The town is tiny, and the self-proclaimed hotel is actually more of a bed and breakfast. They seem to be on a roll - it's another successful con under their belts, and they crowd into one of the rented rooms to get their debriefing.
Nate's already on his third glass of scotch when Parker climbs in through the window ten minutes late, so it's really more of a casual 'good work, people' thing than it is their usual in-depth analysis of what went right and what went wrong.
Five minutes in, as Hardison is finally resigning himself to the fact that there is no Internet connection available and Eliot is half asleep in a chair in the corner, Nate interrupts his drinking to suggest that they go drinking. Together. As in not-only-Nate.
There's a moment's pause and everyone is definitely pretending they're not looking at Sophie to gauge her reaction, but then the grifter shrugs and says that sure, that'd be nice, and that's that. There's a bar next door, and she makes Nate put his glass down and leave his bottle in the room when they walk out the door. He is not pleased.
They're a sad sight, Eliot decides. Corner booth, dim lights, peanuts in little bowls. Not talking. It's a Tuesday and the bar's half empty (only silent, brooding local drunks nursing their beers and a table worth of con artists); in the quiet everyone can hear the jukebox's sorrowful tale of one country singer's lost childhood love.
Eliot's fingers tap along, a steady rhythm on the table top. Actually, the music's pretty awesome. He filled that thing up with enough coins to last another full hour (the glares Hardison is sending his way are just a bonus).
Across the table Nate downs another glass. He's brooding now. Sulking, even. Eliot can't quite see the logic in drinking to forget, only to spend your entire drunken haze remembering what you wanted to disremember in the first place. Still, Nate's a functioning drunk. Eliot will give him that. He functions. Not very well, but at least he's still sitting upright, wedged between Sophie and Parker.
The grifter is sipping something pink and noxious looking, face drawn tight, eyes staring off into the distance (probably not even in the same time zone as the rest of them). Eliot taps his index finger against the table, guesses Bermuda. Kind of wants to ask, but that'd involve starting a conversation (he's imagining the worst case scenario here), and overhead Johnny Cash is bemoaning the trials of a boy named Sue. You don't interrupt Johnny Cash. It just ain't done.
Eliot joins Sophie on Bermuda for a while (loses the grifter in a shoe store and heads down to the beach to drink some beer and watch the waves lap at the sand), but is brought back to Hicksville, Alabama by Hardison, who's freakin' touching him. Eliot scowls, scoots out of reach (commends himself on taking a seat at the end of the booth), and watches Hardison give him what Eliot secretly refers to as the Bitch-face. The hacker gestures towards the bowl of peanuts at the end of the table, just beyond his grasp.
Eliot grabs the bowl, pushes it towards Hardison's outreached hand. Stops just shy of his reach. Leans back and takes a sip of his beer. That should teach the bastard not to touch him.
Hardison scowls and exhales sharply through his nose. Eliot just knows that he wants to say something obnoxious, but at the moment he's half covered by a sleeping twenty pounds of crazy, and the man isn't prepared to risk jostling that blonde head off his shoulder; Parker snorts in her sleep, mumbles something about bunnies, and goes back to drooling on Hardison's sweater.
Eliot isn't sure what amuses him more – the fact that Parker's such a lightweight ('I'm sleepy,' she announced, and snuggled up against a wide eyed and terrified looking hacker) or that even after sticking his tongue down her throat, Hardison still walks on eggshells around the thief.
Eliot lowers his beer, raises an eyebrow. Tries to convey his message: You're a pussy.
And apparently it works, because Hardison looks scandalized. “Dude!”
Parker jerks awake; sniffs, blinks, and straightens up in her seat. “Ooh, peanuts.” She pops one into her mouth, sways a bit, and then Eliot watches her eyelids droop and her entire body slowly slide sideways as she snuggles into Nate's shoulder. Nate sighs into his glass (the sound of a deeply tortured soul, Eliot notes), but doesn't shake her off.
Hardison's gaping in indignation, and for a moment there he looks so pained that Eliot can't help but throw his head back and bark out a laugh.
“You're a bad, bad person,” Hardison hisses, and grabs a handful of peanuts. He stuffs his mouth full, chews angrily, and Eliot smiles into his beer.
There's a few minutes of not talking after that, only Tom T. Hall on the jukebox (yes, Eliot agrees, county jails suck), but then Hardison starts giving him that look, the one that means that he is going to start talking any moment. Normally, that'd be Eliot's cue to haul ass out of there, but it's ten o'clock and it's been a long day, and there's beer that he's paid for but hasn't finished yet, so he steels himself and remains seated.
As it turns out, Hardison's thankfully not in the mood for a deep, meaningful conversation. He just nods at Eliot's glass (half full, first and only drink of the evening), and looks perplexed. “Why aren't you getting drunk? You can't be half as bad as those three.”
