I'm on an Eliot kick, I totally am. I'm not even denying it anymore.
I got this idea partly from a story I read by Crimson Cutie called "The Only Good Guys You Get" (and no, I didn't get permission to use the idea - bad Poesie! - but I think it's different enough that I don't have to). It was very touching and made me wish such an AU had really happened. My is not really an AU - I don't think there's been anything so far in the show that contradicts what I've written here.
Also, it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so in honor of that…
Summary: Parker steals something from Eliot and reminds Nate of something. Much angsting and sappiness ahead. You have been forewarned.
"Is this yours?"
Parker's sing-songy voice drifts to the kitchen from somewhere in the neighborhood of Eliot's living room window.
Eliot doesn't even flinch. Reason being, he'd felt, rather than heard, her steal in. It has become somewhat of a habit of hers of late. He'd growled at her a little in the beginning, but the disgruntled grumbles he gives now are just for show. She's annoying, sure, but he genuinely likes her (and boy, if that hadn't come as a surprise).
"Whatever it is," he calls out, his knife not missing a beat against the wooden cutting board, "it's in my house. What do you think, Parker?"
Eliot's head shoots up, glaring at the entryway of the living room, trying to see which of his belongings the little blonde thief has acquisitioned. "Parker! What is it?"
"It's pink!" she sings out, waltzing into his kitchen. Around her wrist is a pale pink rubber bracelet. She shakes her arm and waves it, making the band hula hoop around her thin wrist.
Eliot stares at the bracelet for a moment. "Oh that," he eventually says, turning back to chopping his Vidalia onions with an odd expression on his face, "That, you can keep. You gotta put the Bowie knife back where you found it, though, darlin'. I might need it."
"You're gonna give it to me?" Parker pouts, pulling the knife out from where she'd hidden it. "That's no fun." She slips off the bracelet and plays with it a little, stretching it out and bouncing it from hand to hand. "I like it. It's stretchy. Like a bungee cord." She pulls at it again with a grin.
The hitter chuckles. "Just take it, Parker. I don't need it."
"Fine," Parker says, putting it back on her wrist, along with one of Eliot's elastic hair ties. "What are you making? Can I have some?"
"Look!" Parker bounces into the office the next morning, waving her left arm like a maniac.
Everyone looks up at her hyperactive entrance, glances at the others, and shrugs. Normal Parker.
"What is it?" Sophie asks the flailing thief kindly.
Parker shoves her wrist at the grifter, showing off her new piece of heisted jewelry. "I stole it from Eliot."
Sitting at the table next to Nate, Eliot groans into his mug of tea. "No, Parker, I gave it to you. There's a difference."
Parker sticks her tongue out at him. "I was going to steal it."
Eliot shakes his head, finding himself wondering, yet again, at her logic. "I know. That's why I gave it to you. But that's not the same thing as stealing it from me."
Parker pfuis at him and bounds over to Hardison to show him the bracelet.
Sophie turns back to the table and sips at her tea. Eliot can feel her calculating eyes burning into him. Nate's steady gaze is no better. "What?" he grumbles, "She woulda stolen it anyway."
"It was very nice of you to give it to her," Sophie says, standing up to go to her office, taking her rose-patterned china teacup with her, "But I don't think pink was much your color anyway."
Eliot glares at the smirking brunette. "It wasn't really mine. Girl left it at my place a long time ago. I forgot I even had it." He shrugs nonchalantly.
"Mm-hm," Sophie says, making her dramatic exit, "You're a terrible liar, Eliot."
Eliot stands, too, taking his mug to the sink, along with the saucer Sophie had left on the table. "What are you starin' at, Nate?" he growls, feeling the unrelenting gaze against his back, and begins washing the dishes with more energy than necessary.
Nate sits back in his chair, his eyes not leaving the hitter. "She's right, you know. You are a terrible liar. Not usually, but today." He folds his hands on his stomach, studying Eliot's back.
Eliot can always tell when Nate's behind him. He's awful at sneaking around, unlike Parker, and even she has startled him only once.
"That was a breast cancer awareness bracelet," Nate observes, leaning on the kitchen counter, "Why do you have it?"
Eliot sighs, tosses his head back to get the wayward strands of hair out of his face. "I did a run for some cancer thing a coupla weekends ago," he says with a casual shrug. "Just to keep in shape. They give 'em away for free."
Nate's stare bores into the side of the younger man's face. "Uh-huh." Then he looks away deliberately and takes a long drag from his coffee cup.
"That's all," Eliot insists.
The silence drags on until he finally gives in with a huff. "Alright." He leans his elbows on the edge of the sink, his hands dangling in the soapy water. He hangs his head, making his hair fall back down again. "My mama died from breast cancer when I was real little," he says, voice subdued. "And it was…hard. That's my sob story. That what you wanted to know?"
"I'm sorry." That's all Nate can say. He knows there's nothing he can say or do to make the hurt go away, but he means it, so he says it anyway.
