Chloe was waiting on the road. She stood with a handful of mercenaries who had turned on their boss that night, Ilija included. They were standing outside two separate jeeps. Nate determined to be cautious regarding their new “friends”, however, Flynn seemed to have the opposite regard for them.
Approaching with a broad smile and wide arms, he mockingly bowed to the awaiting soldiers.
“Gentlemen, I thank and congratulate you on a job well done.”
Once again, Nate marveled at his ability to conceal his pain from getting tortured by Navarro's soldiers. How was he hiding his emotions so well?
“Do not be certain. The new boss runs, but who were the invaders?” one of the soldier's questioned suspiciously.
Distracted from speculating about Flynn, he glanced at the soldier. “And you are?”
The soldier-of-fortune stepped forward. “Josif. Pleasure to truly make your acquaintance, Mr. Drake.”
He didn't know what to say. His inquiry was intended to be a bit redundant, speaking sarcastically as to make it clear. A literal answer was unexpected and odd. Where did this sudden politeness come from?
The mercenary named Ilija approached Flynn carefully. “Time to go. Finish this.”
“Right. Get us to the next town with a line to the outside and you can be on your merry way with your buddies.”
He made a sound along with giving a curt nod. “Take the second vehicle.”
Elena moved closer to the man and gave him a smile. “You found a way, Ilija. Thank you.”
They watched the mercenaries get into the jeep at the front. He caught Elena looking at him and when he met her gaze, she held it for a moment. After she looked away and started over to their commandeered car, him and Sully exchanged glances briefly before moving to get into the jeep too. Her resistance to what happened was only matched by her persistence to keep moving forward. Elena was a thing of beauty.
Chloe got behind the wheel, professional driving being her forte, while Flynn took the seat next to her. The rest of them climbed into the back. The jeep started up and their vehicle began following the other one ahead of them on the road. One hand on the wheel, Chloe breathed a sigh of relief and leaned against the headrest of her seat.
“Finally. We're getting out of here.”
He was pretty sure everyone in the jeep shared that sentiment. Nate spent the next few minutes staring out his window as they drew away from camp and passed through what seemed like an endless amount of trees and vacant spaces. A warm hand came to rest on his knee and he turned to find Elena smiling softly at him.
Nate sought to read her. She looked exhausted but relaxed. Her face appeared to reflect comfort, and dare he say it? She also appeared thankful toward him. Eyes fluttering tiredly a few times, she shifted against his side and laid her head on his shoulder. He lifted his arm so she could rest more comfortably on him and let it fall gently over her back. Realizing he was feeling tired himself, he shut his eyes and tried to shut off his brain.
* * * * *
Blinking, he opened his eyes. He realized they were no longer moving and figured when the jeep came to a stop it woke him. They must have been traveling a good few hours. The early signs of dawn breaking could be seen on the distant horizon. Glancing away from the window, he lifted his shoulder to nudge Elena's sleeping head a little. She made a soft noise, resisting opening her eyes.
Nate smiled and let her take her time as she rested her head back on the seat sleepily. Sully was saying something trivial to Chloe so he didn't bother listening to what was said. He started taking in his surroundings outside of the jeep when the front passenger doors opened as Chloe and Flynn got out. Curious to see what he could see, he opened his door and got out too.
Their vehicles were parked along the side of a paved road, trees all around. Maybe a mile down the road he could see the tops of buildings, mostly darkened because of the early hour. The mercenaries must not want to enter the small town that lay ahead. This was where they would part ways.
The five defectors were standing about in the middle of the road. Two of them were smoking, rifles slung loosely over their shoulders. The remaining three conversed in lowered voices, murmuring back and forth. He didn't understand a word of what was spoken, but they had their hands on their guns.
Names... Names. Did he remember any names? Ilija. Rado-eh? So memory wasn't always his strong suit.
Chloe took a couple steps away from the car, toward the soldiers. “Are we taking a break or something, gentlemen? Mind cluing us in to what's going on?”
One of the mercenaries tossed his cigarette and looked at her. “There are men following us. We wait for them.”
She appeared a tad piqued by this. “Um... Why are we waiting here then?”
“We don't run away from danger,” the soldier responded frankly, adding, “Unless we are getting paid to.”
That seemed to irritate her, and it showed in her voice. “And who are you to make that call?”
“I am Josif.”
It was quite possible he misunderstood her. Nathan stepped in for Chloe to try and better get her point across. Maybe. It's not like he really knew anything about these guys. People have also informed him he doesn't usually have such a smooth way with his words.
“I think what the lady is trying to ask, is what exactly are we going to do when these men catch up with us?”
Sully came around the vehicle to stand next to him. “What is this madness I'm hearing? Letting our pursuers catch up? For the love of God, why? We just got away from Navarro.”
