The Big Top Job
Summary: There's one place that Nate hates more than hospitals, but when an old friend calls in a favour, that's where the Leverage crew need to go—to the circus. With bad guys taking the circus performers hostage, the FBI due on the scene, and a crowd full of people to protect, the Leverage team have only option...
...they have to steal the show.
Warnings: Spoilers for Season 4, up to most current episode if you squint.
Category: Sophie/Nate; angst/case.
Disclaimer: Leverage doesn’t belong to me.
Written for leverageland for teamgrifter as part of the mini-bang for Challenge 5. Unbetaed as I’m in the middle of four bangs of various sizes and flailing all over the deadlines; all mistakes are mine.
When Callum Sanderson's face appeared on the video link, his handsome face marred by more wrinkles and grey hairs than should be his fortune at this point in his life, Nate's stomach sank to the floor in pre-emptive misery.
Scratch that. It was Sanderson's contact details, flashing up on the monitors in black and white that caused Nate's stomach to twinge. Or maybe it was the fact all he had in his stomach was a handful of bar peanuts and three measures of Irish whiskey. Nate didn't know for sure. It was easier to blame both.
He told Hardison to hit connect even though his brain had already sorted through the inevitable consequences of doing so. The repercussions of ignoring the call were unhappy enough—Sanderson would only turn to Nate in time of direst need, because he knew how Nate felt about his circus, any circus. Sophie, Eliot, Hardison and Parker would also have tag-teamed him with loaded questions until the truth blistered out of his throat.
No, hitting connect was the only reasonable outcome of Callum Sanderson's name and number flashing up on the monitor.
Nate strode into view of the camera, exchanging the briefest of phatics with Callum, and then he leant against the frame of the touchscreen, arms folded; giving Callum the opportunity to speak first. His old friend's expression looked strained, and there was a definite pulse point standing out on his forehead near his thinning hair. Whatever the problem, it was an urgent one.
"You're looking good, Nate." Callum blinked unsteadily at his webcam.
"We can exchange platitudes later, Cal. You don't call me unless it's urgent; just tell me."
"I can't be long. They'd notice. I told them I needed a little time to make the calls, but they'll need me soon." Callum's eyes shifted to the right, maybe to the door. Nate glanced behind him, and the thin chain running down behind his friend's shoulder. The walls were white, clinical. His friend was in a toilet stall. There was the faintest hint of sweat beading on Callum's forehead.
"They?" Nate prompted.
"The drug lords holding my crew hostage until I return the diamond I stole."
"Give me details."
"Twenty four of my crew, twelve guys armed, minimum of six Berettas, four rifles, an RPG and a colt. They let me go to fetch the diamond. I got a picture of three of the goons with Nancy's cell; I'm uploading them now."
"Running them," Hardison said, making Callum's screen smaller and tapping efficiently on the screen. The single picture came up. Nate squinted at them. It was easy to tell from the shoulder holster one of them was wearing that these guys were professionals. Nate gestured behind his back at Eliot, their signal for information.
"That's Pol Dankard," Eliot murmured, staying carefully off-screen. "Hitter for hire. He doesn't normally work with a group—the fees must be worth it."
"Recognise any of the others?"
"No. But the one at the back is holding himself like... I'd say ex-Turkish rebel, it's a distinctive shoulder slope. No ID or idea on the third, but his jacket's bulging at the right; he's packing more than your guy can see."
Nate didn't have time to tell Eliot Callum Sanderson was definitely not his guy. "Cal, tell me about the diamond. When did you steal it?"
"I didn't," Callum said, but scratched the base of his neck, and Nate remembered that tell from Hamburg, 1996, when Callum was using his circus as a portable smuggling ring. Nate didn't have to say a word; a raised eyebrow with Sanderson was more than efficient. "I only borrowed it."
"You said you don't have much time," Nate said. "Speak fast."
"Callum Sanderson." Nate stood by the screens after the denouement of the conversation, scratching something down on a piece of paper. Hardison's fingers were already moving like lightning across the touchscreen as Nate began to brief Sophie and Parker. "His business card says Ringmaster and he's a capable one at that; his unofficial business card would say anything from Professional Rogue to Catburglar to Smuggler of Antiquities. He's a mild thief, usually too trivial to cross IYS' path on more than a handful of occasions. We've had some dealing in the past."
"Dealing?" Sophie leant against her elbow on the table, her dark eyes on Nate's. "I've had dealings with you before; those dealings nearly got me scorched as bad as the law would."
