"Look, all I'm sayin' is, I don't understand why we can't have a couple days off between jobs. We just spent ten days in Juarez!"*

"What's the matter? You don't like the piñatas I bought?"*

No, Eliot did not like the piñatas. He didn't like the fact that Parker was so cheerful and hyper, and he didn't like the way she had moved on from physically poking his injuries to more sophisticated attempts to drive him insane simply by being absurd.

"All right, listen. No… no time off, all right? We got a lot of work to do. Hardison, run it."*

He also did not like the fact that he was, yet again, getting pulled straight into another mission without time to heal up or even rest from the last one. He understood that it was critical to find jobs that led them to Moreau, and that Juarez had been a bust in that respect, but seriously, he ought to dislocate Nate's shoulder, and then see if they got any time off.

Hardison started the presentation. Eliot wondered idly how much time he spent on those damn things. Did he even get to sleep? There was no point in working to catch up to Moreau or get out from under that damn Italian if they ran themselves so far into the ground that they got killed or arrested in the meanwhile. Tired people make mistakes. That was it, he decided. After this one, he and Nate would be having a talk about 'time off.'

"All right. The first rule of crime is to follow the money. Now, Ms. Salazar's money ran through three different shell companies and ended up with this guy: Hugh Whitman. He runs a big debt collection agency outside Boston called Financial Support Associates."*

Parker was still playing with her piñata, her elbow infuriatingly close to Eliot's face. He did his best to ignore her. "Well, it makes sense," he said, focusing on the mark instead. "I mean, he's got bill collectors already on his payroll. He just sends them after people that owe back taxes. He keeps the money."*

"But the names of those people, they're not public," Sophie pointed out. "So how does he know who to target?"*

"Well, Whitman worked at the IRS for twenty years. He probably had a friend leak him a list."*

"Ooh, I got it! I got it!" Parker cheered, pulling what he hoped was the last stupid piece of hard candy from her piñata. She covered quickly, though. "We steal the list."* Eliot was not alone in rolling his eyes at her antics.

"We need a way in. What did you find out about Whitman on the internet?"* Nate asked.

"Nothin'."* Wait. What?

"What do you mean, nothing?" Nate sounded both surprised and irritated.

"He's not on the net, man. At all. Which is strange, because his company deals with such high tech. You know, they do this thing where they spoof your caller ID to make it seem like your grandma's calling, when it's really one of their bill collectors."*

"Sweet."* Eliot wondered if that was how his own 'untraceable' phone worked. He'd have to ask the geek later.

"Go back to the money," Nate ordered. "You said Whitman routed his money through three different shell companies, right?"*

Hardison hummed in agreement.

"Where is it now?"*

"Somewhere in the boondocks at a bank called Turner Creek. It's under an account named Patriot Limited. Now there's no ties to Whitman, and that's why the cops can't touch him."*

An account out in the boonies called Patriot Limited? Set up by a guy who purposefully kept his internet footprint minimal? An ex-government man, maybe with a grudge? Eliot was starting to get a bad feeling about this. Could be the guy just thought it sounded innocuous, but… Nah. He really was getting paranoid in his old age.

"Good. We can work with that. Okay, I want a two-pronged attack. One team is gonna go convince Whitman his money's not safe at the bank."*

Just the same… "That's…"* No, he didn't want to say it, and then have to eat his words later if he was wrong. It was just a hunch. "I got the bank." Hardison or Parker, Hardison or Parker? "Me and Parker."

Parker looked up from her piñata, startled. "Yes! Good plan!" Everyone looked at her, and she set the brightly-colored paper aside, giving them her best impression of wide-eyed innocence.

Eliot snorted. Someone obviously hadn't been paying attention. Still, it would give him a chance to get back at her for being a little shit all morning, and if it turned out there was nothing going on, he could teach her how to fish. It'd be a good afternoon off.

"Okay, after you guys have spooked Whitman, Sophie, you go and hook him with a new place to stash his cash. Questions?"*

It sounded too easy, Eliot thought. There was almost bound to be some sort of complication. But talking her way out of trouble was something of a specialty of Sophie's, Nate had exactly the right skeezy vibe to deal with a crooked ex-fed money launderer, and Hardison would be far more useful here tracking money and tying up loose ends from Juarez than he would be in the middle of nowhere looking threatening. They'd be fine.

