Eliot groaned as he woke up for the second time tonight. He tried to ignore that his hand reached out to the still-empty place next to him. Then tried to pretend that the fact that Lindsey was away now for the fifth night in a row had absolutely nothing to do with his sleeping problems. And failed miserably on both.
Yes, it was the fifth night. And no, he was not grumpy during the day because he missed Lindsey. He wasn't grumpy because it was supposed to be a one-day-only job that had, due to unforeseen circumstances, turned to an I-don't-know-how-fucking-long-this-will-take job. He couldn't even call Lindsey without blowing his cover. Not even Nate could tell at the moment when Lindsey would be back – it could take another week, it could take only a few more hours.
Really, he was only grumpy because he didn't sleep well, and he wasn't used to that. Usually you could just lean him against a wall and he'd sleep - and of course be awake and alert in split second if necessary – but now it didn't seem to work that well anymore. Waking up more than twice a night simply wasn't normal. And the only reason for that seemed to be the empty place next to him.
He dozed off again only to wake up for good at five in the morning. He sat up slowly and ran his fingers through his hair, tired, cranky and more than a little confused. He stared at the empty pillow on the other side of the bed and had to laugh as he caught himself doing it. Okay. Okay. I confess. I miss him. Can I sleep now? He shook his head at himself. He couldn't understand how someone he had barely known just a few months ago had somehow gotten under his skin so quickly.
He hadn't really realized how fast it had happened. The bed in Nate's guest room was big enough for two, and Eliot didn't see the point in using the couch anymore since they'd gotten together three months ago. Gradually he spent fewer nights in his own apartment, until he finally realized that he'd more or less moved in. No. It's not a relationship. It's not. It's... what the hell is it? He let out a resigned sigh and swung his legs out of the bed. Tea. And I guess I have to do some thinking.
Nate padded sleepily to the bathroom and frowned when he saw light seeping through under the kitchen door. He slowly opened it and found Eliot sitting at the table, wrapped in a blanket and sipping hot tea. He had to smile. "Good morning, Eliot."
Eliot looked up and smiled back. “Hey. Sorry, did I wake you?”
Nate shook his head and yawned. “Don't worry. I saw the light and thought Hardison had come back, wanted to hear how it went. Sophie's still asleep.” He looked at Eliot, curious now. “Why are you up already?”
Eliot shrugged. “Couldn't sleep.”
Nate just looked at him and arched an eyebrow. “Yeah. I kinda see that.”
Eliot grinned a little sheepishly. “Sorry. I... got lot on my mind.”
Nate gave him a concerned look. “You wanna talk?”
Eliot hesitated. “I... I don't know. No. Maybe.”
Nate waited a moment and then nodded. “I'm gonna make a cup of tea. If you want to talk then, I'll listen. If not, it's fine. We'll just keep each other company, okay?” He went to the cupboard and heated some more water. He frowned as he got no snarky comment from Eliot about using tea bags. He's really distracted. What's going on? And then he figured it out. Of course. Just a few more weeks and he has to decide if he moves in with Lindsey when he gets his new condo. He sat down with his cup. “Is it about Lindsey?” Eliot gave him a sharp look. Nate just grinned. “Eliot, I'm not stupid, you know?”
Eliot sat the cup down and rubbed his temples. “Yeah, okay. It is.” Nate just waited, and after a little while Eliot spoke again. “I... I'm not used to this, ya know? There wasn't anyone after Aimee, not... like this. It's crazy, me not sleeping because... yeah. And it's not – I don't know what it is, Nate.”
Nate sat his cup down and grinned. He doesn't know it yet, but he already made his decision. He simply stated “You miss him.”
Eliot opened his mouth as if to deny it automatically, but then sighed, shoulders slumping. “Yeah.”
Nate leaned forward. “And you look like it's scaring you to death. Why? It's not like he's expecting you to marry him on the spot, right?”
Eliot had to laugh at the idea. “No. Guess not." His grin faded. "But... Nate, I don't know how to deal with it!”
“With what?” Nate's tone was gentle. He could see now that there were a lot of wheels turning in Eliot's head, more than he had thought, and not in a good way. “You wanna tell me? Clear your head?” Nate looked at him and waited patiently. He took this on a friendly basis for the moment, and he'd certainly prefer it if Eliot would speak voluntarily. But as soon as this, whatever it was, would somehow affect teamwork on a job, he knew that he had to demand an explanation.
Obviously Eliot knew this, too. He sighed and began to speak, slowly and hesitating at first, but then the words bursted out. “So – this, this thing happens. Lindsey an' me. And, and it's good. Feels good. And just now, that he's been away a bit, I suddenly realize how deep I'm into it already. I mean, come on, I should be able to sleep in an empty bed, right? Done that for years! But... I can't. All of a sudden there's someone with me who's maybe as fucked up as I am. All of a sudden it's 'we' instead of 'I'. Something I never wanted, because it's always trouble. You remember Aimee, Nate – look what happened. I can't be too close to people. I hurt'm. Makes you vulnerable. Makes you... weak.”
Nate looked up. This was maybe the longest speech he had ever heard from the man. Eliot sounded almost desperate, and it felt like he was merely trying to convince himself rather than Nate of what he was saying. “Eliot – there's a lot I can say to this. For a start, relax. You don't need to dive in head first. Small steps, okay? What is it you want? Do you want a 'we'? Because if not, please do yourself and Lindsey a favor and end it as soon as possible.”
Eliot looked shocked. He sat down his now empty mug and stared at Nate. “No. I don't want to end it. That ain't the point. I want this, Nate. Really. I... just don't know how.”
Nate stood up and fetched more tea. “Good. Then that's clear. But why do you think it makes you weak?”
Eliot looked down. “What if...” He searched for the right words, trying to put his somehow vague fears into words. “What if I need to make a choice? What if two of us need my help – him and let's say Sophie? What if I can help only Lindsey and Sophie gets hurt? Or worse? What if I make the wrong choice? Fuck it up?”
