Into the Fire Job

Fanfic by Maimat the Rat

Summary: Eliot may be in more trouble than it is worth when he is pitted against an old acquaintance to help his team. A non-linear story.


Step 4. The Job Part 2: When things go bad.

The largest guard, a man in his late forties who stood over six feet and sported only a few wisps of hair on the front of his forehead, unlocked the old mobile storage container they'd confined their thief to after subduing him.

The boss, Stephenson, stared at his captive whose head was bowed, long hair obscuring his face, hands cuffed behind his back, but most importantly, completely at his mercy.

Oh yes, he could use this to his advantage. This here was like having a lottery fall right in his lap. "Hello Eliot. It's been a while." Stephenson smiled broadly at his old colleague. "So, you're an art thief now?"

"About as much as you're a collector."

Stephenson gestured at the guards. "Bring him here." Two of his men entered the container and frogmarched their thief out to stand in front of their boss. "What did you take?"

"You'll have to ask my partner that."

"You don't even know what you came here to steal?"

"I don't get paid to ask questions."

Stephenson liked that answer. "Really?" He nodded at one of his men to add a little spice to the interview; who then delivered a solid punch to the kidneys of their prisoner.

Eliot stumbled and fell down to one knee.

"You mean to tell me you were busted by these goons?" Stephenson derided. "What happened, Eliot? I remember a time not long ago when you could have taken these guys down in less than five seconds."

"We Tasered him." The guard offered helpfully.

Stephenson laughed. "I'd heard you left the game to work with a new crew, but I never thought you'd be this pathetic. So this is what you do now? You used to be Woodrow's best specialist. Is it because of what happened in the Sudan?"

Eliot didn't take the bait. "You like listening to yourself talk, don't you?"

Stephenson eyed Eliot more closely. "You think I would have left you behind there if I had known you survived?"

"Yes."

The answer only brought on a laugh and a shrug from Stephenson. "Probably. I would have held out for more money if I knew I'd end up seeing you again. You know why you keep getting left behind, Eliot? You can hit, but so can thousands of other people out there. It doesn't take brains. Those of us who think for ourselves, who are willing to seize an opportunity, we're the ones who succeed."

Stephenson stepped closer and grabbed Eliot's arm to haul him back up on his feet. He leaned in so close he could feel Eliot's breath on his cheek. "You never were the best. When a tool stops working, you throw it out and get another. When Woodrow sees for himself how out of shape you are, he isn't even going to waste time on you. The only thing he's going to want to do with you now is make you an example. I'm looking forward to seeing that."

Releasing Eliot's arm, Stephenson turned to his men "Get him ready," he snapped. "It's time to take out the trash."

A guard reached out and grabbed Eliot's shoulder, which Eliot easily shrugged off. "You're not taking me to Woodrow."

The slow and steady burn had been building in Eliot's gut over the past half hour of listening to his old enemy rant. It had now reached its boiling point.

Stephenson laughed. "You're going to stop me?"

Eliot didn't bother with an answer. When his former associate grabbed his arm to force him forward, it took less than a second to lean in and head butt Stephenson. Opponent off balance, he shot out his leg and swept the bigger man's feet out from under him. The brute went down hard, air exploding from his lungs.

Stephenson climbed slowly to his feet; nose bent and bloodied, and his face twisted into a murderous scowl shadowing his already dark eyes.

Eliot grinned. As much as he wanted time to gloat, he braced his legs, ready for more. He wasn't disappointed.

The first punch headed his way, and Eliot stepped back. He ducked, just in time to feel the air rush past his temple.

"What's the matter? Out of shape?" Eliot jibed.

Blood dripped off Stephenson's face from his ruined nose. "I'm going to end you."

"You already tried that, remember?" Eliot kept the guards in his peripheral vision, stepping around to avoid getting cornered.

"I should have tried harder."

"Then come on. Do it!" he shouted.

One look from Stephenson and his thugs stepped back. They didn't go far, though; they only spread out, ready to catch the hitter if he should make a break for it.

The message was clear; this was between Stephenson and Eliot. It wasn't a fair fight, what with Eliot's wrists cuffed behind his back, but he was far from helpless. There is an incredible amount of damage a well trained man can do with just his legs as weapons, and Eliot was very well trained.

Eventually, Eliot's skill couldn't compensate for the fact that he couldn't block the hits coming at him, but he didn't go down. A blow to the side of the left knee was what finished it. Eliot fell hard and his leg didn't support him on the way back up.

