All characters depicted in this story are property of CBS, Jeff Davis, Edward Allen Bernero, Gigi Coello-Bannon, Deborah Spera blah, blah, blah. I took some scenes from the episode to help make the "missing moments" I added easier to visualize and understand. A big thanks to my dear friend Nic for encouraging me to write this and being my beta.

"What's that?"

As soon as Reid heard Dowd's question, he rolled on his back – Hotch's back-up gun in his hands at the ready – and aimed at their captor's head.

The failed proficiency test and all of his self-doubts forgotten, he carried out the instructions Hotch had taught him only two days before and just repeated – front sight, trigger press, follow through – and hit Dowd right in the middle of his forehead.

After seeing that the bullet had reached its target and that the former UnSub was falling to the floor, he lowered the gun and lay down on his back, eyes closed, trying to block out all the emotions rushing through him, while he let the weapon slip from his still tied hands onto the floor next to him.

It was finally over.

Reid had been a member of the BAU for three years now and he had encountered numerous hostage situations, but this had been the first time he was on the receiving end.

But at least he hadn't been alone in this ordeal.

Quite frankly, he had been somewhat relieved that his superior was with him, because Hotch's calm exterior had helped him focus on the task at hand. And his part had been to listen to what Hotch said, to search for hidden clues and subtle messages, because he'd had no doubt that his boss had already thought of a plan to end this.

But that had also meant listening to all the hurtful things that came out of his supervisor's mouth.

And even though Spencer knew deep down that the older agent hadn't meant anything he'd said, it still bothered him. But now was neither the time nor the place to think about it.

Focusing on the here and now, he heard his superior yell, "Federal agent! Federal agent, hold your fire! It's all clear."

So Reid opened his eyes to the yellowish light that the back-up generator was providing and sat up slowly, wincing as his body reminded him of Hotch's kicks. Suppressing the vivid memories of that, he became aware that a SWAT team had entered the room. Hotch must have let them in, he realized.

Having made sure that the Unsub was indeed dead, they let the hospital staff inside to take care of the hostages while the rest of the BAU team practically stormed in, concern clearly written all over their faces which quickly changed into relief when they saw that their teammates were alive and relatively unharmed.

While Morgan took care of Hotch's zipties, Gideon approached Reid and knelt in front of him.

"Are you okay?"

Spencer didn't really know if he was.

After the adrenaline rush from the shot had left him, he had been filled with a strange absence of feelings and pain had made it all the more evident.

Pain from the ribs Hotch had kicked him in.

Pain from the sure-to-come bruise on his left cheek where Dowd had hit him with the butt of his rifle.

But he said, "Yeah, I... I think so."

Gideon took a knife out of the pocket of his jeans and carefully cut the zipties on Reid's wrists. "Let's get out of here then." He helped his young teammate stand up and Reid looked around, searching for Hotch in the crowd and finding him talking to Sergeant Weigart near the door.

Since both Morgan and Elle seemed to have left the ER already, he assumed that they were starting to question all the unfortunate people who'd been held hostage along with them.

Remembering the gun still lying on the floor, he picked it up and put it into the left pocket of his pants, then allowed his mentor to lead him towards the entrance. As he walked past Hotch, he kept his gaze fixed on the floor, not sure what to expect from his boss' face.

Once outside in the dark night, Gideon steered Reid towards the back of an ambulance across the parking lot. The total lack of response on Spencer's part worried the older agent a little and he wondered what exactly had happened in the short time his two men had been held captive.

He had noticed the injuries on his youngest colleague's face and Hotch's gun next to Reid when he had entered the ER, and a lot of questions were on his mind. But one look at Reid's face told him he wouldn't get an answer to any of them right now, so he decided to talk to Hotch later instead.

Right now, his first priority was getting the young agent checked out, because it hadn't escaped him that Reid was walking slightly hunched over, holding an arm defensively around his waist.

When they reached the back of the ambulance, he gently pushed his protégé to sit on its steps and finally got the resemblance of a response when Reid looked up at him, even though he still wasn't talking.

"Are you okay on your own here, Reid? 'Cause they're gonna need everyone to help collect the statements." Appreciating the time to clear his own head without having to worry about one of his teammates hovering around him, Reid answered, "Go ahead, I'll be alright."

