Notes: A short little Hotch/Rossi first date story for @valyerena. Happy Birthday! I have more in the works for these two (a lot of my 200 followers celebration requests have been for Hossi and I'm not upset), but I wanted to make sure to get something up for your birthday. <3 It's barely edited and a little disjointed but fluffy and sweet.
There was a little restaurant Aaron had always wanted to go to. It was right down on the pier with a view of the water and Mount Rainier, but Haley didn't like seafood and it was far too indulgent to go on his own, or so he told himself. It wasn't exactly fancy, you didn't need reservations and there certainly wasn't a dress code but there was just something that had always just drawn him to it. In fact, it was more of a tourist trap than anything if he really considered it, but that didn't matter. Maybe it was the bright orange neon sign you could see from miles away, right there on the boardwalk, next to the aquarium and the tourists and the smell of the Puget Sound that called to him. He'd walked by it dozens of times a week during his lunch hour, biked past it, rode the train past it. No matter where he went in Seattle, he seemed to gravitate there, and yet he never went, just watched couples and happy families going in and out and dreamed of it. It had become an odd fixation of his, a point of contention between he and Haley until they moved back East and it was forced to live only in his subconscious.
“Aaron, why don't you just get lunch there? It's a fish bar, not a Michelin star restaurant.”
“By myself?” he asked, scandalized by the thought. He wasn't sure why, he'd always liked being alone, he'd eaten at plenty of establishments on his own, even gone to movies on his own. Still, he stared at Haley like she had a second head and she just laughed at how utterly ridiculous her husband was while she folded laundry on the sofa.
“Yes, Aaron. By yourself.”
“They have salads and burgers, too, you know.” Stabbing in the dark. He knew she wasn't going to take the bait. She just rolled her eyes dramatically and threw a towel at him to fold.
“I'm not going to order a burger or a salad at a seafood restaurant. Find someone who likes fish and go with them, or go by yourself. Or...never go. Your call, babe.”
Being back in Seattle, it was the first thing he thought of. They landed, and he stood up, arched his back to stretch out, and followed Dave out of the jet thinking about that stupid little restaurant, so built up in his psyche now that it couldn't possibly live up to the hype. Maybe it wouldn't even be open anymore, maybe it was a sushi place or a gift shop now. He frowned, standing in the purple and gold twilight, dreading the ride downtown. He'd asked them to just get them their own vehicle but the head of the Field Office insisted on driving them, said it was an honor but Aaron wasn't sure they'd feel that way when he threw up all over the backseat.
“Dinner?” Aaron asked, sliding into the backseat of the SUV with some trepidation, arranging his bags at his feet and on his lap. He hugged the door close and did his best to avoid looking out the window, instead he focused on Dave and the other agents while they spoke, just to avoid the inevitable motion sickness that came from being in the back of a moving vehicle. Nothing exposed his need for control faster than not being the one to drive. There was no focusing on a fixed point that would help him, just careful distraction, so Dave did his best to keep the conversation with the other two agents engaging.
“I could eat,” Dave replied under his breath, still listening to the agents in the front seat. He could tell the agents were nervous, the way they rambled on and on about everything they'd set up and done for the week, looking for nods of approval or pats on the back from the more seasoned agents in the back. It happened often when they flew out to help prep for big trials, and in this case, it was the biggest Washington State had seen in decades, so the newspapers were saying. When Aaron had been asked to come out, he insisted on bringing Dave as well, Dave knew the case better than anyone and Derek could run things back home for a few days.
“You like seafood?” Aaron whispered, taking a chance. Dave shrugged and nodded, a careless little motion that read as being non-committal at best. Aaron stared at him, willing him to say something, give him a solid answer.
“Sure,” was his reply, and that was that. Aaron took it as a done deal, they were going to his little fish bar and he was finally going to be disappointed by reality not living up to fantasy. They dropped their files off at the Field Office and made their way to the hotel, asking to get an SUV for their own use for the rest of the week. Aaron knew he wouldn't be able to be carted around like a child in the back of an SUV all week, there was no way. He'd rather walk or get a bike.
“We can drive you anywhere you need to go, it's no trouble,” Agent Kennedy said, a little bashfully. Dave shook his head and tried not to crush the kid, he looked so young. He wasn't sure he'd ever been so young in his life.
“I'm sure you must have better things to do than chauffeur two old men around,” Dave replied, winking, lightening the mood. “We can drive ourselves. Agent Hotchner lived in Seattle for two years, we'll manage.” Agent Kennedy opened his mouth to protest, but the look on Aaron's face when he returned from checking them in scared him into silent agreement with their demands. He told them he'd do what he could and left them to get settled in.
“Sharing a room,” Aaron said, waving the key. “The bureau's generosity knows no bounds.”
“Just like old times,” replied Dave, with a coy little smile and they made for the elevator at the end of the corridor. Aaron wasn't unhappy about it, he'd always liked sharing his room with Dave, there was something so easy about the way they fell into sync together, shared a space without stepping on toes. Dave always brought the nice scotch and he slept so peacefully that Aaron couldn't help getting at least a little good shut eye when they shared a room. “So, this restaurant you want to take me to...it's the one Haley wouldn't go to, huh?”
