Fandom: Criminal Minds
Rating: R (FRM)
Word Count: ~ 1,700
Disclaimer: All characters belong to their copyright holders. No profit is intended.
Summary: Hotch silently watches his team, and his lover, grieve.
Author’s Note: SPOILERS for Episode 6.18, “Lauren” specifically and Season 6 generally. Many thanks to kuriadalmatia for her awesome beta job.
I’m super-excited about this story, because it is the first fic that I have completed since December. Woo hoo! Of course it’s an angsty one, but still… it’s a finished fic. Damn you, real life, for interfering with my writing abilities. Hopefully, things have settled down and more fics will follow soon.
This takes place in my Five Dinners universe, but can stand alone. (All “Five Dinners” stories can be found here).
The Burden of Silence
Watching his lover break down in JJ’s arms was more than Aaron could bear. He had to get away – away from Spencer, whose hurt and despair poured out of him; away from his team, who trusted him and who he was betraying with his terrible silence; away from JJ, who spoke the lie and led the team down a false path of pain and despair and anguish.
Aaron felt like he couldn’t breathe.
He could barely hear JJ’s words when she found him, and he mouthed the terrible platitude that he knew that they had to keep up the façade. He wondered how he was supposed to face them. He wondered how he was supposed to face Spencer and hold him in his arms, kiss him, make love to him, while knowing that he was perpetrating the ultimate atrocity – a betrayal of Spencer’s trust. How was he supposed to return to their job, their home, their sanctuary, and go on, day after day, lie after lie?
Aaron shut his eyes and forced himself to take a deep breath.
He knew, ultimately, that he had no choice. He had to lie. It wasn’t his decision, but he knew it was a sound one. Ian Doyle would chase Prentiss down – would chase them all down – in his ruthless quest to find his son. Aaron could almost appreciate that, he truly could. But Doyle was not looking for his son out of love for the child. No, Doyle, a callous psychopath and family annihilator, was looking for his son to be his prodigy, to be an extension of himself, to advance Doyle’s own myth. The child was to be used for Doyle’s benefit alone, his life to be destroyed at his father’s whim.
Aaron knew he had to protect them all: Emily, who likely lay hidden this very moment in the bowels of the hospital, recovering from her deep wounds, and who would be the ultimate prey in Doyle’s hunt; his team, who would suffer and face execution for standing between Doyle and Emily if they had any inkling as to her true condition; and that little boy Declan, who did not deserve to be dragged unwillingly into his father’s war.
Aaron squared his shoulders and stepped back into the room, back to his team. He started issuing orders, giving directions, and making arrangements. This is who he was. This is what he did. He would do this for them, for all of them, even as it tore him apart inside.
Aaron realized that, for once, he actually had not thought very far ahead. He had no idea how he was supposed to tell Jack that Ms. Prentiss, whom he adored, was now… gone. Spencer looked upon them with vulnerable eyes as Aaron spoke the words that another bad man had taken away another person important to his young son’s life. And Jack – wonderful, compassionate, considerate Jack – had taken Spencer’s hand and told him that it was okay to feel sad when someone you loved had ‘gone away.’
Aaron watched as Spencer clutched Jack to him and Jack held on just as tightly.
Aaron wondered what in the hell he would ever do if Emily came back. How could he explain to his son that Ms. Prentiss’ “death” had been fake but that Mommy’s death was real? How could he tell Jack that the “bad man” hadn’t really killed Ms. Prentiss but that the other bad man “George” had actually killed Mommy? How could he stop his son from waiting and waiting and waiting for Mommy to miraculously return because, after all, Ms. Prentiss had?
Aaron thought he was going to vomit.
Spencer and Jack continued to hold each other close.
Aaron placed his arms around them, the people he loved most in the world, and offered whatever scant comfort he could. He had no idea how he was going to get through this.
The funeral was beautiful. Aaron felt sick.
He wondered how they had weighed down the casket – was there another lost soul whose body would now lie forever under Emily Prentiss’ name or had they actually used weights to mimic the feel of Emily’s weight.
Aaron decided he didn’t want to know.
There were so many times he almost faltered that day, almost blurted out the truth. There was an instant where his gaze met JJ’s eyes, and he could see her resolve and determination to see this through. But JJ would not be at the Bureau when this ceremony was over. She would not have to deal with the team’s – with Spencer’s – day-to-day anguish and grief. She would just go about her new life and her new job and never had to deal with the repercussions of her silence.
