AN: Sorry about the wait - the hold-up was in the editing process. Thanks for you patience though. All my readers are awesome! I thank-you for reading, reviewing, alerting and just plain sticking with me through the entire journey! Thanks!
Disclaimer: The dialogue between JJ and Morgan in the first section is taking from the episode "Revelations".
February 2007, Georgia . . .
Those two words kept echoing through Morgan's mind. Tobias Hankel had taken Reid two days ago and though they knew he was alive, they weren't any closer to figuring out where their teammate had been taken. The image of Reid, bound and beaten was etched into his mind. Every time he closed his eyes, Morgan saw that image. Trying to keep that vision at bay, he made his way to the kitchen for more coffee.
As he poured the coffee into a cup, he heard approaching footsteps. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw JJ approaching.
"I thought you were going to try and get some rest."
"Everyone else is working - I should be too."
Morgan put the lid on the thermos and started twisting it back on. "We can handle it," he told JJ, looking at her.
"It's funny; I keep thinking the one thing we need to crack this case is uh well, Reid."
~This is so not the conversation I want to have right now. With her or anyone else,~ Morgan thought. "Yeah," he said quickly, and then started to walk away.
"You think Reid and I should have stayed together at the barn, don't you?" JJ asked.
~Yes,~ Morgan said in his mind even as he turned. ~Just like he and I should have stayed together in Alabama four years ago. No, I shouldn't have left him four years ago.~
"JJ, go get some rest," is what he said out loud.
"I can tell that's what you're thinking, so . . ."
"I just want to get Reid home safe," Morgan told her, starting to walk away again.
"But if I had his back, like I was supposed to, he'd be here now."
~Yes,~ his mind screamed again, though he kept himself from voicing that accusation. Blaming JJ would get him nowhere. "JJ, what do you want from me?"
"I just . . . I want someone to tell me the truth."
"The truth is, one of you is here and one of you isn't. You got to figure the rest out for yourself."
With that said, he turned and left the room knowing if he stayed he would say things that he would later regret. JJ had to come to grips with what had happened on her own, although it was obvious to him that she felt they all blamed her. He knew that feeling. He had lived with it four years ago. Back when he had told Reid to stay at the vehicle while he and Hudson went to check out what had unfortunately been a false lead.
Morgan's footsteps took him out to the front porch. Night had fallen again and this time he didn't see the silhouette of the farm when he looked out into the darkness. Instead, he saw the forest of Alabama. Like he had back then, he had wanted to be out searching for Reid, but the time for that option had come and passed before Morgan had even arrived on scene.
"Well, it definitely wouldn't have been an easy fight, and I never should have left you alone to begin with. Rest assured though, I won't make that mistake again."
"You can't protect me from everything."
Morgan remembered his own answer to that statement. That he had planned on trying, and up until this point, he thought he'd done fairly well when he had been with Reid. ~If only I had been with him. If only they hadn't split up. They should have never split up! They should have stayed together. They should have had each other's backs, just like JJ said.~
Morgan took a sip of the coffee and continued to look out into the darkness.
"Where are you, Reid?" he asked softly, knowing he wouldn't receive an answer. It wasn't that easy. Still, he didn't plan on stopping until he found Reid. Until they brought the kid home safely, just like they had in Alabama.
Taking another sip of coffee, Morgan turned and headed back into the house. He wasn't getting anything accomplished standing out here on the porch.
With a groan, Morgan awoke from his light slumber. Not sure what had awoken him, he sat up straighter in the chair he'd commandeered earlier. Looking toward his friend in the hospital bed, he saw that Reid was still asleep. The younger man looked deathly pale in the muted light from the lamp on the bedside table. The lamp that Reid had insisted be left on.
Deathly pale. Those words stuck with Morgan as he remembered seeing Reid lying motionless on the floor of the shack on the computer screen. He had been powerless to do anything. Then he had watched Tobias trying to breathe life back into his friend, hoping that it would work. Needing it to work.
