Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em…damnit!
Thanks to Mog for ATF
Summary: All in a day's work
Thank you to May for her AIT (Agent in Training) concept, which I love to borrow
And to Blackraptor for being a safe haven for folk like me to keep their stories.
To use an idiom, the silence was deafening. For almost eighteen hours, outside a small grocery store in the seedier side of downtown Denver, a fractious stalemate was taking its toll on hostages, hostage-takers, and the men and women of the DPD, FBI, ATF, and SWAT teams who were standing by. During those psychotic, angst-ridden hours, one moment of sanity had emerged; and it was the result of that moment of compassion, that had the gathered law enforcement officers holding their breath, while they watched one of their own walk a perilous path…and not alone.
EIGHTEEN HOURS EARLIER
Just about to head home after an arduous day, the phone on Chris's desk rang. Almost out the door, Larabee turned to leave, paused, and then with a heavy sigh and a small prayer that it was nothing urgent, he answered it.
Inside Team Seven's bullpen, Buck ducked a flying wad of balled up paper without so much as batting an eyelid. He just yawned, stretched, and shut down his work computer. Ezra made a point of sighing heavily when said balled up paper sloshed into a half full coffee cup sitting on his desk. Whilst fishing out the soggy article, the southerner glanced up at the perpetrators.
"Why aren't you tired?"
While rolling up more paper, Vin shrugged before aiming the new 'ball' in JD's direction. "Who says we're not tired? We're just not prepared to go down without a fight."
"Well, could you go and 'fight' further away? Some of us would like to collapse in an exhausted heap with some dignity," Ezra said, pointedly.
Buck jumped up and snatched at the small, paper projectile before it got to JD. He tossed it to Josiah, who grinned and passed it to Nathan, who then promptly unwrapped it, 'blew his nose' in it and then threw it in his trashcan.
"Hey!" JD yelled.
Vin defiantly tore off another page of his large notepad, but as he began molding it into shape, the place erupted. Vin howled when Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra descended on him. Buck snatched up JD. The youth would later reflect on why it was automatically assumed it would need three to take down Vin, yet only one for him.
An ice-cold glare penetrated the huddle of yelling, entangled bodies, and all six men turned toward Chris's office.
"Cancel all plans, conference room, now."
Later, at the siege site, hours ticked by, and while negotiations failed miserably, a large body of law enforcement officers could only wait around, or hold bead on the target storefront, while perplexed as to why these gunmen were holding out for so long. JD's proficiency was one of several reasons Team Seven had been called up. He had easily tapped into the city's recently updated, and highly protected camera system and succeeded in panning into the store. This accomplishment revealed four visible gunmen, and at least eight hostages, but what concerned them deeply was that one hostage was a very young and clearly frightened little girl.
Despite being in the control truck, JD still wore full field gear. He'd earlier stepped outside for some air and was now leaning heavily back against one of the SWAT trucks. He glanced toward the store. Since learning of the little girl, his heart, along with those of all the attending officers, had been heavy. He couldn't bear to think of her inside, and so frightened, and hoped she was at least with a loved one. The negotiator had gotten the gunmen to admit she was in there, and were know appealing to their 'better nature' to show good faith and release her. Removing his cap to run his fingers through his hair before replacing it, JD glanced back at four of his team who were guardedly discussing something. Tanner, another of the team whose specific talents were required, was already in position with several SWAT snipers so JD's musings at that moment weren't directed at him.
Minutes before, JD's boss and absolute hero, while thanking him for his work with the cameras, had given him a direct order to stay out of sight, and watch and learn. Despite wishing the directive could have been put a little less abruptly, JD had nodded, but then quickly wilted when Buck wagged a finger in his direction and said 'Pick a good spot and stay put.'
The toll of being up for over twenty-four hours, plus the strain of focusing for over two hours to bypass encrypted codes, and firewalls in order to get decent images from the store, had pushed a tired agent-in-training into defense mode. With arms flailing, JD's reply was sarcastic yet amusingly animated.
