Characters: Nate Ford, Eliot Spencer, Alec Hardison, Parker, Sophie Deveraux, Patrick Bonnano, OC
Spoilers: None - takes place before Season 4 finale, they're still in Boston
Warnings: None for now. No network presidents were harmed during the writing of this fic.
Disclaimer: I do not own blah blah blah
banner for chapter 31
It took Eliot several minutes to notice that the cameras were dead. Orion was occupying his attention, galloping up and down the room. He had to remove him from the kitchen counters twice, and that triggered this lunatic ride, accompanied by strange sounds, loud and pissed off. The cat sounded like a dying walrus, and he almost started to worry, having no idea what to do to calm him down before he woke everybody up.
Laser pointers worked only a few minutes, but fortunately, he jumped into one half open bag under the window and started playing with things inside. If he chewed some sensitive electronic equipment…well, that was Hardison’s problem.
When he checked the cameras again, black, dead screens met his gaze.
Two minutes, no more, he had been sidetracked with the cat. Hardison had one camera in their hallway, one at the entrance of the building, covering both that and the stairs that led to McRory’s, only a few meters away, and one near the back entrance, put there after the slaughterhouse incident. He also controlled two street cameras near the building, just in case. Those two were still working, which meant that the three in their building, all of them on the same power supply, went simultaneously…
In answer to his thoughts, the small light on the working table, the only one he had on, went off, and complete darkness swept over the room.
A good move. Cut the cameras first, give the men time to move closer unnoticed, and then leave the entire building the darkness, giving them the perfect playground.
Of course, it was a bad move at the same time.
He checked the time – the laptops were still working, giving him enough light to see everything. Three a.m.
“There's no time for that shit, Hardison!”
Eliot’s voice, raised in a tense whisper, woke Florence up. She blinked a few times, disorientated in the darkness, then found them all, awake, at the dining table. The four laptops cast an eerie bluish light on their faces.
She dragged herself from the bed, wrapped in a robe over pajamas, and joined them.
“Cameras dead, lights off, unknown number of men around the building,” Nate greeted her.
“And because of that ‘unknown number’, I should go too,” Hardison said.
“To do what?” Eliot was putting a jacket on, slowly and very carefully. “To trip on them? No, that’s my job. Stay here.”
“You’re the only one that fights?” Florence asked before thinking. “Or trips?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he drawled. “Muscle for hire. I clear the way.” He turned to Hardison again. “If they pass by me, you’ll have a chance to do something. I suggest you use the table or chairs to knock them out when they burst through the door, but I’m not sure you're able to lift them up. Too heavy for you, geek boy.”
Florence was looking at Hardison at that moment, so she noticed the twitch, even in the dim light. The hacker took one quick breath, and forced his reply to turn into a smile – it was so untypical for him that it captured all her attention.
“Yeah, you’re right. A chair’s definitely too heavy for me,” he said softly.
Eliot also noticed the unusual tone instead of banter, darting the hacker a sharp glance, but he had no time to talk. He just turned and disappeared from the circle of light. They didn’t hear doors opening and closing.
Parker went to lock the doors behind him, but Florence looked at Hardison who wore that pained smile for a few more seconds, before he was able to erase it.
“Idiot,” the hacker sighed, his voice normal again. “And we're blind, can’t see shit. And deaf. Nate, you should’ve made him use-”
Nate shook his head. “No, he was clear – the earbud would be a distraction, he will use it only if necessary. He needs concentration now. And complete silence. He took a phone, it’ll be enough.”
Parker returned to the table and sat, without a word.
“What now?” Florence asked.
“Now, we wait,” Nate said. She glanced at him, at one half of his face lit by the monitor. He leaned on the table with both hands, and stared at the three dead video feeds with intense concentration, as they were playing thrilling action. Maybe they were, for him – because his frown was deep and tense.
No matter how hard she tried to hear anything, the only thing she heard was the rustle of rain.
