Hardison watched as Eliot limped into the pub. Good thing it was Monday and the pub closed early; the state their hitter was in would cause stares. Blood streaked his face and clothes but he headed for the kitchen first anyway. And thank all that’s holy that Nate and Sophie are off starting their new life. Nate would be ready to go straight into the after job briefing. Sophie would be mad at him for not making Eliot go to the hospital.
“Eliot, don’t you think you should take care of that?” He motioned to the wound on the hitter’s side.
The older man grabbed a beer and took a long swallow. “It’s fine.”
“Fine? How can you say that? You’re bleeding. You need to let one of us help you with that.”
Parker poked at one of the bruises. “Yeah. You’ve got a nasty stab wound there.”
Eliot growled. “Stop it, Parker. I told you it’s fine. I can do it. It’ll be fine.”
“But you can’t-“
The office door slammed behind Eliot and the lock clicked, leaving the other two separated from the injured man.
Hardison pounded on the door. “Eliot! There’s no point locking us out. We just want to help. I get your whole tough guy act. You think you have to act like Superman so we’ll feel safe.”
He met silence. “Fine. You know what? You wanna play it strong and silent…Parker and I are going to a movie.”
When Eliot said nothing, Hardison wrapped his arm around the thief and steered her toward the door.
“But, should we leave him alone?” Parker said. “He took quite a few hits and did get stabbed.”
“He’ll be almost completely healed in a day or two anyway.” Hardison met Parker’s concerned gaze. “Honestly, momma. He heals faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. It’s just not natural I tell you.”
A quick kiss on the cheek convinced her to snake her arm around his waist and leave the pub with him.
Eliot listened to the hacker and thief giggle as they headed away from the door to the office. The squelching sound of his shirt filled the room as he peeled it away from his wound. The fabric hit the floor with a wet splat. Any minor cuts, scrapes or bruises could wait. The wound in his side needed to be dealt with first.
Settled at the worktable, he pulled out his ever present first aid kit. The sting of the antiseptic provided an almost a welcome distraction from the conversation he overheard. He had always thought that the team had an unwanted curiosity about his abilities and penchant for quick healing.
Already, he knew the injury would be nearly healed in a couple of days. Much faster than any normal human being could expect recovery. One of the perks of being a werewolf. Close inspection showed that the edges were already showing signs of repairing themselves. Confident he could get by with only two stitches--three at the most--he set about readying his needle.
Ten minutes later he bandaged the new stitch work and dry swallowed two aspirin. Aspirin was the strongest thing he could allow himself. A drug-addled hitter was a worthless hitter.
Back out in the main area of the pub, his thoughts turned back to the thief and hacker. Everytime a job went south and he took more of a pounding than usual, Parker and Hardison looked at him like he was superhuman. Sometimes the looks on their faces was a mixture of awe and fear. Maybe they were afraid of him. Afraid of the amount of punishment he could take.
It annoyed him to no end that they would be afraid of him. Running his hands through his hair to stop the shake in them, he decided another beer was in order and grabbed a bottle from the kitchen.
The glass felt cool in his hand as he studied some of the more minor cuts on his left hand. A cut on his knuckles was almost closing in front of his eyes. His team had no way of knowing how right they were. Maybe there was no human part of him left. His skin felt itchy and tight with the need to shift and run. He hadn’t been human in a long time. Not since the experiments that had made him the first successful lab created lycanthrope.
After checking to make sure everything was taken care of in the pub, he exited through the back door and got into his Dodge. The engine roared to life with the promise of speed and power. It wasn’t exactly the same as running -he felt the smirk tug at the corners of his mouth - but it was pretty damn close.
It was Wednesday afternoon when Eliot plated his, Parker’s and Hardison’s lunch and placed it on the table. “Food’s up.”
“Just a sec.” Hardison didn’t even look up from his computer.
“Now, Hardison. It’s best if you eat it while it’s warm. C’mon.”
A raised index finger was his answer. “Just another…one more minute.”
