A/N: This is an episode tag to The Big Bang Job, and is an Eliot and Parker friendship/family story.

Special thanks goes out to whoever compiled the transcripts at Leverage, Seriously. They were very helpful! Therefore, any location or timeline mistakes are entirely my own.

Nothing recognizable belongs to me.

P.S. I may have been binge listening to "Brother" by Needtobreathe when I got the idea for this. Check it out on Youtube. Seriously.

The Long Night Job

Parker could be socially clueless, and occasionally oblivious, and she was definitely twenty pounds of crazy, but she was not at all stupid. She learned early on that being quiet and unseen was the best way to get by, and so she was often aware of more than most people realized. And she had a unique perspective that showed her angles to things that others may not be aware of.

Parker was bored on the flight home to Boston, but she was too tired to focus on anything Hardison tried to engage her with. She had been silently observing the rest of the team since their flight took off. As soon as they had wrapped up at the hanger and gotten medical attention for the Italian, Hardison had booked them all on the first possible flight out of DC. No one wanted to stay any longer than was absolutely necessary.

Parker wondered if anyone else noticed what she did about Eliot. He sat alone in a window seat near the front of the plane, slumped against the wall and seemingly asleep. It wasn't difficult to figure out something big had happened at the auction meet, but neither he nor Nate spoke much about it. Nate seemed fine, but Eliot smelled of gunpowder, fire, and...sadness.

He had not spoken a word to anyone since they left the hanger, had only changed quickly when they returned to their hotel to gather belongings. Parker dearly wanted to move to the seat next to Eliot and talk to him, and she would have if Eliot was only in Growly Wolf mode. She always felt safe with Growly Wolf. But Eliot had bypassed Growly Wolf in favor of Silent Porcupine.

She wanted to talk to Sophie about her concerns, Sophie was better at stuff like this, but she was busy trying to distract Nate from ordering booze every time the stewardess passed. Which also left out talking to Nate. And besides, Nate had been very quiet too, she wondered if he was still mad at Eliot, if that was why Eliot was so quiet.

She wanted to talk to Hardison, who sat beside her engrossed in something on his phone screen; it looked like a reporter standing in front of the charred and smoking skeleton of a large building. But Hardison was still stewing over Eliot's deception. Parker knew Hardison would forgive Eliot eventually, even if Eliot never asked him for it. That's what family was supposed to do, right? But at this moment, the hurt was still too fresh and Parker didn't think Hardison would have noticed or cared about Eliot's current demeanor.

So that left Parker alone to work her way through the tangle of uncomfortable feelings that were causing a churning in her stomach. The last time she had felt a little like this was when Sophie had gone away. But it wasn't as bad then, Sophie had only been a phone or video call away. She had also felt a little like this every time Archie didn't invite her to come home with him. Before that...well, before that was her brother. But this feeling now was not the fierce heart-wrenching pain of watching helplessly as he died in front of her, rather it was the bone-deep ache of loss that settled when she finally accepted he was gone forever.

And with that memory came the realization of what Parker's instincts had been trying to tell her: Eliot was preparing to leave them. Forever.

It was after nightfall when they landed. Eliot didn't wait around with the others as Hardison went to retrieve the sedan they had left in long-term parking. He headed for the taxi stand, and Parker was torn between going after him and trying to share her fears with the others. Sophie caught her eye, smiled and gave a slight nod in the direction Eliot had gone. That was all the reassurance Parker needed. She wasn't the only one to have noticed after all, and Sophie's silent communication had spoken volumes. Take care of Eliot, I'll watch over the others.

Parker arrived at the taxi stand in time to see Eliot enter a cab, but she remained out of sight. If she tried to stop him now or obviously follow him, he would just disappear. And even if she could get her cabbie to follow his cabbie without him noticing, Eliot was not likely to ask to be dropped off at his front door. The best she could do was try to guess where he might be going. She hailed her own cab and gave directions to the general vicinity of McRory's Pub.

