Chapter 1

They were all gathered in the restaurant for dinner. The mood at the table was jovial to say the least. They had just completed a job, one that had gone pear-shaped halfway through but they had pulled it through anyway. Eliot was going on with Hardison about something, Parker was poking at Eliot and annoying the hell out of him and Sophie and Nate were just sitting back and watching the whole thing. That is when it all started.

"Delivery for Nathan Ford." The delivery man said as he walked up to the bar.

Nate looked up and frowned slightly. He had not ordered anything and he was not expecting any package.

"I'm Nate Ford…" He said as he stood and approached the delivery man. He took the package and signed the delivery note.

"You expecting something?" Eliot asked eyeing the package with apprehension. He was suspicious by nature and unexpected packages were never a good sign. Joining Nate at the bar he examined the package. It was a long thin white box wrapped at the top with a black ribbon.

"Well…are you going to open it?" Parker asked as she watched the two examine the package carefully.

Nate looked at Eliot. The Hitter nodded slightly in response and Nate took that as the go ahead. He carefully pulled the ribbon off of the box and slowly lifted the lid. Letting out a breath as the lid came off with no accompanying explosion, Nate looked into the box. There was a single black rose with a note attached. Nate reached in and lifted the note out. Opening it he read the scrawled writing on it. It held only three letters. "RIP". He passed the note to Eliot silently. Eliot's face darkened as he read the note.

"Nate?" Sophie asked seeing the sudden concern on Eliot's face and seeing the black rose that Nate took out of the box. Just as she, Hardison and Parker were moving to join them at the bar a shot rang out and Nate dropped to the floor.

"Nate…Nate…" Sophie screamed out and ran to the fallen man. Eliot and the others also dropped down behind the bar expecting more bullets. None came.

"Nate…" Sophie called again turning him and lifting his head onto her lap. There was a nasty streak across his forehead where the bullet had grazed him. The furrow was deep and blood trickled down his face. Eliot moved over to her and checked the Mastermind.

"It's just a graze. He'll be fine." Eliot said assessing the injury quickly. After he had assured himself that Nate was fine for now he moved to close the blinds on the window. Parker did the same for the other windows and Hardison made sure the door was closed and locked. Only then did Eliot move back to where Sophie still sat holding Nate's unconscious body.

"Let's get him to the back." Eliot said lifting Nate into his arms and making his way into the back of the restaurant where the Leverage HQ was situated. Eliot lay Nate down on the couch and told Parker to get the first aid kit. Parker quickly retrieved it and Eliot set to work cleaning the wound and putting a bandage on. "He'll be out for a while but he's going to be fine. It's just a graze…a few inches to the left and…" Eliot did not have to elaborate for them to know what he meant.

"Thank God." Sophie said moving her chair next to Nate and running her hand through his hair gently.

"Hardison, we need this place locked down." Eliot said to the Hacker. "Parker all blinds closed now." Eliot and Parker moved though the building making sure all windows and doors were closed and locked and blinds closed. Hardison checked his security and made sure all cameras were operational. He froze suddenly staring at the screen which held the camera image of the back door of their building.

"Eliot…somebody outside." He called out watching the dark figure drop something at the door and then disappear.

"Where?" Eliot immediately asked ready for action.

"Back door…he dropped something then went…" Hardison answered. "Trying to clear up the image."

Eliot and Parker made their way to the back door. Eliot drew a deep breath the opened the door slowly ready for anything. Parker quickly grabbed the envelope that had been dropped on the floor right outside the door. As soon as she was inside again Eliot closed and bolted the door. He took the note Parker held out to him and went back into the main area where Hardison was working on the image and Sophie sat with Nate.

"Eliot?" She asked looking at the note. Everybody stopped what they were doing as Eliot opened the note and read the contents. It was in the same scrawled handwriting.

"You have begun to die…" Eliot's face darkened again. The full meaning of the note not being lost on him. The bullet that had struck Nate had not meant to kill him, merely injure. It took one hell of a good shot to pull that off. He looked around at the other three people who were all staring at him. He could see from their expressions that they also understood the meaning of the note.

Sophie looked down at the unconscious man lying on the couch. Fear shone in her brown eyes, fear and concern. "What now?" She asked looking up at Eliot. He was the Hitter, he was the one who protected the team, he was the one who knew about these things.

Eliot just looked back at her. He was as much at a loss as she was. "We keep him safe."

"And how do we do that?" Parker asked.

