disclaimer: I do not own CM:SB and its characters, CBS does. I just like to play with them.

End Game

The deadline ticked past as Beth stared down the barrel of the unsub's gun. Nothing happened.

She stayed as motionless as possible, straining not to twitch as sweat trickled down her back like trails of insect footsteps.

Ten seconds.


She counted half a minute before the gun swung away and Rawlins shook the phone in fury.

"Looks like your friend's a coward." He was clearly trying to upset her - as if she could get more upset - but couldn't hide the fact that he was rattled. "Why the hell hasn't Stahl called in? Useless weakling."

Beth slowly inhaled a deep breath and let it out through her mouth, consciously relaxing her arms, legs, and shoulders the way Mick had taught her. She watched Rawlins pace for a moment, and then focused her attention on the room in the hope of expanding her understanding of the unsub and his motivations. The afternoon sun blazed behind the mini-blinds and in the diffused light she couldn't see dust on any surface. The flooring was immaculate, the neutrally coloured walls unmarked. All of the wall hangings looked like they had been placed with a measuring tape and a level. It was clear this was the environment of an obsessive personality, someone who craved control and perfection. What hung on the walls showed a lack of imagination, to Beth's mind, a need to adopt the strong ideals of other groups. It was a mishmash of ideologies, all of which believed in supremacy of some kind or other, that suggested that the unsub was able to feel superior only through demeaning others, rather than through his own achievements or abilities.

"All right." Rawlins broke off his pacing and turned to Beth. "Clearly there is no one willing to take real action to save your life, so that's it."

He raised the gun again but Beth could see hesitation in his movements. She suddenly realized that this was a man who liked death, but not necessarily killing. Hell, he might not have killed before. Before she could use her new theory to start a dialogue, the cell phone in his hand beeped.

Coop blinked several times and shook his head. He could feel the warmth of Stahl's blood on his face, smell the burnt gunpowder and death odours in the air. His ears were ringing from the shot that had gone off mere feet from his head, and his mind was spinning as he tried to calculate the implications of the situation.

Stahl was sprawled across the sidewalk at Coop's feet, his thin face twisted in anger? fear? pain? Coop wasn't certain. The dead man clutched the gun tightly, gripping it awkwardly in both hands, on thumb through the trigger guard. Coop could only wish that he had had as tight a grip on the gun, that he'd been able to prevent Stahl from yanking the gun down and out of his hands. The image of the troubled man's manic eyes as he raised the gun beneath his chin and spattered the sidewalk with brain and skull would stay with Coop for a long time to come.

But there wasn't time for regret, or wishful thinking, right now. The afternoon sun beat down on the back of Coop's neck and he could only hope that Beth was still alive to feel the heat of the same sun. He now had to decide if Stahl's death would satisfy or enrage Rawlins - if he should send a picture or not.

"Agent Cooper?" A local field agent was running down the emptied boulevard, a cell phone in one hand. "It's the assault team. No luck at the house, she wasn't there."

Coop nodded absently and then turned back to the corpse. He found the camera function in the phone's menu and snapped a picture, grimacing in distaste when the shot loaded. Handing the cell phone to the younger agent, he said "Figure out how to text that image to the last incoming number and send it immediately. Then bring the phone back to me. I'll be at command."

"Yes, Agent Cooper" the agent - Jamieson? - began punching buttons as Coop walked away. "And the unsub? The body?"

"Just deal with the phone, agent. Now!" Coop could feel his normally even temper fraying. Jamieson seemed to sense the change and stopped talking.

Coop stalked past the empty stores, his mind racing. Even as he reached for his cell phone it rang, Prophet's name on the display. Coop didn't waste any time on pleasantries, updating the team on Stahl's death before asking "What did you find?"

"It's definitely the place where the hostages were held." Prophet's voice was tight, his anger and worry vibrating in Coop's ear. "But there's nothing here that points to a secondary base of operations. Our second unsub must have an entirely separate space, and he left no sign of it here."

