Too much time remaining stagnant. Sullivan had to be one of the most consistently obnoxious people he'd ever met. He spent far too long in this man's company since his sister showed up. And he would constantly give him this look. Not only Sullivan, but Elena, Evelyn, Nate, Joe...
He flung up his arms. “You stare at me with a mixture of disdain and pity half the time.”
Shifting his weight forward so the chair dropped onto all four legs, he narrowed his eyes. “Stop.”
“Touchy today, aren't we?” the man growled.
“You people are telling me to express myself, stop hiding, deflecting, blah, blah. Fine. You don't like me. I don't like you. But it's not gonna work if you refuse to trust me when right now we're stuck together.”
“Ah, I don't need to trust you. And don't take it personal, me not liking you. I don't like most thieves, especially the ones I see too much of my bad habits in.”
Flynn smiled unhappily. “So I was right. Figures.”
“The debt. Jobs taken you know are bad or dangerous. So damn stupid. Don't feel you need to have share time. I'm not into that touchy-feely crap either.”
“Will you two not start?”
“Clam it, soldier boy,” snapped the older man.
The mercenary standing in the doorway of the hotel dining room walked over to their table. “It's David.”
“Oh, well, at least it's easy to pronounce,” Sullivan conceded.
Flynn rolled his eyes. “Nice.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Don't be a smart-ass.”
“Oh, because you're not?”
David sat at the table near the middle, putting himself a safe distance from either of them. Then he was turning to look back and forth between him and Sullivan, who were seated at the very ends of the table.
“You are both very similar. Much in common.”
“Don't say things like that,” Flynn demanded, annoyed.
“I think because of this, you do like each other.”
“No,” they responded at the same time.
A few more mercenaries walked into the dining room. Some were former Lazarevic hires and some were from the search team Evelyn hired. It was nearing dinner time. There wasn't a whole lot to do around here besides perimeter duty and a few scouting missions. They had plenty of opportunity to be waiting, and waiting for something to eat was their most favorite kind.
Flynn waved in greeting. He scanned the faces to check if he could remember them all. Radomir and Josif from Team Ilija, Stefan and Senka from Team Wolf. Oh, and Ilija himself. The man came in a few seconds after the rest. They came to sit on his side of the table and by David, which made him smirk at Sullivan like it mattered.
The old man got the message because he glowered in return. Unfortunately for Flynn, he tended to have bad luck, and his expression soured when he heard them begin discussing the threat. A threat which had been looming over them ever since they'd picked up a tail. They spoke English for their English speaking company.
“We've got no way of knowing how many of them are out there.”
“Could be a handful, could be more than a dozen.”
Radomir slapped an open palm on the table. “They wouldn't enter an inhabited town. No.”
The female among them whole-heartedly agreed. “Perhaps we have the superior numbers. He could be too afraid to confront us.”
“I don't presume to know his thoughts,” Ilija admitted, speaking of Navarro. “I will not risk anyone. We keep a watchful eye on the forest until we have left this town.”
The soldier beside him chuckled and waved his hand in a dismissive fashion.
“Yeah, yeah. We know the drill. No chances.”
“What good will that do if he sends more snipers after Drake,” demanded Stefan. “The man has a grudge he refuses to give up.”
Senka hushed him when Drake and Elena walked into the room. The manner in which the two were chatting cheerfully, they were either naive or in the dark about the danger. In his opinion, the soldiers weren't much better. They thought Navarro wouldn't dare enter town with civilians present. He was aware the soldiers on Drake's side had people to protect. Protecting someone put a person on the defensive, and having to defend somebody else created an immediate disadvantage.
Nah, the attack wouldn't come to the town. Flynn figured Navarro would be waiting for them when they left. He had to suspect they would be leaving soon, now that they knew he was out there. An attack on the road would be the best bet. He'd have time to set a trap.
There was a good chance the mercenaries with them would be ready for a potential attack while they were on the move and at their most vulnerable. But ready didn't mean safe. Navarro already sent one sniper. Who's to say him or one of his guys didn't get Nate with a stray shot?
