A long time ago….
She gasped aloud when the light turned on suddenly, even if she knew that Ford was on his way home. As the mastermind squinted, she slowly, agonizingly so, left the chair she had occupied while waiting for him, and put her hands up.
"And who do you happen to be?" He asked, strolling casually towards her, hands in his pockets, chuckling slightly. Nate was a man who, despite his poisons, liked control- craved it, even- and needed to know everything, to read the room and the people inside. And he was quite good at it- that was why, despite not being exactly thrilled by the presence of a stranger in his apartment late at night, right in the middle of a job, he felt somehow… at ease. Because either the casually dressed young woman had no bad intentions, or she had… and she was quite the actress, better that Sophie when she wasn't on a stage.
"Stay out of Pryce's way," She coldly said, never breaking eye-contact, looking dead serious… and maybe, just maybe, a little scared, as she swallowed on the last syllable of the name of Nate's latest victim- a ruthless industrialist who liked money, women, cars and poker and who was also happening to be contaminating the watercourse of a small town outside of Baltimore – Shellock Grove- with the chemical residuals of his furniture factory.
"Really? And why should I do as you say? Miss?" Nate stood before the woman, leaning against the wall, his ankles crossed, lifting quizzically his right eyebrow. "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."
"Listen, it doesn't matter, Okay?" She sighed, and, shaking her head slightly, she lowered her hands and made her way toward the front door. When she was at his side, she stopped, and lowered her voice, almost whispering, her tone stern and firm. "For your sake, and the sake of your friends, stay out of this. Pryce's days are numbered anyway. Shellock wasn't his first sin- but we'll make sure that it will be his last. It's just a question of whether you'll go down with him or not."
"Is that a promise, a menace or just a warning…. Rebecca?" As she heard him saying her name out loud, resolute and sure, she stopped, the doorknob almost burning through the skin of her palm. Cold sweat run down her long neck, and she swallowed, slowly turning to see Nate approaching. "Yes, I know exactly who you are. They call you… the chemist, right? Rebecca Cummings. Daughter to Albert Cummings and sister to Madeline, they are grifters while you are more of a scientist. I know who you are and I know that your father and his team are after Pryce, too. What I don't know yet is why."
She giggled lightly, sighing. "You and your friends, you are nothing like my father. You look for justice- he looks for money. And art. And he has set his eyes on Pryce's artifacts collection. If – when – he'll hear you're meddling in his affairs, he'll not be too nice."
"There are worse ways to hurt a man than to kill him." Nate nodded, mumbling between himself, his lips in a tight line as he looked before himself, at nothing in particular in the dark. "So, your father is interested only in Pryce's personal art collection, we are just interested in his business assets… I'll tell you what, why don't we join forces and make sure that both our teams get exactly what they came for?"
As a red lock of hair fell over her hazelnut eyes, she snickered. "And why would I be interested in helping you?"
"Because you may be your father's daughter, you may be working for him, but you are nothing like your old man." She turned to look at Nate, suddenly sad and feeling raw, naked, exposed, knowing all too well that he was right. She was in her family, and yet had never truly been part of it. She was working for them, not with them, and even after years- even after being raised to be her father's daughter- at heart, she still felt herself, her mother's child, she wanted to make things for others, not just herself. To set thing right. The only reason she had stayed so long was because she had only them left- and because, deep down, she hoped that one day, her father's pupil, Danny, would wake up and suddenly see that the love of his life had been right before his eyes right from the start. "Because, deep down, you know that you are more like us than you'd like to admit."
Tears stung her eyes as she suddenly felt her whole world coming crashing down. It was a truth she had always known, and yet, no one had ever dared to acknowledge it until then, when, brutally honest, Nathan had said the words her heart had whispered her, in the dark, late at night, when she was all alone, for years, but she had never bothered to truly accept.
She let go of the doorknob, and turned to face him. "So, let's hear, what's your plan?"
"You are not going to tell me what was in that perfume you gave me to make Callaghan more susceptible to my ideas, aren't you?"
Becks slowly sipped her favorite drink- Gimlet with vodka instead of gin- and carefully, slowly, savored the cold beverage at closed eyes, licking her lips between mouthfeels so that not even a single drop would go to waste.
"Nope." She chuckled slightly as she inspected the empty Martini glass in the penumbra of the brewery, waving the bartender for another round- her third of the night. Sophie, at her side, kept her mouth close for as long as she could, and just decided to look at her part-time partner in crime and read her- read what was wrong with Becks. In some things, Becks was just like her father, a person who appreciated the finest things in life, and she was never one to turn down a good drink. But she was also calm and collected, in control, and hated being surprised- she wasn't one to chain-drink. Unless there was something utterly wrong with her.
Sophie bit her lips and read Becks as she was a mark. She knew the red-head. There could be only two or three things that would make her drink to forget – a job that hadn't gone according to plan (which wasn't the case), her family (that could be very well be the case, considering how little amicably she and daddy dearest had cut ties when she had started to occasionally assist the so called "Leverage Consulting and Associates") or… a certain man who she seemed to have developed feelings for and, blind to her interest, picked women up as it was business, acting as Becks was his little sister or- God saved his soul- one of the guys.
Sophie sighed, her glass of wine still full on the counter, as she tapped her manicured fingers on the tabletop and studied her friend. Yes, Becks wasn't usually flashy and she did tend to hide herself – a bit like Sophie herself when she played the part of Dr. Karen Ipcress – but, every now and then, she was known to doll herself up a little. And, more important, she was smart and with a good, big heart. And, on top of that, she had betrayed her own family for their own good.
Sophie sighed as she glared at the bartender, daring him to give her friend another drink. Becks didn't need to get drunk and have the hangover of all hangovers came morning. She needed some R&R and a good night's sleep. And maybe a girl's night out- Tara was in town, and maybe, just maybe, it was time to finally introduce the two women. And maybe, just maybe… see if a one night stand could get that certain man out of Beck's head.
"All right petal, I think you had enough." Sophie chuckled as she stole the drink, swallowing it in one gulp so that it wouldn't fall again in Beck's hands. Huge mistake – the vodka burnt her throat, and she couldn't seem to stop coughing and sneezing. "Oh, dear, how in the world can you drink something so awful? I don't understand how you can be still alive!" Sophie dramatically stated, one hand over her heart, taking big breaths, her eyes a little bit glassy.
Beck's smartphone chimed, and, snorting, she took it- she rolled her eyes as she read something, and she grunted in a very unlady-like manner as she slammed the phone over the countertop, face down, the black silicon cover with the white pi facing her. She stared at the thing as it was a monster, as it was about to bite her, her arms crossed as she willed herself not to look at the damn thing once again. "Look, I know it's so wrong on so many levels, but, Sophie, I really need that drink right now."
Sophie moaned, annoyed, eyes closed. She guessed some things couldn't be helped- and Beck's dysfunctional relationship with her relatives was one of them. "So, what did your dad did this time?"
"How do you now it's family-related?" Becks lifted an eyebrow, then, realizing whom she was talking to, and the idiocy of her question, just grinned, shaking her head slightly, her red fringe falling on her eyes. "On second thought, don't tell me. And anyway, it's not really my father. More like Maddie. And Danny. Guy I've been in love back when dad got me and Maddie? Anyway, they are tying the knot- Danny and Maddie, I mean. Because of course I've loved that man ever since we were teens, but could he fall in love with me? Oh, no sir, he went and fall for my bloody perfect twin sister, the tosser. And she knew exactly how I felt for him, and now she wants me to be her bloody maid and day after tomorrow I'm supposed to go to this bloody party and how can I face them and see them…. bathing in happiness, all smug and full of themselves, when… when I'm still all alone?"
"You sound awfully British when drunk, my dear friend. By the way- you are crushing in my guest room- I don't trust you to go back home in one piece after… these." Sophie chuckled a bit evilly, and looked, her dark eyes filled with decision and purpose, at her ally. "You want to get back at them? Why don't you con your little sister? Make her pay for stealing the man of your dreams and trying to rub it into your face."
"Yes!" Becks answered, too quickly for her own good, swallowing, licking her lips. Then, she gasped. "Wait, no, I mean, she is still my sister, and I don't think she really did that on purpose. And Danny… he is great at conning people and when you have to hit people he's your go-to guy, after Eliot of course, but he is kind of oblivious to, you know, everything else, so I'm not exactly sure he knew that I had the hots for him.."
Uh, an hitter oblivious to her feelings for him. Sounds like our dear girl here has a type. And a pattern, Sophie thought to herself.
