Beneath The Still Surface

Fandom: Leverage
Pairings: Alec Hardison/Parker; Eliot Spencer/Parker/Alec Hardison; Nathan Ford/Sophie Deveraux
Rating: PG-15
Word Count: 16,804
Summary: Alternate Universe. The Wyrd Sisters rebuild the Loom of Fate from the movie, Wanted. The Norse Fates pick the Leverage team to be the Avatars for their ‘White Collar’ division. Finding Eliot Spencer working with the team was an unforeseen bonus as the Fates try to reclaim what they’d lost so long ago.
Author’s Note: Descriptions of violence; Season 2 forward; dialogue from The Big Bang Job; small spoilers for Season 4, Long Way Down Job.

Beneath The Still Surface PDF

M5CIY0N

The dust motes danced in the sunbeam—stirred into a cloud as three classic beauties appeared inside the devastated textile mill. As they stood taking in the wreckage of looms and threads, the Elder tsked at the carnage as she gently ran the abandoned threads through her fingers.

Anyone seeing the three women together would swear they were looking at three generations of the same family, and the Elder had given birth to the two younger women … After a fashion. They were the Norns, the Wyrd Sisters of Norse legend. Urd the past had brought forth Verthandia, the present and Skuld the future.

A few words and the room had a flurry of Elementals gathering threads and shattered wood. Once the room was clear Verthandia raised her arms and in a short sentence they stood in a renovated warehouse in Boston, Massachusetts.

Leaving Urd with the pieces of wood and threads, the younger women moved from the glass encased top floor to tend to other duties while the Elder stayed with the loom and threads … Carefully sorting the splintered pieces, healing them until the loom was once again whole. Loving hands ran over the frame before turning to the tangled threads. The quiet call from the doorway pulled her attention to the young woman at the door.

“Come, Elder. We will finish after we have fortified ourselves with sustenance.”

With a hug and affectionate kiss to the temple she moved to the door.

“You are right. I got lost in my work. Let us collect Thandi. She’s far worse than I.” She chuckled as they headed to the elevator arm in arm.

Verthandia Wyrd stared at the files on her computer screen. With a sigh she laid the instrument down and turned to look out over the city of man.

~}}}~~~>

When all the holders of Fate from each of the different Pantheons had all come together on Midgard at a place called New York City, she never imagined the results. The Fates had gone corporate.

The Norns had become the ‘White Collar’ division of Fate, their bailiwick the people who had wealth and power, behind which they could hide their dark deeds.

The Greeks cut the threads of their human lives after The Norns cut their worldly threads. The Romans and scattered individual deities took care of the rest of the souls.

Their Roman sisters had told them of an organization called The Fraternity, an age old guild of highly trained assassins that could be of service in their work.

~}}}~~~>

As time passed differently in Asgard, by the time the Wryd Sisters had sought out The Fraternity, they found the guild had been destroyed. In a quandary over who would be their paladins on Midgard, Urd began resetting the warp of their newly repaired loom. The abandoned threads soon came to life under her attention, the colors of life soon replaced the dull dingy shade they’d been when the Sisters had recovered them. A subtle shape began to form in the warp as she neared the completion of her portion of the repair.

The next morning, Verthandia settled in front of the loom, shuttle in hand. She would set the weave to the present before calling Skuld to take over to weave the future.

Allowing her mind to drift as the repetitive motion of passing the shuttle and setting the pedals lulled her into a meditative state, memories of her last visit to Midgard passed across her mind’s eye.

A spot of pale color pulled her attention back. Her breathing stuttered as a face that had been a mere shadow when Urd stepped away from the tapestry had formed. Long dark hair, eyes the color of Asgard’s skies and a face of rugged beauty mocked her from the loom.

“Thandi?” Urd’s quiet voice drew her from her shock.

She moved to see what caught her younger self’s attention. Bent fingers moved to touch the young man’s face.

~}}}~~~>

Eliot Spencer looked at the three other people in the hotel room. Two he knew strictly by reputation, but with Nathan Ford he had a more personal relationship.

He’d watched on different occasions as Nathan tried to cipher through a few of Eliot’s retrievals. He’d even gone as far as hiding his long dark hair under a blond wig, posed as a junior IYS agent, and picked Ford’s brain about the cases he hadn’t solved. Eliot had walked away with a twinkle in his eye for the fact he’d stumped someone of Nathan Ford’s reputation.

Now the man was riding ramrod on a retrieval where Eliot was there only as the muscle. *My how the mighty had fallen*, he’d thought, and when it turned out they’d been conned by Dubenich, Eliot was ready to call it a day. He watched as a light came into Ford’s eyes that looked a lot like Parker right before she’d jumped off the building.

Then Ford started to weave his spell. Hardison and Parker had tumbled like dominoes, but Eliot merely cocked an eyebrow. He knew the death of Ford’s boy had warped the ex-IYS cop and he wasn’t about to jump into the fray because a bug crawled up Ford’s ass and died.

“What’s in it for me?”

“Payback.”

Eliot rolled his eyes.

“Money.”

He looked at Hardison and Parker vibrating like Thoroughbreds in the gate, and knew they were already on Ford’s crazy train.

“Let’s go get Sophie.” Ford rubbed his hands together as he headed for the door, youngsters in tow.

“What the hell’s a Sophie?” He asked to the empty air.

When he saw Sophie, he frowned. He remembered the beautiful brunette from a job at the Boston Museum.

The blessing of an eidetic memory … Or the curse … You remember the bad stuff just as clearly as the good.

“No. I vote No.” He argued.

He hates grifters. One of his first missions with the Seals they’d almost screwed the pooch because his Captain thought he was using a local as an asset, when she’d been using him. The part of his brain that was always assessing and planning knew they needed a fresh face, but he didn’t have to like it.

Then just as suddenly as it began … It was over and he was holding an eight figure check that was his ticket to freedom.

He need never take another job, but a retrieval specialist of his caliber didn’t just disappear. He’d have to withdraw gradually because if others found out about his windfall they’d come looking.

Eliot was halfway through his planned withdrawal when his phone ringing caused enough of distraction for him to make his getaway and complete the job. He collected his fee and got on a plane for Los Angeles.

~}}}~~~>

A year. Eliot couldn’t believe he’d spent a year of his life with the same four people. He hadn’t done that since … Well it had been a while and he still shuddered when he thought about the particular four year period that was a black hole in his life.

Now he’s standing in a hangar pissed off because they were going to scatter. He refused to turn around. If he turned around … He wasn’t sure what he would do, so with a growl he straddled the blue Ducati, and was headed east before his tangled emotions led him to doing something foolish like telling them he wanted to stay together.

~}}}~~~>

Looking at the program in his hand, he shook his head, the long dark mane rippling past his shoulders. He’d only been back in the States a few days, yet here he was standing in a theater lobby—in Boston—voluntarily offering himself up to the a torture that was worse than any he’d ever endured. Listening to Sophie Devereaux not only act, but sing. He was either crazy as Parker or had spent too much time in the Pakistani sun.

He knew they were here before he heard Parker’s voice. Irish whiskey and the scent of that god awful orange soda overpowered the expensive perfume of the two beautiful women standing in front of him. He thought about leaving before they saw him, but Sophie had gone to a lot of trouble to get them back together. His steps were slow and measured as he walked across the lobby.

Later sitting at McRory’s bar, he poked at Nate for living over a bar, but never said what he’d been doing while they were apart until Hardison talked about hacking the White House email and the weird things that were happening in Pakistan.

Eliot looked into his glass of beer like it was a scrying pool.

“Where were you, Eliot?”

Four pair of eyes turned on him expectantly.

He never looked up from his beer.

“Pakistan.” He took a breath and looked up. “This do-gooder stuff gets under your skin, Man. It’s like an itch.” He growled.

Just like that they were back in the business of providing … Leverage.

~}}}~~~>

The Wyrd Sisters sat around the table in their living quarters looking at the pictures of the five faces that had appeared in their tapestry. Verthandia ran her fingers over the photo.

“I think these five will work very well for what we are trying to accomplish. They are intelligent, talented, and only use violence when appropriate.” Urd turned to her sisters.

“I agree. Perhaps it is better that these Fraternity people no longer exist. Even we could not explain away an inordinate amount of dead bodies.” Skuld agreed as she sat three cups of coffee on the table.

“Thandi, what troubles you?” Urd asked quietly.

“What, nothing. This face reminds me of someone I have not thought of for many years.” Her tone was distracted.

“Someone you met when you traveled here to Midgard at Thor’s behest?” Urd pressed the younger.

“Yes.”

Skuld pulled the picture from under Verthandia’s fingers.

“Though he was a child, I seemed to remember one who looked such as he living amongst the animals of Odin’s castle. He seemed to be most favored by Sleipnir and Hel’s Hounds. Odin was quite taken with the boy.” She looked more closely at the picture. “Yes. I remember clearly for Odin spoke of taking the boy into his household as he was thought to be orphaned. The child had but three summers when Odin sat the child before him on the saddle and took him on the ‘Hunt’.”

“I too recall the incident.” Urd added. “It was the talk of Asgard for the child appeared to be mortal. It was not long after the child disappeared.”

The elder and the younger turned their attention to Verthandia, but she kept her peace. She had tasked Thor to occasionally check on the child, to make sure he remained hidden from those who would use him because of his heritage. She had lost contact when the God of Thunder had been banished by Odin to Midgard, and had had no news of the boy since.

~ Asgard 1972 – 1976 ~

The boy’s father was a man of wealth and power among his people. They thought they were in love, but her paramour’s mother had other plans for her son. When Verthandia found she was with child, she returned home to Asgard. Only Frigg had known she carried a son, and together they had kept it hidden for no one would nay say the wife of Odin and the Mother of All should she take in an orphan child.

When Odin had taken an interest in the boy, Verthandia knew fear. She would not have her son’s life jeopardized by the jealousy of those such as Loki. Though Frigg was loath to let the boy go, she understood Verthandia’s concern.