She had deduced a few small things from previous attempts to follow Eliot home. If confronted, Parker probably wouldn't be able to explain why she sometimes followed him, but she told herself it was the challenge she enjoyed. She already knew where Nate lived, and Sophie and Hardison had been too easy to tail. Neither had any situational awareness. Eliot was always situationally aware; he called it some fancy word, zanshin or something, and was well beyond merely paranoid. It made following him discreetly a real challenge.

He had always lost her, but she was fairly certain, well maybe reasonably sure, that he didn't actually know she was following him. She hoped. In any case, he had never called her on it.

She had deduced that he lived within walking distance (well, Eliot's walking distance) of McRory's even though he sometimes drove. When he didn't drive, Parker had always been able to follow him for several blocks and he never hailed a cab or got on a bus. In fact, until today she had never seen him use any transportation besides his own outside of a job.

He always headed a different direction when he left Nate's, but worked his way around until he was heading northeast. Northeast of Nate's lay some decent neighborhoods, some older buildings with nice apartments or condos above businesses, not many houses.

As Parker mentally reviewed the locations she had previously lost Eliot, she gave adjusted directions to the cabbie who blessedly did not feel the need to talk. It was as they were passing a rather nondescript gray-brick building that Parker's crazy intuition, that occasionally bordered on premonition, jabbed her in the arm and demanded she get out of the cab. She waited another half block before asking to be dropped off, paid the cabbie, and melted into the shadow of a doorway where she could observe the building without being seen.

A few weeks previous, Parker had followed Eliot as far as this building, which housed a little family-owned grocer on the ground level. Above were three or four small apartments. Eliot had gone into the grocer, exited a short time later with several bags, and turned the corner, headed down a side street. Parker had lost him soon after, and had seen no indication that he lived in an apartment above but as she considered, she realized it would be just like Eliot to walk away from the grocer and double back, checking for tails before going home. Maybe he did know she had been following him.

She considered the windows above the grocer, and decided the corner apartment on the second floor was the likeliest. It offered the widest view of both streets, and was close enough to the ground to afford a quick escape. It also had all the curtains drawn, the better to foil snipers. Warm light glowed behind a few curtains and even as she watched, another light came on in what must have the bedroom. It seemed Eliot had arrived home not too long before Parker found him.

At Eliot's door, Parker stopped to listen and think through the best approach. Knocking would either be ignored or met with Silent Porcupine Eliot, either way would not get her past the threshold. She briefly considered rapelling down the side of the building and going in through a window since she did have some basic gear in her carry-on. She rejected that idea almost immediately however, concluding Eliot was not likely to have windows that could be opened from outside. Navigating the ventilation system of an unfamiliar building would take too long.

Silent, stealthy, and direct seemed the best approach and she was sure she could pick the door locks. The real concern was whether Eliot had an alarm system or any other bizzare additional security. Maybe poisoned darts if you stepped on the wrong floor tile? Maybe not. Eliot, after all, was his own security.

Eliot's locks and alarm system did prove formidable enough to defeat your average everyday hired killer but were no match for Parker, although she did miss besting her previous time record. She slowly eased the door open and slipped in, half expecting to be run through with porcupine quills. Having been impaled by neither quills nor poison darts, Parker gently closed the door and reset the alarm. She could hear the shower running beyond the bedroom door, but there was no other sign of Eliot.

She took a moment to survey the small, tidy apartment. The door opened on a living-dining area, and there appeared to be only a single bedroom down a short hall to the left. There were few personal belongings anywhere and it reminded Parker more of a crash pad than a home. Of course, since Eliot liked growing his own food, he must keep a place with a garden somewhere else, probably outside of town. When the team had several days of downtime between jobs, Eliot always disappeared.

