Nate stumbles to a halt as he crosses the threshold, eyes wide, taking in the bare space. All Hardison can do is stare back, one hand holding Eliot's, the other spread like it could shield them both from the bullets that aren't coming.
"In here!" Nate yells.
Then he's crouching next to Hardison, running a hand through his wet hair. Nate's face freezes, and for a second Hardison thinks—but Eliot's still breathing. Hardison's sure.
He checks again anyway, then realizes Nate's staring at him, face white, one hand pressed to his ear, talking fast.
"What?" Hardison manages.
"Are you hurt?" Nate repeats.
"Eliot," Hardison begins, and Nate's jaw twitches.
"Are you hurt?" Nate asks.
Nate nods and jogs out of the container. Hardison stares at the open door, wondering if he was supposed to follow. He holds Eliot's hand instead, watches the rain. Waits.
Not for long.
Nate jogs back, still talking into his earbud but this time leading a long-haired man Hardison needs a second to recognize. Quinn.
Quinn gives him a nod and a cocky grin that flattens into a hard line as he takes in Eliot. He holsters his gun—somehow Hardison finds a moment to be surprised at the gun, even indignant. Eliot won't like it.
But Eliot doesn't know.
Quinn shoulders Hardison out of the way, checking over Eliot with comforting professionalism.
"Get the stretcher," he says, his voice flat.
If Nate minds taking orders from Quinn, he doesn't show it. He disappears into the rain again.
Quinn slaps lightly at Eliot's cheek, then shakes his shoulder. "Eliot?"
Eliot doesn't respond. His face is slack now, the pain lines finally starting to smooth out. Quinn frowns and opens Eliot's eyelid, then does something Hardison can't quite catch, running his fist over Eliot's chest.
Eliot groans, almost too soft to hear. Quinn nods, apparently satisfied.
"Don't hurt him," Hardison says.
Quinn ignores that, or maybe Hardison didn't say it loud enough. The helicopter is loud and his mouth is dry and everything seems to be happening very fast. Hardison can't see what Quinn is doing, but he can see the tension in his face.
Quinn looks up, checking the door.
"Don't bother," he says. Hardison frowns, then remembers the earbuds. "We're leaving as soon as we can load him up."
"Parker?" Hardison asks. "Sophie? Are they okay?"
Quinn spares him a quick glance. "Talking my ear off."
Something in Hardison relaxes, and the rest of him follows. Spots swim before his eyes. He drops his head between his knees, counting out his breaths like Parker taught him.
Not yet, he tells himself. Eliot needs you.
It's no good, and it's not even true. Eliot doesn't need his hand held. Eliot needs a full trauma center. Hardison's just in the way.
A hand falls on Hardison's back, and then someone's shoving a paper bag in his face.
"I'm not hyperventilating," Hardison says. "I'm fine. Eliot…"
He looks up, sees Nate frowning at him. "Sandwich," he says. "As requested."
"Oh." Hardison takes the bag with numb fingers.
"We're on the edge of a nasty storm," Nate tells him. "We need to move. Can you walk?"
"Yeah," Hardison says, looking up. "Of course."
Quinn transfers Eliot to a high-tech stretcher and starts strapping him down like a piece of luggage. He's slapped an oxygen mask over Eliot's face, and Hardison can't see if the pain is back or if Eliot's still…letting go.
"Parker and Sophie will meet us at the hospital," Nate continues. He's looking around the container again, face tight and hard to read.
"Okay," Hardison says. Then, "Moreau? San Lorenzo?"
Nate's smile is smug, until his eyes track back to Eliot. "I lied."
Hardison doesn't get it.
"It was a con," Nate says, turning his head away from Eliot, then glancing back. That muscle in his jaw is ticcing again. "We needed Moreau to think he'd hidden you too well—that we'd given up on rescuing you and were going straight for revenge. Unless he tossed us a few more breadcrumbs to keep us busy."
Hardison nods like he understands. Like this matters.
"We will get him," Nate says. Grim. He's looking at Eliot again.
"You gonna give me a hand?" Quinn snaps.
Hardison starts forward, but Nate beats him to it, taking half the stretcher and leaning over Eliot, sheltering him from the rain. Hardison trails after them, still carrying the paper bag. His stomach growls, loud, and Nate's head snaps up from the stretcher, giving him a sharp look.
Hardison drops his eyes, ashamed.
"Come on," Nate says, gruff and gentle all at once. "Let's get you boys home."