Eliot knows, too. "Yeah." He returns to scrubbing at a stubborn crust of dried egg on the frying pan in the sink.
"It was you, wasn't it?"
The question takes Eliot by surprise, blindsides him in a way that a physical blow would never do. "What? What was me?" He looks at Nate in real confusion, although a slight suspicion shows in his eyes.
Nate swallows the last of his coffee, the taste thick and bitter on his tongue. He can't meet the younger man's eyes. "When my son was sick, Maggie and I made accounts at several charity organizations, so people could donate funds to pay the bills. Not much came in, but it helped to think that there were others out there who wanted to help. Then I found that treatment, but IYS wouldn't pay for it. Sam…" 'Sam,' never 'Sammy.' "Sammy's for babies, Daddy."
Eliot waits patiently while Nate gets a grip on his emotions again. He wants to reach out, say something, but he knows he shouldn't, knows the man needs to get this out. He's no father confessor, but they both know he'll keep his mouth shut better than any priest.
"Sam just got worse," Nate continues, "And then one day, a check came in the mail, enough for the treatment and to pay off all of the bills. But by then it was too late. Sam died that afternoon. And I couldn't do anything to…" He trails off, immersed in painful memories. The deep hole in his chest twists and he can't breathe. He needs a drink.
"I'm sorry." It's gentle, gentler than what one would expect from a man who hits people for a living. Nate has come to expect it from Eliot around Parker and Sophie, and sometimes Hardison. But not himself. He doesn't deserve gentleness, not from anyone.
"Was it you?" he repeats, needing to know for sure. "Did you send us that check?"
Eliot wipes his calloused hands on the worn dishtowel, eyes cast down, not meeting Nate's, as if somehow ashamed of getting caught. "I know you said we aren't friends. We weren't, I guess. The money wasn't for you anyway. It was for the boy," he says defensively. The wet towel twists in his hands, and the threads begin to stretch and warp, one ripping apart and starting a long tear in the cloth.
"A kid like that," he goes on, throwing the towel aside, "smart, good parents, bright future ahead of him, he deserved to have a second chance at life. It wasn't right for an innocent kid like that to have to die, and someone like me to keep on living." "Like some kinda cockroach," he wanted to say, "Won't die, no matter how many people try to kill me."
"So I…Well you know the rest. I was too late, and he was just another person I couldn't save." He hadn't killed him (like he'd killed all those other people - men, women, children, entire families massacred - for Moreau, for governments, for money), but he might as well have for all the good he did the boy.
"Thank you," Nate whispers, eyes on the scarred, muscled hands. They'd done so much damage in their time, but they were capable of good, too, of creation, protection. "It meant a lot, even if it didn't save him."
"You didn't cash the check. After, I mean," Eliot points out, finally looking at Nate's face. "The bills were still there, and you didn't use the money."
Nate allows the corner of his mouth quirk up. "I think I knew it wasn't…" He searches for the right word.
"Honest?" Eliot snorts. "'S okay. You can say it. You didn't steal a Monet," he says, referring to what had been said the first time they'd met after Sam Ford's death, during the team's first job together. "But it woulda been like the same thing, maybe worse. Coulda been blood money, for all you knew," he quips darkly and holds his hands out, as if showing Nate the permanent rusty stains on them. "And it was. You did the right thing, trashing it."
"You're a good man, Eliot," Nate says, making such a change in topic that the hitter wrinkles his brow for a minute. His hands clench. "I knew that then, and I know it now."
Nate goes on before Eliot can say anything. "At the time, there was too much going on to be truly thankful, but. Thank you. You may not think it, but you are a good man, and I'm proud to call you my friend."
Eliot meets Nate's eyes, questioning, surprised, even.
"I said we weren't once, but you are now. Things change," Nate says, smiling wryly, "I was once an honest man; now, I'm a thief. And you, you're a good man, no matter what you've done in the past." He holds the younger man's gaze, meaning what he said, wanting him to know it. "Black knight, white hat."
The much-used phrase makes Eliot smile. He nods, turning slowly away again to finish the dishes. "Thanks, Nate."
Nate slips his empty coffee cup into the sink and gets an annoyed huff in response. "Why'm I the only one who cooks and does the dishes around here?" Eliot grumbles. "I'm not the damn maid."
Just then, both of their phones trill simultaneously. Nate, being the one with the dry hands, gets his out of his pocket and checks the screen.
New text message from Hardison:
"mtg starting w/ or w/o u"
Eliot leans over his shoulder to read it. He scowls. "We were in the kitchen, you idiot!" he yells in the direction of the six wide-screens on the other side of the apartment, where Hardison's grinning at them and waving. "What, you're too lazy to get offa your ass to walk thirty-seven feet to come tell us? Like a normal person?" He slams the poorly abused dishtowel onto the counter and storms out to the couch, hair flying back behind him.
Nate shakes his head and takes the newly-washed mug out of the rack to pour himself another cup of coffee before joining the others.