Warning: Story contains non-sexual corporal punishment of an adult and references to abuse. If this makes you uncomfortable, please don't read.
Disclaimer: Criminal Minds is the property of CBS Television Studios. I'm just borrowing the characters for my own evil purposes. I promise not to bend, fold, mutilate, or leave them out in the rain which would cause me to put them in the dryer where they might shrink. They will be returned in all their original splendor.
AN: New journey for an old writer. I have a "thing" for Aaron Hotchner, and I won't make excuses for that. While my Twilight characters took a hiatus, I decided to see what Hotch would do for me. I was happy enough with the results, so I decided to share. Hope you enjoy.
Guilt upon the conscience, like rust upon iron, both defiles and consumes it, gnawing and creeping into it, as that does which at last eats out the very heart and substance of the metal. ~ Robert South
With a soft moan, Reid rolled over in his bed and glanced at the clock. Three a.m. and he was still wide awake. That didn't bode well for the doctor. Rossi had been at him for several days about getting enough sleep, probably at the prompting of Hotch, but what could he do when his mind refused to shut down?
It had been several years since the nightmares disrupted his sleep. Oh they still occurred, but with much less frequency and to a much milder degree. It had been hard, but he eventually learned to accept them for what they were, manifestations of his failures. His solution was to work harder at capturing monsters during the daylight hours so fewer could haunt him at night.
No, this bout of insomnia had nothing to do with the horrors he had witnessed since joining the BAU. This time the impossibility of sleep was a direct consequence of his own behavior.
With a heavy sigh, he curled up and pulled the covers tightly around himself as he eyed the small bottle that taunted him from the nightstand. Nervously he moistened his lips as he reached out, his fingers closing around the talisman of his addiction. Rubbing his recently achieved ten year medallion, he gently traced his thumb over the ornate 'X' in the center. Was feeding his beast really worth throwing away all his hard work? Was it worth the lost of his team's trust? Was it worth breaking his promise to the men he idolized the most — Gideon, Rossi, and above all, his boss, Hotch?
Reid glanced back at the vial and felt his stomach turn with mild nausea as he reflected upon where his actions had led him. While he could take some solace in knowing that he hadn't given into his addiction yet, there was no denying the guilt born from already having broken his promise.
With the discovery of their latest UnSub using dilaudid to incapacitate and control his victims came the reemergence of Spencer's cravings. Syringes littering the crime scene triggered his desire for the peaceful chemical release, but after so long, he thought he could handle it. A minor set back, he told himself. Nothing that he needed to discuss with Hotch. No reason to return to those NA meetings and confide in a sponsor who pretended to, but couldn't fully understand him. He knew he was stronger than the cravings. He didn't need help.
However, once the case was wrapped up and the team returned home, Reid found himself wandering the back alleys he had walked all those years ago. Before he knew what he was doing, he was at his old dealer's door making a purchase that would cost him his career if he was found out and possibly land him in jail, but that wasn't the worst of possible outcomes. The presence of that tiny vial on his nightstand could cost him to lose the people he had come to love as family.
Spencer sniffled softly as the full cost of what he had done weighed on his mind and kept sleep at bay.
He should have talked to Hotch at his first twinge of desire for the drug. He had promised that he would, but there was little doubt that his boss would have pulled him off the case and sent him home which was something he couldn't risk. He refused to let his team down. They had needed his help to capture Tartaglia and bring closure to the families of the girls he had abducted. He couldn't have let all those people down. He had done what was required. He had done his job well. So what if he was in pain now? So what if he couldn't sleep? Statistically speaking, it was highly likely that he would run into his demon again while on the job. He had to learn to deal with that himself. Hotch would understand.
Sighing, he continued to gaze at the bottle, knowing that it's presence was something Hotch would not understand. The unit chief had made it abundantly clear that he wouldn't tolerate Reid needlessly putting his life or career at risk. The doctor had managed to do both by way of a single mindless act.
At least the dilaudid still rested harmlessly within its glass cage instead of coursing through his veins. That had to count for something. He could toss it out and no one would even know that he had this moment of temporary insanity. Hotch need never know that he had been weakened once again by the drug's siren song, and life could go on as normal. What his boss didn't know...
Reid closed his eyes and rolled over, giving the bottle his back.
In the morning, in a few hours, he would toss the vial in some random dumpster and everything would go away. Everything would be fine. The craving would go away, and no one, especially Hotch, would ever know.
"Jesus, kid. You look like hell," Rossi said as Reid passed him on the way to the coffee pot. "You don't take orders very well. Didn't I tell you to go home and get some sleep?"
"I did," the younger man replied as he filled his mug with a shaky hand.
"Uh huh. Well, you didn't get enough. Go back home and crawl into bed. What are you doing here anyway? The team has the weekend off. Go enjoy it like everyone else, and for God's sake, get some rest."
"You're here," he challenged.
"I'm being punished," Rossi said with a slight shrug. "Behind on some paperwork. Just don't get why they need so damn much of it. You would think that the Bureau could give the trees a break once in awhile. Forests are much better than forms, don't ya think?"
"More like anal retentive, if you ask me," the Italian said with a warm smile. "And you still haven't answered my question."
Reid glanced down, avoiding Rossi's gaze, as he wrapped both hands around his mug to help steady them.
"How much of that have you had already?"
"A couple of cups. Why?" he asked while slowly glancing at the legendary profiler.
"Because you're shaking like a leaf. I think you need to slow down a bit."
"I don't care about what you think. I'm perfectly capable of making my own decisions. I don't need a babysitter telling me what to do," the doctor angrily snapped before he turned on his heel and stalked away, leaving a befuddled David Rossi in his wake.
"Why is he here?"
"If I knew that, Aaron, I would tell you. All I'm saying is that he doesn't need to be. You're going to have to send him home. It's obvious that he hasn't been sleeping, and he's nearing his breaking point. That boy pushes himself too hard. Not unlike someone else I could name," Rossi said with a twinkle in his eye.
"I don't know what you mean," Hotch responded coolly as his brow knitted into the patented Hotchner scowl.
"Look, Dave, this isn't about me. We're discussing Reid. Focus," the unit chief commanded.
"Can I help it if I see a lot of you in the boy? Stubborn. Driven. Independent. Prone to tantrums when things don't quite go his way."
"I am not prone to tantrums," Hotch all but growled before giving a brief nod. "But I can see your point when it comes to Reid. I'll talk to him."
"Send him home," the senior agent demanded in a soft tone. "See to it that he makes it to his bed. Drive him if you have to. He needs rest. He's no good to the team if he lands himself in the hospital due to exhaustion. I seem to recall having had a protege take that exact path in his early years. Maybe he can make the kid see reason. The words of experience, and all that."
Hotch's eyes narrowed as he studied his mentor closely for a moment.
"There are times that I really don't like you."
Rossi smiled, completely unfazed by his boss's declaration.
"Being the angel on your shoulder screaming good advice in your ear all the time isn't that glamorous, but someone has to do it."
"Angel? Are you serious? I've always thought horns were more your style than a halo."
The Italian had just opened his mouth to rebut his friend's assessment, when Hotch stopped him with an inquiry.
"Where's the Jensen report you were supposed to have on my desk by eleven?"
"It's ten forty eight. I still have twelve minutes. It's coming," he said with a dismissive flourish of his hand.
"I hope your angelic powers extend to working miracles. If these files aren't completed by the end of the day, I'll be called on the carpet, and I won't be taking the blame alone."
"Unit Chief, Aaron. That's your title. It's all on you, son. Comes with the territory."
"And shit runs down hill, Dave. Don't ever forget that," he answered as he raised a brow.
"Like I could," the older man said with a roll of his eyes before easily extracting himself from the chair to head back to his office. At the door, he hesitated for a second and glanced back at Hotch, a serious expression darkening his features. "Aaron, talk to the boy wonder sooner rather than later, huh? I'm worried. There's something just not right with him, but I can't put my finger on it. You know Reid better than me. Maybe you can get him to open up about what's troubling him."
"I call him up in a few minutes," Hotch conceded. "I promise."
"Good," Rossi said with a slight nod before sighing loudly and clapping his hands together. "Alright, Jensen. Let's get ready to rumble and cut another swath through the national forest."
The younger man bowed his head and chuckled softly to himself as his mentor vanished from view. A few moments later, he carefully closed the folder he had been reviewing, and stood. Walking out of his office, Hotch took a spot at the railing overlooking the bullpen. He was met with the sight of the team's genius hunched over a stack of case files, exhaustion blindingly clear in his every movement. The unit chief's frown deepen with concern. It was immediately obvious to the profiler that Rossi had reason to be worried, and he was suddenly grateful to Dave for having brought this problem to his attention.
"Reid," he called in a low voice that easily carried down to his underling. The doctor raised large glassy eyes in his direction, and Hotch sighed inwardly. "I'd like to speak with you."
"Can it wait? I'm kinda busy."
"Now, Reid," he commanded before returning to his office safe in the knowledge that his order would be obeyed.
"Hotch, seriously. I'm in the middle..."
The senior agent raised a hand to halt the youth's complaint before pointing to the chair in front of his desk.
"I could be of more use sitting at my desk."
"That may be, but we have to have a talk. I need you to tell me what's going on."
"What do you mean?" Spencer asked as he slumped into the chair and folded his arms in a defensive stance.
"You're not meant to be at work today. There's a reason for granting time off. You need that downtime to physically and mentally recharge. The Tartaglia case was particularly trying. That's the reason I put in to get everyone this break. Why aren't you taking it?"
Reid swallowed hard and licked his lips as he began to fidget nervously before glancing down. Taking a breath in a failed attempt to calm himself, he quietly stated, "I don't need it."
