"I wouldn't have let you go if I hadn't thought you could handle it," Nate tells him as they're leaving the bar, but the fact that Nate's saying anything at all- that he thinks he has to- runs contrary to his words.
Eliot nods anyway. Absolution, not agreement.
What do you want to know? Names, dates, locations?
Nate locks the front door to McRory's, and nods down the street to where his car's parked. He's off to Sophie's, then. It's been happening with increasing frequency these days, and the gesture is as much as anyone's likely to say about it. He's giving as much privacy as he's taking, keys jangling too loudly in his hands as he searches Eliot's face.
"Hardison said something about cleaning up the CIA's files," Nate offers when he finds nothing, nodding up towards the building. "Think he and Parker ordered pizza."
You wanna know what food was on their breath?
Eliot knows that they'd heard everything, during the interrogation. He knew perfectly well what he'd let slip, just like he knew that none of them would ever speak of it again, just like they don't talk about Nate and Sophie. Just like they don't talk about Parker and Hardison and him, at least not usually.
But it feels like Nate's cutting it close. He forces a nod, says good night, and watches as Nate gets into his car, pulls out.
He could go back upstairs. It's fine. Hardison's busy. Parker's never the one to start a conversation first. Maybe she's sleeping, maybe she's on the couch, the television light reflecting blue on her face and in her-
Their eyes? What color their eyes were?
Eliot shakes his head, walking quickly away before he's even realized the need for distance. By the time he's at the end of the block he's fighting not to break into a run- as much as his head wants it, he's exhausted. The last real sleep he'd had was nights ago, and he'd woke so hungover that even were it not for the insanity of the past few days, he'd probably still be feeling it.
Besides. It's late enough that the bars down on the next block are kicking everyone out, the last-call crowd is rowdy and boisterous, so many people clamoring to be heard over their drunken friends that it's overwhelming, even from here.
You wanna know the last words they spoke?
Jamming his fists into his pockets, he turns a corner; the side street, for the moment, is blessedly devoid of people. There's a homeless guy across the street, asking a couple for change in the convenience store doorway, and maybe he's someone Eliot's talked to, there's just no telling. He's got a couple of twenties in his pocket, but doesn't cross. Not with the college students right there, not with everything ringing out so hard in his head.
Do You wanna know which ones deserved it? Or better yet, the ones that didn't?
In the morning, he promises himself, when he's not inches from cracking and turning into- turning back into- stop thinking about it- he'll grab a few hundred out of the bank and go looking for the guy, see what he can do.
There's a group of women coming around the corner, laughing and gesturing wildly, having the time of their lives. One of them is wearing a flimsy white veil, trying to help her drunken, teetering friend down the sidewalk, and if he doesn't turn into the alley now, he'll have to pass right through the middle of them, and they're not doing anything wrong but they're drunk- too drunk- to think to avoid him.
He's not even sure what he'll do if one of them passes too closely. Drunken, laughing grasps at his coat sleeve as he passes? He can't even think about it.
Do you wanna know which ones begged?
His coat, his coat's too thin for this weather, he thinks, turning into the alley. It's dark, but there's a light at the end of the block that he recognizes, it's the back lot of McRory's. Apparently, he's heading back, and it's too soon, he's still got all this shit in his head, and he can't go back, can't go up there like this, there's-
The crash in the side-alley sets him spinning, his weight shifting to where it needs to be as he searches the shadows for movement. For a long moment, there's nothing. Glass clinking quietly as a garbage bag settles on the ground, and he's nearly ready to write it off when he catches it, a few feet to the left. He shifts again, brings his right hand up, ready to go, hell, he's half hoping for an attack when-
"Eliot?" Parker steps out of the dark, carefully setting down the garbage can lid she'd been holding. The noise was deliberate, then.
"I didn't want to startle you," she steps over the last of the trash as silently as anything.
Eliot shouldn't have to point out that sudden noises in dark alleys are always startling, but what she meant is that she hadn't wanted to be so close when she startled him. She's crazy, not lacking in caution. What's troubling, though, is how cautiously she's approaching him, hands raised like she thinks he might attack. As if-
"Fuck. Don't do that, all right?" He takes a deep breath and releases it, tells himself that it's working.
