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Lightning Only Strikes Once...Maybe Twice

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The phone was ringing.

Hotch groaned as he woke up the mattress he was sleeping on felt hard as rock and hadn’t done him any favors in the night leaving him with a backache and a crick in his neck. Annoyed already he grabbed the phone so as not to wake the person sharing the room with him. He knew Reid had had as much sleep as him as his bed was probably just as uncomfortable. Wondering what he could do to get Strauss to up their budget so they could get better rooms he answered.

“Hotchner.”

“Agent Hotchner this is Abner Merriman, assistant warden, New Haven Correctional. I believe we can allow you to visit Chester Hardwick today. How about after lunch?” The voice on the phone said.

“Thank you. That sounds good. We’ll see you at 2 pm then.” Aaron answered running his hand through his hair as he suppressed a yawn. After exchanging a few pleasantries he hung up and turned to find his roommate still lying in bed with a sleepy expression on his face that Aaron couldn’t help but think was adorable. Then he chastised himself for the thought even as his expression softened.

“We’re meeting Hardwick at 2?” Spencer asked.

“Yeah, that gives us plenty of time to get breakfast and go over strategy on how we’re going to get him to talk to us and get some lunch before we have to head to the prison.” Hotch answered nodding and making his way to the bathroom, “I’ll take a shower first if that’s alright with you?”

“Sure, I could use a little more sleep. Wake me when you get out.” Spencer answered yawning and turning over to go back to sleep.

Shaking his head at his younger colleague and half-envious of his ability to just fall asleep like that Hotch made his way to the bathroom with his bathroom kit to brush his teeth, shower and shave. When he was done he dressed in his suit put on his jacket and grabbed his keys and phone calling out to wake Reid and let him know he was going to the diner down the street to get them both some breakfast.

Spencer just grunted sleepily in response as he yawned and rubbed his eyes. When Aaron had gone the young genius stood up stretching luxuriously before making his way to the bathroom to complete his own morning ritual. By the time Hotch came back carrying some pastries and two cups of coffee Spencer was done and getting dressed. He hastily buttoned up his shirt when he saw Hotch come in, flushing slightly as he turned away to pick up his tie.

“They didn’t have much of a selection. I hope this is ok.” Hotch said putting the pastries and coffee on the table and settling himself in the chair as he pulled out a bear claw and proceeded to tear it apart.

“These places never do. It’s fine Hotch. You know I don’t eat much in the mornings anymore.” Spencer answered as he finished tying his tie and pulled on his cardigan.

“Since when?” Hotch asked surprised. It had been a while since he had shared a room with the younger man.

“Since….since Georgia,” Spencer said wincing internally at the way his voice broke over the last word.

“Oh. Sorry.” Aaron said feeling slightly guilty about not paying enough attention to Spencer in the aftermath of that particular nightmare. He had trusted Gideon to handle it as he had been wrapped up in his own problems with Haley and it was one of his biggest regrets.

“It’s fine,” Spencer said as he picked up the coffee cup and sat down on the edge of his bed sipping with an abstracted look on his face as he stared into the distance.

Hotch couldn’t help wondering what the younger man was thinking but he held his silence and as often happened these days his thoughts turned to Haley and the impending divorce. He really wished that things weren’t ending like this, or ending at all for that matter. He wondered for the nth time where it all went wrong and he and Haley had turned into the couple who couldn’t talk to each other without arguing. He had known when his wife had started cheating on him but he had held his silence knowing he was probably at fault for not giving her the attention she deserved as Haley was constantly telling him. He sighed and finished eating the bear claw he had pulled apart and drained his coffee cup before pushing thoughts of his imploding personal life aside to focus on what they needed to do today.

He rose to pick up the files and place them on the table beside the untouched breakfast as Spencer came to join him at the table. In silence, they sorted through the files and arranged them as they had already discussed. Then they went over each file together discussing various strategies and debating over which ones were most likely to work with a man like Hardwick. Aaron was feeling a little disgusted by the time they got to the victims of this particular madman. The man had clearly been an unpleasant specimen, belligerent and arrogant even as he confessed to the rapes and murders of so many women. It had not been a BAU case as the locals had been unwilling to ask for help and it had cost more lives than Hotch felt strictly necessary before Hardwick was finally stopped.

By the time they had hashed it all out, it was nearly noon and he could hear Spencer’s stomach rumbling which caused the genius to flush lightly. They packed everything up quickly and stowed it in the car before they walked to the diner to eat. They ate in comfortable silence both lost in their own thoughts as Hotch determinedly tried to put any thoughts of his soon to be ex-wife out of his mind.

They were sitting in the warden’s office when his phone rang and undid all his hard work of banishing Haley from his thoughts. Hearing that she had involved JJ in their problems was enough to make his temper spark. Then the assistant warden came in and turned out to be one of those pencil pushers who were fascinated by serial killers and Hotch found himself trying very hard to control his temper and not snap at the man.

Spencer could see that his boss was upset and he could even guess the reason. He just wished that there was a way for him to help Hotch but he knew that anything he said would be rebuffed so he kept quiet and focused on the man in front of him and answering all the questions that the assistant warden had for them.

Hardwick strutted into the room in chains but still as arrogant as he had been when he had been captured despite the fact that he was in chains. Hotch wanted to break that arrogance and pound it into the ground but that wouldn’t serve their purpose so he told them to remove the chains. He could see that this made Reid nervous but he thought they were safe enough so he ignored the younger man’s discomfort.

Hardwick started out with a power play by asking for the window to be opened before he would talk. It cost them nothing so Hotch allowed it. Then he started with his lies. So many lies that only made sense to him. Aaron could see Spencer’s head come up at the first lie like a hunting dog scenting its prey and he stepped in before the younger man could his irritation pushing him to confront the convicted man.

“I don't have time for this. You didn't live in a nice house on a quiet street. You grew up in a series of projects in East Bridgeport, each one worse than the last. You spent your teenage years peeping into your female neighbors' windows and burglarizing their underwear drawers when you got the chance. And you set a hundred small fires for which you spent two years in juvenile detention.” He spat.

“We've done extensive research, Mr. Hardwick, and we've talked to almost everyone you've ever known... including your mother,” Reid added trying to calm the situation a little.

But Hardwick was determined to give it one more try and started to lie about his mother forcing Aaron to confront him once again. After that final try though they did manage to get some approximation of the truth out of him mixed with all his bitterness and anger towards his parents and the world in general. Listening to him talk was making Aaron’s skin crawl and he desperately wanted a shower after listening to the filth spewing from the man’s mouth.

When he started taunting them with how little he cared about his victims Hotch finally had enough and rang the button to summon the guards despite the mild protest from Reid.

“It's 5:17. Evening yard started at 5:00. Guard staff's outside with the population. There won't be anyone to open that door for... at least 13 minutes. While you were doing your research, maybe a question or two about security tones would have been a good idea.” Hardwick said smirking when nobody answered the door.

“I heard the tones,” Aaron said unwilling to admit that he had missed their significance to Hardwick.

“So you planned to be locked inside with me, with no guns or weapons.” Hardwick taunted him still smiling.

“I won't need a gun.” Aaron spat through gritted teeth trying not to look at Reid’s terrified face.

“There's no way they're gonna execute me next week, not after I kill two FBI agents. You saved my life by coming here.” Hardwick gloated happily as he circled lazily keeping his eye on the two agents.

“But unfortunately for you, I'm not a five foot tall hundred pound girl. All your life you've gone after victims who couldn't fight back. And the rest of the time you spent looking over your shoulder, worried about the knock on the door, scared that somebody like me would be on the other side waiting to put you away. At your core, you're a coward. Chester.” Aaron taunted him back trying to keep Hardwick’s focus on him and away from Reid. Despite everything, he could feel a curl of satisfaction at the thought of getting to pound the other man into the ground like he deserved. Just as Hardwick lunged for him Reid spoke up which caused a sharp spear of irritation to pass through Aaron despite his effectiveness.

Spencer was terrified. He thought Hotch might be able to handle Hardwick but he wasn’t so sure of his own survival and as his mind spun to find a solution he started talking about the thing most likely to distract Hardwick, himself. Somehow he managed to keep talking even as he saw Hotch circle around the distracted Hardwick so if he faltered and the man tried to lunge Hotch would be in his blind spot and able to keep him off Spencer. He talked for what seemed like hours but was likely only minutes before the guards burst into the room and they managed to get out of the room and Spencer for one could not get out of there soon enough.

They left to prison to find themselves caught in a downpour. It seemed that a storm had blown in while they had been inside the prison and the rain was just bucketing down along with thunder and lightning. They tried to drive through the storm back to DC but it began to look too dangerous so they managed to find a motel they could stay at. Spencer went to get the keys and sign them in while Hotch waited in the car and tried to scout out a parking spot in the already crowded lot.

Spencer darted into the car dripping onto the upholstery despite his mad dash to get out of the rain and directed them to the spot closest to their room. As he was going to get out of the car Hotch stopped him with an arm on his hand.

“That was smart to get Hardwick to focus on himself long enough for the guards to come back,” Hotch said when Spencer turned to look at him.

“I find that I do some of my best work under intense terror,” Spencer said smirking a little.

“I'm sorry.”

“For what?” Spencer asked genuinely puzzled.

“I antagonized the situation,” Hotch said apologetically feeling his frustration boiling again, this time at himself.

“No, you didn't,” Reid answered at once.