Ilija was in disagreement. “We do not believe it is Navarro.”
Nate stared incredulously at the guy. “So?”
“So we wait and see.”
He sighed, exasperated. “Wait and see. Great. Sounds like a fantastic plan.”
Flynn went to stand between the two vehicles while Elena emerged from the jeep. She was looking pretty tired, but she also looked prepared for whatever she was going to deal with next. Yup, loved this woman. Did she get that?
“Well great,” Flynn piped up. “You gents can do as you wish. I, on the other hand, will be using this opportunity to make a quick exit.”
Chloe spun about to face him, eagerness showing on her face. “Sounds like a good idea. Mind if I tag along until we find a feasible method of transport out of this country? Like a plane, or a bus. Not a train. Definitely think I've had enough of trains for a while.”
“Course you can, darling. Let's be on our way.”
The two of them started on foot down the road toward town.
“Whoa, whoa,” he interceded. “Now you two are running off?”
Elena stepped up to stand with him. “Guys, don't you think this is the exact worst time to be splitting up? We need to stay together. Navarro is still out there, and those soldiers say people are following us. Why would they be doing that? It can't be good.”
“So... Are we really gonna wait around for these people to catch up?” Sullivan queried. “Seems like a bad plan when we have more than a few enemies far as I know. I'm with Elena. This can only be bad.”
Nathan should respond to his friends' concerns, but in this moment he was feeling pretty annoyed with a former friend. And his former girlfriend or whatever Chloe had been to him was simply leaving too, with the guy who continuously flip-flopped on whose side he was helping. What the hell? This was crap.
“What's the problem, Nate?” Chloe demanded, irritation leaking into her voice. “You made your choice. Remember?”
He frowned. Was she still angry with him over his desire to keep Elena safe in a dangerous war zone? It might not have been that long ago, but it was for an important reason. A lot happened since. Why couldn't women ever let things go? Nate internally sighed, choosing his words selectively.
“Okay, forgetting about all that, because I did what I had to do and don't hold that against me forever. But... Navarro's out there and he might not let this go. Seems like the type who would hold a grudge for something like burning down his camp.”
“I don't need you to worry about me, Nate. It's not your job. I'm not your responsibility.”
He didn't like what he was hearing but it was hard to argue her reasoning for wanting to be left alone, to make her own choices. Going solo was never his favorite option, yet he understood the need for it at times. She was going with Flynn though. What was it about him that let her keep going back to him?
Should he be letting someone like Flynn just run off? He thought he'd be glad to see him gone and out of his life. Instead he only felt annoyance and anger.
“What about you, Flynn? You said you needed me back there, so what the hell?”
Until that moment, Harry had mostly been ignoring everyone. Now that Nathan called attention to him his expression soured. He turned his back on him and started walking away again. It triggered him all right.
Nate took long strides to reach the man and latched a hand onto his shoulder. Before he could force him to turn, Flynn twisted around and shoved his arm away, a very real anger evident.
“Don't touch me.”
He backed off and put his hands up to show he wasn't putting them anywhere. “Don't disappear on us right now, alright?”
Flynn chuckled humorlessly. “Why would you want me here, Nate? Who are you kidding? You think we'll somehow form an unbeatable team to take on the world and come out winning?”
“I want us to not end up dead.”
His expression darkened further. “Then I'd definitely ought to stay far away from Nathan Drake.”
“Flynn, I'm trying to watch out for you! Navarro's not going to hurt you again as long as you don't do anything stupid and we stay together to get far away from here.”
“I don't need your help anymore. I needed you back there, and you let me get raped.”
Whoa. That was..whoa. Flynn was blaming him for what the soldier did? Blamed for what Navarro made happen? Not going to happen. No way was he letting this one go.
“Don't you turn this around on me!” he yelled. “You know if I could have done anything I would have done it.”
The other man had the decency to look ashamed. He murmured something low under his breath.
Thinking it was surely an insult, he immediately snapped, “What did you say?”
He repeated his words and it wasn't what Nate expected to hear.
Remorse clear as day all over his face. Nathan was surprised quiet. An apology from Flynn when he wasn't dying. Out of character or genuine character finally emerging? He found him contemplating the man that was Harry Flynn. Must have been for a longer moment than he thought because Elena's voice grabbed him from it. He saw everyone staring. Except for the mercenaries. The Serbian hired guns looked like they couldn't care any less about what the foreigners were discussing.
“Did you hear me?” said Elena, gesturing with her arm toward Flynn.
No, she wasn't motioning to him, but to Chloe, who was several yards behind Flynn. He shrugged and sighed, giving his attention to her.
“Look,” she told him, eyes full of controlled anxiety. “Flynn and I are just going to find a place to lay low for a while until things cool down. It's the best call here and you know it.”