Eliot's voice was rough and Nate could hear the rising despair in it. He looked in Eliot's eyes. “So that's what kills you? You think your personal bond with Lindsey could jeopardize the team?”
Eliot exhaled heavily. “Yeah. I have no idea how I'd react. I'm scared of making the wrong decision because I got too attached.”
Nate paused for a moment, thinking it over. Then he shook his head. “I think you're caught in the wrong loop here. I think you know very well that you won't let personal feelings get in the way if it really matters. I trust you for that. I think you're afraid that you'll choose Lindsey for the right reasons and I would think you got it wrong. Hold you responsible for it. That so?”
Eliot blinked and pondered the thought for a moment. Then he nodded. “Yeah. Maybe that too.”
Nate grinned. “You forget that I'm in the same boat. You're not the only one who's with a teammate, remember? You never questioned my ability to make unbiased decisions even if Sophie is heavily involved. Why do you think you would be different?”
Eliot stared at him, caught by surprise. He opened his mouth but couldn't find the right argument. Nate continued. “I can recall a few times where you had to decide whether you could help only Sophie or Hardison. Or only Sophie or Parker. How did you make that decision?”
Eliot answered without thinking. “I analyzed the situation and tried to find the best possible way.”
Nate nodded. “Right. And sometimes it was Sophie who came second. Did you ever see me getting back at you for that? Blaming you?”
Eliot slowly shook his head. “No.”
“Then why do you think I would with Lindsey? Eliot, I trust your ability to choose correctly.”
“I don't.” Eliot's voice was barely audible.
“Then you just have to trust me on that. Because you know what? Those fears you have now? I had them too. And you know what I discovered? They just make you try harder. To find better ways. They make you stronger.”
Eliot let it sink in and then gave Nate a small smile. “How'd you deal?”
Nate grinned. “First time Sophie was in real danger after we got together? I was so scared that I thought I'd freeze. Thought I could never come up with something. But when it mattered – I knew the others were also depending on me. And I knew that Sophie would kick my ass if someone else would get hurt because of me favoring her. So that got me going. And it worked. And it will work for you too. You'll see.”
Eliot released the breath he'd been holding. “I hope you're right. I'll... think about it.”
Nate gave him a reassuring smile. “Good. Going back to sleep now? I think you could use it.”
Before Eliot could answer, they heard the front door fall shut and Hardison's cheerful voice.
“Honey, I'm home!”
Eliot rolled his eyes. “I'll make some more tea. I guess he wants to tell stories now.”
Nate stood up as Hardison entered the kitchen. “Hardison. How did it go?”
Hardison grinned. “Everything was smooth sailing, boss.” He sat down, gladly accepted the offered tea and began to talk, only interrupted by Nate's occasional questions.
Eliot just sat and sipped his tea, barely listening, lost in his thoughts. He actually felt better now – to know that Nate trusted his judgment was really reassuring. It's okay. We're gonna be okay, it will work out. Together. He smiled at the thought. And now, I'll just finish my cup, and then I think I can sleep. And later I'll think about... everything else. They had sat for over half an hour without Eliot realizing. Hardison had explained and shown every detail to Nate until he had finally gotten a nod of approval.
“Good work, Hardison. You want to catch some sleep here?”
Hardison shook his head. “Nah. I hear my own bed calling, thanks.” He stood up and then seemed to remember something. “By the way, Nate, that job you just assigned Lindsey to? I could have done that, I'm not that exhausted! Really man, the boy hasn't seen Eliot for four days now – was it really necessary to keep the lovebirds apart for longer? They'll go into withdrawal!”
Nate stared at him, looking completely confused. “Hardison – what are you talking about?”
About forty-five minutes earlier
Lindsey snuck into Nate's apartment with a relieved sigh, dropped his full bag carefully on the floor and fell into the next chair, rubbing his eyes.
In the end the job had gone more smoothly than expected. When it was clear that he was finished, he decided to check out of his hotel even though it was already late. He couldn't wait to get home again – Home. Strange thought – and the thought of maybe surprising a sleepy Eliot in "their" bed had been too tempting. But of course the plane was delayed, the batteries of his cell phone had died and Chicago traffic was worse than usual, so when the cab had dropped him off in front of Nate's house it was already dawn.
He looked up as he heard voices. He had been very quiet with the doors, thinking that everyone was still asleep, but obviously they were not. He smiled fondly as he recognized Eliot's voice. Just three more weeks and my own place will be ready to move in. Wonder if he'll ask or if he'll simply put his toothbrush in my bathroom. He stood up and went towards the kitchen. He almost had his hand on the doorknob as he finally could understand words, and as he did, his smile faded away.
“But why do you think it makes you weak?”
“What if I need to make a choice? What if two of us need my help – him and let's say Sophie? What if I can help only Lindsey and Sophie gets hurt? Or worse? What if I make the wrong choice? Fuck it up?”
“So that's what kills you? You think your personal bond withLindsey could jeopardize the team?”
“Yeah. I have no idea how I'd react. I'm scared of making the wrong decision because I got too attached.”
Lindsey felt like someone had punched him in the guts. He stumbled backwards, blood draining from his face. He had been sure that this particular train of thought had left the station some time ago, but here it was again. Kicking into into full speed, aiming towards a dead end.
There. There it is, Lindsey. You knew you had it coming. You're really skilled in destroying everything good you have, aren't you? I just thought I'd have a little more time. Have this... a little longer.
He pressed his hands to his ears, not wanting to hear more, not wanting to hear the despair in Eliot's voice, not wanting to hear Nate's answer that would condemn him. Not wanting to hear what was obviously the only solution to this. “Right, Eliot. You have to stay focused. Can't let you get distracted. Get rid of the attachment.” He could hear the words in his head, so clearly that he wasn't sure for a moment if they had really been spoken or not.
