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Freeze to Death

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Long stretches of smooth, warm skin pressed against his chest, lithe fingers tightening around his wrist and neck, seeking reassurance. A cold, upturned nose nestled into the junction of his jaw and neck. Lips twitching against his pulse point.

 

There were clouds of white fog tumbling from his mouth as he exhaled, mingling with the thatch of curls tickling beneath his chin.

 

“H – how long?” The younger questions him.

 

“Forty-two minutes, a – at the most,” he answers, pulling the smaller form closer against him. “Hotch will find us,” he mumbles. There is only a meek, contended hum as a response. “Stay awake,” he urges as forcefully as he can through the exhaustion. “Please,” he tries uselessly as the weight against his chest grows. “Stay with me.”

 

----

 

“We need to cover all the leads,” Hotch points out.

 

“There’s like, eight of them,” Morgan says tiredly, pushing a pile of pages to the side. Their suspect list only seemed to be growing.

 

“Then work out the top priorities and narrow down until we’ve got this guy,” Hotch shoots right back.

 

“Divide and conquer,” Reid says half-heartedly from behind his ever-growing stack of pages that are three times the height of Morgan’s. Hotch nods in his direction, already mentally calculating the probability of finding their unsub at the various possible sites.

 

“Garcia can access security footage of the locations you can’t cover,” JJ says helpfully. Morgan frowns, rubbing the back of his neck and reaching across the small desk to clap a hand against Reid’s slender shoulder.

 

“Let’s cover these properties he owns, pretty boy.”

 

Hotch watches as the two of them stand, Morgan leaving his desk without another thought while Reid makes a quick job of neatly stacking both lots of files and smiling lopsidedly before bounding out of the room. He can see Morgan shrugging his leather jacket on, pausing only to rifle a hand through Reid’s hair as he tugs his favourite purple scarf around his neck. The younger man ducks away, jabbing a hand into the side of Morgan’s ribs as the older man laughs.

 

“Call me when you’ve got something,” he instructs.

 

----

 

“You’re insufferable,” Spencer complains. Derek grins, turning his eyes back to the road. “I mean, of all things,” he continues, “you think I’d want to go to a bar with you.”

 

“Uh, I said a club,” Derek interjects.

 

“Please,” Spencer huffs. “Is there even a difference?” He watches as Derek opens his mouth to answer, but he cuts in quickly. “Both of them entail hitting on random women, drinking pointlessly and dancing around with a bunch of sweaty, gross –”

 

“Well I’m sorry,” Derek says sarcastically. “But drinking, dancing and sweating sounds like an amazing time.” He sees Spencer wrinkle his nose in disgust. “And I never said there had to be hitting on woman.”

 

“Like you’d ever be able to refrain yourself,” Spencer mumbled, folding his arms petulantly. Derek rolls his eyes, pulling the car into the industrial parking lot.

 

“Can you let Hotch know we’re at the second to last property now?” He closes the door to the SUV, gently resting one hand on his holster to feel the reaffirming weight of his gun.

 

“He said he’d check in with us when we’re back at the station in an hour or two,” Spencer said as he fell in step with the darker agent.

 

The building was a large packing company, mostly handling harvest stock for out of season buyers. The loading dock was full of empty fruit crates and judging by the lack of machinery and cigarette butts, majority of the staff had clocked off for the evening.

 

“We’ll probably just have to give the description to the site manager and hope an employee calls in with a tip,” Derek says. The warehouse is open, door only halfway lowered. The two of them duck beneath it and raise their badges as a taken-aback worker stares at them with wide eyes. “Hi, we’re with the FBI,” he tucks the badge away into the lining of his jacket easily. “If you don’t mind, we just have a description and profile to relay to the manager –”

 

“That’s me,” the man says, squaring his chest confidently. “What’s the issue?”

 

“We’re profiles with the BAU working on the recent string of missing persons cases,” Spencer answers. He sidesteps mentioning the fact that three of the eight missing persons had been found, or their bodies had been.

 

“Well I’ll let my team know to keep ‘n eye out,” he gestures to the two agents, waiting for more information.

 

“He’s a compulsive workaholic, likely stays late as often as he can. We know it’s a male, probably in his thirties or forties. He’s recently dealt with significant financial difficulties, which is what we believe triggered the crimes.”

 

“The late workers are probably still hangin’ around out back if you want to speak with ‘em,” the man suggests.

 

“Actually, that would be very helpful,” Spencer jumps at the opportunity to broaden the extent of people who are aware of a potential threat. The manager nods, adjusting himself as he discards his clipboard and guides them through a door into the actual building.

 

Derek ignores the evidence of lazy workers, papers scattered, high visibility vests strewn on a crooked coatrack, walk in freezers left open and dusty handprints over doorknobs.

 

“Nathan,” the manager says as he nudges the breakroom open with the toe of his boot. “You mind listenin’ to this and spreadin’ the word for me?”

