Title: For They Shall Be Comforted (The Good Samaritan Remix)

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.

Rating: Gen; T/PG-13 for subject matter

Spoilers: Mid-Season 2

Notes: Written for Round 5 of the Circle of Friends remix and first posted there on December 5, 2015. Original story: "Blessed Are Those Who Mourn" by user dragonyphoenix on Livejournal. I picked this one because I adore Leverage; because it spoke to me; and because the original notes wondered whether the plot might conflict with the canon timeline. My reply: actually, I'm pretty sure it doesn't, let me show you why I think so...

Summary: Somehow, Eliot didn't think Nate would much appreciate knowing he had a witness to his latest slip back down the road to self-destruction. 1600 words.

The first Christmas after they'd ruined Ian Blackpoole, Eliot found himself slipping out of McRory's after Nate, distinctive hair tucked under a beanie and hands thrust deep in his pockets. He didn't think their mastermind was in any condition to notice whether he was being followed, not with half a bottle of whiskey already inside him, but long experience had taught him not to underestimate the man. And somehow, he didn't think Nate would much appreciate knowing he had a witness to his latest slip back down the road to self-destruction.

He got why Sophie had left, really. Gotta be sure of the foundation under your own feet before you could be a rock for someone else. But damn, her timing sucked. The last couple Christmases Nate had spent mired in hatred: of himself, of Blackpoole, and any other convenient target. Raging against the loss of his son and those he felt were responsible. Now that he'd finally grounded that hatred in revenge... well, Eliot had had his doubts about Nate's sobriety lasting. Sophie leaving hadn't really knocked him off the wagon; something was always gonna pull that trigger. But because of her, it had happened just in time for the holiday season.

Parker and Hardison, they didn't really get it. They'd lost things, sure; they all had, that was part of the reason they'd all ended up thieves to begin with. That feeling that you weren't complete without- whatever. But the kind of pain that cracked a man clear through and riddled him with fault lines: that, they didn't. And he hoped they never did, not enough to spot the signs of another tremor the way he had. They didn't know he'd been shadowing Nate that week, and he didn't plan to tell them- or Sophie's friend- unless he had to.

It didn't take long for Nate to choose a park bench that evening; he hadn't had the energy to go far. Eliot found himself a tree to lean behind a short distance away, back out of the man's line of sight, and pulled his phone from his pocket; he didn't actually have anyone to call, but between the shadows and the dropping temperatures and the bright beads of light climbing the black branches of the trees bordering the nearby street, it kept people's eyes from lingering on him in suspicion.

Nate settled, leaning back a little, and took another swig from his bottle; Eliot blinked as a cold blur settled on his eyelashes, then shook it off and looked up into the hazy sky. It had been threatening more snow for a while, but it looked like it had finally arrived; not the fine gritty stuff like frozen sand this time, but heavy, damp flakes that hushed the world and closed them in like the inside of a snow globe. Not as cold as it could have been, but cold enough to a man who hadn't decided whether or not he really wanted to live yet. Eliot debated with himself for a moment, then tucked the phone away and started looking for a better spot where he'd be able to see if Nate's lips started turning blue. He couldn't make that choice for Nate, and knew the man would resent it if he tried. But he wasn't gonna just let the man die of exposure in lieu of actually making that choice, either.

Nate had slid back against the bench by the time Eliot had himself settled again; his eyes were shut, and his hand had loosened around the bottle of whiskey, letting it drop into the frozen slush underfoot to be covered by a fresh blanket of white. His coat was still tucked close, and his face was flushed from the alcohol, but that wouldn't last; Eliot told himself to wait at least until the shivering started, then shook his head, wondering what the Nate who'd chased him all those years would say if he could see the both of them now.

Honestly, he was pretty sure the reason Nate fought so hard against admitting the team were his friends- and that he wasn't the white knight anymore- wasn't just that his identity as an honest man was the one piece of the life he'd had before that he could still cling to. Eliot still remembered the way Nate had reacted during that first job, when he'd told Eliot what had happened to Sam and Eliot had made that dumbass remark that he should have kept one of the Monets he'd recovered to finance Sam's treatment. That was before he'd known much of anything about where Nate had come from; before he'd had any clue that Nate might have also been wondering what would have happened if he'd taken the skills he'd learned at his daddy's knee and used them for anything other than chasing thieves when it could have still made a difference.