The apartment's kitchen, which was separated from the living-dining area by a breakfast bar felt the most like Eliot when Parker stood in it. Even she could tell the knife set and pans were high-quality, but not showy. The most expensive weren't always the best, apparently. There were some scattered dents and dings on the pots, and the knife handles were worn to a comfortable shape by years of real use, though the blades were sharpened as if new. Eliot took care of the things he loved.

Contemplating the cutlery and kitchen reminded Parker that none of them had really eaten since that morning, back at the hotel, before everything went pear-shaped. And now she was thinking in food metaphors.

The shower was still running, so Parker started searching cabinets for something to eat. Eliot had some cereal but nothing of the kind she liked, there were no fortune cookies or chocolate donuts either. She hadn't expected to find those really, but she didn't think Eliot would be up to cooking for them both even if he didn't throw her out as soon as he realized she was there.

She opened his freezer and was somewhat surprised to find neatly-packaged and labeled leftovers. She pondered for a moment why Eliot would cook so much extra food if it was only for himself. Maybe he was so used to cooking for the team that it was automatic. The other explanation, one that made her vaguely uneasy, was that he kept prepared meals on hand for those nights after jobs where he got more than a little banged up. Before she could contemplate that too deeply, she pulled out a block-shaped "chicken soup" package, opened and dumped it in a pan over low heat. Parker was no chef, but she was capable of reheating frozen food without burning down the building, thankyouverymuch.

Eliot usually drank coffee in the mornings, but seemed to enjoy tea as well. She filled his kettle and placed it on a back burner over a low flame, and returned to the cabinets to inspect his tea stash. After staring at the dozen or so types of loose-leaf tea and herb packages she had strewn across the counter, Parker gave up trying to guess what Eliot might want so she checked the soup instead, which was melting nicely, and retreated onto the back of Eliot's couch to wait for him. It seemed he had been in the shower forever, and she hoped he didn't emerge as Swamp Thing Eliot. She wasn't sure if that would be better or worse than Silent Porcupine.

I quit this crew when I quit this crew. Nobody makes me leave.

Eliot had spent the flight to Boston trying not to dwell on how difficult his next steps would be. He had screwed up, royally, by not telling Nate right off the bat not to go after Moreau. The Italian and her threats be damned, they could have come up with some other plan. It was what this team did, damnit! But instead he had put them all in danger, and the past he had tried so hard to leave behind had risen up and punched him in the gut.

It had not been difficult, when he had picked up that gun, to switch on the old cold detachment that had seen him through so much in his life. He didn't regret the killing, not really. In that time and in that place it had been a necessary thing. He had not been exaggerating in the park when said every one of those men had innocent blood on their hands. He and Nate and the Italian and, eventually, the rest of the team would have been killed if he had not done what he did. What he regretted was letting it get that far. If he hadn't screwed up in the first place...

Now, finally home and standing in his shower under water as hot as he could stand it, still smelling the gunpowder and still seeing flames dancing behind eyelids squeezed tightly shut, Eliot fought to return to the cold detachment. He hadn't been prepared for the surge of white hot rage that had swept him when he entered the hanger and saw Moreau right there so close, such a perfect opportunity to finish it. He had nearly turned that rage on Nate when the idiot reached out and grabbed him, giving that bastard the chance to escape.

I've got other plans for him.

Well, those plans had better be damned good because otherwise, Eliot would finish it, one way or another. And if it got him killed in the process well, he didn't figure on being here much longer anyway. The team would be safe and that was all that mattered. Eliot had let them get too close to this darkness, had let it touch them and that was inexcusable. He should have done something about Moreau, put him down, long ago. Why hadn't he? Was it fear? Eliot wasn't even sure any more. What he was sure of was that he had failed his team. And failure was unacceptable, failure meant death.

