As Nate approached the airport, his phone rang. He snatched it up immediately without checking the caller ID. "Hello?"
"Nate, he's gone."
A flood of relief washed over him at Tara's voice. She sounded shaken, but she was alive, and apparently safe enough to call him. "Tell me exactly what happened."
"He was talking to you, and then he just crushed the earbud. Then he growled and said I could go. I thought he would demand something from me, or make an example…" Nate winced at the memory of how much Eliot had hurt Sophie, but worse, the absolutely mutilated body of Farrell after the last job. He wouldn't forget that for a very long time. "…But he just said to stay out of his way, and then he disappeared. I'm on my way so you can pick me up."
Once again, Nate could hardly believe it. Could it be true that Eliot really had changed, and because of his influence, no less? He couldn't argue with the results, though. He would just have to make sure it was genuine.
"Yeah, I'll meet you there. Hardison, please tell me you have recordings of all of our interactions with Eliot on the Farrell job."
Hardison sputtered indignantly. "Excuse you? Of course I do, what— you think I don't do my job? C'mon, man, no respect…"
"Okay, find it so we can go through it again when I get back to the hotel. And see what you can do to keep track of Eliot."
Sophie's voice came over the comm. It was calm and soothing, that same voice she used when she was trying to talk sense into him. "Nate, why 'Eliot' all of a sudden? You speak of him as if you know him personally. Or, even worse, are actually friendly with him." He caught the angry edge to her tone at the end of the last sentence but didn't say anything about it.
What was he supposed to say, anyway? In a way, he did know Eliot personally, and was friends with him. Nate may not have actually lived out his visions but they were strong enough that he could feel a remnant of the regard he held for that version of the hitter. Besides, he was making an effort, even in this world, to reach out to the man. But the rest of the team wouldn't understand. Only Sophie knew of the visions, and even she didn't take them seriously.
Unfortunately, not giving an explanation would probably hurt her a lot, after everything she had suffered at Eliot's hands. Nate sighed. At Spencer's hands. As the visions grew stronger and stronger over time, it got harder for Nate to keep them separate from reality. He was connecting the friend Eliot he felt like he knew with the enemy Spencer he actually knew. But that didn't have to be a bad thing, did it? Maybe his visions could become reality?
"Nate!" Sophie was quite exasperated now. "Are you even hearing me? I swear, sometimes it seems you're off in a separate world…"
"I hear you." He sighed. "I'm sorry, Sophie. I'll explain once I get back to the hotel."
She sighed, but said nothing.
Back at the resort, Nate watched over Hardison's shoulder as the hacker brought up video footage of their collaboration with Eliot. Tara and Sophie had retreated to the room next door, where the ladies were staying, and Parker was overflowing with nervous energy that drove Nate crazy, so he had sent her along too. Now it was just him and Hardison.
"Look, man, I don't get why this is important. We all remember what happened — far too well, actually — so what good is this? I mean, it's very unsettling to watch it again."
"If it's difficult for us to watch, imagine Moreau's reaction when he discovers his top enforcer lied to him, helped his enemies, and then let them go."
Hardison turned to stare at him. "Are you telling me you want me to send this to Damien Moreau? Why?"
"Think about it: El— uh, Spencer says he left Moreau. Now, that could be true, or it could not be true. But if Moreau thinks Spencer betrayed him, it will be true either way pretty soon, won't it?"
Hardison nodded his head, starting to see where Nate was going. "Ensure he really can't go back to Moreau, whether he left and wants to change his mind later or he never left in the first place."
"Exactly. I mean, you were right, Hardison. We aren't equipped to deal with Spencer for good. But Moreau is. If Moreau takes out his top enforcer for us, we'll be one step closer to Moreau himself and short one Eliot Spencer."
A grin spread over Hardison's face. "Sweet, sweet revenge, with a healthy dose of irony."
