Sterling had only just closed the hotel room door when the punch came - hard, fast, and straight to his gut. He dropped to his knees and took a few seconds to recover his breath before wheezing out, “Hello, Spencer. I’ve been expecting you - though not, I admit, quite so soon.”
“Yeah, well, getting people to underestimate me is a specialty of mine,” Eliot growled out.
“So I’m starting to realize,” Sterling agreed ruefully, slowly getting to his feet.
Eliot crossed the room to the mini-bar and, gesturing at the rows of assorted bottles, asked, “I’m assuming these aren’t poisoned, then?”
“Only if someone’s trying to kill me,” Sterling replied dryly, “So I’d say you’ve got about a thirty-five percent chance of slow, agonizing death.”
“Better odds than I usually get,” Eliot muttered, retrieving a beer from the inside of the door.
“So, why are you here, Spencer?” Sterling asked, casually strolling toward the desk under which he had taped his Colt .45.
“You and I have some unfinished business, Sterling,” Eliot replied, setting his beer on a table before reaching a hand behind his back. “Looking for this?” He removed Sterling’s gun from its resting place in his belt, swiftly unloaded the magazine, and tossed both components over his shoulder. “You know I don’t like guns.”
“I do apologize,” Sterling said with mock sincerity, “If I’d known you were stopping by, I would have tidied up a bit. We Brits are sticklers for social niceties, you know.”
“And how does drugging someone’s coffee when they’re trying to do you a favor fit into your fancy-pants system of manners, huh, Sterling?” Eliot demanded, his eyes flashing with temper.
“I believe it is strictly frowned upon,” Sterling said seriously. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell the Queen - she’s just been itching for a reason to take away my knighthood.”
“Oh, I’ve a mind to take away a hell of a lot more than that,” Eliot growled, crossing the room in a flash and slamming Sterling into the wall.
“You’re hurting me,” Sterling gasped out after a second, clawing futilely at the forearm that was being pressed against his windpipe.
“That’s kind of the idea,” Eliot shot back menacingly, not backing off an inch.
“What would you have had me do?” Sterling gasped out finally, exasperated and out of breath. “I had to get my daughter back.”
“For starters, you could have trusted us with the truth instead of using us as pawns in your little chess game,” Eliot shouted, though he loosened his grip just a hair. “This is what we do, Sterling, we help people.”
“After everything I’ve done to Nate, I couldn’t take the chance that he’d say ‘No,’” Sterling argued.
“That doesn’t excuse you not trusting me,” Eliot shot back, releasing him with another shove.
“I should have,” Sterling admitted, his tone almost surprised. “I’m sorry, all right?”
Eliot made a noise of wary acknowledgement and took a few steps back to pick up his beer.
“Why do I get the feeling that wasn’t all the unfinished business you needed to sort out?” Sterling asked, feeling confident enough that Eliot wasn’t going to kill him in the next few seconds to take off his jacket and sling it over the back of a chair.
“You can’t keep doing this, Sterling,” Eliot said finally, replacing the now half-empty bottle of beer. “Sweeping in and turning our lives upside down, then leaving like nothing ever happened. I’m not letting you get away that easily.”
“And how exactly do you intend to stop me?” Sterling asked, posing it as a challenge.
In lieu of reply, Eliot spun round and once again slammed Sterling against the wall, this time with even more force. “You’d be surprised what people can do when they’re properly motivated,” he replied, echoing their earlier conversation.
“Ah, so when you say ‘our lives,’ what you really mean is ‘your life,’” Sterling observed shrewdly, the calmness of his tone not matched by the raggedness of his breathing. “So which is it today, Spencer - kiss me or kill me?”
Eliot stared at him, breathing roughly, for a few seconds before the hint of a smile crept onto his lips. He growled out, “Who says I can't do both?”
Sterling grinned, but was prevented from voicing his smarmy reply by Eliot smashing his lips against his, causing him to bury his hands in Eliot's hair, some of which had fallen over his face in the heat of the moment.
With the deft fingers of one accustomed to delicate work, Eliot undid Sterling's tie in one swift motion and threw it over the chair beside his coat.
"I can't believe I'm doing this with a guy who wears lavender ties," he muttered, shaking his head as he set to work on Sterling’s shirt.
"I can't believe I'm doing this with a guy who's never owned one," Sterling retorted, though the gleam in his eyes made it clear this was not truly a concern.
This interchange was cut short as the two pounced on each other once again, maneuvering so they were mere inches from Sterling’s expansive, four-poster hotel bed. Eliot pushed Sterling’s shirt even further off his shoulders and began running his teeth up and down the other man’s neck.
"Mmmm, I thought you said last time you wouldn't be coming back,” Sterling murmured, dragging his hands across Eliot’s back nearly hard enough to leave marks.
"Why are you still talking?" Eliot said with an annoyed exhale, pushing Sterling down onto the bed in an attempt to change the subject.
"I don’t know, why are you still dressed?" Sterling retorted with a sly grin, ripping Eliot’s shirt open before neatly sweeping his leg and toppling him onto the bed, seemingly all in one, smooth move.
