Title: Of Fathers and Fairly Godfathers

Warnings: Spoilers up to 7x10 Bittersweet Science. In overall heavy spoilers

Pairings: For this part no explicit ones. Hotch's and Beth's companionship I guess. Referenced PD of... something with Reid/OC. Very strong comradeship between Reid and Jack.

Summary: I make a living out of interpreting human behavior, I have a PhD in behavioral psychology, I can profile disorganized psychopath almost in my sleep and under my very nose my son... Hotch learns the extent of Jack's ability to form friends and Reid's ability to stuff more than one skeleton into the closet and Aaron makes a conscious decision to open that door.

Word count: About 6000

DISCLAIMER: The Mark Gordon Company, ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television own Criminal Minds. I just took them out to play and I promise to put them back when I'm done.

Semi-necessary Author's Note (heavily encouraged to be read before proceeding with reading the story): I'm a big fan of very strong relationship between Hotch and Reid, be it friendship or romantic relationship, I like both and I like writing both. This particular story is the first case. Secondly... Secondly, I happened to like all of Bittersweet Science, I liked Beth and though my shipping heart has other opinion's I believe that Hotch deserves to be happy with whomever he wants and chooses. Thirdly, in here the relationship which Hotch and Beth have is not a full-blown romance, more like mutually enjoyed companionship and even though the perspective of the chapter lies with Hotch and Beth having a conversation and observing certain events the main focus of the story is Hotch and Reid's friendship, past and present. Fourthly, it's a chapter of a longer story, try to keep that in mind, and a story that explores and tries to justify certain actions or lack of thereof. Fifthly, that's what happens when I get through serious CM withdrawal, worsened by RL issues and RL induced technical hiatus which lead me to losing a fair lot of other ideas and rendered me computerless for three months. Sixthly, it's fiction, and I had chosen this particular settings for a reason to explore certain aspects of the relationship between Stormy Bossman and Boy Wonder, other relationships are secondary, referenced in passing and not overly 'in your face' (at the very least I try to keep them us such). Enough of a babble, let's proceed with the story.

Feedback is welcomed with open arms.

My aunts and uncles are one of a kind,

A little goofy but are quite a great find.

They like to play the same silly games,

And are always calling me strange little names.

They love to hug and kiss, tickle and squeeze,

And sometimes I even bounce on their knees.

I like it so much I can't help but grin,

I know its their hearts I'll surely win.

Bernadette Redmond

Aaron leaned against the back of the bench and sighed before he took a long sip of his coffee. He was exhausted but in a good way and he didn't mind the non-oppressive silence of his companion.

"Can you move?" Beth asked with an exhausted smile.

"A little," he admitted with a small smile. "Ask me again in twenty minutes, I'm still recuperating from the chase with Race Across the America participant."

"It was a good chase," Beth said.

"I know that, logically, but my pride begs to differ," Aaron sighed.

"You can tell your pride that you aren't covering the distance between DC and Baltimore on a bike twice a day," Beth offered. "And twenty minutes of a chase is still something considering how little time you have to train."

"Okay but I still think that my pride looks like this," Aaron jutted his chin at the bum that spreed on a bench twenty feet away from them. "Well, minus Johnny Walker and fleas."

"Ah, the Enchanter," Beth smiled. "Amazing Enchanter and his Barking Troupe. Dad always managed to get a new story out of him whenever they'd meet or from Doris the Pigeon Lady we passed on the way."

"She greeted you," Aaron agreed. "Like an old time acquaintance."

"In a way I am," Beth said softly. "I grew up not too far away from here and I always had to pass this park on my way from school, my dad always waited for me here with a bag of caramels and we sat on one of the benches, talking about work and school, observing passing people, talking about them or listening to Enchanter's or Doris's or Old Man McCarthy's stories."

"What he did for a living if you don't mind asking?" Aaron asked curiously.

"I don't," Beth smiled. "He used to work for Metro PD when I was small and later on as a private investigator."

"Explains a lot," Aaron nodded.

"Daddy's little girl," Beth agreed. "Even after he retired he always spend an hour or two here gathering stories and observing people. He told my mum that he was writing a book and in a way he was though I don't think that he wanted to publish it but I guess that he would grudgingly accept eventual publishing."

