Title : The Truth for the First Time

Written for the prompt- Leverage, Eliot&team, the first time they see how hurt he gets protecting them

Rating : PG-13
Characters : Whole Team
Word Count : approx. 1650

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

The Truth for the First Time

It takes them a long time, relatively, to catch on. He hides it too well, knows too much about himself. At first, it's about the trust. None of them are used to the kind of trust this whole 'team' thing needs for it to operate well. They're all used to looking out for number one and even Nate isn't really au fait with the kind of looking out for they each need.

Over time, they learn each other, they see where each of the others is 'needy'. They learn to give a little more, be it attention or approval, they each try their best to fill the others gaps. But Eliot is different. He learns quicker than the others how to be what they need, an ear, an arm, the muscle, the voice of reason, but all the time he hovers just that little bit on the outside of who they all are together.

They've seen him fight and admired the ease with which he takes down his opponents, but it hasn't occurred to them that the sheer physicality of what he does goes beyond the moment. It's a long time before they realize that even one landed punch lasts beyond the immediate. It's out of their experience and the fact that Eliot doesn't ever say or do anything to indicate that he's felt the punch lets them blunder on oblivious.

It's been almost a year that they've been together and this time things are different. This time Eliot can't hide the injuries he's carrying. He can barely stand up with a wall to lean against, his breathing is uneven and pained, bruises and blood blooming on his body for them all to see.

Their eyes are wide with shock and horror as they take in the sight of him, muted gasps and whispers of "Oh Eliot!", but he says nothing. He turns away from them all and keeping contact with the wall, he begins to walk away. That's when the truth finally dawns on them all that this isn't a first, it's just the worst he's had so far and that even now he can't ask for help, he can't tell them anything because he doesn't know how.

Memories pepper each of them of times when Eliot's suddenly made his own way home after a job or slipped away almost as soon as they've begun to celebrate, their attention away from each individual and onto the group. It's frightening to think how easy it's been for him to keep up the charade by just keeping himself that little bit separate from them all.

Sophie's the first to move, sending Nate for what first aid supplies they do have before setting off after Eliot determinedly. She's at his side and slipping an arm around him trying to find a place to hold on that isn't going to hurt more. His acceptance of the support, the way he adjusts her hand so it doesn't rest where he can't breathe, all show that this isn't about his trust in them. Eliot trusts the team, as she and Nate patch his injuries that becomes clear.

By the time, they've cleaned him up and given him painkillers that Nate won't let him refuse, Eliot's a different person. He's placid, almost malleable as they guide him back to the couch. While they've been gone, Parker's been busy building a nest on the couch, with blankets and pillows scrounged from the other rooms. She's got water and ice packs and heat packs all laid out on the coffee table and a big bowl of freshly made popcorn.

Meanwhile Hardison's been busy too, setting up the TV and adjusting the lights. It's almost a disappointment to them all when Eliot's asleep within minutes of settling down.

They barely move until he's awake and lucid, albeit that he's now insisting on leaving, something not one of them is prepared to allow. He needs to be there with them, the proof is in how he can't keep up the pretense, he can't fight against them long enough to insist on getting his own way. It's not long before he's asleep again.

The next time he's awake, the TV is off, music is playing softly in the background and there's just a dim sidelight with a scarf cast over it to dim the light further. He figures that now is the time to go and he starts the struggle with Parker's cocoon of blankets, but Nate is there at his side before he's fought his way free. The smirk is clear on his face and in his voice as he says, "Parker was determined you'd be warm while she was asleep."

Eliot sighs, giving up the fight and letting Nate help work out how to free him. "Were you going somewhere in particular?" Nate asks suddenly. When Eliot doesn't answer, he adds, "I'll help you to the bathroom, but you're not leaving, you know."

"Nate . . ." but Eliot doesn't really have anything to say that Nate will want to hear anyway, so he falls silent. He accepts the careful support as Nathan guides him to the bathroom, grateful to be allowed to close the door and shut the other man out if only for a few minutes while he tries to work out what to do now. A glance in the mirror shows him how bad his face looks. Awkwardly, he lifts his t-shirt to catalog the bruising on his front, before turning and trying to stiffly look over his shoulder to see the rest. He should count his blessings, he knows, that they didn't just take him to the ER in this state. He closes his eyes for a moment to try and find the mental equilibrium he needs, but it's not there. He's lost and adrift and doesn't know what to do for the best.

He pulls himself together enough to do what he needs to do here and to wash up before the door isn't enough to keep him alone from Nathan's persistence. He sees blood under his fingernails and wants to scrub until it's gone, but this isn't his home, not his bathroom and there's no nail brush to hand to scrub with. He bites his lip for a moment as the water splashes into the sink. He thrusts both hands under the water, lathering up soap and frantically washing, then soaking then washing again in the hope that all traces will be gone.

It doesn't work, or not as much as he needs it to, and he can't keep going, he can't keep ignoring the fact that Nate is knocking at the door and threatening to come in, repeating, "I'm fine" isn't going to work again, because it's clear he's not. The façade is shattering.

In the end, he doesn't hear the door open, doesn't react until Nate is pulling him away from the sink, sitting him on the closed toilet lid and wrapping his hands in a towel. "Stop now," Nate's voice is firm, "You need rest. You can clean up more in the morning."

Eliot starts to shake his head but the movement hurts and Nathan's sighing. He won't meet Nate's eyes as he says, "I need to go . . ."

"Don't bother finishing that, unless you're telling me we're going to the hospital," Nate was firm.

"I shouldn't –"

"Shut up. You should be resting. You should be here or the hospital. You're not in any state to be on your own." Eliot can hear the frustration in Nathan's voice, knows that this is where he breaks the team apart but Nate's there ahead of him. "Trust us, Eliot."

Or maybe it's Eliot who's going to break, because this isn't about not trusting them. It's about them trusting him. He starts as if to shake his head but thinks better of it. "Trust me, Eliot," Nate urges.

"I do."

It seems to be enough to have Nathan backing up out of his space, but before he can do anything, Nate's arm has slipped under his and around his back to help him back up to his feet. He's at a loss now, doesn't know what to do to make the world right again, to fix the cracks he's causing in the team.

Eliot doesn't get it, not at all. They look at him different, but they don't seem to want him gone. They still seem to think they're all a team. He's healed up now, fit and ready for the next job and they still seem to be counting on him to do his job.

It doesn't make sense to him. He keeps watching them, looking for the cracks and the pretense but he can't find it, not in any of them. After seeing him like that, why would they still think he was the best at what he does, why would they still trust him as the last line of defense with their lives?

It's not something he's going to understand any time soon, but for now he has to settle himself to accept that they still trust him to keep them safe and now all he's got to do is live up to that for them. He can't betray that trust . . . it's not something easily given.