Title: The Price We Pay
Genre: Angst, hurt/comfort
Word Count: ~14,500
Rating: PG-13 (language)
Summary: Eliot has always been a man that believed in duty and honor before all else. And that includes his duty to the rest of his teammates to make sure that they come home safe after each and every con. He doesn't ask for recognition or anything really, not even for the time he needs to recover after a flurry of hard cons. The wear and tear is starting to show and Hardison takes notice.
Author's Note: A huge shout out to my beta, Rusting Roses, for making this fic that much better. This fic was written for the help_Pakistan auction. The winning bidder asked for a fic that dealt with the abuses Eliot's suffered this season and how the team has generally ignored the sacrifices he makes for them. This is what I came up with as a response.
The Price We Pay
"Hardison, what do you want to drink?" Nate asked from behind the bar where he stood facing the liquor cabinet.
Hardison raised his half-filled glass and smirked. "Already helped myself."
Nate shrugged, unconcerned that Hardison had gone rifling through his alcohol. "Parker? How about you?"
"Grab me a beer. None of that light stuff, though. It tastes like water."
Nate complied, sliding the bottle down along the polished bar top to where she sat perched on one of the stools.
"Heathens, all of you, I swear," Sophie added snidely. "Someday I'll culture you all and show you the true value of a vintage British wine."
Nate chuckled as he raised his own glass to his lips. "Hate to break it to you, dear, but the Brits lost this country a long time ago and they took their subpar alcohol with them. Americans stepped up to the plate and finally got the opportunity to brew some real drinks."
"This coming from the former alcoholic who would drink anything you put in front of him?" she asked.
He nodded, "You bet. I've been around the block a few times; you better believe I know my way around a bar. Eliot, how 'bout you? You want anything?"
Eliot looked up from where he was hunched over toward the end of the bar. It was at least a bit quieter there. "I got my own already."
Nate raised an eyebrow. "That's water."
"Yeah? So?" Eliot remarked coolly.
Hardison chuckled. "Look man, I know you take that whole 'body as a temple' thing seriously but can't you loosen up enough to celebrate another successful con? The coal mine is in a lot better hands and might actually get some safety measures put in place. Not to mention we brought down a corrupt attorney general. It doesn't get much better than that."
Eliot shrugged. "I'm good. I was about to call it a night anyways. Just gonna run upstairs real quick to grab my coat."
"Suit yourself," Nate responded as he leaned up against the bar.
Hardison narrowed his gaze as their hitter wearily rose from his stool and plodded over to the stairs that would take him up to the second floor. Despite the cacophony of his chatting teammates, Hardison didn't miss the sound of Eliot stumbling on the stairs once before righting himself and continuing on. That registered as strange to him. Eliot was many things, but clumsy wasn't one of them. On that thought Hardison pushed his glass aside and stood up. "I think I might actually head in too, guys. Guess you'll have to drink for the two of us."
There was murmur of 'good night' from Nate and Sophie and a 'don't steal my cookies from the kitchen' from Parker. He smirked at that and went in pursuit of Eliot.
A quick trip up the stairs found him in the lounge of Nate's apartment. With no immediate indication of Eliot's presence in the room, he advanced toward the kitchen. Peaking in, he saw Eliot rummaging through a few of the drawers. He'd open one, rifle through it, shake his head, and slam it a bit harder than necessary.
"I don't think this is what you're looking for, but Parker said not to take her cookies," Hardison said, breaking the silence.
"I'm looking for the damn phone book. I know Nate has at least three of them around here and I can't seem to locate any of them," Eliot growled. He paused for a moment, breathing hard and closing his eyes for the briefest of moments before he resumed his search.
"Who do you need to call?"
"A taxi. I'm going home," Eliot responded.
"What about your car?"
"It's stalled out," Eliot responded quickly.
"Since when? It worked fine for me-"
That brought Eliot's movements to a halt. He wrapped his hand a bit harder around the handle of the butcher knife he'd drawn out of the drawer in his search. He spoke the next few sentences in a carefully level voice that betrayed not one hint of emotion, but rather conveyed an icy, dangerous mood. "You drove my truck." He didn't phrase it as a question.
Hardison fumbled as he tried to ward off the accusation. "Look man, you parked me in from the back and Nate had me from the side. I just needed to run to the grocery store for some more orange soda. It's like two blocks and-"
"Hardison! I swear, if there's one scratch on that thing you're a dead man," Eliot snarled.
Hardison gulped, his eyes wide. He let out a relieved sigh as Eliot returned his knife to the drawer. But his brow furrowed as Eliot began to sway to the side a bit, before stabilizing himself against the counter top. "You ok, Eliot?"
"I just need to go home. Get some sleep maybe."
"Which gets us back to your car situation. Why don't you want to drive?"
Eliot remained silent for a minute or two, staring blankly at the counter top and the wall, anywhere besides Hardison, really. He spoke quietly, muttering, "I took some Vicodin. I shouldn't drive."
Hardison realized, then, why Eliot hadn't been drinking. Alcohol and drugs didn't mix at all. He didn't keep the anger from bleeding into his voice as he spoke next. Eliot wasn't the only one who could display a temper when provoked. "You're hurt enough to be taking a strong pain killer and you didn't think to mention it to any of us? We're down there getting drunk and you're sitting there with untreated injuries?"
"I have it under control."
"Yeah, that's clearly the case," Hardison snapped back, surveying his friend's bent frame and pallid complexion.
"Look, can you chew me out tomorrow? I'm not in the mood for this right now." Eliot ran a shaky hand through his hair and then opened another drawer. "Where the hell did Nate put that phone book?"
Hardison slid an arm into the sleeve of his own jacket, prompting Eliot to look at him. "What're you doing?"
"Driving you home. Let's go. Where are your keys?"
Eliot grumbled under his breath. "Didn't I just get done telling you not to drive my truck?"
"Yeah, about the same time I was telling you how terrible you looked and how stupid you're being. Look, I'm taking your truck; you're still blocking me in. You can be in the passenger seat or can stand here gaping like an idiot." And with that said he turned and headed for the exit, grabbing the keys off the counter as he went. He didn't wait to see if Eliot followed or not.
Eliot stood there in the kitchen alone. The ache in his shoulder hadn't lessened at all and all of his senses had been dulled by the drugs. The sharp contrast of the world had been replaced by a fuzzier picture for the time being and every few minutes the room seemed to rock a bit. Maybe it would be better to travel with someone he trusted in this state. He shook his head and stumbled out after his teammate, focusing on getting one foot in front of the other and not landing on his face as he went.