Belonging

Hot Call 2 - Central Bank


Enroute to Central Bank - 9:08 am

Team One was speeding toward Central Bank in mid-town. Cross talk via the headsets was minimal. Everyone was mentally stowing the last call away to put full focus and energy into the current call. They'd done this a lot. Sometimes on a bad day they would have two or three hot calls in a row.

They each had their own method to process and prepare. Some were quicker than others although they were all pretty fast at it. Jules glanced over at Sam in the passenger seat and silently wondered how he was able to change gears so quickly. To her it seemed like his process was as simple and quick as closing one door and opening another simultaneously.

She had started to covertly study Sam trying to understand what made him tick shortly after Ed, Wordy and Sarge had had a serious heart to heart with her, Spike and Lou on team dynamics a few months ago. Spike with his twisted sense of humor had dubbed it 'The Proper Care and Feeding of Samtastic' discussion. Not that anyone ever told Sam that the six of them had sat down to thoroughly discuss how badly they had screwed up those first months Sam had been on the team.

One Friday evening at the end of debrief just before shift was over Greg had announced that the team had the following five days off. He said he needed to speak privately with each member of the team before they left for the night, beginning with Sam. Greg had looked pensive when he informed them. Jules could read a confused look on Spike's and Lou's faces. Ed looked thoroughly pissed off. Wordy's demeanor was like when he was worried about one of his daughters, fatherly concern.

Sam, well he was extremely hard to read and after the first few weeks with the team he had become almost entirely unreadable. She attributed that to his military training, especially the Special Forces training. She figured those types of guys had to be hard and closed-off to do their jobs.

As she glanced at Sam a small look flittered briefly across his face. Jules instantly interrupted it as guilt or more descriptively 'crap, so now I've screwed up so bad it's affected the entire team, again'. It shocked her that that was how she read his brief look. Especially the 'again' piece; where did that come from she wondered?

Jules herself probably mirrored the same concerned look as Spike and Lou, although better contained. She tended to hold her real feelings very close to the vest. Especially any that would make her appear weak or girly. She couldn't allow that to happen and ruin everything she had worked so hard to achieve. The only emotion she was really comfortable with expressing was anger. Anger didn't show vulnerability.

Everyone was released to shower and change and await their private meeting. Sam had done so in record time; probably his military training again. Sam met with Greg for about ten minutes and left directly after not speaking to anyone. One by one, the remaining members met with Greg and then also left without speaking to anyone.

Five of the six had gotten the exact same message from Greg. Be at his home at eight am sharp tomorrow. And under threat of instant dismissal from SRU they were not to drink any alcohol that evening or speak to any member of any SRU team after leaving the meeting. Greg explained that he needed them completely clear headed tomorrow morning. Greg never shared what he had said to Sam that day, but the message had to have been totally different than the one she, Ed, Wordy, Spike and Lou had been given.

At eight am sharp the next day, six of the seven members of Team One were seated around Greg's kitchen table. All noted that Sam was not there but Lou was the one to voice the concern. Greg simply stated that Sam was exempt from this meeting.

Then Greg took a moment and rubbed his hand over the top of his head and across his eyes as he often did when he was upset. He inhaled sharply and gave each one of them a pointed look as he slowly exhaled then stated "We have a serious problem with team dynamics."

That was the beginning of 'The Proper Care and Feeding of Samtastic' discussion. Sarge outlined the problem, which was that the team had not given Sam a chance and had made him feel like he was not a member of the team. Greg apologized to the team for letting them down by allowing the problem to arise in the first place and allowing it fester for so long.

Sarge then pointed to several boxes containing the transcripts from every call the team had been on since Sam had joined the team. He told them they were going to review each and every one of them so we could learn what our mistakes were and then develop a plan as a team to fix the situation. That is why he had arranged five days off. This was a serious and complex problem and he expected it to take that much time to analyze the issues, process our feelings and to develop an effective plan.

Everyone sat in stunned silence for a good twenty minutes. There was not a single sound, not one word uttered from the six team members sitting around the table. He allowed us time to process what he had said, to comprehend the seriousness of the situation and start to accept the fact that the best SRU team had royally screwed up.

