Warning: Contains corporal punishment of an adult. If you find this upsetting, please step away. Thanks.

Disclaimer: Wish I did, but I don't own Criminal Minds. I'm just borrowing the characters for my own evil purposes, and will return them unharmed so they can to continue to entertain us on the show.

AN: This is written by special request for Pechika, who wished to see Rossi screw up with a rookie Hotch. Given Rossi's temperament, that's a reasonable request, but since I have a soft spot for the Italian, I hated even thinking about him holding the spot of the "bad guy." I'm also faced with a reluctant Hotch, which was to be expected. Luckily, the boys worked with me and we found a scenario that worked for all of us...well, maybe it didn't work very well for Hotch, but.

This one is going to be a two shot, unless something goes wrong and I need another chapter. Hope you enjoy, and please let me know what you think. Feedback keeps the savage beast typing, and story ideas are always welcome. ;-)


Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. ~ Mahatma Gandhi


"Hotchner!"

The FBI's newest recruit glanced up from his desk as his supervisor stalked into the room. The man's aggressive posturing caused a shiver to trail down the younger man's spine, but he easily suppressed his emotions as he donned a mask of indifference.

"Hotchner, where's the evidence file from the Sanders case?" Rossi demanded. "I shouldn't have to tell you that it's not supposed to leave the locker under any circumstance. What did you do with it?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. I've never even laid eyes on the physical evidence."

"Don't lie to me, counselor. That's the best way to end up on the wrong side of me, and trust me, that's not the place to be."

"I don't lie," the man said with chilly certainty.

"You're an attorney. Of course you lie. It's in the job description," David stated with conviction.

The rookie calmly held the senior agent's eyes before quietly repeating, "I don't lie."

Rossi scoffed and shook his head in disbelief. If the kid though he was going to buy that, he had another thing coming.

"Look, kid. We all do stupid things sometimes. I get it. Just give me the video, and we'll forget this even happened. Clean slate. How's that sound?"

"Agent Rossi, I don't know where your video is. I've never seen it. I can't return what I don't have."

Dave turned away and raked both hands through his dark hair in building frustration. After a moment, he inhaled deeply, before turned back to the recruit with a feigned smile.

"Listen,son. Sticking to your story is all good and well, but it isn't going to work with me. Allow me to let you in on a little secret. I'm a profiler. Do you have any idea what that means? It means I can read you like an open book. You can lie with your words, but your body language will always tell the truth. It doesn't know how to lie. Now we can sit here and you can keep wasting my time, but frankly I think we both have better things we could be doing. I, for one, would rather be putting my talents to work with real criminals. Capisce?"

When Hotch failed to respond,the Italian sat down on the edge of the rookie's desk and studied the younger man a bit more intently.

"Let me lay this out for you in a way you might understand. You signed the evidence out. I know you're working the case, and I can assume that you want to be thorough. That's great. I respect your ambition, but now key evidence is missing. The video of Sanders and that young girl seems to have grown legs and walked away along with a little weed. The dope ain't a big deal. That sort of thing tends to happen fairly regularly, so I'm not really worried about some missing grass, but the video is a horse of a different color. That's important, kid. Without it we've got nothing. Without it, this scumbag walks."

"I appreciate your position, but don't do drugs, and I have no idea what you're talking about. I really wish I could be of some sort of assistance, but I can't."

"You like it here, Hotchner?" Rossi asked in a serious tone as he tipped his head to the side.

"Yes, sir."

"You do realize that a break in the chain of evidence... No. Wait. Let me rephrase that. Losing evidence, can result in suspension, at the very least?"

"I didn't lose anything."

Dave turned his attention to the folder he had been holding. Flipping through it, he withdrew a facsimile of a log from an evidence box. Placing it down in front of Aaron, he pointed to the last name scrawled on the label.

"That you? A. Hotchner?"

"It's my name, but I'm telling you that I never signed for anything."

Pulling a pen from his breast pocket, the profiler slammed it down on the copy, causing the young man to flinch and draw slightly back.

"Sign it now," he quietly ordered in a frighteningly calm voice.

With a soft exhalation, Aaron picked up the pen and signed his name across the bottom of the paper.

Rossi tilted his head to the side and allowed his gaze to linger over the two signatures for several long seconds, before raising his eyes to look back at the young recruit.

"I'm no expert here, but those look damn similar."

"Then you have an exceptional forger in house," Hotch replied with cool detachment.

