”You don’t know how this is going to change you, Nate.”
Takeout hadn’t been Eliot’s first choice to feed the two of them, but he’d fallen out of the habit of keeping his few remaining bolt-holes properly stocked. Not to mention my flight’s at ten. He was supposed to drop Nate at the India Wharf Marina on his way to the airfield; beyond that, the mastermind had said very little of where he was going to go or what he was going to do.
“Lin Su’s is good Cantonese,” Eliot said, setting out the boxes as Nate put plates and chopsticks on the table. “I think I’ve still got a decent bottle of Saki in here somewhere.”
”You pull that trigger and two men die – the man you kill and the one you used to be.”
The moment of truth had arrived, and Nate hadn’t pulled the trigger after all. Eliot was grateful for that – more grateful than he’d been able to dredge up the words to express – but he still wasn’t sure he had a read on why. It wasn’t as if Dubenich hadn’t given him plenty of reasons. Hell, despite Eliot’s words to Sophie, they all had reason to want to put a bullet in Dubenich by this point.
He started to turn away, intending to look for the Saki, when Nate caught him by the elbow. “It’s okay,” he said, as their eyes met. Eliot could almost feel the older man willing him to calm down. “You didn’t need to do this much. There’s places by the marina I could have gotten something to eat.”
Eliot scoffed at the idea of Nate caring enough about his own health to bother feeding himself, let alone there being food worth buying at this time of night at the docks, but he accepted the older man’s implied rebuke. “I’m still not convinced this whole solo boat trip is a good idea to begin with,” he said, taking his place at the table. “Least I can do is send you off with a proper meal.”
Food was dished up and shared in a surprisingly comfortable silence. Stripped of all the baggage and noise that usually surrounded them, Nate was actually a very easy person for Eliot to be around. He had to believe the reverse was true as well, because inevitably Nate would open up when they were alone – sharing thoughts he would have jealously guarded from all of them in the past.
Tonight was no exception. “Sophie told me what you almost did for me,” he said, when they were both through their first platefuls of food and Eliot, at least, was considering a second. “I’ve told you I don’t want you killing for me. That’s not what I want us to be about.”
His tone was strangely neutral, Eliot decided. He’s curious – not mad. Wants to know where my head’s at. “I’m still not sure it would have been for you,” he said, once he’d gotten in the right head space to consider Nate’s question. “Okay, not sure it would have been entirely for you. When Quinn tossed me the gun, I had to at least consider what taking Dubenich off the board would do.”
Nate took the time to spoon himself up some of the clay pot rice before speaking again. “You obviously decided it wasn’t worth it. I’m curious as to why – I’ve run the scenario a couple different ways, but nothing gets me to you making that call at that point in the job.”
Eliot couldn’t help grinning at the knowledge he could still surprise the mastermind. “We could say I decided to trust you to make the right call,” he said at last, keeping his tone deliberately light.
Nate’s answering snort of derision told him many things – most important of which was that whatever journey of self-discovery he felt he needed to do, Eliot didn’t need to worry any more about whether or not he was coming back. “Killing a man’s a heavy thing,” Eliot said, schooling his expression to something better suited to the conversation Nate apparently wanted to have. “As hell bent as you were on avenging your father, I finally decided I had to trust that you weren’t ready to get rid of us yet.”
He met Nate’s gaze without flinching, even though the older man’s eyes seemed to be looking into his soul. “So you would have turned your back on me if I’d fired?”
Eliot shook his head. “Me? No. I made you a promise that had nothing to do with whether or not there’s blood on your hands. It would have changed things between us though, and not necessarily for the better.” He blew out a quiet breath before pressing on. “I also made a promise to the others though, and you killing Dubenich would have put me between you and them.”
“Sophie would have left,” Nate said, his voice once again disturbingly neutral. Eliot nodded.
“And taken Parker and Hardison with her.” The hitter felt the muscles along his jawline tighten. “Don’t mistake me, Nate. When I say it would have put me between you and them, I mean I would have stopped you from having anything further to do with any of them.”
Eliot abruptly realized that there was a part of him waiting for Nate to lose his temper. And as they passed each point where in the past Nate might have let his anger get the best of him without even a cross word being exchanged, Eliot found himself relaxing a little bit more. It was a strange feeling; the two of them had finished their food, and the thought crossed Eliot’s mind about suggesting they continue talking in the living room, but in the end he was reluctant to disturb whatever was happening.
A long moment of silence fell between them. Eliot waited patiently – the ball was in Nate’s court now, and he was clearly still digesting what his hitter had told him. “Parker was scared,” he said at last. “Even at that distance I could tell she was waiting for me to turn out no better than any of the other sons of bitches she’s trusted in her life.” A small, bitter smile ghosted across his expression then. “I’m still not sure I’m not.”
His eyes ticked to meet Eliot’s again. “You probably figured out a part of me wanted to go ahead and shoot just to prove you and Sophie wrong.”
Eliot shrugged causally. “I will neither confirm nor deny my knowledge that your greatest motivators in this life are 50% spite and 40% Claddagh.”
Now it was Nate’s turn to laugh – genuinely and openly surprised at Eliot’s response. “I have to ask, then,” he said, “what’s the 10%?”
“Genuinely wanting what’s best for the people around you, even if your self-loathing makes you shit at figuring out what that is.” He does care. The realization was a weight off his shoulders Eliot had forgotten he was carrying. I’ve waited so long for you to step up…
Even though it could be argued Nate had put himself at the head of their weird little family, they all knew on varying levels how uncomfortable he was with it. He could be a boss – no problem. He could give orders, be controlling and not give a damn about the people giving him their loyalty in return.
He was better than that. They had all seen it – well, all of them except for Nate, of course. It was why they stayed, why they waited for him to see what they saw and be, in Parker’s words from years earlier, “the man we came back for”. “This trip of yours,” Eliot said, realizing that Nate hadn’t said anything in response to his last comment, “just to clear your head?”
“Partly,” Nate allowed. He was calmer, Eliot realized – more relaxed, as if he’d gotten what he needed to start dealing with whatever issues were left after the final confrontation with Dubenich. “Also to figure out who I am in the wake of these last few years and what that means in terms of where we go as a team.” He shrugged. “Or if we go as a team.”
“Oh you’re not getting rid of us that easily,” Eliot said, getting to his feet at last and starting to clear away the remains of their dinner. “I’ll save you the time figuring that out. Wherever we go from this moment on, it is absolutely together.”
“All for one?” Nate asked, a mischievous twinkle suddenly lighting his eyes.
“Yada, yada,” Eliot said, waving dismissively as he took the first load of takeout containers to the trash.