“He mentioned you once.” It’s dark, and Parker was almost asleep, but at the sound of Eliot’s voice she opens her eyes just a sliver. He’s got his back to her, and she can’t see his expression, but he sounds...hurt. Not hurt like he does after fighting, but hurt like when he’s thinking of something he doesn’t want to remember.
Hurt like when his darker past comes up, and suddenly she’s very awake.
“What did he say?” She doesn’t need to clarify, that’s the good thing about her and Eliot being so similar. She knows that if he’s had to work up the courage to tell her something, something that makes his voice sound small and cornered, there’s only one person that it could be about.
“He asked me to kill you.” He tenses like he’s expecting her to bury a blade in his spine at the admission, like he always does when he’s convinced himself that his past is too much for them and it’s up to him to push them away.
Parker sits up and glances around, but it’s just the two of them in the bedroom. Hardison must have fallen asleep at his desk again. She could go get him, prolong the conversation enough that maybe Eliot would decide he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. She could bring Hardison in, use him as a buffer between Eliot and his past, but that wouldn’t be fair. He’s been quiet all day, and thinking back it’s obvious now that he was talking himself into sharing this.
She’s promised never to ask, but he’s decided to offer.
“Tell me?” It’s a hand offered, and if he wants to reject it, she won’t be upset.
“It was a few years before I left. You’d stolen something he’d had his eye on, some painting, from an arms dealer he was doing business with. He didn’t-he didn’t get mad about things, and he didn’t get mad about that either, but he was annoyed . He asked me-” He cuts himself off with a choked-down sob. Parker hovers her hand just over his shoulder to give him a warning before she curls back into him, wrapping her arm over his chest.
She murmurs into his sleep shirt, “If you don’t want to tell me, I won’t be mad.” He knows, they all know that they can keep as much as they want to themselves and the other two won’t resent it, but Eliot needs reminding from time to time that he’s not just their shield. He’s their hitter, yes, their protector and defender and warrior, but he’s also just theirs, and he doesn’t need to give himself up if he doesn’t want to.
“I want to.” The thing is that Eliot always wants to, and she’d never take the choice away.
“He asked me if I’d be able to kill the thief. Didn’t know your name then, didn’t know much about you at all, but I said yes. Then I asked him if he wanted me to.” He breaks off again, and a few drops of water land on her arm. She runs the fingers of her other hand through his hair, giving him time to build his shields back up. They’re nothing to her and Hardison, not anymore, but Eliot has kept them up for so long that it’s harder for him to try to bring them down.
“I-if he’d said yes-If he’d asked me-.” She...hadn’t actually realized what this meant . It makes perfect sense, and Hardison would have put it together as soon as Eliot mentioned him , but it’s just so...preposterous. This is Eliot Spencer. He cooks her favorite foods even if she’s not feeling bad. He makes her cookies even though he always grumbles about all the sugar she eats. He lets her throw him off of buildings to test new rigs. He buys her locks to pick for whenever she gets bored and fidgety but can’t go break into the corner store. He beats up anyone who threatens her and if he can’t beat them he lets himself get hit until she’s safe. He’ll never hurt her.
But he would have.
None of them like to think about what would have happened without Nate, without the Dubenich job bringing them together for the first time. Of what could have happened if they’d decided to actually walk away, go back to working alone. Where they might have ended up, if they’d stayed solo.
Similarly, they don’t like to talk about their lives before Leverage. Oh, they know the basics, but by this time in their shared career the details are pointless. Which means that Parker has never considered how lucky it is that they didn’t meet as enemies.
“You would have killed me.” She says it out loud because she needs to hear it, needs to feel the weight of the worst could-have-been she can imagine, and because once she hears it out loud she can lock it away and never have to think about it again. Eliot’s chest hitches beneath her and then he’s crying for real, cut-off breaths pressing his back even closer to her. She holds him through it, letting her grip reassure him that she’s still there, that his nightmare scenario is just a what-if, that she’ll never ever ever leave.
