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Dr. Spencer Reid was not the kind of man to wait idly.

His mind is constantly moving, running through complex equations or reciting articles and books back to himself. He had a tendency to lose himself in the many facets of his mind, to not pay attention to his surroundings. His teammates - well, really just Morgan, and occasionally Prentiss - constantly teased him about how clumsy he was when he was thinking.

So it wasn't surprising that he missed the two masked men walking into the bank. It wasn't surprising that he was lost in a particularly good part of the Proust novel he was reading in his head when guns were pulled from large black bags and aimed at the lone security guard.

He did, however, notice the gunshots.

It all happened so quickly - the echoing bang, the dull thud of a body dropping to the floor. A percussive burst of sound followed by a beat of silence, a beat where all he could hear was the ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum of his heart as it sped up from adrenaline (epinephrine, norepinephrine, and - ) flooding his system.

Time slowed, in that instant. A moment where disbelief flooded everyone in the bank, thoughts full of 'this can't be happening' and 'is this a joke?' It wasn't a joke, though. It was happening. And once the people turned around, saw the blood pooling around the hole-littered torso of the guard, they realized that.

The screams started.

"Everyone get on the floor, now!"

Despite his training, despite his years working for the FBI, it took him far too long to recognize the danger he was suddenly being thrown into. By this point, he was used to the sound of gunshots. Once a week he practiced at the gun range. Far too many of their investigations ended with the UnSub dead on the floor, the echoes of their bullets ringing in his ears.

But this - there shouldn't be gunshots here. Not at this bank, his bank, where all he was trying to do was sort out the monthly withdrawals for his mother's care. Not on one of the first Saturdays he'd had free all month, when work was the farthest thing from his mind.

Not here.

And that was why it took him so long to draw his service weapon. That was why, by the time he had the safety switched off and the barrel aimed, there were already two AR-57s with enough ammo to obliterate him, or kill everyone else in the bank, aimed at his chest. There were already two men staring him down, pantyhose-covered faces betraying no emotion.

"Put the gun on the floor, slowly." The one closer to him said. The voice was rough, age-worn and weathered. It sent a chill down his spine.

Fear flooded his system, panic making his hands shake. He struggled to keep them steady, keep his aim steady, as he weighed his options carefully. The second UnSub swung around, grabbing the back of a woman's blouse from where she was laying on the floor and hauled her to her feet. He pointed the submachine gun straight at her head, paying no heed to the tears flowing down her face or the wails coming from her mouth.

"Unless you want me to blow the brains out of this nice little lady here, put the gun down." the second UnSub's voice was more high pitched, with a nasal-like quality. A bit of a southern drawl graced it. It was as chilling as the other's.

"Okay, okay, I'll put it down!" Keeping his gaze locked on UnSub one, he flicked the safety back on and slowly put his revolver down on the floor.

When in a hostage situation, appease your captors. Listen to their instructions and wait for backup to arrive. That was what the textbook said, word-for-word. He needed to trust that the UnSubs wouldn't kill him when they realized who he was.

"Lace your hands behind your head." UnSub one yelled. He scrambled to follow the instruction, glancing at the woman the second UnSub was still holding. She was the teller he'd been talking to. Her makeup was smudged and runny.

UnSub one stepped forward, turning him around and pushing him hard into the teller's table. He groaned as he was forced to bend at the waist, the edge shoved into his stomach, hitting his diaphragm straight on and knocking the air out of him. His bag was ripped off his shoulder and thrown on the ground, scattering books and papers. "Keep those hands right where they are, and my partner won't shoot you."

He forced himself to keep still, to not fight the restraining arm across his back as a searching hand patted him down from the legs up.

Dimly, he heard the other UnSub shout to the hostages. "All of you, throw your phones and wallets into a pile and sit along that wall." Maybe one of the tellers managed to hit the alarm button, he thought, holding onto the brief flare of hope in his chest.

The hand reached the back pocket of his pants. He squirmed, wincing. He felt too exposed. It reached in, drawing out his phone, wallet, and bifold. He could feel the arm across his back tense, before the hot metal barrel of a gun pressed deeply into the side of his head. Inhaling sharply at the light pain, he closed his eyes, struggling to breathe evenly.

"Tony, he's FBI."

UnSub two - Tony - laughed. "Shit, no way is that skinny ass an agent! He'd have more luck trying to make it as an MMA fighter."

"He has a badge."

"Lemme see that." Hearing footsteps come closer, he struggled harder against the restraints. The man just pushed him deeper into the table, and he gasped, barely biting back the whimper that rose in his throat as his head hit the fake granite. "Well I'll be damned, our little pipe cleaner here is a g-man! How the hell'd you swing that one?" Reid could hear the wicked smile split Tony's face as he stage whispered, "Did you get down on all fours, or just to your knees?"

Wincing at the crude words, he forced his dry lips to part. "I don't know what you think you're going to get out of this," his voice wavered, but he kept going. "but this bank has an automatic locking system. Nothing except a randomized alphanumeric password will allow you into the vaults now that the alarm button has been pressed. You won't be able to break in. You already know I'm a federal agent - if you let everyone go now, I'll tell the DA you cooperated. I'll make sure you get a lesser sentance."

He kept his breathing measured, hoping desperately that his words weren't about to get him killed.

"Let 'im up."

A hand grabbed the back of his sweater, pulling him back to his feet and facing Tony. Painfully aware of the gun pointed at his back, he tried to ignore the other hostages, all sitting in a room against one of the walls. Most were crying, trying to stay soft but failing miserably. There were only seven - three tellers, the manager, and three other customers.

Tony looked him over, before stalking closer to them both. "Gimme his badge, Steve." He watched anxiously as his bifold changed hands. Tony looked it over quickly, before tossing it carelessly behind him.

"You're right, Supervisory Special Agent Spencer Reid of the Behavioral Analysis Unit. You don't know what I'm looking to get out of this." A fist whipped towards him, landing once in his stomach and again on his face. The force of the blows knocked him to the floor and he groaned, coughing. "I'm not looking for money, agent. I'm looking to have some fun."

Hearing Steve laugh behind him, he painfully looked back up at Tony. The man towered over him. "F-fun?"

Tony let out a loud sigh, moving the rifle so it laid across his back and squatting down in front of him. "Do you know how intoxicating it is to have someone completely at your control? To know that you could do absolutely anything to them, and nothing could stop you?" A small, lustful smile split his lips. "And to have an FBI agent completely at your mercy? That's fun."

A sharp spike of fear went through him as Tony's words sunk in. These weren't bank robbers, they were sadists. He was trapped with two sadists with submachine guns and seven other hostages.

The needle being pulled from a pocket. The smell of burning fish and rotting flesh. The taste of muddy water having laid stagnant after being drawn from a well hours earlier. The feel of dirt caked on his hands as he dug, dug -

A hand grabbed his shirt's collar, roughly pulling him out of the flashback. He looked fearfully up into Tony's masked eyes. The UnSub just leaned close, until his lips were right beside his ear.

