“Do you want to talk about it?”
Eliot didn’t want to talk about it. Right here, in this moment, as safe as he would likely ever be, with the office blown up and everything they’d been trying to build destroyed, he genuinely couldn’t think of anything he wanted to talk about less.
But it was Nate asking. Nate, who along with Sophie – and Eliot couldn’t stop his lip curling in a snarl at the thought of her and how she’d played them all to ruin – had heard his quiet intake of breath, that critical moment when he’d been fatally caught off guard, and every painful moment that had followed. ”Now that rib’s broken.”
He winced at the sound of Quinn’s voice filling his ears again. Sonofabitch was smiling. Happy. Eliot bit down on his lip, praying to a God he knew had long ago forsaken him, that at least he be spared the embarrassment of breaking down. He knew he could have held it together if Parker and Hardison had been there, but no – it was just Nate – and for all their leader was one of the most unreliable, untrustworthy son of a bitches Eliot had ever worked for, he made it easy for Eliot to drop his guard.
Easy to care – about anything…
A shudder rippled through his body, then he was looking up – looking into Nate’s eyes. “Sterling did his homework really well on this one.”
“You knew him,” Nate said, and that part wasn’t a question. “This – Mr. Quinn, or whoever he was?”
Whoever he was… Confident, finally, that he could tell the story without completely losing his shit, Eliot gave Nate his best ‘what’re you gonna do?’ grin and shrug. “I didn’t always work alone, Nate.”
The mastermind studied him for a long moment, then reached out and dragged a nearby chair into position for him to sit. “So…Quinn?”
Feeling the weight of things he’d sworn he would never speak about again pressing in on him now, Eliot nodded. “It was after I walked away from the black ops stuff,” he said, finally. “Quinn’s background is law enforcement, not military, but it’s something a hell of a lot more involved than ordinary beat-cop, local detective type stuff.”
”You don’t throw down with the Colombians without learning a trick or two.” Memory of the first time Quinn had caught him off-guard came back to Eliot. He’d been vetting the hitter for Damien Moreau’s service, and what started as a simple sparring session had turned into Eliot being put on his ass for the first time in longer than he could remember.
“We were working for a Croatian arms dealer,” he was finally able to make himself say. Never say his name. Never admit who you were – the things you did in that name. “Our styles complimented each other, and hell – I liked the guy.” Quinn had always been easy to like; that was part of the problem. His personal code of ethics was as strong as anyone Eliot had ever worked with, but he’d always been affable, with a dry sense of humor that had never failed to make Eliot smile.
”Now that rib’s broken.” Of course, that hadn’t been a joke, had it – and Quinn’s smile had been purest grade self-satisfaction. Eliot absent-mindedly pressed a hand over the place where the worst of the damage had happened. “We were in Tuscany – on our way to retrieve a package from an airfield outside Florence.” There was no point in going into detail here either. Eliot could watch Nate’s mind working behind the dark blue eyes, taking in what information Eliot was willing to give him and piecing it together into an understandable picture. “We were ambushed.”
No point in going into detail. No point in admitting to Nate that the ‘package’ they’d been sent to retrieve was Damien’s middle son Alexander. Alexander was a slender boy of twelve back then, who worshipped Eliot and who had harassed his father for three weeks leading up to the break begging him to send Eliot to pick him up at the private airfield.
“To this day I don’t know who sold us out,” Eliot went on, his voice softer – haunted by the memory. “They tortured us both though, looking for information on the package and anything else we could give them about our employer or his operation. Quinn took the worst of it. I think he was trying to keep their focus off me, and when he gets going he can be pretty irritating.”
“You were the more valuable prize,” Nate said, his tone full of an understanding he should never have had. Eliot shrugged.
“They didn’t know that. And I think Quinn was trying to keep them from figuring it out.” He touched the bandage again, keeping his focus on Nate this time. “That phrase you heard us exchange – ‘now that rib’s broken’ – that’s what the guy who broke Quinn’s ribs said to him just…just before.” He shuddered. “Difference is, the guy’s friends were holding Quinn down so he couldn’t move with the blow. Broken end of one of the ribs punctured his lung.”
Eliot was intimately familiar with the level of pain Quinn had been experiencing, but the resulting commotion from his injury had also been enough of a distraction for Eliot to make a break for freedom. “I had a chance and I took it,” he said, finally, realizing as he did that his hands were shaking and Nate had seen.
“I ran,” he added – uselessly he knew, because what else would he have done that left himself in a state like this? “It wasn’t until he turned around and I saw those eyes looking at me that I realized he was even still alive.”
Carefully concealed in the shadows outside Nate’s safe house, Quinn listened to Eliot bare his soul and tried to decide how he felt about the flood of information.
”How safe are you likely to be? This guy doesn’t sound like he gives up easily.”
The dossier Quinn had been given had plenty of cold, impartial facts about Nathan Ford. His client had been somewhat more emotional on the subject when he pushed but nothing he had on the man indicated he was capable of this level of concern for somebody like Eliot Spencer. It was also bothering Quinn to hear how easily Eliot seemed to respond to that concern. He had considered Eliot a friend back in the day – one of the closest he’d known since crossing the line from legal to not-so-much – and the man he’d known hadn’t ever shared himself as freely and openly as this one seemed to be willing to.
You were desperate to get away too, he thought, as the sound of a revolver being loaded reached his ears. To warn them. Eliot hadn’t been interested in sticking around after their fight in the hangar to finish Quinn off; from the second he’d realized what was happening he’d been trying to get to the communicator Quinn had knocked loose and alert the rest of his team to the danger that was stalking them.
He knew that Quinn’s attack on his ribs hadn’t been accidental though – hearing that had made Quinn smile, despite the sickening throb of his own tightly bandaged side.
”You can’t go up against Quinn. Not even with a gun.” That caught Quinn’s attention. Whoever had been loading the revolver, apparently it had a specific intended purpose.
”I’m not going to sit back and let him finish you. I don’t care what kind of money Sterling’s put on the bargain.” As threats went, it was almost enough to motivate Quinn to leave his hiding place and risk that Eliot was hurt enough to give him the edge he needed. Sliding out his phone, he fired off a quick text to Jim Sterling.
”You’re not carrying a gun for me, Nate, and you’re not going toe to toe with somebody like Quinn.” Quinn grimaced, thinking about the possibilities opened up by the note of true concern he heard in Eliot’s voice now. He’d gone into this job thinking that Eliot’s connection to Leverage Consulting was like any of the other relationships he’d forged over the years: financial and professional. It robbed him of certain options when it came to the best way to take a man like Eliot Spencer down.
Now, though… If he cares this much… It made things potentially easier. Quinn considered the viability of just walking into the safe house and putting a non-fatal bullet into Nate Ford, and found that he liked his odds for success a lot.
Before he could put his thoughts into action, his phone chimed softly for his attention. Contract canceled, the message from Jim Sterling read. No further action sanctioned.
Even though the decision had been made for him, Quinn stayed where he was for nearly a full minute, debating whether or not he should go ahead and take Eliot out for his own sake. He could concede that the other hitter’s assumption he had died from his injuries that long ago night wasn’t unreasonable, but now that the truth of Quinn’s survival was out, it was entirely possible Eliot would decide to remove him from play just to keep his own nearest and dearest safe.
Ultimately the handicap provided by his own injuries, coupled with the fact that he wouldn’t be getting paid for the work, won out. Slowly and carefully retracting the mike he’d set to spy on Nate and Eliot, Quinn gathered his equipment and disappeared into the darkness.