"You are planning to publish them," Aaron said.

"I already did," Beth admitted. "It's a small publication and I'm not hoping for financial merit of it, well one higher than the savings I put into publishing which would be nice and it would make mum stop complaining that instead of investing in a car or investing into anything really I washed three years of savings down the drain."

"Mothers worry," Aaron pointed out.

"I know, that's why as much as sometimes I want to tell her that I saved those money and I can do with them whatever I please, I keep my mouth shut. But I saw her reading the book when I was visiting this week even if she was doing her best to hide it," she said.

"What's the title?" Aaron asked curiously.

"You don't have to do it," Beth rolled her eyes.

"You can tell me now or have me reading it next week while I will be waiting for you at the cafe, your choice," Aaron smiled.

"Does the bureau likes having their agents spending their resources on searching for a small publication?" Beth asked cheekily.

"The bureau has coffee breaks and I wouldn't be spending their resources, well not literal resources, though some people would disagree... but I work with a guy who never meet a book he didn't like and if I will express my wish to read it quite likely answer I would get would be 'I read it last Saturday' or 'I have it with me'," Aaron said dryly.

"Impossible," Beth shook her head. "It went into sales today, into just four bookstores in DC, happens to be 600 pages long in tiny print and your guy would have will have to devote whole day to read it."

"Assuming that average number of words per page is 250 then 600 pages gives us about 150 000 words... No, that's a typical publisher font size." Aaron frowned. "In published works the number of words per page would rate from between 250 words per page to even a 1000 words per page in academic textbooks. Average number of words per page in nonacademic publications rates around 400 words per page. Given that ratio 600 pages means average number of 240 000 words in the entire book which means that I would have read it in two hours."

"2000 words per minute? Dazzling speed-read," Beth said pensively. "I'm proud from my hard-pressed 1000 words per minute with 75 % recovery."

"Byproduct of bureaucracy," Aaron shrugged.

"How high recovery?" Beth asked curiously.

"74%," Aaron grimaced. "Coached."

"Impressive," Beth said simply. "The highest result ever recorded is like 4700 words per minute with 67% comprehension?"

"Officially," Aaron agreed.

"And unofficially?" Beth asked.

"Once I witnessed very hard-pressed 30 000 words per minute and heard 'great you berks, now one of you will drive me home because thanks to you I have a mother of all migraines, challenge me into speed-reading contest again and I will shot you in the foot'," Aaron answered.

"What was the recovery?" Beth asked skeptically.

"100%," Aaron answered. "But the boys tweaked the rules so it was an actual book and a timer and the contestant firmly refused acknowledging that result because according to him he was duped on that bet and ended with a migraine which whole unit felt for following week or even two."

He smiled at the memory of Reid returning all files that had been dropped on him in past few days to their rightful owners with harsh notes stapled inside them to inform his colleagues that it was the highest time for them to 'Do your own goddamn work you are supposedly being paid for!'. What was the most funniest about the incident itself that majority of agents that dropped their files on Reid took Reid finishing the cases for granted and Aaron personally counted seventeen cases that were dropped on Reid and turned over to Aaron unchecked by his teammates. More so, he dared to blush furiously when he found the file he himself dropped on Reid with the note stapled to it that claimed 'Do you want me to ask you for a raise in public and have me list the reasons why?' Least to say from that day on all agents that dropped their consults on Reid always checked if he really finished them and Aaron himself always asked Reid beforehand if he had to drop his own consult on Reid, not that it happened often but still.

"Happy memory?" Beth asked curiously.

"A fond one, yes," Aaron nodded with a smile. "A coworker of mine asserting himself in a very unique way that taught the whole unit the lesson to not dupe other colleagues unless they wanted to feel very painful and embarrassing retribution."

"Pride was the casualty?" Beth asked with small smile.

"A major one," Aaron agreed with a smile. "I believe that they called it: God's wrath."

"Sacrificed virgin worked the trick?" Beth joked.

"Bag of Kopi Luwac did," Aaron said. "We threw a basket of Belgian chocolates and English-Hebrew dictionary into the mix and we were graciously forgiven."