"And still you kept coming back," Nate said, flashing a smile at her before looking up at them all again. "He scratched my back, I scratched his. If his goods were stolen from a drug lord I might have looked the other way in return for... information." Nate passed the slip of paper he had been writing on to Hardison; a small Google browser popped up in the corner almost instantaneously.
"So he's a snitch." Eliot shook his head at Sanderson's image on the screen.
Nate tilted his head, acquiescing. "He stole a diamond from a safety deposit box at the Commerzbank in Frankfurt. His contact is a Grifter named Anna Grierson."
Hardison punched at the touchscreen with a flourish and a profile came up on the page. The logo in the corner proclaimed it her CIA file. No one flinched, because everyone was used to Hardison's skills by now, a fact he liked to declaim and often as the central reason for them not appreciating him as much as they clearly should.
"She used the diamond in a con in Heidelberg," Hardison said, clicking up some more reports on the incident. "It flagged up all over my system but was a fait accompli, nothing we could have really done except maybe scowl disapprovingly at some of the players. There are some big name con men cursing her name up and down France and Germany if the grapevine's correct."
"Grierson used the diamond with the proviso that Sanderson returned it, for a 20% cut of Grierson's heist," Nate said. "She's due to return it tonight. The problem is, Grierson's being tailed. If the guys holding Sanderson's people see the people tailing her, they'll assume Sanderson called them, and will shoot their hostages."
"So who would be tailing Grierson that would cause so much bother?" Parker asked. Sophie arched an eyebrow at her. "Paris Hilton? Sterling? Santa Claus?"
Nate did his now nearly-patented oh, Parker exhale. "The FBI."
"Urgh," Parker said.
"Agents Taggart and McSweeten," Hardison added.
Parker pursed her lips, considering. "Maybe a little less urgh. So what's the plan? Are we going to steal the diamond from Grierson?"
"No," Nate said. He picked up an apple from the fruit bowl, tossed it in the air, and caught it as he started his ritual walk-away. "We're going to steal us a circus."
Sophie leaned against the counter in line with the other three and stared after Nate. "How did I know he was going to say that?"
Somehow Hardison had "accidentally" purchased Nate and Sophie seats in coach, while Eliot, Parker and himself had seats in First Class. Nate didn't put up too much of a fight. First of all he had seen it coming from the second he told Hardison that no, he could not get a train all the way to Germany. Secondly, the seats in Coach were way too small, and being pushed up next to Sophie Devereaux was never something to complain about.
Sophie engineered the situation so the seat on the aisle next to them was free. Nate had known her now for nearly 14 years, and met her over 12 years ago, and over all those years he knew exactly how skilled she was; there was no way her water spill all over the seat was clumsiness. He just sat back and watched her at work, because she was a professional in her field, and in full Grifter mode she was glorious. Nate remembered seeing her in action back in the day, when he was the retrieval agent and she was his glamorous target, and even he found it hard to pull apart her dazzling routines and he was looking for the cracks and the flaws.
Even though the seat would now stay empty until Germany, Sophie stayed in the middle seat. Nate guessed she had no argument about being pressed close to him, either. His face coloured a little in anticipation. There was no way he could cope with her now. One touch of her skin against his usually sent his mind into a hazed oblivion, but maybe, if their con was successful, he could casually suggest a small detour into the airplane bathroom. She would be high from their success, pliant from this half of the journey without any intimacy; she would say yes, Nate's sure of it.
He turned his head to the side to look at her. Sophie's pupils were a little blown, her pulse from where her wrist touched his arm a little heightened, and her smile when his gaze met hers was just the right shade of wicked to know that once again, he and Sophie were exactly on the same page.
"The others didn't notice it, but I know you better than I do and I know the signs to look for," Sophie said. "You flinch every single time the word circus is mentioned."
"Not every time," Nate muttered, his arms aching as he held in the almost involuntary impulse. He sighed, because she wasn't taking that as an answer. "Circuses make me a little..." He searched for the right word. "Weirded out."
"Mm-hmm." Sophie settled back in her seat, staring at the monitor in front of her, even though it was only displaying a bank of cloud and their current position right in the middle of it.
"I have a phobia of clowns," Nate said, trying for the lie.
"No you don't. You have a fear of heights, needles and those miniature newts that sometimes turn up in your garbage can," Sophie said levelly. She paused, obviously searching for the most tactful way to say something. Nate's stomach clenched, because he knew what she was going to say. "Circuses cause the same tick as your hospital flinch."