“You remember that?”
“Aaron,” Dave started, but he caught himself, carefully planned his reply instead of just winging it. Not the time to be coy, to flirt, not until wine. They'd been cautiously flirting for years, but wine helped.
“I listen when you talk.” Sappy, but not over the top. It made Aaron blush, though, he could see it. Aaron didn't blush the way other people did, it never hit his cheeks, but his neck would flush bright splotchy pinks and reds and Dave knew it spread down to his collar bone like a rash. He'd made an inappropriate joke once while Aaron was in the hospital and watched it happen through the wide open gown, was so enthralled by how bizarre it was. He couldn't imagine anything more on brand, he even blushed in private, like he was allergic to attention. You had to know what you were looking for to even notice.
They settled into the hotel room, changed from work clothes to play, and set out on foot. Aaron decided he only needed a sweater, maybe because he was showing off over having lived in Seattle – he wouldn't bring an umbrella and he wouldn't wear a jacket, the locals didn't bother with those things and he'd been local once. He didn't know why he felt so strongly about it, but he watched as Dave put on his dinner jacket and a pea coat and he thought about grabbing his coat anyway, but dug in. He'd manage. It was April, it wasn't warm but it wasn't cold either. Their hotel was just up the street from the boardwalk, they could see the lights and the people from their sixth floor window. The walk was brisk, a little windy and they sucked in the smell of the briny sea air and watched the throngs of people pass them in loud groups, families with children tugging them along toward the aquarium or the market.
“A neon sign?” Dave asked, turning to Aaron, who had his hands shoved in his pockets to keep his fingers warm, regretting his decision not to bring his coat already. He'd forgotten how quickly the temperature changed on the water.
“It's busy, that's a good sign right?”
“Listen,” Aaron began, but Dave just shook his head and opened the door for Aaron, letting him enter first. The humid heat hit them quickly, and Aaron smiled. It smelled like oysters and lemons.
“I'll try anything once. They'd better have good drinks.”
Much to Aaron's chagrin, they were seated outside, right on the pier and perused the menu as they listened to the water slapping against the pilings below them, the far off sounds of sea lions and the aquarium. The wind was chilly, his nose felt frozen but at least they'd been seated beneath an umbrella with a heater tucked inside so it was bearable. The wine list was enough for Dave to decide the restaurant was okay, not exactly what he would have selected but then, he had expensive taste. Their seafood was as fresh as it could be and prepared with skill, lightly fried oysters and carefully cooked salmon still delightful and soft and pink. They ordered nearly everything on the menu after Dave decided Aaron had waited long enough to try the damn place and then watched his brow furrow in desperation over what to pick. Conversation never lulled, and Aaron thought maybe he was flirting but he was out of his depths in that department. The more wine they consumed, the further back their stories went, dredging up old memories of Gideon and Max and driving or the time the bureau put them on a god forsaken Greyhound bus to somewhere in the mid-west, but they couldn't remember where now, the wine had pickled a few of the more important bits of the memories. Probably for the best, they both realized as they got further into it.
“You threw up in that nasty little bathroom,” Dave blurted out and Aaron laughed, nodding. He hadn't forgotten that bit, though he'd been hoping Dave would have.
“It was that air freshener the driver kept spraying, gave me a migraine.” That was the story he'd stuck with, but it was all of the smells of the bus, the motion sickness, anxiety, it was a perfect storm. He'd never been on a Greyhound bus before, and he had outright refused them since. There were two other cases that the bureau wanted to put them on those buses for and he paid for a plane ticket out of his own pocket just to avoid it each time.
“Yeah, well it was better than the smell of the diapers. I'm not sure what they were feeding that kid but I almost joined you.”
When they stood to leave, bellies full and more than a little wine drunk, Aaron shoved his hands deep into his pockets and felt a sinking regret over his decision not to bring his coat. The temperature had dropped significantly and the walk back to the hotel wasn't long, but it was long enough that his wool sweater would lose its battle with the wind. Dave slipped his pea coat off of the back of his seat and handed it to Aaron with a knowing smile. In truth, he'd only grabbed it because he knew how stubborn his friend was, his dinner jacket was more than enough for a chilly spring evening.
“No, Dave,” Aaron protested, but Dave just pushed it at him again. They stared at one another silently, Dave not willing to take no for an answer. He'd leave the coat on the chair before he put it back on himself and Aaron knew it.
“I'm plenty comfortable the way I am,” he replied and watched as Aaron pulled the jacket on slowly. He adjusted the sleeves of his sweater, tugged at them until they weren't bunched up, and smiled.
“Thanks Dave.” He knew he'd been played. Dave knew him too well.
They made their way up the boardwalk, side by side, taking the long way back to the hotel on boozy legs, breathing in the salty sea air. They were silent, just listening to the slap of the water against wood and rocks, the gulls above them screeching and squawking, the cars roaring past on the highways that twisted and curled above the city. The way the city lights reflected over the black water danced in Aaron's eyes and he felt like he was home, silly as it was. He'd loved this city once. Getting as far away from Virginia as he could had been his only real tangible dream, and for two short years, it was a reality. Slowly, he realized that might have been why he anchored himself so hard to that restaurant, a reason to return. Unfinished business in the Emerald City. It hadn't been disappointing, but he knew while he ate his meal that it hadn't been about the food at all, it was the feeling, the fixed point on his horizon. That neon sign.
