It's hard to sleep.
It's the details. It's the adrenaline and the fear and the craving for something to dull the edges of the world but mostly, it's the details. Normally Nate likes being a details man, dealing in the microscopic, the minutiae, and the tiny, seemingly insignificant parts that make up the whole – plans within plans and a chain of reaction that passes far beyond what the eye can see and far beyond what most minds can perceive too, towards a distant but comprehensive future. Or, more accurately, towards a collection of futures lying parallel and meticulous, shiny and new and ready for use depending on the choices he makes.
But it's hard to think, sometimes, what with the details and futures crowding in on him. It's like being perpetually caught between two mirrors; no matter where he turns, all Nate can see is himself stretching into infinity. It's exhausting.
He is gifted in that his mind rarely shuts down but sometimes Nate wishes it would and it's these nights that see him turning to stare at the bottle or burying his face in his pillow in an attempt to suffocate the things in his head. There are tribal drums and pillars of fire and thoughts unrelenting in their quest for his attention, no matter how hard he tries to ignore them. Tonight is one such night the details are plaguing him after the fact; Nate has a steel trap mind but the gate is his imagination and the details have combined with Sophie's quiet description, affording him a panoramic view of the fight in the alley. Her words reverberate through him, in his memory her eyes are distant and frightened and awed. He remembers he got goose bumps listening to her and the hairs on his arms rise up again.
He rolls over in an attempt to clear his head but the thoughts roll with him and Nate's still in that alley watching Sophie watch Eliot and he can picture her as clear as if he had actually been stood with her. She remains where Eliot left her, her gaze pinned to the hitter's fast moving form and her hands clenched into fists at her sides, white knuckled and perfect nails digging crescents into her palms. Her mouth is dry and she wants to call out but she knows to do so would break Eliot's concentration so she is motionless and therefore invisible to the combatants ahead of her.
Sophie adds more details of the fight and now Nate can see Eliot, long hair whipping about his face a half second later than his movements because he didn't get a chance to tie it back. His body moves with a frightening purpose, his expression is focused and his intent clear. Eliot wants to put these men down in as little time as possible and has shifted into someone his team rarely see. The gunshot, Sophie tells Nate in a voice devoid of emotion, barely makes an impact; Eliot disarms the guy before ramming his elbow into his nose and she didn't think he'd been hit until he lets his arm hang limp at his side.
Again and again, Nate watches the fight, the details he knows adding sounds and smells to Sophie's descriptions. Moments stick in his mind, slamming across his consciousness harder and faster each time until Nate sits upright, defeated. Sleep, such a good friend during the drinking years, has abandoned him yet again. He feels old and used and yearns to feel numb once more.
Nate rises from his bed and heads downstairs. From the steps he can see a huddled lump on the couch; Eliot's given in to the late hour and the lack of dexterity and has crashed on the big cushions, bone weary in a way they've not seen before. The small lamp is still on in the kitchen area, dark enough for Eliot to sleep but light enough for Nate to make his way accident free through the apartment until he realises he doesn't know where he's going or what he intends to do when he gets there.
Momentarily lost, Nate regards Eliot again. On nights like these, Nate usually sits at the table and pretends the coffee is a good substitute for liquor, scanning the thousands of leads he's compiled to find their next client but right now he doesn't want to disturb the hitter. Eliot can be difficult to read sometimes, angry for no reason and unexpectedly gentle in equal parts; Nate doesn't want to know which one's his default setting because he's worried he's going to be disappointed.
In his mind, Sophie describes Eliot slamming the final man headfirst into the wall.
Eventually, Nate settles on returning to the armchair he'd occupied earlier on in the evening, wondering if he'll find peace in its welcoming embrace but from here he can see Eliot and the shadows on his face where bruises mar his skin and he doubts it. He tries to think of other things, of good times and jobs gone well but his eyes stray back to Eliot and his mind returns to the mess they're in and he knows it's futile. Come the morning, his team will look to him to fix things and he's not sure he's going to be able to; he's certainly unable to think of the next step for the moment because the details he's focused on are the wrong ones and he's playing a solitary game of what if with himself.
