trscrny: I left some (very, very veiled) hints about Kensi's pregnancy or rather that Callen was especially determined to protect her right now, but I deliberately kept them very veiled. As it is, there will be an explanation how Callen found out/knew in chapter 9 (which will also be the epilogue for this story I fear). Callen taking down Caroso… he was fed up with being a push-over I think *smirks*. As for the typo… *laughs* ooops, yeah, definitely foot not food. And don't worry about criticizing/offending! I don't do well with frontal attacks or underhanded slurs, but a nicely worded critique is a gift because it means someone took the time to point something out that slipped my notice and because it means I can grow from it. So, really, don't worry. I'm glad you pointed it out :)

altarp2408: Mnnn, yeah, you might be right that Kensi won't like being treated differently. On the other hand, going with the canon history, she's having trouble conceiving, so I think she might be a bit more aware of the danger she's in and therefore be a bit more receptive of Callen's fierce determination to shield her. At least that's the way I've decided to go for ;) But yeah, I did deprive us of the opportunity to have Kensi kick ass without breaking a sweat. Next time, maybe *g*. Thanks for reviewing.

ssl71: Oh, I think the cat is well out of the bag and everyone now understands why Callen was drawing the attention to himself and away from Kensi. ;) Thanks for reviewing.

Lestat74: Whoops, sorry for keeping you up ;) Though I have to admit, I'm happy the story gripped you so much that you obviously couldn't put it down at 5:30 in the morning. Next chapter coming up now. Thanks for commenting.

Dramamama5: Thanks for reviewing. Concerning the f-word. I relatively rarely allow my characters to swear, but I thought this situation allowed for it. Sorry if it put you off though.

And now have fun with Chapter 8 everyone!

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Come Hell or High Water

Chapter 8

Callen listened to Miller's part of the conversation with Cox.

The car had been brought up outside and Miller and his crew were guaranteed they would not be harmed when they made their way outside.

Three hostages would be taken outside along with the robbers - one hostage as a human shield for each man - but only Callen would be taken along as leverage.

Callen was ok with that - as long as the three men continued playing by the rules they had agreed to. If they tried taking anyone else along, he would start making trouble.

Miller put down the phone and turned to the hostages. His eyes met Callen's and again, there was a sliver of doubt in them. Deciding to prevent another argument, Callen simply gathered his feet under him and got up. He gave Kensi a warning glance to stay down when she made to rise as well. He had shown his hand and by now she also knew why he had fought so hard to keep her safe. He wouldn't compromise his position or her safety by having her draw attention to herself now.

Their gazes held and she acceded the wordless command with a small nod. He gave her a smile in return before he once more turned towards the other men.

Miller had come closer and stood face to face. "You make trouble and I will kill you myself," the man threatened.

Callen barely held back the eye roll at the threat. He was certain it wasn't an empty promise, but still...

Miller didn't hold a candle to people like Janvier - who still sent him postcards every Christmas to make sure he wasn't forgotten in his prison cell - but Miller was also a man who was close to cracking after a long and frustrating day and therefore dangerous to mess with. "Let's get this going," Callen said instead of dignifying the threat with a response.

Miller grabbed his shoulder and turned him around. His right hand brought the gun up to Callen's neck. Haley and Caroso had grabbed their own hostages and Callen glanced at them. Both hostages appeared frightened but not hysterical. Projecting calm and confidence, he gave them a simple nod.

Caroso saw him looking over and sneered at Callen. He got the impression the man hadn't forgiven Callen for the foot to the face. He held back the smirk, knowing better than to escalate the situation right now. Instead, Callen lowered his eyes, stepping back from the challenge. Still, he thought he should probably watch himself around the other man.

His leg was complaining about having to take his weight and walking, but he ignored it as he led the way over to the doors. Miller's hand tightened on his shoulder and he drew him to a brief stop.

Callen clenched his jaw and drew a slow breath, shoring himself up. They were about to enter the most crucial phase of the whole standoff: the moment where they would be exposed to dozens of law enforcement officers outside. Just one misstep on anybody's part and a lot of guns would be going off, diminishing their odds of survival.

