Title: Mud Pies and Dinosaurs
Challenge: The Great Alphabet Meme 2: S is for School
Prompt by resolucidity
Author: Kuria Dalmatia
Rating/Warnings: FRT/PG-13. Profanity. Homophobia. A lot of geekiness. Oh. And some fluff. Yikes.
Characters/Pairing: Hotch/Reid (established relationship), Jack [Jessica, Rossi]
Summary: The problem with having two dads who had three doctorates, four Masters, a JD, and at least six Bachelor's degrees between them was that they didn't know how not to help.
Word Count: ~3,500
ARCHIVING: my LJ and FFNet account... anyone else? Please ask first.
Dedicated to all those who help kids with school projects. Inspired by an email from my sister regarding her eldest son's "build a barn out of Legos" project, in which she confessed, "So I pull out the graph paper and my drafting tools that I haven't used since college because it has to be accurate…"
Two men with father issues. Multiple university degrees. A kindergarten science fair. And never cause Spencer Reid's kid to almost cry in public.
Feedback always welcome.
DISCLAIMER: The Mark Gordon Company, ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television own Criminal Minds. Salut! I just took them out to play and I promise put them back when I'm done. I'm not making any profit just trying to get these images out of my head.
It started out simple enough: a letter from Jack's kindergarten teacher, Ms. Gisen, announcing the class's participation in the school-wide science fair. It was the first time the grade was allowed to exhibit and the teacher wanted a good showing. When Spencer read the requirements aloud at the dinner table, he expressed his admiration of her requirements, especially because she simplified the scientific method.
Jack wasn't as enthusiastic. "It sounds hard."
"You get to form a hypothesis!" Spencer enthused.
Jack then looked over to Aaron, who explained, "It means you make a guess about something and then see if you guessed right." When Jack gave him a dubious look (one that reminded Aaron of Spencer), he offered a reassuring smile. "It will be fun."
It was a promise Aaron made when Jack was less than a year old, on a night when his son was colicky and Aaron couldn't sleep thanks to Vincent Perotta. Aaron said, "I'm not going to be one of those parents who takes over your school assignments in some misguided attempt at my own childhood redemption."
Up until now, that promise wasn't particularly hard to keep. Up until now, the most complicated project had been macaroni art, which Aaron never was really good at anyway.
But as they got ready for bed, Spencer started listing all the possible projects for Jack that didn't involve complex chemicals, weapons, heat sources, special permits, and body armor. Aaron was amused but kept his responses to "hmmm" and "uh-huh" as they slipped under the covers.
Then, Spencer ventured into the realm of using common household items to return luster to coins. Whether it was intentional to lure Aaron into the conversation with that topic or not, the temptation was too much. Aaron blurted, "He'll need pennies struck prior to 1982."
"That's when they switched from ninety-five percent copper to ninety-seven point five percent zinc, right?"
"Right. But household chemicals are too abrasive and can damage the coin, causing it to lose value." And as he said that, Aaron knew he was doomed.
Actually, he realized they were both doomed.
Aaron, because while in grade school, his parents were emphatically 'hands off' when it came to anything school related but it wasn't in a good way. He was completely on his own, but paid the price for anything less than excellent. That changed when his mother remarried and Sean came along, but by then, Aaron was wholly self-sufficient with school projects and rebuffed any attempt his stepfather made to help him.
Spencer, because of his love of science coupled with the fact his father never really did things with him except for Little League. That didn't count since, "That was what my dad wanted to do, not me."
So, two men with not-so-great memories.
It was only natural that they found themselves desperately wanting to correct those mistakes. They wanted Jack to have what they didn't have.
It wasn't wrong.
It really wasn't.
They were just trying to be good parents.
"Does Gisen specify which style the references should be in? Technically, it should be a science style because it is for science, but she may be more comfortable with Chicago or MLE…"
"She doesn't," Aaron answered as he glanced over the letter again. He paused. "Maybe I should help Jack write the paper."
Spencer gave him a 'get serious' look. "I get published more than you do."
"Peer-reviewed journals," he conceded, "but not something generally read by the common public, much less a bunch of grade school kids."
"So you're saying that I can't 'dumb down' my work?"
"I'm saying I have more experience 'dumbing down' things than you do."
"I have to make my reports understandable for Strauss," he countered.
"Ah." Spencer pushed the laptop over to Aaron. "Good point."
Aaron and Spencer agreed that PowerPoint would be the easiest way to explain the project they devised. They even kept it to two minutes knowing Jack's short attention span.
Jack, however, stared silently at their presentation. The little boy then whispered, "But I want to do dinosaurs," with that tone which mean he was afraid of disappointing them.
Aaron recovered first. "Of course you can do dinosaurs, buddy."