Eliot wiped his hands on the dish towel over his shoulder. “Fine. Go ahead and play your little geek games while the food gets cold.” He used the spatula in his hand as a pointer. “You don’t appreciate what I do around here. It isn’t easy to prepare these meals for you guys. And you don’t have the decency to come in here and eat. Parker! Soup’s on. Unless you’re like Hardison and would rather eat ice cold food.”
He looked around; there was no sign of the blonde thief. “Seriously? Parker!”
A noise at the table behind him pulled his attention from the hacker. Parker sat at her spot at the table, harness still in place. He looked up and saw the rigging still attached to the ceiling. “What have I said about wearing the rigging at the table?”
Parker looked up at him with food packed in her cheeks. “You said no rigging at the table. Disrespectful to the food,” she mumbled around a full mouth.
“No rigging at the table,” he agreed.
Hardison rushed past him and claimed his seat. “Damn, Eliot. This smells delicious.”
Eliot couldn’t help but chuckle and shake his head as his two teammates devoured his meal. “Parker, rigging.” He pointed to the harness she still wore and shook his head.
Hardison glanced over at her. “Better take that thing off, woman. Eliot’s gonna have a fit if you don’t.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Parker’s grumbling grated on his nerves.
“Look, if you guys don’t like my rules I can always stop cooking for you. Then you can eat take out or-“ The ringing of his cell phone interrupted his rant. A quick glance at the screen showed it to be Vance.
He hadn’t heard from Vance since that business with Udall in Washington. Something big must be happening if he was calling. Stepping away from the table, he answered the phone. “Vance. Long time.”
“Hello, Spencer. No more gunshot wounds I trust?” He sounded amused.
“None lately. I know this isn’t a social call. What’s going on?”
“I really need to meet you face to face for this one.” A hint of hesitation had crept into Vance’s voice. Not a good sign.
“Is it so top secret that you can’t tell me over the phone? Are you being monitored?” That fact made him uneasy. If Vance was being watched, whoever was watching him could find Eliot.
“Nothing like that. It’s just…it’s of a personal nature. I prefer to talk to you about it in person.”
When the noise from the dinner table stopped, he glanced over his shoulder to see Parker and Hardison staring at him. With a low growl, he turned his back to them and lowered his voice. “What’s this about?”
“Dr. Woolsey. He’s back in business, Eliot.”
Parker watched Eliot's back go ramrod straight as he listened to the caller. His upper body curled slightly around the phone to keep the conversation private.
"Are you sure? Has he been seen?" He was trying to keep his voice quiet, she could tell.
“Where and when?” He’s going to meet someone? We just finished a job. He can’t take another one so soon.
She looked to see if Hardison was going to say anything about it. He sat frozen in place, fork halfway between his plate and his mouth. “Um, Eliot? Don’t you think…”
The look on Eliot’s face when he turned stopped any argument Hardison had planned. Parker didn’t like what she saw. She had been paying attention to Sophie during the talks they shared about grifting. Eliot was scared.
A light sheen of sweat beaded at his upper lip. He was staring at them but she felt it wasn’t her or Hardison he was seeing. “Eliot?”
He pointed a finger at them to silence them. “Where and when?” His voice had an audible tremor in it. “I’ll be there.” He ended the call and shoved his phone in his pocket.
Hardison found his voice first. “Wait, man. Where are you going?”
Eliot jammed his arms into his coat. “I’ve got to go. I’ve got…a meeting.” Turning toward the door, he stopped with his hand on the doorknob.
“We just came off a job. A rough one for you.” Hardison just didn’t know when to quit sometimes and crossed the room to grab the hitter’s arm.
He spun around to face the hacker. “Back off, Hardison,” he said as he jerked his arm free.
Springing to her feet, Parker rushed to put herself between them. “Sparky, please, you’re still hurt. What’s happening?”
The look in his eyes softened as he looked at her. “I can’t…it’s personal, Parker. I can’t tell you. But I have to take care of this. I need you to trust me. Please.”
