Keep the Suit, Lose the Nickname: A Criminal Minds AU
Book 2 All the King's Men
Chapter 11: The 19th Green
Author: Kuria Dalmatia
"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit."
- Albert Schweitzer
Admittedly, Aaron's forgiveness was frighteningly quick to earn. It didn't ease Spencer's conscience because he knew that it was one thing to say everything was okay while doped up in a hospital room, but it was something else completely when they were out in the field.
What would Aaron's reaction be when Reid favored someone else's plan/reasoning over his during a case?
He knew he had to push those thoughts aside. Aaron was out for a minimum of five weeks; rehab was going to take some time, which meant desk duty until he was cleared for the field. Spencer knew that the younger agent would push himself to recover faster, so he'd already planned on ways to keep Aaron feeling like part of the team without him compromising his health.
While Spencer called daily over the past ten days since Aaron's release, he didn't stop by Aaron's apartment. The aftermath of the Garner case had kept him in the office extremely late, preparing for and then testifying at the IA hearings. That was on top of his normal workload and being one profiler down.
Another reason he kept his physical distance was he was concerned that his presence may overwhelm Aaron. Spencer remembered how he felt while recovering from various injuries over the years. The crush of people stopping by quickly became annoying. Garcia and Elle already took turns stopping by Aaron's place, using the excuse that they were making sure that Sean Hotchner was taking proper care his brother. However, when Spencer pressed for details, the women would only say that Sean was a typical frat boy and he looked and sounded nothing like Aaron. Spencer wasn't sure if that was a good thing, but neither woman would say if Sean's presence was a help or hindrance to Aaron.
The most he got was, "You have to meet him yourself."
Tonight was the first night he had free after finishing and turning in a two hundred page, typed report to Strauss. The look on her admin's face was worth the long hours, because Spencer could easily envision Strauss's reaction when it was handed to her. To celebrate, Spencer picked up Ethiopian takeout—something he'd promised the younger agent weeks ago—and headed over to Aaron's place. He had tried to call Aaron and then Sean beforehand, but both phones went directly to voice mail.
Spencer now walked down the hallway to Aaron's apartment, carrying a bag of food. He could hear raised voices coming from the agent's apartment and saw that the door was slightly ajar.
Years in the BAU demanded that he put the bag down, draw his revolver, and approach with caution, being ready to talk down or shoot the intruder. Instead, he shifted the bag to his other arm and palmed his gun as he got closer.
"Will you stop trying to goddamn control me!" shouted a younger male with a distinct Virginia drawl.
"I'm not fucking controlling you," Aaron snarled back. "For God's sake, you're throwing away four years of work! You have fifteen credit hours left to get your degree! What is so damn hard about sticking it out?"
"Fuck you, Aaron! Fuck you!"
"So you're just going to give up. And then you're going to come back here with your hand out after you blow through your trust fund and goddamn beg me to help you out!"
"Stop profiling me, Aaron!"
"If I profiled you, really profiled you, you'd be in that corner, crying like the immature, bratty child that you are!"
"You have no idea—no idea—what it's like to follow your dreams. Oh no! Because Dad was a lawyer and you were a lawyer, you think that I have to be a lawyer!"
"You need a goddamn real degree in a real goddamn field!"
"You know what? You're not Dad. You'll never be Dad!"
"And you should pray to every fucking deity you can think of that I'm not!"
Reid was at the door of the apartment, hand still on his gun. The door swung open, momentarily blinding him with the sudden light. He heard the younger man scoff, "There's a gun-wielding Mormon at your door, asshole."
Aaron's yelled, "Proselytizing Mormons don't carry guns, shithead!" carried down the hallway.
A young, tall blonde haired man came into view, motorcycle helmet in hand. He would have shoulder-checked Reid if Reid hadn't stepped aside. He watched as the guy marched down the hallway, oblivious to his surroundings. Reid turned toward the open door and took a tentative step towards it.
He wasn't expecting to hear, "I'm an atheist, I fuck men up the ass, and do you seriously believe a bunch of Israelites migrated from Khor Kharfot to America six hundred years before the birth of Christ? Or that Jesus popped by America on his sold out Resurrection Tour? C'mon!"
