Leverage: Things Remembered
A/N: This story was written for fun, not for profit, and while it didn't turn out exactly the way I wanted, I am happy with it. Please read and let me know what you think.
This story was written for Memorial Day in the US, though real life got in the way, and I'm a little late in posting. In memory of all of the men and women who died while defending their country from the threat of enemy forces. May we never forget their sacrifice.
Nate was sitting in a booth in McRory's bar, thinking (an objective observer would say brooding).
"What'll it be, Ford? Last call's in 5 minutes. Do I pour you another or wash the glass?"
Nate didn't answer, but he did, after a pause, hold out the glass. Shaking his head, the bartender took it, and lumbered off back behind the bar, where he rinsed the glass and placed it on a special rack in the bar's commercial dishwasher.
Dez, the bartender, had hoped Nate would get the message when he took the glass, and would leave and let them go about the business of closing up in peace. The owner of the bar, Miss Cora McRory, wouldn't allow any of the staff to ask Nate to leave, and when he had mentioned it in the past, he had been told that Nate had a key.
Having loaded most of the glasses and other bar implements in the dishwasher earlier in the evening, Dez rinsed the last of the decanters and shakers and placed them carefully on the bottom rack. Then he popped in a soap pod, closed the door, and turned it on. Then, he wiped down the bar, first with a damp cloth to be sure any spillage was cleaned up and then with furniture wax made especially for the fine walnut. As he wiped down the bar, he stole furtive glances at Nate, but the man hadn't made any motion to leave. In fact, he hadn't made any motion at all. He still sat like someone in contention to win a game of statues.
He sat there like that all during the time that Dez was sweeping, and then mopping the floor, and then when Dez left the bar area to go help Cora in the kitchen. When they were finished and ready to go, Nate was still sitting in the same spot. Cora walked over to him and spoke softly.
Then, a little louder.
Finally, she touched his shoulder and fairly shouted.
Looking like he had emerged from a deep sleep, Nate Ford said, "Yes, Cora. Hi."
"It's time to go, Nate. I know you have a key, but frankly, your reaction just now worries me. I don't think you need to be left alone in a bar tonight. I'll walk you out."
Nate knew better than to argue with that look in her eye, or that tone, so he rose and followed her, saying, "After you."
Nate was aware that it was two o' clock in the morning, but he wasn't at all sleepy, and he knew this was a night when sleep wouldn't come easily. He couldn't stop thinking about Eliot. The man had been downright cranky earlier, and as far as Nate could tell, no one had given him a reason to be that way. He even growled at Parker. When Nate dared to call him on it, he walked out of Nate's apartment, carrying a small cardboard box in hand, and he hadn't come back. That was—well, yesterday morning, now, since it was past midnight. Dammit. It wasn't like Eliot to be gone this long, or to act the way he had. Nate was more worried than he wanted to admit, even to himself. He had grown tired of seeing the reproach in the eyes of the rest of the team, and so, he had gone down to the bar to think, and ended up here, on the street in front of the bar.
Deciding that a walk might help to clear his head, he turned and walked across the street and down a little ways to the park. The warm, late spring air was heavy with dew and blanketed in the scent of lilac and honeysuckle. Nate became aware of both as he set off across the park at a rapid pace, allowing his legs to take over and his mind to just flow.
One image after another assaulted him. Images, ideas, whole scenes even played over and over in his head, like an old filmstrip hopelessly spliced and stuck on permanent loop. Voices speaking to him from times and places past, or he should say, the same voice. The voice of the man who had been a friend to him even when he had told him he didn't want the friendship.
Glasses lined up, in a row, and the feel of his father's gun in his hand. A quiet voice behind him, speaking gently and without judgement.
"You don't know how this thing will change you, Nate. You pull that trigger and two men die. The guy you kill and the guy you used to be."
"YOU handled it," Nate spat back, but the same calm voice continued.
"You have no idea who I was. That man," he paused, and then corrected himself, "kid—he had God in his heart and the flag on his shoulder. I ain't seen him in over ten years, and believe me, I get up every morning looking for him."
Nate hadn't known what to say to that, so he had chosen not to say anything.
Another time, following Eliot's Doctor Abernathy persona into a room in the prison infirmary, so they could talk out of the earshot of the guards. Finding himself restrained in the dental chair, bright light in his face, "in case the guards come in" Eliot told him. The casual, understated threat when Eliot waved an electric metal pick at him, and looked capable of using it to inflict some damage.
