Title: Triggers & Ties 8: Eggshells, Chapter 4
Author: Kuria Dalmatia
Rating/Warnings: FRM/R (profanity, adult content)
Characters/Pairing: Hotch/Reid, the BAU
Summary: It was an insight about victims that Aaron Hotchner never wanted to have: returning to the living space where one had been brutally attacked.
Word Count: ~9,700
ARCHIVING: my LJ... anyone else? Please ask first.
Feedback always welcome.
DISCLAIMER: The Mark Gordon Company, ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television own Criminal Minds. Salut! I just took them out to play and I promise put them back when I'm done. I'm not making any profit just trying to get these images out of my head. Oh yeah. And DC Comics owns the quote.
Aaron woke up screaming.
He grabbed his gun from beneath his pillow, pain surging through his body as he swiftly got to his feet.
He panted heavily.
His heart raced.
He couldn't find his flashlight.
He struggled to turn on the lights.
He prowled his apartment, whispering 'clear' after each corner he turned, after each closet he checked, and after each room he surveyed.
He crawled back into bed.
He kept the lights on.
He slept with his gun in his hands.
Showering with nine stab wounds was a phenomenal pain in the ass, but Aaron was determined to do it. He couldn't get the sutures wet, so he used gauze pads (which he had tons of, thanks to JJ, Garcia and Prentiss) and layered squares of cling wrap over them before sealing them with waterproof tape.
He'd never been particularly vain about his arm or chest hair but the shaved areas made him think of the Looney Toons cartoon where the electric shaver had gotten out of hand and how the Monster ended up with bare spots. He remembered sitting on his couch, DVD remote in one hand, and his arm around Spencer's shoulders. He remembered Spencer's passionate discussion of how hair tonic just couldn't do that.
Aaron remembered chuckling. When you're five years old, you really don't think about things like that.
He remembered how Spencer had crossed his arms and furrowed his brow. I thought about things like that when I was five.
Of course you did. Aaron had leaned in, pressing a soft kiss on Spencer's jaw. It's one of the reasons I…
Aaron dropped the scissors in sink.
He gripped the porcelain with both hands.
"It's better this way," he whispered, head bowed. His vision blurred. "It's better this way."
And stared some more.
He recognized the envelope immediately without having to look at the handwriting; it was the same type that Spencer used for letters to his mother. Hell, Aaron even had a box of the stationary at his apartment.
He checked the date and then the seal; Spencer was the only person he knew of who actually used wax on his correspondence. Satisfied that it hadn't been tampered with, Aaron used the letter opener to slice open the top. He sat down at his desk as he pulled out the sheaf of paper.
Several objects spilled out: the key to Aaron's apartment, a penny, a nickel, a dime, a quarter and a half-dollar.
The piece of paper was blank.
Aaron's hands shook.
It took three tries for him to pick up the penny and he swiveled the arm of his desk lamp so that the light was closer to the coin. It was a 1999 Wide AM Reverse Lincoln Cent, the rarest of the three wide "AM" pennies produced between 1998 and 2000; Reid had given him the other two for Valentine's Day. The coin's luster was superb and there were very little strike marks. It would probably be graded Choice Uncirculated-MS63.
"Penny for your thoughts," Spencer murmured as they lay next to each other in Aaron's bed. It was four days before Aaron's birthday and they finally had a quiet moment. Spencer caressed Aaron's left ear and then held up a dullish penny. The way he waved it front of Aaron's face made him sit up and take the coin.
Aaron inspected it out of habit, because knowing Spencer, it wasn't just any penny. He nearly dropped it when he realized just what he held. "This is a 1972 Lincoln Cent, Doubled Die Obverse…" He stared at Spencer. "Do you have any idea…?" He stopped himself and shook his head. "Of course you do. What grade is it? VF-20? No. Wait. VF-30?"
Spencer laughed as he slid his glasses on, moving so that he was now shoulder to shoulder with Aaron. "You know? Jack has your smile."
