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Where The World Takes Us

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They all had rough childhoods.

Hardison got adopted by his Nana pretty young but he still had some bad experiences in the system. He had a few shitty foster parents before he met his Nana. He wasn’t the most athletic child, so he didn’t play sports, but he did get beat up now and then by kids from school. Hardison would also get bumps and bruises from playing in and exploring the world around him.

Parker had it pretty bad. She became a cat burglar at 9 or 10, a get-away driver before she became a car thief at 12, and she has always been a thief. Parker tried her best to be a better thief, not get caught, not get seen, not get hurt--but she was only a child. She went back and forth between being in the system with abusive foster parents and living on the streets, so she got hurt quite often despite trying her best to avoid it.

Eliot joined the military at 18, but even before that he got hurt. The first time his father hit him he was 7, it just got worse after that. Sometimes he got hurt defending his mom or just because his father was drunk and angry. Eliot grew up getting broken bones and bruises that were easily passed off as boys playing rough or football injuries. Eliot needed to get out as soon as he could, so he joined the military at 18, and got hurt ever since.

Soulmates were mildly common, about half of the population had one. Soulmates often shared pain, so when one of them was badly injured, the other could feel it. The other soulmate would feel the initial pain and then possibly a dumbed down version of the injury. If one soulmate broke a bone or got some other internal injury the other soulmate would feel it for a second and then possibly get a bruise or sprain in the same place, though the transmitted injuries faded much faster than the initial injury.

Some soulmates got temporary marks of where their soulmate’s surface injury was, similar to a rough tattoo of the scar their soulmate would have, or a design where the injury was, either mark faded at the same pace that the actual injury did. Marks like that were called ‘soulmarks’, because they were marks from your soulmate. Sometimes the soulmark was the initials of the person who caused the injury, or just a tattoo like mark of the injury, or both. Sometimes the soulmark or soulmarks would show up painlessly and sometimes they transmitted the pain of the injury.

Three way soulmates were extremely rare but not unheard of. There were a few legends of people who had two soulmates, though it was uncommon to say the least. Another story said that they weren’t that sparse, instead that about 5% of the population had two soulmates, but that they rarely found each other because there was an extra person to find.

Parker learned about soulmates by listening to the people around her, some of her foster parents were soulmates, so she knew about shared pain and soulmarks.

Parker got hurt on the regular, whether it was abusive foster parents or the dangers of living on the streets and being a thief, but she knew her own body better than anything, so when she felt pain or got a bruise that faded within the hour where she hadn’t been injured, she wondered if she could possibly have a soulmate.

Hardison learned about soulmates much the same way, his previous foster parents were usually soulmates, and he heard other kids at school occasionally talking about soulmates.

Hardison asked his Nana one day who was in the picture with her on the mantle, she told him about her soulmate, who had died in a car accident years prior, and about how wonderful he had been. Nana told him about shared pain and the different kinds of soulmarks and what they meant. Hardison thought that having a soulmate would be awesome, so he was understandably excited to meet them someday, but he also held onto some weariness. Hardison had seen too many soulmates whos relationships had gone horribly to wholeheartedly believe that he would be happy with his soulmate, but he also had the stories his Nana had told him about her and her soulmate, so he held onto hope.

Hardison often got pains and bruises in places he knew he hadn’t been injured, he told his Nana whenever they were bothering him. Whenever that would happen Nana would make him a cup of tea and they would sit and talk about soulmates and she would tell stories. One day Hardison told her that he was worried about his soulmate. He knew they were getting hurt a lot because he would get a lot of bruises that he had no idea where they came from, all he knew was that they faded very fast, and were often gone within about 5 hours of appearing. Hardison knew these bruises were from his soulmate, and he worried.

Eliot learned about soulmates very young, because his parents supposedly were. His parents didn’t have shared pain, but they had shared initials. Eliot blamed the universe for letting his father hurt his mom and not making him feel it, just him letting him get to see his initials all over her. Eliot’s anger at the universe and his father started as soon as he was old enough to understand.

Eliot’s mom told him about soulmates when he asked why his father’s initials were on her arm, she explained to him what soulmates were and that her and Eliot’s father were soulmates. Eliot asked her why his father hurt her if they were soulmates, and she sadly explained that sometimes the universe got it wrong.

Eliot grew up thinking that the concept of soulmates was a load of shit, because how could something so supposedly wonderful and good let his mom and him suffer for all those years. Eliot got hurt regularly, but he didn’t pay much attention or care where or why he hurt because he always hurt somewhere, so at first he didn’t notice the mysterious injuries or pains that faded a little too fast.

Chapter Text

Parker was sure she had a soulmate when she felt a sharp pain in her elbow, but when she looked down to see what it was, she saw not just the rapidly fading bruise but also a pair of initials, the initials read TS. She was absolutely positive she had a soulmate then, a soulmate who had just broken their arm.

Parker spent a few moments feeling sorry for her soulmate, whoever it was, that they were getting hurt, but she had her own problems to deal with and decided not to worry about it too much. She was better on her own and she wasn’t going to go searching for them anyway.

Parker periodically felt pain and got initials or soulmarks but she managed to mostly ignore them. Parker was 11 when she decided she didn’t care that she had a soulmate.

Hardison was going about his day at school one day when he felt a sudden flash of agony in his elbow, he nearly fell to the ground with the pain and suprise of it. Squinting through tears as he was rushed to the nurse’s office, he could just make out the initials TS. Both the initials and the bruise were gone within 6 hours.

Since Hardison was sure he had a soulmate now, he decided to keep a journal of each soul injury he got from that day on, so that when he met his soulmate he could help them as much as possible. Hardison was 9 when he decided that when he met his soulmate he was going to hug them for at least 5 minutes because they clearly weren’t getting many hugs now.

Eliot was 14 when his father was especially drunk and angry and was beating his mom when Eliot decided he had finally had enough. He stepped silently up behind his very drunk father, picked up one of the empty beer bottles from the table, and smashed it over his father’s head with all the strength he had. He got a broken elbow for his trouble, but at least he had protected his mom.

Eliot went to the hospital the next day, his father made excuses, and he got patched up and sent home. No one even questioned his father, everyone knew Tomas Spencer liked to drink a little too much, but he was well liked so no one would interfere.

Eliot did notice after a while though, when he hurt a little extra, or a mysterious bruise faded a little too fast to be considered normal. One day while Eliot was getting dressed, he noticed a large dark mark on his wrist. Upon closer inspection, he realized it looked a lot like a handprint, like someone had been grabbed too hard by the wrist. It was going to be difficult to cover it up with a long sleeve shirt because it was summer, but he would deal. Eliot knew he hadn’t been grabbed, so he wondered, Could I have a soulmate? He doubted it. maybe I got grabbed and just don’t remembered it? It’s a lot more likely than me having a soulmate. Eliot was 14 when he denied having a soulmate, he just tried to move on and forget about it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hardison was getting a bit restless one day while hacking into the private servers of the Pentagon, for the second time, purely out of boredom. The first time he had done this he was 12 and the security had been pretty easy to crack then, so doing it now at 14 was almost laughable. He was going through the Pentagon’s private emails when he felt a sudden shooting pain in his shoulder.

Hardison took off his sweatshirt in a hurry, more concerned about his shoulder then the hack-in-progress he was currently working on. When he pulled his sweatshirt over his head and started inspecting his shoulder, he found something quite alarming. There, on the meat of his shoulder was a dark circle that had sharp and uneven ripples coming from its center branching outwards. Hardison craned his neck backwards and got a look at a slightly bigger more uneven circle in the back of his shoulder.

He knew his soulmate had just been shot.

Hardison didn’t know what to do, he was panicking a little so he did the only thing he could think to do: he threw on a t-shirt and rushed downstairs to talk to his Nana.

Hardison frantically ran down the hallway, jumping down stairs three at a time, clutching his shoulder all the while. He rounded to corner and burst into the kitchen where his Nana was cooking dinner. When he burst into the room his Nana whirled around and took in what she saw: her boy, panic in his eyes, clutching his shoulder. She rushed towards him.

“What’s wrong?” Nana asked worriedly.
Hardison, seeing the intense concern in her eyes, replied quickly.
“No don’t worry, I’m not hurt, I’m okay-- it’s my soulmate...I think they’ve been shot.”
Nana’s face didn’t look any less worried, but her expression softened.
“Oh baby.” She pulled him into a hug.
“Let me have a look?”
Hardison pulled his shirt over his head and looked down at his shoulder, Nana followed his gaze and gasped when she saw the mark.
“Oh honey!” She got closer, inspecting the soulmark.
“Yep. That’s definitely a bullet wound.”
Nana saw the panicked expression Hardison was making and hastily added:
“But it’s not anywhere fatal, if they get some medical help and stop the bleeding they’ll be just fine.” Nana gave him a pat on the opposite shoulder.
“It’s okay, they’re going to be just fine.”
“Yeah, I know, but what if….it’s just so big,” Hardison gestured at his shoulder.
“..What if they aren’t? Will I be able to tell if they…? Ya’know…”
Hardison’s Nana suddenly looked sad, but she continued to reassure him.
“If they aren’t alright, you’ll know. When a soulmate dies, you feel it. There’s this sharp all over pain and then...everything just goes dark, like a candle being snuffed out. It feels like a part of you is missing, because even if you don’t notice it, you can feel more than pain through the link you have with your soulmate. You can always feel their presence, like you’re not quite alone. So if something does happen to them, you’ll know. But don’t you worry, they’re young and strong, they’ll be okay.”
Nana smiled sadly and patted him on the shoulder.
“So don’t you worry about it, worrying won’t do yourself or your soulmate any good.”
Nana gave Hardison a quick hug and then turned away to continue cooking.
“Thanks, I just didn’t know what to do, thanks for talkin’ to me.” Hardison said as he turned to leave.

Hardison felt a little re-assured, he knew that his soulmate would probably be fine, but he couldn’t help to worry, it was his soulmate after all, and how could they be fine? They’d been shot. Hardison concluded that even 4 years later, he still hadn’t changed his mind about the 5 minute hug upon meeting them.

Being shot on top of everything else that’s happened...s’just not fair.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Parker was 16 when she felt a shooting pain in her shoulder and nearly lost her grip on the building she was climbing. She rushed to the top of the building and looked at her shoulder once she wasn’t in danger of falling or getting caught. Parker saw the telltale entry and exit wounds of a bullet hole in her shoulder, dark and spiky. Her soulmate had just been shot, she knew it. Her opinion on having a soulmate had changed a lot over the years. As they continued to get hurt, her sympathy for them grew. Even when Parker was absolutely alone in the world she still had her soulmate.

Parker needed to protect them, but she couldn’t and she hated it. The only thing parker could think to do was to write. She knew it was stupid but it made her feel better. She didn’t have another outlet for these newfound feelings (that she hated having anyway), so she wrote. Parker also made a list of all the soul injuries she could remember, partly to reassure herself that she had a soulmate and partly to remind herself that even after all that they had survived, so they would live to meet her one day. She also wanted to be sure that when she met her soulmate that she had a way of verifying it was them by matching scars with marks and dates. Writing made her feel more in control, even if she couldn’t actually help. So she wrote and bided her time.

The first time Eliot got shot was a week after he turned 20. He was on a black ops mission that technically didn’t exist. He got patched up and went on to the next mission assignment. Eliot had a nagging worried feeling in the back of his head that his soulmate had also felt the pain, he hoped not.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Eliot spent years in the military. Eliot went from army at 18 to special forces and black opps when he was barely 20, to mercenary at 23. He did messier and messier jobs, not for the army anymore but instead for private contractors or branches of the government that didn’t exist. Missions so far off the books that he could barely distinguish the ones giving the orders from the people he was sent to kill.

One day while Eliot was in between missions, he felt a sudden pain in his groin and gut. He took a pause, he knew he didn’t have any internal bleeding or bruising and he thought he hadn’t gotten hurt. But god it hurt. So he decided to get up from where he was sitting and see what it was. Eliot pulled up his shirt and looked down but he couldn’t see anything wrong, but he knew that didn’t mean nothing was wrong.

It dawned on him, it was his soulmate’s pain.

Then the bruises showed up. Some on his hips, wrists, thighs, and on his chest and neck. Eliot felt nauseous, if he hadn’t seen, done, and experienced the things he had he probably would have thrown up. He hated that there was nothing he could do, he knew his solmate was out there suffering, but he couldn’t fix it. He just sat there and took it, waiting for it to be over, knowing that his soulmate was taking so much worse.

Harrison was 18 and minding his own business, and by that I mean he was minding someone else's business, when it happened. The pain, bruises, it was all too much, he felt the rising feeling and before he could stop himself he was hurling onto the desk trash can he (thankfully) kept close. He hated just watching the soulmarks appear and being able to do nothing. There weren’t even initials for him to try to trace.

Parker was 19 when it happened. Parker didn’t know their name but she’d never forget their face. She got through it, survived, but she wouldn’t be okay for a long time after. Parker knew her soulmate had felt it all, she just hoped they wouldn’t think too badly of her. Right now she could hardly think about that, she just felt so dirty, but she was mostly still in shock. After the shock wore off she tried to put it behind her, it only made her that much more untrusting, isolated, and angry at the world and everyone in it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Eliot’s jobs got less and less legal and his employers got shadier and shadier. Eliot became an assassin for hire, killing for anyone who could pay the price.

Until he met Moreau. Everything changed then, and not for the better. Eliot had traveled the world, doing terrible things, but what he did back then didn’t hold a candle to what he did for Moreau.

Of course he had been tortured before, he had been captured and interrogated before, but his team or a superior officer had always executed extraction missions to rescue him, because he had made himself too valuable to lose. After Eliot stopped working in a unit or team he just rescued himself, but there was no one to save him now.

Eliot met Moreau in Belgium when he was 23. He was finishing up a mission for one of his employers when Moreau got wind of him. Damien Moreau is not someone you turn down, so when he offered Eliot a job he accepted, it would be convenient to work for someone for more than a few missions, less traveling and moving funds from place to place. Eliot had of course heard of Moreau, but he didn’t know much. Moreau had known about Eliot before he recruited him of course, you don’t become one of the most dangerous people in the world without getting on Moreau’s radar. Moreau decided it was safer and more beneficial for him to have Eliot on his side than to try to eliminate him.

The name Damien Moreau was spoken with fear, respect, and professionalism, but the name Eliot Spencer carried weight, not because he was a well known criminal king, but because he was a ghost. Eliot was one of the most (if not the most) dangerous men in the world. He was a ghost story, his name was whispered in fear by the world’s most dangerous men, as if he would show up instantaneously to kill them or like they would die in 7 days if they spoke his name too loudly.

But Eliot wasn’t fearless even though he was feared. There was only one person in the world he couldn’t fight, and that man was Damien Moreau. When it came to Moreau, Eliot was utterly powerless. In the beginning it wasn’t too bad, he was just another footsoldier in the endless ranks of Moreau’s men, nothing special. But when Moreau took special interest in him, everything went to shit.

Chapter Text

The first missions Moreau sent Eliot on weren’t that bad, simple retrievals or debt collection, messy, brutal, but nobody died. But after a while, Eliot climbed the ranks of Moreau’s men and became his right hand, his vicious attack dog, that’s when things got bad.

It started when he disobeyed orders.

Eliot had orders to make an example of what happens when someone tries to double cross Moreau, Eliot was ordered to kill the daughter of a former business partner who got a little too cocky. Eliot wouldn’t do it, she was only 5 years old, it wasn’t her fault her father had crossed the wrong man. So he didn’t do it, wouldn’t, couldn’t.

Eliot had been sent on the mission with Chapman as his handler, so when he checked in with Chapman after the mission was over and said he hadn’t done it, he saw the switch in Chapman’s stance, the change in his eyes as he said:
“You should have just killed the girl, you’re new so you don’t know what Moreau does to those who disobey him.”
“I know what he does to people who cross him, I’ve made examples of most of them.” Eliot replied coldly, a bit irritated that Chapman thought he could scare him with talk.
“No,” Chapman smiled, cold and smug, like he was in on some big secret.
“-You know what he does to business associates who cross him, you have, no idea what he does to his own men who disobey direct orders.

Eliot thought he had some idea what Moreau would do, couldn’t be that bad right? Moreau wouldn’t damage his own men too badly. He still needed them to be able to carry out orders, so they wouldn’t be damaged too badly, no broken bones, so it couldn't be that bad. Right? Wrong.

It was bad, so bad.

Eliot was young and cocky, too overconfident in his own abilities and underestimated what people were capable of.

Eliot had been tortured before, sure, but this, no. No sane man would do this kind of shit to another person. But then again, Eliot soon discovered that Moreau wasn’t even close to sane. Eliot had been right, no broken bones, Moreau did still need his men to carry out orders. But Eliot soon discovered that you don’t need to break someone’s bones to break them.

Chapman led Eliot to a waiting car and whispered directions to the driver. They drove directly to Moreau’s personal villa. Eliot was lead inside. Chapman entered Moreau’s office and told him to wait there, so Eliot waited, wondering what could possibly be that bad. Chapman opened the door about 3 minutes and 27 seconds later, beckoning Eliot inside the office.

The office was lavish but professional. A big polished mahogany desk, pristine bookshelves lining both walls, plush carpet on the floor, and in an expensive looking chair behind the desk sat Moreau himself. Eliot had only seen the man a few times in passing, he’d talked to him only once when he had been recruited and had seen him occasionally since then, but most of his orders came from other people higher up on Moreau’s list.

Eliot saw the man now, expensive tailored suit, utterly spotless polished shoes, slicked back black hair, and a shark like smile that practically screamed predator. Moreau smiled at him, it was the kind of smile that made Eliot’s skin crawl but he showed no fear or discomfort on his face, just stood there waiting for his punishment.

“So, I heard you disobeyed direct orders today, you know better than anyone what I do to people who cross me,” Moreau said as if he didn’t care at all, but Eliot could hear the undertone of rage in his voice.
“But I do need you functional enough to continue following orders now don’t I?” Moreau paused for effect, pretending to consider if he really needed Eliot.
“I suppose you think that just because I need you functional that I won’t hurt you that badly. That there’s nothing bad enough I can do to you that will ensure you never disobey me again?” Moreau paused again, this time sneering at Eliot.

Eliot was beginning to consider the possibility that maybe he had underestimated Moreau. Moreau finally letting the rage seep into his eyes, turned his smile vicious and said:

“Just because I can’t break your bones doesn’t mean I can’t break you.”

Chapter Text

Parker was 21 when she noticed a small dark circle on the side of her neck. Like a puncture wound from a needle. Her mind supplied. A few hours later she noticed a dark ring around each of her wrists, she knew her soulmate was out there somewhere, struggling and restrained. Struggling hard enough to break the skin, because it's a mark not just bruises. Parker’s jaw and shoulders ached, an image of her soulmate with their arms stretched above their head with a gag in their mouth appeared in her head unbidden. Parker shook her head, clearing the thought away. The thought haunted her but she couldn’t do anything to help. She didn’t like where this was going.

The next day Parker was half way down the side of a bank when it started, she screamed, out of surprise and agony. Her back was on fire. She clamped down on her surprised scream and quickly got the the roof of the building and collected her gear. Parke decided the heist could wait and she took off as quickly as she could and headed to one of her safe houses.

When she got there and dropped her gear on the floor, rushing towards the mirror. She ripped her shirt off on the way and turned her back to the mirror and saw them, the lines. They were dark and angry and they hurt.

What the hell? What is going on? She thought, then realized with a pang, my soulmate, this is happening to my soulmate. Parker remembered the rings on her wrists and the aches from yesterday, she felt righteous rage filling her. Who dares to do this to my soulmate?

Parker had tried not to care about her soulmate at first, but as they got hurt more and more, she began to feel bad for them, she grew to care for and be protective of this person she’d never met but was intimately connected to. She felt the need to protect.

Parker watched in the mirror as more lines appear one by one, criss crossing in painful black lines across her back. She thought they had been made by some kind of knife-no, too long and welt like to be a knife. -then she realized, her heart clenched and she bawled her fists, these lines had been made by a whip, parker didn’t know how she knew, but she was certain.

Then the initials started showing up, and she wanted to puke. A calligraphy DM faded in in between her shoulder blades, below it was her completely covered back, the lines started fading almost immediately but the DM didn’t. More lines showed up and faded slowly over the next week. Within that time more and more DMs showed up, some hurt, some just appeared along with a dark mark that looked like the injury her soulmate endured. She hated it, Parker just wanted it to stop it. To stop whoever was doing this to her precious soulmate.

But then it got bad.

It started when she got a searing pain in one of her wrists and then the other, both her thumbs were on fire. She knew her soulmate had just broken out of whatever was keeping them restrained. She felt a burst of pride and happiness. Maybe they’ll be okay now. She felt a swift knock to the back of the head and a jab in her neck. Her soulmate had been knocked out and drugged again. She knew it.

After that more injection marks started showing up, after the escape attempt they kept her soulmate drugged. More rings around the wrists, 3 instead of 1. That’s when the bruises started showing up. They started fading almost immediately, but she remembered where they were.

On each hip were five long lines, cuts. Around her neck was a thick ring of bruising, her wrist, her hips. And god her lower body hurt. A bite mark where her neck met her shoulder showed up. This is bad.

This was worse.

This made Parker feel helpless, reminded her of what happened to her only a few years prior. A thought hit her. Is this what it was like for them? Did they feel it like I’m feeling it now?

At the time Parker had not had the mental capacity to worry about her soulmate but she now realized that they had felt it. They would know. When I meet them they’ll know what happened they’ll think I’m weak they’ll think-- Parker took a deep breath.

No.

She knew that her soulmate wouldn’t judge her or look down on her because of what happened. She had worked very hard to make herself stronger, faster, better. She wasn’t that person anymore, she would always be okay now. Never again.

Parker thought of her soulmate. She decided she’d try to block out the memories wanting to flood back and engulf her, making her soulmate her soul focus for now.

