Title: Here There be Monsters
Prompt by katewallace
Author: Kuria Dalmatia
Rating/Warnings: R (profanity, adult content). Spoilers for Season 5.
Characters/Pairing: Hotch/Rossi, Jack
Summary: Aaron Hotchner was standing on his doorstep with his four-year-old son clutched in his arms. It wasn't going to be a good night.
ARCHIVING: my LJ... anyone else? Please ask first.
COMMENTS: My gift to katewallace because she correctly guessed the Star Trek: the Next Generation reference in the "Y is for Yours". For those interested, "L. Anna Kestra, MD Psychiatrist" was a nod to ship's counselor Deanna Troi. Her mother was Lwaxanna and her sister, Kestra, was mentioned in "Dark Page".
File this under "probably not what katewallace was expecting but what my muses decided to give me with the prompt: Hotch/Rossi, Rossi's reaction to Aaron being stabbed or Haley's death". Yeah. Thanks, muses. A fun, fluffy fic would be kinda nice once in a while.
Finally, thanks to StarofOberon for a delicious story called "Midnight Mic: The George Foyet Confession Tape" which I belatedly realized where I got the inspiration for part of this story.
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.
The first words out of Aaron's mouth were, "I know I should have called first…" but then he trailed off and stared down at the welcome mat.
It took a few seconds for Dave's brain to kick into action. It was nine in the evening, the team was on stand-down for the next five days, and Aaron Hotchner was standing on his doorstep with his four-year-old son clutched in his arms. Jack's cheeks were tear-stained; Aaron's weren't but his eyes were bloodshot and his skin a sickening shade. Jack was dressed in footed cowboy pajamas and Aaron in jeans and a faded Georgetown sweatshirt.
"You're always welcome here, Aaron," Dave said and gestured them in. Aaron ducked his head once and then obeyed, carrying his son into the house and then stopping by the coat rack as Mudgie trotted up to greet them.
The dog let out a welcoming 'roo', not quite a bark but not quite a howl. It was an odd sound, one the dog only made when Aaron came over. Jack was sucking his thumb and clutching a green stuffed dragon. He looked down and then held out the toy for Mudgie to sniff. The dog did and then circled Aaron twice, as if trying to herd the man and child further in to the house.
Dave wanted to ask what the hell was going on, because Aaron showing up on his doorstep with his kid in tow just wasn't Aaron. Sure, Aaron had occasionally shown up on his doorstep, looking like death warmed over, but never looking so…lost.
Instead, he touched Aaron's elbow, took the keys from the man's hand, and suggested, "Go ahead and sit down. I'll get your bags from the car."
Dave didn't need to be an expert profiler to know that it was obvious that Aaron needed to stay the night here. Something had spooked Aaron badly enough to pick up everything and drive forty-five minutes to Dave's place. Something had spooked Aaron badly enough to override all that "I'm sorry, Dave. We can't be in a relationship anymore" nonsense he'd been spouting since Foyet stabbed him ten months ago, which had morphed into "We can't be in a relationship because you could be killed because of me" bullshit that Aaron had declared the morning of Haley's funeral.
Dave retrieved the bags from the backseat, locked the car, and came back inside. He set both bags by the front door, engaged the deadbolt and then tapped in the codes to his security alarm. He didn't need to glance over his shoulder to know that Aaron had selected the one chair where he could watch the front and the back door.
Nerves made Dave's belly twinge, so he took a few seconds to center himself and offer up a prayer that he would have the strength to deal with whatever was going on. He turned and walked into the living room, where Aaron sat with Jack still clinging to him. Mudgie sat next to the pair, Aaron's hand resting on the dog's head.
In any other circumstance, it would have been a lovely photograph.
Tonight? It was downright terrifying.
As a rule, Aaron Hotchner didn't spook easily. He didn't allow himself to be spooked. It was one thing about this job that all the good profilers could do: resist the temptation to be scared easily.
Dave walked up to them. He wasn't that good at the parenting shit, mainly because he didn't have much experience. The little he had was courtesy of nieces and nephews, and that was limited for a variety of reasons. He wasn't as close to his family as he'd like to be and he'd been trying to change that.
All he knew now was that Jack was obviously tired, he needed to talk to Aaron alone, and one way to achieve that was to put Jack to bed. "Hey there, sport," he addressed Jack and ruffled his hair. "How would you like to sleep in a big boy bed tonight?"
Aaron twitched a little, probably remembering the argument they had over Dave wanting to remodel parts of the house. An office for Aaron. A bedroom for Jack. Jesus, Aaron had been adamantly against the whole thing, which had led to a blistering argument about commitment. He forced those memories from his mind.
Jack nodded a little and when Dave opened his arms, the little boy released his hold on Aaron and leaned toward Dave. It wasn't hard to balance the kid and Dave turned around and began walking towards the stairs. He could hear Aaron rustling behind him and the jingle of Mudgie's tags.
The guest room was right next to the master bedroom. Dave quietly pointed out the bathroom, flicking on the lights so that Jack knew where it was. He then entered the guest room, turning on the bedside lamp before pulling back the covers with one arm. Jack's grip tightened on his shirt so Dave straightened up and offered the little boy what he hoped to be a warm, reassuring smile.
"What do you need, champ?"
Jack looked at him, tears brimming in his eyes, and then he quietly asked, "Are there monsters in the closet?"
"I promise you, my closets are monster-free, but you know what? We're going to check them out just to be sure." Dave walked them over to the door, opened it, and then took his time inspecting the contents. Mudgie trotted up and then began sniffing the floor.
Jack focused completely on the dog.
