Morning doesn't exactly dawn bright and early. Or at all, from Hardison's point of view, no matter what his watch claims. This whole experience feels like one long, nightmare moment after another, no context, just Eliot shaking with cold or moaning with fever, his hands fisting and unfisting like he's fighting an actual battle and not just lying limp on Hardison's lap.
Eliot's not sleeping well either. Every few minutes his eyes open, scanning from side to side and not seeing anything. Or not anything Hardison can see. Mostly Hardison can soothe him out of it—for a single small blessing in all of this, Eliot's delirium leaves him more puzzled than threatened.
Hardison's floating in a fog of exhaustion, waiting for his next chat with Parker. (After Hardison picked rust, Eliot, walls, his own shoes, and Eliot again, Parker agreed to play Twenty Questions instead of I Spy. So far, she's picked mineral every time, and Hardison's—barely—in the lead.)
The calls aren't meant as a kindness. They're Moreau's way of punishing the whole team, making sure Nate takes the bait. Hardison isn't fooling himself about that—or about the way he's playing into Moreau's hands every time he begs the team to hurry.
They're also what's getting Hardison through this, and he's relieved every time that it's Parker on the line. It must have been a group decision, he knows, and probably Sophie's even been coaching her, helping her focus on games and distractions. Hardison's grateful.
And worried. Parker was gone all day yesterday, and Hardison's a smart guy; he knows it's because she was too busy working on his rescue to hold his hand like this. Now, though? He keeps trying to work out what Parker's sudden availability says about Nate's plan, and just how risky that plan is. Parker and Sophie and Nate are putting themselves on the line to save them, going up against Moreau with no hacker or hitter, and he has no idea whether it's going to be one of Nate's strokes of brilliance or a total disaster.
It's been a long night.
"Kameen," Eliot mumbles.
Hardison reaches for the water with a sigh, re-wetting the gauze he's using as a washcloth. He's so tired.
"No Kameen here," Hardison says. "It's just you and me, brother."
"Hey, ugly American here," Hardison tells him. "You're gonna have to hallucinate in English."
He rubs Eliot's shoulder. Eliot mumbles again in what Hardison thinks might be Arabic, turning his head away.
"You're not there," Hardison says. "You're—"
And what is he supposed to say? You're safe? Everything's fine? Right.
"You're having a bad dream," Hardison finishes, lamely. "That's all. Go back to sleep."
Eliot's words don't get clearer, but his tone changes from urgent to annoyed. Hardison keeps rubbing his shoulder until Eliot relaxes back to whatever's approximating rest right now.
"That's it," Hardison says softly. "Happy thoughts."
Hardison could do with a few more of those himself. What he's thinking about is math. Specifically, a word problem: San Lorenzo is an eleven-hour flight away, and that's with the direct flight out of Seattle, which the team would have to wait until evening for anyway. There are plenty of less-direct options, but no matter what, flying to Europe takes time, and San Lorenzo's not the kind of hub that runs a flight from Paris every hour. Hardison's people are damn good, but sadly teleporter technology is not in place yet. So, figure they went Portland to Paris to San Lorenzo, no delays, the best-case scenario was a fourteen-hour trip.
Nate's plan would be quick—they didn't have time to waste on stealing elections or starting revolutions. Hardison couldn't think what that plan would be, exactly, but Nathan Ford had never really let him down, not when it counted as much as this.
Nate had taken out that Irish loan shark in less than two hours, but this Damien Moreau, and Nate could say whatever he wanted about Moreau being human and, currently, vulnerable; he wasn't going to be an easy mark, and the team was shorthanded. Worse, Moreau knew Nate was coming, thanks to the radio. Never mind two hours; two months was probably too tight.
Hardison rolls his shoulders, dismissing that. Nate knows the deadline; Hardison trusts him to get it done. So, what the hell: Four hours.
Plus maybe an hour to get the location of this stupid freaking container. Whatever it took to do that.
Fourteen hours to get back, longer if the flights don't line up.
Or maybe not; Parker hasn't sounded like she's on a flight, or even at an airport. They could have chartered or stolen one, Hardison won't put it past them, but for a transatlantic flight it would have been faster and simpler to go commercial than to waste time setting that up.
