WARNING: SAD STORY, VERY HEAVY
I purposely updated two stories at once so everyone has something to take the edge off this one. It came to me, and I had to write it, so please enjoy it. Alright, enjoy might not be the appropriate term, but you get the idea.
You've been warned.
"Bravo Team to Delta team, take them through Duff, we'll meet you on the other side." Frank grinned into his piece, motioning his team to following through the side entrance.
"Delta team, copy that. Out." Duff motioned his men, all six of them sweating through their black gear in the LA summer heat. Weapon drawn, he led them through the back, and pushed through to see the Clyde half of their duo.
He was similarly dressed to them, in all black: black shirt, black pants, black shoes, and black ski mask. He had a very large assualt weapon pointed loosely in front of him, and Duff knew for a fact that underneath his ski mask was a voice modulator. Temple and Binder had spent the past six hours talking to an erie, computer-alterted voice. The duo was smart, he'd give them that, so smart, Temple and Binder shook their heads at Cheryl. They'd be sitting outside that damn bank another six hours, and they knew still their Bonnie and Clyde team wouldn't give in.
No, it wasn't the same team Matt and Emily chased down a year ago, these two operated differently. They both did the talking, the threatening, the thinking, it was all equal between them. Too bad it was their weekend off call, Emily would have found the couple inside fascinating. You didn't get equal partners often, especially with a man and a woman, and Duff could almost hear her disecting them in his head. It made him smile.
"Sighting on Clyde," he whispered into his radio.
"I've got Bonnie. Count to ten, and we go. Get ready, start." Frank silently counted in his head, and knew Duff would keep his rythm almost the same, they'd done this so many times before.
But Duff must have counted faster, he heard Duff's team move seconds before his did. Nevertheless those seconds changed things. Shots rang out as Duff shot into Clyde's chest, and Bonnie turned startled, to see her partner, moving steps closer to him just as Frank too his shot. Her gone had gone up toward Duff's team, whether reflex or purposeful, it didn't matter. He got her in the side, two inches from her heart, but probably in her lung.
"Bonnie and Clyde are down. Repeat, both HTs neutralized, send in the medics." Frank spoke into his peice, kicking away Bonnie's gun, and kneeling beside her. Duff took care of the hostages, his team ushering them out, after taking away Clyde's gun. Frank grasped the black ski mask, slowly pulled it up, falling back on his ass at the site of the HT.
His mouth began to move, as if trying to form an exclamation or utter a curse, but it just wouldn't do it. He stared in horror at the HT he'd taken down, and literally stopped breathing for a few seconds. She was still alive, her eyes watching him, mouth moving slightly, but she'd be dead soon. He covered her face quickly
"Everybody out! Now, everyone out! Duff, get Cheryl now! No one else comes in here!" He barked orders, his pulse beating through every vein in his body, pounding in his ears.
Duff opened his mouth to ask what was wrong, but caught the look in his commander's eyes, and turned and waved the rest of HRT out. Once they were gone, Frank pulled the mask back off the female HT, and then off the male, who was already dead. Both lay on the floor on their backs, bleeding onto the pinkesh-beige marble. He took Bonnie's hand, and squeezed it, more conflicted than he'd ever thought he could be when looking at an HT.
"Frank, what the hell is going on?" Cheryl called, marching in with Duff at her heals.
"I don't know, Cheryl. I don't have a single fucking clue." He moved out of the way to expose the female HT.
Cheryl's eyes widened, and she gasped. She ran toward the male HT, sliding on her knees beside him.
"He's dead. It's too late." His voice held no emotion. If he let even a little seep into it, he might lose it.
Duff staggered on his feet, sinking to the ground against a wall, staring at the two HTs. He hadn't seen them before, and now that he did, the fact that he'd killed one of his best friends was slamming into him like 18 wheeler.
"This makes no sense...can she talk?" Cheryl got unsteadily to her feet, and walked over, kneeling down beside the female HT.
"Emily? Emily can you talk?" Emily Lehman, aka Bonnie, the bank robber, quivered on the ground, and struggled to breathe. Shaking with the effort, she forced her head toward Matt, aka the now deceased Clyde, bank robber number two. A tear trickled from her eye, and she cried out, whether from the gunshot, or seeing her lover lying dead, it didn't matter.
It was probably both.