"Get ready for the time of your life, agent."


Reid was roughly pushed to the floor, the air getting completely knocked out of him. He hit the ground hard, unable to catch himself with his hands tied behind his back. He coughed, leaning heavily against the wall he was now beside, opposite of the other hostages. They were keeping him separate.

The sound of a siren wailing reached all their ears. It came closer and closer, only stopping when it was right outside.

Reid looked up from his spot on the floor, paying careful attention to the reactions of Steve and Tony. His heart dropped at the smiles splitting their faces. They wanted the police here.

This is their show; they want an audience.

His eyes tracked over to the security guard, the blood pooling around him. His eyes were open, unseeing, chest absolutely without motion, but he still silently moved to the man's side and awkwardly bended to check for a pulse with his bound hands.

There was nothing but lukewarm skin under his fingers.

Tears filled his eyes even as he tried to push them away, the sobs of the other hostages already filling the air. Tony was sitting next to an old woman, whispering to her softly as more makeup ran messily down her cheeks. Steve was just watching them. Small smiles graced both their lips; the tights over their faces had long been tossed away.

He couldn't go through this again.

He couldn't.

Steve walked over to the tellers' tables, passing the many cell phones where they'd been thrown in a small pile and grabbing his from its place on the floor. Flipping it open, he walked closer to Spencer.

"You're going to call your boss. Tell him what's going on here, clearly and simply. Nothing except that you're at Midwest Mutual Bank, there's two men robbing it, and the rest of your team should get here within the next half hour. No funny business."

"And what if I refuse?" He said quietly, gambling that the man wasn't just going to shoot him right there.

"Then I'll shoot one of the other hostages in the leg and make you watch as they bleed out in front of you. It doesn't take long to bleed out from a hit to your artery."

"Three minutes." He whispered, the statistic coming automatically. His eyes couldn't help but look down at the blood now dotting his hands from the guard. He nodded. He wouldn't let people die because of him.

Slowly, he told him Hotch's number, making sure every digit was correct. It rang, softly, and Steve forcefully hit the speaker button.

The whole bank quieted. Even the other hostages' sobs died down slightly as the gentle ringing flooded the room. Tony stood, take long strides over to him. The barrel of his gun pressed into his temple just as the call was picked up.

Closing his eyes, he took a deep, shuddering breath.

"This is Hotchner."

Something broke in him, hearing his boss' even, stoic tone. He couldn't stop the single tear that streaked down his face. Tony squatted down, wiping it away with all the care of a mother tending her child.

That only made two more tears track lines as well.

"Hey, Hotch." His voice cracked horribly on the second word.

"Reid? Is something wrong?"

Opening his eyes, he looked right into Tony's. The gun pushing into his head only pressed harder.

"I'm... I'm at the Midwest Mutual Bank, on Main Street. There's two men, they - they have guns, Hotch."


'If only the team was seeing me. I'd never hear the end of it.' Hotch thought as another large spoonful of applesauce landed on his forehead. He sighed, wiping it off with a napkin.

"Jack, you need to eat the food, not throw it."

His son just babbled happily, a large gummy smile splitting his face. He'd heard about the 'terrible two's, but had never quite believed it himself. Jack, thank God, had been a perfect angel at that age. Now that he was three, knee-deep in temper tantrums and food fights, he certainly did.

He was about to attempt another spoonful when the phone rang. Hailey walked in, giving him a quick smile before turning to Jack. Wiping the final remnants of applesauce off his face, he answered.

"This is Hotchner."

"Hey, Hotch."

Hearing the tight, slightly distorted voice come through his phone's small speaker, his back instantly straightened.

It was Reid. And he sounded scared, voice cracking in a way that brought back far too many memories. He hadn't heard the youngest profiler speak like that since...

His hand gripped the phone harder. Knuckles grew white.

"Reid? Is something wrong?"

"I'm... I'm at the Midwest Mutual Bank, on Main Street. There's two men, they - they have guns, Hotch."

Cold, aching dread burrowed its way into his gut. The small bit of coffee he'd had that morning curdled in the back of his throat.

Shit.

"Reid, are they listening in?"

There was a second of rustling, like someone was moving, and then Spencer bit out a shaky gasp.

The phone creaked as his grip tightened.

"They, uh, t-they said you have thirty minutes to get the team here."

Taking a deep breath, Hotch struggled to keep his voice calm. To force the agent persona back on, even if it felt like the most unnatural thing in the world. "A federal agent is a valuable hostage. Let's talk, discuss what you - "

A sharp sound, like flesh hitting flesh, then a pained groan, something he never wanted to hear again, made him stop.

"Spencer?"

"They'll call in exactly twenty-nine minutes." Reid's voice was somehow shaker. Quieter. "If you don't pick up, they'll start shooting."

"Reid - !"

The phone clicked.

Dead.

Heart pounding, he started to type JJ's number in as quickly as he could as he ran towards the door, barely stopping to pull on shoes.

He was still only wearing an applesauce covered t-shirt.

The line picked up almost immediately.

"Hotch, I was just about to call you. We have a case. I know we're on stand down, but it's a local hostage situation and the Virginia PD are asking for us." JJ's voice showed just how much she wished she didn't have to call him. He could just barely hear Henry wailing in the background.

Pulling open his car door, he shifted it quickly into gear. Wiped a hand down his face as he pulled out of his driveway, knowing this wasn't going to go over well. "Is it about a bank robbery at Midwest Mutual on Main Street?"

"Yeah, how'd you - ?"

"Reid's in there. He called me. I need you to have everyone on-site in twenty or sooner."

"Hotch - "

"Get everyone there, I don't care how. They'll shoot him if we're not there by then."

He hung up the phone.

Dammit, Spencer. Why is it always you?


His cheek burned.

Even as he stayed absolutely still, the throbbing in the left side of his face continued. Tony had been the one to punch him, hard, when Hotch started to talk to them. He was still crouching in front of him, that sick smile splitting his face.

"Reid - !" Hotch started, but he was cut off when Steve slammed the phone shut. Silence quickly filled the room, only broken by soft sobs and the muffled sound of sirens.

Finally, Steve turned towards the rest of the hostages. "Everyone, I want you to listen very closely. If you follow all my instructions, some of you may still get out of here without extra holes." Someone let out a loud wail, but it was quickly muffled. "Go over there and line the windows, facing me. I don't want to see a single spot of glass."

They all moved, slowly standing up from the floor and walking shakily over to the large windows at the front of the bank. By the time they were lined up, their bodies completely blocked any visibility to the outside. He barely bit back a groan; there's no way SWAT would be able to shoot through a literal human shield.

Tony smiled wider, reaching a hand out and running it through Reid's hair. It caught on a tangle, and he tugged through it painfully. Fingers trailed down his face, stopping at his top lip to play with the blood that had spilled from his nose when Tony's fist had crushed into it.