Something in his voice --his eyes--made her lose her resolve to keep him there. “Fine. Be careful. You know we’re here if you need us.”
Eliot gave a curt nod and slipped out. The door closed, shutting them out.
Later that evening Eliot stood in the center of the park watching the sunset. So many years since he’d had a meeting like this. He sensed the other man behind him even before he heard the footsteps. “Vance.”
The taller man joined Eliot in watching the skyline. “Spencer. Been a long time.”
Eliot nodded but didn’t look around. “Long time,” he agreed. “You’re sure he’s back?”
“Positive. Same MO. Men going missing. Military type. The bodies aren’t turning up though.”
Eliot swallowed the lump in his throat. “How many?” His voice held an uncharacteristic croak.
Vance shoved his hands in his pockets and stood in front of Eliot. “Three this time. So far.”
“Anyone end up like-“
“No. No… special cases like before. That I’ve seen. It’s a miracle I could keep a lid on this. You know I can’t send in regular troops for this one.”
Eliot pulled his eyes from Vance’s face and studied the sky. “I… I know.” He forced a smile. “It’s why you called me, right? Case like this.”
The taller man sighed and rested a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I didn’t want to involve you. There are those above me-“
Eliot cut him off with a nod. “I know. Not many survived.” He shrugged. “Or have my skill set.”
“True.” Vance’s hands went back in his pockets to steady them. “You gonna be okay?”
“Fine.” He couldn’t stop the wince when he heard the telling growl creep into his voice. “I’ll be fine,” he tried again.
The uniformed man tilted his head with a look of disbelief and reached into an inside coat pocket. “Here is all the information I have so far. I’ll send more as I can. Will your team be involved in this one?”
Eliot shook his head. “No. No they won’t know.”
Vance watched him with narrowed eyes. “They don’t know?”
“And they aren’t going to.”
“Don’t you think they should…”
“No! Okay? No. They can’t know what happened. I can’t…” He looked away and swallowed the lump in his throat. “I don’t want them to be afraid.”
“After seeing them in Washington; seeing what they can do. How they interact with you. They’d never be afraid.”
“I can’t take that chance. You saw how they looked when I walked away with two gunshot wounds. Normal people don’t do that.”
Vance sighed as he looked over Eliot’s shoulder. “You can’t help what Woolsey did to you. It’s not your fault that the experiments took in your case. But, you need to tell your team. They need to know.”
“How do you tell your team that you were involved in a crazed doctor’s experiment and that now…you’re a…” He lowered his voice even though no one was around. “Werewolf?”
"They're more than a team and you know it. Hell, I can see that. You're family to them. You should talk to them."
Eliot shook his head. "If I tell them they'll want to help. I can't have them in that kind of danger. Who knows if he's been successful again."
Eliot let his gaze drift back to Vance's face.
"You don't think he's made it work again?" Vance looked doubtful.
"There haven't been any bodies this time."
"In that case, you should be careful. There could be others, Spencer. They could be fighting for him. And if you insist on being alone on this-"
"I do. That's the way it's gotta be." He turned to walk back to the car but paused. "Thank you for letting me know."
"You're welcome." His voice held a hint of hesitation when he added, "Park is pretty secluded this time of evening. Good time to blow off some steam. Maybe go for a walk... or a run."
The thought made the tension drain from Eliot's muscles. "Yeah. Maybe."
Eliot read the file Vance had given him, ignoring the late hour. Photos of the three missing men fanned out before him on the table. He tried not to look at them. Didn’t want to see their eyes. He knew the look that would be there anyway. There was a time he had that same look.
The hard look born of determination, love of country and just a hint of anger. The doctor always picked men of that sort. He liked those best. Blindly following where their country led. Anything to make that flag fly higher. As for the anger, it was needed to make the procedure stick.
His laugh was bitter as he thought back. He’d had anger in spades. Guess that’s how he survived the procedure when others didn’t.