Miller's left hand briefly strayed from his shoulder to reach past him as he opened the door. His right hand remained on the gun, the muzzle brushing Callen's neck. Despite his hands being bound behind his back, there were a lot of ways to get the gun away from Miller and alter the narrative that was unfolding, but none of them would guarantee everyone's survival.

So instead of executing one of the countless moves he had learned over the years, Callen instead let himself be nudged forward once the door was opened.

High-powered flashlights had been put up to compete with the darkness of the late hour. Blinking against the brightness, Callen knew they would be easily visible to the officers on the other side of those flashlights. They made for prime targets with the harsh lights contrasting their bodies starkly against their surroundings.

He took slow and deliberate steps as they moved outside and approached the stairs. The same set of stairs he had walked up not quite nine hours earlier now were a little bit more difficult to navigate with his hands bound and his leg weakened by the bullet wound. Miller's hand was on his shoulder, his body pressed closely against Callen's to make himself less vulnerable to sniper fire. His hand also served to stabilize Callen when his leg threatened to buckle four steps in. He was roughly drawn up and Miller snarled wordlessly.

"Take it easy," Callen muttered, not exactly wanting Miller to shoot his head off - nor did he want to be shot by law enforcement when they thought there was an opportunity to end this situation in a different way.

"Just keep walking," Miller growled.

Callen didn't waste his breath and instead did has Miller demanded. Once they were on ground level, they proceeded towards the car that was waiting for them. Approaching the driver's side, Miller turned them around so that his back was against the car, Callen shielding him from in front. Callen knew that getting into the car would be painful - especially as he would be forced to climb over the middle console. As long as the other hostages were under threat, Miller could expose his back without worrying too much.

He jolted in surprise when - contrary to his expectations - Miller slid into the vehicle ahead of him and clambered over the middle console into the passenger's seat while Caroso held Callen in place from behind his own hostage. From inside the car, Miller reached over and released Callen's handcuffs. Caroso nudged Callen into the driver's seat before he slipped into the vehicle behind him. On the other side of the car, Haley slipped into the rear passenger's seat as well. The other two hostages were ordered to remain in place until the doors were closed.

Generally speaking, he was quite glad to be the designated driver because he doubted he would get shot while he was behind the wheel. No one would risk him crashing the car because of being shot. So Callen thought he was actually in favor of his placement - also because he did have a lot more control over the situation like this. He carefully schooled his features neutral though, hiding the glee.

For all his previous worry, the transfer went surprisingly smooth.

With Caroso behind him and Miller on his right, Callen knew that the two more ruthless robbers were trying their best to keep him restrained and controlled, now that his hands weren't bound anymore.

"Both hands on the wheel. Start driving," Caroso hissed from behind after the doors fell shut. Callen waited for the other hostages to step away before he carefully eased the car forward.

He kept the car at a low speed, creeping forward and rolling towards the dark blue Mobile Command Centre truck that he could see sitting at the intersection ahead. Movement from his right side made him glance over and he found himself peering around the weapon that was now raised high to point at his head. The muzzle was completely steady. Miller's eyes were cold as he met them over the man's gun before Callen turned his attention back to the road.

He may not have taken the step yet, but Callen was certain that Miller's wordless threat wasn't empty. He would get a bullet to the brain if something went wrong… and possibly also if things went right. While he had originally pegged Caroso as the most unstable one, he had long since changed his mind. By now, he regarded Miller as the most ruthless and threatening one of the trio.

With the mass of flashlights behind them, his eyes slowly adjusted to the dim natural light. Glancing into the rearview mirror, he saw the team of law enforcement preparing to go into the bank to secure the previous hostages. He was certain that Kensi had instructed them on how to behave by now so that no one would get hurt.

Easing past the Mobile Command Centre, he allowed his focus to widen and he caught a glimpse of a black Challenger sitting unobtrusively at the curb behind the barricades. He couldn't see inside, but he was certain that his partner would stick close. He couldn't be certain if Deeks would be with him - rather suspected he would go into the bank to check up on his pregnant wife - but Sam's presence alone was enough to reassure him that they were working on getting the situation under control.

"I'll be close, G," Sam's voice drifted over the comm.-system as if his partner was aware of his thoughts - knowing their longstanding partnership and previous instances of reading each other's minds, it was probably exactly what had happened.