“Well, I certainly didn't help.” Hotch insisted wondering why Reid was giving him so much leeway

“Ah, I guess you didn't really help,” Spencer said feeling a little smug to think he had managed so well on his own.

“So Haley wants me to sign the divorce papers uncontested so nobody wastes money on lawyers,” Hotch said after a minute of silence as they sat in the car.

“You don't want to?” Spencer asked, curious about what his boss was going through. He had never felt this connection to anyone, most of his relationships tended to end before either person got too attached.

“What I want I'm not gonna get,” Hotch said sadly staring out into the rain.

Spencer felt for his unit chief, the man didn’t deserve what his wife was putting him through.

“Here take the keys I’ll get the stuff.” Spencer said raising a hand to stall any protests, “I’m already soaked anyway.” He continued smiling as he held out the key to the older man.

As their fingers touched over the key a sharp jolt of lightning struck the car making them feel like their bones were liquefying.

                            *************************************************************

2nd Time.

The phone was ringing.

Aaron reached out and grabbed it with his eyes closed.

“Hotchner.” He rasped, his voice roughened by sleep.  

“Agent Hotchner this is Abner Merriman, assistant warden, New Haven Correctional. I believe we can allow you to visit Chester Hardwick today. How about after lunch?” The voice on the phone said.

“Wasn’t that yesterday?” He asked still half asleep.

“No, no. It was today. We just got confirmation that he will speak to you. So around 2 pm ok with you?” A very puzzled voice said.

“Hmm. Oh yeah, 2 pm is good. We’ll see you then. Thank you.” Aaron answered running his hand through his head and puzzling over the very strange dream he had had.

“Whazzat?” A sleepy voice asked from the next bed.

“We’re meeting with Hardwick at 2. Go back to sleep I’ll wake you when I’m done getting ready.” Aaron answered.

“Mmmm K,” Spencer said as he turned over and went back to sleep.

Still puzzling over what had to be a dream, albeit a very realistic one Aaron finished getting ready for the day. Finally, he shook it off and called out to Spencer to wake him up.

“I’m going to that diner we saw on the way in. You want anything?” Aaron asked.

“Hmmm sure. Coffee? I don’t eat much in the morning anymore. Not since Georgia.” Spencer said sitting up and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Sure,” Aaron said as he grabbed his keys and phone and walked out. Maybe he had already known that about Reid and it had bled into his subconscious?

As Spencer began to really wake up he stopped mid-stretch and sat down abruptly on the bed. Hadn’t they just been over this? Didn’t they already face Hardwick and almost end in disaster?

He quickly checked his phone for the date and time and sure enough it was the same Tuesday they were supposed to meet with Hardwick. So maybe it had just been a dream after all. He had been going over the case details and wondering what the interview would be like as he fell asleep. Deciding that it was probably just a very weird dream his brain had decided to gift him with he got up and went to the bathroom to get ready.

When Hotch came back they breakfasted in silence. Hotch watching in amusement as Spencer added more sugar than usual to his coffee. He was feeling drained for some reason despite getting a decent amount of sleep.

They went over the case notes and strategies each of them brushing away the sense of déjà vu as something that they should probably expect since they knew the case so well after the last few days of prep work. When they were done they went to lunch at the diner both still puzzling over the strangeness of the day.

When they got to the prison Hotch turned off his phone not wanting anything to distract him from the upcoming meeting, he didn’t want the part of the dream where JJ called him about Haley coming true.

Once they entered the prison and met the assistant warden and Hardwick the day just kept getting weirder and weirder. It seemed like they were repeating everything in the dream word for word. Puzzled and unsettled Spencer listened to Hardwick spout the same lies all over again only to be stopped by Hotch in the same way. The same lies and demands, the same bitterness and anger. While some of it could be attributed to having met with people like him before Spencer felt that the interactions were almost word for word from his dream.

Aaron noticed that Spencer kept throwing him puzzled glances and he could not understand them just as he couldn’t understand the incredible feeling of déjà vu that kept increasing the longer this day went on. When they heard the security tones at 5:00 he started and decided to end the interview early and told Spencer to wrap it up which the younger man was only too eager to do and stalked towards the button to call the guards. But it appeared to be too late already.

Terror filled Spencer as he really hoped this part of his dream worked out as well as it had before. He tried to remember what he had said in the dream as he saw Hotch stripping off his jacket and tie. Normally he would have enjoyed the sight of his boss removing his clothes, he was after all an attractive man but today he was just not in the mood to appreciate it.

Before Hardwick could attack Hotch as he had tried in the dream Spencer started talking exactly as he had before.

“Do you want to know why you killed those women?” Spencer asked a little desperately.

“What?” Hardwick asked as he stopped mid-lunge.

“Earlier you said you wish that you were different. I can tell you why you killed them, why you are... what you are.” Spencer said praying this would work.

“You can tell me why I did the things I did?” Hardwick asked curiously.

Spencer just nodded and launched into his speech exactly as he had in his dream noticing the slightly puzzled but nonetheless determined look on Hotch’s face as he circled Hardwick so he was in position to defend them if necessary. Finally, the guards came to let them out and they escaped the room. Again.

When they were outside again and sitting in the car rain pouring down around them Spencer turned to Hotch.

“I know this is going to sound really crazy….but…” Spencer began.

“Feels like we’ve done this all before?” Hotch finished.

“Yeah. Feels like we did all this yesterday. Almost exactly the same.” Spencer said nodding.

“I was afraid you were going to say that. What do you think this is? Just some weird déjà vu? A shared dream? Or something weirder?” Aaron asked looking at Spencer.

“I have no idea. I just hope this is the last time we have to relive that particular experience. I could do without that much terror in my life.” Spencer answered shuddering at the thought of what could have happened so easily.

“I’m sorry.”

“What for?” Spencer thought he knew where this was going but it was better to be sure.

“I antagonized the situation,” Hotch answered looking a little shamefaced.

“No, you didn’t. You didn’t help. But that’s fine. I do my best work under intense terror.” Spencer said smirking a little, “I know the divorce is wearing on you. It’s fine. We survived.” He continued sobering and offering Hotch a sympathetic smile.

“Thanks, Reid. Let’s get out of here and go back to the hotel? If it’s like the dream or whatever it was we won’t be able to make to home anyway so we might as well stay the night?” Hotch asked

“Sure. Although those beds should be illegal as torture devices.” Spencer said wincing a little at the thought.

“Right? Strauss wouldn’t hold out so much on the budgets if she had to spend the night in one of those beds.” Aaron answered.

“Hey, there’s an idea. Get the higher-ups to spend the night in one of those places they make us use before a full day’s work and maybe they would be a little lighter on the purse strings.” Spencer said chuckling at the thought of Strauss in the hole-in-the-wall hotels they stayed in on cases making Aaron laugh as well and laughing companionably they drove through the storm towards their hotel.

They signed in again and made their way to the room. They would have to share again as that was all the room available thanks to the storm. They were just settling their bags in the room when there was a loud crack of lightning and the whole room was plunged in darkness.

                            *************************************************************

3 rd Time.

The phone was ringing.

Aaron groaned. As far as he could remember he had not turned his phone back on after they left the prison. The last thing he remembered was the flash of lightning that plunged the hotel in darkness. Hoping against hope that he was mistaken, he answered the phone and heard the same voice as yesterday telling him the same thing. As he listened he turned to see Spencer looking more alert than he had yesterday morning – if there was such a thing—watching him. He quickly apologized and made excuses canceling their visit to the prison.

“We’re repeating the same day,” Aaron said unhappily.

“Looks like it. This is the third time if I remember right.”

“You remember right,” Hotch said a smile quirking his lips despite the strangeness of the situation.

“Seems like only the two of us know that we are repeating the day,” Spencer said his mind going a mile a minute trying to figure out a way out of the situation.

“This is just – perfect . Exactly what I need in my life right now.” Hotch exclaimed his frustration clear in every line of his body.

“Why don’t you go get ready for the day while I look up some things and then we can discuss getting out of this situation alright?” Spencer said placatingly. He could see that Hotch was at his wit's end and hoped that some time alone to pull himself together would help.

Aaron grumbled under his breath but he grabbed his kit and went into the bathroom. He knew that Spencer was right and raging against the situation would not help. A broken laugh burst out of his chest as he reflected on how this was just typical of his life right now. He was stuck in a hellish day on the verge of getting out of a marriage that had become hellish as well.

When he came out it was to find Spencer sitting cross-legged in the middle of his bed with a laptop in front of him reading something on screen as he eyes darted rapidly back and forth.

“Reid?”

“Hmm?”

“Bathroom’s free.”

“Umm. Ok. In a minute.” Spencer answered distractedly as he rapidly read and scrolled through something on his computer. When he was done reading Spencer got up from the bed and gave him a distracted smile as he made his way to the bathroom clearly lost in thought.

Knowing better than to disturb Reid when he was ‘in the zone’ as Morgan called it Hotch grabbed his wallet and keys and made his way to the diner to get them some coffee. He had lost his appetite but they could both probably do with some coffee to figure this out.

When he got back it was to find a half-dressed Spencer leaning over his laptop and looking at something as he struggled to fit his head through the armhole of his t-shirt. Chuckling to himself Aaron walked forward and tapped Spencer on the shoulder while straightening out the shirt so the genius could get dressed.

Spencer flushed bright red and finished dressing. He had dressed casually in old jeans and a t-shirt as they would not be going anywhere official that day – probably.

