A/N: Well, I had all the best intentions to get this chapter out a lot more quickly, especially with this shutdown stuff going on, but I was fortunate to be able to work from home full time although my schedule is all screwy...so writing didn't happen.
And then I found out, quite by accident, that one of my favorite fanfic writers passed away in April. I had no idea until a couple of weeks ago. She was known here as sapienlover, and over on AO3 as TheTetrarch. I won't say I knew her very well, only as a fellow Leverage fan and writer, but we had many wonderful conversations via PM here about our respective writings, and a few other things in life. She was certainly "windswept and interesting" and I will miss her greatly.
I dedicate this chapter to her since she never got to find out if Eliot gets over his stubborn self-destructive streak and accepts help from the team. Hm, maybe I should dedicate the remainder of this story to her since this chapter won't really answer that question at all, though I hope it does answer some questions.
Thanks for sticking with me!
The safehouse was dry, Nate would just have to accept that. He had been sidetracked from his quest for a drink earlier, after leaving a very irate Eliot to Parker's tender care. Maybe she could get something through his thick skull.
How long had it been since he'd had a drink? He must look a mess. But he'd forgotten all of that when Shelley had intercepted him to drop that bombshell about Eliot's past, and Nate had no doubts that Shelley was right to fear for his life for revealing what he did. Well hell. It all made complete sense now. Eliot was always so damn...confident. Self-assured. Steady. But what would Nate have expected? He knew better than to assume that PTSD was simply a fear of loud noises. But to realize the man's lone wolf attitude was rooted in guilt over the loss of an entire team. Hell. That first job they did..."Eliot. We are not friends." It sounded so petty to Nate now, like a playground scuffle.
He really wanted a drink.
Nate envied how Eliot managed to deal with whatever nightmares his past must throw at him. He never knew the man to drink to excess: Eliot was too paranoid to let his guard down like that, and too conscious of his own health and fitness to indulge beyond a beer or two with dinner. Nate didn't think he had it in himself to take up gardening or sparring or whatever else Eliot did to while away the long hours when the rest of the world slept like innocents. Nate knew he was only making excuses for himself, he was a coward and he hated himself for his weakness and sometimes, he hated Eliot for his strength.
Nate wasn't sure if what he and Eliot had now could be called friendship, but he needed Eliot as much as the rest of the team did. Eliot had a more level head than Nate. And he didn't hesitate to call Nate out when he got reckless. Nate needed that. He needed as many people as he could find who wouldn't hesitate to hold him accountable.
Nate leaned against the dining room door frame, silently mulling over his disjointed thoughts, while watching Hardison work. Did the kid never sleep? He was intent on something, and Nate had simply left him to it. He had, of course, overheard the yelling match in the back of Lucille, and caught the bit about the phone and how it could lead them to Atherton's family.
And that made Nate angry. Eliot must have known about this kidnapping at least as long as the team had...and he must know something about the circumstances...but all he gave Hardison was a phone. No other explanation. It was like he had already given up on retrieving the family safely. Maybe give them a proper burial. Damn it, Eliot. Had he been thinking at all rationally, he should have had the team involved from day one.
It shattered his confidence. Now that he'd had some time to think about Shelley's words, Nate could see that it was happening again: Eliot was giving up, pulling away. Backsliding. The pieces that comprised Eliot began slotting into place in Nate's mind...the puzzle filling in.
Hardison was exhausted, he assumed everyone else except Nate had gone to bed by now, but he was chasing something very important. His hands had stopped shaking some time ago, but all his energy was just...gone. That thing he'd said to Eliot, in the heat of that unreal moment in the snowstorm...he hadn't meant to reveal it so bluntly. Brothers. But he doubted Eliot had even processed what he'd said.
He dropped his head into his hands. He was such a fool.
Nate had been prowling in the kitchen behind him, probably for booze, but now he stepped up behind Hardison's chair. Perfect timing, as he'd just been about to call him over.
"I don't think they're dead, Nate."
He took a deep breath, pushed back his exhaustion and slid the computer over a bit to where Nate could see it better. "Atherton's family. Eliot thought they'd be dead but I don't think so...see this? I don't know who the kidnappers were, Eliot neglected to mention that, but the calls traced to this area of the docks an' I...Look, even I'm too tired to listen to my own rambling so suffice to say, I was just now able to tie some recent traffic in an' out of the area to...human trafficking. Maybe the kidnappers thought that would be more profitable than just killing them. Anyway, I'm sendin' everything I found about the operation to Bonnano. It's in his geographic jurisdiction. Barely. An' the kidnapping case is his."
