AN(s): Sorry this took sooo long! I had exactly zero ideas on how to write this chapter. I still am not entirely sure about the ending, but I think it's the best I could give to the team.

Please review! I got so many reviews for the first few chapters I was a bit surprised by the lack of response for Sophie's chapter.

Speaking of Sophie's chapter, I'm changing the title of that from 'Guilt' to 'Shock,' as I think it fits better. Don't worry, I'm not changing anything besides that.

Once again, I am not a trained medical professional, nor an amatuer ER-enthusiast (and by that I mean obsessive, hint hint to my friends), so any and all medical information in this story ought to be taken with quite a few shakes of salt.

I've decided to dedicate this story to the wonderful people who do the Leverage roleplays of this site; most of them probably don't know I exist, but that RP kept me alive during the break between the first two seasons and made me grow up a bit, as strange as that sounds. So thanks to you guys and everybody who's reviewed or alerted this story and had the patience to continue reading despite my commitment issues. It's been an experience. :)


There was a mattress under him, and thin sheets covering his body below his chest. They weren't the quality he had at his apartment, or the same material as the blankets in Nate's guest room, where they all crashed once in a while, so he wasn't quite sure where he was.

He could hear people talking, walking, objects making noise as they came into contact with other objects. The sounds of metal on metal, plastic clattering, and whispers. Quiet murmurs, closer and not muffled like the other sounds, but still dull in his ears.

Eliot had woken in enough strange and dangerous environments that it was instinct now not to open his eyes. He waited for his hearing to grow sharp enough to figure out where he was, but it didn't happen. Instead, there was a slippery fog over all his senses. He was aware of the noise, but couldn't summon enough energy to focus on it. The same presence that was draining his energy, though, was sending a current through his will and the part of him that was always alert, always worrying.

He swore in his mind, lethargically, more of an admittance and acceptance of failure than an actual expression of anger. More space came between each quiet murmur, before they stopped.

Eliot expected his soft and echoing world to be empty in the absence of the voices, but instead he became aware of a very annoying beeping, right near his head. In the inner monologue he hadn't consciously noticed was going on, his voice became annoyed.

Why do they always put the heart monitor right next ta yer head? It's not like they don't know yer hurt, like you couldn't use the sleep. Every time I end up in a hospital the damn doctors insist on waking me every few hours, never lettin' me sleep. Like they don't know ya gotta have rest ta heal. It's probably cause the only time I let myself end up in a hospital is when I got a concussion, an' you can't sleep with those, but still, it's damned impolite…

After a few minutes of this (he wasn't quite sure of the time but minutes seemed to be as good a measure as any), Eliot came to the realization that he was in a hospital. After mentally whacking himself for not figuring this out sooner, his mind inexorably came to the question of why, exactly, he was in a hospital.

Was I caught? But then I wouldn't be in a hospital, and there'd be a hell of a lot more pain than there is now.

Pain… there was pain. Eliot checked his body over as he'd done many times before. Feet fine, calves… thighs. Damn. He wasn't going to be walking on his right leg anytime soon.

As Eliot took account of all his injuries the pain he'd been feeling increased at least threefold. He could hear the beeping next to his head increasing, and the faster the beeps got, the more Eliot could feel the fire in his chest and leg and the louder the murmurs got. In fact, they weren't murmurs anymore and Eliot's suddenly sensitive hearing could distinguish the sounds of his team among them…

Sophie's breathy gasp and Nate's voice, commanding as it called for a nurse, maybe it was how hazy everything was but Eliot could swear he heard tremors in the team leader's yell, a sniff that seemed inexplicably blonde and a shushing that was more masculine coming after it, and a door opening and the muffled sounds he'd noticed earlier were louder, and he could feel where the bullets had hit him, he knew they were gunshot wounds, he'd felt them before, even if he couldn't quite remember how he'd gotten them this time, and it hurt so much more than he remembered gunshot wounds hurting and the sound of high heels entering the room and the female voice that spoke calmly before moving to his bed, and said 'Mr. Elliot, you're safe now,' and he didn't care about being safe he knew that because his team was here just stop it from hurting and then she did…

