beengone

Zoe's Gift


Based on "Zoe's Reprise"

 

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It was a pretty day. The sky was a clear blue vault, a sharp contrast to the bright red leaves, the green grass. So different from the day before when it had been cold and rainy; not unusual for Cleveland at this time of year, but still…

Aaron propped his chin on his hand.

His fingers still smelled of carnations and whatever that pink flower had been. Dave had held the flowers up, standing in line at the grocery store he’d insisted they stop at. ‘Here,’ he’d said, ‘Smell that.” Aaron had dutifully bent close and cupped the flowers, making sure not to touch Dave’s fingers, and inhaled. The flowers had smelled good, a combination of spice and sweet and something he could only define as green.

He hadn’t asked Dave why he needed fragrant flowers for a girl that could no longer appreciate them. Dave was like that—intense, passionate, loyal; his heart on his sleeve for those he cared about, his heart equally out of reach for those he disliked.

A dull green leaf floated to the hood of the car, then another. Aaron watched them gravely. It was fall now, soon to be winter. Which meant the usual—a series of holidays to prepare for, one after the other. Halloween, then Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Which meant he needed to get his ass in gear and decide what he was going to do for Christmas. He’d promised Jack they’d spend as much time together as possible, but that meant Haley, too, and he wasn’t sure that was such a good idea considering his current state of, well, affairs.

Movement drew his attention and he turned to see Sheila Hawkes walking across the grass, head down, a bunch of flowers in her arms.

Damn.

Impulse made him get out, but common sense made him wait. It was unlikely she’d cause a scene at her daughter’s gravesite. She’d been unemotional the last time he’d seen her, like she was beginning to accept Zoe’s death. But it was too soon for that kind of resignation—in a few days she’d probably be just as frantic with grief as she’d been in the days after the murder.

But none of that really mattered because if she chose to have it out with Dave, he’d take it. His debt, real or imagined, was still unpaid, at least in his eyes, and he’d react as the situation required. Even if that meant assuming the entirety of blame.

So Aaron crossed his arms and leaned back against the rental and watched the little scene play out. After a moment, after they’d exchanged a brief spate of words, Dave nodded, put his sunglasses back on and turned to the car. He made his way around the gravestones, striding with purpose, but when he saw Aaron, his steps faltered. Just for a moment, though, and when he got to the car, he nodded calmly.

They climbed in. Aaron started the engine and put the car in gear. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah.”

“How is she doing?”

Dave shot him a sideways glance. “You don’t need me to tell you that, do you?”

He tightened his lips. “No, I guess I don’t.”

And that’s all they said. From the cemetery to the airport.

When they boarded the plane, the attendant smiled and pointed to their seats. They’d booked their tickets at the last minute and had to settle for business class. They were nice enough seats, but not what he was used to and as he reached to stow his bag under the seat in front of him, he wondered if he were getting spoiled.

He’d worried, in the beginning, if his decision to requisition the jet was based on need or want. Until Morgan pointed out all the hours wasted at the airport, getting from point A to point B in the terminals, the time spent going through security, as expedited as that had been.

“What are you thinking?”

He cracked a smile. “About the jet.”

“You didn’t need to stay, you know,” Dave said softly. “I would have been fine.”

He turned. Dave was staring straight ahead. To the casual observer, he seemed unruffled, even placid. But Aaron wasn’t a casual observer and knew the calm was really sheer, obstinate refusal to give in to pain. He leaned close and murmured, just as soft, “Dave. That was never going to happen.”

Dave nodded shortly, still unruffled, still placid. But as the seatbelt light came on, he brushed the back of Aaron’s hand with his fingertips and muttered, “Thanks.”

***

The trip, luckily, was short. Dave dropped off soon after takeoff. Aaron spent the next two hours working, not watching him sleep.

***

“…and the last one can wait. It’s a request from the Boise sheriff’s department for a consultation. They want a refresher course on the counter-terrorism seminar you gave last month.”

