Aaron Hotchner is a man on a mission. He cinches the seatbelt around his hips, almost rocking in his seat to coax the plane to move. He has a time limit, a deadline, and if he misses this he will have lost so much more than anyone can imagine. He will have lost his chance. He is determined to succeed.
Aaron is not a timid man. He may have gone to ground, but he had done it for the best reason, his son. He did not regret it, couldn’t regret it. He trusted his team to find and neutralize the threat, allowing him and Jack to be safe. ‘Finally,’ he sighs as the plane taxis.
Hotch has had a lot of time to soul-search. He has had hours to think about everything he has been burying. He has come to many conclusions that would shock some that know him. He has come to realize he can be Aaron and be content. He has found purpose as Sheriff-elect. He has found peace on a 300-acre farm with a gaggle of free range chickens, a tiny herd of goats two that faint, a neighbour milks them and somehow uses it to make soaps and lotions he now exclusively uses, an antique sheep, a huge vegetable garden, and a large active stable that he rents space to city dwellers to store their horses during the foul weather. He has taken to riding again and has found it cathartic, Jack likes the beasts but has no desire to ride. He is a shameless city boy, thank goodness they were close enough to a metropolis to keep him happy. He is growing into a damn fine young man.
Aaron loves the feel of the earth under his hands, to see the fruits of his labour, he has even become proficient at canning. The pre-existing little vegetable stand at the end of the drive offering the surplus and eggs at greatly reduced prices than the market in town. He had expanded the garden plot, added a few things, jalapenos, Roma tomatoes, zuccini, potatoes, a few fancy lettuces. Gotten rid of a few too, Kohlrabi, okra, parsnips. Jack had been confused when he had kept Brussels sprouts, Turnips, Asparagus, beets, and eggplant. When they sold well he quit threatening to boycott dinner if they were served. Silly boy, eat your sprouts.
He has learned the joys of running stupidly around tossing water balloons with his son and his friends. Helping the man who lives in the cozy house near the stables to cut and bale the hay from the far edge of the property to feed during the winter. Jerry, has been working the horses here for ten years now a fixture Aaron appreciates. To sitting in the family diner and shooting the shit with the locals fulfil him in a way he could have never fathomed.
What the Marshalls were thinking, dropping them here he would never know. He would also be eternally grateful. He has found a home, and he loves it. People whispered when the widower and his son moved into the old Henderson place. They watched them clear the overgrown weeds from the fence, trim wild bushes, and prune trees that were too unkempt to produce a healthy crop of cherries or apples. They watched as he hired local handymen and changed the roof from ugly brown tar shingles to dark green aluminium, the unmaintained wood siding to sand coloured aluminium, and neglected porch into a screened-in oasis.
They watched their new addition go from a hyper-vigilant parent named Alan Thompson, with a shy son named James easily slide into the landscape, becoming a fixture. When on a lazy afternoon, Alan had broken down in front of the school his son laughing joyously they had whispered again. He had won their hearts when he came to the town meeting and introduced himself as Aaron Hotchner, his son Jack and told a tale that made the town want to protect them instead of running them off, he had become a neighbour. When the retiring sheriff had recommended him as his replacement, he had been honoured. Winning had been a humbling thing. The job was a combination of both his skill sets, he was an imposing, dedicated lawman, with a grasp of the law that made the convictions easy. He loved every minute.
He had caught the eye of many of the single ladies in town. He had been honest, saying his heart belonged to another. They had been charmed by his revelation. The whole town had been surprisingly supportive when he admitted the one that held his heart was a man. Sure there were those that his sexuality rankled, but they weren’t cruel or militant, they just didn’t vote for him. Simple. Not one of them could argue that he wasn’t an effective and conscientious sheriff.
Seven months ago he reconnected with his team, mostly. His biggest surprise was how he and Derek had bonded over parenthood. Garcia is her perfect sweet self, full of sunshine and gossip. Dave is still his most trusted friend. JJ is cordial but has moved past his presence in her life, but Will and Henry are surprisingly close to himself and Jack. Emily, when they first reconnected was attentive. Regaling him with stories and anecdotes encompassing the months he was absent. She had visited him a few months ago. They had caught up, laughed about the job, and ridden the horses. On her last night, she had kissed him while they had sat watching the night. He had been shocked, he had never thought of her like that, never considered her in that capacity.
He had told her that while he cherished their friendship, he was in love with another. He told her how he had finally admitted to himself that he loved Spencer. How he had told his son and how Jack had encouraged him to follow his heart. He was only waiting for Reid to contact him, for them to regain the friendship they had had before WitSec, so he could tell Spencer. Even if Reid didn’t return the feeling, he wanted him to know. Emily had been gracious and didn’t seem to be offended. She had been gone when he woke the next day having an early flight. Since then she had been distant, but professional.
Rossi, Garcia, Morgan all told him about how Spencer was doing. Always promised to tell Reid he had called and asked. They had all apologised to him when Spencer didn’t return his calls. None of them had ever seen him open his letters, but assumed he was doing so at home. Aaron refused to push any harder, he wanted Spencer to come to him on his own.
He stopped asking when Emily reluctantly told him that the last time she had tried to get Reid to call, he had made it clear that he had nothing to say to Hotch. She had told him that Reid had a new girlfriend and that they seemed serious.
Aaron was heartsore but also happy for Spencer. Even if he couldn’t be the one in his life, he was glad Spencer had found someone. He regretted waiting, he wished he had been brave enough to admit his love, but he would not begrudge Spencer the chance of happiness out of his own selfishness. He stopped trying to contact him.
The first one to notice was Rossi. He asked and was taken aback by Aaron’s request to leave Spencer to his life. Dave had tried to dissuade him, had tried to press, but in the end relented.
He was surprised by a call to his office from the deputy on evening shift telling him he had a visitor. He expected a local with a domestic issue they didn’t want spread all over town, what he got was a seething Derek Morgan and an exhausted Hank. He had teared up, and Derek had handed him the child smiling proudly when Hank had squealed “Unca Awon”, and hugged the man he knew only through Skype.
Hotch had driven them home, Jack had leapt at his Uncle Morgan snatched Hank from him and disappeared into the house babbling happily as the toddler chewed on the ear of the stuffed rabbit he was carrying. Aaron had given Derek the grand tour, he laughed at the big man jumping at a goat just to see it faint. Morgan had cried he had laughed so hard. He had been reluctant to hold one of the chickens after the rooster had chased after him but then walked with the docile bird absently petting as they watched the horses enter the stable for the night.