"Gee, thanks Buck. And there was me, about to strrr-ip naked and dance around in front of the store to draw their attention."
He instantly regretted his outburst and looked remorsefully toward Nathan and Ezra, but averted his gaze from Chris and Buck. He already knew what their expressions would be. JD sighed and pointed to a spot in the distance.
"Sorry…long day. I'll be over there standing on one leg, with an apologetic expression on my face, and chewing on my sneaker." He didn't wait for a reply, he felt he'd put his foot far enough in his mouth as it was.
While Chris watched JD walk away, he scrutinized his team. They looked tired, and this fiasco was going nowhere. He spoke into his mic and endorsed another purpose for having the team there...his practiced and composed ability to take control.
"I want Sanchez to take over the negotiations."
Despite not being the actual Officer in Charge, Larabee was well respected, even if few would openly admit to it, and an instant affirmative reply was received. Chris turned to Josiah.
"I want that child outta there and this over with as quickly as possible."
Standish raised an eyebrow. "Good to see you're not expecting too much."
With a nod from Josiah, the profiler, another whose expertise ensured this team was in demand, walked over to where the present negotiator was and got kitted up. Within a minute, he was opening a dialogue with the gunmen, his hypnotic, dulcet tones washing over all of them as he spoke into the landline.
"Gentlemen, my name is Josiah Sanchez, and I'm an ATF agent. While I appreciate that you are in a convenience store, and surrounded by an array of refreshments, is there anything specific you would like? Also, I was wondering if you had an answer to our request about releasing the child you confirmed is with you."
JD sighed at Josiah's shake of his head. They didn't, and had only said enough to assure the gathered cops that they were watching the back and front of the store, and any 'funny business' would result in certain death for the hostages. So here they were, another hour on and still no nearer to resolving the situation. Fishing into his pocket, JD pulled out a small box containing a shirt button. While in the van earlier, he had fitted a tiny transmitter into it. He glanced toward the store. If only he could get it inside there. No one would look twice at a shirt button, and the gathered Feds would have picture and sound. Unknown to JD, he would soon be reflecting on being careful what he wished for.
With the landline now linked in to all comms, the first words from the gunmen in over an hour came as a surprise, but it was the request that followed which shocked the most.
"The brat can go."
Instantly Chris was arranging for Nathan to collect her. The next instructions chilled him to the bone.
"We choose who comes to get her."
"Alright," Josiah answered. "Do you have someone in mind?"
There was a short pause. "Yeah, the dark haired kid in the ATF jacket leaning against the SWAT truck."
As five familiar voices simultaneously cussed in his ear, JD straightened and looked back in surprise at his team. Anxious eyes turned to Josiah.
"That's your final word?"
"Yeah. You got one minute, and he'd better not be armed, wearing that jacket, or miked up. Any shit, and we shoot him and the brat dead before he gets a chance to turn around."
JD approached Buck, Chris, Nathan, and Ezra, and couldn't help grinning on hearing Vin's whispered 'Over my dead body, you mother fucker,' in his ear. His teammates' expressions matched the words perfectly. He smiled nervously at them while he disarmed, removed his outer jacket, and several items from the pockets of his blue combat trousers. As he handed over his cell phone and took off his headset and earpiece, JD shrugged at the somber faces.
"I'm small, and young. They don't see me as a threat. I can live with that if it gets that little girl outta there."
"I regret not packing my rig," Ezra sighed, referring to his derringer.
JD grinned. "Aah, I can't get the hang of the darned thing anyway. It usually takes a chunk of my skin with it." He laughed softly at Ezra's grimace.
"Good Lord. You might have warned me, I've worn it since the last time I loaned it to you."
"JD," Nathan cut in. "She's gonna be scared and wanting her mama…"
JD nodded his understanding. "I know."
Accepting the sentiment behind Chris's warning, JD nodded again. "I will."
