Chapter Five – Aftermath

LEVERAGE HEADQUARTERS, 1:03PM

Sophie handed Charlotte a delicately designed teacup. The blue flower pattern weaved its way around the rim and down the handle. The cream swirled around the inside of the tea turning it a light tan instead of a brown. Charlotte concentrated on that. It was easier to concentrate on the tea than on what the team wanted to talk to her about.

It was the afternoon after Charlotte had found Denis in the snow. Sophie and she sat on the couch facing one another. Parker was standing next to Hardison hands on her hips. Nate was sitting on the arm of the matching chair. And Eliot was standing arms crossed firmly leaning against the high table away from everyone else. None of them were saying anything but were looking at Charlotte intently. Charlotte reached forward for the teacup with both hands. She tried to control the shaking in her limbs. Her hands hadn't stopped since yesterday. It was the same when she had first turned herself over to the Feds. After she entered the program she hadn't stopped shaking for weeks. She hoped this bout wouldn't last that long. She didn't know how long she could hide it. She didn't want the team to realize just how affected she was. She was stronger than that and she knew it, but they didn't.

Charlotte took the cup from Sophie. It was a surreal moment. Just a few days ago she was having tea with Denis with this very same china on this very same couch. She took a sip. She could tell Sophie had spiked the tea with a bit of Nate's brandy. It gave her a weird note on the back of her tongue that she liked. She was thankful that Sophie had. The brandy warmed her insides more than just plain tea ever could.

Eliot saw Charlotte's hands shake but he was the only one who noticed. Considering she had just lost a dear friend she looked well. She didn't look tired or frantic. She didn't look like she hadn't slept or spent all night crying. She looked like she always did; a bit pissed off but still slightly welcoming.

Last night after he had left her at the library he had returned to Nate's apartment and told them what happened. Everyone had been silent except for Sophie who immediately told him to go back and look after Charlotte.

"She's the one who told me to get lost, ok?" he said gruffly defending himself. "I'm not going to go back and get her. I'm going home."

So he had, or at least he had tried to. He tried to do his normal routine: work out, tend to his garden, cook dinner, work out some more, and then catch his ninety minutes of sleep but he couldn't. So he had taken to driving around Boston and somehow through no fault of his own he had ended up outside of Charlotte's apartment. He wasn't sure how or why he had ended up there but he had. He parked his truck outside and saw her light on in her apartment. Eliot had gotten a sudden urge to go up and knock on the door but then he realized that if he showed up she would slam the door in his face with a snide remark. So not knowing why he had shown up in the first place he left.

He now watched Charlotte take another sip of her tea. Her hands shook more this time. Charlotte obviously noticed as well because she held her teacup in her lap not moving to take another sip.

Sophie seemed to think that this was the best time to ask questions. She quickly glanced at Nate before asking, "Did the police say what they think happened?"

"They think it was a mugging gone wrong." She paused. "Jim's not so sure. He's afraid my Father found me."

"What do you think?" asked Sophie.

"I don't know what to think," she said aggravation rising in her chest. She tried to keep it out of her voice but it slipped in without her meaning to. "All I know is that any decent mugger wouldn't have done it during rush hour on a crowded street. And if my Father had found me he would have killed me by now." She hesitantly reached up and tucked a piece of red hair behind her ear. Her hands were considerably less shaky. "He doesn't like collateral damage. And I'm an easy target. I have a set routine that I follow with little deviation every single day. And this isn't physiological torture; my Father was never very creative when it came to that."

There was a pause as the team looked at each other analyzing her words. Eliot realized she was right. No one should have attacked Mr. Johansen in broad daylight but they had. And Mr. Donnelly wouldn't have shot Denis to give Charlotte a message. He would have just shot her.

"Is Addison capable of something like this?" Nate asked Charlotte breaking the silence. His hands clasped in front of him.

"He's a business man. He doesn't see people. He sees assets or problems and problems are dealt with accordingly."

She took another sip of tea. Eliot noted her hands were almost steady now. It was easier talking about something not pertaining to Mr. Johansen for her. She wanted to remain detached.

"I wouldn't put it past him," she said simply. She straightened herself up and asked, "Where does that leave the job?"

Sophie seemed a bit startled that she changed the subject so abruptly but Nate was unfazed as ever. Parker's eyes narrowed slightly and Hardison crossed his arms against his chest. Eliot though the farthest away from Charlotte was the only one who saw her steady hands take one final sip from her cup.

