There is no intended copyright infringement in any form on the content and context of Leverage. Any original characters and storyline are the intellectual property of the author.
The Assassin's Code
In the marble hallway of a government building, Col Vance lies in wait for Aria to walk by. In an instant, Vance grabs Aria's arm to stop her. With Aria firmly in his grasp, Vance turns Aria to face him. "Stop. Damn it Aria... just stop." With a lifetime spent in the military, everything that comes out of Vance's mouth sounds like a command from a drill sargent and his Class A uniform only reinforces the tone of his voice echoing in the empty hallway. Vance gazes down at his old and dear friend, for once, Aria looks like anything but an assassin. With their history, he often forgets that Aria is a woman of a certain rogue elegance. Now that Vance has Aria's undivided attention, Vance continues the conversation by command.
"Aria, you can't do this alone." Vance has an authoritative tone that is all too familiar and a tad annoying to Aria in its delivery. "Michael… I got this." Aria glances down at the man handle. "Really… I got this" Still firmly held within Vance's grasp, Aria takes it upon herself to remove his hand from her arm. She has to be on her way and though she appreciates the sentiment, Aria doesn't have time for Vance to plead his case. As she turns, Aria finishes her sentence. "and don't do what I know you are going to do. Resist the urge. Do not call Eliot. I'll see you on the other side. I promise." As expected, Aria vanishes before his eyes. As soon as she is out of sight, Vance pulls out his phone only to hear the echo of Aria's voice off of the surrounding marble. "Put the phone down, I haven't even left the building."
Vance can hear the cadence of the clicking of Aria's heels against the marble floor at an expanding distance as she exits, with a roll of his eyes, he mumbles to himself as he dials. "I swear she is taking lessons from my wife."
Steps of Lincoln Memorial:
Mack is sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with a couple cups of coffee placed on the ground at his feet. Mack can feel Aria's approach like a disturbance in the force. He always knows when his partner is near even without turning around to see Aria approaching from behind, taking a seat next to him on the grand marble steps. This is her favorite place in the world and he is one of her favorite people. Mack is one of the few people on planet earth who actually knows Aria inside and out with true understanding. Aria is aware that Mack knows that she only asked him to meet her to say goodbye before this op.
Mack already heard the water cooler talk surrounding this particular op. Mack already knows the gates of hell that Aria is about to pass through and normally he is right by her side. Mack wants to go with her but the agency has deemed this a solo mission for his partner. Mack spent the better part of two decades getting in sync with every aspect of Aria. Mack extends his hand with the offering of a coffee . "So, Moriarty, huh." Aria takes a sip from the cup before she answers. "I see good news travels fast." Mack stares into the distance trying not to react to Aria's tone, they have had this conversation too many times for their own good and this time it just feels different. It feels final. "Looks like you are headed to the showdown. You ready for this." Mack is almost afraid to look at Aria since Mack is not sure he wants to gauge Aria's expression. Aria stares off into the distance matching Mack's gaze down the mall. "This has been a long time coming, we both know that." Aria's tone is a bit too hollow for Mack's taste or level of comfort. "So what are you going to do?" Mack finally looks down at Aria unable to conceal the concern in his tone.
"Well, first things first, you are going to take Wendy and the kids and are going to my house in PA. You are not leaving it until I come and get you or someone tells you I can't." Aria's words stun Mack. He is genuinely caught by surprise. Aria's words are in the form of a command and that is not to be taken lightly. "You think that is necessary?" Mack turns towards Aria with the shock visible across his features. Aria's tone remains clear and commanding. "You know what he is capable of. I want all of you safe."
Aria softens her eyes as she looks at Mack but quickly turns away her gaze so as not to show too much emotion. Mack knows Aria's command is out of a place of love. He doesn't like it but this is love. "So what are you doing with the others?" Mack returns his gaze towards the mall as Aria cracks a smile. "I hired me some babysitters." Mack laughs. at the phrase. "I take it that they are not a hoard of teenage girls."
"They would be of the Israeli variety." Aria masks the sarcasm in her tone. Mack knows that if Aria is willing to offer up favors in exchange for the safety of those she loves, this is a serious situation. "Moussad, that isn't coming cheap." Mack knows that Aria would sell her soul to keep them all safe and Moussad exacts a hefty price. Aria agrees with Mack with a nod. "Yeah, I'm gonna be busy after this." Aria rolls her eyes at the thought of the favors she will owe in both level of effort and sheer number but it is a bit humorous. She wonders how many small nuclear problems this will work out to be. Mack puts his arm around Aria. "I hope you are baby girl…. I hope you are." The thought circling Mack's head is related to the hope that Aria can get out of this alive to pay back all of the favors.
Later that evening at Quinn's apartment:
Aria walks into Quinn's bedroom, he is wrapped up in his sheets fast asleep. Aria watches him for a moment from the doorway. Realizing someone is there, Quinn wakes with a start and the raising of a weapon in Aria's direction. Quinn looks towards the doorway recognizing Aria's form tucked within the shadows as he lowers the weapon.
"Hey Princess…" Quinn rubs his eyes and taps the bed with the gun as an invitation for Aria to join him. Aria takes up a position on the side of the bed as she kicks off her shoes. Aria lays back and snuggles into the offered arm. Quinn wraps his arms around her and buries his face in the back of her hair. "Mmmmm, Mr. Bubble and Chanel… meeting with the bosses brings my girl unexpectedly to DC." Quinn's voice is draped in the softness of sleep. He props himself up on his arm and leans down to kiss Aria. He realizes that she is staring at him with an odd expression.
"Hey… what's wrong." Quinn touches Aria's face with a gentle caress. Aria quickly backtracks the conversation. "Nothing, just work on my mind." "When do you have to leave?" Quinn is quite used to this. He has no illusions about who Aria is just as she has no illusions as to who he is. They both operate in the underworld. "Soon." Something in her voice triggers concern in Quinn's eyes that something is not quite right. "Don't lie to me Aria." Aria kisses Quinn as a successful distraction to the conversation that he wants to have and one she does not.
"Just another day at the office." Quinn knows Aria is lying and he will let her lie to him. It is part of their ritual. "I promise." Aria snuggles into Quinn as he pulls Aria close and lays his head on her shoulder. As Aria closes her eyes, Quinn kisses her hair and stares at the wall now lost in his own thoughts of what is to come.
Outside Brewpub in Portland:
Vance grabbed Shelley as a sidekick for an unexpected trip to Portland. Vance knows Aria will be pissed but this is worth the wrath of Aria, Eliot needs to know what Aria is about to be thrown into and Eliot has back channels that he does not have available. The merry band of misfits may be just what they need to get Aria out of this alive. The pair waits patiently outside the pub for Eliot to show his face. Sophie had told Vance when to expect Eliot to arrive.
Eliot pulls up to find Vance is leaning against the hood of his rental with Shelley is propped up on the banister nearby. Eliot parks and acknowledges his old friends though he is a bit confused as to why they are paying an unexpected and unannounced visit clear across the US from where they should be. "Vance, Shelley?" Eliot walks up to Vance with a shoulder to should hug in greeting. "What's up Colonel?" Eliot looks them both over for their tell as to the nature of this visit. It has been a while since Eliot as seen either of them, the last time Eliot saw Vance was in Pakistan.
