Special note: while this isn’t a proper crossover with the movie, Inception, it does mention several scenes in the movie. Just a head’s up.
Eliot stopped under the marquee and stuck his hands in his pockets. The night had grown unexpectedly cold and it felt good, like fall was on its way. In the past, fall and spring had always made him restless, made him feel like moving on—another city, another job. But those days, it seemed, were over and he glanced to the right, gazing at the reason for the sea change.
Nate was idly scanning the posters for the upcoming movies, bouncing on his toes. The blue light from the fluorescents haloed his head, making him look like a high-tech saint.
Eliot snorted softly. He’d been doing that a lot lately, thinking things so bizarre that he sometimes wondered if he’d hit his head a few too many times.
Beyond Nate, out on the sidewalk, Sophie was looking up, her head tilted to the night sky.
“…no, that’s not it at all. Okay, listen—they didn’t drown or get blown up because those weren’t their real bodies. Get it?” Hardison was ready to burst—his voice always got that thin, frantic tone when he was about to break out into geek talk. It would be funny if Eliot didn’t share his frustration.
“Were they stunt doubles?”
“No. No, no, no, no!”
Eliot didn’t want to, but he couldn’t help himself; he turned. And groaned.
Hardison was holding his head like he was trying to keep it from falling off or maybe explode. Parker was peering up at him intently, hands on hips. They were standing too close, almost toe to toe, and Eliot wondered if they knew that everyone else knew. They weren’t being very discreet about it, but then, they didn’t have a reason to.
“Parker, remember that part in the beginning?”
Eliot closed his eyes and shook his head. Maybe this hadn’t been such a bright idea.
When he’d talked Nate into a late-night, almost-midnight movie, he’d planned on just the two of them. Divided by the armrest, out in public, he’d have to keep his hands to himself, but that was okay—what with one thing and another, it was more than okay. And even though he’d already seen the movie, it didn’t really matter as long as Nate was by his side.
What he hadn’t planned on was Hardison and Parker overhearing his quiet suggestion. Or Sophie wanting to tag along because they hadn’t had a job in weeks and she was bored.
Things had started out okay. He’d arranged it so Sophie sat first, then Nate. He’d glared at Hardison, telling him silently to move on, then took the aisle seat next to Nate. Hardison just rolled his eyes and escorted Parker to a couple seats in front, two rows down.
Nate had been quiet, occasionally pointing out the mistakes the thieves made, but mostly just watching, leaning slightly to the right. Eliot pretended it was just the two of them, going out on a date like any normal couple.
Sophie liked the movie and Hardison loved it but didn’t get a chance to geek out about it because by the time the end credits began to roll, Parker had started in on her interrogation.
Question after question, fired off so quickly there was hardly time to answer. Eliot had tried, though. Quietly, as the crowd around them left, then not so quietly when a few people gave them the bug eyes along with a few snickers—it wasn’t funny and Nate’d had to hold him back from proving it to some asshole who was at least twenty pounds heavier and ten years younger.
He’d finally given up, though, and told Hardison to take over. Which hadn’t worked any better and eventually an usher asked them to leave.
“Aren’t you glad you made us come?” a soft voice murmured in Eliot’s ear.
Eliot didn’t jump, but just barely. In the beginning, he’d hated when Nate did that—that cat-quiet, sneaking up on soft paws thing. He was the only one who managed to get the drop on Eliot, time after time, and it had been annoying. In the beginning.
“It wasn’t supposed to be ‘us,’ and yeah,” he whispered defiantly. “I thought you’d like it.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t that you thought it’d be funny, bringing a group of thieves to see a movie about thieves.”
“No, I thought you’d enjoy it because it’s a good movie. Sophie loved it.”
“You got me there. She did love it.” Nate’s voice had softened the way it always did when he spoke of Sophie and her dreams of becoming a world-famous actress. They both looked over—she was still watching the sky, but she was swaying to and fro. Most likely imagining herself as the femme fatale—if he were closer and Hardison and Parker weren’t so loud, he’d probably hear her whisper, “You’re waiting for a train…”
Nate moved nearer—he smelled of the popcorn he hadn’t wanted to eat, the aftershave he’d used earlier. It should’ve been an unappealing mix, but it wasn’t. It was sexy and hot and Eliot glanced at Sophie to make sure the coast was clear before stepping back into his warmth. If he angled it just right, he could pinch Nate’s ass like he’d been wanting to all night.
But just then Hardison let out a little moan, pained and feeble, and Eliot forgot all about Nate, his ass, and pinching.
Because Hardison was still grasping his head but now he was shaking it, like one of those toy dogs that Eliot’s grandma used have in the rear window of her car—head bouncing up and down and back and forth, all over the damn place. “No, Parker,” Hardison moaned, “that’s not it at all. Nate.” He looked up.
