Nate pressed the trunk release button as they walked out of McRory's and towards the silver Mercedes. He threw his bag in the back along with Sophie's purse and two suitcases, then stepped aside to let the other three members of the team load their gear. Hardison packed only the essentials, which meant basically everything he owned plus a large cooler full of orange soda and two totes of gummy frogs, as if there weren't going to be any grocery stores in Baltimore or anywhere else along the 400 mile stretch they were about to traverse. Nate was thankful that at least Parker and Eliot had packed light, although he secretly hoped that they wouldn't actually need any of the stuff that either of them normally brought along for such trips. They were all still tense from earlier, but after some bickering and a bit of luggage Tetris the team was ready to go. At least the sedan had a large trunk.
Nate climbed wordlessly into the driver's seat and fastened his seat belt while Sophie sat down next to him, with Hardison, Parker, and Eliot piling in the back. It was going to be a long drive, he started the car and then set his left turn signal to merge into traffic.
After a few minutes of taut silence Sophie checked her makeup in the mirror and sighed. "It's a shame we can't fly, we'd be there in two hours instead of eight."
Nate sighed and closed his eyes for a second. They'd already had this discussion at length while they were packing, and Sophie was still riding on it. Up to this point he'd tried putting a positive spin on things to placate the team, but her tone hit the only nerve he had left so he decided he might as well join them.
"Oh yeah, because going through airport security as four internationally-wanted thieves would've totally worked out great for us. You know, considering someone burned our fake IDs and all."
The young blonde pouted and crossed her arms. "That safe was supposed to be fireproof."
"Fireproof Parker, not blowtorch-proof." Eliot finished for her.
"Same difference." She retorted.
"About 1,500 degrees different. You know I'm the one that's gotta fix the tile floor now, right?"
Nate listened to them argue, and started to get a headache. Why he'd volunteered to drive he had no idea but he was massively regretting that decision right about now. He needed a drink, and it'd be about another 7.95 hours until he could have one. He hadn't even had time to make coffee before they left, since missing the flight had already put them six hours behind schedule.
As the argument in the backseat failed to die out on its own, Nate decided to intervene. "Enough! What's done is done, we'll have a new floor next week, and for now, we're driving. Let's just settle down everyone, OK?"
Silence reigned for a few sweet minutes, and Nate was starting to think maybe they should've just chanced it at the airport. He smiled to himself, he was the only one in the group that would've made it through under his actual name and then at least he wouldn't have had to listen to their quarreling past the first TSA checkpoint.
As more time passed without another word spoken, Nate decided to try to cut the tension. He added as much cheerfulness to his voice as he had the ambition to fake and addressed the group. "It's uh, pretty quiet in here. How about we listen to the radio?"
No one protested, but just as he reached for the power button Hardison decided to speak. "Sure man, just as long as you don't choose the station."
Nate paused. He hadn't planned on commandeering which station they listened to, but against his better judgment he decided to play along for curiosity's sake. He left the radio untouched and put his hand back on the wheel. "And why exactly shouldn't I get to choose the station, Hardison? It's my car, after all."
When no answer was forthcoming he added a bit more authority to his voice. "Hardison, care to share with the class?"
Before anyone else had a chance to answer Parker blurted out, "Because your the oldest one here, duh!"
"What?" They'd been discussing radio stations for all of twenty seconds and he already didn't like where this conversation was going. He shot a glance in the rearview mirror to see Parker, Hardison, and Eliot each with their hands over their mouths, trying unsuccessfully to stifle their laughter. Sophie was looking out of the side window to avoid eye contact with Nate and she was almost able to hide that smirk on her face. Almost.
"So what, being the oldest one here means that I have poor taste in music?" Nate set his left turn signal and cleared the intersection. Then he glanced back in the mirror at the group, all of whom still weren't really trying to hide their amusement at Parker's frank comment.
Suddenly Eliot switched horse and came to the mastermind's aid. "Alright guys, let's not be so hard on Nate. I'm sure his taste in music ain't that bad." His comment was moderately insulting but his tone was sincere, so Nate decided to count his blessings. He nodded towards the hitter. "Thank you, Eliot."
Silence reigned for a few more sweet moments, but looking back into the mirror he could see the three of them were sharing telling looks again. Damn it, he could practically hear Eliot smirking. Nate regretted falling for the younger man's feigned concern a moment earlier, and as Eliot opened his mouth to speak Nate braced himself for the insult he knew must be coming.
"That is of course, assuming his taste in music ain't as bad as his taste in shoes..." Nate shot the hitter a dirty glare in the mirror as the entire car burst into laughter; he had to raise his voice to overshadow them. "Those shoes were for the con, Eliot."
