Completed by theron09 (http://teamgrifter.livejournal.com/213689.html?thread=3990969#t3990969), meghan_84 (http://teamgrifter.livejournal.com/213689.html?thread=4011705#t4011705) and telaryn
Complete Table: 600 points
Running Total of Points: 600 points
Quinn’s lived through many different kinds of pain and fear, been at the wrong end of deals more often than not, and had many a person try to break him, hurt him, find his weaknesses. It’s only when he’s left alone in the dark spaces, though – in the underground cells or the abandoned warehouses or, on one occasion, the depths of a cargo ship – that he gets scared. He can put up with the pain, the beatings. What he really can’t put up with is the thought of them crawling across his face, his skin. Spiders.
She watches the way Nate’s hands shake as he hands her a plate of food. She doesn’t miss the way he looks at the bottle of whisky that sits on the table at the side of the room. She hadn’t thought to move it. She hadn’t thought she’d see Nate like this, not ever. This is what loss has done to him, she thinks. He’s an addict, addicted to the alcohol and addicted to the adrenaline that comes from helping people. If this is what it’s done to him what, Maggie wonders, has loss done to her?
Hardison hums, Parker moves, and she thinks maybe she can do the job after all. It’s not the first time they’ve danced together but she kind of feels like it is. This isn’t dancing at a high school reunion that wasn’t even theirs. This is dancing because she’s asked him for help, because he’s making sure she can do her job, because they’re alone and together and she needs this. Independence has been her thing for a long time and it still is but being independent and needing Hardison at the same time? Doesn’t scare her anymore.
Quinn knows that Hardison’s a good hacker which is why he’s surprised when he goes to look for a Kenneth Crane clip online – Parker told him – and actually manages to find one. It takes a while, is in an obscure area of the internet, but he finds one. The image is grainy but it doesn’t matter because the sound is clear. The sound is clear and Quinn listens, transfixed, as Eliot sings. He listens right to the end and then again, wonders just what it’ll take to convince Eliot to give him his very own private show. Surprisingly, it doesn’t take much.
They pose as a rich couple – Tara an entrepreneur, Craig the heir to a business empire – and don’t have any problems getting onto the boat. It’s a bit risky – crashing a cruise – but they’re only going to stay until the next stop off. Just long enough to steal from the undeserving rich, the corrupt CEOs and maybe the woman who glares at them as they kiss as well. They spend the day by the pool and grift their way to the captain’s table in the evening, and it’s corny but it almost feels like sailing off into the sunset.
The car careened around the corner and Hardison wondered again why he’d decided to let Parker drive. Careening around corners was a common feature of journeys where Parker drove, along with lip-biting and making sure seatbelts were in place and thanking lucky stars when the car pulled to a stop. Needing something to focus on other than the road and the speed, Hardison turned sideways in his seat to look at Parker. She was smiling the way she sometimes smiled at safes, looked totally free, and Hardison realised he’d happily careen with her any time just for that.
When Shawn Spencer walks into the bar, Nate wants to tell him to walk back out again. The guy is more hyperactive than Hardison is after a night playing video games, more focused on food than Eliot is and, Nate suspects, a lot more dangerous than people give him credit for. Shawn cracks jokes and steals food and generally gets on Nate’s nerves but then his face turns serious, just for a moment, as he talks about his problem and he might be a fake psychic but Nate can tell the guy isn’t lying to him. Nate sighs. He has a new client.
Eliot wakes up slowly and wonders why until he hears the sound of the television on in the living room. The volume is on low but he doesn’t have to hear specifics to know that Quinn will be watching old reruns of Happy Days because, so he’s told, the Fonz is just that cool. Getting out of bed, Eliot pulls the duvet along with him and takes it with him, drapes it over himself and Quinn as he settles down next to the other hitter on the couch. They both know what not being able to sleep is like and, like other times, they’ll share the burden.
Sophie pours herself a generous glass of white wine, smiling to herself as she does so. She has the night off while the others conduct surveillance and meet with clients and she intends to make the most of the time. It’s been a long week. She takes her class into the bathroom and turns off the taps, checks the temperature of the water in her bath. It’s just perfect for relaxing in. Then the door swings open, Nate walks inside holding up a bleeding Eliot and Sophie sighs, wishing she hadn’t used her best bubble bath because she won’t be the one using it tonight.
Eliot had thought being close to another hitter again would be a reminder of blood and violence, a pull away from the new life he’s built back into something that’s almost feral, living on the edge. But it’s not like that with Quinn. Quinn teases and prods but knows when to back off. Quinn likes watching him cook and then watching cheesy movies together on the television he’d forcibly installed in Eliot’s apartment. When Eliot’s feeling like punching someone, Quinn quips at him and tugs his hair, not afraid to push. When all’s said and done, Quinn makes Eliot feel human.
Eliot stands and studies the group of thieves at the table, empty plates in front of them, before beginning to collect the plates in. Table cleared, he vanishes into the kitchen for a moment and returns with an apple pie, just out of the oven. Hardison groans, Parker and Nate sit up straighter in their seats and Sophie loosens her belt off slightly. Eliot smiles. It isn’t often he finds the time to cook properly for them now, with jobs more frequent, so he’s gone the extra mile today. By the time he’s finished there’ll be food comas all round.
Eliot looks at him and Nate looks right back at him. Then Eliot asks a question, wants to know if they’re sure they can take Moreau down. Nate nods a yes even though he isn’t certain because he knows his answer won’t make a difference. Either way, Eliot will still sacrifice himself to save them. Answering yes, giving Eliot that at least is the only thing he can do for him right now. Eliot’s Eliot – there’s a small chance Nate will see him again but odds are this is it and it takes every bit of strength Nate’s got to leave Eliot to it. To his death.
Sophie can’t ignore the way they all keep looking at her as they drive away from the museum where Blackpoole’s collection is being prepared for display. Parker keeps sending sideways glances at her, Hardison is openly staring and Eliot, well, Eliot is refusing to look at her at all and it has exactly the effect he’s probably hoping for. She feels like a traitor. She felt like a traitor then, when Nate first found out, and she feels like a traitor now. It’s not often she has to stick around and face the consequences of her actions and this is hard. She’s not a traitor, she knows, but she sure feels like she is.
