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".

/***/

Six years ago, Reid would have spent the evening before the Internal Affairs hearing at Gideon's, insisting that the then-Unit Chief drill him with questions until he could answer them with some semblance of authority and without rambling off-topic.

Six years ago, he would have nervously cycled through his coin and card tricks as he waited to be called for his testimony, trying to burn off some of the energy coiled in his body. Spencer would have recited code sections, cited statistics, and babbled about everything from NASA funding to DC traffic patterns because that was what he did when he was anxious.

Six years ago, Spencer would have stumbled through IA's questions as he desperately tried to ensure none of his answers could be used against Hotch. He would not have been able to look Section Chief Strauss in the eye as he gave his statements. He would have dreaded returning to the waiting area where the other agents were, believing that they convinced themselves that he had ratted out their Unit Chief because he was politically motivated.

Six years ago… Jason Gideon was the BAU Unit Chief, Aaron Hotchner his second-in-command. Morgan had just finished his second year on the team, Reid and JJ their first. Their technical analyst's name was Harar and Regina "Regg" Shevlin rounded out the group with two more years on the team than Morgan and three on Reid and JJ. Morgan called Reid 'probie' and tended to treat him like the annoying little brother he never had.

Six years ago…

Reid wasn't the same person he was six years ago. Thank God.

Strauss tried to shake his confidence with her biting, rapid-fire questions, imposing tone, and sharp looks, but she was nowhere near as terrifying as Aaron Hotchner in 'take your lunch money,' cross-examination prosecutor mode. Reid recalled the first time Hotch had coached him on giving testimony.

I'd make notes to myself in short-hand about each of the witnesses, so I could tailor my approach to them on the cross. The DNFWs were the most challenging.

Ah, DNFWs?

'Do not fuck with.' And that's what I want every defense attorney to think of when they see you on the stand. This is how you're going to achieve it…

Reid made eye-contact with each of the panel members as he answered the questions succinctly and truthfully. And when Strauss demanded if those were the exact words that were used, Reid met her hard gaze with a cool one of his own. "I have an eidetic memory."

He didn't spit the words out or say them condescendingly. He didn't launch into an explanation of what it was. He just stated it matter-of-factly and waited for her reaction. Strauss's features pinched. One of the panel members nodded his head, obviously impressed, and made a notation on the legal pad in front of him.

Reid wondered if it was 'DNFW.' He hoped so.

/***/

Aaron wrinkled his nose at the overwhelming stench of lilies. Haley's closed casket was surrounded by floral and plant arrangements, but there wasn't a spray of roses on the bottom half of her casket. Nothing with ribbons declaring "Sister" or "Daughter" or "Mother." Nothing gauche like "Ex-Wife"; Jessica didn't want her sister to be reduced to labels. She insisted on white roses to be carried by the mourners and placed on Haley's casket at the conclusion of the services. Aaron didn't argue.

He sat at the back of the parlor, index cards of his eulogy clutched in his hand. Jack was curled up beside him on the padded bench, already tired from the early morning start and from yet another round of explanations on why mommy wasn't coming home. Aaron sighed as the guilt washed over him yet again.

All those speeches he'd given over the years, how it wasn't the survivors fault, felt so hypocritical now. It was his fault, no matter what Dave had said in that alley in Boston.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jessica walk over and sit down next to him. Up until now, their conversations had focused on logistics of the memorial service and funeral plus reviewing Haley's will and finances. Despite the divorce, Aaron was still listed as the executor of her estate and the primary beneficiary on her life insurance policies and retirement plan, which had surprised him. Jessica had obviously been surprised as well, but they had pushed past that in order to plan the funeral.

He held out the index cards to her. "This is what I would like to say."

She accepted them. He stared at the ground as she silently flipped through them. Finally, she muttered, "You just had to mention Pirates of Penzance."

"I didn't know what else to say," he replied defensively. He glanced at the casket before focusing his gaze on the back of the chair in front of him.

She handed him back the cards. "You made her out to be a saint, Aaron."

"What did you expect?" He couldn't temper his indignant tone. He clamped his mouth shut.

"I expected you to tell me to go to hell for making you write the damn thing in the first place," she retorted. "But you didn't. You wouldn't." Jessica looked over at him. "Do you always do whatever a Brooks woman tells you to do?"

