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Break the Fall

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Every last reserve of his strength and will was used to lift his body up over the edge of the mountain, collapsing onto his back. His side was killing him, pain radiating upward to his head, making him dizzy and weak. He'd lost a lot of blood, but the bullet had gone straight through his side. If he could get help, or find medical supplies to patch it up, he'd be fine. He'd been shot before. Of course, now he was out in the middle of nowhere, in a freezing cold snowstorm.

Nathan thought about getting up, getting moving. But escaping from the train car had been an arduous task. It required him to use energy he didn't really have left in him. His endurance was extraordinary, but it wasn't limitless. He felt his eyes shutter closed and he didn't fight it. He was going to rest, just for a little while.

* * * * *

He rolled his eyes behind the back of the man he loathed. They remained at the small train station deep in the mountains of Tibet, observing Lazarevic's men unloading the train cars. The bastard was yelling at them to get a move on, while at the same time demanding a count of what cars had made it and which of them had been lost due to Drake's interference. He kept himself out of the way.

Chloe was at his side, sulking and wishing to be far from him. He refused to let her out of his sight after what happened. Too many times his partner and girlfriend had been found with Nathan Drake. Lazarevic was a muscle-head, but he wasn't blind. When she'd been found once again with Drake on the train, he'd panicked and shot the man. The moron continuing to pursue her onto the train erased the last of his reservations. He'd rather see his old partner dead than his present one.

Flynn had mixed feelings where Chloe was concerned, well aware she'd been perpetuating a relationship with Drake while continuing to see him. That was three months ago, but her insistence to help the meddling man since his reappearance, informed her feelings for him remained. He cared for her, maybe even loved her. It pained him to understand she did not love him back. But her lack of love for him, didn't erase how he felt. He'd protect her.

“You five, go and search the wreckage. Find the dagger. And if Drake is still alive, kill him. I will send more men when they are available. Now go!”

He watched as five soldiers grabbed their gear and headed off into the gathering snowstorm. It would be smarter to wait out the storm, but Lazarevic was impatient. He wanted the dagger in his hand and for progress to be made as soon as possible. They'd come to some contention over the issue of time management throughout the job. It was how he'd learned he'd gotten himself in too deep.

As the job went on, the threats began to increase. Drake's interference only served to elevate the war criminal's rage and agitation. He wanted the stone now, but Flynn couldn't quite figure things out fast enough. As much as it despised him to say it, he was no Nathan Drake. The man was brilliant when it came to matters of history and puzzle solving. He loved that about him, except not when that skill could get him killed.

He'd stayed away from the younger man as Sullivan had asked him of it years ago. He didn't like the old bag, but he respected his relationship with Nathan enough to heed his request. Heeded until he realized he couldn't pull off the museum job without him. Now after his double-cross, Drake was relentless to finish the job before him and his client, and Chloe must have helped him and Sullivan find the dig site in Borneo.

Now there was no way everyone was getting out of this alive. At this point he could only see saving himself and Chloe. Maybe not even that. It was his fault too. His massive debt to an unfriendly party had forced him into bed with a murderous psychopath.

When Lazarevic forced a gun into his mouth in Nepal, practically down his throat, he'd given up on getting out of the situation unscathed. Soon after the incident, they'd found Chloe with Drake and some reporters. He'd hesitated, but known he couldn't save Nate. If he kept him alive he'd continue to pursue and Lazarevic would order her to be executed along with them. But his hesitation allowed them to escape and Drake pursued as anticipated. That's why he'd shot him and finally been done with him on the train. Drake's need to be the bloody hero would have gotten them all killed, so he killed him first.

“Harry.”

“Oh so now you're talking to me? You're terrible at this silent treatment business, love.”

“Harry, be careful.”

The worry in her tone got his attention. He glanced over and then past her, to where Zoran was stomping toward them both. Oh shit. He breathed deep and subconsciously positioned himself between Chloe and the irritated monster bearing down on them. His fingers twitched above the holstered magnum before he let the arm fall limp at his side. There were too many soldiers about, who would not hesitate to riddle him with bullets, should he take any action against their leader.

The son of a bitch didn't hesitate. He swung a blow into his stomach. Flynn didn't even have time to raise his arms up in defense while he was doubled over, before an arm dropped down on his back. This was the first time Lazarevic hurt him in the open. He fell to his knees as Chloe cried out in his defense.

“Wait! Stop it!”

There came a moment of silence while he kept his eyes frozen on the snowy ground. Chloe had never witnessed any of the other times he'd been physically assaulted, only the PG rated stuff. She'd no clue the handful of occasions he'd been beaten by soldiers until he couldn't move in Borneo, because the girl with the map couldn't lead them where they wanted. A map he'd claimed she was talented at reading to pretend she was useful to Lazarevic, but it was his own failings at reading the maps and searching the ships which slowed their progress. He hadn't wanted her to know out of shame, and they'd avoided leaving marks on his face to keep up appearances.

Zoran's silence was provided simply to accentuate the word to follow.

“Why?”

A second blow to his back planted him flat on his stomach. There were eyes watching him. He risked a glance upward to find one of the mercenaries standing in the near distance, watching his maltreatment. It stood out, because he was the only soldier to do so. Maybe he liked to watch. Wonderful.

“If you don't stop you'll never get what you want,” Chloe insisted. “We won't help you anymore.”

“Help?” the cruel man inquired.

The back of his head was smacked by a gloved hand, hard, and then the same hand slid lower to grasp the back of his neck. He was yanked upright on his knees, fingers clenching painfully on his neck. A gun prodded him against his cheek so he could see it in his peripheral vision. Sadistic fuck.

“What help you've given me has been threatened at every turn. I hired you, Flynn, to get the job done, and done right. Now the dagger has been lost, thanks to Drake's meddling, because you couldn't kill him and some civilian. I should have taken care of them myself.”

You didn't hire me to kill anyone, Zoran. And I've gotten you this far, haven't I?”

“Hm... Interesting use of 'I'. Tell me, what has your whore done for me lately?”

The implication was there. He wasn't merely claiming she'd done little to help on the job, but also what he might have her do for him. Like hell he'd let him put his dirty paws on her.

He shoved the gun out of his face and stood on his feet, facing Zoran head on. “You leave her alone or you'll never get another thing from me, you cocky bastard.”

“Would you really be such a fool?” Lazarevic asked, lips turning up in a slight sneer as he took a step away.

“All I know is, you hurt her and I'm done. You hired me for a job, and I'm gonna do it, then I expect to get paid. Then, we're gonna leave this place, me and Chloe, and never see your ugly mug again.”

The scarred man appraised him, refraining from speaking, brow furrowed a bit in his solemn scrutiny. Beyond him, the observant hired gun continued to stare. He wore a scarf covering most of his face, but even still, his expression appeared unreadable. Flynn brought his focus back to Lazarevic, looking him in the eye.

Another long moment passed before words finally filled the gap.

“I cannot tell, if this is bravery,” The gun tapped lightly against his cheek. “Or stupidity.”

He ignored the fear he felt to have a gun so close. It was pretty easy. He spent most of his time putting on a facade, always acting laid-back and flirty. In his line of work, he learned early on how important it was to never show weakness, never trust fully, and put on that he was always relaxed. Mostly, he was relaxed, but that had never been the case around the war criminal. The monster made his skin crawl and there was no way out once in his sights.

“Eh, pretty much the same, ain't it mate?”

Lazarevic rescinded the weapon, eyeing Chloe, and then returned his attention to him. He met his gaze, resolved not to cow to him.

“It appears you have something to bargain with, for now.”

Flynn narrowed his eyes. He didn't like how that sounded. It sounded far too much like an admittance of what he'd already feared for quite some time. Once the job was done, Lazarevic would kill them both. Would he? Was there nothing that could be done?

Why could he pull the trigger on a former friend, but not a cold-blooded murderer? It probably helped when his former friend had tried to screw him over by running off with his girlfriend as soon as the museum job was finished. Yeah, and maybe he should be just as angry with his own girlfriend, who continued to hang around him while holding a torch for the aforementioned recently dead former friend. But he wasn't a murderer unless it had to be done. Well, okay, he was since killing Drake, but it had happened in the heat of the moment. And for some reason while he felt frustration whenever pondering on Chloe's motivations, he didn't feel anything resembling hate for her. He still loved her, which was completely idiotic.

The man walked away in the direction of the lead car. Flynn just watched him go, somehow more afraid than before their encounter that time was running out. Maybe if he could figure things out fast enough, their employer would be grateful enough to do as they'd agreed. Pay them and let them go. Flynn even knew what truly stood within the center of Shambhala, and wanted no part of it. He liked treasure, plain and simple. He wasn't interested in a mystical elixir that granted power. Let the war criminal have his prize and then get far away from him. That was his plan. Survival.

He's spent his whole life merely surviving. His life of crime let him have periods where he was alone or with a significant girl, enjoying the quiet and peace. He even loved the thrill of a job, finding new ways to get in and out of places, getting his hands on a unique treasure. However, most of the people in this business were not good people, and Flynn had met his share of bad ones. The bad people came attached to bad experiences, and he'd grown to shake it off or lose his mind. Enough exposure had made him pessimistic and bitter, but damn well bet on him enjoying anything he could manage.

“Don't ever do that again,” Chloe whispered harshly.

He glanced sideways at her. “Do what?”

“I don't want you to protect me, Harry.”

“Right, cause you're doing so well on your own. Just what is your plan, Chloe? Were you going to run off with Drake, steal the treasure for yourself and head into the sunset together? Sorry sweetheart, it's not done like that.”

He was ranting, he knew he was ranting, but he was on a roll now and couldn't seem to stop.

“Besides, last I saw, Drake was bleeding out while rocketing over the side of a cliff in an exploding hunk of metal. And even before then, he was with some blonde. Face it, darling, he's just not that into you.”

The hurt in her eyes shut him up.

“I left him and those reporters in that place knowing Lazarevic would probably kill them,” she confessed. “I can admit I've done things I'm not proud of too. Because it's always been me, looking out for me first. Just like you.”

He scoffed. “What? Do you want a cookie? Hooray, we're both assholes.”

Her eyes shut and she lowered her head, turning away from him. “You can be such a jerk, Harry Flynn.”

He kept a cool exterior, though inside he was churning a fire of emotions. “And you played me. Guess now Drake and I have that in common. We've both been played.”

Chloe surprised him by coming to stand in front of him. She usually pulled away in these instances. She was a girl who looked after herself before anything, and kept emotions in check.

“Harry, I don't need anyone's death on my conscience. Drake made his choice, and I'm pissed as hell you killed him. You didn't have to do that. I know you did it for me.”

He smiled. “Actually, I just shot him. The fiery train car sweeping over the side of a cliff did the killing. Heh heh.”

“Harry.”

He hummed to himself before saying, “You're putting too much stock in yourself, love.”

She moved close and placed her hands on either side of his face. Chloe knew how he liked that right before a deep kiss. This wasn't quite the romantic moment she seemed to think it was. Maybe he was missing something? He often did.

“Ever since we started working for Lazarevic, you've been watching my back. He doesn't need me, just you, but you keep convincing him to have me along. I know I'd be dead already if not for you. But I've seen how he treats you. I can see now it's probably worse than I knew. I won't have those things on my conscience, and if you, if you got killed-”

“Don't. I don't need this.”

“Harry-”

He interrupted her because he didn't want to hear a lie. “Chloe, no. Just no. Don't make this more than it is.”

She drew away. “What's that supposed to mean?”

There she went again with a hurt expression. Was he misreading her? Shit he had no idea. How shocking... Forget avoidance. If she wanted to finally come clean with him then fine.

“There's never really been a you and me, has there? You've been into Drake since you met him, haven't you?

“Drake and I met before that day. About three years ago during a job. I'm sorry I misled you. I'm sorry I started something with him when we had something going on already. There's just always been something about him and well... Look, I'm sorry to care about him the way I do, but I do.”

She grew visibly saddened before adding, “Or cared now...”

“Well that's brilliant.”

Flynn knew the guy was dead but damn, it never felt good to have a girl you loved cheat on you with a former business partner, a former friend. He'd burned that friendship bridge three months ago, and it had felt glorious when he'd done it. Guy was already stabbing him in the back before he'd ever even got a chance to in that museum. It's why he took the map for himself and left his so-called partner to meet justice. Should have figured it'd be over a girl and involving Nathan Drake, utter player and thrill junkie. Drake was the one who'd taught him all about backstabbing in the first place, on the first job they pulled together.

“I care about you as well, Harry. Please, stop trying to appease that psychopath. He's never going to be satisfied. We should run. Get out while we can.”

“While..we... Are you kidding? It's far too late for that. And I need the money. I need to get it so I can live in the calm for a while. Beaches and drinks, you and me. We can still have that if we see this through.”

She shook her head slowly, her shoulders falling slightly. “Yeah, maybe.”

He shook his own head and shoved away all those imposing emotions. She probably hated him. He refused to dwell on how that made him feel.

“Well I'm going to try to reason with him. In a few days we'll be at the top of the mountain we need, and he's not likely to be patient while we figure out whatever ridiculous riddle will be awaiting us. And, and I need to make sure our deal's still in place.”

The sugar-coated version of saying he had to try and make sure they didn't get bullets to their brains when the job was done. He didn't bother to look at her while he rifled through his bag for a jacket. He didn't want to see what way she was looking at him now.

Time to go and try to make things suck less.

* * * * *

His eyes opened. Snow fell down upon his face. He rolled himself onto an elbow and then to his feet. He had to keep moving. There had to be somewhere to go to deal with his injury.

Nathan put a hand to his injured side and noted the bleeding had slowed considerably. The cold weather seemed to be good for that at least. Man, it was freezing out here. He started walking. Half the time he kept hunching over, too cold to want to move, but too wary to stop. The hole in his side didn't hurt as much as it had minutes earlier, as much as it should. It was cause for concern.

He pushed and climbed his way through the scattered wreckage of his decision to pull a trigger. Along his path he managed to pick up a gun from a soldier, long past the ability to ever make use of the weapon. Nearly got his ass shot by a guard who suddenly stumbled upon him, but he finally put the burning fires behind him to where the area opened out wider.

Metal crates and ruined train cars lay here too, but the snow had begun to coat them quickly.

“Okay. Now we're getting somewhere.”

Nathan scanned his immediate surroundings, or at least what he could see through the howling wind. He spotted tracks beginning to be concealed by the continuous snowfall and ducked behind a convenient crate. Shoving his back to the irritably cold metal, he risked a peek around the corner.

There was a soldier in black gear, the owner of the footsteps, four feet away. Hardly three yards from the man was a second soldier. The other one of Lazarevic's men wore a white camouflage outfit, concealing him well in their current environment if it weren't for the black assault rifle in his hands.

He sighed, annoyed he could never catch a break when these things happened to him. “Right. Time to take these guys out and try to make this all suck a little less.”

* * * * *

It was a mistake. It was a bloody mistake to go see Lazarevic after acting so brazen minutes earlier. He stepped inside the lead train car but never even laid eyes on the war criminal before a pair of soldiers took hold of him. Flynn tried to tug himself free, looking at the soldiers on either side of him in confusion and annoyance.

“What are you doing? Let go of me.”

“No, I don't think they will.”

His eyes searched and settled on Zoran, walking in from the other connected car, two mercenary soldiers flanking him.

“What's going on?”

Not going to appear afraid. Nope, not afraid. Not at all afraid. He was a total liar.

“I've sent two more teams to search the wreckage. Do you want to know why?”

“Uh... To throw a spanner in the works?”

Lazarevic moved up until he was in his face. “You think you are clever. You think I don't know what lies within Shambhala.”

He swallowed but chose to shrug and feign complete puzzlement. Unfortunately, the other man seemed pleased about this. Now why would he be pleased?

“Drake is alive. Once again, you've failed to kill him.”

Flynn didn't have to feign the surprise on his face. “Really? Damn, Drake must have nine lives.”

“It would seem that way, yes.” Zoran concurred. “One of my men radioed they were under attack, by Drake.”

He tried to tug himself out of the soldiers' hold again, but they stood firm. It led him to decide it would be a good idea to mouth off some more.

“Is age making you hard of hearing? I told you I'm not a hitman. It was never my job to kill the guy so you can't blame me for his survival.”

Lazarevic remained calm, which was worrisome. “You brought him into the search for the Cintamani Stone with the job to recover the map. You.”

His eyes flitted about as he worked how to refute such a blatant truth. Lazarevic wasn't waiting.

“Remove his jacket. And his shirt.”

Flynn watched the man turn away from him, and as soon as Zoran did, he fought to free himself. He knew what was coming. He'd gotten beaten up plenty of times in his past, assaulted more times than he could count. For him that danger had come with his lifestyle choice of international thievery, as well as having good looks and a British accent. Flynn seemed to attract more predators than usual. He'd just gotten that unlucky.

Lazarevic did not have interest in him sexually, gratefully, but he certainly enjoyed finding excuses to intimidate and punish him. It began with mere words, then physical beatings a month into exploring the swampy jungle of Borneo and the washed ashore ships. When Chloe had to leave to acquire some sort of outside advisement, nearly three months into coming up empty in that horribly soggy and hot place, Zoran got a taste for drawing the skin from his back.

He'd refused to scream or cry whenever his soldiers beat him, but he couldn't keep the raw pain he felt inside with the lashings. It hurt too damn much. His employer liked to hear the sounds he made when the whip struck exposed flesh. Twice it was done to him before Chloe finally came back to their camp, and Zoran kept to the verbal threats. Then in Nepal he got angry when Chloe disappeared, and gave him a couple lashes and a gun down his throat for his inability to answer where she'd gone.

Guy didn't think much of women. He didn't think much of anyone who wasn't a soldier. Lazarevic thought the majority of people to be weak and compassionate.

“No! Don't!”

He struggled as the soldiers unzipped his jacket, pulling it from his shoulders. He let it happen so he could also pull himself out of their reach. Spinning around, he drew his gun and pointed it at Lazarevic's cocky face.

Trained instinct had the four soldiers go for their guns. Zoran lifted a hand and ordered them to refrain.

“Your punishment is inevitable. You will not shoot me, because you are too weak to accept death. These men will cut you down should you shoot.”

“I don't want to die, mate,” Flynn told him straight. “But it doesn't mean I'm going to let you do what you want to me. Killing you might be what's best for everyone.”

He was sick of being made the victim. He was especially sick of it being done to him by this man before him. Flynn had suicidal thoughts in the past. Once when he was 27, he'd taken a whole lot of pills and downed them with alcohol. But he'd done it with his girlfriend asleep beside him and she'd woken before he'd completely stopped breathing. Because as much as he wanted to stop hurting from the memories, to embrace death, he didn't want to die alone.

“This will happen if you pull the trigger. I die. Then you will die. And then my soldiers are going to kill your girlfriend. They will not kill her quickly.”

Lazarevic said it as a promise. Flynn didn't doubt his promises. Here in this train he would die alone, because monsters didn't count as company. And then Chloe would suffer and die alone. He couldn't let it happen.

“Put your gun away.”

He put his gun away. If there was one good thing that could come of this, Chloe would get out unscathed. She wouldn't even have Drake's death on her conscience with him being alive and killing more of Lazarevic's soldiers as he stood in a cold train, despising a war lord.

After he surrendered, the rest happened quick.

A soldier roughly pulled his off-white shirt over his head and then he and the other turned him around to put him on his knees. They were harsher than they needed to be. Probably as tired as their employer was in continuing this search for a fabled lost city. Blaming someone made it easier he supposed.

They kept hold of his arms and one of them put a hand on the back of his head, shoving it forward. It put him in his usual position for the lashings, bent over for maximum exposure of the skin. The latest cuts were in the newer processes of healing. Scars of the ones a few months old beneath those. Knowing his luck, some of the deeper lines would never fully heal.

He flinched when cold fingers traced along one of the fresher cuts. Admiring his own handiwork. Fucking sadist.

Flynn only realized he'd spoken the last words out loud when Lazarevic chuckled at them.

“A man learns how strong he is only through adversity. The lessons I provide you serve to remind how weak the flesh may be, but how great the will can be.”

“All sounds crazy to me,” he muttered.

Breath fell upon his ear as he felt Zoran's presence drape over his back. “Proof you have yet to learn the lesson.”

The man drew away. There were footsteps moving farther from him. They returned a moment later. Nothing spoken. No warnings until he heard something move through the air and the whip struck him in the center of his back. It hit his spine and there was a burning, white hot agony. He screamed.

He tried to brace himself, he always tried to brace himself. It never helped but he did it every time anyway. How long would he have to suffer at the hand of another? What had he ever done to deserve so much suffering? It seemed to be his price to pay for having no one who cared about him.

Another line was drawn onto his back, blood swelled up immediately, but it felt like fire. A choked shout escaped his throat and he would have buckled, but the soldiers held him firm. He focused on self-reflection, a task he abhorred, during these sessions with the monster.

Flynn was a thief and an asshole. He often quipped on the physical traits he observed from others and mocked people. He talked too much, thought himself a pretty fine specimen, and loved his treasure. The wealth kept him out of people's debt, yet as valuable as it was, he always ended up needing more. Because he did love the thrill of the jobs at the same time, and there were expenses to be paid for each. And if the job went south, it put a thief in the hole some. Like he was now.

Pain exploded against his back and another scream erupted from him. Tears leaked from his eyes. He whimpered and weakly tried to remove himself from the soldiers' hold. It was a pathetic attempt and they barely had to readjust their hold to keep him in place.

Flynn fought inward instead. He tried to get back to his self-reflecting. He let people take advantage of him. He didn't really let them, but he must be doing something to have been assaulted on so many different occasions. Something must be wrong with him.

He backstabbed his own partner on a job. It was a betrayal he could count having done on one hand. As if to add insult to injury to his latest betrayal, he shot the same man. He'd been trying to kill him, clear as day. Kill him or let Chloe be killed. Those were his options in his mind. Now he was hated by Drake, extra hated by Victor Sullivan, and likely Chloe as well. He was going to be left alone again. Again...

“Aaaagh!”

The shout bellowed from his lips following the fourth strike. Less than a second later, a gunshot rang out and he was released by the mercenaries. A thud followed the shot.

Chapter Text

He hoisted himself onto the higher level of the mountain. Tired eyes scanned the immediate area in front of him. Nothing but snow falling on untouched snow. He was grateful. He was far too exhausted to take on more mercenaries and his side was beginning to hurt again.

Nathan staggered forward, trudging heavily through thick snow. Up ahead there was something glinting among all the white. He headed for it and grabbed the object up, recognizing the dagger immediately.

He backpeddled for a moment and slid sideways, dropping himself down to sit against an overturned train car. Some rest, just for a little while. Taking out dozens of men looking to kill him was not easy with a bullet hole in the side. Shit his side hurt. He closed his eyes, memories flooding in.

* * * * *

“Who are you?”

He heard one of them demand an identity and it roused him from his agony enough to turn himself around where he knelt. There was a man standing just outside the door to this front compartment. He had dark hair styled back much like his own, and a thin beard of a matching color on his face. He wore heavy boots, tan cargo pants, a black shirt, and an olive green jacket over it. A thigh holster on his right leg was empty. The gun was in the hand of his extended arm.

Lazarevic was motionless on the floor of the train car, blood leaking from his head. He looked dead. His eyes returned to the mysterious man as he moved into the doorway, and then inside. He stopped short of the two soldiers standing on either side of Flynn.

“My name is Atoq Navarro, and I have a proposition for you. Give me your radio.”

Four assault rifles came up to aim at the man's head. He showed no outward signs of feeling threatened or afraid. Instead, he lowered his gun and replaced the firearm back in its holster.

“I'm certain your former employer gave standing orders to kill anyone who would kill him. And you can do that if you wish. But first, listen to what I have to say. Yes?”

One of the soldiers standing above him lowered his rifle and shifted, removing the radio from his belt. He held it out to the unknown variable.

“Go on then.”

The man's lips turned up in a small smirk. “Thank you.”

Flynn stared at him but remained presumably unnoticed. Who the hell was this guy?

The radio clicked and beeped as he pushed down on the button.

“Gentlemen, allow me to have your attention. My name is Atoq Navarro. Your employer, Zoran Lazarevic, is dead. Now, now, calm yourselves. Things need not change much. I am also searching for invaluable treasure. I will also provide you with great wealth for your service. So the offer is this, and the choice freely yours. If you have no interest in my offer, you may leave now. No one will follow, you are free to go off and do as you please. Should you accept my offer and switch your allegiance to me, simply stay at your posts.”

He released the button and attached the radio to his own belt, then he regarded the mercenaries in the train. Flynn watched in astonishment as the other three lowered their weapons to their sides and made no attempt to leave. The man looked at each of them in turn. He had a leading presence about him, fearless and dangerous, which was probably why he was still alive right now.

“What are your names?”

A brief hesitation and then the first answered, followed by the others.

“Luka.”

“Damir.”

“Zarko.”

“Alek.”

The man examined Flynn where he knelt staring up at him in bewilderment. He met the studying look with a sharp stare. When the stranger chose to talk as if he couldn't speak, he didn't stay quiet.

“Who's the prisoner?”

“Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege,” he wittily remarked.

That earned him a smirk, broader than the last one this Navarro had made.

“What's your name?”

“Harry Flynn. Call me Flynn. Assuming..you won't be...”

He mimicked a gun with two fingers and a thumb, putting the hand up by his head.

Flynn received sympathy from no one; his casual behavior ensured it. He didn't have a whole lot of pull in the criminal world because he'd never been interested in power, only money. There were a few connections he had, a terrible debt, and not much else to his name. He didn't have the luxury of friends after burning his bridges with Drake and Chloe. It was over with Chloe, even if it wasn't over.

“Flynn,” the man repeated, lifting his gaze to the soldiers next to him. “Clean him up and get him dressed.”

Navarro walked out after gesturing for the other two soldiers to follow him. He was left kneeling on the floor of the train car incredibly confused. While he was shedding no tears over a war lord's death, he didn't know where he stood with this new and sudden command.

“Get up!”

He hadn't been thinking anything to do with what the soldiers were ordered and looked up to find them staring down at him. They were glaring hostilely and they didn't wait for him. He was pulled to his feet roughly and one of them took him by the arm.

“Hey! Person!” he complained.

The mercenary smacked him in the chin with his fist. It didn't feel good. Most of him wanted to start a fight, the rest was tired and in pain. He let it slide and the man finished guiding him to one of the seats. He was put near the window with his back to the soldiers.

From his seated position, he took to ignoring the men preparing to make him appear like he'd never been tortured. It was routine for him to pay them no attention when they did this. Acknowledging them would be admitting what happened, and that these hired guns had power over him.

He hissed when the process of cleaning the cuts first began, but he got a hold on the consistent throbbing and managed bearing it in silence. When the antibiotic was applied, well that stung. He bit down on his lip, swallowing the yell threatening to emerge. His eyes rose to look out the window, searching for a distraction.

The mercenaries were gathering. There were still a lot of them left. Too many. There'd be no running from this.

The soldier not tending to his open wounds put a hand to the back of his head and shoved it forward.

“Easy,” he muttered.

To make sure he wouldn't bleed through his clothing, they did what they always did. His entire torso and parts of his shoulders were wrapped tight in bandages. Then one of them handed him his shirt.

Once his shirt and jacket were reacquired onto his person, not a trace of the whipping to be seen on the outside, the soldiers motioned for him to leave the train. He did reluctant, sick of being bossed and manhandled so persistently for months. Things could be worse. This was agreeably better than how his year started last year. Those people were insane and he was glad to be far from them.

Chloe was waiting for him, wearing a jacket of her own now, standing apart from the growing crowd of mercenary soldiers. By her expression, she was worried, but not for him. She didn't know what had been done to him in the train car. Good. He preferred she didn't know.

The wind picked up and the shapes before him became virtually indistinguishable in the slanted snowfall. He shivered and blinked, keeping his posture rigid to avoid aggravating his back with movement. When the wind settled, he laid eyes on Navarro approaching.

Ugh. If the guy was about to give some rousing speech, he wasn't interested. Flynn spotted Chloe again through the snowfall, when he realized the ouster of a war lord was diverting his path toward him as well. Hm.

“Flynn. I want you to come with me.” Navarro glanced at Chloe as she walked up. “Who's the woman?”

“Oh. This is-”

“No. Don't go there, Harry.”

“What are you talking about?”

She was giving him a very serious stare, ignoring the other man right next to her.

“This man killed Lazarevic. Thank God because that man needed putting down. But Harry, Lazarevic would have killed us both. And Nate, Nate may have had a stupid, bloody hero complex and an inflated sense of self-worth, but he didn't deserve to die. I'm leaving. Assuming I won't be shot for doing so?”

She did acknowledge Navarro then, looking at him sideways. He shrugged at her look and her words. “I've no use for you. You're free to go.”

Chloe turned back to him. “I'm out. Are you coming?”

“Chloe, about Drake,” he tried, but she quickly cut him off.

“I don't want to talk about him anymore.”

“But Chloe-”

“Stop! I can see you're not leaving. But why? Why not? Why do you keep going with this?”

Flynn had an answer. “I need to finish this. We're so close.”

“So it's about treasure? Is that really all you can think about? My God you're like him. Never letting things go.”

“Like who? Drake? Didn't you just say you didn't want to talk-”

“I'm out, Harry. And I'd rather you came with me. We don't even know this man. He could be as dangerous as Lazarevic.”

Wow, this was frustrating. It was obvious she was hurting and afraid and looking to jump ship before things got anymore out of hand. He couldn't blame her. In fact, it would be best if she left and went someplace safe.

“You should go. Get far away from here. It's safer far from this place.”

“What about you?”

He detected genuine concern for him in her voice, which was somewhat surprising considering she kept running off to be with Drake instead. Chloe was a thief who formed no permanent attachments with anyone so the leaving was no shock, just her care. It was tempting to go with her. She'd never know how much he wished that could happen. But he had to get the job done. He was to lay eyes on the prize Lazarevic had spent all his efforts chasing, and bring it to the bitch. Proof of job completion. Then he'd run and hide for a very long time.

“Don't worry your pretty head over me. I'll be fine.”

Her expression darkened, gaze growing distant. “Goodbye Harry.”

“Goodbye, love. It's been fun.”

She snorted. “Yeah, right. Let's never do this again.”

Ouch. But, hard to blame her. The past few months had been shitty. She'd never wanted to double-cross Drake and held it against him since he'd done it. Working for a psychopath wasn't so awesome either. Yeah, nobody stayed with him for long. He was a loser.

“I want you to come with me,” Navarro told him a second time.

Flynn watched Chloe walking away. For a moment his eyes trailed to her ass before lifting back to face level. It was impossible not to admire such a great ass. She glanced over her shoulder at him shortly before she moved out of sight. Looking back, wasn't that supposed to mean something? Reluctance maybe? He didn't dwell on it.

He tore his eyes from the spot he'd dismissed his latest unsuccessful relationship. “Where to?”

The man smiled at him. “We're going to fetch Nathan Drake.”

* * * * *

His eyes opened. He'd been out of it for a few minutes at least. He needed to stay awake, keep moving onward. Nathan had to get help for his gunshot wound. If he stayed out here much longer...

He dragged himself up wearily. “Come on, Nate.”

One foot in front of the other. One, two, repeat. He kept the mantra in his head to keep himself going. His concentration faltered and he fell onto his face. He was out of energy, his endurance at an end. Maybe giving in to unconsciousness would be a good thing, allowing him to recover enough to go on when he woke. Assuming he didn't freeze and die in his sleep.

He raised his head slightly, squinting at the too arduous path for him in his condition. Stupid path. Wait, there was someone walking to him.

Nathan's head collapsed back down before he forced it up again, struggling to keep himself elevated in order to see who was coming closer. He didn't recognize the man and the clothing wasn't for combat. Which hopefully meant nobody that wanted to kill him.

A gunshot rang out. It didn't appear to have hit the man but he was looking around now, frantically. Everything in him cried for him to collapse but he put himself on his elbows instead to get a better look.

More shapes moved in the snowstorm, drawing closer to the stranger. Their advance caused his potential would-be savior to move away. He sensed immediate danger and forced himself on his feet. The attempt instantly dropped him to one knee. Sleep would be so good right now.

He was left shocked when the shapes grew close enough that he could make out identities. There were two men and they weren't more soldiers coming to kill him. It was Flynn, who he was surprised had come all this way out just to go after him, and the second was a man who by all rights should be dead.

Atoq Navarro was pulled into deep water with a rope taut around his ankle and a heavy tomb dragging him down, far below the surface. Two years ago. How the hell did he get out of that death trap?

The how didn't matter much. He had and he brought himself up short by a couple of feet. Nathan stared at a dead man. Maybe he was hallucinating. He must be.

His hallucination holstered his shotgun and put his hands on his hips. “Hello, Drake.”

“Did you just try to shoot that man?”

The hallucination chuckled. “It was a warning shot.”

“Nate-”

The asshat was speaking up. “Don't call me that. My friends call me that.”

Flynn scowled at him. “Fine, Drake, make this easy on yourself.”

He narrowed his eyes at a guy he used to call his friend. “What are you waiting for? Aren't you gonna shoot me again? Finish me off?”

“If we want to kill you, we need only wait. You're not looking so good, Drake.”

Nathan shifted his glare over to his hallucination before returning it to where Flynn stood. “Can you see him?”

This earned him a frown. “See who?”

He managed to gesture in Navarro's direction. Flynn followed the motion and addressed his hallucination instead of him.

“I think he's losing it.”

Navarro smirked. “I'm real, Drake. Cutting free from a rope and swimming to the surface isn't impossible.”

“Seems improbable,” he retorted.

His eyes trailed the man who he could only continue to wish was mere hallucination. He was moving out of his direct line of sight. Flynn stayed where he was and waved his hands in the air.

“Hello? Okay? Okay.” Once the British man was satisfied he had his attention, he said what he really wanted to. “I've some great news, buddy.”

He sighed. Flynn never knew when to keep his mouth shut. But it wasn't like he was going anywhere. He glanced at Navarro to make sure he hadn't gotten any closer before fixing his gaze on the taller man to hear him out.

“Lazarebitch is dead. This fella shot him right in the skull. Great news, am I right?”

It was fantastic news. Mind-blowingly fantastic news. The murderous psychopath had killed Jeff, and tried to have him and Elena killed too. Nobody was going to care that man was dead, not even his own small army.

Wait... “Are Lazarevic's guys working for Navarro now?”

“Yes,” a low voice murmured. “They are.”

Navarro was standing close. He was too close. Oh crap!

Nathan tried to dodge out of his reach and Navarro dived far enough to tackle him around the waist. One of his hands clipped his bloody side in his attempt to grab hold of something and he yelled out his pain. Rolling onto his back, he scrambled to draw his gun.

His attempt was blocked by an arm and then he was punched in the face, twice. He wasn't allowed to so much as react because Navarro was busy climbing up his body to get a better hold on him. Hell no. He kneed him in the groin.

Throwing the older man off, he dragged himself across the ground. He held a single goal. Get away. It was a stupid goal. It was too hard.

He caught Flynn's boot to his forehead and jerked himself in the opposite direction. “Seriously, Drake. Stop fighting.”

“I've got him, Flynn. Get the dagger.”

Dagger... He must have left it in the snow where he'd originally fallen. It kind of seemed less important when a ghost from his past reappeared. A ghost currently regaining his feet to come after him.

Nathan focused every bit of his energy to get standing. The next focus was to pull his gun and use it to make Navarro keep his distance. Except when he drew his gun, his assailant continued his charge.

The impact happened before he could pull the trigger and the gun slipped from his grasp. He fell flat and a heavy weight landed on top. Navarro put his shoulders to his own, hands taking hold of his forearms and putting them to the ground. All the thrashing couldn't remove his attacker.

Snow melted into his clothing, increasing the discomfort. He flailed one final time before settling back to the ground motionless. Right. So they weren't trying to kill him. They were trying to capture him. Why?

“Go on, Drake. Sleep. You can barely stand. I'll look after you.”

“Why do I not find that reassuring?” he muttered.

“Flynn!”

Nathan flinched, the shout coming out of a mouth centimeters from his ear.

“Help me carry him.”

He made a noise of discomfort, wanting to yell out his fury at his situation. It wouldn't do him any good. Navarro sat back on his heels, releasing his arms, and he immediately drew himself onto his elbows. He planned to crawl away like that but strong hands tucked under his shoulders and pulled him up.

Nathan tugged himself free but Navarro was beside him in the next moment to help Flynn regain a hold. He would have told them what he thought of them both, except his gaze lowered to his side when he felt the injury with renewed vigor. It was bleeding again. Dizziness swept through his head, the exhaustion leaking into his bones.

He couldn't pretend Flynn and Navarro weren't formidable opponents on their own, and that was when he wasn't bleeding out in a snowstorm. And he was incredibly tired. Nathan let his eyes shut and within a few short moments his conscious thoughts swept away.

Chapter Text

The jungle had been insane. Hot, sweaty, and filled with blood-thirsty pirates out to beat them to the treasure. Just their luck that they'd gotten these guys on their tail for the latter half of the mission. Job nearly done and the crew had shown up, firing first and apparently saving the questions for never. Their employer did not pay them enough for so much danger. That was why his partner suggested they take the treasure for themselves.

“Nathan Drake, call me Nate.”

As soon as they met they'd become firm friends. That was seven years ago. The job had a few rough bumps but they worked smoothly together and known there would be other jobs in their future. While double-crossing anyone in the business never occurred to him before, there didn't appear to be any foreseeable repercussions so he'd gone along with it. They'd nearly gotten their heads blown off for their trouble and keeping the money was fair play according to Drake. He could go with that.

Once they were on safe ground with their loot, they went out to celebrate a successful mission. Copious amounts of alcohol were consumed and when they finally called it a night, they stumbled into their two-bed motel room. They were both ridiculous kinds of wasted, but Drake was even further gone than him. And he looked incredibly sexy when he peeled off his shirt before climbing into bed.

He took a quick shower to deal with a rising issue, and came back out with a towel around his waist to find Drake reclined against his pillows. The young man half-naked and looking all relaxed in his heavily drunken state, caused him to get hard all over again. He'd never gotten hard over the sight of a man before. Horny when drunk was nothing new. Getting a pressing desire to fuck a male person, that was entirely new.

He'd decided he was going to get laid and peeled the towel from his wet body before getting in Nate's bed. He was first met with confusion but when he lowered himself to press his mouth against Drake's lips, the man melted into the kiss. His hands worked to undo the younger man's pants.

Drake started to protest, talking about how he wasn't sure what they were doing. Precious. He placed gentle kisses against soft skin, running fingers against the thin layer of chest hair on the young man beneath him. The action relaxed Drake and their lips locked for a while, hot and heavy. When he leaned away so they could both get some breath back in them, Drake's fingers hesitantly reached up and ran along his own smooth and chiseled chest.

Flynn was pleasantly surprised when the man worked to remove his pants and underwear himself. He helped him pull the clothing all the way off his legs and to the floor below. They kissed another long moment and he took Drake's length in his hand. He'd really liked that, moaning and gripping his hands into the sheets under the experienced man's ministrations.

There was a moment when he faltered, when the lovely moment almost ended. He'd begun to think about why he was experienced with men when he'd never before been turned on by a man. He'd had sexual experiences with men, had erections and climaxes, but none of those times did he enjoy it. Flynn was enjoying this moment now, and that was how he returned to it.

He'd known then just what to do to send him over the edge. He slid his hands along Drake's body, the man asking him to touch him again, and his mouth enveloped his penis. Flynn took it fully into his mouth, fingers stroking at the underside of his balls. The other hand he placed on the man's hip, helping to keep the involuntary bucking at a minimum. He only deep-throated a few times before Drake came, a hot mess filling his mouth.

Pulling away, he met Drake's eyes, swallowing all of the warm substance. The startled look transitioned into a turned on leer and he was tugged upward again so their mouths could meet. Their penises bumped against each other and Drake liked that. His hands came up to rest on Flynn's hips and he grinded into the man above him.

Flynn was painfully hard. But he was hoping for something specific. He told Drake he was going to try something new and the young man was all too eager. When his finger slid partway into his ass, his features filled with doubt. Withdrawing the finger, he reassured his bed-mate they'd take it slow and they did.

He took forever getting that beautiful ass ready for his size, and they kept their free hands and mouths busy exploring each other all the while. When he pushed inside of Drake, they moaned in unison. Gradually he filled him and when he was fully sheathed, he pressed their bodies together for a kiss.

Drake wrapped his arms around him and kept him held close. His hands squeezed Flynn's rear which elicited him to start moving inside of the tight hole at his mercy. But he took care to be gentle. He really liked his one-time associate, and he really liked what they were doing now.

His eyes closed and when he opened them he wasn't on the verge of pleasure anymore. He was lying on his back and he felt like he was suffocating. A man was gripping his chin and putting tongue down his throat. The man's face was furry, rough hairs scratching against his own more youthful face. He was in another memory, thirteen years before he met Nathan Drake.

Even though he was trying to push the man off, the second man on his other side reassured him that it was all fine. This man was stroking his own cock while staring at him. He was afraid of what they were planning but he'd had a lot to drink earlier and his head was fuzzy. Every time he decided he wanted to get up, his head throbbed and hands pushed him back down to the mattress.

These people gave him his first real job, gave him a start in the business he'd been headed to his whole life. They were a lot older and experienced, completely professional before, during, and immediately after the job. In the bar they'd drank a lot, or at least he'd thought they had, too, and then he'd been in a bed. One of them was removing his clothes and when he tried to protest he was reassured it was all fine. They both kept saying that.

He'd never been with a guy, never imagined doing it. He really liked women. But too much drinking and he was in a hotel room with two men and they kept touching him. When the man kissing him backed off, he tried to sit up yet again. He squirmed and fell back down when the same man shoved two fingers inside of him.

Holy fuck he'd never known what something inside your ass could feel like. It didn't feel good. It actually hurt.

The fingers pushed in and out of him and he cried that it hurt. He asked him to stop and he did. The man stroking his dick stopped and leaned over him, putting his hands onto his shoulders. He didn't understand why until something much bigger than a finger shoved into his ass.

Flynn asked him to stop, begged him to get it out. But they were busy doing, not listening, and he grew quiet. It was his fault for getting drunk. He put himself in this position. He bit down on his lip and fought the sounds of discomfort fighting to tear from his throat as the man pounded into him.

He was nineteen. Stupid shit happened to teenagers, right? If he hadn't met these guys, he might never have gotten a first job, at least not one so successful. He was never going to see them ever again. He'd be more careful. And he was nineteen. It was fine. Flynn squeezed his eyes shut tight.

His eyes opened and he was back to looking down at Drake right as he reached climax. Shuddering, he rode it out and then pulled out, tossing himself onto his back beside the other to avoid falling on him. The younger man giggled and sidled up against his side.

“That was new.”

He had sex with another man willingly. That was new for him too. It made him feel happy. He felt warmth dissipate somewhat when Drake pulled back slightly, curious eyes searching his face.

“Are you okay?”

Flynn gave him a small, but genuine smile, wiping at the tears beginning to leak from his eyes. “Yeah. Yeah, it's fine.”

* * * * *

He startled awake when Navarro stormed into the tent. It took him a moment to remember himself. When he did, he sat up slowly, careful not to irritate his back.

Flynn eyed the man uncertainly. He didn't know where he stood with this new arrangement. Were they equals in the search for Shambhala? They'd better be. If the guy tried to treat him like he was lesser, like Lazarevic had done, he'd discard the new arrangement immediately. There were a whole lot of soldiers standing on the man's side, but he wasn't opposed to disappearing in order to find the location himself.

Oh, who was he kidding? He couldn't find the lost city on his own. He needed Drake's help. It was probably why they'd saved the man and taken him captive. No one figured out the indecipherable like Nate could.

His eyes moved to the spot where Drake laid under heavy covers on the cot across from him. Likely the cause of his..less than pure recollection of a time long past while he'd slept, because underneath the covers the younger man was nude.

“I need him alive but none of the soldiers will do it. They say he's killed too many of them for them to lift a finger to help him. Goddammit.”

Flynn frowned over at the guy who had yet to acknowledge his presence. Too busy muttering under his own breath he supposed. Well fine, he'd initiate a conversation with someone shaping up to be his new partner.

“What's up?”

Navarro looked at him and waved an arm at Drake's still form. “He's developed a fever and is fighting infection. I've given him antibiotics but it's too cold in this place. He needs heat. A heat warm and constant enough that he can fight the sickness. If he doesn't, he won't wake up and he'll die. He's no good to me dead.”

“Uh... Sorry mate, what does he need?”

The man gave him a look of annoyance. “Body heat, Flynn. He needs body heat.”

He put his hands up dismissively. “Don't look at me. I'd rather he die. He caused a lot of trouble for me.”

If Drake died, it wouldn't be the worst thing to happen. He'd eventually find the treasure. It just might take him longer and he was totally fine with drawing out the job now that Lazarevic was out of the picture.

Navarro drew his shotgun and for a moment he thought the guy was going to shoot him. But he only deposited the gun onto a crate near the tent opening. He proceeded to unzip and remove his jacket.

His eyes widened as he realized the guy was going to strip entirely. They were both guys and adults, but he looked away out of some kind of need to give him privacy. He waited what felt like an appropriate amount of time, also judging the timing by what he could hear, and then turned back to sit properly on his cot.

“You really need him alive. Why?”

His new partner did not look over at him from where he'd completely sandwiched his body between Drake and the layers of blankets on the cot. Drake remained unconscious, occasionally shifting in his feverish sleep. Flynn didn't have anything else to do so he waited out the silence.

He almost dosed off but woke with a start when Navarro spoke up.

“He is the treasure, Flynn. This man is capable of finding the most obscure and valuable of lost gems. He's going to make us extremely wealthy.”

Flynn rubbed his eyes. “Wait, so you came here for Drake?”

“Of course.”

He mulled that over. Nathan Drake was a stubborn fool. He was a man convinced of his own heroism and wasn't likely to agreeably work for anyone forcing him to do it. Even if they could get him hunting down treasure, he'd surely try to get the better of them and run off at the earliest opportunity. The thought occurred to him Navarro might not know about the treasure hunt he was presently on.

“Drake's the prize that'll keep on giving,” Navarro added. “He'll merely have to be convinced to fall in line.”

He considered disappearing himself and going after the tree during the time Navarro was occupied nursing Drake back to life. It wouldn't be an easy task, but he had no desire to work with Drake again. As much fun as it was to exchange barbs with the man, Flynn didn't need to stare at someone better than him any more than necessary. Yes, the chance to find transport, sneak away with the dagger, and figure out the monastery's secret was fast approaching.

Flynn walked out of the tent and decided to ponder his future plans. He'd been the one to remove Drake's possessions and there was a journal of interest among his things. He didn't have to work for anybody anymore. His client was dead, the devil who'd put him under his client's thumb was far, far away, and there was a treasure to be had close at hand.

* * * * *

“Well hello there, handsome.”

“Harry Flynn! Aw man, yes! How are you?”

“I'm onto something big, my friend. Join me in my quest?”

Harry Flynn tracked him down in a Florence bar four years ago. He remembered it all clearly because it was a time when Sully was annoying and his latest fling was over four months behind him. When Flynn told him about the treasure he was searching for, he jumped when the offer was extended for him to collaborate on it.

They discussed a few of the details and drank into the night, excited and anxious to make progress toward the treasure. They ended up drinking far too much and somehow they made their way into the bar's bathroom. In a stall they reintroduced their bodies to each other, rutting their naked groins up against one another like a couple of teenagers. Once orgasm was reached, they cleaned themselves and walked out like nothing happened.

The planning stages were to take approximately a week, and five days into it, they each picked up young mid-20's ladies who they brought to their adjoining hotel rooms upstairs. He didn't remember the girls much. They'd looked disbelievingly similar, both very pretty and alluring in their own right. Flynn landed his lay nearly an hour before Nate managed to bring his up to his own room, but when he did, they were heated and ready.

From the door to the bed they made out, tearing at each other's clothing in their haste to get going. His shirt was tugged off, his pants unbuckled and pulled down before she shoved him onto the bed. He loved a take charge kind of girl. With her only in bra and panties, she placed her hands on his thighs before cupping his balls in one slender palm, massaging slowly as she bit down on her bottom lip, eyes staring lustfully at him.

She leaned forward and placed her lips to his penis, kissing along his length. His thoughts wandered and he thought about how good it felt when Flynn had taken him into his mouth. It was over three years earlier but it was a memorable night, and the best blow job he'd ever had. The man had nice lips. Lips that had been on him in the bathroom earlier that same week...

“No... Not like that.”

The words came out before he realized he was saying them out loud. It had the reaction he imagined it would. She pulled away from him with offended eyes zeroing in on his face.

“Excuse me?”

“Ahh... Uhh... No?”

She made a disgusted noise and started getting to her feet, grabbing for her clothing on the floor.

“Hey, no, where are you going?”

“Um, away, asshole.”

He stared blankly at her, too hard to move or think straight. “Aw come on. Don't go.”

His weak attempt was weak. She threw one of his shoes at him, uttered a stream of curses loudly, and stomped out of the room in her half-dressed state. The door slammed and Nathan was left distressed and erect.

Sighing, he reached down and started to stroke it out, disappointed he was taking care of it himself. That was when his door opened and he looked up, hoping the girl had come back for some fun after all.

“Left high and dry, buddy?”

Flynn's head was poking in, and when he observed Nathan's state, he slid inside. Shutting the door behind him, he sauntered over, himself wearing only blue boxer shorts. The close proximity when the slightly bigger man hovered, brought back memories of their intimate tryst in the bar room bathroom.

Without another word, Flynn got down on his knees and took Nate's length entirely into his mouth. Oh dear God!

He fell back on his elbows and reclined while Flynn's beautiful mouth did magic. When he eventually came in his mouth, the man swallowed it just like last time, and patted him on the leg before leaving. He was utterly satisfied and blissful, and a part of him wished his business associate would have stayed.

Eyes sliding shut, he laid down on the bed and imagined what else might have happened if he'd stayed. His thoughts shifted to the upcoming job and he thought just maybe, if the job went well, they'd end up in bed together at job's end. He was nervously excited for the danger the job presented and knew he would be so ready to get off if all went according to plan. No commitments, just fun. He could hardly wait.

* * * * *

Nathan woke slowly. His thoughts were spinning around and around. Gradually he was coming out of his dream and into more recent, semi-conscious memories. He'd been going after the phurba and Chloe, pulling ridiculous stunts on a train moving through the mountains. When he finally retrieved the dagger and reached Chloe, she was the opposite of happy to see him. In fact, she yelled and basically told him she didn't ask for his help.

He hadn't been expecting a thank you, but he at least thought she'd appreciate him risking his life for her. By her behavior once he ran into Elena, he thought she might have been jealous. For certain, he wasn't on her best side. Nate didn't know where he stood concerning Chloe. Of course, when he was about to throw up his hands and be done with her, Flynn had shown up and shot him as soon as he turned around.

He'd never thought Flynn would do that. He hadn't even felt the bullet at first in his astonishment. Nathan had stared at the man who once was a solid and trustworthy friend and business associate as he shouted pure anger at him. Then Nathan had to run as Flynn sent soldiers to kill him. He'd come scarily close to dying on that train.

Wait, he was remembering a dead man not actually dead. Atoq Navarro, South American archaeologist and treasure hunter for Gabriel Roman two years past. That remembrance got him to open his eyes wide, fully conscious and aware now.

He was on a cot, among two other empty cots, a few crates, and a table scattered with papers. The Phurba was on the table along with his clothing. Nate lifted the layers of blankets covering him and noted he was indeed naked.

Nathan shoved the covers down by his waist to check his gunshot wound. His abdomen was wrapped tightly in clean bandages. He recalled Flynn and Navarro finding him in the snowstorm and taking care to capture him alive. They'd want him to find the Cintamani Stone for them. He'd rather not be doing that.

“Don't touch.”

His head shot up, fingers stilling from where they were picking at the wrappings. One of the mercenaries had stepped inside the tent. Dark hair, dark eyes, mid-40's, and generic good looks. He wore a dark green and black military uniform with a scarf wrapped about his neck, a sniper rifle on his back, and a magnum holstered to his right thigh.

“Who are you? Where am I?” Nate demanded.

“You are in camp, at the rail yard.”

He understood the man hadn't answered his first question, but it didn't really matter either. He was clearly one of Lazarevic's soldiers sent to babysit him. Nathan remembered Flynn telling him the war criminal was dead. Navarro must have shown up and staged a take-over. He was surprised it worked.

How unfortunate for him that it had worked. He didn't think Lazarevic would have bothered coming out himself to hunt him down and kill him. If Navarro hadn't shown to stir things up, he could very well be free and clear right now. Who was the man he'd seen out in the storm? For him to be out there meant there must be some sort of civilization nearby. There might be a place somewhere for him to run to. He couldn't stay here.

“Navarro used his own body heat for a night and a day to break your fever,” the mercenary informed him in his heavily accented voice. “You would have died if not for him.”

Nathan frowned as he thought about that. “Was he naked? Cause I'm naked.”

The man cocked his head, saying nothing.

“I'll take that as a yes. Yuck. Why would the guy save my life? I ruined his chance to get rich off a very ancient bio-weapon. What's going on?”

He wasn't expecting an answer but he got one.

“I do not think you were saved.”

“Uhh... Huh?”

The mercenary shifted his stance. “I understood Zoran Lazarevic was a bad man. I am beginning to see Atoq Navarro may be no better.”

Nathan stared at the guy with a well duh kind of look before morphing it into frustration. “Why work for bad men then? It seems to bother you what they're like.”

“I have killed many people. But there is killing for purpose, and there is killing for pleasure. There are righteous leaders, and there are sadists. Navarro may not be a mass murderer and bringer of chaos like Lazarevic, but he is dangerous.”

“Yeah, they're both crazy, and neither will do the world any favors by getting the stone.” Nate eyed him carefully. “You..could let me go? If I can get to the stone before Navarro, I can destroy it.”

His expression didn't alter in the slightest. “No. I am allegiant to my employer, no matter what kind of man he may be.”

“But he's dangerous,” Nate complained. “You said that!”

The man's expression shifted, a miniscule change, but noticeable on his near constant deadpan face. Nathan waited him out, hoping to get any kind of information from him.

“What I have witnessed thus far, proves to me my new employer is sadistic, manipulative, and dangerous. The last was similar, and the one before that. I have done many bad things but do not think myself a bad man. I am simply a man who is sometimes employed by bad men. And my absolute loyalty is my selling point.”

Ugh, mercenaries. There was no bartering with them unless it was with a higher price, unless said mercenary took pride in a thing like loyalty. Then there would be no convincing him otherwise. Well, crap. Of course he would get the soldier who ran off of allegiance, not that he had a penny to his name at present...

He tried for another track of information.

“How long have I been here?”

“Four nights,” his babysitter announced. “Today is your fifth day of rest. I have been placed in charge of your protection.”

Nathan glanced past broad shoulders to the light coming from the opening of the tent.

“And keeping me here?”

“Yes.”

Crap. For now it looked like he was stuck in Navarro's camp. He wondered if Chloe was out there somewhere. Maybe she would show up and help him like she had the other times. Then again, the last time he saw her they had an argument and he got shot.

Nathan tried to get more out of him but the man fell silent. He no longer looked in his direction. The soldier didn't say another word the rest of the time they remained in the tent just the two of them, even when he tried to personally insult him.

Well, he was grateful his wound wasn't giving him any trouble. Nathan barely felt that he'd taken a bullet to the side. He'd come out of his near death experience with a few scrapes on his face and a non-lethal gunshot wound wrapped tight. The addition of painkillers so he didn't feel it made the situation that much brighter. As a prisoner at present, at least things weren't any worse.

Chapter Text

He spent days learning every inch of the camp and the routes of the perimeter guards. He scoured through the journal recovered from Drake and books retained from Lazarevic's collection. Flynn was feeling pretty confident he could sneak away from camp, reach the monastery by way of a stolen jeep, and figure out the puzzle that would be waiting inside. Shambhala was within reach. He was nearly there.

“Hello, Flynn.”

He missed a step and stumbled forward. Finding his balance again quickly, he glanced to his left and saw Navarro leaning up against a tree a mere two feet from him. The man crunched into the apple in his left hand, watching him calmly. Flynn sensed a masked anger behind those dark eyes.

“What are you doing out here?” he asked casually.

They were in the treeline right outside the middle of camp. He'd spent the afternoon scouting ahead to where the vehicles closest to the road leading to the monastery were parked. Navarro had found him on his way back.

It took a few more seconds to gather there were four soldiers loitering nearby. Squinting to get a better look, he thought they might have been the same ones from the train car where Lazarevic met his end. What was sick about that, was when they abandoned the train, they just left Lazarevic's body there. They didn't even bury their former leader. Cold, no matter what the man had become in life.

“You're playing a dangerous game,” Navarro said to him.

His expression turned unpleasant. He liked treasure and gold; he was bloody sick of puzzles and riddles.

“What are you getting at, mate?”

“Luka has informed me of your perpetual habits.”

