It was 3 a.m. and Penelope Garcia was pacing her warm office, nervously fiddling with a little pink teddy bear. She had programmed her computer to call Derek and Emily's phones simultaneously and constantly. No answer. Again and again her computer gave her the same message. No answer.
"Damn you computer! You are supposed to be my friend! We fight crime together and you're letting me down!" she said. Her voice was cracked and pathetic sounding. Her trash can was overflowing with used tissues, but she was beyond tears now. Each time her computer brought back its unhappy message of no answer, her usually endless supply of hope dwindled even more.
C'mon Garcie, said the tired, fragile voice of her positivity. Their phones will be broken, that's all.
She sat down in her wheelie chair and lined up her colourful stuffed toys just as her phone began to ring.
"JJ! Hey! How are you doing?" she said, trying to sound as sunny and positive as ever.
"Garcia, I need an E.T.A. on that rescue team. More of the tunnels collapsed and Rossi is missing. Hotch has passed out and I can't get him to wake up." The anguish in her friend's voice made Garcia's already sore eyes fill with tears again.
"I'm expecting an update from them any minute," she said. "Is Rossi..." the sentence didn't bear finishing.
"I don't know," JJ said. "We can't hear him or reach him."
"He's showing all the signs of late stage hypovolemic shock," Reid said. "I think he is bleeding internally. If we don't get him out soon, he's going to die." Garcia was well acquainted with the sounds of her friends' voices. In the years before they had used video-calls she learned very quickly how to judge their feelings based on their words and their tone. But she didn't even need to be particularly skilled at that to hear the panic in Reid's voice behind his matter-of-fact manner.
Her phone beeped as someone called in on the other line. It was her eagerly anticipated update on the rescue attempt. She put JJ on hold and answered the call. The conversation with the rescue liaison was quick and unsatisfactory. She switched back to the other line.
"JJ you still there?"
"The rescue team are at the warehouse..." she said. JJ started speaking but Garcia cut over her. "They aren't coming to get you."
"They say it's too dangerous. They need to make it safe before they will send anyone down. Otherwise the whole thing could collapse on you."
"How long is that going to take?" Reid asked.
"We don't have several hours!" JJ said.
"Garcia, I don't think we have more than an hour before Hotch goes in to cardiac arrest," Reid said.
She felt like her heart had leaped in to her throat. An hour? That wasn't long enough. She could just picture Hotch lying on the ground, battered and bruised; JJ and Reid sitting vigil by his side as he slowly faded from the world in a dark, cold cave. That was not the way her Boss Man should die. He had endured too much pain, he was too brave and too good to die like that. He was going to live a long, healthy and happy life, he deserved that much.
"Leave it with me," she said.
She ran to her office door and poked her head out, almost immediately locating the very person she was looking for.
"Chief Strauss, Ma'am," she called. The Pima County cops and the rescue unit had been liaising with Strauss since the mine collapse. If anyone could hurry along the rescue attempt it was her.
"Yes?" Erin Strauss turned around, in all her terrifying and formidable glory, making Garcia feel a little nervous. Despite the many years she had worked in the BAU, she still couldn't shake the anxious knot in her stomach that accompanied every conversation with Strauss. It was like she was in middle school again, standing before the headmistress, knowing she had done nothing wrong but feeling strangely guilty nonetheless.
"May I have a word, Ma'am?" Strauss crossed the bullpen and entered Garcia's office. Close up, she looked as tired and stressed as Garcia felt.
"Yes, what is it?"
"Is that Strauss?" came JJ's voice from the phone. Garcia had forgotten to put the call on hold. Oops.
"Miss Jareau?" Strauss asked, approaching the phone.
"Ma'am we need the rescue teams down here now. If we don't get out soon, Hotch is going to die. Rossi may already be dead." Garcia saw Strauss's face fall and what little colour remained in her cheeks drained. Perhaps she hadn't realised quite how bad things were. "Hotch will bleed to death in front of us. Please."
