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Leverage fic: The Blackmail Job (1/1)

December 8th, 2015 (10:00 pm)
hyper

feeling: hyper

Title: The Blackmail Job

Disclaimer: I do not own Leverage.

A/N: Fills my blackmail square for hc_bingo. As per normal these days, no beta.

Summary: Eliot makes the best and worst deal of his life.



-o-

“It’s a trap, Nate,” Eliot says, shaking his head. “You have to know it’s a trap.”

Nate, though, he’s a stubborn bastard. He squares his shoulders, lifts his chin, looks at Eliot down the line of his nose. “It is what it is.”

It’s not quite an admission, but definitely not a denial. Eliot strives for calm, because losing his temper with Nate doesn’t work. But it’s not easy for him, not when his tenuous control is slipping. He does lots of things for the team, but he’s never been confused about what his job is. He gets the team out safe.

And this time, Nate’s making that a damn near impossibility.

“It’s a bad plan,” Eliot tells him, because he doesn’t lie to Nate. He won’t, not when it matters. He looks at Nate levelly.

Nate’s mouth pinches, just for a moment. “Well, Eliot,” he says diffidently, in that way of his, that smug confidence of a man who brashly thinks he can defy the odds forever. That way that tells Eliot they’re a team, but they’re not equals. That way that reminds Eliot where his place is, that reminds him why he always used to work alone. “There’s a reason you’re not the mastermind.”

“Yeah,” Eliot says, voice flat and face drawn. He won’t give Nate this, not when it doesn’t change anything. Nate’s in charge, but Eliot’s job -- his real job -- is bigger than anything Nate will ever tell him to do. “There’s definitely a reason.”

-o-

Nate knows it’s a trap, just as well as Eliot does. The thing is, Nate believes acting indifferent will ensure that Eliot takes care of it before it becomes a problem.

This, in a manner of speaking, is absolutely true.

Eliot is going to take care of it.

Probably not the way Nate expects, though.

It is, however, the only way Eliot knows to make sure the rest of the plan works, to make sure that the team gets out alive. Nate’s got a plan, after all, and it depends on everyone doing their part.

Someday, Eliot thinks regretfully, Nate might actually realize what that means.

-o-

The first thing Eliot does is take out his comm.

Hardison’s back at the van, and Sophie and Nate are live with the mark. Parker is circumventing her way to the vault with Hardison hacking the system as she goes. Eliot’s task is to control the security presence.

Under most circumstances, this is not that complicated. Hired guns range from laughable to pretty damn good, and there haven’t been many instances where Eliot’s felt evenly matched.

This, however, is not most circumstances.

This is private security of the highest regard. Outfitted by remnants of Moreau’s crew, no less. This means they have an axe to grind with Eliot.

It also means Eliot has everything he needs to ensure the safety of his team.

And he won’t throw a single punch.

Nate doesn’t want to know. If he did, he would have asked. But Sophie would stop him; Parker, too. Hardison would not take it well. Frankly, those are distractions he doesn’t need and that the team can’t afford.

No, if Eliot’s going to do this, he’ll do it alone -- for their sakes.

So Eliot takes out his comms, leaving it on the street right outside the mechanical access point at the back of the building for Hardison to recover.

Then, he goes inside.

-o-

The guards swarm him, but Eliot doesn’t fight. When they demand to know why he’s here, Eliot smiles and holds up an envelope.

“I’ve got something for Derek Gillette,” he says.

When they are unconvinced and reaching for their weapons, Eliot raises his eyebrows.

“And did I mention that my name is Eliot Spencer?”

The men freeze, exchanging curious looks, tinged with anxiety. They then adjust their suit jackets, looking at Eliot coldly. “Come with us.”

“Yeah,” Eliot says, following with a smile. “That’s what I thought.”

-o-

Eliot’s reputation has preceded him.

His mark has made a point to keep his own from doing the same.

That’s why this is a trap, after all.

This case isn’t a con and a retrieval for some poor family’s well being. No, that’s just the bait.

This, down here.

This is the trap.

Derek Gillette inherited Damien Moreau’s empire. It was in shambles, yes, but there were a lot of pieces to pick up and a hell of a power vacuum to fill. Eliot’s monitored that as best he can, and some of the fixes have been low level players, rising in the ranks. Some of the branches splintered to other, local vendors, and the rest?

Well, the rest were taken by Gillette.

