What, was "Rudy" on cable last night?

. . . Yes.

Eliot Spencer vdistinctive
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75 Godiva, Tuesday
Eliot had always been a fast healer -- a definite advantage in his line of work, no one was going to respect a hitter who was covered in bruises all the time -- so while he still had a black eye and a fairly impressive mass of scab on his temple, the swelling had gone and the side of his face was more yellow than purple. It'd taken a few hours to convince Hardison that he really wasn't letting the man out of his sight for longer than it took to use the bathroom, but once they'd managed to move from escape attempts to resigned depression, Eliot had even managed to get some actual rest in, so his headache was down from sometimes-literally-blinding to dull-throb-with-painkillers-if-I-don't-move-too-quickly. With his hood pulled up to both cut down on excess sunlight and hide the mess that was his temple, he felt almost normal.

Physically, anyway. Hardison wasn't the only one dealing with masses of guilt over what happened over the weekend. Eliot was just more used to carrying stuff like that around.

Parker wasn't going to let Eliot stand up in the kitchen long enough to even make some decent omelettes, so he called and had the busboy at the diner bring them enough food to cover all three of them for a day. This of course led to an argument with the busboy about whether him not coming in at all meant the kitchen staff had a day off, which set off exciting new throbs in Eliot's head, which in turn made Parker go all growly mama bear at the busboy, who eventually ended up running away shrieking. Then Eliot had to hurry back to the living room to make sure that Hardison hadn't tried to escape through the back door.

"You know," Eliot said as he grabbed yet another ice pack from his freezer. "We're not s'posed to have to tie you to a chair after you're done being evil."

[ooc: for the crew. Wheee aftermath!]

Parker stomped back in with the food and started setting it out for breakfast, grumbling under her breath. "They need more training if he thought today was the right day to want a vacation." She looked over at Hardison, then back at Eliot. "What exactly happened while I was off incubating a spawn?"

This whole incident had convinced her she really, really didn't want to ever be pregnant, thanks.

Eliot looked over at Hardison, wondering how much the man would want said out loud. And -- honestly, Eliot didn't remember much past the first smack to the temple. He was pretty sure he'd worked it out, just based on past experience and what parts of him were hurting how much, but he didn't know for sure.

On the other hand, Hardison might bolt or throw up again if he had to try to explain it.

"The brood busted into the diner," he said, keeping an eye on Hardison while he spoke. "On Saturday, right around when you texted us. I took 'em out, but not before one of them got Hardison in the stomach. I stitched him up and tried to find you, but. . . ."

But when Parker went to ground, she went to ground.

Hardison was fiddling with a bit of tech, several wires, a circuit board, and a few switches. Best of luck figuring out what it did, if it did anything at all, but the way he was concentrating on it, they'd be excused for thinking it would unlock the secrets of waterproofed earbuds.

He wasn't sulking that Eliot had ruined his most recent escape attempt but he was very much Not Participating In This Conversation.

Parker nudged over a breakfast burrito in Hardison's direction, giving her version of a stern look. Then an apologetic guilty look to Eliot. "Sorry. I wasn't thinking straight. I got stung on the roof of one of my places, and it took a lot out of me to get away, so... I holed up and thought I could just nap it off. But when I woke up, there was an embryo with different priorities."

She grimaced, unwrapping a breakfast quesadilla for herself. "Should have told you where I was." She bumped Hardison's shoulder. "Eat. And see, not your fault."

"Hell, ain't like I'm great at that part, either," Eliot admitted. How many cryptic voicemails had he left Hardison over the past year? "Anyway. By the time we heard about the whole embryo thing, Hardison was already . . . yeah, uh. 'Different priorities.' It tried to bait me into an argument, first. When I worked out that it was the alien talking, not Hardison, it pulled a gun on me." And that one detail was the only thing Eliot was blaming Hardison for. Why did he have a gun?! "It got the upper hand when I underestimated the body it was using. Don't remember a whole lot after that, but apparently it knocked me out and took off. The rest -- that stuff you know."

Yeeeah, see even if Hardison had been perking up a little with the forcible reminders that he and the alien were different creatures altogether, the gun reference had him hunching right back over, shoving half a burrito into his face to keep from having to talk.

