Title: A Delicate Balance
Author: Keira Marcos
Series: The Alpha Chronicles
Fandom/Genre: Criminal Minds
Content Rating: R
Word Count: 12,000
Warnings: Violence, Angst, Canon Character Death, Accidental bonding
Summary: Aaron Hotchner comes online in the wake of his ex-wife’s murder and kills George Foyet in the midst of a feral episode. Aaron bonds with Spencer by accident and is devastated that even in his feral state he was capable of such a thing. Spencer must work to convince Aaron that he wants the bond and that together–they can make it.
Alpha Guide plus Alpha Sentinel should equal successful bond. There was plenty of theoretical data to back it up plus the fact that Sentinels and Guides had managed to find pair bonds long before genetic testing was even possible. Their kind had survived for over a thousand years bonding purely on instinct. Spencer set aside his notebook and let his shields thin slightly as he focused on his Sentinel. Aaron was in his office, pretending he wasn’t a Sentinel. He’d been doing it for six months. Oh, he was careful with Spencer. Careful but at a respectful distance.
Spencer had never considered children as he had no plans to have any of his own so adjusting to having Jack Hotchner in his life had been difficult. It had been short-sided of him, not to speculate that he might bond with a Sentinel who had children or was married. He didn’t think about Hayley Hotchner often. Aaron’s ex-wife was a source of pain for his Sentinel in a variety of ways—least of which was the way she’d been murdered in the home they’d once shared. In the weeks after Aaron’s coming online in a feral event, Spencer had found himself in charge of his Sentinel’s legal affairs as Aaron could barely function. He’d sold the house, hired a very qualified nanny for Jack, and tasked a real estate agent with finding a Sentinel-friendly home for the three of them. By the time Aaron had recovered, he’d had five homes to choose from and Jack had been in counseling with a trauma psychologist for six weeks.
Spencer didn’t really know how Aaron felt about the life-management that had happened around him while he’d been incapacitated. He’d had a lot to say however, about the maneuvering Spencer had done within the Bureau to ensure that Aaron had a job to return to when he was ready. Though he hadn’t had to do much, Sentinel or not, no one blamed Aaron for killing George Foyet in the midst of a violent and primal emergence. They wouldn’t have blamed him if he hadn’t been a Sentinel. The team had adjusted to their new relationship better than Aaron had—taking for granted things that Spencer didn’t bother to correct. He flushed as he considered the gentle but ever respectful teasing he got from Morgan concerning his bond with their boss. Everyone knew how rare platonic bonds were.
He couldn’t tell them the truth—though if he didn’t do something soon he wouldn’t have to say a word. The bond he had with Aaron was fraying around the edges for a variety of reasons and none were to do with the lack of sex. Research indicated that platonic bonds could be rewarding and healthy if a pairing were very dedicated to ensuring that. But Aaron did everything he could to avoid using the bond he had with Spencer and as a result it was atrophying.
Spencer stood and picked up the folder on his desk. He was about to make a serious and life-changing move in the game his Sentinel had all but forced the both into. Aaron was staring at the doorway even as Spencer came to a stop. His hypervigilance in their office, in the middle of the night when they were the only ones, save David Rossi, on the entire floor was another sign that their bond wasn’t healthy. His Sentinel hadn’t had a single moment of downtime since he’d left the Center five months before.
He put the folder down on Aaron’s desk and watched his Sentinel hesitate. “What’s this?”
“I’m taking a week of leave.”
Aaron frowned. “We don’t have time for that, Reid. Our caseload is…” He trailed off as he read the document. “Strauss has already approved this for both of us.”
“You’re bonded and can’t work in the field without me,” Spencer explained though he knew he didn’t need to. The fact that Aaron couldn’t be in the field without him was one topic that absolutely infuriated his Sentinel.
“Why didn’t you talk to me about this?” Aaron asked quietly.
“I’ve tried. Four times. You’ve dismissed my concerns all four times.”
“I don’t need the rest,” Aaron snapped.
“It’s not all about you!” Spencer shouted. He took a deep breath, forced himself to settle so he could ignore the alarm pouring off his Sentinel. Reid couldn’t remember ever raising his voice in Aaron’s presence, much less directly at him. “I need to rest. You are, if I must be blunt, difficult to work with Aaron. You ignore my empathic needs as much as possible, I have no grounding method to maintain my balance with you, and you spend so much time suppressing your gifts that it is mentally exhausting for me. You may not want this bond but the Sentinel in you is a greedy child which you make no effort to control.”
He ignored the wounded fury Hotch was projecting involuntarily. “So, I’m taking leave. Period. End of discussion. Gideon gave me his cabin, as a bonding gift of all things, so I’m going to go up there to relax, settle myself and along the way I’m going to try to remember that before all of this started that I trusted you and I considered you my dear friend.”
“Spencer…” Aaron took a deep breath. “I don’t… what do I do?”
“You need to figure out what you want and what you need as a Sentinel because if I’m not what you want then you should just say it. It would spare us both a lot of stress in the long run.” Spencer turned and walked quickly from the office. The bond thinned as he hurried away but didn’t break. Fragile but still quite strong in the right circumstances.
A pair of wolves appeared on either side of him as he entered the parking garage. He’d thought it charming when he’d realized that he and Aaron had matching spirit animals. It was rare, even among Alpha pairs, but Spencer thought it spoke of synergy and compatibility. Aaron’s spirit animal had blue eyes while his own had green. They whined at him.
“No, and shut up,” Spencer said crossly. “He needs to figure this out!”
* * * *
Aaron laid one shaking hand on the folder Spencer had left behind. The smell of his Guide—coffee, vanilla, all-natural soap—lingered in his office even after ten minutes. He said nothing when Rossi appeared in the doorway. The older man just sighed.
“Do you think about what would’ve happened if you’d reached me first?” Aaron questioned. He looked up when Rossi didn’t immediately respond and found his old friend staring at him in horror. “Do you suppose I would’ve forced a bond on you the way I did him?”
David closed his eyes briefly then took a deep breath. “You… don’t remember it at all, do you?” He came into the office and shut the door. “I wondered. I’ve been minding my own business because your bond with your Guide is none of my business. But you really don’t… you don’t remember what happened that day.”
Aaron flushed. “No, I don’t. I woke up—my son was safe, my ex-wife was dead, Foyet was dead, and Spencer Reid was the center of my universe. That’s what… that’s all I know.”
“You called us on the way to the house, Foyet put Haley and Jack on the phone. By the time we reached the house, Haley was dead and you’d beaten Foyet to death with your bare hands.” He paused when Aaron shuddered. “The moment we entered the house both Spencer and I knew you’d blown—you’ve always been on the cusp of coming online. We even discussed it after Foyet attacked you because we couldn’t believe that episode hadn’t flipped you over the line. You were so stubborn about it, Aaron.”
“My brother came online in high school,” Aaron murmured. “He was recruited… all but conscripted into the Marine Corps before he even knew what it was to be a man. Both he and his Guide died in Iraq fighting for lies and oil.” He closed his eyes briefly. “I resented them—the Center and the military—for taking my baby brother away from me when he was all I had left. I’d have never come online if I had a single choice in the matter.”
