Author: Cascade Waters
Prompt: Fighting
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Rating: PG-13
Warning: spanking, shameless paternal affection
Author's Website: Cascade Waters page
Author's Notes: Disclaimer: I only own the characters you don't recognize from the show.



The boy came out of his fog of misery when one of the officers—the nametag said 'Burkholt'—hitched one hip up on the desk next to the kid's chair and handed him a styrofoam cup half-full of tepid water. Once the boy had finished the water, the cop took back the cup. "The university is only asking for a four-day suspension, since you indicated that you're not planning to press charges for assault, though I hope you know that you don't really get the final say on that; they consider it a fair trade for the disruption, considering their discipline policy. Mr. Kerger, over there, has elected not to press charges against you given the number of witnesses in your case and, big surprise here, a thick stack of complaints against him from other students. You'll still have to pay for the projector, though." He returned the boy's nod with an approving one of his own. "Good—you've got some smarts in your head, not just in your mouth. That puts you ahead of most kids your age."

The cop took in the smooth jaw and earnest hazel eyes and the sandy blond hair that really could use a trim, and he sighed, twisting to put the cup on the desk and pick up the cordless phone. Turning back, he held the phone like a pointer. "You're lucky, kid; most people don't get off so easy for stuff like this, no matter how it started. Now, since you're suspended, I can't just let you go back to life as usual, and frankly, I wouldn't feel too great about doing that, anyway—I think that you're a good kid, and you've got a lot of potential, but I also think that you still have a few things to learn and not too much time left to learn 'em before your actions start having consequences out here in the real world that you can't just blow off like whatever class you're supposed to be in right now. So you're gonna give me a number, and I'm gonna call it, and we're gonna find you someone to come pick you up and take you home to think about all this. And that someone's gotta be old enough to have to shave more than once a week."

The boy sank a little in his seat and eyed the phone with dismay, but didn't look truly dejected or afraid, which told the officer that maybe, just maybe, this kid had someone in his life who was up to the job of looking after him. Good. Karl might be a liason between campus and local cops, but he'd been a beat cop for long enough before that, and he'd seen way too many bright little stars flame out because they didn't have someone to protect them from their own bad choices, or from their 'protectors.'

He gave the boy a bit longer to think, then asked for a number, hoping for a parent's but not pushing for it. The kid still looked uncertain, but he finally, hesitantly, gave a number and a name. He chewed his lip as the officer dialed, and closed his eyes and gnawed harder when the call went through and the cop had a very serious conversation with the voice on the other end, outlining who and where he was and that he was calling to secure the kid a lift home. After a couple of minutes, he nudged the boy, who opened his eyes to find the cop holding out the phone to him with a very firm look. "It's for you." The boy reached out a slightly trembling hand to take the warmed plastic of the standard-issue phone, and his bottom lip tingled from his gnawing as he put the phone to his ear.

"Uh… hi, Uncle Spencer."

# # #


"So… are you ready to tell me what happened today?"

With those words, the hope that the kid had been harboring for the past few hours—the hope that he wouldn't have to explain anything, that this could all just be behind him—fizzled. "If I say no, can I go to sleep now?" He didn't really mean for it to come out so sullen, but that was no big deal. It was just Spencer, after all.

"No, I'm afraid not. I just picked you up from a police station, with a request to take you home, and wasn't allowed to take you back to your dorm to get any of your things because you're suspended. I think we need to talk."

The boy didn't understand. This was Spencer, for cryin' out loud! He was the young one, the one who didn't freak out, the one who understood (or at least wasn't interested in being annoyingly authoritative and… adult about stuff.) That was why the kid had picked him to call; he'd been sure that Spencer wouldn't care, or that at least he'd be able to distract the profiler into forgetting about it. And he tried, but Spencer refused to be distracted… or reasoned with, or bribed, or shamed into respecting his young friend's privacy.

So, with a put-upon sigh, the boy explained the reputation of the teaching assistant in his physics class and how Kerger loved most especially to pick on students like him who had trouble with the subject, and that the boy's age didn't help. He told Spencer that they'd been studying the principles of aerodynamics, which wasn't the easiest or most interesting line of study for the artsy, wordy young student who would be perfectly happy holing up for weeks at a time with spiral notebooks and cheap sandwich cookies. That morning, Kerger had, once again, singled him out to mock in front of the whole class, verbally and physically (the boy hadn't checked, and didn't mention, that he could still feel the ends of the grad student's fingers) poking and prodding at the student who, according to the TA, couldn't even manage to walk down to the main level of the lecture hall without tripping (which only made the kid more angry and embarrassed because it was pretty much true—he'd been tripping over his own feet, running into things, and just generally blundering around for weeks.) He couldn't help being the youngest, or the smallest, in the class, and he knew that none of this really mattered. If it had ended there, with Kerger sneering at his clumsiness and most of the class snickering, things would have gone back to normal five minutes later when class ended, and the kid would have gone back to his dorm room to sulk until his current story distracted him. But they didn't end there—the boy was sensitive to his differences and tired of being embarrassed all the time, tired of feeling like a stupid klutz who was too scared to stand up for himself, tired of just smiling and waving and pretending to be in on the joke, tired of being the joke; and Kerger, as he'd turned his back on the students and sauntered toward the teacher's desk, had just had to add, loudly, that maybe someone should charge the boy's mommy with negligence for letting him out of the house before teaching him how to walk.

