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On A Back Burner

Chapter Text

The case had been a difficult pill to swallow. There were children going missing in Vegas, and they were turning up dead in different counties. Some were barely clinging to life. It was always too late when medical arrived. JJ and Hotch seemed the hardest hit by the situation, but that was probably because they were the only ones with children. The team located the unsub, who was an older woman who lost her child when she was very young. She'd been kidnapping and hurting these poor kids because her child had died in a similar way. Under different circumstances, Hotch would have felt bad for her. They came across her at her home in Boulder City.  

 

“Eva Dudley?” Morgan walked down the stairs of the basement, his heavy shoes making the stairs creak.

 

JJ was close at his heels, and Rossi was behind her. Hotch and Prentiss were checking upstairs with the help of a local detective. Eva was sitting on the cold stone floor, a thin child laying limp in her arms. He was small, the youngest JJ had seen, and the ragged rise and fall of his chest was the only thing that let the three know he was alive. 

 

“Eva.” JJ said, “What’s going on? Why are you hurting the boy?”

 

When she did not answer, Morgan moved closer. Still, she did not move, and he neared closer and closer until he took notice of the empty bottle of pills near her. He let his eyes close for a moment and put his gun away. The child shifted away from him, and he slowed his movements and crouched down.

 

“Hello. I’m Derek, We’re the good guys, why don’t you come with us?”

 

The sunken pair of eyes that looked to him sent chills down Derek’s spine.

 

“Mommy?”

 

“Yes, we’ll get you to Mommy. Let’s go, buddy.”

 

Derek easily lifted the shaking child from the dead woman’s arms. Without the leverage, she shifted and slumped to the side. Derek looked to JJ and Rossi, who exchanged a worried glance before they neared. JJ approached, but the small child cowered from her. She immediately backed away, figuring a female presence other than his mother would make him uncomfortable right now. They were unable to speak to the other children, they relied only on the autopsies. According to the doctor, the children found had lacerations on their wrists and ankles, traces of heroin and meth in their systems, needle scars, and lashes on their backs and arms. The child Derek held wore a lot of layers, it looked like Eva had dressed him, especially considering the size of the clothing on him. The ambulance blaring outside spooked the child, who pushed himself closer to Derek.

 

Hotch was quick to approach, “Is he hurt?”

 

“He doesn’t appear to be.” Rossi inquired.

 

“Hey buddy,” Hotch whispered, “What’s your name?”

 

“Spencer.”

 

“Alright, Spencer, can I take you to the ambulance? So they can help?”

 

Spencer nodded, and Derek handed him over. When Hotch was gone, JJ turned worriedly to Morgan.

 

“There was no missing child named Spencer. The boy who went missing nearly a year ago is named Angel. W-What are we supposed to tell Angel’s mother?”

 

Rossi shook his head. He hadn’t an answer, and neither did Morgan.

 

 

The EMT had been careful with Spencer. He had let the child remove the large sweater he wore, and when he did, Hotch had to look away. He looked a lot like the other children they had found. Malnourished. Beaten. And it was clear he had been injected with the same drugs. Spencer started scratching at his arm, so Hotch took his hand firmly and pulled it away.

 

“We’re gonna go to the hospital, OK?” Hotch sighed, “Want me to stay with you, buddy?”

 

Spencer only nodded.

 

The EMT signaled the driver, and the ambulance went slowly down the street before it rounded the corner into the main road. Eva had lived on a very quiet, secluded street, and the hospital was far enough for it to have been challenging if it were an emergency. Hotch noticed how quiet Spencer was. He was so young too, maybe two or three, and Hotch felt terrible for him.

 

“How old are you, buddy?”

 

Spencer quietly held up three fingers, then seemed more interested in the brace being put on his leg. He swatted at it, whining, and reached for Hotch, who touched a hand to his hair to calm him.

 

“It’s okay. He’s helping you.”

 

When Spencer was taken to the hospital, Morgan called Garcia and had her look up any missing children in Boulder City that matched Spencer’s description. There were many, but none of them were Spencer. She looked even deeper, and still, she found nothing about Spencer being missing. Even the hospital found no record of him, other than a birth certificate. It was signed by Diana and William Reid. When the team reached out for an attempted contact, they were told by the man on the phone that Diana and his son ran off one night and he had not seen them in two years. He also wanted nothing to do with his son. He said Diana would show up if they put it on the news. Even after they did, there was still no word from the woman. And poor Spencer wouldn’t stop asking for his mother. The doctors didn’t want him to leave until he stopped showing symptoms of withdrawal, which had become stronger the longer time went on.

 

Hotch felt close to Spencer. The child seemed to prefer him over all of the doctors and nurses in the hospital. Soon enough, the team had worn out their stay in Nevada and needed to head home. Hotch, on that day, brought Spencer a teddy bear and trudged to his room to say goodbye. 

 

“Spencer.” Hotch caught the boy’s attention as he hugged the pair close, “This is the last we’ll see of each other. I’m afraid we’ll have to say goodbye.”

 

“Bye-bye?” Spencer asked.

 

Hotch nodded, “Yes. I have to leave, Spencer.”

 

“Me too?”

 

“No, just me.” Hotch watched tears fill the boy’s eyes, “But you’ll be okay, buddy. You’ll get to stay with some nice ladies here.”

 

“Me too!” Spencer wailed, shifting as best he could with the brace on his leg. He lifted his arms and made grabby-hands towards Hotch, “Me too! Me too!”

 

“Spencer,” Hotch sat on the bed and pet his hair, “We’ll find Mommy. And you’ll be okay.”

 

“Mommy sleep,” Spencer whined, “Go bye-bye? Me too?”

 

Hotch breathed out heavily. There was so much behind that sentence that he wanted to uncover, but he needed to go.

 

“I’m sorry, Spencer.” Hotch stood, and winced when Spencer cried louder. He leaned down and kissed the child’s head, narrowly avoiding the arms that tried to hook around his neck.

 

“No!” Spencer screamed, as Hotch walked towards the door.

 

A nurse stood outside, ready to comfort Spencer. He slipped past Hotch and collected Spencer in his arms, unable to stop the boy from pushing at his face. Hotch swore he heard Spencer’s pleas, even as he got into the SUV and headed towards the airstrip.

 

.... 

It couldn’t have been more than a week later when Hotch got the call. Spencer’s mother was dead. She had been found in the bathroom of a truck stop with a bullet in her head. She’d been last seen handing Spencer to Eva. Apparently, Eva had won their trust by offering to drive them from Vegas to Washington, where Diana’s parents lived. Since then, Diana’s father had died from the stress of not hearing from them, and her mother had checked herself into a home. No one was able to take care of Spencer, and his father had signed his parental rights away. The child was to be put in foster care. The nurse at the hospital couldn’t bear the thought of it.

 

“You’re asking a lot of me,” Hotch told the young nurse.

 

“I know,” he said, and Spencer wailed on the other side of the phone, “But the system is no place for a boy who’s been through this. And Spencer seemed to love you.”

 

“Why don’t you adopt him?”

 

“Agent Hotchner, my apartment is no place for a child. And I couldn’t help him in the way you could. He’s a handful.”

 

Hotch took in a breath. It was something he could talk to Jessica and Jack about. It was something to be discussed with the team. Having a child, adopting a child from a case was frowned upon, and Hotch was against it. Never get too close, that was his motto. And here he was, considering the adoption of a child— a baby.

 

“I’ll return your call, Samuel,” Hotch said.

 

“Wait, wait. Please, talk to him?”

 

“Samuel–”

 

“Nothing else calms him! We watch you on the news sometimes, and he reaches for you. He cries all the time, he must be exhausted. Please?”

 

Hotch stood, and shut his office door. He leaned against it and pressed his hands into his face. 

 

“Alright.”

 

He heard a small shuffle, then cringed at the loud crying.

 

“Spencer?”

 

The sobbing stopped almost instantly. There were small sniffles, but the child seemed to calm down.



“Da-da?”

 

“It’s Aaron, Spencer. What’s got you crying so much?”

 

“Bye-bye,” the break of his voice broke Hotch’s heart, “Me too, go bye-bye?”

 

“Spencer.”

 

“P’ease?”

 

“Spencer.”

 

Spencer started crying again, and Hotch heard Samuel’s frustrated sigh.

 

“Spencer,” Hotch said again, “I’ll come to see you. I’ll come to get you.”