The laughter died down and Eliot met Nate's gaze in the mirror, clearly ready for a fight. "Con or no con, they were ridiculous. Literally, those shoes need to burned." More snickering from the backseat.
"Well, maybe Parker will be generous enough to lend you her blowtorch." Trying to get the team back on track and hopefully avoid more insults, he changed the subject. "How about you choose the station then, smart ass."
Eliot didn't even have time to suggest a frequency before Hardison stepped in. "Oh hell no, we aren't letting Eliot choose some hick country station. Tractors, breakups, dogs running away for days...seriously, we'll all have clinical depression by the time we hit the first gas station."
Sophie chuckled while Eliot's glare was suddenly redirected at the hacker. "I shouldn't even dignify that with an answer. At least you can hear what they're saying, unlike that geeky tech crap you like to listen to."
"Geeky? How can music be geeky? Seriously man, no respect..."
Finally Parker decided to chime in. "Ok guys, how about I choose the..."
"NO!" the rest of the team shouted in unison. The car was silent once again, and Nate turned towards the last member of the group who hadn't been flamed yet. "Sophie, you're up. What are we listening to?" His hand stopped just shy of the radio again as the rest of his passengers immediately protested. He sighed, rubbed his eyes and then put his hand back on the wheel.
After almost an hour Parker unexpectedly broke the silence. "Why couldn't we take one of Eliot's cars? They're way cooler, and we'd get there faster."
Nate had almost managed to regain that last nerve, but her protest quickly unraveled his progress. He didn't even try to hide the sarcasm in his voice when he answered her. "So which one would you have preferred to take? The pickup that only seats three, assuming the guy in the middle is willing to share legroom with the shifter? Or the Camaro that doesn't have any seats?" Just to taunt the hitter, he added, "At least in the Camaro, we could've sat on our luggage..."
"I would've had the interior done last weekend if you hadn't insisted on more short notice work, Nate." Eliot replied testily.
"Sorry about that Eliot, but the Ridiculous Shoes Job was a bit time sensitive." He was still bitter about Eliot's comment and false concern, and decided to rub it in a bit. Then he quickly schooled his features to hide a mischeivious grin before adding, "And besides, being stuck in that elevator for three hours should've given you plenty of time to think about how you're going to tell Hardison you broke his iPad."
That statement garnished Nate an icy glare in the mirror, to which he just locked eyes with the hitter and smiled. Fair's fair.
Meanwhile Hardison lost every trace of humor he'd had on his face. "He what...my iPad...which one?!" He whirled to face Eliot.
"How the hell am I supposed to know which one, Hardison? You've got eight in black alone!"
"Apparently it's seven now man, thanks to you."
Nate tuned all of them out as Sophie stepped in to squelch the argument, keeping his focus on the task at hand. Not that he'd actually have to worry about getting them to Baltimore in one piece if they ended up murdering each other first.
The grifter managed to skillfully quiet the team and Nate had been enjoying the break, but it wasn't exactly hard to notice that Parker had been staring at him for the last ten minutes. He tried to compose himself and let out a long sigh before meeting her eyes in the mirror. "What is it this time?"
Her pout hadn't faded. "You're just jealous that Eliot's car is cooler than yours."
"I'm not jealous Parker, I actually like this car." Despite his fried nerves and the contempt in her voice he managed to keep his cool, and he gave himself a mental pat on the back for that.
Then she smiled and twirled her ponytail. "Of course you do, because you're, you know..."
"Parker I swear to God if the next word to come out of your mouth is 'ancient' or any derivative thereof, you're going to be riding in the trunk." With that she quickly closed her mouth and averted his gaze. Hardison looked just as offended as Parker, while Eliot ignored every last one of them and just kept staring out the window. Nate was glad that looks couldn't actually kill, or there'd probably be a lot of dead pedestrians in their wake about now.
Sophie had been relatively quiet after her initial comment about the flight but he should've known it wouldn't last. Using her smoothest con voice, she turned to Parker. "You know Parker, the trunk isn't such a bad idea. It's not nearly as cold as a cargo hold would be..."
Nate stopped her right there. "Actually, I have a better idea. If any of you open your mouth for anything other than breathing, eating, drinking, or quieting someone else before they say something they're going to regret, you're all going in the trunk." That seemed to do the trick, blissful silence once more. He turned his attention to the on-ramp in front of him, then heard Hardison quietly muttering to himself as he put his earbuds in. "Seriously man, riding with a mobster's son...should've known we'd end up in the trunk..."
Nate checked his watch. Another six hours and 45 minutes to go.
A/N: I got the general idea for this story from The Radio Debate by projectkitt, while the shoe part was inspired by Eliot's similar thoughts from Breathe by No Illusion. The 'ancient' part was inspired by a scene in BBC Sherlock. This is the first story I've ever written, hopefully you guys enjoy it :)