Flynn trailed the other man's nod toward a soldier. One with shiny dark hair slicked back with ridiculous amounts of gel. He would know, seeing as how he used a fair bit of gel in his own hair most days. Frowning, he returned to Navarro.

“You had someone following me?”

“I prefer to know who I work alongside. I never trust anyone, but there's a certain degree of incentive I require in each of my associates.”

“And?” he challenged.

Navarro seemed pleased to answer him, a growing smirk appearing on his face. He straightened his stance, moving slightly away from the tree, closer to his position. Flynn worriedly observed the soldiers had gone from inattentive to solely focused on him, no longer pretending not to have been called there.

“I've come to the conclusion you require incentive to follow my lead. We are partners, Flynn, and I deeply suspect you are planning to make a run for the treasure yourself.”

He shook his head immediately, smoothly telling a lie. “I don't know what you're talking about.”

The man mock sighed, slowly shaking his head in false disappointment. “I'm not interested in torture or 'lessons' like the warmonger I've been trailing since the ships in Borneo. But I will not be played for a fool like he was either.”

Damn. He knew about the ships. He must have always known about Lazarevic's search for Shambhala. Too late to admit the truth now, so he perpetuated the lie.

“Really, mate, I've no idea what you're on about.”

Navarro narrowed his eyes, lip curling in distaste at what he was hearing.

“I told you Drake would need to be convinced to fall in line. Right now it would appear to be you that requires such motivation.”

The soldiers were walking straight for him. What the hell were they planning to do? Kill him? Torture? Navarro said he wasn't interested in torture. What then?

He drew his gun at the four mercenaries to keep them at bay. “What are you doing?”

“I'm going to need you to prove your devotion. We are partners, we are going to find Shambhala together, we will split the earnings we make from selling what is there.”

Flynn wondered if the man knew what was actually inside Shambhala like he did. As far as he was aware, Drake still believed it was some stupid stone like Chloe did. Heh, it felt good being smarter than Nathan Drake this time around. Oh, right, he should probably nod and agree with this asshole.

“Right. Yeah.”

“You deceive me.”

“Okay, what the hell, guy?” He genuinely had no idea what this man was trying to say. “Are you some kind of control freak that you're in need of a power play using a handful of guys as intimidation? This isn't grade school.”

“No, it isn't grade school. Will you do what is necessary to work together toward our common goal?”

“Yes.”

Navarro chewed on some more of his apple before discarding it over his shoulder. “You have two options. You can have sex with me willingly or these men will hold you down for me. Now I know you are confused, but it's quite simple. Although I prefer to avoid torture, I am not opposed to utilizing it where necessary. Your back is still healing and I'd rather my partner not be incapacitated. The convoy leaves tomorrow for the monastery, where it is rumored the way to the lost city can be seen. Sex is perfect because it leaves little physical trace, but enough of a psychological mark for my purpose.”

Flynn was beyond speechless and horrified. How did it come to this? How was this happening now? Why did it always happen to him? No!

He repeated his mind's scream. “No!”

“I must be certain you won't repeat this transgression,” he apprised him, coming into his space.

He started to move out of the dark featured man's way, magnum carefully aimed at the soldiers. Navarro used Flynn's desire to keep everyone in his sights, an impossibility with the angle, and grabbed him by the jacket collar. He pulled him closer before shoving him into a tree.

His back scraped against the bark and he winced at the pain. He'd discarded wearing bandages yesterday to let them heal without covering, and so gone was the extra protection between him and other objects. He refused to lower his gun from the soldiers, allowing Navarro to grip his collar and get in his face to speak his piece for the time being.

“By allowing me to do as I please with your body, I'll feel like I can trust you again. Luka and Damir will continue to keep an eye on you, but I think we can proceed with the treasure hunt relatively unimpeded. Drake might try to be an issue. He's my concern for another day.”

“Fuck you. Your logic is bullshit and you know it. This is a man obsessed with showing his power by putting me down and making me appear weaker. I won't-”

Navarro gripped his gun arm tight and pushed his lips against Flynn's mouth to silence him. He swung a left hook into the man's right cheek. He faltered away. It would leave a mark. Good.

“There's a physical mark for you,” he snarked.

The hired guns started to make a move. Their boss put up a hand which halted them in their tracks. He would have shot them if they'd come too close.

“Put the gun down. You can't shoot all of us before we get you. And if you force our hand, you will die in this spot tonight.”

“You need me to find the treasure.”

“I need Drake.”

He glared angrily at him. He was sick of everybody liking Drake over him. Everyone thought Drake was some super treasure hunting genius and pretty boy. What the hell did he have to do for people to give him the time of day? He hated apathy geared toward him. Maybe Navarro was trying to tell him he thought he could be useful. This could be his opportunity to get credit for his talents once he discovered Shambhala. The past had truly fucked him up.

His shoulders slumped, displaying the damn surrender his new partner was looking for. He could let the man do what he wanted to his body. The more willing, the better he could keep hidden how much rape terrified him. If he appeared like it wasn't such a big deal to have sex with some guy, Navarro could have his minute to feel dominant and they could get on with the search for treasure. It wasn't like this was the first time he'd been used.

Flynn holstered his gun and the other man reentered his personal space, unzipping his jacket and running his hands over his thin tank-top. Their lips met and this time he returned the kiss. He wrapped his arms around Navarro's neck and deepened the kiss until they were both out of breath.

Pulling his head back to get some air, he sought the man's eyes. “You ever rape anyone before?”

That amused him. “I'm not raping you. You're allowing this.”

“Right.”

Navarro unzipped and removed his jacket and vest before moving to undo Flynn's pants. He leaned back against the tree and shut his eyes, measuring his breaths. Make it into manipulating him as much as he was being manipulated. He felt his jeans pulled down to his ankles and opened his eyes to find the aggressive man staring straight at him.

“If it comforts you, every action bears a consequence.”

He had a smart comment to say to that, but Navarro straightened and captured his mouth in another kiss to prevent it. His hand was taken and pressed to the front of the man's pants. He could feel the sizable bulge and couldn't conceal how surprised he was by the man already being so erect. The guy definitely got off on power.

The other man pulled away from the lip-lock first this time, and Flynn took his hand back. Navarro started working on undoing his own belt and he glanced over at the soldiers. They were watching everything happening with no discernible reactions.

“Lie down on your back.”

Flynn really didn't want to. He'd rather be anywhere but here. Kicking off his jeans so he could move more easily, he tugged off his jacket and placed it on the ground to cushion his head before lying on the grass. What life choices did he make that put him here now, unable to stop what was happening? He never thought straight enough to figure his direction fully.

The man got on top of him, leaving his tank-top alone in favor of tugging his boxers down and off his legs to join his piled up jeans. Fully exposed to the open air and Navarro's gaze, he shivered at the chill he felt. The snow may have melted in some areas, but it remained absurdly cold to be doing this outside.

Navarro removed a tube of lotion from the pocket of his pants bunched about his ankles. Leaning forward, he watched Flynn's face while he applied the substance to three fingers. He told him to spread his legs further and Flynn did so, placing them on either side of the man's waist. The three fingers pushed inside of him. It was a tight fit and his hands tried to grip the ground while he adjusted to the feeling.

“Have you ever done this?”

He considered how he should answer the question. Apparently the amount of time it took him to respond gave his answer.

“Ah, so you have. Must have been some time ago for you to be this tight.”

“Maybe a year,” he offered, but nothing more.

It was for him to know that the last time he had sex with a man, he was stabbed in the shoulder and then raped repeatedly. At least the last time he'd had sex with a woman, it was with Chloe, and it was nice. He missed Chloe more than he liked considering how she treated him. Despite her flaws, she was a good woman.

Navarro ran a finger across the scarring left from his stabbing. Kissing the scar tissue on his left shoulder, a thin beard scratched against his cheek before he turned his face to him. The man's eyes zeroed in on the light scar above the left side of his mouth.

“Where did you get these scars?”

“My father used to beat the shit out of me when he was high.”

He frowned a little, smiling slightly. “Did he stab you as well?”

“No, that was a different bastard. I got lucky and my dad got dead when I was a kid. The other guy is still out there. I'll get him one day.”

His smile spread. “That's the spirit.”

Flynn strained to hold still as the three fingers moved in and out briefly before withdrawing. He refrained from watching Navarro apply the lubricant to his penis. Instead he tried to imagine what the afternoon sky would look like if it were a canvass of stars. He preferred night to day. It was easier to hide at night.

Navarro gripped his hips tight as he began to enter him. He kept his breathing steady, relaxing his body to make it easier for the man to push in. When he was completely inside, the man leaned over him and initiated a kiss.

He dug his nails into a mixture of melted snow, grass, and soft dirt when Navarro began to move in and out of him. The man moved his lips along his jaw, to his neck, and across his chest. Flynn laid there and let him do as he wished.

A hand moved off his hip, sliding into his hair. The grip in his hair shifted to turn his face to the side for easier access to his neck. Tongue and teeth lightly grazed against the exposed skin. All the while Navarro kept a steady pace as he fucked him.

The pace quickened after a minute, and with how deep the man was plunging into him, it hurt. He wasn't angling right to give him any pleasure and didn't seem to care. Flynn put his hand on Navarro's hips in an attempt to slow him down. It seemed to have the opposite effect and he grunted in discomfort.

He started to fuck even harder, hands sliding over to push down on his shoulders, keeping him in place. Navarro stuck their mouths together, all clashing teeth and invasive tongue. Flynn understood he wasn't meant to enjoy this and sucked it up, waiting for it to be done.

“Ah, yes,” Navarro murmured into his mouth.

Flynn squeezed his eyes shut when the body above him shuddered, alerting him to Navarro's climax. The man gripped his chin with one hand and kissed him a final time. Removing his softened member, Flynn pretended like he couldn't feel the sticky mess left inside, leaking out along his thighs a bit.

It was over. He'd escaped it relatively unscathed. Atoq Navarro was just another asshole using and taking advantage of him. Now it was done and he could focus on treasure. He loved treasure.

He sat upright when Navarro stood to fix up his pants.

“Well that was suitably awkward,” he quipped.

Looping his belt, the man smirked down at him. “This next part won't be. Unpleasant, maybe, but necessary.”

Any trace of humor vanished from his face. “What are you talking about?”

The mercenaries were coming over, fidgeting with their uniforms. They were removing their weapons and accessories. The general calm he'd maintained during Navarro's assault of his body was lost. He started to stand up, reaching for his pile of clothes at the same time, but the soldiers moved into his space and stopped him.

“Navarro!”

“It's nothing personal, Flynn. Your mistake for counting against me.”

“No! Please!”

They put their hands on him, two of them taking him by the arms and shoulders, a third grappling with his kicking legs. Three of them together easily forced him to return to the ground on his back. They held him there while the fourth worked on adjusting his pants.

“Get off me!” he screamed, fighting with everything he had to get them away.

He was descending into full-blown panic when Navarro's voice reached him.

“See, this will provide you with the opportunity to meet part of the team. Luka is the man preparing to fuck you.”

A growl ripped from his throat. “You sick bastard!”

“Alek, if you would be so kind.”

The man holding him down on the right with light, short hair, glanced toward the boss he could not see. His mouth was soon after covered with the soldier's gloved hand and he was forced to listen to Navarro without audible protest. His fear and frustration levels were rising.

“Ah, well, that is Alek. Alek, you may fuck him second.” Navarro continued, nonchalant. “Damir is on your left, and the man holding your legs is Zarko. They'll be fucking you third and fourth.”

He screamed out his rage but it only came out muffled through the hand. The mercenary with dark hair and eyes keeping him to the ground on his left side, chuckled at his helplessness.

“Fuck you too, Damir,” he mumbled, but it was indistinguishable through his gag.

Mortifyingly, explaining who each of his soon-to-be rapists were, succeeded in imprinting their names and accompanying features into his brain. His panicking eyes flitted around at the men holding him to the ground. Zarko remained fairly expressionless, even as he released one of Flynn's legs and was kicked in the chest. Luka shoved between his thighs and started to line his dick up to push in.

He struggled with renewed vigor and Alek released his mouth, using both hands to push his lifting shoulder back down. Flynn interchangeably cursed at his assailants and pleaded to be let go. He was scared. He'd take anything but this hell.

Something rougher and wider than a penis shoved into him. He wailed in agony and the object twisted inside. The reason for his torment was Luka, who leaned over his near nude and prone body, and tugged what had been his closed fist out of his ass. There was blood on the hand. He nearly passed out right then.

“Shut up, bitch,” the man spat into his face.

Flynn couldn't prevent the whimper that escaped him and all of them seemed to take pleasure from the sound. He momentarily tried to seek out Navarro. He wasn't sure why he bothered to do it. He caught a glimpse of him past Luka's shoulder, watching them contentedly.

Luka forced his thighs open wider and shoved his penis into him without further ado. When he screamed from the raw pain radiating from his pelvic area, the man pulled out and shoved in fully all over again. Violent thrusts followed and he tried to stop verbally expressing his suffering to lessen the pleasure the mercenaries were getting from him.

He did his best keeping it together, biting his lip bloody. The man climaxed inside him and pulled out, moving around to exchange places with the next in line. He felt sick having that thought.

Alek entered him with as little care as Luka had shown. He fucked him as roughly and tears welled in his eyes. It was unbearably painful and he was pretty sure he felt blood trailing down his inner thighs.

Minutes ticked by like hours. His head felt light and dizzy off and on. Heavy hands pressed on him, raw pain emanated from his perpetually abused entrance, and all the while he could barely move. He wasn't sure if he remembered them each taking their turn, but moments after one of them climaxed in his ass, the soldiers released him and went away.

For a long minute he thought he may have imagined they'd gone. He'd been wishing for it to happen for what felt like forever so when it finally did, he didn't register the reality right as it happened. Eventually he sat up and his gaze met Navarro's, who'd been waiting for him to realign.

“This will never happen to you again. Unless, if you try to go around me a second time, I will let them do more than fuck you a couple times. I'll let them have you for days. If you still attempt to steal the treasure for yourself, I'll let every last soldier do as they please to you.”

“Navarro,” he began, but said nothing else when he realized he didn't know what to say.

“I know. We'll speak nothing more of this. It never happened. We're full partners and this was merely to ensure the arrangement stays in place. Now, gather yourself together and return to camp. Tomorrow morning we leave for the monastery.”

Flynn stared as the man walked away without another word. He sat a few minutes longer before standing himself up shakily. His legs were weak, his thighs and anus throbbing, and he spent the next minute pretending he wasn't in pain. He put on his clothing despite the cum and blood inside of him, leaking between his thighs. He was soaked in sweat everywhere, and tears he hadn't realized he shed stained his cheeks.

He put all of that aside and thought about the blossoming bruise on Navarro's cheek. His hand rested on his holstered Desert Eagle gun, fantasizing shooting the man at minimum a half dozen times. A few deep breaths and he walked back into the middle of camp, planning to clean himself up and change his clothing.

He was walking with a limp and he knew he'd have to fix that. Plenty of rest and practice walking straight by tomorrow would be a must. He was moving past the tent Drake was recovering in, the same tent Navarro and him slept in at night, where he'd made sure not to keep his personal belongings, when a mercenary called out.

“We got him!”

A second man laughed a little. “Want me to pin you down, English man?”

His face burned red in humiliation and he tried to move along faster. Unfortunately, with the pain he was in, it caused his limp to become more pronounced. He glanced at the tent where he'd have to spend the night on a cot too close to Navarro for his preference, and spotted the mercenary placed to guard Drake.

The guard was staring at him, expressionless as ever. The same man he remembered watching him get beaten down and bullied by Lazarevic after the train crash disaster. Would he become another man in a long line of men who would hurt him because he could?

His pain and humiliation at a high, he turned the memories of what had happened over, pushing to put them to the back of his mind. He worked to replace them with anger and focus. Anger for allowing himself to be used and abused, taken advantage of and raped. He channeled it into what was coming. Tomorrow they would find Shambhala. Surely Drake would be awake by then and if he wasn't, Flynn was confident he could find it on his own now that he'd had the chance to peruse the treasure hunter's journal.

Flynn was going to finish the job, get the treasure, and get far away from everything that happened these last months. Ever since he'd double-crossed Drake at the museum over jealousy, it hadn't taken long for things to feel wrong. He'd already been in too deep before even starting the Lazarevic job and meeting Chloe, and it had been like he'd been digging his own grave a month into finding the ships in Borneo. He was tired but determined to come out on top. There was still the chance for him to come out on top.

Chapter Text

The night dragged on. Even when he tried to close his eyes and sleep more, he stayed primarily awake. Guess that's what happened when you ended up sleeping four nights in a row. The cots on either side of him remained empty throughout his wakeful time. He was curious what they were doing. Plotting against him no doubt.

When the first edges of dawn fought to break free of night's hold, one of the men meant to be sleeping in this tent walked in. His babysitter looked to the boss before leaving the tent. He frowned over the lack of security in this moment. He could beat Navarro. He'd beaten him in the past. What gave him his new confidence?

“You're thinking too much.”

Nathan stared hard at the man moving about the tent. “Not likely.”

The man who refused to be dead stopped what he was doing and looked over his shoulder at him. A small smirk grew on his face.

“Perhaps you're right. Otherwise you wouldn't be here now, would you?”

He glowered at the insult. Nate sought to find anything he could use against him. His eyes saw a bruise on Navarro's cheek, too fresh to be one he might have given the man when they'd struggled in the snowstorm. The mark was a swollen red, with further discoloring beginning at the edges as it worked to heal.

“Who hit you? Looks like I'm not the only one who thinks you're an asshole.”

Navarro turned away and when he turned to him again, Nathan's blue jeans, boxers, brown belt, holster, and shoes were in his hands. The only thing missing was the gun he'd retrieved from a dead soldier, and his shirt. He watched the man set the items down on his legs still under the blankets on his cot.

“Your shirt was too bloody to be salvaged,” he explained, stepping sideways to a shoulder bag on his right. “You may have one of my shirts in its place.”

Nathan accepted the black shirt, similar to the shirts he normally wore himself. He tugged it on immediately to at least be wearing some clothing in the other man's presence. The shirt fit well. He rolled the sleeves up to his elbows out of habit before he examined the rest of his clothing. Nate hesitated putting them on. Silly as it was, he felt embarrassed being mostly naked in front of this man.

“Get dressed. We leave in an hour for the monastery.”

His prison keeper walked to the tent entrance and addressed someone he couldn't see on his way out. “Where have you been? Get in there and watch him. One hour.”

Harry Flynn was the addressee, and he shoved past Navarro to get into the tent. He was dressed in a clean pair of black jeans, a red v-necked t-shirt, and a dark red leather jacket. Flashing a cheeky smile to Navarro before he left, his look shifted to him and the smile widened.

“How you feeling, mate?”

He didn't wait for an answer, going to his cot and sitting down to stare at him from there. A few seconds of nothing passed and then he drew his gun and waved it in his direction.

“Well go on then. You heard the man. Finish getting dressed.”

“You were out there listening. Waiting?”

“I didn't want to interrupt the mood,” Flynn said with a cocky smile returning to his face.

Nathan rolled his eyes and flung the covers off, deciding to be done with letting his embarrassment get the better of him. It'd been years, but the man with him in the tent had seen him naked before. He slid his boxers on, ignoring Flynn's penetrating gaze remaining on him all the while. When he put his shoulder holster on, he looked at the man then.

“Am I getting a gun?”

“I'd rather you didn't, but Navarro thinks you should,” he told him. “So how's it feel being a captive? Doesn't feel good, does it?”

“How's it feel being such an asswipe all the time?” Nate snapped.

Flynn shrugged. “It pays the bills.”

Ugh, Nathan was sick of this guy. He tried his luck and swiped up the dagger. It didn't seem to bother Flynn so he slid it on his belt and laid back on his cot, reclining his head in his hands to stare up at the ceiling.

They remained that way for some time, waiting out the hour in silence. He wondered if Elena would look for him. He believed she would and could only hope they'd be somewhere she wouldn't investigate. Nathan didn't want her to get herself hurt or killed. He prayed she'd go home, even knowing how unlikely that was for her to do. Another woman entered his thoughts.

“Where's Chloe?”

“She left. Not so surprising she'd run off when the going got tough, hm?”

He peered over at him. Flynn had put his gun away at some point, tracing the blanket he sat upon with his fingers, eyes trailing the path they took. It was both surprising and not surprising that Chloe had gone. She didn't like how things had been turning out, but she'd continued to stick around for him, and Flynn as well. Women were complicated. He never had any idea what was going on in those frightening minds of the female gender.

Silence reigned again. Nathan decided he'd rather be talking to Flynn than hanging around with neither saying anything. His hand slid down to the spot where he was beginning to feel his injury. Maybe the pain medication they'd been giving him was somewhere in here.

“Flynn, where's the stuff you guys have been giving me to kill the pain?”

No answer came. He propped himself up on his elbows to get a better look at the man. He was asleep on his cot, curled slightly on his side, facing Nathan. Flynn probably hadn't intended to fall asleep. His mind wandered to earlier days when they'd still been friends, and were the type of friends who had the habit of falling into bed when they worked together.

Three years without hearing a peep from the guy and suddenly he'd shown his face at a favorite between jobs drinking spot of his on a warm beach. He popped up with that familiar and flirty tone, knowing precisely what to say to reel him in. Even though he'd been hesitant concerning the danger of going into that museum, when Flynn introduced Chloe to him, a woman he'd crossed paths intimately with in the past, he was hooked. Chloe was a beautiful gal and a hell of a thief. She could run and jump and move along risky paths like the best of them. And when Flynn started getting into the details of what he already knew, he was completely caught.

The job went according to plan, up until the moment his friend pulled a gun on him. Three months in prison and the next weeks were spent chasing after Flynn and Lazarevic. Nathan refused to let his old friend turned traitor go all the way with his betrayal. He'd been hell-bent, ever since Sully and Chloe showed to get him out of his crappy cell, to beat Flynn and his employer to Shambhala. He hadn't really thought about much else.

Now he had the chance to look at his backstabber while he wasn't awake. In this moment, Flynn wasn't smirking, playing cute, or making himself out to be some kind of genius. Nathan thought it was funny how he seemed younger and innocent while he was sleeping. How deceiving.

His eyes noticed something small in Flynn's grasp. He rolled off the cot and crept quietly over to the sleeping man. It was a piece of cake to ease the item free and he found himself looking at a bottle of pain pills. He assumed they were for his gunshot wound. Maybe Flynn was simply holding them for him?

He stored the information into his mind before removing the top to ingest a couple pills. Nathan returned the bottle to the hand he'd taken it from and walked the few feet back to his cot. He sat and waited then, for Navarro or his babysitter to let them know it was time to go. Even as a captive, he was feeling excited for the treasure hunt awaiting him. He was still reeled in, despite his reservations from getting shot and captured.

* * * * *

Nathan recovered his watch from beneath the table in the tent. He'd spent the last twenty minutes working his legs after so long leaving them immobile in bed. His babysitter came in to announce the convoy to the monastery was departing and it was time to go. He'd almost forgotten about his watch, only lucking out and spotting it when he spun at a random angle to get up from his cot at the man's announcement.

His babysitter approached Flynn's cot and shook his shoulder to wake him. The man's reaction was startling. When he opened his eyes and they lifted to see the mercenary, he shoved the arm and mostly fell off the bed in his haste to get up and away from him.

Flynn only relaxed when the soldier lowered his arm and stepped back. Then he realized Nate was staring wide-eyed at his miniature freak-out.

“Ah, sorry. Right. Okay...”

He walked out of the tent without another word. Nathan stared after him and looked at his babysitter.

“What the hell?”

The mercenary merely shook his head and stooped down to recover something. He clasped the pill bottle in his gloved hand. He tried to take the pills for himself but the soldier refused him and walked to the front of the tent.

“Follow me.”

Absent-minded, Nathan scratched the light growth of facial hair on his face. He followed, wondering now that he'd recovered his watch, where his journal had gone. He always kept his journal and a writing utensil in his pouch but it was empty save for the writing tool.

“Here.”

His face bumped into the front of his babysitter's array of light greens camouflaged, bullet-proof vest. Nathan had been too distracted scanning the movement of the other mercenaries scattered about to notice he'd stopped and turned to him. Aside from speaking, he was holding out a 9mm handgun.

He accepted the weapon wordlessly. He was curious how this arrangement was going to operate. Giving him a gun and leaving his hands free was pretty risky. He wasn't some untrained, inexperienced, and helpless guy lost somewhere. Navarro truly was high on confidence in this situation.

“Hey.”

Nathan holstered the gun and approached the man seeking his attention.

“You're riding with me and Navarro in the jeep up ahead. And here.”

He accepted his journal from him. Flipping it open, a quick perusal revealed nothing had been altered. He looked up at Flynn.

“What?” he chided. “Gave up trying to figure out what I wrote?”

“No, I'm fairly certain I have a grasp of what we might find thanks to that journal. I just won't.”

“Whatever, Flynn,” he muttered, not understanding what the guy was getting at.

It was typical Flynn would make him do all the work. Jostling him around and acting like some jealous man-child appeared to be his thing now that they weren't on good terms. So irritating.

He walked with him and his nameless bodyguard to the jeep where Navarro was waiting in the front passenger seat. A mercenary with a full head of dark hair that reminded him of his babysitter's hair, sat behind the wheel. Flynn pushed ahead and swung himself into the back, behind Navarro's seat. Nathan and his babysitter got in next to him.

“Damir,” Navarro said.

The driver turned the ignition and the convoy was on the move. As they traveled along the road, he took to appreciating the view all around him on the mountain. The air felt crisp and cold but Nathan found it much preferable to how cold he'd been in that snowstorm. It wasn't long before they reached buildings and old red frames of places abandoned. Not everything had been left in disrepair, and from what he'd read in his research, he was fairly sure people still traveled up to the monastery for prayer.

They had to park the vehicles a distance from the monastery, the building of interest. On the walk up, Navarro decided to interrogate him on a room he had yet to stand inside. When grunts and shrugs shockingly weren't satisfactory to the man, his alleged bodyguard nudged him with an elbow.

He sighed and answered seriously to the next question.

“Drake. Do you understand which symbols are for each element?”

“Yeah I've got it.”

“I've learned there are four creatures of great importance. This will conceivably have relevance to solving the puzzle. Did your research bring the same conclusion?”

Nathan frowned at Navarro and looked over at Flynn, who was walking slightly ahead of the war criminal ouster. He knew Flynn had studied his journal. But he hadn't given it to his partner or replacement client to view? From what he recalled about Atoq Navarro, the man liked figuring out the remnants left behind by older civilizations. He was beginning to feel he should avoid pulling out his journal in Navarro's presence.

“Uh, I think so,” he responded.

They reached the high building and he noted only a handful of soldiers accompanied them to the entrance. The rest were fanning out and setting up a perimeter and general blockade. He paused from going in to watch some of their set-up before a gun poked him in the ribs.

“Come on, girly girl. We've got a puzzle to solve.”

He shoved the gun away without thinking, glaring at Flynn. “How many times are you gonna point that at me?”

The man aggravatingly smiled at him. Shaking the gun in his direction, he put it away and went on inside. His hands balled into fists but he followed after anyway. As much as he disliked Flynn, he was genuinely intrigued by what the room ahead would look like.

Their destination was farthest in the complex, a circular room with high beams and high windows in the ceiling. He scanned the room and made a mental note of four large, carved portraits of creatures on different sections. There were raised stone squares before the portraits. The squares might be important to unlocking the room, or they could just be a spot for prayer or offerings.

Standing there at the center of the room, he was thinking this was going to be harder than he imagined. He'd definitely need his journal for reference. His momentary hesitation at the thought that maybe Flynn was trying to keep his journal from Navarro for reasons unknown passed, because he remembered what an asshole the British jerk had been since the betrayal in Istanbul.

Nathan reached for his pouch, but then Flynn started talking, and it actually wasn't stupid.

“These four stones have been carved into four ceremonial objects. But they resemble the symbols relating to the four elements. Each of these creatures match to an element, and so if we know which creature is which element, and which object is which element, it's easy.”

Navarro eyed him. “Is it?”

“Yeah. Like this bird fella,” Flynn went on. “He's fire, and the triangle is the shape which represents fire, so...”

Nathan, Navarro, and the babysitter watched as Flynn picked up a heavy looking stone carved with a square base, a cylindrical body, and a cone shaped top. He struggled to bring it to the part of the wall with a large winged creature carved intricately into its surface. Halting short of the elevated square, he dropped it base down onto the slight platform.

A click sounded and reverberated throughout the room. Okay, he was impressed. He'd be damned if he was going to admit it though.

Navarro didn't mind appearing impressed. He grinned at Flynn and walked over to clap him on the back lightly.

“Excellent. And the rest?”

Flynn nodded once. “Drake, grab the air symbol, the half-circle one. That'll go with the tiger.”

The professional thief headed over to pick up the square artifact without waiting to see if his command was heeded. He didn't see any harm in listening, plus, he was curious what would happen when the puzzle was solved. He went to the same area and lifted the circular object.

Yup, it was heavy. He practically dropped it and cursed in his head every second he was carrying the thing. Flynn released his object in front of the bizarre looking lion shortly after he let his own artifact drop in front of the tiger.

“Last one, Drake. Circular is water. Goes with the snake.”

“That's a dragon, shitface,” he spat before doing the task.

The final click sounded and beneath all four portraits, cylinders with symbols on them appeared as the stone in the wall shifted. The cylinders looked like they could be turned. Well, crap. There was a second puzzle to solve.

When Flynn's face scrunched up, he knew the man was officially stuck without the journal. Hell, even he didn't know the symbols well enough to do them without consulting his notes. He started to reach for his journal once again when Navarro tugged out a sheet of paper from the inside of his jacket.

“Ah, this outta help.”

Nathan moved his hand away from his pouch and walked over to meet him and Flynn. He glanced once at the motionless mercenary continuing to stand in the doorway. He was getting himself a full-time babysitter it would seem. Eh, at least the guy didn't push him around.

He leaned in to examine the notebook paper in Navarro's hands. He'd written down the names of the elements alongside rough sketches of the symbols. None of them were matched with each other, but what he had gone ahead and learned was a series of symbols that looked more like ancient script. He'd managed to match these to all four creatures.

“How'd you figure that out?”

He had the script in his own journal, but he hadn't matched any of them up. He'd only jotted down what he believed might be the possible matches. He knew Navarro was once a straight and narrow archaeologist, prior to his employer, Roman, intriguing him with the possibility of a huge payday. Or at least that's the way it had appeared to Nathan. This was some serious sleuthing.

“I spent a very long time studying anything to do with Shambhala many times in my life. Finally getting this close to the real thing...”

Navarro didn't finish his thought, instead describing the script symbols to Flynn, who went to the proper portraits in order to turn the cylinder to the correct outward facing position. Nathan watched this go on with a scowl. He couldn't help feeling like they had stolen his treasure hunting from him. He loved solving puzzles and he'd done most of the work in his journal before ever setting foot in this place. But here they were going ahead and completing it while he mostly stood around.

The final cylinder clicked into place and a window opened above them. Uhh... Was this to show them the way to Shambhala somehow? Must be...

“Flynn for the win,” Flynn commented victoriously with a grin.

Nate groaned and walked over to the wall where he was already seeking out a way to climb up to the window.

“Don't you ever shut up?”

He climbed the column beneath the window and held cautiously to the ledge. There was a feasible zip-line leading to another part of the monastery grounds. He could see a circular symbol risen out of the ground. It looked a lot like a switch to be turned. That had to be what they were looking for.

“I think I see the switch we need to reveal the entrance to Shambhala.”

He glanced down behind him to find Navarro with his arms crossed, looking up at him. The man pointed to the window.

“Flynn, go with him. I'll gather the soldiers. Report what you find.”

Navarro went to the room's entrance, speaking to Nathan's bodyguard before walking out. He waited until Flynn began climbing the column and then he hooked onto the zip-line using his gun. Not even a little safe, but he did these kinds of stunts all the time. He pushed off and landed at the other end, inside a building without all four walls, jumping the gap and climbing the staircase. The floor had rotted out in the center and he jumped over the hole, using a red beam along the wall and a few red bricks to reach the rooftop.

He peeked over his shoulder to find Flynn about to jump the same hole. The mercenary appeared at the top of the stairs as the other man jumped. Yup, full-time babysitter.

He went on, trusting they'd follow, crunching across the snow. Soldiers were fanning out around the area but he hardly gave more than a cursory look at any of them. There it was, a circular plate in the ground of a very important symbol. There was a place for the dagger. He stepped forward and plunged the key into the hole. The plate rose from the ground a couple of feet, extending bars to be turned. He waited for Flynn and the mercenary before taking hold of a part of the wheel.

“Grab the other side,” he said.

Flynn took hold of it and together they turned the wheel until there was an audible click. The sound of something heavy shifting reverberated among the mountains. The stationed soldiers were looking over at them. He went to the edge of the mountainside they were standing on, scanning the area below. His babysitter and Flynn came to stand alongside him.

“There's a village down there,” said Flynn.

“Beneath the tree, the staircase is retracting. That must be the entrance,” Nathan observed in awe.

“They built a village right outside Shambhala? Do you think they know about it?”

He didn't know the answer, but he was beginning to feel concerned what the answer might be.

“The village may know about the entrance and the city. But if they do, they seem to avoid it. Why do you think they'd stay away?”

His former business associate shrugged and smiled. “I don't know. Let's get down there.”

Flynn grabbed the zip-line near where he was standing and slid away. Nathan watched him go and glanced sideways at the soldier waiting before jumping on the line himself. Once across, he leaped to a lower platform and climbed down the ladder. Flynn was walking to the stairs, studying the wall of a building on their right.

He waited to see what was going through Flynn's head. The man looked around and then to the mercenary shadowing Nate.

“Do you have any rope on you, mate?”

His babysitter approached Flynn and the wall, removing rope from his belt. He attached a metal hook from one of his pouches to an end of the rope. Swinging it to gather momentum, he swung the hooked end up and pulled. The end caught on the wall at the top and he gave it a good tug to ensure the rope was secure.

Stepping back, Flynn gave a smile. “Thanks, buddy.”

He climbed up the wall using the rope. Nathan watched him go and then followed after. At the top there was a clear path through the snow leading to the unveiled staircase beneath the tree. They waited while the mercenary made his way up and gathered the rope again.

The mercenary reached to the radio on his belt and informed the other soldiers of their location and the discovered entrance. There were already soldiers expanding their canvas into the area and Nathan worried they'd encroach into the village. These people didn't need their lives disrupted.

“Beneath a tree, of course,” Flynn murmured.

Nate placed his hands on his hips, frowning as he took in the exposed passageway. “Why of course?”

The man looked at him as though remembering they'd come together to this place. “Oh, never mind.”

He scowled briefly at Flynn. He obviously knew something he wasn't sharing. Nathan hoped the road to Shambhala wouldn't be a long one. This adventure was getting somewhere but it wasn't much fun in bad company.

Chapter Text

“What are you doing here?”

“Elena, right?”

She eyed the woman standing at the bottom of the porch, staring directly at her. Hands automatically went to her hips as she stood outside Karl Schafer's home. She managed to discover the small village soon after helping Nate onto the train by following the tracks, and finding the remains of the transport. Days passed while she waited, unable to leave, unable to know what to do. So she called someone who would know better than her how to go after a missing friend, especially this one in particular. Then an unexpected visitor showed up.

“Where's Lazarevic? You were on the train Nate went after. Something must have gone wrong. Of course something went wrong. It was such a stupid thing for him to get on that train and I helped him do it.”

“Are you going to listen or just keep talking?”

“It's been nearly a week,” Elena continued. “I called Sully so we can go after Lazarevic and find Nate. God, I should never have let him go.”

“Victor Sullivan? He's on his way here?”

“Yeah, why?”

Chloe shook her head once and turned away. The woman wouldn't meet her eyes.

“I came back because I suspected you wouldn't leave without knowing. I..felt I should tell you.”

She frowned and crossed her arms. Both because it was cold out and because it made her feel protected. She worried about the words Chloe wanted to say. Elena didn't want to hear them. She wouldn't believe it.

“Lazarevic is dead.”

Surprise came over her face. “He is? How?”

“Some new treasure hunter showed up and killed him. He took over the job and the little army from there. Harry's still with him.”

She sounded bitter about that. But what about Nate? He was who she worried over every night when she tried to sleep. Schafer had told her a story concerning the lost city of Shambhala. How the city contained something so valuable it changed its inhabitants. How paradise turned into a nightmare. No one was meant to have such power.

Elena asked what she'd wanted to from the start, but had avoided doing for fear of what her answer might be.

“Chloe, where's Nate?”

“Elena!”

She lit up and ran down the stairs to embrace Sullivan. “Thank God you're here, Victor.”

“Victor? Oh geez. Any sign of Nate?”

“Glad you found the place okay. This Tibetan village is very remote,” she commented.

Oh great. Avoiding discussion of Nate's whereabouts again. She was not doing great with progress. Surprisingly, Chloe had her covered.

“Harry shot Nate on the train and for some reason several cars blew up afterward. The car he was in went over the side of the mountain. That was the last I saw of him. I don't see how he could have survived...”

Sully sighed and lowered his head. “Aw, Nate...”

Her eyes began to water. She wasn't certain how she was feeling. Could Nathan Drake really be dead? He almost died far too frequently and they fought about his reckless nature and tenacity to run off on dangerous treasure hunts when they'd been in a relationship. They weren't in a relationship now, yet...

Sully's head came up and he gave her a resolved look of determination. “That kid's pulled himself out of tight spots before. He's gotten out of harm's way more times than I can count. Nate's got fortune on his side, Elena. Now get your things together. We're going out there and we're not coming back until we find him.”

Elena saw Tenzin jogging toward Schafer's home, and therefore her. He looked like there was something urgent to share. A woman and boy trailed behind him. She uncrossed her arms and went in to get Schafer.

They came outside together as the three Tibetans reached Sully and Chloe. She had managed to learn a bit of the language, but what they were saying and in such hurried speech, left her lost. The three foreigners had no choice but to wait until they were done conversing, and then Schafer turned to her.

“Your missing friend, do you by any chance have a photograph of him?”

She didn't. She felt guilty for not having kept one on her. Elena felt so grateful when Sullivan pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and removed a photo from it.

Schafer accepted the picture and showed it to the woman and child. They both nodded and spoke the same word in their language.

Elena knew enough from context to know what that meant. “They've seen him? When?”

“Not more than an hour ago, outside the village,” he told her. “The passageway to Shambhala has been opened, and the guardians came out to protect it. We will not go near, for we know better. Your friend has gone inside. You can't miss it.”

“He was right here,” she uttered in disbelief. “He was right here?”

Chloe appeared overjoyed at the news. “He's alive! I can't believe it.”

“So what do you think?” Sully brainstormed out loud. “He's being made to open the way to Shambhala for Lazarevic?”

“Lazarevic is dead,” Chloe updated him. “But the man who killed and replaced him could be.”

The older man sighed, seemingly unimpressed with the news of the fallen warlord and the murderer who'd taken his position in the search. But she could see the relief in his eyes and how his shoulders relaxed at the news that Nate was okay.

“He wouldn't have to try hard to get him to go along. Nate's gonna wanna see that place himself. Well what do you say, ladies? Shall we go and save the damsel in distress?”

A nervous laugh, hopeful and yet scared, escaped her lips. “Yes, let's go. How about it, Chloe? Want to go save your boyfriend? Or is he not worth it? Or is Harry Flynn your boyfriend? Hard to get that straight when you keep switching sides.”

Sullivan and Chloe stared at her in astonishment. She hated when everyone looked at her like they expected purely innocent things to come out of her mouth. She'd dated Nathan Drake, professional treasure hunter, for God's sake. And she was a reporter. Reporters had to get their hands dirty sometimes.

“Elena... I...”

Of course she couldn't answer that. Ugh, she hated thieves. They were all too wrapped up in themselves and their own best interests to think like human beings at times.

“You can come or not. I don't care either way. But you should feel like you owe it to Nate to make sure he's safe. You went into this mess with him. Only fair you come out of it with him too. Come on, Sully. Time to get him out of trouble again.”

After thanking Schafer for his hospitality, she walked across the snow, taking the main pathway out of the village. Sully walked beside her and a few seconds later, so did Chloe. They didn't say anything. They had no idea how they'd even get inside if there were guards posted everywhere. But they had to try.

“I never meant for any of this to happen you know,” Chloe murmured to them quietly. “I never asked for any of this.”

No one reassured that the blame wasn't on her. Not a one of them could say such a thing with any certainty. The only thing they did know; they were going to find Nate.

* * * * *

FORTY MINUTES EARLIER

“What the hell are those things?” an intimidated soldier shouted.

Chaos hailed across the immediate area in front of the revealed staircase beside the village. While waiting for Navarro and more of the soldiers to join them, these creatures had attacked. They looked like giant furry monsters with curled horns atop their heads. Terrifying, and they'd seemingly come out of nowhere, attacking with brutal force.

Nathan dove to the side and fired the shotgun he'd picked off of a dead soldier. They were hammering these things with bullets and they hardly seemed to falter. A second hulking creature came at him while he was still attempting to keep the first at bay.

“Oh, crap!”

He rolled and fired at the new assailant as the first plopped down in front of him, swiping with a claw. He cowered away, waiting for the inevitable blow. When a beat passed and he wasn't ripped to shreds, he looked up.

“Babysitter!” he cheered.

The mercenary who had been shadowing him under Navarro's orders was in front of him, kicking the guardian's ass. He used his punches and kicks to knock the monster about before drawing his magnum and putting three rounds in its neck. It went down and stayed down.

Guardians seemed to be a suitable title. They'd put in an appearance as soon as the entrance opened. It certainly looked like they were guarding the place.

He dashed across the snow toward a child standing near the entrance to the village. The child likely came when hearing all the ruckus and was ignorant to the danger of the bullets flying everywhere. Taking the kid by the arm, he pulled him toward the first house he saw.

“Go!” he yelled at the little boy. “Stay away!”

A woman came out of the house he'd been trying to point the kid off to and she hurried to bring the child inside. She motioned for him to come too, but he waved blandly in her direction before turning back to the chaos. There was a guardian descending upon Flynn. It knocked the guy down and Nathan knew he wouldn't get there in time to help.

Fortunately it didn't matter. Navarro arrived on the scene with more soldiers, his shotgun blasting into the creature on top of Flynn. His shotgun continued to put holes in the guardians and alongside the combined firepower of the mercenaries accompanying him, the fight ended.

Nathan looked over the bodies as Navarro pulled Flynn to his feet. A dozen dead soldiers and only four dead creatures. Speaking of... Navarro was moving away from Flynn to survey a dead one of them. Kicking it onto its back, he smirked and knelt down, reaching under its chin and gripping tight.

“Ew, what are you-” he started and then stopped himself.

The creature's head was a mask, an outfit. He jogged over to get a better look at what was a mere man beneath the hairy costume. But they'd taken so much effort to bring down. How?

Navarro laughed. “Merely a facade to scare away visitors.”

“Bloody effective,” muttered Flynn in disgust.

His jaw had dropped a little at the revelation but he got himself together. “It worked. Those things are terrifying.”

The excitement past, they turned their attention to the staircase. Navarro led the way as they descended the stairs into the unknown. There was a large and open circular room at the bottom. He looked around the room, seeking out anything significant. The room was empty.

“There has to be something here,” Flynn said with a frown.

Nathan wandered away from the middle of the room to the walls. He noted what he'd first taken to be torches were actually daggers. Some of them were pointing downward and others upward. Could be something.

He turned the dagger in front of him upside down. There was no way to know if this was the right way, but he figured he could turn them all upside down, and if nothing happened, he'd turn them all right side up. One of the ways was bound to be right, assuming what he was doing would solve a puzzle of a sort.

The last one in place, he smiled when out of the center of the room, a giant bluish orb, similar to one he'd seen elsewhere, rose from the floor. Carved clawed hands held it up and there was an empty bowl beneath the orb. He strongly suspected he needed resin. He didn't have any.

“Do you have a lighter?” Navarro asked Flynn.

The man hesitated and then tossed his lighter to him. Nathan walked over to the bowl as Navarro did, and he observed him remove a small case from his shoulder bag. He tossed a handful of fossilized blue resin into the bowl and used Flynn's lighter to set it ablaze.

They watched as the flame grew and shapes began to form on the wall. A design was revealed and with it, a place for the dagger to be inserted. Nathan stepped forward, tugging the dagger off his belt as he approached. This was it. This had to be it. The entrance to Shambhala.

He stuck the Phurba into its designated spot within the flame revealed design. The door slid up and it was another room, a room filled with giant torches. This room was enormous and there was no clear path across the deep drop before them. Oh wait, there was a bridge already in the process of shifting away so they couldn't cross. With a sigh, he realized they were going to have to get to the other side another way in order to shift the safe crossing back into place. Guess who was going to be asked to do it?

“Drake.”

He waved his hand and started for the edge. “Yeah, yeah. I'm going.”

“Wait. I want Flynn to go with you.”

Flynn looked reluctant but walked over to join him. Surprisingly, his bodyguard came to stand beside them as well.

“I'll go with them.”

Navarro didn't seem to care either way. He gave Nate a look.

“Don't even think about trying anything clever.”

He restrained the automatic eye roll threatening to happen. Instead he put the arduous crossing into his mind to focus on the task ahead. Standing at the edge, he took in the obstacles that lay before him, and suddenly he was falling forward when a hand pushed him.

Nathan hit the ground on his knees and rolled himself up to lessen the damage. Luckily he was king at unexpected things happening. He peered over his shoulder at the dick who'd shoved him off the edge, glowering.

“You backstabbing son-of-a-bitch.”

“Yeah, well, I learned from the best, didn't I? Get a move on.”

Nathan paused at that. He remembered their first job together. A treasure hunt through a jungle, too many pirates to count, and his bright idea at the end of the mission. He'd convinced Flynn to double-cross their employer even though the man was hesitant to do so. He'd taught him it was okay to betray people sometimes in their business. Whoops. That one backfired on him in a big way.

“Keep it moving, sweetheart,” Flynn pressed.

He shook his head and faced forward, moving on. They continued along, working together to the other side, the silent mercenary trailing behind them. Nate gave Flynn a boost onto a higher ledge, and the man sent a stone block over the edge for him and his bodyguard to climb up. Comments were exchanged constantly throughout their journey.

They came across a long jump that Flynn made, but a piece of the rock he landed on fell to pieces, disappearing into the abyss. The jump would be impossible alone now.

“Sorry about that.”

He sighed. “Great.”

Flynn turned back and planted himself solidly, reaching his hand out to him. He was smiling cheerily and flexing his hand as he waited. Nathan made no move to jump across. Could he trust this guy to catch him?

“What's wrong, mate?” Flynn called out to him. “Don't you trust me?”

No, he absolutely did not. Backstabber. Traitor. Reason he spent three months in prison. He preferred to ignore the fact he'd been breaking the law in the first place. Thieves felt obliged to take what they wanted, and he felt no different. Now he felt annoyed Flynn had basically read his mind about his doubt.

He ran forward and jumped, falling short of the ledge by what seemed like a mile. Flynn's long arm reached down and a strong hand latched onto his extended arm.

“See, you should have more faith in me, chum.”

Nathan was pulled up and Flynn used his other hand to grip his shoulder to get him the rest of the way over the edge.

“There you go, sweetheart.”

He staggered a bit but regained his balance and waited while Flynn provided the same help for the soldier. When they reached a section where they had to squeeze through a narrow crevice, he wondered how the door was opened in the past. This just seemed so impractical.

“You better not be leading me into a dead end.”

What the hell? Maybe he didn't like tight spaces and was deflecting with his obnoxious voice. Whatever the reason, it was annoying.

“I don't think you're gonna get your stomach through there.”

Seriously, much longer and he was gonna knock the man out. There was a boulder in their path. He took position, readying to push it over the edge.

“Help me move this.”

“Aye, aye. Okay, teamwork,” Flynn remarked.

Together they shoved it out of the way while the mercenary looked on.

“Just like the good old days, eh?”

He didn't respond to the comment and kept moving along. For the next part of their crossing, Flynn found it wise to open his mouth. Again.

“Ladies first.”

Nate forced a laugh, glancing his way. “Cute.”

He made his way up the first skull-head statue grudgingly. “Hey Flynn, statue of your mom!”

Oh, he was so very tired of climbing things but he kept on going. He climbed and slid along the edges of statues, jumping from one to another. Flynn loitered behind with the mercenary, pausing at one point to comment unnecessarily.

“Oh look, a life size statue of your ego.”

The rest of the way they jumped and climbed mostly in silence, a few remarks bandied back and forth between him and Flynn as they moved. Even when they were on friendly terms they'd gone about their work in much the same manner. It was kind of odd how familiar and foreign right now felt to him.

All three of them reached the opposite side of the room where a puzzle awaited. Nathan happily pulled his journal out, taking in the room before him. On either side there was a ledge. On top of each ledge were three giant cylinders with script symbols on them.

Flynn was taking in the room much as he was, and took in the journal in his hands when he finished looking around.

“So what do we have to do? What do we have to do?”

“Keep your panties on,” he snarked. “Just wait here. As usual, I'll take care of everything.”

“Would you?”

His babysitter stood by, face a blank page as always.

“Okay...” he breathed out, ready to take on the challenge of this room.

Nathan climbed up one of the ledges after noting the symbol on the fencing at its front. Using his journal where he'd already worked out exactly how to solve this puzzle earlier, he set to work turning the cylinders into position.

“Such a little book; such big cylinders.”

Oh dear God. It was like the man couldn't stop himself. He shoved his irritation to the back of his mind and hopped down. He walked to the other ledge, climbing up to turn the three cylinders into their proper places with the continued aid of his journal. Without it he'd be totally clueless.

“As the world turns, so does my boredom. Could you hurry up?”

Satisfied with his success, he put the last symbol into place. For his efforts, a circle rose out of the ground. It had bars extending out on four sides like the one they'd turned to reveal the secret passageway near the village. Sliding down from the ledge, he took one side while Flynn moved to push from the other side.

“Agh, again? What are we grinding wheat? What is this?”

A click rang out and they watched as the bridge shifted back into place. It was a long way across. Navarro and his soldiers would take some time to get to their side. Looking around, Nathan noticed two large wheels had also risen out of the ground to their left. His intention to go over to them was interrupted by a freaky roar rising up from the cavern below. No way...

Despite what he liked to believe possible, guardians began to climb up onto the expansive ledge they were on. He drew his handgun while Flynn and the soldier drew their magnums. He wished he had a magnum too. These guys, human as they appeared to be beneath the costume, took impossible damage before staying down.

“Here,” Flynn called to him. “You'll need this.”

He tossed an extra clip of 9mm ammo to him and Nate caught it. Yeah he'd need it. But as they became surrounded, he didn't think it would be enough.

His bodyguard fired the first shot and the battle was on. With his limited ammunition, Nathan spent more time somersaulting around to avoid lunges from his crazed opponents, pulling the trigger only when he had their heads lines up in his sight. One of them landed on top of him. He struggled to keep its face and clawed hands away from his precious skin. Three powerful bullets into its neck knocked it, or him really, off.

Nathan got to his feet to keep fighting. Bodyguard was unsurprisingly his savior. He seemed to take his duty of protection and watch very serious. But there wasn't much of this fight left because the remaining costumed men were retreating, back where they'd come. It didn't take long to see the reason why.

Navarro and his mercenaries were arriving. Too many guns even for these guardians of a hidden city. He wondered if he was doing the wrong thing here. A village right next door with people who never came to this place, and insane guardians killing anyone who dared trespass, were not good signs. Well, too close to turn back now.

“You there, get the door.”

Two soldiers hustled forward to obey Navarro and operate the wheels. As the wheels turned, the wall before them began to break apart and open. He looked on in amazement and anticipation as the city of Shambhala was unveiled to them.

Nate removed his journal from his pouch and started sketching the sight in front of him. This was an opportunity of a lifetime. He glanced at Navarro still staring at the first sight of the abandoned city, remembering Flynn might not want him knowing about the journal. He kept it out in his interest to record as much as he could before they were moving again, and a bit out of spite for his former partner.

They began walking out into the open. There was a jungle before them and buildings scattered throughout. Nature had taken over much of what remained, vines growing everywhere. There wasn't a trace of snow and the climate was notably warmer somehow. A wide waterfall caught his eye. Beautiful.

An extensive stone bridge led across areas of decrepit buildings. Nate stepped closer to the edge to flesh out the building structures near and far, to capture the actual size of this ruined city. That was when Navarro saw the journal in his hands and swiveled away to give Flynn an ugly look.

So he'd been right and Flynn had hidden the fact Nathan was carrying around a journal among his personal effects. Why Flynn hid it he could only guess, but if he could stir up some animosity between the two partners, he'd do it. Their clashing might give him an opportunity to leave this forced arrangement all the sooner.

“This book is for more than just solving the puzzles, right Flynn?” he remarked with a grin.

He had no idea what he was doing.

Chapter Text

Their group continued into the warmer climate of tropical trees and waterfalls. Although his initial thought was how beautiful this place was, his next thought was that there was something wrong here. It was so empty, abandoned, left behind. Proof of a civilization no longer alive existed by every ruined and overgrown road or building. It felt haunted.

Vines were encroaching over everything, with strange blue crystals growing on them at random intervals. Fossilized resin in the oddest places. Weird.

After his purposeful comment to Flynn about his journal, he'd finished his sketch and returned it to his pouch. The man himself had taken to giving him the cold shoulder, walking ahead with Navarro, avoiding any conversation or glances. Nate had tried to poke the bear so to speak, but he wouldn't give. Well, he'd wanted the guy to shut up and now he had what he wanted. Huh, but this silence wasn't making the journey as fun.

They traveled on a long, broken and cracked road. Quiet surrounded them and Nathan began feeling like it was a little too quiet. This place still felt wrong, eerie even. Were they being watched?

“We're not alone.”

Nathan swung around along with everyone else to look at his bodyguard standing close behind him. The man's expression was inscrutable as usual with the scarf over most of his face, but his eyes were visible and searching the areas above them. He took that to mean an attack would come from above and drew his gun.

Good assumption. A large arrow shot into the back of a mercenary only a few yards from him. He fired blindly in the direction the arrow came and an angry roar echoed throughout the expansive area below. Tall and muscular men in various forms of primitive garb and armor jumped down from above, golden crossbows in their hands. They were bound to be more guardians, minus the frightening costumes meant to scare potential visitors away as the first line of defense. These guardians were liable to be pissed at the invasion into their protected territory.

Gunfire from the soldiers broke out as more arrows rained down on the group. This is what they got for bringing so many people in here at once. Impossible to miss them. Another soldier went down and then another, but the latter of the two struck, released a live grenade from his grasp as he fell. It rolled toward Nathan.

“Oh no, no, no!”

He dove into a somersault away from the immediate danger and it exploded a second later. Clambering to his feet, he flinched and moved back as machine gun fire rapidly fired from two soldiers close enough to deafen him. Spinning toward the other direction, he watched a guardian land amidst them, swinging arms and fists wild.

Nathan fired a few rounds into its chest but the shots didn't faze it. The bullets only seemed to alert the animalistic man to his presence, and it focused on attacking him. He turned tail to run and find a better way to take it down.

His gaze happened to catch Flynn's as he began running. The man was standing nearby with his magnum poised to fire at the guardian attacking Nathan. He slid along the ground to avoid a broad sweep of powerful arms and brought his gun up to fire more bullets. It just didn't do the damage he needed and the gun was knocked from his grasp. A hand tore him off the ground by the neck and he flailed.

He managed to gain sight of Flynn again, seeking his help out of this tight spot. The man remained where he was and then lowered his gun, looking Nathan straight in the eyes as he did. He turned and jogged away. Son of a bitch! Why'd he expect anything different from the scum-bag?

The guardian's fist squeezed tight. Too tight. He feared his neck was going to break from the pressure. He thrashed, refusing to accept he was about to die.

His bodyguard appeared behind the wild man throttling him and a blade flashed in the light, sweeping back and forth across its back. With a howl, the guardian dropped him and spun to the bigger threat, who promptly stabbed him in the throat with the combat knife. Him, it, finally fell in a spray of blood.

The mercenary pulled him to his feet. “There we go.”

Nathan got his breath back and took in the situation. Machine gun fire felled a final assailant and everything grew calm once more. He could see the bodies of at least seven mercenaries from where he was positioned. Plenty remained standing. Flynn and Navarro were still alive. Too bad.

“Gather weapons and ammunition as needed!” Navarro called out, then added, “Move on!”

Rubbing his neck, he followed his bodyguard along the path. The remaining walk was uneventful, and they passed into an expansive courtyard. As they went onward, he took in more of the glowing blue growths scattered about and more broken up stone ground. Nature had also taken over this part of the lost city.

He contemplated numerous questions. Where did the guardians live? What did they subsist off of? Why stay here to guard a stone? What did it mean to them?

Soldiers behind him began to fan out, searching the area for threats. Nathan continued to trail his babysitter and in effect, Navarro, Flynn, and a couple dozen other soldiers. They shifted their direction to the left and came upon a wide door or gate. The gate had two wheels on either side attached to counterweights.