Frank let go of her hand, and told them he was going for the paramedics, who must have stayed out after his command. He couldn't kneel there and watch her die anymore. Not when tears had begun leaking from her eyes. Not when he was the one who'd killed her.
"Emily, just breathe okay? The paramedics are on their way in," Cheryl coached, struggling to make sense of...of this.
Emily struggled for a breath, and then rolled to her side, away from Cheryl, facing toward Matt. She forced her dying body to work just one last time, to move her the few inches to Matt. She rested her head against his chest, pressing her body along his, knowing full well she was dying. She gagged on her last few breaths, as her violently shuddering body finally went still. Her eyes still stared out at the bank, salty, wet tears still clinging to her lashes.
Frank came back in, paramedics behind him toting their gear, prepared to try and save a life. Temple and Binder came in behind them, looking around at the ashen, confused faces, unable to fathom what was going on. They moved closer to the bodies, around the paramedics, who found no pulses and left them alone. They got their first glimpse of the HTs, their faces froze, eyes wide almost as if screaming. It didn't make any sense to them, and they couldn't seem to make their minds grasp it.
Duff got sick in the corner. He'd have to call Lia and tell her what happened. She would cry. The paramedics excused themselves to get gurneys and body bags. Cheryl called LA CSU so they could document the scene, and sign it off as a clean shooting. If she kept being a cop, doing cop things, she wouldn't have to think about it, or look at them. Frank moved off to the side, and watched everything with unseeing eyes, body still as a statue.
"Cheryl what the fuck is going on?" AD Ramirez demanded, hands flailing around as he stood in her office, desperate for answers she didn't have.
"I don't know, Jake. I feel like we've been thrown into the Twilight Zone." The file sat on her desk, closed, hiding the photos of their dead bodies. It was Sunday, the day after, but none of them had gone home to sleep. They couldn't sleep with so many questions unanswered, they couldn't sleep knowing they'd killed their friends.
Yes, Cheryl held herself responsible for their deaths, not her negotiators, not Frank and Duff. She gave the orders, she told them negotiation wasn't working, the HT's were too smart, she told HRT to move in and shoot them.
Of course the HTs were too smart. It was Matt and Emily, two of the best negotiators in the country.
"Did they show any signs of snapping? Had they been acting weird? I mean christ Cheryl, you must have noticed something." His eyes were pleading with her, begging her like a child, to help him understand.
Jake had known the negotiators, he was in charge of all the agents in LA, he had to know them. The two frequently made him happy, so he was able to make Washington happy. Granted he hadn't spoken to them personally all that much, but still, he'd talked to them enough that this was unthinkable. They were stable, hell, he was pretty sure they added to each other's stability. He just couldn't wrap his head around it.
"No. They left here Friday night smiling, and eager to go home, like any other Friday. I think they were even holding hands." They usually spent the week being good, and keeping their hands off each other, but when Friday night finally came, they indulged in just the teeniest bit of PDA.
Jake nodded, and paced back and forth a few times. He stopped abruptly in front of her, and looked at her.
"Fuck Cheryl, Washington is going to throw a shitfit, and maybe can us for not seeing this coming, and stopping it before it happened." He was right, but Cheryl kept her face neutral, almost as if feeling nothing.
In regards to losing her job, she wasn't really feeling much. Right then, it didn't matter. Two of her friends, one her former partner of five years, were lying dead in the morgue, shot down as hostage takers. Until that began making sense to her, nothing else was going to make it past the admission gates of her brain.
"The Press got the story, they're painting them as criminals." Lia swept in the room, and turned on the small TV that usually sat forgotten in SAC's office. Her eyes were still red, and slightly puffy from crying, and that spark inside them, that spoke to how very much she loved life--that was missing. Blown out. It would come back, eventually, but for now, her whiskey-brown eyes just looked a little dead.
"They died as criminals, Lia." Cheryl's voice held about as much emotion as Lia's eyes.
"They won't be getting an official Bureau funeral." Jake pointed out, for lack of anything else to say.
Lia scowled at them both, she couldn't believe it of her friends. Knowing that they wouldn't have done what they did without good reason, that was the only comfort she had, and she was going to cling to it.
"That doesn't erase all the good they did."
"No, it doesn't, but it goes a long way to rubbing all that out." Cheryl's voice came out quiet, almost soft. One day shouldn't wipe out two careers filled with commendations, but it probably would.
