Disclaimer - Don't own the characters, except for the hostages and Kyle. Not making any profit. Doing this for what passes for 'fun'!


Hostages


By Cass


"This is great!" Jesse Travis enthused as he sat in the ambulance, listening to the siren blare. He had managed to sweet-talk one of the EMT's into letting him ride along with them on one of their shifts. In return he was helping her with her studying so that she could get into medical school.
Not that there was anything one-sided about this. The EMT, whose name was Lizzie, had developed a crush on the young doctor quite some time ago. She had seen him around Community General early in his internship and had struck up a friendly relationship with him then. Nothing had ever come of it, however, until they had been conversing one day during downtime on a chaotic day and he had expressed his desire. She had seen it as an opportunity to get to know him better but hadn't really expected him to be so animated about something as basic as turning the siren on.
How old was he, anyway? Sometimes, when his hair was all ruffled because he had run his hands through it, and he was kind of harassed, he looked all of about fifteen. Today, he sounded like he was about five.
"You do know that we're on our way to a shooting, don't you?" she pointed out, somewhat acerbically. He was a resident now - and, so she had heard, probably one of the best doctors in the ER. Surely he should be taking this seriously?
"Oh, I know …" His grin faded at her stern expression - and the reminder of what they were going to face. "I just … I've never ridden in anything with a siren before. It was just … it's cool."
"Maybe your buddy the cop can haul you off to jail in his car one day - then you'll really hear a siren," offered the other EMT, an older guy called Mike. He watched the young doctor's face fall and stifled a laugh, even as he concentrated on taking the fastest route to the incident they had been called to attend.
"I think they only turn the sirens on when they're chasing someone," mused Jesse, thoughtfully, not realising Mike was poking fun at him and missing the shared smiles between the other two. "But hey, you know, I could ask him if we could just turn it on. I mean, that'd be really …."
"We're here," Mike interrupted him. "Dr Travis, try not to get in the way."
"But … I can help!" he protested. "I mean, you're not gonna take advantage of the fact that you have an actual doctor with you? Isn't that sort of …"
"We'll see what we can do," Lizzie promised him, melting at the puppy-dog look he turned on her, not realising that the same expression had had the same effect on many others before her, including Jesse's own mentor, Mark Sloan and even 'his buddy, the cop', Steve Sloan.
"Thanks, Lizzie," he said, turning on a full-wattage Jesse Travis smile that dazzled her for the amount of time it took for Mike to climb out of the ambulance and yell to her.

The shooting had taken place at a book store downtown, minutes after its opening. The clerk had sounded strained when he had called it in, but upon questioning, he confirmed that no-one else had been hurt but that the guy really needed help - quickly. He was 'bleeding all over the floor'.
It sounded bad - but then when bullets pierced flesh, it was always bad.
Jesse stayed out of the way as the two EMT's unloaded their equipment and ran into the store, then he followed them, determined to help.
He walked in on something completely unexpected - and shocking.
There were five people in the store - three customers, the clerk and a gunman. The latter was holding the clerk in front of him as a shield, his weapon pressed to the woman's head. She looked utterly terrified. Her face was drained of blood and her eyes were tightly closed. She was obviously expecting a bullet through the brain at any moment.
The EMT's were standing totally still, their eyes trained on the gun. The gunman seemed relatively young - about 22 or so, and he was sweating profusely. Obviously this situation had got completely out of his control and he was trying to manage it the best way he could - by force and intimidation.
Jesse skidded to a halt, his eyes darting back toward the door, which was swinging shut. He considered making a run for it, but realised that he wouldn't make it before the guy shot him - or the woman, neither of which he wanted and anyway, there was an injured man on the floor.
Then he realised who the man was and his blood ran cold.
'Mark!''
Fortunately, he didn't voice the name aloud but he had to forcibly restrain himself from going to his friend's aid. The older man's eyes were closed and he looked ghastly - grey, still and lifeless. Jesse swallowed hard.
"You!" snarled the gunman, tightening his hold on the woman's throat and waving the weapon at Jesse. "Who the hell are you?"
It took a moment for the young doctor to be able to find his voice. "I'm … I'm a doctor," he said, hoarsely. "I … I was riding along with the EMT's …"
"Stow it!" the other young man yelled. "I don't wanna know what you were doing! Are you gonna help him, or what?"
"You … you called us to help this guy?" Mike sounded surprised, although he was holding up his hands in a gesture of compliance, trying not to antagonise the gunman.
"He … I didn't mean to shoot him!" came the terse response. "Stupid guy - got in the way! My gun went off! You do what you need to to help him, all right? And you better save him or … or I shoot her!"
He was referring to the clerk, who cringed as his voice rose on the last four words. Jesse didn't see the logic in his statement. He had already called the EMT's to save Mark - the guy he had inadvertently shot, so that he didn't die and yet he was threatening to kill someone else if they didn't save him?
The guy was very unstable.
Mike and Lizzie wasted no more time, but went immediately to the older man's side. "I got a GSW to the upper chest," announced Lizzie, grimly. "His pulse is tachy and there are rales sounds on the left."
Mike was extracting the equipment they needed from his bag. As he did so, he glanced up at Jesse, noting the fear on his face - fear for his colleague. "You wanna help us, here, Doc?" he asked.
The young doctor needed no second bidding. Within a minute he was crouched beside Mark, glancing at the lax features, examining the wound and feeling his heart sink further as he realised how serious it was.
"Mark?" he whispered. "Mark, can you hear me?"
There was no answer to his desperate entreaty. Not that he had expected one but he had had to try. He worked quickly, melding seamlessly with the paramedics as they all tried to stabilise the older doctor.
"How's he holding up, Doc?" asked Mike, as he finished placing the oxygen mask over Mark's face. Beside him, Lizzie was monitoring the blood pressure and pulse, her face tense and strained. Every so often she would glance up at the gunman, who stood hovering over them, brandishing his gun menacingly.
Jesse shook his head miserably. "He needs to be an in ER," he said, in a strangled voice. "We don't have the instruments here that I need - I can't just crack open his chest on a shop floor. I need sterile bandages, a scalpel, monitoring equipment. He needs to be x-rayed. I have no idea where the bullet's lodged. It could be next to his ribcage; alternatively it could have ended up in his heart muscle."
"He's still breathing," pointed out the EMT, evenly, hoping his tone would calm the increasingly hysterical young doctor. He was only too well aware of Mark Sloan's reputation - he was a fine teacher, well respected by all his interns and adored by all who knew him. Obviously Jesse Travis was no exception.
Distressed blue eyes locked gazes with his. "Yes, he's still breathing, but I don't know for how long! There's no exit wound so we know that bullet is still inside him and every minute we delay increases his chances of blood poisoning from the lead."
"I know that, but …"
"Enough talking!" The harsh voice cut into the conversation like a scythe hacking down grass. Jesse glared up at the other man.
"Why did you call us if you didn't intend to save him?" he demanded. "We have to confer - it's our job! And if you're not letting us do our job then we can't help him. So …"
"So nothin'!" the other man barked out. "You just … you just keep him alive, is all."
"How?" Jesse surged to his feet, eyes blazing with anger, forgetting for the moment the very real possibility that he might be the next victim if the gun wavering in his direction was any indication. "How do we do that? You heard what I said! He needs an OR! Now are you gonna let us take him to one, or …"
Jesse never saw the blow that was headed his way. He felt it though, as the cold steel made impact with his jaw, sending him sprawling to the ground, whimpering in agony.
"Shut up!" screamed the gunman, hysterically. "Shut up! I can't think! Just - if you move again, I swear, I'm gonna kill you!"
The young doctor looked up, his vision blurred with pain. The gun was still pointed in his direction and the other man's finger was tightening inexorably on the trigger. One more centimetre and it would all be over. He closed his eyes tightly, unable to suppress the tremor of fear which coursed through his body. Cringing, he waited for the explosion. When nothing happened, he took a chance and blinked one eye open.
The gunman's attention hadn't wavered. If anything, it had intensified and Jesse was even more convinced that he was going to die.
"Anyone else wanna play the big damned hero?" he demanded then, turning suddenly on the rest of his frightened hostages, who were recoiling in fear where he had made them sit. "No?" He strode across to the clerk, whom he had thrown to the floor when he had threatened Jesse and hauled her to her feet, practically skewering the gun into her temple. She cried out in pain and terror and all anyone could do was watch.
"You … don't want…. to do … that." The quiet, pain-laden voice originated from beside Jesse and he instantly recognised it.
"Mark!"

