Christmas Countdown: December 15
Criminal Minds

By Juli

December 2008

"Have you been a good little boy this year?"

Aaron Hotchner stepped back as his son, Jack, answered the shopping mall Santa's question. Jack was getting to be a sturdy toddler and wasn't afraid of Santa this year. Still, it had been hard to just watch as his little boy fearlessly climbed onto another man's lap.

"I wanta `tendo game and a fire truck," Jack replied to Santa.

The answer caused Aaron to smile ruefully. He'd been half afraid that Jack would ask to have his parents back together as his Christmas gift. While he was relieved that it hadn't been the case, Aaron was just the littlest bit disappointed too. Children truly were resilient, but he couldn't help but wish that Jack hadn't adjusted quite so readily to the divorce.

"Daddy, did you see me?"

Aaron caught the little boy as Jack launched himself at him. He tickled his son's belly, causing shrieks of laughter. "Yes, I did. You did a good job."

He briefly put the boy down in order to pay for the photograph of the session. At the last minute, he bought two copies and asked that they be put in separate bags. Haley might want one. After he had them in hand, Aaron took Jack by the other and headed out of the Santa display.

"Uncle Jason, did you see me?" Jack let go of Aaron's hand in order to bound up to the dark-haired man waiting for them. "I talked to Santa!"

"You certainly did," Jason Gideon squatted down to reply. "And what did Santa say?"

"He said to be a good boy," Jack replied, seriousness oozing from every pore. "An' to have a good Christmas."

"Do you think you can do that?" Jason briefly looked up at Aaron, his eyes twinkling. "It's a couple of days until Christmas."

"Uh-huh," Jack nodded vigorously, his dark hair falling into his eyes. "Mommy says I's a good boy."

"And you are," Hotch lifted the child into his arms for a big hug. "Daddy thinks so too."

From Hotch's greater height, Jack spotted something and wiggled to get down. "Look, Daddy, a Rudolph!"

The mall had a whole Christmas display, complete with a small reindeer. Hotch put Jack down and the little boy took off for the reindeer pen at a run. The adults followed at a slower pace.

"Thanks for coming with us today, Jason," Hotch said quietly. "I don't quite have the hang of this divorced dad thing yet."

"You will," Jason assured him. "Besides, it's hardly a bother. I missed doing these sorts of activities with Steven. I commend you for making sure you don't miss them with Jack."

Aaron knew that Jason had recently begun to mend fences with his adult son, but didn't know where things stood. "Will you be seeing Steven at Christmas?"

Jason shrugged. "No, he'll be skiing in Aspen. I have some friends here in town I'll be spending the holiday with." He looked pointedly at Hotch. "How about you?"

"Haley has Jack for Christmas; I'll get to see him the weekend after. Mother is Christmasing in France this year and Sean has this girl he's seeing," Hotch kept his eyes on Jack. "I suspect I'll go into the office and take advantage of the quiet."

"Hotch. . . ." Jason's tone was part worry and part exasperation.

Just then, Jack ran back, wanting his father to lift him high enough to pet the reindeer. After a few minutes, though, Aaron reluctantly had to acknowledge that it was time to leave.

"Come on, sport," he held out his hand to his son. "It's time to go."

"But Daddy," Jack started to whine. Aaron had a feeling that the fact it was past naptime had something to do with that.

"Mommy's waiting," Aaron gently told the little boy. "I bet she's missed you."

Jack's mood abruptly turned again and he bounced in excitement. "Mommy, yeah!"

Aaron took Jack's hand and, with Jason accompanying them, they walked to the other side of the mall. There, waiting in the agreed upon spot, was Haley. She looked up as Jack called for her and Aaron let go of his son's hand, watching as the child ran into his waiting mother's arms.

Almost hesitantly, Aaron approached them. "I took Jack to see Santa."

Haley looked up in mild surprise. "You did?"

"I told you I would," Aaron stated simply. It didn't upset him that she hadn't expected him to keep his promise; he'd broken a few, despite his best intentions. "I thought you might like a copy of the photo."