Finally, the Boss broke the silence, "Listen closely, we are human, we make mistakes, we save strangers every single day. Let's do what we do best and save one of our own. We can salvage this, it won't necessarily be easy, but I believe in all of you. We are more than a team, we are family. Our family needs to make its newest member feel like he belongs. Because if we don't we will lose an amazing person. Who despite our callous attitudes and actions, has repeatedly covered each and every one of our backs for months; often taking extreme risks to his own life to protect ours. He deserves better from us! We will find a way to prove to him we are worthy of him."

Over the next few days as the case files were reviewed, there was a lot of self-recrimination, heavy hearted guilt and a few tears shed by all. The black and white words of the transcripts starkly illustrated how much Sam was doing for the team and how badly the team had treated him.

Greg and Ed and to some extent Wordy tried to shoulder the bulk of the blame saying it was their jobs as the leaders of the team. But the rest of us wouldn't allow it. We were all to blame equally. We would emerge from this a better team, a stronger family. We just had to determine the best way to ensure that the team and family included Sam Braddock.

After the initial review of the files looking for their faults they reviewed them again looking for Sam's strengths. Things they could use to begin the process of fixing this ugly mess. What they found amazed them.

They saw that his quick thinking, physical speed, strength and sniper skill had saved their butts on more than one occasion. They learned that when he took risks, the ones they had rudely deemed 'stupid' risks, there was usually logic applied before action taken.

There were still rookie mistakes as was to be expected and 'army instincts' as Ed referred to them. Like the time Sam threw himself on a concussion grenade. Ed argued that although the Kevlar vests would protect him, the action was still risky and he believed it was more army instinct rather than calculated risk assessment.

Ed learned that almost every time he let Sam pick his own Sierra vantage point Sam had a clear solution. He was damned good at analyzing blueprints and choosing a position that afforded the best coverage for the team and hostages.

Honestly this revelation both distressed and impressed Ed. The kid was good, damned good. But to get that good means he had to have a hellva lot of practical experience. It was not a skill you picked up from textbooks. Ed sadly thought the kid was too young to have that much experience.

Wordy pointed out that Ed had placed Sam on point for almost all locked soft entry points. Subconsciously, Ed must have recognized that when speed and stealth were needed Sam was the go to guy.

Spike and Lou acknowledged that Sam had been helpful with several bomb calls. But they also noticed that on those calls Sam had gotten extremely quiet. Lou suggested that maybe Sam had seen to many buddies killed by IEDs while in Kandahar. That comment silenced everyone. They had never really contemplated that Sam had served two tours with JTF2 and had probably been exposed to more death than they had.

Spike had wondered aloud what would make someone so accomplished leave JTF2 and join a police force. Jules had been looking directly at Ed when Spike spoke and saw in Ed's eyes that he thought he knew the answer and it was not pretty. Jules asked Ed to share. He responded 'Not my story to share, but I agree that it would probably take something significant to make a decision like that.'

She then remembered the night Commander Holleran had introduced Sam to the team at the retirement party. After Sam asked about her name, she had been annoyed and blasted back at him with "Elite special ops anti-terrorist guy leaves it all behind for the glamour of urban policing. Huh. What's up with that?" She can now see that the question caused him pain. He instantly grabbed onto Spike's question about how many Al-Qaeda guys he had taken out. His flippant "what you mean like out to dinner?" response effectively changed the course of the conversation and deflected from something he obviously did not want to discuss.

They had all agreed that he sucked at negotiating. Greg insisted it was because of the many years Sam had spent in the shoot first environment and they all needed to work with Sam to help him develop the skill.


Outside Central Bank - 9:30 am

Jules was brought back to the present and caught the only the last of what Winnie was sharing about the current situation "… and the person that got out said they looked like military types."

Jules quickly chided herself for getting so lost in memories and missing out on what was said. She muted her headset and looked to Sam pleadingly and said softly "Sam, I didn't catch all of that. Recap for me please" and then turned her headset back on.

Sam gave her a quick wink and lopsided grin then said "So Sarge, if I got all that, what we have here is three subjects, possibly military trained, armed with automatic weapons, four hostages, one is a baby so no CS gas, only one way in and out of the bank, five people got before the hostages were herded to the back, no one harmed so far. Did I miss anything?" He finished just as they pulled up.