Dinner had been thick steaks, Aaron explained how he had gotten a side of beef in a trade for allowing his neighbour’s daughter’s 4H bull to graze on his land, the thing was huge but sweet, named Beauregard. Aaron intended to buy the monstrosity to keep it off the grill and breed for trades. Derek was impressed with the fresh bread from the town bakery, and even Jack ate the salad made from things gathered straight from the garden. They had laughed, and chatted about fatherhood, Jack told him about his team being only one victory away from the state finals, Aaron had told some of the funny tales from the station. They retired to the porch rolling from subject to subject like old friends do until Jack and Hank had to go to bed.
Morgan listened as Jack and Aaron sat on the boy’s bed and just talked, Jack about his crush on the pretty Amelia and how he had done as his father suggested and asked her to the fall dance, and she had agreed. Hotch had beamed giving his son a fist bump and promised that he would help him get the young lady the perfect corsage to match the peach dress she had gotten. Aaron said they would need to go to the mall for a new white shirt and peach tie, and yes he could have a new pair of black jeans instead of slacks, but Aaron insisted the boy get dress shoes. No, he could not have a limo unless Jack could afford it himself. When the light went out Aaron had gone to the kitchen and written out a check for fifty dollars for the tickets to the dance. Derek was glad to see the man so relaxed, but it barely eased his temper.
Aaron grabbed a bottle from a high cupboard, two glasses, and motioned for them to go back out onto the porch.
“You didn’t come here to startle goats and pet chickens. I can tell you are pissed about something, let me have it.”
“I had a visitor last week.” Derek glared at him.
“Okay, and how does this pertain to me?” Aaron sat up, taking a sip of his scotch.
“It was Spencer,” Morgan said like that was obvious.
“Again, I am not trying to be obtuse here, but I don’t see what this has to do with me.”
“He was exhausted, sullen, and angry. Took Savannah and me three days to get him irked enough to spill what was eating at him. Do you know what he said?”
“No.” Hotch was completely lost, Derek huffed his temper sharp.
“He told us, after all this time he hadn’t heard a word from you. How he knew you were in contact with Rossi, Garcia, and Emily. He knew we were in touch because I told him and he fucking whimpered man.”
“I wrote to him, I sent him letters like I did the rest of them. I sent them to the Bureau, I waited until they replied and voiced a desire to reconnect. I only sent letters to you at home. He never answered any of my correspondence, Prentiss told me he had asked that I quit trying, so I did.” Aaron didn’t even try to hide how much that affected him.
“Hotch, he truly believes you didn’t even try. It’s killing him. After all of the bullshit he went through he feels this like a wound.” Derek tossed back his drink watching his friend consider his words.
“All the bullshit?” Aaron asked softly.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Derek slammed his hand on the arm of his chair, throwing himself out of the chair and across the room.
“What? I don’t understand.” Aaron followed him willing to take the fury to comprehend.
“Prison, Diana’s kidnapping…”
“WHAT?! Wait a goddamn minute. What about Diana? Kidnapping, Jesus is she okay? What happened about a prison?” Hotch felt the blood drain from his face, his dinner flipped in his belly.
“Hotch?” Morgan grabbed his host by the arms, his fury instantly turned to worry and confusion.
“You really don’t know. Shit, come on you look like you need to sit down. Easy, I’ll tell you everything I know. You need to tell me why you look like you're gonna either puke or pass out.”
“I...I love him. He thinks I abandoned him.”
“Fuck me runnin.” the words were crass, but the tone was relief...and happiness? Aaron accepted the bottle of water Morgan offered.
“Tell me,” he said after he found a semblance of equilibrium.
“Diana is fine, she is back at Bennington, she is deteriorating mentally, but she still knows him.” Derek smiled. “He says she doesn't remember her captivity but remembers visiting Spencer in Prison.”
“Spencer was in prison? Oh my god.” Aaron made it to the steps to empty his stomach into the shrubbery.
“Woah. Easy. You go rinse your mouth, I'll call my girl get her to send you everything we have okay?”
“I would have come back if I had known I would have helped.” Aaron didn’t hide the tears on his cheeks, somehow that made Derek feel better. Hotch no longer hid his emotions, he had healed in the interim.
“I know that I should have suspected something, god Hotch I’m so sorry to throw it at you like that.” Morgan squeezed his arm.
“No, I needed to know.” Aaron went to the bathroom Derek called Garcia.
“If this is work I am not awake yet sorry if not this best be important I am sleeping.”
“It’s important Baby Girl.” Derek chuckled as she squealed excitedly in his ear. “Okay mama, chill for me a minute. I need a big favour right now.”
“You got it Thunderbuns, sock it to me.”
“I need you to send everything you have on Reid’s incarceration to Aaron’s email.”
“I need a mo to wake up my babies, what’s the urgency?” he could hear her clicking keys.
“He didn’t know. Any of it. I came here to ream him a new one and he puked in the bushes. Mama, I have never seen him so blindsided.” Morgan pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Oh no. My poor Capitaine. Emily took craploads of files when she visited him, I just assumed one of them was Reid’s. You make him some tea, it’ll help him tummy. Okay sent My Dream. Let me jabber at the Hotchness.” Garcia ordered.
“Oh, Bossman, you sound so sad. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything, I figured you knew and that you were just avoiding. You okay Aaron?” she asked gently.
“I’m not your boss anymore.” Aaron chuckled weakly, “Yeah. I didn’t know. Why didn’t Emily tell me? I would have helped.”
“Reid would not have wanted you to know at the time. He wanted you and Jack safe, he would never forgive himself if you or Baby Hotch got hurt on his account. Why Miss Emily didn’t say anything I can’t say. Okay give me permission Sheriff I’m gonna access your computer, you can read on your tablet, Morgan and I can catch up while I sit and hold your virtual hand. Drink your tea.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Aaron settled into his favourite chair.
“Sit down My Vision, we shall commiserate while he gets caught up.” he got lost in the words he was reading, stomach burned as he read of Spencer’s arrest, the drugs in his system, the denial of bond. His heart lurched as he learned about Spencer being denied protection, that he had been placed in GenPop, each documented beating, every meeting with his lawyer, the lengths the team had gone to prove his innocence. How Spencer had had to stab himself to stay alive. The failure of the Bureau. The lawsuits the innocent man had filed in the wake of this travesty, he had solid cases, he had a lot coming to him.
“He is awe-inspiring.” Aaron sighed.
“Kid’s bounced back, but it left marks. He is harder.” Derek admitted sadly.