Then, Mudgie did the oddest thing. He kept his nose to the floor and inspected the whole damn bedroom, as if trying to track a rabbit or a bird. Dave glanced over to see Aaron standing in the doorway, still looking haunted as hell, but keenly watching the dog. When Mudgie finished checking out the room, he trotted over to the area rug on the side of the bed, circled twice, and then sat down.
Ears perked. Head raised. Alert. As if to say, I'm ready for guard duty.
"Mudgie would like to stay with you," Dave told Jack quietly. "Is that okay?"
Jack nodded vigorously but didn't speak. Dave quickly settled the boy in the bed, drawing up the covers and smoothing his hair. "Good night, kiddo."
He stepped away and watched as Aaron approached, his gait just a bit more wobbly than Dave was expecting. He heard Aaron murmured, "You're safe, buddy. I promise. I promise you're safe. See? You have Mudgie and Uncle Dave here to protect you…the monsters can't find you here."
And oh Jesus Christ what the fuck happened that prompted Aaron to say that?
"You'll protect me, too?"
"Always, buddy. Always."
"I love you, Daddy."
"I love you, too, Jack."
Aaron stepped away, patted Mudgie on the head, and then lowered the bedside lamp. Dave knew he wasn't going to turn it off; it was a strange place and if Jack woke up from nightmare, he would be disoriented as it was.
After a few moments, Aaron joined him out in the hall. Together, they watched Jack pet Mudgie a few times, the dog turning and giving the boy an affectionate lick on his hands. Mudgie then settled down, but still looked very alert.
Dave wasn't stupid enough to say something like, He'll be fine. Instead, he touched Aaron's elbow. Softly, "Aaron?"
The man's chin dropped to his chest. He shuddered. His voice was cracked, hushed. "My bag."
"What about your bag?"
"They're in my bag."
A cold chill washed over Dave. He could feel his temper beginning to flare. He could feel the argument on the tip of his tongue, beginning with 'if some motherfucker threatened your life…' Oh God, this was last thing Aaron needed. He charged down the stairs as bile tickled the back of his throat and his heart began racing.
Gloves. He needed gloves. Handling potential evidence. Can't risk smudging finger prints.
Thankfully, his own ready bag was in the hall closet and he had a habit of carrying a few pairs of nitrile gloves. He pulled out a pair, slipped them on, and then began rooting through Aaron's bag. The brown envelope wasn't hard to find. Dave quickly opened it and pulled out the contents.
What he saw…
Dear Lord in Heaven.
It answered the question about why Jack was so concerned about monsters in the closet, why Aaron promised that monsters couldn't find them here.
There were five photographs.
All of George Foyet. All digitally time-stamped the day before Aaron was attacked. All in various—intimate, Dave's mind whispered—places in Aaron's apartment. Dave slid the photos back in the envelope but put them inside his bag, threw the gloves away, did thorough check of his place to make sure all the damn doors and windows were locked, and checked alarm again.
He grabbed Aaron's and Jack's bags and went back upstairs. Dave wanted to be surprised that Aaron had retreated to the master bedroom, but was grateful that he wouldn't have to battle his…what the hell was Aaron to him nowadays? Best friend yet former lover?...he wouldn't have to battle Aaron about where the man was going to stay.
He checked the guest room. Mudgie had moved from the floor to in the bed, Jack's little arm flopped over the dog's back. The dog looked at Dave—the damn mutt knew he wasn't allowed on the furniture, much less a bed—and then settled his head on his paws as if he knew Dave wouldn't force him to move.
"Just this once," he told Mudgie, but knew it was a lie. If having the dog in the bed helped a little boy sleep through the night…yeah. Dave shook his head.
Dave placed the bags just inside the door of the master bedroom. Aaron sat on the edge of the bed, head bowed. He walked forward and knelt before the younger man, clasping frigid hands between his warm ones.
There was a long pause. A shuddering breath. The man sitting on Dave's bed wasn't a bad ass federal agent known for his negotiating skills and marksmanship. No, this was a father who had been victimized twice over the past ten months. It was miracle Aaron hadn't shut down or compartmentalized like he had done when he was stabbed.
Whatever part of Aaron Hotchner inspired him to show up on Dave's doorstep, Dave was eternally grateful for.
Aaron licked his lips twice. "Jack wanted a new toy to take to bed. He…he found Foyet's photograph in his toy box." The man dragged his gaze to Dave's, tears brimming in his eyes. "I had no idea…after…after I got out of the hospital…I checked…I swear I looked…I…I…"
Dave pulled him into a ferocious hug, smoothing his hand through Aaron's dark hair. "I know," he murmured. "I believe you."
He could easily imagine the scene earlier tonight. Jack screaming that there was a monster in his toy chest. Aaron finding the photograph. Aaron flipping out in that special "I'm gonna tear the place apart looking for what else that bastard planted in my home". Jack watching as his father ruthlessly tossing the place like it was some perp's crash pad. Something stopping Aaron in mid-search—probably Jack sobbing in fear—and causing him to pack up two bags and go.
"You're safe, Aaron. You and Jack are safe."
"What kind of man am I to be scared of my own goddamn apartment?"
He pulled back violently, lips curled into a sneer and he was ready to launch into some argument. Aaron paused and then his entire face contorted in pain. "I can't go back."
"Stay here for a while. I know it's a hike to Jessica's but we'll make it work."
"Don't fucking argue with me about this," he interrupted.
Aaron closed his mouth, paused and then nodded miserably.
"C'mon," Dave stood, his knees popping as he suppressed a groan. God, it sucked getting older. "Let's get you to bed. You can sleep in a big boy bed tonight, too."
Aaron glanced up as if to deliver one of his patented death glares, but tears suddenly streaked down his face. Dave crushed him with another hug, Aaron's arms wrapped around his waist, and then Aaron crumpled against him, body shaking from the silent yet wrenching sobs.
"I've got you," Dave vowed. "I've got you."