Title: Returning the Favor
Author: Kuria Dalmatia
Rating/Warnings: FRT/PG. Er. Angsty fluff? (profanity, mild sexual situations)
Characters/Pairing: Hotch/Reid, Jack and the BAU
Summary: Aaron's never had a surprise birthday party before.
Word Count: ~3,000
ARCHIVING: my LJ, my FFNet account and IKYdU blog ... anyone else? Please ask first.
COMMENTS: Written in honor of TGib's birthday. Happy Birthday, Mister Gibson! Thanks to CMAli for the beta and the wonderful manip (check it out at the bottom of this page: http: / kuriadalmatia . livejournal . com / 111162 . html).
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.
"One of the most responsible things you can do as an adult is to become more of a child." – Wayne Dyer
It's one of those declarations made late at the night, after a shitty case and one too many drinks. Aaron and Spencer are too tired (and drunk) to do much more than strip down to their underwear and tumble into bed. It's there that Aaron suddenly says, "I've never had a surprise party for my birthday."
He's not sure why he brought it up. His birthday isn't for ten months. Jack's is before his. None of the conversations this evening were remotely about birthdays or celebrations. There was no connection to the case.
Just Aaron declaring that, in all his years, he's never had a surprise party thrown in his honor.
The one that Haley and Jessica held for him back when Jack was an infant really didn't count. Jess was there because Haley needed help and he always thought his birthday was kind of an afterthought because he was raised to believe that he doesn't deserve little kindnesses like that.
He's not sure why he glances over to his lover and asks, "You?" because Aaron knows the answer.
They both had challenging childhoods. The fact that someone remembers Spencer's birthday in the first place is enough to make Spencer happy.
Spencer rolls to his side propping his head up with his hand. "I'm not sure if being ambushed in the bullpen really counts."
He laughs. "Hmmm. Kind of. I guess." Aaron frowns a little. "Knowing my luck, I'd pull a gun on my guests."
His lover snickers and leans forward, brushing his lips against Aaron's. "I can so totally see you doing that. Opening your door. Lights not working. Calling out. No one answering. Pulling your Glock to clear the room."
"I'm that predictable?"
"We'd all do it, Aaron," Spencer counters affectionately, "because of what we do."
And Aaron supposes that his lover is right, as usual.
He doesn't think much more of it because suddenly sleep is the thing he wants most. He's lucky that his bed companion feels the same way.
For Jack's first birthday after Haley's death, Aaron wants to make it as special as possible. So does Jess. So does the rest of the Team. Spencer is the voice of reason throughout the entire thing, trying to temper the celebration and the number of gifts although, at first, Aaron doesn't see it that way. He makes the nasty little comment that just because Spencer's own childhood birthdays were shitty, it doesn't mean that Jack's have to be.
Aaron still wonders why his lover didn't retaliate with a cruel come-back of his own, but he's thankful. After Jack's party that, God help him, includes one guy dressed in a robot costume and another in a dinosaur outfit because Jack's current obsessions are robots and dinosaurs, Aaron admits that he did go overboard.
Spencer simply kisses him. "The background check on the costumed performers is completely understandable."
Aaron laughs and pulls his lover closer. When they kiss, Spencer tastes of vanilla icing.
Aaron's not sure when he first notices it, but it's sometime between two months after Jack's birthday and two months before his own. When they're all home, Spencer often ends up in Jack's room, sitting at the kiddie table with his knees touching his chin and in a serious discussion with his son. One evening after dinner, Aaron pops in out of curiosity (and worry because he's always worried about Jack.) His son plants both hands on Aaron's thighs and tries to push him out of the room.
"Go 'way, Daddy," Jack tells him, all serious and firm. "This is boy talk."
And God, the frisson of panic that hits Aaron is like no other. What the hell is boy talk? His son is only five. He glances over to Spencer who's fighting back a smile. "Boy talk," Aaron repeats and then wonders when the hell his son has decided that he, as his father, doesn't qualify as a boy.
