When Hotch finally regained consciousness, there was nothing but blackness around him. Blackness and silence.
He was lying on his front, feeling the cold damp ground beneath him seeping in to his clothes and he could taste blood. He tried to push himself upright but he couldn't move his left arm so he pushed hard with his right arm and managed to get himself in to a sitting position. A small rock fell from the ceiling above him and skittered across the ground, echoing through the dark.
It was only then that he realised how fast he was breathing. He tried to steady himself and take a few deep breaths but that, too, proved difficult. He winced as his sides lit up with pain. He tore the Velcro strips from the side of his bulletproof vest and tossed it aside, relieving some of the pressure on his painful ribs. He held his breath, savouring the momentary relief it gave him from the pain of inhaling. He thought he could hear something just then, something so faint that he could scarcely make it out.
"Reid?" He felt around clumsily with his good hand, feeling for his flashlight, his cell phone, anything that might cast some light through the thick darkness that was pressing itself against his eyes. His flashlight was gone but he felt his cell phone in his right pocket. He pulled it out and pressed button after button but nothing happened. He ran his thumb across it and felt the shattered remnants of the screen. "Damn it," he hissed, tossing the phone away.
"JJ? Dave?" he called name after name, but no one replied. "Prentiss? Morgan? Anyone." He kept calling out names between his shaky, broken breaths but stopped because after several silent minutes it began to feel like he was rhyming off a list of the dead. And he couldn’t help wondering how long it would be until his name was added to the end of it.
He couldn't do anything except lean against the cold wall and try to keep breathing. Every so often a moan of pain would escape his lips as he exhaled. He had just lost every single one of his friends. In the privacy of the dark and the silence he let the tears fall from his eyes. He couldn't concentrate, he could even think because his entire body was burning. He gritted his teeth and pressed his head against the hard wall, groaning in agony and anger.
"Hotch." It took him a moment to brace himself before he pushed himself forward doing his best to stifle the noises of pain that kept escaping from his throat. He crawled across the ground, moving towards the voice and feeling the way with his arm, like a blind man with his cane.
"I'm over here." Finally, his hand came in to contact with something warm. He felt the young man's hand grip his arm firmly as though he thought Hotch was going to disappear back in to the darkness at any moment. He slumped down beside Reid, breathless and weak even though he had only travelled about six feet.
"Have you got a flashlight?" Hotch panted.
"Mine is broken," said Reid. "What happened?"
"There was a bomb. Where are Rossi and JJ?"
"I don't know!" Reid said, his voice rising in panic. "I thought Rossi was beside me." The image of Reid standing amongst the falling rocks came in to Hotch's mind.
"Why the hell didn't you run, Reid? You were ten feet from the exit."
"I wasn't going to leave without you."
"Do you have any idea how stupid that was?" he said breathlessly. He was angry, not at Reid but at the horror of the entire situation. Reid didn't reply. "But thank you," Hotch added. "Are you hurt?"
"I don't know," Reid said. "I hit my head pretty hard but I think I'm okay. What about you?"
"I'm fine," he said. He was still piecing together the minutes before the blast. It was as if his brain was refusing to accept that any of this had really happened.
"We've reached the end of our tunnels, the Unsub's not here, we're heading back." That's what Morgan had said. That meant that he and Prentiss were deep within the mine when it began to collapse. They would never have made it to the exit in time.
"What do we do now?" Reid asked, still grasping Hotch's arm.
"Reid?" came a pained voice a few feet away. A flashlight cut through the dark. It burned Hotch's eyes for a moment and he squinted. Once his eyes adjusted he saw Rossi sitting slumped against the wall, holding the flashlight in his bloody hand. The one little disc of light was enough to illuminate the whole of their surroundings.
"You're okay," said Reid.
"I wouldn't call this okay," Rossi groaned. His face and arms were grazed and bleeding, blood matting in his goatee, and he seemed only half-conscious. He could barely hold the flashlight in his limp arm, so with a great effort he pushed it over to Hotch.
