Chris drummed his fingers against the desk, sighing as he leaned back against his chair.
He was bored.
In all his years in this field of work, the waiting never got any easier. Going out on assignment was supposed to mean action, excitement, and all the things that he'd joined the Navy to find all those years before.
Over the years Chris had become older, and wiser, but the adrenaline rush he got at the start of every mission had never changed. An adrenaline rush that proved to himself he was making a difference, taking a stand to try and make the world that little bit cleaner.
And if that sounded crazy, then so be it.
Unfortunately, the adrenaline rush didn't last for long, because the first part of the mission required dressing up in a suit, and sitting around on his own in a house in suburban Croydon. He couldn't even chat with Sam over an earpiece while he was waiting, since he wasn't wearing one.
Nor did he have his gun, something he really wasn't happy about. The problem was that Jonathan Kessler, the businessman he was pretending to be, didn't carry a gun.
Kessler was an up and coming computer expert with important friends, and equally influential enemies, which was where CI5 came in. For the previous eighteen months they'd been watching a group of kidnappers, utterly efficient and ultra-professional. Malone was intent on shutting them down completely, but so far the gang had always been one step ahead.
They all knew that the brains behind it was a man named Richardson, but so far had no concrete proof. Stopping the gang themselves would only provide a few months respite, since Richardson was perfectly capable of recruiting more people to do his dirty work for him. Malone had followed the group's activities over the previous months, hoping that Richardson would slip up and give them the evidence that they needed.
Both Chris and Sam had been in the Operations Room when the call came in, though neither took any notice of it until Malone had taken great delight in telling them that he had some new information on the gang's activities. It seemed that Kessler was the next target, and Malone had begun to set up a sting operation.
"It seems the group will strike again on Friday morning at Mr. Kessler's home. Mr. Curtis, Mr. Keel, you will be concealed near Kessler's home. When they appear, you step in and arrest them."
It had been Sam who asked the first question. "What about Richardson, sir? I thought you wanted to stop him as well?"
They had both been surprised by the gleam that had appeared in Malone's voice as he answered. "That's the beauty of it, gentleman. It appears that Richardson has a personal interest in Mr. Kessler, and our information is that he will supervise the kidnapping personally."
With that he had turned and walked back into his office, effectively ending the conversation. Chris had turned to Sam, his eyebrow raised.
"Do you get the feeling Malone is a little too involved in this one?"
Sam had gone back to reading through his reports, and barely responded. "Hmm."
Grinning, Chris had leaned over and snatched the report from Sam's hand, attracting his attention again. "Oh, come on Sam. Don't say you haven't noticed."
"How obsessed Malone's been with this guy. Backup told me that Malone hasn't even let her do any of the background research on him, he insisted on doing everything himself."
At that, Sam had frowned. "Do you think he knows Richardson from somewhere?"
"God knows. But he certainly seems determined to stop him." Chris had paused, then chuckled and tapped Sam's arm. "Hey, do you think I should remind him of the First Rule?"
Sam had laughed. "I'd really rather you didn't, Chris. I'd end up having to train in a new partner, and you know how long that can take."
Laughing, Chris had turned back to his work, but it was only three hours later that another phone call had turned Malone's mood from relatively upbeat to angry.
When he'd stormed out of his office, Chris had been the first one brave enough to attract their boss' attention.
"Is there something wrong sir?" he'd asked hesitantly.
"Infuriating woman," Malone had snapped, before taking a breath and visibly calming down.
Chris had consciously kept his expression neutral, concealing his surprise. It was rare to see Malone in such a temper.
"The Minister has informed me that on no account are we to allow the kidnappers near Jonathan Kessler."
"What's her interest in it, sir?" Sam had stepped in.
"He's probably dating her niece," Chris had muttered, before going quiet and smothering a grin under Malone's withering gaze.
"How does she expect us to do that without losing the gang?" Sam had continued, distracting Malone's attention from his partner before the man could say a word.
Chris had made a mental note to thank Sam later. One of these days he'd learn Sam's trick of keeping quiet around Malone. Still, it kept things interesting.
