BAM! IT’S HERE!!! BEFORE MIDNIGHT AS WELL!! It was 23:14 when I hit publish on ao3 and I really do need to go to sleep, but it’s here, with some level of accuracy because I googled what happened when someone has an allergic reaction.
Finally, I, the pioneer of Aaron Hotchner’s strawberry allergy, has written the fic where he eats strawberry cheesecake at an FBI function and has a reaction. It got unexpectedly dark, but we’re going with it.
As usual, I have not proofread it, and I kinda need you to suspend all belief about how the FBI works/is run because the function kinda doesn’t make much sense and yeah... you’ll see what I mean when you read... I’m really hoping this doesn’t suck because you guys actually looked forward to it??
Trigger/Content Warnings; food, referenced child death (most recent case), alcohol consumption, anaphylactic shock/allergic reactions, child abuse, hospitals and I think that’s everything
Word Count: 7669 (it got really out of hand...)
read on ao3!
If there was one thing David Rossi hated more than local press giving unsubs ridiculous names because they believed it would make a good headline, it would be FBI functions. And not just any type of FBI function. The FBI function where the Behavioural Analysis Unit- which nobody had believed in- would be mentioned so frequently that it felt like they were on a case.
It was just his luck that one was being held on the same day that he was supposed to be going to the ballet with one of the lovely women that worked in the White-Collar unit. Because despite the rumours that went flying around about him and his dating habits, he was not going to take advantage of his position and make rookies or anyone else uncomfortable. The woman he was supposed to be meeting had approached him and asked if he’d liked to go.
Hotchner had been watching him, looking slightly scandalised as she had placed her hand on his tie, and so Rossi had said yes. He’d even leant in slightly and asked if she would have a problem with him giving her a kiss on the cheek. When she said that she wouldn't, and would actually quite like that, he did and Hotchner had fallen off his chair.
Rossi had smirked, the lady had laughed and Hotchner had hit his head trying to get back up, gone an even brighter red and made something up about dropping his pen and needing to grab it. Rossi’s date had snickered, whilst Rossi had just raised an eyebrow.
Hotchner had excused himself to the bathroom.
As he ran out of their area, closely followed by Anya- she’d slipped Rossi a piece of paper with her name and number, Erin Strauss had walked in, holding two envelopes.
Rossi didn’t need to be a profiler to know what was in there.
“No,” was the first thing he said.
“David,” Strauss warned.
“Erin,” he mocked.
Strauss sighed. “Look, I know you hate these things, but the entire bureau is founded on politics and people-pleasing. If you come to this, then there may be less questions about what exactly it is you do all day, apart from ogling the other agents.”
“I do not ogle. And I guess it’s too much to hope that the other invitation is for Anya, isn’t it?”
Strauss nodded. “It’s for Aaron. Do try and get him to come, it’ll give us all something pleasant to look at whilst we slowly die inside.”
Dave stared at her.
She rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m not saying that I want to ruin his marriage or sleep with him, I’m just saying he’s objectively attractive. And I don’t know why you look so surprised, Jason told me about the women that flirt with him. And that you started calling him pretty boy, which hasn’t exactly gone unnoticed.”
“Just make an effort to actually attend. And please get Agent Hotchner there too,” she said.
Dave just nodded.
Aaron had returned from the bathroom.
“Agent Hotchner. I hope Dave hasn’t been making you feel too awkward with all of his comments,” she said. It was clear that she was just trying to see whether any had been made.
Aaron’s cheeks flushed again. “Not at all ma’am,” he said, holding the door open for her. She nodded and left, but not before turning to Dave one last time as she gave him an extremely pointed glare. He made a face at her, which caused her to laugh.
When Hotch had sat back down again, Dave finally acknowledged him.
“That trip to the bathroom seemed rather urgent,” he joked.
“I- well, so,” Hotch stuttered.
Dave shook his head. “It’s fine. And it doesn’t look like that date will be happening anyways, so it’s not a big deal.”
“Wait why won’t it be happening? You both seemed… excited at the prospect of going.”
In response, Dave threw the second envelope at his head. Aaron’s reflexes weren’t fast enough, so it just bounced off and landed on the floor. As he bent down to pick it up, Dave began to understand why Erin and the other agents thought of him as being something pleasant to look at. As in, Aaron had pretty eyes. And his hair was constantly falling in his face, which was endearing.
“That envelope is why it won’t be happening.”
Aaron stared at him and then opened it. “Oh.” He seemed even less enthusiastic than Dave did about attending.
“I thought you would have been thrilled at the thought of going. It’ll be like all those balls you went to when you were just a young boy growing up in the good old South Virginia," Dave said. He knew he was toeing the line.
Aaron's silence about his childhood revealed more than his words ever could.
"First of all, I didn't attend balls when I was a young boy. The only dance I ever went to was my prom, and that was only because Haley basically forced me to go. And South Virginia isn't that good, that's just a stereotype that people have because people live in fancy houses with white picket fences," Aaron snapped. It was uncharacteristically sharp.
"Sorry," Dave said. And he meant it.
Aaron's eyes widened. "Sir, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have lashed out at you. You've not done anything wrong. I just-"
"It's okay. Do you want to talk about it? There's no pressure, it's just if you wanted to. That seemed like quite an extreme reaction to something so trivial." Why was he so bad at this? He could charm any woman he wanted, yet the moment he tried to speak to Hotchner about anything other than work and Haley, he sounded like an idiot.
"I left prosecution because it was always more about politics than actually helping people get justice for the terrible things that had happened to them. And now it just feels like nothing has changed and time that could be spent stopping someone from destroying lives is just going to go on people-pleasing," Aaron confessed. He wouldn't meet Dave's eyes.
Dave wanted to pull him in for a hug, but he knew it would most likely not be well received. He also knew that wasn't the whole truth, but it wasn't his place to push. Aaron felt things, more deeply than the rest of them, but he would never admit to anyone that there were certain cases that got under his skin.
Like the one they had just finished. A child wasn't going to be coming home, but the look on the mother's face when they informed her was not one of sorrow. It was one of relief. Aaron had asked to stay behind to speak to her for just one more moment. And when he returned, there was an anger written in the clench of his jaw that Dave had never seen before.
Jason had told everyone to give the kid space. Against his gut instinct, Dave had listened to him. Which he now very much regretted.
