That Which We’ve Become

Title: That Which We’ve Become
Fandom: Leverage
Pairing: Eliot Spencer/Parker/Alec Hardison
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 13,344
Summary: Alternate Universe – Genetic Engineering. The success tries to save the failed.

 

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She was a grand lady standing amidst the cooling shade of ancient oaks. The surrounding five hundred acres had sheltered the Whitney family since the first Whitney came to Kentucky with Daniel Boone in 1773. She was by no means the great plantation she once was, but the breeding farm remained a self-sufficient success managed by the iron hand of Margaret Whitney-Wheeler, and her brother Reid Whitney.

Margaret’s marriage to Jackson Wheeler was a business merger not a love affair. She gave him a son and a daughter, the picture perfect family for the Fortune 500 coal company executive, and the prestige of being a member of one of Kentucky’s elite families. He gave her a source of capital income that would carry the Whitney Stud to the top of Thoroughbred breeding for generations of horses to come.

When Eliot Whitney Wheeler was born, he was immediately given into the care of a nanny and the grand matron of the family, India Whitney. Four years later, the birth of Miranda Dorcas fulfilled Margaret’s broodmare obligations to her prenuptial agreement, and she was free to put her time and energies into her stud farm.

~}}}~~~>

Eliot was a quiet child often invisible to those around him. His keen ears heard things no child should be privy to, but he was a Whitney-Wheeler, and had cut his teeth on the ways of the rich and bored from birth. His grandmother was his teacher and confidant. She taught him that knowledge was power, and he who held the knowledge … Held the power. India also taught him the secrets of the grand mansion. He knew all the passages and hidden alcoves like he knew his family history and the pedigrees of the Whitney thoroughbreds. His eidetic memory guaranteed that once he learned something, it was not forgotten.

India died in her sleep when Eliot was 12, but he never stopped using the lessons he’d learned at her knee. After being sent to bed, he often traveled the hidden passages of the old mansion to his father’s den, his mother’s, or uncle’s offices. The smiling front the Wheelers presented the society reporters of Kentucky’s social elite saw only the perfect marriage of old blood and new money. Their race season parties, charitable donations, and all the good press money could buy. Eliot saw the drunken arguments and the infidelities. His mother’s technique for hiring jockeys, grooms and exercise riders had less to do with their ability to handle horses and more to do with their ability to handle her appetites.

Jackson’s ‘working late’ was a cover for time spent with his mistress tucked away in a house between the city and the stud farm. Several mistresses had disappeared over the years when they forgot their place, and tried to blackmail Jackson into leaving his wife.

His uncle, Reid Whitney, was gay and spent most of his nights in Lexington with his paramour, Taylor, which allowed his uncle to mention his lover without anyone being the wiser. The irony of Taylor being Eliot’s martial arts instructor was not lost on the teenager, and caused his uncle an incredible level of angst.

When he graduated at 16, his mother decided it was time he started to earn his keep. Eliot rolled his eyes at the woman’s ignorance of her children. He probably knew more about her business than she did, but to keep the peace, he agreed to go to work for the farm’s race trainer, Willie Martin. Eliot soon had his own secrets to guard when he began dating Willie’s daughter, Aimee. Relationships between owners’ and trainers’ children were not uncommon, but they were never to be taken seriously, and those that did were often disowned or ostracized. For himself, he didn’t care, his grandmother’s death had left Eliot financially set, but he didn’t want Willie or Aimee to suffer.

That fall he enrolled in the University of Kentucky’s Equine Science and Management Program along with the languages program to stay close to Aimee while she finished her last two years of high school.

The night of Aimee’s senior prom, Eliot capped off the evening by presenting her with a small, but tasteful diamond promise ring. In her excitement, Aimee forgot to be discreet, and soon the Lexington society pages were printing headlines about the engagement of the crème of Lexington’s thoroughbred royalty and the trainer’s daughter.

Eliot was upset by Aimee’s indiscretion, but Margaret Whitney-Wheeler was in a towering rage. She’d been eyeing the current crop of debutants to match Eliot with a girl that would bring either money or bloodlines into the Whitney stables. There was no way Willie’s little gold digging chit was marrying her son and ruining her plans! He knew the cat was among the pigeons when he saw Willie’s pickup in the circle drive. Eliot grabbed the accordion file off the truck seat before heading for his mother’s office. As soon as Margaret saw her son in the doorway, she stopped her tirade against a pale, but stubborn looking Willie and Aimee, and started in on Eliot. Eliot calmly tossed the file on her desk.

“Before you get your panties in twist, Mother, you should take a look at that.” Eliot sneered as he moved to stand between Willie and Aimee.

Margaret’s carefully made up face was pale when she looked up into the face so like her own.

“It seems I have underestimated you, Eliot.”

“I learned from the best, Mother.” His cultured southern baritone was full of derision.

“What do you want?” She sighed and closed the file.

“You and dear old dad keep your mouths shut. Willie keeps training horses, Aimee goes to college. I finish my degree, and we let nature take its course.” Eliot’s tone brooked no argument.

Sullenly Margaret agreed, but with the demand Eliot start working as a bloodstock broker instead of an assistant trainer for Whitney along with his studies.

That was how Eliot Wheeler came to be in Southeast Asia the summer he turned eighteen.

~}}}~~~>

The three mares that boarded the plane in Bangkok were amazing finds. Their pedigrees went back to the thoroughbreds that King Rama V had imported from England in the late 1800’s. The bloodlines had been carefully nurtured by the royals’ meticulous breeding program.

Driving back to the hotel, his guide, Dimi Tran, handed him a file. Inside was a beautiful seal brown stallion with a white mane and tail. His pedigree went back to the three foundation sires of the Thoroughbred breed. Eliot looked at his guide with a jaundiced eye.

“I’m looking at this … Why?”

“He is considered a national treasure in Myanmar.” Dimi looked out of the corner of his eye at the American. “He is called ‘The Gold Monkey’.”

“Why are you showing me a horse I can’t buy?” Eliot was getting a bad feeling.

“The man who has the horse wishes to leave Myanmar. The Generals have taken far too much interest in his businesses.”

“I get the man and the stallion out of Myanmar and he’ll give me the horse?” Eliot’s eyebrows nearly reached his hairline.

“Yes.” He nodded vigorously.

“What do you get out of this?” Eliot asked.

He wasn’t your typical naïve 18 year-old. You didn’t go against the Generals running Myanmar out of the goodness of your heart.

“A place in the man’s household.” Dimi admitted.

“Is there a plan in place that was just waiting for some fool like me to come along?”

“A plane has been readied at the Bangkok airport that will be cleared for take-off when everyone is on board. The bill of sale and registration transfer will be handed over once we land at your home.”

“If you have this plan, why do you need me?”

“Most of his money is in accounts where the Generals cannot watch them, but that also makes it hard for him to access them without arousing suspicion. We need someone to provide funding.” Brown eyes pleaded with Eliot.

“You’re sure this plan will work?”

“It has been in place for a time. Everyone involved is a trusted family member.” Dimi reassured the cynical young man.

“How many of my American dollars is this going to require?”

“$50,000.” Dimi watched Eliot’s expression.

He merely nodded. His expression darkened as different scenarios ran through his head.

“Do you have a backup plan? If something goes wrong what’s my guarantee the horse gets to Lexington? Do we have any kind of help if we get captured before we get into Thailand?”

Dimi ducked his head and looked away. Eliot growled his frustration.

“Here’s what’s going to happen if you want my help. A bill of sale to Whitney Stables and Gold Monkey’s registration papers with the transfer of ownership will be express shipped to Whitney in Lexington before I give you anything.”

Dimi stopped in front of the hotel a frown on his face. He hadn’t expected one so young to be so hard. “I will contact you when I have the papers.”

After a shower and ordering dinner, he used the hotel’s fax to send a message to his mother.

‘Got a lead on another foundation horse. Should have more information in a few days.’

He pulled a miniature Jack Daniels out of the mini bar and stared out over Bangkok wondering what he’d gotten himself into. He sent another fax to Willie.