Parker focused, she wrote, she stayed at her safe house and trained.

Parker was just so angry.

She was going to kill whoever was doing this to her soulmate.

Hardison was 19 and in the middle of siphoning funds from a corporation halfway across the world from him when it started. He noticed a small black dot on his neck, later that day he also noticed a thin ring of black that went all the way around both his wrists. His jaw and shoulders also suddenly ached. The marks didn’t hurt him, but he knew they hurt his soulmate, he thought it was a bit weird and he worried a little, but there was really nothing he could do.

The next day Hardison woke up to a badly burning back, and when he got up to see what was wrong he saw that his back was covered in crisscrossing long black lines. He squinted into the mirror and could make out a DM in between his shoulder blades. Hardison was shocked and confused, but mostly worried for his soulmate.

A few days later, as the number of lines and bruises increased, Hardison suddenly felt a sharp pain in his wrists and thumbs, the lines around his wrists began to fade almost immediately. Only moments later he felt a quick pain at the back of his head and a jab in his neck. His soulmate had tried to get away from the person trapping them and was now knocked out and drugged. Who the hell is doing this?

The next day Hardison was looking worriedly at the soulmarks around his wrists sitting at his desk one moment, and leaping from his chair the next.

What the actual fuck?

His hips felt like they were being torn apart. Hardison ripped his sweatpants down and saw the thin lines drawn across each of his hip bones, 5 lines on each. Then the bruises showed up, a handprint on each hip, a large ring of bruises around his neck and wrists, and the bite marks. And god damn it my ass fucking hurts.

The initials showed up last, DM.

Hardison was gonna puke, he rushed to the nearest trash can as the implications of the soulmarks hit him full force. He-he just couldn’t, not again please not again he thought desperately. He didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t really do anything, he was helpless, he couldn’t help them. Someone was hurting his soulmate again and he couldn’t stop it, he couldn’t help them he was useless- again.

The injuries kept coming for another few weeks, rings around their wrists slightly offset from the ones already there, more bruises, especially on their hips and neck, more bitemarks and initials. The track marks never stopped coming. They ached randomly, their throats, shoulders, jaws, lower bodies.

After 3 weeks and 4 days it finally stopped.

Chapter Text

Eliot was not okay. Damien was right, he didn’t need to break his bones to break him.

After three weeks, it was finally over, finally done, finally he stopped.

Eliot floated in and out of consciousness as the drugs finally wore off. The first thing that registered was pain, and then the crushing realization that the memories from the past few weeks weren’t just some terrible dream. Weeks...months? Days? Eliot didn’t know how long he had been in Moreau’s dungeon, he only had hazy days of pain that ran together, he had no idea what day it even was.

Eliot hurt all over, his throat was sore from yelling and from--no. But no broken bones, no terrible injuries, nothing that would keep him from doing his job and following orders. Moreau had made sure of that. Eliot was broken though, mentally, he felt humiliated, weak, guilty, but mostly just numb. He was glad it was over but didn’t have the emotional range to feel truly glad. He knew the thin cuts on his hips would scar, so would one of the deeper bite marks, and one of the worse rings around his left wrist where he had struggled enough to break the skin pretty badly would probably scar too.

He couldn’t find it in him to really care what scared or not though, what soulmate would want him?I'm too dirty and broken to ever be loved.

Damien had finally undone the harsh pairs of metal cuffs that had held him and had simply smiled at him as if the last weeks (weeks? months?) hadn’t happened at all, and said:
“Don’t disobey me again, since this was your first offence, I went easy on you, I won’t be so kind in the future.”
Eliot just looked at the ground and slowly nodded, Damien smiled and turned to leave, adding:
“Someone will come by in a bit to collect you.” With that Moreau left, leaving Eliot alone in the basement/dungeon of Damien Morea’s villa.

Eliot was numb, unthinking, thinking about what happened was too much to handle, so he just didn’t. All he could do was wonder how much of the pain transmitted to his soulmate. He couldn’t help but feel guilty about that too, they already went through so much pain, he just couldn’t cause them any more, but he couldn’t help it. Couldn’t stop it. Helpless. Helpless to stop--No, god stop thinking. Stop, please stop no--
Eliot suddenly jumped up, almost falling after not walking in quite some time. He straightened and shook his head sharply. No. He wasn’t going to think about it, he’ll deal with it later.

The objective was survival, always survival, no matter what. Always. Eliot always survived, because there wasn’t another option, no one was going to save him so he just had to do what he had to do to survive now, he would deal with the trauma later. Not the priority now, later.

Eliot looked around at the room that had become so familiar in the past weeks. He had spent many a hours hyperfocusing on one spot on a wall, or a book, just to have something else to think about. Eliot catalogued his injuries, he was sore all over, his head hurt, his shoulders hurt, his wrists hurt and were stiff, his throat was sore, his back hurt. Eliot refused to think about what else hurt and why. He just wouldn’t. He hurt but it was all surface wounds, just flesh wounds. Eliot felt something drip onto his lap, he feels his face with his hand and realized he was crying. He clenched his fists and squeezed his eyes shut in anger and shame. Angry at himself for crying. God, he thought, how could I be so weak? He didn’t even hurt me that badly damn it. Eliot thought as he furiously wiped at his eyes.

Eliot was hurt but he could function, that’s what was important. He hoped that not all of his injuries transited through the link. Eliot didn’t want his soulmate to know how weak he had been, how badly he had failed.

Eliot had nothing to do, so he just sat, numb, staring at a wall. Thoughtless, empty.

A few minutes (hours?) later Chapman came down the stairs and unlocked the doors, Eliot had barely moved from his seat on the bench, sitting with his back against the farthest wall possible. Chapman barely looked at him as he handed him a new outfit and a pair of boots, he said cooly:
“Get dressed, you will get your mission orders within the hour.”
Eliot reached out and accepted the bundle of clothes and boots with cold, robotic movements, not looking at Chapman. Chapman turned and left without another word.
Elot got dressed and put on the boots, ready to accept and follow orders. He couldn’t help it, he felt hopeless and numb and he couldn’t find it in him to care what happened to him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Parker and Hardison noticed countless DMs across their skin accompanied by pain and soulmarks frequently at random over the next four years. They grew more and more worried about their soulmate but couldn’t do anything about it.

Hardison did the only thing he could do to help and tried to look for every person in the world with the initials DM, but with no parameters other than initials and the fact that they were hurting his soulmate he had nothing. An impossible task.

Parker was determined to someday meet her soulmate, and when she did she was going to find DM and kill them on site. Parker grew more and more protective and more and more angry. Every time her jaw would hurt or she would get bruises around her neck she would quietly rage on behalf of her soulmate. Parker only cared about one other person in the world and she had to protect them. No matter what.

Eliot worked for Damien Moreau for four more years. He couldn’t quit, you didn’t just stop working for Moreau, there wasn’t an out. You either died or served Moreau until you did. Eliot never disobeyed Moreau’s orders again, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t punished for mistakes he made. In the beginning Eliot made mistakes, and would be rewarded with being starved, frozen, or being deprived of sleep. Even if the mistake wasn’t anything he could possibly humanly controle Moreau blamed him anyway.

Moreau punished Eliot for any small mistake he made on missions, any perceived hint of disobedience, he also just periodically hurt Eliot just to prove that he could. Moreau owned him. After a while Eliot learned what to say, what to do, and what to not do, to avoid the most of Moreau’s wrath. After a while Eliot didn’t cry after Moreau was done with him. After a while he just didn’t think, only existed and did as he was told.

Eliot became a vicious attack dog for Moreau, he would kill without thought if Moreau ordered it. He was a legend, the story of Eliot Spencer, the most dangerous assassin in the world, soon spread. Fearfully whispered in the darkest circles of people, some thought he was just a myth fabricated to scare Moreau’s enemies, others swore he was real.

And so it went, Eliot numbly went through the motions, completely removed from himself, like he was watching his life unfold from a back seat. Year after year, mission after mission, bloodier and bloodier, until Eliot had done things he could never come back from.

But one mission finally snapped him out of it, that one fateful mission that changed it all.

It had been a routine mission except for lasting longer than normal, Moreau liked to keep Eliot close, partly because he wanted Eliot to know just who controlled his life, (hint: it wasn't Eliot) and Moreau needed to make sure Eliot didn’t have any time to think or plot an escape.

But this mission lasted longer, gave Eliot time to think. Gave him time to really think for the first time in years. Away from Moreau Eliot could take a minute to think about what he wanted. Eliot hadn’t wanted in years. Wasn’t allowed to. But he could now, he had a minute to finally breathe.

Eliot needed out, he needed out. He couldn’t do it, couldn’t just take it anymore, and this mission was really bad, even by Eliot’s standards.
Moreau ordered Eliot to---to rape and murder someone. One of Moreau’s mafia business contacts had stolen a shipment of weapons they had been smuggling for him. Moreau wouldn’t tolerate stealing, no one stole from Damien Moreau and lived, but Moreau couldn’t kill his mob contact, he was too useful to him. So he wanted Eliot to send him a message.

Eliot couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t, but at the same time he had to. The only hope of escape was to go through the tunnels under the Russian mob boss’s house and flee into the city and disappear. There was no other way, no possible other way. This was going to be his only chance, in five years this had been his one and only chance to escape. He had to take it.

Eliot knew that Moreau was testing him, testing the extent of what he would do for him. What extremes he would go to. Eliot knew it was also Moreau’s ultimate power play, the final hurrah to show Eliot just how completely he owned him. Eliot couldn’t take it anymore. He just couldn’t survive any more. He just had to get through this, Just have to do one more thing. Just get through one more thing and then I'll be free.
Finally.

So Eliot did it, he doesn’t remember it very clearly to this day, but he remembered enough. The crawling feeling under his skin, the place on the wall he had stared at, the noise, the screaming, the resounding sound of a gunshot that ended it all. He cleaned the evidence of him from the room and left, just left. Eliot robotically made his was down the the underground tunnels below the house and ran. Just ran. Get away get away-away from him and who I was what I did I had to escape-to be free please just let me go. have to escape-just GET AWAY.

Eliot ran for hours. He ran until his legs collapsed out from under him, he jumped up and continued to stumble as fast as he could. Farther and farther away, until all Eliot could think about was the burning in all his muscles and the light at the end of the tunnel. Eliot ran until he came to the outskirts of the city. Eliot dismantled, wiped clean of prints, and threw the parts of the gun he had used as far as he could. Eliot walked through the city, shadow to shadow, invisible, until he came to a dilapidated inn and climbed onto the roof. Eliot noticed just then that it wasn’t cold outside, stars in the sky, a slight spring breeze blew.

Eliot wasn’t safe. Too exposed isn’t safe never safe never-stop. He looked around, he was in Moscow, Russia’s capital. Eliot’s russian was pretty good, so he had no problem buying a ticket for a 2am train to a little town near the border. Eliot crossed the border and began to work his way across Europe. Always running, never safe never-He just kept going, he had to keep going.

Eliot ran and moved for place to place for six months, always afraid, paranoid, always moving, always looking over his shoulder, just waiting for his whole world to come crashing down again at the drop of a hat. Moreau looked, oh how he looked. Moreau sent an army of men to search for Eliot Spencer, but he never quite got close enough.

Moreau got close in Berlin and tracked Eliot into another country or two just to have the trail go cold in Morocco. Close in Lebanon and cold trail in Kuwait, only for Eliot to show up again in Nepal weeks later. It was a back and forth chase, Moreau would get close and then lose Eliot’s trail only for Eliot to pop up farther away, leaving bodies in his wake. Anyone Moreau sent after him Eliot would kill on site.

No one Moreau sent could hold a candle to Eliot’s skills, he was Moreau’s best soldier. His most dangerous weapon, and now that he was working against Moreau, he was unstoppable. But Eliot didn’t want to take on Moreau, Moreau had an army of men at his beck and call, and all Eliot wanted was to just escape.

Moreau finally lost Eliot for good in Mongolia, the trail went cold but Eliot never popped back up somewhere else, he was just...gone. Moreau was utterly furious, but he eventually stopped actively searching, it was a waste of men.

During this time Hardison and Parker periodically got pains or soulmarks. Cracked ribs, broken fingers, bruised knuckles, dislocated shoulders, occasionally something else like a bullet or stab wound. All of the injuries were telltale signs of someone fighting to survive. At least they were fighting now, they were still in danger but at least they were free.

Whoever their soulmate was, they fought a lot.

Eliot made it his top priority to always be the best, the fastest, strongest, the most resourceful. He made sure he always had an out and always knew how to escape if he needed to. He taught himself how to break out of any and every kind of restraints, especially handcuffs. While he learned how to break free of anything he simultaneously built his slightly shorter than average frame into a solid wall of muscle.

Eliot also made it a habit to build up a resistance (if not an immunity) to every kind of drug he could find. He hated the feeling of being out of control (and under someone else’s) that being drugged entailed and it was something he probably would have done anyway. You can’t defend yourself or escape if you’re unconscious and anyone in his line of work could use that kind of advantage. No one had to know his true reasons behind it.

Eliot devoted his time and effort to becoming the most uncatchable man in the world, many thought his increased deadlines came from needing the skills for his job.

No one knew Eliot really did it out of a desperation to never again be controlled, never helpless, never a victim, again. He made sure no one could never make him do anything, or do anything to him, that he didn’t want. Never again.

The fact that Eliot could recover from almost any drug in record time and could escape any restraint, prison, or hole in the wall only added to the legend of The Great Eliot Spencer.

Eliot started accepting job offers, one show only, no oncores. He built up a clientele and contacts, separate from Moreau. Eliot had his reputation as Moreau’s attack dog to build on and he became an assassin for hire again, even more feared now that he wasn’t being controlled or held back. Eliot realized pretty quickly that he didn’t want to kill anymore, he had done it so often for so long that it had become second nature. He realized he didn’t want that, so he decided only to do retrievals, he was allowed to choose his jobs now, he didn't have to kill anymore. He had a choice.

Chapter Text

Hardison was contacted by Victor Dubenich to steal back some airplane blueprints. He was intrigued to say the least, though working with a team would be a first. It wasn’t that Hardison was particularly adverse to working on a team, it was just that hackers tended to be solitary creatures and when they did work together they tended to get in each other's way. A too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen type thing. But these people weren’t hackers, so maybe it should work out okay.

Hardison dug up all he could about Victor Dubenich and his company, as well as the company he was going to steal the plans from. Hardison found it to be a good policy to thoroughly research all of his possible employers before accepting a job offer. Hardison also researched all of the other people he was going to be working with.

Hardison found out Nathan Ford was an ex-insurance investigator for IYS and that he had a dead son and an ex-wife. Hardison looked more into Ford’s son’s death and found out IYS had refused to help. Hardison made sure to cause IYS a little trouble just for the hell of it.

Hardison couldn’t find any files on Parker, which was rare if not unheard of, he could find files on anybody. He was a bit frustrated but mostly curious. Although Hardison couldn't find any files on her online he did know a few stories. He knew she was a legendary thief, if not the best in the world.

Hardison found not as much as he would have liked on Eliot Spencer. He knew Eliot was dangerous, knew he had been in the military, and knew he had done some hinkey stuff in the past. Hardison found a shit-ton of redacted files, so Eliot was probably ex-black opps or special forces. Hardison knew he had gone even darker some time in his past, but couldn't find anything on record of it. Many years were unaccounted for. Hardison also managed to find somewhere that said he was doing mostly retrieval jobs now. Huh, interesting.

Parker never worked with anyone. She was always alone, I work best alone, it's better this way. But these people seemed okay, and it wasn’t that big of a heist, just one job was okay right? It was a good payout so she decided she’d give it a whirl, if she didn’t like them she could just leave.

Eliot didn’t do teams. It wasn’t that he didn’t know how to work with a team, he had in the past, it was that it wasn’t safe. The last time he had been on a team was when he was young, innocent, and stupid. He couldn’t afford to trust like that anymore, it was too dangerous to let people get that close to him. Besides, they would just slow him down and get in his way. Eliot could do a retrieval like this without any trouble on his own, but Dubenich wanted a team. The pay was good and it was a relatively easy job since he didn’t have to do the actual stealing of the data from the servers, he was just security. How bad could it be? So he agreed to take the job.

Chapter Text

Eliot and Hardison walk side by side to meet Nate and Parker in the middle of the sidewalk. Nate hangs back and Eliot, Parker, and Hardison cross the street together.

They head up to the roof of the Pierson Aviation headquarters building and begin to set up. Hardison loudly complains about how awful and outdated Nate’s comms are and gives everyone a replacement comm of his own design. Eliot startles slightly when Hardison speaks directly into his ear through the comm, but accepts it as a very useful piece of technology. Eliot ‘compliments’ Hardison on his apparent non-uselessness.

“I don’t even know what you do.” Hardison replies to Eliot’s comment.

Parker is happy listening to the boys bantering below her as she examines her new comm. Neat. She reminisces about the last time she used the rigg she chose for the job. Paris, 2003. Eliot blows on his comm, still suspicious.
“Is this thing safe?” Eliot asks
Hardison then goes off on a list of possible side effects, including stroke.
“You are precisely why I work alone” Eliot responds, more irritated at Hardison’s lightheartedness at the possibility of “strokiness” the comm could cause.

Parker does get tired of listening to Nate count so she runs and launches herself off of the building. They waste too much time.

The initial break in goes off without a hitch, until the mishap with security, but Eliot can take care of that. Hardison is not happy about being the bait, at all.

Hardison realizes he can’t crack the password for the vault in time and turns to leave. Four men round the corner heading straight for them, Hardison looks around. Where the hell is Eliot? He was just here a second ago what the hell?

Hardison raises his hands above his head, dropping his bag. Eliot rounds the corner a second after security, the four men are down before the bag hits the ground. Eliot smiles as he unloads the gun, letting the clip fall to the floor and throwing the rest over his shoulder. “That’s what I do.” Hardison’s code breaking device clicks as the vault door opens. They steal the data and disable the servers.

Parker irritatedly informs them that all the floors above them are on lockdown. They consider splitting, every man for himself, but Nate has a plan that keeps them together. Hardison and Eliot meet Parker in the elevator, they change into suits to blend in, the boys turn their backs to Parker when she changes. They help a fake-limping Parker out of the building and into Nate’s waiting car. Hardison sends the blueprints to Dubenich with a promise of money in all their accounts by the end of the day. They split, going their separate directions. Eliot says something about "One show no encores."

That is not what happens.

They all receive a call from Dubenich the next day saying that he never got the blueprints and that if they want to get paid they have to meet him in a warehouse at the edge of the city.

Once Nate gets to the specified wearhouse he walks in to find Hardson pointing a gun at Eliot. They’re blaming each other for not getting paid. Hardison points out that Eliot is very calm for someone with a gun pointing at him, Eliot almost wants to laugh. You think this is the first time? But instead Eliot calmly informs Hardison that the safety is on. When Hardison goes to check the gun is ripped from his clearly inexperienced hands. Parker strides in, gun raised. She is Not Happy that the money is not in her account as promised.

Nate realizes something is terribly wrong, it’s a trap. Nate leads them running out of the building, Hardison falls but Eliot jerks him up and they keep running. They run from the building just in time, the explosion knocking them all out.

They wake up in a hospital handcuffed to the beds (or in Eliot’s case, one hand cuffed to a chair). Eliot tells Nate that they were printed and have been at the hospital for twenty minutes. No one questions that Eliot has been awake the whole time and is not in a bed. Nate hatches a plot to break them all out. Two phones and twenty minutes later they drive a cop car away from the hospital. Once they break out of the hospital, all traces of their presence wiped, they plan to split and go their separate ways.

Eliot is pissed Dubenich tried to kill him. Parker is pissed she didn’t get paid. Nate has a plan to get them both what they want. Eliot is suspicious, questioning Nate’s motivation, but he gets a satisfactory answer and they move on with the plan. Nate brings them to pick up Sophie, Eliot is wary of a new person but goes with it because Dubenich knows all their faces, so they need someone new.

Their con on Dubenich goes perfectly, he only finds out as much as they want him to find out. The payout is insane, a fortune, Hardison is very good at what he does. They all walk away, but come back together moments later, all having reasons for wanting to do “just one more job” as a team. Nate is dubious about working with criminals, but he agrees to it as long as they only go after bad guys. They help people, and one more job turns into two, and three, and four.

Chapter Text

The jobs just keep coming, they work together and grow as a team. They move into the offices and do one more job one more job, until it becomes routine.

Hardison’s knuckles still ache sometimes, or his shoulder, or his leg. He always knows they are from his soulmate, he still worries about them, wherever they are, but at least the DMs stopped showing up a couple years ago. Hardison still has a place in his heart for his soulmate, but he has something special now, something that could someday become a family.

Parker notices too, that sometime a couple years ago the DMs that made her so furious and protective stopped showing up. She hopes her soulmate had gotten away. Finally she thinks. She's glad her soulmate is okay now. Well, not okay okay, they still get hurt, but not by one person. That’s somehow better.

The team does jobs, Parker and Hardison still get soul injuries and pains sometimes, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. Eliot almost never gets soulmarks anymore, maybe the occasional pain or injury, but nothing major and they are few and far between.

Eliot is happier now then he’s been in years. Not relaxed, or trusting, still ready to run, but it is an improvement on how it had been. He has people in his life that he actually looks forward to seeing, jobs he can sleep easy after. Eliot doesn’t feel quite as alone anymore.

Parker and Hardison sometimes notice hurting when Eliot gets hurt on a job, at first they chalk it up to coincidence. But after a few very precise and similar injuries and soulmarks, it starts to nag. When Eliot fights Quinn and wins, their ribs hurt. Parker mostly ignores it, sticking to observing and the occasional poke, but Hardison can’t help thinking: What if?