“So I think I figured something out. I was thinking about how the day ended the past two times and one thing struck me.”

“The lightning!” Hotch exclaimed following the younger man’s train of thought.

“Bingo. The first time it struck the car. It shouldn’t have hurt us as much as it did. The second time it caused the blackout. So maybe the storm is causing this?” Spencer trailed off as he tried to figure out what was happening.

“Then how come we’re the only ones who are experiencing it? Everyone else seems to think it’s a normal day?” Hotch asked.

“Yeah….that’s the bit I get stuck on. I was looking up time and time loops.” Spencer said gesturing to his computer, “It’s mostly science fiction since nobody has ever been able to get anywhere close to cracking this stuff and …..Yeah…I got nothing.” Spencer said dejectedly.

“Let me see?” Hotch said moving closer to the computer to look at the screen as well, “Maybe together we can figure this thing out?”

The spent the rest of the day on their respective laptops looking up time loops from the most bizarre science fiction to the legitimate scientific papers on the study of time by reputed scientists and discussed it, bouncing theories off each other. They continued their discussion through the lunch, which they grabbed at the diner after letting the front desk know they would be staying one more night. Despite their intense research, they were no closer to an answer when the storm broke and Aaron looked at Spencer despairingly wondering if he was destined to repeat the day again and again forever. When lightning struck they were still sitting on their respective bed's laptops open, trying desperately to make sense of the mess they were in.

                            **************************************************************

4 th Time.

The phone was ringing.

Aaron groaned and silenced it without bothering to answer it. He rolled over looking at the date to look into Spencer’s confused, sleepy eyes.

“Again.” He said as the younger man nodded and began to curse under his breath.

The day that followed was mostly a repeat of the previous day as they researched time loops on their laptops until lunch time.

When they entered the diner Spencer finally broached a thought he had been reluctant to voice.

“I might know of a way that we can break this cycle.” He said hesitantly.

“Tell me.”

“So far we have always been together when the lightning hit so maybe if we are not together today when it hits we might break the loop?” Spencer said gesturing wildly with his hands as he spoke.

Hotch looked at him with uncertainty and grimaced, “It could work….or it could mean that just one of us gets trapped alone in the loop, or we get trapped separately in the loop. I’m not sure I like this idea.” He said.

“Yeah, that’s why I didn’t mention it earlier. But it’s the only thing I can think of. I think it’s worth a try Hotch.”

Hotch debated this internally, as they continued to eat their lunch and Spencer left him alone with his thoughts. On the one hand, it could break the loop, but on the other, he could end up alone and he really didn’t want to be the only one who knew about the loop and was conscious of it. Despite his eccentricities, he didn’t think he could have found a better partner to go through this with than Spencer.

Finally, as they were leaving the diner Hotch spoke, “Let’s do it. We don’t have a lot to lose at this point do we?”

“No, we don’t. So I’ll pack up and head out by bus or something now?” Spencer said quietly.

“Or I could take the car and drive home?” Hotch said.

“No. It’s fine. I’ll go. It was my idea after all.”

“If you’re sure,” Hotch said, smiling encouragingly at the younger man, as he nodded and made his way to the room to pack.

After Spencer left Aaron was left alone to brood on what might happen if they didn’t succeed in breaking the loop or worse, if he ended up alone. He wondered if Spencer would be able to get him out if he was the only one who escaped. Would the younger man even realize that he was still trapped if Spencer managed to get out? He wouldn’t be able to see his son again if he was trapped here. It occurred to him then that he hadn’t thought about Haley or the impending divorce in the past two – if you could call it that – days and he marveled at it. Maybe this time loop, that he was caught in was actually a good thing.  It would help him get some distance from the mess his life was in, as he was wondering about it the lightning struck again.

                            ****************************************************************

5 th Time.

The phone was ringing.

Aaron ignored it to turn and look at Spencer part-relieved that he wasn’t alone and part-upset that it hadn’t worked when he saw his feelings reflected in his companion’s eyes.

He smiled wryly at Spencer and ignored his phone.

“Maybe you should answer it. Maybe if we fix what we did wrong and get out of the room before the guards leave for evening yard the loop will stop?” Spencer offered.

“Maybe. Oh well, it’s worth a shot I guess.” Aaron said, answering his phone. He quickly made arrangements to meet with Hardwick as before and hung up.  “It’s just the thought of being in that room with that man and listening to his lies and justifications all over again makes my skin crawl.” He continues as he got out of bed.

“I know what you mean. Once was bad enough. This will be the third time.” Spencer said shuddering a little at the thought, “Go on, you go ahead and get ready first.” Spencer said stretching and relaxing back into his bed.

They got ready and had breakfast together discussing what had happened to Spencer before the loop restarted. Spencer had managed to make it out of the storm’s radius but the loop had still brought him back. He was puzzled by it and they discussed that maybe it was only the first lightning strike that was of significance or maybe if they both got out of the storm’s radius together it would help. They spent the morning discussing options to try if the loop didn’t break this time until it was time for lunch and the interview with Hardwick.

It was a strain to listen to Hardwick’s lies and pretend it was all for the first time.  Spencer could see the frustration mounting in his boss and he wasn’t sure what he could do to help, but finally, it was 4:45 and time for them to leave. Breathing a huge sigh of relief at having escaped without violence, Spencer walked out of the interview room and they left. The drive was silent as both of them were lost in their own thoughts until the storm forced them to stop for the night. This time they managed to make it into the motel room before the lights went out.

                            *******************************************************************

6 th Time.

The phone was ringing.

Aaron woke up and groaned. He couldn’t help himself when he looked up to see himself in the same room he had woken up so many times before. He had been here more often than he had been in the new apartment, that he had moved into after the separation. He punched a fist into his pillow and barely managed to hold in a scream of frustration.

Spencer noticed his anger and tentatively reached out and laid a hand on his shoulder making Aaron dig deep to find a reassuring smile for the younger man. None of this was Spencer’s fault and he didn’t deserve to have to deal with Aaron’s temper.

“Maybe…maybe you can take some of your frustration out on Hardwick,” Spencer said hesitantly. When Aaron looked at him with surprise in his eyes he continued, “Hear me out. I think everything goes back to the way it was every time the loop restarts. I banged my hand in the door yesterday…or whatever, and there’s no bruise…see? So you can fight him with no consequences. You fight the way he wants and blow off some steam and you’ll feel better and no one will remember it.” Spencer finished looking hopefully at the older man.

Hotch was poised to say no when a thought occurred to him and he stopped to think it through. What Spencer was saying made sense. He could work off his frustration on Hardwick consequence free. He nodded sharply and answered the phone to make arrangements for the interview with Hardwick.

They got ready and had breakfast in silence both mentally bracing themselves to listen to Hardwick’s lies and excuses again. Hotch was just brooding on all the ways his life had gone wrong. He knew it didn’t help but he couldn’t stop himself. Spencer just hoped that what they were going to do would help Hotch in some way.

When they entered the interview room and Hardwick stepped in Spencer found his hands were cold and clammy with fear and the knowledge of what was going to happen.  The interview proceeded as usual with few variations until the security tones sounded and Hardwick started to taunt them. Hotch snarled back and they attacked each other. Spencer mostly tried to stay out of the way of the flying fists until a lucky hit rang Hotch’s bell. Spencer could see that his boss needed a minute to gather himself or Hardwick would have the advantage, so he jumped in trying to crack the man over the head with a chair. Hardwick turned at the last minute and managed to tug the chair out of his hand rushing Spencer with the chair until he was pressed against the wall by the chair and Spencer could feel the force of it cracking a rib or two. Before he could do anything to defend himself, the other man pulled out a shiv from somewhere and stabbed it straight through his chest making his chest explode in agony. As he sank to the floor, Spencer heard Hotch’s agonized scream and he heard no more.

By the time the guards came to open the door Hardwick was dead and so was Spencer. Hotch was sitting on the ground covered in blood holding Spencer in his arms and begging every deity he could think of for the loop to restart and Spencer to be alive again. Tears streamed down his face and he never even noticed even the guards’ horrified expressions, they made no impression on him. They finally had to pry him away from Spencer by force, as they wheeled both bodies away Hotch could only stare blankly, as the pain in his heart rivaled the pain he had felt watching Spencer die nearly a year ago in Georgia. He wondered if he would ever be able to live with himself if the time loop never restarted this time.

In a daze, he answered the warden’s questions. The rage at seeing Spencer stabbed like that had overwhelmed him and he had snapped Hardwick’s neck in one quick move. He didn’t regret that in the least, but he didn’t know how to deal with the loss of Spencer. When they finally let him go he walked out to the SUV sank into the seat and put his head in his arms. As he sat there, the world went black again and he had never been so happy in his life to feel the world go dark.

                            ****************************************************************

7 th Time.

The phone was ringing.

Aaron jumped out of bed and moved so quickly he was practically a blur to hug the younger man.

“Oh thank god! Thank God!” Aaron mumbled as he held Spencer close.

Spencer was relieved to be whole and healthy again but he was surprised by the vehemence of Hotch’s relief.

“Don’t you dare scare me like that again,” Aaron said, as he pulled back from the embrace, a slight flush of embarrassment coloring his cheeks when he saw how he was holding the younger man.

“Umm. Alright.” Spencer said blushing in turn at all the attention.

“Why - why don’t we do something fun today. Was there anything, in particular, you wanted to do but couldn’t because of this interview?” Hotch asked as he rose from the younger man’s bed.

