Chapter 1: Contact Information
Eliot let the team advance. It might be paranoia, but he was sure there was someone prowling on their trail.
For a moment, Eliot was completely sure no one would miss him. Nate was cozying up with Sophie and Hardison and Parker were too engrossed in their plans for an underground safe space. Those two were an odd couple and Eliot always felt like the odd man out. He loved them, but it was a hell of an awkward position to be in. The feeling had drawn him far into his own head but his phone vibrating in his pocket provided a much-needed distraction.
“What?” Eliot replied as soon as he could because the call was bound to scare away the prowler.
“What do you mean ‘what’?” Hardison almost barked in Eliot’s ear. “You took your bud out and there was no way any of us were going to look for you in these dark tunnels! A little respect, man!”
“I can take care of myself,” Eliot hissed. He felt his eyes rolling in his sockets because he was the only one savvy enough to keep out of trouble. “I’m going home.”
“Yeah,” Hardison agreed with a sigh. Eliot worried his voice might have transmitted something other than annoyance. “Get some rest, bro.”
The call ended, there was not even that sound of a vacant line like there used to be. Eliot raised his arm over his head, trying to smother the need to toss the device at the wall. A fit of rage almost overpowered his good sense.
“If you are going to destroy it, Eliot,” a friendly but annoying voice advised behind Eliot’s back, “Remember to take the card out. They carry some important information.”
Hardison had told Eliot that same information before, but this time it sounded sensible.
“Quinn…” Eliot mumbled the name and let his arm drop. “Why are you dragging your ass through the dark?”
“I heard a shot.” Quinn shrugged.
“Touching.” Quinn’s words carried the implication that he cared for Eliot and, right now, that was appreciated beyond any reasonable measure.
“If you are free, we can discuss that favor over a cold beer.”
Beer sounded even better than returning home. Nothing could go wrong with a beer.
Chapter 2: Dirty Talk
For the first time in a long time, Eliot Spencer wanted to light a cigarette.
Eliot had quit the vice once he had left the Army and before his first PMC. Somehow, smoking among professionals who were not his friends lacked the appeal; he forgot to get one once and by the time he remembered the pack had gone stale. He never bought another. Nevertheless, he bummed a smoke from an old high school friend when he found out Aimee had gotten married while he was away. He also smoked one he found in the jacket of the last hired gun Moreau had sent on his trail.
That need for a smoke only showed up when he felt like something was ending. The craving reared its head like an old dog on its last leg when Quinn’s meaning didn’t get across the shiny screen. It hurt but at the same time was familiar, and his heart ached with nostalgia.
Eliot shook his head, put the phone in his pocket, and took a cold one from the fridge. Outside his safe house, it was still night and the sun would take hours to come up yet, but the walls were closing on him.
Eliot needed space.
The night was kind of nippy and a gentle breeze dragged with it the fragrance of his garden in bloom. Eliot sat on the old wooden lawn chair that the last tenants had left behind—the one he always meant to sand and repaint, but he had never found the time for—and opened the beer. Loneliness had never bothered him, he had suffered bad company long enough to appreciate how good he had it on his own.
Tonight, after reading that string of incoherent characters, Eliot felt lonesome. The beer washed down part of the bitter taste, but it was not enough.
“Wishing is for kids,” Eliot told his garden before he took another mouthful.
That was the problem. Eliot had wished; he had allowed himself to have a yen for Quinn, for his sly smile, for his quick wit. He had lusted for that male body, but more so for the man who inhabited it. The napkin where Eliot had scribbled his number carried a ton more than his contact information, but he didn’t know it at the time.
Eliot’s eyes wandered upwards, light pollution was bad, but he could still guess the stars above him. For a long time, looking at the stars made him feel connected, now the technology made him feel bereft: Quinn had extended his hand and Eliot couldn’t reach for it.
Long-distance relationships never worked anyway, and that he was sure of. Aimee and he shared a common vocabulary. They even shared the same childhood friends and local jokes and all it came tumbling down because Eliot couldn’t tell her about his life. This fling with Quinn had the same chances of the proverbial snowball in Hell. It was like they didn’t even speak the same language.
And yet, Eliot wished with all his heart that this time it would work. He needed something low key, someone without demands and understanding.
More beer was consumed as Eliot Spencer tried to stifle the need to light a cig.