"Kid. We all have limits. Nobody can spend every hour of every day hunting down these guys. At the end of the day, we're all just human. I won't lie to you, it will be a lot of people-pleasing. However, it will also- if you let it- be a bit of fun. You're a good agent Hotchner. And an even better person. Let yourself breathe for once."
Aaron looked down. "Thanks Dave."
Dave just shrugged. It was only when Aaron left the room again did he let himself groan. Now he was going to have to pretend to enjoy himself at the function or else Hotchner would just be upset because of his ruined date.
Depending on how you looked at it, the members of the BAU were either lucky or unlucky when no cases turned up the morning of the event. Dave had been watching the fax machine intently, and Max had been looking through a suspicious number of case files the entire day. But in the end, there was nothing.
Which was how Dave found himself standing around, sipping a glass of champagne he thought tasted horrible, talking to strangers he couldn't care less about and silent seething at Hotch. He wasn't there yet, despite phoning Dave to say he would be there in half an hour about forty five minutes ago.
The only reason he'd bothered to attend and not faked some form of emergency that would let him go on his date with Anya was because he wanted Hotch to have someone to keep him company and make him laugh as he suffered through conversations about being an ex-prosecutor and the change to the FBI.
He was looking round for a waiter so he could take yet another glass when Aaron appeared in the doorway, fiddling with his cuff links. His cheeks were slightly flushed and his hair was more ruffled than usual. As he entered, awkwardly greeting people and tripping over his own feet, Dave rolled his eyes.
How the kid had managed to pass all of his assessments and be the best shot in the entire building was still completely beyond him.
"Hi," Aaron greeted, a dopey grin on his face.
"It's lovely of you to join us," Dave remarked. He just couldn't help it. When Aaron's face fell slightly, he regretted it. He kept forgetting that Aaron took the things people said a bit too literally sometimes. Especially if it came from someone he looked up to.
"I'm sorry about your date being ruined," Hotch said. He was looking around at all the other people in their perfectly tailored suits and beautiful dresses. It made him- with his slightly too big shirt and undone bow tie- look even younger than he already was.
"Well barring any disasters, this should be over in time for me to make it. Anya said she could wait."
There was a slight silence, broken only by Dave rejecting what would have been his third glass of champagne and Aaron quickly accepting it. And then it became too much for him to bear.
"Kid, why is your tie undone?"
Hotch's eyes widened like he had only just realised. Rossi wouldn't have been surprised if that was true. For someone that was a profiler, he was quite oblivious sometimes. Not realising that if you took your vest off and then someone shot at you, you would suffer more than a few bruises, forgetting that his shirt collar wouldn't cover his entire neck, the list went on.
But this was something entirely different. Aaron Hotchner's tie was never undone.
Rossi raised an eyebrow when an entire minute passed without him explaining himself and the colour rose to his cheeks.
"Well, it took me a really long time to do it the first time and then Haley came into our room to grab her bag. And then she really likes it when I get all dressed up because I normally hate doing it- I mean I always hate it- so then she, you know and then I thought I had tied it properly but clearly I hadn't."
Rossi had never heard so many words spoken in a single breath. He did however, understand what the kid was trying to say. "Well at least one of us got to have some fun tonight," he joked.
"Is that why everyone's been staring at me?" Hotch asked, turning his back to Strauss. The woman simply raised an eyebrow, then raised her glass of champagne at Rossi, who glared at her, just because he could.
"Yes," he lied, because he was not about to be the one that explained to him that people were staring at him because he had been deemed the eye candy of the Quantico and therefore, everyone loved him.
"You're lying to me. I can tell! What's the truth?"
Not for the first time, Dave wondered what he'd been thinking when he saw the lead agent in Seattle run after a suspect without any sort of back-up, slip in poison ivy and then carry on running, even though everyone else had realised it wasn't the killer they were after and decided that he would make them into a profiler.
"Are you sure you want to know?" he said, making his voice as serious as he could in a vain attempt to make him change his mind.
"Yes. Because it's nowhere near as bad or as serious as you're making it out to be."
"Fine. But I did warn you. It's because you are- objectively- attractive. And apparently, your slightly repressed accent makes everyone swoon. Also Strauss thinks you have a nice ass," Dave said, completely nonchalant.
Hotch's cheeks went brighter than ever before and he spun round, searching for Erin. She had rather coincidentally turned her back to the two of them as she engaged in a very serious conversation with another Section Chief.
"I- I don't even want to know how you know that," Aaron muttered, stuffing his hands into his trouser pockets, looking like a petulant child.
"Oh I thought you would love it! You're basically a Southern Belle."
Dave was lucky he was immune to the Hotchner Glare as it came out in full force. "Don't call me a Southern Belle. Do you even know what that is?"
Dave shrugged. "I'm sure I could guess. Look, I'm sorry, I'm just being bitter. Come here."
Aaron regarded him suspiciously. "Why?"
If it had been anyone else, Dave would have told them it was a surprise. Or that they wouldn't know until they stepped forward. But Aaron wasn't anyone else, and Dave needed to remember that. There were certain things he just couldn't say.
"We're going to be here for a while. You can't just stand there with your bow tie undone."
Aaron narrowed his eyes, but stepped forward. When Dave reached forward and grabbed the ends, he tensed. To anyone else, it was too minute a gesture to be noticed. But Dave had spent more time reading people than he had with his second wife. He knew why Aaron was tensing. It was why he took as little time as possible tying it neatly, even though he wanted to take forever.
So that the other agents wouldn't be staring and making him self conscious. That was his only reason. It had nothing to do with the attachment he could feel himself forming, and it most definitely was not linked to his desire to help Aaron associate touch with love and comfort.
When he stepped away, Aaron seemed to relax slightly. "Thank you," he said, ever the gentleman.
Dave just shrugged. "You look better with it done properly. Speaking of, where is Haley?"
"What does Haley have to do with me looking better with my tie done properly?"
"Your tie wasn't done properly because of Haley. Come on Hotch, I thought you were meant to be an ex-prosecutor. And we both know the two of you are inseparable."
Hotch flushed, the way he always did when someone mentioned just how in love with Haley he was. Dave found it adorable, even though he hated himself for that. But he knew how important Haley must have been to Aaron's survival, so even though he wasn't her biggest fan, he begrudgingly respected her.