Eliot spent the hour and a half drive out to Turner Creek trying to convince himself that there really was nothing to worry about, trying to sell Parker on the idea of playing hooky to go fishing, and deliberately driving five miles under the speed limit until she promised to get rid of the goddamn piñatas.

"I was already going to take them to the warehouse," she pouted as they pulled a pair of IRS jackets out of the trunk.

"That's all I'm askin', Parker. No more piñatas at the offices."

"You didn't have to drive like an old lady."

"Damn it, just relax, would ya? We just have to go in, make some noise, then we can go throw a worm in the water."

"Do worms breathe?"

"Do they – what?"

"It's not very nice to go around drowning worms."

"Parker, they're bait. If they didn't drown, they'd get eaten alive."


"If you catch something good, I'll teach you how to cook it."

"Why would I want to learn that? Cooking is your thing."

Eliot sighed, shaking his head dramatically, and holding the door for her. Someday he would manage to make her (and Hardison) understand that there was value in being able to make your own food. Even Nate knew how to cook an omelet. But not right now.

"Who's in charge here?"* he asked loudly. The plan was simple: Eliot did the talking. Parker wandered around looking vaguely suspicious and intimidating. He was pretty sure she was actually casing the joint, but that was fine. The staff would see her as a fed with a somewhat intense and unnerving interest in their little branch office.

A weak-chinned, balding man bustled over. "Uh, how can… how can I help you?"* Pathetic.

"I'll tell you how you can help us. This is Agent Allen. I'm Agent Quint, with the criminal investigation unit of the IRS."* Eliot suppressed a smirk. It probably shouldn't be this much fun intimidating this guy, but hey, if he didn't have anything to hide…

"Well, um, w-what can I do for you?"*

"We need all the records of accounts held in the name of Patriot Limited,"* Eliot said. Parker stared intensely. He wondered idly which of them was more terrifying for the soft little man. Probably Parker, just because she was a pretty girl.

"O-o-of course. Uh, r-right this way," the manager led them to a computer station. "I'll… I'll get them for you. Have a seat here."

Eliot sat. Parker raised an eyebrow and walked off in the direction of the ladies' room, probably to go have a look at the safe. He sighed internally. Maybe he should have brought Hardison. But the hacker would doubtless have complained the whole time about being in the fresh air, out of cell range with no wifi. It was a coin-toss, really.

Five minutes later, Parker reappeared, looking vaguely pleased with herself, and ten minutes after that, Eliot decided that the manager had been rattled enough, and that they had been sufficiently visible, if Whitman had anyone on payroll to keep an eye on his account in person.

As soon as they left the building, Parker started rattling off the specifics of the bank's vault – thirty years out of date – and security – practically begging to be robbed… much like she was practically begging to do the robbing, Eliot thought sardonically.

He sighed. "Fine. Just… let me have my afternoon fishin', and we can stop back here on the way home. I'll even time ya."

The irrepressibly hyper Parker grinned delightedly, bouncing slightly on her toes. "Okay. So where are the fish? How do we get worms and things? You don't have the fishing sticks already, do you?" she asked, popping the trunk.

"Fishin' sticks, Parker? They're rods. Or poles."

"Same thing."

He actually stopped midway through stripping off his fake IRS jacket to shake his head at that one. It really wasn't. Fishing sticks just sounded dumb. "We get worms an' poles at a bait shop. Saw one a couple miles back. We can grab something to eat there, call an' check in with Nate, an' ask them where the best fishin' holes are around here."

"Ooh, do you think they'll have pizza?"

Eliot wadded up his jacket and threw it in the car. "What? No – why would they have pizza?"

"Sometimes gas stations have pizza." Parker tucked her own jacket neatly back where it belonged, then folded his, too. She was meticulous about all the equipment, not just her rigs.

Before Eliot could raise the objection that gas station pizza wasn't really food, the red light of a laser-sight appeared on the back of Parker's head.

"You two are gonna want to come with me."*

Parker spun on her heel, ready to run instinctively at the sound of someone trying to take her into custody. Eliot grabbed her arm as the laser re-focused on her chest.