Eliot had been head of security, but Gillette had been the protege. Since Moreau’s fall in San Lorenzo, Gillette has received curious funds through the country, which has led Eliot to believe that Moreau isn’t entirely out of the game.

This means that Gillette will, eventually, be a problem.

Unless Eliot can stop this now.

See, Eliot knows that this is a trap designed to gauge the capabilities and weaknesses of the team. And Eliot knows that the intel gathered on this mission will be used against them down the line.

Unless -- and this is the key point -- unless they can put all the cards on the table, right here, right now. Gillette, he’ll have what he needs someday to take down the team.

Today, however, Eliot has what he needs to beat Gillette.

And save his team.

Gillette has modeled himself after Moreau with the same affectations. “Eliot Spencer,” he muses, almost sounding pleased. “This is a pleasant surprise.”

“Cut the crap, Gillette,” Eliot says, coming to a stop with the two guards flanking him. “You knew I’d be here, which is why you’re here.”

“Still a bit full of yourself, hm?” Gillette says. “I am here to build up my list of partners. Business, you know, has taken a hit.”

“This is too low brow, even for rebuilding Moreau’s empire,” he says. “No, this is personal.”

Gillette feigns shock. “Personal? Whatever do you mean?”

“I mean, we took down Moreau,” Eliot snaps. “We took down the empire you were set to inherit. That’s motive for revenge, right there. And this, here? This is method. Luring us out with a case we can’t resist.”

Gillette smiles in the most condescending fashion. “It is adorable to watch,” he says. “You and your little team can’t ignore bleating sheep.”

“My little team took down Moreau,” Eliot says.

Gillette’s smile falls. “Luck. Nothing more.”

Eliot smirks. “Moreau, he hired the best,” he says. “But when you pay someone, then it’s nothing but a paycheck.”

“Well, that is the nature of the world--”

Eliot shakes his head. “When a team chooses to be together -- well, that’s not luck,” he says. “That’s a choice.”

Gillette sighs tersely. “You’re trying my patience--”

“Damien Moreau convinced me to do a lot of things for a paycheck,” Eliot continues. “But this team? The one you think you can take down? I’m making choices that don’t rely on luck. Choices you can’t fight.”

Gillette purses his lips, staring Eliot down hard. “With you here, tell me why I shouldn’t just storm the building and take your friends?”

Eliot shrugs. “Maybe you’d get them, maybe you wouldn’t.”

“And that’s a chance you want to take?” Gillette asks, sounding somewhat surprised.

Eliot just chuckles. “Is that a chance you want to take?”

Gillette’s face screws up.

Eliot holds up the envelope. “The electronic copy is with my team, and if I know Hardison, he’s got it backed up so many different ways, you’d never be able to get rid of it all. In fact, I know that one copy is in a pending email meant to be delivered to a police detective if this thing does go south,” he explains.

Gillette eyes the envelope warily.

“Go on,” Eliot says. “Open it.”

Cautiously, Gillette slips his finger under the flap.

Cool and collect, Eliot holds his ground. “I think you’ll find it pretty illuminating.”

-o-

It’s a plan he’s seen Nate pull off, and he’s using Sophie’s grifting tips to pull it off. Hardison’s technical know-how has helped him set up the email himself, and Parker’s insistence on doing the right thing has started to rub off on him.

It’s their fault that Eliot is standing here. He couldn’t have done it without them.

He wouldn’t have done it without them.

Gillette passes over the papers, flipping through each one as the color drains from his face. It’s the trail Hardison put together for the team briefing, supplemented with the data that Parker stole once the con started. It’s enough to take Gillette down for this client -- and it connects him starkly with as many pieces of Moreau’s network as possible.

In short, it’s the endgame. Everything they will ever need to take down Gillette.


“Blackmail?” Gillette asks, sounding stunned. “You’re resorting to blackmail?

Eliot shrugs. “If it works.”

Gillette lets out a breath, strained and incredulous. “What do you want?” he snarls.

“I want you to leave my team alone,” Eliot says. “Now. And forever.”

Gillette shakes his head, face twisted with vehemence. “I have no way of knowing you’ll hold to your deal.”

“That’s how blackmail works,” Eliot replies.

“It’s too much of a risk,” Gillette says. “Going after you now is a better option.”

The men beside Eliot tense, shifting their stances to reach for their guns.

Eliot doesn’t flinch.

Blackmail, after all, had always been part of Nate’s plan.

What comes next, though.

That’s all Eliot.

To protect his team.

He lifts his chin, letting out a breath. “You’re forgetting the obvious,” he says.