"She's out with her sister," he mumbled. "They made plans ages ago and they've been so excited for it that I couldn't ask her to cancel just to keep me company."
"That's kind of you. Most men probably wouldn't let their spouse just leave them when there's an event like this going on," Dave said.
"If you want to go on your date I'll cover for you when Strauss comes calling," Aaron said, rather suddenly.
Rossi frowned at him. Aaron had seemed excited at the thought of spending the evening together when he first arrived and for him to suddenly seem so willing to spend it apart, just so Dave could go on a date with someone who he was sure was lovely but he couldn't envision a future with, was more than a little unusual.
"Like I said, barring any disasters, I should be able to make it. Are you annoyed at me for bringing up Haley? I know that we had a bit of a rocky start when we first met, but I do respect her. And I like to think she appreciates the fact that I keep you alive."
"I'm not annoyed at you for bringing up Haley," Hotch said, huffing slightly. He was fiddling with his cufflinks. Dave wanted to comment on his behaviour, but did not want to be reminded of the no-profiling rule- which Hotch himself had implemented.
"Well you're annoyed at me for something and I would appreciate you telling me, instead of just bottling it up until we're on a case and something else happens."
"Dave, I am fine," Hotch snapped, tone mitigating his words.
"I'm sure you are," Rossi snapped back, turning away. Strauss was frowning at the two of them and he rolled his eyes. Screw etiquette, and screw the people that thought they were being unprofessional and causing a scene.
They were, but he wasn't going to admit it.
"Do you really think I would forbid my wife to do something as harmless as going out with her sister the same night that I have to attend quite possibly the most boring function known to man?" Hotch suddenly asked, tone laced with malice.
"Of course not Hotshot. I was joking," he said, softening his tone as the problem clicked.
"I wouldn't. I'm not her keeper. And I'm not-" he caught himself, shaking his head. "I just wouldn't."
"I know. I'm sorry, it was wrong of me to joke that like that," Dave said, catching Erin's eye. She nodded, clearly pleased that he had resolved something without resorting to violence or shouting.
He didn't acknowledge her. He wasn't an idiot, and he knew that resorting to violence or even raising his voice would lead to some sort of shut down from Aaron. And he did want the kid to enjoy himself, even though he did agree that playing politics whilst people were dying was stupid.
"The decoration is nice," Aaron commented, a few minutes later.
"It is, isn't it? It reminds me of this opera house I took Carolyn to, for one of our anniversaries. Actually, that opera house seems like the sort of place Haley would enjoy going to. I'll give you the name, you can surprise her," Dave said, deciding he would take the win and prod later.
Aaron choked on his champagne, colour rising to his cheeks when he realised people were watching him cough. He cleared his throat once more before turning to Dave, making absolutely no attempt to hide his shit-eating grin.
"What?" Dave said, hating himself for taking the bait.
"I have to tell Haley that you think she's the kind of person that would go and enjoy herself at an opera house."
"Is she not?"
"Dave, for our last anniversary, I took her to the local theatre because they were putting on Pirates of Penzance because that's what got us together. And the year before that, we both thought it was a week later than what it was, so her sister ended up taking us out."
Maybe Dave wasn't as good a profiler as he thought he was, because in his mind, he had a very specific image of Haley, and none of what had just been said fit with that image. He supposed that was what he got for making assumptions, having never actually met her in person.
"Oh, that's certainly interesting," Dave said.
"She's a very interesting woman," Hotch said, smiling so wide it physically hurt Rossi to see because he knew how the BAU burnt out love, and the strain it put on marriages. Hell, he had lived through it.
"Hold onto her Aaron," he said, without thinking.
Aaron frowned. "Of course I will. Dave, you've been acting weird the whole time we've been here. Are you okay?"
In all honesty, he wasn't. He always said he wasn't like Jason. He had no interest in being a mentor, or finding the next generation of profilers. That was never what he wanted. But there was something about Aaron, and his too large suits and his floppy hair that made him feel things he wasn't ready to confront.
But if he said any of that, Aaron would probably run for the hills. Hell, he probably would too.
"Of course I am. Now loosen up and enjoy yourself. I can tell you want to," he said, smiling when Aaron's eyes sparkled.
"What do you think Strauss would do if I told her I know what she thinks about my butt?" he asked, the smirk on his face far too mischevious for anyone's comfort.
"You can find out now," Dave said, nodding as Strauss approached them.
"Dave. Aaron, you look very handsome," Erin said, looking him up and down once.
Whatever had possessed Aaron just a few moments before had clearly vanished, as his cheeks flushed and he awkwardly stuttered out something that nobody, not even the person speaking, understood.
"Thank you… Ma'am. You look very nice too," he eventually managed to say, sipping his champagne to distract from his failure at speaking.
"Is there something you need?" Dave said.
"No, just making sure you weren't too bitter about your date being cancelled. And also making sure that Agent Hotchner would save both of us a dance after dinner. I'm sure everyone from Quantico wants to know whether or not our Southern Belle can dance," Erin said.
Hotch downed the rest of his glass. "I'm not- it doesn't work like- I don't- I really don't think- fine. One dance. But that is it, and none of you are allowed to laugh if I mess up, because I'm not the dancer. Haley is."
Haley seemed to be a lot of things that Aaron wasn't. Maybe it was part of the reason they were so well-matched.
Erin nodded, smiled at them both, then went to mingle with different people.
"See, everyone thinks you're a Southern Belle!" Dave said, smirking.
"But why? I've done everything I can to repress my accent, and I have done since the day I started law school," Aaron said. He did not whine, because grown men that worked for the FBI do not whine. But if they did, his sentence would have definitely sounded like whining.
"I know, and most days, it's only the slightest thing. I don't really know how everyone worked it out, but they did. And that's fine!"
"Look, if you really don't want to dance, you could always land yourself in the hospital with some kind of injury. I could take you, sneak off to my date, Haley would affectionately roll her eyes and then give you all the kisses you want…" Rossi said, smirking.
"No it's fine. I'm not going to fake an injury, that would be so embarrassing," Hotch replied.
"Then stop pouting, you look like a child. And go mingle with someone else, if you spend the entire time before dinner with me, what will people say?"
Hotch snorted, then schooled his face into a look of neutrality, before nodding and going off to speak to one of the other higher-ups. Rossi noticed, rather fondly, that it was the one person that actually cared about the people involved in their cases, as opposed to just the politics and the prestige.
