Spencer frowned as he awoke that morning; his arm reached out into nothingness, Hotch was not there. He rubbed his sleep-filled eyes and yawned, a small sigh left his chest as he threw the covers back;
"Aaron?" he called wearily, to what was, unbeknownst to him, an empty house. He wandered down the stairs, still calling for his lover, noticing also that Jack was absent. That's weird, he thought to himself; Hotch would have woken me up to tell me he was going somewhere with Jack, surely. He switched the coffee machine on and set the kettle to boil for his morning essential breakfast. He sat at the table and picked up the newspaper that was folded neatly at his usual place at the table, when a cream-colored, neatly cut piece of paper fell from inside it. The writing was in bold calligraphy, he noticed as he picked it up and scanned the displayed message in seconds;
We need to talk,
Spencer felt his heart drop into his stomach as he read those six words over and over, trying to run every conceivable notion through his mind; one jumped out instantly.
He's going to leave me. his panicked heart betrayed in a furious beat, in battle with the logic of his mind saying; No, he has no reason to, he'd have told you Spencer, that's not it. He couldn't deny his heart was winning the battle at that moment. Spencer got up from the table and dashed up the stairs, pulling on the nearest clothes he could find; he had to find Aaron, he had to know if his whole world was about to implode. He pulled on his brown slacks and checked shirt, a dark sweater vest over the top, and pulled his unkempt longish hair into a more refined style.
He ran madly around the room, searching for his shoes, which he found haphazardly cascaded under the bed. After he had pulled on his usual mismatched socks and laced up his shoes, he grabbed his cell phone from the vanity. He punched in the number he had memorized from day one, and held the phone to his ear. It rang, and rang, and rang, until it eventually clicked to voice mail. "Dammit Aaron!" he cursed to the deserted house. He grabbed his messenger bag, and charged out of the front door. He locked it hastily and climbed into the car. Hotch usually drove him to work, because although he was qualified, Spencer hated driving. He turned the key in the ignition, put on his seatbelt and took a deep breath before setting off; it had been a while since he'd been behind the wheel, and in his nervous state, he was more dismantled than usual.
He watched the roads carefully and tried to remain calm in his pursuit of the truth. He pulled up to the BAU parking lot and parked as close to the doors as he could get. He jumped out and locked the car, tripping as he went, headed towards the door. He yanked it open and began his ascent of the stairs in the main lobby. He knocked into a messenger as he alighted;
"Sorry, I'm so sorry," he yelled but did not stop. He crashed through the BAU department's main doors and his team turned sharply at the noise. He stood gasping for a second and then ambled over to Derek.
"Morgan, Hotch wasn't there when I woke up this morning, he left without saying anything. He left a note saying 'We need to talk,' but I don't know what that means. I'm scared he's leaving me. Did he say anything to you?" Spencer pleaded not only with the tone of his voice but with his eyes. Derek looked at him for a second and sighed before going to his desk. He opened the small top drawer and pulled out a piece of cream-colored paper, identical to the one Spencer had in his bag. He walked back to Spencer and held it out;
"He came in early this morning and he asked me to give you this. That's all I know, sorry Reid," Derek gave a light shrug and went back to sipping his coffee, he turned before Spencer could see him smiling into his coffee cup, and sharing a knowing glance with Garcia. Spencer turned the note over and read it, his heart pounding;
I knew once you read my note you'd come to the BAU, so I gave this to Derek, knowing he would be your first port of call. If you want to know what I have to say, you're going to have to do what I tell you to. Go to our coffee shop on Fifth and order your usual, don't over analyze like you always do Spencer, just do it okay?
Spencer frowned and then raised a questioning eyebrow;
"Morgan did-" Spencer was interrupted by Derek holding his hand up;
"I told you what I know, I didn't read the note, you need to figure it out for yourself. Now I hate to run and leave you like this, but I have a case to be looking at, try not to fret Pretty Boy," he smiled sympathetically; he knew all too well how Spencer reacted to these kinds of things, he didn't understand them. He silently hoped that he would just follow the instructions, and get to the end of this as soon as possible to save him the trouble of anxiety.