“We don’t have to do that, Hotch.”

“No, no….I’m just glad you’re alive Spencer. We should really take a couple of days to enjoy that. Seems we have nothing but time on our hands.” Aaron said enthusiastically.

“Well—if you’re sure….” Spencer faltered. When Aaron nodded encouragingly he continued, “There’s a lecture on Forensic linguistics at Yale today that I wanted to attend. A friend of mine told me about it. The speaker is a world-renowned linguist guest lecturing in Yale this semester. Today’s lecture is about analyzing text messages for clues to the writer's psyche. I think you will really enjoy it as well.” Spencer babbled, his enthusiasm building as he spoke.

“Sounds good, Spencer. Why don’t we grab breakfast and spend the whole day in Yale before the lecture?” Aaron asked making his way to the bathroom. After so many days together they had perfected their morning routines so as not to get in each other’s way. Spencer nodded and relaxed in his bed marveling at the fact that he didn’t have even the slightest bruise after the fight yesterday…or today…or whatever. This was going to drive him nuts, but Hotch was right, they should take the time to enjoy the day when it could very easily have been a disaster.

They checked out of the hotel and grabbed coffees and snacks from the diner for their drive to Yale. The drive was filled with Spencer’s enthusiastic chatter on linguistics and why exactly he was so interested in today’s lecture. Aaron listened, entertained, and relieved that he could have this conversation with the younger man.

They got to the university by lunchtime and found a little café where they could get a light lunch before the lecture. The lecture itself was very enlightening and both of them enjoyed it a lot.

After the lecture, they spent the rest of the day wandering around the campus and just exploring to their heart's content. It was the most fun either of them had had in a long time and they were sorry to see it end.

                            *****************************************************************

8 th Time.

The phone was ringing.

Aaron silenced it then sat up in bed turning to face Spencer.

“What shall we do today? He asked the younger man.

“Hmmm? Don’t you want to try and break the loop?” Spencer asked with uncertainty.

“I think this is like a holiday from real life and I know that neither of us is big on holidays but I think we should make the most of it,” Aaron said enthusiastically.

“But……you want to spend it with me?” Spencer asked.

“Sure. You’re better company than anyone else I know. The rest of the team wouldn’t know as much as you do about this stuff. And well Haley and I would probably be a bad idea right now.” Aaron trailed off sadly.

“Um, thanks. But I was wondering if you wanted to spend the day on your own?”

“Oh. No, I like spending time with you…. and the team. Besides playing hooky is always more fun when you have company. You don’t mind do you?” Aaron said smiling at the younger man. Spencer shook his head and smiled back shyly.

“Tell you what, let’s get ready and then we can discuss options,” Aaron said as he headed towards the bathroom.

Once Hotch found out that Spencer had never been to New York other than on a case, he insisted that they spend the day sightseeing in New York from cruise to the statue of liberty to the top of the Empire State Building, they went everywhere. They went to Time Square and people watched as they each picked out one person and tried to guess who they were and what their story was.

Towards the end of the very enjoyable day, they started to discuss what they might do the next day.

“So…what do you want to do tomorrow?” The genius asked and was surprised by the flush that stained his boss’ cheeks.

“It- it’s kind of a guilty pleasure but I was planning to go to a monster truck show near DC,” Hotch answered.

“You mean Monster Jam?” Spencer asked curiously. He hadn’t thought his boss would be the kind interested in monster trucks, on the other hand, the way he drove was certainly a big clue.

“Yeah, but…never mind. It’s too far off to go just for a truck show.” Aaron muttered embarrassed.

“No, no we went all the way to Yale for a lecture we can certainly go to a monster truck show in DC. It’s not every day that it comes anywhere near DC.” Spencer said grinning widely.

Shooting Spencer a grateful smile for not teasing him about his guilty pleasure, Hotch agreed that they would spend the next day driving back to DC and go to the show in the evening.

                            *************************************************************

9 th Time.

They spent an enjoyable drive listening to Hotch’s favorite music as he tried to educate Spencer’s musical tastes and with Spencer and Hotch competing to see who knew more monster truck trivia because of course, Spencer knew trivia. Aaron was beginning to believe that Spencer knew trivia about everything. It amazed him sometimes the things the young genius knew and he was usually sorry to cut short Spencer’s rambles when they were on a case. He enjoyed listening to Spencer talk, as he found he always learned something new and interesting.

The show was a lot of fun and Spencer was full of all sorts of interesting facts and trivia that even Aaron hadn’t known.

“I have heard that this is the best way to experience what monster trucks are all about,” Spencer said staring around at all the people and vehicles crowded into the stadium. They had bought their tickets and were making their way to their seats while Spencer spent all his time rubbernecking as he tried to see everything.

Aaron smiled indulgently at the younger man. It seemed to him that Spencer was trying to absorb everything through his eyes. The younger man was practically bouncing in excitement and Spencer’s enthusiasm for learning and experiencing new things was one of Hotch’s favorite things about him.

“It’s only in the last forty years or so that this has really become a thing. It’s a lot of fun usually. There’s a very lively energy about these shows.” Hotch answered as he flagged down a passing vendor and they bought some nachos, sandwiches with some beer to wash it down.

“I knew these trucks were big intellectually but my God these are really HUGE!” Spencer exclaimed as the first trucks rolled out, “I mean you read that they are 12 foot tall and about 20 feet long but you don’t really get it till you see it. You know?” The younger man gushed.

“I know. It’s nice to see you enjoying yourself like this Spencer.” Aaron said smiling. Spencer ducked his head and blushed which Aaron couldn’t help but think was adorable. He was startled by his thoughts. Since when did he think his co-worker and friend that way? He had noted in the back of his mind that Spencer was attractive when they first met but he had been married and Spencer had been very very young in every way. Spencer had matured a lot over the past few years and even though Aaron wished otherwise the hardships he had been through had helped Spencer grow into a man with the kind of quiet strength Aaron really admired.

“So… do you have a favorite Hotch?” Spencer asked trying to divert attention from himself. He couldn’t make out what Hotch was thinking but it was making him feel uncomfortably warm and his heart was racing.

“Call me Aaron. Yes… I really like Gravedigger.” Aaron said, “He started out as a mud bogger in 1981 and later converted to a monster truck in 1986” He continued flashing his dimple popping smile.

“I...I didn’t know that…Aaron.” Spencer stammered blinded by the power of that smile.

Both men enjoyed the show immensely trading quips and facts about the show and the trucks. Spencer’s engineering degree meant that he had more than a passing familiarity with the car engines and a fascination for them. He had after all rebuilt his beloved Amazon from the ground up making it run much better than it had even as new. It had been his mother’s car and he had not wanted to give it up.

Their only regret at the end of the night was that they wouldn’t be able to watch the end of the show as the loop would restart just before the finale.

                            **************************************************************

10 th Time.

The phone was ringing.

Aaron silenced it quickly and then closed his eyes and savored his memories of the past few days. He had to admit that he didn’t remember when he had had a better time in a long while. He sat up and turned to Spencer smiling into the younger man’s hazel eyes.

“So? What shall we do today?”

“I…don’t you think we should try to break the loop again Hotch?” Spencer asked hesitantly, “I don’t know if anyone outside the loop has noticed we’re missing or even if there is something outside the loop but I think we should find out.”

“Yeah I guess we should,” Hotch said reluctantly. He was loathe to leave this little pocket of time where he was happy for the first time in a long time but he had to admit that it wouldn’t be fair to worry people and he did miss his son, “So any ideas on how to go about it?”

“When I was researching I found a Prof. Futz who is studying time and functions of it…and he’s at MIT so maybe we could go and see him and talk to him?” Spencer asked.

“Yeah ok.” Aaron agreed.

So they went and while it took some convincing they finally managed to convince the professor that they weren’t crazy and he discussed his theories with them.

                            *****************************************************

11 th – 15 th Times.

They went back repeatedly to the professor and each time they learned new things they also visited a few of his colleagues that he recommended and discussed a possible solution to their problem. The scientists were not able to provide them with any kind of way to break their loop but they did manage to figure out that people outside the loop, if there was such a thing, probably wouldn’t notice anything. Each time they went back to Prof. Futz and had to tell him all over again about their problem Aaron felt his anger and frustration building again and much as he tried to suppress it he could feel it getting worse and he didn’t know when he would finally snap.

                            ***************************************************************

16 th Time.

The phone was ringing.

Aaron groaned. He didn’t think he could take another day of listening to the scientific babble that Spencer seemed to thrive on. Every time they met with some scientist Spencer and whichever scientist they were meeting would start talking and while they would start out ok Aaron would be lost within minutes and nothing frustrated him more than the fact that he couldn’t do anything to help. At least Spencer had some knowledge to contribute some skills, he had nothing and nothing he did seemed to make a difference.

Spencer bounced up out of bed enthusiastically. If it was a little forced nobody but him needed to know.

“So there is this Professor at Harvard who is doing research in quantum fields, maybe we can go see him today. He could help us.” He asked looking at Aaron and noting the tightness in his shoulders and back. He could see Aaron’s frustration but there was really nothing short of getting out of the loop that would help.

“Sure. What’s one more professor? Like he’s going to tell us anything different. They don’t know anything and they can’t help us, Spencer. Why can’t you just admit it? We’re stuck here in this fucking loop forever and there is no way out.” Aaron ranted almost looming over the younger man.