Gideon smiled comfortingly and put a fatherly hand on the younger man's shoulder, squeezing lightly before he turned and left just as an EMT approached.

Reassuring himself with a backward glance that Spencer would be in good hands, Gideon was on his way back inside when he met Hotch, who was coming out of the building.

"Where's Reid?" The other agent asked him.

"I handed him over to an EMT to get him checked out." Gideon pointed in the direction of the ambulance, then asked, "But tell me what happened in there?"

"We were in the ER to confirm Landman's alibi, when we realized that our UnSub had to be someone from the ER staff, 'cause only this way he would have had the opportunity to help all of the victims he shot. So we talked to a doctor and she identified Philip Dowd from our profile. I sent Reid to get you, but, just as he was leaving the ER, Dowd came in with a rifle hidden under his lab coat. He hit Reid in the face with it and knocked him down. Then Dowd shot the fuse box several times, but thankfully the back-up generator kicked in. Dowd used the guard as a human shield and I couldn't risk shooting him, so I put my gun down and he took it. Then he made the guard tie us up and hit him with the gun. So I did the only thing I could do: use the profile against him. I made him believe that I wanted to help him and he bought it. I still had my back-up gun cause Dowd never searched me for more weapons. The only thing I needed to do was convince him to put the people near the doors to get them out of our line of fire. The problem was I couldn't take the gun out without Dowd seeing it."

"And that's where Reid came in," Gideon interrupted, knowingly.

"Well, since I couldn't do it, Reid had to," Hotch confirmed.

"So how did you play it?" Gideon wanted to know.

Hotch sighed before answering, "I talked to Dowd about Reid failing his firearm qualification in a rather disrespective way. I'd say I was pretty convincing. Jason, Reid gave me sideways glances and looked up at me every now and then and, even though I couldn't look at him, I could feel how much my words were hurting him. And I hated myself for that." He lowered his gaze.

"Aaron," Gideon said, waited for the other agent to look at him, then continued, "believe me, Reid knows that you didn't mean anything you said in there. He's a good profiler, don't underestimate him. He knew that it only served for Dowd to trust you and at the same time make him seem less of a threat, thereby giving him an advantage. Trust me, he won't hold it against you."

Seeing that Hotch still looked unconvinced, Gideon asked, "How did Reid get your gun?" Having a strong feeling that he already knew the answer to that.

"Well, verbal abuse was not the worst I did to him. Believe me, I wouldn't have done it but I couldn't think of any other way to give Reid the gun. I was pretty sure that he would remember my ankle holster because I used both of my guns while I was teaching him for the test. So I asked Dowd for a favor, which he granted. I pushed Reid to the ground and I started kicking him to give him a chance to grab the gun. I knew it had to be convincing, Jason, so I actually had to hit him, but I stopped as soon as I felt that he had the gun. He then rolled away from me. I… I can still hear his moans of pain."

Hotch stopped, guilt written all over his face.

Gideon was silent, picturing the internal battle that was taking place within the other man, and waited for him to continue. When Hotch did, his voice had changed and there was a little bit of admiration in it. "You know, he held on real good in there. When Dowd spotted the empty holster, Reid reacted so fast and shot him. And he actually hit him right in the middle of his forehead, as if it was the easiest thing in the world, when his bullets barely reached the target until two days ago. But I knew he could do it. I didn't doubt him for a second."

He looked over at the ambulance.

Reading the other profiler like a book, Gideon suggested, "Why don't you go talk to him?"

Before Hotch could answer, they saw two EMTs coming out of the building with a gurney rolling between them, holding Dowd's lifeless body covered with a white sheet.

"I guess you're right. I really should talk to him," Hotch agreed.

"Okay, I'm gonna go back inside and help with the questioning," Gideon announced and left.

Approaching the ambulance, Hotch saw with dismay that the gurney holding Dowd was being rolled straight in front of Reid, whose gaze was following it, his slightly pale face unreadable.

The senior agent stepped closer, effectively blocking the other man's view of the disappearing gurney.

His arms crossed in front of his chest, the younger agent looked up at his superior, who asked, "You all right?"

