Thanks to everyone who reviewed – you made my day (especially Jade – you're AWESOME :D)
And also my apologies for taking so long to post, I just started university so I been a little busy (read: drunk)
When they arrived back at Nate's apartment they had decided first that Sophie should get some sleep, and second that they need to go and sanitise the loft that Nathan had been using as his fake home for the con. They needed to check they hadn't left any clues as to where they lived for real.
Someone could use something as small as a receipt from some coffee shop to track them down – Eliot had done it before himself. They needed to be thorough as they didn't know how good their enemy was, therefore it was best to assume they were the best and anything less was a bonus.
Nathan and Eliot had elected to go. Eliot was mostly there for protection, and Nate had spent his whole career tracking people and things down so he knew what to look for. They didn't want to risk anyone else on the team coming, just in case. Roskin had seen Nate anyway so it made sense to keep the rest of the team hidden if at all possible.
Eliot had gone to check the roof for any of Parkers stuff when the man turned up.
He was at least 6ft 3' with blond hair and pale skin and was heavily muscled with a moustache that somebody should have told him was a mistake. Something about the way he was dressed made Nate wonder if he was going to a fancy dress party as a member of the village people at some point today. But he also held the knife like he knew what he was doing though and that was enough for Nate to feel more scared than amused.
"Ah, now you are Wyatt yes?" he said, his voice not as deep as he had expected but not to the point that it was effeminate.
Nate didn't like to run. Sure, he had to occasionally, but he didn't like to. He would rather think his way out of a situation. Normally he might have at least attempted to talk his way out of it but the man called him Wyatt (which is how Roskin knew him) so he figured the cat was out the bag and denying it would be a waste of breath. He had nothing to negotiate with either. This time it was run or die. Please select option one or option two.
He picked option one.
It occurred to him midflight that it was a little short sighted to run upstairs instead of down but Eliot was up and that's all him brain could come up with when he had a man with a knife running after him. Up of course whilst having the benefit of having Eliot, had the more pressing downside of meaning that there was only so far to run before you hit a dead end, literally (unless you were Parker and were happy to jump off roofs. But he was not Parker and even in these circumstances he was still glad about that.)
Another downside was that he was also leading his attacker toward his intended target. But it was too late for regrets he was already committed. He just hoped this guy wasn't as good as Eliot.
Nate was a little annoyed after all his running and very manly screaming (obviously) that Eliot actually had the gall to laugh when he saw the attacker. The attacker wasn't too happy about it either.
"You're coming after me? You? Really? You know I think I'm actually a little insulted."
"Hey! I am a world-class assassin."
"And yet you sound like a petulant child. And you aren't a 'world-class assassin'. Killing people who couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag is not 'world-class'. You may have killed lots of people but that is not the same."
"How about if I kill you then? That make me world class?" More laughter from Eliot.
"You try to kill me and that will just make you dead." And suddenly the tone was serious. Eliot's voice hard as stone and Nate could literally see the 'assassin' shrink back under Eliot's glare. He was really glad he wasn't that guy.
"So let me ask you a question," Eliot continued, "and I want you to think real hard about your answer, okay?"
The assassin looked suspicious but nodded.
"If I let you live, are you just gonna come back and try it on again?"
"Let me live?" the assassin snorted. "I am going to kill you, and then, I'm gonna go ahead and leave."
"Take note Nate; this man is literally about to die of stupidity."
And then the man died of stupidity. He pulled a gun and knife bobbing and ready. As he charged forward Eliot simple delivered one blow to the guy's throat and job done. Nate just stood frozen and astounded as the guy suffocated clutching his smashed windpipe. Eliot operated with a terrifying efficiency when he wanted to.
Eliot looked completely unaffected. In a 'him or me' situation Eliot didn't hesitate. It struck Nathan that Eliot had been more vocal with the guy than usual, but then he supposed this situation was a little different than usual. This time Eliot had a bounty on his head. It wasn't a case of just holding them off until they could pull off a con. He was dealing with trained killers (no matter how low his opinion of them was) and they had been paid to kill him.
Eliot had confirmed the guy was definitely not going to stop until one of them was dead and then took action. For Eliot the point of the whole taking the piss thing was that he could discern whether the guy's wounded pride would lead him to come after him again even if he got the hit called off. The guy confirmed his worse suspicions and suffered a fate of his own making.
Eliot felt himself detach himself from taking the responsibility of the man's death. He dug his own grave; Eliot had just been the one to fill it.
Nate however was lost in the image of Eliot's quick and vicious dispatching of the assassin. Intellectually he knew the man had killed before but watching him in action was something different.