Those had been the wrong words. The boy couldn't say that he hadn't really been thinking, because he had—pages worth of words and sketches involving him using some of those cool martial arts moves he'd been taught to adjust Kerger's attitude—but he hadn't really thought about the consequences, and when he'd been standing up, and climbing up onto his desk, and taking a true Morgan flying leap, and crashing down behind Kerger, and grabbing the TA's ankles to send him tripping face-first into the projector cart, and flipping him face-up and immobilizing him by way of a pressure point, and sitting on Kerger, and asking loudly who needed to learn to walk now, he hadn't really cared. He'd proven that he was, in fact, capable of something, and those seconds he'd spent in the air had been a real rush. Flying rocked!

Spencer didn't seem all that impressed, but he wasn't growling, so that seemed like a good sign. "Uh huh. I see. And just so you know, I understand the feelings you're struggling with; remember, I was the youngest and smallest student in all of my classes, too. Even the ones where I was the teaching assistant."

The boy blew out a breath, relaxing. "See? I knew you were the right one to call!"

Spencer kept his eyes on the road. "Now, hold on—that doesn't mean that I condone what you did. There's a whole list of reasons why it was wrong, and I'm sure that you know every one of them."

"Yeah, I know. It's just… it felt good, you know? I mean, maybe not so much what I did, but doing it. Seeing him on the floor with the other students laughing didn't really feel as good as I thought it would, but it was cool just to know that I did something, instead of just writing about it."

"Okay. That makes sense." Spencer nodded. "But you know that you're still in trouble, don't you?"

The kid huffed a little, but nodded. "So, what will it take to convince you to keep this just between the two of us?"

Spencer shook his head. "Nothing." He must have seen the boy's brightening expression out of the corner of his eye, because he gave a wry little smile and shook his head again. "Sorry, my friend, not going to happen. This isn't like helping you hide candy stashes and liberated frogs when you were seven. I can't keep this from your dad. I don't plan to be the one to tell him—that's your responsibility—but your father is a good man, he has a right to know what's going on with you, and he's my friend; I can't and won't conspire against him, and I won't lie to him. You're a very intelligent young man; I'm sure that you understand."

The boy plunked his head back against the headrest. "Yeah." He thought for a couple of minutes, filing away the fact that Spencer had only said that he wouldn't lie to his coworker, not that he couldn't, and then sat up straight again as an idea hit him. "Hey! I know a way to fix this without having to worry Dad—you could punish me! Yeah, that's it! You could, like, lecture me, or make me write a report, or have me help you with your paperwork! Then Dad'll know that it's all taken care of, and everything can just go back to normal!"

This time Spencer did take his eyes off of the road, for just a moment, to pin the boy with a look. "Somehow, I don't think that your father would find those to be sufficient consequences this time; do you?"

And he couldn't, in all honesty, say yes. He was sensible by nature. But that didn't mean that he was giving up. "We could call Uncle Derek and ask him to, I don't know, maybe make me do extra drills with him or something."

Spencer chuckled outright. "My, you are desperate, aren't you?" The boy would have gotten offended, but it was true—he would do just about anything to avoid having to deal with his dad over this. Spencer must have read that in the boy's silence. "You do know," he said very gently, "that he'll always love you, no matter what you do, and that he might be disappointed in your choices, but he'll never be disappointed in you, right?"

The kid nodded. He couldn't remember ever doubting that his father loved and cherished him, even when things got rough between them. He just couldn't stand to face his father's disappointment; it hurt. And that wasn't the only thing: a long time ago, when he was just a little kid and Dad and Uncle Derek had just started teaching him some self-defense, Dad had looked him in the eye and made a promise, and Dad always kept his promises. Always. Whether the boy wanted him to or not. The boy was pretty sure that it didn't matter how old, or how big, or how responsible he was.

There might be just one last option…

"Why don't you do it?" At Spencer's puzzled glance, the boy turned a little in his seat, putting on the best conciliatory face he could muster even though in his head he couldn't quite believe that he was actually suggesting this. "Why don't you, you know, punish me? Like, that way?" He could see Spencer's head starting to shake, and he plunged on. "Yeah, why not? You could, um, spank me. It wouldn't have to be more than a swat or two, and you wouldn't even have to worry about it not hurting; as long as my butt's in the air and I feel bad, I think it counts. And you know my dad—he doesn't believe in double jeopardy."

