Last Chapter folks. This story is now complete. I hope you enjoy and you'll let me know what you think. Usual disclaimers apply. Please R and R.
When Doc had finished the physical part of Eliot's exam, she looked at him appraisingly for so long that it made him slightly uncomfortable. Finally, she asked, "How are you feeling?"
He gazed at her steadily and didn't answer.
"Killing Conrad couldn't have been easy for you, especially not in front of your team."
"Well, I see your memory has returned. Good." Doc was still watching him, and he knew he couldn't avoid the question forever. He only chalked it up to her being sick that he had gotten away with it this far. He tried another tack. "I never did thank you properly for infiltrating Conrad's camp and getting me out of there, but I would like to know how you pulled it off."
"That medication I gave you helped. I fed you false orders, knowing that I would have to make you talk, to be sure you didn't give away any part of your plan. That's something we'll discuss again later, if it becomes a problem, but I undid anything I might have done while you were semi-conscious in that hut in the woods. Now, stop stalling and answer my question."
He focused on a spot on the wall somewhere over her left shoulder and spoke quietly, sounding a bit embarrassed. "I'm all right, Kat."
He tried not to growl at her and failed slightly. "Okay. I'm not exactly all right. My team had to watch me kill a man, in cold blood, no remorse. Honestly, I don't know where we go from here."
"That's not your decision, my friend. Have you asked them?"
"No. Nate doesn't seem to think it'll make a difference in how they see me, but how could it not? Today, they saw the merest fraction of the monster I used to be. What are they supposed to do with that?"
"Weigh it against the man they know now, who happens to be one of the most honorable men I know. And also one of the best."
"What if they can't? Won't?"
"Are these the people for whom you find worthy of risking your life?" He stared at her and nodded, wondering where she was going with this. She returned the nod and continued.
"If they are, then not giving them the chance to show you they understand and accept you anyway is selling them a bit short, don't you think? And if they can't or won't do that, then the question you should be asking is this, 'Are they worthy of being your friend'?"
He didn't know what to say to that, so he didn't say anything. As much as he hated to admit it, she was right. Finally, he held up his hands, palms out, and spoke again.
"All right, all right. I surrender. I'll talk to the team."
After meditating for over an hour, Eliot passed through the treatment room on his way out into Nate's apartment. As he did so, he glanced over at Doc, once again lying on her cot. She and Vance were both sleeping, and Master Yu waved him out with a smile and a wink. Without giving himself too much time to think about what was happening, Eliot walked out into Nate's living room without a word, and sat down in his usual spot on the sofa.
There was one interminably long moment before anyone noticed he was there, and it was in that moment that he vacillated between wanting them to sit next to him and talk and not really wanting them to notice him at all, and wondered which would be worse. Would it be worse for them to notice and decide they didn't want anything to do with him, or would it be worse for them to not even notice?
He needn't have worried because a few moments later he heard a shriek and saw a streak of black and yellow launch and a second later, Parker hit him full force and almost managed to turn the sofa over backwards at the same time. He growled at her as she hugged him fiercely. She squeezed him so tight that for a moment, he found he couldn't breathe. When he was sure he could do so, he growled louder.
"Parker. Get off me."
She ignored him. Big surprise there. Gentle hands loosened the arms around his neck, and then found their way to each hip, and he slid her onto the sofa beside him. She tried to latch on around his neck again, but he blocked deftly and playfully said, "Stay". Parker pouted for just a moment, until something shiny nearby caught her attention and she got a bit distracted.
Nate watched from the dining room, wanting to go next, but not sure exactly what to do with himself. He debated taking Eliot a beer as he went over, but although the man looked like he needed one, or nine, the mastermind knew him well enough to know that he wouldn't be drinking at a time like this. He quietly opened the cabinet and retrieved a large mug. Filling it with thick, hot coffee, he took that with him instead, knowing Eliot took it black.
He approached the couch holding the mug out in front of him as though it was some sort of peace offering. The surprised hitter took the mug before it hit him in the face or sloshed onto his lap, and Nate sank down next to him on the sofa. After that, they all surrounded him. They sat in silence for a while—none of them willing to push him to talk, and him seemingly lost in thought.
After what seemed an eternity had passed, he spoke, "Do any of you have any questions or concerns about what you witnessed today? If so, speak now. After we are done here, I will never mention it again."
"You don't owe us anything, Eliot," Sophie said softly.
He shook his head. "You watched me act today in a way that is totally contradictory to what you know about me. Honestly, I don't know where we go from here—how that changes things between us."
"Why does it have to change anything?"
Eliot grew uncharacteristically angry at that. "Can you truly tell me it won't? If you're being totally honest with yourself?"
"No, but I can't tell you that it will, either."
"You've got to be kidding, Nate. All the way home, no one said a word, and Parker and Sophie looked at me on site like I had kicked their puppy." Parker looked offended. She moved over next to Sophie, and the women held a whispered conversation.
Hardison spoke up, barely looking up from his keyboard. "It won't change anything with me. As far as I'm concerned, we're still brothers."
"You just don't know what I've done." Eliot saw the way Hardison was looking at him and growled, "What?"
"I know what you've done. All of it. Do you really think I didn't research your background as thoroughly as possible? I did that for everybody on the team. How else do you think I managed to create aliases that would fool people, and managed to mostly keep you away from the big bad uglies from your past who wouldn't be fooled by the aliases?"
"But you didn't choose the cases we took or didn't take. I did," Nate said, giving the hacker a look he couldn't quite read.
"But it was my job to raise any red flags I found. I didn't find them all because a surprising number of them weren't online, but some of our mutual friends filled in some of the blanks for me, accidentally of course."
Eliot didn't know what to say to that, so he said nothing, but he also wasn't hitting anything, so Hardison supposed that was a good sign.
Parker and Sophie came back over to him at that moment. Sophie spoke first.
"As for me, I really don't care what you've done—you're family."
Parker added, "The look you saw on our faces—the one you read as horror—well, we were horrified, but not because of who you are. You're stuck with us, Sparky."
"IF you weren't horrified because of who I am, what were you horrified by? Tell the truth," he warned. "I'll know if you are lying."
"I think I'd better explain," Sophie said quickly. "We were horrified that you were in the situation you were in—that you had to sacrifice so much of your hard-won peace for us—to keep us safe. We were shocked that you would find us worthy of such a gift. It's not a gift that we will easily be able to repay. All right, for a second or two, we were horrified at what you had done, but never at who you are. When the shock wore off, we knew why you did it—we understood why it was necessary—and we never, not even for an instant, blamed you for it."
Eliot nodded, not quite trusting himself to speak. He was a bad man—a man a long way past any hope of redemption in his mind, and yet, these people saw him for who he was, and loved him anyway. They saw exactly what he had done, and here they were, reaching out, offering forgiveness. As he sat there, surrounded by his team, overwhelmed at the acceptance he had found from them, he couldn't help thinking that if redemption wasn't possible, maybe this was the next best thing. Or maybe, he thought, there's more than one kind of redemption. Just maybe, this is the kind of redemption found when one falls all the way down, albeit for the right reasons, and finds someone below to break his fall and help him find the passage back up to somewhere…else. Somewhere safer. More solid. Less alone.