Author Note: This is loosely (so far) connected to my Being verse.
Verse/Setting: Leverage (behind the scenes for season 1)
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: I don't own anything from Leverage and I'm not making any money from this fic
Warning(s): AU; discipline of an adult
 

BETWEEN JOBS
 

"Well the night weighs heavy on his guilty mind
This far from the borderline" Twilight Zone by Golden Earring
 
Eliot jerked away from the tiny blond, giving her an irritated glare as she poked at one of the more colorful of the bruises adorning his face. “Damnit, Parker!”

"Children…." Nate's weary voice carried from the front of the van as he turned on the turn-signal and finally pulled into the parking lot of the hotel that was their temporary headquarters/home. Sophie was curled up in the front passenger seat, sleeping soundly. Hardison had crawled into the back of the van and had stretched out to sleep- after Nate had won the argument over who was driving, that was. That had left Eliot and Parker in the middle of the van. Eliot had kept an eye on traffic and all surrounding vehicles, worried that someone might follow them- while Parker had amused herself picking on the irritable hitter. Nate had put up with the bickering for as long as he could, but he had reached the end of his patience and if they kept it up in the hotel, he wouldn't be held responsible for his actions.

Parker seemed to sense their boss had reached the end of his rope. "Sorry, Nate," she muttered apologetically, ducking her head so that her blond hair covered her face.

Eliot rolled his eyes and huffed that her apology had been given to the man she wasn't picking on but he didn't say anything. He couldn't help but feel a bit sheepish when he found himself saying, "Sorry, Nate," in just as quiet a voice nearly on the heels of her own statement.

Nate smiled tiredly at them as he finally parked the car. "We'll have our report around 8:00- which," he looked at his watch and raised one eyebrow, "is in 5 hours.….  Somebody wake up Hardison."

He didn't wait to see who would wake the hacker. Instead he woke Sophie and quickly exited the vehicle. Once everyone was out, he locked the van and then followed his motley crew into the building and upstairs to where their suite of rooms was located.

Nate had decided to splurge when the con they were pulling allowed for them to pose as members of a wealthy family seeking real-estate in the area. Since it fit the role they were trying to project- and since Nate knew it would make it easier for Eliot to attend to their security and not be so stressed- it hadn't taken much for him to request the suite. It had three rooms that connected to one slightly larger common room.

Sophie and Parker had immediately taken the larger bedroom with two queen sized beds. Hardison had grabbed the smaller bedroom with only one full size bed.  That had next largest bedroom with two full size beds for Nate and Eliot. He'd almost expected Eliot to kick Hardison out of the smaller room so that he could have some privacy, but the hitter had just grunted when he saw what was left and shrugged.

Sighing softly, Nate did his best to calm the impatient girls who had reluctantly waited in the hall on Eliot's orders, while the very conscientious (some might say paranoid) man checked the suite to make certain there weren't any hidden surveillance devices or other nasty surprises. When Eliot came back to the door and indicated all was clear, they had both run into the suite and disappeared, closing their room with a firm click. Hardison- perhaps afraid that Eliot would have changed his mind and might kick him out of the room he'd chosen- had quickly done the same.

Nate wearily removed his tie and went to get himself a drink from the suite's mini-fridge. Eliot sat on the nearby couch, casting furtive glances at the mastermind, but didn't say anything. Nate grimaced into his glass. He knew his drinking bothered the rest of the team- but especially the young hitter.  Finishing up the one glass he'd poured, he deliberately put the rest of the bottle back into the fridge and walked over to the younger man, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Don’t stay up too late- you might have the others fooled by your 90 minutes of sleep  talk, but I know better…" he didn't look at Eliot as he went into the room where they'd be staying, but he left the door open. He was actually surprised when the hitter stood up with a slightly pained grunt and followed him.