The speaker was of average height, mid-late thirties, moderately fit, dressed in Army Navy Surplus camo and boots. Not a soldier, but he carried himself well. On guard, and ready for any sudden movements in his direction. Pistol at his right hip, still holstered, knife in the right boot and one on his belt. Eliot could take him out in two seconds flat, but he didn't dare. If they had a bead on Parker, who looked mostly harmless, they sure as hell had one on him, too.

He followed the sight back to the wannabe sniper holding it. Semi-automatic rifles, two of them. Illegal as hell, and he'd eat his hat if either one of the dumbass kids behind them had ever shot anyone, but that just meant they were more likely to panic and do something stupid by accident. The door of a black panel van slid open, two meters behind Parker, and off to the left. A quick glance showed two more laser-sights, two more hard-faced boys.


It just figured that the one time they actually came across guys with a basic understanding of tactical positioning and the effective range of their weapons, it would be in an ambush outside of effective communications range by a group of homegrown terrorists. Fuckers. He was kicking himself for ignoring the signs, talking himself into a false sense of security, and getting distracted by the prospect of an afternoon off. Rookie mistake, Spencer! This is the kinda overconfidence that gets ya killed, ya fuckin' idiot.

He raised his hands slowly when ordered, glaring at Parker to do the same. There was no other option at the moment, but this wasn't his first rodeo. Their captors were not professionals. Sooner or later, they would make a mistake, and then Eliot would ensure that they regretted ever thinking about harming his teammate.

The thief did not like being captured.

She spent the first five minutes they were in the back of the van pacing and hissing a tirade of insults at their captors and bemoaning the fact that, before she joined the Leverage crew, she never got caught. When she started repeating herself, Eliot decided he'd had enough.

"Damn it, Parker! Shut up!"

"Why?" she asked petulantly.

"'Cause you're distractin' me, that's why!"

"You're not even doing anything!"

"I'm drawin' a map!" he hissed back. Not doin' anything, ha. By his count, they'd already taken one turn off the highway, and were about four miles north of town, a mile or so east of the bank.

"Oh." She sat down. "What's the plan?"

Eliot rolled his eyes. Escape, get back to civilization, let the rest of the team know what they were really dealing with and regroup. The rest was just details. "Follow my lead. And put the bracelets back on, or they'll shoot us 'fore we get a chance to escape."

Parker nodded grimly, and snapped the handcuffs closed, again, now silent and staring at the back door intently. Eliot heaved a silent sigh of relief. As long as she was being cooperative, there was probably no one better to be kidnapped with. At least she would be able to get the cuffs off for them at the right moment, and could keep up with him on uneven terrain if it turned out they had to hike back to town. Hell, if they got the guards off her for half a minute, she could probably steal the keys to the damn van. The trick was going to be getting the guards off them.

The same wannabe soldier ordered them out of the van at what Eliot judged to be a fairly well-established camp, approximately seventeen miles north of the bank. There were at least seven other men (and one boy who couldn't be much older than fourteen) scattered about – two working on a fake delivery-vehicle sign for the van; two hauling and re-stacking what could only be weapons-crates, visibly armed; two arguing over what looked like some sort of papers in a tent near a stash of molasses; one behind the himself and Parker, still armed as well. There were probably a few others in the woods, keeping an eye on the road and possibly a perimeter, depending on how serious they were. The kid watched them with fascination as the guy in charge – Eliot wouldn't go so far as to give him any sort of rank, though he was obviously the 'officer' of the little outfit – did his best to intimidate them.

Good luck with that. Eliot was more concerned about what he was piecing together as the makings of a fertilizer bomb and delivery system than the self-righteous idiot stalking around him. He hadn't even noticed that Parker had lifted his gun and tossed it under the van when she 'stumbled' against him on her way out.

"Internal Revenue Service. Taking money from hard-working Americans and shipping it straight to China!"* the fool ranted, his voice pitched to carry throughout the camp. Street theater at its worst.

Parker snorted, probably amused that he was accusing them of stealing for the government.

The man, much taller than Parker, loomed over her, nearly shouting in her face. "You think this is a joke, missy?"

