[CW: mentions of sequestration, physical abuse, injuries, non-graphic description of a cut and stitches]
This is my first Leverage fic. It's a short AU and missing scenes from the pilot episode, meant to be the setting for a much longer series spanning the entire series and beyond, which will be Eliot-centered.
Every Chance We Get
Nate sits back and goes over the files Dubenich has provided him one more time, looking for flaws in his plans. He is relaxing in an armchair in the hotel suite the man provided him with yesterday when he agreed to take the job, since Nate missed his plane as a result. Nate has taken advantage of the fully-equipped minibar to get himself some more whiskey while he waits for the other members of his new crew to arrive.
Eliot Spencer is the first to walk in. Nate has been through all kinds of emotion since he saw his name in Dubenich's files, not sure what to think about him. He has chased both Alec Hardison and the mysterious Parker, but Eliot is the one he has real history with.
It's not a peaceful history. From their first meeting, over seven years ago, when Nate rescued at the last minute the couple Eliot was trying to eliminate and almost got himself killed in the process, to their last encounter, most of their interactions have been fraught with pain and fear. Even when they ended up working together on retrievals, the circumstances never allowed for a light-hearted friendship.
And Nate doesn't know how to feel about the fact that the last time he saw Eliot, almost four years ago, he left the retrieval specialist lying in a hospital bed with a body broken beyond repair, dealing with the aftermath of two months of torture at the hands of his former employer, screaming at Nate that he should have left him to die.
Before yesterday, Nate had no idea whether he was even still alive. He did some research as soon as he saw Eliot's name, and it looks like he got back into the game right after Sam got sick and Nate stopped caring enough to keep himself informed. Very little else is said about him, only that he still is one of the best retrieval specialists in the world. So Nate has no idea what to expect.
Eliot looks just like he did before. His hair is longer and his face a little older, but those are the only obvious differences. He walks in with the calm demeanor that has always been his signature and there is no hesitation in his steps when he goes straight to Nate.
"Nathan Ford," he says, coolly but with no animosity.
"Eliot. It's been a while."
Nate almost wants to smile, like greeting an old friend, but he catches himself. They have never been friends, always on different sides of the law in what seemed an irreconcilable way, back then. But they have been through rough times together, and even rougher times since they last saw each other, and now they are supposed to be on the same side for the job.
"Yeah. Listen, I heard about your kid. I'm sorry," Eliot says, his voice turning softer.
The sentence provokes strong feelings in Nate, and he chokes on his drink. How can Eliot Spencer, who has killed so many innocent people, talk to him about Sam? There was a time when Eliot would not have thought about it twice if he had been sent to murder Nate's whole family.
"You don't know anything about that," he snaps.
But instead of reliving Sam dying in this hospital bed, like he always does these days, Nate remembers the young man who came to him defeated, running from his former employer because he refused to keep killing people. The same young man who came so close to being tortured to death when they caught up with him, and who payed so dearly for his change of heart. Nate relaxes minutely, surprised.
"Everybody knows," Eliot says. "Guy like you goes off the streets, a lot of people notice. And it was a bad story too."
Eliot looks genuinely sad. Nate tries to catch his eyes, but can't quite manage.
"What about you?" he asks instead. "I see you recovered well enough."
"Yeah, mostly," Eliot says with something on his face that looks halfway between a smile and a grimace.
"At least you're back in business, right? 'Cause it didn't look like that would ever happen, back there."
"I didn't think it would be possible, for a while. But you know, you can always adapt." Eliot waves his right hand, showing him what he is holding. Nate takes a sharp breath in surprise. He has not paid attention to it so far, but now that he looks, he recognizes a folded white and red cane.
"You're still...blind?" he asks hesitantly.
"Yeah. Hasn't changed."
No one was able to conclusively tell Eliot, back at the hospital when Nate was still there, whether he would ever be able to heal or regain his sight, only saying that the prospect did not look great. Nate feels a sudden rush of guilt that he never came back after Eliot threw him out. Has he gone through the recovery all alone?
"And you can still work?" he asks.
"I wouldn't be here if I couldn't."
"Right." In his research last night, Nate saw nothing indicating that Eliot is any less good than he was before, if you discount the year-and-a-half long gap where he lay under the radar. It does not seem to be common knowledge that he is blind, and it's likely most of his clients don't even know.
Nate tries to get back on track, away from the shock and grief. "Okay, then. Since I'm going to be planning the job, I'll need you to tell me where to make adjustments for this."
"As long as you don't plan on me driving, I should be fine, but sure," Eliot says, coming closer. He reaches down to find the back of the other armchair and bends to check that it is empty before sitting down, tucking his cane into his jacket. He looks at Nate, meeting his eyes just as well as if he could see, and smiles wryly. Nate looks away, embarrassed to have been caught staring.
"Let's go over it before the others arrive, then."
Eliot is having fun, betting with himself on how long it will take Parker and Hardison to notice his blindness. Nate has not spilled the beans yet, playing along, though Eliot has felt his stare most of the way from the hotel suite where they met up to when he left them to climb to the roof of the building they are casing.
They have gone over the dozen plans Nate made in case his first idea doesn't work. It seemed like overkill to Eliot, especially since so many of the plans rely on things they have no control over, but Nate was like a fish in water. It seems that for all his years chasing thieves and frauds, his brilliant mind was just waiting for a chance to show off its gift for masterminding cons.
