Chapter Summary: The team has their cookout to bond and get to know each other. Various personalities come together to share personal stories and bare their souls. Hopefully, by the end they will be closer as people, and sharing pasts won’t tear them apart.
Chapter Fourteen: Baring Your Soul
Aaron pulled up outside of Tony’s house and looked around the street frowning at all the cars around. The dinner didn’t start until 3 PM, but he thought maybe he could come early, and help Tony get things ready. He wasn’t much of a cook, but he could do the basics. He suspected that there were things that he could cut up. Looking at the two cars in the driveway though with neither being Tony’s, he suspected that someone else had the same idea. Disappointed, he got out of his SUV and headed the short walk to the house. Because the street seemed to be so busy, he’d had to park further away than planned.
Reaching the front door, Hotch rang the bell waiting excitedly to see Tony. They hadn’t had much time together all week. Just a few quick moments here and there. When the door opened, his smile quickly turned to a frown, as a dark-haired man with a goatee scowled at him. “Whatever you’re selling, we don’t want any.”
Afraid that he’d gotten the wrong house number, Aaron started to apologize, when he heard a female voice yell, “Robert, you butthead! Don’t scare off the Boss’ new man!”
Quickly after that, a woman shoved her way past this Robert person, and Hotch vaguely recognized her as being one of Tony’s team. She had on a white t-shirt with various letters in pastel sparkly colors that said Little Bird Probie and knew this was Raven Ramirez. Tony had gleefully told him about the shirt he’d had made for her as a special rush order with a local t-shirt shop. He was happy to see she was taking her new title with pride, well aware how much it meant to her new boss.
“Don’t let the butthead chase you away. He’s just mad because Tony won’t let him touch the sharp objects. Come in, and join the madness. Apparently, every person on the team had the same idea.”
Without waiting for him to respond, Raven turned, grabbed his hand, and shoved Robert out of the way. She was pulling him through the house, and Aaron decided to go with it, as it seemed this might actually get him to Tony. Hearing the door close behind them, he looked over his shoulder to see the man Raven had called Robert trailing after him.
Entering the kitchen, Aaron saw literally the entire team minus Tony either there or in the dining room at the table playing trivial pursuit.
“Will, I don’t like her! She ruins all my fun.” The man pouted as he headed around the two of them, and headed to a man Hotch didn’t recognize, but assumed was the CIA convert William Brandt.
“It’s probably best for you that she didn’t,” the man Hotch knew was Tony’s SIC Elijah Mundo said.
“I don’t think Will would be able to save your life if you’d chased his new heartthrob away.” The man he assumed to be Will snorted, and stepped away from the meat that he was seasoning and, after wiping his hands on a towel, held out his hand.
“We haven’t met yet. I’m William Brandt, but please call me Will. The asshole who answered the door is my husband Robert. Feel free to ignore his bullshit. It’s usually for the best.”
Aaron’s lips twitched as the other man smirked at him. He immediately decided that he liked the man. Feeling arms wrap around his waist, and something rest on his shoulder, Aaron looked slightly backward to see Tony standing behind him smiling.
“Come with me.”
Aaron was just able to grab ahold of the two bottles of beer that someone shoved in his hand before he was pulled away and though the house. They ended up in what appeared to be an office, and before he could speak, Tony turned quickly pressing their bodies together claiming his lips in a much-needed kiss. Hotch found himself wrapping his arms around Tony. The cold beer bottles were pressing against the cloth t-shirt Tony was wearing. He wondered if the shiver he felt go through the man was from the cold or the kiss. It was his first official kiss from a man. If they were all this toe curling good, Aaron wasn’t sure why he didn’t do this years ago.
Just before he was about to run out of air, Tony pulled back and pressed their foreheads together panting as he too tried to catch his breath.
“Feel free to say hi like that anytime you wish.” Aaron threw out, tightening his grip on the other man a moment letting him feel how much he’d been affected by the kiss. After a few minutes their breathing calmed down, but neither man felt the need to move. Aaron was finding it nice to rest like this.
“Hi,” he offered quietly, and Tony chuckled.
“Hi, back. I hope Robert didn’t put you off too much. He’s a sarcastic jerk, but he grows on you quickly. Something like a fungus really, but one of those really pretty colored ones that you just don’t want to get rid of.”