Huh. Maybe the younger man had been hurt more than he'd admitted to. Nate frowned slightly, making a mental note to keep an eye on the hitter for the next few days- just in case. He then grabbed his pajamas and went to take a shower. When he returned, the hitter was stretched out on one of the beds, sound asleep.

# # #

Eliot wasn't asleep.  For once it wasn't because of the paranoia and uber-sensitive protective streak he had. No. It was guilt. Yet again he was thinking about that painting that he'd stolen and had hidden in one of the many warehouses that he kept around the world. It was just his luck that less than a month after finally going after that painting- he had been recruited for a job that was being led by the very man who had told him to leave the painting alone.

At first, he'd found it amusing- he'd only taken the painting to prove that he could; and to prove that Nathan Ford didn't get to order him around. That would have been fine, had they not begun to work with each other and Eliot wasn't reminded of the respect he'd held for the man two and a half years before. The fact that the man's life had fallen apart and he'd become a functioning alcoholic (his term, not Eliot's) didn't diminish the respect.  Even the man's rather abrupt and rude dismissal of Eliot's offer of empathy and the claim that they weren't friends, hadn't diminished Eliot's respect of the man; which left him with a real conundrum.

Since beginning to work with the mastermind, every job he worked with this crew reminded him that he'd deliberately ignored what Nathan Ford had said. He didn't think he should feel guilty about it- and it irritated him to no end that he DID feel guilty- but the fact was he did feel guilt.  Between the guilt and the irritation he felt at himself - he wasn't able to relax enough to sleep. He suspected his rule of "you don't con your team" was the reason for the guilt.  But he'd done the con before they were his team, so it really wasn't fair that his conscience- which had seldom made its presence known in the last many years (and even then only when it came to hurting people)- would suddenly decide to wake up now.

He wondered sometimes if he shouldn't just 'fess up and let the chips fall where they would. It wasn't like Nate would arrest him or turn him in. After all- the job that had brought them all together as a team was against the very company he'd used to work for- and the only reason he'd warned Eliot off in the first place was because that company had an interest in the painting remaining where it was- it wasn't because he was friendly with the painting's owners. Nate wasn't exactly in a position to be critical of Eliot's actions- especially if those actions occurred before the team formed.
 
But then….

Eliot had almost confessed after the very first job, but Nate had rebuffed the offer of friendship and Eliot would not risk putting himself out there again to be turned down or worse scoffed at for thinking his actions mattered or affected the Mastermind in any way. Still, a part of him wondered if he should confess. His gut was usually right in these things- but he honestly couldn't think of a reason why his gut would be telling him to spill the secret. Sighing silently and rolling onto his side so that his back was to the other bed, Eliot decided that this one time his 'gut' must have gone on vacation. He wouldn't say anything.

# # #

Several days had passed and they'd completed the con. They were now driving back 'home'. The team was in various stages of sleep or boredom, and it allowed Nate to observe them through the rear-view mirror as he drove. His eyes fell on Eliot once again. The hitter seemed to be sleeping- but appearances often were deceiving when it came to the younger man.

If Nate hadn't been watching the hitter so closely to make certain he wasn't hurt more badly than he'd admitted- he would never have noticed. As it was, the younger man was entirely too good at covering his feelings and misdirecting attention. None of the others noticed, but Nate's instincts as a father helped him see the signs. Eliot Spencer felt guilty about something and was trying to keep Nate from finding out what or why. That was the only explanation for the way the younger man shot him furtive looks whenever certain topics came up in conversation- such as what items the group had stolen over the years.

Nate frowned. It really was none of his business. It wasn't as if he hadn't known that these people were criminals before he began working with them. He'd chased all of them at one time or another over the years while working for his former employers. He wondered if he should say something to the younger man or invite his confidence- but that really wasn't his place either. While they had become friendlier over the last several jobs, Eliot still kept himself aloof; Nate could kick himself for the rude way he'd brushed off the retrieval specialist's condolences when they first worked together. The young hitter hadn't made any attempt to get personal since that time and Nate found that he wanted that to change. All the Mastermind could do was continue to watch the younger man and hope that whatever he was going through wouldn't cause him to take any unnecessary risks.