Nate pulled out his phone and dialed. "Pat?"
Hardison could hear a very irate voice on the other end, but he couldn't make out words.
"Look Pat...Captain, okay Detective Captain, you're going to have to arrest and hang us later, okay? Yeah, I know. Not exactly in that order. Listen, Captain, Hardison is sending information your way about those missing people you mentioned..."
The voice on the other end picked up speed, became questioning.
"No, I can't tell you how we came about this...just call it an anonymous tip. Happy Birthday. Take lots of backup with you. Let me know how it works out." He hung up at the same time Hardison pressed SEND on his electronic packet of goodies for the Detective Captain.
"He didn't sound too happy."
"Yeah, I think next week's poker game is off." Nate sounded distracted, and Hardison glanced at him again. He was staring off across the kitchen at something only he could see.
Nate turned back toward him. "You found Eliot's military record."
"Well, the scrubbed one at least. Not the one with the juicy details. They wouldn't keep that anywhere hackable."
"Did it mention any family? Did you ever dig further into Eliot's past?"
"Well, yeah, a little. You know, back when we first got together. I wasn't just gonna take Dubenich at his word. 'Course, after I got to know Eliot better, I decided I preferred to have all ten fingers intact to knowing more about him."
"Did you ever see anything about family? He mentioned once that he had a nephew."
"Damn Nate, how'd you even remember that? I never though about it much, but there was no record of family at all...why you interested?"
"I don't know yet. Look, this..." he indicated the room at large and Hardison took that to mean their current predicament "is your priority, but when you get a chance...I want you to do some digging. Keep it quiet of course."
"'Of course'? Hell bruh, I enjoy having all my bones intact. If I find something, what are you going to do with it?"
"I...uh...don't know yet. Get some sleep." And then Nate was gone.
Eliot woke. Again hazy, again not entirely sure where he was at first. The fog lifted a bit more quickly this time, which was fortunate because at the same time he registered someone's hand on his shoulder, he also realized the hand belonged to friend and not foe.
Damnit, Parker. Didn't she understand the danger of touching him while he slept? And now with her hand on him, the moment he so much as twitched she'd be wide awake and hovering again. And he really needed to get up. Get up and get moving. Work his aches out, find Shelley and chew him out for his terrible handling of the situation. And most of all, get away from here before the team could do anything to stop him.
Thompson himself hadn't been among the mercenaries he'd nearly surrendered to yesterday, but Eliot knew he must be close by. He needed to find the little weasel and get some answers from him, find his connection to Moreau, find Moreau, and end this. And despite the fact it hadn't been his first choice, surrendering to Thompson's people would at least have gotten him closer to the man himself.
But instead his team, which had stupidly followed him into a miniature war on top of a mountain in the great and formerly peaceful state of Vermont, had dragged him farther from his goal. And not only that but they, no Hardison, had to go spewing that crap about brothers right there for everyone to hear, after everything Eliot had done to keep them all out of this, to keep the target off their heads and firmly on his own. Word would get to Thompson if he didn't already know, that there were people who were important to Eliot. As if Moreau knowing it wasn't bad enough already. There was a reason he almost never contacted people from his old life. It was for their own safety: he couldn't let them be used against him.
By all appearances, Parker was still sound asleep when Eliot glanced over at her, so he kept his breathing even and didn't move a muscle as he willed the last traces of fog out of his mind. He should not have let Parker convince him to take those damned fuzzy painkillers last night. It had not led to a good night at all. The physical pain may have been numbed, but his mind had remained much too active. Fuzzy half-dreams of the horrors that could be visited upon those people closest to him should they ever fall into Moreau's hands...and now, after Atherton's big revelation of the previous day, Eliot had Thompson to worry about as well.
His gaze drifted to the draped windows. The worst of the wind seemed to have blown itself out overnight, but the muted light through the drapes implied the storm wasn't over yet. What time was it? Early morning? Late afternoon? His internal clock was still screwed up. And he had to face the fact he couldn't do much on his own right now to escape the team if the weather wasn't clearing yet.