Leaning her chin on her palm, Sophie pouted, bored already. "Fine. Let's forget vengeance. But, what do you say about… making them die of envy?" Becks leaned towards Sophie. She didn't say a word- just lifted an eyebrow, and listened very carefully, daring her friend to move on with her idea. Yes, Sophie was no Nathan Ford, but there was no one better than her when it came to using her feminine wits to manipulate and con people. "Doll yourself up, and show up with a fascinating man, act as you can't stop being all over each other, that you couldn't care any less about she and Daniel, and you'll see if Madeline dearest still feels like rubbing her marriage into your face."
Becks sobbed lightly, letting her head fall on the table, her forehead damp against the cold marble-like countertop. "And where do I find a man to act the part of the perfect boyfriend? In two days? I'm not going to an escort service just to look good in front of my family!"
If her eyes hadn't been focused on the fake wood, Becks would have seen the shift in Sophie's behavior- how she suddenly stood to attention, her gaze turning mischievous as a plan formed clearly into her mind, as it was happening in real time.
"Oh, no need to call an escort service, my dear. I have a better idea, and this way, I get to play my favorite role! Honey, we are here!" Giggling, exited as a child on Christmas morning, the grifter stood, waving as she saw "her" boys approaching – Nate, Eliot (minus a date for once) and Hardison. As she felt, rather than see, the men approaching, Becks looked cross-eyed at them, lifting her head from the table. She looked at Nate, lifting a quizzical eyebrow in Sophie's general direction, and then she turned to face the raven-haired beauty.
"I thought your favorite thing to do was having Cop and Robber play-dates with Nate. What does it have to do with me? Because I may have dated a cop in the past, and I may admit that Sterling's not half bad, but, I'm not sure I'm in the same things you are. No offense Nate, you are just too smart. It's not an insult. The opposite, actually. It's a known fact- I only like idiots." Becks candidly affirmed. At her back, Nate stood speechless, open-mouthed- as he was outraged- but before he could say a word, Sophie gestured for him to keep his mouth shout, glaring. He just shook his head, annoyed, and puffing and huffing he took the seat next to the Chemist.
"What happened to Becks anyway? Don't get me wrong, but you look worse than the time we conned your dad before he could con our mark." Eliot snickered, patting her on the shoulder- making her groan out loud- as he sipped his beer directly from the neck of the bottle.
Becks met his eyes, and she sighed.
There were days when she really hated Eliot Spencer- too bad they were few and far between.
"Cut her some slack, Eliot. She had three glasses of vodka- that I know of." Sophie, ever the good friend, proud member of the sisterhood, immediately took her side, and gently, and yet resolutely, slapped the former military man on the forearm. "Danny and Madeline are getting married and they want Becca to be a bridesmaid and celebrate their engagement, but she doesn't really feel like going when she doesn't have a plus one… and, for once, I have to say, I agree with her."
"So, what, you are going to call an escort service, hoping that two of the best grifters in the world will fall for it?" Still oblivious to the whole situation, Eliot dared to snicker in his drink, not caring about Sophie's deadly glare, laser-focused on him.
"Well Eliot, as a matter of fact, we are not about to call an escort service. Because you will escort Becca at her sister's engagement party and her wedding."
This time, Eliot didn't simply snicker- his was a good, big, fat laugh, and he barely had the time to swallow his drink before almost die of laugher- he was hysterical, so hilarious he found what in Sophie's mind wasn't a joke at all.
But it was. For him.
Seeing red, suddenly feeling hurt- suddenly ashamed for not having had more pride, her cheeks blushing, her nostrils all but flaring, Becks stood up, and faced Eliot, her lips in a tight line, her eyes burning with tears she was refusing to shed for that callous excuse of a human being who didn't seem to notice that she could get hurt, who treated her like… like she was one of the guys.
Still standing, Eliot took a step back, swallowing, but it wasn't enough - the slap still came, and before he could do or say something – anything at all, really – Becks was already on her way to Nate and Sophie's apartment upstairs, sniffing lightly as she stormed out of the room, her wounded pride down.
Sophie stood up, looking between her hurt friend and her oblivious one, unsure of what to do first- if lecturing Eliot or trying to comfort Becks. In the end, she decided to start with the lecture, and faced Eliot, one hand on her right hip, glaring in silence – Nate found it hilarious, as he usually was the one she directed her killing gaze towards. It was nice, and fun, not being at the end of her glare for once.
But Eliot had faced worse than that- and besides, he was still annoyed for the slap. Massaging his reddening left cheek, he rolled his eyes at the grifter. "C'mon Sophie, no one who knows the two of us would buy that Becks and I are suddenly crazy for each other. Especially Maddie- she knows that her little sis isn't exactly my type. She is a little too…" he paused, musing on his next words. Plain went through his mind, but then, he decided that it was better not to say it at loud. "She is too much of a saint. For someone in our line of work, I mean."
As she face-palmed herself, Sophie groaned. "Eliot, please tell me you didn't sleep with Madeline Cummings…."
"Well, I could tell you I didn't have a one night stand with Maddie if it made you feel better, but," Eliot simply snickered, drinking another mouthfeel of beer. "it would be a lie."
This time, the slap was on his right cheek- and Sophie was much stronger (or madder) than Becks was.
As he looked at Sophie's back as she joined Becks upstairs, still incognizant of the whole ordeal, Eliot looked at Nate and Hardison, open-mouthed, a bit in shock, his arms wide open, wondering what the hell had just happened.
"Oh, don't look at me- I've learnt a long time ago that I have the pants in this relationship only when we are doing a job. Besides, whatever this is, I really don't want to get in the middle of it- I'm too old to sleep on a couch, but whenever Sophie and I argue, she just sends me to the doghouse and my back kills me for days and I'm always cranky because I really don't want to take anything just for some back pain."
"More like insufferable, intractable and abrasive." Hardison mumbled between himself. "And you are an oblivious idiot."
"Did you say something, Hardison?" Eliot grunted, having heard all too well what his supposed friend had just said.
"Me? Nope, No, nothing at all, nada, zip. Actually, you know what? I think I'll be on my way- Parker and Leach were having a family reunion which I really didn't want to be in the middle of, but I think they may be done by now so I'll be on my way back home."
With Hardison already out of the brewery, Eliot, grunting, pinched the bridge of his nose, Nate sipping one Crodino after the other. "I'll have to go to that damn party with Becks, right?"
This time, it was Nate snickering. "If you don't want Sophie to plan your murder? Yes."
"Rise and shine, petal, we have a lot to do and less than forty-eight hours to do so." Her head throbbing as someone was pounding it, Becks shielded her eyes against the painfully bright morning sun coming from Sophie's open curtains. But even worse than the light, was Sophie's voice itself- chipping and high-pitched. "C'mon, we have an appointment at my beautician, and then to an hair-salon and, last but not least, we are going to meet my personal shopper, Victor, and get little old you a whole new wardrobe – just remember that they know me by my alias of Charlotte Prentiss, Duchess of Hanover."
Moaning, Becks hid her head under the soft, feathered pillow, and pouted as she spoke, as she was a little child, and not the grown-up woman she was supposed to. "No. I don't want to. I'll tell Maddie that I'm working on a con with you guys. Or that I've been arrested. I don't want to go to her damn party all alone."
Rolling her eyes, Sophie sighed, and sat next to Becks. She patted the mattress and slowly took the pillow away from her friend's face. "Rebecca, honey, it's okay. Eliot's coming with you. You'll not be alone and you'll be absolutely fabulous."
Still refusing to sit up, Becks pouted, and crossed her arms over her chest, staring at the white ceiling, and the rich and antique chandelier in iron and Venetian glass – as far as she knew, one of Sophie's acquisitions – and the Baroque rose above. It was sort of an eyesore, given that Nate's place was modern, simple, all slick lines, but it was a nice addition. It was how the mastermind and the grifter were putting their lives together- by starting by mixing their styles, putting together their stuffs. "Cute. Not sure what I like less- the fact that Eliot's is pity-dating me, or the fact that, to have a date, I have to actually fake a relationship."
"Maybe, maybe not." Sophie tapped gently on Beck's nose, grinning mischievous as she was about to let her friend in her plan. "Eliot's extremely susceptible to neurlinguistic programming. If we play our cards right, this fake relationship will turn into a real one in no time at all."
Swallowing, her eyes as big as saucers, Becks, still dressed in her clothes from the previous day, blushed from head to toes. "And why would I want to turn a fake relationship with Eliot into a real one?"