Nate's frown deepened. Somehow, he suspected that wouldn't be the case.

# # #

Nate was frustrated. It had been over a week since he'd noticed Eliot's behavior and it hadn't abated. If anything, it became worse as the younger man seemed to sense that Nate was watching him. Luckily, Nate's fears that Eliot might be reckless didn't come true- the man was as careful as ever with the rest of the team. The same couldn't be said about his care for himself- but then again, Nate couldn't honestly say he hadn't always taken the brunt of physical abuse whenever a job went south. He couldn't very well chide him for it now…especially since his place on the team was protection. It was understood that if someone was going to be hurt, Eliot would do his best to make sure that he was that someone instead of any of the other team. Even so, it felt like the hitter was taking a few more unnecessary risks than normal- just so that he could use any wounds as an excuse to slink off by himself after a job was finished instead of staying around to talk with the rest of the group.

# # #

Eliot was frustrated. It felt like every since the real-estate job that Nate had been watching him with a critical eagle eye. Oh, the mastermind never said anything- and it was difficult to tell if the predominate reason the man was watching was due to concern or suspicion. Realistically, Eliot realized that it was probably concern. The hitter had taken more than his fair share of bumps and bruises the last week- and not all of them necessary. But the guilt was still plaguing him and that made him more paranoid than usual. Did Nate suspect something? Was he watching Eliot so closely so that he could jump on the first opportunity to tell the retrieval specialist that he was no longer needed on the team?

Eliot pushed those thoughts down. Nate wanted him around- and had even attempted to bridge the gap his unceremonious rebuffing of Eliot had caused early on in the formation of the team. Still- the man kept staring and it was a bit unsettling. For someone who prided himself on his nerves of steel and ability to not be affected by events around him when it came to his own actions- it surprised him how much Nate staring was causing him to falter. While Eliot would freely admit part of the chances he was taking was because it gave him the opportunity to make a quick escape from the team once the job was over- a lot of the chances he took weren't planned. They were due to him becoming distracted with wondering what Nate was up to and/or questioning for the hundredth time if he shouldn't say something about the painting.

As for the painting- he had gone over the retrieval in his mind numerous times in an attempt to find some flaw in his retrieval that might be causing him to rethink his actions that night and maybe explain why he was plagued with this need to tell Nate about it. Had he missed something important that night that his subconscious was trying to get him to see? Maybe this need to confess was so that Nate could point out the glaring flaw in his plan and help him fix whatever problems might occur because of it? His gut had never been this insistent on him doing something that seemed so completely irrationalafter the fact.  It wasn't doing his nerves any favors.

# # #

It was Hardison doing what Hardison did best that broke the stalemate.

"Uh…Eliot? Your name just popped up in some police reports for two days ago…" Alec looked over at his team-mate and dare he say friend, with worry in his eyes. "It's a bit odd…"

Eliot frowned, walking over to where the hacker sat at his computer and stared over his shoulder. "What’s it saying? I'm pretty sure I've avoided any cameras or anything that would put me on law enforcement radar…"

Nate walked over as well, frowning. "All information, Alec…" if it was serious then they'd relocate. It might not be easy, but Eliot was a member of their team now and he'd not have that change if he could help it.

Alec eyed both men, then quickly turned back to his computer screen and began explaining. "See…I've set up alerts so that any time one of our names or one of our aliases pops up in either police dispatch or news- I get notified.  Two days ago- 'Eliot Spencer' was part of an attempted abduction/torture/mob hit? As the victim?"

Eliot blinked. "Uh… I was with you all two days ago…."

