WARNING: Contains disciplinary spanking of a minor and references to child abuse. I realize that this can make people very uneasy. If you know it will bother you, please move on to another story. Thanks.
Disclaimer: Criminal Minds is the property of CBS Television Studios. I'm just borrowing the characters for a short time. No character was harmed in the making of this fan fiction, and all will be returned in the same condition as I found them.
AN: This story was written at special request from my friend, rubyblue 100. After reading Guilt, she was curious to see the interaction of Hotch and Jack. This was quite a bit more challenging because Hotch just doesn't listen to me. I'm used to characters who stray from the path that I want my story to go, but they always move in a positive direction towards where I want the end to be. Aaron? Nope. He balks and will take a story in the exact opposite direction. If he doesn't want to do something, he's not going to do it. I found myself pitying the writers who work with his character for the show. Hopefully he follows their direction with a lot less fuss. I swear, I'm ready to turn Rossi loose on him.
Thanks for the kind comments and warm welcomes. You guys have always been, and will always be the best. Special love to my poor suffering readers who have stuck by me all this time. Y'all make it all worthwhile.
Now, without further adieu, and nearly against Aaron's will... Enjoy!
Parents have no greater responsibility in this world than the bringing up of their children in the right way, and they will have no greater satisfaction as the years pass than to see those children grow in integrity and honesty and make something of their lives. ~Gordon B. Hinckley
"Buddy, what do you have in your pocket?" Hotch asked as he handed his son an ice cream before leading the way to the nearest bench.
The unit chief of the BAU had managed a rare day off and was happily enjoying it with his pride and joy. Father and son had caught a movie, hit the soccer field, and done a little shopping, most of it revolving around toy stores and sporting good centers. With the day beginning to wind down, Aaron risked spoiling Jack's dinner with dessert first in an attempt to squeeze a little more quality time out of the day.
"Nothing, Daddy," the boy answered as he claimed his spot on the bench.
Aaron Hotchner cocked a brow as he curiously glanced at his now fidgeting son.
"Are you sure?"
"Uh huh," the agent's little one said with a nod as he took a lick of his rapidly melting cone, avoiding his father's penetrating gaze.
"How about letting me see?"
Jack slowly pulled his hand from the pocket of his windbreaker and held it up, fingers splayed, to show his father that it was empty.
Noting the persistent bulge in the jacket's pocket, Hotch allowed his expression to darken ever so slightly.
"Jack, what do we say about fibbing?"
"But I'm not."
"Show me what you have," the man said firmly.
"I don't want to."
With a silent sigh, Hotch quickly slipped his fingers into the pocket and withdrew a hard plastic figure.
Jack lowered his gaze to the chocolate puddle forming on the ground near his feet. He didn't feel much like eating ice cream anymore.
"Where did you get this?" the profiler questioned in a quiet tone.
"He wanted to come home with me."
"Where, Jack?" he repeated with more force.
The little boy appeared to be pleading the fifth as he grew silent while reaching out to toss the remains of his dessert away.
Hotch gently, but firmly lifted his son's chin until their eyes met.
Aaron bit the inside of his cheek to suppress a smile at the irony. Clearing his throat, the profiler grew stern.
"Let's go," he said as he stood and extended a hand for Jack to take. "We're going to return the Captain back to where he belongs, and you'll apologize for having taken him."
"No, Daddy. Please. I'm sorry. I won't do it again, but don't make me take him back. He doesn't like it there. He wants to stay with me."
Averting his gaze for a moment, Hotch drew a deep breath before releasing it as a soft sigh. Nestling the toy in his own pocket, the man crouched down and took his son's hands in his.
"He doesn't belong to you. Taking something without paying for it is wrong. When we do something wrong, the first step to making it right is admitting our mistake and apologizing for it."
"No buts, mister. I'm not very happy right now. You know better, and we're going to talk about this when we get home, but first we need to get Captain America back to his own home. He has a lot of work to do over there and we're keeping him from it."
Jack hung his head as he slid off the bench, defeated by his father's logic, and allowed Aaron to steer him back down the street towards the toy store.
