Status: complete

All the Madness in the World


"Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts." – Oliver Wendell Holmes


Ask just about anyone and they’ll tell you that, as an unarmed female, running alone through a secluded area with headphones in is not the best idea. It’s dangerous and unintelligent and even though the odds are in your favour you should refrain just to be safe. But to give in to that demand would mean that I also shouldn’t leave my house after dark or smile at strangers or veer off main roads. To give in to fear is to lose grip on life.

I was almost at the end of my run, anyways, by the time all the self-defence classes came back to me. All of the training at the Academy, how to break bones or disarm attackers, it was at the forefront of my mind as I turned round the bend and entered the park. In four seconds I could have the guy walking his dog pinned on the ground. In ten I could render the father flying a kite partially blind. With one hit I could knock the yoga girl unconscious.

The sun was high in the sky, lazily streaming down to all of the patrons of the park. The song came to an end and I slowed to a walk, stringing my headphones around my neck and fishing a water bottle out of my pack. From all around me, the sound of suburban life: pets and families and sports and swings and children laughing and running and—falling?

That unmistakable wailing that every human is tuned into; it pierced the air and called the attention of the adults closest. A little ways ahead of me on the path a group of little boys had been racing, but one of them fell. I looked around, waiting for someone to claim the wounded child, but no one came. After a minute, the sight of the boy—no older than six—holding a hand to his scraped knee and taking choppy breaths was too much to ignore. I wandered over to where the other boys were watching him, kneeling before him and taking off my pack where I always kept a small first aid kit.

“Are you okay, sweetie?” I asked as he struggled to wipe away his tears. He shook his head and held on tightly to his knee. “My name’s Natasha, what’s yours?”

“J-Jack.” He hiccupped. I offered him a smile.

“Is your mommy or daddy here, Jack?” I took out some sterilizing wipes and a band aid as he explained his dad was on the phone. “Here, let me see honey.”

It was scraped up pretty bad, but he had calmed down now and watched as I cleaned it off and patched him up. He stood up as I did and waited while I threw out the garbage. At my request he set off in the direction he’d last seen his father, taking firm hold of my hand. We cut through the playground, avoiding the swings and kids hanging from the monkey bars. A familiar figure sat on the bench, stiff as usual, eyebrows furrowed as he argued with whoever was on the phone.

“This conference was booked months ago, I made a commitment to be there. It would only be for a few hours on Saturday, if you could just watch him for—okay. No. No, I guess I’ll figure something out though.”

Jack limped up to Hotchner, his bottom lip jutting out in a heart wrenching pout. He called out to his father, who snapped up at his voice and looked from the sad face to the bandaged knee to the held hand to me. He abruptly ended the call, snapping the phone shut.

“He had a little wipeout on the pavement.” I explained as the boy clambered into his father’s grasp. He took a moment, tending to his son before turning his attention back and thanking me. “Don’t sweat it, Bossman. Everything alright?”

“Yeah, I just—” He heaved a sigh, turning Jack so that he was sitting on his lap as I took a seat. “I said I’d take him next weekend but I’ve been scheduled to speak at a conference in Richmond.”

“The one on negotiations, right?” I asked, smiling at Jack as he offered me a rock from his pocket. Hotch nodded. “I think Spence said he was going. But listen, if you need someone to watch him while you go I’d be more than happy to.”

“I couldn’t ask that of you.” He protested.

“Hey, you didn’t ask; I offered.” Jack pushed on the bandage and picked at its edges absently. “I understand if you don’t know me well enough to, though.”

“It isn’t that,” He thought for a moment before turning Jack back around and asking him if it would be okay if I watched him for a few hours next weekend. He nodded and then asked if he could go play again. We worked out the details and he gave me his address, thanking me again before I excused myself to finish my run home. Of all the people on the team Hotch was the one I felt I’d bonded with the least, next to JJ; so I figured this would be a good way to break the general ice.