It took a moment for Reid to recover, because he never thought he'd ever hear that coming from the mouth of Aaron Hotchner.
A large shadow suddenly loomed in the doorway and twenty dollars was shoved in his face. Aaron's tone was even surlier. "Give me all your Watchtowers so you don't bother my goddamn neighbors!"
To which Spencer replied drily, "Watchtower is a publication by the Jehovah's Witnesses. Mormons carry, well, the Book of Mormon."
There was a long moment of silence. The shadow became eerily still. Reid's eyes adjusted to stare at Aaron Hotchner dressed in basketball shorts and an oversized t-shirt. His left shoulder and arm were in an uncomfortable-looking, heavy-duty sling to keep it stabilized as it healed. Aaron's hair was messy and his beard was an uneven scruffy mess. It just wasn't a good look.
Aaron's mouth hung open. It flopped a few times. Finally, Aaron spoke, his voice an octave higher than it would normally be. "Sir? You, ah, oh God … what did you … ah … hear?"
Spencer could help but laugh, "You're an atheist, I'm a lucky man, and apparently I dress like a member of the Mormon Church. Oh, and you know your Latter Day Saints theology."
Aaron closed his eyes. The humiliation was clear on his face. His right hand grabbed the door frame and he hung his head. "Sir … I want to …"
"Spen-sir," Spencer corrected, hoping that the delicate joke between them would help ease tension. "I brought dinner." He held up the bag.
It took a few moments but Aaron finally relented, shuffling over to his dining room table and pushing feebly at the mess on top of it.
Spencer glanced around as he closed and locked the door.
Unlike last time he'd been here, the place was decidedly messy. He could smell stale cigarettes and the funky waft of spilled beer. Field agents in the BAU who lived alone tended to be meticulous about their living spaces, mainly keeping it tidy so that they could better recognize if something was tampered with. Spencer noted the blankets and pillows on the main couch, the strewn DVD jackets on top of the table, and the lamp that used to be on the end table was now on the floor next to the table.
Quickly, Spencer walked over to the dining table and set the bag on it. "Sit down," he said softly.
Aaron obeyed, his shoulders slumped and looking every kind of miserable as he scratched as his beard. It didn't take much to clear off two spots on the table; they had dined in much smaller spaces and much dirtier surroundings while in the field.
He opened the bag and efficiently laid out dinner. Spencer was thankful he kept it simple: injera with sega wat, iab and kitfo. He knew Aaron began watching him as the takeout containers came out of the bag. It wasn't the traditional way of serving the cuisine; that would require a large platter and a basket for the injera. Still, Spencer did the best he could without (hopefully) making Aaron feel any worse.
He always knew that Aaron had a temper; all of them did. He knew it was ferocious and vicious just by the way the man had to rein himself back sometimes talking to UnSubs, especially towards abusive parents.
Spencer didn't utter a word as he grabbed a piece of injera, tore off a piece and handed it to Aaron, who accepted it. Aaron didn't move, just held the bread limply in his hand until Spencer got his own piece of injera, scooped up a bit of the sega wag, and popped it in his mouth. He chewed for a moment, watching as Aaron mimicked his movements. Spencer then realized that they didn't have any beverages.
"Tea in the fridge?"
"The pitcher on the left. The one on the right is some insidious concoction my brother insists is hip."
"And I'm apparently too goddamn old." Aaron let out a harsh breath. "I'm sorry, sir."
"Spen-sir," he called over his shoulder as he headed toward the fridge. If the rest of the house was a mess, the kitchen was a damn war zone. The fridge was filled with saucepans, Ziploc bags, and plastic containers. Spencer pulled out the pitcher of tea. He located two clean glasses. Bringing those and the tea back to the table, Spencer was thrilled to see Aaron eating.
The gauntness in his cheeks was appalling.
"What I said earlier …" Aaron began, sounding all kinds of miserable.
"Was a private conversation between family members," Spencer interrupted as he set the glass in front of the younger man and poured it full.
"It was inappropriate …"
"You're allowed to express yourself, Aaron."
And, damn, that got a reaction. Aaron stared at him, eyes blazing with that terrifying intensity of his. "You have no idea …"
"You mentioned profiling your brother until he was a mess in the corner," Spencer cut in blandly. "Well, I've got more experience than you do and have read your personnel file. We really don't need to go down that path, do we?"
