A/N: My apologies for the delay in getting the end of this story out. I have been learning a completely new job at the same time I am training someone else to do my old job. While this is ultimately a good thing, I have found myself not wanting to do anything for the last couple of weeks but stare dumbly at a television when I get home. And then I went and caught a cold over the Thanksgiving holiday...
I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but I follow the DVD order of the episodes which puts The 12-Step Job directly before The First David Job. This story is meant to tuck in right between the two.
The Building Blocks Job, chapter 7
Eliot decided to park in the open field behind the Martins' barn. There was no one around at this late hour, and in the morning he'd be gone before anyone woke. It was a mild night, and Eliot stretched out in the bed of his truck, looking up at the stars. A small voice in the back of his mind that sounded suspiciously like Mama was urging him to go back and make things right with Dad before he left. But the admittedly-stubborn streak in him wouldn't let him even consider it. Not right now, anyway. He just needed to give it time, Eliot decided. Let both their hot heads cool a bit, then he'd sit down with Dad once he got back from basic training. That should be enough time.
Eliot's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps over the dry grass, someone approaching from the barn. Eliot had a suspicion who it was, so he didn't sit up when the truck shifted as Lizzie used the tire to boost herself up to hang over the side of the bed, looking down at him.
"You fought with Daddy, didn't you? You're leaving?"
Eliot frowned up at her. "What are you doing here so late? You should be in bed."
"It's not a school night, and I wanted to check on Moose. He's been sick." When Lizzie had started taking riding lessons three years ago, she had demanded Moose as her first mount, to the surprise of Mr. Martin, who had believed she might be a little leery of the horse who had thrown her. Lizzie had insisted it hadn't been Moose's fault, and she had since spoiled him rotten, despite moving on to faster and more alert mounts. "You didn't answer my question. Are you leaving? Were you even going to say goodbye to me first?"
"'Course I was." Though honestly, Eliot hadn't thought about that when he had stormed out of the house.
"I know why you want to leave, Eliot. But you can't blame Daddy for not understanding." Lizzie hoisted herself the rest of the way into the truck bed and sat crosslegged against the tailgate as Eliot pulled himself up to lean against the back of the cab.
"What do you know about it?" He glared at her, not wanting to admit this might be partly his fault, though Mama's voice told him he should listen up.
"I know that Daddy has been wanting you to take on the store for a long time now, and you don't want to. I know that you took on pretty much everything Mama used to do, and Daddy let you, and you never complained! And..." Lizzie emphasized the last word when Eliot tried to interject. "And that doesn't excuse him. But you should have discussed things with him more. You never brought it up with him because you didn't want to fight in front of me, El. You wanted things to stay normal for me. But I wasn't stupid, I knew it was hard on you. And so did Daddy, but how could he do more than he was doing when you wouldn't let him? You never really gave him the chance to."
Lizzie finally stopped for a breath and just looked at him, smugly. Eliot wanted to snap at her, but he was too damned tired to bother and maybe, she might have been just a little bit right.
"You're so damn stubborn El, just like Mama was." Before he could admonish her for swearing, Lizzie continued, "I was so young when she died, but you and Daddy never let me forget her. Thank you for that." Lizzie had somehow worked her way around the truck bed so she was seated next to Eliot now, leaning against him. "I don't mind you're leaving, El. Just don't forget to come back."
Parker slept the sleep of the innocent, and Eliot made a quick, habitual security sweep of the offices. Nothing had been disturbed since he left in a rush earlier. No assassins or even run-of-the-mill goons waited in hiding to attack them.
When Eliot finished his sweep, he dialed Hardison's number and returned to the kitchen to pull out ingredients for one of his deluxe omelettes. He was dead dog tired after chasing down Parker, but also very hungry, and food prep would hopefully help him keep his temper in check while speaking with Hardison.
Hardison answered halfway through the first ring. "Why didn't ya wait? I thought you wanted Parker to sit this out, why'd you go in by yourselves?"