"Uh, no?" she answered, catching Eliot's warning glare. Her tone obviously wasn't to the man's liking, though, because he backhanded her hard across the face. Eliot's glare took on a more murderous tone.

"Turner Creek Minutemen?" he read off the badge of the dead man walking, re-focusing him away from Parker. "Anti-government militia, huh?"*

"Anti-government freedom fighters! They say the war is coming, tax man, but it's already begun! What do you call a man who takes your property, enriches your adversaries, and deprives you of your liberty?"* The militiaman walked around the two of them in a slow circle, suggesting that the man behind them wasn't actually aiming at them, though they were doubtless heading for an attempted execution.

Eliot twitched the wrist handcuffed to Parker, then engaged their captors' attention again. "Your enemy."*

"Consider yourselves casualties of war."* Eliot would give the guy this much: he had a certain flair for the dramatic one-liner.

The rifleman behind them forced Parker to her knees, and his leader grabbed her by the hair as he attempted (pitifully) to do the same to Eliot. The bastard forced her to meet his eyes before he spit on her. "Any woman who fights in the tax man's army is a disgrace to her sex as well as to her country!"

"It's not gonna happen, bubba," Eliot snapped at the idiot who was still trying to knock him down, distracting both of their captors. Parker caught his eye and winked, just as he felt the hard edge of the handcuff's bracelet slip from his wrist. He gave her the tiniest of nods, and flicked his eyes toward the tree-line.

"Fine, then," the leader sneered. "We'll kill the girl first, and make you watch. Tom!"

Tom cocked his weapon, albeit reluctantly. He took one step to his left, and Eliot exploded into action, pushing the barrel of the rifle away from himself and Parker, quick blows to the solar plexus and the face, disarm and run. They were halfway lost in the trees before the shocked 'minute men' could react.

"Keep low!" he shouted to Parker, ducking behind trees and clawing his way through the underbrush. She'd got a head-start while he took out their guard. Behind them, the initial volley of shots passed. Someone was calling for dogs. Fuck.

After about a mile, Parker's break-neck pace started to lag, and Eliot caught up to her. "Hey, hey! Parker! Stop!"

"What? Why?" she asked, slightly out of breath. "There's dogs! Oh, here," she added, passing him a knife. "I grabbed it when he slapped me."

He nodded his thanks for the weapon, tucking it into his belt. "We need to go south to get back to town," he explained, and pointed uphill. "That way."

Parker looked at the terrain skeptically. "How far?"

"Seventeen miles to town."

She shook her head. "Four hours, minimum."

"Well what's your plan? 'Cause I'm sure as hell not leavin' the rest of the team in the dark on this one!"

"Lose the tail, go back to the camp, steal a car. One hour to a phone."

"They got dogs, Parker. Guns. A fuckin' fertilizer bomb! It's high risk."

Parker met his eyes solidly, and he was slightly disturbed to see no hint of fear – only hardened resolve to do whatever needed to be done. The cheerful girl who had spent the morning driving him nuts with piñatas had been replaced, in an instant, by young woman who had been forced to grow up too soon, and had no time for games. It wasn't entirely surprising when she flashed a second knife at him and added, "You know how to lose the dogs."

He took a deep breath. Okay. They would have to deal with the dogs either way, and time was of the essence, given that the others had no idea what they were dealing with. Plus it didn't sit right, leaving the makings of a terrorist attack sitting ready to deploy when he had the means to stop it. If they had any other way to alert the team, he would – have them tip off the FBI, and not risk Parker, but the coms weren't working, and she was right, going back would be faster. "Try not to kill anyone," he growled.

Her answering smile was frankly terrifying.

They used the rest of the ten-minute head-start their mad dash had gained them to lay a pair of false trails, looping around in circles and doubling back. Eliot was pleased to see that although as far as he knew, the little thief had never been in a forest before, moving silently and dodging through laser-beams translated well into slipping through the brush. She was almost as quiet as him. Give her a few months training, and she'd be scary.

Well, scarier, he corrected himself, watching as she re-opened the cut on her upper arm to continue laying her trail.

As soon as he heard the dogs barking, he called a halt, yanking a few broad-leafed plants from the ground. "Here. Skunk-weed. Rub it all over." He demonstrated and she followed suit, making a face at the pungent scent. "And hide that hair," he added, throwing her his cap.