Just like that, the fire left Aaron. He sulked, looking every bit the surly young man who had stormed out of his apartment. He ate in silence, although only reaching for the food when Spencer did.
While Aaron may have forgiven him for the reason he was shot, Spencer wondered if that same generosity would extend to the fact, "I had Garcia contact Sean."
"I'm not mad that you did it." However, Aaron tossed down the injera in disgust. He wiped at his chin whiskers with the napkin. "It's just that you don't know what a selfish, narcissistic prick he can be. You don't have crystal ball, sir. You're not always right."
"I never said I was," he countered.
"All you know about Sean is what I wanted you to know. I didn't want anyone to see how goddamn dysfunctional my family is." Aaron's scowl grew deeper. "Elle and Garcia have visited. Did they tell you Sean thought Elle was my housekeeper? He said that to her face,even though her sidearm was in plain sight."
"No, they didn't."
"I was waiting for her take his head off. She didn't." He picked up a piece of injera and stared it for a few moments. "I wished she had." He put the bread down. His voice grew even softer. "Don't even ask what he said about Garcia."
Spencer didn't because he could easily guess. He wanted to say something like, It's not the worst she's heard, but didn't. He also didn't say, Sean's young or He'll grow out of it. Yet now he knew why the women had been so cagey about Aaron's brother.
"I was so pissed, I had Garcia cut off my 'net so that Sean couldn't access porn on my laptop, his laptop, his smartphone or the goddamn gaming console he has hooked up to my TV." Aaron poked at the bread again. "There are things I don'tneed to know about my brother."
It teased an unexpected laugh out of Spencer. "Sean has no idea just who you have in your arsenal."
"Tech goddess, MMA fighter, Barbie girl with a ninja wit, salsa-dancing Latina," Aaron stated before finally dragging his gaze to meet Spencer's. "An adjunct professor at Georgetown who got my lazy-assed brother a two-week pass from classes, coursework and exams because I was shot." He glowered. "Sean's had everything handed to him on a goddamn silver platter since he was born. And you add to it. Apparently, Georgetown has such a hard on for you that they're kissing up to Sean because of this."
The smile dropped from Spencer's face; he was stunned by his subordinate's words, especially the harshness of his tone. He cringed, "Aaron, I had no idea …"
"You don't, and that's the shit of it," he spat and grabbed the bread again. "Sean thinks this is Spring Break."
"Fifteen credit hours from graduating," he went on, going after the stew with gusto. "Fifteen hours from graduating with a degree, acceptance letters from some of top law schools in the country, and he wants to quit." After a few more mouthfuls, Aaron went on. "Says he wants to go to goddamn culinary school."
And "culinary" was said with dripping disdain. Clearly that was what the argument was about. Aaron's anger wasn't necessarily directed at Spencer but that Sean was changing schools just short of obtaining his bachelor's degree. So Spencer sat back and listened, because he had a feeling he was the first person Aaron had ever confessed his true feelings about his brother to.
"You have no idea what it's like," Aaron continued angrily. "You know that our parents died when he was still in high school. Well, I busted my ass to get him a scholarship so he could use the trust fund for important things. He gave me this song and dance about wanting to go to law school and needing my help on the damned LSATs, so I paid for those courses so he didn't have to. Hell, I even footed the bill for the pre-test classes so he could get into a good school. He scored a 169 on the LSAT, which could probably get him into any top tier school except for Harvard and Columbia, so he asked for my help on the law school apps."
"The paperwork on the jet," Spencer murmured aloud, as he remembered some of the flights back from a case where Aaron would spend almost the entire flight scribbling on forms.
"Yes! I was dog-assed tired but I still did it!" Aaron nearly shouted. "He had his goddamn pick of what school he wanted to attend. Stanford. Northwestern. Jesus Christ, even Yale considered him! And then the little fuckwadpulls this stunt! Fucking culinary school!"
He tossed down the bread and threw himself back in the chair, clearly forgetting about the gunshot wound. Aaron's face contorted in pain before he hunched over. Spencer reached forward, but stopped when Aaron waved him away.