The senior agent's eyes narrowed.

"You must really like doing things the hard way, don't you, kid? Fine. Take the rest of the day off. Get out of here! I don't need a liar and a thief working for me," he barked loud enough to draw the attention of everyone in the room.

A bright flush of embarrassment colored the rookie's cheeks as he felt all eyes focusing on him. As quietly as he could, Aaron attempted to reason with the man.

"Listen Agent Rossi, I'm telling you the truth. I didn't take any evidence. I would never do anything to jeopardize a case. I know how hard it is to get a conviction on a case like this. Why in the world would I put everyone's hard work in jeopardy and risk letting this man walk free? What would I stand to gain?"

"I don't know. Maybe Sanders is an old school buddy. Maybe you were just looking for a way to spice up things in the old bedroom, so you took it home to the wife. Nothing like a little live action porn to get the blood flowing, huh? Or maybe you're a pervert who couldn't wait to sneak away so you could jack off to that young girl's pleads. How in the fuck should I know? Why don't you tell me?"

Aaron's brow knitted in a dark scowl as he glared at the older man.

"Clearly, you have no interest in actually uncovering the truth about what really happened to your evidence. You rather cling to false assumptions and turn me into your scapegoat. I guess it's too much to ask that you put forth a bit of effort and do some research to find out what happened. You don't want me here? Good. Because I don't want to be here any longer," Hotch snarled in a whisper as he rose from his chair and grabbed his sports coat. "Find yourself another whipping boy to blame for your inadequacy."

"Hotchner!" Rossi called out as the younger man turned to leave.

Tossing a business card onto the desk, he shifted his gaze from the recruit, to the card and back again.

"Take that. There's an address on the back. You decide you want to keep this job, be there at eight tonight. Don't show, and I'll be expecting your resignation on my desk first thing in the morning. All up to you, kid. The ball's in your court."

Aaron looked at the card and began to take a step away, but thought better of it. Opportunities like this one didn't come around every day. The Bureau was the perfect place for the upwardly mobile attorney to make his mark. Here he could really make a difference and be recognized for his achievements. The FBI could truly be his ticket.

Reaching out, he snatched the card up and stuck it in his pocket. He didn't have to meet up with Rossi, he told himself. He didn't even know if he wanted to, but at least he had the information should he decide to use it.

Shooting his supervisor a final icy glare, Aaron Hotchner slung his jacket over his shoulder and stalked out of the office, longing for a stiff drink and the understanding, loving arms of his wife.


Turning the card over again, Hotch doubled checked the address before shifting his focus on the door of the pool hall. He had to be kidding. This wasn't a proper venue for any sort of meeting, let alone one that involved the future of his career with the FBI. A college hazing, perhaps, but not something this important.

Maybe he should have taken Haley's advice when she said to let it go. There was simply no reason that he had to put himself through whatever initiation this man had in mind. He probably should just throw in the towel and return to the Justice Department, but he couldn't bring himself to do that. His gut told him that this is where he needed to be. This was his future and he refused to piss it away because of a false accusation. This was where he could make the most difference.

Well, not here in particular, he thought to himself as he stared at the Chalk Lines Billiard's sign blazing in neon green above the door.

Heaving a sigh, he squared his shoulders and walked into the smokey building with his head held high.

Making his way to the bar, he glanced around the room at the sea of people, spotting many familiar faces, but not the one he was seeking.

"What can I get ya?" the bartender asked as he placed a shot glass down in front of the stranger.

"Nothing, thanks. I'm supposed to be meeting David Rossi. Do you know him?"

"Oh? So you're the rookie, huh? What was the name? Hotchner?"

Aaron felt his blood chill. Maybe this really was some ridiculous game after all, and he was being made a fool of.

"Name's Baker," the man said as he extended a hand towards Hotch. "I used to work with Rossi, back in the day. Retired now, but couldn't just leave it all behind, you know? So I opened this joint as a place the boys could go to unwind after a hard day on the job."

"Rossi?" Aaron quietly asked again.

"Over there. Pool table in the back corner on the left. Sure I can't get you something?"

"I'm fine. Thank you," the young agent answered before stalking off to find his boss, completely missing the sympathetic expression that crossed the bartender's face.

As Hotch approached the gaming table, a mixture of cheers and groans filled the air.

"That's sixty bucks you owe me, Wachowski."

"Hit me up on payday, Rossi."

"How's about another game? Maybe you could just sign the whole check over to me?"