At 7:55 I rang the doorbell, struggling to keep a hold on all the bags I’d brought. The door opened shortly and I earned a Hotchner-smile for the record books as he welcomed me into his house. He took the bags from me, asking what I’d brought as Jack hopped down the stairs one by one.

“Just some stuff to keep us occupied. Arts and crafts and that kind of thing.”

He gave a quick tour as he rushed to put on his blazer, handing me a list of emergency contacts in case he didn’t answer. I almost laughed, feeling like a teenager on her first babysitting gig. I made sure Jack was allergy free and then asked if there were any rules that had to be followed. He grabbed his keys and wallet as he promised he trusted my judgement.

“I should be back around 7.” It was so clear he had a million things going through his mind as he bent down and kissed Jack on the forehead before giving the place one last look to see if he’d forgotten to mention anything. When he was content his eyes finally rested on me. “I really can’t thank you enough for this.”

“Let’s see how much of a mess I make before you do any thanking.” I joked as he unlocked the door.

“Call if you need anything.” The door locked behind him and I heard the sound of the car door slamming shut, the engine starting up and floating farther and farther away. At last I turned to Jack, the faded remnant of his skinned knee no longer needing bandages.

“Have you had breakfast yet, Jack?” He was lying on the couch watching cartoons; with a yawn he turned to me and shook his head. I sat down and pulled him onto my lap. “Would you like to help me make some pancakes?”

He was just like any other kid. He smiled and laughed and was ticklish under his arms; he loved to play and draw and feel like he was helping. We made a horrid mess of the kitchen, though, with flour coating the counters and globs of pancake batter splattered on the stove top and the ladle sitting in a puddle of batter on the countertop. He was overly-generous with his maple syrup, drowning the pancakes in a way, no doubt, Hotch never would have let him; but this was the best part of being watched by someone who wasn’t your mom or dad—you could do what they would never let you do. The blueberries in the pancakes turned into A staining devices, creating a blue and sticky mess all around his mouth where he tried to shovel in too much food. Before cleaning him up I made sure to take a picture, sending it to Hotch in hopes that it would put him a bit at ease.

We left the mess of the kitchen to pull something out of the bags I’d brought. I emptied the contents on the coffee table in the living room and let him pick what he wanted to do. The first thing he pulled out was a handprint-making kit. He helped me mix up the plaster and pour it into the frame, and was more than happy to show me his counting skills as we counted out the five minutes his hand needed be in the mold for the imprint to stay. I put it up on a shelf while we waited for it to dry and told him to pick something else.

We accomplished a million things—at least, on the kid scale. We had successfully turned the main floor upside down; things trailing from one room to another as if we were a hurricane leaving a path of destruction. Jack made a wonderfully explosive volcano and beat me at every board game we played—Hungry, Hungry Hippos, Operation, Monopoly Jr., and Sorry. After a grilled cheese lunch break (which ended in ketchup smeared on the table like a murder scene) I let him finish the now-dry handprint with stickers and paint. When he was content with it I wrote his name and the date on the back, shaking my head at the fact that I should have just been a kindergarten teacher.

He didn’t talk a whole lot, but I could tell there were hundreds of cogs turning in his head all the time. He concentrated so fully on things, dedicating himself to his current task one-hundred percent. I tried to fathom how he was so well-off with the absence of a mother and so little time spent with his father. Not that it was my place to judge, and I knew first-hand how demanding Hotch’s job was—I just admired the kid for holding it together so well. He didn’t need asking twice to spend some time colouring while I cleaned up the disaster zone we’d created. I found a host of cleaning supplies under the sink in the kitchen and scrubbed the place from top to bottom, searching through closets until I found a vacuum cleaner and fixing up the living room too.

When all was clean I pulled out a surprise for Jack: his very own superhero costume. It wasn’t anything magnificent—just the customary red shiny cape and a mask—but to any six year old with an imagination it might as well have been a full suit of armor. He jumped off the couch and ran around the living room, looking back to see the cape flying behind him. I chased him around a bit and pretended to be an evil villain so he could apprehend me: and then he said the most adorable thing.

