Title: Triggers & Ties 10: Haunting Purgatory

Author: Kuria Dalmatia

Rating/Warnings: FRM/R (profanity, discussion of death and abuse)

Characters/Pairing: Hotch/Reid, the Team

Summary: Broken wasn't a word that was supposed to be associated with Aaron Hotchner. It just wasn't. But as Spencer sat next to him on the couch, listening to the one-sided conversation Aaron had with Jessica Brooks, it was the only word that seemed appropriate.

Word Count: ~6,500

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.

VERSION: July/August 2010

TIMELINES/SPOILERS: Season 5, between "100" and "Retaliation".

COMMENTS: When Haley was in witness protection, she called her mother. Because of it, she and Jack were forced to change locations. In true "one-mentioned, quickly forgotten" fashion, Mrs. Brooks was a no-show at the graveside eulogy and the funeral home. She also wasn't mentioned in later episodes when Jessica is pitching in to help out Aaron. Therefore, I created a reason why she wasn't there. The same with Sean "the Chef" Hotchner.

As far as Jessica, I was honestly surprised how supportive she was of Hotch at Haley's funeral and beyond. Grief does odd things to people, so I took some liberty with the Brooks' background. Jessica may have been the mediator during Hotch and Haley's divorce and perhaps may have been more on Aaron's side than on her sister's.

The pallbearers for Haley's funeral were: Rossi, Morgan, Will, Kevin, Anderson, and no-name "BAU Agent" who has appeared in at least five episodes of CM over the years. The actor's name is Alan Muetin so I've named him Agent Alan.

THANKS TO: capybara_sun and vanessasquest for suggestions on children's books. To ice_ziggee for the beta and the push to include the Jessica conversations, to lady_of_scarlet for the beta and the crit, to MomBailey1973 for the hand-holding during the initial draft, and to pabzi for the beta. Any mistakes left are 100% mine.

***/***

C.S. Lewis said, "It is hard to have patience with people who say 'There is no death' or 'Death doesn't matter.' There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible."

***/***

The first thing Reid thought of when he heard the gun shot over the speakerphone was not, Oh my God, Foyet killed Haley.

It was: Jack is going to be terrified of loud noises for a long, long time.

/***/

In some ways, it was just like his dreams, right down to the bloodstain on the carpet and the drag marks leading upstairs.

Hotch adjusted his grip on his gun and the flashlight.

Clear.

In some ways, it matched the profile he had painstakingly developed over the past six months, right down to the final confrontation being in the master bedroom.

Clear.

Hotch saw the tips of the shoes in the full-length mirror.

It all became hazy after that.

***/***

When Reid heard the shouts of "Hotch! It's over!" as he entered the house, he closed his eyes briefly and his stomach twisted in knots. It was uncharitable, perhaps, to think, Please let it be Haley, but Reid knew if Jack was dead, Aaron Hotchner would be destroyed.

He held out hope that Jack was 'working the case' and safe.

What kind of father am I when I'm teaching my son how to hide from bad guys in his own home?

The responsible kind, Aaron.

The furnishings in the house had changed since the last time Reid had been here. The original divorce settlement had decreed that the home was to be put up for sale with the proceeds split between Aaron and Haley. Aaron had been allowed to live in the home until it had been sold. However, with the real estate market so abysmal, there had been no legitimate buyers. Instead, the settlement had been reworked so that Haley and Jack would live there, and the mortgage would stay in both Aaron's and Haley's name until she either purchased the property outright or she and Jack moved.

JJ watched him, waiting. Reid jutted his chin towards the stairs. "First door on your left. The office. There's a window seat with storage."

She nodded and sprinted upstairs. He followed, hating that he couldn't dash up the stairs as well.

If only… if only…

As Reid reached the top of the stairs, he could hear Aaron say, "…with Miss Jareau."

The wealth of emotions in Aaron's tone was heartbreaking. He watched as Jack went to JJ, she lifted him, and the boy wrapped his arms around her neck. As she passed to go downstairs, Reid brushed his hand lightly across Jack's back, the relief almost overwhelming. JJ bit her lips together and then left.

Aaron knelt there, silent. Bloodied. Bruised. Gore on his shirt and pants.

Spencer was frozen in the doorway… unable to limp forward, to clasp Aaron's shoulder, to wrap his arms around him and whisper, "I'm sorry"—because he truly was—over and over until he was hoarse.

Instead, he watched as emotions crashed over Aaron.

Swift.

Vicious.

