So, I'm Insomniac-Angel...recent convert of the awesomeness that is Leverage. And when I convert to a show, I 'fic :) Not much of the team in this bit...more of a prologue, really, to a series of shorts/character studies I have in mind. Mostly just me having fun and playing with dialogue. I adore characters who serve little other purpose than to just look cool while kicking glorious amount of ass and I think Christian Kane is sex on legs (god, the eyes, the hair, that VOICE...I think I just popped an ovary) so it should be pretty easy to figure out who I'm focusing on.

Disclaimer: I make no claim on Leverage, or any registered trademarks thereof. Just playin' in the sandbox, people, no need to get proprietary.

He is two weeks shy of his seventeenth birthday, and all he can think about as he methodically clears up the mess he and his siblings have made of the house is how he can get Aimee to go to junior prom with him.

He moves through the living room, hands full of Lego bricks and half-naked Barbie dolls, shoving everything haphazardly into the little plastic bins that his Mama keeps under the big front windows just for that purpose. The coffee table in front of the TV is littered with bowls, plastic flatware, and paper plates covered in orange grease stains and half-eaten pizza crusts. Despite his best efforts, little puddles of melted ice cream and chocolate sauce are congealing into a sticky mess on the walnut surface, and he shakes his head as he heads into the kitchen for a garbage bag and a wet dishrag.

Sara-Beth's high pitched giggles float out of the tiny bathroom down the hall, mixing with the oh-so-dulcet sounds of splashing water and Jesse's wheedling pleas for the little girl to just hold still already so he can wash her hair. He can't help but laugh as he pulls a garbage bag from beneath the sink.

"Jesse, please try not ta' drown yer sister!" he calls over his shoulder, turning the hot water on and running a dish towel underneath the stream.

"Man, EJ!" his brother shouts with the kind of indignation only a ten-year-old can muster. "She's yer sister, too, ya' know! You could help!"

"I could," he agrees amicably, "but I ain't." He chuckles again as Sara-Beth squeals in delight while Jesse squeals in outrage. By the sounds of it, he's going to have to mop the bathroom floor before his parents get home, as well as clean up the living room. The splashing becomes more subdued, and he chooses to take that to mean Jesse has gotten down to business washing their baby sister's hair.

He is clearing up the last of their supper mess when he hears the crunch of tires on gravel alerts him to a car coming up their drive.

A bare second after he registers the sound, his living room is filled with flashing red and blue light. He freezes, the damp rag falling from his fingers to land on the coffee table. Their driveway is almost a mile long and their nearest neighbor is five miles away. For a moment, all he can do is stare at the window. He hears the dull thunk of car doors slamming and he tilts his head in confusion.

"EJ?" Jesse's soft, hesitant voice breaks his paralysis and he whips around to find his little brother standing in the entrance to the hall, a bath towel dangling from his hands.

"Where's Sara-Beth?" he asks, and his voice sounds strange to his own ears. Jesse's eyes dart to the window and his mouth works soundlessly.

"P-puttin' on her pj's," the boy says softly. "EJ, what's goin' on?"

"I dunno…go back to your room, okay? You keep Sara-Beth back there with you…read her a story or somethin'."

"But EJ—"

"Now, Jess!" His voice is sharper than he intends, and Jesse's eyes widen in confusion and distress. There is a loud, authoritative knock on the front door. "Please," he adds softly, "go take care a' Sara-Beth for me, okay?" Jesse looks between him and the door again, before nodding and scampering back into the rear of the house.

The knock comes again and he jerks, running his hands back through his hair. He licks his lips and crosses the room in a few short strides.

The cops standing on his porch are not from the local sheriff's office. Their car proclaims them state patrol and he glances nervously between them. The older of the two, a thick, stocky man with iron gray hair and deep lines in his face removes his hat and steps forward slightly.

"Somethin' I can help you with, sir?" he asks politely. The officer looks down at his hands for a moment, before squaring his shoulders and fixing him with a sober gaze.

"Is this the residence of a Mr. and Mrs. Eliot Spencer, senior?"

He looks at them and has never been as sure of anything in his life as he is that he doesn't want to hear what these men have to say. He feels the warmth slowly draining out of him, as if his blood is turning to ice-water in his veins. A dull roar starts up in his ears and he barely recognizes his own voice when he answers.

"Y-yessir…they're my parents. Is somethin' wrong?" He forces the question out. He knows there is something wrong.

The older officer sighs heavily. "Is there anyone here with you tonight?"

"No sir, just me. I'm watchin' my brother an' sister while my folks're out." Somewhere in the back of his mind, he is vaguely surprised at how steady his voice is. The roaring is growing louder by the second and he can already tell, already see by their faces, and please, God, no…but he forces himself to ask anyway. "What's this all about?"