"It leaves the job unchanged," Nate said. "Mr. Johansen was the client and not part of the job to take down Cunningham or Addison. We proceed as planned."

Sophie looked at Nate upset that he sounded insensitive, which he was.

She turned back to Charlotte when she realized Nate wasn't going to be sympathetic. There was understanding in her eyes."But if you need time to arrange certain things-"

Charlotte cut her off with a shake of her head saying, "His son already came to deal with Denis' funeral and Will."

"But don't you-"

"No, I don't," Charlotte said cutting off Sophie again. There was a finality about it that held Sophie's tongue against asking any more questions. She placed her tea cup on the coffee table. "So what's our next move?"

Nate was the only one who responded. "I go back to do my inspection tomorrow. Sophie's going to put more documents in the library today with Eliot and Parker. Hardison's going through Addison's and Cunningham's finances." He stood up and pointed at her. "And you are just sitting tight until we need you again."

Charlotte looked murderous for a split second but she regained her composure.

"I'll go to the library and wait for you guys to show up with the documents," she said to no one in particular.

Her voice was neutral neither warm nor cold. She stood up to leave but Sophie grabbed her elbow.

"Isn't there somebody else to look at all of the documents today?"

Charlotte gave a small smile. "No one as qualified as myself."

She grabbed her coat from the back of the couch and her bag. She hastily put it on and went to the door.

"Wait."

The one syllable word was loud in the quiet of the room. It was gruff and harsh sounding like a dull knife cutting silk. Eliot was confused. Who would stop her on her way to leave? It was obvious she was done with the discussion. Charlotte's head snapped to the group. Hardison, Parker, Sophie, and Nate turned around and looked curiously at Eliot over their shoulders. He wondered why they were all looking at him. Then he realized he had said "wait". His was the gruff voice that had spoken in the stillness of the room. Why the hell had he stopped her? He wanted her to leave and never look back. He could barely stand to look at her let alone make her stay. None of this inner confusion or realization showed on his face. He was stoic as ever, on the outside. He couldn't just leave that one syllable word hanging in the air. He had to cover the mistake with something.

So without really knowing why he said, "I…I'll drive you."

She opened her mouth to protest but he quickly grabbed his jacket from the table behind him and somewhat forcefully dragged her out the door, slamming it behind them.

There was a moment of silence then Nate said, "I thought he didn't want to drive her around anymore."

"Men!" Sophie said quite loudly as she stood up and left leaving a stormy exit behind her.

ELIOT'S TRUCK, 1:18PM

Charlotte and Eliot sat side by side in his truck, silent. They had been silent as they took the elevator downstairs. They had been silent as they walked through McRory's bar. They had been silent as they walked the little ways down the street. They had been silent as he started the car and drove towards the library. He had had his hand around the upper part of her arm as he somewhat forcefully dragged her down to the car; silent the entire time. But it wasn't a comfortable silence. Eliot could feel the anger radiating from Charlotte. He had been rash when he had said "wait". Rash. It was not a word to normally describe Eliot Spencer. Normally he was calculating and precise. Charlotte was irking him in a particular way today and he couldn't place why. Maybe it was because he had finally seen her in a vulnerable situation. But she hadn't acted vulnerable. She had been in control the entire time. He on the other hand…but that didn't explain his speaking without thinking. Eliot prided himself on thinking before speaking. He prided himself on saying a lot in a few simple words. So what had he really been trying to say when he had called out? He wasn't even sure himself.

"How'd you figure out I was in WitSec?" Charlotte asked breaking their long bout of silence.

Her voice sounded angry. She was obviously still mad he was driving her to work. She was also still mad he had figured out she wasn't who she said she was. Eliot decided now wasn't the best time to pick a fight with her. Although he didn't like her he was going to be sensitive to what she was going through. He had been through it countless times having a friend die. So he answered her.

"You didn't have anything personal in your apartment: no pictures, books, movies, cds. You have only a home phone, no facebook, no cell phone, one email address, and one bank account. You have no close friends just acquaintances." He gave a small smile. "But the most telling thing was that you knew Parker picked your pocket. I can't even tell when she does it do me."

