Sorry, you guys! Work has kicked my butt this summer, and I had writer's block, but not anymore ;)
Back in the command center, Penelope had been working feverishly to scour the security footage of the store where the unsub was camped out. She was desperate for a glimpse of him because just a glimpse was all she needed to run his face through Facial Recognition.
"I got a hit! This guy's name is Caleb Rankin, and he's twenty-eight years old, and… oh, no."
"Talk to us." encouraged Strauss. "What is it?"
"This man has a serious ax to grind." Penelope reported as she scanned the screen in front of her. "Apparently, what's happening now is about a domestic fight with one of the store employees, one Trissa Halifax. The way the story goes is that Rankin and Halifax were married for almost two years until recently."
"What happened?" Hotch asked as he, Rossi, Derek, Strauss, and the two senior-most mobile station commanders, Murphy and Sedgewick, all gathered around Penelope. "Don't skimp on the details."
Penelope sighed. "Rankin lost his job as a night janitor at the Library Of Congress last year after one of his coworkers framed him for stealing. This happened at the same time that Halifax suffered a traumatic miscarriage."
Derek wrinkled his nose. "That's already enough of a trigger to make anyone lose their mind, but something else happened—what was it?"
Penelope continued to scan her screen for information, and as she did so, she found herself caressing her baby bump even more than she usually did.
"Rankin was angry after he lost his job and then he turned abusive, eventually blaming his wife for losing their child. After that, she had enough and filed for a divorce and a restraining order."
"When did everything go into effect?" Spencer asked.
"According to what the information is telling me, last week Tuesday. It looks like Rankin couldn't take no for an answer, and now he's come after his ex-wife."
"And he enlisted 'help' from whoever started those brawls to draw attention away from the book store so he could go in without attracting too much attention."
Rossi turned his attention back to the screen when Penelope switched it back to the live feed of the security cameras from inside the bookstore. Something had caught his attention, and it was making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.
"Sir?" Penelope questioned when she saw him grow quiet.
"Rankin has taken off his mask and rounded up three people in particular." he pointed to a specific part of the screen. "Can you enhance this?"
Penelope did as asked and then they all saw what Rossi was looking at.
"This must be Trissa Halifax," Rossi pointed a scared-looking twenty-something black woman sitting in the middle of the store, hugging her knees to her chest. "But who are these two?"
He pointed to an equally-scared but smartly-dressed Asian couple sitting next to Trissa Halifax.
Using the Facial Recognition software again, Penelope did some further investigating.
"Their names are Yuri and Saki Fujimoto, and they're divorce lawyers at the same firm in Judiciary Square. According to this," Penelope gestured towards the information she was currently speed-reading on the screen. "They settled Rankin and Halifax's divorce. But how did Rankin even know that they were there?"
"We'll figure that out soon enough." Strauss decided. "First of all, can you locate our people, and do the Fujimotos have kids?"
Through yet more searching, Penelope was able to answer the second question first. "The Fujimotos have four kids—three sons and a daughter."
"The brothers, in order, are Osamu, Nori, and Ryo. They're in the eighth, seventh, and sixth grades at Ellington Prepatory School in Capitol Hill."
"And their sister?"
Penelope scanned the screen, searching. "Her name is Kendra, and she's a student at George Washington Elementary School, also in Capitol Hill. It also says that Kendra's birthday is the day after tomorrow."
Hotch spoke up. "Jack attends a day program at George Washington Elementary, but they have the day off because it's a staff development day. The Fujimoto boys are probably still in school since they go to a different school altogether. Penelope, can you back up the footage up so we can see which of the Fujimotos went to Barnes & Noble today?"
Penelope complied, and Spencer was the one who spotted them first, speaking quickly.
"Penelope, freeze it!"
She did, and Spencer pointed to what he was looking at.
"Here are the older Fujimotos and Kendra, but none of the brothers. Fast forward to when Rankin comes in, but focus on Kendra, and see if you can follow her."
Penelope followed through on the instructions, and they all saw the events transpire exactly as Kendra had described them to JJ earlier.
"Hey," Derek said suddenly as they watched the footage. "That's JJ talking to Kendra, and it looks like Kendra has a baby in tow… but then here comes Charlotte and Quinlan Fitzgerald with Jack."
They all watched as the Fitzgeralds pulled JJ and the kids out of the way of the stampede, and then as they hurried into the toy store, just before the grate closed.
"That's The Toy Emporium." said Strauss in recognition. "I took my sons and daughter there all the time when they were younger."
Penelope did some more finagling on her keyboard, and they were all treated to live feed from the inside of the toy store. Strauss narrated her thoughts.
"There's Agents Jareau and Prentiss, the Fitzgeralds and the other store employees, but where are the children who came in with Agent Jareau from the hallway?"
Penelope found them quickly on the security footage. "They're all back here in what looks like the children's area, and I see Kendra, but it looks like she handed the baby to JJ or Emily at some point. I also see one of the customers, a teenage girl, from the looks of her, and I see Jack, but I don't know who this other girl is that's with them."
"That's JJ's and Emily's niece." Hotch provided. "Haley told me that the whole reason JJ and Emily are at the mall to begin with is to take her shopping for Kendra's birthday party."
"What's their niece's name?" Strauss asked Hotch.