Jules smiled and quickly mouthed a silent 'thank you', then cringed a bit as Ed said "No Sam, didn't miss a thing. Nice recap though for anyone that was distracted."

"Spike, you know what I need?" Greg asked as he entered the command truck.

"Right Boss, on it, eyes in two minutes. Hopefully with sound. Just gotta hack their security password unless there is a manager that can provide me it quicker" Spike said as he started to make the necessary connections to the feeds.

"Sorry Spike, just checked with the five that got out, no managers, only customers" Jules informed him.

"Boss, I'd like Sam covering you if you go in. If these guys are military he might be the best one to connect. Give him an opportunity for some field training with you right there to guide him" Ed stated.

"Good call Ed, in the last negotiating training session he called me an asshat and failed to listen to my demands" Lou laughed.

Sam blushed as he and Wordy grabbed the shields and trotted over to Greg's position near the front of the bank. He really did suck at negotiating. It scared him a bit to actually do it in the field, but if the boss told him to take over he would do his best. He just hoped his best would be good enough. He knew the boss would be right with him and help him if he faltered.

Ed commanded "Lou, take over info gathering from Jules. With Sam inside I need you in a Sierra position Jules. With that baby in there we need to have someone cover each of the three subjects."

Two "Copy that" were heard as the team executed Ed's commands.


Inside Central Bank - 9:45 am

Greg, Sam and Wordy made their way into the front of the bank as the subjects started to engage with them. Lou identified the subjects as Private Tom Summers, Corporal John York and Private Marty Green. John appeared to be the leader of trio and was the one currently talking with Greg.

"They all came home within the past three weeks but no additional information on their service records is available immediately. We need authorization to access the records" Lou said then continued "Winnie can you work on that please."

"Will do but it might take some time" she responded.

"Winnie can forward the info to Spike when it comes. Lou, I need you to get another shield and slowly make your way into the bank closer to the hostages if possible. Be ready to cover them if necessary." Ed continued to give orders and it was decided that Sam and Wordy had John, Ed had Marty and Jules had Tom. Wordy would take over for Sam if Greg handed negotiations over to him.

"You don't get it. You've never been there. The things that they do to you as a prisoner over there. You will never understand" yelled John as he was escalating and waving the gun around.

Greg looked over at Sam and with a tilt of his head was silently asking him 'do you think you could connect?' Shit, he didn't want to do this one but with a slight nod Sam answered in the affirmative.

Sam drew a deep steadying breath, slowly letting it out to settle his nerves and slow his racing heart. Greg inched over to him and they switched positions with Greg taking the shield and raising his weapon while Sam lowered his. Wordy instantly took over aiming at John. It was a seamless transition of roles. The team was good. John recognized something had changed when Sam spoke.

"Corporal John York my name is Sam Braddock with the SRU. I'd like to talk with you to see if we can resolve this so no one is harmed." Sam took a slow breath in and out to calm the adrenaline coursing through him and glanced to Sarge who gave him an encouraging smile. "Can you tell me what you need?"

"Like I told the other guy, you can't understand. You just don't know what it is like over there. You sit in your cushy homes and leave us to deal with all the shit on our own. You will NEVER UNDERSTAND! They do things that aren't human. You think the only issues we have to deal with is dying buddies being blown up or shot. But there are things much worse than that. But you don't know so you cannot help" John's voice was shaking with raw pain, anguish and a good deal of anger.

Sam was listening. He heard loud and clear. But how to help them? That was the question. John was not thinking clearly, none of the three were. They all had a haunted look to their eyes. He had an inkling that they were here to die, force us to shoot them, suicide by cop. How could he stop that from happening?

He realized that he was the only one on the team that had even a snowballs chance in hell of truly connecting with these guys. Crap, he knew what he had to do. Wasn't gonna be pretty, he'd pay for it emotionally for a while, but it was the only way he could see to get them out of here alive.

Sam mentally fortified himself before answering. "That's where you are wrong, I do understand."

Greg instantly hissed in his ear "Sam first rule, don't lie."

Sam shook his head slightly in answer to Greg but continued talking to John "I'm with the SRU now but before I was Master Corporal Samuel Braddock, with JTF2 in Kandahar. Served two tours and I know there are worse things to see and deal with than bombs and death. Talk to me buddy, I'd like to help."