He turned away from her to stare out of the small circular window. As usual the same curl of want licks up inside him, like maybe he could be sucked out of that window at a second's notice, or a car will run him over on the next street he crosses, and then he never has to feel this again. This hole in his heart where Sam still smiled at him and called him daddy.
"Forget it; I shouldn't have brought it up."
Sophie's urges to protect him were usually in conflict. Her earnest heart made her want him to face his demons, but then her Grifter mind always zoomed to clean-up, soothing over the hurt, hiding the pain under a new mask. She shouldn't have to have this conflict.
Nate tried to clear his throat, but maybe he was just making that sound to focus on not crying. "Sam and I- we were supposed to go to Sanderson's Circus. He was so excited, for weeks, it was nothing but clowns, and elephants, and tumblers. But on the morning we were due to go, he had a headache, and... I mean, he was in remission at the time. We thought he was clear forever, but I was a paranoid father."
"So you took him in," Sophie said softly, her hand coming down over his. She squeezed lightly; Nate could feel the warmth of it almost like a burn. He still did not feel like he deserved any sort of kindness, but that thought conflicted of the way he craved even a whisper of her touch. That was his life, a war between black and white, good and evil, what he wanted to do and what had to be done. "And he never came out," Sophie surmised, and Nate could hear the emotion in her voice. She wasn't in a character and she wasn't acting, and his eyes burned with that fact.
"The Make a Wish foundation tried to make it happen regardless. They're the charity that helps dying children get their last wish, and Sam, Sam still wanted to go, so... I worked with the foundation. We found a team of doctors who were willing to fly out in a private plane with Sam, and Sanderson cleared a whole section of the seats so Sam's bed could go in there, and it was all set to go-" Nate's voice hitched. In the reflection of the small circular window he could see Sophie close her eyes in realisation. "He died a week before it was due to happen."
He heard Sophie swallow. "Are you... are you going to be okay with this one? We don't have to do it. Or you could sit it out. Or-"
"I'm going to be fine, we have to do it, and no, I'm not sitting it out." Nate turned back to her, his eyes stony dry. "If we don't, even if the worst doesn't happen, the circus will have to shut down. And Sam would never have forgiven me for that."
"Okay," Sophie said, like she didn't fully buy it. "Shall we go over the plan again? I'm not quite sure about the logistics."
If Nate leapt on that opening more quickly than he should have, Sophie was much too polite to mention it.
"You're awfully good at that," Parker observed, watching Eliot in fascination.
Eliot was perched on the edge of a crate, using a broken piece of mirror that Nate 'attained' from a car in the parking lot of the circus site to apply his makeup. Eliot carefully added a tear to his flawless clown makeup. "I dated a clown once," Eliot said.
"And she let you try on her makeup?" Parker said. "That was sweet of her."
"I thought most clowns were male," Hardison said from behind his third-favourite netbook, the only one he had declared safe to travel on a plane.
Eliot snapped Sophie's make up case closed and tossed it to her without looking. Sophie took a pause from wriggling into the ringmaster's costume she had half-cobbled together from Sanderson's wardrobe and some of the dancers' trailers to catch it, before starting to try and peel on some ridiculously tight stockings. Nate watched her, wondering for a moment if she was going for some sort of demented Ringmaster dominatrix look until she shimmied a corset over the top of the black leotard she had found that was made of gold sequins. She twirled, glistening in the light, before flipping her makeup case back open and starting to apply heavy eye makeup so she would stand out in the crowd.
Eliot got to his feet, shuffled around in the oversized shoes, and glanced at Hardison. "I didn't supply a gender, did I?"
Hardison blinked as Eliot winked at him and moved over to the curtain to check on the crowd.
Their plane had touched down at 8pm local time, giving them half an hour to get to the circus, and half an hour to prep for the show, which wasn't nearly enough time for a glossy con, but they were good at winging things by now if nothing else. While Sanderson's crew was being held hostage a good 800 metres away from the Big Top, there were still some hired local hands which Hardison and Eliot had redirected onto the door and to selling popcorn and sauerkraut to the crowd.
"He's kidding, right?" Hardison asked. "Right?"
Nate smirked to himself. "Parker, after you've waylaid Taggart and McSweeten, collect me some wallets."
"As if you have to say so," Parker said, adjusting the lacy collar to her striped and glittery full body leotard. She did a handstand idly, and did the splits without even a change in expression, before flipping upright.