"You're a daddy," Jack says and pushes again.
Spencer gives him a slight nod, the one that says, Stop worrying. It's okay. I'll tell you later.
So Aaron backs out and tries his best not to feel hurt when his son closes the door in his face.
He has a feeling that Jack's going to shut the door in his face a lot more once the tweens and teens hit.
At least Jack is talking to someone, he consoles himself.
Hours later, as Spencer crawls into bed and fluffs the pillows, Aaron asks, "Boy talk?"
"I'm sworn to secrecy," his lover replies and there's a cheekiness to his tone that hits Aaron the wrong way.
It's why his own tone changes to the SSA Hotchner one and he prompts, "Reid," with the unspoken order to explain.
Spencer looks at him, totally unafraid, which isn't fair, because the command tone plus last name should equal something more than an amused smile. His lover settles in the bed and tugs at the covers. "Aaron, it's not about 'bad touch' or 'why Jimmy has bruises' or 'why Molly disfigures her dolls.' He's not wetting the bed, pulling wings off of flies, or obsessing over Zippos. I promise."
Aaron scowls because Spencer is being way too flippant about the situation. "Damn it …"
Spencer looks away. "It's important to Jack, okay? He's asked me to keep a secret and …" he pauses and blindly grabs Aaron's hand. Softly, he says, "It's important to me, too."
It takes a moment for Aaron to relent, to turn off the SSA part of him that wants to interrogate and the dad part of him that thinks five-year-olds shouldn't have secrets from their parents. Because it hits that Jack has fully accepted Spencer into the family with the whole 'boy talk' business and Spencer feels like he part of a family because of it as well.
Aaron squeezes his hand. "Okay."
Budget meetings plus a serial pedophile who graduated to killing never make for a good week. Aaron is tired—ten hours sleep in the past three days does that to him—and his foul mood makes the budget meeting far more tense than they usually are. The committee has the audacity to give him shit about the technology expenditures, to which Aaron snarls that without such "frivolous things," Lonnie Mercer would still be preying upon "little girls who bear a remarkable resemblance to your youngest, Mister Chairman."
Thankfully, Strauss doesn't give him shit about his attitude; she probably figures he's making his own noose, but he doesn't particularly care. On second thought, she's probably pissed that he got an additional two percent allocated specifically to "miscellaneous technology upgrades." Aaron wonders if that means Garcia will make red velvet cupcakes to celebrate. Those are his favorite.
Aaron makes his way back to the office glancing at his watch and wondering why the hell he has four more hours to go at work when it feels like he already put in a full day. When he pushes through the doors, he's so focused on getting a cup of coffee, he almost misses that someone is holding court in the middle of the bullpen. There are smiles all around. Some laughs, as well.
He glares because he's the unit chief and that's what he does. And, goddamn it, if he's having a shitty day …
Anderson looks up, eyes wide and features going a bit pale, and immediately elbows Prentiss. She glances up, but can't hide the smile fast enough. She covers her mouth for a moment before she says loudly, "Sir."
The group breaks apart, and there, in the middle, is Jack. Jess is there, too, with that wide Brooks smile that makes Aaron think of Haley. He glances at the rest of the group. Only his immediate team seems unfazed by his scowl-they're holding back smiles. The rest of the BAU looks decidedly guilty and scatters back to their desks.
Jack yells out, "Daddy!" and runs full speed towards him, arms wide.
And that, right there, is Aaron's kryptonite.
The foul mood and the exhaustion seem to evaporate. Aaron finds himself automatically kneeling down to accept the flying hug from his son. "Hey there, buddy."
"I love you, Daddy!" Jack declares.
Okay, that's Aaron's kryptonite, and he doesn't give a shit if the rest of the office knows it. "I love you, too, buddy," he says quietly. He picks Jack up, body protesting the stress, but he's only going to be able to do this for a little while longer, so he's going to savor every bit. "What brings you to the office?"
"Aunt Jessie brought me!"