On Navarro's order, two soldiers stepped forward and operated the wheels to open the gate. A half dozen soldiers swept on ahead of them, through the doorway. There was a ledge to drop off of, and then a somewhat wavy path ahead. Nathan got nervous at the narrower pathway and kept his eyes moving to watch his surroundings.

Nothing happened. There was no attack by any bulky, near invincible guardians of the city. The narrow passage eventually opened into a wide area with huge stairs before them. The stairs led to a tall door. It looked like they were getting somewhere.

He smiled in anticipation of finding the stone.

“Daddy's got the gun. What are you smiling at, Drake?”

His smile faded. He would like nothing more than to be rid of this asshole. Nate thought about what he said, patting his holster and feeling nothing but air. He recalled losing his gun in the sudden fight earlier. Well that was careless.

“I can't believe Lazarevic didn't kill you,” he sneered.

Flynn gave him a smug smile in return. “Big words coming from a captive. How do you know what's going to happen once we get the..stone? Navarro might decide he doesn't need you anymore.”

“Yeah, whatever, asswipe,” he muttered, annoyed.

“Drake, Flynn, there's a cart in the way. Move it.”

He'd kind of forgotten the many other soldiers and Navarro standing around on the stairs and landing below. Every one of them was waiting with Navarro standing at the top of the stairs, an impatient glare fixed on him. His first instinct was to tell him what he could do with his command, but he knew it would be unwise in his current predicament. Navarro had a lot of guns backing him.

He walked the rest of the way up the stairs and examined the wooden cart partially blocking the door. Crouching, he pushed with his back to move the thing. It was heavy, and when it didn't move much with his best efforts, his bodyguard came up to help push beside him. Together they removed the obstacle from the doorway.

Straightening upright, his hands went to his hips as he turned around. “Thanks for the help, Flynn.”

“Don't mention it,” the man retorted easily.

He countered immediately, unwilling to let him be. “You know, you and Chloe really are perfect for each other. All snark and practicality. Too bad she dumped your ass.”

On his left, Navarro fumed. “Oh you have got to be kidding.”

The man looked from Nate to Flynn, fingers tapping along the holstered shotgun. Hopefully he was doing that subconsciously, and not wishfully. Then again, neither way sounded good for him.

“Fine,” Navarro began. “Flynn, you're the older man. Act like an adult and treat the boy like a boy, since he insists on acting like one.”

Flynn hesitated and looked to the leader, who was busy scowling at Nate, before approaching him and the door. Nathan watched the man's gaze sweep longingly over to the doorway. Turning away from it, he faced Nate, gave Navarro one final check, and grabbed his arm.

He'd been expecting a punch, not a grab, so he stumbled off-kilter. As he sought to regain his precious balance, Flynn socked him across the jaw and then swept a leg behind his knees. Nate's legs went out from under him and he barely managed to catch himself on his knees. He tried to stand up and Flynn hit him in the face again.

Nathan's head whipped to the side. When he jerked it back, it was in time to catch the heel of a shoe against the side of his forehead. He rolled away and up, prepared to deal some damage of his own. Assault rifles moved to aim level at his chest. Unable to fight, he lowered his fists, but Flynn seemed to have lost his taste for hurting him.

He stared at Flynn's back moving away from him, to the big door of the building. Something warm trickled along the side of his head and he touched the spot on his right temple where there was a stinging pain. His fingers came away with a little blood. Great.

“You were not saved,” a voice murmured in his ear.

He nearly jumped out of his skin at the sudden close proximity and speech. He peeked at the mercenary with his peripheral vision, acutely aware Navarro and the rest of the mercenaries were moving into the building behind Flynn. When the man said nothing more, he tried to ask for clarification in the most sophisticated manner he knew how.

“Uh... What?”

“See, Mr. Drake. Truly see.”

What was this cryptic nonsense? Ever since they first met, the guy hardly strung words together for him. When he did bother, it was generally short and sweet. He might prefer the silence to complete confusion. His bodyguard started to walk past to go inside as well and he blurted out his next thought.

“Where were you when Flynn was knocking me around, protector?”

He was ignored and left standing alone outside. There was opportunity to run away now. He was confident he could sneak his way out of this place and far from these people. But he knew he wouldn't. The Cintamani Stone had to be close now.

“What the hell am I doing?” he muttered to himself, and walked inside the door to whatever lay beyond. “Here we go.”

* * * * *

He wanted this to be over. It was harder to keep up a facade when traveling with a man who knew him more intimately than most. Nathan Drake was a threat to his ongoing health. He strongly desired to be rid of his presence. Death would be the most permanent method of making him go away.

Flynn didn't enjoy killing, but he approved of the act for insurance purposes. During their brief period traveling into Shambhala, Drake had proven he was an enemy no matter their history before Flynn's double-cross. He'd rubbed his knowledge of the journal in his face, in Navarro's face. Partner or not, the hourglass was beginning to drain on his time left with Lazarevic's replacement.

None of them were friends, all of them were thieves. There was no trust among their party. This would surely end in blood and death. He just didn't know who would be paying the price.

The large door had taken them into a large room, torches of blue fire lit everywhere. They'd walked in on a balcony, stairs leading down on both sides. Scanning this new place, he took in doors on the left and right side of the room, short stairs leading to the doors. Far across on the other side, was yet another door with winding staircases identical to the one they stood upon. Flynn guessed this would be the door they wanted to go through.

An explosion of blue fire burst from the ground in front of him when he stepped off the last step of the winding staircase. He managed to buck himself backwards onto higher steps as the flames licked at his heels.

“Son of a bitch!”

They were under attack. More guardians poured into the expansive room behind the first arrival. The bulky and deadly assailants wielded crossbows like the ones outside, and this time, there were those among them bearing slingshots of blue resin that exploded into blue flame upon impact. A battle broke out within the entirety of the room, but Flynn ducked behind the wall of the staircase and reached to touch the remains of what had been thrown at him.

“Is this...” he murmured.

It had to be from the tree, the extremely special tree he was searching to find. The sap itself was explosive. How bizarre. Would gathering some of this up be enough to appease the woman? He couldn't risk it with these people. The small sample bottle was replaced in his jacket pocket. He'd need a sample straight from the tree itself to be certain of its validity. Chances were good she would obtain knowledge of the truth of Shambhala to confirm his proof. He had to continue on.

There was no need for him to join this fight. He waited while the soldiers and Navarro fought against the crazed and brutal guardians trying to keep the trespassers from reaching their destination. The tree, the sap itself, had to be how these men had become so strong, so immune to injury.

He heard a scuffing noise higher up on the staircase and looked to see Drake hovering at the top, using the stairs as a barrier much like himself. The mercenary Navarro assigned to monitor the captive thief remained with him, laying low as well. When he peeked over the side of the stairs to see how the soldiers were faring with the fight, he saw the guardians were winning. Well that simply wouldn't work in his favor.

Flynn abandoned cover and fired a few carefully aimed shots at a guardian overwhelming a pistol wielding soldier. The assailant howled and ran for him at the same time a second guardian locked him down as its next target. One of these crazies was scary enough to handle.

“Uh oh.”

He shot to his feet and ran for the other side of the stairs. It required he pass Drake and the mercenary beside him. He slowed long enough to give them fair warning. It wasn't like he was a completely heartless guy.

“Run! Run!”

They must have, judging by the sound of footsteps slapping the stone floor behind him. Blue flame exploded too close for comfort. The three of them high-tailed it to the base of the left staircase before he risked a look over the shoulder.

The peek caused him to trip and he lost his footing. He went down, spinning to try and keep the guardians in sight at the same time. Falling on his rear, Drake and the mercenary stuttered to a halt just before him, uncertain what their move was to be. His eyes dropped to the source of his fall.

He let out a devious laugh, swiping the SAS-12 shotgun into his hands with glee. “Now we're talking.”

Four shells into the nearest one, an archer coming at him with its bare hands instead of the crossbow slung over its back. He wondered if it was maybe for the creepy pleasure of using hands for killing. He forgot the thought nearly as quick as he had it when the powerful gun clicked empty. Uh oh.

His eyes trailed along the floor to where the archer had fallen. He stole the already loaded crossbow from its corpse and took aim at the guardian threatening to throw another resin bomb from far too close a distance. Flynn fired and hit his opponent in the chest, felling it. One hit with their own weapon and they fell!

He called out this information to anyone within earshot. Some soldiers did nothing to change their current fighting tactics, others went into motion to confiscate weapons from fallen foes. In a matter of a single minute, the odds shifted and it was the guardians losing the battle. Another few minutes and two dozen mercenaries were left standing, no guardians remained.

Navarro led the way out of the sudden graveyard. They'd made it. They came into a temple with light filtering in brightly from outside. The room was a circular shape with columns, and at the center a fake tree had been built to hold an enormous stone in place. The stone was more of the hardened blue sap, fossilized resin.

“It's not a sapphire...” Drake murmured.

The man approached the big stone, staring at it in curiosity and wonder. Navarro did much the same, studying the stone from the other side of the room, where the opening in the wall let the most sunlight in. His look was one more calculating and weighted.

Drake pointed at the stone and turned away from it, eyes scanning over the room. “It's amber.”

Flynn watched him and knew he was about to give the game away. He'd been afraid with Drake's journal Navarro might figure out too much about the lost city, so he'd kept it a secret. He was feeling rather moronic for not foreseeing Drake himself would be able to pull together what was actually in Shambhala once he was there, staring the truth in the face.

“The treasure isn't a stone at all,” Drake realized out loud.

The man wandered over to the opening in the wall and stared out at the humongous overarching tree directly below. He laughed and shook his head. His arm came up to point over to the tree.

“It's there. The treasure is that tree. Aw... Of course! Those guardians must have been drinking the strange blue sap. It's why their teeth are black. They get their power from the tree sap!”

He seemed incredibly proud of this discovery. Flynn stared at him bitterly. He'd figured out the truth about what lay inside Shambhala ages ago. He located a sample container for this very reason. Everyone was always looking at Nathan Drake like he was such an amazing history buff and treasure finder. None of them even looked at him.

Flynn felt eyes on him. Someone was looking at him now...

He glanced behind to find Luka and Damir near the doorway, staring at him. They smirked when their stare was noticed and he frowned. Certainly not the attention he desired. Turning back, he knew who to face and fear came into him. Navarro was inspecting him in suspicion. Had he worn his prior knowledge on him when he walked in and gave no reaction to Drake's unearthing of the true treasure of Shambhala?

“What do you make of this, Flynn? Do you agree there is no stone of value here?”

Navarro was testing him, except he wasn't really testing him. He already believed Flynn had been keeping key information from him. When this was over he'd have to run to avoid retaliation. That was unless his “partner” changed his mind about treating him like a lesser being later, in favor of killing him now.

“Well done, Sherlock,” he remarked to Drake, giving up caring that his tone gave away he'd already known what they'd find.

Drake definitely picked up on it and he was surprised. He looked at Flynn a little puzzled and amazed, before frowning and turning to the amber stone.

“The people protecting this place, the guardians of the tree, must be doing it for a reason. The dagger was taken far away from here, the key to this city, because Marco Polo saw what happened when people got that kind of power. The temple in Borneo was carrying barrels of the stuff, Flynn. And they tore each other apart in their greed to have it all for themselves. It explains why a guy like Lazarevic was searching for Shambhala. He must have known about the tree's power. Did you-”

The mercenary ordered to play the role of his guard shoved him. Drake lost what he was saying and his train of thought at the push. He looked at the guy cluelessly. Flynn was pretty sure the man had been shutting him up. Why would he try to help him with Navarro? He was one of his hired guns.

“What happens to a person with that much power?” Drake questioned, turning his concerned and thoughtful stare to Navarro.

“Navarro!”

One of the soldiers waiting outside the room came rushing in. He gained full attention from everyone in the room, Drake's question forgotten. Not by Flynn though. What would she do with the sample he was to bring to her? He shouldn't bring it to her. She had too much power as it was. Right now she operated in the shadows, but with what essentially was an immortality serum, she might come out into the light. That would be bad for everyone.

The soldier approached Navarro, speaking low in his ear. Their hushed tones were too difficult to hear.

Drake must have seen his thoughtful uncertainty regarding the tree, because he brought up a secondary question, directed to him alone.

“What happens to the world when a person has that much power?”

He frowned, annoyed Drake could see into his lack of conviction. They were enemies, so it made it sad Nate was the closest thing to a friend he had in this place. He didn't like that feeling so he course corrected in the manner he knew how: Disagreement.

“A man is just a man, no matter how much power he thinks he has. Men can be stopped, killed.”

Flynn turned away at the contemptuous look he received for his trouble. Ah, good. Such an easy man to alienate because Drake's thoughts primarily focused on things in relation to him. Was he seriously trying to rationalize his own absurd behavior? Good lord he was messed up in the head.

“Gentlemen, we have a visitor. Seems I didn't quite finish the job with our war lord.”

Everything going on his head vanished as a cold chill swept through him. Navarro couldn't be saying what he thought he was saying. He'd seen the man shot through the skull. No, he corrected, he saw a man on the floor bleeding from the head. And Navarro had pulled the trigger from an odd angle, without full view of his target. It seemed impossible, but it was plausible.

As far as he was aware, no one checked for a pulse, no one even returned to the train car where he'd died. They hadn't felt the sentiment to bury their own former leader. Son of a bitch...

“Draaaake!”

He jogged to the window as Drake did, to see with his own eyes. Zoran Lazarevic was walking across the bridge they'd all come into the city on. It was a fair distance from them, but he was out in the open and in full view. With the bright sunlight shining down, Flynn could make out dried blood covering half of his head and the side of his face and neck. His hands were extended upward as he spoke out to the air around him, searching for only one man.

“Draaaake! Come out, you coward!”

“What's he want me for? You shot him!” he protested to an unsympathetic Navarro.

“He didn't see me. He must think you did it.”

“I didn't.”

“Why don't you go convince him of that?” Navarro suggested with a smug grin.

“I suggest we avoid the man,” Flynn suggested in turn. “On account he was crazy before someone shot him in the head and left him unconscious and bleeding for days on the floor of a train. Now he's bound to be even more psychotic.”

“Oh no...”

He glanced Drake's way before searching out the wall opening to see what he was seeing. There was Lazarevic... What was he missing? Where...?

His eyes pinned down a blonde woman in an orange jacket standing just outside the entrance to Shambhala. He'd seen her before, with Nate and Chloe. The reporter with the friend Lazarevic killed in such a cold-blooded manner it disturbed him. Flynn saw the war criminal kill his own men over petty crimes or mistakes, deeming them traitors and fools. But this man had been pure civilian. He'd nothing to do with anything.

“Shit!”

The curse drawn from the go-lucky guy became clear as to why it happened. Two more people were right behind the blonde woman as they entered the lost city. He recognized them both. Victor Sullivan and Chloe. Sullivan must have come looking for Nate, and Chloe... Probably the same reason. He felt a tightness in his stomach, like he might be sick. It must be nice to have people care enough to look for you anywhere.

Chapter Text

Five minutes to get down to the broken up stone road where Lazarevic waited. They all went to meet him, but Nathan had no illusions about being alone in the impending confrontation. As for his friends who had followed him here, he wouldn't let any of them risk their lives for him anymore than they already had either. It was gonna be just him and a psycho war criminal.

Lazarevic was pointing his shotgun at Sully, Elena, and Chloe when they got there. He shifted sideways upon hearing them approach to get them in his sights, and Nathan drew to a stop. They locked eyes and he felt a shiver run along his spine at the mad gleam he saw there.

“Great men have the will to do what others will not, Mr. Drake.”

Wonderful. Words of wisdom from a war criminal. How reliable.

“Compassion is the enemy. Mercy defeats us.”

Nathan peered beyond the man. He noted all three of his friends had recovered weapons from dead soldiers and were pointing them at Lazarevic in turn. Navarro was speaking to another soldier, and he began to suspect he should have been paying better attention to whatever was going on there. Sadly, he wasn't very good at being super attentive to all the important details.

“I speak to my men. I have returned. Join me once more and we shall finish this quest. Power is within our grasp. It is right down there.”

Dang. How did he find the almost hidden pathway so fast? It was a staircase leading down to the special tree branching off from the initial open area near the entrance. Madness and severe injury seemed to be working in his favor, giving him more sense than he'd had in good health with an army of soldiers behind him. How'd that work exactly?

The mercenaries were moving, spreading out and brandishing their weapons. They were pointing the weapons at him and his newly arrived friends. Crap. He looked back to Navarro and needed a second look. The man was gone, having disappeared without notice. Double crap.

“Lower your weapons,” Lazarevic ordered Sully and the others.

They didn't listen, and he didn't blame them. He sought out Flynn next and found him standing alongside the soldiers, but he had yet to pull his own weapon. Probably didn't see the point when there were already so many guns pointed at them. Still, the man usually relished putting a gun in his face these days.

“You have been a thorn in my side for far too long,” Lazarevic informed Nathan. “You have been a nuisance and have tested me for the last time. You will die. Your traitorous woman will die too. I do not suffer traitors.”

It had been unclear whether the war criminal knew Chloe was playing double agent, working both sides of the game. He hadn't been as stupid as they'd thought. His former friend shared his thoughts.

“Cleverer than you look,” Flynn said.

A brave thing to say to such a man in such a hazardous position, being anywhere near a crazy man with a gun. Of course, he wasn't the one with the rifles pointed at him. He was where he often was lately, safe and sound, standing with all the guys with guns.

Lazarevic acknowledged Flynn briefly before returning his attention to the three by the entrance.

“This is not a negotiation. Lower your weapons!”

He shook his head at Sully, meeting his gaze. This was not a gunfight they could win. When Sully lowered his weapon and turned his head toward the girls, they followed his example, albeit reluctantly.

“Kick them away.”

They kicked the weapons down the stairs, where they slid to a stop only feet from Lazarevic. He motioned for his reacquired soldiers, the ones left alive at least, to lower their own weapons. They did as commanded, even the mercenary who had become his bodyguard. The man moved some distance from him and abstained from looking in his direction.

“Flynn, go on. Now is the opportunity to kill Drake. Kill him, and then dispose of the rest of these weak-minded fools.”

Aw, great. All of this effort and work to get one over on Flynn after he'd double-crossed him for Lazarevic, and the man ended up winning anyway. He couldn't believe he was going to get killed by Flynn. But what made it the absolute worst, was that he'd dragged Elena into another one of his schemes. Sully knew enough to know the stakes, and Chloe knew this life too. Elena... Elena was too innocent of the reasons for Lazarevic's revenge. None of them deserved to die here, but she didn't deserve this kind of death most of all, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do to save any of them.

“Lazarebitch.”

Lazarevic wasn't alone in staring at Flynn like he'd lost his mind. Nathan was doing the same and he was pretty sure just about everybody was staring at the guy. Flynn was smiling a bit.

“You insist on tearing everything apart to find what you want. You're a monster, and I tried to ignore it to get what I needed.”

“Have you lost the will to do what is necessary in my absence?” demanded Lazarevic.

“Au contraire, mate. If Chloe was right about anything, it's that you were going to kill us once you got what you wanted. You were never going to pay us and let us go. I'm fine where I am thanks.”

The recipient of Flynn's disobedience was not happy. His face twisted up in pure rage. And just as sudden, the anger smoothed over and became a calm mask. He lowered the shotgun and looked straight into Nathan's eyes.

“So this is what you do to people.”

Lazarevic used his free hand to draw his sidearm and pull the trigger too fast for him to react. But he hadn't shot him. His eyes followed the arm and the gun, finding Flynn standing frozen, a terribly shocked expression on his face. The horror of what had been done shone in the man's eyes, and then the pain edged its way in.

There was a small hole in Flynn's jacket, high up on his left breast. Red began to spread across the immediate area, blood turning the dark red jacket an even darker shade. It looked bad. That had to be a really bad place to be shot. Not the heart though, was it? It looked too close to the heart to be okay. His ability to still be on his feet must have been from shock alone.

“Oh God...” Elena murmured.

“This is my destiny!” Lazarevic yelled at Nathan, and turned heel for the passageway to the tree.

He stared at the war criminal's retreating back, left momentarily confused. Had the man forgotten about executing them? Something made him decide access to the tree took priority. But his mercenaries didn't shoot any of them either. They didn't follow after their “resurrected” boss. Each and every one of them walked across the road to the entrance. Nathan tensed up, worrying for Sully and the girls as the soldiers approached. But they walked past and out of the city of ruins. They were leaving. Why would they do that?

His former babysitter hovered in the entrance, the last of his people to leave, and waited. It was a curious thing and he was going to shout out his questioning of why the man lingered, when the noise of a collapsing man distracted. He didn't have the intention of going, so much as simply finding himself moving and kneeling beside the badly wounded man sprawled on his back.

“Shit,” he muttered, staring at the hole in the jacket.

Flynn chuckled softly. “Shit.”

He wasn't sure what he was to do here. He didn't know how to fix things. Nathan searched for aid. There was great relief for him when Elena and Sully arrived to do just that. Elena mimicked his knelt position on Flynn's other side, while Sully crouched low next to Nate.

Leaning toward his ear, Sully stated the blunt truth. “It's bound to be a mortal wound, Nate. There's nothing we can do to save him.”

Now that seemed silly. There was a village outside the lost city. Someone might be able to help in that place. But then, it was also likely Flynn might bleed out before they made it. And of course, it was easy to remember Flynn actively wanted Nathan dead. Why should he help someone who tried to kill him, right?

Chloe hovered in the background, refusing to get too close, and she echoed Sully's logic. “He's made his choice, Nate. We've got to go.”

“How can we know he's beyond saving if we haven't even tried?” Elena argued.

She removed her jacket and tried to put it over the bleeding wound but Flynn knocked it from her grasp. He managed to latch onto one of her arms and shoved it away to get his point across. He left a bloody handprint on her sleeve.

“No. It was always gonna end like this. Of fuckin' course.”

The energy it took to utter those words visibly drained him and his head rested on the ground tiredly. Sweat glistened on his temple and his eyes began watering.

Elena gathered up her jacket and tried to put it on his chest again. He batted her attempt away much like the first time and it irritated Nathan.

“Let us help you, Flynn.”

He was quick to reply. “I would let you die. Let me die.”

“Ha, you think I don't know you'd rather I be dead? I don't know what made you hate me so much, but fine. I'll let you die in peace.” He stood and Sully straightened up with him. “Come on, Sully. We-”

“Nate! No! We can't just let him die.”

Nathan stared down to where she continued to kneel by Flynn's side, jacket gripped tight in both hands. She was looking at him pleadingly, and like she couldn't believe he would go. She didn't know Flynn. He didn't feel like he knew the man any longer. And he had to stop Lazarevic before he drank sap from the tree. They had to be moving.

He was wordless here. He didn't know what to tell her. Even if they tried, he'd probably die anyway. They weren't doctors, and it was a nasty gunshot wound.

“Listen to everything I say.”

The mercenary was talking to them. He gave him his attention, too surprised not to do so. The man was observing them while watching his back like he couldn't relax. The idea occurred the soldiers might not have left completely. Why abandon their leader and go stand outside? Where had Navarro gone?

“You will have to do it,” the man said, pulling the scarf down around his neck. “But I can guide you.”

He made the mistake of looking at Elena and their eyes met. Aw, crap. Nathan knew there was no avoiding this. They were going to try and save Harry Flynn.

“Okay. What do I do?”

“No!” Flynn protested in anger. “Go away!”

The mercenary checked the exit and risked moving a few steps closer. “Harry Flynn. You are not a bad man, no matter how much you try to pretend. I see you.”

Amazingly, his incredulous look was matched by the wounded man stuck lying on his back. They were both wondering what the hell the soldier was talking about. The bleeding man stared up at him and for the first time in a long time, he really looked at Flynn. He was afraid.

He saw Nate see his fear and dragged himself into a sitting position, slowly trying to push across the ground away from them. He smiled as smug as he could manage through the obvious pain and exhaustion flooding his system. Nathan was surprised when it was Sully who went to stop his retreat.

Flynn hadn't been expecting it either. He grabbed for his holstered gun in his desperation.

“I don't need your bloody heroics!”

The two of them momentarily grappled with his weapon before Sully won over the now laboriously breathing man. He slid the gun from his fingers and tossed it aside.

“I'm not some villain to be reformed,” he gasped out.

“Nah, you're just suddenly hell-bent on dying,” Sully observed. “Mercenary man, first step?”

Nathan and Elena came to join Sully, who was keeping the heavily wounded man sitting upright with his own body. He'd reached the point where he didn't have the energy to fight them off. His exhausted stare located the ground and remained there.

“Carefully, remove his jacket and cut off the shirt. Try not to aggravate the wound. You want to see if the bullet went through or not.”

A knife clattered near Nathan's foot, courtesy of the soldier, causing him to flinch. He picked it up and looked it over. “Right. No scissors.”

Elena set her jacket aside and worked to remove Flynn's jacket. She looked fearful of hurting him, teeth clenched and eyes wide as she lifted the section covering the bullet hole. Blood seemed to leak from the wound more than before as she did so, and her eyes flickered to Nate. He attempted to smile reassuringly at her, but he knew it ended up appearing uneasy.

He stopped trying to force a calm and scooted closer. Nathan focused on his task of using the knife to cut apart Flynn's shirt. He peeled the cloth from skin soaked in sweat and blood. The blood was only on the front of the shirt.

Elena gripped Flynn's left shoulder and arm, gently trying to lean him forward to see if the bullet hadn't gone through for certain. When he was leaned off of Sully's front, a low whine escaped his throat. At least their uncooperative patient couldn't do much more than that.

He saw it in their faces. Sully saw something moments before Elena did.

“Sweet Jesus.”

“Oh no... Nate, look at this.”

Nathan already knew he wasn't going to like whatever it was. Setting aside the tattered remains of Flynn's shirt beside the jacket, he placed the knife on top. He shuffled around to get a clear view of the back they were staring at in horror.

Scars, everywhere. Some of them weren't very old, maybe a week healed at most. There weren't any fresher lines, which meant someone had done this to him before Navarro showed up. It had to be Lazarevic. Who else would take pleasure in whipping another man? Zoran Lazarevic was obsessed with what made a man strong or weak, blah, blah, blah. Son of a bitch.

He stood to round on Chloe. “Did you know about this?”

“Nate, relax, okay? Are we saving his life or leaving him? We don't have time for a chat.”

His eyes narrowed. She looked suitably freaked out about what they were seeing, but not as concerned as he'd expect her to be. The woman was preoccupied thinking how much she wanted to be anywhere else. How could she think that when someone she presumably used to care for was bleeding from a gunshot wound?

“Did you know?” he persisted.

She huffed in exasperation. “I knew Lazarevic was knocking him around and threatening him. I swear I didn't know it was that bad.”

His stare hardened and she blurted out more in an attempt to appease his distraught anger.

“He must have been lashing him when I was away with you,” she said, and a look of recognition came over her. “It was me. Flynn kept Lazarevic convinced I mattered for the job. When I kept disappearing and reappearing with you... He must have put two and two together and took it out on Harry...”

Well, that might explain why Flynn had been so determined to be rid of him. Didn't explain why the man continued to try and get him killed even after Lazarevic was believed dead. What the hell had he done to the guy since waking up in a tent with a different presumed dead man running things? Was it the journal thing? Nah, couldn't be that big a deal.

Elena shot the other woman a dirty look. “How could you leave him with that monster?”

Chloe matched her look, irritated and upset. “I didn't know.”

“You knew plenty.”

“I didn't want any of this to happen!” Chloe yelled at her. “Nothing was supposed to go this way. Harry found out about me and Nate and double-crossed him at the museum. Since then, nothing's gone as planned.”

Nathan swept his gaze between each of them. Wait, when she said Flynn found out-

“Uh... I don't mean to break up the party...”

Holy crap! He'd completely forgotten the man being discussed was here. Not a stand up thing to do considering the circumstances of his waning health. Flynn went on to remind them of that very thing.

“But I am bleeding out here.”

He moved back around to kneel at his side and coached himself. “Okay. You can do this Nate.”

He remembered the mercenary. “It didn't go through! Is that bad?”

The man responded, unperturbed by their sidetracking. “It is good for less blood loss, but bad for pain. You will have to get the bullet out.”

“Using what?” he exclaimed.

“The knife, and perhaps your fingers.”

His head shook in denial. “Euugh.”

“Give me the knife. I'll do it,” Elena said.

“Like hell you will,” Sully grunted, but he looked approving of her gutsy initiative. “We need to sterilize the blade first, right? I got my lighter.”

Nathan's gaze swept over the secluded pathway to the special tree. It was so close, and Lazarevic would be a force to reckon with if he drank the sap. The sap...

“Forget this. Let's get him to the tree.”

“What? What are you talking about, Nate?” demanded Elena.

“The giant tree below the city is the treasure,” he explained. “The sap has some kind of power. There are men guarding this place who barely seem to feel bullets and have incredible strength. It might have some kind of healing power.”

“I don't know... That sounds pretty far-fetched,” Chloe pointed out.

“Nate, what if it doesn't work?” Elena questioned. “What if there's some horrible side-effect?”

He felt sure of this decision.

“I need you both to help him get there. I'll go on ahead and see if it's not too late to stop Lazarevic from drinking the sap. And if it is, I can't let him leave with any of it. That kind of power... It's too dangerous.”

“I don't believe in miracle cures,” the mercenary at the door shared. “But I do believe if such a cure does not await you, his chances of survival are low."

Nathan sighed. “Thanks for the positivity!”

Flynn mumbled, inquiring what about what he thought and how he'd rather stay right where he was. He ignored him and got to his feet. His eyes landed on Flynn's magnum laying on the ground and he swiped it up.

“I'm gonna borrow this, buddy.”

He looked at his friends one final time before heading for the stairs. Chloe started to follow after him and he stopped long enough to ask her away.

“This is something I have to do on my own.”

“That's stupid. I can help you.”

“I need you here. We don't know where those soldiers have gone or if they'll be back. We need someone to watch the exit to make sure it's clear when we get back up.”

“What if you don't get back? What if you all go down there and get yourselves killed?”

He shook his head. “Someone has to stop him. And it's gonna be me. Now watch that exit! We'll be back!”

“Wait.”

Holy hell. Babysitter was standing just out of his peripheral vision so he'd missed his approach. He was maybe only a person-length away. Stealthy.

“You can never have too much ammo. Take this gun, and these grenades.”

The man glanced to where Sully was trying to put Flynn on his feet and Nathan followed his gaze. The badly wounded man pushed him back and kept on his feet alone. Then he almost fell over when he tried to reach down to retrieve something.

Elena rapidly waved his attempt off while simultaneously helping to put him leaning on Sully. Flynn now leaned heavily on him, but he reached for his things once again. Nate watched with not a small bit of amusement while Elena picked up the jacket, shirt, and knife herself. Sticking two of the things under her arm, she took the shirt and held it to the bullet hole to staunch the flow of blood.

He made himself turn to the mercenary. “You really think I'm going to need grenades?”

He was merely given a look and then he was staring at the man walking away, tugging the scarf back over his face. Nathan sighed and slung the gun's strap over his shoulder, clipping the grenades to his belt as secure as possible.

Jogging to the stairs, he made it about halfway before slowing his progression.

“What the hell am I doing?”

Chapter Text

Nathan checked Flynn's gun and admonished his ability to wind up in these situations. He made it the rest of the way down the stairs and put his back to a tree when he spotted the man he sought. His concern had been accurate. Lazarevic was already in the process of drinking blue sap out of cupped palms.

He couldn't resist. He peered around the tree to see what would happen. It did sound pretty crazy there could be some sort of super serum in the form of tree sap within some ancient, abandoned city.

The reality of its existence was proven as he witnessed the sap's power first-hand. Lazarevic made a brief choking noise but then the heavy scarring along the right side of his face and neck vanished. The deep gash where Navarro's bullet must have clipped his skull closed up, skin smoothing over like new. But he was still coated in dry blood on the left side of his skull, making him continue to look as scary as the man truly was. That and his eyes of insanity.

His head came up, sniffing the air about him, and Nathan pulled back to hide.

“Draaake!”

Aw, what? He breathed in and out and then stepped away from his hiding place to face his enemy.

“You think you can stop me?”

He put his hands on his hips to give him a slight shrug. “That's the idea.”

Lazarevic laughed and reached down to the ground to pick up his shotgun. “You think you've come to end me, but here you will only find death.”

Nathan squinted a little, bringing Flynn's magnum up to target the sneering war criminal. “Eh, yeah? Your death.”

The guy was shaking his head. Why was he shaking his head?

“You're going to die here.”

Hm. Boring. And disagreeable. Nathan fired a shot into a protruding bulge of sap near where the man was standing. Blowing him up might be more effective than shooting the guy who ingested the weird blue sap of healing and power.

The explosion knocked Lazarevic off his feet. He lowered the gun hesitantly. Please be dead. Please?

His twisted and contorted limbs realigned themselves and he started getting up. Goddammit. Nothing could ever be that easy. There wasn't much time before Sully and Elena would make it down here with Flynn. How much damage could a psychopath with super serum take?

“Draaake!”

He winced momentarily at the scream. Pure rage practically flowed from his opponent, eyes glaring directly at his position. Nathan was sure glad he'd accepted the assault rifle and a handful of grenades from the mercenary after all.

Holstering the smaller gun, he took the rifle in his hands. Now he had a pissed off psychopath on super serum trying to kill him. This was not going to be awesome. Let him come and try.

“I will crush you!” Lazarevic screamed out at him. “Bring it on!”

Nathan took off running when Lazarevic let loose a shotgun blast in his direction. Bark from the tree splintered in his direct path and he flinched and ducked away. Good thing he had because another shot roared over his head where he'd just been keeping it.

“Come on, you big ugly bitch,” he goaded.

He ran again, quickly finding he wished his immediate area was bigger. Lazarevic was determined and constantly stalking about, firing off his shotgun at random. He almost swore at another near miss, sliding behind a particularly thick root to catch his breath.

“Come out and fight me like a man,” Lazarevic antagonized.

He was probably irritated at how long it was taking to murder him. Nathan grunted as he rolled out of his hiding place and let off a spray of bullets in his enemy's direction. Lazarevic responded by running straight at him and he hadn't been expecting that.

Nathan fired off another few rounds which missed, and the guy punched him in the face twice. It hurt bad. His neck was grabbed and he struggled violently against the hold. His enemy was squeezing painfully.

When he was let go, he got the distinct impression it wasn't because he'd managed to pry enough fingers from his throat. It was on Lazarevic's terms and he found himself flying through the air. Landing several yards away, he rolled roughly across the ground and nearly blacked out on the spot.

He clambered to his feet and landed bullets into an outgrowth of explosive blue sap by the man's shoulder. Lazarevic stumbled from the flames and he grinned temporarily. He'd found a method to end this man's mad rampage. Now it would just be about getting it done.

“This-is-destiny!”

Yeah, sure it is big guy. Nathan started running again, making circles around the psychopath. He managed to explode another sap growth into the man's face and that seemed to flip a switch. His rage impossibly grew.

“Why won't you die?” the man snarled.

Oh crap. He almost tripped in his haste to outrun the mad criminal. Lazarevic caught up and lunged to grab him. He managed to roll under his reach and keep on going. The word “coward” was spat after him but he didn't care. Like hell he was going to get choked and thrown down more than once by this jackass.

“Have some of this!”

Nathan didn't know what that meant. He only had to wonder another second before three or four grenades landed just ahead of him on his current path. Oh no, no, no. He jumped from the ledge onto the lower ground as explosions went off near him.

Leaves began to fall from above, but he barely paid it any attention as he fled from the rampaging man drawing too close. Well he had a few grenades of his own. Two could play at this game.

He lobbed a grenade at the man when he came around a corner and then shot a few rounds straight into his chest. The guy faltered back, blood spurting briefly from his stomach, but he kept on trucking. He seemed no more than irritated by every bullet Nathan sent his way.

“You're going to die here!”

Time to run some more. He jumped across a drop-off and clambered over a stone ledge as he searched for where he'd move next. Good thing he was planning ahead because Lazarevic sent another batch of grenades raining down on his current position. He avoided getting blown to pieces and jogged toward a thick vine that could provide him some cover.

The ground beneath his feet began to tremble and shake. He noted there were an increasing number of leaves coming from above and a worrying amount of small blue fires scattered about. This place was falling apart in the wake of their combat.

“Draaake!”

From his position, he watched Lazarevic walking across a giant and twisted root so large it was basically a pathway. There was a big outcropping of sap growing bigger before his eyes. When Lazarevic stalked past it, he fired and the whole thing blew. His enemy faltered from the explosive blow and he swapped his rifle for the magnum to get in a few more powerful hits. This guy had to give out eventually, super serum bullshit or not.

He saw movement from the corner of his eye and spotted Sully and Elena down below by the pool of sap. They were crouching and staring at the scene of the suffering tree falling apart. When had they gotten there? What if Lazarevic noticed them? He couldn't let that happen.

“Come on, you big ugly bitch!” he yelled with unmasked contempt.

That got him coming again all right. Too fast. Fists swung into him and he dropped his gun when he was yanked upward by the neck. Ow... He fought vehemently to loosen the grip and get free.

The man laughed and swung him around and away. He landed as hard as the first time, unconsciousness threatening to claim him. Lazarevic didn't hesitate to give him some more grenades to contend with and he bolted from the radius of the impending explosions as quick as he could.

Elena was looking at him. She'd seen him fall. If he didn't want Lazarevic to notice her he had to stop looking at her. Or he could do this...

Taking into account the now massive shaking of the place, he tossed two grenades in rapid succession at the man. Then he used the gun he did manage to hold on to, bursting an outgrowth of sap near his enemy's face. He almost didn't believe it when the dual attack took him down. The accumulating damage was finally enough.

Lazarevic stumbled and fell to his knees beside the sap pool. Really close to Sully and Elena.

Gripping the rifle tight, he hurried to enter the man's line of sight. He didn't want him looking across the pool of sap engulfed in blue fire, to where his friends were now standing. Nathan approached as the man held himself up with one hand and watched him come.

“Great men have the will to do what is necessary. You don't have the will,” Lazarevic informed him.

He stared at the man's face silently. He was thinking about all the crap the man had put him through, all the damage he'd done to Nepal, all the times he and his soldiers tried to kill him or Chloe or Elena. Jeff was dead because of this murdering psychopath, and what he'd done to Flynn... There were so many reasons to execute the son of a bitch.

“You think you are above me, better than me. That I'm a monster,” Lazarevic schooled him coolly. “But tell me, how many men have you killed? No. How many men have you killed just so you can reach this place alone?”

Nathan clenched his teeth, annoyed the guy was trying to make them out to be anything similar. He wasn't some sadistic mass murderer who got off on power and fear. He shifted the tip of the rifle subconsciously closer to Lazarevic's face and the man took immediate notice.

“That's it, boy. No compassion. No mercy. Do it! You don't have the will.”

He breathed carefully and motion drew his eyes up past the man. He wasn't certain what was happening until he saw the Desert Eagle he'd lost during the fight. Then he knew.

“Maybe not. But he does.”

Lazarevic looked away from his lowering rifle to see across the pool of flames. Harry Flynn was walking around the edge of the pool, utilizing the side opposite of Sully and Elena. They were looking at him in complete surprise. He'd missed something...

Flynn had his red leather jacket back on, still bloody on the left side where he'd been bleeding out from a bullet. He felt it safe to assume his friends got him to the sap pool in time and had him drink, because he didn't appear exhausted and weak anymore. Nathan figured if he could try and kill him, he was likely not to have any problem with killing a war criminal, yeah?

He was hesitating though. “I told you before. Killing you is best for everyone.”

The man at their mercy smiled, eager and wicked. “Good... That's it.”

“Your punishment is inevitable,” Flynn added, bitterness and hate leeching into his speech.

He sounded very much like he was repeating words spoken to him at an earlier time. Nathan began to wonder if Flynn was stalling because he couldn't actually pull the trigger. Or was he working up to it, similar to how Nate had been, reminding himself of the terrible things the criminal had done?

“All those lessons paid off, eh? Your will has grown strong,” Lazarevic said approvingly.

It was disquieting but Flynn didn't appear affected by it.

“Some men need to be put down, before they can cause more harm,” he apprised the man with conviction. “Consider that a lesson learned, you sadistic fuck.”

A soft laugh emerged from the kneeling man's mouth. “Do you have the will?”

Flynn stared him in the eyes when he ascertained what the psychopath was looking for. Lazarevic wanted him to prove him right. That men who refused to show compassion and mercy were stronger. Men who would do whatever was needed to become great were worthy. But Harry Flynn wasn't someone who wanted fame or a following. He wasn't perfect either. In this moment, Nathan could read everything off the man's face plain as day.

“You're wrong,” Flynn told the brutal man seeking a similar kind of person, in an understanding tone. “This is mercy.”

He pulled the trigger and Nate watched Lazarevic's body fall motionless to the ground. All around them the tree was going up in flames as the ground cracked and broke apart. But for a few moments more everyone just stood there, silent and unmoving.

* * * * *

The old man was the first to break the dead stop they'd all come to, sharing how good an idea it would be for them to be anywhere else. His arm was jostled by Drake passing to join his friends. That was what caused him to tear his gaze from Lazarevic's body. Not surprisingly, he was already being ignored as the trio entered into a conversation together. Fine by him.

He holstered his gun and adjusted his jacket pocket, ensuring its contents secure. Avoiding some falling debris, he jogged after the retreating backs of Drake and the others. He made it in time to hear the blonde reporter telling Drake something about him.

“We thought he'd left.”

Maybe he should have just gone while he had the opportunity. But he couldn't leave when Lazarevic was alive and superpowered. And he needed to get that insurance. Eventually she would learn Zoran Lazarevic was truly dead. She always learned the information she required. The bitch was terrifying like that. Secret organizations never could seem to stray away from being freaky and strange.

As much as he didn't want to give her what she wanted, he might have no choice. The woman loved her mind games. If his hand was forced to repay the debt, he'd give it over in a heartbeat to prevent her lapdog being sicked on him. He'd been turned over to her dog before, and it was the worst thing he'd ever experienced. With his history, that was saying a lot.

They reached the top of the stairs and Chloe was waiting for them. The area above the tree was shaking and rumbling too. She'd probably been left to wait and find out what the heck they'd done to cause it. Come to think of it, had he ever been on a job with Drake that had gone perfectly to plan?

“Nate!” she called out on seeing him.

Her eyes shifted to him when she noticed him lagging behind. She was clearly surprised to see he was no longer pale faced and dying. He figured he must look good as new because he was feeling great. There was no massive pain in his chest from a bullet and his back didn't irritate him. He could walk pain-free again too. His body was practically thrumming with energy and he felt ready to do anything.

A thought occurred to him and he pulled the jacket back from his shoulder a bit to view clearly. His scar from a stabbing a year ago was gone. The skin was smooth and flawless. He released his jacket and his fingers came up to feel above his lip.

His eyes were staring ahead at nothing in particular but then the blonde entered his line of vision. She was watching him touch his face.

“Are you okay?”

“Is it gone?” he asked.

“Is what gone?”

“I had a small scar above my lip. Is it gone?”

The woman moved a step closer and squinted to peer more closely at the spot on his face. After a moment she drew back and shook her head.

“There's no scar. The sap healed Lazarevic's scars. It must have healed yours too.”

“The physical ones anyway, right? Haha.”

She didn't seem to get it. He brushed her reaction off and walked past to go where Chloe was waiting. A loud crack echoed throughout the area. The shaking went from being slightly unsettling to instant immediate danger. The road was breaking apart. They had to go. Now.

“Go!” he yelled and shoved Chloe forward.

He stalled a moment, watching the sight in astonishment. The whole damn place was coming down. How did Lazarevic and Drake manage that with some bullets and grenades? The base foundation of something really was that important. Yikes.

“Goddamn! Get moving!”

Flynn spun around and realized both he and Drake had stayed where they were to watch the place begin to fall apart in leaps and bounds. Meanwhile the ground cracking apart was rapidly heading in their direction. He took off after Sullivan a second before Drake did, running full speed. If any of them fell through, it would be a long, long way down.

His eyes focused ahead for the stairs leading to the exit. Get to the goal. Get to the goal. He repeated the mantra and then the road in front of him cracked and dropped lower. Flynn didn't hesitate and jumped. He made it easily and kept running, glancing behind as the large piece of road dropped off into the canyon below.

He didn't see Drake. He stuttered to a halt, frowning. Flynn really didn't want to get closer to the crumbling and hazardous road that nearly dropped him a moment ago. He went, thinking Drake might have gone over and what he was to do if that was the case. If Navarro was still around, he probably wouldn't let Drake's friends go if the man had gotten himself killed.

The younger man was struggling to pull himself up from the edge. He must have fallen short on his own jump when the path gave out. Flynn reached down and gripped his bicep firmly.

“Come on,” he said urgently, reaching out with his other hand.

Drake took a second to first look at his face before accepting the help. Once up, they kept running to get off this breaking path of death. The others were at the stairs watching their progress. Just before they made it to the safety of stable ground, Navarro and the mercenary with the scarf over his face and sharp eyes came in through the entrance.

He tripped from a combination of the quaking road and his distress at seeing Navarro. A hand came under his flailing arm and steadied him so he barely missed a stride. He glanced at Drake and gave him a shaky nod before they pushed on and finally made it to safe ground.

But was it really safe?

Navarro was staring past them as the last of the breaking road fell into the deep drop. The road to Shambhala utterly destroyed, and there was no distinguishable manner of reaching the tree now. Of course, by the amount of fire spreading throughout the tree's roots, there was a more than fair chance the tree itself had been destroyed.

“I see you've lost yet another ancient treasure which could have net us billions.”

The man said it calm, but there was obvious seething anger beneath the surface. He stood by and watched how this would go. Could get interesting.

“I took care of the soldiers. You had one man to handle. You managed to dunk me into water along with the prize two years ago when we clashed. What did you do this time? Bury your competitor down below with our tree? You're supposed to be an amazing treasure hunter,” Navarro lectured with an irritated glare.

“I am,” Drake boasted. “No one would have found Shambhala without me.”

“Yes, well, might I suggest next time you find the treasure, you make sure not to destroy it upon discovery?”

In typical Nathan Drake fashion, the man ignored the rebuke and smiled proud.

“The treasure was safer out of your hands, just like El Dorado. I have no regrets with what happened to the tree.”

El Dorado? The actual El Dorado? He repeated his thoughts out loud. “You found El Dorado? It's real?”

Drake cracked him a sideways smile, fingers grasping the ring around his neck. “Yeah. It was really something. Not what I expected though.”

Flynn shook his head. “You didn't expect what you found here either. You're rubbish at thinking ahead, eh?”

The man scowled and put a hand on his hip. “Hey I improvise like a pro. You might be good at figuring out A to B and what's the goal, but you're rubbish at solving puzzles.”

He rolled his eyes. The guy couldn't help getting full of himself and annoying. Well, with Navarro back in charge of dozens of armed soldiers versus their handful of people and a couple guns, he'd better position himself onto the right side. He despised being in a similar position with Navarro as he had been with Lazarevic, but the one with power was his best bet.

Survival and coming out on top. Those remained his goals. It could happen.

“Enough. I don't need further bickering from the two of you,” Navarro chastised. “And are you two finished being locked in shock?”

Sullivan and the blonde woman snapped out of their stupor at directly being addressed by the reason for their daze. Flynn wondered what the man would do about the addition of Drake's friends. He seemed to know the reporter and Sullivan, probably from the hunt for El Dorado. It was still amazing to learn the statue was real. He was curious to know if there had been bountiful amounts of other gold and gems to be claimed along with it.

“No, I'm not dead. Yes, I'm certain it's difficult for your small minds to grasp. Now, welcome to my team. You've just joined Drake in finding treasure for me. It's our arrangement you see. He finds treasure; I get rich.”

“Sounds like a raw deal to me.”

“Yes, well, much like your association and employment to Gabriel Roman, Mr. Sullivan, you have little choice. Find me treasure, or I'll get rid of you.” Navarro shifted toward Drake. “It's good your friends have arrived. I have leverage now.”

Drake didn't like the dangerous warning at all. “Don't you threaten them, you son of a bitch!”

Navarro laughed at his outrage. “Then find me treasure.”

“It's not that easy-I can't just-What? These things don't fall out of the sky.”

“Aw come on, mate. You said it yourself. You improvise like a pro.” He looked to Navarro. “Give him a few weeks to research. He'll come up with something for us.”

The man seemed pleased, evaluating the reactions Flynn's statements received from the others. He checked them out himself. Drake looked ticked off, Sullivan was looking rather mad as well, and the reporter appeared concerned. Chloe was the only one who didn't have much of an expression on her face. It was likely she wouldn't be allowed to dash this time around.

“Come along, Flynn. We've got some planning to do.”

Navarro spun on his heel and walked away without waiting. The mercenary placed his hand on his holstered sidearm as a warning to Drake and his friends not to try anything. Flynn passed ahead of the others to walk alongside the man, but he was trying hard to listen to the four behind him, the mercenary bringing up the rear in his usual silence.

The eavesdropping paid off when the reporter tried to start a discussion on their predicament.

“Nate, what are we going to do?”

“Shut up,” Chloe whispered harshly.

“Chloe, not helping,” Drake said.

Sullivan was the one to rally them with confident words. “We're gonna improvise.”

Heh. They might try. Trickery and the creation of chaos would be ideal to succeed. Much like the bombs they'd planted in the soldiers' camps in Borneo to create confusion and distraction. If they did anything like they'd done in that jungle, he'd take full advantage to slip away.

He didn't have the luxury of friends in his own predicament, but that was just fine. He'd been going it alone almost his entire life. No matter how much Navarro acted on the level with him, he personally experienced how he treated his partners. Flynn was going to need to stay on his toes if he hoped to avoid Navarro's wrath for keeping important information from him.

His plan was to convince the guy that Drake had a treasure for them to go after, wait for Drake's inevitable plan to get him and his friends out of harm's way to go off, and then disappear himself in the mess left behind. Nobody cared enough to look for him. This could work. Maybe.

Chapter Text

“Nate, how did we get here?”

“So wait,” Chloe went on, completely ignoring Elena's attempt at gathering Nate's opinion. “You're telling me this Navarro was supposed to be dead, but here he is, after following your trail, then Lazarevic's trail, and then yours again when you inevitably showed up to get what was yours?”

Sully chuckled a little. “As much as we can figure, yeah. That's exactly what happened.”

“But why wait two years to come after Nate?” Chloe questioned. “And to come after him not for revenge, but to force him to make him rich? That's crazy.”

Nate leaned forward in his chair and placed his elbows on the table. “He must have waited for the right opportunity, when I was already onto a big find.”

“Or maybe he spent the last two years dredging up water, looking for the statue and coming up empty,” Sully suggested with amusement at the thought.

After they returned from Shambhala, Navarro ushered them into a large tent with three cots and a fourth one brought in to accommodate them all. A square table with three chairs had been placed at the back of the tent between two of the cots. Their weapons were taken and they were informed that he expected substantial progress toward locating a potential treasure within a week's time. Lazarevic's treasure hunter would be the go-between, the person who checked up on their progress and evaluated the validity of the information they uncovered.

An armed guard, the man who tried to help them save the horribly wounded aforementioned treasure hunter, remained stationed outside with orders to shoot anyone leaving the tent without permission. Shoot to kill orders. It was a worrisome situation and she truly wondered how they'd ended up here. At least the same soldier had brought in a bag of medical supplies for them to keep. Nate would need it, as usual.

“Another thing I don't understand is why the soldiers only pretended to side with Lazarevic,” Chloe mentioned. “They were clearly with this Navarro guy since they first believed their original employer to be dead. Why such loyalty for him?”

Elena frowned. Good question. If Navarro managed to run the mercenaries different, it wasn't so hard to understand. Hired guns didn't need much more than getting paid, but they did have preferable conditions.

“A man like Lazarevic uses threats and fear to keep his people in line,” Elena shared with the others. “He's always run his army that way and we saw what he'd been doing to the treasure hunter he hired.”

She struggled to recover the memory of the treasure hunter's name. Flynn. Yes, she was sure of it. He was the man Lazarevic ordered to kill her and Nate when they were cornered by his soldiers in Nepal. Chloe had turned against them in order to save her own skin, leaving, and she had punched Flynn in the face so they could make a quick getaway.

Elena hadn't caught the first name though. Another frown creased her forehead. That was going to bug her. She retained her previous train of thought.

“If Navarro established himself as a strong leader who can pay them, avoiding direct threats and fear, he elevated himself to the preferable employer.”

“An asshole like Navarro commanding respect. Now there's an idea,” Sully quipped.

“Probably didn't help I killed a bunch of them under Lazarevic's leadership,” Nate added with a short laugh.

Elena's frown deepened. How could he be so casual about taking lives? She caught his gaze and he smiled at her. She gave a strained smile in return which he noticed. Tension came into his face but she could already tell it was out of puzzlement rather than concern.

Her former boyfriend had a lot of experience traveling, stealing, and competing with other treasure hunters. She'd always understood he got into fights and killed people trying to kill him. It wasn't murder. It was a lot like a soldier fighting for his or her country, forced to kill to stay alive and accomplish their mission. Though stealing ancient treasures wasn't exactly for country.

Sighing, she glanced at Chloe and then Sully. Inevitably her gaze returned to Nate. He was such a big dope. He was a big, dumb dope and so cute. What an idiot.

She honestly didn't know if she was referring to Nate or herself with that last thought.

Elena leaned against the back of her chair. He didn't need a lecture right now. Besides, she didn't feel like delivering an 'of course this happened' speech either, and this wasn't really the crowd to listen to her scolding. Might as well try to find out what's next.

“So what's the plan then?”

Nate was ready with an answer.

“Pretend to be finding a treasure, string Navarro and Flynn along, and then really mess up their day before we hightail it out of here.”

Chloe and Sully were nodding as if this was the most obvious plan in the world. She wasn't one for lying and deceiving on a regular basis like thieves probably had to be. She was a journalist with integrity and she wore the fact like a badge of honor.

“What about the lost city of Atlantis?” Sully suggested with a smirk.

Nate looked offended at the suggestion. “That's complete myth!”

“That's the point, Nate,” Sully deadpanned.

Oh dear. She loved them both but this was going to be a long night. If she was trapped in this camp for longer than a week in such close quarters with the two sometimes childish adults, she might lose her mind. Maybe Chloe would end up being a good companion. The very woman's next words were a jest and reason for Elena to believe she was alone in her sanity here.

“Why don't we follow the rainbow to a pot of gold while we're at it?”

* * * * *

Every time Harry Flynn showed his face, Nate was beyond thrilled. The British thief always came with something good to share. Seeing him meant there was one hell of an adventure on the horizon.

Somehow, Harry Flynn equated sexy times as well. Yes, the man practically oozed sex and danger, but Nathan had been a pretty girl kind of guy. Plus, he was fairly certain Flynn was a pretty girl kind of guy himself. Yet more times than not, when their paths crossed they ended up intermingling in the X-rated sense of the term.

Four years ago, Flynn showed up at a bar frequented by thieves while he was there keeping his ear to the ground about any possible jobs. Flynn was already working a job and brought him into it out of the kindness of his heart. Well, the kindness of his heart, the promise of a huge take, and the special event of his birthday.

He couldn't resist. His excitement for the upcoming stealth mission spurred him on, and the man was damn charming. It was nearly a year since he'd crossed paths with a pretty girl he sought to have some one on one time in the bedroom. Besides, it was his birthday. Nathan gave him a birthday gift they could both enjoy.

When they had their fill of beer, he took him to a nearby motel with the impression they were going to plan the next part of the job. Once inside their room, he promptly punched Flynn in the face and tackled him to the carpet. While the man was still sitting on the floor wondering what the hell happened, Nate jumped up and stripped the clothes from his body.

Flynn's eyes bugged out at the sudden sight of his fully nude body, and he called him on the insanity of it. Nathan laughed at him being the hesitant one this time and swore no romance in the act. When that didn't quite convince him, he sat in his lap, straddling his hips.

“Fun, Harry,” he murmured, running a hand through his slicked back hair as he placed his forehead against his. “We know this job is liable to go sideways. Let's get acrobatic before we're too sore to do the really creative stuff.”

It was the other man's turn to laugh out loud. “Acrobatic? Seriously?”

Nathan sat back on Flynn's clothed lap and shrugged. “A boy can dream.”

“Boy? You're..what? 28?”

“A for you, Flynn,” Nate said with a smile, tapping a finger against the semi-aroused man's nose. “And today you are 36 and I want to do something special for you.”

Flynn leaned back on his hands, causing him to lean away, but he was regarding Nathan with curiosity.

“You know, we seem to end up fucking each other after nearly every job now. An outsider looking in might think there's something there.”

A frown creased his forehead, nose crinkling in distaste. He didn't want to imagine his surrogate father and partner in crime when he was feeling horny. Nathan looked Flynn over several times to put a much more enticing image in his mind again.

“There is something here. You,” he said, shoving the man flat on his back with a palm. “And me. Friends making themselves very happy.”

“You're an irritating asshole,” Flynn muttered, genuinely annoyed. But Nate knew him better.

“And?”