Not wanting to look at the pictures anymore, he turned them over. It was a shame really. Young guys, all of them.
Sleep threatened and he rubbed his eyes. But sleep wasn’t an option. Sleep brought nightmares. The meeting with Vance earlier had brought back too many memories.
His neck cracked as he turned back to the files. Parker and Hardison had been told to stay out of this. No discussions. He knew they probably wouldn’t listen. The only option was to leave for this one unannounced and to make sure they couldn’t find him.
Sneaking out on his team wasn’t something he wanted to do. Having either of them get involved with a man like Dr. Woolsey was out of the question. The team didn't know what he had done to Eliot and they weren't going to find out if he could help it. How do you tell your friends…your family Hello, my name is Eliot. And I can turn into a wolf at will and go for long runs in the park?
He couldn’t wrap his mind around it either. There were days that he denied it. Thought it was some weird dream fueled by too many blows to the head only to feel the undeniable urge to shift and run. To feel the wind in his fur and be free.
One thing about being a wolf: it made the job of hitter easier. He still got hurt but healing time was significantly shorter than before. So, there was that.
The doctor was back doing his work and it was up to Eliot to stop it. He flipped through the file and looked at the picture of the camp the doctor currently operated out of. The old familiar feeling of adrenaline coursed along his veins as a thought occurred to him. No time like the present. A moment to grab his jacket and car keys; and he was out the door.
The Dodge Challenger sped down I-5 from Portland on the path to Crater Lake National Park and whatever was in store for Eliot there. The file Vance had given him on Dr. Woolsey had been helpful despite its sparseness. Eliot glanced at the picture lying in the passenger's seat. Although the photo was blurry, he could instantly tell that the man in it was Dr. Eric Woolsey.
He was older than Eliot's first encounter with him; but there was not mistaking who he was. The years hadn't been as kind to the doctor as they had been to Eliot.
While Eliot's hair was still the same dark brown as it was nearly twenty years ago—hazelnut or chestnut brown according to a hairstylist he dated once—the doctor's had silver wings spreading across both temples. Woolsey was sixty years old now.
Eliot recognized the small building atop the mountain in the photo. It was the lookout on top of Mt. Scott. He had taken a trip there last year when he needed some peace. He had reasoned that if the snow didn't keep Hardison and Parker from following him, surely the 8,900-foot elevation would. Eliot couldn't help but smile. Worked like a charm.
His thoughts drifted back to a cold, dark room. The doctor had kept them all separated while he ran tests and did his experiments. There always seemed to be a pleased look on Woolsey's face when he ran tests on Eliot.
He could recall every moment strapped to that cold exam table, shivering from cold. Face it, Spencer, you were scared too. And now those three men were going through the same thing. If they were still alive.
Some of the men involved in the same round as Eliot had died during the tests after the initial treatments to turn them.
Others survived the treatments and tests only to waste away when their bodies couldn't handle the strain of shifting numerous times. And the shifting hurt. Every time. Muscle and bone making way for the changes that had to occur to complete the transformation had been excruciating the first time. There had been no way to be prepared for the onslaught of fire coursing through his body. He could barely hear the screams of the other men over his own.
But once the shifting was complete, all the pain was forgotten: replaced by strength, power and heightened senses. The feeling of freedom was unlike anything he had ever experienced. But the fact remained that what the doctor was doing was wrong.
He checked the time and noted that he had been on the road three and a half hours. He should be there in the next half hour. Nerves made his hands slippery on the steering wheel as the prospect of seeing the man that changed his life forever crashed down on him.
Vance had been right to call him. No one else could handle a situation like this. This trip was for recon only. Get the lay of the land, familiarize himself with the camp and leave to plan his assault. No contact today. In and out. Simple.
Forty minutes later, Eliot turned onto Cloudcap Rd. Being situated between Crater Lake and Rim Drive, his car shouldn't be visible from the doctor's camp. Judging from the photos of the lookout on the mountain, the camp should be in Scott Bluffs to the northwest of Mt. Scott.
