"Scott," Eliot says. "Been a while."
Hardison wonders what Eliot's doing in his bedroom. His head is pounding, the room is spinning, and he does not remember having plans to go drinking with Eliot last night.
Actually, wait. Hardison can't remember last night at all. And since when was his mattress this hard and cold?
"How you been, man?" Eliot asks, in what is not actually a friendly tone at all.
Hardison opens his eyes.
This is…a weird dream, if he's lucky. He has nightmares sometimes, true, and yeah, enclosed spaces have been a popular feature the past couple of years, held over by popular demand from his subconscious, but this looks a lot like the inside of a shipping container, which is new.
The fact that he's handcuffed to Eliot? That's new too. (Well, if Hardison's honest, it's happened. But the shipping container and the arc light in his eyes and the guys with the guns make it at least a cross-genre crossover, and probably not in the good way.)
"Oh, you know," Scott—Hardison assumes that one must be Scott—answers. "Keeping busy."
"New job?" Eliot asks.
"Don't need one," Scott says. "There's a coup going on in San Lorenzo, didn't you hear?"
Hardison's hungover neurons all fire simultaneously, which doesn't actually lead to much in the way of a useful reaction. Eliot squeezes his wrist once, short and firm enough Hardison feels the bones move. It's a lot more reassuring than it should be.
The goons who aren't Scott are standing well back, behind the harsh light of the arc lamp, so Hardison can't see their faces as well as he'd like. He's pretty sure the guy on the right smirks a little. The goon doesn't lower his gun, though. Hardison can see the barrel facing him like an unblinking eye. He wishes he still thought this was a dream.
"Wow," Eliot says. "Sounds like a big day. How'd you get sidelined? You scratch his car again, or what?"
So much for playing it friendly. Eliot always knows what he's doing, and Hardison's heard all about the effective range of handguns by now. Eliot needs them in his reach, that's clear. But Scott's the only one reacting to Eliot's words—the others seem prepared to hold their aim forever—and even he doesn't step any closer.
"I asked for this detail," Scott says. "I've been looking forward to it."
"Aw. You missed me?" Eliot asks. "I don't still owe you for the thing in Monaco, do I? No, wait. You owe me—Macao, remember? Baccarat?"
"I remember," Scott says. "You and me and Hans and Sasha. That was a good night."
Hardison waits for Eliot to say something—he's not sure of the goal here but talking is better than shooting any day, at least until these guys give Eliot the opening he needs.
"Uh, Hans and Sasha, I presume?" Hardison says, gesturing to the other goons with his free hand, then giving them a little wave. They don't wave back.
"They were in the warehouse," Eliot says, too quiet.
"Oh, you did notice," Scott says. "I wondered. Didn't slow you down any."
"No," Eliot agrees.
Hardison's not sure what they're talking about, but he knows it ain't good. Eliot's tense enough Hardison can feel it coming through the cuffs, and if looks could kill, well, this whole encounter would be over already.
Speaking of which, Eliot's going to have a lot easier time if they're at least on their feet, and he's acutely aware that he's probably the reason they aren't. He pushes himself up, a little clumsy with the handcuffs—which actually look more like shackles, now that he's got a better view. Still, they have actually done this before.
This time Eliot doesn't crack any jokes.
"So what's the plan?" Hardison asks, breaking the silence. "A little torture between old friends, or…?"
It's probably a little insulting that Scott looks surprised to hear from him.
"You know we took your boss down like twice already, right?" Hardison hears himself say.
"It wasn't even hard," Eliot puts in, lying easily.
"We noticed," Scott says. "Your boss made sure of that. And you're right; this is a busy day. Busy week, actually. I voted for torture anyway—you know me, Eliot. But Damien's the boss for a reason."
He pats his pockets with the hand not holding the gun, miming a search.
"Which reminds me," Scott says, looking directly at Hardison. "Damien was pretty impressed with you. Our tech guy couldn't even figure out how you worked things back in San Lorenzo. So we got a new one. Oh, here it is."
"It" turns out to be a little box, about the size of a CB radio handset. Scott clicks it on, and Hardison steels himself.
"Hello, Eliot," Damien Moreau says. "I'm terribly sorry I couldn't be there in person."
"I can wait," Eliot says.
Moreau's laugh is just a little tinny. Hardison would have built in better sound quality.
"But sadly I cannot," Moreau says. "That Nate Ford you've attached yourself to has built quite reputation in such a short time. I'm afraid I have to give him the credit of taking steps to ensure your new team is distracted."
He doesn't have them. Parker is safe. Nate and Sophie are safe. Hardison feels a rush of relief so deep he has to lock his knees.
"And you did get at least two?"