"I beg to differ," Hotch said, his look darkening as his casual gaze turned to scrutiny. The nervous ticks. The darker circles under his eyes and general haggard appearance. They were signs of a man troubled by something and trying to lie, possibly to himself, that it didn't exist. "Have your nightmares returned?"
The young man's brow creased as he looked up to meet his supervisor's eyes.
"Why would you ask that?"
"Because you're not sleeping," Hotch reasonably answered.
"Why in the hell is everyone so damn concerned about my personal habits all of a sudden?" the doctor barked, getting an arched brow from the unit chief in return. "I don't need anyone worrying about me, okay? I'm fine."
"No, you're not. You're fatigued which is causing you to become irritable."
"I'm not irritable!" Reid yelled loud enough to be heard in Rossi's office.
Aaron raised his head and leaned back in his chair as he crossed his arms, clearly unamused by his associate's outburst.
"You sound like a petulant child," he said, his voice resonating with disapproval.
"That's only because everyone insist on treating me like a child. Treat me like a reasonable adult and I'll act like one. It's pretty fucking simple."
"That's not how it works, Reid. The way you act is the catalyst for how people perceive you. I have been treating you as an adult — a coworker whom I'm concerned about. I've done nothing more than ask a couple of questions, and instead of giving me honest answers, you've decided it was more prudent to throw a tantrum."
The doctor huffed in annoyance, but shifted his posture to self-comforting instead of defiance by wrapping his arms around himself.
Hotch gave him a few seconds to internalize what had been said, then quietly and calmly repeated his question.
"Are the nightmares back?"
Reid tucked his chin against his chest and hunched down further in the chair wishing he could vanish.
The young man closed his eyes to block his boss out, but finally shook his head.
"Then why haven't you been sleeping?"
"I have," he whispered as the tip of his tongue shot out to moisten his lips.
"That's a lie."
Looking over at Hotch, Reid's eyes pleaded with the man to believe him.
"It really isn't, Hotch. I swear I have slept. I may not be sleeping as much as you and Rossi think I should, but I have been sleeping. I'm okay."
"Spencer, if you don't talk to me, I can't help you."
"I don't need your help. There are some things that I can..." The doctor paused, and took a settling breath. "No. There are some things that I need to take care of for myself. Look, everybody has a couple of nights here and there where it's harder to sleep. You can't tell me that you haven't had your share. Thirty five percent of the population have brief symptoms of insomnia with twenty percent having short-term insomnia disorder lasting three months or less. It's no big deal. It will pass."
"It is a big deal when it affects your health and job performance."
"It doesn't. It's minor so the effects aren't even worth mentioning."
"It's already making you irritable. I wouldn't call that a minor effect."
Reid looked away from his boss' penetrating stare and raked a hand through is hair.
"I'm sorry, Hotch. I just ..." Large brown eyes turned back to the man, once again begging him to understand. "Sorry."
"Apology accepted. Now, I want you to go back down, pack up your stuff, and go home."
"Hotch," Reid softly whined.
"That's not a suggestion, Spencer. It's an order. I don't want to see you back in this office for a week."
"A week!" the doctor yelled as he jumped to his feet.
"I'm putting you out on medical leave. Get some rest, and come back in a week, ready to work."
"No! That's unacceptable! You can't do this!"
"Lower your voice," the unit chief calmly demanded. "And I assure you, I can. I won't have my team put at risk. At this moment, you're a liability."
"I can do my job."
"You will do it better once you've conquered whatever it is that is impeding your sleep. Until that time..."
"Don't do this to me, Hotch. You need me. The team needs me."
"We do, but we need you healthy. If you won't confide in me and let me help you, this is the only option left open to me."
"This isn't fair. If it was Morgan who was having..."
"If it was Morgan, we would be talking things out to get to the root of his trouble. Since you refuse to even meet me halfway, you've tied my hands."
Reid defiantly met his boss's stern gaze before calming stating, "I won't go."
"Then I'll have security escort you out," Hotch replied with quiet conviction.
"Why are you doing this?"
"Because I care about your health more than you appear to, and I refuse to see you become a threat to yourself."
The doctor's breathing grew shallow and rapid in frustration with the situation. Home was the last place he wanted to be. Home, trapped in close proximity to his addiction, and haunted by what he had done. Home, where he could be a true threat to himself.
"Spencer, go home and get some sleep. I don't want to see you here again within the spans of a week unless you can provide medical clearance stating that you're fit for duty."
The young man's body tensed like a over wound spring at the ultimatum.
"Fine!" he yelled before clearing Hotch's desk with a sweep of his hand. Without a backward glance, Reid stomped out his unit chief's office and slammed the door, cracking the glass panel in the process.
Aaron closed his eyes and silently counted very slowly as he struggled to maintain his precarious hold on his anger. This wasn't Reid's fault, he continued to remind himself. The youth's exhaustion was the underlining cause, and once that was resolved he would regain his sensibility.
Drawing a breath, he opened his eyes and gazed at the chaos hurricane Reid had left in his wake. Hours of carefully prepared paperwork laid scattered across the floor absorbing the coffee spilled from a paper cup, and in the middle of it all rested a picture of his son in its shattered frame.
Slipping from his chair, Hotch crouched down and began to gather the file folders and undamaged reports. The ruined ones would have to be redone, extending his work day even further. Carefully picking up the picture frame, he shook the broken glass into the trash can and stared at his son's smiling face. If Jack had a tantrum like this...
A low whistle cut through his thoughts.
"I take it that the boy wonder didn't agree with being sent home," Rossi said as he shifted his gaze from the cracked door to the paper strewn office.
"What was your first clue?"
"I don't know. Probably the screaming. I didn't know Reid was Italian," the older man responded while helping collect the scattered reports.
"He doesn't gesticulate enough to be Italian."
Hotch gave his friend a rare, if weary, smile then sighed quietly.
"Dave, I'm going to need you to hunt these files down again and reprint them." He motioned towards the soggy stack that was headed for the trash.
"That young man sure knows how to get on my bad side," Rossi said in a half joking manner.
"He didn't know what he was doing."
"He most certainly did. Young Dr. Reid is crying for attention. He's testing you, Aaron, and from where I'm standing, that's a test you just failed."
Standing to place the salvaged reports back on his desk, Hotch crossed his arms and scowled.
"You told me to send him home, and that's what I've done," the unit chief stated. "It's not like he's officially done anything wrong."
David Rossi scoffed as he stood as well and gave his boss an incredulous look.
"He hasn't done anything wrong? Well, lets see. He was belligerent, insubordinate and destructive. Maybe the Bureau has updated it's policies recently, but those have always been officially wrong activities in the past."
"There are extenuating circumstances."
"Right. His lack of sleep which is a physical issue that needs to be taken care of. I get having the occasional sleepless night, but with all that shit you see being hawked on the TV, there's no excuse for not taking care of the problem."
"He won't take medication," Hotch said as he gave Rossi a pointed look that caused the profiler to nod in understanding.
"Then he talks to somebody. We're all here for him. If he doesn't want to come to us, which is more than a little bothersome, there's always the company shrink. Hell, Aaron, I'll foot the bill for a private consultation." The Italian carded a hand through his dark, silver kissed hair as he shook his head. "The kid needs to get a handle on this. He's a liability to himself and everyone around him."
"Do you think I don't know that?"
"You sure as hell aren't acting like you do."
"I sent him home under orders to get R&R before I'll have him back with the team. That's all I can do. Sure I could suspend him for insubordination, but that's always been a last course of action — even from you. There's just no reason to have a mark on his permanent record when we can handle this in house."
Hotch leaned a hip against his desk as he studied his mentor.
"We know why he acted out. We know once he finally gets sleep his emotional bearing will improve and he'll return to what figures as normal for Reid. He just needs a little patience and understanding."
"Oh, yeah. That's something you've always had an abundance of," Rossi said with a roll of his eyes, before he cleared his throat. "He needs a swift kick in the ass."
"No. No perhaps about it. He is acting like a spoiled child, and his behavior is begging you to treat him as one."
Hotch shook his head.
"We're beyond that. Well beyond it, actually. When Reid first joined the team he had a few... incidents where..." Aaron exhaled in a soft huff. "Jason felt the need to step into a paternal role since that was something Reid has lacked in much of his early life."
"And when Gideon left, you picked up the gauntlet."
"But it's been years. He's an adult now. There's no need for this type of intervention."
"One question, Aaron. How old were you when you had that issue with your hearing and still decided to go out in the field before you were ready? You remember. It was that time when you could have caused yourself permanent hearing loss due to stubborn stupidity."
The unit chief broke eye contact as a bright blush pinked his cheeks.
"You weren't only an adult, but the leader of this elite crime fighting force, and I'm pretty sure you recall the conversation we had once you got back home."
Hotch uneasily shifted his weight and reached up to rub the back of his neck to relieve some of the tension he was suddenly feeling.
"Butt is right. The genius's bad attitude needs to be nipped right in it. Reid is acting like a moody adolescent. Your response needs to reflect that."
"I just don't know. Usually..."
"How old is Jack?"
"Started to rebel yet?"
"A little," Hotch admitted with a soft sigh, easily seeing where this conversation was headed.
"I know you, Aaron. I know Jack can count on one hand how many times he's felt your displeasure across his tail, but I also know that if he acted out like Reid just did, he could add one more to that tally."
The younger profiler met his mentor's unwavering gaze, then tipped his head in a faint nod.
"You're like a father to Reid, whether you like it or not. He respects you, and clearly aspires to be like you, though I can't for the life of me explain why."
Hotch smiled at the light ribbing before his expression turned serious again.
