Notes: This is my backstory for Nate and Eliot used in this verse and probably the other stories unless stated otherwise.
Cyber cookies to anyone geeky enough to catch the LotR fanfic reference.
Cell Number Eight
It's strange how an epiphany in the middle of a fight can make time seem to slow down.
Eliot Spencer had been in some run down slum on the outskirts of Cairo, trying to run a job when he probably should be in the hospital, in the middle of a fight with a bunch of guys who were the reason why the emphasis was on the word trying. His ribs had been screaming at him that they were broken again. The old wounds left by a crime lord's torturers not a month ago were reopening. His entire body was on fire from pushing himself way to far and he was trying to gather some of that fire and desperation to just survive, that deadly survival instinct that carried him through when fights got tough, when it hit him.
He didn't really care anymore.
Eliot Spencer had had enough.
Time seemed to slow down. He coughed, spit blood onto the ground, and breathed a moment. He didn't know why he was fighting anymore, why he was even doing this job other than that it was a job and that at the ripe old age of twenty-five his life had already revolved around doing jobs for over a decade. He was his work and he had to keep working or face the fact that he didn't have anything left beside the job anymore. His sister had disowned him once she found out how he put her through college, his mother was dead, his father had been dead, he had no home, no friends besides Willie and those folk but Ammie had made it clear he wasn't welcome any more now that she was getting married.
That left him with work. A different hotel room every night, patching himself up in the bathroom because he was too afraid to go to the ER, suffering through nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, and god knows what else because he couldn't take time off to deal with the fact that he'd spent three months in hell.
What the hell was he doing this for?
He didn't know. He didn't care. He was tired.
Eliot Spencer was done.
He was done, he surrendered, he was ready to retire, turn in his non-existent badge and gym membership and go to that big bar fight in the sky.
He didn't even feel the blow that took him down.
Nathan Ford was not having a good day. It had started out mostly alright, a call from his wife and very energetic year old son always was a perfect cure for waking up alone in a strange hotel. He was on a job but he should have been home in a couple of days. He just needed to track down a couple people, ask a few more questions, con a fellow or two and he'd be on his happy way back home.
How that day ended with him coming to as he was being half dragged, half carried through the halls of some dark prison complex he would have to address later if only to add it to his list of things he was never doing again.
He played possum, not even beginning to know what situation he'd landed himself in and not wanting to attract attention until he had some idea of what he was dealing with. He'd been stripped to his waist and his shoes and socks were gone but it could be worse.
Okay, so being dragged half naked towards god knows where couldn't be much worse, but it could still be worse.
He didn't know how long it had been before a door was opened and he was tossed into a cell. He let himself collapse onto the floor.
He waited for the door to shut and lock and the gaurds to walk away before he climbed to his feet, shaking himself off and checking himself over for injuries. After ascertaining that he had a mild concussion and only a few minor wounds from a scuffle he started examining his prison.
It was pretty much what came to mind at the word "cell" in this part of the world. Dirt floor, stone walls and ceiling, musty, cold, small, and damp. There was also a rather nasty smell that suggested there were probably some nice specimen of vermin he didn't want to get too acquainted with lurking around. It was hard to tell, the cell was pretty dark. Lit mostly by the light leaking in through the barred window slit in the cell door.
Nate took a hesitant step forward and nearly knocked over some kind of metal bucket that sloshed when his foot hit it. It was a bucket of water. While down to examine it Nate found an empty bucket with a foul smell that suggested it's purpose, and a small tray with a bowl of what felt like it might be some kind of barely based food substance and what made him thank god, a couple of matches.
It seemed like someone had already put food and water in his cell for him, strange since this wasn't exactly a Hilton, but matches suggested there might be some kind of lighting source that needed to be lit.
Carefully striking one of the matches Nate used the dim light it gave to look around his cell, locating a small candle sitting on a stool near a corner. He grabbed the other match and crossed to it quickly, hoping not to lose it in the gloom once he shook the match out.
He was so focused on getting lasting light it wasn't until the wick of the candle glowed to life that Nate noticed the soft raspy breathing not two feet from him and realized that what he'd stumbled into might not have been meant for him.
He turned slowly, nightmare scenarios forming in his mind as the light of the candle finally let him see the being he was sharing his cell with.
He was not expecting it to be a small man in his early twenties who watched Nate with pain glazed eyes. The food and water was probably meant for this man but it took barely a glance to realize he was too weak to cross the room to get to it. He was flushed with a fever, his bare chest crisscrossed with burns and lacerations and scars that suggested torture that left terror chasing it's way down Nate's spine.
Nate tried not to consider that, focusing on his young cell mate and the fact the boy looked like he was mounting death's front porch and getting ready to knock.
As Nate stood there, in the darkness, completely at a loss for what to do or what was going on, completely without a plan he did what he did best: made one quick decision and let the plan form as he went along. He could worry about what was going to come, sit shivering in the darkness for hours until fear drove him half mad, or he could try to save this man's life and maybe help himself in the process. Surely this man would be able to tell him something about his current situation.
Nate put the candle back onto it's stool, fetched the water bucket, tore piece off the bottom of his pant leg and sat himself next to his patient. "Hello. Do you speak English? My name is Nathan, I'm going to try to help you." He didn't get a response save those pained blue eyes closing and his head turning away.