While Prophet spoke, the local agent returned Stahl's phone to Coop. There had been no response to the photo. Coop wondered briefly if there was some way to locate the unsub's phone now that they had the number. Of course, that was the sort of question that he would usually ask Beth. He winced slightly at the thought and returned his focus to Prophet.

"… so we're going to have Garcia use those parameters to start a search for properties. I know it's rudimentary but we don't have time for a full profile. Mick suggested that abducting Beth might be an elaborate precursor to suicide by cop - at some level, taking an agent was always an endgame move."

Coop nodded thoughtfully - it seemed like a good starting point for a profile - and then realized that Prophet couldn't see his gesture.

"That has some merit," he acknowledged. "That should mean that he won't be hiding very deeply, likely in a place where he is comfortable and that he knows well. A personal or family property, not too far from his primary activity zone."

"It also means that Beth should still be alive. He'd need leverage for the standoff."

Coop made noises of agreement, but couldn't help but feel doubt. There was still no activity on Stahl's phone, and in his opinion, Beth's survival was not necessary for a suicide by cop situation. But the team needed to stay motivated, so there was no need to share his fears with the others.

Penelope's eyes flew from screen to screen, her fingers tapping as fast as she could think of new parameters to narrow her search. The Red Cell team was her secondary priority according to the big bosses, shared between analysts depending on availability, but this case was going to be her only focus until they brought Beth home. Garcia had never lost an agent until Emily's 'death' a few months ago, and she was going to do everything she could to avoid feeling pain like that again. Even though she wasn't that close to Agent Griffith, she liked the older woman's attitude. Penelope respected strength and self-reliance, as well as sarcasm and wit, all of which Beth had in spades.

Her Bluetooth beeped and she punched in the call with barely a pause in her typing.

"Garcia here." It was more brusque than usual, but she didn't have the bandwidth for witty at the moment.

"Penelope." Mick Rawson's voice was strained. "You got anything for us?"

"I'm close," she said as the list on her primary screen shrank yet again. "I've got three houses purchased under his father's name that don't appear to draw much power. Two don't have phone or cable service either."

"That sounds good," Mick agreed. "Tell me about those two."

Garcia selected the addresses in question and pulled them up on her mapping application.

"Okay, they're both kind of isolated - not large properties, just in the middle of not a whole lot. They're both, um…" she zoomed in on each property in satellite mode. "bungalow-type houses. The yards look barren but tidy. Not like they're neglected or…"

"Anything that stands out - vehicles, outbuildings?" Mick interrupted.

"Nope, nothing but the houses. But they both have attached garages, so we probably wouldn't see a vehicle even on current satellite pass-overs."

"Send me the addresses. We'll mobilize immediately."

Garcia started typing, but had to say "Mick, they're both miles from you. And they're dozens of miles from each other." She could feel herself panicking a little. "What if you go to the wrong one first," she worried aloud.

"You're going to have to guide us, Penelope." Mick's impatience wasn't helping her panic level. If only she had Derek on the line to talk her down. "You've done this for us plenty of times. There's got to be something that stands out about these properties."

"But I'm not a geo-profiler!" Garcia tried not to wail. "I need Beth to talk me through this." She dropped her feathered flamingo pen when she realized what she had said.

"I know, Penelope." Mick's voice seemed more gentle. "We all need Beth back. Take a deep breath and think about the questions Beth would ask you. You'll find the answer."

Garcia picked up her pen and closed her eyes for a few seconds. "Okay, back on line," she announced. "Look, get the team moving towards the main highway to the north and I'll let you know which exit to take as soon as I track this bastard down."

"That's our Garcia," Mick said with a smile in his voice. "Remember - he has a long-standing connection to this place and it's within or close to his normal sphere of activity."

"Gotcha. One kidnapping psycho-creep's lair coming right up. We'll have Beth home for happy hour." Garcia punched the call out and stared at her map for a moment.

"Sphere of activity. Sphere of activity… Okay. That I can do."

Her fingers started flying across the keyboard.