Chapter 3: Schedule Trouble
Eliot climbed out of the taxi at the door of L’Hotel Bijou, which was their rendezvous point. Eliot looked at the cream-colored building and scoffed. Quinn could be one to squander his hard-earned money in luxury hotels. Initially, Eliot felt the need to nag Quinn about it, but by the time Eliot found the hotel bar, the impulse had vanished.
The Gibson, that was the name of the bar, was an Art Deco style place that gave Eliot the chills. The place was fully lit like an industrial kitchen and the decor tried to remind the public about the good old days, but Eliot could taste the garish pretense. Quinn was seated by the bar in one of those tall chairs with rounded backs. The light fell on his back and made his hair shine in a way Eliot had never seen before. It took Eliot two full minutes to slow the mad run of his heart, but once he did, he went and sat right by Quinn’s side without a greeting. Beer was ordered and Quinn elbowed Eliot almost playfully before the waiter put a mug in front of Eliot.
The cheek of this man… Eliot almost smiled.
“What are you doing here?” Eliot asked after the first sip of tap beer.
“Putting my pole dancing lessons to work.” Quinn smiled that infuriating sly smile of his before raising his orange tundra to his lips. He made a content noise, almost a purr, before adding: “They have proven to be very profitable.”
“Your what lessons?”
“Pole dancing,” Quinn repeated and took out his phone to show Eliot a video.
Eliot couldn’t believe his eyes, but there was Quinn, with shaky arms, holding a banana split that would put some strippers Eliot knew to shame. Under the lights of the dance studio, the shiny fabric of Quinn’s practice shorts shimmered over his ass in the most tantalizing manner and almost distracted Eliot from the big A. J. printed on the back of the shirt. The video looped and Eliot drank Quinn’s liquid movements with the thirst of a man just released from prison.
“I know how it looks!” Quinn said, cutting the show short once Eliot started to tilt his head. “I’m still learning, fuck you very much.”
“I’d stuff rucked-up, sweaty dollars up your thong.”
“Get out!” Quinn exclaimed, but his blush was almost radioactive under the unmerciful lights of that bar.
“I didn’t know you were that limber.”
“It has taken me months to get there.” Quinn took a sip of his drink, still holding his phone in his hand. “The first time I tried a spatchcock I pulled something and walked bow legged for a week!”
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Eliot admitted after a grimace of solidarity. He had pulled muscles before.
“If we ever get to my room, I’ll show you a very bad one.”
“If…?” Eliot asked, leaning forward and looking to the painted ceiling as if he was making an invitation.
“Hold your horses!” Quinn exclaimed, pushing Eliot away. “This is not my hotel, buddy.”
Eliot’s opinion of Quinn’s money management skills improved, but that didn’t stop him from looking back at Quinn with an unstated question on his face.
“I locked my card inside of my room in my hurry to get here.”
Quinn averted his eyes. Eliot could almost hear the unspoken ‘to be with you’ in that simple gesture and the flattery was very appreciated.
“What do you say if we enjoy our booze and then you help me break into my room, pal?”
Chapter 4: Dirty Pictures
Eliot looked at the screen again and tapped his foot while the elevator climbed to Quinn’s floor. Of course, that photo had given Eliot ideas, most of them dirty, and his brain had been stewing on them for the whole week. Those numbers were moving far too slow for Eliot’s taste.
There was something inherently stirring about getting a bootie call in one of the executive suites of this posh Grand Hotel. Thirty minutes ago, Quinn—positively giddy, that fucking idiot—informed Eliot that his client had booked three days, all-inclusive, as a token of gratitude. Eliot would be damned if they saw more than that room that weekend.
The doors opened and Eliot practically bolted out. Unfamiliarity had never hindered Eliot and all the hotels share similar floor plans. Quinn’s room was right around the corner, so Eliot turned at the said corner and rapped on the door with all the skill of his mercenary years. Quinn opened the door almost immediately, his tie hanging loose inside his jacket, two buttons open on his shirt. The insinuation of Quinn’s collar bone inside the fabric was another log on a fire that needed no fuel.
“Thank you for the heads up!” Quinn remarked and waved his phone.
“Like you were not sure I would be here!” Eliot retorted and snatched the device from Quinn’s hand as he passed by.
“You force me to assume you liked the preview.”