Hardison thinks it is a weird coincidence, but doesn’t give it much thought. Eliot can’t be his soulmate right? Hardison likes guys and girls, he’d accepted that part of himself a long time ago, come to be proud of it, but Eliot? He is about as straight as they come. So there was no way, just no way, that Eliot could be his soulmate.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The first problem is Nate’s drinking. Nate doesn’t view it as a problem, but the rest of them do. Hardison can’t do his job if Nate doesn’t give directions. Parker doesn’t trust Nate when he’s drunk. Nate’s drinking sets Eliot on edge, but Nate has never been violent, absolutely never. Nate is just sad when he drinks. Sophie can’t focus on the grift when she’s worrying about Nate. It has to stop, after they convince him it’s actually a problem he eases back on it a little, but not close to quitting cold-turkey.

The second problem is when Sophie betrays the team and they have to blow up the offices. They split, their fragile friendships all but destroyed.

When they all get back together Eliot and Parker don’t trust Sophie and Hardison is forgiving but still a little pissed. They finish the job, but with Interpol on their tails they have to leave Los Angeles and split for 6 months before meeting up in Boston.

Parker goes to steal something expensive and then puts it back out of boredom. Hardison hacks the White House, FBI, and CIA. Eliot takes another job. Nate moves to Boston. Sophie auditions for acting roles.

Parker and Hardison notice over the 6 month break that the soul injuries start showing up more frequently. Eliot, though dealing with his own injuries, does notice a few soul injuries as well. Two harsh, burn like lines show up across the palms of both his hands along with a soulmark in the shape of a cut along the back of his left hand, about 5 months and 28 days into his “break”.

Parker is repelling off the side of a cliff she had climbed when she slips. She slips. Parker catches herself of course, but she slipped. Parker got the rest of the way down to the ground and only then takes notice of the rope burn on both her palms, she also notices a soul cut across the back of her left hand. She writes it down, but just sighs and continues on her way.

Hardison is not a cook okay? He could not be blamed for this, it isn’t his fault all the scissors are missing. Hardison eats mostly boxed, packaged, or delivered food, so one day, he can’t find the scissors, so he tries to use a knife instead. Bad idea. Absolutely terrible idea.

Hardison slips and cuts himself across the back of his left hand trying to open a pack of fucking ramen noodles. It is a fitting injury really. He hisses in pain and grabs a towel and puts pressure on it. The cut isn’t deep enough to need stitches, but it isn’t a scratch either. While bandaging the cut he also notices a line across both of his palms.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When they get back together they find that Nate has stopped drinking completely and moved upstairs from a bar. They all collectively (everyone except Nate) decide to move their headquarters into Nate’s new apartment. Nate couldn’t stop them if he tried, and he did try.

Eliot notices something odd when he gets back from his little 6 month vacation. Hardison has a bandage across the back of his left hand, which is odd because Hardison is usually out of harm’s way. Eliot asks him what happened and all he does is grumble under his breath about ‘damn ramen noodles’ and something about missing scissors. He also notices the rope burn on Parker’s palms. She works with rope all the time. It’s just a coincidence...right?

Parker also notices something odd. She still has the soulmark cut across the back of her left hand, but she notices Hardison has a bandage in the same place. She notices a dark smear across the back of Eliot’s hand and a line across both his palms, but he’s moving too fast to see clearly. When she asks what it is, reaching for his hands, Eliot quickly jerks away, shoving his hands into his pockets, growling something about it not being any of her business.

Huh, interesting. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. And for the first and only time in her life, Parker is content to just wait.

Hardison notices the faint outline of rope burn on the palms of Parker’s hands. He also notices the soulmark cut across the back of Parker and Eliot’s left hands. Hardison looks down at his own left hand, the bandage in the exact same place as their marks. This is too similar and consistent to logically be a considered a coincidence anymore.

Hardison starts to consider what that would mean for the shared pain and marks, he started to wonder if he picked up pain from both of them. From the rope burn on his hands and the telltale fighting pains from the past few months, he would say that yes, he did. Hardison started to wonder all that that implied for the past injuries. Hardison knew Parker had had it rough in the system, he knew little of her past but he didn’t know it had been that bad.

Hardison intellectually knew that Eliot got hurt on jobs a lot, but Eliot made it seem like the countless hits meant nothing to him, like they didn’t hurt, so the rest of the team just ignored it. Hardiosn realized with a pang that it wasn’t that the hits didn’t hurt Eliot, it was that he is just very very good at hiding it. Hardison despairingly wondered what Eliot had gone through to be able to take a bullet like it was nothing. He realized that he knew at least some of it and the thought made him slightly ill. Hardison couldn’t distinguish what injury had happened to which of his soulmates and he tried his best not to guess. But he couldn’t stop his mind from wandering.

Who is DM? Who got stabbed in 2006? Who has had both shoulders dislocated at the same time? Who got shot when I was 14? Who was...who had...what had happened to them? Hardison thought about the two incidents that stood out most to him. That couldn’t have happened to Eliot right? Hardison just couldn’t imagine anyone doing that to ‘the Great Eliot Spencer’. Hardison didn’t want to imagine something like that happening to Parker, or to anyone for that matter. But he could barely imagine Eliot being in that kind of situation at all, much less…..Nope, not gonna to think too much about it. Nope.

Knowing who his soulmates are only makes Hardison want to give them both a 10 minute hug more. Unfortunately, neither of them are very huggy people as of now, so he may just have to wait. So instead of thinking about it Hardison does all the the research he can on the web about three-way-soulmates.

Chapter Text

The next job they take is something Nate tries to resist but eventually agrees under the guise of “one more job”, of course it doesn’t stay that way for long.

They take another job and Eliot gets hurt, bad. Eliot lets himself get beaten into a pulp in front of the mark to keep their client safe.

The job starts out okay, but the MMA gym owning mark finds out they’re con men and everything just goes downhill from there.

The original plan was to get the mark interested in Eliot’s fighting skills. Eliot pretends to be in dept to Nate and uses it as a reason not to fight for the mark. Eliot plays up being powerless and waits for the mark to swoop in and offer to get him out of his dept. The way the mark talks about his other fighters, says they’re pieces of meat, like he owns them, sets Eliot on edge and makes his skin crawl.

But Eliot’s a professional, and continues to grift. The mark agrees to pay off Eliot’s twenty-grand debt to Nate in exchange for Eliot fighting for him, by the end of the day. Sophie doesn’t like the mark either and tries to talk to Eliot, sensing his discomfort.

“Auh this guy..he just gives me the creeps.” Sophie complains while her and Eliot are on their way to a meeting.
“We’ve been up against rougher dudes before.” Eliot counters.
“I know, but it’s his whole treating people as commodities and this whole barbaric sport-”
“Hey...don’t lump these guys in with Rucker alright? He’s not what the sport’s about.” Eliot defends MMA as a sport but doesn’t counter Sophie's evaluation of their mark, Rucker.
“Eliot, this ‘sport’ is about two guys beating the crap out of eachother.”
“MMA fighters act with more respect than any other athlete I’ve ever seen.”
“Yeah they’re bravehearted I get it..” Sophie rolls her eyes.
“No you don’t. These guys don’t fight because they like hurting’ other people alright? They fight to gain some sort of...control. Over their opponents, over their--environment, over their lives. Hell, have you seen this town? The farms are dryin’ up. The only stores are-are Bail Bondsman's and pawn shops and there’s nothing’ they can do about it.”
“So yeah, they get in the ring...Try not to let it all suffocate ‘em.” Eliot takes a pause.
“And yeah, it’s about two guys beating’ the crap out of each other.” Eliot adds with a smile. Sophie smiles back. She feels like she’s gained some sort of insight into Eliot’s philosophy and possibly his past. She’s honored he shared something with her.

That’s when the mark finds out Nate and Eliot aren’t who they say they are. Rucker threatens to harm the client and their family if the team doesn’t stay in town and have Eliot fight Rucker’s best fighter, Tank. Rucker makes the condition that Eliot has to fight Tank and lose. Eliot says he’ll do it. Nate tells Eliot he doesn’t have to do anything, Eliot says he does.

When Nate, Sophie, and Eliot make it out of the gym to the van where Hariodns and Parker are waiting they begin to plan. Parker suggests moving the client and their family but Eliot shoots that plan down. Nate keeps insisting they’ll figure something else out, Hardison says something to the same effect, Sophie asks if Eliot is sure. Eliot irritatedly tells them he’s taking the dive.

“It’s the right move. Tactically this is the right move, you all know that.” With that Eliot walks away and gets in the van. Conversation over. The team can all sense his discomfort and are all worried but Eliot is just so stubborn and keeps insisting "It’s fine."

The night before the fight Sophie goes to the gym to find Eliot, he is still training. Sophie is worried about Eliot so she tries to talk to him before the fight.

“Hey.” Sophie says, loud in the empty gym. She says it as she approaches, in case Eliot didn’t hear her come in.
“Listen, you don’t have to do this, you know Nate’s going to come up with something.” Sophie says quietly, Eliot stops practicing to listen.
“I’m losing’ a fight Sophie I’m not divin’ on a grenade. I’ll be alright.” Eliot replies, breathing hard. His hair is very curly, sticking to his forehead or frizzing out from where it has fallen out of the mostly destroyed ponytail.
“Yeah I know, I’m not talking physically.” Sophie says.
“I think my ego can handle it.” Eliot says with a smile, deflecting the concern.
“Look. You told me that it’s about control. About knowing you’re never gonna be the victim. And that’s what keeps you going right?” Sophie says it softly, Eliot turns around and walks to lean on the ropes at the side of the ring, looking at Sophie as he speaks.
“You think I’m upset cuz I’m gonna let this guy kick my ass? I learned a long time ago, you can’t control the violence. I can take the punishment.” Eliot pauses, and with a small smile and a nod he says:
“It’s what I do.”
His smile fades, and he shakes his head.
“What I need to control, it’s not out there” Eliot makes a gesture to his chest.
“It’s here.” Eliot says it so quiet. Sophie can only hear him because she is standing so close, he sounds so...small. Eliot takes a shaky breath, blinks a few times.
“Always.” Eliot finishes shakily, sounding a little unsure of himself. But at the core of it, is bone deep determination.

Sophie is still worried. Sophie wants to tear the people who made their fearlessly strong hitter sound this unsure of his ability to control his life. Sophie gives Eliot a little smile of comfort and leaves the gym, only mildly re-assured, Eliot has been tense and on edge and the whole team is noticing. Despite her worry Sophie was touched that he shared that with her, given how closed off he usually is about how he’s feeling.

The next day is the day of the fight. Rucker had placed bets on Tank to different bookies online (who are really all Hardison) and drugged Eliot’s water. The team of course knew about the drugged water and switched it out for clean, but Eliot still had to pretend to be drugged and let Tank beat the crap out of him.

After Eliot takes several punches to the face, it’s time to move forward with the plan: make Rucker think Tank is dead.

Eliot is on the floor of the rink taking brutal hits to the face. Sophie tells Parker to get the doctor, Rucker tells her it’s okay, it’s almost over.
Sophie laughs grimly, shaking her head.

“Oh man. You don’t get it do you. Eliot’s not like other fighters! He doesn’t play games--He fights to survive! That’s his training!” Sophie urgently yells at the mark.
“It takes all his control not to kill somebody. You’ve just made him more dangerous! You’ve taken the safety off the gun!”
Just as Sophie finishes Eliot bursts from the floor with a growl, blocking Tank’s hit and delivering some savage hits of his own.

Eliot put tank in a headlock with his legs and Tank taps out, someone calls for the reff to break it up. The refs have to drag Eliot away to get him to let go of Tank, calling for a doctor as they do so. The doctor injects Tank with something as Rucker waves the watching crowd out the door. The doctor pronounces Tank dead, the team stands around looking shocked, Eliot looks despairingly up from the floor.

Rucker makes a run for it in his car with all the money he has left. As soon as Parker announces that Rucker’s gone the team looks up, moving around as if everything is normal. The client stands confusedly in the corner as the doctor assures everyone that Tank will be fine, he had injected him with a mild temporary paralytic and he isn’t actually dead. The doctor takes a look at Eliot and tells him he should probably go to the hospital to make sure he doesn’t have internal bleeding. Eliot just waves him off.

The mark is arrested after the police discover the guns in his trunk, courtesy of Parker, and everyone is safe, but Eliot is pretty badly hurt. The next day when they give the clients their money at the gym Eliot’s face is bruised and his left eye is nearly swelled shut. But he insists he’s fine.

In reality Eliot feels like shit but he waves them off and tells them he’s had worse before, and he has, so he deals with it and goes about his business as usual. Only Parker and Hardison can’t go about their business as usual because they hurt.

Parker and Hardison feel beat up all over, particularly in left area of the face, but they keep it to themselves because it’s their soulmate’s pain. They both realize it’s Eliot, but they don’t know if the other knows and have no way of approaching Eliot about it, so they keep the thoughts to themselves. It is a bit unnerving seeing him act like nothing's wrong when Parker and Hardison are in agony.

Despite the severity of Eliot's injuries he refuses to take any medication. Eliot’s habit of refusing to take pain meds, ever, particularly irritates and confuses Hardison and Parker because they can feel how much pain he’s in. But Eliot always refuses pain meds regardless of the severity of his injuries so they've come to expect this. When any of them bug him to take meds he gets defensive and tense, they see how closed off and guarded he gets when they try to get him to take meds and decide not to press the issue any further (for now).

It's after one of these little arguments however, that Parker realizes she really cares about Eliot. She’d been intrigued by him since she first got together with the team for real, knowing that he was more than he let on to other people. She knows that Eliot's more than he lets other people believe he is, she's determined to not underestimate him, to really get to know him. Feeling the pain in her face and her hands and arguing to let them help him has brought the Eliot she is getting to get to know now and the soulmate she felt so strongly protective of when they got hurt crashing together.

The person connected to the soulmarks and pain is standing right next to her but she almost can’t push the two people together in her head. She feels a bit foolish for feeling so protective of someone like Eliot. He is just so...dangerous, capable. He is the literal definition of ‘I can take care of myself’, but Parker shrugs and thinks: There was a time not that long ago when he really could have used a protector. So she keeps her protective feelings alive incase he needs her again someday.

Eliot comes off as so strong, so fearless, so absolutely indestructible. But Parker knows he’s not, she sees the broken look he gets in his eyes sometimes, she pokes his bruises so he can’t pretend to be fine. Parker truly realises for the first time that the two people are one in the same. She recognized him as a fellow survivor, in all senses of the word.

Even though Eliot might act like he’s made of stone, always ‘fine’, he’s still just a fleshy squishy breakable human like the rest of us. Well, maybe not as breakable, but he has feelings and regrets and memories that haunt him too.

Eliot takes care of everyone in his own way. He bugs Hardison and her to eat at least a little healthy sometimes. He stands like a wall between Nate and the team when Nate used to pushes them all too hard. Eliot is beginning to cook for them and always keeps them safe and he never expects anything from them in return. Parker decides to take care of him too.

Parker smiles, Eliot needs them just as much as they need him, even if he hasn’t realized it yet.

Chapter Text

A few jobs later Eliot spots a kid who has a suspiciously broken arm in the hospital and threatens the boy’s father. After finding out the boy’s father knows the local cops, Eliot calls in a favor from a state marshal and has the boy taken somewhere safe, Eliot couldn’t just leave that boy there once he knew he was being abused, he reminds Eliot too much of his younger self. The team never finds out what Eliot did.

~~~

A few jobs later after a failed re-con of a food corporation building Eliot escaped with a bruised arm and Hardison had to restart his whole computer system, Parker starts poking the bear with a stick. Literally poking.

Parker is standing next to Eliot, who is leaning back on the conference table holding an ice back to his elbow, while Nate and Hardison argue about how the plan went wrong.

“Does that hurt?” Parker asks after she none too gently pokes Eliot’s injured elbow.
“Yeah.” Eliot replies, smiling slightly out of amusement and a hint of pain.
As the conversation about what to do continues, Parker pokes Eliot again.
“Does that hurt?” Parker pokes him for a third time.
“Yeah.” Eliot replies again, still with small smile and a hint of annoyance.
“How about now?” Parker pokes him again, pushing him slightly sideways.

The rest of the team ignore them for the most part. Parker pokes Eliot another few times before he growls a ‘stop’. Parker goes to move away but turns back to roughly poke him one more time. Nate then takes notice of the ensuing shenanigans and asks Eliot what he’s doing.
“She was pokin’ me.” Eliot explains as Nate walks over to stand by him.
“Don’t, man.” Eliot is already moving away from his spot by table when Nate reaches out to poke him too.

As annoying as he pretends their antics sometimes are, Eliot finds it endlessly endearing how his teammates are a group of criminals and yet sometimes act like a group of children. It always amazes him how unafraid they all are of him even when they clearly know what he can do. Eliot smiles to himself and shakes his head.

After the shenanigans Hardison pulls up the info he was able to get before the plan went bust. Their mark is the CEO of a food company trying to cover up salmonella being discovered in the food. Eliot makes a comment about things being why he grows his own food. Sophie looks sceptical and asks how he has time. Eliot says he makes time, and off handedly mentions the fact that he only sleeps 90 minutes a day. It’s best to let them assume that his lack of sleep is because he grows his own food and not because of insomnia, nightmares, or flashbacks.

Their way into the company is being the in-house entertainment for the state of the company meeting after they have the original magician arrested. Nate is the main act and Parker is his assistant. Hardison is the trick designer and Sophie is the manager. After they clear the lobby Nate tells them to release Eliot, the door of a large box swings open. Eliot steps out of the box still managing to look hella ominous even while holding a live rabbit.

“It’s a good job you’re not claustrophobic Eliot.” Sophie says as Eliot staps out of the box.
“I was when I was a kid.” Eliot replies.
“Take this damn thing.” Eliot growls at Nate as he hands over the bunny he was previously holding.
“Really? How’d you get over it?” Parker questions as Nate hands the rabbit off to her.
“Locked myself in a wood shed behind my house for a couple nights. After that, I was fine.” Eliot says it matter of factly, Hardison gives Eliot the wide eyed ‘what the actual hell?’ look that Eliot sometimes gives Parker. Eliot doesn’t mention that he didn’t have much of a choice and had locked himself in the shed to escape his father and had consequently also cured his claustrophobia.
“That is so funny. I was scared of the dark and did exactly the same thing.” Parker responds. She then tells them about when she agreed to be buried in a trunk as a kid. Hardison is now starting disbelievingly at both his soulmates and is secretly very concerned. They don’t even realize how terrible each of their stories are, judging by the conversational way in which they talked about it.

“That’s not the same thing. What’s wrong with you?” Eliot says, shaking his head. Eliot’s giving Parker the what the actual hell look now, but Hardison knows that that look just means that Eliot is concerned about what happened to Parker and shows it in his own way.

The team soon disperses to look for the now missing rabbit.

~~~

Another few jobs later they run into one of Sophie’s old partners and have to fake her death after an attempt on her life. The team competes with another crew on the job and they end up making some new friends, or in Hardison's case, a new nemesis. The job ends well, Sophie no longer dead, with drinks and conversation at the pub.

When Eliot is comparing scars with Michael, the other team’s hitter, Hardison notices something...interesting. When Eliot rolls up his sleeve to show where a bullet had gone through the underside of his upper arm, Hardison walks by just in time to catch the ‘Myanmar, snipper, 2003’ part of the story. He makes a witty comment and leaves the room.

Well this sure is some kind of crazy coincidence, Hardison thinks, that scar’s in the exact same place as one of my soulmarks was in 2003. Hardison shakes his head, he has to be remembering it wrong, maybe it had been in 2002 or a different part of his arm. Hardison went to consult with his soul injury journal to sort out the details. His journal confirms that his memory was correct, that scar is in the same place, and same time, as a soulmark he got was in 2003. Yep, Hardison thought, he’s definitely my soulmate.

Hardison starts to write down which soul injuries he finds out belongs or belong to Eliot or Parker, filling out a new section of his journal.

~~~

On another job, Hardison gets kidnapped by Russians because he oversold his character. Eliot had said he wouldn’t help rescue Hardison when he got in over his head from the beginning, of course he did. When Eliot makes the excuse that Parker made him help, she immediately says she didn’t. Eliot is caught. Hardison hugs Eliot despite his irritated protests. Eliot would absolutely deny it but maybe the hug wasn’t so bad.

Chapter Text

They take a bigger job than ever before. They try to take down a corrupt mayor whose partner was a gun runner while also dealing with the FBI and Interpol.

Parker and Hardison feel it when Eliot fights 13 men in the hull of a cargo ship, getting kicked in the face and hit with the butt of a gun in the process. They also feel it when about halfway through fighting the men Eliot breaks the zip ties binding his hands together.

Sophie comes back in the end to save them, but they are forced to leave Nate behind after he makes a deal with Sterling to go to jail in exchange for his crew’s freedom. Nate goes to jail but he eventually agrees to let the team break him out after they discover the warden is dirty.

~~~

The team is back together but Nate faces a difficult ultimatum given to him by someone known only as ‘The Italian’. Nate has to bring down the infamous Damien Moreau in 6 months or he will go back to whatever jail The Italian wants. Nate tells his team what happened and what the plan is.

Eliot sat at the farthest end of the table, shoulders hunched and arms crossed in front of him. They all protest, naming all the dangerous people Moreau works with. Nate elaborates that they aren’t being hired, they’re being blackmailed.

Eliot is careful to refer to Moreau only as ‘he’ and ‘Moreau’, not letting on that he and Moreau had known each other in the past. His team doesn’t need to know anything about that part of his past.

Eliot, slightly quieter now, tells them:
“You can’t go straight at a guy like Moreau, he’ll vaporize us.” Eliot knows better than anyone what Moreau is capable of. He wants to keep his team, his almost family, as far away from Moreau as possible. But Nate has other ideas.

Nate proposes that they take on clients as usual, but that some will get them closer to taking down Moreau. Eliot pinches his fingers to the bridge of his nose in an exasperated gesture of defeat as they begin to plot.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hardison and Nate both have apartments above the pub, Sophie has her own apartment close by. Parker switches between sleeping at her warehouse and in random places around the city. Eliot also has an apartment near the pub but no one knows about it, as far as he is aware.