Callen didn't comment or react, instead continued on his path, watching as officers standing near the outer barricades pulled them aside to let them pass. Weapons were drawn but no attempt was made to stop them.

Moments later, the outer cordon of the restricted area was behind them. "Where to?" Callen asked evenly, keeping his eyes on the road and both of his hands on the wheel. He didn't glance up into the rearview mirror to check for tails. He knew that Sam at least would not be far away and he suspected there would be several more marked and unmarked vehicles following them as well.

After leaving the bank and the other hostages behind, now it was only himself in the line of fire. He was therefore free to take higher risks as he was only gambling with his own life anymore. The other hostages would be secure and he guessed that Deeks had probably made it to his wife's side by now. It was good to know that she would be safe.

He wasn't quite certain if she would be furious with him eventually - for stealing her thunder and also for pushing her out of the line of fire - but Callen didn't regret his actions.

He followed Miller's directions, noting that they were headed for the Freeway. It was what he had expected. The three men would want to put as much space between themselves and their pursuit as possible.

"Where are the trackers?" Miller asked after several minutes.

Callen suggested one of the usual hiding places, watching from the corner of his eyes as Miller's attention slid away from him.

Before he had a chance to consider taking advantage of the situation, he felt the muzzle of a gun against the back of his neck. "Don't do anything stupid," Caroso hissed and Callen instinctively fell still, keeping his hands very visible at the wheel. There wasn't much he could do. Even if he managed to duck before Caroso pulled the trigger, he was rather certain that Miller would be able to get a shot off.

So instead of doing anything, he suggested the next possible location when the first option heralded no tracker - not that Callen had expected it since he knew exactly where the trackers were placed. Miller's shout of success at the second suggestion was followed by the man rolling down his window to throw the device out. Without missing a beat Callen suggested another location which resulted in the second tracker being found.

"How many trackers are there?" Caroso asked from behind him.

Callen briefly glanced up into the rearview mirror and met the man's eyes. "Usually, there would only be one, but I'd suspect there are probably two or three," he stated calmly, "they know of my involvement and Agent Cox had to expect you would ask me about them and had them place several trackers." He directed them through several more of the easily reachable hiding places. He knew there was one more tracker that he could direct them to, but he decided to hold back. While he had a GPS unit in his earwig and possibly a tracker or two on the undercarriage as well, it usually was a good idea to hedge your bets.

Taking the ramp to the Freeway, heading north, Callen kept the speed constant.

"Floor it," Miller directed when he noticed that Callen also kept below the speed limit.

Callen did as directed. He enjoyed driving at high speeds - was also pretty good at it if he allowed himself to gloat - but the car wasn't exactly made for speed. For a getaway car it was rather lousy. Then again, law enforcement wouldn't exactly have wanted to give them a fast car.

"You drive like a little girl, G. I could stop for coffee and still be right on your bumper," Sam's voice rang in his ear. While he would get back at his partner for his comment later, he was also glad for it as it let him know that Sam was close by. He hadn't expected anything different, but it was still good to know for certain.

With a car like this, it probably would have been better to stick to surface roads and take short turns to shake off a pursuer instead of trying for speed when the car just wasn't made for that. Since he didn't plan on shaking any pursuers, he didn't make the suggestion though.

"So, what are your plans?" he asked casually, keeping his attention on the road. Traffic was sparse due to the late hour, but he didn't allow himself to become distracted. He had done his best to make sure no innocent bystanders had been hurt inside of the bank. It wouldn't do to get sloppy now and cause injuries with a car accident.

All the while he also kept an eye out for his options. Right now, he didn't see the need to take large risks. Sam was close - as were probably some other pursuit vehicles - and he still doubted he would be shot as long as he drove and didn't make any threatening moves. So for the moment he was content to let things play out and see where it got them.

"Head to the harbor. We'll part ways there," Caroso grunted from the backseat.

Callen's eyes flashed up to the rearview mirror. The man's words and tone of voice sent his alarm bells ringing - as did the way Miller shifted in the seat beside him.