It took a few moments before Aaron straightened, scowl still on his face as he stared at the food. Aaron went on bitterly, "Like I said, you have no idea what it's like."
"Why do you say that?"
"You don't have a brother."
"I have a half-brother," Spencer corrected as he picked up his glass of tea. He paused and then offered a lopsided smile. It was a story he rarely told, but knew that Aaron would understand. "Ten years after my parents divorced, my father remarried. He had son with his new wife. His name is Timothy.
"While Timothy wasn't the greatest at sports, he still got on every team he tried out for: basketball, baseball, football, track and field…. He graduated from high school at the appropriate age and went to every homecoming dance and all the proms—each time with a different girl. He married Alyssa when he was twenty-three and gave my father and his wife two grandchildren within the first three years they were married.
"Timothy also isn't the best businessman, which is why my father believes that a letter of recommendation from me would help boost my half-brother's security business in Vegas."
He spared a glance to Aaron, who watched him intently. Aaron asked, "Did you write it?"
"If Timothy wants a letter so badly, he'll have to ask me himself," Spencer stated, echoing the words that he spoke to his mother's grave. "Oh, and stop asking if I'm a real FBI agent." He shrugged. "I'd much rather a tech goddess, an MMA fighter, the Barbie girl with a ninja wit, a salsa-dancing Latina, and a former prosecutor who pulls off sniper shots after beingshot as family than Timothy." He deliberately didn't mention Gideon, because he wasn't sure just how to describe his relationship with the man now. Instead, he shrugged. "So, I get it."
"You didn't play sports as a kid?" Aaron asked, sounding genuinely surprised.
"I preferred chess to Little League. Plus, I was twelve-year old child prodigy in a Vegas public high school," he answered. "Technically, I was a member of the men's basketball team because I could deduce shooting percentages and figure out the opposing teams' weaknesses. But no one wants to go to a dance or prom with a kid who hasn't hit puberty yet."
Aaron shook his head and snorted. "Okay, I'll shut up about my brother now."
"That was not my intention," he quickly said. "What I was trying to say is that I understand and you're welcome to talk about your brother." Spencer put his glass back down. "And if you want me to speak with him directly about the value of completing his bachelor's degree before going on to culinary school, I'd be more than happy to."
The younger man considered for a few moments, but then said, "He'll just blow you off."
"Unlikely," Spencer replied and then grinned. "After all, I'm a gun-wielding Mormon."
That teased a smile out of Aaron, and his dark mood seemed to lessen.
Spencer gestured to the food. "Do you want any more?"
"No, I'm good. Thank you. I'm sorry that I didn't beforehand. Thank you, that is. For dinner. Ethiopian, right?"
"Correct. I did promise you dinner, although it's taken a little longer to make good on it than I expected," Spencer stated as he stood up. He began putting away the foods and Aaron began to help. He waved away the injured man. "Let me take care of this."
"But you brought dinner …"
"I'm also the reason you were shot and the reason why your brother is here. I know it's not much, but I am trying to make it up to you."
"I said I wasn't mad."
"I realize that, but please. This will make me feel better."
Aaron frowned for a moment before nodding. "Okay."
"Thank you." Spencer finished packing up the leftovers and brought them over to the fridge. He cleared out a space and before turning his attention to the piles of dishes on the counter and in the sink. He wanted to clean those up as well, but knew that Aaron would be beside himself if he tried. Instead, he finished with the dishes used for tonight's dinner.
When Spencer came back to the table, Aaron was toying with the Velcro strap on his shoulder sling. Aaron had an air of vulnerability right now, one that Spencer wasn't sure how to deal with. So he sat in the chair and folded his hands on the table. He wasn't expecting Aaron to shyly reach out and brush the tips of his fingers.
"The dinner was to be in exchange for golf lessons," the younger man said almost to himself. He then looked up. "It's going to be a while before I can help you with that."
"You can always observe," Spencer replied. "While I wouldn't mind a hands-on lesson, having you watch the way I line up my putts wouldn't hurt. Maybe by the time you're healed enough to swing a club, I'll be able to putt properly."
Aaron laughed a little, moving his hand so that now his fingertips were resting lightly on Spencer's. He focused on their hands as he said, "Those clubs I was talking about are underneath my bed. I can't tell you how many times I've been tempted to hit my brother with them, and then thought, 'Wait! Those are for Spencer! I can't damage them!'"