"We've got some bad news, son," the older man says kindly, and he grits his teeth, silently bracing himself, as if he can physically ward off the officer's words. "There's been an accident…"

He sits in the front of the church his parents were married in, and stares straight ahead. He is in his best Sunday clothes and his tie is knotted too tightly. He sits up straight, like his mama always taught him, straighter than he has ever sat in his life, clenching his jaw so tightly that his whole head aches. He will not cry. He can't.

Sara-Beth is perched sideways on his lap, resting her head against his chest and restlessly picking at his fingers. He closes his eyes for a moment and buries his nose in her soft, blonde curls. He's still not sure whether his baby sister really knows what has happened. She's not quite five, yet, and though Sara-Beth is smart for her age, he doesn't know if she understands the permanence of death.

She seems to realize that Mama and Daddy aren't ever coming back, but she has so far been disturbingly calm about it. She clings to him, though, following him everywhere she can and watching him with slightly fearful eyes, as though she is afraid they will leave, too. At night, she begs to sleep in his bed, and he has not had the heart to turn her away. He thinks maybe he needs to hold her as much as she needs to be held.

Jesse sits on his left, serious and solemn in his black suit, with his dark hair slicked back off his forehead. If Sara-Beth has been unnaturally calm, Jesse has been almost too vocal. Once the shock had worn off, he had screamed and cried and thrown things. The boy refused to eat for two days, and he had briefly been afraid that his little brother would end up in the hospital on top of everything else. In contrast to his own stoicism and Sara Beth's timid quiet, tears are falling in a steady stream down Jesse's face.

Silently, he slides an arm around his brother and draws him close. The boy comes willingly, and he feels Jesse bury his small face in his shoulder. The preacher invites anyone who wishes to, to come forward and say a few words about his parents. He listens with half an ear as person after person rises—his parents' friends, high school classmates, colleagues…people he has known all his life. They talk about his mama and daddy and he feels something tight and hard and hurting form in his chest.

But he can't let go.

Jesse and Sara-Beth need him to be strong. They have no one else to lean on, not really. The community has rallied around them as only a true Midwest community can—stocking their kitchen with soups and casseroles, donating money to cover the funeral costs and any incidentals while their parents' life insurance and accounts are sorted out. But it's all just temporary.

Both of their parents were only children. His mama was nearly thirty when she had him, and Sara-Beth had been a complete surprise when his mama was in her forties. Their Granny Spencer is their only living relative. The woman has literally turned her life upside down and started the process of moving back to their little town from Oklahoma City to take care of her grandchildren even as she is burying her son and daughter-in-law…but his grandmother is almost eighty and not in the best of health. It's enough to prevent the three of them from becoming wards of the state, but he doesn't know how well she'll be able to take care of them.

It will be up to him.

It will be up to him to be strong enough to keep what's left of his family together…to take care of his brother and sister. To do everything for them that his parents would have. In the span of a week he has learned what it is like to worry about how to keep food on the table and get the bills paid. The leak in the basement of their house and the truck in the yard with the busted alternator have become his problems. But it's worse than that.

He will be the one to teach Jesse to shave and change the oil in a car. He will be the one braiding Sara-Beth's hair and holding her hand on her first day of school. He shakes inside at the thought of what he has to be to the kids, now, and his throat closes up every time he thinks of all the things that they will never get to share with their parents.

He spares no thought for what it means for him, what he has lost. It doesn't matter, anymore. It can't. In the space of a week he's left his boyhood behind forever…he has to be a man now. For his siblings, for his parents, for his family.


The preacher is speaking again, leading the attendees in a prayer that the souls of his parents will be safe and happy in the arms of Jesus, now, and that their children will know peace and strength in this horrible time.


Granny will be leaving in the morning, back to Oklahoma City to put her affairs in order and start the paperwork to break the lease she has in a small retirement community there. She will be gone at least a week. They have plenty of food in the house, thanks to the ladies of the church's prayer circle, but he's going to have to fix the truck if they want to be able to get around. His mama's car was totaled in the accident, and the insurance check hasn't some through to buy a new vehicle.

"Eliot!" Belatedly, he realizes Jesse is speaking to him, the use of his given name in a soft, trembling voice snapping him out of his daze. He looks down at his little brother, tightening his arm around the boy's shoulder.

"Yeah, Jess?" he whispers back. Jesse scrubs his sleeve across his running nose, looking up at him with wide, fearful eyes.

"What's gonna happen to us?" Jesse knows as well as he does how frail their grandmother really is. She'd been in the process of moving from the retirement condos to the assisted living facility in her community when the accident happened.

Eliot takes a deep breath, drawing his siblings closer to him and squaring his shoulders. The last of something childish and innocent drains from his face, and his blue eyes take on a hard, steely edge.

"I'm gonna take care of us," he says gruffly, forcing conviction into his tone. "I don't know how, yet, but I'll think of somethin'. I'm gonna take care of everything."

He is a week shy of his seventeenth birthday, and all he can think about as he holds his siblings close is how to keep that promise.