Eliot swallowed hard, then spoke in a low voice, "Every one of Moreau's men has innocent blood on their hands, every one of them. Every one of them... are worse than me. You think you know what I've done? The worst thing I ever did in my entire life I did for Damien Moreau. And I-I'll never be clean of that."
"What did you do?"
"Don't ask me that, Parker. Because if you ask me, I'm gonna tell you. So please…don't ask me."
Parker nodded slowly without saying another word.
Eliot walked into his condo and tossed his keys on the entry way table with a sigh. Overwhelmed with exhaustion, he sagged against the wall for a few moments. He wouldn't think about what he'd done today. He didn't want to go there again. His chest tightened and his heart beat so loudly he could hear it echoing in his head. The feeling of dizziness washed over him for a second before he got his body under control again.
'No. I will not go there again.'
Pushing away from the wall, he walked towards the bathroom peeling off clothes as he went. The smell was sickening and he swallowed repeatedly to force down the bile that burned the back of his throat. The industrial lube had dried stiffly on his jeans and mingled with the smell of smoke. Holding the pile of clothes, he realized he never wanted to see or smell them again so he walked into the kitchen, wearing only boxers, and threw his clothes in the trash, closing the can's lid tightly. He continued his walk to the bathroom so he could wash the filth off him.
Eliot stood in the shower after scrubbing every inch of himself, allowing the water to beat down on his back. It was so hot, it almost scalded him, but he barely noticed. Looking down at his hands, he remembered what he had prayed he'd eventually forget. When he had told Nate he'd had innocent blood on his hands before, he wasn't exaggerating. And he knew all these years later that he'd never be clean of it, no matter how much good he did or how many people he saved from men like his former self.
No sense dwelling on the past. He knew no good would come from that. He couldn't undo it, couldn't repair what was broken or bring back the ones that were lost. But what he'd done today might break him down just a little bit more. If Parker, Hardison, or Sophie knew what happened, they'd give him that look; that look of a mix of sympathy, disgust, and fear. The disgust he could handle. He was disgusted. The sympathy would just make him mad. The last thing he'd allow was sympathy. He didn't deserve understanding; he had done everything willingly and hadn't earned redemption. He never could. But the fear…from the ones he'd bled to protect for years now: that would drive him away. He couldn't blame them, of course. Seeing the monster he'd been, the darkness within, that he'd tried so hard to bury deep inside by building those walls to control his emotions and his tempered violence, it would be understandable to cause fear among most people.
Eliot no longer felt any fear of his own death. He knew if he died, he deserved it a hundred times over. Any pain he suffered was mild to what he knew he'd earned. But he feared for them. They'd crept into his life and he'd grown to care about them, despite all his attempts not to. He knew he'd jump in front of a bullet for any of them, like he'd done today for Nate. Hardison and Parker worked his nerves but he couldn't imagine losing them. They were part of him now. Like two siblings that drove him up the wall and made him crazy, but he'd die for them both.
And Sophie, God…Sophie had done something a woman hadn't done in a long time. She'd earned his respect and made him willing to allow her to care about him and show concern for him. Normally a woman like Sophie, with her mothering nature, would have been pushed as far away from him as possible. But she never pulled that act with him. She treated him like…an equal, with no strings or romantic notions, but yet she cared for him. She depended on him, to help her keep everyone else grounded. But also to always get the job done, no matter what. Nate and Sophie were like him, they all had pasts they were ashamed of, felt the need for redemption. When Sophie betrayed them before, it had broken his heart and he tried to hate her. But he couldn't. He'd forgiven her for what she'd done. And he knew she'd forgive him if he told her what he'd done, told her about the past. That would be more unbearable than her hating him though because he knew he wasn't worthy of forgiveness. He'd hate her if she forgave him.
The water had grown cold, stirring him from his internal battle. He shut it off, grabbing a couple of towels as he stepped out of the shower. His skin was tender and red now, from the hot water and the way he'd tried to scrub away the memory of today, but he ignored that. He wandered into the bedroom and changed into some lounging around clothes. He thought about going to the gym but he knew if he did, he'd be forced to deal with other people. And he was tired, all the way deep into his bones. No…he'd just sit home and maybe read a book to escape the thoughts bouncing around in his head. For now though, he was hungry. Cooking would relax him.
Walking down the hall, Eliot sensed he wasn't alone. He tensed hearing a soft thud in the kitchen followed by the sound of a box hitting the floor. A feminine 'dammit' muttered under her breathe and he knew who was there. He came into the kitchen to find her scooping cereal off the floor.
"Parker, I told you not to come here, especially when you break in. You've already made a mess."
Her blond ponytail swished when she turned and smiled up at him. "You knew I wouldn't listen or you wouldn't have Cheerios here, since you don't eat them."