"It's Aria." Eliot's face expression instantly turns to deep concern at the mention of Aria's name from Vance's lips. Aria's name might has well be code for black ops. If Vance is here about their little assassin, things just got very, very real in a very, very bad way. "Come on in." Eliot leads the way with a wave of his hand for the pair to follow him into the brew pub. Eliot navigates them to Hardison's back office. Eliot notices the bag that Vance retrieved from the car before they entered. Eliot is now quite curious as to what the bag contains that is relevant to this situation.
Hardison, Parker, Sophie and Nate are muddling about as Eliot, Vance and Shelley make their entrance into their command center. All are quite familiar with both Vance and Shelley from adventures with Eliot but are surprised at the unexpected visit. Sophie is the only one who seems to have known they were coming as Eliot checks the reactions of the team. All can't help but notice that there is a certain air of urgency to the visit as Eliot clears a spot on the desk for the rather large bag in Vance's hands.
Vance lands the bag with a thud on the surface of the counter as he begins to pull out binder after binder from the bag. All are marked with the insignia of the CIA. Sophie runs her fingers over the gold insignia on one of the binders as her gaze at Vance that silently asks the question on everyone's mind. "This is half of Aria's agency file." Sophie and Nate's eyes grow wide at the number of binders presented with the caveat that there are twice as many than presented.
"That's just part of the Agency's file, we would need a truck for her military file ." Vance answers with a smirk as Shelley adds. "Yeah, a semi." Sophie knows how close Aria and Eliot are so she is concern and intrigued as to why Vance would commandeer Aria's file from whatever dark vault houses something like that and bring clear across the United States to show it to Eliot. Sophie estimates that these files likely had more security than the Mona Lisa.
Hardison boots up his computers just in case, garnishing a glance from Vance as he notices and speaks up. "Hardison…there is a reason that her file is not digital. Wars started with less provocative material." Hardison is a bit shocked and put off that the cannot work his usual magic. Everyone has gathered around the table as Vance starts to spread out a few of the documents in front of them. The group starts to fumble through the history of Aria in the alphabet city. The content of the files are not that of operational files, these are the debriefings for Aria and Aria alone. Sophie shudders to think what is in the operational files. She can surmise that they likely read like a blacked out history book or science fiction from what Sophie knows of Aria.
"What is going on with Aria… Is she in some kind of trouble… I mean other than her usual kind?" Eliot picks up a few of the documents and starts flipping through the pages. Sophie can see the random smiles of recognition at some of the references as Eliot gazes across the black outs and markings.
"Eliot, they are sending our girl into the arena with some serious psychopaths… And they are sending her into that hell, alone." Vance's tone is deadly serious as he gains Eliot's undivided attention. Line after line on page after page are completely blacked out with marker as the group tries to piece this part of Aria's history together.
"Seems someone went a bit overboard with the Sharpie." Sophie flips through page after page with nothing to read through the blackout markings. "Seriously… does baby girl come with her own theme music?" Hardison also has nothing to read except between the lines that Aria has been into some serious voodoo with the Agency. Vance's and Eliot's eyes meet over a couple of jobs, one in Iraq catches both of their attention. "The butcher." Eliot holds up a piece of paper. With an oddly sentimental smile, Vance starts to tell the story of the covert black op from long ago.
Aria is in a sniper nest, she is on over watch gazing down at Vance and Shelley through the scope of her rifle. Aria can see the trouble brewing in the street ahead of them as she continues to monitor the scene below through her scope. Her boys are on a collision course with a suicide bomber who has made himself known to Aria in the street below from his actions and approach. Aria runs through the outcomes in her head. To fire exposes all of them, the bomber is concentrating on the market place and not on Eliot and the others. The bomber's less that convert actions are creating a scene in the market place. Aria knows an attempt with the radios could set off the bomb unexpectedly. Aria has to decide whether or not to fire and kill the bomber with the risk of him having a dead man switch. She can pull her side arm and rush into the square exposing her position which might buy precious seconds of confusion to allow for escape. The options range from bad to worse. As Shelley and Vance crest the top of the ditch, Aria opts to expose her position creating confusion in the square below. This one of the rare moments that a suicide bomber may present a tactical advantage and a path to escape.
Aria takes a running leap at Shelley knocking him and Vance into a position of safety in the ditch below. The bomb goes off showering them with body parts, car parts and heaven knows what else as they land at the bottom of the ditch covered with debris. "Holy freaking NFL… damn it Aria." Shelley has had the breath knocked out of him by the unexpected hit as he realizes that he took shrapnel to the back of his leg. "That is going to leave a mark." Shelley brushes dust to disguise the blood on his pants as he rises to his feet offering a hand to Aria. A quick glance down at Aria's vest, reveals that it is shredded across the back from the flying projectiles. Vance is also cut up from the flying debris. Mack was around the corner of the building with Eliot, both were protected from the blast. Eliot remains standing over their "target", who is still unconscious between his feet, as he takes a peek around the corner to see if the others are okay. The thumbs up from Shelley indicates that they are all fine.
The group has to make it to the top of a nearby hill to get to the evacuation point but they are still in the middle of post blast chaos of the streets. They quickly surmise that they are essentially cut off from their evacuation point. It is time to make a plan as Vance turns to Shelley. "They can't see her… knock her out." Shelley nods in acknowledgement of what Vance means by the statement. It is time to make Aria look like a victim since she is in the wrong clothes for a female and that will draw more unwanted attention.
Upon hearing what Vance said, Aria turns around. "You are going to do what?" As soon as Aria is looking at Vance, Shelley hits Aria in the back of her head with the butt of his gun. Aria falls to the ground with an instantaneous thud clearly representative of just how hard Shelley clocked her.
"She is gonna be pissed." Eliot looks around the corner with a smirk at the heap of Aria at Shelley's feet. At least this time, he is not the one facing the wrath of Aria when she wakes up. Shelley starts rubbing blood and dirt on Aria's face to distort her features as he wraps a headscarf around her head . Vance glances back at Shelley. "Damn Shell… I wanted her out… not brain damaged"
"It's Aria… I only had one shot and she is already going to kick my ass, I need some kind of chance of survival." Shelley continues to mess her up sufficiently to not draw any more undo attention. "Good point." Vance pulls Aria up onto his shoulder as they head out. They elude capture as they move through the town on the premise of transporting the injured or dead to help. They manage to get to the outskirts of town but they have to find a way to make radio contact without giving away their position to the wrong people. Vance knows that the bombing would have likely spooked their ride. They have to find a safe place to wait this out to find a way to get the hell out of this situation. The group come upon an abandoned building outside of town.
The building is a less than ideal shelter but it does provide sufficient cover to allow them to formulate a plan. Shelley, Vance, Eliot and Mack assume strategic positions around the space to provide protection. Aria is laid on the floor near Eliot's knee while their target is secured near Mack and Shelley. Vance looks up at Eliot, the time has come. "Better wake up the Princess, we could use a sniper right about now." Eliot rolls his eyes, anyone else would likely be a wreck, Aria, she is a freak. She will not even break stride.
Eliot leans down towards Aria's face and starts to tap Aria on the cheek. "Hey ,wakie… wakie, Aria." With the lack of an immediate response, Eliot props Aria's head upon his leg. "Come on, baby girl… wake up." Eliot gives Aria an aggressive shake followed by a splash of water from his canteen.