Buck squeezed the kid's shoulder and gestured a nod toward Chris. "What he said. Be careful, and I'll see you soon; it's your turn to buy dinner."
"Pizza okay?" JD grinned.
When Josiah glanced at them to suggest JD's time was up, Buck's heart sank. JD turned to go, but looked to Chris when the blond listened to his earpiece and then glanced at him. "Vin says if it's pizza night, count him in."
"Aww man, this is gonna be an expensive supper. Can you spot me fifty bucks 'til payday, Buck?"
Buck laughed, but it was a strained effort.
Dunne gave one final glance around at them all, and then moved to the middle of the street.
JD's lack of ATF issue jacket revealed his Kevlar vest. He slowly walked along the road, while wondering if this was how the gunslingers of the Old West felt when facing down an enemy. Finally, JD approached the storefront, unable to hear Vin's reverberated, 'we got your back, Kid.'
JD was instructed to halt when he was a couple of feet from the storefront. Just behind the doorway, he could see the blond-haired toddler in a woman's arms and smiled at her before looking to the gunman just inside the door when the man spoke.
"Now, this is what's gonna happen. You're gonna take the kid and meet an officer about halfway. Then you're gonna turn around and come back here to join us."
JD swallowed. "That wasn't the deal," he reminded.
"It is now, take it or leave it. Agree, and the kid's safe, disagree, you both stay." The man's features darkened. "Screw us over, and we shoot you, and the hostages."
JD cursed inwardly. Chris and the guys were not gonna be happy about this little development. "Okay, I guess I'll take it."
The gunman leaned menacingly in toward the child. "Oh yeah…and take off your vest."
Reluctantly, JD ripped open the Velcro straps, and handed his vest over. He focused on the child with her blonde, bunched-high ponytails that quivered as she trembled, took two steps forward, and raised his arms.
"Hey sweetie, you wanna come with me and have some candy and maybe a nice warm blanket?"
As if realizing what was happening, the little one hesitated to leave her mother. With a watery smile, a kiss, and some encouraging words, the woman holding the child passed her over.
Tearfully she looked at JD. "Thank you for taking my baby."
"She'll be fine, ma'am," JD assured. "You have my word."
The man directing the handover waved a gun. "Yeah, yeah…get going, and remember, you got at least four guns trained on you."
Adjusting his hold on the little one clinging to him, JD kissed her head. "Hang on, baby, we're getting you to some real nice people who are gonna take care of you until your mom can join you." Feeling her snuggle in tighter and her tears soak his T-shirt, JD turned and began walking to a waiting, female Fed.
Larabee growled on hearing the gunman tell Josiah the new plan. "What the fuck are they playing at? JD stripping off his vest wasn't part of the deal, either."
"I'm gonna meet him," Buck insisted, lowering the binoculars he was using to monitor his friend.
"No," Josiah replied over the comm. "They specified a female officer."
The blond shook his head. "He's a sitting duck, Buck, they both are. I can't risk pissing the gunmen off."
Buck was exasperated. "They made him remove his vest. He's probably already got a damned target pinned on his shirt."
"I'm on him, Bucklin. I see one head pop up to take a shot, it'll explode." No one doubted Vin's promise, but it didn't ease the concern.
"I fear these men are smarter than we gave them credit for," Ezra stated. "They have played their ace card and will soon have a Federal hostage to include in their bargaining."
"The rules are clear," Nathan reminded, "We don't negotiate for fellow officers."
"Precisely. Not a good position for us to be in, is it? They have hostages, which we are hoping to free, but they also have a fellow officer who, protocol demands we would never bargain for. They are certainly keeping us on our toes."
Chris spoke into the mic nestled against his cheek. "What's the news on the store's schematics?"
"They're on the way from city hall. The ones from the travel store next door were delivered by mistake," came the reply.
