"I'm fine," Eliot mumbled.

That's doubtful. Nate hadn't had time to ask the question. "You don't look fine."

The hitter pushed past him and stumbled for Lucille. "Then stop looking."

Uh oh. Growling Eliot. Nate followed behind him and chose to stay quiet. Best to let the other man go until he either came to them for help, or physically couldn't go anymore.

Sophie's face softened the moment Eliot came into view. The hitter ignored her and climbed into the van.

Nate shook his head as Sophie gave him that look. "Leave it alone, Soph."

"Leave it alone? Did you even see him? He hasn't looked good since the job with Penzer Auto. And now he's been shot."

"You know confronting him won't do us any good. He'll just withdraw, and we won't accomplish anything." He jammed his hands in the pockets of his overcoat. "That is if we're lucky. If he doesn't withdraw, he could go on a tirade. Do you really want another one of those? Hardison wouldn't speak to him for a week after he...murdered his babies."

Said babies were tracking devices and mini-cams that the hacker had put in place to spy on Eliot when a previous job left him in less than optimal condition.

He turned his back to the van to keep his voice from carrying. "Best plan of action is to let him carry on as usual. He'll-"

"Don't give me that he'll let us know crap, Nate. He won't let us know. Because he has this silly notion that we can't ever see that he's anything as mundane as human." Her dark eyes met his and he could see just how much trouble he was in.

"I'm doing the best I can. He isn't a child. I can't make him let me take care of him. All I can do is what we always do. Trust him." He shrugged and headed for Lucille, trying not to think about the tangible pain in his back from her stare.




Sophie took a seat close enough to Eliot. She was not hovering. She just…damn. Hovered. He looked exhausted though. How could she ignore that?

Nate mercifully took the driver's seat. Eliot didn't need to endure another car ride with Parker driving.

"I could have worked in the pharmacy," Parker's voice held an uncharacteristic whine.

"Maybe Nate didn't want you to stab someone with the counting spatula," Hardison muttered. The smile on his face betrayed any fake annoyance. He loved Parker's unpredictability and it showed.

Mischief lit Parker's eyes. "I've never done that."

"Oh, hell. Now she's thinkin' about it, man! See what you did?" Eliot's voice sounded strained.

Sophie watched Eliot as he held his left arm closer to his body. Right hand holding the elbow of his bad arm, trying to take pressure off the shoulder.

Hardison turned his attention back to whatever gadget he was working on now. "What? You know she would have thought about it anyway."

Parker's giggle provided inappropriate background music to the scene Sophie watched. Eliot didn't provide his usual growling retort. He slipped in the seat; his head thumping against the side of the van. The tension left his muscles and his right hand fell to his thigh.

"Eliot?" She tapped his cheek with her fingertips. "Can you hear me?"

Nate alternated between watching the road and looking in the back of the vehicle. "What's happening? Talk to me, people."

Hardison joined Sophie in trying to wake their hitter. "C'mon, man. You're scaring the shit outta everybody. Wake up!"

Sophie cupped Eliot's face in her hands, studied his face. No movement, no flutter of eyelids. "Nate, do something!"

The van skidded to a halt on the shoulder of the road. The mastermind got out and ran to the side door and climbed in.

Sophie moved out of his way. Nate would know what to do. He always knew. She didn't think that would include the slap to Eliot's cheek.

"Damn it. Wake up, Eliot. Don't make me." The injured man didn't respond, causing Nate to shove his fingers through his hair roughly. "Fine. This is your fault."

The team watched as Nate pulled out his phone. He dialed, pressed the phone to his ear.

His free hand rested on Eliot's uninjured shoulder. Nate didn't have to wait long. "It's me. Yes. He's been shot." A flinch passed across his face as he pulled the phone from his ear. "He's alive. We should be at your office in…" Light flashed off his watch as he flicked his wrist. "Fifteen minutes."

Phone pocketed, he handed Hardison a spare shirt they kept for disguises. "Press this against the wound. He'll be fine."

Nate got out and reclaimed the driver's side.

Relief spread through her as Sophie realized what Nate had done. The young hacker looked shell shocked. He needed something to do. A task.

If anyone expected the hacker to be squeamish, they would be sorely disappointed. He took the seat beside Eliot and sat him up straighter with a gentle tug. Soothing hands pressed the shirt against the hitter's bleeding shoulder. "I got ya. Don't worry, man. We're all good."

Sophie met Nate's eyes in the rearview mirror and gave a slight nod of approval. She looked back at the hacker, Eliot was leaning against Hardison's side now. Whether by accident or design, she couldn't be sure.




Nate watched Dr. Pratt as she worked. Eliot regained consciousness for a brief five minutes in Lucille before passing out again.

In that short amount of time he grumbled and cussed about being fine and "stop treating me like an invalid."

Everyone – including Parker – had the good sense to not point out he still leaned against Hardison's side. Even after muttering something about touchy, feely idiots. A glance in the rearview offered a view of the hitter's head resting on Hardison's shoulder. So much for the I'm fine argument. Luckily for them, Eliot stayed out long enough to get him to Dr. Pratt's office.

"I don't believe there's any significant damage along the wound track." Dr. Pratt – Beth – said. "He's a damned lucky guy."

"If you call the life of a hitter lucky."

"The things he's gone through?" She held his gaze "He's fortunate to be alive. I've seen things that should have killed him. This…blood vessels could have been involved. He could have bled to death."