Walking through the doors, Hotch spotted a young woman stocking the shelves. Pulling the toy out, he handed it to his son.
"Come on, buddy," he said as he placed a guiding hand on the little boy's back and walked him over to the employee.
"Excuse me. We don't mean to disturb you, but my son has something to say."
Jack looked at the pretty blond woman, then back up at his father with a pleading expression.
"Go on," Hotch encouraged.
"I...I found this in my pocket," Jack shyly muttered as he handed over the action figure.
"Jack," Aaron called in a soft warning tone.
The child swallowed and glanced down at his shoes before continuing. "I'm sorry for taking him. I was bad, and now he can't do his job."
The woman looked to the father who shrugged slightly.
"We'll be happy to pay for it, but we'd like to donate the toy to a good cause. Maybe a children's hospital, or something of that nature."
"That won't be necessary," she reassured the man before placing her hand on the boy's shoulder causing Jack to glance up at her touch.. "Bringing him back was a very brave thing to do. Captain America would be proud of you for doing the right thing."
Jack looked up over his shoulder at his father and caught Hotch's faint smile of approval.
The agent ruffled his son's hair.
"I think it's time for us to head home," he informed the boy, before shooting the woman an appreciative look. "I am sorry for the trouble we've caused. Rest assured that this won't occur again."
"I'm sure it won't, but don't be too hard on him. Even the best of us have moments where it's hard to resist temptation. I'm sure your son is in good hands. He'll figure it all out in record time."
"That's what worries me at times," he admitted with a half smile. "Thanks again for your understanding."
The car ride home was unusually quiet as Hotch and Jack both nervously considered what the rest of the night had in store.
"I gave it back."
"I know you did, and I know how hard that was to do. I'm proud of you."
"Does that mean I'm not in trouble?"
As the sedan rolled into the driveway, Hotch glanced at his little boy.
"It was a good start towards making amends, but I'm afraid you're still going to be punished," the profiler answered solemnly with regret in his voice.
"Am I in big trouble?" Jack pressed as he squirmed uncomfortably in his seat.
Hotch killed the engine and sighed inwardly before nodding.
"Some of the biggest."
"You can send me to bed without supper. I'm not hungry anyway."
Aaron smiled as he brushed a lock out of his son's eyes.
"I don't think so. Here's what we're going to do. We're going to go in and while I work on something for dinner, I want you to take a bath and get into your pjs. I won't have you going to bed with an empty tummy, but I think we're going to call it an early night. Alright?"
"Yes, sir," the child answered as he sadly bowed his head.
"We're okay, buddy," Hotch reassured the child. "But Daddy has to enforce the rules when you've been naughty. Unfortunately, this is one of those times."
"You're not mad?"
"Upset, but no. Not mad. Now, that's enough stalling. We can talk more inside. Let's go."
Unbuckling his seat belt, Jack nodded before following his father's lead and abandoned the relative safety of the car for the looming uncertainty of what awaited him behind the closed doors of his home.
Hotch sat motionless in his recliner with his eyes closed listening to the sound of water running. He had opted for an easy meal and decided to order pizza, knowing that Jack would appreciate the comfort food after... After what? The stoic agent released his breath in a long, defeated sigh as he rubbed his eyes between his thumb and forefinger. After he was spanked.
The thought caused a nervous feeling in the pit of Aaron's stomach. He had never actually physically corrected his son before, but this wasn't one of his normal childish blunders. Jack knew that stealing was wrong and had even lied in an attempt to avoid discovery. That was a blatant act which needed to be nipped in the bud before it had the chance to become a habit that could have a devastating effect on the child's life.
You're over reacting. He reminded himself that the clerk had been right. Nearly every child, himself included, falls victim to their hedonistic nature at some point in time and thankfully most leave that behind as they mature. Because someone takes the time and effort to show them the error of their ways. But that didn't have to be through physical chastisement. Jack was smart. He could be reasoned with. Aaron could take away a privilege instead. That was generally all it took to make his point and discourage further misbehavior in his bright little boy.
