Breathing Slowly

AN: This is a strange story concept. Well, at least as far as my writing goes. I'm not really sure I pulled it off. Also, this is my first attempt at Leverage fic so any con-crit would be much appreciated!

This is for Story Lottery prompt # 20 - a hot-air balloon.

***

The wind blew gently all around, rocking the basket from side to side. She thought she heard seagulls crying in the distance, though why there were seagulls around, Parker didn't know. After all, she hadn't been by the ocean when she left the ground. But then that had been forever ago, so who knows where she was now.

The air felt good up here. It was that perfect temperature where it was just chilly enough that you might want a jacket, but not so cold that you wanted to go inside.

It was also very peaceful up here. The floating and swaying of the basket was almost enough to lull her to sleep. And she did feel very sleepy, come to think of it. That's strange. Parker's eyes raked over her surroundings, taking everything in. There was nothing in the basket apart from her. She idly wondered if that was a problem. She had never been in a hot-air balloon before.

She frowned. How did she get up here anyway? Wasn't she supposed to be working on a con? A silvery bird suddenly flew across her line of sight, scattering her thoughts. The bird was awfully pretty. She wondered where it was going. Was it running from something? Or was it flying off to meet its family?

Family

Parker frowned again. She really felt like she should be doing something right now, but she was having trouble thinking. She felt a little light-headed. Maybe she should check where she was at. She carefully stood up and walked over to the edge of the basket.

The view was foggy off in the distance. Looking down, Parker saw squares of fields, neatly fitted together. She giggled. She must be really high. It looked just like those shots they do in the movies when someone looks down from an airplane. She spied a giant lake off to the right. She tried to take a deep breath to see if she could smell it from here, but she found she couldn't inhale. It was like the air was too thick, almost solid instead of a gas. That can't be right. Air isn't solid.

Parker glanced down again and found herself contemplating what it would be like to fall from this height. The concept was dizzying. It would be like flying, she decided. Far closer to flying than anything she's done before anyway. She wondered if she would even stay conscious until impact or if she would black-out long before then.

The basket was getting more and more stuffy by the second. She shook her head and looked around at her now prison-like surroundings. It no longer felt peaceful here. Not with the increasing pressure and ache in her chest. She leaned over the side and watched the sunlight dance on the fields below. She made her decision.

Slowly, she hoisted herself up, arms braced on the edge of the basket. She pulled one leg up and over the top.

"Parker!"

Startled, she slid back until both feet were on the ground again. She knew that voice.

"Hardison!" she tried yelling, but the words wouldn't come out. She spun around expecting to see him, but she was still alone in the basket.

"Parker!" came the voice again. Was it over the coms? Parker reached for her ear piece and realized she wasn't wearing hers. Where was he?

"Hardison!" she tried shouting again, eyes scanning the surrounding skies. Still no sound came out.

"Parker, baby, you gotta wake up. Come on!"

Wake up? Parker was confused. She was awake. She hadn't fallen asleep. Or had she? Now she couldn't remember.

"Hardison, where are you?" Her lips moved, but her ears heard nothing.

"Damnit! Breathe girl!"

"I am, Hardison!" She felt the ache in her chest again. Oh, maybe she wasn't. She tried inhaling again because he told her to. He had sounded awfully worried when he shouted. Nothing entered her lungs, though. The air was still too thick.

Parker shook her head. She needed to get down from here. It was too suffocating in this balloon. She glanced down at the ground far below. She needed to jump.

"Parker! Stay with me, now!"

"It hurts up here, Hardison," she thought. "You need to let me fall." She braced herself on the basket's edge.

"Parker!"

"It's going to be alright, Hardison. It's just like jumping from a really tall building." Parker swung her feet over so she was now sitting on the rim of the basket.

"Just breathe! Please. Do it for me."

Parker tightened her grip on the basket as the winds shifted and jostled the balloon. She tried inhaling one more time, taking a deep, deep breath, trying to force some air into her lungs. Finally, the wall crumbled a little, letting some oxygen in. It almost hurt worse than when she wasn't getting any air. Parker exhaled and began taking shallow breaths. She wasn't convinced this breathing thing was all it was cracked up to be.