Eliot knew where he would find the first attacker. The back rooms of McRory’s Bar weren’t easy to navigate through for someone who didn’t know the position of the small rooms, storage closets and corridors. The man who turned off the power supply was still there, waiting in the darkness near the switch board. He would stay there until the end, or until his buddies gave him a sign to do something. He wouldn’t use any flashlights, or make any moves.
There were four of them when they grabbed them from apartment and took them to the slaughterhouse – it was a quick strike, smash and grab; they weren’t hiding.
Tonight, secrecy was the key to their plan. And this wasn’t Goon A’s plan. Knudsen was behind this.
One man would be in a getaway car, or two in two cars. The men chosen for this would be the best killers, slick and silent, maybe even hired and not a part of the mob.
He passed the stairs and entered the ground level.
Nobody in the building noticed power going off, it was too late for anybody to be awake. The bar was long closed, too. The only people moving around would be his targets, and as long as he was silent, he had the advantage.
They should’ve been in the building already.
There was no one to be heard.
He acknowledged a tickling of unease – it was a normal sign when things weren’t going as they should, when he had to search for an opponent's every possible move – but he directed all sensors inward. There lay the real danger, in his reactions, his concentration.
For now, the darkness didn’t trigger anything; his heartbeat was much faster than it should’ve been, but that was expected – and he was calm. In the present, in the rooms behind the bar, not somewhere else. The most important thing.
Closing his eyes and listening revealed only deep silence. He moved back, near the stairs and now useless elevator, blocking their route to the upper levels.
Something was wrong about their hesitation.
The stillness around him was impenetrable. Not even the rain could be heard here. His heartbeat was a loud sound.
The ringing of his phone sounded like an explosion.
What the fuck?! They should’ve known better than to- he cursed and killed the ringing, and put the earbud in his ear.
“Are you nuts?!” he breathed.
“Where are you?” Nate’s voice was tense and quiet.
“Behind the bar. Look, this isn't the time-”
“Stay there, don’t move, just listen,” Nate went on with a hurried whisper. “It’s Knudsen, not some unknown goon. And Knudsen enjoys the game – he is so sure of his superiority, that he prolongs the hunt. He was doing that the whole time. He gave Inspector Lohman everything, because he knows she can’t do anything to him. He gave air pollution monitors to DNR, knowing they are helpless. He agreed to Florence’s terms, and let her go to be hunted. He works in steps, Eliot.”
He scanned the black shadows that surrounded him. “The point?”
“He is bored. He gives his opponents chances, to make the game more interesting – he knows he’ll win one way or another. And he is cautious at the same time, always leaving a back door for unexpected turns.”
“His first step was the cameras. The second step was the electricity, a few minutes after. Why, when he could do both at the same time?”
Fuck. The darkness felt thick and heavy now.
“We are not the target, Eliot. You are.”
Florence hunched as her stomach churned.
Hardison let out a muffled curse and got up, but Nate grabbed his hand and kept him in his chair. He gave Eliot a second to reply, but no answer came.
Nate continued his quick talk. “He knew we would be watching, waiting for the attack. He isn’t planning on bursting through the door and mass murder, that would make too much noise. He lured you out. If the goons kill you, we’ll be without our most dangerous member – if they get you, he’ll have a weapon for negotiating. The latter is more to his liking, that draws out the game. Get back.”
The silence from the other side was so deep that Florence thought about taking her earbud out and shaking it to see if it worked.
“Here, thinking.” When the reply finally came, it was normal and calm. “About messages.”
Hardison growled, low and frustrated. “Get back. Or I’m coming out.”
“What message you want to send Knudsen tonight, Nate?” Eliot ran over Hardison’s words.
Much to her surprise, Nate smiled. “Let’s confuse him a little, shall we? Let him – them – wonder what the hell happened.”
“That can be arranged.” Eliot’s voice was soft now. “Don’t call again, unless it’s something critical. I’m taking the earbud out. Stay there. This will take some time.”