“No,” he whispered. He fell back into the chair next to his bag, hands still pressed against his ears. I'm destroying a team. Way to go, Lindsey. My fault. If I hadn't... No. Ain't gonna let that happen. He stood up, reached for his bag and blindly stumbled out of the door again. No need to make a decision, Eliot. Can't let you do that. Team's more important. More important than us... than me. He squeezed his eyes shut against the tears already stinging in his eyes. God, that hurts.
He felt numb as he slowly took the stairs down again and stepped back out on the streets. He looked around without really seeing anything. He didn't even notice Hardison coming towards him until the hacker cheerfully addressed him.
“Hey, Lindsey, how did it go?”
Lindsey blinked, needed a few seconds to actually recognize Hardison and then tried to smile. It didn't feel convincing, but at least he could feel the corners of his lips moving upwards. "Hey. Yeah, it went... okay. In the end faster than expected."
Hardison grinned widely. "Great, man. But hey, why are you already off again?"
The fake smile began to hurt. "Something urgent came up. You know how it is. And it's ... law stuff, so..." Lindsey's voice trailed off, and he hoped that Hardison wouldn't ask further. His head started to hurt, tears still looming, and he wasn't sure if he could make up more details. Luckily Hardison seemed eager to go inside.
"Aw, shit. Sorry for that. Good luck." He waved goodbye, but then frowned and turned back to Lindsey. "Are you all right, man? You look pale."
Lindsey managed to give him a somewhat reassuring look. "It's nothing. I... have a headache, but I'll have a few hours on the train and I'll catch some sleep. Look, I gotta call a cab. I'll... see you around."
"Sure, man." Hardison stood and watched Lindsey waving for the next cab, getting inside and leaving. He frowned a bit. He was a little ... off. Oh well, probably missing his boy already. He shrugged it off and went upstairs to Nate's place.
"Honey, I'm home!"
Hardison looked into Nate's questioning face and grinned. "Aw, come on, Nate. I met Lindsey outside, so what's this law stuff he has to do now? I know he's all qualified and shit, but I've done that before. Did you even give him time to kiss Eliot? You're plain cruel sometimes, Nate!" Hardison had put on a joking tone and therefore expected to get a laugh or at least some eyerolls. What he clearly didn't expect was Nate continuing to look confused and Eliot suddenly looking like a deer caught in the headlights. He shook his head. "Guys? What's wrong?"
Nate blinked. "I didn't give him another job. I didn't even know he was back... outside the house, you say?"
Hardison nodded. "Yeah. I saw him come out."
Hardison looked now irritated at Eliot's sharp tone of voice. "Just before I came in of course." He checked his watch. "That was about... a good half an hour ago. Said he had to catch a train, he got in a cab."
"He... came in and left again?" Nate still sounded confused. Then a sharp cracking sound and a choking noise next to him made him jump out of his chair. "Jesus - Eliot!"
Eliot didn't notice the hot tea dripping on his legs or his fingers bleeding from the shards of the mug that had broken apart under his grip. His world had just fallen apart as realization had hit home. A hard fist clenched around his stomach. His voice was hoarse. "He left. He's gone." The blow had been totally unexpected and had hit all the more for that. He didn't even react as Nate pried his clenched fingers apart, picked remaining splinters out of his flesh and tried to stop the bleeding with a clean towel.
"What do you mean, left?" Hardison studied Eliot's pale face, the wild look in his eyes behind his glasses, and looked a little scared himself now. "Why should he?"
Eliot still didn't notice his injuries. Nate barely prevented him from running the bleeding hand through his hair by grabbing his wrist. "Stop that! Eliot! HEY!" He held the grip on Eliot's wrist and finally decided to simply wrap the small towel around the still bleeding hand. Eliot blinked and finally seemed to come back to reality, but was still breathing too fast and shallow.
"He heard us."
Eliot's voice was only a whisper, but Nate finally understood. He slowly nodded. " He must have, yes."
Hardison's eyes widened almost comically. "Whoa, whoa, what? He heard you doing what?"
That snapped Eliot out of it. "Mind out of the gutter, Hardison!" He glared at the other man who slowly took a few steps back and raised his hands.
"Okay, okay, easy! Can someone explain it to me?"
Nate had collected his thoughts in the meantime. He turned to Hardison. "Eliot and I had a discussion, and I guess Lindsey has heard exactly the wrong part of it. I'll explain later, but I think Lindsey thinks now that he can't be a part of the team anymore."
Hardison stared. Now it made sense. "He looked... sick. Said he has a headache."
A strangled sound like a wounded animal escaped Eliot's throat. He made a move as if he wanted to flee the room. Nate grabbed his shoulders and pressed him back in the chair, hoping he wouldn't catch a reflexive punch. "Eliot, calm down, okay?" His voice was just a little bit commanding. "Hardison said he took a cab. Where would he go?"
Eliot closed his eyes and tried to get his breathing under control. His head swam a little, but his self-control slowly kicked in again. Finally he opened his eyes. "He... had a lot of stuff with him - clothes, money... papers. He's gonna need his papers, the new ones. He doesn't use them for cons, he keeps them... Office."
Hardison had his laptop open already. "I'm on it." He typed a few things, searched and then looked up. "Outgoing call from the office. To Chicago Cab Central. Twelve minutes ago."
Eliot was already on his feet. Everyone's here except Parker. And she's already on her way here, otherwise we'd gotten a call. "Car keys. I'm gonna get there. No one else needs help and it's really my business."
Nate hesitated for a moment, then grabbed the keys and threw it in Eliot's direction. "Here you go. We'll try to get you some information. Hardison, try to get the cab communications."
The hacker raised his eyebrows. "Already on it, Nate... Eliot, keep the comm open. If I hear anything, I'll tell you. And relax, okay? If everything else fails – since I was the one who made his papers I should be able to track it if he uses them. We'll find him."
