Warning: Contains corporal punishment of an adult. If you find this offensive, please close the tab and move on to something more agreeable.

Disclaimer: Criminal Minds most certainly doesn't belong to me, but I'm only too happy to play around with the characters. As always, they will be returned undamaged to their proper home with CBS Studios.

AN: Just something that popped into my head and I needed to get it out because things are way too crowded in there at the moment. Hopefully I'll be making some more room in there soon. Thanks for reading. Please feel free to let me know what you think. I may make a little off shoot from this, but I'm not sure yet.

"Insisting on perfect safety is for people who don't have the balls to live in the real world." ~Mary Shafer

Glittering moonlight reflected off the small object in the Unit Chief's hand as he slowly rolled it through his fingers in quiet contemplation. Standing apart from the team, his mind replayed the scene, causing his stomach to knot up all over again. Dave was right. He had been careless, and that could have cost them all a lot more than a loss unsub.

The harsh sound of gun fire still rang in his ears. His knee throbbed from the jarring impact with the ground, and in all likelihood he had probably bruised a couple of ribs, but at least he was still alive. The girl was safe and, with any luck, the kidnapper would be spending a long time behind bars. All in all, it was a satisfying end to a long, frustrating case.

Frustrating. Maybe it was his frustration that had made him careless? Frustration at the slow response from local law enforcement that nearly saw the perp slip through their fingers. A slow response that could have costed that young woman's life. What choice did he have? He had to act. Yes, he had thrown caution to the wind and engaged the target without back up, but luck was on his side.

This time.

Dave's words echoed in his mind causing a shiver that had nothing to do with the local temperature.

Inhaling deeply, Hotch closed his eyes for a moment to focus on the lingering anger and fear that impaired his ability to experience relief from a job well done.

A heavy hand on his shoulder jarred him from his reflection.

"We're wrapping up here then heading back to the station," Rossi informed him. "You're gonna be okay?"

"Honestly? I'm not sure."

"You know what has to happen. Actions have consequences, Aaron."

"I know that, but knowing doesn't make it any easier."

"I understand that all too well," the Italian remarked with a nod towards the pocketknife in his friend's hand. "Seen a lot of action in its time."

"Too much."

The elder smiled as he patted his friend's back.

"With luck this will be its last dance."

"One can only hope."

"For God's sake, just don't lose it. It's a family heirloom, and I'll be needing it back when you're done. Don't want it, or anything else, to come to harm."

Exhaling in a soft gust, Hotch tipped his head in acknowledgment.

"He's waiting for you over there at the picnic table. Don't leave him alone with his thoughts for too long. That's not good for either of you."

"I won't," the lead profiler promised before closing his fist around the knife.

"You've got this, kid. We'll see you back at the station."

"The plane, Dave. We'll meet you at the plane. I'd prefer leaving straight from here."

Rossi was still and silent for a moment then nodded with a faint smirk.

"Sure. Leave me with the paperwork. I see how it is."

"I know it's in capable hands."

"So is Reid," the older man replied in all seriousness. "We'll be waiting. Take all the time you need."

Hotch gave a slight nod then watched as his team piled into the SUV and headed off, leaving him and Reid behind.

As the roar of the engine faded in the distance, the Unit Chief pocketed the knife and made his way over to where his well meaning if misguided agent sat. Taking the seat opposite, he interlaced his fingers before placing his hands on the table in front of him.

"You did a good job, Spencer," he calmly praised in an attempt to break the uneasy silence.

The doctor glanced up at his boss, then back down at the scarred wooden surface.

"If that were true we wouldn't be here, just the two of us. We'd be with the others on our way home."

Hotch cocked his head and gazed off into the distance as the potentially deadly scene replayed in his head for what felt like the millionth time before returning his attention to his colleague and friend.

"The execution was faulty, but it was still a good job. You solved the case and we caught the kidnapper. Case closed, thanks in large part to you. That's not bad at all, Reid, but please answer this. Why didn't you keep us in the loop? Why not tell us where you were going?"