"What've we got?" Steve's voice was brusque as he got out of his car, drawing his weapon as he hurried across the street to the uniformed cops, who had been first on the scene at the report of a gunshot. There were others milling around, too - curious passers-by who were hoping to find out what was going on so they could watch events unfold. Steve loathed the type. They reminded him of vultures - sucking on the blood of victims.
He had been about to leave the beach house when the call had come over his police radio. The bookstore wasn't far from his home, and was, in fact, somewhere his father often frequented, searching for old, rare books on crime and mystery novels. After calling Tanis, he had made a slight detour, to discover that no-one was in charge and the other cops were having a difficult time trying to hold back the increasing throng of onlookers. Parked next to the store was an ambulance and he frowned as he realised that it was empty and there was no sign of the team who had driven it there.
One of the uniforms met him two doors away from the store. "We had a report of a gunshot, Lieutenant," reported the man as they crouched in a doorway, Steve peering round every so often to try to get a look inside. Unfortunately, the door was shut and the blinds drawn and no movement could be detected. It all seemed ominously quiet.
"I know that," he replied. "What do you know?"
"Well, we saw the ambulance as we drove up. My partner searched it and there's no sign of the two paramedics. We think they're in the store."
"Makes sense, if that's where the gunshot originated. How long have they been there?"
The cop consulted his notes. "Uh … my partner checked with control. They told him that someone called in from the store and they were despatched here at 10:07, that's just a minute or so after the gunshot was reported. I don't know how long it took for them to get here, but we've been here for ten minutes and there's no sign of them."
"And they still haven't come out?"
"No."
"So what else have you found out since you've been here?" Steve was beginning to have a bad feeling about all this. He also felt a little sorry for the guy. He was obviously a rookie and he was trying desperately to do everything by the book, but had found himself completely out of his depth.
"We questioned some of the people who were around when we got here. The guy who reported the gunshot told me that he thinks there are about four people in the store, and one clerk."
"And a guy with a gun?"
"Yeah. Looks like it."
"Jesus!" Steve wiped his hand over a suddenly dry mouth. A hostage situation. They had a hostage situation. "And someone sent an ambulance into this mess? How the hell did that happen?"
The other man shrugged helplessly. "No-one knew, Lieutenant. They obviously didn't know what they were walking into, either."
The detective exhaled deeply, composing himself. "Okay" he said, mustering his authority. "Let's set up a perimeter. Make sure no-one crosses it. I don't want anyone else shot. Get the line into the store tapped and get me a truck here so we can talk to the guy inside. Do we know who was injured in there? A hostage? An accomplice?"
The other cop shook his head, helplessly. "We have no information on that, Lieutenant."
"Okay, so we have one gunman, possibly one injured accomplice plus three hostages and two EMT's …."
"Oh, and one doctor - accompanied the EMT's," added the other man.
Steve turned to him, a sick feeling of dread suddenly beginning to churn in his stomach. "A … a doctor?" he echoed, shakily. "Do we - do we know who?"
"Yeah, Control gave us a name. Dr Travis. Dr Jesse Travis."
The dread turned to out and out horror. "Jesse?" he echoed in a strangled voice. "Jesse's in there?"
God, he hoped his friend would be sensible and not get any ideas about talking the guy round. Jesse was young, naieve and completely unversed in situations such as this. He also had a tendency to run off at the mouth when he was nervous, a fact that Steve, his father and Amanda found rather endearing but to a gunman - especially a jittery gunman with a twitchy trigger finger … "Get me that phone line set up!" he barked. "Now!"

"Mark?"
Jesse didn't even consider the possible consequences as he scrambled across the floor to his mentor. Mark's eyes widened as he recognised his young friend.
"J … Jesse? Jess … what … what are you doing here?"
The young doctor swallowed hard. Mark sounded dreadful. He looked dreadful too - beads of sweat were standing out on his brow and his skin was parchment white, having paled even more since their arrival, something Jesse hadn't thought possible.
He had removed the oxygen mask in order to talk and was now holding it with a hand that was trembling with fatigue and pain. Gently, Jesse removed the object from the quivering fingers and placed it back over his mentor's nose and mouth.
"I … I was on a ride along," he explained, aiming a tremulous smile in Mark's direction, hoping to calm him. The older man's breathing was growing more and more laboured and he was grimacing. "We … we got called here, Mark. Lucky for you, huh?"
"Hmm …" came the muffled voice from beneath the mask. "Lucky. Jess?"
"Yeah?"
"You … you have to … get out of here. He has … a gun."
Jesse bit back the sob that was rising in his throat. He so desperately wanted to help the older man, and yet he couldn't do anything! He was helpless. He may as well have not been there for all the good he was doing! "I … I know that, Mark," he managed, finally, when he had managed to regain a modicum of composure. He didn't think Mark had noticed. He was too busy concentrating on trying to breathe; trying to live. "But I'm not goin' anywhere without you. Okay?"
"Jess …"
"No," he interjected, in as stern a voice as he could muster. "I'm not leaving you. Okay?"
Mark tried to raise his hand again. It flopped down helplessly to the floor. Jesse, sensing what he wanted, wrapped his own warm fingers around it. "We're gonna get you out of here real soon, Mark. Okay? You're gonna be just fine."
He just wished he believed it.

