Based off a really lovely fanart by citrusvoid on tumblr. I'll try to link it on my profile.
I reblogged it with tags wondering about the story behind it, and angelrtsy95 on tumblr commented that I should write the fic, so... here it is.
They all have bad days, sometimes. It'd be impossible not to, the lives that they lead. Sometimes it's about what just happened - Leverage has met its fair share of evil, often all the more rotten behind the mask of a respectable member of society. Sure, they always win in the end… but only for a given definition of 'win', because there's no actual eradicating these kinds of people. It's impossible to always be satisfied with helping just one family, destroying just one small empire in a world full of them. Sometimes helping one person almost makes it worse, because that only makes you more aware of the extent you can't get to.
Of course, a lot of bad days aren't about anything happening now. They all have a past: the kind that ripples out into the present, that creeps into your mind when you're least prepared and sucks you back under. It's never for long. They don't ever let it stop them, but there's no such thing as simply being over it, either.
In the beginning, they took care of themselves. Parker would go nonverbal and nearly nonexistent; she'd vanish whenever anyone turned their back on her. Nate crawled all the way into a bottle and lashed out with vicious accuracy at anyone who tried to drag him out. Sophie showed it least, but when she had a bad day she also tended to get quiet. Not in the same way as Parker, vanishing where she stood; Sophie would instead gaze thoughtfully off in the distance, be perpetually distracted and sad when she let her guard down. Eliot was grumpy often, but when he was really upset he would just leave. He'd go away, completely remove himself from them, and come back a day or six later with bruises or cuts or a sling, still frowning.
Nate wore his pain like a weapon; Parker a shield. Sophie floated away; Eliot anchored himself down. Alec was probably the only one of them, at the start, who knew how to go to another person for help on a bad day. Whenever he felt that choking feeling crawling up his throat, that familiar aching fear - he shut himself up in his room. Wrapped himself in fluffy blankets and made hot chocolate, and called Nana. She somehow could always tell the difference between a call like that and plain old socializing, and they'd talk for hours until he felt better. Not good, often, but she knew how to blunt the sharp edge until he could cope in less important ways, get caught up in a Star Trek marathon or lead a raid in World of Warcraft or hack an alphabet soup agency again.
It obviously helped that a lot of his worst demons were the ones Nana had banished, long ago: feeling alone and unloved, worrying he wasn't enough, fearing he'd lose her far too soon. Okay, so he helped with that last one, but she'd kept on living, so Alec considered that her victory like the rest. Still, he'd picked up plenty of his own problems since leaving home, and she listened to whatever he had to say. Sometimes she gave advice, sometimes she just changed the subject to stories of some of his foster siblings or the latest drama with her neighbor or their stories on TV. It didn't really matter, she was his Nana, she had always loved and accepted him and been there to rely on; she always would.
The rest of the crew didn't have people like that anymore. Not at the beginning.
But it didn't take too terribly long for them to start becoming those people for one another. And like anything, it was easier in fair weather at first. They'd hang out and watch TV and eat food together, but no one came to another member of the crew for comfort when they felt sick or upset or lonely. That took much longer.
It happened, though. Alec wasn't even the first one; that was Sophie and Parker. Parker started poking at Sophie, metaphorically and otherwise, whenever she was in one of her horrible lost moods, and for the most part it seemed to work. She'd snap out of it, just a little, whenever Parker forced her to react to what was actually happening around her. And it happened for the rest of them, too: Nate still drank himself to death, but he visibly tried to bite back on the vitriol on his worst days. Sometimes Sophie could reach him even then, though everyone else still was better off not pushing too far. Parker still went silent and small, but she stopped leaving the room every time. Instead she'd sit on the couch hunched up into herself, wrap her arms around her knees… and lean her side into someone next to her. Usually Eliot, Sophie a little more rarely, and then Alec. Even after they got together, that ratio didn't change - but she held his hand sometimes. Spoke to him, when they were alone, in short bitten-off sentences, and held him tight till his knuckles ached.
Alec liked hugs, when he was really upset - liked being wrapped up in someone's arms, feeling their warmth and a steady heartbeat under his ear. He liked listening to them talk, sometimes even more than he wanted to spill his own guts. Sophie was fantastic at telling stories that brought him out of his bad mood, while Parker's firm touch was infinitely comforting. Nate and Eliot were less comfortable with the physical affection, but Eliot would always hug him back for a few seconds, before patting him hard on the back and making him something delicious to eat; Nate often managed to find a job that was up Alec's alley, or make some awkward comment that was about ninety times more comforting than it ever ought to be.