"We reached a compromise," Malone had replied, suddenly sounding weary. "We remove Kessler from harm's way, but put a decoy in to act as him, then when the group show up, move in as planned." He had paused. "You'd better get your best suit cleaned, Mr. Keel. You're going to act as our decoy."
Chris hadn't missed the frown that passed over Sam's face before the mask dropped quickly back into place. They were both aware that posing as Kessler could prove dangerous, and so Chris wasn't surprised that Sam's protective instincts had been triggered by Malone's announcement. He wouldn't like that particular turn of events.
Chris, on the other hand, was perfectly happy to act as the decoy. Just as long as Malone's determination to nail Richardson along with the rest of them didn't get in the way.
Still, with Sam to act as backup, what could go wrong?
And so Friday morning arrived, and everyone was in position. As Chris was finishing a game of Solitaire, a noise from somewhere out of the room caught his attention and he froze, listening intently. Whatever the noise was, it wasn't repeated, and after a few minutes of silence Chris sighed and went back to his computer. Giving up on Solitaire, he moved on to Freecell. He'd been hearing noises like that all morning, nothing more than the usual creaks and groans of a strange house, but it was starting to drive him crazy.
The first few times he'd left his seat and scouted round the house, looking for anything that might indicate the bad guys had arrived, always without finding anything. After the twentieth search he'd finally given up, and contented himself with simply listening carefully.
Were these guys even going to show up? Storming into a house in a residential street in broad daylight and forcing someone out of it who didn't want to leave took guts - or stupidity. He'd even tried to mention this to Malone, foolishly questioning his boss' decision, and had been deftly put back in his place.
Which was why Jonathan was currently sitting drinking coffee at CI5 Headquarters while Chris took his place, playing games on the office computer to relieve his boredom and waiting for the men to strike.
Malone had assured them that his informant had been quite certain, but Chris was beginning to wonder. This whole operation seemed to be reliant on a hunch paying off. But Malone didn't have hunches, did he? Not that there was any point in asking. Malone preferred the phrase using your judgement', and even then would certainly never admit to using guesswork.
No, CI5 had to be perfectly scientific and logical, and hunches weren't logical.
Of course, whenever a judgement turned out to be wrong, Malone would simply write them off as acceptable risks or human error' - usually on the part of his agents. If that was the case, maybe Malone should be the one putting himself on the line day in, day out, and see how long he trusted other people's hunches, Chris mused. Informers were temperamental at the best of times but he'd have felt a whole lot better if he'd actually spoken to informant himself. Or at least managed to get a more definite time for when they'd be showing up.
Usually he'd be slightly nervous, but knowing that Sam, Backup and Spence were sitting nearby in a decorating van ready to ambush the men when they arrived was enough to reassure him. But he'd been waiting in the house since the night before in case the gang had anyone watching, and he was thoroughly bored. Why couldn't they just get on with it?
Standing up, Chris headed downstairs to the kitchen to get more coffee. Anything to pass the time, even if it was just a couple of minutes.
Sam watched Chris prowling round the kitchen, and grinned when he saw him preparing what had to be the tenth cup of coffee he'd drunk that day.
"He's going to be bouncing off the walls if he drinks much more."
Backup laughed, "Sometimes I think he should just get an IV drip and have done with it."
Sam's mobile phone rang, and he pulled the handset from his pocket, glancing at the screen before answering.
"There's been a change of plans, 3.7. On no account are you to move in when the targets arrive."
Sam frowned, his voice becoming sharper even as the alarm bells were going off in his mind. Instinct told him he wasn't going to like what was coming next. "Sir?"
"I'm not about to repeat myself, 3.7. Instead, I want you to follow them back to wherever they go, and wait. We have new information. It seems that Richardson isn't going to personally oversee the kidnapping. Follow them back to wherever they take 4.5. Apparently Richardson will meet them there. Wait until he arrives, and then move in."
"What about 4.5, sir?"
There was a pause on the line and then Malone's voice returned, sounding slightly irritated. "4.5 will continue as he was instructed, and pose as Kessler for as long as is necessary."
Sam tensed up. Surely Malone didn't really expect them to sit by and do nothing which Chris was abducted? "You're not serious. You want us to let them take Chris?"
Backup's eyebrows flew up at Sam's words.
