When I first started coming up with the themes for this story, I was torn between using 2 songs from the same band. Ultimately, I opted against it, but the one I was seriously considering was "The Light" by Disturbed. It has been something of a theme for me lately, and ended up being the defining song of my major series that I posted last year. But I highly recommend it.

The song for this chapter is the other Disturbed song which is just SO VERY Eliot: "You're Mine." Because Eliot really can do anything for the team that belongs to him.

Next week is our last chapter! And then I'll be taking a Monday off while I recover from a 4-day choir gala event. But then we'll have 6 Leverage oneshots of various AUs which were, I'll be honest, a ton of fun to write. I hope you stick around for them.

But if not, it has been a pleasure having you here to read this story, and I am deeply grateful to all of you who have been so wonderfully supportive and excited about my writing!

This chapter is for you all. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Enjoy!


Chapter 12: Rebuilt from Inside


Eliot was surprised at the ease with which he eluded the Interpol-united forces which converged upon Borzoi's location. Either at least half the local and international police and military enforcement agents were utter morons, or Sterling had actually created an opening in the net for Eliot to use.

He wasn't sure which was more plausible, actually, but he took advantage regardless.

Eliot figured he had maybe two hours, three if Sterling was being a real bastard, before the team would be after him once more. And, just like when he had needed to try to rework everyone else's timelines to make them fit his agenda, he needed to make sure they were not in position to interfere.

But Eliot had an advantage even Hardison would have a tough time ferreting out from his little computers.

He knew Amand Gauthier.

The man had been a business associate of Damien Moreau, and back in the day, Eliot had seen a lot of the Frenchman who was part socialite, part investor, and part black market dealer. Amand was a crafty old man, had been in the business long before Eliot started selling his services to well-paying clients, and had survived so long by knowing when to fight and when to hide.

And Eliot remembered where Damien had told him Amand usually went to hide.

Eliot had swiped five different phones from people at Borzoi's place, and it took little effort to use one of them to make a dozen different flight reservations going all over the globe, and a dozen more bound for different places in Europe. He had no doubts that Hardison would figure out which phones he had and would begin tracking him as soon as Interpol gave him three minutes alone with a keyboard. So he further obscured his tracks by reserving three private flights as well.

Unfortunately, there weren't any direct flights from Caracas to Prague, so Eliot had to prepare himself for a long haul.

After ditching the van, the cash in one stolen wallet bought him the shirt off a man on the street, and a different stolen wallet provided a credit card that got him a few basics and some bandages at a drugstore. In a public restroom not far from the airport, Eliot washed his face, neck, hands, arms, and hair as thoroughly as he could. He bandaged his hands more carefully, and put a single butterfly closure on the gash on his head. Then he carefully combed his hair forward, making it look like he was trying to hide some of his injuries.

People wouldn't look too closely at someone who was hurt and embarrassed by it, especially in this part of the world where express kidnappings were a daily occurrence. Eliot knew he wouldn't be the only person in a hurry to leave the country looking like he'd barely survived.

In the bustle of the people and crowds, the noises, smells, and chaos, Eliot wasn't even in the top twenty unusual things running around.

At the airport, before he printed every single one of the tickets he'd ordered, he stole some luggage from the unclaimed baggage pile. It took him longer to decide which passport he could use than it had to make the flights, because he needed someone whose appearance was close enough to his own to pass inspection. However, Eliot knew that most security looked only at the shape of the face, the color of the skin, and the confidence of the person with the ID, rather than matching up exact facial features. Plus, having quite a lot of bruising would do a great deal to obscure his features.

And he had a lot of bruising.

The one he had eventually chosen to use when buying all the flights didn't ultimately look very much like him at all – and there was something very strange about that man's nose – but the security personnel avoided looking at him too closely once they saw his bandages and cuts and purpled welts. They looked at him so little, Eliot thought he could have used Sophie's passport and they'd have let him through.

Once he got through airport screening and security, he relaxed a bit. Now it would be far easier to avoid detection.

After the unexpected job spent chasing down a donor heart in an airport, Eliot had even more insight than he'd had before into the inner workings of airports. Especially here, where there were armed guards but no one looked twice at the guy with the broken face, it was almost laughably easy for Eliot to sneak into the 'employees only' area and steal a workman's jumpsuit and hat. He knew the airport had lots of cameras on the inside, but far fewer would spot him out on the tarmac.

And every camera he avoided was one less Hardison could use to track him.