The child himself wanted no parts of going anywhere with the red-headed woman. There were no tantrums or tears, but even with only having four winters he stood firmly at Frigg’s knee, arms crossed over his chest in defiance.

The women didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the adult in the child’s body.

“Himmelen.” Frigg knelt down so she was face to face with the child. “We talked about this. We want you safe from those who would harm you.”

The boy glared at the women. “Don’t care.”

It was a quiet trip to Midgard as the sullen child refused to speak.

Verthandia sailed through the office door with Himmelen on one hip, rucksack of belongings swinging along the other. The secretary tried slowing her down, but she brushed her off like an annoying gnat and pushed opened the door to the office of Spencer Travers II, senior partner in Travers and Hafer.

She left the bag by the door and deposited Himmelen in a chair, ignoring the older woman standing by the cadenza with a coffee service.

“I can no longer care for him so I leave him in your care.” She stated bluntly.

Verthandia turned and left the room trying to hold on to her dignity for she was leaving her one and only child in the care of his mortal father. She had even gone so far as to have Frigg ‘read’ for her, but the destinies remained murky as to why this particular child was born at this particular time.

Now here was her son under her fingertips. She wondered what happened that he no longer carried the name his father had given him, why was he making a family with these thieves, why …

“Thandi!” Urd demanded her attention.

Verthandia snapped out of her memories and with a deep sigh explained how she knew Eliot Spencer.

~}}}~~~>

Eliot was getting annoyed, and when Eliot got annoyed people usually bled … Copiously. He knew someone was following him. They were either very good or he had lost his edge. After six months in a war zone, his senses and skills were sharp as ever so that only left a couple choices.

He slipped silently into Hardison’s workroom, and began accessing cameras between one of the gyms where he worked out and McRory’s. Finding his back trail clear, he backed out of the system and wiped any traces that he’d been using the computer. He was wise enough to use one of the older laptops that the hacker seldom utilized since he considered it ‘outdated’.

He ran the stairs to his apartment, and once inside he began making himself comfortable. His mind at ease, on the physical plain, he turned to the unseen.

He’d first learned to do this when he was too young to remember. That time was a blur, but the lessons the beautiful woman had taught him were as clear as if she were standing at his shoulder instructing him. He closed his eyes and when his mind was calm and clear he opened his eyes and saw … Everything. He hated leaving the safety of the wards and shielding he’d placed around the apartment, but if he wanted to know who or what was watching. To do that, he had to go down to the bar. Stepping into the taproom, Eliot saw the guardians and fae that lived at the Irish Pub at the windows brandishing their tiny weapons and raining curses on the tiny beings hovering outside the windows. It was then he knew why he felt like he was being followed. Someone had sent air elementals to watch him.

Getting a bowl from under the bar he poured in it a generous portion of Jameson’s and left it in the center of the bar with words of thanks in Gaelic then slipped out the door and with a word had the startled elementals into running back to their master. He made note of the building and headed back to his apartment.

~}}}~~~>

They were in between jobs so no one would be waiting for him at the office. Eliot sipped his coffee and watched the building across the street.

The old factory had been beautifully restored. The number of people he’d seen come and go were minimal, and seemed more support staff than corporate grunts. His breath caught in his throat when a young blonde and a red-head who appeared to be in her forties or early fifties appeared at the front door dressed for a run. An elder woman appeared in the windows on the top floor. His breath caught in his throat as the memory he normally cursed for its clarity pulled forward images blurred in time and the mind of a toddler. He didn’t stop to consider his actions for they were the Wyrd Sisters and probably already knew he was coming.

He was a whisper as he moved through the building. No one heard or saw a thing. He stepped into the top floor that contained the huge loom he had not seen since his time under the ‘tender’ auspices of General Elias Atherton.

Eliot held a unique perspective on time and fate, and when Atherton had sent him to Chicago to train with The Fraternity, he’d taken one look at Sloan then at the loom and knew the man was spouting bullshit. He listened, he trained, he learned everything they could teach him, and when Sloan tried to recruit him as one of his pet assassins, he’d snorted contemptuously and told him he knew Sloan was carrying out his own agenda that had absolutely nothing to do with The Fates.

When Sloan had pulled his pistol, he’d barely cleared the holster before Eliot was there. In the time it took to draw a breath, the gun lay in pieces and Sloan sat on the floor nursing a cracked cheekbone as Eliot walked away, never looking back.

As though sensing his presence, the silver haired woman turned on her stool, and placing a hand on her chest gave a quiet gasp when she saw him.

“Hello, Bestemor.” Eliot said.

“Himmelen.” His name escaped with her breath.

“Eliot.”

“What?”

“Himmelen was a four year old who was given away to strangers who didn’t want him. I’da rather lived with Hel’s Hounds than where Mother,” he sneered on the word, “left me.”

“We thought we were doing what was best for you.” The Elder flinched from the force of Eliot’s anger.

“Guess that’s why they say Fate’s a bitch. But that’s ancient history. What I wanna know is why I’ve got elementals tailing me?”

Urd stood with a sigh. “Come have a cup of tea with your Grandmother, and I will tell why we are here.”

~}}}~~~>

When the elder Fate finished her story, Eliot set his mug down.

“You want my team to work as your avatars?” Eyes the color of the winter sky bore into hers. “Because of me?”

“Partially. You are one of only a few people still alive trained by the one that held the loom that now rests upstairs.” Her face flushed a deep red. “Sloan was as are you, a child of the Fates. He had a touch of the ability to manipulate the threads in a limited fashion.”

“How many of these children of the Fates are there?” Eliot scowled.

Before she could answer, Eliot was on his feet and poised for a fight before he registered the sounds he heard was the two younger women returning from their run.

“In this time and this place, you are the last.” Urd answered as Eliot turned his attention back to her.

“I’ll talk to the others on the condition they not know about my unique bloodline.”

The expression on Eliot’s face reminded Urd of Odin at his most dangerous—the icy fury that could freeze you to your soul. She forced herself to hold her position and to meet his eyes, which said he knew she was afraid and that was fine with him.

He slipped away just as Verthandia and Skuld came around the corner.

~}}}~~~>

Nathan Ford’s eyes sprang open though the rest of him lay very still. He knew what it felt like to be hunted so he waited for the predator to show. His hand started to move toward the nightstand.

“I moved it.” He nearly jumped out of bed at the sound of the voice, but a part of him recognized it as Eliot’s and was so relieved he flopped bonelessly back on the mattress.

When his heart returned to its normal pace, he reached out and flipped on the light.

“Eliot! What the …” But Eliot didn’t give him time to finish.

“Get dressed we need to talk … Away from here.” He did an abrupt right face and left the bedroom.

Nate just gaped after the enforcer before he suddenly moved. He didn’t put it above Eliot to drag him out of the apartment naked if he wasn’t downstairs in whatever amount of time Eliot allotted.

Quick shower, warm clothes and he was in the kitchen, Eliot slapped a travel mug of coffee in his hand while heading out the door.

They’d been driving for twenty minutes, and silence still filled the truck. Nate had opened his mouth, but Eliot beat him to the punch.

“Got a message last night.” Eliot’s tone was flat.

“From who?” Knowing some of Eliot’s past, Nate was more than a little concerned about who had contacted him and why Eliot felt the need to get away from the apartment.

Nate must have said the last out loud because Eliot answered.

“Hardison has a habit of leaving his ‘toys’ lay around and I’m not ready to face the ‘Inquisition’ just yet.” He pulled into the parking lot of an all night diner. “Come on. I’ll buy ya breakfast.” He drawled.

Meal finished, cups refilled, Eliot explained the offer from the Wyrd Sisters to Nate.

“The Wyrd Sisters!? Like the Nordic Fates, Urd, Verthandia and Skuld, Wyrd Sisters,!? Want us?”

“Yeah.”

“Why’d they contact you?” Nate’s tone was suspicious.

“Old contact.”

Blue eyes narrowed at the younger man. “You’re that good?”

Pale eyes looked haunted as Eliot stood, rubbing his hands down his thighs as though straightening his jeans.

“You don’t wanna know how good I am.” He threw a fifty on the table and stalked out the door.

The truck cab was once again filled with silence. As Eliot drove back to McRory’s that silence was broken only when he pulled up to the front door.

“I want to meet ‘em.” Nate said.

“I’ll set it up.”

“You coming up?”

“No.”

“What’ll I tell the others?”

Eliot finally turned and looked at the mastermind.

“I doubt they ask.”

“If they do?”

“Make something up. It’s what yer best at.” Eliot snarked as he pulled the gearshift into drive barely giving Nate time to step on the curb before he pulled away.

~}}}~~~>

Thankfully his apartment was still blissfully quiet. He turned the TV on to catch the early morning news then chewed over Eliot’s story while waiting for coffee to brew.

He heard Hardison rattling around next door. The hacker and Eliot had turned the space from an apartment into a work space. It was where they kept their costumes, tools, some of Parker’s gear, and Hardison’s servers. Eliot had made one corner of the room a training space. He and Parker made the most use of it, but Eliot would drag Hardison and sometime Sophie into the corner and school them on one thing or another.

His phone beeping a text message and Hardison along with Parker tumbling through the connecting door in search of food pulled Nate from his thoughts. Looking at his phone all it said was 7:30. He chuckled at Eliot’s paranoia about Hardison monitoring their electronics. After all, that was part of his hacker’s job.

~}}}~~~>

After an afternoon of sorting through files on potential clients Nate decided dinner at McRory’s before meeting with Eliot was a good way to kill the time until 7:30. The file lying on top of the stack when he locked the door behind him was labeled ‘Howorth’.

Nate had considered a lot of places they could meet the Fates, but as they drove toward the section of Boston full of warehouses and dilapidated factories he became confused. When they pulled up to a factory so far out you could throw a rock and hit the harbor he began to think it was a joke.

A woman of indeterminate years, fit and muscular with a thick blonde braid hanging to her waist answered the door and immediately pulled Eliot into a bone crushing hug while sounding like she was scolding him in something remotely like a Scandinavian language.