Eliot smirks at the idea, then turns his attention back to what the others are saying, just in time to extend a hand for Hardison to drop something into it when he hears his voice changing direction. He investigates the small item with his fingers and recognizes the shape of an earbud. He carefully puts it in his ear.
"You're not as useless as you look," Eliot says when he hears Hardison's voice like it's inside his head. He doesn't actually know much about what Hardison looks like but this is fun. He can hear Nate's light snort in the com.
While checking he has everything he needs in his bag, he takes the time to make sure the com does not impair his hearing. It does, a little bit, but it should be fine enough just for this job. The click of the bag's metal buckle still tells him all he wants to know, highlighting the metal structure around them and the emptiness of the night from the top of the building.
"Is this thing safe?" he asks anyway. Hardison's ridiculous response makes him growl, but Nate's voice in his ear rattles him much more. Being used to orientate himself by sounds, his brain is immediately confused as to where it comes from, and it's unsettling. This could be a problem if someone starts talking when he needs to concentrate. He shrugs, deciding to cross that bridge when he comes to it.
Eliot hears Parker start running before Hardison does. Her happy shout as she jumps off the building makes him shake his head. She really is crazy.
He follows Hardison until they reach the metal ladder down to the elevator shaft. Nate has told them in details where they are supposed to go, so Eliot just lets Hardison find the right place and climbs down behind him. By the amount of fumbling Hardison does, he suspects there isn't much light to see by anyway.
Parker surprises them both by activating the elevator before they are ready, but after that it's just a game of listening carefully and following Hardison as close as possible.
When they reach the server room they want to break into, Eliot puts down the bag where it won't bother him later and positions himself in the middle of the corridor, where he can best watch out for any danger while Hardison does his work on the electronic lock.
He hears the security guards coming two corridors away. They are not exactly being discreet, running in heavy boots and yelling to each other, and he is expecting them. He already knows from Nate that there are four of them, but it's easy to check that they have not been joined by others.
"Eliot, what I want you to do is clear the zone," Nate says. "And use Hardison as bait."
"Then just stay quiet," Eliot murmurs. He needs as much concentration as possible if he is going against four armed guys. It would not do to miss a clue because one of the others is talking his ear off.
Hardison doesn't stop speaking, of course, he had talked almost non-stop ever since they have been introduced, but it's actually a good thing since it allows Eliot to keep track of where he is. He starts to worry when he hears Hardison pick up the bag and move, but his plan is already in motion: the four guards have arrived right where he wants them. He counts his steps to get exactly between two of them and strikes.
None of the four have time to move from their battle formation, and none of them fight back. In under ten seconds, they're all down. Eliot listens for another five seconds to check they are not getting back up and throws the gun he lifted off the first guard behind his shoulder, the clip falling close to his feet. He carefully takes note of where each of the bodies lies around him, taking advantage of the clear sound of the gun hitting the floor to echolocate with precision, so he won't trip over them.
He smiles at Hardison who, given that he has now been silent for over thirty seconds, is probably eyeballing him. "That's what I do," he says with a smile.
The door beeps and opens before Hardison can answer, and then he stops paying attention to Eliot as they approach it.
The server room gives off strange feedback. It sounds like a corridor, but the walls reflect sound too much to be made of plaster or wood. Eliot understands when he walks in and touches the closest wall. It is not a wall, but a glass case, behind which he assumes are the computer servers. Hardison is now in his element, so Eliot goes back out to tie up the guards and drag them in.
"Guys, guys, you've got to talk to me, okay? 'Cause I don't know what's going on!" Nate says though the com. Eliot snorts, recognizing the feeling: Nate hates being blind. He hears Nate's apologizing laugh under Hardison's answer when he realizes what is funny.
Eliot just has to follow Hardison's voice again on the way out. As long as he stays a step behind, it works fine. Voice is not the best sound for echolocation, but the corridors in a building with that much security are designed to be run in and offer little cover, so they are large and empty, with no badly placed steps to stumble on or door frames to run into. Eliot would normally have used his white cane anyway for safety, but he is having a lot of fun keeping Hardison, so to say, in the dark.
As he hears Parker announce that their exit is blown, he prepares to bolt. Just because he has accepted to work with a team does not mean he's willing to go down for them. But he is also in a strange building, with a security system he has not had a chance to fully case out, and Nate is the one who has the blueprints.
He figures his best chance is to go down and take out the four other guards. It will be much harder than the first men, now that they are fully warned of the breach, but he can take them by surprise if he plays his cards well.
Then he remembers the plans he and Nate have discussed. Nate took advantage of checking his ideas work when including Eliot's blindness as a factor to pick his brain about Eliot's own specialty: making it out of tight situations. That's the main difference between a heist and a retrieval job. A heist usually has an exit plan built in, and it is pulled as a whole. But retrieval is done in two part: going in and getting the object you've been hired to retrieve, and then getting out. And getting out safely usually means making it up along the way.
Except that when Eliot has to get out, it's normally on his own, or if he is retrieving a person, with someone willing to follow his lead. He doesn't know how to account for two other independent people with crazy ideas of their own.
Apparently Nate does.
"I need you to hold it together for seven more minutes," he says. Eliot swears to himself that he'll kill the man if he gets caught in those seven minutes. "We're going with the burn scam."
Eliot nods. It's one of the ideas they discussed, which has the advantage of relying purely on confidence, rather than violence. Despite his ability to fight, beating up people is always messy and should never be the first choice, as far as Eliot is concerned.