That same calm voice, this time laced with just a touch of malice, "You know what I usually do, Nate, to people that run a con on their own team? Almost get people killed because they're out of control?"
The sheer panic he tried to keep out of his voice when he asked, "Are we okay, Eliot?"
And then the relief he felt when Eliot, realizing he had gotten his point across, immediately went back to talking about the job. He had revealed more of himself that day than he had meant to do, and he knew he had given Eliot ammunition if the other man ever chose to use it as such.
Nate gave a heavy sigh. Eliot, the hardened killer had turned out to be so much more than Nate had thought he was, back when he chased the hitter for IYS. Eliot, the gentle healer, the cook, the team's protector, their rock, and Nate's personal voice of reason. He was a man every bit as capable of leading the team as Nate himself was, and a born leader who had accepted Nate's leadership without question, even when Nate hadn't earned such trust, and in no way deserved such devotion.
Nate saw a shadow in front of him, for the briefest of moments, and then a hand closed around his throat and he was struggling to breathe. As he shifted and tried to free himself, he felt himself being pushed backwards until his back was against something hard and flat. A second later, the hand let go and two hands appeared on the wall on either side of his head, effectively blocking him in. He found himself looking into two very serious brown eyes.
"Nathan Ford. What are you doing here?" Nate recognized the voice, but he couldn't place it.
"I-I needed to think."
"And your thinking brought you here?"
Nate turned his head sideways, trying to figure out what the other man was asking. "Not exactly, no. I mean, I wasn't really thinking about where I was going, or going anywhere in particular. I just couldn't sleep and decided to go for a walk."
"Fair enough. Probably want to turn around now. Places like parks are dangerous at night. In fact, maybe you would like an escort back to your apartment building."
Every fiber of Nate's being cried out in alarm. Who was this man? How did he know Nate? And where he lived? "No. I'll be fine. I can find my own way back."
"See that you do." Suddenly uncomfortable with the situation, Nate decided to heed the man's advice and get the hell out of there. He had turned to leave when quiet laughter sounded behind the man in front of him and an amused voice said, "Don't scare the man to death. We're ready by the way. Bring him along. It's all right."
Nate turned back around, curiosity overshadowing his fear, for the moment.
"You heard the lady. You may observe but you may not interfere. Understood?"
Nate nodded and followed them, trailing slightly behind. Their pace was ordered and rapid, and after a few moments, a not completely sober Nathan Ford wondered if he was going to be able to keep up. Then, as abruptly as this had all started, it stopped. Nate doubled over for a moment, catching his breath, and when he stood up, he found he could see ahead of them through the small space between the two of them. A ground light shone up on a stone statue, and a familiar figure stood in the shadows outside the ring of light. Another man stood next to him. A huge field of grass spread out beyond it, almost as far as the eye could see.
Nate gasped as the man he thought was familiar turned around. It was Eliot all right, but not a version of Eliot he had ever seen before. The hitter was in his dress uniform, hair tucked up under his hat. He didn't acknowledge the presence of anyone else there, but simply started speaking as though he were reading from a book.
"Friends, we have gathered tonight on this sacred ground to remember our honored dead—our brothers and sisters who have died in pursuit of a single goal. A goal which we all share. Freedom. At my signal, cast their names to the heavens. With those words, he blew three short, relatively quiet blasts on a trumpet he was holding in his hands, and then stopped, and afterwards, the silence felt very loud.
The names continued, and Nate was ashamed to find that he couldn't follow all of them. His mind kept wandering. He wondered if it was Eliot who said that he could approach or if the man would be angry with him when he found out he was here. After what felt like an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes, they had clearly reached the end of the list. The man who had escorted Nate to this place said the final name.
A peacefulness spread like a blanket over the place where they stood, and they all kept a reverent silence. A moment later, Eliot spoke again. "May the One who holds Eternity hold them, and may we be ever mindful of their sacrifice. Gone from us, and yet with us in spirit, as long as we speak their names and remember."
With those words, the man standing next to Eliot took the paper from him, held a lighter to the corner of it, and dropped it into a small metal basket, watching it burn until only ashes remained. Then, he tipped the basket up and watched as the ashes scattered on the breeze and disappeared into the darkness. Eliot stood for a moment, gazing into the darkness, and Nate couldn't help but think the man was looking into eternity.