About five minutes later, he realised he missed the kid. And then he started to panic. Because he didn't get attached to people. Especially not new agents that had too much hope and faith. Not new agents that were that nice. He didn't. He couldn't.
Him and Aaron ended up seated next to each other at the banquet table, because there genuinely was no other way to describe it. It was long, and grand, and every platter was filled to the brim with food of so many different types. Dave honestly could not remember what the function was actually for, but a part of him was tempted to comment that if part of the budget for these events went to the BAU then they'd probably be able to properly fund the unit.
He refrained, if only because Aaron looked so excited at the prospect of finally eating something. Dave had learnt long ago that you had to eat before you came to these events because people loved talking and more often than not, you'd drink the champagne just to get through their conversations, but clearly Aaron hadn't quite learnt that lesson yet.
"So where is that wife of yours?" Max asked, seemingly out of the blue.
Hotch tensed. "Out with her sister. Why?"
"I've only seen you smile like you are now when Haley is around, but I don't see her anywhere," he said, in that annoyingly patronising tone of his.
Hotch relaxed, but flushed. "I-oh. Yeah. She's out with Jessica because they had made plans a while back and they don't really see each other as much anymore because Haley's busy teaching and doing the school production, and Jessica's getting her Masters so," he trailed off.
"I think it's lovely, how much you love Haley," Erin added.
Dave snorted into his glass, not at the fact that Aaron looked so uncomfortable but at the fact that these people hunted down serial killers and criminals for a living, and yet the thing they got the most joy from was teasing a kid about his marriage.
"Right, that's enough being mean to the newbie. What about dessert?" Dave said.
Aaron flashed him a grateful smile. He just shook his head. He remembered when he’d turned up to his first event, Carolyn in awe of all the decorations and outfits, and everyone else had been ruthless with their teasing. He wasn’t about to let Hotch suffer that same fate. He’d probably faint with embarrassment.
Erin laughed at the two of them, and Jason smiled at Dave’s defensiveness over his new protege. One day. One day Jason would get Dave to admit that the way he felt towards Aaron was nothing short of paternal. Max just rolled his eyes, but the waiters came to clear their plates before he could make another biting comment.
Aaron excused himself to the bathroom, and then the dessert was brought out. Dave, being the saint he was, switched his and Aaron’s plates because he wasn’t getting younger and he knew he was meant to be cutting down on his sugar. So if Aaron had the bigger slice, then it would do them both a favour. And it had a whole strawberry to decorate it, not just the jam.
Erin was giving him one of his looks when their eyes met and he resisted the urge to stick his tongue out. He knew what that look meant. It meant Erin had an opinion on whatever he had just done, and it was one he wouldn’t like or approve of.
“Look, it’s strawberry cheesecake!” Dave exclaimed, poking his fork in Aaron’s direction in an attempt to distract from Erin’s gaze.
The smile that had been plastered across Aaron’s face since they’d been sat down- and Dave really didn’t want to think that it was as a result of Erin’s comment about his butt, although it was the only thing that made sense- faded, and the colour seemed to drain from his face.
“What is it? Come on, you must love dessert, you’re the kid,” Dave said, slightly teasing.
Aaron opened his mouth, seemingly contemplating saying something that he thought would ruin the entire evening, but then he closed it and gave Dave a forced, tight-lipped smile. He almost pushed, but they had been having fun, so he just grinned back and urged Hotch to eat it.
If anyone noticed him wince as he swallowed each bite, or the fear that flickered in his eyes when he ate the strawberry, they didn’t comment. For that, he was grateful. He still had no idea what he was meant to do when the inevitable happened, but so long as nobody realised, he had time to work it out. All he needed was time.
He did really miss Haley though. If Haley had been there, she would have said something on his behalf because she would have known there was no way he would do it himself. It was too late to turn back now though. There was a tiny part of him that secretly hoped he’d outgrown it, but the moment he felt stomach cramps forming, he knew that was wishful thinking. Still, if he was lucky, nothing too serious would happen until he got home. Haley would panic, take him to the hospital and everything would be fine. Nobody else would have to know.
Or so he thought.
He’d gotten so good at not eating strawberries that he had completely forgotten just how badly, and quickly, the effects would hit him. He had forgotten just how allergic he was to the fruit. And he was aware of how stupid that sounded, but it was just one of those things.
Dave was staring. So was Erin. He cleared his throat, awkwardly looking down. When the waiters came out once more to clear the plates away, he smiled at them, hoping his cheeks didn’t seem flushed, or his palms too clammy.
“You promised me a dance,” Dave said, nudging his elbow.
“I did, didn’t I?” Aaron responded, hoping his voice didn’t sound too strained. When he stood up, his vision went slightly fuzzy and unfocused, and he found himself grabbing the table in order to stay upright.
He was going to be fine. All he had to do was make it through another few hours, and there was always a delay between his vision blurring and breathing becoming difficult, so with just a bit of luck, he could still do it.
Luck had never really been on his side.
Erin was standing, talking to Dave, and he couldn’t remember what he was meant to be doing, or why nobody was dancing. Maybe they had just been teasing him when they said he owed them both a dance. Or maybe they were waiting for him to do something. Either way, the confusion wasn’t helping him function.
“Kid, what’s happened to your hand?” Dave said suddenly. It reminded him of that time his cousin had eaten shellfish, but that didn’t make sense. There was no way Aaron had hit adulthood without realising he was allergic to the things they’d eaten.
Aaron stared at him.
Erin grabbed his wrist, the look that crossed her face one of fear and panic. “Aaron.”
It couldn’t be. There was no way the ugly red rash forming on his hand as they watched him was being caused by an allergic reaction. It just couldn’t, because Hotchner may have been stupid and irresponsible, but there was no way he was that irresponsible.
He cleared his throat.
“Now would be a terrible time to tell you that I’m allergic to strawberries, wouldn’t it?” he rapsed.
Dave’s jaw dropped. “You’re what?”
Aaron Hotchner’s timing had never been good. It had actually always been abysmal. He was born early, in both senses of the word, met the girl he would end up marrying on the last day before a three month holiday which she would spend out of the state, and was generally just not smooth with the way he did things.
