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This story is a post-ep for "Epilogue".
Come in from the Pain
Venturing another sidelong glance at the man ensconced beside him in the government SUV, Aaron Hotchner tightened his grip on the steering wheel, uncertain what to say to his partner and best friend. Hell, he knew from experience that grief was a bitch to survive, let alone overcome in any amount of time.
And it wasn't like he had a hell of a lot to offer in the form of advice. His counseling skills were sorely lacking in this arena, and he was well aware of that fact.
For weeks he had watched David Rossi sink deeper and deeper into despair. Never a talkative man, Rossi had become virtually mute, both in the office and out. And while Aaron had a healthy amount of respect for privacy, he also knew that there was only so much a body could internalize before it overloaded and went into full combustible meltdown. And the dark anger he saw building in the other man's gaze today only confirmed his suspicion.
David Rossi was indeed on the verge of self-implosion.
And he'd much rather handle the fallout privately rather than publicly. It would take a hell of a lot less paperwork.
Leaning his head back against the seat, Dave glanced out the window, his eyes narrowing as he realized they weren't headed toward his home in Georgetown. "Hotch, I asked for a ride home," Dave muttered as he clenched his fist against his leg, "Not a scenic tour of DC."
"Hey," Hotch grunted with a sideways glance, "You called me at midnight to come pick your sorry ass up from a bar, Dave. Complaining about my route isn't going to earn you points."
Frowning, Dave lapsed back into silence as he blinked, the oncoming headlights from the opposite side of the road temporarily blinding him. "I'm just saying my house is the other way."
"We're not going to your house," Hotch replied evenly, merging onto the interstate with practiced skill. "Jessica has Jack for the weekend and we're on stand down."
"So?" Rossi grunted deeply, rubbing his whiskered jaw as he let out a deep sigh.
"So, we're going to the cabin," Hotch stated calmly.
Dave shook his head furiously. "Aaron, no."
"We haven't been out there in over a month, Dave," Hotch reminded the other man softly, ignoring the death glare that was being aimed in his direction. "We need to at least check on the property."
"That's why I hired a groundskeeper. He'll make sure everything is all right and call me if there's a problem," Dave denied with a deep frown, leaning forward in his seat and pulling against the restrictive seat belt.
"You think going out there for the weekend and relaxing for a little while would be disloyal to Caroline's memory?" Hotch asked dryly, using the same argument Dave had once made to him about Haley. "It won't bring her back."
Staring out the window as he felt his spine stiffen, Dave growled. "I'm not grieving, Aaron. Caroline and I had been divorced for over twenty years. It wasn't like with you and Haley."
"Maybe not," Hotch consented with a slow nod, relieved that at least the silent man was communicating with him now, albeit, grudgingly. "But she was still your friend. You're allowed to grieve the death of your friend."
"Thank you, Ann Landers," Rossi retorted sarcastically, glaring at Aaron in the shadows of the vehicle. Watching as the other man merely stared out the windshield, Dave demanded, "Damn it, Aaron, I'm not up for this. Turn around and drop me off at my house."
"No." Aaron shook his head, unperturbed by Dave's demeanor. If there was one thing he knew about the older profiler, it was that he was surly as a grizzly bear when he was hurting. And he was most definitely hurting now. Old wounds were far more painful when they were unceremoniously ripped open. "Why don't you just shut up and close your eyes? We'll be there in half an hour and if you really don't want to stay, we'll drive back into the city in the morning."
"What about Jack's soccer game? I promised him that I'd be there," Dave mumbled, trying to relax against the bucket seat as he drew in a deep breath.
"Sunday afternoon. We've got plenty of time for you to decompress," Hotch countered easily as he shrugged. Shifting his eyes off the road to glance at the older man again, Hotch murmured, "I can take the guest bedroom, Dave. That isn't why I'm dragging you up here."
Blowing out a hard breath as Aaron's statement sank in, Dave swallowed, his throat tightening as he heard the gentle tone in the other man's voice. "I know I'm being a dick." Turning slightly in the seat, he studied Aaron's strong profile. "You know this isn't about you and me, right?" he asked softly, seeking some kind of reassurance from the younger man.
"I know that you called me too drunk to drive from a bar tonight, Dave," Hotch responded, his voice soft, but non-judgmental. "That's not exactly something I expect to do when I'm in a comfortable committed relationship.
"I'm not drunk, Aaron," Dave retorted defensively, the hairs on his neck bristling prophetically. "But I didn't want to risk driving. Now that I'm a part of Jack's life, I'm making an effort to make responsible choices."
"I know that," Hotch assented, his voice low and calm. If he had learned one thing throughout his years of friendship and relationship with the other man, it was that any situation could explode into a full-blown war with just the slightest provocation. And tonight was not the night to be fueling the fire that was already simmering just below the surface. "But you were drinking because you were depressed. You've been doing that more and more lately. And, coincidentally, we've been spending less and less time together."
"Now you sound like a nagging wife," Rossi muttered under his breath as he threw his head back against the leather seat.
Pressing his lips together before he could say something he'd regret, Hotch inhaled deeply through his nose before saying," You're right. You are being a dick."