“I don’t doubt that. What about this girlfriend, were they together before all this went down?” Aaron asked finding his cup refilled.
“He doesn’t have a girlfriend,” Garcia said nibbling the cap of her pen.
“Emily told me he had a girlfriend. That she was an academic. She never gave her name, but said they were serious and I assumed that was the reason Spencer told her to ask me to leave him alone.” Aaron explained.
“I have no idea why she said that my Boy Wonder asks about you constantly, well he did until like three months ago. I figured ya’ll was talking amongst yourselves.” Penelope looked at him worriedly.
“Fuck.” Aaron sighed his fists clenching in his lap.
“What?” Derek was uncomfortable with how things were developing.
“When she visited three months ago we were sitting outside and she kissed me. I told her how I felt about Spencer, how I only saw her as a friend.” he stare at his friend his eyes almost begging him to make a protest.
“Were you guys...involved and we didn’t know it?” Penelope asked now chewing the pen.
“No. I never suspected anything.” Hotch absently picked invisible lint from his jeans.
“You don’t think…? I mean she wouldn’t have...would she?” The pen cap cracked and she jumped.
“I would not have thought it, but it looks bad. I have no idea how to find out either.” Derek said his jaw tight.
“I am gonna snoop, Ask around. Don’t worry no one will know why.” Garcia scribbled on a neon orange tablet.
“I can talk to Spencer, ask him some questions. See if we have corroborating evidence.” Morgan suggested.
“I will call Dave. He will tell me. He will also bulldoze through any shit.” Aaron said.
“Okay, we have a plan now, we will check in in a few days Baby Girl,” Morgan stated.
“Right. Thank you both.” Aaron smiled softly.
“Wild horses Sir.” Garcia smiled and disconnected.
“I’m gonna crash. You don’t stay up all night.” Morgan squeezed his shoulder.
“I won’t have to work in the morning. How long are you planning to stay?.”
“Trying to get rid of me?” Morgan chuckled. “
“No. Just do not want to be on the receiving end of Savannah’s temper.” Hotch joked back.
“I’ll call her before I crash. When it comes to Spencer she hasn’t got any temper.” Derek cringed animatedly.
“He does that to people.” Hotch chuckled.
“Yes, he does. Night Sheriff.”
“Hey Kid, you got a minute?”
“Derek! Yes, I just walked out to grab lunch what’s up?” Spencer hurried over to his car.
“I wanted to ask you a few man, you got me thinking last week, I have had some time to think of new questions. You game?” Derek sat at Aaron’s kitchen table a legal pad in front of him.
“Um, yeah okay,” Spencer answered distractedly Morgan knew that meant he was driving. He spoke louder so he was clear on speaker.
“You said that Hotch wrote to everyone but you. Are you certain?”
“I never got a letter,” Reid answered.
“So, technically he may have written and you didn’t receive it.”
“It’s a possibility.” his tone made it clear he didn’t believe that.
“Did you write to him?”
“No, I do not have his address. What correspondence I have for Hotch is in a box in the hall closet, I should throw it away.” Spencer sighed.
“No! Don’t do that, hang on to it for a while, this may just be a case of crossed wires.” Derek said.
“Tell him I am happy.”
“What?” Derek scribbled that statement down.
“Emily said that when she visited him. Tell him I am happy.” Spencer expounded.
“Come on Pretty Boy, spill.”
“Emily came to my apartment the weekend she got back. She told me that Aaron had a lovely home, that Jack was settled and flourishing. She said that Aaron was seeing the local librarian and while nothing was said they looked serious. She said that…”
“I got you, Spence you can tell me.” Morgan struggled to keep his temper in check.
“She said that he had asked that I respect his wishes and let him be. She said he had contacted those he wanted to and that I needed to give him the space he wanted. She said he said to tell him I am happy.” Spencer sniffed.
“Shit Reid, I just can’t believe that. Hotch ain’t cold like that.”
“He has moved on. I respect that, I am happy for him. He deserves it.”
“I agree, but he hasn’t said anything to me like that. He asks about you all the time.” Derek tried to cheer his friend up.
“I don’t know Derek. I am doing as asked. If he wants to know I’m alive tell him.” Spencer snapped.
“I have his address, you could write to him, find out for yourself.” Derek tried.
“No. Thank you, I will not impose myself where I am not wanted. I have to let go, no matter what I feel. I will be fine.” Spencer said ending the conversation.
“Okay. Where are you getting lunch?”
“Leo’s,” Spencer replied.
“I hate you.” Derek teased.
“I know. Hey Connie, I need a number 6 no onion.”
“Hate you so big Reid.” Morgan loved the small family deli, their sandwiches were amazing.
“You should, they have cinnamon ice cream.” Spencer giggled at his friends’ groan.
“Evil Genius with two scoops. Thanks for trying Derek.”
“You bet. I still think you should tell him you love him.”
“Rejection from afar is painful enough thank you.”
“I can’t Derek.”
“Grace? Hey, you got a sec?” Garcia asked plopping into the chair next to her friend.
“For you, I have two. What do you need Sunshine?” Grace offered a crisp from her bag.
“I need you to climb into the WABAC Machine and tickle your recall.” Garcia handed the woman a gold gift card.
“Gotcha. What am I remembering?” Grace didn't need the bribe, but figured the favour was ears only.
“Letters. From Hotchner. Who got some?” Penelope munched another crisp.
“You, Rossi, Prentiss, Reid, Cruz, Anderson, Richmond.” Grace listed tucking the card into her purse.
“You are certain that the Baby Genius got one?”
“He got more than one. They stopped a while ago.”
“Did you deliver or drop?”
“I dropped, you guys were busy as heck. I tossed it in all Emily’s in-basket and moved on. She asked me to continue so I did, she is the boss.”
“Yes, she is. You are a peach.” Penelope squeezed her friend and made a beeline to her lair.
“I am gonna drop my mind. I am so peeved right now.” she huffed as she marched angrily.
“Hold on now Mama, what did I do to rile you up?” Derek asked.
“Oh, you didn’t do anything. Miss Emily on the other hand.” Garcia growled.
“Let it out Baby Girl.”
“I don’t understand, what do you want me to do?” Luke asked Penelope completely perplexed.
“I need you to break into Emily’s desk and grab a stack of letters, relock the drawer and deliver post haste.”
“You are insane.” he sat back still watching her, he could tell she was serious but torn.
“I wouldn’t ask for me. It’s for a worthy cause.” she bat her lashes out of nervousness.
“You care to fill me in? I mean you are asking me to pilfer, it would have to be mega-worthy.” Luke smiled hoping to ease her tension.
