AN: Jita is a slang Spanish term for little girl. The 'j' is pronounced like an 'h' like hit, and the 'i' is pronounced like the 'e' in keep.

.

.

.

.

CHAPTER 7

Better to Fight

Hardison felt like this entire thing was moving way too fast. Ever since they'd climbed out of the boat onto the shore of the island the whole night seemed to have hit the fast forward button and he'd desperately like to hit pause for just a moment. Parker was holding his hand and he thought that might be the only solid point he could anchor to tonight. First, the bright flash of light had momentarily blinded him and just as his vision was starting return that freak Griswold just appeared outa nowhere. Next, Eliot's agreeing to a fight for leadership of their pack. And why couldn't they just vote on something like this? He knew before they'd left the safe-house that Eliot would have to fight Griswold. But shouldn't there have been some kind of ceremony, or paperwork, or something?

Griswold had insisted that he and Eliot fight in their human forms and Hardison felt like that was one of the bigger mistakes that Griswold had made tonight. Griswold may have looked at Eliot's stature or the fact that his pack was made up of humans and thought that those things made Eliot weak but he had no idea what kind of fighter Eliot was. Hardison had seen Eliot fight many times and he knew the man was never more fierce or brutal than when his people were at stake.

Hardison was having a hard time keeping track of all the bad guys tonight. If this had been a movie he could have spotted or predicted right where everyone would be, but tonight he just couldn't. He wanted to keep his attention on Eliot but every shift in shadows around them caught his attention for a split second. So he wasn't sure if the wolves were moving freaky fast or if he was losing track of them. One second Jean was standing a couple yards to his right and now he was just gone. There was someone else that seemed to wander to the edge of the pit on the opposite side and then away but Hardison didn't recognize him.

Hardison watched Griswold make some kind of sliding twisting step around Eliot's side and snake-quick punch Eliot in the right kidney. Eliot grunted and staggered forward. Griswold had paused for a split second to gloat and that was all the time that Eliot had needed to recover. Eliot spun low sweeping Griswold's feet. When Griswold fell Eliot had spun far enough to face him and Eliot gave a short sharp punch to the side of Griswold's neck. Griswold may have been dizzy from the punch but he didn't hesitate to lash out at Eliot with clawed fingers. Eliot jerked back and that saved his eyes but the claws cut through his shirts like tissue paper leaving bloody gouges behind. Eliot hissed and backed up a step. Griswold rolled away and came up on all fours as a giant black wolf.

"Son of a bi…" Eliot didn't get to finish his enraged exclamation before he was borne to the ground under a heaving pile of fur and claws.

"Hey what happened to human form?!" Parker shouted at Jacques who was several yards to her left.

"Doesn't matter. It never lasts long from this point and neither will you I expect." Jacques sounded very relaxed like he was watching an old rerun on TV instead of a fight to the death.

A yelp drew Hardison's attention back to the pit. He turned in time to see the black wolf fly the length of the pit before rolling through a tumbled landing. Eliot had been on his back and must have kicked Griswold away. Eliot scrunched back before throwing his legs forward to spring into a standing position. As soon as he was up he seemed to twist and melt into his wolf's shape. He had barely finished his shift when Griswold hit him. Griswold tore into the scruff of Eliot's neck trying to tear the flesh away. Eliot spun trying to find a way to dislodge Griswold or get his own hold on him.

Hardison couldn't really tell what was going on in the writhing mass of black and tan fur. There were snarls, and yips, and before long, blood. Hardison hoped that all of that blood wasn't Eliot's but with Griswold covered in black fur it was hard to spot the damage at first. At one point there was a yelp and a skid of gravel and the wolves broke apart. Griswold carried his back left leg for a moment and Hardison could see the loose flap of flesh that was hanging from the tear in Griswold's hip.

Parker squeezed Hardison's hand so tightly it bordered on painful but he just squeezed back. Hardison glanced to the side and saw consternation on Jacques's face. Hardison couldn't help a small smug smile.

The sound of gravel crunching made Hardison aware of someone coming up behind them a second before Parker let go of his hand and stepped to the side almost with her back to the pit. Hardison turned to see who had approached. In the time it took him to turn, Jean was standing inches from Parker.

Jean saw how fast Parker had spun to face him and he mistook her preparedness for fear. "Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?"