Nate half expected Eliot to wrench out of her grip and come up swinging, but he was surprised again when Eliot returned the hug and the greeting in the same language.

“Nate, this is Syn. Syn, Nathan Ford. We have an appointment with ‘Themself’.” Eliot informed the woman as she engaged Nate in a firm handshake while she seemed to ‘see’ everything he’d done since he was a toddler.

If Syn seemed underwhelmed by Nate, Nate was certainly overwhelmed with her. He trailed behind her and Eliot as the two continued their conversation. They rode the elevator to the top of the refurbished factory where Syn stopped in front of a set of ornate double doors.

“They’re waiting.” She stated plainly before grabbing Eliot again.

“I have missed you, Little Brother, but I have a feeling I will be seeing more of you.” She released him with a shove toward the door.

Eliot gave her his lady killer smile before pushing open the double doors. All Nate could do was gape at the silken cords like cobwebs filling the room, feeding into the loom with three women waiting patiently.

Tired of watching Nate gawk like a school boy, Eliot grabbed his arm and growled through gritted teeth.

“Come on.” Tugging the older man into the room.

They were ten minutes into the meeting when Nate finally got his head in the game. It was the icy disdain with which Eliot treated Verthandia and Urd that got the mastermind on the ball.

“We’re already doing what you’re proposing.” Nate said.

He watched Eliot out of the corner of this eye as the retrieval specialist stood to his right arms crossed over his chest. There were no tells that let Nate know Eliot was near the end of his patience, but something was telling him that he needed to get the women to the point. The middle Fate seemed intent on keeping them as long as possible, only pulling her attention away from Eliot when she was speaking directly to him.

“There would be considerable bounty for the people on our list.” Urd offered.

“Should the need arise, this place could be considered a sanctuary—a place without fear of discovery.” Skuld added.

“You want the team to live here?” Nate’s eyebrows rose toward his hairline.

“We have the room …”Verthandia almost sounded like she was pleading.

“No.” Pinched out from between Eliot’s gritted teeth.

“Eliot …” Nate started.

“Only should you be injured. It would not be as in Asgard.” Urd soothed.

“What!?” Nate was getting lost in the conversation.

“Vassals, underlings, and avatars always reside in the household of whom they serve.” Verthandia explained … Covering Urd’s slip.

“Well … Yes …” Nate started as he turned toward Eliot.

“We’ll talk it over with the other members of our team when we get back from Nebraska.”

The Sisters weren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet.

“That would be Mr. Jack Howorth?” Urd asked. “Up against a crooked fight promoter—almost got his son, Mark killed?”

“Nate stopped. “That’s the one.”

“It shall serve as our first case together. See if we can make a fit.” Verthandia’s voice brightened considerably.

“Seriously, Nate? Let’s go.” Eliot reached for the older man’s arm only to be brushed off.

“No. I see her point.”

“Nate.” Eliot’s voice was firm.

“Give me a reason, Eliot.” Nate practically held his breath waiting to see if Eliot would trust him with any of his secrets.

He watched the faces of the three generations of women as hope lit their eyes as they too watched Eliot, but all their hopes were dashed when what they got was a cold eyed retrieval specialist.

“Yer the boss.” Eliot’s voice was toneless.

Four faces fell.

“I’ll be with the rest of the help when you’re ready to leave.” He snapped as he stalked out the door.

“That could have gone better.” Nate sighed as he scrubbed a hand over his face.

The man did that every time Nate brushed off his advice. If Nate was honest with himself, every time he disregarded what the younger man said the job usually ended up going pear shaped.

Eliot, Parker and Sophie were all as capable as Nate at planning a job. Give Hardison a few more years experience, he might. Hardison and Sophie didn’t have the brutal streak sometimes required leaving Eliot and Parker to do the heavy lifting in Nate’s plans.

“He has always been stubborn.” Verthandia sighed.

“He gets it honest.” Urd rolled her eyes at the younger.

Nate sighed again. Eliot must truly be a legend if he’d caught the attention of the Fates.

He exchanged contact information with Skuld before going in search of Eliot.

He heard him before he saw him. Over the years he’d heard Eliot give an occasional chuckle, but never had he heard the man laugh. The two sets of laughter coming from the kitchen made Nate smile. The throaty laugh was so full of mischief he couldn’t stop his mouth from turning upward. He must have made himself known in some way because the laughter died and there was only silence.

Eliot met him at the kitchen door and without a word headed toward the entrance.

“I will call you about that workout.” Syn called after the men.

“I have just the place.” Eliot assured her.

As they pulled away from the factory Nate turned a skeptical eye toward Eliot.

“Did you mean ‘workout’ workout or another type of ‘workout’?” His tone held a leer.

The scowl on Eliot’s face had Nate looking to see if he was out of arm’s reach.

“What, you think I fuck every woman I meet?”

“Uh … Yes … No … You imply …” Nate closed his mouth with a snap. He really needed to quit before he got in any deeper.

“Glad to know you have such a high opinion of my moral character.” Jaw clenched he focused on the road.

Once again Nate was unceremoniously dumped on the curb in front of McRory’s.

~}}}~~~>

On the flight to Nebraska, Eliot took the seat farthest from the other members of the team.

When Nate had explained about the possibility of joining their operations with that of the Wyrd Sisters, Sophie scoffed; Hardison bounced around the condo like a demented kangaroo while Parker sat on the counter next to a scowling Eliot, an equally dark look on her face.

“Parker?” Nate asked.

“You know they say ‘Fate’s a bitch.’ for a good reason?”

“Why’s that?”

“Eliot and I are usually their bitch.” Parker snarked before jumping off the counter.

“Where ya goin’?” Hardison finally quit dancing around the room.

“To pack.”

Eliot followed her out.

“I guess that speaks to what they think about our new partnership.” Sophie chirped up.

“But … It’s the Fates …” Hardison seemed at a loss.

“They have a point though I think Eliot knows more than he’s saying.” Sophie started gathering her wrap and bag.

“Yeah well, Eliot’s not saying much these days.” Nate stared into his coffee mug.

“Nothin’ unusual ‘bout that.” Hardison tossed in while he collected his bits and pieces.

“We’ve reached a whole new level.” Nate said more to himself than anyone.

~}}}~~~>

Skuld shooed Verthandia from the loom room.

“You didn’t worry about the boy after you left him here on Midgard. Why are worrying so now?”

“I thought he would grow up to be a normal human man … Not this …” she waved her hands, at a loss for words.

“Warrior? Mercenary? What? You abandoned him with strangers. You cannot expect him to thank you for that.” Skuld scolded.

The Fate of the Present stared at her sister.

“He was only four!”

“He was the darling of the All-Father!”

“It was for his own safety!”

Their voices climbed another notch.

“Himmelen … Eliot doesn’t seem to think so. Did you never look at his life on the loom?”

“No. I wished him to remain hidden.”

“Ladies.” Urd interrupted. “That tapestry cannot be unwoven. We must live with the consequences and push on as best we can.”

~}}}~~~>

In all the confusion Eliot had slipped into a set of sweats, but before he could slip out of the gym, Parker had tracked him down for their meeting with Howorth. He washed the blood off his face and grabbed an ice pack on the way out. He didn’t want to be here. He needed someplace quiet to put his beast back in its cage.

He had let his beast slip its leash enough to finish the con, but he needed away from these people and their emotions to get his control back. The smell of sweat, fear and blood was making it harder than usual as he sat holding the ice pack against his strained shoulder.

~}}}~~~>

The flat reptilian stare from the pale eyes gave the doctor pause, but this man had allowed himself to be beaten to get justice for his family so he swallowed his fear and set his bag on the empty chair beside the battered man they called Kid Jones.

“I can take care of it, Doc.” The rough voice drawled softly.

Jon blushed. From the looks of him The Kid shouldn’t even be sitting upright let alone trying to sooth his fears.

“Least I can do.” He quipped as he cleaned and butterflied the gashes on Eliot’s face. “Guess I don’t need to tell you how to take care of all these?” He asked as he pulled off his latex gloves.

“Yeah. Thanks.”Eliot eased up out of the chair tossing the ice pack to the seat as he headed for the door.

The doctor watched in awe as the slim blonde sidled up to the fighter, ignoring his growling as she bounced around like one of those small terriers as they climbed into a dark van.

~}}}~~~>

While they still used Nate’s condo as an office, the team began spending part of their leisure time at The Factory. Hardison was a river of questions while Parker stared fascinated by the tapestry on the loom, while Sophie spent time away with her new boyfriend, Nate took advantage of the team’s distraction to read client files and brood, and Eliot … Eliot was a shadow.

Urd had plans, and one was about to bear fruit.

After Verthandia told them her story, she remembered the beautiful boy with night dark hair and sky bright eyes, that Frigg called Himmelen—Sky—for those eyes that saw too much. She touched the silken cord that had hung around her neck for so long she’d forgotten why it was there.

As the boy grew he caught Odin’s eye. The little warrior protected his friends and showed no fear, and when Odin lifted him into the air, the child had grabbed two fistfuls of the white beard and glared at the Father of All. Frigg had rushed forward to rescue the child, but with a booming laugh, Odin had tucked the boy under his arm and called for Sleipnir and carried the child wherever he traveled.

Soon jealous eyes fell on the sky-eyed child, and when he’d barely cleared four winters, he disappeared. Odin had been furious and no one escaped his wrath.

Opening the case that contained a tapestry looked upon by her eyes only, the eldest of the Fates looked back at the lives of her brethren.

There she saw the birth of her grandson, his life in Asgard, and his mother abandoning him with a father he did not know on Midgard. It was time to get her plans back on track.

~}}}~~~>

As Eliot twisted his body into shapes that would have done Parker proud, he ignored the sting of sweat in the thin cuts left by their training blades. His workouts with Syn had him in the best shape he’d been since his days at BUD/S.

The abilities he’d inherited from his mother had caused Sloan to drool over him in a very creepy way while he’d been with The Faternity. It got to the point where even the combined charms of Fox and The Gunsmith couldn’t keep him from leaving when his training was finished. Sloan had tried to persuade him to stay, but when Eliot looked into Sloan’s eyes he saw the man’s demise at the hands of Cross’ cub so he returned to his SEAL team and began his career as Atherton’s pet assassin.