"30 000 words per minute with 100% recovery?" Beth asked. "How that works?"

"Depends whom you ask and when. On a really bad day the source itself retorted 'Maybe I was born with it or maybe it's Maybeline' and on a better one gave me a dissertation on why I write with my left hand but hold a gun like right-handed person. It boils to nature and nurture. I was born left-handed but I was peer-pressured by the society to develop ambidexterity and later on I was the only left-handed person in the training group with a grumpy for a trainer who said 'either figure it out on your own rookie or do like others do' and because figuring it out on my own nearly cost me a dislocated finger for the duration of the training I did like others did. Pure behaviorism."

"And because it was working for you either way you didn't feel the need to change it," Beth nodded. "Neither did the speed-reader. But if 30 000 words per minute even with 100% memory recovery leads to a migraine what doesn't.?" she asked curiously.

"20 000 words per minute also has a 100% memory recovery and happens to be non-headache inducing speed. Naturally he can read slower than that if he will pressure himself because once in return for 30 000 words per minute dupe he allowed our colleagues to get him into speed-reading contest, official one mind you. I tried to talk him out of it and all I got was cryptic 'I'm from Vegas'. So on the day of the contest I followed the three of them and saw how 20 000 words per minute with 100% memory recovery drops to 2000 words per minute with 56% memory recovery in a well-deserved payback."

"Sounds like money were on the line," Beth said pensively.

"They were," Aaron agreed. "Apparently each of the two put five hundred on the line that Vegas would score a result of 10 000 words per minute or higher and he found out about the bet, bet that they would lost and through an acquaintance of his he bet a tenner that he would achieve 2000 words per minute with 56% memory recovery. According to him I couldn't really mind a lesson in self-preservation."

"House rules," Beth smiled.

"That too," Aaron smiled.

"Vegas sounds like a Professor my dad described in his stories," Beth admitted. "That's what his stories are about, people he saw in the park and wondering what makes them whom they are. Dad always describes him with his bottomless bag of books and ever present traveling mug."

"Tall, slightly scrawny, brown hair, brown eyes, wears cardigans, sometimes with old-school glasses and purple scarf, the bag is an old-school one, yellowish-beige in color?" Aaron asked pensively.

"As if you read a description of him," Beth nodded and she tapped her chin before she said, "Vegas is the Professor."

"Sounds like it," Aaron smirked. "It doesn't really surprise me because he lived in the area for a while and at the very least once he and your father would have to cross paths."

"Never spoke thought," Beth said. "All right. Coffee-cups and Fallen Leaves."

Aaron smirked.

"Did someone ever told you that you can cow people in submission?" Beth asked with a smile.

"Repeatedly," Aaron nodded with a smile."For most of the time the one who turned passive manipulation into work of art and still has people falling for that after all those years. That he does it to suspects is not a problem, it's part of the job and he is successful so bless him, but I'm waiting for the day when his colleagues will realize how many times he managed to cow them into submission."

"Why you didn't tell them?" Beth asked curiously.

"I'm waiting for them to realize that he isn't as socially inept as he presents himself to be, even if he was when he started working with us people do have a learning curve and he is no different," Aaron smirked.

"Vegas," Beth nodded.

"Vegas," Aaron agreed. "That's why I don't bet against him. I'm one of the few that come the closest to deciphering how much of his image is him being himself and how much of it happens to be pure acting and he still manages to confuse me at times."

"You trained him," Beth said pensively. "Dad always spoke of the unique bond that for most of the time forms between trainer and trainee. He held his first partner in very high regard and all of his trainees held him in high regard too."

"Vegas is peculiar," Aaron admitted.

"That's what dad said about all of his trainees," Beth smiled.

"And according to my trainer so was I," Aaron smiled back. "Never-ending circle of life," he sighed.

"I think that he is coming around," Beth said suddenly. "Another usual description from dad's book. Either alone or with various women and children. This time is the other."

"Most probably out on a walk with his godson," Aaron nodded as he followed Beth's line of vision to the curve in the alley.

"I counted eight kids," Beth said.

And there were eight of them. More surprisingly four of them Aaron never saw before and the other four weren't supposed to be around Reid.