Both men were soaked in blood and sweat. Stephenson laughed out loud at seeing his adversary hobbled. This was going to be fun.

Eliot knew what was coming and tried to gain his feet. In a mixture of cruelty and maliciousness, Stephenson let him.

Almost.

The next blow knocked the wind out of Eliot and drove him down hard on his side, and Stephenson wasn't done.

This wasn't Eliot's first time getting beaten; the trick was to breathe through it, because nothing was worse than getting knocked out. Keeping your breathing under control can keep you conscious, and staying conscious meant having another chance to gain the upper hand.

However, the last thing Eliot saw clearly was Stephenson's blood coated teeth smiling down at him from above, until a steel toed boot aimed at his face blocked it out.

The world faded out after that, through a haze of pain and nausea, he felt himself turned over, dragged. The click of cuffs, tugging at his ankles and his waist as his vision went from grey to black and back again. Hands grabbed his head, holding him steady while a hood was drawn down and tied over his head.

Step 1. Meeting the client

The client sat across from Nate in the bar, back to the wall and focused on the pedestrian activity outside the main window, eyes darting left and right, and flinching every time the bells over the door chimed as another customer entered the establishment. Eliot stood near the door watching for trouble.

"So, what do you think we can we help you with? You aren't exactly our regular type of client."

He was in his late fifties, solid looking and not used to being afraid or intimidated. Only now, creases marred his forehead with worry lines and his hands shook slightly from the accumulation of stress. "They can't know it was me. He's got his own operation going on inside of mine, stealing from our own clients. Most of the guys are ones that he hired, that he hand picked. If I fire him..."

"What do you think would happen?

"He'll kill me, or his guys will. Stephenson will get rid of any evidence there might be, and I'll be a dead man."

Nate didn't miss the fact that Eliot had suddenly abandoned his post by the door and was now listening intently to the conversation. "And why should that be our problem? Why not take it to local law enforcement?" Nate asked.

"He has connections. I started this company twenty three years ago, it was a good company. Stephenson destroyed my reputation in just one year. I don't even know how it happened; how I lost control of my own business. He's got things going on the side, he keeps the files of the guys he hires hidden so I don't even know who's on my payroll anymore, and he fires my old timers who helped me build the business into what it became."

Eliot finally came and sat down at the table with them. "You said Stephenson? Carl Stephenson?"

Step 3. The Job Part 1: The Con.

Eliot watched Parker climb up the retractable line and glanced impatiently at the warehouse doors. The timing had to be absolutely right for this to work. Red flashing lights of the tripped alarm blinked ominously in the background.

The doors burst open. "Now," Eliot yelled up.

Parker peered over the window one last time as the guards poured into the room. With one last last hesitant look, she disappeared.

The security guards surrounded him with Tasers drawn. Eliot raised his arms in surrender.

"Lie face down, arms over your head," the largest security demanded. He stood directly in front of Eliot.

There were four of them; little more than thugs, each with his own collection of prison tattoos and all with Tasers drawn and ready.

Eliot did as he was told. Stretching out on the warehouse floor he waited for his moment.

Nate's voice came in clear through the ear bud, "We're in place at Stephenson's condo."

That was his cue. The first guard bent down to secure the hitter's hands behind his back, and Eliot rolled away. A knee to the side sent the first off balance, but before he hit the ground, Eliot lashed out with a scissor kick and there were two down.

Against every instinct, Eliot held back and stifled the urge to let loose. Instead, he deliberately left an opening even a five year old would take advantage and sure enough, the third man took it and landed a kick to Eliot's side. Simultaneously, the fourth man took the opportunity to strike from Eliot's blind side and delivered a kick at Eliot's head. The toe of his boot connected solidly with Eliot's ear.

That hurt. And even worse, it pissed him off.

There was no way he could not respond to that. Lightning quick, Eliot grabbed the guard's ankle, and with a twist and a pull, sent him crashing to the ground. The pop of a ligament snapping was like icing on the cake.

Through the hot throbbing pain in the side of his head, Eliot was also keenly aware that the sharp jab stab of the now cracked ear bud, followed by a high pitched whine that lasted about five seconds before going silent, was going to cause problems.

He was still contemplating just how much of a problem the broken ear bud could potentially become when the first shot from the Taser sent a painful jolt through his arm.

In quick succession from the opposite angle, two stun probes hit high on Eliot's left shoulder. Electric current pulsed agonizingly through his body while the over excited security guard held down the trigger for well over ten seconds.