He looked across the wooded area of the bluffs. He had some walking to do. He grabbed his bag from the trunk, shrugged into the shoulder straps and zipped up his jacket to guard against the chill in the air.
While October wasn't as cold as November or December, it was still cold enough to snow on occasion. He sincerely hoped today was not one of those occasions. Either way he had some ground to cover to get to a vantage point that could show him the doctor's base.
Eliot looked up at the sky. If he played his cards right he'd have shadows cast from the bluffs to cover his approach. Let's get this show on the road.
Five minutes later, Eliot had never been more thankful for his enhanced abilities. What should have taken him ten to fifteen minutes took only five. He found a suitable spot high enough to scan the surrounding area but not so high that he could be seen.
He examined the area, looking for any sign of an encampment. Movement a hundred yards north of his position caught his attention. Fabric danced in the gentle breeze, rippled in the forest.
Five tents stood inside a chain link fence encompassing a small, but efficient looking camp. Eliot took note of the distinctive camo green color. Military issue.
So, Dr. Woolsey was here after all.
Eliot had to get closer if he was going to get a better idea of what he was dealing with here. He crept as close as he dared to the fence and stood still listening to the sounds inside. Sounds of movement and urgent conversations drifted across the wind.
Eliot closed his eyes and tilted his head to better concentrate and use his wolf hearing.
A chill ran the length of his spine when he heard the doctor's voice for the first time in years in anything other than nightmares. "We're going to have to move the operation," he said. Another voice argued the logistics of moving the subjects at this stage.
Eliot tilted his head to the other side. So at least two of them are still alive. Maybe he wasn't too late to help them.
His eyes shot open when he heard another voice. It was a man's voice but there was a low growling undertone to it. "Don't you smell it? It's like us. But not like us." A second voice answered in the same rough tone. "What do you think it is? Could there be another one like us?"
Eliot inched along in the shadows, inwardly cursing his decision to come here in the daylight. He hoped the sun-dappled trees would help him stay hidden from the occupants of the camp while he tried to see who was discussing his scent.
The western side of the camp offered the best view of its inner workings and he made his way to that side of the fence. His mouth went dry and his hands were shaky and sweating at the sight before him. Two humanoid/wolf hybrids stood on two legs with noses in the air, ears twitching, trying to catch the slightest of noises. Their grotesque condition made his stomach churn. While they stood on two legs, they were the legs of a wolf; not a human. Muscles flexed in human torsos as wolf heads turned side to side looking for the source of the distracting smell.
"Shit. They're unstable like the others," Eliot whispered before he could stop himself.
He slipped out of his hiding spot to get a better look at them but quickly moved back to keep from being seen. The movement was all the wolves needed to pinpoint the newcomer to their world. The taller creatures turned in Eliot's direction and spotted him. Long necks were exposed as they howled in recognition, or sadness. Eliot couldn't tell.
"What the hell are they howling about?" The doctor's voice again. Eliot was rooted to the spot as Dr. Woolsey charged out of the tent, followed by a man who must have been military judging by the stiff stance.
Eliot was sure his mouth was full of sand it was so dry. Hearing the doctor and seeing him again were two different things. "Oh fuck!" The physician looked in the direction his wolves were staring and a wide smile spread across his face. "The prodigal son has returned."
A stumbling step backward put distance between Eliot and the fence. "No." He shook his head. "No, you sick son of a bitch."
He didn't know how, but his voice barely wavered. That was good. Can't have him thinking he got under his skin. Eliot's mind ran through various options as to how to attack, how to take out the doctor and save the two men that were his prisoners without getting himself killed in the process.
He took a moment too long and lost track of the doctor's henchman. That is until he heard the report of the gun and felt the fire enter his upper chest.
A tree caught and supported his weight as he wobbled on his feet. Already a weakness and searing pain overtook his body. Silver. Of course they have silver to keep unruly wolves in line.