"I believe I made myself perfectly clear, 3.7. Inform Mr. Keel."
With that, Malone rang off, and Sam was left holding a dead line.
Cursing, he slammed the phone shut. Damn Malone - the men they were after weren't boy scouts. What were they supposed to do, just keep their fingers crossed that the gang didn't do any permanent damage?
"What's going on, Sam?"
Sam looked up at Backup's question, and relayed Malone's new orders.
"Terrific," she sighed. "One of us had better go and tell Chris what's going on."
Spence, who had been listening to the conversation, coughed quietly. "I don't think that's such a good idea," he called. "They're here."
"What?" Sam glanced out of the window to see the black car they had been waiting for pull sedately into the kerb opposite them. "Shit. Chris is going to think we've abandoned him."
Neither Spence nor Backus replied, and the tension mounted as they watched two men walk up the path to Kessler's house.
Halfway through making his coffee, Chris heard a slight noise at the front door. He glanced out down the hallway, and the blurred figures he could see through the frosted glass told him it was show time. Placing his coffee mug back on the side he threw a thumbs up in the direction of the camera, even though he knew that his partner would be on the alert.
All he had to do was let them come in to the house and threaten him before Sam and the others would join him, and they could arrest them and head back to HQ.
Once this was over with, his first port of call would be to find some food. Kessler's fridge looked more like a jungle, stocked full of green things which he wasn't sure whether to eat or plant. In the end he'd decided to give food a miss, and was looking forward to a fry up now that this ridiculous charade was coming to a close.
Chris heard the door swing open slowly, and had to admire the group, albeit grudgingly. If he hadn't been waiting for them to show up, he wouldn't even have heard them pick the lock.
He walked towards the kitchen door, feeling the usual thrill now that the wait was over. Mixed in with the adrenaline was a healthy dose of fear, just enough to make him careful. Even so, knowing Sam was watching from only a few feet away was definitely a comfort.
"Hello?" he called out softly, putting just the right amount of unease into his voice. "Is... someone there?"
Sam sighed as Chris sent a thumbs-up in his direction before turning to meet his attackers.
"Poor bastard doesn't have a clue what's about to happen," he muttered.
Two men, both dressed in black, confronted him in the hallway. Chris backed up in apparent alarm, guiding the scene back into the kitchen where it could be played out in front of the cameras.
When a gun appeared in one of the men's hands, Chris forced himself not to smile. The sight of the gun would be enough to give them probable cause for arrest, and he expected to hear the slamming of van doors through the open front door as Sam and Backup joined the party.
That didn't happen, and Chris' alarm rose rapidly in the few seconds it took for them to back him into a corner.
"Hands in the air, and turn around," the man without the gun snapped, and obediently Chris raised his hands, putting just the right amount of nervous trembling into his arms. After all, it wasn't everyday a businessman got threatened with a gun.
When there was still no sign of Sam doing his seventh cavalry impression, Chris felt the hairs on his neck start to rise. It was long past time for him to show up, so where the hell was he?
Had something gone wrong? Had Sam been hurt? He glanced briefly towards the front window, but from where he was standing he couldn't see the van at all.
He knew Sam wouldn't willingly let him down, so something must have happened. As he turned round Chris thought furiously. Had the gang known about the ambush? If so, had Sam and the others themselves been surprised? He hadn't heard anything, but all the windows were closed and there was no guarantee any outside noise would have reached him.
Chris sighed. Until he knew better, he'd have to assume that he was on his own. That meant that as far as he was concerned, the operation was over. They weren't taking him anywhere if he could help it.
The black clad figure slammed him into the wall, and Chris' breath came out in a rush as he tried to brace himself with his hands. The man moved up behind him, pinning Chris to the wall with his own body as he wrenched Chris' left hand behind him.
He knew that Sam wouldn't let him down, but he couldn't ignore what was happening. There was always the chance that Malone's judgement had been wrong, or maybe that he'd changed the orders. But if that was the case, surely his partner would have warned him? What was perhaps more likely was that Sam had been ambushed and was even now lying dead in the street, but that was something Chris was determined not to think about. Of course, not thinking about it was easier said than done.