"You don't like that, agent? Ruining your plans of having your friends come in and rescue you?" He mocked.

"You're not going to get away with this." He kept his voice low, but it stayed surprisingly steady. "My team is trained to figure men like you out. You won't stand a chance against them."

"You think so?" He said with a smirk.

"I'm not scared of you."

The moment it left his mouth, he knew he shouldn't have said it. Sadists thrive off their victim's pain and fear. To go against that, refuse to show them what they desperately crave?

Tony's eyes hardened.

His hand shot out, latching around his throat. He was pushed hard back into the wall, head hitting it painfully. Fingers steadily cutting off his air as they crushed his windpipe.

Reid's eyes widened, hands tugging on the ziptie around his wrists desperately, wanting nothing more than to reach up and try to get the hand to move, to get air that suddenly seemed like a precious commodity.

It only tightened.

"Y'know what we did, the last time we held someplace up?" Tony's voice was cold, completely. Spots started to dance in front his vision. The Unsub leaned in close, breath whistling - moist, hot - past his ear. "It was a school play, a bunch 'a kids puttin' on Romeo and Juliet or some shit. They all screamed when we came in with our rifles."

"....please." He whispered, the sound barely more than a breath. Tony ignored him beyond taking a quick second to lick his ear. A shiver wracked his body. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't....

Was this what it was like to be buried alive?

"We shot all the kids in the stomach. Half of their intestines fell out as they writhed in the floor. Oh, you should've heard how the parents screamed and cried. We made them watch as they bled out. Then, once their kids were dead, we shot them too." Just as the black started to flood in, the hand loosened, slightly, and he gulped mouthful after mouthful of air desperately. "And you wanna know the best part? Whole damn thing was livestreamed. Hundreds of people watched them die and no one could do a single fucking thing. Those dumb fucks who call themselves police could never even catch us. This?" He waved a hand around. "This is nothing compared to that. Barely even enough to get off."

Tony pushed him, hard, and he fell to the side. His eyes fluttered closed as he drew breath after painful breath in, each one whistling as it made its way past his already-bruising throat.

He groaned as a foot hit his ribs, forcing him onto his back. Reid forced his eyes open again, to look at Tony towering above him.

"Are you having fun yet, agent?"


Reid had something of an internal chronometer. Once, he theorized that his brain needed something else, something more than complex math equations or old novels, to occupy its time. So, like a clock, its just constantly counting the minutes, seconds, hours.

That's how he was able to count down the final minute before the deadline for the call came in.

60, 59, 58, 57...

Tony and Steve had mostly left him alone after the former had almost killed him. In fact, they'd left all the hostages alone. They simply stood, keeping a close watch while talking to each other softly. Occasionally, one would laugh, or smile.

He wasn't sure he wanted to know what they were saying.

43, 42, 41, 40....

His breaths came in quicker, the shorter the countdown got. Body tensing as he waited. He'd managed to drag himself off the floor, but not before the dead security officer's blood stained half his shirt.

Tony casually walked over to Reid's gun, lying discarded on the floor. He opened it, taking all the bullets out and letting them fall to the floor.

Someone sobbed every time one clinked on the linoleum.

25, 24, 23, 22...

Steve was the one who grabbed the phone, taking quick, assured steps over to where he was sitting.

He didn't speak as he undid Reid's tie, shoving it deep in his mouth and redoing the knot behind his head.

Spencer only shook more.

13, 12, 11, 10...

Tony smiled at the other hostages, putting his finger to his lips and shushing them mockingly.

Some cried harder.

He closed the chamber of the revolver, spun it, having put only a single bullet back.

5, 4, 3, 2...

They both stood in front of Reid, and Steve hit redial.

1.


They'd known the call was coming.

Still, when the phone rang, every agent inside the emergency response van jumped.

Somehow, someway, all the members of the BAU managed to get to Midwest Mutual bank before the clock hit twenty minutes past when Reid called Hotch on his phone. Morgan was still wearing a sweaty gym shirt. Rossi, a full tuxedo, minus the bow tie (it hung limply around his neck, never to be tied). JJ and Prentiss had some of largest under eye circles Hotch had ever seen. Garcia...

.... was Garcia. Complete with tall heels, colorful dress, and a fluffy headband, but without her perfectly done makeup.

When he'd first arrived on scene, tires of his car squealing around the curb, he'd run past the police barrier, straight to the LEO in charge. She introduced herself as Burkowitz, ignored the baby food stains on his shirt, and practically shoved him into the ERV.

And then she pointed to the screens.

With the hostages blocking the front windows, local enforcement had managed to access to the banks security cameras.

There was Reid. Blurry, nothing more than a couple pixals, but he was there. Upright, under his own power. And next to a dead body.

But alive.

Thank fucking god.

As each agent ran into the van, all demanding to know what was happening and what the hell did Reid get himself into this time, Hotch gave them a quick run down, then pointed to the screen.

And each one visibly relaxed at the proof that their friend was still alive.

The local LEOs had also managed to ID the Unsubs: Tony Lewis and Stephen 'Steve' Miller. They're wanted for three shootings in the past week, totaling almost forty dead.

Garcia had sobbed when he read out the report about the school play.

They made it a show, taunting local enforcement. They didn't try to hide their identities, or cover up their faces. They wanted people to see them, to know they could strike at any time and not even the police could stop them.

They never left anyone alive.

And they were supposed to have been the BAU's next case once they came out of stand-down.

The phone rang again, breaking him out of his remembrance. Every agent in the van visibly tensed as the generic ring tone hit their ears. They tried to distance themselves, forget about personal baggage and do their jobs, but this was Reid. Young, ridiculously smart yet somehow still adorably bumbling, Reid. They couldn't just forget that.

Taking a deep breath, he reached to grab the receiver, but Rossi stopped him.

"Dave, we shouldn't agitate them. Reid did not think they were bluffing."

"Let me answer it."

"They said - "

"Aaron, your hands are shaking." Looking down, Hotch saw he was right, and desperately willed them still. "Let me take point on this."

Another ring echoed in the van, and Hotch nodded. His emotions were all over the place. Rossi was right; he couldn't handle the careful manipulation hostage negotiation takes. He's too close.

Hotch pulled on a pair of headphones as Rossi pressed the connect button.


The phone rang three times before it connected. Reid's breath came in short, stilted gasps behind the tie, teeth grinding down on the thick fabric.

"This is David Rossi."

Steve and Tony looked at each other, a glimmer of anger brushing past their faces.

"Well, David Rossi, you better put Agent Hotchner on the phone." Steve said as Tony stalked next to Reid and pointed the revolver straight at his temple.

"Agent Hotchner is indisposed at the moment. I want to discuss next steps with you - "

Click.

Reid gasped, closing his eyes tightly as Tony pressed the trigger.

