Notes: Written for a charity auction over on L/J. Refferences to Glee, the songs Blackbird, Jar of Hearts, Somewhere Only We Known, and Kangaroo Cry (for which it was obviously titled. Also a blink and you'll miss it reference to my story Just a Soldier.
That's how long they got.
That's how much time passed from the dam and Nate's big plans and their banter of the Wolf signal and them all going together to…
They got a month together. A month without some shadow hanging over them and it had been… well since before Sophie left that they got even that long without something pushing them and driving them more than just day to day.
Later they'd remember how bright the sun had been through the windows.
Right then Hardison had just complained about screen glare.
They had finished a job the day before.
They were gathered together, Nate and Sophie watching Parker, Hardison, and Eliot eating doughnuts and watching some TV show Hardison had put on.
Glee. Nate would correct himself, later, when he remembered. It was Glee. Hardison had introduced them to the show a con or two ago as an example of "The best and worst things you can do with a tv show" or something like that.
Hardison liked it for the geek pride, Nate thought. Parker liked it for the songs.
Eliot still claimed to not like it but Nate was pretty sure he'd heard Hardison teasing Eliot about getting up in arms over the bullying suffered by a kid named Kurt so…
"Just kiss him already!" Parker yelled at the screen.
Yeah. Nate would remember three thieves face palming in agreement as a fictional gay high school boy chickened out of a relationship.
He would remember choosing to ignore them muttering about him pulling a "Nate and Sophie". He had important adult things to think about.
It had been… about as close to perfect as things got when a con wasn't running smoothly for once.
Eliot's cell phone rang and he stood, telling Hardison to pause the show if "That Dick" started to get what he had coming, before walking out to take the call in private.
When he came back something was different but he didn't make them stop the show.
Nate wouldn't know until later that was the moment when things changed.
Sophie had known. She'd known from the moment Eliot picked up his phone that something was wrong.
She'd studied his expression as he went to leave, the tension in his body, the hint of something disturbingly like resignation in his movements when he came back.
Fears and suspicions were all she had though.
The next day, though? When he stood at the start of Nate's briefing and said he had something he had to say she'd felt her stomach drop because clues and cues were bombarding her but she didn't *want* them.
"Quinn called me yesterday." He said. "He's callin' in the favor I owe him." He let out a breath. "There's a job I've been getting offers about the past year or so. Pay's great but it's a long job, two months at least. Probably more."
Dead silence in the room.
"I didn't want to tell 'em the reason I wouldn't go was I don't want to leave you all that long so I said the job needed a second hitter I could trust, true by the way. That long a job you only do solo if you have to. They offered the job of the second to Quinn." He sighed. "It needs to be done an' I've been getting pressure from some of my old bosses and…" He sighed. "I leave in a week."
The room exploded. Nate didn't take kindly to being forced to do something and control of his team being taken away was part of that (worry for Eliot's physical and mental well being, Sophie noted, was being nicely hidden by that but it was still there). Hardison chimed in with asking who he needed to hack to get Eliot off that plane. Sophie herself chimed in with not wanting Eliot to go and wondering if now was a good time to go to the list of generals she had cultivated…persuasion power… with for situations like this.
Parker was silent in the chaos before getting up and fleeing the room.
And the past month had gone so well…
Five days into the job Eliot gave one last call to Portland and said goodbye. Hardison had provided him with the best and safest cell phone possible to communicate with them but radio silence was about to be a necessity, not to mention he'd be a couple days away from even basic electricity for large portions of the job.
Still as he cut the line he ended up staring at the phone. Five days. Time was once he'd go that long without seeing the team and actually be happy about the break. Hell, three months passed between the David jobs and another six months before he'd seen the team again.
And maybe he'd missed them a little but…
It had only been five days. He'd called them three times just to check in and chat. Every single time Parker had answered it on the first ring and the phone had been passed around like…
Like the few times when he was still a kid that he'd managed to get a call home.
He pushed the thought away and gathered a couple other bits and pieces. There was a safe deposit box in this city he'd had for over a decade. He'd store the phone and some other things in it for the next three weeks. If all went according to plan they'd be back in twenty days and he'd be able to check in with the team then before the next part of the job got going.