"I'm going to borrow some moves from an old friend," Nate said. "I need enough information to cold read."
"Oh, the let's steal the Future job," Parker said, sounding enthusiastic in recognition. "I didn't like that one," she finished, her voice flat. "Can I keep the cash I find?"
Nate looked at her flatly.
"Fine, it was just a question," Parker said.
"And Parker, you're up," Hardison said. "Grierson's Prius pulled up; Taggart and McSweeten's SUV is pulling up at the North End of the parking lot now."
"You've got ten minutes and you're on," Nate reminded her.
"Break a leg," Sophie said brightly, before wiping off any excess lipstick on a tissue.
Parker stalled to glare at her. "I'll break Taggart's leg only as a last resort. I won't hurt McSweeten, the haiku he gave me was adorable."
She stalked out of the tent, giving Sophie the evil eye as she went.
"It means good luck in the theatre," Sophie murmured redundantly.
"Eliot," Nate said, "let the mercenaries catch you if you think it'll get you a better angle. But violence is our back up plan; you've got it, right? Let me know if you need extra bodies and we'll improvise. But if things stay on track, you should just need to be an early warning system."
Eliot looked grim even beneath the layer of makeup. "Since when have things ever stayed on track," he muttered, and stalked out of the circus, muttering about never getting laid again and why did Nate never get the stupid outfits, coming in loud and clear on both complaints through the earpieces.
Nate waited a beat. "Eliot, we can hear you."
"It would be wasted if you couldn't."
"FYI, the crowd's getting a little restless," Hardison said.
"And that's my cue. Wish me luck." Sophie tilted her head, put on her best smile and moved to the Big Top entrance.
"Break only Taggart's legs," Nate said, "McSweeten writes good poetry."
Sophie grinned at him, and swept through, the curtain falling behind her. Nate let his confident pre-con smile fade. He didn't know if it was worry curling in the base of his stomach, or guilt at never bringing Sam here, and they were in the middle of a con—he didn't have time to linger on his own ridiculous feelings.
Nate moved to closer to the curtain. Sophie was clearly enjoying herself. The 10 minutes they had previously allotted her, which included plenty of time for Parker to quickly do her thing and stall Taggart, swiftly passed. Sophie was enjoying herself and the crowd wasn't complaining; Sophie was doing an amazing job at an opening spiel, apologising for the change in programme, inviting them to enjoy the wonders and the entertainment and the joy, and talking about the amazing tumbling act, the fantastic Parker, that would be there very soon.
"Not that soon," Parker said over the intercom. "Um, McSweeten's being a bit clingy. I can't shake him. You're going to have to stall."
"Stall?" Hardison blurted.
"And all of you in the stalls-“ Sophie's introduction suddenly included, her panic hitching through loud and clear.
"I'm not coming back; I'm installed in a good viewpoint here," Eliot grouched.
Hardison stared at Nate.
"You are so lucky Sanderson's is known as an English-speaking circus,“ Sophie hissed under her breath, apparently having incited a sing-along of the German national anthem, "because my German would have died twenty minutes ago. What are we going to do?"
"Uh," Nate said, which was the worst thing he could ever say on any con ever. Hardison slapped himself in the forehead with his hand. The crowd finished singing, and there was a too long moment of silence.
"Ooh, the spirits inform me that Parker's been waylaid at the moment," Sophie said, and a few boos accompanied her words. "But if you think my gift with the ghosts is amazing, wait til you see our first act tonight. All the way from Transylvania...“
"Uh, Soph, what are you doing?" Nate asked.
"He's the mastermind of Eastern Europe soothsaying,“ Sophie continued.
"Oh, crap," Nate muttered, grabbing at the nearest costume he could find. There were silvery sequins on it, and was that a sequin rainbow across the front? He had been hoping for the time of Parker's act to let him find something classier. He shook his head at it for a brief second, but that was all the time he was going to allow himself to waste.
"What's she doing?" Hardison demanded.
Nate sighed and flung the costume over his head.
"You look like a unicorn vomited on you," Hardison told him.
"She's making me cold read," Nate said, "without any inside knowledge."
"The prophecy prince himself," Sophie crooned. "Fordanicus the Magnificent!"
Sophie knew she was taking a risk by calling Nate out into the circus itself. For most of the flight there, and the hectic car ride to get to the circus in time to pull this off, she had been mostly positive she was going to let Nate stay in the position he preferred—as the Man Behind The Curtain. In this case, far behind the circus curtain if she could manage it.