John was silent for a moment then turned and stared directly at Sam and then slowly started to say "You were over there? Really? You look too damned young and innocent to be a Master Corporal. But even if you were you never saw or endured what we did."

John motioned to Marty and Tom "We were from different units but all ended up in the same hell hole. My unit was slaughtered in front of me then the bastards decided to keep me for weeks. Fed me only a slice of bread and two glasses of water each day. They beat me, punched and kicked me daily."

He shifted his gun then continued "Then Marty showed up and three days later Tom. The bastards were vicious and inhuman. They didn't believe us when we said we had no useful information. We didn't we were just grunts. They didn't care, they just laughed then beat the crap out of us. After four weeks we were rescued."

Pain and anger flared in John's face as he sneered "Ha rescued. That's a screwed up word. I wasn't rescued; part of me is still there. I can't sleep. I keep remembering every hit. You cannot understand what it like to live like that, wondering if today is the day they would finally kill you." Then he paced back and forth three steps agitated again.

John stopped then looked directly at Sam and pointed the gun at him as he yelled "YOU CANNOT UNDERSTAND."

Sam said almost too softly "Yes, yes I can."

Still looking directly at Sam John and raged, yelling at the top of his lungs "HOW, HOW CAN YOU. You NEVER had to deal with that. Look at your pretty face. NOT A MARK ON IT. There is TOO MUCH LIGHT in YOUR EYES for you to have experienced anything like what we went though. How DARE YOU say you understand!"

Again softly and calmly Sam replied "I do understand."

Sam's eyes shifted and let his mask to fall completely away. He allowed the intense pain that he kept buried deep to surface and appear in his eyes as he mentally gripped the bandages covering old wounds and prepared to rip them wide open. He looked directly at John and waited until John's eyes had locked onto his.

John's gaze was held tight to the young officer only a few feet in front of him. There was a truth and pain in those blue eyes that could never be feigned. It was so intense the heat of it burned directly to his soul. For a second John's breath caught in his throat. All his bodily movement ceased as he concentrated on the calm, clear voice of the young officer that reached his ears.

Imbuing calmness he did not feel into his voice Sam began "I know exactly how you feel. I cannot give too many details because it is still classified. But when I was with JTF2 during my first tour I was held captive and tortured for three months by one of the known terrorist cells. They knew of my affiliation to JTF2. How? No one was able to figure it out, but they had that information."

John's mind registered the ever so slight slump of the rigidly straight broad shoulders of the officer as if they were bending under the weight of the world. Most wouldn't have seen it but he was so close and John was now paying rapt attention to the figure in front of him. The voice continued.

"I know about starvation like you. They only fed me every few days; just barely enough to keep me alive. Only enough so they could keep torturing me. The only water I got was from waterboarding sessions every single morning and night."

John saw a small shake of the officer's head back and forth and the voice shook slightly as it said "Still can't stand water hitting my face."

An audible slow breath in and out and then the voice resumed evenly but with a soft growling inflection that communicated tightly controlled anger "Their favorite methods involved long, very thin whips, needles and steel toed boots. There were many more methods they used but I won't go into those. Just know I understand what you mean when you say some people can be depraved and inhuman."

Spike was in the truck watching the video feed from the cameras. He had zoomed in on Sam with one camera as he had started to speak. He was the only one of the team who could see Sam's face as he spoke.

The broken despair and hurt that etched across Sam's face made Spike gasp. Truth, agony and raw torment blazed in Sam's eyes and Spike suddenly couldn't breathe. An invisible vice squeezed his chest as his lungs screamed for air. How could someone endure that and be the strong, funny, gentle man that Spike had come to know in the past few month. Spike didn't realize he was crying silent tears until they splashed onto the keyboard.

The room was absolutely silent as Sam continued "I was more dead than alive when my unit finally found me. There were days in the months after I wished I was … that I had …" Sam sucked in a shuddering breath and gently exhaled to regain his composure.

