Here it is – the final chapter! (I posted the previous chapter just a little before this, so make sure you've read that first.) Thanks for reading and thank you to those who have left reviews. They're much appreciated! :)
Not wanting to waste any time, Lightman picked up the bags of food and the insulin, and made his way towards the courtroom where the hostages were being held. He stood at the door and rapped twice. The door opened just enough for a hand to reach out and pull him through until he found himself standing inside the room with a gun pressed into his side and the ringleader walking his way. Jose took the bags out of his hands, opening them to inspect the contents, then looking up with a wry grin on his face.
"No food for the hostages, Lightman? Really, I expected more from you."
All his years of study and practice seemed to lead up to this one moment where everything depended on his ability to keep his face blank, his expression neutral, so as not to give anything away, not to give them a reason to doubt his honesty or suspect him of foul play. They stared each other down for what felt like an eternity, but was barely a few seconds, and when the ringleader nodded his satisfaction, he barely suppressed a sigh of relief that would surely have given him away.
As Jose began pulling the food out of the bags and passing the containers around to his counterparts Lightman took the opportunity to glance around the room, taking in the dead guard, the 5 gunmen standing in various locations around the courtroom, and the hostages filling the benches, their faces clearly displaying fear and worry as they watched him in turn. His eyes finally alighting upon Ria and Gillian sitting near the front, he tried to study them covertly, not wanting to draw the gunmen's attention towards them, but wanting to ensure that they were okay. Noting the bruise on Gillian's cheek, he felt a strong rage well up within him and fought to control it, swearing that he would repay the culprit for harming his partner, his best friend, his blind spot, his luv, the first chance he got. Neither Gillian nor Ria was giving anything away and he was impressed and surprised with the amount of composure between the two of them.
He felt the gun being pressed harder into his side and glanced at the gunman holding it who was gesturing towards the door – obviously his sign to leave – but he didn't budge.
"What about the hostages? You have your food, now let them go."
The entire courtroom seemed to hold their breath as they waited to see what would happen, to see how the gunmen would respond to Lightman's demanding tone. Jose studied him for a moment before nodding towards one of his men standing off to the side, who grabbed the forearm of the closest jury member and pulled him out of his seat, pushing him towards the door. The other 11 jury members quickly followed him out of the courtroom.
"What about my people?" Lightman demanded.
Jose stalked over to where Ria and Gillian sat and looked down at them. "Which one?" He asked.
"Her." Gillian had opened her mouth, set on telling him that it would be Ria leaving, but before she could, it was Ria who spoke up first.
The man grabbed Gillian's arm and pulled her up, ignoring her protests that it wasn't supposed to be her, ignoring the tears that had started streaming down her face, and pushing her towards the door where Lightman stood watching. He took Gillian into his arms as she approached, his eyes trained on Ria's as they backed away towards the exit. There was so much he was trying to convey to her with just a look, hoping she would pick up on his silent reassurances that he would get her out of there, hoping she would know that he cared about her, that he was worried for her, hoping she would understand his encouragement to stay strong, that she would get through this, but above all hoping she would comprehend his gratefulness that she had sacrificed herself to let his precious Gillian go. Part of him felt guilty for being so relieved that Gillian was free, while she was still trapped, but the strength of his feelings for Gillian was never anything he could rationalize anyway.
He caught a barely perceptible nod from Ria and then they were pushed out the door unceremoniously. Lightman watched as the EMTs rushed to them, pushing him aside so they could check Gillian over and make sure she didn't have any serious injuries. He waited for just a moment to make sure that she was okay and in good hands before he once again headed for the screen streaming the video feed from the courtroom, eager to see if his plan was working. Sure enough, the gunmen had already started eating, practically disregarding the hostages, their focus consumed by the fried chicken, green beans and mashed potatoes. Gillian came over to join him and he looped his arms around her waist, keen to feel her close to him again and know that she was okay. She nestled into his arms but kept her eyes on the screen as he did the same.
Standing there, Lightman began to notice a flurry of movements around him and looking around he realized that the FBI were planning on taking advantage of the men's focus on the food to implement their infiltration strategy. His heart leapt into his throat as his mind imagined all the horrendous ways this could go wrong and he knew he had to stop them, and quickly. Breaking his hold on Gillian, he rushed over to the FBI negotiator who was giving instructions into a walkie-talkie, coordinating plans with agents stationed at the other entrances into the courtroom.
"Wait! Just wait! You can't go in there yet!"