Chris felt a ring of cold metal click round his wrist, and knew that if he was going to make a break for it, it would have to be now. Being taken somewhere else was definitely not part of the plan, but if Sam wasn't going to stop it, then he would.
Using his one free hand to push away from the wall, he threw himself backwards into his assailant, sending them both crashing to the ground. The man lying beneath him cried out as Chris' weight landed on him. Before Chris could roll away and get back to his feet though, an arm snaked round his throat as the man beneath him struggled to keep him there.
A well-placed elbow gave Chris his freedom, but even that small delay proved to be too much. Even as he was pulling free, the second attacker grabbed a handful of hair, dragging him forcibly to his feet before a punch to his kidneys sent him back into the wall. This time, a gun at his neck ensured Chris' compliance, and he was forced to remain still as the second cuff was secured round his wrist. He winced slightly as the metal cut into his wrist, and he could hear the man he had floored climbing painfully back to his feet, the man's slight groan Chris' only consolation for being beaten.
Pulled backwards and slightly away from the wall, Chris was totally unprepared for the gun barrel that slammed down into the back of his head, and darkness fell even as his legs gave way and he collapsed to the floor.
He managed to stay conscious, fighting back the nausea even as his vision blurred in front of him. A hand roughly grabbed hold of his shoulder, hauling him to his feet again, and he staggered on unsteady legs as they pushed him towards the door and the daylight. The hand at his shoulder was about the only thing keeping him upright, and they half dragged, half carried him to a black shape in front of him, something his hazy vision couldn't quite make out, though the sound of a motor told him was probably a car.
A hand keeping his head down didn't quite prevent Chris from catching his head on the metal doorframe. By the time his head cleared enough for him to think again Chris had been pushed down onto the floor between the seats.
The car pulled smoothly away from the kerb, and Chris desperately fought the darkness fluttering round the edges of his vision. He cursed to himself - the bang on the head had stopped him from searching out the van, so he still didn't know if Sam was alright.
Of course, in his current situation there wasn't a damn thing he could do if Sam was in trouble. Hell, right now he couldn't even seem to protect himself. In one final act of defiance, Chris fought down the fear spreading through him and struggled to sit up. A boot in his back knocked him down to the carpet again, effectively stopping any resistance before it could properly start.
As he finally succumbed to the darkness, Chris fought to stop himself surrendering to his panic - all too well aware that some of the gang's other victims hadn't survived their ordeal.
Watching from inside the van, Sam frowned at the images coming over the TV screen. Putting a camera inside the room to get a record of who arrived to snatch Chris had seemed like a great idea at the time, when CI5's information had been that Richardson would personally oversee the abduction.
But now that hadn't worked Sam found himself wishing that they'd not been installed, because Sam had been forced to watch, like a helpless spectator, while Chris was beaten and carried away. And it hurt.
When Chris was knocked to the ground he started up, cursing, before Backup placed a hand on his arm and kept him from following his impulse of going to his partner's aid.
"Sam..." the warning was clear, but Sam bit back an angry reply because of the concern he could hear in her voice.
"He doesn't know what the hell's going on," Sam muttered angrily. "God only knows what he thinks."
"Heads up guys," Spencer called from the driving seat, as he saw the three men dragging Chris from the house.
"Don't lose them, Spence," Sam snapped, trying to keep his temper under control.
"Relax, Sam," Spence grinned into the rear view mirror, where he knew Sam could see him, before turning on the motor and pulling out behind the black Ford. "Chris is bugged, remember? Even if we lose sight of him, we can track him with that."
Sam relaxed slightly. He'd forgotten about the tracker, which was possibly the one good thing that he currently had to say about Malone. It had been his boss' idea to bug Chris. Initially meant as a precaution, now Sam was hugely grateful for the extra insurance.
Switching off the now useless television screen, Sam pulled his gun from its holster and checked it over, needing to do something with his hands while he waited.
This wasn't the first time plans had changed, dropping one or both of them into hot water, but it never got any easier. Even though he knew he'd have to bide his time Sam's instinct was to charge to his partner's side, and he fought with himself as they drove, trying not to imagine what could be happening inside the car.
The car was still moving when Chris came round, though at first he found it difficult to distinguish between the movement of the car and his head spinning.
