Disclaimer: Criminal Minds and all its characters belong to CBS. I own nothing. I do not own anything you recognize.
Previously on Criminal Minds- Melting at the feeling of a gentle hand rubbing comforting circles in his back, Spencer leaned back against his best friend and stuck his thumb in his mouth. Closing his eyes, he quickly drifted to sleep.
Dr. Sawyer wearily trudged into his patient's room. Shuffling over to the bed, he smiled at the Hotchner men who were sitting in their bed eating. "Well, well, well, it looks like someone's feeling a lot better." he observed as he checked the nurse's notes on the metal chart at the end of the bed.
"He certainly is." Prentiss agreed. "Spencer's been his rambunctious self since he woke up a couple of hours ago."
"Fever's stayed down. Nothing above 100.7. That's awesome." The doctor rambled, rounding the bed. Stepping up beside the youngster, Sawyer raised an eyebrow. "Waffles for lunch?"
"Uh huh" Spencer answered with a nod. He shoved another syrup covered bite in his mouth before adding, "Nuwse Gina got fem fow me."
"Got'em wrapped around your finger already, huh?" Dr. Sawyer teased as he pulled out the temporal lobe thermometer. He gently ran it over the little boy's forehead. Checking the readout, he smiled. "100.3" he read, ruffling Spencer's hair. "You're almost back to normal, Little Bit."
"I think the worst is definitely over." Rossi commented.
"I agree." The doc said. Pulling his penlight out of his top pocket, he swiftly checked Hotch out. After scribbling a few notes on the chart, he glanced thoughtfully at his two patients. "You ready to get outta here, Short Stuff?" he asked.
Spencer dropped his fork and latched onto Hotch's arm. "I'm not leaving daddy." He adamantly stated, tightening his grip.
"Whoa dude! Retract the claws!" Sawyer exclaimed. "I didn't mean it that way. I was talking about both of you leaving."
"Yes!" Spencer hollered, bouncing up and down at the thought of getting out of the cramped hospital room.
"Wait, I thought the other doctor wanted Aaron to stay for 24 hours." Dave reminded, stilling Spencer with a hand to his shoulder.
"He did. But according to his chart, Mr. Hotchner hasn't shown any sign of problems in the thirteen and a half hours he's been here. So he should be good to go." Dr. Sawyer explained. "He just needs rest and quiet. Two things he definitely won't get around here."
"Can't argue with you there." Aaron grumbled.
Sawyer chuckled. "I'll get the paperwork started and y'all should be good to go by the time you finish eating and get dressed." He informed the profilers before heading for the door.
"Hey doc" Morgan called. Once the physician turned around, he asked, "Do you think it would be alright to take Spencer to a park or something for a little while? Let him run off some of his energy?"
"I'm gonna have to veto that idea. Short Stuff may be getting better but he's not 100 percent yet. He starts running around and playing and his fever's liable to shoot right back up. It'll be a few more days before its safe for him to hit a park." Dr. Sawyer responded. Seeing the toddler's lower lip poke out, the young man smirked. "There is a place he could go let off a little steam though. About fifteen miles outta town there's a huge building called Fun Factory. It's kinda like a Chucky Cheese for older kids. They have tons of arcade games plus putt putt, bowling, go-carts, and laser tag."
"No offense doc but I don't think Spencer's quite ready for those." Emily pointed out.
"That's okay. There's a section just for little kids like Spencer. He'd have a ball walking around playing the kiddie games and riding the carousel." Dr. Sawyer clarified. Looking down at his patient he added, "And I said walk, got it Little Buddy?"
"Yes siw" Reid sighed, the pout still clear on his face.
"Don't worry doc. We'll make sure the kid obeys your instructions to the letter." Morgan assured the medic.
"I know you will." Sawyer said as he opened the door. "Oh, one more thing. If y'all do decide to take Rambo there to play, you should stay at home Mr. Hotchner. The headache you came in with last night is nothing compared to the one you'll have if you go in that noisy place."
"Understood" Aaron replied, though he had no intention of following that particular piece of advice.