Aaron couldn’t help but laugh and found it his turn to rest is head on the other man’s shoulder.
“You smell good.” Hotch offered, then winced at the lameness of the statement.
Tony chuckled, and Hotch felt a kiss pressed to his temple. “You’re so awesome.”
He found himself smiling happily, and decided for compliments like that he’d put up with this Robert person. Even if he’d never been particularly fond of fungi.
Hearing two girls screech, Hotch straightened and frowned at Tony who sighed. “Tobias’ ex-wife called at the last fucking minute and asked if Emily could come home. He was gonna cancel his plans, but I told him not to.”
“So, she’ll be here tonight?” Hotch asked again feeling a little disappointed, but Tony quickly shook his head.
“That was the first plan, but then Emily Fornell met Michelle Mundo aka Mitchie, and my awesome SFA saved our asses.”
Aaron grinned. He already liked Elijah. The man seemed to truly understand how lucky he was to be getting a fresh start with a new boss and had really stepped up to the plate from day one. “Emily is going to his house to spend the night?”
Tony nodded smiling. “Yes, she is. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to owe Lijah a kidney or something. So, I was hoping that you could stay the night? We don’t have to do anything, but I thought it would be nice to… ya know… be together? Even if sex isn’t involved?”
Hotch smiled and nodded, pulling Tony in for another kiss. This time, they broke apart when a distinctly British voice was heard from the other side. “Quit sucking face in there, Poco, and come out. You have other guests, you bloody wanker.”
When Aaron frowned, Tony sighed and shook his head holding up his fingers one at a time. Before he’d gotten to five, the door opened and a shorter bald headed man walked in. “Didn’t you hear me? Come out from there. You have plenty of time to make nasty later with your new toy, Tino.”
Aaron might have been offended by the rudeness, but Tony’s face showed nothing but a mixture of affection and the kind of amused exasperation only brothers or close relatives share. So, he was guessing this was Trent Kort. “Aaron, meet my incredibly impatient cousin Trent Kort. Trent, meet my… Aaron.”
Trent snorted, but stuck his hand out nonetheless, which Aaron happily shook. “It’s nice to meet you.” He offered, but the other man just nodded at him.
“Hurt him, and I will ensure your body parts are scattered across the world so that they will never find all of you,” Trent promised, and Aaron nodded seriously. He understood the sentiment and was sure eventually Tony would get the same talk from Dave.
“You have my word of honor. I look forward to meeting you. I know that you mean a great deal to Tony. I look forward to getting to know you, and I hope that we might be friends. I am sure you’re much nicer than your reputation leads one to believe you would be.”
When a horrified expression crossed Trent’s face, Aaron frowned as he older man spun and stomped off screaming. “WILLIAM! HE CALLED ME NICE!”
Hotch lifted an eyebrow when Will was heard shouting back. “IT’S THE LEAST OF WHAT YOU DESERVE FOR DISRUPTING THEIR TIME TOGETHER YOU BRITISH BASTARD!”
Tony snickered, and taking Aaron’s hand tugged him out of the room. “Don’t worry. Emily and Mitchie have already been strictly advised they are not to ever repeat a single word that comes out of Uncle Robert, Uncle Will, or Cousin Trent’s mouths.”
Aaron nodded but wasn’t sure that would save any of them from Fornell’s ex-wife’s wrath. She was legendary within the FBI for the things she’d put Tobias through. “So, Trent went through with the meeting the team thing.”
Tony shrugged and flashed a grin back at Aaron. “He decided that he needed to give his personal approval for the lot of these monkeys. Think of it as a group shovel talk.”
“So, what is on the menu?” Aaron asked as they reached the kitchen, and Tony paused to observe what everyone was doing, and what was needed.
“Well, I am doing a lasagna, some baked spaghetti, and some garlic bread. Will is doing chicken pieces, and grilled fruit to put on ice cream for dessert. Raven is stealing part of the grill to do vegetables. Chin did a Hawaiian pork recipe and brought a couple salads that his family makes. Elijah brought a tray of au gratin cauliflower, and mac and cheese. Trent provided alcohol, and Robert isn’t allowed to touch anything because he tends to cut body parts off when he handles sharp objects.”