That night Eliot goes back to his apartment feeling pretty bad. He tries to push down the resurfacing memories and feelings and decides to cook as a distraction. Eliot eats his food without really tasting it. He’s somewhere else now, barely aware of his surroundings, which is the opposite of his usual hypervigilance. Eliot numbly brushes his teeth and goes to bed on autopilot. He lays awake for nearly an hour and a half before drifting into an uneasy sleep.

Parker is bored and has nothing interesting to do, and she remembers the realization she had not so long ago that Eliot could use a little bit of being taken care of, or at least being cared about, too. So Parker decides to see how Eliot’s doing. She had noticed that Eliot was acting a little more tense than usual earlier when they were making plans and thought it would be a good idea to check on him. Parker has no intention of talking to Eliot. Checking in has no reason to include talking or being seen, in Parker’s opinion.

When Parker arrives at Eliot’s apartment she sees that the lights are on and picks a place on the fire escape to perch and observe. She sees Eliot finish washing the dishes and head to the bathroom, she moves to where she can see into his bedroom. She notices he looks...odd. Eliot is usually scanning his surroundings constantly but now he is just staring ahead, eyes unfocused. Parker watches as he gets into bed and lays there for an hour and a half before he finally drifts to sleep. Parker is less concerned now and is about to leave when something catches her eye.

Parker, now intrigued, stays and observes. Something had caught her eye about Eliot’s movement and as she looks closer she can see his quickened breath. He looks distressed and his breathing is erratic. Parker strains her ears trying to hear what he’s mumbling. Parker is curious and concerned, Eliot looks quite stressed and his movements and mumbling are getting more distressed by the minute. Parker is considering trying to wake him up when he sits up stock still in bed. Eliot is sitting straight up in bed staring wide-eyed at the wall ahead of him.

He closes his eyes a few moments later and rubs at them and swings his legs over the edge of the bed and gets up. Eliot goes straight to the bathroom and takes a shower. Parker waits for 10 minutes before he comes out. After his shower Eliot started to work out, punching the punching bag like it personally offended him. Parker’s knuckles twinge painfully and she only now notices that Eliot didn’t bother to wrap his hands or wrists.

Parker stays and watches Eliot punch the punching bag for almost an hour before he stops for a break. He is sweating and looks exhausted but there’s a look in his eyes and Parker knows he won’t stop. His knuckles are bruised and rubbed raw from the rough bag and Parker’s knuckles and wrists hurt. She wishes he’d at least wrap his wrists. Eliot keeps at it for another half hour before he finally stops for good. He looks a bit less wild eyed now and goes to take another shower. Parker has seen enough and knows he won’t sleep again so she decides to leave and give Eliot some space.

Eliot had his first special-brand-of-awful Moreau nightmare in years. He’d mostly managed to push all memories out of his mind and moved on but the stress of seeing Moreau again so soon brought everything back to the surface. Eliot tried to sleep but only got about 45 minutes of nightmare interrupted sleep that night so he decided to work out instead. If he goes a bit too hard at the punching bag it’s just because he’s stressed.

Parker returns a few nights later and sees almost the same thing. Eliot being in distress and startling awake, working out and then showering. Parker returns around once a week to check on Eliot. Same routine, sometimes he goes on runs or stress bakes instead of working out. Parker is concerned and wants to help Eliot but she doesn’t know how or what to say. How would that conversation go exactly? “Hey Eliot the other day I noticed you were tense and followed you home and watched you sleep, I know you have nightmares and I want to help you, wanna talk about it?” No, that wouldn’t go over very well.

So Parker does the only thing she can think to do, talk to Hardison about it. They’ve been building up a friendship and she feels confident enough to talk to him about what’s been going on with Eliot. But she reconsiders last minute. Parker feels like she’s somehow betraying Eliot in some way, maybe invading his privacy? After watching him sleep and tracking him to his secret apartment Parker gets the idea that maybe Eliot doesn’t want anyone to know where or how he sleeps. So for now, Parker keeps her troubling observations a secret.
~~~

On their quest to take down Damien Moreau they take some other cases, but mostly focus on clients that get them closer to their target.

They have a run-in with a Steranco, the most dangerous and advanced security system in the world. Eliot finds a way up the side of the building using a window washer’s lift but when Parker doesn’t take her exit he follows her into the building and keeps her safe from any physical security while Hardison does his best keeping them safe from the technological security. They rescue Parker from the clutches of the Staranco, in the process they meet her old mentor, Archie. The team has mixed feelings about Archie and Eliot personality doesn’t like him because of how he used Parker as a tool.

~~~

They just keep helping people and keep doing jobs that get them closer to Moreau. Eliot sings on a job, he sounds good and surprises his team because they had no idea this is one of his many skills. At the end of another job Parker tries her best to express her feelings for Hardison, though she ends up saying she has feelings for ‘pretzels’ instead. Hardison understands her trouble with talking about feelings and makes it clear that if or when she wants to talk more about a relationship that he will be there for her. Neither of them mention their knowledge of each other being soulmates, or of their missing third party. They also don’t mention how their knuckles ache or how Eliot looks continuously more tired and grouchy than usual.

~~~

A few jobs later Eliot and Hardison get kidnapped by a mafia of gun wielding patriotic extremists. Eliot gets himself and Hardison out of there, he tells Hardison he’s been in almost this exact situation before. The problem is that Hardison wants to go back and destroy the camp and Eliot doesn’t disagree. They destroy the camp and the mark goes down along with the whole mafia.

~~~

The next job they take is taking down a corrupt used car dealer who sells stolen cars. Eliot’s comm goes offline part way through the con after they hear gunshots, a crash, and a splash. Parker and Hardison rush to the scene, both feeling a sudden flash of pain, like they’d just been hit with a buss, but only for a few seconds. When they arrive at the scene they only find the mark’s thugs with guns, no Eliot in sight.

Just as the thugs are pointing guns at Parker and Hardison while they stand on the waters edge, they spot Eliot. They begin to smile and laugh quietly, smirking. Eliot comes up behind the thugs, soaking wet, and takes them all down with the help of Parker and Hardison.

They later find out that they had opened fire on Eliot and while trying to dodge bullets Eliot got hit by a car and flung into the water off the doc. The being-hit-by-a-bus pain makes more sense now.

They all three feel it on the next job when Parker throws a crowbar at Eliot’s head.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After 4 months of jobs they head to England, finally close enough to take down someone who works for Moreau directly. The mark smuggles stolen artifacts across borders using children as carriers.

After he was taken care of they go after a rogue financier. They make the mark think he has killed Parker and that they will help him stay out of jail in exchange for what he knows about Moreau.

Eliot gets side tracked while they’re masquerading as police officers when he responds to a call about a man with a weapon. Eliot turns the car suddenly, telling Hardison there could be kids in the house. There aren’t, and the go on their way, Hardison not arguing.

The mark is scared away by one of Moreau’s snipers who tries to kill him to keep him quiet while he’s at Nate’s apartment. When the mark goes to court to testify against the team’s client they spook him by having Parker sit in the front row of of the courtroom public seating. The mark previously thought he killed Parker and is understandably confused. He starts ranting, demanding to know who Parker works for. The mark stands up and tries to cross the courtroom. Hardison and Eliot, still acting as police officers, come in and restrain him. Eliot leans in and says cooly:
“Moreau would like to speak with you.” As he had said so many times before.

The mark struggles, going for Eliot’s gun, the mark waves it in the air, everyone in the courtroom ducks for cover just as Parker comes up from behind and tases him. The mark goes down easily and the real security take him away.

“I thought you didn’t like guns.” Hardison quips.
Eliot raises his ‘gun’ and pulls the trigger several times. The only thing that comes out of the barrel is a metallic clicking sound.
“Airgun.” Eliot explains.
Parker swings an arm around Eliot and Hardison’s necks as they walk out of the courtroom together. Nate gets Moreau’s codes from the mark’s phone.

The team has been working towards this goal for months, the looming seriousness of it weighing on their consciences. This is what it all came down to. The fight to take down Damien Moreau would now begin in earnest.

Eliot is apprehensive about seeing Moreau again, much less taking him down. The nightmares have continued since he first heard they would be taking down Moreau. Part of Eliot’s subconscious is screaming at him run run run run but he clamps that feeling down. No. He thinks. My team needs me.

So Eliot stays.

Chapter Text

The team is close. Really close.

It all starts with an assignment from The Italian, she warns the team that Moreau is “coming”, and gives Nate a file.

The team saves a scientist who is working on a project for a crooked general who is building an electrical bomb. Moreau has the general in his pocket and plans to sell the bomb called The Ram’s Horn to the highest bidder.

Their plan begins when Eliot walks into the pub and tells them exactly where Moreau is staying in the city.

“If Moreau was bothered by the police he wouldn’t be staying in a downtown hotel in DC.” Eliot tells them. When Eliot sits down at the table in the pub with the rest of his team, Sophie asks him:
“You’re keeping tabs on Moreau?”
“I make it a priority to know where Moreau is at all times, so we can avoid him.” Eliot pauses. “Atherton was a general in the Black Ops, Moreau….well he’s Moreau. We need more time-” Eliot’s voice is rough and hard, sounding more serious than usual.
“We’ve run out of time.” Nate interrupts.
“-to prep this.” Eliot continues, as if he hadn’t, Nate ignores him.
“We have to figure out exactly what this Ram’s Horn is and where Moreau is gonna be holding the auction.”

Hardison leans over, “Hey, you cool man?” he asks Eliot, noticing that he seem more agitated then normal. Eliot moves his mouth slightly, as if debating whether or not to say something. Eliot looks between the table, Hardison and Nate as he says:
“Nate me and Hardison’ll hit Moreau. We’ll get an invite to the auction.” Eliot says in a rush instead of answering Hardion’s question.
“Okay, you guys do that and the rest of us will find out what the hell this uh- Ram’s Horn thing is and uh-who exactly can get into a government facility on short notice?” Nate moves on, already working on a plan, ignoring the tension Eliot is radiating.

Sophie goes on the list the people who can get in without suspicion and Hardison talks about what kinds of passes he can get them. Eliot momentarily zones out, mentally preparing himself to see Moreau again. Nate finishes the meeting by saying:
“Let's go steal the department of Defence.”
“Isn't that treason?” Parker questions lightly.
“We’ll give it back.” Nate leaves the room and they are left to their own devices.

