Author's Note: I don't know if this is just a perception thing, but Parker's confirmation that everything was fine and she hadn't been pulled over the edge was insanely unconvincing to me. So here's a lil protective!Hardison fic exploring that :)

Hardison stepped out of the brewpub office's spare bedroom, quietly closing the door behind him. Sophie and Nate, who were both sitting at the meeting table, looked up.

Hardison could see the matching unspoken question in both their eyes but he didn't answer it for a second. He put his hands flat on the table, leaning his weight on it. He didn't want to blow up at Nate and Sophie (especially not Sophie), but he could already feel his blood starting to boil.

"Hardison?" Sophie asked tentatively.

"I just spent… thirty minutes trying to calm down a Parker who was so upset she nearly made herself puke," Hardison said, as calmly as possible. "A Parker who was so upset that she actually cried herself to sleep, while I was still in the room. I think we all know what that means."

Sophie and Nate shifted, exchanging a glance.

"You know why she was so upset?" Hardison went on. His voice was rising, but he couldn't help it. All he could think about was Parker's tear-streaked cheeks as she choked out sobs into his shirt, her hair sticking to her face, her voice coming out in muffled wails. "Because you made her convince a guy that she was his dead cousin, which led to him nearly jumping off of a roof."

Nate opened his mouth, shut it, and tried again. "Hardison- I don't understand. Parker was fine. What happened?"

"We got back to the pub, I got her a bowl of cereal and when I turned around she was just staring into space. When I said her name she startled like I'd tasered her and just started… freaking out." Hardison shook his head. "She's messed up, Nate. This whole stupid White Rabbit thing totally screwed with her head. You know she doesn't like thinking about all the stuff the happened with her brother."

"Yes, that is true," Sophie said, "but one could argue that confronting those feelings through the lens of convincing Charlie that Patience's death wasn't his fault could be somewhat therapeutic. Maybe this will help her heal from that."

"Maybe," Hardison repeated harshly. "Parker deserves more than 'maybe'. She's gone though enough crap that the most traumatizing experience of her life should be dealt with gently. At her speed. When she wants to deal with it- and not for the mark, not for you, but for her."

"She just needs time, Hardison," Nate told steadily.

"Dangit, Nate!" Hardison exploded, slamming his hands down on the table. "You pushed her too far! Why can't you just admit that?!"

Nate was about to reply when a shaky voice called from the bedroom. "Hardison?"

Hardison let his head fall, a soft groan escaping his mouth.

"Go," Nate said gently, nodding at the bedroom door. "She needs you."

Hardison shook his head, frustrated- though much more at himself than Parker. If he'd just managed to keep his temper (and his voice) down, he wouldn't have woken Parker up and he could have continued this conversation with Nate, maybe even gotten him to see the error of his ways.

But even if the conversation had continued, there was no guarantee that Nate would have understood where Hardison was coming from. Maybe he never would.

Hardison got to his feet and trudged to the bedroom, shutting the door behind him. Parker was perched at the head of the bed, her face pale and her eyes large and red-rimmed and puffy.

"Hey, baby girl," Hardison murmured, crossing the room to sit down next to her. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, tucking her into his side.

"Don't be mad at Nate," Parker sniffled. "You know he would never do anything to mess up any of us on purpose."

Hardison let out a low sigh, pressing a kiss to Parker's temple. He knew she spoke the truth, but still. It was hard to let this thing drop like he had so many of the others.

"Hardison," Parker said firmly, "promise you won't be mad at Nate."

"If it makes you happy, then I promise," Hardison relented. He looked down and cupped Parker's chin in his hand. "You look exhausted, baby. Get some sleep."

Parker chewed on her gum, not meeting his eyes. "Stay with me for a little bit?" she asked meekly.

Hardison's chest clenched. He knew what that kind of request meant- they all did.

"Yeah," he promised, scooting so he was lying down on the bed with Parker snug against him. "I'll stay as long as you need."