"Where's JJ?" Hotch asked him.
"I don't know," he said.
"You were supposed to be with her!" he said.
"I was," Rossi shot back, slurring his words slightly. "She was sright b'side me, I swear." He leaned forward and put his head between his legs with a groan. "I think I'm going to hurl."
"Dave?" Hotch asked, his anger vanishing swiftly.
"I'm fine. S'just a concussion," Rossi said, waving his hand dismissively, but not daring to raise his head back up. Hotch shone the flashlight around the mine. They were trapped between two enormous piles of fallen rocks in a space no bigger than his office in the BAU. Above them, the ceiling was cracked and sagging under the weight of an entire warehouse above it. The only reason they were alive, it seemed, was because of two wooden pillars that bolstered the walls and held up the ceiling; two fragile bits of wood that separated them from a hundred tons of cement and rock.
Hotch got unsteadily to his feet and looked around, relieved to find that his legs were more or less uninjured. This amount of destruction hadn't come from just one bomb. There must have been several bombs all through the mine, maybe even hidden in the warehouse above. Fox had been planning this trap for a while. Probably since he heard the FBI had been called in.
Hotch stood in the centre of the clearing, terrified to touch the walls incase it brought down the entire structure. There didn't appear to be any way out and the wooden posts wouldn't hold the walls for long. He scanned the floor for another flashlight or a cell phone but instead he saw blonde hair and a limp hand under a blanket of debris and rocks. "Oh God, JJ." Hotch dropped to his knees started pushing away the rubble that covered her. With the assistance of Reid, he pulled her in to the middle of the room. There were cuts all over her arms and face and red-purple bruises were already appearing on her pale skin.
"Back up, would you?" Hotch said, as Rossi pulled himself across the ground beside Reid to crowd round her. "JJ?" He lowered his cheek to her mouth, praying that he would feel her breathing. He could see her chest rising ever so slightly and felt her warm breath on his cheek.
"She's alive," he said, the rush of relief that swept over him knocking what little breath he had out of his lungs.
"Thank God," said Rossi.
"JJ?" he said again, shaking her gently by the shoulder. She didn't stir so Hotch lifted her on to his lap and held her against his chest so that at least some of her body wasn't lying on the damp ground.
"Does anyone have a cell phone?" Both men shook their heads.
"Someone will come and get us," Rossi said.
"I'm not so sure," Hotch said. "After an explosion like that they'll be looking for bodies, not survivors. They might not come for hours.”
“Not really helping with the morale here, Aaron,” said Rossi drily.
Hotch felt a gentle vibration against his chest as JJ tried to speak, but all she could manage was a weak murmur.
"JJ? Can you hear me?" She shifted slightly, eyes still shut. "JJ?"
"Aaron," she said. Her eyes fluttered open and for just a second, she looked peaceful and content as though he had woken her from a nap. Then she realised where she was. "Was that a bomb?" she asked incredulously, pushing herself upright.
"Where are Prentiss and Morgan?" she asked. But she seemed to have sat up too quickly and gripped Hotch's arm to keep herself from slumping over.
"We don't know."
She turned around and sat back against the wall, apparently unable to absorb everything at the moment. Rossi and Reid sat either side of her with the same blank expressions.
Hotch put his head in his hands, his head swimming. He could feel something warm and sticky on the side of his face - his ear was bleeding. Presumably he had ruptured his eardrum again. That would account for the ringing in his ears and the thumping pain that radiated on to his face.
He kept reliving the final few moments before the bombs exploded. How could he have been so stupid? Of course it was a trap. Fox had been so organised up until now, he would never have allowed them to trace his cell phone unless he wanted to be found. The note in the Banks's house should have been a huge hint too. Tick tock, Agents it had said. How could Hotch have missed such a thinly veiled reference to a bomb?
