Nothing owned by me, just taking them out for a little test drive.

Please beware there are a few naughty words within, some violence and hopefully not too many mistakes.


He tries not to let on that he's hurt. They aren't going to stop coming for him, even if he complains that the bullet burns in his shoulder and his arm is numb down to his fingertips. Besides, his pride won't allow it – they all heard the bang and saw him jolt before disarming the guy and he'll be damned if he lets them think they've got an advantage. It's too dark for them to have seen him scatter fat droplets of blood along with the remaining bullets.

Eliot's trying not to let himself acknowledge he's hurt either because then he'd have to waste precious time swallowing the pain and shifting his weight to compensate for not being able to use that arm when that arm's already in play, sweeping out to coldcock the nearest man across the bridge of the nose.

The softer cartilage gives way under the blunt force of Eliot's elbow and he watches in satisfaction as the guy's head snaps back, as his feet continue to move forward while the rest of his body flies back and he lands hard on the ground. Of course, he doesn't really watch this, he doesn't have time to watch it, not with all of his attention at least; while the guy's mid-air, Eliot's already observed, processed and decided upon a course of action for the next man heading into the fight and only maybe a fifth of his brain is aware he's got one guy less to deal with. Eliot reacts swiftly, no movement wasted. He knows what he's going to do – although at this stage, yeah, his right arm is finally out of the equation – what'll reaction it'll get and how he'll respond to it. If there were less of them, he might even enjoy a few precious seconds just standing still, waiting to see what they'll come up with, but he doesn't have the luxury this time.

Not with Sophie to look after.

So he'll take the lead, control the fight, use the numbers against them before they can be used against him and give Sophie all the time she needs to get out. To get safe. Eliot knows he's not going to get out of this without any more damage to himself, but he doesn't mind. He's used to taking the hits. After all, his momma used to say he shouldn't dish out what he can't take in return and who in their right minds would ever think one against seven is going to be without some consequence? Hell, he's already gotten shot.

It seems to take forever for tough-guy number two to reach him, leaving Eliot plenty ready to anticipate the fist aiming for his face; almost without conscious thought he's swaying to the right, reaching out with his left and wrapping his fingers around the outstretched wrist. Coming back to centre, even as he tugs and uses the man's own punch momentum against him, Eliot is in prime location to come out best when he smashes his skull against the guy. It's only a stun, but it's enough to enable him to fend off tough-guy number three. He doesn't let go of two, however, he isn't done with him yet even if that means he's got no hands to do the work for him; rearing back, Eliot lands a swift, patella relocating kick to three's right kneecap before the man even gets the chance to try his own moves.

Two's coming back from the headbutt now as three collapses into a heap of pain, but four's decided to try and be smart and is on his way. Now Eliot has to tackle the both of them at the same time, but Eliot can be smart too, which is why he doesn't attempt to dodge four. Instead, he swings a still disorientated two around to block the brain rattling, blackout inducing upper cut meant for his jaw and lets the man fall, both from his hand and his mind, while four rears back for another try. Eliot gets there first, the speed of his rabbit punches almost make up for the fact he's only using his left hand, before a knee to the stomach and a vicious elbow to the back of the now bowed and bared neck end four's efforts.

Now Eliot pauses. They've been coming at him in ones, even four with his bright idea of using another guy as a distraction, but the three that are left have finally cottoned on. Eliot's just one man and if they take him as single entities, he's good enough to win even wounded. But if they act as one, as a three headed serpent, a six armed dragon, he's going to have to pull something really special out of the hat.

Eliot smiles.

It's not that he's looking forward to the fight – not with Sophie still behind him, staying as safe as she can when her wall consists of one man – but at least it means they'll all be too busy to notice the woman leaving. And it's sure to be over a little quicker too, which is a good thing since Eliot's getting that nasty warmcold sensation of too much blood flowing on the wrong side of his skin and if he was allowing himself to notice such things, he'd admit his legs are less than steady when he's not moving as well.