 

The man splayed across a dirtied two-seater sits up, brushing off his crumpled pants and looking to Spencer and Derek expectantly. He’s still wearing a bulky construction jacket, but in the cold of the building it’s not unnatural.

 

They repeat the profile, fleshing some of it out for the man. Spencer watches his fingers twitching nervously, and the way he glances towards his manager.

 

“Uh, yeah I’ll let everyone know,” the worker – Nathan – says dutifully. Derek gives an appreciative nod before turning to the manager.

 

“We can see ourselves out, thank you for your time,” he says. They turn to leave, walking down the hallway to the sound of pleasant chit-chatter between the manager and the worker.

 

“You stayed late tonight, man.”

 

Spencer pauses, interested in the conversation despite the long stretch of silence which follows.

 

“Natha –”

 

There’s a sharp echo, one they know all too well. Derek jerks, facing the break room and instinctively reaching for his gun in response as Spencer does the same.

 

There’s a scuffle of boots and then Nathan is flitting into the hallway, his gun raised and eyes wild.

 

“Put your guns down,” he says darkly, already walking forward towards them. Derek opens his mouth to argue and attempt to talk the man down, but a warning shot is fired directly through the space between him and Spencer. “I will shoot you,” the man spits, gripping Spencer’s sleeve, the gun inches away from his torso.

 

He turns, facing Derek whose gun is still raised in defiance. “You can shoot me, but I guarantee I take your agent down with me.” Derek eyes the placement of the gun’s barrel, and to his disappointment it’s held directly above Spencer’s heart, a definite lethal shot.

 

He lowers his gun slowly, wincing when Spencer’s clatters to the floor as he’s moved forward, his hands raised in compliance. His jaw is tight, glaring at the wall as the two of them are urged down the hallway. “Go,” Nathan says abruptly.

 

For a moment Derek stares blankly ahead of him at the wall as his gun is kicked to the side, and then he sees the walk-in freezer.

 

“We understand you were only trying to do your job,” Spencer says quickly.

 

“Do not profile me,” the man seethes, using the gun to force Derek forward into the space. “You don’t know me,” he hisses.

 

The metal is hard and shockingly bruising against Spencer’s knees as he’s shoved into the room.

 

He’s barely clear of the door when its slid shut despite the pounding of Derek’s fists and the scrabble of his nails against the handle-less surface.

 

By the time Spencer has his feet under him again, Derek has sworn and cursed enough for the both of them.

 

Every breath hangs in the air and Spencer can already feel himself shivering, his lip pulled tight between his teeth as he watches Derek pace the room, knocking on the walls for weak spots, trying to stack cardboard boxes of stock until they cover the cooling vent. He’s moving around a lot, and from everything Spencer has read, that was ideal for situations like this.

 

Eventually though, Derek ceases the endless tactical pacing and instead looks at Spencer contemplatively.

 

“I guess we found our unsub,” the younger man says dejectedly, crossing his legs beneath him where he’s perched on a cardboard box, curled into himself.

 

“My phone won’t work, we can’t even tell Hotch,” Derek says irritably.

 

“It would have drained really quickly, lithium b - batteries don’t do well in the cold, they aren’t built for it.” Spencer tucks his chin against the gap between his knees, sighing and watching the mist that disperses.

 

“Are you okay?” Derek asks as he takes the box beside his teammate. Spencer laughs quietly as he nods.

 

“I would make a joke ab – b – bout how you’re s – supposed to be the BAU’s door kicker, but the situation is a bit too dire for that.” He smiles softly, tilting his chin enough to look up at Derek from his lower perch on the box.

 

“What do you know about being locked in an industrial freezer?” Derek glances around the room once more, his shoulders sagging. “What can boy genius tell me, huh?”

 

Spencer frowns, then his face creases and he shakes his head.

 

“Nothing that’ll b – benefit moral,” he answers hopelessly. “I say we have two hours until Hotch finds us, w – we just have to h – hold out till then.”

 

It starts slowly. The cold is uncomfortable at almost negative twenty centigrade – or negative four fahrenheit according to Spencer. It takes fifteen minutes before their stomachs are groaning in complaint, and Derek can pick up on the slight mannerisms that prove Spencer is beginning to fight off nausea. He knows they won’t be so coherent in half an hour, probably won’t be conscious long after a whole hour, but he can’t do anything about it except try feebly to shield them from the exposed cooling vent.

 

Twenty more minutes of shifting around against the boxes, barricading themselves in the far back corner away from the direct, frozen air, and their bodies are acclimating so much the apathy begins to kick in.

 

Spencer rolls his head from side to side dizzily as Derek talks about mindless things, smiling wearily as the older man begins to fumble as he speaks. His eyes bounce around lazily in his skull, his chin drooping forward until he’s leant against the wall entirely.

