A/N: 1. This is a two-part episode tag to "The Snow Job" and, since I follow the serial/DVD order of the episodes, takes place very early in the series (episode 4). The characters are still learning about each other, and interactions can be rocky and uncertain. 2. My other story, "The Long Night Job," references this incident. You don't have to read that one but I would love it if you did. 3. I'm not a Nate-hater, but he was a real ass in this episode, and deserves everything Eliot thinks about him. 4. This is Eliot/Parker early friendship only, no romance. 5. I do not own anything recognizable, not making any profit.
The Finding Trust Job
One thing that had served Eliot well in his life was the ability to make a quick tactical decision and act immediately upon it. It had saved his life many times over the years, and allowed him to quickly and efficiently engage the security goons that seemed to be a more and more common accessory to these jobs Nate took on.
There had been no goons so far on this job, but Eliot found himself needing to make a tactical decision anyway when Parker abruptly left their appropriated MRI room after hearing Nate toss their money away. Secretly, he was somewhat in favor of just abandoning the entire con. Nate was treading on thin ice...aw hell, who was he kidding? Nate had hammered right through the ice and was splashing around in the deep end. The job was falling apart at the seams, but it might still be salvageable if he could keep Parker from blowing it now. This was about more than just their money, they had to get restitution for their clients.
So, Eliot had run after Parker down the hospital hallway, and when she stopped, had wrapped his arms around her in a rear bear hug, pinning her arms and effectively immobilizing her so he could lift and carry her back out of sight. Quick, decisive, and effective. Tactically, it was sound.
He had expected some sort of struggle or yelp when he grabbed and lifted her, but she just went rigid instead. When he finally set her down in front of the doorway to the MRI room at the end of the hall, he was prepared for some sort of reaction; a glare, a chewing out, maybe even a punch. What took him by surprise was the look of fear on her face as she pulled away from him and pressed herself back into the corner of the hallway by the door, near where another hall intersected theirs.
That look hit Eliot with all the force of a charging bull as he was thrust back into a memory from his past. It was after the Army, during one of his stints with a PMC. They had been contracted by a very wealthy businessman to recover his kidnapped daughter. It had been a difficult mission and when they had finally located her, Eliot had to grab, actually grab, the girl and run or they would not have made it out. She had been just as stiff in his arms then as Parker was. When the team reached their vehicle and he set the girl inside it, she had burrowed as far from him into a corner of the seat as she could, curled around herself, and refused to meet anyone's eyes or speak a word, despite repeated reassurances that they were taking her back to her family.
The poor girl had been barely a teenager, and it didn't take a genius to figure out something very bad had happened to her. Now, he saw that same withdrawn fear on Parker's face, saw the girl's behavior reflected in his teammate before him, and realized with a sickening lurch in his gut that he himself was the cause this time.
In their short time working together as a team, he had noticed that Parker didn't often like to be touched or sit too close to anyone, and she really didn't like people behind her, out of her sightline. Happy Parker was somewhat more accepting of closeness, but Sad or Angry Parker tended to be much more prickly. Whatever her mood however, she always kept a good awareness of what was going on around her. It was behavior Eliot recognized in himself, and he approved of her situational awareness, but he should have noticed Parker's aversion to touch had been very distinctive. Maybe he just hadn't wanted to admit it.
Parker was always solid on the job, even if she was more than just a little crazy, and in the short time they had been operating as Leverage Consulting and Associates, Eliot had come to trust her to do her part professionally, maybe more than he trusted the others sometimes, Nate being a prime example right now. So he never really minded being teamed together for the more dangerous infiltration parts of the jobs. Eliot had thought she trusted him to keep her safe when needed. But now he remembered when Parker had landed on him after she jumped out of that window (he prayed she had been intending to roll on impact if he hadn't been there) she had separated from him and gotten up almost immediately, before he could try to check her for any injuries.
Now, as Eliot began to piece together these observations and draw some unsettling conclusions, guilt lanced through him like a sword to the gut.
Eliot realized he was effectively blocking Parker into a corner of the hallway and she looked skittish, eyes darting side to side, but not meeting his. He took a step backward to give her more space, hoping she wouldn't just bolt. The only places she could go were either back into the MRI room where Hardison was waiting, or down the intersecting hall to her left. Eliot hoped she would return to the room so he could have a chance to talk to her, try to calm her down, make her see he hadn't meant to bring up unpleasant memories...but Hardison poked his head out at that moment.
"Guys, Nate said pack it up, we're heading back to the..." He trailed off as he noticed how spooked Parker looked, how she had jumped slightly at his sudden appearance.
Eliot took another step backward and slightly to his right, trying to not pressure her but trying also to block her from escaping down the hall to her left. He attempted to keep his voice as calm and even as possible, though he really wished he could track down whoever was responsible for instilling this reaction in Parker. Whoever it was besides himself, of course.
"Parker, I..." She bolted down the hall to her left before Eliot had a chance to finish.
Hardison turned confused eyes to Eliot, "She that upset 'bout Nate, man?"
But Eliot didn't answer. He jogged after Parker instead, knowing he couldn't catch up to her but hoping to figure out where she might be going.
