A/N: I know I'm late, WAY late, but seriously people. My poor baby got beat bad in The Tap Out Job. And that swollen eye?? Yowza. I know they took him for a CT scan but, c'mon. There's some whump in there somewhere…-pj

Disclaimer: Don't own them. Not even a little bit. ::makes sad face::


Eliot bit his lip, his head was throbbing and his shoulder was sore, but he forced himself to stand steady. It wasn't anything he couldn't handle.

"So what do you say? You'll take over the gym?" he asked, peering at Mark with his non-swollen eye. He'd gone against doctor's advice to be there that day and he could feel his team's eyes on him when he wasn't looking, but he ignored it.

They were overprotective; they still didn't understand that this was part of his job. He could handle getting pounded and icing his own wounds afterward. He'd been getting smacked around long before he was paid to do it and had been taking care of himself afterward just as long.

He'd wanted to be there when they told Mark and his dad about the gym. This con had hit closest to home of any of them for Eliot and a part of him wanted to see the looks on their faces when they realized they had a way out now.

Besides, the team needed to leave town as soon as possible.

They bid the two men farewell as they eagerly began their plans for their new gym and Eliot pulled up the rear of the group as they filed outside.

He swallowed a groan as he bent to slide through the ropes of the ring and hid a wince when going down the stairs put uncomfortable strain on his sore legs and the elevation shift made the throbbing flare up behind his eyes. He was glad the others were already outside, too distracted to notice him. Their concern had been only just bearable so far, any outward show of weakness would most certainly push it over the edge.

He was almost through the door when the world titled violently and his hand flew out to grab hold of the door frame to keep himself steady, screwing his eyes shut.

"Eliot, are you alright?" Sophie had noticed Eliot lagging behind and turned when he was gone altogether. He was propped up against the door of Rutkers' Gym, his eyes closed and lines of pain around his mouth were visible on his unusually pale skin.

At her words Eliot opened his eyes to glare at her, though he may have only been squinting against the sun.

"Fine Sophie," he assured her, pushing off the door to walk toward them, slower than usual but not enough to call attention. They were all piling into the towncar Nate had rented and she watched him get in, his stance almost too relaxed for Sophie's liking.

Nate, who'd been watching the exchange over the top of the car, caught Sophie's eyes as she turned to get in, the concern he saw there ratcheting up his own.

Once inside Eliot glared at the headrest of Sophie's seat until the sound of Hardison's fingers tapping on the computer started and Nate quit throwing quick glances at him in the rear view mirror. Then Eliot allowed himself to relax a bit, leaning his head back and letting his eyes drift shut when the car lurched out into traffic.

Eliot made his breath come even and slow. In through the nose, out through the mouth. He knew it to be the best way to fight the waves of nausea that cascaded against him.

"Stop staring at me, Parker," He ground out, not opening his eyes.

Parker frowned, "you look like you're going to be sick."

Eliot didn't respond, afraid to prove her right.

"You really don't look so good, man," Hardison piped up from the opposite side of the car. He hadn't even stopped typing.

Eliot clenched his teeth and opened his eyes, only to regret it immediately and close them again. This headache was unreal.

"I'll be fine, guys, okay? This," he paused to swallow hard against an unexpected flare up of nausea, hoping the team wouldn't pick up on the undercurrent of strain in his voice. "This is what I do, okay? I'm a hitter. I hit. I get hit."

"Yeah, but you're usually trying to avoid getting hit," Parker pointed out, "not letting yourself take a beating like that."

"That's a good point," Sophie said to Nate and then twisted around in her seat to face the others, "She makes a good point, Eliot."

Eliot reached up to rub his face, taking care to avoid his bruised eye and breathing slowly, now to keep his temper in check instead of his stomach. They were well meaning, he knew they were. But between the headache, sore shoulder, nausea and exhaustion his patience for their worry was unusually short.

Nate glanced in the mirror, he could see Eliot's hands trembling slightly as he pressed them against his temples and a quick glance around told him he was not the only one.

Eliot, feeling the concern-heavy silence beginning to suffocate him, let out a small growl that was meant to be a weary sigh, "I'm fine. I'm not going to say it again."

The veiled threat fell on deaf ears. Parker and Hardison exchanged a glance and Sophie bit her lip, frowning at Nate.

"I don't know, Nate. Maybe we ought to go back to the hospital."

"No Sophie, we can't," Eliot protested immediately, finally opening his eyes and looking at her, though the action seemed to cost him, "you guys are all burned after the Trianna concert and I'm known from the fight last night. This town is too small for us to hang around much longer. You know I'm right."

