Note: This was written for Leverage Secret Santa for the prompts Gen team fic, job that happened between episodes, hurt/comfort, Parker-Eliot friendship.

Warning: References to child abuse.

Disclaimer: I don't own Leverage.

The security guard, a boy who looked like he should still be in high school, appeared out of nowhere, panicked, and fired two shots at Eliot before the hitter could take more than a step toward him. The first shot went wild, exploding an overhead light in a rain of sparks and shards of glass. The second took Eliot in the right bicep, tearing a hole in his favorite black t-shirt and narrowly missing an artery.

Eliot let out a low growl, more in anger than pain—this wasn't the first time he'd been shot, and it wouldn't be the last. Ignoring Nate's frantic voice in his ear—"Eliot, what's going on? Are you all right? Talk to me, damn it!"—he stalked the last three steps to the terrified guard and plucked the gun from his hand.

"Don't hurt me!" the boy squeaked, his face very pale. His wide eyes were focused not on Eliot's face, but on the blood that leaked from his arm, dripping steadily onto the linoleum floor.

"I ain't gonna hurt you," Eliot said harshly, ejecting the magazine before tucking the gun into the waistband of his pants. Normally he'd eject the bullet from the chamber, too, but that required two hands and he was pretty sure his right wasn't up to the task—and he was hardly going to leave a loaded gun lying around where this fool could get his hands on it again. "Just—stay right there."

Turning away, he tapped his earbud. "Hardison, you done yet?" he demanded. "The cops are going to be here any minute."

"Already on my way out," Hardison said. "You okay, man? Did I hear a gun?"

"We'll talk about it later," Eliot grunted, clutching his wounded arm to try to staunch the bleeding. "Make sure Parker's out. Something must have gone wrong on her end."

Ever since they'd set foot in Hillcreek, Missouri, Parker had been twitchier than a rabbit in a parking lot. It had been her job to lock the lone security guard in his office long enough for Hardison to get the information he needed off of the mark's computer and for Eliot to trash the trophy case in the foyer. Obviously, that hadn't happened, which meant that either Parker had gone off the rails or something had happened to her.

"I haven't seen her," Hardison said, worried.

"She hasn't been responding to comms for the past ten minutes," Nate said. He was in the parking lot in front of the building with Lucille 2.0 while Sophie was playing lookout at the back entrance.

"Wait—there she is," Sophie reported. "Coming out the back—Parker!" There was the sound of quick footsteps, some panting, then Sophie huffed. "She took off like a bat out of hell. She's gone, Nate."

"Great," Eliot said, tightening his grip on his wounded arm. "That's just great." He glanced at the security guard, who stared back at him.

"Who are you?" the boy said.

"A bad dream," Eliot snarled, and stalked out.

He found Nate waiting for him by the van. The mastermind's keen eyes immediately zeroed in on the wound on Eliot's arm. His lips tightened. "Bad?"

The two of them had had to patch each other up enough times over the years to have developed a sort of code. What Nate was really asking was: Do you need to go to the hospital? Is it bad enough for us to blow the job?

Eliot shook his head. "Flesh wound." You can patch me up back at the motel.

Nate nodded and opened the door for him. Eliot was relieved to sit down; he was getting a bit dizzy from blood loss. Nate got behind the wheel and drove them toward the back lot to pick up Sophie and Hardison.

"What the hell happened in there?" Eliot demanded.

"I have no idea," Nate said tightly.

Parker, it seemed, was the only one who knew. And she was gone.

They'd booked three rooms in the most elegant lodging Hillcreek had to offer, a Motel 6. Hardison and his computer equipment got a room to themselves, and it was in that room that the team congregated while Nate set about fixing up Eliot's arm and Hardison began simultaneously analyzing the data he'd gotten off the mark's computer and tracing Parker's whereabouts.

"She's still got her earbud with her," he reported, typing intently while Sophie looked over his shoulder. "I can keep track of her location as long as she doesn't take it out. It looks like she's holed up in a barn on the outskirts of town."

"Damn it, Nate, you don't have to rip my arm off!" Eliot snapped.