Dinner passed in a blur. Time seemed to do that when you didn't want it to. It was the most elusive thing in life. Always wanting more, and never having enough. The entire meal he spent contemplating if Navarro would settle for one life and go.
He walked out of that room snapping at Sullivan because he had things to take care of.
“Sometimes I need what only you can provide.”
The man was trying to hold back the yelling and swearing when Flynn added, “Your absence.”
Obscenities followed him out and he grinned ear to ear.
* * * * *
Too much time essentially standing still. They'd spent too long in this town. Now Flynn was here interrupting a good moment with Elena.
“Do you mind?” he asked pettishly.
“Not at all. Don't get cross with me. I can wait.”
After those words Flynn didn't budge from his spot, standing in the stairwell looking at them half embracing. Nathan pulled away from Elena completely, feeling super awkward with the audience.
“Did you need something?”
“You sound like a schoolboy yearning to be with his little crush as soon as possible or his precious heart will be broken.”
“Okay. Wow. What do you want?”
Elena giggled and stood. “I promised Evelyn I'd spend some time with her tonight. There are other women here, but sometimes it's nice to have another civilian you can talk to. See you later, Nate.”
“Yeah, I just saw her. She's heading to her room with Mila and Isidora.”
“Aw, come on. Don't go yet,” he whined.
It only made her laugh some more. “We did enough kissing for a while. You'll survive.”
He groaned and she smiled broadly before heading down the steps past Flynn. As the door was closing behind her, Flynn came up the steps to sit beside him on the stairs. This was technically an emergency staircase and no one was supposed to be here, so it was quiet. No interruptions. Which was why it had been an ideal place for him and Elena to get reacquainted. “Had been” being the operative words.
Nathan forced himself to settle and tone down the irritation before opening his mouth again. “So when all this is over are you gonna stay with your sister for a while?”
“No. Maybe Joe. I'm gonna see my sister on the regular now, I think, but..no. I don't want to stay with her. It's still... I know I need to stop being so mad... It's a process. I'll get there.”
He smiled a bit at the wording. “I see therapy's helping.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
Sheesh. The guy sounded a bit hurt over something imagined. He really was a pretty sensitive man when he let himself be himself. Why didn't he let himself be more often?
“No I'm not. I'm not, Flynn.”
Silence followed. Nate glanced ahead and then down at his hands. They were clenching his knees when the other finally started saying something to fill the stretch of quiet.
“I'm happy you and Elena are back together.”
“Ah, yeah... Yeah, it's great.”
“I can tell you care for each other.”
It was true. The woman knew how to make him feel comfort. She was special.
“What about you and Mila? Don't tell me there's nothing there 'cause it's there.”
Flynn was making sure to look anywhere but at him. He'd been doing the same thing a moment ago so it wasn't like he could hold it against the man. Still, it bothered. They were never shy about each other in their companionship years back, or in their hatred during recent days. This felt odd.
“I don't deserve Mila right now, but it's okay. Actually, I want you to give her something.”
He frowned. “What are you talking-?”
Nathan shut off his words when he saw what was in Flynn's opened hand. The object was held out to him, waiting to be taken. He stared at it.
“Why would you give me that? If you don't want to start something with Mila, that's your choice, but don't get me involved.”
“You have to return it yourself.”
Drake sighed internally, bringing his gaze up from the solid gold pendant of a moon to read his old friend's face. He didn't know what to say, so he didn't say anything. It didn't take long for Flynn to continue his plea.
“I have feelings for Mila. I think she feels the same for me. But I can't hear that today. I want you to give it to her for me. Tell her to give it back to me when I deserve it.”
“I have to earn it, this thing with Mila. Especially after everything I've done.”
“Flynn, I don't know what you mean. It's not-”
His confused thoughts and irritation were interrupted by the guy once again avoiding responsibility for anything.
“It's not the act itself that causes the most pain. It's the memory, constantly reliving and remembering what happened. That's the worst thing.”