Finally admitting that he was losing the battle with his emotions, Eliot leaned against the shower wall and slowly slid down on knees gone rubbery. His chest hurt, his eyes burned with repressed tears. Strangely, tears of grief as he realized just what he had almost destroyed. What he must now leave in order to protect. Because he couldn't expect the others to trust him any more. Because, despite Nate's reassurance that he wouldn't tell the others what had gone down, there was no way they wouldn't figure out parts of it. A fire that big, with that many bodies left behind would garner media attention and the location and timing would be too obvious to ignore.

They all knew or suspected he had killed but everyone, dear sweet Sophie, thought he wasn't that person any more. And maybe he wasn't, God knew he didn't want to be, but that person would always be inside him. You fight like something's trying to get out of you. He had to let that thing out today and it had been so easy, so much like the old days.

The old days, the days when he had...that had come too close to the surface as well. He had half expected Parker to ask the question again, maybe he had almost wanted her to. Because then Nate would have thrown him off the team, right there, and he wouldn't have to worry about about forcing himself to leave them. They would have welcomed him leaving.

No, better to leave on his own terms before they ever had to find out the worst thing he had done. Better to not have that image in their minds. He would go with them to San Lorenzo, run through Nate's plan. If it worked, it worked and if not, Eliot would find a way to finish it. Whatever happened, he would not return to Boston with them afterward. He would leave only a message not to look for him. He knew they would try, but Eliot was a master at disappearing, and he was so far off the grid already that even Hardison would find no leads.

But, and this is what tightened his chest like an iron band and broke the dam holding his tears back, he didn't want to leave. He hadn't had people he cared for this much in a very long time. Not since he left home that last time and never looked back. He had almost had it again in the Army, but he had lost so many buddies there in a way he couldn't handle losing these people. And if he had today, it would have been his own damn fault.

He didn't really know or care how long he huddled on the shower floor trying to pull himself together. He admitted the cold detachment wasn't going to work, so he settled for anger instead. Anger he could hold on to more easily, could bank to smolder away in the corner of his mind, and feed it when needed. And he had plenty to feed it with. Anger at himself, anger at Moreau, anger at all he had lost, anger at all he had done.

By now the water was running cold and he turned the shower off and reached for a towel. He dried off, pulled on a tank top and sweats, and left his damp hair loose to dry naturally. He didn't really feel like eating but knew he should do so. He left his bedroom heading for his kitchen and stopped short when he saw Parker perched cross-legged on the back of his couch. Damnit, he thought he had thrown her off his trail that time when he left the grocery instead of going upstairs. Parker smiled when she saw him and damn, that sweet innocent smile could light up a room. But he made himself ignore it, he just couldn't deal with her tonight, she would be the hardest to leave behind.

Her smile faltered slightly when he didn't say a word, but only strode forward around the couch behind her and, before she could react, grabbed her in a bear hug as he had during that job Nate was so very drunk on. He hauled her off the couch and turned for the door.

And here was the ironic thing: as soon as that job had been wrapped up, Parker had approached him and asked, demanded really, that he teach her how to break out of holds like that. That defense training had led to fighting training, and they started sparring together. She had even helped him get Hardison and Sophie involved in learning a few things.

So he wasn't at all surprised, and maybe more than a little proud when she brought her legs up, changing their center of gravity and forcing him to lean forward. As soon as her feet touched down again, she hooked a leg behind him and succeeded in dropping him flat. And his aching body did not appreciate that. He should be glad she chose that method only and not one of the strikes he had also taught her to use in that situation. Parker stepped backward as Eliot gained his feet.

He now stood between Parker and the door, so there was little chance he could rush her and hope to shove her out the door before she escaped him again.

"I just want to be alone right now. Go home."

"No you don't."

He wanted to maintain his anger, so he used Parker's intrusion fuel it more. He fixed her with the fiercest glare he could muster and growled when she only smiled at him again. Damnit, he knew that she knew he would never deliberately hurt her and therefore, she stood her ground.

"Parker, I'm not in the mood for this tonight! Get out of here and go home!"

Her smile widened, "I missed growly Eliot."

"Parker, what...damnit, what the hell do you want from me?!"