Woolsey smirked as he watched Eliot struggle to stay on his feet. "Silver still works. No matter how stable or advanced you are. Bring him inside," he said to a second soldier who had appeared beside him.
Eliot pushed himself from the tree and lurched off into the woods. He had to put some distance between them. That bullet was going to have to come out of there. And he was going to stop that maniac. Eliot swore inwardly again as he heard the gate creak open behind him and growls fill the air. "Get him, boys!" In and out. Simple. Bullshit.
This is the final chapter of my Secret Santa adventure. I'm sorry for the long delay but family illness has reared its ugly head this year. Thank you to Fleur and Tel for being so awesome and understanding!
As always, I don't own Eliot or anything Leverage. Although I would dearly love to do so ;)
Eliot tripped over branches and underbrush as he ran for cover.
He could hear the men crashing through the forest behind him. The wolves’ lumbering strides led the way as his pursuers chased him.
The land began to slope up and Eliot had to struggle to keep his footing. So much for simple recon. His skin burned around the wound and the silver in his chest throbbed in time with his heart. He had to get somewhere safe to get that bullet out. He couldn’t heal if it was poisoning him and he didn’t have much of a chance of escape without healing.
He made it to a stand of mountain hemlock trees and took a moment to lean against one to gain his bearings. The wolves behind him howled and he knew he didn’t have much time. He was faster than the doctor and his men but those wolves were a different matter.
He couldn’t be sure their abilities were deteriorated enough for him to stay ahead of them for long. The men from his group started losing their extra abilities at a rapid rate after the first shift.
Another moment to discern the wind direction and started off again with the wind at his back. That should throw them off long enough. He needed a safe spot for some impromptu surgery. That bullet had to come out before he could shift.
The temperature was beginning to drop and Eliot shivered, turning the collar of his coat up. He readjusted his knit hat as he trudged farther from the campsite. His steps were much slower than he would have liked and each one sent shockwaves of pain through his chest.
Howls were carried to him on the wind along with the calls of the doctor. “Eliot Spencer! My one true success, come home.”
“To hell with that,” Eliot muttered and trudged on as the first flakes of snow began to fall.
Eliot had managed to put a mile behind him when he decided to stop and rest. He bit his lip as he shrugged his pack off his shoulders and eased to the ground with his back against a tree. Water was the first order of business and he wrestled the bottle open since his left arm was nearly useless now. Taking a long swallow, he contemplated his next move.
He hadn’t heard the wolves behind him for the last ten minutes but he couldn’t be one hundred percent sure they weren’t still there. If their speed had been affected by the breakdown that came with the doctor’s experiments, he could be far ahead of them. But, if their speed hadn’t been affected and only the ability to control the shift had suffered, stopping could be flirting with disaster.
Eliot unbuttoned his coat and pulled up his shirt, trying not to shake in the cold air. He inspected the bullet wound for the first time. “Couldn’t be a through and through, could it?”
His cold fingers checked the area around the entry wound. Eliot bit back the groan but couldn’t help the wince as the skin around the hole felt unnaturally warm. “Damn silver.”
More probing, gentler this time, revealed a small bulge under the skin near his collarbone. Gotcha. He pulled his bag closer and pulled out his hunting knife. A couple of deep breaths and the tip of the knife pressed into his skin over the lump.
Now for the fun part. With forceps in hand, he dug inside the wound for the bullet. By the time he found it, sweat had dripped into his eyes and had run down to wet the front of his shirt. Black spots twirled and danced on the edges of his vision, and he squeezed his eyes shut.
“Dammit.” He cringed when his voice had the same growling quality as those two men back at the camp.
Eliot put on a quick bandage and put everything back in his bag. He drank some more water and ate a protein bar while listening for anyone that may be approaching. Now that the silver was gone, he should be able to shift soon. He hoped.
Crunching noises from the hillside below him brought him to his feet. He peered over the edge and saw one of the wolves coming toward him alternating between running on two legs and all fours.