JJ’s voice was raspy with exhaustion and he pictured her, her smooth blond hair pulled back in a pony tail, surrounded by file folders and documents. “I’ll take a look at in the morning. Anything else?”

“No,” she said slowly. “Just that Director Strauss stopped by. She was looking for you. And Agent Rossi.”

“She didn’t call either of us.”

“Well,” she said, even more slowly, drawing out the syllable. “It didn’t seem all that urgent, if you know what I mean.”

Yes, he knew what she meant and he glanced briefly at Dave. He was watching steadily from his corner of the limo, legs crossed, hand resting on his knee. “Thanks, JJ. Go home.”

“Yes, sir.”

He disconnected and pocketed the phone.

“Erin?” Dave asked.

He nodded. “She was looking for us.”

Dave sighed but didn’t say anything. Aaron grimaced in response, then turned to the window and watched the shadows made by the street lamps race by.

When they pulled into the half-circle that fronted Dave’s house, he opened the door.

“Where are you going?” Dave said.

“You really don’t think I’m leaving you alone, do you?” ‘In your house with all those empty rooms?’

“But—” Dave shot a quick glance at the driver. He was out of earshot, getting their luggage out of the trunk. “Ah, screw it. I don’t care what he thinks.” He slid out and trudged up the sidewalk.

Aaron went around to the rear of the car. He got out his wallet. “I can get those. Here you go.” He held out a twenty to the driver.

“Thank you, sir.”

He nodded, put his wallet away and picked up their bags. Dave was waiting in the open door. As soon as Aaron crossed the threshold, he closed the door and set the alarm.

They walked shoulder to shoulder across the foyer, then up the stairs and down the hall. The bedroom was just as dark and cool as the rest of the house.

“Let me turn up the heat,” Dave said.

Aaron sat the bags on the chair. “You don’t have to.”

“And have you shivering with cold? I don’t think so.”

It was one of their many differences, the fact that Dave didn’t feel the cold, that he did. “Thanks.”

Dave adjusted the thermostat, then said without turning around. “Aaron? Bad pun aside, you know I’m not up to having sex tonight, right?”

“I know.” He unzipped his go-bag and got out his kit. “Which means I get the shower first.”

Dave looked over his shoulder. “Making me pay, huh?”

He hid a smile. “Exactly.”

Normally Dave would laugh at a  quip like that. Normally, he'd make a joke in return. But things weren't normal and that's the way it was.

The shower felt more than good and he stayed in longer than usual, hands propped against the wall, head bowed under the stream of water.  

If he expected Dave to join him, he was disappointed and he ended the shower the way he’d started it—alone. He got out, toweled off and then brushed his teeth. When he stepped into the bedroom, Dave gave him a pointed look that said, ‘You took your time,’ and, ‘You’re not fooling me, Aaron.’

They silently exchanged places; he went to brush his hair in front of the dresser mirror while Dave closed the bathroom door.

It would have meant more, Aaron thought as he tossed the brush on the dresser then went to get a pair of clean shorts and a t-shirt, if Dave had actually locked it. Maybe he’d suggest that. ‘Next time you really want to keep me at arm's length, Rossi, try using something more than a panel of wood.’

He snorted, then got out his laptop and case notes. He slid into bed, moving to his side.

His side.

It wasn’t really his side, just the side that Dave didn’t use, chosen without decision or discussion. Completely natural as if it had always been waiting for him, this side.

He shoved away the feeling that brought, the warmth in his stomach and chest, and began to work.

He was trying to find the words to explain SSA Rossi’s decision to call in the entire team to investigate what seemed to be a simple murder because Strauss would ask, when the bathroom door opened and Dave came out. He was only wearing a towel. Aaron kept his eyes firmly on the computer screen as Dave went to the dresser, dropped the towel, and pulled on underwear and black silk pajamas.

Black silk, Aaron had found, lived up to it’s reputation for eroticism. The only other time anyone had worn black silk pajamas around him had been Haley on their honeymoon and it had been just as sensual then as it was now.

“I know you’re not working.”