"I said it was weird," Hardison grumbled, then read a little further. "Ah! It was a case of mistaken identity! The victim was actually a man named Lindsey McDonald. According to the statement of the woman he was with- three thugs broke into her motel room where they held her at gun point and attempted to torture information about a stolen painting from Mr. McDonald. Apparently they mistook him for 'Eliot Spencer'.  Luckily for Mr. McDonald he had two friends who had been coming by to pick him up who noticed what was going down and they staged a rescue. The three thugs who broke in as well as two others who had been standing guard outside were all immobilized and taken into police custody…."

Hardison stopped to think about it for a minute then turned to look at Eliot. "Did you steal a painting from the mob??? Cuz that's just not cool! Balls of steel, man- but still not cool... those mobsters have long memories and they don't just go after individuals they go after friends and families… and do I need to be looking over my shoulder???!" the young hacker finally stopped rambling, giving Eliot a nervous look.

Nate had gone still at hearing the report from Hardison. It hadn't taken him long to put two and two together. Eliot's furtive and guilty looks whenever he looked at him began to make sense now. Eliot had stolen the painting that Nate had told him to leave alone. When Eliot glanced at him, guilt written all over his face, Nate's suspicions were confirmed.

"I think we're safe Alec." Nate responded to the hacker's question, since it appeared Eliot was at a loss for words. "If it is the painting I think it is…" he glanced at Eliot questioningly and at the hitter's very slight nod of affirmation continued. "The painting was stolen on the east coast. My guess is the mobster has no proof of who is actually responsible for the painting disappearing, but the goons decided to blame Eliot. The fact that they got the wrong man and ended up being arrested will hopefully have confused the matter. All you need to do is lay a false trail so that they begin to question their assumption that it was Eliot. It'd be difficult for him to have stolen the painting if he was in another country at the time…"

Alec's eyes widened in a mixture of excitement and impatience. "You do realize it is not that easy to just lay a false trail like that? I have to make the cover go deep enough that they can't accidentally uncover the truth… You really have no clue what it is I do! You just expect me to be a miracle worker…" The hacker's annoyed mumbling continued, but Nate didn't really hear him.

He put his hand on the hacker's shoulder and gave it a pat, "I know you can do it Hardison. Just make sure whatever you do you let us know so that we'll be able to give the right story out if we're ever asked…"

Nate eyed his hitter, noting how the normally self-confident, bordering on cocky, younger man was fidgeting and unable to look him in the eye. "Come with me Eliot. We need to talk."

# # #

It had taken every once of Eliot's acting ability to hide the shock when he'd heard the name Lindsey. Lindsey was dead. There was no way…. And yet a man with his twin brother's name had been mistaken for him- indicating that the man looked like him. Eliot felt like his world was imploding- had everything he'd believed been a lie? He swallowed and glanced toward Nate, feeling the other man's gaze on him. He winced in guilt unable to hide that emotion from his face. The news he'd just received felt like a blow to the head- and while he had been able to cover the fact that he knew the name of the man in the report- he wasn't able to hide his guilty feelings. He watched as Nate's eyes narrowed in understanding- the man had figured it out. Eliot had to look away.

When Nate issued his order to come talk with him, Eliot couldn't think of one excuse to avoid the conversation. Instead he followed meekly behind mentally preparing himself for the moment Nate told him to leave- making a list of other people who could take over as the team's hitter once he was sent away. He didn't notice where Nate was leading him until the man stopped and closed the door behind them. Eliot blinked and looked up and around, realizing that they were upstairs in Nate's bedroom. He looked at Nate in confusion.

"It's more private here- as long as Parker isn't hiding in the air vents at any rate…" Nate smirked before going to said vent and peering in just to make sure. Once he was positive that no one would hear what was being said, he turned to Eliot.

"So you went and stole that painting anyway- after I warned you not to." He kept his voice calm.

Eliot grimaced and swallowed. "Yeah. I stole it. Like I told ya then- you ain't my daddy and I'm just a bit too old to be taught to 'be good.'"