He took cover behind an outcropping of rock and waited. The element of surprise was always an advantage. The big wolf pawed the ground where Eliot had been sitting and nudged the backpack with its muzzle.
There was nothing left of a human besides the torso still being that of a man. Eliot watched as the wolf paced with its nose in the air. The creature was two feet away and couldn’t smell Eliot. That answered the question of whether their senses were holding up.
In contrast, Eliot could pick up on scent just fine. And the scent he was getting was all wolf. No trace of human left. The poor man’s mind and body couldn’t stand up to the strain.
Eliot stepped out of his hiding place and cleared his throat. The wolf turned toward him and charged. The full weight of the creature hit him in the midsection, sending them both tumbling.
Nothing wrong with its speed.
A myriad of teeth, claws and growls permeated the air as Eliot fought to keep the beast at bay. Eliot’s own wolf responded with the need to be free. But he was still too weak. The air was forced from his lungs as the wolf placed a hug paw on Eliot’s gunshot wound and started to bear down. Spots began to converge, trying to form a shroud of darkness across Eliot’s vision.
He couldn’t let this thing win.
If it did he would end up back in the doctor’s encampment. Strapped to a table. Locked in dark rooms. Alone. Pain.
He couldn’t let that happen again. Eliot punched the wolf in the snout with his good hand. Snapping teeth caught his forearm in response and Eliot howled in pain
The sound must have surprised his assailant and his grip on Eliot’s forearm loosened. He used the opportunity to draw his knees up and use his leg strength to flip the wolf onto its back, giving him the chance to scramble away from it. He inspected the new holes in his coat and flesh.
“You ruined my favorite coat, asshole.”
The thing was on its feet quicker than Eliot would have liked and snarled as it dropped to all fours. Eliot picked up a thick tree branch and widened his stance, preparing for the charge.
He motioned with his hand. “C’mon.”
The wolf snarled and charged Eliot again. Eliot sidestepped him and he heard the wolf slam into a tree behind him. It got to its feet and ran toward him again. This time he couldn’t avoid the creature completely and it grazed his side, knocking him into a tree to his left. But not without receiving a blow across the back for its troubles.
Eliot’s vision blurred as a new shockwave of pain radiated from the gunshot wound. A bite to his right side had him gasping for air. This thing was relentless.
He flipped the thing over onto its back and held it on the ground. “If there’s any part left in there that’s human…I don’t want to kill you." Teeth snapped too close to his face as the wolf forced Eliot off and onto his back.
Teeth bared in a snarl. Hot breath washed over Eliot’s neck as the massive animal salivated at the prospect of sinking its teeth into his throat.
Eliot struggled to hold its head back with one arm. “I don’t want to kill you. But you know I can.”
Its head tilted to the side as if he were deep in thought. Eliot lay frozen under its weight, expecting the killing strike at any moment.
A tense moment passed with man and beast locked in a fight for survival. Something that looked like sadness flickered in the wolf’s eyes. Whether sadness at his human life lost; or sadness at having to kill, Eliot didn’t know.
The wolf raised its head to free itself from Eliot's grip, then dove for his throat.
Eliot caught its head. With one hand on top of its head and one on its chin, he twisted and heard the neck snap.
He lay still for a moment to gather his strength then pushed the wolf's body off his chest.
He struggled to his feet and took a deep breath. The wolf's body lay motionless at his feet. Another innocent life. Sure, it had tried to kill him. That's only because of what the doctor had done though. He'd have plenty of time to think about that later. For now, he had to get moving.
Another mile passed at a slower pace than Eliot wanted. He heard the doctor and remaining wolf behind him. "I want him alive. Remember. Alive. I need him to finish my work. To fix you," the doctor said.
The wolf answered with an angry growl and Eliot could hear it still advancing. He pushed ahead deeper into the woods. His chest and shoulder protested each step he took and every readjustment of his pack.
Eliot slumped against a tree and waited. He couldn't outrun them. He had to make a stand. His backpack thumped to the ground when he slid his arms out of the straps.