"Fuckin' hustler," the burly red-head spat as he threw his cue onto the table.

"And yet you keep coming back for more," the Italian answered with a charming grin.

"Hey, Rossi! You've got a visitor!" Baker yelled from across the room, causing the agent to look up and find himself gazing into the eyes of his young protege.

"Well, well. Hotchner. I have to admit, I wasn't sure that you'd show."

"I'm here, so now what?" Aaron coolly replied as he crossed his arms and stared at his superior.

"Do you play?" Dave asked with a fluid motion towards the table.

"On occasion, but I'm in no mood to be hustled tonight."

"Ah," the man's grin broadened. "You are a smart one after all. Hey, Wachowski, you might want to take lessons from the pup here."

"Fuck you, Rossi," Wachowski snarled before taking a gulp from his beer and turning his back on the cause of his distress.

Undaunted, the supervisory agent's smile never wavered as he looked at his new recruit. While he would never admit it, he was pleased that the young man had decided to take him up on his offer. It showed a level of moxie that was hard to come by these days. That courage and willingness to do what had to be done would serve the new agent and the Bureau well, as long as he could get him over this bump in the road.

"Come on, kid. Let's go somewhere a little more private where we can talk."

Making their way back towards the bar, Rossi caught the owner's eye.

"Baker? Mind if we use your office?"

"Be my guest, but Dave, do me a favor? Take it easy on the kid. I kinda like him. That one looks like he's got some real potential."

"I know he does. That's why we're here instead... Well. You know.."

The man nodded, and Aaron couldn't help puzzling over the short cryptic conversation.

"Come on, kid. This way."

Hotch followed Rossi down a narrow hallway that ran behind the bar and into a small, but well appointed office.

"Sit," the older man instructed with a nod towards a chair while he settled himself on the edge of the desk.

Aaron felt himself growing nervous as the agent raked his eyes over him, no doubt noting every flaw the younger man possessed.

"You own anything besides suits?" the Italian inquired in a light conversational tone.

"I thought this was a business meeting," came the simple reply.

"Ah." Rossi nodded, then shrugged. "It is, but not officially. There are times that I find it more prudent to keep certain things off the books. The Bureau has a tendency to blow simple problems a good bit out of proportion. Lying to a superior, for example. That really doesn't sit well with them."

"I haven't lied," Aaron growled, a little of his anger coming through.

"So you claim," Dave calmly stated, before he pinned the rookie with a piercing gaze. "But I have to tell you, son, the current facts say different."

Keeping his body relaxed, the senior agent interlocked his fingers and rested his hands on his knee as he waited for Aaron's response. When he was met by only silence, he drew a deep breath and exhaled softly.

"Look, kid. Baker likes you. He's a great judge of character. As it so happens, I like you, too. That's why I'm giving you this chance to come clean with me. Misappropriation of evidence is a grievous offense in anybody's book. It will not only get you kicked out on your keister, but, depending on the circumstance, you could wind up doing time. Now, I don't want that to happen to you. You're a good kid. I know that. I can see it in your eyes. You made a mistake. We can fix that, but you have to be honest with me."

Hotch folded his arms and bowed his head as his mind spun. He was at a loss. He hadn't done what he was being accused of, but that didn't seem to matter to his supervisor. Rossi had already found him guilty and, in his own twisted way, it appeared that he was trying to help. It didn't make any sense, and it sure as hell didn't make this aggravating situation any easier on the new agent.

"Okay, let's say, hypothetically, that I did have something to do with this missing evidence. If I admit to wrong doing, this will all just go away?" the young man asked while continuing to keep his eyes downcast.

Dave thought for a moment, before shaking his head.

"It's not quite that easy. Naturally, I'll need the evidence back."

"Naturally."

"And then there are... consequences that have to be attended to. This was a major screw-up that could loss us the case. I can't let that go unanswered."

"Suspension?" Hotch asked as he raised his head and caught his boss's eye.

"Nah. Like I said, this is off the books. If you're willing to meet me half way, I'll work it out so this incident never sees the light of day. It will stay between us. I hardly think it's useful to have a pretty simple, basic mistake follow a man throughout his career. Work with me here, and I'll make sure your record stays clean."

"What if I can't put my hands on the evidence?"

"Then things get a little sticky. I have to have it back for any of this to work." Rossi broke eye contact and straightened up slightly as he carefully considered the problem. "I can't run interference for you forever. The evidence needs to be back in that locker before this case goes to trial — well before. If you give me your word that you'll run it down, I can give you... Let's say a week."