"There's got to be a point when you let them stand or fall on their own, Dave."
"You do that everyday, but you're still there when they need you. You're always there, for as long as you can be."
Rossi settled in the chair that had most recently held Reid and drew an easy breath.
"There are consequences for every behavior. Our careers revolve around enforcing those consequences. This isn't any different. There's something up with the boy wonder. He's acting out because of whatever it is. This isn't something he can comfortably deal with on his own. He's asking you to step in and help him. Now, whether he's asking for that help from his boss or a father figure, I can't tell, but he is asking for your help."
"Do you think I handled the situation poorly?"
Rossi tilted his head to the side and thought for a moment before answering to the negative.
"No. In the office environment, I think you handled it perfectly. More ... in depth discussions are better conducted away from the office. Which is why, I think you should cut out early today and pay our genius a little visit."
"I can't leave. We still have a ton of paperwork..."
Raising a hand, Rossi cut Hotch off before he could finish formulating his argument.
"I'll handle it. It's the worst part of the job, but that doesn't mean I can't do it. I'll see to it that all the t's are crossed and the i's all have dots. It will all be turned in before I head home. Go take care of our boy. Family comes first, Aaron."
The unit chief sunk his hands into the pockets of his slacks and bowed his head.
"Thanks, Dave," he said softly.
"Any time," the Italian replied with a gleam in his eye. "And you tell our doctor that if he gives you any trouble, he'll be answering to Uncle Dave next."
"Uncle?" Hotch asked with a cocked brow. "Shouldn't that be grandpa?"
Rossi's eyes narrowed.
"Aaron, remember what we just discussed. You're not too old either, son," the legendary profiler threatened while his old protege laughed fearlessly.
Hotch pulled into a parking spot near Reid's apartment building and killed the engine. Closing his eyes for a moment, he quickly gathered his thoughts about how he wanted this to go. With any luck at all, he and the doctor could resolve the issue without incident. While Rossi had been right about their youthful coworker's poor attitude, Hotch still hoped that a mild verbal reprimand would suffice in getting Spencer to self-correct the problem. The young man had matured over the years, and the structure Gideon had originally created for him was no longer required, or so Hotch had let himself believe.
Taking a calm breath, the lead profiler opened his door and slipped out of his seat, wincing as he moved. Perhaps teasing his old mentor wasn't the wisest idea, he reflected as he cautiously rubbed at the sore spot on his right cheek. He had forgotten just how strong Rossi was, and found himself suddenly grateful that those few 'warning' smacks had been delivered more in play than punishment — just a not so subtle reminder of the part the man played in his life, and the part he, himself, played in Reid's.
Standing in front of Reid's door, Hotch released a breath while the old worries plagued his mind. If he found himself in the position of having to correct his younger colleague, could he trust himself to be fair? Studies on patterns of abuse came to the forefront of his mind to trouble him. He knew he had broken the cycle, but knowing still didn't drive the demons of doubt away. He felt their presence whenever he had cause to reprimand his son, and now they whispered in his ear as he prepared to address Reid.
Swallowing hard, the unit chief raised his hand to knock when the door was suddenly opened, startling him and the young man inside.
"Hotch," the doctor said as he tried to slow his wildly racing heart. "What are you doing here?"
"We need to talk, but first, where were you going? I thought my orders were clear. You're supposed to be in bed."
"I... I can't sleep during the day," he answered. "I thought I would go for a run to help unwind."
Hotch took in the sight of his coworker dressed in a navy blue standard issue sweatsuit, then shifted his gaze down to the man's mismatched socks and lack of shoes.
"I didn't know you made a habit of running in just socks."
"Oh. Well, I have some things to grab from the laundry first. Since it's just down the hall..."
The skeptical look on his boss's face caused Reid to hush before he moistened his lips nervously.
"There's a guy a few doors down. He said he could give me something to help me sleep," he softly admitted as he glanced away.
Hotchner folded his arms over his chest, the scowl on his face deepening.
"Is he a doctor?" the unit chief inquired.
"Um... Not exactly," Spencer answered while wrapping his arms comfortingly around himself. "More of a ... herbalist. He grows his own ... medicinal products."
"In a number of states," the doctor said with a nod.
"But not in Virginia," the profiler surmised.
The younger agent lowered his eyes and shook his head.
"I'm disappointed, Spencer."
Reid glanced up, meeting Hotch's gaze with large, sad eyes.
"I didn't know what else to do, Hotch. I wasn't planning on making a purchase. I just thought..." The doctor allowed his focus to fall from the man's look of stern displeasure as he shifted uncomfortably beneath his boss's scrutiny.
"I thought he might know of some herbal remedy that could help me sleep. Melatonin supplements have done exactly nothing for me, so going the normal route has led to a dead end. Sometimes, you have to think outside the box. You've taught me that. I have to do something."
"Is that something worth losing your job over?"
Bravely looking back at the Hotch with a defiant glint in his eye, Reid gave a derisive grunt.
"Does it even matter? I'm being benched for not sleeping, so it's not like I actually have a job to do right now. Logically, I have to try something, and the risks with this are minimal."
There as an obvious tightening of the supervisor's jaw, but for the moment Hotch was silent.
"It's a biological with a questionable level of possible dependence. It's far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, which happen to be legal. Around 50,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning. Similarly, more than 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to tobacco smoking. You drink. Rossi smokes. Maybe this is my method of relaxation, and it's safer than what either of you indulge in."
"It's a schedule one controlled substance."
"Government and public opinion are slowly changing on that front," Reid argued in a raised voice. "Besides, first offense possession only counts as a misdemeanor with a five hundred dollar fine."
"I believe you'll find that the penalty for a federal agent is far more serious."
"Well, it shouldn't be. I'm still a citizen. A concerned citizen, at that, doing my part to help make the country safer. Why should I be punished more harshly that the average Joe?"
"Because your behavior sets a standard."
The young man gave a mirthless laugh as he shook his head.
"I hold you to a higher standard," Hotch firmly stated.
"Maybe you shouldn't."
"I believe I should. You're a representative of my team — one of the absolute best in his field, Dr. Spencer Reid. I will not have you dismiss everything you've worked so hard for over something so trivial."
"But you'll prevent me from actually working over a trivial matter," he challenged.
"Step aside and let me in. We very clearly have some things to discuss."
Reid paused for a second before shaking his head.
"No?" Hotch parroted with mild surprise.
"No. You said it all back at the office. I'm on leave, so there's no reason for us to even see each other until that time's up. I'm free to do as I please, and it pleases me to be left alone."
"Spencer, let me assure you that now is neither the time nor place to test me any further. You will not like the response."
"I'm not afraid of you, Hotch," the young man announced even as he swallowed back the lump forming in his throat.
"You never should fear me, but you do need to show me respect."
"Like you respect me by treating me like a child? Sending me home to take a nap? Dictating what I do, where I go, and who I socialize with?"
"I am about to truly treat you like a child right here in this hallway," Aaron warned in a low growl as his patience began to slip. "Unless you wish to be made a spectacle of, you will invite me in and tone down this raging teenage attitude."
Reid paled at the implications of the man's words. It had been several years since Hotch had used that tone with him, but the reality of his current position came crashing down on the doctor. Swallowing hard, he nodded then took a step back to allow his boss to enter.
"Better," Hotch said approvingly as he entered the apartment, shrugging off his sports coast as he went. "Shut the door and come with me."
His bravado rapidly fading, the younger profiler quietly closed the door and was slowly making his way to the living room when he froze, a sense of nausea striking him. The dilaudid. He had left the vial on the coffee table that morning. He had meant to throw it out, but as he left for work, he couldn't bring himself to do it. His intentions had still be on disposing it. He just hadn't had the chance. Grimacing, he forced his feet forward, praying Hotch wouldn't notice the bottle among his books. That prayer was in vain.
"Spencer?" The man's soft tone was pregnant with concern. The vial lay gently cradled in his palm while a pained expression shown on his face.
"I... I ..." Reid tossed his head as he grimaced again. "Let me explain, Hotch."
"I'm all ears."
"It's not what you think. Well, it is what you think, but I didn't do it. You can test me. I swear I'm clean. I know I should have talked to you. Really, I do. I ... I should be stronger. I should be able to handle this on my own. You would."
Shaking his head, Spencer groaned as he shielded his face with his hand.
A light touch on his shoulder caused him to lower his hand and meet Hotch's worried gaze.
"Where did you get this? Is it from your neighbor?"
"No," the young man answered before catching his bottom lip between his teeth. Heaving a breath, he summoned his courage to reply. "I went a little ways out of town. Back to where..." Growing silent, he looked down at his sock covered feet.
"Your dealer lives?"
Without glancing up, he nodded as shame stole his voice.
"How long has this been going on?"
"This is the first time I've gone back there. It's the first time I've made a purchase since ..."
"Why now?" the unit chief asked as he gave Reid's shoulder a firm squeeze.
Hotch raised his head and sighed to himself. He should have anticipated Reid's reaction to the presence of the drug and paraphernalia. As soon as dilaudid had come into play, he should have pulled Spencer off the case. What had he been thinking?
"The cravings started almost immediately."
"You're right. You should have talked to me. I would have helped you deal with your desire for the drug," Hotch said with a touch of frustration leaking into his tone. "I have to share part of the blame since I should have anticipated the trigger, but you made me a promise, Spencer. I trusted you to alert me to any trouble you might have."
"I know." It was almost a whisper, but Hotch clearly heard the guilt behind that small statement.
"You've lied to me several times today," he stated bluntly, pushing his advantage. "That's a habit you already know I won't tolerate from any member of my team."
"We all have to be able to trust one another. Deceit damages that trust."