"You should be." Parker smiled and leaned forward a little more. Hardison couldn't see the blade from where he was standing but suddenly her stumble on the way up the hill made more sense. No doubt she had used the moment of faked clumsiness to retrieve her knife from her boot. Parker had spent a lot of time trying to sneak a blade past Eliot since they'd found out about his ability to smell most metals. He'd told them that the ability to smell metal was fairly common with werewolves, and probably had something to do with their sensitivity to silver, but varied a lot wolf to wolf. It had become a game for the two of them. Now Parker's success at that game just might save their lives. Or get them killed in a quicker and bloodier fashion than Hardison cared to contemplate.

"You don't have what it takes." Jean taunted her with a voice still raspy from the silver loaded paintball that Hardison had shot him with earlier in the day. Privately Hardison thought that was one of the dumbest moves he'd seen all night. Parker might not be actually crazy but she had few inhibitions and he didn't think she would draw the line at killing, especially tonight.

The man that Hardison had seen on the other side of the pit stepped from the shadows. "Come along Jean. Amigo. You can eat your dessert later. For now let's watch Griswold finish taking that pup apart piece at a time." A man with Spanish accent, a neatly trimmed beard and a complexion almost as light as Eliot's, laid a hand on Jean's shoulder to lead him away.

Hardison would have watched them retreat farther but a yelp and scrabble of claws in the gravel drew his attention. Eliot had done something that had won him the upper hand in the fight. Griswold was barreling right at them, up the side of the pit, and Hardison threw himself back and sideways keeping between Parker and Griswold while trying to keep as much distance between Griswold and himself as possible. Eliot saved him from the teeth headed right for his throat, when he caught Griswold's back leg.

Griswold writhed and struggled free of Eliot's jaws. Carrying that leg, he started across the level ground between the pits. Eliot wasted no time in catching him and bring him down. Just as Eliot lunged toward Griswold in a move that surely would have torn Griswold's throat out, a shot rang out. Eliot yelped and spun, blood spurting from his back right leg.

Suddenly there was a shot from much closer and Hardison spun in time to see Nate step from between the trees with his revolver. For a moment Hardison's brain sent the conflicting messages of Nate-shot-Eliot and not-possible. Another shot that sounded the same as the first rang out and Eliot collapsed in a heap. Hardison had been watching Nate when that last shot had sounded and that cleared up whatever confusion there had been since Nate was moving toward Eliot with his revolver carefully aimed away from where Eliot was laying. Suddenly Nate brought his gun up and fired again at something Hardison hadn't spotted yet before he took aim toward Eliot. Griswold had started to get up and Nate fired hitting Griswold in the chest and knocking him down. Hardison, Parker, and Nate all sprinted toward Eliot.

. ͽϿ Ѻ Ͼͼ .

Nate hadn't been able to see what was happening in the pit but he'd seen the by play between Parker and one of Griswold's men. He'd almost left his hiding spot then but before he could really run the pros and cons a huge black wolf burst from the pit going right for Hardison's throat. Something caused the lunge to fall short and before long Eliot spilled onto the level ground clinging to the black wolf's leg. Just when it looked as though the fight was over and Eliot would win a shot rang out and Nate saw the muzzle flash from the top of one of the nearby cranes. Stepping from between the trees Nate returned fire. He knew the chance of hitting the shooter was negligible at this range with his snub-nosed revolver but maybe it would make him think twice. Another shot, and another muzzle flash and Eliot was down. Nate fired at the shooter again and heard a splash as something hit the water. Nate saw movement from the corner of his eye and hoped it was Eliot but when he turned back it was the damned black wolf. Nate didn't hesitate and his shot hit center-mass. Nate sprinted for Eliot and saw Parker and Hardison headed there as well. Hardison made it to Eliot first and was doing his best to find a way to lift a wolf that outweighed him by at least a hundred pounds. Nate noticed something sparkle silver in the dirt near Eliot and without thinking about it Nate scooped it up. He crouched down to help Parker shift Eliot so that Hardison might be able to lift him. Nate was afraid it would take all of them to carry a wolf Eliot's size and if it did, they were all going to be very dead, very soon.

The other wolves were moving with a speed that Nate found unnerving. His shots seemed to have taken them by surprise and for a moment it confused whatever they might have done next. But they were past the momentary shock and were about to rally around Griswold who was much too close for comfort.

Hardison was able to lift Eliot and Nate immediately started to lead them back to the boat. They hadn't made it to the trees before they heard footsteps behind them. Nate had hoped that they would have spent a little longer tending to their fallen Alpha, but fortune couldn't favor him all night he supposed. At least all of them didn't seem to be following them at once.