"A week?" Aaron parroted as he looked at Dave with dismay.

"It's more than the Bureau will give you."

Hotch huffed and scrubbed his hand over his eyes. A week wouldn't give him much time to uncover who had set him up to take the fall, but at least it was something. He'd worked with less, though not very often, and not up against this caliber of criminal. This was going to be extremely difficult, but he knew it wasn't impossible.

"So wha'cha think, kid? Willing to play ball?"

The young man let his hand fall from his face and he met the Rossi's eyes once more.

What choice did he have? He could continue to proclaim his innocence. He should continue to proclaim his innocence because it was the truth, but he had little doubt that IA would look at the same evidence that brought Rossi to believe that he was at fault and draw the same conclusion. He would most certainly lose his job. He doubted that he would be arrested, but the missing drugs would see to it that he never worked in this field again. Then what would he do? He would end up having to defend criminals instead of prosecuting them. With his luck, he would find himself having to defend a man like his father, and that would never do.

Lowering his gaze, Aaron swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded before he steadied his voice and calmly lied.

"I misplaced the evidence," he admitted in a hollow tone. "I don't know what I was thinking, but I'll do everything in my power to get it back to its rightful place as quickly as possible."

"One week, kid," Dave reminded him. "And lets hope the DA doesn't need it before then."

Nodding again, Hotch groaned to himself at the thought of what lay before him. It was going to be a struggled to clear his name, and the fact that the path started with a falsehood made the road even harder to travel.

"Okay. Aaron? Right?" the profiler asked, looking for clarification.

"Yes, sir."

"Alright, Aaron. We'll seal this deal with those consequences that I spoke of," Rossi said as he slipped off the desk, causing the younger man to automatically rise from his chair. "Now, I'm not going to force you to do this, but I think we can agree that your actions require some form of discipline — mine, or the department's. The choice is yours."

"You already have my decision."

Dave silently studied his protege before nodding in approval.

"You're brave. That's good. And you're smart. Let's see if we can make you a little wiser. Tell me, are you familiar with corporal punishment? Ever get your behind busted by mom or dad when you stepped out of line while growing up?"

Aaron's eyes widened with shock at the man's questions. He stared completely dumbfounded as his department head easily unbuckled his belt — pulling it from around his waist and doubling it up in his hand.

"Wait. What?" the young man finally managed as his mind shifted back into gear. "You can't possibly mean to..."

"Yes, sir. I'm afraid I do."

"And this is a normal occurrence?"

Rossi caught his lip between his teeth and shook his head.

"Hell, no. Nothing about this is normal, kid. Normal means turning you in and letting IA eat you alive. This is... Thinking outside the box. It's something that my mentor was willing to do for me when I fucked up. Personally, I found it highly effective in discouraging me from future bouts of carelessness. And every once in a while, when a kid with promise comes along... Well, I hate to see them get fed to the sharks before they've even learned how to swim, so I'm willing to get a little unorthodox for their benefit. "

"This is INSANE!"

"Not really. It has the same outcome as Bureau sanctioned discipline. Both discourage repeated offenses. The difference is, the only lasting effects of my method is a touch of hurt pride and a bit of soreness tomorrow when your sitting at your desk. With the Bureau, that desk will likely be empty. If you honestly think about it, I'm betting that you'll find that official corrections tend to be more brutal. The effects last much longer, and hurt a helluva lot more. But, like I said, it's up to you to decide which way you want this to go. I'm not going to twist your arm. You either accept it, or you don't. I'll admit that I will be disappointed to lose you, but I won't think any less of you, regardless of your decision."

Aaron lowered his head into his hand as he exhaled harshly. This couldn't be happening. After he had escaped from under his father's roof, he swore that he would never let anyone hurt him again. Now here he was, a successful adult with a wife and home of his own, and... And this happens? It was ludicrous.

He wouldn't do it. It was as simple as that. He would give up his career if keeping it meant bowing to this man's abuse. There was no force on this planet that could make him do this. He wouldn't willingly submit to being beaten. Hell, he should file a complaint against Rossi for even suggesting such a thing. This was a clear case of abuse of power and harassment. Maybe this was how the man got his kicks when things were slow. Set the new guy up and see how far he would go to hang onto his job. Well, no job was worth that. None.