Sophie sighed and turned back around to the front.

He was right.

Eliot frowned and clenched his teeth again, regretting getting so worked up and put his head back again, trying to find a comfortable position in the cramped back seat.

But between the headache, irritation and sore muscles, the damage was already done.

"Nate, pull over," he grunted, abandoning all pretense of 'fine' and doubling over in the seat, arms wrapped around his rebellious stomach. Parker tilted her head curiously at him while Hardison's eyes widened.


Finally the man found an opening and pulled over as fast as he could without throwing them around too much in the back seat.

Eliot fumbled with the door handle and then threw it open just in time to empty the contents of his stomach onto the side of the road.

Parker helpfully unbuckled his seat belt and then peered over his shoulder.

"Green hospital jello does that to me too," she said, trying to sound sympathetic.

Hardison slapped his hand against his mouth, choking back a gag while Sophie and Nate jumped out of the car to help Eliot half fall, half crawl out of the car and sit on the ground.

"He's not sick from the Jello, Parker," Sophie said, her tone just slightly edgy with concern she wasn't used to feeling so acutely, "and you are not 'fine', Eliot, not in any sense of the word."

Eliot dropped his chin to his chest and leaned back against the car, his hands massaging his temples, temporarily zoning them all out as he tried to regain either control or composure.

Sophie stood just outside her opened door while Parker and Hardison peered at him from the back seat.

"Nate," the grifter said. He looked up from where he sat beside Eliot, trying to keep the hitter upright, "he can't go on a plane like this. It would be dangerous with just a head injury but when he's like this? It's suicide."

"The man needs a doctor." Hardison proposed again.

There was a mumbled rejection from Eliot, which Parker seemed to have understood perfectly.

"He's right. We're too hot right now for hospitals."

"That may be but no job is worth your life, Eliot," Nate said, "we'll figure something out."

Eliot slowly lifted his head, his skullcap all but covering his eyes and took a few deep breaths.

"Just need some rest. Lay down," Eliot said, unusually breathless and quiet, "If I don't feel better tomorrow, we can go to the hospital."

Nate frowned but nodded, it was the best he would get and he wasn't too proud to take it.

"Alright, we'll find a hotel in another town and hold up for a while." Nate said, feeling the knot of worry in him loosen knowing they had a plan, "Hardison, you got something he can rinse his mouth out with?"

The man disappeared back inside the car and and came back with a warm bottle of orange soda.

Eliot made a face but accepted it.

"Couldn't make you worse, right?" Sophie said, encouraged him to take a few sips.

A few moments later, Eliot found out she was wrong.


Eliot frowned, instantly irritated at being brought out of a largely painless unconsciousness and dropped back into an entirely too painful reality.

"Eliot, Thursday, Omaha pulling a con, Eggs and Chicken Fried Steak." He said, not opening his eyes but pressing his hands to his temples to keep his brain in.

"Eliot, we're not waking you to check your concussion," he heard a soft, accented voice tell him.


"Nope. We're here, Sparky."

And Parker.

Finally he pried open his eyes, and if a small whimper escaped him at being bombarded by unobstructed mid afternoon sunlight, the two women had the grace not to mention it.

He peered up at the hotel briefly before getting out, counting the number of levels and possible entry points out of pure force of habit. It was a mid level establishment, small enough not to call undue attention, big enough not to require Hardison to 'hack a hick'.

He turned and rose slowly from the back seat, his muscles stiff and protesting, but quickly shrugged off hands meant to help.

Sophie suppressed a frustrated sigh as Eliot jerked away from her and threw a look at Parker, who just shrugged and moved to follow the stubborn man inside.

Nate was approaching from the counter, having gotten the keys to the rooms Hardison had arranged for them while the man parked the car, and saw Sophie and Parker hovering behind and to the right of Eliot as the hitter slowly made his way inside.

Reading the frustration on Sophie's face and the uncertainty on Parker's, he guessed at what had happened and sidled up to Eliot, walking close enough to catch him should he stumble, without actually touching.


"You're fine," he interrupted, pushing the elevator button and keeping his eyes facing forward, "we know. But, just so you know: if you're not, it's okay to say so."

Eliot's skullcap had been dropped somewhere in the car and he'd let his hair down to cover his swollen eye from curious onlookers in the lobby, but Nate felt the glare all the same and steadfastly ignored it. Eliot pushed ahead to get on the lift first when it came with Nate, Sophie and Parker piling in behind him, and leaned back against the wall, his entire body demanding he go back to bed or sleep or something.