 

Their fingers are numb, bones heavier than they should be. Derek can’t find much energy to move himself, but he can see the blue tint creeping into Spencer’s lips, and he notes the way the kid’s shivering is slowing down worryingly.

 

“C’mere,” he slurs. Spencer screws up his eyes and shakes his head.

 

“Too cold t’ move,” he argues weakly. Derek watches him a moment, takes in his shallow breaths, the way he doesn’t even tense against the cold anymore.

 

He grits his teeth and forces himself to pull his weight onto Spencer’s box. He fumbles for a long moment with the zipper of his jacket, his stiff fingers bright red and horribly numb. After a moment of repositioning Spencer’s pliant form, Derek finds himself leant against one wall, the kid resting half on his lap and half into his chest. He tucks the younger man in as close as he can and tightens the jacket around him, so he’s caged against Derek’s chest, practically wearing the same clothing as him now.

 

“S’rry,” Spencer says quietly.

 

“Why’re you sorry?”

 

“We’ve never done this,” Spencer’s voice is so soft Derek can barely hear him anymore. “Never… not – you aren’t… y’know…”

 

“Mm,” he hums. Assuming Spencer had been referring to the blatant closeness and affection they’re resorting to, Derek nods. In the back of his head he knows the genius making no sense and losing his coherency is a bad sign, but Spencer’s back is warmer than the air around them, and the way the kid turns his face up until it’s pressed against Derek’s neck is comforting in an odd way that stirs his stomach into knots.

 

Spencer makes a small sound, turning in Derek’s lap until his chin is against the other man’s shoulder. He stretches his hands out, enveloping Derek like a form-fitting glove. His slender arms brush across exposed, tan flesh, and it worries Derek that Spencer is widening his surface area to take a larger brunt of the cold.

 

Long stretches of smooth, warm skin pressed against his chest, lithe fingers tightening around his wrist and neck, seeking reassurance. A cold, upturned nose nestled into the junction of his jaw and neck. Lips twitching against his pulse point.

 

Spencer nudges his face sideways until he’s mouthing at Derek’s neck, and it takes a moment for him to register that the kid is trying to speak.

 

There were clouds of white fog tumbling from his mouth as he exhaled, mingling with the thatch of curls tickling beneath his chin.

 

“H – how long?” The younger questions him.

 

Derek blinks, unaware than he had closed his eyes. His hands are still clutching the leather jacket around both Spencer and himself, so he would have a clear view of his watch if his eyes weren’t blurry and unfocused.

 

“Forty-two minutes, a – at the most,” he answers, pulling the smaller form closer against him. “Hotch will find us,” he mumbles.

 

Derek isn’t even aware enough to work out if he believes his own words anymore.

 

There is only a meek, contended hum as a response. “Stay awake,” he urges as forcefully as he can through the exhaustion. “Please,” he tries uselessly as the weight against his chest grows.

 

And yet, no matter the state he’s in, the idea of losing Spencer forces the final grasp of perception he has into his last coherent words. “Stay with me.”

 

----

 

Hotch doesn’t want to have to pause in order to decide what was worse – discovering Hayley’s corpse, or opening the door to the freezer and seeing the state of his two agents.

 

They were tucked away into the back corner of the freezer, hidden behind crudely stacked boxes and almost the same colour of the bluish metal wall.

 

Spencer is curled into Derek’s chest, beneath the leather jacket which covers both of them. The only thing that prevents an immediate breakdown on his part is the moment when he notices the small, white puffs of fog in the air beside each of their lips.

 

EMT’s that were waiting outside storm the place like a SWAT team would, rushing and talking back and forth in a medical language that Hotch didn’t care to understand as he watches them peel the two men apart to deposit them onto separate stretchers.

 

He solidifies a spot on the railing and helps slip one of the heated oxygen masks over Spencer’s head after watching a medic do the same to Derek.

 

Feeling the temperature of Spencer’s pale skin is unbelievable. It’s hard and not unlike an ice cube minus the condensation. His chest rises and falls, but his eyes don’t move beneath his lids. Beside him in the ambulance, one of the EMT’s assures him that all the pair need is some warmed blood and time to recover under supervision of the hospital in case of heart arrhythmias.

 

The sight of the two doesn’t appease the pain in his chest, even if he knows eventually, they’ll be okay. Even though he knows they were lucky.

 

In time, Derek does wake. He makes a comment about the scratchy hospital bedding, and then asks for Spencer.

 

Spencer rouses rather quickly despite the doctors hovering slightly more concernedly around his bed, which does calm Hotch’s battering heart. He asks for coffee, and although caffeine is a horrible idea in this state, it’s not unlike the young agent to ask for such a thing, so Hotch smiles and promises “later.”

 

A little salvation from the frozen reality of two lost agents makes this experience tolerable, he decides when Derek almost rolls out of his hospital bed trying to subtly pilfer Spencer’s tub of Jello.