She rushed forward then, throwing herself against him but keeping her feet on the ground this time. Her arms wrapped tight around him. Ignoring the stiffening of his posture, she buried her face against his neck and sobbed out, "I want you to stay! I want the growly wolf who protects us and cooks for us and teaches us to fight. Hardison needs you to knock his ego down, and Nate needs you to call him out when he's a jerk and Sophie needs your reassurance. I don't care what you did and I'll never ask. Just please don't leave us! I need our family to stay whole!"

Caught off guard, Eliot raised his pinned arms as much as he could move them to...what? To push Parker away? Storm off angrily and shatter her entire world? It would make leaving that much easier. But Parker wasn't done yet.

"I had a real family once, a long time ago. A real mom and dad who loved me. But they died. They died, and later my brother died. And even Archie never stuck around. I can't lose any more family. I can't lose a brother again!"

Of all the things the great and terrible Eliot Spencer had seen and done, of all the exotic and horrible places he had been, it was in this unremarkable apartment, with Parker sobbing and holding onto him for dear life that finally broke Eliot's resolve. Shattered it, into a million tiny pieces. He told himself the dampness in his eyes was dripping down from his hair, but he hugged Parker back as best he could and managed to whisper past a lump in his throat that had everything to do with Parker's deathgrip and nothing else, "I won't leave you."


"I swear."

Parker relaxed her hold just a little, though she gave him no room to slip out of her arms and Eliot didn't feel right pushing her away just yet. They stood together for a few more moments until Parker's tears eased up and Eliot finally noticed the steaming pot on the stove.

"Parker, are you cooking something? In my kitchen?"

The answer came muffled against his neck, "I found soup in your freezer."

"Oh. Well, let's go check on that, alright?"

A sniffle and nod, and then Parker let go of him, hastily wiping her eyes on her sleeves as he stepped past her to the kitchen. He lifted the lid on the pot and saw the soup was thawed and gently bubbling quite happily. He gave it a couple of stirs and turned the flame off. Eliot pulled down two bowls, split the soup between them and Parker took them to the table. As he turned to find a bread knife to slice a loaf of crusty french bread, he noticed the tea containers strewn on the counter.

"Problem with my teas, Parker? Did they attack you?"

She just shrugged, "I didn't know which one you wanted. Do you want any? I'll put them back."

"After we eat, just leave them for now."

He brought the slices of bread and a butter dish to the table and they settled in to eat. Eliot didn't feel much like talking, but Parker's uncharacteristic silence now was unnerving. He thought she believed him, that he wouldn't leave after all, but something was obviously still bothering her.

With all her talk about family tonight, Eliot thought she might be worried about the rift between him and Hardison. And so was Eliot, truthfully. He had thought it would be another thing that would make leaving easier, but now that that was not an option, he would have to stop being a coward and talk to the man. Really talk. Like he should have in the first place. He shouldn't have expected Hardison to just accept the way things went down at the pool. He didn't think the same way as Eliot, couldn't have understood why Eliot had handled it that way.

Eliot wasn't usually one to beat around the bush, put things off that needed to be dealt with, but if ever there was a time to handle Parker with kid gloves, it was tonight. Instead of asking directly what was still bothering her, he asked to be filled in on what else happened that day. There hadn't been much desire to have a team briefing in the hanger, so each half of the team was only vaguely aware of what the other half had been up to.

Parker perked up a little at this. "Hardison jumped off a bridge onto a moving train with me and I didn't even have to push him!"

She sounded so proud, and Eliot couldn't help but smile a little. Hardison always came through in a pinch, even when he had to do something terrifying. As she recounted taking out the guards and disabling the bomb and critiqued Sophie's ability as a getaway driver, Eliot cleared the table.

"I don't suppose I can convince you to go home now?"

"Not a chance, Sparky."