It was odd, but the thing that disturbed him most was the... lack of violence. There was no real struggle, no surge of adrenaline, no screaming or bleeding or destruction. It was like there wasn't enough, of well, anything. One blow and a man's life just ended, someone's child had died; he felt like there should have been more. And perhaps there was an element of him seeing his own mortality so brutally laid before him; that selfish, self-important voice that felt that it could have been him. That felt somehow offended by proximity
"Great! Now I have to dump this guy's body, stupid son of a bitch. Nate... Nate... earth to Nate. Hey d'you think maybe we should just tack him to the door as a warning to anyone else who might try it on?" Eliot waved his hand in front of his face causing him to jump in surprise.
"Nate! We need to get rid of this body, unless you SERIOUSLY thinkwe should just leave it here and hope for the best?!" he finished sarcastically, annoyed at Nate's lack of response. He took a breath reminding himself Nate wasn't quite as unflappable as he'd have them believe.
Watching a man die was shocking, at least to the majority of the population. He kind of wished he was shocked to. He was just to numb to it at this point. Sophie would probably tell him it was a coping method. But being numb to it when he had to kill was not to say that he killed indiscriminately. As someone who had taken many lives he understood the value of it, the weight it put on the soul.
He refused to allow himself to kill unless it was absolutely necessary. And that meant putting a tight leash on his anger; because there had been a time where he hadn't been so in control. His mind flashed to the image the Russian man screaming for death that had been the catalyst to these events.
Eliot decided to send Nate back to his apartment. He would deal with the body on his own. He knew what to do; another side effect of his past transgressions, he didn't need to involve Nate. They agreed to meet up later with the whole team.
"So, who exactly was Assassin numero uno?" asked Hardison.
"Guy named Frankie Riches. He worked for anyone who could pay him. If you had the green he'd kill anyone you wanted; man, woman, child... goldfish. And the guy had no conscience. He once shot a woman who was holding her 2 month old son, killed 'em both; all because he couldn't be bothered to wait until she'd finished feeding him. Guy was a monster."
"Well I sure feel a lot more comfortable about the whole killing-him-dead thing now." said Hardison sounding well and truly disgusted.
"Does that even count as an assassination attempt?" asked Parker. "Sounds more like Eliot just deaded a guy before he could do anything."
"Does it matter?" Nate said sounding a little exasperated. "Hardison, where are you on identifying any other potential threats?"
"Well the first one I tracked down pretty easily, name of Bart Macy."
"Pfft! He's not a threat, the guy's all hat and chaps." said Parker. Hardison narrowed his eyes wondering if he'd misunderstood her and what she said actually made sense, then he shrugged realising it definitely hadn't, not feeling in the least surprised. Parker rolled her eyes looking exasperated (there had to be some irony in there somewhere) and clarified; "The guy's no threat. He likes to play the expert but its all BS; no need to worry. Even if Eliot lying unconscious in front of him and Macy had a loaded gun in his hand you still wouldn't need to worry. He almost screwed up a job of mine in Prague. Idiot. Are you going to murder him too?"
"Parker! I did not murder Riches! It was self-defence."
"Okay fine, are you going to self-defence him to death?"
Eliot stood up abruptly and started pacing like a caged animal. In the past he would have done one of two things. Gotten a new identity and scattered, (this was not something that could necessarily be considered cowardly but Eliot still hated the idea of retreating) or, the option he preferred; laying a trap. He would make himself the bait and then drop as many guys as came his way until either they were all dead or he was dead himself.
Now though his options were not so clear cut. He had the team to consider; if he left they'd be in danger and he couldn't leave them exposed like that – it just wasn't in his nature. Alternatively if he decided to act as bait the rest of the team would want to help and that was another multi-faceted problem.
He would never admit it but he really cared about their little band of miscreants and misfits so he didn't want them getting hurt on his account. He wasn't sure how he'd live with himself if he got one of them killed... or worse; and he should know better than anyone that there are plenty of things far worse things than death.
He knew that if it came down to it he'd lay down his life for any of the team without a moment's hesitation. Throwing yourself in front of bullets sounds rather noble but the habit tended to get you real dead real quick. Not that it had stopped him so far of course but then some people were worth the risk. Although if he was honest with himself he had sacrificed himself for people he either didn't know at all or definitely didn't deserve it.
And of course there was the other issue of him not being able to afford distractions. If he was constantly worried about everyone else then it wouldn't be long before he screwed up missed something... something fatal. He'd seen many a man (and woman) make that kind of mistake. It was something that had at least partially contributed to his choice to work alone up until now. That and his serious trust issues but that wasn't important right now.
