A/N: Eliot/Parker friendship only, no romance. This story fits into the themes set up in my other stories. It's not necessary to read those, but I would be thrilled if you did.
I have been bothered by the blasé attitude everyone had toward Parker taking the "happy pills." I think Eliot especially would have taken issue with it. And, though I'm not against medication when necessary, Dr. Frank's attitude in this episode seemed irresponsible. Don't own anything, not making any money off this.
Warnings: Slightly mushy Eliot. Not entirely rotted, but a tad overripe. Slight spoilers possible, but nothing earth-shattering. Rated T for mild language, and a little bit of Eliot being Eliot.
The Building Blocks Job, chapter 1
It had been a very good thing that Eliot had been both relaxed (as relaxed in public as he ever was, anyway) and paying attention when Parker jumped him like some sort of alien spawn from one of Hardison's movies. If she had caught him by surprise, things could have gone downhill very fast. Parker never tried to surprise him, as she seemed to enjoy doing to the others, even though he knew she possessed the skill to do so. She would always announce herself to him, not always so obviously as calling out of course, but by scuffing a shoe or slipping into his peripheral vision from a safe distance. The odd thing was that he had never had to warn her to do so, she seemed to sense from the start that he would prefer not to be snuck up on, and she respected that. It was one of the few boundaries she did respect.
Part of Parker's sneakiness around the team was her genuine enjoyment in catching them unawares. Hardison seemed to be her favorite target, and Eliot had to admit he enjoyed seeing the kid jump about a foot every time she did it. He had no zanshin whatsoever.
Parker didn't like to be surprised, however, and that was related to the other part of her sneakiness and her usual aversion to touch, and that was why this uncharacteristic display, coupled with her overall...giddiness...bothered Eliot very much. It wasn't that Parker was never happy around them, but there was usually a proximate cause; jumping off a building, conning a bad guy out of a lot of money, a new box of cereal. It wasn't like her to be so...giggly...for no real reason. And it was NEVER like her to be so touchy-feely. Eliot had learned the reason for that the hard way.
So when his rhetorical "when do the happy pills wear off?" proved prophetic, Eliot took it upon himself to keep a close watch on her. She must have taken some kind of antidepressant, it was the best explanation for her sudden extremely good mood.
Why she had been taking it, and how she had gotten hold of it in the first place remained a mystery he intended to solve, but not right this moment. It was likely Hardison's fault. Or Nate's. Or both. What was most important was what needed to be done now. She had abruptly stopped taking it and was going to crash, and she was probably going to crash hard, if the upswing in her mood was any indication. He didn't want her to be alone when it happened. She had only been on it for a few days, tops, but those drugs could play havoc with the body awfully quick, especially in someone who didn't need them. The problem was that, like him, Parker was probably more used to holing up, going to ground, when she was sick or hurt, than asking for help. He was going to have to make her accept his help, and doing that was going to be asking her for an awful lot of trust.
Eliot had noticed that throughout the afternoon, Parker's happiness wore off and she withdrew from them. By late afternoon, post-briefing, she had disappeared, presumably to her personal office. Eliot was sure she hadn't left their suite.
No one else seemed overly bothered by Parker's behavior today, and Eliot could see how Hardison might think he would enjoy this version of her...Eliot couldn't really blame them, they wouldn't have the experience he did with this kind of thing. Scratch that, Nate would understand if he wasn't three sheets gone again by now. Sophie's frustrated nagging had finally driven him to his office, and she had left for the day in a huff. Hardison had settled in to do some hacking thing, all the while muttering about how the world's problems could apparently be solved over a plate of tacos.
So, Eliot accepted taking care of Parker would best fall upon him. Since he had stitched Nate up after that bank robbery job, because a hospital would have to report a bullet wound, he seemed to have been press-ganged into being the team's de facto medic. It made sense, really. He had combat medic training from his time in the Army, and a whole lot more than simple field experience from...after...that. Rather than blow through aliases going to a hospital or a clinic whenever anyone was injured, he'd just...patch them up. He'd done it for himself often enough.