Gillette narrows his gaze.

“You’re not walking out of here empty handed.”

Careful and calculated, Gillette is trying not to look scared even though he’s the one with all the guns.

Eliot smiles faintly. “You’re going to walk out of here with the one thing that will keep my team in check, no matter what.”

His lip curls, uncertain. “And that is?” he prompts finally.

“Me,” Eliot tells him. “You’re going to walk out of here with me.

-o-

It’s a hell of a good feeling, seeing a plan come to fruition. It’s really something, knowing that you orchestrated a plan that caught everyone off guard. And damn, it’s satisfying to see the look on the mark’s face when they realize -- when they know -- they have no choice but to do what you say.

It’s a special kind of high, and Eliot knows why Nate finds it so addicting.

Eliot relishes the moment.

Because he knows it’s the last moment he’s going to enjoy for a long, long time.

Face hardened, Gillette nods to his goons. One of them grabs Eliot and forces him to his knees.

For his part, Eliot doesn’t resist. “I’m not going to fight you,” he drawls.

Gillette’s expression is cold. “No,” he says with a tight smile. “You won’t.”

That’s when the second goon smashes Eliot in the back of the head with the butt of his gun.

It’s fast, quick and to the point -- all according to plan.

Eliot is unconscious before he hits the ground.

-o-

It’s not Eliot’s favorite thing to get knocked unconscious. In fact, he’s spent most of his adult life learning how to avoid just that. As far as he’s concerned, unconsciousness isn’t that much different than death. When the lights go out, you’re never sure if they’re coming back on.

And that just ain’t Eliot’s thing. Control is a thing for him, and if he isn’t conscious, then he’s really no good for anything. He’s defenseless.

For a man like Eliot, that’s the worst possible thing.

This time, however, he accept it for what it is. Because, the fact is, unconsciousness is part of the plan. Unconsciousness is part of his control of this situation. He’s put himself here, and somehow, that makes it okay.

It’s not surrender when you get what you want.

And it’s sure as hell not defeat when you win.

Sure, Gillette will try to spin it for his own benefit. He’ll undoubtedly take quite a bit of pleasure in manhandling Eliot. There’s no question that Hardison will find a picture of Eliot’s unconscious figure attached to a note with something akin to a ransom demand.

That much, as far as Eliot is concerned, is perfectly okay.

He just hopes -- and this is the only thing he wants right now -- that Hardison finds the other note first. The one Eliot slipped his earbud inside. The one that says he’s sorry to leave like this but there was no other way to keep Gillette out of the picture. Eliot has one job to do, and he did it. And he knows it’s not what the team wants, but it’s what they needed.

He hopes they believe him when they say this is okay, that he can take care of himself. He hopes they listen when he tells them not to come looking for him, but to focus on taking Gillette down.

That’s the plan, after all. That’s been Nate’s plan since the beginning.

Eliot can’t control that.

He can only do his part.

No matter what.

-o-

All things considered, Gillette is not nearly as creative or smart as Moreau was. He doesn’t know how to exploit an asset in the most sadistic ways. He’s reductive in his approach, and he certainly doesn’t think outside the damn box. He’s more flash than substance, and he doesn’t have the credibility to back himself up.

He has Eliot beaten consistently and makes sure that Eliot’s hands are always bound tightly behind him. He’s transported with a hood over his face and knocked out before he ever gets to go outside. Sometimes he seems to be marched around for no apparent reason, but it is not clear to Eliot if this is to obscure where they are or as a poor attempt at psychological manipulation.

At first, he’s kept with guards nearby at all times, often tied to pipes or chairs. He suspects he’s transported by trunk, but given that he’s unconscious for most of that, it’s hard to know for sure. It’s hard to keep track of time with the lapses in consciousness, but Eliot guesses that a week has passed when he’s finally dumped into a small, dank cell.

When he wakes up, he’s finally not bound, and hazy as he is, it’s not hard to gauge that the small, simple prison is crude but effective. No lights; no running water. The small, open drain is the extent of his luxuries. There’s not even a damn blanket.

It’s a cliche straight from a spy thriller.

No, Gillette is clearly not as creative or smart.

Somehow Eliot suspects he’ll still get the job done.

-o-

He’s not surprised when the guards come back and drag him to another room. He’s also not surprised that this other room seems to be set up for interrogation purposes. The bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. The table with two chairs around it. It’s supposed to be ominous.

Eliot has seen worse.