Eliot didn't really speak enough Spanish to get along, but he could glare and grunt and that got him through the few hours before his evening flight took off. Then, it was a simple matter of getting into the jetway for the flight he actually wanted and ditching the jumpsuit again. He timed it such that he was heading up the jetway when the first passengers were heading down it to board the flight, so he could get his boarding pass scanned by a harried airline employee not quite sure how the young man with the injuries had gotten past her the first time.

Finally aboard the plane, and with the team nowhere in sight, Eliot allowed himself to relax.

It was a long flight to Madrid, and then onto Prague, after all.

Eliot settled into his seat and closed his eyes. For the first time since he'd left Portland, he could allow himself to rest. The flight would be almost nine hours in duration, which was enough time for both some actual sleep and some meditation. Eliot knew plenty of people who eschewed meditation as hippie-new-agey garbage, but it had always held great value for him. Sleep was healing and restorative to the body, and it provided a mental reset that the brain needed to work properly. But meditation gave healing and restoration to the soul.

Eliot's soul was in a permanent state of broken, of course, but meditating made it much easier for him to pretend otherwise.

Even before the plane left the runway, Eliot had slipped into the place inside himself where all was quiet, where there was no thought, no rage, no pain. Just silence and rest and truth. The events of the last hours filtered through that dark peace, not as images or memories, but as experiences, feelings, impressions. They presented themselves one at a time, swirled lazily about, unfurling their nuances and letting their sharp edges grow dull. He relived them until they were a part of his bones, but a part he could live with.

This was how he had survived before Nate and the team. Not by forgetting, but by embracing. Eliot could only be all that he was, and he forced himself to live with it, instead of in spite of it. Forced himself to know it and understand it and embody it, rather than attempt to stuff it down, only for it to explode later.

It was, perhaps, the second greatest gift Nate had given Eliot – the first being, of course, the team itself. The family. Whatever they were. All that they were.

But besides that, Nate had given Eliot the chance to be what he was, without having to make himself live with it.

Nate had given Eliot the chance to be all that he was, with a leash to hold him back. Eliot had been the dog of one person or another for most of his adult life – be it the military or people like Moreau and Gauthier. He had sold his deadly skills like a ronin samurai, his sword turned to whatever cause would employ him. And as a mercenary, he had done as ordered, killing when told, sparing lives when so ordered, employing as much force as he had been contracted for. Until Nate, for the most part, those who purchased Eliot Spencer asked for his lethality.

But Nate had asked Eliot to fight, but not kill. Had paid him to protect, not attack. Had called upon the wolf's strength and power, but had muzzled its teeth. From the moment Nate had taken control of Dubenich's team in that first job, Nate had made it clear to Eliot that he didn't want a killer, didn't want to leave blood and bodies in their wake. He only wanted the rest of the team safe, protected, free to do their part. Revenge, justice, payback, whatever they called what they did to their marks, it was never dealt in blood.

Eliot had put his leash into Nate's hands, and Nate used it for good. Not to turn him on the innocent, but to spare them. Not to punish the guilty, but to keep them occupied while the true punishment fell.

If Eliot was honest with himself, it was the best thing that had ever happened to him. Suddenly all his training, all his deadly skills, all his vile experience had a purpose that was clean and good again.

And he was going to ruin it.

But they would live.

Eliot fell asleep on the plane with the only unresolved feeling his heart his regret that he would lose what he most cherished, both within himself and in the world overall – just to save the only thing worth living for.

-==OOO==-

In Madrid, Eliot changed identities again, avoiding cameras with a skill that sounded like Hardison in his head and stealing as he went with hands that felt like Parker's touch. And when he glanced at his fingers, his bruises, his broken pinky, he felt Sophie's concern lance into his heart.

But he hardened himself against all of it.

The only bit he kept was Nate's logic and insight, and that because it was the only way to beat them.

He flew to Prague on the next flight and spent it thinking.

Upon arrival in the city, Eliot went straight to a back-alley dealer he remembered to be trustworthy. Every Euro he had picked up in Madrid went to the purchase of a gun with a silencer attached.

Then he went after Gauthier.

Amand Gauthier kept a safe-house in Prague, one Damien had shown to Eliot long ago in case Damien ever had reason to move against him. By Eliot's standards, it had never been particularly "safe," but he'd never pointed that out to anyone; he hadn't been paid to fix lousy security, after all. The safe-house was nothing more than a townhouse in a quiet neighborhood with a good alarm system and a name on all official paperwork that was difficult to trace back to Gauthier.

But cameras and alarms were nothing to Eliot Spencer, and even less to an Eliot Spencer who had spent four years with a master Hacker and Thief.