"Alec Hardison," Scott confirms.
"Ah. The '24-year-old genius with a smartphone and a problem with authority.' Ideal. Nice work as usual, Scott."
"Thank you," Scott says.
Hardison suppresses the ridiculous temptation to point out that Moreau's been in prison for years now and he's not 24 anymore. Time must fly when you're locked up.
"Then we have everyone we really need to punish, wouldn't you say?"
"Yes, sir," Scott says.
"And you're ready to go?" Moreau asks.
"One moment, sir."
Scott nods at the gunman on his left, and the man steps out of the container. He leaves the door open. Hardison tries, but with the light in his eyes, he can't make out anything but vague shapes—maybe more containers. The goon is back in seconds, carrying a cloth bag the size of one of Sophie's carry-ons. Hardison's mouth goes dry.
The goon sets the bag inside the door almost casually, then pulls his gun and resumes his stance.
"Ready," Scott says.
Scott motions, and the goon who'd carried the bag steps toward Hardison, gun steady. Hardison could probably see his face now, but he can't take his eyes off that dark barrel. This is it. The end. He should be grateful it'll only be the two of them, and he is, in some far-off, rational corner of his mind. He should be sad for Eliot, and he is. But those are background thoughts, and what's taking up 90 percent of his CPU right now is "No."
He's not ready for this.
When it comes, the shot is as loud as a punch and not painful at all. The sound richochets off the steel walls, and the shackle digs into his wrist with sudden sharpness, and Eliot is down and Hardison is…is fine. The shackle's pulled him into a crouch, the barrel of the gun still points at him, but Scott is smiling and Eliot is on his knees, folded over like he's taken one of his own hits.
The blood is already seeping out between Eliot's hands.
Scott studies Eliot for a few seconds, then raises the comm again.
"That should do it," he says.
"Seems a bit anticlimactic," Moreau sighs. "But nothing was ever going to be good enough for you, Eliot, was it?"
Eliot is still curled around himself, pulling Hardison half sideways by his wrist. He's panting rapidly, letting out audible grunts of pain. Hardison's pretty sure that's the Eliot version of screaming.
So Hardison answers instead. "Killing us won't save you, Moreau. You're just making sure Nate won't ever let you go."
"Well, true," Moreau said. "Killing you, satisfying as it would be, doesn't meet my needs right now. That's why you're alive. You even have a chance to stay that way. Scott, be a dear and explain, would you? I'm afraid my schedule is a bit full today."
Scott lowers the radio, flips a switch, and tosses it aside. Hardison hears it skitter against a wall somewhere behind the lamp.
"Five minutes out of every hour, this is a direct line to Nathan Ford's cellphone," he says. "This hour, that starts now, so you might want to grab it. Oh, and there's medical supplies in the bag."
He looks at Eliot again, assessing. "You're going to need the QuickClot in the side pocket. Good luck."
And lock the door behind them.
"Okay," Hardison says, because the quiet would be unnerving except it isn't quiet, not with Eliot making those harsh little sounds. "What are our assets?"
The radio, for one.
They have five minutes to talk to Nate, and the radio is…somewhere over there. Hardison can't risk missing the window, not with Eliot's blood soaking into his sleeve. Not when he has no idea where they even are or how long it's been since they were taken.
The first aid kit, for another.
Hardison's not sure—he's not the damn medic on this team—but he thinks that might be more urgent than the radio. Eliot's conscious, but he's still not actually responding to anything, and he's losing a terrifying amount of blood. Of course, the radio's real. The first aid kit could contain anything.
What else does he have? Himself—for all the good his hacking skills can do in a bare-ass shipping container. Eliot, who's probably been in worse spots, hard as that is to believe. The light, still on, thank you, sweet baby Jesus.
"Can you move?" he asks, because nothing they need is in reach. Of course.
"Mmph," Eliot grunts, louder than the huffs he's been trying to smother.
Hardison's not sure if that's meant to a be a yes or not, but Eliot's never failed to do whatever he has to, and Hardison just hopes he ain't starting now.
"We need those supplies," Hardison tells him.
"Comm," Eliot grunts.
Hardison hesitates. Eliot's the expert here, but Hardison's not sure how much Eliot's registering right now.
Too late. Eliot pushes himself up, crumples, then drops into a crawl while Hardison's still trying to work out the best way to help him. It's slow going. Hardison still hasn't had a good look at the wound—he opens another six mental tabs about that, trying to scrape together everything he knows about first aid—but he's pretty sure that if he'd been the one shot, Eliot would have had to carry him.
As it is, he can barely help. Handcuffs are going to be priority…well, priority three, after first aid and communications. In the meantime, Hardison matches his pace to Eliot, trying not to notice the trail of bloody handprints on the metal floor.