“We think she has some letters, that aren’t hers. Like she is hiding them out of maybe spite or jealousy maybe. We want to be wrong, but there is evidence, albeit hearsay but the source is honest and…”
“Breathe. One good reason is all I need.” he held her hand to comfort her as she teared up.
“What do you need Sweetness?’ Derek asked over speakerphone.
“He needs a good reason and I don’t know what I can say.” she sniffed.
“Hotch wrote to Spencer,” Morgan stated.
“Not by what Reid has told me.”
“I’m at Aaron’s house, he’s just as bruised as Reid.”
“See, that is a good reason.” Luke pat her hand and went back to his desk.
“Penny, we still on for Mario’s tonight?” Emily asked brightly.
“Oh, I...forgot I have a thing I can’t rearrange.” Garcia chewed her lip.
“Oh, okay. If your thing gets over early you could meet Jaje and me there.” Emily suggested.
“Luke, what are you doing here? Oh, sorry come in.” Spencer moved so his friend could step in.
“I can’t stay, I have a delivery.” Alvez handed Reid a lime green gift bag.
“What is this?” Spencer pulled out a few letters. He blanched. “What…?”
“Covert op,” Luke said cryptically.
“Where did you find these?” there was steel in the young man’s voice.
“You are supposed to call Morgan or Garcia before you read those,” Luke instructed before he left.
“Hello?” she answered brightly.
“Pen?” his voice was soft, small.
“Sit down Bubby, I’m gonna call Derek okay?”
“Yeah.” he absently put the envelopes in order by postmark as he waited.
“You okay Reid?” Derek asked gently.
“Why?” Spencer asked.
“You deserve to know, so does Hotch,” Morgan said matter-of-factly.
“I'm almost there, you wait for me okay?” she asked.
“I didn’t lock it.”
“I’m in the lot Buttercream. Hang on one more sec, I’m coming.”
“Come here, angel. Oh my Bubby, it’s okay I got you.” Derek listened as she cooed at their friend.
“Call me when he’s done reading okay?” Derek asked heartbroken for his friend.
“What’s wrong? What happened?” Aaron asked handing him a cup of coffee.
“We need to talk.”
“I’ll let Jack play his game, he won’t emerge for hours.” Hotch went to the living room to tell the boy, he looked between the two men and after a side hug for his dad, he ran to the den to play.
“He’s too damn smart, clever like his dad.” Derek chuckled at the proud smirk his friend bore.
“We figured out somethings.”
“What things?” Aaron asked hopefully.
“Grab the bottle, I need some Dutch courage.”
“Sit, I’ll be back in a minute.” Morgan could hear Aaron tell Jack they were going to be drinking and to go to bed at a reasonable time, then move to the kitchen. He set the bottle in front of his guest and sat lightly on the sofa across from him.
“He’s asleep. Poor baby is emotionally tuckered, but his brain is firing on all cylinders.”
“Aaron was two sheets when he finally passed out, Jack says he doesn't drink often so it hit him hard. He’s a damn good kid.”
“Where did you say those letters for Hotch were?” Garcia asked.
“Hold on now Peeper.”
“Oh no, you don’t. If Spencer gets Aaron’s letters, Hotch gets Spencer’s it’s only fair,” she argued.
“Oh dang. There are hundreds of them Thunder.” she sniffed.
“Maybe just grab a couple,” he suggested.
“Nope, I got the whole lot. I’ll send them same day air. You get some sleep Adonis, loves and smoochies, nighty-night.” she hung up before he could reign her in.
“Has anyone seen Spence?” JJ asked as she sat next to Prentiss in the round table room.
“He called in sick. He sounded awful, so I gave him a couple days to rest up. Grant is going to fill in for this case.” Emily announced.
“Poor baby. I’ll take him some soup after work.” Garcia promised.
“Sorry I’m late, I had no idea how long it would take to ship something same day air. I got it there just in time, I would say it’s in the air already.” Luke sat next to a suddenly giddy Tech maven.
“Richmond told me you might be late. Those three files are for you, so far paperwork day. Thanks, everyone.” Emily made way to her office, JJ close on her heels.
“You two want to share with the class?” Dave asked pointedly.
“My office delinquents.” Rossi walked away expecting them to follow.
“Rock, paper, scissors,” Garcia whispered.
“Coin flip.” Luke dug in his pockets.
“What happened to Reid?” Dave asked darkly.
“He is scary.” Garcia shoved Alvez forward as a sacrifice.
“Okay, Penny called me after Morgan called her, after talking to Hotch because he spoke to Spencer…” Luke began.
“Is it really this convoluted a tale?” Dave sat in his chair.
“Uh huh.” she nodded.
“Like I said Penny called me after Morgan called her…”
“DAD! THERE’S A GUY AT THE DOOR WITH A BOX FROM LUKE ALVEZ!!” the delivery man chuckled at the young man screaming. He was pleased to see the kid had left the chain on when he opened the door, many didn’t.
“Behind you.” Aaron rumbled deepening his voice. Jack jumped then cackled joyously.
“Good one old man.” Aaron chucked at the high five he got as his son ran back to Morgan and his friend Kyle.
“That was epic Dude. Sign here. Great, have a good evening.” the young man said hopping down the porch stairs.
“What is this?” Aaron asked Derek setting the box on the table.
“Jack and Kyle asked if I would take them for pizza. We will bring you a slice. Hey boys.” Morgan swung Hank up onto his hip, the older boys like a herd of buffalo were in the car before Hotch could say goodbye.
“Good luck.” Hotch waved as they left. He tore off the plastic bubble holding the shipping invoice and a note telling him to call Penelope before he went any further.
“You need a pot of coffee, your laptop, your pocket knife, and a trash can I’ll wait,” Garcia said cheerily.
“Okay.” he set his cell on the coffee table and followed her instructions. He sat in his spot on the sofa leaning against the arm, legs curled beside him, toes buried between the cushion and back. “I’m back.”
“Sweet!” she sent him a Skype request and he accepted. She was in her lair, her laptop on the side where he couldn’t see the computer screens, but had a full view of her.
“I like your sweater.” he flirted harmlessly.
“I like the scruffy, you look all rugged and manly.” she pointed at the box next to him. He opened it carefully, worried he may damage something. There was a cooler covered in frost, and beside that was a plastic tote full of what looked like envelopes.
“Does that mean I don’t look manly clean shaven?” he tackled the cooler first. Four containers each with the contents, time, and temperature on the lid were nestled amongst dwindled blocks of dry ice. Alfredo, Breakfast Casserole, Manicotti, Cinnamon Rolls.