"Parker went in by herself, I just had to go get her. What's this about Dr. Frank and suspicious deaths? Why didn't we know this yesterday?" Eliot had found a lovely spiral ham at the store the previous day, and was now carefully dicing several large pieces.
"I told you all at the briefing that Nate pushed me to get the research done ASAP, as if that's not how I usually do things! I told him I wasn't sure we were ready to brief, but he didn't listen." Hardison stifled a yawn.
"So I kept digging afterward, stayed up all night, because you were so concerned about Sophie, you know?" Hardison paused again to yawn, and Eliot moved on to chopping some green onions.
"...then, I discovered two of the other research scientists who had worked with Dr. Frank, the one who first reported the unusually high number of research animal deaths, and another who Williams claimed sabotaged his research, had died in separate car 'accidents' within six months after the clinical trial was shut down...Hey, are you chopping food-things?"
Disconcerted at the sudden change in topic, Eliot paused long enough to growl out, "Why?"
"Well, it's just...I kinda worked through breakfast...an' Nana's gone off to play bingo..." Another yawn.
"So, what, you want me to stuff some food through the phone for ya? Or maybe ship it overnight? Go cook somethin' for yourself, man!" Eliot started cracking eggs into a bowl.
A grumble that sounded suspiciously like Nana doesn't approve of Hot Pockets preceded the remainder of Hardison's explanation. "Anyway, 'FBI Special Agent Thomas' made a few phone calls and got hold of the original detective from the first accident. Apparently, he's never completely believed it was an accident, and thought Frank Williams mighta cut the brake lines or something. Problem was, the car went off a cliff, exploded in a fireball, you get the idea. Not enough left of it to find any conclusive evidence that it wasn't just bad weather."
Hardison went quiet again, and Eliot could hear a refrigerator door open, some thumping around, and then he continued. "The detective only got to talk to Williams once. He had never made any direct threats against his coworkers and he didn't say anything incriminating at the time, but get this: The detective had taken an FBI profiler course for law enforcement not long before that, said it was like talking to a case study right there in front of him. His captain didn't believe in that profiling stuff, ordered him to lay off. Since there was never any arrest or official interrogation, there were no official records."
Eliot stirred a bit of cream into his eggs. "What about the other accident?"
"Jus' a minute...can never reach the bottom of these 'value size' peanut butter containers...where's the value in that?" A curse, a thump, then the distinctive clink of a knife against a glass preserves jar.
"Okay, second accident...occurred about three months later, but it was a different jurisdiction, and slightly different circumstances, so they were never tied together. Official ruling was this guy had been driving drunk, but his widow claimed he neverdrove even after just one drink. Always gave up his keys." This last was muffled by a mouthful of sandwich, and Eliot grimaced as he folded his toppings into his gourmet omelette.
"Is there anything you can do to get the cases looked at again?" Eliot slid the finished omelette onto a plate, and took a seat. Over the phone, he could hear Hardison yawn again.
"Is there...Didja forget who you're talking to?!" Hardison's voice reached an impressive pitch. Nothin' like a little insult to the ego to wake Hardison up! Eliot took a bite of omelette and chewed in bliss for a moment.
"Right now, he's bein' held on terrorism charges for makin' bomb threats. By the time that gets sorted out, I'll have planted some...bits and pieces...here and there...that will point the way like a big ol' flashin' arrow to the patient experiments and deaths associated with Second Act." More muffled chewing. "Even if the authorities can't tie him to the car accidents, and I don't see why they wouldn't be able to by the time I'mdone with everything...He will be in prison for a very, very long time. AND as soon as you send me those scans Parker took, I'm gonna track down the families of every patient in that bastard's notes, and get 'em some closure!"
"Good work, Hardison."
Hardison's words skidded to a halt. "Uh...what?"
"Did you get hold of Sophie? She' probably still in the air, but just let know she won't have to hit the ground running..." Eliot took another bite of omelette.
"You...feelin' okay, man? You never say things like 'good...'" He must have realized Eliot had gone deathly silent. "Right, never happened. I did leave Sophie a message, she'll get it when she lands. Called Nate, too..."
