A/N: This will be multi-chapter. If this goes as planned (what am I saying... fics never go as planned) this will turn into a case fic with a twist, some angst, some romance, and maybe even some smut. This is going to be interesting. Relatively new fandom for me, so be gentle. Written between work and sleep and other stories I really should be writing on. Oh look, there goes my sanity. Bye sanity! Byeeeeeeee!

Soft footsteps made Eliot turn around. Parker stood nervously behind him, idly twisting one finger in her hands in way that would have made Sophie smirk if she'd been playing a mark. However this was Parker and he wasn't Sophie. Parker being nervous set him on edge in less than a second. She was never nervous- the woman jumped off buildings for Christ's sake. If she was nervous or scared, Eliot had every reason to be wary.

He didn't even bother pretending like he hadn't noticed her uneasiness and stood. "What is it?"

Parker nervously gnawed on her lip and didn't look at him. She suddenly realized she was picking her finger raw and dropped her hands, hooking her fingers in her belt loops like she'd seen Eliot do hundreds of times.

"I need some help," Parker admitted, stubbornly staring at the counter. She ran a hand over it, flicking away imaginary dust as she did.

"You in trouble?" Eliot felt his wariness beginning to give way to worry. The last time Parker had been in trouble she'd been trapped in a building with a security system even Hardison had trouble hacking into, a strange man calling to tell them she was minutes away from being caught and probably killed. He still bristled at the memory. Parker hadn't come to them, hadn't trusted them enough to ask for help.

And then, when they were seconds away from getting her out safely, she decides she's staying and completing the job. She didn't try to plead with Eliot, hanging forty stories in the air off a building, no she simply smiled at him. An 'it's okay' smile. A 'you don't have to follow me' smile. And she'd turned her back on him and bolted.

Eliot hadn't told anyone the glass had been broken before Nate's sharp command had reached his ears. By the time the Mastermind had thought of something Eliot was knocking out the guy who'd pulled a gun on the Thief. She'd smiled at him again- thanks, relief, and a touch of smug- and he'd just glared. But he'd followed her in. He'd helped her without being asked.

Now Parker was before him and she was asking.

"No," she hurriedly assured him, eyes snapping up to meet his. "Maybe eventually but not now, no."

Eliot blinked once, then twice, then furrowed his brow, eyes narrowing. She was making less sense than normal. "If you don't start makin' sense I'll walk outta that door. Now tell me what you need." He tried keeping his temper out of his voice but it leaked into the edges. Parker'd always had a way of pissing him off faster than anyone else he knew.

"Teach me to fight," Parker blurted almost too quick to catch.

"You know how to fight," Eliot reminded her. "It's been a while but I showed you those holds, remember?"

"No I mean something different." Parker held his gaze. "I want you to show me what to do if I've got two guys coming at me, one with a gun and the other already swinging. I want to know how to do that."

That didn't make Eliot feel any better. "You sure you're not in any trouble?" he asked, gently this time. Parker nodded, but Eliot saw her drop her gaze. "Parker-" he warned.

"I'm not in trouble!" she insisted, glancing back at him.

"Then what's this about?"

"I just wanna know what to do when you're not there."

It hit Eliot like a good punch in the gut. He actually felt winded. Logically he knew it made sense to show Parker how to take down more than one guy- what would happen if she was cornered by two or three and he was too far away to help? But the thought of being too far away to help her, of Parker going against guns and knives instead of lasers and motion detectors alone...

Parker began gnawing on her lip again, growing more nervous under his intense gaze.

"Okay," Eliot decided. The door swung open behind them but he paid it no mind. He could tell by the faint smell of whiskey that it was Nate and Sophie. "When we're done here we'll go to the gym."

Parker broke into a brilliant grin and nodded, bouncing a little on her toes. "Cereal," she declared, bounding into the kitchen to raid the cabinets as if nothing had happened. It was so Parker that Eliot shook his head and turned to hide his grin, gruffly brushing past Nate.

Sophie was smiling at something he couldn't see. He ignored her.

"Where's Hardison?" Nate asked the room at large.

Eliot shrugged. "Wasn't here when we got here."

Parker leapt over the back of the couch and settled next to Eliot. Neither her milk nor her cereal spilled so much as a drop. Eliot nudged her with his elbow, pointedly glancing at his hand covered by her thigh. Parker followed his gaze down, laughing when she saw, leaning over so he could free his hand. Eliot rolled his eyes and shifted to his right, away from her.