The doctor swallowed as he slowly nodded.
Strong fingers beneath his jaw tipped his head up and forced him to look his boss in the eye.
"We will be discussing your poor choices further once you've had a chance to rest and recharge."
"I can't. I can't unwind. Like I said, I've already tried melatonin. There's nothing else that I can do."
"My guess is the dose was too high. More isn't always better. You can always lower the amount and see if you don't get results." Casting a look around the room at the coffee cups abandoned here and there, Hotch continued. "And no more coffee until your circadian rhythm has had a chance to reset properly."
"I'll be a zombie."
"I won't. Don't you think I've tried? Hotch, I don't think I'll ever sleep again."
"I know you have, but I'm willing to bet that your conscience has been part of the problem. Unless there's more that you're not telling me, sleep shouldn't be quite as elusive now."
"I've told you everything."
"Good. That's the first step on your road to recovery," the man said as he slipped a hand behind the doctor's neck and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Now, go put your pajamas on and lay down. I'll check on you in a little while."
"I rather stay in my sweats."
"It's a mental thing. Just like coming across the unsub's use of dilaudid triggered your cravings, going about your normal bedtime routine will help trigger your body's sleep response."
The sense behind his boss's train of thought rang true with the young genius. Giving a nod of acceptance, Reid lowered his head and began to shuffled towards the bedroom when he suddenly hesitated. Clearing his throat, he shifted his weight nervously, then without turning around, he whispered, "I'm sorry, Hotch."
"I know, Spencer. It's all going to be okay. We'll get through this together."
Nodding again, the younger man disappeared down the hall.
Drawing a deep breath, Hotch stared at the disorganized room and sighed. While Reid had always surrounded himself with book and articles in a manner that would drive the unit chief to distraction, the current state of his living area seemed more of a reflection of his inner turmoil. A tranquil environment would go a long way towards making the young man feel relaxed and invite the rest that he was lacking.
As he began to collect the coffee cups and random clutter, Aaron reached in his pocket and withdrew his phone. His long career with the Bureau made it easy to see that this was a situation where backup was prudent.
"Lavender candles? What the hell for?" The incredulous tone of Rossi's voice was impossible to ignore.
"Like hell they will. He'll burn the whole damn place to the ground."
"Then some essential oil."
"That I can do. Vanilla is usually another good option. Hey, why don't you make him some cookies while you're there. Vanilla and lavender are classic for that."
Hotch closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead as he began to wonder if he should have called JJ or Garcia instead.
Attempting to ignore his mentor's lunacy, he softly continued.
"Pick up some camomile tea as well, and if you're stopping by the drug store, see if they have hops extract."
"We could just give him a beer."
"I don't think that's the wisest choice."
"Hot chocolate with a shot of peppermint schnapps?"
"No. Just get the tea," Hotch replied as he surveyed the contents of Reid's refrigerator. "And grab a half gallon of milk. He really doesn't have anything worthwhile in here."
"Aye aye, captain."
"Better than being a dumb ass, don't ya think?"
"What do you think about valerian?"
"I take it every night, but it's not a quick fix. It could be worth it, but my guess is this is just a temporary problem. Once it's fully resolved, he'll be sleeping like a baby. Honestly, I think if you'd sent him to bed with a sore behind, he'd already be out like a light."
"I couldn't do that. Not yet."
"Want me to?"
"No. I'll handle it, but I need him to really understand that he needs to come to one of us when he's troubled. Realistically, it will happen again — the cravings. I don't expect him to handle it on his own. He has to trust us to be there to help him, and know that he's safe with us. I'm afraid his sleep deprived mind would have misconstrued the reason he was being punished."
"He's being punished for being a dumb shit."
"And that's why I'll handle it."
"Aaron, he didn't just put his career in jeopardy. He risked his freedom and his life. Reid isn't exactly the most imposing guy around. Anything could have happened to him wandering around that neighborhood, alone, probably at night. Shit, someone could have used him as target practice just for fun."
"I understand that, Dave."
"Clearly, you don't. If you pulled something like that..."
"I know. I wouldn't sit for a week," Hotch said with mild exasperation.
"Try a month. Hell, you'd be lucky to be able to sit comfortably before your next birthday, and I have no problem doing the same to the boy wonder. I refuse to lose him over something so stupid that can easily be prevented. For a brilliant boy, he can be damn ignorant at times."
"I'll take care of it, Dave. He'll learn his lesson. Now please, just pick up the things I asked for and get over here. While he needs to answer to me, I believe seeing that I'm not the only one worried about him may help drive home how important he is to us all."
Reid laid in bed with his arms behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. Sleep had come, but it hadn't lasted long. Maybe an hour. Just long enough to clear his head and make him feel worse. How could he hope to ever face Hotch again? A small sigh escaped his lips while tears coated his eyes.
Why? Why wasn't he stronger? Why couldn't he control his urges? Why hadn't he confided in Hotch when he felt his control slipping, and why had he lied?
He lied because he didn't want to get caught. That was simple enough. He hadn't confided in Hotch because he didn't want his boss to see him as weak. He recognize that as pointless now, because how could he possibly see him as anything but? The BAU couldn't afford to have a weak link among the team. He would compromised the effectiveness and safety of the others. Swallowing hard, the doctor felt a sense of panic. Would Hotch finally be forced to fire him? Would he even feel his decision was forced? Maybe this epic failure would make the unit chief finally see Reid for what he had always been — Jason Gideon's failed experiment, and no longer worth his time.
With a muted groan, Reid reflected that he would be adding coward to his ever expanding list of character flaws. He should just get up and go out there, but he couldn't. He accepted his recent behavior as wrong, but he couldn't bring himself to face the consequences. He was a disappointment to Gideon's memory, to Hotch, and to himself. Maybe he should have just gotten high after all. At least the drug would have temporarily eased the pain, and he doubted he would have felt much worse than he did now.
A soft knock on the door pulled him out of his dark thoughts.
"Spencer, are you awake?" Hotch called from the other side of the door.
Quickly swiping at the tears that managed to escape, he leveled his voice and called, "Hang on a minute. I'll be right there."
"Take your time. I'll be waiting in the living room."
Reid nodded, even though Hotch couldn't see him, and sat up on the side of the bed. Rubbing his hands over his face, he forced his predominate fear of rejection back. Hotch was still here after all. He may say that he can no longer support a loose cannon on the job, but at least he hadn't walked out of Spencer's life. The genius wasn't sure that he could handle the profiler's disappointment, but he knew his rejection would be a devastating blow to his psyche.
Finally gathering his courage, he found his feet and dejectedly stumbled towards the door to face whatever vile music awaited him.
He had nearly convinced himself that he was prepared for whatever Hotch had in store when he suddenly froze at the sight before him. His books had been organized and the scattering of mugs had disappeared.
"How long have I been asleep?" he mumbled as he glanced around.
"I heard it was a bit of a mess."
Reid noticed Rossi for the first time. The older man was sitting on the sofa with a mug in his hand. He jerked his head towards the empty space next to him.
"Come have a seat, kid. I wanna talk to ya."
Drying his hands on a rag, Hotch walked out of the kitchen and watched Spencer slowly approach the senior profiler. Crossing his ankles and arms, he leaned against the wall to monitor the situation. Dave could be a little rough around the edges, and the delicate nature of Reid's mental state gave him cause to worry.
"Where did you get that shit from?" Rossi asked with a nod towards the only thing left on the cleared coffee table.
The young man felt sick to his stomach at the sight of the vial and his cheeks flushed with embarrassment. He would have vastly preferred to have kept his disgrace between himself and Hotch, but he had known that was a privilege he wouldn't be allowed. His decision could have lasting impacts on the team, so it was only right they all know of his fall from grace.
"Hotch didn't tell you?" Reid asked while keeping his head lowered, refusing to make eye contact.
"I'm asking you to tell me."
"I...I went to see my dealer."
"You have a dealer." The sentence was more statement than question.
"I had a dealer. I haven't been out there for a very long time."
"I didn't mean for it to happen."
"I'm sure you didn't," Rossi agreed with a nod. "Listen kid, shit happens in our lives all the time. We have to find ways to deal with that, but shooting this crap ..."
Reid's head snapped up and he met the profiler's eyes for the first time.
"I didn't. I swear, Rossi. I wanted to, but I didn't."
"Good, but it's still here, which means it still has a hold over you."
"I was going to throw it away."
"Why didn't you?" Hotch calmly asked with a mild tilt of his head as he quietly injected himself into the conversation.
"I don't know. I planned on tossing it in a dumpster this morning. I don't know, Hotch. Maybe I was afraid a kid would find it and experiment with it. I just couldn't let that happen."
"That's a noble reason," Rossi admitted. "But I don't buy it. You didn't get rid of it, because you're using it as a crutch."
"Yes. You feel bad. You're not sleeping. You don't want to ask any of us for help. God only knows why that is, but you'll seek help from a dope pusher. It's an easy way out, isn't it, kid? Don't feel like facing the world today?" The profiler snatched the bottle from the table and held it up, waving it in the air. "That's alright. You don't have to. This will make it all go away, won't it?"
"No! It's not like that," Reid cried in a raised voice "I don't want it to be like that."
"Dave," Hotch called out in a warning tone, but the older man simply gestured him away.
"Then do something about it, kid. Take back the power this shit has stolen from you. Show it who the fuck is boss!" he shouted as he grabbed Spencer's hand and pressed the vial into it. "Throw that shit out."
David stood and gave Reid's back an encouraging pat that caused the younger man to stand with him.
"Kitchen sink seems like a good enough place," he suggested with an easy smile.