Feeling an icy grip of fear, Morgan reached out a hand, subconsciously looking for a pulse even as he watched for the slight rise and fall of Reid's chest.
"He's fine," Morgan heard Hotch say. "I checked myself a couple of minutes ago."
Morgan looked in the direction of his superior's voice to find the older agent sitting in the chair across the bed from him. Hotch was leaning forward, elbows on his legs, hands clasped together with his chin resting on them.
Morgan felt a bit silly at getting caught like that, though Hotch's admission did help some. At least he wasn't the only one being hyper vigilant. It wasn't just limited to him and Hotch either. No one on the team had wanted to leave the hospital, not even after the doctor had told them that physically Reid would make a full recovery.
Converging on his room, they found Reid already asleep, the head wound cleaned and bandaged, and an IV inserted in his right hand. Due to the drugs already in the young agent's system, the doctor hadn't given Reid any pain medication and was trying to hold off on administering even a mild sedative. He had left instructions for him to be alerted should his patient become overly agitated.
Luckily, the hospital staff ignoring the 'two visitors at a time' rule since they didn't want to have to inform the agents they were breaking protocol; they also didn't want to deal with the possible hassle incurred from such a statement. After the hell they had all been through the last few days, the team hadn't wanted to let Reid out of their sight. It had taken Hotch ordering the rest of them to check into a hotel and get some rest to get them to leave. Hotch had even tried to get Morgan to leave. However, unlike JJ, who had been falling asleep sitting by Reid's bedside, and therefore allowing Gideon to lead the blonde media liaison out of the room, Morgan had refused. The dark-skinned agent knew he couldn't leave his friend's side, just like he knew that if he had allowed himself to give into the urge to hug his friend out in the cemetery he wouldn't have been able to let go.
It had been like Alabama all over again: watching Reid first hug Hotch and then JJ, he had remembered the younger agent embracing him when he and Hudson had found him. Morgan had felt relief that they had found him and guilt that it hadn't been sooner. That he hadn't been able to protect his younger teammate. He had heard Reid tell JJ that it wasn't her fault and knew how important those words would be to his blonde teammate, even though she wouldn't be able to forgive herself quite so easily. Morgan knew that from experience and had seen it in the media liaison's eyes as she had silently asked him for forgiveness too. He had silently given her that answer with the nod of his head. They were going to need one another to heal from this.
As Reid started to get restless, Morgan let his gaze drift from Hotch to Reid. A look of panic had come over Reid's face as he tossed his head restlessly and murmured words that neither agent could understand. Though both agents reached down to take the hand closest to them, Morgan being careful of the IV, they made no attempt to try to wake the younger man. The restless spell passed in a few minutes, though neither Morgan nor Hotch let go of the hand they were holding.
Eventually, Morgan looked up, his eyes falling on his superior across the bed from him. Hotch had his left hand through the rail, holding Reid's hand while his right elbow was resting on the top rung of the railing, with his forehead resting in his hand. Though his hand shielded his eyes, the slight shake of his superior's shoulders told Morgan that the man was crying.
"Hotch, this wasn't your fault. Hell, we found him because you figured out the clues he gave to us."
Hotch straightened up, quickly wiping tears away. "I know. It's just when I think of how close I was to having to tell his mother . . ."
"You don't have to. You heard the doctor. He's going to fine."
"Physically, but what about emotionally? Will he ever be able to move past this?"
"He will, eventually, with our help. Besides, we're all going to have some healing to do from this one."
"That's for sure."
"Maybe you should head to the hotel the team is at, and get some rest. You haven't had much sleep the last couple of days."
"Neither have you."
"Why do I always wake up to the two of you having that particular argument?"
Morgan and Hotch glanced down at the sound of Reid's sleepy voice. The younger agent had his eyes half-open.
"Hey, Kid. Sorry we woke you."
"It's okay; it wasn't restful anyway."