“Pompous.”

“And?” he continued to prod with a growing smile.

“And so damn charming.”

“See? Men can dream too.”

He planted his hands on either side of Flynn's head, letting his mouth hover over the man's lips before finally going the distance for the kiss. When the kiss was returned, things heated up fast. Nathan was eager and his hands struggled to get all of the impeding clothes removed from the man under him.

Once the clothing barrier was out of the way, he removed the lubricant bottle from his jacket. Nearly falling off Flynn's bony hips in his attempt to stay in contact with the man, he giggled. Applying the substance liberally to the stiff penis dripping with pre-cum, Flynn watched him do it. The man promptly gasped when Nate tossed the bottle and leveled himself to sit on the ready cock.

He pushed downward, impaling himself on the man's swollen member. There had been a few fantasies of doing just this thing to Flynn in his dreams over the years, and the man's birthday was too perfect an opportunity to pass by. It stretched and strained his entrance to accommodate the penis but he managed to take it all in one go.

Flynn groaned when he leaned forward. “Holy hell, Nate.”

Nathan chuckled and wiggled his hips.He figured he would appreciate his initiative in playing with his hole earlier to take him in immediate. The man beneath him arched upward and he responded by riding the push back down and starting up a rhythm. He rocked forward and backward, Flynn helpless to do much more than grip his hips while he rode him.

“I am not a horse,” the dazed man uttered, unwillingly moaning in pure ecstasy.

“Thank God for that or this would be really awkward.”

“Drake!”

* * * * *

They used horses to flee the competition that showed up a day into their exploration. Body pounding up and down against the saddle of his horse brought him bitter reminders that this was so much less pleasant than when he'd been riding Flynn. Speaking of Flynn, the man was peering over his shoulder at him, words coming out. He couldn't hear them.

“What?”

Flynn became more animated, shouting again, but still he couldn't hear. The sound of horse hooves on hard ground was loud, and it had begun to rain mere minutes ago, adding to the sounds drowning out his speech. Pain emanated from his arm soon after hearing an automatic rifle go off.

“Too close! Too close!” he yelled to Flynn, looking over his own shoulder to see half a dozen men in a pair of jeeps bearing down on them.

A third jeep drove onto the scene in the path of his partner's horse and the animal startled, rearing up on its hind legs with a loud whine. He watched in horror as Flynn was thrown from his horse and into the jeep's path. Nathan pulled his horse to a sudden stop and threw himself forward into a somersault onto the ground below. It hurt. He would have scrapes to show for it, but he jumped back to his feet and ran straight for where he'd last seen Flynn.

He didn't see him, and that was the problem. He had no way of knowing whether his friend was roadkill or not. It pissed him off.

Nathan spent the next three minutes dismantling the pathetic excuse for their competition. With the rain aiding his stealthy movements, it was a simple task. These men were all brute force and bull-headed charges.

He chucked his empty gun at an enemy with a red bandana wrapped around his head. Nate threw a punch into the face of the second last guy left standing when he made the mistake of approaching with his weapon. His second and harder punch caused the man's assault rifle to pop out of his hands and he caught the weapon in surprise. That was cool.

Red bandana was raising his gun to shoot at him. Nate used the recently acquired weapon to spray his torso full of bullets. He listened for any other hidden or approaching enemies and heard sounds of a struggle. That had to be Flynn.

He ran toward the noise and discovered Flynn sitting upright against a tree. One of the assholes trying to steal their rubies from them had his hands around Flynn's throat. His partner was struggling to pry the tight grip from his neck but wasn't succeeding. Their enemy had a knee dug into his stomach and was using the downward momentum to overpower the man he was strangling.

Nathan blinked through the raindrops and shot him in the head. Free from the hold, Flynn coughed and gasped to reclaim precious air. When he made it over to him, he put his hands on his shoulders, looking him in the eye.

“Are you alright?”

“Peachy,” Flynn choked out, pausing to gather more air. “Whatcha say we go ahead and admit this was a bad idea. There was supposed to be a lot more than what we found, but this is good enough for me. Call it a failed mission and get the hell out of here?”

Nate fingered the bruising already showing up on his partner's neck. His gaze went to the burning sensation in his left arm and felt in complete agreement. Looking at the bag of rubies tied to the saddle of his horse continuing to linger within the trees nearby, he grinned at Flynn.

“Sounds good to me. Let's get far from here.”

* * * * *

He tugged Flynn to his feet.

“Sully's early. He's on his way up.”

Nate shoved the man's shirt into his arms in a panic.

The other man chuckled at his distress. “You told him where to meet us days ago. You didn't think he'd be here by now?”

“I guess I didn't expect it to be when I was getting fucked up against the shower wall, Flynn,” he retorted.

A huge grin spread across the man's face. “I can't believe you answered your phone while I was doing that.”

“Sully would have wondered if I hadn't.”

He scratched absentmindedly at the fresh bandage he'd applied to his arm only moments before. There came a knock at the door and he bit down on his lip to hold the swear word in. He slid his belt into place and grabbed his shirt, tugging it over his head.

Nathan groaned when he noticed while Flynn had gone to open the door, he hadn't bothered to put his shirt on first. He didn't care if Sully knew about them but he did care how he saw them. Sully already didn't have much good to say about Flynn. Why did he even try?

“Flynn.”

“Sullivan.”

Sully pushed past and moved into the room to get a solid look at him. “You okay, kid?”

“Great, Sully. Thanks for coming.”

“Well I don't expect you to ever have the finesse to move the loot on your own.”

“I coulda done it, mate.”

“Yeah, right,” Sully scoffed.

He glanced sideways at him then. “Put a shirt on.”

Flynn smiled sweetly. “Don't act like you don't wish you could have this.”

All of them stood in silence for a moment as they digested the suggestive comment. Nathan assumed he meant a younger body like Sully used to have, but it sure did sound like something else. Usually it was Sully who made everything sound dirty just by saying it. Flynn pulled on his shirt and put a finger up.

“I feel the need to clarify-”

“Shut it, Flynn. Nice bruises by the way. Am I to conclude you got Nate hurt too while you got yourself in over your head on a job?”

The man's cheery demeanor flattened fast. “I didn't make him do anything he didn't want to. And we didn't come out entirely empty-handed either.”

“Well?”

Sully was directing the query to him now and he sighed. “I got shot in the arm.”

“Aw, Nate,” he started.

“Through and through, nothing serious. Relax, Sully. I'm fine.”

“You got shot. There's nothing not serious about it.”

Nathan groaned. “Give me a break, Sully.”

“We're going. Now.”

He sighed and reluctantly grabbed up the bag of gems. “I'll get you your cut within a week.”

“Make it two,” Sully corrected gruffly, walking over to the open door. “Now let's move, Nate.”

It was Flynn's turn to be dismissive.

“Whenever you can is fine, Nate. I know how tough it is to be heralded by a hypocrite.”

“You got him into this and went in half-cocked, like you always do.” The irritated man left the room, slinging quick words over his shoulder as he did. “Come on, kid.”

He felt like a child being grounded and forced to go home early from a friend's house. Why couldn't Sully just like Flynn? Maybe he had a thing against British people. He still remembered that British bitch Sully was involved with when he first met him.

“Goddamn! Nate!”

Chapter Text

“Naaaate.”

Nate finally roused from sleep. She was sitting with her back to the tent wall, telling herself she hadn't been watching him while he slept for all that long. When Chloe had started kicking his bed to wake him, calling his name, Elena didn't have to pretend she wasn't watching any longer.

Sully jolted awake at the second prompting for Nate to wake, looking around until his eyes settled on the reason for Chloe's insistence. She observed his eyes narrow at their visitor before being distracted by Nate sitting up.

“Morning. I see you've decided to take a break, hm?”

“Ugh. What do you want?” Nate demanded.

The man working with Lazarevic and now Navarro, stood just inside the tent, hands on his hips. Harry Flynn, Nate had told her, former business associate and friend, who betrayed him on the last job he had. She didn't approve of the associations among thieves. They were so often lying and manipulating to get what they wanted. She was happy Nate was a pretty terrible liar most of the time.

She frowned after staring at Flynn long enough. Maybe she was mistaken, but he looked worried. The cocky smirk slid off his face as he grew impatient.

“Progress report,” he commanded flatly.

“It's been a day. We've got nothing for you, asswipe,” Nate muttered.

“Fine. I had to check. Get back to work.”

She watched him more closely. He was refraining from looking at any of them. For all the things she'd been told he'd done and how he was, it seemed out of character. It was her gut instinct to read people and situations. The instinct served her well in her work. It did her well in life too.

Nobody else seemed to notice or pay much attention to the man, merely waiting for him to go ahead and leave. Sully and Nate left their respective cots to sit at the table while Chloe stayed put, looking in their direction. But Elena was watching Flynn, so she was the first to see him sit on one of two chairs stationed next to the entrance. She straightened up as she sat on her cot, curiosity fully aroused.

The rest of them got around to noticing Flynn's continued presence when they saw her paying him attention.

“What in the hell are you doing?” Sully demanded.

Flynn waved a hand in his general direction without looking at him, as if to wave him off. He kept his eyes trained on his shoes. Elena felt she was right. He was certainly nervous.

Did he think they might attack him for his betrayal to Nate those months ago? Or for trying to kill Nate in recent days? She could imagine Sullivan taking action if anyone tried to hurt Nate. But she couldn't imagine him doing anything unless Nate was under direct threat.

In fact, she couldn't help but think he didn't appear to be much of a threat. She was no idiot though. Looks could be deceiving and she'd be careful around this man.

“Go away, Flynn,” Nate tried, sounding annoyed. “We don't need your smug face making sure we work.”

“That's not why I'm-I just want somewhere to sit for now. Okay?”

Nate looked like he was going to give him grief for that, but she was feeling an opportunity. Apparently she wasn't alone in such an idea. Chloe's cot was across from hers, on the left side near the wall. It was the closest cot to the chair their visitor had chosen, perhaps lending to her will to initiate a conversation.

“Sit then,” Chloe told him generously. “But answer me one question.”

He glanced at her before going back to his dirty boots. “Ask.”

“Why, Harry? Why'd you double-cross Nate without telling me at that museum? Why'd you mess everything up?”

Flynn laughed, cold and harsh. “You know perfectly well why.”

“I don't,” Elena piped up. “Tell me.”

The man looked at her. He kept his gaze on her a while before briefly flitting his eyes around the room at the others. Eventually he settled on staring straight ahead of himself while addressing her.

“Who are you?”

“Who do you think I am?”

Elena felt everyone paying attention to her now. She was curious as to how they were looking at her, but she was more curious to learn about this stranger. During the period she had a relationship with Nate off and on for a year, nearly another year ago now, he went out of his way to keep any of his thief business out of their time together. It had seemed inevitable then, when she had to walk out on him after he got obsessed with yet another potential job. It didn't mean she cared any less for him. That was a problem.

He eyed her cautiously. “A reporter. You know Nate. You care about him. Former girlfriend or a missed opportunity. Which are you?”

She laughed very softly, very shortly. “Former. Not bad. You know how to read people.”

“Sometimes I don't read enough.”

Elena sensed she at least partially knew where he was going with such a statement. “Like Lazarevic.”

He looked away, back to the wall behind her. Everyone was staring at him, and he obviously didn't like the attention. This was a man who kept the truth close to his chest, who didn't do heart to hearts. As a reporter, she was good at sympathizing and getting people to open up to her. She wanted to try.

“No. Like Navarro.”

“Navarro?” Sully began. “Now you're seeing the light!”

“I don't want to talk to you people. Just-Be quiet.”

“Hey, asshole!” Nate called out. “You're the one who got us into this mess. Better watch how much you try to order us around or I'll break your jaw.”

Flynn was on his feet fast. He gave them a positively ugly look, eyes burning with hate. His gaze and words were for one man.

“You and Sully started the conflict with Lazarevic, you self-righteous bastard!”

“You got me locked up in prison for three months! I owed you a reckoning.”

“Your petty revenge nearly got your friends killed, genius.”

“Hey, you're the one who hung around with a guy hell-bent on tearing apart every place he came to cause you're both too dumb to find what you wanted. And you tried to kill me repeatedly-”

“You wouldn't stop! I needed you to stop so Lazarevic wouldn't keep treating me like his fucking outlet for his problems.”

“Then maybe you shouldn't have worked for a psycho war criminal!”

“I have my reasons. I look out for me first. I've never been any different. We're thieves damn it. You know how it goes sometimes.”

Elena was staring back and forth between the two of them. They'd easily forgotten the rest of them even existed at this point. It was probably why Chloe tried to intercede. Her attempt to get personal with Flynn had gone off the rails from what she surely must have hoped for.

“Harry, listen for a second-”

“Oh and you!” Flynn switched his anger over to her as soon as she put herself back on his radar. “You're worse than he is.”

She glared at him. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Don't you get the cycle?” Flynn asked, returning to Nate. “You and Chloe come up with a plan to screw me over after the museum job. Chloe helps Sully find you, and the three of you come up with a plan to screw Lazarevic and me over. This goes on with Chloe running off to help you in Nepal and so on and so on. It took me a while to get the full picture, but I did. It's amazing how clear your mind can get with distance from the problem.”

“Who are you calling a problem, you bast-”

“You don't love me. You probably don't even love Nate.”

When it appeared Chloe immediately wanted to object to what he was saying, he quickly added on.

“Or worse, you do love us both. But you just love yourself more.”

The woman fell silent, hands folding into her lap as she stared at them. Tears were in her eyes but she lifted her head up squarely to face him.

“I'm sorry, Harry. You went too far. Lazarevic needed to be stopped, and you just kept going along with him.”

Silence again. Flynn sat down in the chair and went back to staring at his shoes. Silent confirmation she was right? Elena felt a little guilty about how much she was dying to know more. There was definitely more to this story.

“Yeah,” Nate unwisely spoke. “And I ended up saving the world.”

Flynn laughed bitterly. “Oh how ridiculous. We both know you were after the treasure.”

“Could you imagine what might have happened if Lazarevic and his soldiers drank from the tree and became some kind of super soldier army? I meant to destroy it when I realized what it could mean if someone dangerous got their hands on it.”

“Oh please,” Flynn dismissed.

“I saved the world!” Nate insisted.

“And how many people have to die for you to save your world?”

Nate was staring at him like he'd lost his mind. “What the hell do you care? You worked for a psychopathic, murdering war criminal. You've been trying to kill me since I got out of prison!”

The reply emerged from the man's throat like a growl. “Like a dog in a corner looking to bite.”

Flynn was being looked at like he might as well have been from outer space. No one had the faintest idea what he was saying and they were mad at him. Angry people made terrible listeners. Elena honestly didn't know why, but she'd never felt animosity toward this man. She felt there was more to him and wanted only to hear his explanation for his poor choices. There had to be one.

“If he's right about anything,” Chloe mediated. “It's that the world doesn't care, Nate. It never will.”

“Damn right it doesn't care,” Flynn said without removing his eyes from the lovely space directly in front of him, a space decidedly not in their direction.

The talk was going sideways. Chloe appeared concerned and regretful she'd ever opened her mouth to reach out to Flynn. Time to salvage the situation.

“My name's Elena, Elena Fisher.”

His gaze moved over to her again but Sully was the one to say something, although not to the man she pried at.

“I taught you the importance of loyalty to the allies you choose. I've made enough mistakes to cover the both of us for a lifetime and don't need you making the same ones. Did you really have a plan to double-cross Flynn at the museum?”

Nate's mouth dropped open and then shut. He glanced at Chloe before answering in earnest. “Not exactly. We were going to do the museum job according to plan.”

“And then?”

“Split the reward between the three of us.”

Sully's gaze narrowed as if he could see something coming before Nate even had to say it. Another moment, and she realized what was coming herself. Oh, Nate...

“And then?”

“Chloe and I were going to run off together.”

She wasn't going to say anything, but she couldn't help herself. “Wait, so when I thought you were running around with your girlfriend, she was actually your girlfriend but also Flynn's girlfriend?”

“Uh... Right here,” Chloe tried.

“Nate,” Elena reprimanded. “Flynn double-crossed you because you'd already betrayed him by messing around with his girlfriend. You guys even made plans to run off on him.”

“Aw, kid.”

Sully sounded ashamed and a little disappointed, but not nearly as upset as she'd like to see him be about Nate doing such a thing.

“It sounds bad when you say it like that-”

“No. It makes me wonder how much I really know you if you could do that to a friend.”

Nate didn't seem sorry at all for his own personal betrayal. “What he did was way worse, Elena. You could have been killed. I could have. It's not the same.”

She looked sadly down at her lap. She was beginning to feel betrayed too. Elena knew Nate didn't tell her everything when they were in a relationship, she didn't expect him to right away. But to know he was capable of cheating was different than imagining he could be. Yes, ironic seeing as how he was a professional thief.

“Betrayal feels the same when it happens to you,” she told him. “Did you ever think about why Flynn betrayed you? Or how he might be feeling at any point after it happened?”

Sully took up his defense when Nate merely stared at her.

“Nate was doing what he thought was right. He usually does, even if it's in his own bull-headed way. That means he also makes mistakes.”

Elena sighed softly, feeling a little tired after her attempt at an interview.

“Sometimes people get hurt when you make choices.”

She was talking about a lot of different things in that moment, and she was thinking about Jeff again. She wondered if she would make it back in time to tell his family herself what had happened. Dying doing what he believed to be the right thing. God, a person could go crazy wondering if the choices they made had been mistakes or the right thing. What if a person kept making choices that fell into both categories? What happened then?

Flynn continued to stare at his shoes, and Elena didn't know what to say to anyone.

* * * * *

They were always bartering words back and forth, but this time they were extremely cranky. Their exploration of a jungle was proving fruitless. They felt like they'd been going in circles for days and Nate spent more time reading and rereading his journal than he did conferring with his partner.

“I'm telling you we missed something, Nate.”

“Shut up.”

“We jumped the gun.”

“Shut up.”

“Counted our eggs before they hatched.”

“Oh my God! That's it!”

Flynn predicted the punch coming his way and blocked it before countering with a forearm shoved against Nathan's chest. They'd kept it completely professional thus far in the mission. No sex, no fooling around, and nothing but bickering for the last 48 hours.

He didn't make it more than a few minutes after uncharacteristically choosing silence, before he ducked out of the tent. Their silent judgment and hatred drove him away. Or maybe it was his own self-judgment and self-hate that caused him to flee. Flynn typically acted without much thought. It was difficult for the past to catch up if he didn't linger on his thoughts for too long and kept moving. But right now he'd walked himself into some recent memories. Bad ones.

His arm grabbed, he was pulled into the narrow space between a pair of the soldiers' tents. He was backed against the tent wall on one side, two soldiers crowding his personal space. Flynn recognized them, and he didn't dare let himself believe they would do what they'd done under Navarro's orders.

“What do you want?” he growled, feigning indifference and impatience in one go.

“You need to loosen up, mate.”

“Don't tell me what I need.”

“I suggest some of our good old-fashioned co-mingling.”

“Eh?”

Flynn casually scratched his belly, letting his shirt ride up a bit. He snuck a glance at Nathan, who diverted his gaze immediately. The cavern enclosure they were using for the night wasn't comfortable in the least, but he pretended it was cozy. He laid back, resting his head in his hands while staring at the ceiling.

“I'm horny.”

“You're always horny.”

“Nah uh. But you're making me get there.”

He hadn't seen Nathan since earlier in the year, months gone by since then without a word from each other. He didn't like to admit it, but he'd missed the guy. They understood one another when they worked together.

“Let's keep this professional,” Nate requested. “The treasure is out there. The journal, and a lot of gold, Flynn. A lot.”

“Yeah but there's more for you.”

“Huh?”

“There's a mystery to be solved. I can see it in your steely-eyed determination to figure things out. What if you can't quit it? Not going to double-cross another employer, will you?”

Nathan sighed and closed his journal. “You don't care.”

“Nope,” Flynn replied assuredly. “So, got a girl waiting for you somewhere, is that it?”

The other man looked away from the journal, to him, distracted. “Huh?”

He enunciated slow. “Got-a-girl-waiting?”

“No.”

“Ah. Got a tired old sack of shit waiting.”

“Hey. Don't talk about him like that,” Nathan told him with a frown.

He shrugged. “He hates me, I don't like him. It's a working relationship because we stay far from each other.”

Nathan kicked his shoe and tucked the journal safely away. “He's a great guy.”

“Don't I know it,” he muttered.

Flynn sat upright when Nate removed his pouch from his belt and undid the buckle. What was-? Nate tugged his jeans down and started crawling over to him. Well, this was a surprising turn of events.

“You're a pretty man, Mr. Flynn.”

“Go fuck yourself.”

A gloved hand went to his throat, teasing the threat. It only lasted a moment before the fingers began stroking against the skin exposed by his v-necked shirt. The other soldier brushed the back of his hand along the long sleeve of his dark blue shirt.

“You should wear one of your t-shirts. This hides such beautiful muscle.”

“What?” he asked in disgusted surprise. “Uh, maybe cause it's cold out here, mate.”

He turned his head away when the soldier put the hand not touching his chest against his lips. “A shame we didn't get to put such a mouth to use the last time.”

Flynn risked pushing the hand away from his face. “You can't do anything to me, Damir. You've orders to watch, not touch.”

Damir stepped back at his brave words, but Luka seemed to be further enticed.

“What are you thinking, thief? Are you planning to betray my employer again? Oh, right. You've already done so.”

And there it was. The tables had officially turned. These men held power over him. He might be Navarro's partner in title and he'd be kept alive, but anything else could go. The soldiers couldn't take any serious action against him, but they could have a little fun with taunts and torment. They were bored having no solid mission to accomplish at the moment. Of course they'd take full advantage of bullying their former victim when their boss wasn't around to potentially put a stop to their fun.

Former victim... Damn it pissed him off to have thought of himself in that way for even a second. He wasn't a victim. Shit just happened and he dealt with it. That's the way it always was. That was life. These guys were only bored and they would go away if he gave them nothing to gain pleasure from.

“I'm bored.”

“Shhh...”

“Flyyyn,” Nathan whined.

He huffed. “We need to wait these guys out. No sense getting shot at if we can avoid it.”

“I know.”

Satisfied he'd earned his quiet back, he placed the binoculars to his eyes again. They were a fair distance from the competition and biding their time before attempting to sneak past them. A moment later he felt fingers sneaking beneath him, searching for his groin.

He rolled away but the hand followed and tugged at his belt insistently. Flynn swatted the hand, frowning.

“Nathan.”

“I'm bored.”

Flynn gave in. “Blow jobs. That's it. We're working here.”

It wasn't all that surprising when they ended up fucking like bunnies minutes after satisfying themselves with an exchange of oral sex. The two of them had always fit together. Nathan was his one man who never took advantage of him, who didn't force anything. He was his link to brighter things. Which should have been telling. He never got to keep bright things, and the dark things seemed to find him.

Luka gripped his jaw firmly. Their eyes locked. Flynn knew he was searching for any sign of weakness. If he gave him anything, there was a possibility they'd risk their orders and do what they wished to him. He didn't so much as flinch.

“I'm pleased you're not dead,” he said.

Flynn locked his fingers around the wrist and removed the hand from his jaw. “Yeah, no thanks to you.”

“You drank the sap,” the other mentioned. “How did it feel?”

He frowned and glanced at Damir before turning back to Luka, who was still way too close to him. “Tingly. Makes me feel like I can do anything, even now.”

“But you won't,” Luka confidently told him.

“Bet your life on it?”

The soldiers appraised him with caution. Damir's hand released his shoulder and they both gave him space. Luka flashed him a smirk that promised bad things before he relinquished the attempt at intimidation and the soldiers walked away.

Nathan walked away but Sullivan lingered. He tried to be subtle as he sniffed the room he was standing in the doorway of. Smelled like sweat and sex. Hm. He shut the motel room door in favor of the outdoor scents, waiting for whatever Sullivan wanted with him.

The man turned fully in his direction when Nate was well enough out of earshot. “He nearly got killed yet again, Flynn.”

“He's got some cuts and bruises and is preparing to keep on going with whatever has him so fascinated in that journal,” Flynn told him. “You and I know the most dangerous choices are the ones he chooses in his fascination of history. You're so concerned, stop him from continuing his search.”

Sullivan poked him in the stomach, in the damn ribs he knew were broken. “Are you even concerned? You got your gold, so now you can be on your way, right?”

“I did the job I set out to do, mate.”

“Yeah? Well never approach Nate for a job again.”

“What?”

Sullivan glared. “I don't trust you to watch his back. I'm not gonna let your stupidity get him killed.”

“Hell of a nerve to say-”

“Goddamn! You stay away from now on.”

“We work well together," Flynn insisted, angry he was being warned away from a good friend and business associate.

“I see too much of the old me in you, Flynn. You get into trouble more than you stay out of it. You're more willing to eliminate potential threats and that's not Nate.”

“Like hell,” he protested. “Don't order me around, old man.”

“Don't find Nate again, you reckless fool. Just keep your distance.”

* * * * *

Flynn kept his distance from Drake and the others while they walked around the camp. He'd been asked by Navarro to keep an eye on them while they stretched their legs and worked their minds during some brainstorming. A couple soldiers trailed behind him with orders to monitor the prisoners as well.

He couldn't believe Navarro continued to think they would actually work something out for them to go hunting for in a matter of weeks. Unless Drake had something on the back burner, whatever they came up with was likely to be complete horseshit. They were four days into the supposed research phase. He wondered why the soldiers were sticking around putting their faith in Navarro to employ and pay them. He'd given no proof he could maintain them since the Tree of Life went up in flames.

“Thanks, Sully,” Drake muttered sarcastically.

Chloe and Elena laughed lightly in return. He rolled his eyes. How they managed to be content in their captivity was beyond him. Possibly they could be working on an escape plan already. He would have to keep careful watch so he wouldn't miss out on his opportunity to dash.

“That's the spirit,” Drake told Elena, chuckling.

Flynn had no idea the context of what caused him to speak those words, but he blinked at hearing them. Those exact same words Navarro said prior to raping him. Oh, sorry, it wasn't rape because he didn't fight him. He let it happen. Sick bastard knew what he'd done to him. What were these people even talking about?

He supposed part of watching them did entail listening. Flynn walked closer in order to be within hearing range. Unfortunately, this put him back on their radar. He'd spent far too much time in the presence of these people the last three days. Sullivan and Drake together were almost unbearable in their inability to stop cracking jokes and reminiscing on old times.

“Flynn, what are your thoughts on us finding the Amber Room?” Chloe asked him.

“'Bout as likely as finding the treasure of the Knight's Templar,” he retorted.

“Oooh. 18 ships set sail from France full of treasure,” Drake recalled. “If we could find even one of those ships we'd be rich.”

Elena pouted at Drake and crossed her arms over her chest. “Guys, we need to get serious about learning concrete information on some kind of treasure. What happens if Navarro decides we're not serious and-”

“Rule of thumb, darling. Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.”

She frowned at him. “That's not funny. We could get hurt and you're making jokes?”

“Not joking, sweetheart.”

“Just shut it, Flynn,” Drake demanded, irritated.

“Make me. Oh wait, you can't. Must be insufferable you can't hit me or leave me. If it makes you feel any better, I'd be far from you people if I had the choice.”

Drake rolled his eyes. “I'd call you a tool, but even they serve a purpose.”

“Haha funny,” he admitted.

“You're pathetic, Flynn,” his former partner and girlfriend informed him. “You took on a job too big for yourself and now you're stuck. We'd all probably be far from here, free and clear, if you would have left Lazarevic when I asked.”

“Chloe, if I'd done that we have no idea what would have happened. No sense dwelling on the past. It'll just make you crazy.”

She shook her head. “You're avoiding blame. Like me. God, maybe we're both pathetic.”

“Speak for yourself,” he quickly retorted, on the defensive.

He was distracted. They were walking toward a trio of soldiers staring in their direction. More specifically, they were staring in his direction. One of them was Alek.

The other two soldiers grinned his way as the trio dispersed, the pair of them moving past to briefly converse with the soldiers assigned to follow Drake and his friends. It made him suspicious they had been talking about him with Alek. He didn't like that.

“Your luck will run out, English man,” Alek muttered in his direction before smirking and turning to leave.

They were looking his way now too. Drake and the others. He couldn't let them find out what happened to him. The only thing he had was his pride and self-respect. He wasn't some sad victim who needed people's sympathy and attention.

Flynn picked up the pace, hoping they would do the same. If anything, they slowed, and for good reason. One of the soldiers assigned to back him up in keeping the captives in line matched his pace and walked alongside him. They moved more slowly to keep their distance, uncertain what was going on.

“One of them must die to put a flame beneath Mr. Drake,” Flynn was told. “Navarro wants you to pick which one. The reporter, the former partner, or his mentor.”

He stopped in his tracks. “We don't need to kill any of them. They'll do what he wants.”

“Choose by tonight, Mr. Flynn.”

The soldier moved away again, slowing to walk alongside Drake and the others. His helplessness was beginning to infuriate him. How much longer could he pretend to have choice in this mess? Why would Navarro make him choose who would die?

Divide them further. That had to be it. He was the sole former associate of Drake's now on their side. If he picked who died, it would solidify the divide that already existed between Flynn and the prisoners. This death was Navarro's method of keeping all of them in line with one action. Cruel and brutal. The man was as cold-hearted as they came.

There was another mercenary standing guard at the far perimeter up ahead. A man with a beard and a full head of hair. As they approached in silence, it made it all too easy for his comment to reach their ears. Spoken under his breath as it was, it was audible to everyone walking toward him and his fear flared up.

“Haha it's the pretty boy screwed by the new boss. Beware while you continue to walk a thin line.”

He glanced at the others he was meant to be guarding, angry he was being undermined right in front of them. They were looking at him with mixtures of bemusement and amusement. Well, Sully and Chloe were anyway. Drake appeared more puzzled and Elena simply seemed worried.

The soldier cracked a smile at his discomfort and paranoid concern over being belittled.

“Screwed because you're replaceable. Screwed like a willing whore.”

He wasn't sure what happened. He saw red. There was no way to know if the mercenary gave enough away to expose Navarro's assault, and he had to shut him up. They couldn't know. Enduring it was agony. Reliving it a nightmare. Anyone he knew finding out would just make it that much worse, that much more real.

Flynn heard a scream of hatred explode from burning lungs, only becoming aware it was him after the fact. He flung himself on top of the man's upper half, ripping the combat knife from the soldier's vest. Stab after stab he rained down on the parts of the body around the vest. The soldier's grip weakened and as the man fell, he fell along with him. He didn't let up on plunging the knife into the danger.

When he finally came to himself, he must have been a hell of a sight. He could feel warm blood coating the front of his clothes, his face. Clutching the knife, he stood up, away from the very dead soldier lying on the ground. Their accompanying soldiers were pointing their guns, shouting in Serbian at him.

He must have been in shock because he barely heard them. There was a sort of empty space where there should be noise. His eyes held wide, he slowly blinked once, twice, and caught sight of Nathan. He was staring at him like he'd lost his mind. Maybe he had.

Calm was overtaking him, replacing the pure, uncontrollable rage that had owned him mere moments ago. Everybody was at least a little crazy. The knife slipped from his fingers, clattering to the ground, and he spoke gently to the single man in his eyeline.

“Like a dog.”

Chapter Text

“You heard him, right?” Chloe considered, clearly intrigued by her former boyfriend and business associate's temporary mental break.

“He said 'like a dog'. He's said something like that before,” Elena remembered.

“He has?” Nate asked obliviously.

“To you,” she recalled. “In the tent a few days ago, he told you he was like a dog in a corner, ready to bite.”

“Oh yeah, the one time he stayed in the tent and talked to us. He's barely looked at us like we're people since then. Not exactly a tragedy. The staying quiet part I mean.” Sully said. “The guy opens his mouth way more than is wise.”

“But for him to lose it like he did,” Chloe contemplated. “What the hell set him off?”

“Maybe nothing. Maybe it was ingesting sap from the tree.” Nathan considered. “Lazarevic went off the rails, feeling invincible and raging after drinking some of that stuff.”

“Or maybe Lazarevic was already living in crazy town from the start,” suggested Sully.

“Flynn!” Chloe exclaimed, staring at the tent entrance.

Nathan looked him over where he stood. It had been approximately 24 hours since the incident when Flynn went crazy and stabbed a mercenary to death in a frenzy. He'd walked away from the murder calm and composed an hour later, when Navarro arrived to negotiate the situation. Flynn said the guy asked for it and after the boss referred to the evidence of Marco Polo's team tearing themselves apart over the special sap, he took no action against his partner. They were returned to their tent by disgruntled but otherwise unaffected soldiers, while Flynn was allowed to walk off on his own.

The man presently appeared fairly stable and normal. He'd cleaned up, swapping the bloody clothes for a white v-necked t-shirt and dark blue jeans. His fingers came to the beaded necklace about his neck before lifting his left arm to examine his watch. Finally, his attention moved to them.

“Good morning. Have we made progress?”

“No,” Sully responded. “What the hell happened?”

“I don't know what you mean.”

“Don't play wise with me, Flynn,” Sully said. “You played pin the tail on the donkey with a guy's chest.”

“Listen. We need to get down to business,” Flynn avoided, sitting in a chair by the door facing their direction. “What treasure are we aiming for? What's our timetable?”

Nathan was incredulous. “We're just pretending what you did yesterday didn't happen?”

“Yes. Navarro's orders. He wants your focus on the treasure hunt.”

“Flynn. What's going on? Was it something the mercenary said?”

Flynn's answer was deflecting. “No. Forget it. What do you have for me?”

Nate eyed him carefully. He was beginning to pick up that Flynn told them to forget it when there was something there, something he didn't want exposed. Something was going on with him. He'd been pushing his suspicions to the back of his mind for some time now. He was just so mad about getting thrown in prison for months because of the guy's double-cross. But when that betrayal happened, he'd been beyond shocked.

Yeah, it had been three years since he'd last seen the guy before the betrayal happened, and so what. Never in a million years would he have imagined Harry Flynn capable of pointing a gun at him and meaning it. Lately, that instance happened unbearably often. It wasn't right. With all this time to sit around and think, more and more he thought about how his old friend's behavior didn't make sense. He either treated him with contempt or like a stranger now. Flynn couldn't have forgot how much he'd gotten to know him in the past.

“Flynn.”

He waited until the man at least looked in his direction. How much could change in a little over three years?

“Are you alright?”

Flynn flashed him a cocky smile. “Yeah, mate. Why wouldn't I be? Those soldiers are cold bastards. They all have it coming.”

“Insurance,” he tried assuming cautiously.

Prison had been a dull and repetitive experience in Istanbul. Everything that went on in the museum during the job gone wrong had run through his mind on repeat. That was why he hadn't forgotten Flynn's mention of carrying a gun for insurance purposes. The idea of a foreign prison had genuinely seemed to terrify the guy and he'd brought tranquilizer guns for the occasion. Why would Flynn need insurance against mercenaries he supposedly was working with alongside Navarro?

“Right.” Flynn leaned forward in his chair. “You do have something for me, yeah?”

He shook his head, forcing himself not to instantly jump to anger by the dismissal. “No. We don't have anything, Flynn. We both know this arrangement is never going to function.”

“He'll make it function, Drake. He's persistent like that. Can you give me anything? Anything at all?”

Sully got nasty fast at the prodding. “Why don't you come up with something? How come you and your new partner aren't doing any of the work? Get lost before I do something I'll regret.”

While Nathan was impressed Sully remained unafraid of a man who'd recently gone nuts and stabbed a guy to death, aggravating him wouldn't help. Especially when he was trying to figure their enemy out. Was Flynn even really their enemy now that Lazarevic was gone? The man was smart enough to know him and Sully wouldn't help find treasure for them so there was no point to lingering in the area.

He could tell Flynn wasn't ever black or white in his actions. Self-centered and narcissistic, most certainly, but even Nate could admit he had shades of that at times. Then again, if the British thief was so self-serving, why hadn't he run? He didn't think Navarro would give chase. Navarro thought he needed him, not Flynn, or his friends...

He looked up at Flynn, who was standing from his chair. The man seemed pretty unhappy they'd given him nothing. He was more than unhappy. Flynn appeared to be on the verge of fear. What? Was he under pressure from the new boss or partner, or whatever precisely their arrangement happened to be at the moment? Was Navarro going to kill him if he couldn't get them in line and working? Tch. Why should he care?

Nate watched him leave and leaned back in his chair. Why did he let the guy get to him? Why did he still care even a smidge about Flynn after everything he'd done?

His babysitter came into their tent. He groaned out his frustration.

“What? Gonna torture us until we dig up a treasure?”

The mercenary removed the scarf from his face. “You still can't see.”

Nate sighed. “I really don't know what that means.”

“Ask yourself. If he wanted you dead, why aren't you dead?”

“It isn't for lack of trying.” He lightly patted his left side. “My stomach's proof of his hate.”

“It is proof of his fear, Mr. Drake,” the man practically drawled like it was the most obvious thing. “Your tenacity threatened the life of Ms. Frazer and he reacted. His actions up to this point have been for her protection.”

Chloe laughed bitterly. “Could have fooled me.”

“He's putting distance between you and him now, yes. Navarro keeps a close eye on his comings and goings. They are partners but they fail to trust.”

“And you claim to know all of this from observation alone, huh?” Sully questioned.

“You are blinded by personal grievance and prior history,” the soldier told them grimly.

Nate glanced at Chloe, avoiding Elena's direction. He was beginning to feel like he was being scolded by a school teacher, except the consequences would be much more severe if he didn't figure out the lesson. He looked back at the mercenary.

“What exactly do you think I'm missing?”

“Think of what you've heard and seen since you came to be a prisoner here. Did you bother to truly examine Mr. Flynn at any time?”

Elena always being the thoughtful and caring one, was the first to volunteer an answer.

“Well, he seemed nervous when he asked to sit in our tent earlier this week. And the frenzied attack on that soldier, something was very wrong there.”

Nathan didn't want to volunteer everything he'd seen and heard. Now that he was considering and mulling over the pieces, they were fitting together into a picture he refused. Because it meant he'd ignored plenty of signs Flynn was troubled and done nothing. The thought they were enemies had been his go-to thought ever since ending up in prison because of the man. He wouldn't feel guilty for this. Flynn was still an asshole.

“Just before he left this tent,” Nate finally admitted. “He was scared.”

Chloe went on alert, eyes wide. “Of Navarro, do you think?”

The mercenary pulled his scarf back to conceal most of his face, preparing to leave the tent. “I can confirm he fears my employer, but I can also confirm if it were his sole concern he would be far from here by now. Do you now see, Mr. Drake?”

He did. He was horrified and angry he hadn't seen it sooner. “Flynn was scared for us. He knows something Navarro must be planning. Why wouldn't he warn us if he really cared?”

Nate was working through this out loud. He was figuring things as he went and growing increasingly disturbed. He was feeling awfully stupid. But he shouldn't feel stupid when people kept refusing to use words to say what they needed to say!

“He has a prior relationship with some of you,” the soldier noted. “I cannot say this with any certainty, but I believe he is also scared of you.”

Nathan scoffed with a small laugh. “Aw, come on. Flynn's a cocky son of a bitch. Can't resist the thought of his own genius, which he's lacking in by the way.”

The mercenary turned to go, but his final words trailed back to reach them as he went outside. “Our friends can hurt us the most.”

* * * * *

They had nothing. Not one had bothered to come up with a false plan. Navarro was going to kill one of them. He'd hoped if they made enough progress on a hunt, Navarro would reconsider his decision for murder. This was the first time the man was granting him an audience to discuss the plan. He'd been hidden away in his own tent, doing God knows what, nearly the entire time since their return from the ruins of Shambhala. His only other encounter had been less than ideal, him murdering a soldier in cold blood.

Surprisingly, Navarro had been readily convinced it was the sap he'd ingested to blame for his out of character behavior. And it might well have played a role for all he knew. But the reality he did know for certain, his mounting fear of what was to come and what had come before, drove him to lose any semblance of control he had on himself in a single moment the previous day.

Now he was about to go before Navarro with nothing to show for the days spent in camp standing still. For a fraction of a second he'd considered blurting out to Drake what was going on. But he never confided personally in anyone his whole life. There was no one to go to and he'd burned his bridge with the only real friend he ever had over three months ago. So he kept quiet in that tent, unwilling to face a rejection from former associates if they didn't believe him. And why should they? He'd done everything to ensure their distrust.

Flynn walked past the guards stationed in front of Navarro's tent with barely a glance to either of them. They kept their associations with him professional and detached, well, aside from the handful who preferred to taunt him with what they knew had happened. Even worse, the harassment from the ones involved. He would give anything to alter his present right now.

Navarro was waiting for him, hands planted on a table as he studied a map of the area. He came to stand on the other side of the table and examined the map of interest. What was he looking for?

“There was a group of mercenaries searching for a particular man,” Navarro casually informed him.

This was truly unexpected information. “Who? Where? When were they here?”

“They didn't risk entering camp but flagged down a perimeter guard. At sunrise, a male and female mercenary from their group came to represent the rest.”

“Represent... For their search? Who were they-?”

“Drake of course. Damn good at what they do to track him all the way to this middle of nowhere mountainside.”

What a bizarre scenario. He scanned the other man over while he wasn't paying him any attention. Navarro seemed collected, in a good mood. His eyes were stuck on the map and so his own gaze was drawn there again.

“I told them I didn't know who he was. They bought it and left. Still, I've put the soldiers on high alert while on duty.”

Navarro was marking areas around the camp, marking the trail from the camp to Shambhala. He'd made note of the access path in and out of the mountain, and potentially was guessing where the mercenaries might have come from, or where they might be. What for?

“Do we know who these mercenaries are? What they want with Drake?”

“More Serbians if you'd believe it. Told me they specialized in finding people and were on a job. Named Drake and showed a photo of him. Wonder where they got their hands on a photo. Shouldn't be a problem since they have no reason to suspect he's here, far as I know. We'll be moving on soon and if they try entering this camp they'll have a fight on their hands.”

“Huh,” he uttered, not knowing what else to say.

His eyes sought out the exit. The man was being too matter-of-fact. This meeting wasn't going to go well. He would rather not have the discussion they were about to have. Navarro caught him seeking to leave almost immediately.

“Down to business then. Where are we with the next phase?”

Flynn sighed. “It's as you expected. They haven't found anything yet. But they will. Give them another couple of days and they'll have something.”

“Is that what they told you or your personal opinion?”

Navarro was still staring down at the map. He watched the man, wondering if their recent visitors would further affect his dissatisfaction with being nowhere. He opted to hope for the best. What else could he really do?

“Both. You said Drake's a treasure in himself, finding treasures often believed to be complete myth until he starts investigating and exploring. He'll get us something tangible. Just give him more time.”

The man lifted his hands and his attention from the table, taking him in. “Have you made the call?”

He played dumb. “Call?”

“Who should be executed to apply pressure to Drake?”

There was no way he was nominating someone for death. He wasn't a contract killer and it sickened him how more and more his employers of recent time were trying to make him into one. They weren't his friends or allies, however, he knew them and they were no threat to him any longer. It was exceptionally difficult to hurt anyone who wouldn't hurt back. Any one of them could hit him, but stone cold murder wasn't in the cards.

“Uh...”

The other man's hands went to his hips. “I don't recommend Sullivan. He knows a thing or two about treasure hunting and may be able to help Drake find something more quickly. Also, well, I do believe killing the man could prove to be a trigger that shuts him down. One of the women will be suitable for our purposes.”

“Your purposes,” he muttered.

Navarro's expression darkened. “You're going to want to have an answer, Flynn. Choose.”

“I'll tell you the same thing I told Lazarevic. I'm not paid to kill people, and I won't be any part of your murder plot.”

“You expressed perfect contentment should Drake meet an untimely end, but for the others you feel the desire to protect?”

He threw up his hands and shifted slightly away from the table and the displeased man. “Maybe I'm just tired of all this. Trying to make Drake do something he doesn't want to do never ends well. He always manages the upper hand somehow. I don't want anything to do with him or this plan.”

“I believe his friends have something to do with that,” Navarro shared. “But here I have friends too.”

Flynn started meandering around the tent, preferring to be anywhere else. This whole situation continued to get more and more ridiculous. His patience was running out for when he could get running. He hated Navarro. He hated those sadistic soldiers.

“You know,” the man began. “I think it's peculiar you speak up in defense of our prisoners one moment, and the next you're looking to back out of our arrangement, leaving them at my mercy.”

He shrugged and ran his hand along the table as he finished his semi-circle around the tent, returning to stand on the other side from Navarro. “You know how it goes for a thief. We look out for number one.”

Navarro studied him. “Do you?”

He met his gaze. “Yeah, mate. You're in charge here. Pick yourself.”

“You're not as charming as you think you are. Who do you think you're dealing with?”

Flynn glanced toward the tent entrance before coming back to the man staring critically at him. “Nobody decent, but that's nothing new in this business.”

“You don't like me, do you?”

“Nice one, Sherlock. Should I go back to hiding the disdain?” He grew serious, speaking with quiet anger. “You know what you did.”

The guy had the nerve to smirk. It was the dangerous kind.

“Shall I do it again?”

His hand went to his holstered magnum. “You can try.”

That got a chuckle out of Navarro. “I guess you've told me all I need to know.”

He glared uncertainly. “How do you mean?”

“I suspected as much. You made your choice after all.”

Flynn's uncertainty overcame his anger. “What?”

The man shook his head in disappointment and reached down to his radio, pressing the talk button. “You choose Drake and his friends over us.”

He shook his head. “No, I didn't. I-”

His thoughts derailed when Luka and Damir entered the tent. The words on the radio must have been their cue.

“You know what we discussed,” Navarro told them.

What? What had they discussed? What was going on? They were turning against him. He knew they would sooner or later, but he never thought it would be because he wouldn't pick someone to die. Drake would inevitably make a move to escape with his friends. He thought he'd be able to buy more time for his own escape.

They walked toward him while Navarro walked past them to the exit. The hell they were going to do anything but kill him. He didn't want to die alone, but for them to do what they'd done before all over again... If dying was the most he could do for himself then he'd do it this time. He drew his weapon quick.

It wasn't quick enough. He only managed to bring it level and a round skimmed his right arm. He nearly dropped the gun and then he was tackled by the man who wasn't still pointing a gun in his direction.

He struggled to bring his gun up against Luka's head. His weapon was batted from his hand and fingers dug into his fresh gunshot wound.

“Gah!”

Flynn forced himself to overcome the pain and shoved the offending arm away. His hands scrambled to squeeze the guy's throat and the response was a backhand across his face. His head snapped to the side and he immediately returned the blow with a solid right hook.

His punch was absorbed and Luka responded with three straight blows to his own face. It left him reeling and bruised, but he managed to knock his assailant off. Unbalanced, he crawled backward on his elbows, searching for a weapon of any kind.

There was nothing within immediate reach and he sought out his attackers' placements. Luka was rubbing his jaw and stalking forward, Damir right behind him. Neither had their weapons out and Navarro was nowhere to be seen. What was this?

The two men stopped short of where he was lying and he got to his feet. “What did you discuss with Navarro? What's changed?”

“The arrangement,” Damir said. “You've made too many decisions against our cause. Went from boss to toy very quickly.”

He didn't like the sound of that. Toy? What the hell? He unstrapped his gun holster and chucked it at the nearer of the two, ducking past toward the exit. Luka was too slow to react but Damir managed to catch a loose grip on his ankle. It was enough to make him lose his footing.

Crashing to the ground, he tried to get up to his hands and knees. He was pushed down by a boot on the center of his back. Someone's full body weight soon took its place and he yelled out in rage.

“Get off!”

“Shh...”

He froze, feeling the cold and sharp edge of a blade trace along his cheek.

“Listen closely, Flynn,” Luka told him, lowering his mouth to press against the cheek that was without a knife making patterns on it faintly. “The boss has given you to us until tomorrow morning. That's plenty of time to become better acquainted. Last time was so brief...”

Oh God. He tugged an arm out from under his body and elbowed behind as powerful as he could from the awkward position. It pushed Luka partially off kilter and he rolled onto his back to try and roll away.

Luka rolled with him, bringing the knife up against his throat. He shrank away from the blade but the man followed with the knife and cut lightly into the thin flesh of his neck. He forced himself to still again.

“No matter what you try, we have orders to keep you alive. No critical injury but we have free reign from there.”

He threw himself backward, out of reach of the blade, desperate to do anything to get away. Damir laughed while reaching to scoop up a fistful of Flynn's shirt. He wrenched free and then Luka stabbed the knife into his lower leg.

Flynn screamed and could only watch when Luka pulled the blade out and sank it into his upper thigh on the same leg. He was damn lucky no major arteries were nicked. That or the guy knew where to aim. By the time the knife moved up to slash against his arm, he'd essentially become catatonic. This couldn't be happening.

Apparently being immobile wasn't what they wanted because a hand slapped the back of his head from behind. His shirt was tugged up and over his head in one smooth motion by the same man. He shook himself out of his stupor and lowered his eyes to stare at the deep gash in his right forearm, below where the bullet grazed his bicep.

“Look at me.”

His gaze lifted numbly to Luka.

“There are two armed soldiers outside the exit. You wouldn't have made it anywhere anyway.”

Was that supposed to make him feel better? Flynn drew in the sadists and sexual predators like a magnet. What was he doing to attract such attention? What choices did he make that left him empty every time?

Damir sank to his knees behind him and scooted in close. He couldn't move away because Luka had tossed the knife aside and was crowding in close from the front. The fear and panic was rising.

The man behind him kept him in a loose embrace, ensuring his arms stayed at his sides. Meanwhile the man in front undid Flynn's belt and struggled to remove his jeans and shorts. Don't let them find it...

If not for his hazardous circumstance, he would have exhaled his relief when the soldier didn't notice what was in his pocket. As soon as the clothing cleared his ankles to be dumped on the ground out of the way, he kicked Luka in the throat.

He might be trapped, he might be naked, but don't count him down and out when he wasn't bloody dead yet!

An arm came up around his throat and pressed hard. His hands instantly rose to stop Damir, clawing to pull the crushing appendage away. He couldn't breathe. Flynn lashed out toward Luka with more kicks when he saw the guy recovering and coming close.

The lack of oxygen weakened his fight. He watched through bleary eyes while Luka prepared to violate him. One word repeated over and over in his head. No. No. No. No.

The hold against his throat loosened, and Damir used his free hand to stroke his hair, lips brushing along his temple.

“Pretty man. Only good for this I think,” he said softly, a chuckle following the words.

Luka forced himself between Flynn's legs and shoved his dick in. A strangled whine left his mouth, throat too sore for any real noise to come out. Damir kept his position holding him in place while his friend began to thrust.

Okay. Okay. He'd been raped before. He'd been raped by this bastard before. He could take it. Let them rape him and leave him. He would survive and then he'd run. He couldn't stay here after this. It would be impossible to force the memories into the other ones he blocked if he was anywhere near his attackers.

Flynn stared at a spot past Luka but the man took pleasure in forcing him to be attentive. He spoke to him, prodded him with rough slaps every time he tried to let his mind wander. Damir whispered unseemly things into his ear and touched his chest. They made him stay aware and in the moment and he hated them even more for that.

When Luka finished, he didn't pull out. Instead, Damir shoved Flynn forward into his arms and he was pulled on top of his rapist. He planted his arms on either side of Luka, trying to gain some semblance of control, and the man smiled up at him. When he glared in turn, the piece of shit tugged his face close by putting a hand to the back of his head.

“Ready, Flynn?”

He was afraid of what was meant and Luka forced their lips together. He fought it but Damir pushed them closer when he got on top of Flynn's back, causing his arms to give out, bare chest colliding with clothed chest. Jerking his head to the side to stop the kiss and try to see what was happening, he felt Damir's erection pressing against his ass cheeks.

An uttered denial slipped out. “No.”

Luka sneered at him with a ready reply. “Yes. Always, yes.”

It was sheer pain as he was sandwiched between the two men and a second penis was forced into the already crammed space. Damir's weight was heavy, it was hard to breathe, Luka kept licking and biting along his face to get his attention. Time crawled as the hole was stretched agonizingly wider to make room. When an eternity passed, he felt the man's scrotum rub up against him.

He felt blood trail from his lip from the immense effort he was putting in to keep sounds inside. Oh but it hurt. The men started moving their dicks inside of him in tandem and he couldn't help but cry out his agony. Too much and they took no care with him. They were using him, in the worst way.

A sob broke through when the pain radiating from his ass left him incapable of using the pain of a bit lip to distract. Flynn returned to the total awareness he had of every sensation. Naked skin rubbed against the black cloth of their uniforms, both kept their hardened members fully encased inside him while they rocked back and forth. The unwanted ministrations became overwhelming and he dug his face into Luka's neck, crying quietly while they did with his body as they pleased.

It seemed to take several eternities for them to finally climax inside him, one after the other. They each mercifully pulled out of him and he fell to his side on the ground. Curling into himself slightly, he struggled to concentrate on his breathing instead of the horrible pain. He would argue getting shot was preferable to this. The after was just more agony, shame, hate, blame, and memory.

“Go away now,” he managed to choke out.

Flynn was so angry at himself. He laid there bleeding from several injuries and the only pain his body seemed to allow him to acknowledge was a direct result of the double penetration. How could he let this happen? He wanted to be alone now. He willed them to listen and go away.

“You misunderstood me before,” Luka said, impervious to his will. “We have the rec. tent now to visit. Boss gave you to us, Flynn.”

The enunciation on the word “us” shook him to the core. His crying ceased as his survival instinct to hear the coming danger kicked in. He could do nothing else but lie there as he suffered these men and their indifference to his plight.

“Every last one who want to take out their frustrations, who want some release,” Luka explained. “I know Alek eagerly awaits you. Your luck has, most certainly, run out.”

Chapter Text

AN: Remember prior warnings.

 

He wasn't afraid of Hell. His entire life was spent living in various shades of Hell. He'd been on his own since he realized his mom would choose heroin over feeding her children at the age of five. His time spent on the street led him to stealing for a living. He learned early on the importance of making people like him, becoming charming and suave to come out on top. It began as a desire to make people care about him, but eventually he understood most people would rather use him and lose him. He figured that out in his mid-20's.

On a day when he was nearly 28, he stopped caring. He found it easier to deal with the aftermath if he pretended it wasn't a big deal. He could get on with his life and his work by making everything fun and funny. His obsession with the next payday was also born after he woke in a hospital bed that day, saved from merciful death by someone who loved him. She thought she was saving him, but being alive wasn't the same as being saved, now was it?

He left her before she would inevitably leave him. That, and he was a coward when it came to getting close to anyone. No way he deserved an honest and kind woman like her, not when there was so much about himself he could never tell. It became harder to conceal how pathetically lonely he was, and lived solely for the thrill of the job. He lived for the opportunity to relax in the calm of a completed job, which meant full pockets and no worries. But it remained a life of varied hells even a decade later. His memories never completely faded, and most of them were bad, very bad. What could be worse than living with his secrets and memories, waiting on the other side?

Flynn made his own choices and saw them through no matter what. He lived, and he sweet-talked employers and business associates, or charmed the bartender or the waitress. He tried to manipulate situations to his advantage and sometimes it worked. Other times, he found out he didn't have the knowledge or ability or enough effective charm to prevent himself from being fucked over. Whatever one it was, or whether it was all three, he always had the memories to keep him moving in the opposite direction.

Can't win them all, right?

No longer able to distract his mind with self-reflection of a time long ago, he wailed and a fist caught him in the jaw. The back of his head smacked into the floor and he blacked out for a few seconds. When he returned to awareness, the agony throughout his whole body returned with it.

Forever preceded and proceeded the soldier fucking him against the floor. An unknown amount of time had passed since he'd been brought here.

When Luka, Damir, and the two guards armed with assault rifles initially brought him to the larger tent where the soldiers off-duty could relax and drink, he fought them in desperation. He knew these people had plenty of reasons to see him hurt. Whether they blamed him for the loss of Shambhala or the death of one of their own, didn't matter. They'd been given license by their employer, to do whatever they wanted to a human being. Many mercenary types were precisely the sort to take advantage and cause suffering to another because it made them feel better, or happier.

He managed a quick count when he was thrown to the floor of the rec. tent the first time. The armed men left the tent with their rifles and the weapons Damir and Luka had on them. This was a weapon-free zone. How ironic.

While the soldiers inside took in his unusual presence in their space, Luka enthusiastically announced the condition of his stay. No killing, no serious physical injury. Everything else went. They had until morning.

Flynn counted the men beginning to look at him from where they'd been playing cards, drinking, or doing whatever. Eighteen, including his two previous tormentors. Eighteen mercenaries were in there with him.

Alek came to do harm first. He shoved him to the floor and kicked repeatedly. Damir helped to keep Flynn from going far when he tried to get away or fight back. When he was good and bruised, groaning in pain on the hard floor, that was when Alek raped him.

He finished, pulling out, and an unfamiliar soldier approached. The new soldier began hitting him with his fists. Another unknown soldier pulled him back after an agonizingly long minute, and the man simply walked away. The soldier who put a stop to the brutal beating forced him on his stomach and raped him from behind.