David nodded. “I know.” He exhaled sharply. “Aaron, I did reach you first.” He paused when his friend focused on him, alarm and shock growing on his face. “You didn’t tolerate my touch or presence at all. It was shocking, to be honest, because I’d always assumed my friendship with you would allow me to offer you some level of comfort as a Sentinel. Though I’ve never believed we’d be compatible to bond. We simply don’t mesh that way mentally or emotionally. We’re both too yin and too little yang.” He grinned when Aaron laughed reluctantly. “But the moment Spencer entered the room, you calmed down and you stopped fighting Morgan. While you certainly didn’t try to hurt him—you weren’t going to submit to him either though we knew it was unlikely to begin with. Then Spencer touched you.”
Rossi stopped and Aaron looked at his friend closely—the man’s eyes were dilated and his breathing had grown a little shallow. “Are you all right?”
“It’s a difficult thing to discuss,” Rossi admitted. “You were devastated and being unbonded I had no way to shield myself really from your grief or your fury. But Spencer, who was suffering just as much as I because of your emotional state, didn’t hesitate. You all but crawled into that boy, Aaron and he never once tried to protest. Not even the fact that you were covered in blood seemed to bother him. He just held you as tight as he could and made insane promises he couldn’t possibly keep until we got you sedated. It wasn’t until several hours later that he told me that you’d managed, in your feral state, to bond with him.”
“What does that say about me?” Aaron asked quietly. “That I would force that on someone… like Reid?”
Aaron huffed in impatience. “Young, selfless, and stupidly loyal. He doesn’t even have it in him to be furious at Gideon for just walking away without a word.”
“Ah, Gideon. That’s the root problem, isn’t it?” David held out both hands when Aaron glared at him. “Come now, Aaron, Jason Gideon is a complete tool and you know it. Yes, he took young, sweet Spencer under his wing and mentored him like a little bird. How mighty kind of him to find a young, brilliant and beautiful young man to worship him while he recovered from a demoralizing and humiliating mental break down.”
That made Aaron want to go find Gideon and punch him in the face. “It hurt Spencer a lot when he left.”
“Spencer’s biological father is an asshole. Of course, he latched onto Gideon and treated him like a father figure. Though I can tell you that isn’t exactly what Jason wanted to inspire in young Spencer Reid. But that was just one more disappointing turn for Gideon on his way out of the FBI and forward on to wherever he’s conducting his epic pity party.”
Aaron snorted and took a deep breath. “It’s not funny.”
“Oh, the pity party is definitely funny. But you know what isn’t funny?” David stood. “The fact that he intruded on your bond with your Guide by giving Spencer that little cabin in the woods. That’s where he’s going right now, isn’t it? Retreating to Jason Gideon’s sanctuary—retreating from you. He’ll come back from that cabin having slept in Jason’s old bed smelling like him. Smelling like another Sentinel. Because Gideon might have spent the last fifteen years in a Sensory-Prolapse but he’s still a Sentinel on an instinctual level.”
Aaron shuddered in revulsion. He hated the idea of Spencer sleeping on Jason’s old sheets and under that antique quilt on the double bed. It was… absolutely, breathtakingly maddening. And it was almost as horrifying as the very idea of Sensory-Prolapse. An unbonded Sentinel wouldn’t last more than ten years without falling into Sensory-Prolapse. Eventually nearly all of his senses would go numb—fall below even mundane levels. It was a dangerous condition and the very idea of it terrified him. Gideon had already been in prolapse when Aaron had joined the BAU.
They’d come a long way with the conservator system, keeping Sentinels healthy until they could properly bond but Jason had come online long before such things were common place. Aaron often wondered why Jason had been unable to work with a conservator and why he’d remained unbonded. Guides were abundant so finding a partial match should’ve been fairly easy. By the time genetic testing was possible, Gideon was already too far gone.
“I’ve tried not to be a burden on him,” Aaron said. “He didn’t ask for this bond and he certainly didn’t consent to it. I feel like a monster for what I’ve done to him—for what my instincts drove me to do. I hate that I can’t control it and that I’ve hurt him despite my best intentions. Also, I’ve deprived someone of their perfect match. Did you consider that?” He focused on Rossi. “Somewhere out there is a Sentinel around Spencer’s age. Maybe he or she hasn’t come online yet or they’re just afraid to register with the Center. But one day, they won’t have a choice for whatever reason and when their Guide search is conducted—Spencer won’t even know it because bonded Guides aren’t included in those searches. I’m depriving him of a deep and rewarding relationship with someone else just by existing because I was weak and…”
“Have you discussed this with Spencer at all?” David demanded.
“No, how could I?” Aaron frowned and looked away from his friend. “I mean… how do you even begin to apologize for such a thing?”
“You need to talk to him, Aaron and soon. I can’t tell you why because I won’t violate his privacy but your assumptions are wrong and they’re damaging you both.” David stood and paused in front of Aaron’s desk. “Also, Reid could’ve rebuffed your attempts to bond with him when you were feral. You’d have been unable to fight him in the state you were in. So whatever else you might think, you can stop thinking you forced anything on him.”
* * * *
Spencer wasn’t as naïve as everyone seemed to think he was—Jason Gideon included. He’d known exactly why the older man had sent him the deed to the cabin just two weeks after he’d bonded with Aaron Hotchner. Gideon had always been a little put off by how at ease Spencer was with the leader of the BAU. At first, when he’d first joined the unit, straight out of the academy, Spencer had been over-educated and unprepared for the field. Jason hadn’t been all that interested in teaching him how to be a field agent.
As an online Guide, Spencer had been encouraged to take a softer path in the FBI at least until he’d met Aaron Hotchner and Derek Morgan. They’d quickly determined which skills he hadn’t quite developed properly at the academy and seen that corrected. Both had dragged him to the range for target practice though in the end it had been Aaron relentless determination that had made the difference on the gun front. Gideon hadn’t been thrilled as he’d always been of the mind that Guides had a certain role in society—a nurturing role that didn’t include carrying a weapon.
Spencer had understood immediately that despite having left the team without a word that Jason was trying to keep some sort of influence over him by giving him the property. He liked the cabin and the isolation too much to decline the gift so he’d hired a cleaning team to scour the place floor to ceiling. They’d stripped out everything, including the furniture, and replaced it with what Spencer preferred. It looked nothing like the cabin that Gideon had left behind and that was for the best in more than one way. Spencer needed no reminders of that betrayal.
Hindsight is ugly and deeply uncomfortable. He could see, when he looked back on it, the way he’d allowed Jason to manipulate him. He suspected that Gideon had believed that being in close, prolonged contact with an Alpha Guide would cure him of his prolapse but that was the stuff of urban myths. Once a Sentinel fell to Sensory-Prolapse a Guide was useless to them. Gideon had never believed that about himself. Spencer wondered, briefly, where he was and if he’d latched onto another unsuspecting Guide who will would realize too late exactly how damaged he was.
He was half way through his first cup of tea when Aaron got close enough to the cabin for their bond to relax. Spencer wasn’t at all surprised that his Sentinel hadn’t lasted the whole night without him. They hadn’t been separated since Aaron came online though he doubted Hotch even realized that. They’d only been apart for three hours and he already had a low-grade headache. He couldn’t imagine what sort of condition Aaron was in since he spent so much energy ignoring what he was.