Trish, Mike's daughter was easily recognizable and the tallest from the bunch, pushing the stroller with little Erica, her half-sister and Mike's and Jess's youngest daughter, their older one, Sandra was dancing circles around Reid, who was holding the hand of about three to four years old dark haired girl and on his other side, Jack. Jack was grinning as if strolling through a park in Reid's, and his companions, company was the most natural thing in the world.

Reid's other companions were a tall dark-haired woman that was pushing a pram and had another two little dark-haired girls holding on it. One of them appeared to be about three-four years old like the other one and the second seemed to be younger than them but not too much.

Just as suddenly as they appeared the woman and the girls parted their way from Reid and Jack, who was still holding on Reid's hand. The females went to the playground ahead of Aaron and Beth and settled down there while Reid and Jack continued walking down the alley engrossed in a discussion.

Aaron frowned. Reid did see Jack few times in Jack's life, before Aaron's divorce, after it and after Haley's death. None of the meetings warranted another though, even if Reid once won Jack's tentative trust by a string of magic tricks before Penelope whizzed Jack away to her lair to watch a cartoon. But that didn't explain the current level of comradeship between Reid and Jack, one of a dotted upon nephew and world's most awesome uncle.

As they got closer Aaron could hear their discussion a bit better.

"Did Auntie bring the crayons with her?" Jack asked curiously.

"Of course she did," Reid confirmed eagerly. "Do you want to draw first?"

"If I'll finish drawing I can have more time to play," Jack said simply. "Can you explain something to me Uncle Spencer?"

"Always," Reid smiled at Jack. "What's bugging you Jack-Jack?"

"What's with those biking comments between Uncle Mike and Aunt Jess?" Jack asked simply. "Is it because dad can't ride a bike and they are making a fun of him or because he can and they are jealous?"

"Neither," Reid sighed. "It has nothing to do with biking at all, even if the bike is indirectly involved."

"So..." Jack frowned and after a moment added curiously, "It's a bit like with Aunt Jess making comments to you about making an honest woman out of Aunt Kate and you telling her that she already is?"

"In a way," Reid agreed. "Remember that time when we talked about literately and figuratively?"

"So there is a woman in there somewhere?" Jack asked pensively.

"Probably," Reid said simply.

"Is she nice?" Jack asked.

"I don't know," Reid admitted. "But you will."

"How?" Jack looked up at Reid.

"I know your dad, Jack-Jack," Reid said simply. "He wants the best for you, you have my word on that. Pinky swear," Reid extended his right pinky to Jack, who quickly hooked his own pinky around Reid's. "Any person your dad will ever introduce to you will be the person your dad wants you to meet because he knows that he or she will be nice to you. So if you will meet her, it will be because your dad decided that he can trust her to be nice to you which is why you will know even if I won't."

"Will I will have to call her mum?" Jack asked nervously.

"Of course not!" Reid said quickly.

"Elle calls Aunt Kate, Mama," Jack said pointedly.

"Elle is different, Jack," Reid sighed. "Elle is growing up with Haley, they are the same age so for Elle calling Kate 'Mama' is a bit more natural because Haley is like her sister and when Haley calls Kate Mama so does she. That doesn't change that Elle has her own mum, Haley has her own, and so does Lily. It's their choice to call Kate Mama and nothing else than that obliges them to use that name on Kate. And nothing else but your own choice will make any woman your dad will bring home to call her your mum, your dad knows that and he won't expect you to do so... but if he does you know that you can tell me that," Reid winked at Jack.

"So you can give him a third degree about it," Jack said with a smile. "Right after Aunt Jess and Uncle Mike."

"Exactly," Reid nodded eagerly.

"So I don't have to worry too much about drawing another picture for dad?" Jack asked dryly.

"Not in the least," Reid agreed.

"Will it be too obvious if I draw a woman on a bike on the picture?" Jack asked.

"Oh, Jack-Jack," Reid sighed.

"It's called positive rain … rainy … reinforcement," Jack beamed at Reid.

"You know what Jacky? Sometimes you make me regret telling you about Pavlov," Reid shook his head.

"I don't," Jack shrugged. "Paul isn't mean to me any longer. President Lincoln."

