Eliot hated being rescued. It sounded like a weird thing to say, not that he said it, he only thought it... at least, he was pretty sure it was just a thought. At this point in time, it was pretty hard to tell. Whether he said it or thought it was really quite irrelevant, it was still a fact. Eliot hated being rescued. He was a rescuer not a rescuee, and if the unlikely event occurred where he required a rescue, well then he damn well rescued himself and that was just that.
This time around would be just the same. Given enough time to think about things, to plot and plan, to regain the use of his arms and his brain and other important parts that seemed to have given in since he got here. Yeah, Eliot was pretty sure he could still rescue himself, eventually, probably, but he wouldn’t get the chance to try.
It was true enough that Eliot loved his team, as it had been before and especially as it was now. Nate and Sophie were good people, expert mastermind and grifter, no doubt, but things were working out pretty well just the three of them. He had adjusted to Hardison and Parker being a couple, along with the two of them learning to deal just the same. Man, that had taken a long time, and even now Eliot sometimes thought both his bro and his twenty pounds of crazy would rather hang out with him than each other. It was strange how that worked. He’d lay money they all spent more time as a team than the couple ever spent alone. What was up with that?
Anyway, they would notice he was gone soon. It felt like he’d been gone a week, but Eliot knew that was just the drugs and the torture talking. In moments of clarity he could properly calculate the time, each hour that passed. There had been just this side of thirty seven of them, he reckoned, so Parker and Hardison would know he was gone by now.
It had been a Friday, he recalled, even as his heart pounded and his head swam from another attempt by his body to throw out the poison in his veins. There was a bar, the one around the corner from his usual apartment in town. He hadn’t known she was going to be there but he saw her as a pleasant enough surprise. Encores were not something he usually went in for, but then he rarely ran across women like her twice in a lifetime.
Mikhail Dayan. She was hotter than the sun, smarter than she looked, and almost as flexible as Parker. She knew how to have a good time, and Eliot had first hand experience of that. Their fight turned dirty in the best way on that job a few years back. When he walked into the bar, she smiled, like a crocodile figuring on how best to eat her prey. Women like that, most men wouldn’t argue. Eliot knew she was counting on his fighting back. Yeah, it was gonna be one of those nights.
Trust was a strange thing. You had to put it in the right people. For all that she was and all that she had been, Mikhail was kindred and what some might call an old flame. Eliot didn’t see any danger, at least none but the fun kind. So much for a night to remember, that was one he’d sooner forget. Her eyes were all the more dark and piercing when his vision started to blur. By the time he realised what was going on, it was all too late.
“You shot him down like a dog!”
Eliot hadn’t known what she meant by that as the darkness took him. A string of Hebrew curses were punctuated by her heel in his face. Consciousness just wasn’t worth clinging onto anymore and he let everything fade to black.
The darkness was his friend. Eliot and his buddy had a fair few exchanges these last two days. If there were any peace in the sleep he found it would be worth it. As it was, the pain remained even in dreams, the voices that taunted.
Mikhail was still there but not alone. She could’ve done this by herself but folks like them never did. They had bosses, leaders, someone with a pay cheque for you, and a bank balance to back it up. That didn’t explain the hardness in her eyes when she spat in his face. Eliot fought to recall everyone he shot, everyone who died at his hand by way of bullets. The list was short, since guns were his least favourite weapon. Since he met Mikhail there had been even less.
The name flew through Eliot’s brain like a lightning bolt in the dark, lighting up everything. In the process of taking his old boss down, many a man had fallen. Eliot knew some of the faces, a couple of the names, but there were a lot of new people since he walked away from Moreau. Any one of them could’ve meant something to Mikhail. Not a boyfriend or a lover, their kind couldn’t afford to be so attached. A father wouldn’t make sense either, but a brother would.
“Yapheh ahi a-katan...”
Eliot killed her brother, shot him down without a care. That wasn’t true. He did care. He thought about it, dreamt about it, in all the nights that followed. Eight times, nine now since his kidnap. All those men, the families left behind, because there would be some. Unlikely to be wives and kids, but Mommas and Daddys, brothers and sisters. Even monsters had to come from somewhere, and Eliot should know.