The chamber was empty.

That only made his breaths come in faster, images flashing in front of his eyes as tears spilled out from them. Confess, Tobias whispered (its not Tobias its never Tobias).

Black spots covered his vision as he could smell the small cabin again... burning fish, rotten sheep, the stink of the human refuse that covered him. The whole world was made of four wooden walls, lit only by a shaky light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Charles, no, Raphael, holding the gun to his head - confess, sinner, confess.

A punch knocked him down.

It was enough to throw him out of the flashback, to the floor. Laying, cheek against the dirty linoleum, he desperately gasped for air. I'm not there. I'm not in Georgia anymore.

But he was still shaking like a leaf in the wind, and everything felt vague, unreal. The dark spots no longer covered everything, but they hung in the very corners of his vision, as though waiting.

Tobias still whispered in his ear. Confess your sins, devil.

Steve was staring at him, something like confusion - intrigue - in his eyes, but Tony just went on like nothing happened.

"That was the sound of the revolver aimed at your little agent's head clicking on empty. If you don't put Agent fucking Hotchner on, I swear we will play a bit of one-sided Russian Roulette until Spencer has a hole in his brain."

Rustling came from the other end of the line. "This is Agent Hotchner."

A smile came back over Tony's face. "Hotch. Thanks for coming to the phone. I know you were indisposed, but I'm sure your agent here is happy you managed to, uh, find the time?" Tony laughed. "It was quite the panic attack he had when that gun went off. Tears and everything, wished you coulda seen it."

Reid could almost hear the steadying breath his boss took. Hankle had left a collective scar on all their souls; Spencer had no doubt Hotch knew exactly what he was going through.

"Like Dave said, we need to talk about next steps. You have eight hostages in there, and their lives are very valuable to the people out here."

Good, Reid thought vaguely, they must have eyes in here to know the guard's dead.

"Next steps? We're quite comfortable where we are now, right Tony?"

"Exactly. As you pointed out, we have eight nice people to do whatever I want with, one of which is your precious agent. I don' know, sounds like heaven to me."

There was a second of silence, before Hotch's voice came through the phone again. "We know who you are, Tony Lewis and Steve Miller. We know about the shooting at the school play, the one at the corner market. I want to help you get out of this alive, but that's not going to happen unless we can compromise."

The two Unsubs looked between them again, before Steve spoke up. "We'd be willing to let some of the hostages go." Reid straightened; it didn't make any sense. Why would they let people go?

"That's good, Steve. That's really good."

A wicked smile appeared on Tony's face. "Of course, we'd need something in exchange."

There was a pause. "What do you want?"

"You."


"This is crazy, man."

His fingers were still shaking as he did up his bulletproof vest. It felt like his own body was betraying him, showing the fear he was trying desperately to keep hidden.

It was a simple trade, local enforcement had signed off on it: one agent, unarmed, for seven civilian hostages. The Unsubs have already let two go, as a sign of good faith.

He needed to go in.

Once the vest was on, he met Morgan's gaze as he threaded his radio through the shoulder strap. "Reid's in there, without backup, and I think we all know what he's going through." Every agent besides Rossi nodded their heads; the former just looked at him, confusion obvious on his face. That was one conversation Hotch was not looking forwards to. "I'm going in, that's final."

"Hotch, these bastards get off on out-smarting the police. How the hell do you know they won't just kill you and Reid the moment you're inside?" It wasn't like Morgan to so blatantly question his decisions - his years on the Chicago police force had drilled the importance of chain of command into him. The fact he was even saying this showed what the situation was doing to him. Sweat dotted his brow, and every few seconds his eyes would glance back to the monitor showing Reid. As if he needed assurance his friend - brother - was still alive.

"I don't."

The van was quiet for a moment. Hotch just continued to get ready, taking his guns out of their holsters.

"Take your backup in with you."

Hotch sighed, turning to the veteran profiler. "Dave, they have two sub-machine guns, Reid's service weapon, and five hostages still. SWAT's been unable to get a shot. It's too big of a risk to go against their demands."

"This is their first time in an active negotiation, and they know they hold all the cards here. They're overconfident; they won't pat you down."

Hotch closed his eyes. "We don't know that."

In all his years as unit chief, there'd only been one other time where he felt the weight of being in charge this much. And that had ended with six people dead and one of his men held hostage for over two days.

"If you walk in there, unarmed, Morgan's right: there's nothing stopping them from shooting you, Reid, and all the hostages, and escaping in the confusion." Rossi reached a hand out, planting it firmly on his shoulder. "Aaron, it's worth the risk."

He knew Rossi had a point. Some irrational part of him wanted nothing more than to run in there and save Reid, whatever the cost, but that wasn't going to work. He had a duty, and he needed his gun to do that.

Letting out a breath, he bent back down and put his backup back in its holster around his ankle. Rossi nodded, patting him once on the shoulder before letting go.

With one final look around the small van, Hotch walked outside. He could feel that his hands were still shaking as he reached the bank's door, and tried one final time to get them to stop.

This time, it worked.

He opened the door.


The room was spinning.

Reid bit down harder on the gag, closing his eyes tightly. It didn't stop the feeling of vertigo that made bile churn in his stomach. The hits to his head, his face, his chest, the choking, the flashbacks - they were all catching up to him.

He couldn't stop smelling blood.

It pooled on the floor, dripping out of the security guard's gut. It was crusting slowly on his shirt, turning the once-grey button up into brown. It dried in his hair; he could feel the clumped, once moist strands against his cheek. The last time he'd been so covered in blood...

don't think about it don't think about it don't

Vaguely, he registered the end of the call. The gun moving away from his head and two of the hostages running out the door. But it was all muffled. Underwater. The currents of the past threatened to take him completely away from reality, back to that small cabin on the outskirts of Georgia...

Until he heard Hotch's voice.

The sound of his boss talking, here, made the murkiness of the world recede slightly. He could see the florescent lights shining too brightly (not a light bulb hanging on its wire). The fake wood of the teller counters (not the log walls of the cabin).

The outline of his captors, their rifles, and a man he had known for four long years with his hands raised.

"I'm unarmed. You can let the rest of the hostages go." Hotch's voice was calm, steady. His gaze met Reid's, eyes widening slightly. Reid wondered what it was - the blood? The restraints? The gag?

Steve turned to the hostages. "Close the blinds, make sure they cover all the windows." They scrambled to follow his command. The last bit of light from the outside was covered, and suddenly the whole bank seemed a lot less... real, lit only by the artificial lights. "Go. All you can leave."

The last five hostages scrambled to the door, soft sobs following them. The bell above the door jingled - once, twice - before it slammed closed.

For the first time in seemingly hours, it was truly silent.

Steve walked over to the windows, carefully checking that each one was secure. Tony smiled at Hotch, indulgently, before clapping once. "That's better. Really, all those people were a bit... snivelly, for my tastes. Now, two feds? I know String Bean over there isn't much fun, but you?" A razor sharp smile took over the Unsub's face. "I think I'll like you."