Aaron stiffened. His words were low, hard. "I swore that I would spend the rest of my life making this up to her. And if speaking at her funeral because you asked me to is part of it, so be it."

She shook her head. "You're going to spend the rest of your life…"

"She's dead because of me," he hissed. "This is not the time or the place to have this discussion."

Jessica shuddered and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. She folded her hands in lap. After a few minutes, she broke the silence. "You still haven't seen her."

Aaron glanced down, relieved that Jack was still asleep. "I don't want to remember her in a coffin."

"Is that what you tell other families?"

"Yes," Aaron answered. He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the battered photograph, the one Foyet had left. It still had a bloody thumbprint on it. He showed it to her. "That's how I choose to remember her," he continued, meeting her gaze with a solemn one of his own. "Smiling. With Jack. Not…" He gestured towards the casket. "Not this. I can't. I won't."

She looked at the photograph and then her composure broke. She slumped beside him, biting her fist to keep from bawling aloud. Aaron dropped the photo and pulled her tightly against him. As she clung to him, his own tears streamed down his face.

He wanted to say that he was sorry, that he never meant for any of this to happen, but the words stuck in his throat.

"Her hair is wrong," Jessica suddenly told him between soft sobs. "When I saw her this morning…that's all I could think of. Her hair is wrong. You know how Haley is about her hair."

Shame washed over Aaron; he hadn't gone near the open casket with Jessica and the mortician, making the lame excuse that someone had to be with Jack and that he didn't want Jack to see Haley's dead body. In Aaron's opinion, the boy was too young and wouldn't understand why 'mommy won't wake up.' Thankfully, Jessica had agreed. However, he was surprised to hear Jessica's comment, since he'd selected the best mortician, best parlor, best everything

Suddenly, Jessica pulled away, pulling out a handkerchief from her pocket and wiping her eyes. Aaron took the opportunity to do the same. He could hear Jack's question now, If Heaven is such a good place, why are you and Aunt Jessie crying because Mommy's there? He let out a slow breath and gently patted Jack's shoulder.

Aaron rarely allowed himself to feel overwhelmed; the Job didn't allow for that. But here and now, staring at Haley's gunmetal gray casket, he felt like he was barely treading water.

"We'll get through this, won't we?" Jessica asked quietly.

He looked over and met her teary gaze. "We have to."

/***/

Aaron's eulogy was stunning.

Beautiful. Dedicated. Heart-wrenching. One that, years later, someone would say to Jack, "Your father dearly loved your mother."

Spencer was there when Aaron had written it. For three nights in a row at a little after three a.m.—The Devil's Hour—the man sat at his desk and worked. Aaron always looked a little paler, a little more haunted, when he called it quits and stumbled back to the bedroom, back to where Jack was curled up on Spencer's side of the bed while Spencer had taken up residence on the couch.

The funeral was the first time Spencer had heard it, and he realized right away what the underlying message was: an apology. While Jessica's speech had been more about Haley's life history, Aaron's had been a tribute and Spencer realized that, despite everything, Aaron really never had stopped loving Haley in some capacity.

Haley's mother had been too ill to attend; the cancer treatments left her too weak to leave the hospice center. Perhaps it was for the better. As he walked away from the burial site, giving Aaron privacy with his son before the wake, Spencer's mind stuck on the loop of the times he'd visited victim's parents, when some of the mothers (and the occasional father) would beat their breasts and declare that no parent should ever outlive his or her child.

Aaron's brother hadn't been able to make it in either. It had taken two days to track down the younger Hotchner, who apparently was hiking through the French Alps without a cell phone. It took another day for Sean to finally call back. Aaron had insisted that Sean stay and finish his internship and his brother had reluctantly agreed.

Sitting at the table with the rest of the Team, Spencer watched Jessica match Aaron's stalwart presence, accepting condolences with the same dogged determination as Aaron. Surprisingly, she buffered Aaron from the more angry outbursts by the Brooks family, second and third cousins who apparently were never too keen on Aaron to begin with.