The fight was over. The shock from the Taser left Eliot disoriented.

The world swam and his arms were pulled behind his back, wrists locked with handcuffs. Stephenson was called, and the guards were left wondering what to do with their new prisoner until the boss arrived.

Then, Eliot was being dragged by his arms that were already painfully secured behind him. When he could manage it, Eliot looked dazedly around. He'd been dumped into one of the large storage containers at the far side of the warehouse.

There was a squeal of un-oiled hinges and the door swung shut and the bolt slid into place. The only light seeped in through cracks at the bottom of the container door.

Left alone in the dark, there was nothing to do but wait.

He shifted and settled in the far corner of the container where he could most effectively keep an eye on the door. "Nate." Eliot whispered.

There was no response. Not even static. "The bud is broken," he continued. The air felt thick and chemical, leading Eliot to cough, and trying not to wonder what was once stored within or what kind of toxins could still be lingering in the air. "I can't hear you. Don't know if you can hear me. Probably not. I heard them call Stephenson. He should be on his way."

The silence that followed felt almost deafening. He didn't think he'd mourn the loss of Nate's constant nag, but apparently he'd gotten used to it; just like he got used to not being alone on the job. There was a time not so long ago when he felt safe knowing that he didn't have to depend on anyone other than his own self. It was a disturbing reality check to suddenly realise how dependent on the team he had become.

The boss; Stephenson arrived more than an hour later.

Sparse lighting illuminated the warehouse as Stephenson strode across the concrete floor. The sound of his boots echoed hollowly in the expansive structure. This was his place. The crates and mobile storage units spread out in columns and rows only needed to be filled with merchandise that would soon establish his new reputation as a leader in the black market. This operation was going to set him apart and above the rest of his profession.

The four security guards, his hand picked force of ex cons and muscle off the street, pointed out a crate; pried open and empty.

There were two ways to look at this recent development. Stephenson could think of it as an insult that someone would dare consider stealing his already appropriated goods; or he could seize the opportunity handed to him. Fortunately, his security guards, inept thugs that they were, caught one of the thieves in the act. He intended to use this opportunity to send a warning anyone else foolish enough to cross him.

"What did we lose?"

"A painting." His man stepped forward. "Sir, I don't know nothing about the arts in here. But I saw the girl with a canvas rolled under her arm just before she slipped away."

"The one we got will be able to tell you more. He got ditched when we drew our guns on 'em. The girl ran off up through the hole in the ceiling there, and took her rope with her."

The guards opened the doors of the storage container, and Eliot met them on his feet.

Step 5. Rescued.

Eliot lost track of time. Whether it was hours or minutes, it was lost in the haze of dizziness and nausea. Great, another concussion.

They moved him roughly, hands grabbing his arms, pulling, dragging, and then falling. He felt cold metal floor with even grooves along its surface under his back; possibly the bed of a delivery truck.

This was it then, next stop Woodrow.

The escape plan, he understood, hinged on his team knowing what and when things were happening at the warehouse, which the loss of his ear bud effectively trashed. He understood and accepted that he`d be on his own for this one, and only hoped that he'd kept Stephenson occupied long enough for the others to accomplish what they needed on their end.

He could do this alone; he'd done it before. It was a bad move to get too dependent on a Team to get him out of trouble in the first place. Escaping from Woodrow would be difficult, but not impossible. It wasn't the worst situation Eliot had ever been in, and at least he'd still be in America. The door slid closed; the engine started, and Eliot was suddenly and forcefully flung back and then to the right as the truck rapidly accelerated and turned a sharp corner.

Or maybe the situation wasn't so bad after all.

Eliot tried as much as he could to steady himself through the next ten minutes. There was nothing to hold on to, and he tossed around the back of the truck with every bump in the road and sudden turn.

And then the truck finally stopped.

The sliding door opened to a rush of fresh air and screeching metal.

"Parker, that'd better be you."

Parker drove fast. It was fun. She liked to drive fast, especially in other people`s vehicles. As soon as she was satisfied they were alone on the road, she turned back and around toward the designated meet up spot. She skidded into the parking lot, and opened the back of the truck.

What she found struck her momentarily dumb.

"Parker, that'd better be you." Eliot growled.

"It's me." She didn't think anything would be as bad as the time she watched Eliot let himself get pounded on in the fighters ring. She was wrong. Seeing him lying there, trussed up like a Guantanamo detainee, made her heart ache. "It'll be okay. It'll be better when you're out of these things."