The fog settled over him again and he gasped as the pain seemed to calm down like a horse that a soothing hand had encouraged to stop rearing. As the beeping noise next to his head faded until he could barely hear it, the voices of his team settled too. Eliot realized that the fog was painkillers, good ones, and that was why the pain had been so much worse than he was used to when they started to fade. That's why I take care o' my own wounds, don't need no morphine or vico… Another wave or the fog swept over him, and Eliot's last thought before consciousness slipped away again was that he was glad the rest of the team was safe.

Eliot entered the conference room behind Sophie, trained eyes quickly taking in Beckett, the bodyguards, the other exit directly across the table. He swept over the guards to see if they were carrying; the two older men both had knives, while the boy who looked like he was barely old enough to be in college was watching him nervously. He looked Eliot over in a conspicuous and unpracticed manner, and the hitter snorted internally. Looks like I'm the kid's first job.

Sophie and Beckett were flirting, Nate was getting annoyed. Eliot kept the back of his mind on this, but concentrated on spreading the files over the table and monitoring the body language of the guards and Beckett. The traitorous chairman made a quick motion and one of the more experienced guards quietly stepped closer to his boss, casually enough to make it look like a whim. These guys were professionals, Eliot realized, not your average rent-a-cop. He pursed his lips. They wouldn't give him too much trouble if it came to a fight, but he could lose precious seconds.

Sophie introduced him, and Eliot noticed the way Beckett barely glanced to the hitter when Sophie spoke before looking back at her, eyes wider than they would normally be. She's already got this guy hook line an' sinker, he grinned internally.

This opinion was only further cemented when Beckett quickly signed the contract Sophie was holding, forgetting to look it over, thus missing the small changes in this draft that would give Sophie's fake company control over Beckett's. The success, however, didn't stop Nate from protesting, yet again, the mark's flirtatious nature, and Eliot found himself wishing he could force some sense into his boss, not for the first time.

He coughed quietly, attracting a bit of attention from the older bodyguard who was standing with the newbie. Eliot ignored the suspicious glance; it was worth piquing the guard's interest a bit if it got Nate to shut up.

Eliot winced internally when he heard the phone ring, but he didn't let it show on his features. When Beckett answered his cell he allowed himself a silent sigh of relief. For a moment Eliot had though his own cell had gone off in the middle of the job, and he'd need to do some quick thinking to get whoever was calling him to hang up without attracting unnecessary attention from Beckett or his guards. He was a hitter, and while he was comfortable in small roles like this one, Eliot knew he was no grifter. But the conversation he was overhearing made him forget his relief and he felt his heart pumping faster as it sensed a fight coming.

Listening carefully to the one side of the discussion he could hear, Eliot kept most of his attention on the guards. The older and more experienced two of the bunch didn't seem to respond to the interruption of the meeting, but Eliot was trained to read body language, and he noticed when the fists of one guard clenched and the other tightened his jaw. If that wasn't enough, the younger bodyguard tilted his head to the side where his earpiece was, and Eliot realized that the situation had changed a moment before Beckett's tone brought Sophie to the same conclusion.

"Damn!" Eliot whispered. He moved the chair a bit so that he'd be able to get up faster once this began; he could tell from the sudden tension in the younger guard's frame that this business meeting was over.

"You and your assistant are going to come with us, Ms. Blanchard. As well as your associates outside in the black van."