Jack focused on Spencer and his expression was even more pitiful. It only took a split-second for Spencer to move over on the couch, pat the space between him and Aaron, and say, "What kind of dinosaur project do you want to do?"
Their son immediately settled between them and said with more confidence. "Dig them up like the dino hunters do!"
"It's called excavating," Spencer corrected, "and the dino hunters are paleontologists."
"We can make mud pies and put the dinos in them and then dig them out!"
Although not thrilled with the prospect of dirt in the house, the pride from Jack coming up with his own project made Aaron match his son's smile. "That's a really good idea, buddy."
"We almost became 'those' parents," Spencer grumbled as he climbed into bed. "The ones that take over everything."
Spencer still pffted as he set his glasses on the nightstand.
Aaron rolled on to his side and propped his head with his hand. Carefully, he ventured, "You're not disappointed, are you?" because after Jack made his declaration, Spencer had come impossible to read. His enthusiasm was there, certainly, but Aaron couldn't decipher anything beyond that.
His lover suddenly grinned. "We get to make mud pies in the kitchen! I've never done that."
"Whoa. Mud pies are made in the mud room."
"What do you mean? There's measuring involved! You have to have the correct ratio of dirt, loam, clay and sand so that when he demonstrates excavation techniques…"
"You are not making mud pies in the kitchen."
"Oh, this coming from the man who said we could use the oven to dry out the boiled chicken bones."
"Chicken belongs in the kitchen," Aaron countered and found himself a little on the defensive side. Putting a plastic dinosaur in a bunch of mud was okay, but having actual bone? Well. That was more realistic. So he said, "And it's a good idea. You said yourself that birds are theropod dinosaurs. Therefore, chicken is an acceptable substitute for a dinosaur bone. Jack can use that as part of his rational for using the materials." And once he said that, he laughed at himself. "Good Christ."
"You are such a geek," Spencer teased and leaned in for a kiss.
"It's my secret identity."
"I won't tell anyone."
"Will you still share my bed if I confess I really want to do the coin project?"
"Who do you think you're sleeping with?" Spencer asked with mock-affront and then curled around him. "You do your project. Jack will do his…and I can do one of my own! We can do Science Night!"
Aaron pushed back a little, wary, because he immediately recalled some of the stories Spencer told about his experiments. He thought about the film canister rockets in the BAU bullpen. He narrowed his eyes. "No explosions."
"Nothing that requires a permit."
"No permits. Promise."
"Anything involving Diet Coke and Mentos and you're cleaning up the mess."
"Diet Coke and Mentos? That's so…pedestrian."
"Nothing that causes the CDC or the fire department responding to a call."
"I'm a scientist madly in love," Spencer said, "not a mad scientist."
"I'm going to hold you to that." He paused. "We're still going to be 'those parents', aren't we?"
"Yeah, but the difference is we won't be turning in our work to be judged. Unless you want to have a BAU Science Fair."
When Spencer first moved in, they agreed that it was okay for Jack to witness them disagreeing. They didn't want their child to grow up with the misconception that adults never argued but they also were very careful about the tones of voices they used and the words they chose.
Full blown arguments were almost always done in private.
The other rule was that once they arrived in Quantico, whatever personal issues they had were set aside. They became Unit Chief Hotchner and SSA Doctor Reid. It usually worked.
It wasn't working this morning.
There were only two people in the building with the balls to call them on it: Rossi, who needled Aaron because he got a kick out of the whole Aaron/Spencer domestic thing, and Morgan, who got the lowdown from Spencer because he had to decide if he needed to make good on his 'kick Hotch's ass' offer.
"Must have been a good one," Dave said as he entered Aaron's office. "You two haven't crossed paths for two and a half hours. Who gets the couch tonight?"
"Shut up, Dave."
"Hey, I'm just offering an ear."
"And I'm telling you to drop it."
Dave stood there for a few seconds. "Oh. One of those stupid ones. You're in a house with three men, so the toilet seat issue is moot point. What? You switched the salt for sugar by accident? He did the crossword before you had a chance? Wait. It's not Sunday…"
Aaron tossed his pen down. He closed his eyes. "There was a bowl in kitchen that looked like Cream of Wheat. I thought it was breakfast but it wasn't." He leaned back in his chair, shaking his head. "I accidentally threw away the colloid hydrogel." Jesus, Spencer had been furious. "It was in the kitchen but wasn't even marked!"
"Colloid hydrogel," Dave repeated slowly. "That a new kind of personal…"
"Quicksand," Aaron interrupted with a glower. "It was quicksand in a damn unmarked bowl at five-thirty in the morning."
"Now that sounds kinky."
"It's for a science project."