"Yes! Parker, can you hear me? Just keep breathing."

"I am!" She focused on the pattern. In. Out. In. Out. Her head felt so fuzzy. The basket and balloon seemed to be slipping away. Parker gripped the wicker edge harder, but she was still losing her balance.

"Uh, oh," she thought as the basket gave way and suddenly she was falling, hurtling towards the fields below. This didn't quite feel like flying. This felt like something much more dangerous. Parker didn't want to know what happened when she reached the ground, anymore

"Hardison!" she silently screamed. "Make it stop!" She had her eyes clenched shut, unwilling to watch the scenery zoom by.

"Hardison!"

***

Parker suddenly sat straight up gasping and choking for air.

"Woah! Woah! Easy, girl. Easy."

Parker coughed up some water from her lungs. Her vision was blurry. She blinked several times to try to clear it.

"You're okay, now. You're okay." The voice was soothing, and she registered a hand running circles over her back. Still coughing some, she tried to look around, to find the source of the voice. A man slowly swam into focus.

"Hardison?" she gasped, her voice rough.

"Shhh! Take it easy. Just breathe, okay? Just breathe."

Parker gaze slid down. "Why am I wet?" she asked, noting the water dripping from her hair.

"Because those bastard thugs thought it would be a good idea to tie you up in the lake. You almost drowned!"

"What? I wasn't in a lake." Another coughing hit her, and Hardison frowned in concern.

"Come on. We need to get you out of here, before the thugs figure out you aren't dead." Hardison glanced down the street. "Sophie's got a car waiting couple blocks away. Can you walk?"

Parker nodded and stood. Well, tried to stand. Halfway up her legs buckled. Hardison caught her before she hit the ground.

"Woah! Okay, hold up." Hardison propped her up against him, arms still around her waist.

"I'm fine!" Parker insisted.

"No, you are not fine!" Hardison said. "You almost died! Actually, scratch that. You were dead! For like a whole minute." He stooped down to reach behind her knees.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm going to carry you." Hardison snapped as he picked her up. "And you can kick and scream all you want when we get to the car, but right now you're going to sit still, you got it?"

Parker let out a huff of annoyance, but let him carry her all the same. She felt strange, like her arms and legs were made out of jelly. Maybe Hardison had the right idea after all.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned into his chest as they made their way down the darkened street. "I wasn't in a lake, you know."

"Right. We should probably check you for a concussion when we get there, too," Hardison said.

"No, but I wasn't!" Parker frowned. "I was in a hot-air balloon."

"A hot-air balloon?" Hardison stopped and stared at her.

"Yep! It was nice up there! Except then I couldn't breathe."

Hardison shook his head and started walking again. "That was just chemicals in your brain messing with your perception, Parker."

"Nuh uh! There was a bird. And fields." Parker's eyes drifted shut. She was feeling a bit sleepy again. Hardison noticed this.

"Parker!" He jostled her a little. "You should probably stay awake until we can check you out properly."

"I wanted to jump," Parker mumbled.

"What?"

"I wanted to jump. Out of the balloon. I thought it would be like flying. But then I slipped, and it was just falling." She shivered. "It wasn't fun like I thought it would be."

"Falling out of a hot-air balloon that's floating hundreds of feet up in the air? You're right that doesn't sound like fun."

"Usually it is, though."

"Usually? You saying you've been jumping out of hot-air balloons before?"

"No," Parker said, shaking her head. "Just jumping. Jumping's usually fun."

"Yeah, fun for you maybe," Hardison muttered.

"Maybe I did it wrong," Parker frowned, thinking. "We should go back up and try it again."

"Go up? In a hot-air balloon? Uh, hell no! Those things are so rickety, and they end up taking you to places where you really didn't want to go. Like Oz. Do you really want to go to Oz, now?"

"Where's that?" Parker looked up at him, face scrunched up in confusion. "Russia?"

"No, it isn't in Russia," Hardison replied, rolling his eyes. "What did you watch growing up?"

"America's Most Wanted." Hardison gave her a weird look. "Why? What did you watch?"

"Never mind, Parker," he said as the car came into view. "Never mind."