He felt oddly shy as he handed the bag to his ex-wife. Their relationship had changed and Aaron wasn't exactly sure what they were to each other anymore. They were no longer spouses, but not quite friends yet either. Too many emotions boiled just under the surface for that to be the case. If it weren't for Jack, Aaron wasn't sure that they ever would have seen each other again.

"Thank you," Haley smiled tentatively at him, but then she looked beyond Aaron's shoulder and her smile stiffened into a grimace. "Jason, I wasn't expecting to see you."

"It's a pleasure, Haley," Jason's smile was less than authentic, but only someone who knew him well could have been able t discern it. Not so Haley; her attitude had gone from cautious friendliness to pure ice and a blind man could have noticed the abrupt change.

"I wasn't aware that you'd be working today," Haley's tone was tense as she directed the comment to Hotch.

Aaron was confused. "I'm not." She glared at him, clearly not convinced and he figured it out. Instead of feeling defensive, however, Hotch found himself getting angry. "Jason's a friend as well as a work colleague, Haley. I'm allowed a friend, aren't I?"

"Just see to it that you keep your work away from my son," Haley retorted. "Say goodbye to Daddy, Jack, we have to go."

The little boy held his arms out to Hotch, who stooped to pick him up for a big bear hug. "Bye, Buddy. I'll see you on Saturday and I'll call you on Christmas Eve."

"An' I'll call you Christmas morning an' tell you what Santa brought," Jack promised him. Aaron reluctantly set the little boy down and watched as Jack took Haley's hand. "Bye, Daddy."

"Bye," Aaron waved as they walked away, keeping a smile on his face for as long as Jack was watching. When mother and son disappeared into the crowd, he sighed deeply.

"It gets easier," Jason put a hand on his shoulder. "Although I'm not sure that's a good thing or not."

Aaron tried to smile at him, but it fell flat. "Thanks, Jason."

The two men walked back to the car in a comfortable, if sad, silence. Aaron hadn't been sure until that moment why he'd asked Jason to accompany him. He realized as Jack was leaving with Haley that he couldn't have stood being alone at that moment. Not during Christmas time anyway.

When they got the car and Aaron slid behind the wheel, he worked hard at not looking at the empty toddler's seat in the back. Instead of starting the automobile right away, he swallowed a couple of times before addressing his companion.

"I'm sorry that Haley acted that way," Aaron apologized for his ex- wife. "I'm not really sure why she was rude."

Jason laughed softly. "You really don't use profiling in your personal life, do you?"

Aaron looked over at him in surprise. "Of course not. Both you and Dave Rossi warned me against it, when I first joined the BAU."

"Haley was rude because she was jealous," Jason explained. He had that patient look on his face, the one he often used while teaching.

"Jealous?" For the second time in a few minutes, Aaron felt confused. "Of what?"

"Of this," Jason leaned forward and, very gently, kissed Aaron on the lips.

Stunned, Aaron just sat still as the other man's lips pressed against his own. He watched as Jason settled back in his chair. The older man licked his lips, as though savoring a delicacy.

"Come to my cabin for Christmas, Aaron," Jason suggested, sounding anything but patient. "I'll cook for you."

"I-. . ." Aaron brushed his fingertips against his mouth. It was funny, but he could have sworn he still felt Jason's lips against his own. "I don't know what to say."

Jason shrugged. "Say yes."

Hotch suddenly realized that he wanted very badly to agree. The kiss had been a surprise, but not an unpleasant one. Suddenly, several things made sense, starting with why it was Jason he'd asked to come along for emotional support.

"What about your friends?" Aaron asked. Caution was too ingrained in him to throw it away so easily.

"They'll get over it," Jason leaned close, but stopped just shy of kissing Aaron again. "Say yes, that you'll come."

It was easier than Aaron thought to put caution aside.

"Yes," Aaron whispered. Jason's smile lit up the car and he kissed Aaron again, longer and deeper.

"Good, that's settled," Jason's voice was full of satisfaction as they parted.

Aaron cleared his throat, suddenly shy. "Should I bring anything?"

He was thinking of a bottle of wine and was unprepared for Jason's grin.

"Just your suitcase," Jason suggested.

Aaron's throat went dry, but he returned Jason's grin with one of his own. "I can do that."

It looked like Aaron wasn't going to be alone for Christmas after all.

~the end~


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