Quinn’s smile was almost as luminous as the view from that room. The sun was drenching those Salt Lake City mountains in gorgeous golden light. Quinn made an attempt to recover his little toy, but Eliot still had enough zanshin to keep it out of reach and steal a glance of the screen. Keeping a poker face was getting harder by the minute.
“Kindly return my phone, Eliot,” Quinn said. The smile was still on his face, but his tone brokered no further argument.
“In a moment, Tony,” Eliot mumbled and turned the phone towards Quinn.
“What did you call me?”
Quinn looked almost betrayed, but when you pay for the drinks with a card labeled Anthony J. Quinn and wear a shirt with a big red A. J. on your back, you are bound to get called Tony. Eliot regarded that as an unwritten law of the Universe.
“Kindly explain what this is,” Eliot almost growled before adding: “Tony.”
“Only my friends call me Tony,” Quinn stated and grabbed his phone. Eliot almost suspected Quinn was anxious Eliot would tamper with his phone. “That’s my boyfriend. He’s an animal rights activist and he travels a lot.”
“So, am I your boyfriend now?” Eliot felt his poker face cracking.
“This,” Quinn showed him the screen and Eliot saw himself cuddling a labrador puppy. How Quinn got that image from that San Lorenzo Job was an enticing mystery. Eliot might need to extract that information from Quinn in a more covert way and chew out Hardison for the slip. “This is a fiction. Ray LaRoque is as real as your right to call me Tony.”
“So,” Eliot invaded Quinn’s space and his hand roamed inside Quinn’s coat, “do I need to engage in merit-making, Quinn?”
“Hmmm…” Quinn hummed and leaned into the caress. “You are on the right track, but careful with those hands, pal. I just finished a jo…”
Eliot almost laughed as he caught Quinn flat-footed and picked him up, but Quinn got with the program quickly: he wrapped his legs around Eliot’s waist with ease, those pole dancing lessons did come handy in more ways than one.
“What are you doing?!” Quinn sounded snappy, but his blush made him adorable in Eliot’s eyes.
“I’m taking you to bed,” Eliot replied and kicked open the sliding door. “I’m going to check you for bruises. Kiss anything I find until it's better. And then, we are going to wait for it to get dark enough…”
“So you can show me those glowing seams, of course...”
Chapter 5: Same Day Booking
“What the fuck are you doing?” Eliot asked the reflection in the glass.
The door slid open to let a family pass. Eliot vaguely noticed the baggage-dragging father or the phone-distracted mother, but he was acutely aware of the judging stare their kids gave him. Without thinking, Eliot tried to wave and only managed to flash his air marshal badge at them. It was not his intention to spook them, but Eliot knew his world-weary face was far from inviting and his mind was only half engaged in the world around him.
His eyes followed the family and the dreaded suspicion that he was falling back on his old habits set in.
The phone in his hand was silent, Eliot couldn’t sneak his way onto a plane, not when taking the wrong one would cost him precious hours.
With a sigh, because he was already at the airport, Eliot crossed the door and moved to one of the monitors. There were planes to both cities, but none of them were close enough to boarding. The tactical next step was to find something to eat, but Eliot dragged his feet to a spot in one of the lounges.
The question of what he was trying to accomplish with Quinn nagged at him again and he extended his legs to pocket his phone and badge. Between clenched teeth, Eliot cursed Quinn’s name before cursing his own crime-stained soul. Long-distance relationships never worked and their inability to get together would mean the distance between him and Quinn was only growing larger...
The soft clicking of high heels distracted Eliot from his internal turmoil. The sound played staccato over the continuous noise of her luggage's wheels and the usual din of a busy airport. Eliot didn’t need to turn to see them, it was a pretty distinctive sound. Medium-size bag, lightly packed; the kind of thing one pack for a work trip or a weekend escapade. Given that it was Wednesday, Eliot thought the former was more like it. She was talking on her phone, but not with the happy, high-pitched voice women use among themselves. She was talking with the slightly stilted voice of someone who was requesting a service; she was talking to a hotel.
She passed by Eliot’s side dragging her lavender luggage behind her and Eliot looked at her from behind. Nice body, blond hair, and the hand that was doing the pulling didn’t have a ring on it. Eliot took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Eliot could almost feel his fingers running through her hair and the taste of her mouth. In the space of a blink, Eliot imagined himself chasing her, regardless if there was anyone waiting for her at her destination. Easy sport, a few hours of company and a warm embrace, and then parting ways without endangering his life, his work, his solitude…
The idea felt unbearable and Eliot sat up straight, shaking his head.