Flynn adjusted his stance, shifting restlessly in place. He still appeared ready to go. Nothing Nathan said would make a difference to him. Even when they were seemingly on the same side, getting along, they remained not getting along. Enemies. It felt wrong.
“You coming?” Chloe asked.
Sully moved to the jeep and opened the driver's side door. “Take the car, you idiots.”
She paused. “What? What about you?”
“Ahh, we'll figure something out. Always do.”
Chloe didn't hesitate another moment and strolled over to the vehicle, Flynn following a few paces behind her. Nathan watched them preparing to go, unsure why he was so bothered to see them leave. They sought treasure together, they survived together, and now they were parting ways to safer pastures. That should be an ideal situation. He resolved to see it that way, and then one of the mercenaries opened his mouth to ruin it.
“They are here.”
“Come on,” urged Chloe. “Let's get out of here while we can.”
She hopped into the driver's seat and impatiently peered out the open door. Flynn paused in front of the vehicle and glanced down at his t-shirt. Although the special tree sap healed all his recent injuries but a scrape on his forearm, there was blood left behind. During the car ride he had visibly cleaned up the red fluid covering his skin, but the white shirt remained blood-stained.
“You go on, Chloe,” he said.
They were all understandably somewhat confused, but he didn't seem to think it was worth being puzzled over.
Flynn dropped his bag and withdrew his magnum handgun. “I'm going to see this through. You go. Bye, Chloe. It's been fun. Some fun anyway.”
She shook her head, clearly not fully understanding his decision. Nate had to admit, he was concerned with the sudden change of mind. There was a good chance Flynn was planning on doing something dumb.
Men in gray uniforms began to emerge from the long grass and tall trees of the surrounding area. They came from both sides of the road. Chloe pulled her door shut and started the engine.
The window rolled down. “Last chance to run, Nate.”
“See you around, Chloe.”
The woman forced a laugh. “Yeah, if any of you live long enough.”
On that note, Nate pulled his own handgun in preparation for their visitors. He tried to count them as they approached. The five mercenaries on their side had rifles held ready to fire, standing back to back to cover all possible entry points. He counted two..three..five...
Chloe pulled the jeep into the middle of the road, going around the other car, and drove on down the road. The approaching company did not fire at her, nor did they pay the vehicle any attention. Sully grabbed Elena's arm and tugged her along to stand close to the side of the remaining jeep. It would provide some cover.
There were two soldiers on one side and three on the other. They reached the road, spread out with their own assault weapons positioned on the waiting black clothed mercenaries. As usual, Ilija presented himself as the willing speaker.
One on Nathan's right took another two steps closer, taking a risk by lowering his weapon a bit as he responded. “Freelance mercenaries. Our task is a peaceful one. We do not seek conflict.”
Oookay... He was a she, with very short brown hair.
“What is your purpose here?” Ilija interrogated.
The woman answered without hesitation. “We are looking for a man by the name of Drake. Nathan Drake.”
A man stepped up to stand alongside the female mercenary, taking an even bigger risk by lowering his rifle against his thigh. “I think this is Drake, yes?”
“Wolf-” the woman began, but Nate cut her off before anything more could be said, confirming what was already suspected.
“Okay, I want to know what you people want. Why are you looking for me?”
“Mr. Drake, silence would be a good idea now,” Ilija advised.
Offensive telling him to be quiet. Though he was frowning, he kept his mouth shut.
Wolf's eyes roved across the people gathered on the road. The other mercenary hovering in the grass gradually approached his two colleagues, taking in Nate and the others as well. Distracted by his movement, Nathan looked over. He was pretty sure this was the same man from the tent, who tried to demand Navarro give him Flynn the previous night.
The mercenary detected Flynn right when Nathan figured they were making the same realization. The freelance hire recognized the man he'd been looking for, and Nate knew these guys had to be the ones behind the binder of information. He pointed his gun at the mercenary the female one called “Wolf”, feeling fairly confident this was the leader.
Wolf stared a tad intensely toward him for aiming a gun direct, asking his soldier a question in a calm voice all the while. “Stefan, are you sure?”
He nodded. “Alright. Get him here for identification.”
Stefan murmured an affirmative and jogged away, back to the trees where they initially emerged. Nathan didn't know where this was going and he couldn't tell whether trouble was coming or not. Best to be prepared. He kept his gun on Wolfy.
“It's of great convenience we find the two of you together, Mr. Drake.” The leader's eyes moved away from the gun and Nate to examine Flynn. “And Mr. Flynn.”
“Who hired you?” Flynn demanded. “What do you want?”
“Family. Looking for you a very long time.”
Nate looked to Flynn, wondering just who was searching for him. Family. He had family? Nathan was under the impression Flynn's family died. That was what the man told him.