Aaron spent ten minutes in the car after he parked so Spencer made himself another cup of tea and browsed through the book shelf while his Sentinel made the choice to stay or go. He could feel the man’s irritation thrumming through their bond but Spencer was forcing himself not to respond and not to attempt to soothe his Sentinel. That hadn’t served him in the last six months and he had to make more healthy choices for himself. He considered the text message he’d gotten from Rossi and frowned. It was irritating to realize that part of their problem was his own ability to open up about his past as a Guide. Finally, Aaron left the car and stopped to angst on the porch.
Spencer took his tea to his favorite chair—a big fluffy red monstrosity that he’d had since college but that hadn’t really fit well with Aaron’s understated style. He’d put most of his own furniture in the cabin and sold what wouldn’t fit. He pulled his legs up and wrapped one arm around them. “When I was nineteen, I came online. At that point, my mother had been institutionalized for a decade. I’d been the ward of the Sentinel/Guide Center since I was eleven years old. They took custody of me because my mother had a schizophrenic break during an empathic event and my mundane father was deemed unfit to care for me. I was presumed from a very early age to be a latent Guide. I grew up in a large pride with a strong Alpha pair. I was fostered with the Beta Sentinel and his Guide. They were good to me—supportive of my educational goals and they never tried to hold me back. I was attending college by the time I was fourteen you know that part. I’d just received my first doctorate at Caltech when I came online.
“My foster parents were great—they rallied around me and supported every choice I made. I waited six months to officially register as a Guide and there was never any pressure. No one was really surprised when I presented as an Alpha Guide. I was a Wolf and that nearly always says Alpha.” Spencer took a deep breath. “They did my DNA search but… they didn’t share the results with me immediately. I knew something was gravely wrong. I was prepared to be told that I had no match at all. I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t telling me. It happens to Guides all the time, especially young ones. There are so many more of us than there are Sentinels.
“Finally, after two days Dr. Sandburg arrived. He’d just become the Alpha Guide Prime of North America and I was stunned to meet him. I couldn’t believe he’d come to California to see me. I was excited, of course, he’s a legend in more than one way and just being in the room with him was a huge relief. He sat down with me and he explained that I had a perfect match in the system but that due to circumstances… he told me I’d never meet my Sentinel because he was dead. He’d been murdered as a child by a serial killer. His name was Christopher Harrison.” He looked up because Aaron came through the door at that and he watched his Sentinel’s go bag fall to the floor. “Are you all right?”
“He killed Guides. David Stuart in Cascade, Washington. He killed children who were latent Guides.”
“Genetically Sentinels and Guides can’t be told apart—the gene’s manifestation is individual. At the time, they didn’t have a distinction for what Christopher was because a Sentinel with empathy was just a theory and they assumed he was a latent Guide because Stuart took him.”
Aaron took a deep breath. “You’re telling me that your perfect match was an Alpha Ascendant.”
“And he’s dead,” Spencer said. “Murdered as a child by a sociopath. It’s why I turned my attention to psychology. I needed to learn what had created David Stuart. I needed to know why he’d taken my Sentinel from me. I visited Christopher’s grave shortly after I found out. I met his parents—they were so pleased to meet me. They said it was like getting part of their Christopher back to meet his Guide. Dr. Sandburg had cautioned me against it but I couldn’t help myself. It hurt but I don’t regret it. There was a time when I hated David Stuart for taking that away from me. It was easy to see how I could’ve been a part of that family.” He looked down at his tea and put it aside. “Ascendants are very rare, Aaron. I was a partial match for the last one to emerge but he declined to bond with me due to my mother’s mental history. He wasn’t the first or the last partial match to decline to even meet me because my mother is schizophrenic. There is a genetic pre-disposition to consider when it comes to that and they all had the right to know about the possibility.”
“I’m not worried about that if you’re concerned that…” Aaron sat down hesitantly. “Spencer.”
“What about your other matches in the system?” Spencer questioned. “Are you interested in meeting them?”
Hotchner frowned. “I don’t even know if I have a match in the system. I refused them permission to conduct the search when I was asked. We’re bonded, Spencer. It would be disrespectful to treat you like a placeholder. I have no intention of having a Guide search done unless you’d… I mean.” He took a deep breath. “Do you want to sever the bond?”
Spencer look at him. “Aaron, I’d hardly need anyone’s help doing that if it were my wish. If I was willing to go that route, I’d have done it while you were unconscious at the Center so you wouldn’t have woken up bonded with me. It was suggested, more than once, that I sever the bond because some felt I didn’t have the right to bond with an Alpha Sentinel in a feral state even if it was obvious to everyone that you initiated the bond. A week ago, the director of the local center contacted me and asked about our bond. It’s no secret, really, that you’re not adjusting well to being a Sentinel. They blame me. He said my substandard care of you was practically abusive.”
“Did you tell him you were an armed Federal agent and that pair bond inference is a crime?” Aaron asked.
Spencer grinned. “I reported him to the national center and Blair promised to take care of it.” He paused. “He wants you, you know. Director Bradley. He’s an Alpha Guide in his own right but we don’t function on that level without a bond. He has a lot of political aspirations that could see fruition with a Sentinel like you at his side. You’re highly educated, cultured, and even before you came online you were well known.”
“He smells weird,” Aaron admitted. “I find it very disturbing and my failures as a Sentinel are not your fault. You do… everything I allow to help me balance and function on a normal level.”
“Which isn’t much and don’t you realize that none of them want normal from you? You’re an Alpha Sentinel Aaron and as much as you hate it—it won’t ever change. You need to accept it, you need to accept me or you need to move on to a Guide you can accept. I know you’d be more comfortable with someone like Rossi because he’s closer to your age but he’s not strong enough to manage an empathic bond with an Alpha. You’d burn him out within just a few months.”
“I don’t want David,” Aaron protested. “He’s a good friend but I know we wouldn’t work together as a bonded pair. I’m not so corrupt that I don’t realize that.”
“You’re not corrupt at all,” Spencer said evenly.
“I forced a bond on you,” Aaron said stubbornly. “You just don’t want to say it. You’re trying to protect me from it but I forced you Spencer.”
“I think this is the part where I remind you that I’m not a child and I’m not weak and that I am, in fact, an armed agent of a federal agency. You didn’t force a single thing on me and if you paid attention to me, as you should, you’d understand that I am being completely honest with you as I say this.”
“Oh, shut up,” Spencer exclaimed. “There isn’t room in our bond for you, me, and your guilt complex.” He stood and retrieved his tea cup which he took into the kitchen. “Why are you here?”
“I couldn’t go home,” Aaron said roughly. “You aren’t there.” He looked away from Spencer. “Rossi picked up Jack which is apparently the best thing ever since they’re going to make real spaghetti.” He frowned. “Also, I don’t want you sleeping in Gideon’s old bed.”
Spencer laughed then. “Aaron, look around you—there is nothing of Jason left in this cabin. I had the place professionally cleaned. I even had the old carpet pulled up and the hardwood floors refinished with an all-natural process so it’d be safe for you and Jack.”
“Jack?” Aaron questioned, his eyes growing wide.
“Aaron, Alpha Sentinels don’t produce mundane children,” Spencer said in slight exasperation. “Have you read any of the literature I gave you or have you ignored it like you have me of the past six months?”
“I haven’t been ignoring you! You’re all I think about! I can’t even…” Aaron frowned and tapped his fingers nervously on one knee.
“Can’t even what?” Spencer asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Jerk off without… thinking about you, remembering the way you smell, feel.” He flushed.
“Oh.” Spencer leaned against the counter and crossed his ankles. “Do you want to fuck me?”