"If the rescue team comes in now without taking the proper precautions, you could all die."
"So you’d rather let Hotch die than take a risk?" JJ asked.
"It's a huge risk, Miss Jareau."
"Well I can tell you with absolute certainty that every single member of this team is willing to take that risk to save Hotch."
"I told you, it's out of my hands." But Garcia could see that she was lying. She didn't need to be a profiler to see the doubt in Strauss's eyes. So, Garcia saw her chance and she grabbed it.
"With respect, Ma'am," Garcia said. "I could hack in to the White House and send a direct order from the President to get my friends out of that mine if I have to."
Strauss rounded on her. "Are you threatening me Miss Garcia?"
"Of course not," she said, keeping her gaze calm and level, "but you should know that I will stop at nothing to make sure my family is safe."
"You would spend the next twenty years of your life in prison."
"And I would sleep well at night knowing that I had done everything in my power to save my team."
Strauss stared at her for a long moment, looking furious. She was clearly trying to work out how serious the threat was. The answer was, deadly. If Strauss wouldn't authorise the rescue, Garcia would do it her way. JJ, Rossi, Reid, Hotch, Prentiss and Morgan would be safe and above ground before any of the frankly sub-par techies at the White House had even noticed there had been a security breach. Strauss took her cell phone from her pocket, keeping her stony eyes trained on Garcia the entire time. Garcia felt a little rush of panic and doubt that made her feel rather warm and made her hands tingle. Was Strauss about to have her fired? Or arrested?
"This is Chief Strauss," she said, "I want my team out of that mine immediately. No. I don't care. I'm not leaving members of my team to die in order to minimise risk. Get them out. All of them. Now." She hung up and turned to the door but just before she left the room, she looked back. "You are skating on very thin ice Miss Garcia. When all of this is over, we are going to be having an extremely serious talk." The door closed and Garcia slumped on to her chair.
"Nicely done, Garcie," she said to herself. "That was really assertive. Now maybe if you could stop hyperventilating that'd be super." She turned back to her desk to speak to JJ and Reid.
"Hear that, guys? They're coming in for you right now. Don't you worry about a thing my beautiful angels!" There was silence. "Guys?" But they were gone.
"Garcia? Garcia?" JJ said. She looked at her phone just in time to see the low battery symbol melt away in to the now blank screen. "Damn it, she's gone."
"What was she saying? What was she about to say?" Reid asked, grabbing the phone from JJ and mashing the buttons with his thumb.
"I don't know Spencer! I heard as much as you did. Would you stop pressing the buttons? Garcia knows how urgent the situation is. She'll sort something out, I know she will." Even as she spoke, JJ didn't really believe what she was saying. Strauss said they were several hours away from being rescued and several hours was too long.
They did nothing but sit in frightened silence for a long time. Reid kept checking his watch but JJ was scared to ask how long they had until Hotch lost too much blood. She checked under Hotch's shirt where an enormous purple bruise was spreading steadily across his chest and abdomen. The only things that broke up the solid colour of the blood pooling under his skin were the slightly paler scars that covered his torso from his encounter with George Foyet two years before, when the same man who had murdered his wife broke in to his home and stabbed him nine times, as painfully and slowly as he possibly could. It wasn't fair that terrible things kept happening to such a good man. Reid checked his watch again.
"We're going to lose him," he said in a cracked voice.
"It's not over yet," JJ said, shaking her head and silently willing Hotch to keep holding on.
"I'm going to lose him, just like my father and Gideon," he said, beginning to panic. "Everyone just leaves. Everybody leaves me. I can't do it anymore I can't lose Hotch too I don't think I can cope. What are we going to do?"
"We're going to trust Garcia and Strauss to get us out and we're going to stay calm." She grabbed Reid by the shoulder. "Reid look at me." He did as he was told and she did her best to meet his tear-filled eyes with a look of confidence and comfort. "We are going to be okay. Garcia will make sure we’re safe."
"But what about Emily and Morgan?" he asked.