By the time the fifth mercenary was done raping him, he'd given up the minimal struggle he was able to exert.

The man currently on top of him was the twelfth. His mind automatically kept a tally of his rapists. For what purpose, he didn't know. He didn't want to remember any of this.

Two men who already took their turn with him were walking over. His gaze had wandered toward their direction after the man raping him struck his face. He remembered their names because they were two of Lazarevic's best men. They'd been positioned as personal security for the war criminal outside of camp because of their high ability to find and eliminate any threats, and were extremely intimidating.

Ratko and Sava were their names. Ratko had short cut hair, generic looks, and Sava kept his hair slightly overgrown, handsome features working in his favor with the choice. Turns out, they were as sick as men come. The torment of others was a personal pleasure. They really liked controlling him, forcing him.

A grunt and the man fucking him came. He gave Flynn another punch in the face for good measure before pulling out and walking away. Like he'd taken to doing, he waited.

If he tried to fight, they beat him until he stopped. If he tried to escape by crawling, they laughed and kicked him motionless. There was little point in resisting the inevitable. He couldn't fight off more than a dozen trained soldiers, even if many of them were intoxicated, and all of them without guns or knives. They were going to do what they were going to do, and he could do nothing but wait for morning, wait for mercy.

Sava extended a hand for him to take. He didn't, and received a foot in his stomach for his resistance. While he curled into himself, groaning his pain, the man slapped a palm across one of his knife wounds on his leg. He took hold of an arm and a shoulder, dragging him partially upright.

Flynn was shoved into Ratko and together the men brought him to one of the tables. They sat him in a chair and sat down at the same table. It was pretty painful to sit actually. In fact, he couldn't do it. He began to rise from his seat and Sava pushed him down. The mercenary's eyes warned him not to try it again. Freakin' terrifying guy.

Ratko placed a bottle to his lips and when he didn't drink, his head was yanked back by the hair. While he was wincing from the painful grip, the mercenary shoved the bottle into his mouth and poured the alcohol down his throat. Flynn tried to halt the flow of liquid but the man wouldn't allow it. He kept firm hold on him and the bottle. Ratko stopped when he started choking and coughing, more coming out than going in.

He raised an arm to wipe his chin but paused when he saw the arm was covered in blood. This being the limb not shot or slashed, it made him realize how much more damage they'd done to the rest of him. He brought the bloody arm up to wipe some of the blood running down the side of his face instead.

Sava swiped the bottle from his friend's hand and took a long drink, eyes settling on Flynn trapped in his chair. Many of the men were either half dress or fully geared up, but Sava was one of the few wearing nothing but boots and briefs. Ratko was another one dressed the same, and it showed the utter confidence in their belief they could do as they pleased. And they could. That was the problem.

“Ready, English man?”

Oh God no. He was so sore and tired, beaten and bleeding. Flynn didn't want another goddamn dick in him. Fucking hell.

He shot to his feet surprisingly fast in his condition, but the move was predicted. He ended up struggling weakly against the two men as they set him how they wanted. Put on his knees, moments later a penis was shoved between his lips and harsh words threatened him should he bite. Bloody fucking hell!

Flynn couldn't get away but he refused to participate. Sava fucked his mouth and throat rough, not at all bothered by his lack of interest. Probably made the son of a bitch more excited.

When he came in his mouth, Flynn toppled over, spitting and retching at the bitter taste. A heavy boot connected with the side of his face. He moaned in pain but that pain was only the beginning. Sava brought blow after blow against his face. Tears streamed down his cheeks, even when he shut his eyes and tried to pretend he wasn't going blind from the swelling.

The blows ceased coming. His right cheek and eye were puffy and sensitive to the touch. When he dared try to open his eyes, the right one didn't. The entire right side of his face hurt to shift the slightest bit. He feared they were going to kill him, regardless of orders.

A familiar laugh reached his ears, and he hated that he knew it by sound. Luka cut off his own laugh to call over to him.

“Shame we had to mess up your pretty face!”

Sava seemed to like that. “Ah, it is still pretty to me!”

He lifted him to stand, hands under his armpits. He forced his mouth against Flynn's mouth. Flynn found it in himself to fight one last time. He measured his opportunity and then kneed him in the groin. It hurt to move his body that much but it was worth it.

Luka howled with laughter while he was turned to receive a backhand from Ratko. The man not currently swearing and clutching his crotch gripped him excruciatingly tight. He was pushed to the edge of the table and made to bend over it. Seconds later, nails dug into his shoulder blades and a penis shoved in his much abused entrance.

The numerous fuckings left entry into his asshole all too easy for the men. His opening was stretched to the point of being torn, blood both drying and fresh trailing between his legs. A broken liquor bottle had been taken to his vulnerable flesh by Sava earlier in the night. He'd used it to cut up his inner thighs while touching Flynn, gauging whether pain turned him on or not. It didn't. The result caused his torturer to flip him over and take the same piece of glass to his back. That was when finally Zarko and Damir made him give up the improvised weapon.

Now, bent over a table and fucked hard, the room grew quieter to his ears. All that reached him was the slapping of flesh against flesh, the slippery squelching of the cock sliding in and out of his blood and semen filled hole. He sought to block the sounds from his mind, pretending Ratko wasn't doing what he was doing.

His right eye swollen shut and his other eye feeling heavy and tired, probably horribly bruised, too, he could barely see. But Luka made certain it didn't matter if he could see clear or not when he approached and leaned into his face. Flynn was made to listen to his dirty mouth whisper unpleasant promises while he was still being rocked against the table from a hard cock in him.

As soon as his rapist was finished, Luka pulled him from the table and put him on the ground. He liked to look Flynn in the face while he screwed him. This time he took a wicked pleasure in fucking him painfully slow. He kept their faces close and murmured about how nice it was inside his body, how he was a truly beautiful fuck.

She was a truly beautiful woman. Flynn informed her of this fact all the time. It had been his charming introductory line before he asked to buy her a drink. After a night drinking and dancing, they became inseparable. Dark eyes, wavy hair, and a dark complexion. Her face was oval and smooth, with a smile that could light up any room. She liked to sing, and she was proud of her roots. Her family living in Spain was everything.

Family was the reason she'd gotten into the business. The money she earned selling stolen goods allowed her family to live well and her mother received the treatment she needed when she got sick. They didn't know how she earned the money, believing she was earning it by legitimate means, but it was a good lie.

Lies. Alma was incredibly good at telling them. She provided him numerous examples in some of the bars and clubs they visited during their first month together. She could also read a lie on someone else a mile away, including him. Alma saw behind his smiling face and cheerful eyes.

“You're having fun, Harry, and you're hurting at the same time. It's a unique look. A lot of people in this business have something tragic they're living with, and even more have secrets of some kind. Nobody gets into this line of work without some sort of incident scarring and bringing them in. But you, you've suffered more than most. It doesn't let you forget everything.”

She never pressed for what happened to make him permanently sad. Instead, Alma shared her own sorrow. How she lost her dearest papa when she was only eight for being a bystander and witness to the wrong shooting. She spent years after turning twelve, getting into the criminal world to find her papa's killer with the intention of murder. But when the day came and she found him at the age of 22, she couldn't go through with it.

Flynn did share a few parts of himself with her after nearly six months in a relationship. He really liked her because she understood him and didn't pass judgment on what was in the past. At 37 years old, he'd begun to believe he would never find anything more than a passing comfort in his relationships, like all the women who'd come before. Alma walked into his life one night, shaping up to be someone truly special. It was what he really meant whenever he told her she was truly beautiful.

“I know you think you can't, but you have to let it go. You think you need to forget to move on, but you don't. You never forget. You just move on.”

Those were her final words before breaking up with him. Alma was leaving the business to take care of her mother, who'd fallen seriously ill, and didn't believe they could be anything together without the work. It had never been about the work with their relationship, but he did love the work, he did need it. She flat out explained how she knew he was incapable of disconnecting himself from the business, at least for now. He refused to admit she was right while she was devastating Flynn, becoming another person to leave him.

She was someone who understood him, maybe even loved him. And she let him down and left him alone. It was a blessing when Chloe entered into the picture not terribly long after losing Alma. But Flynn's blessings were unfailingly short-lived, and he was habitually finding himself alone again in the end.

Maybe this was the reason so many bad things were done to him. After all, Alma said something to that effect once.

“The devils always find you when you're alone.”

He wasn't afraid. He wasn't. But here in this room there were many devils, and he was very, very alone.

Blood leaked from his nose and mouth, it ran down his back and legs. Flynn rolled to his side when the stranger released him. It was the only position that didn't cause him terrible pain. Everything in him was used to concentrate on a single, solitary thought. He wouldn't cry. He wouldn't let this shatter him. He would never give any of them the satisfaction.

Broken, he wasn't. It was impossible to break something that was never whole in the first place. And he'd never been in one piece. His parents saw to his broken bird status with their abuse and neglect. But shattered, now that was something possible. Even a thing broken could still be destroyed. So he determined to fight against it.

Flynn started to bring a hand up to touch his disfigured face. The thought occurred to him there could be permanent damage and he might end up marred physically for life. If he wasn't in agony, he might have laughed for such shallow and foolish thinking. The incapability to even laugh a little, churned up his anger. God, he was furious for getting himself in this situation.

The hand stilled in front of his blurry eyesight. At least two fingers were clearly broken and throbbing. His compromised vision scanned along his arm and across the rest of him. There was hardly an inch of him unbruised or blood-free.

A mercenary descended upon him and he was shoved flat on his backside. Agony. Weight settled over him. He was tired, in pain, horrified. But he wasn't scared. He wasn't going to cry again. He would never let someone shatter him. Flynn was so, so tired though.

* * * * *

Nathan tiredly sighed. He was bored and sick of being cooped up in the same stupid tent. Where the hell was Flynn? What a jerk-ass for acting so flighty and dickish. His life could be incredibly sucky at times. Meanwhile, the ladies were busy trying to find reasons to excuse Flynn's shit behavior of late.

The two women sat together on a single cot, swapping ideas on why Flynn would do the things he'd done in recent months. Chloe acknowledged the man definitely didn't let her see all of him when they were a couple, and it was much of the reason why she sought out fun with Nate while they were yet in a relationship. For all his loveliness, Chloe said she'd seen something heavy about the guy. She wasn't looking for anything like that. Now Nathan was terribly curious as to what precisely she meant, but he refused to confess interest in the topic of Flynn.

“Don't you think it's time we come up with a plan, Sully?” Elena asked, shifting toward him and the man she was talking to. “If anything that mercenary said is accurate, if even one of the soldiers is warning us of the danger here... I mean, we need to do something, right?”

Nate stepped in before the older man could get a word out.

“Flynn scared for us? If that's true, why wouldn't he tell us if he knew something is going to happen?”

“I have to agree. If Flynn wanted to help us he would have helped us. Instead he walks around here like he's better than the rest of us. Thinks he's got the higher hand, that's what the son of a bitch is thinking.”

“Sully, even I know that's mostly crap,” Chloe pointed out. “There are an absurd amount of soldiers outside. It's not exactly easy to do anything here with such heavy muscle around, and that one soldier mentioned he was being watched.”

Elena sighed. He could tell she was really worried about everything going on and whether they were in imminent danger or not. If he could he'd reassure her that it wasn't true. They were fine and going home soon. But she was no idiot and would see right through his assurances. She knew him pretty well.

After a moment, his former relationship decided to speak.

“If Flynn can't help us or won't, we need to do something ourselves. We can't keep waiting for an opportunity that might never come.”

“Our hands are kinda tied here, missy,” Sully complained, shaking his head and putting a hand to his forehead, leaning on the table he sat in front of. “To be honest, I really think we do need an inside man to get us out of this mess. Or a miracle.”

Navarro came walking into the tent with a pile of clothes in his hands. He dropped them on one of the chairs near the entrance and put his hands on his hips as he turned to take them in. This was far from a miracle.

Not surprisingly, it was Nate's mentor who made noise first. The man liked to hear his own voice and he wasn't apologetic about it. He smiled a little in anticipation of what might be said.

“Ah, the grand commander finally makes his appearance. Too busy sitting on your throne of who gives a flying fu-”

Elena hopped to her feet and interrupted before Sully could fully enter into rant mode, where they would never hear the end of it. The week in this place sometimes had very long days because of his rants. Also, it wasn't super fun imprisoned in an enclosed space with two former girlfriends. Especially when the blonde beauty of the pair liked to tell him frequently, how they wouldn't be in this situation if he didn't have such an obsession with finding treasure.

“When are we getting out of this place? What if we need more materials in order to find a treasure?”

The man didn't seem to take her very seriously. “I'm not answering any of your questions.”

“Look, we all know you're a bastard,” Elena said, which drew a smile upon Nate's lips. “But telling us nothing and giving us barely anything to get a search for treasure going is just stupid. You won't get what you want.”

“I'll get what I want, sooner or later. I've got a good feeling about the future.”

Nathan narrowed his eyes and got to his feet to stand alongside her. He didn't like the confidence in the man's voice or the look he had on his face. He would have said something but Elena was already asking another question. Journalist indeed.

“Where's Flynn?”

Why that question? Oh man, Navarro seemed to like that question. What was up with that? He was smiling as he spoke words in direct conflict with the mirthful expression.

“Actually, I came to tell you, a terrible thing has happened.”

Stepping back, he shoved aside the tent flaps and Nate's sort of babysitter mercenary carefully came inside.

Cradled in his arms was a blood-coated and bruised beyond recognition lump of a body. He was still wearing his watch bracelet and beaded necklace which was enough for him to identify the person. Harry Flynn looked really dead. Was he? Did Navarro kill him horrifically as a message of what he'd do to them if they didn't obey? Nate was pretty sure he was going to throw up.

“There were strangers among the trees,” Navarro explained to them. “Flynn was walking around when they came out of nowhere and attacked him. Some sort of military outfit perhaps.”

Stunned horror froze them in their places. They watched the only soldier who had been friendly carry Flynn's limp form farther inside, crossing to the table where he and Sully sat. Nate stood and backed away, unable to take his eyes from such a ruined body. His babysitter shoved everything off the table to make room.

When Flynn was set gently on the flat surface, he could see the man's chest rising and falling. He was still alive. And conscious. Nathan couldn't help leaning forward to get a better glimpse of his face when he noticed. A single eye, heavily swollen with blood running into it, was open. The eye stared straight ahead, staring at nothing in particular.

He scanned his body over from where he'd been laid on his left side, front of him facing the direction he was standing. Flynn was naked, coated in bruises and blood. There were obvious signs of torture. Many cuts, bruises, and stab wounds adorned his flesh. Nate dared a step closer and reached out, fingers hovering above what looked like a bullet graze. Lowering his fingers down the arm, along a deep slash mark, he noted several broken fingers.

Nathan couldn't take the single usable eye that began to follow his movements, watching him. Indistinguishable feelings were churning deep within him and he fought to swallow them down, stepping around to the man's backside to stand by Sullivan. Flynn's gaze seemed so innocent and vulnerable. As if too weak to do anything but look and hope no one meant him anymore harm.

It was a mistake to stand by Sully for strength. For it allowed him to view further torture on this side. His back was a criss-cross of jagged, bleeding cuts. They looked worse than the stripes Lazarevic once put across his back. Nate heard his good friend stand from beside him, felt him place his hand on his shoulder. He heard him say his name, a warning in the tone. But his gaze already trailed downward to what Sully surely must have seen before him.

Flynn had been raped. There was a lot of blood and... It looked like he'd been torn and abused numerous times. Forget pretty sure he would throw up. He brushed Sully's hand away and grabbed for a bowl he'd recently had his breakfast in, returning the contents right back to it. A palm patted his shoulders blades as he retched and gagged. Falling to his knees, he desperately wiped tears away. Oh shit, oh shit.

“Nate...”

He forced himself up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Deep breaths to regain his composure before he looked at the woman expressing her concern for him. Shaking his head, he didn't bother to try and fake a smile.

“I'm okay, Elena.”

Returning his attention to what deeply disturbed him, he fought to focus. His eyes traced the bruising along his legs, thighs, back, even his neck. The varied coloring and expansion of the bruises told him the “attack” had to have happened over several hours. Hours of torture and nobody heard? They were expected to believe some random military group did it to a random guy, unprovoked.

“Poor guy was all alone,” Navarro went on, probably after deeming he'd given them sufficient time to take in Flynn's appearance. “He didn't stand a chance.”

Sully gripped the chair he'd been sitting in with one hand, as if using it to hold him in place. But the outrage in his voice was clear as day. It was a long time since he'd seen this man so furious.

“What did you do to him?!”

Navarro carried on as though no one said anything. “They must have left him alive as a message. Any one of us could be at risk if we're not careful.”

The blatant lie was blatant. Sounded much more like he was trying to warn all of them to be careful of him. Nate put a hand on Sully's shoulder to try to be the calming force this time. Rash action wouldn't get them anywhere.

Except Flynn tried to get up, weakly bracing his left forearm against the table and shifting his legs. The result was barely any movement, and on the one trembling arm, his entire body started to quake. Nathan walked around to the other side of the table, finding Flynn's searching eye to make sure he knew he was there.

Flynn's lips moved and soft, indistinguishable sounds emerged. He placed a hand to the man's throat and traced fingers along a badly bruised neck. The trachea was likely damaged.

“You can't speak, Flynn. Stop trying.”

He kept trying. Stubborn idiot, of course he would. That indistinguishable emotion was bubbling up again. It was incredible fury and heartache.

Leaning in close, he tried to hear what he was insistent on saying. It was made more difficult when Navarro began speaking. He tried to focus solely on the lips struggling to get voice out, ignoring the man talking to Sullivan.

“Calm yourself, you relic. This group of mercenaries is very real. In fact, not long ago a few came to me. They were looking for Nathan Drake.”

Elena spoke up, bewildered. “They were looking for Nate?”

He didn't care what they were talking about. Seeing what Harry Flynn had been reduced to, he straightened up, fingers curling into fists. Nobody deserved this. Nobody. Not Harry.

“You son of a bitch!” he snarled, letting go of any control on himself. “You lying bastard! I know you did this to him!”

He charged, using the element of surprise to his full advantage. Nathan grabbed hold of the guy's shirt with one hand and used the other to steal his gun from his holster. Navarro felt the tug as he removed the firearm, and latched onto the arm trying to bring the gun up to his chin.

They fought over the weapon and Chloe appeared to his right. She kicked their enemy in the shin and yanked on the arm stopping Nathan from putting the gun where he needed it to pull the trigger. Unfortunately, their window to gain the advantage was lost when the two guards posted outside heard the struggle and intervened.

It was when they entered the tent that his babysitter mercenary stepped in to help Navarro as well. He took hold of Chloe and pulled her away, keeping her arms behind her back. She cursed like the best of them but her strength was not enough to overcome the bigger human being. Spitting and swatting his fists at the two mercenaries pushing him away from their boss, he only stopped when Sully reminded him that they had the guns.

Navarro smirked and turned to leave, waving his soldiers on ahead after receiving his sidearm back from one of them. The man who showed some kind of care for Nate didn't budge and Navarro looked his way. He searched Elena out and saw how she sat on her cot still. He suspected she was too horrified by the sight of Flynn to do much.

When Navarro left the tent, that final mercenary stared at Nathan blankly before exiting the tent. He stood there, waiting, not sure what else to do. Flynn was really hurt. Would he die?

Babysitter returned a minute later and placed a medical case on a chair by the entrance. He again looked hard at Nate and then he was gone, tent flaps closing behind him. Weak gasps shifted his attention to where it should be. Flynn was trying to say what he wanted to once more, and it was almost deafening now that his noise was the only sound being made in the enclosed space of the tent.

“Flynn, you're going to make it worse.”

The man was too exhausted to be supporting himself on his arm anymore, but he reached out with his damaged hand and Nathan acquiesced, sitting in the chair before him. He took the extended hand, careful not to cause pain to the damaged parts, and listened. Whatever Flynn wanted to say must be important for him to try so hard to say it. With enough strain, the voice emerged, rasping quietly.

“Kill her,” he whispered with all of his strength. “Kill her.”

What the heck did that mean?

Flynn murmured, barely getting the entire word out. "Insurance."

Chapter Text

Flynn passed out after his confusing words. He used the last of his strength to speak them. Puzzling as the words were, for him to go to such effort must mean they were important. Movement out of the corner of his eye made him take his eyes from the unconscious man.

Elena was gathering the medical case, opening it and perusing the contents. She appeared mostly calm but Nathan knew her better. She was scared and worried. He'd thought for themselves, but in that case, he should have known better too. Such a caring woman, she worried and feared for someone else.

“Sully, how is he?”

He stood up and checked for a pulse. “It's weak. He looks like he lost plenty of blood. With the amount of bruising and how bad it looks, he's probably got his fair share of broken bones. These open wounds worry me the most, however, seeing as how they could be infected and we just don't know it yet.”

The international journalist swallowed purposefully and nodded. “Okay, well, let's do what we can.”

She came to join Sully with the medical kit. “Can you help me?”

Nathan looked away as they turned Flynn over onto his back and began working together to assess where to start. He searched for the cleanest towel and grabbed the pail of water kept in the corner for them to wash themselves. Yeah, glamorous life living in a tent, rarely allowed to leave. At least they didn't make them piss and shit in the same enclosed quarters they were meant to sleep. He had to in the Turkish jail he spent three months of his life stuck in, too recent in memory.

Returning to his friends and Flynn, he set the pail on the floor and soaked the towel in water. Wringing it out, he brought it back up and cautiously worked to clean the blood and semen away. It was too much a reminder of what those animals did to him. He took care to erase every evidence of its occurrence that he was able.

“Do you think it'll always be like this?”

Flynn scratched the back of his head before meeting his curious gaze. “Whatever might you mean by that?”

“You know, getting to go on adventures, finding amazing historical sites. Be some of the first ones to lay eyes on places most people don't even know exist. Think we can spend our whole lives like this, I mean, if we want to?”

He shrugged his shoulders. A typical Flynn response. Nate continued to look at him, now turning onto his side on the bed to get a better view of his friend.

They'd gone to sleep as soon as they arrived at the motel room. In the closet they shoved their gold for storage, Nathan tossing the recovered journal on top. He was extremely excited about reading through it later. The anticipation actually gave him goosebumps when he'd first held it in his hands at the site. But once he walked into the room they rented, he realized how tired the journey had made him. Flynn seemed to feel the same way because the two of them collapsed into their respective beds for sleep without hesitation. Now that they were awake, he was feeling talkative.

“If I could, I think I'd like to spend the rest of my life living like this. It never gets old.”

Flynn didn't say anything. He fingered the ring hanging around his neck. It would be nice to know more about Harry. The man always seemed to be keeping people at arm's length. While they had their fun, somewhat intimate times, knowing some of what was inside would be pretty sweet.

“Sully does it, so I mean, it's definitely something that can be done. But I couldn't live exactly like him. He doesn't mind going it alone. I do too, sorta, but, I'd want there to be someone with me. The journey is just better with someone by your side, you know?”

He sighed when he still got nothing from the other. “Come on, man. You've lived more years than me. That means you're supposed to be wiser, right? Got any words of wisdom for me?”

Nate did manage to get a response this time, albeit, not one he was hoping for. “You calling me old?”

“Nope. But I might be calling you dumb now.”

Finally, Flynn rolled onto his side to meet Nate's relentless stare.

“Make sure you don't lose your friends. Even if you go your own way, leave it where you know if you need to call on the person, they'll be there for you. I suck at that and could have used such connections more times than I can count.”

“Come on. Your advice is be less like you, is that it? I'm serious here.”

“Seriously,” he said sincere, sitting up.

Nathan frowned. “Well, I like you. I think you're undervaluing yourself. You should shut it and appreciate I appreciate you.”

That got a chuckle out of the older man. “Oh?”

It was his turn to shrug. “Yeah. Yeah, guess that's it.”

He rolled onto his back, looking up at the ceiling. It hadn't gone like he'd wanted. All he'd tried to do was learn more about Flynn and in exchange the guy told him it was best to avoid being like him. Not awesome.

“Whew. Got out of that one easy. Thought you were going to propose for a minute there.”

Nathan sat up quickly, eyes wide before narrowing with annoyance. “Can't you ever be completely honest? In case it isn't obvious, I'm trying to get to know you here, have a heart to heart.”

Flynn smiled at him. “Heart to heart, girly girl?”

He folded his arms over his chest. “Shut up, asshole. Keep deflecting. That'll get you real far.”

“It's gotten me this far.”

Exasperated, he threw up his arms and let them drop to his lap. “I tell you what I want for the future; you make jokes.”

The other man sighed, fingers tracing along the bed sheet.

“I don't like being alone either, but I usually am. I get along fine. I'm used to it. It would be nice to have someone who I could share things with though. There was only ever one person fitting that description, and she died a long time ago.”

He gripped his knees tight, fully invested in what was being said to him in this moment. Nathan had told Flynn about his own past. He shared about his parents, the nuns who taught him Latin growing up, and his older brother who died in a prison escape gone bad. Therefore he already strongly suspected what the other was going to answer, but he asked anyway.

“Who?”

“My mum,” he answered affectionately.

Nathan fought to hide the thrill he was feeling inside. This was the first time Harry ever mentioned family fondly. He knew he'd had a shitty childhood, much like Nate did. His mom and dad died a long time ago, resulting in him ending up in a boarding house at ten years old. While Nate's mother killed herself when he was very young, his father just walked away from him and his brother, Sam. Harry's mom was murdered by his dad.

It was hard knowing his mother hadn't loved him enough to choose life over death, and to have a father who gave him up. But Harry watched his dad murder his mom. He saw it happen and killed his dad to protect himself. Flynn insisted it was cold-blooded murder when he told Nate the whole story, even if the court called it manslaughter in self-defense. Nate didn't care if it technically was murder and Harry never felt remorseful over the act. He could imagine what it would feel like to watch someone he loved die. Someone else killing that loved one in front of him... Easily he could admit he would do the exact same thing. He would kill anyone who dared take the life of someone he cared for.

Flynn had yet to say anything more than the mention of his mom, staring down at his bare feet and wiggling his toes. He probably required some prodding. He'd grant it.

“Tell me about her.”

He looked up and over at Nate, possibly assessing whether he really wanted to know or not. Nathan didn't usually do that. He said what he wanted to say and anybody else was going to hear it.

“My mom was far from perfect. She... She had problems like my dad.”

This was surprising news. Flynn always avoided talking about his mom, but didn't mind complaining about his dad. His dad was abusive, with anger problems, and addicted to heroin. They'd often shared in how both of their fathers had been pretty crap with the job of fatherhood. What problems could she have had in common with dear old dad, that still allowed him to speak of her without hatred?

Squinting across the room at him, Flynn asked, “Do you remember what I said about my father?”

“Yes.”

“She had a heroin addiction too. The drug seemed to be the one thing my parents had in common. But, to me she was still my mother. Before the drugs messed her up, she was a beautiful woman.”

Nathan smiled, thinking about his own mother. He was even younger than Flynn when his mother died, but he did remember she had a beauty about her too. Boys and their mothers... Always such a special bond. Made losing them that much harder.

“My mom loved to sing, loved it. She would hum to herself all day long, and put me to bed every night with a song. When the drugs took over more and more of her, the lack of drugs was ruining. She didn't sing as much, and then she only sang when she was high.”

“Oh, Harry...”

But despite the depressing talk, Flynn was smiling at him, perhaps reminiscing on good times in his mind.

“I found an old song book of hers after she died. One of the pages was circled and I recognized it as a song she used to listen to often. It became my favorite. I read that song over and over, for years.”

Flynn laid back on the bed and reclined his head in his hands, eyes closing. There was complete silence for a long minute. Nate stayed where he was, keeping still. He didn't want to ruin this moment if there was any chance to learn more about his good companion. His luck held out.

“O Fortuna velut luna...”

He was impressed as he listened to him recite the entire song's lyrics in Latin. Closing his own eyes, he translated the lyrics to English in his head.

“O Fortune like the moon. You are changeable, ever waxing and waning; hateful life first oppresses and then soothes as fancy takes it; poverty and power it melts them like ice. Fate-monstrous and empty, you whirling wheel, you are malevolent, well-being is vain and always fades to nothing, shadowed and veiled you plague me too; now through the game I bring my bare back to your villainy. Fate is against me in health and virtue, driven on and weighted down, always enslaved. So at this hour without delay pluck the vibrating strings; since Fate strikes down the strong man, everyone weep with me...”

That was..a terribly tragic song to recite to oneself so often. He couldn't just sit here after hearing such an honest and true thing from Harry. He was happy to hear this, sad as it was to hear. Opening his eyes, Nathan got to his feet and ambled over to the other man's bed. He plopped down on his back beside him, wiggling a bit to make himself comfy.

“Wow,” he uttered. “That's awfully sad.”

“My mother was a sad person.”

“But why that song?” he wondered curiously, placing his arm so it was touching Flynn's arm.

He could hear the smile in his voice when he replied.

“She did love the moon. A full moon held a special place in her heart. My mom preferred night to day. I do too.”

“Hmm..yeah,” he murmured.

Nate looked down when he felt Harry take his hand in his own. He tilted his head to meet the older man's gaze. There were tears in his eyes but he was smiling at him. It seemed right. Shifting on the bed, he leaned up and kissed him gently on the lips. When he reciprocated, Nathan nestled a hand to the hair at the back of his head and with his other hand cradled his face, deepening the kiss.

A few minutes of this passed by and then they rid themselves of their clothing like old habit. He got on top of Flynn as the man laid himself back down, and started nuzzling his neck softly. Strong hands came up to his waist and he raised his lips to Flynn's mouth again. After kissing, Flynn removed his hands and pushed him away a little.

He frowned, thinking something was wrong. “Flynn?”

His hand moved to Nate's crotch where it groped him briefly before gripping his penis. Okay, so he was interested. Using his now funneled hand to stroke him a few times, Flynn met the questioning gaze.

“I want you to do it.”

“I thought we already were?” he asked, unsure what was wanted.

Flynn shifted on the bed, causing Nate to drop from his legs to kneeling between them. Spreading them wide, he took his hand away and placed both hands on his own stomach. Lying there, he looked at Nathan and gave a careful smile with tight lips. The man was nervous. Huh. He didn't see that much from him.

“I want you inside me this time. What do you say?”

Oh. That was new. They never tried that together. The more he thought about the proposition, the greater it sounded. He grinned to hopefully appease his own unwarranted nerves.

“I'd love to.”

Flynn breathed out and he seemed almost relieved at his response. Didn't he know him better? Pfft. He sucked on a finger. His grin widened as he reached down between the legs on either side of him, and pushed in a the finger to the knuckle. The look on his face was worth it.

“Whoa! Shit, Nate.”

Nathan gave him a faux innocent stare, leaning over him to hover above his face. “I thought you wanted me.”

A chuckle escaped the man and an easy smirk slid across his face. “That I do. Go on then. Do me, good and proper.”

Now that was the right attitude. He reached across the man, incidentally causing their crotches to rub against each other as he did. While he searched the drawer for what he needed, Flynn grunted from his weight and the skin to skin contact.

“Bloody hell, love.”

Small bottle of lotion in his grasp, he lifted his weight off of him slightly as he moved to get between Flynn's legs again. Twisting the top off, he tossed it to the floor and squirted the substance into his palm. He coated his dick and leaned forward, sticking two of his fingers inside the prone man at once.

“Aaah!”

Nate pulled his fingers out and frowned. “You sound like a girl.”

“Whatever you're using is cold, mate.”

Rolling his eyes, he shoved the pair of fingers back in, savoring Flynn's expression. “I improvise.”

When the man squirmed, he clambered over him, refusing to remove the fingers. He began moving them in and out, figuring he'd adjust to it and his fingers would warm within the heated body. As he did this, he used his mouth as a distraction when he added the third finger.

It seemed to work. Flynn was moaning and running his hands along Nate's backside, encouraging the touches. Like putty beneath his sucking, biting, and licking attentions. It was a huge turn on to see him utterly wrecked like this, unable to do anything but accept what he had in mind. His member was hard and dripping with pre-cum before too long and he withdrew his fingers.

Tugging the legs a bit closer, he settled himself in the proper position for a good fucking. He lined his penis up against the wet and ready entrance, leaning down on Flynn's stomach to kiss his lips. Raising his mouth to hover above those welcoming lips, he spoke low and soft.

“Get ready for the Nathan Drake express.”

It must have sounded sexier in his mind. Flynn's mouth quirked upward at the corners in amusement and Nate pulled back a little at the sight. He could just let this go, but...

“Did you really just say that?”

“Flynn.”

“Eh? Does that mean this is going to be real quick? Can't hold it in while staring at the incredible hotness that is me, is that it?”

Nate gave a wry laugh. “That's funny.”

That was not funny in the good way. Dirty talk wasn't so much his thing. Was it really anybody's thing? I mean, reeeally?

“If this is going to be depressing, sweetheart, maybe I should-”

Glancing at the bedside clock, Nathan shoved his dick entirely inside in one smooth motion. He gagged any sound or commentary Flynn might have had for him by shoving his tongue into his mouth still open in mid-sentence. Keeping the wet and aggressive tonsil action going, he began making deep, slow thrusts. In response, Flynn's legs wrapped around him, pulling them together as close as was possible. So good.

He kept it going, eyes peeking for the clock intermittently, until ten minutes went by. Only then did he thrust in, pause, and detach his mouth. Flynn was gasping for breath, eyes a bit glazed over from the non-stop sensations. Nate cheered in his mind at the sight of his blissful expression.

Flynn gathered his ability to speak and gleefully smiled at him. “Oh, you naughty dog, you.”

Nathan smiled wide and wrapped his arms around muscular shoulders. “With me, satisfaction guaranteed.”

He continued thrusting in earnest, nestling his face into his neck and cheek. The man beneath him let out a devious laugh, hot breath blowing against the back of his neck, and Nate was delighted by the words Harry spoke to him.

“Now we're talking.”

“I sure hope you know what you're doing.”

Elena's voice reached him amid his thoughts. He'd finished cleaning up the tortured and blood-soaked man as well as could be done nearly two hours ago. Now he sat on his cot so he was out of the way. Elena and Sully had been working on stopping any bleeding and checking for broken bones all the while, doing their best to provide aid outside their expertise. It was Sully to whom she expressed her mixture of a hope and concern.

The older man made a sort of grunting noise at her and finished sewing up the last of the lacerations on his backside. In their circumstances, even guessing at the task would benefit Flynn far better than leaving his injuries alone. He glanced to the final member of their imprisoned group who stayed on her own cot, back to the rest of them. The Australian thief stared at her hands laying in her lap.

He thought about what she and him had been. It was a relationship in a way, what they'd had, but it was more of a friends with benefits kind of arrangement, or so he'd figured. Nate didn't see how they would ever be anything again after everything that happened. It was difficult to ascertain how friendships measured out for Chloe, seeing as how she'd been flip-flopping between him and Flynn for months. An odd way to treat a friend or boyfriend. He wanted to trust her, and for the most part she'd come through for him when it really mattered, sort of. She did leave him to die at least once, or maybe twice?

As far as he was concerned, he might like her better than Flynn right now, but she was still on the “don't trust” list he had filed inside his head. Navarro was at the very tippity top of his “don't trust” and “hate” lists, and Flynn had been at number two right below him. In this moment, it was incredibly tough to hate a guy who'd been tortured as badly as he had. Nathan told himself it didn't change a thing. He did something selfish and dumb like usual, causing Navarro to punish him for it.

The memory that recently pervaded his waking thoughts swirled through his mind in a blur of images. He shook them away before any could solidify. Since the time of his memory, he never did see Flynn again. Until the man brought him in on the museum job which turned them into enemies. Seven years of friendship and now a half a year as enemies. Sucked to lose a good friend but Flynn made his own choices and never did he see a trace of remorse for any of them.

“Nate, will you get out of your own head for a second?”

He looked toward an irritated Sullivan in surprise. Had he somehow missed the man talking to him?

“Huh?”

“Gimme your blanket,” he ordered.

“Uh... Oh yeah.” Hopping up, he tugged the thick blanket from his bed and walked to Sully. “Here you go.”

“Thanks, kid.”

He took a moment to examine Flynn's body as Sully and Elena were shifting him to his back. Nearly every inch of him was wrapped in bandages. Shit.

“He's going to be okay, right?”

Sully settled the blanket over Flynn's still form. He watched Elena fuss about, straightening and tucking in sections so the man would be as warm as possible. His hand twitched and caused a sigh.

“I don't know. I wish I had one of my cigars. Can't believe they took 'em.”

Nate wasn't sure what he'd expected for an answer. Sully never was the glass half-full kind of guy, but come on, a little reassurance wouldn't hurt here.

“Flynn is going to be fine,” Elena said emphatically. “I'm not accepting any other outcome.”

He smiled at her confidence and determination. Ah he'd missed Elena. Nate looked her over. Would she ever come back to him? Could she accept him for who he was and what he cared about? He wanted that. When they were together, he'd never gotten the chance to actually say the words, but he loved her. She was an amazing woman. If he could only be so lucky.

“Guys...”

They all looked at Chloe, probably thinking the same thing. She was finally talking and looking at them. The thoughtful and unhappy expression she'd been wearing for her hands was gone. But she looked worried and anxious to tell them something.

“What is it, Chloe?” Nate asked.

“I've figured out what Harry meant.”

Elena sounded confused. “Meant about what?”

“He was trying to tell us about insurance. You know, how Harry refers to making sure he doesn't get hurt or captured by carrying a gun.”

“So..you're trying to say Flynn has a gun somewhere?” he conjectured.

“No, you idiot,” she snapped, and he let it go by the stress showing in her expression. “He also said 'kill her', twice. I think 'her' was referring to Elena and I, and the insurance was Navarro's insurance, not his own.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. What exactly are you getting at?” Sully questioned hastily.

Chloe stood from her bed and put hands on her hips. “I think Flynn was telling us what Navarro is planning. He wants to kill either me or Elena.”

Nate shook his head, not believing what she was saying for one minute. “Why would he do that? I'd never help him then.”

“We're not helping him now. He probably sees one of us as expendable,” Elena reckoned. “Look what he did to his own partner. Imagine what he might do to us...”

Chapter Text

Three nights went by, and every night, she slept restlessly. Navarro never came back and only two soldiers posted outside the tent interacted with the occupants inside. They were there to provide them with food, brief walks for exercise, and as escort for bathroom trips. Each morning they also inquired as to Flynn's condition, stating they were ordered to ask after him, and the answer was always the same. Flynn had not regained consciousness.

They moved him to Sullivan's bed on the man's request for the first night of his company with them. If you could call it company when Flynn didn't move or wake in the slightest. She kept checking every so often to be sure he was breathing.

Elena was concerned for his not waking. On the one side, she thought it meant his body was taking care of itself while asleep. On the less positive side, it might mean the injuries were worse than they knew and he would go in his sleep. She didn't know Flynn much at all, aside from what negative things Nate told her, but seeing anyone die was not something she wished to do.

Stretching her legs, she pulled her arms up above her head and stretched them too. It was incredibly boring and achy to spend one's days living in a tent. To know a dangerous man held all the cards against them made it an uneasy time. But to be honest, it was nice to at least be in it with Nathan Drake. The man nearly always had luck on his side and she felt positive they would get out of this okay.

She glanced at Nate, who sat beside her on his cot. Placing her hand on his arm, she smiled warmly at him.

“Rethinking the life of a thief?”

Ever since Chloe determined Flynn's warning to them, no one had been particularly chatty. As there was little to do but talk or sleep in the small confines of their temporary home, they'd taken to discussing menial things, ignoring anything serious. Except Sullivan, who spent his every waking moment either tending to Flynn with her, or working out areas where he believed there might be sunken pirate ships. Chloe usually helped him search the maps and texts Navarro's soldiers had on hand for them. Elena suspected she was trying to be of use, and she was without a doubt avoiding confronting what happened to her last partner. That could have been her with a few different choices.

Nate groaned and rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. “It does have its downsides.”

No matter the situation he was able to sleep. She'd seen him sleep just about anywhere when they'd been together, whatever was going on around them irrelevant. But these past days since Flynn was brought to their tent, he barely slept at all.

With Flynn occupying Sullivan's cot, Nate's had become Sully's to rest on since he rarely used it anyway. Both cots were on opposite sides of the table where Flynn had first rested when he'd been brought to them. She was secretly grateful to have her bed near the door. A seriously wounded man such as him reminded her of her friend and co-worker.

Jeff died, shot and killed by Lazarevic. Flynn was also shot by the Serbian war criminal and only survived because of the special sap located nearby. Then he'd had Navarro to contend with and it didn't seem fair to her. She didn't hate easy but she hated these men for how much suffering they caused to others.

The mercenary who showed them kindness in previous days entered the tent carrying a tray with their lunch. He approached the table where Sullivan was hard at work, a map of the Mediterranean Sea spread beneath his hands. The tray was set on top like the map wasn't there. When Sully fixed him with a dirty look, the soldier didn't appear to notice that either.

He cast a sideways glance toward where Flynn slept. “Has he not wakened yet?”

“No,” she answered, when no one else did. “Not yet.”

Murmured words in Serbian and he was turning to her. “You are at risk. He cannot be forgiven.”

She met his stoic eyes and almost backed down from the sheer force behind them. Steeling herself, she continued to stare at him, daring anything hostile he might bring. Only then did she ask her question.

“Do you remain loyal to your employer, mercenary? After everything that's happened?”

His was a delayed response, but he did give one. “My name is Ilija.”

Elena was surprised he gave her his name. She searched his face, removing her hand from Nate as she got to her feet. He stayed seated on his cot, not saying a word, and it was not like her ex-boyfriend. She would have looked at him to see what there might be to see, except she was afraid if she broke her attention from the mercenary, the opportunity to know him would pass by.

Her patience paid off and he continued speaking. His demeanor remained brooding throughout his story.

“My father died a long time ago, and for a long time I'd forgotten his words. He believed in many difficult things. Most of all, he taught me to see when a man was righteous and good. I have led a life that would have shamed him, but I did not care for no reason but how his end came.”

Chloe stood with her arms over her chest. “Your father died bad?”

“He died foolishly, driven mad by his own ridiculous conquest to find a miracle.”

“You don't believe in miracles or things like that, do you?” Elena inferred.

Ilija exhaled and returned to stand by the entryway. “It's wiser not to.” Seemingly switching gears, he added, “In this, I will find a way.”

He ducked out of the tent and Elena was left to ponder what he meant. She sat beside Nate and he put an arm around her shoulders. Leaning into his hold, she wondered how things had turned out this way and what might happen now. One thing was for certain, she would have one heck of an article when she got back. Really, she could make a whole series out of this story. Beginning with a trip to...

She jolted awake, not realizing she'd fallen asleep until waking. Rubbing a hand against the shoulder that played the role of her pillow, she pulled away and glanced at Nate's wrist.

“What time is it?”

Nate let his arm around her settle to the bed, peering down at his watch. “Does it matter?”

Elena rolled her eyes. “Forget it, Nate.”

Standing, she walked over to Chloe and saw the empty bowl next to the chair she sat in. Right, lunch had been brought to them. The tan woman looked up at her and then back down to the book she was reading. Elena listened to her body to be sure. Yup, she was hungry.

She wandered away from Chloe to Sully and the tray of food on the table. What was on the menu today was no better or worse than what had been delivered to them before. Taking it without complaint, she sat down at the table and began to eat, pretending not to be remembering the pitiful form that lay sprawled upon it mere days earlier.

After a few spoonfuls, she looked at Nate to ask him if he was going to eat. His and Flynn's were the only bowls untouched. She wanted to make certain he was taking care of himself. He was terrible doing that, especially when his friends were in danger like they were now.

But then she heard a soft scraping noise behind her and watched Nate's head shoot up, staring at a spot past her shoulder. She spun around and felt the utensil drop from her fingers, stunned. Flynn was awake, shoving the blanket that had been wrapped about him away. It crumpled down around his waist and he blinked tiredly, searching his immediate radius in confusion.

His eyes didn't pause to take anything in and continued to sweep through everything they passed by. Staring at nothing in particular in this manner, she figured it must have been his mind truly doing the searching. She saw it click the moment his present returned to him and memory came back.

He went real still, mouth dropping open ever so slightly. His gaze locked straight ahead and there could only be one word that would properly define the feeling being expressed through his eyes in this moment. Horror.

Then the sounds began and she covered her ears, hunching in her chair. She felt ashamed even as she did but it was painful to hear. He was making the most excruciating gasps and cries of pain. It was a mental agony. The physical wounds hadn't yet registered. She risked a peek and saw him thrashing on the cot, clutching at his face and head frantically.

Speech started spilling from his lips but it came out nonsensical. He was babbling, words coming at a rapid pace despite the rasping voice he was working with to do so. A helpless wail of despair and rage burst out of him and she gripped the edge of the table as if to help hold herself upright. She wanted to do something to ease his pain but what was she to do?

Flynn tumbled out of the bed and clawed for purchase on the floor. When he got it, he drew himself to his knees and slammed his fist against the floor, once, twice. Tears sprang freely from his eyes and she found instead of averting her gaze with ears covered, she stood transfixed, unable to look away from the sight of him. She'd never seen such raw human emotion on display in real life.

Some of his words came through intact and she listened, rooted in place.

“No... No... Raped..again... Again!” His face contorted and he bent over, fist shoving into his mouth to stifle the next wail of despair and rage that escaped him. “Aaagh! Mmmm! Nggahh!”

Even gagged, it was a horrific noise to behold and she felt tears leak down her cheeks.

“Hey! Hey!”

Elena felt unable to move while Nathan spoke up. She felt like she was watching him stuck inside her body, able to solely watch and listen. Her eyes followed Nate as he crossed the few steps from the cot to the place where Flynn knelt, freaking out. She watched him latch onto his forearms lightly, appropriate considering the degree of his injuries everywhere, and soon was awed.

“It's me, Harry. It's Nate.”

She watched Nate let go of his wrists to gently grab hold of the sides of his face. A face that was now recognizable, but still heavily bruised and cut up. When Flynn started to shy away from the touch, Nate moved with him. He managed to carefully draw him back to him by the hold on his cheekbones and chin.

“Shhh... You're okay. Harry, it's okay. You're with me now. Shhh...”

He quieted almost completely, meeting Nate's determined stare, and spoke hoarsely, “He-They-They raped-”

Nate hushed him again, sliding one of his hands around to the back of his neck. “They're gone. You're safe.”

Flynn started to cry fully, sobs emerging as he leaned forward and gripped the front of Nate's shirt for dear life. She watched the other man embrace him, pulling him into his arms and holding tight. Simply amazing how quickly he managed to calm an inconsolable man.

After a short while, Nate climbed up from the floor, bringing Flynn with him. Continuing to partially keep him in his arms, he brought Flynn back to his bed, murmuring comforting things all the while. He laid him onto the cot and climbed on to lie next to him. Facing one another, they kept their hands firmly gripped together.

Elena remained where she was for what felt like maybe five minutes and then as silently as she could, she stood from her chair. She quietly stepped across the room to stand beside the cot where the two men were lying together. She was relieved to find Flynn had fallen to sleep again, soft inhales and exhales could be heard as he slept. It was a much more comfortable rest than he'd been in before, and her belief in his survival spiked. Her gaze shifted to Nate and she was surprised to discover he was also sleeping, eyes shut with exhaustion.

Stepping back, she took the sight in for a long moment.

* * * * *

His fever was getting worse. Even though he woke four days ago and had his unexpected moment of panic and despair, waking had proven not to be a sign of improvement. Physically, his body was sick. Sully diagnosed it as probable blood poisoning. Mentally, he was a wreck. He didn't scream or cry anymore, but he clung to Nate like it was the sole manner to avoid falling apart. She recognized the reason because it was how she felt when Jeff was shot and killed by Lazarevic, needing someone to hold her to keep herself together. Elena was thankful to have had Nate there for her.

At first, they didn't think too much of his reliance on the one man for everything. A trauma like he'd endured, all of them could only imagine how they might behave as a result. Flynn wouldn't eat unless Nate made him, he couldn't sleep restfully unless Nate was beside him, and he wouldn't go to the bathroom without Nate. The soldiers didn't seem to care, allowing the pairing on trips when normally they had to go one by one. He was constantly clinging to Nate like a lifeline, and although they considered he did it also because he was often cold, it didn't seem serious.

But then his exhaustion impossibly increased. He clutched his stomach and refused to lie down some of the time, and soon enough he would be throwing up on their food tray, groaning softly. Part of the healing process, Sullivan concluded uncertainly with a shrug. Risking it, Sully asked the soldiers stationed outside their tent for better medicine, such as antibiotics, but they gave a firm no. Either they didn't have them, or they weren't willing to use them on prisoners. Elena took that as the first sign the older man knew something was wrong with Flynn's recovery.

The fever set in, forehead very hot to the touch, and began causing him to speak confusing things at random intervals. One moment discussing a stormy night at sea on a treasure hunt, the next asking where some woman by the name of Evelyn was, and a minute later seemingly returning to a full, present sense of self. In his increasingly rare times of awareness, he asked for Nate.

Elena was impressed watching how Nate stayed by his side, a man who tried to kill him several times in the past month. She supposed she wasn't so different in the area of letting bygones go, at least in their current predicament. Quite easily she forgave the man for pointing a gun at her, and after what happened to him, she knew she'd never be able to hold his actions against him. Whether Nate continued his forgiveness of Flynn's actions in the future remained to be seen, but she knew how she felt for herself.

It was scary watching Flynn gradually lose it over the last couple of days. She never saw anyone grow so sick they couldn't even think clearly half the time. When Elena was finishing her dreadful dinner on the fourth day since his waking, she determined to help him in whatever way she could. Nate was asleep across from her at the table, head just barely avoiding his food bowl, and she was careful not to wake him. Walking to the water bucket, she picked up a dry towel and soaked it. Twisting the towel in her hands, she looked over at where Chloe and Sully were hanging around by the former's cot and the exit.

“Do we have anything?”

Chloe shook her head once but answered in the affirmative. “Yeah. Gonna send us all to the Mediterranean cause if we don't find anything profitable, at least we'll get some sun.”

“Heh,” Sully chortled. “We'll be tan for our executions.”

Elena glowered at him a bit. “That's not funny.”

“Eh, it's a little funny, hon.”

Her response was to storm away, as far as one could storm away in the interior of a tent. Remembering she was trying for quiet, she softened her final steps before kneeling beside the slumbering, unwell man. Testing his forehead with her palm, she noted it was still hot, and dabbed the wet cloth to his face. She was careful not to push hard anywhere. There were plenty of sensitive injuries yet on the head. Tracing a finger along his jawline, she contemplated if there were a few broken bones in his face. Seemed highly possible.

“I hoped for a brief time there that mercenary would help us,” Chloe conceded out of nowhere.

She glanced above and behind her shoulder to put the woman in her line of sight to admit her shared belief. “I really thought he would.”

The woman was looking at her too thoughtfully for her taste. She studied others and didn't care for anyone to be studying her. Especially when it was a look like this, judging.

“Starting a relationship with him now, are you?”

Elena rolled her eyes and turned away, returning to her task. “Because I care what happens to him? Don't be childish.”

“If it's some twisted way to get back at Nate for whatever reason you broke it off in the first place, don't think you need to try too hard. He is definitely still hung up on you.”

Against her will she felt her cheeks getting slightly heated. She didn't need Nate's latest girlfriend to tell her what to do or to act like she knew what she was thinking. Especially since she didn't know what she was thinking. Chloe didn't know her at all.

Wait a minute...

“There are some red dots on his neck.” She tugged the blanket down a little but bandages were wrapped over the majority of his body and not much skin visible. “Does that mean something? Is it bad?”

She laid her head on his bandaged chest without waiting for a response. The heart was beating rapid. Even while asleep?

Lifting her head up, her gaze was met by bleary eyes. He took her in with his head a bit elevated off the bed and then he laid his head back down tiredly. She went to retrieve a cup which she filled from their drinking water bucket.

Returning to his bedside, she leaned over him. “Here. You need to drink something.”

“No thanks, love.”

Elena frowned and tried pushing the water to his lips once more. “Come on, Flynn. Drink.”

He refused a second time and not wanting to force it, she took a couple steps back, placing the cup of water on the table. The tent falling completely quiet soon after for some reason, she looked over to find Chloe watching them, while Sully was unconvincingly reading one of the maps. In the silence, she listened and was able to hear a disconcerting thing. Flynn's breathing was short and quick.

Tapping her foot on the floor discontentedly, she resolved to wake Nate.

“Wake up. Come on.”

Jerking upright in his chair, a noise slipped out of his mouth as he woke. Blinking a few times, he stretched his arms above his head and yawned.

“What's up?” he uttered amidst a second yawn.

“Can you help, please?”

She heard Flynn moan and roll onto his side, facing her. Surprising. Usually when it came to either her or Chloe, he withdrew out of some misguided sense of shame. It angered her that he would feel any sort of blame toward himself for what other people did.

“Elena. I want-” he paused to catch his breath, adjusting to speaking with uneven and quick breaths. “I want to ask a favor.”

“Yes?” she asked, looking curiously.

Flynn's hands closed about the metal side of the cot. “Leave me alone.”

Her first instinct was to react angrily. She crossed her arms and aimed to tell him precisely what she thought about his rude request. Her gaze raking briefly over his face was enough to stop her. There was no malice, no cruelty there. Flynn looked exhausted, eyes threatening to close.

She let her hands fall to her sides, face softening. Nate brushed gently past her as he grabbed up the chair on the other side of the table and dragged it over to sit beside Flynn's bed. Poking him in the forehead, Flynn opened his eyes more widely.

“Flynn, how are you feeling?”

“Bloody awful.”

Nate smirked. “At least it's an honest answer.”

“I'm glad everyone's awake,” he huffed out. “It's gonna be soon.”

“What the hell you talking about?” Nate questioned in genuine confusion.

When Flynn didn't answer, he looked to Sully and Elena did the same. Sullivan finally stopped pretending to be reading the map and set it aside. The expression on his face was not something she expected. He didn't look confused and if anything, he was maybe looking more tired than he had a moment ago.

“Like I said before, I think he has a blood infection, blood poisoning,” Sully explained. “Here we're unable to give him the treatment he needs. It's been days since I believed he had such an infection.”

Elena shifted uncomfortably in place. “Are you trying to say he won't be okay?”

“He's saying inevitable, missy.”

She looked down at Flynn on the cot. Now she was thinking he appeared both exhausted and weak, even frail. She wanted to kick herself for pretending he hadn't been getting worse. With her own eyes she watched his mind become scattered with the fever, and she'd convinced herself enough rest would fix him. He was healing on the outside so why couldn't the inside fix itself?

“Don't give me such a look, doll. Not worth wasting energy being sad over little ol' me.”

His words didn't change anything about her grief. People didn't die in front of her. Just, no. It wasn't okay. She didn't like feeling helpless to change anything like this.

“Listen. There's something I want you to have. It's...” He pointed at a chair by the entrance. “There in my jeans.”

Closest to the indicated spot, Chloe stood and moved to retrieve the pants. Picking them up, she felt inside the back pockets, coming up with something on the second try. From where she was standing, Elena could make out the object was small and thin.

Chloe's eyebrows rose, interest coming over her face. “Look at this.”

She held it out to Sully, who was nearest to her. When he saw it, he snatched it out of her hand. A closer examination, and then he was handing it to Elena. It was a photograph of a young blonde-haired boy no older than five, and a beautiful young woman with long, wavy auburn hair. They had identical bright blue eyes and matching smiles. Both appeared to have been laughing recently, pure joy etched across their faces. The woman knelt, arm wrapped around the boy's shoulders.

Flynn eyed what was in her hands and shook his head. “No, not that. In the front pocket on the right.”

But she didn't listen, crossing her arms over her chest and pointing at the photograph. She spoke knowingly, her guess not in doubt.

“That's you and your mom, isn't it?”

Elena flipped the picture over and saw there was writing scrawled on it. “O Fortuna velut luna. My moon. The light in my life. 1975.”

“Please, Chloe,” Flynn persisted tiredly, even as Nate spun around in his chair to grab the picture from her.

While Chloe went to dig in his pants again, Nate stared at the photo. She glanced back and forth between them.

“She was beautiful,” he murmured.

Flynn eyed him warily and nodded. “It was one of her good days. She got her monthly check and took me out for a treat. We went to the park, just her and me. Last good memory I have left.”

“Oh my God...”

They all turned to Chloe, who grasped a vial in her hand filled with a blue colored substance. It was something instantly recognizable. Sap from the Tree of Life inside Shambhala. A tree that was probably gone after the way they'd left it.

Flynn set his eyes upon the narrow tube and trailed his gaze over to Nate and her. “I want you to have it. Destroy it or keep it, I don't care.”

“I can't believe you had that this whole time!” exclaimed Nate.

She regarded him, trying to make out if he was angry or just stunned to see a sample of the sap before his eyes. Did it matter? Flynn was dying and saying goodbye. That was what should matter.

He paused to gain some air for what else he wanted to say. Everyone was stopped where they were, staring at him. She observed his fists continued to grip the side of the cot and she wondered if it was the only way he could stay aware and upright as little as he was in the first place.