Nausea was already washing over him, and he bit back a curse as he realised he'd probably got yet *another* concussion. Blood was trickling into his eye from where he'd cut his head on the car as well, but since he couldn't use his hands to wipe it free, he turned his head slightly to use the carpet.
Even that slight movement sent his head pounding, and if the movement of the boots in his back was any indication, also told his captors that he was awake.
Obviously deciding to head off any trouble, both men pushed harder into his back, sending him back to the floor with a moan.
He knew that there was no way he could work out where they were going, and so Chris had no option but to simply wait, and hope that he could escape somehow once they'd stopped. Sam was the expert at getting out of handcuffs, not him, and Chris didn't like the way things were shaping up.
Where the hell was his backup? Why hadn't Sam arrived as planned? Yet again, he fought down the worry that something bad had happened to them. At least the gang hadn't found the tracker that had been hidden inside his shoe in true James Bond style. Logic told him that they were hardly going to look for it, either. Businessmen didn't usually go around carrying sophisticated electronics in their shoes.
Of course, all the bugs in the world wouldn't help if no-one used them to track him down.
Surely the cavalry would roll up soon? A small voice in his head reminded him that he'd thought that earlier, too.
He drifted for a while, trying to regain his strength as the car moved through the light mid-afternoon traffic. By the time the car stopped, he'd drifted into a light doze but woke abruptly when a car door slammed.
They dragged him out of the car, pushing him into what looked like a small warehouse. He only had a brief second to look at his surroundings, but it looked like he was on some kind of industrial estate, and a rundown one at that, judging by the graffiti. Yet another warehouse? Sooner or later someone was going to get the bright idea to base a criminal operation somewhere slightly less conspicuous.
The third member of the gang, the one who had been driving the car, got his first proper look at Chris as he was pushed into the warehouse. Chris noticed the alarm on his face as he pushed his head back to get a better look at him in the dim light.
At the look on the man's face, Chris knew what was coming. He fought back another sigh, determined not to give anything away. Not that he was particularly surprised. Considering the way his luck was running, eventually he'd been bound to run into someone who knew what Kessler actually looked like.
Sam had even raised that point with Malone at the briefing. Malone, in his infinite wisdom, had overruled him. The fact that hair colour was the only thing he shared with the real Kessler shouldn't have been a problem, considering he was never supposed to leave the house.
Things just kept getting better and better.
He winced as the man's grip brushed against the same place the gun had hit, but stared right back him until the driver snorted in disgust and let him go.
"You idiots!" he snarled. "This isn't the real bloody Kessler!"
Chris said nothing as he was pushed further into the building, and forced to sit down against an iron pillar that supported a mezzanine level a few feet above his head. A gun was kept pointed at him as his cuffs were removed, and his arms pulled behind the pillar before being cuffed again.
Satisfied that their prisoner wasn't going anywhere for the moment, the three men went into a huddle a few feet away from him.
"What do you mean that's not the real Kessler?" one of the men asked.
"What do you think I mean?" the driver hissed back. "He doesn't look anything like him." Reaching into his pocket, the man pulled out what looked like a photograph, and showed it to the other two. "See? Nothing like him."
"Well how the hell were we supposed to know that?" another man protested. "We never saw any bloody photograph."
The driver sighed, "Look, it's too late to worry about all that now. Richardson's on his way here soon, we'll figure something out then."
"So if 'e ain't Kessler," the man with the gun began, staring thoughtfully at Chris, "who is 'e? And where's the real one?"
"I don't know," the driver replied, also looking in Chris' direction. "But he must, mustn't he?"
Chris' heart sank, and he had the growing feeling that he wasn't going to like what was coming next.
The driver and third man approached him, while the one with the gun disappeared into what looked like a small office in the far corner of the building.
The driver crouched down beside him, and Chris straightened up instinctively, his cuffs clanking together as he moved.
"So, mate," the driver began, suddenly sounding quite cheerful. "Who are you?"
Chris said nothing, simply looking away.
A hand slammed his head back into the pillar, and he bit back a groan as the world spun around him. He stared blearily back at the driver, as the man forced him to look at him.
"I asked you a question," he snapped. "Who are you?"
