Summary: Written for comment fic at LJ. Prompt: Leverage, Eliot + Team (pairing AC), Eliot admits he's been going to see a whole series of specialists and they've been telling he's got to stop fighting. For over six months.

Hey look! Angst again. And why do I keep beating up Eliot's character both physically and emotionally? This time he's sick and keeping secrets. Obviously, AU.

Warning: See title. Hint-hint.


They're only little things at first.

The pained, pinched look around his eyes some days, the dark rings on others. They shrug and go on with the con when he tells them it's just a hangover (no matter that he rarely gets drunk enough to get hung over in the first place), or that it's just the remains of a concussion, nothing more. He gives the same reason for the dizziness and nausea that creep up on him at times, but only if he can't hide them first.

The way he's been losing weight. It's gradual. They don't realize it until one day, Hardison digs up a photo of Eliot taken back when they'd first got together and jokes, "You been watchin' your weight or somethin', Jenny Craig?" Eliot just grumbles something about "all 'a y'all" needing to eat better, and how they'd starve to death without him.

The way he gets tired more easily. Parker comments that he'd lied to them; He sleeps waaay more than the ninety minutes a night he'd once claimed he gets. He tells her that watching people sleep is creepy, and that it's something sparkling vampires do.

The way he doesn't fight more than one guy at a time now if he can help it. That's something they only realize when they hear the almost silent curse when four guys turn up to block the only escape he and Nate have. He takes them all down after a longer fight than usual (with Nate assisting where he can), but one gets back up, and doesn't even touch him before Eliot stumbles and has to lean against the wall. It's Nate that knocks the thug out.

That's when they really start watching, but they would have noticed the next thing that happens, even if they hadn't been keeping a close watch on him.

He's in the kitchen, just like always, chopping something to add to the pot of merrily bubbling homemade chili, when there's a sudden clatter, a groan, and the thud of a body hitting the ground, in that order.

They rush in and stop short, stumbling all over each other in their shock at the sight in front of them. It's Parker who recovers first; she slides over to him and pulls his head up onto her lap so that it's not banging against the hardwood floor with every violent tremor of his body.

"Call 911!" she shouts angrily at the rest of the team. "Hey! Snap out of it and help him!"

. . . . . . . . . .

The doctor tells them that the seizure was caused by a tumor in his cerebellum.

The stare at him, dumbfounded.

"Tumor?" Nate croaks.

The doctor's expression turns understanding, sympathetic. "You didn't know. He hadn't told you." It's not a question.

"No, he hadn't told us," Sophie says. "Perhaps he hadn't known?"

The doctor shakes his head. "No, I'm afraid he would have noticed the symptoms long ago. Even if he hadn't in the beginning, the sheer size of it now has to be causing more problems than even the most stubborn of patients can ignore. I'm sorry," he says. "If you would like to see him, he's awake. Don't overtire him, though."

. . . . . . . . . .

"I can't believe you kept this from us," Hardison yells at Eliot the second he walks into the hitter's hospital room. "I thought we were better friends than that. I thought we were family."

Eliot looks…terrible. No bruises, no bleeding wounds anywhere, but he looks drawn and tired. He's pale, and there's a resigned set to his shoulders that they hadn't noticed before. But then again, they hadn't been very observant, which is how they'd gotten into this mess in the first place.

"We are family," Eliot insists tiredly. "I didn't wanna…" He rubs his head, as if it's aching, and clamps his lips together. "I didn't want you to coddle me. And don't deny it; you're all pitying me right now, and I don't want it. Not any of it. I'm gonna keep fighting as long as I can, and when I can't fight anymore, I want to die. Because I'm nothing without that."

"Eliot," Sophie starts with tears in her eyes, "You're more than a hitter. You're our friend, our brother. And you're sick. We can't keep putting you in danger when you could get hurt. We should wait until you get better, hmm?" She sits on the edge of his bed and gently takes his hand. She's trying to smile, trying to exude supportiveness, but it's shaky.