"Okay, that's weird and kinky. Christ, what the hell do you two do in your spare time? Wait. I don't want to know. If it involves quicksand…"
"Dave!" Aaron rubbed his face with both hands. "Jack has a science fair coming up. We promised each other that we wouldn't be 'those parents' that took over everything. Jack wants to excavate dinosaurs. Reid was developing the medium in which to place the bones so that it would be more realistic when he demonstrated how the paleontologists uncovered fossils." He looked up.
Dave stared at him with his mouth slightly open. "And you don't believe you're 'those kinds of parents'?"
"It was Jack's hypothesis. Jack's idea to excavate the bones. Jack's writing the paper."
"And Papa Spencer is mixing up quicksand in the kitchen."
Aaron glared. "Yes."
"You three should do a sitcom."
"Fuck off, Dave."
It wasn't the first time Aaron drove like hell from the airstrip to Jack's school. The only reasons the lights and sirens weren't on because they weren't that late and, well, Aaron didn't have them equipped on his sedan. He trusted Spencer's navigational expertise to get them there with minimal traffic problems. Still, they didn't want to be late. Aaron took a particularly hard right.
"Jessica's been briefed on the project," Aaron muttered aloud as he mentally ran through the checklist for Jack's dinosaur project. Last night, Jack insisted giving his presentation via Skype, so Aaron and Spencer crowded around Aaron's laptop and watched. At the end, they praised and also critiqued. This morning, Aaron called to make sure that Jessica had repacked everything.
"I won't jeopardize his Nobel, I promise," Jessica told him. "Calm the hell down, will you?"
Now…"Take a left here," Spencer instructed.
So he did.
There was a long pause and then Spencer began snickering. "Briefed on the project."
Aaron twitched a little, embarrassed, but he realized just how he sounded. He was still in "Unit Chief Mode" and it took an effort to ease up on the gas and drive at a reasonable pace. It didn't stop him from saying, "You're just as bad as I am."
Spencer sighed and settled back in his seat. He placed his hand on the center console. "At least we recognize that we're doing it, right?"
Aaron closed his hand around Spencer's. "Yeah."
"I just…" He squeezed Aaron's fingers as he took another breath. "I just…"
"I know." Aaron glanced over, raised their entwined hands to his lips and kissed Spencer's fingers briefly. "I know."
Somehow—Aaron wasn't quite sure how—Spencer got looped into being one of the judges, although Spencer made it quite clear that he had to exclude the kindergarten because of potential bias. Aaron swore Principal Stooksbury swooned when Spencer asked which criteria he should use.
Jessica poked Aaron in the ribs. "He's in heaven."
"He'll take all day," Aaron retorted, because he knew that Spencer would want to spend time with each student and ask them to explain their project. "Even if they only limited him to the fifth and sixth graders."
She laughed and nudged him again. "I still can't believe you both did science projects, too."
"It was a family activity," he said, a little indignant. "You could have done one as well."
"Oh, no! My science days are over, thank God." She gave him a half-smile. Her voice was soft. "You know how much this means to Jack."
"He has all three of us here." Aaron looked down briefly. He reached over and gave her hand a short, tight squeeze. "Thank you for everything, Jess. Really. I know I don't say it enough."
"I know, but…"
"It works, Aaron."
He met her gaze and nodded. "It does."
When the judges came around, Aaron immediately knew that there was no way Jack was going to place in the top three. It wasn't because there were better projects than Jack's—Aaron was unbiased enough to make that call—but because the parents who were selected were obviously homophobic. Worse? They made no effort to hide their disdain.
They were impatient as Jack did his demonstration and, once Jack was finished, moved immediately to the next project. Aaron held his temper and did his best not to glare. Hell, he didn't even cross his arms or put his hand on his hip so that they could see his gun, which were his usual intimidation stances. He just stood there.
Jack was devastated, so Aaron knelt, adjusted the boy's tie and said, "You did a really good job explaining about excavations and paleontologists, buddy."
"But they didn't ask questions like Spencer said they would." Jack then looked to where Spencer was talking with one of the older students. Aaron could see the jealousy brimming in Jack's eyes along with tears.
"Maybe because you answered all the questions they were going to ask," Aaron explained. "You know, Spencer does that all the time when we're working. He anticipates what the person is going to ask so he answers the question so they don't have to ask."
Jack pursed his lips, clearly deciding on whether to accept the statement or not. Finally, "I guess."
Trying a different tactic, he asked, "Did you have fun with the project?"
"And you got to learn more about dinosaurs, right?"
"Yeah." Suddenly, Jack hugged him.
He didn't question what prompted the action, he just held his son. He wasn't sure how long they stayed like that—Jack was trembling slightly, as if he trying hard not to cry—but he heard Spencer cleared his throat. Aaron looked up and released Jack. "Look who's back, buddy."