Nate, who was in the process of fishing around inside Eliot's bicep for the bullet with a sterilized pair of tweezers, gave him an unimpressed look. "Don't be a baby," he said. "You're acting like you've never been shot before." He dug deeper, making Eliot grunt, then said, triumphantly, "Got it!"

Eliot grimaced as he felt the tips of the tweezers clamp together. Nate gave a little twist and yank, and a second later he was holding up the bloody piece of metal. After a moment's examination he dropped it in the trash, wiped his hands on a towel, and picked up a needle and spool of thread. This part of the procedure, Eliot knew, would be barely less painful than the bullet extraction.

Nate began to sew, his brow furrowed in concentration. "Hardison, have you found anything useful on Steinke's computer?" he said.

"I think so…yes! I've got the location of the safe where he stores his sensitive data." There was a clatter of furious typing. Then: "Uh oh."

"Uh oh?" Sophie said. "What uh oh?"

"It's a Glen Reader 8000."

"Uh oh," Nate said.

"What?" Sophie demanded. "What's so bad about that safe?"

"It's one of the most secure, non-electronic, safes ever made," Hardison said. "I can't hack it and none of you has the skill to crack it manually. We need Parker."

"Parker's gone loco," Eliot reminded them, wiggling the fingers of his injured arm for emphasis.

"She has to come back eventually, doesn't she?" Sophie said.

"It's Parker," Eliot pointed out.

"Anyway, we can't wait long," Hardison said. "It looks like Steinke's hired a private security company to move the safe tomorrow. A very good security company, if their record's anything to go by."

Nate finished off the last stitch and sat back with a sigh, his eyes staring off into the distance as he calculated possible courses of action and outcomes. "Sophie, go after Parker," he said at last. "Try to figure out what's wrong and talk her into coming back."

"Why Sophie?" Hardison interrupted. "I should be the one to go."

"I need you to keep combing through Steinke's files," Nate said. "You're the only one who can do it."

Eliot stood, swayed. "I'll go."

The other three stared at him as if he'd volunteered to grab a tiger by the tail.

"Look, I'm the one she nearly got killed. Maybe if she sees the consequences of her craziness she'll grow up." Yeah. That was likely.

"Nate, I'm perfectly willing to go," Sophie said. "Parker might listen to me."

"No," Nate said, looking speculatively at Eliot. "No, let's let Eliot go."

"Can you send the directions to that barn to my phone?" Eliot asked Hardison.

Hardison sputtered. "Can I send directions to a phone? Did you seriously just ask me that?"

"Don't talk about it, do it," Eliot told him. On his way out, he grabbed one of Hardison's spare shirts to make himself a sling, and smirked as the hacker hollered in outrage after him.

The barn was located at the end of a long, untended dirt road. A motorcycle was parked out front. Either Parker had hotwired it or she had company.

Eliot approached cautiously, never sure what to expect with Parker. The barn was dilapidated, with a sagging roof and walls that looked ready to give in at any minute. Inside, it was filthy, filled with cobwebs and the bones that some predator had left behind after eating the rest of the rabbit.

Parker obviously wasn't on the ground floor. He looked up and caught a flash of blonde hair through a gap between two planks of wood in the floor of the loft.

Grumbling to himself, he stomped over to the rickety ladder and hoisted himself up one-handed.
With his bad arm in a sling it hurt like hell, and by the time he got to the top he was ready to tear Parker a new one. Then he climbed high enough to see over the floor, caught sight of her, and felt his anger…not go away, not quite, but calm down, a little.

Parker was huddled against the back wall, her legs pulled tight to her chest. What really got to him was the lost, dead look in her eyes.

He'd seen her like that once before, when that charlatan psychic had exposed her deepest, darkest secret for all the world to see. Eliot had wanted to kill the man, then. Just like he wanted to kill whoever had put that look in her eyes now.

He pulled himself the rest of the way onto the loft, kneeling, feeling the wood creak beneath him, the gun in the back of his pants digging into his spine. He'd forgotten to leave it at the motel.

Parker didn't react to his presence right away. He thought maybe she hadn't noticed him. After a minute or so, though, she began to speak.