Hardison's increasingly sure Parker hasn't gone anywhere at all. They'd done the same math, and they'd left her behind, ready to move as soon as they had a location.
She's not in danger. (Not more than usual, he corrects himself. He and Eliot had only gone out for coffee, and look how that had ended.) Parker is safe—and Nate and Sophie are on their own.
Can two people take down Moreau? Could three? Hardison has serious doubts. He wishes he could tell them not to do it, to find another way.
He also wishes they'd started yesterday. Eliot's tough, and he is still fighting this in his delirious, mumbly way, but he's weaker with every passing hour, and Hardison's still re-running the numbers, trying to make Nate's plan add up to a happy ending.
Hardison looks down. Eliot's fever-bright eyes are open, scanning the room. Hardison finds himself looking around and feels stupid for doing it: Eliot hasn't made sense in hours, unless Hardison counts the times he asks for water. (He can't. Eliot would never drink this much of a dwindling supply if he knew what he was doing.)
"There's no one here," Hardison says. "It's just you and me, Eliot."
Eliot looks at him.
"It's Hardison. I'm right here." Hardison keeps his smile in place, projecting reassurance.
"You shouldn't be here," Eliot tells him, the words slow and slurred.
"Of course I should," Hardison says, then spoils it with a yawn.
An orange soda would be so good right now. Hardison sighs. Bright side, though: Being this thirsty is keeping his mind off the hunger.
"I can't," Eliot says.
Hardison waits, but apparently that's a complete statement. Eliot's breathing too fast again, putting his back into it. This time, there's a raspy sound to it Hardison doesn't like at all.
"You don't have to do anything." He runs a hand through Eliot's hair again; that usually works. "Just rest."
Eliot's eyes wander to the corner again. Hardison shifts, blocking his view. Again.
It's starting to seriously freak Hardison out, how consistent Eliot is with that damn corner. Maybe this is not the first time someone's been shot in this particular container. Maybe the place really is haunted, and Eliot can see it because he's—
No. He's delirious, that's all. Hardison tells himself to get a grip.
"They're waiting," Eliot says.
Not helping, Eliot.
"Well, they ain't gonna wait here," Hardison says, loud and confident.
Eliot looks at him, and for a few seconds his eyes seem to focus. Hardison strokes his hair again, then picks up Eliot's hand and squeezes it. "I got this one, Eliot. They aren't coming near you."
Eliot just breathes for a minute. It seems to take a lot of concentration. Hardison decides to think that's fine.
"I killed people," Eliot says. He licks his lips. He's struggling for air, but his eyes are still locked on Hardison's, alert and tired and deeply sad.
"Don't think about that right now," Hardison says.
"But before Moreau…I nev—never did it slow," Eliot continues, working for each word now, like this is important. "Not on purpose."
He breaks off. His hand tightens in Hardison's as he pants.
"Shouldn't've," he mumbles, his hand relaxing. "Moreau…he liked to…I…"
"That isn't who you are anymore," Hardison tells him, leaning closer.
"You…should 'member that. Wh—who I am."
"I do," Hardison says. "I know who you are, Eliot, and you're not going to convince me you deserve this. Save your breath."
He squeezes Eliot's hand as hard as he can, trying to get the clarity back in Eliot's eyes. After a while, Eliot squeezes back.
"You shouldn't b—be here," Eliot mumbles again.
This time Hardison hears the emphasis on you. He wishes he could give Eliot a good sharp shake.
"Neither should you," Hardison says, staring hard into Eliot's eyes.
Then, embarrassingly, he yawns again.
"Rest," Eliot says. It's a raspy mimic of what Hardison's been repeating for hours. He has been listening.
Hardison smiles. "In a bit. Parker's going to call in—"
He checks his watch. She's two minutes late.
Shit. Shit. Shit. Hardison keeps his breathing even and plasters another smile on his face. His damn cheeks are starting to ache. Maybe his watch is wrong. Never mind that it's a $100,000 timepiece (or would have been if he thought for a second Parker had actually paid for it) and a work of meticulously functional art.
Hardison picks up the radio. He flicks the switch a few times. "Parker? Babe? You there?"
Hardison flips the switch on the radio again. It might not even do anything. Moreau seems to have the whole thing on remote.