Groaning softly, Hotch recalled a discussion he and Jack had several months ago when the child had been caught having taken a ring off of Jessica's nightstand. The man played it off as an isolated incident that required no more than a sound scolding to prevent further pilfering by the boy, but it seemed he had been mistaken. Worse, he had promised a sore backside as a consequence should Jack ever steal again. That meant his son already knew what to expect, and, if nothing else, Aaron always was a man of his word.
You need to be more careful with your threats, he silently admonish himself.
With his mind continuing to search for a more acceptable option, Hotch sunk further into the cushion and loosely folded his arms.
Every child tests the rules, consciously or not. Knowing that there are boundaries in place, boundaries that will be firmly upheld, makes him feel safe and allows him to explore more freely. Limits are proof of a parent's love and create a sense of well-being in a child.
The profiler snorted loudly.
That's not always the case.
Hotch's mind transported him back to a time and place when the shoe was on the other foot. When he was the offender.
It had been an uneventful day. He accompanied his mother as she ran her errands, but at the grocery store everything suddenly went wrong.
"Aaron, what are you eating?" his mother asked as they stood in the check out line.
The candy immediately turned bitter on his tongue and his cheeks heated with a flush of embarrassment. Shuffling his feet and avoiding eye contact, the little dark haired boy held out a hand containing the remains of his found treat. With a disappointed shake of her head, his mother took the package from him and handed it to the clerk.
"We'll take this, too."
Once the item was added to her bill, the annoyed woman reclaimed the candy and handed it to her son.
"Throw it away."
Aaron sadly looked up at his mother with large soft brown eyes. He knew he was already in trouble, so what further harm could finishing the candy cause?
"Now," she demanded in a clipped tone causing the little boy to scutter towards the nearest trash can and dump the colorful chocolate buttons along with any hope for a peaceful evening.
A coworker of his father had been at the market and witnessed his attempt at petty theft. Even though his mother had no intention of telling her husband about the incident, the child knew he was doomed.
Aaron spent the rest of the day sequestered in his room fearfully listening for the sound of his father's car. When it finally came, his blood chilled. By the time the man opened the front door, the little boy was in full blown panic behind a facade of cool indifference.
The argument that followed the man's arrival was to be expected. His mother bravely attempted to defend him, bringing much of the man's wrath upon herself. Hearing her suffer was hard for the child, and he felt some twisted sense of relief when the man's rage was finally focused on him.
Aaron did his best to take his whipping in silence. He attempted to ignore the man's angry ranting and gritted his teeth against the blinding pain. His father's belt lashed wildly against any part of his body it could reach, and still the boy never made a sound. His lack of response fueled the man's rage to greater levels, bringing even more suffering upon himself until his body couldn't take anymore. After what felt like a lifetime, the bruised and bloodied child mercifully slipped into blissful unconsciousness.
When he finally came to, the youth found that he was alone on the floor in the darkness of his room. As he attempted to get up, every inch of his body screamed in pain. He started to call out to is mother for help, but something stopped him. A sound. A soft whimpering coming from the living room.
Young Aaron had weathered the storm of his father's abuse without reacting, but it was his mother's weeping that brought tears to his eyes.
At the sound of Jack's voice, the ghost of Hotch's memories fled, leaving behind a mild feeling of nausea. Unsettled, Aaron inhaled deeply before glancing across the room to meet his son's steady gaze. Jack appeared so small and vulnerable that the man once again felt his resolved slipping. Surely this one time he could be lenient. It would mean breaking his promise, but...
"Daddy, I'm scared."
"So am I, buddy," he softly replied as he opened his arms invitingly and soon had them filled with his precious little boy.
Aaron hugged Jack close then placed a soft kiss on the crown of the child's head before releasing his hold just enough to situate him properly on his lap. Taking a settling breath, the profile's expression turned serious.
"We need to talk about what happened at the toy store. What you did was very wrong."
"I know you do. Do you know how I know?"
Jack shook his head.