"I used to hide up here sometimes," she said, so quietly that he had to strain to hear her. "When things got really bad."

"You lived here? In Hillcreek?"

She looked at him and the bleakness in her expression made his breath catch in his throat. "For a while."

He waited for her to speak again, but she seemed content with silence. After a while he said, "You really screwed up today."

For the first time, she noticed that he was wearing a sling. "That happened because of me?" she said, her shoulders drooping even further.

Yes, it had, but somehow it seemed as if saying that now would be like kicking an injured puppy, so he avoided the question. "Why'd you take off like that?"

She rubbed her hands against her arms. "I thought I would be okay. I really did. I would have told Nate if I thought I couldn't handle being here." Her eyes begged him to understand. "I was doing all right, the first few days. I thought, 'This isn't so bad.' But then yesterday I went to the hardware store to get a chainsaw, and I saw him."

Eliot felt the anger he'd been suppressing rumble to life again, only this time it wasn't directed at her. "Who?" he said.

She shrugged, as if the answer were obvious. "Larry."

Eliot didn't know a whole lot about Parker's past, but he did know that she'd been twelve when Archie Leach had become her mentor, which meant that whoever this Larry was, he'd hurt her when she was even younger than that.

"Let's go," he said, heading back to the ladder.

She frowned. "Go where?"

"You're taking me to see Larry," he told her.

"What? Eliot—no!"

But he was already halfway down the ladder by then, immune to her protests, and she had no choice but to follow. He smiled to himself as he walked out of the barn, a terrible smile.

He'd never wasted his time pitying Parker for being who she was—knew that she wouldn't have appreciated it, anyway—but he was more than willing to dispense justice on anyone who harmed her, now or in the past. Defending innocents was never a waste of time.

Larry lived in a one-story house on a quiet street. Eliot parked at the curb and turned off the engine. Parker, in the passenger seat, said nothing, but her entire body was tense.

She'd tried to refuse to tell him how to get here, but she'd caved when he threatened to bring in the others. There couldn't be that many Larrys in a town of this size, and Hardison would have been able to locate the right one in a matter of minutes.

"You ready?" Eliot said.

She glared at him. "For what?" She didn't know it, but she was already doing better than she had been. Eliot considered anger a vast improvement on fear.

"You gotta face your demons, Parker."

He got out and waited until he heard her door slam shut to start toward the house. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the badge he liked to keep with him at all times, just in case.

He knocked at the door, watching Parker out of the corner of his eye as they waited. She looked like she either wanted to throw up or sprint away. He nudged her with his good elbow, gave her a smile, and was relieved when she relaxed a bit.

Finally the door creaked open and a man in his fifties peered suspiciously out at them. He was smaller than Eliot had expected, with a lean build and receding hairline.

"What?" he said.

"Sir, I'm Detective Harris; this is Detective Summers," Eliot said, holding up the badge with his best good ol' country boy smile. "We need to speak with you. May we come in?"

"What's this about?"

"We just have a few questions about a child you fostered some time ago." He ignored the surprised look Parker shot him; it hadn't been difficult to figure out how she'd known this man.

Larry hesitated then stepped back, opening the door wider to allow them entry.

The house was neat and clean inside, the furniture old but not shabby. Parker reluctantly followed Eliot in, her feet dragging.

Larry sat on a worn armchair and gestured for them to take the couch. They remained standing.

He frowned. "Now, what can I do for you two?"

Eliot scratched his head. "There was a young girl who used to live here. Blonde. Went by the name of Parker. Sound familiar?"

Larry scowled. "Parker," he spat. "I should have guessed it would be about her."

Without looking at her, Eliot could feel the tension in Parker's body. She's was a hair's breadth from running again.

"Tell us about her," he said.

"What's there to say?" Larry's fingers curled into the fabric of his armrest. "She was a strange kid from the start. Skinny. Too quiet, but you could see in her eyes that she was trouble."

"How old was she at the time?"

"Oh, six or seven."

"I imagine she was a bit of a handful," Eliot said.

Larry's lips pursed. "A handful. You could call her that. She wasn't violent like some of the kids I fostered. Never argued, never talked back. She was a thief. A pretty clever one, actually. She'd steal anything you left lying around. Tried for my wallet a couple of times, too."