They decide that Sophie and Parker are going in as a congresswoman and her assistant while Nate poses as a legislative liaison for the DOD.

~~~~~~~~~

“Moreau’s havin’ and party downstairs.” Eliot says, pushing himself off the wall to stand beside Hardison.
“Only way down is the service elevator.” Eliot continues.
“Kay. So here’s the plan: we just gotta use this to get downstairs-” Hardison says, gesturing towards the rolling cart of food and drinks.
“-Once we’re there, I’m the middle-man, you’re my bodyguard.”
They begin to walk towards the elevator.
“I’m your bodyguard? That’s your plan huh?”
When they get to the elevator there are three guards. Hardison puts on a terribly fake french accent and poses as the chef personally delivering food to Moreau. The guards ignore Hardison, not buying his act at all. One looks to Eliot.
“Who the hell are you?” the guard asks aggressively.
“Me?” Eliot pauses, blinking at the floor before staring directly into the man’s eyes.
“I’m Eliot Spencer.”

Hardison’s fake smile and facade drop as he stares at Eliot. The guard's eyebrows go up to his hairline and he hastily backs away.
“Open the door.” He says to his fellow guards, all the previous aggression gone and replaced by a quiet, afraid tone.
“This way.” the guard says politely, walking into the elevator.
Eliot follows immediately, Hardison looks around for a minute before following.
“Eliot. Why’d you tell them your real name? Why’d you tell them your real name?
Eliot looks away from Hardison, silent. Hadison takes a pause before continuing to question, quieter.
“Why’d you tell them your real name Eliot? Why’d you tell them your real-
In a hushed tone, Eliot replies.
“Just...stick close to me okay?....This might get messy”

When Eliot and Hardison enter the pool room followed by the guard every one of Moreau’s men pulls a gun and follows them as they walk to the other side of the room. The man sitting at a table by the hot tub stands up. Eliot strides right up to him, staring him in the eyes, only a hair's breadth away. Every guard readies their gun and raises it to point at the two men, forming a circle. The noise of safeties releasing startles the group of women in the hot tub and they flee the room. All focus is on Eliot and the man. Hardison looks around nervously as Eliot addresses the other man.
“Chapman.” Completely cool and calculating.
“Eliot.” The other man curtly replies.
They’re sizing each other up.
In the same voice Eliot continues.
“They gave you the job?”
“There was an opening.” Chapman answers, smirking slightly, his tone more smug. Eliot’s eyes narrow.

The tension in the room is immense. Just when Hardison thinks something might explode from the tension Moreau emerges from the sauna, dabbing his hair with a towel. Eliot turns slightly to look at Moreau. The second Eliot sees Moreau his eyes widen slightly, jaw clenching minutely he glances at the floor for a fraction of a second before looking back up. Eliot’s suddenly very thankful for the thick leather bracelet he’s wearing that cover all of the faint scars on his left wrist. Suddenly feeling very defensive and vulnerable, he’s glad for the bit of cover he has. Glad Moreau doesn’t have the satisfaction of seeing the scars he left on Eliot.

If Hardiosn didn’t know any better, he’d say Eliot looked surprised, or….afraid? But of course he has to be wrong, the expressions were so faint and fast, gone before he could blink, the exact definition of micro-expressions. He’s probably just imagining things.

“Now that’s no way to treat an old friend.” Moreau says as he flips the towel over his shoulder. He says it so calmly, as if it doesn’t surprise him at all that Eliot is there.
Hardison squints at Moreau for half a second in shock before looking for a reaction from Eliot.
As Moreau walks up to Chapman and Eliot his men lower their guns. Eliot looks down for a few seconds before looking up into the man’s face.
“Damien.” Eliot says. He uses the same unsurprised cold voice Moreau had used. Moreau’s eyes slide over to Chapman before smiling dangerously at Eliot.
“Lets catch up.”
Hardison shoots Eliot a shocked and questioning look. What the hell man? But other than worrying about his present situation, something suddenly occurs to Hardions. Eliot had called Moreau Damien, Hardison knew of course that Moreau’s first name is Damien, but he’d never thought about it before. What if DM stands for Damien Moreau? The thought cuts Hardison to his core, but he has no proof and he isn’t in a place to deal with this right now. So Hardison puts it aside for later. No way there was just no way.

While Nate, Sophie, and Parker are running a con on the General to get the blueprints for The Ram’s Horn Hardison is sitting with one hand cuffed to the arm of a swivel chair by the edge of Moreau’s pool.

Hardison leans slightly towards Eliot, who is standing next to him.
“You call this a plan?” Hardison whispers irritatedly.
“I’m not handcuffed to anything.” Eliot growls in response, holding his arms crossed in front of him, standing rigid against a pillar.

After Moreau makes himself a drink at the mini bar he strides up to the pair and points loosely at Eliot with his drink hand.
“You work alone.” Moreau states in an accusing, slightly threatening voice.
“Things change.” Eliot replies, less growl in his voice than usual.
Moreau sits down in a chair, sighing. Gesturing to Hardison he says:
“Don’t take it personally, takes me awhile to warm up to people.”

A woman wearing a bikini approaches Eliot and Hardison carrying a silver tray holding two glasses of champagne.
“He prefers beer.” Moreau says to the woman, taking a sip of his own drink. The woman turns and leaves as Hardison tries to reach for the champagne, held back by the handcuffs, he fails in his ungraceful attempt. Eliot glares at him.

“This one of your retrieval jobs, Eliot?” Moreau questions dryly.
“It’s not a retrieval, I’m escortn’ the middleman. I’m contractin’ to make sure he gets in, and out, with the offer.” Eliot growls back.

Hardison puts back on the fake french accent and addressed Moreau. He says he’s working for a client that is interested in buying the Ram’s Horn and asks about the auction details. Moreau asks who Hardison’s client is and Hardison dodges the question by mentioning confidentiality.

“I assure you we are working in good faith.” Hardison finishes.
“I’m sure you are, I’m sure you are, but I don't know you.” Moreau turns his head and looks at Eliot.
“I do know you.”
Eliot raises his head slightly at being addressed.
We could talk.” Moreau says smoothly.
Quickly glancing to the right Eliot continues.
“I ain’t much on talking Moreau.”
Moreau looks down for a moment, making a condescending fake disappointed face at the ground.
“Okay.” Moreau says, roughly setting his drink down on the table.
“Let’s keep it short.” He gestures with his hand as he stands up.

Looking at Eliot all the while, Moreau strides toward Hardison and without hesitation kicks the rolling chair backwards into the pool. Hardison goes in with a splash, Eliot doesn’t allow himself to turn around or react. A few moments later Eliot began to feel his lungs burn in sympathy with Hardison’s. Moreau crosses his arms, approaching Eliot.

“I’m sure you told your clients I don’t do business with strangers.” Moreau says it casually, like there isn’t someone drowning in the pool three feet away.
“That’s why I’m here. To vouch for him.” Eliot replies, doing his best to ignore the sounds of Hardison struggling in the water behind him. Eliot’s lungs are on fire.

“Eugh. Little vague.” Moreau complained.
“I never told anybody about you.” Eliot growled.
“I use the same confidentiality with all my clients. Although I can say, they’re overseas. You sell it to the international buyers it leaves US soil immediately, no trace back to you.” Eliot continues.
“I already have international buyers, so it’s not really an issue.” Moreau rubbed his chin, pretending to be thoughtful. Moreau was leading Eliot on, wanting more from him and Eliot knew it.

The tension built, Hardison still struggling in the pool, Moreau still pretending to be thoughtful, picking up his drink and pointedly taking a sip.
“What else you got?” Moreau prompts.
Eliot opens his mouth and closes it again, looking around. Hardison is struggling more frantically. Whatever Eliot says gets the handcuff keys thrown into the pool where Hardison can reach them.

Hardison breaks the surface coughing and sputtering, Eliot and Moreau still staring intensely at each other, Eliot with his arms crossed in front of him defensively. Hardison was too pissed and disoriented to notice. Hardison gets out of the pool and walks over to stand next to Eliot, not breaking character he buttons his suit jacket and wipes at his eyes with a dampened handkerchief he pulls from his inner pocket.

“And what message should I convey to my employer?” Hardison questions, still in a fake french accent, dripping wet and shaking.
Moreau laughed, gesturing to Hardison he says:
“I like this one.” Moreau continues to light heartedly laugh, sighing he continues.
“Glad we could strike a deal. Reminds me of Belgrade.” Morea smiles wider as Eliot’s eyes narrow. Moreau turns and walks away, dismissing them.
Eliot immediately growls a ‘come on’ at Hardison as they quickly walk out of the room.

As soon as Eliot and Hardison exit the building Eliot rips the next 2 buttons of his shirt open. He can’t handle anything near his neck right now. Not when all the memories of Moreau are playing on a loop in his head, Eliot can almost feel Moreau’s hands on his throat. Fuck

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nate, Parker, and Sophie are sitting in a park on benches, handing the tablet with the Ram’s Horn designs back and forth trying to figure out what it is. A damp and angry Hardison and a scowling Eliot walk up.

“Tell them what you did Eliot. You risked, my life-” Hardison is as close to angry growling as any of them have ever seen him. Eliot ignores him.
“We’re in. Moreau’s gonna give me the details of the auction tomorrow.”
“You? Why’s he giving you the-” Sophie questions.
“I said we’re in! Just make the plan.” Eliot cuts Sophie off.
Hardison starts talking almost before Eliot is done growling. The whole team’s focus is on Hardison.

“Eliot worked with Moreau back in the day,” He takes a pause.
A lot.” Hardison emphasized.
Turning more towards Eliot through gritted teeth Hardison orders: “Tell.”

Hardison moves to sit down on one of the benches next to Parker, just as he sits down Nate stands up and loudly says:
“We’ve been chasing Moreau for six months and you didn’t tell us.”
“Because I was tryin’ a-”
“Because you were what?”
“-figure a way around this. Alright? Maybe take my shot-”
“Because you were protecting him? Is that what you’re-”
“I was protecting you!” Eliot half yells, finally interrupting Nate after they’d been taking over each other for the last few seconds. Everyone is silent as they look at Eliot to continue. Nate gives a confused half shrug, eyebrows creased.

“Alright last time I checked that’s my job.” Eliot says as a way of explanation.
Nate sigs. “Look. We can handle Moreau.” Nate says it like he can’t believe Eliot would think otherwise.
“We’re out of our league Nate.” Eliot states, Nate looks away, not believing him, but Eliot continues.
Every one of Moreau’s men have innocent blood on their hands. Every one of ‘em. Every one of ‘em..” Eliot suddenly stops, swallows and blinks a few times before he continues a few moments later.
"Are worse than me.”
“You think you know what I’ve done?” Eliot pauses again, breathing in through his nose, sniffing slightly.
“The worst thing I ever did in my entire life…” Eliot is blinking frequently now.
“-I did for Damien Moreau.” He says the name like it hurts him.
“And I-....I’ll never be clean of that.” Eliot looks so sad and broken.
“What’d you do?” Parker asks. Not looking at her, Eliot replies, a bit of a growl back in his voice.
“Don't ask me that Parker…” He looks at her.
“Because if you ask me…I’m gonna tell you, so please,” Eliot’s voice breaks,
“-don’t ask me.”

Parker sees the pure guilt and sorrow in his eyes, she sees how broken he feels. Parker understands the feeling and she nods, a few tears gathering in her eyes. She won’t ask. Though she is curious what Moreau had made him do that Eliot was so close to tears, real actual human tears thinking about. Parker put together the puzzle pieces while following that train of thought. DM stands for Damien Moreau. Parker knows the man is a truly evil person, but previously had not thought to put the hints together until now.

Now Parker at least knows which one of her soulmates had been hurt like that by DM, although she had always suspected Eliot. Parker now has a face to put to all the protective anger she has been feeling all these years. Parker wants Moreau dead.

Sophie speaks for the first time since Eliot and Hardison arrived.
“Look, we all have a past. You don't have to tell us anything Eliot, but we’ve learned the hard way we’ve got to be straight with each other.”
Eliot nods a little looking at the ground, swallowing and taking a breath like he’s gathering the strength to look back up at all of them. Nate crosses his arms, Hardison nods his head solemnly and reaches out for Sophie to hand him the tablet. Nate looks at Eliot and nods, clearing his throat he says:
“So uh, you said that Moreau was gonna give you details on the auction tomorrow- why tomorrow?”
“Because he wants me to do something for him first.”
Nate raises his eyebrows and nods. “I bet he does. What?”
Eliot opens and closes his mouth a few times again, looking anywhere but Nate.
“Kill Atherton.” Everyone looks at Eliot in surprise.
“Kill Atherton?” Sophie reiterates.“You can’t, you’re not that man anymore.”
Eliot looks to Nate, Nate nods.
“He might have to be.” Nate says.
Sophie turns to look at him from her place on the bench.
“-To get us in.” Nate clarifies.
“So we can buy a bomb?” Hardison says, his hand half way over his mouth in shock, still staring at the screen of the tablet.
“What?” Nate asks.
“Ram’s Horn, it’s a bomb.” Everyone looks at Hardison. “A very big bomb.”

The team gets up and begins to walk out of the park as Hardison explains that the Ram’s Horn is an EMP bomb, he built one on a smaller scale once. This one is much bigger, instead of knocking the power out of one car, it would kill the power to a whole city, this thing could knock planes out of the sky, shut down hospitals. They can’t allow the Ram’s Horn to be sold.

Moreau is planning on auctioning it off to the highest bidder that weekend. They can’t call the authorities, they stole the blueprints from a General in the DOD. Nate decides they’re going to stick to the plan, get into the auction. Eliot points out that the only way to get the details of the auction is if he kills Atherton, and to that Nate says:
“Then that’s what you’re gonna do.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hardison is getting ready for bed when a thought from earlier that day comes back to haunt him. Well. I guess now is ‘later’. Hardison signs and decides to let the rush of questions come back full force. Is the illusive DM really Damien Moreau? Had Moreau really done all those terrible things to Eliot for years? Hardison knows Moreau is capable of some terrible stuff but...those things? That was bad...Even for Moreau.

But it is only logical to assume DM is Damien Moreau, how many other people with the initials DM have had the chance to hurt Eliot that consistently in the past? The thought still makes Hardison slightly sick, he is still grappling with the idea that all that had happened to Eliot. Hardison can’t and doesn’t want to imagine what kind of situation Eliot had to have been in to have that sort of thing happen. All Hardison can imagine is how Eliot would rip the arms off of anyone who even suggested trying to do that sort of thing to him now. Then Hardison remembers the restraint marks and needle track marks.

Yep, definitely gonna be sick.

Hardison couldn’t stop the unwelcome images that come streaming into his mind. He wants to talk to Eliot, he wants to apologize for how pissed he was earlier that day. Now that Hardison has more context for Eliot’s actions he’s less pissed, he understands the shift in Eliot’s mood now and it’s apparent that Eliot didn’t mean to come off like an asshole earlier. But of course he’d never explain himself because that would involve admitting he has feelings and vulnerabilities.

Hardison decides that having a face to put with the marks and actions doesn’t make him feel any better, but it does make him feel distinctly more vengeful. Hardison now has a target for all that protectiveness he had felt on behalf of his soulmate for all that time.

We are going to absolutely destroy Damien Moreau.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning Hardison gets up bright and early to begin planning for the day. It’s around 7 in the morning so Nate and Sophie are still asleep. Parker was sitting on the counter eating dry cereal out of a box one moment and was gone the next. Harrison doesn’t see Eliot anywhere so he goes downstairs to the complimentary breakfast bar.

When Hardison steps out of the elevator he sees a very disheveled looking Eliot with his back turned to him. Eliot is pouring the largest cup of coffee Hardison has seen in his life.

Where did he even get that cup? Did he buy it in town? Did he bring it himself? Questions Hardison may never have the answer to.

Hardison notices Eliot’s just staring straight ahead with unseeing eyes, clothes rumpled, shoulders hunched, hair tangled and sticking out at odd angles. Hardison stands there in shock for a few seconds, he has never seen Eliot look so…normal before. Eliot always looks put together and alert, so seeing him raiding the hotel coffee machine like a hobo who hasn’t slept in years throws Hardison for a bit of a loop.

Hardison contemplates just turning around and going back to the hotel room before he’s spotted. Feeling a bit like he’s seen something no one was supposed to see. Just as he’s about to turn around and forget about the breakfast bar Hardison's stomach rumbles very loudly, making it’s opinion on waiting until later for breakfast abundantly clear. Hardison decides he’ll just have to risk it, if on behalf of his stomach alone.

Eliot is in the process of pouring several of the tiny creamers into his truly gargantuan cup of coffee.

“Hey man.” Hardison says casually as he approaches, unsure if Eliot has seen him or not. Eliot whirles around, holding the stir stick up like a shiv, looking like a deer caught in the headlights. Eliot rights himself quickly, turning back around to continue stirring after a grunt that might have been “Hey.”
“Rough night?” Hardison asks lightly, gesturing to the coffee as he walks past Eliot to start gathering his breakfast.
“You could say that.” Eliot half smiles, but the bitter downturn of the smile almost makes Hardison drop his joking façade.

“What’s up man?” Hardison asks as casually as he can, knowing that if he gets serious Eliot will just get uncomfortable and not say anything at all. Keep it light, keep it casual.
Eliot just grunts in reply. Hardison sighs inwardly; Parker was right when she said people are like locks, Eliot more so than most.

Hardison decides to risk another approach. Maybe in this early morning state Eliot would open up a little if Hardison asks directly. While Hardison was considering this new approach he gathered his breakfast and Eliot finished making his cartoonishly large coffee and grabbed an apple.

Hardison nods his head towards a table, eyebrow arched in question. Eliot hesitates a moment before leading the way over. They both sit down and begin to eat. After a few minutes Hardison asks the question he’s been trying to ask for the past six months.

“You alright man? You’ve seemed a little out of it the past few months and-” Hardison is cut off by a glare from Eliot, a loud and clear ‘stop talking now’ glare.
“-I’m asking because I’m worried, man. And I wanted to apologize for being a bit of a jerk yesterday, jumping to conclusions. I was shaken up and caught up in being pissed, but I wanted to let you know I don’t blame you for what happened.”
“It’s okay if you do. Blame me, that is. I’d understand. I didn’t tell you the plan beforehand and you almost drowned in a pool. I’m the one who should be doing the apologizing.” Eliot says with a small rueful smile.

Hardison knows something is wrong, no matter how much Eliot tries to brush off concern. Eliot never looks this unassuming, he’s 5’ 8” but he always projects 6’ 2”.

“You don’t gotta apologize. I understand why you did what you did. And hey, you got us both outta there alive and we got the blueprints, so in my book it’s all good. Don’t worry about it.” Hardison waves his hand dismissively. “-But if there’s anything you wanna talk about I’m here to listen.” Hardison gives Eliot a warm smile and then continues to eat his breakfast, leaving the open invitation there.

After about five minutes of silence Eliot starts to talk, voice rough, while glancing between Hardison and random places around the room intermediately.

“I didn’t even think about it. I knew your cover story wasn’t gonna hold up and I just-” Eliot gestures in a circular motion with his hand.
“-ran on autopilot. I knew they’d remember who I was and would get the hell outta my way-” Eliot half smiles. “-I’m sorry you went in practically blind. I shoulda tried to explain beforehand but I didn’t have time and you woulda asked a million questions and by the time we got in there I was already gone.”
“-I just--I knew he’d be suspicious if I acted differently than he remembered and it was just easier to put up a front.” Eliot’s voice fades away as his eyes get a faraway look. Hardison stays quiet, awed by this moment of extremely rare openness. A few moments later Eliot continues.

“Just so you know, I was scared shitless the whole time you were in that pool. If it came down to it I’d’ve saved you...You know that right?” Eliot looks suddenly very concerned, like the worst thing he could think of was Hardison not knowing that Eliot would always be there for him when it came down to it. No matter what.
“Yeah, yeah. I knew you’d save me if it came down to it, I know you’d have saved me.” Elot looks a little reassured but still anxious, Hardison decides to change the subject.

“How have you been sleeping man? You’ve been drinking more coffee these last few months and you look exhausted when you think we’re not looking.” Hardison says it lightly enough, hoping Eliot will continue the conversation.
He sighs long, “Truthfully, not that great. It started around when we decided to go after Moreau. I didn’t sleep that much before but I’ve been sleeping even less recently.” Eliot trails off to fiddle with the handle of his coffee cup. Eliot sighs, making the decision to be honest. “Just some stuff from the past comin’ back, I just want this whole mess to be over with already.” Eliot looks slightly irritated as he sips his coffee.

“Well if it helps any we’re really close to taking him down, everything’ll be back to normal soon.” Hardison says, smiling reassuringly, decidedly not bringing up what Eliot said and trying not to let on that he knows far more than what Eliot’s told him.

“Yeah...yeah.” Eliot sips his coffee, nodding but looking largely unconvinced. Hardison is almost done eating and he has a feeling Eliot is done with this conversation so he decides to say one more thing before the moment completely passes.

“Thanks for talkin’ to me man, if you ever wanna talk or anything just come to me or Parker. We’re here whenever you need us.” And with a cheeky smile Hardison gets up and flees before Eliot can glare him to death for making this “too emotional”.

While Nate, Sophie, and Hardison are scheming in the hotel room later that day Parker ambushes Eliot in the kitchen. Parker is sitting on the counter in the corner when Eliot comes in to get a drink. Well, not so much an ambush, because Eliot walked into the kitchen and Parker was already there, but still.

“What’s wrong?” Parker asks suddenly. Eliot turns around, instantly alert and ready for a fight. He drops his hands as soon as he spots Parker, but there was no denying that she had startled him.
“Damn it Parker, nothin!” Eliot growls, shoulders still tense. He turns and fills his cup with ice from the bucket.

“I only startle you when you’re nervous. You usually notice me even when I’m being quiet, but when you’re thinking about something else you zone out and don’t. I know something’s wrong, I just don’t know what exactly. So tell me.” Parker demands, casual as ever. Eliot just fills his cup with water and drinks, ignoring her questions entirely.

“Actually...I think I might know what’s bothering you, but I wanted to give you a chance to tell me first before I started guessing.” Parker says it like those were the only two options. In Eliot’s mind there is a third option where he leaves the room and they never speak of this again. But realistically, he knows that’s not what’s going to happen, so he relents.

“Fine. I haven't been sleeping very well these last few days.” Eliot admits grudgingly.
“Months.” Parker almost interrupts.
“What?”
“Months. These last couple of months.”
“How do you…?”
“Sometimes I get bored when I can’t sleep so I sit on the fire escape outside your window.” Parker shrugs, like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Eliot clearly has problems with this but before he can argue Parker continues.
“The bed is always perfectly made, even at night, or it’s messed up and the blankets are tangled into knots. You don’t sleep hardly ever, Eliot. Or when you do it barely counts as sleep. It’s been like that for months, ever since we decided to go after Moreau.” Parker sounds worried until she says ‘Moreau’ when her tone turns to anger and disgust. Parker’s face turns stony and her eyes move from the opposite wall to look directly at Eliot.

“I think I know what’s wrong.” Parker states, and that right there is one of the most terrifying sentences Eliot has ever heard in his life. He feels like Parker can read his mind, like she can see right through him. Eliot’s stays quiet, waiting for Parker to continue.

“You’re not sleeping, and when you do it’s in chunks and you wake up looking worse than you did when you went to sleep. Sometimes you struggle and make noise in your sleep. Sometimes you just freeze, lay stock still. That’s when you talk...You’ve never slept well but before you at least slept. You’d have nightmares but you never spoke or did anything.” Parker gestures with her hands.

Eliot is very uncomfortable with all his secrets being called out like this in broad daylight and wants to just deny it all. He starts to shake his head.

“I don’t talk in my sleep, I’m fine-” Parker wouldn’t even let him start.
“You’re right Eliot, you don’t talk, you plea and-” Parker has a few tears in her eyes now.
-plea for him to stop. You-you just...you’ll just lay there, frozen, and plea. Eliot do you know how many times I’ve almost broken in just to wake you up? Just so it would stop? I can’t watch you go on like this anymore. Just pretending to be fine when I know you’re not-” Parker’s voice breaks, she takes a pause and takes a few deep breaths, calming down enough to list her other points. Eliot is leaning back on the counter heavily with his hair curtaining his face and refusing to look at Parker. His knuckles turning white with the effort of trying to keep himself from collapsing, knees suddenly weak.

“You’re more jumpy than usual. You don’t notice me when I sneak up on you like you usually do. You’re distracted, your eyes look like they’re somewhere else sometimes. And your food tastes sad.” Parker finishes listing her points on her fingers and stares accusingly at Eliot.

Eliot has never questioned how observant Parker could be, but he is a bit at a loss for words. He couldn’t deny it, all her points were spot on. Eliot can’t think of anything to say so he just stays quiet. Parker’s gaze goes back to the wall and her face becomes neutral again.

“I wasn’t okay for a very long time. I just went through the motions and didn’t think about it. After that I was angry for a long time. I was scared. I was alone. But for the first time in a long time I’m not alone. You’re not alone either Eliot.” Parker looks him right in the eyes, he almost can’t take it. Eliot looks down again.

“Fine. I’m not...really fine. I haven’t been very fine since I found out we were going after Moreau. I had the first nightmare the night we made the plan. I didn’t want to see him again.” Eliot’s eyes look damp as he curls his hands into fists on the counter.

“I had to look Moreau in the eye like it never happened. I had to look Chapman in the eye like he didn’t leave me there.” Eliot’s voice cracks and he takes a shaky breath.

“When I got away, I never wanted to see any of them again. I finally got away and I-I made something for myself. I made myself into someone that couldn’t be hurt. I tried so god damned hard to make sure nothing like that would happen ever again-Guess it’s time to spill my guts right here in this hotel kitchen today. Might as well.

After a long pause Eliot laughs humorlessly.
“That’s why I hate being drugged so much. I hate how it feels, hate what it reminds me of. I’d rather be in pain than drugged up or unconscious. That’s why I was so angry at Sterling, that’s why I always refuse pain meds, that’s why I get so irritated at you guys when you try to convince me to take them.” Parker looks sad now, but continues to listen intently.

“I’ll never be clean of what I did for him.” Or of what he did to me.Eliot thinks bitterly before he can stop himself.
“-I don’t know what to do. I know Nate’s good but there’s still that part of me that doesn’t think it’s really possible to take him down. I just want this to be over. I just want to rest.” Eliot looks so exhausted in that moment and Parker just wants to help. She walks over to Eliot.

“I know this must be horrible for you to deal with, having to face them all again, but we’re here for you. Me and Hardison, Nate and Sophie, we’re a team. You can rely on us to be there for you like you’re always there for us. We’re with you Eliot, nothing is going to happen. We’re going to take him down and you’re never going to have to worry about him again. Just hold on a little longer.” Parker and Eliot share a look. They’re both pretty quiet people and are known for their resistance to talk about emotions, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Parker doesn’t feel quite satisfied yet so she takes the leap.

“Eliot, you can say no, but can I?... hug you?” Parker never hugs anyone, Eliot almost never does. He considers for a moment before nodding in agreement. Parker wraps her arms around him and gives him a surprisingly strong hug, Eliot lifts his arms and returns the hug. They stay like that for a moment, just squeezing each other in the middle of the kitchen. They let go, they share a look, and then Parker steals his water and walks to the other room where the other three are still planning.

Maybe things will be okay after all.

Chapter Text

Eliot is in the passenger seat of an untraceable car with Chapman waiting for their target, Atherton. Chapman tells Eliot where the gun is and looks expectant.
“You know how Moreau does things.” Chapman smirks at him.
“Yeah well-I don’t really like guns, so.” Eliot says as the bullet in the barrel falls out and the clip is released. Eliot casually scatters the gun parts around the car. Moreau doesn’t own him anymore. He’ll never use a gun for Moreau ever again.

Chapman tries to protest. “Moreau said-”
Elot interrupts him, annoyed. “What’d he say? Tell me what he said. Tell me one more time what he said. You might be used to him holding your hand but he’s never had a problem with the way I work.” Eliot finishes brusquely, not leaving room for argument.
“I’d heard you’d gone soft.” Chapman recovers his condescending attitude in seconds.

They both turn to Atherton’s house, watching him as he gets in his car. Eliot gets out of the car after Chapman is done taunting him about how they should’ve just killed the whole family. Like they used to.

A block later at a stop light Eliot pops up from the backseat of Atherton’s car and snaps his neck, killing him instantly. Eliot gets out of the car and into Chapman’s. Leaving the dead Atherton slumped over in his car.

Or so they thought.

The crew finds a way to fake the murder of Atherton so that Moreau would give Eliot the details without Eliot having to actually kill anyone. Without Eliot having to becoming that man again just for Moreau. That is the day Eliot realizes that his team might actually care about him, about what he wants, that they’d do all that extra work just so he doesn’t have to kill anyone.

~

Parker and Hardison break back into the DOD to steal the Ram’s Horn only to find out it’s gone. Apparently it is on a train. Parker, Hardison, and Sophie go on a car chase to find it.

~

Nate and Eliot had make their way to the docs to find the warehouse at the address Moreau texted Eliot. They’re on high alert. They realize that this is clearly not where the auction is being held. Just as they are about to leave they spot The Italian tied to a chair and unconscious. They rush over to her to make sure she’s breathing only to hear all the warehouse doors sliding shut. Yep, definitely a trap.

Nate wakes up The Italian and as they are talking about what happened Eliot tells Nate they have to leave. They start to move just as they hear the footfalls of Moreau’s men echoing on the concrete floors of the warehouse towards them. Nate helps the still unbalanced woman to her feet as they try to make their way to an exit. Nate’s phone rings, Eliot answers.

“Moreau.” He growls.
“For what it’s worth she didn’t talk. So I sent some friends to continue the conversation.” Moreau replies evenly.
“Well then I’ll see you soon.” Eliot threatens.
“By the way, the white hat really doesn’t suit you--but I love the hair.”
Eliot hangs up. His skin is crawling now thanks to the comment in that voice.

~

The others find the train the Ram’s Horn is on, but there’s one problem. The train is moving. Parker and Hardison jump off of a bridge and land on the moving train, they get inside the train car and destroy the bomb. They make it out just in time, the train car exploding seconds after they escape. Sophie is waiting to pick them up when the train pulls to a halt moments later. Parker says she’s in the mood for ‘pretzels’. Pretzels is a code word for relationship stuff with Hardison, he looks happy at the idea. He’s glad Parker is comfortable enough to bring it up again and to talk with him about it.

~

There’s one open space between them and their exit but Moreau’s men are waiting with guns at the ready at any sign of movement. Eliot makes a decision.
“Are you sure you can actually take down Moreau?” He asks.
“Absolutely.” The Italian whispers, Nate nods.
Eliot picks up a gun from the body of a guard on the floor near them.
“Eliot, listen-” Nate tries to reason with him.
“Get her out of here.” Eliot insists, and before Nate can stop him Eliot’s laying down cover fire as they make a run for the door.

Once Nate and The Italian make it through, Eliot shoots to kill. He takes guns and ammo off the bodies of the men scattered around him as he picks them off one by one. At one point he shoots a bullet through a container of aviation grade lubricant, it spills onto the floor of the warehouse. Eliot waits for the remaining men to stop firing, before he stands up and walks to the center of the room, a gun in each hand.

None of them shoot him, they all hesitate. Eliot takes the chance to run forward and slide on his knees through the oil, shooting men and dodging bullets as he slides. The last shot he makes goes through a barrel of highly explosive material.

Eliot stands up, the fire of the explosion in front of him. He hears a click from behind him.

“I thought you said you didn’t like guns.” Chapman taunted him from behind him, smiling. Eliot slowly turns around, eyes cold.
“I don’t.” Eliot says simply. He raises his gun and shoots Chapman four times before he even has a chance to react.
“Never said I couldn’t use ‘em.”
Eliot lets the clips fall out of each gun and drops the pieces from his hands.

None of Moreau’s men make it out of that warehouse.

~

Sophie, Parker, and Hardison are driving very fast and recklessly away from the pursuing police. Nate and The Italian show up at the airport where Moreau is about to board his private jet bound for San Lorenzo. An increasingly furious Moreau listens as Nate explains how his plan to frame Moreau with The Italian’s crimes is already in motion.

Just as Moreau is about to yell another question at Nate, Eliot burst through the door to the hanger on the other side of the runway. Eliot is running top speed towards Moreau, fire in his eyes. Nate sees him and know he won’t stop till Moreau’s dead. Moreau pulls a gun, aiming it at Eliot.

“You got one shot Moreau!” Eliot yells furiously as he continues to run straight for Moreau.
Moreau shifts his gun to point at the italian and he shoots her in the shoulder, Nate turns around and sees Eliot trying to pass him to get to Moreau.
“NO! Eliot no!” Nate yells as he grabs Eliot’s shirt to hold him back as Moreau bords his plain.
Eliot struggles, but doesn’t want to hurt Nate by breaking free.

“I got other plans for you.” Nate says, still holding Eliot back by both shoulders.
Eliot takes a few heavy breaths, hair in his face and eyes wild. But after a few seconds Eliot walks over to Nate when he urgently yells for him from where he’s crouching by The Italian. Eliot removes his blue button down shirt on his way over and holds it to the bullet wound. Moreau’s plane takes off as Nate and Eliot crouch down by The italian, waiting for the paramedics to arrive.

“The rest of the team, they don't need to know what I did.” Eliot says quietly to Nate as the team approaches.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Nate replies.

Moreau is going to San Lorenzo, a small country with no extradition treaties. Nate decides they are going to chase him there, the job isn't over yet.