It seemed these men had decided on his fate. They just didn't know that Callen had a thing about anyone but himself deciding his fate. He had balked at it from an early age, fled the foster care system more than once when he felt the need to get out. Over the years of his life he had gotten pretty good at getting out of tight situations and saving his own skin. He was now rather certain that he would have to do so again tonight. He just wasn't sure just how large a risk he was going to have to take to do it. It may be good to let things play out at the harbor or it might be beneficial for his survival if he forced the issue beforehand. He would have to remain vigilant and see how things went.

Still, he decided on pointing out something. "You know that killing a federal agent is an automatic death penalty, don't you?" he half asked and half stated. He wasn't certain if Caroso's words would have been picked up by his earwig, but his own words would definitely alert everyone of the rising threat.

"I can be there in under a minute. Just give the word," Sam's words rang out and he heard the Challenger's engine revving. Sam's words were the only response he got to his statement - inside the vehicle, he was met with stony silence. In that silence, he heard the nervous shifting from the rear passenger's seat. He allowed his eyes to go up to Haley in the rearview mirror.

The man had definitely bitten off more than he could chew and Callen remembered thinking earlier that day that the man was the weakest link in this game. He decided to exploit that now.

"You also think that killing a federal agent is a good thing?" he asked directly, glancing at the man in question over his shoulder. His hands remained firm on the wheel and countless advanced driving courses made sure the car didn't swerve but instead travelled on straight ahead despite his half-turned position.

Haley was fidgeting again, but before he could say anything, Miller raised his weapon and gestured for Callen to face forward again. When Callen did, Miller himself turned around in his seat. "He's trying to get under your skin, kid," the older man stated, his voice calm and even, looking to soothe the younger man in the backseat.

"Actually, I'm trying to save mine," Callen clarified, ignoring the way Caroso's gun nudged the back of his neck from behind. "Also, kid," he stressed the word, hopefully keeping Haley further unbalanced. Plus… there had never been official introductions inside of the bank and Callen didn't plan on worsening his situation by letting on that he knew exactly who these men were, "I don't think you're cut out for maximum security prison. You'll get eaten alive within days."

"Shut up," Miller hissed darkly at him, his weapon once more rising to underline the threat.

But Callen was on a roll and didn't plan on stopping any time soon. The situation was tenuous at best, and he knew that once they arrived at their destination, his continued survival wasn't a guarantee anymore. Even with Sam's presence close, things would turn sour very quickly once they were at their destination. Maybe he would have to take a rather large risk in the immediate future after all.

"Your buddies here think they have everything under control, but what do you think will happen when the Feds start a real manhunt?" he continued talking, ignoring Miller's repeated command for him to stop talking. "As long as I'm alive and a hostage, you have a chance at ending this peacefully, but as soon as one of those guys pulls the trigger and I'm dead, you will not even be safe in Mexico - or any other country on the planet as it is."

"Moving in," Sam acknowledged instantly, reacting to Callen's use of one of their safe words. They had used 'Mexico' or variations thereof in countless situations before. It was simply easy to put the word into different context - from country to food or people - and he had expected Sam to react instantly. "Thirty seconds," Sam added a moment later to give Callen an estimate of how long he would need to close the distance between them.

Judging by the state of Miller's anger, Callen suspected he didn't have thirty seconds.

The man was shouting at him, waving his gun around before once more turning in his seat and continuing to shout at Haley in the backseat.

This time, the distraction was big enough. Callen's eyes briefly flickered up to the rearview mirror and he found Caroso's attention also on Haley, the man's weapon turned away from the driver's seat.

Not wasting another second, knowing the danger against his person could only escalate further the longer he waited, Callen reached for the door handle with his left hand. Bracing himself, he stomped on the break, catching his momentum as best as he could and pushing the door open just a second later, letting the momentum of his hard breaking maneuver do the rest. He waited for the door to rebound before he gave it another push to shove it open.

Throwing himself sideways, he tumbled out of the still moving car, crossing his fingers that he wouldn't be hit by another car - or a bullet following him outside. Bracing himself for the impact, he grunted when his body made contact with the asphalt. Years of athleticism allowed him to twist his body around to soften his fall. His shoulder took most of the impact and he knew there would be several scrapes and scratches and bruises forming later on, but seeking his safety in this move was actually a better bet than remaining inside of the vehicle until they reached their destination.