Maybe that was all these people were, the Russian guy, the English chick, Mikhail, and more. Eliot had heard six voices so far, though the Russian was most prominent. They might have called him Kruschev, but he doubted it. The brain made leaps, filled in gaps with words and explanations that were familiar, that was all it was.
Familiar, family, these people had families, and that brought Eliot full circle to his own close-knit team. The ones he loved too much these days.
Parker and Hardison would come for him. It had to be Monday by now. They only took the weekend off, and he hadn’t made the next meeting. No answer on comms or cell, they’d start looking. Hacking, plotting, running around like blue-assed flies. Eliot chuckled at the imagery, got a sock in the mouth for his trouble, spat blood on the concrete.
Solid floor, four walls, gaps in the ceiling.
Smelled like cold, salt, and... damnit! He knew that smell, distinctive as it was.
Eliot hated being rescued. The only thing he hated more was the idea of an attempted rescue that would never work. The C4 would see to that, and right now he couldn’t think of a damn thing he could do to stop it.
Parker had gotten so good at that, the hacker would almost swear Eliot was in the room right then, except for the fact the hitter never smelt of jasmine and wouldn’t be crying when he cursed him out. That was all Parker. Poor, sweet, genuinely hurt Parker.
“Woman, I am doin’ my best here,” he told her, pulling her close under his arm, still operating the computer with his free hand. “You know what Eliot be like, he likes his privacy. Every surveillance tracker or anything I try to put on this guy, he knows about it and he dumps it.”
“It is creepy being watched,” Parker considered. “But at least if we had a way to watch him we wouldn’t have lost him.”
“Exactly!” Hardison agreed. “See, this is what I’m sayin’! If he just let me keep tabs on him, just a lil’ bit, we wouldn’t have to wonder where he is right now,” he explained. “Wouldn’t have to wonder if he lost or hurt or dead...”
“Don’t say dead,” Parker insisted, feeling sick at the very idea.
She never did say she loved the team, not before or after the decrease in their numbers. It was okay, she figured they knew anyway. Eliot always said actions spoke louder than words, and he ought to know. The punches he threw made more noise on contact than any words he spoke, though somehow Parker wasn’t sure that was exactly what her hitter friend had meant.
Eliot was her friend, and more than that. She’d say he was her brother, except that would be weird. Girls weren’t supposed to look at guys the way she looked at Eliot sometimes if they were related. Nope, not a brother, but special. Way more special than anyone else she knew, except Hardison. She couldn’t really say which one she loved better, she just loved them, and that was that. She didn’t even say that much, but they had to know.
“You know, right?” she said, looking sideways at Hardison.
“I know, what now?” he checked, concentrating hard on one part of the huge vid screen and then another as he collated data.
“Y’know,” Parker shrugged. “About you and Eliot, and me, and how it’d be really, really bad if you went away... in a forever way.”
Hardison stopped typing, then he stopped paying attention to anything as he turned slowly to meet Parker’s eyes. Despite the dire situation, not knowing where Eliot was or how to retrieve the world’s greatest retrieve specialist, he smiled.
“Yes, Parker,” he said definitely, putting a hand to her cheek and drawing her closer. Tear-filled eyes staring into others of a similar state. He knew just exactly what she was saying though she hadn’t really said it at all. He knew because he felt it too, and not just about her. If Eliot couldn’t be found, if he never came back, it’d break both their hearts. He was theirs now, and it wasn’t that they couldn’t do without him, they just refused to. It wasn’t an option.
Leave no man behind.
An alarm went off in Hardison’s pocket almost the moment his lips touched Parker’s own in a kiss of comfort and proof he understood every word she said and feeling she was having. Dating Parker was nothing like dating anyone else, especially when something drove her off the rails. This thing with Eliot would make her way more crazy than she ever was in the beginning. She’d move hell and high water to get to the only other man in her life that mattered, and Hardison would be right there beside her.
“Is it important?” she asked, words a little mumbled since she tried to start speaking before she pulled out of their kiss.
Hardison wasn’t even startled to realise she was holding his cell out to him now. He hadn’t even felt her hand in his pants pocket. That was weird but cool... and all kinds of disappointing actually.
