A/N: Just needed to get this out of my system. I suggest that any of you who can, donate to ALS research. It's an awful disease, and it is very hard on both the patient and the family. There is no cure, and the only drug on the market for it can only extend life for a few months. This story is written from experience, not research, so facts and progression may not be typical. Its a sad one, you've been warned.
When it came to the team's hitter, everything was physical. And it made sense really; he relied on his body for everything, deeply in tune with the workings of his own flesh and muscle. The job demanded it. He could tell if he'd broken ribs or just bruised them, he could even tell which ones. He knew what was normal and what wasn't and so when he first started to notice the numbness in his hands, he saw the doctor immediately.
Blood tests told them that everything was normal, and Eliot left unsatisfied. He knew something was wrong but didn't know what. And his suspicions were confirmed when the tremors and muscle spasms in his hands started, and when he started noticing cramps and muscle contractions he returned to the doctor.
Eliot had never heard of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, but he'd heard of Lou Gehrig's disease before, and he listened quietly while the doctor explained. Eventual paralysis, progressive loss of ability to care for himself, death likely in three to five years.
It took several tries to swallow the lump in his throat, and Eliot couldn't tell if that was the ALS or just that he was afraid of his prognosis. A twenty-five percent chance to survive past five years. He had confronted his own mortality more times than he could count over the years. He'd been tortured, nearly to the point of death, but then at least he'd been doing something, a blaze of glory as he prepared to take the secrets to the grave. But this? This was just slowly wasting away, trapped in his own body that he had relied on for so long.
He didn't tell the team. He couldn't bring himself to admit weakness; he didn't want them to have to worry yet. As long as he could still do his job he didn't have to tell them. And secretly he almost hoped that maybe he'd get killed on the job, because then at least his death would be admirable, and they'd never have to see him as the helpless cripple he would be come. He figured that someone might notice, he did work with incredibly intelligent and observant people, but really he'd never expected that Parker would be the first to figure out something was wrong.
Parker was easily the least observant person on the team, though only when it came to humans. But she noticed his hand tremor while they were standing at the kitchen counter during the briefing, and when he flattened his hand on the counter top trying to make it stop, she covered his hand with her own and their eyes had met.
She found him later on the roof, and she sat down next to him, she looped her arm around his and leaned her head against his shoulder and he wondered why he ever thought she wouldn't notice. She always noticed the really important things. "What is it?" She asked softly, and he knew that he couldn't lie to her, that he couldn't tell her it was nothing.
"ALS," there was a hitch in his voice, and Eliot had never been so close to tears in his adult life.
She didn't ask for an explanation and he wasn't sure why, since she usually had no filter, even when things were serious. But he was grateful, and he liked to think that she knew somehow, that he didn't want to, couldn't talk about it. He hadn't noticed the harness she was wearing, and she quickly untangled herself from him and attached herself to the zip line that connected some of the buildings between Nate's apartment, and her warehouse. She left with a wave.
He didn't know what to expect after that, but Parker collecting up all her things and taking up residence in Eliot's guest room had been the last thing to cross his mind. But there she was. She said nothing, gave him no options but he knew he couldn't keep her out anyway.
"Parker, what are you doing?" he had growled at her when he found her on his kitchen counter, eating a bowl of her favorite cereal.
"You're sick," she shrugged, and he knew that her apparent indifference was just a façade "You don't want to admit it, but you're going to need help. I get that you don't want to tell the team, but I'm here. I know, and I'll help you."
"Why?" his voice cracked as he clasped his trembling hands together.
"Because I love you," Parker frowned, "that's what people who love each other do for each other, right?" He could hear the uncertainty in her voice, and though it wasn't the first time she'd said it, somehow it meant so much more. And somehow the fact that he was going to leave her behind hurt infinitely more than knowing he was going to die.
He sat up on the counter next to her, and took her hand in his. He couldn't look at her, he couldn't meet her eye, but he replied in a hoarse whisper, "thank you, Darlin'."
In retrospect, Parker was absolutely the right person, Eliot couldn't help but think. As much as he hated to put her in the position to watch him waste away, she was probably the only person who could understand his need for independence. She never offered extra help, only silently stepped in when she could see he needed her help. She never commented on it, and after a while it was almost second nature for her to step in to compensate. And while Eliot was still painfully aware of his disintegrating abilities, Parker wasn't nearly as aware about how much she did for him.
The rest of the team began to notice though, when she slid the ceramic French knife out of his shaking hand, and he was grateful at least that he hadn't dropped it like he had earlier. But Parker just continued to slice the peppers. And the team passed it off though; it was easier to just believe it was the result of his last fight than to consider that something was actually wrong with their hitter.
But Eliot couldn't pass it off, and Parker couldn't forget, and when he couldn't stop the muscle spasms in his arm, and the tremors in his hand as it ghosted over her pale skin and down her side, he also hadn't been able to stop himself from punching the wall, crying out in frustration. But Parker had dragged him back into the bed, and she ignored the silent tears falling down his face and her nimble fingers worked into the tense muscles in his arms, reassuring, soothing. And for a little while he felt better.
She noticed when he started to have trouble fighting, and after one particularly difficult encounter, she had given him a look with so much compassion, and so much worry that he had known it was time to tell the team. Sophie had gasped dramatically, immediately fussing the way they knew she would, and Hardison was already researching on the internet before the words were all the way out of Eliot's mouth. Nate was silent, but they had expected that also, and it was almost too much for Eliot. It was only Parker's firm grip on his hand that kept him from running away and going to lick his wounds in private.