If anyone had asked Hardison, he'd have said that all he wanted in the world was for someone competent to take over. For Eliot to be in a hospital, and Hardison to be on a computer or a phone or something he knew how to deal with.
Now that it's happened, though.
He spins Parker's phone in his hands, eyes on the doors. Eliot's back there somewhere, with a whole team of first-class professionals working to save him. Hardison has a borrowed phone, a bottle of water fresh from the machine, and Parker sitting in the next chair, kicking him as she taps her foot. Quinn is still here, sitting in the corner, playing freaking Candy Crush like this is just another job. Nate is getting endless cups of coffee. Pages are announced overhead. At the desk, nurse is talking about her cat, showing Sophie her phone.
And Hardison can't stop listening for Eliot's breath.
"He's going to be okay," Parker says.
Hardison watches her foot, tapping fast. He reaches out, a little hesitant, and she takes his hand. Her fingers are thin and cool and calloused and delicate, and when she squeezes, he shuts his eyes and he's back with Eliot, feeling a broader, rougher hand go slack in his.
"Hardison?" she asks.
"Yeah," Hardison says.
His voice comes out flat. He takes another sip of his water.
Parker kicks at the chair. She sheds stress through motion, Hardison knows. She should be climbing something right now.
"Nate says this is a good hospital," she says.
Hardison turns the phone in his hands. "It is," he says. "I checked it out."
"I wish we were in Portland."
"This was the closest level one trauma center," Hardison says. "We had to—"
"I know." Parker punctuates the statement with another kick to her chair. "I just wish we were home. All of us."
Hardison looks up at her. She looks tired; she's been up all night too, talking to him and searching for him. Her jacket is wrinkled and her ponytail is tight, and there's no expression on her face. And she wants to go home. She has a home, with him and the others. Something to lose, for the first time in a long time. Hardison doesn't think he'll ever be able to hear that without a rush of love and joy. He pulls her in, gentle, waiting to see if she stiffens or resists. She rests her head on his shoulder.
Sophie laughs at something the nurse says.
Hardison checks the time again. It has to be a good thing, that it's taking so long. If Eliot were—if it was hopeless, they'd have said so by now.
"You missed game night," Parker says.
Hardison looks at her, searching for context, but Parker's face is still blank. He's too tired for this. She leans over and taps his watch, and it clicks. Game night. It's a surreal thought: If life were normal, he'd be on Roll20 now—or no, probably not now, unless they ran seriously late. He'd be wired on sugar and character sheets, eager to tell Parker all about it. Parker usually did her own thing on game night, but she's in the habit of coming over later, so right about now she'd be climbing through his window or dropping out of the ceiling or—just maybe—using the door, full of adrenaline from her more athletic adventures.
They'll probably kick him out of the game, he realizes. He's missed too many game nights already, and this isn't the first time he hasn't had advance notice. He can't make himself care. His eyelids are getting heavy.
Nate passes by with another cup of coffee, his movements so careful Hardison is sure he's drunk. He nods to Quinn and sits a few chairs away.
The door opens.
They all freeze. Nate slowly, fussily, sets down his coffee. He stands so slowly Hardison wants to scream. He wants to get up himself—it doesn't seem right, not to be the one who hears the news. Eliot is Hardison's responsibility.
But he doesn't know the plan, if there is one. He hasn't thought to ask. And now Nate's moving, each step so deliberate it feels like it takes him ten years to cross the room and follow the doctor out of sight.
"Hardison, breathe," Parker says, demonstrating. She's grabbing his arm hard enough to bruise.
Hardison nods and sips his water.
Sophie appears, hovering in front of them, then taking Nate's chair a few feet away. She picks up Nate's coffee, sniffs it, then takes a sip.
"Ugh," she says, her face a parody of disgust. "I thought this was going to be whiskey."
Hardison knows what she's trying to do, and it's not working. She could be juggling chainsaws while yodeling and it wouldn't be a distraction. He plays along anyway. "What is it?"
"Coffee," Sophie says. She takes another sip and makes that face again. "Terrible, terrible coffee."
Hardison offers her his water.
Sophie shakes her head. "I need the caffeine."
She doesn't look tired, but then Sophie never does. Her hair is twisted neatly out of her face, her clothes and dark and elegant and easy to move in, and in place of heels she's wearing deceptively practical and probably hideously expensive shoes: commando chic. Sophie was ready to fight for them.
Hardison makes a note to thank her, somehow.