It was less than a month before he could speak to them again. That was nothing.
They'd be alright.
They'd survived alone for years before the team. The four of them together could protect themselves without him for a couple months. They could.
His other phone rang, Shelly calling. Him and his boys were heading out. Quinn and Eliot would head out to their part of the job in the morning. They'd meet in four days.
He tried to focus on how good working with Shelly again would be. He tried to amuse himself with the passing thought of wondering just how long Quinn would manage to keep wearing suits before surrendering his Sterling imitations for the practicality of the field.
It used to work so well.
Eliot put everything in a bag and closed it.
An hour later, he stood in the lobby of a bank, the stero crackling with imported american music.
Of course his annoyance at the bad music, already high from the long wait and the need to get this over with so he could move forward, increased when he recognized the chorus from that damn TV show Hardison had made them watch.
Collecting your jar of hearts
And tearing love apart
You're gonna catch a cold
From the ice inside your soul
Finally the person came to let him into the vault. Ten minutes later, as he closed the lid and slid the safety deposit box back into place, the song still annoyingly playing through his head, Eliot had a passing thought about the organ in his chest the team had jerry-rigged back together in the past four years.
If there was some way he could stick it in the box for safe keeping as well.
It took the better part of five days for everyone to accept that he really was going. One by one doors and loopholes and plans to get him out of the job had closed and Eliot had been resigned from the beginning. The job was important. If it wasn't for the team he would have taken it without a thought.
The night before he was set to leave the team gathered together. He cooked a massive dinner, trying to make at least one favorite of every member of the team. They lingered over the meal for more than an hour, chatting, joking, talking about old jobs and rehashing old arguments.
Eventually Hardison had brought out the phone he'd modified for the trip for Eliot to communicate with them back home safely and all the other details and designs that went over Eliot's head but he understood were Hardison's attempts at helping him stay safe.
Parker had given him two envelopes. One was full of local currency, the other American twenty, fifty, and one hundred dollar bills which were more useful than gold in some of the places he was going. He'd already had a stash of both but, coming from Parker…
Sophie had given him a smile and Nate a pat on the shoulder.
His plane was early in the morning. He hadn't expected to see any of them after he left for the night.
But he was surprised at how unsurprised he was as one by one their cars appeared in front of his house in the cold gray pre-dawn hour as he prepared to leave.
In the end they drove him to the airport and went with him as far as he could.
"Two months." Nate said when they were about to be forced to part ways. "We'll meet you back here in two months."
Eliot didn't say it could easily be longer. It sounded like an order and, as always, Eliot would try to follow it.
"Don't let them cut off your hair." Parker pipped up with.
"Yeah, a high and tight would just look wrong on ya." Hardison added in.
Eliot growled slightly but couldn't help the smile.
He turned to look toward Sophie. She returned his gaze with the smallest of nods. She'd look after them while he was away.
One last breath and a nod and he turned. He wouldn't say goodbye. He'd see them again soon enough.
God, please, just let me live to see mama again. He thought, staring up at the sky. The air around him was full of screams and the sound of guns, the sand beneath him soaked with his own blood. He felt cold. I'll never tease Marci again. I'll never sneak out again. I'll never miss church again. Just don't let me die here.
The world was getting fuzzier but hands appeared, a devil may care grin flittered into existence before his eyes.
His hands were sure though. One pressing against the wound on his torso, the other holding his shoulders down so he wouldn't jerk at the pain.
"You still with me Corporal?" A voice asked. He blinked his eyes, trying to focus his vision. "Good ta see. Can ya tell me your name?"
"Spencer." He answered, too out of breath and light headed to elaborate.
"Well, I'm Shelly." The man replied. "Now let's get you out of here."
Shelly would never, ever, let him live down the fact that, right before they got evaced out of there, Spencer –delirious by that point Eliot would always remind him- asked if Shelly was an angel.