Charlotte smiled back her anger dissipating slightly. "I'm a pretty adequate picker myself, something my brother taught me. Just like he taught me how to escape a tail, how to throw a knife, basic self defense, how to pick a lock, chess, how to stitch up a wound, shoot a gun, and when someone sits outside my apartment in his truck at 2:31 in the morning."

Eliot almost slammed on his breaks. If he wasn't in the middle of the road he would have although he would have been rear ended by the guy behind him. How could she have known? He hadn't even known he was going to end up there himself. And it wasn't like his car stood out in a crowd. He was good at covering his tracks but apparently she was just as good as uncovering then. She was accurate on the time as well. So she obviously didn't just guess. He didn't say anything but just looked at her and glared his hands tightening on the steering wheel as he did so.

"Although I appreciate the sentiment, kiddo, I don't need to be looked after." She paused. "Just like now."

She was obviously still not happy about being driven in. He had gotten that message loud and clear. He hadn't wanted to drive her either. Hadn't he just said yesterday that he didn't want to drive her home anymore? Well he guessed this wasn't technically home but still. He was driving her. She was in his car and they were talking, and his patience was wearing thin but here he was being verbally attacked by her for his actions.

Maybe that's why he had said wait because he wanted to look after her to make sure she was ok. Of all the reasons as to why Eliot might be driving her to work it was the one he liked the least. She obviously didn't need to be looked after.

"It's snowing," he said with a gruff defensive tone. It was the only thing he could come up with. He couldn't tell her he didn't know why.

"Yes, well thankfully the subway is underground, mister." Her voice was heavy with sarcasm as she shot him a dirty look.

"You should have told me not to drive you then."

"Well, you manhandled me before I could get a word out. That seems to be your tactic with me. Before I can tell you 'no' you physically over power me so that I have to comply."

Her voice came out angry and harsh in his truck. It reminded him an awful lot of his own. Eliot had nothing to say back to her. It was how he got his way. She tucked a piece of red hair behind her ear. Her hands were slightly shaking again. She took a breath and started speaking like she was trying to explain a difficult concept to a small child.

"Look, just because someone died does not mean I need to be treated with kid gloves. I'm not going to break down and start crying or have a mental episode or do something stupid. Things happen, people die."

Eliot glanced over to her sharply. Inside his mind he was highly confused but his face showed nothing just his neutral expression of an angry glare.

"He was your friend, Charlotte."

"So were some of the people my Father killed."

She paused her thoughts turning to people she had considered friends. There had been Shannon, Cillian, Thomas, and Mary; those four whom she had grown to love even though she was only supposed to see them for business. Ones she had shared secrets with and stories who she had called late at night for advice and comfort. They could sit in the same room and not speak a single word but still feel like they had hung out. But when you were in the mafia friends only remained around as long as they were useful. She had learned that many times and her Father had always made a point about it. They were disposable like a pen after the ink had dried up. Good for only the services they provided. She had had actual friends in college ones who didn't know what her family did but they were all gone now that she had made this decision to go into Witness Protection. She might as well as killed them herself. But it was worse. She didn't have any pictures of them to soften her grief or visit their graves. She couldn't even so much as look them up online. She couldn't drive by their house for a memory. She would never see them ever again and it gave her the same dead feeling inside. She was forgetting their laughs and smiles. She was forgetting what made them unique and special. Soon they would be no more than static characters in her memory and somehow that made Charlotte sadder than not having anything from them.

She came out of her reverie and said, "I've already done my mourning and have moved on. Some might consider it cold-hearted but I see it as-"

"Surviving." Eliot finished for her. His voice came out softer than he would have liked.

A moment of silence passed between them. It was a silence of mutual understanding. They both understood each other equally at that point in time. They understood each other better than they had originally thought. They were people with pasts that were different and yet so familiar to one another at the same time. It was a comfortable unforced realization. It was in that second that Eliot realized that they were more similar than he could have imagined. How many kills had he stacked away in his brain and put away for good so that he could continue through the day? He understood her personality now. He understood who she was and what she wanted. In that split second he didn't find her irritating or annoying because he saw himself in her.

"And what do you call your shaking hands?" he asked with a sarcastic edge breaking the silence.

Charlotte quickly clasped her hands tightly together trying to control her jerky movements.

"Adrenaline that hasn't worn off yet."