Nathan stared incredulously at the other man. “Have you lost your mind? Why are you all of a sudden waxing poetic? What's the deal?”
“I've told you,” Flynn said. “And it's true, isn't it?”
He shoved the hand away. “I don't get you and I'm not helping you. Like you said, after all you did.”
Flynn caught the necklace before it could drop and smiled weakly as he once again held the item out toward him.
“When I shot my father in the head, I wasn't sorry I did it. But I have to live with what I did forever. The memory haunts me day to day because I killed someone. I watched that man murder the one person in the world who cared about me and I shot him in the face. It was the right thing to do, the only thing. But it's still killing and it messed me up.”
Nathan watched the extended arm lower, hand closing into a fist around the obviously precious item.
“I was afraid I'd become like him when I did that. I am terrified, even now, that I'll become my father. I'll murder someone one day who doesn't deserve it, like my mother. I almost killed you. I did that. How could I do that?”
He was crying. Nate watched his body shudder and his shoulders scrunch up as he turned his face away to hide the emotion. His empty hand went to the side of his head to block out his surroundings and avoid being seen.
“You've never told anyone that,” Drake realized.
“I'm so selfish. I don't know how I could do that to you at the museum, on the train...”
Fuck it. Nate grabbed the hand hiding his face and pulled him into the tightest hug he could muster. He could feel the shaking body from the sobbing and he didn't say a word while Flynn got it out of his system. When the crying softened, he chose a moment after to speak.
“Humans are naturally selfish. We all look after number one on instinct. Self-preservation ties into it. But it's when we make the decisions that don't serve ourselves, that are for someone else besides just ourselves, that's when we rise above what comes natural to us.”
Flynn pulled away a little, wiping at his face, and Nathan took hold of the other hand. He held it in both hands and met Harry's eyes.
“You shot your father, you shot me, because you thought you had to. You turned on me in the museum because you were angry I was sleeping with your girlfriend. As much as I hate to say it, I understand. You're a survivor like me. We do what we have to do to keep going. I know you're sorry about shooting me, so here's how you make up for it. You be a good man from here on out. You don't make excuses, or screw people over anymore.”
Harry drew in a breath and replied, “Okay. More than fair. Okay.”
“Damn straight,” he said, and took the necklace out of his hand. “I'll do this for you. But you should talk to her about it later, yeah?”
He nodded slowly a few times. “Yeah. If I can.”
The reply wasn't super convincing.
“It's easier to go with the flow than keep pushing against it. But I won't live with that philosophy anymore. I promise.”
Better. Nate clapped him on the back. “Good. Now that we're done being girls, can I go find my girl?”
Flynn smiled and it looked real this time. “Yep. It's all good.”
He stood and walked down the stairs to the door. Drake remained sitting and looking at the stair below him, thinking.
He heard the heavy door opening and closing but he didn't look up.
“It's fine,” he muttered aloud. “It's all good.”
These were things he heard from Harry before. He was beginning to remember times in which he'd heard him say it. Always when it was the opposite. Always when something was off, wrong, not okay.
He jumped to his feet and ran for the door. Once through, he didn't see Flynn anywhere. Shit. Where was he?
* * * * *
Flynn breathed in the night air and felt calm, relaxed. He'd made up his mind about this. He could do this for them. That much they deserved from him. Glancing at his watch, he noted it was quarter after nine.
He jogged around the side of the building and found himself standing before the treeline. There was a plan but he would improvise if he had to do it. He planned to be the distraction to lead Navarro and his mercenary hires away from the town.
His magnum was holstered to his leg as usual, and he managed to steal a rifle and handgun with a few clips of spare ammunition from the mercenaries' stash. He intended to sneak through the forest, but knew trained soldiers were also hiding in there somewhere. There was a high chance he got spotted. If that happened, he would go in guns blazing.