Spencer nodded and allowed himself to be steered pass Hotch and into the kitchen. With some difficulty, he managed to snap the metal cap off the bottle and sighed as he watched the drug spiral its way down the drain.
Rossi clapped him on the back then pulled the stunned youth into a hug.
"I'm proud of you, kid. You did good."
A warmth that no drug could produce spread through Reid and made him smile as he allowed the man's approval to wash away the bulk of his fears and doubts. Still...
"You're not mad?" he asked with trepidation.
"Oh, I'm pissed beyond belief, but you're moving in the right direction, and that's all that really matters."
Pushing Spencer back far enough to look into his eyes, Rossi's expression turned stern.
"Do you know why I'm pissed?"
"Because I'm weak. I couldn't resist what the drug was promising me."
A firm rap to the back of the young man's head clearly told him that his assumption was wrong.
"You're not weak, Spencer," Hotch stated from his vantage point at the archway.
"Damn right. You think I give a shit about will power?"
Reid rubbed at the throbbing spot on his skull before hesitatingly answering, "I... I guess not."
"I'm just worried about you, the same as Hotch. We don't give a damn how many meetings you have to attend or if you need us to keep you straight. You think you're the only one who has stumbled and fallen? Believe me, we all have our crosses to bear, but there's no need for any of us to suffer our burdens alone. We have each other to lean on."
Spencer found himself nodding as the Italian continued.
"But, you have to be truthful with us. This evasiveness and out right lying ain't gonna cut it. Neither is wandering off by yourself to some seedy area of town where you could get yourself killed."
"I wasn't in any danger."
"Yes, you were," Hotch cut in while moving over to a chair by the kitchen table and motioning for Reid to sit. "You never know what could happen, and if we don't know where you are, we can't help. Garcia can track your phone, but that takes time, and we all know just how little time it takes for everything to go horribly wrong."
"I can handle myself."
"No one said you couldn't, but running that grave of a risk will never be acceptable. Even if you don't run into problems with local gang members, what do you think would happen if you blunder into a sting operation?"
"I would be arrested and lose my job," Reid glumly answered.
"And Hotch would lose his," Rossi added as he joined his colleagues at the table.
Spencer's brow drew together as he pondered the man's statement before asking, "Why?"
"Because he knows that you have a problem, but he never reported it. He did what was in your best interest, and the best interest of the team, but he didn't follow proper protocol. Remember? It's that official bullshit that you used earlier to try to justify all that paperwork I'm buried under. I have never been fond of following proper channels, but Hotch's job is to do just that. He's always been much more by the books than me, so I was surprised to hear that he ignored the rules to keep you on the team."
The young man's breath caught as he shifted his gaze to the table.
"At first, I didn't understand, but I get it now. You're an incredible asset, Spencer. You intimidated the hell out of me when we first met. I couldn't hope to ever know the things that you do. But I do know something that you haven't caught onto yet."
The doctor looked back up at Rossi.
"I know that Hotch values you as a person far more than he does as a coworker. He cares about you, kid. You're a part of his family, and just like Jack, he only wants what's best for you."
Spencer felt his cheeks grow hot as he quickly looked away.
"That's why he put his career on the line to help you."
The young man closed his eyes tightly to fight back tears as he shook his head.
"I never wanted...," he began, but his voice died as Rossi caught his chin and forced him to look him in the eyes.
"It's not about what you want. It's a risk that Hotch was willing to take." Dave paused for a moment before correcting himself. "Is willing to take because he loves you, son, and being careless with your life and future is a damn poor way to show your gratitude for his sacrifice."
The sparkle of tears in Reid's clear eyes told the profiler that his point had struck home.
"I'm sorry," the doctor whispered.
"Don't tell me. Tell him," Rossi softly said as he released his hold on the younger man's face.
With a brief nod, Spencer turned to Aaron, but before he could find his words he lost the battle with his raw emotions. Hot tears rolled down his cheeks as he struggled with his breath.
"It's alright, Spencer," the unit chief said as he placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "You don't have to say anything."
"It's not," Reid squeaked as he slipped out of his chair and wrapped his arms around the man that had become much more than a supervisor to him.
Returning the embrace, Hotch whispered words of comfort and reassurance as he glanced over at his mentor.
Rossi gave him a light smile.
"The rest, I leave to you," the Italian said as he got up from the table.
"Wait," Hotch called, but his old friend shook his head.
"You've got this. Besides, I still have a hellacious mountain of paperwork to scale before I can call it a day. Give me a call later. We'll talk."
Placing his hand on the distraught man's back, Rossi leaned over and spoke quietly.
"It's going to be fine, kid. Listen to Hotch, behave yourself, and for God's sake, get a good night's sleep. I'll check on you in the morning."
In a move that Aaron was only too familiar with, Rossi placed a kiss on the top of Reid's head, before giving his back a final pat as he stepped away.
"Dave," Hotch softly called as the older man reached the doorway. "Thank you."
Rossi smiled and offered a single nod.
"It's what family is all about," he replied before heading back to work safe in the knowledge that he was leaving their boy wonder in extremely capable hands.
Hotch gently rubbed Reid's back while his tears slowly dried then gave him a firm pat as he pulled away.
"Sit, Spencer. You're okay, but I need you to calm down," he said as he untangled himself from the younger man and stood.
Going to the counter, Aaron gathered a steaming mug and, returning to the table, placed it in front of Reid.
"Drink that," he said in a tone that didn't allow argument.
"What is it?" the doctor asked as he inhaled the rising vapor.
"Tea. Camomile. It's good for anxiety and should help you sleep, though I doubt that will be a problem once we're through."
Spencer swallowed hard as he continued to stare into the cup.
"Are you going to...? You know," he asked without looking up, then slowly took a sip. Surprisingly, it wasn't half bad. Not as good as coffee, for sure, but not as bad as he feared.
"Can you honestly tell me that you don't deserve to be disciplined?"
Without hesitation, the young man shook his head.
"Then you have your answer," Hotch replied as he retook his seat, cradling a cup of his own.
Releasing his breath in a soft sigh, the unit chief addressed the youth.
"Dave covered most of what I wanted to say, and then some, but we need to set some ground rules for this week. First, I expect you to call and check in with me. I want to know how you're doing, and how bad the cravings are. If at any point you feel like giving into them, call me. Day or night. I'm serious about this, Spencer. If you want to be placed back on active duty at any point in the near future, you will keep me abreast of your physical and mental state."
"Second, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, you and I will be attending NA meetings unless we're on a case. Miss even a single meeting..."
"I won't, Hotch," Reid promised as he stared into the man's dark gaze, then drew a deep breath. "And I think you should have this."
Fishing into the breast pocket of his pajamas, he withdrew the bronze token of his sobriety, and placed in on the table near his boss' cup.
Aaron silently glanced down at the metal coin.
"Why are you giving this to me?"
"Because I don't deserve it."
"Yes, you do," he said, arching a brow. "While I probably should require a drug test, I believe you when you say you didn't use. That is the only action that would put you back at step one. You earned that chip, Spencer, and each day you're clean is another milestone marking your way to recovery."
"I left the path."
"But you didn't fall."
Reid's vision blurred as he contemplated the rapidly cooling tea.
"No. Ten years. That's how long you've gone without a single backslide. That's the definition of success. That gives hope to others. You are the furthest thing from hopeless, Spencer Reid, and you'd do well to remember that."
Blinking back tears, the doctor whispered, "I'll try."
"And put that away," Hotch commanded with a tip of his head towards the medal, before he was struck by a thought. "No. On second thought, leave it. That might prove useful to me."
Reid looked puzzled, but withheld comment as his boss continued.
"No coffee until your sleep habits improve."
"I already know that," he answered bitterly.
"I want you drinking this tea or warm milk before bed to help you relax."
The genius scrunched up his nose.
"I'm not concerned with how much you do or don't like it. You're going to do as you're told if you want to see the inside of the BAU again." Hotch's voice was soft, but stern as he made the ultimatum. Seeing Reid slump in defeat, he grabbed his shoulder and gave it an encouraging squeeze. "It's just for a few days. You'll live."
"I might not want to."
"It's not as bad as you're making it out to be, and Rossi bought you some decaf gourmet Italian coffee to help see you through this trying time," the unit chief said with a roll of his eyes.
The young man brightened up at the knowledge that the senior profiler was sympathetically looking out for him.
"He's also going to bring some food over. You need to eat."
"I know you do, but not well. It's bad enough that we have to survive on take out when we travel. Rossi is dead set on you having some home cooked meals, and in your position, I wouldn't try arguing with him."
"Finally, I've mixed a little lavender oil with water in a spray bottle. For the next couple of days, I want you to lightly mist your sheets with it. Also, instead of a shower, take a bath and add a couple of drops to the water."
"I'll smell like a girl," came the complaint.
"I don't care. It will help you relax and that's the goal. Now, do you have any questions?"
Spencer shook his head.
"Good," Hotch said as he leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. "Then lets move on. Spencer, none of this would be required if you had come to me as soon as you felt yourself getting in trouble. It's quicker and easier to head off a problem than it is to fix one once it's well established. I know you've always had to deal with matters on your own, but you have a support system now, and I expect you to use it."
"We're a team, son. We rely on each other. I can't rely on you if you lie to me."
Reid bowed his head.
"Don't do it again, " Hotch ordered. "No matter how minor, should you lie again I'll be forced to reevaluate your commitment to this team."
Spencer looked up with huge sad eyes.
"Prove it. Prove it by trusting us and being truthful."
The youthful doctor nodded before lowering his head in shame.
"Even though I should, I'm not punishing you for being in possession of the drug, and I'm certainly not going to punish you for struggling with your addiction. I need you to understand that. What I am punishing you for are the lies and the danger you place yourself in."