Aaron’s mouth dropped open. “Reid.”
“Yeah, you definitely want to fuck me,” Spencer said with a nod. “Well, it’s an interesting development to be certain because I’ve been laboring under the wrong impression for months. You’re not homophobic so that probably isn’t the concern. Have you ever slept with a man?”
Aaron blushed and glared at the floor in front of him. “No.”
“I have to admit to being surprised. You’re very attractive and at least bisexual. I mean coming online didn’t make you bi so that was always there.”
“I married right out of high school,” Aaron said shortly. “I’ve never… Spencer. I’ve only slept with three women my whole life.” He took a deep breath then another.
“Well, I had a whole whore-phase shortly before I joined the FBI because sex makes me feel better so I’ve got enough experience for us both.”
“Whore-phase?” Hotchner repeated.
“Don’t judge me, Aaron. Put your bag away and we’ll have some dinner.”
“Yes, all right,” Hotch agreed and stood. He picked up his bag. “I want our bond, Spencer. I wouldn’t want… I can’t imagine allowing any other Guide in my home or my life. I was so relieved to wake up and realize I was bonded to you. Relieved and more than a little ashamed. I know I’m to blame for where we are right now and I’m willing to work on it.”
“Okay,” Spencer murmured with a nod and watched Aaron leave the room with his go-bag.
Dinner had been a stilted affair mostly because his Sentinel was a nervous wreck. Spencer had never seen Aaron Hotchner so unsure of himself and he knew he was to blame for it. He’d allowed the man to dictate their relationship from the start because he’d wanted his Sentinel to be comfortable with him, especially in the wake of his ex-wife’s murder. He knew how important Hayley had been to Aaron and he hadn’t wanted to intrude on the man’s grief. The memorial service had been one of the most difficult of Spencer’s life and not just because Aaron was a complete mess.
Hayley’s sister had been, at first, quite supportive after her sister’s murder but she’d grown upset when she’d realized that Aaron was going to allow Spencer to live in his house with Jack. Spencer knew Jessica Brooks wasn’t homophobic but she was terribly uncomfortable with Aaron’s online status and his bond with Spencer. She came by the house regularly to see Jack but she rarely spoke to Spencer at all. He chose to stay in his room most often when she was there so Jessica could be comfortable visiting her nephew. He knew, however, that the situation wouldn’t improve if his bond with Aaron grew more intimate.
He finished putting the last of the dishes in the dishwasher and turned it on. Aaron was standing on the front porch, back stiff and shoulders squared. It was a very primal image—Sentinel on guard. Spencer joined him on the porch and dropped down into the swing he’d had installed. “The Center moved me to California when they took me from my father. They thought I needed a clean break from that situation and especially that I needed a strong, large pride. I really didn’t care where I went as long as I got to keep my books. The first thing my foster mother did was get me a library card.”
“Very smart,” Aaron murmured.
“I had my own room—they had no natural children of their own. I’ve never asked why. I was one of three kids they were fostering for the Sentinel/Guide Center. The other two boys, Jeremy and Kyle, eventually came online as Sentinels. When we were younger they were very protective so I kind of figured they were Sentinels and that instinctually they knew I was a Guide. Both were a couple of years older than me so I was still living at home when they came online. They came back to the house and did imprints on me—to keep their little brother safe they said.”
“I got calls from the both,” Aaron admitted. “They aren’t thrilled with the age difference and I’m pretty sure Kyle threatened to kill me if I let you get hurt.”
“Should I apologize?”
“No,” Aaron said with a laugh. “It’s… nice to know you have people out there that care about you. People beyond the BAU. We haven’t interacted much with the regional pride as a pair.”
“They’re waiting for us to get settled and to see if you allow a pride to form around you. It’s the nature of Alphas and so far you’ve not been receptive so far from overtures from other Sentinels in the Bureau much less the civilians.”
“I’m not the right choice to lead a pride, Spencer. I’m gone too much and that wouldn’t be fair to anyone but most especially not to Jack.”
“Jack needs a pride,” Spencer said simply. “He needs it more than he needs you to be honest. He doesn’t have a lot of close biological family but a pride would ground him and help him in ways that a single parent can’t. A pride is a family, Aaron, and you are definitely the right kind of man to inspire that kind of environment. It’s the reason why David found coming back the BAU so easy to do. It’s why Morgan stays with you rather than accept a promotion.”
“Jack would…” Aaron took a deep breath. “You’re right, of course. He’d love to be a part of a pride. He keeps reading those books the people at the Center gave him about Sentinels and prides. He asks me all the time if we can go to the regional pride meetings so he can meet other kids with Sentinels for parents.” Hotchner turned and leaned against the railing. “He likes you a lot, you know.”
“I like him, too. He’s a great kid.”
Aaron flushed. “He asked me why you weren’t sleeping in my room. Apparently the people at the Center and his counselor prepared him for it—the whole ‘Daddy sleeps with his Guide and it’s okay’ conversation.”
Spencer grinned. “Yes, he told me that it would be okay if I slept with you and that I didn’t have to stay on my own room for his sake. He said he was mature and open minded. So I bought him the Lego space station because we were in the middle of Target and I didn’t want to finish that conversation in public. Fortunately, he was sufficiently distracted or convinced he’d made himself clear.”
“Sorry.” Aaron laughed.
“No, I appreciate his straight forward approach.” Spencer used his foot to push the swing into motion. “It’s something I’ve always admired about you as well but since you’ve come online you’ve changed.”
“A lot of people don’t respond well to my directness. It’s stressful to them—their heart rate changes, their smells change. It’s difficult to ignore how I impact people even if they are trying very hard to keep it to themselves. I make Garcia really nervous. I never knew that—I thought she was comfortable with me but she really isn’t.” Aaron frowned and exhaled sharply. “I make Strauss extremely uncomfortable and aggressive.”
“Strauss is no way prepared to compete with an Alpha Sentinel and her ambition clouds her judgment,” Spencer explained. “She thinks you’re a threat to her position in the FBI and even more of one now that you’re online. What she doesn’t know is that if you wanted to be her boss, you already would be. You have more experience, more education, and your reputation in the Bureau is impeccable. You are exactly where you want to be and that confuses her—she doesn’t understand you have no interest in the directorship currently and that maybe you never will.”
“I told her the last time we met that I didn’t want her job,” Aaron admitted. “She was baffled.”
Spencer laughed. “She avoids me but then she has since she read my file and realized I was an online Guide. But then plenty of people are put off by empaths. They assign mental abilities to us we aren’t capable of and think the worse.”
“But you’re an Alpha Guide—so you are capable of things that would make mundanes deeply uncomfortable.”
“I would be if we had a proper bond,” Spencer said and shrugged when Aaron looked at him in shock. “Am I supposed to sugar coat it for you? Aren’t we beyond that?”
“You surprise me, you know. You’re not… this isn’t how you are.”
“This is my duty to you,” Spencer said. “It’s my job as your Guide to push you, shelter you, support you, and if need be reign you in.”
“And my duty to you?” Aaron questioned. “How many ways have I failed you since we bonded, Spencer?”
“You haven’t failed me. I’ve given you time to get used to what happened to you—you weren’t expecting any of this and I know you. I know you better than the people at the Center. You’re strong and you adapt well in the field professionally to changes. But on a personal level, you’re slow to change and you weigh your personal choices carefully. Tell me, why did you let Hayley leave you when you knew she was having an affair long before she left?”
