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Come in from the Pain
"It's okay, Dave. I get it," Hotch replied evenly, never taking his eyes off the man he had grown to love.
"It's still something I want, Aaron," Dave assured the younger man firmly. "I just...Caroline's death...it reminded me of the family I lost. Our son would have been 32 this year," he breathed, pain rolling in waves. "Being with you...seeing Jack...watching you two together." He closed his eyes tightly. "It hurt. I never got a chance to be a real father. Sure, I can say I had a child, but I never got to be a dad."
"Dave," Aaron said softly, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees, "You are a dad. A good dad. You've been co-parenting Jack for almost a year. He calls you Papa. He worships you."
Wiping his eyes, Dave looked at Aaron. "You know I love him, Aaron. I love him like a son. But if something happened tomorrow, I don't have a right to him. Jessica could cut me out of his life like that," Dave whispered, snapping his fingers.
"Is that what's got you worried?" Hotch asked, his eyes boring into Dave's.
"I lost one child, Aaron. That pain, it's still as fresh as it ever was. And those memories got me to thinking about Jack...and I don't know if I could handle losing another," Dave confided tightly, uncomfortable exposing himself, even if it was to the man he loved.
"That's never going to happen," Hotch replied, his voice strong and sure.
"It could," Dave whispered, meeting Aaron's gaze. "The one thing this has all taught me, Aaron, is that there are no certainties in life. No guarantees."
"I can guarantee this," Aaron countered strongly, arching one brow. "Adopt him," he stated evenly.
"What?" Dave gaped, his eyes widening as he straightened in his chair.
"I said, adopt him," Aaron replied simply, reaching for the scotch and taking another sip. "We can make it legal. He'd be as much your son as mine. No one could dispute it in a court of law. You'd have clear cut rights."
"You'd do that? You'd share your son with me?" Dave asked, touched at the generosity of the man sitting across from him.
"Dave, we're going to buy a house together. We've been together for over a year. We're already sharing a life together. I can't share something that you already have. Jack thinks of us both as his parents. He is our son. This is just a matter of formalizing it on paper. If I'd realized how important it was to you, I'd have suggested it before now," Hotch assured him gently. Dropping his glass on the table, Hotch rose to cross the room, kneeling in front of Dave's chair and staring directly into his eyes. "You aren't going to lose this family, Dave. Not this time. You can have it in whatever capacity you feel comfortable with."
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Dave's eyes misted again. "It's times like this that I fall in love with you all over again," he muttered.
Lips quirking, Hotch smiled. "I'm relieved to hear you say that. I was starting to get worried," he admitted softly as he laced his fingers with Dave's. "I thought you were slipping away from me."
"From you?" Dave smiled crookedly, brushing his fingers against Aaron's strong jaw. "Wouldn't happen. I just didn't know how to tell you how I felt without sounding like a whiny, insecure old fool."
Aaron winked. "Dave, I seriously doubt you've ever been insecure a day in your life. You don't whine, you bitch. And as for the fool part...well, two out of three ain't bad, or so I'm told."
"Asshole," Rossi muttered, his smile muting the insult.
"I learned from the best. Studied at the feet of a master and everything," Hotch teased warmly, rubbing his hands along Dave's thighs.
"I hope like hell you learned more from me than sarcasm," Dave grumbled, tweaking Hotch chin playfully as he fought back a grin.
Hotch slowly grinned, his earlier worries slowly dissipating as he watched the other man's eyes start to clear. "Oh, I picked up a few skills."
Smiling faintly, Dave met Aaron's eyes. "Thank you," he whispered hoarsely, suddenly overwhelmed by a wave of emotion. Love, grief, hope, doubt...all of them swirled over him, threatening to suffocate him for a moment with their intensity.
"For what?" Aaron questioned softly, cocking his head as he saw Dave's eyes fill with tears.
Dave shrugged. "Everything. All of it. I've been a bastard these past few weeks, and you toughed it out. For me. You didn't complain or bitch...you just...you were you. And I love you for it."
"Dave, I've known you for over twenty years," Hotch replied slowly, his gaze soft as he stared at his lover. "You're one of the most complex, complicated men I've ever known. But more than that, you're one of the best. You're almost worth every headache you've ever given me," he added as he smiled. "I loved you before I ever fell in love with you. Nothing can or will ever change that."
Feeling a teardrop slide down his cheek, Dave shook his head, clearing his throat. "You're turning me into a sappy sentimental old fool."
"You were always a sappy sentimental old fool," Hotch negated, cupping Dave's cheek, sweeping his thumb against Dave's strong jaw. "I've just turned you into someone not afraid to show it to me."
"If you expect me to say thank you for that, you're screwed," Dave chuckled, wiping his face.
"I just expect you to keep right on being the person you are, Dave," Hotch said tenderly. "Because that's the guy I fell in love with. Rough and gruff, sappy or sentimental, I don't care." Cupping Dave's cheeks, he met the older man's eyes. "You told me once I needed to come in from the pain. It's time for you to do the same thing."
And as he leaned his forehead against Aaron's, Dave nodded. Aaron was right. The handsome, generous man was offering him a chance at everything he'd ever wanted. It was time to forgive himself and move toward the bright, hopeful future being offered to him.
And he couldn't wait for their tomorrow.
So, anybody interested in seeing this one continued in another story?