DISCLAIMER: The Mark Gordon Company, ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television own Criminal Minds. I just took them out to play and I promise put them back when I'm done.

Summary: The idea for this story came to me quite suddenly and frankly refused to bug off until I wrote it down. Dreams are just dreams. Nightmares are just nightmares. Reality has an annoying tendency to take from both. The dream Reid had been having ever since he was shot always kept him a little bit on edge but as long as it remained a dream he could stand it. Until the reality had turned into nightmare. The question was: did he finally lost it or was forewarned to save those who mean the world to him.

Reviews are greatly appreciated.

Conscious Dreamer

The whole life is a succession of dreams. My ambition is to be a conscious dreamer, that is all.

Swami Vivekananda

In dreams begin responsibilities.

William Butler Yeats

Nightmares plagued him for years. Like the one with Riley Jenkins or Eva Hopton.

Cases. Those that had been won in his dreams had been lost and if they were lost they were lost even more.

He always dreamed.

Every single night.

At times it was a matter of remembering the dream he had during the night. Sometimes he did remember it and sometimes he did not.

This one is recurring. It had started the same day he was shot in left leg by Patrick Meyers and Hotch had been stabbed nine times by Foyet.

It's not even technically a nightmare but frankly it scares the shit out of him, and yes he uses that figure of speech sparely and when he does then he is completely, utterly freaked out.

That very first night he found himself seated in the armchair in Hotch's office and waiting. He waited for hours, unable to move and terrified of the empty room like a toddler of the monsters under the bed.

Finally he heard footsteps. Two sets of them. Distinctive thump-thump of stilettos and heavier, definitely masculine long strides.

The woman who opened the door for a spare second reminded him of Erin Strauss until he realized that it couldn't be Strauss even if the posture was the same.

"Are you sure?" the tone of the woman is soft and familiar.

She sounds exactly like JJ.

"Whom else is left JJ?" the man in the doorway asks. "Someone has to do it and Bureau needs an experienced profiler in this position."

The man standing in the doorway is clean-shaved, pristine and proper. He wears black suit, navy blue tie with gold stripes on his shoulder is hanging a bag from black leather.

The man sounds like Hotch and for a moment looks like Hotch except he is not Hotch.

His hair are brown instead of black and brown eyes are darker than Hotch's. But the length of hair is almost exactly the same and the lines around his eyes and a permanent frown bear strong Hotch-like resemblance.

Except it's not Hotch.

"I will let you settle down," the older JJ says.

They are left alone. Hotch-like imitation that isn't Hotch and him, Spencer Reid.

Then Not-Hotch reaches out and places his hand on the door. It's a very slow gesture, slightly unsure and definitely not Hotch-like. Remorseful.

The hand stills on the door for few seconds before it moves to slide off Hotch's name tag from the door and slides another name tag in its place.

He is angry and he wants to scream. He wants to scream because there is no BAU without Hotch. There is no team without Hotch and this man isn't Hotch.

Except the scream is frozen in his throat and he cannot help but watch as the man walks to Hotch's desk, places the bag on the left edge and slowly reaches for the second name tag one that Spencer is able to see. It reads:

Aaron Hotchner

The man takes it in his hands like the most delicate piece of glass and stares at it mournfully before he puts both name tags together and places them in the top left drawer of Hotch's desk.

But that's not the end.

The man reaches into his pocket with his right hand and pulls out another name tag. He smiles briefly at it before he simply places it on the desk. It reads:

Spencer Reid

So he stares at his Hotch-like alter ego.

It's a dream, it's not happening, it's a dream and he is going to wake up soon.

And he does. Except the dream doesn't end there and on that night.

It recurs. It always comes back. Sometimes every other night, sometimes after a week but it always comes back.

It evolves. It takes time but it evolves and he evolves with the dream.

He is no longer the watcher, the third party that sticks around Hotch's office and watches how his other self does the paperwork Hotch usually does. That had been the case before JJ left the team. And with her disappeared his detachment.

In his dreams he is himself or rather Hotch-like imitation of himself, one that is and isn't Hotch at the same time.

