Most guys might keep an eye on the clock or the tachometer to know how far they’d driven in their long journey. Most guys were not Eliot Spencer. Honestly, he wasn’t sure he cared exactly where he was at this point, so long as he got to where he was going eventually. Even then, the place didn’t matter so very much, since Eliot still wasn’t entirely convinced that he’d feel any better when he got there.
The team all understood why he needed to leave for a while. He was non-specific as to how long or where, the first because he didn’t know, the second because he didn’t care to tell. They were thieves just like him, all with deep dark secrets, so they asked no further questions. Sophie told him he better not do anything stupid, and Nate and Hardison looked stoney-faced in response. Eliot never made any promises when he left, just shook hands and exchanged hugs, walking away before he cracked.
It was bad enough that the team he had come to look upon as a kind of family had to find out about the man he used to be. Working for Moreau was the worst decision he ever made the whole course of his life, and Eliot meant what he said that day in the park. He completed his worst trials for that evil being, because the hitter would not use the word ‘man’ to describe Moreau anymore. So much blood on his hands and guilt enough to drown his soul. There would never be freedom for him now, Eliot knew that, but maybe he could drive far enough to at least pretend he could be okay again.
The sign declared he was now leaving Danbury, the first marker Eliot had paid any real attention to in a while. Just a couple more hours and he’d land up in New York if he wasn’t careful. Sure, it was as good a place as any to stop to eat, but better to keep on moving. Of all the places to hide out, the Big Apple wasn’t one of them. Besides, one of the points of this trip was to get some peace and quiet, get some perspective. Staying out of sight and out of mind was easier away from the big cities.
It was weird to think he hadn’t known where he was until that moment, but then Eliot’s head had plenty to keep his mind busy. He was watching the road enough not to hit any oncoming cars, to stop at red lights and all, paying attention enough to his driving to stay below sixty-five without a problem. That was about all Eliot was aware of, the rest of his mind wandering away to the past.
Damien Moreau. The very name made his flesh creep even now, for crimes he had committed, and those he had Eliot take on for him. For dumping Hardison in the pool to drown, for planning to shoot Sophie down. For slugging Nate in the mouth, and for making him consider life without Parker.
It was a toss up for Eliot whether he hated Moreau more for what he had made him become or the crime lord’s latest work in trying to take away the family the hitter had inadvertantly built around himself. It wasn’t as if he was the only person in the world with a grudge against the asshole, but Eliot perhaps felt it more keenly than most. Too many years before invested in pleasing the boss, too many after regretting almost every second. It made him feel worse that he didn’t regret more. Perhaps he should, it would certainly be easier if putting Moreau in jail under San Lorenzo took away all that he had done, but it didn’t.
Justice was a strange thing. Though Moreau could and probably would spent the rest of his life rotting in a cell, it wouldn’t really make up for all that he had done, for all that he had Eliot and others like him do. Lives taken, others destroyed. Wives without husbands and children without fathers. Just as no amount of washing could really take the blood from Eliot’s hands, no number of years spent luxuriating in jail would mend all that Moreau was responsible for.
Eliot closed his eyes a moment at a red light and pushed the darkness away. Sure, he came on this trip to think, but now all he was doing was making circles in his head that went down ever deeper into the black. He wasn’t helping himself, wasn’t helping anyone. All he was achieving was depression, and feeling sorry for yourself was never a good look. Curving around the I84 onto the I684, Eliot let the view fly by in a blur of green, breathing in the fresh air of a thousand trees, and the feeling of being completely alone.
Solitude was an odd thing too. Eliot was used to being a loner, for the longest time it was all he wanted. It was why it struck him as so strange that he could be part of a team and actually learn to love it. Family were a long ways away and friends didn’t come too easy in his line of work. Still the four other people that made up Team Leverage had got under his skin and into what was left of his soul somehow. He needed them a lot of the time, though he pretended he didn’t. They made him feel whole, made the loneliness that would always fight to keep a hold of him seem to lose its grip a little more each day, right up until a week ago.