“Could be,” he replied to her question, shaking off the moment he didn’t know how to take right now. “Yes, actually. Important would be the word,” he nodded, and then began to grin. “We got us a lead, mama!”
A warehouse down by the docks. Why did everything seem to happen there? More specifically, Hardison wanted to know why everything bad always happened there, but Parker had no answer for him. She was concentrating, like a bloodhound on the scent. Hardison hoped she couldn’t actually track Eliot by smell alone, but didn’t like to ask. After all, it was Parker.
They had headed to a bar close to Eliot’s apartment first, which had led in what had felt like a big old circle, until finally, two drunks and a bribed doorman later, they had figured out what happened. An old acquaintance had taken Eliot down with dirty talk and spiked liquor. Before he knew it, the hitter was in this warehouse, surrounded by goons that wanted revenge, either for Moreau’s capture or the death of his men. Eliot was their worst enemy right now, and Hardison took that as a good sign. Folks like them didn’t want their enemies dead, they wanted them suffering. Though there was nothing good about Eliot being tortured, it did at least mean he was still living. It undid one of the knots in the hackers stomach, but there were plenty more still sitting there, making him want to puke.
“How’re we gonna do this?” asked Parker, leaning back on her haunches beside him. “I mean one person, maybe two, I’d just go running in there but there’s meant to be a lot and they’re all hitters, like Eliot,” she considered. “That’s not gonna end pretty.”
“Hold on a sec,” said Hardison, staring down at the tablet computer in his hand. “No security cameras for this particular place, which ain’t a surprise, but a camera on the south side for the opposite building has picked up movement at regular intervals. Seems these people working a shift pattern or something...”
Hardison studied the footage and figures a little more, until Parker started jostling his shoulder too hard.
“Parker! Seriously?” he shot her a look. “I know you’re worried about Eliot but...”
He stopped talking when he realised Parker was not only shushing him but gesturing for him to look out around the corner at the warehouse too. It looked as if three people were hurrying away from the building where they assumed Eliot to be. Given the shift rotation Hardison was seeing on the computer, he’d guess there was currently nobody watching over their hitter friend at all. That was suspicious in and of itself, a reason to be cautious, the hacker thought. Of course, Parker didn’t know the meaning of the word cautious, especially when someone she cared for was in trouble. She was gone from Hardison’s side before he could even blink.
Parker’s entry point was already clear to her. Straight up onto the shipping containers outside, then dropping in through one of the rooflights. Hardison wasn’t overly impressed with her plan, made clear by the way he whisper-yelled at her from the ground. Parker called back in her own hushed-shout that she would let him in the door just as soon as she got in.
As good as her word, the thief opened up the main door to the warehouse two minutes later and Hardison ran inside. He was confused to realise Parker wasn’t there, but could hear her footsteps vaguely in the distance.
A good half of the floor space was filled with racking piled high with boxes, and there was no telling if they were definitely alone here. Hardison dare not call Parker’s name and the soft sound of her footfalls had all but completely disappeared now. He pulled out his phone, hit three buttons and waited for the signal to start flashing. Parker had to be tagged at all times for her own safety and once again it came it very handy.
When Hardison found Parker he almost wished he had been more prepared for the sight that met his eyes. He didn’t want to know how she tracked Eliot to this spot, since the answer was probably a trail of blood or similar.
Eliot looked terrible. One eye was swollen and mostly stuck shut. There were cuts and bruises on every part of skin that showed, and that was a lot of skin when a person was stripped down to a vest and jeans. Hardison didn’t want to think what Eliot had suffered. The one eye he could see wasn’t altogether clear when the hitter tried to focus on his friends.
“Ya can’t be here,” he told them. “Seriously, get out! Parker, stop!” he commanded, but the little thief paid no mind.
Her fingers worked double time on the chains that shackled Eliot’s ankles, switching to the bonds at his wrists a second later. These people weren’t dumb. Instead of tying his wrists together which would’ve given him leverage to snap the cord, they had tied each arm down to a metal frame in three places each. The shackles at his legs held him to the same frame, no chairs that could be knocked over or smashed to pieces. They had thought of everything.
“We’re not leaving you, man! No way!” said Hardison definitely. “You one of us. We leave no man behind.”
