he could fall for someone in a single evening. And now you’re fucking friends with him.”

The statement dripped with envy so thick that it was almost like fog choking them in the car.

“You aren’t friends with anyone you work with, Aaron! It’s one of your damned rules! But the Flower is exempt, isn’t he? And what you probably don’t see is that you are different around him as well. He gets… more of you. I dunno how to explain it. Just more. Maybe you two aren’t fucking, but am I supposed to be happy about you spending all of your time with him? And when you come home it’s all ‘Spencer did this today’, ‘you’ll never guess how Spencer got the guy to confess’, ‘I got into this debate with Spencer about the reasonable threat argument’. Or maybe I get nothing at all. Just silence and you tossing in bed all night pretending that everything’s fine…”

Aaron’s face collapsed into a look of incredulity. He threw the car in park, since they weren’t going anywhere anyway, and turned to give Greg his full attention.

“Are you out of your brilliant mind?” he sighed loudly, not comfortable being in the position to defend his honor. “I am with you. Period. I don’t cheat. That’s another one of my rules, or have you forgotten that?”

“There’s cheating and there’s cheating, Aaron,” Greg scoffed.

“What? What are you talking about? And screw you for trying to gaslight me on this subject! We aren’t talking about fidelity here. I was completely honest with you about my past with Spencer, and then you throw it out there the moment you meet him solely to provoke something.”

“Did you expect me to forget it?”

“No, but there’s a difference between knowing something and making a choice to rub it in someone’s face. You chose to act like a jealous dick when there’s no cause to, and you did it just to exercise some power over a guy you don’t even know. You embarrassed all three of us, and that’s why I’m mad at you.”

Greg fell silent, face mottled and pink, eyes glittering with pique that didn’t suit him at all. Aaron was shaking in the seat opposite him. He told himself it was righteous indignation, but it felt a bit like guilty deflection as well. But why should that be? He hadn’t done anything wrong – had he? Eventually, Greg huffed and looked out through the windshield at the gridlock.

“Yeah. I’m… an asshole.”

Aaron’s heart sped up as he watched Greg’s anger deflate into something akin to shame; another emotion that didn’t suit him. He reached for his arm and grasped it tightly until he faced him again.

“Why?” Aaron asked, still perplexed by it all. “What made you do it in the first place?”

Greg sighed as his eyes got watery. “We haven’t had sex in a month. And despite that, you’re barely sleeping anymore.”

Aaron blinked. “That’s not unusual for us. Our schedules just haven’t aligned well. It’s happened before. And my insomnia is just that – random and frustrating, yes – but it’ll end eventually.”

Greg took a moment. “We’ve been together, what – eight years now?”

“Yeah. Something like that.”

“Are we ever going to be anything more?”

Greg gave Aaron a look of such resigned defeat that Aaron felt his heart stop for an instant and then restart painfully. He hadn’t seen this coming at all. “W-what… what do you mean?”

“I mean living together, Aaron. I mean being there for each other for life,” Greg sighed deeply, seeming to sink into the passenger seat, looking half his normal size. “I’ve waited for years for you to trust me enough to open up completely, to let me in and love all of you. Because I do love you, Aar. But that’s never going to happen, is it? You’re always going to keep yourself just a little out of reach.”

“Greg… I…” His throat closed up. He didn’t know what to say; his mind went blank. How had he not seen that Greg was unhappy? Why had he made someone he cared for feel pushed aside?

“Eight years, man,” Greg shook his head and smiled sadly. “I was in it to win it, ya know? I thought, eventually, I’d figure out why you built your walls. And the irony is, I think I finally do know, but it won’t help me.”

Aaron just blinked, unable to move, just like his car, and his damned life, apparently.

“It was Spencer, wasn’t it? I don’t know what it is about him, but he’s the one who made you defensive, I’m almost certain. Knowing that you were only together once, and now having met him, I gotta say, I’m more than a little confused about how he got so much power over you, but… you can’t reasonably expect me to be okay with you working with some guy from college that you never got over.”

“‘Never got over’? Greg, c’mon…” Aaron felt desperate, but had an uncomfortable uncertainty about what he was desperate about. “It was one night, and we were just kids…”

Greg leaned in as far as the seatbelt would allow. “Aaron, you don’t see yourself when you talk about him. You are breaking your own rules. You smile, for chrissakes. Do you know how long it took me to get a smile – a real one – from you? He can bring it out in you just by coming up in conversation.”

Aaron felt himself become oddly disassociated from his body, as if he was watching them talk from above somehow. Then a car horn blared, making them both jump, and Aaron quickly descended, putting the car into gear, and inching forward with the rest of traffic. He stared at the license plate in front of him and found himself breathing through his mouth, like he’d been trying to outrun all of this but ended up in the same spot regardless.

“Maybe…” Greg said softly after an uncomfortable silence. “Maybe it’ll never be anything more than friendship. But I’m starting to believe that we’ll never be more than that either.”

“Greg…” he choked as his hands tightened on the wheel until one of his knuckles popped. The car in front of him started to get a little blurry.

“I was hoping… when I met him… that he’d be like me. Look like me a little.” Greg’s voice sounded distant, and when Aaron turned to glance at him, Greg was staring out the window, sightless. “I thought, if there was something about him in me, well, maybe we’d have a shot. But we’re not alike at all, are we? Maybe that’s why I said what I did. I wanted someone else to hurt a little…”

“Greg… I love you. You know that I do,” Aaron murmured, heart making it difficult for him to catch his breath. How had this all gone so wrong, so quickly?

“I know you do, hon. You just don’t love me enough to trust me.”

“We can work on that… I can work on that. Now I know what you want… that you are unhappy… I can make changes. We can do this. I promise.”

Greg turned slowly and offered the saddest smile Aaron had ever witnessed from him. “I’m not going to be another one of your obligations, Aaron. If you don’t trust me by now, it’ll never happen. It’s instinct, muscle memory. And we just don’t have it.”

Aaron couldn’t find an argument to counter that; Greg had always been a better litigator than him. They inched forward in traffic silently, miserable and alone, together.

 

Unknown Caller: Hey, Flower, it’s Greg. He’s at 51 Beam St. He needs you.
Reid: I don’t understand this message.
Unknown Caller: I’m sorry I was a jerk to you. I’m sure you’re probably a good person.
Unknown Caller: Just go to him, okay? I’m worried.
Reid: Why don’t you go?
---
Unknown Caller: I’m the reason why he needs you
Reid: ?
Unknown Caller: Stop asking questions, Flower, and just go.
Unknown Caller: 51 Beam. He’s in a corner booth. Make sure he gets home alright.
Reid: Greg, what happened?
---
Reid: Greg?

 

He was so drunk he could barely see. But he was quiet about it. That was him in a nutshell: quietly ruined. There were moments when he was so blurry that he forgot why he was drinking. The only thing that mattered was staying upright, and the glass on the table in front of him. But then a hand landed on his shoulder, and the double-vision of Spencer reminded him of why he was a mess.

“Hey,” Spencer said, barely heard over the din of the bar.

Aaron was confused. How long had he been there? Had he missed work?

“What… what are you doing?” he slurred, and then sat back against the booth when the bar tilted dangerously around him. “How…”

Spencer’s hand tightened. “Greg called me. What happened?”

What?” Aaron felt his world begin to fracture. Nothing was making sense anymore. Greg hated Spencer. Greg hated him. Aaron was the reason why Aaron was drunk and newly alone – why did Greg care what happened now?

Somewhere during this internal crisis, Spencer slipped into the booth opposite Aaron and watched it unfold.

“Aaron,” he tried again, waiting for him to make eye contact. “What’s happened?”

“Greg… Greg left,” he said after staring at the blurred outline of Spencer for too long. Then he took another drink.

“Maybe you’ve had enough.”

“‘M an adult. Make my own choices,” he drawled in his father’s accent. Fitting, since he was doing his best impersonation of him. “Plenty more humiliation left in me…”

“Alright,” Spencer said gently and sat back into the booth with a squeak of leather. There was a long lapse of nothing, or perhaps Aaron lost some time, then Spencer’s voice brought him back again. “Why did Greg leave?”

Aaron shrugged and then did something cruel, like his father would have. “You.”

“Me? Why me? Was it about… how we met?”

“Been eight years and I never let him get too close. I never… asked him to stay with me, for me… I never even thought about it.” Aaron looked up and did his best to focus the multiple Spencers into one man. “He says that’s ‘cause of you.”

Spencer looked pale, confused, a little frightened maybe. “I… I don’t understand…”

“Don’t worry. Not your fault… not really,” Aaron waved him off and smacked his elbow against the table in the effort. Pain lanced up his arm and sobered him a fraction. “Not now that I know you didn’t mean it…”

“Didn’t mean what?”

“When you disappeared,” he explained, though Spencer seemed as confused as ever. “I thought… you did it on purpose. And… I really liked you, so…”

Spencer made an odd strangled noise that was halfway between pain and clearing his throat. But his expression remained shocked, pale and open, like the moon hovering across the table.

“I was a kid,” Aaron huffed into his glass dismissively. “Thought I knew how things like that went. Sex was just for fun then… everything was just for fun. And then this nothing kid – you – stumbles in and… it just shoulda been nothing too. Just one night in my life. No one falls in a night…” His voice trailed off with his memories, and when he came back to himself, Spencer was staring at him with a sort of muted devastation all over him. And Aaron couldn’t stand that. Why should they both be ruined? He scraped what was left of his wits together and tried to find a way to explain it: it wasn’t Spencer’s fault, Aaron was the problem.

“You meet people,” he laid out the idea with a finger pressed into the scarred table top. Spencer’s eyes followed his hands. “…and you make room for them…”

His finger drew an invisible, lopsided box along the table. “When they leave… the room you gave them is still there.”

The box he drew was big. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been that big. He picked up his glass and mimed how it couldn’t fit in the area occupied by the box – like there was already something there blocking it. His drink sloshed into the phantom zone, but it was just an analogy after all.

“It’s dumb,” he concluded quietly, after a moment of watching Spencer stare at the empty, scarred table in front of them. “Like sex is dumb. People get dumb about the strangest things, about feelings… That’s why I decided to stop doing that, I guess…”

“Are you… are you saying… you are the way you are… because of me?” Spencer looked horrified. It was probably the appropriate reaction, but it made Aaron’s stomach twist dangerously. I guess this is where I lose you as well…

“I suppose those things matter though,” he continued. “Because Greg needed them – feelings from me, I mean. And I’m here trying to channel my asshole, drunk father so I won’t feel gutted that I let someone I love feel so alone. I failed him.”

“Aaron…” Spencer murmured, and it was too soft, too gentle. Not at all what he deserved.

“Ignore me. I’m drunk. What I’m saying is probably 50% bullshit and 50% self-pity.” He waved Spencer off again and tried to shore up the ache under his ribs. He needed to get a handle on this. Move on like he always did. “I need to throw up and pass out. Need to forget tonight…”

“Aaron, I think you need to remember this,” Spencer leaned across the table and practically leaked earnestness at him. “Maybe say all of this to Greg. It could make a difference.”

Aaron went quiet and still for an instant. “No,” he said softly, and then pushed his glass away as he allowed himself to feel how empty his life would be now, because of his paralysis. “He’s right: we didn’t have it.”

“Have what?”

Aaron stared at Spencer. “Trust. I could never tell him any of this. Never admit that I pushed him away because I don’t trust him to not hurt me. Never.”

“But…” Spencer looked confused. “You’ve told me… how hard could it be to tell him?”

And then it hit Aaron right between the eyes, leaving him blinking from the sting of the sudden revelation: Greg was right about all of it. Dammit.

Heat began building behind Aaron’s eyes and the room swirled. He wanted to be away from this place. Somewhere cool and dark, where he could safely fall, away from anyone’s sight. He blinked ferociously, trying to shove down his mess until it was more convenient.

“Can you… help me get home? I think I need to go home…”

“Of course. C’mon…”

Spencer was up in a flash and then Aaron was as well, leaning hard against Spencer’s thinness and trying to resist the urge to let everything go in that embrace. To cry, to rage, to fall… to hope. Somehow, it seemed as if Spencer could handle that. But that must have been the booze working him. The cab ride was a blur, and then he was propped against his apartment doorway as Spencer fought with his keys to find the right one. Then the door was open, his dark home a welcoming abyss he could sink into safely. He sighed like he was letting go of his last breath, and then he turned to Spencer, outlined in the hall light.

“Come in?” he asked before he could think about it. Spencer just stood still, his face in shadow.

“I… I don’t think so, Aaron.”

Aaron flinched – he saw it happen – but he didn’t feel it. “Sensible,” he mumbled.

“You’re home now. You’ll be okay,” Spencer said, and it sounded like he was next to his ear, right behind him.

“Yeah.”

He felt his keys pressed into his hand, then he stumbled into his place without looking back.

“Aaron?”

“Mmmm?” He didn’t turn.

“I’m sorry. For all of it. Truly.”

“Not your fault.” His chest got tight, and he reached out to the doorknob to steady himself. “You’re a good friend, Spencer. Thank you.”

Then he pushed the door shut with his foot, stumbled to his sofa, and fell.