“It was meant for someone else, but, I don't want them to have it,” he breathed. “And I definitely don't want Navarro to get his hands on it.”

Sullivan glared sharply at him, climbing to his feet. He turned away in order to take the tube of sap from Chloe. His glare returned to the weak man lying on the cot.

“And just what were you planning to do with this?” he demanded.

Flynn didn't answer directly. Instead he sounded as though continuing a previous train of thought.

“You tried to help me. You saved my life back in Shambhala and you tried here,” he said. “Don't know why for me, but you did. So I trust you with that. Better you than her.”

Puzzlement filled Sully's expression and he rubbed the back of his head before glancing at Nate. He didn't seem to know what he wanted to say. Elena tried to keep things more positive.

“It's going to be okay, Flynn,” she assured him. “We're going to do everything we can to help you.”

Yeah. Denial, Elena. That's what he needs to hear.

“Nate, listen, I know you can't forgive me-”

He cut himself off and his hands let go of the cot, giving in to lying flat. Short, rapid breaths picked up again and it took a long moment before he could continue.

“I would change things if I could. Everything since the museum. I know you probably won't believe me, doesn't make up for anything if you do...”

Nate leaned forward in his chair. He seemed eager to let Flynn speak his mind. It was kind of him. Though he could be a tad ignorant when an apology was staring him in the face with words and all. Maybe it was simply so unheard of that he didn't quite believe what he was hearing.

“I don't get what you're saying.”

Inhaling a few times first, he said, “I didn't want to be alone again. Chloe and you were gonna go. And then things just kept happening... I couldn't stop it. I'm-What I mean is... I'm sorry, Nate, for everything.”

Nate's shoulders hunched up and hands gripped his thighs tightly. The photograph was still in one hand and she worried it would crumple under his motion. Was she really worrying about a picture right now? Elena watched as his body relaxed again and he released air from his mouth slowly.

“What do you need?”

The feeblest of smiles crept across the dying man's lips. “Don't leave me alone? You know, until I'm gone.”

Yup. She was going to cry. Honestly she was surprised to have held out this long. Sitting down alongside his legs, she reached forward and placed one of his hands within both of hers.

“We're here, Flynn,” she reassured, wiping at the tears leaking from her eyes. “We're with you.”

She was startled when he pulled his hand from hers. Tilting her head in concern, she examined his condition for why he would dismiss her giving him what he asked for. She wanted to help however she could.

His eyes began to close and as they fluttered, he murmured, soft and drained. “Nah. You know, dying alone is as much as I deserve. I get it now. Death has a way of clearing things up. Sorry...”

Elena took hold of one of his hands, watching his eyes slip shut and stay shut. She wasn't sure if he was still awake or not but she said it anyway.

“Take my hand.”

The hand in hers squeezed once before relaxing. It brought a small smile to her face. Good. At least someone listened to her.

She lifted her eyes up to Nate's face and studied his features. This was his former friend and present enemy. He knew this man far better than she did. Nate pushed the chair backward and stood. Putting the photograph on the table near him, he turned away from Flynn and put as much distance between them as he could.

So Nate couldn't forgive him after all.

Chapter Text

It was already happening. He would like to see Flynn dead. If his old friend would have died back in Shambhala he would have been fine with it. Guy made his own choices. Nate could save himself some serious grief. He could just do nothing and let it happen.

“That was new.”

“Are you okay?”

One of his very first memories of ever knowing Flynn flooded his mind. He struggled to remember all the crap he'd put him through in the last few months. But he had the time and the means to save a man within his grasp. And he really fucking liked that asshole. Shit.

Nate spun on his heel and approached his friends, holding out his hand. “Hand it over, Sully.”

The man looked at him with an 'ah, no' expression. Sully liked to pretend he knew what was best for him, but he was truly the worst role model. Friends mattered and nobody else. While he was amazing as family, to be a stranger on the wrong side of Victor Sullivan must be terrifying. Flynn might never have been a friend to Sully, but to Nate he still meant something, even feeling like ages since the good times.

“What are you thinking, kid?”

He lowered the extended hand and glanced at his sick enemy. But maybe now... Enemy of an enemy and all that...

“I want to feed him the sap.”

Elena stood up and turned toward them. “We can help,” she said happily. “He won't die.”

“Right. Sully? The sap.”

Chloe shifted forward a bit and opened her mouth before shutting it almost right away. She threw up her hands and shook her head, backing off again. When she crossed her hands over her chest, he finally acknowledged out loud that she had something to say, hoping she would stop her indecisiveness.

“Chloe?”

“We could save his life...” she reluctantly said. “But he sounded like he wants to die. He's accepted his end, which is more than most of us can say. Maybe we should leave him alone.”

He glanced at Elena, who was looking horrified by the other woman's conclusion. She started to look mad when Sully spoke up with much the same opinion. Hanging around thieves was definitely a different kind of crowd from the common folk.

“I don't know, Nate. I think he's seeing dying as his penance.”

“Sully!” Elena exclaimed, stunned by him. “You would let this man die when you can save him? What kind of man would that make you?”

The older man shook his head from side to side and raised up his hands, waving them to show he didn't mean any harm.

“It's no secret I don't like the guy, but I don't want to take that from him. It's what he wanted. We should leave him be.”

He recalled what Harry Flynn said to him not so long ago, as enemies, and repeated the words to his friends now. “Don't you trust me? You should have more faith in me.”

Chloe stared in surprise. “What are you talking about? Of course we trust you. It's Flynn, he can't-”

Nate cut her off before she could get much further. These people obviously thought he was looking for opinions.

“Forget Flynn then. Do it for me.”

Sully sighed heavily and held out the vial for him. “Alright. I'm with you on this.”

The other dissenting vote of a decision he hadn't realized was up for debate until the last minute, pointed a finger at him accusingly. He stared at her like she was nuts but she didn't seem to care. She was going to speak her mind how she liked.

“Just don't be surprised if he's not happy about it. He made his choice for a reason and you're taking that choice from him.”

Already ignoring Chloe as he went to Flynn's cot, he moved to the small space between the head of the cot and the tent wall. Kneeling, he lifted the slumbering man's head gently in his hands, reaching around to push him up partway. Elena came close to help hold him there. Nate removed the top from the tube and carefully slipped it past his lips, pouring the fluid so it went down his throat.

Flynn gagged a little, still unconscious, and Nate slipped his hand briefly over his mouth and nose. Once he saw the throat swallow, he removed the hand and stood. Sliding the empty vial into the back pocket of his jeans, he finally addressed his former partner's worry while waiting.

“He made that choice out of pain and grief, Chloe. He's not in his right mind to decide anything.”

Nathan felt certain this was the right thing. How could saving a life be a bad thing? This was Flynn's life too, and he was convinced he did what he had to do.

“I have to know. Was it what he said? You know, his grand speech about forgiveness and regret? Because remember, people say things when they're dying or backed in a corner.”

“What are you trying to say, Chloe? I shouldn't save someone?”

“No. I don't want Flynn to die either. I care about him, even if he's an envious moron sometimes. But he might hate you for this, Nate. You see it as doing a good thing. He might not.”

He scoffed. “Let him hate me like he has been. And Flynn's always talked a good game. Not letting him die today, that's something I have to do.”

Elena let out a joyous laugh and jumped to her feet. Nate looked down to find the sleeping man was no longer sleeping but instead grasping his head in discomfort. He rolled onto the floor, taking the blanket and nearly taking the cot with him. Tangled amongst the cloth on the floor, Flynn sat upright, disoriented.

Nate let him figure out for himself what was going on, carefully leaving the corner of the tent to a more comfortable spot, but quietly. They were kind of right. How was he going to take being alive when he thought he was dead and finished?

Bandaged fingers flexed and wiggled before wide eyes. The fingers moved along his body, feeling at broken ribs mended, lifting and bending arms and legs that shouldn't have been functioning perfectly. When the searching fingers reached up to his face and there were no painful bruises anymore, the eyes sought him out.

“What did you do?”

Nope. He did not sound happy.

“Saved your ass.”

The words popped out without thinking about them. It sounded less than poetic.

“I was done!” Flynn screamed. “Done!”

Balling his hands into fists, he struggled to his knees. “You have no idea what you did. I didn't ask for this!”

He tried to ignore the agony behind it and focused on the ungrateful nature instead. “You didn't have to. I saved your life!”

“To remain here!” he exploded back at him. “You saved me from dying but I'm still here. Navarro... Shit! Damn it!”

He was weeping and raging simultaneously. It was quite a sight to behold. Nathan was feeling pity and anger and... What an idiot. He saved Flynn and this was what he got in return.

“Oh for the love of-” Sully began and strolled over to them.

The older man was glancing toward the entrance nervously so he didn't notice the reaction he induced at first. When Flynn saw him, his anger flared out. The reaction was so instantaneous it left Nate slack-jawed.

Sully nearly fell over when Flynn bowled into him, wrapping his arms around his shoulders desperately. He was still crying angry tears, but it was growing quieter. Gradually he was getting a hold on himself, and peering above his shoulder, Sully and Nate shared shocked looks with each other. What the hell...?

“He doesn't think. I tried to do something good for once...”

“By taking the easy way out?” asked Sully, looking sideways at him.

Nate could tell he didn't know what to think about their presumable enemy latching onto him of all people, and he wasn't going to take it easy on him just because of that.

“No, me being okay is bad. He's going to know.” A pause and then, “Sorry... You remind me of someone,” Flynn confessed, forcing himself to detach and step away.

He stood very still, seemingly thinking on something as he stared down at himself. Then he started tearing at the bandages, discarding them to the floor. When he was nearly through he abruptly stopped, cheeks reddening. In his attempt to quickly grab the blanket left forgotten on the floor, he tripped and only didn't fall when Sully managed to catch him by the arm and waist.

“Slow down, Flynn. You practically died a few minutes ago.”

“Uhh...”

“What?”

“Do I have clothes?”

Chloe laughed at his embarrassment and Nate saw she had his clothing in her arms. “Over here, Harry.”

He saw this as opportunity. Grabbing the clothes from Chloe before she could hand them to Flynn, he examined his face. What was he thinking? Was he hiding his continued anger to take it out on them at a crucial moment later? Speaking of anger, where did all that fury come from? Could they rely on him simply being mad to be breathing, or did the sap have anything to do with it? They didn't know if the sap had negative side effects. Not for certain. But it could. And, this was Flynn.

“We're keeping our eye on you, Flynn,” Nate informed him. “I'm sorry if you were ready to die but you're not dead and you're going to have to deal with it. Don't do anything stupid.”

A familiar smirk of amusement crossed over his face and Nathan had to admit he was not just a little relieved to see him make a look like that. In the past weeks that kind of look would piss him off, but today he was good with it. The old Flynn, asshole or not, was in there yet. He took it as a positive sign, even if this Harry Flynn wasn't the least bit trustworthy.

“You were already stupid enough for the both of us, Drake. Better hope he doesn't take it out on her.”

Nathan furrowed his brow, looking toward Elena when Flynn jabbed his thumb at her. Maybe Flynn didn't know in his sickness, that they'd been working on a bullshit plan for hunting treasure. Navarro would be satisfied by what they came up with and they could be out of this forest soon enough.

Even though he didn't know what exactly the man was getting at, he felt it best to respond with something.

“I won't let him,” he said, holding out the pile of clothes.

He turned around and regarded Sully and the girls while Flynn got dressed behind him. A thought occurred then and now seemed a convenient time as any. Best to be on the same page as a team.

“I say we ditch Navarro and company once we're on the road ASAP. Him leaving us alone for as long as he did has me thinking he's been doing some thinking too. And he sure as hell doesn't mean well for us.”

“Heh. You got that right,” Sully agreed.

Chloe's eyes were on Flynn but she murmured her agreement. As for Elena, she was back to wearing her concern on her face. What the concern was for this time was impossible to determine. He thought about asking, but an unwelcome soldier poked his head and upper body inside their tent.

He looked bored as he swept his gaze across the tent, asking the usual question. “Boss wondering if he's dead. So?”

Hm. They didn't normally come at night to ask. An earlier soldier must have reported how ill the injured man was this morning.

The last word barely emerged from his mouth when he zeroed in on Flynn. “Impossible.”

Nate checked behind him to find Flynn fully dressed in a v-necked t-shirt and jeans, staring at the soldier by the entrance. He was on one knee, tugging his second boot on. The guy looked like he was trying to get a good view of the soldier's face, hand flexing around the area of his leg the gun holster was normally attached. He relaxed, standing up, and crossed his arms over his chest before addressing their visitor.

“What do you want?” he asked in an irritated voice.

“Your injuries... They're gone!”

“Nah,” Flynn tried. “I'm tougher than I look. You guys can't throw a punch to save your life.”

It dawned on Nate what Flynn was trying to say earlier. But when thinking about saving him, he hadn't thought about what it would actually mean. Of course their captors were going to notice when a prisoner nearly brutalized to death was suddenly up and walking without a single bruise.

Maybe he should have given him a few right hooks to the face to bruise him for show. Let Elena get some practice in. A little late for playing it like Flynn was still injured. Right now he was looking absolutely full of life and energy. That sap was beyond belief in its effectiveness.

The soldier glowered and left.

“Any chance he won't tell Navarro what he's seen?” Nate asked wishfully.

Sully shook his head, vexed. Yeah... Wasn't a high probability his wish would prove reality. He regarded Flynn, trying for subtle. On the outside he looked all right, but on the inside he was bound to be messed up yet. No one could get tortured the way he did and walk it off.

“Now that you're not dying and all, uh...” Chloe stalled briefly before getting to the point. “Wondering about things Navarro might have said to you.”

“What about?”

Flynn's fingers slid out of his back pocket and he glanced around, finding the photograph on the table. She watched him give the picture a lengthy look before slipping it inside his pocket. Only then did she choose to continue her train of thought, no doubt wondering about his aloof behavior.

“You can't possibly be on his side now. Tell us everything you can that might be useful.”

“Nothing I can tell you is going to help.”

She made a soft, disgruntled noise. “Flynn, we saved your life. Least you can do is refrain from being a jerk for five minutes.”

“Do you think keeping me alive is the same as saving me? You can't save me. You probably don't even want to. We're not friends anymore, yeah? I've certainly realized you're not worth my time.”

Nate tried to placate the rising hostility between the former relationship imploding. Any of them fighting was not going to serve them well. If they were hoping to get Flynn on their side, the minimum they should be doing right now was getting him not to hate anyone.

Seeing his exasperated look, Flynn rounded on him. “Nothing clever to say?”

“I'm not an idiot, Flynn. You were vulnerable and open for a while in here. I might just know you better than I ever did.”

The man looked toward the bed he almost solely spent his time lying on for a week, while he said with much snark, “Try me.”

“You're scared. I can see-”

Flynn interrupted. “Navarro asked me to pick one of the woman to die. I wouldn't.”

Sullivan jumped to his feet. “He what?”

Elena turned her worrying look onto Nate's mentor. “Flynn was warning us for that after all. Sully, is he going to kill one of us?”

“Why would he? I'd give him nothing,” Sully adamantly said. “Nate sure as hell wouldn't either.”

“He'd kill me, right? I'm not a treasure hunter. I'm the logical choice.”

Nathan was appalled to hear her say such things. Her logic was sound but it still hurt him to know how aware she was of her expendability to Navarro. He would never let her get hurt. Nobody was going to touch Elena.

“I'm not going to let any of them lay so much as a finger on you.”

“Do you have a way out, Drake?”

He hesitated removing his eyes from Elena's, but he did, because it was Flynn, and he genuinely sounded anxious and reliant on the answer. Now concerning such an answer... Did he have one?

“When Navarro had you brought to the tent, he told us there was a group of mercenaries that hurt you. Mercenaries looking for me.”

Flynn chuckled bitterly. “Did he tell you that? Must have missed it... Manky tosser...”

A shadow had fallen across his face. He looked like he was remembering what happened to him. His old friend hadn't said Navarro was responsible for what was done. Didn't make him suspect anyone else but the cold-hearted bastard. The pure haunted look made him uncomfortable.

Chloe's hands went to her hips. “Do you think they're still in the area? Wouldn't it be great if they found out the man they were looking for was here? They might attack Navarro's mercenaries and we could escape in the chaos.”

“I don't know about you, Chloe, but I doubt some mercenaries looking for me is going to be a good thing. I say we try sneaking out during the night. I could go first, alone, take out a soldier or two. A couple weapons in our hands, I'd feel a lot better about attempting to run for it.”

“Nate.”

He saw why Elena uttered his name. The soldier had returned and was stepping into their tent, the pair of guards from outside the entrance flanking him.

“Let's go. Boss wants to see you.”

“Allowed out of the tent?” he said sardonic. “Super. Party time?”

“Now. Move.”

He rolled his eyes and motioned to the others. “Come on. Let's get this over with.”

Sully headed for the entrance but no one else looked like they wanted to at all. He put on his best self-assured smile for the ladies and it moved Chloe, who joined Sullivan outside. Elena wasn't buying it and she seemed only to move out of her own self-encouragement. That left Flynn, who was frozen where he stood.

“Move it, or I move you,” the soldier asserted.

He sighed at the soldier's stiff posture and went to Flynn, jostling his elbow but eyeing him carefully. “Flynn. We're partners. I stand by my partners, okay?”

“Nate...”

“Yeah?” he asked eagerly.

“I don't need anything from you,” Flynn declared and withdrew from the tent.

Nathan cursed and glared at the mercenary monitoring him like a good little servant. He rubbed a hand lightly over the area where he'd been shot, wondering if he was imagining the ache suddenly felt from the wound. This was going to be a shit-show.

It was a few short minutes and they were walking into one of the larger tents set up for the soldiers to occupy. There were tables and chairs scattered across the single large room, crates of equipment lining the sides, and two dozen mercenaries filled the place. On the way there, Nate saw at least eight soldiers patrolling the outside, not including the three accompanying them. It was hard to keep track of how many of these guys they needed to worry about.

The soldiers motioned for them to walk to the opposite end of the tent, far from the exit, before leaving again. Damn. He'd been hoping to utilize any opportunity to make a dash for the exit with his friends, and that option was taken from them. Of course, if they got the chance, they'd have a whole lot of soldiers instantly on their asses.

They strolled to their predetermined designated spot where five chairs had been pulled out, and sat. From left to right it was Chloe, Flynn, Nate, Elena, and Sully. Perusing his companion hostages with a passing glance, he noted everyone looking uptight except for Sullivan, who looked more impatient than tense. He opted to adopt the same outward appearance, slouching in his seat.

Navarro was at one of the tables near the exit, a book open in front of him. He took his time finishing whatever he was reading before pushing away from the table to meet with them. His attention was directed on Nate alone.

“What is your plan?”

“Draw a treasure map and follow the map to the treasure. You take it and kill us all. That about right?”

“Be serious, Drake.”

“Give me what I want or else? Please. Like I haven't heard that one before. Thieves are all the same. They take for themselves and their own and screw everybody else over.”

“You don't intend to do as I ask.”

“Nate,” Sully forewarned.

He shrugged the warning off and went with being a smart-ass. “I've learned so much from my mistakes, I'm willing to make a few more.”

“Are you?” Navarro began with a sneer, approaching to stand directly in front of Nate. “Even if your friends pay the price?”

Nathan acted like he couldn't care less. Many thieves had “friends” they would drop the second it became more convenient to do so. A typical thief took whatever action paid off most for number one. While Nate was nothing like that when it came to his friends, he might convince his enemy otherwise.

“Knock down as many pegs on the board as you want. It won't get you anywhere.”

The man smiled, considering his words. “Oh?”

“Watch your pride, kid.”

A glance for Sully. He knew the man was always wanting him to be more cautious and steady. Meanwhile Nate wanted to be on a fun treasure hunt, revealing historical artifacts and learning undiscovered truths. Being stuck in one place and forced to deal with an asshole like Navarro was not sitting well with him. Now that the fun and the treasure hunting had come to an end, he was ready to take a break for a while. He'd had his share of risk and adventure for quite some time.

“You're an intelligent guy, Black Bart. Find your own goddamn treasure. You don't need me.”

Navarro's face quirked upward in distaste. “The pirate Bartholomew Roberts. He did his share of slicing and dicing.”

His head tilted sideways in Flynn and Chloe's direction. He couldn't be certain he was looking at either one of them in particular from where he sat. Knowing what he knew of Navarro, it was a threatening gesture. The man brought a hand up to rub his chin, contemplative, still staring in their direction.

“You just can't help yourself, can you?” Flynn accused, twisting in his chair to scowl at Nate. “Always gotta do what Nathan Drake wants to do.”

“Shut it, Flynn,” he snapped.

“Two years,” Navarro stated. “Have two years made you forget? I learned all about you and Victor Sullivan.”

Nate sat up in his chair and returned his gaze to the man. “You think you know anyway.”

“The two of you are like any other thief, except when it comes to your friends,” he announced, moving backward by a couple yards. “The people you care about are your weakness. Innocent civilians and trusted associates weaken your focus on the prize.”

His arms folded across his chest. “That's your opinion.”

He smirked. “Oh? Then I must be a fool to hold onto so much extra weight.”

“Damir, kill the blonde woman. Elena Fisher is a reporter and of no use to us.”

A soldier stepped forward from the left side of Nate, approaching Elena's chair. He reached for her and both him and Sully reacted. At the same time they jumped up and shoved the man away before he could get too close.

Approximately half of the soldiers surrounding them pointed their guns. He and Sully didn't make any sudden movements, but they also didn't abandon the position they'd taken covering Elena. Together they maintained their defensive position and met Navarro's gaze, unyielding. Nate knew they'd played into his hands.

Chapter Text

Navarro made a circular motion with two fingers together and pointed to their right. He could only angrily follow the struggle as Flynn was grabbed from his chair by two other soldiers and dragged to the man giving commands. He'd promised to protect Elena from these animals, which prevented him from leaving the ground he was standing on. With so many guns, he might not be able to do even that much soon enough.

He watched Chloe stand and yell, “Leave him alone!”

A soldier came from behind and reached around her chest, pulling her back into the chair. She screamed and swore but was kept seated in the hold. Chloe refrained fighting when a second soldier walked up to her from her right, placing a gun to her temple. He backed away when the point had been made and she stilled her objections.

Once they stood by Navarro, the soldiers stopped and held him in place. He was ignoring them for the time being, gaze still focused on Nate. The smug man swept a hand through his hair as he surveyed him and then Sullivan.

“Flynn wouldn't work with me either. He continued to make decisions against me thinking he would be better off on his own. I just want to get what I want. You people are infuriatingly turning me into something unlike me.”

“Oh poor you,” Nate remarked in irritation.

“I think he disdains me as much as you do, Drake. I tried to make it clear in a partnership, partners share the information. He wouldn't bite.” Navarro looked at Flynn. “I'm amazed how you bounced back then..and now.”

The man met his gaze head on. “I'm far from fucking fine. Forcing sex to get someone to cooperate with him is just sick, and fucking new. What kind of dodgy prat thinks that'll work out for them?”

Navarro adjusted his jacket collar, solemn, and countered, “It worked, didn't it? You stayed on as my partner.”

What the hell was he talking about forcing sex? When? Did it happen before they went to Shambhala? The Navarro he'd met a couple years ago was certainly determined and crazed enough to hurt or murder people for his own ends. It seemed he was capable of raping someone if it meant getting closer to what he was after.

Now it made so much sense when Flynn broke down, screaming about being raped again. Again. With a hundred percent certainty, he knew Navarro was responsible for nearly killing his old friend.

“Or did you continue to work with me because you desired what was in Shambhala?” Navarro considered. “No matter your motivation, you find yourself in a most undesirable position tonight.”

“Nothing new there,” Flynn replied.

He tried to shake off the soldiers restraining him with no result. Nate noticed they were getting handsy, one of them pressing cheek to cheek for a moment to whisper something in his ear. The other had his hand playing along Flynn's belt. His gaze flickered up to the captive's face. Plain fear and panic was etched into the lines of his otherwise unreadable expression.

“Do you know the sole difference I see between the pair of you?” Navarro said, as much to a blank wall of a face as to a man. “You have no luck, Flynn.”

Turning his back on a potentially catatonic Flynn, he observed the rest of them. “Honestly, I don't care if he doesn't help me anymore. I need Drake's cooperation and there are plenty of methods to secure it.”

He made himself look away from the soldiers harassing a traumatized human being. The anger was growing and he badly wanted to express it through well-deserved violence against these bad people. Nate swallowed and put such emotion aside.

“Stop toying with us, Navarro. Get to the point.”

“Gladly. What is your plan?”

His stubbornness wouldn't let him answer the question, not right away. But Sully had no problem doing it for him. It must have been especially easy for him to do it when they were under immediate threat by a lot of enemies harboring ill-will.

“We've located a promising section of the Mediterranean Sea where there is rumored to be a sunken pirate ship full of treasure.”

“As rumor, do you believe there is any truth to it?”

“Absolutely,” Sully reassured with confidence. “We've done the research and checked the facts. It's there.”

Nate marveled at his ability to pass off the statement as complete truth. In reality, they were merely a small bit convinced there might be a ship beneath the sea. Even then, there might be zero treasure down below. It was a story that sounded good, and a path that would take them on the road. This was their plan to eventually find an avenue of escape.

“Fine,” he assented. “I want to see your work. If I am in agreement the find has potential, we'll leave at dawn.”

“Okay. Can you stop that?” asked Nate, in a manner more like a command than an actual request.

Navarro followed his gaze and was thankfully agreeable. “Sava, Ratko, that's enough.”

The harassing halted and the two soldiers released Flynn, taking a step backward each to give him space. He motioned toward their seats.

“Sit down.”

“Are we not done yet? We told you the plan,” said Sullivan.

“There are other matters to deal with,” Navarro maintained.

He turned to Flynn and examined his current welfare. Glancing to the rest of them, he waited impatiently until they sat in their chairs. When they did, Elena spoke for the first time since their arrival.

“Let Flynn sit too.”

Navarro did not acknowledge her plea. Instead, he smiled at them with false charm.

“Was he the one who managed to secret a sample of the blue sap from Shambhala?”

Silence all around. None of them wanted to admit anything. He might decide a punishment was in order. To him, this was not an acceptable route for them to take.

“I prefer not to waste time on torture. I'd much rather be making progress. But if you insist on wasting my time, I suppose I'll make an exception.”

“You don't have to hurt anyone,” Chloe argued. “This is silly. You're wasting your own time.”

The man seemed to find that humorous in a not so funny sort of way. “Oh, am I? Harry Flynn is looking awfully healthy. Look.”

One of the soldiers stepped forward and yanked up his shirt, revealing smooth and flawless skin. The act snapped Flynn back to himself and he reacted, pulling out of the man's reach. He tugged his shirt securely in place and took a further step away from the pair of men and Navarro. But there was really nowhere to go that would make him feel safe here. This tent was full of mercenaries.

“Let's not pretend you never had an invaluable treasure in your hands,” he went on. “Sap from the Tree of Life itself! Money beyond belief for a thing like that and you kept it hidden. Worse, you wasted it on the likes of a common thief.”

“Saving his life was not a waste! It's people like you who think a person can just be discarded and-”

“They can be, Ms. Fisher, and without detriment.”

Elena narrowed her eyes. She looked like she had a lot of things on her mind she wanted to speak. That would get them nowhere and he knew he needed to get them out of there. Otherwise the bad vibes he was feeling were going to come to fruition.

“Navarro, we can't change what's happened and you would be wasting your time if you insist on staying with an aimless topic. Nothing you do can take back what we already did. So get over it and let us get some sleep. We're finding your treasure for you. There's no need for this.”

He glared right back at Elena, almost as if Nate hadn't said anything.

“I will not allow my authority to be undermined. These men know there was a prize that could have paid them exceedingly well right under our noses. And we know it was Harry Flynn who deceived us and took away our payday.”

“You can't prove who it was,” Elena insisted. “You can't. Let it go. We'll find you a new treasure.”

His anger shifted into a smile. His smiles had never proven to be good for them.

“The four of you entered this camp as prisoners and were searched. Flynn entered as an ally, so he was not.”

Despite being proven wrong, she persisted. “Leave us alone and Nate will make you rich. We won't try anything. We'll do what you want. Please.”

Her reward was for him to stride up to Flynn and deliver a backhand across his face. The strike was so hard, his head snapped to the side and he was left stunned for a moment. Wheeling around to look at Elena, he made sure she met his stare before he gave his order.

“Show them what happens when someone betrays us.”

The soldiers, Sava and Ratko, took hold of his arms while a third soldier stepped up and began laying on the blows. He was hit repeatedly in the face, chest, and stomach. Every time he doubled over from the blows to his stomach, the soldiers holding him would pull him back up to keep getting hit. Through it all, he never made a sound other than a few grunts.

Finally the punches stopped and the soldiers threw him to the ground at Navarro's feet. With a groan, he started to get up, but a kick to his ribs put him down again. The soldier who delivered the beating placed a heavy boot on his back, keeping him against the floor. Nate stared at his eyes, trying to will him to notice and look at him, but he didn't. His eyes intermittently closed and opened, staring at nothing quite in focus when opened.

Navarro gazed down in disappointment. “You are exceedingly skilled at deception. I should think that would make you a better manipulator and asset. It doesn't, because even in your earned prosperity, you lack conviction. You have useful skills, I admit, but I can find those skills elsewhere and for less trouble.”

Through gritted teeth, Nathan demanded, “We finished?”

“He deceived me and hid something precious. Did he also use it to heal himself? No..Ms. Fisher laid claim for saving his life. Did you give it to him?”

Frustration flooded through him, anger rising. He was ticked Navarro wasn't letting anything go. It seemed like he was doing all of this to entertain him and the mercenaries. Had he resigned to punishing them to ensure keeping his authority with the hired crew?

“Admit who used my payday,” Navarro pressed. “Their hand will be broken and you should be thankful that's all that will happen. I'd cut off a hand since it's the common punishment for thieves in certain places, but I don't want to deal with the clean up.”

He glared at the guy. What kind of sadistic choice was he giving? He really hated him. Here he was wasting his time getting mad at Flynn when Navarro was around to fuck them all over.

Flynn let out a forced laugh from where he was lying on the floor. “You claim not to like torture and this is what you're going to do? Gaining flavor for it, are you?”

Navarro kicked him in the face, causing Nate to flinch. That had to have hurt. His attention landed on Elena and automatically he reached over and took her hand. She accepted and squeezed it once.

“Who gave it to him?”

Groaning in annoyance, he owned up to it. “I did, asshole. See how well I move around getting your precious treasure after you break my hand.”

His gaze flickered between the pair of them. “Perhaps you take the blame for her. I can't be sure. Think I'll break her hand in either case.”

Flynn managed to roll himself out from under the boot and climbed to his feet before the soldier could stop him. When the man tried to reach for him, he ducked and threw a punch into his jaw. Backpedaling, he gave a most irate look at the mercenary.

“Keep away from me, Alek.”

In a readied stance for anyone who might come charging at him, he looked to Navarro. “You've lost the plot! Be clear. What are you really after?”

He gave Flynn a smirk, shrugging his shoulders and turning away. Walking to the table where he'd been reading, he reached across the book and lifted a small black binder. The binder in hand, he looked pretty damn meaningfully at a soldier by the exit. That soldier strolled over and Navarro returned to stand in front of Flynn with him. Whoever this soldier was, it was someone who could cause a visceral reaction from Harry when he pulled a gun and entered his space.

Though his old friend managed to put up a brief fight, landing an elbow just under his assailant's chin, when the gun smacked him against the side of his head it was done. He was pulled along by the arm and shoved into Sava and Ratko's arms.

“Luka!” Flynn yelled out, twisting and squirming to put distance between these soldiers, but in particular this one. “Piss off!”

“I don't think they will,” Navarro said. “Be quiet.”

Flynn stiffened, expression livid. Nate scanned the interior of the tent, searching for any weak points or opportunities. There were none he could see.

“Last night, my perimeter guard identified an unknown mercenary in gray gear sneaking about in the woods. It would appear he was attempting to enter camp unseen. He opened fire on my men and they killed him. In his knapsack, he was carrying this.”

Nathan eyed the black binder in his grip. So the man had a reason for toying with them, waiting to share this news. He watched Navarro lower and flip it open, raising the binder to show them the last page. A photograph of himself blown up to a bigger size was encased in a plastic sheet. Nate was walking on a sidewalk alone, glancing at something in a store window as he passed the building by. He couldn't tell when or where the photo was taken. Somebody had been following him at some point and he never noticed.

Once Navarro was certain they all saw the photograph, he let the rest of the pages fall, bringing the binder open to the very first page. Someone had drawn a sketch of a man's face, and it was quite clearly Flynn, down to the old scar that once adorned the left side of his mouth.

“It appears the mercenaries are not only looking for you, Drake, but Harry Flynn as well,” Navarro revealed. “Now why might they be doing that? What could they want with the two of you?”

He thought about it. He had no clue why anyone would send hired guns after them. It could be a past job they worked together somehow coming back to bite them in the ass. There were typically wronged parties in any illegal dealing. Greed and wealth tended to bring out the worst in people too. But museum job aside, they hadn't worked a job together in three years. A case of belated revenge?

When Nate didn't answer and Flynn didn't say anything either, Navarro turned the binder back to himself. Flipping the page with the picture over, he read something on the backside.

“Says here someone named Alma provided the description for the drawing. And before you refuse to tell me who she is, don't worry, it's all here.”

“What's there? What is that?” Flynn demanded.

His questions earned him a glance and a small smirk, but then his eyes returned to the contents of the binder. Despite his first reaction to be mad at the blatant privacy violation for his former friend, he couldn't deny his interest. Pages containing information about Flynn. That intrigued him immensely. He let go of Elena's hand so he could place both of his palms on his knees, listening.

“Alma, no last name, and there's a notation concerning her role as a serious girlfriend prior to her leaving the business to care for family in 2007. Says you took on a debt of hers so she could get out clean. How chivalrous of you, Flynn.”

“Shut up. That's none of your business.”

Navarro's smirk grew. “These people were hired to find you two years ago. The first and last place they spotted you was early 2008, in London.”

Curiosity bested him, and through his chagrin, Flynn asked, “Does it say who hired them?”

Nate looked more closely at him. There was definite distress growing in his increasingly restless stance, fear entering his eyes. Navarro wasn't going to give him the answer he wanted, choosing to torment him by sharing his most private information of his life with everyone. Twisted way of enjoying oneself.

“Harold Flynn spent most of his youth on the streets, learning the tactics of a thief and avoiding home. His parents were heroin addicts and neglect was prevalent. Despite encounters with child protective services where evidence was uncovered of starvation and physical abuse, he was not removed from the home until he was orphaned. His father strangled his mother, killing her, and he was shot by his ten-year-old son. Courts ruled it in favor of defense.” Navarro paused and looked up at Flynn. “There are several newspaper clippings about it in here.”

Whatever he was hoping to get out of Flynn, all he got was a blank stare. This seemed to be his signal to keep going. Would he continue until he received what it was he was looking for?

“These people scoured areas you were believed to go or had been before,” Navarro shared with a wicked smile. “Says there were sexual assaults that occurred and went unreported from as young as nineteen.”

Chloe spoke for the first time in a while. “Harry would never rape anyone. That's ridiculous. The information they gathered is wrong. They could have gotten his history mixed up with somebody else.”

“No, Ms. Fraser. Flynn was the victim of the half dozen assailants they unearthed.” Glancing back at the man he was mocking, he added with much amusement, “And hospitalization for a suicide attempt at the age of 27. Poor Flynn. What a sad life you must lead. I wonder what made you decide to live? It must explain your tenacity.”

Flynn was fuming, furious to hear such hidden things spoken callously. He knew if Navarro had a file on him and was sharing it with strangers like it didn't matter, he would be pissed. He couldn't be sure what he'd do if anyone tried to talk about his parents like that, or tell him how pathetic his life had been. Nate could feel some of the pain Flynn was inevitably feeling right now, because it was bad enough to already have a crappy history. For an enemy to know and spit it back in your face like it made you lesser...

Navarro tossed the binder away, interest lost. The object bounced against the leg of a table and fell to the floor. Bingo. He appeared to have the reaction he was looking for in Flynn.

“It was infuriating how you would not break. Once you showed your insolence for my command, I knew I wanted to break you down. But even raped, nothing,” the man complained. “Handed over to be raped and tortured, I only succeeded in almost killing you. It didn't affect you like I wanted. Of course, reading those pages, now I know you are no stranger to rape. Does your mind work like that of a prostitute, hm? Growing accustomed to your body assaulted?”

He went slack, confusing the guards enough to slip from their hold. Flynn rammed his shoulder into the gut of the mercenary in front of him he called Luka, and rushed Navarro. His fist sank into the man's throat and Nate cheered. He jumped out of his chair but a quick perusal informed he was going to be gunned down if he so much as moved another inch. Flynn, in the meantime, was too near their leader to concern himself with such a fate, and too furious.

As Navarro gagged and started to collapse to his knees, Flynn swung his arm around and punched him in the cheek. It was the last hit he got in before the three mercenaries he'd temporarily escaped from surrounded and grabbed hold. Against these odds, he made one final desperate reach, managing to encircle his arms about the man like he was attempting to tackle him, but then he was dragged back.

The leader coughed and gathered oxygen, rubbing his throat. Looking up to Flynn where he knelt, he caught his eye.

“With words about your past I have gotten further than ever.”

“Don't flatter yourself!” snarled Flynn.

Navarro contemplated that, getting to his feet and bringing a smile to his lips. “Could be the sap? I don't know if you noticed, but your cuts and bruises have healed already. Ah, what a payday the tree would have brought.”

“I don't know about the sap,” he admitted. “But everyone in this business has a sob story. Mine's just shittier than most.”

The smile broadened. “That's the spirit.”

Nathan watched Flynn's expression in turn, darken.

“Okay. I've changed my mind. Flynn can take the punishment.”

The three soldiers began to move him, Luka trying to tug his arm outward to get the hand ready for breaking bones. Flynn butted his head behind himself, slamming it into Ratko's face. Or at least Nate was guessing that one was named Ratko. While he staggered away, swearing in his language, Flynn took full advantage. He pulled a knife from where it had been hidden at the back of his belt, spun, and stabbed it through Sava's bulletproof vest. He gave it an extra push and the man collapsed, combat knife thoroughly piercing deep into his chest.

Navarro felt the left side of his belt and realized his knife sheath was empty. “That's my knife!”

He came after Flynn and the two fell to the floor, punching and scratching at one another. From behind, four soldiers stepped up to the line of chairs. Nate felt the tip of a gun against the back of his head, and he had only to look to the side, left and right, to see his friends were in the same predicament. If they did anything they were going to die.

Flynn rolled on top of Navarro and Luka slammed the butt of his rifle against his exposed back. This allowed their leader to get the upper hand and he reversed their positions. Flailing madly beneath him, he reached up and grabbed hold of the man's shirt and jacket, yanking him close. Nate looked on in shock when he sank his teeth into the other man's shoulder.

Shouting in stunned pain, he struggled to remove Flynn's teeth from his skin. Ratko and Luka came to their boss's aid. One of them applied pressure to his eyes, causing him to gasp and unlock his jaw. Navarro's blood coating his lips, he grappled with the two soldiers to no real avail.

Breathing hard, he sought out Nathan and their eyes locked. “Drake. What I said when we were alone. I lied.”

His mind frantically searched for the possible words he could be referencing and it came into his mind almost immediately. I don't need anything from you. The last words Flynn said to him before they were taken from the tent. When Nate tried to extend an olive branch of sorts, offering a chance for him to be on his side, and was rejected. I lied.

“Get hold of him!” Navarro growled. “Control him!”

The mercenary who beat Flynn earlier and held him down with his boot for a while, moved in to stop his fighting. Alek, he thought. The combined effort of the three forced him flat on his stomach with his arms wrenched behind his back.

“Let him up. If you want to hurt someone, I'm right here,” Nate mediated.

“Nate,” Sully uttered.

A hand held over his bleeding bite mark, he fixed his maddened gaze on Flynn. “These men have been far from civilization for years. Nothing but war and bloodshed. It can make a man..frustrated.”

Nate didn't have to be a genius to understand the underlying meaning. This was the first time Flynn reached out to him of his own volition while in his right mind. Well, he was assuming his old friend was in as right a mind as he could be under the circumstances. To bite someone the way he did hinted at some mental disturbance, but he could blame the sap and the sick fuckin' rapists for that.

“Navarro, I gave him the sap when he was asleep. I destroyed the goddamn tree itself when I accidentally set the place on fire. Come on, break my hand or whatever.”

“Rape him,” his enemy ordered, and his eyes were only for Flynn.

Chairs scraped on floor as all four of them jumped to their feet, a combination of forgetting or not caring about the guns pointing at their backs. Other mercenaries lifted guns in their direction and they couldn't move any farther. As much as he wanted to, needed to, he would only succeed in getting some or all of them killed. He turned to Elena. She was under his protection, especially as a civilian and..and someone he loved.

Flynn fought ferociously. His arms were released but a hand gained a solid grip on his hair, slamming his face into the floor. Blood streamed from his nose and he swore. Luka went for his belt and he fought with savage desperation to prevent him getting anywhere near the area.

“Stop, Navarro!” Nathan shouted in an emotion beyond simple anger.

Elena echoed his sentiment, but in the most heart-breaking and despairing voice he'd ever heard.

“Stop! Stop!”

His belt was undone and his pants were being tugged on.

“Stop it!” she screamed.

The mercenary named Damir, who tried to take Elena earlier, approached from his right. Nate tore his gaze off Flynn's dire position to keep an eye on another potential threat. The soldier pointed his handgun at her.

“Do you want to go next?” he threatened.

Nathan laughed, unwilling to allow his brain to process such a horrific thing as serious. “Do you want to die? Cause that's what's going to happen if you take a single step closer.”

Laughing far more heartlessly than Nate, Navarro looked away from Flynn's assault to look at him. “Don't you fear, Drake. If you don't want your bitch to get it, it will be you when I'm done with Flynn.”

The soldiers were having a tough time getting Flynn's pants down with the kicking and wiggling. The tight jeans were about mid-thigh. Then he went slack, no longer resisting. His eyes couldn't possibly see Navarro from where he was lying, but Nate knew it was him for whom the words were intended.

“I'm going to kill you.”

“Flynn...” he began weakly before his voice dropped to nothing.

What was he supposed to say? Sorry? The rape was going to happen and there was nothing he could do but watch or close his eyes.

“Better me than her, right mate?”

He sounded sincere and not accusatory, but Nate felt like blaming himself. There was bound to be something he could do. Instead he stood there like an asshole. Beside him, Sullivan put an arm around Elena and cradled her against his shoulder, turning her gaze away from the impending sexual assault.

“Nothing you can do, kid,” he murmured.

On his other side, Chloe made a strangled noise and sat hard in her seat, hands covering her face. The soldier called Luka was straddling the helpless prisoner, preparing to rape him from behind. Kneeling on the ground in front of his chair, he caught Flynn's gaze and the man stared back at him. He wasn't moving at all, taking care to barely move a single muscle. His arms lay at his sides and though there was a soldier on either side, ready to keep him in place should he move, Nate knew it wasn't going to happen anymore. Flynn was accepting his fate.

Nate could never do that. If someone ever tried to... If someone did that... He couldn't understand how Flynn was handling the torment put upon him. Nathan had been put through his own fair share of shit, but this, never. There was a saying that someone could get used to anything if around it long enough. Was this what his old friend endured throughout his life? Would Nate have been a similar distrusting person being used if he'd never met Sully and had the old man looking out for him?

His eyes stayed glued to Flynn's the entire time. He tried to will more pleasant thoughts into the assaulted man's mind by doing it. Maybe think about when you and me were together. You and me were great. Have you slept with another man that wasn't hurting you? Think of them. You're so strong. Be strong.

“Did you enjoy the show, Drake?”

He snapped his head up to find Navarro smirking his insufferable smirk. Either the man interpreted his staring at Flynn the whole time as liking the attack, or he was just using the opportunity to take an easy jab. Nate took a moment to make the correct reaction.

“Go to hell.”

The smug man raised his hands in indifference. “Maybe later. Ready for your turn?”

He froze in his knelt position. He had forgotten Navarro's assurance he could be raped next. He'd gotten lost in his useless attempt to beam positive thoughts into Harry's mind during his assault. His rape would take the place of Elena being assaulted. Navarro sure was a stand up guy.

His gaze traveled to Flynn's position and he found the man slowly pulling his pants up. The soldiers were giving him room and he climbed to his feet just as slow. When he was standing upright, he stared at his shoes.

Tears threatened to spill from Nate's eyes and he blinked, trying to clear them away before they could fall. How much damage did it take until someone accepted what happened to them without a fight? There would be no cooperation after this.

Except Flynn hadn't given up his fight completely. Nate watched as he lifted his chin from his chest and turned to stare straight at Navarro. Defiance was in his eyes, pure and simple and beautiful.

“You're not raping Drake,” he said. He was telling, not suggesting. “You've done enough, don't you think?”

He breathed slow, waiting to hear Navarro's response. What he heard was not a response from the big boss himself. He heard a shout outside the tent and then two men barreled inside. Rather, one mercenary in gray barreled in with one of Navarro's mercenaries held against his chest. An arm pressed into his throat and a rifle pressed to his side.

Two dozen guns shifted to greet him. Navarro placed his hand on top of his sidearm and looked incredibly irritated. Their intruder searched the room quickly with keen eyesight. He stopped on Flynn, took in the blood partially coating his face from his nose, down his chin, staining his white t-shirt.

In a heavily accented voice, he spoke English to make his request.

“I will leave with Harry Flynn.”

Nate glanced at the man mentioned. Right. The binder containing information on Flynn. So this was one of the mercenaries after him. Were they looking for him as well? And if they were, had they not noticed him down on his knees? He didn't really want to make an announcement he was present. Who knew what these guys wanted with a pair of thieves.

“Release Zarko and I'll consider an exchange.”

He would what? There wasn't a chance Nate would let someone unfamiliar walk off with Flynn. Then again, he was definitely in danger as Navarro's prisoner. Maybe he stood a better chance with this mercenary and the person who hired him. Nathan knew it was for Flynn to debate and worry about. He wasn't his keeper. He wasn't really anything to him these days.

“I take him now and go.”

Navarro shook his head. “What do I get in return?”

Ever the man trying to bag a prize. He was gravely considering this monster of a human had to die.

Following the failure to immediately comply, the intruder of Navarro's camp did not take the refusal well. The fist of the arm keeping the captive soldier back to his chest pulled across the neck. Blood spurted from a sudden gash and he wasn't certain what happened right away. Then he saw the glint when the light in the tent reflected off the knife in his gloved hand. The mercenary in gray had cut his hostage's throat.

Dropping the body, he lifted his assault rifle toward Navarro. “Give that man to me.”

Chapter Text

People kept dying in front of her. It was freaking her out. As a journalist and dedicated reporter of world news, she anticipated violence and danger. She was willing to take risks to bring out stories affecting civilian lives. Expecting bad things to be happening and seeing them happen were two different things.

War-torn Nepal had been a frightening experience. She personally witnessed a city torn apart by battling factions. Civilians run out of their homes from the fighting, buildings ruined from explosions. But she handled it, no problem, because it was something she had to do. Then Nathan Drake showed up and she knew everything was going to get worse.

The other time she was on an adventure with Nate, Sully was held hostage, she was taken hostage, and a lot of gunfights ensued. It seemed as though Drake brought the chaos with him. However, Navarro was involved in things then too. He was responsible for his employer's death so he could reap the reward of the truth behind the artifact in a black market deal. But putting the entire blame on him for their current predicament was difficult, since things had steadily been declining before the South American treasure hunter ever put in an appearance. No, it would seem Drake running around on Lazarevic's hunt caused plenty of trouble on its own. Nate was terrible at leaving things well enough alone. But he was also rather talented at getting out of tough spots.

Now she was in a room with two dead bodies and the hope they might find their chance for escape. Elena glanced at the mercenary who dared suggest they were going to rape her. He was standing pretty close to Nate, who was checking out the second gun attached to his thigh. The weapon was on his other side but if he could reach around quick enough... She sought his attention and nodded when he looked at her. Ready when he was.

“You trespass into my camp and demand something of mine?” Navarro asked, affronted. “Shoot him!”

Gunshots could be heard outside, suspending the order for the briefest of minutes. Silence expanded throughout the tent as listening to fathom what was occurring swept over them. Peering toward the exit of the tent, her eyes fell upon Flynn by happenstance. The look on his face was disturbing.

While everyone else was looking around wondering what action to take next, he was staring trance-like at the body of Navarro's murdered soldier. There was a manic grin pasted on, like he couldn't take it off if he tried. She peeked at the dead soldier and winced a little at the sight of blood still leaking from his sliced throat. Doubtless Flynn was going to make a move at any second.

Some shouting reached their ears and rapid-fire gunshots rang out. The stranger lowered his rifle and disappeared outside as quickly as he'd appeared inside in the first place. Every soldier within the tent instantaneously burst into action with Navarro shouting for them to go and shoot the intruding bastards. He sounded extraordinarily pissed, snatching a shotgun up from beneath the table near him and turning it toward her and Nate.

She stared at the weapon in his grasp and risking a whole hell of a lot, she sidled to the left. He didn't take any notice of her, intense glare fixated on Nate alone. Not far from them at the back of the tent were three remaining mercenaries. Sully being right behind Nate, he mimicked the younger man's reaction of putting his hands up and stepped halfway in front of him.

“Now wait just a minute, Navarro,” Sullivan said, “Don't do anything hasty.”

“I blame you for this, Drake,” he spat. “Those people are looking for you!”

Nate frowned at the guy, eyes a bit wide as he understood the imminent danger they were all in. Meanwhile, she slid some more to the left, aiming for Navarro's blind side. Just a little farther...

“And Flynn,” he protested. “Guy practically had a book on him.”

Someone was screaming outside, and what sounded to her like a pretty big explosion. The remaining handful of soldiers and hostages, as well as Navarro, all looked toward the exit. Except for Elena. She never removed her eyes from her awaited opportunity and took it as soon as it appeared.

Elena stepped forward and punched their captor in the face. Sputtering, he staggered backward and she grabbed hold of his gun, trying to wrench it out of his grasp. He kept a firm grip on the weapon and tried to shove the barrel at her face. She ducked low and punched him in the crotch.

He went down clutching the offended area, and she turned to the others. “Run!”

They ran. The other three mercenaries' reactions delayed in their surprise, they were able to get to the other side of the tent without interference. Sully and Chloe were running out of the tent when she glanced back to see if they were pursued. She stopped in her tracks.

Flynn was attacking Navarro, throwing reckless punches to a man with a shotgun. Angered, the man getting hit swung the shotgun around like a club and smacked him across the shoulder. The hit dropped him onto his rear but it barely slowed him. Releasing a scream of rage, he swung his legs about, tripping his opponent to the floor.

“Elena!” Nate yelled at her. “Let's go!”

The mercenaries were moving closer, assault rifles readied and aiming for their chance to shoot their boss's assailant. Nate tried to pull her by the hand and she stumbled on something with her feet. Glancing downward, she saw she was standing over the dead soldier's body. The dead soldier had a handgun holstered to his ankle.

She bent to grab the gun and Nate watched her in confusion. He urgently wanted to get out of there but her mind was on getting everyone victimized out. That included Flynn. Elena pointed the handgun toward the soldiers, watching Navarro get overpowered by the other man.

A mercenary fired, hitting Flynn in the side, and reflexively she squeezed the trigger. She looked on in horror as the bullet hit a part of the shooter's neck and blood spurted. Nate ran past her and she provided cover, firing several more times to keep the remaining soldiers crouched low and defensive.

One hand clutching his bleeding side, Flynn forgot about it in the next moment when he went for Navarro's dropped shotgun. He didn't beat the man to it but he kept coming and tackled him. Nate reached them and kicked Navarro in the face, taking the shotgun right out of his hand. The blow knocked him unconscious.

“Are you crazy? Come on!” he shouted at Flynn.

Not getting a result, Elena fired again at the cowering mercenaries and clicked empty. With all of the firefighting going on outside, the soldiers didn't realize she was out yet. Hurrying up to a demented looking Flynn staring down at Navarro's still form, she grabbed his arm, peering into his face.

“Flynn. Run!”

The mercenaries were standing and raising their rifles. “Crap!”

He saw the impending gunshots coming and finally reacted appropriately, allowing her to tug him along. Nate ran next to them and they didn't slow even once they were out under the night sky. Someone called to them almost right away. It was Sully, and he and Chloe waved them over from their hiding spot between a set of tents.

They weaved their way across the ground, doing their best to avoid the chaos surrounding them. Black uniformed mercenaries were firing at gray uniformed mercenaries. There was a tree on fire in the near distance, and the tent beside the tree was burning with it. When they made it to the hiding space between tents and squeezed into the narrow spot together, Nate and Sully took point surveying the situation.

Elena twisted around to look at the two crouched behind her. “Are you guys okay?”

“Yeah. Peachy,” Chloe muttered.

“We should have killed him,” grumbled the man beside her.

Nate peered over his shoulder.

“Got bigger things to worry about right now, Flynn,” he reminded.

He shook his head. “You'll regret it.”

Nate eyed him. “Are you gonna be useful or what?”

She reached for Flynn's arm to turn him toward her. Her fingers hardly brushed his wrist when he flinched and spun to stare. He looked nauseated, but when he saw who it was the look cleared. Tension still filled his shoulders as he waiting expectantly for her to explain herself.

Trying to lessen the sympathy she knew could be read on her face, she said, “Your gunshot wound... Is it bad?”

“Oh.”

He tugged the left side of his shirt up and showed her his stomach. Elena was perplexed to see there were smears of red blood painting his side, but no gash or hole from any bullet. The surprise must have showed because he prompted her to recall his situation.

“The sap heals, at least for a while apparently. When I was shot, the bullet pushed out and the hole closed up.”

“Whoa.”

A slight smile teased at the corners of his mouth. “I guess it's cool.”

She agreed with a tiny smile. “Yeah.”

“Alright. We should take the treeline that way to the road,” Sully suggested. “Bound to keep vehicles there. Move!”

Concentrating her attention on the path they needed to run across and the backs of the men she was following, she ran. She continuously scanned the area, checking if anyone would take notice of their sprint for the treeline. Her heart felt like it was pounding harder than her feet. Passing through the trees a short distance, they reached an empty road. Sounds of battle behind them became slightly muffled, drawing away from where they were gathered.

There were multiple jeeps and trucks farther down the road. Did they keep the keys in the vehicles? Hopefully.

She started to follow after her companions before realizing their group was one short. Trotting to a halt, she searched for Flynn. There was no sign of him anywhere. About to call out to tell the others, she spotted movement from the corner of her eye. Among the batch of trees they'd come from she spotted numerous shadows.

“Guys! Look out!” she yelled in warning.

Bullets slammed into the dirt road, dangerously close to Sully and Nate's feet. Nate lifted his commandeered shotgun and fired in the direction of the shots. Four mercenaries emerged from the trees and he pulled off a second shot, knocking one of them over. Spreading out, two of the remaining three sent rapid-fire bullets at their feet, frighteningly accurate to where they were aiming.

Sully put up his hands, followed by Chloe. Reluctant, Nate did the same, dropping the shotgun on their order. She cautiously approached the others, hands up, and one of the mercenaries motioned her to keep moving to them.

“Get on your knees.”

The shotgun was kicked away and they were lined up side by side, raised hands interlocking behind their heads. Wonderful. Captured again. The escape lasted approximately five minutes. What were they going to do now?

A beep and static noise reached her ears from behind. She peeked over her shoulder a little and saw one of the soldiers using a radio.

“Boss. We got four of them on the road. Return to camp?”

More static. An agonizingly long moment of silence waiting for the response. Would he even answer? Last they left him, he was unconscious. A response did come.

“This is Navarro. Kill them.”

Oh my God... She stared openly at him where he paced in a line behind them. The mercenary clipped the radio to his belt and adjusted his rifle, lifting it to hip level. He ceased walking and spoke to the other two in their language. One responded in turn. All of them laughed lowly. Blood and brain spattered out of one side of his skull and he toppled sideways to the ground. Oh my God!

So fixed in trying to comprehend and prepare herself for her impending death, it took her a moment to realize a bullet had been the cause of the soldier's collapse. Another of Navarro's mercenaries stood a few yards away in the road, arm extended from when he fired his handgun.

“Traitor!” one of the mercenaries growled. “Get him!”

The mercenaries were struck by a hail of bullets, spasming before they fell. She gaped, equal parts terrified and traumatized. Three soldiers appeared on the road from the other side. More of Navarro's mercenaries. Among them she recognized Ilija, the kind one.

“What the hell?” Nate demanded. “Mind explaining what's going on?”

He nodded, patting a white strip of cloth tied around his left arm. “Look for the band. Some of us have decided to seek new employment.”

The fourth defected mercenary, who executed the man about to execute them, walked along behind. He gestured for them to rise. She stood up with the others, still wary of their current situation.

“We weren't paid anyway,” the mercenary said. “Son of a bitch.”