Reid's answer was an almost inaudible "Yeah."

Nodding once at that, Hotch mimicked his teammate's posture and stated, "Nice shot."

Reid looked away and, with the hint of a smile that permeated his voice, "I was aiming for his leg," he said, in an attempt to play it down, uncomfortable as he was with the praise he had just gotten.

Then he looked at Hotch again, his smile growing wider.

Judging from Reid's answer that he wasn't totally shaken by the events in the ER and being thankful for that, Hotch kept his tone light as he addressed him again. "Well, I wouldn't have kept kicking, but I was afraid you didn't get my plan, so."

Try as he may, he couldn't look at the genius, there was still too much guilt he harbored to meet Spencer's eyes. Reid however, even though he hadn't made a lot of eye contact during their conversation, now looked straight at his superior, as he replied, in a calm and clearly not accusing tone, "I got your plan the minute you moved the hostages out of my line of fire."

This didn't really help Hotch in his attempt to get rid of at least some of the guilt he was feeling, so he said, with his head slightly bowed, "Well, I hope I didn't hurt you too badly."

He fully expected an answer like 'I'm fine', so he was surprised when he saw the smirk on Reid's face again. "Hotch, I was a twelve-year-old child prodigy in a Las Vegas public high school. You kick like a nine-year-old girl."

His teammate's wide smile was so infectious that he didn't even try to hold back his own.

Taking that answer as a sign that the younger agent didn't want to talk about that any further, Hotch let the matter drop, at least for now.

He fully intended to try again later, however.

When he saw Reid pulling the older agent's back-up gun out of his pants' pocket and holding it out to him, he said, "No, keep it."

He clapped the Reid's shoulder and continued, "As far as I'm concerned, you passed your qualification." With that, the senior agent left to head back to the hospital and help the team, but he couldn't resist the urge to take one last look at the other man.

He felt relieved now that he had heard their genius didn't blame him for his actions.

It would take some time to forgive himself, but knowing this definitely helped a lot.

Unaware of his supervisor's glance, Spencer examined the gun in his hands, only now truly realizing that the older agent had trusted him to end the situation even though he had failed his proficiency test.

That very thought filled him with pride.

He put the gun back where it had been and stood up, shoving his hands into his pockets. With his left hand, he felt the cool touch of the gun, while the other hand's fingers curled around the whistle Morgan had given him two days before.

He didn't even know why he had taken it with him in the first place.

Rounding the open door of the ambulance, he saw Morgan head his way and decided to get rid of the item by tossing it towards the black agent with a little smile on his lips, then he made his way through the police cars parked in front of the hospital in search of the SUV that had brought the team there.

So he didn't see that Morgan was looking at his retreating back and speaking softly with a triumphant smile on his face, "Touché, kid."

After the team, minus one genius, and JJ – who had left earlier to give a press conference at the police station – had wrapped everything up at the hospital, they met at the entrance.

"Where's Reid?" Elle asked, looking around for the missing colleague.

"Probably already at the SUV waiting for us," Morgan answered.

"Okay, let's head back to the police headquarters and get our equipment. We're gonna fly back to Quantico in two hours," Hotch announced.

So the team headed to their SUV in the parking lot.

After a moment of silence, Elle spoke up, "Well, from what I've learned in the interviews, I'm pretty sure that Reid will pass the gun qualification next time, don't you think?" When no one answered, she looked at her silent companions and asked, "Okay, what am I missing here, guys?"

It was Gideon who replied to that. "Reid had never shot a person in the line of duty until today."

"Oh," was all Elle could say.

A moment later, they reached the vehicle and found Reid leaning against it, staring off into space, obviously lost in his thoughts.

"Hey." This and a gentle tug on his arm from Hotch brought him back to reality.

Reid glanced at the senior agent and nodded once in acknowledgement of their arrival, then pushed himself away from the car. Uncomfortable with the pairs of eyes that were staring at him, he hugged himself in a familiar manner.

"We're heading to the police station, then get our bags from the hotel and fly home," his superior informed him before climbing inside.

When Gideon, Morgan and Elle all got into the back of the car Reid was confused, because usually one of them was riding on the passenger's side. "You're gonna come in?" Hotch asked, slightly amused when Reid still stood unmoving next to the car.