But in her heart she knew Nate needed to face this fear, or risk crawling back into his shell with a six pack of Guinness and a whole new wave of denial.
And he was good. With a wave of pride clutching her chest, Sophie stepped back through the curtain. She could hear Parker flirting awkwardly with McSweeten through the comms, and Hardison's teeth as he ground them together, and McSweeten's awkward flirting in return, and Eliot's grouching at how badly this plan was put together; but mostly she could just hear Nate's voice. It was like her body was tuned to him.
It wasn't a new feeling. Sophie remembered the old thrill of her long cons, and how she would feel this odd tension, wondering if she would hear the faintest whisper of Nate's voice, or a tinge of blue as she spotted him watching her across the room. Even then she longed for him, like the worst kind of teenaged crush. She's been ready longer than she's been aware to follow Nate into the mouth of hell itself if that's what he's going to ask, and recently, it's felt like he might, he just might. Sophie knows Eliot's been on edge with the idea, but she feels... almost resigned to the fact that the ship they're in is set on a collision course with flame and failure.
Still, it wasn't time to idle over such thoughts; they were for the darkness, when Sophie left Nate on the floor in his apartment, weary and high, with that little shared smile on his face that was the secret of them, together. Now was the time for a crucial part of this con.
"I can keep him out here for another five minutes at most," Parker said, "hurry!"
Sophie hurried. She slipped a boring sweater over what remained of her gaudy costume, and sidled out into the stands. Hardison had given her a picture of Anna Grierson; Sophie found her immediately.
"Sanderson sent me." Sophie kept her voice gentle.
"How can I know this?" Grierson muttered, her hands clenching at the bag in her lap. Sophie fought the urge to roll her eyes; Grierson was not a very good Grifter at all, letting Sophie know where the goods were.
"Look at me." Sophie stayed staring ahead, and turned up the end of the sweater, revealing the gaudy sequins below.
"You're his Ringmaster," Grierson said. "Of course. Here." She handed over the bag and Sophie glanced inside. The diamond was nestled neatly in the middle of what was at least five hundred thousand dollars in cash. Sophie mentally calculated Grierson's take, and took back the thought about Grierson not being a good Grifter. "I am... sorry for the delay. Cal sounded urgent on the phone."
"You have no idea," Sophie said, as Nate talked with a woman in the middle of the sandpit, seemingly bringing information about her out of nowhere (please, Sophie thought, irritated as the crowd cheered at such a ridiculously easy cold reading, there's a clear pale ring of skin where her wedding ring used to be, and you can see the lump of skin which shows she writes for a living, and you can see the Harvard scarf poking out of her bag.) "Hardison, it's time," she muttered under her breath. Sophie got out of her seat, and looked at Anna. "You might want to leave. We've waylaid your FBI guys. If you go now you might be able to ditch them."
"Thank you," Grierson said, sounding warmly surprised. Sophie didn't bother turning to see if her expression corresponded; she had somewhere to be.
"Doing my thang now,“ Hardison said, as Nate finished his act up in the middle of the circle. "ETA: 3 minutes."
"Making me run in heels?" Sophie muttered, stripping off the sweater as soon as she got out of the tent and running to the tent with the hostages. Eliot came out of the shadows with a good fifty metres to go—Sophie threw him the diamond and he legged it the rest of the way.
Sophie dodged down behind the barrels where Eliot must have been hiding.
"The bogey is landed," Eliot muttered, his voice barely a whisper; they could all hear the tension in his voice. A loaded moment passed, and then Eliot said, "Their phones all went off at once.“
“I'm just that good,“ Hardison's voice said.
"McSweeten and Taggart just left, tailing Grierson," Parker added. "We're safe to proceed.“
"Noted, P.“ Hardison's loud typing was audible over the earpieces, as was Nate's spluttering as he made his act drag on, as was the mercenaries' phones beeping—Eliot must have gotten really close to them. “They should leave now."
"Roger that,“ Eliot said. "Sanderson's given Pol the diamond; all of them are leaving. No blood spilled."
"Send the circus crew this way,“ Nate said, “I'm about to be crucified out here."
Sophie watched as twelve guys with guns filed out of the tent, one of them clutching the diamond closely; her heart leapt when she saw the ragged circus crew follow them out. Half of them were trembling, and Sanderson was targeting the other half, directing them to the animals and Sophie could hear him from here telling them to put on a hell of a show.