He follows Hardison to the elevator and they start rummaging through their bags to find their change of clothes. Eliot hears Hardison's slight gasp of surprise when Parker enters and and he is puzzled for a moment until he figures out from the sounds that she has started undressing on the spot. He turns away for good measure and concentrates on getting his tie on.
He lets Hardison do Parker's burn makeup by busying himself with the knee brace, then puts Parker's arm around his shoulder. It works with their act, but it is also perfect since he can let Parker guide him out that way without her even knowing.
It is a good thing, because with his concentration divided he might have missed the low metal post his knee brushes against, or ran into the revolving doors. Eliot hates revolving doors. They are awfully hard to hear accurately.
Nate is waiting for them in a car outside. He drives them a mile from the building, to be safely away when the security guards are found, and they debrief in a small park out of the way, where no one will witness their little group. Hardison sends the data they have stolen to the address Nate gives him, and they all go their own way, with a promise of payment by the next morning.
Eliot waits for Hardison and Parker to be out of his hearing range before he goes through his bag to find his cane and his phone. He unfolds the cane with a flick of his wrist and listens carefully. He can feel Nate's stare at his back again.
"Want a ride home?" Nate asks. Of course. Nate, being the good guy that he is, would not leave the blind man on his own on a random sidewalk, even after Eliot has proved himself perfectly able to take care of himself. Eliot smiles. "Sure." His hotel is halfway across town and it will certainly be easier than calling a taxi at this time of the night.
Eliot gets little more than an hour of sleep in his hotel room, as is customary for him whenever he is in a strange place. He has been up for several hours doing Tai Chi and booking his flight home when he gets the call. Dubenich is not going to pay them because he has not received the designs. He wants to meet them all in a company warehouse outside of town. This makes no sense to Eliot and he doesn't like it, but he does want to get paid, so he calls a taxi.
He has the cab pull up right outside the warehouse entrance. He walks in slowly with his cane swiping widely in front of him, not knowing what to expect. The place sounds hollow. It's empty, not just of people, but actually abandoned. This makes even less sense: why would Dubenich want to meet them here?
Eliot stays close to the door, out of the way where he can touch the wall at his back and hear anyone coming. He folds his cane and slides it into his jacket, to have his hands free in case he needs to fight.
He hears Hardison's voice before he hears his footsteps, but he doesn't quite foresee the gun pressed to his temple. "You want to tell me what happened to the designs?"
"What makes you think I know what happened?" Eliot snaps. "Stupid." He slowly raises his hand to push the gun away and starts retreating into the room.
He almost laughs when Hardison starts accusing him of somehow stealing the files from him. How would he have done that? Hardison had the flash drive the whole time, as far as he knows. Hell, he doesn't even know where the man kept it!
By the echoing sounds of their voices, they are now in the middle of the warehouse. Eliot hears another set of footsteps coming their way and tenses, but Nate announces himself by yelling before he can do anything.
"Did you do it?" Eliot asks immediately, now sufficiently riled up to start really losing his cool. The situation is playing havoc with his instincts and he doesn't like it. "You're the only one who's ever played both sides."
"Yeah, you seem pretty relaxed for a guy with a gun pointed at him."
"Safety's on," Eliot mutters. That's why he was surprised to feel the gun on his face.
After taking the gun from Hardison, Nate asks, "You armed?"
Eliot just raises an eyebrow at him. "I don't like guns."
It's probably not what Nate wants to know, but Eliot has no reason to give him anything more. And he could, technically, use a gun, though it is true he doesn't like them. They're just too hard to control. He has trained himself to shoot accurately with echolocation, just in case he ever needs it, but he would rather level the playing field by fighting with his bare hands.
Parker would not, apparently, and she actually knows how to use the weapon. The sound of her cocking her gun is almost deafening in the empty warehouse. Listening with one hear to Nate talking her down, Eliot starts to put the pieces together in his head. None of them had a good reason to sabotage this job. So why has Dubenich not received the plans? And why would he have them all meet him here, and not be there when they arrived? They had done their part, he is supposed to do his. Unless…
Nate and Eliot come to the same conclusion at the same time: Dubenich needs them all here to eliminate them.
Eliot doesn't have time to orientate himself or get his cane out before they all start running. He tries to keep track of Nate and follow him closely, but he crashes right into the stairs up to the closing gate with a pained groan.
Nate must have remembered Eliot can't see where he is going, because he feels a hand grab him by his jacket and pull him up. Eliot runs up the stairs with difficulty and tries to get to the door, but Nate pulls them both down just as the room explodes. Eliot instinctively wraps himself around Nate's body, pulling their faces together, and tries to protect his exposed ears with his hands. The last thing he feels is the strength of the blast that throws them against the wall.
Eliot wakes up in the hospital. He has been in enough hospital beds to recognize one immediately, however battered and disoriented he feels. He can hear machines beeping, though none in the room he is in, which means he's not in the ICU, and people walking up and down the corridor. Hardison's voice is coming from somewhere above, but it sounds somewhat distant. Eliot can't quite figure out where the man is.
Since no threat seems to be jumping at him, Eliot stays still and starts by taking stock of his body. He feels fine overall, though his left shoulder feels like it's bruising rapidly. He's still dressed in his shirt and pants, but doesn't have his jacket on, and most of the pain is coming from his right forearm. He closes his fingers to find his hand bandaged and hisses when it pulls at the injury.
A few clicks of his tongue tell him everything he needs to know about the room he is in. There is another bed on his right, and the door is to his left toward the foot of the bed. There is a smaller sound shadow toward the back of the room, probably a chair, too small to have a person in it. Eliot is reasonably sure he is the only one awake in the room.