This time, Hardison took a moment to chew and swallow before continuing. "He asked if Parker was okay, but didn't seem interested in any kinda cleanup, said to handle it ourselves. He sounded hungover, El. I mean, really really bad...and considering we were supposed to do the job today...that ain't good. We gotta do something about him."
"Got any ideas?" Suddenly irritated, Eliot downed the rest of his omelette, and set to work cleaning up. Hardison remained silent. "Hey man, Parker really is okay. She'd probably like to hear from you later."
"Yeah, I'll call her. Send me those files and I'll get back to work."
When Parker finally woke in the early afternoon, she woke hungry. As in, she sought Eliot out for food, rather than just eating because he put something in front of her. Eliot had spent the morning in the kitchen, working some irritation out. He prepared a lasagna to cook later that evening, and a split pea soup with that lovely ham. He wanted to stay near Parker, just in case, but when it became obvious she wasn't going to be bothered by nightmares, he went to the gym. A little while into his workout, Eliot turned to see Parker watching him from the doorway. She looked...very nearly healthy. A bit tired, maybe, but definitely on the mend.
"Will you make waffles?"
"Tell ya what..." Eliot reached for a towel to dry the sweat on his face and neck. "You keep down some solid food today, and I'll think about waffles in the mornin'." Parker beamed and nearly bounced into the room toward him. For a moment, Eliot thought she might be just crazy enough to want to spar right this minute, but instead she grabbed his arm and pulled him from the room.
"Well, make me some kind of Eliot-food!"
Eliot, as gently as possible, wrenched his arm out of Parker's grasp and glared at her. It seemed to have no effect. "Go watch TV or somethin' while I shower, then I'll make you food!"
Parker was watching television when Eliot returned to the kitchen, though she was seated at the breakfast bar, utensils and a plate already arranged before her. She looked at Eliot expectantly, and Eliot rolled his eyes at her. He whipped up a smaller version of his earlier omelette, and Parker attacked it almost before he had fully slid it onto her plate. Eliot grimaced, thinking her stomach might rebel at the sudden onslaught, but she finished the omelette, slid off the stool, and went to sit in the lounge, throwing a quick "thanks!" back over her shoulder. Leave it to Parker to benefit from that midnight insanity. Or maybe it was having the fear of rejection lifted off her shoulders, Eliot thought grimly. At least her manners were improving. Somewhat.
Eliot had just settled into an armchair with a book when Parker's phone buzzed. She answered it, and Eliot watched as her smile slowly turned to a grimace. He could hear the unmistakable tones and cadences of a very angry Sophie coming through her phone. Something about "bone-headed" and "irresponsible" and "I've been on a planenearly twenty-four hours straight!" and "spending too much time with self-sacrificing imbeciles!"
Eliot couldn't help but grin at Parker's discomfort. Then Sophie's voice softened so that Eliot couldn't pick up the individual words any more, but Parker's grimace faded as well, and she answered an apparent query, "Yeah, I'm feeling better. I...I miss you, too." Parker hung up, and glanced at Eliot with a confused half-smile.
"Told ya you matter," Eliot said before returning to his book.
Parker flicked through the television stations for a while, but nothing seemed to hold her interest. Eventually, she got up from the couch and disappeared from the lounge. Eliot tried to keep his curiosity in check. The offices were her home, too, and she had every right to wander around. But visions of a bored and destructive Parker finally drove him to search her out. He found her in Hardison's personal office, very carefully and deliberately rearranging his things. It wasn't anything obvious, mostly switching a book or two on the shelves, sliding a pen cub three inches to the left, tilting a computer monitor half an inch downward...just enough to disorient someone like him.
Parker sensed his presence in the doorway, and glanced at him, but continued her work.
Eliot grinned. "How long have you been doin' that to Hardison?"
"Off and on for the last five months or so. Nate and Sophie figured it out too quickly, so I don't do it to them any more. But Hardison gets this funny, confused look when he reaches for something and it's in the wrong spot!" Parker smiled at the fond memories.
"You ever do it to my office?" Eliot let a little warning growl into his voice.