He nodded, seeing his dull reflection in the screen nod too. “No.”

Dave got into bed with a sigh, making the mattress dip. “Aaron, if you want—”

He turned his head and frowned. “No. If you don’t want to have sex, then why—” He shook his head sharply, forcing the exasperation from his voice, “It’s enough just being here.”

Dave lay back, then touched his arm and—for the first time that day—gave him a wan smile. “It is, isn’t it.”

He nodded.

“Do you need me to set the alarm earlier than usual?”

“No, six is fine.”

“I’ll make breakfast.”

“That sounds good.”

Dave turned on his side, back to Aaron, and tucked his hand under the pillow. “’Night, Aaron.”

“Goodnight.” From this angle, the nape of Dave’s neck looked uncomfortably fragile and vulnerable. He wanted to reach out and stroke, but he kept his hands to himself. Any sympathy, at this point, would be rebuffed.

He went back to work.

***

At midnight, he closed the laptop and sat it on the nightstand. Dave didn’t stir when he leaned over to see his face. He was asleep, but frowning, as if angry or unhappy.

Aaron reached out to touch his shoulder, then stopped at the last minute. What Dave needed was sleep, not comfort.

He lay down and drew the covers up, then turned on his side and closed his eyes.

***

He dreamed, a confusing parade of images and dull sounds as if he were underwater or standing in a driving rain. He thought he was at the BAU, then no, that wasn’t right—he was on a bridge and before him stood a laughing boy, a red scarf in his hand. He stepped forward and the boy rippled like a mirage and suddenly it was Olson, his laughter turning sick and taunting. He turned and ran and Aaron tried to run after but he couldn’t move because his feet and legs were made of cement. He grunted and reached out and—

He lashed out with a shout, then again, this time waking fully. “Sorry,” he mumbled because he’d done this before, dreamed of chasing someone only to wake when he’d almost just caught them. The last time, Dave had woken him at the wrong moment and he’d slugged him, hitting him on the bicep. He ran his hands over his face and turned to his back. “Did I hurt you?”

There was no answer and he stretched out his hand—to touch nothing but the bedspread. He opened his eyes and looked, and yes, Dave’s side of the bed was empty. And, if the chill of the sheets were any clue, it had been empty for a while.

He squinted up at the ceiling. There was no need to get up. Dave would be back soon; sometimes when he couldn’t sleep, he’d go to his study and write. He was working a new book featuring Jonny McHale. He was in the early stages of his research and any interruptions would be unwelcome.

Aaron lasted all of two minutes before he sighed and got up. He’d only stay for a moment, just to make sure Dave was okay.

He padded to the den and pushed the door open. It was empty. Which wasn’t good because if Dave wasn’t working or writing, there was only one place he would be.

So, guided by a pale glow that grew brighter as he walked, Aaron went downstairs to the kitchen.

He didn’t exactly sneak in, but neither did he make any obvious noise. Allowing him to lean against the door jamb and watch.

Dave was in front of the stove, on hand resting on the countertop, stirring something in a metal pot. He wearing the silk black robe that matched his pajamas and the fabric caught the light as his arm moved. His gestures were desultory, almost languid, and the scene reminded Aaron of a painting by Vermeer that Dave had showed him once. It had the same feel—warm and cozy, as if the viewer were looking in on something intensely private.

He cleared his throat.

Dave looked up. He didn't say anything for a long moment, then murmured, “Couldn’t sleep?”

Aaron didn’t bother answering. “What are you making?”

“Cocoa.”

“I thought it came in a package.”

Dave snorted. “If you’re making it, it does.”

He pushed away and came closer. He could smell the cocoa and the faint scent of Dave’s aftershave. “How do you make it?”

Dave glanced up at him and Aaron knew if the question had come from any other person, he would have said something along the lines of, ‘Didn’t your mom ever make it for you?’ But Dave knew his history, knew when to leave certain subjects alone.

“Real cocoa, a lot of sugar and two cups of milk,” Dave answered. “Or, in my case, two cups of cream.”