“ALMOST! Please be clear! I ALMOST cut off my finger!” Robert scowled, and Will just snickered unsympathetically. Seriously, Aaron was beginning to really like the man. He kind of reminded him of Hawkeye in the Avenger comic books that Aaron absolutely did NOT read, and did NOT keep hidden in his study.
Aaron turned his head to look at Tony, who was smiling indulgently at his crew. “Was I supposed to bring something?”
Tony huffed as the crew just snickered back at them. “No, but then neither were any of them. They each advised me this week at different times that they were bringing things, except for Trent. I ordered the bitch to bring booze.”
Trent scowled, and Tony laughed as a carrot came sailing through the air aimed for his head. “OK people! Since we are all here, I say it’s time to start. Boss has to go first.”
When Aaron lifted an eyebrow, Tony shrugged. “The kiddies decided sharing is caring. So, everyone on the team has to share something about themselves. Anything classified or not approved for group sharing is off limits. You, Robert, and Trent can go if you want, but aren’t expected to.”
Tony pulled out two stools and sat pulling Aaron into the other. Remembering that he was carrying to beer bottles, Aaron passed Tony one as he waited to hear the story. “This isn’t the first time I worked for the FBI.”
By the silence in the kitchen, Aaron could tell he wasn’t the only one who was stunned by this news. Except of course for Trent, who scowled and moved to lean against a wall muttering under his breath in what sounded like French.
Tony drained his beer bottle as everyone stared at him. Trent just went to the fridge and got them both new bottles. Coming over he exchanged bottles with his cousin, before moving back to his place holding up the wall.
“I didn’t leave Peoria because I got canned. I left Peoria because I got accepted into FLETC. After completing my training, I was sent to the Philadelphia field office. They were having trouble with a local mob family, and they needed fresh faces. I was hired on as just a field agent, but when I went through FLETC I scored highest in my class in the areas that suggest I would be good at undercover work. When I went back after my training time was up, my reporting supervisor advised me I was being placed in an undercover position immediately. He claimed that it was because the family was familiar with everyone else in the office.”
“That is complete and utter bullshit!” Robert swore scowling, surprising everyone, but Will.
Elijah quickly agreed. “Rookie agents aren’t supposed to be thrown into those kinds of situations unless a shitload of people signs off on it.”
Trent snorted and took a swig of his beer. “I can assure you that no one signed off on a bloody fucking thing.”
Tony ignored them all, and Chin made a hand motion to silence them. “Turns out my supervisor was one of the bad guys.”
This time when people started talking, Chin let out a sharp whistle. “The next person that interrupts before he’s done gets to listen to him lecture on all twelve of the Friday the 13th movies.”
Aaron shuddered on his stool, and Tony shot him an amused glare before continuing. “He’d been working for the Malcuso’s for a long time. He knew that the FBI was trying to take them down, but was trying to put it off without having to tell the Don. So, he figured that if he put a rookie in there things were sure to fail. I’d probably get killed, and the FBI would back off for a while. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t know I’d basically been playing various undercover roles most of my life. The closer I got, the more nervous and desperate he got. Unfortunately, he didn’t know about Trent.”
Tony smirked at his cousin and raised his beer bottle before taking a drink. “So, when the asshole tried to hire a hitman to have me killed, he unknowingly hired TK. Instead of me dying, he got tied up until my assignment was over.”
When Tony stopped talking, and Trent rolled his eyes. “Of course he stops there. What he isn’t saying is that he managed to singlehandedly bring down the entire top echelon.”
Tony just shrugged and blushed. “I just did my job. Anyway, after the job was over, I wasn’t feeling too happy with the FBI. So, I quit. The Philadelphia PD was so happy to have the mob out of the city that we came to an agreement. They pretended I’d been on their payroll, and the commissioner helped me get my next job with the Baltimore PD. Eventually, Tobias and NCIS came sniffing around, and I ended up going with NCIS.”
Raven raised her hand, and Tony lifted an eyebrow at her, which she huffed at. “I am not listening to you talk about those stupid movies for like four hours. Is that where rule #22 came from?”
Trent scoffed as he moved to steal some fruit from the pile Will was cutting. “You would think, wouldn’t you?”