Eliot nodded and hurried to the door.
Nate's voice stopped him in his tracks. He turned around impatiently. "What?"
Nate looked satisfied despite the situation. "You realize what you just did, right?"
Eliot looked confused and even more impatient. "Nate..."
Nate cut him off. "You made sure first that everyone else is okay. See? Trust yourself." He smiled, with just a touch of smugness. "Now go."
Eliot opened his mouth and closed it again as he realized that Nate had a point. He nodded sharply, looking a little relieved, and then left, almost flying down the steps.
Nate and Hardison exchanged glances.
"You said it, boss. Let's hope he doesn't kill himself with your car."
Eliot had to force himself not to break every traffic rule possible. The office was only a few minutes away, but it seemed like hours. As he reached the building, he caught sight of a cab car just leaving the parking space in front of it. He swore a blue streak, stepped on the gas and tried to catch up to it. Soon he was able to peek inside and only saw the driver inside, but no passenger, so he fell back again. His u-turn to get back to the office building wasn't exactly legal, but he didn't care.
He pulled the car into the next space available, jumped out of it and sprinted to the building. Another stream of curses was directed at the elevator which seemed to take ages to arrive. Finally he reached the office doors, and his hands shook so heavily that he almost dropped the key card and needed two tries before the door opened. He stepped inside, wanting to call out Lindsey's name but at the same time afraid that he wouldn't get a response.
There was no answer. He closed his eyes and balled his hands into fists. No lights on. The papers... his desk. He found the desk open and empty. He had to bite his lip not to scream in frustration. No. He can't be gone. He wasn't in that cab.
"Nothing, Eliot, sorry."
He ran his fingers through his hair, pulling at the long strands, trying to stay calm. Think, Eliot. If he wants to run and hide... he told Hardison he'd take the train. So chances are he doesn't. Leaves... airport.
"Hardison? His papers are already gone. I'll drive to the airport, see if I can find him there."
"Eliot - wait. I just heard a conversation that a driver complained his client didn't show up. He came from our address. So either Lindsey left on foot or he's still around."
The other rooms. Maybe... He opened the doors to the other offices, then the kitchen door and made a frustrated noise as he found them empty. Which left only... Conference room. Last option. He pushed the door open and almost immediately saw the bag on the floor.
He slowly went inside. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see the huddled form of a man, sitting on the floor, back to the wall. A wave of relief crashed through him, so hard that it left him dizzy and he had to hold on to the table to steady himself. He shakily reached out and switched one of the tiny table lamps on.
Still no reaction. His dizziness went away and gave way to anger. He strode over to the huddled form, grabbed Lindsey's shoulders and shook him hard. "The fuck did you think you were doin'? You scared me... us to death! Runnin' away without a word - I thought you..." His voice trailed off.
Lindsey still didn't say anything, but he finally lifted his head. Eliot looked at his pale face, the still-wet tear streaks, felt him trembling and his anger vanished. He pulled his hands back and let himself drop to the floor next to Lindsey. The other man wrapped his arms around his knees and had lowered his head again, now shaking even more with the effort not to cry anymore.
Eliot closed his eyes for a moment, took a few deep breaths and felt himself calming down a bit. He looked at Lindsey's still curled-up form and hesitantly reached out his hand, not really sure if Lindsey wanted to be touched right now. Then he shook his head, mentally kicking himself into gear before finally wrapping his arms around Lindsey, pulling him close, just holding him. He felt Lindsey's body stiffen for a moment, but then he gave in and the shaking slowly ebbed away as Lindsey buried his face on Eliot's shoulder. His fingers grabbed the hem of Eliot's shirt, as if he was afraid to actually hold on to him. Eliot blinked and bit his lip. His eyes were burning. He swallowed twice and then remembered the comm in his ear.
"Hardison?" His voice was shaky. "I got him. He's safe. Thank you." Without waiting for a reply, he took the small gadget out, dropped it on the floor and slid his arm around Lindsey's body again. They both sat quietly for a while.
Finally Lindsey spoke, in a very small voice, face still hidden. "I couldn't. I saw the cab waiting outside. But I couldn't move."
Eliot cupped his face and gently pulled it up so that he could look him in the eyes. "It was the talk in the kitchen, wasn't it?" Lindsey just closed his eyes again and nodded. Eliot pulled him close again. "But what'd you think? Why did you just run away? Why didn't you just come in and ask what the hell was going on?"
Lindsey sighed. He straightened, reluctantly pulled out of the embrace and leaned back at the wall. He closed his eyes again until he finally found his words. They came out reluctantly, in a shaky voice. "After everything that happened in Los Angeles... when I finally came here... all of a sudden I had things I never had before. People who trust me. Friends. A team. A purpose that wasn't evil. And, after a while..." He finally looked Eliot in the eyes. "You."
His voice was steadier now. Eliot just nodded, but didn't interrupt. "This... all of it... best thing that ever happened to me. I felt happy. Really happy. But... after a while... I got scared. Because that much good, it just doesn't happen to me like that. It never does. There is always a price. And so... I expected the blow. Waited for something to take it away from me."
Eliot's tone was gentle. "And when you heard me saying I was afraid of fucking up because I got too attached..."
Lindsey nodded. In a very quiet voice he added "Yeah. I panicked." He looked up again. "I thought... this is it. Because I fuck up a team. And tear you apart. I wanted to save you from having to make that decision. To choose me or the team."
Eliot flinched. Does he really think... He absently ran his fingers through his hair. His thoughts raced. He does. Guess I have to spell it out. He straightened and deliberately gave his voice a sarcastic tone. "So... you wanted to sacrifice your own... happiness for me and the team, that it?" He raised his eyebrows.
Lindsey looked up and his brow furrowed. "Basically... yes. What..."
Eliot snorted. "That's very noble, Lindsey. Very noble and very very stupid."