As the three guards began circling the table, Eliot's head was already working on autopilot, slipping into the same mindset he always took in a fight. One of the older guards was coming around his side of the table, but two guards had gone after Sophie. Obviously, these men had decided that, as the more out-spoken of the pair, Sophie was the more dangerous opponent. Eliot saved that though for a laugh later, and considered the best move to make. He could take out this punk without a second thought, then go for the two who were coming for Sophie. But that would put her in the line of fire, and the other two men, plus Beckett if he decided to get involved, might be able to hold Eliot off long enough to whisk Sophie away. But Beckett was a bureaucrat, he would let his men do the dirty work for him. Eliot could take the knife off one guard and use his life as leverage, but he knew Beckett was cold enough to ignore the threat. Eliot eyed his own briefcase on the table and Sophie's purse, hanging conveniently on her chair, and reviewed the placement of the knives on the older men.

By the time the bodyguards had cleared the ends of the table, Eliot had reviewed all the variables and stood up, plan of attack already traced out in his mind. He kept his eyes fixed on Sophie as the men tried to usher her around the table, but in his peripheral vision he measured, waiting until the third guard was close enough to…

Eliot took a half step backwards, pivoting on the ball of his left foot as he swung his right arm out, connecting the knuckles of his right fist to the guard's temple. The man dropped instantly and didn't move once he hit the floor.

Eliot grabbed the briefcase he'd brought to the meeting and spun it through the air, hitting the face of the man gripping Sophie's arm. He allowed himself half of a thought for relief that Sophie hadn't moved into it's track as it flew inches from her face, but he didn't have much time to ponder this as he moved on the two men.

Sophie had taken advantage of not having someone pulling her backwards to stumble toward the wall. Eliot growled under his breath as he traded blows with the guards: he'd told her to leave if anything like this happened.

The older guard came at him with a feinting punch-kick combo. Eliot let the light jab hit his upper arm, but blocked the kick and responded with a powerful knee to the gut that left the man gasping. He turned just in time to duck a punch from the younger guard, leveling a precise knuckle strike to the knot of muscles at the base of the man's right arm. The man cried out in pain and Eliot saw the obvious sign that he was about to attack when the muscles in his chest contracted, quickly moving so that the powerful kick the guard threw cleared him.

A lucky punch from the older guard caught his ear. Eliot allowed the force of the blow to propel him towards the younger of the two men, using the momentum from the motion to slam his elbow into the younger guard's forehead. Eliot grinned slightly in satisfaction: that was his favorite move.

The grin was wiped from his face when he heard Sophie's cry. He glanced over to her, ensuring that she was only frightened, not hurt. The short glance was long enough to give his opponent advantage, however, and a stronger blow connected with Eliot's jaw. He recoiled again, this time in an uncontrolled stumble, and missed the quiet snick that was a knife coming free from the guard's hidden sheath.


He looked up at Sophie's warning, stepping back just in time to avoid a swipe from the blade. The reaction had saved him lethal damage, but he grimaced as the knife managed to scratch his upper arm. He looked back and reached to Sophie's purse, using his considerable strength to slam the weighted bag into his opponent's face. The quick glance toward the table had shown him a new danger, however, and he started toward Sophie, ready to rush them both out of the room. A quick look at Beckett, however, told him that wasn't going to happen fast enough, and he spun, putting himself directly between Sophie and Beckett, right in the path of the gun the traitor had just pulled out.

Eliot had been shot before, way too many times, so he knew how to brace himself for the shot. He also knew how much it was going to hurt, but that didn't prepare him for the red-hot poker that lanced through his shoulder and out his back.

Eliot quickly considered the injury: it had passed between the bones of his shoulder and his collarbone, and didn't seem to have hit his scapula on the way out. He knew he was lucky; no major organs appeared to have been hit and he wasn't having trouble breathing. That being said, Eliot knew he needed medical attention or else he'd likely be more hurt by blood loss than the bullet's damage.

He turned toward Sophie, ignoring the surprised and angry look on Beckett's face, and said to her in a voice laced with agony "Get out!"