Things were different after that. In theory he knew they would be, but bringing Quin back into the team didn't sting any less, and while he was thankful that the Leverage team could continue without him, he didn't want them to. He didn't like that he was replaceable. He didn't realize that it was Parker's insistence that they keep him around whether or not he could fight for them. Even she wasn't sure if it was because she wanted him to be a part of it, or if she just couldn't bear to leave him behind when she left for jobs.
In any event, he could appreciate what ever little thing he could do to help, but even just standing up was beginning to become difficult, and everyone on the team noticed when he began to lean on Parker for support when walking for any significant amount of time. He was going stir crazy, so anxious, so restless and every muscle in his body itched for exercise or abuse that he physically wasn't capable of anymore.
He was stunned when Parker brought him to the ranch; he had needed help onto the horse to his dismay, but once up all of his tension melted away. For hours he was able to ignore the trembling hands that he couldn't quite hold normally anymore, always curled into awkward fists. And from atop the horse he watched Parker sit tense and terrified on the fence. He couldn't help but think that maybe this ALS was a curse, but he was also blessed to have her, even if it wouldn't last.
He didn't know how he felt about the team moving headquarters when he could no longer handle the third floor walkup, even with help, and goddamnit that he couldn't manage stairs, but at least they cared about him enough to make the change.
The drugs the doctor had given him in hopes of slowing down the progression of the disease didn't help at all, and it terrified Eliot that only a year and two months from his diagnosis he'd been reduced to a power chair for the majority of his mobility. The day it came he'd practically had a meltdown, angry and scared he could admit that much now, but he hadn't been read, hadn't been prepared to face the chair. It had taken Parker two days to coax him into it, and there were tears in both of their eyes when he finally sat down in it.
It was only a few months later he struggled to get in and out of the chair, and he didn't know if it was a good or bad thing that he'd lost enough weight and muscle mass that Parker could pick him up. Yes, she was incredibly strong for her size, the job demanded it from her as well, but he had always been densely packed, a fighter's body.
He had fallen asleep in the chair in front of the TV one day when he woke up to Parker curled up in his lap, crying into his chest with deep heaving sobs. He didn't know what to say, and just curled his arms around her as best he could, and he let her anguish was over him. And though she was caring for him in every, deeply intimate way, though he couldn't even wash his own hair by himself anymore, he'd never felt more helpless than he had with her crying in his lap.
The doctor's visits were practically weekly, and on numerous occasions he had informed her that she didn't need to stay. She brushed it off though as if it was the most ridiculous thing she'd ever heard, and as far as she was concerned, it was.
By the time Parker convinced him to call his sister; he could barely keep his head up. And his sister and brother-in-law and his four nieces had all rushed to Boston to see him, because nobody had any idea how much longer he'd last. The kids climbed all over him, unable to understand what was happening, and his sister had been unable to keep her tears at bay. She pressed her St. Anthony medal into his hand, and he barely managed to keep his grasp on it. She said her goodbyes, and so did her husband and children. Eliot couldn't swallow the lump in his throat because he knew this was the last time he'd ever see his sister, and they'd never been especially close, but he did love her.
He didn't realize how bad his voice had gotten until the old team had shown up for a visit and Parker had to translate nearly everything he had said. It was a harsh blow on top of his sister's visit a month ago, and he couldn't help but wonder how much longer it would be before he couldn't speak at all.
He couldn't figure out how time could seem to move so quickly when he couldn't do anything at all and it seemed like such a short time in between the feeding tube and when his voice had gone entirely. Parker managed to get her hands on a contraption to let him speak, though the voice wasn't his own. But he was able to say his goodbyes to the team, and later in private, he said goodbye to her, and he let her know that his St. Anthony medal, the patron saint of lost souls, was hers, and she could have anything else of his that she wanted. She didn't know how to respond to that, but took the medal. How was she supposed to tell him that she couldn't give a damn about anything like that, the stupid medal, or any of his cash assets, when she really just didn't want him to leave her?
It was exactly a week shy of three years when he finally passed away in his sleep, and though she knew it was coming, Parker still felt like she'd been dropped off the Empire State building with no harness when she found him come morning. She couldn't bring herself to call everybody then, and only managed to crawl into the bed next to him, stroking his long curly locks as sobs wracked her small frame.
It was like everything moved in slow motion after that morning and Parker felt like she was trying to swim through honey, though maybe the analogy was a bit too sweet, as the team helped her make arrangements for the funeral.
It was a beautiful day, but Parker couldn't help but feel like Mother Nature was mocking them. The speeches they all gave and the sad looks on his nieces' faces ensured that Parker never ran out of tears. Sophie and Hardison had tried to comfort her, but there really weren't words in any language that would have been able to console her.
She was barely able to remain standing as they lowered the casket into the ground, she'd had to lean on Nate just to stay upright, and she stayed long past anyone else, watching as the hole was filled. When the employees where finished, they just shared a look and packed up their equipment and left her there alone, she needed it.
And Parker curled up on the ground, right there over the grave and through she'd finally ran out of tears, the sobs came until she finally fell asleep. Sophie found her there in the morning and wrapped her in a blanket without one single word about her ruined dress. And she didn't tell Parker that it was going to be okay, because Sophie honestly wasn't sure it would be.