He’s forced into the chair and cuffed upside the head before his hands are strapped painfully to the arms of the chair he’s in. His feet are also bound and one of the men yanks back on his hair until he’s looking up again, right at Gillette.

Gillette smiles, a gesture that is surely meant to be intimidating. The dark suit and crisp white shirt -- the contrast is intended to make Eliot feel uncomfortable.

It’s not really working.

Eliot’s not scared, even if he is pretty confident that he knows what’s coming.

“Let me guess,” Eliot says before Gillette has a chance to speak. “You want me to tell you what I think my team will do.”

Gillette clucks his tongue softly, making his way to the chair across from Eliot. “Usually, in this situation, I would be asking the questions.”

“Well, I’m just saving you some time,” Eliot says. “The team is off limits.”

Gillette chuckles, stroking his chin absently. “You expect me to believe that they won’t come from you?”

“If you’re stupid enough to leave a trail for them to follow, then that’s your problem,” Eliot says. “I gave you everything you want -- and then some.”

“Your team is still a...nuisance,” Gillette says.

“Threaten them, and the deal’s off,” Eliot growls.

At that, Gillette laughs loudly. “The deal? What leverage do you have in this deal?

“Easy,” Eliot says. “I can be a willing captive. I can stay compliant and not try to escape. Or I can plot and work and find and out. And when I do that -- and it would be a matter of when and not if -- I will show no mercy to anyone on my way out.”

Gillette watches him, carefully composed. He doesn’t want to be bothered by this threat -- indeed, there are a lot of reasons he might think he shouldn’t be bothered -- but he is. Because Gillette knows Eliot. He knows what he’s capable of.

“And if I kill you?” Gillette asks. “What is to stop me from going after your team then?”

Eliot shrugs. “Your prerogative,” he says. “It’s also your funeral.”

“You think your team would avenge you?” Gillette asks.

“Maybe,” Eliot says. “But not before Moreau would have you taken out for letting me go that easily.”

Gillette’s mouth tightens, and Eliot knows he’s right. There’s no doubt, Moreau wants Eliot dead, but not easy, not fast. Not as a pawn in Gillette’s fight against his own obvious blunders. That’s why Moreau sent Gillette to monitor the team -- to exact a special kind of revenge.

It’s not the kind that ends with a bullet to the back of the head and an unmarked grave.

“If you don’t tell me what your friends are going to do next, there is no way to stop them from doing something stupid,” Gillette says, trying a different tactic. “That would get dangerous.”

“There’s no next step,” Eliot snaps. “Do you think the plan was to send me in here as bait? Do you think that’s the angle I’m playing? Because I’m not, okay? I made this choice, not them. And I told them not to follow me.”

“And you think they will listen to you?” Gillette asks, doubtful.

Eliot works his jaw, his own confidence faltering just a little. “It’s the right move,” he says. “They’ll see that.”

Gillette leans forward, drumming his fingers on the table as he stares Eliot down. “You don’t sound convinced, my friend,” he says. “Tell me what they’ll do.”

It’s all Eliot can do to keep himself from seething. Eliot’s not scared of much, but he is scared of that. That his team won’t listen; that they’ll risk everything to come after him. That all of this -- all he’s been through and all he’ll go through -- will be for nothing.

That terrifies him.

In comparison, Gillette is a joke.

Defiant, Eliot shakes his head. “I’ve told you everything I’m going to,” he says. “Punch me, beat me, lock me in a cell. You can have me. But them? They’re off limits.”

Sitting back, Gillette crosses his arms over his chest. “We will see about that last point,” he says. “But the former?”

His smile widens cruelly as he gets to his feet.

“Well,” he says conversationally. “We can arrange for the former right now.”

-o-

The thing is, Eliot knows how to take a punch.

A lot of it is how you brace yourself, how you see it coming, how you learn to move with it. Some of it is getting used to the shock, understanding how to function through the disorientation and still come up fighting. It’s time, practice and skill, and Eliot hates to be reduced to nothing but muscle, but there’s no question he’s good at it.

That’s only part of it, though.

See, Eliot knows how to take a punch.

Not just physically but mentally, too. He knows when it’s worth it, when it’s the right thing, when losing is the only way you win.

Strapped to a chair with two guards bearing down, Eliot has no doubt which one is going to get him through this.

-o-

He’s only semiconscious when they drag him back, and he’s missing a tooth. Blood is draining down the back of his throat, and his left eye has already swollen shut. He can almost feel the hairline fracture in his cheek bone, and the ringing in his ears is pretty indicative of a concussion.