He is Unit Chief of Behavioral Analysis Unit, he is the leader of Alpha Team.

Oh, there is also the team, except it's the team that's not THE team.

From the original team he is the only one left. There is no one else. There is no Emily, dearest, bravest Emily, she is dead thanks to Ian Doyle. Hotch, Rossi and Morgan aren't there either. But it's Garcia's absence that hurts the most because it's almost tangible and the world is less brighter. Ashley Seaver never made it to this dream.

But JJ is still there even if in his dream she is Strauss, she is Section Chief and his supervisor.

He is a supervisor too. Where the rest of his team had gone he doesn't know. What he knows is THIS team.

SSA Robert Anderson. Good old Anderson from Team Beta. He is the second in command. He is more mellowed version of David Rossi to Reid's version of Hotch. He had aged beyond his years and in reality Anderson is only six years older than he is. Anderson doesn't want to be a leader but he is an experienced profiler and good companion. The years that seemed to pass between now and then took a tool on Reid too.

SSA Dr Kate Cameron. That one is curious. One, that he remembers and one that inwardly utterly amuses him. He dreamed into FBI his next door neighborhood a woman than in real life is about twenty-five at the most in his dream is past thirty. In his dream she is the version, the phantom of Emily. The calm, controlled, compassionate Emily he remembers and admires the most. It's easy to make connections because of the dark hair and Emily-like clothing. Cameron is his inner source of comfort and the pillar of strength the team needs. She is his God's given solace even if he doesn't believe in God.

SSA Duncan Martinez. That one is easy. It's Morgan except it's not Morgan but he is. Tuned out version of Morgan but still the jokester of the group. Strong, loyal, at time obnoxious, at times contemplative. He is a friend except he is not a friend. Reid trusts him with his life and he knows that Martinez returns the sentiment.

Then it gets more complicated and actually funnier and part of him wonders how he managed to dream that part.

SSA Killian Douglas. The Boy Wonder. Genius Profiler. Twenty-seven tops. Slightly geeky and as Reid like as one can get. Except the kid is blonde and blue eyed rather than exact version of himself. But Reid likes him on personal level because in Douglas he finds his own strength, the strength he used to have at the same age.

The next one is less surprising. More so, the choice was kind of predictable. One that he knows in his dream that he had fought tooth and nails to get on the team. One that he needs to protect because the one who should protect him isn't there any longer.

SA Jack Hotchner. Jack is the same he remembers. Haley and Hotch like at the same time. In his dream Jack is around twenty-three, less even. Barely out of academy but already major in abnormal psychology and sociology and surprise, surprise he is Reid's rookie.

Except it's not a surprise. It's a full circle. Hotch was his probationary agent and he is Jack's because he owes Jack a debt he would never be able to pay fully.

Then there is TA Cleo Bernstein. She is not Garcia but she is purple, and occasionally green or lime green, pink at times. She is super-skilled with computers and databases and funny. And she flirts like crazy with Douglas and Martinez. Garcia except not Garcia and seeing her everytime makes him consciously look towards Garcia next day if he can.

This is his team. This is his BAU and they are creepily good even if they aren't his team, the real team.

That of course doesn't mean that there aren't the times when he questions why he even dreams that particular dream because after his initial fright the dream isn't terrifying at all. Well for the most part. Sometimes it feels like it's just an another life, life that he leads in his dream, life where he has the balls in real life he considers himself not having (at the very least in Unit Chief size).

He questions this dream like hell in real life. He knows that he doesn't want Unit Chief post. He knows what it had done first to Gideon and then to Hotch. The prize is too high for him to pay.

Cameron has no reason to be there, she works at GUH as a psychiatrist and loves her job like he loves his. She is a good neighbor but hardly a friend.

He was never particularly close with Anderson, nor he intends to. They go in their separate ways and if they talk it's always Job related, nothing personal. He intends to keep it this way.

So he leads the team, his team and they solve the cases together. Sometimes they mingle, sometimes they don't. Dates as they are, are few but they allow him to establish the timeline.

