Breathe In Now

By EmyPink

Disclaimer: Sadly not mine. Everything recognised as "Leverage" does not belong to me; I've just borrow it to fulfil my own needs. And the title is shamelessly ripped from the song 'Breathe in Now' by George (but seriously, it's like totally my Parker/Hardison theme).

Rating: T

Parings: Parker/Hardison with implied Sophie/Nate

Genres: Hurt/Comfort, Episode Tag, Friendshippy Romance

Warnings: Spoilers for The Experimental Job, plus general spoilers for season four

Summary: Of course she can tell he's lying, because she's Parker and he's Hardison and together they are Parker-and-Hardison. [Post-ep for The Experimental Job]

A/N Long time fic writer, first time Leverage fic writer. I'm still getting a feel for the character's voices, but the latest ep inspired me to experiment (if you will) with a bit of Parker/Hardison because they make my little writing heart flutter with joy. Do tell if anything seems off, because I can only improve. :-) Now, on with the show (or as Nate would say, let's go steal ourselves a fic) …

"Parker. Parker. Stop it. I'm fine. I can open the door to my apartment on my own."

Hardison leans slightly to the left as he grapples with Parker for the keys to his door. He's taller than her, but just the thought of raising his arm that high makes his ribs protest. That's why, with all the childhood glee of a little girl beating her brother to the last cookie, Parker grabs the keys from under him and ducks as he tries to reach out and grab her. That's a bad move, because his ribs really do protest and then he's trying not to kneel over and trying really hard not to breathe because that hurts too.

And when she drops the long sought after keys to help keep him upright, Hardison figures he should just give up now and surrender to the Evil Lord of Frat Boys With Psychopathic Tendencies because man, the Evil Lord really wants to kick the proverbial puppy when he's down. Not that that surprises Hardison, considering it's the Evil Lord of Frat Boys With Psychopathic Tendencies not the Evil Lord of Frat Boys With Rainbows and Kittens.

He looks up and Parker has an arm wrapped around his waist and as she tries to manoeuvre his arm around her shoulder, there's that little frown of hers playing on her lips as though she's trying to work something out. She squints when she notices Hardison staring at her and without looking, uses her boot-clad foot to flip his house keys from the ground and into her left hand. Hardison blinks, and drops his eyes to the ground where the keys just were, and then flicks his eyes back to Parker's face and gone is the concentrated frown and smirk dances across her face instead.

"I practiced," she replies cheerfully and Hardison really doesn't have a hard time picturing Parker in her storage unit-slash-house randomly dropping sets of keys (lifted sets of keys, probably) just so she can perfect the art of flipping them with her boot as though she was a burger bunny in the local diner.

"No kidding," Hardison mutters as Parker uses the hand not holding him up to twist the key in his lock. The door snaps open and thanks to the minor plastic surgery he inflicted on his apartment, a silent alarm will sound in precisely three point two five seconds unless a specific and random combination of numbers are … oh …

Parker all but drags him into his hallway and flips back the cover on the alarm control pad. Without looking, she keys in the specific and random combination of numbers and immediately light floods the third floor apartment (Hardison hates coming home at night when there's no lights on so he rigged the security system to flood the place with light once the correct passcode is entered).

Hardison stares dumbly at Parker and she smiles brilliantly. She taps the side of his nose and remarks, "You really didn't think I wouldn't figure out your passcode? By the way, not so random. You should work on that. You should ask Eliot. He has the best random combination ever." Parker lights up and tosses another grin in Hardison's direction.

And before Hardison's brain can catch up with his hearing (he blames the concussion, even though "Doctor" Spencer proclaimed no concussion and what would he know anyway), Parker has deposited him on his couch and disappeared into his kitchen.

"Wait. What?" Hardison calls out to Parker as he hears her clunking around his kitchen, opening and closing doors before trying his fridge.

Her blonde hair peeks back into the lounge room via the doorframe that connects the lounge room to the barely-used kitchen. She shrugs and comments, "You have the best chips" as though breaking into his apartment and knowing his passcode was an everyday occurrence. Wait a minute …

Hardison narrows his eyes. "Okay, girl, how many times have you snuck in and raided my chips?"

Parker just shrugs again and ducks back into the kitchen. "And," Parker continues as she goes back to nosing through his cupboards and he tells himself he'd go and stop her if his ribs hadn't decided it was an acceptable sacrifice if it meant they could stay put, "Eliot always has the best leftovers, for when I don't want chips or cereal or fortune cookies. And Sophie has the best couch because it's really soft and comfy, and Nate …" Hardison can almost hear the puzzlement in her voice. "… Is Nate. But he's no fun because he practically leaves his door open and doesn't even have a little itty-bitty door alarm."