And that was it, his line on the laptop went red.
“You have no idea what ‘ya doing, Nate,” Hardison snarled. Florence watched his face set in anger. “He isn’t ready for this. Pushing him further won’t make it any- let me go with him.”
“No, Hardison. In this matter, he’s the only one who can decide for himself. And he just did. I trust him.”
“I trusted him too, in the slaughterhouse, until I found him almost one fucking second too late! You don’t know, he-” Hardison swallowed, his lips in a thin line. “I had to remove a guy pointing a gun at him, within his reach, and he just stared, lost – Nate – he did nothing. He would kill him if we weren’t there.”
“I know,” Nate said calmly. “He told me.”
“So why are you-”
“Because healing and recovery aren’t the same thing, and he is taking over both of them. Slowly,” Nate glanced at her and stopped. Florence didn’t even try to pretend she wasn’t there.
That glance got Hardison together, too, reminding him of her presence, and he just darted a pissed off stare at Nate, and got up. “I’ll go upstairs. Through the blinds I can see more than from these windows. They must have someone who’s controlling the street. Or more of them – because we don’t know how many of them are out there. Remember?”
“I do,” Nate nodded. “And I’m sure Eliot does, too.”
Hardison let out a low snarl, and strode away. Florence followed him with her eyes; this worry and anger she could understand, but his strange reaction to Eliot’s words about too heavy chairs was bugging her. She quickly went through the remaining episodes, trying to find any potentially dangerous chair lifting, or carrying scene – nobody needed another fight between them, and more fuck-you’s.
The two of them were strange, she thought, pretending to look at her laptop. Every other sentence was some form of arguing, bitching or just teasing, and at the same time she could feel the deep concern in Hardison. Yet, that pained smile showed- she felt Nate’s eyes on her, and she knew he knew what she was thinking about.
“I’ll tell you,” he said. “But not now, okay?”
She shrank back in her chair, avoiding his eyes, avoiding Parker who was glancing back and forth between them.
There was no way to avoid fear.
She closed the laptop with a click that sounded like a gunshot in the silence of the night, and the darkness closed in a little deeper.
He had to preserve his strength. Quick breathing could give him away, and the plan was to move as little as possible.
The man near the power supply was his first target, and Eliot slid through the blackness, making no sound. The guy wasn’t in a small room, but in the corridor that connected it to other rooms. And he was good. He was just standing there, leaning on the wall, waiting.
It took almost five minutes for one black, soundless shadow to close in on the other who was listening. Eliot directed his path to him, more feeling his presence than hearing anything – his own breathing was too loud in his ears.
The man shifted only once, and that sound gave him his height. Without any window or source of light, there wasn’t any adjusting to the darkness, everything was pitch black.
He slowly raised his left hand, a couple feet away from him, and placed a quick hit to his jaw, near the ear.
The sound of his fall went through the building like an earthquake, shattering the silence.
He took his position by the wall, closed his eyes and listened for the steps, breathing, anything that would show him the position of the others. When he heard nothing, not even after a few minutes, he went into the small chamber and groped until he found rags he could use to tie up the fallen man.
He could drag him with one hand and lock him up, but it would be a waste of strength. He left him lying on the floor, turned his face down, after he cleared all his possessions. Including a gun with a silencer.
He'd already been on his feet too long and sitting down would bring a little more blood into his brain, but the lightheadedness wasn’t serious for now. He knew exactly how much time he had before it affected his doings.
He went back into the middle, taking a spot the killers had to pass to get to the stairs, leaned on the wall and melted into the darkness.
He was good at waiting. And darkness.
By now, they knew he was out of the apartment, somewhere between them. The hunt was on.
Hardison was silent, which meant it was good, he didn’t see anybody on the street.
That, on the other hand, might mean they were all in the building, Florence corrected herself. Which wasn’t so good.
She joined Parker at the two windows on the wall opposite of the front door, when sitting became unbearable.