Eliot tries to sit up, but his left arm snags when he raises it. It's handcuffed to something, most likely the bed rail. Eliot's breathing speeds up immediately and he swears. He hates being restrained.
Hardison stops ranting at his swearing. "Eliot, you there?" he asks instead.
"Yeah," Eliot says. His voice sounds rough even to his ears, his throat dry from whatever smoke he inhaled.
"You okay? You were bleeding when the ambulance took you."
"I'm fine. Have they processed us yet?"
"Yeah, they just left. Is Nate here with you?"
Eliot pauses. His echolocation is not quite good enough to tell for sure if someone is in the other bed as long as they're immobile, and even then he has no way to know whether or not it is Nate. He opens his mouth to say so, figuring there is little point in hiding his blindness anymore, but Nate's voice precedes him.
Metallic clicks tell Eliot that Nate is handcuffed too and has just found out. Nate seems to be panicking, which strangely has the inverse effect on Eliot, calming him down. He is handcuffed to the bed, yes, but it is something he can fix easily enough, and he's not alone. He has been in worse situations before. At least he can move.
"You don't like hospitals," he observes, thinking idly that the last time they saw each other was in a hospital. Eliot doesn't like them either, but hospitals are better than some other places. You don't get hurt in hospitals, usually.
"Not much," Nate sighs.
"It's about time!" Parker's voice comes from the same place as Hardison's did. Eliot turns his head again, trying to figure it out. The source is somewhere high on the wall behind the beds.
"Air vent," Nate murmurs, understanding his confusion. "They're in the room beside us."
Eliot nods to him in thanks. He sits up cross-legged in the bed, since he can't lower the railing because of the handcuffs, to be able to look at his right arm with his bound hand. His right sleeve has been pulled up to his elbow, and the dressing goes up his wrist and most of his forearm. Going by the pain, it covers a fairly deep stitched-up wound. Eliot sighs. This is going to make using his cane much harder.
He finds his jacket slung on the foot of the bed. His cane is thankfully still in the pocket, though his phone is gone. He can't put the jacket back on with the handcuffs, but he runs his hand down the fabric to check for damage. The right sleeve is ripped, but not so badly that it would be immediately visible. It's probably not salvageable though, even if there is no blood on it, of which Eliot is less than sure.
He keeps an ear on Nate and Hardison arguing on how to get out of there. Eliot has been thinking it over and he knows he can't take all the cops and hospital staff when he doesn't know the layout of the hospital. He quickly figures out that none of them can get out on their own, except perhaps Parker.
"Look guys, here's your problem," Nate says. "You all know what you can do, I know what all you can do, so that gives me the edge."
"I don't trust these guys," Parker sulks.
"Do you trust me?"
Eliot smiles. "Of course," he says. "You're an honest man."
And Nate has gotten him out of a much worse situation before. Eliot doesn't know if he can trust this new, bitter Nate with anything else, but he will trust him to get them out.
"So the trick is to give them what they want. They're expecting a phone call, right?" Nate says.
He presses the phone Parker passes him into Eliot's hand, reaching over the gap between their beds. Eliot gives Nate an annoyed look and pushes it back into his hands. He can't use a phone without a screen reader. "Right," Nate apologizes. He punches a few buttons and hands it back.
Pretending to be a cop on the phone is easy enough, and Eliot very much enjoys listening to Nate invent a perfect cover on the spot, he who keeps insisting he's not a thief. Five minutes later Hardison is there to take them to the police car that has been nicely provided for them by the local police. Eliot takes advantage of the situation to let Hardison guide him out, though he almost snaps when Hardison bangs his head on the car's door frame. But then, Hardison still doesn't know that he can't see it.
After ditching the car, Hardison leads them to his own apartment, a large, open-floor place in which Eliot is careful not to move around too much. He can hear what sounds like pillars, and possibly steps in the middle of the room, and he doesn't trust himself not to trip on something.
As soon as they are safely inside, Hardison hands them each plane tickets to get out of the city, though Eliot's is useless to him until he gets someone to read him the information printed on it.
The job is a failure, and people in their business know when to let go. Dubenich tried to kill them, which makes Eliot angry, but sometimes you have to accept a loss. Dubenich will be well protected. Their fingerprints are still in the system, because pretending to be the FBI is just that: pretending. It does not erase prints that have already been processed. They will get their revenge another day. Or, more likely, whichever of them gets there first will get their revenge, since they don't plan on seeing each other again.
Except that Nate suddenly wants to run a con on the man. And Eliot really wants to see that. Nate was very good as an insurance investigator, but there is something about seeing him on the other side, not chasing thieves but being one. In this new role, the man is truly brilliant.
It's different. It's exciting. It's maybe worth spending a little more time with these crazy people Eliot is almost starting to like.
Eliot makes it through another night, including a god-awful play at the theater and meeting Nate's grifter friend Sophie Devereaux, without Hardison or Parker noticing his blindness, but Sophie figures it out about two minutes after she gets to Hardison's apartment.
The loft is hard to navigate, so Eliot has been careful. At this point, he is not actively trying to hide that he can't see, but he has not taken his cane out, wanting to know how long it will take Hardison or Parker to figure it out. Sophie beats them to it.
But Sophie, despite the awful acting, is an excellent grifter, so she also understands immediately what he is doing. Instead of saying anything, she guides him discreetly to the couch and sits beside him, bumping his shoulder to let him know she's willing to play along.
Which means that the next morning at their briefing, when Nate starts giving them roles in the new con, Parker and Hardison still don't know.
