Greetings All.

I want to start by saying I was a total wreck after John Reese's death in the POI finale. I mourned his loss hard for over a week. Yes, it made sense for John to make such a choice – to sacrifice himself to allow his friends to live. Some have said he always had a bullet with his name on it. It was a heroic death – very honorable and selfless. But I don't think it happened.

There were moments in Season 5 that were visited once, but never returned to. Also, John's deal with the Machine – to take the dive if it ever came between him and Harold – wouldn't have been one sided. The Machine was always running simulations and calculating the best option for asset survival. Even a negligible chance was a chance. It knew a standoff with Samaritan was coming and began taking steps to minimize the losses early on.

There was also the "mysterious motorcycle man" scene cut from the finale that Michael Emerson teased and the producers allowed to reach the press. Could it have been someone other than John? Sure – but who? I'm not convinced John died on that building. I think he beat the odds that were stacked against him. He didn't do it alone, of course, but he did do it and this is my take on how.

One final note: I've never posted a work in progress story before. I prefer to finish a piece prior to posting, but I've had some encouragement to try it this way. I'll try to keep my updates as close to weekly as I can. I have another piece that is nearly done, so I'm technically working on two at once.

Those of you familiar with my first POI story "The Dynamics of Risk" will recognize an original character from it. There were many requests to bring him back so…I did. Any errors are mine – and many thanks to my beta on this: justayellowunbrella.

Thanks for reading and bearing with me. Feedback is, well, you know. ~ Bander

Gus "Ozzy" Oswald paused mid-step and braced himself against the handrail. In the eerie quiet of the stairwell, he could hear the gunshots that were being exchanged several levels up on the roof. To the former combat medic, it was a familiar situation. After two tours in the Middle East, he'd helped to clear dozens of buildings, many that had been situated deep in the war zone.

It sounds like a war zone… he thought, training his weapon's sights on the next landing. Thank God it doesn't smell like one too…

He felt his partner tap his shoulder to alert him of his presence. Bret Tanner, a fellow Army Vet, had had his back in dangerous situations like this for nearly a decade. They knew each other better than they knew themselves, often acting as if they were of a single mind. It was this unique bond coupled with their skills, experience, and solid nerve that made them the secret weapon of the security unit known as Raptor. Although they occasionally backed up the city SWAT teams, Raptor was primarily employed by private sector clients needing a high-risk, high profile engagement ended quickly and discreetly.

Gus glanced over at Bret. The other man flashed all five fingers on his right hand, closed them into a fist, and splayed them open again. Five minutes, fifty seconds until impact…

He gave a curt nod to acknowledge the update and turned his attention back to the landing above them. Time wasn't in their favor, but they had to be careful; narrow stairwells like this were called kill boxes for a reason. Confident the way was clear, he resumed climbing.

There weren't many details about the mission, but there seldom were. Raptor's assignments were filtered through the team's lieutenant, who then passed on only what the infiltrating members would need to accomplish their task. It helped maintain the integrity of the people who hired them and didn't bog down the tactical process with extraneous information.

Gus reached the next landing and pivoted to get a clear view of the one above them. Satisfied it was unoccupied, he continued up the stairs.

Their orders had come in less than two hours prior. The entire twelve-man team was deployed to the site, but he and Bret were the only two selected to go inside. The mission was an extraction. They had seen a photograph of their target: a tall, slender man with dark hair. His name was John, and he was a former solider. He would be wearing a suit. All others were to be neutralized. The chance for civilian casualties had the potential to be high, but the building had been evacuated prior to their arrival and headcounts taken. All personnel had been accounted for, which only left the target and the gunmen inside.

So far, they hadn't encountered much resistance. Two heavily armed men had met them at the second story landing and other at the fifth. All three had been swiftly dealt with without incident. Gus had expected the place to be guarded well; either the aggressor was overly confident in their gunmen's skills to stop the target or the ones that had been assigned to guard the upper levels had gone to the roof to join in the firefight. Or got cold feet and deserted…

The sound of gunfire grew more intense as they got closer to the roof access. They could just make out the quiet report of a handgun under the rapid clatter of the automatic weapons. The shots from the pistol were spaced out, each one interrupting a steady burst from one of the larger guns. That must be our man… he thought, noting the sign on the wall that indicated only two levels remained before they reached the roof.

No details had been given about what their target was doing or why he was being hunted. The satellite on top of the building suggested it might have something to do with communications – something of national security perhaps – but such specifics were rarely pertinent to Raptor's missions. The bottom line was someone wanted John dead and had gone to great lengths to make sure it happened. More importantly, though, somebody else wanted him alive.

The rattle of gunfire halted as the two men approached the door leading to the roof. Gus looked to his partner, who flashed four fingers, a fist, and then flashed three more. Four minutes, thirty seconds until impact…this is going to be tight…

Timing was key to the success of any mission and this one took it to the extreme. Waiting for them at the end of the rapidly approaching deadline was a missile that had gone rogue from a carrier off the coast. It had set its sights on the satellite at the top of the building and all efforts to stop it had failed. Their orders were to be on the eighth floor landing or lower when the timer reached zero.