Knowing exactly what his friend was thinking, Dave quickly spoke up. "He'll stay at the hotel. I can assure you of that." he said in a no nonsense voice. He shot Hotch a look daring him to argue.
"Good" Dr. Sawyer replied, fighting to keep from laughing at the expression on elder Hotchner's face. The father's expression mirrored his son's perfectly. "I'll go get the ball rolling. Y'all have a nice rest of the day and for Pete's sake, try to stay outta trouble. I don't wanna see you folks in here again unless you're coming to say goodbye. Got it?"
"Yes, and I couldn't agree more." JJ answered.
"You don't have to worry though. We'll be on the jet headed back in a couple of hours and nothing ever happens there except sleep." Emily stated.
"Afraid going on a plane is a no no." Dr. Sawyer told the profilers. "The change in pressure would be murder on Little Bit's infected ear. Give it a couple more days to heal, let me check it again, and then y'all will probably be okay to fly the friendly skies."
"A couple days of rest? Sounds good to me." Derek muttered, grinning at the thought of lounging around in a hotel.
"Me too" Prentiss agreed, waving at the doctor as he walked out the door.
"I say we went rent a bunch of videos, nuke some popcorn, and watch movies all afternoon." JJ suggested. "Would you like that, Spence?"
"Nuh uh" Reid replied, shaking his head. Gulping down the last of his chocolate milk, he set the carton on the tray table and reached for Morgan. "I wanna go to Fun Fa'towy."
"I think that can be arranged, Pretty Boy" Derek said, scooping up the youngster. Grabbing the toddler's go bag, he hurried into the bathroom to help Spencer change for the trip to the hotel.
"We'll just wait outside." Emily announced as Hotch slowly slid out of bed. She took JJ by the arm and the two ladies quickly walked out the door.
Feeling eyes boring into the back of his head, Dave turned to see Hotch staring at him. "Go ahead and change, Aaron. I'll be here reading this magazine if you need any help."
Rolling his eyes at the older man's protective streak, Hotch hefted his go bag on the bed and unzipped it. Sifting through the contents, he pulled out some clean casual clothes. Laying them beside him, Aaron glanced over at Rossi before dropping the hospital gown and hurriedly changing. He was more than ready to get out of this place.
Morgan pulled up in front of the brightly painted warehouse and cut the engine. Looking through the windshield, he grimaced. The building looked like an extremely loud dress Garcia had worn one Easter. Emily had remarked that it looked like the Easter bunny had thrown up on it and he'd agreed with her. That's exactly how the dress had looked and that was also the way the warehouse looked with the various splatters of different colored paint. Shaking his head at the gaudy paint job, the muscular profiler climbed out of the SUV. He was glad Hotch hadn't come. Just looking at the building was giving him a headache. There's no telling what it would have done to his boss. Smirking as a thought occurred to him, Morgan pulled out his cell and snapped a quick picture. He saved it and put away his phone before opening the back door. Leaning in, he unbuckled Reid and picked the little boy up. Settling the youngster on his hip, Derek took a moment to look the toddler over. Catching Reid tugging on his ear, he frowned. "You sure you're up to this, kiddo?" he asked. "We can always go back to the hotel and rest if you're not."
Spencer forcefully shook his head. "I alweady had my nap. I wanna pay." He adamantly stated.
"Okay" Morgan replied with a shrug. "Just remember, you look like a little kid so act like one. No using big words or quoting statistics."
"I know." Reid said.
"And you've got to follow the doc's instructions, too. No riding the go-carts, no running, and tell one of us as soon as you start feeling bad." Morgan ticked off as he walked towards the entrance to the warehouse. "Got it?"
"Yes mom" Spencer playfully answered. "I pwomise not to twoss the stweet by myself or wun wif scissows or tuff beads up my nose or…"
"Smart ass" Derek muttered, mushing the toddler's face.
"Boys behave before I put you both in time out." JJ warned.
"Yes ma'am" Morgan and Reid chorused. Morgan pulled open the heavy wooden door and held it for the ladies before stepping through himself. Seeing the seemingly endless rows of arcade games, he gasped. "Whoa!"
