The last team arrived at the rendezvous point just after dusk, giving the entire team one last opportunity liaise together before they all headed off in preparation to begin the operation. All thirty-three members of the strike force were clothed entirely in form-hugging black clothing, and decked out with their individual weapons of choice. The members of Blue Strike had their faces smeared with black camouflage paint, and sported black beanies to help conceal their features, rather than the black ski masks that the rest of the team had been issued. As Pete had pointed out, ski masks were a bitch when you were trying to drive.

“For those of you who aren’t aware,” Ellis told the gathered team, “we’ve received confirmation within the last few hours that Robert Goren is still alive.”

Where she sat with her colleagues and friends, Alex sucked in a sharp breath, and Mike rubbed her back reassuringly.

“He’s a fighter,” Mike murmured softly to her. “He wouldn’t give up.”

“However,” Ellis went on grimly, “the word is that his condition is not good, and that it’s imperative we get him out as quickly as possible.”

“So we make sure we don’t fuck this up,” someone said. Ellis nodded.

“Aptly said. Now here’s the game plan, people. Red Strike will go in at ten tonight, and place the explosives. Black Strike will go in at eleven-fifteen, and disable the power. That will be timed to coincide with the communications failure that Jarod has planned. The power should go out at eleven-forty sharp.

“Green Strike and Grey Strike need to be in the service tunnel well by then, waiting. As soon as the power is cut, Black Strike will give the signal, and Green Strike will move in. Green Strike must be inside within three minutes of getting the go-ahead. They will then secure the main entrance, the tower and the ground floor. As soon as that is done, Grey Strike will move in. Green Strike will be responsible for providing cover to Grey Strike, to enable them to find Goren as fast as possible.

“Once Goren has been located, I’ll give the pull-out signal to everyone, and we will begin our exit immediately. Once that signal has been given, I want everyone out of that building and in an exit vehicle within seven minutes. No one is going to be left behind, but every minute taken beyond that seven minute period will make our escape that much more difficult.

“We will be relying on Blue Strike to be there waiting when we exit the building. It’s vital that we be able to come out, and have the escape vehicles there, ready to go.”

“We’re all geared up,” someone spoke up suddenly. “We’ve got vests to protect us. What about Goren? You know they’re gonna be aiming at him when they shoot.”

“Grey Strike will be carrying a spare vest, and a protective helmet for Goren,” Ellis answered. “It will be up to Grey and Green Strike to afford him as much protection as possible. We have no way of knowing how aware Goren is going to be. We need to anticipate that he may be confused, disoriented, weak, and injured. There is a strong possibility that we may have to physically carry him out, because he may not be capable of standing on his own, let alone walking out of there. There are a hell of a lot of variables, people, and we need to be ready for all of them.

“Now, once we’re away from there, Blue Strike will split up and exit Blue Cove via different routes. It’s been planned to time out precisely, and all seven vehicles should reach the rendezvous point within minutes of each other. That is especially important. Make no mistake, they will try to come after us. So, from the moment the first vehicle arrives at the rendezvous, those three choppers should be able to take off within ten minutes. Understood? There will be no time to waste.”

A murmur of agreement swept across the team, and Ellis nodded.

“All right. You all know what you’re doing now. I believe we’re as ready for this as we can be.” He paused, checking his watch before speaking again. “It’s twenty-thirty now. Red Strike will need to move out in half an hour. Everyone else, try and get some rest. We move out at twenty-two hundred hours, exactly.”

“I hate waiting.”

The comment came from Mike Logan, to no one’s great surprise.

“We all want to get moving, Mike,” Carolyn murmured. “We just have to be patient.”

“We’ve been patient for nine friggin’ months,” Mike snapped. “I’m fed up with waiting! I want to go in there, and get him out!”

“Calm down, Logan,” Elliot advised him. “You’re going to need a cool head when you go into that place. Now, I know that must be tough for a guy with your reputation, but try to think of Goren, huh?”

Throwing an angry look in Elliot’s direction, Mike got to his feet and stalked away from their small group.

“A little sensitive, isn’t he?” Munch snorted.

“Don’t mock him,” Alex growled defensively. “Mike has helped to hold our entire squad together over the last nine months. He’s been there for me, too, and if you’re going to mock him, don’t you dare do it in front of me.”

Getting up, Alex headed after Mike, leaving them to sit in guilty silence. Carolyn watched Alex’s retreating figure for a long moment before speaking quietly to Elliot.

“That was uncalled for.”

To his credit, Elliot did look sincerely apologetic.

“I know,” he murmured. “I’m sorry. I guess this waiting is getting to me, too.”

“None of us like waiting, but you have to understand… Alex, Mike, Captain Deakins and I… and Oliver, Jackson and King, too… We’ve been waiting for nine months for the chance to rescue Bobby. Nine months! And it’s never gotten any easier. Like Alex said, Mike has really held us together, even though he’s been hurting over it as much as the rest of us. So, if he’s a little impatient now to get going, I can understand that. It isn’t fair to belittle him like that, not when for the past nine months everything he’s done has been with thoughts of Bobby in his mind. He’s deliberately toned down his style… been careful about what he’s said and done, all to avoid anyone making a complaint against him. He’s done that to make things as easy on our squad as possible, and all with a view to eventually getting Bobby back. It’s been hard for him… so don’t sit there and mock him for being anxious now.”