"Of course not. You lock your office for a reason. I'd never mess with your secret weapons stash...oops." Her eyes widened like a deer in the headlights as Eliot glowered.
"You're obviously feelin' a lot better, an' you need somethin' constructive to do. Wanna spar?" At that, Parker smiled, and pushed past him, back down the hallway.
Eliot had wanted to start easy, but Parker soon showed she was, indeed, feeling much better. Her balance was mostly back, and she was in no immediate danger of losing her lunch. When Eliot was satisfied that enough of Parker's boundless energy had been worn off that he could enjoy a quiet evening, he called a halt and went to prepare dinner.
Dinner went well, and when Parker wanted seconds, of both the salad and lasagna, Eliot was more than happy to feed her up. He took the opportunity to fill Parker in on Hardison's research and where the case against Frank Williams currently stood.
"So, even though Nate cared enough about the victims to do this job in the first place, he just treated it like an obligation...like he didn't actually enjoy it...He hasn't been himself, he needs an intervention." This was stated with such certainty that Eliot found himself intrigued by the concept. Parker might be on to something...
Hardison called, and that kept Parker occupied for a little while longer as they debated her "intervention" plan. Afterward, they watched the original True Grit, an argument Eliot was willing to win by force to avoid having to watch any more nature programs about wolves while Parker gave him odd glances. After a very short pout, to which Eliot was impervious since Parker was obviously no longer sick, she sidled up to him again, and rested her head on his shoulder.
Eliot found himself unable to really focus on the movie. This new easy familiarity between them was more than a little unsettling. It had been shaking up some very dusty, somewhat unfamiliar memories. Memories that felt like they didn't really belong to him, like they were nothing more than scenes from a movie, played in the back of his mind. So why did they tug so sharply at his heart? Somewhat unnerved, Eliot made the conscious decision to deal with that question at a later time. He hadn't slept since Parker's early-morning call for help, and was too damned tired to do any soul-searching now...and he was not going to be Parker's pillow tonight! He gently shrugged her off his shoulder, and she went without complaint to the couch in her office.
The following morning, Eliot rose just before dawn, feeling quite well-rested. He slipped down the hall to Parker's office, and eased open the door she had left slightly ajar of her own volition. "Parker?"
He got a muffled "Go 'way. 'M sleepin'," in reply.
Eliot hefted her lightweight travel bag from beside the door and gently tossed it to land on her legs. She startled upright. "You want waffles? Get dressed, we're goin' for a run, first!"
After a nice long and easy run through the cool of the morning, Eliot made the promised waffles. Thick, fluffy, Belgian style with cream cheese sauce and fresh blueberries, which Parker seemed to thoroughly enjoy impaling on her fork. Creepy, but at least she ate them.
With breakfast done, Eliot drove Parker out to get her car. They checked it thoroughly, very thoroughly on Eliot's part, but no one had molested the Rabbit since Parker drove it out here. Eliot grinned as he remembered Parker's answer when Sophie and Hardison had asked why she didn't splurge and buy (or steal!) something flashier. "It doesn't stand out, it's the car no one remembers when they report a burglary. And it reminds me not to drive away too fast after I finish a job." Eliot had been impressed by her sound logic. Hardison, who committed his crimes from behind a computer screen, and Sophie, who relied on flashy and memorable props, had only shaken their heads.
Eliot helped Parker transfer her belongings and several bags of individually-packaged leftovers from dinner, and the other things he had cooked yesterday. He knew she'd eat them, if he made them as quick and easy to re-heat as possible, and it made him feel better about letting her go home. Really, there was no reason not to let her go home now.
Eliot watched as Parker drove away, and out of deference to her own privacy and paranoia, kept himself from following her home. She had taken care of herself this long, he was sure her home security was solid, and she would take care not to be followed. He turned for his own place, not the apartment he kept in town, but the house and garden in the foothills above LA. Eliot would enjoy a few days of peace before the team's vacation ended, and they would have to confront Nate.
"Yeah?" Eliot's voice cracked, his throat felt like sandpaper. That last job hadn't gone well.