He crouched down the other side of Eliot’s ‘seat’ and tried to copy Parker’s movements on the other side. Honestly, even she was struggling, so the hacker doubted he stood a chance. The people who took Eliot and did this to him, they could be back any second, and then they were all dead. Better together than apart perhaps, then no-one would be left behind in any way. Honestly though, Hardison would rather live, he’d rather they all live.
“This is insane!” Parker complained. “Why would anybody...?”
The way her question trailed away, the quake in her voice when she said his name after, Eliot knew that she had now realised what was already clear to him.
“Parker, please,” he said, getting her attention, though it didn’t come easy when she was so hypnotised by her frightening discovery. “Please, take Hardison. Get out of here.”
Parker met Eliot’s one good eye and swallowed hard. There were sixty seconds left on the clock, not even that long now because she was wasting time panicking. Eliot wanted to save her, and save Hardison. That was what he did, he saved them, every time they needed it. Now here they were trying to repay the debt and instead he was still going to try to save them, let himself die so they wouldn’t.
“No,” she shook her head, ponytail swinging side to side.
She grabbed Hardison’s arm and pulled him towards the workings of the bomb. His eyes went wide, and panic set in for all of a millisecond. Forty seven seconds and going down. Now wasn’t the time. They’d done this before, him and Eliot, they could do it now. Eliot was here, and damnit he was going to live, they all were, there just wasn’t a Plan B this time around.
“I hate it when explosions are involved in the job,” he was muttering as he worked. “Lately, it’s like every single time, and it’s not cool,” he complained, even as he stripped the wires down.
In the background they were bickering still, Eliot and Parker, like cat and dog. He wanted to save them but they were determined to save him.
“Just go, I’m not worth it!”
“Yes, you are! You’re worth it to me, to us!”
“You have a life together!”
“We all have a life together. No matter what happens, you’ll keep saving us and we’ll keep saving you...”
“No! We’re all gonna die in here!”
“Then we’ll die! At least we’ll be together. Isn’t that what you want?”
Hardison had to cut in. He needed three hands and the good Lord only gave a person two. This was a job where timing was key. For the first time in her life Parker was going to have to go with the count. If she didn’t... Once again, Plan B just didn’t exist this time around. Eighteen seconds on the clock, seventeen, sixteen...
Eliot shut his one good eye. Now seemed like a good time for a prayer, though he doubted anyone was prepared to listen anymore after all he had done.
‘I don’t care about me, but please, God, save them’
Five, four, three, two, one...
Eliot opened his one good eye to the dim light of the bedroom he had used as his own enough times. The getting here was hazy at best. Just as soon as he realised Parker and Hardison had disabled that bomb, he let himself relax. His captors weren’t coming back, not this time, not when they expected him to be blown sky high with the whole warehouse. His friends must’ve got him free somehow, put him in the van, and brought him home.
The building didn’t matter, Eliot was with his team, his family. This was home now and always would be, because they were there. They cleaned him up some. He heard their voices through the fog before, talking about stitches needed, and poison in his system. He’d taught them enough, they had coped without doctors or hospitals. A few years ago they would probably have panicked. Not anymore, not his team. Through the worst of it, he still smiled.
“You should go back to sleep,” said Parker, smiling back at him as she reached a tentative hand to push his hair off his face.
He wasn’t surprised that just as soon as he let his eyelids fall closed, the bed shifted beside him. Eliot would argue, but what was the point? He couldn’t even get them to listen when he was trying to save their lives, and he was hardly in a fit state for an fight right now anyway. Hardison’s voice said something about sleeping on the job, but Eliot hardly heard. He made no effort to speak at all, even when the mattress shifted under pressure again and then there were three.
In the morning when he woke up too early, Eliot would find Parker wedged up against his back, one arm flung across his waist. His legs were being used as a pillow by Hardison, who also had a death grip on his free hand. Eliot’s other arm had instinctively wrapped around Parker, and Hardison’s was holding her too. It was all as it should be, because there was only one thing closer or stronger than the bond between family, and that was whatever the hell the three of them had these days.
Eliot hated being rescued, but when it came to Parker and Hardison, he was okay with knowing he had been saved.