What Else Would You Have Me Be?

Chapter 2

Eliot eyed the takeout skeptically for a moment before deciding against it, but joining the others wasn't as appealing as it had been when he'd gotten Nate's call.

Everything had shifted since San Lorenzo. Sophie and Nate were the most obvious. They'd stopped dancing around each other, sure, but they weren't making a big thing of it, yet. Hardison and Parker he couldn't quite get a fix on. Hardison wasn't flirting with her the way he'd done a month ago, and she was being quieter than usual. Whether it was because things between had gone badly, or because things were going very well, it was impossible to tell.

And it really should've been beside the point. But Eliot wasn't sure he wanted to go over and hang with the happy couples.

During the briefing, he could feel Hardison's eyes on him, sometimes watching him with a look of confusion on his face, but Eliot was careful to keep his eyes on the screen. The job was going to be an interesting one. But he had no idea at all where the dead priest came in.

Afterwards, he considered hanging back, wanting to talk to Nate, but Parker had left, and though Sophie was helping Hardison pack up, she hadn't yet moved for her coat. She wasn't leaving, then, and Eliot didn't need either of them hearing what he had to say.

It could wait.


Mrs. Barnaby was passing by, walking her retriever when he drove up. He waved hello as he got out of the truck, using the opportunity to stop and make small talk to scope the street for anything unusual. As she wandered off, he began checking the garden.

None of the motion detectors looked as if they'd been tampered with, but the frost was killing the rose bushes. He was going to need to plant another row of cover along the western fence very soon. Circling around to the back, he confirmed that everything was in order before going inside.

Deactivating the alarm, he ignored the disappointment.

Usually, in between jobs, he could count on Parker to break in out of boredom, either to prove to him that the upgrades Hardison was always suggesting were probably needed, or to cadge dinner. But she hadn't been by in months.

Then again, she was probably spending all of her time with Hardison, anyway.

He wondered what they ate, when they were together. Probably better not to think about it. They probably weren't spending much time at the dinner table, anyway.

Hell, Hardison didn't even have a table. He had desks, scattered all over his apartment, and electronic equipment scattered over every available surface.

Whatever. Stupid thing to think about.

Still, though. It had been strange, quiet. None of Parker's burglaries, and none of Hardison's messages demanding that he stop for beer on his way over to catch the game, either.

Of course, Hardison was terrified of him now, so that explained a hell of a lot.

He hadn't needed to go in, tonight, to know just how much they'd been faking it, that last job. They'd gotten by fine, hell, they'd gotten rid of Moreau, but things were a little bit broken.

It was going to take a while. And at least they'd called him in. Halfway through the second week, he'd started wondering if they'd gone off on a job without him. It wasn't like he'd gone out to drive past Nate's place, just to see if his car was still there. It had only been a block or so out of his way, coming back from the Mediterranean foods importer down the block.

But it had been a long few weeks, and this job? Looked like it would take even longer.


He wasn't too far away from the Khyber Pass, but beyond that, Eliot didn't know much.

At first, he'd kept track of the days by counting meals, but the gash on his arm had gotten infected and he'd lost track of time. Even when he'd regained awareness of his surroundings, of the sunlight that never reached this far back into the cave, never mind the bars of his cell, when he could see the shadows of the scrub brush changing as the days wore on, the weeks had a way of running together.

He didn't know how long he'd been held prisoner, the morning of the explosion; he only thought that the cavalry had finally arrived. He curled up at the back of his cell, making himself as small as possible, but even so, the bullets ricocheted off the stone walls and sent up clouds of dust that were impossible to see through, but when the smoke finally cleared, his captors were all lying on the ground and there were men heading his direction.

He didn't recognize any of them, but there was one man, grinning more easily than the others, confident as he stepped up to Eliot's cell.

"What's your name?" His accent was unfamiliar, but friendly. He wasn't military. Maybe a Company man, but Eliot had already been out of the game in months. His name wasn't going to get him anywhere with him, but it wasn't going to get him killed, either.

"Spencer. Eliot Spencer." Brushing the dust off his face, he stood to examine him more closely. Sharp, piercing eyes that never strayed from where he wanted them. "Who are you?"

"My name is Damian Moreau, and if you're not friends of theseā€¦ gentlemen," Moreau began, absently kicking at the body of one of Eliot's guards, "then perhaps you can arrange to become a friend of mine. No strings, of course, it's entirely up to you." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card, which he slipped into the pocket of Eliot's shirt.

Not the cavalry, then, Eliot realized, but other options were a little thin on the ground. "If you got the keys to this thing, I'm game to talk," he agreed.

"Wonderful." Moreau nodded to a red-haired man he called Chapman, who'd been going through the pockets of the fallen men and who now stepped forward with a handful of key rings.

A few moments later, Eliot's cell was opened, and stepped out of his cage for the first time in weeks, maybe months.

"Hey, what's today's date?"

"April the twenty third," Moreau confirmed, grinning at Eliot's expression, which suddenly felt frozen. He'd been locked down for eight months, almost nine, and if it weren't for the vertigo, he would've asked the year, just to be sure.