Tony stuck out his tongue, before answering Raven. “No, unfortunately sometimes I learn slowly. Rule #22 came about after my old NCIS director Jenny Shepard sent me undercover with a mark’s daughter without backup. I ended up falling in love. She ended up hating my guts, and eventually, the FBI accused me of his murder. Good times. Your reward for asking a question, Birdling, is that you get to go next.”
Raven scowled but shrugged knowing what she was gonna talk about. “I fucking loved being a black hat. I loved the rush. I loved the notoriety I got from other black hats. I loved knowing I had the power to affect hundreds or thousands of people depending on my mood.
“I hated people. It felt like nothing good had ever happened to me. No one had ever believed in me. So, they all needed to pay. I’d been horribly bullied in school, and never really had a friend. In my opinion, the world owed me for everything I’d never had. When I hooked up with Jackson, it never occurred to me that what he was teaching me, and the things we were doing, were wrong.”
Raven sighed and hung her head until Elijah walked over and out an arm around her shoulder. “Then I got busted and started working with Avery and Elijah. I can’t say as I trust Avery anymore, and I am so thankful to be here with you all knowing you’re willing to trust me and teach me. I have to be thankful though for the things she did teach me, even if she turned into a controlling bitch in the end.”
Elijah snorted and kissed her temple before moving back to his spot at the counter.
Robert clapped his hands together. “Yay! This is exciting! Who gets to spill their guts next?”
Will just rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Seriously, I married you why?”
Robert scoffed. “Because I am an incredible lay! Duh!”
Tony clapped to draw everyone’s attention. “No more confessions right now. Getting to know you question #1. Everyone has to answer, including Robert, Trent, and Aaron. Favorite Historical movie and why.”
The group groaned as a whole, and Tony smiles happily. It was a good day when he could make everyone miserable at once.
The group moved out back to the deck not long after that to soak up some sunshine and watch Will grill. While they were still all together, the mini-groups had shuffled from the seating arrangement in the kitchen. Tony noticed at work there hadn’t been any mini cliques develop yet. He hoped that it stayed like that.
Elijah was sitting with Raven. Most likely to reassure her after her kitchen confession that no one thought less of her after hearing her tale. Interestingly enough, though, Trent was also hovering close to them. Tony could hear his cousin’s distinctive accent, but the man was speaking quietly enough that he couldn’t make out the actual words. He wasn’t really surprised though to see it.
Trent knew how important his new probie was to Tony’s psyche. Most likely he was sharing one of his own less than stellar moments to try and make her more comfortable. TK was kind of awesome like that.
The girls had come out and were hovering near the grill asking Will questions. Tony suspected that the two of them were developing crushes on the man. Chin was leaning against a nearby railing. From the amused expression on his face, Tony guessed that he was right about the crushes.
He himself had settled in-between the two groups with Aaron and Robert. Aaron was sitting close enough that Tony could and was holding his hand. Robert was being charming and witty. Aaron had his Unit Chief expression on his face. Probably to see how far Robert would go to win him over.
Will kept throwing looks of exasperated affection over his shoulder. So, Tony wasn’t too concerned about hurt feelings when Robert figured out what was going on. The painter made Aaron crack soon after that, and the lot of them got lost for a moment in the laughter.
“I see how it is. Try to bond with your husband’s new boss’ new boyfriend, and you end up the butt of the joke.”
Tony nearly rolled his eyes at Robert’s dramatics. He did groan at Aaron’s faux contrition, though, which led to an unwise offer in Tony’s opinion.
“My deepest apologies, Robert. I’ll tell you anything you’d like. Security Clearance withstanding, of course.”
“You’re gonna regret that,” Will called from over by the grill. Chin and Trent must have agreed because, like sharks to blood in the water, they immediately moved their way.
“Tell us why we should believe that you are good enough for Tony.”
Tony’s jaw dropped in disbelief at the question, and silence settled over the group. He was considering killing Robert. Trent could be heard muttering, “Steel balls that one. Good job, mate. Couldn’t have done better myself.”
Just as Tony was about to tell Aaron he didn’t have to answer and drag Robert off to a dark corner of the property to disembowel him, a quiet ‘you shouldn’t’ was heard.