Mick's smiled faded the moment Penelope disconnected the call. Even as he directed the assault team to mobilize based on her preliminary directions, he couldn't help but worry that they might be heading to the wrong house again. That they would be wasting time that Beth didn't necessarily have, if she was even alive at all. While Gina and Prophet were desperately clinging to the theory that the unsub would feel the need for a hostage, Mick felt that it was equally possible that Beth was already dead and that all the team was doing was chasing down her killer. The thought twisted in his mind, nightmare images destroying his focus.

"C'mon, man" Prophet clapped a hand on Mick's shoulder. "We're ready to move."

Mick shook his head, as if it would drive the image of Beth's face, eyes blank in death, from his mind. He nodded at the other man and climbed into the waiting SUV. As they peeled out of the driveway, his phone beeped to signal a text from Coop.

*on the move?*

*yes. waiting for final from P*

*good. no msg from unsub*

*what you thinking?*

*not sure*

Mick sighed quietly. Coop obviously had doubts about the unsub's true motives.

*hostage sit?* Mick asked

*no. standoff*


There was a delay. *yes* came Coop's response.

Mick closed his eyes, trying not to let his fear show. *shield?*

*maybe. depends on ego*

*Beth?* It was as close as Mick could come to asking if Coop thought she was still alive. Again, there was a delay before Coop sent back *praying for her*

Mick almost threw the phone against the windscreen. Praying for her. Which could mean anything, really. Sometimes Coop's faith drove Mick right around the bend. At the same time, he did appreciate that the older man wasn't feeding him false reassurances.

Eventually, he sent back *say one from me*

Beth's whole body tensed as Rawlins opened the message on his phone. Long seconds passed in silence, and then his face creased in a twisted smile.

"Well, it looks like I underestimated your Agent Cooper." Rawlins turned the phone so Beth could see the image on the screen. "He's taken care of both our problems."

Rawlins' gun arm dropped to his side as he turned away from Beth. She took a quick breath and grimaced, smoothing her face quickly in case he looked back. She knew from victim statements that at this point Stahl would have begun the hostage release: blindfolding, driving to the kidnap location, informing the shooter. Her situation was clearly not going to play out the way the others had - not that she'd really expected it to. Stahl had needed to surround himself with rituals to cause death; following the script of the killings allowed him a certain distance from his own actions. Rawlins was more interested in satisfying his impulses immediately and would deviate from the pattern to suit his needs: control over others, feelings of supremacy. That, along with his obvious reluctance to actively kill, might be the weakness she could exploit to buy time.

"So how does it feel to know that your Agent Cooper killed for you? Obviously you were wrong about him. You said he'd never do it." Rawlins smirked at her, holding the photo of Stahl's death mask in front of her face. Beth sighed and tried to look appropriately appalled. She examined the image with quick glances, even as Rawlins continued his gloating monologue. She knew to her core that Coop would not have shot Stahl - not because he didn't want to save her, but because it was against his personal code. A closer look at the dead man's head confirmed her belief. Beth had seen a lot more dead bodies than Rawlins and she knew that the blood on Stahl's throat and the damage to his skull indicated a shot from under the jaw. It was more than likely a suicide shot.

"I was wrong," Beth said when Rawlins paused in self-aggrandizing speech. It was time to see if she could manipulate Rawlins' needs so that he would contact Coop. Once a line of communication was opened, the team would have a much better chance of tracking her location.

"You did make him do it. I didn't believe that Agent Cooper would kill someone." Beth sighed. "Something he would otherwise never do. I wish he hadn't, but you made him do it."

"Don't be so upset," Rawlins's voice was sharp. "You're alive aren't you? And if you want to stay that way, you're going to tell me more about your Agent Cooper. What else would he 'never do'?"

Beth closed her eyes and hoped that Rawlins would think she was compiling a list, instead of masking her relief that he'd taken the bait. If she could create a series of actions for Rawlins to 'force' Coop to perform that would reveal their location, the team could execute a takedown. The only problem was coming up with a list that was realistic enough for Rawlins, effective enough to bring the team to her location, and reasonable enough to avoid actually compromising Coop's ethics. With a deep sigh, she opened her eyes and starting lying to save her life.