 

Reid: He loves you & he’s sorry.
---
Reid: The guilt is tearing him up. If you reached out, he’d do everything he could to make it right. I’m sure.
---
Reid: Greg, that’s got to count for something.
---
Unknown Caller: Take care of him for me
Reid: He’s just… not good at this. But he feels a lot. Give him another chance, Greg.
Unknown Caller: You’re not getting this, Flower. But one day, I think you will. You might be the only one who can.
Unknown Caller: Make sure he doesn’t get himself shot before he figures his shit out. That’d be a waste of a spectacular cock.
Reid: Greg, c’mon…
Unknown Caller: We’re done, Flower. I may be silly, but I’m not stupid. He’s your problem now. Good luck.

 

The hangover was blistering, but he still managed to make it into the office early enough to catch Spencer before the rest of the team showed up. He heard the coffeemaker start in the staff kitchen and shuffled in as discreetly as he could. Spencer had his back to him, but knew he was there anyway.

“How’s your head?” he asked.

“One step above being pickled,” he grumbled as softly as he could. Every word reverberated in his skull. “I’m more concerned about my stomach, honestly.”

Spencer turned to face him, a look of sympathy there and nothing else. “Your metabolism will take care of that. It’s doggedly faithful that way.”

“Spencer, about what I said last night…”

“Nope. We don’t need to have that conversation,” Spencer waved it away.

“I think we do.”

“What do you want to say? That you’re embarrassed, and that you feel exposed? That you want me to keep it between us? That you said things that might have been more emotional than rational, and that I shouldn’t read too much into it?” Spencer shrugged. “I already know all of that.”

“Well… yes, I wanted to say all of that. But also… I wanted to thank you for… being there. It’s an awful mess, and… there aren’t many I’d trust to see me that way. I felt… I feel better knowing it was you and not someone else. And you said and did all the right things. I’m grateful – that’s what I wanted to tell you.”

Spencer blinked for a moment. “Of course. We’re friends, right?”

“Yes,” Aaron smiled, even though it hurt. “Yes, we are. I’m glad we still are after making such a fool of myself.”

“You didn’t make a fool of yourself,” Spencer said thoughtfully. “You were just open and honest. If you think that’s foolish, I propose that you be ‘foolish’ more often. It might solve more problems than it creates. Just my two cents.”

“Hmmm,” he watched Spencer watching him, but he couldn’t get a read on him at all. “I’ll think about that.”

Spencer stared at him a moment longer before shrugging and walking out of the kitchen.

 

Hotch: Meet me for coffee?
---
Reardon: No.
Reardon: I’m not bitter or angry. I’m just sad. We’re over, & I’m sad. Let me have that, Aaron.
---
Reardon: Okay, maybe I’m a little angry too.
Reardon: I would’ve been the best wife ever. Stilettos & blow jobs & pot roasts all over the place, you stupid, fucking queen. What more could you possibly ask for?
Hotch: Greg, love, please. We can fix this if we try.
Reardon: I’m only going to say this once, Aaron: you love someone else. If that wasn’t a fact, I’d kill myself trying to fix us.
---
Hotch: I’m not in love with him.
Reardon: I didn’t say “in love”. I said LOVE. Whatever he did to you, whatever it’s come to mean in the years since, you need to accept it to get past it. Yer no good to anyone until you do, hon.
---
Hotch: Is that why you sent him last night?
Reardon: I wasn’t being generous or transcending the situation or some shit. I wanted him to get a good look at what he’s done. Maybe you’re in denial, but I bet he isn’t anymore. Whatever happens now… you two have to own it.
Hotch: He wants me to make it right with you
---
Reardon: Well, there’s your answer then. He’s just not that into you.
---
---
Reardon: Fuck. I’m sorry. That was… I’m sorry, A.
Hotch: I deserved it.
Reardon: Baby, we’re done. At least for now. We need to be away from each other, sort our heads out. Perspective, ya know? I don’t want to hate you.
Reardon: Maybe… down the road somewhere… things might be different. Who knows?
Reardon: Aaron, you need to respond
---
Hotch: Okay, love. I hear you.
Reardon: Okay.
Reardon: I can’t believe the most honest conversation we’ve ever had is when we’re breaking up with each other…
Reardon: Fucking lawyers in love, I tell ya…
Hotch: I miss you already
Reardon: Fuck you. It’ll pass.
Reardon: Take care of yourself, okay?
Hotch: You too.
Reardon: I’m a survivor, baby. And so are you. You just don’t know it yet.

 

He spent some time with himself, circling the wreckage of his life with Greg with the morose dedication of a cloistered monk. He collected the things Greg gave him over the years, held them, sunk down into the memories associated to each one, and then quietly put them away. He read the books Greg left behind, once, and then donated them. He packed up Greg’s clothes, his cologne and shaving kit, and left them by the front door. One day, he came home and found the box gone, and keys left in its place. No note, no drama.

The more he spent focusing on his time with Greg, the more the memories became blurred and indistinct. He couldn’t separate the Christmases out into individual years – they turned into one combined memory instead. He started to forget things – what brand of toothpaste he preferred, his opinion about blended wines, whether they ever settled on a song to call ‘theirs’ – and he began to wonder if he ever knew these things about him in the first place. The anxiety of losing him ebbed as well, and much faster than Aaron was comfortable with. The ache remained – the absence of familiarity, his weight next to him in bed, his dependability to be both shockingly inappropriate and charming in the same breath – the scars of those excised pieces he carried with him. But the grief was alarmingly finite.

During all of this, Spencer faded into the background. It was obviously purposeful, and helpful, but when Aaron started to notice the absence, he wondered if he’d lost him as well. He’d never come out and said the words: I never got past that night… you turned me into a wary man… how did something so small end up meaning so much to me? But neither of them was stupid; it was out in the open now. Aaron found it unlikely that their strange friendship would survive the burden of this realization. So, it was a weird moment when Aaron answered the door one evening expecting Chinese take-out and finding Spencer standing there instead with Italian food and a very worried look on his face.

“Uh, hello…” Aaron blinked in case his eyes had got it wrong.

“I shoulda called first. Yeah… that would’ve been the correct order for this interaction. Call, acceptance, then show up with food…” Spencer rocked on his heels and didn’t make eye contact. “I thought… you might, you know… be hungry sometimes…”

The statement ended abruptly when an acne-covered teenager shuffled up with Aaron’s Chinese food.

“Oh,” Spencer mumbled, looking at the take-out bags. “Well…uh… another time, I guess…”

“Don’t be silly,” Aaron said too quickly and covered it by paying the teenager too much to disappear. “Everyone knows Chinese food is better the second day anyway. Come in, come in…”

“I don’t want to intrude. I really should have called ahead…” Spencer kept stuttering, but Aaron placed a hand on his shoulder and maneuvered him inside while he was trying to figure out what was happening.

“Give me your food. Take a seat. That’s an order,” Aaron found himself smiling, too delighted by far that he wouldn’t be eating alone again, and that, perhaps, he hadn’t lost as much as he thought.

He unpacked the Italian, plated it and brought it to where Spencer was attempting to take in the appointments of Aaron’s condo on the sly. He put the food on the coffee table, and watched Spencer try to cover up his look of concentration.

“How’s the profile shaping up?” he murmured eventually, and chuckled when Spencer jumped.

“I wasn’t profiling,” Spencer grumbled, cheeks getting rosy as Aaron gestured for him to take a seat.

“You absolutely were,” Aaron said warmly, pouring some wine. “You get this sort of constipated look about you…” Aaron did an unflattering impersonation of him.

“Oh my god, I do not look like that.”

“You really do,” Aaron laughed, taking a seat himself. “So, what’s the verdict? Has my ottoman revealed me to be a former bed wetter? Does my choice in art show a latent masochistic streak?”

“Well, that sketch over by the window is certainly questionable, yes,” Spencer smirked, and then seemed to relax a fraction as he sipped his wine. “But, on the whole, it isn’t at all what I expected.”

“And what did you expect?”

“I dunno. I guess I thought your place would be… colder? More spartan? Certainly not Turkish rugs and warm wood accents, Japanese woodblock prints, an impressive vinyl collection, and books… so many books…”

Something expanded in Aaron at the words. Then he realized, being proud of his private life was something he’d never experienced because almost no one had been allowed to see it. “Uh, thank you? I think…”

“I’m just saying,” Spencer glanced at Aaron, a new curiosity lighting him up. “This place is inviting, comfortable – it asks you to linger. Where we live is where we live, in a psychological sense. People at work wouldn’t know what to make of this, based on how you present yourself day-to-day.”

Aaron nodded, not knowing what to say to that other than agreeing.

“It’s… a beautiful home, Aaron,” Spencer said, and waited until Aaron looked at him again. “A lovely surprise.”

Aaron felt heat rising in his face, nodding again at the compliment. “And it’s a nice surprise that you swung by.”

Spencer was silent after that, focusing on the food in front of him. “I wasn’t sure it would be. A nice surprise, I mean. I kept putting it off because I wasn’t sure.”

Aaron looked up at him. “Why?”

“Didn’t know how much space you needed, or for how long. Didn’t know if it was right for me stick my nose into your private business, all things considered…”

Aaron put down his fork and watched Spencer push his food around his plate. “So, why did you decide to do it now?”

Spencer shrugged. “I don’t have many friends. I missed you.”

Aaron froze in place and had a hysterical thought, which his body turned into a verbal one before he could veto it. “Are we still friends?”

That brought Spencer’s head up from his plate. “Aren’t we?”

“I, uh, I can’t walk back the things I said when you found me in the bar, Spencer. I just figured… backing away was tactful of you. Considerate. I know you can’t forget it, and I assumed you’d feel awkward with the knowledge.” Aaron took a breath and let it go slowly. “I also assumed that our friendship would become… realigned as a result. To what it was when you first joined the Unit.”

“Is that what you’d prefer?”

“No,” Aaron said firmly, never more sure of anything.

“I don’t want to go back either,” Spencer murmured, just as sure.

Aaron found himself smiling, tentative and hopeful, a warmth radiating from him that he hadn’t felt in a while. He didn’t have much experience with hope. When Spencer smiled in return, it seemed cautiously hopeful as well. He suddenly thought that perhaps he allowed Spencer closer than most because they were more alike than they seemed.

“Thanks for screwing up your nerve enough to come by this evening,” he said. “I appreciate it.”

Spencer shrugged and smirked, his hair falling into his eyes in the process. “Sometimes your only mode of transportation is a leap of faith.”

And that made Aaron laugh until he was hoarse.

 

No matter his personal difficulties, the business of the Unit demanded his attention relentlessly. In a way, it was a welcome escape from the endless self-analysis and loneliness, but Aaron was smart enough to see it could be used as an excuse not to deal with those unpleasantries at all. And he was pretty sure that Greg was right when he said he had to come to terms with his past before he could move on anywhere.

He and Spencer maintained a tentative friendship – not as close as it had been as they were both painfully aware of everything they said and did. After a while, Aaron even became grateful that he’d said the things he had that night at the bar. It was a burden lifted, and knowing that Spencer knew gave Aaron the freedom to look at why a random night in college had radically altered his future.

He finally admitted that coming out as a gay man so early in his life had been an escape hatch from his family’s expectations. His abusive, under-achieving father wrote him off immediately, meaning that Aaron was suddenly and unexpectedly at liberty to be anyone he wanted to be. His distant mother remained so, and his spoiled younger brother reaped the benefits of being the justifiably-perfect specimen of the family. In essence, everyone got what they wanted.

It was no wonder why Aaron attacked his early twenties like an endless, Grecian buffet of sensorial delights. He’d basically been drunk on a complete lack of accountability since his junior year of high school. He thought, foolishly, that it would go on like that indefinitely. Thinking back on it now, from his thirties, he was embarrassed by his lack of personal insight. How could he have bought into the idea that hardship was behind him so quickly? Was it simply denial, or hope?

He’d had plenty of experiences, but never felt encumbered by too much feeling. Maybe that had been denial as well; his father had been brutal about the need to control one’s emotions. He didn’t understand the misery of guys he knew in love with those they couldn’t have, or obsessed with lovers who were indifferent to them. It was all just for fun, after all – they clearly weren’t doing it right. And on top of that, the freedom from his family’s stern morality made him carefree while maintaining the studious habits they’d ingrained in him, which meant that he became a successful student without the stress his friends languished under. It was the best of everything.

Then he met a gorgeous boy whose allure didn’t begin and end at sex. And sure, maybe all the tumblers fell into place alarmingly fast, but it wasn’t as if he’d had a wealth of emotional experiences to draw insight from. In the space of a single evening, he’d moved from carefree sensate to inexplicable longing, and had no reason to suspect that this too wouldn’t work out as well as the rest of his life. But the gorgeous boy disappeared, apparently no more interested in him than any other passing lay, and those years of abuse, the litanies of worthlessness that his father shouted as he bruised and battered his bewildered son, came back with crushing assurance that Aaron had always been unwanted, and he was unwanted because he was unforgivably vulnerable. He’d just temporarily forgotten that in the fog of sex and drugs and wild times. But the gorgeous boy had known it – seen it in him – and left him raw and ruined like those guys Aaron knew who fell for their straight roommates and became pathetic, sloppy versions of once-proud, beautiful men.

He’d forgotten the one valuable lesson that his father taught him: emotions made you weak. Strong, capable men were impervious. So, he packed up the remnants of a heart so soft that it was broken in a single night, and walled it up, making an obstacle course of his personal life. But it worked. He achieved, he excelled, and no one came close to hurting him again. He became a fearsome man even his father would’ve been grudgingly proud of. He conquered men, both in bed and out of it, and reaped the rewards that he’d been told he was unworthy of his whole life. He’d fixed himself – he’d won. Until Jason Gideon brought the gorgeous boy back to him, and he discovered that it had all been a terrible misunderstanding. All of it, even the parts he thought he’d solved. So, there he was, in the prime of his life, with no idea what to do with himself or the mess he’d made all on his own.