"We have to get him out of here." Mike's quiet voice cut in on Jesse's private misery. "Hey!" He raised his voice, directing his gaze to the gunman - barely more than a boy really. "When are you gonna let us get him out of here?"
"Why can't you treat him here?" came the sulky response.
"Look … what's your name, anyway?"
"Kyle."
"Look, Kyle, we've already told you, this man needs to be in a hospital. He's been shot in the chest …"
"That wasn't my fault! I didn't mean to do it!" exclaimed Kyle, agitatedly. He waved the gun around wildly, sending the rest of his hostages scrambling for whatever cover they could find, fearful that it might discharge at any moment.
"I know, I know," said Mike, reasonably, trying to placate the younger man. He held up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "Kyle, it's okay. It's okay …"
"No!" The word sounded like a gunshot as the weapon spun around, aimed directly at the ENT's head. "Don't you patronise me! Don't! I'm in charge here, geddit!"
"Yes, yes, we got it." Mike's voice was quiet and slightly strained.
Kyle, seemingly satisfied that he had instilled the appropriate amount of fear into the other man lowered his gun and smiled. "Maybe I'll do you a favour," he mused. "Maybe I'll let you and the old guy outta here. I don't need him anyway - bleeding all over the floor."
Jesse saw red. Outraged by the other man's callous attitude and helpless to do anything but watch his friend die, he didn't even think before shooting to his feet, prepared to defend Mark to the death. "He wouldn't be bleeding if you hadn't shot him!"
Kyle rounded on him, brown eyes blazing with fury. "Shut up!" he yelled, dealing the younger doctor another powerful blow with the gun. "Shut up!"
"J … Jesse … don't …"
Jesse heard the voice through the haze of agony, and gritted his teeth against the agony that pounded through him, wishing in the next instant that he hadn't done so as it aggravated the throbbing in his jaw and temple, where the gun had impacted. He could feel a slow trickle of liquid run down his hairline and guessed it was blood. Barely able to focus through the tunnel vision which was threatening to rob him of consciousness, he managed to crawl across to Mark, taking his hand once again.
The kindly blue eyes, glazed with pain, regarded him with deep concern and he felt a rush of guilt flood through him. "Don't … antagonise him, Jess," warned the older man in a raspy, barely audible voice. His breathing was shallow and rapid and he was looking worse and worse by the minute.
Dammit! He should be the one reassuring Mark, not the other way around! Berating himself for his impulsiveness and sheer stupidity, he managed a watery smile that made his face ache. "I'm … I'm sorry, Mark," he stammered. "You're right, I just …"
Mark's hand broke free from his briefly and clumsily patted his own, stilling the tearful apology. He had expended the last of his strength, however and the next moment his arm fell to the side as his eyes drifted shut and he lost consciousness.
"Mark? Mark!"
There was no answer to his desperate plea and he glanced frantically up at Kyle, who was shifting from foot to foot, his eyes darting between the bleeding figure and the near-hysterical doctor who was tending to him.
"Please," whispered Jesse. "Please, we have to get him out of here. I'm sorry I yelled at you - really. I didn't mean it. Only, please, please let us get him to a hospital!"
"He's … he's real important to you, isn't he?"
The question stunned Jesse - more because of the quiet tone in which they were uttered than the words themselves. "Huh?"
"Yeah … my old man was important to me, too, only - he left. Never seen him since."
Oh God. Is this some sort of reprisal for abandonment by his father? Jesse swallowed hard. It was hard to talk through the constant ache in his jaw - he could feel it swelling up even as he tried to manipulate it -and his head was pounding, making him feel nauseous. "My … my dad did the same," he offered, tentatively. "I … I know how that feels."
"You too, huh?" Kyle shook his head sorrowfully. "So - what's the old guy to you?" he went on, gesturing casually toward Mark with his gun.
"He's … he's my teacher - and my friend," replied Jesse. "He's … been there for me."
"You're lucky. I never had that."
"I'm sorry." And Jesse was surprised to realise that he meant it.

Steve was grinding his teeth. It was a bad habit and he only did it when he was nervous, worried or deeply irritated
At the moment, he was all three.
"Will you keep those people back!" he ordered, as the uniformed officers strove to restrain the ever-swelling ranks that were gathering to gape at the drama which was being played out on their street. He reached into his pocket, dragging his cellphone out and hurriedly punched in a familiar number. "Captain? I've got a situation here," he declared as the call was answered. "We have a shooting inside a bookstore on 12th and there are hostages. I'm gonna need more backup down here. There's a crowd gathering. Can you also get me a negotiator? I .. don't feel comfortable taking on the role myself. My friend is in there. He's one of the hostages."
The call finished, he snapped the phone shut, glowering at anyone who dared to approach him. The other cops, duly warned, remained where they were.
A few seconds later another police car swerved to a halt outside the barricade and a familiar figure came running across.
"What've we got, Sloan?" she demanded as she made her way toward him, after showing her badge to the cop who had tried to stop her.
"Tanis," he greeted her, dryly. "Nice to see you."
"Yeah - and if your next line is gonna be 'what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this' then stow it. I'm not in the mood."
"And what a little ray of sunshine you are this morning," he quipped, although the smile that accompanied the comment was a little forced.
"You're not exactly gonna win prizes for 'Mr Cheerful' yourself," she pointed out. She nodded her head toward the bookstore. "Hostage situation and your friend's inside?"
"Police radio?" he countered.
"No I'm psychic. So, what's with the situation? Spoken to the guy yet?"
"We're waiting on a truck with the equipment. We've tapped into the line so we're all set when it gets here."
"And your friend - Travis is it? He's inside there?"
He nodded grimly, his eyes straying back to the building. "God, Tanis, if anything happens to him …"
"It won't," she said, sounding more confident than she felt. "It'll be okay, Steve."
He nodded dismally. He knew she was only trying to be supportive, but unfortunately he had to face reality. Jesse was impetuous and compassionate and God help him if he tried to make friends with the guy - which wasn't entirely out of the realms of possibility, knowing the younger man. He was a little too much like Steve's father.
His father!
Steve groaned inwardly.
He hadn't thought to tell his dad about this.
What Mark was going to say when he knew that Jesse was a hostage …
There would be no way in hell Steve would ever be able to keep him from coming down to the scene. He might even volunteer to go in there as a replacement for Jesse. It was the type of thing he would do for anyone and most especially for his young protégé, of whom he was inordinately fond.
No, he couldn't tell his dad.
He just couldn't deal with having him down here, worrying about him, too - worrying about him walking in there without so much as a 'by your leave' just to rescue their friend and the others.
He ran shaking fingers through his already tousled hair, wondering where all this was going to end.
Then the news crews turned up.