He then continued "But eventually it got better. My buddies helped a lot, especially Matt. Having one person is all you need. One person you know has your back; for me that was Matt. He held tight, never letting go and wouldn't let me drown my darkest thoughts. Just one person is all it takes to pull you back to the beauty of life; to help you remember that most people are good and kind. I know it's hard, so very hard but you can put it away. The memories will always be with you, but you don't have to allow them to control how you live your life. You can acknowledge they exist but tuck them away in a safe place."

The whole team was reeling from all Sam was sharing. They had no idea he had been tortured. Sure the guys had seen his torso when changing. But the thin lines, all those faded thin lines crisscrossing his chest and back, they had never imagined Sam had suffered through hell. It took unfathomable courage to lay himself open like that for all to hear.

Jules, having never seen him shirtless, had no visual reference for the torture he described but it was the words he almost said that impacted her the most. He had wished he had died. He was tortured so badly he wished he was dead.

She prided herself on being a consummate professional but this, this, this, oh god this pierced straight to her heart. It was so totally beyond her capability in that moment to stop her body's reaction to this revelation. Her sable brown eyes welled with unshed tears and a small sob escaped her constricted throat as grief, for what he had endured, overwhelmed her.

Greg never imagined that this call would cause such pain for his rookie. Sam had connected with subject but at what cost to his own sanity. Could he bring something like this to the forefront and then tuck it away in that safe place again like he told John?

Other horrible thoughts crowded into Greg's mind; is he able to maintain objectivity? Where is he going with this? Can he turn this to a good conclusion? Greg had recognized the signs of a desire for suicide by cop. What would it do to Sam emotionally if he loses them?

As he was trying to figure out how to proceed to protect Sam and end this call in a good way for all he heard Sam's quiet and firm voice say "So John, now that you know I understand, what is that you need? How can we end this with no one getting hurt? We've all had enough pain for several lifetimes. Can you help me help you by putting the guns down?"

Wordy was closely watching John, his assigned subject, for any signs of threat towards Sam or the hostages. What he saw in the man's eyes was pain or the reflection of another's pain and then decision. Wordy tensed not sure what decision it was. He waited.

Sam took a small step forward to John and reached out his right hand palm up. John remained still. Sam took another step forward and said "Will you hand me the gun, please?"

John remains still. Another step forward. Sam was so close to John now. One more step and he'd be able to touch the gun. Sam stopped where he was and tenderly pleaded "John, please; choose the beauty of life, please."

Everyone's eyes except Ed and Jules were riveted on Sam and John. Waiting.

It all happened in the space of three heart beats, but it all played out in a sickening slow motion for Team One.

Heartbeat 1: John lowered the gun, ready to hand it to Sam. Sam gently smiled and reached out to take the gun, turning his body slightly to the left. Marty lowered his weapon ready to surrender, to choose life. Tom raised his weapon and fired. Jules blinked unshed tears from her eyes.

Heartbeat 2: Jules fired. Sam crashed to the ground.

Heartbeat 3: Tom went down. Greg, Ed, Spike, Lou, and Wordy all yelled OFFICER DOWN. Jules said subject three neutralized. John dropped to his knees his face contorted in agony as he stared at Sam's body on the floor, screaming Nooooo.

Time sped up to normal and controlled chaos reigned. Jules and Ed sprinted to the bank from their Sierra positions. Ed called for Winnie to get EMS to the scene as he ran. Wordy grabbed the gun from John's limp hands and handcuffed him. Lou rushed in to disarm and handcuff Marty. Greg hurried to Tom to secure the weapon and assess his status. Spike raced flat out from the truck directly to Sam.

The hostages rooted in place, frozen in utter shock by what just happened. They all had tears in their eyes after listening to the conversation between the gunman and officer. The young mother cradled her daughter close, shielding her from the view. The middle aged woman's body was wracked by sobbing she could not control. The bank manager's mouth was hanging open and slack as he stared at the brave young officer lying motionless on the floor, eyes closed. Life could be so cruel.

Spike got to Sam a split second before Jules and Ed. Each one dropped to their knees to assess his injury. Spike was breathing so heavily due to the speed of his run and the emotional scene that had played out before him. He was hyperventilating and couldn't speak as his hands roamed over Sam's body trying to find the damage.

Jules gently lifted Sam's head and cradled it on her knees. She lightly tapped his cheeks trying to get him to respond as she urgently called "Sam. Sam do you hear me. Sam wake up. Sam damn it don't do this to us. Don't let your death be on my hands. SAM!"