"Well…I don't know…we keep him here behind closed doors and we find who is doing this." Eliot answered. He knew as he said it that it was not going to be that easy. Firstly to keep Nate locked up here was not going to happen, and secondly he did not even know where to start looking for who was doing this. They had taken down hundreds of corrupt, powerful men. Nate had put a lot of people behind bars in his job with IYS. It could be anybody. "Hardison…you got anything?"

"No man…the guy was dressed all in black and he kept his face hidden." Hardison looked up at Eliot. "It was like he knew where the cameras were…" Hardison said shakily.

"How is that possible Hardison, I helped you with those and there is no way anybody knows they are there unless…" Parker was saying when she suddenly realized the implications of it.

"We could have been watched…I mean when we were setting everything up." Hardison said also catching what Parker was saying. Only he and Parker knew where the cameras were placed, not even the rest of the team knew.

"That was months ago though, and nobody knew we were coming here to Portland." Sophie chimed in.

"If you were watched, it could mean the rest of the security is also compromised." Eliot said looking at the Hacker intently.

"No way man…there is no way anybody breached the security. After Latimer and Dubenich I was extra careful…anti-bugging devices, more camera's…everything." Hardison said

"Why only Nate…I mean if we were watched then whoever this is must know about all of us." Sophie said.

"Good point Sophie. He must know about us. This seems personal, whoever this is, he is only going after Nate…at least for now." Eliot said thoughtfully.

"Very personal…If I read that note correctly he meant to miss. He meant to just hurt Nate, show him that he could kill him anytime." Sophie said echoing Eliot's conclusions when he had first read the note. "It's like a cat playing with a mouse."

"Who could do this…I don't think one of our 'marks' are capable of this. I suppose whoever it is could have been hired to do it, but…"

"But it feels too personal for a hired gun." Eliot finished her thought for her.

"Yes…way to personal. Whoever it is wants Nate to suffer."

"Or us to suffer." Parker said drawing her own conclusions from what had been said and what had happened.

"I don't get you mama." Hardison said.

"Well…he is going after Nate but…well he knew we would get the second note not Nate…he wants us to worry."

Eliot stared at her thinking about what she was saying. If she was right, then the torment was meant for one of them and Nate was just a means to an end. It also meant that the pool of possible assailants had just quadrupled. It could be somebody wanting to hurt himself, and God knew there were a lot of those. Or Hardison or Sophie or Parker, each of them had enemies from their previous lives, him and maybe Sophie more than the other two. Whoever it was must know how much Nate means to them, all of them. It did not really matter; the fact was that Nate was being targeted for whatever reason. Eliot's immediate concern was to keep the Mastermind safe.

"If Parker is right, where do we look for whoever this is? I mean, if it is somebody from our individual pasts…well I don't know where to start looking." Hardison said dejectedly.

"Right…we all make lists, anybody who we crossed paths with in the past who could be doing this. Hardison you can then check all of them out plus any ex-marks who might be able to get this done. We have had a few." Eliot said. "Until we have some sort of plan, nobody leaves here. This is where we are safest for now and where he is safest. That has to be the priority." Everybody nodded in agreement. Nate's safety was paramount. He was the target. "One of us is monitoring the security at all times. I want to know if anybody comes close to the place. I'll take first shift. The rest of you should get some rest. Tomorrow when he wakes up we can start planning on how we are going to get ourselves out of this." Eliot continued. Such was his faith in Nate that he was sure he would come up with some plan or the other. Until then, well they just had to stay alert and keep him alive.

Luckily Hardison had taken all possible scenarios into account when setting up their offices. Including the possibility that they may have to stay there for whatever reason, so there were three crash pads set up and ready for use.

"Eliot can you help me get Nate to the room please?" Sophie asked softly. Eliot nodded and lifted the man into his arms again and carried him into the first of the three rooms, placing him gently on the bed. "Thank you Eliot." Sophie said.

"No problem. He should be out for the rest of the night and probably most of the morning tomorrow, but he will be ok." Eliot reassured her as he saw the concern on her face.

"I'm not worried about tonight, or tomorrow Eliot. I am worried about after that. You know what he is like…he is going to try to protect us and probably play the hero. I'll bet you anything that he is going to want to put himself out there as bait." Sophie said. "The worst thing is that we will not be able to stop him and you know it."

"I know…but we will deal with that later. For now let's just get some rest. Tomorrow we can look at it all again ok." Eliot replied knowing she was right. Nate was a stubborn damn fool who would be more than willing to sacrifice himself for their sakes. Well he was not going to let him do that, even if he had to tie the damn man to the bed.

OK well here is the first chapter of my new story. I hope you all enjoyed. Please review and let me know what you think.