And then Gideon, too, disappeared.

Aaron answered his door late one Saturday evening and found Spencer scowling and red-eyed on his doorstep.

“Hey,” he said, gut tightening at the resentment rolling off Spencer in waves.

“I went to Gideon’s cabin,” Spencer said and then thrust a letter at Aaron. “Read it. You need to know too.”

Aaron backed away from the door as Spencer trudged in. He skimmed the letter and his gut twisted further, but not for the work implications or the tragedy that had befallen a colleague. He followed Spencer into his condo, wanting to reach out, doubting it, and then giving in anyway. His hand landed lightly on Spencer’s shoulder and squeezed.

“I’m sorry, Spencer,” he murmured.

Spencer didn’t turn, just slouching under the grip a little instead.

“Why?” he huffed after a long, uncomfortable silence. “I know you didn’t like him.”

“My personal distrust of him doesn’t mean I’m happy this happened,” Aaron explained gently. “He’s a great profiler, and we’ll miss that. But… more importantly… he was your friend, Spencer. I’m sorry for the hurt this causes you.”

Spencer looked at him over his shoulder, resentment banked behind undisguised sadness.

“We weren’t really friends. I know he viewed me more as an asset than an equal. But still… there are things about him I’ll miss…”

“Of course, you will.” Aaron wanted to pull him in but didn’t trust himself to do it. Spencer watched him a moment and then sighed.

“And I’ve learned more from you than him anyway.”

“You have?”

“Sure. I had zero legal knowledge when I came on board. And then there are the intricacies of working with other agencies, other hostile entities. There’s the politics and the loopholes. It’s all fine to catch the suspects we hunt, but it’s meaningless if we can’t put them away. Gideon was always too flippant about the legal side of this process – he thought the science of the profile should have been enough. That was his hubris. You work both sides of the scales – you know they both have value. I’ve learned far more about being a good FBI agent from watching you than from all of my late-night debates with Gideon.”

Aaron was stunned. He was acutely aware of how he’d watched Spencer since he joined the team. But he was blind to the fact that Spencer might have been watching him as well. And he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been complimented for his work. Jason had always received the glory and he’d always let him.

“I… don’t know what to say,” he mumbled. “I’m flattered I could teach you something, I guess.”

Spencer’s mouth lifted in a sad smirk, and then he turned back towards Aaron’s living room and walked until Aaron’s hand slipped off his shoulder. The movement made Aaron’s chest seize, like this wasn’t just about Gideon leaving. But that was ridiculous. Spencer wasn’t going to disappear. Was he?

“There’s something else, isn’t there?” he said without thinking. Spencer turned to face him.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. I’m just… getting that feeling.”

Spencer sighed again, and it made his whole body slouch from the effort.

“Do you think he’d have stayed if he knew people cared about him?”

That was a tricky question.

“Jason wasn’t easy to care for, and I have to believe that it can’t be a one-way thing.” Aaron paused, running his fingers through his hair as he thought about how to phrase it. Spencer’s eyes followed the movement as if in a trance for a moment.

“I wanted to like him, you know,” Aaron continued. “He was a daunting, impressive intellect. I wanted to learn from him, much like everyone else who met him, I’m sure. But he always put himself before everything. He didn’t share, only instructed, strategized. Even hiring you. He knew that dropping a new hire on all of us would ruffle feathers. I’m certain that factored into his decision at the time. And he didn’t do it to be funny or a smartass. He did it to upset everyone, and then read their reactions. He wanted to incise and extrapolate, like we were all elements in an experiment he was running.”

Spencer’s eyes shot to his shoes, and Aaron’s chest got tighter.

“I don’t doubt that he liked you, as much as he was capable of liking anyone. I’m just not sure that anyone on the team meant enough to change his mind about something once he’d decided on it.”

Spencer nodded but kept his eyes on his shoes. He stayed silent that way as Aaron quietly became more and more anxious. He’d never wanted to change someone’s outlook more than he did now.

“Spencer,” Aaron’s voice croaked. “Talk to me. What is really bothering you about this? It’s more than just Gideon’s isolation.”

Spencer shrugged awkwardly and then looked up from his feet. He seemed worried and worn.

“It’s not just his isolation. It’s all of us.”

“I… I don’t understand.”

“Gideon didn’t know that I’d miss him. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered to him – I don’t know. But the point is, he didn’t see that connection. I didn’t make it clear.”

“Spencer, I don’t think…”

Spencer looked him in the eye. “You didn’t see it with Greg.”

That stopped Aaron dead in his tracks.

“You don’t see it with the rest of the team, and they don’t see it with you,” Spencer continued. “It’s like we all exist in silos next to one another until one of us is ripped away by something terrible, and by then it’s too late. I don’t want to realize these things after the fact. I don’t want to lose people to know what they mean to me. If that’s what the job does…”

Jesus, he was thinking about leaving…

“Spence-”

“We all matter.”

“Of course we do-”

“I don’t want to not let you know that I’ve learned things from you,” he said, and it drifted in the silence of Aaron’s condo for a long moment afterwards. Then Spencer cleared his throat. “I don’t want to be stoic and professional and pretend that you’re not my friend just for the sake of appearances.”

His eyes flicked around nervously while Aaron froze in place. What was happening right now? Aaron wanted to loudly declare that if Spencer left the Bureau, it would ruin him all over again, and he was just barely coming to terms with how ruined he’d been over the last twelve years. But the sentiment caught in his throat and left him gagging and mute instead.

“You’re my friend and that matters to me,” Spencer said quietly. “If what happened to Gideon ever happened to you – and you just left without saying goodbye – that would really do a number on me, and… I guess I’m not interested in this job so much if it requires that kind of restraint.”

Aaron’s chest was a painful steel band forcing breath from him while his nerve endings went haywire trying to get him to move towards Spencer. Spencer waited in silence for another long moment before shooting his eyes to the floor again. Aaron almost wilted under the pressure of failing at this; his father’s will was still too strong.

“Maybe I’m not cut out for this,” Spencer mumbled softly. “That’s what I’ve been thinking about the whole way back from Gideon’s cabin. Maybe I’m too much of an academic. Gideon said that didn’t matter, but it does. Everyone is so much stronger than me – they just… move on. I want people to know they matter, like you did in that grave Hankel made me dig. But no one seems to feel that way-”

Fuck it.

Something snapped in him so hard that Aaron moved without thinking, pulling Spencer against him, arms circling him until Spencer took a breath, and his arms closed around Aaron too.

I love you. Don’t leave. Please. I don’t care if it’s nothing more than friendship. I’m tired of my walls. They exhaust me. I want it to be okay to feel something with someone, and I’m not afraid of you. I’m only afraid of losing you…

“You matter. To me.” Aaron kept his voice low to cover the shaking. “If you’re thinking about leaving the team… well, I hope you won’t.”

Spencer’s arms tightened around Aaron and it made Aaron loose and warm everywhere. He burrowed a little closer, nuzzling into Spencer’s shoulder with his hair tickling his face.

“Your friendship… has made me very happy. Even when other things were coming apart. If you didn’t know that, it’s my fault.” Aaron pulled back a little to look Spencer in the eye. Because he was getting too close – he knew it. Spencer seemed flushed and concerned, but the sadness was gone from him.

“Maybe you’re right. About the silo thing. I’m the leader of this team, and maybe everyone has taken a subconscious note from my personal playbook.” Aaron choked noticeably. “And I’m not sure it’s a winning playbook anymore.”

“O-okay…”

Spencer seemed confused, which made sense. They were friends, and this was much closer than they usually got. Aaron dropped his arms and stepped away, ignoring the way every fiber of him fought against it. His pulse was pounding in his throat and suddenly he thought about his last conversation with Greg and his statement “he’s just not that into you”. The friendship was great, and it felt important to tell him that, but he had to keep his own mess under control.

“We have to… take care of each other better.” His voice shook, and he tried shrugging it away, tried hiding in the shadows cast in his darkened condo. “It’s an important insight, and in light of what’s happened to Gideon, it’s something we have to change. That change starts with me.”

“Aaron, I-”

“Don’t give up and leave us,” he said too quickly, too quietly. “You’re not the outlier here. You have something to teach us.” Aaron took a breath to steady himself while Spencer stared in shock. “Gideon always said you’d change the way we worked in the Unit. He probably didn’t mean this way, but…”

Spencer continued staring, sort of lost and unfocused, looking at nothing for so long, Aaron began to wonder if he’d heard him at all. Then he straightened, becoming impressively tall, lines in his face making him look serious and formidable.

“I took this job as a dare to myself,” he began quietly. “To be more than I ever thought I could be. Gideon sold me a hero fantasy, and then, unexpectedly, it came true. I found a love for it that I never anticipated.” He looked up and held Aaron’s gaze. “I love this work, but after Tobias Hankel…”

There was an uncomfortable silence. “I stayed because of you, Aaron.”

Aaron felt his expression go lax and he focused on breathing. Just breathe…

“I’ll still stay for you,” Spencer continued. “Because you’re right: we do have to take care of one another, and I won’t cede the job of protecting my friend to someone else.”

The mixture of relief and anticipation was enough to make Aaron unsteady. He couldn’t find the energy to respond, and then Spencer stepped close and folded him into a hug again while he was making up his mind.

“This makes me happy as well,” Spencer mumbled over Aaron’s shoulder and Aaron closed his eyes, bit his lip, and tightened his arms, content to just hold on and float in that sentence. The embrace went on longer than it should, but neither of them broke it.

“Thanks for letting me work through this,” Spencer said eventually, and then gently pulled away, his hands skimming Aaron’s sides as they slid down his body.

“Of course,” Aaron said breathlessly.

“I know it’s late an’ stuff…” Spencer ducked his eyes and tapped the toe of his sneaker against the floor self-consciously.

“It’s never too late, Spencer.”

Spencer glanced up and Aaron wanted to see hope in his curious expression. Aaron held his breath as Spencer rolled that around, and then gave him a smile and a quiet, “Okay”. He mumbled something about needing to go home, and then shuffled past Aaron heading for the door. His fingers brushed Aaron’s as he passed, and Aaron turned, following him a step behind as if he’d suddenly been leashed. Spencer got to the door, opened it, and lingered in the light streaming from the hallway. He was silhouetted – all sharp lines and strange tangles – and even though Aaron couldn’t make out his expression, he seemed to be waiting for something. In the end, he murmured a quick goodnight and the moment was gone.

Aaron shut the door and leaned hard against it, struggling around the frantic tattoo in his skull. He’s staying. For me.

 

Spencer stayed. The team mourned Gideon’s absence more than Aaron thought they would. And they carried on as they always had, except now they met up for team dinners and checked in with one another from time to time. It was awkward at first – Aaron felt especially conspicuous doing it – but he persisted despite years of distance that he himself had instilled. It paid off, however, when a drunken Garcia flopped down beside him at a karaoke bar in the District where Prentiss and J.J. were singing Journey songs to each other, and declared, “I love this” with a perfume-y sigh.

“Oh yeah?” he grinned as she shuffled to lean against his shoulder in the booth. “Why?”

“‘Cause we’re a family now. Like I always wanted.”

She curled her bejeweled fingers through the crook of his elbow and flicked the end of his loosened tie. It was then he realized he wanted that too. A bunch of people as strange and flawed as he was, who’d stay by him because of loyalty and respect, not obligation. People who chose to stand next to you out of love. It was the opposite of everything he’d been taught, but he knew in an instant it was something he’d gladly fight for.

He curled his fingers into Garcia’s and squeezed back as she made a satisfied noise at him.

He came to love it as fiercely as she did, though he was less showy about it. But Spencer saw it in him. He never mentioned it directly, but there were these smiles that bloomed across him on nights like the one at the karaoke bar: pride and warmth, and maybe a little bit of relief as well. It drove Aaron crazy knowing that the smiles were for him, but they remained just smiles. He told himself it was enough – being the recipient of Spencer’s pride – and it perversely drove him to do whatever would increase the sweet ache of being worthy but not wanted. It never fully gratified him, but he kept doing it until the day he died.

His death was as inglorious as one could imagine. Just a mixture of unrecognized anxiety and misunderstanding. He and Spencer were canvasing a neighborhood in Lynchburg for witnesses in a string of violent home invasions. It wasn’t really their job, but the local LEOs were stretched thin and maybe Aaron’s new management philosophy had made him more amenable in general. The results of the canvas had been a bust, as most canvases usually were, and nothing about the last door they knocked on was remotely suspicious. The tall, well-dressed man who led them into his finely-appointed, split-level suburban home didn’t appear out of the ordinary. Perhaps his pupils widened slightly when they flashed their credentials. Maybe his movements became cautious as he guided them to his living room and offered them coffee. It was hard to know at the time. Maybe he and Spencer were too ground down by the hours of fruitless questions to pick up on the signs.

The guy caught their attention by mentioning a burglary of his own. He had a police report and everything, if they were interested. Aaron asked to see the paperwork just as Spencer’s cell phone rang. He looked at the number and then murmured, “Sorry, I have to take this. Excuse me.” Aaron heard the front door shut, the footfalls of the homeowner behind him, and he turned to thank him for his cooperation.

