Disclaimer: I own nothing but a falling apart truck and a laptop. Will fight for either, so don't sue.

Author's note: The scene from the King George Job had such a good set-up, and could have been played for such good Eliot angst. You could see it was killing him, but the writers just left it at that. Here's my take on the aftermath. New to this fandom, only one other story, so please review!

The sound of fists impacting on flesh sounded in Eliot's earpiece, followed by Nate's soft exclamation of pain, and he instantly turned toward the building. "I'm coming, Nate!"

"No!" Sophie's voice cut through the channel sharply.

"No?" Eliot demanded.

"No?" Nate asked, somewhat pitifully.

Sophie went through her explanation, and Nate got it. Eliot even had to admit it made sense. It was enough to stop him, because he didn't want to risk the con. Because he wanted to save the little girl sitting alone in an immigration holding cell, scared and not understanding what was going on. But that didn't help him. That didn't help the fact that he was standing here listening to someone assault one of his team. Standing there. Not going to help him, not rushing to the rescue. Letting him suffer. And that didn't set well with Eliot.

"Nate?" He asked quietly.

"Okay," Nate said, and Eliot knew he was talking directly to him rather than to the thug. It didn't help.

Another punch, another forced exhalation from Nate. Eliot held his breath and clenched his fists, fingernails digging into the flesh of his palms. When he got ahold of this guy, he was going to pay!

Finally, he heard Sophie's voice through the com, and Nate's barely audible sigh of relief. He was finally able to draw in a full breath again. "Don't ever ask me to do that again, Sophie!" He whispered. "Never."


Back at the office that night, all was normal. Nate for the most part seemed unharmed, although Eliot had seen the sunset of bruises covering his stomach and ribs when he examined him. Nothing was broken, nothing damaged that wouldn't heal in a few days. Eliot had helped himself to whatever burning brown liquid Nate was drinking, but he couldn't really taste it.

When Parker excused herself for the night and Nate went to bed, knowing someone would lock up when they left, and Hardison was hard at work on some computer thing Eliot couldn't even begin to understand, he had almost forgotten about Sophie until a hand landed on his shoulder. Had they been anywhere else, that would have ended with bones in her face crunching under his fist, but that instinctive part of his brain seemed to slow down a little in Nate's apartment. He had mentioned it once to Nate, concerned, and Nate had barely contained a laugh. With the utmost seriousness, Nate had told him "Your brain understands what your heart doesn't. It knows that you're safe here and anyone who touches you here means you no harm." Of course, Nate had been at least two-and-a-half sheets to the wind at that point, maybe even the whole three.

Not reacting violently for whatever reason, he turned to face Sophie. "Are you okay?" She asked quietly.

"Of course," he said. "'m not the one who was used as a punching bag for some guy obsessed with the queen today."

Sophie sat down beside him on the couch. "You watching this?" she gestured at the TV.

"Yeah," he said, not looking at her.

"What's the score?"

"Giants 21, Bucs 8."

Sophie looked at him carefully. "Eliot, this is a hockey game. You're not even looking at the TV." She clicked it off. "Talk to me."

He finally turned to face her. "What do you want me to say?"

"I know you weren't the one beaten up today. And I also know you would be in a lot better shape if you were. I know that you think it is your responsibility to protect us all from any pain. But you just can't, Eliot. People in our line of work get hurt. You can't always take the pain for us!"

His eyes softened at that. She did understand a little bit. Not much but some. And she really wanted to. He sighed and dropped his head back onto the couch. "It's not that, Sophie. I know Nate's a grown man, and I know he'll be okay. I know he's had worse pain in his life and that in reality, this was minor. A few bruises that will fade within a week." He stopped there, hoping that acknowledgement was enough.

It wasn't. "Then why do you look worse than when you dragged Hardison out of that mess with the Syrians? And you had two bullets in you then!"

"Well, for one thing, I warned you guys that was a mistake… we shouldn't mess with people who use "Eliot Spencer" and "jihad" in the same sentence." His attempt at humor fell flat, and he took another drink of the whiskey Nate had set in front of him before going to bed. "Because I was trying."

Sophie looked at him a second. "You mean, you're doing this to yourself because I asked you not to step in?"

Eliot rolled his eyes. It sounded stupid when she said it. "It's not that easy! I-" He took another drink of the whiskey and contemplated for a moment when Nate had began stocking Jack Daniels along with the usual high-end scotch. Probably around the same time Eliot had realized he would die for any member of the team without a second though. "I'm the hitter, Sophie. That's what I do. I can't plan these things like Nate, or climb as well as Parker, or act like you or do the whole geek-magic thing Hardison does. My purpose, the reason I'm with you guys, is to keep you all safe. I fight, I hit people, I hurt people to protect my f- my crew."

He raised his head to look into her eyes now, suddenly wanting, no, needing her to get it. To know what she had asked of him so casually earlier that day. "Today, one of my crew was in pain. Someone was hurting Nate, and I had it in my power to stop them. Hell, I had it in my power to make him eat his own kneecap. But I didn't. I stood there and listened to Nate try not to cry out in pain as someone beat him. And you have no idea what that felt like, knowing he was in pain and I could stop it, but…"

"But you were restraining yourself," Sophie said, feeling a weight on her chest. She hadn't thought about what it would do to Eliot when she asked him to stand down. "Because I asked you to."

He nodded, feeling her understanding seep in. "Yeah. I can take a lot, Sophie. I can take a beating, even with my hands tied and not being able to protect myself. I've taken worse. But I can't take having my hands tied like they were today." He dropped his head and snorted derisively. "My own weakness, I guess." He looked back up at her.

Sophie's heart broke at that statement. "Eliot, you are not weak. You are the strongest man I know, and also the toughest. What you are feeling right now, that just makes you human. It hurt me to see them hurt Nate, too."

Eliot swallowed and nodded, setting his face carefully back to its usual disinterested mask. "You did the right thing today," he told her. "Exactly what had to be done to make the con work. Nate is okay, and I will be."

She stood up, putting her hand on his shoulder from behind. "I know, Eliot. And I'm sorry. I understand now what I put you through today. I didn't know it would be so hard."

He leaned his head against her arm, accepting the comfort. "You know, I don't have an easy job, Sophie. None of us do. Busting heads can be strenuous, but it's not so bad because I know I can take it. I know that if I do, it will keep you guys safe. But the hardest part of my job is sitting back and watching you guys put yourselves in danger when I'm safe. And the only thing worse is the results." A shudder went through him at the echo in his head. Fists on muscle, barely restrained cries, restrained to spare the team –to spare him- pain.

Sophie squeezed his shoulder, vision blurring with tears at her look into their hitter's world. "I won't do that to you again."

He shrugged, and looked up at her. "Yeah you will. The next time it needs to be done. And I'll survive. Now go on… The game's about to go into overtime."

She smiled at him, patted his head, and said "Eliot, dear, the game went off five minutes ago. The Flyers won by 2."