Undeserved for a man who dedicated his life to saving others, to bringing the wicked to justice.

A man who consistently played by the rules.

And only when Aaron stood and faced him, the utter devastation and horror so plain on his face, did Spencer realize his own inaction was precisely what Aaron needed. Spencer was Aaron's shield, his protector… something Spencer rarely saw himself in the role of. For those few moments, he was grateful that he hadn't been able to move.

It was the first time he'd ever felt that way.

As Aaron passed by him, presumably to go back to Haley, he grabbed Spencer by the forearm and squeezed. Hard. His other hand came up to briefly touch the back of Spencer's upper arm.

The unspoken gesture of gratitude.

Spencer could only nod, not trusting his voice.

If only… If only…

***/***

He didn't think Jack understood.

Hell, Aaron didn't understand.

It wasn't as if Aaron had never explained to a young child that Daddy or Mommy or a brother or a sister or someone wasn't coming home. He never thought he would ever have that talk with Jack.

It was supposed to be Haley who told Jack, "Daddy's in Heaven now, watching over you."

Instead, it was Aaron who was kneeling in front of his only son, talking about angels and wings and trying his best for his voice not to break.

Jack furrowed his brow for a few seconds and then he brightened a little as if he figured something out. "Is Mommy with Grandpa Brooks and Uncle Paul now?"

Aaron blinked rapidly, stunned by child logic and the simplicity of his boy's statement. He choked out, "Yes. Yes, she is."

"Okay." Jack held out his arms for a hug and Aaron pulled him close. Maybe Jack did understand. Or maybe he just thought Haley was going to come back tomorrow and pick up him up.

Aaron looked up and found Spencer's watchful gaze upon him. Spencer had driven him and Jack home after… Aaron closed his eyes. He steadied his breathing. God…

Spencer's voice was hushed, hesitant. "Would you like me to, ah…"

"Please. Stay," Aaron interrupted as he slowly stood with Jack in his arms. His cell phone rang and he grimaced. It had been hours… hours? God, hours. His hands hurt; his knuckles were still swollen.

It's over, Hotch! It's over!

His shoulders were sore. His back ached. His hip throbbed from when he had tumbled down the stairs and slammed into the wall.

"Let it go to voicemail," Spencer suggested, calm yet firm. It was his 'comfort the victim' tone. Aaron wanted to be pissed—he wasn't a victim, damn it—yet a blankness had settled over him. It terrified him, this dead feeling, but Jack wrapped his arms around his neck and all Aaron could do was hold on. "We can return the calls after dinner."

The pronoun caught Aaron off-guard. He sucked in a sharp breath. He closed his eyes. He turned his head away. He gripped his son tighter, earning a squeak before he loosened his grip and set his boy down.

You don't have to do this alone.

Aaron coughed a little before finally getting out, "Okay."

***/***

Broken wasn't a word that was supposed to be associated with Aaron Hotchner. It just wasn't. But as Spencer sat next to him on the couch, listening to the one-sided conversation Aaron had with Jessica Brooks, it was the only word that seemed appropriate.

The evening had been oddly domestic. Spencer made dinner—blue box macaroni and cheese and dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, the latter just plain wrong in Spencer's opinion—and Aaron and Jack cleaned up the dishes. Jack had a bath, Aaron read him a story, and then Jack went to bed.

He watched as Aaron took his medications and made notations in the small journal that was kept near the pill bottles, noting the stiff set of Aaron's shoulders as he wrote. It was obvious that Aaron resented having to list what he took, when, and how he was feeling; Spencer had felt the same way recovering from Anthrax and from his gunshot wound. Spencer was curious as to what emotion Aaron had chosen to describe his mood, but wasn't going to violate the man's privacy to find out.

The Emergency Contact trump card had already been played once and Spencer knew he had to be judicious with future uses.

Now, Spencer listened as Aaron spoke to Haley's sister, the cell phone pressed tightly against Aaron's ear.

"…don't know if it's my place, Jessica…" Aaron's words were hushed, flat. Tired. Defeated.

Spencer tried his best not to shiver. He knew that Prentiss and Rossi had gone to tell Haley's sister in person about what happened; JJ and Morgan would wait until they heard from Prentiss and Rossi to see if they were going to tell Haley's mother, or if Jessica would. Haley's mother was in a nursing home and in the final stages of lung cancer, which had been why Haley had broken the 'no contact' rule while in witness protection.