Quinn laughs as he watches Eliot walk around the apartment tidying things away, small Labrador puppy tracking his every move like a shadow.
“You could help tidy,” Eliot says, “instead of sitting there giggling.”
“I don’t giggle. I laugh. Besides, it’s so much more fun watching the two of you.”
Eliot scowls, “damn puppy won’t just sit down in one place.”
“Hey, Huck’s just loyal. That’s a good thing.”
“Yeah,” Eliot stops fussing and bends down to stroke the puppy, but he’s looking at Quinn when he speaks again and it’s obvious who the words are directed at. “Loyalty is good.”
The angel drops down from the top of the church while Mommy and everyone else are praying with Father Paul. The angel’s hair is blond like in the pictures and pretty and she smiles real nice when she sees she’s been spotted. For some reason the angel is doing something with one of the statues that Mommy always says she mustn’t touch but it must be okay for the angel to do it because Father Paul doesn’t seem to mind. She likes Father Paul – he always says hello to her and he’s kind and his church has an angel and something Mommy calls a miracle.
They fall out because of one of their clients. A man who wants to get back money he lost in a divorce. Sophie thinks he’s genuine, didn’t deserve to lose his money. Nate thinks he’s a cynical businessman who can’t stand to let his ex-wife win their last fight. Sophie spends the night in a hotel room, Nate spends the night telling Eliot all of his woes until the hitter shakes his head at him and will take no more complaining. They don’t speak for forty-eight hours and it’s only when their clients lawyer mistakenly thinks they’re approaching him about their divorce that they give up, kiss and make up.
Hardison really doesn’t get the point of liaising with SHIELD for their latest job; it’s not like he can’t access the agency’s information all on his own – hacking their facility’s computers is scarily easy once he’s got a night to himself and plenty of orange squeeze. He’s late getting ready for the meeting, makes sarcastic comments all the way to the meeting and it’s only when he walks into the briefing room two steps behind Nate and spots Tony freaking Stark sitting right there that Hardison finally agrees these meetings might actually have some sort of useful function after all. Like fulfilling a hacker’s goal in life.
Nate can hear the kid’s excited shrieks coming from the living room even though he’s at the other side of the house and he assures Maggie he’ll be right out before she walks in the direction of the noise. When he’s alone, he scowls. The wig he’s wearing is itchy and the trousers Maggie’s picket out for him are too tight and he wonders again just how he managed to get himself talked into this. It’s his fault, of course, teaching Sam to like the classic music, turning him into a fan of the king. Biting the bullet, he heads for the party and gets ready to be Elvis just for one night.
It doesn’t matter how many times Eliot has to work jobs in expensive restaurants (which he does love doing), or court someone who is wealthy, he always feels out of place around the rich. Which is stupid, he knows, considering he’s rich now too. But whether he’s wearing a suit or not, people always tend to look at him as though he’s committed some major faux pas, like using the wrong utensils or belching in the host’s face right in the middle of a speech. Give him a homely kitchen or a dark, noisy bar any day of the week.
The flowers arrived on a Tuesday, crisp and fresh as the delivery guy handed them over. Maggie was surprised, then curious, and then surprised again after she read the card and saw who they were from. James. She places them in a vase and glances at them again and again during the day, wondering. On Wednesday, she’s out most of the day but she returns and sees them, beautiful. Friday, a few of them are starting to droop. By Sunday, they smell, but she can’t bring herself to throw them out until Monday when the sender turns up at the door.
“Come on, Maggie, they stink.”
Trekking through the desert is hard work, every step an effort even if Quinn doesn’t let it show. Eliot walks in front of him, looks at ease but Quinn can tell differently from the slight tension in the shoulders, the way Eliot occasionally stops walking, just for a moment’s rest. They have to reach their destination in four hours, though, and to do that they have to set an almost impossible pace. It reminds Quinn of 2005, which didn’t end so well, and of 2008, which ended better. It doesn’t really matter either way because Eliot needs to take down this target. And so Quinn labors on through the desert for Eliot.
Quinn walks up the stairs towards where the Leverage team’s current headquarters are. Or, rather, the new Leverage team’s. This isn’t the same group of people he knew. There’s someone knew in charge, people gone, other people brought in. He’s the last of the new recruits, and he’s not quite sure why he’d been asked or why he’d said yes (although he thinks it has a lot to do with who was doing the asking). He has a sudden urge to turn and leave, to drop out of this thing all together. He’s sure they’d understand. But he keeps walking because he’d done the whole dropout thing in high school. He’s not doing it again.
Fifteen hours and counting and Hardison’s still awake. He’s sitting on the floor now, back up against the couch as he smashes buttons almost randomly. His eyes are hurting and his neck is aching and he’s so tired, but he can’t move now – he isn’t the type to give up. He has more than the necessarily skills to do this, he knows, but he just can’t work out how. The call comes in two hours later – he’s needed for a job – and Hardison stands up, turns off the game, and stretches, smiling. A rage quit isn’t a rage quite if he has a reason.
Sophie is horror-struck by the sight before her. The apartment she had picked out so lovingly, furnished with the upmost care, is now a tip. No surface has been left untouched, unmarred. She stands in the doorway and takes it all in; she hadn’t expected to come back to this at all. In the centre of the room, Parker stands, guilty look on her face. The counters are covered in flour and chocolate and there’s icing sugar on the expensive couch and Sophie’s not sure but she thinks there’s cake mix all over the dress she’s just got dry-cleaned. Horrified does not even cover it.
It’s been two years and four months since Quinn’s seen his cousin. One being monitored by the law and the other being a career criminal doesn’t exactly make it easy keeping in touch. But Neal’s got his anklet off now – a free man, of sorts – and Quinn’s convinced his team (and he still can’t get used to that) that he deserves some time off which is why he’s waiting at the bus station right now, looking out for the mop of brown hair and the suit slightly wrinkled from a long journey that he knows will be Neal. And then Quinn sees him and smiles. Quinn’s missed his family.