So he takes the fight to them. He doesn't feel so shaky then, not when the world's a blur of movement anyway; the little bit of light-headedness gets lost in the violence. And it is violent, one arm practically useless, three guys jumping in all at once and Eliot using all his experience, every ounce of control and training and skill just to miss most of the worst stuff coming his way.

He lets the lighter stuff make contact. He can't dodge or block it all, he barely has time or energy to try a few moves himself and he feels a rib crack, followed shortly by another. His right ear begins to ring unexpectedly and it takes a while for Eliot to register that someone's gotten a lucky shot to his head. Doesn't matter. He's ignoring that stuff anyway. Instead, he ducks his head, barrels back into the fray and although it may look as if he's moving wildly, swinging without aim, everything's planned and not a step is wasted. He really doesn't have time for wasting much of anything.

Elbow, heel of hand, knuckles, knees, head and feet all find their target, but he's weaker since the blood-loss started to become an issue and it takes more than a few of his well placed blows to leave him with only one opponent. They're both bloodied and breathless and determined not to be beaten and neither will give the other the chance to just breathe since that's exactly what they want.

He's quick too, either that or Eliot's getting slower and that's not a thought he wants in his head so he banishes it along with exhaustion, with pain and with the fear that had nearly set foot in his soul when he saw the seven big guys standing muscle-bound-shoulder to muscle-bound-shoulder across the narrow space. Not for himself; he's always suspected his end will come in some beat down, stinking alley but for Sophie, who Nate told him to get out. The thought of not being able to get Sophie away unharmed, of disappointing Nate, of allowing these bastards to touchhurtkill Sophie was almost his undoing, until he resolved to make sure that that scenario didn't come about.

And here he is. One man away from the end. Just this last guy to go and he can tell Nate not to worry because Sophie got away and he can take a moment to put the air back into his lungs, maybe pause a little because he's earned it on this one before getting to his apartment and taking a few days to wait for his blood to top back up and all his pain receptors to settle down.

Blood loss is a lousy bitch; he's daydreaming. He can't focus on any of that good stuff until tough-guy number seven is down and right now, he's a real and present danger to Eliot's plans. Ruthlessly, Eliot sends the daydream away where he can't have it and digs in. He tells himself that he's prepared for more pain and almost believes it.

Exhausted, Eliot's realistically aware of his limitations. He's hurt worse than seven, his breathing sounds funny even without what he's sure is going to turn out to be a concussion pounding in his skull and there's an awful lot of pain signals telling him urgently to go sit in a darkened room somewhere quiet, but he's also aware of his surroundings and he knows as well as the next man that a good hard head-first crash to the wall will take care of the most immediate of his problems.

So he allows seven to break another of his ribs in order to manoeuvre the both of them into position. It's not as if Eliot didn't know he has to give a little something of himself, to sacrifice another piece in order to take the king. Oh yeah, he plays chess all right, only not the way that Nate knows because his pieces are made up of his body and how much damage he's able to take before he loses. It goes without saying; Eliot's not lost yet which is why the rib-for-position is an exchange he's willing to make and it's not something he's going to focus on, not when the next move is – if all goes well – the one to end it. And Eliot really wants to end it now. Really.

He holds the man in an iron grip, both hands now – he's really serious about the whole 'ending it' thing – and throws seven at the wall. To ensure seven leaves a mark, he throws himself after him, still gripping with both fists and using his body weight to aid in the wall-meeting-man crash he's got a front row ticket to. There's a nasty ploink sorta sound as seven's skull agrees that yes, that's a very hard wall indeed and Eliot gets proof enough to testify as to that himself when his shoulder follows into the brickwork half a second later.

He's only dimly aware the cursed cry is wrenched from his own body as seven slumps to the ground. Eliot himself is still only upright because his shoulder – his injured shoulder, damn it – and the wall haven't parted company yet, his right arm is wrapped tightly around ribs in need of comforting and it's taking a while for the black spots to stop dancing in his vision. He's aware, in the back of his mind where the bad stuff lurks, that he's panting and swearing and sweating and bleeding but none of that matters at all when Sophie's face – turns out he wasn't as aware of his surroundings as he first thought – appears in his wavering vision and Eliot has to pull himself together because there's no way he wants a witness to how he's feeling.

