Protecting Has its Risks

Summary: Something in Eliot has changed, that's maybe even broken him. Will he manage to hide the brokenness from the others, or will they figure it out? Just so you know being broken isn't the same as being defeated.

A/N: This is very new territory for me writing for Leverage, much less, for a whole different fandom. So please bear with me as I explore the characters and settings.

My inspiration has struck and not left me since I started watching the final season. I have to be honest, though, and say that I have not yet found the courage to watch the final episode as it seems so final if I do, but I will in due time. But I digress. I don't know if anyone else has noticed that Eliot seems quite different and not just meaning the awesome new haircut, but that he seems even more withdrawn and quieter than usual (particularly from about episode 9, when they were in DC), which is saying a lot. It's hard to explain, but, to me, he seems almost sad. When I think back to the earlier episodes, there were times when he demonstrated even childlike innocence, especially when I think back on the 'Top Hat Job'. And so I thought I could explore the reasoning behind the changes.

I apologise for the long A/N and also if anyone else had the same idea. I have not yet had the privilege of reading through all the fanfiction of Leverage yet, but I am working through them. So I really hope that I do not offend anyone who might have already published a similar plot.

Anyway, I think that just about covers everything and the only thing I need to add before I get to the story is that I do not own any of the characters, plots or settings. That credit would go to Chris Downey, John Rogers and their team for their talents and hard work.

L

He thought it might have been because the other members of his team were finally pairing off, taking their relationships to the next level while he seemed to stay behind and become a fifth wheel, as it were. But Eliot Spencer was not so petty as to deny the others their well-deserved happiness, in fact, he couldn't be happier for them.

No, this was something deeper, and perhaps more disturbing, if he could put his finger on what the problem could be.

Eliot looked at himself in probably the only mirror he owned in his entire apartment, since he did not necessarily feel the need to check himself at every chance he got, unless wounds and/or bruises were involved. He didn't know why, but while he was completing his ablutions early the morning he decided to take a closer look at himself, and like any other times, he saw a blue-eyed monster with blood on his hands, staining his soul.

He did not need to sleep to be haunted by flashbacks, mainly of the times when he worked under Damien Moreau. Eliot could not even remember a time when he was still pure and innocent, and now it was even worse since he killed all those men recently after he swore to never use a gun again. He still regretted what he had to do, although he wouldn't regret saving Nate and would probably do the exact same thing, even if it meant being taken down the second time around.

The only thing he was thankful for was the others, besides Nate, would never know what he had done and would remain innocently unaware of what it sometimes takes to be the protector of the team, as well as the price that needs to be paid. He was also glad that the others didn't seem to pick up on his unusual amount of sullenness, that even the small shred of carefree humour that he had had vanished.

Eliot checked the time on his watch and realised he would have to hurry it a bit before he's late for their flight to Washington. He felt a little apprehensive about going, but if he managed to keep under the radar he might be able to avoid being spotted by a certain ex-employer.

Without further ado, he splashed his face before looking up once more and took note of the drops of water matting his hair. If there was one thing he admired about himself, it was his hair. It was not a vanity thing, it just gave him a distinctive look, but perhaps it was becoming too distinctive after all the years of wearing it a little past his shoulders. The initial idea was that his enemies would find it more difficult to recognize him, now it's becoming too recognizable. He ran his fingers through the strands, thinking hard about what to do with it. He would, at times, go for a trim when it started getting out of control and often it would be Sophie who he went to, saving him a couple of Dollars. She also seemed to enjoy the opportunity to practice her styling skills on him without doing anything drastic.

He chuckled as he thought back on all the things she would do to his hair and the decorations she put on that seemed to add to his fierceness rather than take away from it. Who knew that fashion would be a common ground between them?

He hoped that a new look would, at least, solve some of his inner turmoil. That he would see a different person in the mirror, or that he won't be reminded of that shootout every time his hair whips across his face, just like it did while he was in the process of taking lives and he battled to see past the strands, which was another reason to finally get it cut. It became too dangerous to be blind-sided by his own hair and that was definitely not that way he was planning to go. If he wouldn't be already dead he wouldn't be able to live that humiliation down.