Chapter Text

Hotch had kept his promise. He was on the next commercial flight to Vegas. Spencer had been showing no signs of getting better, and he was still crying and asking for Hotch. When the agent got there, Spencer’s adoption papers had already been printed and prepared. Hotch took a copy for himself before he went to go see the child. When he arrived, he frowned grimly at Spencer’s crying. He slid the door open, and Spencer’s curious eyes turned to him. Hotch walked up to the baby and lifted him in his arms. He ran a hand down his back, and looked to Spencer’s very defeated nurse, who seemed to relax for the first time in a while. Spencer’s little nails were digging into Hotch’s shoulders, and the agent listened to the child’s sobs subside.

 

“Go bye-bye?”

 

Hotch nodded, “Yes. Me and you, OK?”

 

Spencer nodded too, and hugged Hotch closer. Hotch signed the papers, and after a quick background check, Spencer was buckled in a seat in the back of Hotch’s rented car. The brace on his leg made it difficult, and there were a thousand directions that were on the paper Spencer’s doctor gave Hotch, but the older agent was confident in himself. He had already spoken to Jack, and the little boy, now seven years old, was thrilled at the idea of being a big brother. Jessica didn’t seem bothered either. Hotch was happy with his decision, but he wasn’t sure how he would tell his team. He knew they’d be happy for him, but he also knew questions would arise. Spencer was clearly attached to him, surely he wouldn’t be able to handle it if Aaron went away so much? Jack was strong, he understood, but Spencer had lost his mother and he’d been in the arms of a dead woman— one who hurt him. A female presence was clearly something that upset him, so he wouldn’t take too kindly to Jessica.

 

Hotch avoided the looks he was given when he got onto the plane with Spencer, who was content in his arms. Hotch was surprised at how quiet Spencer was. The teddy bear Hotch got him from the hospital gift shop appeared to be sewn to his hip, and sometimes he would tuck his nose into it as if the thick smell of sanitizer was comforting to him. Hotch held Spencer on his lap, and patted his back until he fell asleep. When landed, Hotch was more than happy to get off the plane. Spencer was still quiet, leaning against him. 

 

The BAU was Hotch’s first stop. He’d asked for some time off, and he figured the best way to return, though after only a week away, was to introduce Spencer.

 

“You’re going to meet some of my friends, OK?”

 

“Mommy?” Spencer asked.

 

Hotch paused, “No, buddy, not Mommy. But some very nice people. There’s no need to be scared of them. Do you understand?”

 

Spencer nodded. Hotch rode the elevator up to the sixth floor, and as soon as he stepped out, he locked eyes with the very bubbly tech analyst. Penelope. She gasped, and her hand left the cupcake tin she held as she covered her mouth. She nearly dropped them, and she would have, if not for her quick reflexes.

 

“Oh, oh! You’re Spencer!” Garcia’s eyes flickered between him and Hotch, “Spencer Reid .”

 

“Garcia—” Hotch began, “Spencer is going to be staying with me for a while.”

 

When she came forward, Spencer ducked away from her and pressed closer to Hotch. She had recalled how JJ mentioned a child cowering away from her. Spencer’s story was tragic to her, but she never expected Hotch to go off and adopt a child. Not a child from a case. Morgan came to see what had caught Garcia’s attention, although one could argue he just wanted a cupcake. He nearly greeted her, but his words were lost when he saw Hotch, in his weekend clothes, holding a baby. Holding Spencer Reid .

 

“Hotch.” Was all he said.

 

“Spencer? Do you remember Derek?”

 

Spencer nodded, but did not lift his head. Hotch nodded too, firmer than Spencer had, and looked to Garcia. He asked her to call a meeting, and she nodded, before she watched him walk through the bullpen, towards the briefing room. JJ had done a double-take, Prentiss had too, and Rossi, who had been getting ready to leave for lunch, stopped dead in his tracks when Hotch walked past him. The team nearly scrabbled towards the room, and once they were all in, Garcia slowly closed the door and looked to him.

 

“Spencer?” Hotch bounced him, “We talked about my friends, remember? Can you please meet them?”

 

Spencer lifted his head, and Garcia gasped. The child was a head full of brown curls, with wide brown eyes and a downturned expression. It broke her heart, really, especially when she recalled all he had gone through. Hotch beckoned Rossi first, who gave him an incredulous look before standing. He walked towards Spencer, who just looked scared of being taken from Hotch.

 

“This is Ros— David. Can you say hello?”

 

Spencer gave a small way, “Hi.”

 

“Good, Spencer, good. Now you remember Derek, yeah?”

 

“Mhm.”



“Hi, buddy,” Morgan waved, and Spencer waved back.

 

Next came JJ. Spencer coward away from her.

 

“This is JJ. She won’t hurt you, OK? She’s safe, she’s our friend. Look, she won’t hurt you?”

 

“Hi,” Spencer whispered.

 

That’s how it went with Prentiss and Garcia too. He didn’t want anything to do with them until Hotch assured him it was okay. His headphones, which Samuel had packed into his bag, calmed Spencer down incredibly, but he still did not want to leave Aaron’s lap. He sat there with his head against the man’s chest as he stared at his hands. Hotch and Rossi were sitting in his office, the older gentleman drinking a far too expensive brand of scotch as silence surrounded the three of them.

 

“How do you figure Jack will react?”

 

“I know he’s thrilled about being a big brother. But he probably won’t take too kindly to Spencer being so attached.”

 

Rossi set his glass on the desk and looked to Spencer, before his eyes flickered back up to Aaron.

 

“Has he seen a therapist?”

 

Hotch became silent, and shook his head.

 

“He needs one, Aaron. He was in the arms of a dead woman. He’s been exposed to drugs.” A pause, “Does Strauss know about this? She won’t be happy.”

 

“I know.”

 

“You might be suspended.”

 

“I know.”

 

“This is a big risk, Aaron.”

 

Hotch let his head fall into his free hand. This movement alerted Spencer, who glanced up at him but did nothing more. Rossi sighed, before he shifted forward on the chair.

 

“But it’s a good thing too. You’re giving this little boy a home. When he had no one, you came to his rescue.” Rossi sighed, “So it seems like our cold, stoic unit chief has a heart afterall.”

 

“I couldn’t just leave him.”

 

“I know, Aaron.”

 

“He needed someone. She’ll understand that, right?”

 

Rossi shrugged, “Sometimes people surprise you. Erin has children of her own. Maybe she won’t be happy from a professional standpoint, but she’ll understand.”

 

Rossi and Hotchner continued speaking until Spencer showed signs of getting tired.They didn’t have a case, so Hotch loaded Spencer in the car and drove him to the grocery store. He got him pull-ups, bottles, sippy cups, and loads of other things he recalled buying with Hayley when Jack was younger. Spencer was quieter than Hotch expected him to be. He never got anxious or worried so long as he had a clear view of his new guardian. Once at home, Hotch called for Jack and Jessica, who were in the kitchen preparing dinner.

 

Jack bound into the living room with flour on his hands, and stumble to a stop when his father held up a hand signaling him to. Spencer seemed surprised to see Jack. Hotch sat him down on his bottom, ignoring Spencer’s clawing at him. Jack approached, and waved quietly. Spencer waved back.

 

“He’s little.” Jack whispered.

 

Hotch crouched down, “He is. Remember I told you he’s going to be staying with us?”

 

“Da-da?” Spencer whispered, reaching for Hotch.

 

Jack crinkled his nose, “He’s a baby. I thought he’d be my age. He’s got diapers on.”

 

Jessica kept her distance, because she and Hotch had talked about Spencer’s reaction to women before. He seemed okay with JJ and the others after Hotch’s assurance, so she didn’t want to rush at him until Jack and Spencer had properly met. Still, she was first to hush the older boy.

 

“He is a baby,” Hotch sighed wearily, “But he needs our help. You’re his big brother now, so you help him too, OK?”

 

“OK, Dad.” Jack waved to Spencer again, “Hi.”

 

Spencer waved with his little hand, then held up three fingers. Jack, with a smile, help up five fingers on one hand and two on the other. Spencer was quick to understand.

 

“Se’an!” He declared, and Jack grinned and sat beside him.

 

Hotch lifted Spencer easily, though Jack was a bit of a strain, not because the kid was heavy, but Hotch wasn’t exactly twenty years old anymore. So neither was his back. Hotch went to speak of Jessica, but Jack beat him to it, thrilled to be lifted so high.

 

“That’s Aunt Jess! She’s loads of fun!” Jack launched himself at her once they were close enough, and she was quick to stumble forward and catch him.

 

When she came to close Spencer leaned back, shocked at Jack’s fondness of her. He stared at her for a while, before he gave a tiny wave. Hotch patted his back with a comforting hand and spoke,

 

“Are you hungry, Spencer?”