Nate was already a careful foot away and that was something else Eliot had hated in the beginning. And still did. “Don’t look at me,” Nate said. “I’m not the one that knows how that stuff works.”
“C’mon, man, help me out here.”
Nate gave it a beat, then gestured. “Parker, come here.”
Trailed by Hardison, Parker came dutifully forward. Nate put his hands on her shoulders and looked deep into her eyes. “It’s like an elaborate three-card monte,” he said slowly. “There’s the mark, Fisch—”
“The guy with the dad who died who didn’t love him only now he thinks he loved him but he—”
“Parker,” Nate interrupted with a quick glance at Eliot and Hardison, ordering them not to groan or moan. “That’s not important. All you have to remember is that it was basically a con.”
“But not a con, not like we do because they went into his head, and, ew.” She shuddered. “That’s not even possible. You can’t just stick something in your wrist and—”
Nate shot Eliot another glance, only this one was accusatory. “Yeah, well forget about that for a moment. All you have to know is that the mastermind—”
“Er, yeah. Leonardo DiCaprio. See, he did this for his kids and now he’s home and everything’s fine.” This time his glance said, ‘Leave it—you’ll only confuse the issue.’ Hardison stepped back, his hands up in the air. Eliot just crossed his arms and glared—like he’d be the one to make things worse.
“Oh,” Parker said, her frown changing to a smile that got bigger as she thought it through. “Oh. I get it. That’s sweet.”
“Yes, it is.” Nate let go of her shoulders and retreated warily, step by step. Eliot had seen him do the same a few times before but generally it was right after a bad guy pulled a knife or a gun.
Parker smiled again. Eliot breathed a sigh of relief that stopped in his throat because, as quick as it came, her smile died. She cocked her head. “But what about—”
They all cringed, Eliot included. “Parker,” he growled, ignoring Nate’s low, “Eliot,” and Hardison’s frantically shaking head. “It was a dream. It was just a big dream.”
Her eyebrows shot up, her jaw dropped. “Wha—”
“Well, guys,” Nate interrupted hurriedly before she could start up again. “It’s been fun. Gotta run. Eliot, you’re driving?”
He turned on his heel and before Eliot could think to grab him, he scuttled away, giving the oblivious Sophie a touch on the arm as he passed.
Eliot turned back around like he was facing a firing squad. Shit.
Parker and Hardison hadn’t moved. He took a breath, then grimaced and took off after Nate. Waving at Hardison’s, “C’mon, man,” past Sophie, down the block and around the corner to where Nate was waiting.
He didn’t say a thing as they got in the car—he just gave Eliot a steady look that said, ‘This was your idea and you are going to pay.’
Without letting go, Eliot pulled the covers up, then went back to what he’d been doing—kissing the nape of Nate’s neck, softly, lazily because, damn, that had been good and if he wasn’t tired before, he was now. “Are you okay?”
Which meant maybe, maybe not. There were three red marks on Nate’s shoulder—one clearly from a thumb—and a bite mark near his left scapula. They wouldn’t bruise—Eliot had been rough, but not that rough.
“Did I hurt you?”
Nate looked over his shoulder. “You’re kidding, right?”
Eliot made a face. So much for tenderness. He settled in, his arm over Nate’s waist. “When is the taxi coming?”
“7:30. And, before you ask again, no, you can’t go.”
“It’s risky, you going alone.”
“It’s twelve hours. Round trip.”
“I know what you’re worried about. Moreau isn’t going to try to take me out. He doesn’t even know we’re after him.”
Eliot frowned. How would Nate know that? No one knew that.
“Stop frowning, Eliot,” Nate said gently, without looking. “I’ll be fine.”
When Eliot didn’t answer, Nate elbowed him gently. “I’ll tell you what. When I get to LAX, I’ll call as soon as we land. I’ll call when I get to the rendezvous. Then, when I’m done with the client, I’ll call again.” He patted Eliot’s arm. “If I don’t, you have my permission to come to my rescue. Okay?”
All those phone calls would amount to nothing if anything happened, but Nate wasn’t going to budge on this one—Eliot knew that inflexible tone. “Yeah, okay.”
Nate patted his arm once more. “You and Sophie can take turns waiting by the phone.”
Like Eliot would ever take turns with Sophie on anything that had to do with Nate. He liked her, but there were limits. “Okay.”
Nate sighed. “Will it make you feel better if I let Hardison put a tracking device in my cell phone?”