Eliot nodded. A sidelong glance at Parker showed that she was grinning a little now, pleased as always by the memory of her childhood crimes, though she was obviously still on edge.

"What's she done?" Larry said. "It must be something big, if the FBI's coming to talk to me. I haven't seen her in…why, it must have been over twenty years now."

"I'm afraid that's classified," Eliot said, shrugging as if embarrassed. "All I can say is, anything you can tell us about your experiences would be helpful. How did you discipline her?"

Parker and Larry both stiffened, both eyed Eliot warily.

"What are you implying?" Larry demanded. "Because I never laid a hand on that girl, not even when she got caught stealing a diamond necklace from the jewelry store."

Eliot held up his hands in a placating gesture. "I'm not accusing you, sir. I'm sure you did the best you could, considering what you were dealing with. I only ask because I need as many details as possible to put together a psychological profile on her, and I think her experiences here in Hillcreek might prove vital to this case."

Larry relaxed, slouching back in his chair. "Well. All right then. What was the question again?"

"I asked how you used to discipline Parker."

"Oh, yeah. I used to put her in time out."

Parker jerked, a violent twitch that caught Larry's eye. For the first time, the man took note of her, frowning as if wondering why she seemed familiar.

"Time out," Eliot repeated. Parker jerked again. "You'd make her sit in a corner? Or would you send her to her room?"

Larry hesitated. "You're just putting together a profile, right? Nothing I say is going to get me in trouble? Because some people, they wouldn't understand what I was dealing with. There was something wrong with that girl. You're chasing her—I'm sure you've realized the same thing."

Eliot gritted his teeth. His good fist clenched so tightly that his nails dug into his palm. "Whatever you did, the statute of limitations has run out. Nothing you say will incriminate you. You have my word—the law can't touch you."

"Okay." Larry jerked his chin toward the small maroon trunk that was serving as a coffee table in the center of the room. "There. I used to put her in time outs there."

Eliot went very, very still. He stared at the trunk, trying to imagine what it would be like to be shoved inside, curling his body into a ball just to fit, terrified that the air would run out or that whoever had locked him in would just forget to let him out.

He thought about the time he'd confessed to the team that he used to be claustrophobic. He shuddered to remember Parker's cheerful anecdote about the time she buried herself alive in a demented attempt to overcome her own claustrophobia.

"How long would her time outs usually last?" he asked, fighting to keep his voice calm.

"Usually? One or two hours."

He could tell that Parker was beginning to panic. Her breathing was rapid, her eyes wide and frightened.

"What about the time she stole the necklace?" he said. "How long was she in the trunk then?"

Larry licked his lips, nervous despite Eliot's assurances that he was safe—and he was right to be worried. "A day. Maybe thirty hours. She committed a felony," he added, as though that excused anything, as if any child could deserve such a punishment.

Parker turned to bolt. Before she could take even one step, Eliot's arm shot out and seized her by the sleeve in a firm grip. She still could have torn herself away, but instead she remained where she was, as if rooted in place. Eliot never took his eyes off of Larry.

"What's wrong with her?" Larry said, rising slowly from his seat, sensing that something was wrong even if he didn't know quite what it was.

"There's nothing wrong with her," Eliot growled. "And there never was."

He saw the moment Larry understood—the moment his look of bafflement was replaced by an expression of shocked horror. Eliot let go of Parker's sleeve—she didn't run, but turned to regard him with wounded eyes—and advanced on the man, flexing his good hand.

Larry backed away, away from Eliot's murderous glare, until the wall was at his back and there was nowhere else for him to go.

"You said there was nothing you could do to me," he whispered.

"I said there was nothing the law could do to you," Eliot corrected.

"You're not FBI?"

Eliot smiled unpleasantly. "Let's just say that I pick up where the law leaves off."

Larry swung a desperate punch at Eliot's head, which the hitter ducked with ease. In retaliation, Eliot punched him in the solar plexus, dropping him like a sack of potatoes.

"Get up," Eliot ordered.

Larry pushed himself to his hands and knees, wheezing.

