A/N: Five years ago, on June 17, 2003, I started writing this story. Five years is one heck of a long time. I'd like to think that I've grown as a writer, and it's time to put this baby to bed and move forward. This story is officially complete.
"Our new playthings should be here soon," Patrick heard his captor say as he flipped on the light and descended the stairs. "Sorry I had to leave you alone so long, but it took more time than I had anticipated to make the arrangements. Luckily there are plenty of people left who consider kidnapping and murder to be all in a day's work. Don't look so worried, Patrick, your son hasn't been harmed. I told you that I was going to take care of that myself, and I meant it. I just have to wait until he returns here to Atlanta. Anyway, our playthings should be here in less than a day. It'll be nice for you to have some company, won't it?"
"Wake up sleepyhead," John whispered, gently shaking Sam's shoulder. "Come on, rise and shine."
"What time is it?" she mumbled, turning onto her back to look up at him.
"Time for you to wake up. You told me I get to take care of you today, remember?"
"Seriously, what time is it? I'm sure Bailey wants us to go over the scene again."
"And I'm sure Bailey wants us all as well rested as we can be. Come on, turn over so I can rub your back."
"You promised me yesterday, and you specifically said breakfast in bed and back rubs morning, noon and night. Now flip over so I can get started."
With a resigned sigh Sam turned over and John pulled the sheets down to her waist. "You don't have to do this, you know."
"Yes, Sam, I do. I love you, and I want to do this. You just relax."
His hands gently kneaded her neck and shoulders, pausing every few seconds to plant kisses on her bare skin. Moving further down her back, he made small circles with his fingertips, feeling the muscles beneath relax. "Where's my breakfast in bed?" she asked when he finished and covered her back up.
"Ah, well...you see, Bailey's insisting that we all go out for breakfast to discuss things."
"So, anything new to report?" Grace asked. They were all sitting at a corner booth in the local diner, waiting for the food to arrive.
"No trace evidence in either the ambulance or the helicopter. Both have been taken to an evidence garage in North Platte," George relayed. "Road was gravel so there's no way to see tire treads, but there was an impression left. Six inches wide, could be from a tire. Based on the depth of the impression we should be able to calculate the weight of what made it."
"Only one? What are we looking for, a giant unicycle?" John asked.
"Unfortunately when all of the units responded to Bailey's call for backup, most of the gravel got thrown all over the place. We're lucky that the one impression survived, and even it could be from one of the responding units. Also, we got a possible sighting of Jack. Security guard at the freight warehouse recognized the photo Jack put in Agent Bremmer's file. He claims to have seen Jack walking the tracks about three hours after we found Jake, and warned him that the train was due in and he should get off the tracks."
"And?" Bailey prodded.
"Guys just waved to the security guard and kept walking."
"And the security guard didn't do anything?"
"It's not a crime to walk on the train tracks. So what's the plan?" Sam asked as their waitress brought over plates of food.
"We go back to the safehouse to packup. Everything has been brought outside by the team that searched the place," Bailey answered.
"There's nothing more we can do here, John. We're returning to Atlanta. Maybe being in familiar surroundings with our own equipment and people, we can make some progress."
The mood was somber when they got back to the safehouse. It was posted with warning notices and no trespassing signs while cardboard boxes waited for someone to verify who owned the contents inside. On top of one box was Nicole's stuffed dog, Johnny, and John snatched it up, holding it as he tried to fight back the tears that were stinging his eyes.
"We'll get them back," Sam said softly, rubbing her hand across his back. "I think she'd like it if you kept them until then."
All of the boxes were loaded into a trailer that would transport them to the airport while cars waited to drive them all. "This isn't right," Grace said softly as she waited for James and Rebecca to get into a car.
"We've never left one of our own behind," George added. "We can't do this Bailey."
"We can and we are. I don't like it either, but I think it will be better if we're back in familiar surroundings. We aren't deserting them; the local office and the regional teams will continue to search while we look for any clue as to where they are and who did this."
"How did you get airline tickets on such short notice?" Angel was helping Chloe get in a car and fasten her seatbelt as she asked.
"Private plane. Friends in high places and all that," Bailey told her with a forced smile.
"It's okay, sweetie, we're going to find Nicole and Jake," Sam said when Chloe started crying. She and John both sat in the back seat with her, and Angel took the front passenger seat.
When everyone was loaded up into the waiting vehicles, they drove to the airfield where a plane was waiting as promised. "Thank you for letting us use your plane," Bailey told the older man who was waiting beside the doors to the storage hold.