Spencer shoved the note into his messenger bag, and walked out to the car, his perplexity increasing, his heart still sinking. He unlocked the car and jumped in, starting the car and driving his way down the streets towards The Java Bean; the coffee shop that Hotch and he had had their first real 'date' in, after the case where they made their connection was over. He parked up outside the quaint cafe and climbed out. He walked through the door, the bell above it, jingling as he opened it. He walked up to the counter and smiled a little at Jenna, the waitress who always served them;
"Hey Jenna, has Hotch been here today? I'll uh, I'll have my usual," he said suspiciously, and she smiled
"He sure has Spencer. Coming right up," she made the strong black Americano and placed four Sweet and Low packets on the saucer next to it.
"Here you go, it's already paid for, Hotch came in and paid for it this morning. Oh and he told me to make sure you got this with it," she handed him a third piece of paper. He took it, along with the coffee, and placed it on their table. They always sat in the window, so they could watch the world go by. They'd often sit and profile passers-by, never leaving the job at the office, even for a moment. He picked up the piece of paper, which had the lingering scent of his Armani cologne on it. He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent for a moment, then allowed himself to peruse the next installment of Aaron's big speech;
I know you're probably really confused right now, and I'm sorry I had to do this, but it'll be worth it, I promise. I think you'll find this a whole lot easier when I tell you now that nothing bad is going to happen when you get to the end of all this. I promise you that in my heart and soul, it's a good mystery. Now I need you to go to the Old Dollar, remember the first Chaplain movie we saw as a couple? You'll find Rossi waiting for you with a little surprise, but don't worry about catching the show, and Spencer? Trust me.
Spencer sighed deeply, his heart finally quietening as he realised that he was not being abandoned, but he was indeed in for a surprise. I don't usually like surprises, but this was Hotch; he knew that, so it must be something spectacular, he thought to himself as he smiled. He headed once again back to the car; So Rossi is in on this? Wait a minute, that means Morgan probably is too, I knew I saw a look between him and Garcia! He chuckled and shook his head. The Old Dollar was a mere block away from The Java Bean, and when he jumped out of the car, sure enough there was Rossi, who waved as he saw him.
"Hey, you're right on time," he smirked and handed him an envelope, his eyes twinkling in his secret knowledge.
"You're not going to tell me anything are you?" Spencer eyed up Rossi and took the envelope from his outstretched hand.
"Why would I want to ruin the surprise?" Rossi's smirk grew wider still and he turned to walk away.
"Don't you want to see what it is?" Spencer called after him, as Rossi turned his head back to look at him with mirth in his eyes;
"Come on Spencer, think about it," he tapped his temple to reiterate his point. Spencer frowned for a second and then nodded slowly;
"You already know all of this don't you?" Spencer let a small smile crawl onto his face.
"Of course. Who are you talking to Reid?" Rossi chuckled as he walked away. Spencer shook his head and opened the envelope with his slender fingers. He pulled out a fourth note, a photograph and two movie stub tickets. He smiled softly as he noticed the date on the tickets; they were from that very date. He glanced at the picture and stroked it lovingly with his thumb; it was the picture Hotch had asked the ticket master to take of them in the foyer right before they went in. It was only after looking at these two items, did he allow himself to read the next note;
Rossi didn't give it away did he? I hope not. Time for a little mushy stuff. Ready? The first time I kissed you, I never expected to think of it again, but I couldn't get you out of my mind. Things began to over-play in my head, and I was wildly confused. Turns out, this is the clearest I've thought in years. I can't imagine ever going back to the life I lived before I became yours; it's just too tragic to even think about. So let's not worry about that. For now, let's just live in the moment. That said, your next stop is the Quantico Zoo, where you'll find JJ, Henry, and my next note. Just three more after that.
Spencer smiled and wiped a happy tear from his eye as he read the beautiful words of his lover once again. He filed this note with the other three and jumped back in the car and set off towards the Zoo. He was growing impatient in his anticipation, but in the best possible way; he just wanted to see Hotch, and he realised for the first time how much he truly did love him. He pulled into the parking lot and cursed out loud; in his haste this morning he had left his wallet at home. He knew the ticket master wouldn't just let him in, but he decided to try his luck anyway, considering his psychology skills were always handy. He walked up to the booth nervously, but before he could even open his mouth, the ticket master spoke;
"You're Spencer aren't you?" he squinted, trying to size him up.