"Yeah it's, it's an effective plan. But it's the best case scenario. Spencer might just disappear on his own, to avoid Moreau's wrath. In that case, we're still in good shape, because he won't be protecting Moreau, so it saves us a lot of trouble and we accomplish our main goal."
"But what if he comes after us again?"
Nate paused for a minute. "Somehow, I doubt that will be the case." Hardison looked skeptical, but Nate didn't give him time to ask another question. "The final possible outcome is that Spencer, in self-defense, actually goes against Moreau." Hardison's frown deepened, and Nate shrugged. "Just hear me out. Something made him want to leave Moreau. Now, it's possible that if Moreau goes after him, those two things put together might be enough motivation for him to turn on his former boss."
"I don't like it, Nate. We can't control him."
"Why does that matter if it means Moreau goes down?"
"He's right," said a low, gruff voice from the other side of the room.
Nate wrenched around to see the intruder and Hardison nearly jumped out of his skin. Just inside their hotel door, leaning against the wall nonchalantly, as if he belonged there, was Eliot Spencer.
Beside Nate, Hardison whispered into his comm. "Stay where you are." Nate knew he was worried about the rest of the team and didn't want them accidentally coming into a danger zone.
Spencer — Eliot — seemed to hear him, but didn't respond. His eyes moved lazily back up to Nate. "It's a good plan."
Nate stood and stepped forward, between Eliot and Hardison, and crossed his arms. He adopted a stern tone and demanded, "How did you get here?"
"I figured you wouldn't be far from where I was staying, since I'm your mark. I watched until I found you, and then followed." He smirked. "But you're the one who said you wanted to talk face to face. So. Talk."
"You destroyed the earbud. I took it as a no."
"I needed time to think. And send my nephew somewhere safe."
Nate nodded, then glanced back down at Hardison, who was glaring daggers at Eliot even as he seemed to press himself as far down into the chair as he could. "Can, uh, can he go?" he asked, turning back to Eliot.
The hitter shrugged. "Yeah, sure. I thought he was busy working on your plan…?"
"I'm thinking it might not be necessary."
Eliot grinned dangerously. "Or it could be absolutely necessary. Depending on how much you trust me to tell the truth."
"Go, Hardison." It was a deliberate show of trust, and Nate hoped Eliot would see it as such and live up to it. Hardison gaped at him, silently communicating Are you crazy? But he did as told, and stepped out of the room, leaving Nate alone with Eliot. Nate raised an eyebrow at the hitter. "You aren't going to stop me from revealing your actions to your boss?"
"He ain't my boss anymore." He smiled more naturally this time. "And besides, it's actually pretty well thought out. Woulda expected nothing less from you." He grew serious again. Not the scary kind of serious, but the earnest kind. "What did you want with me?"
"You of all people know how evil Moreau is. I've made it my mission to bring down scum like him, whatever it takes. After the last job, I could tell I wasn't going to get anywhere as long as you were protecting him, so I had to get you out of the way." Eliot's face remained impassive, as if he weren't surprised by any of this. Actually, he probably wasn't. Nate may be the first to go after Moreau with pure motives, but surely many people had tried to get rid of him. How many of them had been finished by this man in front of him? How close had Nate gotten to that very same fate? It was unnerving, to say the least.
And then another thought occurred to him — what would it be like to have Eliot defending good guys like Nate, instead of criminals like Moreau?
"I don't have a problem with you personally," Nate continued, softer now. He knew his team was probably listening in and would be very unhappy with that statement, but right now all that mattered was Eliot. Nate had to convince Eliot to choose a different path. And right now he seriously believed he could do it. "If you told me the truth about leaving Moreau, then I will do as you ask and stay out of your way."
Eliot narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "But…? Get to the point, Ford."
The decisive lack of tangible threat made Nate significantly more confident. Maybe he was getting to Eliot after all. "I told you I have a gift too. I have visions," he said earnestly. "And I have seen you as a member of my team. A trusted member, one who had found a home and a family and meaning in life beyond all the selfishness and brutality that had surrounded him throughout his career." He paused to let that sink in. "I know you have the money to do whatever you want, and if that's what you're after, I can offer you much more." He softened his voice even further. "But I don't think that's really what you want, is it?"