 

Spencer nodded, and patted his stomach. A smile came to Hotch’s face, one neither Jack nor Jessica had seen in a long time.

 

“Me too, buddy,” Hotch agreed.

 

Maybe things would be okay for them. Spencer seemed to be adjusting well, and even if Hotchner had a lot of explaining to do, he felt Spencer was worth it.

Chapter Text

Spencer had been at the Hotchner home for a little over a month, and he had not settled nicely. He was attached to Aaron’s hip and sobbed most of the time he was with Jessica, who could hardly cope with him. She wasn’t a mother at all, in fact, she stepped up when Foyett died, and even then she hadn’t much clue what she was doing with Jack. Spencer’s tears had him asleep most of the time. When Hotch and his team were given a weekend off, they figured they should spend it among family. When Hotch woke Spencer and Jack that morning, he smiled fondly over their bonding. Getting Jack ready was easy, but Spencer was no simple task. Every few seconds Hotch had to promise he wasn’t leaving him alone, and even then, there was an obvious distrust in Spencer’s expression.

 

Rossi’s house, or mansion rather, was the highlight of who he was. Hotch pulled up to the iron gates, which opened upon his approach, and he drove the winding pathway towards the front door.

 

Jack started bouncing in his seat, “Cool, cool, cool!”

 

Spencer was quiet, his hands pressed to his ears. Hotch glanced at him through the mirror and was thankful he brought along his headphones. Jack had thrown the door open as soon as his father was parked, and Hotch walked around the car and got Spencer out, immediately setting his bulky headphones in his hair. They got lost in his hair, and Hotch wondered for a moment how the headphones might affect how his skull formed. They seemed to be a regular occurrence with his mother, Spencer was so used to them, or perhaps he just tolerated them because they blocked out the noise.

 

Hotch walked with his sons to the front door, which also came open before Jack could lift his hand to ring the bell. Rossi’s butler, Ackley, a man he employed after meeting him at a book signing, smiled down at Jack. He high-fived him, then lifted his hand to high-five Spencer, but the poor child flinched away and gripped Hotch tighter, as if afraid of being taken away.

 

“Shy guy, huh?”

 

Hotch cleared his throat, “Good to see you, Williams.”

 

“Mr. Hotchner, I’ve told you thousands of times, there’s no need for formalities. I call my boss by his first name, I wish you’d call me Ace like everyone else.”

 

“I’ll stick to Williams. Where’s Dave?”

 

“He’s in the South Garden. He picked the one with the swimming pool and court for today’s outing.”



“Barbecue!” Jack yelled.

 

Ackley grinned, “A barbecue, yes, though Dave prefers ‘outing’. Terribly rich people use expensive words for simple things. So, although we are using a grill, this is an ‘outing’.”

 

Spencer watched the interaction carefully. He watched Ackley gesture the foyer, telling them to come in. Hotch walked into the home, cringing at the overly polished marble floors. Jack would tear them up in a day, and he was sure JJ felt the same about Henry. He was a quiet boy, he’d just turned five a few months ago, but he was coming out of his shell thanks to Jack. Ackley led them to the garden, and he spoke to Hotchner the whole time, who had Spencer on his hip and Jack holding onto his free hand. When they got to the garden, Jack went right for a ball and took it to the court, rushing for the lowered baskets, shouting a loud ‘Hi!’ to Rossi as he rushed by.

 

Rossi turned to look at Hotchner, who approached the grill but kept a safe distance with Spencer in his arms. 

 

“Aaron, you look exhausted.”

 

“This morning was tough. Good to see you too, Dave.” He paused, “When did you divide your garden?”

 

“When I decided I wanted an observatory,” Rossi smiled smugly, “To see—”

 

“Stars.” Spencer had pushed off his headphones and perked up, “I see?”

 

Rossi blinked, then smiled, “Sure, ragazzo, you can see the stars too.”

 

Spencer smiled, then shyly placed his head on Hotch’s chest. Jack rushed over and pulled at his father’s arm.

 

“Can you play with me, Dad?”

 

Hotchner paused, then looked to Spencer, “How about you relax in a lawn chair and let me play ball with Jack?”

 

“Stay?”

 

“I won’t leave you,” Hotch followed his son over to the court, and set Spencer in a chair nearby, “We’ll be real close.”

 

Spencer was unsure how long he watched Aaron play ball with his son, but when he turned his head, there were a pair of blue eyes boring holes into him. Spencer went to cower, but the boy, about his age, smiled and clambered into the seat. Spencer went to whine, but the boy spoke.

 

“I’m Henry!” He announced, “I know you’re Spencer. My mommy told me ‘bout you. She said t’at you’re little, like me! She said t’at you live with Uncle Aaron.”

 

“A’on?”

 

Henry grinned, “Yep! Y’know, I’m, tall! My mommy says it’s because my daddy’s tall. You’re little!”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Wanna play?” Henry wiggled off the seat, “My mommy said we have to wait ‘till you ain’t ‘urt no more. Your leg OK?”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“So c’mon! We can play. You like catch?”

 

Spencer looked to Hotch, who was lifting the baskets for his very insistent son. The child slid off the seat and toddled after Henry. Spencer had not walked much with his mother, nor had he done much around Hotch, so he wobbled a little. He was a little frustrated that this little boy beside him looked to be walking fine. He talked well too. Spencer had so much to say, but no idea how to say it. It was like his brain could move a million miles a minute, but his mouth never wanted to say much at all.

 

Henry picked up a soft blue ball. He threw it up in the air and caught it with his own hands.

 

“I’m gonna come close, and t’row it to you. And you gotta stick your ‘ands out and catch it!”

 

Spencer nodded. Henry tossed it to him, slow as possible, and despite him sticking his hands out, the ball rolled down his arms and bounced on the ground. Spencer looked ready to cry, but Henry only giggled.

 

“It’s OK!” Henry picked up the ball and went to toss it again, “Again!”

 

Hotch’s head had whipped to Henry’s voice, and he looked over just in time to see Spencer stick his hands out. He and Jack both froze for a moment. Spencer never wanted to play at home. When Hotch and Jack wrestled or played tag, Spencer would sit on the couch and watch TV. Or he’d paged through one of Jack’s book. As far as Hotch knew, he was content looking at the colorful pictures. He was unaware of Spencer’s intelligence. Spencer was fine watching Hotch and Jack play so long as he could see them every few seconds. That’s why Jack always made a point of saying ‘hello’ when they ran past him. Now, Spencer seemed to have his sole focus on catching this ball.

 

Will was standing rather proudly by the grill, his mouth full of bread and burger, mustard on the corners of his mouth, “That’s my son.”

 

JJ hit his arm playfully, “You’ve got food in your mouth. And he’s our son.”

 

“Awww,” Garcia fanned herself after adjusting her large sun hat, “They’re so cute. Henry’s so good with younger kids.”

 

“I’m so proud of him. Look at Spencer, he’s so cute.” JJ mused, “Especially without those nasty bruises.”

 

“Any updates on the kid’s recovery?” Morgan spoke up as he cut his steak, “Has Hotch talked to any about the withdrawal?”

 

Rossi sighed, “The kid seems to be doing really well. Dudley didn’t get him too hooked. So his recovery has been faster. He’s been stuck to Hotch though. I’m surprised the kid’s playing with Henry.”

 

“Daddy! Mommy!” Henry grinned, “Look! Spencer caught the ball!”

 

The adults cheered for Spencer, who jumped and covered his ears. His headphones were sitting on the lawn chair. The cheering stopped short, and Henry backed up from Spencer, who crumbled to the floor and covered his ears with his arms, so his hands were wrapped around his head.

 

Hotch hurried across the garden and took Spencer in his arms. Scared, Henry backed up, and JJ came hurrying over.

 

“I didn’t do anything!” Henry defended.



“I know, baby.”

 

“Spencer,” Hotch was trying to coax his arms away from his hand rather than pulling.

 

“Loud!” Spencer bent his back so he avoided Hotch’s hands trying to uncover his ears, “No, no, no! Loud! Loud!”

 

Hotch turned to hurry and get his headphones, but Jack was already holding them up to his father. Hotch held them in Spencer’s line of sight, and the child let them be put on him. He threw himself against Hotch’s chest, sobbing the whole time, pulling and tugging at the unit chief’s shirt. JJ released a long breath and picked Henry up.

 

“It’s too loud for him?” Henry asked, and JJ nodded, “Why?”