He looks bleakly at her, knowing how hard it is for her, for them, because it had been hard for him, too, back when all those tests had come back with bad news. "Sophie, I don't know how much they've told you, but I'm not just sick. I'm dying. They've been telling me to stop fighting for months, six months at least, but I can't. It's part of who I am. I can't stop fighting."

"How long?" Parker's standing by the window, away from the rest of them. Her arms are wrapped around her middle, and she's very busy not looking at Eliot.

"Do I have left?" he finishes gently.

"Don't say it like that, man." Hardison's close to choking up, too, and he does not want to believe this.

Eliot looks away and shrugs. "I'm living on borrowed time as it is. I could die tomorrow, or in two months. Who knows." He laughs bitterly. "Coulda died today. Just as well."

"What kindsa doctors you been seein'? Maybe there'll be someone who has a cure or treatment, or something." Hardison's desperate, and he does not want to lose his best friend.

A sad, tired smile appears on Eliot's face. "I'm a hitter, Hardison. We don't live long to begin with, and the ones who do know all the best doctors. Licensed or not, the best ones out there. And I've been to see 'em all." He looks to see if they're all listening. "I'm done, guys. If you don't want a guy who's practically dead on his feet protecting you, I can get you another hitter. I mean, I got one lined up anyway, just in case I die on the job. But I'm gonna keep fighting either way."

Parker leaps onto the bed, and starts hammering on his chest in a violent burst of anger. "You're not allowed to die, Eliot. You can't die!" she shouts at him.

He sits there on the bed and lets her hit him. When she tires out and her shoulders start shaking from the dry, tearless sobs, he pulls her close, wheezing a little from the hits to the chest he'd taken. He'd taught her well; he'd taught them all well. They'll be fine. "Parker, I'm sorry. But what do you want me to do, huh? I told you, hitters don't live long anyway. I'm old, Parker. Life expectancy's about late twenties to early thirties, dependin' on when you start, and I started young. If it hadn't been this, it woulda been a bullet, or someone getting the right shot in, or something worse."

"Can't die," Parker, says into his shoulder, where she's resting her head stiffly. "Don't wanna 'nother hitter. We wan' you."

Sophie puts her hand on Parker's arm. "Parker, if Eliot says, if he says," she swallows past the lump in her throat and pushes on, "if he says that, then we need to trust him. We've always trusted him to have our back, and it's our turn now."

She turns to Eliot. "You said you wanted to go out fighting?"

Eliot blinks several times and nods slowly. "Yeah."

Sophie smiles bravely. "Then we'll help you do that. Whatever you need. Right?" she asks the others.

"Fine," a red-eyed Hardison reluctantly agrees, "But I'm agonna keep lookin' anyways. Might be somethin' you missed."

Parker nods sharply. "'Kay. Still think you can't die, though." She's clutching onto Eliot's hospital gown, as if afraid he might slip through her fingers, as if she's keeping death from stealing her friend away from her.

They look to see Nate's reaction, but he's not in the room.

"Left a few minutes ago," Eliot says helpfully.

Sophie frowns. "I'll go look for him."

"He's just outside the door."

"How…? Never mind," Sophie amends, and leaves the room.

"Sophie," the hitter calls out before she goes.

She turns.


. . . . . . . . . .

She finds Nate standing right outside the room, exactly where Eliot had said he'd be.

"I thought, if I never had any more children, I couldn't possibly lose another one." He rakes his fingers through his hair. "Yet here I am, with not one, but three, and one of them is slipping through my fingers."

Sophie blinks away the tears that have yet again, come unbidden. "Oh, Nate."

Just then, a wide-eyed Parker bursts through the door, Hardison trailing after her in a panic.

"Parker, what-? Is it Eliot?" Oh God, please let it not be…

Behind them, Eliot bellows, sounding like his old self, "Whaddaya mean, you left the stove on?"

AN: This story has been nominated for the Second Annual Leverage Fanfiction Awards in the "Best Angst" category. If you liked it, please vote! May 30, 2012 is the last day to send in votes. Thank you!