He really needed to get up. Nothing for it then. Eliot took a deep breath, bracing himself against the expected aches and began to work the pillows that were tucked around and under his right side out and knocked them off the edge of the bed. As expected, his movements woke Parker and she withdrew her hand from his shoulder, sitting up and just watching him as he slowly worked his legs off the bed, using them as a counter balance to help him sit up. He was glad she kept her distance because he was not sure he could muster enough energy to growl her away.
He sat still for a moment to let his vision and stomach settle, before deliberately pushing off from the bed to stand. Another brief rest to be sure his knees would hold, then he took the first staggering step toward a chair against the wall. He recognized his go bag from Lucille sitting on the chair, and was briefly disturbed that he didn't remember anyone bringing it into the room last night. Had he really been that out of it?
"Where are you going?" Parker finally spoke up and her voice, although quiet and more tempered than usual, came from very close behind him.
Eliot covered his shock with a curt and growled, "Where do ya think, Parker?"
He reached the chair and rummaged in his bag for clothes and shaving kit. He fumbled the kit twice, silently swearing to himself. He shouldn't have taken the painkillers. They had never agreed with him. Pain he'd learned to tolerate. Not so much a fuzzy mind, or impaired reflexes. Add to that, he'd taken them last night on an empty stomach, and he felt nauseous now, his stomach sour. He knew he needed to eat, but the thought of food held no appeal at all.
He finally managed to gather up the clothes and shaving kit and turned toward the master bath, three agonizingly long steps to his right. Parker shadowed him the entire way. At the doorway, he turned abruptly, blocking her from following him in.
"Nate said I'm not supposed to let you out of my sight."
"Then don't tell him you did." And Eliot shut the bathroom door firmly in her face, twisting the lock home with a satisfying click. He was under no illusion the flimsy door and lock would have a snowball's chance in hell of holding against Parker, but he hoped she got the message. He figured he had twenty minutes, half an hour tops, before she took it upon herself to conduct a welfare check. He'd have to make the most of the time.
Eliot found the tidied remains of the first aid kit from last night left on the countertop. Good, after his shower he'd redress his wounds on his own. He'd done it enough times prior to this. No need to lean on anyone else for help. The quicker he removed himself from the team and got back to solo work, the better. That was of course, if he even survived whatever Moreau had planned.
Twenty five minutes after locking himself in the bathroom, a showered, shaved, and slightly less irritable Eliot pulled the door open to find Parker standing in the very same spot he had left her, but now Sophie was behind her leaning against the bedroom door frame. Parker stepped aside and Eliot rolled his eyes as he brushed past Sophie on his way down the hall.
"Nate's making breakfast," Sophie's firm, no-nonsense admonition trailed him down the hallway, "so you have plenty of time for the explanations you owe us."
Like he was in any mood to cook for these freeloaders this morning anyway. Eliot could detect something that smelled like real food from the kitchen. At least Nate was not likely to poison them all inadvertently. He wasn't going to eat anything, but coffee seemed doable. And indeed, there was a full pot on the counter.
He poured himself a mug, black as could be, then turned and surveyed the dining table. When the team had meals together, especially when they were out of town on a case, at a restaurant among unfamiliar company, they would let Eliot choose his seat first. He'd choose the one with the best sight lines, and that gave him the most unfettered room to rise quickly and deal with any potential threat.
Thankfully, it had only ever been a precaution. Today though, he immediately noted the deliberateness with which they left him the absolute worst, most boxed-in seat at the table. Everyone but Nate had seated themselves while he poured coffee, and Nate was leaning over the only other available seat while serving up...omelettes? Of all things.
If he wanted to sit down before he fell down, Eliot would have to take the seat in the corner, leaving his teammates between himself and potential danger. It was backward.
He eyed the doorway into the main part of the house as he sat down, but Parker had the tactical advantage there. He was sure she wouldn't hesitate to use her taser on him if he tried to make a move for the door and freedom.
Then he noticed only the team was gathered in the room, so...
Nate scraped an omelette onto the plate in front of him despite Eliot trying to wave him away. "He said he had to go meet a contact. Wouldn't say anything more, other than his men are still watching the perimeter, and we'll be safe. He's...ah...he's very loyal to you."
Nate's comment invited an explanation, but Eliot was not about to spill. He settled for his default neutral-homicidal expression. "He's an idiot and a sellout."
"Now Eliot, don't blame him for our actions." Sophie took a sip of her own coffee, entirely too nonchalant over the entire mess. The smell of Nate's omelette finally reached Eliot's nose and he almost gagged. Nate was a decent enough cook, Eliot was sure the omelette was fine, but he just couldn't stomach the thought of eating it. He sipped his coffee to cover his reaction, but Parker was watching him closely.