"Hardison, we'll need you to handle the technology from here. Parker, you'll slip into Dubenich's office to plant the microphones. Eliot… Damn, you can't actually do the IT technician, can you?"
"Well if it requires using a screen, it might be a bit complicated," Eliot says.
"Why wouldn't you be able to use a screen?" Hardison asks. "I can walk you through it, we just need to keep the girl's attention away from the office."
"Actually, I can probably do better," Eliot says. "She seems like a helpful girl. What do you think she would she do if a blind guy walked into her office looking lost?"
"Oh, perfect," Nate says without a pause. "Yes, yes, of course, she would guide you wherever you want to go, right?"
"But can you pull it off, Eliot? It's a pretty tough role," Sophie says, a smirk in her voice.
"Well, if I can pull off being sighted well enough for Hardison and Parker, there should be no problem, right?" Eliot holds back his laughter. He hears Parker's surprised inhale.
"Wait, man, what?" Hardison exclaims. Eliot just pulls his folded cane out of his jacket and waves it at him. "You're blind?"
Eliot smirks at his shock. "Yeah," he confirms.
He feels Parker lean toward him and the air moving in front of his face. "Yes, Parker, I really can't see you waving your hand," he says. People do this often enough for him to know exactly what it feels like.
"Then how did you know I was doing it?" Parker asks, completely unembarrassed.
"It makes sound move differently."
"It does?" Her voice comes in bursts, like she is doing it in front of her own face to check. "I can't hear anything different."
"That's because you don't know how to listen," Eliot says.
So Eliot puts on some sunglasses and goes into the assistant's office behind Sophie, trying to look as lost as possible. They need the woman to be distracted while Parker goes to plant a microphone in Dubenich's office, so Nate picked the spot furthest from her office for Eliot to pretend he has to get to. The young woman is, in fact, very helpful and guides him all the way there, even reluctant to leave him on his own.
Few people refuse to help a blind man looking lost. A great many people actually try to help Eliot even when he is not lost, grabbing his arm when he waits to cross a street without even asking. Eliot has long had to curb his reflex to consider any unexpected contact a threat and immediately grab whoever touches him by the throat.
Parker comes to collect Eliot in the lobby when she's done. He has made his way back with little trouble, simply asking a second person for his way. His orientation is good enough that he could have found his own way, but the corridors were busy: it took less than a minute before someone came over to ask if he wanted help.
Parker announces herself by tapping his shoulder, though he has picked out her quiet, dancing gait from across the lobby.
"So, how do I become your guide dog?" Parker asks.
"I don't need a dog, Parker," Eliot said, willing to be patient because Parker's lack of shame is rather refreshing. Most people will beat around the bush, trying not to reference his blindness directly, but Parker doesn't hesitate to ask questions. That the questions she asks are somewhat unexpected, he can deal with. "I don't really need a guide, either, but it's better if I can keep track of you."
"And how do you do that?"
Eliot figures it can't hurt to teach her properly, even if they never see each other again after this job. He shoves his cane under his arm to have his hands free. "Give me your hand."
"The right. There, if you do that−" Eliot uses his right hand to tap hers against the back of his left hand. "− then I know to take your elbow." He does just that, then takes his cane again. "Now you can walk normally and I'll follow. I'm using my cane, so this is just to know where you are. I can also listen for your footsteps, but you're light and there's too much noise around for that to be easy."
Parker starts walking slowly, then faster when she sees he is following without trouble. "What do I do if there's a door?"
"Tell me. Then if we can't go through side by side, you put your arm behind your back and I'll step behind."
"Like this?" They have reached the entrance doors and Eliot feels her arm shift. "Yes, but do it earlier next time, so I have time to get behind you," he says. He heard the automatic door open and found the threshold with his cane, or he would have walked right into the door jamb.
"Sorry," Parker says.
"It's okay, that's why I'm not letting you actually guide me."
"This is kind of fun!" Parker exclaims as she leads him onto the sidewalk. Eliot smiles. This is not the reaction he usually gets.
They walk down the road toward Sophie's car to wait for her. As he feared, Eliot is getting jolts of pain in his bandaged hand every time his cane swipe changes direction. He is having trouble keeping his cane at the right angle as well, since his wrist won't bend all the way, so the cane handle snags into his stomach when it bumps on obstacles. Eliot considers briefly whether he can trust Parker enough to let her guide him all the way, but he decides against it. He likes his independence.
"So, how does it look?" Parker asks when they have climbed into Sophie's car, Eliot in the passenger seat and Parker in the back.
"How does what look?"
"Being blind. Is it all dark? I was afraid of the dark when I was small."
Eliot smiles. Once more, this is a question he is asked often enough, but Parker has her own way of going at it. "No, it's not really dark," he answers. "Just...nothing, I guess. It's kind of hard to explain."
"Like when you close you eyes? But wait, you wouldn't know, would you?"
"I wasn't born blind, Parker," Eliot answers patiently. "And no, it's not really like that. You can still see light when you close your eyes, that's why most people sleep in dark rooms."
Parker is silent for a moment.
"I can still see where the sun is through the window when my eyes are closed," she says after a while. "But you can't?"
"No, I can't."
"Then if you can't see the light, it can't be dark either, right?"
"That's right," Eliot laughs.
Parker really is something else. She is like a small child, all excited because she has figured this out. Eliot can hear her hands flapping, and his smile widens even more.
"I like it when you laugh," she says after a while. Eliot shuts his mouth and scowls.