Except now he had to eat the burrito and he was still pretty emphatically not-hungry. Dammit, why was nothing easy about this?!

"Gun," Parker repeated, frowning a bit. More confused than anything else. "Why-- when did you get a gun?" she asked Hardison. "And why didn't you tell us about it?" She wasn't as emphatically anti-gun as Eliot, but then, it was hard to be that. To Eliot she said, "Hardison's body is really nicely muscled. He just doesn't coordinate it all the time." Or maybe that had been the Brood egg too?

"Yeah. The brood apparently knew what to do with them. Didn't help that I wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea of hitting back." Which he was guessing the brood had worked out, too. And taken full advantage of. He had some blurry images of growling back and forth about that, but he wasn't totally sure if that had actually happened or not.

He wasn't going to press the gun thing just now. Not until he was sure that Hardison had what was done with the gun not being on him clear in his head. He shook his head, then winced when the movement made his headache double.

"Shoulda disarmed it when I had the chance. Definitely shouldn'ta underestimated it like that. Was sloppy."

"Wasn't--" His voice was hoarse and raw. He hated it. "Wasn't nothin' 'bout this your fault. That thing took everythin' I knew about you an' exploited it. Threw Kathy up in your face, last year's whole mess, your protectiveness of me--everythin'. It knew you'd win in a fight in a minute, so it used anythin' else it could to take you down, then cold-cocked you for good measure."

Wow. This electronic thingy sure was important! It required aaaaaallllll of his attention and focus, see?

Parker put down her own breakfast, having a lot less appetite now. "Kathy?" Her voice was tiny. "I forgot--" She swallowed hard, then said, "Eliot, it wasn't your fault. Not what happened in the fight with Hardison. Not what happened to her and Raven." She looked at Hardison, leaning into him. "It sucked, though. All of it." She brushed at her eyes, fast, voice low. "Still does."

"It's been a hell of a couple days," Eliot said. Not agreeing with her trying to excuse him from the blame, but not arguing, either. He already carried plenty of blame and guilt around. He'd learned to keep it inside and keep going. "Hardison. It was a fucking alien invading your head. What exactly d'ya think you coulda done different?"

"Parker managed to keep herself," he said softly. "Buncha people did. Hell, most of 'em were students an' they managed it. Me? I was an annoyance. 'M supposed to be this genius, but I immediately get taken down by a bug, infected, an' it just waltzes in an' takes over, usin' what I know to hurt the man I love. I was a damn speedbump to an alien invasion. Barely managed to slow 'em down."

Parker made a small sound, and put her head down on Hardison's shoulder. She didn't know how it worked, but it wasn't that simple! She'd been wiped out after fighting it, it wasn't like it was easy. "It was hard to fight it. Maybe we just got a bigger dose. Or egg. Or maybe we got infected earlier. You can't--" Frustrated, she pressed her head against his, then looked at Eliot. "Tell him again." Maybe he'd listen to Eliot more; Eliot was the one the Brood-Hardison had hurt.

Edited at 2016-04-26 09:21 pm (UTC)

"There were plenty folks who didn't go whole hog crazy last year with Gaunt," Eliot said. "Everyone reacts differently. That ain't on you any more than havin' worse dose of flu might be."

Hardison looked up with hot eyes. "Who gets the worse dose of the flu?" he demanded. "Me! Who can't run a con without it fallin' apart? Me! Who can get taken out by any random schmo enemy? Me!" He carefully moved out from under Parker then began stalking angrily around the room, movements abrupt and violent. "Who can't protect anyone they l-love? Me."

He scrubbed his face and stood in the middle of the room, defeated. "I just--That's why I got the gun. After Chicago. They were gonna kill her an' I couldn't have stopped 'em. I can't stop nobody. Not in meat-space, anyway."

Parker paused, stopped by that reaction, not sure how to proceed. She let that just lie in the silence for a couple minutes, then said, "Who can learn anything he wants to?"

Eliot couldn't tell if he was angry or hurt. His head swam with it, either way, temple pounding in time with his rising blood pressure.