He set his coffee cup down and cleared his throat. "Yeah. Your actions."
But before he could begin to rail against them, Nate broke in. "No, Eliot. Your actions. You didn't think to share your plan for our safety with us? What exactly did you hope to accomplish?"
The others had mostly finished their breakfasts and Hardison, seated across from Eliot, was eying Eliot's untouched plate. The kid always had been a bottomless pit so Eliot, thoroughly disgusted with the thought of food, shoved his plate across the table and Hardison reached for it. But Eliot's attention was focused entirely on Nate.
"I was hoping to keep you all safe! But you, you smug SOB, dragged them in anyway!"
He rounded on Sophie. "And you...you're supposed to be the level-headed one...what the hell is wrong with you?!"
Sophie opened her mouth for a retort, but she never got the chance. Parker reached across the table and yanked Eliot's plate forcefully away from Hardison, sparking a separate argument, and at the same time Nate pounded hard on the table. "Stop!"
The room went silent immediately, all eyes on Nate, except for Parker who, glaring, slid the plate back in front of Eliot and hissed, "Eat!"
Nate took a deep breath. "Just...stop. Everyone stop for a minute. Okay. We clearly need a reset."
He turned to look directly at Eliot. "We all need a reset. And yes, you need to eat." Eliot stared as his plate. Nate was correct about that at least. He wasn't doing his body any favors by starving it. He picked up his fork, took a small bite. Chewed, swallowed, and it stayed down. He took another bite. Nate's cooking wasn't half bad, but he wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of telling him so.
"We're here together now, Eliot. Caught up in this for better or for worse. How about just filling us in?"
Eliot ate slowly and considered. Fine. If they wouldn't stay out of this, he'd just have to watch over them himself. And if that meant letting them help for now, so be it. He'd give them just enough information that they could help without being a hindrance, and he'd protect them with his life, if necessary. Like always. And he could still count on Shelley. And hadn't Eliot found himself missing Hardison's electronic talents? Now he had that back, and he had Shelley and whoever Shelley had brought with him, along with all the resources they could bring to bear. Of course, that just meant there were more people involved who could get killed because of him. Just lovely.
Maybe...maybe it could help having them around, for now. But whatever Moreau had planned for his end game, they could not be involved. And he'd have to completely sever ties with them soon anyway. Whatever happened, his past was coming too close to his present, and despite what he had said to Parker back there in DC, he did not ever want to tell them what he had done. Back then, he had known they respected him too much to ever ask, but now? Now, all bets were off.
For now, if they wanted to help, so be it. He stared at his empty plate.
"Where do you want me to start?"
Nate folded his hands on the table and leaned over them. "Let me go over a few things first and you correct me if I'm wrong."
Eliot's expression remained noncommittal, but Nate knew Sophie was also watching him closely.
"You got word before we did that Moreau somehow managed a grand, showy escape from prison. We're guessing your friend the General gave you the head's up. Fair enough. You then determined it would be better for you to suddenly disappear and leave us some cryptic recorded 'goodbye' message delivered by someone we don't know from Adam, as if that could keep us out of your business..."
He waited, but Eliot didn't rise to the bait.
"You are a great tactician, Eliot. Your planning and strategizing when it comes to security on our jobs is usually spot on. But you...you have to admit Eliot, when it comes to our safety you sometimes get a little...well...impulsive."
That got a rise from him. "Impulsive. I sometimes get impulsive?! You were the ones who tasered and kidnapped Shelley!"
"Eliot," Sophie reached over and patted his arm. "You are loved by four highly paranoid and very protective criminals. It's what we do." Eliot snatched his arm away.
Nate pressed on. "Obviously, we were going to figure out the situation sooner or later. And we have been monitoring what we can...but it seems Moreau hasn't made any moves against us - Hardison has continued to monitor our building - and I don't think you've managed to move against Moreau. It's as though he's completely dropped off the face of the earth. Am I right so far?"
Eliot didn't deny anything.
"So that brings us to Atherton, and a bunch of North Koreans. Are they connected or is it coincidence?"
"Yeah, and why did the safe house you an' I set Atherton an' his family up in explode? With. You. In. It?" Hardison leaned back with crossed arms.