"Am I not destroying my enemies by making friends of them?" Reid said quickly. "You will go far in life young Padawan, I just hope that I will live long enough to see it."

"I have a lot of great teachers," Jack smiled.

"Is there another reason you are buttering me up, Jack-Jack?" Reid asked skeptically.

"No," Jack shook his head.

"Jackster," Reid said sternly.

"Can you teach me how to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in French? So I can read it to dad?" Jack asked eagerly. "You taught Haley."

"Haley taught herself," Reid said simply. "But yeah, sure, like pirates say; in for a penny, in for the whole cursed treasure. But let's finish the picture first before we will read the first chapter."

"Okay," Jack agreed.

They both wondered off to their companions, Jack ran eagerly towards the woman who with a smile handed him paper and crayons before she returned to tending to the needs of the child in the pram, all the time taking sidewise glances at the other kids from the group at the playground.

"Aaron?" Beth's voice brought him back to reality and dampened his growing need to go over there and deck Reid as hard as he could. "You look like you are about to commit random act of physical violence on him."

"He is giving me a very good reason to, Beth," Aaron retorted without tearing his eyes from Jack.

"Because you just learned that your son has... a fairly godfather?" Beth asked simply.

"How did you...?" Aaron turned to look at her.

"I'm not an expert on human behavior but neither I happen to be completely oblivious to it," Beth said simply. "I saw how you tensed when you recognized the kids, then frowned, that frown only deepened when they separated, as they talked it deepened even more, you put aside your coffee, you are clutching at the bench, I hazard a guess that you feel like clutching them on someone's neck. I made an inference which turned out to be correct. And as long as I have your attention refocused let me get it into your head, I may not know Jack, but he seems to trust those people, trust enough to confide in them and that, in my honest opinion, is a good thing."

"I'm not going to disagree with that," Aaron grunted. "What, in my honest opinion, isn't right in this picture is that Jack was supposed to be with his Aunt today. Instead he is here, without her..."

"Something came up and she didn't want to worry you?" Beth suggested. "The other kids are hers, right?" she asked. "So she trusts them to take care of her kids and on extension of your son whom you entrusted into her care. I might be wrong but he seems content and he trust them enough to confide in them with his worries."

"Which means prior relations and that's exactly what bugs the most," Aaron retorted. "I didn't know of them, Jack never said a word about spending time with Reid and in fact neither did Reid who possesses uncanny ability to blindside me."

"Did you give either of them a reason to?" Beth asked simply. "Just asking," she added quickly.

Reid's effect. Seemingly innocent term he coined after an interview, on which Reid tagged along in his early days, with a mother of six by then end of which Reid was practically mortified and four of the six kids were bawling their eyes out, their dachshund was eying Reid's pants leg way too eagerly which almost had Reid practically inching into Aaron's lap. If back then he knew how much of a damage that innocent comment might cause he would have kept his mouth shut. It took Henry and few months of baby-sitting duties before Reid stopped fidgeting around the baby smaller than a two years old and while Reid might have gotten better at interacting with kids he still remembered.

"I might have," Aaron admitted grimly. "Still..."

"He is your son, I get it," Beth said sympathetically. "To quote fairly godfather: you want the best for him. I don't think that solving your differences with Reid right now would be the best for Jack. Even for introducing Pavlov and positive reinforcement to him."

"Oh God," Aaron groaned as he put his face in his hand.

"Personally, I think it's cute," Beth said, her voice was laced with amusement.

"Humiliating more like it," Aaron sighed. "I make a living out of interpreting human behavior, I have a PhD in behavioral psychology, I can profile disorganized psychopath almost in my sleep and under my very nose my son aided by resident genius blinker is applying behavioral psychology on me and if I didn't hear it personally I wouldn't have realize it for a longer while. I would have figured it out eventually but most probably I wouldn't track the source for another longer while."

"So you took a huge blow to your ego," Beth said simply. "I suggest swallowing bitter pill and concentrating on positives. For example, your son is smart, good for him, smart people get farther in life. He confides in adults, not all children do, definite plus in my opinion. Besides he seems to have fun in there which is good for him. He wants to learn something by himself so he can make you proud, a plus. He found someone who can help him with learning it, another good thing because he is too young to use google unsupervised but he is not one of those kids who moan and groan that they want to learn something new and end at that. And let me finish," she added quickly because Aaron started to open his mouth, "he is like that because you and his mother did great job at raising him. I know that I would be proud."