Spencer rolled his eyes before responding. "I really don't think it works that way—I don't think that kind of thing is really up to you. And besides, I can't discipline you in any way; I don't have the authority. Your father hasn't trusted me with that."

The boy thought that sounded weird and kind of sad; oh, he really didn't mind knowing that at least one of the adults in his life didn't have carte blanche authority over him, but it still seemed sad, even though Spencer just sounded matter-of-fact about it. "I trust you!" he blurted, trying to fix two problems at once.

Spencer smiled, just a little, but it seemed real this time. "Thanks, buddy, but that isn't enough. I'm glad to hear it, but it's not your call."

They made the rest of the two-hour drive in silence, both lost in thought. When they pulled up in front of the little cottage, Spencer asked, a little panicked, "Are you hungry? I should have taken you somewhere to get dinner. I'm sorry, I didn't even think about it."

The boy waved that off. "Not really hungry. Trust me." He reluctantly got out of the car and trudged up the walk, pulling out his key along the way. He let them both into the cottage and had to have Spencer disarm the alarm, because the boy himself was suddenly on his back, buried under two large, hairy bodies.

"Rider! Ranger! I've missed you, too—now get off of me!" He laughed and picked himself up off of the floor, brushing mingled black and copper hair off of his clothes before reaching out to scratch both heads, while the tongues that belonged to those heads tried to touch every inch of their Little Man.

Spencer, the boy, and the world's two friendliest attack dogs spent the next couple of hours just playing around in the small living room, and everything seemed fine until the dogs both turned toward the front door, ears alert. The two humans traded a look before they heard the sound of a key in the lock. One was thinking about getting back to work and the half-inch stack of reports that Sherri needed him to proofread for her; the other was wondering if he could make it out the back door and get a cab back to school before his father figured out that he wasn't in the house. But then the key was turning, and the door was opening, and the dogs were greeting their Big Man, and he was stepping inside, and he was greeting Spencer as though the younger agent belonged in the cottage, and then he was realizing that his son was home, and his tired face was lighting up like the New Years ball, and he was across the room, and they were hugging, and…

Spencer tried to slip out, and he'd have made it out the door if the dogs hadn't decided that he was Theirs and needed to be kept safely in their territory. "Reid?" The older agent turned at the barking to look at his young colleague, one arm firmly fixed around his son's shoulders as he did so.

"I'm just the ride. I'm going to get out of your way now, and let you two have some time to yourselves." He twisted around the dogs and backed out so quickly that his friend didn't really have time to mount an objection or even any questions, but as Spencer got into his car, the older man stood in the doorway of the cottage and did a little 'barking' of his own.

"Reid," he said firmly, "you're not to touch Agent Paulson's reports. She accepted this transfer with all of its responsibilities, and she needs to take care of her own paperwork. If you're not going to stay here for dinner, then go get yourself something to eat and take it home; I don't want you in the office tonight." Spencer obviously heard him, but he didn't acknowledge the orders as he started his car and drove away, and the older agent sighed before turning back to enjoy having his son home.

"So, Jack-rabbit, who's cooking—you or me?"

# # #


And it would have been so easy to leave it there—to pretend that he was just on a break and that he was dying for the garlic toast that his father always made to go with spaghetti. He could put the water on for the noodles, and set the little kitchen table, and take the dogs for a quick run, and be back in time to open and warm up the sauce, and it would all just be perfect.

Except that it wouldn't.

He was pretty sure that he could deal with the niggling guilt… until his dad started asking questions, suddenly worried that Jack might be home because he wasn't feeling well or because something might have happened to the dorm. Jack smiled and reassured his father that it was nothing like that, and he told himself that he was okay with that, and his dad was evidently so happy to have him home that he was overlooking all of Jack's tells. Jack said that he was going to go see what clothes he'd left at home, and he turned and made it halfway to his bedroom before he stopped, paused, and then slowly turned around. "Um… I… I think maybe we need to talk."

They sat down on the couch, close enough for Aaron to be able to reach over and rub Jack's back but far enough away to satisfy their masculine sense of personal space in relation to other males. Jack told his father everything that he'd told Spencer, and more, all the while staring at Rider's slowly swishing tail so that he didn't have to see the disappointment in his dad's face. When he finished, his father was silent for a few minutes, and Jack started to wonder if his dad was really angry.