Adrenaline was making his hands shake hard enough to cut his wrists against the zip ties binding them.

Hotch's stone faced expression didn't even twitch at the taunt. "May I check on my agent?"

The smile dropped from Tony's face, but he nodded. "Knock yourself out."

Within a moment, Hotch was kneeling next to him, pulling the tie from his lips and pushing hair gently out of his face. "Where are you bleeding, Reid?"

He shook his head. "It's... It's not my blood."

Hotch let out the smallest of relieved sighs. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"

"I'm alright. Maybe a few cracked ribs, and my throat's bruised, but nothing life threatening." The tiniest fraction of a smile appeared. "It's good to see you, Hotch."

The older agent gave him a brief smile in return. "The whole team's outside, along with half of the local enforcement and a SWAT unit. We're getting out of this, okay? We are getting out of this." Hotch flicked his eyes down to his ankle, before gently tapping the empty holster on Reid's belt.

It took his brain just a second to work out the meeting of the small gestures.

Hotch had a gun. A gun Tony and Steve didn't know about.

"Do you believe me, Spencer?"

Do you understand?

"I believe you." He whispered, feeling the horrific vice around his heart loosen for the first time in hours.

Maybe this whole thing was far too similar to that little cabin in the woods. Maybe he could still hear Tobias preaching in the back of his mind. But Hotch found him in Georgia. Hotch got him away from that hell in one piece.

He trusted him to do it again.

Tony made a disgusted noise, turning around to check on Steve's progress with the windows. The moment both the Unsubs' backs were turned, Hotch moved in front of him and pulled the gun from his ankle.

Before Hotch could get a shot off, Steve and Tony turned around, machine guns raised.

"Put your weapons down!"

"Oh, Hotch, I thought you were better than this." Tony said mockingly. "I thought you cared about little Spencer here."

"I'm not going to say it again - put your weapons down, get on your knees, and lace your hands behind your head!"

"All you police, you think you're so smart, but, agent, none of you understand one thing."

"What?" Hotch ground out.

A smile, slow and damning, spread across Tony's lips. It might as well have been drawn in blood. "The law doesn't always win, and, well, we have a backup plan." The barrel of Tony's gun shifted slightly, now aiming at the black duffel bag between them. "If you don't put your goddamn gun down, I'll let out a clip on the bomb I have in that bag."

A cold shot of fear went down Reid's spine. He hadn't considered for a second that they could've had more weapons, much less an explosive.

The sudden tension in Hotch's body meant he was thinking the same thing.

"You're bluffing."

Tony laughed, the sound chilling. "You really want to test that theory, agent?"

Slowly, with all the weight of a man walking to his death, Hotch lowered his gun. It hit the floor with a sound that seemed impossibly loud. Hotch kept his hands raised, slightly, maintaining eye contact with Tony.

"Good choice."

The UnSub picked the gun up from the floor. A rough hand grabbed Hotch's shirt collar, pulling him sharply up to his feet. It snaked up Hotch's back, resting in the dip between his shoulder blades for the shortest of moments. He was roughly shoved into the wall. The unit chief groaned, wincing. Reid could only watch with bated breath.

Starting at the shoulders, Tony ripped the com out from where it'd been attached, whispering something Reid couldn't hear into it before crushing it with his foot. The vest was next to fall to the floor. Slowly, with something like pleasure gleaming in his gaze, he patted Hotch down.

The agent never once broke eye contact with Reid. Brown eyes stayed locked on his as Tony carefully, methodically, searched his body for any other weapons.

And for one of the first times he could remember, something so much like fear filled Hotch's eyes. Reid wanted to look away, but couldn't.

"You see, I was almost hoping for this." Tony leaned in close, his bottom lip just barely brushing the shell of Hotch's ear. "Agent Hotchner, you wouldn't do something so stupid as walk into a hostage situation unarmed?" A hand grabbed Hotch's head, cruelly shaking it in a sick pantomime of 'no.'

The gun was pulled from where Tony had stuck it in his belt. He glanced at it, stroking the metal almost lovingly, before the safety was flicked off. Reid flinched, wanting nothing more than to shield his boss - his friend, his mentor - from the pissed-off sadist with a gun.

Running a heavy hand through Hotch's hair, Tony chuckled. "We said no guns, didn't we Steve? Did you just," The gun tapped Hotch twice on the temple, "not fucking hear us, agent?"

"Tony, we can talk about this - "

The gun fired, a single round, into the wall right by Hotch's head. As Reid stared at the smoking hole, his heart stuttered in his chest.

I choose Aaron Hotchner.

I choose Aaron Hotchner.

I choose Aaron Hotchner.

"What part of this situation do you not understand, Hotch-y? There won't be any talking."

A fist hit Aaron hard in the side, before a hand slammed on his back pushed him to the floor. Reid cried out in protest as Tony kicked him, hard - he could almost hear a rib crack. Hotch groaned, coughing slightly, crawling the few inches he needed to in order to lean against his subordinate. Fingers found Reid's shaking, bound hands, twining them together.

Steve's AR-57 leveled at the young agent's head.

"Don't shoot him, please don't shoot him. I'm the one who brought the gun." Hotch's voice was shaking. "If you have to hurt someone, hurt me."

Hotch's voice never shakes.

Reid gripped his hand harder.

Silent, Tony walked over to the duffel bag still sitting in the center of the bank. Slowly, he drew a knife from its depths, before stalking back to where they were sitting.

A cold shot of fear went down Spencer's spine.

"These, well, let's call them parties, that we have, guns really are more suited to them. But I've personally always been partial to a blade. Shooting someone... it's, it's messy. Cutting someone, however," Steve smiled. "That's an art form."

Tony watched them for a second. He took a few steps closer, reaching out and tracing warm fingers around Reid's mouth. Pressing down slightly, Tony forced his lips to part. He could only close his eyes and struggle to breathe.

"You think we're so different, Hotchner? Think you're invincible because you're on the good side? Because you know how we think?" Tony chuckled, slapping Reid hard across the face. A tear made its way down his cheek, quickly swiped away. "All that profiling shit you're so fond of? We can do it too. And the way you're holding your boyfriend's hand here tells us that the perfect way to hurt you is through him."

Tony shoved the knife against Hotch's chest, who instinctively grabbed it.

"Stab him."

"... what?"

Steve laughed, and Reid felt the rifle against his temple shift at the motion.

"You wanted a weapon so badly. Stab your friend here, make him bleed, and Steve won't use a semi on his head."

Stephen smiled wider. "I've seen what unloading a clip this close does to someone. You can't tell the brain from the blood." His voice lowered to a stage whisper. "You can't even tell they had a head."

The rifle's safety clicked off.

"Hotch." Reid's voice was quiet, trembling minutely. Barely above a whisper. "Do it."