The penny fell from Aaron's fingers, rolling until it settled beside the other coins.
He didn't bother trying to pick up the others, his hands trembling he moved the light closer to see the details on them. They had landed face up, their vibrant luster clearly indicating they were uncirculated. They were probably M61 or M62. It was then that Aaron saw the "P" on each.
His breath caught.
They were the four he was missing from the 1973 series in his coin album. The ones he refused to discuss with Spencer except to answer that, yes, 'one of these years' he would complete the set but it was 'no big deal' and really 'not quite worth the effort to track down the missing ones.'
Because the original ones in the set…
"For your collection," his granddad whispered before ruffling Aaron's hair and then placing six coins in Aaron's outstretched hand. "It's the 1973 Philly mint set, the one Santa Claus forgot to put in your stocking."
"Wow! Thanks, Granddad."
"You're welcome, buddy. Keep them safe, okay?"
"Now, go get in the car. Your dad's waiting. Make sure you're buckled up and make sure your mom is, too."
Aaron smiled, hugged his granddad, and dashed over to the sedan, tightly gripping the six coins. His father was glowering so he knew better than to show him the gift. Maybe when they got home or maybe tomorrow morning when his father wasn't so…
He stuffed them in his left pocket, thrilled that he now had both the Denver and the Philadelphia mint sets. Aaron would start on the thank you note the moment he got home.
"Mom? Is your seatbelt fastened?" he asked. His mother blinked blearily at him and waved a limp hand. She was always tired after visiting, even though she drank a lot of his grandma's special orange juice. Aaron leaned over the bench seat and saw the strap across her waist (she never wore the shoulder harness because it wrinkled her blouse) before settling back in his own spot behind her. He knew better than to ask his father. That would earn the 'Seatbelts are for sissies' discussion and Aaron didn't want that at all.
They rode in silence—one of his father's rules—and Aaron was good at following the rules. He fingered the coins in his pocket, itching to take them out. While Aaron wanted to inspect them, especially the Eisenhower dollar, he knew better than to do so while his father drove. His father had a tendency to change lanes sharply and dropping anything in the backseat was never a good idea.
Suddenly, the car jerked hard to the right and slowed down. Aaron looked up and recognized the rest area but was surprised that they had stopped so soon. Maybe his father had to empty the ashtray or something.
His father pulled in to the rest stop and got out of the car, gesturing for Aaron to do the same. He obeyed, looking over to where his mother was dozing in the front seat like she always did, even if it was only a two and a half hour trip.
His father now loomed over him, hand outstretched and palm open. "Give me your change."
Aaron looked up, trying not to wrinkle his nose at the smell of sour sweat and beer. He knew that any face he made when his father was in this particular mood earned a hard slap. He also knew better than to play stupid. He pulled out his hand with the coins. "They're the ones Granddad gave me."
"You don't deserve them," his father snapped before prying open Aaron's hand.
"But Dad! This is the 1973 Philadelphia mint set…"
The slap across Aaron's face sent him tumbling back against the sedan. The coins scattered on the ground. "Do not talk back to me!"
"But it's a set and I promised Granddad that I'd keep them safe," Aaron insisted, knowing he was flirting with another hit. "I promised him."
"You didn't do shit to deserve them!" His father grabbed his shirt front and threw him to the ground. "Pick them up! Now!"
"Do what your father says, Aaron," he heard his mother slur.
Aaron bit his lips together. He knew better than to cry. He picked up all six coins and got to his feet. His father grabbed him by his shirt collar and propelled him to the set of vending machines; Aaron managed to hold on to all of the coins. They stopped in front of the one with cigarettes.
"Pall Mall, unfiltered."
Aaron temporarily froze. He knew he was risking a beating—not like anyone would intervene because the rest area was deserted—but, "I promised Granddad."
His face was suddenly smashed against the glass of the machine. "Pall Mall, unfiltered."