Aaron took a deep breath as if the mere mention of his ex-wife’s infidelity was taboo. “I wasn’t enough for her.”
“She cheated because she was weak,” Spencer said plainly and Hotchner flinched. “I’m sorry she’s dead, Aaron, but people who cheat are ill-prepared for commitment. I know you hesitate with me because you worry that I’m too young, that I’m not ready for commitment and that our age difference will make me unhappy later.”
“You deserve someone your own age.”
Spencer frowned then sighed. “Most people my age really don’t understand me, Aaron. I have three doctorate degrees and I hunt serial killers for a living. That’s not exactly normal for my age. I had to get a special dispensation to leave the academy as a special agent because I wasn’t old enough at the time.”
“I know. I had to sign off on it,” Aaron murmured. “Your age is a concern but it always has been. Part of me wanted to shield you constantly from the worst parts of our job but it would have made it impossible for you to be part of the team. Gideon and I had several arguments over it actually. He had no business recruiting an online Guide your age for the BAU and he knew it. His decision was deeply personal.”
“Yes, of course it was. He hoped that being in my presence for long periods of times would cure his Sensory-Prolapse,” Spencer said then raised an eyebrow at Hotch’s shock. “I’m not an idiot, Aaron.”
“You’re far from stupid,” Aaron agreed.
Spencer stood and walked to where his Sentinel stood. “How would you like to do a real imprint on me?”
“I’ve fully imprinted on you,” Aaron said with a frown.
“Yes, it was all very formal and orderly,” Spencer agreed but he moved into Aaron’s space, between the spread of the man’s legs and Hotch’s fingers curled into fists. “I meant something a little more up close and personal.” He curled his hands around Hotchner’s wrists and lifted. “Put your hands on my hips. It’s okay.”
Aaron uncurled his fingers against the loose cotton fabric of the lounge pants Spencer was wearing. He pressed his thumbs against the jut of Spencer’s hip bones. “What are you offering me here?”
“You need to stop seeing your senses like they’re a burden,” Spencer murmured.
“They’re a tool.”
“They can be so much more than that,” Reid promised. “They can be a luxury if you allow it.”
“Are you talking about sex?”
“It can be about sex but it’s more about sense intimacy. In a crowded room, how do you find me?”
“Your heart beat,” Aaron murmured. “Your scent next if the room is too loud. I have to use both if we aren’t in the same room.”
“What if I told you that if your imprint of me were deeper that all of your senses would work in tandem with our empathic bond and you’d always know exactly where I am?”
“I’d be deeply relieved,” Aaron admitted. “How do we accomplish that?”
“You’re going to have to give into your instincts.” Spencer let his hands rest on Aaron’s shoulders as Hotchner pulled him closer. He wondered if his Sentinel was even aware he’d done it. “Glut your senses on me as intimately as possible.”
“All of them?” Aaron questioned.
“Yes, you can start with taste.” He stepped back and Aaron released his eyes wide with shock. “I’ll just go take off all of my clothes.”
* * * *
He had nothing to be nervous about but as Aaron paused in the doorway of the bedroom he expected to share with Spencer, his stomach tightened with anxiety. Reid was sitting on the bed, queen sized with a wrought iron frame. It was nothing like the double bed Jason had put in the cabin. The younger man was naked. Instead of looking vulnerable, he looked strong and uniquely powerful. Aaron wondered if that was just what being a Guide did for Spencer and why his clothes seemed to hide it. Maybe it was the ease of his posture, the tilt of his head as he watched Aaron.
Hotch couldn’t help but to inhale sharply. All the smells he associated with his Guide were stronger—richer but not overwhelming. Spencer spread his legs and planted his feet solidly on the floor then leaned back on his hands. Brazen, non-confrontational, and calculated—everything his Guide was in a nutshell, really. People thought Spencer shy because he was young and quiet. They thought him delicate because of his body type and his status as a Guide. Aaron had thought so too, until Spencer had shot an UNSUB in the head. Aaron paused.
“What?” Spencer asked and tilted his head.
Aaron huffed. “How long have you known we were compatible? That you could be my Guide?”
He watched Reid process that question, calculate the various ways it could be answered before the younger man blushed. “Since the moment we met but it’s not something I haven’t felt before. I think I’d be a decent match with Morgan as well.”
“You mentioned him earlier but Morgan is mundane.”
Spencer made a face. “No, he’s not. Is that what his records say? Well, we’ll have to fix that because he’s so far from mundane it’s actually kind of horrifying that no one else has noticed. I assumed his childhood trauma is the reason he’s still latent.” He tilted his head. “Are you trying to distract me?”
Aaron laughed, a little weak in the knees at the display his Guide was putting on. “No, I’m not trying to distract you. Talking to you about everything and everyone else has never been a problem, has it?”
“No it hasn’t,” Spencer agreed.
Aaron pulled his tie loose, tossed it in the chair near the door and untucked his shirt. He knew he didn’t have any physical secrets from Spencer. The Guide had been required to take care of him physically after his feral episode but he cringed a little as he thought about the scars Foyet had left behind. The attached emotional trauma had been his biggest stumbling block because while no one had said it in front of him after he was attacked… Foyet was a sexual sadist so he had essentially raped Aaron. Not through any sort of sex organ penetration but with his knife in Hotch’s gut again and again. It had taken him a year to admit that to himself. He unbuttoned the shirt with steady fingers and pushed Foyet from his head. He wasn’t going to allow that monster space in his head in a moment like the one before him. Aaron knew it was life changing.
He pulled the white undershirt over his head and dropped it onto of his button down. It was kind of embarrassing that he hadn’t even stopped at home to change his clothes. Unbuckling his belt, he let his gaze drift back to Spencer who hadn’t moved from his place on the edge of the bed. The younger man’s cock was hard—jutting out almost obscenely between slim thighs. Reid’s cock was slender, like himself, but probably an inch or so longer than Aaron’s own. Hotch’s mouth watered and he wondered if his lack of experience with men was going to be a yet another stumbling block for him on the whole Sentinel front.
“This isn’t about sex.”
“It’s a little about sex,” Aaron corrected. “I know what you’re doing and why. I don’t disagree though I’m concerned about the confrontational nature of all of this. I’ve put you in a situation where you’re been forced to act contrary to your established norm.”
Spencer’s mouth quirked. “Don’t profile me, Aaron.”
“I’ve never been good at pinning you down,” Hotchner said. “Not even when I have access to data I shouldn’t have.” He unfastened his belt, pulled it from his slacks, and dropped it on the chair. Aaron hesitated briefly before toeing off his shoes and bending to remove the black socks he wore. Frustrated with his own hesitation, he tossed the socks aside and took off the slacks quickly.
“You can leave your boxers on if you’d be more comfortable.”
Aaron shook his head. “I think I owe it to you to come into this just as naked as you are.”
“You don’t owe me anything.”
“I owe you my life,” Aaron corrected. “My sanity, the fact that my child hasn’t been taken from me and hidden away. I know what happens with out of control Sentinels, Reid. I know how dangerous I could’ve become if you hadn’t been there to make sure I didn’t stay feral.”
“It’s rare for a Sentinel to go completely off the rails like that, Aaron.”