Temporarily assigned with the CIA, they’d betrayed him, given him to a Russian mob leader as a ‘gift’. Eliot endured until he was passed to The Butcher of Kiev for services rendered. That was when his plan to escape went into effect. It was in the flames that destroyed almost a city block, and deeply scarred the face of the Russian mob’s number one enforcer that Spencer Travers III died and Eliot Spencer was born.

After an hour of bone jarring sparring with a Norse goddess, Eliot felt no shame in calling for a halt. With a blinding smile, Syn wrapped a well muscled arm around his neck and pulled him toward the back entrance of the The Factory.

“You improve rapidly, Little Brother.”

“Self preservation will do that for a person.” Eliot snarked as he pulled out of her hold and picked up his t-shirt from the picnic table.

After a quick shower, Eliot fixed a light lunch. Setting a plate in front of Syn, pale green eyes caught his.

“Why did you not seek out Thor to return you to Asgard when you grew into a man?”

“I was four when I was dumped here with a perfect memory of my mother’s words and expression when she left me in my father’s office, and it was a look of relief not remorse. In Asgard they may not care about the lineage of bastard children, but that ain’t the way it works in rich southern families. I make if a policy to try not to return to places I’m not wanted unless it’s in a professional capacity.” Eliot answered truthfully.

“But …” Eliot stopped her words with a raised hand.

“Verthandia’s words to my father were all I had to go by.”

“Odin nearly tore apart Asgard searching for you.” Syn tried to impress on him how much he was missed. “No one admitted to knowing where you came from or where you had been taken.”

“I’ve got enough drama in my life thank you very much. I don’t need to add more.” Eliot tossed his napkin on the table and left without touching a bite.

Syn watched mournfully as he stalked out the front door. She had not meant to dredge up hurtful memories. She would give him time to calm himself before calling to set up their next sparring session.

Urd stepped around the corner and into the kitchen, nodding to Syn. She had heard the youngsters’ conversation, but had not made her presence known for she wanted to know Eliot’s mind. The flicker of his eyes in her direction told her he knew she had heard, and the low growl of anger she had heard as he continued to walk away told her his opinion of her behavior.

This was going to be harder than she thought.

~}}}~~~>

Parker was confused, and when Parker was confused she usually went to Sophie. Sophie’s answer didn’t make any sense so she had gone to Hardison, but the man was clueless. She thought about asking Nate, but Nate sober was creepy and she didn’t want to give him any ideas.

Mind made up she went looking for Eliot. She was kind of put out that it took her longer than usual to find him. When she stopped to think about it, he’d been really hard to find since they got back from Nebraska. She wondered if it was because Nate made him let that Tank guy beat him up, but she didn’t think that was it. Eliot didn’t get beat up often, and he never seemed to care when he did.

He’d been grumpier than usual since those Fates showed up, and Nate deciding the team would work with them, but they didn’t seem to interfere much with their usual way of doing things so she didn’t think that was the problem. Eliot still cooked and put things in the freezer for her, but he didn’t hang out with them. She wanted to know why because she didn’t like the way her chest felt tight when she thought that Eliot might not like them anymore.

She checked all his usual places with no luck. As a last resort she headed to the place Hardison called The Factory. Maybe the old woman would tell her why Eliot was so mad all the time.

~}}}~~~>

“Did you piss off Eliot?”

Urd nearly came undone at the voice coming from over her head.

“By Odin’s eye, Child! You mustn’t sneak about so.”

Parker looked at the old woman like she was crazy.

“I’m a thief. I’m supposed to sneak.”

The elder shook her head. Could not argue with logic like that.

“Come down here, Child. You are giving me a crick in my neck.”

Parker gave a snort of disbelief, but did as she was asked.

“You look old, but you don’t move old.” She state baldly.

Urd’s eyebrows rose toward her hairline. She really must remind the others to be vigilant of their words and actions. These humans were too perceptive by far.

“Eliot uses his anger as a buffer. It keeps people away so he does not become attached. He is very much alone and a loner.”

“I know all that, but he’s REALLY mad at you. Even the way he says your names—when he says them is mad.”

“There was a great disservice done to him as a child, and because of that his life took on tasks that were not meant to be his.”

“You mean Eliot wasn’t supposed to be where he is now?” Parker cocked her head.

“I cannot say how things would have been different. In this place at this time there is only what is and what has been.”

“I like him here.”

Before Urd could answer, the young blonde had pushed a button and disappeared through the skylight. The elder rose from her seat and headed to the kitchen.

Far too perceptive.

Forming a new plan, Parker headed back to the office to find Hardison. She needed to know how to tame a wolf.

~}}}~~~>

Their jobs seemed to be going off with their usual mixture of Nate’s planning and sheer luck when the mastermind kicked over the traces and started improvising. It seemed other than suggesting certain jobs over others the Wyrd Sisters were taking a ‘hands off’ approach to their partnership.

Now if he could just figure out what’s going on with Parker and Hardison so what little sleep he’s able to get might not be so unsettled.

Eliot’s been watching them all. He can’t decide if Nate’s crowding Sophie because he actually has feelings for her or if he’s just jealous. Hardison is starting to get that moon eyed look when he’s around Parker, and that tells him the boy’s got it bad for the crazy blonde. This could get ugly. Especially since Parker seems to be making a point to try and keep him engaged, though Hardison doesn’t seem to mind since Parker’s usually dragging him along behind her.

He decides to treat them like obnoxious siblings, and hope Parker insanity doesn’t drag them all into something that makes him have to leave.

~}}}~~~>

They’re in a groove the jobs are turning like clockwork, until one of Sophie’s old partners comes to town with his own crew. They lose one of the grifter’s aliases when Chaos, the opposition’s hacker and a nemesis of Hardison’s, tries to kill her, and Sophie decides she needs a sabbatical to find her ‘real’ self.

Taking his frustrations out in several nights of rough and tumble sex with the other team’s hitter leaves his apartment a wreck. When he finds out Raquel Dayan probably tried to kill him in Myanmar several years prior, he goes to ground after she leaves until he get back in his solitary head space. The team is making him soft mentally, and a man with his reputation and enemies can’t afford to be caught off guard.

Which lasted until he woke with Parker curled on his bed, Hardison thinking he’s all that and a bag of fries, and the distinct odor of Irish whiskey coming from Nate’s coffee cup.

Suddenly he feels like the only adult in the group, and when he comes around the corner after taking out the rogue cops trying to keep Nate from getting Parker to the courthouse, his blood starts to boil.

All the abilities he hides, all he endured with every training session from The Fraternity, the torture, and all the missions, all zero in on the sniper taking aim at Parker. The rock flies from his hand right on target. He snatches the rifle and leaves the sniper withering in the dirt as he runs for the thief.

They make it to the court room where he notices the sting in his knuckles. He hates putting down cops—guys like himself he’ll whale on all day, but cops are just doing their job and he tries not to hurt them unless they’re dirty. Then it’s open season.

On the way back to the condo, Eliot’s started to relax until he opened the door and saw Tara sitting in the middle of the room. Hardison and Parker stood behind him, giving him room to maneuver if the need arose. Nate charged forward, never considering he might be putting himself and the team in danger.

He’d disliked and mistrusted her when she’d insinuated herself into the con and his opinion didn’t change as she sashayed out the door after presenting Sophie’s letter.

~}}}~~~>

Something was off. For someone who claimed they were only in Boston as a favor to Sophie, and for the money, Tara tried to insinuate herself way too far into his life. Eliot would close his eyes and breathe deep—one to calm his temper because she definitely rubbed him the wrong way, and two there was a smell …

When Syn opened the door she had to step lively to get out of the way of the storm that was Eliot Spencer. He never acknowledged her presence has he slammed the cage door on the elevator and headed for the floor of offices.

Her chair turned to look out over Boston Harbor while she read the file on an arms dealer named Kadjic, Verthandia’s heart nearly stopped when she heard a low growl in her ear.

“I can find someone to fuck all by myself. I don’t need one of your ill-bred thralls trying to insinuate herself into my bed.”

“Himmelen … Eliot, I assure you she’s not a thrall.”

“She carries the stench of Asgard.” He spun the chair around to get in her face. “It’s a very distinct stench I remember well.”

“She carries a bit of Asgard in her blood—just as you are a Halfling … She is … Was … Convenient.” Verthandia answered carefully.

“People make the mistake of thinkin’ I’m stupid ‘cause of the way I dress and talk, but I’m very good at what I do.” His icy glare reminded the Fate of the realm of Skadi, the goddess of winter. “I’m sure since you knew my father’s name that you were able to get my file from before—so why would you think I wouldn’t notice …”

“I only wished for you to have someone worthy of you.” Verthandia started to explain.

“No one is worthy of the grief that being with Eliot Spencer would bring them.” His voice was practically a hiss.

He turned for the door, but paused in the threshold.

“If you’re trying be my mother—don’t. I obviously didn’t need one at four and I definitely don’t want or need one now.”

Stung, Verthandia turned back to the windows, file lying in her lap forgotten.

Instead of leaving, Eliot took the stairs to the loom room.

Urd was not surprised when her grandson entered the room. She always knew where everyone in her bloodline was at any time, so she had felt him enter the building. Since Eliot had come to her, she waited for him to speak.

“What’s your game?” He asked simply.

“No game.” She kept it just as simple.

Why wait until now if you wanted to find me?”

“It was a coincidence.”

Eliot snorted.

Urd reached under the collar of her blouse and pulled out a necklace woven from all the colors of the spectrum.

“When Thandi took you back to Midgard, I pulled your thread from my tapestry.”

“Shouldn’t I have died?” Eliot was still angry, but he was also confused.

“I pulled the thread. I did not cut the thread. You simply vanished from notice.”

“If the thread was pulled how did I show up again?”

“Because you were no longer alone. When you became involved with the others, you started to show up in the warp of their weave. We thought if you took to Tara and left with her there was a chance you would go back to being a shadowy figure in the background.”