Eliot looks past Hardison's shoulder, takes in Sleepy, Brooding and Silent (drunk out of their minds and so aching familiar), and bites back a smile. He looks at Hardison's own glass (almost untouched, one lone peanut resting on the bottom).
“Why aren't you?”
Hardison flushes, looks like a deer in headlights. “I've got my reasons.”
Eliot blinks, remembers being thirteen and waking up with his first hangover (blood in his mouth and a broken wrist), recalls South Africa and the fellow Retrieval Specialist in the bar, the one who bought drinks all around and was intoxicated enough to freakin' talk about his latest successful job (the men with guns that showed up and dragged him out the door, a senseless idiot with no way of protecting himself. He was found in an alley three days later. Well, most of him).
“Yeah,” Eliot says. “I've got my reasons too.”
He should probably have guessed, but Hardison's reasons aren't really on the same level as Eliot's reasons. Eliot stays sober because letting your guard down will get you killed. Hardison avoids getting drunk because he turns into a damn idiot. Which can also get you killed. Not that Eliot's going to admit to any similarities in logic here, because there sure as Hell ain't any.
“I am so drunk,” Hardison says.
“Shut up, Hardison.”
“Seriously, man. Seriously.”
It could probably be worse. Eliot kind of doubted it at the moment, though. Truth is, it wouldn't be so bad had their latest marks not returned back to the warehouse early, caught them by complete surprise, gotten in a couple of lucky punches (knocked out their freakin' earpieces), and left them tied to a couple of chairs. Eliot has experienced enough head wounds to wake up smelling like rainbows and kittens (Aimee had always told him he had a thick skull), but Hardison's head was apparently made of duct tape or rice paper or something, because he'd been out of it ever since he regained consciousness.
“I wish Parker was here,” Hardison slurs, and tilts his head back to rest against Eliot's; their chairs are back to back, rope pinning their shoulders together and stretching across their chests. Eliot's working the cuffs around his wrists, arms restrained inbetween the two chairs, and the hacker's too out of it to be of any real help.
“Parker'd pick those locks,” Hardison says. Then lowers his voice and adds, almost in a whisper; “She's a Rogue, you know. That's what they do. They pick locks. And open boxes.”
Eliot considers dislocating his fingers (as many as necessary) in an attempt to escape. Reconsiders. Comes to the conclusion that it wouldn't be wise. Abandons the idea. Contemplates head butting Hardison and knocking him out for a while. Can see no disadvantages. Feels all tingly inside.
“Oh man, I'm so drunk!”
“No, you're not. And shut the Hell up.”
“Dude. I know drunk when I see it. I'm drunk.”
“Yeah, you sure as Hell ain't unconscious.”
“Huh?” Hardison rolls his head to the side, catches a face full of hair. “Oh. Your shampoo smells nice.”
Eliot closes his eyes and slowly begins to count to ten. He gets to three before he realizes that counting is time wasted on not getting his cuffs off.
“So, I've been thinking,” Hardison says. “And I know this is going to sound crazy, and you're just going to roll your eyes and be all caveman and stuff, but I need to say it. So just hear me out, will you?”
Eliot gives a desperate yank to his restraints, feels metal catch against his skin. Damn it. Out of the corner of his eye he sees the hacker lean backwards, head coming to rest on Eliot's shoulder.
“You,” Hardison says. “You, man, are amazing at maintaining aggro.”
Eliot wonders if that punch loosened more screws than he originally thought.
“No,” the hacker slurs. “I mean it. I totally do. Everyone can have a bad run, right? And we didn't wipe, and yeah, they got me over the head but you totally pulled them back.”
As painful as a dislocated thumb is, Eliot is pretty sure it trumps being stuck here for a second longer. He tugs at the rope with his newly freed hands (watches as it practically pulls right off, marks too much in a hurry to tie decent knots), and stands. The room only spins a little bit.
Hardison's a big bag of idiotic potatoes, and pushes against Eliot's chest as he's yanked to his feet.
“No, man, hear me out.” He places his hands on the hitter's shoulders, a look of utter concentration on his face. “You're an awesome tank.”
Eliot knows that the rest of the team are on their way in. They'll have tracked the marks to the airport, given them a sendoff and backtracked to the warehouse to arrive at any moment now. He also knows fifteen different ways he could kill Hardison and make it look like an accident. Using only one hand. The question isn't whether it'd be worth it or not, but if he would have enough time to properly dispose of the body.
Hardison gives Eliot's shoulder a squeeze and looks pathetically weepy. “I'm serious. Man, I-- Eliot. Listen. I'd run damn Icecrown Citadel with you.”
Before Eliot knows it he's engulfed in a giant hug.
It is, of course, that precise moment that Nate chooses to barge into the room, Sophie and Parker hot on his trail.
Eliot finds that the awkwardness of getting caught in what some may take to be a compromising position with one of your coworkers is made slightly less when the colleague in question turns around and vomits all over the boss's shoes.