“And yet we’ve seen it—more than once. The murder of the woman who birthed my child could’ve been enough to send me into a Feral Spiral. The fact that they named the condition says it all, doesn’t it? A spiral of primal rage that ends with death.” Aaron shed the boxers and discarded them with the rest of his clothes. “Now what?”
Spencer grinned. “Whatever you want. I’m yours, you know. Your Guide. My body and my mind are your haven.”
“That’s…” Aaron’s mouth was suddenly dry as a desert.
He walked across the space that separated them and sank to his knees on the floor between Reid’s legs. Something stirred deep in his chest and he took a deep breath as he lowered his mouth to his Guide’s inner thigh. He let his lips trail over pale silky skin and lean muscle then he buried his nose and mouth against the crease of Spencer’s leg. Gentle fingers trailed through his hair and Aaron shuddered. He couldn’t help but open his mouth and suck at the tender skin. Spencer’s breath caught and Aaron groaned when one of the younger man’s legs curled close to his body.
“You’re perfect,” Aaron whispered hoarsely. He lifted up and Spencer cupped his Sentinel’s head with both hands.
Reid leaned down and pressed his mouth against Aaron’s warm and soft. “Tell me why you hesitate to have this? I know you want it.”
“I don’t want to be a burden,” Aaron said as he shifted closer. “I took and took from Hayley and she left me. I’ll do anything… God, Spencer, I’d never survive it if you left me.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Reid promised against his Sentinels temple. He pulled the man closer, embracing him as fully as he could considering their position. “There is no room in a bond for such things as burden or resentment. We give and take from each other as nature intends. A healthy bond requires balance.”
“I’ve hurt you with this,” Aaron said. “I can guess as to why you didn’t say anything.”
“Headaches, I can handle,” Spencer said as Hotchner’s mouth drifted against his collar bone. He shuddered at the soft, damp feel of his Sentinel’s tongue sliding along the bone. “Bond rot? I can’t handle bond rot so we both have to work for this.”
“We are responsible,” Aaron said finally. “For and to each other.”
“Yes,” Spencer agreed. “That’s the heart of what we are.”
“I’m sorry.” Aaron lifted his head and sat back on his heels so he could see Spencer’s face. “For Christopher. For the loss of him and how it must have hurt when you were told.”
“Most people assume that I don’t have the right to truly grieve a man I never got to meet,” Spencer said. “Blair was militant about my placement in the Guide system at first—he monitored all of my interactions with other Sentinels. I was the first and the only Guide to emerge and be faced with David Stewart’s crimes. I don’t know the names of the Sentinels but I do know that eventually they all came online and had to deal with the knowledge that their perfect match had been murdered. Perfect matches aren’t as common as mundanes think and to have two is practically a myth.”
“Jim Ellison was rumored to have had two,” Aaron said. “But I don’t know many who’d have the gall to ask him if it were true.”
“There are more Guides than Sentinels so it makes sense that a Sentinel might have more choices available to him—a higher percentage of highly compatible Guides.” He stroked his fingers down Aaron’s face. “Tell me honestly. Do you want to do a Guide search?”
Spencer stared for a long, silent moment then nodded. “All right. I won’t bring it up again unless I have no choice.”
Aaron frowned. “I’m not going to fail with this.” He slid his hands along the back of Reid’s calves. “I didn’t expect your skin to be so soft.”
“I did hair removal when I was still a teenager,” Spencer murmured. “I’m going to thin my shields out so you can get a deeper imprint. It’s going to wake some pretty intense and primitive emotions in you.”
“I can handle it.”
“I agree or I wouldn’t even consider doing it. But before I do it I’d like to prepare myself.” He paused when Aaron looked confused. “Physically, Hotch. I need to prepare to be penetrated. It’s been quite a long while since I’ve allowed a man to fuck me.”
“You never slept with Gideon, right?”
Spencer shuddered. “That’s an erection killing question if I ever heard one. I never made it known but Jason’s Sensory-Prolapse made him extremely unattractive on a variety of levels. Chief among them was his utter lack of empathy. Oh, he pretended well enough to fool practically everyone but an online Guide but he’s so far removed from any sort of sensory intake that all he really has left emotionally is resentment and arrogance.”
“Can I…” Aaron exhaled noisily and frowned.
“You can ask me for anything,” Spencer murmured.
“I want to do it.” He blushed. “Prepare you. I want to do that. Will you show me how?”
Spencer scooted back on the bed and tugged Aaron’s hands so his Sentinel would follow. He needn’t have bothered because Hotchner slipped up onto the bed immediately and pinned Reid to the mattress. Spencer relaxed under him and spread his legs. “I’m beginning to understand why people find you intimidating.”
Aaron quirked an eyebrow. “I’ve never intimidated you—though you used to pretend otherwise.” He shifted his hips and rubbed the length of his cock against Spencer’s. “I’ve never had anal sex at all so I’m going to need thorough instructions.”
Reid’s eyes went wide. “Hotch.”
“You love to talk, Reid, tell me what to do,” Aaron ordered and brushed his mouth against Spencer’s. “Though I like this… I feel like I should come on you.”
“Scent marking,” Spencer gasped. “You can do that.”
“I’ll remember it for later,” Aaron promised and lifted off Spencer. “We’ll need lubrication, correct?”
Spencer stared briefly but then nodded. “The bedside table.” He watched his Sentinel retrieve the half full bottle of lubricant and didn’t blush when Aaron picked up a dildo up and waved it. “What? I have needs.”
Aaron laughed a little and put it back. He flipped the lube open with his thumb. “You also don’t have any condoms.”
“We don’t need them unless you’ve been with someone since you came online.”
Aaron flushed and shook his head. “No, I… learning to jerk-off was traumatic enough as was. I didn’t quite believe them when they said that most Sentinels have sensory spikes when they orgasm until they learn to control it.”
Spencer sighed. “You should’ve come to me for that, Aaron. I could’ve helped you resolve that situation fairly quickly. How long did it take you on your own?”
“A whole month,” Aaron admitted. “Near the end I almost decided that masturbating wasn’t even worth it.”
“I’m glad you worked it out,” Spencer said with a grin as Aaron returned to him. “It’s been a while as I said and your dick is thicker than my toy so you’re going to have to put three fingers in me but start with one.” He relaxed on the bed and spread his legs. “You’re probably going to want me on my knees eventually—I heard a lot of Sentinels prefer to mount their Guides that way the first time.”
“Mount,” Aaron repeated and flushed as he moved to kneel between the spread of Reid’s legs. “That sounds…”
“Primitive,” Spencer supplied. “That’s why this isn’t about sex so much as it is about bonding. The intercourse will be the means to an end—it’s about claiming really for both of us.” He tilted his hips and bit down on his lip when Aaron cupped his balls unexpectedly. “Slick up your fingers and push into in my asshole, slowly. Spread the lube around as much as you can and fuck me open with your finger.”
“The next time you launch into lecture mode in the middle of a profile, I’m going to get an erection,” Aaron said seriously. “We should probably work out some sort of plan in advance.”
Spencer grinned and hummed under his breath as Hotch rubbed one slick finger over the rim of his asshole. The older man pushed into him hesitantly and Reid rocked down on the penetration with a pleased sound. “Yeah, that’s good.”
“It feels good,” Aaron murmured. “You’re so hot and smooth. I can’t even imagine how good you’re going to feel on my cock.”