"Because you compounded your misbehavior by lying. You lied because you didn't want to get into trouble for doing something you knew was wrong."
The little boy looked away from his father's dark eyes and sadly bowed his head.
Hotch caught his son's chin and carefully raised his head back up.
"Lying is never alright." His voice was velvety soft and calm as he did his best to make his point without frightening the child. "If you lie, I will never be able to trust you, and that thought hurts me more than anything in this world ever could."
"More than a bullet?"
"More than a bullet," the man agreed with a nod. "I love you, Jack. I'll always tell you the truth. If you love me, you'll do the same."
Aaron couldn't mask his smile at the child's sincere, business-like expression. He knew he was in trouble, but he was doing his best to bravely face the consequences and there was nothing more that his father could ask of him. Hotch knew in his heart that if Jack argued with him, his resolve would shatter. For a moment he wondered if somehow the child knew that, too, and was trying to make this as easy on him as he could.
Choking back a suddenly flood of emotion, the profiler swallowed hard then cleared his throat in a weak attempt to regain his focus before continuing.
"Jack, what did Daddy promise if you stole again?"
The little boy dropped his head before quietly mumbling, "A spanking."
"That's right. Did you think I wasn't serious?" he asked as he cocked his head.
"You're always serious," Jack whispered as he glanced up at his father through thick dark lashes.
Hotch closed his eyes for a moment and breathed deeply. Haley had made him promise to show Jack that he hadn't always been so austere. Had he failed her? Had his years in the justice system completely dehumanized him and sucked the joy not only out of his life, but also out of his son's? Aaron often found it difficult to separate his role of unit chief from his role of father. After all, he did viewed his team as his family, but while he had to be stringent with them, he tried to be easy-going with his little boy. Sighing inwardly , Aaron mentally decided to monitor himself more closely and try harder to be the upbeat father his son deserved, but for now...
"Well, at least this time I certainly was," he said as he raised a brow. "You can't do these things, buddy. I see people everyday who do very bad things, and I help to punish them so they don't do them again. The last thing I want is to come home and have to punish you, but I do it because I don't want you growing up like them. I want you to become a honest, trustworthy man. Right now, I'm afraid you've strayed a bit from that path."
The child lowered his gaze and began to nervously pick at a thread on cuff of his sleeve while nodding in understanding.
"I had hoped that my warning about Aunt Jessica's ring would have been enough to dissuade you, but apparently it wasn't. You've put me in a tight spot, buddy, and I don't like that."
"I'm sorry, Daddy."
"I know, and I'm sorry for what I'm about to do, but you've earned this. You have to understand. You could have gone to jail. The lady at the store had every right to press charges against you, and there's not much I could have done. There's the possibility that the court would have decided that I don't do a good enough job of taking care of you, and that you'd be better off with another family. I don't know what I would do if that were to happen. That's why it's so important to mind me. When it comes to something like stealing, I don't make the rules, but I do have to enforce them or someone else will. If it takes a good hard spanking to make you follow the rules, then that's exactly what you'll get, because I refuse to lose you."
Aaron's heart sank as he felt his son began to tremble. Tightening the arm that supported Jack, he pulled the little one closer and hugged him.
"I'm not mad at you," he reassured. "I'm disappointed in your behavior because I know that you're better than this, but I'm not angry with you. I need you to know that."
Hotch felt Jack nod against his chest before the child's sniffling made him cringe. The man tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling searching for something to save them both, but found nothing. Finally, after several minutes, he drew a breath and gently pulled his son back.
"Let's get this over with."
"Do we have to?" the teary eyed boy asked.
"I think it's best, and I promise you'll feel better after."
The skeptical expression on Jack's face caused Hotch to pause. A few moments ago he had said that he would always be truthful with his son and he had meant it. His mind swiftly conjured images of the aftermath of his father's discipline, then just as quickly replaced those with memories of corrections he had willingly accepted at Rossi's hand. His father would usually be harsh and distant, a model of behavior he would never subject his son to. Dave, on the other hand, could be just as completely inflexible and stern, yet always tempered punishment with care and understanding. Aaron knew which man he chose to emulate, and with that knowledge came a comforting feeling from knowing that he had indeed spoken the truth.