As the water hits her face, Aria starts to rapidly regain consciousness. As her eyes flutter open, she immediately grabs her side arm pointing it directly at Eliot's head within seconds. Eliot swears that Aria manifests weapons out of thin air from sheer will. At this point in time, they have all become familiar with the process of awaking their little sniper. Eliot rolls his eyes at Vance. "She's fine." In response, Vance tosses Aria's rifle back at her which she catches like a ninja. They are all fairly convinced that Aria could win a draw down while unconscious but none of them are willing to find out.
As Aria's blurry vision gains clarity, Shelley comes into view. Needless to say Aria is royally pissed as to the circumstances that had previously unfolded. Aria attempts to say something but Eliot covers her mouth rendering her speech to nothing more than Charlie Brown talk. Aria glares at the collective as she rubs her head and assumes a more upright position to check her weapon. She has no idea where they are or what has happened. Mack nudges her shoulder to make sure his partner is coherent as he fills her in on their current situation.
"We need a way out of here and a signal." Vance leans towards them speaking in hushed tones to the group. In a completely offhanded way, Aria announces. "I have det cord." Aria pulls on her pants leg exposing a rather large coil of detonation cord wrapped around her leg above her boot.
"You have det cord? Why the hel… never mind." Eliot is staring at her in disbelief shaking his head which is now his go to reaction for anything Aria. Aria reaches down and pulls a cap and detonator out of another pocket which just spurns an eye roll from Eliot as Vance makes a plan. Vance leans down in front of Aria as he holds her face so that she looks up at him. "You good?" Aria hands Vance cap and detonator. "Yeah, … apparently I'm merely fatigued." Aria casts another glare in Shelley's general direction as she swings her rifle strap over her shoulder.
Back at Base in Flashback:
The flight boss gets a look at Aria as the crew exits the helio. "Holy hell … what happened to you" Insert pregnant pause. "Ma'am." Aria looks at Shelley pointing as she answers. "Him" Aria rolls her eyes with annoyance. "I said I was sorry." Shelley puts his arm around Aria as they walk back towards the barracks. Aria looks at the four of them as they enter their debriefing after the grab. "Do I look that bad?" The four of them burst out in unison. "Yes."
They sit around and BS after the debriefing, now indulging in a few beers and cigars. In this sense, Aria is one of the boys, she is their equal in every way. They are sitting across tables in the mess hall of the base as a soldier walks up to the doorway and speaks to Aria. "We are ready for you ma'am." Aria's has soared up the ranks due to her prowess and her gender. The Marines were not ready for a soldier like Aria. Mack could not be prouder to be her partner.
"Ma'am… that is still funny…" Eliot is laughing as he remains seated with his feet propped up on the table. They are a combined team from three different branches that allows for a great deal of latitude in their formality with each other. "Yeah, yeah, yuck it up Spencer…" Aria stands up from the table to salutes from the young men. "Yes, ma'am." Eliot adds an additional poke. Aria shoots him a look. "Can I shoot him?" She glances over at Vance. Vance is the only one who actually out ranks Aria. "You'll try baby girl." Eliot is enjoying himself it has been awhile since he was around his favorite sparring partner. Before Eliot can even finish the sentence, Aria has a gun pointed at his forehead.
"How the hell does she do that?" Shelley is standing next to Aria acknowledging the accomplishment.
"Shelley, it's your gun." Eliot watches as Shelley starts reaching for his holsters. Aria sets the safety and tosses it at Shelley. Shelley realizes that it really is his gun. She winks at Shelley as Vance gets up to join her. "You got it from here Aria?" Aria nods in response to Vance. It is her turn for interrogation by the brass. Shelley pipes up with a wink as he tosses a pack of baby wipes at Aria. "You know since we did all of the heavy lifting for you." Aria pulls out a wipe as she begins to clean her face for the brass. "Shell, the only lifting you did was your tush out of that ditch after I saved it for you and then you decided to try some kind of ancient Egyptian brain surgery to repay me." Aria rubs her head where Shelley hit her with his gun.
"I didn't hit you that hard." Shelley now wonders if, perhaps, he used a little too much gusto. "Dude, she was unconscious for two hours." Eliot adds as he laughs at Shelley. "Plus Aria is one concussion away from super villain… you just don't mess with that balance man." Mack teases back. Aria tosses the wipe and extinguishes her cigar as she retrieves her weapon flipping it over her shoulder for her exit. There is a certain swagger to Aria that is impossible not to appreciate. "Is she okay?" The soldier asks of Mack from his post at the door. "Aria… yeah… She's fine… just depends on what you use for comparison." Eliot answers even more amused by the young soldier's expression as he watches Aria's approach.
"Alright boys, don't wait up." Aria and Vance lock hands and touch shoulders. Aria walks to the door to follow the waiting soldier. Vance wraps up his very animated version of the story with some closing comments as to who they were sent to grab.
"So it was the Butcher of Kazistan." Nate had heard tales of the Butcher. Most of the stories were told by Eliot, he never realized the players in that story. "It was a hell of a ride." Shelley laughs. Vance has been bitten by the nostalgia bug which seems to happen any time they get together regardless of circumstance. "Aria and babysitting are a rather unique combination. Tell them about your kids." Eliot points to Vance with a smile since these stories always lighten Vance's mood.
"Your kids, you let an assassin babysit your kids?" Hardison is curious about the subject change but the stories have been fascinating so far. He has to admit, Eliot becomes less of a mystery when this crew shows up.
"Sometimes you'd swear it takes a trained assassin to control them." Vance laughs as he starts the story. "After I had Aria babysit my kids, my seven year-old comes in and much to my wife's dismay proceeds to regale the story to my wife as to how Auntie Aria taught him to defuse a dirty bomb." Vance is very aware of look of horror in Sophie's eyes.
"Relax Sophie, she made it out of legos and licorice. She even used the safety scissors. They had to save Winnie the Pooh from Teddy the Terrorist Ruxbin. My son wore camo 24 hours a day for a week and a half after that and the Teddies were in lockdown in closet Guantanamo." Vance sits back in his chair with a smile across his face.
"When my wife bands the Lego bombs… jelly bean frag grenades and the super soaker, Aria entertained my kids by watching Band of Brothers for a bedtime story. My wife asked her what was wrong with Dr. Seuss. She turns to my wife with a completely straight face. "Have you ever read that stuff… the good doctor was seriously messed up. This is history, besides they never make it through Bastogne anyway."
"The beach invasion they watch… Bastogne rocks them to sleep." Vance shakes his head and smiles.
"Aria is one of a kind." Shelley shakes his head with the off handed remark delivered with true affection. "Thank God." Eliot jumps in also with a smile. Sophie observes again just how deep these connections run in Eliot's world. "Could you imagine if there were more?" Flipping through multiple pages for dramatic effect.
Nate is amused by the story as Sophie speaks up. "So what kind of trouble is Aria in that would warrant a review of all of this?" She motions to the piles of papers scattered everywhere. Vance refocuses to the reason for their visit. "I was in a meeting …. Let's just say it was a high level meeting with the alphabet soup. The kind of meeting with more spooks present than a Halloween parade. In the middle of this meeting, Aria was tapped for a mission." He looks Eliot straight in the eyes." They tapped her to go after Moriarty... fatal finding." Vance's voice trails off upon the delivery of the news. Sophie watches their collective faces fall at the announcement.