The thrill of hearing his first name quickened Spencer's pulse as he laughed at Aaron's statement. He remembered what his mother always said: Follow your heart. He also recalled what David Rossi always said: Follow your partner's lead. It seemed Aaron was working up the courage to take his hand, so Spencer slid his so that it was a little more underneath Aaron's fingertips.
Aaron didn't move away. A good sign.
What's the next move? Spencer wondered before admonishing himself. Be patient!
"Would you like to start tonight?" Aaron asked and then looked over to Spencer. There was that charming bashfulness in his eyes as he smiled just enough for his dimples to show. "I mean, you'd have to set everything up because of my shoulder, but it's not that difficult." His hand slowly crawled over Spencer's until it rested fully on top. Aaron chewed the inside of his cheek a little.
Spencer smiled as he maneuvered his thumb so he could give Aaron's hand a gentle squeeze. Is Aaron really this forgiving? Where is his resentment? Yet Spencer knew he couldn't pass up this opportunity and all the layered meanings it might have. Aaron made the overture to him. Aaron made the offer to him. So it was only natural for him to reply with, "I would very much like to start tonight."
Aaron met his gaze again, earnest and eager and bashful at the same time. "The set is under my bed."
Spencer nodded and rose from his chair, reluctant to move his hand from Aaron's. As he passed by Aaron's chair, however, Aaron reached over with his right hand and caught hold of Spencer's wrist. He tugged and Spencer stopped. Still holding on, Aaron got to his feet, squeezing Spencer's wrist as he found his balance. They stood face to face, a half-foot separating them. From the look on the younger agent's face, Spencer knew Aaron was internally debating himself. He stayed still, curious (and hopeful) as to the man's next move.
Slowly, Aaron leaned forward, watching Spencer intently for any kind of reaction. When Spencer didn't move away, Aaron tilted his head slightly and then brushed his lips against his. The younger man pulled back, eyes wide and nervous.
Spencer simply nodded once and then gently returned the kiss as he closed his eyes. Aaron responded eagerly yet with reserve and Spencer kept himself in check. The chief hadn't kissed anyone with a full beard in years and he quickly remembered why he wasn't a fan of heavy facial hair. It was scratchy and he had no desire to nibble on Aaron's whiskered jaw. Aaron, however, seemed to have so such reservation. He trailed light kisses along Spencer's jaw, his beard tickling the sensitive skin as he went, until he nuzzled Spencer's ear.
The chief slid his hand along the younger man's shoulder before carding his fingers in Aaron's short hair. He placed his other on Aaron's hip, careful not to jostle the heavy brace. It was a very loose embrace, but one Aaron melted into. Spencer could feel the tension drain from the younger man as he relaxed. Aaron's good arm snaked around Spencer's waist, his hand splayed against Spencer's lower back. The younger man rested his forehead on Spencer's shoulder, as if soaking up the physical affection.
Spencer knew instinctively that there wouldn't be a golf lesson tonight. He could feel the weariness in Aaron's body and the need to simply be held. So he did. They remained like that, two men carefully entwined and breathing in sync.
When Aaron worked his way back up to Spencer's mouth, his tongue snaking out to caress Spencer's lips, Spencer obliged. Their tongues touched, just like the night on Aaron's couch when Spencer sat on the man's lap. He ran his hand through Aaron's short locks again, earning a moan.
Aaron shifted but then gasped and turned to the side. He muttered, "Damn it," as he dropped his good hand away.
Spencer ran his fingers along Aaron's whiskered jaw. "We should stop."
"I don't want to," Aaron replied petulantly.
"We should take it slow."
"At this rate, we'll never hit the greens, let alone a driving range."
Spencer laughed. "Oh, my dear Aaron, I fully plan on playing a full game with you, but I want you healthy."
"The doctor says I'll only be out for two months," He stated but then flashed that charming smile, complete with dimples. "Maybe I can return earlier if my supervisor gives me some encouragement."
"Golf lessons can't be exchanged for reinstatement."
"But I have a great stroke."
"I'm sure you do."
"It's so good, it will change your mind."
"Is that so?"