"Come on, Spence," she said, dodging the question. "Worrying isn't going to solve anything. Let's just talk about something else."
Several long moments passed before Reid finally broke the silence.
"Who's the father?"
That wasn't exactly the change of subject she had been hoping for. "Does it matter?" she said. This was neither the time nor the place to start that particular conversation.
"I guess not." They lapsed in to silence again as JJ watched Hotch carefully. She put her hand on his forehead again and found that he was still cool and clammy. Her fingers moved to his neck and she felt for his pulse. It felt weaker.
"How far along are you?" asked Reid.
"Twenty weeks tomorrow," she said. "I'm hardly showing this time."
"Twenty weeks..." Reid looked thoughtful. "That doesn't make sense because twenty weeks ago we were on that case in Boston."
"We spent all our time either in the precinct or the hotel."
"Just drop it would you," she said, cursing Reid's ridiculously precise memory.
"And we had to share rooms again and you - "
"I said drop it, Reid," she snapped, a little more angrily than she had intended. "How long do we have?" she asked. Reid lowered his watch in to the torchlight.
"About fifteen minutes." Now JJ was the one who was about to panic. Fifteen minutes wasn't enough. There was no sound coming from above them, no evidence at all that they were going to be rescued. Hotch was going to die in her arms. Suddenly, a loud rumbling surrounded them and debris began to fall from the sagging ceiling.
"Oh my God. It's collapsing." She reached out for Reid's hand and they both stared wide-eyed at the roof. More banging and rumbling and bigger pieces of rock started to fall on them. There was an almighty crunching sound and the ceiling sagged a little bit more followed by an ear-splitting crack as one of the wooden bolsters begin to bow and splinter. She put her head down on Hotch's chest and Reid put his arm around her and they huddled together, waiting for the beams to give way.
There was a thunderous crash and part of the wall that separated them from Rossi caved in. Dust filled the air and, glancing up through the haze, JJ saw moving shapes. There was a scuffle, someone shouting "Agent, get your ass back here," and then Morgan appeared through the gap.
"Hey," he said, grinning. The ceiling had stopped shaking and JJ sat up, watery-eyed and in shock.
"Where's Emily?" she asked.
"She's fine, she's outside already. You ready to get out of this hellhole?" He caught sight of Hotch on the ground, pale and dying and his smile vanished immediately. He lifted Hotch bodily from the cold floor and Reid pulled one of Hotch's arms over his shoulder as the first of the rescue team squeezed through the gap and approached JJ.
"I'm fine," she said reflexively. "Did you get Rossi?"
"Agent Rossi is already on his way to hospital. He's alive.”
The four men who had been sent down in to the mine helped them get Hotch through the now accessible trapdoor where a pair of paramedics were waiting for him. JJ was guided outside and she felt the dusty ground beneath her feet. The early morning light was blinding and for almost a minute, she could see nothing but white light and colourful spots floating in front of her eyes, but she didn't need to be able to see to know that Emily had run toward her and wrapped her arms around her.
"Thank God, JJ. I was so worried! Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. What about you?"
"Fine." As JJ's eyes became accustomed to the brightness she realised Prentiss didn't look fine at all. “Your face,” she said.
“Never mind me,” Prentiss said. “How is everyone else?”
"Reid's okay, but he's pretty shaken. Rossi got trapped when more of the tunnel caved in, he's alive but Hotch..." She didn't really know where to start and even when she tried to speak again, she found that she couldn't.
Now that there wasn’t anyone she had to stay strong for, all the fear and panic that had been beating against her chest since the explosion finally burst through her calm facade.
"I can't lose him, Emily, I can't. I don't even know if he's dead or alive and every time I think about it I can't - I can't breathe." She tried to keep speaking but hot tears began to fall from her eyes so instead she walked back in to her friend's arms and clung to her as the remainder of the warehouse collapsed in to the tunnels, leaving nothing but a flat expanse of bent metal and shattered glass.