Maybe he was getting old, Eliot pondered with his usual practical sense. Maybe it was time to settle down with someone who truly understands what it means to be a tumbleweed. Someone who knew loyalty had meaning and value. Someone who knew how to take pain for someone else.
“Wishing is for kids,” Eliot almost spat and crossed his arms while reclining his weight back.
Quinn’s face crossed his mind. That sly smile and those limber legs, and those damned lips! All of which stirred his lust more than that blonde woman arguing with some beleaguered hotel clerk. He and Quinn had started something good, something that solved their needs without disrupting their lives. If they couldn’t meet this time, there would be another chance later. Food was more important now.
Two hours and a burger later, Eliot turned his back to the monitors. The last flight heading to Dulles was boarding, and there was no use in waiting for the red-eye to Seattle/Tacoma. Quinn never spent a night in a city without a plan. With a heavy heart, Eliot turned to the doors, to the parking lot and to his house. There would be another chance...
As soon as the sliding doors closed behind his back, Eliot felt his phone vibrating inside his pocket. The speed Eliot used to retrieve the device was almost shameful, but it was worth the hassle.
“Arriving in Dulles,” Quinn wrote and Eliot felt his heart tumbling against his ribs. “Quick job. I’ll be free by midnight. Still interested?”
Eliot texted his interest as he made a mad dash to Gate 14. Quinn would have to forgive his spelling this time.
Eliot had a plane to catch.
Chapter 6: Escapade
Eliot woke up before daybreak, wrapped in that faithful woobie he declared lost when he left the Army. The comfort of the old piece relaxed him immediately. Quinn was sleeping in an Army surplus sleeping bag and he was snoring. Not loudly, the sound was just enough to inform Eliot of the depth of his lover's unconsciousness. Eliot tarried for a bit and snuggled inside the woobie with a secret smile of delight.
Last night, they fucked wildly over Eliot's woobie to the point where Eliot was sure the ruckus of their primal encounter had driven the woodland creatures away. After the vigorous, loud session, Quinn declared the bag his personal domain and Eliot concurred. In part because he had dragged Quinn out of his comfort zone, and because Eliot was trained to manage the four pillars of misery: sleeping on hard ground was just another Tuesday. Eliot also knew how fast his old woobie could dry up. The fabric still smelled of their mixed sweat and Eliot basked in the memory and in the aroma.
It was still night outside their tent, but Eliot got up. In the woods, daybreak was always Eliot's favorite time; the fact that Quinn could sleep a bit longer was just a plus. Noiselessly, he put his jacket on and folded up his woobie before going to start the fire and the coffee. He filled his all-purpose enamel pot with water and drank from it before filling it up again.
Eliot put the coffee grounds to brew inside an old bandana. Shelley had taught Eliot that trick the first time they went hiking together; they'd made a ruckus then too, but of a very different nature. In the present, a curious squirrel roamed at the edge of camp and that was as good a distraction as any to stop Eliot’s mind from mulling over the differences.
“Hey,” Quinn called out, emerging from the tent, dressed in Eliot's spare clothes. The woobie hung from his shoulders like an improvised jacket.
“I told you to bring comfortable clothes.”
“It's so adorable you think I own other kinds of clothes.” Quinn approached the fire, rubbing his hands. “Also, I'm bone-weary. If you think I'm going to fuck you under the stars again, you can think again, buddy. And I advise you to think hard.”
“You enjoyed it.”
“I came and anyone with half a brain can tell you those are two different things.”
“My bad,” Eliot apologized as he poured coffee into two tin cups.
The faint echoes of Quinn's voice in the throes of passion made Eliot shiver deliciously and contradicted the accusation. Quinn was only bitching for the sake of saving face. Eliot knew Quinn would tell him in the clearest terms if Eliot's approaches were unwelcome, and, things being as they were, Quinn was the one tossing Eliot to the uneven ground, the one spurring Eliot into action.
“Next time,” Eliot promised and pushed a steaming tin cup into Quinn's hands. “I'll fuck you over the dirty comforter of an airport hotel.”
“That's more like it.”
“Quit your yapping and look!”