Eliot sighed, where did she get these nicknames? He turned to the tea carnage on the counter and pulled out a blend that helped him relax after a stressful day. While steeping two cups, he returned the rest of the teas to the cabinet. Over time, he had gotten used to the strong taste of this tea, but he dosed Parker's cup with a big spoonful of raw honey. That girl had a sweet tooth like he had never seen.

Eliot brought the cups to the table, Parker sniffed hers and made a face but sipped it anyway. "What is it?"

"Valerian root mostly. It calms anxiety and helps you sleep, but not like a drug."

Parker was quietly paying attention, so he took a chance and gave back some of that trust she had always shown him.

"Sometimes, I have nightmares." Parker nodded slightly, of course she would understand. Eliot finished his tea, he turned the cup slowly in his hands, staring at it.

"I don't like the effect of drugs. I have to be able to wake up immediately, fully alert in a split second. Anything else could be death. My own or..."


"Before this...this thing we do now, I had been alone for a long time." Parker nodded again.

"I don't know when it happened, when this...became more than just a job. It is my job to protect you all, but it's also what I want to do. More than anything, and I failed at it this time. Back when I didn't tell you all about Moreau. I let my past get too close, put you in danger."

"That's why you were going to leave? Guilt?"

"I didn't think I could ask you all to trust me anymore. I'm still not sure the others will."

"Well, that's a stupid idea and leaving is the coward's way out. You're not stupid and you're no coward."

He couldn't meet her eyes at that, his were burning again, damnit.

"Take my bed, Parker. I'll sleep on the couch."

He rose hastily, put their cups in the sink and made his way to the linen closet in the hall. He pulled down a couple of blankets and pillows, but as he turned with the stack, he came face to face with Parker damn girl was a ghost! who deftly took the bedding from him before whipping around, ponytail almost slapping his face and heading for the couch.

"You wrenched your shoulder again. I'll take the couch."

He stared dumbly at the ice pack she had left in his hand in place of the bedding, then turned for his bedroom door. How many arguments had he lost to her tonight?

Despite his exhaustion and the tea, true rest eluded Eliot. He drifted in a half sleep and his brain insisted on reliving the warehouse scene over and over. Only, it liked to embellish and he kept seeing his friends interspersed among Moreau's men; human shields.

At one point, maybe an hour after lying down, Eliot drifted awake to see Parker sitting crosslegged atop his dresser opposite the end of the bed. At any other time, he may have been unnerved that she could enter his room and get on his dresser without his knowledge when he wasn't even fully asleep. She wasn't watching him though, she was hunched over staring at her hands folded in her lap. Giving up on sleep, Eliot sat up and switched on his bedside lamp.

"Something bothering you, sweetheart?" She half-shrugged, then nodded, but didn't look up, and he noticed she was shivering. Eliot slid over to the side of his bed and flicked back the covers to his left.

"You're cold. Come sit next to me." Still without looking up, she slid off the dresser and climbed up on the bed next to him, close but not touching. He flicked the covers back over her lap.

"Did you have a nightmare? Wanna tell me about it?" She shook her head, then nodded and Eliot was left to wonder if this was Parker's indecisive answer, or if she was giving an answer to each part of his question. Before Eliot could come up with the best way to phrase his next question, Parker whispered, "I lied."

Not quite what he was expecting.

"I think every one of us has lied, Parker. What's bothering you?"

"When I said I never hurt anybody. I lied." And Eliot really was exhausted, because he had no idea what in the world she was talking about. And then he did.

"That first official job, back in LA? Sweetheart, that was a long time ago. I don't think it matters now."

"But I lied to the team." Oh, she must be worried because of Nate's reaction in the park yesterday, when he found out what Eliot had been hiding.

"But Parker, we all hide things from each other, we don't have to tell everyone everything. Nate was only mad because my lies affected the team's safety, and could have ruined his plans because he didn't have all the information he needed. Back in LA, we were barely a team."

"But I killed someone, Eliot. I'm a murderer."