"Now up?"

He nodded, and she scrambled into a tree, running along a horizontal limb before leaping to another like a fucking squirrel. He followed at a more reasonably human pace. They just had to get far enough from their old trail that the dogs wouldn't notice their now-less-obviously-human scents. He groaned, catching a limb with his recently dislocated arm, and hauled himself up into a third tree. Parker heard him and doubled back.


He nodded slightly and rolled his affected shoulder. "Watch the arm, yeah?"

The girl bit her lip and eyed the maze of branches before them, obviously re-routing, before she nodded.

"Two more, an' then down."

"'Kay." She took off again, more slowly this time, aiming for lower, thicker branches that he could climb between instead of jumping. They crossed the search line. Between the ones they saw and voices on the men's radios, Eliot counted six hostiles. The two dog handlers moved like they had experience scent-hunting. The dogs were coon-hounds, though, rather than one of the attack breeds, which was as good as they could have hoped for – they wouldn't be used to tracking people, and he wouldn't have to worry about taking them out. More good news: there was only one pair of pursuers he hadn't seen, and he highly doubted they were any better-trained as scouts than the ones they had passed. The bad news was they all seemed to be in fairly constant communication with the camp, so as soon as they hit it, these yahoos would be headed back in.

It was with a certain amount of relief that he felt his boots hit the ground again, several minutes later. Parker was waiting, grinning. He scowled at her. This was not a game, damn it. "C'mon," he growled, leading her back toward the camp and their ride out.

"How long'll it take you to steal a truck?" Eliot whispered. They were crouched behind a blackberry bramble at the edge of the clearing.

"Which one?" Parker asked, eyeing their options. There were several, parked largely haphazardly around the edges of the site. The panel van that was obviously being prepped to carry the bomb was out of the question, since it was damn-near constantly surrounded by men working on it. The one they had been transported in would have to be turned before they could get out, which could mean precious seconds under fire. But there was an older model F-150 ready to pull straight out, off to one side of the main action.

"The pickup," he decided, indicating it with a nod of his chin.

"Thirty seconds if the owner hid the key on it. Five minutes if I have to hotwire it with what I've got on me. Sometime in between if one of these morons has the keys on him."

He couldn't help but smile slightly in anticipation of the fight. Anti-American rednecks playing at soldiers pissed him off on a very deep, professional level. He might not kill anymore, but he would sleep just fine permanently maiming their 'commanding officer' and that fucker Tom who had been willing to follow orders to shoot Parker. "Head about ninety degrees around the clearing, toward the truck, and make some noise," the former hitter instructed the thief. "I'll come at them from behind, an' once they're engaged, you check the truck, see if you can't find the key."

The girl nodded seriously, and began to creep away from their position. He watched with some amusement as she rattled a few bushes and completely failed to draw their attention. She stood, looking indecisively between the men, preoccupied with the panel van, and the truck, then walked out into the open. None of the so-called militiamen noticed.

Eliot resisted the urge to shout at her to get back under cover, preparing instead to launch himself at the nearest of the enemy if any of them should reach for a weapon.

The men continued not to notice as Parker slipped behind the truck, ducking down behind it for a brief moment, before reappearing with a delighted grin. She opened the door quietly enough, but turning over the engine drew all the attention that had thus-far been absent.

One of the four men ran toward the truck, leaving his friends and the kid to follow, any thought of discipline obviously abandoned in the face of losing his vehicle to a prisoner. Eliot was fully in favor of this, as it prevented any of the others from actually firing the guns they were now pointing at the truck. The 'officer' led the other four over as well, making as though to surround her and prevent her escape.

As the last of them passed his position, Eliot made his move, closing on the unsuspecting idiot and bashing him over the head with a left-handed swipe of a downed limb. He collapsed like the sack of shit he was, and Eliot was onto the second before the others realized that they had a problem. The kid went down nearly as easily, with a look of outright terror on his face. Leader was smart enough to call in backup, but not coordinated enough to draw his pistol at the same time. Eliot felt the asshole's knee break in a way that meant he'd never walk right again as much as he heard it. Number four actually got a couple of shots off, but the ex-soldier was already too close, and his hands were shaking so bad that Eliot was surprised he hadn't hit his own buddies.