"So your dad deserted you, too, huh?" Kyle's voice was bitter and he had started pacing - something which had set the nerves of all of his hostages on edge.
Jesse swallowed, hard. "Um - yeah," he replied. He wasn't sure what else to say. And anyway, it was the truth, wasn't it? His dad had walked out on them when he was young. Now he had another family. A family who seemed to care about him far more than his real one. At least, that was how Jesse saw it. He knew how it felt to have a father discard him, like an old sweater he had grown tired of wearing. His dad had another son now. Jesse was surplus to requirements. No wonder they never had anything to say to one another. He had never quite managed to rid himself of the feeling that, somehow, he was to blame, like he hadn't been good enough so his dad had been forced to start again with a newer, fresher model.
"So, where's your old man now?" enquired Kyle, leaning against the counter, regarding Jesse with genuine curiosity and even a certain amount of sympathy.
Jesse shrugged. "He - he lives in Canada with his new family."
"New family? Man, that sucks. So, what's he do?"
"He's an accountant."
Kyle snorted derisively. "Figures," he said. "Makes a lot of dough, does he? And I bet you and your mom never see one dime of it."
Jesse smiled, wanly. "Uh - no." He didn't really think it was wise to reveal that his mom had never needed the money. She was independently wealthy and her lucrative medical practice had meant that he had never wanted for anything - except, perhaps, a little affection.
"And you," Kyle went on, turning his attention to one of the other hostages - a middle-aged woman. "What's your story, lady?"
She regarded him with wide, fearful eyes from where she sat, huddled against the Medical section. Her jaw worked for a moment, but no sound emerged.
Impatiently, he advanced on her, gesturing wildly at her with his weapon. "Come on, old woman!" he spat. "I asked you a question!"
"I … I …" she stammered. "Please … I have children … a grandchild on the way. Please .. don't hurt me."
"Leave her alone!"
Kyle spun on his heel to face the new speaker, a man in a smart suit who was seated nearby. He was glowering at the young man. From where he knelt, next to Mark, Jesse reflected that this probably wasn't a good idea.
"Oh it talks!" Kyle mocked. "Didn't do much protestin' when I shot the old man, didya?"
"That's … that's because I thought we were going to be next!" came the defensive response. The man was sweating with nerves. He ran a hand under his collar, his false bravado faltering as Kyle stepped closer.
"It was an accident!" screamed the young gunman. "I didn't mean to do it! Okay?"
"Then why don't you let him go now?" asked Mike.
Kyle whirled around to face him, face contorted with fury. "What?"
"You got the clerk to make the call to us so you could save him, right?" pointed out Mike, evenly. "And you've already said you might let us take him. If we go now we have a better chance of saving him."
There were murmurs of agreement from the others, including Lizzie, who had been silent throughout, her training as an EMT not preparing her for the fact that she might one day be a hostage to a man with a gun.
Kyle shifted from foot to foot, fretfully, his eyes darting between the EMT's, Jesse and Mark and the door, over which he had drawn the blind. "I .. I don't want him to die," he said, slowly. "But .. you go and I only have these guys left. I don't like them much - they're no fun."
"Then why don't you let them go as well?" asked Mike. "We could end all this right here, right now, Kyle. Let everyone go and let's all get out of here. Everyone has some place they need to be - including you."
He shrugged. "Well … yeah. But .. what about him?" he asked, gesturing toward Mark. "I mean, I put a bullet in him. I didn't mean to. He surprised me is all. Comin' up from behind me like he did and speakin' to me - I didn't expect anyone else to be here."
"You didn't see all the others in the store?"
"I … the bookshelves are real tall in here. I thought I was the first. I was just after some cash. I didn't wanna hurt no-one."
"Then let us all go," reasoned Mike. "The man you shot is a doctor. And he's also one helluva nice guy. If it was an accident like you say then he'll vouch for you."
"It was an accident!" asserted the young man, his agitation increasing. "I told you that already!"
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry."
Regarding him suspiciously for a moment or two, Kyle finally nodded. "Okay," he said. "Okay, we'll all go. But I don't want no sudden moves, okay?"
"Okay."
Mike and Jesse exchanged relieved glances and prepared to move Mark onto the gurney. Kyle strode over to the door to check outside, then drew back with a sudden intake of breath.
"Wh … what?" demanded Jesse as the young gunman loomed over them, eyes wild with panic.
"There's … there's cops out there!" he screamed. "You called the cops on me!"
"No, we didn't!" Jesse exclaimed. "How could we? None of us has used a phone since we got in here!"
"Someone must have reported the gunshot, Kyle," Mike guessed. "But …"
"No!"
"What?"
"No! We can't go anywhere! I ain't getting shot! They're gonna kill me!"
"No they won't …"
"Yes, they will! You're all stayin' here. We're goin nowhere. Not till I figure out what to do!"
Mike and Jesse traded glances again. Mark's condition was deteriorating and if they didn't get him to Community General very soon, then getting him out of the bookstore would become a moot point. Jesse was desperate to do something - anything - that would save his friend. He didn't care at this point what happened to him, just as long as Mark was all right. As they made the older man as comfortable as they could on the gurney, he racked his brains, trying to come up with something that would persuade Kyle to let Mark and the others go without getting the young gunman hurt.
He came up with an idea just as the telephone started to ring.

"Captain says you're on your own."
Steve stared in disbelief at Tanis as she relayed the news to him. Both truck and negotiator had been stuck in the traffic that had backed up since the hostage situation had commenced. The former had arrived. The latter was still several miles away. Scores of vehicles carrying curious onlookers were, ironically and tragically, delaying the arrival of the man who could put an end to the entire situation.
"I can't be impartial!" he snapped at her. "Jesse's in there!"
She shrugged. "Sorry, Steve, but you're it. You're gonna have to try."
He scrubbed a hand over his face, turning to look at the store then turning back to her. "Tanis, what if …"
"Is this Steve Sloan doubting himself?" she mocked him, good-naturedly. "Look, we don't have any other choice. If you don't do it then no-one will. We could end up with a bloodbath."
"We could end up with one anyway," he grumbled. Then he sighed, heavily. "Okay, okay, I'll try."
Climbing into the truck, he smiled grimly at the two men who were already in there, calibrating the equipment, ensuring that the phone line was secure. "We all set?" he asked them.
"We are, Lieutenant," replied one of them. He indicated a chair, beside which were some headphones. "It's all yours."
Steve paused for a moment to compose himself and try to regain some objectivity. He wasn't sure how long he was going to be able to sustain it but it was imperative for not only Jesse but the rest of the people in there that he did. That thought sobered him. His friend wasn't the only one in danger in there. There were other people, including the woman clerk. Taking a seat he nodded at the other two men and one of them immediately set to dialling the number of the store.