Maybe this is a positive development. Yeah. Yeah, it could be. No need to panic; Nate's got Moreau, or at least got him off his game, and the scumbag doesn't have time to play stupid games with the radio. That's got to be it.
Or it's just another mind game. Turn off the radio, or even just pretend to, and listen to Hardison freak out about it. Cut Nate off from the reassurance that they're still alive here. See if that forces him into a stupid mistake. It could be that.
(Except Hardison's been playing right into Moreau's hands with every communication, as much as he hates himself for it. He hasn't been reassuring anyone.)
It is not at all an option that they just aren't needed as bait anymore.
Eliot's obviously picking up Hardison's panic; he grabs at his shirt, trying to pull himself up. His left bootheel scrapes the metal floor, looking for traction.
"Shh," Hardison says. "Everything's fine."
Something pings on the roof. Hardison jumps, his heart racing. Eliot freezes, hand fisted in Hardison's shirt. More pings. Faster.
Hardison looks at the door. The clatter intensifies. It doesn't sound like a helicopter, but—
"Rain," Eliot says.
He loosens his grip, and his head falls back on Hardison's leg. Eliot's still breathing hard enough that Hardison can feel the effort, but he's smiling a little, wistful. Calmer. Hardison makes himself smile back.
Rain. Not rescue. Just rain.
"'s nice," Eliot murmurs. "Like home."
"You complain when it rains at home," Hardison points out.
Eliot tips his head, the ghost of a shrug.
Hardison can see where the steady noise of it could be soothing in other circumstances, but it doesn't sound like home to him. Tin roofs aren't much of a feature in Portland—or Boston or LA or Chicago—so all it makes Hardison think of is a white noise machine. It's drowning out the sounds of Eliot's breathing, forcing Hardison to strain to hear him, which ain't exactly relaxing.
It's also, he realizes, drowning out Parker. Or at least the clouds it's coming from probably are. Not a sign of progress or disaster, just…weather. Probably scaring the shit out of the team, too, if they don't figure it out.
All in all, not Hardison's favorite development. Eliot, though: there's no denying the pain on his face, but he's not mumbling or moving or staring at ghosts. It seems like he might be genuinely resting, for the moment. Hardison counts that as a win. The more so when half an hour goes by and Eliot doesn't move.
It is kind of…boring, though? Not that Hardison wants anything else to happen (unless it's their rescue). He does not. Boring is A-OK with him. He even taps a knuckle lightly against the floor, pretending it's wood, to drive home that thought.
But the radio isn't working, and the rain is hard and steady like it plans to stick around, and the sound of all that water, just inches away and completely out of reach, is making Hardison so thirsty he could scream. Or he could if his throat weren't so dry. Not to mention the other urges it's reminding him of.
"I need to get up for a minute," he finally says.
Eliot's eyes are open. He's in what Hardison is calling a good period—his breathing's fast, but he's not fighting or moaning or dreaming. He's staring into space, listening to the rain. Maybe he's meditating.
"Eliot?" Hardison tries again.
If meditating helps Eliot cope with the pain, Hardison doesn't want to mess with that. He can't imagine how bad it is, and he doesn't want to—Eliot Spencer looks like he's in agony, that must be a level of suffering that…well. And it's been more than a day.
Damien Moreau is going to pay, Hardison tells himself. It's small solace, especially since Hardison doesn't know exactly what he wants to do to avenge this anyway. It sure as hell won't involve mailing him porn at the office. Possibly Eliot will have some useful ideas, or Parker will.
"I'm going to move you," Hardison says. "It's just me. Hardison. Don't fight, okay?"
Eliot doesn't react at all when Hardison gently transfers his head to the almost-empty first aid kit. It's like moving an oversized doll.
Hardison hovers for a minute, one hand on Eliot's shoulder. If all he can do is watch Eliot, turning his back on that, even for a minute, feels like a betrayal. He won't be able to hear Eliot breathing. If Eliot—if all Hardison can do is bear witness, he can't look away.
But watching isn't accomplishing a damn thing.
And, despite the guilt and the fear and the crushing loneliness, it still feels good to stand up. Hardison hates himself for that, but he can't deny it. He goes back to Eliot's side as quickly as he can—still breathing, not moving, no change—but he doesn't sit back down.