Spencer's eyes lit up at the sight of the crowded room. The flashing lights and machine noises reminded him of the casinos back home. Glancing around, he had no idea what to try first. Deciding to use an ancient system of choosing, he slowly raised a hand. "Eeny, meeny, miney, mo" he softly recited, pointing to the different areas of the warehouse. "Tatch a tigew by the toe. If he hollews let him go. Eeny, meeny, miney, mo." Grinning at the whirling carousel his finger was pointing to, he hollered, "Tome on, Mowgan! Fat way!"
Rossi covertly shifted his gaze from the movie playing on the TV to the man sitting beside him. Finding Hotch staring down at his phone, the older profiler sighed. "Aaron, Spencer's okay. Morgan and the girls will take good care of him." he assured. "You know that."
"I know. It's just hard being away from him you know." Aaron admitted.
"Boy, do I." Dave replied with a chuckle. "Anytime he's out of my sight, I'm waiting for the call that he's been hurt or that he's gotten into some kind of trouble."
Aaron nodded. "I know what you mean. Spencer always has been a trouble magnet. I end up being either the comforter or the disciplinarian more often than not."
Now it was Dave's turn to nod in agreement. Thinking of all the times Hotch had had to play disciplinarian lately reminded him of the remark his friend had made on the jet. Knowing that he wouldn't get a better chance to question the younger man about the statement, Dave took a deep breath and plunged right in. "Aaron, what did you mean about your father's talks being just as bad or worse than waiting for him to come home?"
"Alright Spence, what's next?" JJ inquired as she and the toddler made another lap around the little kids section.
Reid studied all the machines before pointing to a tall, rectangular game decorated with red curtains and magic wands. "Fat one." He said.
"Okay Sweetie" JJ agreed. She took the youngster over to the machine and helped him onto the wooden seat in front of it.
Staring at the memory game, Spencer smiled. This would be too easy. He was sure to beat this game every time and he bet he'd win a ton of tickets doing it. He'd have enough tickets to buy that purple, fuzzy pen for Garcia in no time. Setting his stuffed Ewok on the seat beside him, Spencer shoved a token into the slot and started his quest.
Dave wearily rubbed the back of his neck as he glared over at his hard headed opponent. The trickster had certainly made the right choice of animal to turn the younger man into. Aaron could out stubborn a mule any day of the week. They'd been going round and round about Hotch's comment for the last thirty minutes and so far the only thing Dave had managed to drag out of the BAU leader was a "none of your business". Sighing, the senior profiler decided it was time to bring out the big guns. Pasting on his best worried sick face, Dave sighed. "Come on Aaron, talk to me." He pleaded. "I promise whatever you say won't leave this room. Just tell me. This secret is eating you alive. I can see it in your eyes."
Aaron turned angry eyes on his old friend. "What do you want me to say, Dave? That my dad was an abusive drunk who beat his wife and kids for kicks?" he growled.
"Was he?" Rossi softly prodded, placing a hand on one of the younger man's shoulders.
"No, he wasn't." Aaron replied. "I think it would have been easier if he had been."
Dave nodded sympathetically.
"My father, he was one of the best prosecutors in the whole state. He was a very influential man in our community and as such he thought his family should behave in a certain way. He expected Sean and I to be the best in everything we did and when we weren't, he'd, he'd…"
Seeing his friend's head drop into his hands, Dave gave the younger man a few minutes to pull himself together before asking, "He'd what Aaron?"
"He'd beat us until we changed our ways and became the best." Aaron simply said, giving Rossi a look that took his breath away.
Dave sighed. He'd figured as much. Still there was one thing he didn't understand. "Why didn't you ever tell anyone?" he asked.
"It wouldn't have done any good." Hotch honestly replied. "You know what the times were like back then. Telling a teacher or a police officer that your dad spanked you wouldn't have gotten you anywhere."
"There's a big difference between spanking and beating the crap outta you." Dave pointed out.
"True, but that's the way the cops would have taken it. You know that as well as I do." Aaron said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Do you know I went into law because of him. I thought if I followed in his footsteps and became a hot shot attorney, he'd be proud of me for a change."
"Did it work?" Rossi questioned.