“It’s so stupid! I asked him if he wanted me to kill you and the only reason he didn’t say yes was because he thought it would take too long and he needed me to back him at a meeting! And I didn’t even know how close I’d come to losing one of the best things I’ve ever had!” He’s loud enough that she’d be worried about waking Hardison if she didn’t know he would be dead asleep for at least a few more hours. Which is a little upsetting because Parker isn’t great at emotions in general and she isn’t sure how to calm Eliot down.
But she’s the mastermind, so she needs to figure out a way to get through to him. She carefully rolls overtop of him so that they’re face-to-face. Sophie always says it’s important to use body language and visual clues to understand how a mark will react, and even though Eliot’s never her mark it’s still been a very useful piece of advice. She tries to look him in the eyes but he ducks his head against her shoulder, so she goes back to carding her fingers through his hair, trying to put her words together.
He’s right, if he’d come after her back then, when he still used guns and didn’t let himself care, she’d never have stood a chance. Back then she didn’t have anyone watching her back, and while she was good at escaping sticky situations, she relied more on avoiding them in the first place. If Eliot Spencer had come after her, she wouldn’t have known how much danger she was in until it was too late. But he didn’t come after her.
“I know I’m not...good at fighting. And if you had come after me I wouldn’t have been able to get away-” She tightens her grip as Eliot flinches, “-but you didn’t. I’m not good at fighting like you are, and I’m not good at tech like Hardison is, but I am very good at sneaking. And me being good at sneaking meant that it would take you too long to find me. And that meant that he didn’t even try. So...even if I’m not good at fighting, and you weren’t there to protect me, I was able to stay safe from him.”
Parker is very careful to make it clear that he is the one she’s blaming for what Eliot could have done, because she is. There are very few people Parker wants to hurt , and most of them are long-dead, but the one she hates the most is in a cell in San Lorenzo and sometimes she has to stop herself from sneaking her taser with her onto a plane and going for a...visit.
She won’t actually do it, because they’ve had this conversation before and come to the consensus that the best way to ruin him is to leave him trapped and powerless for the rest of his miserable life, but on nights like this, when Eliot is crying silently onto one of their shoulders, she seethes.
When Parker gets mad she feels stuck and she hates it. Usually she would be able to tell Eliot she needed to go, to get out and case the bank down the street, or go up on the roof and reconfigure her rigging, but right now he might take it the wrong way. Her skin is buzzing a little with trappedcontainmentfindtheexits but it’s not so bad that she needs to run , so she resolves to wait until Eliot can calm down.
It takes a while before he stops crying and eventually falls back asleep, and Parker holds him through it, but once she’s sure Eliot won’t wake up til his usual 6:30, she slips out from his arms and silently makes her way to the living room, locking the bedroom door behind her so Hardison won’t accidentally disturb Eliot. He’s asleep at the kitchen table, so she closes his laptop and pulls the rainbow knit blanket his Nana sent them over his shoulders. If he can’t find her in the morning he’ll freak out, so she leaves the window to the fire escape open when she heads to the roof.
She feels like she’s boiling, full of rage and sadness and a lot of other emotions she can’t really catch hold of, and she needs to be alone. She sits on the edge of their building until dawn, when Hardison comes outside and stands behind her.
He wraps his arms around her shoulders and she leans her head back against his chest, and they don’t have to say anything to come to an understanding. They stay outside together until 6:15, and then Parker slips through the bedroom window while Hardison goes to the kitchen and starts trying to make pancakes.
When Eliot wakes up fifteen minutes later, to the sound of swearing from the kitchen and the click-click-click-snap of one of Parker’s practice locks, he doesn’t feel right just yet; he’s still aching from old wounds. But he feels better , and he feels like he’ll keep feeling that way.
He gets out of bed, smiles gently at Parker, and goes to reclaim the kitchen from their boyfriend.