Spencer felt his face heat but he just watched and rocked down onto his Sentinel’s hand every chance he got. “Another.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yeah, you need to stretch me. I can handle it, I promise.” He watched Aaron’s eyes darken as he added a second a finger. The burn of being opened so carefully was delicious and Spencer couldn’t help but palm his cock. He rubbed the head with his thumb and groaned.
“Sex makes you feel better, huh?” Hotchner questioned.
“I don’t think platonic bonds are natural,” Spencer admitted. “It doesn’t seem reasonable that I’d let anyone else but you have me like this and I certainly shouldn’t have to do without forever. It just makes sense—I need cock and you’ve got one to give me.”
“I admit, I found the platonic imprint very clinical and unnatural,” Aaron admitted. “I requested it because I didn’t trust myself and the last thing I’d ever want to do is hurt you.”
“I know and I know I’m safe with you,” Spencer whispered. “Okay, give me the third.”
Aaron took a deep breath, pulled his fingers free and added more lube. He tossed the bottle aside and adjusted on his knees. “You were right—I do feel like you should be on your knees but I want to see your face.”
“It can be just like this,” Spencer agreed and his breath hitched as Aaron slid his fingers, all three, in with a little more confidence than he’d previously demonstrated. “Spread them just a little. Yeah, just like that. Press in deep.”
“Is your prostate sensitive?”
“I can get off on being fucked if that’s what you’re asking,” Spencer answered and shuddered when his Sentinel pressed right in on his prostate. “Yeah, right there.” He bore down on Aaron’s fingers and shuddered. “Enough, Christ, I’ll come before I do the thing.”
“The thing?” Aaron asked, amused. He pulled his fingers free and after a few seconds of hesitation he slicked up his cock.
“Shut up, I can hardly think right now,” Spencer murmured. “Come here, Aaron.”
Hotchner slipped between the spread of his Guide’s legs and shivered as the heat of Reid’s body welcomed him. “What do I do?”
“The rest of this is going to be instinct,” Spencer murmured. “I would remind you while you’re still rational that anal sex isn’t like vaginal sex at all. So don’t treat my ass like it’s a pussy.”
Aaron’s eyes went wide. “You’re got a really foul mouth.”
“You like it,” Spencer confided. “You’re all buttoned up and proper in public but you like it dirty and raw in the bedroom.”
“How could you possible know that?” Aaron asked.
“Oh, Aaron, everyone knows that,” Spencer said with a laugh. He cupped the back of his lover’s head and met Hotch’s gaze. “Sentinel.”
“Guide,” Aaron whispered.
Spencer let his shields thin and Aaron reared back a little but Reid curled his fingers against the back of his Sentinel’s head and held him still with just a little bit of pressure. “I can be everything you need if you’ll let me.”
Aaron relaxed and nodded. “I want that.”
“You’re doing fine,” Reid assured. “Just relax and let me take care of you for a change.”
He felt the shift in Aaron almost immediately—the way his body seemed to meld against his. The press of his Sentinel’s cock against his own was everything he’d wanted for months but he was glad he’d waited until Hotch could meet him on equal footing. Even a month earlier would’ve been too soon. Their bond was soft, indistinct in his mind but he pressed against it and it bloomed within them both in the space of seconds. Eyes wide open, he watched Aaron’s eyes go dark and focused.
“Easy,” Spencer whispered. “I’m here.”
“Guide.” Aaron buried his face against the side of Spencer’s neck and shuddered.
Spencer’s breath hitched and let his head fall back. Aaron’s teeth scraped against his pulse point then his Sentinel moved, ran firm, strong hands down Reid’s sides, hitched him up, and pushed deep into his ass with one sure thrust. “Fuck.”
Spencer wrapped his legs around Aaron’s waist to keep some control over the older man and tried to relax around the thickness of his Sentinel’s cock. He felt surrounded. Owned. His mind rushed with pleasure and the bond deepened with each moment until it felt perfect, whole. Aaron was thrusting into him with a slow, full bodied movement that was so delicious that Spencer let his legs drop to the bed. He planted his feet flat and arched into his Sentinel’s body with a needy groan.
“You owe me so much cock,” Spencer informed him breathlessly. “You’ll be in debt the rest of your life.” Aaron caught his mouth in a hard, bruising kiss and Reid happily surrendered to that as well for a few minutes before pulling his mouth free to demand, “Harder.”
“Absolutely no one would guess this about you,” Aaron muttered against Reid’s jaw. “Bossy and cock hungry.”
“I’m close,” Reid admitted. “I’m so close, Aaron. You have to… yes, right there. Harder, please. Faster, stop holding back.”
Aaron lifted up slightly, braced his hands on either side of Spencer’s head and started to fuck into his Guide’s pliant and willing body. “You told me not to treat your ass like pussy.”
“I take it back,” Spencer exclaimed. “Fuck me, Aaron.”
Hotch covered his Guide, slid one arm under Spencer and cupped the younger man’s shoulder for purchase. His fingers curled against Spencer’s collar bone. He breathed against Reid’s mouth as he moved harder, faster. “Like this?”
“Yes, please. Fuck my cunt,” Spencer urged. “Make me come.”
“Filthy,” Aaron whispered and clenched his teeth briefly on Reid’s bottom lip. He rolled his hips as he sank into Spencer’s ass again and ground against his Guide’s prostate.
“Hell yes. Oh. Fuck.”
Spencer spilled between them messily and Aaron shuddered at the smell of his Guide’s come. Reid clenched down on Aaron’s cock and that was all it took. Hotchner jerked roughly and came with a soft groan. His senses were blown wide open but within his control. It was emotionally overwhelming, the way the bond moved between them. He pulled carefully from Spencer’s body and huffed in surprise when the younger man prodded him onto his back.
Reid slide astride his Sentinel’s hips and braced himself on Aaron’s chest with both hands. He stared in silence for a few minutes, cataloging Hotch’s physical and mental condition.
“You look debauched,” Aaron said thoughtfully then grinned. “Cunt? Really?”
Spencer huffed. “It’s my ass. I can call it a cunt if I want to.”
They’d been home from the cabin for just a handful of hours when a phone call from the local Center basically destroyed all the relaxation they’d accomplished during their retreat. Jack had been thrilled to see them and had just raised an eyebrow at Spencer when he’d caught him transferring his clothing to his Dad’s bedroom. They’d had to call Jessica to watch him when the Center requested that they report for an evaluation of their bond. Spencer was furious and he didn’t bother to hide it when he entered the facility. An Alpha Guide in a full blown snit was no less of a threat than a feral Alpha Sentinel in the right circumstances.
The director of the local Sentinel/Guide Center was Aaron’s age and unbonded. A potential Alpha Guide in his own right but such distinctions were not given to Guides until after they were bonded. It was a form of protection as mundanes often had more issues with an Alpha Guide than they did regular Guides. Alphas were also more likely to be abused for their gifts if they were exposed and unbonded. They were led into a conference room and Reid paused at the sight of Blair Sandburg and his Sentinel. His fellow Guide offered him a friendly smile and Spencer allowed himself to relax a little. Whatever was going on, he had the Alpha Guide Prime of North America in his corner so that was something.
Aaron let Spencer sit first then sat down beside him and Reid took in the rest of the occupants of the room. The director of the center, Robert Bradley, was sitting not far from Sandburg. Dr. Elizabeth McCord, Alpha Guide and the current Secretary of State was seated with her Sentinel and husband, Alpha Sentinel Henry McCord.
