Disclaimer: Not mine, yada yada.
Notes: Editing because of noob posting whoops :(
I wrote what was supposed to be a one-shot, but then I got bit by the "then what happened?" bug and started playing with this a bit. It continues on from it, but if it works like I think it does it can also be read by itself, without having to know what happened in the previous story "wrong with you", except maybe that I killed Parker. Sorry. The big helpings of hurt continue, along with the smidegonly comfort.
Concrit: Always welcome.
It was silent. Too silent, one heartbeat where there should have been two, one mouth panting air.
Inhale, exhale. Simple. It had always been simple to keep breathing. It hadn't always been easy, but it had never been this hard.
He couldn't tell how long it took Nate to get there. Not long, probably, but still too late. Too slow.
Inhale, exhale. He was rocking, and he didn't know when he'd started. Rocking with the slender bundle he held, like his body thought its own movement could restore movement to hers.
Too slow. Not fast enough. Not faster than a wildass punk gunshot. Not fast enough.
The screech of tires registered in his ears, but he hurt, he hurt all over and the tires meant that Nate was here. Nate with the plan, Nate in control, Nate scrambling like a mad thing to keep loss from destroying him ever again. Nate, who trusted him to keep them all safe.
He couldn't look up. Couldn't face Nate sprinting desperately toward his child's death all over again. He squeezed his eyes shut and buried his head against her thin, limp shoulder. Inhale, exhale, only now he couldn't seem to get enough air.
Death. He fought death, all the time, every week it seemed like. Fought it to a standstill. He knew how to fight death. It was what he did. It wasn't hard. It came naturally, to smash the obstacles stacked up against staying alive, against achieving the objective. Spot the faultline, let slip the leash on himself and punch through. And, lately, the last two years or so, aiming himself at the team's obstacles. It wasn't hard, it was what he did, it was what he did and he was better at it than damn near anyone else. He just needed to work this out. Just needed to hold on to her until he could find how to fight death for her, for all of them, this time.
"Eliot!" Nate's shout echoed across the warehouse, pounding footsteps. "Eliot! Where are you?"
He couldn't make himself answer, couldn't leave this moment where he'd find the way to fight. He'd never get it back.
"Eliot!" The quality of the sound changed. Line-of-sight. Things he didn't have to even think about, vectors of moving people, where they were and what they were doing and the optimal approach to take them out. They were just there, in his brain, waiting to be used.
"Eliot!" Rushing toward him. Very distinctive footsteps. Hands grabbing at his shoulder, his arm. "Let me – Eliot – is she –"
Sirens shrieked, getting closer. He'd called 911, in those few moments when he'd allowed himself to hope, before he really looked at the bullet hole below her ribs. They distracted Nate, thank God; springing upright, he strode back and forth barking orders into thin air. They must have put their coms in when Nate got Eliot's call. There'd been no reason to wear them today.
"Hardison, can you hear me? We got incoming paramedics, we got five guys knocked out here, there are going to be police. You gotta – yeah right now – Hardison!"
The din became unbearable, then cut out. Nate stopped making sure the hacker was covering their tracks and started yelling for help instead. "Over here! She's shot!"
Noisy, it was still too damn noisy, too many people, too many factors. He hunched in tighter around her body even as the paramedics reached their side.
"Sir? Sir, you need to let us – sir, can you – sir!"
There it was, temper hot and sharp, snapping his head up to snarl at the guy who'd grabbed at his wrist.
"Whoa, whoa." Nate was pushing in between them immediately, squatting down to commandeer his attention. "Eliot."
Swear to God, he was beginning to hate the sound of his name. He stared at Nate, just daring him to say it again.
But Nate silently locked eyes and held his ground, lifting both hands in placation. Waiting a beat, he very carefully lowered them until they curled around Eliot's clenched fists. "They need to look at her," he said softly, all but hiding the strain of his urgency. "They need you to let go of her."
For one long, numb moment he returned Nate's look, clinging to his own personal stillness, begging it to somehow make all this not be real. But that kind of stillness could only be overloaded so far. He eased past breaking point, into the now, with the barest eye-flicker tell, but Nate caught it anyway.
He let Nate's fingers tug at his, let him pry him away, and staggered back, away from the flurry of people descending on her body. He watched grimly, wobbly on legs aching with returning circulation, dreading the moment Nate knew. Cowardly, intensely grateful that it would not be him, that he would not have to get the words Parker's dead past his teeth.
He didn't know if those were words he even could say.
It wouldn't take long. Paramedics could spot extinction of life beyond hope well enough, if not as well as him; he didn't need to follow their progression to know what they were saying. His eyes stayed on Nate, frozen beside the activity.
I'm sorry, sir. He couldn't hear the words, but it was all in Nate's recoil. The older man sagged, folding down beside Parker, shaking all over. His hand, trembling, stretched out to take hers, bringing it against his chest, head and shoulders bowing around it.
Eliot would almost have prefered screaming to the harsh silence of Nate's grief, wanted to howl in the deafening tension of it. But this was Nate's time, he needed to let it be that, so he coiled his rage inward instead until it became a hard, cold knot of savagery. Waiting to be used.
Nate laid a hand on her forehead, closed his eyes. A benediction and farewell. Then with a jerk he gathered himself up, and Eliot's whole body tensed, braced for impact. For a wild moment when Nate turned toward him he nearly expected him to saunter over, grin insolently, and say So let's go steal us a resurrection.
Nate barely seemed to see him, making for him instinctively as if tugged by a familiar anchor. Eliot tracked the storm of bewilderment and despair and wrath across Nate's face, intent on finding some idea of what hit he was going to take. But when Nate came to a stop by him, all that showed was his struggle to gain some kind of command of the situation.
After a few minutes Nate glanced across at him, clearing his throat twice before he could speak. "What happened?"
Eliot's jaw clenched. "Jumped us." He met Nate's eyes unflinchingly. "Too quick."
Nate showed no surprise at his terseness, knowing how much effort extra words took right now. "They were sent?"
Eliot didn't hesitate. "Yes."
He stared at Nate for a long beat, then looked away, clamping his lips against his immediate retort. He scrubbed at the tears and snot, that had been drying unheeded on his face, while he reinforced his composure. Inhale. Exhale.
"Shot first, no warning. Wanted us dead."
Nate nodded, processing the information, studying him closely for the first time. Eliot felt himself go stonefaced under the scrutiny, but didn't look away, waiting for accusation, anger, pity, attempted absolution, summary dismissal, even a punch; anything, really, apart from a hug. Every one of them would hurt, because he hurt all over, but it didn't matter. Only one thing did.
Nate's shrewd eyes narrowed. "This revenge belongs to all of us, Eliot," he said vehemently. "Not just you."
Eliot scowled. "You don't kill," he ground out. He wanted to annihilate these people. And no matter what happened, he would protect the rest of the team from crossing that line, or from following him down that far if it went wrong.
Nate gave him a tight, vicious smile and ennunciated every word. "I promise you, kill or no kill, we will destroy that man. I promise."
It took him by surprise that he was soothed just a little by Nate's implacable vengefulness, comforted just a little at not being alone with this. "Okay," he finally whispered hoarsely.
"Okay," Nate echoed.
He couldn't help but ask. "And ... Sophie?"
Nate drew a long, bleak breath. Eventually he nodded. "I'll go. She'll want in. She'll come back, if only for this." His mouth firmed pitilessly. "And then we'll go steal us our retribution."