Eliot waited outside the house for several hours until he was certain Amand was there. He counted six guards, all armed, but clearly new to the business from the distinctive way they stood at windows. By then, it was well past midnight, edging on towards false dawn in Prague.

Eliot took a deep breath and made his move.

The door went down in spectacular fashion after a single kick, and Eliot ran into the house at full speed, gun out. The first two guards were dead before they'd even entered the hallway. The third died on the stairs and the fourth in the doorway towards a back room, maybe a kitchen. Eliot jumped over the body and charged up to the second level, dodging shots from the remaining guards who were shouting and firing holes in the wallpaper.

Eliot hoped the walls between this house and the next were thick enough.

When he reached the second floor, he rolled along a plush carpet to come up with his gun in the face of the fifth guard. He didn't even flinch as he fired, finally turning to the last guard who was charging him; that guard died before he was even in range and his body hit the ground with a thud.

There was a faint sound of shouting from nearby – neighbors hearing the guards' shots. The authorities would be on their way in a matter of minutes. But Eliot only needed one.

He kicked in the door the final guard had been standing at, blinking in the light that flooded into the hallway.

"Eliot Spencer." Amand greeted him cordially, as if they were meeting for brunch. "I suppose I should not be surprised."

"You put out a hit on Nate Ford." Eliot faced him with the coldness that had once been his whole life. "You had to know this was how it would end."

"It was worth the gamble. And I was not entirely certain you would truly involve yourself. Especially after the auction."

Eliot blinked.

"Such a pity so many of my rivals were...handled," Gauthier said. "But lovely to watch live on the internet. All the thrill of success, without any of the unpleasant odors."

"Why'd you do it?" Eliot asked.

Amand simply tightened his lips and shook his head.

Well, Eliot wasn't surprised, anyway. Gauthier had always been clever.

And Gauthier also knew Eliot, knew that Eliot would certainly kill him, but the death would be clean. Knew that Eliot, no matter his rage, would not inflict pain on his victim, not even now.

Eliot almost hated him for being right.

"Stand up. Move to the center of the floor."

Amand obeyed, though Eliot could see the tremor in his knees when he moved. Eliot circled so that his back was to a wall and not the window or the door, watching carefully, alert for any sound.

Except, perhaps, for the Shakira song that suddenly burst from his pocket, surprising them both so much it was only the extreme control he had over himself that kept Eliot from firing reflexively.

One of Eliot's stolen phones was ringing.

Gauthier swallowed, maintaining his outward calm for the most part as he settled on his carpet. "Would you like to take that? I can certainly wait."

Eliot appreciated the effort it cost the man to comport himself with that much dignity. He decided that a few more seconds wouldn't hurt either of them. The authorities were coming, but he guessed that this wouldn't take longer than he could spare.

And who the hell would be calling this phone, anyway?

He answered, lifting it to his ear, but without saying anything.

"Eliot."

Damn. Of course it was Nate. Of course it was.

"How'd you get this number?"

"Hardison. He can do some really remarkable things when he's motivated. As can you, Eliot."

"They listening?"

"No. It's just you and I right now."

Eliot believed him – Nate was a good liar, but not about the team.

"What do you want, Nate?" He made his growl as cold as he could.

"We're on our way to you. Just wait a while. We'll take care of Gauthier our own way. You don't have to do this."

Eliot could feel the falseness of Nate's own calm, as false as that in the man before him who was going to die. But with Nate, it wasn't the panic of mortality and shed blood and regret. It was a different kind.

The kind he had heard in Nate's voice when Hardison was taken by the Dustmen fraternity – under that even tone was a mix of fear and fury, stamped with ice and forced through thinking to keep it out of the soul.

But that feeling couldn't, shouldn't belong to Eliot now. Not when Eliot was about to keep his word and betray them all.

"You'll never be safe," Eliot said. "None of them will."

"And what about you?" Nate asked.

Eliot huffed something that might have been a laugh. "Doesn't matter."

"It does matter, Eliot. You matter."

Eliot swallowed a dark curse. It would be so easy, so easy, to give in to that steady voice and the man behind it. To hold Gauthier at gunpoint until the team arrived and let them all work out another way. To hand the gun, unused, to Nate, and let him take back Eliot's leash. To let himself slide back into Nate's shadow, to his place beside Hardison, beside Parker, beside Sophie. To be their Hitter again.

But that would leave Gauthier alive.

And one thing Eliot knew for sure about Amand Gauthier was not to underestimate him. Not to underestimate him the same way it was unwise to underestimate Damien Moreau, or Jim Sterling. Or Nathan Ford.

