Criminal Minds © CBS.

AN: Okay, so this insane little one-shot occurred to my sleep-deprived mind, and now I have to write it. There's a vague idea for more one-shots, so if you like, please review, and I'll write more.

Darkness Without, Shadows Within

They weren't sure why it happened, but they all knew it started with Reid.

Before Spencer Reid had been assigned to the BAU, they had all felt a sort of connection. It was as if they were all old friends meeting again for the first time in years. There were certain things they knew intuitively about each other (although Elle was able to hide herself a bit better and Gideon seemed to be absent from this intuition completely), but it was nothing that being good profilers couldn't explain. It was nothing special.

Then Reid was introduced to the team, and everything changed.

Hotch was the one to notice it first. He was the agent's probationary officer, after all. He was the first to notice the odd comments, how Reid seemed to know what he was thinking – how, after a few weeks, he thought he could hear the younger man's words when he wasn't speaking, when he was too far away to hear.

It started slow with Hotch as well as Garcia and JJ. Even Elle was eased into this new thing slowly, although Hotch doubted she was even aware of it. Gideon seemed immune.

Morgan was introduced to it rather abruptly. Hotch remembered that case – how Reid had shoved Morgan out of the way of a grenade (the unsub had raided a military surplus store before attacking a school), attempting to shield the larger man with his own scrawny body. It would have been comical if Hotch hadn't been scared to death. He had been about to ream the younger man out, but then he heard it. Ears still ringing from the blast, he heard it.

Reid sat up, hands still on Morgan's shoulders, frantically looking him over.

Morgan! Are you okay – are you hurt?

Morgan shook his head. Fine, I'm fine, Reid, chill. You are one crazy son of a – Suddenly he stopped. He twisted to face Reid, eyes wide with shock. Reid just grinned at him. Slowly, Morgan grinned back.

And that was how it became the five of them, always with each other, even when they weren't at the office. Hotch wasn't sure when it ceased to bother him that his mind was no longer his own, or when it began bothering him that he couldn't reach out and keep tabs on Gideon and Elle the same way he could the others. He never told Hailey. How could she believe him? How could he explain something he didn't understand himself?

Then Elle left. That wasn't a surprise – she had completely shut herself off from them, to the point where they could hardly read her even with profiler skills. It was a shock when Prentiss came. Hotch could actually sense her, that small amount of something he had dismissed as intuition with the others, before Reid. So he watched her as she introduced herself to the rest of the team.

Morgan and JJ recognized it instantly. Hotch could sense their questions, and he sent back as much calm as he could. Still, if they watched her a little too intently as she shook Reid's hand, one could hardly blame them.

She smiled and reached out. "Emily Prentiss."

"Spencer Reid." He took her hand, and it was like something opened up inside her mind. Suddenly she could sense the others – hope and trepidation in JJ and Morgan, calm curiosity from Hotch, shock from Garcia (who was still in her office; how did she even know the analyst's name, much less where she was and what she was feeling), and a sort of awe from the young man in front of her.

Welcome to the team.

Hotch smiled. Now they were six.

For a while, things were fine. They were surrounded by darkness, but Hotch had a little island of light he carried around with him from case to case – his team. It wasn't a bright light; they each had their own demons to fight, after all. It was simply lighter than the absolute blackness they fought on a regular basis. Grey shadows, little thin lines of laser lights that connected each of them and reminded them that they weren't alone. Sometimes, it was all that kept Hotch sane, and he at least had Hailey to rely on at home. He knew how much more important it was to the others, those laser lights.

Then Gideon fell apart. His departure wasn't unexpected – it was how he left that had the team reeling. Hotch had hated himself enough during that case (he could hear Reid the entire time, crying silently in the back of his mind, begging Please Hotch don't go don't go we need you please don't go and the confusion and fear from the others and it broke his heart) and he hated himself more when he learned the truth from Morgan.

Hotch never thought that Gideon would leave without at least saying a proper good-bye to the man who saw him as a father. So he came back, he and Prentiss, and the team had spent their time healing. It probably hadn't looked like it to bystanders. They had gone out to dinner and saw a movie after, talking and laughing like friends tend to do, but no one else could hear the other half of the conversation. Hotch could not regret his decision, even if it did cost him Hailey.

It took a while, but Rossi showed up eventually, talking about Hotch being a man down and needing help. Hotch had always been able to read Rossi like an open book – a benefit of knowing the man for so long – so it actually surprised him when JJ sensed him the same way she had sensed Prentiss.

I think he's like us.


Yeah. I can actually sense him. I couldn't sense Gideon at all.

Reid's enthusiasm was so great he probably didn't even realize the look of shock that passed over Rossi's face when they shook hands. Hotch stepped in, reassuring Reid that Rossi was going to be sticking around for a while and giving the older man the chance to wrap his mind around what had just happened. Reid flushed and apologized. Hotch smiled at Rossi.

You get used to him pretty quick.

Rossi's eyes just got wider, if possible. The others grinned. Now they were seven, and they felt complete.

Now Hotch stands beside Reid's desk, waiting for the younger agent to finish his work. He knows this last case hit Reid hard; he also knows there's something more bothering their youngest. Hotch cannot sense strangers, only his teammates, but Reid can, and sometimes it overwhelms him. Hotch suspects this is one of those times.

What's bothering you?

Reid smiles faintly as he sits back in his chair, ignoring the paperwork. It can wait anyway. That boy was like me.

Hotch frowns. That boy killed five people.

Reid shakes his head. Not that part. He was like me. He could Know things too.

Suddenly Hotch understands. Their unsub was only a few years younger than Reid. He killed five people because he believed they were conspiring against him. Hotch reaches out and touches Reid's shoulder.

You think you could have become that?

If I didn't have the team, maybe. Reid shrugs. It was startling, is all. Kind of like looking in a funhouse mirror. My life if one thing had changed.

Hotch shakes his head. I will not pretend to understand what this is, but I will never wish it gone.

Reid finally smiles a real smile, and Hotch smiles back.