"And the risk I've caused to your career," Reid added.
"No. That's of my own doing. In deciding to correct you outside of official channels, I accept that risk."
"You wouldn't have to do that if I hadn't..."
"Stop," Hotch said as he held up a hand to fend off Reid's spiraling self-deprecation. "I know what Rossi said and I won't contradict his words, but the bottom line is this is my choice. You are in no way responsible. I would do the same for the others."
"But you don't have to. It's only me."
"Spencer, look at me," the unit chief gently encouraged as he reached out and tapped Reid beneath his jaw. Once soft brown eyes were directed back at him, Hotch continued quietly. "You made some serious mistakes, but none of us are immune to that. I know I've made my share — something Dave very recently reminded me of," he added with a smile. "You are in no way alone."
"But you've never been..." The blush on Reid's cheeks made further words unnecessary.
Hotch drew a deep breath before forcibly exhaling. He needed to maintain his authority so logic argued against full disclosure, but how could he demand complete honesty from Spencer if he personally withheld the same from the younger agent?
Clearing his throat, he shifted uncomfortably.
"We all have consequences to face for our actions — especially me. Since I'm responsible for the team, my behavior is monitored very closely and missteps are properly discouraged."
Reid's brow furrowed in confusion before realization dawned on his face.
"I rather not discuss it. Let's get back to the matter at hand," Aaron sternly stated. "I believe we've completely covered your transgressions. You know what you've done wrong. You've known it from the beginning. That's why you've had trouble sleeping."
Standing, he indicated for Reid to do the same.
"Once your offense has been delt with, I expect your conscience will be relieved and your insomnia will soon be a thing of the past. With that in mind, I see no need to prolong the inevitable."
Placing his hand on the abandoned Narcotics Anonymous token, Hotch picked it up and placed it in his pocket.
"You're going to reapply yourself and earn this chip back."
"I thought you said I wasn't back at the beginning."
"You're not. This isn't about your addiction. This time, the steps apply to learning to listen to me." Crossing his arms, Hotch fixed Reid with a stern look that caused the younger man to freeze in place. "What is the fifth step towards recovery?"
The doctor moistened his lips before clearing his throat.
"Admitting the exact nature of our wrongs."
"Lean over and place your hands flat on the table," came the order that the younger profiler had been dreading.
Spencer offered a pleading look that was answered with a single shake of the unit chief's head. Heaving a breath, the genius slowly complied and all too soon for his liking he was staring down at the tight grain of the golden oak surface.
Aaron pushed his already rolled sleeves further up his forearms as he took his place near Reid's right hip. Placing his right hand on his underling's lower back, he applied just enough pressure to steady him and maintain a comforting connection.
"Step five, Spencer. What exactly has earned you this spanking? What wrong have you committed?"
"Trying to handle my problems by myself when it was clear that I couldn't. My pride caused me to break my promise to ask for help, which then became the base for several lies."
"Good. The lying won't be tolerated. It never has been, and it never will be. Clear?"
Hotch nodded as he gently rubbed Reid's back to show his approval.
"Go on, Spencer. What else?" His quietly demanding voice sounded near the younger man's ear, sending a shiver through the penitent. "Lying is certainly one reason, but there's a much more important point of contention."
Reid bowed his head and softly exhaled.
"I put myself, personally and professionally, in danger by going out to buy dilaudid," he answered meekly, before strengthening his voice. "And it won't happen again."
"Let's hope not." Hotch applied more weight to the young man's back. "Ready?"
"No, but it's not my choice."
"You're correct. It's not."
The unit chief's hand connected with a sharp crack that brought his protege up on his toes. A harsh hiss issued from the doctor, but he held his position while tensing for the next blow. The follow up stroke still managed to take him by surprise, causing him to yelp at the raging sting.
"Hotch, please stop. That hurts," he squealed in a panicked voice, while he bowed his back in an attempt to push the restraining hand away.
"I know it does," Aaron quietly stated before removing his hand, allowing Reid to straighten.
"I'm sorry. I can't do it," the resident genius said in a whine as he wrapped his arms around himself and hung his head. "I can't bear the pain. It's too much."
"You're selling yourself short. You've endured far worse."
"Not like this. I feel so ... alone. I feel lost. I can't take it. I'm not as strong as you." Tears welled up in his eyes, causing him to turn away for fear of ridicule.
Instead of harsh, biting condemnation, much to the doctor's surprise, he found himself immediately wrapped in strong, protective arms.
"You are never alone. I thought you understood that by now. What have we been talking about all afternoon?"
"That I'm a screw up."
The sudden sting across his behind caused the withheld tears to break free.
"Ow, Hotch!" Reid exclaimed as he pulled away and rubbed his rump while shooting his boss a accusatory look.
"Enough, Spencer," he growled. "I've heard enough of that from you. You've made a few mistakes, but they don't define you, and the sooner that's understand, the sooner you and I will be straight."
"A few mistakes? Seriously? That's what you call it? Hell, Hotch, it's bad enough when what I do just fucks with my life, but this... I even managed to place your job on the line with my stupidity. I don't know why you put up with me."
"Because you're a valuable member of the team. We would be seriously handicapped if we had to do the job without you." Hotch stopped for a moment. Holding his breath while he struggled with his normally carefully masked emotions, he felt the sting of tears in his own eyes. Blinking them back, he lowered his head and exhaled harshly, before calmly looking at Reid. "And because I care about you. As a colleague. As a friend. Most importantly, as a member of my family."
The senior profiler felt a pain in his chest as he watched Reid buckle under the weight of self-condemnation. He could see perceived worthlessness reflected in the younger man's glassy brown eyes, and knew that his words were falling on deaf ears.
Hotch suddenly shook his head.
"I've been going about this all wrong. The failing isn't yours, Spencer. It's mine. Gideon was right. I refused his advice, believing I knew better, but I was grossly mistaken. I should have listened to him. Gideon ... and Rossi. This isn't how I would correct Jack. It's not how I punish my son when he's stepped this far over the line."
Unexpectedly, Hotch took a firm hold of Reid's wrist and, without a word, led him into the living room. The distraught doctor was too stunned to do anything else but follow.
Sitting down on the sofa, without preamble, the unit chief tugged the younger man down over his lap and wrapped his arm securely around Reid's waist.
"I know you don't like to be touched unless you've instigated it. That's why I have always required you to bend over an object and kept our physical contact as limited as possible during these moments. It's become obvious that I've done you a great disservice. I've given you the opportunity to disassociate from me. That stops now. You're family to me, Spencer. I suppose in some ways I do think of you as a son. I would never withhold an ounce of comfort from Jack, even when I find myself forced to punish him, and like it or not, the same goes for you."
"This isn't comforting," Reid whined as he half-heartedly tried to squirm out of the older man's grasp. A sharp swat brought out a soft gasp and caused him to still.
"Human contact should offer more comfort than a rigid table. If nothing else, the feedback between us will assure that I don't go too far and that's comforting to me. This is how I discipline my son, and from now on, when it's required, it's how I'll discipline you."
With that said, Hotch set about teaching his subordinate a lesson he wouldn't soon forget.
The senior agent slowly and methodically peppered Reid's upturned behind with sharp stinging strokes, drawing squeaks of protest and gasps of pain with each blow. The sounds of the younger man's discomfort caused Aaron to mentally recoil. He didn't feel up to the task. Several times he found himself wishing that he had taken Dave up on his offer to step into the disciplinarian role. This side of mentorship came much easier for the legendary profiler, but he hadn't grown up in an abusive household. Dave wasn't burdened by the fear of continuing the cycle to become an abuser himself.
Hardening his heart to Spencer's distress, he prayed he was doing right by his protege. He had never turned abusive with Jack, so logic dictated that he wouldn't do so here and now. Gritting his teeth, he let his hand fall a little harder hoping to bring about the desired results more quickly. The guilt that was poisoning his underling had to go. He wouldn't allow it to continue to cripple his friend even if it meant that wretched emotion would make its new home within him.
"Hotch, please. Please stop. I.. I swear. I won't do it again. Please."
Reid's words seemed to fall on deaf ears as the unit chief relentlessly continued to stoke the raging fire burning across his ass, but from his position the genius couldn't see the glassiness of his supervisor's dark eyes.
The young man squealed loudly with the first stroke to target the sensitive crease between his cheeks and thighs. His wiggling attempts at escape increased, but Hotch's restraining hold proved unbreakable.
After several more minutes of silently attending to his task, Aaron spoke soft enough that Reid was forced to quiet himself to be able to hear him.
"What is step nine?"
"What?" came the confused, tearful response.
"Step nine, Spencer," Hotch calmly demanded.
"I... I don't know," he gasped as hot tears raced down his cheeks and soaked into the seat cushion.
"Yes, you do." The man slowed his assault, giving the young doctor a chance to shift his focus onto his words. "Tell me what step nine states."
"Amends!" Reid shouted as he made one last bid for freedom before a harsh stroke to the tender undercurve of his left buttock took the remaining fight out of him, leaving him limp and weeping softly over his boss' knee.
Hotch continued spanking for another minute or two, but his hand lightened.
"I won't lose you to stupidity, Spencer Reid. You're far too intelligent to believe that it's ever okay to take risks like this. If I have to blister your behind everyday for a month to get through to you ..."
The man lifted his head. His brow furrowed in thought as he delivered the final few blows. The familiarity of his statement momentarily shocked him into silence. He'd heard it before. An echo from the past when an eager new recruit carelessly place himself in the line of fire while trying to negotiate a peaceful surrender. He had been lucky that day, at least until his supervisor had gotten him behind closed doors.