She comes back into the lounge room frowning, as though Nate not having just a little itty-bitty door alarm suddenly put a damper on things. But she's carrying a bowl of the aforementioned chips and a plastic bottle of 'Squeeze Orange Soda' so all is forgiven. Parker waves the bowl of chips under Hardison's nose and says,

"Like I said, best chips."

Hardison watches as Parker bounces onto the couch next to him before turning to face him with her legs tucked under her body. She balances the chips on her knees and holds out the overly sugary soda. And Hardison really would like to take the bottle, he would, but he doesn't think his arms could stretch that far without protesting, and that's not even mentioning how he's meant to lift his arm to actually drink from the bottle.

But Parker, apparently, has thought of that and with growing horror, Hardison stares as she twists open the cap and omigod, she's going to try and feed it to him like a naughty toddler. Well, maybe not, because Parker's either seen the look of horror on his face or doesn't want to force feed it to him, as she produces a paper-wrapped straw.

He sighs in relief as she uses her teeth to rip the packaging away and plops the straw through the neck of the bottle. Parker raises the bottle to Hardison's lips and it's only two false starts before he grabs the straw between his teeth. He slurps, and this is definitely better than Nate's suggestion of a neat whisky to sooth his aching body.

Parker grins. "I told Sophie it was a good idea."

"What's a good idea?" Hardison tries to ask, but since his mouth is curled around a straw it comes out more like, "Wass ah goo iiiddeeaa?"

"Playing nursemaid," Parker replies brightly and Parker is nearly wearing the orange soda as Hardison splutters and then coughs wildly as the liquid slides down his throat in totally the wrong way.

"What?" he repeats, and everything seems a bit fuzzy but that might be because of Parker gazing quite innocently at him as he tries not to think of her in a little nurse's outfit. Ooh, he is so going to Hell … or worse, Nana's gonna knock him around the ears for having a dirty mind.

"What?" Parker echoes as she continues staring at him without blinking. Doesn't she realise that no normal person can stare at someone like that for so long without blinking?

"Nothing," he splutters and sucks on the straw for good measure. If he thinks about the orange soda he won't think about … dammit. Bad Hardison … bad, bad Hardison who can't help but think back to the god-awful frat party and Parker in that floaty white dress, calling herself a (Hardison was raised too much of a gentleman to repeat that particular word) and then kissing him.

No, dammit … Hardison lets go of the straw with a small pop and instead shovels a handful of chips into his mouth as though that might banish his racing thoughts. But it really, really doesn't help that the bowl of chips and the bottle of soda are now resting on his coffee table and Parker's suddenly tugging at his shirt. It really, really doesn't help.

"What are you doing?" he squeaks and sprays Parker with a mouthful of chip crumbs.

She crinkles her nose, but doesn't stop pawing at his shirt until she's lifted one side right up to his arms. Parker frowns, that same little frown as before, as though she's trying to figure out something she can't quite grasp and can't go to Sophie for help. But then her finger is out and suddenly Hardison has a newfound appreciation for all that Eliot does as Parker lightly pokes the bandage around his ribcage.

He winces and draws back, and Parker drops her hand and looks at him with eyes as though she's just broken her favourite toy. "I just want to see," she says quietly and endearingly chews on her bottom lip. "Does it … hurt?" she asks hesitantly.

For a moment Hardison considers responding with a "Hell, yes" but then decides it probably wouldn't be his best move. So instead he replies with, "It's not too bad." And that's not quite a lie, because after Eliot had strapped his ribs it really had hurt less.

"Liar," Parker breathes and of course she can tell he's lying, because she's Parker and he's Hardison and together they are Parker-and-Hardison.

"Can't con a conman," Hardison jokes weakly, but sinks back into the couch as life overwhelms him.

"No," Parker replies simply, "because I know you, Alec."

And she uses his first name and something must be happening because she never uses his first name, but Hardison really can't think right now because his head's all fuzzy and his ribs hurt like Hell and Parker's there and so are her lips and he's really truly not thinking about how they felt against his as they sold their cover to Zilgram before things started to go wrong but so totally in accordance with Plan X or was that Plan M because he died in Plan M and he's either dying or in love and in he's definitely not in love so he must be dying.

"Hey." Parker taps his cheek lightly and peers intently into his eyes. "Are you sure you don't have concussion?" she asks suspiciously.

"I don't have concussion," Hardison manages to respond, though he's not quite sure how exactly he made his lips move. "Eliot said so."

Parker crosses her arms and leans away from him. "Eliot can be wrong," she replies, but they both know Eliot is never wrong, just like Sophie is never wrong and Nate is … well, Nate's often wrong, but who's counting.