Three days later Eliot answered a knock on the door. Expecting room service, he was surprised when he found Dimi standing on the other side with a thick envelope. He ushered the man into his suite while pulling papers out of the envelope.

Dimi started to say something then stopped when he noticed the other man in the room. Eliot looked up from his reading.

“Dimi Tran … Willie Martin … Whitney Stud’s race trainer. He’s my backup on this side of the border. If anything happens on the Myanmar side of the border, Willie will be with the truck on the Thailand side. He’ll make sure the job’s finished, including getting the stallion to Whitney.” Eliot’s tone brooked no argument from Dimi.

He handed the papers over to Willie whose eyes got wide as he read through the stallion’s pedigree and accomplishments.

“Eliot …” He started, but a shake of Eliot’s head stopped his words.

“Dimi, meet us back here in three days. The papers should reach Lexington by then. Start getting the transport arranged for the horse. Make sure everyone’s papers are in order. I don’t want anything to slow this operation down. Money will be paid when the stallion is on the plane.”

Dimi frowned at this last announcement, but the look on the younger man’s face said he would not be moved. Perplexed that he had lost control of the situation, he finally nodded his agreement and left.

“Let’s go. We’ve got things to do.” A confused Willie followed Eliot onto the street.

First stop was to get certified copies of all the necessary papers. The originals were shipped express to Lexington. Next stop was the bank where the Wheelers’ did most of their Asian business. The bank president was most anxious to provide ANY service Eliot required. Satisfied with his plans, Eliot explained everything to Willie, and what he expected of him.

A week later an exhausted and terrified Willie Martin was standing on the tarmac in Lexington, Kentucky, with Gold Monkey, but no Eliot Wheeler.

~}}}~~~>

The first thing Eliot discovered when he woke up was there was not a spot on his body that did not hurt. The dirt floor felt cool against the bruises marring his face.

“You should tell them what they want to know, young one.” His cellmate urged.

“Can’t say what I don’t know.” Eliot replied politely from where he’d been dropped. His sharp hearing told him that one guard still stood outside the door. “Never had a gold monkey … Wouldn’t know where to find one. Wrong place. Wrong time.” He gingerly rolled over to let the chill seep into the heat rising from the cane stripes on his back.

“It is most regrettable that your family should lose a son so young …” The voice trailed off.

If he’d had the energy, Eliot would have rolled his eyes.

“As a plant you suck.” He said bluntly.

“What is this ‘plant’ you speak of?” The man’s heart rate increased.

*Bingo!* Eliot thought. “Grandmere didn’t raise stupid children. The guards beat me, drop me in a cell, you do the sympathetic, inscrutable schtick, naïve white boy spills his guts, and everybody’s happy except naïve white boy who’s now dead.” Eliot huffed between muscle spasms.

“You are very cynical for one so young.” The Thai accent dropped for a high toned English one.

“I was raised by wolves.” Eliot sneered.

“Do these wolves have a name? Perhaps they would pay for you to rejoin the pack?” The man rose from the corner and moved to the door.

“Survival of the fittest, man.”

“Shame. A life wasted.” The guard opened the door at his knock.

When he was sure they were gone he let go of his braggadocio. He was so fucked. He knew he was on the Myanmar-Chinese border, he even knew where he was in the prison. Sometimes his memory was a curse. He just needed to keep it together long enough to figure a way out. After the fake prisoner left his cell, it wasn’t long until he was put in with the general population and his second education began. It really did become survival of the fittest. He learned to sleep with one eye open … When he slept. Soon there was not a shackle or handcuff he couldn’t escape, a lock he couldn’t pick or a fight where he didn’t learn a hard lesson or give one in return.

All his lessons came with a price. Some prices were paid willingly, others were something to be endured … A means to an end. The scars collected as he climbed the food chain didn’t always show on the outside. He learned to control what he could and to let go of what he could not.

Standing above it all was the man he learned was Oxford educated Si Lo Phan. He often had Eliot brought to his office for intelligent discourse, as Phan phrased it, or to play chess. Those times did not endear Eliot to his fellow inmates, and often made life miserable until the pain they gave Eliot was returned by the young man with interest.

Si Lo Phan hated his job. If not for the fat checks deposited in his Swiss bank account every month he would be enjoying the luxury of his Italian villa. Phan worked for the Generals, but he also worked for an underground branch of GenMetrics. An extremely secretive company owned by the billionaire Sterling family, and run by number one son, James Sterling.

~}}}~~~>

GenMetrics conducted legitimate genetic research and had many lucrative contracts and patents that helped finance the underbelly of the company. Genetics research that would create humans genetically engineered to specifications.

Phan had been put in place at the prison to watch for subjects for use in GenMetrics research. People with something exceptional about them, or that no one would miss if they were never heard from again. The young man with old eyes could not just disappear, but he was exceptional.

Though the young American never gave a name Phan knew from his mannerisms and speech he was educated, and was probably being searched for even as they played chess. In the six months the man had been in his prison he had survived interrogations, beatings, and fought his way up the ladder of power in the prison. Phan had contacted Sterling. He hoped he would arrive soon … He had a feeling something was about to happen that would not bode well for him. Fortunately, Sterling and his entourage arrived a week later. Phan handed him the files he’d prepared.

“Most of these will be fine for initial trials, but this one … You have no further information?” Sterling quirked an eyebrow at his college friend.

“In his time here he has never told his name or anything about his family.” Phan explained. “He is highly intelligent, but stubborn.”

“We have just begun advanced trials. He will make an excellent subject. There have been some promising results splicing the DNA of the large cats with certain humans. Show me this man.” Sterling demanded.

Phan led the scientist out onto his catwalk. A young man with raggedly trimmed dark brown hair was leaning against the wall, his face turned to the sun. Phan was stunned at the picture of male beauty. He heard a noise of appreciation come from Sterling.

“He’s absolutely perfect.” The scientist crooned. “Have him brought to me.”

Sterling watched the prisoner move across the yard. The man moved with an animalistic grace that caused tingles to run along his spine. Phan earned every penny Sterling paid him with this one.

Eliot was surprised when the guards came for him, but he did not resist. He’d learned to wait before causing himself pain for no good reason. His anxiety moved up a notch as they headed to the prison commandant’s office. All the prisoners had seen the truck full of strangers arrive so this did not bode well. Usually when Eliot was taken to Phan’s office the guards moved to stand outside the door until Phan called them back. Now he was shoved into a chair, his arms and legs strapped down. He looked at the faces of each person in the room committing them to memory.

Stepping to the fore was a short dark-haired man with a round face and pinched features. He approached Eliot pulling on a pair of latex gloves, looking at him like Eliot was the Holy Grail. A dour looking man stepped forward with a tray of surgical instruments and needles. Eliot turned his mind away from the pain he knew would soon follow.

The pain was bearable up to the point where the large bore needle hit bone. It felt like the man was drilling for oil as Eliot watched the needle sink into his sternum. When the darkness finally receded from his vision, Eliot saw his tormentor bend over a microscope on Phan’s desk. The needle still protruded from his chest.

“Perfect. You’ve done well Phan. Our ‘pretty blue eyes’ will be the first of many.” He snapped his fingers to another assistant.

When he opened the vacuum sealed container, a cloud rolled out as the liquid nitrogen met the humid jungle air.

“Phan, did I ever tell you that in order to control all aspects of my experiments I breed my own animals?” He asked conversationally as he pulled a tube out of the cloud.

“I did not know that, James.” He looked at the young American with a combination of awe and pity.

Eliot’s hard learned lessons came to his rescue. Rage ran rampant through his veins, but he refused to let it overrule his head. While everyone’s attention was on Phan and James, Eliot tuned out their conversation and concentrated on rest of James’s entourage. The information he gleaned was enough that if he made if through this alive, he’d be able to extract his revenge. A look of orgasmic pleasure painted the round face as he turned his attention back to Eliot.

“This is better than I could ever have imagined.” He attached another tube to the needle, then re-positioned it for another sample as Eliot chewed the inside of his cheek to keep from crying out.