They'd all gotten better about being vulnerable together, about seeking comfort from one another.
Oh, he was better about the smaller stuff. He hugged, now. He'd go on cooking sprees and essentially force feed them comfort food. He even talked about his feelings. It was just that he didn't do any of that on Bad Days. He'd work through a rough mood with their support just fine, but whenever anything bothered him deep, he withdrew again. Left, again. Came back a week later limping or bandaged and didn't say a word about any of it. And Alec would never want to push him - that'd be the worst reaction. Eliot knew how to be dangerous, sometimes couldn't help being dangerous; maybe that was what he needed on days like that. Or maybe he just couldn't turn it off and didn't want it turned on them. Either way, Alec trusted him and wasn't going to press for anything to change if he wasn't ready… but he still worried, every time. Eliot wasn't going to lose a fight, he wasn't going to leave like that and not come back to them. He wasn't ever going to hurt any of them, and he knew how to stay intact enough to do his job. But intact wasn't the same as safe. Every time, Eliot came back injured, and Alec honestly didn't know if he was letting it happen or if he just threw himself into situations where it was unavoidable. There wasn't much difference between the two, really, and he wanted to help. He wanted Eliot to come to him instead, him and Parker both. Sophie or Nate would do too, anyone would really as long as he stayed safe, but - but he and Parker had talked about this, they wanted Eliot with them. In every way, that kind of came with the territory of being in love, but especially this one.
It didn't happen though. Not for years - not for years after they learned about Damien Moreau, even, and at the time Alec had wondered if that'd been what stopped Eliot from ever seeking them out before then. If he'd thought it'd be too much like lying, asking them to comfort him when he knew what he'd done had been horrible, had been something Alec couldn't forgive.
(He wasn't ever going to ask. He'd still love Eliot, he swore he would, but he'd never ever ask.)
But even then, even long after then, Eliot kept to himself. When Parker and Alec finally, finally convinced him that yes, they wanted him too, that didn't make a difference, for so many other wonderful things but not this. He went away, came back, didn't say a word. He didn't change his routine when Sophie and Nate retired either, just sometimes mentioned that he was leaving for a while, first. None of them ever had really had bad days on the job, they were all too good at compartmentalizing for that, but Eliot especially seemed to time them well. It was damn suspicious - but so were all those bruises, every single time, and those were worse.
When it finally changed, Alec didn't know why. He didn't ask either, that was another thing he knew better than to ever ask about - but, god, his heart ached to know. Because Eliot didn't come to him, not all the way. He came so, so close and then stopped short - and Alec knew this couldn't be the first time he'd done that. It couldn't be, he just knew it, and he wondered how many times Eliot had done this first, had suffered right by his door and then left and came back days later hurting on the outside instead.
It was three forty-two AM. Alec woke up thirsty. He yawned at the ceiling, considered just rolling over and ignoring it, but his throat was dry and he knew his awareness of that was going to take over completely and drive him mad as soon as he shut his eyes again. It happened all the time. So, even though he was extremely comfortable, he wiggled out from under Parker's arm and walked out of their bedroom.
He didn't notice Eliot on his way to the kitchen. (Wondered now, too often and always with a sick twist in his gut, how many times he hadn't noticed him on his way back to bed either.) Drank a glass of water in the dark, felt it cool and refreshing down his throat and drank another half-glass after just for the feeling. Then he padded back along the hall, scratching absently at his stomach as he went - and that was where he saw him.
Eliot was sitting in the hall, just outside the door to their bedroom. He was still dressed in his clothes from yesterday: a white t-shirt and jeans, brown shoes. He hadn't come back yet when Alec and Parker went to bed, but none of them exactly had a regular sleep schedule and Eliot had said he was going to be back late from hanging out with some old friends. So it was possible that he'd only just gotten back, maybe that he was drunk and tired and it seemed more logical to just sit down here instead.
That wasn't it though, so clearly wasn't what was happening here. Eliot's knees were up, his feet planted in front of him. He sat with his back against the wall, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands clasped around the back of his head. He was just staring down at the floor beneath his feet, holding himself down and still and Alec could see the tension in his arms from the opposite end of the hall. Eliot could've been here for hours. He'd nearly walked right past him again, he'd nearly -
Alec didn't think about it. He was there before his brain had even fully processed what he was seeing; fell down to his knees so hard they cracked loudly against the wood floor but didn't stop. He scooted in, tucked his whole self around Eliot, one knee under his bent leg and one wedged between his back and the wall. Wrapped his arms around the top of Eliot's head, grabbed on tight to his wrist; rested his chin on top of Eliot's head and stared into the dark, feeling his own breath go shaky and rough.