Nate swallowed hard, there had been a moment when even though the man hadn't said a word his face said once thing perfectly clear. "Leave me alone. Just let me die in peace." Nate's plan faltered for a moment and he wondered if maybe he should do just that. He didn't know this man and god knows he didn't know what he'd been through.
The man's head lolled to the side and it was clear he'd drifted back into unconsciousness. For a long moment Nate just sat there, candle light flickering across skin that was too pale from prolonged captivity and stretched over a body that was far too thin, marred by scars from fights and torture that had to have been going on for quite some time for there were many scars that seemed to show the earliest wounds had already healed. It looked more like the body of an old man or some victim of a death camp then anything else.
But with those dead and pained eyes closed the face looked young. Somehow everything that came together made him look even younger than the twenty something he probably was. He looked like a kid who should be worrying about college and girls and the dumb things college kids worried about. He shouldn't be dieing in some god forsaken hellhole
Nate wasn't even sure when in that line of thought he'd started moving again. Cleaning infected injuries, a second rag torn, wet and laid on the man's forehead to fight the fever as best Nate could figure out how.
Chances were this kid would die that night but Nate would what he could.
Nate didn't know how long he worked. When he had nothing left to do besides wait and hope his patient pulled through he blew out the candle, leaned against the wall and let himself drift into a restless sleep.
The change of light was what woke him. A dim light filling the dark cell stirred Nate from his sleep. Shafts, only a few inches in diameter, were cut into the wall near the ceiling and went at a slope to ground level offering a tiny bit of natural light into the cell.
It took Nate a few minutes to wake up enough to remember where he was and what was going on but as soon as he did he turned to the man from the night before.
His eyes were closed, the flush of fever gone and for one moment Nate feared he'd passed away during the night. Hesitantly Nate reached out to feel for a pulse. The man's eyes flew open. They were still foggy with fever and pain but there was lucidity there.
"Glad to see you lived through the night." Nate said, turning slowly toward his patient, feeling the blows he'd taken when he was captured the day before making him stiff. "I was thrown in here last night, you might not remember it. I saw you were hurt and did what I could." The man just looked at him, those cloudy blue eyes somehow alert all the same, looking for danger.
The night before Nate had seen the marks of a hard life; burns and lacerations and scars from fights. There were older scars too, marks telling of a childhood no one should have endured and left little wonder in Nate's mind why this man had little trust for a kind stranger.
Nate met those blue eyes steadily. The scars, new and old, as good as told Nate his cell-mate's profession: thief or a thug of some kind, maybe even a retrieval specialist early in his career and in over his head. They were on opposite sides of the line.
Which begged to reason why he was still concerned about making this man better?
If Nate was honest with himself, and he always tried to be, it was because the older scars. With a year old son waiting for him to get home Nate couldn't help but wonder a little if maybe a different family was all the difference between who Sam would grow up to be and this young man.
Nate was too realistic to think he could "save" this man, or show him the error in his ways and convince him to lead a honest life. Salvation was Paul's job.
But that made him remember what Paul always reminded him whenever Nate's work came up. "Remember that Javier was the honest man but it was Jean Valjean that was a good man." An officer of the law was an honest man but it was the thief he spent his whole life chasing that was the better man.
"He treated me like any other, he gave me his trust, he called me brother. What spirit comes to move my life? Is there another way to go?" The line came back to him after the years and Nate remembered Paul's favorite part. Jean Valjean better man because that one night, when Jean Valjean was young and broken a holy man showed him kindness, treated him like a human.
The man was looking at him with a expression somewhere between confusion and apathy before turning his head away.
Well, too much philosophy first thing in the morning had always been a bad idea.
Nate got up, stretched, and found the bucket of water from the night before. "If you don't remember my name's Nathan. Are you thirsty?"
Eliot was pretty hazy. He wasn't quite sure how long he'd been lingering between lucidity and death but he'd faded in and out more than a few times before something had changed. He'd faded in to find the cell dark in night but then something had changed.
There was sounds and just when Eliot was beginning to wonder if rats had come to see if he was nice and dead yet someone lit a candle.
He'd watched for a few short moments, trying to determine if the man was just his mind taking a vacation, if someone was actually there, or if this was what death was like.
The man spoke to him, talking about helping him and all Eliot could do was close his eyes and look away. He didn't want help, even in the off chance this guy was actually going to try to do anything but hurt him. He just… he was tired.
He was ready for this to be over.
When he faded in again it was morning. The burning pain had gone down. He felt more human, more lucid, connected to his body and the world around him like he hadn't been for awhile. Time had passed and he understood it. Something had changed but he wasn't sure what.
He'd seen the man then, some stranger in the cell that had had no intruders beyond the dayily he'd had enough witts about him at one point to name room-service. Memories of long imprisonment in Nishka's dungeons sprang up and Eliot wondered if whoever seemed to have forgotten he was rotting away down here had remembered now.
But then the man spoke. He had helped Eliot. He had tried to treat him as best he could and seemed to actually want to make him better.
Eliot was too fuzzy to really consider the implications and everything, and he was too tired to care right then.
But when that man, Nathan, asked if he was thirsty Eliot could only nod.
Ten minutes later, when Nathan had helped him take a drink and was rechecking his injuries with hands that were gentle in a way Eliot had almost forgotten Eliot started to fade out again.
As he closed his eyes and let unconsciousness sweep over him again his last hazy thought was that somehow this was an honest man. There was something about this man he could almost trust.