Working fast, she pulled the cloth hood off his head, and then picked the locks in record time, slipping them off Eliot's hands and ankles. As soon as he had freedom of movement he curled forward, his right arm across his stomach and the left arm over his head.

"Eliot," Parker said softly. "You're okay now," she added and gently stroked his hair because that was the only part of him she could be sure wasn't bruised and hurting.

Nate jumped into the truck beside her.

"There's something wrong with him." Parker whispered to Nate.

"I'm going to be sick." Eliot groaned... and then he was.

Nate grimaced sympathetically. "Yeah, sorry 'bout this but," he said nothing more, just grabbed one of Eliot's arms. Parker took the other and together, supporting most of his weight, they quickly moved him into their van.

Much as Nate would have liked to have given Eliot more of a chance to compose himself, there just wasn't the time.

In the van, the atmosphere was uncomfortably thick with concern over their teammate and friend, and the guilt they felt for having allowed him to get into a situation where he got hurt in the first place.

Along the way, Eliot picked the cracked ear bud out of his ear. "That's trashed," he growled and dropped it in Nate's hand.

It was a short drive and they pulled up to Nate's apartment, using the rear entrance where the elevators were located. Eliot staggered between them but managed to stay on his feet as they walked into the room.

Nate's quarters were clean and reasonably comfortable, despite being somewhat stark. Flanking Eliot's limping form, they took him straight to the couch and helped him lie down.

Aside from not being able to put any weight on his left knee, Eliot didn't think there was anything much wrong with him. Well, except for the obvious fact that he had the mother of all concussions.

Eyes closed, because even the smallest amount of light hurt, he put his head back and listened. The others were talking quietly around him, lingering.

They didn't say much of interest and he wasn't about to ask about the job. That would have to wait until his head wasn't spinning quite so fast.

Hardison kept a fair distance; this was exactly why he worked with computers. Computers don't leave a man looking like he'd been chewed up and spat out and then stomped on.

"Dude," Hardison seemed to find his voice. "You look like..."

"Water?" Eliot croaked.

Nate was there. Aspirin bottle in hand, he shook out two pills and handed them over with the water.

"One hell of a concussion." Nate commented. "Open your eyes for me." Eliot forced his eyes open, trying not to squint as Nate stared. "Looks alright. We should schedule you an appointment at a clinic as soon as possible, just in case."

"No." Eliot tried to ignore them and covered his eyes with his arm.

"Do you have somewhere you want us to take you?"

"No. Here."

Here was Nate's apartment. More specifically, the couch. No one argued.

"Go finish things." Parker broke the silence. "I'll sit with him a while. Make sure he's okay," she offered.

One by one they filed toward the door. Only Nate lingered and he eyed Parker.

"Let him rest," Nate warned. "But every two hours, check on him, try and get him to talk."

Parker's mouth drew up in a wry grin. "Eliot?" she huffed. "More like, grunt once for 'I'm alright' and twice for 'hospital now'."

Nate grinned back, pat her on the shoulder. "Just remember, you volunteered."

Then the room was empty, save for the thief and the hitter, who looked more like a punching bag at this point.

To Parker's credit, she did stay quiet and let him sleep. Why were people always assuming she'd be a distraction? When it came time to check on him, she told him the story of her first concussion; the result of jumping off a roof when she was eight. "I'd already jumped out of the tree, but it wasn't high enough."

"Go away." Eliot groaned.

Parker grinned, happy to know Eliot was cranky as usual.

He was going to be fine. Just. Fine. All he needed was some peace in the meantime.

Step 2. Hardison's Presentation.

Eliot did not sit quietly throughout Hardison's presentation.

"I think we can help him," Nate said.

"We need to stay out of it; it's not our kind of deal." Eliot insisted.

"I think it is. He can't go to the police; this Stephenson guy has cops on the inside. He's afraid for his life and there's no where to run to. We can take Stephenson down, and get this guy back the company that he spent half his life working to build. How is that not our thing?"

"He's one of Woodrow's guys."

Hardison frowned. "Woodrow as in Private Military Contractor, Woodrow?"

Eliot tossed a glance at the hacker, but didn't otherwise answer. "Stephenson's a specialist."

"You mean," Parker put in. "He's like you."

"What do you mean 'like me'?" Eliot glared at the comparison.

"You know," Parker shrugged, "all scary and bulging with muscle and- and able to tame lions and things with just a look."