Kyle stared at the telephone as though it was an alien being. Backing away, he looked around frantically, his eyes settling finally on Jesse, who had taken half a step toward him before the instrument had started to ring.
"You get it!" he instructed the young doctor.
Jesse hesitated, his eyes straying toward Mark. He so desperately wanted to get him out of here. Who could be calling now, at this moment, when he had finally figured out how to expedite that?
Then he suddenly realised.
The police! Of course!
"Okay," he said, and hurried to answer it before it stopped. "He … hello?" he stammered as he picked up the receiver.
"Jesse?" boomed the voice on the other end.
The very surprised voice.
Steve's voice.
"Steve!"
Inside the van, the detective groaned. This was one of the reasons why he hadn't wanted to do this. Jesse had just unwittingly violated the first rule of negotiating - never giving a hostage taker an advantage over you. It could be a potentially fatal error.
"Jesse, are you okay?"
Jesse nodded, then remembered that Steve couldn't see him. "I'm okay," he replied.
"What about the rest of the hostages, Jess? And how many are there?"
"Who is it? What does he want? You called him 'Steve'. You know this guy?"
Jesse turned to regard Kyle with unease as the young gunman peppered him with questions. "Uh … it's the cops," he told him. "I … he's a friend of mine. I .. he wants to know how many people are here."
"Is he gonna shoot me?" Kyle sounded scared. Jesse wasn't at all surprised. He'd be scared too, in Kyle's shoes. He was scared, and he wasn't in Kyle's shoes.
"No, he's not gonna shoot you, Kyle," he said as calmly as he could. "He just wants to know the situation."
"Don't tell him about the old guy!" pleaded Kyle, desperately.
The young doctor sighed. "Kyle, he's going to know someone was shot. Someone reported it, remember? Plus there's an ambulance sitting outside with no-one in it. I think they've figured out that much."
Kyle brought the gun up, aiming it at Jesse's chest, then, seeing how the young man stiffened at the sight of it, swung it round to aim it at the sweaty businessman. The man shied away, hiding his head in his hands. "No, please" he mumbled, pathetically. "Don't kill me!"
"Kyle." Mike's soothing voice rose over the sound of the man's whimpered pleas. "Kyle, just let Jesse tell the cop what he wants to know. He's just trying to assess the situation. He doesn't want anyone killed - including you. No-one wants to die here. Just - let Jesse tell him, okay?"
Kyle appeared to give this some consideration, then he turned back to Jesse, who was holding the phone with a white-knuckled grip, his face having turned several shades paler as he watched the young man disintegrate dangerously before him. "Okay," he said, shakily. "Okay, you tell him. But - you tell him this. If he does anything stupid I'll … I'll kill Mr Business suit over here. He annoys me."
Jesse nodded. "Okay," he said, quietly. "Okay, I'll tell him."

"Steve?"
Jesse's voice sounded thin and small and Steve could tell he was very scared but trying to put up a brave front. He felt inexplicably proud of his young friend. "Yes, Jesse?" he replied.
"Steve, there's four customers, a clerk, me, Lizzie, Mike and … " he hesitated for a long moment. He didn't know how he was going to break this to Steve - he wasn't even sure he wanted to.
"'And', Jesse?" Steve prompted.
"Your father is here. He was shot," whispered Jesse, in a rush, as though saying the words quickly would take away the impact they would have.
It didn't.
For a long moment, Steve didn't even breathe.
Then when he did, mainly because he had to, he couldn't speak.
Tanis exchanged looks of concern with the other two men in the truck. He partner's face had lost every shred of colour and he looked like he was about to pass out. "Steve?"
"My … my dad!" he gasped. "Oh god …"
"Steve? Steve!" Jesse's frantic voice from the other end brought him back to some semblance of normality. But 'normal' was a relative term. His whole world had just been tilted on its axis and he didn't think anything would ever be the same again.
"J … Jesse, did you say … my dad has been shot?" It didn't even sound like him. Gruff and tremulous, it sounded like a parody of his normal voice.
"I'm sorry, Steve!" The apology was coming from the wrong person. Jesse hadn't shot his dad. He had nothing to be sorry about.
"Jess …"
"We have to get him outta here!" Jesse was continuing as if he hadn't spoken. "Kyle was ready to let us do that when he saw all the cops out there. He's … he doesn't want to be shot, Steve. But we have to get Mark to the hospital."
He couldn't believe he was about to ask this question about his own father, but he had to know. "Jesse, how bad is it?"
There was an ominous silence, then, "It's bad, Steve," Jesse's voice faltered as he spoke the words. "We can't do any more for him here. He needs to be in an OR."
Earlier he had battled with himself over calling his dad to let him know what was going on down here - how much danger their young friend was in. Steve recalled now with amazing clarity the moment he had decided against it, worrying how the older man would react and what he would do. Unable to cope with the prospect of having to stand there arguing with his father or, worse, watch helplessly whilst he deliberately put himself in harm's way, he had even felt a sense of profound relief that Mark Sloan wasn't there.
Except that he was.
Had been all the time.
He was the gunshot victim.
And whilst Steve had been debating with himself, his dad had been lying, bleeding to death, inside the bookstore.
Now all he wanted was the older man beside him, arguing the validity of rushing in where angels feared to tread.
Instead he was here, outside, whilst his dad …
"Jesus," he moaned, covering his face with his hands.

"Steve? Steve!"
Silence had descended on the other end of the telephone. Jesse could hear his friend's heavy, ragged breathing, though, so he knew he was still there.
But he was obviously devastated by the news about Mark.
The young doctor was consumed by waves of guilt.
Mark shouldn't even be here!
He should have been in hospital by now, undergoing the surgery that would save his life.
Jesse blamed himself entirely.
If only he had been able to talk Kyle round earlier.
If only he had been able to do more for Mark so his condition was not so terribly fragile.
If he died …
My god, if the unthinkable happened …
He would never, ever forgive himself.
Whilst Steve …
Oh god - Steve!
"Steve?"

