Disclaimer: I don't own Leverage, or Eliot would be shirtless pretty much all the time. This story is an AU set during Season 2.

When it was all said and done, a little part of him still blamed Hardison for the whole mess. Not that Hardison was actually the one behind the ambush, but he was the one who, in a moment of karmic stupidity, had used the 'q' word.

Eliot tilted his head slightly, feeling his earbud settle itself a little further inside his ear. The stupid thing itched and he was dying to take it out and switch ears, but he was pretty sure Sophie wouldn't appreciate him blowing her cover that way. She stood a few feet in front of him, completely in character as the wife of an Eastern European politician looking to do a little arms trading on the side. Eliot was posing as her bodyguard, which basically entailed standing behind her and looking menacing. He wasn't the best actor on the team by any means, but he had 'menacing' down to an art.

While Sophie and Guiterrez, the arms dealer, hashed out the details of their deal, Eliot tried to ignore Hardison's running commentary in his ear.

"- the first job we're had in like three weeks, and Sophie and Eliot are the only ones who get to play? Man, it is just too quiet these days."

Eliot couldn't restrain the growl that escaped him. Guiterrez's guards glanced over at him but said nothing, and in his ear, Hardison went conspicuously silent. He was about to congratulate himself on getting Hardison to stop complaining when the hacker's voice returned in his ear.

"I know you're not seriously upset that I said the word 'quiet'. Damn, man, leave the superstition in the Dark Ages where it belongs. You know the ancient Mayans believed that if they didn't perform rituals every morning, the sun wouldn't rise? That's what you are, Eliot: you're a superstitious, sun-doubting Mayan."

Eliot gritted his teeth and wondered how Sophie could concentrate with Hardison prattling in her ear. She certainly didn't seem bothered by it.

When he looked back on that day, he pinpointed that as the moment when everything went to hell. Eliot was contemplating the best way to torment Hardison when they got back to the states, and his attention slipped for one crucial moment. The door to the warehouse slammed open and there was a tremendous racket: the noise of two dozen pairs of hard-soled combat boots running on concrete. Eliot was half a second behind Guiterrez's guards, grabbing Sophie and pulling her toward the left-sided door as Guiterrez and his people went for the door on the other side of the warehouse.

They almost made it.

Eliot's ears were sensitized to the noises made by just about every weapon on the planet. The first rapid click-clack was enough to get him to change his course, tackling Sophie to the ground and covering her with his body to protect her. Guiterrez's guards either weren't as quick to react as he was or didn't care as much about the person they were protecting, but in the end it didn't matter. When the hail of bullets ceased, all three men lay dead on the floor.

Eliot judged the distance to the nearest door and did a quick calculation in his head. He could rush the guys carrying the M240s, but that would give Sophie five to seven seconds, max, before he was dead and they were shooting at her. It wasn't nearly enough time for her to get out.

"Sorry," he said under his breath, ignoring Hardison's cursing and Nate's frantic demands to know what the hell was going on. It was Sophie he owed the apology to. It was Sophie who was going to die because he hadn't been fast enough.

"Mr. Spencer."

Eliot stiffened. Beneath him, Sophie was completely still, doing her best not to attract any attention to herself. Good girl, he thought, as a glimmer of a plan began to form in his mind. He tilted his head forward, his mouth next to her ear.

"While they're distracted, run," he whispered, and was on his feet before she had time to protest.

He faced the shooters, squaring his shoulders. If they were going to kill him, they were going to have to look him in the eye while they did it. There were nearly thirty men there, all in nondescript street clothes, but the boots gave them away as either mercenaries or local military. The man who'd spoken was grey-haired, in his sixties or so, and held a Glock 17Pro like he knew how to use it. Eliot recognized the gun before he recognized the man; not many people carried the 17Pro, and this was the only man he'd ever met who'd gone to Finland specifically to purchase one.


"Ah, good." Julovich gave Eliot a perfunctory smile. "You remember me. Do you also remember the ring you took from me?"

He definitely remembered the ring. The Lubenic family had hired him to retrieve it after Julovich killed their grandmother to get his hands on it. It was a nice ring, as rings went, but he was sure it hadn't been worth the hundred grand they'd paid him to retrieve it. He'd chalked it up to sentimental value and taken the money without a backward glance.

"I see that you do. A poor decision, Mr. Spencer, to make an enemy out of me." Julovich held the Glock trained on Eliot's chest, but the men he'd hired had their guns down at their sides. Eliot put his glimmer of a plan into action, moving toward Julovich and his men. Immediately their attention was on him, and Sophie, bless her thieving heart, saw the opening he'd given her and took it, getting noiselessly to her feet and running for the door.

She made it almost out the door before one of the men spotted her. Eliot tensed, ready to spring at the man and take him down before he could shoot her, but Julovich halted his man with a barked command in Russian. The man started to protest and Julovich hit him across the face with the Glock.

"You work for me, and I say the girl doesn't matter!" Julovich snapped, his accent thick. "I am here for Spencer."

"You want me?" Eliot asked, dropping into a fighting crouch. "Come and get me."

Julovich smirked and gestured to his hired fighters. They dropped their guns before they came at him, which told him that they wanted him alive. That was concerning, but breaking and running wasn't an option; not when Sophie and the others were still in the area and could end up hurt. He'd been taken before, and he never forgot that it was a possibility with any job. He was a survivor. He'd be all right.

As the first man reached him, Eliot lashed out, feeling the release of fist breaking bone. A gasp in his ear reminded him that he still wore his earbud. He spared a glance for the door and saw that Sophie was still there, hovering maddeningly just inside the doorway and wringing her hands in helpless frustration.

"Get out," he told her sharply over the com, ignoring her spluttered protests. "These guys mean business, Sophie. They didn't come for you, but they'll kill you if you get in the way." Seeing her hesitate, he growled under his breath, his fist connecting with another attacker's jaw. "Sophie, go!"

She went.

Once she was gone, he let himself fall into the kill-or-be-killed mode he hadn't been able to use since he'd joined the team and had to worry about the other four. It was almost a relief not to have to think of the others; his world narrowed to strike and block, to himself and his attackers.

He took down nearly half of them before they got smart, launching themselves at him in one solid wave of bodies that he couldn't counter all at once. A sharp sting at the back of his neck told him they were better prepared than he'd realized, and he had just enough time to drive the heel of his hand into one man's face, his nose shattering under the blow, before the tranquilizer took hold and Eliot fell into darkness.