This time, Aaron couldn't help the tears that welled up in his eyes. He deposited the quarter, the nickel, the half-dollar, and the dime. He pulled the lever for the red-packaged cigarettes. He heard the coins drop in the machine.
He watched as the packet of cigarettes tumbled out.
"Give me the rest of it," his father ordered.
Aaron picked up the packet of cigarettes and placed it along with the two remaining coins in his father's hand.
"If you wash both cars, take out the trash, and weed the garden, then maybe you'll earn these back. But it will have to be your best work. None of that half-assed shit like you do for your mother." His father then sneered at him, "Are you crying, you little…"
"There you are, William," his mother's voice interrupted. She listed to the side as she walked, wobbly on the chunky heels that she wore. "And Aaron… my little Hopscotch… my…"
"—Hotch? Aaron? Aaron!"
Something touched Hotch's shoulder.
He's here. He's back.
Hotch surged to his feet, tipping the chair over as he did. Someone was shouting at him. Fear poured through him.
He's here. He's back.
Hotch pawed blindly for his weapon, stumbling backward as he did. The pain flared, causing him to bend to one side out of sheer agony. Hands gripped his upper arm but he jerked away. He lost his balance. He fell hard on his ass, his back slamming against the wall. He pulled his weapon. His vision was blurry but he knew he was the best shot in the BAU.
He sucked in short breaths, his lungs refusing to allow him deeper ones.
Doesn't fit the profile.
"Hotch! It's Emily! You're safe!"
His hands shook.
Doesn't fit the profile.
"It's Emily Prentiss! We work together at the BAU. You ran security clearances for my mother years ago. It was one of your first commands."
"Front sight…" but the gun wasn't lining up properly. He couldn't hold his weapon steady.
He couldn't take a full breath.
Doesn't fit the profile.
"Please! Hotch! Don't make me… please. Hotch! Aaron! It's Emily Prentiss! I work with you at the BAU. It's just me! You didn't answer the door so I let myself in. You're safe. You. Are. Safe. Focus on my voice. Focus!"
"Aaron! You're safe. It's Emily and you are in your apartment. You didn't answer the door so I let myself in. You're safe. Put the gun down. Please. Put the gun down. You don't want to shoot me. It's Emily. God, Aaron. Please."
Ice cold hands wrapped around his and the weapon.
"Let go of the gun, Aaron. Now."
His grip tightened. "I promised..."
"Let it go."
"Agent Hotchner, I am giving you a direct order: let go of your weapon."
"I am ordering you to let go of your weapon."
His grip loosened. The metal was pulled from his hands. His arms were still outstretched as if he still held it.
He felt fingers tugging at his pants leg. He heard the hostler being unsnapped. He felt the weight removed from his ankle. His arms dropped to his sides.
"Agent Hotchner, what is the security code to your alarm system?" she demanded. She grabbed his chin and shook him. "What is the security code?"
He stared at Emily's pale features, the starkness of her red lipstick making her mouth look bloody. She was angry. Oh, so angry. He was in trouble. He knew that. He did something wrong. So… the only way to make it right again was to obey.
"Three hash one four one five," he managed to get out.
Emily dashed over to the keypad and pounded in the code.
He then watched as she sorted through his desk, picked up his cell phone, and jabbed at the keys. "Agent Hotchner, you need to tell the security company that this was a false alarm. Do you understand?"
His breath still came in short bursts.
"Do you understand?" she barked.
He flinched, curling in on himself. She was angry. Oh, so angry. He knew how this worked. He knew what would happen if he didn't do as he was told. "Yes."
"ADT Security Company. How may I assist you, Mister Hotchner?" The phone was on speaker.
His father wasn't the only one who could wield a belt.
"T-this is Aaron H-hotchner," he forced himself to say. "I-I tripped…I t-tripped the…alarm."
"Sir, is there anyone else in the apartment with you?"
"This is Supervisory Special Agent Emily Prentiss with the FBI. I am a colleague of Agent Hotchner's." Her voice was firm. Powerful. Terrifying. "We tripped the alarm by accident. You don't need to send the police."