"Uhh..yes/" he said slowly. The ticket master went into the little office booth and came out handing him a ticket;
"Agent Hotchner said you'd be coming by. Agent Jareau is inside with her little boy. They're by the gibbon enclosure," he smiled warmly and retreated back to his booth. Spencer placed the ticket in the machine and pushed through the turnstile. He looked up at the zoo map and headed to the right, past the lions, elephants and giraffes. He stopped when he saw JJ and Henry, who was acting like a gibbon, much to JJ's amusement.
"Let me guess, Hotch sent you here, you know everything, you won't tell me, give me the note," he held his hand out, as JJ burst out laughing;
"I warned Hotch that you'd get moody," she smirked and opened her purse;
"Patience is a virtue, Spence," she said as she pulled out a smaller, red envelope.
"Which I don't possess at this moment in time," he pulled a face and snatched the envelope from JJ's hand. Henry giggle and tugged his mother's hand and she looked down at him and shared his laughter.
"We're gonna go and look at the lions," JJ smiled and walked over to Spencer, hugging him tightly, which surprised him. He smiled and watched them walk away before hurriedly opening the next envelope;
Did you know that gibbons mate for life? Who am I kidding? Of course you did. It's amazing isn't it? We think we're the only species out there that mates for life, although some people haven't got that into their heads. I have a point I promise. What I'm saying is; I choose you. Although we have both been attached to others, we were still looking for our mate for life. At one point I thought that one was Haley, but fate proved me wrong. I think she's up there at peace with the choice I've made in you. Next place is the batting cages. Where you and I watched Jack hit his first baseball; Prentiss is waiting for you.
He hastily shoved the note into his pocket and artfully dodged the hoards of families on his way out of the zoo. He waved to the ticket master on the way out, and he returned once again to the car. He opened the can of Mountain Dew he had stashed in the driver's side door, and gulped it thirstily. He put the open can into the holder and started the engine. He was roughly a mile away from the batting cages when his phone chirped. He pulled over and plucked it off his belt and read the text from Emily:
Come on Reid, hurry it up!
He smiled and shook his head, putting his phone away, before setting off again. He reached the batting cages and hopped out of the car. He walked up to the second cage from the left and chuckled to himself as he clocked Prentiss cracking ball after ball into the back of the fence. He opened the door and tapped her on the shoulder, frightening her. She spun round and caught his arm with the bat.
"Owww!" he yelped, rubbing the now sore spot on his arm.
"Don't sneak up on me then! For a genius you don't have a lot of common sense," she smirked and threw the bat down, removing the helmet. She rummaged around in her nearby purse and pulled out another envelope, this one was metallic gold. She tucked it into his top pocket.
"I have to run anyway, I'll see you later," she offered him her trademark Prentiss smile and ducked quickly out of the cage.
"Bye then," Spencer rolled his eyes and hastily tore open the envelope:
I wish I could see the look on your face right now. That cute little crinkle you get in the bridge of your nose when you're irritated, little passive aggressive sighs of contempt. Not much longer Lamb, not much longer. Forever is a really long time, but I wouldn't mind spending it by your side. The day you moved into my home, it felt almost easy again. Life, that is. You're everything I never even knew I wanted, and now I have you, I'm not giving up. Do you like this side of me I wonder? I hope so. There's a reason I did things this way. So I could have time to write these notes, plan my words, and not have time to get nervous. Only two more places Lamb, then we'll be united. Penelope (as excitable as she is) insisted she be the stop before you got to me; so meet her at the club. The one where you told me you had feelings for me. That first time.
Spencer broke into a run as he left the batting cages, still annoyed at the the fact he was being led all over town like a tourist, but also elated at the intrigue that shrouded Hotch's surprise. He pulled up to that very club; Alias, and put the car into the valet service. He strode through the doors and was immediate bustled into a booth by a colorfully dressed Penelope. She was more animated and hyperactive than Spencer had ever seen her and that was saying a lot, since she was a fun and bubbly person at the best of times.
"Sit! Sit down! Here we go!" she placed a shot glass filled to the brim with Tequila and handed him the salt shaker and a lime slice.