Parker had her knife out and was serving as rearguard. At the sound of the footsteps she spun around. Jean and the Spaniard were both closing the distance. Parker reached into her coat and used the tip of her knife to cut the material near where the sleeve and the body of the jacket met. She had concealed a thin bag inside the lining of the coat. The bag had a snap on plastic top, while holding the knife in her right fist she used the fingers of her left hand to pop the snap on lid loose. As soon as the top was open both werewolves slowed.

"What do you have there, jita?" The man with the Spanish accent approached her a little more slowly.

"Silver! That's silver she's got in that bag!" Jean's voice had a note of panic.

Parker had just reached the trees when the Spaniard made a lunge for her. Parker squeezed the bag shooting a stream of liquid silver at the Spaniard since he was closest to her. She manage to splash a line of silver solution across the man's face and left arm. He screamed and fell to the ground writhing. She heard Jean scream a curse word but she didn't take the time to see if she'd gotten him with any of the overspray or if he was just reacting to the other guy's distress. Parker backed a little farther into the trees before she turned and ran. She didn't hear anyone behind her but she glanced back occasionally while trying to keep up enough speed to catch up with the others. Fortunately it wasn't far to the shore line.

Parker heard a gunshot ahead of her and sped up for the last few steps. Clearing the tree line she nearly stumbled into the water. Nate had shot the man they'd identified as Swiatek in the left shoulder. Hardison was almost hip deep in the river trying to set Eliot into the boat. He'd obviously frozen in place when Swiatek had shown up. Nate's eyes were round as he took in Swiatek, with blood blossoming on his shirt, as he continued to stalk Nate. Nate fired his last shot but must have missed entirely. Swiatek smiled a predatory grin and raised a claw tipped hand. Before he had the chance to strike, Parker threw her knife. Swiatek yelped like a kicked dog and curled around the knife as he fell. Parker hopped into the boat and stepped over Eliot's still form. She offered a hand to help Hardison in over the side of the boat. Nate had barely pushed off from shore when Jean and Jacques burst from the trees. They hopped into the skiff and Jacques started it up. It ran for a few seconds before sputtering to a stop. By then their craft was caught in the current of the river and they had no way to effectively paddle their craft to shore since Nate had thrown their paddles overboard when he'd sabotaged their fuel tank.

"Holy shit am I glad to see you!" Hardison stared at Nate.

"Where's Sophie?" Parker asked.

"She should be waiting for us at the top of this ramp." Nate aimed their boat right at the ramp not wanting to figure out where else they could beach it. The boat hit with jarring force and a screech of aluminum before it stopped on the cement of the ramp.

Parker and Hardison worked to get Eliot out of the boat while Nate made sure it didn't slip back into the river. Hardison settled Eliot's weight and started up the ramp. Nate noticed the ease with which Hardison moved but didn't comment. Parker sprinted up the hill and at the gate with the cut stone pillars she spotted Sophie in a black sedan. As soon as Sophie spotted Parker's fair hair she started the engine and unlocked the doors. Parker opened the back door and slid into the far side. When Hardison got there she reached out and helped shift Eliot across the bench seat. Hardison followed in after Eliot and Nate hopped in the front seat.

"Get us out of here Soph." Nate grabbed for his seat belt.

"Wait!" Parker leaned into the front seat and pointed out the window and up the hill toward the Sand and Gravel main offices. "Take that road. The gates are unlocked. We left them open for Brian."

Sophie made a sharp turn and got them onto the dirt road that led up the hill. At the top of the hill she picked up speed fishtailing and slinging gravel as she pulled onto the main road. Nothing came up on her gps screen to indicate any nearby police so she put her foot down and smiled as she listened to the big V8 engine open up.

"Is Eliot okay?" Sophie glanced in the rearview mirror.

"No." Hardison was running his hands through Eliot's fur trying to assess damage.

Parker took out her cell phone and tapped her way through her contacts list. She held the phone to her ear with one hand and stroked Eliot's muzzle with the other. "Ms. Teo? This is Parker."

"Is everything okay chil'?" Ms. Teo's sleepy voice came over the speaker.

"No. Eliot's been hurt. We can't take him to the hospital 'cause he looks like a wolfy but he's really hurt." Parker tried to keep her tone even.

"Unless you're here in town baby, there's not much this ol' lady can do." Ms. Teo sounded truly regretful.

"We're in Portland. Is there anybody here we could take him to?" Parker tried not to sound desperate but was failing.

"I don't know chil' let me do some callin' and I'll be in touch." Ms. Teo hung up.