“Careful,” Nate said. He thought she needed a warning to stay invisible, great. He was still at the dining table, watching the street cameras. Thinking. Waiting. Minutes stretched into an eternity.
She couldn’t peek down through the blinds, at the main entrance and McRory’s door, she saw only the other side of the street. Hardison was in a better position upstairs, his line of sight was wider.
Still no sounds, except occasional cars passing on the street.
How much fear she could amass before she broke? She hadn't even recovered from the panic in the garage, and now this, again – the fear was like a tidal wave, slowly growing and rising until it got over her head. She was choking already, her breaths came out in fast, panicked bursts.
Orion jumped out of the bag by her feet, and she barely suppressed a scream.
Parker was watching her from the other window, visible only as a shadow dotted with tiny spots of light through blinds, holding a bowl of popcorn she didn’t seem to eat.
“He could use the darkness to attack George again,” Parker said with a level voice, following the blurry white spot on the black floor. “I don’t want Eliot to be upset.”
Right, George is his main problem now. Sure. She cut off a laugh, knowing it would come out as a half cry, too near hysteria.
“Why does Orion hate Eliot?” Parker continued.
“No, he likes him,” she said with effort. Making small talk with a pounding heart wasn’t the easiest thing to do. “He wouldn’t come to him, even once, if he didn’t.”
“Cool.” Parker turned to her now. “So, your cat likes Eliot. Do you like him?”
Nate cleared his throat and got up.
What was that? “Yes, Parker, I like him. I like all of you. Why?”
“That’s good, we like you too.”
Dear Lord, this was worse than an android – she sounded like the Seventh of Nine in the early days. And she looked like her, blond, half of her bluish and hidden.
But Parker was probably scared just like she was. Maybe she needed a talk to divert her thoughts from the silence. Florence suppressed the nervous edge in her voice and forced herself to continue. “Even when you’re mad at me?”
“We’re not. Nate isn’t, not even Eliot.”
“Well, he surely fooled me.”
Nate came to them, standing between their two windows. “Have you noticed anything?” he asked. “On the street you’re both watching?”
Parker completely ignored his presence and his words. “Eliot isn’t mad at you. Don’t worry. He said you’re brilliant.”
“When we talked right before the slaughterhouse.” Parker moved the bowl from one hand to the other, glancing at it. Florence waited. “Oh, not brilliant as in ‘you’re genius’ – not that kind of brilliant. He was not talking about your mind, he talked about your shape.”
Florence stared at her, out of the corner of her eye noticing Nate’s eyes went wide.
“My. Shape,” Florence slowly repeated.
“Parker, weren't you been drunk before the slaughterhouse?” Nate asked quickly.
“Yup,” Parker grinned. “Round is a shape, right? He said you’re round.”
“Round is nice. He said I’m elongated, you’re round. It’s all in the cut.”
She took a deep, slow breath, and held it.
Parker eyed her, obviously realizing something was strange. “Look, it’s complicated to explain to someone who doesn’t know… the round shape is nice, in fact the majority of men like that shape, it’s common and wide spread… the crown is small, but the pavilion is wide enough to endure any pressure. Round is practical, and tough. Elongated is too fragile sometimes.”
Nate produced a strange choking sound, but the blood boiling in her ears muted it almost completely.
“That’s… just rude,” she managed to whisper. “You can’t talk about women like that!”
Parker stared at her in utter confusion. “It was the most beautiful thing he had ever said to me,” she said.
“There’s something wrong with you.”
“And that too,” Parker beamed. “But don’t worry, there isn’t anything wrong with you – he said it’s not the material that matters, but what you do to it.” With that, Parker patted her in a friendly manner on her shoulder, and went back to the kitchen.
Now, he could hear them.
The soft rustle of footsteps coming from a few different directions, barely audible, like rats running in ventilation shafts. The sound of fabric rubbing against other fabric, when one of them bent over while sneaking. A metal cling when someone’s gun touched the button on his jacket.