The small, scared sounding voice filtered through Steve's agonised thoughts. He brought his head up, running a shaky hand over his suddenly dry mouth. "Jess ..?"
"Steve, please … I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."
The words jolted him out of his fugue straight into the horror of comprehension.
His dad had died whilst he had been bemoaning his lack of foresight.
It was the only plausible explanation he could come up with for Jesse's distraught apology. "Oh god," he breathed. "Jesse, my dad …?"
He couldn't. He couldn't say the words.
Instead he waited, his heart thundering in his ears, trying to prepare himself for the words he had never wanted to hear - especially under these circumstances.
"He needs to get outta here, Steve," reiterated the young doctor unsteadily. "I can't do any more for him. Just please, tell Kyle no-one will shoot him and maybe … "
"Wait!" Steve interjected. "Wait! Are you telling me my dad's not … he's still alive?"
"Well, yeah, he's still alive," responded Jesse, clearly bewildered by the question. Then realisation dawned. "Oh no …" he breathed. "You thought he'd … because I … oh my god, Steve, I am so sorry!"
Relief washed over the detective and he bowed his head under the weight of it. "It's okay, Jess," he said, absently. "It's okay. I just thought … it doesn't matter what I thought. Just … okay, okay, let's do this. Kyle doesn't want to be shot. I get that. Tell him no-one particularly wants to shoot him, okay?"
Actually, that wasn't strictly true. Presuming that 'Kyle' was the one responsible for shooting his father - and if it wasn't him, who else could it be? - Steve would have had no compunction about filling him full of lead had he had the guy in front of him at that moment. But he didn't have that luxury. Besides, he was a cop, not a killer. And someone had to get the other hostages out - and the other hostages included his best friend.
And that was him - for now.
God, what a mess this was!

Jesse turned from the telephone to face the young gunman who was hovering nearby, his fingers clenching and unclenching around the gun. The young doctor wished he could persuade Kyle to give up the weapon but something within him, stilled the urge to ask. He might be impulsive and naieve - enough people had accused him of both traits during his lifetime - but he wasn't stupid. Kyle wasn't going to give up his biggest advantage. Not just yet, anyway.
"Kyle, Steve says that no-one wants to shoot you," he said, relaying his friends words, hoping the news would calm the other man down.
It seemed to have no visible effect. Kyle stared at him uncomprehendingly, then glanced down at the gun in his hand. Before anyone knew what was happening he was marching across the floor to the third hostage, who had thus far remained silent and frozen in fear. Now the young man hauled her up, holding her in front of him like a human shield.
She was young, blonde and pretty and under any other circumstance Jesse would have found himself trying to ask her out on a date. Now all he felt was fear - for what Kyle was going to do to her. "Kyle? What are you doing?"
"They're out there!" the young man screamed, roughly restraining the young woman as she struggled to free herself of his iron grip around her throat. "They're gonna burst in and kill me! Well, I ain't goin' down alone! I ain't! I don't wanna die!"
Jesse was utterly lost. He didn't know what to do for the best. He looked down at the phone, almost as though he half-expected Steve to leap out from the receiver at any moment. Nothing happened. He could hear a distant yelling, however and a few seconds elapsed before he realised that it was Steve himself, trying to ascertain - loudly - what the hell was going on.
"Jesse! Jesse!"
His gaze still trained on Kyle and the woman, who was visibly shaking, her eyes tightly closed in dread, obviously convinced she was about to get her brains blown out, Jesse hesitantly put the phone back to his ear.
"Jesse!"
Steve's roar almost deafened him. Wincing as his ear recovered from the blasting, he gulped down some air, trying to force his voice out through a throat that was tightening with fear and trepidation. "St … Steve?" he practically squeaked.
"Oh, thank god!"
Steve wiped a hand down his face. He'd been convinced that Kyle had done something to his friend when he had heard all the commotion at the other end of the phone. Now he didn't know whether to be relieved or furious with Jesse. He settled on relieved. If he allowed his anger free reign at this point he wasn't sure he would ever be able to keep it in check. "Jesse, what the hell happened?"
"It … it's Kyle." Jesse's voice was low, quiet and tense. "He's …he's scared someone will come in here and shoot him. Steve, you gotta promise him that he won't come to any harm. I don't think he meant to do what he did … I …"
"That bastard shot my father!" Steve grated out, interrupting his friend's flow of words. "He shot my father and you're defending him? Jesse, what the hell are you doing?"
"Trying to keep everyone alive! What are you doing?" Jesse shot back, practically in tears at this turn of events. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. He also couldn't believe what he had just said to Steve, but he was at the end of his tether. He didn't know what he was doing, for god's sake. He had thought today would be an easy ride with the EMT's. He hadn't been planning on being thrown into a hostage situation with a young man who was so desperately unstable that he could shoot anyone at any moment. He hadn't been expecting to have to try and save the life of the man he admired and respected most in the entire world. If Mark died, Jesse knew that it would be his fault - because he hadn't got here fast enough, he wasn't good enough; he hadn't done enough. And now his friend - the best friend he had ever had - was yelling at him, accusing him of betraying Mark. He sagged wearily against the counter, not knowing what to do next; only knowing that Mark was lying on the gurney, bleeding his life away and every precious minute spent arguing was bringing the moment of his death closer and closer.

Steve was silent for a long moment after Jesse's impassioned response. He was trying to take in air, completely oblivious to the anxious stares of the three other people in the truck. Tanis had listened to his side of the conversation with increasing alarm, and had made a discreet telephone call to try to ascertain how much longer the negotiator would be. Unfortunately, it looked like they were going to be on their own for the foreseeable future. Two TV trucks on their way to the incident had collided, making the tailback even longer. This day was quickly going to hell in a handbasket.
"St … Steve?"
"Yeah?"
The taciturn tone of Steve's voice dashed all Jesse's hopes of an instant reconciliation with his friend. He coughed slightly. "I … maybe you should talk to Kyle."
"Yeah," the detective ground out, irritably. "Maybe I should. Maybe I should ask him why he's shooting defenceless old men who have never done him any harm!"
Jesse refrained from pointing out that he didn't think Mark would approve of Steve calling him an 'old man', realising that his friend didn't really know what he was saying. Under normal circumstances he would never have used that word. Mark Sloan was young at heart and always would be. Jesse had always considered him dignified or occasionally eccentric, but never 'old'. He knew Steve felt the same way.
"Steve …"
"Just … put him on, Jesse."
The iciness in the way he spoke Jesse's name made the young doctor shiver. He hoped he wouldn't die today - not before he asked Steve to forgive him.
"S… Steve wants to talk to you," he said, timidly, holding the phone out to Kyle.
The young man backed away, still pressing the barrel of his gun into the young woman's temple. "Why?" he demanded. He tried to peer out of the blinds, but they effectively blocked his view - which had, of course, been the whole point in closing them in the first place. But now he was growing increasingly paranoid, convinced that at any second someone would come barrelling through the door, firing at him.
"Just … talk to him, Kyle," urged Jesse. "Please. I promise - I won't let anyone hurt you."
Kyle narrowed his eyes, studying the other man, trying to establish his sincerity. Apparently, he was satisfied. "Okay," he said. "Okay, you come over here. You're gonna take her place. And if anyone tries to shoot me. I'm gonna shoot you. Okay?"
Jesse nodded. If it would get the woman away from Kyle and get Kyle to the phone then he would agree to anything.

