Title: Two for the Road
Summary: Eliot thinks it would be safer if they split up, but he can't bring himself to say it out loud. Eliot/Parker
Disclaimer: I don't own "Leverage." If I did, things would be very different.
Note: Thank you so much to everyone who read, favorited, alerted and especially reviewed this fic. I probably wouldn't have finished it otherwise. I hope you enjoy the ending.
Eliot is paralyzed, his brain trying to catch up with his eyes.
Meanwhile, with a shriek, Parker is rushing across the restaurant, throwing herself at Nate.
Nate. Is. Alive.
The emotions flood him: Shock. Joy. Confusion.
The tiniest bit of embarrassment that he'd been so wrapped up in Parker that he'd not bothered to even look at most of the other restaurant patrons and had missed Nate sitting right there.
He doesn't even consciously get up; he simply finds himself hugging his friend.
He tries to speak, but only manages to croak out a weak "how?"
Nate waves them into seats at the table. "It's a long story, but the short version is, Sullivan wanted to question us. Seems he had a side smuggling business operating out of a few warehouses like the one we were in. Sophie had him convinced the cops were seconds away from showing up, so he hauled us off and blew the place."
"We waited," Parker says. "We waited, but nobody came."
Nate sighs. "It took us a while to get free. It helped that Sullivan was suddenly arrested after a certain 'James T. Kirk' sent some incriminating information to the police. Thanks for that, by the way."
"Thank Hardison," Eliot manages. "So he's ... Sophie's ..."
"We're all fine," Nate nods. "We've been real busy looking for you two, though."
"We thought some of Sullivan's men were chasing us," Parker says.
"They were." Nate takes a sip of his drink. "I guess they gave up after they realized their boss was going to be spending the next decade or two behind bars."
"How did you find us?" Parker asks.
"Hardison couldn't find a trace," Nate says. "Until he finally got a hit last week on one of Eliot's old I.D.'s here in Miami. Then we heard that the Star of Milan had been snatched, so it seemed likely you were really here. When we got here tonight, we heard that the stone had been returned, and then we knew for sure."
Parker laughs. "You guys are awesome!"
"We got to the condo just as you were leaving, so I followed you and they stayed behind. Figured it would be better not to overwhelm you with all of us at once."
Eliot still can't quite manage to speak, but Parker seems to have no problems. "So we can go home now?" she asks.
"Yeah," Nate says, saluting them both with his glass. "We can all go home."
Hardison and Sophie are waiting back at the condo, and it's 20 minutes of hugs and "I'm so glad to see you!" and tears and Parker laughing at inappropriate times.
Eliot manages to find his voice, telling his crew everything that had happened to them in the past few months.
Minus a few details.
It isn't really a conscious decision, but as he watches Parker's brilliant smile while Hardison pulls her close, he knows what he has to do.
He hadn't intentionally stolen his best friend's girl. Nate saw them together at the restaurant, and he can tell Sophie is, at the very least, suspicious. There's nothing he can do about the past, but he can do his best to make sure that Hardison never finds out.
"When can we go home?" Parker asks.
"I've got you all packed," Sophie says, shooting a significant glance Eliot's way. The fact that they were only using one of the bedrooms has obviously been noted.
"We've got tickets on the next flight out," Hardison says, seeming oblivious to what's going on. "We'll be back in Boston and back in business before you can say boo."
"I'm driving back," Eliot says. He figures time and distance from Parker are his best bets at the moment. "I'm not leaving my truck."
"We'll be a lot faster on the way back," Parker says.
"No, you should fly back," he says quickly. "You can be home in no time."
Parker freezes, the smile slipping off her face. He feels like a dick, but he refuses to take it back. It's for the best. For Parker. For Hardison. For everybody.
"Don't be silly," Sophie says smoothly. "I'll drive back with you. I insist."
Sophie keeps her word.
To his surprise, she more or less keeps her silence. At least at first. He almost wishes she would say something, to distract him from the mini-movie that keeps playing in his mind.
He sees Parker, bag slung on her shoulder, trying to tell him goodbye. He sees himself dismissing her with a curt, "see you back there." Sees the flash of hurt on her face before it goes blank.
