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Cold Stone Byways

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Eliot crawled across the floor, left arm dragging behind him and both legs shooting pain with every movement he made. Right knee destroyed, left foot dangling -- he hadn't had the nerve to look too closely in the red glow of his flashlight as he'd bent over, trying to wrap it. The foot was hanging from what he hoped was more than skin and tissue, but the bullet had impacted his ankle exactly at the joint and he didn't really know just how bad it was. He'd forced himself not to look too carefully as he'd done what he could to staunch the flow of blood from each of his wounds. The only thing still working was his right arm; thank God he hadn't taken a bullet high in his torso or his skull, not sure if that meant they had been aiming to injure or if they'd been amateurs.

Behind him in the corner, Hardison lay slumped, unconscious. The knot on his head was the only apparent injury the man had sustained, and Eliot had determined that it was only a concussion, severe but not necessarily life-threatening.

If they got out of here. If Hardison kept breathing long enough for Eliot to get a signal on Hardison's phone and send a message to the others. The sooner Hardison woke up the better, but for now all Eliot could do was try to arrange a rescue. His phone was destroyed, a bullet had glanced off it and into his hip. And because the universe clearly hated him, Hardison's phone was nearly dead, battery down far enough Eliot knew he could only risk a short text message. He'd cursed Hardison out for not charging the damn thing, then swore he'd harass the man about it for years once they got out of this alive. For now, though, Eliot just held the phone in his mouth to save it from being damaged as he crawled across the cold stone floor of the dungeon.

A fucking dungeon. Stanley Taylor had built himself a real, god-forsaken dungeon under his mansion. Two levels down, below the basement on the official blueprints and Eliot hadn't been pleased to find it when he'd led Hardison down the stairs and behind the secret door Parker had sworn they would find.

He couldn't remember what he'd said to Nate over the earbuds when the door had swung open to reveal the shallow stone steps descending into darkness, but he hadn't felt good about going down them. Hardison had started talking about dungeons and dragons and Eliot had had to clamp his jaw down on the fact he'd actually played a D&D game once, a very long time ago, when he'd been trying to become friends with Neal.

Neal's twin sister Daniele was gorgeous and popular and she turned down every boy who asked her out, except for those who managed to get past her over-protective brother. So Eliot had sat in on a game and let Neal kill him off, and a week later he'd gone out with Daniele for two glorious months. All he remembered about the game was that you didn't want to play a hobbit and you didn't pick up things in the dark because they tended to kill you.

But those were games and this was real, so Eliot had snapped on a red-tinted flashlight to protect his vision and headed down, ignoring Hardison's rambling about gelatinous cubes and kobolds as they looked for Taylor's safe.

Eliot still didn't know if Taylor had been tipped off or if the guy was just that paranoid, but thirty yards down the hallway Eliot had heard a stone door sliding shut then the gunfire had begun. He'd shoved Hardison out of the way, wincing as the other man's head had hit the wall; Eliot had dived for the floor, but hadn't gotten out of the way in time. He'd taken several hits before a second door swung shut between them and their assailants.

Now Eliot had to find a way to get them out from twenty feet below ground with no cell reception and one arm and both legs out of commission. He'd been in worse situations -- although every other time it had just been him alone. He glanced back to Hardison and saw the other man still hadn't moved.

He thought about growling his frustration at Hardison, but he didn't want to drop the phone and, really, there wasn't anything he could really blame on their hacker for this one. 'Why didn't you warn me about traps' seemed a little lame, all things considered. It was Eliot's job to notice this sort of thing and protect the team; yelling at Hardison would have only made him feel better for a little while. It wouldn't get them out of here, and it wouldn't wake Hardison up so he could hack a way out of four stone walls.

Eliot kept crawling across the floor, feeling his shirt ruck up and the cold stone press against his stomach. The floor wasn't smooth, covered in pebbles and uneven lines where the stones had been fit together imperfectly. Maybe Taylor had wanted a rugged, more authentic atmosphere or some such bullshit. He'd be sure and have a little chat with the man after they got out about his architectural choices. Broken stones scratched against his stomach and he felt one dig hard enough to slice deep. Blood began to flow freely and he could feel the dirt and debris grinding into the wound as he continued to pull himself forward.

One more thing to push out of his mind; Eliot exhaled and focused on the doorway, the crack he could see and the half-broken stones he might be able to use to pry the door open again. No other breaks in the walls that he could see, and he wasn't mobile enough to want to try and look for more unless he couldn't make anything happen with this one.

He caught his bad knee on a stone and hissed, reflexively sucking in his breath before any noise could escape. He paused, head pounding and knee screaming and Eliot wanted to rest his forehead on the floor, let himself stop for a moment. He couldn't risk it, couldn't let himself stop because he knew the pain would slam back in and getting started again would be harder if he let himself stop.

There was no way to know if they had air for very long -- the size of the room they'd been trapped in would give them roughly ten hours if it were airtight. Nate and the others would know they'd run into trouble well before then, but whoever had shot him up and trapped them knew they were here and could return for them at any moment. Might already be outside, getting ready to open the door and fire their guns again.