“Why don’t I go by myself then? You take the day and maybe go see Jack?” Spencer queried trying to calm his boss a little.

“Yes, why don’t I? Like Haley is really going to allow me to do that until I sign the papers.” He muttered to himself.

“So why don’t you sign the fucking papers. It’s not like it makes any difference!” Spencer spat finally tired of Aaron’s grumbling.

“What would you know about being married? Or getting divorced? Your longest relationship is probably with your bookshelf.”  

“Yes, what would I know? Fine. Do what you want. I’m going to take the bus to Harvard today.” Spencer said storming off towards the bathroom to get ready.

He got dressed in silence ignoring the other man, grabbed his messenger bag and left before Aaron could say anything to him.

Aaron lay there feeling slightly guilty about his words. It wasn’t Spencer’s fault that they were stuck in the loop and the younger man had been doing everything he could to get them out of it. He could even see how Spencer tried to make the whole thing easier on him so he had no business snapping at the younger man as he had. Sighing in defeat he lay there a little longer before he got out of bed and decided to take Spencer’s advice. Even if he signed the papers now it would go back to being unsigned when the loop restarted and besides what was he holding on so tightly to his marriage for anyway. It had crumbled and rotted away a long time ago and he was left holding on to scattered pieces. It was time he let it go.

So he got up and got dressed. He grabbed his and Spencer’s things - not willing to leave them here on the off chance that something would go missing if they left it behind when the loop restarted – and left the hotel driving to DC. The first thing he did when he got home was find his divorce papers and sign them. The relief he felt when he signed them was enormous and he regretted not doing it earlier.

The past few days with Spencer and the time loop had really put things in perspective for him. As he thought it over he realized it had been more than a fortnight since the loop had started and while he knew he had hurt the younger man that morning he knew that he could apologize and they would be fine. He didn’t know many people he could say that about or that he had as much fun with or who understood him as well without having to say a word. Sometimes it was a little scary how well Spencer could read him but he found he wouldn’t change it for the world.

Still mulling over his confusing feelings for the younger man he drove over to his old house and knocked on the door waiting for Haley to answer. When she answered he handed her the papers and asked to spend the day with Jack. Haley was surprised and a little angry at his interruption but she allowed him to take Jack with him and he spent an enjoyable day playing with his son and taking care of him like he couldn’t normally do. Through it all he missed Spencer, his mind kept adding little things that Spencer might say and do in each situation and Hotch was surprised by how much he missed him.

                            **********************************************************

17 th Time.

The phone was ringing.

Hotch silenced it and turned to face his friend reluctantly.

“I’m sorry about yesterday. I didn’t mean it. I was just frustrated with everything and I --”

“It’s OK Aaron. I get it alright. It’s not like it’s any easier on me. Yeah, I understand the science a little better than you but there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do to break the cycle. It really seems like we are stuck here until whatever started the loop stops it. That’s what I learned yesterday.” Spencer said with a deep sigh and he relaxed into his pillows.

“Oh.” Aaron said in a small voice, “Ok then if we are stuck why don’t we make the most of it?”

“I really just want a book and a comfortable bed today. Not really up to traveling much today Aaron.” Spencer said, “I feel like I just want to turn off my brain a little today and reading helps.”

“Yeah, alright. So how about we go find a better hotel and a bookstore to keep you supplied with books. We can charge it all to the FBI card. IT’s not like it’s going to matter is it?” Aaron said his enthusiasm rising with every word.

“Shock and horror! The fastidious rule-abiding dictator of the BAU suggesting such lawlessness. This is a sign of the apocalypse.” Spencer said grinning at the older man teasingly.

“Hey! I am not a rule-abiding dictator of the BAU. Am I? They really call me that?” Aaron asked slightly offended.

“Of course we know better. But trainees are notoriously brainless and come up with these things. You know that.” Spencer answered smiling gently.

“Alright. So better hotel and bookstore?” Aaron prompted and at Spencer’s nod he got up and went into the bathroom to get ready.

They got ready and drove around until they found a suitable bookstore. As they walked into the store Spencer looked up and said, “You don’t have to do this you know.” Gentleness in his eyes, “Every time you think you’ve messed up you don’t need to make a big gesture. Not to me. The apology was enough and it wasn’t your fault Hardwick killed me.”

Aaron swallowed the sudden lump in his throat and tried to smile back but he suspected that it just looked strained. The way Spencer understood him sometimes just took his breath away.

“I know. I want to. You didn’t deserve me dumping on you like that. Besides, it’s not just for you. We’ll buy something for me as well. We can spend the day reading and watching something on the TV.” Aaron said when he got his voice back.

Spencer just smiled and let it go.

They spent a pleasurable hour browsing in the bookstore and picking up books to read. The bookstore had a café attached and they managed to get coffee and breakfast there as well as they perused the aisles. By the time they were done Aaron had a couple of books he wanted to read and Spencer had a whole stack of books.

They loaded up their purchases in the car and drove around looking for the bed and breakfast that the bookstore clerk had recommended to them. They managed to find it without too much trouble and made their way to the front desk when a big black dog came charging towards them. Spencer darted quickly to the side to hide behind Aaron as soon as he spotted the dog with a speed he didn’t even know he possessed. The dog stopped right in front of Aaron and wagged his tail before trying to butt his head into Aaron’s crotch. Aaron fended him off and let him lick his hands before patting him on the head. A blonde man about Aaron’s age came out of the manager’s office following the dog and smiled at them.

“Cesare sit!” He commanded the dog before turning to the two men, “Hi, I’m sorry if he startled you but he’s harmless I promise. He’s just a friendly puppy.” He apologized.

“It’s alright. No harm done.” Aaron assured him with a quick glance at Spencer who nodded despite his obvious fear, “We’d like a room please for the night.” He asked.

“Oh yeah, sure. We can do that. Most of our rooms are free now since it’s offseason.” The man said as he began to take their names and id to check them in.

After checking in they made their way upstairs to the room, changed into comfortable clothes and settled into the chairs with their respective books.

“You know I saw a dog park as we were driving here,” Aaron said after a little while.

“Hmmm?” Spencer answered distractedly

“We should go there one day. Help you get over this fear you have.” Aaron continued.

“But I don’t want to. My fear and I are very happy together thank you.” Spencer whined.

“Spencer…”

“Aaron,” Spencer responded.

“We are going and I will help you get over this fear you have. Not all dogs are evil. They are mostly just very loving and lovable. I promise to be there with you through the whole thing.” Aaron insisted.

“Sure, fine. Whatever. Not today.” Spencer said noting that it didn’t look like Aaron would relent. He hoped that by putting it off the older man would forget all about it but he didn’t hold out much hope.

Aaron let it go at that and they settled down to read until they got hungry. Then they went to the diner down the street and had lunch before going back to their room where they spent the rest of the day reading comfortably together with Spencer curled up on the bed and Hotch in the chair this time.

                            ************************************************************

18 th to 23 rd Times.

After their day of rest, they decided to make the most of their holiday and visited all the places and things close by that they could. They made a visit to the PEZ visitor center and to the town of Hershey of chocolate bar fame because Spencer couldn’t bear to be so close by and miss out on it. They went back to Yale to visit the natural history museum and the British art museum which while not as impressive as the Smithsonian were quite good in their own right.

They made the long drive to Boston and visited all the historic sites staying away from anything that might be case related and have bad memories.  They went to the beach and Five Mile Point lighthouse which was deserted but quite lovely despite being windswept taking a picnic lunch with them and had a quiet day out in the mild spring sunshine. Aaron even finally managed to convince Spencer to go to the dog park with him and helped him get over his fear with the help of several friendly pooches and their bemused owners.

                            **********************************************************

24 th Time.

The phone was ringing.

Aaron silenced the phone and smiled as he turned to face his companion. He had enjoyed the past few days and gotten so much closer to Spencer. He had been surprised by the attraction he felt for the younger man which seemed to be growing in leaps and bounds every day they spent together. He knew that it was probably a bad idea as he was Spencer’s boss and the younger man would probably not reciprocate his feelings but he couldn’t help himself. Being stuck in this loop with Spencer made him realize just how much he had come to like and trust the younger man and the many little things the younger man did just to make Aaron’s life easier or to make him smile.

Aaron realized that it would take very little for him to fall in love with the younger man and this scared him a little. He was just getting divorced and he didn’t want Spencer to be a rebound relationship. Spencer deserved better than that, he deserved someone who would love him for everything he was and appreciate all his quirks and eccentricities. It hurt his heart to think of the young genius in someone else’s arms but Spencer deserved better than a divorced father who was on the rebound. But he had the young genius for now and neither of them were going anywhere so he shook off the thoughts forcibly and looked at Spencer to see him frowning. Before he could say anything Spencer started talking with a pout on his face.

“It’s all your fault, Aaron.”

“What is?” Aaron asked puzzled.

“Now I want a dog. How the hell am I supposed to get a dog with the life we lead? I can barely keep my fish alive.” Spencer pouted.

Aaron laughed, “You’re a genius I’m sure if anyone can figure it out it would be you.” He said smiling, pleased that his attempts to help Spencer had worked so well, “You know I’ll help in any way I can.” He added.

“You better. It’s all your fault.” Spencer pouted.

The temptation to kiss that pout off his face was immense and it was with difficulty that Aaron tore his gaze from the younger man’s and got up moving towards his bags.