Because of that, for a moment, Aaron hated her.
They returned home after the funeral and Spencer, essentially, pounced on Aaron, lustful and demanding. Spencer’s kisses were all tongue and teeth and desperation. Aaron understood – he truly did – because facing death and loss made you frantic to feel alive. He still remembered when he had gone to Spencer’s apartment immediately after Haley’s death to end their then-fledgling relationship and he had been close – oh so close – to pushing Spencer against the wall and taking him one last time. But he knew he’d never be able to look at himself in the mirror again.
He wondered if he would be able to look at himself now.
Aaron almost couldn’t respond to Spencer. Almost. But Spencer was hard and warm and needy beneath him, and Aaron’s body betrayed his ethics. He pounded into his lover, knowing he had to be causing Spencer pain but responding to Spencer’s cries of “more” and “faster” and “harder” and “please”. Aaron kept up the frenzied pace that Spencer set as he pulled Aaron deeper and scratched his back and pulled his hair and cried out his release.
And when it was over – because nothing can burn so hot for too long – Spencer rolled away. Aaron could see the shaking of his lover’s shoulders as the silent tears finally began to fall. All Aaron could do was to gather Spencer’s reluctant form into his arms and stroke his back and whisper, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” into his hair over and over again.
There was no way that Aaron Hotchner was going to let Erin Strauss conduct the grief assessments on his team. He would never allow her to see them when they were at their weakest, their most vulnerable, with their pain and anger and grief bleeding out of them with every breath. They were his to protect, especially now, since he had failed abysmally to protect them from this anguish (like he had failed abysmally to protect Emily and keep her safe).
Besides, this was his penance, the price he had to pay, for furthering this lie with his silence.
Morgan’s anger was expected (and Aaron wondered if Morgan would punch him in the face if… when… he found out the truth). Garcia’s denial was, in a way, heart-warming, because she chose to dwell on the happiness and the good. Rossi’s attempt at deflection was noted and commented upon, because the assessment really was about Dave, not Aaron, and Aaron needed to ensure that Dave bought the lies.
Aaron didn’t have the energy to counsel Seaver, who he could see lingering on the edges, not wanting to burden others with her pain (since, it could be said, she barely knew Emily), yet still feeling a sense of grief and loss. Aaron thought, briefly, about speaking with her, but he could barely hold himself together for those who mattered most; he couldn’t take on the burden for another who was on the outskirts. He hoped, for her sake, that Dave sat down with her at some point, but Aaron could not. Besides, Strauss had only requested assessments for his team, and Seaver, despite her enthusiasm and longing, was not part of Aaron’s team.
And then there was Spencer. Aaron knew that Spencer knew how to game the system, how to say what everyone wanted to hear, how to hide his own despair, but to get confirmation that Spencer had been doing that since he was a child made Aaron’s heart ache. He had expected Spencer to lie, or to maintain the persistent silence that had been lingering at home. Aaron was almost upset – irrationally, he knew – that Dr. Reid would officially talk to Agent Hotchner when Spencer could barely speak personally of the situation to Aaron. But listening to Reid… Spencer… open up, hearing his bewilderment, his doubts about the job, his realization that his ‘family’ couldn’t keep each other safe, tore Aaron to pieces. Aaron knew that Spencer needed him to be the boss, to give him directions and to help Spencer lift himself out of the quagmire of despair. But Aaron couldn’t speak, didn’t know how to speak anymore. There were times – many times – that Aaron didn’t think that he was strong enough to keep up this façade, this lie. So he stayed silent so as not to cry out the truth, as his heart broke even more at Spencer’s every word.
Aaron watched as the team continued to solve cases, continued to work, continued to move on with their lives. Aaron watched as they turned to each in their grief, seeking solace in their friendships. Aaron watched as Spencer hid his headaches and as he pretended that Emily’s “death” had not caused a rift between them at home, because there was only so much of Aaron’s silence that Spencer could be expected to tolerate. Aaron watched as the team ignored the rumors – rumors of budget cuts, rumors that the team was “cursed,” rumors that they would be separated. Aaron watched as they held their heads up high with dignity and performed their jobs with the utmost professionalism.
Aaron had never been so proud of them.
Aaron had never felt so alone.