Eliot's reaction to that news speaks volumes as to the danger associated with this mission. To everyone's surprise, Hardison seems to know exactly who they are referring to even without the clicking of keys on a keyboard. "Moriarty, the assassin, like the Bloody Baron himself? He's a psychopath… a seriously Keyser Sozo type psychopath." Hardison is looking at his screen as he speaks to the collective with fingers now flying across the keys as he lights up the screens. "Moriarty ran the farm." Eliot reveals as his team looks at him comically.
"The farm is where they do the training for the CIA. She never talked about it much but when she did, Aria mentioned the "professor"… that is what she called him." Eliot shuffles some of the papers near Sophie as he searches a particular pile. Eliot retrieves the papers that had drawn his attention earlier.
"Yeah… about that…" Vance rubs his chin and leans forward. "Moriarty." Eliot's level of concern hits the stratosphere as Aria's history rushes to clarity in his mind with a glance downward at the paper in his grasp. Eliot flips the page in the document. "This is what they did to her?" Eliot looks straight at Vance. Other than himself and Vance, no one really knew what the CIA did to Aria in the name of "training. Vance shakes his head. "Ain't that some…" His voice trails off in present company as Vance rubs his brow.
"Damn… that explains a whole hell of a lot especially some of those quirks of hers." Shelley offers as he reads the document that Eliot handed him. Vance knew some of this but Aria had shielded him from a great deal during their tenure together.
"You do not want to read this trust me." Eliot holds the papers up with a warning to Sophie and Nate as Vance begins to tell them about Aria's history.
"Moriarty was with the CIA for a long time. He trained the operatives like Aria. They called him the professor of the dark arts. He used some seriously aggressive training techniques on the "agents" he was tasked to train. Moriarty produced the best of the… let's call them specialists in polite company." Eliot starts to pace. "Spies?" Parker is curious and breaks her silence in her usual style.
"Honey… spies are Aria's recon. She is in an elite group of wet worker specialists. Some of these "specialists", the ones that were trained with Aria, started to exhibit control issues… they started to freelance. Many of them required attitude adjustments from the Agency." Eliot air quotes parts of the statement.
"How serious of an attitude adjustment?" Eliot asks of Vance. Vance looks away as he answers. "The kind where they won't be collecting their pensions." Vance gives Eliot a telling look upon the return of his gaze. The guilt in Eliot is beginning to rise to the surface. It is his fault that Aria was dragged into this world and he cannot shake the guilt.
"You said he was with the CIA? What does that mean?" Nate starts the dig. "You know, the "was" part."
"Let's say his training techniques started to…" Vance looks up for a second to allow the right wording to manifest in his head.
"alarm some of the senior management. After they started looking into him, he went off the reservation and has evidently lost what was left of his mind… he has been a bad, bad boy lately."
"Aria would know that she would be on Moriarty's radar. She's been playing this game for a long time." Sophie makes a summation from the information provided and what she knows of Eliot's dear friend.
"Is she the only one left?" Nate is looking at a document as the reality of Aria's world truly hits him for the first time. Shelley follows the conversation closely, he never knew how they broke Aria.
"She is one of the few." Vance tries to express just how bad Moriarty can be. Eliot starts to pace the room again lost in his thoughts.
"She didn't ask for any help when she left?" Nate props his feet up on the counter as he tries to figure out how his team will play into whatever Vance is going to request of them.
"I have known Aria for a long time… she has gone on dozens of ops. I have been on assignment with her countless times… this time she was different. I can't tell you what it was other than different." Vance casts a glance which catches Eliot's eye. "Any chatter on the hill?" Eliot asks of Vance as he returns to the group from his pacing.
"No… man… I checked… nothing… this op is black hole dark. She is on her own." Vance's concern is no longer masked in stories of the past. His concern for Aria is on full display.
"Aria is smart, I mean like genius kind of smart. This is her thing… Arua wouldn't go after someone like Moriarty without a plan." Shelley watches Eliot and Vance circle each other as they resuming pacing.
"Shelley has a point…" Sophie speaks up. "Aria is brilliant, look at how she operates. She isn't emotional. She doesn't act on impulse. She plans and executes. Pardon the pun."
"Well if we are going to help her… then we need to figure out her plan. Looks like we are going to steal ourselves an assassin." Nate folds his hands behind his head. "Any idea where she is at?" Eliot asks of Shelley and Vance. "You know Aria. She is likely going to Boston first." Shelley answers.
"Any idea of her timetable." Nate is trying figuring out where to start.
"She is booked on flight to London for the day after tomorrow but that doesn't mean anything. It could be a cover for something… I know the timetable she was given was short but that is all I know." Vance's eyes meet with Nate's intense gaze.
"Time for an intervention. Hardison… take care of the details… Looks like we are going back to Boston."
Aria's Building on Docks in Boston MA:
Aria walks into her warehouse on the docks, in an instant she is aware that she is far from alone in the space. It is ingrained in ever fiber of her being to be aware of the most minute change in her environment. This is one of her safe places, she would know if a single grain of sand were out of place on this proverbial beach. Aria knows Eliot, Vance and Shelley are waiting for her in the dark She can sense them. Aria takes a quick look around before turning toward the center of the room. "Do I need to do a roll call or should I just assume all of the meddling kids are here." Aria hits the remote in her pocket as the lights illuminate them in the center of the room with a single beam of concentrated light.
Her boys taken in her appearance, Aria is dressed in her "op" clothes; dark ACU pants with her jump boots laced tight. She has a K-bar on the side of her leg along with other peripherals and a dark long sleeve t- shirt with a dark neck gator finished with a black leather shoulder holster like the one Eliot wears. In her hands she has a large set of keys that she twirls across her fingers.
"Very" Shelly hesitates for the right wording. "Lara Croft." Shelley surveys her clothes with a boyish laugh on Aria's approach.
"Yes… picked it up from the fall Tomb Raider collection." Aria rolls her eyes at him as if she is simply annoyed by a sibling. She makes eye contact with Eliot before shooting an "I'll get you my pretty" glance in Vance's direction for not resisting the urge to call Eliot.
"Aria you can't do this on your own." Eliot walks up to Aria immediately violating every definition of personal space. "Eliot, you seriously pick now to do an intervention at what point do I not appear to be a bit busy here Sweetie?" Aria points at Vance. "This was exactly what I told you not to do, remind me to give you an attitude adjustment later, Colonel." Aria walks into another room opening several doors with the keys in her hands. As the doors open, she walks into a vault. Inside, the room is lined with grids and shelves filled with countless styles and calibers of weapons. Everything is neatly hung in true OCD fashion. There is a huge chemistry set in an adjoining room. Yet, another room filled with grenades, C4 and the doodads and doohickies of the spy trade. The collection is truly impressive in this labyrinth of mayhem.
"Holy hell, Aria. You planning for the zombie apocalypse?" Shelley walks in wide eyed as his fingers wander from weapon to weapon. Armies have overthrown countries will less supplies.
"Say hello to my little friend…when is the invasion?" Eliot picks up one of the guns assuming a mocking accent. He knew Aria always knew how to prepare but this borders on the ridiculous.
"Praise the lord and pass the ammunition, I have always found that the best diplomat is a fully loaded phaser bank… Savvy." Aria taps the gun she is holding, happy that Eliot is lightening up a bit.