“Dr. Reid you isolated your Sentinel without notifying the Center,” Bradley began but stopped when Sandburg cleared his throat.
“I didn’t isolate my Sentinel,” Reid informed the older man coolly but focused on Blair. “It’s nice to see you, Blair. I hope you weren’t called here to specifically deal with me and whatever this is.”
Blair offered him a wry grin. “I’m afraid I was. It seems Director Bradley’s profound and bordering on inappropriate interest in your bond with your Sentinel led him to file a complaint with the national Center regarding your failure to follow Guide protocol and report your failing bond.”
Reid put his hand on Aaron’s arm to keep his Sentinel seated. “Our bond is in no danger of failing. We took a scheduled and Bureau mandated rest period—Sentinels are required to take a week of leave every six months in order to maintain proper mental health. Since our caseload was relatively low and could be handled well by the other members of our team, I decided it was a good time for us both to have the rest period. Dealing with serial killers and rapists on a near daily basis is trying for us both. I was not required to inform the Center that we took a vacation, Blair.”
“Of course your bond is failing. We should’ve interfered long before now,” Bradley exclaimed. “The age and personality differences are enough to tell practically anyone that a bond between the two of you is impossible and that doesn’t even take into account the history of mental disturbance in your family line. You shouldn’t have been allowed to bond at all, Reid.”
Reid’s gaze narrowed. “You did a Guide search for my Sentinel without his permission, didn’t you?”
Bradley paled because every Guide in the room was staring at him now. “Of course not.”
“You liar,” Jim Ellison said casually. “You must be a fairly strong match for Hotchner if you’re willing to go this far to attempt to damage what is obviously a very strong bond. Give me the results, I want to see them.” He focused on Aaron. “It changes nothing, Sentinel Hotchner. Your choice is more than clear.”
Aaron relaxed and Bradley glared. Stiffly, the director pulled a folder from the stack in front of him and after some hesitation passed it to Sandburg who handed it to his Sentinel while he glared at the soon-to-be former director of the Washington Center.
“Why is the Secretary of State in this meeting, Blair?”
Elizabeth McCord leaned forward when Blair waved a hand towards her. “I’m not here, Spencer, in that role. It’s clear to us that your Sentinel has no interest in leading a pride and admittedly Henry was reluctant as well but this situation highlights the fact that the region needs an Alpha. Henry has assumed that position. But before we can start the formal process to form a pride and create the financial trust, we need your Sentinel to come on board, officially, as Henry’s Beta.”
“I’m out in the field a lot,” Aaron said. “You’d be better served with someone who sticks close to home. That being said, I’ll accept that position for now and in the future would prefer a lateral move to… an Enforcer position when and if we have another high level Sentinel emerge in the region.”
“Agreed,” Henry said with a nod. “And thank you. We’ll handle the legal and financial matters later.” He focused on Ellison. “Jim?”
Jim closed the folder. “Hotchner has a hundred twenty-two partial matches and Bradley is among them but then so is Dr. Reid. In fact, percentage wise—there is little difference between the two matches.”
“But my percentage is higher,” Bradley insisted.
Jim glared at him. “Don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking, Guide Bradley.” The watched the man sit back from the table in shock. “Yes, Bradley ranks slightly higher but genetic compatibility isn’t the only factor in bonding. Personally, I had two perfect matches in the system and to this day, I can hardly stand to be the same room with the other Guide I was compatible with. It happens because the variations in the genetics of a human being aren’t as expansive as many assume. The genetic matching system is not fool proof and in some countries it’s only used as a general guideline to gathering potential Guides together for a formal search. I believe we put too much emphasis on the genetic testing. I didn’t need a test to tell me that Blair was mine. I travelled across the country to find him without even knowing his name.”
“Reid forced a bond on Hotchner before he had any sort of choice in the matter,” Bradley accused and huffed when Ellison glared at him. “He never had a choice at all. We have duty to rectify that.”
Ellison focused on Hotchner. “Is that true, Aaron? That you had no choice?”
Aaron flushed and took a deep breath. “No, it couldn’t be further from the truth. I wanted to crawl on top of Spencer the moment I set eyes on him. I was married so I kept my distance to avoid my attraction to him. After my divorce and before I was ready to have something serious, I became the target of a serial killer and I had to put my own child in Witness Protection. I didn’t want to risk… I couldn’t risk Spencer as well so I backed away again. Then Foyet murdered my ex-wife and was set on doing the same to my boy and I lost it. I don’t remember much, honestly. The smell of Hayley’s blood, the beat of my son’s heart and Spencer.” He kept his gaze on Ellison. “I don’t know what you intend to do about Director Bradley but he’s abused his power as the head of this facility to upset my Guide and I find that extremely irritating.”
“Roughly ten years ago, it was decided that unless circumstances are extreme the Alpha Guide of the strongest pride in the region will run the Center. It’s another reason that Guide Bradley was working towards pair bond interference. He didn’t want to lose his job to Dr. Reid,” Blair explained. “There are several Centers in country run by Alpha Sentinels due to their Guide’s job and I think we can all agree that Elizabeth’s job prevents her from taking over the Center here in Washington. Henry has agreed to leave his job as a teacher and assume the directorship of the Washington Sentinel/Guide Center.”
Aaron grimaced. “You love to teach, Henry.”
“I should’ve assumed this duty months ago,” Henry said. “When you made it clear to me that you didn’t want to lead the pride that is circling around us both like we’re prey. I can’t say I haven’t been any more excited about the prospect than you but I’m in the better position to do it.” He offered Bradley a glare. “And some people need more supervision than we suspected.”
Robert Bradley frowned but turned to Aaron. “What could you see in him? He’s a boy for fuck’s sake!”
“He’s thirty-three,” Aaron corrected. “As to the other matter… are you blind? He’s intelligent, a gifted profiler, and frankly beautiful. Why on Earth would I part with him? He shot a man in the head in my defense before he was my Guide. I’m an extremely lucky man, Bradley, and I know it.” His gaze flicked to the file in front of Ellison. “I said no to the Guide search out of respect for him and frankly out of an extremely selfish desire to keep him. I wouldn’t care if I had a perfect match on that sheet of paper.”
“Thinking with your dick then,” Bradley huffed.
“My dick is quite pleased with the way things worked out, yes,” Hotch shot back and flushed. “My apologies Madam Secretary.”
Elizabeth McCord snorted and sat back with a delighted grin. “Oh, no, no apologies. My theoretical dick totally gets where you’re coming from.”
Henry picked up his wife’s hand and kissed her palm. “For the record, her theoretical dick is huge.”
* * * *
“Did you mean it?” Spencer asked once he settled into the passenger seat of the SUV.
“Mean what?” Aaron questioned as he put the key in the ignition.
“That you wouldn’t care if you had a perfect match in the system?” Spencer asked, his expression pensive and earnest.
“Spencer.” Aaron reached out and took his hand. “I’m sorry that my insecurities over these last months have hurt you. Yes, I meant it. You are my Guide. I don’t need nor do I ever want anyone else. I want you as my partner in every single way and it is my deepest desire to never know a single day without seeing you.”
Spencer smiled, leaned over, and pressed a warm, affectionate kiss to Aaron’s mouth. “Thank you.”
“No, thank you.”
Elizabeth’s Theoretical Dick