Thin Ice

Nate and Sophie watched with satisfied smiles as their mark drove away from the warehouse. Then they shivered. Never again, unless there were some really good reasons, would they do another job in Minnesota in February. The wind made the air feel twice as cold as it actually was even while the snow was melting into piles of disgusting mush all around them. They'd won, everyone had gotten out okay and Nate was holding a briefcase full of cash; a satisfying end to the day. Another day another crooked politician taken down. Time to head back to Boston.

"Nate." Hardison's voice called through his earpiece. Well, that did not sound okay. In fact, the hacker sounded on the verge of panic. "Eliot's down."

"He's gone off com before, Hardison," Nate warned as he and Sophie immediately started walking back towards the van.

"No. Nononononono, I mean he's down as in, down. Off the pier and into the frozen lake: down." Hardison emphasized.

"Where? What happened?"

"Parker's on her way." Hardison answered. "There was a guy sniffing around the van. So, Eliot talked to him, right? Turns out to be a mob guy from Detroit. Followed the mark here cause they suspected a double cross on one of their bribes or something. Whatever, doesn't really matter now. There was a gun, and then there wasn't a gun, and Eliot chased him around the building and they were fighting on the pier."

"Parker, where are you?" Nate demanded.

"I'm at the pier. I don't see him."

"Parker," Hardison cut in. "Not at the pier. Over the pier. He fell off the freaking pier. The other guy fell and pulled Eliot down with him. I saw it all on the crappy security feed, but I can't see the water and Eliot's com is toast. You know what turns earbuds into toast? Water does. The lake is frozen but the com wouldn't have stopped working if he fell on ice. Damn it, the lake is frozen but not thick, you know?"

"Calm down, Hardison. We'll find Eliot. Parker, what do you see?"

"He's in the water. He's okay, I see him," Parker affirmed.

"Wait... Parker! Nate, she jumped." Haridson practically squeaked.

"Stay out of the water Parker." Nate reminded her. "Parker?"

"I've got him!" she yelled. "Sort of. I could use some help here."

By the time Nate and Sophie ran around the building, Hardison had just arrived and was out on the pier looking over the edge. Nate and Sophie ran to the shore, the closest point on land to where Eliot struggled in the water.

Parker hung upside down with her knees bent around the wooden support structure, all arms and blond ponytail dangling over the water. The ice was too brittle to climb up on or even hold on to, but by the size of the break in the ice, it looked like that hadn't stopped Eliot from trying.

Parker's hand was tightly gripping Eliot's. In his other arm Eliot held the man he'd been fighting; struggling to keep both of their heads above water.

Nate didn't have to look twice to know the difference. "Eliot, he's dead, let him go."

Eliot's grip on Parker's hand slipped and he sank briefly before pushing back up and grabbing her hand once more. He did not let go of the body.

Nate yelled again. "Eliot. He's dead. He's dragging you down."

"Rope." Parker shouted. "There's rope in my pack." Hardison scrambled over to her discarded pack she'd left on the pier. Yes. Of course she would have rope. Hardison tossed it to Nate, and Nate threw the end out to Eliot. It took him three tries to throw the rope far enough to reach Eliot. Parker wasn't close enough to help him, and he had to let go of her hand to grab it. He dipped below the surface again, but managed to keep his face out of the water as he wrapped it around himself and the guy he was holding and then looped it around his arm several times to hold it.

Parker yelled over to Nate and Sophie when Eliot was ready. "Pull." And then pulled herself up as Eliot moved away from her.

The thin ice broke around Eliot and the guy he held. Hardison joined Nate and Sophie, and together they were able to pull them up onto the shelf of ice that was thick enough to support their weight, and Parker pulled him off the ice as soon as he was close enough for her to safely reach.

Eliot's breathing was ragged as she untangled the rope from around him. He pushed himself up and rolled the guy over.

"He's dead." Nate stated.

Eliot didn't bother responding. He pushed himself up and started chest compressions.

"Eliot." Sophie put a hand on Eliot's shoulder. "You need to let us help."

He ignored her and kept working. Parker knelt facing Eliot on the other side of the body, and watched the man continue not breathing. He went through the steps, opening the airway. Breaths. Compressions. They watched. Not sure what to do. Nothing changed. Minutes ticked by.