With his eyes closed, he drew their positions and trajectories in his mind, still not moving, just waiting.
One by one, they would all come to him. Three. Four with the fallen guy. And the driver, somewhere outside.
He calmed his breathing, erasing all the images that were running through his mind, replacing them with this darkness. Inwardly going through all the rooms and corridors, calculating distances and remembering the obstacles and potential weapons on his way was helping, like an anchor.
The first one that showed up stopped several meters away from him, holding a tiny flashlight that gave out no more light than a laser pointer, just enough to light one step in front of him. He moved before the man could notice him, as a shadow darker than the other shadows. Don’t use the right hand.
The left one was enough.
People with guns were always slow, unable to quickly adjust their minds from shooting to hitting or defending; once the gun was turned away, posing no threat, they were much easier to knock down than someone who was prepared to use his hands in a fight.
The blows to the thick skull echoed loudly through the silence, and he didn’t have time to tie this one up, he just left him lying on the floor, disarming him first.
A memory of collecting a different loot clutched around his heart for a moment, and he held his breath, fighting it. He retreated to the stairs again, and this time he sat, clutching the gun he took.
Easy, you moron. Don’t fight it. You’ll lose.
He monitored the dizziness, his breathing, his pulse, just to concentrate on his body and not on his mind.
He noticed the trembling of his hands only when the bullets in the magazine started to clink quietly.
It could’ve been worse. He could be lost and deranged, and under a panic attack. One of them could’ve been here with him, depending on him and his right reactions.
Yep, this wasn’t bad at all. But he didn’t have much time – his weakness would only grow stronger with every minute, and he had two more to put down.
He weighed all the chances, all the pros and cons, and decided, pointing the gun toward the ceiling and pulling the trigger. The quiet plops weren’t so quiet.
He stood up, throwing the magazine away, waiting for the quick steps that hurried in his direction, drawn by the shooting.
The smell of gunpowder hit his brain, but this time he wasn’t on the edge of consciousness like he was in the slaughterhouse, he was able to stop the disorientation, moving quickly to meet the killers.
Don’t use the right hand.
“Speaking of diamonds and brilliants, she stole the Hope diamond two years ago,” Nate said when they both returned to the dining table and sat. She turned her laptop on again. “And she put it back. It’s insured for 250 million dollars. The most beautiful diamond in the world.” His eyes softened for a moment. Florence huffed, knowing he was just trying to divert her attention from fuming. “Do you know what it looks like?” Nate continued lightly. “It’s an interesting cut, a cushion antique brilliant with a regular crown, a faceted girdle and extra facets on the pavilion. To simplify it – its shape is round, not elongated.”
Oh. Maybe this wasn't just a diversion. She glanced at Parker, reminding herself of how strange she was. She'd had trouble following her train of thought since the beginning, and this was, maybe, just another screw up.
“Tell me about the chairs,” she said after a while. Everything was better than waiting helplessly.
“Not ‘the chairs,’ Florence. Lifting the heavy chairs.” She looked up to meet his eyes. Him studying her face was unnerving her, but he smiled then went on. “You said you recorded our coming in the apartment after That Night. Can you play it?”
She blinked, confused. “I have it recorded, yes, I cut off that sequence for eventual evidence, when I thought you killed – but why?”
“Just play it,” Nate smiled. A brief, dark smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
She found the recording, glancing at Parker. The thief was watching the windows and blinds, and the small dots of street light that penetrated the darkness. Listening.
“Why do you want to watch it now?” she asked Nate, turning the laptop to him, but he stopped her hand.
“No. You watch it. I don’t have to.”
She had learned by now that doing what Nate said was the cleverest thing to do, yet she couldn’t find the logic in his request, not now – until she played the first few seconds.