So as if on cue, he fell to the ground, completely losing consciousness. Clearly the delay between his vision growing blurry and his breathing becoming shallow was not the large space of time he thought it would be.
“Aaron!” Dave yelled.
Erin dropped to her knees by her side. “Dave, phone for an ambulance. Now.”
Dave blinked a few times, then realised what she was asking him to do and ran out the room to find the phone. When he was patched through, he realised he had no idea if what Aaron was experiencing was just a reaction, or anaphylactic shock, but he just explained himself as best he could, only relaxing when they said it was likely everything would be fine and they would be there soon.
He re-entered the room only two minutes later, and Aaron was still in the recovery position.
“The idiot doesn’t have an EpiPen on him. I don’t know why, but he doesn’t, so now we literally have to wait until the ambulance gets here and hope for the best,” Erin said, some strange mix of angry and terrified.
“He doesn’t have his- what kind of- why not?” Dave said.
When he looked around the room, he realised it was suddenly startlingly empty. It was just Erin, him, Aaron- who still hadn’t come around- and Jason. Max was suspiciously absent. He figured that was for the best. If anyone would make the situation more awkward than it already was, it’d be Max.
“He managed to get everyone to go downstairs, then said he would stay with them. We figured the less people around when he woke up, the less embarrassed Hotchner would be,” Jason explained. “And on that note, I’ll go explain to the paramedics what happened,” he added, as sirens filled the air.
“Dave, when did our lives suddenly become co-parenting this mess of an adult if only so he gets home safe to Haley?” Erin suddenly asked.
“We don’t co-parent him. No. We just… look after him the way we would do with any other new agent that was his age,” Dave said, although he wasn’t even convincing himself. Erin didn’t respond, just looked at him with that glint in her eye.
He didn’t get the chance to carry on with his argument because Jason entered with the paramedics, and him and Erin moved away. It seemed like they had already been informed that Aaron didn’t have an EpiPen on him, because the first thing they did was inject him. There was one terrifying moment, in which Erin grabbed his wrist, where Dave thought they were too late, but they weren’t.
Aaron opened his eyes, obviously disoriented and immediately after lifting his head, let it hit the floor again. He seemed far too pale, but nothing gave the impression that he was going to be sick, so Dave relaxed. When he and Erin were finally able to go over, Aaron was almost done answering their questions, some of the colour returning to his face in the form of flushed cheeks.
If he was capable of embarrassment, then everything was going to be fine.
“We’re going to need to take him to the hospital for observation and to make sure he doesn’t have a secondary reaction, but one of you is welcome to come. In fact, it would be preferred, wouldn’t it Aaron?” one of the paramedics said.
Aaron nodded, not quite meeting anyone’s eyes.
“Dave, you should go. Aaron, I don’t want to see you in the office until you’ve been cleared both by the doctors and by Haley to return. Do you understand me?” Erin chastised, sound every bit the mother Aaron had never had.
He nodded miserably, closing his eyes, and for a few moments, Dave felt terrible for him because so many pieces seemed to be falling into place now. And then he remembered that the whole thing had been caused by Aaron not saying he was allergic. He still felt terrible, but he also wondered what the hell he was meant to say to Haley.
“Come on kiddo,” he said as gently as he could, helping Aaron to his feet and into the elevator.
When he was safely sat in the ambulance, and they were well on their way to the hospital, he raised an eyebrow at Aaron who pulled a face.
“Don’t,” he protested weakly.
“So you’re allergic to strawberries,” Dave said. “How long have you been sitting on that piece of information for?”
“I’ve known since I was four and ended up in the hospital after I went strawberry picking with my mother and ate one of them.”
“Aaron, nobody was going to be offended. You could have just said something, it would have been okay. Really, you can’t judge someone just because they have an allergy, and everyone would have just moved on. You didn’t need to eat it.”
Aaron swallowed. “When I was eight, my father bought strawberry tarts for my mother and I, because he knew she had friends round and he wanted to seem like a dutiful husband. He didn’t- she’d kept the first time a secret from him because he’d been out of town. And when she tried to tell him, he said I was being difficult, then he made me eat it whilst she told her friends everything was fine. I only survived because she snuck in with my EpiPen.”
“Oh kid,” Dave said, chilled to the bone.
He shook his head. “I knew, realistically, that nobody would say anything, but I just couldn’t shake the memory of being told that if I was going to waste food, then I didn’t deserve it.”
“Aaron, that’s not-”
“I know that. Now at least. Thanks for not reacting weirdly. Or thinking less of me.”
“Agent Hotchner- are you still esquire, oh it doesn’t matter, esquire- nothing would ever make me think less of you. Especially not this. It wasn’t your fault. It was never your fault, and I know it’s easy for me to see, but I need you to know that.”
Aaron gave him a slight smile, eyes watering. “Thank you Dave.”
“I do have one question though. Where the fuck was your EpiPen?”
He made a sound, one that Dave was not going to dignify by actually naming in his head.
“That didn’t sound like an answer young man,” he teased.
Aaron sighed. “It- okay. My blazer pockets weren’t big enough to fit it, and I figured strawberries isn’t exactly a common thing, so it would be fine if I left it in the car, but then I didn’t want to say anything, and then I passed out before I could- oh.”
“Did everyone see me collapse?”
Dave considered lying, but Aaron had bared his soul to him. He owed him this small piece of honesty. “Yes, but they also witnessed me running like a headless chicken to get to the phone and Erin completely freaking out, so it’s all okay. I promise.”
Aaron nodded, not fully convinced. “Thank you. For caring.”
And one day, Dave would teach him that caring was what people did for each other. That it wasn’t something he had to earn, or something that would be snatched away at the smallest transgression. He would teach him that the love he had always deserved but never been shown was going to come from more than just Haley. It was going to come from every single good person he knew.
But in that moment, he just leant over and ruffled his hair. And maybe the gesture was paternal, but he could live with that.
“Mrs Hotchner’s been waiting for you all to arrive,” the receptionist said the moment they came through the doors. Aaron relaxed at the mention of his wife.
“You can send her in as soon as we go in. He’s been treated, we’re just keeping him for observation,” the paramedic said. The receptionist nodded and turned to one of their colleagues, who immediately got up.