"Because," Sophie grunted, slapping the redhead on the side of the head, "even Parker, of all people, knows that you've had a thing for Eliot since day two. Only the half-wit himself hasn't figured it out yet. And if you ask me, it's time for Eliot to find a honest woman… well, a decent woman and settle down- I mean, he is the last single full-time member of our team, for God's sake – and you are just the girl for him. He only has to figure it out himself."
Becks pouted, trying to get back the pillow, so that she could try to hide underneath it once again. She felt bad- tired. Ashamed. Alone, she couldn't even get a man to notice her. She needed her friends' help. And even then, it wouldn't work. Men had never noticed the bookish Becks, preferring her sister to the chemist – they were heterozygote twins, which meant that Maddie was Giselle, the beautiful white swan, full of grace, a bubbling personality, a catchy style, always perfect, never an hair out of place, always under the spotlight when they conned a mark, while Becks… well, Becks was far more timid and reserved, she was the ugly duckling with boyish clothes, nerdy, a bit gloomy and who had always worked behind the curtain. It wasn't just the style and the personality, though- Maddie was taller, slender, thin, with perfect natural, shiny blonde waist-length hair and a body to die for, while Becks was shorter, maybe a size more of what she was supposed to, and her dull red hair always looked like a nest.
Danny had always had only eyes for Madeline- and before her sister got together with the con-man, Becks knew that even Eliot had had… something with Maddie. She just didn't know what- if it had been just a one night stand or something that had lasted longer. She hadn't dared to investigate, preferring to pretend to be oblivious to the whole ordeal.
Sophie threw the pillow against the window, making sure that her friend wouldn't be tempted to hide once again; and then, she jokingly showed Becks aside. "Trust me, sweetie, Eliot's already crazy about you- he just doesn't know it yet. He needs a push in the right direction. And some help."
"But why can't he like me for how I am? I mean, I'm not a monster!"
"Oh, honey, you are still young," Sophie snickered, shaking her head slightly. "Getting a man, even when he's interested, it's always a lot of work. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about. Do you honestly think Nate fell at my feet all on his own? It took time and strategy. And a few well-done jobs."
Sitting up and throwing the duvet on the floor, Becks sighed. "All right, fine, I'll go along with your plan- but if it doesn't work or I make a fool of myself, I'm done, all right? I'll relocate in the middle of nowhere and pretend to be an old spinster with too many cats. Or China. I wouldn't mind getting lost in an ocean of people, one among millions. It will be just like in that sci-fi movie with Chris Evans. An American thief running cons in Asia. Now, that would be fun. Want to come along when I escape?"
Her aloud musing was stopped when something hit Becks in the head- a soft, celeste bath-towel. "Let's start by taking a cold shower and get some in coffee your system- your hangover is going to have an hangover pretty soon, and time is of the essence. Chop-chop!"
Six hours. Six long, extenuating hours.
As she was suddenly conscious of each and every bone and muscle in her body, Becks felt limp, she panted as she had just ran a marathon despite not having moved at all during those very long six hours.
Yep. She checked the clock again. It had really been six hours.
She had been given the full treatment – muds and creams and balms an masks. She had been kneaded like yeast, and rubbed and massaged for all those six hours. She hadn't believe it to be possible, and she felt completely worn out. Unlike Sophie- Lady Hannover, she corrected herself, using her friend's alias – who had undergone the same ordeal, but with the noticeable difference that the grifter had enjoyed glasses of champagne and sweet truffles made of the darkest chocolate, while she had been, for lack of a better word, Bugs Bunny: for her, only tomato juice and celery, to, as the masseuse said, help her maintain longer her smooth, porcelain-like, pore-less skin.
(And because, as Sophie unkindly and jealously put it, not everyone was like Parker, who could eat all the junk food she wanted without gaining half an ounce.)
Of course, only the creams and make-up products she had been suggested could do the trick and maintain her beauty intact, and keep all that she had been promised, and in the back of her mind, Becks quickly did the numbers to see how much she was going to owe Sophie, and if maybe, just maybe, it was time to run some new job. A magic pill to lose weight to sell to SPAS, maybe? Or caffeine pills instead of drugs?
She groaned, thinking that it would have been food for the thoughts for another day. It was the middle of the afternoon, after all, and she felt like the living dead. She didn't get where Sophie's energy came from, at all – her friend was a wind reel, she was as excited as a baby in a candy store, she couldn't stop smiling, having fun and she was restless.
Sophie, Becks realized idly, was happy. After she and Nate had returned to help the guys out with a job – that had turned out to be an indefinite thing – Sophie was almost always smiling. She was back home, in her own skin, she was having fun and in that precise moment loved playing Pygmalion, almost as it was her true calling in life.
And, after the beautician, came the stylist.
"Victor should already be here - he is my personal shopper- well, he actually is the Duchess' personal shopper, matter of fact – just tell him what you'd like, and he'll find something that will look the best on you. He has impeccable taste and a great eye, you can trust him."
Becks didn't say a sole word as they walked past the doors of Backtalk, one of Portland's best boutiques. The boutique wasn't too big, and even from outside Becks could see the variety of pieces it carried. She had heard of it, and as soon as she walked past the door, her eyes landed on a pile on vintage pieces, all rich colors and soft lace. Backtalk was well-appreciated for being affordable, and for that Becks was grateful- most her aliases were of working women, schoolteachers or saleswomen and waitresses, which meant that , despite having the money, if she wanted to keep her identities, she had to be careful with her spending habits if she didn't want to either get caught or get any unwanted attention.
"I can pay my own clothes, Sophie. And I'll pay you back for the salon." Becks sighed as she slowly made her way through the aisles, mesmerized by the beauty and the richness of the fabrics.
"Nonsense, my dear," Sophie answered, rolling her eyes as she skimmed over the soft surface of a red silk number that would have been perfect for the next date night with Nate. Or for drinks with Tara the next time her friend was in town. "Let's just say that the day you'll tie the knot, we'll pretend I already gave you my wedding gift."
"Ah, sure, because life really taught me to value marriage," Beck snickered as she landed her eyes on a very nice dark blue blouse, the fabric shimmering simply because of its texture- so much so that it looked like a star field. "This has nothing to do with marriage, Sophie. I don't plan on getting married. I mean, look at you and Nate- you've been engaged for God knows how long, you are not any closer to get married, but you've never been as happy as right now. All the women I know who got married, five years go by and they are absolutely wrecks. I don't want a ring. I just want to find someone who would love me for me, not who I pretend to be or whom I can transform into."
Becks bit her lips, closing her eyes shout, and inhaled. Her eyes stung with unshed tears at her first memory- her mother, ethereal Mary Elizabeth, kicking her husband of five years out of the house late one night – all because she had finally discovered where their money truly came from. Becks and Maddie had barely been four years olds back then, and if Becks had done all she could to help her mother and be a good child, Madeline had resented her remaining parent. It had been over a decades later when their dad reappeared in their lives, after their mother's passing, taking them away from relatives who didn't want anything to do with them, and considered the twins only a problem. Albert had turned out to be a blessing in disguise, awakening them from a nightmare, but condemning his kids to life on the run and the inability to settle down and make friends or meaningful connection (to normal people, at least).
"Milady, let me say how honored I am you asked me for advice - it's always a pleasure to be of service." Sophie was about to open her mouth and say something, when Victor, a good looking man in his forties, with impeccable taste if his look was of any indication, finally approached them. He gave the noblewoman a hand kiss, and a curtsy for his client. "Did she find something of her liking already?"
Becks lifted an eyebrow, annoyed, irked by the fact that Victor was talking about her as she wasn't there to begin with, focusing on Sophie alone. She cleared her voice and indicated the blouse she couldn't take her eyes away from. "I was wondering if you could show me something like this? Nothing too showy or extravagant. I like simple and practical items."
"I think I may have seen something to your liking," Victor hummed as he studied with critical eye the Duchess' friend, wondering in what kind of relationship could they be. Nevertheless, he grabbed her for the shoulders, and guided her through the shop, thrilled by the idea of transforming what looked like a tomboy in a beautiful princess. "I know what you are thinking, simple designs can't be feminine. But this is where you are wrong. A showy design would maybe fit your figure, but not your soul, and you need to be comfortable to look your best and shine. Katie already put aside some pieces for you, and I think I saw among them one that would just be perfect for a party."
As Victor left to talk with Katie- the owner, apparently – Sophie elbowed Becks in the side, chuckling. "Before the hair saloon, I want to stop by Aristelle. We need to shop for some lingerie."