"Do you want to talk about it?" Morgan asked, assuming Reid was referring to whatever it was that was haunting his sleep.
Reid started to shake his head, and then thought better of it as he winced even from that small movement. "Not right now. Do either of you think it's cold in here?"
"No, but then I think those hot Nevada days have you spoiled," Morgan replied, even as Hotch reached for one of the two extra blankets the nurse had dropped off in case either of them wanted one.
Unfolding it, Hotch covered Reid with the extra blanket, pulling it up over his shoulders.
"You guys should go get some sleep. You both look like hell."
"Should I get you a mirror?" Morgan asked, letting a small smile come to his face.
"Do you want us to leave?" Hotch asked.
Morgan felt Reid grasp his hand tighter as he answered. "Not really."
"Then neither of us is going anywhere," Hotch replied, resting his hand on Reid's shoulder.
"Thanks," Reid murmured, before closing his eyes and letting sleep claim him once more.
A week later . . .
Morgan swung the mallet a little harder than was actually necessary, sending it crashing through the drywall. The sound echoed through the empty house he was renovating. The physical activity kept him from thinking about things that he didn't want to be dwelling on right now.
The team had been on stand-down since returning from Georgia. Other than finishing paperwork related to the case and attending stress debriefings, the team, with the exception of Garcia, had not been in the office. Morgan was hoping the stand down would be lifted soon. Though he had gotten a lot of work done on his properties with the extra time, he wanted to be back on the job and back with the team. He needed to work. Only then could he feel a sense of normalcy and move past what had happened in Georgia.
He heard his cell phone ring in mid-swing. After pulling the head of the mallet from the wall he was knocking down, he leaned it up against a still solid portion of the wall and took the phone from its clip. Glancing at the screen, he saw that it was JJ calling.
"Yeah, JJ. What's up?"
"Hi, Morgan. Reid isn't with you is he?" JJ asked, worry evident in her voice.
"No," Morgan replied. "He turned down my offer to stay at my place for a few days," he told her. ~Just like he's turned down everyone else's offer,~ he added silently. "I did talk to him for a bit last night."
Following Reid's release from the Georgia hospital, until which point Morgan and Gideon had remained behind while the rest of the team came back to Quantico, none of them had felt Reid should be by himself. However, he had refused every offer made to him. When he had dropped him off at his apartment, Morgan had even offered to crash on the couch for a few days, to which Reid had threatened to call the police on him if he didn't leave voluntarily. Not wanting to deal with the headache that whole situation would cause, Morgan had left.
"Around seven I think. Why?"
"I can't get a hold of him today. He's not answering his cell or his house phone. I've gone over to his apartment, and either he isn't there or he's ignoring the door as well. I even had Penelope attempt to trace his cell phone today and apparently he's turned it off."
~Apparently Reid figured you would try to trace it,~ Morgan thought silently. He knew voicing that sentiment would not be received well by the team's media liaison. "JJ, he's probably fine and just wants some time alone. We've all been hovering quite a bit this last week."
"Morgan, we almost lost him! If Hankel hadn't . . . I just need to know he's okay."
Morgan sighed. "I know a place where he might be. I'll check it out and let you know," he wasn't about to give away the place he knew Reid went to after every case. The only reason he knew about it was because he had inadvertently run into the younger man there one day.
"Okay," JJ said, sounding as if she wanted to question him further even though she didn't.
Morgan ended the call with JJ and returned the phone to its clip. After taking a few minutes to clean up a bit, he headed out to the fenced-in back yard, leash in hand. As there was a safe place for Clooney to run, Morgan had brought the dog with him instead of leaving him at home. As soon as he stepped out the back door, the German Shepherd came bounding toward his owner.
"Hey Clooney, it's time to go," Morgan told the dog, scratching behind its ear with one hand while he deftly clipped the leash to the collar with his other hand.