When they drop him unceremoniously on the floor, he oofs heavily, biting back a cry. Broken ribs, two of them. Several more are cracked. He’ll have to be careful if he doesn’t want a punctured lung on top of everything else.

It’s a bleak, miserable way to be, and the fact that it is his choice doesn’t make it any easier.

Good thing, then, that Eliot’s never been about doing things the easy way. No, he’s about doing things right.

And, curled up against the cold cement, letting blood dribble from the corner of his mouth as he slips into sleep, is right.

-o-

Eliot isn’t sure how long he sleeps, and the loss of time is more disconcerting than almost anything else. He’s trained himself to have an innate sense of time, and keeping his wits about him has always been the critical difference for success -- for survival.

This job, though, has left him without a sense of where he is or how much time has passed. In short, Eliot is off his game.

That’s inevitable, he knows, but that doesn’t mean he likes it. He’s always preferred the term retrieval specialist, which is the persona he’d carved out for himself after leaving Moreau’s service. There’s something nuanced about it, much more refined than hitter or private security. Eliot knows that mercenary isn’t a bad description of who he’d been, and that’s not something he’s particularly proud of.

Whatever he calls himself, the essential skills that have kept him alive haven’t changed since he was 18 years old and he joined the army. Hell, he’s probably been honing his survival skills since the first time he got his ass tanned as a kid. Survival isn’t just knowing how to endure; it’s about knowing when to cut and run.

And he’s run before. He’s cut his losses more times than he can count. Some people think that quitting is a sign of weakness, but Eliot sees no shame in knowing when the situation just isn’t worth it. That’s how you stay alive in his line of work.

He still remembers Parker, crying at him. I want to do the right thing.

He’d told her that the ability to walk away is a blessing or a curse.

Whatever it is, it’s not one he has anymore.

He’s not sure when it changed exactly. He’s not sure when he stopped thinking of himself as a retrieval specialist and started thinking of himself as a team member. When was it that this stopped being a job and started being a family?

Eliot knows thousands of way to escape, thousands more how to stay alive.

But there’s only one way to save them.

He’s startlingly okay with the fact that it might mean he has to die.

-o-

Gillette waits long enough to make a point, but Eliot suspects it’s been just as long for Gillette as it has been for him. Honestly, it’s a nice change to be marched from his cell, and the idea of sitting on a chair is actually a novelty.

And light.

It at least makes things interesting.

He’s spent the last week staring in the dark, so he’ll take what he can get.

“Are we having fun yet, Mr. Spencer?” Gillette asks, sounding bemused.

Eliot clears his throat, which is gravelly with disuse. “A little boring, actually,” he says, trying his best to open his still swollen eye. He does pull off a smile. “I sort of expected more from you.”

Gillette keeps smiling, but the humor is gone. “Do you want me to hurt you?”

“You can do whatever the hell you want with me,” Eliot says. “As long as you live up to your end of the bargain.”

Exasperated, Gillette forces out a sigh. “And you really expect me to believe that your team will go along with this? That I shouldn’t be preparing for their attempt to rescue you?”

“They haven’t released the information yet, have they?” Eliot asks.

Gillette purses his lips.

“And I haven’t tried to fight you, not once,” Eliot says. “And don’t think I can’t. Don’t think you’ve beaten me into submission. Don’t think I can’t take out a guard or make a weapon out of rock. Don’t think I haven’t thought of ten different ways to get the hell out and leave you for Moreau to deal with however he sees fit.”

Gillette’s face is like stone.

Eliot flexes his fingers in his bindings, glaring down the bridge of his still tender nose. “Play by the rules,” he says, carrying the threat by the sheer weight of his voice. “Or you’re not going to like how they change.”

There’s a long, punctuated silence before Gillette finally sits forward. “This whole thing is a tentative balance,” he says. “We are all blackmailing each other, hoping to live in a tenuous stalemate. It can’t last forever, Mr. Spencer. You should consider what side you want to be on when it’s over.”

Eliot doesn’t flinch; doesn’t hesitate. “I don’t have to consider it -- I know,” he says.

“You know what I am capable of,” Gillette warns.

“Yeah,” Eliot says. “Which is why I know I’d put my money on my team, any day of the week.”

Gillette’s expression darkens.

Before he leaves, he delivers the first kick himself. Winded, Eliot watches as Gillette leaves and the two guards come closer.