 

“Sometimes people don’t like loud noises,” JJ explained, and exchanged looks with Hotch, “Spencer just got scared.”

 

“You hungry?” Hotch asked Spencer, who nodded.

 

Hotch took Jack’s hand, and he led them to the table. The team and Will had quieted down. Emily, who had cheered because everyone else had, lifted her wine glass to her lips and avoided Hotch’s troubled gaze.

 

“What’re you hungry for Jack?” Rossi asked, in an attempt to lighten the mood.

 

“A burger!” Jack cheered, making Spencer flinch.

 

Rossi looked to Hotch, “Maybe you wanna take him inside? The sitting room over there is pretty quiet.” 

 

Hotch nodded and threw Rossi a thankful look. He followed a cobblestone path, as opposed to the brick one that led to the living room. The little sitting-room Rossi directed them towards was a quiet place, with a little nook of books pile in a messy way, but knowing Rossi, it was for the decor. Hotch sat on the couch and handed Spencer a small, fuzzy thing that looked like a cat’s toy. The child seemed content with petting it. When he was distracted, Hotch gently removed his headphones. He ran his hands through Spencer’s hair, mostly feeling his scalp, and when he felt no deformation, he sighed in relief.

 

“Spencer?”

 

“Mhm?”

 

“Was it too loud?”

 

Spencer nodded, “Ow.”

 

“It hurt your ears?” Hotch asked, and Spencer nodded, “I’m sorry, buddy. They didn’t know.”

 

“S’okay,” Spencer whispered and showed Hotch to the toy as if he had not handed it to him, “Kitty.”

 

“It’s for a cat, huh?”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“But you’re no kitty,” Hotch playfully tugged at the tag, “So you don’t get a kitty’s toy.”

 

“No!” Spencer shrieked, giggling, and held it close, “For me. The toy’s for me.”

 

Hotch raised his brows, “Oh yeah?”

 

“Mhm.” He pointed to the book, “Sto’y?”

 

“A story? You want to read a story?”

 

“Mhm. I read to toy?”

 

Hotch lifted Spencer and set him down. He picked a nature book with pictures. He handed it to Spencer, who pointed to the floor. Hotch laughed, then sat down and leaned his elbow on the cushion. He rested the side of his head in his hand and watched Spencer open the first page.

 

Spencer cleared his throat and then began, “One Ban’an (Bayan) t’ee with long, hangin’ ‘oots,(roots)/ ‘tands ma’estic (majestic) and wide all ov’ the land!” 

 

Hotch, shocked, peered at the words on the page. He was amazed when they read exactly what Spencer had said.

 

“You read?” 

 

Spencer’s brows screwed together, “Mhm. My name.”

 

“No,” Hotch chuckled, “You can read. You can read !”

 

Spencer blinked, then seemed pleasantly surprised at Hotch’s shock. He picked up the boy and threw him in the air. Spencer screamed in delight and laughed when Hotch caught him. It seemed he was content with playing and noise so long as it was Hotch.

 

“You’re so smart!” Hotch pushed his shaggy hair out of his eyes, “Who taught you to read?”

 

“Mommy.” Spencer whispered, “Don’t tell?”

 

“Tell who? Jack? He’d be happy.”

 

Spencer shook his head, and tears filled his eyes, “No. Don’t tell.”

 

“Why not, buddy?”

 

Spencer played with his shirt and shook his head. He started crying, and Aaron gently wiped his tears and kissed his head.

 

“It’s OK. It’s OK, buddy. We don’t have to tell.”

Chapter Text

The scream was what woke him. The loud, brutal scream that ripped through the thick walls of their home and slammed into Hotch like a ton of bricks. He was on his feet in seconds, crouching to retrieve his gun from its place tucked between his frame and mattress. He sprinted down the hall to Spencer’s room— which was just his office with a crib at the moment. Spencer had fallen asleep after dinner, and Jess had assured Hotch it was fine to put him to bed. When Hotch turned on the light, a pair of bleary, tear-filled eyes stared back at him. Spencer had sat up, and his little hands were wrapped around the wooden bars of the crib. Hotch released a breath and placed his gun in the desk drawer before he approached Spencer. He lifted the crying baby into his arms and stroked his hands.

 

“What’s wrong, Spencer?”

 

“Don’t go.” Spencer sobbed, hugging Aaron tight. 

 

Hotch paused, then walked out of the room. Jack was at the door to his own bedroom, looking curiously, but when he saw that things were fine, he gave his father a firm nod and closed his door. Hotch chuckled a little, at his very tired son, before he drifted his attention to Spencer, who rubbed at his eyes.

 

“You want to stay with me tonight?”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“Were you scared by yourself?” Hotch asked, figuring Spencer would understand since he had understood before.

 

“Mhm.”

 

Hotch set Spencer down on the bed and kissed his head before he climbed in beside him. The little baby shifted up carefully and lay his head on Hotch’s arm.

 

“You’re very smart, Spencer.”

 

“Mhm. And Mommy.”

 

“Oh yeah? Did your Mommy teach you to be so smart?”

 

“Mhm!” Spencer beamed, “A-An’ I’ll show her I am!”

 

It seemed like Spencer’s mind was way ahead of any other part of him, because his words were short and constricted, but sounded like something someone older might say. Despite his baby teeth and mispronunciation, Spencer spoke very well. Hotch was impressed. He wondered if there was an awareness there.

 

“Buddy, do you remember Samuel talked to you about how Mommy went away?”

 

Spencer frowned, “Lie.”

 

“No, no, he didn’t lie.” Hotch pulled Spencer onto his lap and made the child look at him, “I’m sorry, but Mommy is gone.”

 

“Mommy go bye-bye?”

 

Hotch shook his head, “No. Mommy didn’t leave the way I did. Do you know what it means when someone dies?”

 

“Mhm.” Spencer furrowed his brows, “Gamma died.”

 

Hotch slipped his fingers through Spencer’s thick hair, “Mommy died the way Grandma died.”

 

Spencer shook his head, “Mommy not sick.”

 

“No, Mommy wasn’t sick, but she died, Spencer.”

 

“How?”

 

Hotch cringed. He couldn’t tell the child that his mother had been found in their home, a gunshot to her head, no doubt done by Eva. Hotch sighed and kissed Spencer’s forehead.

 

“I’ll tell you when you're older.”

 

“Like Jack?”

 

Hotch blinked, then frowned, “We’ll see. Are you tired?”

 

“No,” Spencer shook his head, then grabbed Hotch’s hand, “No bye-bye?”

 

“I’m not leaving.”

 

“An’ no die?”



“No, Spencer. Don’t worry.”

 

Spencer paused, then nodded and set his hands on his stomach. Hotchner looked at him for a while before he watched the boy drift to sleep.

 

When morning came, Aaron slipped out of bed and showered quickly. He was afraid to leave Spencer with Jessica, especially since he had not even let the woman hold him yet. Strauss had sent him an email right before he got Jack and Spencer ready for bed, and she had a few opinions about his adoption— Rossi had been right, she understood, but she wasn’t happy. Aaron got dressed, then looked at Spencer, still sleeping, unable to even imagine how the child might do in a foster or group home. The system would eat him alive, and who knows if he wouldn’t slip into the drugs Eva forced upon him? Aaron’s heart broke for Spencer, he wanted to make sure the boy was safe and protected, so he’d have to leave him for a while to meet with Strauss. Jess would be up to get Jack ready soon. Hotch knew he couldn’t be there and back in record time, so he scooped Spencer up, despite his PJs, put him into his socks and shoes, left a note for Jess, and hurried to the car.

 

The BAU was always dark when Hotch arrived. He waved good morning to the overnight guard who was preparing to leave, then walked into the elevator. As he stepped out on his floor, he bounced Spencer softly to wake him, and this lifted a very loud whine from the child, who protested the early waking with immediate tears. Hotchner gently shushed him and walked him to his office, where Strauss joined him minutes later.

 

“Is this him?”

 

“Yes.” Hotch stepped back, “He has the tendency to cower away from women, so please excuse my distance.”

 

“It’s fine.” She paused, “You really adopted him?”

 

“I did.”

 

“And you believe this is a wise choice? A young child when you already have your own son? One child is difficult enough with this job, Agent Hotchner.”

 

“Ma’am, I couldn’t bear to leave Spencer alone. Excuse my adventitious speech, but he needed someone. His mother died, his own father didn’t want him— who was I to leave him alone?”

 

“We leave children alone all the time, Hotchner. There are many cases where children end up in foster care.”

 

Hotch was at a loss for words.