Eliot didn't move under him, didn't let up the tension in his grip at all. But there was a shape emerging from the darkness of the bedroom; Parker must've heard Alec hit the floor, because she wandered out to join them, yawning and loose-limbed. Her eyes went wide when she saw what was going on, but she reacted quickly too. Parker just flopped on top of them both, letting her head fall down to join Eliot as her arms draped loosely over the top of his head to rest on Alec's shoulders. She was doing that gross mouth-breathing thing she did sometimes when she'd just woken up; for a long minute it was the only sound in that dark, warm hallway.
Then Eliot started to shiver. Just a little at first, but soon it was a full-body shudder that just kept going and going and Alec squeezed him tighter, held him closer and breathed him in and finally spoke: "We got you, babe. We gotchu."
"Together," Parker mumbled, voice soft and arms still loose, but she was sitting up on her knees and pressing her head close in, her words going right into Eliot's ear.
He just sat there and shook, and they held him and waited, long enough that Alec's back and arms ached from sitting there too long and then a while after that. Eventually, Eliot relaxed: tension bleeding out of him slowly, slowly, slowly.
His head drooped lower. His fingers unlaced, and Alec caught them with his own. Parker sat up as he pulled back, pulled Eliot's arms down. He kissed his hands, one then the other on his knuckles, and they weren't swollen or wet. Just loose in his grasp, curling slightly under his kiss.
When he looked up, Eliot's head was still down. He was watching Parker as she unlaced his shoes for him. Alec stuck a hand under the knee closest to him, lifted it so Eliot's foot was no longer on the floor, and Parker tugged the shoe and then sock off. He reached under to do the same with the other leg next, and Eliot just let him. He didn't resist or help.
They stood up next, leaving the shoes and socks in the hall to trip over in the morning. Eliot walked with them into their bedroom; when they stopped at the edge of the bed he sighed softly.
Parker stepped up in front of him. Looked Eliot quietly in the eyes as she unbuckled his belt, tugged it loose and then pulled his pants down. He just stood there, slack and exhausted and when she knelt down to tug the jeans past his ankles, he leaned his head back into Alec's shoulder. Even though Alec hadn't heard him cry at all for however long they'd sat out there, Eliot was moving with the sluggishness of the truly sobbed-out. Alec wrapped his arms around Eliot's back and bent down to kiss his shoulder. He swallowed loudly, and the sound made Alec's own throat feel tight.
Parker climbed onto the bed first, scooted all the way over and laid down with her arms and legs out, waiting for them to join her. Alec took a moment to let go, but when he did Eliot immediately crawled in after her, pressing his forehead into her neck as she pulled him close. Alec stopped to shut the door and make sure the blinds were completely shut over the window before he followed. By the time he made it back to the bed, they'd shifted around. Parker was spooning Eliot, a leg over top of his and a hand lightly fisted in his hair.
Alec pulled the covers over all of them, slid right up against Eliot and sandwiched him fully between himself and Parker. He kissed her over Eliot's head, wrapped his arm around them both, and shut his eyes. Listened to their breathing slow.
Eliot didn't say anything. Not that night and not the next morning. Despite Alec's efforts, either some morning sun got to him or his internal alarm clock just ignored even the worst need for rest, because Eliot got up first. He made them all breakfast and didn't talk about what had happened with such clear deliberation that they both knew not to, either. He was weird all day, had a kind of wild look in his eyes and didn't really hold his end of the conversation well… but he didn't leave, and he didn't stay away for days, and he didn't come back with bruises or cuts or a concussion.
Not that time. He still did, sometimes. But sometimes Parker still vanished, sometimes no one but Nana would do and Alec couldn't cry for anyone else, not even his partners. Eliot started showing up next to them more often on his bad days. He didn't quite ask for their help, but he sat somewhere they could find him, held himself tight inside and when they held him too he'd start to shake. He cried, sometimes, but usually he just got quiet and tense and exhausted, afterwards. He never talked, and Alec wasn't sure he ever would, but that was okay.
Eliot was okay. He had them both to help, just like they had him when they needed. He let them help now, let Alec hold him and protect him and keep him safe like he'd always done for them. It made him feel so important, so trusted and full to overflowing with love. He checked the hallway in both directions every time he got up for a glass of water. Most of the time, it was empty, but sometimes he held Eliot again, hugged him tight until his grip on himself finally relaxed.
Kissed his knuckles then, on calloused and unbroken skin.