"Eliot? It's Mikey. Don't hang up! We've been trying to get hold of you! Eliot, you haven't been home in years! We all miss you man, Lizzie misses you."
"Did you need something Mikey?" It had been a mistake, not letting the call go to voicemail. He had thought it might be his current...employer.
"Eliot, I proposed to Lizzie. We're getting married. We want you to come home for the wedding." Eliot felt something in his frozen heart clench. His little Lizzie...
"Look, I don't know what's happened to you while you've been gone, Eliot. Whatever it is, we don't care. Eliot, we want you at the wedding, we need you. Lizzie needs her brother." No, she didn't. She needed someone good and pure to be there for her. Eliot had known Mikey through school. He was a good man, he would do right by Lizzie.
"El? Will you be there?" He couldn't defile the purest thing he had ever known. Not on her wedding day. Lizzie would be sad for a little while, but Mikey would take care of her. There was nothing left for Eliot to do now but stay away.
"I'll be there."
"We'll look forward to seeing you." And Eliot knew Mikey had seen through his lie.
The memory of that phone call stopped Eliot in his tracks. It came through sharp and clear, not like the movie-reel memories that felt like they belonged to someone else. He dropped onto the bench that sat under the old apple tree in his yard, and hung his head in his hands. That phone call had been last time he had spoken to anyone from his old life, with the exception of Willie and Aimee Martin. Eliot had stopped answering calls to that number long ago, but he checked the messages sometimes...after he missed the wedding, the calls from his family had dropped off...even Dad had tried once or twice.
But by then, the old Eliot had been gone. Dead and buried, back in that prison cell. The only thing that had kept him alive had been thoughts of his family, and his future with Aimee. In the end, it hadn't been his own ingenuity that freed him, but a simple stupid mistake on the part of his captors that gave him his chance. And why could it not have come while his buddies had still been alive? He had left that camp alone, with so much blood on his hands...
They had known going in that it would be a dangerous mission. The word "suicide" was thrown around, but his team had pulled off this kind of thing before. But afterward, the look in Atherton's eyes when he saw Eliot again, alive...that was when Eliot understood this mission had been suicide in every sense of the word. There had not been a slim chance of success. There had been no chance at all. They had been sent to die.
And for living, Eliot had received an honorable discharge, and full military benefits, a medal, and an admonition to never speak of the mission, so highly classified that it simply Had. Never. Happened. And he came home to find a promise ring in an envelope in his held mail. And his hands were so soiled he couldn't bear to hug his sister, and he left again before he had to look his father in the eye.
Now, still seated on the bench, Eliot dug out his phone and stared at it. He had kept tabs on them all, of course. He had celebrated, from a distance, Lizzie's wedding, and graduation from veterinary school, and the birth of the nephew he would never meet.
It was better that Eliot stay away, safer for everyone. Let them live their lives in peace. Eliot knew he could never have that again. He couldn't bring his life, his shame, and his enemies anywhere near them. But, oh God, how he missed them. He almost hadn't responded to Willie's plea for help. But Willie was safe, Willie had moved to Kentucky, away from the rest of Eliot's family. And Willie had never asked Why? Was it possible to go back? Not to what he had been so long ago, he could never be that person again. But to something like it? Could he have at least a shadow of it? Would she even want that? What Eliot was considering right now made him question his own sanity.
Eliot stared hard at the cell phone in his hand, the one issued by Hardison, who had sworn up and down it was untraceable, un-hackable...safe.
A phone call. One simple phone call, nothing else. Not yet. He could survive a phone call, right? Eliot dialed a number he'd memorized years ago but had never used and when an oh so familiar voice answered, he managed to speak past the sudden fear constricting his throat, "Lizzie?"
A/N: Eliot mentions in the Low, Low Price Job that he hasn't spoken to his dad since he left. There is no mention of contact with any other family, and Willie obviously had a way to reach him for the Two-Horse Job.
I am planning a followup somewhere down the line, but there may be other stories coming first. Thank you for sticking with me, and please consider reviewing! They're always much appreciated!