Sophie's whole body was tensed, her eyes impossibly wide, and Eliot could tell she was beyond listening to his instructions. He cursed in his mind. Sophie had broken character in Juan when Nate was shot; he should've expected how she would respond when she was the target. He tried to sum up the energy to tell Nate to get the grifter out, when the lightning bolts shooting from his shoulder throughout the rest of his body doubled with a blow that sent him stumbling backwards.

Disoriented by the sharp pulsing of pain that accompanied every breath and heartbeat, the punch to his face came out of nowhere, and forced Eliot back even further. He almost fell, but caught a glimpse of Sophie around the last guard standing. Her face was twisted in a horror and helplessness that he'd seen before, but never imagined on her pretty features. The sight had anger burning in his chest, and he ducked the second punch from the guard. He let fly a weak punch, but had the presence of mind to aim for the solar plexus, so even the relatively harmless blow had the man doubling somewhat.

Eliot took a quick stock of the situation. Nate was yelling in his ear, but Eliot discounted this when he ascertained that no important information was coming from that direction. The two guards he'd already knocked out hadn't gotten up, though the younger man was stirring slightly on the floor. Sophie was splayed against the wall, and Eliot's eyes widened at the blood trickling down her shoulder. He decided to ignore this until they were out of danger, and lifted his gaze to her face to see how she was taking the situation…

only to follow her absolutely stricken stare across the table to where Beckett had raised the gun again. Taking lightning-fast measurements Eliot realized that he couldn't block this bullet as well, he was too far away. But maybe there was something he could do…

The guard he had knocked the wind out of had recovered, and took a step forward, threatening to take down the smaller figure of Eliot with his weight alone. In Eliot's weakened state, he probably could have, too. But the hitter felt a surge of strength that came from his desperation, and, planting both palms flat on the guard's chest, heaved with all his might.

The man flew through the air at the same moment as Beckett let the second bullet fly. A red flower bloomed on the man's shirt under his arm as he fell, but Eliot was already stalking around the table toward Beckett, concentrating on the ways he would punish the man who dared try and hurt someone he cared about, temporarily forgetting the burning pain in his chest. He looked at Sophie quickly, just to be sure that she was alright, and couldn't help but try and smile at her. He was about to tell her to leave, again, but before he could try a white-hot explosion took place in the lower right side of his chest. He was thrown by the force of it, but managed to catch himself on the oak table.

Gritting his teeth to keep the multi-lingual expletives that ran through his head from bursting out, Eliot's eyes rolled back from the pain. Instantly he could tell that he hadn't been as lucky with this shot. The bullet had managed to break at least one of his ribs and either bullet or bone had pierced his lung. He could already feel his chest getting tight as blood began to fill the lung and became dizzy as the blood loss made his head spin. Correctly identifying the spatters of blood that came from his mouth whenever he breathed as 'really freakin' bad,' he almost succumbed to the pain, but the whimpers he heard kept him attached to consciousness.

Eliot lifted his head enough to connect his gaze with Sophie's dark brown eyes. Every thought in his mind was concentrated on sending the message for her to get out of here, now. The moment seemed to stretch, as Eliot noticed the small spasms making her muscles twitch and the way her breaths seemed constricted in her chest. Her hands were shaking and her pupils were dilated in fear. Eliot realized she was in shock, unable to move. This thought gave him the will to spin around, and with the last traces of energy in his body he slammed his fist up into Beckett's chin.

His sharp senses caught the fear in Beckett's eyes and the sound of breath leaving the man's mouth in a forced puff as he spun. Eliot also saw the way Beckett's arm came up as he fell, and knew with an ironic appreciation of his luck what was going to happen an instant before the sound of the fourth gunshot pounded the walls of the room.

Eliot let out a high screech of pain as the bullet caught the thick muscles in his thigh, the lack of support immediately causing him to crumple to the ground. Writhing in uncontrollable spasms from the pain, Eliot had one thought at the forefront of his mind. He locked eyes with Sophie and whispered what he was sure would be his last to his friend.

