Chapter One

Don't think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm.

- Malayan Proverb

It was a Friday night.

A particularly upbeat one.

They'd saved the lives of two young women, cuffed the unsub without a single shot fired.

Now they were back in town.

Taking it easy, for once in their over-stressed lives.

Crammed into a back booth at a local bar-and-grill that was fast becoming a favorite, the five jet-setting members of the BAU team dug into a platter of nachos and started in on their first round of drinks.

Morgan laughed harder than anyone when Reid fumbled a salsa-topped tortilla chip onto his shirt.

Emily laughed harder than that when JJ 'accidentally' dropped a similar dab of salsa on Morgan's sleeve.

"Kill joy!" Morgan teased.

"Bully," JJ returned sweetly.

And he smeared a trail of salsa from his shirt onto her cheek, and they all laughed some more.

It was rare, this kind of night. Wrapping up a case on a high note, just in time to end the week like the 9-to-5 crowd.

The whole weekend stretched ahead of them, as long as nothing came up.

On nights like these, JJ's cell phone was something like a dreaded bomb that threatened to go off.

There was a chorus of groans when it rang.

"Relax," JJ admonished. "It's personal."

"How personal?" Morgan asked, his lips twisting into a suggestive smile.

JJ threw a smiling eye-roll his way, and jabbed the 'send' button on her Blackberry.

"Hey Pen," she greeted Garcia warmly. "You got my message?"

"Yours and everyone else's."

"And you called me just to make the others panic," JJ stated unnecessarily.

She could hear Garcia's grin.

"Did anyone curse aloud? Tell me someone cursed aloud."

"I'll tell you we all cursed like sailors if you'll show up."

"Jaje, you know I'd be only too happy to join you if I didn't already have a date."

"Your loss," JJ told her, sighing a bit. "Morgan and Reid are both wearing salsa, and we're still on the first round."

"I'm sorry," Morgan interjected loudly, leaning in toward JJ's phone. "Morgan and Reid and who?"

JJ swatted him away.

"Pay him no mind," she instructed Garcia. "And think about ditching your date the second you feel a hint of boredom."

"Will do."

"All right."

"Ten-four!" Garcia's cheery voice boomed into the phone loud enough for the others to hear, and then the connection was broken.

"Think we'll see her tonight?" Emily inquired.

"God willing," JJ mused. "We're outnumbered by the boys club tonight."

She smiled gently at Hotch across the table, hoping he knew that, truth be told, she was glad he'd agreed to join them.

He hadn't said much all night.

He didn't often come along when the rest of them went out.

But without Haley and Jack to go home to, JJ worried for his mental health if he didn't come along on these post-case de-stressing sessions.

And she worried for their collective mental health if they ever lost him.

"JJ?" he asked, looking just the slightest bit unsettled that she'd been looking him over.

And because she was quick with a cover, her reply was immediate and effortless:

"Darts," she suggested. "I dare you. Five bucks a game."

"You don't have to do that," Emily insisted, when they'd had their fill for the night and Hotch told the waitress to bring just one bill.

"Seriously, Hotch, you're not paying for our drinks," Morgan joined in.

JJ couldn't resist rubbing salt in Hotch's wounds –

"He already paid for my drinks," she pointed out, and Hotch met her spirited smile with a rueful smile of his own.

"Never again," he commented.

"Don't feel too bad," Emily assured him. "JJ and darts is like Reid and Sudoku."

"And if you're the competitive type, it makes for an expensive night," Morgan put in.

"I should have put two and two together," Hotch turned his gaze to JJ. "I've seen you at the firing range."

The triumph on her face turned to near-blushing pride at that, just as their waitress arrived with their bill and a handful of peppermints.

Hotch reached for the former (and Reid, for the latter), and Morgan met Hotch's eyes and opened his mouth to speak.

"Derek, let me do this," Hotch instructed simply and quietly, and their gaze held, and he wondered if the first name was too much, if paying the bill was too much, if it was too obvious that he missed having people to pay for.

"It's hot in here," Reid muttered through a mouthful of peppermint, effectively breaking the short silence.

"Why don't you go ahead to the car," Hotch offered, looking at each of the others so they'd know he meant all of them. "I'll put this on my card and meet you out there."

They all seemed reasonably agreeable, and they made their way toward the door in comfortable silence until Reid crashed into the doorframe.

The resulting laughter – punctuated by cheerful accusations of drunkenness – faded as they went.