They had turned off the lights in the corridor, but the open door to the stairs gave off enough light for her motion sensors to catch their movement. She wouldn’t recognize Hardison before all these days they spent together, but now she knew who was the tall shadow behind Nate.
And who was carrying Eliot in his arms, holding him tight, with frantic eyes, talking to him though it was clear he couldn’t hear him. He had only minutes left, she remembered Sophie’s words.
The streak of light when Nate opened the apartment doors revealed, in one clear second, a steady drip of blood down his limp arm, falling to the floor from his fingers. She swallowed the nausea and took a deep breath.
He didn’t know how he got into the apartment, that Hardison carried him, she suddenly figured it out – that’s why he said that about heavy chairs, and Hardison twitched – this surely wasn’t a pleasant memory. He carried him all the way from the van, to the second floor, seemingly easy, as if he wasn’t a grown man, but just a child. And Hardison decided not to tell him.
This, definitely, wasn’t the wisest thing to watch now. She stopped the recording and gave Nate a small nod. His silence was a compliment. He knew she would know what he wanted to explain. That could mean they finally started to answer her questions, and she took that as a good sign.
Yet, she knew why he showed her this now, of all the times, to remind her of the consequences, of real danger and death that was around them. Nate never did things by accident, every word, every smile had some meaning. Yes, Nate, I know this isn’t an episode, she wanted to scream at him, but her throat was tight and painfully closed. She learned her lesson, she wouldn’t make the mistake again.
Hardison came down before she decided if she should say something about it, or not.
“The driver from one parked car went into the building over five minutes ago,” he said. “This takes too long, Nate, we should go out.”
“That’s, actually, a great idea.” The quiet voice from the door startled them all, even Parker.
Eliot entered the circle of blue light; he looked no worse than tired, the lines in his face maybe a little deeper. The relief she felt lifted the weight from her shoulders, and she smiled, almost surprised she managed to do that.
“We have five killers, tied up,” Eliot continued, leaning on the chair near Nate, very slowly. “You’ll call Patrick, or what?”
Nate put one finger on his lips. “Or what. The message isn’t signed, yet.” His eyes were strangely bright. “Hardison, you know their car?”
“Get a jacket,” Nate stood up, looking at them at the table. “We’ll put the power on. Stay here and rest. There’ll be no more attacks tonight.”
“If you say so,” Eliot’s voice fell to a whisper when he turned around and went to his bed. “Wake me up in three hours.”
“Five,” Parker said.
“Six,” she hissed.
“Go to sleep, Parker,” Nate smiled, and then looked back at her. “If you’re awake in three hours, do as he said.”
She nodded, watching them taking a few things before going out. Parker huffed and turned on her heel, going to her bed.
Eliot stopped by his bed. “Florence.”
She quickly joined him. Orion was sleeping right in the middle of the bed, with his head on the pillow. Eliot watched him with earnest confusion.
“He does like you,” she said, feeling the smile still on her face.
And to her surprise, he smiled too. Maybe it was the cat, maybe it was just weariness, but that smile transformed his face, softening it. “If this is being liked, I really don’t want to see him pissed off.” He went closer and gently stroked his fur, just once, as if uncertain what to do and how. Orion started to purr immediately, almost startling him.
He turned to her again. The combination of confused eyes and that soft smile was… very dangerous.
This man knocked out five men just minutes ago, probably with that same hand, she had to remind herself. But it was in vain. She grabbed Orion just to avoid looking at the warmth in his eyes, and turned to walk away.
Nate had one hand on the door knob, but he was still, watching Eliot. She quickly withdrew to the sofa, still enable to erase her own smile, it remained glued on her face.
God, she was so fucking confused. Scared, confused, smiling, all at the same time. Hello, nervous breakdown, nice to meet you. Only one thing she knew for certain. She was scared, yes, but the fear eased its grip when he returned safely.
It was him she feared for.
And that terrified her more than anything.
She curled under the blankets with Orion, while guilt and confusion danced an endless loop in her head. Guilt taking the lead.