The silence was broken by an eruption of automatic gunfire. It spurred both men into action, Bret bringing his weapon up to his shoulder as Gus threw open the door. Bursting out onto the roof, their perception of time slowed and their vision tunneled. In the breadth of a few seconds, they surveyed their surroundings. Three gunmen were advancing slowly toward the back of the building, their weapons spewing a deadly stream of bullets toward a man slumped against the fall wall. By the way he was dressed, they knew he was their target.

Without hesitation, the Raptor members opened fire, dropping all three gunmen in almost perfect unison. The absence of gunfire allowed for the sirens and shouts to rise from the streets below, but they barely heard it. Across the roof, they saw their target lying in a pool of blood. They watched as his head slowly listed to the left and then became still.

Too late… Gus thought, feeling the bitterness of loss even for a man he didn't know. If they'd let us in the building sooner – even five minutes – we could have prevented this. It didn't have to be… He had to force himself to stop before his own cynicism could get the better of him. He'd been in the business long enough to know that the adage 'too little, too late' was just as prevalent in the private sector as it was in the military.

"Time?" he asked of his partner.

Bret glanced at his watch. "Three fifty. You want to start back down?"

"No. Not yet. Keep a look out for reinforcements. I think we at least owe his family a body to bury." Gus engaged the safety on his rifle and started across the roof. Additional bodies were scattered about, each with a single shot through the head or neck. It was obvious their target had been an expert marksman, the accuracy of his shots having literally stopped his pursuers dead in their tracks. If he'd had more ammo, he might have made it out…

Ammunition was one thing their target's enemy seemed to have had plenty of. A large number of casings littered the rooftop, readily bringing to mind the term "overkill." In fact, there was so much spent ammo on the ground, he was amazed John hadn't been cut in half. He dipped down mid stride and scooped up several of the brass casings. They looked ordinary enough at a distance, but up close he could see small differences that peaked his curiosity. Deciding they warranted a closer look, he tucked them in his pocket for later.

He approached John slowly and stood for a moment, looking at the laptop sitting in a briefcase above the man's head. The screen was blank, so he paid it no interest and crouched down beside him. The clock was ticking, but there was always time to honor the dead. He would never know what this man in a suit had come up here to do, but it had obviously been something important enough to die for.

Gus looked at the blood, unaffected by the sight of gore after so many years in the field. That's odd… he thought. There are no kill shots… Most of the damage seemed to be concentrated along John's right side, his arm and leg having taken the brunt of it. Blood had stained his white shirt, but it was mostly seepage from wounds concealed beneath his jacket. There were no entry wounds on the center of the man's chest, neck, or head. There were many ways to kill a person; however bleeding them out usually wasn't the method of choice when trying to stop someone from doing something you didn't want them to do.

He glanced over at the nearest dead gunmen. His armor, outfit, and weapons strongly suggested he was part of some paramilitary organization, but the group's tactics left him wondering. For guys looking this legit, kill shots should be protocol…either they were all shooting range dropouts or they really weren't the elite force they appeared to be…

"Three twenty."

Bret's update snapped Gus back into the present. He could ponder the mysteries of the mission later; right now, they had a job to do and a rather literal deadline to meet.

He reached out and touched John's neck. So certain that the man was dead, it took a moment for him to accept that the rapid throbbing he felt was real. No way…no freaking way… He dropped his hand to John's chest, feeling as it rose and fell with his weak respirations. This is impossible…he can't still be alive…

But he was. Their extraction mission turned recovery had just become a rescue.

Well he's not going to be much longer if you don't get this bleeding stopped… Gus's hands dropped to his waist and began to undo the webbed belt he always wore. "Hey, Tanner!"

"Three minutes," Bret called back, assuming it was what his partner wanted.

"That's great! I need your belt!"

"My what?"

"Your belt!" He had slipped his own belt high around John's right leg and pulled it as tight as he could to form a tourniquet. "This guys alive!"

"You're kidding?"

"I don't know how or for how long, but yeah, he's got a pulse." He grabbed for the belt the moment he felt it flop over his shoulder. "I need Combat Gauze and open me a couple of ETD's."

"Ozzy, there's not time for…"

"Yes, there is," Gus replied firmly as he looped the belt around John's right arm and pulled it tight.

"All right," Bret muttered, reaching into his vest for the items Gus had requested. "But just know I'm going to be royally pissed at you for getting us blown up…"

Gus smirked at his partner's morbid sense of humor. With the tourniquets fastened, he reached for his knife and slid the blade up through John's shirt. These are small caliber wounds… he thought, looking at the sluggishly bleeding holes that marred the man's torso. But the hostiles were using semi-automatics at close range. He should've been blown apart…

Bret tossed a package of gauze to Gus. "Two fifty-five," he said, tearing open one of the compression bandages from his kit.

"Plenty of time…" the former medic muttered. "Plenty of time…" Hastily stretching on a pair of gloves, he hunched over John and began packing the special clotting gauze into the worst of the wounds.