Dave hung around as they got him situated, wondering when would be an appropriate time to leave. He didn’t want to step on Haley’s toes, or make her feel like she wasn’t trusted, but he also didn’t really want to leave either of them. Not if the real timeline matched the one he’d created in his head. She would have just been a child too, but children always believed that they needed to save everyone and anything less was a failure. He didn’t know how to say that their job was to be a child, and it was on the adults to keep them safe without patronising the two of them.
So he sat instead, keeping Aaron company until he was no longer needed.
Haley came rushing in the moment she was allowed to, her eyes slightly red. They must have told her how severe the situation was, and Dave felt guilty for making her panic so much, when Aaron was doing much better already.
“Baby, they told me what happened. How are you feeling? Is your heartbeat erratic? Is there anything you need?” she asked, not even acknowledging Dave. He wasn’t offended though. The love Haley had for her husband was the most fierce thing he’d witnessed, and now he understood. She’d spent her entire life defending him and the love she had for him.
He shook his head, then grinned at her. “Kiss me?” he asked, and for a moment, he was just a normal man, so in love with his wife it physically hurt to witness.
“I shouldn’t- me and Jess had strawberry margaritas before we got the phone call. She’s coming round tomorrow to check on you herself by the way,” Haley said, brushing his hair off his head with a smile.
Aaron nodded. “I’d expect nothing less. Oh Haley, this is Dave. And Dave, this is Haley.”
“It’s lovely to meet you,” Dave said.
“You too. So, what happened? Because you told me it was just a function, and then when I got home, there was a message from the hospital that you were being brought in for anaphylactic shock which doesn’t make any sense because you don’t eat strawberries anymore!” Haley said.
Aaron had the decency to look away. “I didn’t want to cause a scene so I ate this slice of strawberry cheesecake. And I thought it would be fine- well not fine, don’t look at me like that. I thought I’d be able to last till I got home. I’m sorry.”
“Baby, I’m not angry, don’t worry,” Haley said, taking his hand. “Just do what the doctors say, okay? And please don’t eat strawberries anymore just to be polite.”
“I’m afraid I may have made it worse,” Dave confessed, needing them to know, even though it had not been intentional, by any stretch of the imagination.
“What do you mean? How?” Haley asked. Aaron lifted his arm enough to signal that he had the same question.
“I switched our plates when they got given to us so Aaron had the bigger slice. It also had a whole strawberry on it, instead of just half a slice. Maybe if I hadn’t done that, his reaction would have been less severe. I’m sorry.”
Haley, in spite of, or maybe because of that single comment, started laughing. Aaron just watched her laugh with a smile on his face like he had never seen something so beautiful, and he probably never had. Dave watched them, confusion across his features.
“I’m sorry. It’s not funny. It’s just- Dave you have nothing to apologise for. He was always going to have a reaction. And given that he didn’t even have his EpiPen-”
“It was in the car,” Aaron said, not quite whining but definitely getting close.
“Didn’t have his EpiPen,” Haley said, like Aaron hadn’t even spoken, “it was probably always going to end like this. I’m just laughing because you sound like such a parent. Like switching slices is something my dad did for me and Jess when we were little. It’s cute.”
Aaron looked to Dave, fearful and hopeful all at once.
“What can I say? Erin and I need to make sure someone keeps an eye on him,” he said. There were a lot of things in his life he wasn’t proud of. There were lots of mistakes he had made. But this? Being considered Aaron’s parent? It would never be one of them.
Aaron smiled at him, the light in his eyes returning. Haley nodded her approval. When the nurse came in a few minutes later to check Aaron’s vitals, the silence felt comfortable and natural, as though they had already become attuned to the others’ needs.
“Are you two going to be okay?” Dave asked. Someone needed to tell Erin that he was okay, and he really wanted to go to bed. He realised that he hadn’t even considered trying to salvage his date with Anya. He supposed they could always reschedule. Besides, Aaron was more important now.
Haley nodded. “Yeah, I’ll drive us home, make sure he takes a bath and have him back and safe with you on Monday, don’t worry.”
Dave stood up and started heading towards the door. “Oh don’t worry too much about rushing back to us. I’m sure we’ll survive. His cute butt will be missed, but we’ll make it through.”
Haley snorted. “Aaron didn’t I say that there was no way people hadn’t noticed?”
Aaron did not reply, but he did glare at both of them.
Dave smiled. Just before he left, he hesitated for a moment, wondering whether or not it was the time and the place. But he just couldn’t resist. “So are there any other allergies we need to be aware of? Shellfish, pollen, nuts? Pretty ladies that want you to call them back?”
“Dave!” Aaron said, and this time it was definitely a whine.
He just smiled, leaving Aaron and Haley in the hospital room. Had it been a normal event? No. But he wouldn’t trade the night for anything in the world. After all, he had just found a whole new family. And he couldn’t wait for Haley to meet Erin. The two of them would definitely cause Hotcher a whole new level of embarrassment.
It was going to be the messiest and most random family to exist, but a family nonetheless.
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Oh my god it’s out before midnight!! Are you proud of me?? Once again, it has not been proofread, but that’s fine, this is for fun! Also, the same line where Aaron says he doesn’t know what he’s saying anymore is also where I lost the plot so erm... yeah
Once again: little plot. Not much point. Low-key hate the ending. May have fucked up Hotch’s character. But I had fun writing it so we’re just... yeah we’re going with.
Title comes from That’s Okay by The Hush Sound (would 10/10 recommend), and I have to thank Caitlin ( @themetaphorgirl ) for that one because I was sat there like: I have everything but a title and then I remembered That’s Okay and was like AHA
Trigger Warnings: trauma, trauma responses, child abuse, religion, religious trauma
read on ao3!
When he finishes his speech, he meets Erin's eyes, determined and angry. At her, for pushing him and doubting his abilities in the one place he felt like he could maintain control in. At Jason, for once again putting him in a situation where he has to take the fall and piece things back together. Because he has to play this stupid game of politics. At the team, because it is easy.
But most of all, he is angry at himself because he shouldn't be angry at them. He shouldn't be angry at Jason or Erin. He shouldn't be angry, because anger means he's creeping closer and closer to the line that separates himself from his father and if he goes too far, he will lose everything and he won't be able to come back. Ever.
"Aaron," she says, and his glare loses its power. She says his name, his first name, like it means something. With a gentleness that he had never felt before Haley softly repeated it to herself, as though she was trying to test out each syllable before she got too close.