"Get the team out."

Tugging on my arms, sending pain through my wounds… don't make a sound, don't let them know you're conscious… They're taking me for more torture, best to play dead for as long as I can… can't tell them where the monkey is…

"Help me get him up!"

Wait… that's Parker!… gotta stand up, get away… don't know where we are, but Parker's tryin' ta get me out, gotta be bad…

"Can I have some help here, Sophie?"

Sophie! She's hurt… I remember that… Why's she takin' off her jacket… Damn! Ow! What's she…

"Come here, you can help."

Nate… Ahhh! What are you doing?!…

That's an IV… why is he…

"…se are we?" "Four minutes." "Two minutes."…


"We're here!"

Ow!… just lemme sleep… stop movin'…

"We've got a pulse!" "Blood pressure's 65 over 35, we gotta get this guy a transfusion!"

Oxygen mask… who are these people?!…

"He's moving!" "Sir, we're here to help, you have to calm down!"

Let me go!… Ow, stop!…

"Somebody get the Haldol!"

"…get out, but when all that was happening, I was just… I don't know, and I'm sorry for not listening to you. I know I'm repeating myself, but I can't even begin to explain how bad I feel for not helping you at all. When I saw you bleeding there, on the floor, I…"

Eliot didn't move, acclimating himself to the feeling of the breathing tube that was stuffed down his throat and made him feel like he was suffocating. For a few seconds he let the machine breath for him; he'd woken up in hospitals more often than was probably healthy and knew not to freak out at the tube. When he heard Sophie start quietly sobbing, however, he was compelled to open his eyes and get her attention.

"Wha- Eliot?!" Sophie's eyes were red and puffy from crying, but a huge smile lit up her face as she leapt from her seat. She went to hug him, then took an awkward step back, realizing that might not have a positive affect on the situation.

"Well, I'll just- I can't believe you're- you have no idea how- I, I'll…" She shook her head and squeezed his hand before rushing out of the room.

Eliot took the opportunity to re-check his injuries. He presumed he was under the influence of pretty potent drugs, since the gunshot wounds were no more than an ache. However, he suddenly remembered that Sophie was injured as well, and along with that came a renewed dislike for the effects of painkillers in dampening the senses he needed to protect himself and his team.

Keeping him from stewing on this point for too long was the return of Sophie along with a blonde woman in green scrubs. He lay still, patiently waiting until he was able to breathe under his own volition.

"Mr. Elliot? I'm your case nurse, Bunny. We're going to get you off that ventilator, alright?"

Eliot nodded enough to indicate an affirmative response without moving the breathing tube too much. He followed the nurse's instructions, exhaling to remove the tube, then took a small sip of the water Sophie had anxiously handed him. The cool water helped alleviate the burn in his throat from the tube, but it did nothing for the residual pain in his lung from exhaling to remove it. Ignoring this pain, Eliot let loose a flirtatious grin. "Are you here to take my blood pressure?"

Bunny laughed, and a bit of tension seemed to leave Sophie's shoulders. "Not right now, and before you ask, I'm not the one who does sponge baths either." She made a quick notation on the chart before leaving the room with a smile, wishing 'Conner' would start get well soon.

"I see you're feeling better," Sophie remarked as she sat back down to next to Eliot's bed.

"I think I have these to thank for that," Eliot quipped, tugging lightly on the IV that led to the bags of painkillers. "Where are the others?" He asked, having noticed the three empty chairs beside Sophie's.

"Hardison took them to the cafeteria, they were getting a bit uncomfortable."

"Hardison?" Eliot shifted, and Sophie helped adjust the bed so that he was in a more raised position. He tried to hide the winces that came when the motion tugged on the two wounds in his chest, but Sophie noticed them and rubbed his wrist comfortingly. "Yes, he's been remarkably stoic throughout this ordeal. He really took control when Parker was getting ready to jump out a window and Nate tried to drink this place out of coffee."