He really wanted time to think alone. But the urge to just get up and go was subdued somewhat by the fact that he was aware that he would leave the others unprotected if he did. It was kind of a catch-22 situation when he thought about it. If they stayed with him they'd be in the line of fire if and when someone came for Eliot, but if he left them unattended with some of the world's best assassins out for his blood and aware that they were working together they'd be unprotected and out of their league.
He needed something to relax him.
He needed to hit something.
Eliot decided that the team needed to move. At 12pm they arrived at one of Eliot's safe houses. It was the closest and least susceptible to scrutiny that he had nearby. They had to stay fairly close by until Eliot figured out what to do. He didn't really want to use this particular safe house but he didn't want to go to any of the others safe houses without thoroughly vetting them and he just didn't have time for that right now.
It was totally untraceable or at least as untraceable as you could get nowadays. It was a little rundown looking from the outside but that was intentional. It looked as though it was abandoned and unlived in - which it hadn't been for a while – but the look was intentional.
The garden was overgrown and it was tricky to pick their way to the front door. The paint was peeling and the house gave that general feeling of foreboding and yet it looked secure enough to discourage squatters; the trespassers will be shot sign saw to that – people appeared to have chosen not to take that particular risk.
Also the sensor that set off a recording of some vicious sounding dogs was pretty convincing. Another reason why the house was so good was the fact that Eliot had picked one where the surrounding houses would be much more appealing to would-be burglars. This ensured to him that anyone who did try and get in was someone who had come for a specific reason.
It was a quiet, slightly rundown area, the kind that you didn't socialise with your neighbours in and this house fitted right in. The inside however was a whole different story. It was simple but somehow beautifully crafted at the same time. It had Eliot written all over it. It wasn't filled with trinkets, but it did have the odd personal touch. Also it had things that Sophie guessed had been made by Eliot himself, like the wooden table and the kitchen cabinets and counter tops.
Eliot was just one of those people who like to make things when he had the chance. He preferred it to buying everything at any rate. For someone who had pretty much owned nothing since he left home up until he had finally put down some kind of roots when he joined the team. Well okay that wasn't entirely true; he owned safe houses in a number of countries but he could walk away from every single one of those things. They were disposable and meaningless, this place though, this place was different.
These were things that he had made, had crafted, himself. They meant something; they were almost... a part of him. He had laid the stone floor himself and had painted the walls and the beams and hung the curtains and well, everything.
He hadn't been in here since he had finished it which seemed a little silly given how much he loved it. It was weird he supposed but he was scared that he would ruin this almost sacred place by living in it. He had planned to retire here if he survived that long. He wanted to protect it until then but desperate times and all that. Much as it pained him the people he was inviting in were more important than what was, when it came down to it, just bricks and mortar.
And he certainly didn't plan to tell the other how special this place was. That was private and it was going to stay that way.
"So, this place is nice." said Sophie. He merely grunted in response. "It seems much bigger on the inside. Ooooh, where did you get this rug, it's gorgeous!"
He turned his head to glare at the other who had started to snigger. They stopped; they valued having working limbs after all.
"I picked it up in a market in Cairo a little while ago."
"Let me guess – good for hiding bodies in?" Hardison joked quietly to Parker.
"I dunno, wanna try that out?" Eliot snapped menacingly. Hardison looked at the others wide-eyed trying to figure out if he was joking. "I'm going out to get food. Break anything and I'll... just don't break anything."
That was all he said before he left slamming the door; really wishing he hadn't brought them here.
He left on foot before changing his mind and calling a cab. He wanted to go get him bike from where he had left it the day they had run from the party. It wasn't that he was sentimental, he loved it but he could let it go without a second's hesitation, it's just that it had his prints on it. And prints could be used against a person. Plus he didn't know whether there was a risk of the authorities getting involved – unlikely but always a possibility.
He hadn't left it that close to the mansion, he had hidden it about a mile away; a back up escape route he hadn't planned on having to use. Now it was just a loose end he needed to tidy.
He had chosen not to tell the others where he was going because he didn't want them to insist on coming along. He didn't think anyone would have linked the bike to him but that wasn't a risk he was going to take. If there was an ambush then he was going to deal with it on his own. If it all went well and he was just being paranoid, well, the others never needed to know.
He had the cab drop him off a while away from his destination; he wanted a quiet approach. He made it to the bike and way away fairly quickly. No-one had been watching it and he wasn't followed out of there. The advantage to the small one track road to the mansion was that a tail would be really easy to spot.