"That stuff," he said, voice very low and even. "Is what you have us for. It's why you have a team. Not a gun."

Somewhere in the middle of both? The kind of anger that came from being hurt and guilty.

"Maybe I'm tired of bein' a dead weight that constantly needs to lean on his crew, 'steada bein' able to stand on his own."

"Who the hell said you were dead weight?!" Eliot raised his voice and then immediately regretted it. His headache was making a giant mess of this conversation. "You don't think that about me 'cause I can't do any fancy computer stuff, do you?"

Wait, did he?

Wait, when did this become a real fight? What was going on here? Parker was giving both guys bewildered looks now, and feeling the fragile recovery time slip away into something else. "Guys, what-- no, that's not--"

"How often has fancy computer stuff been useful outside of cons?" Hardison snapped back, feeling sick as he did so. Who was he to yell at Eliot right now--though he found himself doing it anyway.

Eliot stared. "You goddamn kidding me with this?" He dropped his head into his hands, wishing he could squeeze the concussion right out of himself so he could actually go at this conversation properly. "You seriously need a goddamn list?" He really wanted to get up and pace, but it wasn't a good idea, right now. If he so much as swayed, Hardison would probably try running for the door again. "How 'bout when you were talkin' about using those fancy computer skills to hack us a damn portal to get our TAs back?"

"Hey. Hey!" Parker cut in, because Eliot was looking paler and Hardison was looking more nauseous. "You both need to rest! And stop yelling! And stop hurting yourselves!" Her breathing had gotten shallow and fast, and she felt like she was in way over her head, useless to deal with other people's pain. As usual. "We will get them back! After the Island stops flying around space! And you both did everything you could and it didn't work and it sucked and that doesn't mean--" Parker glared at both of them. "That either of you is helpless! Or worthless! Will you CUT IT OUT?!"

Parker's tirade cut off Hardison's yelled point that he hadn't been able to hack a portal, no matter what he'd tried, that Kathy and Raven were still stuck in that other world. But they didn't deserve to be brought up like that and Parker didn't want them yelling.

"'M goin' for a walk," he said instead, striding through the house. He whistled for Val and let himself out through the back door. He figured they couldn't complain if he was just in the backyard and walking around with Val. Right?

"Hardison --" Eliot got up to chase after him, but stopped immediately when the room swam around him, and ended up right back in his seat, head back in his hands. "Goddammit," he groaned, to himself more than to Parker. "How'd this get so fucked up?"

"I don't know," Parker said tightly, handing him a new ice pack. "I'm going after him in a few minutes. Maybe ten." Give him time to cool down. Although she had no idea what to say to Hardison, any more than Eliot. I wish Sophie was here. Or Nate, who would've seen everything coming and accounted for it. Or at least would shoulder the blame if it had gone wrong. It felt like it should be Parker's fault now, but she had no idea how.

She watched Eliot, then slid next to him, leaning into him, keeping her voice steady with a major effort. "Hating aliens, and possession, and secrets. All of that." She stared straight ahead. "Still love my guys, though."

Eliot accepted the ice pack and the leaning without looking up.

"You guys don't need guns." Part of him knew he shouldn't be taking that so personally. But at the moment he couldn't help it. It felt extremely personal. "I can teach him to fight. I taught you and Sophie stuff. He just never asked."

It didn't take ten minutes for Hardison to get sick of being outside. Hell, it had barely taken five; the extra two minutes he spent out there were just pure stubbornness.

And when he came back in, his body had lost a lot of the angry stiffness that had carried him out and he threw himself down on the floor in front of Eliot's chair, all loose, gangly limbs. He buried his face into Eliot's leg and a muffled, "I'm sorry," came up, even as a hand went hunting for Parker.

Parker grabbed his hand immediately, feeling as near tears as she ever got. She was half sliding down to hug him already, because Hardison-- Alec needed hugs, he gave hugs, the best hugs, and sometimes he really needed them too. And she was gripping Eliot's arm too, not letting go.

She wanted to say "It's okay" but that was for Eliot, not her. And she was just so glad Hardison hadn't stayed outside long, hadn't forced her to pick between the yard and the house now, when they both needed somebody.