Then, Spencer's phone began ringing and Aaron stepped back. Spencer checked the caller ID—JJ—and instinctively knew it was about a case. "Go ahead, JJ."
"It's a bad one, sir," she stated without preamble. "Knoxville, Tennessee. Four undergrad women went camping over the weekend, and were supposed to be back on Monday but they never showed. A boater found one of their bodies on Douglas Lake two hours ago. Drexel from the Knoxville office want us there ASAP. He says the damage to the corpse wasn't done by fish or any wildlife."
"Have everyone meet at the airstrip. We'll do the briefing in air," he told her.
"I'll make the rest of the calls. See you there."
Spencer ended the call and saw the look of longing in Aaron's eyes. "I have to go."
"Knoxville." He picked up the used glasses. The few minutes it took him to help clean up wouldn't hurt; he would still be the first person to the airstrip.
"I've got this," Aaron said, hand settling on his.
For a moment, they just stared at one another. He could see the worry in Hotch's eyes, the worry that every team member got when they were down with an injury. "You're still part of this team, please believe that. So you don't have to come up with creative ways to return to the office, because I know almost all of them."
"You do?" Aaron asked, sounding a little surprised.
"I'm the first BAU agent to sign off on my own reinstatement paperwork," he admitted as he grinned as he set the glasses down. "After all, I am a doctor and a doctor canprovide a second opinion. When Rossi found out? Well, I learned a few more Italian curse words. Oh. And he made me retake my firearms and physical requalification exams. It wasn't fun."
For the first time that night, Aaron genuinely laughed. "So whatever I come up with will be pedestrian?"
"Oh, I'm sure it will be creative and legally sound," Spencer shot back with a smile. "But just because I don't have a JD doesn't mean I don't know the rules. I won't be as harsh as Rossi, but I won't let it slide."
"I'll remember that."
"I'll call when we get done with the case. Perhaps I can bring dinner over and …" he trailed off.
"I'll coach you on the putting green."
"Sounds like a plan."
And because he could, Spencer leaned in and shared one more kiss with Aaron, one that Aaron eagerly returned. When they broke away, Spencer grasped Aaron's right hand and squeezed it tightly. He refrained from saying anything else, worried that he would spoil the moment. Instead, he offered a soft smile which Aaron returned.
Aaron also squeezed his hand and lifted it slightly. For a moment, Spencer wondered if Aaron was going to do something silly and chivalrous like kiss the back of his hand. He didn't, and Spencer wondered why he felt a flare of disappointment.
"What is it that you always say to us?" Aaron asked rhetorically, his voice hushed. "Safe travels? Well. Safe travels, Spencer."
The unprompted use of his first name sent a shiver down Spencer's spine. He knew he was grinning stupidly, but he didn't care. "Thank you, Aaron."
"I mean it about the putting green."
Spencer smiled broadly. "I have no doubt."
"Be careful," Aaron added softly.
"I will. I promise."
Aaron then took a step back. Spencer reluctantly released his hand, knowing that their one-sentence conversation could keep going as they struggled with how to say goodbye. So Spencer nodded his head once and made his way to Aaron's door. He was surprised that the other man didn't follow up to see him out the door, but Aaron was probably feeling as awkward as Spencer about Spencer's departure.
With one last glance over his shoulder as he unlocked and opened the door, Spencer held Aaron's gaze and smiled again. Aaron returned the smile and waved a little. Laughing to himself about just how cutethe scraggly agent looked, Spencer finally left the apartment, closing the door behind him.
As he walked down the hall, Spencer couldn't believe his luck. Maybe, after all these years of semi-disastrous relationships, he lucked upon one that could actually work.
God, Spencer wanted this to work with Aaron.
And he knew just by the expression on Aaron's face, the younger man wanted it to work as well.
At least, that's what Spencer hoped for.
End of All the King's Men.
A/N: One of the reasons Book 2 took so long is because I was retelling TFK in this 'verse. Perhaps I got carried away, but there were certain aspects of TFK that I really wanted to address. Yes, there is precious few true Hotch/Reid moments, but what I felt was very necessary is for them to build that trust between them.
I am planning to continue to write in this verse, but future installments will not have the epic 25K word arc that "All the King's Men" has.