Popping something in his mouth, he starting chewing and kept on walking the path he was going, toward camp. Nate walked up to Ilija and the other soldiers. He was glaring, though he looked somewhat relieved too.

“You guys are turning on Navarro? Thought loyalty was important to you.”

Ilija confirmed this. “That is truth. But I cannot serve a man repugnant as he has shown himself to be.”

She was fairly confident they all knew to what he believed to be repugnant. That made her remember Flynn. He was missing. Elena wondered on the possibility he was recaptured, although a part of her strongly suspected he'd run off elsewhere on his own accord. He had reason to be full of rage.

“There they are!”

One of Navarro's mercenaries spotted them from a good distance away, but it wouldn't take long to close that distance. She really wished she had a gun of her own right now. She'd feel better if she could at least try to help defend against present danger.

“We've got them,” Ilija informed. “Go.”

He ran off with the other two soldiers, moving fast to intercept the vocal enemy who'd declared their position. She was hoping he would have left a gun or two behind just in case.

“Hey wait, you renegade!” shouted Nate. “Don't we get a gun or something?”

The leader of their small-scale rebellion was too far to hear them, but one of the soldier's trailing behind turned back. He appeared to be debating whether to respond in some way or not, and thankfully decided in their favor. Jogging over, the mercenary pulled a handgun from the back of his belt and held it out to Nate.

Nate accepted the weapon and checked the clip, readying the gun for firing. Meanwhile, the soldier had left to catch up with his comrades. Chloe made a discontented noise and Elena looked at her.

“Guys, where's Flynn?”

Sullivan glanced around them dourly. “Probably ran off, the slippery blockhead.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Sully, even if that were true, would you really blame him?”

He grimaced, looking away, so she placed her attention on Nate. “He's bound to be looking for revenge. Let's go get him.”

Initially he looked like he might protest or disagree, but then he held up the gun. “Not without some proper planning.”

Chloe immediately scoffed. “You? Plan anything?”

“Hey, I've got feelings.”

“Fine. So what's the plan exactly?” she asked.

Elena glanced from the female thief prodding for answers to the man supposedly about to provide them. She wasn't wrong. Nate was not usually big on planning in the moment. The second his plotting fell apart, he just sort of ran around and hoped whatever he was doing wasn't too stupid. Oh boy...

“Chloe, you get one of those jeeps running. Elena will go with you. Once we get back we're gonna need to make a quick exit.”

“No, I'm going with you,” she insisted.

“Elena-”

“Are we really going to stand here and argue? I'm coming. Let's stop wasting time and go get him. He's one of us now, isn't he?”

Sully was quick to reply. “Well, I wouldn't go that far.”

“Sully...” Nate began, irritation hinting in his tone.

“Yeah, yeah. Let's go.”

Separating from Chloe to head back into the chaos, the three of them hurried through trees toward camp. Beginning to emerge from the trees, they backtracked when a grenade exploded almost directly in their path. It was fired from a grenade launcher and appeared to have nearly hit them on accident. The weapon user hadn't been looking anywhere near their direction, peering pissed off in another direction before tossing the launcher and running. An accidental misfire maybe.

“Nate. Do you think he would go back to that tent?”

“Ehh... If Navarro's even still there,” Sully mentioned, doubtful.

They jogged away from the burning grass and sought a path into camp without imminent danger. Soldiers now seemed to appear fewer and farther between. There were bodies scattered about and while occasional gunfire could be heard somewhere in the near distance, here it had grown quiet. The fighting seemed to have moved outside of camp.

No longer needing to hide themselves but exercising caution regardless, they spread out from each other. They used their eyes to search, not daring to do something so stupid as to call out for Flynn. Elena suspected he returned to camp to go after Navarro, but at this point he could be anywhere in or out of the direct area.

“Get down!” Nate warned in a raised hush.

She got down behind a pair of crates, Sully and Nate finding their own spots to make themselves less visible. Two soldiers in gray uniforms ran by, heading in the opposite direction from where Elena and company entered camp. Once they were out of sight, they crept out of hiding.

“Where do you think they came from?” she wondered aloud, referring to a second force of soldiers appearing in the remote area in search of a couple thieves. She wasn't expecting an answer to it.

Nobody did answer her and they moved in silence. An unspoken decision had them making ground toward the last place they'd been held hostage. They didn't make it that far before they stumbled upon one of Navarro's mercenaries in a firefight with another two. The single mercenary had a white band on his arm. Ah, ally?

Nate seemed to think so because he jumped in and fired shots at the pair of loyalists. She was impressed by his ability to take action and not freeze up in this mess of a predicament. She was also impressed by his aim.

The soldiers fell and the one wearing a band to signify his defiant turn faced them. Staring a moment, he said, “Alright.”

It wasn't a thank you, but she supposed it was better than nothing. He didn't quite put his back to them when he turned away to shift his attention on something out of their line of sight. They slowly approached, trying to read the situation before them.

Elena thought she heard some noise behind her. Eyes scanning the somewhat dark area back there, she saw nothing. A duffel bag dropped maybe three feet in front, scaring the shit out of her. Flynn appeared over a short hill, walking up to the soldier standing sideways to pat him on the back.

“Thanks for the assist, mate.”

The man nodded in response and Flynn tracked the ground to seek out his bag. That was when he noticed them.

“Well hello there. Come to stop my aim on vengeance?”

Nate dismissed the inquiry. “I'd say yes, but it doesn't look like you're doing much avenging.”

“Nah. I tried to find and murder his ass. Navarro seems to have skipped town as it were.”

She noted he was surprisingly upbeat considering the events which transpired so far this night. Considering he also missed out on his chance for revenge... It seemed strange.

“This is Radomir,” he told them, indicating the mercenary beside him. “He actually didn't rape me. So I like him.”

Flynn spun on his heel and trotted back the way he came, returning a few short seconds later. In his grasp was a belt of grenades. The large tent where they'd been held earlier that night was to her right, and he made his own path to it. The mercenary watched him go and stooped to pick up the bag before following.

Nate followed after, not looking too pleased. If the sap was still in his system allowing him to heal, it might be affecting him mentally. There was no proof the sap changed anyone's mental state. They never knew the miracle of the sap itself existed until recently. But to her there was enough reason to be cautious around somebody with it in them. Especially since he would be the last one ever to be infected with the stuff. She refrained from telling Nate to be careful, but she stayed put.

“What are you doing with those?” asked Nate.

The question went ignored and he pulled the pin on one of the grenades. He tried to get into Flynn's face so he would listen. “Think this through, Flynn. What are you doing?”

He smiled at him. “Better put some distance from here, Drake.”

“What the hell do you need an explosion of that size for-?”

Flynn cut him off before he could finish. “I'm not letting anybody get their hands on a binder full of me.”

“Shit!” Sully swore and put a hand on her back. “Come on!”

The entire belt of grenades was thrown through the gaping entry into the tent. She ran with Sully, the rest following quickly to put as much distance between them and the explosion. They threw themselves to the ground before the proceeding shock wave could do it for them.

Dragging themselves from the ground, Nate helped her to her feet. She stared wide-eyed and out of breath at Flynn, watching him roll over to sit up on the ground. He glanced at his forearm, wiping uselessly at the scrapes there, slowly coloring red with blood.

“Do you even know if that binder was still in there?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Nope. Doesn't matter. This whole place can burn.”

“Good,” she sighed. “Good to know we're thinking rationally.”

Flynn's gaze dropped to his scraped up arm leaking blood. Bringing the arm to his mouth, he began lapping up the fluid with his tongue. Disturbing cause of the sap, or perceived practicality? Her hands went to her hips.

“You're not healing.”

“Astute observation, my dear. I am not. So tedious.”

Heavy on the sarcasm. She struggled not to sigh or roll her eyes, forcing her arms to hang at her sides, hoping to appear less confrontational or defensive. Now was not the time to let emotions flow freely.

His eyes bulged and he grabbed his magnum from his holster, squeezing off a shot she swore breezed frighteningly close to her ear. She stared in concern as he jumped to his feet, but then she heard a thud from behind. Whipping herself about, a soldier in black had fallen to his knees, clutching his shoulder. Flynn fired again, nailing him in the forehead and the mercenary fell dead on the ground.

“Well that was what I'd call a close encounter,” Sully pronounced, wiping sweat from his brow. “These guys can sneak up on a guy. Whew.”

Okay. She had about enough of almost dying. “Guys, pretty sure I speak for everyone when I say let's get the hell out of here.”

Chapter Text

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.”

“Uhh...”

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.

“I'm sorry.”

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.

“What?”

“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.

“Identify yourselves!”

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?”

“Yes.”

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.

“Mila.”

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.

Chapter Text

He meant it when he told Wolf he didn't have any family. His sister was dead to him. Growing up, she was never there when he needed someone to help. His mom was the sole person who he held in high regard, despite acknowledging she was rarely a mother to him. But it was his mom, and she had to battle an addiction.

Flynn remembered nights she would come in his room and scoop him into loving arms. Cradling him, she would cry herself to sleep, unstoppable weeping as she promised she would get better for her baby boy. One day, she swore, she would be a good mom. His father killed her before the drugs could. He was only ten when they died, and he'd already known she was never going to be better. But she couldn't help it. Evelyn, on the other hand...

Since Ilija discovered his sister with the other mercenaries, they'd decided to unite forces and travel together. One team abandoned their job and the other reached the end of theirs. Evelyn hired an entire crew of mercenaries to track him down after a decade of trying by her own means. From what he could make of it, Joe had been working with her to find him all that time. Now she was waiting at a hotel in the town ahead. That was where they went.

The path lay beyond him. He didn't have a choice. Well, he did. Sort of. But these hired people came a long way to seek him out, spent around two years scouring the whole planet. Kind of wondered whether they would have let him refuse going with them if he tried. While the last thing in the world he wanted to do was see his sister, Joe was here. A man who had been like a father to him during his time in a home for kids without parents. Someone who went out of his way to make certain he knew someone cared what happened to him. Joe he'd missed, and he owed him.

He shied away from a gloved hand seeking purchase on his shoulder. The mercenary pulled his hand back. Flynn looked around the hotel lobby. He caught Nate looking at him from the seating area where he waited with Sullivan and Elena. Now he was thinking about it, he wasn't sure why they were here.

Flynn turned to the soldier wanting his attention and listened.

“In there. 105.”

Letting out air he didn't realize he'd been holding in, he turned from the designated door. He couldn't do it. Last time he talked to Evelyn he was 27. Ended up taking a whole lot of pills to offset the pain he felt just being himself. Twelve years since the night he tried to forget his life through permanent means, twenty years since he tried to forget and leave behind his childhood. These were people he left behind for a reason.

He didn't give it a second thought and headed rapidly for the exit. If he could get a fix of some of that sap, maybe he'd feel right being around these people. The stuff was powerful. Never felt so good before tasting it. He could never get his hands on any of it again. Rarest of the rare. Squandered. Damn. His fingers grasped the door handle and he was tugged back.

The soldier named Josif was eyeing him accusingly. “Where are you going?”

“Back off.”

He caught the blonde reporter standing up from the armchair. “Are you trying to leave?”

“This is too heavy,” he said to her, actually beginning to feel that old and familiar, depressive weight settling upon his shoulders. “I've seen this as far as I want to take it. This is end of the road for me.”

“Like hell it is!” Nate shouted, jumping to his feet.

He was surprised by the outrage coming his way, out of the mouth of an enemy. Turned around, he made himself give an old friend his attention. The guilt was still there from when he tried to make Nathan go away, permanently.

“You keep acting like you want to die. You know what I think? I think you're trying to take the easy way out, trying to pay for your sins by dying.”

Hadn't he heard all this before? Flynn looked away, letting his eyes trail along the patterns on the wallpaper. He didn't want to hear this, but he resolved to hear him out. Reluctantly, in the past, he spent many a moment on self-reflection while being beaten or raped. Nobody could tell him anything he didn't already know.

“You used to be fun and carefree. You were never like this. Three years I didn't hear from you. Now you're angry, and selfish. What the hell happened to you?”

Nate tried to catch his eye. He shifted his own eyes firmly onto his shoes. He tugged his dirty shirt, trailing the hand to wipe at dirty jeans. He really felt like getting out of these clothes. Flynn forced his arms to hang limp by his side.

“We used to be friends. Then you fell off the map for years and came back a traitorous and greedy asshole. That's a lot of thieves, that was never you. I'm no saint, but I've spent my life trying to never fall into that hole, to never cross the line entirely. I love adventure and finding lost treasure, and I know I can take it way too far just to see things with my own eyes. Turning on your friends...”

His gaze lifted to the spot where he put a bullet through Nate's side. Given some time since pulling the trigger, he couldn't quite believe he had done it. There was a time when Nathan Drake was the only person who could make him feel truly happy and calm, and he tried to kill him.

Sinking. That's how he felt. He despised feeling helpless and hateful. When did this become his reality?

“You're not done. Running to somewhere else you can be reckless and probably get yourself killed? Not when actual family came looking for you. How can you walk away from that? If I had family left-”

Despondency flashed into anger. “But you don't! And neither do I.”

He turned and reached for the door handle only to find Josif barring his way.

“I am paid to bring you to your sister. I will drag you if I must.”

Furious he couldn't get out of the same room as these people staring, judging, he flipped around to give Nate a piece of his mind. He would tell him exactly what he thought.

“Sometimes there are no happy endings. Thieves don't die happy, you idiot,” he growled. “But if they're good enough, at least they'll be able to die rich.”

Unaffected by his fury, Nate was ready with what he wanted to say.

“It was you who brought me onto the museum job, and then turned on me. Maybe you were using me, maybe you got pissed about Chloe and me and got your revenge. Maybe. But you were genuinely happy to see me that day you came and found me. The Harry Flynn I first met and grew to know is not this guy standing in front of me.”

“You must not have known me at all,” Flynn bitterly claimed.

Right when it looked like Drake was going to call him on his bullshit, Joe did it for him. Flynn hadn't even heard the door to 105 open and close. Joe was standing there, his sister beside him. She had very straight hair cut just above the shoulders of the business suit she wore. A business suit. Out here. Clear blue eyes stared unflinchingly in his direction. The years must have been kind to her. She looked good.

“Harry,” began Joe, who wore a tight smile. “You were always an angry kid, pushing people away to hide whenever you were hurt or scared. You became exceedingly skilled at hiding yourself with lies, but you also continued to be one of the bravest kids I ever met.”

Flynn fell silent, face falling into a sullen but reluctantly cooperating expression. This man made him feel like a boy again. A dumb teenager who ran away from the boarding house all the time, convinced he could do better on his own. Someone who pretended to never be listening, but always heard.

“I suspected you'd run off for good one day because of that very bravery. And you did, soon as you aged out. Been blaming myself for letting you go since the day you were gone. I should have done more to make you realize you were never alone.”

Joe was a smart man, former military, who had it together extremely well. Growing up, he admired a man who accepted everything about his own self, good and bad. Now Nate was staring at him with a look of sympathy and desperation. What for?

He did remember the day Drake brought up. The day he tracked him down at the bar to share the museum job he needed help to pull off. He recalled how thrilled Nathan had been to see him, and how surprised Flynn was to receive such a warm welcome. For three years he forced himself to avoid Drake without a word passed between them. Sullivan warned him to stay away and he'd vowed to do as asked, knowing the older man was correct. Flynn brought trouble. Even though it made him mad that Sullivan was the same type, bringing trouble wherever he went, it kind of made his desire for him to keep away from Nate all the more logical. Nate didn't need two friends dragging him into dangerous situations.

With Joe and Evelyn in the same room, he knew he couldn't leave. So instead he tried to explain away why he'd become the man he was today. Someone had to understand him in and out, good and bad. He needed that more than anything he'd ever needed in his life.

“This can't be for nothing!” he proclaimed, secreting away his feelings revolving around being trapped.

Startled, Nate met his determined gaze. “What?”

“Pretty much my whole life's been stealing shit. It's all I've ever known,” he confessed. “You steal, you fuck, you get fucked over, you run, you steal, you maybe get to live in the calm for a while, and then you do it over again. That's the life.”

“What are you saying?” Drake asked in confusion.

“If I don't concentrate on the job, on the money...” Flynn trailed off for a moment, catching himself to where he was. “Then the dull ache comes back. The ache that I'm alone, unloved, and with nothing. I need the thrill of the mission, the nerves when there's trouble or danger, or the joy of a successful job done. Without it, I'm left alone with that terrible ache. I need this, okay?”

“Okay, Flynn. Okay.”

Nate replied to his confession like he was understanding. Flynn could tell he wasn't.

He was aware he was ranting. Speaking in a way even he didn't fully understand. But once everything came spilling out, he couldn't stop it. He spent so much of his time hiding, that revealing a single, deep truth opened the floodgates.

“It can't be for nothing. This life, I need to find the things that make me feel good while I'm alive. It's all I've got.”

“But you don't have to leave to do it. You have family right here.”

“What do you care, mate? You hate me.”

“I don't like you,” Nate admitted. “But I don't hate you. I mean, I'm ticked you shot me, but I also know why you did it. We both thought we were protecting Chloe. We both did what we thought we had to do.”

“I was wrong,” Flynn made himself choke out, before he became a coward and refused to acknowledge the terrible thing he'd done to someone he used to care about.

Evelyn spoke for the first time. “That's what I'm here for, Harry.”

He didn't want to look at her or speak to her. She wasn't family, even if she was trying to pretend to be. She gave up her right to call herself that a long time ago.

When he didn't pay her any attention, eyes reverting back to his shoes, she explained what she meant.

“I became a psychiatrist, Har,” she told him. “Growing up in our house, knowing I couldn't do anything, I devoted to helping people. I specialize in victims of abuse. I would like for us to talk.”

“Are you trying to tell me you came all the way out here, searched the world and hired a team of mercenaries, to put me in therapy?”

“When you called that night, sounding messed up, it woke me up, Har. It was like a light came on in front of me and I could see what I'd done. I forgot about my baby brother. I left him alone in that house so many times. You could have died. If you hadn't grown up far too quickly and learned how to keep yourself alive, you wouldn't be standing here today. I am so, so sorry for abandoning you. I was so worried about protecting myself and getting to someplace better, I became a horrible sister in the meantime.”

“Glad you found your catharsis, sis,” he said, utilizing the term with much sarcasm. “But it looks like your intelligence could use some work if you decided to leave your lucrative and legitimate career behind to end up in this shithole. Where the hell are we anyway?”

“You know what catharsis means, Flynn?”

“Shut up, Drake.”

Evelyn cleared her throat sternly, crossing her arms over her chest. “I found you to make sure I don't fail as your sister ever again. Searching for you all these years, picking up your trail and learning of things that happened to you... Things that happened because you were alone with no one to care. You need help, before you self-destruct.”

“I'm not doing a therapy session with you, Evelyn. You can't fix me with talking.”

His sibling got straight to the core of him then. “How much do you actually tell the truth these days, Harry? From experience with a lot of patients who come to me out of helplessness, desperation, exasperation, and so on, a single session of just talking, getting it all out there and admitted aloud, can make a huge difference. It's like a weight lifted off their shoulders and they're seeing more clearly. It will help you. I know it.”

He shook his head. “Not doing it. I don't trust you, and I hate you.”

The look on his sister's face made him wish he could take back the last part. She appeared on the verge of tears.

“If you can't forgive me, then at least let me do right by you for once in my life.”

“Talk to me instead, Harry.” Elena suggested out of nowhere. “An interview, off the record. After everything you've done, you owe us. Do it and you can do whatever you want after, even if it means leaving on your own. Okay?”

“Please, Harry,” pleaded Nate. “Family doesn't always make you feel good, but they're there for you, especially when it's not easy. She's trying.”

Flynn muttered a quick goodbye while he opened the front door of the hotel, Josif keeping out of his way. He didn't even want to begin to imagine the kind of questions which might come up.

“She's not the only one,” Nate added. “I know you don't want to give up.”

He breathed in, then out, and let the heavy door fall shut. Glancing Nathan's way, he put up a hand toward him as he started rapidly walking to the foreboding door of 105.

“Not a word, Drake. Keep your damn mouth shut.”

“Promise!” the man agreed, far too cheerful.

He passed his sister and Joe without looking at either one of them, but reached a hand out to poke the aforementioned man in the shoulder.

“Stay with me?”

“You know it.” Joe replied.

Resigned, Flynn took a few short breaths before going into the room. They were right. He didn't want to leave. But he didn't know how to stay. He hoped with everything left in him, this would be enough for them. Forget them. He hoped this would be enough for himself.

* * * * *

Nate crept to the closed door and pressed his ear against the wood. Seconds earlier, Flynn, Elena, Joe, and Evelyn went in the room together. The discussion occurring inside was meant to be a private affair, but he planned to hear any part of it possible. Flynn used to be his friend. Learning he had a sister and a guy like Sully that looked out for him as a kid, revived his past fascination concerning the British man.

Muffled voices could be heard from the other side. He couldn't quite make out what was said. It sounded like Flynn was being argumentative, tone seeming harsh and affronted toward somebody else in the room. He flattened his entire body against the door and then slide along to press into the wall beside the door, hoping it would somehow be more hollow. Nothing said in there was coming out clear.

“Ah, come on...” he murmured, straining to listen harder.

Beside him, Sully sidled up and joined him at the wall. Glancing about for a moment, he mimicked Nathan's posture and tried to listen to what he could from inside the room as well.

“Can you hear anything?” Sully asked after a moment.

“Not really. You?”

“Nah.”

A throat cleared itself from a couple feet away. Sheepishly, he and Sullivan pulled back from the wall and turned around to face who was trying to get their attention. While Ilija, Josif, and a couple other mercenaries lingered in the lobby, they were paying them no mind. Two female mercenaries, however, stood facing them with hands on their hips.

“Minding our own business, gentlemen?” asked the woman sporting a boyish haircut.

While he noticed now that she was attractive in her own right, the soldier next to her was unmistakably gorgeous. The hot one from the road. Ilija had a hot sister. He imagined she must be one hell of a character and fighter to never take any comments from the men with which she consorted. When his gaze inevitably started to track downward, he forced it to remain eye level out of respect.

“Still hanging around, ladies?”

“It's Isidora,” the short-haired woman mentioned. “She is Mila.”

Nate nodded. “Right.”

“Might be in your interest to know,” Isidora began, before he interrupted her.

“That we should wait outside? Fine, fine. We're going.”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Make assumptions often, Mr. Drake?”

Mila slowly brought a hand up and pointed with two fingers to the door next to 105. “We bought out the hotel. Inside the rooms, the walls are very thin.”

Nathan blinked at her. “Very...”

“Thin. You can hear everything.”

After that revelation, four people ventured into the next room for some eager eavesdropping duty. The pair of mercenaries seemed to be equally interested in hearing what was going to come out in the “interview” Elena was to conduct. Sure enough, Elena's voice could be heard as if she were mere yards away, no wall between them.

“And we can work together to get out of this part of the world after. Come clean about your past, about yourself, and finally get past it.”

“What do you know?” Flynn's voice was heard, curt and assured.

“I know enough, Harry,” the voice belonging to his sister informed. “I want you to have friends, even if you think you don't need them. Because you do. We all need friends or people we can go to with our troubles.”

“Just give it a try, Harry,” Joe said, words carrying through the wall to their ears. “An hour tops and you're out of here.”

“Not like I have much choice,” the professional thief complained. “More people making me do-”

“You self-sabotage,” accused Joe. “The only way you won't blow it intentionally so these people you've found will leave you or so you can leave, is if they know the real you. If they understand you, I have faith you won't be alone.”

A heavy sigh from Flynn. “What do you think Elena's going to find out that could possibly change her view of me? I pointed a gun at her. Had orders to kill her.”

“I'm a doctor specializing in abuse cases. I've worked with hundreds of men and women, even children, who face abuse in their daily lives or lived it in their youth,” Evelyn shared. “You look at Mr. Drake like you did our parents as you got older and were learning how abnormal it was to be living the way we did. Sometimes going so hungry we ate toothpaste for the flavor of something. The majority of the time you look at that man like he's used you, like he doesn't care.”

“Evelyn..don't.”

But she went on. “And I strongly suspect you've been abused, physically or sexually. It's highly likely to be both. I don't know precisely when, or where, or by whom, not with any factual proven certainty. But for all your bravado and smiles, I can see your pain. It's a deep pain. Many of my patients bore the same look in their eyes. Please, use this opportunity and give honest answers to Elena's questions. You are my brother, and I'm afraid you're nearing the point where irreparable bad will happen if something doesn't change.”

“So much time apart, for a lecture. Congratulations. You fail as both family and friend. Still glad you came all this way?”

Chapter Text

“Har...”

“Yeah, yeah. Let's get this over with. Ask away, Elena. Don't be surprised if you don't like what you hear.”

“First question. Why did these two people have to track you around the globe? She obviously still loves you. Why go so far away from your sister and never talk to her?”

Flynn scoffed. “Don't be shy.”

“I can answer that one,” Evelyn interrupted before the snark could really get started. “Since my brother is clearly depressed and deflecting with unkind words and behavior.”

“Ugh. Stop saying things like that. Obviously. Clearly. It's obnoxious!”

Evelyn's stern tone reset the deviating conversation. “Our parents were drug addicts. Like any drug addict, they cared more about where their next fix was coming from than anything else. This included their own kids. We were neglected. My father would hurt my brother whenever he got angry or frustrated. While I became self-driven as a result, Harry turned to the streets and petty crime. My parents essentially abandoned us before they ever died, and I abandoned him. I didn't mean to. I just never gave it much thought until it was too late and he was gone.”

“Do you know why Dad picked me?”

The expected clinical answer began to emerge from her lips. “Often abusers will select who they deem to be the weaker child, a perceived favorite, or-”

“No,” Flynn interjected. “Dad hit me because he saw himself in me. And he hated who he'd become.”

Her voice came soft, apologetic. “Oh Harry, I'm sorry. I didn't know. I spent most of my life pushing myself to become grounded, successful, better than our parents. I refused to be anything like them, tried to forget that life altogether, focused on school, career, me. I left you behind. I left my own brother alone. Harry, I am so, so sorry.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“I was in a library studying when Mom died. God, Harry...”

Flynn sounded amused, a hint of laughter in his tone. “Our childhood was miserable. You steered clear and avoided the damage. I thought I had to take it. So I did. And now, my life consists of chasing down every temporary joy. That's how I live. It's an alright life.”

“You felt you deserved it?” asked Elena.

“No. I knew it wasn't normal to come to school with bruises, but I knew it was up to me to get through it. I became about me because I was the one who took care of myself as a kid. I made sure I didn't starve to death.”

Evelyn sounded surprised all of a sudden. “Har, your scar. You had a little scar right there by your mouth...”

“Oh. Yeah. Gone,” came the reply. “Long story.”

“We can talk about that story later,” Elena said. “This is my time for questions, Dr. Flynn.”

“Of course. Sorry.”

“Why did you stop talking to Nate? You were friends. Then you seemed to disappear for years. Nate said you would meet up at least once a year for a while, and then nothing. He doesn't know why. So why?”

Discomfort was evident while Flynn gave his answer. “I was told to stay away. Victor Sullivan told me to. So I stayed away from the one guy who seemed to get me.”

“But you found him again.”

“About three years after that, yeah. I had to do this job and he was the only one I could think of who could get through the museum security.”

“You already knew things about the job, things you pretended not to know.”

“I knew exactly what I was looking for.”

“I had to do this job,” Evelyn clarified. “That's what you said.”

“So?”

Elena seemed to pick up on what the other woman was curious about. “For money? Were you in debt?”

“I'm always in debt.”

“Is this why you had to do the job with Lazarevic?”

Silence. Nate pressed his ear against the wall, like that would help.

“Harry?”

“There's someone who thinks I owe them, yes.”

“Okay... Let's talk about someone else. Tell me about Victor Sullivan.”

“Nothing to say, sweetheart.”

“He doesn't like you.”

“Don't sugarcoat it, doll.”

Elena breathed in slow, releasing the air just as slowly. “You don't seem to harbor much fondness for him either. What's the deal?”

They weren't kidding. The walls were thin.

“Fine. You want reasons? I don't like Sullivan because he doesn't like me,” Flynn informed. “I don't like him because he's a hypocrite who holds something against me for living the same way he does. I don't like him for giving Drake someone to look after him like a father's supposed to. And I don't like him for being right.”

Joe spoke. “I... We had... I tried-I thought... I don't know what I thought.”

“You do,” said Flynn. “You were. I mean, you still are. Well, if you don't want anything to do with me anymore, I'd understand.”

“Harry, I never wanted you to go. Of course I care. I'll help you any way I can.”

“So you think I'm messed up too. You think-”

“We're getting off track,” Elena claimed.

Evelyn disagreed. “I think we should hear him out.”

“He's only going to get angry,” said Elena. “Joe cares about Flynn, Flynn cares about him. Got it. The boys can get over themselves elsewhere. For now, I want to know why you think Joe would have nothing to do with you.”

“For leaving.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“Come on,” she persisted.

“Because I'm not a good person. I was never a good person. How can anyone want someone like me around?”

“Nate did.”

“Huh?”

“Doesn't take a genius to know the two of you were good friends once. For him to get as angry and determined to get to you and beat you to the treasure... You don't act like that to someone who means nothing. And I know Nate enough to know it isn't pure hate.”

“Yeah, well, it's one-sided.”

Elena actually laughed. “I don't believe you.”

There was anger in his tone. “I don't have to take this.”

“You do if you want us to let you go and not turn you over to the first authority we come across.”

“You wouldn't. Dear old sis would never let you.”

“Dear old sis”, sounded disgusted. “If you don't tell the truth, if you can't be helped, rehabilitation might be best.”

When Flynn responded, he seemed equally disgusted. “Never show weakness, never trust fully. I should have known better than to talk to you about anything. You wouldn't help me then, and you won't help me now.”

“Calm down, Harry,” Joe ordered.

“I'm usually relaxed, even when I'm afraid or angry,” he told them. “You know, shake it off or risk losing my mind. But some situations are unbearable.”

“You're not talking about now,” said Joe, knowingly.

Nate could practically hear the shrug from beyond the wall.

“I attract more predators than usual.”

“Harry,” Evelyn confessed. “The mercenaries dug up a lot of past thefts you likely committed. Some people who were hurt or even killed, with you as the suspect. There were some old cases they uncovered where you were the victim. Several of these cases were...”

“I don't want to talk about that.”

“It's not a secret to these people, right?” she pointed out. “Elena and the others know you were physically and sexually abused by the soldiers and Navarro. You almost died. They know your previous employer also physically abused you and made threats.”

“Shut up!” Flynn yelled. “These people don't need to know every single shit thing that happened to this asshole.”

“Harry-”

“I can't even count how many times I've been raped anymore. I used to keep count. But you know, that was back when I thought it might matter. Some of the ones who did it were my own fucking friends! I don't know why I thought it'd ever matter. Can't remember why I thought it'd ever change. It doesn't matter how strong I am, how fast I can run, how hard I can hit. If someone has power over you... It's like once you get raped, you got a fuckin' sign on your forehead saying, 'Hey, fuck me. Not like I can report it, being a criminal and all.' And people have done it before and nobody's gonna give a damn about some asshole thief.”

Strangely, he followed his breaking speech with a genuine laugh. “I talk too much. I want to stop hurting from the memories I can't bury in my mind. I want to die, but I'm too afraid to do it alone. And I don't want to die. I'm a coward.”

Evelyn choked out her next words. “I'm so sorry... Maybe if I would have been there for you...”

“I don't need your goddamn pity!”

“It's okay to hate the ones who hurt you like that,” Elena told him. “But you don't have to feel alone. I know you feel very alone. You don't have to be.”

“Nobody stays with me for long,” Flynn confessed. “What did I do to deserve so much suffering? I must have done something to have so many people use me. My price to pay for no one caring about me, for leaving the one person who did. I get to be alone.”

“You might feel bad or guilty, Harry,” Joe said. “That's okay. Most of us feel that way at some point. We feel responsible for our actions, and we are. We are also allowed to forgive ourselves. Some things we have to do. Some things in the moment, we feel what we are doing is okay. Two decades gone by and I know now I still know you, kid. You still only kill for protection.”

An awful quiet fell in the room next door. Nate straightened away from the wall and shifted his eyes over to Sully. As though the silence was too unbearable, Flynn's cracking voice filled the void.

“The only consistency in my life, has been me, and that people will take advantage of me if I let them.”

“What do you hate about Nathan?” Elena inquired. She sounded like she might have been crying.

There was a long moment of quiet before the answer came, spoken soft. “I hate that he's a better man than me.”

“Oh.”

Nathan could tell she hadn't meant for the surprised sound to escape. He frowned at Sullivan, who was looking away from him, arms folding across his chest.

Flynn continued his answer. “I hate that his love for history can border on obsessive.”

“Border on?”

Nate couldn't stop his eyes rolling in his skull. He loved history and the hunt for discovery. So sue him.

“Elena, shh,” Evelyn scolded in a loud whisper.

“I hate how self-righteous he is and I hate how his inability to truly trust someone rivals my own. I hate how he reminds me of me. I hate that he liked me. I hate him.”

Evelyn asked, “What do you like about him?”

“Aw shit. For all the above.”

“You have to remember compassion for yourself, Harry,” his sister pressed.

“Evie-”

“Listen. Please. You're ashamed of your fears but nearly every single person on this planet has the very same fears. Nobody caring, sexual assault, dying alone... Guess what, Harry, you're normal. Well, normal as anybody really is. We all spend our lives learning how to get by.”

“I've spent my whole life learning how to survive. Anytime I can find something to enjoy I'm gonna do it. Any opportunity to get a better place in life, I'm there. There's nothing else out there when it's just you.”

“You're going to want to resist this, but please, repeat after me. Indulge me, if nothing else.”

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

“I'm not sure I believe-”

“Har, please.”

A sigh. “God grant me the-uh...”

“Serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

“Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” he murmured.

“The courage to change the things I can.”

He repeated the words.

“And the wisdom to know the difference.”

He repeated her exact words again obediently, but didn't say them with any certainty.

“You can't heal our parents, can't change how they failed us. But you can forgive them.”

“I forgave mom a long time ago. I won't forgive him.”

“It's time. It's been nearly three decades. How long are you going to let a dead man haunt you? You can choose a life for yourself that isn't hindered by what already happened in your past. But to do that you have to let go of the past. Accept it's over and done.”

Quiet, and then, “I live my life on my terms. When someone hurts me, I move on.”

“Physically. Mentally, you are pushing it down. You're pretending you haven't been harmed, pretending you are okay and don't need anyone when it is a lie.”

“Night to day. I prefer night cause it's easier to hide myself at night.” A heavy sigh as he gave in to what she was saying. “I can't change what they did. I can change what I do after.”

“That's right. Your entire life is what you do with your circumstances.”

“Right. You don't forget, you just move on. A woman very dear to me once, she told me that. I've been trying to forget because it hurts to remember. If I think on what those men did to me for too long, if I spend too much time seeing in my head, Dad killing Mom, how afraid she was..for me... I want to go.”

“Harry, no,” Evelyn pleaded.

“No. I mean I want to be alone. I have to-just-” He stopped stumbling through his words in favor of a new thought. “How can you forgive him? How can you forgive anyone who has done someone else irreparable harm?”

“Because I know what it feels like to hurt someone like that. It's what I did to you. If I continue to blame myself, I would never be able to forgive myself. And forgiveness is something everyone needs.”

“Yeah. You make it sound easy. I've told you more than enough personal crap about me. I need some air. Some air that's not here.”

Rapid footsteps and a door opened and closed. Nathan turned toward the door to their own room and hesitated only a moment before heading for the door to leave. He heard someone following behind him but didn't bother to look and see whom. Slinking into the dark hallway, he kept mostly behind a wall as he once again found himself listening in on other people talking.

“The will is everything,” Ilija said to Flynn, the two of them standing among the furniture in the lobby. “You are a determined spirit. Hold on to that when it feels right.”

Nate looked on in mild bewilderment when the man gave his bit of wisdom and then strolled off to go outside. He realized the other soldiers weren't anywhere in the lobby anymore. He saw who had come out of the room with him when she walked over to the couch. Flynn had taken a seat on it once the mercenary left.

Sitting beside him, she held out her hand to shake.

“Mila.”

“Huh?” he uttered, not noticing her presence until she'd spoken. “Oh. I remember. What do you want?”

“Your name would be nice.”

“You know all about me already. I saw the binder your people put together.”

“It is customary to exchange names. What do you prefer to be called?”

“Flynn.”

“Understood. I want you to have this, Flynn.”

Nathan peered around the wall to see better. She was giving him a necklace.

“Is this gold? You can't give this to me.”

She pushed it back to him, closing his fingers around it as she did.

“No one should be without hope. This is a charm believed to protect the wearer. It's a moon. There are many a tale which say the moon watches over us. Let it remind you there is always hope.”

“I can't accept such a gift. We're strangers. This is too nice.”

“Yes. It is a very nice gift. And I am giving it to you.”

Relenting, he let the hand clasping the necklace fall onto his lap. “Then I guess, thank you.”

“You're welcome. It was very brave what you did, talking from your heart. I must confess, I was listening.”

“Oh great. Well, what's yet another person knowing my business. Nothing new these days.”

“Mm... We will forever keep the people we love inside ourselves,” Mila told him. “Your mother is here.”

Nate watched her raise her hand to place against Flynn's chest, where the heart resided. “Your mother, your sister, Joe, and I think maybe that man.”

Confused, he asked, “Who?”

“Mr. Drake.”

“Huh?” Nate let out of his mouth before he even knew it was coming.

Flynn spun around, spotting where he stood partially hidden by the wall. The rest of him was plain to see. Frozen a second too long, Nathan twitched and thought to move. He tried to slink the rest of the way behind the wall, until everyone else somehow decided now was the time to exit their respective rooms. Stuck where he was, he just stood exposed, unsure where he could go.

“No,” Flynn quickly said, turning back to Mila. “No way. You're mistaken.”

“Definitely!” Nathan chimed in.

The mercenary put her hand on his forearm. “Why him? Mr. Drake. It was only after he spoke to you that you agreed to do something you didn't want to do. Why him?”

Isidora leaned over Nate's shoulder, scrutinizing the pair on the couch. “What is it? Making new friends?”

“Shhh,” Evelyn whispered. “He's talking nicely to a stranger. We're making progress.”

“Yeah,” Nate added. “Not a snark in sight.”

“I can hear you!” Flynn called out, avoiding a turn to look at any of them probably from embarrassment or annoyance.

“I will give you a room key. You can get away from prying eyes. At least for a while,” Mila shared and squeezed his arm gently. “Remember hope, and remember it is our responsibility to tell the truth to our friends.”

Chapter Text

As the weeks passed by, Flynn changed from sullen and withdrawn, to cheerful and amused. Nathan was eighty percent certain it wasn't an act. His old friend Joe had given him a small radio the day after his talk with Elena and his sister, and most hours were spent alone listening to music. Other times, he actually tried to be a part of the group, laughing at jokes and smiling earnestly. Nate liked to see this real side of a former partner.

Once the first few days were through, they had to move on. Wolf and Isidora spent much of the time on watch, walking the perimeter they'd determined, and this allowed them to come across one of their own. He was dead, a fresh kill as the body was yet warm. They informed Nate and the rest that the kill had likely been done by a scout. Navarro and whatever remnants remained of his loyal hired guns had decided to pursue.

They moved by night, bypassing more obvious rest locations in favor of small towns off the beaten path. It seemed to be working. Perimeter guard continued to report zero signs there were other mercenaries snooping around the area. Nate and Sully viewed the erratic traveling as an opportunity for a paid vacation. Flynn's sister was footing the bill at her insistence. He knew she wasn't in a particular hurry to get home, when by leisurely moving toward that destination, it gave Flynn time to recover in mind.

Flynn was most comfortable in Joe's presence. Sometimes he would bring his radio out and sit with the older man, together quietly listening to songs. They used to do this while he lived at the boarding house. Right now, Joe was sitting outside the front of their hotel, listening to the radio and sipping a drink. He thought Flynn must have been there not long before for his prized item to be here without him.

He glanced behind him, no sign of Elena in sight. They were back together. At least he made the assumption that was the case. Neither one of them explicitly said they were, but they were acting like old times again. She was trusting of him, holding his hand, and joking. If Elena hadn't returned with Sully and Evelyn from checking out the shops, might as well make himself busy.

“Afternoon, Joe. You got the time to be hanging around here? Going on a month now. Aren't there more lost kids waiting back home for you?”

The bearded man eyed him up, still leaned back in his chair. “Know something about being a lost kid, Mr. Drake?”

“Nate, Nathan, or Drake. Please don't call me mister.”

“Never did an honest job in your life, did you?”

Pleased, he sat down across from the man. “You can give as good as you can take. Like you already.”

“Victor's not your father. When did he take you in?”

He waved off the idea. “Sully doesn't think he's my dad. He watches my back, taught me the tricks of the trade. Well, ones I didn't already know.”

“Bet you were pretty young when he found you. Yup, not an honest day's work.”

Nate threw up his hands. “What, is this your military background that's making you so curious? What's the deal here?”

Joe leaned across the table and switched off the music. He reclined back in his chair, looking him in the eye. His arms folded over his chest.

“You know something about being on your own, finding someone you can relate to and get along with. You can figure out the next move together with this person. You can understand why I can't leave.”

Not knowing what was okay to say, he asked, “When did you guys meet?”

“He was ten, I was ten years older. Fresh out of the military, not sure if I was going back in or staying out. Found myself working at a place of lost souls for my rehabilitation, as they called it. Wasn't there long before Harry was sent to boarding, having lost his parents. He was an empty kid. I resolved to be a solid status in this child's life. I could see solid was something he never saw in his life.”

Nate made a conscious effort not to squirm in his seat. He wanted to know the personal stuff. But it was still all too new and often uncomfortable, to be learning such private information concerning Harry.

“Always tried to make his situation better for himself, never quite succeeded. He was drawn to unsavory types. I speculated the reasoning, his sister agreed with me when I sought her out and shared it almost ten years ago. He didn't think he deserved the attention of good people, so he aligned himself with the wrong kind. I hated how much time he spent sneaking out of the group home to meet with juvenile delinquents in the making. But I understood it. A lot of those kids on the street were from similar situations, only their nightmares hadn't been ended by a Glock 45 to the temple.”

“You know, I would be considered one of those..delinquent kids when I was young. Is here the moment where you give me the speech about how I'm not good enough for Harry? You gonna ask me to leave?”

Joe continued like he never said anything, concentration on his own thinking.

“No matter what I did, I knew he was going to leave one day. He didn't believe he could be loved by anyone. But I loved him, and I cared about him. It's why I'm here now.”

It sounded like he was being given the same speech. His guard stayed up while he sat there, listening impatiently. He was nervous. Joe was the quiet and serious type. Talking and testing him kept Nathan feeling suspicious and uncertain.

“It's tough having a kid his age with his background in a group home, in the system. Nobody adopts a kid like that.”

“Too old?” he guessed.

“Part of it, sure. It's not what I mean. Nobody wants a damaged kid.”

He didn't think he wanted to keep trying to figure out what Joe was saying.

“He was quick to anger, skilled at lying, brave, and he didn't feel a single drop of remorse for shooting his father in the head. Quiet too. This constant talking of his is new to me. Missing the scar on his lip. Reminder of his abusive father. I suppose it's a gift to be gone.”

“Look, do you want me gone too? Is that what this is about?”

Joe shook his head and a small smile appeared on his solemn face. “No. No, I don't want you to go.”

He stood from the table. “I think you're good for the boy. You remember that.”

Turning around, he walked away to go inside the hotel. That left Nathan with his thoughts. It wasn't very long when three soldiers exited the doors behind him. The gorgeous lady passed him by without so much as a glance in his direction. He wasn't so fortunate with the other two, who decided to stop and sit at the table with him. He looked both ways on the road, searching for any sign of Elena. Nothing.

Isidora patted the top of the radio. “Where's Flynn?”

Nate shrugged. “I'm not his keeper.”

The woman made a humming noise, like she didn't agree. He squinted across the table at the other one.

“Feel any eyes on us, Wolfy?”

“Wolf.”

“Mhm. Do you?”

He didn't answer right away, which wasn't inspiring confidence in him. When he did, it was noncommittal.

“Could be. Do you even trust?”

“Trust?” he queried. “Trust you? I don't trust easy.”

The female mercenary leaned back in her chair, resting her legs upon the table. “That's no.”

Wolf shrugged. “My team will not be staying with your people much longer.”

“Why are you still here then? The money from a psychiatrist can't be that good.”

“It's enough for what was required of us. And Mila has taken to Mr. Flynn. We stay for her, but soon we will leave.”

Nathan tapped his fingers on the table's smooth surface. He peered out toward the road again, willing Elena to appear. She didn't and the woman ended the silence.

“Our team is former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia defense fighters, security brought in during the Kosovo War. Four years we fought against the Liberation Army, until the war ended in 1999. During that time, there was a campaign of retribution which targeted and killed thousands of people, civilians and soldiers. We forced many more out of the country, from their homes. There were mutilations, murders, rapes, arson; all committed by Serbian forces. But plenty of soldiers like us, opposed our comrades brutal war crimes.”

He grimaced. “Why are you telling me this?”

“When we left, we vowed to work for only the best-intentioned employers, primarily focusing our efforts on helping those who would fight for freedom or needed to find family. Mila's brother was scarred too much by the wars; he did not choose to share in our peaceful aims. All of us accepted Dr. Flynn's request for help over a year ago. After unsuccessfully conducting searches for the doctor's brother, we determined to locate you. You have a reputation for finding difficult things, and a connection to him.”

“Okay...”

She paused, removing her legs from the table to sit up proper. “I wonder if you would allow me to hire you. There is a treasure I seek.”

Immediately he started waving his arms in front of his face. “No. No way. I am so done with hunting treasure for at least a year!” A momentary hitch in his throat, and he added, “Or at least half a year.”

“It's a legend Mila has obsessed over for a very long time. I want to help her resolve this, if I can.” Isidora bent forward, as though conspiring. “It is her unfinished business. Surely you understand what that must feel like, yes?”

His hand automatically rose to grasp the ring hanging on his neck. Her gaze followed his touch and he made himself release the personal treasure in favor of gripping both knees. He'd been proven with El Dorado that it wasn't always peachy to find what you thought you were looking for.

“Sorry, but Elena needs somebody right now. We're going to find someplace to take things easy for a while.”

The mercenary nodded once. “I understand.”

“Plus, you know, recovering from a gunshot wound. I'm extraordinary, so you can't tell. But..still healing.”

“Yes. Then, we will soon be going our separate ways.”

Nathan agreed. He just hoped no one was going to get hurt before they got out of town.

* * * * *

“Thought you could hide away in a public place?”

Flynn groaned but a smirk crept across his face before he could put a muzzle on it.

“In plain sight and all that. Plus, I was relieved to find this place actually has a business booming.”

Confusion came over her face. “Boom?”

“Uh, a lot of people here. Surprising. Must come from the outer areas for the entertainment.” He gestured toward the stage on the other side of the hollowed out basement, where a young woman was singing quietly while her friends jeered for her to be louder.

She seemed to be thinking on his words. A thoughtful expression appeared. “You like the music.”

He shrugged. “Yes, yes I do.”

“Your mother loved music too.”

Flynn straightened from his spot leaning against the bar-top to go find a table. Mila followed. The woman belted out the last words of the song and then shouted at her friends what sounded like expletives if he had to guess. She hurried off the stage.

“Wolf okay with how much time you've been spending with me?”

She smiled. “You are important to me. And the others are very skilled. Also, I think they don't always know, thinking you are alone.”

“Ah yeah, well, I usually am.”

She gave him a look, disapproving. “Still feel alone when you are surrounded by people who care?”

“I wouldn't say surrounded, and no. I'm alright.”

“The way you carry yourself. You are so strong. Your sister, she is strong too. It wasn't often like that for her once. She pretended not to see what happened to you when you were children, because it was easier. But she broke her heart doing it. Will you forgive her one day?”

He shook his head, sitting at a table near the front recently vacated by the rowdy group of karaoke singers. A sly grin came on his face as he sat looking at her. She asked this question a lot.

“She was the first person to let me down. When you're a kid that kind of shit sticks.”

Mila tilted her head questioningly. His look when he said those words was probably puzzling. He tried to tone down the smirk while he reached into his back pocket. Taking the photograph, he pushed it across the table.

“Fortune, like the moon,” she read. “Harry, the moon necklace I gave you.”

“Ah come on. Fate?” He refrained from touching the necklace worn under his shirt.

Conscious of where her stare was directed, he zipped up the leather jacket retrieved from his duffel bag he managed to salvage out of Navarro's camp nearly a month ago. This one was blue, unlike his previous red one. It wasn't lost on him the red oni, blue oni implications. After London, he was ruled by passion, defiance, and in all likelihood, some kind of psychosis. Now he was beginning to feel he was running more on serenity, control, and stoicism. Flynn wanted a true purpose. Was there even such a thing?

“She called me her moon, light of her life. Evelyn was her sun, brightening her day. But maybe I was just being a stupid kid. Maybe we never really meant much of anything to her.”

“Harry, we can never do anything for our past. We can't change what other people do.”

Flynn signaled the waitress and ordered beers for them. Mila seemed to get shy out of nowhere after looking at his eyes for too long. The woman turned sideways in her chair and fidgeted with the strap of the dress she was wearing. Joe insisted on buying it for her at the market the other day. If she was uncomfortable, why wear the thing?

“Listen, I overheard Wolf, Boro, and that other woman...”

“Wolf's real name is Vuk. It was Senka. That is her name. Don't worry what you might have heard.”

The names flitted through his mind and were gone. There was a good chance he wouldn't remember them even a minute from now because his focus was elsewhere. She was going for reassuring, but Flynn wasn't buying.

“What I heard was Navarro's trying to kill Drake. He's still on to us and tried the other day by sending a guy with a sniper rifle.”

“He blames Nathan Drake. It's true. But I mean it when I tell you not to worry. We're working on getting a flight out of the area. There's a bigger city not far from here where we can get a private plane. It won't be much longer. We avoid confrontation until then.”

“This is my fault. I never should have made any deal with Navarro.”

Mila accepted the bottle of beer from the waitress and took a sip. “What did I say?”

“Uh...”

“What did I say?”

Sighing, he remembered her words of wisdom for him. “Never can do anything for the past.”

“Don't you forget it.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

He grabbed up his own beer and gulped half of it down in one go. It felt nice to relax and not have everything feel so heavy.

Mila was staring again.

“What?”

“Nothing,” she replied, averting her eyes to survey the rest of the room.

He stood up when he noticed Joe coming over. “What are you doing here?”

“Heard this was where you two were. And,” he raised up the guitar in his hand. “I'm going to play a song.”

Flynn laughed softly. “I still can't believe you brought that thing all the way out here.”

“I bring this thing everywhere. It's good for my peace of mind.”

“Want a beer?”

“Nah. Come on, kid. You know the song.”

“Huh?”

Did he mean..? Dang he was astute picking up on his listening habits of late. They listened to the same song a couple times together, but, he knew it meant something to him. The words had struck a chord.

“Hell, no. I'm not getting up there.”

“Yeah, you are.” Joe grabbed the hand he extended to reach for his beer. “Up you go.”

Tugged to his feet, he whined, “What for?”

Joe grinned. “Peace of mind.”

“Go on, Harry. Impress me.”

He looked at her in surprise. Shrugging his shoulders, he determined to do the task. Nerves got to him suddenly and he scratched the back of his neck, pretending it was no big deal. Joe and him used to put on minor shows for the other kids and staff at the boarding house. It was the one work duty he showed up for, unlike the cleaning chores he'd typically skip out on. He couldn't recall the last time he sang a song out loud in front of an audience.

Making his way to the stage, Joe went on, strumming his guitar softly in the background. There was a man singing badly to a song on the karaoke machine. He was invested in reflecting the emotional words of the slow tune, and it made his performance good. Flynn hoped he wasn't about to embarrass himself to Mila.

He was impressed Joe learned the song's rhythm and notes this quick. But then, playing music for as long as the man had, it probably wasn't too difficult to learn generic musical sounds. He looked over at him to find he was talking to the on-stage band taking a break while the karaoke went on, trying to give them a sample of the song he wanted played.

He only just managed to stop from shaking his head at the sight. Everyone was so into helping him “get better”. This was his life and what happened to him happened. Past is past, as Mila put it. Nobody could do anything to make him okay with what was done. But they were damn sure trying to make him get some joy out of the life he had. Couldn't hold that against a single one of them.

The song on the karaoke machine came to an end and a member of the band stepped forward to switch it off. He walked across the stage and passed him the microphone. Flynn reluctantly accepted it. Was he really doing this? His eyes flickered to Mila, watching him eagerly from her seat. She was anticipating his performance to come. He wasn't even that good at singing. He never did it. This was a bad idea.

“Harry, did you hear me?”

“What?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder at Joe.

“Look who's here.”

Flynn followed his arm as he pointed out to the crowd. By the bar, his sister was sitting on a stool. She sat with Elena next to her. Aw, come on...

He was still angry. In his heart, he knew why she wanted to help him and he needed to forgive her. His thoughts could rationalize all the reasons why he should get over her actions in the past. But his first instinct when he saw her was to feel anger.

“Harry,” Joe whispered loud. “Music. Now.”

“Eh?”

The older man began to play his guitar, hitting mostly the correct notes of the radio song Flynn heard many times in the last few weeks. He tried to push the anger down. Ah, screw it. Put it in the song, right? He built confidence in his own head. Here we go.

“Hey, slow it down. What do you want from me? What do you want from me?” he sang, starting out slower than the original artist and song might have been.

Joe improved the chords based on the tune in his words, and a piano started playing off to his right, momentarily surprising him. He spared the player a quick glance before seeking his sister's position at the bar. She stared back with wide-eyed intrigue.

“Yeah, I'm afraid. What do you want from me? What do you want from me?”

He stuttered a little, trying to remember the words, and his gaze locked with Victor Sullivan of all people, The guy was standing near the stage by the right end. He should have figured if he found a place that did good night business, everybody in their group would of course have to wind up there the night he was convinced to go on stage. Was that disdain on his face? Was he judging him for making himself a public spectacle?

“There might have been a time when I would give myself away. Ooh, once upon a time, I didn't give a damn.”

Or was he imagining the hate right now? Was it all in his head?

“But now, here we are. So what do you want from me? What do you want from me?”

Someone in the crowd whistled. He heard a woman cheer and the guy next to her went along and gave a yelled “whoo”. Nerves hit him. Jeez, he could break into guarded buildings with hardly a worry, but he was starting to break a sweat off of a single song in a crowd of less than fifty. Most of them didn't have a clue for his name. Some probably didn't even understand what he was singing. Deep breath.

He realized Joe had been keeping the music steady, eyeing him while waiting to pick up the beat for the next part. Right. The next part. The chorus. He released the air in his lungs and gave him a nod so he would know he was ready now. Quickly he sought to recall the words that went around and around his mind, staring ahead. The music sped up to go into the chorus.

“Just don't give up. I'm working it out. Please don't give in. I won't let you down. It messed me up. Need a second to breathe. Just keep coming around. Hey, what do you want from me? What do you want from me?”

His eyes found Mila toward the end of the chorus, but then Evelyn appeared behind her, gazing straight at him. He shifted his attention between them, realizing this part kind of related to both.

“Yeah, it's plain to see. That baby you're beautiful, and there's nothing wrong with you. It's me. I'm a freak. But thanks for loving me, 'cause you're doing it perfectly.”

Evelyn took a seat beside Mila, seemingly enthralled by his words. The thought crossed his mind she might take his singing too literally and try to sit him down for another talk. No thanks. He shook his head once to get the idea, the unnecessary distraction, out of his mind. Flynn focused his gaze solely on Mila and a smile grew on his face.

“There might have been a time when I would let you slip away. I wouldn't even try but I think you could save my life.”

His volume raised on the last part. He was amazed when after the first words of the chorus out of his mouth next, a pair of young women in the very front struggled to say his words with him. They were watching his mouth, possibly trying to make out the words as soon as they left him, and echoed.

“Just don't give up. I'm working it out. Please don't give in. I won't let you down. It messed me up, need a second to breathe. Just keep coming around. Hey, what do you want from me? What do you want from me?” he paused, and the two girls continued, singing the same question two more times on their own.

He didn't know if they would have kept going with it but he broke in by the end of the last phrase to continue himself. Nate was here. He didn't know if he'd been here the whole time or not, but there he was standing in the crowd and looking straight at him.

“Just don't give up on me. I won't let you down. No, I won't let you down.”

Mila was watching. Look at her. It didn't exactly work.

“Sooo. Just don't give up. I'm working it out. Please don't give in. I won't let you down. It messed me up, need a second to breathe. Just keep coming around. Hey, what do you want from me?”

He repeated the chorus one final time, unable to tear his eyes from Nate's own. For some reason, he desperately wanted him to hear those exact words and believe them. It was so stupid. He was being pretty emotional for a guy. He blamed the sap he ingested, though it wasn't likely to remain in his system at this point.