Nate snorted slightly, an amused look on his face at Eliot's retort. "I don't recall the conversation going quite like that…" his eyebrow raised slightly. He was further amused when Eliot shifted slightly away from him- making certain his backside was out of reach.

"Well…yeah. There were a few more words…" Eliot finally admitted, uncertain where this conversation was going.

Nate took pity on the younger man and got to the point. "You never asked me why I would warn you off that particular painting."

Eliot shrugged faintly. "Just assumed it was cuz the people you worked for wanted it to stay where it was- and you were right. If I took it at that moment, you'd have had all you needed to get me arrested…."

"Hmm…." Nate responded before continuing. "My company had a vested interest in the painting staying where it was, yes. But that wasn't the only reason I warned you. I warned you because I knew who the owner was- and while I didn't have any proof, I knew he wasn't someone to be trifled with." He shot Eliot a stern glare. "Did you bother doing any kind of background check on the owner before you jumped into the job feet first- or did you just do enough background check to get in and out without being caught?"

Eliot winced again before swallowing. "I…I just did enough to get in and out without being caught. Honestly Nate- they have no proof it was me and no real reason to think it was me. I'm not sure why they automatically decided it was me…." He looked down at his feet and ran a hand through his hair.

"I didn't mean to cause problems for the team- I did it before I realized we'd even be forming a team…I've got a list of people who can take over my position though and once you've decided on one and they agree to work with you, I'll leave and get far enough away that my shit doesn't come and burn the rest of you…" Eliot was surprised at how much it hurt to say those words, and didn't realize how the hurt could be heard by Nate.

Nate found himself becoming irritated at the young man standing in front of him. He was willing to just give up and run away instead of giving the team a chance to fix things. No- it wasn't the ideal situation, but if what Eliot said was true, a few words to the right people and the mobster Eliot had stolen from would be convinced that Eliot wasn't responsible and would hopefully lose interest.

"That isn't necessary…Hardison is covering your tracks through any paper trails he can find. I'll call a few people I know and drop a bit of information here and there that will call into question your ability to be involved in stealing the painting….I'll also let it be known that if we discover anyone with dubious intentions coming after you for said theft, a lost painting will be the least of anyone's worries…" Nate said firmly, expecting to drop the matter.

"Nate, I endangered the team for no better reason than I wanted to prove I didn't have to listen to you…. that's not acceptable!" Eliot unintentionally gave more information than he meant to in his attempt to convince Nate to send him away for the team's safety.  His stomach sunk as he realized just what he had admitted, and saw the knowing smirk on the Mastermind's face.

He forged forward, unable to take the words back, but determined that his own childish need to 'rebel' against authority didn't come back to hurt the rest of his friends- he was finally willing to admit that's what they were. "Yes- I did it before we were a team- and I'd never do something so reckless now that I've got four other people to think about past myself- but I still did it and it's still got the chance of hurting one of you and…"

"No, Eliot." Nate interrupted before the hitter could continue trying to convince him that he should leave. "But you're right. I do need to do something…Don't fight me on this."

Eliot stood in confusion as Nate took hold of his arm and tugged him closer. By the time the confusion cleared enough for him to realize what Nate had in mind, Nate had sat on his bed and with one fluid motion pulled Eliot forward and over his lap. At first Eliot was too shocked at the position he found himself in to react. It only took one very hard smack against his butt to vocally protest- too afraid of hurting Nate to fight physically. "Ow! What the hell, Nate???!!"

For his part, Nate raised his hand and brought it down a second time, just as hard as the first- the tiny grunt of discomfort encouraging him to continue instead of stop. "What the hell, Eliot? I'll tell you…I am not about to let you walk away because of something you did before we formed this group. If we all did that- there'd be no group to walk away from. We deal with situations like this when they occur and we do it together, so stop with this martyr crap you have going and let Hardison and I do what we do best." Through his entire admonishment, Nate was smacking- making sure to get every spot on the younger man's backside and upper thighs.