A moment later, he turned around, and took his hat off, setting it on the dais beside him. When he finally spoke, any of the formality he had used previously was gone from his speech, and the Eliot that Nate knew was back.
"Thank you all for coming. I know it is fairly short notice, but Seamus's instructions were that we open this when we are all together."
"We wouldn't have missed it."
They stood shoulder to shoulder and Eliot lit a lantern and set it on the ground in the middle of the circle. At that, they all sat down as well. Eliot sat the cardboard box on the ground in front of him, drew a lethal looking knife out of his pocket, and slipped the point under the flap, cutting the old packaging tape. He put away the knife and opened the box. From inside, he brought out a set of dog tags, two pictures, a folded paper, and a small silver flask.
Eliot unfolded the paper, and read. Then, he spoke again. "He wants us to pass the flask in his memory, and he wants us to read a word in his memory." He held the paper out to the woman who had told Nate he could come. "And he left something for each of us. To remember him by, he says."
He nodded to her. "Kat, I think he'd want you to read it."
Nate did a double take. Doc?! Why hadn't he known that?
She nodded, and cleared her throat. Then she began.
"Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
By: Mary Elizabeth Frye"
They all stood in quiet reverence for a moment, letting the words hang upon the air until they grew into something with a life of their own. Finally, she broke the silence.
"I can't think of a more fitting tribute for Seamus than the one he chose for himself. Pass the flask; it'll be daylight soon and we need to be gone from this place."
Eliot unscrewed the cap and took a long pull on the flask. Then he passed it to the man next to him, who passed it to Doc, who then passed it to the man next to her. Studying his bearing, Nate thought that he had to be Eliot's friend, Colonel Vance, but he couldn't be sure, and he still didn't understand why he hadn't known before who they were, even with their faces covered by darkness.
When the last of them had drunk from the flask, they said together, "To Seamus Mulroney—a good man, a good soldier, and a good friend."
"I'll read the part where he tells you all what he wanted you to have." They all nodded and he continued.
"To my Colonel, and the best damned CO a man ever had—please keep my dog tags as a remembrance of my life as a soldier. You asked me for my life, and I've always known my fate was safest in your hands."
Eliot handed the tall man a pair of dog tags, and Nate thought he saw the man slip them over his head.
"To Doc, the person who always met me where I was, with a drink, or a gentle guiding hand, or even sometimes, a swift kick, I leave you my flask. May you think of me fondly when you use it, and may you use it to help others the way you helped me, so many times before now. I'll be forever in your debt."
Vance, for Nate was now sure that's who the tall man was, handed the flask back to Doc, who tucked it into an inside pocket of her jacket, and wiped a tear when she thought no one was looking.
"To my friends, Eliot and Shelley, I'm doing yours together because I am giving you the same thing. In the box, you should have found two pictures. They are pictures of the three of us. El, you have a tendency to be a lone wolf, yet somehow, you ended up my best friend, and both of us ended up the richer for that friendship. Keep this picture to remind you that sometimes you need to reach out to friends, even when it is hard, or maybe especially when it seems too hard to do so." Eliot paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and continued. "And, Shelley, while you are a good teammate and a better friend, you sometimes tend to rush in where angels fear to tread, as the saying goes. Keep this picture to remind you that there are others depending on you to be steady and measured in your responses. And to remember that you can count on them as much as they count on you. Thank you all for coming out to give me a proper send off, and I'll be looking for you on the other side."
The silence was thick and heavy. Eliot took his wallet out and placed the picture in one of the picture holders in his wallet. Shelley placed his in his shirt pocket, and as none of them were willing to break the silence, they all faded back into the darkness in different directions. Eliot propped the poem on the statue's base, weighting it down with some small rocks, the only sign anyone had been there. He turned back to leave and walked straight up to Nate before the mastermind had a chance to react.
"Nate? What are you doing here?"
"You left so abruptly this morning that I was worried about you. And you left your phone, so I couldn't call."
"How did you know where to find me?"
"I didn't. I went down to the bar to think, and ended up taking a walk when the bar closed. By chance, I ended up here."
"Nothing's by chance, Nate. Haven't you figured that out by now?"
Nate tilted his head sideways in that contemplating look he got, and Eliot simply said, "Fate unfolds as it must. It's late. Let's go home."
With those words, he led the mastermind out of the park and back to his apartment, not feeling much like being alone until morning.