It's a crapload of years to pass and time has annoying tendency to fly.

The earliest date he remembers from this dream is 12th December 2012. For some reason it is important but he doesn't know why. He doesn't know how much time had passed between that day and the day Strauss-like JJ walked Hotch-like Reid into Hotch's office. Could be few days, could be few months, he doesn't know.

Time flies faster in there and years blur. The team arrives as years pass. First Anderson that frequents the dreams as much as JJ but JJ disappears to occasional dream with Cameron's arrival. Cameron goes Reid's way. BAU is her first posting and she doesn't plan to leave. She brings with herself at some point Cleo Bernstein and is still there when Duncan Martinez makes the scene. She is familiar with Killian Douglas when he comes around. She supported him when he fought with the academy for Jack Hotchner. She is after all his God's given solace.

In real life it's 17th June 2011 in real life. It's 17th June 2028 in his dream.

He is seated at what he finally resigned himself in this dream is his and not Hotch's desk. Even if it's the same piece of furniture. After all he has an eidetic memory, he remembers it from Hotch's office.

He sips his tea between tackling the budget and working a profile on his own. Serial rapist, not the brightest bulb in the box but it's still work.

The bullpen is suspiciously quiet today and he knows his team. Martinez with Douglas and Jack have a tendency to make an awful lot of noise but they are quiet and it's good.

Cameron isn't there with them. Had been for a short time but after nameless, faceless agent that took JJ's old office at some point leaves when Cameron becomes Supervisory Special Agent he assigns the office to her. Maybe because some part of him misses JJ and Emily so terribly that Cameron in his dream is a merge of them both.

His team avoids him like a plague today and he knows why. They always had done it in the past.

Over the years that pass in his dreams 17th June is the beginning of the Week of Avoidance. He taught them well, they know the drill. Well except Jack Hotchner but Jack knows what only JJ and Cameron do.

It has been seventeen years and he still is unable to let go. He can't because if he would let go that would mean that he is not the same man who swore 'to serve and protect'. If he let's go before the unsub is either behind the prison bars or confirmed dead then nightmares that strengthen his frown and deepen the lines on his forehead and turn him into more of Hotch every year that passes in his dream will never disappear. Nor will his cowardly avoidance of the Memory Wall. In his dream it takes him the arrival of Jack Hotchner just few months prior to even approach the wall and take a look at slightly serious, slightly smiling face of Aaron Hotchner and he goes there late at night just to say.

"I will protect him, Hotch, I will protect him until my last breath."

It takes months in real life and years in the dream to finally understand what happened in the dream.

Emily is dead, both in the dream and in real life. In the dream her death was not specified until after Ian Doyle killed her.

Hotch, Rossi, Morgan and Garcia all lost their lives to a sadist in Ravenna, Nebraska on 24th June 2011. That's what says the autopsy report but Reid doesn't need the autopsy report. He has an eidetic memory and he remembers the day.

He remembers standing over four butchered bodies of his dear friends. He remembers JJ blinking back the tears and trying to work, trying to find new information, trying to compartmentalize the deaths of their friends so they can avenge their deaths by catching their murderer.

He remembers shivering except not from cold because it was bloody hot night. He remembers the agony on Hotch's face and the image of crestfallen Jack that followed it. He stares and stares. He doesn't say a word or blinks back the tears which aren't there but inside his world is crumbling.

There is no Hotch, no Morgan, no Garcia and no Rossi. He and JJ are the only one left.

And the profile is wrong. It's utterly wrong because their friends are dead.

They make adjustments on the profile but the killer gets away. They are unable to find him.

The team knows that Reid is not to be approached between 17th and 25th June unless it's a matter of life or death and if he has to be approached they always select Cameron to get the lion out from the den.

So he works, sips his tea and works. He is not approached which is good.

Suddenly there is a knock on the door and he sighs, "Come in."

Predictably, it's Cameron. She wears black slacks and sleeveless, black, cotton turtleneck. Her usual attire for the week. A sign of silent sympathy in mourning people she didn't know but one she respected because they were his friends and she respects him.

