Criminal Minds © CBS.

Part 14 of the Shadows Within Saga.

On the Outside, Looking In

The BAU has always been sort of the black sheep of the FBI family, so to speak. It's a reasonably new division, gaining popularity and notoriety as they solve cases no one else can.

As their supervisor, Erin Strauss hears all the rumors. She knows all the little pieces of gossip that go around the FBI about her team. When she gets coffee, she hears about how they've taken down another bad guy. The older agents like to tell stories about the BAU. They talk about the group like they're some kind of superior fighting force compared to the rest of the agents, and it infuriates Strauss.

These kinds of rumors have been around from the beginning. Jason Gideon was a legend, after all, and once he insisted on taking in 21 (at the time) year old Spencer Reid – the youngest agent ever – the BAU became the source of more interesting rumors. A few people speculated how Reid had even gotten on the team. Anything from paying off Gideon to sleeping with Strauss (or even Hotch) was brought up at some point. Eventually the rumors died off as the other agents got bored with the show.

Then Gideon left. And oh, did Strauss hate him for that. Strauss may be the supervisor of the BAU, but everyone knew Aaron Hotchner didn't listen to her any more than he had to. Strauss's control of the team came through Gideon, because Gideon at least respected her. And then he left, and Strauss lost all control she may have had over the team.

It took her a few days to realize a whole new set of rumors was flying around the FBI, rumors that still haven't stopped to this day. Every time the rumors cease, something happens and the cycle starts all over again.

There's something different about this team. Everyone knows it. It became startlingly clear after Gideon left. Everyone assumed Gideon was the glue holding the team together, and with him gone, everyone assumed the BAU would just fall apart and a new team of profilers would be assembled. Yet somehow, that didn't happen.

At first Erin never heard anything specific regarding Hotchner's team. Just fragments as she walked down the halls – strange, never fight, barely speak – and she didn't think much of them. She still hears such things from the new agents that come in. It's the more clearly developed thoughts she now hears from the older agents, the ones who have been around long enough to really get to know the team, that have her attention.

Work really, really well together.

I heard they all moved in to Rossi's apartment, even the analyst.

Never seen a team as close as they are – like family, don't you think?

Creepy as hell is what it is, the way that kid looks at you, like he knows what you're thinking.

Of course, that last one really should be her first priority – finding out exactly what it is that has agents so nervous around Spencer Reid, and put a stop to it. At the very least, alert Hotchner. Strauss, however, is sick of dealing with the BAU. She's sick of the hero-worship the rest of the agency has for Aaron Hotchner, and she really, really just wants to go home today. So she thinks nothing of it.

In retrospect, this is a Very Bad Idea.

Her path out of the headquarters takes her past the training area. From inside, she can hear the sounds of angry voices, and one calm and quiet voice she'd recognize anywhere.

Well, time to find out what all those rumors are about. She stand just outside of the training room – no one will ever see her here – and watches as three other agents surround Spencer Reid. He's wearing nothing but his workout pants; they must have caught him while he was changing. It just makes him look even skinnier, like Steve Rogers before the serum made him strong. The other men tower over him, all muscles and testosterone, ready for a fight. Strauss knows the ringleader personally. His name is Adam Hill.

Hill shoves Reid back into his companions, yelling something. Reid simply looks up at him, not saying a word, and Hill sneers. He slaps Reid across the face. Out of the corner of her eye, Strauss sees Garcia move back a little in her hiding place on the other side of the training room. Why doesn't she go find Hotchner like a good little minion?

Then Hill kicks Reid hard enough in the stomach to make him double over. Hill grabs Reid by the hair and jerks his head up, just in time to get clocked in the chin by the younger agent. Hill staggers backward, and Reid manages to get his feet underneath him and stands up, fists raised.

The entire time, he has not made a sound, and that unnerves Strauss. He should be crying out for help, but he's not. He's just standing here, facing down an agent twice his size with a confidence that she has never seen in him before. It's . . . unnerving.

"Hill!"

Morgan slams into him, using his full body weight and speed to knock Hill straight into the ground. A moment later, the entire team appears in the training room, and Garcia emerges from her hiding place. Hill struggles to get up, but Morgan has him effectively pinned.

Hill glares up at him. "What's your problem?"

"That's my little brother you're screwing with." Morgan snarls. He struggles to keep Hill pinned while Hotchner and Rossi examine Reid. The younger agent just smiles at them and lifts his chin. Hotchner nods. Rossi rolls his eyes and takes Reid by the arm, guiding him away from Hill (his cohorts scattered the instant Morgan appeared), probably back to the dressing room. JJ and Garcia follow them.

Prentiss sticks around with Hotchner and Morgan. Strauss watches with renewed interest. This could answer a lot of questions. She watches as Morgan reluctantly lets Hill up. Hill staggers to his feet and grins at them.

"How sweet. You came to save the little freak. If you were smart, you'd let me put him in his place."

Morgan goes rigid. "His place?"

"Little freak acts like he's better than all of us." Hill growls. "Bastard. I'll show him."

Now this is 100% the wrong thing to say, and even Strauss knows it. She watches as Hotchner grabs Hill by his shirt and jerks him right up in his face. For a moment, Strauss thinks he's going to beat Hill. She's never seen Hotchner this pissed off.

"Come after what's mine again, and I will have your ass mounted on my wall. Understand me, Agent Hill?"

Hotchner's voice is soft and low as he delivers his threat. Prentiss and Morgan stand flanking Hotchner, arms crossed over their chests and anger clear in their faces. Hill, wisely, decides not to challenge them. He leaves.

Strauss does as well. Looks like some of the rumors are true, after all. Perhaps it's time to find out how many of them are true.

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An: So, this was supposed to be a one-shot, and it will most likely be a two-shot. I just can't picture Strauss leaving it alone after that.