Nate looked at their protector. They could have lost him today. Seeing Eliot that still and pale made the possibility more real.

"You realize he can't keep going this way?" she said, gaze cold enough to chill the room.

"I can't make him tell me everything."

She crossed her arms and hugged her torso. "No. But you can make it feel like an acceptable thing to do."

Stunned into silence, he nodded in agreement.

Lips drawn to a tight line relaxed into an uneasy smile. The tension in her arms eased. "He's going to fight it, but he's going to need help while he heals."

An escaping sigh betrayed Nate's attempt at calm. "Take care of a healing Eliot? We take down huge corporations on day off. No problem."

A quick glance at the injured man revealed the pain killers succeeded at keeping him still. She patted his good shoulder and said, "Sure. Piece of cake."




Two days had passed and Eliot was not happy about staying at Nate's apartment.

Eliot scowled as he watched the team flit around the room. He reminded Sophie of a tiger, ready to pounce, but fighting its instincts.

Hardison fussed almost more than she did herself. That spoke volumes about how scared the young man had been. She felt the skin at her eyes crinkle as she smiled at the two. A real smile, then. Once a grifter, always a grifter.

"Dammit, I said I'm fine. I don't need…"

The blanket Hardison tossed over his lap hit him in the face. "The doc gave us orders."

Nate visibly cringed as Sophie internally winced.

The scowl deepened into a patented Eliot glare. "Yeah, that. Why did you call Beth?"

The hacker's facial expression screamed duh. "Shot, concussion, hearing issues. Yeah, why the hell would we call a doctor?"

"I was fine," Eliot mumbled.

"No, you weren't." Nate handed him three tablets. "You were hurt to begin with. Then you decided to stop a bullet with your shoulder."

"I didn't decide anything. Jerry made the decision to shoot me." He rolled the tablets over in his hand, made a face. "What are these?"

Nate pointed out the two larger tablets. "These two are antibiotics. Other one is a painkiller."

Eliot's eyes flew to Nate's face. "Painkiller? I don't need a painkiller. The antibiotics are fine. Not taking the painkiller."

"Eliot, we know you're in pain. The doctor said these are mild." Sophie hoped to ease the hitter's mind. He had complained about the foggy feeling pain medication caused before.

"Beth said they were mild? Could go one of two ways. They really are mild and she took my concerns into consideration."

Hardison tucked the blanket around Eliot. "What's the second way?"

Eliot growled and batted the hacker's hands away. "Or, they could be so strong they knock me out and I sleep forever."

"Would it be so bad to sleep? I think rest would be good for you." Hardison resumed tucking the blanket around Eliot's torso.

Sophie stifled a laugh at the defeated look on Eliot's face. He realized fighting the blanket was a lost cause.

Nate shoved a glass of water into the hitter's hand. "Take them all. Now."

Eliot's eyes went wide, then narrowed in annoyance. "I..."

"Now, Eliot. No discussion." Nate wasn't going to relent.

"Fine. Fine. I'll take the damned things. If I go to sleep for hours and you need me...don't come cryin' to me." The pills disappeared into his mouth and got washed down with the water.

Hardison leaned closer. "Huh uh. Open up. Let us see."

Eliot drew his right fist back. "Hardison, so help me-"

The hacker's hands shot into the air in surrender. "Hey! No violence. It's up to you. You wanna hide them in your cheek just to spit out later? Nothing to me. You can just be in excruciating pain and let your arm rot off."

"For the love...see?" Eliot opened his mouth wide, stuck out his tongue, then lifted it so Hardison could see underneath it. "See? No pills. All gone. Happy?"

The younger man smiled and patted Eliot's knee. "Very. I'm going to warm you some soup."

Eliot pinned Nate with a desperate look. "Nate, stop him. I can't eat anymore fucking soup. He's been wanting to turn the heat up. Trying to put me to bed at 8:30. First off, I don't need to be put to bed."

The mastermind didn't try to hide his amusement at the hitter's plight. "I don't know Mr. 90 Minutes a Day. That might be good for you."

Any retort Eliot may have had got cut off by Parker at the door. "Eliot! I'm coming into the apartment. Do not be alarmed." Her head appeared around the open door.

Eliot groaned when she plopped on the couch beside him. "Oh my god, Parker."

"What? I scared you that one time at breakfast. I wanted to be sure you knew I was coming in. Since you're hearing is bad now."

Fingernails dug into the blanket. "Going to get a checkup. Ringing already getting better," he grumbled through gritted teeth.

Sounds came from the kitchen like from a construction zone. There was a reason Eliot did the cooking.

Parker leaned back into a slouching position. Uh oh. Settling in for the long haul.

The thief turned to face him with a look of seriousness. "You gonna get a hearing aid at your follow up?"

Sophie and Nate saw the look on Eliot's face and called at the same time, "Parker!"

"What? I just need to know if I need to keep being loud around Eliot." She leaned close to his left ear. "Just let me know if I need to speak up."

Eliot jerked away from her. "Parker! Shut up!"

By the time the hacker came back with the soup, Eliot had struggled off the couch.

"Eliot, where you going? I got your soup. You should be resting."

Eliot glanced over his shoulder. "If you don't leave me alone, I'm going to throw you off the roof."

"Not while your shoulder is like that." Hardison followed him up the stairs with the soup.

Sophie shook her head. Two days down. Weeks – if not months – to go. She felt sure they would still be a family.

She just wasn't sure if Hardison would have taken an unplanned flight by then.