Eliot sighs. “Just a word of advice,” he says. “Right side this time, unless you want to call in a doctor when you puncture my lung.”

One of the men cracks his knuckles.

The other smirks.

“It’d be sort of a mess,” he says.

The first punch comes to the right, and so does the first kick.

In agony, Eliot wheezes heavily. “It’s your medical bills,” he warns one last time before the barrage starts and everything hurts.

-o-

The second beating leaves him worse off than the first. He can barely move he’s so sore, and although he’d managed to spread out the damage to his ribs -- he still can’t believe how quickly they’d fallen for that right side bit -- he knows that his body is at a breaking point. His kidneys are bruised, and there’s a risk of internal bleeding that he has no means to mitigate. Two concussions -- at least -- in a short period of time puts him at risk for other complications and without enough food or water, his recovery is going to be even harder to maintain.

For several days, Eliot can’t even move. He has to claw his way across the floor to eat the meager scraps that Gillette agrees to give him, not that the bread is easy to chew with his missing teeth.

He shivers uncontrollably for long stretches of time, and he’s badly disoriented. He sleeps more than he’s awake, and his only conscious thought is that he’s glad it’s him.

Not his team.

Parker, she’d get herself killed in the escape. Hardison would piss them off into shooting him in the head. Sophie might have the best chance of grifting, but she wouldn’t take well to the conditions. Nate would probably go into alcohol withdrawal and get suicidal.

Mostly, he can’t stand to think of that. He can’t stand to think of them tying Parker to a chair or beating Hardison to the ground. The thought of Sophie being starved to death or Nate wasting away in a small, dark cell -- it’s too much.

This is why Eliot does what he does.

This is why he takes the hits.

So they don’t have to.

So they never have to.

That’s the only comfort he has while he curls up alone in the dark.

-o-

The third interrogation finds Eliot too tired to put up much of an offense. He’s honestly a little relieved when Gillette tells him no questions today.

But then he holds out his phone.

“Just a quick photo, if I can,” he says with a winning smile.

Eliot stiffens, shaking his head. “You’re supposed to leave my team out of this.

“A promise I fully intended to stick to,” he says. “Unfortunately, I’ve gotten word through various channels that they require proof of life to maintain their end of things.”

If it’s a lie, it’s a credible one, but it still makes Eliot’s fingers curl in rage.

Gillette holds up his phone, thinking for a moment. “You know what, this is no good,” he announces. He glances to his men. “We need more blood.”

Eliot’s stomach hardens as Gillette turns back to him, beaming.

“A lot more blood.”

-o-

This beating is executed more skillfully than the rest. By the time it’s done, his clothes are torn and blood has spilled all over his chin and mouth and he can feel it running down his neck. He’s dazed and his wrist is broken, and when it’s time to take the picture, Gillette dumps a newspaper in his lap and nods to his goon to hold up Eliot’s head by the hair.

The flash, though -- knowing that his team will see this -- hurts more than anything else.

-o-

Eliot is willing to die.

Given the choice, he’d rather not.

That means he has to keep himself alive. Fighting back is not an option -- not for his team’s safety -- but if he curls upon the cement again, he’ll probably never get back up. That’s not him. That’s not how he goes out, not when his team is probably going to need him again.

Because Gillette, for all his overconfidence, is right. His team will come for him. Eliot’s hoped that they won’t, but he can’t play stupid forever. They’ll all insist on coming, every last one of them. And with the picture Gillette will be sending their way, he knows they’re not going to take the cautious approach.

If Eliot’s intention is to protect them, then that’s what he has to do. The team only works with every player, and he’s the hitter. In a jail break against Gillette, they’re going to need a hitter.

So Eliot gets up.

He forces himself to walk across the cell, foot by foot until he hits the wall. Every step hurts -- it’s agony -- but he doesn’t stop.

The next day, he sits himself up to eat his breakfast. After breakfast, he starts with stretches, testing the limits of his battered body. When that’s done, he rubs his muscles down, using strips of his shirt and his shoe to set his broken wrist.

Then, he walks.

By the third day, Eliot is walking a little faster and his range of motion has improved. He’s starting to see better in the dark, and he’s keeping his mind sharp by quoting recipes in his head.

On the fourth day, he works on basic krav maga, practicing the poses. When he starts across the cell, he’s almost jogging. He cooks roast lamb and sauteed onions, and there’s a trifle for dessert.