"Of course, sorry," the young man replied, then hurried to climb into the car, too.

He was actually relieved, because this way he wouldn't have to see the concerned glances of his teammates anymore.

They rode back to the police station in comfortable silence.

Once there, they handed their notes of the interviews to Detective Calvin and gathered up their stuff. Most of the cops working in the bullpen were approaching them, personally thanking them for catching the killer of their fellow officer. Gideon noticed that Reid winced slightly every time he heard one of the cops saying that it was a good thing that Dowd had been killed. Feeling for his protégé, he realized that he had to talk to him but this wasn't the place for a conversation like this.

After saying their farewell, the hotel was the next stop. Together they headed up to their rooms. Hotch informed them that they were going to leave in half an hour, so they entered their respective rooms to start packing. Leading them into their room, Morgan grabbed his sports bag and put it on the bed while Reid opened the closet.

"Hey kid," Derek said to get the other man's attention.

Reid turned around somewhat hesitantly to face his temporary roommate.

"You're okay?" the older agent asked the man who had come to be a younger brother to him. Reid looked down for a moment before answering, "I think so, yeah," his face clearly betraying his words.

Sensing that the genius didn't want to talk about it, Morgan didn't push. He would leave that to Hotch or Gideon. So he merely offered, "If you wanna talk, I'll be there for you, okay?"

"Thanks Morgan," came Reid's reply.

"I guess we should start packing then or they'll fly without us." At Morgan's attempt at humor, the young agent was relieved.

He turned around again to grab his clothes and put them into his bag, while Morgan was doing the same. Before zipping it shut, he pulled out Hotch's gun from his pants' pocket, looking at it briefly as he'd done earlier, then put it on top of his clothes.

They met the rest of the team in the lobby of the hotel, then checked out and carried their bags to the two SUVs where they put them into the trunks and got in. Hotch and Morgan, who were driving, pulled out of the parking lot and drove to the airport, where they boarded their private jet.

Morgan, Hotch, Elle and JJ settled in the seats in the back of the private jet, while Reid chose one of the seats in the middle and turned to look out of the window into the dark night.

Gideon stood at the opening to the passenger's section observing the team. The four in the back seemed to have succumbed to exhaustion; it had been a long and hard day for all of them. His glance moved to the youngest member, whose attention was still directed at the dark outside, and he knew he had one task left to do before he, too, could allow himself to rest.

So he walked down the aisle to stand next to the seat across Reid's, looking down at him for a moment before he asked in a low voice, "How are you doing?"

Turning his head and glancing up, the young man dodged the question by saying, "You were right. You don't need a gun to kill somebody."

Thinking about how to approach the subject, Gideon sat down. "No, you don't."

"But it helps," Reid stated and gave a little smile that didn't quite reach his eyes.

"Yes, it does," Gideon agreed, looking down at the table.

Before he could say anything else, Reid turned fully towards him and spoke up hesitantly, "I-I know I should feel bad about what happened. I mean, I-I killed a man. You know, I-I-I should feel something. But I don't."

Gideon could hear confusion in the younger man's voice. He wasn't expecting Reid to say something like that, so he didn't know how to answer. He shook his head and replied, "Not knowing what to feel or... It's not the same as not feeling anything." Seeing that this didn't help the other agent at all, he continued, "This is gonna hit you. Now when it does, there's only three facts you need to know."

When Reid leaned forward, propping himself up on the table between them, Gideon continued, carefully choosing his words, "You did what you had to do. And a lot of good people are alive because of what you did."

The young agent looked down, his mind processing what he had heard, then looked back up frowning. "What's the third?"

Gideon waited a beat, then answered, "I'm proud of you," holding the other man's glance for a moment before looking down at the table. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Reid smile briefly before turning his attention back to the black night outside.

Unbeknownst to both men, Hotch had listened to their conversation.

He was glad that Gideon had talked to Reid and he intended to do so again, too, when they were back in Quantico. Even though he'd been telling himself time and again that it had been necessary, he still felt guilty for treating the young agent the way he had. But he, too, was proud of Reid, not only for staying relatively calm, but also for picking up on the clues he had given him and for taking the shot without hesitating, when the situation went south, thereby saving Hotch's life. And the older agent had learned one thing that day: he should never underestimate Reid's courage and inner strength. Maybe it was time to tell their genius just how much he had accomplished in this case.