Shaking his head at the ridiculous thoughts, the well-muscled man made his way over to their new offices, knowing that Sophie would be there and that she'll get a kick out of going a little wild with the cutting before he went anywhere. He could not wait to see the looks on all their faces.

L

Even after boarding the plane, Eliot could not get used to his newly-cut hair. It had been too many years since he last wore his hair short and it felt odd, but in a good way.

Parker, of course, could not stop staring from the seat in front of Eliot. She was sitting on her knees, staring over the back rest. She was almost leaning right over the seat and almost falling into his lap. It was when they were a few inches apart and Hardison was battling to turn her around and seat her proper, while muttering under his breath about poking sleeping bears that she finally asked what she'd been dying to since she saw the new hairstyle, "Are you sure you're the same' Eliot'? Are you our 'Eliot' or some weird clone? Or I know! You're some alien! Hey, maybe, maybe you really were taken by those aliens and they replaced you with an alien that acts…unEliotlike and doesn't actually like long hair." Her eyes dark blue grew wider and wider with suspicion until they narrowed to slits and her mouth twisted into a frown.

"UnElio…Girl, is that even a word!? Come, sit down before you cause us all to crash! Seriously, have you never heard of anyone getting a haircut!?" Hardison finally managed to get Parker to sit down, being motivated by the ever- louder growls coming from the hitter, who also happened to be his unlikely best friend and brother even.

Parker turned her attention back to Hardison, "But have you ever heard of Eliot as in the Eliot Spencer cutting his hair, and he has been acting weird lately." She turned back around and gave Eliot another glare.

"So what, maybe the Eliot Spencer, felt like a change and it does seem to shave of, at least, five years off of him. I think it looks good and stylish, it's about time the man developed a sense of fashion. It was like he was still living in the 80's or something."

"You do realize that the Eliot Spencer is sitting right here!? And I can hear every word!" He growled after rolling his, but even he noticed that it somehow did not seem convincing, like he was lacking something. But he did take note of Parker's description of his seemingly strange behaviours, forgetting how astute the thief could be, even though she came across as being a world of her own, or even planet, depending on the day. He knew that with all her antics and odd childlikeness, she was very keen and observant, more than anyone gave her credit for, except, maybe himself and Nate. He would need to work extra hard to keep normal, or as normal as Retrieval Specialist could be.

L

It had been a long and draining trip. It was supposed to be an 'in and out'operationfor the three of them; no mess, no fuss, but so much for being inconspicuous. His old boss managed to track him down and offer him a job. It went only downhill from there. The three friends went from battling the risk of the worst plague of flu, nearly getting infected themselves, to Parker taking a huge chance in destroying the virus, to Eliot getting shot twice and still finding the strength to fight.

As Eliot lay in the train cart, feeling his strength sap, he began to, once again, think on the past year or so and on everything that happened. He tried pressing on both his wounds, but that proved fruitless and soon gave up and sat up against one of the chairs.

Soon Hardison and Parker joined him, realizing he had not followed them outside, "Hey, man, are you alright? You don't look so good." Hardison observed even as he found the courage to press down on the wound in Eliot's left thigh.

Eliot glared at him with all the frustration he could muster, "Yeah, well, you're no looker either." They all noted that his Southern accent seemed to have grown stronger with pain and fatigue, "Look…" He winced and clenched his teeth while attempting to stand, "…if y'all could jus' gimme a hand…I'll be much obliged."

With their combined strengths they managed to get the hitter stand, albeit swaying slightly. Both Hardison and Parker held him upright and began to assist him out while noting the beads of sweat the dotted his face.

The worry grew between the couple, but they knew they could not afford to let that get to them. They knew that the only way to help Eliot was to keep calm and get him help as soon as possible.

Parker made a quick phone call for the ambulance, while Hardison checked in with Nate and updated him on the situation.

"Ambulance's ETA is about five minutes, they said we should just try to keep him covered and warm for the shock, and it's also important that he stays awake. We'll also have to find a way to staunch the bleeding."