 

“He reminded you of Jack.” Strauss concluded, “In the situation with Foyett. He lost his mother as you lost your wife. And unlike Jack, he hadn’t a father to care for him.”

 

She was met with silence.

 

“I suspect you’re asking for time off? To give the chil— Spencer time to adjust.”

 

“It would be nice.”

 

Strauss smiled, just a bit before she cleared her throat and let her neutral expression return. “Very well, Agent. Keep me updated.”

 

Hotch released a breath he did not know he was holding. When Erin was out of the room, he held Spencer tighter. The child had fallen back to sleep after the little bounce, but he stirred in Aaron’s arms. The agent tensed, then watched as Spencer’s eyes peeled open.

 

“Mommy?”

 

“It’s Aaron, buddy.”

 

Hotchner wondered for a moment if he could possibly let Spencer call him ‘Dad’. He’d referred to him as ‘Da-da’, but after Aaron’s correction, the baby had not said it. Spencer looked around the darkened office. He seemed sort of scared, in a way, before he lay his head on Aaron’s chest. There was a moment of silence before Hotch made his way out of the office and down the stairs. The elevator ride was quiet, the tranquility remained between them, and Spencer pawed at the fabric of Hotch’s suit jacket to keep himself busy.

 

By the time they got home, Jessica and Jack were pulling out of the driveway. Jack waved excitedly to his father, and Hotch waved back with the same amount of enthusiasm. Spencer waved too, albeit, with less passion, Jack was happy to even receive a wave at all.

 

“Are you hungry, buddy?” Hotch asked once Jessica’s car was out of sight.

 

“Eat?”

 

Hotch smiled and walked Spencer into the home. It was silent, and the dead air was heavier than it had been when Jack and Jessica were only sleeping. Hotch was thankful for Jessica, who had pulled out Jack’s old highchair and set it up at the table. It had collected dust, folded up in the closet in Hotch’s office, and it seemed like Jessica had wiped it down as best she could. Hotch set Spencer in the high chair and tried not the let how miserable the child looked affect him.

 

“Up?” Spencer asked as Hotch snapped the table down.

 

“I have to cook, buddy.” Hotch kissed his head, “Then you’ll eat, then I’ll pick you up.”

 

Spencer nodded, then patted the table in front of him. Hotch lingered for a moment before he walked just a few feet away to the stove. It felt like more of a distance for him than for Spencer. The baby seemed content with the promise so he remained calm. Hotch was a good cook, but he was no five-star chef, so he made pancakes with sausages and prayed Spencer would like it.

 

He handed him a sausage after it cold down. Spencer mostly mashed it up between his teeth, but he seemed to love it; so Hotch gave him more. Hotch had help when Jack was born, a lot of it— it wasn’t like he was home all the time—so he wasn’t sure what to do with Spencer. When he was all done, Spencer immediately reached for him. With a sigh, Hotch stood and lifted the baby into his arms. He walked to the couch and sat with Spencer, who sat contently with him.

 

“Spencer? Do you know what I do for work?”

 

“Help,” Spencer replied, and looked up at him.

 

“Yes, yes, I help people. You know that sometimes I have to go to work. And that means that I won’t be around.”

 

Spencer blinked, then frowned. “Go bye-bye?”

 

“Yes, but I’ll always be back for you and Jack.”

 

“Back?”

 

“Yes, Spencer. I promise.” Hotch smiled at him and sighed in content when Spencer leaned against him once more.

Chapter Text

 

If there was one person who was not adjusting well to this whole ordeal, it was Strauss. She had read over Spencer’s case seven times and still could not understand William’s motives in signing his son away. What sort of parent would do such a thing? Strauss had lost the chance to care for her children, so she could not understand another’s reasoning for completely giving one away. It wasn’t like William didn’t have the means to care for Spencer, that she would understand. She would even understand if he was far too young and had to focus on getting his life together, but he was a lawyer. He wasn’t filthy rich, but he was well-off.  Against protocol, she took her lunch break, went to a payphone, and dialed the number she read off of William’s business card.

 

William.”

 

“Hello, Mr. Reid, this is an agent at the hospital your child Spencer was recently discharged from, can you tell me how he’s adjusting?”

 

“Oh, the kid isn’t here. He got adopted by some other agent. Some Aaron guy, or something.”

 

He didn’t even know of the man who adopted his son? His only child? The one who was meant to be his pride and j—

 

“I was going to call y’all. Ask if I can visit him sometime.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yes ma’am. The guy gave me his number and said I could call at any time. We were both lawyers, I think. Nearly went to the same college or something of that sort. Can you set that up?”

 

“You’d have to speak personally with him.”

 

Strauss’s voice was cold as she hung up. She honestly felt like she’d just spoken to the most dim-witted man on the planet. By no stretch of imagination was William stupid, however, she felt she’d be better off conversing with a brick wall. All in all, she felt she’d made a mistake.

 

… 

 

One could not really say Spencer was adjusting well either. Jack came home early after claiming to have a stomach ache, but he seemed perfectly fine when he walked through the door and saw Spencer curled up against his father. Jessica had taken Jack home on her lunch break. She approached Hotch and called his name, and stepped back only when his eyes peeled open and he looked at her. 

 

“Jack’s here.”

 

“Already?” Hotch looked at his watch.

 

Jessica sighed, “He had a stomach ache. I wish I could stay, but I have to get back to work.”

 

As she left the room, Spencer stirred. He smiled and waved and Jack, who responded to him with more enthusiasm. Hotch gave Jack a pointed look before he sighed and set Spencer down. Jack made a face and pointed to the wet spot on his pants. Hotch didn’t react too strongly, but he sighed and looked to the younger boy, who couldn’t meet his eyes.

 

“Let’s get you washed up.” He scooped Spencer up, “Jack, you can watch TV until I get back, but soon it’ll be dinner and straight to bed for you. Lying isn’t good, Jack, OK?”

 

“Yes, Dad.”

 

Hotch nodded, then carried Spencer upstairs. From a distance, he heard Jack flickered through the channels until he found whatever movie he had been looking for.  After getting Spencer bathed and tucked into a warm onesie, Hotch walked back downstairs and straight to the kitchen, where Jack followed. He set Spencer in his high chair, and noticed for a moment how quiet the boy was. He paused, then turned to him.

 

“You okay, Spencer?”

 

“Mommy.” He said simply, and Jack looked sad for a moment before he spoke.

 

“Y’know, my Mommy’s dead too, Spencer.”

 

Hotch paused. He watched Spencer turn his head to his new brother.

 

“She died when I was little like you. And I missed her. And I miss her.” He frowned, “But Dad told me that she’s safe where she is. No one can hurt her.”

 

“Safe?”

 

“Yes.” Hotch walked up to them and ruffled Jack’s hair, “Jack’s mommy is safe, and your mommy is safe too, Spencer.”

 

“And Eva.”

 

Hotch froze. He had never asked Spencer anything about Eva. He wanted to when he felt Spencer was comfortable with him, but he brought it up on his own.

 

“Whose Eva?” Jack asked, genuinely interested.

 

“Eva home?” Spencer looked at Hotch, “Candy?”

 

“Candy, Spencer?”

 

“Candy.” Spencer repeated, “For me. For Jack?”

 

“I want candy!” Jack hollered excitedly.

 

Spencer looked at him, then held his arm out. Hotch winced as he remembered the scars bore into an arm far too young for such a thing.

He closed his eyes and shook his head.

 

“No more candy, Spencer.” Hotch cupped his face, “No more Eva.”

 

After dinner, Jack went straight to bed as promised, and Spencer too, although he never paid attention to the exact time Hotch sent him to bed anyway. Hotch wished he could say that the night went easy, but Spencer woke up several times despite Hotch having moved the crib from his home office to his bedroom. Both boys ended up sleeping in Hotch’s bed, not that he minded at all.

Chapter Text

William Reid had never been a man of many words. Not in the best of times nor the worst, and this was a toss-up of those times. William Reid knew of his son, he had held him only two times, and he was more than certain that the child did not even recall his face. He found Hotchner’s home easily, he asked around Summerlin, which led him to a man in Virginia, who happily told him of Hotchner’s whereabouts. He had knocked on the door, and was straightening his tie when it opened.

 

A well-groomed man with staring at him with cold eyes.

“William? What’re you doing here?”

 

William looked at Spencer, then looked down at the boy who poked his head out from behind Hotch’s legs. Hotch placed his hand on the boy’s chest and guided him back.