He followed quietly down the hallway when they got to their floor. He would have killed for some really good painkillers right about then. But he wasn't on his own this time.

He had the team to think about and his every instinct was telling him to suck it up and sleep this off the old fashioned way. He would be fine tomorrow, that much he knew, but it was exhausting keeping up the façade of strength when he felt like a soccer ball after the World Cup.

Nate handed Sophie one card key and kept the other.

"Parker, you room with Sophie. Hardison, Eliot and I will take the other."

"Nate are you sure Eliot wouldn't rather-" Sophie started to protest.

"Eliot is fine with those arrangements," Eliot interrupted. He glanced at Sophie and was momentarily startled by the concern laced with hurt in her eyes. A look at Parker revealed a similar expression, though much more toned down and perhaps a bit awkward, on the blonde's face.

He sighed, shifting his sore arm against himself. "Look I, um," he started when Sophie started to turn away to open the door. She paused at his voice and turned back.

"I..." he faltered upon being faced with both of their expectant looks.


Sophie smiled softly at him and nodded, watching as he turned to follow Nate down the hall. Parker wrinkled her nose and looked at the grifter.

"For what? Isn't this what families are for?"


Eliot sighed heavily when he sat on the bed and Nate watched out of the corner of his eye, under the pretense of examining the contents of the mini-bar, as he finally allowed himself to unwind. His head was bowed forward, his body lines tense with pain and fatigue. He favored his arm, though the nausea seemed to have died down, but maybe that was just because his stomach was empty, and the headache was obviously still bothering him.

Nate grabbed a bottle of water and stood. He expected Eliot to lay down and go to sleep as soon as they got to the room, but he was still sitting, stubbornly staring at the floor.

"Eliot?" Nate bit his tongue to keep from completing the statement that was going to end with something suspiciously similar to 'are you alright', knowing the hitter would not appreciate such an obvious question.

Eliot sighed again and lifted his head, flicking his hair out of his face and then winced when the reflexive action caused him unexpected pain.

Nate waited, reading the hesitance on his face and waited, trying not to frown.

"You uh...you got any painkillers?"

Nate felt his mouth drop slightly, taken aback that Eliot had just admitted, not only pain but the desire for help. All in the same sentence.

"Yeah, I do," he said, walking over to bag reaching in to where he still kept his 'hangover' kit.

Eliot stared at the pills Nate offered to him and for a moment before taking and swallowing them dry. He closed his eyes then and groaned slightly as he turned to lay down.

Nate went to the bathroom for the ice bucket he'd requested be left there while Eliot situated himself and returned to press the towel wrapped ice into Eliot's hand, who grunted his thanks and rested it against his shoulder. Slowly, the lines of pain on his face dissipated and his breathing evened out.

Nate went to the other bed, unpacking a few things he would need and trying to keep himself from staring at the younger man, not wanting to disturb him as he already so uncomfortable under the team's watchful eye.


The mastermind almost jumped at the sound of Eliot's voice and turned to face him. He'd been sure he was sleeping by now.

"Yeah?" he asked, surprised to see both of Eliot's eyes open and staring at him.

"I don't," he paused, frowning slightly, "pain meds make me…fuzzy. I don't usually take them." He trailed off like there was more he wanted to say but couldn't figure out how to word it.

Nate nodded, understanding. He was the team leader, after all, and he knew his team. Knew their skills, their weaknesses and their perceptions, even of themselves.

And it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Eliot saw himself as the protector of their team. And that it would take a firm trust indeed for him to place that responsibility on someone else's head, if even just for a few hours.

"Don't worry, Eliot," Nate told him, "I'll take care of them for you." He almost started to laugh at how corny it sounded to say out loud, but at seeing the intensity in Eliot's eyes melt into something akin to relaxation, he could only solemnly nod.

Eliot nodded in return, seeming to accept his assurance, and laid his head back down, closing his eyes.

Nate looked up when the door opened again and Hardison entered. He glanced over at Eliot as he crossed the room, coming to stand beside Nate.

"How is he?" he asked quietly, clearly unused to seeing his strong friend in such a state.

Nate looked back over at Eliot, resting in a drug induced slumber. Injured. Vulnerable.

Okay with that. Trusting that he was safe with his team. That they would be safe while he slept.

"Yeah Hardison," Nate nodded, "He's gonna be fine."

END - hope you liked it!