When they get there, Eliot collapses on his side, biting his lip and breathing sharply through his nose. Hardison fumbles for the radio. It's got a single switch, no label.
He flips the switch. Nothing happens, and there's no light to show it's working. Hardison holds his breath. Eliot doesn't—he's still panting like he's run a race, and oh God, what if there's no air in here—but he gives Hardison a frustrated look, like he thinks Hardison's just fucking around wasting time or something.
"Hello?" Hardison says. "Nate?"
A few clicks, some static. Then, "Hardison? What did you do to my phone? No, never mind. Just get back here."
"That's gonna be a problem," Hardison says.
"Well, solve it," Nate snaps. "There's something happening in San Lorenzo. Is Eliot still with you?"
"Yes," Hardison says. "But he's hurt—Moreau's guys took us, Nate. We're in a shipping container. I don't know where. They shot Eliot."
A pause. The sound quality changes; Nate's putting them on speaker.
"How bad is it?" Nate asks, calm as ever.
The words gut shot hover on Hardison's tongue, refusing to form.
"Bad," Hardison says instead. "Can you track this?"
"Small caliber," Eliot says, like Nate won't be able to hear the strain in his voice. "Nate, he wants you to come for us. It's a trap."
"He left you a phone?"
"Assume they're listening," Hardison says, answering the real question. "He said we get five minutes, every hour. I'm not sure—we might lose you anytime. Listen, even if it's a trap, Eliot needs help now."
"Did they drive you?" Parker's talking fast, tense and focused. "Fly? Can you hear anything outside?"
"We woke up here," Hardison says. "I don't even know how they took us. I don't hear anything, but with the gunshot…"
"We're on a boat," Eliot grunts. "But…drugs…Woke up…15 minutes ago, maybe?"
"You left here three hours ago. Anything—"
Hardison flicks the switch a few times anyway, calling Nate's name. No good. And Eliot's getting paler by the second. Time to move again. Hardison's brain's finally starting to clear, at least; either the drugs are wearing off or the shock of it all is fading, or maybe it was just the determination in Parker's voice.
He pulls Eliot into a half-hug and lifts. Eliot fumbles, trying to get his legs to support him, and Hardison pulls him tighter, taking most of the weight and trying not to notice the way Eliot's trembling. Or the warmth of the blood soaking through his shirt.
They don't have as far to go this time, but when Hardison sets Eliot down, slow and gentle as he can manage, the other man's eyes are glassy. Hardison hopes it's just the pain and not the next stage of shock.
There's a canister in the side pocket, just as Scott said, but it's got a chemical label Hardison doesn't recognize. He pulls it open anyway.
He's not sure what he'd been expecting—maybe something like the styptic pencil he keeps in his medicine cabinet. What he finds is powdered clay.
"This is it, right?" he asks, shoving it in Eliot's face. "This is what you need?"
Eliot nods, grimacing.
"Do I just pour it on?"
Eliot nods, then presses his eyes closed. "Yuh," he pants. "Use a lot of it. More than you think. Then…put it on some gauze…pack it…in there."
Hardison digs into the bag. It is full of supplies. Gauze, some plastic packets of water, bandages…even some blunt edged scissors. Either Moreau's underestimating them, or he thinks there's no way they can use this stuff to get out.
Well, Moreau's underestimated them before. Hardison will take inventory as soon as he gets a chance.
He pulls up Eliot's shirt, finally getting a look at the wound. It's small, he thinks. Smaller than he'd expected, anyway. It's low on Eliot's torso, off-center. The edges shift with Eliot's breaths, and blood oozes from it steadily. Hardison swallows back bile.
"Gonna hurt," Eliot mutters. "Don't freak out."
Which is the opposite of reassuring.
"Okay," he tells Eliot. "Here goes."
Eliot turns his face into his arm. Hardison can see muscles in Eliot's stomach spasm as they try to tense around the wound. Jesus, he can see the muscles in the hole. His hand shakes. Carefully, he tips some of the powder into the wound.
His back arches off the ground as he swipes blindly at Hardison's hand, pushing it aside, spilling more of the powdery stuff into the wound, then the floor.
Hardison pushes Eliot down with his cuffed hand, trying to hold him still. Eliot is spasming, still screaming, and his hand finds Hardison's and squeezes.
"Good," Hardison yelps, trying to sound encouraging and hoping Eliot doesn't break his hand. "Doing good, man."
It takes Eliot a full minute to relax his hand into something resembling a death grip. His face is a rictus of agony.
I did that, Hardison thinks. He feels his eyes burn with tears and blinks them back.
"Need…more," Eliot pants.
"Eliot," Hardison says. More is the last thing Eliot needs.