"There wasn't time."

"You make time for what's important. We're a team. You don't chase a lead by yourself. That's not how it works. We all need to pull together as one."

"But we weren't. There was too much red tape this time. The locals didn't want us. They withheld crucial evidence and sent us on a wild goose chase to protect one of their own. When I discovered it, you were tied up with the Chief of Police, and everyone else was involved in their own tasks. I had to go on my own."

"No, you didn't. Reid, you know how to pick up that phone and call for help. You proved it when you phoned me from the car to let us know that it was Cafferty. But, you should have called before you got behind the wheel and raced out here to the middle of nowhere in the dark. Thank God for the GPS tracker on the vehicle because without that I don't know that we could have reached you in time. As it was, Garcia was beside herself with worry as she tracked your coordinance all the while knowing you were alone. It's called back up for a reason, Spencer. We back each other up."

The doctor's head drooped further, his hair curtaining his face as he repeated in a whisper, "There wasn't time."

Aaron felt anger bubbling up inside, but a deep breath and slow exhale help to reduce his desire to shake the stubborn youth sitting across from him.

"You will make time in the future," he finally announced. "You are not to engage any unsub on your own ever again. Do you understand?"

"You do," the younger man challenged as he looked up with a defiant glint in his eye. "You do it all the time. Why is it okay for you to put your life on the line, but wrong for the rest of us?"

"It's not alright, and there are always unfortunate consequences for those blunders," the dark haired leader flatly stated. "It goes against protocol, and with good reason. You're useless to the team if you become injured, or worse."

"But I wasn't hurt."

"You easily could have been." Hotch took a breath as his glared hardened. "Cafferty had the upper hand from the beginning, Reid. You're an excellent negotiator. No one would ever dispute that, but he wasn't buying it. Maybe if you had more time you might have been able to talk him down, but as you keep pointing out, there wasn't time."

Spencer held his boss's withering glare for several more seconds before glancing away in defeat.

"This can't continue. Worrying about the possible actions of a single member of the team compromises the abilities of the rest of us to effectively do the job. You're either going to be a team player, or I don't need you."

The doctor's head snapped up and he met his supervisor with an expression of wide-eyed disbelief.

"You can't."

"Fire you? I absolutely can. I don't want to, but we're coming to a point where you aren't leaving me with much choice. You're an invaluable asset, but you're only an asset when you work with us. If you insist on being a one man show, you'll have to go."

"No, Hotch. Please. It won't happen again."

"Can I trust your word?"

The young man nodded then bowed his head and closed his eyes.

"Don't suspend me," he muttered in a quiet plea. "Please."

"Spencer, look at me," Hotch ordered in a softer voice.

When his teammate complied, the Unit Chief was stuck by the utter devastation in his eyes, but carefully hid any show of sympathy. While he completely empathized with his companion's actions, his position as team leader didn't allow for compromises on this point. Endangering yourself also endangered the team. It was a lesson that Rossi had driven home to a rookie Hotch years ago, and now it fell to Aaron to do the same with Reid.

"Suspension is the least of what you deserve. You shouldn't be out in the field again until you've proven yourself trustworthy. Our lives are in each other's hands. Do you at least understand that?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then prove it, Spencer. I can't afford to have a loose cannon on this team."

"I'm not. I swear to you, Hotch, I won't do anything remotely like this again. When I catch a lead, you'll be the first person I call, and I won't make a move without you. Ever."

"That's not what I'm asking of you. I just want reassurance that you'll think about safety first whenever you're out in the field. Don't go off without telling someone, and don't engage an unsub without some form of back up."

"I won't."

The tone of sincerity was enough for Hotch. He believed the resident genius would do his best to keep his promise. Still...

The senior profiler sighed to himself.

"I'm afraid that due to the severity of this violation, punitive measures must be taken. You could have been killed. If J. J. hadn't been able to get that shot off, I'm afraid this conversation wouldn't be occurring. I can't risk that. I need to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that this evening has made a real impression on you."