Peggy can’t stop tapping her fingers against her leg as she heads in the back of a taxi towards the bar where she’s meant to meet her date. Since she started talking to this guy she’s managed to fall pretty hard without having actually met him, and she’s worried he’s going to be disappointed by her, or that he’s going to turn out to be just another jerk who is good with online lying. The way she sees it, though, the nerves, the disappointment when then these things don’t go well are worth it. One day, she’ll take a chance and it’ll happen for her and she won’t have to be nervous anymore
As far as Chaos is concerned, it’ all fair game when Starke tries to introduce the wonderful, oh-so-perfect, Sophie Devereaux into their team. She’s too good a grifter to risk having around while he pulls his old grift. Eliminating the threat of her with a quick bomb seems like fair game to him, not personal at all. It’s not like he dislikes her per se; it’s about business – and he knows that Sophie Devereaux won’t be good for his current business. It’s a case of eliminate or be eliminated himself and Chaos has always enjoyed self-preservation.
Eliot wakes up to an empty bed. It’s not actually that unusual an occurrence but it’s still a bit odd, both because Quinn’s been sleeping better lately and because Eliot doesn’t usually manage to sleep through him waking up when he does. Giving himself a moment to wake up, Eliot sits on the edge of the bed and then heads in search of Quinn. He finds him in the living room crouched down next to the dog bed and he’s not sure he’s ever seen Quinn look quite so joyful as the moment right there when he turns and sees him.
“Puppies,” Quinn says.
Quinn confesses his feelings for Eliot when he’s forcibly drugged up on painkillers because he’d been too out of it to refuse hospital when the paramedics had picked him up.
“You’re not too bad, Eliot. El, Elly, El.”
“Eliot,” Eliot says, “and shut up.”
“No, I mean it,” Quinn sways sitting down, that’s how bad it is.
“You’re all medicated, man. Don’t speak.”
“Wrong – not speaking is your thing. I speak all of the time. Too much, sometimes.”
“You can say that again.”
“I think I don’t want to leave you,” slips out of Quinn’s mouth.
Eliot doesn’t say anything.
He never had much money growing up, so every time Quinn slips on a custom made suit he takes a moment to appreciate the occasion. He’s come a long way since his first suit – Caffrey bought and worth more money than anything he’d ever owned before. It hadn’t lasted long because he’d made the mistake of wearing it on a job and the bullet hole had really done too much damage to fix. But there’s been many since.
The first time Eliot sees his closet, he raises an eyebrow at him questioningly.
“What?” Quinn asks, “not like I’m poor.”
Moreau has robbed him of a lot of things, Eliot thinks. His self-esteem, first, and then his privacy. Moreau took a lot of his firsts, too. First time in Paris. First arrest for theft and assault. First kill outside of the forces. Moreau took his dignity, self-respect and his hope too and it took a long time for Eliot to get them back, with the help of a few friends. It seems only right, then, that Eliot should take something from him then. He leaves San Lorenzo not satisfied but better than before, with Moreau’s stolen freedom his prize.
Eight months in and Eliot knows a lot about Quinn. He knows what Quinn likes for breakfast, how he looks when he’s sleeping, even some of the things that Quinn’s afraid of. Quinn knows that Eliot prefers cats to dogs and likes to be outdoors and really, really doesn’t like being told how to cook. But tonight they’re going to learn more about each other, they’d agreed. And they sit opposite each other and kiss before they lean back, talk. They confess all of their sins to each other, the things they’ve never told anyone else, and by the end of the night Eliot thinks he knows they’re going to last.
Nate tries sending Sophie flowers first, her favourite type from her favourite florists. He doesn’t hear back from her.
Chocolates come next, truffles and orange flavours and ones with bits of biscuit in them. He sees the empty box when he arrives for the day’s meeting but Sophie still refuses to look at him.
He gets creative then, with post-it notes and strategically placed objects to remind her of memories but she still doesn’t acknowledge.
He has no more ideas, and so he finally sits down next to her and does the only thing he hasn’t tried. Says, “forgive me.” And she does.
Eliot gets cranky when people invade his kitchen. If Nate tries to critique Eliot’s cooking he ends up on the wrong end of a very serious glare. Sophie doesn’t enter because she knows if she does she’ll end up doing the dishes out of penance. Parker ignores the pointed looks Eliot gives her and everyone else suffers, and Hardison bickers but usually loses. Quinn, though, Quinn licks the cake mix out of bowls and sits up on the counters and flicks Eliot on the nose and somehow, when he’s in the kitchen alone with Eliot, Eliot isn’t cranky at all.
Lucille breaks down on a narrow road in the middle of nowhere. While Hardison worries and proves unable to get any sort of signal for them to call for help, the rest of them bicker over who is going to walk to get help. After resorting to rock, paper, scissors they have a candidate – Parker, who glances at Hardison with an unsure expression.
“Will he be okay without me?” Parker asks. “Lucille is very important to him.”
Eliot sighs and stands up from where he’s been sitting on the curb.
“As are his legs, and I’m going to break them if he doesn’t shut up. You stay, I’ll go.”
Surveillance can come in many forms, but Eliot’s best at the kind where he finds a spot, stays there, and watches. For someone who can move quickly and effectively when he wants to, Eliot’s also very good at staying still. Calm. It’s a skill that’s helped him surprise people many a time. This is the first time he’s used it to observe someone’s date, though, and he feels a little bit guilty. Still, Parker and Hardison aren’t just anyone and this is their first date and it needs to go well for them. Eliot’s very good at protecting, too.
“Are we boyfriends now?” Quinn teases, sliding up behind Eliot and placing his hands on his hips. Eliot’s making pancakes, it looks like.
“Go away,” Eliot says, but doesn’t pull away from the contact.
He puts on a ridiculous deep voice, “lovers in the night?”
Eliot spins around to look at him, incredulous, “lovers in the night. Really?”