“Rossi’s Manicotti and your cinnamon rolls? ” his mouth watered.
“Yep. Bon Appetit!!” He heard a door click in the background.
“You are amazing. Thank you. Gonna put these away, I’ll be back.” she giggled knowing he would be gone long enough to put one in the oven.
“Jack is going to love this. I might even let Morgan have some.” he teased opening the tote.
“Breathe Aaron,” Rossi ordered.
“How...” Aaron hugged a bundle to his chest trying to slow the hammering of his heart.
“There are no dates so we can’t sort them, but the grey ones are from when he was in prison,” she informed him gently.
“Are you busy?” he asked breathlessly.
“Nope, I’m here until Derek gets back.” Dave sat in front of her laptop.
“Me too.” Garcia rest her chin on Dave’s shoulder.
“Thanks.” he slit the top of the first envelope drawing out a single sheet of paper, familiar neat, elegant writing covered the whole page. Reid could tell you about a day curled up on the couch and make it sound like an epic adventure. He mentioned things that many would ignore. A bird on the window sill, the surprise of a sip of cold coffee when you got distracted, a spider weaving it’s web in the corner. You felt like you spent the day in the same room. It was mesmerizing.
Aaron opened the next letter.
Spencer marched his way across the bullpen. Luke nonchalantly made his way to Garcia’s office. He could hear Reid pound on the Unit Chief's door from half-way down the hall.
“Come. Spencer...What’s wrong?”
“Why?” he asked his voice hard.
“I don’t understand. What’s wrong?” Spencer tossed a binder on her desk, she studied him for a second then opened the cover. She blanched flipping the pages much too fast to be reading.
“You understand now?” there was none of the soft young man she knew in his words.
“How did you get these?”
“None of your damn business. I want an answer.” he hissed.
“I want to know who broke into my office…”
“You want to know! Really? The fact that you stole them in the first place pretty much negates me telling you shit. After everything...I have a right to know why, why did you horde these? Why did you let me think he didn’t care? Why did you lie to my face?” her office door banged open David Rossi standing in the opening.
“Everything is alright Dave. Thank you for worrying.” Emily sat back down thinking the situation ended.
“I don’t think so. Let’s see what Rossi thinks of this shall we?” Spencer snatched the binder off of her desk, she lunged for it but Dave was well out of her reach.
“What is this?” Dave asked while he scanned the first letter. Spencer was again reminded that Rossi was a good actor. He was almost 100% certain the man knew.
“Emily? What the hell is this?” Dave stabbed his finger on the cover of the binder.
“I don’t…” she stuttered. Luke took the binder from Rossi’s hand and read the first missive.
“Luke?” Tara asked softly for the binder. She looked pained as she passed it to Garcia who tucked it close to her bosom.
“Now they all know, and the story will filter through the building like water. So now that no one in this room will be shutting me up, now that you have no time to come up with excuses you can tell me why.”
“Reid…” she began condescendingly.
“Okay, you're going to be like that, I’m not surprised, I didn’t expect a decent answer from you. I did wonder why you kept them. I mean not two feet from your chair is a paper shredder. You could have destroyed them and no one would have known but you and JJ. But you kept them. You secreted them away like a dragon with its gold. Unfortunately, I didn’t have to wonder why you did, you see after over ten years profiling the answer was like a neon sign. Trophies. They were symbols of power. They gave you pleasure. Knowing full well you were hurting people you claim are your friends.” Spencer said calmly.
“I couldn’t understand why. That took a moment to figure out, a moment and the final letter. You were punishing him for rejecting you and punishing me for being the one he loves. The only people that knew I loved Aaron were Derek and JJ. Now, with as shocked as they both were when I told them, I believed I had hidden it well. I know damn good and well it wasn’t Morgan that told you, he didn’t know until my vacation ten days ago, so that leaves JJ as your source.” he continued.
“Spence…” JJ said.
“Just stop JJ. There is nothing you can say. I know you told her, you broke your promise, divulged my secret. I wondered why you were so opposed to me seeking Aaron out after we found Scratch. Why you so actively tried to get me to forget him, why you spoke so negatively against him from the moment I told you. Now I know. You knew Emily wanted him. Without concidering my or even Aaron's feelings you decided that what your powerful friend wanted was more important. I truly hope you got what you wanted, is her pocket comfortable? This is a poisonous lesson in betrayal. I hope it was worth it.” Spencer turned away from her shocked face.
"Now really Spencer, you are overreacting here. I told her because I was worried about you. How was I to now Aaron would recipricate your feelings? No one here would think that he would want you..."
"Why? Why not JJ? Is it because I am male? We all knew he was Bi-sexual. He didn't hide that. So that must mean me personally. You didn't think Aaron could find me attractive."
“Spencer…” Emily said softly.
“You can't possibly think anything that comes out of your mouth is of interest to me. Although with your ego I can’t be sure. I want you to know something. Out of everything I have endured during my time with the Bureau, this is the last. I hope you feel accomplished, because, after Hankle, Anthrax, Foyet, Gideon, Maeve, Texas, Lewis, even prison didn’t shake my foundation, they couldn’t make me question my place, but you, this has crumbled what firmament I had left. Destroyed any chance I had to stay. You, Emily Prentiss, are what broke Agent Reid. You took this part of me and crushed it into sharp shards that I can’t crawl through. As of an hour ago, I retired from the BAU.” he swallowed down the lump in his throat.
“Oh no,” Garcia whispered.
“It’s funny. This morning as I left my apartment, I was driven by fury. As I handed John my notice, I couldn’t breathe, I almost changed my mind. This is the hardest thing I have ever done. Harder than putting my mom into Bennington, because that was for the best, it was for her benefit. This serves no one, benefits nothing. This hurts more than you will ever know. This is agony, guilt, and ire. This was my home, you took my home.” Spencer shivered the tears falling from his eyes.
“Come on Kiddo.” Dave wrapped his arm around his waist guiding him out of her office.
“Spence, now honestly...” JJ reached out, Tara slid in the way to hold his other side.
“You’ve done enough don’t you think?” Luke snapped following them away. Leaving JJ and Emily standing alone in the office.
“Rossi. I’m giving your team two days off while we figure this out. You guys stay with him.” Cruz offered his hand to the young man.
“It’s been an honour.” Spencer shook his hand firmly, new tears falling on his cheeks.
“The honour was ours, Dr Reid.” Matteo clapped him on the back.