On the fifth day, Parker starts to poke him and Hardison makes fun of him when he tries his punches and nearly falls over in pain. Sophie’s voice is gentle and encouraging, and Nate just watches him from the corner.

“This is a trap, you know,” Eliot tells him, breathing heavy as he does his daily laps.

Nate crosses his arms over his chest and doesn’t say anything.

Eliot grunts, and just keeps working.

-o-

When they take him to Gillette for the fourth time, Eliot walks himself and sits himself down. He allows himself to be tied, but with one look, he lets them know it’s on his terms.

Gillette comes in and waves his hand. “That’s not necessary today,” he says. “Is it?”

Eliot shrugs one shoulder. “I told you I wouldn’t fight you.”

Gillette smiles, sitting down across from him. “And you have lived up to that admirably.”

The kindness is a shift, but it’s not unexpected. It’s Hostage Taking 101. Gillette has been cruel for the last month in order to make Eliot desperate enough to accept his kindness. Engendering favor from the captive is the best way to turn them.

Eliot shakes his head. “It won’t work.”

Gillette raises his eyebrows. “Pardon?”

“Your plan, it won’t work,” Eliot says, his voice thick and uneven. “They’ll know it’s a trap.”

Gillette does his best not to look surprised, and maybe he’s not. Maybe it’s just disappointment. All the same, his smile is predatory. “And you are a very enticing bait.”

Eliot snorts, shaking his head. “It’ll never work.”

“Oh, my friend,” Gillette says. “It did before.”

Eliot stiffens, but can’t reply.

Gillette taps the table, smirk growing across his face. “Last time it got me you.”

Grinding his teeth together, Eliot won’t give Gillette the satisfaction.

“This time,” he says. “It will get me all of you.”

-o-

This time, there is no beating. He’s locked in his cell and left for marked periods. Food rations are reduced to once a day, and they are scant at best.

Eliot could have played this to his advantage -- food and a bed, probably -- and it probably wouldn’t have worked against the team. That’s what Nate would have done, no doubt.

But Eliot’s not Nate.

There’s a damn principle involved.

Eliot will wait for his team.

And hope like hell they don’t come.

-o-

He works; he trains; he waits.

After several days, he can’t run anymore. Another two and he can barely get up he’s so hungry. His tongue is dry and his lips are cracked, and he can’t remember the last time he relieved himself.

This means the team is on their way.

The trap’s been sprung.

That’s why Gillette has stopped caring about him.

Bait, after all, doesn’t have to be alive to work.

-o-

When the food stops coming, Eliot can’t get up. His fingers are curled in on themselves and his legs are like rubber. His breathing has started to rattle, and he can feel the muscle mass starting to decay on his thinning frame.

Maybe they’re not coming, he tells himself as a type of solace. Maybe they’re doing the smart thing and staying the hell away from this trap.

He closes his eyes and draws his knees in closer.

Maybe, he reflects distantly as everything starts to fade, they’ll just be too late.

-o-

There’s a jostle and a clank, then the sound of voices.

Drowsy, he stirs but can’t quite bring himself to wake up.

“Okay, okay, okay. I got it--”

“What the hell, man?”

“Oh, my God--”

Then footsteps, crossing toward him, lifting his chin and tilting his face.

“Eliot? You with me?”

Eliot inhales raggedly, eyes cracking open.

It’s Nate.

Nate and Sophie and Hardison and Parker.

He almost laugh, a quiet, hoarse croak in the back of his throat. “You weren’t supposed to come,” he says finally, words no more than a whisper.

Nate’s brow furrows deeply. “Of course we came,” he says. “That’s our job, to get everyone out.”

That’s the job, Eliot reflects.

Seems like they all finally know exactly what that means.

-o-

The rest, Eliot is reluctant to admit, is kind of a blur.

He’s in and out of consciousness for most of it, and then drugged heavily for a lot of the rest. When he’s awake, his team fills him in on the details, how they used Gillette’s ties to Moreau against him, but not in the way one might expect. Moreau used Gillette as his way out.

The team used Moreau as the way to bring Gillette in.

There was already plenty of evidence against Gillette, and with a charge of kidnapping and abetting a convicted felon, there was more than enough to get a warrant. And, funny thing about the new government in San Lorenzo.

They recognize extradition treaties now.

Gillette’s compound was raided before he knew what happened, and even more of Moreau’s network is lying in shambles.

The team let the police do the hard work, sneaking in after the fact to get Eliot out before he got caught up in the legal matters.