Admittedly, Spencer was surprised that no one on the team had gone up to pay their respects yet. Strauss and a few other directors had, and then left. He surreptitiously glanced around and realized that the rest of the BAU, including Anderson and Alan who had been pallbearers, hadn't approached Aaron either.

It didn't make sense. Spencer's brow furrowed. He tilted his head slightly as he mentally ran through Christian burial rites and funeral etiquette. There was nothing that should have kept them from expressing their condolences, aside from awkwardness. Individuals would be uncomfortable, not the entire group. There shouldn't have been hesitation. Hell, they should have been first in line to offer them so that they could leave. No one should want to spend an evening at a funeral home if they weren't obligated to, even if there was an open bar and decent food.

Rossi… No. That wasn't fair. Dave hadn't moved from his seat. A man Aaron considered his best friend. Spencer looked over and was surprised when Dave met his gaze. The other man then jutted his chin ohsoslightly in Aaron's direction.

It was the first time in a very long time that Spencer Reid felt so…stupid.

They were waiting for him.

The entire BAU—except Strauss, of course—was waiting for him.

Fuck.

Spencer swallowed, hoping it wasn't an audible gulp, as he pushed his chair back and adjusted his grip on his cane. He heard the shuffles and scrapes of chairs from the rest at his table. He willed himself not to blush as he began walking towards Aaron. Dave was to his left, Morgan to his right. Prentiss, JJ, Garcia, Will and Kevin fell in line behind.

He felt like he was leading a gang.

He almost laughed.

The thought died when Aaron's attention focused on him, then on the group he was leading. Spencer watched as Aaron's spine straightened and his mind filled in the sound-effects of armor clicking into place. What else was he expecting?

He wanted to say something, offer his condolences…anything…but those words had already been said in various ways over the past four days. Aaron grimaced then nodded. Once Spencer was close enough, he offered his hand—something more personal felt so out of place here—and Aaron grasped it firmly. He pulled Spencer forward slightly and then…he touched Spencer's elbow lightly before his hand slid up to wrap around Spencer's upper arm.

The squeeze was hard. Bruising.

In the same place and with the same force as the past three nights, after Aaron had woken up screaming Jack's name and it took a children's story read aloud by Spencer to get the two Hotchners back to sleep. He found himself pulled forward a little and they exchanged an awkward hug. Strange that the clasping of his arm conveyed much more than the embrace.

Aaron released him and Spencer stepped back. It was then he noticed that the group had formed a tight semi-circle around him and Aaron, a shield from the rest of the crowd. Spencer blinked a few times, stunned at the level of unspoken support and camaraderie from them.

Then, Morgan began, "Hotch…" his voice catching and he shook his head. He held out a hand and the handshake was firm; the two men exchanged pats on their upper arms.

"Thank you," Aaron said softly. "Thank you."

Spencer didn't stick around to hear what Aaron had to say to the rest of them, or to see if he shook their hands or gave them hugs. He retreated back to the table. He wondered how bad tonight was going to be. He wondered if burying Haley would mean some of the demons would be buried as well.

He doubted it.

Then, JJ's phone rang and from the way she answered it, everyone at the table knew what was going on. Spencer found himself glaring up at the ceiling. No. No. He glanced over to see Aaron watching them from the balcony. The other man gave a small nod and turned his back to the group; Spencer wanted to mouth that he was sorry but realized that would be the last thing Aaron wanted to hear.

As he stood to leave, he glanced over his shoulder, watching as Dave and Aaron talked briefly. He wanted to be the one who told Aaron, but knew that Dave was the better choice. The men were good friends. They didn't have the ambiguity of a relationship that Aaron and Spencer had. Still, he sighed.

They had a case.

/***/

Jessica had only been around once or twice when Aaron had been called away on cases, the most memorable, of course, being his birthday. He remembered Haley giving him permission to leave and him telling Jessica, You heard her. She said it was all right. Even though he knew it wasn't true, knew that he would be spending every second he was home again making it up to Haley.

Jessica's biting, You're one hell of a profiler, had stung like she intended.

Odd that once the marriage had imploded, Jessica had seemed a bit more on his side. Maybe she knew about Haley's affairs. Maybe she knew about those other things. It had always been hard to tell just how close the Brooks sisters were. Sometimes they seemed almost identical in their beliefs and stances, while at others, they were polar opposites. Over the past year, it was Jessica who routinely sent Aaron photos of Jack, usually with Haley. It was Jessica who sent videos or emails about Jack's latest adventures.