Then he was pinned to the wall, hands around his throat, a deranged rage in the well-dressed man’s eyes as he grimaced and lifted Aaron off his feet. It happened so quickly, Aaron could do nothing but claw at the hands crushing his windpipe, kicking futilely and only making dull thuds against the drywall. He forgot his gun, forgot the endless hours of combat training. All he could think about was how to get more oxygen, and why?

“Fucking feds,” the guy muttered, fingers squeezing unbelievably as colors flashed at the corners of Aaron’s eyes. “Think you’re so untouchable behind those badges, don’t you? But what good are they now? I gotta right to protect myself, my family. You ain’t taking my guns…”

What?

Aaron croaked and wheezed, eyes rolling, fingernails tearing into the guy’s hands that just got tighter and tighter. Then he abruptly pulled Aaron from the wall and smashed him back into it, dazing him when his skull cracked soundly.

“Thought I’d have to take you out together, but I guess I’ll have to deal with your partner in a sec.”

Aaron arched in the guy’s grip, shoes scrabbling frantically against the wall. He thumped his feet hard, hoping Spencer would hear it outside on the stoop. He had to warn him, had to let him know what he’d be walking back into before he lost consciousness. The color flashes had turned to black and white. He was losing details. His throat screamed in silence, raw, like he’d swallowed acid. He thumped his feet harder and the guy swore at him.

“Fucking hurry up already! He’ll be back soon!”

Something about that made Aaron pull a hand away from trying to free his throat, and he jabbed a thumb into the guy’s eye instead. The guy yowled loudly, and his grip eased just enough for Aaron to gasp a wisp of air. Then he slammed his feet into the wall over and over. The sound was mirrored distantly from the hallway; thumping, followed by frantic loud banging.

Spence…

“Open up! Mr. Delaney, open this door immediately!”

The guy’s hands squeezed harder, slicing Aaron’s air off for good. He swore again as Aaron’s vision cut out on him. His fingers slipped from the hands killing him, slick with blood. He banged his feet limply a few more times, feeling hot and disconnected, muscles refusing to do his bidding.

Then there was nothing but sound: the sickly rasp of his mouth searching for air, the labored breathing of his murderer next to his cheek, breaking glass, a startled cry, raised voices yelling things he no longer cared about, then a skull-shattering bang followed by a crack as what held him upright vanished and he crashed hard and painfully. There was distant movement, more yelling, and another bang that made Aaron jump without seeing, without understanding. Then hands were on him again, all over him, sharp and rough, jostling him when he just wanted to sink into blackness. Something pounded on his chest, making him take a sharp breath in over swollen skin and past stinging bruises, and he struck out blindly determined to take part of his murderer with him. He gasped and it hurt, making him whine and yell before his throat screamed in agony and forced him to be silent.

“Aaron!”

Hands were shaking him. He tried to push them away with numb fingers. They were wet.

“Aaron!”

His eyes flashed open and the light was too bright. He yelped and pushed away, knocking his head soundly into the wall behind him. He gasped again, and again, and it sounded hideous, like he was drowning on land. Hands gripped him again painfully and he gripped them back, his eyes following the bloody trail of his fingers as they hooked like pale claws over equally bloody arms. The arms had slashes, blood dripping freely and staining a dark grey shirt, cuffs rolled to the elbows. His eyes flashed upwards and found Spencer staring down at him, gaze wide and terrified, cheeks flecked with blood. Aaron drew in another painful breath like a death’s rattle as his body fired a weak adrenaline surge at the sight.

“ -ence…” he gurgled.

“Don’t talk,” Spencer whispered, breathing too shallowly himself, pale and panicked.

“Where…” Aaron tried again, and then rolled his head until he saw a foot sticking up at an odd angle from the floor.

“He’s down.” Spencer didn’t sound convinced, or entirely present. And suddenly, Aaron had a job to do other than breathing.

“Check… him.”

Spencer looked at him senselessly, and then Aaron made it a command with an arch of his eyebrows. Spencer shook himself all over and crawled away. Aaron rolled where he lay propped awkwardly against the baseboard until he had a view of the scene. The guy was down and in a pool of expanding blood. There was a wound in his shoulder, and another through his heart. Spencer held his shaking, bloodied hands to the guy’s carotid for too long. Aaron had no doubts he was dead. Spencer sagged away and huffed.

“Gone.”

Aaron scrambled up the wall until he was sitting against it. It took a few attempts and Spencer watched him numbly. Aaron felt the telltale shaking of his adrenaline ebbing; he was moments away from breaking down, reliving what had just happened. He had to get things in order while he was still useful. His breath was rasping now, loud and awful each time he did it.

“G-gun?” he wheezed. Spencer shifted around until he saw his .38 where he’d abandoned it next to Aaron. “Holster,” Aaron commanded with as much authority he could muster. Spencer looked at him oddly and then moved without thought, fumbling his gun back into the holster on his hip. Aaron held his eyes the whole time.

I’ve got you, and you have me. We’ll look after each other.

“Call… it…” Aaron coughed over the ‘in’, but Spencer caught the drift. He pulled his phone out, expression beginning to clear as he dialed 911. By the time he spoke with an operator, the professional lines had settled around his eyes once again, and Aaron let his body ease into the floor. He barely heard the stutter in Spencer’s voice when he said, “There’s an agent down. We need EMS.”

Then there was silence. And shaking. Aaron’s whole body gave into it, making it difficult to breathe again. All he could feel were hands around his throat, the panic of being useless, sliding into the inevitability of his own death. Then he was being hauled up the wall and buttressed against a warm weight. The shaking vibrated into that as well, but it absorbed it instead of throwing it back into his body hard enough to make his teeth clack.

“It’s okay.” The words were whispered into his hair. He clutched that heat closer, clamping his eyes shut as the shivering had its way with him. “It’s just adrenaline. Ease up, Aaron. Let it go…”

“No…” he gasped back, not sure what he was objecting to. Fingers clasped his jaw, drawing it upwards. Spencer was all he could see. Worried eyes, blood smears along his cheeks, hair flopping into his face…

“You can. It’s me. You can, Aaron.”

The shivering was making his vision jump. He closed his eyes and swallowed painfully, just waiting for it to pass. It was just a matter of time until his body came back under his control. All he had to do was be patient… Then he felt the hand on his jaw tighten and a forehead pressed hard against his.

“Remember that night in college?” Spencer whispered, face just inches from Aaron. “I was scared, you know. My first time, and in a strange place, discovering something I didn’t know about myself before that moment…”

And suddenly the fear inside him was silenced. Aaron watched Spencer fiercely, breath wheezing from him in sharp slashes. They’d never discussed that night in any detail before, and Aaron knew Spencer wouldn’t bring it up now lightly. And he’d never considered how that night had seemed to Spencer beyond the assumption he’d made about Spencer’s indifference.

“It had the makings of a disaster. Something that might haunt me,” Spencer continued, eyes shut like he was willing his energy into Aaron. Then he flicked them open and held him. “But it was you, and you didn’t let that happen. I felt safe. Just like you did a moment ago. Just like when you found me in that grave. You took care of me.”

He took a substantial breath in, as if he were breathing for both of them. “Now it’s my turn. Because you need care, Aaron, and I’ve wanted to give you that since I came to work at the Bureau. So just… let go.”

Aaron breathed in too sharply, making a strangled, interrogative noise, but Spencer’s hand landed flat along his chest with a steady pressure.

“Quiet,” he murmured, the word brushing Aaron’s mouth. “Just breathe. I’ll handle everything else.”

And then the shivering turned into something else that overcame him. Still shaking, still rasping with each breath, he felt himself give in, sink under the swell of almost losing everything. Losing this; something he barely had the courage to name. He closed his eyes and stretched, pushing himself back against Spencer, as his fingers fumbled blindly, finding Spencer’s free hand and tangling in the bloody mess of it.

Spencer pushed back, shifting so his lips barely brushed Aaron’s cheekbone. “Breathe,” he murmured, and Aaron obeyed, one painful, joyful rasp at a time. They curled into each other like that until the paramedics arrived, one whispering and the other breathing like they were something that only worked in tandem. The medics separated them to triage, but it was a minor detail. As Aaron was loaded into the ambulance, throat bloated and on fire and blood crusting his clothes, he felt light, a rare thinness in the air around him as if he’d risen into the stratosphere. Despite everything, he felt safe, with the ghostly weight of a hand pressed to his chest and lips whispering “Breathe” into his hair.

 

They were staring at each other from separate beds in the bustling ER. Spencer’s arms were a mess and he was being stitched and bandaged. Apparently, he’d broken a window to get back inside, slicing himself open on the shards without noticing as he crawled through to face down a killer. Aaron was lying on his own bed awaiting X-rays and CT scans for his throat and skull, but since he was breathing more easily, no one was making much of a fuss over him.

Spencer’s stare was haunting, strangely dark in the bright lights of the ER bay. He didn’t bother to wear something more appropriate than wonder as he watched Aaron in silence. Perhaps he was too exhausted to try, too exhausted to do anything but watch Aaron as if he was going to vanish and his eyes were holding him there. Aaron was similarly filterless as he stared back, but he felt safer in that openness, as if the chaos of the hospital insulated them. He felt safer in general; somehow, he had no concern that Spencer would vanish on him. But his silence wasn’t because he was tired. It was because his throat wasn’t strong enough to say, ‘only you’ and infuse it with all the meaning that now had, and he wasn’t permitted to sit at Spencer’s side and hold his hand while the doctors stitched him up. All he could do was stare, so he did and hoped it was eloquent enough.

When Spencer’s arms were done, he was given medical instructions, a prescription, and discharge papers, but he refused to leave.

“I’ll leave when he does,” he told the attending doctor.

“He has to get scans done and we’re backed up. He could be here all night.”

“Then I’ll stay all night.”

The doctor shrugged and walked away, too busy to deal with stubborn FBI agents, and Spencer shuffled over to perch on Aaron’s bed.

“How are the arms?” Aaron said after a long minute of quiet, careful watching.

“They sting,” Spencer looked down at the bandages like they came as a surprise to him. “It’ll be fine.”

“Spence…” Aaron murmured hoarsely, feeling his throat get thick in a way that had nothing to do with his choking. He held out his hand on the thin hospital mattress, wiggling his fingers slightly. Spencer watched them, and then slowly slid his fingers along Aaron’s, focusing too hard on that instead of looking up. They curled together until they were one fist – long, thin fingers knitted with broader ones.

“I…” Aaron began and didn’t know where he wanted to go with it. What do they do with this now?

“If you tell me this is friendship…” Spencer said cautiously to their knitted fingers.

“Where is he? Where is Aaron Hotchner?” A voice echoed commandingly. It was a voice used to getting his way, and Aaron recognized it immediately and stiffened.

“Greg?” he croaked. Spencer yanked his hand back a moment before Greg pulled the curtain away with the bustle of the ER humming behind him. His eyes met Aaron’s and the confidence he threw on so casually melted into a muted horror as he watched Aaron lying on the bed with his throat purpled and swollen.

“Fuck, Aaron. What in the name of holy fuck?

Greg rushed forward, and Spencer slid off the bed, moving aside like he was a ghost. Greg didn’t even see him until they nearly tripped over one another.

“Oh, hey Flower… I mean, Spencer. Jesus! You too? What have you two been doing?”

“Greg, it’s okay,” Aaron wheezed. Spencer made a face like the sound hurt him.

“You’re not okay. You look like you got choked out by a boa constrictor. What is going on? The Bureau told me absolutely nothing. Just wound me up into a tight, frantic twist and set me off in the direction of the hospital. Bastards…”

“He shouldn’t be talking,” Spencer blurted, and then made a vague gesture to his throat as an explanation when Greg looked at him.

“He seems to be doing that fine,” Greg said in his calm litigator’s voice. “I think he can take it from here.”

“Greg,” Aaron warned weakly.

Spencer’s head snapped back as if he’d side stepped something sharp. “Yes, of course. He’s waiting to be taken to the imaging ward for scans. I was going to wait with him, but… you’re here now. He’s in good hands.”

Greg made a non-committal noise, and then all three of them looked at one another in uncomfortable silence.

“It’s been a long day. I think I’m gonna head home,” Spencer looked to them quickly, and then ducked beyond the curtain with a parting ‘see ya’ before anyone could stop him. Aaron’s chest actually seized as he walked away, like they had been grafted together and then ripped back into two again.

Greg watched Spencer merge into the crowd at the admitting desk. “Did this happen on his watch?” he asked eventually.

“Let it go, Greg. He was hurt as well.” Aaron shuffled up in bed, feeling stalled and conflicted about the things around him he couldn’t control. “What are you doing here?”

Greg whipped his head around to stare at Aaron, eyes hurt. “I got the call and… I didn’t think about it. I just came. I thought that… meant something. I thought you must want me here when you needed someone, when you were scared…”

Aaron sighed. Oh. And then he held out his hand.

“I’m happy to see you,” he croaked as Greg’s worry turned into a relieved smile and he took the hand that was offered.

Aaron tried to infuse the gesture with as much gratitude as he could, because it did mean something that Greg cared enough to drop everything for him after what they’d been through. It did. But as Greg sat down on the bed and began to talk, Aaron discovered that he wanted a thin hand in his and the silent gaze that didn’t waste words staring back at him. He wanted that so much more, but he’d let it vanish from him.

 

There was an echo of Spencer’s ‘this could end in disaster’ inside Aaron’s head when he knocked on the door, stomach knotted and pulse flickering madly in his bruised throat. But he did it anyway. He didn’t think about what time it was, or whether it was appropriate, or even if he’d interpreted it all correctly. At the very least, he should have considered the time.