Reid felt the weight of those words and the threat they implied.

"A Gideon type of impression?" he asked with a grimace.

"More Rossi style," Hotch responded before carefully producing the folding knife from his pocket.

Handing it to Spencer, Aaron tipped his head towards the brush that surrounded the quaint park setting.

"I want you to cut me a switch. That should provide enough incentive to keep your brilliant mind engaged in the future."

"A switch? But I've never ... I don't even know how to choose one."

"It's not that difficult. Pick a branch that's sturdy, but flexible and as straight as possible. Preferably about as big around as your finger at the base and then tapering off."

"My finger?" the good doctor squeaked as panic began to take hold.

"Breathe, Spencer. It's going to be okay."

"Like hell it is."

"Spencer Reid, you will do as I tell you. If you can't follow such a simple order, how can I expect you to follow crucial ones in the field? Now go. I'm sure the rest of the team are on the plane already. We don't want to keep them waiting all night."

"But, Hotch, what if I get it wrong? Doesn't that make things worse?"

"If you come back with something unsuitable, you'll just have to try again. I won't add to your punishment. Not this time. Follow your gut and you can't go wrong."

"Going with my gut is what got me in the mess to begin with," he muttered under his breath.

"What was that?"

"Nothing," Reid answered as he sulked towards the overhanging trees.

Several minutes later the younger agent presented his supervisor with a heavy, unwieldy limb.

"Good God, Spencer. This would break bones," Hotch noted as he took the stick from Reid's trembling hand.

"You said the thickness of my finger."

"Your finger not your thumb, and at the base, not the entire length. I also said flexible. If I wanted a bat, I would have asked for one."

"You never specified which finger."

The senior agent's eyes narrowed as frustration clearly showed in his features.

"I'm sorry, Hotch. I'm not trying to be difficult."

The Unit Chief slowly exhaled while he reminded himself that this was a new experience for his underling.

"I know you're not. Come on. I'll help you."

Placing a hand on the doctor's back, Aaron propelled him towards the tree line then followed close on his heels. With an ease born from familiarity, thanks to Rossi, the elder agent quickly located a young sapling that would provide the perfect implement.

"Over here. This one will do. Flexibility is the main factor. and the thinner it is, the worse it bites. You don't want something too thin, but you definitely don't want as thick as what you had. Hand me the knife."


Hotch looked up to find his partner fumbling around in his pockets.

"You didn't."

"I just had it."


"It's got to be right around here. How far could it have gone?" the genius said as he turned his flashlight towards the leaf littered ground.

"Unbelievable. Do you have any idea what Rossi will do to...?"

"I found it!" Spencer proclaimed as he held the treasure aloft, drawing a sigh of relief from one very grateful Aaron Hotchner.

"Please, don't do that again."

"I didn't mean to. It must have slipped out of my pocket."

Relinquishing the knife, Reid watched with a sense of morbid curiosity as Hotch relieved the tree of a narrow branch and quickly denuded it of twigs and leaves.

"There. Perfect."

"You do that a little too well," the younger man observed.

"Tell me about it," Aaron replied with a rueful smile as he ran a hand along the length of the now smooth stick. "Come on. Back to the table. I think we'll both feel better when we're finished with this business."

"You might, but I can't say that I share the feeling."

A rare chuckle came from the Unit Chief before he led the way back to the picnic area where Reid immediately took a position at the end of table. However, as he began to lean over the flat surface, Hotch's voice stopped him.

"Those slacks are going to have to go."

"Oh come on," came the anticipated protest.

"I'm sorry, Spencer, but you won't feel much through them."

"They're only cotton, and not very thick cotton either."

"Regardless, they offer too much protection. A switch is most effective on bare skin, so be happy that I'm allowing for underwear."

"We're in public, Hotch. Anyone could come along."