Eliot knew that was a lie but he didn't argue. He couldn't remember for how long his hands shook after his first kill. No that was a lie he knew when it had stopped but he had tried to hide it so well. He was sure men in his unit had noticed his hands. He was only 18 at the time but none of those men had said anything presumably because their hands shook too. He closed his eyes trying to block out the memory. Some things were too painful to be remembered again.

Charlotte stared down at her clasped hands. She knew it wasn't adrenaline either. It was a reminder she was human and felt Denis' death as deeply as her first.

She remembered every detail of that day so clearly. It was April 16th when she was just 8 years old. She knew what she was doing; playing outside in the backyard with her brother after school. She knew what she was wearing; a blue sundress with a white floral pattern and white flip flops with a blue bow in her hair. Her mother had picked it out for her after she came home and took off her school uniform. She remembered her Father coming out of the huge house and standing on the deck. Their Father wasn't supposed to be home until dinner. Charlotte didn't care. If he was home early maybe they would play and have fun before bedtime. She had missed her Father all day and he was home.

"Da!" she had exclaimed stopping what she was doing and running towards him her red hair flying but she stopped short as she realized he wasn't going to pick her up and hug her.

Aiden came up short beside her. His face was solemn and his green eyes so much like her own looked sadly upon the face of their Father. Her Father's face was blank and his eyes were expressionless as he looked between his children.

"Your Ma's dead," he said simply. "A car crash."

Aiden looked sad. He had been twelve. He knew how things were going to change from then on. He knew what was to be expected of him and he tried not to let it show on his face.

Charlotte didn't know how to comprehend what was going on. It felt like she had been stabbed in the stomach and she couldn't breathe. Her Ma was supposed to be at home watching them. How had she gotten hit by a car? She didn't understand then. It was when she was older she had heard about how her mother had been beaten by a rebel in the mafia, a rebel who was dealt with accordingly. But that one day changed everything about her life and nothing would ever be the same.

Charlotte came back to the present and continued reprimanding Eliot. She wasn't in the mood to think about sad thoughts from her past. She was just going to think about now and keep moving forward.

"Tell the team I'm going to forget this ever happened and that they should do the same. If they ever attempt to bring up my feelings or thoughts regarding this matter there's going to be an issue."

"I'll tell them," he said gruffly not wanting to create a scene with her. "They won't like it but I'll tell them."

They had finally arrived at the library. Eliot threw the truck into park as she unbuckled herself and grabbed her bad.

"See you in a bit, mister."

"Charlotte," Eliot said quickly. She stopped her hand on the door handle. He wasn't sure why he had stopped her. This was twice in about twenty minutes he had stopped her without really knowing why. She looked at him expectantly. He fumbled for a second trying to think of something to say. "Here," he said reaching into his pocket and handing her an ear bud.

She smiled and took it. Their finger pads lightly brushing against each other. It was the first time their skin had touched, well besides when Charlotte had slapped Eliot or when he had angrily grabbed her bare wrist but neither of them counted that. They stopped frozen in their tableau as they looked entranced by their fingers touching. Neither was really sure why. They had touched numerous hands before and the skin of other people. There was nothing exceedingly special about their hands but there they were sitting stock still like they had never touched another human being before in their lives. It was a weird sensation and neither of them was sure how to end it. They weren't even sure if they wanted to end it. Their eyes flicked from their hands to each other and their eyes locked.

"Thanks, Eliot," she said quietly taking the ear bud breaking the connection between the two of them.

It was the first time she had said his name. Eliot found his mouth was having a hard time forming words. She gave a small smile and he found his mouth had gone dry. It was a simple gesture saying his name but one that he hadn't been expecting. But it was something more than that. It wasn't merely she had said his name but the way she said it. It formed like an exotic word upon her tongue and then fell from her lips softly. It was just his name. He had heard it said a million times before but something about the way she said it made him stop dead in his tracks. And it was strange that Charlotte, the girl who he had despised for the past few days, was the one who could have that affect on him.

"Welcome," he finally managed to say.

But his voice sounded strange in his truck. It sounded raspier than usual and tiny. Charlotte didn't seem to notice and opened the car door. She dropped about a foot as she landed on the ground. Eliot watched her red head bob up and down as she ran across the street and into the library. Eliot's hands tightly gripped the steering wheel his knuckles turning white as he took a deep breath. Charlotte was going to be an issue whether he liked her personally or not.