Spencer answered the door dressed as casually as Aaron had ever seen him, his hair in an un-artful tangle and his apartment dark and quiet behind him. He said nothing, just raising his eyebrows in shock instead. Seeing him brought the painful pull back to Aaron’s chest, and he pushed into the apartment before he was asked in order to ease it. Spencer didn’t comment, just letting him pass and closing the door behind him. Then Aaron stepped too close and they both froze in place, blinking at one another in the dim lighting of Spencer’s nighttime refuge.

“You should be resting,” Spencer murmured eventually. “I thought… Greg would take you home…”

Aaron just stepped nearer until the unflattering scrubs he’d been given at the hospital brushed Spencer’s t-shirt and loose pants. He breathed roughly as he caught the movement of Spencer’s shirt when he took a soft gasp in, and then he became mesmerized by the bandages on his arms, just inches from his hands. All he’d have to do would be to stretch out and trace them…

“I… I thought because he was there…” Spencer tried again, but it came out weak and uncertain, and then he clamped his mouth shut as if he didn’t trust his voice.

“He’s still my emergency contact in my personnel file,” Aaron grumbled roughly, wanting to reach out so badly the impulse was almost too big to think around. “Forgot to update it.”

“Oh.” Spencer wasn’t looking at him. His eyes were on Aaron’s fingers, as if he knew what they wanted and was waiting to see what they would do. Aaron decided to go for broke.

“You started to say something at the ER.” He shifted his eyes to Spencer’s face and forced himself to wait until Spencer met his stare, silent and unreadable. “About if this was friendship.”

“Aaron, today was crazy,” Spencer murmured, swallowing noticeably. “You need to take it easy. You almost died-”

“I’m fine,” he said too sharply, and then sighed when his nerves made him so lightheaded that lying down sounded really inviting and sensible. He tried to shake free of the feeling, because he wasn’t doing anything sensible tonight. That was already a foregone conclusion.

“Sorry,” he mumbled through his searing throat. “I’m… this is difficult. I’m breaking most of the rules I have right now…”

Spencer’s pupils widened so quickly it was alarming, even in the dimness of his apartment.

“It’s… it’s not friendship. Not for me, anyway,” Aaron stumbled.

His eyes flicked over Spencer’s face nervously and he tightened his hands into fists to make sure he wouldn’t let any other ticks loose. And there was just silence where his statement landed between them, like it was waiting for something to shock it into taking its first breath outside of his head. Then he wondered if he had been unclear.

“I mean, it’s more. Always has been. From that night at the frat house until now. Except now I know you, which makes how I feel a lot less friendly.”

Spencer seemed to get closer without actually moving. Aaron watched it happen in fascination, and then became quietly thrilled when Spencer’s eyes momentarily flicked to Aaron’s lips and then away. I wonder if he’s still a great kisser…

“It’s not fair,” Aaron whispered, trying to save his mangled throat and realizing that they were now just inches from each other. “Couldn’t you have gotten bald, or fat, or become a right-wing zealot? How dare you get more attractive, more interesting…”

There was a beat of apprehension, and then, “No one… thinks of me that way,” Spencer whispered back. Aaron felt Spencer’s fingers brush his side tentatively – just the barest pass of pressure and then it was gone. It was almost too much to stand; the lightness making it unbearably vivid. His hands on me then… and now. His fingers around mine, stained with the blood he didn’t think twice about losing to save me… Air stuttered out of Aaron and he leaned in until he felt the heat of Spencer’s face next to his.

I think of you that way,” he promised, and then Spencer’s hand made solid contact when it curved over Aaron’s jaw and held him in place. A moment later his lips followed his hand; soft, open-mouthed as if still shocked by everything, and as unbearably light as the touch had been. They broke apart, and Aaron felt his whole body shake as it shifted from anticipation to exhilaration too fast and too roughly. Then Spencer’s other hand was pressed to his chest like it had been that afternoon, telling him to breathe, and as then, he obeyed without thinking.

Breathe. He’s got you. Thank God.

“I saw Greg tonight and… I had to get out of there,” Spencer whispered, eyes clamped firmly shut. “I couldn’t watch him comfort you when… when I wanted that for myself…”

“I didn’t ask him-”

“I know that.” Spencer leaned in and gave another barely-there kiss, which left Aaron spinning, his hands now curled with fistfuls of soft cotton, pulling it to him. “Now.”

There was a moment where they both hovered on the edge of each other’s orbits, trying to keep their distance while also skimming closer with light touches, faint breath. Then Spencer pulled up sharply, eyes open again, something warring in him for focus.

“Is it over?” he whispered. “You and Greg. I need to know. I-I can’t…”

“It is,” Aaron said with finality. “He came to the hospital tonight with hope, I think. But we talked, and we both agreed that it’s done. He still means a lot to me – he was a huge part of my life – but he was also right about me and I had to remind him of that.”

“Right about what?”

“That I’d never let anyone get too close because of my past – not until I examined that, at any rate.”

Spencer ducked his gaze away as if he’d been hit. “Because of me,” he said.

“No,” Aaron said softly, and then waited for Spencer to look at him once more. He smiled sadly. “Because of… my Dad, my family. What happened after that night at the frat house was the excuse I used to justify protecting myself, but I learned that behavior in my childhood at home.”

Spencer bit his lip, seeming unsure how to respond to that. Aaron sympathized, having no idea what he expected as a response either; he’d never spoken of it with anyone, not even Greg.

“My father abused me,” he admitted quietly. “Up until I came out in high school. Then he just ignored me.”

“Aaron-”

“It was psychological torment as much as it was his fists or his belt,” Aaron continued, wanting it out, wanting it to lose some of its power in the light of someone else knowing about it. “I shut myself down from feeling too much in order to survive it. He thought emotional men were weak. And even after he gave up on me, that defensive posture persisted.”

“T-that’s normal,” Spencer choked, looking gutted and trying to cover it with analysis. “That’s normal abused-child behavior…”

Aaron smiled at his effort. “I know that,” he said gently. “But knowing and feeling are different things, aren’t they?”

His hands released Spencer’s shirt and skimmed up his chest, outlined his shoulders and skipped back down his arms until he reached the medical tape holding his bandages in place. He traced their edges meditatively.

“When we first met,” he murmured as he focused on the bandages, and the scars beneath. “You were so open, so… gentle… I’d never met anyone like that before. And because I hadn’t been reminded of my weaknesses in so long, I felt fearless. I let you in. It didn’t seem like feeling that way, for someone like you, would ever hurt me…”

Spencer made a small, anguished noise and tried to back away. But Aaron’s hands circled his wrists and held him where he was.

“And it wasn’t you who did, Spencer. It was my history catching up with me, and a colossal misunderstanding. That’s all. Then I turned it into something that I lived inside for the next decade. You see, Greg was wrong about that: you didn’t make me this way. Dad simultaneously taught me I was worthless, and how to defend against that worthlessness. When I felt hurt, I fell back on what I was taught without reflection. I am responsible for the mess I’ve made. I have to own these decisions.”

“But… even so,” Spencer’s face creased up as if puzzling out an answer that remained hidden from him. “Why do you want anything to do with me? The learned associations alone, even if they were in error-”

One of Aaron’s hands reached up and curled around Spencer’s neck, bringing him close enough for a brush of lips.

“Because you’re still open, still so genuine, Spencer. You didn’t hurt me,” Aaron whispered, a smile spreading slowly across him. “Because over the last few years I’ve discovered that my first impression of you was eerily accurate, and I’m as impressed by you now as I was at twenty-two. Because I wanted your friendship – anything you were willing to give me – even if I’d always be left wanting more. Because I’m happy just sitting in the same room with you watching bad tv.”

Aaron’s other hand rose, bracing Spencer’s face. When they kissed, Aaron lingered, wondering how something so simple could make your heart burst. “Because you leapt through a window and battled a maniac today, and you won. And when I watched you getting stitched up in the ER tonight, I knew that there’s nothing weak about this – nothing weak about it at all. And I thought, maybe… you wanted more as well.”

Spencer’s breath stuttered out of him like gunshots, his chest moving against Aaron’s as he struggled around the sound. Aaron watched him with painful sharpness, needing something back after what he’d just set free. Spencer’s face creased like he was fighting himself, but his hands moved, skimming Aaron’s arms, up, until they circled his wrists and held him as firmly as Aaron did.

“I don’t watch bad tv,” he mumbled, and Aaron gusted a laugh because it was the last thing he expected. And then Spencer followed it with, “I love you”. It barely made a sound even though they were practically using each other’s air.

“I know I shouldn’t,” he confessed, twisting his face away and into Aaron’s cheek so he couldn’t watch him. “I had no right, when I suddenly reappeared in your life three years ago… But I did. I do. And you had Greg. And I felt so guilty about wanting you, so terrible that even the smallest part of me watched that relationship end and whispered, ‘maybe he’ll want you again someday’… jesus…”

“Spencer,” Aaron gasped and took his mouth too roughly, his grip tightening, trying to tell him that what happened with Greg wasn’t on him. “No…”

Spencer tensed and pulled back until their lips parted with a soft noise that broke Aaron a little.

“I didn’t want to be the guy who ruined everything,” Spencer said wetly. “I didn’t know that I had hurt anyone other than me back in college, and I didn’t want to hurt you now. But when you found me with Hankel, and when you asked to be my friend, listening to all my foolish ramblings like they were the most important things you’d ever heard… I just… I can’t help it. You are the template of everything I find attractive – you were the first person I ever saw in that light. It’s powerful. Sometimes I still get struck with that youthful awkwardness when I see you. It’s still too much to believe that someone so handsome should care about a hopeless nerd like me…”

“Ridiculous,” Aaron growled in warning, both angry at Spencer’s self-perception as well as shocked that he’d kept his feelings hidden so effectively for so long. “There’s no ‘shouldn’t’ in this situation. There’s only what ‘is’, and we both feel this.

“Aaron, the break-up with Greg is still fresh,” Spencer brushed against Aaron’s lips as if he couldn’t stop himself from doing it, mocking the propriety he was trying to assert. Aaron groaned softly at that. “And you’re working through things in your past…”

“Spencer, don’t.”

“And you’re my boss,” he continued, eyes clamped shut, breath coming in uncontrolled gasps. “This isn’t a great idea, no matter what we feel. I mean, how would we even try to do this?”

Aaron’s hands flashed from Spencer’s jaw to his shoulders and dug in as if they’d stay there for good. Spencer’s eyes flicked open as he twitched.

“We just try, Spence,” Aaron rasped, desperate and unwilling to hide it. “I don’t know how… I don’t. But you’re the only man in over a decade that I want to let in. You make me… I don’t know how to describe it. You just make me feel like myself – wholly, for the first time in years. Don’t tell me that matters less than timing or some job title.”

Perhaps he’d forgotten to breathe again. Perhaps the buzzing tick-tick-tick inside his head was his pulse warning him that he was pushing his body beyond its limits. He wavered, physically collapsing towards Spencer until hands flashed to sides and steadied him.

“Whoa. Are you okay?” Spencer gasped. “I should’ve asked that before… I didn’t ask you what the scans showed, or the doctors said… I mean, did they give you something? How did you even get here? Stupid… got all flustered at seeing you at my door… didn’t think!

“Stop it,” Aaron ordered weakly. “I’m fine. Minor concussion and bruising. They prescribed rest, as if I have room for that in my schedule…”

“Well, you’re going to make room for it,” Spencer grumbled back, his hands moving over Aaron’s scrubs until he had a solid grip on his waist. He pushed him towards a darkened doorway at the furthest end of Spencer’s apartment. “Time to lie down…”

“I can do that at home. After we’ve talked through this,” Aaron protested but let Spencer’s hands push him towards what he assumed was a bedroom.

“Listen, I’m under no illusions that I can out-stubborn you, but you just nearly fell over in my hallway, so you’re going to lie down and be polite about it. If you elect to keep talking or complaining after that happens, so be it. But my apartment, my rules.”

Aaron smiled in a grudging sort of way and allowed himself to be manhandled. It wasn’t as if he had the energy to fight, nor was he upset at the prospect of being forced to lie down in Spencer’s bed. As they shuffled into the dimly-lit room, Aaron saw that the sheets were messy, an abandoned book tented open to a page off to one side where a body had lain. He wondered what the sheets felt like, if they still had a hint of Spencer’s heat lingering in them…

“When did you get so bossy?” Aaron croaked, as Spencer pushed him firmly to sit on the mattress and then shuffled around the room to rearrange things nervously.

“I’m not nineteen anymore,” Spencer snarked back. Aaron watched him collect his book from the sheets and tuck it onto a bedside table. His gaze focused on the long fingers curling and holding the book just so – as if it were priceless – and something about that small gesture lit him up quietly in the dark. The muscles in Spencer’s arms flexed as he moved, even under the bandages, and Aaron’s abused throat went dry while he swallowed uselessly. Then Spencer sat gingerly on the edge of his own bed and gave Aaron a shy look over his shoulder. He certainly wasn’t nineteen anymore.

“Lie down,” Spencer ordered. “I’m serious. I really don’t want to drag you back to that ER tonight.”