What was going on in that fool head of yours? The job is dangerous enough without you haphazardly putting yourself in the path of a bullet. I won't lose you to your own damn stupidity, Aaron Hotchner! You wanna risk your life? Well I'll be damned if you'll do it on my watch. I swear by all things holy, I'll blister your ass everyday for a month if that's what it takes to get through that thick skull of yours. Now, get your ass over here. You and I are about to have one very serious discussion.
While Reid continued to purge the regret and guilt from his system, Hotch gently rubbed his back and puzzled over the words he had chosen. What we learn from our parents during our childhood, both good and bad, tends to last a lifetime. Beliefs and behaviors become so ingrained that it's nearly impossible to change them, and yet...
Sitting up a little straighter, the unit chief breathed a quiet sigh. It appeared that Rossi had taught him more that day than he had endeavored to do. Hotch had not only learned that pain followed carelessness, even when he managed to dodge a bullet, he also learned that discipline didn't have to devolve into abuse. His mentor's lesson stuck with him all these years and proved strong enough to override the teachings of his father. Aaron still didn't quite trust himself, but maybe, just maybe, one day he would.
As Reid tears turned to quiet sniffles, he began to stir, pulling Hotch from his memories.
"You're alright, Spencer," he said while carefully helping the younger man off his lap and onto the cushion next to him. The doctor yipped as his aching rump collided with the sofa, but with a little effort he found an almost comfortable position. "You'll feel better in the morning."
"Easy for you to say. From my perspective, I don't see myself sitting normally ever again."
"That could become true if you don't change your behavior, but I'm willing to bet that won't be the case."
"No, sir." Reid replied seriously. "I swear, Hotch, I won't give you a reason to ... "
The young man's voice trailed off as he glanced down at his knees.
"I hope not, but that's a hard promise to keep. I know from experience," the senior agent said with a weary smile. "How are you feeling?"
"Sore," the doctor answered as he looked up again with tears still glistening in his eyes.
"Apart from that."
Reid paused to take a brief emotional inventory then wiped his damp face with his sleeve and admitted, "Okay, I think. Tired. Really tired. Maybe relieved because it's over. It is over, isn't it?"
"It's over." Hotch produced a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to his colleague. "Unless you don't think I relayed the message thoroughly enough."
"Oh, no. I got the message."
Aaron genuinely smiled and couldn't stop himself from ruffling the young man's hair.
"Good, because as far as I'm concerned, I think you've done an excellent job of step nine."
Reid licked his lips and gave a slight shake of his head.
"I really haven't. I should make amends with everyone on the team since what I've done could have hurt all of them."
Hotch reflected for a moment before nodding.
"We all care about you and the team would be crippled by your loss, but as the leader of our group, in this instance I can speak for the others and I say we're even. If you wish to share your story, I won't stop you, but I don't find it necessary. And, as far as what transpired here this evening, that stays strictly between us."
"And Rossi," Hotch agreed with another brief nod.
The unit chief met Spencer's eyes.
"Do you think he'll ever trust me again?"
"I know he will. More likely than not, he'll be keeping a closer eye on you, but as far as Dave goes, what's done is done. Once it's been taken care of, you move on."
"But, what if he doesn't think it's been taken care of?"
"Are you asking me if he'll punish you further?" Hotch asked with a tilt of his head.
Reid swallowed hard, then nodded. "I guess so."
"Not this time, Spencer, but he did tell me to let you know that 'Uncle Dave' is willing to step in should his services be required."
"I don't think I want to go there."
"Trust me, you don't."
A moment of quiet reflection passed between the two men before Reid stirred ever so slightly.
"Can I ...?" He made a face then sighed inwardly before looking directly into the man's eyes. "Could I have a hug? I know it's silly..."
"It's not silly at all."
Hotch wrapped his arms around Reid's thin frame and pulled him close allowing the younger man to melt into his embrace. Laying his cheek against the top of Spencer's head, he whispered, "You've done really well, and I couldn't be prouder of anyone. We'll get through this together. You have my word on that."
The lead profiler felt dampness against his neck as the few tears his genius had left escaped and trickled down to his collar.
"I'm sorry, Hotch," he whimpered, overcome by his emotions.
"I know, son. I really do know."
Aaron continued to hold his young friend until Reid's breath grew slow and steady enough for him to start to believe sleep had already claimed him.
"Spencer," he whispered and was rewarded with a nod.
"Why don't you go get cleaned up then lay down in bed and rest while I fix us something to eat?"
"I'm not hungry."
"Rossi will skin me alive if I leave without feeding you. Do you want to be responsible for that?"
He shook his head against Hotch's shoulder.
"Alright, then get moving. I'll call you when it's ready."
Sleepily, Reid extracted himself from Aaron's arms and wandered down the hall towards the bathroom while his mentor headed back to the kitchen to see how creative he could be with what little he had to work with.
"Hotch, this is incredible."
The profiler lowered his head as a light blush pinked his cheeks.
"It's just French toast. I was planning on making eggs until I noticed that Dave brought sherry. I'm sure he has plans to use it in some sort of sauce, but I've always found it does wonderful things for French toast."
"I'm grateful, but you really didn't have to do any of this."
"I know that. I wanted to."
"And I can buy my own groceries. It's usually pointless since we're gone so often."
"That was all Dave. I asked for tea and milk. He took it upon himself to pick up breakfast and some other odds and ends."
"I'll pay him back."
Hotch smirked while taking a sip of his coffee. "I wish you luck with that."
"Hotch, can't I have a cup?" Reid asked as he eyed the coffee in his supervisor's hand.
"No. Drink your milk."
"But you said Rossi bought decaf."
"He did and you're welcome to have some in the morning."
"It's not like a cup of decaf is going to keep me awake."
"Spencer, do you think it's wise to argue with me at this time?"
The warning tone in Hotch's voice caused the younger man to pause in his pursuit. Issuing a defeated sigh, he forced himself to settle for the vanilla infused warm milk instead.
"You do know that there really isn't enough tryptophan in milk to affect sleep patterns in any quantifiable way? Warm milk before bed to induce sleep is nothing more than an old wives' tale."
"The warmth of the milk tends to help a person relax, and calcium aids in the production of melatonin."
"Wouldn't I get the same effects from a cup of coffee with a splash of milk?"
Hotch cocked a brow.
"Keep pushing, Spencer and see if I don't take that pillow away and have you plaster your butt directly on the chair."
The genius' eyes opened wide at the threat.
"You have something else to say?" the unit chief inquired.
Reid shook his head.
"I didn't think so," Hotch said with a faint satisfied smile. "Finish your dinner, and after I clean up we can play a couple of games of chess. I'm no Jason, but I can hold my own fairly well."
The doctor immediately brightened and attacked his food with gusto. Within seconds, his plate was clean and he was staring expectantly at Aaron. The older agent chuckled.
"Go set up the board. I'll be in there in a few minutes. Let me just get these dishes washed first. Oh, and Spencer, if you beat me, just maybe I'll let you have a cup of decaf."
As Hotch placed the last dish in the draining rack to dry a familiar buzzing in his pocket made him groan. Quickly drying his hand, he fished his phone out.
"How you doin'?" Rossi asked.
"Good. Spencer's holding up quite well. Predictably, this evening has been hard on him, but he'll live."
"Not what I asked, Aaron. Reid's a smart kid. I knew he'd understand the position he put himself in and accept the fallout. He's resilient. He'll weather damn near any storm with surprising grace as long as he has you in his corner, but my question still stands. How are you doing?"
There was silence now that stretched on long enough to make Rossi think his phone had dropped the connection.
"I'm still here."
"You're planning on answering anytime soon?"
Rossi noted a slight disconnect in the man's voice. He was trying to ignore his own emotional state, which was anything but fine.
"Why don't you come by the house?"
"Really, Dave. I'm fine. I'm going to spend a little more time with Spencer before I pack him off to bed, and then I'm heading home. It's been a long day for all of us, and I think we can all benefit from some rest."
"I agree, but exactly how well are you gonna sleep tonight?"
"I said I was fine." Hotch's tone was a little sharper than intended. Closing his eyes, he calmed himself. "I'm sorry, Dave. It's just..."
"I know. It's been a long day."
"Yeah," he quietly replied.
"Well, the reports are caught up, so you can take tomorrow off. Go out and spend the day with Jack. Relax. Have some fun. I'll stop by Reid's in the morning then give you a call to let you know how he is."
"I'd appreciate that. I'm planning on giving him some time to decompress before I pay him a visit. Maybe with Jack. He'll be thrilled for the chance to hang out with Spencer. There's a new exhibit at the zoo. I might just take both of them."
"Then for God's sake, steer clear of the monkeys. The last thing you need is to have Reid enlightening Jack to the breeding practices of the bonobo."
"I'll take those words of wisdom to heart."
"Now go take care of the boy wonder, and get yourself home. And, Aaron, if you need to talk, you know you can call me anytime, right?"
"I know, Dave. Thanks... For everything."
"Don't mention it. Just promise me you'll get some sleep, too."
"Great. Then have a good night, and I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow," Hotch agreed before hanging up and re-pocketing his phone.
With a sigh, he glanced around the kitchen one last time before making his way into the living room.
"Alright, Reid, prepare to be..."
The chess board sat at the ready on the coffee table, but his opponent was anything but. Spencer's lanky body was curled up on the sofa in a position Hotch couldn't imagine being comfortable, but the young doctor was fast asleep.
The profiler debated with himself over what to do for a few seconds before he disappeared down the hall only to return with a well worn blanket. Leaning down, he gently tucked it around his friend while whispering, "I know it wasn't easy, but you handled yourself very well. I'm proud of you, Spencer."