“Sybarite,” Aaron murmured fondly.

“‘Sybarite,’” Dave quoted. “Now there’s a word you don’t hear often enough.”

“You’ll have to use it in a book.”

Dave stopped stirring and looked up at the ceiling, pretending to think hard. “‘Eric Olson was a most vial sybarite, killing with great pleasure and rapturous specificity.'”

Dave spoke with relish but the calm was back, thick and awful. He held out his hand. “Dave—”

Dave moved out of reach, but casually, as if by accident. “Here—” He turned off the gas, spooned up some cocoa and gave it to Aaron. “Taste this.”

Aaron hesitated, but when Dave wouldn’t meet his glance, he took the spoon. It tasted okay; it was a little bitter—if he’d made it, he would have added more sugar. “It’s good.”

“It should be. Do you want some?”

No. “Yes.”

Dave turned to the cupboard and opened the door. But he didn’t reach for the mugs. He stood there, fingers clenched on the edge of the granite countertop, on the chrome doorknob. “Aaron—” he started, then he drew a deep breath. His fingers clenched until the tips were white and he tried again, "Aaron."

Aaron dropped the spoon into the pot and took two long steps,  pressing close, wrapping his arms around Dave’s waist. He laid his head on Dave’s shoulder and whispered into black silk, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He hadn’t been able to say the words before, the time hadn’t been right, but it felt as if he’d been waiting for this moment for three long days.

“All I wanted was to get to my hotel room. So damn full of myself, of my groupies. I didn’t listen to a word she said.”

He nodded, his light beard catching on the silk.

“She was so full of life, so sweet and I—”

Dave made a sound, harsh and ugly and Aaron tightened his grip, hand against Dave’s belly, his chest. He’d give anything to lessen this pain, to somehow make it gone. But life wasn’t like that—one had to live through the bad times, not around them. "I know."

Dave grabbed Aaron's hand. "I'm sorry."

He didn't know who Dave was apologizing to, and he supposed it didn't matter. “I was thinking,” he said, a spur of the moment thought taking root.

“About what?”

“Zoe would have made a good criminologist. What if we start a scholarship in her name, maybe for admission to the Academy?”

Dave stilled. “For underprivileged students?”

“Yeah. We can set it up, have it ready by next year.”

Dave drew a deep sigh, and it was as if his breath was his body—as he exhaled, he sank back into Aaron’s embrace and let go of the countertop. “The Zoe Hawkes Memorial Scholarship,” he murmured.

“It sounds good,” Aaron agreed.

Dave nodded. “It does. I'll call my financial guy on Monday. He can get going on transferring the funds. Do you think ten thousand will be enough for a start?"

"I think it's plenty. Maybe the team would like to contribute, too."

"Will you ask them?"

"I will."

"Maybe her mom will send us her picture. We can use it on the website.”

Aaron smiled and kissed the back of Dave’s ear. “There’s a website already?”

“Well, you know me.”

“Yeah, you don’t do things halfway, do you?”

Without warning, Dave turned in his arms, twisting until he was holding Aaron as he was being held. He kissed Aaron lightly at first, then deeper, tilting his head, opening Aaron’s mouth with his own, a blitz attack of the best kind.

They kissed, just that, leaning against the countertop until Dave pulled back. He scrutinized Aaron’s face, like he was examining a particularly cryptic crime scene. Then he ran his thumb over Aaron’s lower lip and whispered, “You always know what to say.”

“Not always.” A reminder that when he didn’t have the words, Dave did.

And Dave smiled, as if hearing the unspoken compliment. “C’mon,” he  said, taking Aaron’s hand. “Let’s go to bed.”

“What about the hot chocolate?”

Dave squeezed his fingers. “Leave it. I'll take care of it in the morning.”

Aaron squeezed back and as Dave led him from the kitchen, he reached out and turned off the lights.

 


fin.

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Story notes:
Aaron Hotchner/Dave Rossi
Criminal Minds
3,100+ words
All characters belong to people and organizations that are not me