“Meet us at my place, “ Dave told them, Richmond took over for Tara so they could gather their things. Garcia dragged Luke over to Spencer’s desk, he held a box while she emptied the drawers. He knew she needed to take time to cry now so she could be strong later.
“Need any help?”
“I love you JJ, but I don’t like you right now. Go away.” she sniffed.
“Agent Prentiss, my office please.” Cruz strode away expecting her to follow.
“Dave, what’s wrong? Are they okay?” Aaron asked hurrying to his office.
“Everyone is safe. What do you know about the clusterfuck around here?”
“Just what Pen told Derek and I. What happened?” his heart was pounding.
“Reid quit the BAU. He, he confronted Emily and JJ in the middle of the office. I brought him and Richmond home with me, Tara, Luke, Anderson, and Garcia will be here soon.” Dave said spooning sugar into a cup of coffee.
“I don’t understand any of this.” Aaron scrubbed his hand through his hair.
“I’m barely caught up, I figure Garcia is going to fill in Morgan then he can tell you. I’m going to take care of Reid, call when you have a clearer picture.” Rossi said watching Spencer cry silently on his sofa.
“Take care of them.” Hotch sighed.
“I will.” Dave hung up steeling himself to face his devastated protege.
Aaron marched through the airport his go bag swung over his right shoulder. He stepped out into the pre-rain humidity, instantly glad he had worn his short-sleeved uniform shirt. Two taxi drivers asked if he wanted a ride and he declined, a few moments later Jessica pulled up. She flew out of the driver’s seat and hugged him tightly.
“Where to Sheriff?” she asked giggling.
“Spencer’s apartment.” he handed her the address.
“It’s about time. What’s with the uniform?” she tapped her fingernail on his badge.
“I didn't have time to change after work.” he straightened his tie in the vanity mirror.
“Quite dashing. You look happy, I am glad.”
“I can’t look much different than when you visited this winter.” he elbow checked her.
“Maybe a few more grey hairs, the beard is new. I like it in a hope he just forgot to shave, but he still is handsome sort of way.” she parked in one of the visitor parking spaces.
“I’ll wait down here.” she squeezed his arm, “You deserve this Aaron. Haley would be glad you found someone this important. Spencer is a good man, she liked him. I am so glad you finally decided to do something about this. I like him too.” Jessica gave him a much-needed pep talk.
“I didn’t know you knew him that well,” he said scanning the parking lot for the Amazon.
“I told you, he called me every two weeks like clockwork. Telling me that the Marshalls said you both were safe and provided for. He told me as much as he could about the case, he swore they would find Lewis, he promised he would bring you both home safe. When he went to prison...I read about it in the newspaper, I tried to see him but he refused. Garcia kept me posted as much as possible. The calls stopped about three months ago. He sends a sweet little card wishing me well now. I have his address, but felt like he wanted distance.”
“I don’t know if anyone on the team even knows he did that. God, he is amazing.”
“Yes, he is. Go get your man Aaron.” she beamed.
“Yes ma’am.” she was so happy to see that smile on his face again.
Hotch took the stairs two at a time his heart thundering in his chest. He skid to a stop at the familiar door and composed himself before he knocked. He heard nothing from inside, but he knew when Reid was lost in his head, he needed a minute to figure out what disturbed his groove. He knocked louder, “Reid?”
“Can I help you?” a young woman from across the hall asked softly.
“Perhaps, I’m looking for Dr Reid, do you happen to know when he will return?”
“Um...He isn’t coming back. He moved out, the movers had him all loaded yesterday. He didn’t tell me where he was going but he promised to write so I knew he was safe. Made me promise to look after Mrs Collins, she is going to miss him.”
“I….missed him?” Aaron would swear his heart seized.
“Oh, are you okay mister?” she lightly touched his elbow.
“No, I’m...too late.” she looked so worried, he tried to school his features. She looked at his uniform, her eyes went wide.
“Are you Aaron Hotchner?” he followed her eyes and noticed she was staring at his nameplate.
“Yes, ma’am. I am sorry I disturbed you. Thank you for your help.” he turned to leave.
“Why come now?” she had a sharpness to her tone.
“I came to tell him, to say to his face what my letters...I didn’t know...I came to tell him.”
“He is so hurt by all of this, he told Miss Collins and I while they moved his things. The older man came and took him, I don’t know where. Do you know him?”
“David Rossi?” Aaron guessed.
“Yes, the author. Nice man, he has been taking good care of Dr Reid.”
“Thank you.” he hugged her making her peep in surprise. “Sorry.”
“You are welcome.” she giggled as he ran down the stairs.
“Well?” Jessica asked when he landed in her car.
“He’s gone. Moved out. Dave knows where he is.”
“Where is Dave?” she started the car driving without a destination.
“Quantico it is.” he didn’t notice before that she drove a lot like Morgan.
“He’s here, he’s here, he’s here,” Garcia repeated excitedly as she crossed the bullpen. The elevator doors opened and the squeal started, as Cruz absently opened the glass door the sound gained volume and pitch, as they cleared the opening running feet attracted their attention. Aaron easily changed his stance and caught her mid-leap. He laughed swinging her around much to her happiness.
“So, I wasn’t as sneaky as I thought?” he kissed her forehead.
“Nope, I have a watch on your name. Look at you. I love a man in a uniform. All you need is the hat. Tell me you have the hat.” He tapped her back and she looked giggling when she noticed he had it in his hand.
“Aaron.” Dave came around the railing giving his friend a firm hug with a hearty pat on the back. “Nice hat.”
“Penelope likes it.” Aaron took the black cowboy hat off.
“I stand corrected. To what do we owe this visit?” Rossi moved to his side so Hotch could shake hands with the others interested.
“I came to see Spencer. His neighbour told me you picked him up last night.” Aaron smiled hopefully.
“He has been staying with me. Aaron…”
“What are you doing here?” JJ asked surprised.
“Ms Jareau.” Garcia had filled him in on everything that had happened. He had to literally bite his tongue to keep himself civil.
“Hotch…” she stood akimbo huffing at him exasperatedly.
“Excuse me?” she looked around her uncomfortable.
“Only my friends call me Hotch. You were saying, Dave.” Aaron turned away, effectively dismissing her.
“He flew out this morning, I don’t know where he went, I assume Vegas cause he spoke to his mom last night. I would have warned you if I had known you were coming.” Rossi said physically feeling Aaron’s disappointment.
“I took a chance.” Aaron sighed.
“How long you in town for?”
“My return flight is Thursday at eight am,” Aaron told him.