Chris thought quickly, or as fast as he could when his head was spinning, trying to come up with an excuse they might buy.
"A friend..." he gasped out, and the man's grip on his chin loosened slightly. "...a friend of Jonathan's. Look, what's..."
"A work colleague?" the driver interrupted.
Chris nodded, but the only response he got was a fist hitting his jaw. His head snapped back, and through the ringing in his ears he missed the start of what the driver was saying.
"...lie to me. Businessmen don't react this calmly to being kidnapped, and they certainly don't fight back when there are guns involved." His eyes narrowed as a thought occurred to him. "Are you some kind of cop?"
Chris said nothing. Until he could work out what was going on, it was better to stay quiet, and not risk making things even worse. All it needed now was for them to find the bug and things would get *really* nasty.
The way things were going, Chris didn't rule out the possibility.
He decided it was definitely time for the cavalry to show up, though wasn't overly surprised when they didn't come charging through the doors in the nick of time. After all, if that was going to happen they'd have appeared back in Kessler's house. Wouldn't they? Where the hell was Sam? He was supposed to be there. Sam was *always* there when he needed him.
Once again, an image of Sam lying in the street flashed through Chris' mind, and he had to suppress a shudder. What if something had gone seriously wrong and Sam actually needed him? Being able to rely on your partner went both ways. If Sam had been hurt, then Chris should be with him, not chained up in a bloody warehouse.
"Not very talkative, are you?" the driver muttered.
A welcome distractioin came when the third man wandered back out of the office, gesturing in Chris' direction. "Boss is already on 'is way over, says to find out who 'e is before 'e gets here. And 'e weren't best pleased."
"Can't say I blame him," the driver muttered, before turning his full attention, and his fists, back to Chris.
The van had pulled up further down the road, driving past the warehouse and the black car without slowing. As it turned out, Spence had had no trouble following Chris' abductors, and the tracker hadn't been needed.
Still sat inside the van, Sam was becoming more and more worried, fidgeting in the corner whilst waiting for Richardson to arrive.
Assuming he ever did.
"I don't like this," he muttered. "We don't know what's going on in there."
"Calm down, Sam," Backup snapped. "I know you're concerned about Chris, but you heard Malone. We can't move in until Richardson shows."
"I hate just sitting here," Sam replied wearily.
From the driver's seat, Spence turned round to observe Sam for a few minutes before speaking. "You do realise, Backup, that for all we know, Richardson could already be in there. It'd be a bit daft for us to sit and wait out here if he's already inside," he paused for a second before continuing. "Maybe someone should go and scout about, see what we're dealing with?"
"I'll go," Sam said instantly, throwing Spencer a grateful look. The idea that Richardson might already be in the building hadn't even occurred to him.
Backup nodded, agreeing with Spence's comment even if she didn't like the idea of Sam leaving the van. "Turn your headset on, Sam. Keep in touch. We'll warn you if he shows."
"Okay." Checking his gun again, Sam opened the van doors before switching on his headset and stepping out into the sunshine.
Keeping a watchful eye out for anyone else lurking around the estate, Sam saw no-one and carefully crept over to crouch beside the black car, not for the first time grateful that MI6 had taught him the art of stealth.
The warehouse was small and run down, the windows clouded over with dirt and grime. Satisfied that he hadn't been seen Sam moved again, finding himself a small alcove by the back end of the building and well away from the main doors should anyone arrive.
He peered in through the small window, but couldn't see anything through the filth that covered the glass. Frowning, he used his sleeve to try and clean the window a little, allowing himself a small smile as the glass cleared enough for him to see through.
What he saw wiped the smile from his face, and his eyes narrowed as his temper flared. What he couldn't quite decide was who he was more angry with - Malone for putting Chris in this position in the first place, or the men who had dragged him here. There was even a part of him angry at himself for going along with Malone's orders at all, but he pushed that aside.
From his position at the back of the building, he could only see Chris' back, and the pillar he was tied to blocked out most of that. Even so, the man crouched down by his partner, and Chris' head hanging weakly to one side told him all he needed to know. He watched helplessly as the man started hitting Chris again, speaking, although Sam couldn't hear what was being said.