Quinn smirks and shrugs, "I got your attention, didn’t I?”
Eliot shakes his head, and then his expression softens ever so slightly and he covers Quinn’s hands with his own, “yeah, I guess you did.”
The campfire flickers and gives off heat, toasts s’mores and casts a glow onto Parker’s cheeks. She’s wrapped up in Hardison, both of them murmuring to each other. Further along the beach, Sophie and Nate walk hand in hand, stopping every so often to kiss. Eliot smiles, content. Next to him, Quinn shifts so that they’re that bit closer, not embracing yet but touching skin to skin all the same. Eliot’s family are happy and he’s somewhere close now. This thing is Quinn is going somewhere, although he’s not sure where yet and he just goes with the flow, pressed up against someone who might be someone and staring into the flames.
Needing to clear his head, Shelley pulled on his running shoes and grabbed a bottle of water before heading out of the door towards the local park that was, deliberately on Shelley’s part, near his apartment. He spent the first two laps deliberately not thinking about anything other than the thud of his feet against the ground, making sure he didn’t trip over dogs leads and the children who ran out in front of him. It was late, though, and the park was starting to clear, no more distractions. Nothing to stop him thinking about Eliot’s offer while he runs – whether he’s running away or towards the chance of something more, he’s not yet sure.
Late at night the hospital – full as it is – is eerily silent apart from the occasional echo of footsteps in the corridors. It gives Eliot too much time to think as he sits and watches the hospital bed and it’s occupant. He hasn’t exactly done this much, stuck around after the damage has been done to see the consequences but this is different. This is someone special, someone he might spend the rest of his short life with. And so he puts up with the suffocating silence and the late nights and he sits and watches until Quinn wakes up.
Archie had never thought he’d see his girl – his other girl, outside of the family but still family – get married. Parker was too much of a free spirit even when he first met her – although that’s what had made him see her again, make the effort to foster that spirit into something that was talented. And so he’d never thought he’d have to sit down and write a speech to give for her. He sits with a pen and paper in front of him and wonders, ponders, then puts pen to paper and writes about family and about love.
042 LAST WISH
“I’m going to assume those are happy tears?” Faith was propped up in bed against a virtual sea of pillows – Nate suspected Parker had stolen every one she could get her hands on in order to make sure Faith was as comfortable as possible after her twenty hour ordeal.
Overcome with emotion, Nate nodded. “Oh yes,” he admitted, his voice thick and unsteady. It was the last unfulfilled wish of his life, the one he thought he’d buried with his son so many years ago. “She’s beautiful, Faith,” he added, as the tiny dark haired baby cradled in his arms yawned and snuggled instinctively towards the warmth of his body. Ellen Hope Spencer.
Eliot hasn’t seen Dean Winchester in a long time, Sam Winchester in even longer, and he can’t believe they’re both still alive if he’s being honest. But they turn up when he calls about the poltergeist problem Cora McRory is having, looking tired but surprisingly well put together considering. Following behind them is a man in a trench coat, looking for all the world as though he’s never stepped foot in a bar before. This can’t be the angel, Eliot thinks, not the one Ellen mentioned, not any angel at all. And then Castiel raises his head to look directly at him and Eliot knows.
They lie awake all night and talk about the future; Eliot and Aimee both want to go places, see things, then return home and spend their time with family and horses and music. They share a lot of dreams. They spend the morning in the barn and Eliot asks Aimee to marry him, run away with him, elope and start putting their plans in action now instead of waiting. Aimee laughs at him, kisses him, promises him soon. A month later Eliot leaves to fight another man’s battle and spends the rest of his life wondering what would be different if she’d said yes.
Nate’s not used to being on the wrong – or right, depending on who you talk to – side of the law, or to being in charge of a group of thieves, or to going up people with money and power without having the juice of IYS behind him. But they look to him for answers, as though he knows what he’s doing. He wants to tell them he’s flying blind, is just as lost as they are most of the time, doesn’t hold the answers they won’t admit they’re searching for. But he can’t because admitting he’s scared is something else he’s never done before.
The puppy’s dreaming, making delighted squealing noises as his tail thumps against the floor. Quinn quirks an eyebrow at Eliot, amused, and goes back to reading his book until the dreaming seems to hit a new height. The puppy’s legs are kicking in the air, nose twitching.
“You’ve got to admit he’s cute now,” Quinn says.
“I don’t have to admit anything.”
“No need to say it out loud – I know he’s winning you over, really.”
The puppy’s already won Quinn over, with his big eyes and his licks and the fact that he’s something tying them together, theirs.
How Tara gets from there to here is something she’ll never understand. One moment she’s complaining about the life of a grifter, lamenting at the fact she hasn’t had a proper relationship since she can remember. The next, she’s in a bedroom with Craig Mattingly, on a cruise ship with Craig Mattingly, pulling jobs with Craig Mattingly. She finds herself curled up with him on a couch watching a movie with no real recollection of how they got comfortable with each other. What she can remember, though, is that the journey was sure as hell fun.
“I can’t swim,” Chaos confesses after Quinn pulls him out of the water. He’d meant it to sound biting, make the hitter feel guilty for forcing him into the water because who does that anyway? Instead, his voice shakes ever so slightly and he hates himself for it.
Quinn doesn’t answer right away, waits until they’re away from any immediate danger and they’ve taken the comms out of their ears before turning to Chaos, looking more solemn than Chaos had thought possible.
“I didn’t know, I’m sorry. Wouldn’t have let you drown,” Quinn says.
Chaos nods, “I didn’t think you would.”
Sam runs around the playground with his new friend, and it’s a sight Nate still can’t get over seeing. His son, healthy again, a whole life in front of him that won’t be filled with hospital visits and looks of pity. For a while there it had looked shaky, as though the treatment wasn’t going to work.
Maggie slips her hand into his and squeezes, “He looks happy, doesn’t he? Better than in a long time. You okay?”
Nate nods, kisses her and it’s part relief part love part passion. And then he pulls away and looks at his son. His son, alive.