“How bad? How soon?” Eliot asked.

“The longer you are together, the more your lives mesh—the more that will come into the light.” Urd reached to lay a comforting hand on his arm.

He didn’t shake her off, but he did move out from under her concern.

“I did what I did. Never thought I’d live long enough to have to worry about it coming back to bite me in the ass.” His chuckle was dark.

He turned to leave, but stopped as though he’d forgotten something. Ridiculously long eyelashes hid the blue/grey eyes as his sight turned inward. Life lines that started, disappeared, reappeared, tangled, twisted, their colors muted. When he opened them all Urd could think of were shards of Asgard’s glaciers.

“That’s why you wanted someone from The Fraternity, or someone they’d trained. I won’t be your pet assassin. I won’t do that again.” His tone brooked no argument.

“I only want the children that were taken. They’re extremely important, and must be removed from their present situation before they are forever lost.” Urd’s thoughts were racing trying to salvage the situation.

~}}}~~~>

Eliot’s ability to ‘read’ situations and timelines was stronger than she’d anticipated. When she’d chosen Spencer Travers II to be Eliot’s father, she’d chosen him for his looks, determination, and high IQ without considering other aspects of his bloodline. With his auburn hair and blue eyes, Spencer inherited his looks from his mother, and passed himself as white after his Cherokee father was killed while an adviser to the South in the early days of the Vietnam War. Spencer Travers II was 12.

As an adult, he’d gone to work for his grandfather’s prestigious Louisville, Kentucky law firm, straight out of school and added his name as a full partner when the old gentlemen’s health began to decline two years later.

When her machinations sent Verthandia to him, she had overlooked the faded thread of the Travers line … A line of Cherokee warriors and medicine people unbroken for thousands of years. Mixing that blood with that of Asgard had given her a grandson that knew too much, saw too much, and refused to back down … Ever.

Her brain rushed to recall the facts of his life before he became Eliot Spencer. Early graduation; early out of Annapolis; Navy Seals; then into the abyss of missions where there were no names or faces, and then … Yes that would do accomplish what she wanted.

~}}}~~~>

“I do not need an assassin, Eliot. I need a retrieval specialist.” At his look of disbelief she continued. “It is another of the reasons all the Fates abandoned their homes. Someone tampered with the looms, and is still attempting to change timelines according to their whims. It was nearly untraceable until the discovery of The Fraternity and that Sloan person. We are still cleaning up his messes, but it gave us a back trail to those that set Sloan on his path. That is why the Moirae along with us have gone undercover, so to speak.”

“You can’t just retrieve kids from their parents without setting off every ‘Amber Alert’ in the country.” Eliot argued.

“In most cases that would be so …” Urd agreed, “But only a few of these children are with their blood families. Those behind the tampering discovered the importance of these children and placed them in an ‘orphanage’ with humans who follow their tenets. We would return them to their families to continue the lives they were meant to live or if they cannot be returned, we have established a place where they can be safe.”

Eliot’s expression was doubtful. “After an ordeal like that you don’t just go back to your old life. They are forever changed, forever changing that timeline. There is no correction unless you can go back to when they were abducted and stop it from happening. You can only go forward.” He stated flatly.

The Elder Norn stared at the man standing in front of her still ready to walk out. She, Atropos and Morta had naively believed that once they found someone to return the children all would be well, but she knew Eliot was right. The best they could do was retrieve the children and strive to keep them on their proper path.

“Will you do this thing?”

“What’re you doin’ with the kids?” Eliot asked.

“That is Syn’s project. Though many die on Midgard, few are worthy of the Valkyries taking them to Valhalla. They will care for the children. Many were taken as infants and have no memory of their birth families. We have acquired an estate that will serve our needs for the care of those we retrieve.”

Once again Eliot closed his eyes. This was something he usually had to do on the fly. It wasn’t often he got spend time watching the ebb and flow of the probabilities. He could only see the lines of those in close proximity, but at this moment it was enough.

Urd could feel Eliot’s mind sifting the silken threads of the timelines through his mental fingers. She admired how the mind and body that could kill and maim moved so smooth and gently through the fragile weave. She could feel him waver. She gave him a final push.

“Please Eliot.”

Blue/grey eyes snapped open.

“You over played your hand, but,” He growled. “I’ll do it for the kids and with the condition the team doesn’t know.”

“Agreed.” She gave him a blinding smile as she tucked his thread back beneath her blouse. “Syn can give you the details you will need.”

Though he was muttering to himself, Urd still heard the, Manipulative old bat, Eliot grumbled as he left the loom room, but now she was curious as to why he did not want his friends to know what he was doing.

~}}}~~~>

With Sophie gone and the rest of the team not warming to Tara, Nate became more selective about the jobs they took. It was good for Eliot since it allowed him time to work on retrieving the kids. When he found them out with one or two adults, or in a small group, he would make a grab, but some of the kids rarely left the compound where they were living. These must be the most important.

Security was lax. The smoke screen of the orphanage would keep most away, and the bureaucrats would be easy to con. The bad thing about grabbing a few kids here and there was it made whoever was running the show beef up security. It was merely an annoyance right now, but Eliot knew before long it would become deadly serious.

Pulling away from the team was easy with recon and planning. Time out of town watching the compound and going over blueprints plus keeping up with the faux orphanage’s new security systems left little time to hang out at McRory’s.

Eliot was feeling rather pleased about his progress of weaning himself away from the team. Nate falling off the wagon after they ran ‘The Wire’ on the Irish loan shark was a good excuse for not hanging around, and the others didn’t seem to miss him.

He continued to congratulate himself right up to the time three sets of eyes turned and looked at him with the expectation of getting Nate and Maggie back from their kidnapper. Even Tara sided with him against Sterling.

The pin that let the air out of his balloon was when the phony psychic, Dalton Rand made Parker cry. Crying women usually annoyed him, but this was Parker and Parker never cried if she could stop it, so making the thief cry meant Rand had to die, or barring that … Suffer slowly … Painfully.

~}}}~~~>

Then there was no time for anything. Eliot was so busy trying to catch all the loose ends from Nate’s impulsive changes in their plans that by the time he ushered the team into Sophie’s helicopter, and gave the pilot directions as he watched Nate bleeding at Sterling’s feet, he was near the end of his endurance.

The others muttered as the helicopter set down in what looked like a cow pasture. There was a short hike to a shed where he herded them into a dark colored SUV. Sophie and Hardison started to complain as Eliot moved through the deepening dusk without headlights. Parker sat quietly, shell-shocked by all that had happened in such a short time.

He didn’t turn on the headlights until he got to where a few vehicles started to appear on the road. After driving for an hour, he turned into a driveway. While they waited for the gates to open, Hardison began with complaints about being in the middle of nowhere with no modern conveniences, his allergies and being attacked by wild animals.

The car sat still long enough to ensure the gates closed and for Eliot to silence the hacker with a glare. He pulled the SUV into a garage and took a minute to rest his head on the steering wheel before climbing out of the car. It took that long for his bruises to loosen enough for him to move freely.

Settling his mind into a survival mode, he led what was left of the team across the yard. Once inside the renovated farm house, he took everyone to their rooms on the second floor while he returned to his rooms on the first floor.

A quick shower and clean clothes did wonders for the way he felt. Some food and he’d be ready to think about their next step.

Eliot had a light meal laid out by the time the others made their way back to the lower level. He heard Hardison’s bouncing step as Parker slid down the banister and Sophie’s more sedate descent.

“Hey Eliot, did you know there was a box of electronics and a connection that must have cost …” He looked up from the laptop he was carrying.

He looked at the others. Their clothes fit and were just their style—his room had been perfect with everything he needed to satisfy his geeky heart.

“Do y’all’s rooms? …”

“Look like we did them ourselves.” Sophie answered a little disturbed that Eliot knew them all so well.

Parker bounced over and hugged Eliot being careful of his left side.

After supper they scattered across the living room, Eliot settling on the couch before picking up his glasses and a book off the end table. Sophie curled up in a window seat while Parker prowled the house like a cat sticking her nose into everything and Hardison pecked away on the laptop.

The quiet had started to settle into his bones as he studied the timelines behind the pretense of reading until …

“Eliot? …” Sophie started.

“Finally. I got into …” Then Hardison.

Eliot closed his book.

Parker perched on the arm of the couch.

“In a few days. We need to let Sterling, Interpol and the FBI finish pissin’ in each others’ puddles, and give Nate at least a week to start to heal. In the meantime we can rest and stay under the radar until things cool off.”

With Hardison being able to monitor what was happening with everyone in Boston, they were satisfied take Eliot’s advice. It was just when he gave it he didn’t expect to wake up the next morning with Parker and Hardison having slipped into his bed.

The fact that his instincts didn’t wake him was more than a little disturbing to the enforcer as he watched certain threads begin to weave together.

~}}}~~~>

They spent two weeks in the country before going back to Boston. He dropped everyone at different locations before returning the SUV to the leasing company. Taking a cab to the airport, he boarded a plane to New York City.

He left Boston for a few days to pick up a virtual reality project he’d commissioned from a hacker that was second only to Hardison. ‘The Vulture’, and what was it with hackers and stupid code names … Had wanted him to stay the night, but he really didn’t want to deal with a pissy Hardison if he found out Eliot had ‘cheated’ on him by going to another hacker.

Lights were still on in Nate’s windows when the cab dropped him at McRory’s so he climbed the stairs up the back of the building to slip into ‘his’ apartment from the roof entrance. He stopped inside the door and let his senses reach into the space.

It ‘felt’ empty and held the smell of a place that had been closed up for an extended period of time. He made his way through each room, and when he had physically checked that the no one had been here since before he left, he placed the bag he was carrying inside the floor safe under the bathroom cabinet.

Only then did he crack a beer and the living room windows to let out the stale air. Tossing his jacket over the back of the couch he sat down, put his feet on the coffee table after toeing off his boots, and relaxed for the first time since he climbed on the helicopter that carried them away from Nate.