Eliot smiled, pleasantly surprised. "That's good."

Sophie sat down, her happy expression slipping. "Eliot, I-" She fumbled with her words, and Eliot could tell she was about to apologize again.

"Sophie-" he cut her off before she could get started. "I'm fine. You don't have anything to be sorry for."

"Fine?!" She said loudly, voice shooting up two octaves. "You're in a bloody hospital Eliot! You were shot three times, plus stabbed, and you want to tell me you're fine?! You almost died in the van!" Her voice caught on the last sentence and she stood up, attempting to pace the small room. When she was close enough Eliot caught her hand.

"Sophie. Sophie!" He tugged on her arm until she looked him in the eyes. "I'm a hitter! This is what I do." Knowing that this wasn't enough of an explanation, he sighed and gestured for her to take her seat again. She acquiesced after seeing how the motion made him flinch in pain, switching between an angry glare and a pitying, apologetic expression.

"I've been shot before," Eliot began, holding up his hand to stop her from interrupting. "I've been shot worse than this, and there've been times where I haven't had all this technology an' drugs to help me out. And more times than I wanna admit, I got hurt because I did sumthin' stupid. This time, I got hurt to protect someone I care about." He let that sink in for a moment, and when Sophie looked more pitying at his admittance than sorry, he continued. "And you've got nothin' ta feel bad for. I don't blame you for not doin' anything to help me in the fight, that's not your job. I'm just glad ya didn't get hurt worse than ya did. How is that anyway?" He gestured toward her shoulder.

She looked surprised. "This? It's nothing, I didn't even notice it 'til a while after we got here. But," she sighed, "I still feel like I should've done something. I just stood there and watched."

"You think I'd rather you got involved, got hurt? Yer not a fighter, Soph," he said bluntly. "It might've been tougher if ya had stepped in. An' you warned me, about the knife, I didn't see that coming." He completed the compliment with one of his dazzling smiles, and saw Sophie smile a bit herself.

"I just wish there was something I could've done."

"Ya did more than enough," Eliot said convincingly. "I remember you sacrificed one of yer jackets for me," he grinned.

Sophie let out an authentic laugh. "That was nothing, really. I'm glad you're alright, Eliot," she said honestly.

He nodded. "I am too," he replied, startling another laugh out of her. "Now where're the others? Don't I get any visitors?"

Sophie stood up. "I'll get them," she left with a smile.

The door to his room opened, waking Eliot from a dreamy doze. He blinked a few times and smiled when he recognized the blonde hair.

"Hey Park…er?" He trailed off awkwardly when she pointedly ignored him and went to the window that gave the doctors on the floor a view of his bed. She looked through the window carefully, then snapped the blinds shut. After waiting a few seconds in an absolutely quiet and still pose, she relaxed and sat down next to the bed. Eliot watched in amused silence.

"What was that about?" He rasped, throat still sore from the breathing tube.

"I feel bad for goldfish," she replied, looking straight in his eyes.

Eliot waited for a moment just in case she started laughing or something, but she continued to stare at him seriously. "There's sumthin' wrong with you." He shook his head.

Parker didn't respond, but continued to stare at him. When her eyes narrowed slightly, Eliot recognized the expression: she usually wore it during down times at Nate's apartment, when she'd watch the team for hours on end. It was one of the few times she was ever still, and Eliot, seeing it as a blessing, never interfered with the strange ritual, assuming it had some significance to her. Glad for the normal (or at least as normal as you could get with Parker) he responded as he always did.

"You need anything Parker?"

Instead of responding as she always did, with a quick shake of the head, Parker's eyes started to fill up with tears. Eliot was shocked beyond words when they started to trickle down her face, and she let out a small whisper before giving him a huge hug.



Both occupants of the room looked up, surprised, when Hardison's voice interrupted their conversation. They saw the hacker's head poked tentatively around the doorframe, and Eliot waved him in.