“Fish Bar?” Dave asked, one eyebrow shooting comically toward his hairline. Aaron smiled a little sheepishly and looked down at his feet as he walked.
“What's wrong with that?”
“Oh, nothing. I just think I could have done better for a first date, that's all.”
Aaron made a small strangled sound, his neck flushing beneath the collar of his wool sweater and he hugged Dave's coat tight around himself. After an awful stretched moment of silence, he caught his bearings and laughed. “Okay, hot shot. Prove it.”
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Chapter 7: Details
Every word comes out in gasps. The heat of her tears could be felt in her throat, the pain of crying burning her voice. Her body aches from lack of sleep and from trying to keep her eyes open. She has been crying for days. Out of guilt, disbelief, and missing.
“Brielle, I know this is difficult for you”, Hotchner said, empathy clouding his judgement, “but I need you to tell me what you can remember about that night and Daniella”.
She looks up at him, noticing his attentiveness. She shuffles in her seat.
“She was visiting me. She was stressed and just wanted a break”, she starts, wiping her nose on her sleeve, “She just wanted a break and to come home. It was my idea to go to Larkin’. She’s gone because of me”.
She muffles her cries in her arms. Hotchner’s body softens along with his eyes, as he inches closer to her. Placing a hand on her knee, he convinces her to look up at him.
“Brielle, this is not your fault. The only person to blame is the person who hurt Daniella. But we cannot find this man without your help.”
The young woman wipes her tears with her shirt sleeve, stuttering out some breaths. Aaron’s knees gently touch the floor as his hands move to the girls biceps. After a few minutes, Brielle had resumed a normal breathing pattern, prompting Aaron to ask, “Do you want to tell me what she’s like”?
Brielle blurts out a humorous scoff saying, “She was hilarious. Such a firecracker”, before she looks to the side to find the right words.
“She wouldn’t take crap from anyone, never afraid to put someone in their place. She was uh, was talking to this guy online once, and she called it off because he kept asking her to ‘visit’ him, even though she wanted to meet in a public place first to make sure he wasn’t a creep”, she chuckled.
“She seemed smart”.
Brielle takes a deep breath. Her eyes squeeze shut, in an effort to keep the tears away. Her face shifts toward her lap, as her hands engulf each other. In a voice barely stitched together, she asks, “How did this happen to her”?
Hotchner’s heart slips into his stomach, the same way it did when he had to tell Jack his mother would not be home anymore. The pain of losing someone you love drains you, but seeing your child go through it? That damn near killed Aaron; and seeing it unfold for someone else brings those sleepless nights back.
“That’s what we’re going to figure out”, he told her, his lips curling up slightly. He hopes no one on the team sees, he would not hear the end of it.
Soon after, the door to the room creaks open. The man who enters is tall, medium build, with a tattoo on his right arm. Initially, he startles Brielle.
Hotchner notices and says, “Brielle, this is my colleague Matt. He and I want to try a cognitive interview to help you remember the night you last saw Daniella, would that be alright”?
Although unsure, she nods, prompting Matt to sit across from her.
He says, “Alright Brielle, let’s start by closing your eyes”.
She folds them shut as she listens to Matt speak. “Take a few deep breaths...relax your body...good. Now I want you to think about that night, what were you guys doing before the bar”?
The evening chill dances across her skin with the memory, “We had just left a restaurant, we ordered appetizers”.
“Was it happy hour”?
“It was”, she laughed.
Matt asks more trivial questions to make her immersed and comfortable. After some affirmations, Matt asks, “Okay, Brielle, is anyone there who is bothering you two? Or just one of you”?
She thinks about the bar, the red hues of the lights not helping her tipsy vision. The firmness of multiple bodies pressing on her back as she and Daniella squeezed past the crowd. How the sweat of others lingered longer than desired. One of the bodies was a guy, sporting a white tank top and blond hair. He bumped into Brielle and apologized.
“There was one guy who wanted to buy her drinks. He was really persistent, and drunk”, she started, her face contorting to find the answers.
“How did Daniella react”?
“She flirted with him a little bit, but he got too handsy and she told him to back off”, Brielle rambled, “But another guy pushed him away”.
“Did this other guy pursue one of you”?
“No he just left, I think he apologized on behalf of him. He seemed nice”.
Hotch nods and asks, “How persistent was the first guy”?
“He started getting loud. Practically threw a temper tantrum”, Brielle said, pausing as the color slowly left her face, “Oh my god, it’s him isn’t it”?!
“It’s possible, but it’s too soon to know”, He assured, keeping his voice gentle and steady.
“Do you know what he looked like? What he was wearing”?
“Yes, he was wearing a black t-shirt. He had brown hair, white. Built. Just looked like a drunk frat guy”.
Aaron provides a nod, thanking Brielle for her time. “We are going to find him Brielle”, he reassured, standing up with her and escorting her out of the room.
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