~}}}~~~>

While the other four changed Nate’s condo into an office with a loft bedroom, Eliot continued to gather information about the compound where the last eight children were still being held.

Apparently whoever was the money behind the orphanage project was trying to influence the timelines. They had enough political juice to be able to purchase a portion of a World War II internment camp used for German-Americans near Ft. Devens, located forty miles west of Boston. They erected a block wall around what was used as the main building with a chain link and concertina razor wire fence around the outer boundary.

~}}}~~~>

They continued taking jobs though not with the frequency they did before Nate went to prison. Eliot was able to make sure they didn’t get into too much trouble while giving him time to practice with the virtual reality program The Vulture built to get him back in the mindset of the days when he didn’t know if Sloan was trying to train him or kill him. He still worked out with Syn, and The Wyrd Sisters finally quit trying to mother him.

He’d retrieve three more kids, and was able to make several trips to the Connecticut estate where the Valkyries had taken on the task of getting the kids as close to their original timelines as possible.

~}}}~~~>

Eliot was feeling good about the way his life was going. Hardison was attempting to woo Parker, who didn’t have a clue. He’d still wake up occasionally with one or both of them in his bed, which led to what the hacker referred to as ‘friends with bennies’. Though Eliot would never admit it, having the muscular body of Alec Hardison withering under his ministrations was as close to a ‘normal’ relationship as he ever expected to get, but it was also bittersweet because it would never go past the day Parker decided all she needed was Hardison.

They were sitting around the conference table ready to celebrate having Nate back with them when the mastermind dropped a bomb in the room. The hair on the back of his neck prickled when Nate told them about the Italian woman then uttered two words Eliot hoped to never hear again.

“We have six months to take down Damien Moreau or I’m headed back to prison.”

~}}}~~~>

He was worn to the bone. He could practically see the calendar in Nate’s head counting down the days. Eliot spent his time between jobs away from McRory’s. The shifting of the timelines as Nate concocted and discarded plans kept his brain too wired to allow him to sleep. The more the pressure mounted on Nate, the more Parker, Hardison, and even on occasion Sophie would seek sanctuary at The Factory, driving Eliot away from that small haven and into one of his safe houses outside Boston.

~}}}~~~>

Hardison was feeling a different type of pressure. Sure Nate was putting the screws to them to find a way to get to Moreau, but that was cool. He’d been studying Nate’s methods.

He’d watched Sophie run several of the jobs they’d picked up while Nate was in prison. She was good as long as things flowed smoothly, but if they started to go sideways, she had trouble improvising for more than herself.

Eliot … Now Eliot had utterly surprised him. He knew the man played chess, but he had discounted the intelligence behind the scowl and flannel. Eliot always knew exactly where everyone was and what they were supposed to be doing plus could rework the whole plan while preaching the gospel according to Eliot at the same time.

Still Hardison wanted to be a mastermind like Nate right up to when he found out Nate had hypnotized him and he remembered Nate played to win no matter who he had to sacrifice. The hacker wasn’t sure he could ever let go of the teachings of his Nana enough to be that ruthless.

The thing that was eating at him the worst was the fact he was having sex with Eliot while trying to coax Parker into falling in love with him. Everyone knew how he felt about Parker, but only Parker knew he was in a sexual relationship with Eliot. Hell, there’d been mornings when he’d wake up after Eliot had spent the night nailing his ass to the mattress to find Parker between them, Eliot’s hand on his hip forming a connection between the trio. The hitter never acted like anything was out of the ordinary or that he expected anything other than what he was getting.

He still couldn’t decipher Parker’s thoughts, and wasn’t sure what to make of the relationship of silence and nods the blonde had going with Eliot.

It had all been wonderful until this morning when he’d felt the mattress dip, and watched Eliot head for the bathroom. Parker had grumbled but settled when the graveled voice murmured quietly and petted her hair. Hardison played possum, careful not to let his breathing change while he watched their interactions through the screen of his lashes. He had started to drift back to sleep when Eliot returned, and simply stood looking down at them. What Alec Hardison saw on Eliot Spencer’s face made the breath in his lungs freeze, and the scolding voice in his head that sounded so like his Nana, pump the volume so high, it crossed his mind that Eliot could probably hear it.

The only time he ever saw softness in the retrieval specialist’s face was when he was talking to kids, but the softness Alec saw now as he looked down on them erased all signs the world’s number one badass, and revealed the warrior’s heart, if you were fortunate enough to be there when it happened.

~}}}~~~>

“Something’s wrong with Eliot.”

Hardison looked around the office thinking Parker was talking to Nate. When he saw they were alone, he laid down his tablet and gave her his full attention.

“What?! How do you know?”

“He doesn’t live anywhere anymore.”

“We all change up occasionally. Eliot’s always been more paranoid than most.”

“It’s not that. He’s not at any of his places.”

Hardison picked up his pad and pulled up Eliot’s phone.

“Says he’s upstairs.”

Parker shook her head. “Already checked.”

Next he tried to pull up the GPS for his truck, car and motorcycle. Still nothing.

“Did we do something wrong?”

Hardison laid down his pad and tugged on Parker’s shirt tail until she moved into arms.

“No. He’s been more intense than usual since Nate got back. The jobs have been pushin’ you and him harder than any of us. Nate rushes in without thinkin’ ‘cause he knows Eliot’s waitin’ in the shadows to clean up the mess.”

“I thought we were supposed to do the right thing. That sounds like Eliot’s doing the wrong things.”

“Maybe it’s this thing with Moreau. He’s some major bad news. Eliot’s probably just worried about keepin’ all that nastiness away from us.”

~}}}~~~>

Eliot’s chest was heaving with the force of his breathing, but he was grinning maliciously at his opponent. Three hours they’d been going at each and he was just starting to tire. His frame had been pared down to muscle and sinew as he pinned his equally strong opponent to the mat.

“You’re as ready as you’re ever going to be, Little Brother.” Syn grinned at the mortal.

“Yer probably right. I just have to squeeze the kids in between Nate’s march toward Damien Moreau, and the fallout when they realize I’m still a bad guy.”

“The children have waited this long. Six months cannot possibly make that much difference.”

“That’s that much more time they have to make it harder for me to get to them.”

“Or they may relax their vigilance if there are no attacks for a time.” Syn countered.

“Have you consulted Themself?” He pointed to the ceiling.

She gave him a hard look. “I do not need to consult them on a matter such as this when you can tell me what I need to know.”

Scuffing his foot over the wood floor, Eliot blushed.

“They’re doing what kids do.” He frowned. “Live in the present. Fuck.” He tossed his towel in the hamper as a thought occurred to him. “Can any of them …?” He wasn’t exactly sure what to call what he could do.

“I understand they have talents of their own, such as high intelligence, though most are mundane. There is one or two who will be watched over by their physician who is Thor in his human guise, but that will not occur for several years.” Syn assured him. “Our biggest worry right now is getting the children, then your role will be complete.”

“I see the possibility of several endings in the next six months.” Eliot muttered to himself as he headed for the shower. He was already putting plans in place for leaving Boston after they brought down Moreau. He had no doubt Nate would have a plan, the only question was who was going to be left standing when the plan was finished.

~}}}~~~>

“I don’t like her.” Parker stated flatly.

Sophie turned to look at Parker who was still dressed in her faux Lady Gaga costume. Hardison who had just shed the white fur coat that made him look more pimp than producer was just as confused.

“Don’t like who?”

“That Kaye Lynn person. She wants to take Eliot … To sing with him.” She flounced down on the couch in a flurry of yellow feathers.

“Eliot can’t sing.” Hardison assured her.

The two women looked at him like he’d lost his mind. He waved his hands at their expressions.

“Not what I meant. I meant … Eliot can’t sing in public. If he’s tellin’ the truth and not just being paranoid, he’s on the top of too many people’s lists to be in the public eye.”

“She might wanna keep him for her boy toy or something. Like that movie you made me watch—The Bodyguard.”
Parker complained.

“Parker, what are you going on about?” Sophie asked as she dabbed the wine off her chin where it dribbled after she choked at Parker’s words.

“Eliot. He’s been acting all weird and stuff.”

“Weird how?” Sophie cringed. What would be weird to Parker?

“He’s always working out or on another job, and he never comes home.”

Sophie and Hardison both looked pleased that Parker referred to McRory’s as home, but Sophie couldn’t imagine where Eliot found the time or the energy to take on outside jobs. Nate had been pushing them at a frantic pace, hardly giving Hardison time to clear up any leftover details that would land them all in a proper mess if care wasn’t taken.

Parker’s observations were forgotten in the midst of a militia with bombs, stealing trains, stealing cars and sending Nate’s father to Ireland on freighter.

Neither Hardison nor Parker would let Eliot out of their sight after he and Hardison almost got blown up in the militia’s camp.

~}}}~~~>

The hacker had been waiting in Eliot’s bed when the retrieval specialist came out of the bathroom, and before he could protest had him on the bed lips moving over scrapes and bruises like they were the cure for all his ills.

Never giving him time to protest, Hardison was soon lowering himself on Eliot’s hard cock, setting a rhythm that would have done any carousel pony proud.

Eliot ran his hand over tight curls and a sweat sheened back as Hardison sprawled across his chest, exhausted from the day’s adventures. As his softening penis slipped from the younger man’s body, his heart stuttered when he realized they hadn’t used a condom. As anal as Hardison was over everything, he couldn’t begin to believe he’d forgotten.

With his line of work, he was on a regular schedule of testing. Between his own injuries and those he inflicted, he was as careful with making sure he didn’t contract anything as he was with everything else in his life, but the … Trust!?!? … Alec had shown this evening shook him to the core.

He gently rolled Hardison off him and went to the bathroom for a damp cloth to clean them up. They were no sooner settled then he felt the breeze of an open window as Parker oozed into the condo and crept into bed beside Hardison.

As he drifted into sleep he felt her slim fingers tangle into his.

~}}}~~~>

“Have you noticed anything odd about Eliot?” Sophie asked Nate with a nonchalant tone.