"Is everything alright in here?" Hardison asked nervously. "We were gettin' a bit nervous."

"I think we're alright, huh Parker?" Eliot said. The only flaw to the good-natured tone that occasionally crept into his voice was a bit of leftover rasp, and that had almost disappeared. Parker smiled at him in response, the tears long since dried up. She stood up from the chair next to Eliot's bed and walked to the door.

"Your turn," she said to Hardison before leaving the room. Hardison winced as she let the door slam behind her, but perched stiffly in the seat she'd emptied. "How you feelin'?" Hardison asked Eliot cautiously.

The hitter inspected the younger man. His skin was paler than usual, even if it was hard to tell, and there were thick bags under the hacker's eyes and lines on his face that couldn't be explained by his usual obsession with staring at a computer screen, or even from a lack of sleep. Those were stress and worry lines, and Eliot noticed that the usually well-dressed, if fashion-less man hadn't changed his clothes since the beginning of the job, some two days ago.

"Could be better," Eliot answered succinctly. Not wanted to get further into that, he deflected. "You're the one who looks like you oughta be in bed."

To Eliot's surprise, Hardison doesn't defend his appearance or make a joke or anything. Instead, he sighed and relaxeds into the chair. "I feel like I could sleep for a year." He looked straight into Eliot's eyes. "Don't do this ta us again, man."

Eliot was thrown by how humorless the young man's voice sounded. As optimistic and happy-go-lucky and naïve as the hacker was, it was easy to forget that sometimes, he could be more intuitive than Sophie and more somber than Nate. He held Hardison's strong gaze and answered honestly. "I'll try my best."

After a few moments, Hardison nodded slightly and looked away. Eliot was slightly disconcerted that he'd just had an actual moment of male bonding with the geek, but then, Hardison had already proven he deserved more credit than Eliot gave him, if Sophie's words were anything to go by. "I heard you stepped up while I was out."

"They needed me," Hardison answered. His voice was sure, but there was a hint of surprise and confusion. "Sophie didn't say a word fer hours an' Parker was even weirder than usual, an' Nate was way too shaken up to do anything about it." He looked like he was about to continue, but the words seemed caught in his throat and he closed his mouth eventually.

"Thank you." Hardison's eyes shot to Eliot; the expression would've been laughable if it weren't for the situation (and the fact that laughing would make his chest feel like it was on fire). After being stared at for a few seconds, Eliot elaborated. "I need to know that the team isn't gonna fall apart if and when sumthin' happens to me. I know I can trust you ta make sure that doesn't happen."

Hardison's face was now purely comical with shock, and Eliot let a smirk shine through as he reached his hand out to the younger man. It was his left, seeing as that was about all he could move right then, but when he clasped Hardison's hand firmly in his it wasn't the conventions that mattered.

After a few moments, Eliot correctly identified the look in Hardison's eyes. "Come on, you know you wanna," he gave up, and the hacker pulled him into a manhug, being careful not to nudge any of Eliot's wounds.

Hardison stood up before the hug became too awkward and opened to door to the room. Parker skipped in immediately like she'd been waiting right outside the door, and Sophie strolled in at a leisurely pace, completely hiding the emotions that had torn her up minutes before.

A few seconds after that, Nate walked in slowly, a cup of coffee clenched tightly in his hand. The other three made a production of shuffling around and bickering about seating, allowing Nate a measure of privacy as he stood beside Eliot's bed. The team leader put the coffee down on the nearest chair and took Eliot's left hand in his right, staring into the hitter's eyes. Eliot held his gaze and read the depth of the emotions that the uptight and afraid man would never say aloud. He gave the older man an accepting smile and nodded reassuringly when Nate's hand other hand patted his injured shoulder with an almost tender pressure. After a few long moments, Nate let out a deep breath and turned to the team, a real smile coming over his face at long last.

"Hardison? What have we got?"