“So what do you want to do today? There are a few museums around here we could visit or we could spend the day at a park and take a picnic.” Hotch threw over his shoulder, as he kept his eyes firmly on his clothes, as though deciding what to wear for the day was the most important thing.

Spencer had to remind himself to breathe, as Aaron turned away. The look in the older man’s eyes had been intense and it had affected him more than he liked. He knew that he was in love with his boss but, Aaron had been married, and he had thought straight, so he had kept his silence and just tried to be a good friend. But, now if the look in his eyes meant anything then maybe, just maybe, he had a chance. He made up his mind to take every chance offered to him, Aaron was worth the risk. Shaking his head to dispel his musings, he focused on what the older man was saying.

“I don’t know. You realize we have been through this for nearly a month now and had no sleep whatsoever. And yet I don’t feel tired, except maybe mentally.” Spencer said.

“Nearly a month? I would think you would know the exact number of times.” Aaron teased

“Fine, it’s been 24 ‘days’. If you can call it days. Seriously, I’m surprised that we aren’t more tired.” Spencer huffed.

“So, what you’re saying is that we should take a picnic and some books to the park and spend the day there?” Aaron asked, smiling at the younger man.

“If you want. I would be alright with just staying in again. There’s a Doctor Who marathon on BBC America today.” Spencer answered a little hesitantly.

“Alright, alright. Find us a hotel with BBC and room service. I’ve never seen the show, you can introduce me to it.” Aaron said, not averse to spending the day close quarters with the younger man, though he knew it would try his willpower.

Spencer grinned and grabbed his laptop to search for the closest hotel that would have the channels he wanted, while Aaron went to get dressed. He let out a crow of triumph when he found one a mere 5 miles from where they were and it even had a bookstore in the lobby if one of them got bored. Spencer pointed out the hotel on his laptop screen when Aaron poked his head out of the bathroom at his cry and practically danced past the older man on his way into the bathroom.

They found the hotel easily and managed to get a double room, easily enough after grabbing some coffee from the coffee shop on the ground floor. They made their way up to the room and settled in to watch TV.

Spencer was more conscious of the man sitting on the next bed than he was of what was happening on the screen. He could feel a kind of electricity connecting him to Aaron and he couldn’t bring himself to focus. It was like the moment they had shared, that morning had created an awareness, that he did not know what to do with and terrified of making the wrong move and scaring Aaron away.

Aaron was doing everything in his power not to get up and haul Spencer into his lap and kiss him senseless. There was almost a buzzing under his skin with need to get closer to the young genius. He had known it would be difficult to keep his distance from Spencer but he hadn’t expected it to be this bad.

They watched the 9th doctor battle aliens with Rose by his side in silence, until Spencer’s stomach gave a loud rumble and the tension was broken, as Aaron chuckled softly at Spencer’s flushed face and reached for the phone to get them some room service.

Spencer gathered his courage and when the food was delivered, he brought it to Aaron’s bed and sat next to him as they ate while watching TV and chatting idly. Spencer could not have said what they had eaten or talked about, his whole being was focused on Aaron. Every accidental brush of fingers against his, as they reached for the food or brush of elbows and thighs as Aaron shifted had his body humming.

Finally, Aaron couldn’t take it anymore and he placed his hands on Spencer’s cheeks pulling him closer to press their lips together. With a sigh that sounded like ‘finally’ the young genius melted into the kiss, deepening it and moaning into Aaron’s mouth. The taste of Spencer was driving Aaron wild as he drove his tongue into the younger man’s mouth to chase that elusive taste that was all Spencer.

They kissed and kissed tangling tongues and bodies around each other as Aaron pushed Spencer backwards onto the bed. They wrestled clothing free in between kisses, need driving them until finally, they were both naked still tangled together. Spencer ran his hands over Aaron’s shoulders and down his back till he was cupping the older man’s ass. He gripped Aaron’s ass cheeks pulling them gently apart, as he cradled Aaron between his thighs and arched up into Aaron’s body rubbing their erections together causing them both to moan at the friction.

“Lube?” Aaron gasped when he managed to string his thoughts together. Spencer shook his head much to Aaron’s disappointment.

The genius smiled wickedly up at Aaron spat on his palm and reached down between them to take both their cocks in his hands. Spencer set a punishing rhythm, as they moved together kissing and nipping and marking each other, the air filled with the sounds of their moans and cries. Higher and higher, they spiraled as they chased their orgasm until Aaron finally couldn’t take any more and gasped out Spencer’s name, as he came so hard the world whited out around him and he barely noticed Spencer following him soon after.

He came back to himself, wrapped in Spencer’s arms, as the younger man traced patterns on his back and shoulders. Aaron felt boneless but, he somehow managed to roll himself off Spencer with his arms still wrapped around the young genius. He found himself reluctant to let go now that he finally had him.  With some trepidation, he raised his head to look at Spencer. Maybe the genius regretted what they had done. Hoping against hope, he looked up into uncertain hazel eyes that seemed to reflect all his own fears.

Aaron smiled warmed by the affection he could see in the younger man’s eyes along with his fears as he leaned forward to kiss him gently, oh so tenderly on the lips. As he drew back he was rewarded by a smile that he had never seen before on the young genius’ face.

Spencer’s face shone with happiness and contentment, as he snuggled closer to Aaron to nuzzle his head in the space between Aaron’s neck and shoulder. Aaron smiled happily, as he relaxed back in bed holding the younger man close exchanging lazy kisses with him.

“Maybe we should take a shower? Before we stick together.” He offered half-heartedly after a little while had passed.

“Hmmm,” Spencer answered leaning in to kiss him again.

“I’m serious. We could -- we could shower together.” Aaron said warming to the idea.

Spencer bounded out of the bed so fast Aaron’s head spun. He turned offering his hand to pull Aaron up.

“Why didn’t you say that earlier? Let’s go.” Spencer enthused dragging a laughing Aaron towards the bathroom.

The shower was long and one of the most thorough ones Aaron had ever had, as they kissed and caressed each other, exploring each other’s bodies as they hadn’t had a chance to do before. They were too sated to do more than explore but, the intimacy of it warmed Aaron’s heart.

Finally, they collapsed clean and dry and still naked on the soft bed and curled up together to nap with Spencer’s head on Aaron’s chest arms and legs wrapped around each other.

Aaron was dozing, as Spencer stayed curled up in his arms watching the end of the Doctor Who marathon when the loop ended.

                            **************************************************

25 th Time.

The phone was ringing.

Aaron silenced it and turned around to find Spencer scrambling into bed with him. He smiled and opened his arms, as the younger man crawled in and snuggled close sighing as he got comfortable.

“I wonder if this loop will ever end,” Spencer said, sighing.

“I don’t know. But I’m strangely alright with it for now. It might get a little annoying not being able to move forward with our lives. Tell the team about us, watch Strauss’s face when I tell her I’m giving your evals and paperwork over to Rossi, sign the divorce papers, and introduce you to Jack.” Aaron mused.

Spencer looked up at him in surprise. He was warmed by the thought, that Aaron saw him in his life even out of the loop but he hadn’t expected it.

“You really want to do all that?” He asked quietly.

Aaron reached up to cup his lover’s cheek and smiled, “Of course Spencer. I don’t just fall into bed with people. The only ones I’ve ever slept with are people I cared about. Unless…unless you don’t want to?”

“I do, I do want to. That all sounds great actually.” Spencer said nodding emphatically, “Except the Jack part. Do I have to do that? Kids hate me.” He whined.

“Yes, like dogs hate you. We’ll get you over this fear of yours as well.” Aaron said smiling at the younger man.

“How did I know you were going to say that?” Spencer groused and buried his head in Aaron’s shoulder making Aaron chuckle as he ran his fingers soothingly through the younger man’s hair.

His laughter was cut short by a moan, as Spencer nipped and sucked on the junction between neck and shoulder. Spencer’s long fingers soon found their way under the t-shirt Aaron was wearing pushing it up and out of the way, as he nipped and sucked his way down Aaron’s torso paying extra attention to his sensitive nipples.

Spencer laved the sensitive nubs with his tongue before biting down on them making Aaron cry out and arch into his mouth. Aaron’s hands came up to bury themselves in Spencer’s hair and hold him in place, as he teased the soft skin.

Spencer smiled around his mouthful of flesh before moving further down to mouth along the planes of Aaron’s stomach and hip bones, carefully avoiding the erect cock that was practically begging for his attention. Only when Aaron was making little jerks with his hips searching for friction, unable to help himself did Spencer relent and take the head of his cock into his mouth drawing a deep groan from the older man.

He flicked his tongue to dip it into the slit before suddenly and without warning swallowing him down to the root causing Aaron to give a broken cry and arch uncontrollably.

“Sorry.” He gasped when he could get his breath back.

Spencer just hummed and hollowed his cheeks and sucked hard around Aaron’s cock causing Aaron to swear.

“Look at you. I didn’t think you would be quite so vocal in bed.” Spencer said pulling off for a moment and marveling at the mussed hair, reddened lips and thoroughly debauched expression on Aaron’s face.

“M’not, usually.” Aaron murmured, flushing and closing his eyes.

“Aaron, Aaron…look at me,” Spencer said, and his tone of voice brooked no argument. When Aaron’s gaze met his, he slowly lowered his mouth onto the older man’s cock and swallowed him down again sucking hard.