Jack wouldn't look up from the floor. "Hi, Spencer."
Aaron could see the concern flittering across Spencer's face, so he explained, "The judges didn't ask any questions."
Spencer's eyes widened before narrowing sharply, his gaze going from Aaron and Jack to the judges three tables away. Jack's classmate was excitedly telling them about earthworms and the judges happily chatted with him. Spencer tapped his finger against his clipboard. Yet as quickly as Spencer's anger appeared, it was smoothed away.
Aaron knew that was never a good sign. He began to warn, "Spence…" because he knew Spencer would take a stand.
"Jack, could you tell me about your project?" Spencer asked, completely ignoring Aaron.
"But you know all about it!" Jack pouted. "And Daddy says you can't vote for me."
"You're right. I can't vote for you." Spencer pitched his voice louder. "It's called bias." He emphasized the last word just enough to get the attention of the people around them.
Aaron knew precisely what Spencer was doing, knew that there was no way in hell he could stop him—not that he wanted to, but he preferred confrontations behind closed doors, not in public like this—so he just kept kneeling and wondering just how vicious Spencer would be.
"To make the competition fair for everyone, judges should have an unbiased opinion." Spencer flipped through the pages on his clipboard, folded the papers back, and got down on one knee but facing the judges who were now staring at them, anger clear. "It says here in the rules. Here. Number Three: All the projects should be judged on their scientific merit, not by one's personal views of the students or their parents." Spencer allowed the pages to fall back. "I don't want to break the rules."
"That would be bad," Jack agreed quietly.
Aaron glanced at Jessica and saw how she was staring down the judges, the Fuck you clear in her expression.
"Doctor Reid!" Ms. Gisen rushed up to him as he stood. She looked panicked and her voice was barely above a whisper. "There's no need to do this here."
Spencer blinked, looking bewildered as he quickly looked around. If Aaron didn't know any better, he would have bought the "shocked innocent" act. Instead, he realized just what Spencer had done and he hated his own inaction, hated that he avoided calling the bigots on what they done when he should have. He hated his sudden cowardice.
"I was explaining why I couldn't vote for Jack." Spencer tilted his head slightly and said with the most guileless tone, "I didn't realize there was a problem with reading the rules aloud."
Ms. Gisen's mouth fell open. Jessica coughed, but Aaron could hear the laugh all the same. He best to keep his own features neutral.
Suddenly, a bell rung loudly from the middle of the gym. "The judging should now be concluded!" Stooksbury announced. "The judges for each of the grades should meet and tally the votes, please."
Spencer gave little nod to Ms. Gisen and turned to Jack. "I have to go but you can tell me all about on the way home, okay?" He patted Jack on the shoulder. As Aaron stood, Spencer rocked back on his heels just a little and waggled his eyebrows. "Time to tally the votes."
Aaron watched as Spencer made his way to the judges' table and how the judges whom he'd put in their place made sure they didn't pass by their table on their way over.
Jessica crossed her arms over her chest. "You know, I may just have to steal him from you, Aaron. Damn. That was hot."
Aaron shot her a look as he stood.
She smiled saucily at him before saying to Jack, "C'mon, Jack-Jack. Let's pack this up so you can put it on display at home!"
"You're mad," was all Spencer said as he closed the door to their bedroom. Jack eventually cheered up over dinner, especially afterward when Spencer snuck him a handful of mints from the restaurant. The dinosaur project was on the dining room table and Jack was in bed.
"I'm not mad."
"I didn't make a scene."
"Then why have you avoided making eye contact with me all night?"
Aaron let out a sigh. "I'm proud, Spence." He walked over and settled his hands on Spencer's shoulders. "You did something I couldn't. All I could do was stare them down, but you? Everyone knew what you were saying and why you were saying it. And no one could fault you for saying it because…you read the rules, literally. It was brilliant and…I'm jealous that I didn't think of it before. I'm jealous that I couldn't do what you did."
Spencer kissed him, slowly. Thoroughly. When he broke away, he said against Aaron's lips, "I was the one in a position of authority, Aaron. You had to protect Jack. I think you subconsciously knew that any statement you made would be interpreted as parental favoritism. You also realized that those…those people were looking for a fight. It's why I didn't engage them directly. You didn't have the resources I had."
"This talk sounds vaguely familiar."
"March twenty-second, two-thousand five," Spencer chuckled. "The Goshen Slasher case. I was pissed because the profile indicated the UnSub should have responded better to an ovation from me than from Morgan. Morgan is the one who talked him down. He had information I didn't."
"You don't have to keep babying my ego like this."
"It's not babying," he retorted. "It's reminding you that we're partners."
Aaron pulled him close, wrapping his arms around him. "I love you."
"I love you, too."