"Star Trek… that is my girl." Hardison speaks over the comm in Eliot's ear with Aria close enough to see Eliot's tell. Aria has work to do as she starts pulling out what she needs for this op arranging items on the work tables. Vance, Shelley and Eliot take the opportunity to corner her in the room.
"Aria…." Eliot reaches out for her. "Aria… this is some serious…" Aria is obviously annoyed as she breaks Eliot's hold. Aria checks the weapons, putting them into her holsters as she finishes the inspection.
"Aria… Moriarty is a serious psychopath… he is dangerous. Honey, you are out of your league." Eliot reaches out for her again with Aria eluding his grasp yet again. Aria turns around and stares at all of them down as she speaks. "Seriously, you are kind of making an assumption as to what league I play in… believe me… I made varsity." Aria's tone is appropriately curt.
"Aria…" Vance tries to stop Aria from walking out of the room but Aria simply moves to another table. Vance knows that Aria could likely take them all out at this point in the game, even Eliot. Aria suddenly stops dead turning around to face them. "Listen up all of you. Now don't take this as that I don't appreciate what you are trying to do… I love all of you for it… but you have no idea what I am capable of when... "
"When she brings her "A" game…." Hardison over the comm in Eliot's ear again. Eliot cannot contain his hostility and as Aria suspected, it was not just her boys that have followed her to Boston. "Damn it Hardison… not now…" Eliot is agitated. "Sorry… that was too easy." Hardison's words echo in his comm.
"Aria I have worked with him before." Eliot is getting antsy. Aria rolls her eyes at Eliot as she hot loads several guns at her workbench. She places a weapon on the table as she reaches into her pocket and tosses a card on the table in front of Eliot. It is an Azrael calling card. "Here." Aria continues to hot load as Eliot picks up the card. He knows exactly what this is. He has seen it more than once in his world.
"Azrael is after you too?" Eliot has a look of horror on his face as he shows the card to the others. Aria looks at them as if they lost their minds. She cannot believe that they of all people do not know especially Vance. Aria reaches back into her pocket and pulls out a stack of cards… She takes them in her hand and flicks all of them at Eliot, Vance and Shelley in a 52 pick-up showering them with the cards.
"You're Azrael?" Vance catches a card in the air as Eliot stares at the card in his hand with the rest raining down upon them. "Well I'll be damned."
Back in the Van:
The rest of the team is located in a van outside Aria's office. They listening via Eliot's comm to the conversation in the room. Azrael has become a topic of immediate and acute interest.
"Aria is Azrael?" Sophie looks at Nate in amazement. "Who is Azrael?" Hardison hands start clicking away to reveal the answer to his question. An answer manifesting in spades on cross his screens.
"Well I'm not exactly Gargamel's Cat." Aria's reaction is dripping with all of the sarcasm that she can muster under the circumstances. Eliot walks off by himself for a moment to converse with Haridson out of earshot of Aria while Vance and Shelley stare at her in shock. Aria is cognizant of the bomb she just dropped on those closest to her.
Back in the Van:
"I thought it was an urban myth." Sophie looks at the screens as Hardison's searches fill the spaces. "Azrael is a legendary assassin." Nate starts to direct Hardison's searches. "There is always a single target. The assassin has never been seen. They started calling the assassin..." Nate is interrupted by Eliot. "Azrael"." Eliot is talking back to the team in the van. "If you were on the list… your time was short." Nate interacting with Eliot over the comms. "The arch angel of death?" Hardison brings up his more results.
He comments as an unusual entry pops up on his computer screen. "Azrael the assassin, has a Wikipedia entry… seriously… that is bad ass."
"Once they started calling the assassin "Azrael"… the cards started to appear before all of the hits. The target would find one of the cards and would be dead within 24 hours." Nate adds to the conversation.
"There's a story that one target was so distraught about receiving one of the cards, that he dropped dead from a heart attack on the spot." Hardison offers. "there are freaking video games devoted to legend of Azrael."
Eliot is still off by himself in the corner in the warehouse. Aria does not need to hear the conversation to know the context and content. She walks up to Eliot touching his arm to gain his attention. Aria can vividly see the tension in his eyes.
"It's just a little Art of War Eliot; sometimes the best way to take down an enemy is without firing a shot. Aria takes up a position leaning against the wall next to Eliot. "Tell them I said hello." Aria pushes off the wall to walk towards the others. Aria takes a seat on the table next to Shelley.
"You are Azrael and you never said anything." Shelley sits back to back with her on the table leaning his head against hers. "Well until now… it was a trade secret and no one but me needed that information." She looks up at the ceiling. "for a reason."
Aria hops off the table with a soft touch to Shelley's shoulder as she turns around to all of them. "Listen up… This is not an option… I am still bound to serve my country." Aria turns towards Eliot. "If you have forgotten, I am a trained ASSASSIN. I work for the Central Intelligence Agency blah… blah blah… there is a viable and acute threat to my country… I do not have a choice and you know that." Aria looks straight at Vance, Shelley and Eliot (who is walking back towards them). "I am the only one that has any chance in hell of pulling this off and I have my orders…. If you haven't figured it out… Moriarty and I have a history… and before you start preaching to me… yes… I know exactly what I'm doing… I have to do this alone." Aria hesitates for a moment. Her tone is suddenly deadly serious. "There are moments when you have to walk away from those you cannot live without to do what you do not want to do. This is my moment. One of us is going down and that is how it has to be and you know that too. " Aria starts to walk towards the main door and towards Eliot. "Aria…" Eliot, Shelley and Vance speak almost in unison. She looks at all of them. She is obviously angry but strangely focused. Aria looks at her watch. "Listen to me. No matter what you hear… No matter what you see… Have the faith in me that I have in all of you. I will be ok… you have to trust me." Aria walks passed them touching Eliot as she walks by. Eliot grabs her hand to turn her back around. "Aria, please… Take this… for me… just do it." Eliot hands her his comm.
Aria looks at Eliot. She can see the concern in Eliot's eyes. He is genuinely worried about her. "Fine… If I don't you will just lo-jack me anyway. I'll see you on the other side." Aria accepts the ear bud as she walks out of the main door with the three of them in tow. As she walks into the night, the three are at the door, watching her walk away.
Outside and outside of their collective view, she wipes her eyes, takes a deep breath and walks towards a waiting SUV. A passenger gets out and opens the door for Aria. The gentleman is dressed in black from head to toe. Eliot takes notice that it is an armored SUV with agency personnel.
Hardison, Sophie, Parker and Nate watch her from the van. Aria takes a look back over her shoulder directly at the van. She taps her forehead with her fingers as a goodbye to the others. Hardison, Parker, Nate and Sophie look at each other as the SUV pulls away. Eliot, Shelley and Vance head out to the van to plan the enxt move. The video screen illuminates where Eliot's comm is tracking Aria's path into the night.
The SUV reaches the final destination as Aria gets into a jet at an isolated airport. Aria takes a seat to gaze out the window. Aria sits with her hands in her hair deep in thought and mental focus. She has plenty of time to get lost in her head. Aria acknowledges that she actually has way too much time.