Eliot rested the back of his free hand on the back of Hardison's neck, the other one -- the one Parker was hanging onto -- still supporting his head. The ice pack had landed unceremoniously on the couch.

It wasn't okay, certainly not for Hardison, and saying it was wouldn't help the guilt any. At least it never had for Eliot. Instead, he said "I know," and gave Hardison's neck a gentle squeeze.

"I hate this," Hardison said, keeping his face well and truly buried, though wrapping his free arm around Parker. He did need hugs and badly. "I hate knowin' that I hurt you. Don't care whether it was me in control or not, I remember doin' it."

"They hurt you too, though. Making you-- your body, do that," Parker almost whispered, holding on tight. "Eliot knows that. From last year." And they didn't hate him for anything he did then.

This too would pass, but not fast enough, if you asked her.

"Is there anything that could make this better?" She was asking either, or both of them, or herself, and she didn't have any answers.

"Would it help if I pointed out I had worse?" Eliot asked, half-joking and already knowing the answer. He gave Hardison's neck another squeeze. If he had more energy, he'd pull them both up to the couch again, or slide down to the floor where they were. But he was already pretty well done moving around for awhile, if he could possibly help it.

They hadn't even finished breakfast yet.

"It takes time," he said. "Just like all healin'. But, Hardison, man. You know you ain't useless."

It was important that Eliot hear him say that.

Hardison nodded, but it was a nod of acknowledgment, not agreement. He knew he should say something, but wasn't entirely sure what.

"We should take another trip," he said, turning his face so he wasn't talking into Eliot's leg anymore. "Durin' the break week. Don't care where. Maybe to Oklahoma or whatever. Just--away."

Maybe not Oklahoma. They had some healing to do and mixing that with meeting new people wasn't the best idea. But he did want to meet Eliot's family sometime.

Parker seized on that idea like a life-raft. "Or Nate and Sophie. Bug them about their engagement. And maybe see what Sophie's class is doing." A job right now would be a bad idea, she kind of felt. They were all so upset and tired, worked over from what had happened. And still worrying about Kathy and Raven when there might not be anything they could do. "Or Portland. Catch up with people there."

Something familiar and normal and simple. Like breaking into a bank.

"I definitely ain't up to dealin' with my sister," Eliot said, by way of getting all of them out of having to deal with 'meet the family' time. "But yeah, it could be good. I'm guessin' Portalocity can work around the whole 'space' thing."

"The Keys weren't a bad trip, either," Hardison added. "An' Eliot still ain't had a chance to bust out his boat yet."

Something Hardison's chest. He wasn't good, yet, far from it, but it no longer hurt to breathe.

Parker scritched the back of Hardison's neck, the way they both sometimes did to Eliot. She sighed, feeling like some kind of storm had just blown out, finally.

"Yeah. Somewhere like that. Somewhere warm. To fish, or just hang out." She buried her face in Eliot's non-injured shoulder. "Caribbean, maybe. This weekend?"

Eliot shrugged and nodded. Getting the boat through the portal would probably end up costing extra, but it wasn't like any of them were hurting for cash.

"Should be good to drive the thing by then. We can head for Tobago or soemthin'."

He was pretty sure he didn't have any enemies in Trinidad and Tobago.

"This weekend's graduation," Hardison reminded both of them. "We oughta be here. For the students who did make it this year."

And to remember the ones who didn't.

"Oh, right." Parker had totally spaced on that. "Next week then. Before the new kids show up." That would work. A few days Anywhere But Here, and some perspective you couldn't find in Outer Space.

"Next week," Eliot agreed. He slowly sat up and leaned back on the couch until his head rested against the back of it. His neck had gotten tired of holding his damn head up. "Even better. You two planning to sit on my feet all day, or you gonna come up here and sit on the couch like grown-ups?"

Crotchety old man Eliot was back. All would soon be right in the world.

Hardison heaved a sigh, then his butt back up onto the couch. "Floor's comfy," he muttered, still not able to really look Eliot in the eye yet. "An' bein' a grownup sucks right now."


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