“Eliot, no, why?” Nate asked as he refilled her coffee cup.

“He’s been tense and a bit churlish of late.”

Nate waved his hand in a dismissive motion. “He’s got Damien Moreau built up into the Boogeyman. He’s just the same as any other mark we’ve taken down.”

“No, Nate he’s not. You should listen to Eliot.” She set her cup down with a thud. “You’ve trusted Eliot’s judgement in the past, why won’t you listen now?”

“Because it’s my neck on the line if we don’t get Moreau.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. We back Moreau in a corner and we could all wind up dead.”

“That’s what we’ve got Eliot for … To make sure that doesn’t happen.” Nate chirped.

“Nate …”

“No. Sophie. If he doesn’t like what I’m doing he can leave.”

“You know Eliot won’t leave. He’s spent too long protecting us from ourselves and everyone else.”

“Then I imagine we’ll get to see which of us is right about Moreau.”

“If we live that long.” She snatched her coat and flounced out of the room.

Nate flinched as the door slammed. That went well … Not. He rolled his eyes as he finished his coffee, and grabbed his coat. He still had Christmas shopping to finish.

~}}}~~~>

Eliot watched as the cops hauled Chaos and his crew away. He hoped it was a long time before the little weasel saw the light of day again, but Chaos had such an obsession with Hardison that he’d probably be back before the newest gadgets updated. Eliot feared he would one day have to kill the man after he pushed one time too far.

He sat in the condo, the only light coming from the spotlights outside the building. He stared at the Japanese sword Nate had given him as a Christmas gift. The man had said they were his family, and the sword sitting in its cradle was verification that it had been the truth.

As he stared at the exquisite sword along with the other gifts the team had given him, he had to fight the compulsion to call everyone and tell them the truth about everything. He didn’t … He wanted to hold on to this … To Hardison and Parker … This twisted little family, just a little while longer. He closed his eyes and saw the strands twisting together, tangling into a knot then—nothing. He typed out a simple text.

~}}}~~~>

Smell was the first thing that caught the ancient warrior’s attention. She didn’t keep her position as the gatekeeper by being lax and unobservant. She lay in darkness adding her other senses to the wonderful smells that wafted through the huge building.

There was only ever one mortal that had the ability to sneak around her, and she knew for a fact she would be tempted to remain on Midgard just for his cooking alone—so she completed her usual routine before making her way to the kitchen to find Eliot surrounded by an array of food in various stages of preparation.

Spying the coffee pot, Syn poured herself a cup before availing herself to a bar stool out of the war zone. Still savoring that first sip, a plate landed unceremoniously under her nose. She looked from the plate to Eliot, but he was wrist deep in something or other.

As soon as she finished, Eliot barked out the number of guests and shooed her off to prepare the dining room. When she thought he wasn’t paying attention, Syn slipped away to talk with the Sisters. They in turned retired to the loom to watch as the tapestry continued its weave.

“Can we …?” Verthandia reached for Urd’s arm as her eyes pleaded with the Elder.

“There has been enough tampering. It must play out as it will. Only they can change the outcome.” Urd tone was quiet, but final. “This is his gift. We will carry ourselves as is befitting our status, and give the honor that is deserved for such service.”

The younger sisters knew Urd was not just speaking of dinner so left the Elder to go prepare for whatever might come.

~}}}~~~>

He cut himself off from everyone after his Christmas dinner, but Nate had kept everyone so busy no one noticed. What time they weren’t on a job he spent studying the best way in and out of the internment camp. He nearly had everything in place.

With spring fast approaching and Nate’s time running out things would happen fast. When the Italian gave Nate the information on Moreau, Eliot wasn’t surprised. He’d had eyes on Moreau for the past month and knew exactly where the man was, what women he had with him, and how many men. The one bright spot in this whole mess would be the opportunity to end Chapman. The continuing existence of the man acted like a splinter festering under his skin ever since Belgrade.

~}}}~~~>

The walk from the Moreau’s hotel to the park was made in silence. Eliot could feel the anger and betrayal oozing from Hardison’s pores. He ignored the younger man as they came to a stop in front of the others.

“Tell them what you did, Eliot.” Hardison’s words were enunciated, sharp.

“We’re in.” Eliot looked from Parker to Nate.

“You risked MY life. Tell them what you did.”

“Moreau’s gonna give me the details of the auction tomorrow.” He hooked his thumbs in his pockets like it was a normal day, and Hardison hadn’t nearly drown.

“Why’s he going to give you the details?” Sophie questioned.

Hoping to intimidate the grifter away from her questions, he let the reins slip on his anger.

“I said … We’re in. Just make the plan.”

“Eliot worked for Moreau back in the day … A lot. TELL.” His tone sounded like Eliot was something he scraped off his shoe.

The betrayal on the hacker’s face added to Eliot’s anger. They had pushed him into this corner, The Norns, Nate, The Italian, and like any cornered animal he wouldn’t go down without a fight. The tangle of threads were still snarled in his mind so he reached for two—Moreau and Chapman—the cause of the stain on his soul and the pain in his heart, and mentally pulled. The threads fell back into place. Killing Moreau and Chapman became his new goal.

He watched Nate stand and prepared himself for the holier than thou that often came with working with a man who’d almost become a priest.

“We’ve been chasing Moreau for six months and you didn’t tell us?”

“Because I was trying to find a way around this. Alright.” Eliot growled.

“Because what?” Nate tried to shout him down.

“Maybe take my shot!” Eliot was having no parts of it. Nate might be the master mind, but he was the alpha of this pack.

“Because you maybe were trying to protect him?” Nate sneered.

“I was protecting YOU!” Eliot snarled. “Alright. Last time I checked that’s my job!”

“Look. We can handle Moreau.” Nate tried to brush him off, but he refused to hold Eliot’s glare.

“We’re out of our league, Nate.” He could see the mastermind’s win at all costs demon raise its head, but he glared it back down.

Eliot pulled out his ace card. Catholic guilt.

“You think you know me—think you know what I’ve done? The worse thing I ever did, I did for Damien Moreau …” He watched the blue eyes widen, “And I’ll never be clean of that.”

Bingo.

Parker bless her twisted little heart might be crazy as a shithouse rat, but she understood survival at all costs. Of course Sophie had to try and smooth out the lumps, but the look in Alec’s eyes told Eliot, the curtain had been pulled back and after three years he saw the real Eliot. The man with blood covered hands and few qualms about how it had gotten there.

He stayed in the warehouse long enough to make sure the guns were clean of his prints and that the fire would take care of cleaning up the bodies. He grabbed one of the cars sitting outside and headed for the airport.

Of course there was Nate poking the rattlesnake with stick. Moreau’s eyes widened when he saw Eliot charging across the hangar. Grabbing his pistol Moreau shot the Italian, but Eliot wasn’t stopping. His only goal in life was to wrap his hands around Moreau’s head and twist until the shift of bones told him Moreau was dead.

When someone stopped him a few feet short of his goal, he turned with murder in his eyes until Nate shouting his name cut through the tangle of threads and one possible solution for untangling most of the knots.

“Eliot, NO! I’ve got other plans for him!” Nate ran to the woman withering in pain on the floor.

He watched as the plane taxied for the runway, gunpowder and worthless promises tasted like ash on his tongue.

“ELIOT!” Nate demanded his attention again.

With a derisive snort, Eliot pulled off his knife holster and wadded up his shirt to use as a pressure bandage for the Italian’s gunshot wound.

He didn’t wait to be told, he moved the few things he had in the condo over McRory’s to one of his other places, and only showed up at Nate’s when he was called. Not one word was said about his past with Moreau, but he could practically feel their questions.

Before anyone worked up the nerve to ask questions, they watched Moreau’s men take away General Flores while Moreau taunted Eliot. The expression on Eliot’s face made them all back up except Nate, who had no sense of self-preservation. Sophie moved to insert herself between the men—she was almost certain Eliot wouldn’t hurt a woman—but Eliot grabbed his jacket and left without a word to anyone.

~}}}~~~>

With Damien Moreau behind bars, Eliot was anxious to get back to the States. There were five kids he still needed to retrieve and the two months they’d agreed to scatter would be the perfect time. He was in the condo they’d adjoined to Nate’s as a work/workout room gathering the last of his things when Hardison had come into the room looking like an errant school boy.

Eliot continued packing while he ignored the fidgeting.

“Eliot, man … You know I’ve been …” He waved his arms in a gesture of helplessness. “And it’s been great, but I got the thing … With the pretzels … And it’s not right … You know … Me and you …”

Having no patience with Hardison trying to cut things off without hurting his feelings was annoying.

“I get it. You’re Makin’ a run on Parker and you don’t want me fuckin’ ya anymore.”

“NO! Well yes … But … It’s not … It wasn’t …” The younger man stammered even worse.

Eliot swung the duffel over his shoulder and forced Hardison out of the doorway.

“Yeah—well—if I was you I wouldn’t want my hands on me either.” Eliot mumbled over his shoulder.

All Hardison could do was stare at the door. Eliot had gotten it all wrong. The hacker hadn’t thought he was being fair by having a physical relationship with him while he was emotionally tangled up in Parker. That the hitter thought his past with Moreau was the reason …

Alec sprinted to the top floor of the building. He had planned on coming up later when he was sure Eliot was out to gather up the bits and pieces that get scattered around when you’re sleeping with someone, but as he came through the door he was already scanning the room. All that was left was his bits and pieces; it was Eliot’s presence that was gone.

~}}}~~~>

Eliot was comfortably ensconced into the blind he built to watch the former internment camp. He’d weakened the outer fence in several places that were rarely patrolled, and if they were checked, the modifications would be attributed to animals attempting to gain access to the camp’s trash.

He had schedules memorized; he’d watched the security people. The rarely did any physical training or sparring, were lazy about walking the perimeter and sometimes dozed off in the middle of their shift. It seemed they truly had relaxed in the six months since he’d made the last retrieval.