Number five, meanwhile, had got himself in front of the truck, and was screaming profanities at Parker. Eliot realized belatedly that it was 'Tom' - the one who had been all set to shoot her. She flashed a crazy-girl smile in Eliot's direction – a very distinctive expression, even at this distance – and gunned it. Tom dove out of the way, and she opened the driver's side door into his face with a sickening crunch, letting the impact close it again, and, Eliot was almost certain, running over one of the guy's legs as well.

Eliot jogged over to check he was still breathing, then hauled himself into the cab. "Dammit, Parker!"

"What?" wide, too-innocent eyes asked. Then she added, "He's not dead! I didn't hit him that hard!" with a guileless grin.

"There's somethin' wrong with you!" he growled. He'd worked with more than his fair share of sadists and psychopaths over the years, and there were some days he thought Parker could give them a run for their money in the crazy department.

"Whatever," she said dismissively. "I was thinking, we should stick around until the others come back."

Eliot sighed. He supposed they should. He had no idea how long it would take to scramble a team here in the back of beyond. The other six could deploy the bomb and get their friends to safety in the meanwhile if it took too long. "Fine!" he grumbled. "See if any of these jokers got service up here."

She left the truck running as she joined him in searching the bodies, then tossed him a handful of phones and disappeared into one of the tents. She returned just around the time he established that there was no cell tower in the area, with a coil of rope, an electrical cord, a pair of handcuffs, and two rolls of duct tape.

"Sat phone in there," she nodded back at the tent, and knelt to start binding the terrorists' hands and feet.

Before he could go call the cops, Hardison, or the nearest FBI office, someone opened fire on them from the treeline. Parker made a little eep sound, and dropped flat to the ground behind the man she had been tying up. Eliot grabbed the nearest weapon and dove behind the truck, waiting for a pause to return fire – not aiming to kill, but hopefully close enough to distract. God, he hated guns.

He ducked back behind the truck as the men in the trees, two of them, now, opened fire again.

There was another crack, then two more, four meters to his right, at ground level. Parker was still trapped behind her human shield, but she had taken the leader's .45 and was firing it into the trees, creating an opening as one of the men screamed. Eliot scowled. He hoped for her sake that wasn't a fatal shot, though he strongly suspected she didn't care either way.

"Parker! Get over here!" he hissed at her. She didn't move, firing a fourth shot toward the voice in the trees. "Parker!" he repeated himself more audibly.

She looked up, and he motioned for her to join him. She squirmed across the open ground between them like a snake, the same inhuman motion she used in duct-crawling, a peculiar roll of hips and shoulders pushing her forward without raising her head more than six inches, or spreading her limbs to the sides like the army crawl he had been taught in basic. It looked ridiculous, but it was fast (at least when she did it – he had tried, and found it an incredibly difficult, inefficient form of motion).

"Cover me," he ordered her.

"No, wait!" she objected. "You're better with guns. I'll go. They won't see me."

He hesitated. Did he trust Parker to take out two men armed with guns? Yes. One of them was wounded, after all, and she was one of the most dangerous people he'd ever met. Non-lethally? No. But then, he also wasn't terribly comfortable with her aiming a semi-automatic rifle at a spot he was infiltrating, either. She was off before he could object, sprinting toward the nearest spit of trees (nowhere near the gunmen) with a speed that would have made an Olympian proud.

Shots picked up again as she crossed the open ground, but she made it through safely. He growled under his breath at her recklessness, and returned fire, wondering how much ammo the jokers had on them. They could've just waited them out, probably. He sent a few bullets that fell deliberately short, enough to give the yahoos pause, make them think they were being fired on, but without risking hitting Parker, who was doubtless moving somewhere through the trees, though even he couldn't predict where.

A minute and a half later, there was a startled shout, and then Parker's clear, high voice called, "Clear, Eliot!"

This time, he didn't waste a second on communications or tying up their prisoners. He gathered up the remaining weaponry in case any of the idiots recovered (though they were all still out cold – it hadn't been five minutes total), dragged the bodies into the open so they could keep an eye on them, and then ran to join Parker.