“Two days, I can work with that." Aaron chuckled at his friend making plans. "Dinner at mine tonight. You can flop in the guestroom, Joy would love to see you too.” Dave offered, getting nods of confirmation from the team.
“That would be wonderful. Thank you. I should haul my ass out of here let you get back to work.” Hotch said just wanting some time alone.
“Got room for one more?” Matteo asked grinning.
“Absolutely.” Rossi agreed.
“The day is almost over. Take your sheriff and get out of here, I don’t want to see any of you until tomorrow at ten.” Garcia cackled taking off towards her office.
“Thank you, Matt.”
“I know how much work I’d get done today, Rossi gathering or not, they’d be worthless. I’ll pick up my wife, a bottle of red and meet you there.”
“Need a ride?” Dave offered.
“Jess is downstairs waiting. She would enjoy a night out.” Aaron informed him.
“Joy is home, I’ll warn her you are coming.” Dave was on his cell before he got to his office. Aaron took a long look at the bullpen. He remembered this with deep fondness, but as he walked out with Garcia and Alvez he realized he had left it behind.
He was amused that Joy brought his ginger ale in a wine glass instead of the bottle. He had watched her and Dave off and on all night and was thrilled by the happiness she had brought his friend, being a father and grandfather was good for him. Will was chatting with Simmons, Grant and John while Henry played matchbox cars with Kai near their feet. He had been surprised when they had shown up without JJ. The boys had grown, Henry was taking on more of his fathers’ mannerisms and speech, Aaron thought the accent was adorable. He had called Garcia cher and was rewarded with a third cookie.
“Where is Prentiss?’ Aaron asked Cruz.
“She was in her office, she is finishing out the open paperwork. She takes over for New York in two weeks.” Matt said looking hurt.
“She is good at the job.”
“Yes, she is. She is being transferred to New York to replace their retiring Chief. JJ is being traded to Andi Swan's team as media liaison, Anderson is taking her place. We both know she won't tolerate what she considers a demotion for long. As Unit Chief, we have a brilliant agent transferring in from NCIS, he comes with impressive credentials and supporters. He has been on the payroll as a liaison/consultant for years. Dave has agreed to share the burden until he settles. He has been shadowing Dave for the last couple days and seems to fit right in. The transfer is set for the beginning of next week.” Matt explained. Aaron was impressed that Cruz and JJ's past relationship was not clouding the man's duty.
“Wouldn’t happen to be DiNozzo would it?” Aaron asked a smirk at Cruz’s surprise.
“Yes, You know Tony?”
“Fornell has been trying to lure him to the Bureau for years. I have met him, he is brilliant. A wise choice. Leave him my number, I’ll help if I can.”
“I will do that.” they talked a bit more then Cruz went to sit with his wife.
“You are not at all what I had heard.”
“I dread to think. You are exactly what they said. Loyal, honourable, and calm, a perfect fit. What you did for Spencer, I can’t thank you enough.” Aaron liked the man.
“He is a good man. I only did what he would have done. I am constantly amazed by his strength and that brain. I learned a lot from him. I have no idea when I will need to know how many bricks are in the great pyramid, but I am ready.” Alvez chuckled.
“2.3 million,” Aaron replied.
“See, not so useless trivia.”
“Jack won a new Ipad and a year supply of downloadable books, when he knew how many peanuts are in a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter at the school harvest lock-in, he was the only kid to raise his hand without a cell phone.” Aaron shrugged.
“540.” they both laughed.
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Sheriff Hotchner.” Luke offered his hand.
“Hotch, nice to meet you too.” he shook the man’s hand and wandered over to Dave and Joy. “I’m going to get some sleep, I have been awake for thirty-two hours and have an early flight. Thank you both for this. It was just perfect.”
“Our pleasure Aaron. It was so good to see you.” Joy said kissing his cheek.
“You both need to come to visit, the sunrises are stunning and the horses are always ready for a ride. Jack would love to see you.” Aaron kissed her back, hugging Dave before he looked around the room.
“We will, soon. Goodnight Aaron.”
Driving from the airport was a silently introspective ride. Aaron took the time to sort through the last forty-eight hours. He had enjoyed the familiarity of the team gathering together. The feeling of undefeatable support was a sweet balm. The stop at Leo’s was pure decadent nostalgia. The brief walk through the Bureau had been an odd sensation of adrenaline and melancholy. He missed it, but not enough to return.
He mulled over what had happened to JJ and Emily that had them make the choices they did. JJ had always been a bit of what Haley called a Heather, whatever that meant. In his opinion, she never left high school. She is the person who when someone told her she was beautiful she not only believed it, she internalized it. When someone told her she was clever, it became you are the most dazzling person in the room. She suffered more than they. She felt it deeper than anyone. Just ask her, she'll tell you so. Often. If she was disciplined for any infraction she claimed it was because of her gender. He never let these things define her, she was an amazing media liaison and he had been proud when she became a profiler. Her genuine compassion, capability, and strength outweighed the character flaws.
Emily. She had been a surprise from day one. He knew Strauss had planted her on his team to find fault in him. When she had defied that, he had lost all hesitation about her. He knew she was ambitious, determined, and though she claimed to despise politics she excelled at them. He also knew Strauss had promised her his desk if she succeeded in finding the dirt Erin needed to expel him. She refused two lead positions on teams in California and Florida. He took it as devotion to them. When she left for Interpol, he was sympathetic he understood the need for change. When she came back he was supportive, he was thrilled to have her back. When he got back in contact he was not really surprised to hear that Emily had been given his office. From everything, he heard she was an excellent Unit Chief. He was proud.
He tried to think back, find the time when her feelings may have changed. He could remember nothing. No.Thing. She was his sister, she had done nothing to make him think she wanted more. Ever. He knew she and Spencer were tight. She was closer to him than any other member of the team. Now, this. He didn’t think he would ever understand. He could not make this fit. He wondered if her ability to compartmentalize was able to protect her from this.
He drove past his office the tension and stress of the last day leeching away the closer he got to his home. His heart still ached, he was still hurting about and for Spencer, but coming home was a warmth he settled into quite easily. Jack was running around the yard with Hank, Derek was sitting on the steps enjoying his son.
“Dad!” Jack waved getting tackled during his distraction.
“Hey. He got you good.” Aaron chuckled at the boys devolving into a tickle fight.
“You okay Hotch?” Morgan asked as he sat next to him.
“As I can be. How are you doing?”
“I have learned that I only thought I was tired running after Hank. Jack showed me I have no clue about parental exhaustion. It was awesome.” Derek smiled.