What really surprised him was the apparent change in perception of what constituted "acceptable risk" in a job. Back when they helped that soldier, the team had been ready to split over the danger...now somehow, Hardison getting metal splinters in his hands from hanging off an elevator cable, or Parker's cuts from unfinished edges inside ventilation shafts, or Nate being shot, was deemed no big deal. It definitely made his place on the team more difficult, and much more important, if they were willing to take bigger and bigger risks. Or rather, if Nate was willing to take bigger risks.
Nate. He had come up with this hare-brained rehab plan, he could do his part to help Parker now. Eliot stalked down the hall to his office, and pushed through the half-closed door.
"Send Hardison home," he stated without preamble, "tell him and Sophie to take a week off. You, too."
Nate sat back in his chair, full tumbler (not his first, judging by the state of the bottle on his desk) balanced in hand. "Any particular reason? We have several potential clients to review tomorrow."
"I don't care, there's nothing that can't wait a week, put 'em off. Tell Hardison to go visit his Nana, tell Sophie to go shopping in Paris or wherever. And YOU can drink yourself into oblivion for all I care, but the team is takin' a week off. AWAY from the offices."
Nate took a sip from his tumbler and silently regarded Eliot in that infuriating way of his. "Why, Eliot?"
Sonofabitch. "'Cause Parker ain't on the 'happy pills' any more. I know you know what that means." He deepened his glare for good measure.
Nate finally leaned forward and set down his tumbler. "Yeah, do you...do you need any help?"
"Why do you think I'm tellin' you to get rid of the rest of the team? Ya got ten minutes to do it!" He turned and stalked out of Nate's office, back down the hallway to the little kitchen Hardison had worked into the original renovation. It was separated by a bar-height counter from what was affectionately becoming known as "the lounge."
The lounge consisted of a couch, coffee table and a couple of overstuffed armchairs set around a single big-screen television. While not as perfect an arrangement for watching sports as the six massive screens in the conference room, the lounge was becoming a place where anyone who didn't feel like going home right away could watch a movie or catnap. Sophie especially appreciated the cozy atmosphere. Apparently, Hardison was making this his second home.
The kitchen was Hardison's idea originally, but his idea of a kitchen was far too much microwave and not nearly enough stovetop. When the team started pestering Eliot for food, because Hardison had raved on and on about his stuffed mushrooms, Eliot agreed to cook occasionally if Hardison redid the kitchen to his specifications. Truthfully Eliot didn't really mind the cooking, and it was becoming a lot more often than "occasionally." It was nice to cook for someone other than himself, which didn't happen much when he was freelancing. And besides, the rest of the team with the possible exception of Sophie would never eat anything healthy if he didn't!
Eliot was taking inventory of the paltry contents of the refrigerator, and trying to decide what he could make for a light dinner when he heard Hardison call out his farewells. Nate remained silent as he followed Hardison out the door, locking it behind them. Time to go talk to Parker.
"Stir that slowly, don't slosh it!" Eliot didn't mind helpin' Mama in the kitchen. Well, most of the time he didn't. And today was one of those times. It was raining, and too muddy outside to play, and he was helpin' Mama mix a batter for one of her special cakes.
Mama sold cakes and pies and eggs from their chickens and extra vegetables from their garden to supplement Daddy's income from the hardware store he owned. Daddy worked long days and the store was never closed except Sundays and holidays. But that was OK because Daddy was always home nights, and he spent the Sundays and holidays with Mama and Eliot and Lizzie and not everyone's daddy did that.
They weren't rich, but they weren't poor either. Mama and Daddy said they were "comfortable." And Daddy worked hard so they could stay "comfortable." Mama worked hard too, baking and gardening and keeping house so Eliot and Lizzie could enjoy just being kids. So they wouldn't have to worry about where their next meal would come from, or if they could stay in their house another month.
They had neighbors who had to worry about things like that, and that was why Eliot was helping Mama bake a special surprise birthday cake for the twins down the street.