“I work too much, and I am completely devoted to my team. Sometimes over everything else in my life. It’s one of the things that broke up my marriage. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been in Unit Chief Hotchner’s skin so long that I’ve forgotten how to laugh, and the majority of the people I work with would tell you I don’t even know how.
“My father was an abusive drunk. Sometimes I worry that I like a nice expensive glass of scotch too much, and my temper burns too hot on occasion. My greatest fear will always be turning into that man, and some days I’m not sure it’s possible to prevent it. I’ve spent most of my adult life putting away scumbags. So, I’m too often slow to trust new things and good people, because I’m always waiting for the evil side to drop.
“I believe in the justice system, and don’t like people who believe they are above it. Which is why I won’t get much higher than I am at the FBI. I honestly have no ambition to climb the ranks, because DC is filled with criminals worse than the ones I’ve put behind bars.”
Aaron lowered his gaze from where he’d been looking Robert in the eye, to the wooden planks of the deck. “So, I can’t answer your question, Robert. I probably wouldn’t think that I was good enough for him if I were you. Tony is an amazing man and deserves so much better than me. I can only hope that I can hold onto him long enough to build good memories to get me through after he realizes that he deserves better.”
There were many things that Tony wanted to do in that moment, but most of them were not things that he wanted to share with a crowd. Aaron was practically bleeding himself dry after spilling his guts out over a question that was most likely asked in jest.
Robert could be an ass, but there was no way he expected or even wanted something like that to happen. At that moment, though, he couldn’t look up to check on him, because he was too concerned that Aaron appeared ready to bolt any second.
Not stopping to question his actions, but instead trusted himself to know what was right in that moment for the first time in a long while. Tony lifted the hand he’d been holding, and kissed Aaron’s knuckles drawing the older man’s attention.
“In case you haven’t noticed, I am the Team Leader, and soon to be Unit Chief, of a new department within the FBI. I am building less of a team, and more of a family to hopefully take place of all the ones I have lost in my life. I can assure you I will be devoting long hours to making this department and these people a success.
“I can also assure you that I will be giving as much time to late night calls from them for whatever life crisis as you do yours. Whether that crisis is someone has died, or ‘oh god Tony my computer crashed and I lost a whole chapter and my deadline is tomorrow’. Now, I mean no disrespect to your former wife, but if she didn’t understand that your devotion to those people on your team is one of the things that makes you the breathtaking man you are, then it wasn’t much of a marriage, to begin with.”
When Aaron started to speak, Tony put a finger of his free hand to the man’s lips. “I don’t need you to be a clown. I have that role down pat. If you forget how to laugh, it’s ok. One thing I am a master at is reminding people there is humor in even the darkest moments. Even if it means making a complete and total ass out of myself.
“You aren’t the only one who grew up with a violent alcoholic father. Now, I may not be the profiler here, but I think I can say with complete certainty that you are not now or ever will be either your father or mine. Appreciation for expensive scotch just means you have taste. My former boss had a taste for that nasty rotgut bourbon. Trust me when I say I like your vice much better. As for your temper, well people who are always happy and calm are fucking creepy as hell. Hell, even the master of Zen Chin over there has a release valve that blows on occasion.”
Tony heard the sound of quiet laughs around him, but it was Aaron’s faint twitch of his lips that told him that he was making progress. “Trust issues are a part of the job. If you can find me, someone who has been doing this as long as you and I have that doesn’t have one, I will show you someone who really sucks at their job. As for your sense of justice, hell Aaron, who do you think was Gibbs’ conscience all these years? We wouldn’t be here if I thought you were the type to be loose and fancy-free with the rules. I also could give two shits if you advance. I’m not with you because I wanna be a house husband to a powerful man. I want you to like what you do. If you think I wanna climb the FBI hierarchy, you’ve lost your mind.
“Frankly, Unit Chief Aaron Hotchner, it sounds to me like you’re the man of my dreams. I am beginning to think that the best thing that ever happened to me was finding out my ex-boss, ex-lover was screwing my sometimes shrink behind my back while he demanded my loyalty. Because, no matter how hard he tries, Leroy Jethro Gibbs will never be half the man you are.”
