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The Bear Job

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Hardison typed as Parker dictated in careful monotone "Eliot was up a mountain and-"

Sophie shook her head. "You can't start like that, Parker. You've got to engage your audience, describe your protagonist."

"Eliot was up a mountain being short with funny hair. Eliot. Not the mountain."

Hardison paused with his fingers over the keys. "I'm thinking that may not be relevant to our narrative ... unless it's some kind of parasitic entity controlling whatever he calls his brain? The hair. Not the mountain."

"A parasitic entity probably wouldn't be my first assumption," said Sophie after a moment's consideration.

"Eliot is a Retrieval Specialist with funny hair and he was up a mountain. He-"

Sophie interrupted again. "How about Eliot the cook was up a mountain? That might be more compelling. Romantic, even."

Parker laughed loud and sudden. Hardison clamped a hand lightly over her mouth and gave his most apologetic and harmless smile to the nurse who poked her head in the door.

Nurse Ratched frowned a clear warning and then withdrew.

Parker slipped away from his hold and walked around the back of his chair. He tried not to cringe but she only leaned on the back and said, "That's silly, why would a cook be up a mountain?"

"Well, why was a Retrieval Specialist up a mountain?" asked Sophie, frowning at the critique. "Did someone really, really need a red wood?"

Hardison returned his fingers to the keyboard. "It's in media res, we're covered. Okay, so Eliot the cook-"

"Retrieval Specialist-"

He began to type. "So, Eliot the Retrieval Specialist was up a mountain, without telling anyone where he was going or what he was doing and probably not even asking what he was doing because that would be sane."

Eliot crouched and drank from his water bottle while he waited for his breath to even out. He was getting soft, he mocked, barely five miles and he was already tired. Eliot snorted when he realised he was making fun of himself in Hardison's absence. And in Hardison's voice. Well that was a little disturbing.

But in his defence, he was carrying half his body weight in cocaine.

Drugs. He hated when it was drugs. He'd always hated when it was drugs. That was why he hadn't told the crew he was moonlighting; it was ... not exactly embarrassing, but something close enough to it to keep him quiet.

The job had gone smooth enough, in and out clean and he was two miles down the mountain before he'd heard activity through the transmitter he'd left behind. The transmitter had gone dark after fifteen minutes, but not before it had told him the areas to steer clear of while they searched for him.

Staying off the road was easy: there wasn't one. Part of the appeal of the mountain hideaway for its very rich and very, very criminal owners was the complete inaccessibility except by air or foot.

So the last hour had been half ground search, half cat and mouse. And he'd gotten pretty turned around after avoiding the third group. There was only so lost he could get as long as he was still going downhill, right?

He slid the bottle of water back into its pocket and then paused. Something was wrong, but he couldn't place what. He started to stand, and realised the birds had stopped singing right about the same time as he heard voices.

Sophie shuffled her plastic chair closer and then leaned forward. "Okay. Then what?"

Parker draped herself over Hardison's shoulder - flexible in ways he really didn't want to think about right now - and said, "He was eaten by wolves."

"He wasn't eaten by wolves," said Hardison flatly.

Parker batted Hardison's hand down towards the keyboard. "He should have been. Write it down."

"Hey! Back. Back right up. Do not be crowding the composer."

"You're not composing, you're typing."

"Don't be crowding the secretary then, there's laws against that. I'm protected."

Hardison shrugged Parker off; she went back to her seat on the very edge of the bed.

Sophie completely ignored them; she read through the paragraph and then pursed her lips. "The dramatic build lacks something."

Parker rolled her eyes. "Fine. He was picking flowers. And singing."

"That ... doesn't sound entirely like Eliot might act in this sort of scene," Sophie finally replied, as diplomatically as she could.

"Jumped the shark like it was starring Ted McGinley," Hardison agreed, less diplomatically.

Parker pointed a finger at the laptop. "Flowers and singing. Put it in."

Hardison obeyed. "Any lonely goatherds appear and you're on your own 'cause that's a whole other thing."

"He was picking flowers and singing and definitely wasn't eaten by wolves or lonely goatherds. It was light and then it got dark and he got lost and still wasn't eaten, but some beavers stared at him and looked really hungry," Parker dictated again and then smiled. "Dramatic tension. Should I describe the beavers?"

Sophie looked across to Parker. "No, that's fine. That's good. Now we need the big action scene."

Parker glanced at the occupant of the hospital bed and then looked back, making sure she spoke loud enough to be heard clearly over the sound of the heart monitor. "And then there was a bear. It growled and wanted to eat Eliot's flowers."

"Motivation for the villain, I like it." Hardison grinned. "But why did it want the flowers?"

Sophie shrugged and looked at the small but elegant bouquet set on the sill. "Who wouldn't want flowers?"

Eliot didn't have a visual but from the voices he thought there were three men. Or there could be six and maybe three of them just weren't talkers. He knew a guy who could hear how many moths were circling a light, but Eliot never had gotten around to asking how.

He shrugged off the backpack and stowed it down at the bottom of a trunk, hastily covering it with fallen leaves and bits of bark. Not great but it was a little better than just leaving it in the open. A little. He lowered himself as quietly as he could, the undergrowth would hide him well enough in the dark unless their flashlights shone directly on him.

Or unless they had halogen lights, he amended as they came close enough and night decided to be day.

The clearing broke into whites and blues and he could see them clearly as they broke through the trees. They would see him in seconds; he decided not to wait that long.