"Lingerie? As in underwear?" Becks stuttered. "Do I really need to buy new underwear? Why can't I use what I have at home?"
"Well, for many reasons, actually." Sophie tsk-tsked her, pointing a mischievous finger in Becks' general direction. "First, you need lingerie, and not underwear. You have to understand that everything you wear on your body is clothing- included lingerie. And your cotton panties and sport bras don't really go along with the kind of clothes Victor is envisioning for you. Besides," she chuckled. "I already saw on their site a dark brown number that will absolutely make our dear Eliot drool once you'll stand before him wearing only La Perla and Louboutin- or, even better, just La Perla and his shirt."
Trying out another top in front of the mirror, Becks shook her head lightly, her eyes gleaming. "You really have to explain to me why you think that, by merely seeing me in different clothes, Eliot will suddenly feel the need to jump me."
"Love, trust me- I know my men. They are simple creatures, and nine times out of ten, they don't know what they want until you tell them and what's the best way to explain something, if not with neurlinguistic programming?"
"She is late - if she didn't want to go to that thing, why did she make such a fuss about me being her date to begin with?"
While they were sitting at one of the tables of the brewery waiting for Sophie and Becks to get ready, Nate drank away his dissatisfaction at Eliot's latest complain- with another Crodino.
It was the sixth complaint in as many minutes. The same amount of time Becks had been late.
"I saw them this afternoon, and I asked Sophie if she wanted for me to steal some jewelry for them, but she told me not to." Parker sighed, sipping loudly on her drink, saddened. "They said they wanted to pay for Becks' make-over with proper money."
Nate snorted in his drink, almost suffocating. "Yes, or course. It's how we call stolen money now – proper. Only Sophie could think of this."
"Please, please, please, don't be mad, we are late and we are oh so sorry." Sophie appeared like from out of nowhere, flushed and restless. She was dragging Becks for an arm, and the Chemist kept using her friend as shield to hide. "Someone here didn't want to leave the bathroom."
"Yes, because I look ridiculous in this! I shouldn't have listened to you to begin with!" Her eyes flaring with anger and wounded pride, Sophie pushed Becks to the side, so that everyone could see how much all her hard work had actually paid off. And in a few seconds she had to grin, evilly, satisfied, feeling finally victorious.
"Oh, you are so cute!" Parker actually giggled, clapping her hands. As his girlfriend complimented their friend/partner in crime, Hardison sighed, rolling his eyes as he elbowed Eliot in the side to awake him from his reverie.
Hardison wasn't an idiot. He knew that Eliot and Becks had this weird thing going on. They were friends, with the potential to be so much more, but either Eliot wasn't interested, or he was a complete idiot who didn't even understand that Becks had a huge crush on him.
And now, the oblivious idiot wasn't saying a single word, he was just staring, open-mouthed, to the woman before him, with just the words apparition and miracle coming through his mind.
Becks- Rebecca, he corrected himself, deciding then and there that it was no time for childish nicknames - was just beautiful. The line of the lace dress complimented her silhouette, while the deep burgundy color went perfectly along with her skin tone, and the scalloped bodice and the thin straps enhanced her natural curves- because it turned out that, underneath baggy t-shirts and tartan shirts, Rebecca did have curves. To die for.
And her legs? Eliot bowed his head a little to get a peek at them. Those were some long, spectacular legs – legs that, in his personal opinion, didn't have any business any longer in staying hidden underneath jeans any longer, unless they were of the form-fitting variety, at least.
Yep. Both the skirt and the black, open-toes stiletto gladiator shoes were really, really doing marvels for her legs. Seriously- had her legs always been so long and slender? Because he had had to be an idiot not to notice it before- and he had known her for how long, seven, eight years already?
I'm such a lucky bastard, I can't believe that I got such an hot date, he thought, chuckling internally, unable to tear his eyes off of her, hoping that Rebecca wouldn't notice, wouldn't believe him to be a Neanderthal unable to resist temptation and resist his basic instincts.
He lifted his gaze from her body to meet her eyes, hoping to make things better, but his attention was caught by her red hair, glossy and so soft that all he wanted to do was running his finger through them. They were swept to the side, arranged in big curls. Even her eyes were mesmerizing with the dark eyeshadow and some mascara, the only make-up she was wearing. She didn't seem to be wearing any lipstick, and yet, her lips were like a siren's call, ringing all sorts of alarm bells in Eliot's mind, asking, begging, demanding that he just kissed them.
He hadn't even said her name yet, and in Becks' mind, insecurities and doubts showed their ugly heads, not allowing her to notice his heated gaze, to read correctly his body language.
"You see?" Becks hissed as she turned to face Sophie. "Even he thinks this is rubbish. So, now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go back upstairs, change back into my regular clothes and phone my sister that something came up. Or that I've been arrested. You know what? That's exactly what I'll tell her. Because if I'm jail, I can't go to her wedding either!"
Sorrowful, she turned her heels and walked up the stairs to Sophie and Nate's apartment, forgetting that she didn't have any key- and not really feeling like trying to break in all on her own. So, she just sat down on the last step, waiting for someone, anyone, to get there and open the bloody door to her: all she wanted to do was getting that damn dress off of herself, wipe the make-up off and find some elastic band to tie her hair in one of the messy ponytails she favorited. She just wanted to end the charade and came back into her own skin.
She heard someone approaching, and when she lifted her gaze from her feet, she was surprised to meet the gentle and yet mischievous smile belonging to Eliot. Biting her lips, she blushed, bowing her head to the side slightly so that the hitter wouldn't notice her embarrassment – a colossal mistake, because Eliot decided then and there to go and sit next to her, his knee bumping into her, and, where they touched, Becks felt like on fire. She wondered if she was red all over, if he could feel the same- if he knew what she was thinking.
"Rebecca?" He whispered her name. She didn't seem to hear him calling her by name, so Eliot lifted her chin with two fingers, forcing the woman to meet his gaze. "Becks, trust me, you are absolutely stunning tonight. All eyes will be on you when you'll walk through the door, and Maddie will die of envy."
She sighed, pouting, her hands joined in her lap. "You are just trying to be nice, Eliot, but I think we both know that…" She started rambling, but Eliot cut her short. His lips descended upon hers, with all the resolution, tranquility and calm he could master given that there was a beautiful woman covered by so little fabric at his mercy.
He claimed her lips, her mouth, electricity running through her whole body as his tongue teased her. She felt the man of her dreams smiling against her mouth, and then he rested his free hand on her waist, pushing her turgid nipples against his solid chest – a chest she knew was all tanned skin and hard, redefined muscles underneath the fabric of cloth. Becks gasped, parting her lips slightly, giving him involuntarily better access. She decided to be brave, and, tentatively, she run her fingers through his rebellious bangs, moving the locks behind his ears.
When they finally parted for air, she was panting slightly, and she still had her eyes closed. Still, she felt Eliot's gaze on her, heard him chuckle. "Now we truly look like a couple who was fashionably late because we were too busy trying to not keep our hands to each other."
Feeling like someone had just dumped a bucked of iced water over her head, Becks licked her kiss-swollen lips, blushing. Yet, she still felt somehow… mesmerized by what had just happened. She had always guessed that Eliot, under that calm, stoic mask of his, was, in truth, a fiery and passionate man. But Becks had always considered herself a woman with her head on the shoulders, and she quite couldn't believe that he could have shaken her like that with a simple kiss – not when each and every inch of her, body and soul, knew that it was all fake.
Smiling, Eliot stood up, and offered Becks his hand. "Are you ready?" He asked her.
She nodded, accepting his gentlemanly gesture, and left him lift her up as she weighted nothing at all.
"Yes," she sighed, getting lost in the ocean of his blue eyes, cursing her decision, the day she had allowed Sophie to take charge. "I'm ready. Let's go."
As she walked down the stairs at the arm of the charming, sexy thief, Becks wondered how far she could go to see her dreams come true, even for just one night. For many- too many- years, she had just been one of the guys: it was time for Eliot Spenser to realize that he had a real woman at his side.
They were both silent on their journey to the pub where Madeline and Danny were going to celebrate with a few close friends their engagement; he had taken Nate's Mercedes- on Sophie's orders- because apparently both the truck or his beloved Dodge weren't "date appropriate", not when you were supposed to meet the family of your girlfriend, at least – and he had been barely been able to keep his eyes on the road. It wasn't just how spectacular and touchable Becks' legs looked in that dress- and in those killer heels- it was his need to comfort her. She was fidgety, nervous, worried. In part because of this charade of theirs, in part because he remembered, from personal experience, how things could get complicated between siblings.