She is calm and controlled as usual, she is a psych and during the week he is slightly unstable, snappish and intolerant. That's why she is the only one that comes to him during this time.

"We've got a case Reid," she says quietly, almost mournfully. "It's the Ripper again."

"Again?" he whispers as he stands up.

Part of him wants to dance and sing because if the Ripper is back then he will have a chance to avenge his friends. At the same time he feels ashamed of himself because if the Ripper is back a lot of innocent people are going to die.

And God help him he doesn't want to lose his team all over again. He learned to love and care for all of them and he knows that if he were to lose his team again, if anything happens to them then he would first shot the bastard and then he will shot a bullet into his own brain.

He won't be Gideon, he won't run away like Elle. He will avenge his team, his teams and he will follow them to the great beyond he doesn't believe in.

"Cleo is about to brief the team, Reid," Cameron says gently.

"Thank you, Cameron," he says and follows her out of his office.

Down the ramp and to the briefing room that looks exactly the same as in real life.

Cleon Bernstein is surprisingly blonde haired today as she seats herself in very Garcia manner and starts the briefing.

Reid seats himself in Hotch's usual spot between Jack and Cameron and takes a look down at his tablet.

Oh yes, he has a tablet. He is after all the Unit Chief and Unit Chief cannot be scared of tablets or Blackberries. Reid himself takes comfort in normal folders and the oldest phone possible.

"Lincoln, Nebraska," Cleo says, her voice wavers.

His mouth is suddenly filled with sour taste of will be a throw up soon and he swallows around it.

"Four days ago field office in Omaha had dispatched a Red Cell team to what appeared to be a kidnapping of an eight years old girl, daughter of the major that's why it was so important. Surprisingly upon reaching Lincoln the team hadn't contacted local sheriff, in fact they didn't contact anyone. Two hours after they were supposed to land local sheriff established that the team had been seen for the last time leaving the airport in FBI issued SUV two hours and ten minutes earlier and drove I-80 west rather than east to the place of abduction. The SUV was last seen three hours after the landing in Ravenna, Nebraska at the gas station. It was found empty five miles away north…"

"And about a mile away from the SUV were found the bodies of the agents," Reid finishes calmly, his calmness surprises him. "Butchered, tortured, signs of a struggle."

"Yes," Cleo says shakily. "Sheriffs of both Ravenna and Lincoln had asked for our assistance as well as the field office in Omaha. They are concerned about the panic…"

"That arose with the Ripper," Reid finishes.

"Could be a copy cat," Martinez suggests.

"DNA sample is exactly the same. They had ran it through ViCAP," Douglas says.

"It's the Ripper," Reid says firmly. "Wheels up in thirty and each of you swings by the armory for the backup weapon. The person who gets on the jet without at the very least two guns will be left at the airstrip, mark my words."

"Spencer…" Anderson's tone is calm and controlled and Reid hates it.

"Don't Spencer me, Robert," he uses his trademark sneer for the week and leaves the briefing room.

"I'm not going to lose another team, I'm not going to lose another team," he repeats his quiet mantra as he makes his way towards his office to fetch his go-bag.

"I'm not going to lose another team, I'm not going to lose another team," he jerks awake in his own bed.

It's 4:23 in the morning of 17th June 2011, Friday and it was just a dream.

There will be no case from Nebraska, no dead agents, no dead people, no dead teams. It's a fucking dream and this thing is finally going to be over.

4:24 he is still in his bed rubbing his eyes to clear them from sleep when his phone rings.

He looks at caller ID.


He picks it up and let's Hotch talk like he usually does.

"Reid we have a case. It's a bad one. We will all meet at Ronald Regan's in forty-five minutes," Hotch says.

"Where we are going?" Reid asks almost automatically.

"Lincoln and Ravenna, Nebraska," Hotch says heavily. "Red cells lost a team and there is still an abducted girl out there. See you at the airstrip.

Something akin to a chunk of lead settles in his stomach heavily.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

H. P. Lovecraft

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