But Parker still looks mildly upset at the thought of Hardison having concussion so he takes her hands in his and says completely seriously and firmly, "I'm fine, baby girl. I'm here, Zilgrim's not, and this," he gestures to his still raised shirt, "this will fade in about a week, well, maybe more like two or three give or take."

Parker shudders suddenly and yanks her hands from his. She pulls back from him even more and now she's pressed against the other side of the couch. But Hardison says nothing and soon Parker's hand is out again and though Hardison braces himself for the inevitable poke, she actually starts to trail her fingers lightly over his bandage. Not enough for it to actually hurt, but there is just enough pressure that Hardison gets all tingly inside and decides it really isn't the time to think of pretzels.

"I'm sorry," she says finally, as her fingers continue to stroke his side and Hardison wonders if she knows that she's killing him here.

"Sorry? Why are you sorry?" Hardison looks confused.

Parker shrugs and her fingers still, though they never break contact with his skin. "They were really hurting you," she says in a small voice. "And it's worse than when you were in that coffin because even though you were suffocating to death you weren't getting all beat up."

Hardison doesn't need reminding about the unfortunate incident involving pissed off undertakers and top-of-the-line coffins that he's filed away under "never to be thought of again" much like this particular job.

"One of my foster dads beat me up once," Parker says off-handily as though she's recalling a trip to the park.

Hardison starts and sits up, but winces as he jostles his ribs. Parker barely ever offers insights into her past and god, sometimes he likes it that way when he thinks about what kind of childhood Parker must have had to turn her out like this.

"I think I was maybe six or seven." Parker shrugs as though this little detail doesn't really matter, but this is a little blonde girl – herself – she's talking about.

Hardison grits his teeth together and clenches his fist. If, god forbid, the team ever happened to stumble across one of Parker's past acquaintances, well, there was a good chance there wouldn't be much left of him once he'd been a couple of rounds with Eliot and Hardison, and then probably Sophie for good measure. Nate, on the other hand, would simply steal all his money and destroy any reputation a man could have for hitting a kid. It worked out to be a fair deal, Hardison mused.

"I don't really remember much," Parker continues calmly, "but I remember being really, really scared. And I'm never scared. Not when I'm jumping off buildings or crawling through ducts or whatever."

And Hardison knows, he just knows, that in her own Parker roundabout way, she's trying to tell him that he'd scared her earlier on, even though the CIA file had been part of the original con, though what happened after that wasn't quite how they had planned for things to pan out. Hardison certainly wouldn't have agreed to things if it meant getting the crap kicked out of him by Frat Boys With Psychopathic Tendencies.

"But they were really hurting you and I didn't like it in here," Parker finishes quietly and taps her chest twice, right above where her heart sits.

"So you hit them with chairs," Hardison reminds her and a ghost of a smile drifts across her face.

"Yeah, so I hit them with chairs," she repeats with a growing grin.

"You did good, mama," Hardison adds as he leans towards her. But that's a bad idea because leaning forward seems to hurt too, but then Parker's pushing him back against the couch and she's stroking him again and it's not so bad.

"Yeah." Parker smiles and snuggles against him, resting her head in his lap but carefully avoiding his ribs. Her fingers drop from his side, but with almost hesitant moves, seeks out his hand before curling her fingers around it. "I did good, didn't I."

Hardison doesn't reply, but gently squeezes her hand. Parker closes her eyes and Hardison brushes a stray piece of blonde hair from her face.

She smiles a little and opens her eyes. "That's nice," she decides, so Hardison runs his free hand through her hair and finds that his ribs don't really hurt much any more.

Parker closes her eyes again, hums something under her breath and Hardison lets his own eyes drift shut as he leans against the back of the sofa. "Do the hair thing again," she commands and Hardison is more than happy to comply.

And when Sophie lets herself into Hardison's apartment later that evening, she smiles softly at two of them curled around each other and snoring lightly on Hardison's rather awfully matched couch.

She spies a handmade throw blanket hanging off the back of an armchair that really didn't match the couch or the lounge room (Sophie decides that she and Hardison will be having Words about the proper way to furnish a house sooner rather than later) so she picks it up and drapes it over the sleeping pair who don't even stir.

Smirking, she notes that their left hands are entwined and Sophie's eyes widen as … isthatHardison'shandinParker'shair? She shakes her head and decides she'd rather not know. And with a quick glance around the room, Sophie slips back out the door and into Nate's silver car.

"How's Hardison?" Nate asks as Sophie shuts the passenger side door.

"Oh, I think he's fine," Sophie replies lightly as she drums her fingers on the dashboard. "A little more than fine, perhaps."

Nate quirks an eyebrow, but Sophie just shrugs him off and says sweetly, "Now, wasn't I about to see a Man about a Thing?"

This time, Nate grins and guns the engine.

All is well.