Hotch shook his head. "I think that just made it worse. He wouldn't even come see me handle a case. He said he didn't want to watch his no account son screw up the legal profession."
"I'm sorry Aaron" Dave apologized.
"Don't be. It's water under the bridge." Aaron told his friend. "I made my peace with it a long time ago."
"I know but…" a lion suddenly roared, interrupting the profiler.
"Saved by the bell" Aaron teased as he flipped open his cell phone. Pulling up the picture attached to the text message, he smiled. "It looks like Reid's enjoying himself." He said, showing Dave the photo of a grinning Spencer riding the carousel.
Dave chuckled before rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "What do you say we join him?" he asked.
"Really?" Hotch inquired, raising an eyebrow at the older agent's change of heart.
"Yeah, really unless you're too whimpy to handle a little noise." Dave teased.
"Whimpy?" Aaron repeated with a snicker. "You're showing your age there, grandpa."
"Oh, it is on." Dave growled, jumping to his feet. "Come on. I'll show you who's old."
"I'm right behind you." Aaron said, following Rossi to the door.
Morgan's mouth dropped open as he stared at the pile of tickets in Spencer's hand. "You, you won all those?" he gasped.
"Yep" Spencer proudly replied, sliding off the seat of the memory game. "Tan I go tash fem in now? I finally have enough."
Nodding, Prentiss took the little boy's hand and the two started walking towards the prize center. "Enough for what?" Emily asked.
"Yeah Spence, did you see a special toy when we walked in?" JJ questioned as she fell into step beside the two.
"You'll see." Reid vaguely answered.
"Oh, it's a surprise." Derek said, pulling the toddler closer to him to prevent the boy from being run over by two older children as they ran past. Wanting to avoid a mishap and the trip to the ER that would surely follow, the muscular profiler hoisted the tiny agent onto his shoulders.
"Nice save" Emily commented, walking around the row of car and motorcycle driving games.
"Yeah, Spence almost got squashed." JJ chimed in. "I don't see how the parents keep track of their children. This place is a mad house."
"I don't think they do. I think they just get them here and turn them loose." Prentiss theorized. "I bet half of these kids don't even have a parent here with them."
"You won't get any takers on that bet." Morgan said as they crossed the last row of arcade games. Stepping up to the counter of the prize center, he grimaced. Reid's bundle of tickets didn't look like that much compared to the number needed to buy a decent toy. Hoping that his friend had enough to buy whatever had caught his eye, Morgan carefully lifted the toddler off his shoulders and settled him on his hip.
"Wow, that's a bunch of tickets, kiddo!" Joe, the prize clerk exclaimed. "Do you know what you'd like to buy with them?"
"Uh huh, I wanna get fat." Spencer answered, pointing to the purple fuzzy pen he'd seen earlier.
"Good choice." Joe agreed. Taking the tickets, he ran them through the counting machine before getting a brand new pen from a box and handing it to Reid. "Here you go, sir."
"Fant you" Spencer said.
"You're welcome, kiddo" the clerk replied. "You enjoy the rest of your time here, okay?"
"Otay, bye" Reid said, waving at the young man.
JJ led the group over to an empty bench and took a seat. "That's for Garcia, isn't it?" she asked. Getting a nod, she smiled. "That was sweet of you."
"I fought she desewved somefing nice aftew we tawed(scared) hew." Spencer told the others. "Besides, she bought me my, MY EWOK! I lost it!"
"Calm down, Spencer." Morgan instructed. "Think, where did you have it last."
Spencer took a deep breath. "I, I had it at the mem'wy game." He stammered. "I put it on the seat and…I left it on the seat!"
"Memory game, got it." Morgan said. He hurried across the crowded arcade. Getting to the kiddie section, the profiler set his squirming bundle on his feet.
Spencer dashed over to the game he had played mere minutes ago. Flying around the side of the machine, he patted down the empty seat. Thinking his toy may have fallen, the toddler got down on his hands and knees and crawled under and around the bench seat and then the entire game. Finding no trace of his treasured toy, he pushed himself up and ran to JJ. Throwing his tiny arms around her neck, Spencer cried, "It's gone! My Ewok's gone!"