They collectively decide to stay holed up in Hardison's apartment again until their con goes down the day after tomorrow. None of them except Sophie can go back to their hotel, and there are probably Wanted posters with their faces on them by now in the local police department, so it's safer this way.
Eliot is just figuring out the layout of the place, because it still doesn't make much sense to him. There are a bunch of steps in the middle of the main room, between the pillars, and he tends to run into them if he forgets to pay special attention. Steps are not the easiest thing to hear through echolocation and his cane is just not practical indoors, swiping five feet in front of him. He's good at mapping places out in his head, but not good enough that he avoids stumbling on the damn steps every time.
Having asked her questions, Parker goes right back to her own world, leaving Eliot alone. But Hardison has been tentative with him since he learned of his blindness. Eliot is not sure whether the man is still annoyed at having been conned for a while and is trying to catch Eliot somehow making a faux pas, to prove he's not really blind, or if he is just this uncomfortable when faced with disability.
In the end, Eliot gets tired of waiting for him to come around and goes to him, sitting beside him in front of the computer screens. "What is it?" he asks.
"What's what?" Hardison sounds guarded.
"You haven't said a word to me since we came back, and you've been trying not to look at me."
"How do you even know that?" Hardison says defensively. This is good, it means he is reacting hotly, not thinking about what he says too much. It beats him watching his every word because he's afraid to say something wrong.
"I'm blind, not stupid," Eliot says. "You keep scrambling to get out of my way every time I come close to you. You don't need to treat me differently just because I can't see. I can take care of myself."
"Sorry," Hardison says sheepishly. "I've just never been around someone who's blind before."
Eliot nods. So it's just general awkwardness, not some convoluted ableist nonsense. However annoying Hardison's geeky, no-care-in-the-world persona is, he has at least the merit of being frank.
"How did you do it?" Hardison asks after a pause.
"How did I do what?"
"Pretend you could see. I didn't notice a thing."
"You were too busy to pay attention," Eliot answers. "Most people only see what they expect to see. That's why I couldn't fool Sophie, it's her job to notice these things."
"But you did everything right. I've been thinking about it, and I can't remember a moment when you looked lost or you missed some visual cue."
"I just listen. I can get an idea of what's around me by listening to the way sounds bounces on things."
"You mean like a sonar?"
"Yeah, pretty much. It's called echolocation. You can look it up."
Hardison types something on his keyboard. Eliot waits patiently while he presumably reads whatever he's found, though he doubts Hardison remembers that screens are no use to him.
"So how much do you hear?" Hardison asks after a while.
Eliot hesitates. He doesn't usually discuss his abilities and limits with anyone, if only because he often relies on being underestimated. But what are the chances that they will meet again after this job and be on opposite sides, or that Hardison could use Eliot's disability to his advantage? They might both be part of the criminal world, but they have very different jobs. There is a reason they have never crossed paths before. Eliot mentally weights that with the benefit of Hardison being much more comfortable with him for the rest of the job, and decides it's worth the risk.
"It's not exactly rocket science," he says. "I can tell more or less how big the room is, and where the pillars and bigger pieces of furniture are. But their shapes ain't really precise, so I have to guess what they are."
"Okay." Hardison now sounds curious rather than embarrassed, so that's progress. "But you still use a white cane?"
"There's a lot of things that are hard to hear, like curbs or holes in the ground. And I use the metal tip to give me the sound I need for echolocation. It also keeps most people from running into me thinking I'm going to step aside."
"Oh. Then why didn't you use it the last few days?"
"I needed to prove I could handle myself, didn't I? And, you know, it was fun watching you and Parker completely miss it!"
Hardison groans. Eliot smirks at him and escapes his good-natured punch in the shoulder by standing up and walking away.
After dinner, for which they order take-out again, Eliot finds himself sitting down beside Nate on the couch. Nate has proposed a game of pool, taking advantage of the table, but Hardison is behind his screens again, and Parker has scattered who knows where. Sophie has gone to get her things from her hotel and is not back yet. Nate turns hopefully to Eliot as his last chance, but Eliot just gives him a look. He can hear Nate's sigh when he realizes that playing pool actually requires sight.
Eliot hesitates to start a serious conversation. Since he showed up in Nate's hotel room two days ago, all of their exchanges have been tainted with grief and guilt, and they should get that out of the air if they want to work together any further, but Eliot isn't sure how this is going to go.
Eliot truly feels bad for Nate. He is not the same man he was before the death of his son. The gifted, self-confident insurance investigator Eliot met years ago through the scope of a sniper rifle has become a broken, drunken man without a job or a family.
Being told Nate would be the one running this job is the only reason Eliot even showed up. He hasn't heard anything about the man since the death of his son, and Eliot still owes Nate his life. But seeing Nate in person, with his deep-seated grief that comes out in the manic edge of his voice, it's different from what he imagined this reunion was going to be.
"You seem better than when we started," Eliot says in the end, cracking open his beer. He is not entirely sure what Nate is doing, since he doesn't seem to be turning the pages of a book or handling papers, and nothing is playing on the TV. He offers a second beer to Nate, then shrugs and puts it back down when Nate makes no move to take it. "And that bothers you, huh?" he adds.
"I… Well, I mean, this isn't supposed to feel..." Nate hesitates.
"Good?" Nate doesn't respond, so Eliot continues. "It's not that hard to figure out. Dubenich screwed you. He cheated by stealing from that other company and your good guy brain sees him as the bad guy. Your conscience is clear."