Hardison blew into the apartment, bottles of orange soda dropping from his bag, his arms, even from his pockets. One hit the floor and exploded, covering the floor and wall, and Hardison himself, in sticky orange fizz. The Hacker let out a groan and hurried forward, depositing the rest of the soda on the couch as he passed. Eliot shifted left barely in time to avoid a lap full of bottles that varied between half full and empty.

"Dammit Hardison!" he barked, adjusting his balance so he wasn't lounging against Parker's arm. "What the hell is this?"

Hardison ignored him. He was typing fast, eyes trained on the screens. Numbers flew past, pictures, documents, something about a scandal and a possible love child. Eliot squinted at the screens and tried to piece it all together. Parker munched loudly on her cereal beside him.

"Hardison what is all this?" Sophie asked, dabbing a napkin at her shirt in hopes of removing the moisture before it stained.

"Did that say UFO?" Eliot demanded.

"I saw camels," Parker offered.

"Hardison," Nate started. "What-"

"This!" Hardison declared. The images slowed and finally stopped, revealing a picture of a young red headed woman holding a little boy. They were both smiling but if you knew to look you could see the faint lines of tension around the woman's eyes. The boy was so young he didn't seem to realize a picture was being taken, his grin focused on something out of frame.

"You found them." Nate started to smile.

Hardison's grin could put the sun in a shadow. "I found them in one day baby."

"Who's them?" Parker asked. She began slurping her milk.

Eliot rolled his eyes for the third time in the past five minutes. "Really?" he asked her. "You have to do that every time you eat cereal?"

Parker looked shocked he'd even ask. "I can't waste the milk!"

"So put it in a glass and quit slurping it." He turned his attention back to Hardison. He lifted one finger from his beer bottle and pointed at the screens. "Who are they?"

Hardison grabbed his remote. "They are the daughter and grandson of congressman George Malcom."

Sophie looked up from her dabbing. "Congressman Malcom doesn't have a daughter. He has a son though."

"Illegitimate child," Nate informed them. "With an illegitimate grandchild. Both of whom were kidnapped three days ago. Congressman Malcom has asked for Hardison's help."

"I owed him a favor," Hardison explained. "Malcom just found out about his daughter last year. They decided to keep it quiet until the commotion from Malcom's last bill died down."

"Someone found out about the daughter," Eliot guessed. "And kidnapped her and her son to force Malcom to remove his bill. Someone rich losing money over the bill?"

Nate nodded distractedly. Eliot watched the pieces start to fall into place in Nate's head and began chugging his beer. They'd be moving out in about five seconds and he didn't want to leave a perfectly good beer to go warm and stale on Nate's coffee table. It never tasted the same even if he forced the cap back on and stuck it in the fridge. Besides he didn't have time. There was a kid involved. They'd need to hurry.

"Okay Hardison you know where they are right?" At Hardison's nod Nate spun on his heel to face them. "Let's go steal some people."

"That's a new one," Parker commented. "Is he drunk?"

Eliot tossed his bottle across the room to the trashcan without looking, eyeing Nate critically. He held this thumb and pointer finger of his left hand an inch apart. "A little," he told her.

"That's not so bad." She dumped her bowl on the coffee table, patting his knee as she stood. "Let's go. I've got people to steal."

Eliot wondered if it was possible to sprain the muscles responsible for eye rolling. But he followed.

Eliot's shoulder, arm, and leg were sore. He even thought his face was sore. Pretty sure his knuckles weren't happy either. He'd had to take care of a guard hired by the Russians- always the Russians- when he'd caught on to Parker and had gone for her. Parker had danced out of the way easily enough but Hardison had seen it through the cameras and Eliot and bolted for them. It was satisfying to smash the Russian's face with his fist but now he was paying the price for it.

He almost didn't go to the gym but he remembered Parker's face, apprehensive, asking for help and afraid to ask. Afraid to ask him- him- for help. Parker had never been afraid of anything. Except horses. But she'd done the job years ago because he'd asked her. Had he ever paid her back for that?

"You're here," Parker stood from a stretch, eyes wide.

"Said I would be didn't I?" Eliot growled, throwing his bag down.

"It's just..."