Standing in that park, confessing that he had worked for Moreau and done such unimaginably horrible things. The horror in Sophie’s tone, the pain in Parker’s eyes. The anger from Hardison, the severe look from Nate. It all tore open a wound he knew these same people had helped to heal. Eliot wasn’t like them, he wasn’t a good person. They had the capacity to change, they were just thieves and they didn’t really hurt people, not like him. Eliot was a bad guy, he was fully aware of it, now more than ever before. He had to live with that, but his team didn’t.
Right now, the hitter was glad to be alone, pleased enough to run from the label of his job, the blackness of his past, the pain and mistrust he had caused amongst his team-turned-family. Happy was pushing it, to say the least, but it was good to be here, out on the open road, heading in the right direction for the first time in way too long.
Out here, Eliot Spencer was as he had once been too many years ago to consider, nevermind actually count. He was a wannbe cowboy, a country dweller, a good ol’ boy like the song used to say. He could be lowly but strong as a farmer, as famous and rich as a country singing star, or anything in between. The things he might have been, if the world was different, if he’d taken a different path, even just one different turn along the road that was his life.
Eliot pushed his hair back out of his face when the wind through the open window caught it, then turned up the radio when a song he liked came on. This was a life he could live, here in this moment, racing down the interstate with the wind literally in his hair and shades blocking the sun from his eyes. Country music filled the truck and his head, and with the road so open and empty, Eliot could almost drive along at a reasonable speed with his eyes closed. It felt good, almost good enough to make him smile, almost.
A weird noise from the back caught his attention, maybe the fourth or fifth time since he left Boston. It hadn’t sounded bad enough for him to get out and check the truck. He didn’t recognise it as a mechanical fault or anything, he knew those noises that meant trouble, they were very distinctive sounds.
If he had stopped anywhere, Eliot might’ve thought he had an animal bedding down in the back of the truck. Maybe a racoon or a stray dog, but he doubted anything leapt in whilst he was driving. There was a town up ahead, Katonah so the signs said. There was a good chance they had a garage and somewhere to get some decemt food maybe. He hadn’t thought about food until now, but as the thought occurred to him, Eliot realised he could eat.
Heading into town, his eyes scanned left and right. A coffee shop, a restaurant, a few small stores, and then a garage where he might fill up the tank and check on the rattling noise in the back of the truck. He pulled up on the forecourt near the gas pumps, turned off the engine and just sat there a moment. No movement in the mirrors, but still a sound from the back of the truck, and as the breeze blew from behind now, Eliot knew just exactly what kind of hitchhiker he had inadvertently picked up.
Taking off his sunglasses and tossing them on the dash, the hitter pulled his keys from the ignition and got out of the truck, slamming the door hard enough to make the whole vehicle shake. She barely made a sound, but it had to have stunned her, even a little bit. It might have been a funny situation, if Eliot wasn’t damned pissed about it. He walked along the side of the truck, four audible steps in his heavy thudding boots, knowing as well as she ought to that he was the one person she could not out-wit, not today, not ever.
“You got til the count of three, Parker,” he said with a growl in his voice that might’ve scared anyone who didn’t know him as well as she did. “One. Two...”
He was half a second from ‘Three’ when she pulled the tarp back from over her head and looked at him with a sullen pouty expression. Honestly, Eliot was just a little relieved that she revealed herself when she did. He wasn’t sure exactly how he was going to handle this if she hadn’t. On the count of three he had to do something or be accused of empty threats - that never happened before and it wasn’t’ starting here. Unfortunately, hauling the ass of a blonde woman out of the back of your truck and dumping her on the ground wasn’t exactly going to look good to any passers by. Hell, it wasn’t going to seem great that she was in the back of his truck at all, but right now all Eliot could care about was why she was here at all.
“There’s no way you could know it was me,” said Parker indignantly, still sat cross-legged behind the truck’s cab with the covering all around her. “I got in without you seeing, you’ve been driving for miles, there’s no way!”
Eliot forgot to be mad as he listened to her go on. She did so hate to be caught, even in a game or a situation like this where it wasn’t exactly life and death or even jail. Parker thought she was the best, in a hundred ways she really was, but she seemed to forget that Eliot was the very best at what he did too.
“Darlin’, you don’t want a person to know you’re stowing away?” he said with a hint of smirk he couldn’t help as he set his forearms on the side of the truck bed and leant over to meet her eyes at the right level. “Don’t shift around so much when I’m driving, it makes a noise,” he advised her. “More than that, switch hair products,” he told her, flicking her blonde ponytail and making it swing even more than it already was as she shook her head crossly. “That’s a very distinctive shampoo,” he said, still smirking as he turned and started walking away.