"An angel?" Quinn asked with a raised eyebrow as he passed the bottle back to Eliot. They were nine days into the first stretch of the mission and radio silence. It was night, they were somewhere in the desert, camped out around a tiny fire, drinking the beer they'd gotten their hands on through a series of events Eliot wasn't sure he even completely understood, and telling stories.
"I was nineteen, religious, and bleeding out." Eliot growled back. "What about you?"
"Same way I met you." Quinn said. "On the job. Fought him. Won. Then he beat twelve guys and got away."
"Not how I heard it went." Eliot drawled, taking a long sip of the beer.
A hand took the beer and Quinn was suddenly very very close. "We ever gonna settle that score?"
That was what his mouth said but his body language suggested a different score.
"Dude. We're in a fucking desert." Eliot protested.
It wasn't a no though.
They had holed up in some village in the border mountains. If it had a name Eliot never learned it.
Two weeks, he thought. No. One week and six days.
It was dark and late and everyone was asleep but him. He knew it would be another six hours before the next report and whether or not they could get out of there and onto…
He couldn't sleep. During the day and during the work he could keep his head focused on the work. He had to if he wanted to get home alive.
But in the quite night of a mostly safe location when he just had to wait through until morning he couldn't help...
The ones he'd left behind this time, old superstition keeping their names silent in his mind, and the ones a lifetime ago.
His feet found their way to the edge of the village, a space where the children sat to do their lessons when they could, the three days a week the people were able to bring a teacher up to their town.
A bitter smile crossed his face and he looked up.
The stars were different here.
"Black bird singing in the dead of night." The words left his lips without him meaning for them to, matching a tune he'd heard with *them* before… And a song he'd heard years before. "Take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life. You were only waiting for this moment to arise."
"Blackbird singing in the dead of night." A voice behind him answered. He turned sharply. He hadn't expected Him to… "Take these sunken eyes and learn to see. All your life. You were only waiting for this moment to be free." He grinned as he walked to stand by Eliot, looking out at the same dark black night and saying. "Beatles."
As if of course all world class hitters would know the song.
They stood there for another hour and neither of them said another word.
The night after they sang Blackbird they're out of the village and on their own. In some tent on a mountain trail after a long, long, day.
They still hadn't settled scores and they were too exhausted by far to give it the kind of fight it deserved but…
With the tent hastily built to protect and camouflage them they collapsed onto bedrolls and stared at each other for a moment.
"Who takes first watch?" Eliot asked.
Quinn gave a withering look and another time Eliot might have been amused by the fact Quinn apparently got grumpy when he was exhausted.
Another long moment passed before Eliot forced himself to his feet and headed outside to make the rounds.
The next night they did actually "settle scores".
It didn't mean anything though. It was just something to pass the long night and fill a need.
In the morning they geared up and headed out like nothing had happened because nothing really happened.
They were calling his flight and Eliot was telling himself nothing would happen to the team while he was gone when a hand caught his and he turned back.
Parker was there, gripping his hand tightly enough to remind him she hung from buildings with that grip but…
She was looking down and to the side, her face twisted in a weird expression like she wasn't sure how to feel what she was feeling. "Don't g-…don't get blown up. Okay?"
He swallowed the lump in his throat, the after image of his sister twenty years ago with that same damn…
He turned, giving her a kiss on the cheek like he'd given his sister all those years ago.
His voice didn't want to work and he was afraid of cracking and what the hell it was only going to be two months and…
He walked away, turning to look back and wave one last time before they were gone from his sight.
The next step felt as hard as it had twenty years ago.
But just like back then he just adjusted the strap of his bag and made himself keep walking forward.
It said something about him and the change the team had had on him that his instinct upon stumbling across evidence of what looked like local mountain children getting into snowball fight some hours or days ago was not to keep walking forward.
They were making good time, would probably arrive at the next location a few hours early, and this stretch of the job had been remarkably free of peril.
Which meant both he and Quinn had settled scores again more than once in the past few days if for no other reason than not to go stir crazy from the boredom of watching desert turn into dry hills and then mountain roads.
Eliot briefly considered launching a snow ball at the back of Quinn's head in surprise but Quinn kept a loaded gun on his person at all times. Eliot figured getting shot because he spooked a fellow hitter was probably not the best news to send home when he finally got back in touch with them tomorrow.