Upon seeing the outraged look Eliot was sending him, Sterling grinned wickedly. “What? I was just providing a little...leverage.”
Meanwhile, at Leverage headquarters...
“Hardison!” Parker hissed, shoving him hard enough that he nearly fell off the couch.
“Quit shooting me, Parker,” Hardison mumbled sleepily before dropping the X-Box controller he was holding to brace himself against the coffee table.
“It’s Eliot! I think he’s in trouble!” Parker insisted, holding out her discarded com.
“What?” Hardison bolted awake and quickly hopped over the edge of the couch to stand next to Parker, their marathon session of Halo 3 completely forgotten.
“I heard that growling noise Eliot makes when he fights, and then he yelled out Sterling’s name!” She held the com up to Hardison’s ear.
Hardison hurriedly took the com, raised it to his ear, and began to listen intently. Upon hearing what was emitting from it, his expression shifted rapidly from worry to relief to horror, at which point he dropped the com like it was on fire and began muttering to himself, “Oh, that is nasty, man! Just nasty! I did not need to hear either of them doing that, and I definitely did not need to hear them doin’ it to each other!”
“What is it?” Parker asked insistently, speeding over to stand in front of him. “Did something happen? Should we go wake Nate?”
“No!” Hardison shouted, panicked. Remembering the time of night, he lowered his voice a bit before continuing, “I mean, umm, I really don’t think this is the sort of thing that Nate would want to know about.”
“What are you talking about?” Parker said impatiently, hitting him on the shoulder. “If Eliot’s in trouble, of course Nate would want to know! I’m getting him.”
As she turned toward the winding staircase, Hardison grabbed her shoulders and interjected quickly, “Parker, Parker, Parker, listen to me, okay? Eliot’s fine. There’s no need to get Nate, because, believe me, Eliot’s just fine.”
She looked at him skeptically. “Well, what about the noises, then? And what about Sterling?”
Hardison shot a “Lord, give me strength” look at the ceiling before starting to explain, “Well, you see, Parker, sometimes it can sound like somebody’s having a really bad time, when they’re actually having a really good time. You feel me?”
Parker gave an incredulous laugh as she asked, “But Hardison, how can someone who’s growling and grunting and yelling, ‘Oh God,’ be having a good - Oh!” She stopped mid-sentence as her eyes lit up in recognition.
“Wait, wait, I know this one - they’re sex noises! Eliot and Sterling are sexing each other!” Her look of glee at having figured it out changed to one of extreme dismay as she shouted, “Oh God, Eliot and Sterling are sexing each other!”
“Would you keep it down, woman?” Hardison hissed, glancing worriedly at the stairs. “I’m thinking Nate wouldn’t react well to finding out Eliot is doing the horizontal mambo with his nemesis, and the last thing we need is for that man to crawl further into a whiskey bottle.”
“I can’t believe he’s doing it with Sterling!” Parker whispered loudly. “I mean, he’s just so...” At this point, Hardison finished her sentence with “Evil,” at the same time Parker decided on, “British.”
After giving Parker a quizzical look, Hardison went on, looking dumbstruck, “I still can’t believe Eliot’s gay.” He sat down on the edge of the couch with a thud, “I mean, the dude wears nothing but flannel, listens to nothing but county music, and drinks nothing but beer.”
“There were a couple warning signs,” Parker remarked thoughtfully.
“Oh, like what, Parker?” Hardison asked skeptically, “What could Eliot possibly have done that would constitute a warning sign?”
“Well, I did see him making out with a guy, does that count?” Parker asked without a hint of sarcasm.
“Wha - who - when - how - why?” Hardison exclaimed, his words all slurring together.
“San Lorenzo, the night after the election. I was bored, so I went down to the bar to see how many wallets I could steal in ten minutes...” Seeing the look Hardison gave her, she rolled her eyes and continued, “...before I put them back. Anyway, while I was there, I saw Eliot dragging one of Vittori’s campaign guys into the stairwell by his tie. Guess he wanted to celebrate our last night there in style.”
“And you didn’t think this might be worth mentioning?” Hardison exclaimed incredulously.
Parker shrugged. “Didn’t seem relevant.”
“Didn’t seem relevant,” Hardison muttered to himself, shaking his head. “Girl, we are going to have to work on your communication skills.”
It was at this moment that a loud moan emanated from the com they had left on the table, and Parker and Hardison both instinctively turned to look at it. “Well, clearly Eliot doesn’t have to work on his communication skills, if you know what I mean,” Parker said with an exaggerated wink, elbowing Hardison in the ribs.
Hardison shuddered before saying, “Uh-uh, mm-mm, I am not thinking about this anymore tonight...and neither are you,” he added, switching the com to off over Parker’s protestations.
“Leaving the com on while doing the nasty,” Hardison muttered to himself as he walked away, “That’s just downright disrespectful is what that is. That boy is going to get an earful in the morning, I’m telling you what...”