Aaron obeyed, watching Spencer closely as he laid himself out along the length of the bed. He was breathless to know if Spencer would do the same. Would he curl close? Would he shuffle across the expanse and loom over Aaron, looking with that same dark, silent stare from the emergency room that seemed to promise that the obstacles between them were nothing but minor inconveniences? Aaron knew better, knew that what he wanted was problematic and most likely doomed to fail, but dammit, he wanted it…

Spencer didn’t move, just continuing to stare at him over his shoulder. And after a few awkward moments, Aaron’s body betrayed him, recognizing the comfort offered and sinking into it with overwhelming, bone-deep weariness. His muscles ached in unison, his throat throbbed softly with his pulse, which was slowing as his breath lengthened and his eyelids drooped…

“What have you done?” he mumbled.

“Nothing,” Spencer murmured back and finally shifted so that he could lay down on his side of the bed, facing Aaron. “I just gave your body a chance to override your will. That’s all. You need rest, Aaron.” Spencer sighed deeply. “So do I.”

Guilt flashed through Aaron suddenly, banking the anticipation that had ruled him since he’d pushed his way through Spencer’s front door. He turned, the pillow offering a muted hint of books and aftershave. It was if Spencer were under him, all around him. He breathed in and wished that he’d thought this through a little, so that he wouldn’t find himself warring between desire and getting this right.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled softly, and Spencer rolled on his own pillow to face him squarely. “I’ve been selfish today. All I could think about was getting here tonight. Not about what you’d been through or how you might need some time…”

Spencer sighed again but just snuggled into his place a little more without comment. He folded his hands beneath his pillow, and Aaron tried not to be upset that they did that rather than reaching for him.

“How are you?” Aaron asked eventually. Spencer yawned hugely and then looked upset that Aaron had witnessed it. He shrugged one shoulder, hair flopping into his eyes.

“I don’t know,” he said quietly. “I’m mostly exhausted. But once that’s resolved, I’m sure I’ll get panicked about killing someone, saving someone else, crashing through a plate glass window…” He looked down at his bandages and winced. “I don’t recommend it, by the way. Thoroughly painful and unpleasant.” Then his eyes trailed back up to Aaron’s, guilt flickering in their uncertain depths. “And I’m sure I’ll be paralyzed by the fact that I admitted to career-ending feelings for my boss.”

“No one’s career is ending,” Aaron whispered urgently and shuffled closer on the mattress, a hand reaching out and hanging in the air between them a moment too long before landing on Spencer’s arm and warming it through the gauze.

“C’mon, Aaron,” Spencer’s voice was suddenly wet and tight as he blinked too hard. “There’s rule-bending and then there’s hypocrisy. You made Greg wait until you weren’t working together, and that took you three years-”

“I wasn’t helplessly in love with Greg,” Aaron snapped harder than he intended, his grip tightening on Spencer’s arm before he remembered the bandages and eased with a mumbled apology. Spencer’s face melted into the perfect definition of shock.

“You’re not ‘helplessly’ in love with me…”

“Oh yes, I am,” Aaron chuckled without mirth, nodding to confirm the sad state of affairs while soothing his fingers over Spencer’s bandage. “Even Greg knew it. He told me I was. Christ, I hate it when he’s right…”

Aaron sighed as he watched Spencer do nothing but blink for thirty seconds. It’s a lot, he commiserated inside his head, I know it’s a lot…

“Listen,” he rasped. “The physical attraction is first and foremost. That’s where we started in college, and I think we can both admit that we still have that bug. But if that’s all there was between us, well… we’re both grown, capable men. We could ignore that and let it go.”

Surprisingly, Spencer nodded at that.

“But I crave spending time with you, Spencer,” he whispered hoarsely through his ruined throat, as the exhaustion reared up again and started to make the bed slowly spin. “The dinners, the weird mental tangents that seem endless… do you realize that I get a little excited at the prospect of possibly sitting next to you on the jet after we’ve finished a case? Just to get your perspective, to figure out where you’re at with it. And I was insanely proud that you liked my condo – as if your opinion of it could make or break how I felt about it myself. Then I realized that, other than Greg, I’ve never let anyone see where I live. To see me. I wasn’t eager to show myself off or let others in.”

Aaron’s voice gave out on him suddenly, and he had to cough, which lit his throat on fire in the process.

“My point is, that’s not some sort of passing attraction. It’s not something you can just… screw out of your system. It’s not about how you look or if I’m lonely. It’s about you, Spence. As a unique, irreplaceable individual. It’s about your brains and your guts and your heart. I suppose Greg saw that was all over me and became rightfully jealous it was never like that with him.” Aaron took a deep breath and then fixed Spencer with a no-bullshit stare. “What would you call that?”

“I’d… I’d call it love,” he said with whispered awe.

Aaron felt himself smile – something relieved and joyous and exhausted all at the same time as his guts unwound a little. Then he nodded against the pillow. “Since we agree on that,” he whispered. “Can we stop dancing around this and feeling guilty about things we can’t change at this point?”

Spencer nodded back, painfully slowly, still with a look of undiluted shock all over him. Maybe no one had told him that before. The idea that Spencer Reid had never heard the words “I love you” directed at him made Aaron ping with loneliness, as well as puff up with unjustifiable pride that he might be the first. He shook the foolish impulse away and found himself sinking back into drowsiness, the scent of Spencer lulling him down as much as his words had done earlier in the day.

“Wherever we go from here,” Aaron sighed as he tried to stifle a yawn and only half succeeded. “All that I ask is you allow yourself to be open to it, Spencer. Just that.”

“Okay,” Spencer whispered back after a long, silent consideration. “I can do that.”

“Thank you.” Aaron rolled his eyes shut, and then it seemed like too much effort to open them again. Fingers brushed hair from his face, and then traced a tinkling line along his temple, over his cheek, and around his jaw. He hummed gratefully, but still couldn’t find enough will to open his eyes.

“Sleep now,” Spencer murmured distantly. Then lips grazed Aaron’s forehead making his eyes pop open briefly to see the blurry adoration on Spencer’s features as he lingered, finally drawing back to watch Aaron again from his pillow. Then Aaron’s eyes traitorously slipped closed, against his will.

“Want to… want to keep… talking…”

“Later,” Spencer murmured. “I’ll be here when you wake up. Promise.”

“Yeah?” Something small and inexperienced flickered in Aaron uncertainly.

“Yeah.”

If anything else was said, it was lost to the softness of the sheets, the dimness of the lights, and the warm sense of safety that Spencer somehow exuded whenever they were close.

 

Aaron woke with a start, in a dim, unfamiliar room, with hair tickling his face, and a body trapped in his arms. He blinked, pulled back from the over-warm hollow he’d been resting in, and discovered he’d been nuzzled against Spencer’s chest. His hands were under Spencer’s t-shirt, spread broadly across his back as his ribs moved gently with the rise and fall of his breathing. Spencer’s face was lax, unguarded, mouth hanging open slightly as he slept, and Aaron suddenly felt that he’d be transported in time, somehow waking to find himself holding a nineteen-year-old Spencer Reid rather than the thirty-year-old one. A hot flash of recognition flushed through him, and then he realized that it was just the tail end of how his body had been reacting while he slept. He shuffled his hips back as gently as he could, the firm pull between his legs angry at the sudden setback.

Then he just watched Spencer sleep.

The fine features, the un-ignorable hair, the long neck, the dark rings under his eyes, the shocking thinness and the exaggerated lines that seemed almost alien up close… Aaron thought back over his personal history and made a startling discovery: no man he’d ever been with was like this one. They were all tough, fit, and almost stereotypically male. Greg had been mistaken – Aaron had a type, and Greg had fit into that classification nicely. But this man, with his androgyny and honest eyes and disarming personality – this man was it. Was it possible to want something without knowing what it was beforehand? Why had he never been with another man like Spencer? Was he so angry at his father, so afraid of seeming weak, that he’d expended his sexual energy on only bedding ‘manly’ men? There was an uncomfortable mix of shame and humiliation at that thought. And guilt for all the years Greg had given to him in vain.

His fingers circled along Spencer’s back, and he fell into the hypnosis of that, telling himself, you can wallow in your mistakes, or you can make the most of what you know now – it’s up to you. He breathed out, long and low, and gently tucked his forehead back into Spencer’s chest as his fingers traced heated shapes along his spine.

“What are you thinking?” The words barely made any sound at all in the pre-dawn darkness, just ruffling Aaron’s hair with breath instead. Aaron looked up into Spencer’s half-lidded question.

“Did I wake you?”

“Yes,” Spencer yawned. “But in a nice way. That feels good.” He shuffled backwards into Aaron’s hands. Aaron’s body immediately came alive with all the ways he could make Spencer feel better. He’d never gone from sleepy contemplation to full consciousness so quickly.

“I was thinking about you,” he whispered, his hands pressing Spencer towards him. He forgot about his hips, and when Spencer butted up against him, the heavy heat along his thigh throbbed painfully. Spencer’s eyes widened as he made an involuntary sound. Before Aaron could pull away again, Spencer pressed close to him, arms threading over Aaron’s waist to hold him still.

“Good,” he breathed into Aaron’s temple, and then arched his hips so that Aaron could feel the firm line of him slowly rub along the length of his thigh. Aaron choked and rolled his eyes shut at the modest pressure. Like Spencer’s light touches the night before, this barely-there glance set him off. His intellect instantly snapped off, and the rough, dumb animal rose in him, stretching and yawning with delight at what was to come.

“Aaron,” Spencer whimpered an instant before his lips fell over Aaron’s pulling him in with a roughness that indicated he wasn’t fully awake or in control yet. And his hips arched again, bringing him fully against Aaron’s erection. Aaron’s chest stuttered between them, and then one of his hands wrestled free of Spencer’s shirt to clasp his jaw and hold him too close for his gasping, open-mouthed pulls. Spencer groaned into him – grateful, relieved – and it tightened Aaron everywhere. He was overcome by the impulse to wrap Spencer around him and then meticulously pull him apart until he was just heat and desire and mindless vocalizations. It was an incendiary, painful urge, so different from the tenuous exploration they’d shared back in college. Aaron’s mind reared away for a moment, worried about madness in him, but all he could make himself do was mumble a wordless interrogative noise as he bit at Spencer’s mouth. Spencer answered with another painful meeting of their hips, his erection just as urgent at Aaron’s.

“Want you,” he mumbled as Aaron’s hand on his back flashed around under his shirt until he was kneading Spencer’s nipple, biting his way down Spencer’s throat. “And this time, you’re not just in my head…”

Aaron looked up and saw Spencer arched in a long line of throat and collarbones trapped in his creased shirt, eyes closed, head tilted back as if refusing to wake from a blissful dream.

“… you’re not some mirage I use to get off…”

There was no stopping after that. Aaron felt like his entire body had burst into flames. In his mind’s eye he saw Spencer rolling in the sheets, his cock in hand, angry and insistent, coming with Aaron’s name on his lips, a quiet, lonely mess that never entirely took the edge away. He imagined it that way because that’s how it would’ve been for him.

“Fuck,” he growled as he skimmed back up to Spencer’s mouth and took it until he moaned. Then his hand zipped down Spencer’s chest and into his pants without ceremony. Both of them were barely awake – this wasn’t going to last long. Aaron groaned into Spencer’s mouth when he palmed his dick, already too eager, and Spencer pushed in as his hips jabbed forward into Aaron’s grip, his tongue and his cock sliding with mirrored, delicious pressure. Aaron reeled a little; it was all too fast. It was frenzied and delirious and he was so, so turned on, but this wasn’t just some body he wanted to have. It should be more than fucking. Shouldn’t it? And what were they going to do? Was he just going to flip Spencer over and screw him? Because that’s all the dumb animal part of him wanted. But this was Spencer and there had to be more to it than that otherwise how was it any different than what he had with Greg?

“Fuck!” He ripped his mouth away and pulled his hand back. Spencer yelped in surprise at the awkward snap of his waistband. His body screamed at him – it literally felt as if every fiber of him had developed a voice and a terrible hatred for his conscience at that moment. And his cock pulsed so painfully in the damp trap of his pants he wondered if anything would make it feel better again.

“What… what’s…” Spencer gasped, reaching for him instinctively and looking blurry-eyed.

I don’t want to just fuck you, Aaron yelled inside his head, but nothing came out except a meaningless moan. Spencer’s blurriness disappeared immediately as he pulled his hand back and his gaze got sharp. Aaron’s gut twisted. He was screwing this up even before it began.

“I…” he choked softly, and then didn’t know how to explain himself.

Spencer just blinked at him in the pre-dawn gloom. It felt like it went on forever, Aaron’s hope ticking away with every passing second of silence between them. Then something changed; Spencer’s eyes focused the way they did when he spotted an overlooked detail in a case file. His gaze became unmerciful, intense as he examined whatever it was he saw. And Aaron held his breath, both curious and terrified about what had caught his attention so dramatically.

“Oh,” Spencer murmured, as if to himself. And then slowly reached a hand forward until it landed lightly on Aaron’s shoulder. Again, the gentle touch almost unmade Aaron, his nerves going haywire and focusing entirely on the soft, rhythmic circles Spencer’s fingers were dancing into his skin. He sighed loudly, his eyes slipping closed and head drooping into the pillow beneath him because it felt too good even if he was unsure of what was passing between them. He wished he understood the alchemy of someone else’s touch calming him so completely.

