Parker kept her eyes front and refused to look back. More than twice Eliot had to stop to gain his composure; uncontrolled coughs and gurgles were retching from his mouth. There was nothing Parker could do to aid or comfort him in these small metallic ventilation shafts they were combing though like rats in a maze.
It was all she could do to wait patiently and not reveal the panic she felt as the sounds of pursuers gained increasingly from behind. It took about half an hour for her to be sure, but she knew now they were definitely in the shafts behind them. All it would take was for them to catch up and they would be shot from behind and there was nothing either of them could do about it.
If her mind could only remember the blueprints she had studied before the con, she could remember which way to turn in this tin labyrinth, to remember which way led to escape. But her thoughts were so jumbled, so frenzied, so preoccupied with Eliot's rapidly failing health that it was all she could do to keep crawling forward behind him, intentionally averting her eyes from the blood trail she followed.
After another few minutes of crawling, the tunnels opened up to a sort of intersection, giving them headspace to at least sit up and not remain on all fours. Eliot got there first and propped himself up painfully, into an upright sitting position, breathing far too rapidly and holding a bloodied hand to the shoulder that had suffered the excruciating knife wound.
Parker crawled up beside him and positioned herself next to him, also now upright. There were small shafts of light beaming in from discrepancies in the craftsmanship of the shafts and it was enough to see the intense pain he reflected in his face.
"What can I do Eliot?" she said desperately. "Please…tell me what to do."
He sighed inwardly, a soft gasp escaping his mouth as he attempted to shift to ease the pain in his shoulder.
"Nothing Parker. There's nothing you can do, believe me. I wish there was."
Parker's ears perked slightly at the muffled voices echoing in the not-too-far distance behind them.
"I hear them too. They've been following us for some time and they'll be on us sooner than I'd hoped. You have to keep going Parker." He winced suddenly and a spurt of blood trickled through his fingers holding the wound on his shoulder.
"No way!" Parker exclaimed. "If we just-"
"Parker!" Eliot yelled harshly not letting her finish her thought. "I NEED you to keep going. I'm just slowing you down and I'm losing too much blood to keep crawling through these damned vents much longer." His voice softened. "So please, I'm asking you to keep going. Tell Nate-" His voice broke momentarily but he kept going. "Tell him I'm sorry, but we knew one day it would end this way."
Parker saw how determined he was, how tired he looked. Her heart felt torn from her chest. She knew him so well yet had never seen this look of defeat and acceptance glisten in his eyes before. She knew he wouldn't move from this spot now, no matter what she said and she also knew he was right about losing too much blood.
Without thinking, her hand reached out to his face and laid softly on his cheek, feeling the slight edge of stubble around his cheekbone.
He looked at her quizzically through slightly drooping eyes. "Parker…what are you-"
She moved her face towards his so they were merely centimeters apart, her hand still on his cheek. She spoke quietly but intently making sure he understood every word through his daze of suffering.
"If this doesn't work, I want you to know how grateful I am for what you did for me back there; for what you do for all of us, every day, Eliot. If this doesn't work, I want you to know that you are important to this world and that you truly mattered; you were a part of something that was good and that you made a difference."
She paused for a moment before making her decision while he watched her unsure and taken aback.
"And if this doesn't work, I want to know…..no, I have to know what it would have been like."
His eyes looked confused. His voice was barely a whisper. "What what would have been like?"
She closed her eyes slowly and leaned forward gently as to not hurt him any worse and placed her lips upon his.
He protested for half a second before he kissed her back.
Parker pulled back slowly after a moment, trying to sear the moment into her mind before she cocked back her fist which was now holding the pulley she always kept at her belt and clocked Eliot hard in the head.
He saw the movement all too late and it instantaneously knocked him out cold.
Parker knew she had no time to waste and attached the pulley to the belt loops of his blue jeans. She eased his head to the metallic ground softly and using all her might she pulled him through the shafts, forcing herself to remember the exit route from the blueprints, not letting herself think of anyone or anything else.
The reached the exit in time where Nate, Sophie, and Hardison were waiting frantically. Parker barked at them to take Eliot from her and drive to a hospital before any of them even spoke. They took one look at Eliot and moved without uttering a word. Parker climbed into the back of the van with them, exhausted, worried, and confused.
To be continued…