Quinn looked at Eliot in disbelief until Eliot pointed at the horizon. The day was breaking over the lake and birds were waking up. Light poured over the water in a wide array of soft colors, shimmering on the surface. The spectacle was enough to reduce Quinn to awed silence.
Looking at how the sunrise had melted Quinn's face into childish delight scared Eliot out of his wits because his heart racing inside his chest let him know how deep his feelings for Quinn had become.
The sunrise was beautiful and so was Quinn, and Eliot would be damned if he didn't want to watch many sunrises next to this infuriating man.
Chapter 7: Call
It had been the most boring job they had done to date. Parker and Eliot had found an entrance through an elevator shaft, they caught a ride on the only active car when the surveillance team started their rounds. Parker climbed another story and made her way toward the vault where the money and the deeds stolen from their clients were stored. Eliot’s job was to guard the stairs and elevator to catch any guard who might interrupt Parker’s game.
His phone had been vibrating inside Eliot’s pocket, but work came first. Being professional had been sort of challenging that night.
After a little while, because only Eliot and his shadow had been in that corridor for more than a quarter of an hour, Eliot squatted against the bare drywall and checked his messages. His habitual scowl got deeper. Quinn was usually happy-go-lucky after a job, and this one had to have been a bad job if he needed someone to hold his hand.
Eliot had been there before. The post-hit blues was a survivable condition. It was not a pleasant one, but sooner or later, people in their line of work were bound to experience it, especially if they had half a conscience or even the vaguest notion of right and wrong.
The last words stung Eliot in a way he hadn’t expected. Quinn had taken Eliot’s words the wrong way.
That was something that needed his immediate attention. He moved his earbud to his front pocket, Parker and Hardison didn’t need to be a party to this.
Eliot texted back, thinking he should put in words that wishing is for kids because doing is for men. There would be time to talk to Quinn about that. Quinn's distress took priority tonight.
His legs were getting tired and Eliot extended them and pressed his back against the wall. Eliot waited for either a fuck you message or a distressed call, but either was slow to come. There was no way to know what kind of fresh hell was happening at the other end of the line, and Eliot wondered if putting his invitation in the form of a question was the right way to go.
Footsteps were approaching when his phone vibrated in his hand. Quinn had terrible timing. Eliot retreated around the corner and lifted the phone to his face anyway.
“Hey,” Eliot answered the phone with a smile as the guard came face-to-face with him. “Gimme a second.”
The guard in his neatly pressed gray uniform was definitely dumbfounded, but that didn’t stop him from trying his hand against Eliot. He might as well have thrown his punches in slow motion. Eliot caught his fist and twisted it by the wrist. The resulting scream told Eliot the maneuver was successful but the noise was mighty inconvenient. With his phone secure on his hand, Eliot punched the guard in the throat, on the chest and then his chin. It took five seconds, Eliot noted he was getting slower.
“...in the middle of a job?” Quinn’s amused voice betrayed a hint of anxiety through the phone. “Are you fucking crazy?!”
“Don’t tell me how to manage my priorities, Quinn!” Eliot barked back and crouched against the wall. “Now, spit it out about that job before another guard comes my way.”
Quinn told him the whole story. Eliot listened in silence, tapping his work boots again the concrete floor and putting his bud to his ear from time to time to monitor Parker’s progress. In two minutes, because he had purged the emotional poison out, Quinn was laughing and ranting and finding humor in the situation. Eliot took care to add the encouraging noises every so often as he felt stress pouring out of Quinn’s voice.
It was a good thing Quinn couldn’t see Eliot’s wide smile.
It was good Anthony Quinn couldn’t have proof of how much Eliot Spencer cared about him.
“A guard is coming,” Eliot warned Quinn and stood up.
The tinge of regret spread through his chest and a bittersweet aftertaste followed those words. For the first time in his life, Eliot realized, he really didn’t want to hang up.
“Give’em hell for me, buddy!” Quinn exclaimed, sounding so much like his old self.
The call ended. Eliot smiled and put his phone in his pocket instead of quoting Quinn’s words back. Quinn will never let it live down if Eliot muttered that he was missed already.
As Eliot got ready to knock down another guard he came to an astonishing conclusion: Technology could be awesome sometimes. His hand caressed the pocket where his phone rested. His phone and the promise of someone who needed him.