Eliot was reminded of bad horror movies where the mad scientist muttered over his microscope while the rest of people in the room hoped the doctor forgot they were there. Finally satisfied with what he saw, he filled a syringe with the substance in the glass dish. Smiling gleefully, he approached the man strapped to the chair.

“Did you ever dream of having the strength of a lion, my ‘pretty blue eyes’?” He asked as he attached the barrel of the syringe to needle.

Keeping his face impassive, Eliot stared through the man.

Sterling continued his lecture. “I have some of the rarest specimens in the world. I breed white lions and tigers. I find their beauty much more compelling than your average lion or tiger, and I do love beautiful things, especially when they have blue eyes.” He ran a pudgy finger down Eliot’s cheek than down his chest to where the needle still protruded. “This syringe contains five years of my life. The DNA of my most formidable white lion merged with your DNA like they were made for each other. You will be my first and possibly my greatest success.” His voice had dropped to a husky whisper as he pushed the plunger.

James Sterling’s fingers were a loving caress as he carefully cleaned and bandaged the injection site. The touch made Eliot’s skin crawl as Phan called the guards to take him back to the yard. Sterling almost told them to put the man in solitary. He did not want anything happening to his ‘pretty blue eyes’, but the scientist part of his brain was anxious to observe as the lion DNA started to mingle with the young human’s.

At first Eliot thought Sterling a bit mad thinking he was some sort of Dr. Moreau, hybridizing humans and animals. In theory it would have a lot of applications. Eliot’s tactician brain could visualize various applications, most having to do with the military where heightened senses, strength and stealth were definite assets. He shuddered at being the ‘first’ success and wondered how many unsuccessful attempts there had been before him.

Within three days, the injection site had healed, and though Eliot didn’t feel any different, Sterling began taking blood samples at regular intervals. At six weeks, the head of GenMetrics had Eliot brought to the commandant’s office for purposes other than his daily physical.

“Wonderful news, my ‘pretty blue eyes’.” Sterling was practically salivating, “Your body has mutated its DNA to accommodate the addition of the DNA from my lion.”

“Yeah, so?” Eliot snarked. He knew he was changing, but he wasn’t about to let Dr. Crazy know what he knew.

“We should start seeing physiological changes, perhaps even psychological ones as well.” He muttered to himself more than to the others in the room.

He was wheeling EKG and EEG machines in Eliot’s direction when one of the half dozen assistants rushed in the office holding a satellite phone. His whispers were agitated as he shoved the phone at Sterling. Concentrating his enhanced hearing, Eliot let the noises around him fade as he focused on Sterling and his phone call. Apparently the CEO had been incognito long enough that his board of directors was getting antsy … Demanding he put in an appearance to handle problems that had arisen with clinical trials for several new treatments they had before the FDA for approval. Problems the board felt needed his personal attention. After a lot of shouting from Sterling, and a lot of browbeating from the man on the other end of the call, a surge of satisfaction ran through Eliot’s brain when he heard his tormentor surrender to the caller with a barely disguised contempt.

“As you wish, Father.”

It made Eliot wonder how much the board of directors of GenMetrics knew about Junior Sterling’s experiments.

“We’re leaving tomorrow! I want everything ready to roll by noon … Including him.” There was an angry hunger in Sterling’s eyes when he looked back at Eliot.

Phan shouted for the guards to take the American back to his cell as he and Sterling turned to work out the details for leaving Myanmar through their friends in China.

~}}}~~~>

Eliot was practically quivering with excitement as the guards shoved him back in his cell. Almost a year of planning came down to this. He’d be leaving Myanmar tomorrow, just not as a guest of Dr. James Sterling. Eliot was also trembling for another reason. His body was feeling the effects of the intruder DNA, his temperature rising as his body fought the DNA cocktail Sterling had injected into his bone marrow. His hearing had sharpened even more than his norm. He could feel and almost see the large white lion resting with its massive white maned head on large paws waiting … Waiting for the man to accept the inevitable. Muscles and bones seemed heavier, but more flexible … His nerves were on fire.

After being imprisoned almost a year he was whipcord thin with no spare flesh, but he could feel the strength he would need to escape waiting for him to beckon it forward … He hoped they didn’t think to restrict him further than his usual cell.

His nose twitched as cooking smells came from the guards’ room. Soon they would be bored and sleepy and the sounds he’d make picking the lock on his cell door would be covered by the squeaks and scratching of the nocturnal creatures that lived in the walls of the old prison. Following the example of the lion, he sat cross legged on his pallet and settled into a meditative state. Two hours passed before Eliot roused. He was still feverish and had a low level headache, but he pushed it all away to concentrate on the sounds of the prison. It was twilight so everything looked grey. Hearing very little movement, he began working the lock. With a quiet snick, the door opened.

He moved quickly towards the guards’ room, checking that the occupants of the cells wouldn’t raise an alarm as he went by. His luck held when the room was empty. A web belt with a canteen and a knife were just the ticket, and the shirt and jacket hanging from the back of a chair would do until he could find something better. His jeans and combat boots had been a point of contention with the other prisoners, causing some nasty fights that convinced the others it was better to leave the young American alone. The boots and jeans had survived mostly intact … Much to Eliot’s relief.

The shadows were his friends, and he was glad that Phan’s frugality led the man to not waste the generators’ gas supply on spotlights until it was full dark. The guards that would normally have been on the gates had been called to help load Sterling’s trucks so the gates were being covered by the tower guards. Standing under one of the towers, back to the upright, Eliot knew he’d have a very small window to get through the gate before the large flood lights set the night on fire.

A soft feminine scent tickled his nose and his brain with its familiarity as he waited for a clear path to the slightly ajar gates. He knew it was important, but he ignored it when the way was suddenly clear.

He’d made the jungle’s edge when he was nearly blinded by the prison’s lights. His hearing picked up the ‘pop’ of a suppressed rifle shot as he jerked left. Tripping over a root, he threw his arm up to help catch his balance. Picking himself up from among the tree roots he noticed the burning and the flow of warmth from his right tricep. With no time to stop he ignored everything except running. As he turned away from the prison he wished he could be around to see the look on Sterling’s face come morning.

Moving deeper into the jungle, Eliot paused to get his bearings from the stars. Remembering the route they traveled after his capture, he moved south letting instinct guide him more than logic. It was nearly dawn when he came fully back to himself. He didn’t remember how he traveled so far so fast, but he was facing a vine covered Buddha. Memory kicked in and he scrabbled around the base until he found the loose stones. His newly enhanced vision allowed him to see the waterproof bundle he’d stashed on their trip to retrieve Gold Monkey. He grabbed the bundle and moved into the shadowed remains of the ancient temple.

Inside the bundle he found everything just as he’d left it. Clothing, his wallet, passport, money, shaving and first aid kit, MREs, and bottled water. He found a pool of fairly clean water where he bathed, and took care of what looked like a bullet hole in his tricep. He shaved using his reflection and with a pleasure filled moan, slid into clean clothes. After cleaning up, he found a protected corner where he opened one of the MREs, and forced himself to eat slowly so as to not make himself ill.

He didn’t want to leave the relative safety of the crumbling walls, so he settled further into the shadows to rest until dark. He wasn’t far from where they had crossed the Thai border a year before. Once he got back to Bangkok, he would stop long enough to throw off his low grade fever, and figure out what Sterling’s injection changed besides his senses.

Eliot slipped across the border with no one the wiser. According to his passport he’d just spent the last year touring the southeast Asian countryside. He hitched a ride with a farmer on his way to market and was showering in a Bangkok hotel room before lunch.

~}}}~~~>

Dressed in clothes he bought at the hotel shops he made his way to the bank where he retrieved the cash and documents he’d stashed before they’d left to pick up Gold Monkey. He thought briefly about calling home, but it was the middle of the night in Lexington so he hailed a taxi to the airport and started his journey home. Landing in Lexington 24 hours later, Eliot was glad he’d opted to travel first class. He’d been able to sleep most of the flight and was anxious to see Aimee. Everything else could wait until tomorrow.