Lindsey startled and sucked in a breath, more than just a little defensive. "You..." He didn't get further.
Eliot grabbed him, one hand on Lindsey's shoulder, the other on his neck, pulled him closer and kissed him roughly. Lindsey made a surprised sound, but before he could react even a little, Eliot let go. "Do I have your attention?"
Lindsey stared at him, eyes wide, lips still parted. He could only nod.
"Good. I know you think you need to say somethin'. Don't. Just listen to me, okay?" Lindsey blinked and nodded again. "Linds... first, I already made a decision about us. When we kissed that first time. Maybe even earlier, when I promised... you know. Anyway." Eliot's voice was firm now, and he looked straight into Lindsey's eyes. "Don't you dare do that again. We're both in this. Never decide to end our relationship without talking to me first, understood?"
The word had come out without thinking. Eliot noticed it only because he saw Lindsey's eyes widen with surprise. He flinched. Shit. What did I just say? Lindsey opened his mouth, still looking stunned. Eliot gave him a hard stare, trying to cover up his slip of tongue. "I said listen. I ain't finished yet." Lindsey nodded, eyes still wide with slowly dawning realization. Eliot cleared his throat and got back on his track. "The... the team thing. You didn't want to destroy it. And who exactly's on the team?" His voice was gruff.
Lindsey stared at him as if Eliot had grown a second head. "Uh, sorry - huh?"
Eliot huffed out an impatient sigh and narrowed his eyes. "Come on. Humor me."
Lindsey shook his head, not getting it, but listing the names anyway. "Well... Nate, you, Sophie, Parker and Hardison."
Eliot closed his eyes, sighing inwardly this time. Thought so. He looked up expectantly. "And...?"
Lindsey frowned, still not getting it. "I don't understand."
Eliot let out a frustrated growl and threw his hands up. "You, you idiot!" He stood up, unable to sit still anymore. He barely resisted the urge to grab Lindsey again and shake some sense into him. His voice got louder. "You said you had something you never had before. A team. Then why don't you see yourself a part of it? It's not you or the team because you're a part of that team!"
Lindsey gaped. He stared into Eliot's angry face and tried to find an appropriate answer, but couldn't. Why? Why did I do that? I just came back from a job, just why...
"I... I don't know." His voice was barely a whisper. "I just... I heard you, and you sounded... hurt, and I thought it was my fault and..." He broke off. "I was being stupid, wasn't I?"
Eliot's lips twitched. "I really shouldn't be the one to tell you this – you know, pot, kettle, black... but if you ask me – yeah, your team skills need a lot of polishing."
Lindsey buried his face in his hands and started to laugh helplessly. "God, I'm really fucked up, aren't I?"
Eliot's voice was more fond than angry now. "No more than me, Linds. I just have the advantage of a few year's teamwork ahead of you, that's all. And I ain't exactly famous for fitting in. So, there's still hope for you." He chuckled a bit. "If you survive Nate kicking your ass for this, that is."
Lindsey groaned in mock despair. "Shoot me, please. Maybe I should leave the country."
Eliot stepped closer to him, pulled him to his feet and wrapped his arms around Lindsey's waist. "No way." He shook his head. "Because I'd just come after you – and you really don't want me kicking your ass."
Lindsey grinned and leaned into the embrace. "You wouldn't," he stated matter-of-factly.
Eliot tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. "Try me." Then his eyes widened as he noticed the smirk on Lindsey's face just before the other man slid his hand into Eliot's hair and pulled him into a kiss.
It was tender this time, just a soft meeting of lips, Lindsey silently apologizing and Eliot accepting. Lindsey finally broke the kiss, but leaned his forehead against Eliot's, closing his eyes for a moment. "What you... said... earlier... about us..." Lindsey felt Eliot's body stiffen. He looked up and had to smile at the uncomfortable expression Eliot was wearing now. "That word you used. Did you..."
Eliot shifted a little on his feet, now clearly embarrassed but not wanting to let go. "I knew your smart lawyer brain would pick up on that," he grumbled.
Lindsey chuckled. "Well, all that studying has to pay off one day, didn't it?"
Eliot's nose crinkled. He let his arms drop, stepped back a bit and turned around. He scratched his neck, fidgeting a bit but finally giving in. He turned back again, looking Lindsey in the eyes. "Yeah, okay. I said it." It came out defensively and a little grumpy.
Lindsey turned his grin into a wide innocent smile. "Yeah, I know I heard it. Did you mean it?"
Eliot huffed out a resigned breath. "I did. And if you tell the others..."
Lindsey mimed zipping his mouth shut. "Not a word." He searched Eliot's face and felt the rests of the hard knot in his stomach melt. Eliot's gaze was so intense that he could barely hold it, and Lindsey knew that it hadn't been a joke – that Eliot really would follow him anywhere if he ran again. And somehow that knowledge was enough. The first honest smile of the day broke over his face, wide and delighted.
Eliot saw the emotions that ran over Lindsey's face and felt a little lightheaded. You said it, he heard it. Really, Eliot. You go into every fight without any fear, but you're afraid of saying one little word. Get a grip. Small steps, remember? It had been weird to admit the word "relationship", but there was really no other way to describe it. Not anymore. And seeing Lindsey smile like that? Damn well worth it.
He held out his hand. "Ready to go home now? What do you think?"
Lindsey opened his mouth to answer, but frowned as he noticed for the first time the bloodstained cloth on Eliot's hand. He reached out and touched it carefully. "What happened?"
Eliot stared down on his hand, having completely forgotten about the small injuries that slightly started to burn now that he paid attention to them. He carefully wriggled his fingers to make sure they functioned as they should and then shrugged. "Nothin'. I broke a tea mug."
Lindsey narrowed his eyes. "But... you didn't drop it, otherwise...oh." He flinched. "You crushed it when you realized I'd left."
Eliot sighed. "Too damn smart for your own good. I told you, it's okay. Just a few cuts. Come on." He picked up his comm again. "Hardison?"