"I am," Aaron admitted as he slowly raised his head. "So was Haley," he added softly. "I'm sorry... didn't tell you."

"We know each other for how long? Three weeks, four weeks? You strike me like a very private person, very careful with trusting other people, most certainly for a very good reason... And children are precious and they inspire in other people the need to protect them, especially in their parents... especially in single parents. I'm not angry that you didn't tell me about Jack, I don't have grounds to be, I won't insist on introductions. It will be your choice and your choice alone Aaron, when and where you will decide, if ever maybe," Beth said sympathetically as she gently patted his arm.

"Thank you," Aaron said quietly. "Don't take it personally, I'm trying to wrap my head around a lot of things and I have a lot of issues I need to work on, I'm not perfect."

"Nobody is," Beth said quickly. "And only a fool expects other people to be 100% perfect in every aspect of their lives. Contrary to the proverb the road to hell isn't paved with good intentions, they matter too, effort matters."

"Let's go to that small cafe by the gates," Aaron said quickly changing the subject.

"Okay," Beth stood up. "Are you sure?"

"Well, in the field I have to trust Reid with my life, he saved it few times too," Aaron sighed. "So I can trust Reid with Jack too and since I'm technically not supposed to pick him up for another three hours I can spend part of it on plotting the embarrassing retribution on Reid for introducing Pavlov and positive reinforcement to my son and using it on me," he added as he stood up.

"Decaf?" Beth suggested. "Because of that ever present coffee-cup?"

"Decaf would be only a start," Aaron smirked. "When you know someone long and you know someone well, and I like to think that aside of few issue I do know him well, you know not only their strengths but also their weaknesses, at the very moment I have an urge to play on every single one of them."

"I'm a bit worried that it might come back to bite you," Beth said skeptically as he looked at the playground. "I don't think that you are the only father in this equation, Aaron. How many kids your sister has?"

"Two, they live with her in Tokio, Jess is Haley's sister, she has two plus her husband's daughter from first marriage," Aaron answered.

"With Jack that would make four," Beth said. "Reid at the very least is a father of one, most certainly two and more or less might be involved by some relations with the other two. In few times I saw them around I know that the woman, Kate, most certainly wasn't pregnant but it's not the first time I saw this picture."

"You see them here often?" Aaron asked curiously.

"I always try to run through this park every week, I didn't see them every week though, usually once or twice a month in passing. I think that they started coming around last year, with the older two but sometime in late spring, early summer they were gone for a longer while, I might have missed them but after they returned I saw them around with the smaller girl and about two or so months ago with the pram, that's why I looked closely because I was trying to recall if she was pregnant. Either way it seems that you aren't the only one who feels fiercely overprotective and quantity isn't as overrated as it seems."

"Another bone I have to pick," Aaron muttered as he looked at the group.

The infant from the pram by then was in Reid's arms as he sat by Jack at the table while Jack was drawing; the woman had wandered off to the kids at the jungle gym, leaving Reid with Jack, the infant and little Erica that was dozing off in her stroller at the table.

Reid's comfortable air with the infant indicated that it wasn't the first time he held the child while he was paying attention to another, the child itself looked a bit too big to be a newborn but a bit too small to be a toddler around or not far under Erica's age. Reid's reactions and comments to Jack's tale over the picture indicated that it wasn't anything new to Reid either.

Something in Aaron's brain clicked. Past conversations with Reid about his father, his remarriage to a girl much younger than Reid himself because there was apparent reason for them to get married, Reid never really clarified it, but Aaron had his suspicions. Lame phone call in late June, claiming simply: my father died in a car crash, don't come to the funeral, I'm not coming myself and there is no need to tell the team about it. Stop profiling me, I'm only calling ahead because I don't want you to call me just to listen profanities under his address and later have big boy talk over it and for the record you didn't come to your father's funeral either so you really don't have grounds to judge me. Reid never mentioned after that call what became of his step-mother and half-sibling and by Aaron's estimations the little girl might be Reid's half-sister, especially taking into account her appearance after Reid returned from his 'sabbatical'. In fact the infant too might be Reid's half-sibling. The older two though...