They watch silently for several minutes, as the channel six anchor described two highly trained and talented FBI agents. She mentioned many of the biggest cases they were involved in, and commended Emily's bravery when exchanging herself for hostages when talking down the Senator's son.
She described all their good work, their heroic efforts to talk down people with minimal loss of life, with that ominous, foreboding voice narrators use in news magazine shows. Interspliced with shots of the fair-haired anchor standing in front of the federal building talking, was footage of Matt and Emily, working or at press conferences. They looked so damn young. They looked alive.
Then she lodged into the bank robbery yesterday, how the police arrived before they got the money. How they took fourteen people hostage, including a mother and her two young children. How they became what they'd spent years fighting against. She talked about how the Bureau didn't know it was two of their own-gone rouge inside, when they gave the order to take out the HTs. She made sure to say that the Bureau wasn't commenting.
"Turn it off." Cheryl instructed, hostility in her voice, as the anchor wondered, 'what makes two good agents go bad?'
A handful of Washington Bureaucrats flew in to LA, and spent the afternoon hammering Cheryl, and half the CNU. How could they not see this coming? Agents Flannery and Lehman must have given some indication they were in crisis? When was their last psych evaluation?
Cheryl sat through hours of endless interrogation focused on where her management skills failed. She spent whole time repeating the same few lines, growing number and number to everything.
Finally, they relented, convinced she had no more information to give them. They'd fly back to Washington in the morning, but first they gave instructions on how the FBI was to procede from here.
No one talks to the press. Washington would issue an official statement tomorrow, denouncing and distancing themselves from the couple. They strongly encouraged everyone not to go to their funerals, and to avoid anything to do with the couple. Obviously, they wouldn't be getting honorary Bureau funerals.
Then they left, and where normally, Cheryl would have given them her own schpeal, today she simply dismissed them and retreated back to her office. What could she say? What could she tell them? Matt and Emily were theirs, the best they had to offer, but after what they'd done...she felt betrayed.
The next day was Monday, a day that was usually unpleasant enough by itself. This Monday was made worse, because four people were supposed to act normal, like it was any other day. They were supposed to bustle around taking care of paperwork and assorted housekeeping, secretly hoping for a crisis just to end the boredom. That was every Monday at the CNU, but this Monday was different.
Between the CNU and HRT's headquaters, there was barely a peep from anyone. It was the miserable, eerie silence of people who felt like the world just turned itself inside out and nothing made sense anymore. Rather than move and talk, and therefor risk something bizzare and unexplainable happening (again), they remained as still and quiet. All the while, inside their heads they were like children, begging silent for someone to explain what happened. Hoping someone would fix the world for them.
Down in the depths of the basement, in HRTs fortress, Duff sat on a bench outside the shooting range. His service weapon sat beside him, your standard black handgun, nine rounds, currently on safety. Duff had barely touched a gun since Saturday, and hadn't actually shot one since he shot Matt. Picking up the gun, holding it was hard enough, but squeezing the trigger? No, he'd completely lost his nerve.
His hand shook when a gun was in it. Such a familiar feeling to him, a feeling that was once so comfortable it almost comforting. Now that feeling: the cold metal, the textured rubber grips, the pressure he could feel when his finger was on the trigger. Now that all sent his mind reeling with images from that day, and worse, images of his nightmares of that day. In his nightmares, Matt wasn't wearing a mask. He was just standing there, cocky smile challenging Duff to shoot him. And he did. In his nightmares he watched Emily drag herself over to him again and again, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Lia hadn't left him, something for which he was eternally grateful to her for. If she had, if she'd been unable to forgive him, he might have drowned in grief. As it was she didn't even blame him. He didn't know, no one did, and they had hostages; it wasn't his fault. He tried to believe her, but he'd still killed his best friend. Now he couldn't pick up a gun without shaking.
Duff was only twenty-nine, at the begining of his career. But if he couldn't fire a gun, his career was as good as over. Even knowing that, he still just stared at it.
As much as Duff couldn't pick his gun up, Frank just couldn't put his down. Over and over again, he relentlessly pounded targets with practice ammunition. He used his service weapon, the same make handgun as Duff, loading and reloading, not tiring. What he was actually shooting at was anybody's guess, and truth be told, Frank didn't even know. He just had to keep pounding that target, because anger, anger was good.