"Backup," he spoke quietly into his ear-piece. "I can see the three who showed up at the house, but there's no sign of Richardson."
"You'd better come back to the van, Sam. We don't want to risk you getting spotted."
"I'm going in."
"What? Don't be ridiculous, Sam," Backup snapped. "You can't go in on your own. You heard what Malone said."
"Malone didn't say anything about leaving Chris to get his head kicked in!" Sam had to fight to keep his voice down to a whisper. "What happens if Richardson doesn't show? Are we supposed to leave Chris in there forever? How long before they get bored waiting and just kill him?"
"I know it's hard, Sam, but this is what Chris is trained for. It's his job, remember? He won't thank you if we go charging in there and don't get the guy behind it; this would all be for nothing."
Sam sighed, biting down on his initial instinct to tell Backup that she didn't know how hard it was. How could she? She didn't have a partner. "I know all that, but..."
"Wait," Backup interrupted. "Keep out of sight, Sam. I think someone's coming."
Sure enough, Sam could hear the sound of a car turning into the narrow lane, and crouched down behind his cover as the car pulled up by the front entrance to the building. From his position, he could just about see the blonde, spiky hair of the man who stepped out of the driving seat.
"It's him," Sam whispered.
"Give him time to go inside, then we'll join you."
"Agreed." Sam kept watching through the window, trying to work out the best method of attack considering they'd be outnumbered. Looking back at Chris, who lifted his head as Richardson entered the building, Sam idly followed the pillar up, until he saw just what it was supporting. The mezzanine level would make a good position to come in from. It was only a few feet higher than the rest of the building, but even that small advantage might be enough. Unfortunately, Sam couldn't see any stairs that might lead up to it.
Moving out from his position and skirting round the back of the building, he grinned as he saw where the stairs were - on the outside of the building, forming a very rickety fire escape. Perfect.
Whispering his intentions to Backup, he started quietly up the stairs, keeping his fingers crossed that the door wasn't locked shut. While he thought he could probably pick the lock, he really didn't want to have to waste the time.
Of course, the door was locked, and Sam pulled out his lock pick and set to work.
Backup's voice came into his ear. "Get into position, Sam, and we'll come in from the front when you're ready."
"Understood." He could hear Backup on her mobile phone informing Malone of the situation, though his voice was too muffled for Sam to hear what his boss had to say.
The padlock opened with a satisfying click, and Sam eased the door open, slipping inside before stopping to close it in case the wind made the door bang. They didn't have much of an advantage beyond surprise, but he was determined not to lose that as well.
Now inside the building, he could hear the voices below him and moved silently across the floor, trying to ignore the grunts of pain he could hear from his partner as he was hit again.
It seemed to take forever, but finally he was in position, slightly behind the pillar, where he could come up from behind them should it be necessary.
"Ready," he breathed into his mouthpiece.
"Stay where you are," Backup whispered. "We'll let you know when we're ready."
Safely concealed out of sight, Sam waited impatiently for Backup to give the signal. As he waited, he forced himself not to react to the sounds of fists hitting flesh. It wouldn't be long now.
His fists clenched unconsciously when he heard Chris cry out in pain. His mind was filling in the images that he couldn't see, and Sam had to force himself to relax. One thing he promised himself was that the man responsible would pay for this.
He ignored the small voice in his head suggesting that the man concerned was actually Malone. And that since he'd gone along with Malone's orders, this was all partially his fault as well.
"We're coming in," Backup finally whispered, and Sam could hear the excitement of adrenaline in her voice.
Everything was silent for a few moments, before the front door crashed open under Spencer's kick, and his colleagues moved swiftly through the door and away, where their silhouettes didn't make them perfect targets.
"CI5, freeze!" Backup shouted, but Sam wasn't surprised when the four men didn't all rush to surrender. One man raised his gun to shoot, but Backup snapped off a shot to his shoulder, and he dropped his gun before collapsing.
They had only seen one gun between the group, and so Backup moved cautiously out of her cover to kick the gun away from the man she had shot.
At the sight of their colleague bleeding on the floor, Richardson and one of the other men raised their hands quietly, nervously indicating their surrender. Sam started to breathe a little easier, and moved towards the edge of the platform, intending to jump the few feet to the ground level.