"Thanks, Hotch," the youthful man said in his sleep while rolling up a bit more under the blanket.
With a light smile, Aaron brushed a lock of hair off of Reid's forehead and replaced it with a soft kiss. "Sleep, my little prince. Sleep well."
It was something he often said to Jack when tucking him in at night, and something that seemed very fitting for Reid.
"Mozart?" the genius asked in the faintest of whispers.
"Yes, now sleep," Hotch replied before silently collecting his coat and keys to slip out of the apartment, locking the door behind him.
Aaron swirled the amber colored liquor around in his glass while his mind wandered to nowhere in particular. It hurt to focus on his insecurities, so he opted for focusing on nothing instead.
"I'll have what he's having," a familiar voice said, as the seat beside him was suddenly occupied.
"Dave, what are you doing here?"
"Having a drink."
"Across town, when you could be having one at home?"
"So could you, but you're here," he pointed out.
"I needed some time to unwind before going home."
"So did I."
Hotch sighed before turning his attention back to the glass of bourbon in his hand.
"You know whatever it is, you're not going to find it in there," Rossi stated with confidence.
"I'm not looking for anything. Can't I just stop for a drink because I feel like having one?"
The Italian nodded while the bartender placed a glass within his reach.
"Under normal circumstances? Sure. But this isn't normal, is it? You're hurting, and you know you need to talk, but instead you're shutting the world out. That's not healthy, Aaron. Avoidance behavior doesn't make the problem go away. It allows it to fester until it takes on a life of its own."
"I don't have a problem," the unit chief quietly growled into his glass as he took a drink.
"Oh. Right. What the hell was I thinking? Dealing with a subordinate who goes out to buy drugs, immersing himself in the criminal element that can easily turn around and bite him in the ass, is routine for you. Why would I imagine that would cause you stress?"
"I'm not stressed. I handled it. It's done. Time to move on. You taught me that."
Rossi cocked a brow and he slowly nodded while raising his glass to his lips.
"You know, you can lie to yourself all you want. You might even convince yourself that it's the truth, but you can't lie to me. Cut the bullshit, Aaron, and let me help you."
"Dave, please. I'm fine. Can we just drop it?"
"No. Not as long as you're hurting and trying to run from the pain instead of dealing with it."
Hotch looked at Rossi, his eyes impossibly dark in the subdued light of the bar.
"Who says I'm running? You're acting like this is the first time I've had to do this. It's not. Admittedly, it's been awhile, but I'm no stranger to taking disciplinary measures with members of my team. It's one of the unpleasant parts of the job, but I've learned to handle it."
"And this is what you call handling it?" the man asked.
"No. This is what I call trying to relax after a hard day."
"Interesting. Isn't this how your father relaxed as well?"
Hotch closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
"This has nothing to do with him."
"Bullshit. This has everything to do with him. You're second guessing yourself because of him. You're scared you've become him. You're afraid you went too far. You're frightened by the thought that you could abuse that kid. You're worried that you may already have. It doesn't take a profiler to figure that out, Aaron. It was obvious in your tone when I called, and now I can see it plastered on your face. You've just corrected Reid for lying. Don't you find that just a little hypocritical?"
"So now I'm a hypocrite for doing my job," he stated, his eyes still closed.
"Not for doing the job. Not for enforcing the rules, and providing consequences for Reid's destructive behavior."
It was Rossi's turn to sigh. Softening his voice, the older man quietly demanded, "Look at me, Aaron."
The unit chief complied, a dark scowl on his face.
"If you can look me in the eye and tell me I'm wrong, I'll head out that door and leave you to finish your drink in peace without another word."
Two sets of dark brown eyes bore into each other — one searching, the other defiant.
Hotch quite suddenly dropped his gaze and pushed his glass away.
"I made him cry. I've never heard him sound quite as broken as he did tonight. I did that, Dave. I broke him."
Rossi placed a supportive hand on his friend's hunched shoulder.
"You didn't break him. You released him. The kid was suffering. That's why he was lashing out. He came across something that he couldn't deal with. He knew he handled it poorly, but didn't know how to ask for help putting it right. You showed him where he needed to be, and helped him shrug off the guilt that has been weighing him down. That doesn't break a person, Aaron, it heals them."
"You didn't see him," Hotch said, regret dripping from his words. "I know I was only doing what was needed, but that doesn't make it better. I didn't want to do it, and now I feel like..." As he words faded he shook his head.
"You're nothing like him," the Italian insisted.
"We're the product of the interaction of our nature and nurture. My father's nature is alive and well in me. There's no getting around that. And my very nurturing childhood is a matter of record. Hell, Dave, I probably shouldn't even be allowed to..."
"Don't even finish that statement," Rossi growled as he firmly grasped the younger man's chin and turned his head to face him. "You. Are. Not. Your. Father. Do you understand?"
Hotch jerked his head free.
"I know I'm not him, but I'm enough like him for it to be a concern."
"Aaron, repeat what you said for me."
"I'm enough like..."
"Not that. Go back to where you were only doing what was needed."
"I was only doing what was required to stop Reid from endangering himself and his career in the future."
"That knowledge doesn't make it better."
"Dave, where are you going with this?" Hotch asked in frustration.
"You said that you didn't want to correct Spencer."
"Of course I didn't."
"That's how I know you're not like your father. Do you think it bothered him to send you to bed with a split lip? Giving him the benefit of the doubt, it might have panged his conscience in the morning, but at the time do you believe he suffered an ounce of remorse? How about the bruises and busted ribs he gave your mother? Think he ran off to drown his sorrows because he was crippled with guilt? Hell no! He got sloshed on his way home then let his temper have free rein and took it out on whoever was the closest and easiest target."
Hotch sighed heavily as he returned his gaze to his hands resting on the bar. There was truth to his mentor's words, but his hands had still inflicted pain on someone he loved which was something he had sworn he would never do.
"Aaron," Rossi called in a more gentle tone as he placed his hand lightly on Hotch's arm. "You acted out of love. Not anger. You risked a bit of your soul to help that boy regain his. That couldn't be further from the way your father treated you. I swear to you, the only thing you took from that man was his name, and you turned it into something to be admired."
The unit chief shook his head.
"Yes, Aaron, you have. That kid doesn't fear you. He respects you. He wants to be like you. He wouldn't feel that way if you were an abusive bully."
Hotch's eyes flicked up to meet Rossi's.
"I've been called a bully."
The man shrugged.
"Maybe at times when you're on task and pushing the team a bit hard to crack a case," he conceded. "But that's a different animal."
"How can you know that? Maybe that's my true nature showing through, and it may have come out when Reid and I were alone. There's no way you can be sure."
"Like I said, Reid idolizes you. That wouldn't be the case if you were a bully. Listen, Hotch, do you believe for a single moment that I would let you lay a hand on that boy if I thought you would harm him in any way?"
"I don't think you could stop me."
An incredulous look came over Rossi.
"Really? Seems I've managed to stop you from doing a good number of things over the years we've been friends."
"You know what, you're right. Obviously your just as arrogant as your old man. Maybe you have turned into him after all. I've been trying to avoid it, but let's look at the facts. You beat that kid for no damn good reason. Made good use of your fists then stormed out of the apartment without a backward glance. You left him alone, confused, frightened, and feeling worthless while you ran off to tie one on in celebration of your power and self importance. God, Aaron, I don't know why I bother coming here to talk to you. You have this all worked out, don't you? Fear and intimidation keep that kid in check. If he's as smart as he claims, he knows to fear you. You were out of control. You destroyed Reid's self-esteem. I hope you were at least careful not to mark him up too badly where it would be visible. Don't want anyone asking too many questions, and you know how defensive wounds are frown upon at work."
"It wasn't like that, Dave. It wasn't like that at all," Hotch spat defensively.
"It must have been. You know the signs of abuse intimately. If you feel that you abused the kid, what I'm saying must be true. You know how the profile goes."
"I didn't abuse him. I didn't abandon him. I punished him, yes, but I didn't use fear or intimidation. I stayed with him after and we talked. I told him how proud I was of him and made sure he knew he was loved."
There were tears of frustration in the profiler's eyes as he glared at his mentor demanding that he be believed.
Rossi smiled as he looped a hand behind Hotch's neck and pulled him close enough that their heads nearly touched as they stared into each others eyes.
"Then you didn't mistreat Reid. You didn't abuse your power, and you're nothing like your father."
After a few tense moments, Aaron closed his eyes and finally muttered, "Not this time."
"I can work with that," the Italian replied as he gave his friend's neck an affectionate squeeze before releasing him. "How about you give up on that watered down drink, and get your ass home to Jack? You did good today. Give yourself a break and enjoy some quality time with your son."
"You'll check on Spencer in the morning?"
"I said I would, didn't I?"
Hotch nodded, then fished in his pocket. Withdrawing a large coin, he placed it on the bar near Rossi's glass.
"I forgot that I still had this. Would you return it to him for me?"
Dave picked up the token and studied it for a few moments.
"Ten years, huh?"
"Yeah. He has a lot to be proud of. He's worked really hard to get that and now he's earned it from me, too."
"He'll be glad to hear that."
Rossi tipped his head and squinted at the words etched on the coin.
"Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind?"
"No clue," Hotch admitted with a shrug. "I always thought they used the serenity prayer or something of that nature."
"You don't think the kid's Arapaho or something like that, do you?"
"Actually, I think his sponsor might be."
"Hm. Small world. I once knew this guy..."
AN: The end reference is a nod to a movie that Joe Mantegna stars in called "Women vs. Men". If you need a laugh, I highly recommend it.