When Aaron blushed shyly and simply nodded, Tony proclaimed victory if only inside his own head. Hearing Robert yelp, Tony turned his attention to see Raven standing next to the man glaring at him as he rubbed the back of his head.
“OH, MY GOD! I think you two just made my ovaries EXPLODE!” She squealed, and before he knew it, Tony found himself with an armful of an exuberant hacker. The sound of Aaron’s laughter though made it all worth it. When the others moved in to show their support, Tony took a moment to find Robert.
He wasn’t surprised to see a guilty expression on the painter’s face, or that Will was speaking quietly into his ear. Most likely, he was soothing the ruffled feathers of his husband. Somehow, Tony had a feeling Aaron was going to soon find himself the owner of a Robert Brandt original. If Aaron didn’t say something to the man on his own, Tony made a mental note to make sure there were no lingering hurt feelings between the men. Though he found himself a little nervous to find out where the next confession was going to lead them.
After a few moments, everyone seemed to mutually agree the moment had passed. Tony saw Elijah look agree round then heard his SFA clear his throat. It didn’t matter to him that he wasn’t working at NCIS or that the FBI had different command structure titles. Elijah was his SFA, and when they each moved up a spot whomever Elijah chose would be his SFA. The spot had a place of affection in his heart that he wasn’t willing to lose.
“Since the girls have tired of flirting with Will for the moment, I thought that I would share my bit. I umm… things weren’t good for me at the end of my stay in Cyber Crimes. I can’t… I don’t have the words to explain how much this second chance that Tony is giving me means to me. I want, to be honest with you all about what happened. Partly because I don’t trust some people from there to not try and start trouble for me here. There were some bad feelings with some of the old crew when I decided to switch teams.
“The bigger reason is because I really believe in what Tony is building here. I like that this isn’t just a team, and I think that in order to be a part of that… to hopefully be the leader once Tony is promoted to Unit Chief, then I have to follow his example.”
Tony watched his SFA feeling the pride grow in his chest. Elijah was going to be one hell of a Team leader someday. He had no doubt that he’d be ready to move up when Tony did.
“I was disciplined for Use of Excessive Force when I was with Cyber for roughing up a suspect, who was resisting arrest. I’d gone in by myself against Avery’s orders. So, there was no one to back up my claims. At the time, I had several personal things going on that added to my normal stress level that comes with the job.
“My ex-wife and I were trying to work things out. I’d found out that my father, whom I was extremely close to, not only had cancer, but he was refusing treatment. I went out one night to take like half an hour to myself and stopped at this bar between dad’s and my house. I ended up talking to the bartender who was female, and afterward, she started stalking me. When I confronted her about what she was doing, it just got worse. She became friends with my ex joining her yoga class, and showed up in my dad’s hospital room after identifying herself as my wife.”
Elijah paused, and Tony was pretty sure that everyone was being affected by the emotion of the story. He saw Will grip Elijah’s arm and did Raven take one of his hands. The pride that he’d been feeling for these people only increased.
“I am a former Marine. I know that it isn’t an excuse, but admitting that you can’t handle things isn’t something that is encouraged. Weakness is drilled out of you. Emotion is frowned upon, or at least that was what I was trained to believe. I kept Avery up to date on things, but only seemed to get ‘take some time off’ or ‘keep yourself together’ as my options. I’m not trying to throw stones. I just…”
When Elijah looked up at him, Tony just calmly looked back giving the man an encouraging smile. Everyone has rough patches. In his opinion, a good leader sees those patches and makes sure that they don’t become career threatening.
“In contrast to that before I even had the job here, Tony was offering me help, giving me the name of someone that I could talk to and trust, and checking in just to make sure I was ok. When Devon announced to me for a second time that she was going to take my daughter from me, he helped me find a real lawyer. I found out yesterday that I’m getting full custody of Michelle. This team and my daughter are all I have left. I swear on all of you that I won’t cross that line, again.”
“And, we promise to do more than basically tell you to shut up or go home the next time that you’re struggling,” Will vowed with the others voicing their agreements.
“Good job, Cuz,” Tony heard in his ear. Turning his head he saw that Trent had made his way over to the empty chair next to him.
“This is one helluva team you’ve built. Color me impressed.”
Sitting back, Tony smiled as he took a sip of his beer. He was beginning to believe that he really could trust these people.