"I know it doesn't make sense, buddy, but you will. Now come on. It's time to face the music."
Lifting the child, Hotch carefully tipped him forward and laid Jack gently across his lap where his boy instantly began to cry.
The man held his breath as he struggled not to react to his son's panic.
Rubbing Jack's back tenderly, Aaron allowed his touch to soothe his child before applying firmer pressure to hold him in place.
"Jack, you disobeyed me. You've been warned about taking things that don't belong to you, but you decided to do it anyway. Maybe this will serve as a reminder to do the right thing from now on."
Hotch inhaled as he raised his hand over his intended target then hesitated. Slowly, he curled his fingers closed into a fist and pressed it to his forehead, before opening it again to rubbed his eyes.
I can't do this. I don't want him to be afraid of me, and how can he not fear me if I hit him? Haley. Honey, I don't know what to do for our son. I don't know what's right anymore. You were always so sure of yourself when it came to taking care of Jack. We both could use your guidance right about now.
At that moment, the phone began to ring.
Hotch let his hand fall from his face and placed it lightly on his son's upturned bottom as he heaved a sigh.
Saved by the bell?
Aaron briefly considered answering to give himself and his boy a reprieve, then decided to allow the machine to pick up.
"Aaron Hotchner, I just got off the phone with Morgan. What in the hell were you thinking, and why do I have to find these things out second hand? How DARE you run into a burning building. Looks like we need to sit down and have a discussion about common sense. You know, that thing you seem to be lacking? You're too important to this team... Hell, you're too important to me to be risking your life like that. Call me back once you've cleared your dance card, because I'm going to need your full attention, son. We have a lot to talk about. In case you haven't noticed, I'm not pleased with this devil-may-care cavalier attitude of yours, and I plan on getting to the bottom of it."
Rossi paused and Hotch heard him take a breath before he continued in a calmer tone.
"Look, I know you did what you thought you had to do to save that guy, but that doesn't make it right. I'm pissed off because I care. I love you too much to let you do stupid shit, kid. Now call me back, and give Jack my love. Talk soon."
The call disconnected with a beep and Aaron sighed once again.
Really, Haley? That's what you call a sign?
"Daddy, are you in trouble?" Jack asked with a sniffle as he glanced over his shoulder.
"Looks that way, but Uncle Dave's bark is far worse than his bite. There's nothing for you to worry about. I'll be fine."
"Are you sure?"
Much to Hotch's relief, Jack's tears had stopped as he worried more for his father's hide than his own. The thought made the agent smile.
"Yes, I'm sure. We all make mistakes sometimes, and the people who love us are obligated to point them out so we recognize that they are mistakes and don't make them again. That's all that Uncle Dave is trying to do." Aaron paused as he gently patted his son's backside. "Just like what I'm trying to do with you. Now where were we?"
Jack had just enough time to turn back around and wrap his arms around his father's thigh before Hotch's hand landed sharply on his bottom. The boy cried out more in surprise than in pain before the mild sting swiftly faded.
"Young man, we don't steal. If you want something, you ask. You never take what doesn't belong to you. Am I clear?"
The youngster nodded his head as a single tear trickled down his cheek.
"Good, because I don't want to ever have to do this again," Hotch said as he applied another stinging swat to accentuate his point. "If I have to correct you about this one more time, that spanking will be much longer, harder, and these pj bottoms will be coming down. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Daddy," Jack answered with a slight whimper that brought tears to the case hardened agent's eyes.
"A man keeps his promises, Jack. I want you to promise me that you've learned your lesson. I want you to really mean it when you tell me that I won't have to worry about you taking anything without permission again."
Hotch's hand connected with his son's backside one more time prompting the child to quickly acknowledge his terms.
"I promise. I promise, Daddy. I promise I won't do it again," he agreed while tears tumbled down his cheeks.
"I believe you, buddy," Aaron said softly as he scooped his son up into his arms and held him close.