When he pulled in front of the Martin house, the stable yard was full of cars and all the lights were blazing. The music and lights assaulted his enhanced senses. While he was adjusting his senses to cope with the light and noise, he noticed a woman in formal dress leaning against the porch rail smoking. Hoping he looked harmless, Eliot approached.

“Hey.” His raspy voice caught the woman’s attention.

“Can I help you?” Her voice was colored with suspicion.

“I’m not sure. Is this the Martin’s?” He kept his voice low and smooth.

“Yes. It is. Who are you looking for?” Her voice was a little warmer.

“I’m just back from a trip overseas and I was looking for Aimee or Willie.”

“You just missed Aimee. She and her new husband just left for their honeymoon. Willie should be back shortly. He went to check one of the horses.”

Eliot was so shocked he simply starred at the woman.

“Are you alright?” She started to reach out, but Eliot flinched away.

“Fine.” Eliot growled and headed for his rental car.

He’d just opened the door when Willie came out of the barn. The older man ran toward him to make sure he wasn’t imagining the younger man.

“ELIOT! My God it is you!” He grabbed him in a hug. “Have you seen your family?” Willie stepped back when Eliot remained stiff and unresponsive. “Eliot?”

“Guess mama was right about Aimee.” He sighed.

“That girl grieved somthin’ fierce for you, boy.” Willie defended hotly. “I kept trying to tell her you’d be back.”

“I can tell with her gittin’ married and all.” Eliot sneered. “Unless it was a shotgun wedding.”

“No they’ve been datin’ awhile.” His tone dropped low.

“I got a whole couple three months before she moved on to greener pastures.”

“Eliot …”

“How’s Gold Monkey?” He asked as he slid into the car.

“Settled in and starting to earn his keep.” Willie relaxed thinking Eliot’s bout of temper had passed.

“Take care of yourself, Willie.” Eliot offered his hand to the trainer.

Willie watched the car disappear down the driveway never imaging that it would be over ten years before he would see the young man again.

The next afternoon Eliot slipped into the Whitney mansion while the house was empty and the servants busy. He collected a few things his grandmother had given him that he found in Miranda’s rooms, packed some of his clothes still in the attic, then Eliot Wheeler disappeared. A few days later all his accounts were closed with none of his family the wiser. A week later, the Wheelers received an official looking letter telling them that their son had been killed by drug runners while hiking through the Thailand countryside.

Standing at Eliot’s grave in the Wheeler family cemetery, Willie Martin mourned for the young man that had been wounded by his experience in Myanmar then died when he’d returned to find his fiancée had married someone else. The only consolation was an address he’d received in the mail the day before.

~}}}~~~>

When Manon St. Jacques opened the heavy cypress door to the planter’s style house sitting on 200 acres of prime Louisiana bottom land, she thought the ghost of Michael Night Horse Spencer had returned to haunt Saline Bayou. The dark haired man that collapsed on the veranda groaned in pain spurring her into action.

“ISAAC!” Manon’s strong voice carried to the back of the large house.

The middle aged man whose face showed both his African American and Choctaw ancestry rushed through the house at his wife’s shout. He slid to a stop when he saw her bent over an unconscious man … Their brood of youngsters following Isaac when they heard their Nana’s shout.

“Manon?”

“Help me get this child to the master bedroom.” She fussed.

He started to argue until he turned the man over and saw the face of the man who had given his life to save Isaac’s in the earliest days of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

“It’s India’s grandson, Eliot. Now quit yer gawking and help me.” She scolded, shooing the diverse group of children on their way.

“Grandson?” He questioned as he hoisted the smaller man to his feet and with Manon supporting the other side carried him upstairs. “He looks like Mick.”

“Mick had just been home on leave and India was staying with his folks in Lexington when they got word he was killed. Soon after she realized she was pregnant she went and roped herself a Whitney and Margaret was ‘premature’. The fact she was a puny baby helped sell the story. This boy is Spencer through and through. Wonder if India ever told him his granddaddy was full on Cherokee?” She said more to herself than to Isaac as she wiped down his feverish body.

They were surprised the next morning when they entered the kitchen to find Eliot sipping coffee while reading through a pile of files. Blue/grey eyes bored into black eyes of his grandmother’s best friend.

“Grandmere told me everything.” He said simply as he eyed the children behind the couple in various stages of dress and wakefulness.

Manon nodded and set to fixing breakfast. “My foster babies.” She said just as simply.

India Spencer Whitney didn’t realize it at the time, but when she put her parents’ house and 200 acres in her grandson’s name, she’d put his name down as Eliot Spencer instead of Wheeler setting in motion events that helped him start a new life. Manon and Isaac St. Jacques had helped keep India and Michael’s dream alive. He hoped the bouts of fever he was going through would soon end so he could assess the end result of Sterling’s experiment. It wasn’t just his body. He could feel the lion inside him … Sometimes see the magnificent white cat with his mind’s eye. He had never been a lucid dreamer, but now his dreams felt like one long spirit walk. One good thing that had come from it … He had a 360o awareness that had not been there before.

Eliot had gotten files on several of GenMetrics former employees. Among them was a Dr. Charles Roget who had been Sterling’s head researcher on many projects until he’d resigned. He wanted to talk to the man and see how deep into Sterling’s projects he’d really been. Seeing the concern in Manon and Isaac’s faces he sat down with them one evening after the children had gone to bed, and told them what had happened in Myanmar. Agreeing to keep his secret Manon declared that his grandaddy’s house was the perfect home for Eliot.

Chuckling, Eliot told them he was going into Baton Rouge. He wanted to visit LSU, and see if he could get a lead on Charles Roget.

~}}}~~~>

At the college, Eliot found that Dr. Roget had set up a privately funded lab outside of Boston. He made a quick call to Bayou House to tell Manon that he would be gone for a few days. An hour later he was on a plane. He found the lab and settled in to wait for the scientist to appear.

“Dr. Roget?” A voice startled the man as he unlocked his car.

“Yes.” The man never turned.

“Did you work for James Sterling?”

“I worked for GenMetrics.”

“But did you work FOR …” Eliot emphasized the word, “Sterling?”

“Only until I found out what he was trying to do.”

“Did you try to stop him?”

“I had no proof.”

“And if you did?”

“He’s very powerful. There’s no guarantee I could.”

“Can you help his victims?”

“I don’t know. Many do not survive after the initial injection.” Roget paused. “Can I turn around? I really hate talking to my car.” His voice held cautious humor.

“Sure.”

Roget turned but only saw a vague outline in the shadows.

“What did he do to you?”

“Lion DNA.”

“What’s been happening with you?”

“Intermittent fevers, senses enhanced, muscles and bones ache.” Eliot paused. “This will sound nuts, but I can see him in my mind’s eye. When my mood shifts, he’s ready to … Whatever.” Eliot waved his hand unable to express that was going on in his head.

“A success story.” Roget said half to himself.

“Success! Doesn’t feel like a fuckin’ success to me!”

“The alternative is your death. So yes, you’re a success. How long ago were you altered?”

“About three months.”

“If your body was going to reject the DNA it would have already happened. Your symptoms, that’s your body and psyche adapting to the new presence. Muscles and bones becoming denser … Senses enhanced … Would you allow me to do some testing?” Roget asked cautiously.

Eliot balked.

“You trusted me enough to talk to me. I still have my research that James perverted, but I need baseline samples.”

Eliot studied the middle aged man for a long time.

“Can it be fixed?”

“Not yours, but maybe others if we can get the word out quietly.”

“What if Sterling comes after you?”

“We’ll have to stay underground.”

“You mean keep doin’ what you’re doin’, and do the other stuff on the side.”

“Yes, so we have a cover.”

Eliot nodded. “I may know a way to spread the word, and a perfect place to set up shop where you wouldn’t need a cover story.”

While Dr. Roget took samples, the men brainstormed the complications and implications if Sterling got wind of what they were doing. Between Roget’s contacts and Eliot’s resources they decided what needed to be done to set up a lab in Saline Bayou.