That’s all well and good -- damn clever even -- but Eliot’s in a bit too much pain to appreciate it fully. He’s weak and falls asleep quickly, and it’s clear to him that this isn’t something he’s going to bounce back from just like that.

That would normally bother Eliot, but the thing is, he doesn’t need control anymore.

Not this time.

Because he has something better than control.

He has a team.

And he trusts them to do their jobs.

Just like he does his.

-o-

Recovery isn’t easy, though.

They take him to a clinic under false papers that Hardison has provided. Then, they get him extra privileges thanks to Sophie’s grifting, before Parker sneaks him out.

Nate is waiting for him back at a hotel, and when the rest of the team disappears, Eliot knows it’s not a coincidence.

“So,” Nate says, taking a long drink of his Irish whiskey. “You want to tell me what you were thinking?”

Eliot sits down in the chair across from Nate, almost without wincing. “You want to be more specific?”

“We had to track you across three continents,” Nate says. “We paid off more people than I can count, and called in more favors than I care to think about. We even worked with Sterling for God’s sake. And it still took us a month, and we almost weren’t fast enough.”

Eliot watches him, impassive.

“So tell me,” Nate says. “What the hell were you thinking?

It’s so long ago -- another lifetime, really -- but Eliot still remembers.

He’ll always remember.

“My job,” he says, no hesitation. He’ll never hesitate on that. “To protect the team.”

Nate’s face almost contorts. “By getting kidnapped?” he asks. “It was a trap, Eliot.”

Neither of them can miss it, not this. The irony of it all. Because they’ve been here before.

They’ll probably be here again.

“Well,” Eliot says with a small shrug. “There’s a reason you’re the mastermind.”

Nate stops, face falling. For a moment, he’s gutted.

Because there’s a painful truth there, that they’re teammates but they’re not quite equals. Nate makes plans, and Eliot follows them, and the implication of guilt is implicit but without malice.

But there’s a difference now.

The difference is that Nate gets it now. Maybe he always did on some level, but carrying Eliot’s half-dead body out of a cell probably drove the point home a little finer than any of them might have wanted.

Nate makes plans, and they follow them. He doesn’t care about problems; he wants solutions.

At all costs.

But it’s not because Nate’s the defacto leader. Not because there’s a hierarchy or a power structure.

Because they’re family.

It’s really that simple -- and that damn hard, too.

“Yeah,” Nate finally says, eyes steady on Eliot’s. “I guess there is.”

There’s no apology, but Eliot doesn’t want an apology. He just wants understanding, and that much is written all over Nate’s face, evident in his eyes.

That’s all Eliot needs to make this work; that’s all he needs to make this be okay. He’ll follow orders all day long if he knows the cause is right, and he’ll trust a leader to the ends of the earth if he’s knows what really matters.

Eventually, Nate sighs, scrubbing a hand through his hair as he gets to his feet again. He pauses, awkwardly, before managing to collect himself. “Get better, okay?” he says.

Eliot smiles faintly in return. “Will do.”

Nate’s gaze lingers, just for a moment. He doesn’t say anything else before he leaves, but they both know he doesn’t have to.

See, Nate’ll be back, and he’ll bring the rest of the team with him. Someone will bring carry out, and they’ll eat and joke around, sharing a story or two. Hardison will tell him about the latest video game they need to play (and that Eliot has no interest in playing), and Parker will punch him in the shoulder just hard enough to twinge (but not enough to actually hurt). Sophie will smile at him and remind him to take it slow, that his health is more important than any mission (and she’ll mean it, because she’s saying it for the rest of them, the things they can’t quite say themselves but all of them know).

But Nate, he’ll still come back with a job, and Eliot knows that without a doubt. Nate will have a job he can’t shut up about, a job they can’t pass up. Sophie will balk, and Hardison will object. Even Parker will complain.

But Eliot, he’ll be the one to ask Nate to run it.

Because Eliot knows a thing or two about traps. He knows how to spot them, and he knows how to get out of them. He knows that surviving a trap isn’t about how hard you fight but how quickly you give in. He knows that sometimes it’s about putting your fate in something bigger than yourself because, in the end, that’s all you can do.

It can be a prison cell in North Korea or an arms dealer in Europe.

Or a team of misfit criminals and one honest man.

Some traps you never escape. They rip you up and leave you in pieces that never quite go back together.

Some traps you never want to escape. They take you apart and leave you better than you were before.

Eliot’s no mastermind, but he’s glad he finally knows the difference.