“You're lying,” the British thief denied. “I don't have any family left.”
“We do our research, Mr. Flynn. There is no doubt.”
Flynn stayed disbelieving, evidently suspicious of their motivations. “Did London send you? Tell her I have nothing for her. Go away.”
It didn't escape anyone's notice his magnum was in his hand, finger tapping the side of the weapon like he was eager to squeeze the trigger. Nathan eyed the hand as he wondered what the mercenary was talking about. Family. London. Who was “her”? Was she the family Wolf spoke of? What did he not have for her? Flynn admitted plans to give the recovered tree sap to someone when he was dying. Could this all be connected?
A woman with reddish brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, pale-skin and dark eyes, approached quickly through the grass with Stefan and another man behind her. The woman was dressed in gray military garb like the rest, while the man wore simple blue jeans, a deep blue dress shirt tucked into his pants, and a dark brown leather jacket. Shockers came in twos apparently, because what came next was surprising two-fold.
“Ilija?” the approaching auburn haired woman uttered, staring at Ilija.
She was Nate's age, maybe a couple years older, and incredibly attractive. Somehow the assault gear increased the beauty about her. He liked a girl who could take care of herself. Wait, pretty hired mercenary said Ilija's name.
There was certainly a relationship here too. He stared right back at her and a look of extreme fondness overtook his features. He slung his rifle over his shoulder and walked up to her with a warm smile.
They embraced, and everybody's guns relaxed, lowering. Except for Flynn's, and Nate's. They kept their guns held where they were. He was too startled the separate mercenaries knew one another to lower his guard, and when he glanced at Flynn, the wary man had solely placed his vigilant gaze on the woman Ilija knew.
“Reunions are touching and all, but I'm failing to hear any explanations. Why are you people looking for me and Drake?”
Staying in the male mercenary's caring hold, she peered above his shoulder to Flynn. Though she didn't say a word, she didn't break eye contact from the British man. Nate watched them hold the eye gaze for what felt uncomfortably lengthy to him.
“Mila?” Nathan articulated, mind slowly grasping there was close familiarity between them. “And how are we knowing each other today?”
Ilija stepped back from the hot mercenary and expressed amusement at his bewilderment. “This is my sister.”
“I understand what it is like to have a brother, Harry,” said Ilija's sister. “We never want to give up on them, even if they're not what we hoped them to be.”
Flynn's look of interest for her switched to affronted vexation. “What's that supposed to mean?”
The man she arrived with came around her and Nate took him in. Broad shoulders, looked pretty strong, and he had a full beard covering the bottom half of his face. He was fairly handsome, and his dark blue eyes were quite piercing when the light of early morning fell into his eyes. Now who was he?
“Harry,” the man uttered.
Nate glanced from Flynn to this man. He must not have seen who the man was until now. Flynn didn't seem to know how to react. He was completely frozen, his face gone blank.
“What has it been, nearly twenty years?”
No response came as he continued to be stuck in place. Nathan pondered nudging him into making some kind of action. He wanted to know who this American guy was. They knew each other from twenty years back? Sounded like a story. Do tell. He refrained shouting the command out loud like he desired.
“Yeah...” the man continued, shaking his head slowly and bringing a hand up to rub his bearded chin. “I know it. How you been?”
Seemingly unsatisfied with his own inquiry, he rescinded it and began walking toward Flynn.
“Forget it. Stupid question. We both know how you've been. These guys do their research. Your sister, she's been tearing herself apart over every bad news she gets concerning you.”
“Sister?” Nate blurted.
Harry had a sister and he was only learning it today? Shocking was right. And who was this guy to Flynn? He was too intrigued to go on not knowing. He listened eagerly as the man continued speaking.
“Think you deserve it, don't you?” he said knowingly. “All that bad shit.”
He put his arms around Flynn, pulling him into an embrace. The dazed man didn't move, arms hanging limp. Quietly, Nathan shifted sideways to get a look at Harry's face. He wanted to see how he was receiving someone obviously from his past.
The daze had become stunned surprise. Slowly, he holstered his gun and lifted his arms to return the hug. Drawing him in tighter, he started on some more.
“Didn't I tell you not to go? Stupid kid.”
Flynn was beginning to cry, tears leaking down his face. Finally he said something to the man. It was remorseful, honest kind of stuff Nate never saw Flynn give in public.
“I'm sorry, Joe. I'm sorry,” he cried softly. “You were right. You were always right. I'm sorry.”
For the first time, he thought he understood who this man was to Harry. It explained why when he was having a breakdown in the tent, he turned to Sully of all people. The man was someone who cared about a lost boy, a kid who didn't have anybody else to trust and count on. He looked out for him and tried to keep him safe. Joe was Harry's Sully. Twenty years too late.