"What?" He bit out, sharper than he meant to. Parker flinched. She shook her head and began to back away. Eliot felt his stomach bottom out. Not for the first time he told himself he was an idiot. "Parker-"

"No it's okay," she interrupted quietly. She wouldn't look at him. "I asked for your help. You didn't have to do this. Still don't." She picked up her bag, threw the strap over her shoulder. She still wouldn't look at him. "I'll go."

Eliot's hand shot out before she could brush past him. "Stop." Now he couldn't look at her. "You asked for help. I'm gonna help you."

"No, you're hurt. I didn't think about it."

"Parker." Never had he been more grateful to be able to silence with one word. He slid his fingers up her arm, taking the bag and tossing it across the room. Parker stood stock still, eyes downcast as he moved to face her. "Get in your stance."

He didn't know why she wanted to learn more. Parker was fast and she was small. People would, and often did, underestimate her strength. Even Tara, who'd worked with her, had been surprised at the strength the blonde thief had. With Parker's reflexes and muscles honed by hanging from buildings and backflipping through lasers, she could easily take someone out with only a few punches. She wasn't anywhere near Eliot's level, but she could hold her own.

Eliot really didn't want to question Parker's motives. He just wanted to get her educated so she'd be safe and gone. He had a case of beer with his name on it. The game was recording. He had a few girls he could call up. He refrained from mentioning any of it and focused instead on Parker's stance. Rusty but still good, still solid. He slid a leg between hers to nudge her foot over with his.

"Stance is good," he muttered, stripping to his wife beater and the shorts he'd thrown on under his sweats. He'd kicked his shoes off automatically before going on the mats, years of habit not letting him set foot off the floor while his shoes were still on.

Parker flexed her fist, rolling her shoulders a bit, eyes on him. At least she could look at him now.

"We'll do some of the more advanced stuff one-on-one for now," Eliot began, rolling his own shoulders. "Once your good with that we'll work on taking out two men."

Parker nodded silently. Eliot wondered if he should be worried about a silent Parker but pushed the thought to the back of his tired mind. It was Parker. Who knew why she did anything? He couldn't afford to ponder it as he fought her though. His mind had to be clear if he didn't want to accidentally hurt her.

For the next hour he threw punches and kicks her way. He faked punches and kicked her feet out from under her. He dodged her hits easily, though he nearly caught a knee to the face when he slowed. He kept forgetting how fast she was. Eliot was thinking about upping his game when he struggled to pinned her, keeping her down with a knee on her chest. He was careful not to press down too hard- he didn't want to bruise her.

Any more than she already is, he thought, catching site of smooth skin where her shirt had lifted. The pale skin was marred with violent purple and black bruises. Eliot took one look and knew, scrambling off her and yanking her to her feet.

"You should have said something," he growled, pressing gently on her side to check for fluid build up.

Parker flinched only slightly but it was enough for him. Nothing was broken but the bruises were into the sore stage, everything stiff and only getting more stiff. It had to hurt for her to move. It had to hurt for her to breathe. Eliot scowled and lead her to the bench her bag had landed on.

"Stay right there," he ordered. "I mean it Parker, you move and I'll come after you. I'll pin you again if I have to."

He stomped into the workout room, hopping the front desk like he had every right to do so. He heard Tank come up but ignored him, grabbing the first aid kit before he turned around. "Tank," he greeted. He began digging in the kit, checking the supplies.

"Spencer." Tank was four inches taller than Eliot and about eight inches wider. He had muscles the size of footballs and a grin that could disarm almost anyone. He'd gotten the nickname back in his bodybuilding days when he'd bent tank metal, keeping it when a blown knee had kept him out of the Iron Man competition in 2005. He'd won it twice before and used the prize money to open up the gym. Eliot had liked him as soon as they'd met. Tank hadn't tried to kill him yet and had even given Eliot a key to the gym.

"Sometimes you just gotta hit somethin'," he'd drawled as he handed it over. "I'd rather you waste a few punching bags than some thug on the street."

Eliot hadn't even tried to argue with him and had taken the key. Tank wouldn't have taken no for an answer anyways- he was a bit more southern than Eliot and therefore more stubborn. Not to mention he could probably break the Hitter over his knee without breaking a sweat.

"What'cha doing Spencer?" Tank reached under the counter and pulled out a fresh roll of gauze, tossing in the kit Eliot was going through.