It's not a game he likes. In his experience, what if leads to should I and that only leads to a one way ticket to guilt, stopping on the way to pick up a bottle for company. Nate's fingers twitch and he swallows to try and make saliva, he's never been more aware of the inside of his mouth as when he needs a drink. His eyes track back to where he keeps his temptation within reach and he knows it would be so easy because no one would say anything in the morning, not after everything. He remembers Eliot urging himself to his feet in that alley. He remembers Sophie in the van, pale and trembling as she pressed down on Eliot's shoulder. He remembers feeling for the bullet with sharp, pointed tweezers, knowing he was causing more pain the longer he hunted for it and he remembers Parker hovering between curiosity and a weird sense of nervousness that had Hardison gripping her shoulder in case she got too close and he remembers Sophie lightly touching Eliot's hair and the hitter twitching away from her in surprise. And Nate wants to stop thinking and he wants to stop remembering and he wants to sleep but none of them are good enough excuses and he makes his gaze move from the cabinet back to Eliot. They wouldn't have said anything but Nate thinks their silence would be far worse than their condemnation anyway.
Eliot moves in his sleep and Nate welcomes the distraction, watching intently, waiting for him to do it again. He's never had an opportunity to study the man when he's this badly hurt and his curiosity is piqued. There have been bumps and bruises and contusions and cuts but always before, Nate's moved on into the future – his set of parallel, shiny futures – and has been too busy picking out which one he wants to use to take much notice other than to nod when Eliot tells him he's out of ice. Nate thinks Eliot prefers it this way, he doesn't much like being the centre of attention unless he has something important to say and Nate knows the hitter doesn't think minor injuries are important enough for anyone else to worry about; if he can't do what Nate and the team need him to do, Nate trusts Eliot to tell him.
That's probably the first thing he learnt to trust, Nate reflects as Eliot shifts again. This time he pins the movement down and reads it correctly – Eliot's uncomfortable; even as deeply asleep as he is, he can still feel the pain of his injuries and Nate suspects the sleep isn't one of healing and escape as much as its one of necessity. He wonders how often Eliot's had to resort to this kind of sleep and if anyone watched over him when he did. Nate doubts it. He sits forward on his chair, hands clasped between his knees as something, some emotion or long forgotten memory, flickers across the hitter's face and thinks back on how little he knows about Eliot's life. All the others have shared small instances of their pasts and childhoods, but aside from mentioning one time girlfriends and occasionally what knowledge he's picked up from them, Eliot remains tight-lipped about anything else. Nate has his suspicions, but doesn't feel the need to pry; he's not the man's therapist – and the thought of Eliot trying to explain himself to a therapist causes a small smile to touch his lips – if Eliot wanted to, he could say something at anytime. The fact he doesn't means he's likely made his peace with whatever went on a long time ago.
Still, he wonders what Eliot sees when he closes his eyes. He imagines there's not a lot of stuff just hammering to get out because, Eliot's temper aside, the hitter is remarkably at ease with himself. He's hurt people and he's killed people and he's okay with that. Nate doesn't know what he's told himself to justify it, he doesn't know if Eliot actually thinks he needs to justify it, but whatever Eliot's doing, it's working well for him. Until tonight, Nate amends, watching as Eliot frowns and shifts again. Maybe some well buried memory is working its way loose, or perhaps tonight's events haven't been properly compartmentalised but Eliot's dreaming. Nate can see his eyelids flicker with REM, can hear the hitter's breathing speed up, stop, begin again. Nate cocks his head slightly to one side, listening. Parker's words echo ominously, telling him he needs to make sure Eliot sounds right. Nate listens hard and feels a chill spread out from under his tee-shirt, skimming along the skin of his arms. Whatever Parker feared – whatever she saw coming – has arrived. The hitch in Eliot's breathing is strange, but it's not until Nate hears it in time with seeing a flinch that he can place it.
Eliot's not simply reacting to his dream. He's having trouble breathing.
Nate's on his feet and beside the couch in two strides but he pauses, hand above Eliot's body, just in time. To rouse a dreaming man to pain isn't without its risks and its likely Eliot's going to come up swinging so Nate hurries around the back of the furniture to give himself some measure of protection. Eliot's breathing hitches again, a strange wheeze accompanying it this time and Nate wastes no more time; gripping Eliot firmly on the knee – he doesn't want to go anywhere near that injured shoulder – Nate calls the hitter's name and shakes.