"No one will come along. It's a picnic area at the end of nowhere Alabama in the middle of the night. No one is going to stumble upon us. You're quite safe."

"I sure as hell don't feel safe."

"Spencer. Slacks. Now."

"But, Hotch..."

"Now," the man forcibly repeated.

With more reluctance than he had ever shown, Reid unclipped his holster and carefully laid it on the bench seat. Nimble, shaky fingers freed his belt then worked the button and zipper of his pants, but continued to hold the protective clothing in place.

"You know, Hotch, I've learned my lesson. You really don't have to go through with this at all. It's totally unnecessary. Why don't we head to the plane right now? No reason to hold the team up any longer. Everybody is ready to be home."

"Pants, Reid. Unless you want to feel the full effect on bare skin?"

Not looking to push his luck, Spencer immediately let his khaki slacks fall to the ground in a puddle around his feet.

"Over the table," came the supervisor's order as he tested the implement by cutting the night air with a whistling swish.

Instead of complying, the genius stood stock still, frozen in fear, as he stared at Hotch before beginning to tremble.

Satisfied with the quality of the switch, Aaron turned his attention to his miscreant, but was caught off guard by the utter terror in the younger man's eyes.

"Reid, you're going to do fine," he said in a low soothing tone. "Take a few slow breaths to calm yourself."

The doctor shook his head.

"I can't do it. You can't make me."

Hotch tipped his head slightly while carefully studying his teammate. Reid's body language screamed that he was likely to bolt at any moment which would be disastrous. Not that he would get far with his slacks tangled around his ankles, but it was most definitely something to be avoided.

Noting the doctor keeping a wary eye on the implement in his hand, Hotch slowly put it down on ground and made a show of exhibiting his empty palms. Reid's terror level plummeted almost immediately.

"Why are you so frightened?"

"I just am."

"No. No one just is. Talk to me."

The youth closed his eyes and shook his head.

"Spencer, I can't help if you don't tell me what's wrong. I understand being apprehensive, but you're well beyond that. Please, talk to me."

"Can I?" Reid asked as he glanced at the fabric at his feet.

A brief nod from Hotch and the doctor quickly jerked his pants back in place.

"Have a seat." The lead profiler spoke with authority tempered with kindness that his subordinate readily responded to. Once Reid was perched on the bench, Hotch tried again. "Why does this scare you so badly? Do you think I'll abuse you?"

"No, it's just... Gideon."

"What about Gideon?"

"He told me a story about his grandmother whipping him with a stick like that. It was horrible. Then he told me that ..." Spencer's voice broke and he fell silent for a few moments before a breath steadied him enough to continue. "To be punished like that would be a last recourse. If I screwed up again, I was done. I'm scared of how much it will hurt, but ..."

Swallowing hard, Reid bowed his head.

"I don't want to lose my job and the stability of having you all as a surrogate family. I don't know what I would do."

Aaron approached his colleague and crouched down so he could look up into his face.

"You're not going to lose anything," he reassured his friend.

"But even you said that you would fire me."

"I would only do that if I'm left without another choice. I won't bury you, Reid. I have to find a way to keep you alive. I'm trying to find a good deterrent that stops you from doing foolish things that put your life needlessly at risk. This is not my end game. I'm nowhere near ready to give up on you."

Tears in the younger man's eyes told the Unit Chief that he was making progress so he continued.

"Do you know how much it hurts me to discipline you? I don't mean just spanking you. Any sort of punishment that I have to deal out to you hurts me. I want to see you happy. I hate chaining you to a desk as much as I hate taking my belt to your disobedient behind because both of those make you miserable. I can't begin to imagine how much it would hurt to watch you step into that elevator or walk off the plane for the last time. That's something I'm trying to avoid at all cost. The only thing that could ever hurt me more would be to see you in a coffin, and frankly, I'm not sure that my heart could survive any of those. You are a member of my family. I want to keep it that way."

A tear broke free and tumbled down the doctor's cheek.