He paces the container a few times, letting his muscles warm up and stopping with every lap to check Eliot, touch him, let him know he's not alone. Or try to. Every time, Hardison holds his breath until he sees the rise and fall of Eliot's chest.
The rain pounds on the roof and wall, but no water drips down through the vents at each end. Hardison kicks the wall again, aiming for the rusty spot. There's no give.
He finds the tweezers, and, holding his breath, opens the back of the radio. He studies the components, leaving them in place. Carefully, he closes the radio.
Hardison sits down next to Eliot, ignoring the dull flare of pain in his back, and rests a hand on his shoulder again.
After a while, Eliot's eyes track toward him, slow, calm. Like he doesn't have the energy to be startled anymore.
He looks worse, Hardison realizes, although he's not sure what makes him think so. He's only been away a couple of minutes, and even then, he'd never stopped checking in. Nothing could have changed.
"You thirsty?" he asks Eliot.
More of the water runs out of Eliot's mouth than not—he seems to be having trouble swallowing now—but the haze in his eyes clears a little, so maybe it's helping anyway.
Eliot mumbles something.
Hardison leans forward, keeping his smile in place. "Sorry, man. Didn't catch that."
"Thank you," Eliot says, slow and slurred.
"We have plenty," Hardison tells him. "You want some more?"
"N—not for that," Eliot says. "Don't give me more. 's no point."
"What?" Hardison's mouth goes dry again.
He grabs for Eliot's wrist, fumbling for his pulse. His hand is cold. Eliot's face, his neck, are so hot, and his hand is cold.
"Jus'…thanks," Eliot says, ignoring him.
"No," Hardison tells him. "You don't get to thank me, Eliot. Don't be an asshole. I know you're hurting, but you're Eliot Spencer. You're the most stubborn guy I know. You don't give up."
Eliot's pulse is hard to find, and there's an unevenness to it that makes Hardison's own chest contract painfully. He holds Eliot's hand between his own, trying to warm it.
"B—been a…good friend. So. Thanks."
"Stop it," Hardison snaps. "You think you're Sophie now? You don't get a big death scene, Eliot. It's not—it's not fair."
"Fair," Eliot echoes.
"Shut up," Hardison tells him. "You know what I mean. Just stop. I don't want to listen to this."
He doesn't have to; Eliot's voice is so weak all Hardison has to do to avoid it is to sit up straight. He doesn't.
"I'm dying," Eliot says. "You…really gon' yell?"
Hardison squeezes Eliot's hand, hard, then sets it gently on his chest.
"No," he says. "I'm not."
Hardison wipes at his eyes until his vision clears. He cuts a fresh piece of gauze, starting to run low now but so fucking what, there's no point in rationing. He dips it in the water, then squeezes it into Eliot's mouth, a few drops at a time, tilting Eliot's jaw to help him swallow. Eliot makes a small, contented sound, so Hardison repeats the process until Eliot's breathing gets bad again.
Hardison strokes Eliot's hair and rubs his shoulders and murmurs encouragement, and he has never felt this powerless in his life.
Eliot breathes like every inhalation is a conscious decision. His eyes are so tired.
"I can't hack the radio," Hardison tells him. "Not with what we have to work with. Even if I could, the clouds are blocking the signal. I can't break us out of here."
Eliot shuts his eyes.
"Eliot, you can't leave me alone in here. You can't. Please."
Like it's really some kind of magic word.
"You're tough," Eliot finally says. "Tougher than I th—…T—took me…long time. To see."
"I don't want to be tough," Hardison tells him. "That's your job."
Eliot's breath pauses for a second. Then another. Then starts again. Hardison finds himself syncing his own breaths with Eliot's. After a minute, his chest starts to burn. He forces himself to stop.
Outside, thunder rumbles.
Hardison lies down, not quite spooning Eliot, but only because he doesn't want to risk causing more pain. He props himself up on one arm and holds Eliot's hand instead.
"Just a little longer, Eliot. Please."
Eliot doesn't answer. Hardison watches his chest rise and fall, holding his breath when Eliot's pauses. He listens to the rain the thunder and his own sobbing breaths.
And in the distance, he hears the faint whumpa-whumpa of a helicopter.