As if a bolt of lightning had struck them, five agents stared at each other while a Texan drawl called out over the comm. "Fuck…"
Vin finished his sentence as they all spoke together and demonstrated their unique ability to think outside the box - and often at the same time.
"The travel store."
Before they could ponder it further, they were watching JD and his charge head toward them.
Officer Melanie Flanders waited for JD to approach. Raising her arms to take the child, she smiled thinly at her fellow officer.
JD spoke. "This is Gemma, she's nearly three and she loves Hershey Kisses and Dr. Pepper."
"Hey, Gemma," Mel whispered as she cuddled the child into her.
"Mel, tell the guys I'm sorry. Those assholes left me with no choice; and tell Chris frequency 352." Watching her nod, he turned, placed his hands on his head, and returned to the store.
From his high perch, Vin knew a shot to JD's leg would take him out of the equation, but with Mel and the little girl still in the gunmen's sites, he dared not risk it. He cursed; damn, these guys were thorough. With a heavy heart he watched as JD was roughly frisked, and then hauled inside the store. His curled fist slammed down on the concrete perimeter wall that his gun was propped against. "Damn."
With Mel safe and Gemma in good hands, Team Seven were now poring over the plans for the travel shop next to the convenience store. "I can't believe we didn't see it," Chris huffed. "A clever diversion, but this has to be what they're after, and why they've been stalling us."
Buck, Ezra and Nathan nodded their agreement.
OIC Stan Hudson frowned. "Okay, what am I missing here?"
Chris directed him to the blueprints. "The travel store holds foreign currency. Why hit a small-time provisions store when they've got what amounts to shitloads of cash right next door?"
"Travel shops carry that much cash?" Hudson queried.
Before Chris could explain how they were testing their theory, Ezra came off a call to one of his numerous 'connections'.
"Not normally huge amounts overnight, but I have just been informed this store's owner received a delivery of several currencies yesterday, amounting to almost one and three quarter million dollars. The client arranged to pick the currency up before close of business the previous night, but he never showed. He called to apologize, and assure them he would collect it sometime today or tomorrow...even left his bank card number with them as a gesture of goodwill...a stolen card, of course."
Buck shook his head. "So they deposited the bulk into an in-store safe."
"Correct. Clearly the person who ordered, while wanting the money, had no intention of exchanging his own to attain the currency."
Stan whistled. "Not such a random hit then. But how do we confirm it?"
As if on cue, Melanie returned from settling the child. "JD said he was sorry, he had no choice. He also said, 'frequency 352'."
Like scalded cats, they raced off to the control truck.
After being frisked, JD was manhandled into the store before he was tossed across the room and ordered to sit on the floor in front of some shelves.
"Shit dude that hurt," JD complained while he rubbed at his ankle.
The man left to guard the hostages dismissed his remark with a predictable profanity. Seeing the man look to the window, JD eased the shirt button out of the back of his sneaker and onto the floor. He carefully pushed the button back toward the underside of the shelving, and hoped it was still operational; he hadn't been able to test it, so only time would tell. Glancing around, he viewed the faces of the hostages. They looked exhausted, and drained of hope. It was painful to see. More observation revealed that three of the four gunmen the Feds knew to be inside, kept intermittently disappearing, sometimes with only one or two returning. Noise from the basement suggested more going on than was originally considered. He had to get them talking.
JD snorted. "Tunneling out of here won't work, so I'd save your energy for when they haul your asses outta here to jail."
His words got a reaction, from the hostages as well as the gunman, the former staring at him as if he was insane. JD never wavered; his glare unswerving as the man approached and spat his reply in JD's face.
"Don't you worry none. By the time we're through with next door, this place and everyone in it will be dust. They'll be so busy picking out bits of you from the rubble, they won't even concern themselves about the other stores until later, and by then, we'll be home free."
JD laughed, and hoped it didn't sound as forced as he knew it was. "What's next door, a Dean and Deluca? This place not up-market enough for you?" He kind of expected the punch to the face for that one…maybe not quite so hard, though.