Anger allowed him to avoid guilt, to avoid pain. Anger kept him shooting at a masked gunman dressed in black from head to foot. It kept him from seeing her eyes as she died, the hazel eyes that held so much sorrow. It kept him from hearing her heave and gag and choke on blood, unable to breathe. That anger was the only reason he'd stopped seeing her curled up next to Matt, needing him even as death pulled her under.
This anger burning in the pit of his stomach allowed him to blame Matt and Emily for their own deaths. They knew how they operated, they were part of them team. They knew if they didn't give in, or at least give some indication they were caving slightly, that he and Duff would come in shooting. Did it even occur to them that some of their closest friends would be their executioners? Did they wonder for a minute, before they took that bank, before they refused to give a little, did they worry at all how that would make their friends suffer?He figured they probably hadn't. Afterall, if they'd been thinking rationally, Matt and Emily wouldn't have decided to rob a bank, and take hostages, would they?
So Frank pounded paper targets with bullets, and he would continue doing so until he couldn't keep up the anger any longer. It would eventually give way to the grief and pain he was so desperately trying to avoid.
Lia had declared a media and gossip blackout in the anaylsis room. She didn't want to see the lame, hurtful speculation of the news reports, and she wasn't about to listen to any analysts questioning the couples motives and loyalties. She just couldn't bare to listen to it. She didn't even really want to come into work today, because she knew she'd spend the whole day trying to pretend the weekend hadn't happened.
When she walked through the door this morning, she almost thought it could have been a dream. Like the weekend was just some awful twisted trip down a blackhole, and Matt and Emily would be in their cubicle, wondering why everyone was acting so weird. But they weren't. Their cubicle was empty, and in fact, looked ransacked. The Office of Professional Responsibility, the FBI's answer to Internal Affairs, had been through the negotiators' desks, and it looked like they used a bulldozer.
So Lia sat quietly at her desk, her fingers clicking along her keyboard the only sound she made. Even that came and went, as she zoned in and out of her work, unable to concentrate as her mind wandered. Her coworkers glanced over at her, worried everytime her practiced fingers went silent. None ever said anything, they were afraid what would happen if they did--word was, Lia was a little fragile.
But she wasn't fragile. She wasn't plagued by guilt, anger, and even grief had taken a back seat. No, Lia was confused. The kind of confusion that settles over you like a haze, and makes you question everything.
Cheryl sat at her desk, her head resting in her hands, pounding away as it had been since Saturday. She'd been on the phone for two and a half days practically. Calls from her bosses in LA, calls from her bosses' bosses in Washington, calls from concerned coworkers, calls from friends in the CIA, the DOD, the DOJ, and every other acronym in states. Actually, there was also one from a friend in Interpol, curious what was going on with the Staties. She'd barely had time to try and deal with what happened with her own people, let alone on her own.
Frank and Duff were pretty messed up by what happened, but then they'd killed their friends, who wouldn't be? Lia was floating for the day it seemed, but that was better than the waterworks of the past two days. At least it looked better. And Cheryl herself, she was trying to make sense of everything, but failing miserably.
She'd known Matt for eight years, been his partner for five; she thought she knew him well, really well. Apparently, she didn't know him that well. But then, she couldn't except that. She couldn't just expect that she didn't really know him at all. Through five years of partnership, they shared fears, dreams, secrets. He'd been there after things fell apart with Sam. He hadn't judged her when she cried. When things blew up with his brother, she'd been there for him. She'd held his hand as he went through the his tortured history his with Sean.
She knew Matt, and this wasn't him.
As for Emily? She'd didn't know her as well, didn't have the same history with her, but still, she knew her pretty well. They were all friends, the six of them, laughing, drinks, talking, carrying on in Sloan's. After she'd started dating Matt, Emily opened herself to the rest of them a little more. It had taken time, but the negotiator let them all get to know her on a more than superficial level.
This wasn't Emily.
Cheryl wasn't angry at the couple, she felt too confused and guilty to squeezed betrayed in there for very long. She was the boss, their supervisor, part of her job was to protect her people, even from themselves. She should have seen if something was wrong with them, she should have sensed it if they were slipping into crisis. She should have known, and she should have stopped it. And, she should have protected Frank and Duff, protected them from having to shoot and kill two of their closest friends. But, Cheryl had failed all around.