It was the fourth man who proved to be the problem.
He had been standing just behind Chris when they burst in, and using the pillar to give him a small amount of cover, pulled a gun from behind his back and aimed it at Chris.
"Drop your weapons!" the man shouted, an edge of fear in his voice as both Backup and Spence moved forwards cautiously to deal with this new threat, still keeping the others in their sights.
"I'll shoot!" the man warned, his finger starting to squeeze the trigger.
Eyes narrowed, Sam jumped quietly to the ground behind the man. As quiet as Sam was though, no-one could make a five foot jump silently and the man started, turning slightly to deal with this sudden threat. As he turned in surprise the gun went off, and Chris yelled as the bullet thudded into the pillar, just a few inches above his head.
Standing right behind him, Sam placed his gun to the man's head, placing one hand on the gun and making sure it was no longer aimed in Chris' direction.
"Drop it," he snapped.
The man did as he was told, but when Sam caught a quick look at the state of his partner, he lost his temper. With one gun still covering the man, Sam raised the other gun and brought it down sharply on the back of the man's head. A sense of malicious satisfaction spread through him when the man collapsed, just as he'd seen Chris do back in the house.
Both Backup and Spence saw what he'd done, but neither said a word. The look on Backup's face told Sam that she wasn't even slightly surprised.
Placing his gun back in his holster, Sam quickly helped the others secure all the men before Sam was finally able to turn to his partner.
Chris stared up at him, grinning through a split lip even as one eye was beginning to swell.
"Thanks," he said simply.
Bending down at his side, Sam took in the developing bruises and slightly unfocused gaze and sighed as he pulled out his lock pick again.
"Another concussion?" he asked wryly, relieved that the danger was over.
"Probably," Chris admitted, wincing as he coughed slightly. "But hey, look on the bright side - at least you didn't kill any of them this time." He hesitated and glanced down at the man still unconscious on the floor. "At least, I don't think so."
Sam grinned. "You'll have to remind Malone of that when the doc tells him you've got to go on sick leave again."
Chris laughed, then hissed as pain in his ribs protested at the movement.
The cuffs finally removed, Chris stood slowly, trying not to show how dizzy he felt, and sighed when he found himself swaying. Sam put an arm round his waist, his expression a mixture of concern and amusement.
"Hospital," Sam said firmly.
Trying to focus on his partner's face, Chris wiped a trickle of blood from his eyes with his sleeve before replying.
"No, no hospital."
Sam shook his head and grinned. "That wasn't a request, Chris. I'm telling you, you're going."
"I can't win then, can I?"
"Not really, so you might as well give in gracefully."
Chris sighed, but stayed quiet as they walked across the warehouse towards the cars, not realising quite how much he was leaning on Sam's shoulder as a dozen minor aches started to make themselves known.
The bad guys all secured, everyone prepared to leave as Backup walked over to the partners.
"Are you alright, Chris?"
"Doctor Sam here insists I get checked out," Chris complained good-naturedly.
Giving Chris an appraising look, Backup nodded. "Good idea. Go on, I'll tell Malone where you've gone."
At the mention of Malone's name, Chris frowned. "Yeah, what happened, anyway? I thought you guys were supposed to move in before we left the house."
Sam frowned as he opened the car door, and Chris eased himself gently into the seat.
"Last minute change of orders. Malone decided he wanted to try and trap Richardson, which meant following you back here. There wasn't time to tell you before they showed up. Sorry, mate."
"Sooner or later Malone's going to change the plans and live to regret it," Chris muttered, before gently resting his head back against the headrest.
Leaning against the side of the car, Sam laughed. "And you'd like to be there when he does, right?"
"Uh-huh," he muttered. "One of these days..." he let the rest of the sentence hang and closed his eyes. Nothing more needed to be said.
As much as he'd like to kill Malone, or at the very least give the man a piece of his mind, Sam wouldn't let him. Deep down, he knew that Sam was right, though he would only ever admit it grudgingly. Going up against the boss was likely to prove hazardous to your health, and Sam was gradually persuading him that looking obedient and saying nothing was often the best way to handle the old man. And Sam was there, now. As he always was.
That was main thing.