What could he say to that? He didn't want to force Parker to talk, but he thought she might need to. Her hands were fidgeting, as if she wished she were holding a lock to pick. There were dark smudges under her eyes and she looked as exhausted as he felt, and he realized the toll it must had taken from her to follow him home, reveal her fears, and beg him to stay. She had been determined because he and the team meant that much to her and he owed it to her to try to help now.

He moved closer, putting his left arm around her and she rested her head on his shoulder, a few quiet tears escaping her this time. "I don't care what you did, and I'll never ask," he whispered her words back to her, "but if you want to talk, I'm right here."

It took a few minutes, and he thought she wouldn't talk after all, but then she started.

"One of the foster homes I went to after my brother...it didn't have any other kids. Mr. Fisher only agreed to foster a kid so he could spend the check on more beer. But Mrs. Fisher was nice to me. I liked her.

Mr. Fisher was mean and he hit her a lot. He didn't usually hit me because she would get between us, and he would hit her more."

Didn't usually. Eliot hoped Parker couldn't feel his sudden tenseness as he wished dearly to meet Mr. Fisher in a dark alley.

"All I had left in the world was my Bunny, and Mr. Fisher knew that. He used to take Bunny away and hide her when he wanted me to do something. Or sometimes just because it was funny to him. I got good at finding her, but then he would get mad. One time he thought he hid Bunny really well and he got really mad when he saw I found her. He was really drunk and he thought Mrs. Fisher gave her back to me. He started hitting her and he wouldn't stop."

Parker's breath hitched then and she paused to gather herself. Eliot gave her shoulder a brief squeeze.

"She fell down and he just kept hitting her and I didn't know what to do but there was a heavy pan on the stove and I grabbed it and hit him in the head. He tried to grab me but I hit him again and he fell backward and his head hit the table and he didn't move after that. Mrs. Fisher wasn't moving anymore either and...and I could tell she was dead. He killed her and I killed him."

Eliot rested his chin on Parker's head and brought his other arm around her because she was shivering more than before. He tried to unknot Parker's logic, figure out how she could equate this...justifiable killing with everything Eliot had done in his past. How could she think the team would reject her for this, when she had just given so much of herself to convince Eliot that he still had a place there after all he had done? Her innocence and naiveté could still surprise him.

Parker didn't seem to be waiting for him to say anything, but he was curious.

"What happened after?"

"Mr. Fisher used to fall asleep in front of the TV. Sometimes I would sneak out of bed and sit in the hallway where I could see the TV without him seeing me. There was a movie on one night where someone made a house explosion look like a gas leak. I told the cops I was still at school when it happened."

And then there were times when she could really surprise him. Smart girl.

"Parker, anyone would know you did what you had to do. You were trying to protect someone, protect yourself. No one else ever has to know, but no one on this team would reject you for that. Not even Hardison." He knew he had said the right thing when he felt some of the tension leave her.

"You don't ever have to tell anyone else but I think someday, you may want to tell Hardison. And I can tell you now that I know he'll see what I see in you. You're a person who had to kill someone in self-defense. That doesn't make you a murderer." Like me.

"Are you gonna talk to him?"

"I'm gonna try."

"He'll listen." And again, that disconnect. She was so sure Hardison would forgive him, but so unsure he could accept what she had done.

Parker may have broken Eliot's resolve earlier, but she had also rebuilt and strengthened it. He realized with absolute clarity what she had been trying to tell him earlier. Leaving would be the cowardly act, he needed to work to rebuild what he had broken with the team, show them he deserved their trust again. Because she was trusting him now with this secret, trusting that he would do the right thing with that trust. Because they did need him, because he did care enough about them to try.

They sat in silence for a while, until Eliot felt Parker growing heavier against him. At least someone could sleep tonight. He nudged her. "C'mon Parker, time to get some sleep."