After a week, Roget deemed that Eliot’s DNA was stable, though minute changes might still arise. The scientist theorized that the best he could do for any other test subjects would be to stabilize their condition. He did not have a way to remove the animal DNA once it had been introduced, and if it was rejected by the host he could only try to keep the victim alive through the rejection process.

On the flight back to Baton Rouge, he flipped through the materials Charles had given him.

Eliot was enjoying Manon’s excellent dinner when she started. “You trust this scientist?” She frowned when Eliot told them his conversations with Roget.

“As much as I can. He can’t help me, but maybe …” He shrugged indifferently.

“Well, you don’t have to go gallivantin’ all over the world while all this other stuff is goin’ on.” She admonished. “You can stay right here and let this ol’ bayou and my babies heal your hurts.”

“I need to get away. I need to be doing something. I’m going to find Sterling and I’m going to take down GenMetrics.” He stated through gritted teeth.

He looked out at the group of heads doing homework around the large dining room table.

“It’d be better for your kids if I left.”

Shaking her head with Eliot’s stubbornness, together with Isaac she would keep The Bayou House a home for the boy.

~}}}~~~>

The next morning Eliot was on the phone. Three days later he was on a plane to Croatia with twenty other strangers.

His first days as a mercenary in Croatia killed whatever innocence was left in Eliot Wheeler. Eliot Spencer was soon hardened to the death, the killings, the mangled bodies and empty eyes. The only thing he could never harden his heart to was the children. The lion that rested in the back of his mind nearly purred at the sight of the future of the pride. Eliot would mentally scoff at the antics of his tenant around kids.

When the job was finished in Croatia, he’d sent several pictures and stats to Dr. Roget. His bank account was a good deal richer and three of his fellow mercs asked him along on a job to retrieve a person of interest and return him to his country of origin … Discreetly.

The four had worked together for several years, and Eliot regarded the men as good friends. The now 21 year-old had learned many skills during his time with the Blue Dogs. His enhanced senses and ability to move soundlessly made him the perfect point man. His eidetic memory allowed him to catalog weapons, languages, explosives, battle plans, and layouts.

They were back in the States for the first time since Eliot had left two years before. In that time Charles had moved from Boston to The Bayou House. Isaac and Manon had taken to the geneticist like he was family adding him to their strange brood. The two men had renovated one of the abandoned machine sheds into a lab. Roget had made light of it, but it seems too many people in Boston were getting curious about the research he was doing with Sterling’s victims.

Eliot had sent a dozen people to Charles. Only six still lived, the others having died from complications attributed to Sterling’s experiments. Eliot himself had no ill effects unless you counted the extra presence sharing his brain. In his more fanciful moments he believed being a quarter Cherokee was what allowed him to adapt, but most of the time he figured it was his stubborn nature.

While working with the Blue Dogs, he’d found two of Sterling’s labs in poor little provinces where money talks and no one asks too many questions.

~}}}~~~>

He’d watched the lab outside Navarre, Spain for three days so he knew the guards’ routine, knew that they maintained radio silence unless there was a problem. He waited until the night staff was settled in the building, and making sure his identity was hidden, approached the outside guard from behind leaving him tied up, gagged and blindfolded in an alcove blind to the cameras. Rifling through the man’s pockets he took his keys and ID badge. He was soon ghosting through the halls, dodging the two guards patrolling inside.

While searching for the director’s office and the labs, he set charges of C-4 and white phosphorous. He wanted nothing but ash left when he was finished.

The director’s office wasn’t far from the labs, and soon he was riffling through file cabinets and drawers. The woman was kind enough to leave her most recent files neatly on her blotter. He paused when he saw the computer was still running. Either the woman was very careless or she was still on site. With a smirk he closed down the computer and yanked out the hard drive. A locked drawer in the cadenza was a treasure trove of backup tapes, which went into the backpack with the other files.

The sound of the guards exchanging pleasantries as they met outside had Eliot crouched in the knee hole of the desk after placing a charge inside the computer tower. He listened as they decided against sticking their heads in the office in case the ‘she dragon’ was inside and walked away discussing what their wives had packed them for lunch. Releasing the breath he was holding, he moved to the door and opened it just enough to see down the hall toward the labs. Everyone was moving off in the same direction as the guards. He paused again when he heard one of the lab techs ask about the outside guard. A snarky comment about communing with nature, and the topic turned back to the latest soccer scores.

He navigated around the cameras until he could look through the windows of the lab. After all the atrocities he had seen in Croatia, what he saw in the lab caused his stomach to clench. Crippled … Feral … Mis-shapened souls in cages … Some in the throes of seizures as their bodies rejected whatever had been done to them. There was no one to attend them … To ease their suffering. Every single person had gone to lunch not caring what they found when they returned. Knowing no one was watching the cameras, Eliot slipped into the room. The sounds and the smells assaulted his senses until he wrestled them to acceptable levels.

“Can anyone understand me?” He asked quietly in Spanish.

A soft reply came from a quivering voice to his left.

The girl who looked barely past puberty, fever and pain wracking her slender frame, reached out to him.

“What happened to you?” Eliot asked while listening for the techs to return.

“My name is Magda. People came to our towns saying we would be paid a lot of money if we wanted to take part in a scientific study. Many agreed because times are hard and there is little work. After the money was paid, everyone comes here and they start giving them injections. Many have died, and now this is all that is left.”

Angry, Eliot starts to pick the lock on the cage door.

“NO!” Magda insisted. “You must not. Many have become loco-crazy since the shots.”

“I can’t leave you here. There are bombs all through the building. You have to get out before they go off.” He growled.

“Then kill us.” She said quickly.

Eliot’s head jerked back so fast his head spun. “No!”

His face showed his anguish over what the Magda was implying.

“I can’t …” His voice broke.

“Senor, what is your name?” Her quiet question broke Eliot away from the agitated lion prowling his mind.

“Eliot.”

“It would be a blessing to us, Eliot.” Her small hand reached through the bars to rest on his.

His logical brain told him she was right while his lion’s heart cried its denial. With an abrupt nod he stepped back from her cage. Seeing Magda was the most lucid of the six, he paused blue/grey eyes met eyes the color of his finest sipping whiskey.

“Eliot, there is nothing to forgive.”

He watched transfixed as a red spot blossomed between her eyes like a perverted caste mark, the peaceful expression on her face the only thing that kept the mercenary on his feet. The silenced Glock breathed its merciful sigh five more times, each face in peaceful repose that was a far cry from the tortured expressions they’d worn when he’d entered the room.

Eyes narrowed, senses at their most alert, gold lightning flickered through stormy eyes as Eliot merged himself with his lion. When he finished laying his charges, the pair began to hunt.

As dawn lit the Spanish sky, a few wisps of smoke rose from the burnt ruin of a building.

When they did not come home after work, the guards’ wives called the local policia to look for their husbands. The scene they were met with is still whispered about among the locals for the scope of the destruction. Dark chin length hair, bronzed skin and a hat pulled low to conceal pale eyes, Eliot Spencer watched from the safety of the crowd. The town’s peoples were agitated and wailing the loss of loved ones. It was a perfect cover for him to watch who came and went from the burnt out lab.

When the silent black helicopter spit out men impressed with their own importance, the lion in the back of his mind rumbled smugly that it was just a matter of time. The whispers of the bereaved grew to accusations of unnatural experiments and loved ones that had entered the building never to be seen again, but the men from the helicopter ignored them as they searched the still warm ashes.

Eliot watched with a grim satisfaction as James Sterling paced and ranted while waving his arms at an older man. The older man continued directing his men, ignoring Sterling’s ramblings. Knowing what the findings would be Eliot melted into the exiting crowd, hitching a ride back into town.

The second lab had no living victims … Only bodies that were left lying on stainless steel tables as scientists came and went carrying the bodies away a piece at a time like bizarre scavengers. There was no one working at night, but security was tighter with more guards and cameras.

All the guards could say was they never saw their attacker. The cameras did not show anything because once again the building was reduced to smoldering rubble.