"Son," Hotch said quietly, "look at me, please." Jack tried, he really did, but when he seemed to be having trouble making himself obey, Aaron reached out and gently but firmly gripped his jaw and turned Jack's head so that their eyes met. "I'm not happy with your behavior. I'm disappointed in the choices you made this morning." Jack's eyes and heart dropped, but his dad demanded eye contact again, and this time, Jack managed it. "I'm not pleased with that, but I am glad that you decided to be honest with me. You did that, on your own, without Spencer or anyone else here to push you into it; you're taking responsibility for your mistakes, and that means something." He let that sink in and take some of the sting out of his disappointment, and then he said, "Now, I expect you to tell me what you should have done this morning and why." The order sounded positive, because Aaron Hotchner had always believed that people responded better and more sincerely to positive thinking, but it was still an order, and it was still designed to make Jack detail what he'd done wrong and why it was wrong.

So he did, standing up to pace and touching on everything from not lodging a formal complaint through proper channels, to giving in to the verbal harassment, to responding physically, to causing property damage. Aaron listened, again, but this time, he told Jack to back up; he wasn't satisfied with the mere mention of 'responding physically.'

Jack swallowed a sigh and just barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes, not from annoyance but from resignation that his father was not going to just let it be. "Come on, Dad, I know it was wr—" He stopped abruptly when he saw Aaron start to stand up and recognized the look his slow-to-anger dad was giving him—he'd seen it exactly twice before, only one of those times directed at him, and he really felt that he could happily live the rest of a long and active life without seeing it again. He swallowed hard and backed up again, working to broadcast contrition. "Sorry, sir. I used moves, or versions of moves, that Uncle Derek taught me for self-defense, only I used them in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons." But the guy was asking for it, he so badly wanted to add.

Hotch sat back down and seemed to cool a bit… which might not be a good thing, judging by his tone. "Tell me what you did."

Jack had already done that, but his sensible side kept him from pointing that out; he just did as he'd been told. "I didn't choose to stop myself from standing up on my desk and pushing off like Uncle Derek taught me; I took a flying leap—I don't remember what he calls it—at Kerger, but his back was turned, so that was just lousy of me; he was walking away, so I missed, but I caught his ankles and tripped him so he took a header toward the white board; he reached out and caught the handle of the projector cart, and it crashed into the wall and the projector kinda broke, which wouldn't have happened if I had made better choices; then I flipped him over and sort of half sat on him, just enough to keep him pinned, and I grabbed the pressure point in his hand and pushed to keep him under control, and then I asked him really loudly who needed to learn to walk now; I heard them texting and taking pictures and laughing, and I knew that someone would have called security, but I just stayed like that for a couple of minutes until a couple of campus cops came in and ordered me off of him; I told the truth when they and then Officer Burkholt asked me what had happened, but I shouldn't have had to tell them that because I shouldn't have let any of it happen; I'm responsible for paying for the projector, and I'm suspended for four days, so I'm missing classes; and I humiliated someone just to make myself look and feel better, and I don't have a right to do that, ever." That last part really hurt him, now that he was thinking about it, and he blushed and studied the toe of his ragged sneaker. Even the exhilaration of flying didn't make up for how sick it made Jack to know that he'd made someone else feel that way.

Aaron didn't say anything for a few minutes, and Jack almost wondered if he'd left something out that his father wanted to hear, but he was too miserable to look up voluntarily. "Uh huh," Hotch finally said, slowly. "Come here, son." Jack hesitated before shuffling over to where his father sat, and Aaron gently gripped both young wrists and pulled his son to stand directly in front of him. "I need your eyes, Jack." That part was asking a bit too much, Jack thought, but when he didn't obey right away, Aaron added a firm, "Do you really want to make this more difficult?" Jack sighed a little and forced his eyes up to meet his father's gaze. "Thank you. I'm glad that you recognize most of what you did wrong and why it was wrong, as well as why you made those choices. Son, years ago, when your uncle and I first started teaching you some basic self-defense and safety, I made you a promise; do you remember that promise?" Heart tripping and dropping, Jack nodded. "Good. I want you to tell me what I promised you."

Jack didn't really think that that was fair, especially since he'd already had to state what felt like a million bad choices, but he knew that he wasn't getting out of this without complying… heck, he just wasn't getting out of this. Taking the deepest breath he could manage, what with his heart and stomach visiting his trembling knees, he opened his mouth and half-whispered, "You promised that if I ever used what you were teaching me for anything other than protection, you'd…" he was going to have a hard time with this one, but his father just waited patiently, "you'd take my pants down and s—s—spank me. B-bare."

Aaron nodded. "That's right. Were you in danger, physically, from this person?" Jack, knowing that a few finger-pokes to the chest did not constitute imminent danger in the civilian world, shook his head. "Were you protecting someone who was in physical danger?" Another shake. "And do I keep my promises, Jack?" His son nodded sadly. "Yes, son, you're right, I do. I'm far from perfect, and I make mistakes, but when I tell you that I'm going to do something, I do it." It was Hotch's turn to sigh sadly. "Please go to your room and get ready for bed. Your towel is clean and hanging in the bathroom, and you can use my shampoo, since I think you took yours with you the last time you left. I'll be there in twenty minutes." He released his son's wrists, and the boy trudged out of the living room and down the short hallway to his bedroom.