Nate is fundamentally a good guy, and his former job meant he defined himself as the opposite of the criminals he chased. Even if he is enjoying this job, he will never see himself as a thief. Personally, Eliot thinks he is just lying to himself, given how good he is at this, but it's none of his business.
But even when they were on opposite sides of the law, and Nate made his disapproval of Eliot's choices clear every time they met, he didn't hesitate to go digging when Eliot disappeared in the middle of one of their long games of cat and mouse. And Eliot would not be here today if he had not.
"Listen, I never thanked you for saving my life that day," he says more quietly. Quite the contrary, the last time Nate came to visit him in the hospital, Eliot hurled all kinds of abuse at him. He had his reasons, none of which were actually Nate's fault, but it's no wonder Nate never contacted him again.
"You weren't in any state to do it." The grief is back in Nate's voice.
"Maybe not. But still, thank you. If you hadn't pulled me out of that basement..." Eliot shudders.
"You're welcome. I just wish I'd found you faster."
Eliot nods. It took almost two months for Nate to track down where his captors were holding him. He arrived at the last moment, when Eliot was already hanging between life and death, his body damaged beyond repair.
It suddenly clicks in his mind. Nate's hesitation the last few days, the hint of sadness in his voice that's only there when he's watching Eliot, different than the rough despair that stays buried underneath, it's the mirror image of what Eliot has been feeling himself toward him. Nate is seeing his blindness and mourning the man he once knew, who was whole and healthy.
Eliot is both annoyed and strangely touched. He is tired of people assuming that being disabled makes him somehow less, diminished, and it's much worse when it comes from someone he respects. Pity is something he cannot stand.
But then Nate is the one person who saw him at his worst, who has even a vague idea of the price he's paid to get where he is now. In some ways, it's a wonder he can still stand to look at Eliot, let alone care enough to feel compassion for him.
"I'm okay, Nate, really," he says. "It was rough for a while, but I've made my peace with it."
He stomps down on the reflex to flex his hand, which always comes when these particular memories surface, and he fiddles instead with his bottle's cap.
"I see that. You were…impressive, last night."
The hesitation says more than Nate's actual words, but Eliot is not sure he wants to stick around for the questions that are sure to come from it.
"Well, I'm glad you're enjoying being on my side, for once," he teases as an evasion.
"Eliot, you and I are not friends." Nate's tone is annoyed, but also just a little fond.
"Right," Eliot says with a smile. "'Cause you have so many of them."
Showering the next morning, Eliot decides he really needs to change the dressing on his arm. With everything going on, he had almost forgotten about it, but he still doesn't really know what's underneath the bandage, having been stitched up while unconscious. They conned their way out of the hospital too fast for him to ask.
He could do it himself, has done it multiple times before, but it would really be better to have a pair of eyes to tell him if there's any sign of infection. And check that none of the stitches have popped, because doing that by touch hurts.
He almost asks Nate, but the thought stirs a memory of lying on a concrete floor with Nate crouched over him, holding his hand and trying to keep him awake while he struggled to breathe. Eliot shivers. Maybe Nate and injury should not be put in the same sentence for now.
Hardison seems the type to swoon at the sight of blood, and Parker is too unreliable to trust with this. It leaves Sophie.
"Hey Sophie, can you help me with something?" Eliot calls, coming out of the bathroom.
"Yes?" Sophie stands up from the couch. Eliot waits until he is sure she's facing him and points to his arm. "Of course. Bathroom?"
"Yeah. Hardison, you have a first-aid kit?"
"Below the bathroom sink," Hardison answers from behind his computer screens.
"Thanks." Eliot walks back into the bathroom and feels around the sink for the cabinet's door handle.
"I'll get it," Sophie says, coming in after him.
Eliot restrains himself from snapping that he can do it, because he's fairly sure Sophie doesn't think him incapable. He steps instead back to give her access to the sink and sits down on the stool by the door. He pats the bandage to find the tape holding the end and starts unrolling it, but it snags with a twinge of pain after only a couple of turns. Blood must have soaked through.
Sophie drags a second stool beside him and takes over, taking his hand in her own and spraying hydrogen peroxide to make the bandage come loose. She is very gentle and surprisingly competent, and although letting her touch him like that makes Eliot's skin crawl, in no time she has the bandage roll and the compress underneath off his arm and she starts cleaning the wound with antiseptic. Eliot stays stoic throughout, despite the harsh sting of the alcohol.
When she leans back and lets his arm go, he uses his other hand to get a look at the injury. There are stitches going up the side of his hand and halfway to his elbow, in a ragged line that indicates it was not a clean cut. No wonder it hurts. At least it doesn't feel like the wound is infected.
"It doesn't look very good," Sophie says. They told her about the explosion, but she still sounds a bit rattled. "Do you know what caused it?"
"Shrapnel, I guess. I was knocked out by the blast. How many stitches?"
"About thirty, I'd say. It's still bleeding a bit, but none of them look torn, so I'll just change the dressing, alright?"
Eliot nods and hands her back his arm. Sophie catches his left hand before he can wipe it on his pants. "Careful, there's blood on your hand."
"Thanks," Eliot says. The blood must have been mixed with the antiseptic. He leans his elbow on his thigh instead so that his hand stays off anything it might smear blood on and grits his teeth while Sophie bandages his arm again. "You'll be alright?"
"Yeah, it's fine. Thank you."
Eliot gets up to wash up his hand under the sink, then checks the new dressing. It's smoothly made and secure. He hears Sophie throw away the compresses and old bandage tape and shifts to give her space to wash her own hands.