Parker opened her mouth to speak, but as if he had seen her do it, Eliot cut in first.
“Go home, Parker,” he called over his shoulder. “Be gone before I get back. That’s all I’m sayin’”.
Eliot headed across the street to a quaint looking cafe type place with pastries in the window and a promise of the best cup of coffee in town. It was probably a lie but he could use the caffeine shot and the food. It was a long time since he drove this far and this long, and the chances were good he was going to have to deal with Parker for at least the rest of today. She wouldn’t leave, first because she knew his threats were empty when it came to her, and second because she had to have a reason for following him. There was a question in her head, he was pretty certain on that. Parker wouldn’t leave until she got her answer, that he knew for sure.
The bell on the cafe door rang as Eliot parked himself in a seat and gave the waitress his order. Without looking over he knew it was Parker, and threw a soda and an extra pastry on the order before she ever sat down.
“You lied,” she said plainly, when the waitress was barely out of ear-shot.
That made Eliot mad, a growl emanating from his lips before he could check it. He didn’t lie to his team, and especially not to Parker. It was what made their conversation in the park that day so intense. She asked what he did for Moreau and he meant what he said, if she asked again he would tell her, no matter how much it hurt. It was that very thing that made him want to get away, knowing what they would think of him, what she would think of him if he told the whole truth.
“I don’t lie to you, Parker,” he reminded her, eyes like steel, but she didn’t flinch at all.
“Not usually, maybe not even on purpose this time,” she conceded, working the knots out of her back and shoulders where she had been hunched in the back of his truck for too many hours. “But you did lie when you left,” she repeated. “You said you’d definitely come back... you didn’t mean that. You couldn’t guarantee it”.
Eliot opened his mouth to argue but shut it again immediately because he knew he didn’t have words to say that would be convincing, that wouldn’t be a lie on top of a lie. She was right, but that wasn’t what really bothered Eliot, it was the fact he thought he’d gotten away with it, at least with her and maybe Hardison. Nate was sharp enough, Sophie read people for a living, he wondered if they had their doubts about his coming back, but he thought the other two would trust him. He could read Parker better than most these days, he’d learnt over these past few years how to do it, even with Little Miss Twenty Pounds of Crazy. What struck Eliot most was that she had done the same, learnt to see past a mask he had spent years perfecting. He meant what he said about telling her the truth, he always tried to do that, but he figured if he ever needed to hide a little he would be able to with her. He ought to have known better.
“Parker...” he sighed at length, glad of the waitress distracting them a moment with food and drink, just so he didn’t have to know what to say next for a minute. “Sweetheart, you can’t be here,” he told her, mostly looking into his coffee as he stirred it pointlessly. “I gotta do this on my own, get past this. I didn’t lie about that, I never meant to lie about anything but... but I have to do this alone”.
“Why?” her immediate question was akin to a child’s permanent curiosity and made Eliot want to yell on automatic - he resisted that urge only because she continued to talk. “We’re a team now, that means nobody goes out on their own anymore. That’s what you told me after I went to help Archie and got caught up in that Steranko. Now you’re doing the same thing”,
“It’s not the same thing,” he immediately replied. “This isn’t a job, Parker. My ass isn’t on the line here. I just, I need some time away from all of that, y’know?”
He didn’t really expect her to understand, she couldn’t. Sure, she was a thief, technically a bad guy as far as the authorities were concerned, but good in her heart at least. Parker never hurt anybody, not really, not like he had, and way too many times now. She couldn’t know what it was to need to out-run your own emotions, your own past.
Eliot waited for Parker to argue, but she didn’t. She just sat there picking at her pastry, trying to figure out if she wanted the dried fruit pieces in her mouth or not. Eliot drank his coffee, pushed his own sweet treat away because he couldn’t find a taste for it now. He didn’t do comfort food and that was all this would be in the face of defeat. He had certainly been beaten here, and he knew it. Parker was coming along on this trip whether he liked it or not, and the smile on her lips when she glanced at him then proved she knew it too.
To Be Continued...