"…No. I understand. I'll call the funeral home tomorrow morning and set up a time for us to meet…"

Unexpected anger flashed through Spencer, anger that, with all Aaron had been through, the Brooks family apparently expected him to arrange his ex-wife's funeral. Sure, Spencer understood the drain of caring for a sick parent, but this…

Fingertips briefly brushed across his sleeve.

It startled him.

Spencer looked down and saw Aaron quickly withdraw his hand and it settle flat on the couch. He wasn't sure how to interpret the gesture. Did Aaron suddenly need physical reassurance that Spencer was still there? That Aaron wasn't alone? Or had Aaron picked up on Spencer's reaction and was silently asking for him to understand? He let out a breath and leaned back.

You're the one who said, 'we,' he chided himself.

But there was nowhere else he wanted to be.

***/***

The scream woke Aaron up.

But it wasn't Jack calling out for his mommy or daddy.

It was himself shouting for Jack.

Aaron bolted upright. Twice he tried to untangle himself from the bed sheets as he pawed at the gun safe. He could hear the thump of a cane on the carpet and his first name being called.

You're safe. You're home. You're home.

"Jack!" he cried out again and struggled to get out of bed. He was uncoordinated. Everything hurt.

"Daddy?" The boy's voice stopped him cold.

Aaron looked up to see his son standing in the doorway of his bedroom, rubbing his eyes. Aaron released a harsh breath as his body finally decided to cooperate. He slid out of bed, onto his knees on the floor. He held open his arms and Jack immediately ran to him. He hugged his boy hard and chanted, "It's gonna be okay, buddy. It's gonna be okay."

"Did you have a bad dream?" Jack asked.

He choked out a laugh as he released his son. "Yeah. I had a bad dream."

"When I have bad dreams, Mommy sleeps in my bed." Jack tilted his head slightly. "I can sleep in your bed."

Aaron bit his lips briefly, cursing the fact that it was supposed to be him comforting his son, not the other way around. "I'd like that, Jack."

Jack nodded sagely. "S'okay. Nothing to be 'shamed of."

He forced himself to smile a little. "I know. Thanks." He ruffled Jack's hair a little as he stood. He looked over to see Spencer standing in the doorway, watching. Aaron felt the humiliation burn his cheeks. "I woke you up."

"I wasn't sleeping," Spencer replied, concern clear in his expression and voice. "Jack's right. It's nothing to be ashamed of."

The younger Hotchner suddenly asked, "Will you read us a story, Spencer?"

"Jack, it's late…" Aaron began, but Spencer quickly cut him off.

"Let me get the chair from the other room. Do you have a specific book that you'd like to hear?"

"Spencer…"

"A Bear Called Paddington! Mommy always reads that to me when I have a bad dream."

Aaron watched as Spencer nodded and then limped out of the room. Clearly, he'd been overruled. Jack clambered into the bed, crawled over to Spencer's side, and patted the spot next to him. His face was serious as he said, "You have to be under the covers before the story starts."

Aaron coughed a little and then climbed into bed. He allowed Jack to prod him into place: him flat on his back and Jack curled against his side, head on his chest. Aaron pulled up the sheets and the blanket, relieved nothing was sweat-soaked. He looked over when he heard a bump against the doorframe. His desk chair was being rolled into the room by Spencer but there was no book tucked under his arm. Aaron opened his mouth to say something but Spencer shook his head sharply once.

"I couldn't find your book, Jack," Spencer said as he positioned the chair between the wall and Aaron's nightstand. "But I can still tell you and your dad the story. Would you like that?"

"How do you know the story if you don't have the book?" Jack asked.

"When I was a little boy, my parents would read me stories, too," Spencer explained as he settled down in the chair. "Paddington was one of my favorites, so I remembered all the words."

"Wow!"

"Wow," Aaron echoed because honestly he never thought Spencer had been read such… mundane was the only word he could think of. Mundane works. And for some reason, his vocal chords decided to betray him as he stated hoarsely, "I thought you only knew the classics."

Spencer hitched an eyebrow. He quirked a small grin. "Paddington is a classic." He settled back in the chair, his long legs stretched out. "Now, you'll need to close your eyes so you can remember the pictures as I tell the story, okay?"

Jack snuggled harder against Aaron, who continued to stare at Spencer. For all Spencer's claims on not knowing how to be a parent…

Spencer winked as if to say, I learned that one from you. He folded his hands over his stomach. "You need to close your eyes, too, Aaron."

So Aaron did… and tried his best to recall images of brown stuffed bears with floppy hats and worn out suitcases instead of pale skin mottled with blood or a man's skull cracked open like an egg.

/***/