There’s a big purple bruise on Eliot’s stomach, mottled and painful looking. Quinn immediately recognises it as having been made by a shoe and it doesn’t matter how much he knows Eliot can look after himself, he has to bite back down on the urge to offer to kill. Instead, he pulls Eliot’s t-shirt the rest of the way off of him and touches the edges of the bruise gently. He doesn’t speak, just keeps moving his thumb back and forth over Eliot’s stomach and then kisses the pain away. Violence, pain, he understands. Wanting to make sure Eliot never experiences either again is something Quinn’s still coming to terms with.
He feels like he’s been stripped bare, raw and open, as Quinn looks at him across the table over their food. No-one’s understood him this well, this quickly, in a long time and it makes him feel like an exposed nerve, all too sensitive and vulnerable if Quinn decides he wants to hurt him. Eliot won’t let himself be this raw for long. The walls will come up soon and he’ll try and unsettle Quinn the way Quinn’s unsettled him. Right now, though, he can’t move, can only listen as Quinn talks to him about nothing much at all.
When Sam dies Nate and Maggie try, they really do. Each struggling with their own grief instead of acknowledging their shared one, they hold hands late into the night and share hollow looks and sometimes they still share a bed. But there’s no good in forcing something that’s been broken too much to be fixed, Nate learns, and Maggie learns. They’re still two halves but they’re of different wholes now, wholes that revolve around Sam and what could have been, and pretending won’t change that. If they try, Nate knows, they’ll force themselves to hate each other and that’s something he never wants.
The electric goes out ten minutes after Eliot’s plated the food up and Quinn comments about their turn of good luck as they finish eating in the dark. Eliot can hear the scrape of cutlery on plates, can feel the barest contact of skin on skin as their ankles brush together, but he can’t see anything at all and it frustrates him. He wants to see Quinn’s expression as he tells a joke, whether he’s really enjoying his food or just claiming to. He wants to see Quinn. And then the power comes back on and Quinn’s staring right back at him and, maybe, Eliot thinks, Quinn wants to see him too.
People have always told Shelley he had drive, the ambition it took to succeed in life. He’s never been entirely sure what they mean – he just does what he feels is right, often the easiest option, although not always. It’s his drive that gets him into the forces, that gets him involved with Eliot Spencer. The ambition to be someone better, to do something other than a nine to five job gets him far, instinct takes him the rest of the way. But one of these days, he and everyone around him knows, his drive is going to be the thing that gets him killed.
Hardison and fishing is a sore subject, Quinn realises, when everyone in the room winces when he brings it up. He’s not entirely sure why but from the way Eliot huffs Quinn’s pretty sure it has to do with him. He hates it, how he always manages to inadvertently touch on the wrong subject, say the things that’ll make it that much harder for people to like him. One of these days, Quinn thinks, he might do something right but he doesn’t think so.
“What’s wrong?” Eliot asks
Quinn shakes his head, “it’s a sore subject.”
Sophie’s being held at knife point, blade pressed up against her throat. Across the room, Nate has a gun pointed at his head. Hardison and Parker are who knows where, definitely being held rather than being free, though. Eliot’s heard the screams. He’s fought himself and others out of a lot of sticky situations before but he knows there’s no chance of that now - not with a bleeding shoulder and team mates scattered everywhere. So Eliot does the one thing he’d thought he’d never have to do in front of Damien Moreau again. He begs.
Hardison’s hands freeze over the computer keys and he deliberately doesn’t turn around, “say what?”
“I said marry me,” Parker says, loud and clear.
Hardison shakes his head. “You’re going to have to say that again, Parker, because I’m pretty sure I misheard. Must be tired, the job doing this to me.”
“I’m going to repeat myself once more,” Parker says, “but that’s it because we haven’t got a lot of time until we’re due at the mark’s house and – marry me.”
“Yes,” Hardison finally turns away from his keyboard, “yes, yes, yes. I’ll marry you as many times as you ask.”
Quinn tries everything he can to get a rise out of Eliot. He calls him Spencer, insults country music, spends a good twenty minutes musing on the pros and cons of white paint. Eliot just continues to read his book, an occasional amused smirk the only reaction Quinn gets.
Later, they move into the kitchen and Quinn points out that it’s untidy, that the counters are looking a little shabby, that the wine rack would really look better somewhere else. He finds himself pushed up against one of the shabby counters, Eliot’s hands on either side of his hips.
“You insulted my kitchen.”
“Is this what you wanted?”
Quinn smirks, “very much so, Spencer.”
Punches rain down on Quinn and he wants to beg for mercy, beg to be pardoned, beg for the pain to stop. He’s got several broken bones, he thinks – but that’s not the problem. The problem is his cousin at the other side of the room, taking a similar beating. It’s Quinn’s fault – it was his job to protect them, to provide the muscle, and he’s failed. Someone picks up a baseball bat and Quinn watches his cousin who looks back at him, nothing but concern in his eyes. The door swings open and Eliot walks in, all fury and power, and Quinn thinks maybe someone has mercy after all.
He first realises he might be able to make a real difference to the people who matter when they help the soldier. It’s a job that isn’t mistake free but when it’s over he feels satisfied, feels like he’s done something not just for the one guy but something symbolic for all the people he’s fought alongside in war. The people who have lived and the people who have died. The people he knew well and the people he hardly knew at all. For the first time since his own private war began, Eliot feels like he might be good.
They’re on the same side now but Eliot and Quinn can’t help it sometimes, can’t resist having a little competition. It keeps them on their toes. They’re working together now, though, on taking down the dozen men that have showed up to impede their way. Eliot takes one guy down, and then another. Quinn takes out two at once with a well-aimed throw. They chip and chip away until one opponent is left, standing at the other end of the room. Glancing at each other, they both smirk and start to run. A race for the last man standing.
The weeks go by in a blur. Paris, Italy, London and countless hotel rooms, restaurants, shops. Before he knows it, Tara is gone and he’s back to being Craig Mattingly, handsome, single thief with no-one to make plans with. A blur of colour in a routineless life that’s still somehow managed to become monochrome. He hears about her sometimes, from Parker, or from people he’s never met before. She continues to succeed and he wonders whether she remembers him, thinks about her, whether he’s like her, a blur in the mind of someone who lives each day differently but the same, alone.