“Now I can help my daddy catch the bad guys!”

My heart melted and I made him strike a few poses so that I had a permanent reminder of this would-be superhero. He stared at his cape for a while and then was suddenly gripped by an overwhelming desire to build a fort. Of course I indulged him, letting him lead the way upstairs to where the blankets were kept and bringing down a few. It felt odd, almost invasive, wandering on the top floor. I spent as little time there as possible; it just wasn’t my place. With the support of cushions we built up a fort fit for a six year old superhero.

He crawled inside with some paper and crayons, drawing up some pictures of himself defeating villains and his dream vehicle and what the fort must’ve looked like inside his head. I hung each finished picture on the fridge in a neat and tidy block; and when he was starting to wear out he pulled off his mask and picked a book off of the table—I Spy. He clambered onto the couch beside me and we set to work. He managed to find most of the things himself but got stumped on a few and asked for my help. I had lucked out that he warmed up to me so quickly, because it would have been a very long day otherwise.

At about 4 o’clock I took Jack with me to the grocery store to buy the ingredients to make a pizza. He decided on mushrooms, pepperoni and extra extra cheese. I had to do most of the dough, seeing as it was the hardest part, but I gave him free reigns on the rest of it. After we’d eaten and cleaned up I let him watch some kids shows while I rounded up all the things I’d brought. Tiptoeing upstairs, I left the bag in Jack’s room, having no reason to keep any of the things for myself. By quarter to seven he was starting to tire and he changed into his pajamas—but kept the cape on.

At his request I began to read to him, and with each successive book he crawled more and more onto my lap. By the time we reached the last book it was 7:30 and he was twisting his hair between his fingers, eyes heavy and his breathing slowing. I grew a little anxious at the fact that Hotch was late—because he certainly never was for work—but dismissed it as Jack curled up against me and nodded off to sleep. I barely moved for fear of waking him, but managed to pull a case file out of my bag and get some work done.

At 8:15 Hotch walked in the door, apologies already starting, but I shushed him and pointed out the sleeping child. My arms were awkwardly placed around Jack’s body as I tried to write around him. Hotch smiled at his boy, quietly setting down his keys and folders and jacket. He shook his head at the sight of me trying to work, but crouched at the arm of the couch and put a hand on his son’s back.

“He didn’t give you too much trouble?” He whispered.

“Oh, he was a total monster.” I teased. He tried to wake Jack enough to take him from my arms, but at his attempts the boy grunted and wrapped his arms around my neck. I smiled, setting the case file down on the couch and taking hold of the boy, following Hotch up the stairs to Jack’s room where he pulled back the blankets and helped take the cape off before I set him down and tucked him in. I left Hotch alone to say goodnight to his son, going back downstairs and beginning to clean up the fort.

“I’m sorry, they kept me later than I’d anticipated.” He said quietly as he descended the stairs.

“It’s no problem.” I slid the last cushion back into its place and began to fold the blankets. “We made pizza for dinner, I put the rest of it in the microwave if you feel like eating. Jack’s quite the chef.”

“Thanks.” He laughed, helping with the other blanket as I began to gather my things. “What’s with the cape?”

“Oh, right.” I pulled out my phone and sent the superhero pictures to his phone. “I didn’t want to interrupt the conference so I didn’t send them before. He said he wanted to help you catch the bad guys.”

I left him to flick through the photos, slipping on my jacket and grabbing the case file off the couch. I packed it into my bag and got my keys out, slipping into my shoes and unlocking the door.

“Listen, I really appreciate this, Natasha.” He said as I opened the door just an inch.

“Don’t mention it.” I smiled, but began to open the door and back through it as he reached for his wallet. He began to shuffle through it and I called out for him to stop. “What am I, Hotch, fourteen? I’m not taking any money. Just get some sleep, okay?”


“I’m already out the door, sorry!” I backed down the steps, holding my hands up.

“I owe you.” He said in defeat at the doorway.

“See you Monday, Bossman.”