Ed didn't see any blood as he scanned where Sam lay. He urgently checked Sam's body armor hoping to find the bullet lodged in the vest instead of his body. A few seconds later, which felt like hours, he located the bullet lodged in the upper left just below the shoulder section. A fraction of a second later Sam forcefully coughed and frantically struggled as he attempted to pull air into his lungs.

Sam did not comprehend anything other than pain radiating across his chest and left shoulder and the need for air. He thrashed trying to sit up as he attempted again to suck air in. There was an annoying buzzing in his ears. Hands were forcing him down when he needed to rise. He couldn't get enough air and started to panic. Air, need air. Cough, pain, cough, oh god I need air.

The buzzing in his ears was beginning to make some sense. He tried to concentrate on the sound instead of the pain and the dire need for more air. A commanding tone broke through the swirling confusion. Focus on the words, he fought to rise again, gotta get air. Finally the words broke through with resounding clarity and authority.

"SAM LAY STILL. Do you hear me? Lay still. QUIT FIGHTING." Sam's mind registered it as an order. It was so ingrained in him to follow orders that he immediately stopped fighting the hands holding him down.

"Okay now, sniper breathing. EMS is on the way. Relax. Sniper breathing." He tried, really tried to comply with the order but he couldn't get his body to remember how respond properly.

"IN. HOLD 2, 3 4. RELEASE. That's it. IN. HOLD 2, 3 4. RELEASE. You're gonna be okay, it was in the vest. Relax. In. Hold 2, 3, 4. Release." Sam listened to the words, following orders; thank god for the guidance, his body had forgotten how to get air into his lungs.

"Good, okay Samo, look at me. In. Hold 2, 3, 4. Release. Open your eyes. In. Hold 2, 3, 4. Release. Come on you can do it. In. Hold 2, 3, 4. Release. OPEN YOUR EYES NOW." Eyes fluttered open.

"There you are. Okay, okay. In. Hold. Release. You scared the shit out of us. Lay still. Keep your eyes open. That's good. In. Hold. Release." Ed breathed a sigh of relief. Damn, the kid responds to well to a commanding tone. But he felt bad having to yell at him when he is in this state.

Ed could see the reproachful looks from several people around them. But he knew he was doing the right thing to help Sam. The tone and volume able to cut through the confusion in a way nothing else could and allowed Sam respond instinctively.

"Get …it …off." cough; gasp; cough "Get it off …pl ..please." cough, gasp, hiss, cough. Hands moved to remove the vest. "Better?" A slight nod of affirmation.

Sam finally began to register his surroundings. Ed knelt to the right of him. But with his face positioned directly in front of him; mere inches from his instructing him how to breathe. It read two emotions. The set of the jaw is commanding and full of anger but the eyes show concern and relief.

To his left side kneeling is Spike holding of his vest. He must have taken it off me. His face is a kaleidoscope of emotions but mostly shifting between sadness, fear and relief with drying tear streaks down both sides of his face.

Above him is Jules. His head rested in her lap and her hand was gently stroking through his hair; feels nice. Her face set solidly in anger, but her eyes are watery.

Standing around him are Greg, Wordy and Lou and they all look to be in varying degrees of distress. What the hell happened? Why is he on the floor? He almost had John's gun.

Intense pain engulfed his chest again and his eyes fell closed of their own accord as he thought, 'crap how'd I screw up this time'.

His ears were assaulted with a chorus of raised voices all at once. "Keep your eyes open." "Come on buddy, stay with us." "Even out your breathing." "Relax. Steady. Help is coming." "You're okay. We've got you." "Samtastic, hold tight, I'm never letting go."

Through the blur of pain, he couldn't distinguish who said what. Well maybe one, only one person calls him Samtastic. Sam slowly forced his eyes to open and locks them onto Spike's concentrating solely on him.

Spike clasped Sam's hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze then repeated "I'm holding tight, never letting go."

Understanding dawned. The words, Spike spoke his words back to him. Spike won't let him drown in the sea of pain and darkness. Spike believes in the beauty of life.

Sam gave a slight return squeeze then focused on relaxing his muscles. The pain in his chest started to recede and his breathing started to ease.

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