"Please Eliot, stop. He's dead." Parker looked away from the man who was still not breathing, and up at Eliot. "You tried."

"Call an ambulance." Eliot sat back, breathing hard.

"As soon as we're on our way out of here." Hardison answered.

"You tried. That counts." Parker said again. "Come on. We have to get out of here."

Eliot tried but couldn't seem to catch his breath. "I'm staying."

"There will be questions."

"So let them ask."

"He's dead Eliot. They'll take you to the hospital." Parker warned.

This time when Sophie put her hand on his shoulder he leaned into her. "You're freezing. Please, let us help you." She said softly, and she and Parker helped him stand up. Nate called 911, as Hardison pulled the van onto the highway and drove them home to Nate's.

Solid Ground

Eliot thinks it's weird.

Being protected; taken care of...

Somehow pulling him out of the lake turned into something more complicated. Eliot has hypothermia. Some of the timeline is fuzzy after getting out of the water. Eliot doesn't remember getting into the van. He vaguely remembers arriving at the motel.

Two rooms, five adults. Double beds. They take shifts. Parker makes him cereal for lunch. Hardison downloads movies onto his laptop.

"You know I'm fine, right?"

Hardison grabs a handful of microwave popcorn and keeps his focus on the movie playing. "Yeah. Course."

Parker has somehow managed to cocoon herself, and him with her, into a blanket, and Hardison is sitting so close Eliot is practically squished against him. They are watching episode one of a trilogy about giant space bugs attacking earth. Episodes two and three are still downloading.

It seemed like they are in this for the long haul. Or at least until they feel Eliot can handle the rest of the drive back to Boston.

Eliot isn't sure how to accept people caring about him.

He is still trying to deal with the fact that just that morning he killed a man.

It was an accident. Sort of. Knocking him out wasn't an accident. The accident was that the guy stumbled backwards as he fell. Eliot wasn't fast enough to catch him. He only managed lunge forwards and grab the guy's jacket in time to be dragged over with him. Falling off the pier and through the ice hadn't been part of the plan.

There was a moment when he felt the impact of the ice, and then crashing through. The sudden shock of the water felt like being stabbed with a thousand needles. Eliot had to fight to reach the surface and breathe, and even then he couldn't catch his breath. Then the sudden realization hit; he was alone. Everything under the ice was dark, and he found nothing the first time diving under. He came up for a breath, and tried to dive deeper. Though he could barely feel his fingers he touched something solid and dragged it up to the surface. Wet jackets and clothing and boots weighed them down and Eliot had to fight to remain above water. He tried to swim but the ice held him back and broke when he tried to climb up.

Eliot feels Parker snuggle a little closer against him, and he finds himself leaning into her body warmth in a not so unconscious effort to fight against what is frozen deep inside.

Just when he found himself sinking back under the water, unable to fight the exhaustion anymore, Parker was there dangling from the pier. She grabbed Eliot's wrist and held on tight. She kept him above water until the others arrived.

He'd known the guy was dead. Technically. It felt like a long time, but maybe... In hindsight Eliot knew he hadn't been thinking right. He knew what he should have done. A few years ago, there wouldn't have been any hesitation. He would have let go.

And then, they were telling him to stop the CPR. They were begging him to stop and telling him he'd done everything he could. But Eliot couldn't stop because he knew. He knew they were wrong.

He didn't do everything he could. What he could have done was be more careful to begin with. Watch more closely. Move faster. Be ready.

He screwed up and his actions cost a life. Maybe not an innocent life, but then who was Eliot to judge?

And now...

These people are still with him. His team. His family. Hardison and Parker. Nate and Sophie already did their part at the beginning when his body temperature was dangerously low. They cut off the frozen laces on his boots. They pulled off his wet clothes and undid buttons his numb fingers couldn't feel. They covered him in dry blankets and tucked him into bed. They lied down with him to share body heat while he lay there shivering and barely coherent.

They took care of him despite the fact that he killed a man that morning.

It was going to take Eliot a long time for him to sort it out. He messed up, and these people were taking care of him even though he knew he didn't deserve it.

Sometimes family aren't people you're born with. He still might not understand it, but somehow despite that, he found it. Family.

The End