"Just sit tight and watch your mouth. Your last hour on this earth should be spent in…" the man grinned sardonically. "…contemplation."
As JD watched the gunman move away, he raised a hand to rub at his aching jaw, and tried not to gag on the blood he swallowed from the cut inside his cheek where his tooth pierced the flesh.
'I sure hope you got that, guys'.
In the van, Ezra tuned into the frequency from JD, while officers and the team waited with bated breath. A crystal clear conversation suddenly cut through the air.…"By the time we're through with next door, this place and everyone in it will be dust. They'll be so busy picking out bits of you from the rubble, they won't even concern themselves about the other stores until later, and by then we'll be home free.""What's next door, a Dean and Deluca? This place not up-market enough for you?""Just sit tight and watch your mouth. Your last hour on this earth should be spent in…contemplation."
The officers glanced at each other; no one missed the sound of a punch. "We're out of time," Buck stated.
The OIC stared at Chris. "In my opinion, this changes everything. We've got nothing to lose, we need to go in." Their attention was drawn back to the audio equipment as it crackled."How close are we to breaking through? We're running out of time.""Just going in now. Chuck said the vest is ready.""Okay, let's do this. Hey, Fed…on your feet."
A surprised JD looked up at the man ordering him to stand, but did so. His eyes widened on seeing the Kevlar he'd handed over earlier. Both front and back of it was wired with explosives.
"Put it on." Seeing JD was hesitant, the man leaned in. "If you don't, I'll get one of these other fine citizens to do it." Seconds later, JD was wearing the vest. He swallowed nervously, and watched as one man trained a gun on the terrified hostages, and then at the cuffs being offered him. The man before him pointed.
"See that lightpost there, on the sidewalk, right outside the window? Go cuff yourself to it…chain around the pole and both hands cuffed, got it?" As he spoke, he snapped one bracelet around JD's wrist.
JD nodded, his mouth too dry to speak right then.
"Remember what I said, any screw ups, we start shooting these good people here."
"I won't screw up. When's it due to blow?"
The man shrugged and grinned. "Who knows? I thought I'd keep it interesting. The great thing is, the Feds will think we're still in here, and if you try to warn them before we're away, I'll just…" he waved a remote in his face. "...push the button." Chuckling while urging JD out of the door, he picked up the landline.
"Sanchez, is it? Right, I want no interference for what you're about to see or I'll start killing hostages. Let's just say this is a little extra…insurance."
JD couldn't bear to look up as he exited the shop wearing the vest. Approaching the pole, he looped his arms around it, and secured the second bracelet on his free wrist.
"Nice and tight, kid. Don't want you wriggling outta those."
Cursing the man calling to him for his insight, JD snapped the cuff fully shut and leaned his forehead against the cool metal post. This was so not the way he had expected to go out.
His expression grim, a furious Buck lowered the binoculars that he'd been studying JD and the explosives with. He nodded to Chris's unasked question, and confirmed yet another consideration for this team to be available on scene. "I can do it, just get me over there."
Tanner had joined them, deciding he would prefer being with his team than on a high perch with several other snipers right then. Glancing around the fully kitted-out group, he nodded to Chris and spoke softly. "Say the word, Cowboy."
Once Josiah was with them, Larabee looked to Ezra, who was monitoring the bugged store, and liaising with the SWAT team about to hit the back of the grocery and travel shop. All they needed was confirmation that the gunmen, who were noticeably smug in believing their diversion was intact, had all but abandoned the grocery store and were no longer monitoring events outside. Holding one hand to an earpiece, Ezra waited, then raised a hand and counted down. On zero, the Feds in the area jumped to life, clearing vehicles and onlookers, while six teammates jogged directly toward their seventh.
Sensing a change, JD looked up to see the place buzzing into action, and his six friends heading in his direction. Panic set in on realizing the damned vest could go up any second, and the six people he cared about more than anything were walking straight into danger. He instinctively tugged at the cuffs and pulled for all his worth to free himself. With no success, he yelled back at the advancing group.