That kind of regret was like poison; more than the alcohol coursing through Nate's system. Cause versus symptom. Eliot sighed, shivering a little himself, and tried not to lose himself in contemplation of his own regrets as the temperature continued to drop. One of these days, what he'd done for Damien was going to catch up with him, and when that happened... well. It would be Nate's turn to keep an eye on the rest of them, then.

The falling flakes numbed Eliot's ears and sent a cold trickle down the back of his neck; they seemed to settle on Nate like angel's footprints, though, or some other damn fluffy thing. He didn't look the least bit cold; just kept breathing, slowly and thickly, as his hair and coat were gradually covered in white. Without Hardison's snarky voice chattering away in Eliot's ear, or Sophie's wry comments, or Parker's cheerful insanity, it felt lonelier out there than he'd expected; like he was keeping a vigil, rather than standing watch.

He flexed his hands, rubbing them together to encourage the bloodflow, then caught his breath as Nate finally stirred. He turned his head toward the empty space beside him on the bench, then spoke, the words mumbled enough that Eliot only caught a few of them: "...no place for a kid..."

Whatever shadow the drink had shown him, it disturbed him enough to fumble for the bottle he'd dropped- but that had long since disappeared under a shroud of white, and his fingers grasped only empty air. His lips shaped other, quieter words, followed by a firmer declaration: "...deserved it."

"Ah, Nate," Eliot sighed.

Nate's face tightened in anguish as he stared into that empty space again, and then he cried in a louder voice, "It's not my fault!" Light caught on his face as he shook his head- sparks from Christmas strands caught in either tears or melting snow- then vanished as he slumped over, head pillowed on the snowy seat of the bench.

He was gonna die out there; he really was. Eliot gave a pained grimace, then pulled his phone back out of his pocket, thumbing through his contacts for the hospital's non-emergency line. He wouldn't leave his voice on a 911 recording if he could help it; didn't want to have to tell Hardison to go in and clean it up later. But Nate needed help, there was no question about it.

His snow-dampened fingers slipped on the call button, though, the muted heat from his fingers not registering on the chilled surface of the screen- and before he could rectify the issue, something unexpected diverted his attention: a strange woman, wrapped up against the cold with a largish box in her arms, staring at Nate with a distant, arrested expression.

The box couldn't have been very heavy; she was a slender, middle-aged woman, but it didn't seem to pull at her arms at all. 'FOR DONATION' had been scribbled on the side in large, black block letters; she must've been carrying it toward one of the nearby shelters. She hovered there for at least a minute, standing at the edge of the sidewalk with her face toward Nate and her thoughts a million miles away; then she shook herself and set the box down in the snow, prying open the tucked-in flaps.

She shifted aside the contents with careful, reverent hands: slightly faded clothes much too small to fit an adult, carefully and lovingly folded. Beneath them was a pale blue mass of cloth: a blanket, edged in satin and embroidered with angels. Eliot swallowed hard as she slowly tugged it free, then bit her lip and stepped forward, carefully draping it over the unconscious man on the bench.

Then she turned her back sharply, picked the box back up, and walked on. She didn't look back, and the snow filled in her steps before she'd gone another block. But something in Nate's face had relaxed, just a little- and Eliot felt as shaken as if one of his own fault lines had been struck.

He tucked the phone away again and went back to his vigil, reminded of the scents of a kitchen, the feel of a knife in his hands. Being taught how to use a weapon for something other than killing. There were more than wolves and victims in this world; he'd been starting to forget that, too.

When dawn woke Nate at last, still whole, Eliot stirred and headed for home, rubbing absently at his chest; feeling a quiet, hollow ache there like the aftermath of healing.

Layered in white and blush-pink and gold, the city sparkled under the bright eye of the rising sun.