"Hey Quinn!" He called, waiting for Quinn to turn and register the impending threat before launching the snow ball at him.
His expression as the snow ball hit was priceless, as was the glare of injured dignity he sent in Eliot's direction as he brushed the snow from his face.
They were ahead of schedule, they were in a relatively safe location, and the half hour they lost to a snow ball fight was more than worth the break in the three days of mind numbing boredom since they'd last seen or spoke to another human being.
It had been only a few weeks since he'd spoken to the team but that first phone call back home after being out in the field felt like…
Parker answered it before the second ring. She'd babbled at him about the job and the museum exhibit that was coming through town and Hardison's latest attempt at a date. Then the phone was passed to Hardison and Sophie and Nate and back around again as people stuck in coms to listen in and join in on the conversation and if he closed his eyes he could almost imagine he was sitting there with him.
He stayed on longer than he meant to and Shelly smirked at him when he came back into where they were staying.
Quinn was watching with an expression usually used to study a mark.
"Don't think too hard." Shelly advised Quinn without even looking toward the man then back to Eliot. "Some things never change."
"Yeah yeah." Eliot growled. "Tell me about the bunker."
That at least got Shelly back on track and further making fun of Eliot's familial attachments were forestalled until after they'd discussed the place they were infiltrating.
"You know, if you told me Eliot Fucking Spencer would settle down five years ago I would have laughed." Quinn told him as they waited. There was something in his face and eyes that Eliot didn't recognize. Which was weird, because spending 24/7 around the guy for more than a month is a pretty good way of getting to know someone.
He realized belatedly that he'd miss Quinn. And not just because of the sex. Sure, the guy drove him up the wall sometimes, their approaches to what they did was enough to cause them to be at each other's throats as often as they were joking about western movies but…
Maybe spending all this time with the crew had broken him so someone annoying him made him like them.
"Wouldn't call kickin' some rich guy in the neck every week settled down." Eliot grumbled back to Quinn. "And this aint settled down for sure."
"After Mor-" Quinn, wisely, detects the increase of tension at the almost mention of the name and changes the statement. "For years you won't even take regular clients then suddenly you're with a team for four years? You've settled in man."
Eliot gives him a look.
"Not saying it's a bad thing. I'm glad you've found a place in your old age. Portland seems like a nice place to retire."
"Keep laughin' it up and this old man'll take you over his knee." Eliot threatened.
The predatory look that got from Quinn? Eliot did *not* know what to do with that.
He looked away, trying to focus on the job at hand, just because there shouldn't be any danger and they were with other people didn't mean Eliot could slack off.
Though it didn't help that something in his Lizard brain had snatched onto the conversation and thrown back up bits and pieces of a song he'd heard before this whole mess had started, back with the team and in…
Oh simple thing, where have you gone?
I'm getting old and I need something to rely on
So tell me when, you're gonna let me in
I'm getting ti-
Then the world shook and he couldn't remember any more.
The word was the first really solid thought to drift across Eliot's consciousness as he tried to take stock of both himself and his surroundings only for his head and the threatening roll of his stomach told him to calm the fuck down or puke.
And he was in the desert with possibly broken ribs. Between dehydration and not needing to compound the trauma he should really avoid puking.
He couldn't remember what had happened passed the ground shaking which suggested an ambush coupled with a head injury (which made his lack of recall at least make sense). The bright hot pain across his body was beginning to settle down and concentrate on certain areas which meant it probably hadn't been a bomb. At the very least he wasn't badly burned, which was a relief in a way that most outside the business probably wouldn't appreciate.
He kind of wish Quinn was there, if only so someone could appreciate the irony of waking up in an unknown location, feeling like death stomped on you with combat boots, and being honestly grateful you *weren't* badly burned.
Where was Quinn?
That thought forced his eyes open at last.
He was in a cell. Alone. No sign of Quinn in sight.
Best case scenario was that Quinn had gotten away clean and would let Shelly know what happened. Shelly would organize the extraction if Eliot didn't get himself out of there first. Which he could, and would.