"That's what friends are for," he replied. "Besides, you saved my ass a few times back in 'Nam, loaning you my plane is the least I can do, and I'm flying some things back to Atlanta anyway."
"The CIA must be treating you well if you have this at your disposal."
"Aren't you going to introduce us?" John had spotted Bailey talking to the man and decided that he wanted to know who their benefactor was.
"John Grant, this is Simon Castille. We served in the Marines together. Simon, John Grant."
"Pleasure to meet you," Mr. Castille said, offering John his hand.
"Likewise. So, what does a guy have to do to get a plane like this?"
"Win the lottery. I'm sure you want to discuss the case on the way back, so I'll stay in the cockpit to give you privacy. If you need anything, just come up and ask."
"Nice guy," John commented as Mr. Castille boarded the plane.
"Yes, he is. Come on, everyone else is settled in so let's join them and get home."
"It isn't right, being here without them," John grumbled, watching as two men came over to unload the cargo.
"I don't like it either, but we will find them," Bailey replied, patting the younger man on the back. "Now let's find our stuff and the cars to take us back to the office should be here soon."
"Back to the office?" Grace sounded like she couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Bailey, don't you think we should all go home first, get some rest?"
"Security teams are going over each of your homes and apartments to be sure that everything is secure and that there are no bugs. As soon as I get the all clear, I'll have cars drive you all home."
"You're going to stay at the firehouse with us, right?" Sam asked John as he spotted a box of Chloe's toys.
"That's up to you."
"I want you to stay with us."
"I was hoping you'd say that."
"Poor Bailey," Sam said softly while her mentor walked away, talking on the phone to make further arrangements.
"He really shouldn't be alone. Why don't we invite him to stay with us?"
"I doubt he'll accept."
"You never know. He's good at hiding how much he's hurting, but he may just welcome the company. You know he's not as good at the whole solitary existence as he pretends to be."
"What are you two conspiring about?" Angel asked, coming over with Chloe and Grace.
"John and I are going to ask Bailey to stay at the firehouse," Sam told her.
"Well if he won't stay with you I'm going to invite him to come to my house," Grace said. "The last thing he needs is to be alone."
As soon as Bailey hung up, James and Rebecca went to talk with him. "How are you holding up?" James asked, steering his friend away from the team since they were watching him.
"I'm all right."
"We're all worried, you know. You don't have to put on the tough-guy act and pretend that you're fine. I doubt either of them would want that."
"I have to be strong for them." Bailey nodded towards where Sam, John, George, and Grace had gathered with Angel and Chloe.
"It's okay to let someone else be strong for you, Bail. We're here for you." James patted his friend's arm, and then they headed back where the rest of the group was. The men who had unloaded their things were now trying to unload a large steel cargo container, and they were having some difficulties.
"Carefully, gentlemen, there's very precious cargo inside there," Mr. Castille told the men before addressing the team. "If there's anything I can do, you know how to reach me."
"Thanks again for the ride home," Bailey said.
"Glad I could help. Take care."
"Is that our cars?" Chloe asked, pointing to a group of black sedans making their way across the tarmac.
"Yes, pumpkin, I believe that is our cars. Let's get out of here," Sam said, suddenly anxious to get back to the familiar surroundings of her office.
The command center looked as though the people making up the Violent Crimes Task Force had never left. Random notes were still strewn on the table, a testament to the belief that the note writers would be right back. John recognized a few of those notes as his own and he crumpled them up into little balls to be discarded. Slumped down in the chair he normally occupied, John looked at the rest of the chairs, all neatly arranged around the table while they sat empty. The command center's displays were dark, the hum of running equipment replaced by a heavy silence. It looked pretty much the way it had the last time John had seen it.
Just like it had looked the night Sam had found him working late and convinced him to let her drive him home. Before he entered his own private hell. The room looked the same, but the lone occupant of the room sure as hell wasn't.
Anger began to build inside him and he almost laughed at the absurdity of being angry at a room. The room didn't care what happened, and it certainly didn't care if John Grant was angry at it. Why should it care when it didn't bear any scars of what had happened?
Bailey had been watching John from a distance, worried about his state of mind ever since he left Sam's office to sit in the empty command center. It seemed reasonable, though, that John might want some time along to deal with what had happened and to let Sam have some time with Chloe. It wasn't until John stood and picked up his chair that Bailey thought watching from a distance may have been a mistake.
The sound of his mentor's voice made him freeze. It had never occurred to him that anyone else was watching him. "Oh, hey Bailey," he managed to get out as Bailey raced to him. "These chairs could stand some cleaning. Mine is so full of dust the wheels won't even roll."