"He … hello?"
The scared young voice didn't sound anything like what Steve had expected. He didn't know, at this point, what he had been expecting. "Who's this?" he demanded, roughly.
"This is Kyle. Who's this?"
"My name's Steve … Kyle." The detective took a deep breath. He could do this. He just had to remain calm. He just had to forget that this was the guy who'd shot his dad.
"Okay. So, whaddya want?"
"I think the question, Kyle, is what do you want?"
There was silence for a moment, then. "I don't wanna die," came the response. "If you rush me now, I'm gonna kill Jesse here."
Jesse?
Oh God …
"Kyle, don't do anything you might regret," Steve urged him. "What can we give you to get those hostages out of there?"
"Give me? I … I don't understand."
Oh great, a hostage taker who didn't know what he was doing and didn't have any demands other than 'don't kill me'. Steve couldn't decide if this was good or very, very bad. "Well, how it works is, we give you something, like, say, food or drink or something and you give up one or more of your hostages. Starting with the EMT's and the injured man."
Kyle liked the sound of that. "Food?" he echoed. "You'd give me food?"
"Well, yeah," replied Steve. "You want something to eat, Kyle? Or maybe you want to end this whole thing here and now. You let the hostages go and come out with your hands up and we all get to eat. How's that?"
"No. No, I don't like that idea." Kyle shook his head and tightened his hand on Jesse's throat. The young doctor began to choke. When he had agreed to take the woman's place he hadn't counted on not being able to breathe. But he didn't dare struggle. He had agreed to this, after all. He didn't want to do anything that was likely to set off an eruption that might get everyone else killed.
"Then what do you want, Kyle - you want food? And we get the EMT's and the injured man? How about a few of those other hostages?"
Kyle glanced around, chewing his lip thoughtfully. Truth be told he didn't want all these people here. This entire situation had snowballed out of his control right from the get go and he was having a hard time keeping his composure. He knew if he set foot out there they would kill him. He wasn't stupid. He'd seen this kind of stuff on the TV. They always had sharpshooters positioned on roofs and behind squad cars. He didn't want to get shot. It would hurt. He didn't know what he did want but he sure didn't want that. "And I'd get some food?" he asked.
"Whatever you want," promised Steve.
"Okay. I don't need all these people - they're getting' on my nerves anyway. But I ain't comin' out. I'm stayin' here. And your buddy, Jesse's stayin' right here with me."
Steve's breath caught in his throat. Oh god, what had he done? He'd secured the release of all the hostages, including his dad, in exchange for food, at the expense of his best friend? Kyle was skittish and mercurial. He wouldn't need much of an excuse to just kill his one remaining hostage. Steve felt like he'd just condemned Jesse to death.
"Kyle …"
"That's the deal," came the implacable response, cutting off whatever bargain he was about to make. "We want pizza, don't we, Jesse?"
Jesse couldn't reply. Kyle's hand had cut off his air completely and black spots were dancing in front of his eyes. He knew he only had seconds before he passed out and tried to say something - anything - to make the young gunman loosen his grip. But the only sound to escape from between his blueing lips was a gurgling noise.
Then the darkness zeroed in and he fell headlong into oblivion.

"Jesse!"
The alarm in the unfamiliar voice sent a corresponding chill of fear through Steve. "Kyle!" he roared into the headset. "Kyle, can you hear me? What's happened? What's happened to Jesse?"
There was no response from the gunman and Steve swore under his breath, his apprehension increasing exponentially as each second passed with no word on what had become of his friend.
The friend with whom he had been so furious only minutes earlier.
Christ, what if Kyle had killed him?
The detective felt his throat close up. He couldn't even bear to contemplate that prospect.
Not when his last words to Jesse had been so cold, so hateful.
First his father.
Now his best friend …
He was losing all his ability to remain objective here.
All he really wanted to do was rush into the bookstore and rip Kyle's head off.
He inhaled deeply, trying to calm his raging emotions.
It didn't work.
He still wanted to rip Kyle's head off.
"Kyle!" Kyle! Speak to me, goddamit!" he yelled.
"Mmmmm … St … Steve?"
The voice was faint, raspy and pain-filled but it was undeniably Jesse's. Relief flooded through the detective.
"Jesse! Are you okay?"
"Mmmm …"
"Okay, Mr detective, now you know that Jesse here is just fine, when do we get that pizza?"
Kyle's strident, demanding tone cut into the last vestiges of Steve's patience. He strove to bite his tongue lest he make some cutting remark that would blow any chance he had of securing the hostages' release. This kid was savvy and had obviously been mulling over this new idea of bargaining with his captives' lives by getting what he wanted out of the cops first. Steve recognised the type - although Kyle was more than a little unstable and that frightened him. The kid could go back on his word at any moment if he thought he would get something better out of the deal. Just 'not being shot and killed' was no longer all he wanted. The detective dreaded to think what he might ask for in return for the men and women under his control.
"We want anchovies on the pizza," Kyle was telling him - as though this was a normal conversation, not a desperate hostage situation. "And meat. Plenty of meat. And we want cokes and fries. You getting' all this down, Mr detective?"
"Coke and fries, anchovies and meat, got it," said Steve, tightly. "And when the food gets here, you'll let those people go, including the injured man?"
"Sure." The response was automatic, then. "But I might keep the clerk. She's pretty. Yeah, the clerk and Jesse. I'll keep them here with me. You can have the rest."
Steve's heart sank. He'd suspected this would happen. Kyle was re-negotiating their deal. He'd been considering his options ever since the offer of an exchange had been mooted and now he was backtracking, taking control of the situation. Somehow, Steve had to regain that control.
He just didn't know how - not without risking the rest of the people in there with the young gunman.
What next?
One hostage at a time?
Realistically, he knew that the choice - if it came down to it - had already been made. And it was not just an emotional selection. It was the logical one to make - the only one to make.
His father had to be the first out.
He was injured. He needed urgent medical care and a hospital.
No-one else was hurt - yet.
They could wait until he had another bargaining chip.
He ignored the little voice which urged him to save his friend.
Jesse was fine. He was going to be just fine.
The little voice started to laugh.