By this time, Jess has wandered up. Her back is to the rest of the bullpen as she tilts her head sideways and says softly, "I know I didn't call first …"
"It's okay, Jess," he assures her. Aaron suddenly feels guilty, because when he walked in, the entire BAU was gathered around his son and whatever his son was talking about made them smile. Smiles are rare around the office, even with Garcia's herculean efforts. "It's okay."
Aaron spends his birthday on a case in Battle Mountain, Nevada, dealing with some fuckwad who killed seven cyclists on hand for the "World Human Powered Speed Challenge" back in September, and they're just now finding the bodies. He decides he hates Spencer's home state almost as much as he hates Boston. It's not logical, but it's in his gut.
When he gets back to the police station with Dave after another round in the morgue, there's a small cake on the table of the conference room. A single candle is on top. The Team waits until the door is closed before Spencer lights the candle and they sing an off-key "Happy Birthday" to him.
He smiles and thanks them. His wish? Well, since his fifth birthday, he stopped making them. But something about his Team making this effort … with everything that has happened over the past two years … with this stable relationship with Spencer … with Jack … with Jess … Aaron makes his wish. It's simple.
Keep my family safe.
He blows out the candle.
The cake is a little on the stale side, but it's still better than the Twinkies that were offered up last year. Last year, he was on a stake out with Morgan and the only reason that he had a 'birthday cake' was because Reid insisted Morgan take the Twinkies.
"Thank you," he says.
The Team smiles.
He smiles back.
Aaron knows he's exhausted when he actually allows Spencer to drive them home from the airport. It's three days after his birthday and a Friday night. It's early enough for a round of Hi-Ho-Cherry-O or whatever game Jack chooses before Jack's bedtime. Spencer hasn't managed to lure Jack into playing chess just yet. Checkers barely hold Jack's attention. But Candyland and Chutes and Ladders are surprisingly fun-especially when Spencer tries to outthink the simple logic of the game.
He's thinking about the games, wondering how long it will be until Jack decides 'games are for babies' and goes on to other things when Spencer pulls the car over to the side of the road. He places it in park.
Aaron sits up. "What is it?"
"Jack wants it to be a surprise."
"What?" he asks, confused.
"You made Jack's birthday so special for him, that he wanted to do the same thing for you. So …" Spencer explains. "The 'boy talk' from a few months ago? The pow-wow in the bullpen sixteen days ago? Jack's planned a surprise party for you. He insisted on inviting all your 'classmates.'" Spencer does air quotes around the last word, "because it's not nice to not invite someone."
"Classmates," Aaron repeats dumbly because in all his years, he's never had the BAU referred to as school friends.
His lover laughs. "Yeah."
"So the entire BAU is in on it," he says slowly, wondering how in God's name he missed his own son planning a party beneath his nose because five-year-olds aren't especially good at keeping secrets. Okay, the ones about birthdays and presents and fun things. So, Jess and Spencer are in on it, too, but Spencer emphasizes Jack's leadership role. Pride makes Aaron sit up a little straighter but then concern takes over.
If his son is hiding secrets this well at five, what happens at fifteen?
"Yep. And they're all convinced that you're playing dumb." Spencer turns to face him, grin clear on his face. "I happen to know better. With all the budget talk, the realignment of departments, and Strauss dumping more admin crap on you …" he shrugs. "I didn't want you blindsided."
"You didn't want me pulling my Glock," Aaron retorts sourly.
Aaron stares at the dashboard. "The entire BAU."
"And Principal Strauss," Spencer adds almost gleefully. "It wouldn't be nice not to invite the principal."
"According to Dave, she was quite flattered that Jack asked her," he continues. He reaches over and grabs Aaron's hand. "Like I said, you made his birthday so special he wants to make sure that your birthday is, as well."