"Do you trust me? I mean really trust me?" Hotch softly asked.

"I always have."

"Then trust that I'm not about to give up on you, Spencer Reid. I will fight to keep you on this team."

"I believe you, Hotch."

"Good. Now do you think you can trust me enough to correct you in a manner that I see fit? I will never lie to you and say that it won't hurt, but I can say that whatever Gideon told you doesn't apply here."

"He said it will leave me welted and bruised. That it could even cut me. I'll feel it for days, but the scars will always be there to remind me of why I'm no longer a BAU agent."

Hotch pinched the bridge of his nose as he mentally cursed Jason Gideon.

"None of that will happen. Jason was doing his best to scare you with that tale. While his story appears to have had the desired effect, I won't do that sort of harm to you. The sting is superficial. You'll be uncomfortable on the flight home, but by the time we land the worst will have faded. By tomorrow all that will remain is the memory. No bruises. No broken skin. No reason for scars."

Reid glance towards the spot where the branch lay.

"How many times have you had to do this?"

Aaron gave him a faint smile. "This will be a first for us both."

"Then how can you know?"

The Chief audibly sighed as he shifted his focus towards the ground. He thought his earlier statement said enough, but apparently not.

"I've been on the receiving end enough times to know."


Hotch ran a nervous hand through his hair. While he figured his team already knew about his agreement with Rossi, he was uncomfortable speaking of it. He needed them to see him as a strong leader, not the screw up his old mentor occasionally snapped back in line. This was especially true of Reid who required him to be someone he could look up to. The doctor needed a figure that he could respect, and Hotch worried that the young man with the genius I.Q. would lose faith in him. If Spencer began to question his authority ...

"I didn't think about your dad," the youth said in a near whisper. "You've been through so many horrible things, of course you would know. I'm sorry, Hotch. I didn't mean to dredge that up for you."

Aaron raised his head and gazed into the sad eyes of his companion.

"It's alright, Spencer. You didn't say anything wrong."

"Yes, I did. I also was wrong when I didn't say the right thing — when I didn't call with my discovery about Cafferty. I wasn't thinking, but I will from now on. I'm sorry, and I'm ready to face my punishment."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, sir.

"Alright, Reid," the supervisor said as he stood and beckoned his agent to do the same. "You know what to do."

While Hotch retrieved the switch, Spencer claimed his spot at the end of the table. Unfastening his slacks for the second time, he let them slipped down his legs unhindered before leaning over and resting his head on his folded arms. The breeze rustling the trees made him feel more self-conscious, but he did trust his boss. If his mentor said he was safe, then it had to be true. Drawing a deep breath, he held it for a moment before slowly exhaling.

He felt the air shift as Hotch stepped up to his side and placed a warm hand against his lower back.

"Spencer, are you okay?"

"About as okay as I can be in this particular circumstance."

"I'm sorry that I have to do this."

"Me, too."

There was that high pitched tone in Reid's voice again that indicated his increasing fear.

"It won't be nearly as bad as you've been led to believe."

"Hotch, I trust you. Now can we please get it over with before I lose my nerve?"

In response, the Unit Chief's hand pressed down more firmly against his back seconds before Reid heard the whistle and twap of the rod making contact with his thinly clad rump. Several moments later a wicked stinging sensation ignited his skin.

"Oww! That hurts!"

"I said it would, but it doesn't last," Aaron replied before catching the doctor off guard with another stinging stripe that brought the miscreant up on his toes.

After several more strokes, Hotch had to remind Spencer to breathe. In an attempt to take his punishment with some level of stoicism, Reid was subconsciously holding his breath and in danger of passing out.

"Slow deep breaths, Reid."

"I can't."

"Yes, you can."

Aaron punctuated his statement with a stroke delivered fast and low across his victim's upper thighs.

Direct contact between skin and switch tore a squeal of protest from the younger man before he pushed up off the table with a grimace.