"Eliot? You hung up on me, man!"
Eliot groaned a little. "Yeah. Sorry?" It sounded more impatient than sincere, and he could hear Hardison chuckle.
"You both okay?"
"Yeah. We're coming home now. On our way."
"Good to hear. See you in a few."
The communication broke off and Eliot took the comm out. He looked at Lindsey. "Let's go."
Hardison closed his laptop and sighed with relief. "They're coming back. Sounds like he's all right."
Nate smiled. "Good. I guess I still have to have a word with him..."
Hardison made a face. "Guess. Poor boy. A patented Nathan Ford pep talk, oh-oh." He shuddered with an exaggerated scared-to-death look on hs face and then grinned widely as Nate just glared.
Sophie, who had woken up some minutes ago and had just been given a short summary of what happened, put her arm around Nate's shoulder and laughed. "See? You're scaring your team, fearless leader."
Nate gave her a mocking glare. "Well, how else can I maintain leadership in a bunch like this, huh?"
They bickered on for a bit until they finally heard the door open. As Eliot and a very nervous-looking Lindsey entered the kitchen, Hardison stood up. "Good to have you both back, guys. And, um, I think I'll just watch a little TV now. Sophie?"
Sophie smiled knowingly. "Good idea. Good morning Lindsey, Eliot - see you later."
They both slipped out of the room and soon the sounds from the TV reached the kitchen. Nate cleared his throat. "Lindsey - I'd like to have a word with you." Lindsey just nodded and sat down, not looking at him. Eliot remained standing behind him, and Nate had to grin inwardly about the protective stance Eliot had shifted to. He gave him a pointed look. "I meant - alone. Eliot, why don't you join the others?"
Eliot's jaw clenched. For a moment it looked as if he wanted to argue, but then sighed and nodded. He gave Lindsey a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder and left the kitchen. Nate poured two mugs of tea, put one in front of Lindsey and sat down opposite of him. "Lindsey? Could you please explain?" he asked gently.
Lindsey looked up, surprised. He obviously had expected a harsher tone. He started to talk and Nate just listened, not commenting at first. He knew loneliness when he saw it, and that's what Lindsey radiated like heat when he had first met him. A man who was desperate to have friends. A man wanting to have someone who really cared, but had learned the hard way that he had to survive on his own, eat or be eaten. Not surprising he was such a cynical bastard. If you work for Evil, Inc. you work FOR them, not WITH them.
Nate could understand Lindsey's knee jerk reaction. Lindsey's relationship with Eliot was still quite new and in the works, so it had been very easy to derail him. But by the way Lindsey told him about his talk with Eliot it sounded like he already knew that. Nate was very confident now that both men wouldn't let go of what they had found again.
Finishing his tale, Lindsey sounded exhausted and still nervous. He barely dared to look up. "I... I guess I overreacted. A lot. I feel a little stupid now..."
Nate nodded appreciatively. "Good. That's good. Means that you won't do it again. Right?" He raised his eyebrows questioningly.
Lindsey laughed a little self consciously. "Definitely not. Eliot promised he'd kick my ass if I do."
Nate nodded again, very earnestly, barely able to hide the amused glint in his eyes. "You wouldn't want that."
Lindsey grinned and shook his head gravely. "No. Not really, no."
Nate got serious. "Lindsey - just remember: our little group, we're all not the best team players. We each have a long history of working best alone. But now there is an amount of trust here that I didn't think was possible when I started it all. You have to use that. Next time you feel like running? Don't. Talk to someone. Eliot would naturally be your first choice, but I'd also say talk to me. Hell, even talking to Parker would be better than disappearing."
Lindsey had to chuckle. "Promised." He bit his lower lip and hesitated a bit. "Does that mean I'm not... fired?"
Nate snorted. "Fired? Now, let's see. I could fire you for making some stupid mistake, for getting us really worried not only about you but about Eliot, for upsetting your partner who hasn't slept well for the whole time you've been gone, and for being the cause of a broken tea mug. Yeah. Now that you mention it..." Nate stood up and patted him on the shoulder. "If I fired people for those things, I wouldn't have a team anymore. And just so you know – everyone else already got a talk like this. Even me."
Lindsey looked quite relieved and then had to laugh. "Who gave you yours?"
Nate grinned. "Eliot, actually. And Sophie. Twice. Don't ask, please."
Lindsey chuckled. "Wouldn't dare."
Nate motioned to the living room. "Come on then. We got work to do."
As they entered the living room, Parker just flopped into the chair Eliot had got up from. "Look, Eliot, he's still alive. Lindsey, good of you to show up eventually! Eliot's all cranky and squirmy and probably horny too. It's time you see to this."
Lindsey suffered a small coughing fit while Eliot groaned. He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Gee, Parker, thanks for pointing it out. Very... observant."
Parker nodded. "You're welcome. Now, is there any tea left?" Without waiting for an answer, she stood up and went into the kitchen. Sophie laughed a little embarrassed while Hardison just shook his head.
Nate needed two tries on the whole talking thing before he could get words out in a serious tone. "Okay folks, issue talked about and solved. Everything's back on track now, and we still have some wrapping up to do." He looked around. "Hardison, you cross-reference your data with Lindsey. Parker, you go with Eliot and Sophie. Let's finish it."
The wrap up went smoothly. Later in the day they all were back in Nate's living room. Finally, after covering a few more details, Nate nodded with a satisfied grin. "All right people, good work. And here's the good news."
He paused and everyone looked expectantly at him. Parker beamed. "Do we get more money?"
Nate laughed. "I think you'll find our share... agreeable. But I wanted to say that for tomorrow there are no assignments. So - enjoy your day off."
An appreciative murmur was heard all around. Lindsey stood up and started to head over to Eliot, but got distracted by Sophie who had put a hand on his arm and asked him gently how the "pep talk" had gone. Eliot watched them fondly, but then an idea suddenly occurred to him. He pondered the thought for a bit and then looked up. "Nate? A minute?"