~~~

Later that night when Parker and Hardison get back to the pub they do their best to ignore the looming continuation of the job and focus on the conversation that needs to be had. They’ve been working up to a relationship for awhile and it’s time to have a talk. What kind of talk is unknown, but some kind of talk needs to happen.

Parker knows that Hardison’s her soulmate but had her suspicions about the whole soulmate thing and wanted to get to know him and like him outside of soulmates. She found that she likes him a lot and (maybe?) wants to date him, as odd and nerve wracking as it will be. Parker’s expertise isn’t really in dating and relationships, but Hardison is unbelievably understanding and more than willing to go as slow as she wants with all aspect of their relationship.

“I don’t know if I want to date yet.” Parker spits out in a rush of words, standing rigid. Hardison waits for her to continue, knowing it can take her a second to pick the right words to describe how she’s feeling.
“I just don’t quite know how I should know. I know I really like you, but I’m not quite sure how to go about doing anything about it.”

“I get that, and I know it can be hard to know what to do. But I really like you too, and I want to do everything I can to help you be comfortable and happy. And if you don’t know quite where you stand on dating right now, and that’s okay. How ‘bout we just hang out and spend time together like we usually do and just sorta go with the flow. We both like each other, but we’ll wait to see what happens before deciding to make it official or not, no pressure. Like a dating trial run.” Hardison finishes with a smile and Parker realaxes. She was worried Hardison would be upset that she didn’t know quite what she wanted but instead proposed the perfect solution.
“Yes, I think that’s a great idea. A dating tria run..” Parker cracks a grin and lunges to hug Hardison. And suddenly, Parker feels a lot lighter than she has in a while and a knot she’d had in her chest these past couple months dissipates.

He Understands.

Chapter Text

When the team is making plans in the office above the brewpub Eliot tells them to connect a call to the big screen. Eliot introduces General Florez to the team and explains how the elections in San Lorenzo have been being bankrolled my Moreau to keep President Rebera in office. They are starting to talk with Florez when the doors are broken in and they see Florez arrested on the other end of the line. Moreau comes on screen and gives them a taunting speech about how he plans to kill Florez after the election. Moreau ends his taunting threats with ‘sleep tight.’ before cutting the feed. The screen goes to static.

Hardison, Parker, and Sophie stand frozen, staring at the screen. Nate walks behind the conference table. Eliot takes a few steps towards the screen before turning around, eyes wild. They all turn to stare at Nate when he answers his phone. Nate calls in a favor from The Italian.

~

Eliot does not sleep tight. He can’t get Moreau’s taunting voice and smirking face out of his head. It’s so real and so present that Eliot can’t just push it away because he’s out there right now. Eliot is restless and feels guilty about General Florez getting arrested. “Actually, to be fair, I wouldn’t have found Florez if you hadn’t contacted him. So uh, go ahead and do blame yourselves.” Eliot doesn’t want to believe Moreau, but he does blame himself. Eliot sighs, he needs to get some sleep. Eliot lays in bed tossing and turning and snapping awake when he’s almost asleep. Moreau’s whispered echoing in his head, haunting him. “Sleep tight.”

Little does Eliot know that Parker has been there for the better part of an hour, and has no intentions of leaving any time soon. Parker saw how upset Eliot was when he left the pub after the call ended, he thinks he’s good at hiding it, but she and Hardison can sense it from a mile away. She’s been watching him lay uncomfortably in bed, moving and jumping up every 15 minutes. She wants to help him, but he doesn’t seem to be in the kind of mood where he would react particularly well to Parker dropping through his window unannounced. Not that he’s ever in a mood where he would receive that well.

Eliot has been in bed for about an hour and a half when the words come back to him. The words Moreau whispered to him all those years ago. “You are mine and mine alone. You will never escape this. It’s simply who you are. You can’t deny your nature, you can’t pretend that you wouldn’t leave if you wanted to. You know what I think? I think you enjoy not having to think about what to do next, what is good or bad, right and wrong. I think that’s why you’re still here after all these years. You like it.”

That is what Moreau said to Eliot the night before he went on his last mission for Moreau. Eliot couldn’t take the guilt of what he’d done and what he’d become, and worst of all how Moreau controlled him so completely. How what Moreau said made him question if he did stay because he liked it, if it really was in his nature. Eliot just couldn’t live with himself anymore, so he left. Escaped. But for years after Eliot would have moments of weakness when he would question if Moreau was right about him. The thought makes Eliot sick to this day, but Moreau planted that seed of doubt in his mind and he hasn't been able to uproot it since.

This was one of those times. Eliot couldn’t help the dark thoughts creeping through the cracks in his mental wall. He can’t just keep pushing it down and bottling it up anymore. Eliot’s mind begins to slip and he doesn’t have the energy or will to try and stop it.

Parker sees Eliot begin to shake and curl up very small. Her eyebrows knit together in confusion, surprise, and worry at just how small he can get if he wants. She sees his sides and back begin to heave in uneven sobs and she can’t take it anymore. What good is knowing who her soulmate is and where he is and that he needs her help if she doesn’t actually help him. Parker makes the decision and decides to go for it. Carefully.

Parker doubts that Eliot knows she’s here and the last thing she wants is to startle him so she decides to go against her instincts and give away her position. Instead of knocking on the window as originally planned Parker remembers that she has her phone with her and decides to text Eliot a quick warning.

Parker: I’m outside your apartment and I want to talk to you. The noises you will hear in a minute are me. Applejuice.

Parker fires off the quick text and smiles a little at the codeword. Eliot and her had come up with it as a partial joke for if they need to let the other one know that it’s really them over text. Parker never thought it’d come in handy. Parker waits until Eliot picks up his phone a few moments later and reads it. Eliot has no time to respond, and even if he was given the time, he would have no idea what to say in reply. Parker begins (loudly) making her way in through the window, waving dramatically to be sure Eliot sees her. Eliot is shocked and has a lot of questions but at the moment he can’t seem to ask any of them.

Parker slowly makes her way across the bedroom to Eliot’s bed. She can’t see much in the dim light but she can tell he’s been crying. Parker sits down on the foot of the bed and makes herself comfortable, she lays down after stealing a pillow from the head of the bed, making sure to give Eliot plenty of space.

“What’re you? What’re you doin?” Eliot questions, voice rough.
Parker pays his question little mind and simply settles in more. After a few minutes of silence she asks, “Do you wanna talk about it?” A simple question, yes or no, or just silence. Parker would gladly sit in silence until the sun comes up. But after a minute Eliot replies.
“I’m...not having the best night.”
“Pff, well I can see that. Do you wanna talk about what’s wrong or how you’re feeling or take a nap or get snacks or something?” Eliot just sighs.
“Why are you here?”
“Because I...care about you and I was worried. You weren't the most subtle about hiding how you were feeling after the call. Me and Hardison noticed and I wanted to check on you.”
“...Thanks I guess. For caring.” Eliot takes a pause, “-and no, I don’t wanna talk about it. But the company’s nice.” Eliot gives Parker a small smile and Parker is more than willing to sit in Eliot’s bed and talk about nothing and everything until the sun rises the next morning.

~~~

The team goes to San Lorenzo and The Italian gets them through customs under aliases. Eliot is still wearing one of his longer leather bracelets.

The team help the last remaining candidate for president to win the election.

Eliot and Hardison free the other candidates that had been arrested and locked in The Tombs after Parker breaks in. Sophie fakes her death protecting the new president, Michel Vittori, from being assassinated. Nate has a showdown with Moreau and ex-president Ribera but eventually convinces Ribera to sign over Moreau in exchange for Ribera getting to seize Moreau’s assets and villa when Moreau is arrested. Ribera recedes from the election and Michael Vittori is announced president of San Lorenzo and Moreau is locked in The Tombs.

The next morning Hardison lugs a huge duffle of souvenirs into the hotel elevator before helping Parker roll a suspiciously heavy trunk into the elevator as well. When Hardison jokingly asks Parker if some of Moreau’s gold bars are in the trunk all he gets is a smirk and a cryptic reply. Eliot passes them and goes down the hall to wake Nate up.

After not getting an answer when he knocked Eliot breaks down Nate’s door to find him still in bed. Eliot tells him to get up because their plane is going to take off soon and Nate makes excuses about having a little to drink last night to celebrate. Eliot replies, a real smile on his face and a laugh in his voice. Eliot looks like an immense weight has been lifted off his shoulders, like the dark cloud that has been hanging over him for the last six months has been removed. Nate has never seen Eliot look so free.

“I don’t care man, Moreau’s gone. You’re a free man. Things are back to normal.” Eliot says, and with a grin and a shake of his head Eliot leaves the room. Nate sigs and Sophie climbs out from under the covers with an “ah oh.”

With Moreau in The Tombs forever the team leaves San Lorenzo, souvenirs in hand and Eliot with a spring in his step.

It’s back to business as usual once again.

Chapter Text

The team is back to helping people, they take jobs helping clients no one else will and so far none of the jobs have gone that far off-plan. Until this one.

Eliot, Parker, and Hardison are sitting in a booth at the brewpub. Eliot is hunched over the table awkwardly to accommodate his bruised ribs. His hood is up and his hair is brushed forward to hide his bruised face.
“Hey man, you really should’a let us get you to a hospital.” Hardison says, his voice light but with an undertone of concern.
“I hired a nurse.” Eliot replies.
“Aw that’a boy. A little chicken noodle soup-” Parker punctuates her words with a good natured but none too gentle punch to Eliot’s arm, he screws his eyes shut.
“-A little grandmotherly love-” Another punch is thrown, Eliot leans away.
“Stop.” he growls, irritated by her antics.

Eliot stands up to greet a young woman, mumbling something about this being the nurse he hired, they leave the pub arm in arm. Parker and Hardison look suspiciously at the ‘nurse’, not believing Eliot for a second.

Parker wants to help Eliot but doesn’t know how and Hardison is concerned but knows Eliot can take care of himself. Hardison still wishes there was something he could do without feeling like he was overstepping boundaries.

They know Eliot needs someone to help him but that he hates hospitals and doesn’t want to ‘bother’ any of his team. He did hire an actual nurse because with a concussion he knew he shouldn’t be alone to sleep, but Eliot decided it was best to let his team think whatever they want, so he never corrects them.

~~~

Hardison gets buried alive. Time is running out. Hardison had been on the phone with Parker to help locate him and for emotional support. Given the situation anyone would be freaking out, but Hardison is also claustrophobic. The team is rushing to unearth him while dodging bullets and dealing with other obstacles. As Hardison runs out of air Parker confesses to him that she needs him, and to hold his breath.

They get there just in time, Hardison having only seconds of air left. After the gang member with the gun who had been shooting at them has been dealt with, the team frantically dig up Hardison.

Parker looks immensely relieved as a few tears gather in her eyes. Eliot and Nate help Hardison out of the coffin, as soon as Hardison is no longer standing in the ground Eliot yanks him up into a strong hug.

“Don't ever do that again man don't do that again.” Eliot scolds as he holds onto Hardison. Hardison says he won't as he hugs Eliot back. They’d only hugged once before when Eliot and Parker headed up a snowy mountain, so this was an occasion to be remembered.

Hugs all around for everyone on the team ensue, except for Parker, who doesn’t initiate a hug so Hardison thinks nothing of it, she’s just too overwhelmed with emotion to handle another thing right now.

Everyone on the team is happy to have their beloved hacker back.

~~~

When the team is coming back from another job, they get caught in the midst of a kidnapping and the theft of a heart at the airport. Not figuratively, a literal heart in a cooler is being stolen. Nate decides to help, and sends his crew out to find a temporary base of operations and new equipment.

The accidental on-the-go con goes off without a hitch once they have a plan, but while Parker and Eliot are changing into airport technician uniforms Parker notices something...odd.

Parker and Eliot break the locks off of two lockers in the airport staff changing room to steal the uniforms and IDs. Parker and Eliot both take off their shirts to change, that’s when Parker notices a faint scar on the top of Eliot’s shoulder near his neck.

It looks like...teeth? Oh! The bite marks all those years ago, that was Eliot. The sight of it makes Parker shudder slightly but she glances away as soon as she catches herself staring, knowing Eliot is very observant and would notice. Eliot moves quickly to change clothes, not paying attention to her or what she might notice. Parker needs to think, she knew that Moreau had done that to Eliot, she had gotten the soulmark, but actually seeing the evidence is something entirely different.

Something in Parker wants to see Moreau suffer, something in her wants to avenge Eliot, something in her is screaming Protect. Actually seeing the faded scar that son of a bitch left on Eliot somehow makes everything finally click into place.

Seeing it makes it somehow more real.

Chapter Text

Despite having to work with Sterling the job goes okay. It does until Sterling drugs Eliot’s coffee and blows the con to satisfy his own agenda. Sterling leaves Eliot unconscious in a server room with a crushed com.

Hardison and the team are worried about Eliot as soon as they realize his com is offline, but Sophie has been detained by the buildings security and Parker is breaking into the vault, so they don’t have time to worry. Though Hardison makes a valiant effort to worry about everyone at once.

Eliot wakes up only about ten minutes later, angry as all hell. Hardison catches up to Eliot as he murder walks down the hallway. Hardison can see how pissed Eliot is but has never seen Eliot look this intense.

Eliot growls something about Sterling drugging him and pulls Hardison into a hug before pushing him roughly away. Hardison understands Eliot needing a bit of comfort and reassurance after being out, but also that he probably wants to work out some anger and just points Eliot in the direction of the security keeping Sophie locked in a room. They never stood a chance.

Parker parachutes down to the waiting van Eliot and Hardison are driving, having the time of her life. In the meantime Nate goes after Sterling, who is fleeing with his daughter. Nate goes alone, knowing it’s not a good idea to let Eliot anywhere near Sterling right now, they don’t need Starling dead.

Hardison is (unfortunately) not allowed to go after Sterling, but he does cause a little trouble for him anyway. Parker is angry at Sterling because he used the team and hurt Eliot. Eliot is still very pissed at being drugged and unconscious, he has a thing about being drugged or otherwise unconscious. Parker and Hardison get it.

The next day, after the team gets back to the states Parker decides it’s time. After the last job and the conversation her and Hardison had, she is seeing their relationship in a new light.

Hardison is helping Parker with the weighted boots she needs to wear to break into the vault for the con. She is having a lot of trouble adjusting to the boots and copying the walk of the mark to trick the weight sensors in the vault’s elevator. She’s getting very stressed and tired and Hardison is trying his best to help.
“-I don’t like them! They’re weighing me down. Quick and light. That’s how I survive. You slow me down you kill me!” Parker emphasized the last part by pointing at Hardison’s chest. She turns to walk away as best she can in the heavy boots.
“Hey, hey, Parker. Hey”
“What?” Parker breathes out as she turns back around.
“Hey. You had to be quick because you were alone. If you get caught, that's it, I get it. But you’re not alone anymore.” Hardison gently cradles Parker’s face, a hand on each side.
“Look, look at me. You’re not alone. You’re not, you have a team, you have me, and I got you. I got you, girl.”

Hardison slowly dances with Parker to teach her the steps. He hums a soft tune as they slowly shift from foot to foot. Hardison tells Parker to stand on his toes so he can show her the moves, after a few questioning moments, she does. Hardison is perfectly willing to sacrifice his toes for this.

~

Parker’s not afraid of being weighed down anymore, it’s still at the back of her mind, but she knows she won’t need to suddenly run. I’m not alone anymore, she thinks, and she knows it’s true. The future is sure to hold surprises, but they’ll face them together.

~~~~~

The next job Eliot goes undercover as a homeless veteran. Their goal is to bring down a group of undergrads who are performing experiments on homeless veterans under the guise of curing PTSD, the team later finds out they’re actually trying to cause it.

Going undercover isn’t a problem for Eliot. These people are nothing compared to some of the people who have held Eliot captive in the past. All these people do is play loud music and lower the temperature in an attempt to prevent sleep and provoke flashbacks. Eliot almost wants to laugh. He can slip into a quiet place in his mind and meditate to ignore the noise. He only sleeps about 90 minutes a day anyway.

This isn’t a problem for Eliot. His issue has never been with the guns or loud noises themselves, but rather the things he’d done and why, and the people who had done things to him. His problem was always the people and the warning signs and the behaviors. He has a problem with being drugged (even a little bit), including pain meds, and has lasting associations with specific things, but not any of the typical things one would expect from a soldier.

Eliot is too numb to the things of war and violence to be affected by them anymore, for so long that was all he existed in, so the tricks these people are trying to pull just won’t set him off.

The interrogator they have doesn’t believe in torture, and that makes Eliot almost want to laugh out loud. This is nothing to him. From Eliot’s perspective he can leave anytime he wants. Although Eliot does have to let himself get tazed. Parker and Hardison can almost feel the eye roll before the flash of pain. Before Eliot is needed on the outside for the con, the interrogator questions him.

“You even count them?” The interrogator asks. Eliot asks him to elaborate, he means the people Eliot’s killed.
“Give me a ballpark. It’s gonna be a big number right?” The interrogator continues.
“You think askin’ me about my past is gonna open up old wounds? Maybe put me off balance a little? Make me easier to break.” Eliot questions.

“I’m just tryna get to know you better. Why does that question make you so nervous?”
Because I still have my comm in, jackass. But Eliot doesn’t say that, he just lets the interrogator run his mouth. He likes listening to himself talk.
“Is that all this is for you? You trying to punish yourself for all the things you’ve done?” The interrogator takes another unnecessarily dramatic pause.
“I think that’s it. I think the reason you won’t give me your word and walk out that door is because you think you deserve to be here.” Eliot is having none of this shit so he decided to play up the intimidation.

“What do you wanna know? Names. Dates. Locations. You wanna know what food was on their breath. Their eyes--you wanna know what color their eyes were. Do you wanna know the last words they spoke. Do you wanna know which ones deserved it. Or better yet the ones that didn’t. Do you wanna know which ones begged. Do you know why I remember these things?” Eliot finishes ominously quiet, playing up the creepy.
“No.” the interrogator answers.
“You don’t know? Cuz I can’t forget. So there’s nothin’ you can do. No punishment you can hand out that’s worse than what I live with every day. So to answer your question: No. No I haven't counted. I don’t need to.” Eliot finishes, still staring intensely at the now queasy looking interrogator. The interrogator tells him they’re done for the day before rushing off, thoroughly unsettled.

Hardison gets kidnapped and Eliot ends up beating Hardison’s location out of the interrogator in 30 seconds flat and leaving to rescue Hardison. The job went as planned, although...it did force Eliot to remember all the things he’s done and that does take its toll.

Over the next week Eliot doesn’t sleep very well, if at all. Parker makes it a habit to drop by his apartment on these nights and just spend time with him, decidedly not mentioning what she heard Eliot say over coms. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they sit in silence. A few times Eliot makes food and they watch a movie that Parker picks out. Once Parker invites Eliot to have a movie night at Hardison’s apartment and Eliot says yes, because why the hell not.

Eliot has the best time in his life. He feels safe and warm and good. Sitting on the couch in between his two favorite people, sharing the popcorn he made between the three of them. It doesn’t matter what they do, Eliot is just thankful for the company. Spending time with them gets him out of his head and into the moment and makes him feel pretty damn close to happy.

Eliot’s beginning to realize that he’s been harboring feelings for the two of them for a while. Though he has no intentions of ever letting them know. They’re just starting to figure out their own relationship and he can’t risk screwing it up. He also doesn’t know if they know that they’re all three soulmates, and if they do they probably would rather him just ignore it.