And, thanks to Andrew dearest, the expression sibling rivalry was a euphemism when it came to his daughters.
He finally spotted an empty parking spot, and actually sweated with worry, well aware that Nate loved that car as much as he did Sophie, and he wouldn't have forgiven a single scratch. When everything was said and done, he took a dramatic breath of relief- hoping that it would have made Becks smile, or at least relax.
He turned to face her, and he saw that she was picking on her fingernails, watching anxiously the front door of the bar like it was the front gate of Hell itself.
He sighed. Looked like it hadn't worked. At all. He covered her left hand with his, and he squeezed, finally getting a reaction out of her; she blushed all over, her normally pale skin turning the same cherry shade of her fingernails. He saw her swallowing, looking lost and scared- and a sole word run through his mind.
Little. She looked… little- a word that, despite her short height, he had never, ever attributed to Rebecca "Becks" Cummings. She was smart, careful, clever, a smart-ass with a silver tongue who could hold her own against anyone and with a lot of guts. And, he had just discovered, she was beautiful too. He didn't understand how it was possible that she could feel so inferior, not when Madeline had nothing on her.
"Becks? We don't have to go if you don't want to…" He sweetly told her, his voice but a hot whisper against her skin.
"No, she is my sister. I have to. You, on the other hand…" She chuckled a little, but the smile didn't reach her eyes, and was veiled by sadness and worry. "You can still make a run for it."
"Ehy, I told you I would have seen this through with you, and I will." He leaned in her space, and, closing his eyes, he nuzzled her hair, taking her in, inhaling her scent. Her hair smelt like flowers and honey, but her skin was a whole other thing. It was… sweet, delicate, and yet intoxicating. "C'mon, we are on."
She nodded, biting the corner of her very kissable lips, and made to open the door, but before she could do anything, Eliot was already opening it for her, offering her his hand to take like a gentleman. As they walked toward the front door, he placed an arm around her waist, and held her close – so close their bodies were touching – and Becks felt her skin actually burning through the two layers of thin fabric. They entered, and Eliot lifted an eyebrow- yes, he knew that they had dressed to the nines, but the pub- the bistro, he corrected himself- was filled with extremely well-dressed diners, so much so that it seemed more like a runway show than a party.
He squeezed his eyes. Now he got why Becks was worried. He was starting to feel out of place, too!
This is a con. Think of it as a con, he willed himself, as he tightened his grab on her.
"Becks! I was starting to fear you wouldn't have come!" Suddenly, Eliot had to separate from the beauty in his arms, as his partner in crime was suddenly run over by a blurring figure that enveloped her in a tight hug- Madeline. Becks' older sister by two minutes was sniffing lightly in her bodycon dress, and didn't seem to want to let go of the other Cunning girl. "I'm so happy you are here! I know we don't always see eye to eye, but you are my sister, and twins are supposed to share all their special moments, and I was so worried you wouldn't come…"
"Sorry about that, Maddie," Eliot chuckled, glancing towards Becks. "We were… held up."
Madeline, red-bloody lips, whistled, getting the (fake) innuendo all right. Becks blushed- not just in character, but for real. She knew what Eliot meant- in their little fantasy, Eliot and sweet, innocent Rebecca had been busy- in bed. "Well, well, well, looks who we have here… Eliot Spenser. Finally got the guts of asking a real woman out, I see- but just be careful, you break my sister's heart, nobody will ever find your body. We Cunnings are too smart to leave any evidence around."
The veiled menace was taken with a grain of salt, and was meant to be a joke and not a real warning; in fact, in no time at all, Madeline forgot all about him, and was busy talking with her sister, chatting about their lives, about how cute Becks looked and thank god she had finally started dolling herself up for that cute soldier, and, mostly… talk of the wedding. Madeline, the vixen, the femme fatale who had been one of his conquests just the year before, seemed completely changed by love: she blushed like a schoolchild, and talked with emotion and worry about her upcoming nuptials.
"Babe, Gina's been looking for you!" Danny- Daniel, a British careless and yet brilliant con-artist with an ego the size of the Chrysler Building – didn't waste any time, nor bothered with formalities. He walked into the conversation his girlfriend was having head-on, wrapping an arm around her waist possessively, and nuzzled shamelessly her neck before all of them. Becks removed her gaze from the giggling duo, wondering exactly what she had seen in Danny to begin with, while Eliot cleared his throat, trying to get Danny's attention- and put an end to that nausea-inducing showcase of affection. "Oh, sorry, got carried away. Always happens with my babe. Eliot, right? Didn't know you were invited to the party."
"He wasn't." Becks stated, trying to make herself heard. "He is with me."
"Becks?" Danny blinked in an almost dazed fashion as his gaze slid from the top of her head to her designer-clad feet. "What have you done to yourself?" His eyeballs were floating out if his head, and when Madeline elbowed him on the side, Becks enjoyed the moment of triumph, twisting her lips in a small wry smile.
Sophie had been right- she was getting everyone's attention and approval. And yet… yet there was something disturbing her, a nagging feeling who made her feel uneasy and didn't allow her to enjoy the party like she was supposed to. She turned to face Eliot, and she silently gasped, her heart beating faster and faster, blood rushing to her brain as she met his heated gaze and got lost in his darkening eyes.
It was all because of him- he was the presence of the brooding former military man who made her feel like that, the memory of his kiss, of his hands on her body. "If you could you excuse me a moment, I'll powder my nose."
Swiftly, she made her way to the bathroom, and was glad to find it empty. She took a breath of relief, and opened the water, letting it play over her wrists.
"Is everything all right?" She turned at the sound of his voice, and she spun around to face the man who had startled her.
"Eliot! This is the ladies room!" She glared at him, hissing. "What are you doing here?"
"I was following you. You seemed worried. I wanted to help." He just said, as it should have been only natural and logical. She rolled her eyes, knowing all too well she couldn't tell him what was going through her mind- that she was happy her family was happy for her, that her sister couldn't stop complimenting her, and that everybody was congratulating them on their love story. "Did someone say something to you?"
She leaned with her back against the marble, and sighed, although Eliot was glad to see the shadow of an honest smile. She felt better- better in her skin, better with the people around her, and it was quite the accomplishment. For the longest time, she had just been the scientist, the nerd, the geek, and people had always wondered if her contributions to their jobs were really so important at all, or if they were meaningless and she was there just because of her father- or so she had long thought..
But not today. Now, she was one of them. And maybe, just maybe… things could change for the better with Eliot, too.
"You know, it's… not like I was expecting this to be. At all. I guess that distance makes the heart fonder wasn't exactly right in my case."
"Yeah," Eliot nodded, scratching the back of his neck, leaning in her personal space. "Yeah, your father is…." He cleared his voice, looking for the right word to describe Becks' father. Albert wasn't what people described as a good man- he was a criminal, but when his daughter had lost their mother, he made sure they wouldn't be separated, and he had tried for them, to clean his act. He hadn't been able to, but, at least, he had a code, and from his words, Eliot knew he loved both his daughters in the same way, and was proud of them both – he had just never been too good at showing them exactly how he felt, he had never found the words.
Becks lowered her eyes, suddenly very interested in her shoes yet again, and nodded, biting her lips. Eliot closed the distance between them, their noses were almost touching, and slowly, agonizingly so, he took her hand in his own, and caressed, rubbed in soft circles, the pale skin of her hand. He was leaning with his shoulder against the wall, and he couldn't take his eyes away from Becks – just like she couldn't tear her gaze away from the hypnotic movements of Eliot's thumb on her skin.
"Listen… you showed up, spoke with whom you were supposed to, we've been playing nice… what do you say I drive you home? You look exhausted."
"Yeah. This new devil's breath thing I'm working on is taking up a lot of time, and energies." She lied, blaming her fatigue on work instead of the stress for that night. "But, Maddie is Maddie, and I couldn't not come."
Without further ado- without other words – never letting it go of her hand he walked her out of the bathroom; Becks met Madeline's gaze, and her sister's malicious expression as they came out of the bathroom after almost fifteen minutes told her that yes, everybody believed that she and Eliot were a couple- or at least, friends with benefits – and that yes, people thought they had either made out or had a quickie in the bathroom and were about to go home and continue their torrid affair.