The agent glanced at him, clearly fed up with the way Lightman had been pushing his way into the rescue efforts all day, and decided to ignore him, as he headed over to look at the video feed. Lightman grabbed his wrist forcefully and pulled the agent back around to look at him.
"You have to wait! If you go in there now, they're gonna start shooting hostages or they'll start shooting your agents and the hostages will get caught in the crossfires. Just give it 15 minutes."
"There's only 23 minutes left until the deadline. This is the best chance that we're going to get of them being off their guard and distracted. It's now or never."
Lightman looked at him, exasperated. "I drugged the food," he finally admitted.
The agent stared at him in shock, wondering what would possess a man to take such a blatant risk that could potentially end very disastrously – not to mention that it was far from legal and very far from being standard operating procedure of the FBI. He brought the walkie-talkie up to his mouth, pausing before instructing, "Stand down. DO NOT – I repeat, DO NOT – enter the courtroom until my mark. Understood?" He waited for the replies from the other agents before turning to Lightman for details.
"What did you drug them with?"
"As in roofies?"
Lightman nodded and then explained. "I put it in their mashed potatoes and it just needs time to work. Another 15 minutes and it'll start taking effect. They won't be completely knocked out yet, but they'll start getting dizzy, nauseous maybe, and disoriented and that's when you make your move."
"If this doesn't work –" The agent started.
"Yea, I know. My ass is grass." Lightman cut in, easily interpreting the threatening look the agent was shooting him.
The next minutes passed agonizingly slowly. Everyone stood around the screen, scrutinizing the video for tell-tale signs that the drug was taking effect. The first one to show any signs was the defendant, 12 minutes after Lightman had left the courtroom. His immune system was already weakened from the combination of a lack of food and diabetes, and he stumbled slightly before taking a seat on a bench, putting his head in his hands. The other 4 gunmen hardly noticed the change in Mark, assuming he was tired or needed his insulin, but it didn't take long for the effects to start showing in others. One man slumped to the ground, quickly followed by another who was standing close to where Ria was seated. Jose rushed over to check them, noting that they were still conscious but not coherent.
Lightman watched Jose, whose actions seemed slower, rather drunkenly, but he was still holding it together. He watched the gunman's face as the realization began to slowly dawn on him that they had been tricked and drugged. And as the fourth gunmen slumped to the ground as well, Lightman caught the abrupt change from confusion to a murderous rage on Jose's face. He turned to the negotiator, yelling at him. "NOW! MOVE IN NOW!"
The agent relayed the message and they watched the screen as agents rushed into the courtroom from the front and the back. Screams filled the courtroom briefly from the shock of the unexpected intrusion, but it was perhaps Ria who screamed the loudest when Jose pulled her up and in front of him to use as a human shield. He pressed his gun into her temple and threatened to shoot her if the agents moved any closer. The entire room seemed to come to a standstill, and an eerie hush settled over both those in the courtroom and those outside it as everyone surveyed the standoff, wondering how this was going to play out.
The seconds seemed to stretch on and Ria wondered if it would go on forever, unable to imagine a way out, until suddenly she felt the pressure of the gun at her temple ease up and felt the body behind her slowly slump to the ground, just as the other men had done before him. Trembling slightly, she glanced over her shoulder to confirm what she felt, and then hastened away as the agents moved in to handcuff him.
She was rushed out of the room, along with the other hostages, and found Gillian, Lightman, and Loker waiting on the other side of the door for her. Gillian rushed forward to her, trying to comfort her as well as convey her gratefulness and relief in a silent look and a hug. Ria couldn't stop trembling, but she hugged her back tightly, her mouth curving into a small smile as Lightman and Loker moved in to hug them both.
They moved away from the door as the agents started bringing the stumbling gunmen through in handcuffs. Lightman put up a hand to stop their progress and turned to look at Gillian.
"Which one of these scumbags bruised your face, luv?"
Gillian didn't answer, but she couldn't help glancing over towards Jose. Understanding the message, Lightman walked over to him directly, brought his fist back and then slammed it into the man's face, breaking his nose.
Shaking his hand to ward off the pain, Lightman turned around and wrapped his other arm around Gillian's waist, walking her out of the courthouse. Ria intended to follow but the EMTs pulled her aside, intent on checking her over. She insisted she was fine, they insisted she stay, and she eventually relented when Loker walked over, taking her hand and promising to stay with her until she was cleared and then drive her home.