The knife slid out of its sheath as he drew himself back into a crouch and from there into a fast sprint. Eyes widened in alarm and hands scrabbled for guns but he was already amongst them.

The first man went backwards as the blade arced through the air and sliced through skin and jugular, leaving a line of red behind it. Fingers flexed desperately at the throat but the blood was already beginning to spray, hot in the air and against Eliot's skin.

He grinned, partly because that seemed to unnerve people, mostly because he hated drugs but he hated dealers more. One down ... four to go.

It was two down, three to go before the first shot punched the air by his head.

"Eliot wouldn't give the bear his flowers so it bit him. And he bit it back. And pulled its hair," Parker said and absently tweaked the sheets under her hand. They felt scratchy and she didn't like them.

Sophie raised an eyebrow doubtfully. "Eliot's a hair puller?"

"Bears have a lot of hair," Hardison pointed out. "Could be tactical."

Parker nodded and went on. "And then he hit it on the nose."

After another diplomatic pause Sophie said, "I think that's a dog, isn't it?"

"No, it's a bear – I said it was a bear. The bear punched Eliot and made him cry."

"That doesn't really seem like Eliot either."

Hardison stopped hunching over the laptop and stretched. "A bear pushed me once, I cried like a girl. I was five, it was Disneyland and you know what this is? This is nothing to do with the story."

Sophie and Parker stared at him with identically bemused expressions, which was a little freaky. "Flashback!" he yelped in self-defence.

"What?" asked Sophie.

"We need a flashback of how fighting the bear makes Eliot remember something. It's a classic."

"I'm not sure that Nate is going to need to know about flashbacks Eliot may or may not have had while he was fighting a bear," said Sophie. She shifted in her seat for the few seconds proprietary demanded and then said, "What would it possibly make him remember, anyway? You've read his file, haven't you?" The gleam in her eyes sharpened with curiosity.

"To tell people where he's going," said Parker. "He could have flashed back to not telling us."

Hardison nodded. Saved by the bell and way too grateful to mention flashbacks were usually for things that had actually happened.

Sophie nodded, enthused now. "Okay, so Sophie the – maybe we shouldn't use our own names?"

"We don't use our own names," Parker pointed out in a slow and reasonable tone for the crazy person.

It was probably just as well Sophie was too far-gone to notice. "Yes. Good point. Two days earlier, Marianne – the talented and beautiful actress with long dark hair whom everyone loved - had said to Eliot he was free to tell her anything, any time. As he thought back, Eliot wished he had taken her up on her kind offer."

Hardison wasn't sure exactly which pile of bad and wrong to start with, he settled with the one causing the most disbelief. "Seriously, you said that?"

Sophie flushed slightly. "Well, you know. In so many words. I certainly gave him the impression. Probably. Well, you'd talk to me, wouldn't you?"

Hardison's fingers typed grimly on.

Parker spoke into the pause, "And Susan the ... talented and beautiful and very thin thief with long blonde hair - who everyone secretly loved way more than Marianne - had told Eliot he looked nice in his shirt."

Both women looked over expectantly and Hardison managed, "And Gary the talented and-" before his brain made a spirited attempted to die with honor. He shook his head. "I can't do it. I have integrity, man."

The fourth man fell back clutching at a broken windpipe, red-flecked foam already spilling onto his lips.

Eliot remembered the last time he'd killed a guy that way: two years back in Afghanistan. It wasn't much of a memory, but it helped distract him from the fact there was no way in hell he was going to reach the last man before the man got his shot off.

He threw the knife as the impact of the bullet spun him around and sent him down to the ground. The bright lights faded into darkness at the edges and he could feel the pull taking him down and leading him out.

Never was one to be led. He blinked twice and the world came back into bright focus.

The knife had hit its mark - there'd been a yell of pain around about the same time he'd yelled himself – but he stayed down and still. Leaves rustled as the man limped closer; moving in for the kill Eliot hoped, or he was just lying there waiting for a hole in the head.

The footsteps sounded close enough, he kicked out hard.

"The bear opened its mouth wide enough to eat Eliot's head and Eliot killed it and then fell off. And then the talented and beautiful Mary, Susan and Gary, and Nate, found him unconscious in a phone booth at the bottom of the mountain. The end." Parker grinned and held her fist up.

"Art, baby. Art." Hardison reached over and bumped it with his own.

Sophie just looked pensive. "Fell off the bear?" she asked.

"The mountain," Parker replied, still beaming.

"... that would explain the bruising." Sophie nodded. "How did he kill it, you have to give more detail than that."

Hardison canted his head, "Why? It's what he does." He saved the file.

Eliot swallowed twice to try and let a dry throat know it was expected to work now and whispered, "You know I can hear you, right?"

It felt like it was instant, but he was pretty sure that was the drugs and Hardison, Sophie and Parker hadn't actually appeared like magic. Good drugs, though. Great drugs.

Sophie smiled down at him. "We were trying to work out what to tell Nate when he gets back, Hardison wasn't able to get much about the job and you haven't been very ... talkative. Nate was quite insistent, but I think he'd prefer your version."

Eliot smirked. "... I like yours better."

"I'm guessing I'll like theirs better too." Nate's voice from the doorway was quiet and closer to resigned than pissed, which suited Eliot fine. Nathan crossed over to the last empty chair and dropped into it; he looked liked he'd seen no sleep and a couple miles of bad road.

Eliot wondered what had happened, but it didn't seem like the time to ask. Nate raised a hand to Hardison.

Hardison cleared his throat and began to read, "Eliot the Retrieval Specialist was up a mountain..."