Sophie watched as Eliot stuck his bad arm into his sleeve. Even with a dislocated left shoulder, he managed the task alone. No surprise really. The man always went off to lick his wounds in private. Getting the shirt on seemed easier for him than buttoning it. She tapped her knuckles on the doorframe. "Need help?"
If she had surprised him, he gave no indication. "You're the only person around here that knocks." His voice held no malice. None of his usual gruffness.
He sounded tired. Resigned.
Seeing that as close to approval as she would get, Sophie crossed the room and lined up the buttons on the plaid shirt.
A boyish pink rose to his cheeks as she worked. "If you'd be more comfortable, I can get Nate. Or Hardison."
He snorted a laugh. "The sight of a bandage and bruises will have Hardison passing out. Besides, you ain't the problem."
She tilted her head to better study his face. "Then what is it?"
Blue eyes shifted. "You tryin' to use that neurolinguistic crap on me again?"
"Now, Eliot." She hoped he saw her smile as genuine. That's how she meant it. A hand on his cheek turned his eyes back to her face. "I know you enjoy letting people think you're just a dumb thug. But this is me. A friend trying to help."
He shrugged his right shoulder. "It's just that...y'all saw."
"Saw what, darling? You held on for us. There's nothing to be ashamed of," she whispered.
"Not just that. My...my shirt was gone. You all saw 'em. Saw the scars."
Sophie thought back to that room. She had seen the scars on his arms. His chest. But she hadn't been prepared for the thick keloid scars on his back and shoulders before covering them with the blanket.
"They tell who I am, Sophie. I've told you all before what I am. Now you've seen the evidence."
She looked up from the front of his shirt. "Scars aren't evidence of anything."
Eliot sighed. Smiled sadly. "Good guys don't have scars like mine, Soph."
Tears warmed her face in spite of herself. "You really believe that don't you?"
Eliot half shrugged again.
"Sweetie, your scars are what happened to you. They don't define who you are. We all have a past. Yours admittedly more painful. But look at what you've done. All the good. We couldn't have done any of that without you. Couldn't have helped as many people as we have."
She finished buttoning his shirt and smoothed the collar down for him before stepping away. "If you could see what we see." She paused at the door. "I think the scars we can't see are worse. Look at yourself, Eliot. You aren't the monster you think you are."
The door clicked closed behind her.