He gets strong-armed into it, really. Doesn’t want to work for Moreau because he knows the man’s reputation and he knows himself, how easy it would be for him to fall into patterns he knows he won’t like him for. But he’s coerced, pulled in with subtle threats and threats that aren’t as subtle, courted with promises and, although he’ll deny it later, Moreau’s charm. He hates himself for it later, for doing something he didn’t really want to do, and for enjoying it for a while. He learns it’s something he can never really escape, and he doesn’t deserve to.
Bonanno knows it’s his duty to report the fact that five thieves are operating in the neighbourhood, stealing money from CEOs and other people that are seen as important to the powers that be. But it isn’t as clear cut as that, it isn’t about stealing anymore. It’s about someone being able to help the little people, the people he got into this duty to protect. And so he doesn’t report it. He doesn’t fulfil his duty to his country. Instead, he does his duty by his wife, his neighbour, the stranger on the street. The people that matter.
They have completely different styles of grifting, so they’ve learned over the years they’ve known each other. At first it becomes a game of one-upmanship, one grifter determined to prove they’re better than the other. They get a reputation as being rivals, even though in reality they’re friends. It’s something they use, though, the perceived rivalry: to trick marks and to tease one another. They see each other less for a while and they both change but one thing remains the same: Sophie and Tara are different styles of grifters, but they’re also the best at what they do.
The kiss is hot and wet, she can feel the scratch of stubble on her skin. He bites and nips at her lip. Its so different from kissing Hardison. Rougher deeper more permanent as if she’s been branded, but it short taking no longer than the lighting of a match and burning it down.
She should know she counts the matches every day because stranded here on this beach those matches are as rare precious as each of Eliot’s quick kisses. He’s shirt and dirty a little to lean from hunger.
“I’ll be back in a while, keep the fire going and those matches try.” Eliot told her and walked off into the distance.
Quinn tells Eliot about his first kill on a Friday night after they’ve eaten and watched a movie and they’re both a little sleepy. He doesn’t intend to, not really, but something in the film jolted a memory and sometimes Quinn can’t help but talk to Eliot, even if all he really wants to do is hold things inside so that Eliot doesn’t have to know just how bad a person he is. But Eliot talks back at him, shares a memory too and Quinn gets to thinking that maybe this whole is a first for both of them too.
People say Sophie Devereaux isn’t real. She’s a chameleon, she sheds people just like a snake sheds skin. Instinctive. Natural. Nate knows differently, though. Nate knows that she can grift better than anyone he’s ever encountered, that she can be a soccer mom or a business woman or a soldier with a change of posture and an adopted accent. That’s something he’ll never deny. But Sophie is real, he knows. The characters she becomes act like a second skin, shielding her from view, but she never stops being herself, never stops being Sophie. And Nate’s glad.
The hospital tell them it’s an overdose, ask about Parker’s life and whether there’d be any reason for her to attempt this. Hardison doesn’t answer as he holds onto Parker’s hand, willing her to wake up. None of them answer, because how can they explain that this was to do with work? That a mark they should have been in control of forced drugs into Parker’s system and that now she’s lying there not waking up yet because she’s the type of person who helps people now. It’s not something that can easily be explained.
They’re a band of brothers, the officer in charge tells them, and Shelley rolls his eyes at Spencer. Their officer clearly hadn’t seen the fight that had broken out just that morning over a photograph. Spencer had seen it, though, and he’d helped Shelley to break it up too. It’s not the first time he and Spencer have worked together, but being in a unit alongside so many idiots means that isn’t really surprising. So far, Shelley thinks the unit is more like an elastic band – eventually they will snap, and it won’t be pretty.
Cora’s father always called their end of the bar drink til you cut me off clinetelle patrons but really most of the people that frequent Mccrory’s are alcholics cut and dried. Sure there are varying degrees of it from bingers to sloppy criers to functioning alcholics like Nate if you could even call it that. Nate’s addiction remained with him always like a phatom. They all hated it, but couldn’t stop it because you can’t convince an alcoholic they are one and you couldn’y convince her father that he and she enabled the “Patrons.”
Something deep inside Cora churns every time she pours him a shot because Nathan Ford above all else is a patron.
Sophie sees Maggie and she sees Maggie talking to Nate and she feels jealous, and then she feels spiteful because this is Maggie, the mother of Nate’s child, his ex-wife. Maggie’s been through a lot, has a right to Nate’s attention, too. So Sophie gets over it, she takes time to think and reflect and to resolutely not feel jealous of Maggie and it gets to the point where she likes Maggie, spending time with her. Sophie’s glad; she dislikes spite, dislikes feeling malice towards people who don’t deserve it because she isn’t one to judge.
The urge to see Eliot starts out as something small, teasing and a passing thought. But it turns into something more. Time passes and Quinn wonders what Eliot thought of him – then tells himself that’s stupid because duh, he was working for Sterling – and whether they’ll fight each other again. They don’t, but they fight with each other and that curiosity he felt before is undeniably now need. He needs to make sure Eliot knows he’s not on Sterling’s side, not on any side other than his own. He needs the company of someone who understands what it’s like to be a hitter. To be him.
Eliot has a pain in his stomach and Quinn fusses, brings out blankets and pillows from who knows where and sticks on the television Quinn had insisted be bought. Before Eliot can stop the process there’s a bowl of soup stuck in front of him and a book next to him and Quinn keeps asking him if he’s okay. It confuses him, because he’s been shot before, bleeding from knife wounds and Quinn hasn’t acted as concerned as this. And then Eliot looks up at just the right time and sees Quinn’s smirk, challenging, and it is so on.