Eliot sighed and glanced away. Something seemed to be niggling at his conscience. "What about the dogs?"
"Dogs? Yeah...Pat - Captain Bonnano - asked me if you owned any dogs, some little fluffy things..." Nate shaped out their size with hand motions, and Hardison snerked into his mug of coffee.
"...apparently, there were four of them hanging around when the first responders showed up...said the dogs were guarding you, and they ended up having to call in animal control to collect them before they could even get near you."
Hardison sniggered again, then was hit with a coughing fit.
Eliot glared at him. "They were Atherton's dogs. The people who kidnapped his family had locked 'em in the closet. I just let 'em out."
Nate smirked then, ready to drop the bombshell on Eliot. "Yes, Bonnano already asked for them to be released from animal control to the family."
He could see it took a moment for the meaning of this to register with Eliot. And when he saw the news finally sink in, he continued.
"I received a message not long ago from Bonnano. Atherton's wife and daughters were located and rescued early this morning. They're unharmed, relatively."
Eliot opened his mouth, got hung up on the first word, cleared his throat, forced himself to maintain eye contact with Nate.
"How...how'd he know where to look?"
Shelley spoke up then, from the doorway. Eliot didn't seem to have noticed the man's entrance, which Nate found concerning. "Well, there was this crazy-ass colonel who just happened to have an idle spy satellite lying around..." Shelley then gestured at Hardison, "...but it was mainly a very determined hacker. You once told me we should use every asset at our disposal, Eliot."
"Was there a man named Thompson with them?"
"Bonnano didn't say, but he is interrogating the human traffickers who were holding Atherton's family. Bonnano's good. He'll get answers. If he chooses to share them with us is another matter. We're not exactly in his best graces right now, after the stunt you and Parker pulled at the hospital."
Nate noticed Shelley was watching Eliot very closely. It seemed they were not the only people Eliot hadn't been entirely truthful with. Shelley pushed off the door frame he was leaning against and approached the table, stopping next to Nate. "Thompson,Eliot? What's Thompson got to do with this? He's dead. Eliot? it's time to come clean with us. What's going on here?"
Asset. Eliot hated that word, breaking living breathing people down to little tally marks on a white board. Listed next to counts of bullets and trucks and helicopters. And he hated how Hardison had not looked at all smug about the 'very determined hacker' comment. And he hated how the team seemed to have won over Shelley.
Nate stared hard at Eliot. Most people wouldn't dare try to stare Eliot Spencer down. Nate wasn't most people. And Eliot felt the hair prickle on the back of his neck. He took a deep breath.
"It all started with this monkey statue...only, I didn't know it back then..."
Eliot proceeded to tell of his Army days, not every detail certainly, but just enough that they could understand the type of work he had done.
"My SO answered to Atherton. Back then, he was a greedy scum-sucking SOB...pretty much the same as when we encountered him last year. He ordered us on a mission, and made us take this other guy along, Thompson, who was unproven. Short of it is: Thompson sold us out, and we were ambushed. I coulda sworn he got himself killed which was fine with me, but I guess I was wrong." He deliberately left out the part about everyone else getting killed as well. No way they needed to know that.
He risked a glance around the table. Shelley had pulled up a chair next to Nate, and he seemed to be sharing surreptitious glances with him and Sophie. Hardison and Parker were hanging on his every word.
"I didn't know 'til later that he was after this monkey statue. It's, um, Incan...maybe earlier, carved outta some ultra rare jade...anyway, it's considered almost priceless an'..."
"Cursed?" Nate broke in. "I recall reading about this monkey statue years ago. It supposedly carries a curse worse than the curse of the pharaohs?"
"Yeah, somethin' like that. The 'curse' is part of what makes it so valuable and desired. Some people believe in the curse, which is supposed to be more like a curse upon the enemies of the bearer of the monkey, not against the owner of it. So, the people who actually believe that...that's why they want it, for the power they think it could bring 'em. But most people simply want it so they can sell it. That was Atherton's deal, greed for money, not power. That was the whole point of the mission he sent us on...so Thompson would have a shot at gettin' hold of it. He never did, 'cause it wasn't where it was supposed to be, and he barely escaped with his sorry hide." By the time Eliot realized their entire mission was nothing but smoke and mirrors, they had already been surrounded. Images of that day came unbidden to mind, and his hand shook a little as he raised his coffee cup again to his lips. The coffee was stone cold.