"I-I'm fine," he stuttered. "I tripped the alarm by accident."
"Sir, we have a security team en- route…"
"Unnecessary. False alarm."
"False alarm. I've only had it for two weeks. I'm still learning. I made a mistake. I'm sorry."
"Okay, Mister Hotchner, if you're sure, I'll have dispatch cancel the trip."
"I'm sure. Please. Please don't send them."
"Okay, I'm canceling the trip. Have a nice afternoon, sir! Good bye!"
He watched as Prentiss hit the end key. Prentiss then punched in another series into the phone. This time, her voice wasn't as authoritative. This time… she sounded worried. Aaron knew how that worked as well. Guilt always followed the anger.
"Reid, it's Emily. Look. I'm here with Hotch and there's a situation…What? His other phone? Reid! Slow down. Okay. Find his other phone. Okay. Wait. Found it! Okay. Call Samson. Got it…I'm hanging up now." There was a long pause, silence broken by four beeps and the rustling of paper.
Prentiss was now kneeling in front of him, pressing the back of her hand to his forehead several times and placing her thumb against his wrist. Hotch stared at her.
She had his smaller cell phone pressed firmly to her ear. "Hello, Mister Samson? This is…Reid? What? Why?...Okay, don't answer that. No. He wasn't answering his door so I used the spare key…For God's sake, I'm not Morgan, Reid! I don't kick in doors! The deadbolt and chain weren't on. He was sitting at his desk but didn't turn around when I called to him…Of course, I called the security company and said it was a false alarm…Okay. Okay. No. He jumped out of his chair and fell. He's not hurt…No. Reid…Reid…Spencer, damn it!...Yes, hyperventilating like a panic attack but he seems to be calming down…Yes, pupils are dilated from what I can tell. He's shaking. Clammy skin, racing pulse…" Prentiss stood up and walked to the kitchen. "You want me to read off all the labels?...What? Okay…okay…hold on."
She knelt in front of him and grabbed his hand. "Agent Hotchner? When is the last time you took your medication?"
Aaron sucked in a breath. He held it.
"Agent Hotchner?" Prentiss squeezed his hand. "Agent Hotchner…"
"I-I don't remember. I'm sorry. I don't remember. Please. I don't remember."
"He doesn't remember, Reid," Prentiss reported, but then stroked the top of Hotch's hand gently. "Okay. Okay. Yes. Got it. I'll wait for your call. Okay." She hung up the phone and grasped both of Hotch's hands. "Aaron? It's gonna be alright. I swear to you. We're going to get through this and you're gonna be okay." She sat next to him and gently placed an arm around his shoulders. She pulled him gently to her, stroking his hair. "It's gonna be okay. I swear. It's gonna be okay."
The humiliation burned Hotch to his core.
This new physician presented her CV as she had sat on his couch, waited until he read it, and then asked if he had any questions. Which he did, of course. The exchange was more like Hotch heading a hostile interrogation than a friendly 'so what are your qualifications and how do you know Reid?' session, but this woman was new and Hotch wasn't about to let just anyone into his private life.
He supposed he should be impressed by her training, her credentials… the fact that she was willing to make a house call on a moment's notice.
Hotch was still phenomenally uncomfortable. His weapons were locked in the gun safe on his nightstand. Prentiss had ordered him to clear his code so she could enter her own, which she did after she had ordered him to take a shower. Prentiss hadn't allowed him to redress in a suit; he was stuck with khakis and a button-down but that certainly beat sweatpants and a tee-shirt.
The new physician—Doctor Kincaid—didn't melt under the pressure. She met his gaze and answered every single question, even if some her replies were, "You know I can't answer that, Agent Hotchner, due to doctor-patient confidentiality."
"You've testified before," he observed.
Her lips curved into a smile. "A witness before God as well as the Fifteenth Judicial District."
Hotch didn't laugh.