The man she had hit with her stray shot was bleeding from a flesh wound in his thigh. Non-fatal, or at least not immediately so. Reading the signs of the fight in the disturbance of leaves and position of the bodies, she had dropped on them out of the trees, dragging down the uninjured one and knocking him in the temple with the butt of her knife. There was already a bruise rising. He hoped she hadn't done it too hard. The bone was thin, there.

He, or both of them, rather, had landed on top of the wounded man, too close for his rifle, and Parker had obviously lifted his knife. He was still conscious, but she had cut up his palms, so he would have a hell of a time firing a gun.

Eliot could have done it (had, more than once), but these guys didn't have the experience to push through the pain and compensate for the weakness in the hands or the blood slicking up the weapon, be it gun or knife.

The conscious fucker was howling invective at Parker, advertising their position to all and sundry, still pinned by his friend's dead weight. Eliot kicked him with a very precise degree of force, and he passed out.

The thief was grinning at him. "This is fun. We should do this more often."

"Fuckin' crazy," he muttered under his breath, but it was mostly habit. He could admit to himself that as much as he hated firefights, there was a certain amount of satisfaction in taking out obvious terrorists like these undisciplined jokers. (They'd done well with the actual kidnapping part of their plan, but since then it had just been a long series of incompetent mistakes.) It made him feel like he was doing his duty for his country again, just a little.

Before he could say more, he heard a dog howl, and at least two men closing in on their position from another direction. The radios clipped to the latest casualties crackled. "Bobby? Roy? Answer me, dammit!"

Eliot smirked. "Get back in the trees, Parker." He concealed himself behind a good-sized oak, and waited for the other four to close in on them.

It was laughably easy to take out the two men as they stumbled into the small clearing the struggle with Parker had created. They ran to check their fallen friends' vitals without even considering whether the 'captives' might still be in the area, and it was a matter of seconds to knock them out. It took longer to coax Parker out of the tree she had fled to when faced with an angry coon hound.

He couldn't help but laugh as she shot him betrayed looks for scratching the animal behind the ears.

"I don't like dogs," she repeated. "Little ones are okay, I guess, but the big, mean, barking kind? No."

"This guy wouldn't hurt a fly," Eliot informed her, not for the first time. He wasn't even that big. "He's a good boy, aren't you, buddy?"

"First horses, now dogs?" the thief snorted. "And you call me crazy."

"All dogs ain't guard dogs, Parker!"

She gave him a doubtful sniff, and apparently decided to change the subject rather than dignify that with a response. "This is taking too long." They were keeping watch on the clearing, on the assumption that the morons would return to their home base once they realized all the trails led in circles.

"Whaddaya want me to do, Parker? Call an' tell the last pair our coordinates?" They were still calling for their fallen friends over the walkie talkies periodically, sounding more and more worried each time.

"Could you?" she asked curiously. "Or could I go finish tying up the others or something?"

He considered it for half a second, a plan already forming in his mind. Normally he'd say no, both to contacting the enemy and to heading back out onto open ground again, but they did have plenty of hostages, now, and they needed to finish securing the ones that had been out the longest before they came around.

"Alright, here's what we'll do: Take a radio. You cover me while I move these idiots over with the rest of them. Shout if you see movement. If anyone starts shooting at me, I'll radio you to start shooting hostages. DO NOT shoot the hostages. We just want the bad guys to think you're going to, alright?"

She nodded. "Can I fire a warning shot?"

"Do you think you can aim a warning shot?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "Maybe."

"No, Parker. The threat should be enough for these guys, and that's assumin' they get back while I'm still movin' the prisoners. Once they're all localized, I'll cover you while you tie 'em up, and bring me the sat phone. I'll call in back-up, and then I'll call in the last pair."

"Back-up? Nate?"

Now it was Eliot's turn to roll his eyes. "What the hell is Nate gonna do about a buncha terrorists? I'm callin' the Boston FBI office."

She made a face at him. "I don't like being Special Agent Hagen."

"We're just callin' it in an' gettin' the hell outta here," he assured her. "We ain't got ID's or badges, so there ain't no point in stickin' around. Now get up a good spotting tree," he ordered, bending to lift the first of the four downed men.