Frankly, she couldn't care any less: his simple touch had been like electricity, liquid fire melting in her belly as it filled her with desire. Because, if with those hands Eliot was so good with the slightest touch while they were clothed and in public, what would she feel the moment he would touch her in her intimacy?
Blushing, she squeezed his hand in return – it was a kindly gesture, because, if she had survived the experience, it was mostly because of him – and walked behind him, barely stopping to say hi to old friends, acquaintances, and her family. Again he circled her waist as they walked to Nate's car, and again they drove in silence- but it was different from before. Gone was the awkwardness, the anxiety, only anticipation and a blooming desire coated in lust survived. She was much more aware of Eliot than she had ever been before- and if his eyes on her legs were of any indication, he felt the same as well.
They arrived at her place, and Beck stopped before she could unlock the door. She stood, frozen in the moment, looking at the road outside her apartment, the few lamps that drew the environment in chiaroscuro.
"Ehy, do you want to come up and try my Panache?" He lifted his eyebrow, quizzically; after having spent time in south Europe for a while during his mercenary days, he had learnt that it was a cocktail with beer; but he wandered if she truly meant what she said. If, maybe, just maybe, it was code for sex- like some men asked women to come up to their apartment to see their butterflies collection. "So? You can relax, I make a nonalcoholic version. I think we can all agree I don't really handle alcohol all too well. Besides, you are supposed to drive, and it's Nate's car, after all. Or coffee. I have an espresso machine I barely use." She said in one breath, barely making any sense.
He nodded, laughing, scratching the back of his head, relaxed and at ease knowing that she wasn't planning anything, nor had any design on him. "Yeah. Uh, a Panache is fine. Not too alcoholic, though."
She sneaked up the stairs on her slender legs, Eliot's gaze focused on her behind. He massaged his jaw, swallowing, his eyes as huge as saucers, dilated pupils and all as he finally noticed that her back was bare, except for a small tattoo between her shoulder blades, a pair of wings.
She kept the door open for him, and turned the lights off to her word; the bricks-wall apartment was small, but comfortable. Like many other con artists, it wasn't made to be lived in, but just a base of operation- just the basic pieces of furniture – probably from Ikea, nothing too extravagant, and no pictures or trinkets around.
Eliot raised an eyebrow, however, when he saw Becks heading towards a cocktail cabinet next to the couch. A cocktail cabinet. Becks had a cocktail cabinet. "I imagine that waitressing and bar-tendering wasn't just your cover identity, then." He told her as he leaned over the cabinet, in front of her. She was smiling, relaxed, at ease, moving with careful studied movement that came natural to her- like she had done them thousands of times before.
"Nah, I kind of just fiddle around with cocktails. Mixology is a lot like chemistry, after all – knowing what goes together and what not and how to get an explosion just when you want to." She stirred the drink, and offered the simple glass to her "partner. "Here. Lemon juice, water and beer. And my personal touch, a tear of stevia juice instead of sugar."
He sipped the drink, and licked his lips, making her sigh dreamily. "Nice. Thanks. I really needed something refreshing."
"Ah, please, even a five years old could prepare this." She downplayed the whole thing with slightly annoyed gesture, and yet, she blushed yet again, the red reaching as far as the valley between her breasts, where a simple starfish rested, tantalizing his gaze. "I'll tell you what. One of these days you prepare me one of those gourmet dishes Sophie says you are so cook at cooking, and I'll show you what a true Russian Mule tastes like."
"Sounds good," he smiled meekly, the smile not reaching quite his eyes. He cleaned his throat, and tapped the bottom of the glass against the top. "I guess I should go now. It's getting late and I have a lot of stuffs to do tomorrow. We both do."
She nodded and was about to step around the table, Eliot already at her doorstep, when he stopped and stared ahead of him. He was tense, and from his stance she could feel how much conflicted and tense he was. Swiftly, he turned, and before Becks could register his actions, he was spanning her waist with his big hands, picking her up and sitting her on the bar cabinet. Her eyes widened in shock and she lifted her gaze to inquire, but his dark expression, marked by determined desire, froze her on the spot.
"God, I have to have you…" The raw statement drove and coherent thought of hers away, and when Eliot lowered his head and kissed her again, all hell broke loose, and she stopped thinking altogether – her mind was filled with just him, and their raw need for each other. He nipped at her lips, making her moan, he explored her, his hands curving over her breasts, hectic, crazy. It seemed like a starving man not having nearly enough, unable to decided where to touch first – her back, her waist, her breasts, her legs.
Smiling against his lips, Becks slipped off from the top, and, guiding him for the dark tie, without stopping to kiss Eliot, she walked him backwards toward her bedroom.
"You know, the only reason I forgive you for having left all by myself in your bed is because you look too sexy with just panties and my shirt on. I mean, has anyone ever told you that there's nothing more provocative than a woman walking around with nothing but her lover's shirt on?"
"Oh, so now you are my lover, then?" Becks blushed, head to toes, as she felt Eliot's hungry an heated gaze on her body, eating her up like she was some delicious exotic dish. It was the middle of the night, her place was illuminated only by the streetlamps outside and by a small table lamp in the kitchen. Wearing only his dark grey shirt, and the lingerie Sophie had suggested, she was scribbling something that looked at first look as hieroglyphics on a notepad, a cup of coffee in her left hand. "Sorry. I just had a thought and I wanted to put it into writing before I forgot."
Eliot, chuckling, made his way towards her, and went at her back. He nuzzled her neck, gingerly kissing the exposed skin between neck and shoulders, his hands not idle either, busy exploring, mapping, discovering the feminine body anew.
"Are you trying to tell me that you'd like me to join you in bed, Eliot?" She moaned, between gasps, barely able to put down the cup before pleasure took over and it would fall on the floor.
"Yeah. Kind of." He stopped kissing her, and looked over her shoulders at the notepad "So, this is what the notorious Chemist does…"
She shrugged. "I'm trying to recreate a chemical agent that could override a subject's consciousness without any nasty collateral effects."
"Kind of like the perfume you gave Sophie, then."
"Not really", She curled her nose, slitting her eyes. "The perfume worked more on a psychological level than a neurological one. It was about more the psyche rather than neurotransmitters or a proper alteration of the state of consciousness. That perfume was tailor made for that mark and that mark alone, it was an infusion of micro-particles of his most beloved scents from childhood, it was studied to bring him back to a time where he felt safe and protected and trusted people with all of his own."
Eliot laughed, his short beard rubbing her sensitive and delicate skin, ticking Becks, heating her up. When he spoke, his voice hummed through her whole being, liquid desire melting into her core. "How come that when Hardison speaks geek I want to strangle him, but if you do, I get horny?"
Becks left the heat of his body and, once turned to face him, she took a couple of steps backwards, never breaking eye contact with Eliot. In one languid movement, she slid his shirt to the ground. "Pretty sure it's because he is not dressed like this."
Eliot didn't bother answering her.
He just picked her up over his shoulder and dragged her back to bed.
It was almost 11 AM when Becks decided to leave her bed for good and that it was time to get down to serious work – moreover, the delicious smell that came from the kitchen made her stomach grumble, reminding her that she had barely touched any foot at Madeline's party the evening before and of how many calories she had burned since the night before - besides, she didn't like any longer being all alone in that huge bed of hers, addicted already to his solid and comforting presence after just one night. The fact that she knew Eliot was a spectacular chef was simply an added bonus.
She took a quick look around, and immediately noticed that Eliot's clothes were gone, and a slight sense of worry ran through her, from head to toe. Somehow, all the times she had allowed herself to dream – to imagine – of waking up to him in her apartment after a night of delicious love-making, she had always thought that he would have walked the halls barefoot and clad in just an old pair of shredded jeans. She knew that the night before he had worn a black suit – high couture, tailor-made, simply perfect – but in her mind the effect was the same, and she didn't know exactly why, but the whole thing reeked of danger- or at least, of mess.
She took few tentative steps in the kitchen, already knowing that she wouldn't have been able to surprise her lover of the night before- that he wouldn't have been too eager to have her there right before him, and all her fears were confirmed when she saw him putting the finishing touches at a gourmet meal arranged with what little food she had at home.
It wasn't what he was doing, but his expression; Eliot looked, for lack of a better word, detached. He didn't just look like a man who was second-guessing his choices: he looked like he felt guilty- like he knew he had done a colossal mistake, like he regretted each and every action he had taken since agreeing to attend that damn party with her.
"So, that's how you usually do it? You make a morning after brunch to make the girls feel less worse? Or are you doing it just for me because we work together and you want to cut ties as peacefully as possible?" She asked, leaning against the wall with her right shoulder, wearing only a powder-colored robe, her hair still a mess.