"They started to come with the older two sometime in January?" Aaron asked pensively.

"Early January," Beth confirmed.

"Was there anything about their behavior that struck you as odd?" Aaron looked at Beth.

"Now that you brought it up there was something," Beth nodded. "They didn't right away struck me like a pair, more like siblings. Sister comforting her brother. For sure I saw him crying at least once as she held him, she was also constantly crowding in his personal space and once, though I think it didn't happen at the same time I saw him playing with a silver band with a very miserable look on his face."

"But it was around the same month?" Aaron asked. "What the band looked a like? Like a ring?"

"I didn't see any jewels on it," Beth shook her head. "Wedding band?" she suggested.

"Never officially married," Aaron shook his head. "Not even officially dated anyone for a very long while," he added. "But official versions aside losing someone he was very close to explains a lot. Social withdrawal, health problems like psychosomatic migraines he pretended to not have and hid very well, insomnia that was getting worse to the point it was evident that he didn't sleep well, and at some nights at all. It's a text-book depression which later on only got worse."

"Why not talk about it at all?" Beth suggested.

"Because it was too painful, to him, other people. I was away for whole December, Jack was having problems so I was on a leave all month long. When I returned in January there were small signs that something was not right, like that alleged cold which lasted longer than usual, social withdrawal which started right then," Aaron said pensively.

"Which explains why he didn't come to you," Beth said pensively and when Aaron looked at her she clarified. "From what you said it sounds like Jack's mum died around December, whomever he had lost it had to happen within a few weeks after the anniversary."

"Which explains why he was hiding major depressive episode in the first place," Aaron nodded. "Though there is another thing I'm not getting."

"Like?" Beth asked as she kicked off the break on the bike.

"What in current circumstances in the name of Einstein means that quote," Aaron sighed. "Statistically widowed men start dating much faster than females. According to him I'm refuting the data, so what does he?"

"And what's, I hope it's accurate academic term, the average period of spousal bereavement for widowed males?" Beth asked cautiously. "I don't exactly follow statistics."

"That he didn't clarify," Aaron muttered as he kicked off the brake on his own bike. "But I'm not convinced that he is refuting the data, more like embracing it," he looked at the group around the table again. "Public display of affection."

"My dad always referred to it as marking the territory," Beth said with small smile.

"I will get him personalized mug that has that quota written on it and with personal attachment: some men refute the data, some men embrace it," Aaron muttered.

"Not much of a revenge for Pavlov," Beth said.

"According to a proverb revenge is a dish best served cold," Aaron said. "As it happens we are allegedly on a down week next week. I will have enough time to watch him as he works himself into a frenzy trying to figure it out. Especially if I will put effort into it and personalize it myself."

"I'm worried that if you will overdo it you might end with a mug chucked at your head," Beth said skeptically.

"Or I could simply stick to: some men refute the data, some men embrace it," Aaron said.

"Sounds more devious," Beth smiled.

"And I know what I will get in return, eventually," Aaron smiled.

"What if you don't mind answering?" Beth asked.

"Personalized mug on my own, in his handwriting," Aaron said. "With: DNFW goes both ways."

"DNFW?" Beth asked.

"It's an acronym for 'do not fuck with', Something I learned in my early days as a prosecutor," Aaron clarified. "Comes handy every once in a while. In his early days Reid made out of it particular art so I got him DNETAFW as a reward."

"Do not even think about fucking with," Beth smiled. "Appropriate."

"Our boss didn't think so," Aaron smiled remembering how Gideon suggested that Reid should keep that particular mug at home while giving both Reid and Aaron a knowing look. "But I know that he still has it and somehow I always ended with it when I came around and stayed long enough for coffee. It had been a while."

"No one says that you cannot start again," Beth smiled. "For longer than coffee in fact, Jack didn't exactly look like he would really mind."

"For now I do mind," Aaron said. "But once I stop, why not? I need to refresh a lesson or two first."

"DNFW?" Beth smirked.

"I was thinking rather about DNETAFW," Aaron smiled.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

Leo Buscaglia

Feedback is love.