If they knew what I’m capable of they wouldn’t want anything to do with me. I’ve done things that mean I don’t deserve to have a soulmate, much less these two amazing people. People like me don’t deserve happy endings.

~~~

They all go undercover as office consultants for a small company whose CEO is running the company into the ground, Eliot is petty with Hardison the whole time as revenge for his sandwich Eliot is sure Hardison ate. Eliot steals Hardison's orange soda, which is cute, but Eliot’s determined to get to the bottom of it and is convinced Hardison is at fault.

Hardison denies it the whole time, secretly admitting that he did indeed eat it, not that Eliot needs to know that. Hardison pretends to be offended and argues his innocence to an annoyed Eliot, though Hardison secretly thinks it’s adorable how pissy Eliot’s being over one sandwich.….wait….adorable? Aw hell.

Hardison takes a moment to consider his thoughts, it just happened, he didn't mean to call Eliot adorable in his head, he just, did. Hardison has known he cares about Eliot, and that Eliot is his other soulmate, but never quite got around to realizing he actually like likes Eliot.

Not that he’s ever going to tell Eliot this, he might tell Parker, but Hardison has no idea how much Eliot has noticed or guessed and figures that Eliot won’t want anything to do with a soulmate.

Eliot has just gotten comfortable enough to be jokingly petty (vengeful) with the team, he’s finally starting to open up and trust them more, and Hardison doesn’t want to risk ruining that. So Hardison keeps his feelings to himself, for now.

~

Hardison gets a little suspicious out of insecurity and then worry when Parker sends him a picture of a very attractive man in a tuxedo who happens to have several warrants out for his arrest. A continuous theme throughout the night is Hardison being worried/jealous of whoever Parker’s with at the bar (tuxedo man), and Eliot’s getting annoyed with it.

“Alright this bar is the last address, man. Maybe I should handle this one myself.-” Eliot is nearly interrupted by an indignant Hardison.
“So what, you don’t need me either now? You don’t need me?-”
“No listen to me okay? So Parker’s out with a handsome guy, okay? And he’s also a their and does cool, thief “stuff”, and you’re the computer geek, dude--”
“Is--is that your pep talk? Are you kidding me? What the hell’s going on? Really?”
“It’s--it's a little rough but the fact-”

“It’s a little rough? A little rough?”‘As a friend you’re dead to me.’ Please, do go on. What are you trying to say? I’m not exiting?”
“That’s not what I’m saying. If I said that that would mean I had been thinking about you and Parker, which I never do-”
“Then say what you need to say. What are you saying?” Their rapid fire conversation slows down.

“...Maybe you’re slow playing it just a little bit.”
“I’m slow playing? Like I need to be more assertive or something?”
“Assertive is good.”
“More assertive”

“You know what? I got this. Imma go in there, by my damn self-”
A quiet “no” can be heard from Eliot at this time.
“-Imma get those drugs, by my damn self.” Another “no” as Hardison continues listing his terrible plan in a very carefree way, he’s beyond reason but that doesn’t stop Eliot from trying.

“Assertive. Let’s do this.” at the same time as Eliot’s “Don’t do that.” but it’s too late.
Hardison is already approaching the bar bouncer with a “yo man” and Eliot can see his plan coming from a mile away. “Don’t do it” Eliot says, right as Hardison headbuts the bouncer in the face. Eliot just sighs.

Hardison makes up some story about being a dirty cop and Eliot is past annoyed with him. Not annoyed, just done, but in an almost humorous way. Eliot is trying his best to hide how infuriatingly endearing this all is. Part of him wants to be annoyed by Hardison’s antics but part of him wants to appreciate how hard Hardison is trying. Eliot setter on disguising his emotions with annoyance. As usual.

“Let me-let me take this one.” Eliot says to Hardison, who is being very rude to the boss drug runner. In a bar full of armed cartellsmen. Great.

“I got this-” Hardison says quietly as he puts his arm back as if to stop Eliot from ‘taking this one’, and then to keep his awful, awful cover story Hardison pushes Eliot lightly back.
“-when I say get back, I mean get your ass back.” Eliot just squints slightly at Hardison, a warning, but takes a few steps back, they both know Eliot is humoring Hardison. As Hardison continues people from the bar attempt to attack him, and Eliot, like the good friend he is, stops them.

Mid sentence Hardison looks to Eliot, who is just finishing knocking someone out at the bar, and just goes “Aint that right Luigi?”, confident as all hell, and he just. Eliot was going to go for a thumbs up but puts his fist in the air instead and gives up on pretending to care about this awful cover and openly facepalms behind Hardison.

After they get out of that bar the the drugs, Hardison has the audacity to say: “You saw that, right?”
“Yeah, I gotta hand it to you, you did a great job.” The heavy sarcasm is either ignored or unnoticed by Hardison.

~

“Hey guys.” Hurley says as they enter the diner. Eliot has no patience left for another fool tonight.
“Hey, what’s up, man? Shut up! Get on the table!”

Eliot is trying to help Hurley. Poor Hurley has no idea the kind of shenanigans Eliot has had to put up with tonight, it all started with a game of poker. It was supposed to be a relaxing evening in, of poker and beer with some friends, now deprived of that, Eliot has turned wrathful.

“Pull your jeans up.”
“It’s a little tender.”
“Pull them up.”
“OW!” Eliot rips the leg of Hurley’s jeans open roughly without a second thought, this is undoubtedly the most hostile way Hurley has ever been cared for.
“So angry.”

Hardison just has to make it harder than it needs to be. Hardison insists that he be the one to jump the fence and get the car while Eliot stays outside and distracts the woman in the impound booth.

“You already proved yourself with the Mexican Cartel. Quit this crap.” Eliot is stopped from continuing however because instead of answering Hardison holds up his fist to signal a rock-paper-scissors match. Eliot lets himself loose just to see what Hardison’s plan is, Hardison is none the wiser and Eliot is very amused to find out that they have dogs guarding the lot.

This is not what Eliot had in mind when he told Hardison he should be more assertive.

Hardison survives the night and ends up even more secure in his relationship with Parker and hopes to bring up his feelings for Eliot with her sometime in the near future.

~

So, the ‘near future’ ends up being the next day.

Hardison wakes up and heads blearily to the kitchen to get some coffee and food. As he’s pouring himself a nice warm cup of energy Parker decides to make her presence known.

“You know we’re soulmates right?” Parker asks in a matter of fact tone in her normal speaking voice, which is very loud and surprising to a groggy and unsuspecting Hardison. Hardison almost spills his precious coffee as he turns around to see her perching on the back of the couch looking at him expectedly.

“Um. Yeah?”
“-I mean I suspected at first, but I knew for sure after a while of a few too many coincidences. So yes, I do know. What about it?”
“Nothing. I was just making sure you knew, and that you didn’t, I don’t know, mind?...It’s just, we’ve never talked about it and I just wanted to make sure you knew in case you wanted to reconsider or something.” Parker is looking at the floor and looking very uncertain. Hardison, knowing what it’s like to feel unwanted, and wants to reassure her as best he can.

At different times in his life when he’d felt lost and unwanted in the world, he’d either had, or wished he’d had someone there to tell him he belonged. Now that he’s in a good place in life, he wants to do what he can to make others feel like that.

Hardison gently cradles Parker’s face in his hands.
“Hey. Parker, listen. I like you, a lot, and us being soulmates is just an added bonus. When we met I liked you, and I had no idea we were soulmates, but my feelings for you didn’t change when I found out we’re soulmates. I’m with you for the long haul, and nothing could make me ‘reconsider’ that.” Hardison’s voice was so warm and his eyes so bright and warm that Parker believed him. There’s just one more thing hanging at the back of her mind.

“You know Eliot’s my soulmate too, right?” Parker decides it’s best just to say it straight out. After a pause Hardison replies with a grin, realization flashing in his eyes.
“He’s mine too. I never mentioned it before because, well, we just now talked about us being soulmates, and I didn’t know how much you’d figured out. But yeah, we’re all three soulates.” Which prompts Parker to continue.
“I didn’t know three-way soulmates existed. I didn’t think it was possible...How?” A crease has formed between Parker’s eyebrows but her eyes held a spark of curiosity and hope.

“They exist, and we’re not the only ones. Three-way soulmates are rare and not very talked about, but they do happen.” Hardison stops to allow a wide smile to spread across his face.
“-When I started to realize we were all 3 soulmates I dug up everything I could find about other three-way bonds. I didn’t find a lot, but there are definitely others, it’s just very rare for all three people to find each other.”
“But we did.” Parker says in wonderment.
“Yeah, we did.” Hardison and Parker share a sweet and joyous moment of standing in the kitchen at 12pm beaming like a couple of fools.
“Now we just need to get Eliot to realize we want to be with him too.”
“That might prove a bit more difficult…” Hardison says.
“Why?”
“He’s…not very open to talking about anything remotely personal, and I don’t know how we would bring it up with him.”
“He’s getting more comfortable, with feelings and stuff, and I think we just need a plan. A plan to show him we care without scaring him away.” Parker’s smile turns mischievous, she already has a plan forming in her head.

Parker and Hardison sit down at the table to begin making their plan, friendliness into outright flirting until Eliot finally catches on.

Operation Seduce Eliot is a go.

Chapter Text

Eliot and Parker smile as Hardison falls, ungraceful and yelling, down the narrow passage between the hallway and the window, down to the ground floor of the Patent Office.

“Really? It’s not funny, I see yall laughing-” Eliot shakes his head with a smile on his face and walks away from the ledge.
“-I’m a person, a human person, I got feelings, and I don’t feel none a this. I’m tired of being pushed off of stuff. We’re gonna have a serious conversation when this is over-” Parker gives a thumbs up and small smile before also disappearing over the top of the ledge.

Hardison is beginning to see the possible side effects of them all three being in a relationship: He’s going to be getting pushed off a lot of stuff now that there’s two people close to him who are absolutely willing to ‘safely’ push him off of high places for their amusement. It’s like a running joke between them, and it’s almost cute enough to be excused. Almost.

~

Dubenich killed his father, Nate is on the warpath.

Nate plans to kill Dubenich himself and Sophie is not having any of Nate’s shit and gives him a talking to designed to make him reconsider. Eliot also tries to make Nate reconsider.

“You know a lotta things Nate. You don’t know how this is gonna change ya.”
“You handled it.”
“Well you have no idea who I was before all this, started.” Eliot pauses.
“That guy...kid, he had god in his heart and a flag on his shoulder...Clean hands.” Nate turns to face Eliot.
“-And I aint seen him in the mirror in over 10 years. And believe me-” Eliot pauses and looks away.
“-I get up every morning looking for him. So you can trust me when I tell you, you pull that trigger and 2 men die-the guy you kill...and the guy you used to be.” And with that Eliot walks away, leaving Nate to stew.

~

Eliot almost killed Dubenich before Nate got the chance, to keep Nate from ruining that last part of his innocence, to keep the team’s hands clean. But Eliot doesn’t. He can’t. He’s standing on the lawn with a gun in his hand and Sophie and Quinn are looking at him. Sophie is shaking her head ‘no’. His hand is shaking minutely. That never used to happen.

Eliot wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he let the team see him kill, they’d never look at him the same again, he wouldn’t look at himself the same way again. Eliot’s been trying to be better. To be a better person and do better things.

They’d think he was a monster, they’d be afraid of him. They might even kick me off the team Eliot thought bitterly to himself. Eliot knew that Hardison had to have dug up some kind of history on him, because Hardison is a curious person by nature and probably wanted to make sure nothing from Eliot’s past would come back to bite the team in the ass. It did, but they took care of that.

But Eliot also knows that Hardison wouldn't be able to find any files or records from most of his past. Eliot has about a 7 to 11 year gap in records based on who you are or how good at hacking you are. Hardison is the best there is, so there’s only about a 6 year gap in his records. Hardison thinks Eliot served in some kind of military, probably army and then black opps. And of course there was the years Eliot worked for Moreau.

Eliot has prices on his head in a lot of countries so Hardison guesses he was a mercenary, hitman, or some other kind of generally shady character. After that Hardison has pieced together a rough estimation based on rumor and chatter among the criminal underworld that Eliot went freelance before he joined Leverage.This timeline is of course just speculation but it’s pretty accurate as far as Hardison thinks.

But Eliot doesn’t know how much Hardison knows or doesn't know, so his policy is say as little as possible. Not that there’s much he would want to talk about.

But Eliot’s been trying to make his past, present, and future better since he joined Leverage. Killing those hitmen in the warehouse was an outlier, not just another day. Eliot wouldn’t ruin that. He trusts Nate to make the right choice.

~

Nate and Sophie reconcile as the other three bicker about if they get to keep the cave hideout or not. Eliot’s only argument against it is that they can’t get a car into the cave, and therefore, “you can't have a batcave without a batmobile”.

“Nate! Can we keep the cave?”
“We are not keeping the cave!” Nate replies
“I told you.” says Eliot.
“Hey, hold it. Don’t be so hasty. Hear me out. Two words--Eliot Signal.”
After they start walking back towards the building Eliot continues.
“Hey Hardison, man, what are you talking about? Like a light you would shine up in the air? Huh? How does that work? How would you see it during the day, first of all. And what would you put on it? Like a wolf?” Eliot continues his questions as they continue to walk to the car.
“Ooh, yeah.” Parker agrees.
Hardison smiles to himself. His and Parker’s plan is going nicely, it’s time for the next phase.

Chapter Text

The team splits up for a while with plans to regroup in Portland six weeks later. Nate and Sophie of course have their own plans for the time, Parker and Hardison do as well. Phase two is a go.

After Sophie and Nate leave for their ‘vacations’ it’s just Parker, Hardison, and Eliot left. Parker had already cleared out her warehouse and Hardison had loaded all of his equipment into Lucille. Eliot had left to go to his apartment to get his stuff. Hardison and Parker want to ask him to come with them on their world tour vacation. Parker sends him a quick text saying they’re coming over to ask him something. Only one problem, they’ve never been to Eliot's apartment. Well, Parker has, but doesn’t know how to actually get in through the door. She also never quite told Hardison that she knows where Eliot lives or about their late night meeting. She knows they need to talk about it as their relationship moves forward, but she still feels like it would be betraying Eliot to share this secret with Haidson. We’ll figure it out later.

They know the building he lives in at least. Hardison and Parker go in the front door and into the hallway of the apartment. There are a few doors on either side and two elevators at the end. They both know Eliot would never live on the first floor and Parker knows for a fact he’s on the 4th floor. They walk to the elevator at the end of the hallway.
“What floor do you think he’s on?” Hardison asks Parker
“4th.” Parker answers with certainty, Hardison presses the button and decides to ask later.
They ride up in comfortable silence, when they reach the floor they both stop. They don’t know which one it his. Parker pulls out her phone to see that Eliot had texted her: Why? Don’t come here. Too late
She ignores his message in favor of her own.
We’re on your floor. Which one is you?
They can almost hear his annoyed sigh from where they stand. After a few minutes he responds.
106.
They can feel the exasperation radiating from the number.

They walk down the hall until they find room 106. Parker knocks. They don’t hear any footsteps approaching the door but they know Eliot is there because of the sudden sound of locks being opened. 1 deadbolt, another. 1 chain. 1 sliding bolt latch. A flap latch without a lock on it. Parker notes. As the metal clocks continue Hardison raises his eyebrows and sends her a meaningful look.

The door swings open to reveal Eliot, who looks slightly annoyed to see them but is hiding a mixture of panic and thankfulness at their presence. He gives them a look and then turns and walks away with a shake of his head. His way of inviting them inside.

They follow him around the corner into what looks like a living room. It’s an open floor plan and there’s a grey couch against the wall with a small table next to it. A few bookcases and shelves are on the opposite wall. They can see into the kitchen and notice a complete absence of anything cooking related. He must’ve already cleared it out. In fact, any remanence of personal belongings had been cleared from the apartment. It looks like no one ever lived here. I hope it wasn’t always like this, Harrison thinks.

Eliot walks into the bedroom and continues to pack a bag. Hardison and Parker hang back in the doorway, feeling oddly out of place in Eliot’s personal space. But there’s nothing very personal about the room, it’s as empty as the rest of the apartment.

There’s a bed, a nightstand, a small closet, and a doorway to the bathroom. It looks like an unoccupied hotel room apart from the small pile of things laid out on the bed and the few shirts still left in the closet. Eliot is waiting for them to talk and continues to pack like they aren’t there. His bag is rather small and they wonder where the rest of his belongings had gone, if he had any. There is a remarkable absence of any personal belongings in the pile of stuff laid out on the bed. Hardison looks at Parker in slight concern, she looks unphased. Well I don’t really know what else I expected.

Eliot looks tense, well, tenser then normal. More like he had been in the beginning. He moves quickly from the bathroom to his bed, laying a small first aid kit beside his few belongings. Hardison barely catches that his hands are shaking because of how fast he’s moving. He looks at Parker, she noticed it too. Eliot seems to be done racing around the room after retrieving his last shirt from the closet and shutting the door. Eliot moves to stand at the opposite side of the bed and begins to fold and roll up the clothes he had laid out and begins to put them in the bag, hands still shaking slightly.

“Eliot, man, slow down. You don’t gotta rush. We actually came here to ask you something.” Hardison starts, the tension of silence was getting to be too much for him.
“What.” Eliot says without any of his usual bite, he just sounds tense, and tired. He doesn’t look up from his task, but slows down a little. Hardison continues,
“Well, me and Parker were thinking of taking a little vacation—”
“To jump off buildings!” Parker interrupts excitedly with a wide smile
“—and, we were just wondering, if, maybe, you would be interested in...coming with us?” Hardison trails off after his question.
Eliot looks a little surprised but tries not to show it, still focusing on his hands. Hardison continues,
“—You don’t have to! Just, ya know, it might be fun to take a little break and hang out and I totally understand if you don’t want to but we just thought we’d ask because if you did want to come that would be great and—” Parker kicks him in the shin to cut off his nervous rambling, and so that Eliot actually has a change to respond.

“...I can’t.” Eliot answers quietly. Hardison is ready to jump right back in,
“That’s totally fine I mean we totally get it if you don’t wanna or have other plans or—” Hardison stops himself from rambling this time, fearing another kick from Parker.
“It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s...I can’t.” Eliot still won’t look at them, but his eyes look so sad in that moment that Parker has to ask.
“Why not?” Eliot stiffins at the question, but he can’t lie to them. Not them.
“I have something I need to take care of. Just someone from the past I need to pay a visit.” Something about the way Eliot says ‘pay a visit’ tells them that whoever it is won’t be in the world much longer. Them almost pity whoever was stupid enough to warrant such a fate, but they don’t doubt it for a minute that it was well deserved.

“Maybe we can help, who is it? What’d they do? Whoever’s stupid enough to mess with us has another thing coming.” Hardison says, the beginnings of a cocky grin forming on his face. Eliot looks straight at him with eyes on fire.
“No. This is about me. This is mine to deal with. I can’t let you two get involved, it’s too dangerous.” Eliot looks simultaneously ready to fight and to break down. His posture is tense but his eyes are terrified at the idea of them being put in danger. This is bad.
Parker has been staying pretty quiet until now. She speaks in an even tone.

“Eliot. Why are your hands shaking?”
Eliot looks down at his hands like he hadn’t noticed and clenches his hands into fists at his sides, trying to stop the shaking. He looks at her like she had stabbed him, he would probably have preferred it if she did. Eliot looks down, hands still trembling, Parker speaks again, this time softer.
“It’s okay Eliot. You’re safe. You can talk to us, we’re here.” Parker sits down on the opposite side of the bed and pulls Hardison down with her. Eliot’s face breaks. He lets his mask fall. His shoulders hunch as he releases his hands, his eyes cloudy. He sinks to the floor and puts his head in his hands. They sit in silence for a moment. Parker looks more open than usual, face neutral but caring. Hardison is shocked but tries not to show it, he is astonished to see Eliot like this. But Hardison is profoundly honored that Eliot is allowing him to see him so vulnerable.

“Do you wanna tell us anything?” Parker questions quietly. Eliot sits in silence for a moment before answering, voice broken and quiet, but neutral.
“Some people who worked for...Moreau. They’re back, looking for revenge. I must’ve—missed someone. They - called a couple of days ago, said they knew where we were and that they...They threatened us, not just me, they said they’d go after the whole team. I can’t. I can’t let that happen.” Eliot lets out a shaky breath, eyes still fixed on some point on the wall across from him. They wait in silence. Eliot takes a few deep breaths and relaxes his shoulders. After a few minutes he continues.
“—I have to take care of it. Alone. I’ll see you two when I get back.” Eliot begins to stand, hands still shaking as he continues to pack his bag. Parker looks a little concerned and Hardison looks heartbroken. They know there’s something he’s not telling them, but they don’t press. He’s too fragile to handle that right now.
“Thank you.” Eliot says gruffly. Harrison looks surprised and a little startled, Eliot continues,
“—for inviting me. It means a lot. I appreciate it, maybe next time,” Eliot gives a little fragile smile,
“And, thanks for, coming over...listening.” Parker gives a sympathetic smile.
“Any time.” She says. Hardison also wants to show his support,
“Same here, anytime you need to talk, no matter how serious or not, we’ll always be here for you. Thank you for telling us what you’re doing.”

Eliot finishes packing and picks up his bag. He walks out of the room and into the kitchen, Hardison and Parker follow. Eliot walks to the center of the living room and pulls the rug aside, he crouches down and after knocking on a few floor boards he suddenly yanks up on a bord. It snaps up and he reaches inside the new hole in the floor. Eliot pulls out a few stacks of cash and puts them in his bag, he also pulls out two passports and some IDs that Hardison’s never seen before. He can’t contain his surprise and bursts out,
“What the hell man? Where did you get those?” Hardison walks over and snatches one up to look at in astonishment.
“—I’ve never even heard of this alias! What the actual hell man?”
“Dammit Hardison.” Eliot growls as he takes the card back and tucks it into his bag.
“—there’s things you don’t know about me. They’re old IDs—” His tone tuns from good naturedly annoyed to somewhat solomn as he continues,
“—they’re from, before… I keep them for times like this, where they’re—necessary.” Eliot looks back down into the hole and grimaces. He reaches into the floor and pulls out a handgun. Black, no serial number.

Hardison’s eyes widen but Parker remains neutral, Eliot looks the most upset out of all of them. He looks like he’s made of stone with how still he is, his breathing is tightly controlled and his eyes look cold and far away. He looks at his hand like it isn’t his as it grips the gun, he blinks and mechanically places the gun into his bag. Eliot places the board back over the hole and kicks the rug back into place.

Eliot walks to the closet and pulls on a heavy jacket and slings his bag over his shoulder. They finally snap out of it when he turns the lights off, signaling that he’s leaving. They walk to the door and quickly follow him out. He locks the door and heads towards the elevator, they follow. Hardison and Parker both want desperately to say something. Anything. But they are both at a loss for what to say. It’s our soulmate we should at least say something.

Eliot steps out of the elevator as soon as the doors open, Hardison and Parker jump to follow his quick pace. He looks like a soldier, he carries himself like one too, but it’s like Eliot’s not there anymore. From the moment he wrapped his fingers around the gun, he hasn’t been there. It’s like a switch flipped inside him, he’s not there anymore, not really. But he’ll be back. He has to come back.

As they all step out of the front door and onto the sidewalk, Eliot looks back at them, his eyes hold so much sorrow, so much guilt, so much determination. Hardison’s eyes meet his. He puls Eliot into a hug and to his surprise Eliot hugs him back.
“Be careful.” Hardison says softly, blinking away the tears gathering in his eyes as he hugs Eliot. He feels Eliot nod against his shoulder. They let go and Parker and Eliot share a look.
“Come home” Parker says with all the emotion she has, Eliot nods again. He looks at them both again, his eyes refusing to water.
“I will.”

Eliot turns and walks down the street, disappearing into the crowd.

Chapter Text

Eliot takes a taxi to the nearest airport and takes a plane to Canada, then from there he takes another plane to London, then another from London to Sarajevo, Bosnia. Eliot makes it out and in to each country just fine, his passports hold up under scrutiny like he knew they would. He makes it to Bosnia, which is where the last of Moreau’s men are hiding. They’ve got another thing coming.

Eliot makes it to the warehouse they’ve made their headquarters in. Why does it always have to be warehouses? Eliot questions. He sees two armed men guarding the door in the front and only one in the back. Idiots. He sees three black SUVs parked in front. Range: 3-21 men in total based on the vehicles. Eliot watches them for another 24 hours to find their patterns, he would have liked to have taken more time for recon but he was on a timer. There’s no way to tell how long it’ll be before they go after Parker and Hardison. Eliot has to act fast.

Eliot still hates guns, but they sealed their fate when they threatened his team. His family . Eliot knows all the men are in the warehouse after he sees the third SUV pull back in and watches four men get out. Eliot watches them go into the warehouse. It’s time .

Eliot approaches the building stealthily. All the men are inside, he’ll only have to do this once. No loose ends. He circles around to the back where they stupidly only left one guard. He never stood a chance. Eliot makes just enough noise for the front door guards to hear him but not for anyone inside to notice. One of them goes to check what’s going on and Eliot takes care of him as well. After a few minutes the sole front door guard gets suspicious but refuses to leave his post. So Eliot comes to him. Swift and silent.

With all the guards taken are of, Eliot decises the best way of entering the warehouse is from the back. He makes his way back to the alternate entrance and goes in silently. Eliot makes a few knocking sounds to lure men back to where he’s waiting. After luring four men back and taking them out one by one, the other men get very suspicious and pull their own guns. Their scouts aren’t returning and all they hear is silence.

They split into two groups to search the sides of the warehouse. Second mistake . Eliot follows the movements of the first group, waiting for an opening. There. Bullets fire out of the darkness. Four bodies hit the floor before they even had a chance to react. Eliot continues.

The other group heard the commotion and goes to investigate, guns drawn. This is gonna get messy. Eliot fires two bullets that hit two heads and two bodies hit the concrete floor. The return fire is almost immediate. But Eliot’s already moving. He fires again, another man down. More shots fired. That one almost hit .

Eliot moves to another location, he can see that there are 5 men left standing. Only five to go. Eliot fires, hits. Four to go . The men start advancing, Eliot moves. They fire. A bullet grazes the front of his chest and side. Shit. Eliot fires another round. One more down. Out of amo, reload. Three to go . One more shot. One more down.

One of the men gets lucky and his bullet hits Eliot’s gun. Fuck. His hand spasms as he possesses the pain. Not broken, just dislocated. The gun is now useless as a gun. Eliot moves to another location as he re-locates his first and middle fingers middle joints as he sprints, shots firing around him. One of the men runs out of amo, that’s the moment Eliot’s been waiting for. He doesn’t hesitate in charging in, he throws his useless gun full force at the man’s head as the other one tries frantically to reload. The man falls dead to the floor, the other one never has a chance to fire again. Eliot drops the last body to the ground. None.

Eliot scans his surroundings with cold analytic eyes. His gaze lands on a barrel of gasoline. It’ll do. He begins to douse all the bodies and things in the warehouse with the excelerant, going especially heavy on the files and cases they had on each of his teammates. He trails a line outside to the SUVs and covers them as well. Eliot makes a small trail to behind an adjacent building and lights a match. The place goes up with a certain amount of finality. We’re free. No more running from Moreau.

Eliot heads back to the hotel he’s been staying in and stitches himself up and puts a bandage on his wound. Shouldn’t take more than a few days to scab over and begin to heal if he’s careful. After three days he leaves after changing clothes and burning the others. He also burns his old passport in favor of his other one. You can never be too careful. He looks at his burner phone for the first time and sees a text from Hardison. Shit. He can’t decide if he’s more upset with himself that he hadn’t seen it before or that he hurt them. He sees their return text and sighs, only feeling worse.

After a week and a half Eliot flies out of Bosnia to Florence, Italy. Eliot is in Barcelona two weeks later when he gets a call from an old friend of his that he could use some help with a job. Finally, something to do other than run. Something else to think about. Eliot changes course and books a flight Armenia. Eliot meets his old friend in Yerevan and they travel to Tehran from there.

~

Parker and Hardison are in Tokyo about a month into their world tour of roofs Hardison will be forced to jump off of when something happens. They’re sitting on the couch in their hotel room watching some movie waiting for it to get dark when they feel it. Both Hardison and Parker jump up from their little cuddle nest at the same time with a shout. They both feel a searing pain in their chests and sides. Hardison rips up his shirt to see a long black mark spread from a few inches below his chest stretching towards and a little around his side. Parker rips open her shirt to reveal the same thing. After a few moments of processing they look up to meet each other's panicked eyes.

“Eliot! He’s hurt.” Parker bursts out, Hardison can only stare for a moment longer at the mark.

“He’s hurt, bad.” Hardison states disbelievingly.

After a few moments they both feel a burning pain in their right hands before it goes away in each finger one by one a few seconds later.

“Shit…” Hardison breathes once the pain stops.

“Shit shit shitshitshitshit” Hardison races to his phone to try to call Eliot, knowing he won’t answer.

“Damn it Eliot.” Hardison resolves to text him instead, of course it was on silent, but he might see it later. If he lives that long . No, stop it Hardison, get it together. Stay calm. He’ll be fine .

Hardison: Eliot, if you see this, we need to know if you’re okay. Please tell us if you’re hurt

Hardison shows the text to Parker, she nods in approval. They spend the night inside, feeling twinges of pain around the wound every now and then. He’s stitching himself up . Hardison grimaces his disapproval, knowing Eliot would never go to a hospital. But at least he’s alive. They stay in and wait for a reply. Early the next morning (or late into the night, depending on how you look at it) he replies.

Eliot: Bullet grazed me, fingers dislocated, relocated now. I’m fine, sorry.

Hardison frowns at the text, at least he’s ‘okay’

“God damn it Eliot, that is not fine!” Hardison grumbles to Parker

“Tell him he doesn’t have anything to apologize for.” Parker says, voice sounding almost offended. Harrison texts Eliot back.

Hardison: Parker says you have nothing to be sorry for, I agree.

Hardison and Parker don’t think he’ll really believe them, but it’s a start.