When his partner reached back over his shoulder, Bret wordlessly deposited the trauma dressing in his waiting hand and began preparing the next one. They'd done this sort of thing enough times in the past to know the process without the need for conversation. They'd also done this enough times for him to know that the man Gus was working so intently to save would most likely be dead before they reached the ground. He glanced at his watch and grimaced at the rapidly diminishing time limit. Assuming we even make it to the ground…

Gus finished wrapping the first bandage around John's chest, applying as much pressure as he dared to the gauze packed wounds. The Combat Gauze clotted blood well on its own, but compression made the product even more effective. He held his hand out for the next bandage and repeated the process, firmly binding the packed wounds further down on the man's side.

"Ozzy, we're at two minutes."

This'll just have to do…Gus thought, hoping he'd been able to slow enough of the bleeding to keep John alive. Leaning forward, he hauled the unconscious man into a fireman's carry and stood with a grunt. John was tall and lean, but he was also very solid. Suddenly the prospect of hurrying down seventeen flights of stairs with two hundred pounds of deadweight across his shoulders didn't seem as effortless as it had several minutes before. I'm getting too old for this…

"Take point, watch for hostiles. Let's move."

The two men headed for the entryway, leaving the carnage of the firefight behind. Bret reached the door first. He threw it open and scanned the stairwell, finding it to be as empty as they had left it. "We're clear. Let's go."

Gus carefully maneuvered himself through the doorway, taking care not bump John as he went. They had less than two minutes to descend at least seven flights of stairs to be safe from the impending blast. Piece of cake… "Move."

Bret started down the stairs. He kept his eyes largely forward to watch for hostiles, but threw frequent glances over his shoulder to make sure Gus was keeping up. At the bottom of every landing, he'd check his watch. Time seemed to be ticking away impossibly fast and he began to seriously doubt that they were going to be clear of the blast zone.

Sweat was streaming down Gus's face and his neck as he labored under John's weight. He knew the man was still alive – he could feel his racing heartbeat through his armor and hear his infrequent, liquidy gasps for air. That's new… he thought, shifting his grip to get a more secure hold. A lung must have been nicked…It's going to take an act of God to bring him through this…

The men passed by a wall plaque marking the ninth floor. They were almost there.

Bret checked his watch. "Thirty seconds."

"Keep moving," Gus panted, ignoring the angry twinge he felt in his back.

They reached the landing between the seventh and eight floors when Bret's watch entered into the final countdown. He stopped and turned to help his partner, concerned the blast could knock him off his feet. When the missile hit, the two men hugged the wall as the entire structure shook around them. Bits of plaster and masonry rained down from the levels above, and the shriek of twisting metal could be heard over the din of the explosion.

"You good?" Bret asked, shouting in Gus's ear to be heard over the groaning building and bray of the fire alarm.

"Yeah! There should have been enough boom in that thing to level this building and half the block along with it! How the hell are we still standing?"

"They don't pay us enough to think about crap like that! Come on!"

With the building trembling around them, they resumed their descent at a hurried, but less frantic pace.

There's no way the missile that struck this building was at full power. It felt more like a near miss or a premature detonation than a direct hit… Gus thought, unable to dismiss the oddities of the mission as easily as his partner. The amount of ammo, the small caliber wounds, the missile's lack of power…something just isn't adding up…

A loud cracking sound came from somewhere overhead. Seconds later, a piano sized chunk of concrete smashed to the ground directly behind them. They may have escaped the missile blast itself, but they were still in danger. There was no way of knowing how badly the building had been damaged or how long it would continue to stand.

Once they reached the ground floor, their instructions were to take the north corridor and exit through the second fire door. There would be a black cargo van with an eagle on it waiting for them in the alley.

This guy needs a Life Flight to Bellevue, not to be stuffed into the back of some van… Gus thought as he stepped onto the middle landing of the fifth floor. The body of the guard they had taken out earlier was piled up in the corner where they had left him. Like his buddies on the second floor landing, he had been preoccupied with his phone and never saw them coming. Another inconsistency…the LT would have our head AND ass if we were caught doing such a thing while engaged…who were these people working for…?

Bret stopped at the top of the forth floor landing to give his partner a chance to catch up. Small piles of concrete and other debris littered the floor, adding to their already tricky descent. As Gus approached, he caught sight of the trickle of blood coming from the corner of John's mouth. Not good… "Mr. Suit still with us?"

Gus nodded, lacking the oxygen required to speak. When he'd caught up, he flapped his hand toward the stairs, signaling his partner to go on. If he stopped now, he seriously doubted he'd be able to get himself moving again. The staircase seemed perpetual. If it weren't for the wall plaques counting down the levels, he would have believed they were just going around in circles.

He recalled the times during his military career that he'd carried a wounded man across his shoulders for miles. It had seemed so effortless in those days. Now several decades later, his back, knees, and shoulders were all complaining about the extra weight they had to bear. It was easy to understand why the veteran soldiers in his unit had left the carrying to the younger members.

He was getting tired, but it wouldn't stop him from getting John to the evacuation point. He wasn't a quitter, and he could tell the man he was carrying wasn't either. Hardening himself against his body's protests, he quickened his pace and caught up with Bret on the next landing. Once again they were racing the clock, only this time the consequences of being late seemed even more dire than they had with the impending missile.