"Dammit, Sophie," he growls, because being angry with her is better than being frightened for her and he needs the anger to get himself moving again anyway.

"Eliot," she whispers, eyes wide and wet, trembling fingers moments away from touching him. "I-"

He doesn't let her get any further, hauling himself away from the wall and out of her reach and damn, if a man can't get a moment to himself to just get over the pain. "No," he grinds out through his teeth. "Y'don't get to make excuses. I took on seven guys to get yer time to get safe."

He's turned away from her slightly so he doesn't have to watch the guilt flitter across her face, but he can tell from her quiet voice she's distraught.

"I couldn't leave you."

"S'what yer were s'pposed to do," Eliot reminds her. And then, because he's a sorry son of a bitch and because he couldn't cope if that happened, if the worst stopped living in only his nightmares, he adds, "'S why I took the beating I did, to buy yer the time."

More guilt spills into the alley and its funny, Eliot reflects, how emotions have sounds and colours now he's part of a team, now he actually worries about the people he's protecting and how he can see and hear those sounds and colours without having to actually look at anyone. He sometimes thinks he's lived most of his life with the mute button pressed, dull and cold and vacuum sealed.

Lousy, stinking blood loss. He's wandering again.

Doesn't matter, Sophie's taken control since he doesn't seem able to, carefully manipulating his uninjured arm across her shoulders, careful not wrap her arm around him for fear of pressing his ribs and instead, resting a warm hand against the small of his back.

"I couldn't leave you," she's saying, making him walk. "I had to know ... I couldn't just ..."

She trails off, all her articulate words, all her fine talk and fancy sentences finally failing her.

"Don't 'member givin' yer the choice."

Eliot's voice is like shifting gravel, gritty and uneven and far from pretty – especially when compared to that immaculate British accent – but beneath that dusty layer is steel. He's so angry with her right now, he's trembling. That's what he tells himself at least.

"Eliot –"

"No! Dammit, Sophie, 's what I do ... protect yer ... take on the muscle and yer stay safe." He hates that he's slurring. "M' job to get yer out alive 'n'f that means yer lemme behind, yer lemme behind."

"What about you?" she demands hotly. Sophie, Eliot remembers belatedly, hates being told off. Hardison and Parker back down almost instantly when he tells them too, Nate tries to convince him but turns tail when Eliot remains stubborn, but Sophie ... the grifter hates being told off and will fight back as good as she gets to ensure she can leave with her head held high.

"Wha' 'bou' me?"

Eliot stumbles then and Sophie can't keep him upright, he's too heavy for her and gravity's at least as much of a bitch as blood loss is, always trying to trip you up and drag you down when you're nearly at rock bottom anyway. The ground is cold and wet, Eliot discovers, and it freaking hurts when Sophie turns him over, laying his head in her lap and answers him. Her eyes are sad, he notices.

"Why can't you be looked after for once?"

"S'wha' I do," he mumbles. "M' job."

"Yes, I know," Sophie agrees, although apparently she doesn't know she's smudging her mascara. "I know you're the protection, that you're the one taking the hits for us, I know all that. But you've got to realise, Eliot. Watching you get hurt is never easy."

"Sh'dn't 'ave stayed, then," Eliot snorts and thinks he may have gone to that happy place where the pain doesn't intrude and sadness doesn't make sense and on some level, he knows he should be worried about that.

"Idiot," Sophie chastises fondly.

"He all right?"

Nate's breathless question and blurry face put an end to the discussion and Eliot, although he's hurt and sliding deeper into that fuzzy place where clowns never get killed by horses, makes a note to have a long, long talk to Sophie when he's better. Because he will get better, this is nothing – he once took a six inch knife to the stomach and he's still here – and once he's better, he's going to have to be very stern with the woman. Because if he isn't, if she doesn't get what he does soon, he's not going to be able to protect her very well and one of them is going to end up dead. He's not too bothered if that turns out to be him, but he doesn't like the idea of the four of them with only the second best hitter in the world watching their backs and not understanding their quirks.