Coop sat in the passenger seat of Agent Jamieson's Escalade. The sweat of the day was drying on his skin in the SUV's crisp air conditioning, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat at the feeling of his chilled, damp shirt clinging to his shoulders. As the streets rolled past, Coop tracked their location on the phone app that Beth had set up for him. He was about 20 minutes away from where the rest of the team was waiting for Penelope's final verdict on the unsub's location.

He was so intent on the movement of the tiny blue dot on the map that when the phone buzzed and the screen flashed, he nearly dropped it. After a moment of confusion, he realized a call was coming in from a local number. Punching the answer button, he gestured to Agent Jamieson that she should pull over and get a trace on the call.

"Agent Cooper," he answered.

"Agent Cooper," Rawlins mimicked. "The moral Agent Cooper, who's just the same as all the others when it gets down to the wire."

Coop smiled, pleased that the unsub had been taken in by the pictures of his partner's corpse. He stayed silent in response to Rawlins' taunt, hoping the man would assume it was from shame, or anger. It would feed the unsub's sense of power and control and might make him reckless.

"Don't want to talk about it?" Rawlins asked after a few moments. Coop hummed an indistinct response and Rawlins laughed. "Agent Beth here said you'd never do it, but she was wrong. She tells me you're a moral, upstanding man, but I bet you'd do pretty much anything to get her back, wouldn't you? A lovely, feisty lady like Beth?"

Coop clenched his jaw to keep from snarling into the phone. Rawlins was on a power high, clearly; interruptions could throw off his game and further endanger Beth.

"So you're going to do a few more things for me. Nothing as difficult as killing, just a few things to help me out. And then you'll get Agent Beth back and we'll all have want we want. I'll be in touch."

Rawlins disconnected the call. From the look on Agent Jamieson's face, Coop assumed the trace had been unsuccessful. Still, he felt lighter than he had before the call. Unless Rawlins was a better con than they thought, his remarks implied that Beth was alive and would stay that way if his demands were met.

Coop was faintly aware that Agent Jamieson was on her phone, informing Penelope and the command centre of the call. Automatic tracing was being established on his phone, and he forwarded Rawlins' number to Penelope. Sending the message reminded him that his team would be waiting for updates. He quickly sent a text to Gina, Prophet, and Mick: *Unsub called. Beth is alive. Demands to follow*

Jamieson finished her phone calls and resumed the drive to the rendezvous site. The silence in the vehicle was tense with anticipation, and both agents glanced frequently at the phone in Coop's hand. Coop ticked through potential negotiation situations in his head, examining possibilities against what they knew about Rawlins. His concentration was so intense that he didn't even register the notification beeps from his phone until Agent Jamieson jostled his arm. He glanced at the screen, expecting a note from one of the team, but the message was something entirely different.

*We meet. Face to face*

Almost immediately, another text arrived.

*No locals, no fbi, just you*

Coop grimaced, glancing at Agent Jamieson's expectant face. He hated excluding local LEOs and field officers, hated losing the knowledge of the area and its people, and hated the resentment the exclusion caused.

"It's him," he told J as she maneuvered the SUV towards a highway on-ramp. "He's setting the terms. I need you to let the team know, and have Penelope capture the texts to share with command. I will use this phone exclusively for dealing with Rawlins, so I'll need another phone to talk to my team."

Jamieson was patched through to Penelope before Coop finished his instructions. She gestured towards the glove box when he mentioned a second phone, but before he could open it his phone announced incoming texts.

*Bring the media. Cameras, reporters. We do this live*

Coop winced. The last thing he wanted at a negotiation was the glare of camera lights distorting the unsub's thinking, causing out of character behaviour.

*I name the place. Can't give away home field advantage*

By this point, it felt like Rawlins had pushed Coop's every button, demanding that he break every rule that Coop usually used in negotiations. Coop ran through the text message list again. The demands were all against the guidelines that he set out for his team - not that these were set in stone rules, just preferences based on experience. He was used to having to compromise on at least one of these matters, especially a little one like not giving the unsub home field advantage. The odd part was that that was the exact phrase Coop used when explaining his rules to the team. There was little chance that Rawlins had managed to hit on all four of the rules, especially using Coop's own words.

