Disclaimer: I still don't own them. Dammit.
A/N: A short, kinda-angsty epilogue to wrap it all up. Wow. Three chapters in one day/night, and all I can say is 'CRAP, my ass hurts!!!'
The front door opened with a crash.
Nate, Hardison, Sophie and Parker barreled into the room in a rush. Caroline, Thom and George jumped up and gathered in front of the couch, unconsciously guarding Eliot. The two groups rushed towards each other, each unwilling to give ground as they faced each other head-on.
"Where is he!?!"
"Who are you??"
"Is he OK??"
"Get out of my way!"
Voices tripped over and slammed against each other in a cacophony of sound.
"ENOUGH!!!" came the loud bellow from behind them all. Startled into silence they all turned to see Eliot sitting up unsteadily on the chaise, arm held protectively against his chest. The rush of anger left him quickly and he started to slump, Thom and Nathan reaching him at the same time and each sliding a gentle arm behind his back and neck to ease him to the cushions. They looked at each other over Eliot's panting form and decided they were on the same team.
Parker, Sophie and Hardison sat on the couches next to Caroline and listened as she haltingly relayed the tale of the last few days, sometimes stammering to a stop with a gasp. There Thom or George would pick up the tale, talking them through the worst of the torture Eliot had endured. Then Caroline would gather herself and continue as well as she could. At times during the story Eliot would show signs of wakefulness, and when they could, they encouraged him to drink water or medicine laced teas.
Eventually the team's gear was brought into the ranch house and couches were made into temporary beds, because no one wanted to leave Eliot alone for any amount of time. Hardison soon had his computers set up and running smoothly, and he happily played in the background as the rest got ready for bed. George excused himself and went out to the bunkhouse, and Thom and Caroline went to their bedroom late into the night, with instructions if Eliot should wake. Nate, Sophie and Hardison went to their beds with strict instructions to Parker that all the shiny things were to stay put where they were.
Off and on throughout the night, someone would wake and pad softly to Eliot's side, only to find someone else there keeping watch. They would smile, trade places, and patter back to bed knowing there was someone with him at all times.
The morning broke early, and Caroline busied herself in the kitchen again, this time with Sophie and Parker's dubious help. They cooked breakfast, and Caroline made sure to bake a perfect batch of shortbread, slapping anyone's hands that happened to stray too close.
A simple, "They're for Eliot," and no move was again made.
Morning wandered into afternoon, and afternoon into evening before Eliot stirred. His eyes opened slowly and he looked around the room. Nate was sitting at his side and gently lifted him up as Thom held a glass of water to his lips. He drank a bit, and then moved his head to indicate he was done. They eased him down again, he gasped when his back touched the couch. His eyes clenched closed and he panted for a moment until he could control the pain.
"Glad to see ya finally got here," he rasped at Nate. "Took ya long enough."
"You're lucky we decided to come for your scrawny ass in the first place," Nate replied, relieved that Eliot seemed to be healing.
Eliot sighed and fell back to sleep.
Later that night, Eliot began thrashing in his sleep. Nathan was at his side as the others in the room woke up. Lights were turned on and they gathered around the couch.
"He's got a fever, get some cold water," Nate ordered.
Sophie and Parker complied, returning with buckets of cold water and towels. Hardison and Nate had stripped the bedding and gently laid Eliot on his side on the hardwood floor, hoping that the cool wood would help draw out the fever. Sophie replaced the linens on the couch as the rest dipped towels into the water and bathed Eliot's heated body. Sometime that night Thom and Caroline came down to see what the noise was about, and they too took turns trying to cool the young man down.
It was well into afternoon before the fever finally left Eliot in a fiery burst of heat, leaving him panting on the floor in exhaustion. They helped him sit up, then helped him back onto the chaise, lifting his legs onto the crisp, clean linen.
Caroline brought a tray of food and sat on the edge of his couch, intent on getting him to eat and begin to build up his strength. He wasn't too proud to let her spoon the rich beef broth into his mouth, especially after realizing his own hand shook too much to hold the utensil. He managed to eat half of the bowl before his eyelids started to slide shut. She smiled and tucked the light sheet around him and returned to the kitchen.
Three days later and the Retrieval Specialist was starting to become restless. His shoulder still burned, even though his arm was strapped to his chest for stability, and he couldn't walk for more than a few steps before his hip and thigh started to tremble, but he needed to move.
On more than one occasion they had found him looking longingly out at the barn, or resting in a chair on the porch like a cat in a sunbeam.
Thom and Caroline still rubbed liniment into his hip and thigh each night, even though it made him shake with pain. They would wrap him in warm compresses after they finished as he curled up on the couch, trying to ride out the muscle spasms that made him groan. After an hour or so he would finally relax and slip into sleep, and the rest would begin their nightly duties of keeping watch over his sleeping frame.
Two days after that, the team started making arrangements to take Eliot home.
Caroline leaned into the truck as the others loaded it, setting a big basket on the floor beside Eliot's seat. He grinned at her, knowing what it held. His face was thinner, and he was still too pale for her liking, but the sparkle was back in his eyes.
"Now, I know I don't have to tell you to take it easy, son," Thom said from behind her. He reached in and cupped his big hand around the back of Eliot's neck, looking directly at him. "You be careful, and you come back when you need to."
Eliot smiled at the older man, knowing in his heart that he would be back to ride in the rich horse country at Montana Skies again.
A/N: Ok, I think the last few paragraphs were kinda lame, but I'm too damn tired. G'night all.