She sighed, rubbing her hands over her face, pushing her hair away from her eyes. She lifted her coffee cup--empty again. How many times had she filled it today? Too damn many probably, she couldn't remember, it was nothing less than inconsequential. She tossed a pile of mail on her desk, and started going through it not really looking at it. Then one letter caught her eye. There was no return address, only Cheryl's office and a stamp. It was the hand-writing that caught her eye.
Emily's small, not-so-neat print characters.
Matt's handwriting was actually worse. Up until the Bureau instituted their paperless file system six months ago, reading her best teams' reports was like dissecting the ancient scratch marks of some primitive people.
She pursed her lips, staring at the envelop, nervous fingers dancing over it. She grabbed the letter opener from her desk, held in tight in her hand for several minutes, preparing herself. What could Emily have sent her? She slid it in the side, and dragged the blade smoothly across the top. A single sheet of of lined notebook paper was folded neatly in the envelope. She pulled it gently out, and opened it slowly, still nervous about what she would find inside. Her handwriting was even more illegable inside, which meant she was writing fast.
If I haven't come in here and ripped this from your hands, that means Matt and I didn't make it out of this mess. It also means this might come too late.
The first thing you need to know is that there's a grammar school downtown with a bomb wired underneath the foundation. They crawled through the sewers to plant it, we saw it, and there's enough there to kill everyone in that school and the nearby buildings. The name and address of the school, as well as the location of the bomber's safe house in written below. God, I hope it's not too late.
After that, it gets a little more complicated. We were almost home Friday night, walking through the parking lot when a van swerved in our way. Four men jumped out, ski masks, assualt weapons in their hands, and forced us in. They took us to the school, showed us the bomb, and a flyer for a little festival they were throwing Saturday. They picked the day so there'd be people there, hundreds of little kids running around. They took us back to their safe house, and kept us there all night.
We're at my apartment now, getting ready to rob the bank. Two of the guys are in the living room, they took the phone out of my bedroom so we can't warn anyone. This is the best I can do. We don't know what to do, Cheryl. Matt's pacing like he's trapped in a cage, and I'm trying to think my way out of this, but I just can't seem to. We're going to do what they want, we can't risk those kids. They figured hostages are inevitable, and who better to negotiate their way out with cash than two professional negotiators?
Cheryl, if we're dead, that means whoever pulled the trigger is part of HRT. Tell them they did the right thing, no matter what it feels like now. They need to know that...and so do you. Don't second guess your judgement, you did the right thing. The hostages came out alive and unharmed.
There's one other thing I need to tell you before we go out there. I want to thank you for partnering us, without that, we wouldn't have found each other. In the short time we were together, I think we were both happier than any other time in our lives. Thank you for that.
And, Cheryl? We never forgot we had a good thing.
Cheryl called Frank, Duff, and Lia into her office, and gave them the letter to read. Then she refolded the letter, and slid it carefully back in the envelope. She sent HRT, without Frank and Duff, who were in no shape for an assualt, to the safe house, and called the her bosses and the LAPD Bomb Squad. She sent the latter to the elementary school, and faxed a copy of the letter to the former. They were dubious, and would wait to see what happened before they made any effort to clear the agent's names.
It was all over in two hours. Five men were in custody, charge with: terror, conspiracy to commit terror acts, multiple counts of attempted first degree murder and endangering the welfare of a child, and two counts of second degree murder in the deaths of two federal agents. The device was removed from the school, which hadn't nated; they decided to try and find new negotiators to blackmail. They would be lucky if they weren't given the death penalty.
Cheryl was allowed to hold a press conference explaining the plot and arrests. She was able to formally clear Matt and Emily, and it felt like that lifted a huge weight from her chest. They would be buried as heroes, with full FBI honors. Frank was able to put down his gun, locking away in its case before heading home for the night. Duff fired a round at a target in the shooting range; it wasn't exactly straight, he was still shaky, but he still did it. Lia had been right, they were innocent, and in finding that out, everything seemed to make sense again.
Later than night, after everyone had gone home, much happier than they'd been that morning, Cheryl went down to the morgue. She went straight into the chilly crypt, and searched the names on the steel drawers in the wall. She pulled out two, and pulled the clean white sheets from their faces. She stood between the two drawers, staring at their too still faces, and released a breath she'd been holding since Saturday.
Then, Cheryl finally cried.