The more likely answer was that Beth was feeding Rawlins the demands, telling him these were lines that Coop would not cross, the same way Coop had told the unsubs he would not kill to fit Stahl and Rawlins' game. It would give the unsub a sense of superiority if Coop were 'forced' to agree to the conditions, much like the sense of power Rawlins felt when his victims were forced to kill innocent bystanders. If the FBI agreed to the terms, it might make the unsub over-confident and easier to read and manipulate. Coop had to smile at Beth's handiwork; this was the kind of psychological strategy that she excelled at and it assured him that not only was she alive, but she was mentally alert and working to increase her chances of surviving.

Coop decided to follow Beth's play. He sent a text to Rawlins asking to discuss the terms, with the intention of 'reluctantly' caving in to every demand once the team has been able to set up the operation. Using Agent Jamieson's spare phone, he quickly conferred with Gina, Prophet, Mick and the locals on how the takedown was to be accomplished. With plans in motion and the knowledge that Beth was alive and fighting, Coop began to feel hopeful for the first time all day.

The shopping centre parking lot looked like a media circus, except that there was no newsworthy activity going on. Men and women were wandering in and out of tents, fussing in front of mirrors and lining up by broadcast vans. There were television cameras everywhere, tall men holding boom mics, and the vans represented every media outlet in the area. It was only on closer observation that it became clear something odd was going on. All the reports, camera operators and sound people were wearing heavy boots and high collared shirts. They looked uncomfortable in the blazing, late-afternoon sun, and handled their equipment gingerly.

Gina spotted more than one head-meets-boom-mic incident as the crowd milled about. She moved from team to team, checking on the groups' readiness. FBI agents and local police were mixed together on 'news crews,' their unseasonable clothing hiding protective vests and small firearms. The vans and equipment had been provided in exchange for in-depth access to the story after the scene was secured. Gina had managed to line up four crews, who were training their stand-ins on how to use the equipment convincingly enough to fool Rawlins, and she'd also brought in a make-up and hair artist to conceal the earwigs that the agents and officers would need for communications.

Prophet was at the central command post, reviewing the negotiations strategy with the local team leaders and Coop, who was minutes away. Rawlins had been taken in by Coop's grudging concessions, and was going to text them his location as soon as the media 'presence' was confirmed. Gina had two of the major networks standing by to put out a false announcement, but Garcia had indicated that neither of the potential locations had satellite, cable, or internet service, so she hoped to avoid that contingency.

The rendezvous point where the agents waited was part-way between the two possible locations Garcia flagged. As they waited for Garcia to contact them with an end goal, Prophet had created mobilization layouts that could work at each site. The plan was to bring in the media vans in a formation that would limit the unsub's exit routes. If Rawlins left the site by vehicle, as he had demanded, he would be funneled by the media vans to a limited number of roads, where police cruisers would be waiting. Mick's sniper nests had been chosen for their wide field of fire, as no one had been confident about which part of the property Rawlins might choose for the stand-off.

Prophet had the teams ready to set up a wide 'fan' around the front of either site, rather than a scrum, to maximize coverage in the event of Rawlins running or starting a fire-fight. As much as the thought of Beth at the centre of shoot-out horrified him, Prophet had also overseen the distribution of small- and large-caliber weapons in the equipment bags the 'news crews' would carry. He sincerely hoped it would not come to that, and knowing his team as he did, he was fairly certain that Rawlins' downfall was going to come from either Coop's silver tongue or Mick's steady trigger finger.

At the edge of the crowd, Mick reviewed the contents of his kit. Unlike the rest of the agents, he was dressed in dark assault gear and the late afternoon sun was uncomfortably warm. He had checked his gear twice, assuring himself that all the mechanisms were moving smoothly, and was trying hard not start a third review. His initial relief at the news that Beth was alive and doing everything she could to help the team had transitioned into nervous energy far too quickly. In their tactics discussion, Coop had hinted at the possibility of Rawlins using Beth as a shield. This was a pet peeve of Coop's: unsubs who were too cowardly to face law enforcement on their own. The whole team knew that Coop generally refused to try to shoot unsubs when they had shields, partly due to the risk of killing the shield and partly because of to the trauma that the experience caused for the shield.