"So, what gave me away?" he asks casually.
His job involves a healthy amount of grifting, and he plays sighted characters often enough. He doesn't usually try to fool people for as long as he did Parker and Hardison, because the longest a grift is, the more demanding it becomes, but he can con most people for a few hours. Sophie needed all of two minutes in close quarters with him to notice.
"I pay attention," Sophie says.
"That doesn't answer my question," Eliot points out.
He can hear Sophie's smile in her answer. "You turn your ear to noises instead of your eyes. But I wouldn't have figured it out if I hadn't seen your cane sticking out of your jacket."
"Damn," is all Eliot answers. He does tend to forget to look at things with his eyes, now. Eye contact has never been his forte, even before his blindness, but he usually remembers to turn his head in the right direction when someone talks to him, if only because it makes people uncomfortable when he doesn't. But if he hears, say, a microwave beeping, like the other day when Hardison made popcorn for their debrief, he might forget to look for the source of the noise with his eyes, like sighted people would. Eliot files it in his memory for later. Sophie really is observant.
"It was a good act, though," she says. "I'm sure you have it in you to be a solid grifter. You just need to work at this a little more."
The rest of the job goes amazingly well, given how it started. Perhaps it's because Sophie is truly impressive, once she is in her element. Or perhaps Nate is just that good at playing the mastermind criminal. Either way, Eliot is still piecing Nate's full plan together when they pick Sophie up from her shoe shopping spree to meet Nate in yet another park.
He hangs casually onto Sophie's elbow as they banter. He doesn't actually let her guide him but he is more relaxed than he ever is out in the streets on his own. Sophie gave him her arm the right way without hesitating, making Eliot wonder again if she's been around other blind people before.
Eliot almost jumps at Hardison's throat when the hacker hands him, for the second time, a perfectly useless piece of paper with something printed. After quickly checking that there is nothing on it he can work with, he growls, but none of the others seem to notice. They are busy making surprised noises and listening to Hardison infodumping on stock market fraud.
"This is the score," Parker says. "The score."
For Parker to say that, it must be something. But Eliot is still just as clueless. He assumes the sheet of paper in his hand is a check or something similar, but that doesn't tell him anything.
"Age of the geek, baby!" Hardison jokes.
"Well, your age of the geek would do better to stop giving me printed stuff!" Eliot snaps. He hates feeling left out.
"Oops, sorry!" Hardison exclaims. "It's a proof of wire transfer. Money's already in your account."
"Okay, but that doesn't tell me what you're so excited about."
"It's a lot of money," Sophie says, sounding both elated and embarrassed.
"Just check your phone," Hardison says.
Eliot does with a scowl, quickly putting the earphone in his hear to listen to the text Hardison just sent him. When he hears the number, he understands. There are some things you just don't say out loud.
"Somebody kiss this man so I don't have to," he says with a grin. But he also punches Hardison in the shoulder for his trouble.
"So, we're out. I mean, we're out, this is retirement money," Hardison says.
"Yeah, uh, pleasure working with you," Nate says.
The mood has suddenly gone from excited to strangely melancholy.
"One show only. No encores," Eliot says reluctantly.
They have been damn good, but they are all solitary people. They couldn't work together for long. If they keep going, they will be stepping on each other's toes within days.
"I already forgot your name," Parker says.
But then why does it feel so wrong? Why does Eliot suddenly want nothing more than to keep going with this crew?
They really have been damn good. And conning a bad guy, an actual crook, felt different.
And though Eliot would never admit it to anyone, these people have somehow already found a place in his heart.
He wonders idly where they are all going now, especially Nate. Can the man go back to a life exclusively made of depression and alcohol after this?
Eliot feels Nate walk past him, and he has to keep himself from grabbing his arm. But the other three have already started walking away in different directions, and soon Eliot is alone. Sighing, he swipes the floor in front of him a few times, using the taps his cane makes on the pavement to orient himself.
Before he is even out of the open space, a small hand taps the back of his left hand. Eliot grabs the arm almost instinctively, out of habit, though he heard Parker coming. She doesn't say anything when he stops swiping with his cane and only uses it as a bumper, trusting her as a guide, but he can feel the spring in her steps.
Hardison is at his other side seconds later, falling into step with them.
"Let's go find Nate and Sophie," he says.
Eliot smiles. Things will be interesting for a little while longer.
This is the first of a series, but I don't know when the next installment will come. I have a lot written, parts of a dozen short stories at least, as well as several dozen pages of notes spanning the series and five years beyond. But I don't write in order at all, and the second story is still in the works.
This series is fully fleshed in my head. It is technically, and will become, a Librarians crossover where Jake Stone is Eliot's twin brother. I have other potential crossovers in mind (mostly with White Collar) but those won't feature heavily in most stories.
Though I have done a lot of research, I am not blind myself, so I may have made mistakes in Eliot's portrayal here (I hope not, but call me out on it if you know what you're talking about). More about what happened to him will be revealed later, of course.
In this series, apart from being blind, Eliot is also autistic, and so is Parker (though that's basically canon). There are already a couple of great fics featuring an autistic Eliot (seriously, go read them on A03: sad_eyed_lady_of_the_low_lands's My head is an Animal, and most of beckettemory's Leverage stories), from which I have tried not to steal anything but they have likely inspired me in conscious and unconscious ways. I am autistic myself, and I endeavour to portray realistic autistic characters, so don't hesitate to ask if you have questions regarding that aspect of the story.