With Clooney on the leash by his side, Morgan headed back into the house. He locked the back door behind him, and then headed through the house. It wasn't long before he was pulling the front door shut behind him, and making his way to his SUV. As he opened the back door of the vehicle, the German Shepherd hopped up and quickly settled himself on the back seat. Morgan pushed the door shut and reached for his cell phone with his free hand. JJ had already admitted to trying to track Reid by his cell phone, and Morgan decided not to take any chances.
Climbing behind the wheel, Morgan backed the SUV out of the driveway and headed for his destination. Twenty minutes later, the dark-skinned agent was pulling the car to a stop outside of a cemetery. In the back seat, Clooney expectantly got to his feet.
"Sorry, pal. You're staying here," Morgan told the dog, reaching for the door handle. The Shepherd still hadn't warmed to Reid after all these years. The few times that Reid had actually come over to his house, Clooney had barked at him as soon as the young genius had walked through the door. After being scolded by his owner, the German Shepherd would go lay down somewhere, a soft growl issuing from him at regular intervals. If Reid was here, Morgan didn't want to have to worry about how his friend and Clooney got along.
Morgan climbed from the car, and headed for the gates of the cemetery. As he walked, the federal agent zipped up the leather jacket he was wearing, blocking out the February chill. It didn't take him long to reach the area of the cemetery he was heading for, and as he approached, he saw the familiar lanky form of his friend standing at the grave.
Reid was wearing his long winter coat, with a purple scarf wrapped around his neck. A winter hat covered his head, and he had his hands stuffed in the pockets of his coat. He was staring down at the headstone of the grave he was standing near and didn't glance away as Morgan stepped up beside him.
"I thought I would find you here," Morgan said quietly, looking down at the headstone himself. He noticed there were three fresh yellow roses lying at the base of the headstone. He knew Reid had placed them there, as he always did when visiting the grave after a case.
"JJ sent you looking for me, didn't she?" Reid asked, still not looking toward him.
"Yeah. She's just worried about you. We all are."
"I'm fine. I just needed some time alone."
"I can understand that, and now that I can honestly tell JJ that you're fine, I'll leave you be. Just promise me that you'll call her later."
Reid nodded in response to the request.
Morgan turned to leave. He had only taken two steps when Reid's voice stopped him.
"Why did he do it? He might still be here if he hadn't tried to protect me."
Morgan turned back to find Reid now looking in his direction. Despite admitting to him that he came here after every case when Morgan had come upon him during a visit himself almost a year ago, this was the first time Reid had said anything to him about their friend's death, though Morgan knew the younger agent had discussed it with both Nichols and Hotch.
"Hudson did exactly what we're trained to do; he looked out for his partner. He would have done it for any of us," Morgan told him. He could see the questions clearly in the younger man's expression. Questions that mirrored the same ones he had asked himself many times over. Questions that stemmed from being one of the survivors when others you were with, or could have been with, didn't make it.
SSA Fred Hudson had been one of the six agents killed in the Boston warehouse when Bale had set off his final bomb. Hudson, Reid, and Hotch had gone in with SWAT after Bale had given himself up. The three profilers had been behind the SWAT team members. When a SWAT team agent had discovered the device and realized it was armed, he had shouted out a warning. The agents inside the warehouse didn't have much time for any sort of reaction, when the bomb had detonated moments later. In that short time though, Hotch had managed to take cover behind some crates and Hudson had managed to tackle Reid, protecting the younger agent from the debris that the bomb had sent flying. The action had saved Reid, who had only suffered from smoke inhalation and shock. But, despite Gideon's attempts at CPR, Hudson had not survived. With the EMTs pronouncing him during triage when they had arrived on the scene, Hudson had joined the casualty list along with the other five agents who had died that day, members of the SWAT team from the Boston field office.
"I've asked myself plenty of times why it wasn't me that day, and I can never come up with an answer," Reid commented, still looking in Morgan's direction.
"You and me both, Kid. Hudson very easily could have been on that custodial I was doing instead of going to Boston with you all that day. Gideon told us to decide between the two of us who was going to do it. We flipped a coin."
