Criminal Minds © CBS.
AN: Yet another lovely story from the Shadows Within Saga. Please enjoy this madness.
Love and Other Fatalities
As unit leader of the BAU, Aaron Hotchner knew he would have to stay objective. Forming familial bonds with his team would only come back to hurt him later. If he couldn't stay objective, then he would be pulled from the BAU and reassigned. Hotch loved his job. The last thing he wanted was reassignment.
Fate would have it, he loved his team more.
They were his family. Rossi was a brother, the others like his children. How could he not come to love them? How could he be expected to stay objective, especially with all of them tucked away inside his mind. When they hunted unsubs, they were there. When they relaxed in the bullpen, they were there. When he was alone with his wife and child, they were still there, an ever-present reminder of how little his wife knew of his new life.
They never tried to block each other, either. Hotch wasn't entirely too sure it was possible. The subject was brought up once. Reid had simply looked at them and asked why. It was never mentioned again after that.
The team had a tendency to forget that this was common for their youngest. He had always brushed against others minds, and now he delighted in others Knowing him the way he Knew them. The team would not take that away from him.
Hotch loved them all. How could he not? As much as he pretended to be the ever-professional leader who never cracked a smile, his team knew different. His team knew exactly how much they meant to him, how much he wished he could protect them. Morgan had felt Hotch's sympathy and worry when he went against the man who molested him. Rossi had felt his support when he tackled a case from the past. Garcia had sensed his fear and anger when she was shot and left for dead. JJ knew his worry when she announced she was pregnant – as much as he wanted her to be happy, he feared she would leave. Prentiss – well, Prentiss knew exactly what he felt about sending her into their own version of witness protection. He was just glad she was safe.
And Reid. Oh, where to start with Reid? Their youngest was such a trouble magnet. Hotch had had plenty of opportunities to feel worry and fear and pride and everything in between. Was it any wonder they were all more protective of him than anyone else? Even though it occasionally got on Reid's nerves, Hotch knew the young man secretly enjoyed the attention. For so long he'd been the one taking care of people, it was nice to have those who returned the favor.
Still, as much as Hotch loved them, as much as he wanted to treat them exactly as they deserved to be treated, he knew he had to tread lightly. He had to be the stoic, unshakable agent to everyone, the one who wasn't too attached, but appropriately concerned for those who served under him.
And every time he was forced to play that role, Reid just smiled at him, and Hotch would smile back, if only a little.
Now they stand in an abandoned warehouse, searching for clues. An anonymous tip has lead them here, to the place where a bomber has supposedly been making his explosives, and yet they can find nothing. Morgan announces the place clear of unsubs. JJ expresses her doubt that this was ever a bomb manufacturing plant to begin with. Someone's idea of a sick joke. Hotch is just about to call off the search when he hears Reid's voice.
"Um, guys? We may want to leave now."
They all follow his gaze up. The crossbeams have been wired. Some kind of plastic explosive – Hotch is willing to place bets that it's C4. Rossi echoes that sentiment. Reid is slowly backing away from the crossbeams in the center of the warehouse, but as they examine the situation, they realize all of the beams have been wired.
"Morgan?" Hotch questions.
"Probably remote detonation." Morgan replies instantly. "I don't think we can set it off."
"Any way to disarm them? There is evidence here after all."
Morgan's eyes flicker around, but ultimately it's the growing unease he feels from Reid that decides it. "No. There's too many of them."
"Let's go." Rossi orders, and they back out towards the door. Over the years they've come to trust Reid's instincts about such things. After all, he can Know everyone, while the team can only Know each other.
He's close. Reid's head is tilted to the side, like he's trying to hone in on a faint radio station. He's close, I think – he knows we're here!
"Move!" Now Rossi and Hotch are pushing the others out, caution thrown to the wind as they make a mad dash for the door. JJ and Prentiss are in the lead. Rossi and Morgan are on either side of Reid – the younger man can't run quite as fast as his teammates, and they will not risk him falling behind. Hotch brings up the rear.
Right as they reach the door, the first of the explosives go off. Hotch feels his heart jump. They're nowhere near far enough away from the blast. They're going to get hurt.
It's like ripples on water, the way the explosives go off. They exit the warehouse and dive behind their sedans. Hotch grabs Reid and tucks him under one arm, the other reaching out and wrapping around the closest – JJ. Rossi has Morgan and Prentiss in a similar position.
Then the shockwave hits them, and Hotch fears they are not far enough away. He fears they will suffer hearing damage, or worse, internal organ damage, and he pulls Reid and JJ closer to him. He wishes he could reach out to the others, but they're too far away.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he's aware of Garcia calling the local police and reporting another bombing. Dimly, he's thankful that she's still at Quantico. That's one less person to worry about.
Finally, finally the raging inferno stops. Shrapnel stops flying around them, the fire stops trying to burn them, and they feel it's safe to stand up and survey the damage. The warehouse is gone, reduced to a burning frame and so much shrapnel, and the sedans are pretty much totaled, but it's his team Hotch is concerned about. His ears are ringing, but that doesn't stop him.
Is everyone okay? He releases Reid and JJ from his hold, watching Rossi do the same with Morgan and Prentiss. They look themselves over. Everyone suffers from ringing ears, but that is quickly dying down. Hotch and Rossi were protected from most of the shrapnel. The others were not so lucky. Morgan's right arm has been sliced open repeatedly, JJ has a few lacerations to her head, and Reid has a fragment of glass stuck in his left arm. No one has suffered enough damage to be considered crippled, but it's still enough to hurt.
Morgan grins. I think we're good, Hotch.
Reid? Prentiss steps forward, hands shaking as she reaches out to Reid. She doesn't ask if it hurts. She can feel the pain as if it's her own. Can we get it out?
Might not be a good idea. There's an ambulance coming. We should wait.
But it might stop hurting.
Reid smiles faintly. I can handle it.
Hotch makes Reid sit down, followed by JJ and Morgan. Prentiss sits down next to Reid, letting him rest his arm on hers so he could hold it as immobile as possible. He is shaking. They all are.
As the sound of the ambulance makes itself heard over the ringing of his ears, he reaches out to Garcia. Thanks.
Garcia's relief is a tangible thing. He can almost feel his own heart rate slow down. You're okay. Thank God. I thought you were –
No. We're fine now. Hotch examines his team, seeing the adrenaline rush of a close call fading from their systems, leaving nothing but a group of exhausted people behind, and anger floods him, hot and biting.
How dare this unsub attack his team?
That night they abandon their separate hotel rooms and stay in the same one. They spend the night watching old black-and-white films until they all fall asleep in the living area, Morgan sitting up on the couch with JJ using his lap as a pillow, Rossi and Prentiss in a similar position on one double bed, and Hotch and Reid on the other. They pull Garcia as close to them as distance allows, and despite the distance that separates their bodies, there is no distance between their minds.
When they wake, they find it harder than ever to completely separate themselves into unique individuals instead of this seven parts of a whole they've become. Every attack, every close call pulls them closer together, and soon they may not be able to pull away at all.
Hotch doesn't mind. He loves them all, and he doesn't understand how he could ever have expected anything less of himself.