She sat up, started to get out of bed but he stopped her. "You can stay here if you want, it's more comfortable than the couch. Just stay on that side. If I have a nightmare, don't try to touch me, OK?" She nodded and stretched out on the far side of the bed. He switched off the lamp, closed his eyes and tried to turn off his brain.

Eliot was in the warehouse again, but he was running down endless aisles of stacked goods looking for...he wasn't sure what. A fire roared behind him but over it he could hear the others calling for him. He couldn't get to them yet, he had to find it first. Finally, he turned a corner and before him stood Moreau in front of his plane, and he had a gun in hand. He raised the gun to Parker's head, who he held in front of him as a shield. Eliot was too far away to reach them in time, so he raised the gun he held, the one he just used in the warehouse. He knew he had one bullet left, he could make the shot even at a dead run, right between Moreau's eyes, but a hand reached out and grabbed his shoulder I have other plans throwing off his aim, and then it was too late.

He jerked awake, ready to tackle Nate this time, throw him off and finish Moreau because he had been too slow, he couldn't save Parker...and realized it was Parker's hand on his shoulder, Parker he had almost attacked, Parker looking at him in patient understanding, and unafraid.

"Damnit Parker! I told you not to touch me. I could have hurt you!"

"But you didn't. And I tried calling your name but you didn't wake up."

"Just...don't do it again. Throw something at me if you have to, just don't get too close." If he hadn't been so damned exhausted and sore, he would have called it a night and tried working out in his living room instead, but he desperately needed rest, even if it was just lying awake as still as possible. He turned on his side away from her and closed his eyes again.

And nearly jumped out of his skin when Parker plastered herself to his back, throwing an arm over him so her hand rested against his heart. "What. The hell. Are you. Doing?" he growled out.

"Hugging a wolf," she giggled, but at his prickly silence she sobered again and said, "you always watch our backs, so I'm going to watch yours now, so you can rest." As he was zero for wins in all arguments with Parker tonight, Eliot didn't even bother trying this one. He lay still for a while, listening to her breathing even out and determined now to stay awake, lest he have another nightmare and end up hurting her this time.

And though he had in the past remained awake for days on end, sometimes by choice, other times not, he ended up losing this fight as well.

Eliot awoke as he usually did, coming completely and fully alert without showing any sign of being awake. He didn't remember finally falling asleep last night, after Parker had insisted on gluing herself to him. He couldn't remember any time since Aimee that he had slept in a bed with another person. He never brought any of his "conquests" to his own home, and he always left them before he could fall asleep. But he had felt completely safe with Parker there, and he could still feel her warmth at his back, though she wasn't there now. He heard his shower running and marveled again at her stealth. He was glad they were on the same side because if she ever applied that skill to do him harm, he was pretty sure she would succeed.

The sunlight behind his drawn curtains told him it was late morning. He had slept longer than he had in a while and he felt more refreshed that he expected. Every ache and bruise spoke to him when he sat up though, and he paused for a bit, resting his head in his hands, elbows braced on his knees. The shower turned off and Parker came out of the bathroom a few minutes later, fully dressed and looking entirely too well-rested for the night they had had.

"Nate texted. He wants to meet for a briefing this afternoon. Will you make pancakes?"

Eliot squinted up at her through one eye. Oh. She wanted pancakes now, not Nate at the briefing. "Yeah, Parker, I'll make pancakes."

She smiled and turned, but before she reached the doorway, Eliot spoke up again.

"Parker? Thanks."

Her smile turned impossibly bright.

"You always take care of us. You're worth it."

A/N I hope you enjoyed this. I have a lot of other story ideas in my head, but this one alone took three weeks of lunch breaks at work and a bit of extra time on the weekends to write out. And it was the shortest, easiest idea I had. Any of my other ideas would involve more research, outlining, and frustration. Still, I hope to come up with something else to share, since I've quietly enjoyed so many other stories here (and I hope to fix that by going back and reviewing my favorites from before I joined). Thank you for taking the time to read this!