"That monkey, if it's the same one, turned up some years ago at the British museum...I remember considering making a move for it, purely for the money of course, but every time I started planning the job I just...well, it felt...wrong." Sophie shuddered a little "And anyway, the monkey wasn't very attractive, for all that it was valuable. I like prettythings. Parker, did you ever try for it?"
"No. I don't like monkeys." She glanced around. "They're always hanging around and climbing on things, dropping down on people from above...what? They're creepy!" Hardison blinked at her, but refrained from saying anything.
"So back on topic..." Nate signaled for attention. "Back on topic. The monkey DID disappear from the museum a while back. Did Atherton finally get a hold of it?"
"No, I...retrieved it for...when I was working for Moreau. I don't think he ever believed it had a real curse, but he was definitely willing to use the belief in the curse to his advantage if the opportunity ever arose. He kept it stashed away with his other antiquities, kind of like a massive rainy day fund."
"And somebody's been raiding those stashes." Nate looked at Eliot expectantly. "I keep up to date on international news, and not just mainstream media, the smaller outlets. There's a pattern developing. Antiquities being 'found' and returned to their countries of origin...the stories are seemingly unconnected but there have been a lot of them recently."
"Yeah...Flores an' I have been keepin' our Italian friend busy...keeps her outta trouble if she has a job to do." Eliot stopped to gather his thoughts. Hardison placed a fresh cup of black coffee in front of him. He hadn't even noticed the kid getting up. God, he was worn out.
"That explosion? That was Atherton tryin' to get our attention, since we didn't leave him a calling card. He got himself in some trouble thinkin' Moreau was gone for good. He musta known the location of a few of Moreau's antiquities stashes an' he tried getting the North Koreans interested. Shelley, that old man you ran up against...he's the representative of an old crime family in North Korea. He an' Atherton have been close for a long time, but Atherton never had the shrewdness to know when he was being used.
"From what I gathered, the old man blew him off when he inquired. But he's definitely interested in the monkey because the family believes Moreau owes them for the destruction of the Ram's Horn last year. They were the high bidder and Moreau took their money and ran to San Lorenzo."
Nate was nodding. The team had figured that much out on their own. "Now Moreau's out, the Koreans are looking for him, cut out Atherton as middle man. So then Atherton..."
"Hired Thompson and his little private army to fetch the monkey for him. Just like old times." Eliot paused again. Here was the key, the little spark that had set off so much.
"The place where he sent Thompson...The Italian's people were setting up a raid at the same time. There was a firefight, and they both lost people. I found out from Atherton before he was killed that that was when Thompson turned against him, and took his family to force the location of the monkey from him. Atherton had nothin' left. He hired some people to do the only thing he could think of to get our attention."
Nate had leaned back in his seat, absorbing everything Eliot told them. He was sure the mastermind was rolling all those details over and over in his mind, polishing and slotting them together, just like he did for a regular con. His expression however, indicated one or more of those pieces still had jagged edges.
Anticipating Nate's next question, Eliot asked it for him. "Why would Moreau, after escaping the way he did, just sit back and let his stashes be raided?"
Nate nodded. "We need to solidify the timeline, figure out how Moreau's escape is related, because the timing can not be coincidental. And talk to General Flores. See if he has any updates besides what little has been released to the local media. Did you tell us everything, Eliot?"
There was that stare again. Eliot tried hard not to blink. "Atherton didn't just want our help...he...traded me to Thompson as his last ditch effort to get his family back. But I figured...once Thompson had me, he'd have no use for Atherton at all and a guy like that, even if Atherton had known where the monkey was and given it to him right away, Thompson woulda just killed him anyway. Either way, no reason to keep the family alive at all." Eliot realized he was rambling.
"Except to sell them, apparently. The information I dug up last night, that we gave to Bonnano, says this Thompson guy had ties to human trafficking. He had a use for Atherton's family, alright."
"Bonnano gets credit for the huge bust, but Eliot," Sophie placed a hand on his arm again. "You were ready to simply write them off. You're not like that. You fight until there is no fight left in you. How did you miss this?"
There was no accusation on the faces of his teammates, but Eliot's heart sank. What Sophie had said was true. Any other time, any other case, he would have pursued the matter to the ends of the earth. Not matter these people were the family of his enemy. They were innocent of Atherton's wrongdoings and he had given up all hope for them. He was too focused on his rage over Thompson, his fear over Moreau...what else might he miss now that he'd resigned himself to letting the team in on this? How could he protect them when he didn't quite trust his own judgment any more?