Then the sheets rustled, and a solid, warm line butted against him from pecs to thighs. His eyes popped open and Spencer was burrowed into his chest, his arms wrapping Aaron up tightly. Spencer’s fingers clutched and moved over Aaron’s back, as if he couldn’t get enough of touching him. Then Spencer breathed against Aaron’s bruised neck, taking his scent deeply, and his embrace tightened. Aaron was on fire again, and just from being held. He ducked his head against Spencer’s tangles and mimicked the need to breathe all of the man in. His arms wrapped around Spencer’s back and squeezed, and suddenly they were a tightly-knit ball of limbs, gulped breath, and hammering hearts.

“We don’t have to…” Spencer whispered as he nuzzled carefully into Aaron’s neck. “Not yet, if you don’t want to. It’s fine.”

But Spencer’s body and grip were making a liar of him. Aaron felt him hard, digging into his hip, and that along with the heated cuddling silenced his common sense. Spencer continued squirming against him like a contented cat, hands roaming and breath warming as he tried to get as close as he could, and it eroded whatever restraint Aaron still possessed. He withstood it for a minute, sinking under the overwhelming sensation of being wanted completely before he roused himself and gave back.

Aaron growled a little, pushing his mouth hard against the side of Spencer’s face, losing the sound of it in Spencer’s hair as his teeth nipped and his hands skimmed down Spencer’s back. Everything about him said, No. No more waiting, no more doubt. His fingers hooked into Spencer’s waistband, shifting it over his hips and down, scoring his skin gently as he pulled. He did it slowly, giving Spencer time to react, but Spencer let it happen without comment, jostling slightly to wiggle free. It was all the answer Aaron needed, and he made a low, satisfied noise as he pushed Spencer’s pants to his thighs, leaving them bunched there, and then seeking out his mouth as their hips came together. Spencer was warm and immediate against him. His mouth moved with Aaron’s, as if in conversation, and Aaron almost thought he heard a, Yeah breathed into his lips a moment before he felt Spencer’s fingers race down to find Aaron’s hips. Then there was a frustrated attempt to shed Aaron of his scrubs while kissing each other until they couldn’t breathe, hands stalled by deep, open-mouthed pulls and soft gasps before reaching for one another again. It took too long to get free, but Aaron wouldn’t complain so long as Spencer’s mouth kept erasing his desire to do anything but kiss him. Damn, he’d gotten better at kissing as well; Aaron tried not to imagine how that came about.

Finally, he shimmied out of his scrubs, kicking them into the air when they bunched around his feet and hearing them distantly sail across the room. Aaron’s hands found Spencer’s waist and pulled them unceremoniously together for a shock of heated, tense connection. Spencer’s lips broke away with a definite pop and a grunt of surprise, but then his hips rolled against Aaron’s and he latched onto Aaron’s throat to muffle the whine as they pinned themselves hard to one another.

“Spence,” Aaron gusted tightly, arching his body and rolling it back into Spencer at the same time. Spencer bit down on Aaron – it was going to leave a mark on top of the bruises he already had – and then Aaron thought he heard a desperate, Touch me. He couldn’t ignore that.

His hand snaked between them and slipped to where they were pinned against each other. Aaron bit down to avoid making a noise but Spencer whimpered and tapped his hips forward in encouragement. Yes, yes… Then Aaron palmed him, leaving a wet streak across his hand as he moved over and around him, exploring the feel of him again after twelve years. Spencer’s fingers dug into Aaron’s hips and he buried his face in Aaron’s chest to moan softly there a moment before he scored him with his teeth and sucked gleefully. Aaron’s dick twitched against his hand as he worked Spencer, and he was beginning to feel swamped by competing impulses. He wanted to kiss Spencer, deeply and everywhere; to investigate him and map him thoroughly in his mind – he wanted to do it for days. But he also wanted to keep making Spencer moan and hitch the way he was in his hands. And Spencer was already so hard. He wanted to taste him, to see if he could make him harder if he scuttled down and took him in his mouth. Then there was his own need – he was overexcited, so close to what he wanted – if he thought about it too long, he might come untouched. Eventually he realized that he didn’t want that; together was the only way it would work this time.

“Spencer,” he mumbled, and then had to do it again before Spencer broke away from where he was lavishing his clavicle with frenzied, bruised lips. He looked up, pupils blown wide in the darkness and with a flush staining his cheeks. Undisguised want was etched into him, as noticeable as the dark circles under his eyes, and Aaron throbbed all over at the sight of it.

“Yeah?” he whispered in return and then seemed lost in what he was doing, stretching up and taking Aaron’s mouth feverishly before he had a chance to respond. Aaron moaned into him as he went deep, curling closer, wanting it to go on endlessly. I’ve waited to do this for so long… But then his hand tightened around Spencer’s cock by reflex and Spencer popped away from his lips with a heated whine and an attempt to burrow even deeper into Aaron’s chest.

“Spence… jesus…” He tried to breathe. Just breathe. “‘M not gonna last. Too wound up. Need you with me… please… touch me too…”

Spencer moaned against his throat and it sounded painful, but before Aaron could wrestle back to see what was going on, Spencer had a hold of him, smearing wide sweeps along his length. Then Spencer’s free hand wrapped possessively around Aaron’s back and locked into place, holding him tight as his hips pulsed into the grip Aaron had on him. He grunted deeply, pumping his hips, stroking with just enough force to effectively tease, and squirming like a heat-seeking missile of shamelessness.

“Better?” he growled, as his hips pumped, and the bed creaked rhythmically along with them.

“Fuck, Spence, yes… fuck…” Aaron groaned, his head rolling back as he stretched into Spencer’s grip, his hips moving in a counter rhythm. He remembered Spencer from that night in college; he’d said he had been afraid, but all Aaron remembered was how open he seemed, eager to try, ready to lose himself completely…

“Do you still like it when your lover talks?”

Aaron snapped his eyes open and looked at Spencer. He was smiling in a dangerous way, his expression halfway between mindless desire and cunning. Christ, he’s still the perfect mix…

“You wanted me to talk,” he mumbled as his grip on Aaron tightened and they both gasped when they crashed together out of sync. “Back in college. You wanted me to be louder than the kids in the next room. It made you hard. I remember.”

Aaron couldn’t do anything but make dry choking noises. Greg was a nearly-silent lover in bed, just animal grunting that encouraged the same from Aaron. He hadn’t thought about it much, but he was thinking about it now.

“I was surprised by that at the time,” Spencer murmured. “Even more surprised that I could do it when you asked. I wonder what we sounded like to those other kids…”

“You were loud,” Aaron gulped, and felt a new wetness smear across Spencer’s hand as he stepped up his intensity with a glint of recognition. “Not loud… forceful.

Spencer’s pupils widened as he smiled. “Bet we sounded like guys who really knew what we wanted.”

“Maybe…” Aaron swallowed hard. “We sounded like two guys desperate to fuck each other. Like we’d do it wherever we could… it didn’t matter who heard us.” His hand moved faster, then he bumped against Spencer doing the same and he stretched his grip to link with Spencer’s fingers. He arched his hips forward with a hiss, mouth wide and knocking his forehead against Spencer when they both got on the same page and began working their cocks in unison.

“I didn’t care who heard us,” Aaron gasped. “Just wanted you. Forgot the rest, forgot where I was…”

“Aaron…” Spencer sighed with something like longing, his eyes slipping closed as he twitched in their mutual grip. “So handsome, and cool, and sure of yourself… everything a guy should be… and you were kind to me. Couldn’t believe it.”

Spencer suddenly gasped hard, as if he’d unexpectedly found himself on the ledge of a skyscraper. “Couldn’t believe how fast it happened…”

“How fast what happened?” Aaron was too close, the pressure in his hips sinking lower to settle like a bruising heat in his balls. Talking was only making it worse.

“How fast I fell into wanting a man,” Spencer gasped and stretched enormously along Aaron’s chest, curling his face into his neck and slamming his hips hard against Aaron’s. “Couldn’t make my mind up about Linda, but the moment I kissed you…”

Aaron groaned hard at the memory and then Spencer whimpered into his skin.

“When you took me in your mouth, I thought I’d die of happiness because I suddenly knew…

Aaron had a brilliant flash of nineteen-year-old Spencer pumping frantically under his mouth. The bitter, sharp taste of his excitement across Aaron’s tongue. The sound of his voice as he begged for something he didn’t fully understand at the time. And then Aaron’s brain overlaid the memory with the knowledge that, in that instant, he’d overcome Spencer with a sense of joy – an immense gratitude for revealing a part of him that had been hidden. And here he was again, thirteen years later, clutching and desperate against him, but with the same gratitude. For being loved, for being seen…

Aaron’s whole body cramped into the tightest possible coil, and then expanded exponentially. He yelled Spencer’s name, the sound bouncing back to him from the walls of the bedroom as he spurted recklessly in their hands. Then Spencer’s hand along his back brought them crashing together, sliding hot and sticky over jabbing hips and pinched skin as Spencer added to the mess with a soundless howl breathed against Aaron’s neck. Aaron released them, grasping Spencer’s waist instead and crushing them together as they slipped and rubbed in futile thrusts, staring at Spencer’s expression of strained ecstasy curled into Aaron’s bruised throat. They rolled through it until their hips slowed and the bed springs eased into a gentle, squeaky rocking. Then there was just the sound of their hoarse breathing, hands skimming haphazardly over warm skin, and underneath it all, the dirty whisper of slipping and connecting with a whimper of soreness. The sheets were strewn about them, Aaron was naked, and Spencer was pantsless with his t-shirt rucked awkwardly halfway up his chest; they were bound up, staring, wincing as they moved but unwilling to let go at the same time. It wasn’t wholly satisfying – they knew that – but it was the beginning of something beyond what happened in college. A step forward for them, with experienced, more realistic expectations this time. But with the same sense of wonder at having found each other again. Maybe this time…

Aaron stared at Spencer, cramped against him and blinking, and wanted to say something, but everything struck him as too monumental or hysterical. He’d never been that sort of lover. Not until now, anyway.

This is IT for me.

You are what I’ve wanted since I was twenty-two.

I never thought anyone wanted to see me. Until you did…

In the end, he said, “Thank you, gorgeous”, quietly and waited. Spencer just smiled – and it was such a smile – before he slowly wiggled up to Aaron’s mouth and kissed him like he invented it. Aaron didn’t care how sticky and awkward he felt because that kiss became everything he wanted to say, and he committed to it completely and irrevocably.

 

Later as morning lightened the apartment, Spencer followed him silently to the front door, a step behind him, with a palm pressed casually to the small of Aaron’s back. To Aaron, it inexplicably felt like ownership; an intimacy too private to be shown to others – like if you were hugging someone naked at an intersection. Aaron turned when he reached the door and watched Spencer carefully, his shower-damp hair leaving trails of moisture down his neck and chest to be lost in the fold of his bathrobe. One of Aaron’s fingers reached out and dried a trail, down his throat and over a collarbone while Spencer’s skin goosepimpled. He didn’t say anything, his chest just heaving once under Aaron’s touch, and sighing as if it were a complicated goodbye rather than air. Aaron ducked in close, leaning his forehead minutely into Spencer’s as both of their eyes slid shut. He smelled like soap and something indefinably ‘Spencer’. But underneath that, Aaron smelled himself, and his mind latched onto that like nourishment.

“I’m going to find a way,” he said. The unspoken ‘for us’ boomed loudly in the silence between them.

Spencer nodded his head against Aaron’s. “I know.”

Aaron opened his eyes and saw the belief in Spencer’s gaze. He knows because he trusts me. Because we finally both get it. We have to take care of each other. His eyes skimmed down to Spencer’s freshly-bandaged arms, and then his fingers skimmed them, ending in a loose tangle of Spencer’s hands. He squeezed once, and Spencer squeezed back.

Only you. No matter what happens, no matter how or where we end up. I promise.

I know. I’ve got you. Just breathe.

He turned and walked through the door without saying goodbye. Because he was never, ever going to say goodbye to this man again.

 

Four weeks later, Aaron breezed by Spencer’s desk in the bullpen and rumbled, “May I speak with you in my office?”

Spencer looked up, slightly perplexed like he always was when he was pulled away from something unexpectedly. He bit his lower lip for a second, then erased the nervous tick with a soft, “Uh-huh”, rising to follow Aaron as he strode up the stairs away from the team desks.

Spencer closed the door behind him and stood before Aaron’s desk like any team member would in that space, and murmured, “Is everything okay?”

Aaron looked up from the scatter of work across his blotter. “Do you know who David Rossi is?”

Spencer’s eyebrows shot up. “Who doesn’t? He and Gideon built this department.”

Aaron nodded once. “He’ll be replacing Gideon as team leader. He signed the work contract this morning. His first day will be on Monday.”

“Wow. I mean… wow.” Spencer looked cautiously enthusiastic, and then just plain excited. “There’s so much I want to ask him…”

Aaron curled his mouth into a small, knowing smile. “Pace yourself. He might be a bit standoffish. He’s not used to working in a team.” Then Aaron stood straight and waited for Spencer to meet his gaze. “He’s also your new supervisor. So, there’s that to consider.”

Spencer’s expression moved through a rapid, confusing display of excitement, worry, hesitation, and then muted hope. Aaron waited patiently in silence until he seemed to have settled and then he continued.

“In the eyes of bureaucracy, you no longer work for me, Dr. Reid.”

Spencer’s gaze flashed briefly with something amazing before he packed it away under a more professional regard. “But, you’re still the co-leader of this team. You have seniority…”

Aaron shook his head. “Your performance reviews, salary upgrades, disciplinary actions, promotional evaluations… they are all in Rossi’s hands now. I don’t have any input anymore. I, technically, have authority over you in the field, but Rossi can override anything I say if he determines it’s in your best interests. We are – officially – as close to colleagues as we’ll ever get on this team.”