“He really does like Goren, doesn’t he?” Olivia mused. Carolyn nodded.

“He and Bobby had become good friends. They were just really starting to get to know each other when Bobby was taken. These last nine months have been really hard on him.”

Fin glanced down at the watch he’d been issued, along with the rest of the clothing.

“Nearly nine. We’ll be moving out in an hour. It won’t be long now.”

Alex found Mike on the far side of the secluded field where the team had temporarily camped itself. He crouched on the damp grass, checking over the gun he’d taken, ensuring it was fully loaded. She stood watching him in silence for nearly a minute before he sensed her presence, and glanced up.

“He didn’t mean to insult you,” she said quietly as she walked over and crouched beside him.

“I know,” Mike muttered. “I didn’t take offence. If I did, he’d have a broken nose and a fat lip.”

Alex smiled.

“Fair enough. So why come over here on your own?”

Mike sighed softly, and slid the gun back into its holster.

“This is killing me, Alex. We’ve got to get him out of there. We… We just have to.”

She leaned in and rested her head lightly on his shoulder.

“We will, Mike. There’s not long to go, now. Just over an hour, and we’ll have to move.”

Mike slipped an arm around her shoulders, and hugged her gently. Alex was silence for a while, simply enjoying the quiet moment, before speaking again.

“Mike… Thankyou.”

He glanced at her, puzzled.

“For what?”

“For everything.”

A wry smile touched his lips.

“That’s pretty broad, Alex.”

She sighed and stood up, and he rose up with her. The surprise on his face was palpable when she slipped her arms around his waist and leaned in against him. After taking a moment to regroup, Mike reciprocated and folded his arms gently around her in a warm embrace.

“Thankyou for everything you’ve done with us… for us… and for Bobby… since we first met you,” Alex told him. “For backing Bobby up in the Federal prison that time… and don’t say you didn’t have a choice. And since you joined Major Case, you haven’t acted like most of the guys on the squad. You don’t laugh at Bobby when his back is turned. You don’t mock his techniques… You don’t mock him.”

“I don’t do that to my friends, Alex.”

“That’s just it, though. You were willing to get to know Bobby, and become friends, and that’s more than any of the other guys in Major Case were willing to do. Sure, they’ve come together for him in the last nine months, but that’s more out of loyalty… the thin blue line, and all of that crap. He already had your support before that, and it meant a lot to him. You know, he told me once that he was still trying to figure out why a popular guy like you would want to spend any time at all outside of work with someone like him.”

Mike’s eyebrows shot up.

“He told you that? It didn’t occur to him that maybe I just liked hanging out with him?”

“That’s what I told him,” Alex insisted, “but he never really believed me.”

“Man, for a genius, he really could be dumb,” Mike retorted, and Alex had to smile.

“I’ll never forget the look on his face the first time you invited him to join you for a drink and a game of pool after work.”

“You mean that ‘deer caught in headlights’ look that he gets?”

Alex laughed softly.

“Mm, that’s the one. He spent the whole afternoon analysing why you asked him. I had a stack of paperwork to do, but he kept interrupting me with theories that were getting more and more ridiculous as the day went on. I ended up swatting him across the head and telling him to just go and enjoy himself. And he did.”

“I’m surprised he didn’t get why we connected,” Mike mused. “We’ve got a lot more in common than anyone thinks. We each had an abusive, alcoholic parent… My mom, and his dad. And we each had a parent who left us too early in the game. My dad, when he died, and his mom, when she got sick. And we both could’ve gone either way. And just because we’re different personalities didn’t mean we couldn’t be friends.”

“Well, thankyou,” Alex murmured, hugging him fiercely, “for being his friends. It meant a lot to him.”

“It meant a lot to both of us.”

Silence met his words, and for a few minutes the two of them simply stood there, holding each other. Mike felt the telltale tremor pass through Alex’s body before he actually heard the broken sob, and instinctively tightened his grip on her a matter of seconds before she collapsed against him, crying helplessly.

“I want him back,” she choked out, her voice muffled by his top. “Mike, I want him back!”

“I know,” he whispered. “So do I. Just hold on for a little while longer, and this time tomorrow, we’ll all be safe, together. You, me, Carolyn, Deakins and Bobby. We’ll have him back with us soon.”

He paused, looking in the general direction of Blue Cove as he hugged Alex to him. “And when we’ve got him back safe with us, those bastards are going to regret ever taking him to begin with.”

The three members of Red Strike moved out promptly at nine, as planned. Silence fell on the camp, and the minutes ticked by with painful slowness. At ten precisely, Ellis got up from where he’d been in conference with Jarod and the team leaders, and spoke just loud enough for all to hear.

“Pack it up, people. We’re moving out. Let’s go rescue Bobby Goren.”

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