"Get up," Eliot said again, tapping him in the ribs with the toe of his shoe.

It took a few minutes, but using the wall as support Larry managed to attain a more or less standing position. Before he could try to attack again, Eliot thrust his forearm against the man's windpipe and pressed just hard enough to make him writhe.

"What are you going to do to me?" Larry gasped, struggling for air.

Eliot tilted his head. "I'm gonna give you what you deserve. How would you like a time out?"

Larry's eyes darted to the trunk and back to Eliot's face. "You can't!"

"You're not all that big," Eliot said with a shrug. "I'll probably only have to break a couple of bones to get you to fit."

Larry looked over Eliot's shoulder at Parker. "Parker. You know that I did my best for you. Don't let him do this to me!"

Parker took a step forward, then another. Eliot didn't move. He wanted to see what she would say. He knew this whole encounter had been torture for her, but now was the moment that could make it all worthwhile.

She yanked a gun out of nowhere and pressed it hard against Larry's temple, her finger already halfway to pulling the trigger.

"Where the hell did you get that?" Eliot demanded. He already knew the answer, though. She'd stolen it from him when they were standing on the porch.

Parker ignored him. "Are you still a foster father?" she said, grinding the muzzle of the gun against Larry's head. "Do you still accept foster kids? Do you?"

"Yes," he grunted out, squirming away from the gun, Eliot's arm still pinning him place. "Not often, but every once in a while they send me a kid."

Parker closed her eyes, swallowed. When she opened her eyes again they were calm. "Not anymore," she said. "You're going to call Social Services today. You're going to tell them to take you off the list. And you are never going to get near a child again. If you do, I'll know. You won't like what happens then."

"Fine! Just, please, don't hurt me!"

Parker ground the gun in a little harder, just to make him cringe, before lowering it and taking a step back, staring at Larry as if he were a complete stranger. Eliot figured he was, in a way. Little Parker had always seen the man as a terrifying figure. Now grown up Parker had realized that he was nothing but a bully.

"Let's go," she said.

Eliot hesitated before pulling away, letting Larry drop to his hands and knees again. "You sure? I could stick him in the trunk for you."

She shrugged, her expression resigned and a little sad. "He's not worth it."

Eliot sighed. "Fine." He kicked Larry in the side, hard, smirking when the man cried out. "What?" he said in response to Parker's raised eyebrow. "He deserves a lot worse."

She shook her head and handed over the gun. He held the grip between his legs and used his good hand to eject the round in the chamber.

"Should have done that earlier," he said.

"Nah," Parker said, grinning as if all of the earlier drama had been forgotten. "I think this worked out just fine."

Back in the car, Eliot called Hardison for directions to the warehouse where the mark, Steinke, kept his safe. He memorized them easily, then hung up on the hacker when he tried to ask how things had gone with Parker.

"You up to cracking a safe?" he asked her.

She'd been gazing aimlessly out the window since she buckled her seatbelt. At his question, her lips curved ever so slightly. "I've never been more up to cracking a safe than I am right now."

He supposed that was the closest she'd come to thanking him for forcing her to confront her past—or part of it, anyway.

"He wasn't the worst, you know," she said softly, as if she'd read his thoughts. "Not even in the top three. He wasn't lying when he said he never laid a hand on me."

"That don't make what he did to you all right," Eliot said. "There's nothing I can do about those other foster parents right now. If we're ever in the same town as one of them, though, you let me know and I'll take care of it. Okay?"

Parker bit her lip. "Okay."

They drove in silence for a while.

"I'm sorry you got shot because of me," she offered, just when he thought maybe they could avoid any more uncomfortable conversation.

"I've been shot before," he said.

"Yeah." Another minute passed. "Are we there yet?"

"Don't even start that, Parker."

"Are we there yet?"

He huffed. "You can see five miles in every direction. Does it look like we're there yet?"

"You drive like an elephant."


"You know. Because if an elephant could drive, it would be slow because it would have to steer with its trunk."

"There's something wrong with you," he told her, unable to keep the affection from his voice.

"No," she said softly. "No, there isn't."

She cracked the safe in record time.