Eliot sighed heavily. Finally, he said, "No, it isn't."
Nate smiled a little. He doubted this Eliot would outright tell him what he really did want. In fact, this Eliot likely didn't know what he wanted. But Nate had seen a different side. "Don't you feel a little bit too free?"
He looked confused, but didn't say anything, so Nate explained. "You don't have to work for anyone anymore and you have so much money you may never need to work again. So what do you do with yourself?"
Eliot just crossed his arms and stared.
"What do you plan on doing with yourself?"
His stare flattened. "I suppose you have some sort of offer for me?"
"I've seen the man you can be. And my team needs a hitter." He paused, suddenly a bit more unsure of himself. This was the last minute to back out. Once the invitation was out…
But Eliot apparently got tired of his hesitation. "Are you asking me to join your crew?"
"Well, I mean," he shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. Yeah."
"I work alone. I always work alone." This vision was only a snapshot, just an instant long, but it was there. That first mission, the one Dubenich hired them for. Eliot was reluctant to work even one job, but afterward…
Afterward he was practically begging to stay.
"Give me one mission," Nate bargained, his confidence regained. "Just one. You already said being the good guy gets under your skin. You enjoyed it, didn't you? At least enough to be willing to give it another chance?"
He seemed to deflate. "I'm a bad guy, Ford. I can't help you."
Nate grinned. "Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys."
Eliot watched him, arms crossed, eyes narrowed. As if he were actually considering it.
"One show only," Nate whispered. "No encores." Nate knew it would be more than that once the hitter actually gave it a try.
Eliot frowned in confusion, but it quickly faded. After a minute, he nodded with finality. "Might as well. It's not like I can go back to Moreau."
Nate could barely contain his sheer joy. Eliot Spencer, one of the most feared people in the world, had left Moreau out of the blue and joined Leverage, Inc. Now more than ever, Nate was convinced this was the way it was meant to be. It would take a while for the team to warm up to him, and in fact, they would likely be opposed to the idea at first. But if even Eliot could come around, so could they.
Eliot didn't leave after the first mission. Or the next. Or the one after that. The other members of the team had been reluctant to trust him, but he threw himself into his work and took more than a few beatings for their sake. Over time, he became an essential part of the team.
Now that Nate had a hitter, he could take on even more dangerous targets. More and more bad guys fell due to the actions of Leverage, Inc., and it wasn't long before Nate was convinced they could take on Moreau himself.
It wasn't easy. Eliot tried to use his old friendship with Moreau to get in without too much trouble, but he ended up in a warehouse facing his greatest nightmare. With the people he had come to regard as second family on the line, he crossed a line he hadn't in a very long time. He took his most hated weapon and killed every single one of Moreau's hitters — including Chapman. It was therapeutic, almost, like he was literally killing his past, and leaving it behind him in that warehouse. The team successfully overthrew the corrupt government of San Lorenzo, put Moreau in prison, and stabilized the country. And Eliot felt an incredible burden lift from his shoulders as the last vestiges of his past life disappeared, and he was completely and only a member of Leverage.
As time went on, Nate had fewer and fewer visions. Sometimes he would have them and could barely tell them from reality, because everything was beginning to merge. It was as if some rift in time was healing. And after the defeat of Moreau, he never had another vision. He didn't need them, though. His team was back together, and he knew that was all he needed.
As he watched the hitter banter back and forth with the rest of the team, he couldn't help but think of the words of one of Eliot's old country songs…
If you can walk away from a crash and burn, you'll appreciate every step you earn.
Eliot had earned his redemption, had earned his place on the team, and had earned his way into the hearts of all of its members. Just like Nate had seen, Eliot was no longer their most dangerous threat but was their beloved protector.
And Nate knew, deep down, that all was as it should be.
A/N: The song mentioned is Clint Black's "Half Way Up."