Eliot had argued vehemently against taking the job. They didn't have enough information about Simon Jacobs or his associates, and the disappearance of their clients' son and his fiancée was pointing in some very ugly directions.
Somehow in the age of information, Simon Jacobs flew below the radar. What information there was showed a mundane business man with a mundane family living a mundane life.
If Hardison was the wizard of the computer, Eliot was more than his match when it came to ferreting out leads the old-fashioned way. The picture of Simon Jacobs the retrieval specialist painted becomes uglier with every piece of information.
When Nate's plan called for Sophie and Parker to go in as bait, Eliot went ballistic. The cold fury in the pale eyes froze the older man in his tracks.
Nate has never feared Eliot. He knew Eliot went to extreme lengths to keep what he did low-key in front of the others. It made them forget the raspy voiced southerner was capable of copious amounts of violence.
Gone was Eliot Spencer, his prickly, snarky lover. Instead he was facing Eliot Spencer, world class retrieval specialist, cool headed tactician, and expert on the ugliest parts of human nature.
He coolly points out how many ways the con can go sideways, and the pitfalls if it does. Nate thought Eliot was overstating Jacobs' depravity because he was sending in Sophie and Parker with no way for Eliot to be close enough if they needed him.
They debated the issues until a disgusted Eliot left the condo unnoticed as they continued to argue.
Nate tossed and turned fitfully until he felt the younger man slip between the covers and curl against his back. Finally, he was able to rest.
Quiet and sullen became the watchwords for Eliot's mood as they prepared the con. He spent extra hours with Parker honing the skills he'd taught her, mapping out possible scenarios.
Things were going smoothly, and Nate had begun to relax thinking Eliot was being an alarmist, when everything went to Hell. Jacobs' took the bait sooner than they planned. It seemed Parker was just his 'type'.
Sophie's soft exclamation of distress, the sounds of Parker putting her lessons to use against odds she couldn't beat, and Eliot's growl of frustration were the only clues Nate and Alec had that their plan had gone awry. With a tortured squeal of electronic feedback, then silence marked the last they heard from the two women.
Hardison was hacking traffic cams and Eliot was giving directions through gritted teeth, until he was out of com range. Nate and Hardison raced to catch up until they found Eliot's rental in a rest area. They hoped he managed to hitch a ride with the women's captors without being caught.
Nate turned toward Alec when he heard his exclamation of dismay. On the large hand rested Eliot's com. The two men exchanged a glance. Their retrievalist was on the hunt ... Alone.
Hardison breathed a sigh of relief when he finally connected with the GPS in Eliot's phone, and they were back on the trail. Dead zones and backtracking cost them time they couldn't spare. Worry for the others had Nate fighting not the snap at Hardison, and the hacker trying not to babble nervously. The sun was peeking over the horizon when they parked a block from where Eliot's GPS had stopped. They quietly approached the warehouse, surprised there weren't any guards around the perimeter.
When they stepped inside, they understood why. Six bodies lay in an unmoving jumble of limbs. While trying to decide if they should go upstairs or down, there was the scuff of feet on the stairs leading cover behind the concrete support columns they watched the stairs cautiously. Three familiar heads appeared pausing when Eliot carefully set an unconscious Parker to the side.
Using the stairwell for cover, he surveyed the room for any threats that may have arrived while he'd been on the lower floors retrieving Parker and Sophie. Hearing movement, Eliot placed himself between Sophie, Parker and the noise. Nate and Alec stepped into Eliot's line of sight. Seeing his other teammates, he simply turned, gathered Parker in his arms as Sophie leaned on him for support. Seeing the devastated look on Hardison's face, Eliot looked down at the goofy grin on Parker's face as she curled like a kitten against his chest.
"She's okay. They drugged her 'cause she wouldn't quit fightin'." Eliot growled, but didn't relinquish his hold on the slim thief.
"I hope ya got a car 'round here close." He continued to the door with his burdens.
Nate tossed Hardison the keys. At his confused look, Nate explained.