Hotch tempered his smile and glanced over the bill, realizing with amusement that he was paying for JJ's night twice over.

He signed off and followed after them.

He'd volunteered to be designated driver, which meant he got to see them all safely home.

They'd had to park way across the lot, and he spotted them before they spotted him coming.

He spotted them just before a rag was pressed so hard against his mouth and nose that it hurt.

They were oblivious as he mentally identified the sickly sweet smell, unconcerned as he reached for his sidearm and had his reach blocked, and his arm quickly -- and painfully -- twisted around behind him.

It was mere seconds before he felt darkness beginning to close in.

But he had enough time to spot too many dark figures coming up behind JJ and Reid and Morgan and Prentiss.

(Four of the people he had left.)

Just enough time to remember that none of them were armed tonight.

Just enough time to form a desperate one-word plea.

No sound made it past his lips.

But he screamed it inside of his head –


The room was windowless.

It was the first thing Hotch noticed when he opened his eyes.

A few thoughts raced through his murky mind, the least comforting of which was a realization that the chilly space wasn't entirely unlike a predator's nest.

It was empty save for a table and four chairs.

A table and four chairs, and his team.

The sight of them hit like a splash of cool water.

They hadn't run.

Only Morgan was conscious, slumped against the wall and staring back at him.

He looked frozen, dejected. And in his eyes, quietly enraged.

"Are you hurt?" Hotch called to him, and it wasn't until he heard his own barely-steady voice that it occurred to him that the sound of something like a fan was whirring softly nearby.

"Fine," Morgan said shortly. "You?"

"I don't think fine is the word, but I'm not hurt."

Groggy, yes, Hotch acknowledged to himself. But not hurt.

He struggled to right himself, to move toward the others.

He reached Emily first, grasped her wrist to check for her pulse.

"Already did that," Morgan announced. "They're okay. They're just lighter. Makes sense they'd be out longer."

Hotch started to nod, but Emily had stirred at the contact of his fingers, and her eyes opened now.

She jerked away, startled, when she woke to find Hotch leaning over her in the unfamiliar setting, and she stumbled almost directly onto both Reid and JJ, behind her.

"What..." Emily swallowed hard and shook her head. "Where…?" She tried to catch her breath, wide-eyed and horrified as she took in the rather sterile-looking room.

"Does anything hurt?" Hotch questioned her, but it was Reid's voice that answered quietly from the floor.

"My side," he mumbled, and though they all turned their attention his way, no one bothered to mention that Emily had just stepped on him.

"JJ?" Reid half called and half asked, finding her next to him. "JJ?"

"She's okay," Hotch told him. "Just give her a minute."

Reid looked up at him, mouth hanging open slightly. And then he pulled himself into a sitting position, and joined Emily in looking over the room.

They were all silent for a long moment, a painfully familiar reality that usually to belonged to someone else just beginning to sink in.

"Is there…" Reid started, finally. Quietly. Timidly. Desperately. "Is there any chance at all this is some kind of prank, or, like, um… training exercise, or --"

"Reid --" Hotch tried to interject.

"No, really, Hotch, this isn't a predatory abductor's nest! It's not. There's a functional table and chairs, not a surgical table or a bed or, like…" He struggled to find the rest of the sentence, and switched gears. "And the five of us are together! That doesn't fit the profile."

"That this isn't a predatory abductor doesn't mean all's well, Reid," Morgan pointed out, and what he was about to say next was lost in a confused uttering of Hotch's name that floated up from the floor.

"Yeah, JJ," Hotch responded quietly.

And he thought about following it up with something like 'it's okay'.

But it would have been empty sentiment, and he usually caught himself before speaking that kind of thing out loud.

"We're all here," he said instead, which was both true and potentially comforting.

"Why?" JJ asked, her eyes searching the room warily rather than processing it as a whole.

"We were out, we went for drinks and --"

"No, I remember," she told him, and she tried to lick her parched lips. "I just…" She paused, tried to piece the question together, her mind still less than clear. "Why would someone… why take all of us? Why would an unsub do that?"

It was the kind of curious question she usually asked on the way to a crime scene.

Except for the sheer dread in her tone.

"Hotch?" she pressed, when he'd said nothing for a moment.

He looked over at her, met her anxious eyes, reluctant to talk about what might come next for them.

And she asked the only question that mattered:

"What do you think they want?"