Jack discovered that he'd left some decent clothes—not enough to last the whole suspension, but stuff to wear tonight and tomorrow—and glanced at the clock before grabbing a comb and going across to the bathroom the two Hotchners shared. He combed his hair and shed his clothes and started the shower, using the facilities while he waited for the water to heat, and then he stepped in. Sure enough, he did have to use his dad's shampoo, which smelled pretty good but didn't do his embarrassingly fine and tangly hair any favors. A fan of long showers, Jack very much wanted just to stand under the warm spray and pretend that this day hadn't happened, but when he peeked around the edge of the curtain and saw that he only had about three minutes left, he squeaked and turned off the water and climbed out, drying off as quickly as he could and then grabbing his clothes; he really wanted to be dressed before his father came to his room, although that didn't really make a lot of sense because Aaron wasn't real likely to let him keep his pants up.

Jack had just finished hastily pulling on shorts and cotton sleep pants, and was halfway into a shirt, when Hotch knocked once and opened the door. Jack froze at the sound and didn't see his dad's fond half-smile; by the time Hotch had crossed to his son and helpfully tugged down the shirt, the smile was gone, and Jack was just embarrassed at having been caught not fully clothed and struggling like a four-year-old. Hotch did not point out helpfully that dressing was usually easier when one wasn't only half-dry. This wasn't really the time for teasing.

Jack looked at his dad with pleading eyes, then sighed and nodded. Hotch stepped over to the side of the twin-size bed and sat down, and then held out a hand. Jack inched closer to his father, but when he was standing next to Aaron's right thigh, he was suddenly not sure that he could go through with this. His dad didn't give him a whole lot of time to wonder about running or just refusing before Hotch said gravely, "Pants." Jack balked, and Aaron said, low and almost conversationally, "You can choose to do it yourself, or to have me do it for you. If you choose to do it yourself, that will be the end of our discussion about that. If you choose to make me do it, we'll have to discuss it further in a few minutes. Either way, I promised that it would happen, and it's going to happen." Gulping audibly, his heart and gut having decided to move to his ankles because his knees were now an earthquake zone, Jack slowly raised his hands and lowered his pants. His father rumbled that he'd made a good choice for both of them, and then gripped the boy's waist and lowered Jack over his lap before slipping the boxers down to join the pants, and then both garments down to just above his son's knees.

Aaron wrapped his left arm snugly around the boy, and ran his right hand through his own hair, suppressing a sigh at the sight of the bare bottom. This was a big deal for them—Jack was a sensible kid, secure in his father's love and endowed with a wide streak of self-preservation, so he hadn't been in trouble all that often, both because he was an amenable child and because he would do just about anything to avoid pain. Aaron could probably count on his fingers the number of times that he'd had to spank his son, and he knew that this was only the second time that he'd done so on bare skin. Hotch believed that spanking should not be an easy or quick option for a parent, and most of the spankings he'd doled out had been equal parts sound and sting so that the recipient would immediately connect the whole experience (not just soreness or embarrassment or resentment) with bad choices. He also believed that Jack shouldn't be embarrassed if his father saw him without clothes, but he knew that Jack was the modest type, and he felt that total vulnerability shouldn't be required, from anyone old enough to bathe alone, without total trust and profound necessity. Unfortunately, he also knew that this time he would need to be able to see what he was doing, to make sure that he didn't cross a line.

"Ah, son, we've been over why this is happening. Do you have any questions, or anything else to say?" He saw the sandy blond head shake, and added, "Okay. Then I'd like you to tell me why this has to be so serious." Jack stiffened but didn't speak up right away, and Hotch guessed that his son was thinking that it wasn't a fair order, trying to make him talk in this position when they'd already covered everything, or what Jack seemed to think was everything. Now Aaron did sigh, and he brought his hand down with a sharp smack on the center of his son's bottom. Jack yelped at that. "Do I need to repeat the question?"

Jack shook his head emphatically. "N-no, sir. Um, it's serious because…" he had to work to get his thoughts together, "because I put my hands on someone when I had no right to."

"Good way to put it." Aaron praised Jack's answer before swatting him again, in the same spot. "And why else?"

Jack was about to complain that it wasn't fair and that swatting him was not a good way to make him feel like talking, but as the sting really started to sink in at that spot, he remembered that he had humiliated Kerger in front of a whole room full of people, and his guilt prompted him to choose a wiser response. "I used what I knew to make him look and feel bad. I did what I wanted him to stop doing."