Hotch looked up at Rossi with a hard, unwavering glare, refusal clear in his dark brown eyes.

The Italian sighed sadly as he shook his head.

"Alright, kid. I understand, and I respect your choice. Tomorrow morning, hand in your resignation. I rather see you leave on your own instead of waiting around to be forced out once the shit hits the fan. At least this way your reputation remains unblemished. We'll say that you've had a better offer that you would have been foolish to pass up. I have a few favors that I can call in. Well make that evidence log disappear so you won't have to worry about that following you anywhere."

Aaron's brow creased in a frown as the man spoke.

"It would have been nice working with you," Dave said, a tinge of regret in his voice. "Hell, maybe we'll meet again. Who knows. Depending on where you go, we may end up working a case together somewhere down the line. Stranger things have happened."

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why are you doing this?"

"I told you. I like you. I think you have what it takes to do this job, and do it damn well. We have enough people fighting against us. I sure as hell don't want to discourage anyone who stands to be an ally. With all the bad out there, I'll do whatever I can to protect the good."

"You think I've lied to you."

Rossi shrugged.

"Not the first time that's happened, and I know it won't be the last. You're new. You're trying hard to fit in, do a good job, and get a little recognition. You made a mistake and panicked. Happens to the best of us. Sure being lied to chaps my hide, but I've been the new kid, and I've made more than my share of mistakes. Just because I don't like it, doesn't mean that I don't understand why you did it."

Aaron closed his eyes and ground his teeth as he warred with himself. Why did the man have to come across as so damn reasonable? If he had yelled. If he had threatened to ruin him. If he had tried to force him to comply, that would have given him something to fight back against, but this...

Bowing his head, Hotch considering the ultimate question.

How much does this job really mean to me, and can I trust this man?

Rossi was giving him an out. Haley had suggested that he return to the justice department, and with this disgrace swept under the carpet, he could. There was no shame in going back to doing what he already knew he was good at. He didn't need to prove anything to anyone other than himself.

Groaning softly, he glanced up at the senior agent and took a steadying breath. Standing up, he slipped out of his jacket and placed it on the now vacant chair.

"I would like to remain with the Bureau."

"Are you sure about this?" the older man asked as he studied Hotch carefully.

"Yes, I'm sure. I know this is the next step in my career. I need to be here, so if that means I also have to..." He stopped and drew a deep breath before swallowing back the bile that rose in his throat. "Do you want me to remove my shirt?"

"Your shirt?" Dave asked in confusion before realization struck. "Oh. Oh, hell no, son. There's no whipping post around here. I was talking about discipline, not retribution. You need to learn a lesson, like when you were back in school."

Rossi cocked his head to the side as he though for a moment then shook his head.

"Never mind. That was probably before your time."

"No, it wasn't. I just never..." Hotch stopped and lowered his head.

"You've never faced physical correction," the elder surmised.

"I didn't say that. Just ... just not in school."

"Okay. Then here's what I want you to do. Lean over the desk and get a grip on the far edge. Don't let go until I tell you, and keep both feet flat on the floor. Got it?"

Aaron released his breath and nodded. He could feel the panic setting in, but he hid it with practiced ease. He could do this. He had survived unjust punishments before, brutal ones, and under far more chaotic circumstances. By comparison, this should be a piece of cake.

Stepping up to the desk, he carefully cleared away the various stacks of invoices that cluttered it. Standing motionless, he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply before placing his hands flat against the slick surface.

"All the way across, kid."

"I know. I just need a minute."

"Take your ..." Rossi began, but was cut short when what was meant to be a supportive touch to the young man's shoulder sent him scurrying three feet away. "Jesus. Calm down. It's just me. Look, this ain't good, but it ain't all that bad either. You'll know if I'm going to hurt you. Take it ease and settle down."

"I'm fine. You just startled me."

"Alright," the man said, but Hotch could tell by his tone that he wasn't convinced.

"Agent Rossi, I assure you that I am perfectly okay. You simply caught me off guard. It won't happen again," Aaron stated before stepping back up to the desk. Leaning across it, he hooked his fingers under far edge of the top then laid his head down between his outstretched arms.

"Okay, kid, I have to touch you. Don't freak out on me."

"I won't," he mumbled with more than a touch of annoyance. As if he's never made a mistake before in his life.

David placed his hand on the rookie's lower back, effectively pinning him against the firm surface.

"I'm not one for dragging this sort of shit out. You know what you did wrong."