"I wish we'd seen him," Sophie says, breaking the silence. "I wish we'd been here faster. That storm…"
"There wouldn't have been time," Hardison says. Something is wrong with his voice; he sounds as dried up as he'd been in the container. He sips the water. "They took him as soon as we landed. He wasn't conscious anyway."
There's no point in saying anything else about it.
Sophie presses her lips together.
A century later, the door opens. Nate heads right for them, faster now. Tense. He's looking at Sophie, or maybe at his stolen coffee: Hardison can't see his eyes.
"He made it through surgery," Nate says. "They're transferring him to the ICU."
"He's alive," Sophie says, and the sheer relief in her voice makes Hardison's eyes and throat burn.
Nate runs a hand through his hair. "Yes."
"He's going to be okay?" Parker asks.
Nate's nostrils flare. "I don't know."
"Why not?" Parker demands. "Didn't they fix him?"
Nate gestures vaguely at the air. "Yeah, well. He'll need more surgery later, when he's stable."
"He's not stable?" This time it's Sophie making demands.
"He has sepsis."
It's not like the news should be a shock; Hardison's no doctor, but he's not stupid. Hearing it announced shouldn't matter, but the news settles over him like a heavy weight. Sophie takes it harder, raising a hand to cover her mouth. It's not the kind of tell she normally allows herself. Parker just looks between them, studying their reactions.
Nate looks up, and Hardison can finally see his eyes. Nate's not tired. He's angry.
"It turns out Eliot doesn't have a spleen," Nate says, filling the silence. "Which he never bothered to mention. Just like he didn't feel the need to tell us about the mesh in his abdominal wall or—what was he thinking?"
"Why does that stuff matter?" Parker asks.
"The spleen is part of the immune system, Parker," Nate says. "Not having one makes you more susceptible to stuff like this. But listen, he's in good hands here. They'll know more when they see if—how he responds to the antibiotics."
"When can we see him?" Hardison asks.
"Not tonight. Look. I'll handle things here. You go get cleaned up, get some rest. All of you, go…uh…"
"There's a hotel down the street," Sophie offers.
Nate nods. "Good. Yeah."
"I'm staying here," Hardison says. "I want to see him."
"Me too," Parker says.
Nate looks at Sophie.
"Hardison, darling, don't take this the wrong way," Sophie says. "But you urgently need a shower. And I think we all could use some rest. Will we be able to see Eliot in the morning?"
Nate rubs his face again. "They're only letting me in because I'm family."
"So are we," Parker says.
Nate pinches the bridge of his nose, wincing like his head hurts.
"We are," Parker says. "Hardison can make us aliases."
"Hardison needs to get some sleep," Nate says. "And Eliot wouldn't want you to see him like this."
Hardison almost laughs. "Nate. What do you think I been seeing the past two days?"
Nate studies him, not saying anything. Hardison is not in the mood for one of Nate's tests, but he stares back, too tired to be intimidated.
If Eliot's sick, he'll need someone to talk to him, make sure the ghosts keep their distance. If Eliot's dying, he's going to do it with his family at his side.
Nate drops his eyes first.
"You took good care of him in there, Hardison. Thank you. Let me take tonight. We can figure out the rest in the morning." Nate doesn't wait for his answer. "Quinn, can you get them settled in?"
Hardison had almost forgotten Quinn was still there.
"He isn't staying here?" Sophie asks sharply.
Hardison doesn't get it, but he sees Nate's hand twitch to his waistband. And once he's looking, he can see the shape of a gun.
"Moreau wanted us distracted," Nate says. "We are. He wins. He's got no reason to try anything. Quinn?"
"You checked Eliot in under his own name," Quinn says uncomfortably. "Moreau's gotta know you're here. If that's what he wanted, you're probably safe for a while."
"You don't agree that's what this about?" Nate asks, frowning.
Quinn shrugs. "If he just wanted you out of the way, he could have taken you out easily enough. You people aren't hard to find. Rumor is, gut shot's what he does to traitors. I'd say this is about Eliot, not you. But even if I'm right…" Quinn pauses, looking even more uncomfortable. "You don't put a hit on a guy in Eliot's shape. No point."
"Eliot's going to be fine," Parker insists. Automatically, Hardison lays a hand on her arm.
"I wouldn't bet against him," Quinn agrees easily. "And if Nate is right, the rest of you could still be targets, sooner or later. You think I want to face Eliot if I let something happen to you? Hell, no. So do me a favor and keep your heads down till you're his problem, not mine."
Parker nods, still not happy.
"Right," Sophie says brightly. "You three, let's go. Nate, you will call us if anything changes."