~}}}~~~>

Charles Roget was ecstatic when the boxes with no return address showed up at Bayou House. The information that Eliot had obtained from raiding the labs had been invaluable in helping other victims of Sterling’s experiments. He’d had limited success undoing some of the genetic manipulation, but only in the cases where the injections had been recent, and never anything that would help Eliot.

Roget had expressed his frustration the last time Eliot had come home to Saline Bayou. The younger man had given him a smile that was all teeth and hard edges.

“Simba and I have learned to tolerate each other, so don’t ‘help’ me anymore.” He growled. “Besides I find it ironic that what Sterling did to me helps me fund his downfall.”

Shaking his head, Charles had exchanged a look with Manon and Isaac as Eliot slammed the door of his office grumbling about old lady busybodies.

Eliot began working solo. It kept him from having to hide his abilities from others, and left him to worry only about being betrayed by his employers.

He soon built a reputation for the amount of violence he could perpetrate, and the fact that he could cause that much havoc without the use of a gun. The fact he left no job unfinished also pushed his name to the top of the list of retrieval specialists.

A call from one of the Blue Dogs had him accepting a bodyguard job in Kiev. Protection wasn’t his normal gig, but it meshed with the retrieval of a set of ivory Spanish hair combs from the man he’d been hired to protect … To Eliot it was a no brainer.

He had taken his client to his business meeting and back to the safety of his home without a hitch. Eliot had collected his fee and the set of ivory combs. On his way to collect the fee for the combs, he was waylaid by a brutish man carrying a meat cleaver, and his two companions. The two grabbed the smaller man and pulled his head back so the street light fell on his face.

He held a sheet of paper up alongside Eliot’s face.

“You certainly look like a ‘pretty blue eyes’.” The man leered in Russian.

Eliot started to struggle when he felt the cleaver run along his face. “It says they want you alive. It doesn’t say how alive.”

When the retrieval specialist went still, the men holding him relaxed. Eliot counted to ten while cleaver guy expounded on the fun they were going to have before they collected their $25,000 American dollars. When the lion/human hybrid moved … The man on the left never knew what hit him since he died when Eliot crushed his windpipe.

The man on the right died reaching for his pistol as the hitter’s blade severed his carotid artery. The cleaver made a solid thunk as it sunk in the wall next to Eliot’s head. Ducking into an abandoned warehouse, he moved into the shadows to wait for the Russian enforcer.

Not wanting to chase the obviously dangerous man into the dark, he wrapped bundles of oil soaked rags around a shattered 2 x 4. Lighting the makeshift torch he started to move through the building. A flying shadow tackled the man sending his torch spinning across the floor as the men struggled for control of the cleaver. The torch rolled into a pile of cardboard sending flames toward the ceiling. They began trading blows as the fire spread from one pile of debris to the next. Soon the entire ground floor was full of smoke and flames.

An elbow to the temple freed Eliot from their tangled clench. Rolling away from the larger man, he wrapped his hand around the first thing he touched. He continued moving rolling to his feet and swinging the smoldering two by four making contact with the broad right cheek. The last thing Eliot saw as he ran from the building was ‘The Butcher of Kiev’ on his knees holding his burnt face as he screamed his hate and pain at the fleeing figure.

Eliot quickly collected his fee for the combs and was on the next flight out of Russia. Changing planes in Norway he was soon on his way to the U.S.

~}}}~~~>

He was having lunch at a mom and pop diner in New Orleans reading the ‘wanted’ poster he’d lifted from the ‘Butcher’. Sterling had put a price on his and the head of three others. The CEO had used a picture he’d taken of the hitter when he was in Phan’s prison. He’d already started carrying three days worth of beard just to hide his youth, and his rapidly lengthening hair would figure in to also confuse his features with those on the poster. Out of curiosity he called the telephone number. The automated voice told him to leave a name and number. He gave an alias and the number of the diner he’d been in the day before.

He was enjoying the home cooked breakfast the next day when two dark haired men sat in the booth next to his. Half listening for the waitress to call his name, the conversation in the next booth caught his attention. Nathan Ford, IYS investigator was arguing with his older colleague, Mike Riley, over the case of a missing coin collection.

Eliot knew both men by reputation, though neither had ever chased him. He’d never seen them in person and, and information was always a good thing. He continued sipping coffee and reading his paper as he learned what he could from the conversation. The mirrored tiles on the wall between the counter and the kitchen allowed Eliot to study the men.

When his call came, he felt he was beginning to understand the two insurance cops. He turned his attention back to his call. He didn’t recognize the voice as any of the men he’d heard in Phan’s office so Eliot made an appointment to meet for details.

A well dressed blond man introduced himself as Darrell Long, Dr. James Sterling’s personal assistant. ‘Simba’ stirred as he recognized hyena. Black eyes studied Eliot intently as he encouraged his lion to lay low. Long seemed to shake himself as he explained that ‘Pretty Blue Eyes’ had information that was extremely important to Dr. Sterling and it was imperative the man be captured alive.

“If I capture this man …” Eliot practically purred, “What do you want me to do with him?”

Long leaned toward Eliot as his low growl vibrated in his bones. Visibly pulling back from the retrieval specialist, Long forced himself back to business as he pulled a red card from his inside breast pocket.

“Call me.” He handed over the card. “This has my personal numbers.” He leaned toward Eliot again. “Even if you’re just passing through.”

He’d embarked on a six month affair with the hyena hybrid, carefully pumping him for information about Sterling and his operation. Long was careful to only talk about the public face of GenMetrics for the first month hinting that he knew secrets trying to titillate Eliot’s dangerous side. Eliot rewarded these tidbits by giving in to his dark side, metering out his hatred for Sterling on Long, his enhanced senses telling him when he’d taken him to the edge between pleasure and true torture. Though not intentional, Eliot trained the man to be submissive to him.

By the second month, Darrell Long was bragging how special he was to Sterling because the man had chosen him to participate in his experiments. The better the information, the more Eliot gave into his feral nature. The lion’s pleased rumble vibrated through his mind as the hyena bared both throat and belly to Eliot.

At the end of the six months, he had an incredible dossier on Sterling’s experiments, thanks to Long. The last time he walked out the door of Long’s apartment he WAS Eliot Spencer, Retrieval Specialist. Eliot Wheeler was truly dead, and no one mourned.

~}}}~~~>

By the time he was thirty, he’d been captured and escaped from most of the prisons in Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe. The countries of the former Soviet Union were a great place for a retrieval specialist to work. The treasures of the countries changed hands like the seasons, fattening Eliot’s accounts and keeping Roget’s research lab at the cutting edge of technology.

A compound slowly grew around The Bayou House as many of the people they helped chose to stay and make a home. If property came up for sale around the bayou, it was purchased by one of Eliot’s companies, hiding the true owners behind many layers of paper and red tape.

Going over the accounts with Manon and Isaac, if struck Eliot that with all the skill sets Sterling’s victims had brought to Bayou House, his grandparents home had once again become a self-sufficient bayou plantation.

When Eliot was thirty-two, the bounty on ‘Pretty Blue Eyes’ had been inflated to $250,000. The retrieval specialist had hunted Sterling until only one elicit lab remained. Every victim of Sterling’s experiments that pleaded with Eliot to end their suffering, every new grave in the family cemetery at Bayou House was a wound on the retrieval specialist’s soul.

GenMetrics fortunes fell on hard times as some of Sterling’s research that had originated with his hybrid experiments had crashed and burned when trials had been conducted by GenMetrics legitimate scientists for use in the public sector. The senior Sterling had become fed up with his son’s antics and business practices so had removed him as GenMetrics CEO, and fired him from the company. This move seemed to push James to the edge of his mental stability.

Only those who’d been with James Sterling from the beginning, and were true disciples of his scientific methods stayed with him at the one remaining lab outside Los Angeles.