"Becks…" He sighed, saying only her name. Eliot stared at the woman before him frustrated, like she was a child stomping her feet. It just drove her crazy, made her angrier. She took a big breath to steady herself, and slightly shook her head, clenching her teeth.
"Don't," She hissed. "Don't Becks me, Eliot. I'm worth more than that."
Eliot sighed, and lowered his head, suddenly finding his shoes of extreme interest. He crossed his arms, and leaned with his back against the kitchen table, determine to not meet Becks' eyes. "Listen, let's just not make things worse. I just don't want to have problems. We work together and, I just think the best thing to do is forget about what happened and stay friends."
"I understand," she said, nodding, although her expression betrayed her true feelings, and her voice was laced with ill-concealed sarcasm. "So, we've been basically having non-stop sex for, what, twelve hours, and now you decide it was a mistake? When you were the one initiating things?"
Eliot rubbed his jaw, and looked at Becks with a pity-filled gaze, filling her chest with white-hot anger, with indignation and shame. She had allowed her emotions to control her, she had been lulled by the illusions that dreams could really come true, that sometimes, just sometimes, things could really change. She had become a victim of her heart just like her own mother, she had forgotten there were supposed to be rules and that it was better to be guided by reason because, simply, some people were just not destined to be happy, there were supposed just to exist and survive. She was a thief, a con artist, she had been changing named, identities ever since she was a little girl. She had never had any lasting ties, she should have understood that she wasn't even supposed to try to begin with.
"Becks, I'm not an idiot. You think I didn't know you had a crush on me? But I know what you want, and… I just want different things out of life." He sighed, trying to get closer. "I only fell in love once, and it ended badly because I realized that I can't make the same promise to two people and think I could always keep my word. You want a life, you want commitment, and I just can't give it to you because I am already committed. It doesn't matter if it's to a cause and not a person, it's the same thing. I can't and I won't be there for you all."
"So, in short," Becks inhaled at closed eyes, snickering. "Your excuse is that you like and respect me too much to make me any promise you wouldn't be able to keep. Am I getting this right?"
Eliot sighed, scratching the back of his neck. "I know it sounds crazy, but…"
"Oh, please, Eliot, don't insult my intelligence. I'm not a complete idiot when it comes to men, nor I'm the unexperienced little virgin you think I am. So, what is this really about?" Her voice was dangerously low- almost a hiss –and she sounded calm, detached, and her icy stare pierced him, clutching his heart in a hurtful vise. "You just wanted a one night stand, a no strings attached think, and you thought I wouldn't know how to handle it? Or maybe you realized I'm just not your type- I'm nothing like my sister, after all, or perfect Aimee. I can't compare to the love of your life. Not when I'm just a geeky nerd, just one of the guys you had pity sex with."
"Becks," He took a step forward, trying to get closer to her. He couldn't handle those cold eyes, her fuming rage- he didn't want to break her heart. He needed for her to understand. To listen to him. To accept- and share- his reasons. "Becks, you are being unreasonable. Just sit down, drink your coffee and listen to me for once. You'll see that…"
Rejecting the sympathy she saw reflected in his blue eyes, Becks backed away, both hands lifted in a protective barrier as she growled. "Just go away and leave me alone," She stepped away, breathing hard, then, she said just one word. "Leave!"
Without adding anything else, Eliot turned and walked to the door, while Becks remained impassive, noble and proud, without lowering her gaze or adding anything else.
Only when he had already stepped outside did she let herself slip on the floor, and finally allowed herself to shed bitter tears for her broken heart.
"Sophie, I found an earring in the car. Is it yours?" Sophie caught the piece of costume jewelry that Nate had thrown at her, and when she saw what it actually was, she bit her lips, sighing, feeling yet again guilty for the impasse her good friends were in – it wasn't just her fault, but, still, she blamed herself for how things had turned out between Eliot and Becks.
Eliot, in particular, was feeling miserable, and had been a pain in their collective asses for the last couple of weeks – sixteen days and fourteen hours, not that he was counting anyway. He turned his head slightly, and grunted something in what Sophie imagined to be the native language of Neanderthal men. She challenged him to repeat what he had just said, by raising an elegant, well-groomed eyebrow.
They had all but forgotten that Eliot had spoken in the first place when, snorting, he decided to repeat himself. "It's Becks'. She was wearing it at her sister's engagement party."
"Ah," Nate said, biting his tongue before saying things he could have regretted in the long run. He muttered something between himself, scratching his neck, and looked at his team. "Speaking of Becks… does anyone know if and when she'll be back? I have a plan in mind that might benefit from her unique expertise…"
Sophie rolled her eyes, wondering not for the first time if her boyfriend hadn't realized what had happened, or if he was simply pretending not to understand – nothing strange, Nate had done worse in the past, after all. So, gritting her teeth, she bowed her head in Eliot's direction, as if to say that he was the one with the answers, and he was the only one to blame for their problems.
"I have tried to fix this, all right?" Eliot grunted, banging his closed fist on the table, making Harrison's can wobble. "But, when Becks sees my number, she doesn't answer, and if I try to call her from another phone, as soon as she realizes it's me, she hangs up without a word."
In her seat, Sophie sighed, nervously playing with a lock of dark hair, fidgety, unable to stand still- tempted to speak her mind but not wanting to hurt any of her friends.
"You need to tell me something, Sophie? You think I don't feel bad enough? That I don't feel guilty?" Eliot demanded, almost angry. Sophie gasped, her eyes huge, staring at him. She didn't like how he sounded. He sounded like the old Eliot- like the man she had first met many years before, who worked alone and didn't care who he hurt in the process.
She swallowed, and a little flame of pride burned in her chest, and she decided it was time to speak her mind. She wasn't an idiot, she knew that Eliot was simply deflecting – he was hurting, and he was trying to hurt them back. But, he didn't have to. They were his friends. He had always taken care of them, now it was time to make him understand it was right to be helped, that if his heart was broken they would have helped him – he had done his best to fix their mistakes for years, it was time to repay the favor.
"I'm just wondering what else you'd like to add to what you already told Becks. She gave me your word-for-word speech and you couldn't have been clearer than that. You don't want to have a relationship, you don't want to settle down, and she wants different things. What's more to say?" She bowed her head slightly to the side. "Just give her time to heal, to lick her wound in peace, and you'll see she'll come back better than before."
"All fine words, Sophie," Eliot hissed between clenched teeth, leaning in Sophie's personal space, oozing masculinity, determination and untamed rage. "But did she tell you why I thought it wasn't going to work?"
Sophie's cheeks swelled up, and she was outraged to hear those words. After all that had happened, Eliot seemed to want Becks to pass as the bad guy, the poor idiot who didn't understand anything. Well, she wasn't going to allow any of that. So, she stood up, and pointed an accusing finger at him, and showed the earring at him.
"Becks is feeling bad enough already. She doesn't need you to repeat yourself and rub salt in her wounds! Do you really think you have anything else to say?"
They stood in an awkward silence for what seemed the longest time. Eliot's gaze was transfixed, locked on the earring he was absentmindly playing with. He remembered touching them as he had kissed her, and wondered if it had ended up in his jacket pocket while, fully clothed, he had given free rein to his lowest instincts by taking Becks on the cocktail cabinet. He sighed. Every second of that night was etched in his soul.
"I'd tell her that as soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them. That as soon as I started the car, I felt guilty. That I miss her like no one else did before." He sighed, heavily, unable to tear his gaze off from the violet pearls of glass. "But you are right. I would say all of this, and then I'd tell her we can't be together, and it wouldn't do any of us any good."
"Are you feeling guilty or regretful?" Nate inquired. He was leaning against the wall, facing Eliot, arms and ankle crossed. "Because there's a distinct difference. Guilt is feeling bad for having hurt Becks, regret is knowing that you did the biggest mistake of your life. So, Eliot, which one is it?"
Eliot closed his eyes, in inhaled deeply. He bit his lips, and didn't meet any of his friends' gaze. "It doesn't matter what I feel, it still doesn't change anything. I can't make the same promise to you and to her and expect to be able to always keep it. Been there, done that, and I'm not doing it all over again."
"Really? Then, I guess you don't want to hear how I'm planning to steal a bridesmaid for you."