Parker was in the hotel suite when the others, including a very discouraged Eliot, returned. He had tried checking the roof of the hospital, the tallest trees on the grounds, anywhere else he could think of, but he hadn't seen any sign of Parker. He wasn't sure what he would have said if he had found her, and still wasn't sure the best way to approach her now. Maybe he should get Sophie to try talking to her, but he really had no idea how to broach that subject. Hey, Sophie, I terrified Parker today and probably gave her PTSD. Would you fix her for me? Yeah, good luck with that.
Parker didn't seem any worse for wear as the team hashed out their issues with Nate that evening, but she wouldn't meet Eliot's eyes or stand very near him. Eliot's guilt wormed away in his gut, and he told himself later that was why he lost his temper so badly with Nate. Not that he wouldn't have called Nate out anyway, the drunken idiot had it coming. Physically threatening him however, especially in front of the rest of the team, was an unacceptable loss of control.
When the others followed Eliot out of the hotel suite, giving Sophie room to speak to Nate alone, Eliot tried to catch Parker's eye. She still wouldn't look in his direction though, and kept Hardison between herself and him. Nate had been too wasted all evening to notice this additional tension in his team, and Eliot wasn't sure if Sophie had either, but Hardison kept shooting him questioning glances. Eliot ignored them.
He never did get a chance to approach Parker one-on-one before the job wrapped up. Their remaining interactions were brief and strictly job-related. On the flight back to LA afterward, Parker sat with Hardison, and then made her own way home from the airport.
The team met at the offices the morning after their return to debrief that job and discuss a potential new client. Parker seemed back to her own brand of normal, but there was still no chance to approach her without the others around. After the briefing, Eliot retreated to his office to review security for the next job. He had blueprints, guard rotations, and photos strewn on a table in front of him, but he found it difficult to concetrate. He hadn't slept well the previous night, guilt always had a way of keeping him awake. He kept running through "should haves." He should have been quicker, grabbed her before she left the room. Or better yet, he should have kept an eye on her, realized she was about to do something stupid, and blocked her from leaving. Hell, maybe he should have let her blow the con. It would have been an opportunity to knock Nate off his damn pedestal for a bit, show him he wasn't infallible...
Eliot realized he had been staring at the same photograph for at least ten minutes, but hadn't even pegged which ex-military these guards were when there came a timid knock on his office door. He glanced up to see Parker framed in his doorway and masked his surprise, normally she wouldn't bother knocking. Normally, before he had terrified her. Well now, maybe he would have a chance to apologize.
"C'mon in," he gestured at the chair opposite his, and she perched on the edge of the seat, but didn't say anything.
"Did you need something Parker?"
She fiddled with a lock of hair, wouldn't quite look at him. "You know things, things about fighting. What should I have done?"
"Done? Parker, I think we need to talk about..."
"When you picked me up. What should I have done to get away?" She finally looked straight at him.
"I'm sorry I grabbed you like that. I...I didn't know. I was afraid you'd blow the con." Eliot wasn't sure what else to say, he didn't want Parker to have to relive whatever awful experience she had flashed back to in the hallway. But she gave a small, half-smile.
"Blowing the con would have been Nate's fault, but you stopped me so it's OK."
"It's not OK, Parker! I scared you badly and I wish I hadn't. I should have noticed you didn't like being touched. Or taken by surprise like that. You're supposed to be able to trust me."
She looked away again, "you didn't hurt me, and I wasn't really scared of you. I ran away because I needed to be alone for a while."
They sat in an uncomfortable silence for a few moments, neither really wanting to look at the other. Finally, Parker spoke in a quiet voice, barely above a whisper: "Tell me what I should do next time...to get away."
If it was up to Eliot, there would never be another time. But if they were going to keep taking on dangerous jobs, a little self-defense instruction wouldn't go amiss. Just in case he was somewhere else, if he was too slow to reach her...And really, the rest of the team could do with some training too, no sense of self-preservation at all!
"OK Parker, I can tell you what you should have done, or I can teach you. But that would involve more touching. Would you be OK with that?"
She shrugged, "I'd be expecting it so, yeah. Will you teach me how to fight like you?"
Eliot pinched the bridge of his nose. Parker had gone from terrified of him to wanting to throw down like him. Who could follow that girl's mind?
"I'll teach you some things so you can protect yourself if I'm not there." Parker smiled at him then, her real radiant smile, but he fixed her with as serious a look as he had ever used.
"But there's a condition: If I am there and I'm tellin' you to run, givin' you an out, you GO. Got it? Don't stick around and fight. That's my job."
"OK then. We could practice in this gym I know, my buddy owns it..."
"No gym, too many people." And he heard what she didn't say: I told you I was OK with the touching, but I might be wrong. I could still freak out.
"...or we'll use the big room here at the end of the hall, the one Hardison wanted for storage. I'll need a couple days to get some practice mats and things in, OK? I'll let you know."
She smiled again and bounced up to leave but turned back at the last second. Before Eliot knew what hit him, she had leaned down and akwardly hugged him, whispering "I do trust you, Eliot," and then she was gone.