Callen rolled several times due to the momentum gained by tumbling from a moving car. He tucked his head in as best as he could, but otherwise didn't try to stop his tumble, instead allowing himself to slow down gradually with the loss of momentum.

Right before his body came to a stop, screeching tires alerted him of either being plowed over by another car or the cavalry arriving. Curling into a ball, he stayed as he was, prone and unmoving.

The added wailing of sirens hopefully put the first option to bed. Callen slowly uncurled himself and glanced around. He found Sam's Challenger and two more cars stopped close to the former getaway car that was now stranded a hundred yards away from him without a driver.

Shouts for the men to surrender were being issued and Callen flopped onto his back. He remained lying on the floor, stretched out and content to let other people take over. The asphalt was hard against his back, but Callen reveled in just lying there. The adrenaline hadn't yet left his body and he suspected that he would be hurting quite a bit once it did, but for the moment, he was content to stare up at the night sky over him and come down from the rush slowly.

He blinked his eyes open when someone came to stand over him. Sam's eyes met his and he could see the worry in his partner's expression. "Did you get me that coffee you promised to stop for?" Callen asked, allowing his lips to pull into his customary smirk.

Sam rolled his eyes, but his expression smoothed out and he turned his attention back to the three robbers in the car as he stood guard over Callen, his gun pointed in the direction of the threat.

Callen let his head sink back down onto the ground, deciding to give himself a few moments to take stock and relax. His leg was beginning to throb and there were some areas on his body where he could already feel the bruises forming. The adrenaline would mask the pain for a bit longer, but he knew he would be hurting all over later on. All in all, he was mostly alright though.

Moments later, Sam nudged his hip with a foot and Callen glanced up in question. "You gonna stand up?"

He saw that Sam had secured his weapon and another glance at the car he had thrown himself out of let him know the three men had finally surrendered and were being secured by the FBI agents swamping the scene. Sam's question might have been casual, but Callen knew his partner was asking whether or not he was alright. Stretching up a hand, he allowed Sam to draw him to his feet.

"Quite a tumble you took there," Sam commented casually and didn't let go when Callen swayed a little bit. Only when Callen's stance firmed, Sam released him.

Callen shrugged, brushing off some dirt from his clothes. "Didn't fancy the alternative," he gave back easily. He sighed when he saw the state of his clothes. Another piece of wardrobe destroyed. Hetty would make him write an obnoxiously long report about it, explaining how he had managed to wreck taxpayer dollars - in a case that wasn't even theirs. He speculatively glanced up at Sam, wondering if he could somehow swing it so that his partner offered to write the report for him.

Sam grinned and took a step back, holding up his hand, "no, you can be the one to explain that."

Callen sighed again. There went that idea.

"Mr. Hanna, please make sure your partner get's checked out at the scene before returning to the office."

Hetty had always had the strangest sense of timing. Callen had never found out about that canny ability of hers. The timing wasn't what was worrying him though - the content of her input did. "Hetty, it's just a few scratches. Sam can patch me up at the boatshed," Callen reassured her mildly.

"It's either the EMT's at the scene or I will personally check on you," Hetty told him sweetly. And that was a threat if he had ever heard one.

Oh, that shrewd old woman!

Callen raised his eyes heavenwards and turned to Sam who was barely containing his laughter.

"Laugh all you want, Mr. Hanna, but please see to it that your partner doesn't try to sneak off in the meantime," Hetty admonished.

Sam had stopped laughing as soon as she addressed him, a heavy frown on his features before his eyes went to the middle of Callen's chest. This time it was Callen who snickered silently. Obviously, his button cam had survived the tumble - which was good as that meant he had one less form to fill out.

Sam's eyes narrowed. "Come on, partner, medics are over there," he slapped a hand onto Callen's shoulder, making him yelp when Sam managed to hit some of the forming bruises.

Considering that Sam didn't withdraw his hand, he suspected that the move had been somewhat intentional. Callen glared at his partner but bit back any further comment, instead he allowed himself to be led over to the recently arrived ambulance. He may have agreed - by not arguing - to get checked out at the scene, but if anyone took out a needle, he would be gone before they could say 'check up'.

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