Criminal Minds © CBS

Part 13 of the Shadows Within series. Inspired by the newest episodes of Criminal Minds, but with a twist.

My thanks to Idril Isil Gilgalad for helping me with the Spanish that appears in this chapter. Because I suck at Spanish, despite having taken two semesters of it.

The Replicator

As a rule, the team tries to avoid rituals and habits. Such things makes it easier for a person to be tracked, and considering the nature of their job and the need to protect the boys, certain measures are just taken. Still, everyone has habits.

For Derek Morgan, it's getting coffee at a particular coffee shop every Saturday morning. He makes sure to show up at different times, but he still goes. It's partly because of the cute barista that speaks mostly Spanish and is extremely shy. It's mostly because of the awesome coffee. Today he decides to grab two cups – he's taking Reid to a speed dating event (mostly for the company) and figures the kid will appreciate a caffeine hit.

"Senor Morgan?" The barista hands him a small fragment of paper. "For you." Morgan takes the paper from her and unfolds it. Written across it in a messy half-cursive scrawl is a word that makes all thoughts of speed-dating and finding Reid a girlfriend go out the window.

Reader.

Morgan looks up at the barista. "Who gave this to you?"

The barista shakes her head. "No me dijo su nombre. Era muy alto y de ojos azules." She shrugs. "Lo siento."

Morgan shakes his head. "Don't worry about it. If you see him again, tell him I got his message." She nods. Morgan pays for his coffee – with a generous tip – and leaves the coffee shop. He doesn't bother grabbing his phone or even looking around to see if he's being followed. The last thing he wants is to give this asshole the pleasure of seeing him scared.

Instead, he gets in his car and reaches out for Hotch.

We have a problem.

I know. Come back to the mansion. We'll swap stories there.

Morgan sends back an affirmative. I need to get Reid. He was gonna meet me –

Reid's here. Come back.

Okay.

They swap stories. They each received a note with the same scrawled out word – that damning word, Reader. The same term that Castiel used to describe Reid. Reid's note is different. For him, this stalker is not content to just call him out – he must add insult to injury. His simply reads Freak among freaks. This doesn't make Reid as angry as it does Hotch; then again, the senior agent has always had a protective streak of the kid a mile wide.

The team decides to keep it to themselves. After all, there's no way they can tell Strauss without letting her know everything, and no one can ever know. Bobby and Castiel know, but one's a hunter and one's an angel, and they're pretty trustworthy. Hotch and JJ tell the boys to keep a close eye out for anyone following them. For a week, everything seems normal.

Then the photos start showing up. Photos of their old apartments, having dinner together, Reid at the bookstore, Garcia visiting a computer shop, JJ and Prentiss at the spa. There's no pictures of them at the mansion, and the general consensus is that this unsub doesn't know where the mansion is. That means he must have a job that prevents him from following them home.

All it takes is one picture of Jack and Henry walking home from school to show up in the mail, and Hotch and JJ send them out of state to Hotch's sister-in-law's house. He's not afraid of the unsub targeting his team (he'd almost think this was funny if the asshole wasn't being so damn clever about it) but he's not taking any chances with the boys.

They stick together. They go to work together, taking as few cars as possible. Strauss notices this strange new behavior, and when she confronts Hotch on it, he simply tells her as much as he can without mentioning the notes. Needless to say, she's not pleased.

"And you didn't think to tell me about this?"

"Ma'am, this unsub hasn't shown the inclination to do anything other than take pictures. We've removed the children from the situation. Until he does something other than send pictures, there's really nothing you can do."

So this routine continues for another three weeks. They get used to seeing pictures show up in their PO boxes every day. Then things change again.

Reid receives only one picture. It's of him, getting into the van with Rossi (he remembers the day it was taken), but Rossi has been completely cut from the picture. On the back is written yet another scrawled message –

Step 1: Isolation.

Reid makes it a point not to let it bother him. He clamps down on the icy fear so none of the others can sense it.

He should have known Hotch will not be fooled. He corners Reid as soon as he gets back to the mansion and guides him into Hotch's room, shutting the door and locking it. The others make a point not to listen in. Reid knows what they're doing. They're trying to let him save face. He sits down on Hotch's bed and doesn't look at the older man.

Hotch kneels in front of him. "Reid?"

"He's targeting the one he thinks is the weakest." Reid says automatically. "He's trying to pick us off, one by one."

Hotch snorts. "In that case, he picked the wrong agent." He reaches out and grabs Reid's hand. "But that's not what I was asking, and you know it. Stop evading me."

Reid flinches at the touch, but Hotch doesn't pull away. Finally, Reid just sighs. "I think I'm defective."

Hotch frowns. "What do you mean?"

"Why do all the freaks of the world decide to pick on me?" Reid almost sounds like he's pouting, but he can't think of a better way to phrase it. "Is it because they instinctively know I'm a bigger freak than they'll ever be?" He finally turns his gaze to Hotch. There's something akin to helpless fury in his eyes, and Hotch simply tightens his grip on Reid's hand. "What am I, Hotch? What am I that all these horrible people seem to zero in on me?" His voice rises until he's almost shouting. "What am I?"

When he's run out of steam, Hotch does the only thing he can think of and the last thing Reid would ever expect of him. He uses his grip on Reid's hand to pull the younger man into a tight embrace. Reid stiffens up completely at this unexpected invasion of his personal space before relaxing just a bit. Hotch reaches out to him, holding him together in more ways than one.

You are my son. That is who you are.

Hotch?

You said it before –we're family. Even before all this started, I knew you would be like a son to me. You're my son, and I will not let anything happen to you.

It takes a moment for Reid to process what has just been said. He knows it's true – he's always known – but knowing and hearing are two different things. Slowly, he hugs Hotch back.

Hotch's son. He likes that.

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An: This is going to turn into a mini-story like Never to Return Again did. For those of you who are like me and don't speak Spanish, this is what the barista said: He did not tell me his name. He is very tall and blue-eyed. I'm sorry.