The familiar itching settled in his bones as he listened to the approach of his pursuers. Itching was followed by the bone deep ache as his bones and muscles began to shift. He clenched his fists in an effort to control the pain of the change.
He dropped to all fours and clothing ripped as his legs changed. Paws replaced hands and fur covered his body. His gums ached as sharper teeth broke the surface. Sounds and smells of the forest assaulted him as his already enhanced senses became even sharper. He could smell the doctor and the presence of the other wolf.
A snapping twig turned his attention to the path. The large wolf was worrisome. But Eliot's mouth went dry when he saw the doctor standing alongside his creation and his low growl reverberated through the trees.
A broad smile gave the doctor a sadistic countenance. "Eliot. My only successful creation. My firstborn son."
The wolf beside Dr. Woolsey growled its displeasure. "Always a beautiful, powerful animal. I think it's the eyes. The blue always astounded me."
Eliot paced from left to right, trying to hide the slight limp from the still raw wound in his shoulder. He bared his teeth in a snarl and took a step back.
"And the brown coat." Woolsey gestured to the wolf at his side. "So unlike the dull colors of those after you. And a true wolf. Not like...this."
The wolf turned its head toward the doctor and growled. Even though the other wolf stood on two legs, Eliot wasn't afraid of this newest creation.
"Shut up." Woolsey rapped the poor animal on the side of the head. "Do not growl at me." The doctor's attention turned to Eliot again. "Time to come home, Eliot."
Eliot turned and ran toward the top of the bluff with the doctor and other wolf crashing behind him.
They were close behind him, but Eliot managed to stay ahead. At the top of the bluff he stopped and turned; he was prepared to fight for his life.
"There's nowhere to go. Just come back with me now. Make it easy for all of us."
With his attention solely on the doctor, Eliot missed the advance of the wolf. Weight like a boulder slammed into his side and sent him toppling with the wolf crashing on top of him.
Eliot scrambled back to his feet. Teeth flashed as both traded bites and snarls. Wolf and hybrid jockeyed for position. Both were on their hind legs in a deadly embrace when the doctor fired in their direction.
He missed Eliot, but his other creation dropped to the ground with a whimper and blood spread across its chest. The bullet had pierced its heart and the animal lay at Eliot's feet bleeding out.
Eliot squared up with the doctor, eyeing the hand with the weapon. Before Dr. Woolsey could aim again, Eliot was on him. He lunged for the gun hand and sank his teeth into the doctor's arm.
The man tried but couldn't shake Eliot free. He continued to growl as the doctor swung in a circle, trying desperately to dislodge the teeth. He dropped the gun and Eliot released him long enough to scoot it away with his nose.
The doctor held up his hands in surrender. "Now, Eliot, I know you can understand me. It doesn't have to end this way."
Eliot barked, then growled as he rolled his upper lip back to display fangs still red from the doctor's blood. His tongue flicked out to collect some of the blood from his nose as he advanced.
The doctor took a wary step backwards. "Don't. You won't kill me." Another step back. "You mongrel! You'd be nothing without me!"
Eliot sprang for the man; aiming for his throat. The doctor threw up his arm in defense and screamed. As he did, he lost his footing in the loose rocks and pitched backwards down the cliff face.
Eliot landed inches from the edge, shifted back to his human form and peered over the edge at the man's body below. His head lay at an awkward angle atop his broken neck and unseeing eyes stared back up at him.
After watching for a minute to make sure the man was dead, Eliot limped back to his pack and pulled out his extra clothes. He got dressed and pulled out his previously unused cell phone. "Vance. I need a clean up crew at my location." He listened to the caller on the other end. "Yeah. It's done."
He ended the call and checked the time. Now all he had to worry about was hoping a four-hour drive was enough time to heal enough to hide his injuries from Parker and Hardison. No way could he explain a gunshot healing that fast again.
And Hardison better have left my food alone too.