"I'm headed for the pub. Should I be headed for the pub?" Sophie asked Nate as she slowed so she could make the corner to take the bridge.

"Yes. We've got the best medical supplies at the pub." Hardison answered from the back seat. Eliot started to thrash and Hardison and Parker tried to give him what room they could.

"What's going on?" Nate turned to get a better look at what was happening in the back seat.

"I don't know!" Hardison was trying to keep Eliot from falling to the floor and Parker had nearly climbed into the ledge of the back window.

"He's having trouble breathing." Parker looked pale herself.

Sophie picked up speed and started weaving through traffic like the east-indian cabdriver that had taught her how to drive.

"Parker are you still doing that thing with the pack bonds?" Hardison asked as he continued to struggle with Eliot.

"Yah, I think so, maybe, I don't know." Parker continued to brace herself in the back window.

"Can you stop? Maybe if he can feel that we are okay he'll relax a little." Hardison didn't feel the pack bonds the way that Parker and Eliot felt them. But since the bonds became something Parker could key in on, Hardison had listened to her talk about them often. She got such a sense of comfort and connection from those bonds even when Eliot was surly or Hardison himself was sullen, and Hardison hoped the same thing might be true for Eliot.

Parker squinched her eyes closed in concentration for a moment. "Um, okay. I think maybe it worked but until Eliot can talk I really don't know. I've never tried this before." Parker kept her eyes on Eliot.

"Come on man. This would be easier if you were man shaped." Hardison felt Eliot relax just a bit and the thrashing slowed to a stop.

"Almost there." Sophie announced as she passed the front of the pub to take the back alley.

Hardison sat up a little to look out the window to see where they were and when he looked back down Eliot was staring at him. "There you are man! Can you shift back to man shape?" Hardison stroked the fur on Eliot's neck. Eliot shuddered and for a moment Hardison thought he must have inadvertently rubbed a wound. Hardison had watched Eliot shift shapes many times and usually he shifted so quickly that the change looked fluid or slightly blurry but this time the change seemed to be occurring in definite measurable increments. First, the hair on arms and legs seemed to pull back into the skin. The sight of it made Hardison's skin itch. Next, the muzzle seemed to reshape but it stopped somewhere in-between and Hardison cringed. He'd felt Eliot's tail slide in an odd direction against his pant leg and he was glad he couldn't see what happened.

Sophie parked the car near the loading dock and got out. She opened the back door and Parker shimmied out first. Hardison climbed out next much less gracefully but doing his best not to disturb Eliot. Looking into the backseat they could all see that Eliot had made the change to what Ms. Teo called the Rougarou. Neither man nor beast but something monstrous.

Parker crouched down near Eliot's head and spoke to him quietly. "If you can't make it all the way back to person shape it's okay, but it will be easier to move you and doctor you, if you are you shaped." She looked up at Hardison "He's still having trouble breathing. Something's really wrong. He really hurts… It burns." Parker rubbed her left side.

"Let's get him upstairs then and see if there's anything we can do." Hardison bent down next to her and reached under Eliot's shoulders to pull him out of the car.

Sophie popped the trunk and pulled out a slivery looking, plastic feeling, emergency blanket. She and Parker helped to wrap Eliot in the blanket while Nate helped support and shift Eliot's weight until Hardison had Eliot arranged in a way he could carry him. Sophie hurried ahead and unlocked the door holding it open for everyone.

Parker flipped on the closest light switch but nothing happened. She took a couple steps farther and tried to turn on a lamp but still no light. "Power's out."

Nate looked through the window at the neighboring building. "If it is its not affecting anyone but us."

Hardison leaned back trying to balance Eliot's weight while they got the lights on. "I'm gonna need some kind of light if I gotta carry him up the stairs." There was a freight elevator that the team didn't normally use but Hardison kept in working condition. It had been an original feature of the building from when it had been a factory of some kind. But no power meant no lift.

Parker, Nate, and Sophie, turned on the flashlight feature on their phones. Nate and Parker went ahead of Hardison in the stairwell to help guide Hardison and support Eliot's weight if they needed to. Sophie followed behind with a hand between Hardison's shoulder blades to help balance him. On the landing between floors Eliot started to move, almost squirm, in Hardison's arms. Hardison squatted down as far as he could and Nate and Parker helped to lower Eliot the rest of the way to the landing.

Eliot curled on to his side and with a whimper seemed to draw in on himself, curling tightly. When he relaxed again he rolled to his back and looked at them all. His eyes were yellow and his fingernails were still too pointy but otherwise he looked like himself.