Eliot was tense. He wasn't fighting to get away from Nate- still afraid that he might hurt the older man- but he wasn't going to give in either. "Didn't you hear me Nate? I stole the painting without doing enough background research- and the only reason I did it was because you told me not to. You're better off sending e away!" The hitter tried to growl in irritation, but flushed when the sound came out as more of a whimper.

To Eliot's surprise and confusion, Nate actually laughed at that. Twisting just enough that he could see the older man's face, he glared- although it looked more like a pout. "What's so damn funny about what I just said???"

Nate shook his head and gave a tiny smile before landing an especially hard smack on Eliot's left sit spot. Eliot couldn't help but jerk in response, twisting back around so Nate couldn't see his face. The frustration that Nate wasn't listening to him, combined with the childishness of his position, the guilt he felt at putting the team in danger- however unintentionally, and the realization that he was going to have to leave these people that he'd begun to care about making him feel helpless and hopeless caused his eyes to water; that and the fact that the spanking (what else could he call it, after all?) actually hurt damn it- but he wasn't going to let Nate see him cry.

Nate had seen the hitter's eyes before he'd turned his face away and he could see that what he was doing was affecting the man. Good. A few well chosen words and perhaps Eliot would see reason and stop threatening to leave. If he chose the words really well- maybe he'd get a few other concessions from the hitter as well. Nate stilled his hand, leaving it on the small of the hitter's back so that Eliot wouldn't attempt to get up.

"I'm not laughing at what you said. What you said wasn't funny in the least." The Mastermind finally said. "I don't find it at all funny that you put your life at risk to get a painting- just because you wanted to prove something. What I'm laughing at is that I finally realized why you've been acting the way you have."

Eliot swallowed hard, relieved that Nate had stopped spanking for the moment. He winced at the quiver that was in his voice. "And how have I been acting?" He'd thought he'd been acting normal, but apparently Nate had seen something suspicious in his behavior. Eliot was reminded yet again of the reason he'd come to respect the man who had blistered his butt (and might possibly again if Eliot didn't find a way to change his mind.) The man was very observant.

"Like a child who's disobeyed Daddy and doesn't want Daddy to find out," Nate remarked casually, his words unintentionally reminding Eliot of the conversation they'd had two and a half years before.

"So…is this your way of telling me that I'm still not too old to be taken in hand if needed?"  Eliot couldn't help huffing the question out.

Nate considered the question for a moment before raising his hand up and starting to reignite the fire on Eliot's backside. Eliot couldn't help but yelp and try and squirm out of the way.

"Yes. I would say that this is my way of telling you, you aren't too old to be taken in hand. It is also my way of telling you that you DO need to be taken in hand and I'm the one that's going to do it. So here are the new rules- and unless you want to find yourself in a similar position in the future, you'll do well to consider them before trying to prove anything to me again…" he waited a few seconds for Eliot to acknowledge his words.

"Wh…what are the rules?" Eliot reluctantly asked through clenched teeth, fighting his body's need to give in and respond to the punishment and the words.

Nate slowed the smacks so that Eliot could focus on his words. "Rule one- any jobs you plan to do in the future- you tell me about.  That way if I know something you don't, I can give you the information. I won't do so often- because it would be hypocritical of me to try and order you around- but occasionally I might have reason to tell you not to do something you have planned. You might choose to disobey that order- and if so we will discuss it- but if you disobey me without the courtesy of letting me know that you are disobeying me you will find yourself in this position."

Eliot, bit his lip and grunted as Nate landed two more smacks to his already sore sit spots. "Got it. If I disobey an order, I better not do it secretly….gotta do it to your face."

Nate nodded. "Second- I know your job on the team is dangerous and when we are in a situation where there is no time to form a plan and our lives are in your hands- I will listen to you, even if I don't like the possible outcome. But when we are in situations where we DO have time to think and make plans- and the rest of us can use our skills to help keep YOU safe- you will allow it."