Not a God damn thing, Aaron thought to himself, but remained silent.

"I trust that it's not going to happen again, and you're going to be fixing everything, right?"

"Yes. I'll fix it."

"Good. Then let's get this over with."

Even though he knew it was coming, the sharp sting of leather vigorously applied to his behind still managed to catch the young agent off guard. He gasped softly before clenching his jaw tightly to suppress any further sound. He could take this. After all he had been through, this was nothing.

The belt was swung with skill and precision. Strokes quickly covered his rump, but rarely overlapped as an all encompassing burn heated his skin. He would definitely be feeling this in the morning, and quite possibly well into the day. Hiding the signs of discomfort would be troublesome, and Hotch momentarily wondered if he was too new on the job to claim a sick day.

Suddenly the injustice of situation brought tears of anger to his eyes. Refusing to let them fall and allow this man to think him weak, Aaron blinked them back before emotionally shutting down completely. Letting his mind drift as he had when he was a child, he escaped from the pain and anger. If he didn't acknowledge the discomfort or emotions that accompanied them, they didn't exist, and if they didn't exist, they couldn't hurt him.

Dave was stunned by his protege's silence. While he hadn't taking very many of his underlings in hand, when he did their responses had been very predictable. The pain was meant to cleanse negative emotions from the receiver as much as it was meant to deter future misbehavior. That was the goal, but instead it appeared that this time the miscreant was internalizing the pain and all the negativity that came with it. Rossi had known that Hotchner was a proud man from the moment they met, but there was still something profoundly wrong with his reaction.

The belt bit harshly at the tender junction of Hotch's rear and thighs, leaving a welt that Rossi knew the young man would certainly feel tomorrow, and yet he remained stoically still and silent.

David shook his head. He couldn't take this much further for risk of damaging the agent. The kid's error may have been a major event in the eyes of the Bureau, but to Dave it was just that — an error. The supervisor hoped he had gotten his point across, as the man's lack of feedback made that hard to correctly judge. Rossi mentally made a note to remind himself that he would have to be hyper-vigilant with this one in the future, for it would be far too easy to go to far and that was a line not to be crossed. Laying down a few more strokes, the senior agent suddenly stopped the punishment and quickly returned his belt to its rightful place around his waist.

"We're done here, kid," he said as he laid a gentle hand on the recruit's shoulder. "You did..."

"Don't. Please, just don't," Aaron said as he shrugged off the reassuring touch and stepped away from the older man. "There's nothing more to be said. If we're done, I would like to go. I have a busy day tomorrow, and I'll need to do some real digging if I'm going to get that evidence back for you. I just...I just need to go."

"Sure, kid. Sure thing. I was only going to offer you a drink."

"Thank you anyway, but no. I'll see you at work tomorrow," Aaron said while refusing to even give Rossi a fleeting glance.

"Yeah, right. Tomorrow."

Watching his underling go, Dave couldn't shake the feeling that something was seriously wrong. His mind tripped over everything that had transpired between them, both at the office and here. He supposed he could have handled things a bit better, but his methods had always worked well for him in the past. There was no reason to think they wouldn't now. It was clear that the kid had brains, so he should know that this wasn't personal. It was just something that had to be done, and Rossi knew in his heart that his actions really were in the kid's best interest. Now he could only hope that Hotchner would come to realize the same.

"No hard feelings," he muttered softly to himself and gave a slight sigh as he repositioned the paperwork on the desk. Baker knew what transpired during one of these "talks", but there was still no reason to broadcast it by leaving evidence hanging around.

Evidence. That's what caused this mess. That kid needs to be a little more careful, and then he really will be fine. He's good. He could go all the way to the top if he plays his cards right. And if that happens, what does that mean for you? Did you just screw the pooch by backing him into a corner like that?

Rossi closed his eyes and quietly exhaled.

He was scared. You saw how skittish he was, but you pushed him anyway. You better hope that doesn't come back to bite you on the ass one of these days. You've got to be more careful yourself. If you're going to keep working with the kid, you're gonna have to make some calls and find out what makes him tick. Should have done that before you went this far. Don't want to accidentally trip his fuse and make him explode. That could definitely be messy.

Taking a last look around, David left the confines of the office and went back to the bar for a much needed drink. He would make some calls, but that would have to wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow he would see his protege and be able to better judge his state of mind. With any luck, the kid would sleep on it and in the morning everything would be business as usual. As if it's ever that simple.