Jesse sat huddled against the counter, rubbing his neck with his hand. His other was against the cheek that Kyle had so violently slapped to bring him back to consciousness. He was pretty sure he had a cracked cheekbone but he didn't particularly want to move too much in order to find out.
His throat still ached and he was having trouble swallowing. Plus, he felt sick. His head was pounding, too. There were little men in there with big hammers, driving them incessantly against the inside of his skull. He wished they would stop so he could think.
The murmur of voices was but a distant irritant and he kept his eyes closed against the glare of the sun, which was streaming through the slatted blinds. He wished he was anywhere but here. A nice warm bed would be nice. He had a nice warm bed in his apartment. He wished he was there right now.
He winced as a voice boomed above him, although he couldn't make out the words above the clamour in his head. He wanted to tell them to shut up but it hurt to speak, as he had found out to his cost when someone had shoved a phone next to his ear and Steve's voice had been yelling down the receiver.
Steve was mad with him, he recalled. He couldn't remember why now and somehow, it seemed important.
"Get up!"
"Mmm?" God, even that low, tentative mumble hurt. He decided to keep quiet. Maybe the pain would go away.
Suddenly he was being hauled to his feet. He swayed precariously for a moment or two then someone steadied him. Strong, firm hands wrapped themselves around his arms and fingers prised his eyes open one by one, only to shine an annoying beam of light into them, exacerbating the headache which was threatening to burst through his skull.
"No …!" he protested feebly. "Mmmm..!"
A loud sigh reached him. He wondered for a moment whether it was him, then realised it couldn't have been.
"He's dazed and in pain," he heard a familiar voice say. He tried to place it, becoming slightly irritated with himself when he couldn't. He knew that person!
"He's gonna be okay, though. Right?"
He knew that voice, too. A shudder ran down his spine as recognition dawned. Kyle.
It was all coming back now - slowly.
The ride along.
The bookstore.
The hostages.
Kyle.
Mark!
"M..k!" he rasped, his eyes springing open to stare frantically around the room - which almost immediately developed an unnerving spinning motion. He swayed again, then fought to stay upright as his gaze found and locked on that of his mentor. "M…k!" he gasped again, breaking free from whoever was restraining him to stagger the few short feet across the room to where Mark lay.
"J … Jesse …" Mark studied him with deep concern, grimacing as pain shot through him, a burning streak in his chest. "Jess … you … okay?"
"Mmm," he managed. "You?" He couldn't believe that was his voice - scratchy and hoarse. Plus, of course, it still hurt.
"Tired," Mark admitted, his eyes drifting shut again, unable to hold his focus any longer. "Hurts …"
Jesse slowly turned - he didn't dare put any speed in the motion, sensing that if he did he was going to wind up on the floor again. He sought out the EMT's and questioned them silently.
Mike, who was near the counter - his had been the voice he had heard. Of course! - shook his head solemnly. They were no closer to getting Mark out of there.
Oh god …
"We're gettin' pizza," announced Kyle. He seemed inordinately pleased about this. His demeanour had changed again. He was positively cheerful, almost giddy and that scared Jesse even more than any of his temper tantrums. This kid was too mercurial, too highly strung. He wondered what had happened during the time he had been unconscious.
"Hey, Jesse!"
He realised he had been drifting away and reluctantly brought his attention back to the young gunman. "Wh…a?" he choked out.
"I asked for fries and coke too," Kyle told him. "Then we're gonna get rid of the old guy and those medical guys."
A wave of relief washed through the young doctor. Kyle hadn't gone back on his word, then. He still intended to let Mark and the EMT's go - but what about the rest of the hostages? He desperately wanted to ask, but thought better of it. He had already infuriated Steve once - he didn't want to do it again by seeming to take on his negotiator role. He would only mess it up anyway - and he had messed up enough today. "Goo..d" he managed.
Man, his throat ached. He wanted to ask for something to ease it - water, anything, but he didn't want to speak any more than necessary. He sagged again, reaching out a trembling hand to prevent himself from falling. Instantly, Mike was there, helping him over to the counter, where he eased him down again.
He was just about to examine the young doctor when he was rudely displaced by Kyle. His gun was held limply in his hand, but he was keeping a close eye on everyone. His eyes were alight with something indefinable - something which looked suspiciously like amusement. Jesse got the distinct impression that he was starting to enjoy being in charge. That didn't bode well for their future survival.
"You don't look good," the young gunman declared, shaking his head. A broad smile split his face. "Still, never mind. Once I get rid of some of these guys, we can have a good time."
Jesse prised open his eyes - which had been in danger of closing - and stared at him uncomprehendingly. He desperately wanted to make some sarcastic remark, something along the lines of 'are you crazy?' - but figured it would be redundant, because it was becoming patently clear that Kyle very well might be.
"I'm keeping the girl, though," Kyle was continuing, as though he hadn't even noticed Jesse's disbelieving expression. He probably hadn't. "She wasn't too much trouble and she's real pretty, dontcha think?"
Jesse shot a wary look at the woman in question. She was bound and gagged - now when had that happened? - and she was staring at him with wide, terrified eyes.
"You're wonderin' where I got time to tie her up, right?"
Kyle's question was so insightful that for a moment or two Jesse suspected he might be psychic. But he had obviously noticed the perplexed look on his face. He nodded.
"Well, see, after I hung up on your cop friend and the medic guy was tending to you, I thought I better restrain her. Didn't want her getting' away from me when everyone else leaves."
"You ….lettin' … everyone else …go?"
The young gunman shrugged nonchalantly. "Why not? Don't need 'em, not when I have you and her. But you're gonna have to stand up in a minute when they bring the food - you're gonna be my ticket to not getting' shot. I figure they have all those sharpshooters out there and I need you in front of me."
Jesse half-smiled at that. It hadn't escaped his attention that Kyle was considerably taller than he was. Most people were, he reflected, somewhat ruefully. It was something he was accustomed to. But if the sharpshooters Kyle claimed were out there waiting to kill him did try to do it when the food arrived, they would only have to make a headshot and it would be all over. He wondered if Kyle had thought about this.
He got his answer in the next moment.
"Course, you're a bit smaller than me," the young man continued. "We're gonna have to do somethin' about that. Maybe get you a box or somethin' to stand on so that they can't shoot me in the head." His eyes narrowed suddenly. "Because they will you know - those bastards. They'll take me out. And I ain't dyin'. I ain't!"
As his voice rose several octaves and he surged to his feet, aiming his gun in the general direction of the other hostages, they shrank back. Jesse noticed that with the exception of Mike, who was obviously far too sensible to rush a man with a gun in such a loaded situation and with limited space, everyone was huddled together near the gurney containing Mark. It actually looked quite hopeful. It looked like Kyle was ready to keep his word.
As long as no-one on the outside did anything stupid.


Forward to chapter two

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