"And you thought throwing it onto the table would help?"
"It would help me," was the barely audible answer.
"The government will have your ass if you damage their property."
John put the chair down, then sat in it. "It shouldn't be the same."
"This," John said, gesturing around the room. "After everything that happened, this place is the same even if none of us are."
"None of this is your fault, John."
"Of course it isn't. Some nut case just hurt people I care about to get to me."
"Kind of like what Jack does with Sam. You don't blame her for the people that he's killed, do you?"
"No, that's ridiculous."
"Then why do you feel guilty about what's happened?"
"Because it's all connected to me, Bailey. People are getting hurt and killed just because they're in some way connected to me."
"If it wasn't about you, it would be about someone else, and there would still be victims."
"Yeah, but at least they wouldn't be people I care about."
"We'll find this guy, John, and we'll get Nicole and Jake back."
"But will we get them back in time?" When Bailey didn't answer John stood up. "I'm going back to Sam's office."
"The firehouse should be clear soon so Sam and Chloe can go home along with Angel. I assume you'll be staying at the firehouse too?"
"Yes." John started to walk away, then stopped and turned to address his mentor. "You know, you ought to stay at the firehouse with us."
"There's plenty of room."
"Chloe loves her Uncle Bailey."
"Come on Bailey, you know that Sam's going to be worried about you with everything that's going on, and if you're at the firehouse then maybe we can get some rest and not have to worry so much."
"I'll tell Sam she needs to teach you the art of being subtle."
"And I'll tell Sam you'll come by the firehouse?"
"Maybe tomorrow. I've got a lot to do."
"Ok." John patted the other man on the back, then headed for Sam's office. Just before turning a corner he turned and looked back at Bailey, still standing by the empty table. "Remember, Bailey, we're going to get them back."
"Damn straight we are. No matter how long it takes, we are going to find them and get them back. Now go, before Sam starts to worry."
John nodded before continuing on his way, leaving Bailey alone in the command center, staring at the blank screens for a while longer until his phone rang. "Malone," he answered, then after a brief pause said, "thanks" and went to let Sam know that the firehouse had been cleared and they could go home.
"See you tomorrow, then?" Sam asked before heading out with Chloe, Angel and John.
"After everything that's happened, I think we're all entitled to a few days off, Sam."
"Not while Nicole and Jake are still out there, Bailey. I'll be here in the morning."
"Me too," John said as he walked past. "Bright and early."
Grace left to meet her husband and get a bite to eat while waiting for word that their home was clear, which left just George. James and Rebecca had left almost immediately after they got to the command center, their residences having been cleared first. "George, what are you doing?" he asked when he found their computer expert set up at John's desk, typing away at his laptop.
"Just checking a few things." George quickly closed the laptop and stood up. "Is my apartment cleared so I can go home?"
"That anxious to get away, huh?"
"I just want to get some sleep so I can get here early in the morning to help."
"I guess everyone's going to be here early. And yes, you can go back to your apartment."
"Great." George picked up the laptop after disconnecting the network cable. "You're not going to stay here by yourself, are you?"
"No, I'm just waiting for the final report from the security team that everything has been checked out, and then I'll head home."
"All right. Well don't stay too late, you need to get some sleep too."
"You're like Sam, you worry too much." He watched as George headed out before retreating to his office and sitting in his chair. Now that they were all back home it seemed so unreal that he could almost pretend none of it had happened.
After twenty minutes Bailey yawned and stood up to leave. Turning off the light, he shut and locked his door before heading towards the exit. His car was still sitting in the parking garage, and although it was a bit hesitant the engine finally turned over. Once the car was started he still sat there for a few minutes, just staring blankly out the windshield. Not knowing what had happened to Jake and Nicole was eating away at him, just like he was sure it was eating away at all of them. How could they have found Jake and rescued him only to have both him and Nicole vanish? Bailey had briefly talked to Jake's sister and told her what had happened, but even James and Rebecca didn't know of any next of kin to notify about Nicole's disappearance. Someone else had notified the families of those killed at the scene, and he was grateful that it wasn't him. Telling Jake's sister had been hard enough.
Leaving the garage, he pulled into traffic and headed for his home. John had been right about none of them being the same people, and Bailey could only hope that in the end they were better people.
Coming next: "Past and Present"
What? You thought that I was going to wrap things up all nice and neat? Don't worry, "Past and Present" will show the team trying to cope with their everyday work load, Jack occassionally adding some 'excitement' to their lives, and crypic clues that John belives are Nicole trying to contact them.