Hesitation flooded through his system, paralyzing. Thoughts raced through his mind of the stupidity of what he was doing, the regret he had leaving everyone behind, and the certainty he needed to do something for them instead of against. The last thought gave him the strength to take the first steps into the trees. The rest came easier.
When a step made a bit more noise than he would have liked, he hesitated, surveying the quiet forest. A bird fluttered out of one of the many high trees, startling him, and he ducked low. He breathed his relief but practically choked on it when something passed through his peripheral vision. Planting himself flat against a wide tree, still remaining low, he waited a moment and then dared to peer around it.
Nothing there. He was sure something had been moving somewhere on his right. It was too damn dark to see anything out here. The absence of light worked in his favor as well as it didn't. He continued searching in that area of the darkness, scanning farther to the right side. He spotted a soldier.
He was walking leisurely among the trees and had happened to disappear behind a group of thick trunks when Flynn took his second look. The mercenary wasn't on alert, probably simply patrolling. For now it would be best to avoid being seen. He'd like to be farther from town before revealing his presence.
Continuing on, careful to watch the vicinity around him, he progressed another five minutes or so when a branch distinctly snapped. The sound came from somewhere up ahead. He slowed his pace but kept moving forward. Glimpsing lights in front of him, he stopped and changed his path a little, shifting to approach in a more northwestern direction.
Flynn saw he'd found a clearing with a small cabin. Camp lights had been set up along with three fair-sized tents. He thought maybe he could do the math accurately now. There could be anywhere from ten to twenty soldiers including Navarro. The cabin was lit on the inside but the surrounding area was quiet. The tents were dark. There could be a handful of soldiers in the cabin, however, the rest surely couldn't all be on patrol. It was possible. It just didn't seem likely. Flynn was getting a bad feeling in his gut.
Someone called out from behind, on his left. He ducked down to one knee and saw lights in the near distance. Powerful flashlights and lanterns alike as four different shadowy figures dressed in black clothing met together. The lights shone for a moment in their faces and he saw Navarro was one of them.
Navarro... He did his best to silently remove the rifle slung on his shoulder and dug inside his satchel. Retrieving the scope he'd stolen along with the weapons and ammo, just in case it was needed, he fixed it to the top of the rifle and looked through with one eye. He meant to be a distraction. Why not take Navarro out as the ultimate distraction? Pop the head off of the snake and all that smart strategy stuff.
He lined up his target, placing a finger on the trigger. But he didn't squeeze it. He was hesitating. Shooting Drake came from a place of fear and emotions taking over his actions. Only once did he kill someone in cold blood and it wasn't very long ago. Lazarevic deserved what came to him. So does Navarro.
His finger starting squeezing the trigger and that was when he realized the four men were just standing there. They weren't talking or looking around. They stood, waiting. For what? That couldn't be good. A pang in his gut his only warning, he lowered the rifle and checked his back.
The two mercenaries creeping up on him from behind froze when he saw them. He was equally frozen for what felt like eternity as he understood the trap he willingly walked into. Flynn wondered if it was even meant for him for the briefest of a second, and then he swung himself and the rifle around and opened fire.
A soldier went down immediately, but the other managed to get out of the path of bullets sent his way. Flynn ran in the direction opposite the cabin, giving him the narrow choice of going straight, between at least one soldier on his left and the four on his right. Three soldiers appeared in front from the darkness, spread out from each other. He fired and hit one, knocking him off his feet. The other two didn't fire or raise their weapons.
No gunfire but his. They weren't firing at him. They didn't want to shoot him. Not good. Not good.
A soldier came running toward him on his left and he heard audible boots on the ground coming from behind as well. There were still two on his right, a glance telling him they were choosing to walk in his direction. That left him one final choice to run away. Shit.
He took the path, stopping to shoot broadly backward and the gun clicked empty too soon. He dropped it and pulled the handgun from his bag to continue firing a few shots. He started running away again, knowing there was a good chance they wanted him in this direction, but not having any better idea of where to go.