"You're stalling," she added and then pulled out a clipboard. "I am doing this as a favor for a man whose friendship I greatly value, but my patience for patients only lasts so long. Are you going to allow me to evaluation your condition and make recommendations? It's a yes or no question. I don't want a long-winded explanation on why or why not."
Hotch looked away. He nodded.
"I need a verbal commitment, Agent Hotcher. Those are my rules."
"Yes," he said hoarsely. He looked down at his tightly clasped hands. Prentiss was "running errands" or whatever the hell that meant, but she would be back soon.
"Good. Then. We are going to verbally review your medical history, up to and including the attack that took place here, and then we are going to discuss what happened today."
And Aaron Hotchner did what he was told, because he'd learned long ago that the faster one complied, the quicker things were over.
At least Hotch was allowed to keep his shirt and trousers on. It made the whole situation a tad more tolerable but not by much.
Not by much at all.
The revised drug regime was somewhat overwhelming. Decreasing dosages of something Hotch had been taking paired with increasing dosages of a new medication. The one cup of coffee per day he negotiated for was stipulated that it had to be decaf.
A log book so that when he took his medications, he wrote down when he was taking it, what with, and how he felt at the time.
The promise to return to Doctor Kincaid's office in two days with said log book in hand.
Prentiss typing in the details into her blackberry calendar, and then sending an invitation for him to accept on his. The entry was generic and could have been interpreted by outsiders as Prentiss simply sharing with her boss an appointment with her physician.
The crushing sense of shame because Prentiss witnessed him so weak, so vulnerable, and knowing that she was going to report back to Reid.
Spencer who had friends in places Hotch would have never thought to look. Physicians just didn't make house calls anymore, especially on thirty-minutes notice for a patient she had never heard of.
I'm still listed as your emergency contact, so until you change that, this is my business.
"You need to report this incident to Rossi," Hotch told Prentiss once Kincaid had left. He was sitting in the armchair, she on the couch. He stared at his bare feet on the beige carpet. The embarrassment was devastating but he knew he had to say it. He had to take responsibility. "There's a form…"
"Goddamn it, Hotch!" Prentiss exclaimed as she rocketed to her feet and pulled at her hair. "Will you stop? No one is filing any report!"
He placed both hands on the armrests as if to stand. She stormed up to him, startling him into staying in his seat.
"You listen to me, Aaron Hotchner! You are a good man. The most decent and brave man that I know!" Her eyes were wet with tears. "You have constantly put yourself on the line for every member of this team, every single one of us! You called the Goddamned Vatican so that the man who murdered Matthew would be brought to justice!"
"Prentiss…" he warned.
"Don't you dare 'Prentiss' me!" She took a deep breath and met his gaze. "So now it's our turn to take care of you. And by God, you are going to put up with it no matter if you like it or not."
"I'm doing just…"
"If you say 'fine' so help you, God."
Aaron bit his lips together, staring at his feet. He whispered, "I don't know how to do this."
She knelt down and grasped his hands. "Then don't do it alone."
Aaron stared at the cell phone plugged in to the charger on his nightstand. It was his personal one; Prentiss had confiscated his work one. He supposed he could bully her into giving it back. She was, after all, sleeping on his couch. She insisted, saying it was either her or Garcia, and he relented. He couldn't take colorful fluffy things right now.
You don't want any of them to see you like this.
It was 4:23 a.m.
He picked it up and flipped it open.
He looked at the call log.
Samson. 12:23 p.m. 05:21
Samson. 2:57 p.m. 03:01
Samson. 6:12 p.m. 00:37
Samson. 9:41 p.m. 00:05
Aaron bit his knuckle, hiccupped a sob.
The only reason you weren't committed to Snowden at Fredericksburg.
His hands shook.
He typed: I'M SORRY.
He hit 'send'.
He closed the phone.
He set it on the nightstand.
He grabbed Spencer's pillow and hugged it to his chest.
And for the first time in twenty-three days, allowed himself to cry.
/***/ Finis /***/