"Reid - "

"They'll kill us if you don't." He forced a small smile onto his face. "I can take it."

"I'm not going to hurt you."

He forced his hand to unwrap from Hotch's grip, and gently moved the knife in the unit chief's hand so it was hovering over his shoulder, just under the collarbone. "Do it here. There's no arteries, no bones, we'll be able to control the bleeding - "

"Tick tock, agents." Tony said, tone bored as he mimed checking a watch. "We're on a bit of a schedule."

"Hotch, Aaron, it's okay." Looking deep into his boss' eyes, he tried to convey as much meaning as he could. "It's okay."

Hotch closed his eyes, using his free hand to rub his mouth. A second passed, but when he opened his eyes again, Reid could see the agent exterior slip back into place. Hotch nodded.

He slipped the gag back into his mouth, knowing that he wouldn't be able to stop himself from making noise, and that any sounds he made would only hurt Hotch and make this whole thing harder. Hotch just pushed him gently back into the wall, lining the blade up carefully to where he had pointed out before.

Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, Reid nodded.

He was ready.

Still, he screamed when the knife's blunt front pierced his shoulder.


"You need to give us more time." Morgan's voice was edging on pleading, and he hated how weak it sounded. For God's fucking sake, what were local enforcement trying to pull here?

Lieutenant Burkowitz kept her eyes focused on the screen in front of her as she answered. The one Morgan was desperately trying to avoid looking at. "Agent Hotchner's been in there for over twenty minutes, Agent Morgan. The civilian hostages are out, and SWAT can take the shot with minimal risk."

"Minimal risk?!" Morgan ground out. "We have two men in there, along with two hostiles, and you want to have SWAT shoot blindly?

"Your men have been disarmed. Both are injured, the extent of which we don't know. I'm not going to sit on my ass waiting for your agents to turn into James fucking Bond when we have two mass murderers within our cross-hairs."

"Is that all you people care about? Getting an arrest, maybe another star on your jacket? A promotion from the goddamn mayor?" The anger Morgan had been desperately trying to keep down was boiling over. Slowly, consciously, he took a deep breath. Starting a war between the state and the FBI was not going to accomplish anything. "Agent Hotchner and Dr. Reid know the profile, and have training for hostage situations. Give them a few more minutes before you shoot the place up."

"My decision's final." She said brusquely, before standing up and exiting the ERV.

Cursing, Morgan punched the table, hard. The brief flare of pain left his mind as quickly as it appeared, eyes tracking over to the small screen with the security footage. They'd all watched, stomach in mouth, as Hotch trained his weapon on the two Unsubs. And they'd watched as slowly, reluctantly, he'd put his gun down.

Now it just showed his colleagues - his friends - huddled together as two serial killers aimed rifles at their heads.

Catch me if you can.

That'd been what Tony whispered into Hotch's com unit before he crushed it. Catch me if you can. And now the fucking local enforcement are just going to order SWAT to shoot through covered windows, blind, when they had two agents in the crossfire.

Knees weak, Morgan slid into a chair and put his head into his hands.


As quick as the knife had penetrated his flesh, it was gone. Burning, searing pain blazed all down his arm. His scream died down to a few groans, then whimpers, as the world spun. Opening his eyes, blinking them against the light, he only saw Hotch's worried, pale face above him. He was talking, but the words came out as nothing more than breaths of air.

"I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm - "

The older agent quickly recovered when he saw the blood pouring out of the cut. Reid couldn't keep another scream back at the sudden agony pressure alighted as Hotch started pressing his hands deeply into the wound.

"Hotch." He groaned, fingers scrabbling along his boss' shirt (when had he ever seen Hotch wear anything but a suit?). The pressure lightened slightly, and he tried to take a few deep breaths in the respite. They got caught somewhere in his throat.

"It's okay, Spence. Just breathe for me." The words were soft, barely whispered, and he felt himself relax despite the pain. Keeping his hand on the wound, Hotch drew him forward into his chest, and Reid buried his face into the man's neck. "You need to breathe."

He hadn't realized just how shaky his breathing had gotten, and forced them to even out. Slowly, he could think past the pain. Looking down, he saw more red spreading along his clothes despite Hotch's hand, joining the stains already there.

"Seems I was right," Tony's voice broke the moment. It was rough, full of breaths, and Reid knew that if he looked up, the man would be flushed. A shot of fear and disgust spread through him. Hotch's grip on him tightened. "You are so much more fun, Hotch-y. God, that was one of the best things yet."

"Keep breathing, just like that." Hotch whispered to him, before raising his voice. "You need to let me contact my team. Dr. Reid is hurt and - "

"Oh, Doctor Reid? Didn't know little Spencer was a doctor!" Tony laughed, Steve joining in. "How did it feel, Hotch-y, when you stabbed that knife into our good friend Dr. Reid?" Hotch stiffened, finally letting go of him. He laid Reid gently against the wall, keeping his hand firmly in place over the wound even as he turned to face Tony.

"If you go too long without contacting them, SWAT's going to start shooting whether or not - "

"Tell me," Tony interrupted. "Did you like feeling his blood drip down your hands?" A wicked gleam entered Tony's eyes. He stage whispered. "Did it get you hard?"

An odd silence filled the room, and Reid could only watch as Hotch struggled to keep his persona together. To not let the taunts and the jokes and the blood gushing through his fingers get to him. With a bit-off whimper, Reid forced his body to move to a spot where he could press against Hotch's side in silent support.

"Tony?" Reid said quietly, his voice shaking. Clearing his throat, he forced himself louder. "Tony? Hotch is right. SWAT is only going to wait so long before trying to, to - " A fresh wave of pain went through him, and he groaned through gritted teeth. " - enter the building."

Steve adjusted his rifle, turning to Tony and quietly saying, "The kid has a point, Tones. We've got five, ten minutes tops before they start shootin' up the place."

"Yeah, yeah." With a weary sigh, Tony nodded. "Just one more thing I wanna do."

"Hurry it up then."

With a bright smile, Tony grabbed the knife from where it lay discarded on the floor. He flipped it in his hands a few times, as though getting used to the feel of the grip in his palm, but stopped at Steve's annoyed sigh.

"You know us, Hotch." He started, kneeling down in front of the older agent. Reid could only struggle to breathe through the pain. "You know we don't leave people alive. Not those we play with."

"Let Spencer go." Hotch's voice was dull, somehow more monotone than normal. It was then that Reid really started to lose hope. "Please."

"Now, why would I do that? I've got three minutes left with you two. And I know exactly what I'm going to do." With a kind of slow agility, Tony worked his way up Hotch's legs until he was sitting on his thighs. Leaning forward, bracing one of his hands on the wall, caging Hotch in. The knife gleamed in the artificial lights as he laid it gently on Hotch's cheek. "You're never going to forget me, Hotch-y. Your poor little wife won't even be able to look at her husband's dead face without seeing me."