"My friend thought it was a good idea to fight while already bruised," Eliot snarled, slamming the kit shut. He hopped the counter again, stalking back to the sparring mats without another word. The revolving doors didn't slam but they came pretty close.

Parker was still sitting on the bench. "You're scary when you're mad," she told him.

Eliot heard Tank's snort and ignored him.

"Let's see those bruises," he ordered, kneeling at Parker's feet. When she hesitated he reached out, intending to lift her shirt himself. Her hand shot out, batting his away. With a resigned sigh, Parker slowly, like it was hard to do so, lifted the shirt over her head, revealing her black sports bra, her pale expanse of skin, and the dark marks crawling from her hip to her ribs.

"Jesus Parker."

"Honey how in the hell did you-" Tank broke off, eyed them both, and straightened. "Spencer is this one of them things I don't wanna know about?"

Eliot cracked and shook an ice pack. "Sure is."

Tank smiled at Parker, gave her a little salute, and began walking out of the room. "Lock up when you're done Spencer," he called over his shoulder.

Parker inhaled sharply. "Cold!" she shrieked.

"Deal with it." Eliot's throat was going to be sore if he kept growling at her. "Did this happen on the job?"

Parker watched Eliot wind the gauze around the ice pack and secure it to her ribs. "The guard got some kicks in," she told him. She glanced at the doors, wondering if Tank was outside listening. Eliot trusted him but she didn't know him and it made her nervous that he might know about the team.

"Why would you want sparring lessons if you're hurt?"

Parker shifted, uncomfortable even though the burn in her side was slowly easing away. "You're not always around to protect me. Sometimes Nate or Hardison or Sophie need you." She poked at the ice pack he had in his hands. He jerked it away. "If I can fight too you won't have to get so beat up."

Eliot wasn't sure if he was going to break the ice pack or throw it across the room. "You want to learn to fight... so you can protect me?"

She shrugged. "Someone has to." She gently touched his split lip, tapping it lightly and never breaking his gaze.

He wasn't quite sure what to do with that. So he taped the other ice pack to her shoulder silently. Stalling. Trying to gather his thoughts. Knowing the packs had to give her a chill he tossed his sweatshirt at her. It would be big enough for her to shrug into without too much trouble.

"Every hit I take is one the rest of you don't have to feel," he told her, pulling on the shirt so her head was free. He brushed her hair across her shoulders. "I'm the Hitter. It's my job to protect the rest of you."

Parker's mouth twisted. "But who protects you?" she asked.

No one's protected me in a long time he thought but didn't say, sinking to the bench next to her. Parker nudged him with her elbow, then again when he didn't look at her.

"I'll make a deal with you," she said, turning to study the far wall. "I'll stop breaking into your apartment if you take better care of yourself of jobs. No more limping away."

"You break into my-" Eliot cast his eyes heavenward. "I'm not surprised." He pinched the bridge of his nose and wondered why he wanted to laugh.

Parker stuck her hand out. "Deal?"

Eliot eyed the hand like he would a snake lying still. It could be dangerous but if he played his cards right he wouldn't get bit. "Goes both ways. You gotta take care of yourself too. No more..." he gestured to her side, tapping gently on the ice pack bulging out from under his shirt. "You get hurt you tell someone. You get in over your head, you get out. I'll be there as fast as I can."

Parker just looked at him for a long minute. "You don't break into my place. I'd know if you did." She lowered her hand. "We can't have a deal if you don't have something to offer." She narrowed her eyes at him. "What'cha got? Money? Jewels?"

He didn't even have to think about it. "Sparring lessons. Whenever we have some time to kill, you and me are gonna be on those mats." Because God help whatever soul put bruises on her next. Whether it be by his hands or hers, the next person who tried would be getting bruised right back.

Parker leaned close, eyes narrowed. She seemed to be studying him. Eliot stared right back, blue eyes locked with blue, both serious. A hand came up and they shook on it, sealing the deal.

"Tomorrow?" Parker asked.

"Not with those bruises. Tuesday," he offered, squeezing her hand like an affirmative. "If we don't have a job," he added, releasing her fingers.

Parker accepted that and sat back, taking a long drink from her water bottle. She was smiling again.

Eliot made a mental note to check if anything was missing from his place when he got home.