Nate looked puzzled as Eliot stepped towards him and asked in a low voice "Nate, where did you stash that... thing I gave you?"
Nate looked confused for a moment, but then grinned. "Ah. You think now's a good time, huh? Yeah. Good idea. I'll get it." He slipped out of the room.
Lindsey was now cheerfully chatting with Sophie and didn't notice Nate's absence or the way Eliot's expression began to take on a slightly nervous look. He looked up as Eliot came over to him and touched him on the shoulder. Sophie stopped talking and gave Eliot a questioning smile. Eliot smiled back hesitantly. "Uh... Sophie, sorry to interrupt, but..."
Sophie patted his hand. "It's okay, Eliot. I'll talk to your boy later." She grinned and went to the table to get herself a drink.
Lindsey looked curious, even more once he noticed the awkward expression on Eliot's face. "Eliot? What is it?"
Eliot tried to smile, but didn't manage to make it look natural. "I... uhh... I have something for you."
Lindsey stared at him. He opened and closed his mouth twice before getting out words. "You... for me?"
Eliot actually fidgeted with his fingers now, picking at the bandage that was now wrapped around his hand. "Yeah. It's... it was meant... um, I bought it for your birthday, originally, but, um..." He cleared his throat. "Well, I had the idea, some, some time ago already, well I thought you... might need something to, well, to keep you a little... rooted here, so..."
Eliot's voice trailed off and Lindsey would swear later that he had blushed a little. He searched for words, idly noticing that both Parker and Hardison had stopped grabbing their jackets and were now listening with very thinly veiled interest. Nate came back with a big box, which he carefully sat down before stepping back next to Sophie. Lindsey blinked slowly. "You... got me something for my birthday?" He still looked as if he couldn't believe it.
Eliot looked defensive. "Yeah. That's... what you do for birthdays, right? You make presents. Or so I was told."
Lindsey let out a small nervous laugh. "I guess, yeah. It's just... I haven't gotten something since... oh, I don't know. College?"
Eliot smirked, slowly getting used to the situation and relaxing a bit. "Well then. About time, right? Come on, open it."
Lindsey still looked amazed, but picked up the package nevertheless. He frowned. "Oh. Light for the size." He pried the box open and looked inside. "Oh God." His breath got stuck, a lump formed in his throat and he couldn't say a word. He carefully lifted a guitar out of the box, ripped the remaining wrapping away and then ran his hand lovingly over smooth polished wood and steel strings.
Eliot looked nervous again. "Do you... do you like it? I hope it's a good one, I bought it last week. I did some research, and the sale guy there said it's good quality, so I hope..." His rambling broke off as Lindsey lifted his stunned gaze away from the guitar and looked at him, eyes shining and a big radiant smile on his face.
Lindsey had said more than once how much he loved music and missed playing, but he had always refused to actually go out and buy a guitar. Eliot understood the reason for that perfectly now. If he was waiting for everything to fall apart – he didn't want to get more strings attached. Didn't want to have more happy memories to have to forget. Eliot felt himself start to grin as he realized that he might have just did the exact right thing at the right time. It felt good. He loves it. He missed his music, and now... yes. He loves it. They just stood, eyes fixed on each other, for the moment completely unaware of the four other people in the room who had watched, fascinated and a little touched.
"Oh man, stop eye-fucking each other, that's disturbing! Lindsey, plenty of time for that later, come on, play something!"
That broke the moment. Lindsey blushed and laughed a little, embarrassed, and Eliot blinked repeatedly as if he was waking up from a trance. He glared at Hardison and then buried his face in his hands, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like "geek power my ass". Parker and Sophie simultaneously started to giggle and Nate stared at Hardison, horrified.
"Hardison? And you call me cruel?"
The other man shrugged, trying to put up an innocent face. "Hey, boss, just trying to save your living room here. It was about to ignite. Now, how's about it? Music?"
Lindsey grinned and nodded. "One moment, though. I'll make it short for the sake of your eyes, but my momma taught me always to say thank you for presents..." Guitar still in hand, he closed the distance between him and Eliot, slid one hand around his neck, pulled him close and kissed him almost reverently. "Thank you."
It was only a whisper, but Eliot heard it. "You're welcome." His voice was hoarse, and really, that was only because he had just been kissed in public, and had absolutely nothing to do with feelings like... okay, it had, but he certainly would knock everyone out who would say so.
Lindsey sat down and expertly tuned the guitar by ear, not realizing that he was softly petting the wood of the body every time he'd finished a string. Parker did notice, though, and giggled when it happened the third time. "Lindsey, Eliot and a guitar. It would be one hell of a threesome! Lindsey, if you keep doing this, Eliot's gonna be jealous!"
Lindsey looked up, confused. "Do what... oh." He caught himself fast, winked at her and turned his head to Eliot, dead serious expression on his face. "Get used to it, darlin'. You brought her into this."
Eliot managed to keep a straight face and nodded curtly. Hardison stared at the far too gleeful way Parker was grinning, then groaned and buried his face in his hands.
Lindsey just raised his eyebrows and grinned smugly. "Okay, if you really wanna hear something... I bet you didn't know that Johnny Cash covered this one." He concentrated a moment and then started playing an intro that sounded eerily familiar.
As he began to sing, Hardison looked up again. His and Sophie's eyes widened almost comically, Nate's eyebrows shot up to his hairline and Parker's jaw dropped. Eliot just allowed himself a small curl of his lips. Of course they had all heard him sing before – occasionally singing along to a song on the radio, humming to himself with fragments of lyrics when he was busy fixing something – but never like this, never singing for the sake of it, never actually using that deep rich voice to full effect.
Now he did. Eyes half-closed, playing the chords with an ease that gave away how familiar he was with the song, voice full of emotion that came from his soul.