When his private fortune began to wane, Sterling began selling hope to the hopeless. Many desperate people with desperate health situations were looking for anyone who promised them a cure. Rumors of an insurance cop whose son was dying of cancer had Eliot on a plane to Los Angeles. He ghosted through the hospitals that specialized in pediatric oncology taking advantage of careless staff that left open patient databases looking for a name that might stir a memory. His patience paid off at the last hospital. Ford, Samuel J., Stage 4, Room 482. The retrievalist shed the lab coat and headed to pediatrics. Standing just out of sight of the occupants of the room, Eliot watched and listened when he saw Nathan Ford, and who he assumed was his wife and son’s doctor.

The pretty blonde woman walked over to the bed and took the little boy’s hand while Nate and the doctor walked out of the room.

“Mr. Ford … Nathan …” the doctor started, “There is one more thing we can try that is highly experimental and could very well not be approved by your insurance company.”

“Doc …” Ford started. “Maggie and I have given you everything … House, car, savings, pensions … There’s nothing left to give.” His voice quivered with desperation.

Looking up and down the hall the doctor pulled the investigator into a private room. He pulled a paper out of his clipboard and handed it to Nathan.

“Find this man and we will provide your son with our experimental treatment, and $250,000.”

Nate looked at the paper then at the doctor.

“Can it cure Sam?” Ford asked quietly.

“There’s a strong possibility. It’s helped many others.” The doctor prodded. “This man was one of our first success stories.”

“He’s still alive?”

“As far as we know … There’s been periodic sightings, but we’ve never been able to get him to come in for further testing.”

Eliot listened to the silence in the room while Nathan Ford made his decision.

“For Sam.” He said quietly. “I’ll do it for my son.”

Eliot called Manon from the hospital parking lot. “Not coming home for a while, Darlin’. Sterling put Nathan Ford on my trail. Might be time to end this permanently.”

Manon argued with the younger man for several minutes before she gave in and set herself to worry. With a disdainful sniff she headed for the office. One of her former foster children knew about computers and such. She’d call him. Alec had never met a computer he couldn’t sweet talk, which caused no end to trouble, but now it might prove useful.

While Eliot waited in his truck, a plan started to form. It was risky with a good possibility his death would be his only exit strategy, but if it meant putting an end to twelve years of Sterling torturing and killing people with his experiments then Eliot was willing. He knew Nathan Ford’s reputation. Though he’d often run a con game of his own to recover IYS insured property, he was basically an honest man.

Eliot ghosted Nathan for several days coming up with a plan he wanted to present to the investigator. The retrieval specialist’s hopes were dashed when Ford put in a call to Alec Hardison.

You want something tracked electronically … Alec Hardison was your man. Alec was one of Manon foster kids so he wouldn’t break a sweat finding Eliot. Going for the preemptive strike, Eliot let himself into Nathan Ford’s office to wait. An hour later the knob rattled and a pale drawn man slumped through the door. Seeing a stranger in his office, Nate reached for his gun only to find his sleeves pinned to the wall by silver throwing knives.

Eliot pulled the pistol out of his belt holster, dumped the magazine from the gun, pulled loose his knives and tossed Nate gently into his desk chair.

“Can I help you Mister …? Nathan tried to sound unconcerned.

“I believe we can help each other.” Eliot’s voice was low and quiet.

“How could you possibly help me?” The investigator sounded defeated.

“I already know IYS won’t approve Sam’s new treatment.”

“No one can know that!” Nate’s face was pale with anger.

“We both know a geek who can know that.” Eliot insisted. The distraction of figuring out who the long haired man was talking about seemed to defuse his bout of temper. “Nate. Have you ever heard of Dr. James Sterling formerly of GenMetrics?”

“Most people have.” He replied.

“I know what his experimental procedures are, and that they could kill you son faster than his cancer.”

“You can’t possibly know that! The doctor said it was perfectly safe.” Ford was furious that this man was trying to steal his hope.

Eliot narrowed his eyes, staring hard at the man. He was not one to trust easily. In his line of work betrayal was practically standard operating procedure, but for his plan to work he had to tell Ford the truth. He hoped the man would rather let his child die human than live with the effects of becoming one of Sterling’s hybrids.

Nathan Ford’s brain might be a little sluggish from exhaustion and worry, but he soon put all the pieces together.

“Eliot Spencer? You’re ‘Pretty Blue Eyes’?”

Eliot rolled his eyes. “Sterling thought it was cute when I wouldn’t tell them my name.” Eliot blushed but refused to drop his eyes. “He was going to keep me for a pet.”

“Your blood could save my son.” He stated flatly.

“No. My blood would condemn your son as surely as his cancer. You’d never be free of Sterling and his ilk. They’ll stand around like vultures conducting experiments on your boy until his body accepts or rejects the animal DNA. Either way he’ll continue to be a guinea pig until there is not a single cell left for you and your wife to bury. If you try to refuse their continued experiments they’ll blackmail you with the fact that your kid’s a freak and what would happen if it became public?”

Nate stared hard at the young man whose voice was so bitter. “If what you’re saying’s true … Why are you here?”

“I think we can help each other.” He took a minute to steady his nerves. The thought of being back in Sterling’s clutches was unsettling even for a retrieval specialist of the first water. “Ever since Sterling changed me I’ve worked to shut him down. It’s taken me twelve years but he’s down to his last lab. The lab’s too small for me to infiltrate so I want you to turn me over to Sterling, collect your $250K and don’t look back.”

“What happens then?” Nate was curious in spite of himself.

“I put Sterling out of business permanently.” Eliot growled.

“But …” Ford started.

“You’ll have the money you need for your son’s treatment, nothing else should matter.” Eliot stated flatly as he started for the door.

“Wait!” Eliot paused, his hand on the knob. “How’re we doing this?” Nate asked.

“Sterling gave you a way to contact him?” Ford nodded.

“I’ll call you in the morning with an address. Call Sterling and give it to him.” Eliot didn’t wait to see if Ford agreed, just kept moving out the door. He needed to call Alec.

~}}}~~~>

James Sterling’s expression was the picture of satisfaction as he watched his men put shackles on the tranquilized man. After twelve years he finally regained his first success. He sat on the van floor cradling the precious head in his lap, fingers running through the long brown hair.

When Eliot regained consciousness they were still moving. In twelve years he’d never forgotten the scent of James Sterling. It was all he could do to suppress a shiver as he felt the man’s fingers in his hair. He kept still, evaluating the situation and deciphering the information his senses were sending him.

About the time Eliot had reached the end of his patience with Sterling’s petting, the van came to a stop. Keeping his breathing and heart rate even, he waited, though the lion in the back of his mind wanted to go for the kill.

He was unceremoniously hauled onto a gurney. They stopped long enough for Sterling to draw a dozen vials of blood before removing his shackles and throwing him into a room. When he was sure they were gone, he opened his eyes.

The first thing Eliot saw was a pair of midnight blue eyes framed by blonde hair staring back.

“Knew you weren’t asleep.” She said bluntly.

Eliot put a finger to his lips to quiet her. “Are they listening?” He whispered below the level where a mere human could hear.

Her eyes widened in surprise, but she nodded in the affirmative.

“What’d they splice you with?” His question sounded like a subvocal growl to the microphones around the room.

“Tiger.” She frowned then smiled. “White tiger. I’m special.” Her voice was just as low, but gleeful.

Eliot rolled his eyes as he slowly moved to sit up, allowing his body to adjust.

“How long ago?”

“Three days.”

“Effects.”

“My senses … Weird … Kinda cool. My body feels funny … Like it’s not mine anymore.”

Eliot was about to answer her when they heard the footsteps coming toward their cell. The retrievalist moved between the door and the girl.

“I can take care of myself.” She hissed low in his ear.

“That why you ended up here, Sweetheart?” He snarked.

“Name’s Parker … Not Sweetheart.”

“You’re PARKER?”

His voice rose a little, but before the conversation could go any further, the door swung open revealing Sterling with two tree stumps that carried themselves like Army Rangers.

“Ah I see you two are getting acquainted. That’s good. I want you acquainted enough that you’ll give me wonderful little hybrids that can be raised and trained better than their parents.” His eyes were full of a deranged lust as he looked at the couple. “After you make whelps with this little lady I have just the spot for you my ‘Pretty Blue Eyes’.”