Aaron nodded. "I'm glad that you recognize that." Deciding that two out of three were enough for the moment, and knowing that he would have to deal with the third problem soon enough, he stopped talking and set about spanking in earnest. He wasn't big on setting a number of swats beforehand for general discipline, being more concerned with physical and emotional response—one of Jack's spankings had lasted about four swats over his jeans because he'd been submissive and very close to the point of true repentance to start with and hadn't needed more than the actual experience to help him remember. This particular situation was too grave for that, so Aaron just swatted three times in one place before moving on to another, painting the whole bottom light red and bringing his squirming son to tears.

Jack was ashamed to be so weak, but he literally could not help it—he had stopped wanting to be a federal agent several years ago, but he'd always wanted to be up to the same standards, and knowing that even Spencer and Aunt Emily could get shot and be dry-eyed while a simple spanking still made him cry like a little kid galled him. He was almost seventeen, and a boy, and the son of a veteran FBI agent, for cryin' out loud! This was ridiculous!

But Aaron knew his child. "It's okay to let go, son. Your body responds to pain, and there's no reason not to let it. You're here, safe, with me, and you're not going to lose my respect." That made Jack cry harder (well, that, and the fact that he was pretty sure that his butt was on fire, and his dad was still swatting,) and he stuffed the corner of one of his pillows into his mouth and bit down.

And then Aaron stopped swatting, shook out his right hand, and started rubbing his son's right calf, squeezing and relaxing the muscles and noting that Jack was still short but finally starting to lose some of the pudginess that had come with puberty. The boy had a small bone structure and had never been what one might call 'stocky' or 'husky,' but he'd carried around a little bit of chub, and he wasn't really a very active or graceful kid. Aaron had a feeling that he knew why Jack had been more clumsy and uncoordinated lately than usual, and his heart squeezed with both pride and sadness that his child would probably hit his adult height pretty soon.

Jack realized that his father had stopped spanking him, and with a few shaky breaths and a real effort, he stopped crying and unmouthed the pillow and started to lever himself up.

And didn't get anywhere. His father still had a good brace around his waist, and when Jack moved, the nice leg-rub stopped. "Where do you think you're going, young man? We're not done here."

Jack twisted his neck to look back at his dad. "We're not?" He sounded incredulous and a little whiney, but Hotch could understand that. Aaron winced in sympathy when Jack obviously had a neck cramp and had to turn back around, and the father switched bracing arms so that he could massage the boy's neck for a couple of minutes.

"No, we're not," he said at length, more stern than he'd been all evening, despite the gentle rubbing. "What upsets me more than anything?"

Jack was genuinely sorry for what he'd done, but he hated this position and didn't really think (hey, a burning butt did tend to take up a lot of mental focus) before muttering, "Having freakishly strong hands?"

The neck massage stopped, the arms switched again, and Aaron swatted the center of his son's bottom, just hard enough to really prickle. "Jack Raines, answer the question."

Jack cringed, both at the use of his middle name and at his dad's tone. Settling back down into a more submissive posture, he sniffled and said, "Me not being safe."

Hotch wanted so badly to soothe him and praise him and be done with all of this, but he knew that he couldn't just yet. "That's right. Now you tell me—did you take any unnecessary risks this morning? Could you have been hurt doing what you shouldn't have done?" In misery, Jack nodded. Hotch rested his hand on the well-warmed bottom. "I didn't catch that. What did you say?"

Jack hissed. "Y-yes, sir."

Taking just a little bit of pity on the boy, Hotch filled in the details instead of forcing Jack to do so. He wasn't at all sure that Jack had even thought of this. "That's right. You could have overbalanced your desk. You could have underestimated your jump and come down in the rows of desks in front of yours, or overestimated and come down on the teacher's desk. You could have landed wrong and injured your legs when you came down behind your TA. You could have underestimated him and found yourself pinned under an angry bully. You didn't need to take any of those risks." He leaned down toward his son's head. "I don't want you to be afraid to move, or to act when you need to. I don't want you to be afraid to try new things or to work on your skills. I certainly don't want you to be afraid of me. But understand, Jack Raines, that I will not accept you being in danger without a good reason; that will never be okay with me. So I'm okay with you being afraid of what happens when you take stupid risks with your safety." He sat up straight again, and Jack didn't see what his father was doing, but he went stiff and straight when he felt something cool and flat and definitely not his father's hand rest against his bottom. He didn't know what it was, wasn't sure that he wanted to know, but he figured that this was going to be bad, and he whimpered.