"And what we came across yesterday, Eliot? You tryin' to surrender? What's that about?" Hardison was leaning as far forward over the table as he could, and Eliot was reminded of his yelling about brothers and how that had suddenly put a huge red target on Hardison's back.
"I...couldn't run any more. An' I thought, maybe he might know something about Moreau. There has to be a connection. Maybe I could turn the tables, escape later..." That explanation felt hollow to his own ears and he let himself trail off. No one else filled the silence.
After a few moments, Hardison slid a phone across the table toward him. "Here. Figured you'd need a new one to call the General."
The others had drifted away from the table after that, guessing correctly that Eliot wouldn't want an audience for his check-in call with Flores. He finally had some blessed peace, but he couldn't let himself forget that he was still in a room of the safehouse with no doors to the outside, and no windows that were able to open. The team was still between him and any exits. He was still stuck with them.
For a short while Eliot just sat still, trying to wrap his mind around the events of the last few days, and how everything had ended up here. He tried to find bits and pieces, any clues he might have missed that could finally link the chain of events that Atherton had set off to Moreau's escape. Had Moreau had contact with the outside world, despite Flores' assurances it could not be so? Had he heard of the raids on his stashes and that became the final straw? But again, why escape only to lie low?
His mind refused to still, and Eliot gave up trying to force the puzzle pieces together. He dialed Flores' number.
"Commander! I've been concerned that I could not reach you. How is your progress?"
"Not that good. Somethin' else has come up here that may or may not be connected. Do you have any updates?" Flores would know not to press for details on his end. Eliot would share them if he deemed them relevant.
"We know now how Moreau survived the explosion, and likely how he has eluded us, but we still do not know where he is now."
Eliot waited while Flores gathered his thoughts.
"I apologize, my friend. This was a major oversight, but Vittori's new government has been working very hard not only to rebuild San Lorenzo's democracy and to regain the trust of its citizens, but also on such seemingly insignificant tasks as sorting out official documents. That was a mess, under Ribera's...er...administration."
If Eliot didn't know any better, he'd have thought Flores was...flustered and therefore, rambling. Or stalling.
"What're you gettin' at, General?"
"The Tombs were originally part of a series of tunnels and catacombs under our city, much like those in Rome and Paris. We knew that, and we knew access to the deeper reaches had been sealed off long ago...what we didn't know was the extent of the original catacombs, and even tunnels that criss cross our capitol city. The 'official' maps were terribly incorrect and misleading."
"No doubt deliberate on Ribera's part, so Moreau could use the tunnel systems for his own purposes, should he ever want to. 'Course, with Ribera in charge, he really had no need to circumvent the law...they were just another backup plan."
"Indeed, Commander. Once the rubble of our Parliament building had been sufficiently cleared, which took time, we found evidence those old sealed tunnels had been opened prior to the explosions. The attack came from underneath. They opened the tunnel, freed Moreau, returned to the tunnels, and detonated the bombs they left behind."
"Efficient, and almost certain to cover their tracks since the charges should have collapsed and sealed the tunnels behind them." Eliot found himself clenching the fist not holding his phone. How had they missed this in their planning? Ribera might have hidden or destroyed the original maps, but Eliot should have known such catacomb and tunnel systems were common as mud in that region of the world! Damnit all.
"Yes, but it does explain how he made it to Ribera's estate for his little visit without being caught. I have people searching now underground, but it is a slow and dangerous project. Some of the tunnels are unstable, and we have found very few of the original maps. We are going about this nearly blind."
"I understand General...be careful." He gave Flores the number for his new phone.
"You as well, my friend."
Eliot was restless. He wandered the house from room to room, working the stiffness out of his muscles, getting the blood flowing again. He wasn't exactly being shadowed but one member of his team or another would invariably show up wherever he happened to be. It was annoying to say the least, and he finally stepped out onto the back patio heedless of the chill, simply needing fresh air and space. The storm had all but passed by now, but he'd given up the idea of simply running away again. At least for now.
"Is it really cursed?" Parker spoke from behind him.
"Does it matter, Parker? It's enough that there're people who believe it. Remember that fake psychic? That belief can drive up the value of something to where people are willin' to kill for it.