The plan went off without a hitch. The last two 'militiamen' turned themselves over, let Parker tie them up after a single warning shot from Eliot, who did know how to aim such things, even if he hated guns. They had wrapped each of the men's hands in duct tape to further hinder any escape attempts (even Parker couldn't pick a lock or untie a knot without moving her fingers), and Eliot had called it in, with just enough hints that he was with the Agency that they should take this particular tip a little more seriously than most. A quick stop at the bank to switch cars, and they were home free. It remained un-robbed, which Eliot felt was only fair, since he hadn't gotten to go fishing, either.

About half an hour into the drive back to Boston, they reached cell (and com) service again.

"P – Parker? Eliot? Talk to me, guys!" Hardison's frantic voice came over the line.

"Hi, Hardison!" Parker said cheerily.

"Oh, thank God!" Sophie sighed.

"Hi, Sophie!"

"Wh- are you two okay? It's been… way too long. We were expectin' your check-in hours ago, an' Whitman said he'd 'take care of you' an' –"

"Cool it, Hardison," Eliot grumbled. "We're fine. No cell service, an' we ran into a snag, but we'll be back in an hour."

("Excellent, Mr. Whitman," Nate's voice came through clearly. "Excellent. I'll have your packet to you by the end of the business day.")

"Sophie found hints that Whitman's funding some kind of anti-government terror somethin' or other!" Hardison exclaimed.

("Yes, pleasure doing business.")

"No shit?"

"Hardison, I've got the check," Nate reported, the client apparently gone.

"What? Okay, text me a photo of it, an' I'll get the transfer started," the hacker answered absently.

"You knew? What happened, Eliot?" That was Sophie again.

"We'll talk about it when we get back," he answered firmly, but that wasn't enough to stop Parker from giving him an evil grin and blurting out her own response:

"We got kidnapped, escaped, caught all the bad guys, and left them for the FBI to find."

Sophie's "Parker?" Nate's "Eliot?" and Hardison's "Are you guys okay?" came through in a garbled mess.

"We're fine! Parker, I said we'd talk about it later."

"But this way they have time to get used to the idea," she pouted. That was… a point, he supposed.

"How'd your end go?" he asked, rather than pursue the issue.

"Plan 'A' actually appears to have worked," Sophie said, in a tone of mixed amusement and surprise.

"Yep," Hardison confirmed. "The transfer is complete, tied to Whitman's legit accounts, and flagged for the real IRS. We tipped off the Feds on his stealing IRS documents, so they should be tying up all the loose ends for us."

"Wait – does that mean we didn't get the money, if the IRS knows about it?" Parker sounded disappointed.

"Naw, girl – have a li'l faith! I got my ways – they ain't gonna be able to trace it. It'll look like Whitman did it, but we got it."

The thief let out a whoop that had Eliot digging the com out of his ear. "Damn it, Parker!"

"Plan 'A' worked, Eliot! Plan 'A' never works!"

"Ain't no reason to go blowin' all our eardrums out!" he snapped back.

"Are you grumpy about the fishing? 'Cause I'm pretty sure kicking terrorist ass was more fun than fishing would've been."

The only reasonable response to that was cranking up the radio (in an attempt to drown Parker out as she continued to chatter to the others on coms), because really, he was pretty sure it was more fun, too, even if it was a hell of a lot less relaxing. They really did need some time off. Hopefully, he thought, with the kidnapping and all, Nate would be more receptive to that conversation. Somehow he doubted it, though: the job had gone off well enough (and on Plan A), that Nate would most likely insist that they were fine, and could keep up the stupid pace he had been setting them. That didn't mean that Eliot wouldn't still be having that talk with him, but it did mean that he didn't exactly have high hopes for his success. At the very least, he supposed he would be able to say 'I told you so,' when they did finally drop the ball from sheer exhaustion.

Hopefully, he thought with some trepidation, it wouldn't be when they finally met up with Moreau.

*Full credit for quoted dialogue goes to the Leverage writing team and whomever paid their checks. Massive kudos and props for organizing and archiving the scripts go to C. McQuillin of Leverage dot WhenDarknessFalls dot net.