"I know, I just. You didn't come up when Nate left, and I saw you from the window, and Hardison's doing that thing where he's sitting at his desk but can't type any more, and he keeps staring at the door, but he needs to sleep, too, and." She shakes her head, comes close enough to see his face. "Um. We were worried." She frowns, like she doesn't know the words she needs to use next. "And it's better when you're there and I need to know if you're okay."
Eliot's not sure how to respond, he'd been counting on three-quarters of a block to figure out how to deal with her, with both of them.
"I'm fine. I."
He wants to believe it, but it would be easier to convince her if the ambulance passing three blocks away wasn't making his ears ring, the noise becoming thrashing heavy metal, loud enough to block out-
"Hey." Parker is probably the only person in the world who'd step close enough to touch him right now, and he's not so far gone that he's forgotten, he's just-
She's hugging him, wiry arms trying to crush his chest, warm face in his neck, rigid and close enough that if he starts fighting her, he'd have to dislodge her first.
"I'm sorry you got tortured," she says, her voice muffled by his collar, and he wants to explain that no, it's not that, the torture wasn't the issue, it's. Just.
Do you know why I remember these things? You don't know? 'cause I can't forget. So there's nothing you can do, no punishment you can hand out, that's worse than what I live with every day. So to answer your question, no. No I haven't counted. I don't need to.
He's got his arms around her as tightly as she's holding him, moves when she does. The kiss is brief, more of a reminder than anything. Once it's over, but before either of them pull away, she takes a breath.
"I know right now it's a curse. Doing things other people can't. Won't. But it doesn't make you a bad person, okay?"
She waits for him to nod, but her hand catches his before stepping back, tugging gently. Neither of them are good at this part, really, not without Hardison around, but he squeezes her hand before letting go.
The ringing in his ears is still there as they slip in through the back door, but the noise in his head is down to a manageable roar by the time they reach the third floor.
Alec's coming out of the bathroom, pulling a sweatshirt on, but Eliot can see the bruising from here.
Fuck. He'd forgotten-
Alec's grinning tiredly at him, though, swerving from his path towards the bedroom to intercept them in the kitchen.
"Hey," he says, sounding relieved- after everything, there are still people on this planet who are relieved to see him- and wraps his hand around Eliot's neck, drawing him in as Parker slips away. He's careful about the bruises, and their kiss is so sleepy and uncoordinated that he actually finds himself chuckling.
"There's pizza," Alec mumbles, pressing a final quick kiss against his forehead. "You hungry?"
Eliot shakes his head. "Bed." He'll regret skipping the shower in the morning, but Alec's still got a cautious arm around his shoulder and might not feel like letting go just yet. Parker's got the freezer door open, holding up an ice pack with a questioning expression, and already, Alec's shaking his head.
"Yeah," Eliot says, catching it one handed when Parker tosses it, then handing it to Alec as they follow her towards the bedroom.
"I'm fine," Alec whines, clambering with it anyway into the bed, shifting back so Parker can climb over him to her her side, nearest the window as usual. "Stupid thing's cold, you know?"
Now that he's finally gotten his coat off, and the shirt and jeans have joined it on the floor, Eliot's too exhausted to bicker. He shuts off the light and kneels on the bed, leaning over to kiss Parker. Her fingers are light on his throat, but heavy for her, she's too tired to even pretend she's stealing something out of his ear. There are traces of her chapstick on Alec's lips as well, which used to make him uneasy, back when this first started. Now it's just normal.
It's been a fucked up day, and Eliot needs to say it first, before Alec gets the chance. "Love you both," he says, easing back to lay down as Parker's me too- and Alec's love you push back the noise in his head just a little bit more, maybe enough.
Parker, surprisingly, is the first to drop off, Eliot can hear it when her breathing shifts, and honestly, he's not all that far behind, but he's never able to fall asleep until both of them already have. So it's not even surprising when Alec shifts, turns his head on the pillow he's mostly stolen. "Hey Eliot," he whispers, hand brushing up along Eliot's arm, then down again. Except for the icepack set against his side, he's warm against Eliot's back. "You all right?"
It's dark, and of the three of them, Alec's the worst at knowing when someone else is sleeping, so he has a moment to contemplate before he has to answer. He grabs Alec's hand, though, stilling it, to let him know he's heard.
"Pretty good," he eventually admits, because the noise is still there, thirty seven sets of eyes are always watching, but there are two sets of eyes that aren't afraid to close when he's there. "I'm okay."