With a slowness borne out of cruelty, Tony dug the knife into Hotch's face. The man only let out a loud groan as a long, deep line of red was cut across one cheek. Reid watched as blood fell down his face in thin sheets. The gouge was deep, gruesomely so, and Reid couldn't stop a tear from falling as he watched his friend try desperately to breathe through the pain.

Wiping the blood off the knife with his finger, Tony turned to him. "Oh, Spencer, don't cry. It'll be over soon." With mock gentleness, he swiped the tear off where it had fallen, painting a macabre dash in Hotch's blood across his face. Tony laughed as he stood back up. "Well, I had a mighty fine time, agents, but all good things must come to an end. Steve, I believe I did the last pair, so you can have the honor."

Steve smiled, hefting the rifle back up and pointing it straight at Hotch. "It was nice knowing ya, Agent Hotchner."

Gunshots split the air.


Reid closed his eyes, when the first shots rang. Closed his eyes because as much as his shoulder and his throat and his chest and his side hurt (why did his side hurt?), he couldn't handle seeing Hotch... seeing him...

He wouldn't survive that.

The images came anyway, though.

Pictures and scenes from past autopsies, of corpses laid out under white lights. And they had Hotch's face, Hotch's hands sticking out from the clean sheet. A smattering of bullet holes broke up his body like swiss cheese. He could see the guts and gore just beyond the skin.

I choose Aaron Hotchner.

I choose Aaron Hotchner.

I choose -

When a heavy weight crashed into his side, pushing him into the floor, he cried out. A fresh shot of pain, a spurt of blood, came from the stab wound, and he struggled against the unknown assailant above him. He couldn't die here, he couldn't -

"Reid! Spencer, stop struggling!"

He blinked his eyes open, looking into Hotch's brown gaze. Slowly, his struggles ceased as his mind caught up. Hotch is alive. Hotch is alive. Breathing and here and alive, really truly alive.

"Hotch?" His voice was nothing but a whisper as he reached a shaking hand out and stroked along his friend's cheek. Everything hurt, everything was spinning, but Hotch was here.

Hotch would save him.

"SWAT's breaching." The unit chief said, panting. "Steve's dead. Tony's returning fire from behind one of the counters." Another burst of gunfire exploded around them, and Hotch only pressed harder down on him. Shielding him, his sluggish mind provided. "We need to move out of the cross fire."

Reid nodded, blinking slowly. They needed to move. They needed to... all his thoughts seem slow, disorganized. He couldn't quite piece anything together, it all fitting and clashing like a bunch of broken jigsaws.

Hotch, as gently as he could, maneuvered an arm under his and got them both standing. The world wavered and buckled, the whole floor turning into a molten sea of linoleum. Pain arched through his entire left side, enough to steal any remaining breath he had away in an instant.

"Some... Something's wrong." He breathed out, eyes blinking lethargically as almost his entire weight landed on his boss.

"Reid?!" Hotch yelled, frantic eyes looking him over. Spencer could feel the moment they found what they were looking for, as Hotch swore and tightened his grip.

A third round of gunfire, call and response, erupted around them.

"Spencer, we're going to lay back down." Something didn't seem right to him. Maybe it was Hotch's odd tone, maybe it was the complete change in plan, but everything seemed wrong as he was laid gently back on the floor. The cool air of the tile made him sigh, pressing his cheek deeper into it.

Something was set on top of him, and through bleary eyes he saw Hotch's bulletproof vest. He wanted to protest, get Hotch to put it on himself, but his lips wouldn't move. It was all numb.

A horrible copper tang appeared at the back of his throat.

With the fourth wave of gunshots, his lungs stopped working.

He gasped, writhed on the floor, but nothing would get air where he desperately needed it. Instead, his body just convulsed, forcing coughs and gags out when all he wanted to do was breathe in. More copper filled his lips, finally spilling over the top. Hotch just pressed tighter against his side, trying to cover more of him.

With the fifth wave of gunshots, black dots started to float in his vision.

Even this far gone, this messed up, his brain realized that was bad. That was very bad. Desperately, he tried to push them back, force the little dust bunnies of nothing away from his gaze, but they were adamant. They took up more and more, until he couldn't see Hotch's fearful expression even if he wanted to.

Did he want to?

By the time the sixth and final wave of gunshots rang throughout the Midwest Mutual bank on Main Street, Spencer's eyes had long closed.


Hotch didn't know what happened, after SWAT fired their first round of shots through the bank's thick glass windows.

Ever since his own - albeit short - stint on that particular task force, he always had a knack for remembering the details of tactical situations. It was the kind of thing that came in handy when writing reports days later. Civilian accounts had a tendency to be foggy, or wildly inaccurate, so it was the officers' reports that were viewed as trustworthy. Trial material.

Still, he couldn't remember more than snippets. Flashes of the carnage.

Steve falling over, eyes wide. A perfect, circular hole went clean through his throat. His gun's bullets no longer aimed at anything.

Blood slowly spreading across Spencer's shirt, his wide eyes confused as he gently laid him down. The place near his chest where there should have been skin and bone but now there was only a mangled mess of gore.

Grabbing the knife and pointing it at the first person that came close to where him and Spencer were mostly shielded from the gunfire. Slashing wildly at that first SWAT agent before they identified themselves.

He sighed, looking down at his lap.

His fingers held a coffee cup. The cheap, single use ones that populate the counter of every coffee shop. And hospital. The liquid inside, though vaguely resembling coffee, was far too acidic to be considered anything close to good, or even palatable.

Blood was still caked under his fingernails.

He'd spent at least thirty minutes, scrubbing desperately at his hands, until his own blood and skin started to swirl down the drain and Rossi had to force him away.

He remembered that. He remembered the examination he'd gone through, being driven to the hospital in an ambulance despite saying he didn't need it. A needle being shoved again and again through his skin as they stitched the long gash across his face.

But he couldn't remember what he needed to the most.

He couldn't remember when Spencer closed his eyes. He couldn't remember when blood started to seep through closed lips. He couldn't remember when he had loosened the death grip on his hand.

He couldn't remember when Spencer stopped breathing.


He woke with a gasp. The sharp intake of air that only seconds before lungs has forgotten how to take in. His heart raced in his chest as the rest of his body adjusted to its sudden rise into waking.

His nose itched.

Eyes fluttering against the bright lights, he reached shaking fingers up to his face. They paused against the small tube laying against his skin, then tracked its path along his cheek, over a thin piece of tape and into his nose. That small discovery was enough to will his eyes completely open, squinting against the harsh light.

He recognized the starched white of a hospital. His head was spinning, but he could see that much. Everything fell into place: the unsteady beeping of a heart monitor that barely reached his ears, the gentle pressure of an oximeter encircling his finger. The slight pulling in his arm when he moved it too much.

His gaze shifted over the IV pole hanging at his bedside. To the three bags hanging off it, feeding their liquid slowly into his bloodstream.