Back at Quantico, every agent sat down at their desks to type their report. Hotch had already finished his and started doing paperwork that had begun piling up on his desk, when he heard a knock on his door and looked up to see Reid entering his office hesitantly.

"Come in. What can I do for you?" He asked.

"I just wanted to give back your gun," his colleague answered, holding said item out to the older agent.

The kid looked exhausted and a little pale, so Hotch made the decision to talk to him right now. He stepped around his desk and, taking the gun out of the other man's hand before leading him to the couch at the far wall, he pushed Reid down to sit.

After putting the gun on the small table next to it, he took a seat next to his colleague, who sat slightly hunched over and just looked miserable.

"Reid," the senior agent began, "I want to thank you for saving my life."

That got the other man's attention as he looked up while his eyes grew bigger. Whatever he was expecting to hear from the older agent, this was clearly not it. A little amused by that reaction, Hotch continued, "You really did good today. You kept your cool and acted when the situation called for it. And I hope you know that I didn't mean a word I said to Dowd."

"I know that, Hotch," came the soft reply.

The older profiler couldn't help but smile in relief. "So, you're really okay?" he asked.

The younger man, touched by his superior's concern for him, answered, "Yeah, I'm fine."

Though not really believing him, Hotch sensed that he wouldn't get a different answer, so he decided to drop it for now. That was until he saw Reid shift positions, then wince, which he tried to cover up but failed. He was pretty sure that he had inflicted some damage upon the genius with his kicks, but his mind, somehow, had refused to really think about it until now. But he knew that they both had to deal with it for the sake of their relationship, both professional and personal. So he said, "Okay, now the truth. How bad is it?" Straightforward, no room for arguments.

After a few moments, Reid realized that he couldn't beat around the bush anymore. He looked his superior in the eye and answered, "Just a couple of bruises, nothing serious, really." Seeing that the other man seemed to be at a loss for words after that revelation, Reid continued, proving that he was a good profiler, "Hotch, you probably hate yourself for doing what you did, but you had no other choice. I know that and you know that. It wasn't your fault. We just had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and our only chance of ending it was your gun. So what you did was necessary to save not only us but everyone else in that room."

Those words were exactly what the senior agent needed to hear. But his relief was short-lived when he noticed the haunted look in the other man's eyes. In the attempt to save the hostages, he hadn't realized what burden he had put on their Reid's shoulders, not realized what the repercussions would be. But he was in a place to do something about that now.

"Reid, listen. I'm sorry for what I put you through. I'm sorry that you had to be the one to shoot Dowd. But I knew that you could do it, that you could save all of us in there. It's sad that a person had to lose his life in that ER, but the outcome is far better than all the alternatives. You can't lose sight of that. I hope you still trust me after all this."

For a moment, there was silence between the two agents, then Reid spoke up, "I do trust you. And, yes, it hurt what you said and did, but the important thing is that I know you didn't mean it. One of us had to end it. You had the gun, but you couldn't get it without Dowd seeing it and shooting first. So that only left me. And as much as I hate it that I was forced to take a life, I would do it again if I had to."

"So we're good?" Hotch asked hesitantly.

Offering a smile, the younger man replied, "Yeah, we're good."

Though he knew that Reid had yet to forgive himself, Hotch was sure everything would be okay in time. Satisfied, he stood up and, seeing how it had been a long, stressful day, he offered, "How about I give you a lift home?"

"That would be great," Reid accepted.

"Okay. I just need to finish up here and get my bag, then we're good to go."

"I'll wait downstairs," the young agent announced and left.

Taking his gun from the table, Hotch put it back into its holster, then shut the computer down. He grabbed his traveling bag, switched the light off and stepped out of his office, pulling the door shut behind him. Standing there, he paused to look at his team.

They'd saved a lot of people that day, stopped a monster and come out of it alright.

In the end, that's all that counts.

A/N: Thanks for reading! If you have some time please leave a review! Constructive criticism is always appreciated.