And he was right. The oven stick, a smooth wooden utensil about a quarter of an inch thick and a bit over an inch wide, generally used to grab the edge of something in the oven to bring it closer for easier retrieval, cracked down loudly across the crest of Jack's bottom, causing him to reflexively rear and nearly launch himself off of his father's lap with a loud cry; Aaron had been expecting something like that, though, and had a good hold on the boy, ignoring the involuntary struggles and focusing on overlapping swats all the way down through the undercurve and then randomly revisiting some spots. Jack had had fistfulls of his comforter, but then he let go of the cover with his right hand and reached back to shield his bottom, sobbing and pleading, and his father swept his hand out of the way with his left elbow and pinned the wrist to the boy's back. When he had a pretty even scarlet going, he dropped two more swats on the center, two more at the top, and four more on the sit-spots and undercurve. Then he slid the stick back into his right hip pocket, where it had been since he'd heard the shower stop, and released his son's waist so that he could rub Jack's hand with one of his and use the other to stroke the back of Jack's right thigh, trying to get him to focus on a touch that didn't hurt.

Jack sobbed on for a few minutes, crying out his guilt and shame and letting go of the anticipation that had had him tied up in knots for most of the day. As he finally started to wind down, he realized that his father wasn't talking, but was just rubbing and stroking and giving Jack some quiet time to get past all of the noise and to process his situation. When the kid was much calmer, still crying but past the sobbing and pretty well wrung out, Aaron gently levered him up onto his knees and told him to stay like that; the father pushed himself to his feet, turned to the side, and gathered his son into his arms. Jack was only about 5'4", but the height of the bed put him at just the right level to burrow into the front of his father's shoulder, crying as much from weariness and an inability to stop as from anything else, while Aaron cuddled him warm and tight, murmuring words of love and praise and reassurance.

They stayed like that for close to fifteen minutes before Jack's trembling knees (and Aaron's rumbling stomach) prompted the agent to gently peel the boy away from his shoulder and lift him over the edge of the bed. Jack held on to his father for a moment after being put down on his feet, not feeling all that steady, and then let go so that he could fix his clothes. Aaron helped him, taking over just before the combined waistbands could brush against the sore bottom; he pulled them out and up until the bands could be brought safely to rest against the small of Jack's back, but the boy still shuddered at the brush of regular fabric against sizzling skin. Aaron dropped a kiss on top of Jack's head and said, "Go wash up. I'll take care of dinner." Jack thought about saying that he wasn't really hungry, but even as the thought popped up, he realized that he kind of was. He shuffled to the bathroom to obey his father, and then back to his room to crawl gingerly onto the bed and lay facedown, and he was dozing lightly when Aaron brushed his cheek and told him to come to the living room.

# # #


To Jack's surprise, the coffee table was half-covered with pizza boxes, and there were two places set with paper plates and napkins. Hotch figured that Jack ate too much fast food and microwave meal stuff when his father was away or Jack was at school, so when they were together, Hotch made an effort to have something home-cooked or at least not served from a disposable container, and Jack still had rules to follow for what was acceptable when he was at school; pizza was a treat, a financial splurge and a concession to time. While Aaron opened boxes and unloaded soda cans for both of them, Jack bit his lip, worrying about how he was going to sit down to dinner when he was pretty darn sure that he couldn't sit, but Aaron solved that problem by showing him the thick cushions he'd put down for their knees.

He should have known that his dad would always take care of him.

Hotch was on his third slice of spinach pizza, and Jack was on his fourth slice of garlic chicken mushroom alfredo, when something finally bugged Jack so much that he had to ask. "Dad," he started out shyly, "why don't you trust Spencer?"

Hotch nearly choked on a bite of his crust, and had to take a few swallows of his root beer before he could respond. "What??"

Jack was a little amused that he'd taken his father so off-guard, and his shyness gave ground to his curiosity. "Why don't you trust Spencer?"

Hotch looked at him like he'd grown a second head. "Jack, what are you talking about? Of course I trust Spencer—I've trusted him with my life more times than I care to count! What on earth would make you think that I don't?"

Jack shrugged. "He said you don't."


"Today, in the car. We were talking about… you know, about what happened, and I…" Only now did it occur to Jack that he might not want to bring this up, but Aaron had his 'deeply serious' expression on (as opposed to his 'very serious' and his 'only slightly deadly serious,' the last of which was his usual demeanor and was nearly cheerful, for him) and Jack knew that there was no point in not following through. He sighed. "Spencer and I were talking about what happened this morning and about how much trouble I was going to be in, and he said that we couldn't just forget about it and that he wouldn't keep it a secret from you, so I… I sorta… asked him to punish me. I figured that if I'd already been punished, then you'd let it go."

Hotch didn't know whether to be hurt, angry, or amused by this, so he settled for baffled, but tried to make it look sufficiently parental. "Oh, you did, did you?"

"Yeah. I gave him some suggestions, but he said that they weren't going to cut it. Then I sorta said maybe he could, you know, um, spank me, but he said no. He said that he doesn't have the authority to punish me at all and you don't trust him, and he wouldn't touch me without your trust. I told him that I trust him—I mean, after all, it is my butt, and I'm the one who has to deal with the emotional trauma of being facedown and letting someone smack me—but he said that my trust wasn't enough and that it wasn't really up to me."