"Damn it, Hotch! You said you wouldn't break the skin," Spencer reminded him as he covered the wounded area with his hands. "I'm bleeding. What if it gets infected? This is not a sterile environment."

"You're not bleeding," the elder quietly stated as he stepped back and crossed his arms, the implement still firmly secured in his hand.

"I have to be. I felt that damn thing cut me."

"It didn't cut you. Check your hands if you don't believe me."

Slowly, the boy wonder removed one hand and then the other only to find them clean. His brow knitted in confusion as he looked to his Chief for clarification.

"It hurts like a son of a bitch, especially on bare skin, but I said that I wouldn't harm you and I stand by that statement. It's not the implement that dictates the severity, but the hand that wields it."

Hotch tipped his head towards the table.

"We're almost finished, Reid. You're doing very well. Don't make the last few harder."

"I'd ask the same of you," Spencer groused as he fell back into position across the table.

A handful of strokes expertly applied to the ultra sensitive weight bearing edge of the profiler's cheeks combined with two more scorching stripes across his unprotected thighs and Hotch tossed the implement down. He kept his hand in the small of the punished man's back until Reid began to stir.

Easing him upright and helping to steady him, Aaron cautiously assessed his friend. His face was damp from a few stray tears, but his eyes shimmered brightly with the majority that had been withheld. His hands were clenched in fists at his sides as he struggled to keep from rubbing the pain from his backside. His breath was ragged, but came at a steady cadence.

"How do you feel?" the elder agent finally asked.

"That hurt."

"I know, but I said you would survive, and you did."

"It's over?"

"It is."

Hotch felt panic rise within him as the dam broke and Reid's tears free flowed.

"Spencer, it's alright. You did great, son," Aaron offered in praise while placing a comforting hand on the lad's shoulder.

Without warning the Unit Chief found himself in the shaky embrace of his underling and gently returned the hug.

"It's over. Water under the bridge," he whispered into Reid's ear as the younger man buried his head against his shoulder.

"I screwed up."

"Shh. We all screw up, but few are strong enough to admit it when they do. You're a brave man, Spencer. A brave, gifted man whom I'm proud to call my friend. We are still friends, aren't we?"

Hotch received a nod for an answer while Reid continued to purge fear and gulit from his body though the flood of tears.

The Unit Chief patiently offered physical and emotional support until the younger man's breathing once again became regular and he gently pulled away.

Catching the doctor's face between his hands, Hotch made firm eye contact while wiping away the remaining of tears.

"You're okay," the reaffirmed.

Unsure of his voice, Reid opted for a nod instead.

"How's your stubborn backside?"

Inhaling a breath to settle himself then clearing his throat, the team genius hoarsely answered, "Sore."

Finding the answer acceptable, Aaron smirked before releasing his hold on his protege. Stepping back, the leader gave him space and a touch of privacy to right his clothes and dry his eyes.

Noticing a spigot, Hotch dampened his handkerchief before handing it to Reid.

"Thanks. I know I look like hell. I didn't want to cry. I hate that everybody will know..."

"You look fine."

"In the dark," the quickly recovering profiler said as he ran the cool fabric over his face.

"Don't concern yourself with what other's think, though you might want to offer an apology to J.J. You scared the hell out of her."

"I'm lucky she's a crack shot."

"We all are," Hotch agreed before patting his friend on the back. "Let's get back to the airport. I'm ready to go home. How about you?"

Spencer shot a glance at the hulking SUV and sighed heavily.

"You're understandably exhausted," the Unit Chief noted as he quickly picked up on the problem. "Go stretch out on the backseat and get comfortable."

"I'm okay with shotgun."

"Torture isn't my thing, Reid. These country roads will be bumpy as hell. I think this once we can forgo the seat belt rule and let you catch a nap on the ride back."

"Rossi will be pissed off if I'm not buckled up."

"I'll handle him. Come on," Aaron said as he draped an arm around his teammate's shoulders and guided him towards the car. "Everything will be fine."