"I thought you said you had a plan." A few days after the debacle of Madeline's engagement party, Eliot was yet again smartly dressed in his best dark suit. Feeling anger and resentment – and worry – boil inside his very own being, he looked around, barking at his partner in crime/boss/friend who was as fresh as a daisy, and was enjoying the day by sipping champagne and dispensing smiles. "In what universe is crashing a wedding a plan?"
Uncomfortable in his own skin, Eliot cautiously looked around, his heart racing. What would he do when he saw Becks? Would he see her? He wasn't sure if she was already there, or she is was going to be there at all. For all knew, her disappointment with his behavior could have been so intense to convince the chemist to give up on everything and everyone.
He sighed, running a nervous hand through his hair, sighing. He was – had been – an idiot. But, he know realized, he was an idiot in love. For years he had appreciated her company, had enjoyed late night drinks and her silent support, mistaking it for friendship, for respect- when in reality, it had been so much more. And only now, thanks to Sophie's meddling, he fully understood the deepness of his emotions, of his feelings for the redhead.
"Nate, if I crush Madeline's wedding, Backs will never, ever talk with me ever again. To tell you the truth, I'm pretty sure she knows at least half a dozen ways to commit murder, dispose of the bodies and getting away with it without a trace." As Nate chuckled, Eliot's impatience only grew. "And anyway, I don't think you want to mess with Albert. Again."
Nate just smiled, as if he was trying to make fun of Eliot, and squeezed his shoulder, accompanying his friend away from the shadows of the foliage where they had found refuge, away from praying eyes and the real action, towards the flower-decorated white folding chairs arranged in the beautiful botanical garden just for the occasion.
"Well, I have half a plan." Nate explained at low voice, as they sat in the back, in the middle of the row, in a position where the wedding party would have hardly noticed their presence. "Well, it's more like a rough draft of a plan. An idea, so to speak."
"So, in short," Eliot sighed. "You expect me to just wait for the wedding to be over and face Becks."
"Well, you said it yourself- this is her sister's wedding. She can't get out of this. If you talk to her here, she'll have to listen to you."
Eliot opened his mouth to reply, but from a speaker, the notes of a wedding march began to pour out, and three bridesmaids started to walk down the aisle, bouquets of wild flowers in their hands, dressed in soft, long colorful dresses reminiscent of their bouquets.
She was wearing red- It was a different shade from the engagement party, still, it was her color. The shade complimented her auburn hair, now down, and her soft features, making her porcelain skin look even lighter and more brilliant, almost opalescent. Eliot's heart broke, and he wished to disappear underground when he saw her: Becks' smile was sharp, and although she walked with dignity, strength, despite all the love she felt for her own sister, her eyes betrayed her. They were tired, dull, empty - because of him.
And yet, she took his breath away, blinding him to any other things.
Not for the first time, Eliot wondered if he was doing the right thing, If it was a good idea. Above all, he wondered if she would have taken him back, if she still wanted him. He was no longer so sure – nor he believed himself to deserve her in any way.
Eliot wasn't sure how long the ceremony lasted, because he was so focused on Becks that it all seemed to happen in a haze, because he saw her and her alone, and the only time his attention was slightly awakened was when the Justice of Peace asked if anyone had anything to say - he had almost stood up, ready to shout his love confession, but Nate had stopped him just in time, saving him from certain lynching.
When all was said and done, he and Nate stood in their pew, shuffling as they followed the crowd towards a gazebo where the reception was held; they were exchanging empty pleasantries with everyone and no one in particular when he finally stood before her.
"Becks…." He said, his voice tight.
"Eliot. How have you been?" She coldly replied. It was hard to tell what she was exactly saying, but if he was reading her well, it was nothing good. She smiled, and looked past him for the person next to them, dismissing him.
He sighed, as Nate rolled his eyes. Apparently, Becks wasn't in a good mood. And also apparently, she didn't feel like forgiving and forgetting any time soon. "We'll think of something," Nate tried to console him as they were both nursing their drinks – thanks God for open bars.
For what looked like hours, Nate seemed to want to say something, but every time he dared to try to speak, Eliot would just glare at him, effectively silencing his partner. The hitter would just sip his drink endlessly, and look for Becks, hoping that she would look his way, that her eyes would smile and shine like when he had found her in the kitchen drinking coffee with just his shirt on. He didn't heard the best man or the maid of honor- Beck and Madeline's step-mother – toasting to the new couple. People laughed and talked and danced, and one woman even dared to approach him asking for him to join her, but he just barked her and sent her back her way.
And then… then, came the obligatory garter throw. Eliot had decided to stay out of the running, not seeing why bothering to begin with, well aware that his drink was much more interesting than Danny disrobing his fresh bride. Still, he didn't know how, he didn't know why… he felt something hitting him, something so soft it was like a breeze. Eliot looked in his lap, and with two fingers, he lifted the damn thing at eye-level: it was a white and light blue wedding garter.
He looked around, unsure about how it had gotten there to begin with, questioning everything he knew about physics and winds, and when he met Madeline's gaze, and he saw her winking at him, he knew something was going on- and it became a certainty the moment he heard Nate chuckle, his partner as satisfied as when they finished a job with the rightful reward for everyone.
"Hardison, are you sure this will work?" Nate rolled his eyes, a bit doubtful, as the young geek gave him two small disks, as big as small stones. "Last time we used magnets you destroyed my watch."
Hands on his hips, Hardison sounded, and looked, offended. "I know, but this is the new and improved version. They are perfectly calibrated to just draw each other. Which means that if you Put one of these beauties into Eliot' pocket, and the other in Madeline's garter, the moment she'll throw it and they'll be in close proximity, the garter will land perfectly in Eliot's lap."
"Hardison, I don't need the whole explanation. Just tell me, will it work?"
"Of course it will work. Who do you exactly take me for?"
"Not now, Eliot," Nate sighed, enjoying his drink more than he should have. "Madeline's about to launch the bouquet, and I don't think you want to lose the action…"
A small horde of single women lined up for the chance of being the next bride. Veil floating behind her, Madeline turned her back, then checked over her shoulders, her expression as tern as a schoolteacher ready to reprimand her pupils. Eliot squeezed his eyes as to better study the situation: something was going on, he just didn't know what exactly.
Madeline launched the bouquet, letting it fly high and long towards the back of the line of single ladies. None of them caught it- their fingertips would skim over it, as it was passed along, until it ended up in the hands of the only woman who had turned her back to the spectacle, right into Becks' arms.
With his heart starting a bass drum beat in his chest, mesmerized by the vision of Becks with a wedding bouquet in hands, Eliot took a big breath. She lifted her eyes from the arrangement of flowers, and met his expectant gaze, and her blush gave him reinvigorated hope.
He closed the distance between them, and her eyes fell on the garment in his hands. "You," she breathed, and Eliot just nodded.
"Taking a chance on the future is pretty hard for me." He took another big breath, his fingertips skimming the delicate gown of her dress, red tulle flowing in the breeze. "But if I let you go now, I'd regret it for the rest of my life"
His heart was beating so loudly all he could hear was the blood rushing through his brain. "Becks, I love you- no, scratch that. I'm in love with you." He admitted, desperate for her answer –any answer at all.
"I don't want your pity, Eliot." She stubbornly said. She took a few steps back, trying to put some distance between them.
"Trust me, sweetheart- pity is the last thing in my mind when I look at you." Just like that first time, he titled her head up with his fingers. "I thought I wasn't allowed to make the same promise to two people, but then I thought, what if she was always there? What if I never let go of her in the first place?"
"Eliot…." She breathed, swallowing a lump in her throat as he crushed the flowers between their bodies and she felt her eyes fill with unshed tears.
"If you are with me… with us… always… I won't have to worry about you anymore. Because I'll know you'll be there waiting for me with our family, our friends. And that if anything ever happened to me, you wouldn't be alone, because they'd be there to support you, no matter what."
She looked up in his blue eyes, and she slid her arms around his shoulders, and touched her palms to his silky hair at the back of his head, pulling him down for the kiss, opening her mouth to him in quick kiss, as guests all around cheered, whistled and clapped their hands.
"So, is this your way of telling me you want to try this?" Eliot asked her, chuckling a bit seamlessly as soon as they parted, still embraced, Beck's neck nuzzling his neck.
"Just remember, soldier boy," She went on tip-toes, and gingerly kissed his tanned skin with a smile upon her lips. "You break my heart again, nobody will ever find your body."
"Not gonna happen, Becks," He pulled her into his arms, kissed her cheeks, whisper in her ear that he loved her for all the time to come, that he had always loved her, that he was never going to let it go of her- of them- and kiss her lips. "Not gonna happen."