Eliot forced himself to stand still as Sterling ran a clammy hand down his chest.

“We’re going to have a long and most satisfying relationship. I can’t see myself tiring of your charms anytime soon.” The same clammy hand patted his cheek before turning for the door.

“By the by, Blue Eyes … Your blood tests are absolutely perfect. Not an anomaly in sight. If the little missy here does as well …” His dark eyes took on a haze of insanity again, “I will be vindicated and you will give me the most beautiful liger hybrid cubs in the world.”

Parker gasped as Eliot remained passive watching the dreamy infatuation cross the scientist’s face as he practically floated out the door.

“Is he injured in the head?” Parker hissed.

“A lot more than I thought.” Eliot answered absently.

Sterling was busy making his plans while Eliot was setting his in motion.

Parker hated working with anyone, but after listening to Eliot’s plan she decided it might be okay just this once. Her body, which had never failed her in the past, felt hot and weak, barely under her control. Eliot took one look at her, wrapped her in the blanket and pulled her against his body. Scared and not sure what was happening, Parker began to fight.

“PARKER! STOP!” Eliot dropped his voice to a more soothing tone. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just trying to warm you up. Your body’s fighting the strange DNA in your system.”

Wide terrified eyes looked into his. “You don’t want …” She trailed off suddenly shy.

“Not under these circumstances, Darlin’, but anywhere else I’d be more than happy to oblige.” He kept up the soothing grumble.

“Aren’t you afraid we’ll make a baby, and Sterling will take you away?” Her voice was small against his chest.

“We can’t make a baby, Parker. A doctor friend of mine took care of that after I was changed. Didn’t want to take the chance Sterling would try something like this if he ever caught me.” He whispered in her ear.

Her eyes brightened and her smile was like the sun. “You mean we could have all the sex we want?” She asked happily.

“As long as it’s not on camera.” Eliot grinned.

Parker thought for a minute. “Oh. On account of you’re shy?” She giggled.

Eliot wanted to thump his head on the wall. The girl was insane before. It’s hard to tell what mixing nuts and tiger would get you.

For five days he bided his time. He didn’t fight them when they did their tests, no matter how he was violated, never said a word to any of the scientists, refused to rise to Sterling’s baiting. He studied the number of guards and the number of victims. He quickly came to the conclusion that Sterling was running a skeleton crew. He and Parker are the only ‘victims’, and there is only a dozen mercenaries for security.

On the sixth day there’s tingling from his left earring. He smirked as his guards lead him back to the cell where a feverish Parker waited. When the door opened two things happened … In the first blink the camera showed clear hallways and Eliot in the cell with Parker. In the second blink the two guards were unconscious their keys, weapons, and security cards in Eliot’s pockets as he pulled Parker to her feet.

“Time to go, girl.” He growls.

Through the fever her senses told her this man is safety and home so she latches onto his belt and lets him take charge.

Security went down hard. ‘Simba’ roared his approval in the hitter’s mind. Eliot was quick and dirty not wasting time on niceties. When they go down, it’s permanent. Scientists scramble and flee, not used to their guinea pigs fighting back. Finally there was only Sterling, Eliot and Parker.

He stashed Parker in a niche not far from Sterling’s office admonishing her to stay. She responded to Eliot’s alpha tone with a look of confusion and a nod before exhaustion from her fever sent her into a light doze. He stalked further down the hall. A quick glance in the office window showed an unconcerned Dr. James Sterling studying his latest test results. He never looked up until a shadow fell across his desk.

“I told you I didn’t want to be disturbed.” Sterling hissed before looking up.

As he looked at the magnificence that was his ‘Pretty Blue Eyes’  In full feral … Lion on the hunt mode. It made James Sterling close to orgasmic. Then he realized all that feral fury was focused solely on him. He didn’t know whether to run or drop to his knees and beg his most perfect creation to fuck him stupid.

A blur and the coolness of steel at his throat both excited and terrified him. He tried to call on his charm and charisma to defuse the situation, but it was as if the younger man could read his thoughts, the knife dug into his skin. Eliot felt another tingle through his earring letting him know that his plan was complete.

A certainty that he was going to die was realized at the same time he felt a trickle of warmth run down his neck when the knife went from being a threat … To a certainty.

“Please.” He whispered pleadingly.

The blade paused as the warm stream continued down his white shirt.

“Make it quick. I’m on a time table.” Eliot growled.

Knowing he was only getting a brief chance, Sterling didn’t waste it.

“Tell me who you are … Tell me your name.”

Blue/grey eyes narrowed as he searched Sterling’s face intently.

“Eliot Spencer is what you made me when you killed Eliot Wheeler.” He state flatly.

James Sterling experienced his perfect death with his body in orgasm when the sharp edge of Eliot’s knife slid through veins and arteries. It was probably overkill, but Eliot wanted to be sure the bastard was dead. He sneered as he wiped his knife on Sterling’s shirt before grabbing all the hard drives and laptop, slinging them into Sterling’s briefcase and heading for Parker.

Hardison was waiting outside with a van as Eliot came out of the building with a briefcase in one hand and an unconscious blonde slung over his shoulder. He handed the retrieval specialist a detonator, and when the van was out of the blast range, Eliot pushed the button.

A satisfied roar sounded in his head as fire and debris shot skyward.

~}}}~~~>

Six months later, Charles and Eliot watched Parker sun herself on the Bayou House patio while discussing some of the information from Sterling’s research. Roget had watched over the thief as her body fought its way back from Sterling’s genetic manipulation.

Hardison worked three months on deciphering the encrypted information from the hard drives before he returned to Chicago, but something about Eliot’s little enclave kept drawing him back. He thought Eliot and Parker were little sweet on him, but he kept those thoughts to himself because Eliot got wary when anyone tried to get close to him emotionally.

Eliot disappeared for three days once when Parker asked him if all the people living in his bayou were his pride.

Parker stayed until she felt better. Eliot taught her how to control her enhanced senses and she got used to the new ways her body worked. Then she stayed because Eliot never talked down to her and always meant what he said. Then she stayed because he taught her how to fight. Then she stayed because Eliot gave her a suite of rooms and told her she’s welcome to come and go as she pleased.

She goes, but she always comes back.

Theirs was a strange relationship. Eliot was attracted to the younger pair, but kept his distance by disappearing on jobs. He didn’t want to upset Manon and Isaac by taking advantage of Hardison’s youth and Parker’s warped sense of reality.

Parker had ensconced herself and Hardison in Eliot’s king size bed … The hacker complaining loudly about all the ways Eliot was going to kill him.

Eliot quietly approached the door to the master suite, his face still red from the lecture Manon had given him about the two bickering in his bed. Bussing the retrieval specialist on the cheek she sent him upstairs with her and Isaac’s blessing.

Two pair of eyes widened with surprise when Eliot appeared at the end of the bed.

“Nana says it’s okay.” Parker blurted out bluntly.

“She did!?” Alec’s voice is practically a squeak. “I mean … She did.” His expression was earnest when he looked from Parker to Eliot.

Eliot just gave them a smirk, but his eyes danced with affection as he stalked growling toward the bed.

They usually arranged to meet at The Bayou House. Parker still sat and stared at Manon, trying to figure out why Manon’s not Eliot’s Nana, and still giddy that Alec shared his Nana with her.

Sometimes they meet at Hardison’s Chicago loft, where Alec has learned that anything valuable needed to be secured because a lion and tiger in the same space often leads to broken furniture and crockery, and an occasionally bruised, mauled, and mangled Alec Hardison … Not that he’s complaining.

The grapevine told Eliot that Samuel J. Ford was seven when he died from cancer. Nathan Ford was out of the game, having lost his wife and career. A steady supply of Jameson’s was the only thing he caught these days.

Eliot had just collected his fee for a job in Italy when an email from Victor Dubenich bought him back to the States.

He hadn’t seen Parker or Hardison since he left so he was genuinely surprised and pleased to see them when Nathan Ford opened the door to his hotel room, and invited him in to steal an airplane.

~ Fini ~

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