And if Hardison doesn't stop the bleeding, that's literally going to be true.
"Don't…don't do it slow…Please."
Hardison hesitates. He can't do it. Nate will find them. Parker's going to open that door and Eliot will have real help, painkillers, doctors, surgery. Hardison believes that with every fiber of his being. He does.
He just…doesn't believe it'll be in time.
He pours the powder on the wound.
Eliot's scream rattles off the container walls. Again, his back arches, his body shudders.
Hardison feels a tear slip down his own cheek and wipes it off with the back of his hand.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
But he doesn't stop. He rips open a bandage and a packet of gauze and pushes hard against the wound. Eliot jerks a little at the pressure, still moaning into his own shoulder. As quickly as he can, Hardison covers the wound, taping it down.
Eliot's still now. Too still. Hardison can see little half moons of white at the bottom of his half-shut eyes. He takes Eliot's wrist, looking for a pulse, then realizes he can see Eliot's chest rising and falling, fast but steady. It's probably just the pain, then.
He takes Eliot's pulse anyway, not sure anymore what he's checking for—it's what they do in all the movies, but as far as he's considered it's a binary situation, alive or dead. It's a good thing Eliot is breathing, because his pulse is hard to find, and Hardison's starting to panic before he feels it, weak and fast. Hardison's never missed the internet and its instant answers more.
"Eliot?" he says. "What now?"
Eliot doesn't answer.
Hardison thinks. The bleeding seems to have stopped, which is a win. The bleeding you can see, he reminds himself.
Best you can do, he answers himself firmly. Nate is coming.
In the meantime, he empties the bag, hoping for painkillers. To his complete lack of surprise, there aren't any. There's gauze; tape; some band-aids, which Hardison thinks were probably included as a cruel joke; tweezers; a sealed bag with a pre-threaded needle, which Hardison carefully sets aside, Neosporin; hand sanitizer, which he guiltily and belated uses; and five more 8-ounce bags of water.
That gives him a jolt. Six cups of water, for two people, means Moreau didn't think the team would find them fast. Busy week, Scott had said, and they meant Hardison and Eliot to keep Nate busy during it.
Hardison grabs at that first, spilled bag, almost empty, and carefully folds it closed. He's thirsty, now that he's thinking about it. It's warm in here. Moreau is wrong—has to be wrong. Rescue is on the way, or at least on the way to being on the way. But he's the hacker on this team. And without him, there's no hope they've traced the comms unit.
They'll find another way; Nate always has a plan. But…Better to wait, is all.
There's no food at all.
He picks up the needle kit instead, then stops. It's best if he does this while Eliot's unconscious, obviously. In the five years they've been a team, he's seen Eliot shot, punched, kicked, suffocated, and tased. He's never heard the man scream before. If it happens again, he's not going to be able to keep going.
But if help is on the way, he probably shouldn't do it at all. And help is on the way. It is.
He can at least wait until the next radio check. Eliot will be awake by then, or he can get Parker to look up some instructions and read them to him. He checks his watch, and he's startled to see he still has nearly an hour to go.
He wants to pace. He needs to move. He needs to check the battery on that lamp. He needs to try the door, just in case. He needs to find the airholes in this box.
He needs to pick those cuffs.
He checks his watch again.
He looks at the walls. There's a patch of rust in the far corner. Maybe a weak spot. He pulls out the tweezers and carefully, gently, raises his right hand.
Eliot moans. His eyelids flutter, then open. He jerks back, pulling Hardison in as his right hand forms a fist.
"Eliot!" Hardison yelps. "It's me. Just me."
Eliot blinks at him, uncurling his fist. He gives Hardison a wry smile, like he's embarrassed at his reaction. Slowly, he props himself on one arm, ignoring Hardison's attempts to help. Then he pulls up his shirt, peeling off the bandage and checking it.
"Bastard," he mutters.
"I did the best I could," Hardison tells him, stung.
"Not you," Eliot says. His voice is raspy, but stronger than it was. "You did good. Moreau. Or Scott, I don't know. Both."
"He shot you," Hardison says.
Eliot snorts. "I noticed. But I meant the QuickClot."
"Mmm. The new formula don't burn like that. Old one's…hard to get. He did it on purpose."
"Bastard," Hardison agrees. "You okay?"
Eliot looks at him.
"I mean, what do you need?" Hardison clarifies. "There's no painkillers. Some Neosporin, though?"
Eliot snorts again. "Right."
He shuts his eyes.
"What?" Eliot asks, eyes still closed.
"How bad is it?"
Eliot doesn't answer right away. Then he opens his eyes, smiles, and says, "Don't worry about it."
Hardison's heart sinks.