"I'm sorry," he whispers. "That comment about your son was unfair. I know you love them all equally."
She shakes her head. "Don't apologise. You know I don't enjoy doing this. Undermining you like this. Asking these questions, saying these things. But if we are both going to keep our jobs, then I have to."
At that moment, she is not Strauss. She is Erin, just another victim of bureau politics, trying to keep her head above water. It's what causes Aaron to reply, instead of just walking out.
"I know," he says. "I know."
"Why don't you ever let Jason take the fall for his mistakes? I'm not an idiot, I know these things aren't your doing. He's a grown man. He can accept the consequences that come with acting the way he does. You don't need to take them."
She doesn't understand. He does. He needs to take them because taking punishment is the only way he can atone for the multitude of sins he commits every single day. He needs to take the blame because he is the only one that can come back from it. The only one that can be replaced with ease.
He needs to take the blame because it reminds him that this, just like everything he has been stripped of in his life- his childhood, his ability to love, his warmth, his innocence, his faith in both something else and humanity- this can and will be taken from him the moment he puts a foot wrong.
The Bureau, much like the small town in Virginia that he will never refer to as home because he never once felt safe, not even when Haley held him with gentle and unblemished hands, does not show anyone mercy. Least of all those that dare to speak out against injustice.
"I do. Jason Gideon is nothing without the BAU. I can't take that from him," he says.
He hates to be vulnerable with her, but she is the only one left that he truly trusts. That remembers the boy he was when he first joined. That knows the lock on his drawer is not because there is alcohol, but because he keeps the file with his incomplete profile of George Foyet in there.
"And you?" she asks.
"What are you without the BAU?"
And isn't that the question he wishes he knew the answer to? He is not a father, he knows that much. A real father wouldn't have hesitated to transfer after Jason returned. A real father would kiss their son goodnight without feeling guilty and hug them without fear. And he is not a husband. On a technicality, he is, but even he can see that Haley isn't happy. The day where she leaves will be sooner rather than later, and he will be powerless to stop her.
A part of him doesn't want to fight. It will be easier on both of them if she leaves before the inevitable happens. Before the pieces of himself he gives up to do this job become irretrievable. Before he is more than just his father's mirror, he is his father's son.
Before the job he is nothing without ruins her life beyond repair.
"I don't know," he confesses. In some strange way, he feels like a child again. Being asked by the priest what he thinks his punishment for lying about what really happens in the Hotchner family home should be, even though he wasn't lying. He was never lying. They were all just too afraid to confront the truth.
The same way he was.
"Get some rest. I'll speak to the Director and other higher-ups. You'll have a job to come back to. I promise."
It is an impossible promise, one she may not be able to keep, but her tone is gentle and her words soothe him the way a parents' declarations of love never had, so he simply nods and exits her office.
He doesn't look at any of the team when he gets back to his office. He doesn't bother to knock on Jason's door to make sure he isn't looking through the Book of the Damned. When Derek calls his name, he speeds up, knowing that out of all of them, he owes him the most answers, but finds himself completely unable to give them.
Haley doesn't know that he is returning. He doesn't have the energy to tell her. As he turns onto their road, he is almost tempted to keep going. Past their house. Past her sister's apartment. Past her parents' house and his father's grave. Past everything that keeps him grounded.
The idea of giving into temptation was something drilled out of him long ago. So he turns into their driveway, wondering what the neighbours will say when one of them inevitably moves out. Will they find it sad, that the young couple they had all hoped would last, had fallen apart? Will they wonder what the final straw was?
Haley is still in her work clothes when he enters the living room. She had already picked Jack up from his daycare on her way back, and her son- as far as he's concerned, he's nothing more than the sperm donor- babbles away happily as he plays with the toys his mother and aunt had picked out for him on their last day out together.
"You're back early," she says, without any malice.
"Strauss told me to get some rest," he replies. "How are the students?"
She smiles at the mention of her class. "Glad to have me back. Excited for your next Southern treat, because no matter how many times I tell them I also lived in that town, they only want it if you made it."
"Well you moved there for your junior year, so I can understand why," he jokes, but instead of wiping away the bad memories of the case, it leaves him more exhausted than before.
"Aaron, what happened today?" she asks him, so attuned to his moods and feelings that he often wonders why she doesn't become a profiler.
"It's nothing," he tells her. No matter how many times she begs for him to tell her why he wakes up in the middle of the night, to share why he can't touch her without showering for a longer amount of time than can be healthy, he won't.
"You don't need to say specifics. But please don't lie to me."
"I'm sorry. I- can we eat first?"
Her mouth parts with shock. Of course they can eat first. She would do whatever was needed if it meant he would finally, after so many years of being married, tell her the truth about his job. She understood his need to keep it a secret. But when he came home, looking more defeated than he had at sixteen, she worried.
He puts Jack to sleep before climbing into bed beside her. She puts her book down- she hadn't really been reading it, just holding it to give her something to do- and turns so she's laying on her side. Absent-mindedly, she starts drawing circles on his stomach. His hand trembles as he removes it, placing it on the bed sheet.
"I profiled the team today," he begins.
Haley sits up properly. "I thought you had a rule against that."
"We do. But Erin… pushed. And before I knew what was happening I was sharing information about all of them. Things that- I don't know if they know that I know. And Erin is too good to use it to blackmail any of us but she isn't a profiler. They'll realise she knows."
"What did you tell her?" is all she says. She knows her husband. Knows how he takes everything personally, and how he will hold himself to unreachable standards because he was never allowed to be anything but perfect, and anything less than that is failure.
He tells her, in almost perfect verbatim, the same words he told Erin. Towards the end, his voice starts to get choked up. She knows he stutters when he feels under pressure or anxious and she knows he hates it. So instead of speaking, she takes his left hand, clasps it with both of hers and rubs circles over the knuckles.
For a moment, he stops speaking, staring at their interlocked hands instead with a look of slight wonder. Like even after all this time, he still couldn't believe he got to touch her. That she wanted to touch him, in spite of his devils and darkness.
It gives him the strength to finish.
"And you?" she asks, after it becomes clear he won't offer any more information as to why it hurt him so much.
Her question is an echo of Erin's, and he closes his eyes, giving himself a few moments to get lost in his head, where it is not necessarily safe, but is where he can be alone and not pretend to be good.
"What did you say about yourself?"
