On the Outside, Looking In – Pt 2

It takes two weeks, but Strauss gets her chance. She waits until after a particularly difficult case for the team – it may make her look like an ass, but Hotchner is less inclined to give her the run-around when he's drop dead exhausted. That's not to say he won't just get up and walk out of her office. It makes for shorter meetings, though.

He already looks like hell. It's clear he hasn't bothered to clean up – there's blood smeared across his face and hands and staining his shirt. He long ago abandoned his jacket and tie. His shirt sleeves have been torn, and his hair is sticking straight up in all different directions, probably from running bloodied hands through it. His eyes are empty, and he refuses to look at her. He keeps touching his phone, keeping one hand in his pocket as if he won't reach it in time if it rings.

"Agent Hotchner." Strauss leans back in her seat. "We need to discuss some of the rumors going around about your team."

His hand stills. Slowly, he looks up at her. There's no longer that empty exhaustion around him; his eyes blaze with unfiltered hate and anger. Strauss has to resist the urge to push herself further into her chair and away from him.

"Rumors?" His voice is soft and harsh. "You pulled me away from my family to deal with rumors?"

Ah. Now this is the direction she wants to go. "Your family, Agent Hotchner?"

That condescending tone she always uses on him in the hopes of making him snap and punch her – or something else that will get him fired – finally works. He slams his hands down on her desk, and despite herself, she jerks backwards. Now Hotchner is in her face, eyes bright, lips twisted with something she can't quite describe.

"Yes, Strauss – my family. You didn't realize? Let me fill you in – two of my sons are currently in the hospital, one of them in critical condition, and the other may not be far behind. My daughters are there, waiting for any kind of news of their survival. My brother is there as well, making sure they don't fall apart while I'm here, listening to you bitch about how little attention you get compared to me." He's shaking by now, and suddenly Strauss realizes there are tears in his eyes that refuse to fall. "To make matters worse, I have Jack and Henry at home wondering why JJ and I are late, because I made our babysitter promise they wouldn't know until I knew more."

He stops, takes a deep breath. "Are you happy, Director Strauss? Does knowing how much I hate you right now make you happy?"

Strauss takes a moment to make sure her voice won't shake. "You're supposed to stay unattached." Her voice still sounds fainter than she would like. She hates how Hotchner can intimidate her like this. "If your ability to remain objective has been compromised – "

Hotchner's harsh laughter shuts her up completely. "Compromised. I've been compromised since day 1. I can do my job, Strauss." He straightens up and sighs. Strauss watches as he starts to pace her office, absently shoving his hand back in his pocket so he can touch his phone. His eyes are distant, like he's tuning in to a transmission only he can hear. It's as unnerving as it annoying. She will not be ignored.

"What about the other rumors?"

"What other rumors?"

She's not surprised that he's back to not looking at her. He's already stuck around longer than she expected him to. "The ones that keep getting Agent Reid beat up, Aaron. Some of the agents are saying he can read their minds."

Hotchner freezes. Now that's a reaction she hadn't expected. "You're paying attention to those kinds of rumors, Strauss? You must be desperate."

"There must be something to them. Obviously Reid cannot read minds, but if he believes he can – or if he's finding out his information by other means – then he's a liability to the Bureau, and needs to be eliminated."

Eliminated is a bad word to use. She knows that as soon as it leaves her mouth. Still, Hotcher's reaction surprises her.

He doesn't lash out. He doesn't attempt to hurt her in any way. He simply fixes her with a cold, hard stare as he speaks, his voice utterly flat and devoid of any hint of emotion. "You will not remove Reid from my team."

She lifts her chin. "I can if he's a problem. That's my prerogative."

"And mine is to tell you to go to hell. Reid's mine." He looks ready to say more (he's already given more than enough for her to call for disciplinary action) but stops suddenly. He doubles over, like someone has punched him in the gut, eyes wide.

"Morgan." The word escapes him in barely a whisper, and suddenly he's gone, out of the office and down the hall so fast it's like he was never there.

Strauss watches him go. She remembers hearing about a program the FBI and CIA worked on back in the day, when psychic powers were considered popular and not completely outlandish. Back then, there was talks of training agents to use mental powers to communicate with no words. It was scrapped, of course, but still.

She can't help but wonder if maybe those rumors are actually true. She can hear them starting up again as Hotchner makes his way out of the building and to the hospital. She knows that, come morning, there will be more hearsay to listen to and gossip to sort out. Maybe this time she'll hear something worth repeating.

In the meantime, she has a phone call to make.

She picks up the phone and dials a number. It rings, and she smiles when she hears the voice on the other end of the line.

"Hello, Jason."


At the hospital, the girls are crying, all gathering around Rossi as he tries to keep them calm. Hotch joins them without a word, wrapping his arms around JJ and Garcia while Prentiss clings to Rossi. The oldest agents looks up at him, eyes dark and clothes just as bloody as his.

Morgan's slipping away, and all of them reach out and grab hold, refusing to let their brother go. They anchor him there until the surgeons have him stabilized, until they're too weak to keep holding on. Exhausted beyond reason, Hotch reaches out one last time to Reid. His youngest is still with them, his soul crying out at the possibility of losing the only brother he's ever known.

What's going to happen to Reid if one of them dies? Hell, what's going to happen to all of them, as tied together as they are?

They don't relax until the doctors come out and tell them that both Morgan and Reid will make full recoveries. JJ finally calls home and lets the babysitter know that she'll be coming home, that everything is going to be okay. Rossi turns his attention to Hotch once again.

How did it go?

Hotch just shakes his head, unable to form even a single thought. He doesn't have the strength left to contemplate what's about to happen. His family survived hell just to walk through more fire.

Strauss knows.

The End

Here is where this section ends. There will be a few one-shots before this part of the plot picks back up again, but I will return to it. A few people wanted to see Gideon show back up, and I finally figured out the perfect way of making it happen.

Until next time,