 

“I just decided it would be good for me to come see Spencer. I just have some things for him.” William lifted the bag he had, “I heard you had a son. So I got him stuff too.”

 

Hotch looked uneasy, but he nodded and stepped out of the way. Although William had signed Spencer away, he didn’t seem like a threat. Besides, it wasn’t like Spencer would remember him. Hotch led them to the living room, where Jack stuck to him like they were glued together.

 

“Who’s he?” Jack whispered when Hotch sat down, after laying out a blanket on the floor to sit Spencer on.

 

“I’m Spencer’s birth father.” William answered, “But I decided it would be good for your father to take care of him. I’m not good with children.”

 

“Mine?” Spencer asked, pointing to the bag.

 

William nodded. He reached into the bag and took out a small toy train. He handed it to Spencer, who looked back at Hotch, as if asking if it was okay. When Hotch nodded, Spencer wheeled it around a little, before William took out more things. There were toys, clothes, and a pacifier that made Hotch roll his eyes. He certainly didn’t want to give that to Spencer.

 

William handed Jack an Iron Man and a few tee shirts. Hotch found it weird, but he bit his tongue. It was well into the night when Spencer started rubbing his eyes. Hotch reached for him, and William stood as he did.

 

“Hang on. Aaron, could I speak with you?” 

 

Hotch told Jack to play with Spencer, and he and William went to the kitchen.

 

“Spencer is a lovely child.”

 

“He is.” Hotch took a pitcher of water from the fridge and poured two glasses.

 

William took one. He and Hotch were quiet for a moment, before William spoke.

 

“Would you be willing to let me see him more often?”

 

“What?” Hotch looked disgusted, “After you gave him away? After you completely got rid of him?”

 

“Aaron. I had to. I had no way to take care of him. His mother and I hadn’t talked since he’d been born.” William touched his chest, “I love that little boy, Aaron.”

 

“You love him?” Hotch stepped back, “Please get out, William. Please.”

 

“Hear me out, Aaron. He’s young. In a few years he won’t remember you. He won’t remember any of this in a few years.”

 

“You can’t possibly be thinking about taking him away. William, I won’t prevent you from seeing him, but you can’t take him.”

 

“He’s my son, Aaron.”

 

“Who you signed away.” Hotch’s voice was cold, “He’s the little boy you left. You can’t buy his love.”

 

“Aaron.”

 

“No, William. I will never allow you to take Spencer away.” Hotch wanted to yell, “Do you realize what he’s been through? Seeing his kidnapper dead? Being weaned drugs? Knowing his mother is gone?”

 

William paused, then looked away. He walked into the living room, where Spencer looked at him. He looked confused at the aspect of the man who got him presents leaving. Hotch walked into the room, and sat down on the blanket.

 

“Dad?” Jack sat beside him, “Is Spencer’s dad going to take him away?”

 

“No!” Spencer wailed, and crawled quickly towards the two of them, “No! No?”

 

“No, buddy.” Hotch picked him up and brushed his hair back, “No one is taking you away.”

 

Jack frowned, then hugged Hotch, who held them both close.

 

“I won’t let anyone take you away, Spencer. Not ever.”

 

 

Hotchner wished he could say the week passed without tension, but the aspect of William taking him away had worried Spencer, who absolutely refused to be set down. He hadn’t even warmed up to Jessica, who spent most of her time in her room, or wandering the third floor with nothing to do. She’d given up her life to care for Jack, and now there was this new little boy who was afraid of her, so she didn’t want to scare him.

 

She only came down for dinner or when Hotch needed to shower, and even then, Spencer did not seem to want to see her at all. He covered his eyes whenever she came near, and he even did so whenever a woman came on the television. He spent a lot of time behind the couch, between the sofa and the wall, playing with his train. Hotch was worried for him. He didn’t want Spencer’s fear of women to continue, especially not since he wanted the boy to start school soon.

 

When Sunday came about, Hotch decided to take Spencer and Jack to the park. There was a cute little place near their home, so Hotch walked them down the street. Jack took off immediately, but stayed close, the whistle Hotch gave him tucked in his shirt. Jessica always said he was too precautionary, but the job made him anxious.

 

He carried Spencer over to the swings, and watched as Jack ran past him with another little boy. Hotch set Spencer in the baby swing, and the boy immediately started screaming. 

 

“It’s okay, it’s okay.” Hotch assured, “I’m right here. It’ll be fun.”

 

Hotch showed Spencer how to hold onto the sides, and he leaned down and rocked him forward. Spencer was wide-eyed and terrified, but as Hotch led him back and forth, he seemed to enjoy the swing more. Hotch stepped back and pushed it, and Spencer screamed in terror before it tattered off into laughter. Jack ran past again, and Spencer nearly threw himself forward reaching for the other. 

 

“Me too?” 

 

Hotch paused, then lifted Spencer from the swing and set him down. He wobbled, then grabbed Hotch’s hand. He awkwardly moved his legs as he tried to run. Hotch wondered for a moment how often Spencer walked with his mother. 

 

Hotch held Spencer’s other hand and watched him try to run. He smiled when Spencer got too excited and started kicking. Hotch led Spencer around, then laughed when Spencer tugged in the direction of the sandbox. Hotch walked him over, and lifted him up. He looked back to make sure Jack was alright. He was running close, and he waved to his father on his way past.

 

When Spencer was set down, he pushed his hands into the sand. A few children nearby looked up, but ultimately ignored him. Spencer pulled fist fulls of sand out of the box, and dropped them right back.

 

“You’re gonna need a bath.” Hotch grumbled as he sat down, then looked back once more to make sure Jack was there.

 

Jack walked over to them, and pushed his hands into his pockets. He sat beside Spencer, and scooped sand into his hands. Hotch watched Spencer try to pick up more sand with some already in his hands. It was interesting to watch them, especially since Spencer had seemed so nervous about Jack at first.

 

After a few, Spencer turned to Hotch.

“Candy?”

 

“Not right now,” Hotch whispered, then watched as Spencer shrugged and played with sand again.

 

When he felt a presence behind him, Hotch turned around and looked. When he saw William he stood, and turned fully to him. The parents present sensed the tension, and slowly got their children away. Spencer didn’t pay William any attention.

 

“Aaron.”

 

“William. What do you think you’re doing here?”

 

“I came to see my son.” William was smug, “Is that alright?”

 

“Don’t do this here, William.”

 

William frowned, then handed Aaron a small folder. He waved to Jack, then walked towards the park exit with his hands folded behind his back.

 

“We’re going.” Hotch grumbled, before he lifted Spencer and held Jack’s hand.

 

Jack stumbled after his father worriedly.

“Dad, what’s going on?”

 

Hotch opened the door. Jack buckled himself into his booster seat and Hotch hooked Spencer into the car seat.

 

“Nothing serious Jack. I just want to take us home right now.” Hotch assured, “We’re not in danger.”

 

“No working on the case?”

 

Hotch paused. He hooked Spencer into his seat and touched Jack’s hand.

“No, Jack. Never again. I promise, OK?”

Chapter Text

 

Hotch had been pacing in his office for some time. Jack had went to his room to play an online game with friends from school, and Spencer was sitting on the floor of Hotch’s office, turning through the pages in a thick textbook. It was one of Hotch’s old law books. Hotch had assumed Spencer was on a pretty simple reading level and therefore figured he was only looking at the scenario photos throughout the book.

 

Hotch was on the phone with a lawyer friend of his, discussing whether or not William had the right to fight for Spencer. He was angry to learn that William was able to. As soon as he hung up, he slammed the phone down on the desk. Spencer looked up and frowned. He stood up and toddled over to Hotch, who looked down at him. The boy wore a worried expression.

 

“Candy?”

 

“No, no.” Hotch assured, “No more candy, Spencer. Listen buddy, you understand me, don’t you?”

 

Spencer nodded.

 

“You know William? The man who gave you the gifts?”

 

“My da-da?”

 

“Yes. Spencer he’s your father.”

 

“But no take.” Spencer said it so casually, Hotch smiled.

 

“Right. He’s not going to take you. But Spencer, you might have to see him a little more often.”

 

Spencer frowned. “And Eva?”

 

“No, no. Just William.”

 

“My da-da.” Spencer said. as if to confirm.

 

“Yes.”

 

Spencer frowned. He leaned his head wearily against Hotch’s chest, and the agent held a hand to his back. He was surprised when Spencer tensed.

 

“Phone?”

 

“The phone?” Hotch asked.

 

“Mad.” Spencer replied, and tilted back to look at him, “No hit!”

 

“Hit? Hit who?”