Eliot winced at the next two smacks, chagrined when his watery eyes finally became saturated and the tears slid down his face. "I got it. No unnecessary martyrdom…." He finally choked out.

"Finally," Nate continued. "Don't hide things from me. I don't care if you think I won't understand or will argue against it, or what your reason is. If something big is occurring in your life, be it a job or otherwise- tell me. I need to be aware of things so that I can prepare and plan if something goes wrong. I can't prepare for the worst if I don't have all the information."

Eliot twisted his head to uncertainly look at Nate again, not hiding the fact that he was crying- or the fact that he was confused. Two especially hard smacks on the same exact spot had him whimpering and quickly agreeing, despite him not being sure about the request. "I won't hide things from you!"

Nate could hear that his hitter was about at the end of what he could take. He had no doubt that physically the man could have withstood this and laughed it off. Even emotionally, he had a feeling that Eliot would have been able to take it- had it been anyone else dishing out the punishment. But the hitter respected him and even if he wouldn't admit it, looked up to him. The relationship he'd managed to forge with the younger man had allowed him to slide through the barriers that the hitter would have normally had up.

"I realize that this is an unfamiliar position to you, and I realize that my giving you rules that I expect you to follow- at the threat of receiving another spanking- seems unnecessary and probably makes you feel like a child…" Nate said softly, ignoring Eliot's disgruntled "Ya think?" He finished quickly, "But despite what I said when we first formed the team, I do think of you as a friend- I respect what you are able to do- and I consider it my responsibility and privilege to protect you- just like you protect us. If I have to protect you from yourself, I will do so…" two quick hard smacks, one on each cheek, and he finished. Shaking out his hand- which had gone numb- Nate finally asked, "Any questions?"

Eliot had been prepared to lay into Nate for his high handed actions, as soon as he was let off the man's lap. He still didn't want to fight him- afraid that he might hurt the man. By the end though, hearing Nate’s reasons for doing what he did, a tiny part of Eliot had to admit that he also wasn't fighting it because he felt like he deserved it. Hearing Nate admit that he considered him a friend and that he planned to protect him- even from himself- caused what little fight Eliot might have felt to drain out of him. He allowed himself to relax, going limp over the Mastermind's lap, hoping that the spanking was truly over, but willing to accept more punishment if the older man decided to give it to him.

Nate looked at the back of Eliot's head, worried that maybe he'd taken the wrong approach and that the younger man would get up, tell him where to go, and then leave after all. Having the hitter go limp over his lap was a bit of a surprise- but he wasn't sure yet if it was a good surprise or a bad one. Had the hitter accepted Nate's admonishment or was he just giving up? When the hitter didn't respond to his last words, Nate finally asked, almost hesitantly. "Eliot? Do you understand me?"

The hoarse, tear-filled voice that answered him wasn't hesitant, even if it was soft and almost whispered. "Yes, sir. I understand you. I…I won't stand in the way of you protecting me, s'long as you aren't interfering with my ability to protect you. That's the most I can promise, Nate…"

Nate sighed in relief. "That will have to be enough then…" gently he helped Eliot get to his feet, not commenting when the hitter reached back and rubbed at his backside.

"You gotta hard hand…" Eliot groused, as he blinked his eyes to clear the tears from them- not trying to hide the affect Nate's actions had had on him.

Nate smiled, reaching over and squeezing Eliot's shoulder gently. "It'll be harder if I have to take you in hand ever again. Next time you won't be keeping the jeans."

Eliot winced at the comment, snarking back, "What makes you think there'll be a next time? I'm not THAT bad…." The hitter snorted, before chuckling softly. "Well, maybe I am a little that bad…"

"Come on….let's get you cleaned up a bit and then go see what Alec has fixed up…" Nate changed the subject to the hitter's relief, leading him out of the room toward the bathroom. Eliot followed willingly, only realizing that the guilt that had been plaguing him was gone.  Huh- he really should have listened to his gut.
 

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