"Your own, personal, Jesus
someone to hear your prayers,
someone who's there
and you're all alone,
flesh and bone,
by the telephone..."
Nate flinched inwardly, almost surprised as he realized just how exact his assessment of Lindsey had been – the fact that Lindsey had consciously or not picked out that song, those lyrics, and knew them by heart proved just how long he must have been searching. But judging by the looks that now went back and forth between Lindsey and Eliot he'd say it was a safe bet that this search now was over. Even if the two stubborn mules perhaps would need another century to actually admit it.
"Reach out and touch faith..."
Lindsey closed his eyes as the last notes faded away. There was a moment of stunned silence and then everyone applauded. Parker actually beamed with delight and bounced on her seat. Nate couldn't help but look very impressed and Sophie had a dreamy look on her face. Eliot just smiled softly and somehow proud. Lindsey looked up and grinned as Hardison did a wolf whistle.
"Awesome, man! And that... wow, Cash covered that? Damn!"
Lindsey grinned and nodded. "Yeah. Be prepared to hear stuff like this more often."
Hardison laughed. "Looks like country's not all that bad. And wow, that's a damn fine voice you got!"
"I know you must be tired, but can you do one more? Please?" Sophie asked hopefully.
Lindsey looked surprised and flattered. "Sure. Anything particular?"
Sophie shrugged. "I'd like to hear a ballad, maybe? If you know any? If that's okay for everyone?" She snuggled closer to Nate, who slid his arm around her shoulder, and looked around for confirmation. Lindsey looked at the enthusiastic nods from Parker and Hardison and had to grin. He thought about it for a moment and then started picking a slow haunting tune.
"There are places I'll remember
All my life
Though some have changed
Eliot watched him play, didn't take his eyes off him for one second, seeing Lindsey getting lost in the melody, the chords, the lyrics. He knew that his face was showing all the affection he had for Lindsey, and maybe even more than he was able or ready to admit. But it was alright here, at this particular moment, and besides, the others weren't looking anyway.
"But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one
Compares with you"
And then it happened. He heard Lindsey's voice falter for a split second, saw a flicker of... something... flashing over his face and while he caught himself very quickly, his eyes were now fixed on Eliot's face, his features showing a mixture of sudden realization, amazement and a little fear.
Eliot frowned. What just happened? And then he heard, actually heard what Lindsey was singing – heard and really listened to the lyrics.
"Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life
I love you more"
His brain stopped working for a moment. He didn't know if anyone else had caught what was going on, but he didn't hear any reaction, so he guessed not. It was obvious that Lindsey hadn't picked the song on purpose – he looked as thunderstruck as Eliot felt right now but managed to play on like nothing happened. He... he... he can't mean it like that, can he? He searched Lindsey's face and couldn't find a definite answer, but then he realized. He's... scared. As scared as I am, about committing. He wants it, but he's scared that it's too fast for me. Us.
And then Nate's voice came back to him. "You don't need to dive in head first. Small steps, okay?"
He almost snorted out loud and closed his eyes for a moment. Okay. Relationship. We'll... just go from there. That... I can do that. And I think I'll have to bring some of my stuff to his new place. Not moving in, of course, just... a few things. No reason to hurry, right?
He had to laugh at himself, at his own insecurity. He caught Lindsey's anxious look again and smiled at him, letting him know that yes, this was awkward, yes, he had no clue how to go on but yes, they would manage. He saw Lindsey's face light up as he was just starting the last chorus and looked and sounded confident again. As Eliot looked around at the others, he could see that only Nate had picked up some of the vibes – he had raised his eyebrows and now gave Eliot a pointedly questioning look.
Yeah. Course you noticed. Perceptive bastard. He just returned the look and gave him a quick nod. Nate grinned and turned his attention back to Lindsey who had now finished the last notes and slowly put the guitar down, not looking at anyone. The others applauded again and Parker looked a little flushed.
"Wow. You have an orgasm-inducing voice, Lindsey."
Hardison's head flew around. "Hey!"
Parker patted his back. "Maybe he could sing for us when we..."
Hardison interrupted quickly. "Yes, yes, sweetie, we'll talk about that later... in private, okay?" He groaned and threw an apologetic look at Lindsey who just at this moment failed to suppress his laughing fit any longer.
Eliot watched them all from behind, lips twitching. He saw Lindsey slowly catching his breath again, saw Sophie trying to hide that she blinked back a tear and listened to Parker and Hardison bickering about sex and privacy. He suddenly remembered his last meeting with Aimee.
"But I'm glad that you found a family." He had shrugged it off then, but now? Aimee, honey, you would be surprised now. He caught Lindsey's eyes and bit his lower lip. Really surprised...
He signaled his retreat to their room. He didn't want to interrupt the cheerful discussion about Johnny Cash, Depeche Mode and the pros and cons of cover versions Lindsey was having with Hardison, but he felt the need to be alone for a moment. Lindsey acknowledged it with a nod and a quick smile.
Eliot quietly left the living room and closed the guest room door behind him. Things you learned today, Eliot? You have a relationship going on. And it... could work out, for a change. Huh. He dropped down on the bed with a sigh and stretched out. He still could hear the chatter from the living room and figured that it would take some time until Lindsey could tear himself loose. I'll just close my eyes for a moment. Just... relax a bit. Just...
When Lindsey entered the room a few minutes later, Eliot was sound asleep. Lindsey looked down on him and barely resisted the urge to brush a strand of hair out of his face. Didn't sleep well, huh? Me neither. What a pair we make.
The physical and mental exhaustion slowly began to catch up. He felt tired, but in a good way – things had been resolved, other things, good things were starting to develop. He carefully slid onto the bed behind Eliot, pulled the blanket around both of them and hesitated just a bit before snuggling closer. He could hear a soft growl coming from Eliot and smiled against his back, eyes already falling shut.
Talking and everything else would just have to wait.