 

“Me?”

 

“Oh, no!” Hotch cupped his face, “I would never hit you. I’d never hit you or Jack. D-Did Eva hit you?”

 

Spencer nodded. “Mhm. Ow.”

 

Hotch kissed his forehead. “I’m not going to let anyone hurt you again, OK? You are safe here.”

 

“With A’on?”

 

“Yes. With me.”

 

“And bubbie?”

 

“Bubbie? You’re talking about Jack?”

 

“Mhm!” Spencer smiled, “My bubbie.”

 

Aaron was surprised. He wondered if Spencer had began referring to Jack as that nickname himself, or if Jack encouraged him to. Jack’s mother called him “bub” playfully sometimes, so he was sure it was the latter. He had heard a few children on different cases refer to their elder brothers as the pseudonym, and he thought it was cute. He lifted Spencer in his arms and set him on the desk. The little boy kicked his legs before he looked at Hotch.

 

“No hit?”

 

“Never.”

 

Spencer stuck out his pinkie. Hotch lifted his brows at him, then wrapped his finger around Spencer’s little one.

 

“Now shake!” Spencer declared, before shaking his hands about.

 

Hotch mimicked him, and the child laughed a little. It was nice seeing Spencer happy. Hotch had grown so used to that hollowed-out downcast expression he always wore. Spencer rarely if ever smiled. He was the ghost of a little boy who was once so happy with his mother. Spence pulled back, and kicked his legs a little.

 

“Mommy?” Spencer called when he heard footsteps in the hall.

 

He frowned when he saw it was only Jack, but the little boy approached them and looked at his father and new little brother.

 

“You guys are so loud.” He grumbled.

 

“Bubbie!” Spencer greeted, “Play?”

 

Jack looked shocked, “With me? You want me to play with you?”

 

“Yes!”

 

Spencer nearly threw himself off the desk, but Hotch caught him and set him down easily. Jack promised his father he would watch Spencer, and took off towards his room with Spencer on his heels. Hotch listened to the door slam, and he shook his head before he went to his computer. He had emails to write.

 

… 

 

Jack ran down the stairs that morning, while Spencer went down backwards, slow as he could. Hotch watched him closely, then ended up picking him up. He walked to the door, and his brows lifted then he saw Garcia.

 

“Garcia? It’s 9am. I said 12.”

 

“Oh, I know.” Garcia smiled, “I just wanted to see the boys!”

 

“Hi!” Jack yelled, and Garcia lifted him up.

 

He laughed, then looked at Spencer. He was hiding his face and holding onto Hotch, who held him closely. He invited Garcia in, and the four of them went to the kitchen. Jack climbed onto a chair and kicked his legs. Spencer was set in his high chair, and whined. He reached up to Hotch, who touched his hair to calm him.

 

“I’ll pick you up once I’m done making my coffee.” He gestured Garcia, “This is Penelope. You remember her?”

 

A nod.

 

“Can you say hello to her?”

 

“Hi,” Spencer said as he waved.

 

Garcia smiled and waved to him happily. Jack fell into a story about school, so Spencer focused on him. By the time 12 came, the team was there, though Rossi was a bit late. Spencer voluntarily went to his playpen to get away from all the noise. JJ had brought her son Henry, who grabbed the sides of the playpen to look at Spencer.

 

“Hi Spencer!” Henry grabbed a pillow and climbed over the edge, before he got into the pen, “What’re you doing?”

 

Spencer held up the two stuffed animals he had. He handed one to Henry, and the boy brushed the fur from the stuffed animal’s eyes. The two of them sat quietly with one another, but suddenly Henry was lifted from the pen. Spencer was too, and he looked back quickly to see Hotch. Henry was being held by a man who he was smiling at, so Spencer assumed it was his father.

 

“Da-da?” Spencer asked.

 

Hotch blinked, “Yes, that’s Henry’s father.”

 

Spencer nodded, as if telling himself Henry’s father was safe. Hotch carried him out into the back yard and set him in his high chair at the head of the picnic table.

 

“Spencer?” Jack grinned, “You’re Henry’s friend, right?”

 

Spencer nodded.

 

“Well, I’m sleeping over Henry’s house tonight. Do you wanna come?”

 

“Bubbie go?”

 

Jack nodded. “Yep! Me and you and Henry will have a great time!”

 

“And A’on?”

 

Jack paused. “No, no Dad. But I’ll take care of you!”

 

Spencer’s stay at JJ’s house was not long at all. He ended up crying until Will called Hotch to come get him. Jack was insistent about staying, and everyone was okay with that. Especially Spencer, who had been very confused as to why Hotch’s never pulled up in the driveway despite him being aware the man had never intended to come. So, when Hotch did come get him, he cuddled into the hug. By the time they got home Spencer was tired. He was rubbing his eyes and whining, and Hotch carried him into the living room.

 

“Jess?” Hotch called, and she looked up from her book.

 

“Oh, hello. Are you gonna sit in here?” She stood and picked up her tea.

 

“Enough of this.” Hotch shook his head and stepped closer, “Spencer, buddy, this is Jess. She’s my friend. We trust her, OK? Please say hello.”

 

Spencer was too sleepy to protest. He lifted his hand and waved. Hotch assured him Jess was safe, and when he handed the boy over, he seemed tense, but otherwise okay.

 

“A’on!” He shouted suddenly, and Hotch scooped him up.

 

“It’s alright.”

 

Once at home, Hotch tucked Spencer into his large bed and plopped down beside him, making the child laugh just a little.

 

“Let’s get to sleep, okay bud?”

 

Spencer nodded and stared up at the ceiling. In the morning, Hotch woke up, and was surprised to find the bed empty. He heard voices in the foyer, so he ran downstairs, nearly flying as he hurried to the front door. Spencer stood there, looking between William and a man who stood beside him. Hotch snatched Spencer back, scaring the boy, who pushed away before relaxing and latching onto him.

 

“What are you doing here?” Hotch asked, glancing back, looking at the stool by the alarm on the wall— how did Spencer know the code?

 

“Aaron. You haven’t returned our calls.”

 

“What did you say to my son?” Hotch demanded,

“What did they say to you, Spencer?”

 

“We didn’t say anything.” William argued, and the man beside him pulled at his arm, seeming restless as he whispered to him.

 

Angered, Hotch slammed the door. He keyed in the alarm code and phoned the police. He held Spencer close to him, and sat him on the counter. He held his face gently to look him over, watching the boy’s worried eyes.

 

“Did he touch you anywhere?”

 

Spencer shook his head.

 

“What did he say?” Hotch asked, pulling away.

 

Spencer just quietly stared at him. 

 

When the police arrived, Hotch explained the situation. He watched the security cameras with them. Spencer sat up on his own and climbed down the stairs. The officers and Hotchner watched as Spencer pushed over the stool and keyed in the code before he opened the door. He looked at Spencer talk to William and the other man who Hotch couldn’t identify. William did touch Spencer, he grabbed his chin and looked him over as if Hotch had been the one hurting him.

 

“I want him arrested for touching my son.” Hotch said to an officer, “That’s William Reid. I want him

arrested.”

 

“We can’t charge him for trespassing if the door was opened. The child doesn’t appear hurt or—“

 

“He touched my son!” Hotch argued, his emotions getting the better of him.

 

He closed his eyes before he apologized. The house quieted, and Hotch walked to Jack’s room. The officer who had talked to Spencer got nothing from him. Hotch watched Spencer stand and wobble over to him.

 

“You wanna go get Jack?”

 

“Mhm!” Spencer cheered. 

Chapter Text

Jack was concerned when Hotchner and Spencer arrived. He could tell something was wrong as soon as the two of them came from the foyer into the living room where he and Henry were. Will was in the kitchen making sandwiches for the boys, and JJ led Hotch and Spencer through the home. Spencer was left with Jack and Henry, who welcomed him easily.

 

JJ frowned.

“Are you OK, Hotch?”

 

Hotchner’s brows screwed together.

“William showed up at my home. Spencer opened the door for them, but I completely slept through him leaving the bed. He put in the code, I’m not even sure how he knew it.”

 

“Children are complex. Especially ones who have been through what Spencer has been through.” JJ shrugged, “Did you tell Spencer that William was his father? I noticed that he doesn’t refer to you as his father.”

 

It was rare JJ saw Hotchner so stressed. She expected him to go to Dave and vent, but she was more than happy to be a rock for him. She knew Haley mostly cared for Jack while he was an infant, and of course, Hotch loved his son, but it seemed the torch had been passed to Jessica more than Hotchner. With Spencer, Hotch seemed to have all of the control, which was something he might not have been used to.