Hotch had to do some blinking before he could reply. "Well, he's right about one thing," he finally said, "it's not up to you. If you need to be disciplined, then you are not in charge of the situation, and you don't get to say who does what any more than you get to decide when I'm done spanking you. But you should understand, son, that just like Aunt Bree and Uncle Derek and Aunt Emily and Tia Penny and Uncle Dave, and even Aunt JJ and Uncle Will, Spencer does have the authority to discipline you, in whatever way is appropriate at the time. He always has. Agents Paulson and Andrews and Hediger are different—they don't have my permission to take a hand to you or anything like that, at least not right now—but you should still assume that any reasonable… and that means not putting you in danger… orders that they give you are to be followed respectfully. If any of them, or anyone else, tries to discipline you physically or tells you to do something that really seems wrong, you tell me, or you tell one of your aunts or uncles. If anyone else gets added to the list, I'll let you know. And I'll talk with Spencer about this, and find out why he feels that I don't trust him." He took another bite, and another swig of root beer, before firing his own volley. "So, tell me—just what suggestions, exactly, did you give Spencer?"

Jack hunkered down and found the 'warts' on his pizza crust very interesting. He thought about not answering, or about trying to deflect, but as he shifted his weight, his bottom throbbed a little harder, and he made a wiser choice. "I said that he could lecture me, or make me write a report, or maybe help him with his paperwork. And when he wouldn't go for that, I said he could maybe call Uncle Derek and arrange some extra drills or something." He really wanted to disappear from embarrassment, but he settled for hugging himself.

"Hmmm," Hotch said. "You know, those don't sound like half-bad ideas at all."

Jack didn't know that that meant anything until the next morning, when his father woke him at 6AM. "Come on, son, it's time to get up. Breakfast is ready, and we're due at the gym at seven."

Bleary and groggy, and more than a little sore, Jack grumbled (very, very quietly) as he climbed out of bed and used the bathroom and then got dressed. He really wished that he'd had time to pack and that he would have had the presence of mind to stick in some of the jogging pants that were suddenly and inexplicably baggy, but all he had were jeans, loose but not loose enough for real comfort just now. He did have his favorite Mick Ray shirt, and that helped… until he got to the kitchen and discovered that he really, really didn't want to sit.

"You're going to have to sit in the car, so you might as well start acclimating yourself now. You're going to eat, and we have 25 minutes before we have to be out the door."

"Are you taking me to work with you?" Even at this age, that idea gave Jack a little thrill. He might not want to carry a gun and badge, but he loved his dad's office and team, and having that special extra time just to be close by, even when no one was paying attention to him. And Tia Penny had the best candy stash known to man.

"Every day this week."

Wait a minute. "Every day? But I go back on Friday, or I guess on Thursday night."

"No. You'll be back in class on Monday."

"But the suspension is only four days, and that was counting yesterday—I asked."

"You didn't ask me. You're grounded, kiddo. You'll be here for the week, and this weekend we'll talk about how next week is going to be different. This is not a debate, Jack. If you want a pillow in your chair, the blue square one is on the couch. You can go and get it, but you're losing time and your eggs are cold."

Jack couldn't quite work up a proper pout, though he didn't bother with not being dramatic (at least, with his expression) as he sat down on the pillow that helped but not enough. He wondered about grabbing some ibuprofen from the cabinet, but his dad was between him and the rest of the kitchen and didn't seem inclined to move or be distracted. Finally, Jack finished his breakfast and snatched his backpack from his room before having to negotiate between his butt and the unsympathetic passenger seat.

He didn't have much time to get lost in his spiral before they parked at the federal building and his dad guided him, not up to the bullpen on the fourth floor, but down to the gym in the basement, which was when Jack remembered his dad mentioning the gym. Since Aaron didn't generally work out in the morning, Jack turned to him, confused, but didn't get to ask what they were doing there before his father was walking away and telling him to behave for the teacher, and then Jack was turning to face a very displeased Derek Morgan.

"Let's go, Bookboy. Seems to me we've got some reviewing to do."

Just about the time that Derek was putting his 'nephew' through warm-up stretches—mostly sitting down—Hotch was carding himself in to the bullpen, striding around the ring to his office and then casting an eye over the lower level until it landed on the genius who was no longer the youngest, but was still the most protected, member of his team.

"Special Agent Dr Reid, I need to see you in my office, please. Now would be good."

Hotch walked into his office, followed a moment later by Spencer. The younger agent closed the door and then took one of the guest chairs, surprised when Aaron perched on the arm of the other one.

"Spencer, we need to talk about trust… and about the fact that Morgan remembers seeing you here last night as he was leaving.

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