Rolling his eyes, he grabbed the broom and dustpan. "I really don't want company tonight."
"That's why I came alone," she said, holding the dustpan while he swept up the crumbs. She glanced in the box with a frown before looking back at him. "There's less than a bowl full now."
Eliot took the box and dustpan from her and opened the lid of the trashcan. The smell of his clothes from earlier hit him hard and he shoved in the cereal and box, shutting the lid quickly again. He felt her watching him so he started moving around the kitchen, grabbing food from the fridge and handing her a bottle of Cherry Coke, her favorite.
"I'll cook you dinner but then you got to go. I want to be alone tonight."
"Okay. But Sophie always says when you want to be alone, that means you probably need to be with someone who cares."
"Coming from the grifter that frequently disappears for days to be alone herself, I wouldn't take her word as gospel," he remarked, pulling the cutting board out and starting to chop the vegetables.
"What are you making?" Parker hopped up on the island to watch him cook.
"Fajitas. I don't have any steak though. Chicken and shrimp?" he asked and she wrinkled her nose. "Oh, I forgot you hate food that lives in water."
"They poop in the same water!"
"Fine. Fine. I won't tell you the horrors of chicken farms or you'll never eat chicken again," he grinned despite himself, chopping up the peppers and throwing them into the skillet. Parker stayed quiet until he began chopping the onions. The smell burned his eyes making them water a little bit so he wiped his face on his sleeve. When he turned around, he saw tears rolling down her face. "Is the smell that strong?"
She shook her head. "I was just thinking, about what you said earlier."
"We're not talking about that…" he began, jabbing the air with the knife. Parker slid down from the counter, landing lightly. She studied her feet for a long time.
"I just want you to know…that Sophie was right. We've all done things in the past. Things we're ashamed of, I mean. I know it's probably not the same but, of course, it's all about levels…of badness." Her gaze flickered to his for a moment before she continued. "And your worst, to you, is the worst thing ever. Just like my worst…is to me."
Laying down the knife, Eliot crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the counter opposite of her. They were both silent for a long time before he sighed. "Parker, please don't ask me."
"I'm not going to ask. I just want you to know…it wouldn't matter. No matter what it is, it wouldn't matter…at least not to me. I don't think it would matter to the others either. It wouldn't change anything is what I'm saying. You know? "As she spoke, she twisted a hand towel into a knot. Realizing what she was doing, she tossed it down on the counter and took a few steps towards him.
Parker nervously shifted her weight, swaying back and forth, still avoiding his eyes. Eliot watched her. He'd only seen her this way one other time, in Belgrade. He opened his mouth to say something a few times only to realize he had no idea what to say. Finally, she looked at him again, tears streaming down her face.
"I've never had a family," she whispered. "I know we're not really a typical family but if you've never had one, you really don't know what's 'normal'. And it's probably dumb to you but this…us, all of us…it's the closest thing to family I know." Her eyes pleaded for understanding.
"That's not dumb," he said, after a moment. "I mean…well, we're not but we sort of are…"
"Exactly. And with family, you forgive people for their mistakes. We forgave Nate earlier this year and Sophie about the thing with Sterling and Blackpoole. And they've both left us and come back, but you never left. You're always there and…I know that you'll always be there if I need you. No matter how much we screw up and how mad we make you, you always come through for us and protect us. I've tried to think of all the horrible things you could have done and I thought of some pretty horrible things. But I realized, no matter what it was…what you did that you can't forgive yourself for...that's not who you are now. It made you change so now you help and care about people. And you care about us, even if you'd never say it."
Eliot glanced away, unable to look her in the eyes for a few minutes. "Parker, can we just stop talking about this, please?"
After a pause, she shrugged. "I just wanted you to know it wouldn't change things, no matter what it was." She watched him for another moment before asking, "Can I help?"
At first confused, Eliot realized she had dropped the subject that easily and nodded. Parker washed her hands before picking up the knife and another onion, dicing it the way he'd showed her how to do. He grabbed the cooking oil to pour into the skillet. She finished chopping and scraped the onion off the cutting board into the skillet. He watched her feeling overwhelmed with tenderness which he tried to hide with a scowl.
Parker must have sensed his observing her because she returned his gaze with a light smile. "I'll stir, you cut up the chicken. You know I hate that slimy feeling."
Unable to help himself, Eliot chuckled and shook his head, handing her the wooden spoon. "God help you if you ever have to cook by yourself."
"I know, Parker, I know. Raw, dead birds are icky."
"Dead birds period, although I'm not a big fan of live birds. Did you ever see that movie The Birds? It's a matter of time you know. One day, all the birds will go crazy and start attacking people. And cute little ducks will bite the hands of little kids innocently feeding them. Think of the carnage…"