"Yeah." Parker leaned on the patio railing next to him, looking out over the empty snow-covered field to the tree line beyond. Eliot knew Shelley was true to his word. Some of the finest soldiers to be found anywhere in the world were out there right now freezing their asses off to protect him and the team, no questions asked and no money exchanged. For these people, unlike those following Thompson, loyalty wasn't bought. It was earned.
Parker seemed to want to say more but she didn't, and the silence stretched between them, until the patio door slid open again.
"It seems to me maybe we could draw Thompson in...if all he wants is the statue, why not give it to him?"
"Ain't happenin', Nate. It's off the table because it's too damn dangerous! 'Sides, it's not accessible."
"Ah, so you do know where it is." Nate leaned over the railing as well, on Parker's other side.
"Never said I didn't." He turned and leaned backward against the railing instead, to include Sophie and Hardison, lingering in the warmth from the open door. "I said it's inaccessible. I didn't want it to fall into anyone's hands, 'specially not our Italian friend, so I...took care of it...after we put Moreau away."
"Wait, you don't mean...you didn't like, drop it down a volcano or somethin' did ya?! All by yoreself? Man, I coulda been your Sam! Your SAM, Eliot!"
"What the hell are you talkin' about, Hardison? The hell's wrong with you now?" The hacker's inane ramblings were giving Eliot a headache worse than usual.
"You know what? Jus', no. There's no reasonin' with you at all man. At all, you don't know that reference!" Hardison crossed his arms and glared in a fair attempt at disappointment.
"Wait, you're saying you essentially destroyed a priceless artifact? Destroyed?!"
"Um, Sophie, 'cursed,' remember? A cursed artifact! I'm good with destroyin' that! But, why did you never mention it before?" Hardison glared at Eliot again.
"Seriously? I wasn't about to tell four thieves, especially Parker, about a priceless, possibly-cursed monkey statue!"
"Hey! I already said I don't like monkeys!" Their discussion devolved into yelling again, the essence of which included Hardison explaining to Parker that Eliot had not known at the time that she didn't like monkeys, and Sophie again railing against the destruction of A. Priceless. Artifact. And Nate once again motioning for quiet.
"The problem here Eliot, is that your instinct any time Moreau is in the picture, is to rush headlong in without letting us help until we press you into it..."
"You were just fine with leavin' the warehouse in DC with the Italian when I told ya to!"
The smug bastard remained calm, damn him. "That's different Eliot, and you know it. Here, there's time to plan, and we're giving Thompson that monkey. Parker, do you still have whatever it is you stole in San Lorenzo?" Parker smiled that smile which was known to strike fear into the hearts of sane people everywhere.
"I'm not your damned gofer, Ford!" Shelley looked askance at the paper Nate had just unceremoniously tried to shove into his hands. "The hell is that stuff for, anyway?"
"Well, if you're not willing to go, could we possibly borrow your Jeep? Or, you know, better idea..." Ford turned toward the hacker. "Why don't you and I just take Lucille into town, drop her at a body shop for repairs while we run our errands? It's just some minor cosmetic work, shouldn't take too long." Hardison nodded agreeably.
Shelley snatched the paper from Ford's hands with a glare. "I hate you all. I have no idea why Eliot puts up with you."
Ford smiled and ducked in front of him as he turned toward the door to the garage. "Oh, you'll have to take Parker with you...there are some things you might not be able to...acquire...on your own."
"No. Absolutely not. Hell no!" He opened the door and flicked on the light in the garage. The little psycho thief was already seated in his Jeep. In the driver's side. "Hey! Get outta there!"
"It's okay, Shelley." He turned to see Eliot, leaning heavy in the door way. "She'll behave. Right, Parker?" Eliot seemed satisfied by her grin and nod. Shelley's heart plummeted into his stomach.
"Fine. But you're NOT driving!" The girl pouted as she slid across to the passenger side. Shelley got in behind the wheel.
"Oh, Shelley?" Eliot stepped further into the garage. "On the back of Nate's list are some groceries we need...don't forget them."
"There is plenty of food here already!" He glanced down at the list. "How much food do you think you need?! You are NOT cooking dinner for an army, here!"
"Like hell I ain't. I know these guys haven't been eatin' properly, and the pre-packaged stuff here in the safehouse can't really be considered food. Also, MREs might serve in a pinch, but they ain't very appetizing, so you'll be taking some of what I cook out to your men in the woods. Hear me?"
Shelley shook his head in surrender, and started the Jeep.