When he got back into the city though he realised that his paranoia was justified. He caught sight of his tail with little difficulty. It's not that they weren't good, it's just that he was a lot better. Plus they had a two man rotation and there was only so much a person could do with that when following a man like him.
He realised that the bike must have some kind of tracking device, Hardison could probably I.D. it fairly easily but he supposed it didn't really matter right at that moment. He needed to find some way to take his pursuers out. First thing he needed to do was figure out how good they were; anyone could sling a tracker on a bike amateurs or professionals and to be effective he had to know how high (or low) to aim.
Too good and he'd just lose them without stopping them, too low and he could get himself killed.
He pulled over and the nearest tail car copied him while the other drove straight on. Now he had seen all their faces and new that there were four of them. He got out into the busy shopping district. He figured that they were unlikely to try anything in such a crowded area.
He himself if he had to go after a target actually found crowded market places to be highly useful (provided there weren't any surveillance cameras; he didn't want to be identified if it was avoidable). People tended to feel like they were safe out in the open but those people would be sadly mistaken. It was surprisingly easy to just quietly kill a man and then slip into the hubbub of the crowds, gone before anyone realised anything was even wrong. Or even to abduct a man from the street in broad daylight, even if you were seen witnesses were notoriously unreliable and with such a fluid location often they just left without staying to report what they had seen. Ashamed perhaps at their lack of response to the crime they had witnessed, it was easy to convince oneself that they had seen nothing at all, they didn't want to interfere in someone else's business – it was impolite!
Still in this situation and with his training he was a lot safer than the average citizen out in the open and just because he dared to operate in public didn't mean that his pursuers would. He needed to pick them off one by one for the best chance of survival.
He led the men on a merry dance through the market, taking opportunities where he saw them.
The first man went down absolutely silently. Eliot slipped down a side street, flattening himself to the wall before he grabbed the guy from behind cutting off his airway with his forearm. He was out of sight as he stole the man's consciousness away, lowering him gently to the ground soundlessly making sure not to kill the guy. He searched the man's body and found an ear piece; not as sophisticated as their own but it showed they were all communicating.
He stole the device, fixing it to his own ear so that he could listen in. He knew where they all were now and the hunters became the hunted. He drew them all into the alley one by one and quietly 'put them to sleep', except the last one who seemed to be in charge; he had a few questions for him.
With a knife at his throat he got real chatty real quickly. They were a small outfit hired to track him by Roskin himself. They were well trained by normal standards but compared to Eliot they might as well have been kindergartners.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you all right now?" Eliot demanded.
"Come on! Please! Please! I've got kids! Ray, over there, he just got married!" the man pleaded.
Eliot had already decided at this point there was no way he was going to kill this man. He had worried for a second he might be being played but after snaking out the man's wallet and seeing the family photo's he was a little more sure of his decision. There was also the fact that this guy's fear was definitely genuine. He could see it in the man's eyes that he could never kill anyone, he was just a man doing his job, and that was to tail him back to his home and nothing more.
"Okay, but you and your family need to get out of town; that goes for your whole team to. Don't call Roskin, just leave. Give me your number and I'll call you when it's safe to come back."
"Wait, why do we have to run? Why can't we just tell Roskin we lost you?" asked the man.
"Because Roskin is a very dangerous man and if he's anything like his father you could end up dead, you and your family, is that a risk you're willing to take?" The man responded with a gulp and the shake of his head. "Good. Now I'm gunna to leave and if I see any 'a you following I won't be so nice next time."
With that Eliot stood up and left the confused and slightly terrified man behind. He found a man who would buy his bike for in cash at a nearby garage; he got less than it's real value but it wasn't like he needed the money so what did it really matter. The honest hard-working man he sold it to get a good deal and he got some cash that he didn't have to go to a bank or one of his hidden stashes for. The other advantage of course was that on the off chance someone tracked the bike down they'd be led on a wild goose chase.
He then decided he should do some shopping while he was at the market since that was what he had told the others he was doing. Plus the house really did need some food other than the non-perishables he had stocked the house with in case he needed to lay low and didn't have a chance to shop. He didn't want to go without fresh fruit and vegetables unless absolutely necessary.
Also he liked to cook to de-stress and with all the others in his house 24/7 he sensed he was going to be doing a lot of cooking.
Okay so I'm not entirely happy with this chapter but it has been a long time since I updated (sorry!) so I thought I ought to stop agonising and just post it. It felt like a random place to leave it but y'know...
P.S – the whole 'hat and chaps' thing is a weird saying my sister invented that pretty much means whatever we want and is really dependant on tone of voice – yes we are a little weird but try using this saying, it is just way too fun... no... just us then? Okay... never mind... *shuffles off to corner*