Aaron felt his smile get a little out of control as Spencer began to blink too much and looked a bit glassy-eyed. Then he stepped forward until he was at the edge of Aaron’s desk. He slowly reached out and touched the edge of the wood with his fingers. He left them there as he stared at Aaron like he was everything, not just some gruff supervisor in a spartan office. Aaron swallowed, his excitement making his throat thick and dry, then he glanced away, trying to wrestle it down under his perfect suit and tie.

“Just don’t fall for him, okay?” he said almost too quietly to be heard, but with a chuckle tagging along afterwards when Spencer’s eyebrows did a little dance of confusion. “He won’t take it as well as I did.”

“I can’t control a fetish,” Spencer deadpanned softly. “That’s why it’s a fetish.”

Aaron laughed gently, wanting to cross the floor and kiss him so badly it was maddening. Then he heard the gentle rap of knuckles on wood and he glanced up to find Spencer looking at him with that wide genuineness that had pulled Aaron in so many times.

“I love you.” It was barely whispered, more just the shape of his mouth forming the words, and Aaron fought hard not to become some hopelessly soft creature in that moment. Instead, he bowed his head and sighed, leaning hard on the desk and then picking out a document that he slid across the wood towards Spencer.

“Once Rossi’s in place,” he whispered back. “I’d like to file this. With your permission, of course.”

Spencer squinted at the sheet of paper, but his expression changed the moment he understood what it meant. He glanced back at Aaron quickly. “You’re sure?” he said hopefully. “This would reveal a lot, Aaron. And I know you’re not comfortable with exposure.”

Aaron shrugged, feeling uncomfortable at the vulnerability he was opening himself to, but then thinking, it has to start somewhere. “Practically, you’d know of any emergency situation involving me before the HR department would, but… it’s a step I want to take. And I don’t want there to be any doubts about whom I trust to make life-and-death decisions on my behalf. That’s you. Only you.”

“But… it suggests a relationship between us.”

“I know.”

“You’re telling the Bureau about it.”

Aaron sighed. “In reality, personnel records aren’t scrutinized unless there’s a problem. This could be filed and no one would know – for years perhaps – unless we decided to make it known.”

“Do you want to make it known?” Spencer’s expression took on the blankness he used when he was trying cover up what he was really feeling. Aaron smiled at him, and the blankness broke for a split-second revealing excitement before he marshalled himself once more.

“I do. In time. I need to work my way up to it.” He took a deep breath. “Be patient with me, Spence.”

Spencer broke out into a face-cracking grin that sort of got away from him, and then he ducked his eyes down. The whole thing made Aaron’s heart thrash around under his ribs and assured him that, as scared as he was of scrutiny, it was worth it if it made Spencer this happy. Anything was worth that.

“Okay,” Spencer mumbled as he fidgeted, and then Aaron said he had to get out of his office before either of them got any more ridiculous about the day’s events. But that order didn’t stop Spencer from showing up at Aaron’s place later that evening and dragging him to the bedroom by his tie for a loud, messy appreciation of the extension of his personal boundaries.

 

When Aaron came out to his team six months later, it was almost too casual. And, as it turned out, completely unnecessary.

“Who’s shocked? I’m not,” Garcia declared a little too loudly while Aaron’s eyebrows rose as sedately as he could manage. “I mean, don’t get me wrong Boss Man, it’s not like you scream rainbow pride or anything. Ummm… that is… if that sort of thing is important to you… I dunno…”

J.J. laughed and saved her. “Honestly, Greg Reardon was a big giveaway.”

Aaron’s eyebrows reached maximum elevation, and then pushed through to the stratosphere.

“You two were trying a little too hard to seem like ‘buddies’,” she explained while Morgan and Garcia nodded in agreement. “Nobody slaps a hetero friend on the back that much. Just sayin’…” J.J. smiled and then it dimmed almost immediately. “Oh. Are you guys friends? Just because you are both private about your preference doesn’t necessarily mean you’re together…”

“Greg and I were a couple,” Aaron clarified quickly as heat rose to his face. “And we remain friends. Though not the back-slapping type.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. That you and Greg aren’t together anymore, I mean,” J.J. said quietly.

“Thank you, Jennifer,” Aaron smiled, which probably blew out a few of the team’s circuits. “We were together a long time. But some things just don’t last.”

“I’m sensing a matchmaking opportunity here…” Garcia mumbled with subdued menace while Morgan tried to artfully swat her. Then Garcia caught Aaron’s gaze and hastily covered it all with a look of innocence. “Sir…”

“No need for that,” he said after a long, hard glare at his tech analyst. He still needed a few boundaries at least. But then Dave Rossi shuffled in, exercising his exclusion to such edicts.

“Oh yeah? Is that because you’re not interested, or because you already have someone new?”

Aaron felt his face flame and bravely shined it on while assiduously not looking in Spencer’s direction.

“I have someone,” he cleared his throat roughly, hoping this would be the end of the conversation. It still felt painful to reveal himself too much, even after everything that happened.

“When can we meet him?” Garcia asked.

May we meet him?” J.J. corrected with her typically grace.

Aaron looked to his shoes, his stomach flipping uneasily. He had to keep doing things like this: letting people who cared about him in. But that didn’t mean it was ever simple. In his peripheral vision he caught a flash of purple shuffling, and he knew that at least one person was waiting on his answer with interest. They’d talked about this. They’d talked about what he’d say today, and they would continue talking about it because not talking about difficult topics wasn’t an option for either of them. Suddenly a hand landed lightly on his shoulder, and he looked into Rossi’s knowing face and was met with genuine warmth.

“Perhaps he could come to the next team dinner or something,” Rossi said. “You know, whenever it feels right. No hurry.”

Aaron gave Rossi a small, grateful nod and sighed. Thank you. It was a new experience to find support where he’d become accustomed to leading alone. In fact, anything other than feeling alone was still a shock to the system. The rest of the team took Rossi’s hint.

“Yeah, Hotch. We totally get that you may have to prep this guy before meeting us. A roomful of drunk profilers is hella daunting…” Morgan grinned and then tactfully manhandled Garcia when she seemed to dive into yet another inappropriate suggestion.

“He’s tougher than he seems. He’ll do fine,” Aaron let loose a tiny smirk, flooring the room. “We’ll see.”

And that was that. Almost too easy.

“Told you so,” Spencer murmured later that evening from where he was propped behind his laptop in bed as Aaron stumbled over boxes left strewn about the condo. “They don’t care who you are or whom you’re sleeping with. You owe me five bucks.”

“I don’t remember wagering on this,” Aaron growled as he tripped and then righted himself. Spencer didn’t even look up from the screen at the mad acrobatics happening in the doorway.

“Spencer,” Aaron grumbled as he shoved the perilous boxes into a corner with his foot. “When are you gonna unpack these?

“When I get around to it.” Spencer kept typing. Aaron rolled his eyes in frustration.

“If you don’t ‘get around to it’ soon, I’m gonna hold an impromptu yard sale. I’ll invite everyone over and that’ll be how I explain that we’re a couple.”

Spencer snorted with amusement and then looked up with a smirk on his face and a probable sarcastic comeback at the ready. But it drained from him as he watched Aaron shuffle out of his suit and slouch on an old moth-eaten Joy Division t-shirt. Aaron hid a smile from him as he dressed; he knew how to get under Spencer’s skin as well. He put on some boxers and then slid into bed next to him like he didn’t have a finely-crafted battle plan unfurling in his head. Spencer shook his head and cleared his throat, but his eyes were still riveted to Aaron’s t-shirt.

“Umm… uh, it, uh, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to everyone, you know…”

“Oh yeah?”

“Uh-huh. I’m pretty sure Rossi knows.”

“Hmmmmm,” Aaron stretched his arms and folded them behind his head as he stared at the ceiling in fake contemplation, flexing his torso in the shirt for added effect. “I guess that’s to be expected. His lack of interest is sort of a tell in itself.”

“I… I guess,” Spencer said a little breathily. And then, “Where did you find that shirt?”

“In a box. That I unpacked,” he said pointedly. Then he rolled to face Spencer, all flushed and bespectacled next to him. “You were okay with today? I almost told everyone when Rossi asked… Almost.”

“W-why didn’t you?”

Aaron shrugged. “Nerves, I guess. It’s hard to break the habit of secrecy. And I hadn’t run it by you first. It’s not something you spill without consent.”

“Consent,” Spencer huffed as he closed his laptop and placed it on the bedside table. “You’re such a lawyer sometimes. Do you want me to sign some paperwork?”

“I’m serious. I would never reveal something about us without talking to you first.”

“So just say that. Quit making it sound like we’re negotiating a mortgage or something. That’s you distancing and deflecting from something that makes you uncomfortable.”

Aaron sighed. “Sleeping with a profiler is so… brutally candid. I feel like I’m walking around naked all the time.”

“You aren’t naked all the time. I’d never get anything done if you were.”

Aaron glanced over at Spencer whose face was almost scarlet behind his glasses. And he was shifting his pajamas restlessly around his hips. Aaron felt a swell of pride; his plan was working better than anticipated.

“Take off that shirt,” Spencer murmured. “Now.”

Aaron felt himself smirk a little. “Promise to unpack your stuff this week. The repeated shin bruises are denting my love for you.”

Spencer licked his lips and shuffled closer. “If you promise to quit deflecting about opening up to the team. I don’t care if you reveal us or not. Really. Their opinion is less important than yours. Just don’t stop doing things that scare you.”

“Wait… are you re-negotiating the terms of my negotiation? While horny? How do you manage that?”

“I’m aroused, not stupid. You’re trying to manipulate me.”

“Are you sure you’re not a lawyer?” Aaron huffed. “Fine. I promise to keep pushing my comfort zone if you promise to finally unpack your crap so that I don’t die in some inglorious slip-and-fall incident in my own home. Deal?”

“And you take off the sex shirt. And the boxers. Immediately,” Spencer said it like he was running out of oxygen, and then he ducked into his own shirt trying to wiggle out of it like a frantic earthworm.

“That wasn’t part of the deal,” Aaron was slightly concerned about Spencer’s rate of escalation. And his flailing arms.

“It is now.” Spencer’s head finally popped out of the t-shirt in a messy tangle, and then he palmed his glasses off, making them clatter next to the laptop as he tossed them aside too quickly so he could attack his own pants. “Take off your clothes, Aaron… jesus…”

Aaron laughed, full and loud as Spencer frowned at him and eventually jettisoned his pants. Then Aaron found the situation to be less funny and more immediately compelling. “Promise me about the boxes, Spence,” he mumbled, distracted by his mounting interest as Spencer slid right up against him, all grabby arms and legs.

“Fine. Yes. I promise. Unpacking this week. It’ll happen. Now, if you ever cared for me at all, take off your clothes and get next to me in all your naked glory. Right. Now.”

“Because of a t-shirt?” Aaron gasped dubiously but allowed himself to be manhandled gleefully when Spencer decided he wasn’t getting naked fast enough.

“No. Because you’re handsome without circumscription, smart beyond reason, as compelling as any mystery, a fabulous force of nature in bed, and the damned shirt is like a giant arrow pointing it all out. That’s why.”

Aaron laughed again but it was quickly cut off when Spencer rolled him onto his back and took his mouth in a kiss that was all need and dumb animal joy. Aaron held him close, one hand lost in Spencer’s tangles while the other attempted to wiggle out of his underwear. When he came up for air, Spencer was staring down at him with his wide, unfiltered grin and his hands half knotted in the troublesome shirt.

“My fucking luck…” Aaron mumbled, contented and molten all over simultaneously.

“What is?”

“Falling in love with the first guy who broke my heart. I’m a cliché.” He curled them into a kiss, lips smiling against Spencer’s confused ones. He didn’t care if the sentiment sounded sad; it was the furthest thing from ‘sad’ to him.

“But… I found you again. I never wanted to leave in the first place,” Spencer mumbled when they parted and bit his lip, unsure, even as he held Aaron as close as he could. “You were special…”

Aaron’s smile took over, the way it used to when he was young and careless. He leaned up from the bed until he could brush Spencer’s mouth with his.

“That’s where the luck comes into it,” he whispered, breathing a kind of barely-there delight over Spencer’s shocked expression. “Just took me thirteen years to figure it out.”

Spencer ducked his eyes away, bumping Aaron’s nose in the process. It made Aaron laugh gently, rolling them both with the rise and fall of it. If Aaron had hang-ups about vulnerability, Spencer had them about his self-worth. So, they both had plenty to work on. Spencer still wasn’t looking at him, though his grip had become ferocious.

“You’re all I ever wanted. From the first time,” he eventually said, words breathed against Aaron’s cheek when he couldn’t find the courage to look up. Aaron nuzzled in close, breathing him deeply and feeling that strange calmness he couldn’t explain settle over him again.

“I’ve got you,” he whispered, and Spencer’s hair tickled him as he turned back to him. “And you have me. Right now. No more looking over our shoulders at the past.”

“Okay,” he brushed into the corner of Aaron’s mouth as he sighed. “Handsome.”

Aaron felt Spencer’s lips curl into a smile. It was probably fiendish. His chest throbbed in one tremendous boom as he felt his own smile turn devilish.

“Well then, gorgeous, how about you get me out of this shirt?”

“Deal,” Spencer rumbled.

 

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