"C'mon drink!" she babbled before downing her own and placing the glass upside down on the table. Spencer did as he was told and downed the strong shot, cringing at its bitter, yet warming taste. She opened her Hello Kitty clutch bag and pulled out a white envelope, that she had clearly customized after Hotch had delivered it to her. It was laden with Hello Kitty stickers, stars, rainbows, hearts and pink bows, all which screamed 'Garcia'. He took it and chuckled;
"Thanks Garcia, I see you've decorated it," she nodded furiously;
"La duh! Aaron Hotchner may love you but for a now gay man, he has very little artistic flair," she shook her head in mock-dramatic solemnity. She broke out in giggles;
"Okay time for me to go, this was fun, we should do it again when you can drink more, drunk Reid is very fun," she grinned and disappeared in a flourish of flowery perfume and polka dots. Spencer shook his head and opened the last envelope;
Would you believe when I had her drug tested she came up clean? She really IS just naturally exuberant! I trust she only gave you one drink, you getting arrested is not part of the surprise. I'm sure you're anxious to get to me now aren't you? There's a reason I had Penelope give you a shot of Dutch courage; you'll need it when you get to the final location. Every Saturday we have a picnic in the Municipal park, under the same old willow tree. Enter the park and follow the trail Jack has left for you. It will lead you to the willow tree, and that's where you'll find me.
Spencer got up from the table and hurried out to the car, desperate now to get to his lover and find out why he'd spent the last three hours on a wild goose chase around Quantico. He drove, his hands a little shaky, his stomach flipping, a little from the Tequila, but mostly from anticipation. He parked the car in a spare parking spot opposite the park and walked up to the gates. There he saw, pinned to the gate, a sign on white copy paper saying 'follow me' in blue crayon; writing he knew to be Jack's. He smiled fondly and walked through the gates, and started to make his way towards the willow tree he spent each Saturday beside. He stopped about halfway to pick up another page, with a crayon drawing on it. Jack had drawn himself, holding hands with Spencer and Hotch, and he'd written 'my two daddies' above it, next to the rainbow and bright, yellow sun. Hotch's heart jumped a little; he had begun to see Jack like a son since he had taken such a shine to him. He found one more sign pinned to a trash can saying 'almost there' and he turned to see the tree he was looking for, maybe a hundred yards away. He walked up to the tree and frowned; there was no one there.
Morgan, Garcia, Rossi, Emily, JJ, Henry, Jack and Emily crouched behind a nearby bush, trying to avoid being spotted; and for FBI Agents they were doing a poor job. Spencer looked around him and then he spotted the piece of paper, flapping in the wind. He walked up to it, seeing it was pinned with a tack to the tree.
Spencer frowned and turned around. Hotch smiled, and stood in his best suit, one by one the hiding on-lookers jumped out and gathered behind him. Spencer ran up and hugged him, before stepping back.
"What's going on?" he spoke softly, yet still insistently. Hotch reached his hand into his jacket pocket and smiled;
"Well, there's a reason for all of this, I promised you that, and that it was something good. I've been dropping hints all day, but you don't seem to have picked up on them. For a profiler, you're not as perceptive as you seem," his eyes glistened and he chuckled. He pulled his hand out of his pocket, but it was no longer empty. It contained a black velvet box, which he then opened. He leaned down to one knee and smiled softly. Spencer's eyes widened, his hand flew to his mouth and he closed his eyes;
"Spencer, I love you with everything I've got. I will give you everything you need and want, I will protect you, I will fight for you, I will love you and never leave you, I will give you my heart and never ask for it back. I will always want, need and cherish you, I will never take advantage of you, or be cruel to you, I will never lie to you or hurt you, but most of all, I'll never love anyone like I love you. Marry me?" he looked up through dewy eyes and smiled, his heart hammering in his chest. Spencer's cheeks were moist with tears and he simply nodded, a slight whimper coming from his throat as he did. He held out his hand and allowed Hotch to slip the platinum eternity ring onto his finger. The congregation cheered and charged over like a stampede of elephants, jumping on the pair, kissing them, hugging them and sharing in their joy. It had taken one year to get to this moment, and as Spencer caught the eye of his fiance he was filled with euphoria; yes, life had only just begun.