Still, Aaron was surprised she had asked to come home with Aaron and Jack after the wake. Then, Jessica confessed, "I can't deal with Mother tonight."

The cancer had made Mrs. Brooks even more self-centered and needy than she had been before. The few hours Aaron had sat with her, ready to answer any and all questions surrounding Haley's death, Mrs. Brooks had only talked about her next appointments with the oncologist, financial difficulties, how lousy a caretaker Jessica was, and her pain. The only times she had mentioned Haley was to curse her for only calling once in the last six months and that she was even worse that Jessica when it came to 'respecting her mother.' Aaron knew the difference between denial and narcissism; Mrs. Brooks was definitely the latter. Instead of mourning the loss of her youngest daughter, Mrs. Brooks focused on herself. He didn't blame Jessica for wanting to avoid that.

Jack was in bed. The lights in the apartment were on low. Jessica was powering her way through a bottle of red wine from the memorial service. She had commented, Who the fuck gives wine at a damn funeral? as she had opened it. Aaron recognized the name on the tag as one of the numerous Brooks cousins. It had been the only alcohol on the table where people had dropped off container upon container of food. Jessica agreed to take half because there was no way that Aaron and Jack could consume it all before it went bad.

Now, sitting on his couch, Jessica held her glass in one hand, other arm protectively across her abdomen. The photos from the wake were on his coffee table. She took another sip. She looked over at him, squinting as if to see how much wine he had left, and then shook her head.

"You know? She told me about them."

It stopped Aaron cold. It made him twist in his seat. He winced when he heard the plural pronoun. Them. Haley's lovers. The ones that he had completely missed. It put the whole 'You're one hell of a profiler' comment in a different light.

"Please…don't do this," he found himself pleading.

She ignored him. "They didn't look a thing like you."

"I don't need to know." He itched to get up off the couch, to pace…but couldn't. "I don't want to know. I don't want to know who they were, if they were there today. I don't want to know, Jessica."

"I didn't want to judge but I did," Jessica continued, as if she didn't hear him. "And for all your faults…for all the stupid-assed decisions you made…" She reached over and grabbed his hand. She held it tightly. "I know how she treated you, Aaron. She didn't tell me but I could see it. Hell, I grew up with it, okay?"

Aaron's stomach lurched hard. He bit his lips together. He pulled his hand away. This time, he did get up off the couch. He set his wine glass down. He ground out, "I loved her."

Jessica met his gaze. "I know."

He glared. "Are you finished?"

She had tears in her eyes. She looked away. She finished the wine and poured herself another full glass.

"You're not driving home," he told her flatly, arms tightly across his chest.

"If I go home, I'm going to open that bottle of whiskey and do something really stupid, so I thought I'd crash on your couch," she replied, tucking her feet under her. "Jack said that's what your friend Spencer did. He says Spencer doesn't need a book to tell a story." Jessica swirled the liquid in the glass. "You're not going to kick me out. You're too much a gentleman to do that."

"I'm too much of an FBI agent to do that," he shot back. "You're drunk. Vulnerable."

"Perfect victim," she whispered.

"Exactly."

Her mouth dropped open. She tilted her head to the side as if recalling something. "It's always like that, isn't it?"

Aaron knew that Jessica didn't play the word games that Haley did, but he was still wary especially after the bombs she had dropped just minutes ago. He didn't want this argument, not now. Not with Jessica. Not with Jack in the other room, because he knew his temper and her temper and God, they would argue just like he and Haley used to. "What is?"

Jessica eyed him critically. Her voice was low. "It doesn't stop, does it? Those phone calls. That call to duty. It doesn't stop."

"No, it doesn't."

"There's always another sick bastard out there, fucking up people's lives. There's some other family doing what we just did today."

"Yes."

Jessica curled her feet up under her. She looked away. "Jesus, Aaron."

/***/

It was almost nine in the evening by the time Spencer got to Aaron's apartment. They had gotten back from the case earlier in the day, but paperwork, a journal submission deadline, and such mundane things as bill paying had kept him busy. Plus, exhaustion made the lure of staying at his apartment very appealing. It wasn't until Rossi called around eight and stated, "I found him talking to Haley's grave."