"I do not... whatever. Fine, he's like me. Imagine a whole company of people exactly like me. Woodrow calls the shots."

"We have Nate calling the shots." Parker pointed out.

"Nate isn't a sociopath." Eliot corrected.

Nate leaned back in his chair. "So, are you in or out? No one's forcing you to take this job."

Eliot sighed. "I'm with you, you know that. But if we're going up against Stephenson personally, then it has to be me."

"Why?"

"He won't kill me. I'm worth more to him alive than dead."

"How well do you know Stephenson?" Nate asked, though he already knew the answer.

"Too well."

"Would he recognise you?"

"Yes."

"Then we can use that to our advantage." Nate suggested. "Hardison, what can you tell us about Carl Stephenson?"

Step 6. Wrap it up.

He was going to be fine. Just. Fine. All he wanted was some peace in the meantime.

That was two days ago.

At first, he tried to hide the headache and dizziness and when that didn't work, he tried to explain that it's normal to feel like crap after a bad concussion. He just wanted to sleep it off.

And of course, no one listened.

"Do you want someone to drive you home?" Sophie sat on the couch beside him; she looked ready to get comfortable.

Eliot shifted. He didn't need anything, he didn't want the bowls of instant chicken noodle soup that the others seemed determined to force feed him. And no he didn't want to go home. Home meant three flights of stairs and food rotting in the fridge.

"I'm good here."

"Are you sure?"

There was no reason he could think of to not stay at Nate's. He wasn't in anyone's way... except for maybe Nate. Nate, however, was practically the only one who wasn't constantly bugging him.

"Want me to get you anything?"

"No. I'll be fine. I'm just tired," he hinted. Sophie looked down at her feet and backed off.

"Alright. Goodnight then." Even though it was eleven in the morning. She got up and left to another room.

It wasn't more than ten minutes later that Hardison joined him.

Eliot growled. "Don't any of you people have something better to do?"

Hardison looked behind him just in case Eliot was referring to someone else. "I downloaded the new Iron Man movie for you."

"Go away."

He had issues; there was no getting around that. Eliot didn't like drama. He didn't like wallowing. Right now, he didn't like much of anything. He didn't like the comfort that his friends seemed compelled to give. He didn't like that every time he stood up it felt like the room was tilting to the left. He didn't like that he couldn't even read or watch the playoffs on TV without aggravating his headache.

And, he didn't like that he still didn't know what had happened with the job. Most of all he hated that he wanted to know. For some inexplicable reason, he wanted to be with these people even more than he didn't want to want to be with them.

Which was precisely why he was still on Nate's couch getting annoyed at everyone instead of at home alone where he could rest in peace.

Enough was enough. Eliot sat up on the couch and looked back at his friends crowded around the table in the kitchen. Seeing him up must have signalled a green light to come socialise, and Parker sat so close her thigh was touching his.

"You didn't tell me what happened with the rest of the job," Eliot said.

"You didn't ask." Nate cleared his throat.

"Well," Eliot looked annoyed. "I'm asking now."

Nate nodded, unperturbed. "While you distracted Stephenson, we found his safe and the file on his employees. GB's lawyer received the files. The police should find it useful in numerous unsolved crimes. And as for Stephenson, he disappeared just before the police raided his warehouse..."

That last bit had Eliot sitting up straight, alert, staring at Nate. "What?"

"His body was discovered yesterday," Nate continued. "I'm guessing Woodrow wasn't pleased with the side operation Stephenson was running. But we were successful; the job was accomplished without shifting any blame on our client. He has his company back, and he is ready to work on rebuilding his reputation."

"How did you know I'd be in the truck?"

"You're ear bud was still transmitting on our side. Even though you couldn't hear us, we heard you."

Eliot closed his eyes and leaned back on the couch. "Woodrow is going to be an issue. This puts me back on his radar."

Nate nodded. "We'll figure it out."

It was just after noon and lunch plans were bandied about. The small group moved toward the door, leaving Eliot to rest, and promising to bring him back soup.

Parker, however, lagged behind, not speaking until the rest of them had left. "I'm sorry."

"What for?"

"For saying Stephenson is like you. You're not like Stephenson." She smiled. "You're like Eliot." And pleased with herself she turned and left Eliot alone on the couch. And Eliot smiled too.

The end.



A/N: Thank You Jackfan2 for the excellent beta help.

Please review. It makes me happy to know if my story has been read and enjoyed.