Prompt: Nate/Eliot, Nate didn't have to admit to himself that he was a thief.
Some things just are. It was a lesson Nate Ford had learned young. Some things, they might not be right or good or fair, but they were, just the same. Couldn’t change them, for all you might waste your time trying. The priest at the church, and his teachers at school, and even his mom, they all said you could be anything if you worked hard enough. You could be whatever you wanted to be.
They were all good people, but they were liars, too. Nate’s dad wasn’t very good, but he told Nate straight up, “You can’t change what you are, kid. And what you are, is my son.”
Nate pretty much always knew, down in his bones, that his dad was right. But he loved his mom, and he liked his teachers, and he respected his priest, and his dad was kind of a jerk, so he’d figured, what the hell. He’d give it a shot. The people who mattered to him, they’d want to see him trying for something beyond his reach.
He took a shot at the seminary, but that was a little too extreme, too far from his true nature. Police academy was a washout, too, although it was instructional. The insurance investigator gig was an unexpected benefit of picking up a hot blonde named Maggie in a bar, and it fit so well he thought maybe he could hack it. Especially when the hot blonde agreed to marry him in what had to be a rare moment of insanity. It was a little like his very own Cinderella story, all the shady skills and low cunning that seemed to be part of his genetic makeup actually made him good at his very legit job.
Still, sometimes, when he’d stumble through the door on one of his increasingly late nights out at the bar and catch a glimpse of his reflection in the hallway mirror, something of his father would stare at him out of his own eyes, his mouth would curl in a mocking smirk, and he’d know, he’d hear his dad laughing. “You can fake it ‘til you make it, kid, but that don’t make it true.”
Nate always knew, he wasn’t meant to be doing the chasing. He knew every time he worked out a scam and almost wanted to let it play out from sheer admiration for the craft. He knew every time he picked up some piece of ancient junk somebody thought was worth millions, and thought about how easy it would be to report it destroyed and fence it quietly on the side. He knew all the buyers, after all. It would be so easy, if he'd lived a different life.
But he had a career, and he had a wife, and that was a whole other kind of trying, because as great as Maggie was, as much as he actually loved her, it was the criminals he chased who really appealed to Nate. Like calling to like, he supposed. He resisted temptation, but whatever the priests had said back in the day, he didn’t think that made him strong or good, just stubborn.
And then he met Eliot Spencer. He met Eliot Spencer, because sometimes the client really wasn’t trying to defraud IYS, sometimes they really wanted their damn property back, and maybe they weren’t feeling entirely picky about the legalities involved in getting it. A lot of IYS’ high profile investigators didn’t like working with ‘independent contractors,’ so as a relative rookie, Nate got stuck working with Eliot several times. He seemed like a nice enough guy, a little intense maybe, but sharp and focused.
And then one day Nate found himself working a case that had him chasing Eliot, and that, that was a gamechanger. Nate had seen Eliot as a sort of colleague, if a more practical and competent one than most, but now he realized Eliot was actually a criminal. And Eliot was suddenly fascinating.
Nate never did catch him on that job, although he managed to get the painting back from Eliot’s employer, but a month later he found himself working side by side with Eliot again, and he had to ask.
“How do you play both sides? How can you live in both worlds? How can you be something you’re not?”
Eliot snorted into his beer and rolled his eyes. “There’s no sides, Nate. Christ. I’m a retrieval specialist. People give me money to retrieve things for them. I don’t care what, and I don’t care why, I just do it. I don’t try to be anything I’m not. I just am what I am.”
Nate kind of had to fuck him, then. Had to claw his way as close as he could to that kind of freedom, that kind of sincerity.
“I don’t know how to get out,” he confessed later, in a ragged whisper in the darkness. “I’ve built this whole life out of lies and I don’t know how to stop telling them, to IYS, to Maggie, to myself…”
One of Eliot’s strong hands pressed gently over Nate’s mouth, silencing him, Eliot’s thumb sliding along his jaw. “You stop, Nate. That’s all,” he murmured. “You just stop.”
Nate wanted to protest that it wasn’t that easy, but Eliot had faint calluses on his hands from holding a gun, from shooting at people. And Eliot didn’t use guns anymore. So maybe it could be that easy.
He told Maggie he was leaving, because he owed her at least that. She only seemed surprised for a moment, then she just nodded and told him to go. He’d never loved her more than he did as she let him walk away.
Eliot was waiting for him in the same hotel room, sprawled naked across dirty sheets and looking like every kind of sin the priests and Nate’s mother had warned him against. Eliot smirked at him. “She didn’t kill you. Generous woman.”
“Too good for me,” Nate agreed, sitting on the bed and running a hand over Eliot’s skin, because he wanted to, because he could. “I’m not sure what I’ll do now,” he mused thoughtfully, not overly concerned. He’d figure it out. He felt like he was waking up from a long dream.
“Well,” Eliot murmured, arching into Nate’s touch like a cat, “if you were interested, I wouldn’t be entirely opposed to the idea of taking on a partner. Always thought you’d make a hell of a thief.”
Nate laughed, bright and amused. Maybe everyone had been right, after all, the priests and the teachers and his mom, and his dad, too. Maybe you really could be what you wanted to be, as long as what you wanted to be was just what you were.
“Ah, Eliot,” he said, shaking his head and flopping back on the bed with a grin, “I’ve never been anything else.”
Eliot chuckled. “That’s what I like about you, Nate,” he said. “You’re an honest man.”