Spencer’s eyes never left Aaron’s, as he sucked, now moving up to have just the head in his mouth, now licking a stripe along the back of his cock, now swallowing him to the root with his throat swallowing around the head. It didn’t take long at all for Aaron to come down Spencer’s throat. He didn’t even have the time to call out a warning before he was coming in spurts and his vision was whiting out as Spencer swallowed around him. It had never been this intense with anyone else and later, when he could think again Aaron wondered if Spencer would always affect him this way. Now, he just basked in the feeling of contentment, as Spencer crawled up the bed to kiss him thoroughly. He could taste himself on Spencer’s tongue and his cock gave an interested twitch at the taste but, no more.

He pulled Spencer closer and intending to just hold him in his arms until he got his strength back but, Spencer was moving, making needy little moans as he rutted against Aaron’s hip even as he kissed Aaron. Soon Aaron felt a splash of warmth along his hip and Spencer slumped down onto him. The thought that bringing him pleasure had so turned on the younger man was almost more than Aaron could take and he moaned despite his recent satiation.

They lay together, in silence enjoying each other’s closeness for a while, occasionally trading kisses until a spring poked Spencer in the back sharply as he moved.

“Ow!” He exclaimed sitting up sharply, “What the hell, Aaron? Your bed is absolutely terrible.”

“Sorry. Yours’ better?” Aaron asked, sleepily. He had been on the verge of dozing off when Spencer sat up.

“It’s a little hard but, it certainly didn’t try to stab me. If I didn’t know better I’d say your bed was jealous and trying to kill me.” Spencer joked.

Aaron smiled, “I take it you want to move to your bed?” he asked.

“Yeah…yeah…clean up and then move to that bed.” Spencer said, tugging on Aaron’s hand, “Come on, up you get.”

“Fine, fine, I’m coming.” Aaron groused, as he allowed the younger man to drag him into the shower.

They showered quickly and then curled up naked together in Spencer’s bed neither feeling particularly motivated to move any more than necessary.

They spent the rest of the day alternating between napping and making love and enjoying each other’s company. In the times between, they talked about things they had never talked to each other before. They talked about Spencer’s problems growing up as a too smart kid in the Vegas public school system, Aaron’s issues with his father, Spencer’s dad leaving and the problems he had taking care of his schizophrenic mother and keeping it a secret from other adults. The one thing they didn’t talk about was Haley or the divorce. It was an unspoken agreement between them that she had no place in that bed with them. They skipped lunch and managed with cereal bars and chocolate that Spencer had stashed in his bags, and never left the room or allowed the outside world to interfere for longer than it took to let the front desk know that they would be staying.

                            ***********************************************************

26 th Time.

The phone was ringing.

Aaron moved to silence it but felt Spencer’s hand on his.

“Leave it.” He said.

“But then Haley will call.”

“Let her. It might be good for you to get everything you want to say to her off your chest. Consequence-free.” Spencer said as he sat down on Aaron’s bed.

Aaron thought about it for a few moments, “Consequence-free.” He mused.

“I know you, Aaron, you bottle things up and never talk about them until you are fit to burst. Take this opportunity to say what you want to who you want free of consequences. Hell call Strauss and yell at her, might do you some good.”

“Let’s not get crazy here. What if this is the last time the day loops.”

“Do you really think that you telling people off will break the loop?” Spencer asked both eyebrows raised daring Aaron to do and say whatever he wanted that day.

“Fine. I’ll do it. If…” Aaron said.

“If?”

“If you call your father.” Aaron drawled, the smirk on his face challenging Spencer right back.

“But...I don’t even know where he is.”

“One call to Garcia and I guarantee you she’ll find him for you,” Hotch said, waving his phone in front of Spencer.

“Fine.” Spencer huffed grabbing the phone and making the call to dial Garcia. It took the analyst no more than ten minutes to find William Reid. By the time she was done telling him where he could find his father and how he could contact him Spencer was nearly incandescent with rage.

“That bastard. That rat bastard. All this time and he was just a few miles away. He never once tried to call or find out how we were doing. Ok so he kept the insurance going and the bank accounts full so we could afford food and mom’s meds but he didn’t think even once to check on his son? He didn’t even think what I would be going through trying to keep mom’s condition a secret from the school and taking care of myself?” Spencer ranted, as he paced up and down in front of Aaron.

Aaron’s heart broke to see his lover hurting so much, and he almost wished he hadn’t said anything. But he reasoned that is would probably be better for Spencer to know in the long run and all he could do was be there for his love in the meantime.

‘Love’ Aaron wondered where the thought had come from. Granted they had known each other for a few years now and he had always found Spencer attractive, but it had been at the back of his mind. He was just getting divorced for god’s sake. He couldn’t already be in love with Spencer….could he? Shaking the thoughts away he focused on the man in front of him, Spencer was in pain and he needed to help him. He watched Spencer rant and pace some more until the genius just sank down onto the bed head in his hands.

Aaron walked over and took him in his arms, holding him close and Spencer just crumbled, silent tears flowing down his cheeks. The worst part of it was the silence, Aaron thought. If not for the fact that he could feel the tears soaking into his shirt and the shaking of his shoulders he would have thought Spencer was fine. He held him in silence until the younger man stopped crying and just slumped into his arms letting Aaron take all his weight.

“I’m sorry I pushed you to find your dad. You don’t need to talk to him if you don’t want to.” Aaron said, quietly.

“No, no. It’s better I know. And now that I know, I find that I have some choice words for him, the bastard.” Spencer replied, just as quietly, tears still in his voice. He sniffled and then straightened, “Thanks.”

Spencer got up and used the room phone to dial the Vegas number that seemed to be seared into his brain now that Garcia had given it to him. The moment he heard the voice that was so familiar despite all the time that had passed since he last heard it Spencer felt a pang in his heart but, he used Aaron’s strength and presence next to him to keep him steady. He didn’t allow William to say a word, he found that he couldn’t care less what his father’s excuses were for leaving, but, he had things to say to the man and he had his say, hanging up on his father’s broken plea of “Spencer.”

Spencer felt much better when he was done even though he found he was shaking and he didn’t know how to stop, so he allowed Aaron to hold him until the shaking stopped, feeling safe and protected in the older man’s arms.

Aaron just held the young genius in his arms amazed all over again at his strength. The thoughts from earlier returned and he was sure now that he was in love with Spencer, there were no more doubts. He just hoped that Spencer felt the same way about him and held the genius a little tighter on that thought.

As they sat there, Spencer practically in Aaron’s lap Aaron’s phone rang and he looked at it wincing when he saw the number.

“Haley?” Spencer asked lifting his head from where he had been resting it on Aaron’s shoulder and Aaron nodded.

“Answer it, go on.” Spencer prodded.

Knowing he could do no less than his lover, Aaron answered and let Haley rant for a bit before he cut in and ripped into her with his words the way he would with a suspect, saying all the things he had long wished to say to his wife. If he felt a pang for treating her like a suspect, then no one else needed to know although when he looked at Spencer after hanging up he could see, that the younger man saw right through him. If the way Spencer pulled him into his arms and kissed the breath out of him was any indication, then he had seen exactly how difficult that phone call had been for Aaron and was doing his best to help him forget and Aaron was grateful.

When they pulled out of the kiss Spencer smiled wickedly at him and raised his eyebrows, “So? You wanna call Strauss next or should I?”

“What do you have against her anyway?” Aaron asked, curiously, as far as he knew he had tried to keep his own troubles from the rest of the team. But, he had forgotten that he worked with a team of the best profilers, who could read him very well despite the moratorium on inter-team profiling.

Spencer’s eyebrows rose even higher and he smiled sardonically, “Oh you mean other than the incessant budget cuts? Trying to get you fired? Putting Emily on the team to spy on you? I know Emily didn’t do it but Strauss intended for her to do that.” Spencer said, raising a hand when Aaron made a motion to speak.

Aaron smiled sheepishly, “I didn’t realize you knew about that.” He said.

“Aaron, we’re profilers. Of course, we knew. We let you think you have your secrets, just like we let JJ think she’s keeping her relationship with Detective LaMontagne a secret.” Spencer said, smirking.

Aaron ran a hand through his hair and smiled back at him, “Fine, but let’s forget Strauss. Let’s do something fun instead. We’ve spent enough of today doing difficult things.”

“But, telling Strauss off would be fun.” Spencer almost whined, a teasing smile on his face.

“I’ll give you that. But, I would still like to do something else. How about we get dressed and go get some lunch someplace nice? A date. We haven’t officially been on a date yet.” Aaron asked.

“Well I was hoping for a trip to the drugstore for lube and spending more time in bed together but a date sounds good too.” Spencer smiled, blushing a little.

“We can do that trip to the drugstore, as well, on the way back from lunch.” Aaron said, “Although we might need to add condoms to the list as well?” He continued, his face darkening a little.

“Why? I’m clean.” Spencer said, puzzled for a second before the light dawned, “Oh, was Haley…?” he broke off unwilling to finish the sentence. Hotch gave a single terse nod and Spencer felt anger swell within him at the thought of the hurt and betrayal Aaron must be feeling and he wished he could rip the woman apart. He suppressed his anger before looking up at Aaron and smiling as he pulled him along so they could get ready for their date.

They shared another shower and mutual handjobs leaving them both weak-kneed and content but finally managed to get dressed and leave the hotel after letting the front desk know that they would be coming back.  

The two men spent an enjoyable afternoon at lunch, after which they walked around the little town until they found a drugstore where they bought their supplies, giggling and blushing like teenagers as they made their way back to the car.