"You can get there faster than I can."
Understanding dawned on the hacker and he was off like a shot.
Once he got them situated in the car, Eliot turned to go back in the building.
"Eliot?" Nate's call was tentative.
"Got stuff to do, Nate. Take the girls back to the hotel." He turned his back to the group.
"Do we have to worry about Jacobs?"
"No." His tone was final.
Nate cringed at the word. He wanted to stay with the hitter, but the hard expression on Eliot's face and Hardison's flailing sent him to the car.
Parker woke up long enough to ask about Eliot before dozing off tucked in the corner of the couch. Sophie had showered and was sitting on the couch with a cup of tea. Nate tried to act like he wasn't worried, but he kept throwing glances at Alec who was monitoring law enforcement frequencies and the news channels.
"Nate! Turn on the TV! The hacker's strident voice startled the other three.
A 'Breaking News' banner was flashing across the bottom of the screen. The anchor was talking about business man, Samuel Jacobs being found dead in a warehouse along with the bodies of twelve others. Also found in the basement of the warehouse were twenty people that had all been reported missing by their families over the past six weeks.
Nate's phone rang, but the disappointment on his face told the others that the caller was not their wayward hitter. It was their client wanting to express their gratitude that their son and his fiancée had been found.
At midnight Nate gave up waiting and went to bed.
They stayed at the hotel another two days, but no Eliot. No one was happy when they flew back to Boston. When they got home, Hardison hacked the police files to see what they had on the warehouse crime scene. Checking to see if Eliot had been implicated. Parker, Nate and Sophie hovered over his shoulders finally convinced the hacker to transfer the pictures to the wall screens.
Perched on the arm of the couch, Parker studied the pictures carefully. The blood on the walls was a macabre masterpiece of violence.
"Damn." She jumped up and moved closer to the screens. "I slept through the good part." Three mortified expressions turned her way. "What? Watching Eliot be Eliot is one of my favorite shows." She snickered and skipped off to the kitchen.
Three hearts nearly stopped when they heard the raspier than normal growl.
"Told ya'll she ain't right."
"Eliot!" Parker squealed as she ran at the retrievalist and threw herself against him.
He never moved as her slight weight wrapped around him. A quiet 'oof' was the only indication that he wasn't 100%. He set her down gently and turned to the others. A hitch in her breathing was the only indication that Sophie's control was slipping. She gently hugged the younger man and whispered a quiet 'Thank you' in his ear before declaring a forgotten appointment. She was soon followed by Hardison dragging a loudly protesting Parker out the door, leaving the two men alone.
Eliot turned away, grabbed a mug and poured a cup of Sophie's tea. He wrapped his hands around the mug trying to draw warmth into his cold bones. His eyes slid sideways as he felt the couch dip under Nate's weight. Warm fingers circled his wrist, drawing his attention.
"I'm sorry." Nate spoke quietly looking at his pale fingers around the tanned wrist.
"For what? Makin' a bad judgment call? It happens. Let it go ... I have." His eyes slid away from their hands.
Eliot set the mug down, preparing to move away from the older man.
"I'm sorry my plan caused you to do something you hate ... Put more blood on your hands."
"It washes off."
Eliot stood, but Nate tugged on the captured wrist, pulling the hitter off balance, back onto the couch. He didn't resist when Nate stretched them out and tucked the shorter man against his chest.
"Maybe off your hands, but blood never washes off the walls of your heart." Nate whispered against Eliot's temple.
"Hell, Nate, my whole life's the color of blood." With a twist and the grace of panther, Eliot was on his feet.
His hand was turning the knob before Nate made it to his feet.
"Eliot?" Nate tried to put everything into his tone, willing Eliot to 'hear' what he was asking.
Eliot paused resting his forehead on the door. With a sigh he wondered if someday the two of them would actually say out loud all the things they 'read' in each other.
"This is what I do, Nate."
The door closed silently behind the broad back.
~ Fini ~