A/N: Haha, i'm not avoiding my other fics I swear! I wrote the next part of 'Pain' yesterday, but my flash drive is at home and I'm at work. Luckily I have my fic notebook with me and shall be bestowing upon you all a nice healthy dose of angst to get you through the day. ;-P -pj

Warning: I might as well come right out and say it. CHARACTER DEATH and TISSUE WARNING for you sensative types.

Disclaimer: Not. Mine.


You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option.

Parker knows how to be strong. She learned early on that sometimes being strong was the only thing that got you through the things that made other people give up. She was used to being strong back then, before the team. Then, all of a sudden, someone had her back and she didn't need to be so strong anymore. She liked it more than she should have.

Parker hopes she hasn't forgotten how to be strong.

Nate has been through things before he thought would kill him. He knows what it takes to get through losing a son. Knows it is messy and terrible and takes more than some are able to give. Last time it broke him. He hopes it only does that much this time.

Nate knows exactly how strong he is.

Hardison lost a brother once. He was young and devastated and swore to never let it happen again. That's why he learned computers. They're predictable and cold and they have backups so that, if you're smart, you never have to lose something that truly matters to you.

Hardison has no idea how strong he has to be now.

Sophie's strength is in her grace. The way she can bend a person to her will and have them believing it was their idea lall along. She's pretended all these emotions before. Greif and betrayal. Anger and regret. But it's never been this real. This intense. She hopes they don't break her.

Sophie's never been strong like this before.

He had always been the 'strong one'. The muscle. The one that had their backs so they didn't have to worry.

Everything was about to change.

The team stands side by side as he's lowered into the ground, inch by heartbreaking inch.

Hardison was able to pull in some favors and find out his real name. Nate managed to get a hold of old army buddies and family no one knew he had. Parker promised to come back from wherever she'd been and attend and Sophie picked out a classic, cherry wood coffin for the burial.

The thing that gets to them now, though, isn't that he won't be there to be strong anymore. It isn't that there will be no more gourmet meals in Nate's kitchen or fighting lessons on Parker's floor.

It's that they're standing there, side by side, dressed all in black while they bury one of their own and they're finally able to see how strong they each really are.

And they know how much Eliot would have loved to have been there to see it too.

END