Mick knew that he could easily shoot Rawlins out from behind a human shield, especially someone as small as Beth. At the same time, he knew that in the fractions of a second between his shot and the bullet's impact, any number of things could go horribly wrong and he might have to live with the fact that he shot his own teammate. Coop had reassured him that taking the shot would be Mick's choice, and reminded him that Beth was expecting it and that he could be sure that Beth would do everything she could to help make the takedown go smoothly. It wasn't much of a comfort, but Mick could still remember the look on Beth's face after she killed that man to protect Mick and their victim DC. It had been her first kill but she hadn't hesitated. Mick knew he owed her the same in turn.

The room was stifling. Beth shifted uncomfortably on the chair, feeling for any loosening in her restraints. She was starting to feel the stress of the day, now that the adrenaline was wearing off. Rawlins hadn't bothered to give her any of his power bars or water, so she was feeling light headed from hunger as well. Underlying all her discomfort was a thread of shame over putting her team at risk. She knew that they would be out there doing everything possible to bring her home safely, even if it put their own lives at risk. As much as she knew she would the same for any of them, it was difficult to think of her friends putting themselves in harm's way.

She watched Rawlins through half-closed eyes. For the past hour, she had been feigning exhaustion and depression in the face of his increasingly manic behavior. Her apparent weakness seemed to fuel his excitement and allowed her to lead his thoughts more easily. She had been amused at how easily he had been taken in by her misinformation on Coop, and on some level she was almost embarrassed by his gullibility. If it hadn't been giving her an advantage in the situation, she would have been disgusted by the contrast between his overweening self-importance and his willingness to have other think and act for him.

Rawlins moved suddenly, startling Beth from her thoughts. He crossed the room from where he'd been sitting to stand beside the window. With the blade of his knife, he pushed the slats of the mini-blinds apart and peered out.

"They're here," he announced. "Looks like every TV channel in the city. And there's your agent Cooper bringing up the rear."

Beth grimaced to hide her fear. This was it, the end game. Rawlins hadn't been expansive on the subject of his escape, but he was convinced his plan was infallible. From what he'd said, the 'plan' consisted of using Beth as a hostage to force Coop into handing over the keys to a vehicle. Then Beth would drive them away from the house. As soon as they hit the highway, he intended to ditch her. Beth got the impression that he meant 'ditch' literally - that he meant to push her out of the moving vehicle. She had refrained from pointing out that that would be a bit ridiculous if she were driving, since she didn't want to risk him coming up with a more realistic plan.

She was well aware that Rawlins intended to use her as a shield as well as a hostage. During his interrogation on Coop's dislikes she had 'accidentally' mentioned that Coop's greatest fear was when unsubs used hostages for protection, and that he would never shoot a person holding a human shield. Rawlins had seized on the idea, as she'd intended. Of course, she had neglected to mention that while Coop would never take the shot, Mick would do so in a heartbeat - technically between two, he would insist, she thought with a smile. As she watched Rawlins assess the scene on his front yard, she mentally crossed her fingers that he was too distracted to spot Mick setting up his sniper position.

After interminable minutes, the noise of sirens and vehicle engines died down. Coop's amplified voice cut over the crowd sounds, asking Rawlins to come out so they could talk about the situation. The direct address spurred Rawlins into action. Ignoring the trilling of his cell phone - likely the team attempting contact - he grabbed a roll of duct tape and crossed to Beth. A few lengths of tape around her head blindfolded her. He taped her mouth shut as well, and then cut the restraints holding her wrists to the chair. No sooner did the blood rush painfully to Beth's fingers then she found her hands held palm to palm and bound with more tape.

Rawlins left Beth's ankles taped to the chair while he moved around the room. She blinked furiously, loosening her eyelids and lashes from the tape. The pain caused her to tear up, but the tears helped to further loosen the tape. Once her eyes cleared, she realized that she had a small field of vision under the edge of the tape. She tipped her head back and rolled her neck as though stretching. She caught a hazy glimpse of Rawlins checking his gun and chambering a round as he approached her.