Eliot wasn’t sure what gave him away, but whatever it was, Nate read him easily. He pushed, forcing Eliot to his back, then rolled over and lay on his side. He picked up a strand of Eliot’s hair and began to wind it around his finger. “Is this about the movie?”
Nate yanked. “Is this about the movie?”
“Ow!” Eliot made a face and slapped his hand. “No, it’s not.”
But Nate when on as if he hadn’t spoken, “About that guy, Saito, the one that got stuck in limbo?”
Eliot opened his mouth in denial, then shut it again. No, it wasn’t.
It was every thief’s nightmare—the possibility of getting conned by one’s own partners, getting trapped, or arrested. Those kinds of things hadn’t worried him when he’d started out because he’d never worked with a team. He’d always been on his own, and it wasn’t vanity to know that in his particular field, he was one of the best. But he’d changed; Nate had changed him.
“I’m fine. Things are fine.”
“You sure? Because it seems to me you’ve been more quiet than usual.”
“What does that mean?”
“Just that ever since you broke me out of prison, you’ve been…” Nate shrugged and tugged again.
“What?” Eliot asked, a little too abruptly.
“Distant. Aloof. Angry.”
By the time Nate had finished talking, Eliot was frowning. Staring up at the ceiling, trying to remember the past few months because Nate was exaggerating—he had to be. It hadn’t been that bad. He’d laid it on the line via Dr. Abernathy, they’d gotten Nate out and gone back to work, back to things as usual. Case closed. Sort of.
Because he wasn’t being completely honest, not with Nate, not with himself. There was something living in the center of his heart, taking up so much space that it was a wonder he could draw a clean breath.
But it was nothing he could decipher, nothing he could suss out, so he opened his mouth to distract, to protest, but Nate shook his head. “Don’t even try.”
Eliot scowled. If he was quick, he could send Nate flying, off the bed, onto the floor. Of course, if he did that, Nate would know something was— “There’s nothing wrong,” he repeated.
Nate sighed again and squirmed on top, situating himself until he lay on Eliot with all his weight. “You know I’d never leave you anywhere you didn’t want to be, right?”
Eliot made himself roll his eyes. “I wasn’t saying that.”
“I’ll never leave you.”
Nate traced the faint scar near Eliot’s clavicle, first with his finger, then with his tongue. “Do you? Because I’d come for you, just like you came for me. Even if you were in the most secure prison ever built. Even if you were in so deep, you didn’t know where you were or who you were.”
He kissed Eliot’s chest, his day-old beard scratching in a way that was familiar, wanted, needed, and Eliot thought on his words.
Generally, it was something he hated, movies where the main guy goes through all this shit only to find out that it was all a dream, that none of it was real. It was a cheat on the part of the director, messing with the audience’s mind like that. And the notion that his world wasn’t his world? It always made him feel claustrophobic, almost dizzy. He needed the concrete, the absolute.
Maybe that’s what Nate did for him. Provided an anchor, a place to retreat to when the job was done, when he needed a safe place to rest and heal.
“Nate,” he said, just for the hell of it even though the whatever in his chest was still there, biding its time. Then again when Nate hummed against his skin, but softer, “Nate—”
Nate breathed a laugh and Eliot closed his eyes in pleasure, reaching to pull him up, to gather him in. It really was too late to fuck again, but hell, he wasn’t the one that had to get up at six.
He kissed Nate’s mouth open, twisting until he was on top, his hair making a shelter for them both.
And things probably would’ve gotten interesting because his dick didn’t think it was too late, but just then a tinny burr interrupted them, a sound he knew by heart—Nate’s cell, buzzing away on the nightstand. “Leave it,” he muttered between kisses, but Nate was already stretching a long arm.
“Can’t. It might be a job.” Nate glanced at the number, then pressed a button. “Hey, Parker, what’s up?”
Parker said something too quick for Eliot to catch, but Nate’s face changed. He closed his eyes briefly and sighed. “Can’t this wait until—”
Whatever it was, it couldn’t wait until morning—Parker’s small voice got louder, and Eliot could hear something about, ‘Wouldn’t that…,’ followed by, ‘I don’t….’
“Okay, okay,” Nate said as he made himself comfortable. “What do you want to know?”
Eliot growled silently. And began to edge away in tiny, impossibly slow movements. With any luck, by the time Nate noticed, he’d be out of arm’s—and ear’s—reach.
He wasn’t sly enough or quick enough.
He made his move, but with a lunge that shouldn’t have been so swift—not with all they’d been up to just an hour ago—Nate grabbed his hair and reeled him in. “Sure,” he said to Parker as he curled his fingers into a loose fist, watching Eliot with that, ‘If I have to suffer, so do you’ look, his eyes bright with a vengeful humor. “Take your time. I’ve got all night.”