At Moreau's nod, Chapman unlocked the door and stepped aside. "Come with me, Mr. Spencer. We've got a long drive, and civilization awaits."


That evening, Eliot was torn between getting some sleep and the city outside his window.

Explaining apologetically that he had business to attend to, Moreau had arranged for a night's lodging, a change of clothing, enough toiletries to make himself look twice as human as he felt, and a handful of currency. He was free to leave whenever he wanted, and Peshawar, where Eliot had once been stationed for one hellish year, had never looked so appealing.

Once outside, however, Eliot only managed one circuit through Mattani Market before the rattling cough that he'd been dodging for weeks rose up and reasserted itself. Besides, it was too open out on the streets, with too many blind corners.

Eliot was asleep- in an actual bed, with blankets and pillows and clean sheets- before the last rays of sunset had faded into night.


The next morning, Chapman arrived to take him to the embassy.

Eliot should've known how long eight months really was when he noticed him waiting with the engine running, but he went inside, and discovered several things.

He'd been declared killed in action seven months ago, along with half of his team. The other half was standing trial in Sweden, the general included. Of course the embassy was eager to straighten out this entire mess. All he needed to do was wait for the attorneys to show up to clear him. A short stop by the trial, which would undoubtedly help clear everything up, and then he'd be on his way home.

No problem.

Eight months out of the game hadn't been enough to turn him into an idiot. Eliot was back outside the moment the agent's back was turned, Moreau's card in hand as he searched the street for a phone, but he didn't need either of them.

The black car hadn't moved, and Chapman was leaning against the door. "Offer's still open," he said, and moved around to the driver's seat. "Moreau's waiting to fill you in on the details, and he doesn't like to wait for long. You really ought to do something about that cough."

Eliot closed his eyes for a moment before getting in the car, and took stock as Chapman drove.

He'd been out of the game for too long. He'd been locked down for eight months, and no rescue had come. He had no resources of his own, and was too sick, tired and weak to find any. He was starting from zero with nothing to lose.

By the time Moreau was sitting across the table and making promises that Eliot didn't honestly expect to be kept, it was all too easy to say yes.

The bitterness hadn't even had time to set in yet- that would come later. The time he'd lost, the people who'd screwed him over, and the deal he'd had to make, none of it bothered him yet.

Once he'd grown healthy again, though, he'd reveled in it.

It was what had made him the sharpest weapon Moreau had ever used.


Nate still refused to book them all separate flights, which would've been safer, but at least he'd instructed Hardison to scatter them throughout the plane. Hardison had put him up in first class, this time around, which would give him a chance to get out and scope the Phoenix airport before the others got off the plane, but it meant he boarded first.

He watched as the others filtered past. Sophie, some businessmen and then Hardison came on next; they were seated at the back of the plane. Nate boarded a while later, moving so awkwardly down the aisle that Eliot honestly thought that he'd gotten the strap from his carry on stuck around the arm of Eliot's seat by accident. Nate, however, was using it as an opportunity to slip a note in between the SkyMall catalog and the airsickness bag.

Parker, it turned out, was sitting in the front row of coach, and Eliot could feel her staring at the back of his head until she became riveted instead by the safety demonstration, the way she always did. It wasn't as if she'd never flown before, or even given the presentation before, but maybe- hopefully- she was looking for pointers. The sooner she figured out that discussing the burning temperature of jet fuel did little to set the average passenger's mind at ease.

Eliot knew it was strange to be relieved about, but routine insanity was still routine.

It kind of felt like nothing was different. Like maybe there was hope.

Then he remembered the note that Nate had passed him, and, waiting for the middle-aged woman next to him to become engrossed in her novel, he opened it.


Heads up. Hardison's pissed.

Long story short, someone had gotten a crew together, gotten all their IDs built from the same documentation at the same hospital. He's cleared the threat, no worries, but along the way, he found out about the warehouse. He cornered me this morning and told me that this is his last job. If we're going to have any chance in changing his mind, react carefully when you hear it from him.


There had been half an hour, back in between the pool and the park, where Eliot could've explained himself, but Hardison had been too freaked and furious to even look at him. To get him talking would've meant listening to him come out and say, "I don't trust you. Get the fuck off my team." And that had been before the warehouse.

By the time they'd put Moreau away, by the time they'd finally been in the clear, he'd thought that maybe they'd moved on. He'd thought Hardison had gotten over it, and maybe he had. But he hadn't discovered what Eliot had done, yet. That had to have come much more recently.

He shook his head when the stewardess asked him what he wanted to drink, and tried to plan what he'd say when it all came out. He was coming up blank.

What he'd told them should've been enough. He hadn't been lying when he'd said he'd been protecting them, not only from Moreau, but to what Eliot had been planning to do to Moreau if he'd caught up to him first.

Luck hadn't played out that way.

Instead of killing just Moreau, he'd wound up having to kill a dozen men. Instead of telling Hardison- telling the team- he'd informed Nate that nobody needed to know. Instead of hearing that he'd been kicked off the team, he was hearing that Hardison was going to leave.

None of this had turned out right, and things were about to get worse, Eliot was sure.

They hadn't even landed, yet.




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