"What are you doing? Go, NOW! Don't do this…I don't know when it's gonna blow. Please…please...GO!" His throat was scraped raw from the urgency of his warning, and his wrists bled from his continuing efforts to snap the cuffs, or the pole, whichever came first. JD's alarm grew when they moved from a jog to a run.
Their actions prompted JD to raise one leg, place his foot against the pole, and tug viciously in a desperate attempt to break the steel bracelets. The fact he was doing more damage to the skin on his wrists than to the solid metal links, was of no consequence to him right then.
While heading toward JD, the team heard that both the gang, and the remote device, had been secured. Team Seven ran full tilt toward their animated youngest, despite his pleas for them to do the opposite. On reaching him, Buck instinctively wanted to soothe JD's nerves, but instead he studied the wiring intently. He shut out JD's heart wrenching pleas to back off, and with Nathan's input, stayed focused on the task in hand, a task that, not only their teammates, but all the officers at the scene knew these men were more than capable of handling. Reaching JD just ahead of the others, Vin took up the placatory role, and held a frantic JD's face firmly between his hands.
"Kid, Kid, hey! Look at me. Listen up. We got 'em. We heard what was goin' down, and when, from the device you dropped in there, and we hit the bastards just a minute or so ago. The hostages are goin' out the back way; so what I need from you is to stay calm and let Buck and Nathan concentrate...okay?"
Fighting a heady mix of emotion and pain, JD shook his head. "Vin, I'm already screwed if this thing goes off; I don't want you guys to die too…"
Vin winked. "Ain't gonna happen, Kid."
Chris moved in and unlocked the cuffs. He held JD's bloody wrists. "JD, I need you to stay stock-still, okay?"
Dunne nodded and tried to control his labored, nervous breathing. "Sure." He laughed, softly. "Y'know, in hindsight, I should've borrowed that money off Buck after all, huh?"
No one in the immediate area moved as Nathan and Buck studied the vest for some time. Finally, the pair nodded their agreement and Buck took out some cutters. The abrupt silence was eerie as all activity around them ceased, and breaths were held in nervous anticipation. Buck moved in and winked at his roommate.
"No one gets out of paying for supper that easily." After three slow snips, he smiled to hide his relief, and raised both hands.
JD's knees went from under him, but strong hands guided him down to sit on the sidewalk. Nathan followed him down and studied JD's ragged wrists, while Buck and Ezra relieved JD of the vest, and assisted in placing it in a freshly provided lead-lined container to be destroyed minutes later in a controlled explosion some distance away.
Chris squatted down next to JD. "You okay?" he asked, nodding to Buck when he re-joined them.
JD nodded. He was pretty sure they could see he was shaking. "I'm fine. Just don't ask me to move."
There was laughter, as much due to release as from amusement. No one was in a hurry to move anyway, and so the six men relaxed with JD until he was ready, which he was around ten minutes later. Approaching the array of on-site vehicles, they noted a woman with a blond child in her arms, waiting for them. She smiled at JD and kissed his cheek. "Thank you."
He returned her smile. "You're welcome ma'am, but in truth, those fellas chose me."
She patted his face. "And you could have said no."
As she walked away, her words reverberated around them. He looked at his friends, and shook his head. "Nah…I wouldn't have."
Chris nodded to the OIC Stan Hudson as the man prepared to wrap things up. He then turned to JD, smiled approvingly at his junior agent and squeezed his shoulder.
"It's what we do." He addressed the others. "Now, once a paramedic's cleaned up our hero of the day, I believe it's all to the CDC for pizza on JD?"
Dunne made a face.
"Or we could work through the night and write up our reports."
They all answered together. "Pizza!"
Walking toward an ambulance JD's voice could just be heard over the surrounding commotion. "Hey, Buck, so...can I bum that fifty dollars from you 'til payday, then?"
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