"What were you thinking? Did you even consider how he could have been injured if you had gotten into an accident?"

Rossi's eyes were flashing dangerously as he berated his old protege in the midst of their sleeping team members.

"Shh. Keep your voice down. He's trying to sleep."

"Thank God he's still alive to sleep, no thanks to you."

"We were the only car on the road," Hotch argued in a whisper.

"So that makes it right to break the law and put one of your teammates in danger?"

"He wasn't in any danger."

"Oh, so you can see the future now?" Rossi asked as he threw his hands up in the air. "You already know if a deer is going to jump out in front of the car, or you're going to blow a tire? What a wonderful gift that sort of foresight must be. How did you acquire it, Aaron? Is it like a decoder ring or something that you found in a cereal box?"

"I get it, Dave. I should have had him belted in, but don't you think he suffered enough for one night?"

"When you were my responsibility, did a sore ass prevent you from following safety procedures?"

"My ass had a tendency to be sore because I disregarded safety procedures," the Unit Chief dryly replied.

"And why is Reid's ass smarting right now?"

Hotch ran a hand through his hair as he silently sighed while lowering his gaze.

"Aaron, I asked you a question."

"Because he didn't follow proper safety protocol."

"Sound like mixed signals?"

"Reid already knows that he should have been in a seat belt, so you don't have to worry about him not buckling up under normal conditions. I told him to lay down in the back. It was my decision. Maybe it wasn't as sound as I originally thought, but there's no harm done."

"This time."

"Yes. This time."

"There wasn't any harm done to Reid when he went after the unsub by himself either. Not this time. Did that mean he shouldn't have been held accountable for his actions? Maybe he didn't deserve to have his ass handed to him?"

"Look, Dave. It won't happen again. Should I have to correct him in a like manner, I'll make sure that he's firmly planted in a seat and strapped down before I start the car. Is that what you want to hear?" Hotch quietly hissed.

"I want to hear sincerity in your voice."

"I am sincere."

"No you're not. I've know you too long for this bullshit to work on me. It's nothing more than lip service. You're refusing to face facts."

"The fact is that I delivered him safely to the plane. I got him aboard without incident. If you hadn't seen him crawl out of the back seat, we wouldn't even be having this conversation."

"So hoodwinking me is okay now?"

"I didn't say that."

"That's exactly what you just said."

Hotch scrubbed a hand across his face as he feverishly searched for the right words to say that would get him out of the dog house with his old mentor. He just wanted to put this day behind them and move on. Never in his wildest dream did he think he would be the one castigated at the end of it all.

"What do you want from me, Dave?" he finally asked, the defensiveness gone from his tone.

"I've told you."

"I am sincere. I let my feelings cloud my judgment. That is likely to happen again because I care about our team, but I won't let Reid or anyone else ride with me unless they're wearing their seat belt."

Rossi cocked his head while weighing his protege's words. He still didn't feel that Hotch understood the gravity of his inaction, but he would.

"That's not going to be a problem for at least a couple of weeks."

Aaron frowned in confusion.

"What are you talking about?"

"You won't be driving anyone anywhere for two weeks. Your team driving privileges are hereby suspended."

"You can't do that. You don't have the authority."

"I just did."


"Once you have had time to think things over, you'll realize that I'm right. I'm just giving you that time."

"This is ridiculous."

"If you want we can continue this discussion in the privacy of the bathroom and then you can still be suspended from driving for a month. Choice is yours."

Folding his arms across his chest, Hotch firmly set his jaw and scowled at the injustice.

"What's it gonna be?"

"I'll take the two weeks," he snarled before turning in his seat to give Rossi his back and maybe get a little sleep. "But I won't be happy about it."

"Never thought you would be. That would defeat the purpose of this learning experience," Dave answered as he leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. "Always remember, Aaron. Safety first and you'll never go wrong."

"It's regretful that we had to go down this road, but in order to ensure the safety and protection of this community it's necessary" ~Chuck Smith