"Eliot? Are you doing any better?" Nate took Eliot's wrist checking for his pulse.

Eliot stared at him for a moment with clarity but then as though someone had thrown a switch Nate could tell that Eliot wasn't really seeing him anymore. Nate patted Eliot's cheek and that seemed to refocus Eliot's attention but only for a fleeting moment.

Hardison was stretching his back and shaking out his arms in preparation for picking Eliot up again. "Okay let's get him up the stairs and into the gym." The back of the gym had been fixed up more like a small doctor's office. There was an exam table and plenty of supplies in the cupboards and medical fridge.

Nate and Sophie help situate Eliot so that Hardison could lift him again. Parker ran ahead to prop open doors and clear as direct a path as possible to the exam table.

Hardison tossed Eliot up just slightly to give him a second to readjust his grip but something about the movement aggravated Eliot's breathing and he started to cough and then choke.

"Nate, Hardison, we have to turn him he's choking." Sophie supported Eliot's head on her shoulder and tried to steady Eliot's shoulders as they turned him to the side. Turning him to the side helped but when Eliot coughed again blood splattered down Sophie's blouse and pants. "There you are. That's better." Sophie crooned at him. Eliot opened one yellow eye to look at her.

"Okay, I can't hold him like this for much longer. We gotta move, people." Hardison groaned.

The three of them worked together to shift Eliot around so that Hardison could carry him up the last flight of stairs. At the top of the stares Hardison stumbled but Parker was there to steady him and he made the rest of the walk to the exam table without incident. Parker had put a cotton sheet over the exam table and had a blanket set to the side for later. Hardison laid Eliot on the table and stood back to stretch for just a second. Parker, Nate, and Sophie started swabbing various wounds and assessing damage. Hardison left the room and headed for the basement to see what could be done about the power.

None of the fuses were blown and no breakers were tripped in the basement. He went outside to look at the main and could see where the pipe that shielded wires had been sheered through. Hardison went back to the basement to switch the building over to his backup power system. As soon as Hardison got the pub switched over he raced back up the stairs. He paused to grab a tablet from his desk to monitor the system. "How's he doing?"

Eliot turned a yellow look on Hardison but he started coughing again and had to close his eyes.

"He was shot through the shoulder, but I can't find an exit wound." Nate was pressing along Eliot's right side. "Did you find out what happened to the power?" Nate could tell they were on emergency power and that city power wasn't back yet.

"Someone cut the main line. I can't tell if they hit it with a car or a chainsaw but it doesn't matter since there's no fixing it right now." Hardison grabbed a small towel and wiped the blood off of Eliot's chin and neck. An alarm sounded from his tablet: 'Motion Alert, Motion Alert'. Hardison dropped the bloody rag he'd been holding and scooped up his tablet. "What fresh hell do we have now?" He asked the question quietly, as it was a question only for himself. Hardison watched a man ascend the few steps to the front porch and stop at the door. He was wearing a suit as if he had just come from a formal function. "What part of the lights are off and we're closed don't you get man?" Hardison muttered to himself and adjusted the zoom on the closest camera.

Parker leaned over Hardison's shoulder to get a look at the newest threat. "Do we know him?" Parker frowned at the screen. "Wait, I think…" She tapped the screen and left a bloody fingerprint behind. The camera feed changed, and from the new camera angle she could see his profile. "Dr. Terry?"

"What would your knee surgeon be doin' here?"

As if in answer to Hardison's question, Dr. Terry turned to face the camera. He loosened his tie and pulled something out of the collar of his shirt. Even in the dim lighting, Hardison recognized the small bag on the cord around the man's neck. It was a dead ringer for the gris gris bag hanging in Eliot's room. "Well, I'll be damned."

Parker and Sophie went downstairs to see what the doctor wanted. Sophie took up a guard position in the hallway between the pub's dining area and the semiprivate offices. Parker went to the door keeping her hand on Nate's revolver tucked into the back of her waistband. "What do you want?" Parker hollered through the locked door.

"It's Dr. Terry. Can I come in?"

"No."

There was a pause that showed he hadn't been expecting Parker's answer. "I was told to tell you that Ms. Teo sent me."

Parker exchanged a glance with Sophie before she unlocked the door and opened it a crack. "How do you know Ms. Teo and how can I know she sent you?"

In the dim light his very white smile stood out for just a second. "Parker, don't you remember me?"

"I know who you are, but I don't know what you're doing here. And I really don't have time for this." Parker frowned at him but didn't open the door.