Just as soon as the room stopped spinning.
Worst case scenario was that Quinn was lying dead in some ditch somewhere, not even buried in the shallow grave most joked their types ended up in. Their types didn't end up in shallow graves. Their types were lucky if they ended up in large pieces.
Either way, Quinn wasn't coming back for him.
Quinn was a hitter and when a hitter fell behind on a job they got left behind. Eliot wouldn't delude himself into thinking the sex meant anything. A voice in the back of his head that sounded disturbingly (or disturbingly comforting) like Sophie reminded him that there was a little more going on, surely Eliot had seen the signs and change in body language.
Eliot squashed it. He'd get out of here on his own, like always, and if not Shelly would bring in reinforcements. Shelly had never really been able to break out of the "never leave a man behind" mindset.
But getting out of here before then would be better for everyone.
He tried to sit up before his body told him to either lay the fuck down and *don't* do that again or puke and Eliot was forced to comply.
He'd get out of there, just as soon as he'd recovered enough to stand up.
He let his eyes close. As much as he hated being unaware in a situation like this being awake wouldn't really help him much and rest would help his body heal.
Healing from the bullet to his gut took months. The Purple Heart that came with it could have been his ticket back home for good. It nearly was.
He knew, somewhere in his mind, the reasons it wasn't, why he got healed up and turned down the chance to head home and opted instead for more training. He knew. He just…
It seemed a convoluted path that led him to an air base that didn't exist on legal documents, sitting across from Shelly over a couple of beers. They were in different squads but plenty of the boys had been through training at various levels together, or met in combat like he and Shelly had.
And there was that mission they'd done together, a month back, that Eliot wouldn't know until later would change everything.
"It's a standard K&R then?" Shelly asked. They didn't talk about the details of their missions but he knew Eliot's team would be leaving for a personnel retrieval soon enough. It was most of what they did, which made the question odd.
"You be careful out there. Don't wanna have to come save your ass again."
It would be the better part of a decade before he saw Shelly again, after that. The job was a setup, a trap sprung by those on high who thought Eliot's squad knew too much. Eliot was the only survivor, running scared to San Lorenzo and a new chapter of his life.
He did manage to get a single message to Shelly, a warning about the fate of his team, and three years later he'd watch a news bulletin from a hotel room somewhere in Europe that reported the last of those responsible were found dead.
He never did ask Shelly if his team had done it.
He woke up shivering. Considering the heat of the area it was a very bad sign.
Though that he woke up at all made him marginally more optimistic about his chances of survival.
Eliot managed to stand at least. Though he'd have a hard time fighting Hardison in the state he was in, not even thinking about who knew how many guards or thugs were waiting between him and freedom.
He'd burn that bridge when he came to it.
He sat down and leaned his head back against the rough stone wall, thinking of the family he had to get back to and a time and place that felt so similar but what felt like a different world where he'd met…
He had to get back home. They'd be expecting him in just over a week. He had to get back home by then.
He had to.
He heard shouting in the distance as he closed his eyes, body dragging him back under, and wasn't sure if it was real or an early starting dream.
Sophie found him on the roof. He was a bit surprised. The others probably know by now that he'd taken to going up onto the roof for time alone to think but they'd yet to follow him up there.
"Tell me the truth." She said, coming to stand next to him. "If you could get out of this, would you?"
He sighed. "There a lot of unfinished business out there Soph. This job ties up some of it. I just…"
"Don't want to leave us." Sophie provided. A slim, delicate, hand raised to rest on his shoulder. "I'll keep a watch over them, while your gone. We'll be safe. Just focus on getting home to us the same."
The unspoken plea to not let himself get so neck deep in the bloodbath that he changed hung in the air between them.
"I'll come home." He promised. He prayed to the god he hadn't believed in since he'd been forced to leave his team's bodies to rot in some forgotten hellhole that he'd be able to keep that promise this time.
He was moving before he was even fully awake, arm lashing out to grab at the hand prodding him.
"Woah there cowboy. Just trying to make sure you won't bleed out on me." That voice.
"Quinn?" He opened his eyes and let go of Quinn's hand. He'd expected the hitter to be long gone by now.