When Sophie does start to talk, she begins with just filling in the blanks, telling him what they'd been up to since the explosion, detailing Sullivan's fruitless appeals in the courts.
A day in, she segues into idle chit-chat. When she finally drops the bomb, he realizes she has been lulling him into a false sense of security.
"So what's up with you and Parker?"
"I ask because I know you two were sharing a bedroom."
"Leave it, Sophie."
"I'm not going to leave it," she says. "Do you know why? Because you're my friends, and I saw how it hurt her when you just dismissed her back there."
"I don't want to talk about this," he growls.
"Tough. Talk now," she orders.
Much to his surprise, he finds himself obeying. The miles fly by as he tells Sophie about their trip, the full story, beginning with them on the run and ending with seeing Nate at the restaurant.
"And now that we're going back home, you just decided to dump her? Got what you wanted out of her, so it's over?"
"No!" He turns to look at her, flinching. "It's not like that!"
"I love her, all right?"
Silence fills the truck, stretching out to a painful degree as Eliot wishes he could take it back.
"Thought so," Sophie says smugly.
He thinks she's finally dropped the subject until they're half an hour from Nate's place, when she brings it up again.
"Do you think she'll just get over you and then move on to live happily ever after with Hardison?"
"It's for the best," he says again. "She doesn't love me. I mean, she never said … I know she has feelings, but she'll get over it."
"I suppose," Sophie says slowly. "She should be used to it by now."
"Used to what?"
"Being abandoned," Sophie says sweetly.
Eliot hits the accelerator. This drive, he thinks, can not be over soon enough.
Things are strange. On the surface, everything is normal. He dreams of Parker at night, in her red dress, laughing and flirting with him. Kissing him. It's like torture to be around her, but he keeps telling himself he's doing the right thing. He's nothing if not determined, and he constantly watches himself to make sure he's treating her just like he did before.
They go back to work. Nate plans, Sophie scams and Hardison gets his geek on. The only thing different is that Parker doesn't talk to him.
She doesn't joke, she doesn't flirt, she doesn't poke at him, she doesn't mention their trip at all. She barely looks at him.
Everyone notices it, but nobody says anything until she nearly blows a job by refusing to pass a message to him at a crucial moment.
Nate corners him after, looking pained. "Fix this," is all he says.
Eliot puts it off for a day or two. He's afraid if he starts talking to her, all he'll do is beg her to take him back, and then he's back to poaching his best friend's girl. But he knows Nate's right, the situation is getting out of control.
He tries to get her attention after their briefing, but she looks right through him and slips downstairs. Gritting his teeth, he follows her.
It's Friday night, and McRory's is crowded. It takes him a minute to spot her — just as she's leaving the bar with Hardison, his arm around her.
Every instinct tells Eliot to rush after them, to stop this, to get Parker back. But he doesn't move, except to the bar.
This is what he wanted, he thinks as he orders his first drink, this is for the best.
He's the hitter. If he's the only one who ends up hurt, well, that's his job, right?
His head is pounding, his mouth is dry as dust and he aches all over.
He sits up slowly, assessing his condition, taking inventory and wondering where he is, before he remembers the damage is completely self-inflicted.
Parker had left with Hardison.
He drops back onto his bed. His brain is working a little slow, so it takes him a moment to realize the pounding is still going on. And while his head hurts, the pounding itself is coming from the living room.
He stumbles to his feet, head spinning, and into the living room.
Wrenching the door open, he growls, "What?"
Hardison pushes past him, slamming the door behind him. "Whew! You smell like a tavern, nice, man. You look like you slept in a ditch, too, real charming. Are you trying out a homeless bum disguise?"
"I don't know what Parker sees in you."
"I don't ... Parker ... what?" Eliot doesn't like feeling slow, but that's exactly the situation he's in at the moment.
Hardison is pacing around the living room. "Just because I eat like a fifth-grader doesn't mean I ain't smarter than one. I hack the CIA on a daily basis. I can create an identity that will fool any government on earth. I held off a Steranko longer than any living human being."
"You think I can't tell when two people are getting it on?"
Eliot finally manages to get out a sentence. "She left with you last night."
"Ahhhh," Hardison laughs, and Eliot winces at the bitterness he hears in it. "So that's the reason for the eau de homeless person? You were jealous that Parker was with me, crying herself to sleep on my couch because of you?"