Aaron's eyes suddenly burn and he blinks rapidly. He thinks about that conversation so many nights ago when he lamented that he never had a surprise party. He wonders how much influence Spencer had in the 'surprise' aspect. "Spence …"
"No robots or dinosaurs," Spencer tells him, lifting Aaron's hand and kissing his knuckles. "Promise."
It takes a few moments for Aaron to say, "I love you."
"Seriously. I do."
"Seriously. I know." Spencer settles their hands on the middle console. "Now, seriously, I need to get you to the party or else I'll be subjected to lewd comments about giving you your birthday spanking where no one can see it."
"No one is spanking me."
"Not even me?"
Spencer pouts a moment before releasing his hand. "Your loss. I know a lot about erotic spanking."
"I said no."
"Spoil sport," he teases before he puts the car back into gear. "I'll give you a pass on the spanking only if you'll promise to act appropriately surprised when you walk in the front door. Jack's been working really hard on this."
"So have you," Aaron says softly, wondering why in God's name he's suddenly completely okay with being 'out' in front of the entire BAU. Those on the immediate team know of his relationship with Spencer. He isn't sure what the rest of the department has figured out.
"And Jess." Spencer leans over and presses a quick kiss to Aaron's cheek. "We wanted something special for you."
The sentiment renders Aaron speechless for a few moments. He clears his throat and looks away. He barely gets out the "thank you."
"You're welcome." Spencer flicks on the turn signal. "By the way, the party is at Dave's."
Aaron turns to face his lover. "What?"
"The party is at Dave's," he repeats. "We were going to have it in the office, but we didn't want Jack stumbling across the Minnetonka Marauder's latest efforts."
The relief that hits him makes him embarrassed because he's proud that Spencer is his lover and Jack's father. He wants to be more open about his relationship and briefly wonders if Spencer is upset that they are quiet about their status. Then, he realizes it's a moot point. Spencer has always guarded his personal privacy. This relationship just falls into that. "Good plan."
"Promise to act surprised?"
"It will be Oscar-worthy. Promise."
It turns out that Aaron doesn't have to act surprised. He is surprised by the sheer number of people packed into Dave's house. Jack insists that he wears the dreaded "cake hat", the felt monstrosity that is a staple of all in-house BAU birthdays. Aaron knows that Garcia is behind Jack's efforts, but he knows that she's the one who made his birthday cake and knows that it's his favorite-red velvet.
Aaron even plays one round of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey with his tie as his blindfold. Only one round, because he's still the BAU unit chief and he still has a role to play.
Most of the party goers leave by 9 p.m., mainly because Jack's fallen asleep on the couch with Mudgie (and, Christ, Aaron knows he's going to have to deal with 'we need a puppy, daddy!' until he caves in and gets one). Aaron's family remains, and he sneaks a third piece of red velvet cake because, damn, it's good.
"Sugar fiend," Spencer teases as he passes by.
"It's my birthday," Aaron retorts, but it comes out as "iz mah birf'ay" because he has a mouthful of cake.
By eleven, they have cleaned up Dave's place, what little of the cake that is left has been wrapped up, and they're in the living room saying goodbyes.
"Thank you," Aaron tells them, knowing his eyes are a little misty but not embarrassed by it. There's only one person in the room who knows how much this means to him, but, like the skilled poker player he is, Spencer doesn't let on.
"Save the thanks until Monday," Morgan warns with a smile as he claps Aaron on the shoulder. "There's video of you with a donkey tail."
"It's for Jack!" Garcia protests as she turns to him. "I promise!" Aaron holds out his hand for the digital camera but isn't surprised when she pulls it back. "I haven't… there are other photos on here."
It earns a chorus of groans from the group.
"TMI!" Prentiss declares.
Aaron thanks Dave for the use of his home again. Dave shrugs it off before pulling him into a hug and whispering, "Take your husband and kid home."
So Aaron does.
And when he sees one of the photos of him, Spencer, Jess and Jack from the party—him wearing that stupid hat but grinning widely along with the rest of family—he prints it out and slides it into the picture frame that he carries in his go bag.
He'll never forget.
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