"I said that if she could find someone better, then I wished her luck," he says, voice completely flat and monotone.
Haley tries to not be offended that he is speaking to her like she is an officer of the law, or a suspect, instead of her husband. "Why didn't you say more?"
She nods. "You're feeling guilty because you profiled the team, but you didn't. You shared the pieces of them that make them human. That make them good agents and even better people. You didn't say anything like that about yourself. Why not?"
"Because I'm not like them. My trauma- I'm just not like the rest of the team, okay?"
"I know enough about trauma to know it affects every person differently, so I won't dispute that one. But if you're saying that you're not like the rest of your family, not team, then what are you like? Because from where I'm sitting, you are."
"I'm not," he repeats, growing slightly agitated.
She needs him to understand he is. "Aren't you?"
"No." this time, there is venom in his words. But it doesn't frighten her. It never has. The only time his words have such hatred injected into them is when he's afraid of himself. She's never been afraid of him. She never will be. Because to her, he is good. He is trying.
"How?" she pushes one last time.
And the dam explodes.
“I’m not soft! I’m not beautiful or kind or good or any of the things those stupid, stupid motivational quotes say! I’m not- I’m not like the others and all I want to know is why. Everyone else is good. They’re light and sweet and good. We’ve all been- we all have trauma. Why can’t I- why am I different? Why did mine make me violent and scared and- why can’t I move on?”
It was not what she was expecting. It was not what she thought he was going to say, and now she doesn't know what she is meant to do. She doesn't know how to piece him back together. Not this time. Not when his words are a confession he has been clinging to since the day he met Spencer.
"Aaron," she begins, for lack of other words to say.
"Don't," he cuts her off. "Please. Just don't. I can- I'll sleep in the guest room. You shouldn't have to deal with me when I'm like this."
"You're having a bad day. It's what I signed up to deal with," she says.
He shakes his head. "Not like this. Not like- Haley, what kind of father avoids his son the way I do because they're afraid? What kind of man doesn't know the difference between safety and happiness? How broken am I if my twenty-five year old subordinate can move on better than I can?"
"You're scared. You're a victim of child abuse. It's not- it's normal that you feel like this. I think. Aaron, I don't know. I don't know what kind of person this all makes you. But when I look at you, I see the man I married, the one so terrified of everything, thriving. I see someone that suffered atrocities that nobody should ever be put through fighting with everything they are, to break that cycle. I don't know how to make you feel better, but I vowed to be honest with you. And this is me doing that."
"You're the first person to tell me it wasn't my fault," he whispers. "Everyone else always said that I must've done something to deserve it."
"You were a child Aaron. You all were."
It was the wrong thing to say.
"We were all children, but they're all better. They haven't closed themselves off. They- I see them, with their unfailing faith in humanity and it hurts. It physically hurts. What am I doing to them? What happens when the evil they see outweighs the goodness?"
"It's okay, Aaron," she laughs, because if she doesn't, she will cry and she will not do that. Not in this moment. "It's- the trauma and the hurt and the heartbreak doesn't always give you faith. It doesn't always make you a better person. Yes, they are still positive and happy and beautiful and good, but so are you. It's just buried somewhere. Because sometimes the trauma just hurts."
He stares at her eyes, and she sees the tears that had been threatening to fall since he got into the bed start to spill over. With one cautious hand, she wipes it away. She counts it as a win when he leans into the touch without flinching.
"I don't know what I did to deserve you," he whispers.
"That's the beautiful thing about love. We are all entitled to it. It's just about whether or not we'll take it."
"I don't know how to stop being so broken," he adds.
"You're not- people are not broken. Not ever. They are damaged by life and the terrible things that other people do, but they're never broken. Not beyond repair. Do you hear me? You are not broken. You never were. You were just hurt. But there are so many people that love you. That want to help you. All you have to do is ask."
"I know. I just- I wish he didn't have such a tight hold on me. I wish I could be more like Penelope. Or Derek. They're so beautiful, with their faith in love and goodness. Derek didn't have anyone. Not in the way I had you."
She didn't have to ask to know who he was talking about. "He was your father. Even despite everything, he took time off work when you had chicken pox and played with you when you were old enough to remember the snow."
"I know. I don't know what I'm saying anymore. Do you think I'll always be like this? Cold and unapproachable and full of darkness?"
"The only people you are ever cold and unapproachable with is unsubs. Suspects. And there's nothing wrong with darkness. There's no light without it." she can't say anything more than that. Not without lying.
"You always know what to say," he says to her, hesitantly pulling her closer towards him.
She smiles. "It's because I love you."
His own smile fades, and he doesn't reply, instead brushing her hair off her face. She tries to not let it sting. The words had never been something said freely in his house. Never used to actually express love, only as a plea for mercy. There are a few minutes of silence, and she think he's finally fallen asleep.
Then he speaks.
"Haley, what if I can't save them? I've already failed once. What if this, part of me, means the next time they need me, I can't be there? I can't save them?"
She thinks her answer over for a few minutes.
"Sometimes the way to save other people is to save ourselves. You need to save yourself first. But listen to me."
She can tell he's fighting sleep now, so she speaks quickly.
"There is nothing wrong with you. Yes, you are flawed and you make mistakes, but that is because you are human. We all make mistakes. We are never perfect. You are not the only one to screw up. But this part of you-" she places a hand over his heart "-this part of you is not broken. It is not wrong or anything that you were led to believe it was. You are exactly what and where you need to be. And I love you for that."
"Do you promise?"
She swallows. "Of course I do."
She's not entirely sure whether she's lying, but he drifts off with a smile, so she decides she doesn't care. There are certain lies she is willing to tell, if only so her husband has one night of peace.
Thinking of him as her husband is painful, because she knows it is only a matter of time before one of them snaps. Before this balance he has fought so hard to achieve topples like Jack's building blocks. She knows which way it will topple. She isn't angry.
But the balance hasn't toppled yet. It won't for a few weeks. So maybe it is wrong, but instead of pulling away, she lets herself hold her husband, the steady beating of his heart sending her to sleep.
She is right though. Even when she's no longer there, he knows she is right. That sometimes the pain is not poetic or character-building. Sometimes, it is just pain, and the only way forward is directly through it. It is not easy, but it is possible.
Everything is possible, so long as he lets himself feel without guilt.
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