"We did it," Sophie breathed, and tried very hard not to think about how relieved she sounded. She got up from the ground, and started to deal with the cleanup. Nate might have handled himself okay in the ring, but perhaps it was best to get him out of there as soon as possible.
"It's all done," Sophie announced, climbing over the white structure pole that separated the sawdust flooring from the grass outside and letting the striped curtain fall down behind her. The raucous sound of the proper circus going on floated out as she smoothed over the sequins of her outfit with her hands, self conscious about the outfit now her Ringmaster persona was filed away into one of her Grifter personality mental folders. "Sanderson was especially grateful."
"Yeah," Nate said. "It's almost too bad the amount we stole from Sanderson to pay the mercenaries to leave his people alone will only just about be made up by the 20% Grierson gave him."
They shared an easy smile. Sophie sat down on the edge of the cart next to Nate. Nate offered her the Old Grouse bottle he was clutching like Sophie had been holding her microphone in the tent.
She shook her head. "I don't have any demons on this heist to quieten," she said.
Nate toasted the air with the bottle and took an audible gulp of the liquid. The air was hot and silent between them, wrestling between being a comforting blanket or a suffocating mass.
"I was thinking about what you said on the plane," Sophie said, ignoring the way Nate automatically tensed beside her. "About the circus shutting down. I think Sam would have forgiven you."
Nate let out an exhale of pure disbelief. Sophie put both of her hands on his shoulders, an anchor holding him down to the ground.
"I think he would have forgiven you anything if it meant keeping you safe," Sophie finished.
Nate turned to her, his expression carefully bleak, but there was a hint of something in his eyes, something which reminded Sophie of the Nate she used to know, back when all they had between them was a sparking chemistry and the thrill of the hunt and chase in their bellies.
"One more thing," Sophie said.
Nate's schooled expression stayed on his face. "What?" he asked, cautiously, like whatever she said could hurt him.
"Please say you kept that fortune teller's outfit." Sophie looked away, into the rolling, damp German fields.
"That thing? It was hideous."
"Yeah," Sophie agreed. "It really was." She moved her hands from her shoulders and reached one of them out to him.
"Then why-" He stared at her, shaking her head as if she'd gone completely mad, but he still took her hand in his, curling his fingers in-between hers slowly.
"Well," she said, leaning in, "I was really looking forward to ripping it off you."
"Well," Nate repeated, looking away as the smile he was clearly trying to repress crept onto the corner of his mouth, "I guess that can be arranged."
"What can be arranged?" Parker's voice was faint as she pushed through the circus curtain. Hardison and Eliot were behind her. Eliot still had the clown makeup on, and Sophie suddenly knew where a lot of young children got their clown phobias from, because seriously, she was shuddering and she knew it was just face paint. Then again, she knew who—or what, really—was behind that face paint.
"The trip home," Sophie said of Parker's question, at the same time as Nate said, "Some food?"
Hardison looked from the blush on Sophie's face to their joined hands. "They mean something nasty," he declared, wincing and covering his eyes with his hands. "Make them go away, Eliot, do a nice deed for once in your life."
"It's irritating you," Eliot said. "That pleases me."
That was the exact moment the fight began.
In the end, Sophie had to jump down from the cart to help Parker hold Hardison back; when they succeeded, they started to make their way to their 'hired' car. Eliot stayed until Nate climbed down from his cart, and then gave him the coolest glance.
Nate looked back, not showing how ruffled he was feeling, because out of all of the crew he was the most aware of what Eliot was capable of.
"You missed the part about McSweeten being sweet on Parker. Completely. That could have wrecked the whole con."
"Could have," Nate said. He added, lightly, "Didn't."
"Just so you know," Eliot said, "I'm not happy with how unprepared we were. Or with the danger you put us all in."
"You all coped with it magnificently."
"One day soon it's going to blow up. Blow up in our faces. And someone's going to get hurt. Maybe you, maybe me, but maybe it'll be Parker. Or Hardison. Or Sophie." Eliot stepped in closer to make his point. "There's not going to be a crew left to clean up that mess if you keep dragging us down this slope with you."
Nate stepped one pace closer too. "I'll keep that in mind. Shall we go?"
Eliot nodded, stepped back, and was silent as they rejoined the others on the way to the car.
Eliot never apologised for the confrontation, either there or during the flight or back at the apartment as they sourced their next job. Nate didn't make him: after all...
... it was bad form to make someone apologise for the truth.