Aria is shuttled from plane to truck before being dropped off on a desolate road. A cloud of dust rises as the truck pulls away, everything surrounding Aria is illuminated by the moonlight creating a surreal scene as if it was pulled from a movie script. Aria walks down the road, through a large iron gate up to a large castle like structure, the guards allow her to pass without question. Two guards open the doors to the building and remain at their posts as if Aria is an expected guest. Aria proceeds down a long hallway. The only sounds are the heels of her boots on the marble as she walks into the main room.
Moriarty is standing in the center of the elaborate room. There is a large elegant table in the center with two elegant chairs between them. Aria's arrival in the room is met by a ridiculous number of guards entering at the ready. Aria and Moriarty face each other for a few moments in silence with their well armed audience in attendance.
Aria takes in her mentor's features. He has aged since her time at the farm yet the fierceness of his features remains steadfastly etched by time.
"Aria… Aria… come… sit down." Moriarty has a wicked grin on his face. His hair is disheveled making him appear like a psychotic orchestra conductor. He is dressed in a dapper all black suit. Aria remains as she is as the guards rim that perimeter of the room become aggressive in their stance. "Come now let us talk." From his tone, one would swear that Aria's presence is a pure social call on an old friend.
Aria stares Moriarty as she takes her seat with the elegance of a lady at tea. "Sorry the chorus line begs for a bit of suspicion." Aria waves in the direction of the guards.
Moriarty motions at one of men. The guards vacate the room in a single file line. A moment later, another man returns with a tea set on a tray. He places it in the middle of the table between Aria and her host. The gentleman pours each of them a cup before exiting the room. Moriarty taking the cup from the service and placing it delicately in front of Aria. "It's your favorite, dear, Early Grey with honey." Moriarty motions towards the cup with genuine fondness. Aria gazes a the cup appreciating the irony of being served from her own mother's tea set. Well played professor, well played are the thoughts running through Aria's mind as she gazes at the cup.
"Thank you." Aria runs her fingers on the handle of the cup but does not drink from it. "You have gone through a lot of trouble to get my attention Professor… what is it that you want?" Aria's tone remains calm and clear.
A wicked grin again crosses Moriarty's face as he rubs his chin and sits opposite of Aria. "Through me you enter into the city of woe…Through me you enter into eternal pain" At the end of his words, Moriarty takes a sip from his cup as if this were a lesson being taught to a student.
Aria runs her finger on the edge of the cup as she surveys Moriarty. "Through me you enter into the population of loss… Abandon all hope when you enter here."
Back in Portland at the Brewpub:
The team is sitting in the back room watching the video screens listening to Aria's comm. Eliot took a chance knowing that these were the WIFI comms, he had to take the chance to know where Aria was going. Aria kept her word. Hardison has tracked Aria to Prague. Hardison is furiously typing on his laptop trying to find a way into a castle half a world away. He had Eliot's ear bud to tag off of wifi or cellular. He is finally able to pinpoint Aria's location.
"What are they talking about… damn it Hardison… get eyes on her." Eliot does not like this situation. His growing concern is obvious as he paces the room like a cat on a hot tin roof. "Got it … got a way in." Hardison continues typing furiously. The screen illuminates in front of them as Hardison scans feeds for the right one. The audio remains clear as he searches for the visual.
"It's Dante's Inferno… the inscription on the gates of hell." Nate informs them of the nature of the banter between Aria and her host.
"I made you Aria. I made you what you are." Moriarty sips his tea as he eyes his former muse and his greatest creation. "At least we know that Dr. Frankenstein isn't the only one who creates monsters." Aria does not look at Moriarty as she speaks. Her eyes are fixed on the cup as Moriarty would expect them to be.
"Actually I'm quite impressed. You surpassed all of my expectations my sweet Aria. You, you my dear were the hardest to break which was a bit frustrating for me but, in the end you were my greatest creation." Moriarty acknowledges the statement with the pride of a father in his voice.
Aria takes her eyes off of cup, fixating her eyes across the table at Moriarty. "Or should I just call you Azrael?" Moriarty taps the table with a chuckle.
"What makes you think I am Azrael?" Aria leans back in her chair serving the ball back to Moriarty in this verbal tit for tat.
"The theatrics. The theatrics are a nice touch… very, very effective. I knew it had to be you. You always had panache and a certain Moxie. That my child cannot be taught. That... that is a gift." Moriarty continues the sparring sipping his tea like this is a social call. He leans back in his chair with a smile. "Aria, you were always so righteous, that code you live by, those lines that you won't cross. It had to be you. " Moriarty places his hands in front of his face in a pyramid of thought.
"Without a code to live by, there is just chaos and anarchy… isn't that right Professor." Aria kicks her feet up onto the table like a defiant child.
"What is wrong with this game? Take away everything that Aria is… strip her down to what is base… and she is" Nate questions the group without taking his eyes off the screens. "She's a Marine." Sophie is also entranced by the screen. "She is not an operative… she is a Marine… a Recon Marine." Eliot is surveying the situation without comment. "What does that mean?" Hardison isn't sure where this is going. "It means that she thinks like a soldier not an operative." Eliot is growing restless but offers into the conversation.
"It's like chess… Aria doesn't think about what is going on now… she is four moves ahead." Nate is now pacing in front of the screens. "She is not wired for logic… she is wired… for strategy… wired to win or die trying." Eliot watches the screens through Nate. "It's what makes her so damn effective." Nate and Eliot are in a tennis match of detail. "You never fight an enemy on equal terms."
"This is going to get interesting." Sophie adds without a glance in either Nate's or Eliot's direction. "The apprentice became the master. Everything that happened… the raids, the grabs, they were moves on the board. They have been playing chess the whole time."
"Midway on life's journey, I found myself in dark woods… the right road lost." Moriarty continues the game. "Each of us creates our own hell." Aria stares at him over the table with an air of nonchalance.
"Imagine my surprise to find a calling card." Moriarty holds an Azrael card in his hand in view for Aria to see. "Once you put human life in human hands, it's a slippery slope that knows no boundaries." Moriarty tosses a veiled threat toward Aria as he tosses the card onto the table.
"I'm just adapting principles to circumstances." Aria glances towards the camera in the corner knowingly as if she already knew Hardison had hacked a view for Eliot.
"Patton?" Nate looks towards Eliot as Eliot cracks a rare smile at Aria's comment and the virtual meeting of their eyes across the distance.
"A Marine quoting Patton, now I have seen it all." Moriarty laughs as he takes another sip from his cup. "It is the unconquerable nature of man and not the nature of the weapon he uses that ensures victory…what can I say… I'm fickle that way." Aria tips her fingers into a triangle in front of her lips mimicking Moriarty's previous position.
"Why hasn't either of them made a move?" Hardison is watching the scene unfold. "They are still playing the game." Eliot is growing more agitated and intense.
Aria is sitting still with Moriarty now circling her chair. "You went through a lot of trouble to get me here… I'm here… What do you want." Aria's tone remains defiant. "You kept your word. What makes you think I'll keep mine?" Moriarty is like a vulture circling Aria as he speaks to her. "Because you are an intellectual man and you are curious about what I will do if you don't." Aria's voice has the air of veiled threat which intrigues her host.
"Aria, I never tire of your spirit but I tire of this game." Moriarty draws a weapon on Aria. Aria drops her feet to the floor a she grows more aggressive towards Moriarty but does not move to draw a weapon or to even rise from the chair.