“You plan anything for dinner?” Aaron asked his friend.
“There’s food in the oven, be done soon.”
“I need to check-in at the precinct.” Aaron stood brushing dust off his ass.
“Sounds like a plan. We will come in after the giggle twins wear themselves out.” Derek motioned to the kids.
Aaron walked into his home, the smell of pot roast made his stomach rumble. He toed off his shoes and walked toward the kitchen to get a drink. He rounded the corner and froze.
“Welcome home.” Spencer smiled from his chair by the table.
“I love you,” Aaron stated unable to say anything else.
“I love you too.” Spencer chuckled. “Are you okay?”
“I am perfect. How long are you staying?” Aaron stepped closer.
“That depends.” Spencer reached for his hand.
“On what?” Aaron’s heart leapt when they touched.
“Forever. You are staying forever.”
“Oh good. I hoped you would say that.” Spencer let Aaron pull him to his feet. Fingers he had spent hours dreaming of brushed through his hair. Aaron leaned in placing the most electrifying chaste, sweet, life-altering kiss upon his lips.
“I have been waiting to do that. I am so sorry about all of this Spencer.”
“None of this is your fault. I can’t wrap my head around it. I feel like I should apologise, tell you that I knew you didn’t forget me, but I feared you would find someone, that you would move on before I could tell you. I was afraid my cowardice had cost me forever. I was crushed.”
“When she told me you had a girlfriend I was gutted and at the same time happy. I just knew my fear had cost me everything I wanted. When I got your letters I was staggered, you wrote to me every day I was gone. Every day, I was certain then you loved me too. I am so sorry I wasn’t there Spencer.” Aaron combed his fingers through chestnut hair, it was softer than he imagined.
“Em told me about your romance with the town librarian. I was bereft but relieved you had someone."
“Aggie is 78 years old and quite honestly would eat me alive. You are going to steal her heart." Spencer chuckled.
"I got your letters and I could breathe again. I knew if I could just get to you, I could hold a dream.” Spencer nuzzled his cheek.
I love you. I need you to believe that. I’m not just saying that I know what those words mean to you, I know what they represent. I. Love. You. Spencer. I have rings, and plans, and empty closet space, an empty office next to mine, I have a nightlight, and dozens of empty shelves in the attic library, I bought you a horse. There is room at the station for you to work from there.”
“I bought rings." Spencer held up the small box. Aaron opened it, Spencer pointed to the wider of the two and whimpered when Aaron let him slip it on his finger. Aaron beamed as the narrower band settled on Spencer's. He could see the bands he had bought sitting against these. This was fast, but it felt perfect. "I sold the Amazon and bought a 4X4. I bought blue jeans, and t-shirts, and cowboy boots. I put in a change of address, I have a truck bringing my things this weekend, I filed my voter’s registration, I transferred my medical records, I read dozens of books on gardening, and goats, and cattle, I can’t wait to ride my horse, it’s been years, I switched to allergy shots, I rescued a cat. I told mom.”
“A cat?” Aaron chuckled.
“Mrs Cavanaugh says that she found the poor thing under her porch, I took her to the vet and he is going to bathe her and give her her shots, and worm her. I pick up Perdu et Trouvé in the morning.” Spencer smirked.
“Lost and Found? Will she be okay as an inside cat?”
“She is about eight months old and scared, I think someone tossed her out when they found out she was pregnant. I can’t understand that. She is red-orange, soft as a bunny, and gives these adorable purr-filled headbutts. ” Spencer grinned brightly.
“Pregnant. I see. I do not clean cat pans.” Aaron dotted a kiss on his nose.
“I don’t pluck chickens.”
“Fair compromise. How do you feel about mucking stables?” pulling Spencer closer.
“Done it before. How do you feel about having a Halloween wedding next year.?” Spencer smoothed his hands down Aaron’s back shamelessly stopping on his ass and giving a squeeze.
“Done. You are playing with fire, Dr Reid.” Aaron rolled his hips proving his point.
“I like the heat.” Aaron groaned Spencer’s voice had dropped an octave to a sinful purr.
“You sure you won’t be bored?” Aaron nipped his earlobe.
“I have a job.” Spencer dropped his head back exposing his throat to ardent kisses.
“What job?” Aaron was getting to the point of not caring that they had company.
“FBI Consultant Profiler. I will do most of the work from home, but occasionally have to travel. I have some cases I need to be in court for, and some personal litigation to deal with. But I will be home more than before.” Spencer shrugged.
“They told me you retired.” he licked behind Spencer’s ear.
“I left the team not the Bureau. As a consultant, I can accept cases in international venues as well as national. I have access to a jet and Bureau assets. Garcia, the Archives, I can call in the BAU if I see the need.”
“Allons-y.” Aaron closed the distance, a moment to simply feel those lips then he angled his head to press harder. Spencer moaned opening to the questing tongue seeking entrance.
This just became one of Aaron’s favourite things. He knew he would spend hours kissing Spencer. The feel of his arms fiercely clasping his small waist, feeling Reid’s heartbeat against his own chest, the weight of his body pressing into him, the feel of his bottom lip between his teeth. Aaron let his hands wander, Spencer was all compact muscle and heat. The feel, smell, taste of him was intoxicating.
He was surprised that coffee wasn’t the first thing he tasted, Spencer’s kiss was sweet like honey, deep as any ocean, pure as a child’s smile. He could feel how much the man loved him in the way he kissed. Aaron’s heart soared. He gasped when his back struck the counter. Spencer lay against him trusting Aaron to keep him upright as he chased something in Aaron’s mouth.
“Oh gross Dudes!” Jack said jokingly. Spencer yelped ducking his head to hide in Aaron’s chest. Aaron chuckled, squeezing Spencer before he stepped back.
"Get used to it kid." Derek teased.
“Well?” Jack scrutinized them closely.
“He’s staying. We are engaged.” Hotch told his son the dimple-popping million-watt smile lighting up his face.
“Cool, welcome to the family. Dinner ready yet?” Spencer gaped at the young man’s blase acceptance. Spencer hoped the boy could see what Hotch meant to him. Jack looked at him and nodded, then smiled at his father's joy.
“Be on the table as soon as you two get washed up,” Derek replied.
“Sweet, I’m starving.” Jack chased Hank toward the bathroom.
“He is always starving.” Hotch handed Reid a stack of plates to set the table.
“You okay Pretty Boy?” Morgan nudged him with his elbow.
“I’m...Yeah, actually I am.” Spencer beamed.
“Welcome home Spencer.” Aaron kissed his cheek.
“It’s good to be home.”