"The two of you were always deciding things with a coin," Reid commented, smiling despite the somber tone of the conversation.
"It seemed like a fair way to do it at the time," Morgan said with a shrug. "Still, when I think about it, it feels like I cheated death with the toss of a coin. It very well could have been me in Hudson's place."
"I'm glad it wasn't," Reid said quietly, his voice breaking. "I know that sounds terrible but . . ."
Reid's voice trailed off as the tears came. Morgan quickly closed the distance between the two of them, and despite the fact that neither of them cared much for physical contact, pulled the younger man into a hug. Something he had wanted to do in Georgia, but had been afraid of the tears that had been building up in his eyes, actually falling. Afraid then, that if he had hugged Reid he wouldn't have been able to let go.
"It's okay, Reid. Hudson would understand," Morgan told him, genuinely believing the words himself.
Though Hudson had accepted Reid professionally, and had spent time with him outside of the job when other members of the team were present, the two had never developed a close friendship. Not like he and Reid had. And now, Morgan felt that though he had spent a lot of time with Hudson in the two plus years that they had worked together, he was closer to Reid than he and Hudson had ever been.
Morgan felt Reid start to pull away, and released his hold on the younger man.
"I'm sorry," Reid said, reaching up to wipe away the last traces of the tears.
"You have nothing to apologize for, Kid," Morgan told him softly.
Reid turned and looked back down at the headstone. "I try everyday to do my best to honor the gift he gave me. To do the best I can on every case to prove that his sacrifice wasn't in vain."
"You've done that. You've more than done that and Hudson would be proud of you, Reid," Morgan said, reaching out to rest a hand on his friend's shoulder.
"I'll second that," another familiar voice said. Reid and Morgan looked in the direction of the voice to see Agent Chad Nichols, head of the Cyber Division since July of 2004 when his predecessor had retired. "Heard you've had a rough time of it recently, Junior," he added, not hesitating to pull Reid into a quick hug. "Are you not returning phone calls, or just not ones from me?"
"Sorry," Reid said, as he pulled away. "I was going to call you back eventually."
"It's okay, I bet Morgan and the rest of your team hasn't wanted to let you out of their sight for a moment this past week," Nichols said. Reid ducked his head without making a reply. "Yeah, that's what I thought. I figured if I kept checking back here, I'd eventually catch up to you. Or failing that I was going to stop by the BAU when you finally returned to work."
"How did you know I'd come here?"
"I used to be a profiler too, Junior," Nichols replied. Reid face flushed at the comment. "Still doesn't take much to get you to turn red, does it," Nichols commented. "Do either of you have dinner plans tonight?"
Reid shook his head in reply.
"Haven't had plans for doing much of anything the last few days. I'll be glad when our team stand down gets lifted and things can start going back to normal."
"Then you'll be happy to know your team is back on active duty starting tomorrow," Nichols told him.
"How do you know?" Morgan asked, looking at Nichols quizzically.
"Didn't you ever learn anything about me during the time we worked together, Grasshopper? I've got my ways. I suspect you'll be getting your notifications sometime this afternoon."
"That's one text message I'll be looking forward to getting, then," Morgan remarked.
"So, dinner at my place to celebrate then?" Nichols said.
"Sure. Beats throwing a TV dinner in the microwave."
"Gee, I know what the next gift I buy you is going to be - cooking lessons."
"You may want to talk to my sisters before you go through with that," Morgan warned him.
"I didn't say I was going to give them to you - I'll let someone else have the pleasure. I'm just going to pay for them because I've already read about your encounter with the Chicago fire company. It's no wonder you joined the police force because the fire company probably thought you'd set more fires than you would put out."
Reid raised his eyebrows as he looked at Morgan, wondering what was being referred too.
"You know, sometimes I don't know who is worse - you or Garcia," Morgan commented.
