Criminal Minds © CBS

Part 18 of Shadows Within.

All That We're Living For

When it happens, it happens fast. For once, it has nothing to do with a case. They just wrapped one up, it's a beautiful winter afternoon, and Hotch and Reid decide to go for a walk. They head down towards the river, walking a safe distance from the edge. It's a sheer drop straight down from the path to the river, but it's not far. Or at least, that's what they are told. Neither agent is inclined to walk close enough to find out.

They aren't really talking about much of anything – just enjoying the quiet. The others leave them to their peace, preferring to enjoy the local bar with the LEOs who worked the case with them (even Garcia was out with the team this time). Hotch walks a little ahead. He turns back to face Reid, a peaceful smile on his face.

That's when the ground beneath him gives way.

Reid lunges, but he's a bit too slow. Hotch falls. There's a sickening crack as he hits the ground, and Reid feels the pain lance through his neck and back. He darts up the hole and falls to his knees. "Hotch!" he calls out. "Hotch!"

There's no answer. Reid feels sick. Without a thought, he slides down the hole and lands beside Hotch. His descent is more controlled, but he doesn't come through the impact unscathed. He can feel the snap as his leg takes the impact and breaks. He can barely sense it. He grabs Hotch's shoulder, but doesn't shake him. He's still, too still. Reid feels like he can't breathe. "Hotch?"

Hotch doesn't answer. Hotch always answers. His hand shaking, Reid reaches out and feels for a pulse.

There is none.

By now the entire team has been alerted. The local cops watch as each FBI agent abandons their drink, exchanges panicked looks, and takes off out of the bar. Most of the locals just sit there, shaking their heads at the eccentric agents. One stands up and follows them. Sheriff McCreer gets in his squad car and follows the agents out.

Not once do they speak to each other. Even though the tinted windows make it hard to see, he's pretty sure they aren't talking on cell phones. In any case, a phone call is not what triggered this.

The agents make it to Reid and Hotch in record time. McCreer watches them make a bee-line for the collapsed hole. Morgan kneels down beside it. Reid?

Reid looks up at him, but doesn't respond. He can't. Morgan nods to himself. Hang in there, kid – we're coming down. He starts the slide down the hole, taking care not to land wrong like Reid did. McCreer walks up to the group.

"What happened?"

It takes a moment for Rossi to respond. When he does, his voice is distant, like he's heard some shocking news and is still trying to wrap his mind around it. "Hotch fell. Looks pretty bad." He reaches out to Morgan. How is he?

I don't know. Morgan admits. I'm not feeling a pulse, but it – Rossi, it doesn't feel like he's gone, either. The rest of the group gathers around the hole, staring down. It's a twenty-foot drop. The river, at some point, eroded away the earth beneath the hiking trail, creating a disaster waiting to happen. Hotch happened to be the unlucky one standing there. Morgan looks up. Be careful – I don't know how much more of the cliff could go.

McCreer shakes his head. "He's gone."

"No." JJ snaps. "He's not."

"He is." McCreer stares at her. Garcia has her hands over her mouth, crying silently. Prentiss holds her tightly, her face just as pale as the other agents. "Agent Jareau, I understand he's your boss, but he snapped his neck on the way down. He's gone." He pulls out his cell phone. "I'll call the coroner."

"No."

Reid's voice startles them all. Morgan returns his attention to the young agent. Reid's staring at Hotch, face completely blank. Suddenly he reaches out, placing his hands on Hotch's chest. He looks up at Morgan. Help me.

Rossi understands first. "Is there a way down there?" he demands.

McCreer shakes his head. "Only through that hole."

"Morgan – move. We're coming down!"

McCreer stands to the side of the hole (the sides of which are now crumbling) and watches as, one by one, each agent makes their way down. Garcia is the last one, and by now enough of the surrounding ground has collapsed for her to get through. He kneels back down and watches as the agents surround their fallen.

They kneel around Hotch, and each one places a hand on his chest, the other on Reid. It's the first time McCreer has seen the team touch him – anyone touch him, really. Reid closes his eyes and casts his mind out. He's not sure what he's looking for. Logic says Hotch is gone, but Castiel said they are harder to kill now, and Reid believes him.

Suddenly he finds it. Hotch's soul, still there, anchored in place by the souls he's bound to. Together they pull.

McCreer knows nothing of this. One minute the team is kneeling over a dead man, the next Hotch gasps, back arching as broken bones slide back into place and heal at a supernatural speed. After a moment, he slumps back to the ground, panting. He stares at his team, wide-eyed, trying to calm his erratic breathing as the team stares at him, shock and triumph mixed on their faces.

His gaze locks onto Reid. What happened?

Without warning, Reid collapses on top of him, holding him tight. Hotch can feel Reid's tears dripping hot on his neck. Slowly, painfully, he reaches up and places a hand on Reid's back. Reid? What happened?

You fell. It's Prentiss who answers him. You fell, and we – we thought - She can't finish. Hotch understands. The pain radiating from his neck and down his back tells him everything his team can't. He looks up, through the earth that gave way beneath him, and stares at McCreer. He's vaguely aware of Rossi taking control of the situation, telling the cop to call for an ambulance, something about possible neck injuries and a broken leg (not his, must be Reid).

Hotch can really only focus on the quietly crying man currently clinging to his shirt. He can't hug Reid back, but he can keep his hand on the kid's back and reassure him the only way he knows how right now.

He didn't die. He came damn close though, close enough to scare the hell out of his team. With a small sigh, he closes his eyes and waits for the ambulance.

He'll have to get Rossi to tell him how, exactly, the paramedics manage to get Reid to let go later.

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After the ambulance and the hospital, when Hotch has been given leave to go home (he escapes with only a few bruises and a bad case of whiplash) and Reid's leg has been set, McCreer sits down at his desk and makes a phone call.

He has a friend who used to be into some seriously weird crap. McCreer never put much stock in Alan's nonsense about ghosts and demons and whatnot, but this – well, this might just be up Alan's way.

"Hey, Alan. Look, I know you're not a hunter anymore, but I've got something I think you should hear."

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An: Dun dun dun! I wanted to show something with the new talent the team has, and this is what came of it. I know there's a lot more I can include in this, but I'm gonna add more of that in the next installment. Also in the next installment – more Castiel, and introducing Dean and Sam! SPN fun for all!