Flynn was slammed into from the side, taking him to the ground. He quickly rolled before the guy could get a good grip and shot his assailant in the face. Trying to wipe the utter panic he knew was on his own face, he got to his feet and took a step back from the dead soldier, regaining his bearings. Where were his pursuers positioned now?
An arm wrapped around him from behind, a hand closing over his mouth, dragging him backward. So surprised, he didn't do anything at first. When the momentary shock wore off, he acted, kicking out to tear free of the hold on him. He fought to get his arms up to shoot the threat.
“Look what I caught,” his attacker whispered in his ear, accent heavy. “My favorite toy.”
He screamed his fury and terror and squirmed even more violent. He recognized the voice belonging to Ratko. The struggle resulted in him dropping his gun but it got him free. Instantly trying to put distance between him and that man, he almost tripped while turning to run. Stumbling forward, he managed to keep from falling and stood tall in time to find himself facing Navarro and half a dozen mercenaries.
Flynn swallowed the despair and went for his magnum, depending on them to shoot to kill.
“No!” he screamed furiously when his arm was yanked away from his leg before he could get the weapon.
The arm pulled painfully behind him, he tried to throw a punch and that arm was also grabbed. Two soldiers tightened a hold on him and a kick to the back of one of his knees helped force him into a kneeling position. A third soldier approached and shoved a rag in his mouth, wrapping more cloth around his head to form a gag. Was someone else out here? Why gag him? Why not kill him? Why?
He presented his confusion and anger at being kept alive by screaming, “Why?”
The gag muffled him, yet it was clear enough to be understood as more enemies approached their successful capture. The mercenaries in his line of sight had either bored or expressionless looks on their faces, but Navarro wore a big smile. He was pleased with himself.
“Thought it would be Drake foolish enough to come after me. Looks like you win the award for massive stupidity this time.”
Flynn released a stream of smothered curses aimed at the bastard from behind the gag.
His enemy grinned wider. “You and Drake are practically the same person. I knew one of you would come running out here to get me. I really thought it would be Drake though. That idiot is always looking to be the hero in the very situations he creates in the first place. And you, well you're just a pathetic excuse for an explorer, aren't you? But I thought you wise enough not to risk such a stupid move.”
“I'm not some explorer. I'm a bloody thief!” he yelled, although indistinguishable noises were all that was likely heard.
“Doesn't matter,” the other man continued. “Here is what's going to happen. Since you were the one lucky enough to get yourself caught, we'll have to find some way to pass the time while we wait for Drake.”
Flynn frowned hearing the last part, fear and anger transferring into confusion. What did he mean wait for Drake? Navarro must have read the questioning in his frown because he explained himself.
“Oh have no doubt, thief. Your latest ally will come for you, every bit as foolishly as you came for me.”
He tried to voice disagreement the best he could considering his gagged state. He didn't think Nate would come looking for him. They'd been getting along better, but he still had a lot to make up for. They were a long way from friends. Besides, everybody always ended up leaving him.
The smug man turned partially away, looking in the general direction of the town, and muttered, “He's a pretty big fool.”
All he had left was hope Navarro was wrong. So of course the hated man had to make him begin to lose the tiny hope he held onto, for any sort of positive outcome from this mess. Turning to him, he motioned for the men to get him up.
“I'm going to kill you, Flynn. You will die slowly, painfully. Not because you betrayed me, but because you stole my treasure from me. The last of Shambhala's secret used to save your worthless life. If you like, feel better knowing the others will die quickly.”
Others? What was he talking about? Was he going to go after the others? An ambush on the road had been suspected and they were prepared for that occurrence. The others would be fine then, right? Navarro sounded pretty confident and it was scaring him.
The many shifting emotions were read off his face and Navarro shined his flashlight directly into his eyes, causing him to wince and look away. When the light lowered, he raised his head to find the man absolutely enjoying some kind of triumph imagined in his own mind.
“You shouldn't be surprised. People die around Drake all the time.” He shrugged, like his conclusion was the most natural thing in the world. “Tonight, everyone with him dies.”