Nichols grinned. "I'll take that as a compliment. I thought Penelope would be able to make herself comfortable with you guys, and I knew without me around you all would need someone to lighten things up around there. That's why I suggested she apply for the position when I took the promotion."
"Well, she certainly does keep the mood lighter," Morgan said. "How did you ever meet her?"
"Yeah, kind of like statuses of BAU teams or academy graduates' assignments the day before graduation."
"Learn to hack," Nichols said, with a shrug. He turned his gaze to Reid. "So, Junior, you coming?"
"Like I've got a choice?" Reid replied. "You've never once accepted the answer no from me, though I doubt I'll be very good company."
"We'll deal with it," Nichols said lightly, getting a small smile out of the younger man. "You'll be there?"
"Good. I've got a few errands to run."
"Hazard of being a single father. I took a couple of days off to catch up on things that keep getting put off and to go on the field trip with Evan's class tomorrow. One of the perks of the promotion," Nichols answered. He directed his gaze to Reid. "If you want to talk, call me. As always, my door is always open to you, Junior," he said.
Reid nodded but didn't say anything.
"You want a ride anywhere?" Morgan asked.
Reid shook his head. "I think I want to hang around here a little longer."
Morgan nodded. "I understand, Kid. What about tonight? Want a ride over to Nichols' place?" Reid simply nodded again. "I'll pick you up at five-thirty then."
With that said, Nichols and Morgan started walking back toward the entrance of the cemetery, making small talk.
"So how's Tara doing at Cal Tech?" Morgan asked.
Tara Nichols was in her freshman year at the prestigious college. Though her grades had always been good, and she had graduated fifth in her class, no one had any doubt that the letter of recommendation from Reid to his old college had benefitted her.
"She's loving it. Tara's also decided on her major already - Chemical Engineering. I couldn't believe it when she told me. She hated anything to do with science before she met Reid. Talking to my daughter is going to be like hanging out with Junior. I'm going to have no idea what she's talking about half the time."
"The same can be said about you at times you know," Morgan told him knowingly.
"You mean when I start speaking what you so affectionately refer to as geek-speak?" Nichols asked.
"Right in one."
"You should come out to lunch with me and Penelope sometime," Nichols joked.
"No thanks. One of you computer nerds at a time is about all I can handle. For all I know you'll be plotting to ruin my credit history right in front of me and I'd have no idea."
Nichols grinned at the comment. As they reached Morgan's SUV though, the older man's expression grew serious. "Keep a close eye on him, Morgan."
"Reid?" Morgan asked, not really needing the confirmation. "Why?"
"Something isn't right with him."
"You're saying that after talking to him for about ten minutes," Morgan said, feeling a bit confused. "How can you be so sure?"
"It's just a feeling I've got."
Morgan felt an eerie feeling coming over him. He remembered something Hudson had told him right before the team had left for Boston. "Hudson said you had told him you had a bad feeling about the case in Boston, before the team had left on the case."
Nichols nodded. "You saw how that turned out," he said. "Look, Morgan, maybe I'm wrong, and I hope I am, but in case I'm not, promise me you'll keep a close eye on him. I'm not exactly in the position to do that anymore."
"I will, man."
"Good. I'll see you tonight then," Nichols said, giving Morgan a quick wave good-bye and heading for his own vehicle.
Morgan unlocked his SUV and climbed in behind the wheel. As he gave Clooney a quick gretting and settled the dog down, he thought of his conversation with Reid back in that Alabama hospital room.
"You can't protect me from everything."
"I certainly plan on trying."
~Can I protect him from whatever it is that is giving Nichols his bad feeling?~ Morgan thought as he turned the key, starting up the SUV. He had a feeling that despite having stopped Hankle from killing anyone else, the disturbed man was not done influencing their lives. Morgan put the car in drive, and pulled away from the curb, wondering if the nightmare that had started in Georgia was really behind them.
AN: I'm kind of sad this story is ending. Would love to hear final thoughts about it. Anyone interested in another story with Hudson and Nichols?