It was only then that he realised what had been troubling him back at the Banks’s house, the little nagging voice at the back of his mind that he couldn’t define. It was the note. The entire hallway had been a mess, tipped tables and stained carpets, as though there had been a frantic, frenzied struggle. Except for the note. Fox had taken the time to place it neatly on the sideboard for them to see, which meant the destruction in the hall had all been for show. He had deliberately led them to believe he was devolving, losing control of his abductions, but really he had never been sharper or more in control, and had led them in to the tunnels like a sheepdog with his sheep.
Fox's words on the phone played over and over in his mind. "I would love to see you try." Fox wasn't just being a smart-ass, he was being literal. Somewhere nearby Fox was sitting, safe and smug watching the last of the warehouse crumble to the ground. It all seemed so obvious now. Clearly his thoughts were showing on his face because Rossi shifted over beside him.
"This isn't your - "
"Don't tell me this isn't my fault, Dave!" he snapped. He felt a sharp pain in his side, as though someone was twisting a knife between his ribs. "I just led my entire team in to a trap. Two of my friends might already be dead and God knows what's going to happen to the rest of us so cut the sympathetic bullshit." Reid shot him a surprised look and Rossi backed off almost immediately, returning to his position beside JJ and leaving Hotch feeling even more guilty.
Beside him, JJ wrapped her arms around her torso and curled up against the wall. For a moment, Hotch thought she was crying but when he looked around at her, there were no tears in her eyes, but he could see that she was struggling to keep herself calm.
"Are you okay?" Hotch asked.
"No." Hotch didn't blame her for admitting it. She didn't speak again for a few moments and Hotch turned his gaze to the ceiling which was poised on the edge of collapse. "I'm pregnant," she said. Hotch whipped around to look at her, ignoring the throbbing protests of his head.
"What?" Reid gasped.
"Why didn't you say anything?" Rossi asked. Hotch tried to shift around to face her but every time he moved his left arm, pain shot across his chest and up his neck. JJ looked at him with misery in her eyes.
"I tried to tell you," she said. She was replying to Rossi's question but she was looking straight a Hotch. "I really did. I didn't mean to keep it a secret." She paused for a moment. "It isn't Will's baby." Hotch's eyes widened but before he had time to form a proper response, the shrill ring of a cell phone filled the still air, making them all jump.
"I think that's mine," JJ said, looking around. "Hotch turn that off." He obliged, clicking off his flashlight, still reeling from JJ's announcement. Complete darkness engulfed them again, except for a dull glow emanating from the rocks where he had found JJ. Hotch heard her feet scuff along the ground and heard the scraping of rocks as she fumbled for her cell.
"Got it." Hotch switched the light on again.
"Hello? Oh Garcia, thank God." She put the phone on the speaker with shaking fingers.
"Oh JJ, you're alive." Her voice was cracked and breathless. "I can't get through to anyone else, you're the only one and you guys are all over the news and no one knows what happened!"
"There was a bomb," Hotch said.
"Who is that? Is that Hotch? Oh thank God. Who else is there?"
"I've got Reid and Rossi with me too," JJ said.
"And Morgan? And Emily?" JJ remained silent this time. "JJ. Where are they?"
"I don't know, Pen."
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"They were on the other side of the mine when it fell. I'm sorry Garcia, we haven't heard from them." Her only response was a sorrowful little moan. "Garcia? Garcia?"
There was a pause and then she finally replied, "I'm still here."
"Please tell me that someone is coming to get us out of here," JJ said.
"Of course, the rescue teams are on the way. I... I have to go, I need to call Morgan again."
"Okay," JJ said.
"Take care, my doves." And then she was gone.
"I hope Morgan and Prentiss are okay," JJ said, but no one offered any words of comfort or reassurance, simply because there weren't any. In Hotch's mind, there was very little chance that Morgan and Prentiss had survived the mine collapse. The fact that any of them were alive at all was nothing short of a miracle.