"What color frosting do you think they'd like, Eliot?" Mama held the bowl as Eliot scooped the batter into the cake tins. And Eliot thought that maybe they should get every color, since this would be the very first birthday cake they ever had. And he just didn't understand how that kind of thing happened. But Eliot liked how he felt when he was helpin' Mama help other people and he thought he might like to do this forever.
As expected, Parker's office door was locked. Eliot rapped on it. "I'm coming in, Parker."
He picked the lock with skill, though not with Parker's speed. He pushed the door open to see her wrapped tightly in a blanket and curled up on the end of the couch she had chosen for her office. She was very pale, and shivering just a little. Ah hell. They were probably in for a long night.
She glared up at him. "Go away."
"Nope. How are you feeling, besides cold?" He walked over and leaned against the side of her desk, arms crossed. "Talk to me, Parker."
Her glare deepened. "No. Go away." It was irritating how childish she could be sometimes, but losing his temper with Parker now would be the wrong move.
"Stop sulking, Parker. You and I both know you took some pills at the rehab, and now you're not. You're coming off of them, so it's normal to feel off, or sick. Now, talk to me."
"What do you know about it? You don't take drugs." Eliot bit back his irritation. He had to remember Parker could be very stubborn, but tended to respond better when reasoned with.
"There's a lot you don't know about me, Parker. I've been a lot of places, seen a lot of things. Done a lot of things. No, I don't take drugs. Not by choice." He let that hang for a moment. "But I know what they do to people, and what the withdrawal can do to people."
Parker had uncurled a little and sat up straighter, but she was still scowling at him "I didn't take them for very long."
"I know. Doesn't change how you feel right now, though. And you look like hell." If he had said that to Sophie, he very well might have been dead, or at least really hurting, right now. But this was Parker, and Eliot was trying his best to be reasonable, even if she was trying her best to be a two-year-old!
"Why do you even care? It isn't your job. Your job is to hit people."
Eliot resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. Barely. "It doesn't have to be my job to care how you're feeling. And I do a lot more than hit people. Or did you forget our training sessions? You pushed me into that, and those are 'after hours', too." She looked away at that, almost like...almost like she thought she had hurt his feelings. Eliot sighed. You don't know how to let people care about you, do you? "I don't mind the sparring, Parker. Look, my job is the protection of this team. To me, that means more than just hitting people. It means getting you out in one piece, patching up your cuts and bruises, hell, even feeding you something more than sugar. It means making sure you're operating one hundred percent, so you can do your job. And since this happened to you on a job, my job isn't done yet."
Parker was quiet a moment, then she glanced up at him. "You're not giving me a choice are you?"
"Sure you gotta choice. We can do this at your place, my place, or here." He ignored the fact it wasn't really a choice. He was not about to reveal where he lived any more than she would have.
Parker sighed and pulled the blanket tighter around herself. "Here."
"Good choice. Now, everyone else has left, they're taking the week off. Come out to the lounge and I'll make you some dinner." He pushed away from the desk and turned to leave.
"Not hungry, just want a shower and sleep."
"OK, a shower will help you warm up. Then come out to the lounge. You need to eat something." Eliot returned to the kitchen, knowing he was taking a chance leaving her alone. She could easily bolt out of the office and the building and he'd have no hope of catching her. But, he sensed that she had really listened to him, and that she really didn't want to be alone right now. And his intuition told him she would stay if he didn't make her feel trapped.
A/N: "Zanshin": the word Eliot uses in The Cross My Heart Job to refer to the goon's lack of situational awareness. It apparently has several slightly varied meanings, but this seems closest to what Eliot intended: "In karate, zanshin is the state of total awareness. It means being aware of one's surroundings and enemies, while being prepared to react." Quoted from Wikipedia, so take that for what it's worth.
Regarding updates: this story is fully drafted but still being filled out and nitpicked. Postings may be one to two weeks between chapters. This is based on my work schedule and other obligations and the fact I don't want to post all at once.
Thanks for reading and please review, good or bad!