There was no cover, no way to protect himself or Hardison. All he had were some knives and, given a chance to brace himself, he could get to five of them quickly. All five were suitable for throwing, but lying around waiting for the chance to use them was more likely to get them killed than calling for Nate and getting rescued. The first sound of a door opening and he'd grab them up -- he'd go down fighting for damn sure -- but for now he continued to make his way forward.

Eliot could think of seventeen ways Taylor could kill them remotely without ever showing his face or that of a single henchman. Gas, water, falling rocks or spears from the walls -- Eliot shoved those thoughts aside along with the pain because, as with everything else, there wasn't anything he could do about it. Dragging himself along, he thought about the miniscule crack in-between the door and the wall, and the rocks he could cram in to enlarge the space enough for a signal to get through.

He thought about his breath with each inhalation and exhalation, and about the movement of his arm, reaching up and over and pulling the dead weight of his body along. One inch at a time and slowly his world spiraled down until all there was were the stones of the floor and walls and one arm slowly dragging his body forward. The pain faded and Hardison faded and everything went away except the cold on his skin and the door growing ever so slowly closer, in front of him.

When his fingers touched the door, Eliot stopped. Pressing his hand against it, he felt for vibrations or air flow, but there was nothing. He jerked his body sideways, resting his shoulder against the wall and sucking in air sharply against the wave of pain that engulfed him. When he'd fought it back down he pulled the phone out of his mouth and wiped it on his shirt. Then he switched it on, checked the reception briefly. No bars, almost no power. He snapped it off and levered himself sideways, setting the phone carefully inside his shirt as he leaned back against the wall and picked up a rock. The first was too big, but the second was small enough that he could cram it into the crack between the door and the wall.

His fingers brushed the floor and found a second small rock; he wedged it in beside the first. Breathing in, breathing out, Eliot stared at the wall in front of him and found rocks and worked them into the crack one at a time. He jostled himself once, stabbing pain from his knee and ankle nearly had him screaming; he clamped his jaw shut and pressed his head back, breathing through his nose and staring at the ceiling and thinking about finding another stone, wedging the door open just a little more.

Eliot shut his eyes briefly, giving himself just a moment because he couldn't-- But he had to, so he glared at the floor and found another rock, shoved it in beside the rest and dug around for another. After awhile he stopped and turned on the phone to check: nothing. Eliot searched the floor and walls for more rocks, methodically shoving them into the crack one at a time.

When he finally switched on the phone again, the reception readout flickered once, then gave him a single bar. Eliot quickly sent a text to the first preset group in Hardison's contacts list: Nate, Sophie, and Parker's cell phones were all on it, as well as his own and the phone back at the office. Then he let his head drop back and took a long, careful breath. The phone flashed once, text sent, then the power died away completely.

Eliot closed his eyes and let himself listen for any sign of someone approaching -- any sign of anything except his own pain and the pounding of his heartbeat. He tucked Hardison's phone into his shirt pocket, and settled in to wait. The stones were leeching his body heat away and his left leg was at a bad angle. He wanted to reach down and adjust it, but knew that moving around would only make things worse. He sat still, thought about blankness and an empty room where nothing lived: no pain, no cold, no fear. He breathed slowly, in and out, and listened.

When the stone door began to grind open, Eliot's eyes snapped open and he found himself unable to move, stiff and cold and every part of his body except one arm screaming in pain. The door swung backwards and he moved his hand to the first and easiest of the knives, ready to throw it and take at least one of the bastards with him.

"Eliot?" came Nate's voice.

"Yeah," he managed, hand falling to his side limply. He glanced over, trying to see Hardison in the red light. The other man still hadn't moved, and Eliot hadn't even let himself think about going back over to check on him. Not a thing he could have done for him, even if he'd been at Hardison's side, so he'd shoved it out of the mental room the same as the pain and the waiting.

The door to that room was still slammed shut, bolted against the intrusion of a hundred other things Eliot didn't want to think about. Hardison hadn't moved since Eliot had crawled away from him -- Eliot realised he had no idea how long they'd been down here. He turned back to Nate, wanting to ask, and found that his voice wasn't quite working. He frowned, and felt someone pat his arm -- his uninjured arm, for which he was grateful.

"We got this," Nate said quietly, mouth very near Eliot's ear and Eliot felt his eyes closing again. He needed to tell Nate something, warn him about the shooters, maybe, only his thoughts were getting fuzzy and he couldn't quite figure out what he needed to say. Nate probably already knew, Eliot told himself. He heard more footsteps enter the room and knew it was Parker and Sophie by the sound. Then he heard Parker's soft exclamation and heard her running over to Hardison and Eliot pried his eyes back open.

He needed to tell her he was sorry. He'd tried, and had no idea if he'd failed, if the other man was still alive but surely it was all on Eliot if he wasn't. He hadn't even--

"It's fine," Nate was saying, hand still on Eliot's arm. Eliot glanced up at him, not sure how anything of this could be considered fine. There was a quirk in the corner of Nate's mouth, an almost-grin and a sad look in his eyes as Nate shook his head. "He'll be fine once we get him out of here. Just a bad knock to the head -- he's got a hard skull."

Eliot nodded, once, and felt everything inside him relax. He felt Nate's hand, warm on his arm, squeezing his fingers once, gently. Eliot let his eyes close.

the end