Criminal Minds © CBS.

Part 10 of the Shadows Within Saga. References the events of Dangers of Courting Death.

Crossing the Thin Line

Ever since the attack on the BAU, a small team of agents has been searching for the man who hired the hit squad. It has been slow going, and every day when he comes into work Hotch checks on the progress of the case. Most of the time, he comes up with nothing. Still, he keeps checking.

Quite frankly, no one goes after his team without serious consequences. Hotch will get this man. He will be able to tell his team that the man who tried to kill them all is dead, one day.

That day is today.

The team tells Hotch that they've finally found the man. Luckily for Hotch, the only other member of the BAU currently in the office is Rossi. He calls for the older man, and the two of them join the task force heading out to apprehend the man. They sit in the back of the van with the SWAT team.

Hotch – are we apprehending or eliminating?

Hotchner doesn't even look up from his gun. Whatever it takes.

That doesn't answer my question. Is this vengeance or justice?

Now Hotch meets Rossi's gaze. His eyes are dark. You know exactly what this is.

Rossi nods. I know. I just think you need to say it.

Hotch sheathes his weapon with a little more force than necessary. Vengeance.

It's easy enough to get inside the building. It's an apartment complex that's mostly empty. Only two units are occupied, and the unsub's in on the first floor. Security isn't worth crap at this apartment complex. The FBI walk in without being confronted by anybody.

The apartment is actually clean and immaculate, and their unsub just sits there on his couch, smiling at the SWAT team as he's surrounded. Hotch and Rossi are at the head of the group, guns trained on the unsub's body. He seems normal enough – thinning blond hair, blue eyes, wire rimmed glasses. He leans forward just a bit.

"Finally found me, did you? Tell me – did my team actually do their job before you killed them?"

Rossi's lip curls in a sneer. "No."

"Oh. Well, damn it."

Hotch feels like he's going to break. The unsub just sits there, smiling at them, and he really, really wants the man to give him an excuse to shoot. He knows Rossi of the same mind he is; the elder agent radiates anger and hatred. They both want him dead. They need him to die before they can get any kind of closure. The rest of the team is there, watching through their eyes, feeling the same things they are.

Morgan's emotions are probably the closest to Hotch and Rossi's. Even from the beginning, he viewed Reid as a little brother. The fastest way to piss Morgan off is and always will be to hurt Spencer Reid. The girls are angry and excited. They want the showdown to be over so they can breathe easy again. Reid just sits there, in the back of Hotch's mind, and it's Reid that he reaches out to.

This is vengeance. There is no justice here; none of them want it. This man came after them, tried to kill them all, and they will return the favor.

Suddenly the unsub lunges forward. His hand reaches for something under the table, but he never gets to it. Hotch and Rossi shoot him three times each in the chest. For a moment, no one moves. No one makes the attempt to aid the man lying there in his own blood, choking and giggling at the same time.

"What's so funny?" Rossi demands.

The unsub smirks. "No gun."

Hotch and Rossi exchange looks. One of the SWAT members chuckles. "I thought he was going for a gun. Didn't you guys think so?" There is the general murmur of assent. The unsub glares at them but ultimately dies before he can retort.

Rossi's grateful for that. Hotch looks much like he did after he beat Foyet to death – fragile, like he's going to break at any moment, but there's a fire in his eyes that matches the hatred Rossi feels.

This bastard got what he deserved.


That night, a knock on Hotch's door wakes him. Well, not wakes, per say. Hotch is simply laying on his couch, staring blankly at the TV screen while keeping an ear out for Jack. The knock is startling, to be sure, but a simple searching with his mind reveals that it's Reid standing outside his apartment, waiting patiently to be let in. Hotch gets up and lets Reid in.

Are you okay? he asks the younger, guiding him into the kitchen and putting a pot of coffee on to perk. Reid shakes his head.

I should be asking you that. I just got done talking to Rossi.

Hotch glances at him as he gets coffee mugs. He grabs a small one by instinct – it's not the size he used to drink from, but JJ got it for him because it had Pardon me, but you've obviously mistaken me for someone who gives a shit written on it. She found it right after a case where Hotch had chewed out the lawyer for trying to have certain details of the case withheld from court. The team found it hilarious. So had Jack, once Rossi had thoughtfully explained what it meant to give a shit. He kept it.

I'm fine.

You killed someone today, Hotch. I know you. That doesn't sit well with you.

Hotch looks away. Leave it to Reid to figure out what exactly was bugging the team leader, and decide to do something about it. He sighs. It's not that I killed, Reid. It's why I did it.

He reached for a gun.

He taunted us, and we responded. It was suicide by cop.

Reid rolls his eyes. This is all fine and dandy, but it's not the reason you're upset now.

Hotch sighs. "Do you realize exactly how far this team is willing to go for each other? How little the rules matter when it comes to each other? Do you know the significance of what we did today?" His hands rest on the counter, the coffee for now forgotten. He shakes his head. "It's far beyond what I anticipated."

For a moment, Reid doesn't speak. He simply stares at Hotch as he prepares two cups of coffee and hands one to Reid. Both men simply stare at their cups of coffee, considering.

"We're not a team."

Hotch's attention snaps to Reid. "What makes you say that?"

"Teams do not do the things we do." Reid speaks slowly, making sure he chooses his words correctly. "Teams do not kill to protect each other, or sleep together because someone has nightmares, or carry spare nightlights in case mine blows a bulb." That last part is added with a small smile, and Hotch can't help but smile back. Reid continues. "Families do."

"You think we're more family than team."

"I know we are." Reid says simply. "You're the dad, Rossi is the uncle, and the rest of us are the siblings. When you think about it that way, it's not that surprising at all."

Hotch chuckles. "Yeah, well, I suppose that's true. We've never really been a team then, have we?"

Reid grins. "I think we just went straight to family." He reaches for Hotch's hand, then changes his mind. "Don't over think it, Hotch. You did what you did to protect me, and I'm thankful for it. No matter the reason."

Hotch nods. "Do you want to stay the night? Jack will be upset that he didn't get to talk to you."

Reid laughs. "He needs help with his math homework again, doesn't he?"

"Yeah, and somehow he figured out you're smarter than me."

Reid just grins. "Of course."