Wrapping his arms around his father's neck, Jack buried his face against Hotch's shoulder and continued to weep quietly while the man gently rubbed his back.
"It's alright. It's over. You're okay, buddy. Shh. You're alright. Daddy's got you."
"I'm sorry, Daddy. I'm sorry."
"I know you are, champ."
"I won't do it again."
Hotch held his son and consoled him until Jack finally quieted down and moved to pull away.
With his arm still around the child's back for support, he watched Jack rub the back of his hand across his eyes and sniffled as he sat up on his lap. Worried, Aaron cocked his head slightly to the side.
"Okay?" he asked.
Jack nodded, but refused to meet his father's eyes.
"You don't look okay," the man stated with concern.
Ruffling the youth's hair, Hotch smiled.
"I think we've already established that."
"No. Not for taking Captain America. I mean, I am sorry for that, but..."
Aaron raised a questioning brow.
A rogue tear trickled down Jack's cheek before he roughly wiped it away.
"I'm sorry about this," he said with a touch of anger as he sniffled miserably.
The boy nodded.
"There's nothing wrong with that. I don't like seeing you sad, and hate the thought of being the cause of your tears, but in this case, they're to be expected."
"Cry?" Hotch asked before taking a breath. "Of course I would, and do."
The profiler tipped his son's head up, and gazed earnestly into his eyes.
"Emotions are meant to be expressed. I'm afraid my job, and some of the things I've seen on it, has caused me to bottle mine up at bit. When I talk to people who have suffered a loss, I feel the same sadness that they do, but I have to remain calm for them. That's what they need from me. It helps them regain enough control to allow them to talk with me, and that can get me the information that I need to solve the case."
"I've been doing that for so long that it just becomes second nature, buddy. It's not that I don't cry. It's that when I do, I'm usually alone because I don't want to upset the people around me."
"Like I upset you?"
Aaron shifted his gaze to the ceiling for a few seconds and sighed to himself then looked back to his son.
"I knew what to expect. I was prepared for it, so I don't want you worrying about that."
"Daddy, I don't like it when you're sad, either."
"Then I'll tell you what you can do. Be the good little man that I know you are, and you don't have to worry about me ever being sad. Deal?" Hotch asked while holding out his hand for his son to take.
Jack seemed to consider his father's words for a moment then nodded.
"Deal," he proclaimed as he shook Aaron's hand.
The man smiled and gave his boy a hug before slipping him off his lap and standing up himself.
"Go wash your face while I check on where that pizza is," Hotch said.
"Pizza?" Jack asked as his face lit up with excitement.
"Now don't start thinking that you get a treat after being in trouble. Daddy is just too tired to cook," the agent warned.
"I won't," the boy answered with a grin and started to race towards the bathroom when a hand on his shoulder stalled him.
"Jack, one more thing."
A quick swat landed on the child's bottom causing him to bite his lip to stifle a yelp.
"Don't ever lie to me again. You'll never get away with it."
The child shook his head and wandered towards the bathroom at a little slower pace while rubbing the sting from his backside and muttering something about profilers that caused his father to chuckle.
After a quick call to the pizza parlor, Hotch sank back down in his chair with his phone in his hand and closed his eyes.
This night had been a painful experience for both of the Hotchner men, but they had managed to survive, and were a little wiser for the experience. There was no doubt in the man's mind that his son had learned a valuable lesson. With any luck, Jack's petty theft career had just ended, which made the heartache the elder had endured worthwhile.
For his part, Hotch had learned that he hadn't inherited his father's volatile temperament, after all. Against all odds, he managed to break the pattern of abuse. It was still something he would be concerned about, but he had gain some measure of confidence in himself. He was sure that he and Jack would be alright regardless of what the future threw at them, and he had his mentor to thank.
A soft groan suddenly passed his lips as he shook his head. He had nearly forgotten.
Without opening his eyes, Aaron fumbled with his phone and hit the speed dial key before placing the device to his ear.
"About damn time," the voice on the other end growled.
"Listen, Dave, I know you're angry, but I can explain."