Shit.

Maybe Dave knew that the only person Aaron was willing to open up to was Spencer. He didn't call beforehand, either; he simply showed up and knocked on the door.

A shadow passed over the peephole and Spencer heard the rattle of the door chain followed by the deadbolt and doorknob. Aaron opened the door and gestured for Spencer to come inside.

"Jack's asleep," Aaron said quietly once Spencer was inside. He closed and locked the door.

"I know." Spencer turned and faced him. "I wanted to see how you were doing."

The other man shuffled over to and sat on the couch, gesturing toward it. Once Spencer had joined him, Aaron folded his hands, resting his forearms on his knees and bent his head. Aaron let out a long sigh. "Strauss offered me retirement with full benefits."

Spencer's mouth dropped open. Well, that explained the reason for Rossi's phone call. His temper flared—couldn't that bitch just give it a rest for once?—and he fought to control it. He was unused to being angry and indignant on someone's behalf…not on such a personal, visceral level.

It was then that Aaron glanced over, flashing a small, sharp grimace. His gaze then went from Jack's room to the flat-screen TV. "I'd like to think she did it out of genuine empathy and understanding, because she's a fellow parent." He didn't have to say, It's unlikely those were her reasons. "I thought about it. I thought about Jack…How in the world I can juggle him and the Job?" He let out a harsh laugh. "Haley had a full-time job, but she worked normal business hours. She was able to pick him up from daycare whenever…always…always…

"Jack deserves a stable childhood, especially now. Especially after…" Aaron shook his head. "That's all I could think about. And then Jessica…" Again, there was that harsh laugh. He bit his lips together. He looked down at his hands. Spencer wanted to reach out to him; he wasn't sure what was stopping him.

"Jessica said she'd help out," Aaron said. "She said that with everything that has been taken from me, she didn't want my Job to be taken from me as well." He leaned back on the couch. "She then reminded me that Haley was nine and she was fourteen when their father died. Their mother was forced to return to work and had to give up her garden club. She said she knew it wasn't the same…"

Spencer nodded, the information providing a newer insight on Haley and the dynamics of the marriage.

"Jessica asked me if it ever stopped. Us being called away. If there was always one more bastard out there…I told her yes." Aaron looked away. "So, I went to Haley's grave today. I asked her if it was okay."

Spencer almost said, That's what Dave told me, but held back. He was pissed that Dave hadn't included the part about the retirement.

He must have tensed up because Aaron said softly, "It's normal, Spence. Talking to the deceased. Seeking permission. Confessing sins."

"I didn't say that it wasn't normal," Spencer replied.

"You're upset."

"I'm concerned."

"You think I should have taken the retirement," Aaron stated flatly, suddenly crossing his arms over his chest.

"I didn't say that."

"You grew up without a father…"

"Stop!" Spencer interrupted. "My situation was totally different. Totally different!"

"Don't shout," Aaron warned.

He closed his eyes and reigned in his temper. Aaron was right. The last thing Jack needed was to hear two adults arguing. The last thing they needed was an argument. Quietly, "This is not my decision to make. It's yours. I can't tell you if it's right or wrong." Spencer opened his eyes and met Aaron's gaze again. "What I can tell you is that I will support whatever decision you make." He placed his hand, palm down on the cushion between them. "Regardless."

Aaron stared at his hand. He frowned. "Jack's my priority."

"And he should be."

"I don't know how to do any of this."

"I don't either."

"What you're asking…"

"I'm asking to be your friend," Spencer interrupted, his voice soft. "That hasn't changed."

"But you're expecting me to…" Aaron paused then looked up, clearly expecting to be cut off. When Spencer remained silent, he let out a slow breath. "What are you expecting?" He jutted his chin towards Spencer's hand.

"For you to give this, whatever it is now and whatever it will be, time," Spencer answered. He met Aaron's gaze and didn't flinch. There were so many things he could say, but he knew that sometimes, silence was his best ally.

"Time."

"Yes."

For a long moment, Aaron didn't reply. Finally, "I think I know how to do that."

/*** Finis ***/