 

“Of course I did,” Hotch said, “I was going to give William a chance to bond with him but after all his threats of taking Spencer away—I’m not sure I want him to even be in the same state as my son.”

 

“You should get him to start callin’ you ‘Dad’,” Will said, talking with food in his mouth, “If he gets close to you, CPS is less likely to take him away. I mean, a little boy callin’ his father by his first name just ain’t right.”

 

“Will’s right.” JJ handed Hotch a glass of water, “And you know we’re always here, Hotch.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

Spencer came into the kitchen then, wobbling. Will and JJ exchanged looks but did not say anything. They knew every child moved at different speeds, but for Spencer to be wobbling and not speaking very much by the age of three was worrisome. Hotch looked at the boy and picked him up when he got close enough.

 

“You hungry?”

 

Spencer nodded, and Will handed him a small sandwich. Spencer took it hesitantly and chewed it before handing it to Hotch. He rubbed his eyes and yawned, and JJ smiled before she looked back to Hotch.

 

“My cell’s always on, Hotch. We’d love to help with Spencer as much as we can,” JJ said, “Looks like the little one needs a nap.”

 

“We did have an interesting morning.” Hotch sighed.

 

“Y’know, Derek and Savannah are coming over later,” Will glanced between them, “Why don’t you and the boys stay for lunch?”

 

“Yes!” Jack hollered from the doorway, and Henry jumped up and down beside him. “Oh, please Dad? Can we?”

 

Hotch sighed, “For lunch, yes.”

 

“Spencer can sleep in Henry’s room.” JJ said, “He’s got a lot of toys up there, so I’m sure Spencer would love it.”

 

 

Two hours later, Derek and Savannah had been there for some time. They were sitting on the back deck with the door to the kitchen open. Will entertained them with some jokes, even Hotch cracked a few smiles. Jack and Henry were running around in the backyard. Eyes turned towards the door when there came the sound of feet on the wood of the deck, and Spencer stood there, his hair wild and his eyes drowsy.

 

“A’on?” Spencer whined, and Hotch lifted him up and put his shoes on, “Candy?”

 

“No Spencer,” Hotch whispered, “Do you wanna play with Jack and Henry?”

 

“Candy.”

 

The adults had quieted. Morgan had explained the situation to Savannah because he knew Spencer would be around more. She knew what Spencer wanted, what Eva had called it, and how hard it was for Hotch to casually shoot down the idea.

 

“Candy?” Spencer whined again, unhappy with the attention on him.

 

“No, Spencer.” Hotch shook his head, “No more candy.”

 

Spencer whined once more, and then began to cry. He grabbed both Hotch’s arms and pulled at them, his dull fingernails lightly scratching. Hotch easily removed his hands and held his fists gently.

 

“Candy!” Spencer shrieked, and Jack stopped to look at him.

 

“No.” Hotch wiped away his tears, “It’s okay, Spencer. It’s alright.”

 

Spencer whined louder, still crying, and Hotch stayed calm and wiped his tears away. The doctor had told him Spencer’s cravings might get stronger as stress gets more intense.

 

Once Spencer was calmed down, he fell asleep on Hotch’s lap. Savannah was the first to speak, surprisingly.

 

“Have you thought about getting Spencer a therapist?” She asked, “I think it would be good for him. Especially if it’s a woman. Gaining the trust of a therapist would be so beneficial for someone as shy as Spencer.”

 

Hotch sighed and ran his hand through Spencer’s hair. “I don’t know. I want him to be ready for it.”

 

“No one’s ever ready for it. It’s usually a decision people make with their best interest in mind.” Savannah smiled as Spencer stirred, “It’ll be a lot for him, but it’s something he needs.”

 

“Savannah’s right,” Morgan said, and the others agreed.

 

Spencer, who’d cried himself to sleep, woke up slowly. He was sat on the table to be close to Hotch. JJ gave him a small sandwich that she’d cut up to make it easier for him to pick up. He seemed more content with the small pieces rather than the large half Will had handed him earlier. 

 

“Hi Spencer.” Savannah waved, and Spencer cowered back before he slowly waved.

 

She was used to children like Spencer, so it didn’t faze her.

 

“I’m Sav. I’m Aaron’s friend.” She pointed to him, “Do you wanna sit with me?”

 

Spencer looked back at Hotch before he nodded and lifted his arms to Savannah. She picked him up and sat him on her lap. He seemed alright. She opened her purse and showed him a little colorful light-up pen she had.

 

“Isn’t that cool?” She asked, closing the cap before letting Spencer hold it, “Do you like it?”

 

“Yes,” Spencer whispered so quietly, even Sav strained to hear.

 

“Spencer? Do you remember this morning? When you opened up the door?”

 

“Yes.” He whispered again, focused on the pen.

 

“Do you remember what he said to you? The man at the door?”

 

“My da-da?” He asked casually, and Sav nodded, “Mhm. Da-da said he’s gonna come get me. Ta’e (Take) me to Mommy.”

 

“Did he?” Sav asked, and she glanced up to see Hotchner’s expression had hardened.

 

“Mhm!” Spencer gasped when the pen light began blinking. “I go with Da-da so I see Mommy.”

 

Sav lifted him up and sat him on the table. She held his hands, and he looked rather panicked as he reached for the pen on her lap. She gave it to him, and he twisted around and showed Hotch before he whipped back to look at Sav.

 

“Spencer?” Sav said quietly, “Didn’t Aaron talk to you about Mommy?”

 

“Mommy not die.” He whispered, “Mommy and Da-da come to get me.”

 

Sav cupped his face, and he froze before he blinked and pushed into the warmth of her hands. Derek was surprised at how good Sav was with him. He’d never seen her working with children before, so this only made him want children more.

 

“Aaron wouldn’t lie to you, sweetheart.”

 

Spencer teared up, “Mommy no die.”

 

Sav whipped her thumbs over his cheekbones.

“I’m very sorry, Spencer.”

 

When Spencer began to cry, it was a slow process and not a breakdown like before. He pushed himself into Sav’s arms. She stroked his hair as he sobbed. It had been a while since he let himself be held by anyone other than Hotch. Somehow Sav was very comforting. This time he did not fall asleep, but he did not want to be taken from Sav either.

 

Will was the one to clear his throat. 

“I wasn’t expecting to get my heartstrings tugged on today. You’re a good woman, Savannah, I don’t know how you do it.”

 

Derek smiled proudly, and JJ placed her hand softly on Will’s arm. Hotch looked as if he had relaxed for the first time since Spencer had arrived. Jack and Henry hurried up onto the deck and to the table. JI gave them sandwiches, and the two of them fell into a conversation about some video game. Hotch knew vaguely of what they meant, but Morgan swooped in and saved Hotch from the confusion he suffered through with a question.

 

“So, when are you taking Spencer shopping?” He asked.

 

Hotch frowned, “He’s been wearing Jack’s old clothes.”

 

“But does he like them?” JJ asked as she made up her own sandwich, reaching into the center of the table to get a pinch of onion.

 

“Spencer?” Sav said, and the little boy leaned back to look up at her, “Do you like your clothes?”

 

“No.” He said simply, a shrug following his answer.

 

“Ha!” Derek laughed, and looked to Hotch, “Did they have pictures? Maybe he’s used to dressing the way his m— er, she dressed him?”

 

Hotch shook his head, “No pictures. She only had his birth certificate. Not one photo in the entire house. I’m thinking someone got rid of them all. But I’m sure Spencer would love to go shopping. You wanna go shopping, Spencer?”

 

Spencer looked lost.

 

“Y’know,” Derek spoke, and got his attention, “You can pick yourself out anything you like! Then you can wear it! Shopping.”

 

“Me?” Spencer whispered, astonished. Usually, he wore his mother’s old tee shirts. She would cut them at the bottom and he’d be carried around by her.

 

“Yes, you!” Hotch grinned, “And Jack needs a pair of shoes.”

 

“It’s settled then!” Sav smiled, “We’re taking Spencer shopping?”

 

“We?” Derek quickly looked at her.



“Yes! All of us! We’ll make a day of it! I’ll call Pen!” Sav stood and walked into the living room, and Spencer watched her go before he crawled across the table to Hotch, who happily accepted him.

 

Derek eyed Spencer playfully, “I’m gonna get you some style, kid. You’re not gonna dress like some little version of your old man.”

 

“A’on?” Spencer pointed at him.

 

Derek laughed, and the ghost of a smile came to Spencer’s little face.