The trio finally made it to the top and Eliot managed to wave a shaky hand to stave them off, "Thankfully, I have medical training, so I don' need help." He worked to keep himself steady and upright, which seemed to belie his words.

Hardison rolled his eyes and glared at the injured man, "Yo, shut your mouth for once and just let us help. You know, if it weren't for us you woulda never made it out of that subway and I'm pretty sure you won't make it out of DC." He softened his glare and tone, "'sides, Nate doesn't want us going anywhere, especially you, until there's no more risk of the flu and you are properly able to fly."

Eliot just groaned before he hobbled to sit against a tree, with the help of the other two. He was both glad saddened that they decided to stay and help him. Glad because Hardison was right, he would never have been able to accomplish all that they did by himself and saddened because they put their lives at risk to help billions of people. He was the only one that was allowed to risk himself for others, nevertheless he was grateful.

L

A couple of more days of rest and recuperation and the three friends were in the air. Despite the care and fuss of his friends, Eliot felt more exhausted than one could imagine. The pain was still nagging and the long journey back didn't help things, but he was glad to be on the way back, and more importantly, they were all going back in one piece, more or less.

After greetings and asking how everyone was, Nate gave them, or mainly, Eliot, another couple of days respite, much to Eliot's chagrin. Nate's argument was that an injured hitter is no good to them, never admitting that looking at said pale hitter he became concerned. He also added an ultimatum, "And you will not return to work until a doctor has cleared you for duty."

Eliot could only find enough energy to glare and grumble about the situation, even though he knew that Nate would not give him much of a choice and he did have a point about being fully fit before he would be able to protect and defend anybody.

"Oh, Eliot, it won't be so bad," Came a rich, British accent through the haze that developed in his head after sitting on the couch, "It will do you some good to get a break. When last did you have some time off?" Eliot managed to look at her through dull, pain-filled eyes, "And you know that your job is the most demanding out of all of ours'….well, mainly the physical side. In fact none of you seem to realize or appreciate how draining acting can be-"

Eliot allowed her to go off on a tangent about the demands of acting and grifting when his eyes began to droop and his head drop to the side.

Sophie, achieving what she had intended, smiled softly and helped him to lie down more comfortably with a cushion and blanket, "His haircut really does make him look younger." She said as she fought the urge to fawn and coo over the sleeping hitter, who looked even younger without the worry lines around his eyes.

L

It was much later, when the time came that Eliot dreaded the most. Nightmares began to disrupt his sleep. It was like he was battling Moreau's men and the man in the mirror at once, but he could not seem to shake the monsters.

Eliot woke up with a stifled shout. It took him a long while to adjust to his surroundings and found that he was still lying on the couch in the office. He ran his hands through his hair and face, while trying not to wince and the still tender wounds.

He stood up to grab a glass of water, seeing that it was already about midnight and hopefully he did not startle anyone awake. But that would also mean he would be left alone with his dark thoughts and memories, not that anyone was to know about them or that he was still haunted by what he'd done.

Even in that moment he could hear the loud shots and if he ever heard a loud bang he would be hard pressed not to startle or flinch.

Eliot slowly sat back down on the couch with a sigh of relief. There was no doubt he was not going to get anymore sleep that night, but the sights, sounds and even smells would still come. There was a reason why he didn't like guns, he didn't even like killing, that wasn't who he was anymore and the fact that he still was that person, that monster sickened him to his stomach.

But if he could do his best to keep the monster hidden from his teammates…his family, and if he could protect them as much as possible from his past and what he'd done then he'd be, at the very least, content, even if he'll never be the same. Because, protecting, that's what he does, even if he loses himself more and more.

The End

Well, I hope that wasn't too painful to read and I'm sorry about the somewhat sad ending. I just had to get this story off my chest. I tried to do the characters justice, I probably fell flat on my face. I just hope you guys get the gist of what I was trying to write. This is literally my first story in years, so I'm also very rusty. But if you've read it, thank you for taking the time to do so, I really do appreciate that.