Boiling water bubbles over the side of the pan and continues to go unnoticed for a few moments as Quinn and Eliot kiss, Eliot welcoming Quinn home after a job that’s lasted way, way too long for both of their liking. They notice, eventually, and Quinn can’t take his eyes off the bubbles spilling over the side of the pan as Eliot rushes to clean up the mess. It’s such a domestic sight, he thinks, such a small thing. When he’s contained the damage, Eliot turns to comment on Quinn’s lack of aid and Quinn can’t help himself. He kisses Eliot again.
Hard as it is, it feels like an extremely heavy, almost impossible weight has been lifted as soon as Hardison tells the others about Moreau, more specifically about Eliot and Moreau. Eliot’s been struggling with this thing for too long, debating about whether to tell them, deciding he can’t but knowing that at some point they’re going to find out anyway. The weight’s gone now, but it’s been immediately been replaced by another one. The one that’s knowing they know, that he’s the reason they’re even more vulnerable around Moreau now. The blame lies on him.
Eliot digs out his own guitar for his performance of Kaye-Lynn’s song because he knows it wouldn’t feel right without it, knows it’ll make it easier on himself to use an instrument he is familiar with, knows well. But it’s hard to do, feels like he’s releasing a part of himself and his past that was locked away years ago. And when he sits up on the stage and sings and plays, he’s reminded of what could have been, of days spent plucking at the strings under the sun before he stopped using his guitar and started using his fists.
She’s not used to asking people for help. Sure, Archie taught her things when she was younger but that was Archie, and that was teaching things about theft and deception. It wasn’t looking after her when she got ill or knowing instinctively when she was scared and making things better. No-one’s ever done that for her, it’s why she prefers to be on her own – it’s easier. Hardison wants to do things for her, he’s made it clear. And Parker wants to let him, she really does. She’s just not sure how to yet.
The tourist guide tells Hardison that the building in front of him is a huge part of the city’s culture – it stayed standing during three wars, housed people during times of hardship, and serves as a place to inspire people to this day. In bold letters the guide proclaims that the street he’s walking down is fascinating, full of local shops and interesting architecture. Hardison doesn’t take any of it in, though – not the building or the street or the letters on the page of the guide. No, Hardison’s watching Parker instead and that’s all he needs to see.
The dirt track leads them out into the wild, away from the noise of the city and the people and the feeling of suffocation that’s been hanging over them for a while. It feels good to get away for just a while just the two of them. Eliot and Quinn – not Eliot the hitter or Quinn the hitter, just them. They stay until after dark and then it’s time to head back along the track, back into the real world again. But they know that the dirt track will stay there, waiting for them until the next time they need a break from everything but each other.
Something’s lacking, Sophie thinks as she looks around the room. The banners are up, proclaiming happy birthday in bold letters. Eliot’s handling the food so Sophie’s not worried about that. Hardison took charge of the music, because he really didn’t want Nate to handle that job. With nothing else left to do, Nate was given the tasks of making sure there were enough presents to unwrap and informing the neighbours there might be a bit of noise. The streamers are up, there are bowls of chocolates dotted around the room, and everyone’s dressed smartly as per instructions. And then Sophie realises: no-one’s told Parker.
The witch isn’t shy about informing them of the curse her coven has just placed on everyone in the room. While everyone else stares after her in disbelief, Nate pulls out his cell phone and places a call to his friend Ellen who in turn places a call to the Winchester brothers. They show up to help break the curse the next day and Eliot glares at them from across the room until Parker asks him if he’s jealous and he has to make a show of being the opposite because Eliot Spencer doesn’t get jealous, even if he does get cursed.
A different haircut and a slightly different Tara shows up the next time Sophie arranges to meet with her grifter friend. Tara’s hair is shorter, cut in confident strokes. Tara is smiling openly at Craig as they walk into the restaurant, doesn’t even look at Sophie and Nate until they reach the table, caught up in conversation as they are. Sophie wonders what else has changed – whether Tara has a whole new wardrobe or whether she lives slightly less on the edge now she’s found someone who matters. Sophie doesn’t know those things but she does know that Tara is happy.
084 THE MORNING AFTER
Parker lies as still as she can as Vector panics right next to her. She hadn’t realised playing dead like this would be quite so fun. She’s used to having to be still, in air vents and other nooks and crannies, and this is better because she gets to hear a bad person starting to get his comeuppance as well. The best thing, though, is later, when he walks into the courtroom and sees her sitting there. She doesn’t really like grifting that much but this is probably the favourite grift she’s done in a while. She won’t tell Sophie but she thinks she does it better than Sophie would have.
When Eliot finds Quinn tied up in the warehouse, feverish and dirty, he’s babbling nonsense about not being able to ride a bike and about sinking ships. Eliot hauls Quinn to his feet and supports him as they stumble towards the exit. Quinn continues to talk about sinking, sinking ships and somehow the babble becomes more coherent as Quinn confesses to having sinking hopes, to thinking help wasn’t coming this time. Eliot wants to tell him that won’t happen ever but he can’t. When this thing started they promised never to make promises they couldn’t keep.
“Do you think I’m cool?” Quinn all but pouts into the bathroom mirror as Eliot walks into the room. “I mean, not cool like wears sunglasses cool but cool like really cool, do you know what I mean?”
“No,” Eliot shakes his head, “I’m not sure I do.”
“Hmmm,” Quinn says, “maybe even just wondering whether I’m cool negates any cool I have anyway. I mean, people don’t know they’re cool.”
Quinn turns to look at Eliot in person rather than in the reflection, “are you saying I’m like Fonzie?”
“Ah, you think I’m cool.”
“I think you’re an idiot.”
She calls Nate a cry-baby as holds up his hand to show her his cut, doesn’t offer much sympathy when they’re in the van heading back to headquarters. They’ve all had worse, and Nate’s not that bothered, really, even if he is complaining and cradling his hand a little. She doesn’t have time yet to fuss and show him she cares. Later, though, she’ll kiss the spot just above the cut and ask him if it hurts and he can be as much of a cry-baby as he wants because it’ll be just the two of them, together.