"You know what I want" Moriarty touches Aria's face… "I want you to suffer… my sweet. I want you to break." Upon Moriarty's signal, several other men enter the room, Aria remains relaxed. At no point have they disarmed Aria during this interlude as she rises to her feet. "Harm a hair on them and I will end you." Aria takes up a relaxed position leaning against the table.
"What is she doing?" Eliot's expression reveals his growing concern and sense of helplessness as he offers the question into the air.
"You already bent me to all hell… you know I don't break, Professor." Aria pushes off the table and circles back towards Moriarty. The door opens as the room floods with light. Nate and the others are still watching with growing horror at the potential outcome in this situation.
"I don't know." Nate is transfixed on the screen.
"Fate is sealed. You chose the hand." Moriarty is inches from Aria's face. "Fate has a way of changing just when you don't want it too." Aria does not flinch at the intrusion to her personal space. "I know you my, darling." Moriarty rubs her cheek. Aria glares at him from the side. "I know what you are truly capable of… I know the depths of your wicked little soul."
"You have no idea of the contents of my soul…and you certainly cannot afford the price…" Aria glances over her shoulder. She has a room full of guards pointing countless weapons directly at her. "Ye of little faith dear professor, you are going to run out of guards before I run out of bullets…" Aria allows a weapon to drop into her hand at the expected lightening speed.
"Huh, not your usual artistry, Princess." Moriarty looks her over menacingly regarding her choice of weapon.
"Again merely adapting to changing circumstances… Actually, I find them to be a bit like modern art. It takes time to appreciate… but it is a whole new experience." Aria stares down Moriarty.
"It's the Marine in you… adapt and overcome. Never could knock that out of you." Moriarty walks a few steps away from her. "Oh … But I will break you my sweet , Aria. I have a surprise for you. Apparently the Israelis were a bit late on arrival to one of their destinations." Aria is running through her mental list, she knows the one person she purposely did not account for by intention and by design.
"Is that Quinn?" Eliot is confused.
"Oh my god." Sophie gasps.
"Why is Quinn there?"
Moriarty motions for other guards who bring Quinn in and sit him in a chair. "You see my Darling, you have always lacked the undeniable charm of weakness…I warned you… Love 's a fickle bitch baby girl… it's me or it's you… one of us is going to kill him." Moriarty touches Quinn's face. Quinn glares at him and pulls against the handcuffs around his wrists.
"I work alone… so ditch the chorus line." Aria's voice is calm but aggressively business like.
"I would if I trusted you Darling… but I don't." Moriarty laughs.
Aria pulls out and puts on her gloves as she walks up to Quinn. She whispers something to him and holds his neck as she kisses him before taking a step backward. Aria makes eye contact with Quinn. "The story I told you about Eliot and Raleigh in '02…" She pauses making sure she has Quinn's attention. "Remember it."
"Raleigh?" Nate has heard Aria mention Raleigh before. "Raleigh… that was the paintball game…" Sophie looks towards Eliot. "The one you cheated at…" Hardison also looks at Eliot. "I didn't cheat at paintball." Eliot is trying to figure out what Aria is doing.
Quinn nods never breaking eye contact. Aria aims a gun at Quinn's heart. Aria suddenly circles around Quinn as she places her arms around his neck. With a quick twist, Quinn falls from the chair onto the marble floor motionless. "You still manage to surprise me from time to time… I didn't think you had that in you…" Moriarty stands at Aria's back. "You thought I would even consider letting you take him from me. I would meet you at the gates of hell first… but I believe we have already ready shared that little dance. " Aria does not turn around to face Moriarty. She remains facing Quinn as she tosses the gun at Moriarty.
"You have lived by the gun Aria… are you prepared to die by it?" Moriarty turns her by her shoulder. "Actually, I don't believe in dying. It's been done. I'm working on a new exit. Besides, I can't die right now - I'm booked." Aria steps back from him. She has an intense stare but does not draw any of her weapons. "Checkmate, Professor."
Moriarty is standing inches from Aria's face with the gun pointed squarely at Aria's chest.
"Oh my God." Sophie. "What is happening… Eliot… oh my God" Sophie's tone is growing in intensity as she reacts to the images. Eliot stares blankly at the screen. He can not figure out why Aria has not drawn a weapon again. She is the fastest draw he has every seen. She pulls weapons out of thin air. Sophie reaches to touch his shoulder.
Moriarty fires shooting Aria at point blank range. Aria falls to the ground as he keeps firing at her falling form. Aria's eyes are wide open… blood is bubbling from her lips and spreading on the ground around her. She lands next to Quinn remaining motionless on the stone.
The comm Aria had falls deafeningly silent. The room fills with armed guards. The camera is shot by one of the guards as he enters.
(the picture in the Brewpub goes to snow)
Suddenly all of the guards turn their guns on Moriarty. Other agents file into the space grabbing the gun from Moriarty's hand. Sterling walks into the room. "Get him out of here. Get them all out of here." Sterling leans down over Aria and Quinn. He motions for a few of the guards to join him. Quinn and Aria are placed into body bags.
Sterling unzips the body bags. He offers Aria a hand has she gets out of the bag. Quinn is still unconscious so they leave him be. Aria looks down at Quinn and checks his pulse and touches his face.
"They are certainly not going to be pleased with you my dear Aria." Sterling moves so Aria can sit next to him. "They think you are dead and that you killed your friend here." Sterling settles back in the seat. "I know and I will deal with that. You know it had to go down this way, James."
They smile at each other. "For as long as I have known you… I can't believe I never figured you out." Sterling shakes his head as he taps Aria on the leg. Aria settles back into the seat as Sterling hands her a wipe for the "blood" on her mouth. "I am very, very good at what I do, James. By the way, please inform Q that these do not taste like strawberry." She motions to the "blood" capsules that provided the sleeping beauty experience.
"You are a little too good… in fact you are a bit scary, love." Sterling gives her another broad smile.
"Good, it keeps the men in my life in line." Aria winks at Sterling. "Well he was right when he said you had panache… I'd say a little moxie too."
"Let's get this joint briefing over. I gots some 'splaining to do." Aria knows that she is about to interject a little shock and awe into the lives of those she holds most dear.
Sophie walks up to Eliot… "Darling I am so sorry." Sophie touches Eliot on the shoulder in an attempt to console or comfort him. "I know how much you cared for Aria. How much all of you cared for her and how much she cared for all of you." Eliot is sitting at a table with Shelley and Vance. Eliot has broken the news of Aria's death to them. He still finds it hard to believe. Actually, he finds it almost impossible to believe that Aria would go out that way. It is not her style. Vance tried to confirm it in DC but received mixed information. Vance tried to reach Mack but was not able to find him either. None of this adds up to what they know about their little assassin. Shelley is staring down into a glass trying to quell the thoughts running through his head.
"Thought you might need this." Nate puts a bottle on the table. Vance acknowledges with a glance up. They start talking about Aria again. Eliot walks into the back room to be alone with his thoughts. He cannot take another Aria story at the moment. They are pulling a little too hard at his heartstrings. He has lost friends, lots of friends in the course of his career but this was different. This was Aria. Nate checks on Eliot but realizes that he truly wants to be alone.
Sterling and Aria are riding in a car toward the brew pub.
"Shall we bring you back from the dead my dear." Sterling taps her on the leg. "Actually this isn't my first resurrection" Aria winks at Sterling.