Hardison growls. Eliot can see the punch coming a mile away, but he doesn't try to duck. He has it coming, after all.
"Ow!" Hardison howls, shaking his hand. "Dammit!"
"How many times I gotta tell you, man, don't punch with your thumb inside the fist?"
"Don't ..." Hardison scowls, still holding his injured hand. "We ain't talking about my fighting technique. We're talking about how you slept with the woman I love and then broke her heart. That's what we're discussing here."
"I never meant to hurt her. And I didn't want to hurt you. Hardison -"
"I was mad at first," Hardison says. "But I know you wouldn't move on my ... on Parker if you hadn't thought I was dead."
"No, I never would have."
"So ... what? You think you could just take it back? There's no take-backs in this, Eliot. I never wanted to lose her, but it's too late. She loves you. And you are making her unhappy. So fix it."
"Hardison," Eliot says. "Are we OK?"
"I don't ..." Hardison coughs, clears his throat. "I'm gonna take a little break, take a few weeks off. Hit the beach, have some margaritas and senoritas. And when I get back, it's all cool. As long as Parker's not still crying on my couch."
Eliot nods. He hopes it's not too late to make things right. "It's a deal."
He takes a shower, trying to plan what he's going to say to Parker. He's gotten as far as "I was a moron, please forgive me" when the doorbell rings.
He pulls on his jeans and grabs a T-shirt on his way to the door. He yanks it on as he opens the door, freezing when he sees Parker.
Ringing his doorbell.
Parker, giving him the silent treatment, screwing up a job and ringing the doorbell instead of just breaking in.
This could not be good.
"Parker, I'm glad you're here," he says finally. "I needed to -"
"No," she says, pushing her way in, mirroring Hardison's movements from earlier. "I have to talk to you."
"No," she repeats firmly. "Sophie says ... she says I have to tell you how I feel. She says I can't expect you to read my mind. You read it all the time when we're working, I don't see why this is different, but she says it is."
Eliot starts to speak, then thinks better of it. He's turned the whole thing into a major cluster; maybe it's time to let her have her say.
"When we thought they were dead, I felt dead too," she says, sitting on the couch and pulling her legs up under her. "I didn't know what to do, so I just ... followed you. I figured you knew what you were doing."
"I didn't," he says.
She laughs a little. "I figured that out after a while. But I liked traveling with you. And then we ... then it became more. And I ..." she trails off, staring at the floor. "I fell in love with you."
"Parker -" he feels everything tight in his chest loosen up at her words.
"Let me finish," she springs up off the couch and stands toe-to-toe with him, though she still doesn't quite meet his eyes. "I think you had feelings for me too. And if you don't want to be with me, it's only fair that you say so and not expect me to read your mind."
His heart is beating like he's gone ten rounds with a bunch of ninjas, but he manages to keep his voice steady. "That is fair."
Parker takes a deep breath, then raises her eyes to his.
"I never meant to love you," he says. "I just couldn't help it. But when we found out Hardison was alive, I didn't want to hurt him. And I thought you could be happy with him, so it was best for everyone."
He doesn't even see the punch coming, and it knocks him back a step. He's certainly taught her well. "Ow, Parker! What the hell? Is that how you react when a guy tells you he loves you?"
"Only when he's an idiot! I told you how it was with me and Hardison! I don't want to hurt Alec either, but I don't love him that way."
"You mean," he says, grinning, "the way you love me?"
"I'm reconsidering that," she says grumpily.
"Let me help you reconsider," he says, slipping his hands around her waist.
"You think you can just seduce me into forgetting how mean you were to me?" a smile plays around her mouth.
"It's worth a try," he mumbles, tracing his lips along her neck, breathing in the smell of her shampoo.
"Sophie says I should make you grovel," Parker says, pushing him back a step.
"Sophie says a lot." Remembering what she told him on the way back from Florida, he frowns, then clears his throat. "But she did say something I ... Well, I want you to know I'm sorry if you felt like I abandoned you. I promise, it will never happen again. If you really love me back, you're stuck with me."
She just stares at him for a moment, and he finds himself actually afraid. Then she smiles, and he knows it will all be OK.
"There is something wrong with you," she says, grinning. "But I can live with that."