"Her name is Kaida, and Kendra was the first friend she made after the Jareaus moved here."
"Best friends?" Strauss guessed.
Hotch nodded. "Yes, and Kaida's father is JJ's older brother."
Derek worked his way in to the conversation. "Now that we know where everyone is, we should try making contact JJ and Emily."
"That's going to be easier said than done." Penelope told her fiancé.
"Why is that?"
"Hotch was right earlier when he told them that Haley guessed that there's a jammer in place. Now, I am absolutely confident that I can use my mojo to break through it and contact JJ or Emily, but it will take awhile."
Recognizing a veiled, "Please leave me alone!" threat in Penelope's tone, Hotch herded everyone to the other side of the trailer and they all powwowed around him.
Strauss turned to Hotch. "What do you suggest we do?"
"I'll take a team of officers inside to help the authorities inside who are with the customers inside that weren't able to leave."
"And detain some of the people involved in the brawls."
Strauss nodded. "See if you can get at least one of them to talk."
"Alright. Since Morgan is still recovering his injury in New York, I'll take Doctor Reid with me right now."
Rossi stepped forward. "I'll take another team to see if we can find a way to evacuate The Toy Emporium without being noticed, just in case there's a misstep in Penelope's plan or she can't make contact for whatever reason."
"Good idea." Hotch praised. "Make sure you get blueprints before you go."
Strauss chimed in, "I'll stay behind with Agent Morgan to hold the fort down."
A few minutes later, after a proper plan had been hatched and all the right blueprints had been handed out, they heard a loud series of beeps from one of Penelope's computers, followed the sounds of her fretting like an anxious mother hen as she turned around to face the others.
"You guys, we now have even more reason to go in the toy store with extreme caution—I had my computer scan all of the hostage's medical records, just in case, and someone popped."
"Who?" Rossi asked.
"Kendra Fujimoto—she's an asthmatic and has a history of panic attacks, even though she's a kid."
Rossi sighed, but only because he hated to see kids in distress.
"Thanks for the notice." Rossi turned to his team. "Let's go, and get ready to climb—we're going to the roof."
Luckily, Kendra Fujimoto was perfectly fine for the time being.
The one who wasn't was Cho.
Back at her house, she was still on the couch, but hunched over in pain from a contraction—her twin boys were going to be born today, no question, but it had already been the better part of a decade since the last time she'd been pregnant and since she was outside of the average childbearing age, she was already beginning to feel the agony of labor. She was also beginning to panic.
Cho's parents, along with Sandy Jareau and Elizabeth Prentiss, were all standing off to the side, having been rebuffed by her when they all tried to help. The only person whom she hadn't rejected was Haley, and that was because Haley, despite her own pregnancy, had slipped into nurse mode, and was kneeling in front of Cho, coaching her through her pain.
After the contraction passed and Haley helped her friend sit back up, she said in a neutral tone, "We have to get you to the hospital, Cho, and whoever you want to come can come. But since you've got two little babies in there, it's very important that we leave now."
"But I can't leave!" Cho sobbed, thinking of a TV report they'd seen a little while ago. "Not when Kaida is a hostage and Archer and I can't protect her!"
Haley continued to be calm. "Kaida isn't alone, remember? JJ and Emily are with her."
Cho blew out a breath when she felt a few errant kicks. "I remember."
"Good girl. When I called Aaron, he told me that he trusts JJ and Emily with his life, and that they've saved it numerous times. You'd trust people with track records like theirs to protect your child, right?"
"Absolutely, but didn't you say that Dave told us we can't go?"
"He said not until your water broke."
Before Cho could say anything to that, the front door opened and two people entered the house.
"Cho? I just got your message and was able to leave, but you'll never believe who I found in the driveway just n—oh, boy."
It was Archer Jareau, accompanied by Maximo Prentiss, who had also just managed to leave his place of work so he could be with his family. Elizabeth immediately hurried forward to greet Maximo and update him, while Archer moved towards the couch, switching places with Haley.
"What is it?" Archer looked at his wife like she was the only other person in world. "Are you having contractions now?"
"Yes," Cho whimpered. "But I'm too scared to go to the hospital because of the situation that Kaida is in."
Archer kissed Cho's brow. "Jenny and Emily are with her, and they will do everything they can to protect her. What matters right now is you and I protecting our baby boys and also doing what's best for them so they can come into the world safely."
Cho was going to say something in agreement, but she froze, her eyes widening suddenly and she looked over at Haley, who understood immediately.
"Oh, I recognize that look." Haley said sympathetically. "Your water just broke, didn't it?"
Cho nodded and gave Haley a feeble smile. "I guess it's time to go, huh?"
"You bet. Come on."
The next few minutes were filled with everyone helping Cho get ready to go to the hospital.
In the end, Haley ended up accompanying the Jareaus and Cho's parents went, too. So did Sandy. Before they left, Archer offered their house and food to the Prentisses, in case they didn't want to leave, just yet. Maximo and Elizabeth were very grateful.
After everyone left, the Prentisses were very quiet, just thinking and reflecting on their lives.
They'd both been through a lot during their world travels, and they'd even been in war-torn countries, but even after all of these years of living stateside, they were both coming to realize the same thing: the last time they'd experienced a day this long was the day that Emily had been born, and this day wasn't over yet. It was just getting started.