"Aria from anyone else… that would be shocking… from you… not so much." He laughs at Aria's attitude about what will be a rather shocking experience that he would not miss witnessing for the world. Sterling walks into the brew pub first. Everyone's attention is immediately focused on him. "I believe I have something that belongs to you." Sterling stands in the doorway with Aria slightly behind him hidden by shadows.
Aria steps out from behind him and appears in the doorway. Her shirt is ripped where the bullets were fired. She has the vest dangling from her fingertips. Sterling steps back to allow them a better view.
There is an audible sound of shock from the room. No one can believe that Aria is standing in front of them. Aria walks with a heavy limp towards the group gathered at the tables.
"Aria… You are alive…" Sophie is amazed. Sophie reaches out to instinctively confirm what is before her eyes. "The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated." Aria smiles at her as she speaks. Aria stands before them quite alive though a little damaged.
Parker rushes Aria nearly knocking her over. Aria yelps in pain as Parker bear hugs her. "I saw you get shot." Hardison is the first to speak. Aria tosses the vest onto his lap. There are four bullets lodged where her heart would be and the vest is covered in Hollywood blood.
Hardison picks it up… "I'll be damned … a Hollywood loaded vest."
"Not just for the movies, Sweetie… but the bastard did manage to break two of my ribs….and shot me in the leg." Aria is stuck in Parker's grasp. Parker let's her go as Vance and Shelley get up. Shelley grabs her up in a hug. He holds her for a minute then releases her a bit so he can get a good look at her face. Once Shelley puts her down, Vance looks her over and opens up his arms. "Glad to have our girl back." He playfully brushes the hair out of her face. Nate speaks to Sterling who has made his way to the bar. "How the hell did you pull this off?"
"Nate… Aria is a bit of an evil genius." Hardison stares at the vest… poking his fingers into the bullets.
"And one hell of a grifter… I thought her first one was impressive… you, my dear, are scary." Sophie points at Aria as she enters the back room. She speaks to Eliot who is standing in the dark… "Eliot, there is something you have to see."
Eliot stops dead when he sees Aria walk passed Sophie and stops in front of him. "Aria." Eliot walks up to her and grabs her tight.
"Eliot… Eliot.. bro… broken ribs…. Shot…. Ow!" Eliot wraps Aria up in his arms. "Don't do that again. You hear me. Don't do that to me again… twice is enough in one lifetime." His voice is forceful and stern.
Aria looks him in the eyes and nods. Eliot pulls her head in again for a minute holding her in place with his hand on the back of her hair.
She looks at him as he holds her face, Eliot leans his head against hers. "Quinn?" Aria smiles. "He is fine, Raleigh... remember not what it seems"
The group gathers at the bar as the interrogation begins.
"So Sterling… how the hell did Interpol get pulled into trap for a rogue CIA agent with so much collateral damage." Nate tops off his and Sterling's drink along with Vance and the others. "Seems our dear professor has been a naughty boy." Nate takes a sip of his drink.
"He is wanted for questioning by the CIA, MI6, Mossad…. The list is long and rather distinguished." Sterling casts a glance in Aria's direction.
"If you are Azrael… then why didn't you just kill him?" Hardison asks of Aria as Shelley offers Aria a chair.
"Because there is 20 years of intel in that pretty little head of his… besides…" Aria starts a sentence that Sterling finishes. "Getting caught is a fate worse than death." Sterling moves towards Aria. "Well I don't think our little angel of death's motives were purely altruistic… he did set you up in Astan if I understand what I have heard…" Sterling wraps his arm on Aria's shoulder.
"Vengence… A-stan was him?" Eliot, Vance and Shelley are shocked and immediately react to the information She shakes her head. "You have no idea"
"Why did you kill off Azrael and well Quinn?" Hardison is sitting at the table with Parker on the arm of his chair. "Because there are a lot fewer people looking for you when you are dead." Sophie chimes in.
"Exit strategy?" Eliot looks at Aria. "More like a retirement plan." Aria smiles back at him. "I thought you once told me that people in your line of work don't get to retire." Sophie asks with a grin. Aria tips her glass at Sophie. "Exactly."
Eliot registers shock at that announcement. He rounds the table to next to Aria. Aria is leaning forward resting her weight on her forearms exposing her holsters. Eliot looks at the guns in Aria's holsters and pulls one out. "Wait…. You went into a dragon's lair." He turns around and pulls out another gun from her holster and checks it. Aria keeps looking straight ahead. "With paintball guns… damn it…Aria. Raleigh… This is what you meant by Raleigh…You are never going to give up on that are you…" Sterling laughs. Shelley and Vance were in Raleigh and still find the story amusing. A deadly serious look crosses Aria's face. "If I went in with bullets… I would have used them… I would have used them all, Eliot." She does not look at him as she downs the whiskey in her glass.
Her gaze is still forward across the bar. "How…" Nate presses… "I have to know how you arranged that." Nate engages Sterling. Sterling motions towards Aria.
"This was all my sweet psychopath's plan." She turns around towards Nate.
"Since you know a con when you spin one… tell me a story."
"As Sterling eluded to… you could not use CIA assets… they were all known to Moriarty. They would have stood out to him. In your job you would have interacted with Interpol and MI6 among others. You have worked with Sterling before… many times so you used your contacts within Interpol because they operate on inter- agency cooperation… and a broader jurisdiction. Plus it keeps the CIA... and the US government out of the picture since they were essentially going after one of their own."
Nate is now behind Aria. She takes the bottle of whiskey and tops his glass along with her own. She nods an affirmation. "Quinn… you didn't expect but you always plan for contingencies… which is why you had other operatives sit on us too." She smiles. "Mossad was keeping an eye on you to be exact… called in markers on MI6 and unfortunately for me, I now owe Mossad a favor." Eliot gives her a look. Aria turns towards Hardison.
"Lo-jack works both ways on the comms, Sweetie. It was for your own protection. With so many rogue operatives and Robin Hood's band of thieves, I needed a bit of assistance to keep track of you."
"So what did you do with Mack?" Eliot is curious. Aria looks up at Eliot. "He is at my place in PA. Snug as a bug. I put operatives on everyone."
"Two of the most wanted assassins in the world were taken down in a single op." Sterling raises a glass.
"The amusing part is that the only person who took an actual bullet… was you." Nate tips his glass at Aria and takes a drink. "Believe me the irony was not lost on me and my dear Sterling will get all the credit. The only way to win the game… is not to play." Aria sits back in the chair.
"They truly love each other." Sophie lingers close to Nate to speak in a whisper. Nate takes a sip from his drink. "Honey…. That's real love." Sophie smiles at Nate as they watch Eliot interact with Aria and the others.
"With all of the fake blood and bullets, is she really an assassin?" Sophie corners Sterling as he joins her and Nate.
"A remarkably skilled one…truly gifted… but for all the people she has killed… the number she hasn't killed would surprise you… that is what makes her exceptional. Well, I have an assassin to interrogate… as always a pleasure." Sterling bids them adieu.
The night winds to a close with Eliot driving Aria back to a hotel. He knows that Aria is fading fast with the mix of cocktails and the fact that despite the injuries, she has likely been up for days. Eliot finds Vance and Shelley arriving at the hotel with the same plan. None of them can bear to let Aria be alone right now. They will take turns guarding sleeping beauty.