The children were kept together and ranged from ages seven and younger. He would have to contact Syn to get a couple of the Valkyries from the Connecticut estate to carry the kids out while he covered their escape. Sunday was going to be the day. Many of the adults went into town to attend church … Leaving the children with only a few caretakers.

A shadow moving through the woods, he could have reached out and touched the heavily pregnant doe nibbling spring’s tender shoots, but he left her to her breakfast as he headed back to his camp.

As always Eliot stopped at the tree line. Splitting his attention he looked inward checking the lines of probability flowing through his mind as his other senses checked his physical surroundings.

“What are you doing here, Syn?” He asked quietly.

Startled, the warrior spun while reaching for her weapon.

“Eliot! I see you still skulk around like one of Hel’s hounds.” She practically snarled to hide her fright.

“In the middle of something. What do you want?” Though his tone was brusque, he set about fixing a meal for them both.

“Nathan Ford came to speak with Themself, yesterday.” She watched his reaction. Seeing none, she continued. “Said he needed you for a job at the base camp at Mt. Kibari, Alaska. Wanted me to give you this.”

Syn handed him a phone. Then she handed him an envelope. Inside were case details, the battery and sim card for the phone. Eliot gave her a small smile of thanks.

He sat and rubbed his hands over his face.

“I was going after the kids, Sunday. I need Bryn and a couple others to carry the kids.”

“I’ll give them a call. How long do you think your case will take?” She indicated the file as she dug her spoon into the stew Eliot had prepared.

Reading while he ate, he did some quick calculations using the flight information in the file. He could be at base camp by early tomorrow … A day maybe two for the job … Fly back and still grab the kids on Sunday.

His camp was soon packed. He settled the backpack in place and followed Syn back to her car.

~}}}~~~>

On the drive back to Boston, he briefed Syn on his plan for the raid Sunday so she could prepare the others. He gave her his files then went to shower and change.

Because no luggage made the TSA nervous, he shoved a change of clothes and his toothbrush in a small back pack, and using the ID and ticket from the file was on his way to Alaska by early evening.

A couple phone calls during his layover in Phoenix, and everything he needed would be in place for him to arrive at base camp by daylight.

He killed the engine on the snowmobile and trudged the packed down paths to where he saw Nate standing outside the party tent. He was surprised when Hardison greeted him with a hug, was disabused of any hope it was because the younger man was glad to see him when Hardison claimed he was seeking warmth of any kind from anyone. With a growl he shoved the hacker away so by the time he caught up with Nate outside the communications tent the fuse was lit on his temper.

~}}}~~~>

Nate was stunned at the nastiness of Eliot’s suggestion, but he could feel his brain boiling in his skull … Not that he was wrong, but then he looked up to see the still whining Hardison coming up the hill behind Parker, and wondered if that was the source of Eliot’s mood.

None of the team had been happy with thoroughness of Eliot’s disappearance. Hardison had turned over every electronic rock he could find without success. Parker wouldn’t even talk about her lack of success. He’d finally gone to The Factory. The Norns had been hospitable and polite, but had not given him one scrap of information.

On his way out, he’d slipped through the ground floor looking for the blonde that called Eliot ‘Little Brother’. He found her out back tending a garden. She’d stopped her work and listened patiently, but only shrugged and said Eliot would found when he was ready.

Frustrated, Nate had given her the client’s file and a phone for the retrieval specialist. He sat in his car for over an hour hoping to follow her to Eliot, but no one made a move to go anywhere so he left.

He’d been at the brunt of Eliot’s temper before, but this was the first time he’d been sober enough the feel cut of the lash. The cold fire in those pale eyes coming from a face hidden behind a bandana brought home to Nate that Eliot wasn’t a lap dog on a leash, he was every bit the wolf his file made him out to be.

~}}}~~~>

The hike up the mountain with Parker roped behind him dowsed his temper until Hardison started his verbal sparring match. Two weeks of being in the woods by himself had lowered Eliot’s tolerance for the quirks and foibles of his team mates.

As the snow gave way he tried to position his body for the least amount of damage, the last thing he remembered was Parker landing on top of him—then there was nothing.

A strobe light in his eyes and someone screeching his name cut the darkness. Parker’s meltdown over doing the right thing didn’t help the throb in either his head or his ribs. Trying to explain that the two of them were too broken to have qualms over the things Nate asked of them would have made her cry harder. He’d chosen to throw his moral compass away—Parker had never been given one, but during the course of the past three years of listening to the four of them she had cobbled together a warped idea of right and wrong.

For Hardison she wanted to do right things. Eliot squashed the twinge in his chest, told her what she needed to hear to get her moving out of the crevasse and down the mountain.

When it was over, he stood by the door watching. Karen Scott had her husband back; the two couples that had formed in their little crew had each other. He slipped out of the tent.

~}}}~~~>

Because it was expected, he restocked Nate’s refrigerator and was plating dinner as Nate came around the corner bitching about them congregating in the condo. He watched Nate and Sophie try to be discrete while Hardison played with one of his black boxes.

He stayed through Nate’s little speech. He knew about being top of the heap and the things people would do to knock you off.

He finished his meal and was headed out the back door while the others were distracted with cleaning up. He still had five kids to retrieve.

~}}}~~~>

“Eliot, what …” Hardison turned around to an empty room. Where’d he go?” He questioned the others.

He saw something still on the table—Eliot’s phone.

“Why’s he gotta go and do that?” The hacker complained as he picked up the phone.

“Because he goes places we can’t, and you sent him away.” Parker stated bluntly as she dug through the freezer.

“What! I didn’t … You … He … It was.” Hardison stopped.

Truth was he missed what he’d had with Eliot, but it felt like he was cheating on Parker.

“It was perfect you know?” She finally pulled her head out of the freezer with something clutched in her hand. “I knew it. He always has extras.” She started peeling off the wrapper.

“What was perfect?”

“We were. You and Eliot got what you needed. I was getting what I needed, and everyone was happy. You tried to fix something that wasn’t broken, and now Eliot thinks you hate him.”

“But …  I don’t … It wasn’t … He never … It was only a little while.” He pleaded.

~}}}~~~>

Everything was in place. He and Syn would be point and rear guard while the other Valkyries took care of the children. They approached the inner wall from the back. Someone had left the gate unlocked making it easier and quieter for the small troop to enter the house.

He was concerned when he didn’t see any signs of alarms. Once they got to the nursery he understood. Each child was fitted with an electronic tracker similar to what was used on people under house arrest. He had keys for some models, whether any were the right ones was another story.

He rolled up his balaclava so the kids could see his face. They remained quiet but their eyes widened when they saw Eliot and the four blonde women. A girl that looked to be the oldest approached them.

“I told them you were coming, but they didn’t believe me.” She gave Eliot a small smile.

“What’s yer name, Sweetheart?” Eliot asked as he reached for the wrist with the tracker.

“Jordan.”

“Hey Jordan. I’m Eliot. My sisters are gonna take you someplace … Else.” He cursed under his breath as none of his keys worked on her bracelet.

“Okay, kids gather up whatever you want to take with you. Pack light ‘cause we’re gonna have to go through the woods.”

The stunned children did as he asked. Jordan told them the sky-eyed man was coming and they’d made fun of her. Soon everyone was ready.

“Everyone but Jordon is going with Syn, Kara, Mist and Rota. Jordon, Bryn and I will follow after you’ve made it to the trees.” Eliot ordered.

They watched out the window as the others made it safely into the trees. Eliot pulled his knife and smiled at the red-headed girl.

“You ready.”

From the carrier strapped to Bryn’s back, she offered her wrist. As soon as the strap was cut the trio was out the door of the nursery and headed for the back stairs, alarm bells ringing in their ears.

His intention was not to kill, but their pursuers needed to go down and not get up. He felt the stings, gouges and cuts as he dodged the rounds of ammunition fired in their direction.

The threads running through his brain kept them on the path of least resistance. They’d almost made the trees when Jordan’s thread started to pull from his mental grasp. With a growl he jerked it back, let fly the knife in his hand, and moved a step to the left.

It took every ounce of his immense will, Sloan’s training, and his heritage to keep his feet, but he would not leave Bryn and Jordan unprotected. He could hear the vehicles headed their way.

He looked ahead and saw the large black helicopter waiting. When the pilot saw them break into the clearing, the bird started to lift. Anxious hands helped pull them on board and get them into seat belts.

It didn’t take long before the helicopter was landing in the field next to The Factory. Three generations of women waited anxiously to make sure of everyone’s welfare.

Eliot’s steps faltered when he saw Nate, Sophie, Hardison and Parker waiting alongside The Norns. He winced as he received hugs from the Valkyries as they escorted the little ones to a baths, food, and bed. He ignored the team as he stopped in front of Urd. Reaching into one of the pockets on his vest, he handed her a pendant and a jump drive.

“I don’t like the way he’s moving.” Parker said in a stage whisper.

‘I’m sure there was lots of hitting and being hit.” Hardison tried to reassure her.

“No. This is different … Like … Be careful not to jar anything ‘cause I’ve been shot.” She insisted.

“Shot?!?” The others chorused.

“Yeah. See how he’s holding his left side …”

Before she could continue, they shushed her to hear Eliot.

“Your proof.” Eliot state simply

He was too tired for more. He turned to the team.

“Why are you here?”

“To offer you a ride home.”

“Don’t need a ride.” He insisted … Just before he crumbled to the ground.

~}}}~~~>

When he woke it was to a darkened room and the aftertaste of painkillers. When his brain focused a little more he saw there were two other people in the bed.

He was preparing to move when he recognized Parker and Hardison’s scents. He figured he’d died and Hel was going to torment him with two things he couldn’t have for the rest of eternity, but the pull of stitches and the smell of antibiotic ointment assured Eliot he was alive.

Wanting to get away before the others woke he started to move until Hardison tightened his arm around Eliot’s waist.

“Tryin’ to sleep here.” Parker grumbled.

“Let me up and you can go back to sleep.” Eliot growled.

“Up? Why would you wanna get up?” Hardison complained.

“Because I’m not where I’m supposed to be.” He insisted.

“You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.” They assured him together.

~Fini~

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