Panic rose in his throat, the bile in his stomach stirring. Retching, he leaned over the side of the bed, trying desperately to think through the fog of fear that was covering his mind. He didn't feel the warm, almost feathery feeling of morphine, the gentle lethargy that oft accompanied it. But the sight of a needle, tip deep in the crook of his elbow, made bile start to rise in his throat.

Forcing his mind away from that, he tried desperately to remember what had happened. It came in flashes - the bank, Tony and Steve, Hotch, the stabbing, the gunfire.

The door opened, opened with a sound that seemed far too loud for such a simple thing. Like it'd been years since anyone even through about greasing the hinges.

It was Morgan, who walked in. He looked tired, more so, even, than after any of the all-nighters they've pulled during cases.

"Morgan?" He croaked out, the sound rough and grating. God, his throat hurt. Everything hurt. Like his body was one big bruise. Trying to sit up just sent another lightning bolt of agony from his side, arms collapsing beneath him.

"Easy, kid, wait a second." The older agent said, rushing forward to help him up. "Your doctor's gonna kill you if you rip your stitches."

An image flashed before his eyes, an image of Hotch, blood dripping down his face and mingling with sweat as he crouched on top of him. Shielding him, as bullets rained around them. The oxygen monitor above him started beeping insistently as panic rose up again. "Where's Hotch?!"

"He's fine, Reid, he's fine! Last I saw, he was sleeping in the waiting room." Morgan assured him quickly, keeping a firm hand on his shoulder. "You need to breathe, pretty boy."

Just breathe for me. You need to breathe. Steve aiming his rifle at Hotch's head. Blood dripping in sheets down his face.

"Spence? Spence, I'm okay."

Hotch?

A hand gripped his, callouses familiar.

Hotch is alive. Hotch is fine. Hotch is alive. Hotch is -

Slowly, repeating the mantra to himself again and again, the gulping breaths evened out and slowed. The room stopped spinning, but the burning pain in his chest continued.

There was Hotch. Kneeling by his bed, wearing a plain shirt with so many stains he could hardly tell it used to be white. For the most part, it was simply red. A bruise had started to blossom across the unit chief's face, the barest of blues appearing on the bridge of his nose. Gauze covered his entire right cheek.

But he was alive.

"Hotch?"

"Spence." The word was soft, barely spoken, but enough to make his heart stop. Because Hotch never called him that, never. He barely even used his first name.

Looking around, he noticed a woman in scrubs standing next to Morgan. Doctor, his mind supplied.

"Wha'... What happened?"

"You had a panic attack, kid." Morgan said. Hotch stayed quiet, continuing to squeeze his hand. "You weren't calming down, so I got Hotch."

"My name is Dr. Huide, Dr. Reid." The woman interjected, stepping forward. "Would it be alright if I checked the stitches in your side?"

He nodded, looking down at his side. A dull pain was spreading from the area. He could tell there was something bulky under his gown, could feel the slight pulling of stitches. With nimble fingers, Dr. Huide moved his gown, revealing a heavy swath of bandages.

"Was I shot?" He whispered, looking back up at Hotch.

The unit chief nodded. "One of SWAT's bullets hit Steve, and the rounds from his rifle went wild."

"Three them hit you, Dr. Reid." Dr. Huide continued, eyes still focused on his side. "They fractured four of your ribs, causing one of your lungs to collapse. We had to manually re-inflate the lung and remove the bone and bullet fragments in surgery. We have you on pain medication - "

"Non-narcotic." Morgan interjected quickly.

"Non-narcotic pain medication, as Agent Morgan said. A mixture of high-dose ibuprofen and acetaminophen is being administered intravenously through your IV." She assured him. "It doesn't look like you ripped any stitches, but the area may be sore for a few hours." She quickly covered the area back up, before standing and walking towards the door. "I'll give you a few minutes to talk to your family, and then we can discuss everything in more detail."

"Thank you, doctor." He said quietly, listening as the door opened and shut again. "Morgan, would you... give us a moment."

A twinge of guilt wriggled on his chest as he saw the poorly veiled disappointment on Morgan's face, but he forced it away. The room was still spinning, everything hurt, and that small bit of is Hotch okay? wouldn't go away.

"Sure, kid. I'll be right outside if you need anything, okay?"

He nodded. Within moments, him and Hotch were alone.

"How bad is your face?" He asked, not looking up from his lap. "It looked deep."

"Ten stitches, but it doesn't hurt." Hotch's voice was strong, but measured. Like it was taking an enormous amount of concentration to keep his tone steady.

Reid shifted, the small movement bringing with it a tiny explosion of agony in his shoulder. The older agent leaned in closer, voice softening. "Reid, if you're in pain, you should tell the doctor and let them give you something stronger. We won't let you go down that road again."

"I'm fine, Hotch, really. Just moved wrong." The pain was there, a constant itch in the back of his mind, but the idea of letting someone inject him with morphine?

He swallowed the rush of bile in his throat.

"What, um, what happened to Tony? The bomb?"

Hotch let out a sigh. "There wasn't any bomb - Tony was bluffing. He tried running out the back door, but a LEO got him. They're holding him downtown."

He should've been happy, knowing that they have the UnSub in custody. But the image of Tony's gruesome smile, the knife glinting ferociously in the light, almost made him wish he'd been killed in the firefight.

Something told him Hotch thought the same.

"What happens now?"

The words left his mouth before he realized he was speaking. They hung in the air. Slowly, he met Hotch's tired eyes.

They both knew they couldn't just move past this. He couldn't just go back to work, just pretend it'd never happened like he did with Hankle. It would fester like an infected wound, until the sickness reached their blood and they would never be able to heal.

He never did heal, after Georgia.

"I hurt you." Hotch said quietly, eyes quickly glancing downwards. "I made you scream. I had a knife, I should've done... something, anything."

"Aaron?" He waited until his friend's eyes were focused back on him. "I don't blame you, I will never blame you. Tony and Steve were the ones that hurt me, not you. Never you."

A bit of the - what was it? Vulnerability? - in Hotch's eyes chipped away, but there was still something else. A haunted look that was so out of place on the stoic agent.

"I breathed for you, in the bank. Your lung had collapsed, your breathing was too shallow for me to see. It took seven minutes for SWAT to reach us. I thought..." He took a deep breath, obviously fighting tears. "I thought you were going to die."

Reid was silent. He knew, god he knew, how terrifying it was to see someone you loved slip away and you can't do anything to stop it. It was something he wouldn't wish on anyone, much less someone as good as Aaron.

Slowly, careful to not jostle his battered body too much, he wrapped his arms around the older agent. Hotch returned the embrace, burying his face deep into the crook of his neck.

So similar to what they had done in that bank, but so very different.

And, silently, with shaking shoulders, Hotch held on. And Reid realized - this was how they moved on. This was how they continued to live.

Together.