Flynn added a third phrase of the question as a finish and tapered off, the music softening and ending along with him.

This set the tone for the remainder of the night. Everybody was getting along. It was amicable, fun even. Flynn began this fun by striding up to Nathan's girl and asking her one question. The band had started their own music and others had gotten up to dance.

“Dance with me?”

She looked at him like he was nuts. “You put a gun to my head before, and now you think I'll dance with you?”

“I pointed a gun at Nate's head too,” he reminded. “More than once.”

“See,” Elena said, satisfied.

“Hm... Put a gun on Sullivan at some point too.”

“Are you intentionally trying to sabotage your case here?”

“Perhaps I'm just being sardonic,” he retorted.

The reporter studied him, trying to figure where he was going with this. Women. Always looking for that deeper meaning.

“I was up on stage singing a song. An American song. That's supposed to be sexy, eh?”

He had her. She was fighting a smile.

“Say yeah. One dance and I promise to be a perfect gentleman.”

She glanced at the general crowd of people surrounding them for a moment before looking back, a smile breaking out.

“Fine. You're rather charming.”

Elena took his outstretched hand and declared, “Above the waist.”

Flynn made a point of scanning her above the waist. “Yes, you look very nice above the waist.”

Her expression told him she was barely holding in a laugh. She placed both hands on his shoulders and he gently placed his own on her back. Before long, her arms wrapped about his neck in a more comfortable position as they swayed to and fro. A faster paced song came next and he happily abided the switch, spinning Elena out of his proximity only to pull her back in after a spin. She laughed aloud, enjoying his moves.

It was perhaps two minutes later when Nathan appeared next to them.

“My turn, Flynn.”

He looked and remarked, “Here to break up the party?”

“Life's a bitch.” Drake shrugged like he was completely innocent. “If it were easy, it'd be a slut.”

Flynn raised his eyebrows at the guy and they chuckled a little. Then he thought about it.

“You know, you're kind of a slut.”

Nate sighed with regret. “Aw come on. We were having a perfectly nice moment.”

He made it his turn to shrug, and Elena put her arm around his shoulder. “Finished Nathan? We're dancing.”

“Dance with me. Please?”

Arm still about Flynn, she smiled pleasantly at Nathan. “What's the matter, Nate? Afraid of something?”

“Uh, no,” came his immediate response. “Clowns, I'm afraid of.”

Flynn felt like he remembered something concerning fears and Nathan Drake. “You rate stuff. That's a ten, right? Big time scared of clowns.”

Nate frowned hearing the amusement in his voice.

“Yes. Clowns are a ten. Slippery naked guy is an eight and-”

A sudden quiet and the younger man glanced sideways at him. He thought then, that slippery naked guy was probably him. Almost like he had to completely change the direction of the conversation, he added on.

“Flynn seriously hurt, maybe a four, or five tops.”

Elena punched him in the shoulder. “Are you serious? That's so mean. You're a liar.”

“Sully's mustache... Now that can be pretty scary too.”

He ducked under Elena's arm and took a step back to get away from the overt flirting.

“You kids have fun.”

Not waiting around to see or hear what any one of them had to say, he found his way to Mila, a fresh beer in her hand. He took the open seat beside her and lifted his warm beer, downing the remainder in one go. She watched him do it and raised an arm to order another.

The waitress delivered the beverage and they sat quietly together, sipping their drinks and reveling in the atmosphere of the room. After a third drink was ordered, she leaned forward in her seat and he knew she wanted to say something. He searched around for his sister. She was talking to Sullivan. What did they possibly have to talk about?

“Do you believe in destiny, Harry Flynn?”

This again. He replied quick. “Do you ever ask a simple question?”

“Harry Flynn,” she said.

“Flynn, love. Just Flynn.”

“Do you?” Mila prodded.

“What now?”

“Do you believe in destiny?”

He thought about it to be sure, although he already figured he knew what he believed.

“No.”

“I don't either,” she admitted. “My father believed in that kind of thing. But I don't know, maybe there's something to it. What your mother used to say to you, and now this necklace I've given you. Happenstance?”

He fought against touching the necklace. Coincidence. That's what it was. Nothing but.

“Sorry. I think it is curious. That is all.”

Flynn set his beer down. Past was the past she'd told him. These past weeks he determined to be better than he'd been in his past. Though his initial reaction was to feel anger concerning people who let him down, that was a base reaction. His higher intellect concluded to be done feeling angry over past things, things that could never be changed.

His sister was of the opinion he had to fix himself before he could truly make amends for transgressions. Not everyone felt that way. Navarro didn't, and he'd fixed his eye on Drake. Believing people with power were the safe bet was a mistake he made repeatedly. People caring turned out to actually be the best thing to bet on. He was learning.

“Hi, Harry. Having a good time?”

He looked up at Joe. His bother must have shown on his face, because Joe's casual demeanor turned to a concerned frown. Too late to cover it.

“Yeah, no. I-Look,”

Elena and Nate came over, the former laughing. It irritated him. He couldn't quite place his finger on why. His past had sent him on a path of trying to do what was right by him and it never worked out in the end, never in the long run. It had proven to be faulty thinking. The wrong thing. He was tired of doing the wrong thing.

Pushing up from the table, he waved a hand in their direction, starting for the exit.

“I have had a perfectly wonderful evening,” he started, pausing.

“Harry?” Joe began.

“But this wasn't it,” he finished, flashing a smile to show them it was a joke.

He was nearly to the door when a hand on his arm jerked him back a little. “Flynn, you sure everything is okay?”

“Yes. It really is, Drake. I'm just tired. Haven't been out to a place like this in a long time.”

“You lying?”

“I promise I'm not. You know,” he gestured broadly across the interior of the building they were standing inside. “It must be nice having people who would look for you anywhere.”

“Yeah?” Drake uttered, a bit confused.

“They came all this way for you. You're a good man, and I'm sorry I ever thought anything different.”

“You had two people search the entire globe for you. That's not nothing.”

Flynn nodded. “It's everything. I know. I want to do the right thing.”

Nathan opened his mouth and he knew he was going to question him. He wasn't in the mood for any serious talk. There was too much of it lately. He patted the other man on the shoulder and then waved a hand in the direction of the others.

“I'll see you guys back at the hotel tomorrow!” he yelled, and shifted to Nate. “Good night.”

No one was going to get hurt. He would do the right thing this time.

Chapter Text

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.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

“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.”

“Oh. Alright.”

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.”

“Nate.”

“You have to return it yourself.”

“Nathan, please.”

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.”

“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.

“Harry?”

“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.

“Goodbye, Nathan.”

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.”

Chapter Text

The gun was heavier than he thought. He nearly dropped it at first. In the other room there was a scream, a whimper following soon after. When he hurt her like this, nothing made him feel more terrified.

His father would bring this gun out every now and then on his drunker nights. He would talk about how much easier his life would be if he used it on them all. He was depressed, his mother told him. He didn't know what he was saying, she would say. Harry didn't understand. And he didn't understand how his family could be so sick.

The school called home on occasion to check in with his parents, wonder why he showed up some days with dirty clothes or bruises. Sometimes they asked why he wasn't attending school, his absence common. They were pros at denial and lying, the both of them. In the brief periods when they were sober, not yet enduring withdrawal, they were experts at crafting stories to convince everyone it was a poverty issue and nothing more.

Another scream and she started to beg him to calm down, then silence. He could hear an awful gagging sound and several loud banging noises in quick succession. Staring at the weapon in his hands, he looked it over to remember how the safety worked. He would scare him away from the house. If his father was away then his mother wouldn't get hurt anymore. He struggled to remember how his father held it the time he used it at the wall once, raging about the bills piling up.

Once again, he prayed his sister would just come home. She was tougher than he was. She could handle this. Why was she never here when he needed her?

It was awfully quiet now. He couldn't hear any sounds coming from the other room. A loud burst of noise as the television switched on. Breathing in and out slowly, he let the gun hang in front of him, clutching the heavy thing with both hands.

“Mom?” he called out, nervous and not too loud.

He didn't want to make his father angrier. Then again, he would be okay with the focus on him instead of her. He risked calling louder.

“Mom?”

Step by step, he moved to the hallway and began walking toward the other room. All he could hear were the sounds of people talking on the TV, laughter, joy. The TV world made him mad sometimes. It was mean they got to live in a nicer place than his family.

Harry entered the living room and found his father kneeling on the carpet with an elbow digging into his mother's back. She was face down, head pressed into the floor by his hands. One of her arms was bent at a funny angle and she wasn't moving.

“Mommy?”

“Get in your room, you little shit.”

He glared. “Get off her!”

His father laughed and took his hands from her. “Fine. She's not my problem anymore.”

She didn't get up. Did he make her go to sleep? He'd done that before.

“Mommy?”

“Augh. Just get in your room, good for nothing. I'm trying to watch TV.”

“Mommy? Are you okay?”

His father rolled his eyes and sat up, giving her a kick to the side. “No, she's not, shithead.”

Tears welled up in his eyes. “What do you mean? Mom? Wake up!”

“She's dead, Harry. Deeead. Get it through your thick skull.”

“Mom!”

His father stood up when he tried to run to her, making him stop.

If he got too close to the man, bad things happened.

“She's been spending my money on drugs for herself. Uh-uh. Not in my house.” A new thought visibly occurred to him. “Do you have any money?”

Still a heavy weight in his hands, he remembered the gun. He took a few steps back and struggled to bring the weapon chest-level. When his father saw it, neediness was replaced with anger.

“And just what in the hell are you doing with that?”

He stared at the spot he wanted to hit. Kept thinking it would get him straight in his mean face. He never wanted to see that face again. He killed mom. He killed mom. Harry squeezed the trigger using two fingers..

The bullet hit his father high up on the forehead instead of the center of the face, knocking him down flat. The man didn't move after falling and blood began to pool around his head. Dropping the weapon, he ran to his mother and tried to shake her awake. He spent hours trying to wake someone he knew was dead.

When his sister came home and saw what happened, he watched the horror and understanding showing in her expression. He listened to her call for help on the phone, saw her crying and explaining how people in their neighborhood turned deaf when bad things went on. Evelyn was trying to explain to him why bad things happened, like he didn't live them every day. He never hated her more.

It took everything to keep from screaming this time. An electric rod sending volts coursing through the body hurt like nothing else and they kept doing it to him. Again and again, he kept the memory of his parents' deaths in his head to remind this was nothing compared to how emotionally compromised he'd become that night. Physical pain was just that. Physical. He could deal.

He was doused in sweat and not feeling the cold much. They'd taken everything except his boxer shorts. It was freezing at first, the cabin fireplace warming him in time, but when the torture began he forgot the temperature.

Flynn raised his arms, wrists bound together with duct tape. Resting the hands to his forehead, he wiped away drops of perspiration. Navarro observed him, silent. He gave a nod for the soldier to continue.

Luka brought the electrified rod down on his shoulder. He screamed, a whining groan dwindling to quiet like the previous times. Kicked in the stomach to make him bend forward, the torture instrument hit his exposed back.

He already told them they weren't getting anything out of him. Whatever they did to him was deserved for his many sins. He declared they would never succeed in killing Nathan Drake. Flynn was stronger than he was when he settled for working for Navarro in Lazarevic's place. He was scared, but he wasn't breaking to pieces any longer. He found ground to stand on and was willing to take whatever they dished out.

Leaning to the wall, he wheezed, gathering his bearings. He wasn't able when Luka shoved it against his front. Navarro ordered him to stop and he slid to the floor, gasping through convulsions.

“Luka, take the other men to set the explosives.”

The man really believed people would come looking for him. Flynn thought he would be enough to satisfy Navarro's desire for revenge in the end. The hope he might provide distraction to buy Nate and the rest opportunity to leave at dawn diminished. He was dedicated to murdering the big hero who spoiled his plans.

“If your bullets don't kill them, the traps may.”

Navarro looked on while Luka passed the weapon to Alek and gathered his equipment. Picking up his rifle, he exited the cabin, leaving him with Navarro and three other mercenaries. He knew their names and how much they liked to hurt him. Flynn swallowed and watched the stick buzzing with electricity drawing closer. He could deal, right?

* * * * *

It took everything to try and sit without giving his inner turmoil away. He hadn't been able to find Flynn and it wasn't surprising the guy ran off. Running away was what he did. Nathan was stupid to think the old, bad him would vanish because he wanted it.

On his right, Joe and Ilija were prepping to go out searching with the rest of the mercenaries. They believed Harry went after Navarro and worried he would succeed. Nate was torn wanting them to be right on Harry's reason for leaving, and wanting them to be wrong at the same time. Wrong meant he was wrong about Flynn and the guy was determined to be a self-absorbed dick. If he was right, that left his old friend dead.

“Troubled?”

Nate looked up, in the process of muttering, “It's all good. What an asshole.”

Elena sat next to him on the ground. “You okay?”

He was ticked thinking he should have known something was wrong. Now he could remember the previous night and how he talked about wanting to do the right thing. Flynn said stuff in the stairwell that pretty much amounted to a goodbye. An apology, confession, private information shared from his hated childhood...

“It was so obvious!” he derided his own self. “I wanted him to be who he was and I didn't care nobody just recovers and gets over trauma like that. I didn't care enough.”

“Make up for it.”

He really saw her for the first time. “Huh?”

She met his eyes. “Go get your friend back.”

“Mr. Drake?”

“Yeah, what?” He saw who was talking and straightened his act, posture too. “Uh, yeah. Um. Hello, Evelyn.”

“The soldiers are saying they don't want civilians going out. Will you stay behind?”

Nathan stood and spoke his mind. “No way. I've got the necessary skills to go along. Joe's going. I'm going.”

“Joe is former military. Wolf has put his foot down. He will only be responsible for one civilian and has relented that much because of his experience.”

He searched for Wolf and spotted someone he decided was better.

“Hey! Mila! I'm going with you guys!”

“Mr. Drake.”

“What?” he shouted.

He didn't mean to do that. Apologetic, he kicked the ground aimlessly for a moment. He sat back down. Once he got over his shame, he looked at her.

“I'm sorry. I'm a little stressed.”

Evelyn seemed to excuse his rude reaction by smiling.

“Mr. Drake. What I understand about Navarro from what I was told, he will want Flynn dead. However, if he can he will want to cause pain before he kills him for maximum satisfaction. I estimate a seventy percent chance my brother was taken alive. There's a thirty percent chance he killed him outright. I know Harry might be dead.”

“We don't know that,” he argued.

“If he is still alive, his chance of survival goes down to around five percent should Navarro be aware they're coming to rescue him. Unless he's the type to go as far as it takes to get what he wants. If this is accurate, he'll want to kill Harry and you.”

“Are you trying to depress me?”

“She's trying to tell you Navarro's gonna wait until he's sure he has you to kill Flynn.”

Sully slapped the back of his head. “Listen when people are trying to help, kid.”

“Ow,” he uttered, rubbing the spot he was feeling sharp pain. “Fine. Sorry.”

“The guy is deranged enough he'll try for the both of you at once to be sure.”

“I hope you're right.” Her gaze wandered to the trees. “Harry was just getting a second chance.”

Mila had been watching and listening to all of this. When they lapsed into silence, she looked to the gathered men preparing to leave for the search. Isidora arrived with a few other mercenaries including Wolf as she called out to Joe.

“Joe. You stay behind with the other two I've assigned to watch the civilian women. We will use Drake to track Flynn.”

“What?” he demanded, gruff. “I'm responsible for that boy.”

Elena pointed at Evelyn. “Actually, you're responsible for her, aren't you?”

He didn't argue further and Nate jumped up to join the rescue operation. “Alright! Let's hurry. Come on, come on.”

Wolf stepped in front of him. “Arm yourself and stay behind me. You die, it's your fault.”

You die, it's your fault,” he repeated back in a juvenile manner to return the same sentiment.

* * * * *

He was beginning to ponder if it would be the worst thing to wish for death.

Flynn huffed air, squirming where he was held kneeling on hard floor. His bound wrists were above him, kept to the table's surface. Damir and Alek made sure he stayed in place while Ratko leaned forward to remove the third fingernail on his left hand.

Screaming as the nail tore from his flesh, he sobbed and tried to handle the agony. Ratko set the nail beside the other two, pleased. His hair and the side of his face were stroked in a mockery of comfort by Damir.

Drool leaking out of his mouth, nose running, he knew he must look anything but beautiful. Flynn let his forehead fall to rest on the tabletop. He was in so much pain. He wanted not to be in pain anymore.

The thin pliers tapped an untouched fingernail. “This one is mine.”

He said that every time he was ready to rip out another fingernail. For the fourth time, he fought to pull away without budging them. Ratko's hand settled on his hands, keeping them still. The pliers eased beneath the nail and gripped it. A light tug had him staring in horror and dread, fearing the excruciating pain he knew was coming.

Impatient, Navarro strolled over. “Do it.”

Nail ripping free in one hard yank, he screamed.

* * * * *

Language yelled in foreign language. A lot of good that did him when he didn't have a clue what they were saying. He commented as much and Sully scolded his attitude.

Peering over his shoulder to them while trotting ahead with Wolf and a couple others, Drago switched to English.

“Soldiers! Soldiers in the trees!”

Right. Danger. Naturally Navarro would have patrol out whether he expected their group or not.

Wolf stopped to scan the dark lit by their flashlights. They'd considered leaving them off but it was too easy to trip or be extra noisy when they couldn't see. Oh, and their presence was known.

A gunshot chipped a tree scarily near Ilija's head. Mila tugged his arm and the two stooped low. Farther in front than the rest, Drago exploded in a spray of blood and body parts. Chunks of flesh rained down and Nathan gaped, poor eyes scarred from the disgusting sight.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”

Sully diverted his path, rifle rising. He was gonna get himself blown apart.

“Sully! Careful!”

He cursed their uniforms appearing identical in the night. Black and solid gray colors were difficult to separate and he flitted focus around him, trying to without real success. It didn't help one damn bit the former soldiers in Navarro's employ still wore the black gear given while under Lazarevic's command. They kept the white bands but in this poor light, they might as well not have bothered.

Poor planning. This was poor planning.

Nate darted the way he saw Sully go earlier. No sign of him. A soldier entered his line of sight. They looked at each other.

He recognized him. He even recalled his name. This was the mercenary who raped Flynn in the tent on Navarro's order. He couldn't forget the bastard.

The guy tried to shoot and he was ready for it, shooting faster. His enemy's gun misfired and he watched him fall motionless to the ground. He felt happy he was dead.

Jogging close to see the dead man better, he was distracted by a smell. It could be smoke. He passed the corpse to seek out the source of the scent. He tread cautiously, not wanting to spring a trap and turn out like Drago.

Two minutes onward, he was standing on the edge of a ledge with a somewhat steep drop-off. Traversing along the edge, he saw what seemed like smoke. A little farther and he saw a tent. More than one tent.

Alongside the tents, there was a cabin. The source of the smoke billowing out of a chimney. He pegged it for the spot Flynn would be. Nathan made a silent prayer in his mind that Harry would be alive.

Cold metal pushed to the back of his neck.

“Hello, Drake.”

* * * * *

They'd grown bored tearing nails off. Navarro left the cabin after they did the fourth nail to be ready for Drake. The atmosphere changed when their boss wasn't present. They ceased being interested in causing physical pain and instead claimed they would make him feel good if he helped them feel good.

Caring nothing for the throbbing hell his hand was causing him, the two soldiers dragged him onto his feet. Damir slid a hand in the back of his underwear. Fingers wormed between his cheeks, tracing the rim of his anus. He was too tired and in pain to be afraid of what they would do.

His underwear fell to his ankles with a single tug on the band downward. Alek laid a forearm on his back to keep his upper half flat on the table. Flynn stared at his blood covered hand. He tried to zone out when a wet finger pressed to his asshole, pushing in.

The finger dug around, working tight muscle to loosen. He pulled it out and two newly slicked fingers pushed in deep. More twisting and flexing to open him up. Flynn imagined his mother's face. He embraced the beauty of her, ignored the ugly. The dead were worth remembering something good, some reasons to be missed. Would anyone ever remember him well?

He gasped, a sudden sensation of pleasure spreading through him. The fingers brushed against the area again and he shoved his face into his arms to quiet the sound he made. He located his prostate. They meant it when they expressed desire to experience mutual gratification. He didn't want them to make him enjoy it.

Damir whispered into his ear, “Let's feel good together.”

Fingers pulling out, he felt the head of his dick pressing to the hole. His legs were spread wider, hands resting on buttcheeks. He closed his eyes and the man pushed in. Groaning, it entered him a couple inches. A few slow thrusts brought it fully inside.

A thrust. He was quiet. Altering the angle, Damir thrust a second time. Still quiet. The barest of a shift in position and a third thrust. Flynn released a soft moan against his will. A happy grunt sounded from behind.

Setting his hands on the table's surface, he began a rhythmic pace. The bastard hit that spot every time and he spent the whole of his concentration on tempering his moans. Pace increasing, his breathing grew labored and he trembled, equal parts excitement and anxiety. A finishing thrust deep inside, guy above him grunting as seed spilled into his prize.

Prize was what he'd become to people like them following his capture. He was their punching bag and whore. Once their war criminal boss was out of the picture, the leniency with which Navarro controlled them led to this frame of mind for the sickest among them. Figures since these same people had no problem intimidating or killing innocent civilians. If they were okay with murder, what difference would torture or rape be to them?

Damir removed himself and stepped away to fix his pants. Ratko crowded into the vacated space and Alek let him, backing off his original intent to be next. Forcefully turned around, the soldier lifted him to sit on the table.

“Sava was a friend,” he said, running gloved hands across his thighs hanging on either side of the man's waist.

Ratko lifted his arms by the wrist binding and dropped them over him. Arms now resting on the guy's shoulders, hands bent his knees so he was more exposed. Adjusting his pants enough for the use he needed, he pushed his body close and lined his dick to the readied hole.

“I will kill you like you killed him.”

Stabbed. Wouldn't be a fun way to go.

The arms wrapped around his back and he shoved in his entire cock in one rough thrust. Flynn couldn't prevent the groan it caused. He suffered through his rapist testing for the sensitive spot with repetitive hard thrusts until he discovered it. Ratko started thrusting fast and vicious.

His body wasn't quite prepared for such brute treatment and he was feeling a mixture of pain and pleasure. When his head fell back, gasping for air and losing himself to carnal sensations, Ratko gripped him by the hair. He brought their mouths together in a kiss that didn't make it past his lips.

Ratko shifted him closer to the edge of the table, coaxing his legs to wrap about his waist. He let his face drop onto the man's shoulder, awareness reaching him that his fingers still hurt a lot. Fucked into at the more upright angle, it felt like the dick was driving in deeper. The savage pace didn't slow or falter. It was too much to take composed when it gave such pleasure.

He cursed in accompaniment with his moaning and grunting. His face flushed and sweaty, he took his hurting fingers and curled them into his palm. It was agonizing and he felt content now that he was able to focus on pure pain in place of forced pleasure.

When he was done with him, he left him sprawled on the table on his backside. Alek tilted the table and he crashed to the floor in a pathetic heap. Dragging to his knees, he was put face level with his crotch. Wonderful...

* * * * *

In her vest pocket, her fingers felt the necklace meant to be with Flynn. It was his to carry. Drake passed it off to her on their way into the forest, saying Flynn wished for her to keep it. She didn't understand.

“Damn it! This is the reason I didn't want civilians,” Wolf shouted.

“There are too few,” said Ilija, ignoring the other man's irritation with Drake and Sullivan's disappearance.

“Spread out! Find where they've gone!”

Mila scanned her surroundings, determining the best direction to proceed. There was no sighting of the enemy leader as of yet. She knew when they discovered him they would have to eliminate him. They discussed what to do briefly prior to heading out. They decided the world was a safer place without him in it, and so were their clients or accepted charges.

She checked the ammunition in her gun and looked to her right. That direction just felt correct. She would be fine killing Navarro herself. There is killing for purpose and killing for pleasure. There are righteous kills and sadistic. This kill had a purpose. It was righteous.

“Everyone! This way!”

Her walk quickened to a jog. She felt certain. She was getting nearer to Flynn.

Chapter Text

It was an ambush. The town inhabitants were running scared, scattering in every direction. They thought the woods would be the dangerous place. Their friends and allies ventured into those trees, risking their lives. This town was supposed to be the safe area.

A firefight raged maybe a block from where she was standing, uncertain and panicking inside. Every direction the enemy appeared to be coming. This was chaos. She didn't know where Joe was.

“Elena, come on.”

She followed Evelyn across the road, heading for the hotel. They ran past the body of a friendly mercenary laying close to the front entrance. Another one dashed around the corner of the building, frightening them by his sudden appearance. She recognized him though, relaxing a fraction.

“Stefan! How many are there? What do we do?”

Gunfire drove them through the door. The soldier glanced to the gun in her hand.

“I'm empty. Are you?”

Elena shook her head. “No. I only fired a few times. Don't think I hit anything though.”

“Look out!” Evelyn screamed.

They dropped themselves to the floor as a projectile broke through the window on the door. It smashed through a table and sofa, stopping when it embedded in the far wall. Someone started screaming outside.

She offered her gun to the soldier and he snatched it quick. Rotating, he rose slightly and aimed, firing two rounds. There came a strangled shout. Stefan continued to survey the area he could see.

“Joe was helping fight last time I saw him. He told me to run and take cover. I don't know how to do that!”

She turned to Evelyn and clasped her hand. “Calm down. Don't lose it.”

The woman was practically petrified. She might have experience in war zones and the like herself, but it didn't mean she was great in them either. Elena could read a situation though, and she was sure they needed to get out of here now.

Stefan stuck his head out the broken door farther. He retracted it fast, lowering himself back into a crouch.

“Four headed this way.”

He checked the clip. “There are seven bullets left.”

Huh. She must have shot more rounds than she thought. He put the clip back in and patted his belt.

“I have a grenade. There's possibility I win.”

But what if he lost? The familiar panic welled up, unwelcome. Perhaps sensing her worry, he removed something from his vest and held it out to her. He was giving her a knife.

She tucked the weapon in her belt while Stefan peeked through a jagged splintering in the door. Whatever he saw prompted an order for them to act.

“Go upstairs. Hide.”

“What?” Evelyn cried, terrified.

Taking her hand again, tight this time, Elena hurried for the stairs with Flynn's sister in tow. They were nearing the top when Stefan's gun went off. On the second floor, she leaned over the railing and saw him retreating into the lobby center. Three mercenaries wearing black gear kicked apart the remnants of the door and swept in.

When a grenade lobbed toward the attacking party, she didn't wait around to witness what happened. She jogged down the hall, keeping firm grasp on Evelyn's hand. Below, they could hear shouting and two gunshots followed. An older woman opened her room door, peeking out.

“Stay in your room, ma'am.”

Whether she didn't understand or was paying her no mind, the woman ran past.

“It's not safe!”

The hotel guest reached the railing near the staircase and stopped, turning to look at her.

“Yes. Come with us. We have to-”

Blood spattered as the woman's head burst open. She thought she might vomit. What kind of ammunition did they fire to do something like that?

Evelyn sobbed a cry in a hand, biting her teeth into a finger. She slid to the floor, leaning against the wall. Heavy footsteps on the stairs. Elena helped her back up, whispering loudly they had to move.

She stumbled with the other woman a few steps and made it to the room the recently deceased civilian came from. Pushing her in ahead, Elena glanced to the stairs and caught a glimpse of black. She stepped inside the room and shut the door as quiet as she could. The door locked, she hustled Evelyn to the double bed.

“Get under. Go.”

Elena pushed her way beneath the bed after her. It was a narrow fit. They were breathing really loud. She set her hand to rest on Evelyn's arm, hoping to be a reassurance.

“Be quiet as you can,” she instructed, covering her own mouth with a hand to better stifle the breathing.

Evelyn copied her, eyes round circles of fright. There were noises in the hall. Sounded close. Now voices, too muffled to make out. She stared up at the bottom of the bed, waiting.

A loud bang. She jolted in place and Evelyn gasped, whimpering a little. She squeezed her companion's arm.

She wouldn't be here in this situation if it wasn't for Nate. Just deciding to restart a relationship with the man and now she was cowering under a bed, praying soldiers intent to slaughter anyone they discovered wouldn't find them. Navarro wouldn't want to kill them so bad if it wasn't for Nate interfering on his damn treasure hunts. He was obsessed with showing up other thieves and investigations.

Yeah, Elena. Great. Blame Nate for all your problems while you're at it.

But still, he wouldn't stop chasing after a war criminal over a dumb treasure and proof he could beat Flynn in revenge. It was absurd the things he liked to do for thrills and a little exploration on history. She didn't know how to feel.

Another loud bang. This one sounded closer. She realized what the noise was. They were searching the rooms one by one, kicking the locked doors in. Okay, okay. She could handle this.

Reaching to her waist, Elena took the knife from her belt. She rested the blade on her breast, making a point to breathe even breaths. Tilting her head to look at Evelyn, she waited to speak until eyes were on hers.

“We're not going to die.”

* * * * *

The room stank of body odor, blood, and sex. He crawled across the wooden floor to lie beside the fireplace. Scents given off by the fire filled his nostrils. Hot ash drifted occasionally to fall on hair and the skin of his arms and face. He didn't care.

Alek sat near his head and reached for him, maneuvering his bound arms into his lap. He had to pull him a few inches closer to get him situated with his elbows resting on the leg nearest. Forced to lie on his belly to have a more comfortable position, the soldier brushed the back of his hand against bloody fingers.

He flinched, releasing a grunt of displeasure. That hurt. Ratko approached while Alek toyed with the fingers on the undamaged hand. He warily watched the soldier seat himself diagonal from his companion, removing a pack of smokes and a lighter out of his jacket.

“These belonged to Sava. He was the smoker.” Ratko took a cigarette out to light, holding it between two fingers. “I'll find another use for them. You'll help me, won't you?”

Like he had a choice...

A hand gripped his leg to hold the limb still. The tip of the cigarette pressed to vulnerable, exposed flesh. He sobbed through his teeth. Eyes watering, he was contemplating the use of a struggle to dissuade the abuser when Alek slid his knife out of the sheath and made sure he got a good look.

“Should I shave layers of skin? The fingers on your right hand... Should I cut them off?”

Burning pain had him clenching that one good hand to tolerate it. He peered above his shoulder, seeing Ratko grin at him while he tossed the cigarette in the fire and reached for a fresh one. Lit, he stared into his eyes, slowly bringing it to the leg held in place.

The door pushed open and Flynn looked up to see Nate and Sullivan cross the threshold. Damir studied them from his seat at the table in their direct line of sight and they looked back. Their attention quickly switched to the three of them below. Navarro was behind the two with a gun aimed on their backs, a pair of armed mercenaries trailing him.

Silent staring by the mercenaries to the additional captives. Ratko must have gotten bored because he felt his leg burn again. He hissed, lower half squirming. The uncertain, somewhat fearful expressions of the hostages darkened. He wasn't surprised Nathan did the reckless thing.

“Stop that!” he demanded, walking forward.

Damir raised his discarded rifle to point it at him. “Shut up. Don't do anything stupid.”

He was surprised the guy ignored the warning and kicked Ratko's shoulder, making him fumble a cigarette. Regaining his balance, he retrieved the smoking item and threw it into the flames. The mercenary shifted his seat to be facing the door and his attacker. Alek put the blade beneath his chin, leading Flynn to cease any movement.

Drake hadn't noticed. Drake was going to get him killed in a second. Drake was an idiot!

“Stop hurting him. What did you do to him? This is over for you people. Your guys are losing out there and you know it.”

“Nate,” Sullivan warned, and it let him like the man a bit more.

Hearing him, his gaze was drawn lower and he saw Flynn's precarious situation. He clamped his mouth shut. He stayed pretty steamed and glared at their enemies in turn. It was like he was daring them to do something.

Didn't he get it? They planned to.

“A number may be depleted in the forest, but I sent my main force elsewhere.”

Flynn lunged to get up from the floor, knife nicking the skin under his chin when he toppled out of its way in the process. “You son of a bitch!”

He managed two feet before he was brought down, Ratko and Alek holding him flat. Barely able to see upward, Navarro did him the favor of coming closer to look down on him. Smiling, his eyes strayed along his nude form and then returned to his face held to the ground.

“I see you proved thorough entertainment once again.”

“Fuck you!”

“I did you the one time, and you weren't much as a limp fish.”

His face reddened and he muttered a curse under his breath while he tried to burrow into the floorboards. Predictably, he got nowhere but rubbing his nose on the wood a bit. He felt so ashamed and humiliated everybody in this room knew how he was weak and easy to use.

Nate slugged Navarro in the jaw. The two soldiers behind reacted. The first grabbed Nate by the wrist, yanking him away from their boss, and the other poked the tip of his rifle into Sullivan's ribs. He had no option except cooperating and didn't resist when the soldier shoved him to drop to the floor beside Flynn.

Alek and Ratko climbed to their feet, backing off. Flynn shifted to sit and a hand fell on his shoulder. He instantly jerked away, body shuddering.

“Don't touch me!”

The hand returned to his shoulder and another hand touched his face, trying to turn it. Anger surged. What in the bloody hell was wrong with his ears?

“Hey!”

“Flynn. Come on. It's me, man.”

He heaved an annoyed breath, accepting the unwanted attention. “What?”

“We're leaving here together,” Drake murmured quiet. “Don't bother stressing.”

Navarro didn't appear to have heard any of their conversation and glanced to the two soldiers by the open door.

“Wait outside.”

One of them grunted confirmation and they went out, shutting the cabin door.

“Let's get to business.”

Sullivan eyed Flynn. He dropped his arms in his lap, concealing his junk. Like it mattered. The older man turned his attention to the other occupants of the room, examining their current plight.

Navarro began lecturing all the various ways they earned what was coming. Flynn tuned it out, not in the least interested to hear his bullshit. His gaze wandered to the captive next to him, hand gripping his wrist in lieu of his hand.

“What makes you think we're getting out of this?” he asked, careful to keep his voice low.

He was skeptical to believe any such idea. They were cornered, trapped, and unarmed. What chance did they have?

“You're not the only one who has hard times,” said Nate. “The truth is, everything I touch turns to shit.”

“What? Cause you laid a finger on me, we're in this mess?”

“Hey, is that the one who threatened Elena?”

Flynn slapped the finger pointing at Damir. “Yeah. Can we not?”

Navarro grinned in Sullivan's face, telling him his worthlessness. He was really laying it on thick. The man was certain he would be executing them here in this cabin in a minute.

Their hands slid together, clasped firm, and he wasn't sure if it was him or Nate who made it happen. Maybe both. Nate's hand was kind of cold compared to his own which felt warm.

He'd been left behind too many times for loyalty to be his thing. It took two sides to make trust work, however, and Nathan, Mila, and the rest were proving it was worth it. They came for him. People never did, but they did. He felt convinced just from having Nate on his side. They were getting out of this.

“You're not shit, Flynn. Now when I move, go for the ugly one's gun.”

“What?”

“Sully, think it's gonna rain right there?”

Sullivan looked at Nate. “Huh?”

“Rain. Right.”

Comprehension dawned. Not for him. What were they babbling about?

Narravo narrowed his eyes on Nate, highly suspicious. “What are you saying?”

Nathan flung himself backward, slamming his body into Ratko's legs. The momentum brought them to the ground. When he saw Sullivan shove a pissed Navarro, he figured it was time to move.

He hurled into Alek's stomach, using his head for a battering ram. Hands scrabbled to gain a grip. His nudity actually paid off, fingers slipping on sweaty skin and failing to grab hold.

On the floor, he punched him in the face and a fight began over his sidearm. There were shouted curses behind him and sounds of ongoing conflict. He hoped the other two were on the winning side like him.

Flynn held the handgun tight in his hands as he fell on his rear. Alek turned away, going for the rifle left by the corner between the door and the fireplace. He shot him in the leg and then back when he kept trying to reach his weapon. The mercenary fell and he rotated to assess the other threats.

Sullivan was dealing with a raging Navarro coming at him bare-handed. Ratko appeared unconscious, but Nate had gotten bested by Damir. The soldier sporting a bruised cheek had his rifle aimed to his chest.

He shot blindly in Damir's direction, unloading the clip. He couldn't say how many shots hit or missed. Flynn simply cared that he went down and didn't move anymore, leaving Nate in no immediate danger.

Navarro knocked Sullivan to the ground and searched for his shotgun, lost somewhere during the scuffle. He was promising the seasoned thief they would die soon while he was at it. Despite his gun clicking empty a moment ago, Flynn raised it level with the man's head.

“Stop.”

Inches from picking up his shotgun, he looked up. A deep scowl promising bad things met his confident stare. He started for the weapon again.

“Hey!”

Instead of freezing, the guy was spurred into motion. Since he ran for the exit and not a weapon, Flynn didn't protest. He watched him flee out the door and squeezed the trigger twice to no effect.

“Bang, bang,” he muttered, knowing Navarro alive kept the guy a danger.

There was a lot of blood pooled around Alek's legs. He wasn't moving. Dead?

“That thing wasn't loaded?” Nate asked. “Are you crazy?”

“Drake, you idiot!”

Nate's expression lifted like he thought he might need to defend himself. Could be he came off angrier than he meant. Ah well, it couldn't be helped.

When no attack happened, he got mad in place of the worry. Flynn put his back to him and went looking for his clothes.

“This idiot just freed us,” he mentioned, indignant, before becoming serious. “I'm guessing he sent the rest of his guys to town so let's go.”

Boxers and pants pulled on, belt buckled, he smirked Nate's way. “I've been saved the horror of dying a slow, torturous death. We're gonna be fine.”

Tugging on his socks and boots, he clarified, “Everyone is gonna be.”

Now where the hell had his shirt gotten to?

Cloth slapped him in the face. Dragging it downward and letting it fall into his hands, he looked at Sullivan standing a few feet away. He fixed his shirt from inside out and put it on.

“Thanks.” He smiled big at Nate. “Let's go be plucky heroes!”

“Did they dope you or something?”

Flynn strode up and wrapped his arms around him in a hug.

“I'm happy I'm not gonna die, so sue me.”

Nate was grinning like he had no control over it. “Still time. Come on.”

They scrounged the remaining weapons and ammunition left in the cabin. The three of them were determined to rush through the forest as fast as they could to reach the hotel. There was worry in the faces of his companions but not on his part. He felt fortune was on his side for once.

On alert for Navarro or any other soldiers, they put the enemy camp behind them and hurried for their destination.

* * * * *

The door to the hotel room they were hiding in kicked open with a startling volume. Even expecting the eventuality, it still made them lurch. Bodies tense, breath sounding deafening, the women stared into each other's eyes to calm again.

Elena counted two sets of feet. She put her fingers up to indicate the count for Evelyn, who kept her hand on her mouth. No longer relaxed, the woman seemed close to hyperventilating.

The footsteps diverted directions, right and left. A chair was kicked on its side, a closet door opened. She realized she was gripping the knife handle to the point it was painful and lightened the hold.

A pair of boots appeared in her eyeline, striding along the bed. She turned the knife in her hand, shifting to raise as far as she could on an elbow. Her hair brushed against the bottom of the bed, soft static popping in her ear.

The mercenary turned to the bed. Elena prepared for what would come. It's okay. You can do this.

He knelt on his knees, hands resting in front of them. The long gun in the left hand was set on the floor. His head began to lower. They were staring eye to eye.

His mouth opened, she assumed to warn his friend. Elena drove the point of the knife into one of those eyes and blood spurted. He started screaming. It was awful.

The knife came out of her grasp when the soldier fell over. Rolling on the floor, wailing, his hands hovered near the object protruding from his eye. She pulled herself out of the hiding spot and grabbed the weapon he'd set aside to confront the other soldier.

Shouting in a language she didn't understand and moving to raise his weapon at her, she fired the gun in her hands. It made a loud barking sound and missed him by a mile. Elena held a sniper rifle. She held the weapon steadier, eye near the scope, and shot another round.

This time she hit him in the neck and he spun, falling to the floor. Approaching with caution, she only breathed easy when he didn't move even after she kicked the handgun away from the reach of his fingers. The mercenary still had the knife in his eye but he was on his feet and staggering toward her.

“Bitch!”

Elena dropped the rifle and picked up the handgun. She shot until he stopped coming for her, crumpling to the floor. Evelyn's head dipped out from beneath the bed to meet her eyes.

“Is it okay?”

She nodded three times, reassuring herself in the process, and confirmed, “Yes. Yeah. It's safe now.”

While she checked the ammo in the gun, Evelyn crawled out and stood. She walked to the open doorway and hesitantly peeked into the hall. Elena didn't hear anything outside the room.

They proceeded to the hall and slowly moved to the balcony. Still nothing to hear or see. The danger might have passed. She held the gun firm in her hands and looked at the other woman.

“We should wait here for the others to find us.”

The others would be coming back. She had to believe that.

Chapter Text

“We're gonna die, we're gonna die.”

“Somebody is, if they don't shut up!”

Nate loosened the tension in his shoulders consciously. “Right. Sorry.”

“Quiet the both of you!”

They stooped low behind the patch of bushes where Sully knelt on a knee. Flynn's mood soured considerably in the ten minutes they'd been working their way through the dark forest. He was still optimistic though, and Nathan marveled at the welcome attitude. It freaked him out. In a good way.

His left hand coated in drying blood hung by his side fairly consistent. When he did move it and Nate caught a good look, he winced every time. How much pain was that causing? Did they hurt him when they chose forcible sex? Could he yet feel the burn marks on his leg?

“I count three.”

“So do I. Can't see them,” Flynn supplied.

A bullet whizzed past Nate's shoulder, uncomfortably close. He staggered to his feet and took off running left. He wondered on where the friendlies had gotten to.

When the mercenary appeared in his direct path, he kept on running. He dealt a groin attack by sliding low and punching him where it counted. The guy managed to stay upright, continuing to bring up his rifle, so he kicked him in the same spot for good measure.

“Drake!”

He twisted around on the ground to see Flynn rapidly approaching. Sully followed close and they both seemed mad. Probably had something to do with his not bothering to use the handgun he wore holstered. It was more satisfying to use his body to deal damage to these bastards.

Two mercenaries darted out of concealment and opened fire, spraying bullets. Flynn slid to a halt and spun to survey their attackers. He peered over his shoulder and smirked at Nate with a wink. Then he was rushing into danger.

Nathan watched him go. The other man had nimble fingers, better than him. He was great at distraction and clever. He saw him nab a grenade off the first one's belt when he couldn't manage to shoot the quick thief.

Tossing the explosive at the lagging soldier, he shoved his gun into the soldier's vest while he tried to grab his neck. Flynn squeezed off a single shot and stumbled backward as the man dropped. A shotgun blast knocked him on his ass.

He breathed easy when the man patted his chest to find he wasn't hit. Nate thought he must have lost his balance from the surprise of a loud shot and overreacted to that extent. Navarro disappeared out of sight. There were too many damn trees!

Flynn put himself upright and Sully ran between them, firing random shots to keep a fourth mercenary at a distance. An additional two drew in close to Nate and he knelt, aiming his gun. He rolled to the side after Navarro reemerged, stomping through the small fire left by the incendiary grenade Flynn threw. His bullets and eyes seemed fixed on him.

“Look what I've got!”

Nathan wasn't the only one staring when Flynn made a scene, stopping the fight cold. The man stretched his right arm in front, hand closed tight in a fist. He swung the limb carefully to the side and reached to the back of his belt in the meantime. Nate was in line with his back so he noticed the latter action. No one else appeared to do the same. Intent on the sealed hand, they looked with vigilance, waiting for the reveal. Suckers.

In the same smooth motion, he pulled a knife out and flung it toward Navarro. He did it with the hand missing four fingernails. Ouch.

Dropping the pretense he had something in his other hand, he flattened to the dirt as their enemies started firing. He sneaked a peek to see Navarro in the process of ripping the knife out of his shoulder. Flynn had great aim.

He laughed out loud, amused. He couldn't believe the trick worked so well. Of course, now the trickster was pinned down in the middle of multiple enemies unless he and Sully did something about it.

Was the whole charade to get a shot at Navarro? Was it worth it? He would have done the same thing.

Nate hit a nearing mercenary with a lot of bullets. It was excessive. His bad. He scanned the immediate surroundings for further danger. Plenty of it happening.

He spotted Sully warding off another attacking mercenary and decided he really didn't favor their position. It was too exposed. Somebody was gonna get hurt if they remained like this.

New gunfire introduced into the scenario changed the odds. More mercenaries arriving through trees and brush, knocking down targets with skill. The battle ended in seconds. Navarro lay bleeding on the ground with the rest of his hired guns. Did those guys lament or deplore ending their lives in this place for nothing?

“About time the cavalry arrives,” complained Sully.

He caught sight of Mila and Ilija coming into view to stand beside her. Wolf and a few others switched on more lights, no longer afraid to give away their positions. Nathan recognized everyone and felt solace.

Regrouped, they gathered together.

“The enemy drew us in a different direction,” Isidora said. “I see we were led from the goal. You were not. Congratulations.”

Mila strolled up to Flynn and laid a gloved hand on his shoulder. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Fine.”

“This is truth?”

“Yes. Swear.”

She nodded once, then punched him full in the face. He wasn't alone in gaping openly. Flynn turned his head back from where it snapped away, looking contrite. Right. Ran off and got himself tortured.

He could have been killed. And for what? To play the sacrificial lamb? To try fixing things by dying? Did he finally get he wasn't expendable to everyone?

“I deserved that.”

Mila smiled, pushing a flashlight into his bloodless hand. “Yes, you did. You don't deserve to die.”

Guy was looking too mournful for his taste. He jogged up to him and patted his cheek, grinning broad. Flynn stared apprehensively so he hugged him. He refused to loosen the embrace until he felt him returning the hug.

Satisfied, he stepped back and gazed at their company. “Navarro sent soldiers to the town. We should hurry.”

He didn't wait for a response and realigned himself, heading for town. The noise of other footsteps and movement told his allies were following. But then all the sounds of audible procession ceased. Nathan paused and checked them.

Ilija had stopped walking when he reached the ground where Navarro lay wounded. Looking down at the man, he spoke to someone else.

“Flynn, anything to say before I kill this man?”

A mixture of emotions flitted across his face. Nate squinted, watching him feel surprise, bewilderment, and uncertainty. Lastly he expressed visible ruminating.

Flynn neared their injured enemy but didn't get too close. He glanced Nate's way, flashlight incidentally moving with the shift, before facing a man he had to hate. When he spoke, his voice trembled the slightest bit here and there.

“It's nothing personal, Navarro. Your mistake for counting against me.”

Ilija waited a moment. There was only their silence and the heaving breaths of a gravely injured man. Maybe serious. It sure seemed like a ton of blood to him.

The gunshot echoed through the forest and the night. Nathan turned away and picked up jogging again. His thoughts switched to Elena and the others who stayed in town, who were meant to be safely out of harm's way.

They were closer than he realized to the town. Houses appeared within minutes of his journey back. The destination was reached a mere three minutes or so after entering the residential area.

People were milling about, many wandering in obvious shock. Flynn caught up to him, Mila and Wolf also matching their pace to join them. There was wreckage scattered throughout their path. An attack definitely occurred here.

“Joe!”

Flynn broke away from the group. He ran to a person collapsed on the ground. It was a man and a decent amount of blood formed a puddle beneath his head. It was Joe?

He walked toward the man losing it and falling to his knees. His eyes were glistening while he put his hands on the motionless man, shaking him. Despair threatened to drown rationale.

“Flynn-”

“Wait,” he interrupted Nathan. “He's breathing. He...”

Joe stirred, head tilting and eyes flickering open.

“Joe!”

“What the hell ya yelling for?”

“Joe...”

“Got a busted arm and my head is killing me,” the man revealed. “Otherwise I'm good, kid.”

“Joe.”

Flynn was crying softly. His hands slid from the man to the dirt. Joe rolled onto his side and perched himself up on an elbow. He noticed Flynn couldn't tear his gaze from the bleeding gash in his temple and responded by placing fingers to settle over the wound.

“I got a lot of those sons of bitches,” he told, taking in the rest of them. “Damn explosion incapacitated me. Must have been unconscious. Shit.”

From the looks of things, the ex-military man put up one heck of a fight on his own.

“Do you know where Evie is?”

“I don't. I-shit. Shit.”

“I'm sure you did what you could,” Flynn said, attention switching to search the things in sight.

“Calm yourself,” said Mila to Joe, looking to the other side of the street where the hotel was located. “Perhaps they would seek shelter that is familiar.”

Flynn stood. Emil and Josif helped Joe to stand, David approaching to examine his injuries. He was the mercenary in the know on medical application in the field. The best they could do for a doctor out here.

Content to leave him with these people for the time being, he glanced at Nate and the two of them broke off to investigate the hotel. They could see the front door had been destroyed from the outside. Ilija, Senka, and Radomir made up the rear, guns held ready.

They passed into the building, scanning the lobby as a unit. Nate lingered on the edge of the group, however, as did Flynn nearby. Two very recognizable women appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Elena!”

“Nate!”

Now that he could see with his own eyes his sister was in one piece and unharmed, Flynn was acting aloof. Yeah, right. Big softie.

Descending the stairs, he took Elena into his arms, hugging her close. She breathed a sigh of pure relief in his ear. He saw Flynn accepted a hug from Evelyn and didn't seem opposed to the emotional display at all.

When Elena separated from Nathan and went to Flynn, expectant for a hug, that took a little more acceptance on the guy's part. He was looking at her like there was no reason for them to be hugging, and she was looking at him like there was no possibility she would go away until he accepted. The embrace wasn't nearly as awkward as Nate thought it would turn out.

“We went through a lot of effort to get you to realize you're not disposable, Flynn. Have you gotten over the death wish? If you haven't, get over it and chin up!”

Flynn rubbed at the back of his neck, bashful and submissive to the independent woman scolding his life choices of late. The older man did need to get over being okay with dying and wanting to live like it ruined him. It could give someone strength and make life worth living if he did. He watched with much entertainment.

Evelyn came to the rescue, wrapping her arms around one of Flynn's arms. Smiling into his face, her gaze lowered and she gasped, tugging his arm up higher. It put his damaged hand in clear view.

“Your fingernails were...” she trailed off, horrified. “Oh Har. Does it hurt? We should clean and wrap these fingers. Are you okay?”

It was a good thing the other areas he was hurt were hidden.

“It's okay, Evie. Are you? Okay I mean.”

Nathan could tell she was happy to hear him call her by the affectionate nickname. He was certain these two were going to have a good relationship soon enough.

“It was terrifying, but I'm not hurt. I don't know about Joe. He was fighting with the mercenaries. I haven't seen him since.”

“We did. He's hurt but alive. I don't think it's serious.”

“Thank God.”

“Flynn. Could I have a minute?”

Mila stood in the lobby alone. He walked to her and they went another few feet to talk. When they began talking, Nate quickly discovered he could hear every word and listened without guilt. He kept his back to the pair to make it less conspicuous.

“I'm happy you're alive,” she told him.

“I'm glad to see you too.”

He peeked. Mila removed something from her pocket and held it out to Flynn. The item was refused. It was that necklace she gave him earlier. What he returned to her by way of Nathan when he disappeared on his suicide run.

“I can't, Mila. I want to deserve it. I don't yet,” he explained. “What's happened to me, it messed me up. It's not just what happened with Drake, Lazarevic, or Navarro. This is something that happened before the clusterfuck of the sap job.”

“You aren't prepared for intimacy.”

He hummed through any real response to her direct assumption. Nate was curious what expression or posture he had. Did his idiotic decision to take on Navarro by himself splinter their budding romance?

“I gotta love me if I'm gonna try loving someone else,” admitted Flynn.

“Every soul can be saved. It simply requires someone to care about it.”

Very poetic. She had a talent for such speech. He wondered where she learned English.

“When the day comes I'm better than I am now, I'll ask you for it.”

No response came and he turned a bit. They were kissing, tender and heartfelt. It would appear a relationship was still on the horizon for them. Nice.

They drew apart when the remaining mercenaries and Joe entered the hotel lobby. Evelyn ran to him full of worry. His head was wrapped with bandages and his left arm hung in a makeshift sling.

“He'll need stitches,” David said, addressing her concern. “He's okay. Take him to a doctor for check.”

“You have a daughter that needs you to be there for her, Joe,” Evelyn reminded, stern.

Flynn stared at the man in surprise. “You got a kid?”

“I do. Amelia. She's fifteen.”

“How could you come out here risking your life when you got a kid?” asked Flynn.

“I didn't exactly think I was risking my life when I left to find you, Harry. Anyway, she's home with her mother. She's alright.”

“Yeah. We're getting you back home ASAP,” Evelyn decided.

“Same to you,” he replied.

They started meandering about in and out of the hotel. Some of the soldiers had gone off to assist any civilians in need of aid. David was taking care of Flynn's sensitive fingers after he'd disappeared in a bathroom for a while to wash up. In the meantime, Sully, Mila, Joe, Elena, and Evelyn gathered to a table and chairs outside, discussing specifics on the travel plans. He met Elena's probing gaze from across the street and contemplated if they would share a moment for themselves.

“Care for a walk?”

His eyes locked with Flynn's and it caused the other to avert his gaze to shoes.

“Yeah, sure.”

Side by side, they walked in silence for a full minute. They'd gone in the direction of the town exit and the forest which he had no desire to revisit.

“I've chosen to turn over a new leaf, cheesy as it sounds.”

He looked at the man walking next to him. “Good for you, and I'm not being sarcastic.”

Flynn didn't look his way but he did nod once before saying, “I wanted to promise you, I intend to work really hard to live. No more suicidal escapes. No more lashing out at others whom I care for when I feel betrayed or cornered.”

“Sounds like you've had time to think things over.”

“I tend to self-reflect while under duress. It's a crutch.”

“Are you-? Are you sure...?”

Nathan wasn't quite sure how to word his question and let it fall away to nothing. How did someone ask another why they could possibly make it through torture, rape, beatings, and on and on the trauma list? He wasn't going to have any idea what he was asking unless he got it out.

“Are you angry? I guess, do you think you're different?”

“I presume you wanna know if getting raped or tortured or turning traitor on your friend has affected me more permanent.”

“Uh, yeah. I think..yeah.”

Flynn smiled a little, saying, “Something changes you only if you let it. Doesn't matter the severity of it.”

They stopped walking, having reached the edge of the trees. Neither one of them seemed eager to set foot inside the forest, so they remained outside. They stared at the trees instead of one another. It was easier to speak this deep kind of stuff that way.

“I never knew you were so strong, Flynn. You really are.”

“I don't know.”

“Look. I got a fear of trusting people, but I fear being alone forever greater. You're like me like that, right? I'm thinking if you have nowhere else you want to go; if you still don't want to go home with your sister, I mean.”

He looked at Flynn when he felt a gaze on him. He was under scrutiny, eyes squinting while trying to figure him out. Nathan was clearly causing the guy perplexity. He wasn't making much sense, was he?

He sighed and shook his head, annoyed he couldn't speak straight.

“I'm saying I trust you and I'm gonna trust you not to screw it up. If you wanna come stay with me and Sully for a while. Elena is staying for a while too, I think.”

Flynn stared ahead into the trees. It was mostly darkness in there, but the first light of a sunrise spilled onto the road to their right. He tried to read his mind unsuccessfully.

He knew him plenty to know where his head was sinking, and it brought out his snappy, frustrated self.

“When are you going to get that you matter?”

A lengthy moment of confusion followed, and Flynn said, “That's what I was doing when I tried to play the sacrifice, the hero, or what have you.”

“You matter!”

“You don't matter without doing something for somebody.”

“Is that what you think?” Nate asked, irritated. “After everything we-”

He cut his words off, considering. Flynn wanted to be worth something to somebody. Who didn't? He was aware now that Flynn's cocky and smug personality covered for a majorly insecure person with low self-esteem. He'd already figured that out. The hard part was getting him to believe others cared what happened to him and didn't expect favors for it.

“You matter, you idiot. Cause you're you and I like you. So shut up.”

Nathan swiveled his head to stare in the opposite direction about as quick as Flynn did. He didn't mean for them to both end up embarrassed and awkward. Okay. He could fix this.

“We're friends cause I say we're friends.”

Flynn looked back at his demanding stare. “Oh, are we now?”

“Yeah. Got it?”

Bewildered, he answered, “Got it, mate...”

Silence for a minute.

“Damn, my stomach hurts.”

It really sucked getting shot. Oh right. Flynn was the one who shot him. Did he just bring down the mood?

“My fingers feel shitty,” he said, looking with a soft smirk. “The rest of me isn't much better.”

Nate sighed and swung an arm to hang around the other man's shoulders, smiling.

“Think we can add this as a job complete to our resume?”

Flynn snorted. “Well I did manage a sample of the lost treasure out of the city. For a while.”

“I'd say job well done then.”

“Let's leave out the bit about you bringing the entire place down, yeah?”

“Good thinking.”

Their eyes met and they started laughing. Slow at first, rising until they were holding their sides and trying to stop the tears spilling from their eyes. They were talented making jobs go wrong, that was for sure.

They decided to go back to the hotel area soon after. Walking close together, Nathan was happy to have his friend again. He believed there would be good things in their future.