Gauthier's kill order would live as long as he did, as long as he was there to make the payout. And no jail or prison or bottom of a mine shaft would keep him from seeing the order through.

And that was assuming the order had even originated with him.

But Eliot had doubted that from the moment Hardison gave him Gauthier's name. This wasn't Amand's usual game, nor his usual tactics. From that instant forward, Eliot had only become more certain that the price on Nate's head didn't begin with Gauthier just as it hadn't with Borzoi. That someone far more dangerous was pulling the strings.

Either way, Gauthier could not be allowed to live.

If he had, for some reason, broken all normal habits to put out the bounty for Nate Ford, then he would have to die to ensure Nate's safety. If he hadn't, if there was a puppet master hiding somewhere behind Amand, then it was even more necessary for Eliot to send this message. This one, not one of Nate's teasing, superior, "look at what I can do to you," threats. Nate could ruin a man, his name, his business, but those who lived in Eliot's world didn't care about such things. Damien Moreau was behind bars, but Nate was insane if he thought Moreau was defeated. He was alive. It was enough.

So Eliot needed to send his own message. Touch Nate Ford or his team and die, you and everyone breathing the same air as you.

Even this might not be enough, not unless Eliot could hunt down whoever had put Nate in his crosshairs, but it would change the game. It would buy time while the secret puppet master recalculated. Years ago, the word had gone out that Eliot Spencer was no longer a killer. If he became one again, as he had in the fight against Moreau, that was its own eloquent statement.

These people are under Eliot Spencer's protection. He will buy their lives with blood, will rain down his vengeance as he did in the old days, and anyone who dares cross him had better be ready to die.

It had worked when he had taken out Moreau's entire goon squad; that message had kept any reprisals away from the team, because everyone knew who and what would be there to guard them. Even Moreau had taken no actions against the team, and he had had the chance – there could be no doubt about that.

Eliot was fairly sure Damien was just waiting for the right opportunity, because that's how Damien operated. Wait for an opening and then strike hard with everything necessary to finish the job.

That 'everything necessary' had once been Eliot himself.

So, no matter how Eliot twisted the situation in his mind, Gauthier still had to die. Maybe Amand had acted alone, in which case this would end the threat. But, more likely, Gauthier was working for someone else. Eliot thought it was not likely to have been on Moreau's orders, though it wasn't impossible. But there were a dozen Damien Moreaus in the world Eliot knew personally, and three times as many he knew only by reputation, and probably twice that he didn't even know existed.

Eliot had to stop this threat, by any means necessary. It was the only way to save the team. It was the only way to make sure they would be left alone.

"It's not about me," he said. "It's never been about me."

It was all about the team. Nate, Sophie, Hardison, Parker. Four people who meant absolutely everything. Four people for whom Eliot would burn down the world if necessary.

Now he was burning himself instead.

They would never forgive him for crossing this line. They would look at him the way Molly had, full of fear and horror. They would shy away from him, seeing the blood on his hands, knowing that he was not their friend and brother and protector and teddy bear – that he was a monster.

How long would it be until they were on a job and one of them would panic when they saw him fight? How quickly would they try to get away from him or avoid being left alone with him? How long would Nate be able to keep them working together when they would be waiting for Eliot to snap and kill again?

And he might – but never them. Never anyone who hid in his shadow and for whom he stood as shield. He might be a monster, but he would always be a monter who defended those in his wake...even when it meant murder to do so.

But they wouldn't know that, couldn't know that. They would be afraid of him.

And it would endanger them. The only way he could keep them safe was when he held their trust. This would be the end of that.

But it would save them.

And that was the only thing that mattered.

Eliot was willing to die for them. Killing for them was comparatively easy.

Losing them would not be.

But they would live. And Eliot would survive.

"Stay wherever you are," Eliot said. "You're too late. Don't make it worse than it has to be."

"Eliot!" Nate's voice was tense and just a touch frantic. "Don't! He's not worth it!"

Eliot knew that if Nate were here, the Mastermind would put a hand on Eliot's arm or shoulder, would hold him back physically if required. Would grab him as he'd grabbed him mid-sprint for Damien Moreau. Would meet Eliot's fire with that icy, steely calm. And it would work. Eliot would back down, would let Nate turn aside his fury and his violence. Would let Nate take back that leash again.

But Nate wasn't here. And that was the whole point.

"He's not worth it, Nate. You're right." Eliot could feel Nate breathing in relief. He hated to disappoint him, but there was no other way. "He's not worth it," he said again, "but you are."

And Eliot ended the call and took his shot.