He knelt before her and pulled her ankle restraints loose. With his gun pressed to her side, he pulled her roughly from the chair and spun her so her back was against his chest. As disgusting as she found the intimate position, Beth was thankful for the support. After hours tied to the chair, her legs were threatening to collapse beneath her. She decided to play up her weakness in the hopes of using it to her advantage. Rawlins' annoyance at her wobbly progress through the house only reinforced her hatred of the man, but it also distracted him from the confrontation that awaited him outside. Beth could only hope that Coop could use that to his advantage.

When they emerged from the house, Beth took a deep gulp of fresh air. After hours trapped in a stuffy room, the crisp evening breeze was more invigorating than a triple espresso. At their appearance, a hush had fallen over the crowd, and Beth's world was reduced to a few sensations: the tension and heat radiating from Rawlins, the whisper of wind against her sweaty skin, the gun barrel pressed to her jaw. The silence stretched out painfully, a game of psychological chicken between Coop and Rawlins.

Beth felt the moment Rawlins broke, but instead of addressing Coop he spoke to her.

"Want to see your heroic murdering Agent Cooper on the ropes?" he mocked, pulling up the tape that covered her eyes. Beth bit her lip hard enough to draw blood in an attempt to suppress a cry of pain. The tape had taken skin, eyelashes and more than a little hair with it when he ripped it away. She couldn't stop the tears that spilled from her eyes, and Rawlins laughed.

There was an assortment of media vans fanned out in front of the house, and Coop stood in the center of the arc speaking with a reporter who looked strangely familiar to Beth. When the woman leaned close to Coop and pushed her long bangs out her face, Beth realized that the 'reporter' was in fact Agent Sally Jamieson from the local field office. She took a moment to admire Coop's use of the unsub's demands as she played 'spot the agent' with the rest of the news crews.

In response to a command from Agent Jamieson, the news crews began turning their attention to Rawlins. Beth could feel Rawlins stand taller and shift his weight as the cameras turned towards them. She, in turn, curled in on herself, tilting her head to move it away from the gun. Pretending a weakness she no longer felt, she sagged against her captor's arm to expose more of Rawlins' body to the rifle she was sure was waiting somewhere in the distance.

Beth barely registered the stand-off that followed. Coop and the unsub shouted demands at each other, but Beth's entire focus was on keeping her body clear of Rawlins' head. Every few moments she would glance sideways at where his finger lay along barrel beside the trigger guard. She felt his grip tighten on her arm and used the action as an excuse to moan and slump further down his body. She had only a moment to question her choice when suddenly, as though a switch flipped, Rawlins began screaming. Beth met Coop's panicked gaze for a brief moment and then squeezed her eyes shut, not wanting to know what he was seeing

Mick watched Beth fall to the ground. He exhaled slowly and forced himself to keep watching. The rest of the Red Cell team rushed to the steps to where Beth lay, trapped in a dead man's arms. On a rational level, he knew she was fine - he had checked that the unsub's finger was clear of the trigger before taking the shot. At the same time, he could feel his heart beating in his throat, fear choking him. When he finally saw Beth's arm rise to meet Coop's outstretched hand, Mick dropped his head and inhaled shakily.

He watched in silence as Coop scooped her up from the porch and kissed the top of her head. Mick smiled in recognition of Beth's stubborn nature as she pushed out of Coop's embrace to stand on her own. The moment of independence didn't last long, because Gina vaulted up the stairs and pulled the smaller woman into a tight, fierce hug. Ever the protector, Prophet cleared the unsub's gun before wrapping Beth in his arms, tears on his cheeks. Even from hundreds of meters away, Mick could easily guess what they were saying: Coop's praise for the plan and her cool-headedness, Prophet's apologies for the kidnapping, Gina's questions about the ordeal, Beth's assurances that she was 'fine, alright?'. Mick smiled to himself as he began the process of dismantling and cleaning his rifle. His team - his family - was back together, safe and sound.