It takes a long time for Eliot to admit to himself that he cares for Quinn because caring for Quinn means making himself vulnerable, open to being hurt and to losing someone else. Eventually, he realises that he’s fighting a losing battle and he starts letting himself let Quinn in, spends longer watching Quinn go about mundane tasks, doesn’t bite down on the urge to buy a book because he thinks Quinn will like it. He won’t admit it to Quinn yet, though, not out loud, not with words, because once that happens he knows there’ll be no going back.
It’s a battle hard fought with passion and with toil but eventually Eliot admits that Quinn may sometimes, on occasion, make better cookies than he does. Eliot tries to accept his defeat gracefully, even while Quinn gloats and eats cookies and, surprisingly, reassures him that Eliot’s a better cook in every other aspect. Seeing the look on Quinn’s face when Eliot holds out the cookies they’d decided were best to Sophie as part of her birthday present is definitely worth accepting defeat, even with the gloating and the fact Eliot will never be able to make cookies again.
Fame is a fickle friend, Sophie, they tell her as she reads one bad review after another. You don’t want to become famous, to find yourself moved from one small obscure column to the front page. But she does, she wants to be famous without the fickle part of it. And so she learns to grift. It’s instinct, and she’s good at it, and she does end up on the front page, although the reporters don’t know her name. The job offers pour in as her reputation among those who matter increases and fame may be fickle but, she realises, it is her friend.
Standing on the roof of a New York apartment building, Eliot appreciates the view. The sky is slightly hazy, but not enough so to obscure the scenery. Instead, the haziness adds to the mystery, reflects the other-worldliness that Eliot always associates with New York for some reason. Inside the apartment, Quinn’s talking to his cousin and Eliot’s happy to give them some privacy for a while when he has this to look at. It’s totally to do with the fact it’s not often he gets the time to just stand and appreciate something, and not a thing to do with how nervous he is at being introduced to the family.
Once Sophie decides to do something she usually manages to accomplish her goal with enormous speed. She decided to act and got her first job within a week, not that it went well but she doesn’t usually mention that. She decided she would help Parker and help Parker she did, winning her trust surprisingly quickly for all involved. She picked up grifiting like a second nature, not even conscious of the effort it was taking her. It’s only Nate – confusing, frustrating Nate – that takes longer to crack, but when Sophie does, when they work out what they have and take a chance, it’s so worth the wait.
Sophie buys a one-way ticket out of London the day she decides she has to leave. It’s a big decision, one that’s taken time to reach and one that she knows will affect the rest of her life, which is why she buys the ticket straight away – no chickening out. She hides it in a book, at first, and then in her purse. He still finds it though, spots it when it falls as she goes to get some money, and she watches his heart break but knows she’s still going to use it, still going to take her ticket and leave him behind.
Quinn’s curled around the toilet bowl, gagging and making pathetic noises when Eliot wakes up in the morning. He hadn’t heard his partner come in the night before but from the sounds of the hangover, the night out last night must have been pretty impressive. Eliot tries to ignore it – it’s Quinn’s own fault, really – and goes to make breakfast, lasts for two whole minutes of listening to him retch before he heads for the bathroom and holds back Quinn’s hair, murmurs admonishments and settles in so that they can wait the hangover out together.
“Yes,” Eliot nods, and goes back to reading. It’s not like he hasn’t bandaged himself up before getting on with his day. Bleeding isn’t exactly something that happens rarely in his apartment, especially since Quinn moved in and the amount of hitter injuries occurring on a daily basis doubled.
Quinn moves closer, “what happened?”
He considers ignoring the question but he can’t ignore the concern in Quinn’s voice. “Parker and a bread knife happened.”
“Accidental, I hope?”
“I’m ninety-nine per cent sure it was a mistake.”
Quinn tilts his head, “close enough, I guess.”
096 WRITER'S CHOICE
Quinn tells Neal about Eliot two hours into a late night phone call in the middle of a conversation about hats. He just blurts it out, doesn’t mean to but can’t take it back once it’s done. Neal grills him. How did they meet? Is Eliot really trustworthy? Has Quinn picked out a ring yet? (That last one in a teasing, older family member sort of voice.) Quinn answers as best as he can and then curses when he hangs up because he’s told someone now, he’s told Neal. Now he has no excuse not to tell Eliot too.
097 WRITER'S CHOICE
Dubenich spends a lot of time sitting in his cell plotting – it’s one of those things that happen in a prison, he’s learned. He plots about the best way to get extra food, about where he’s going to go when he finally gets out, about how he’s going to get his revenge on the people who put him there. He spends so much time on that last one that he mutters their names in his sleep, knows everything about what they’re up to any almost any given time. One day, he plots, one day he’ll win.
098 WRITER'S CHOICE
Almost a year and a half after Quinn moves in with Eliot, he tells him about Beacon Hills and the younger brother he left behind. The guilt at knowing they think he’s dead when he’s actually been breaking the law instead, hurting people not all that different from those he left behind. Eliot nods, understanding, and tells Quinn about Aimee and about his father. There’s no going back now, they know; they’ve both done too much, changed. But they can remember and they can feel regret and they can wonder together about what might have been.
099 WRITER'S CHOICE (LAST):
It was the last thing she’d ever thought she would see: Nate Ford playing on the other side of the law, on the same side as she was. Brilliant as he was, potential that he had, he’d always been too settled since she’d known him, with a family and enough motivation to obey the law. She’d heard about Sam, of course, but old habits die hard and she’d thought it impossible for him to end up digressing. But there he is standing in front of her asking her to break the law with him: the very best, last thing she’d imagined.
0100 WRITER'S CHOICE (WISH):
Eliot’s made cake. It’s something Hardison really hadn’t expected at all but if he’s being honest it’s possibly his favourite present this year. A layer of sponge, a layer of chocolate cake and a corny computer joke iced on the top. They wait until the afternoon and then stick candles in it, gather around to sing.
“Make a wish,” Sophie says.
Hardison takes a deep breath and blows out the candle, eyes fixed on Parker and no-one needs to ask him what his wish was because they already know.
Eliot watches from the side-lines, smiling and wondering what match-making he can try next.