Aaron nearly ran the car off the road on the way back to the hotel because Spencer had undone his seatbelt and practically climbed into his lap, nipping and sucking marks into Aaron’s neck and collarbones. But, finally they made it into their room and Aaron practically threw Spencer on the bed tearing his clothes off in his hurry to get the younger man naked.

Spencer’s gasps and moans driving him wild with need. Aaron had never felt this much passion with or from someone ever and he found he couldn’t get enough of it.

Ripping and tugging soon they were naked together kissing and touching everywhere they could reach but suddenly Spencer was pulling away. Aaron growled in protest gripping Spencer’s ass cheeks in his hands and tugging making the genius pant.

“Lube, condoms.” Spencer gasped.

So, Aaron levered himself up and dug through the discarded articles on the floor for them emerging victorious. Spencer smiled and kissed him pulling him closer into the v between his legs so he could rub his erection against Aaron’s. Then he rolled them over on the bed so he was straddling Aaron. He grabbed the lube and reached back to prepare himself. Aaron watched avidly, drinking in Spencer’s moans and gasps as he watched the show the younger man was putting on for him.

If he had thought about it at all before, he would have assumed that the younger man would be shy and hesitant in bed, not this confident and tender lover he had in front of him. He had never enjoyed being wrong so much as he watched Spencer’s eyes roll back in his head as the genius brushed his prostate with his fingers. Finally, Spencer pulled his fingers out and rolled a condom on Aaron’s erect cock smearing it liberally with lube.

Gently Aaron guided his cock into Spencer’s needy hole, both men moaning at the initial breach, as wet heat enveloped Aaron and he had to use every ounce of restraint he possessed to keep from coming right then. Slowly, slowly Spencer lowered himself down until Aaron was completely seated inside him. Then he set a slow and torturous pace, that both excited and frustrated them both as it was just this side of not enough. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore and grasped Spencer’s hips and pulled him down, thrusting up at the same time causing Spencer to howl his approval, as Aaron’s cock brushed his prostate. Aaron set a hard and fast pace and it wasn’t long before Spencer was coming untouched and the clenching of his muscles caused Aaron to follow soon after.

When they came back to themselves, Spencer was slumped onto Aaron and they were both still breathless. As Spencer pushed himself up to roll off Aaron, the older man reached out and ran caressing fingers along his cheekbones before pulling him down into a kiss that was filled with all the love he felt for Spencer. He didn’t yet know how to tell the younger man how he felt so, he poured all that he was feeling into the kiss and hoped that Spencer understood. From the look of wonder on Spencer’s face and the way that he touched his lips after they separated, Aaron thought he had some idea and Aaron was content.

They cleaned up perfunctorily and got back into bed and snuggled up together as close as physically possible to doze and nap.

                            ********************************************************

27 th Time.

The phone was ringing.

Aaron silenced it before climbing into bed with Spencer and spooning him. They lay together in silence for a little while before Aaron broke the silence.

“What’s up Spencer?” He asked softly.

“Can we go home, Aaron? I miss my apartment and all my stuff. It’s been nearly a month and I didn’t think I would since we are rarely home anyway but I miss home.” Spencer blurted out.

“Sure, Spencer. Let’s get packed up and leave.” Aaron said, getting up and moving to get ready.

Spencer’s smile was luminescent with joy and all that Aaron needed to feel happy. He hummed tunelessly, as they moved around each other getting ready to leave. As soon as they had showered, shaved and dressed they packed up and left heading straight to the SUV.

The drive back was quiet interrupted only by the occasional remark by either man but it was comfortable. Spencer’s hand remained on Aaron’s thigh through the whole trip with Aaron tangling their fingers together whenever he could. Even their stop for lunch was filled with a peaceful kind of quiet that settled both men even more.

When they got to DC Spencer noticed that they were not going towards his apartment and raised an eyebrow.

“I thought we were going to my place.”

“We will, there’s just something I want to do before that. Even if I have to do it again tomorrow I’m tired of putting this off.” Aaron said, determination written on his face.

Spencer just squeezed his hand in support and stayed quiet. He walked into Aaron’s apartment with him looking around and noting the signs of things still in boxes. Clearly, Aaron didn’t consider this home yet. It made Spencer think crazy thoughts like asking Aaron to move in with him but he pushed them aside, as Aaron made his way to his home office, the one room in the house that had been set up and pull out the divorce papers. With a quiet sigh, Aaron began to sign them. He was finally alright with letting this part of his life go, he had Spencer now for however long Spencer allowed him to stay and he would always have Jack. Aaron smiled up at Spencer who had come up next to him and placed a hand on his shoulder in silent support. He reached up and squeezed the younger man’s hand before finishing and put the papers in an envelope.

He rose from the desk taking Spencer’s hand in his and they made their way to the front door.

“Since we are here anyway, you wanna grab some comfortable clothes?” Spencer asked finally breaking the silence.

“I was hoping not to need clothes for the rest of today actually,” Aaron said, blushing slightly.

Spencer grinned at him leering a little and they walked out of the apartment, “You’re adorable when you blush.”

“Am not.” Aaron retorted, flushing even more.

“Uh huh. Are too.” Spencer said, enjoying teasing his lover like this.

Aaron did the only thing he could think of to silence him and pulled him into a kiss. By the time the kiss was done Spencer had forgotten more than just what he had been teasing Aaron about but, he was smiling so big he knew he probably looked like a lovesick fool and he didn’t care.

They got into the SUV and drove to Haley’s house, where Aaron merely handed over the papers and walked away without saying a word to her. Spencer enjoyed watching her shocked expression and hoped the woman would stay far away from him as he didn’t trust himself not to verbally flay her if she did anything more to hurt Aaron.

“You sure you don’t want to spend the day with Jack?” Spencer asked as Aaron climbed back in the car.

“I can do that tomorrow. I’d rather spend it with you today.” Aaron answered, reaching out to stroke a finger along Spencer’s jaw. Spencer leaned into the touch.

“We could….we could bring him to my place and that way you could have both of us,” Spencer said, hesitantly swallowing down his fear. If Aaron hadn’t already been in love that one sentence would have pushed him over the edge, as it was he just leaned forward and poured all his love into a kiss.

“No, today is just for us. Tomorrow if you are still up to it we can get Jack and spend the day doing something fun.” He said when the kiss broke. Spencer nodded and Hotch started the car.

They drove to Spencer’s apartment and Spencer moved on auto bringing his bags in and putting his clothes in the wash, repacking his go bag, which greatly amused Aaron. He watched it in quiet amusement until Spencer noticed him watching and flushed when he realized what he was doing.

“It’s silly I know. We’ll be back to square one tomorrow. But for a moment there I forgot.”

“I can see that.” Aaron said, coming forward to pull Spencer into his arms, “It’s fine.”

They settled on the couch together and Spencer put on a movie. Neither of them paid any attention to the screen and spent most of it making out like teenagers until Aaron finally pushed Spencer down pulled his pants down enough to free his cock and swallowed him down. Spencer cried out with pleasure and surprise. After Aaron had made Spencer come and brought himself off to the sight of the young genius looking so thoroughly debauched, they lay together quietly, Aaron spooning Spencer as the credits rolled onscreen.

As they lay together, Spencer gathered all his courage and turned to meet Aaron’s eyes, “I love you.” He said quietly, his heart in his eyes.

Aaron smiled so big he was sure all his teeth were showing and mashed his lips into Spencer’s. The kiss was all tongues and teeth, it was messy, it was perfect.

When they pulled apart, Aaron rested his forehead against Spencer’s and said, “I love you too.”

Spencer smiled and kissed him again. They lay there on the couch trading kisses until they fell asleep.

                            **********************************************************

They were woken by a clap of thunder followed by a flash of lightning. Aaron startled awake and looked around taking a moment to remember where he was, as Spencer jerked up muttered incoherently and snuggled down again to go back to sleep. Now thoroughly awake Aaron grabbed his phone to check the time and saw that it was just past midnight. He stared uncomprehendingly at the screen for a minute before shaking his lover awake. Spencer just grumbled and tried to burrow deeper into Aaron’s warmth.

“Spencer, Spencer, wake up. Wake up. Do you know what time it is? It’s midnight! It’s midnight!” Aaron exclaimed.

“All the more reason to be sleeping, Aaron. Let me sleep.” Spencer muttered, sleepily.

“Don’t you see? The loop is broken. Time is moving forward again.” Aaron said, excitedly.

There was silence for a few minutes before Spencer sat up with a jerk, eyes wide and grabbed his own phone from the coffee table for confirmation.

“It’s true! We’re really free! The loop is broken!” Spencer said, laughing with joy. Aaron joined him before pulling him into a kiss.

After a few minutes of marveling at their changed circumstances, they decided to grab a snack as it was really too late for dinner but, now that they were awake they were hungry.

As Spencer grabbed the ingredients for fixing sandwiches, he wondered what had broken the loop.

“What do you think it was that finally did it? You signing the divorce papers or us saying I love you?” He mused, as he placed Aaron’s sandwich in front of him and picked up his own.

“Personally, I think it was just getting you home and letting you unpack.” Aaron teased, too happy to care about whys.

Spencer just hummed and started eating his sandwich.

When they were done and were curled up together in Spencer’s very comfortable bed Spencer mumbled, “I’d like to think it was us admitting we love each other that broke the loop.”

Aaron said nothing as he just smiled and kissed his lover.

                            The END