"Got away clean." He said. "Took a while but I found their trail. Realized you'd survived. Tracked them down, made entry. Now let's get out of here."
"What are you doin' here?"
Quinn gave him a look like he'd hit his head. "I'm saving you dumbass. Now shut up and don't bite your tongue."
A second later the world shifted as Quinn pulled him to his feet and Eliot clenched his teeth against the cry of pain at the pull to his injuries.
"Can you walk?" Quinn asked and Eliot didn't waste breath answering, just leaned heavier on Quinn and started shuffling along as best he could.
Later, much later, when they'd reached a safe base and Eliot had gotten some medical care and convinced Shelly not to call Nate he'd find Quinn loitering nearby.
Eliot hadn't thought it meant anything but…
"They know you were doing the job with me." Quinn stated. "Your team." Eliot didn't respond. "If I left you in that place they'd kill me."
"Fair enough." Eliot muttered though there was something… "You can finish this job by yourself?"
"Job's done." Quinn stated. "All's left is to get your sorry ass back home. Then…" He shrugged.
"Got another job lined up?" Eliot asked.
Another shrug. "I got a little time off. Don't know where to spend it though. Not really in the mood for beaches after this."
"Too much sand." Eliot nodded in agreement. "Portland's nice this time of year."
Quinn just grinned at him.
It's almost another week before Eliot can make the trip home safely. He considered pressing it a little, a day less in recovery and pushing it travel wise would mean getting home on time.
Of course if the team found out, or if something happened…
In the end he ended up calling ahead, telling them he'd be two days late, but that he was coming home.
Quinn flew with him as far as Paris, the trip back to Portland would already normally take three flights but with their combined paranoia they'd ended up taking a circuitous route and it had been three just to get that far.
Eliot had spent most of the first flight asleep, well as asleep as he got in a public place. They'd talked and joked through the second flight but there had been tension growing. The final flight had been nearly silent.
That hint of a song, the last thing he could remember thinking about before the ambush kept playing through his head.
If you've got a minute why don't we go
It was… you never really realized what spending two months in close quarters with someone did until you got to the end and it hit you that person would be there anymore. Eliot had left plenty of people in his life. Really, this wasn't that special in the grand scheme of things, but in the moment he could never quite completely distance himself from it.
"Well…" Quinn said as they reached Eliot's gate. "We'll always have Paris." He said with a grin.
Of course Quinn was a Casablanca fan.
Talk about it somewhere only we know
"More like we'll always have Censored" Eliot retorted before grinning himself. "Don't know, Quinn, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship."
Quinn shook his head and nudged Eliot's good shoulder with a fist. "Take care of yourself Spencer." Then he turned and walked away.
Eliot watched him go. There was a chance in a few days or weeks he'd get a call that Quinn had decided to see if Portland really was nice this time of year. There was also a chance he'd never see Quinn again.
That was just how things worked with Hitters, collisions and separations until they all eventually dropped dead.
This could be the end of everything
So why don't we go
Somewhere only we know
Between injuries that weren't nearly healed and the close to thirty six hours of travel by the time Eliot trudged up the ramp and out into the terminal he was past tired and closing in on exhausted.
He kept his head down, kept his feet moving, he'd notice if there was a threat but he was past more than that basic, instinctual, observation by about nineteen hours.
The familiarity of the voices registered before the words did and he looked up. Beyond where the gate fed back out into non secure areas the rest of the team were standing.
Hardison was yelling a greeting, Parker was jumping up and down, waving a sign that said welcome home and had clearly been an excuse to use glitter pens. Nate stood at ease, with a grin, like when his plans came together.
And Sophie wore an expression so close to the one his mama wore the first time he came home from the service Eliot felt a lump form in his throat.
It wasn't that long that he'd been gone, really.
But he passed through the last check point and reached the team, reached his family. A hug for moral from Hardison, a poke from Parker, Sophie cooing over his injuries as he winced from both, Nate wading into the fray to move them along.
He hadn't been gone all that long but he felt like that part of himself that had been wandering out in the desert for twenty years had finally found it's way home.