~~~~

Parker and Hardison need to talk. After that night Hardison went to his bag and took out an old and battered looking journal.

“What’s that?” Parker asks

“It’s uh...It’s all the injuries you or Elliot has gotten over the years. I keep track of it in this—” Hardison waves the journal

“—It’s what I did to make myself feel better, before I met you both. All I could do was write everything down and hope to someday do something about it. It’s still a habit to record stuff, so…”  Hardison trails off as he sits down and flips to a blank page.

“It’s actually volume 2 technically. I ran out of room in the other one and had to start a new one a few years back.”

Parker has an odd look on her face, somewhere between surprise, sadness, and heartbroken affection. Her eyes begin to water as she pulls out her own journal from gods know where and begins to talk,

“I—I did the same thing. Kind of. It’s mostly a journal for me to write down my--feelings —” she says it with a twist of the mouth, like the word is foreign to her.

“—and there are some injuries recorded in here, whenever I needed a place to talk about them.”

Hardison looks so loving in that moment it catches her off guard, he has a soft smile on his face, a few tears in his eyes. Hardison reaches out for her hands, she laced her fingers with his.

“I know! I know how I know.” Parker says suddenly, Hardison doesn’t quite know what she means but just waits for her to continue.

“—I know how I know I want to be with you, like pretzels. Premium addition, no more free trial.” Parker laughs a little bit and Hardison does as well, he’s beaming.

“—if you still want to be with me, then let’s make it official...You care , so much, and I know you won’t judge or push us away for anything. You’re good Alec. You’re so good , and you put up with me and Eliot...not being, sometimes. Thank you.”

Hardison wants to say that they’re just as good as he is but that’s a conversation for another time.  

“Of course I still want to be with you Parker, all you had to do was ask.” Hardison smiles gently as he takes her hand, she squeezes back. They’re both just sitting there smiling like idiots.

“Official?” Parker asks,

“Official.” Hardison answers as they both grin.

After a little while of just sitting, Hardison opens his journal to a blank page. He writes down the date, time, and location of the injuries, and because he knows it’s Eliot, he writes down Eliot’s name as well. After he’s finished writing he lets out a heavy sigh, Parker, who’s been leaning against his side for a while sits up.

“Do you think he’ll be okay?”  Hardison lets out another, smaller, sigh before answering.

“It’s Eliot, he’s always okay.” Hardison says it with an air of frustration and sarchasm.

“He’s just afraid.” Parker says genuinely

“Eliot? Afraid? Of what, us?”

“Vulnerability. He’s used to having to be strong, all the time. He’s not used to being able to show any signs of pain or sadness or anything to anyone. It’s been years and he barely lets us see. He doesn’t have to be afraid, he just doesn’t know it yet.”

“I know...It’s just, sometimes, I wish he’d just—I don’t know, talk to us? Let us help him? He’s just so stubborn sometimes, I wish I knew how to let him know we’re there, really there for him, and have him actually get it.”

“I know, but it’s going to take a while. He’s still convinced he doesn’t deserve anything other than solitude and unhappiness. For us it’s easy to think that that’s of course not true, but for him–it’s different. For a long time I thought that I’d never-never be able to be okay, trusting, happy —but being with the team, with you, I’m realizing that all of that is a possibility. I know I have a future, a life. It’s just taking Eliot a while longer to realize it, he keeps getting in his own way because he doesn’t dare to think there’s something to hope for. It’s up to us to show him that there is. We have to be careful, take our time, but I think it’s possible.”

Hardison sigs again, but he looks hopeful.

“It won’t be easy, to do this, with him, with us. Normal relationships are hard enough, with only two people, much less three, and Eliot’s stubbornness and self destructive tendencies are whole other thing all together. But...I know it’d be worth it. I know that I want to at least try, with both of you. I know it won’t be easy, or normal, but I know at least we all deserve a chance to try, make it work.”

“Agreed. We can do it, we can try. We’re not normal, all in our own ways, but in the wise words of a very wise woman, ‘normal is whatever works for you.’” Parker smiles, Hardison smiles too.

They’re doing this. They’re really doing this.

Chapter Text

Parker and Hardison continue on their trip and they don’t hear anything from Eliot, through text or through pain, after the original incident. As the weeks went by the black mark on their chests and sides slowly faded until they were nearly gone. At least he’s letting it heal.

After two weeks something else happens. One afternoon when they are out on an actual date instead of jumping off roofs (much to Hardison’s delight) they both feel a slight burning pain on their forearms. Parker looks down to see a black slash mark a few inches long down the back of her forearm, like someone blocking a knife. She looks up to see Hardison coming to the same conclusion. He doesn’t say anything, just sign and puts his head in his hands, deciding to be more exasperated than worried.

“Damn it Eliot.” Hardison grumbles under his breath.
“Agreed.” Parker responds.
“I can’t believe I could be in love with such an idiot” Hardison sighs in an affectionately exasperated kind of way.
“Hey!” Parker says in mock offence
“Not you, Eliot! You might be a little reckless at times but Eliot can be downright foolish. Running around, getting hurt all the damn time...I feel like an old woman worrying so much.” Hardison grumbles, Parker just smiles and nods along.
“We should talk to him. Let him know we care.” Parker says with a causal shrug.
“—When he gets back, we should at least let him know

They continue on their date and accept that Eliot will continue to be like that and that if they try to text him to go to a hospital god damn it he won’t listen. Because again, he’s like that. They aren’t exactly sure what that is, only that that’s what Eliot is like.

~~~

On one of the nights after the warehouse Eliot is not having a good time. He tosses and turns, mumbling in his sleep. He jolts awake, sitting half way up before his brain can even come back online. He rakes a hand through his damp hair and sighs. Shit.

After the fourth night of being jolted awake after only a few hours of sleep Eliot realises something. How did they know I was hurt? After I got shot, they knew. They asked and I just told them. How? In the moment he hadn’t had time to think about how they knew, he just told them and moved on.

Do they know? Do they know I know? Eliot’s brain is sent reeling trying to figure out how much they’ve figured out based on very little knowledge. Do they know we’re soulmates? Do they know I know we’re soulmates? On one hand, both Parker and Hardison are intelligent in their own rites, but have they noticed yet? Have they told each other? Have they even figured out they’re each other's soulmates yet? Eliot doesn’t know and decides to try not to think about it.

Do I even want soulmates? Would they want me? As Eliot is considering his own mixed feelings about the prospect of actually dating his two soulmates and what that would mean a thought suddenly occurs to him.

I miss them. The revelation hits him like a truck. He’s never really missed anyone in his life, never let himself get close enough to anyone to miss them. But he does, he misses Hardison and Parker. They’re his security blanket, even if he doesn’t admit it, having them around helps.

Just being in their presence makes his shoulders relax and allows him to let his guard down, just a little. When he’s with them he feels pretty damn close to safe. He knows Parker would instinctively know if something was wrong and that Hardison’s security system is unbeatable. When he’s with them he’s in the moment, he laughs, smiles. They make him feel better, happier, human. And damn it he misses them.

Eliot curls up a little tighter and maybe wishes that Parker was there, just to sit in silence at the foot of his bed. Never asking any questions, never prying, just there. Maybe he wishes that he had Hardison’s adorably grumpy morning face to look forward to, maybe he wishes he could see Hardison’s glowing smile and feel his own face begin to lift. Maybe he just wishes that he could be in their presence, calming, happy, home.

As Eliot lays in the dark room alone, he knows that he misses them, that he cares for them, that he needs them. And that’s the scariest thing that’s happened all week.
Of course Eliot knows that he cares for them, they’re his team, his family. But...realising that he misses them in a more-than-platonic way, and that he would be devastated if something were to happen to them? That is terrifying. What is even more terrifying is that for the first time in years, maybe ever, he wants to let someone in, let someone get close, truly know him. Trusting someone and losing them, or trusting someone and being wrong about them? That is his biggest fear.

But...Parker and Hardison? They’re different. Eliot knows he can trust them, they’ve had his back for years. What he is really afraid of is that once they get to know him, they won’t like what they find. That they’ll be disgusted with him, hate him, pull apart the team because of what he’s done, what he’s seen, who he is. That’s what he’s really afraid of and he doesn’t have the slightest idea what to do about it.

~~~

Eliot is okay. He really is okay. Where the bullet had grazed healed up fine after about a month and his fingers stopped hurting completely after a few days. Sure the nightmares that jolted him awake every night for about a week following sucked, but nothing he hadn’t dealt with before. They were an odd mixture of Moreau, murder, and the Belgrade incident all jumbled together to form a confusing and haunting mess. He misses Hardison and Parker, and he is absolutely terrified to let them know, let them really know him. But he can’t change it, doesn’t want to try. What they have is good and Eliot really doesn’t want to mess that up with his own issues, so for now he’ll keep his distance, wait and see what happens.

~~~

Eliot goes on the mission with his old friend. It goes well. He goes back to America. The mission helped get the previous events out of his mind, helped get him back in the moment, helped Eliot recover a little more of his stability before returning home.

Eliot gets a text his second day back, two months after they all split up.

Parker: Come to Portland, it’s our new HQ.

Eliot heads to the nearest airport and buys a ticket to Portland, before the lane takes off he sends a text back to Parker.

Eliot: Got it.

~~~

“He’s on his way.” Parker says to Hardison as she walks back across the room towards him, tossing the phone haphazardly onto the couch as she passes. Hardison is working at his computer at the table, making sure the final touches to the slide show presentation he put together on their latest mark is all ready to go. Nate and Sophie aren’t supposed to get back for another few days but he likes to have everything ready ahead of time, just to be safe.

“...Good.” Hardison says distractedly after a few moments.
“Should we talk to him? Let him know we, ya know, know?” Hardison realises this is important and shuts his computer, he looks up at her.
“Let him know we know what?” He sounds confused.
“That we’re soulmates!” Parker says, slightly exasperated, Hardison’s eyebrows shoot up and his eyes widen.
“Do you think he knows?” Parker only rolls her eyes.
“Of course he knows, he’s too smart not to have put together the pieces by now. He’s very observant.” Hardison knows she’s right.
“If he knows, then why hasn’t he brought it up by now?”
“The same reason we haven't, he doesn’t know we know. If he thought we knew he probably wouldn’t say anything either, he’d just assume we didn’t want him and he’d never mention it.”
“—That’s why I want to talk about it with him. I don’t want him to think we don’t want him. Now that we’re on the same page, I think we should talk to him. It’s getting too hard to remember who knows what anyway.” Parker says honestly.
“Yeah you’re right. We’ll talk to him when he gets back, the tension is getting to be too much. Even if he doesn’t want to do anything about it right now, we still should at least let him know we know we’re all soulmates.” Hardison agrees.
“Agreed.”

~~~

Eliot arrives in Portland and shoots off a text.

Eliot: I’m in Portland, where to?

Parker tells him to meet them at Hardison’s apartment and sends him the address. They had already moved into the apartment above the brewpub but had at first stayed at a little place while they got everything figured out, they wanted to keep the brewpub a surprise so they decided to meet at the other place instead.

Eliot: Got it.

Eliot pulls up to a small apartment complex shortly after and follows Parker’s directions to their door. When he knocks he is greeted almost immediately with an armful of Parker. Before he even registered that she had opened the door she was wrapping him in a tight hug and he hugs back out of reflex after repressing a small flinch. After a few hesitant moments Parker reluctantly draws away with a smile and a few tears in her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Eliot asks without thinking, Parker takes a second before replying
“I’ll explain in a minute.” Somewhat cryptic, but she doesn’t sound too upset so Eliot decides just to go with it.

They walk into the apartment and are greeted by a smiling Hardison who leads them into a small living room with a couch and two chairs. Parker sits in one of the chairs and Eliot in the other, leaving Hardison to take the couch. After a few moments silence Hardison is the first to speak.

“So...Eliot. We have something we’ve been meaning to talk to you about for a while now. And I don’t want you to get scared off but...It’s important that you stay and hear us out. Okay?” Eliot doesn’t know why his stomach drops almost immediately, he doesn’t like the sound of this at all.
“Alright…” Eliot answers cautiously.
“It’s not bad! Just important, and it involves all of us, so, yeah.” Hardison trails off
“We want to talk about—stuff.” Parker is no help in making Eliot feel any less alarmed, he just sign exasperatedly
“Parker—I’m gonna need a little more information than that.”
Soulmate stuff.” Parker clarifies. Eliot can almost feel his blood freeze in his veins. He knew this day would come, they would figure out they were each other's soulmates and would tell him to stay out of it, and he’d understand of course, but it'd still hurt. He just had hoped it would take a little longer than this for them to realize they didn’t want him in the picture, but he guesses it was a selfish thing to wish anyway—

“Hey man! Stop that, I can hear you overthinking. It’s not bad. We want to talk to you about this, we’re not telling you to leave or anything, we want you here. Just listen okay? Try not to freak out on us.” Hardison says, Eliot snaps out of it a little and is surprised at how good Hardison is at telling how he’s feeling, but that’s always been a special skill of Hardison’s.
“Yeah, we just want to talk about how we all feel about it. Me and Hardison are together now, dating, and we know you’re our soulmate too. And we want to talk to you, see how you feel, about us, about this. And we understand if you need time, or maybe never want to be with us but—we want to see how you feel.” Parker bursts out, Eliot’s mind is blown to say the least.
“You—” Eliot clears his throat
“—You both want--to be with, with me?” Eliot look so confused and honestly astounded in that moment that they both feel their hearts break a little for him.
Yes Eliot, we do. And there’s no reason why we wouldn’t, unless you yourself didn’t want to be with us.” Parker clarifies. Eliot looks no less speechless, he just minutely flails his hands in a ‘what?’ gesture while shaking his head.
“I—how can you say that? You know what I’ve done, you both know who I was, who I am.” He looks between Parker and Hardison
“—You two more than anyone else know what I’ve done and-and what my past is and... you can still—How?” Parker's eyes melt and Hardison looks like he might cry.
“Eliot, you are more than what you’ve done. We know that. We know that you’ve done things you didn’t want to do, we know you’ve done things you’re ashamed of, we know—we know enough. But we still want you. We will always want you, and will be here for you. No matter what, we accept you, we just wish you’d have the same sympathy for yourself.” Hardison says, Eliot looks so vulnerable, so exposed, like they’ve never seen him before.
“—and, you don’t have to talk to us, or tell us everything. But, if you ever need to talk about anything we’ll always be there to listen. Without judgment Eliot, because we care about you. And we need you to know that. Regardless of if you decide to be with us or not, we’ll always be there for you. We’re a team Eliot, we’re family. And—that’ll never change.” Hardison continues, Parker vigorously nods in agreement, Eliot still looks stunned.
“I--are you sure? Are you sure you want to do this? With me?” Eliot looks very unsure of himself and they rush to reassure him of their intentions.
“Yes. We’re sure.” Parker says and her voice is so certain Eliot can almost let himself believe her. Eliot still looks on edge and skeptical, but their faces are so bright and their words so warm he decides that maybe he can let himself have this one nice thing, just give it a shot.
“...Alright. I’ll give it a shot, if you’re sure you’ll have me.” Eliot says, Parker beams and Hardison smiles warmly, and Eliot finds it’s easier to smile than it has been in years.
“Of course we’ll have you, we’re all in this together.” Hardison says, and sure it sounds a little cheesy but Eliot feels his heart melt.
“Alright then, if you’re both sure, I’m more than happy to give it a shot.” Eliot tries to say it casually but they can tell he means it and that it’s hard for him to say. Oh, one more thing.

“Oh! Eliot, Hardison won’t stop worrying that you’re straight. I keep trying to tell him you’re not but he just won’t stop worrying about it.” Parker exclaims quite brightly and with an air of obviousness that makes Hardison choke on nothing and makes Eliot look a little alarmed and sit up straighter in his chair. Hardison looks mortified and is clearly flailing in the moment, about to try to brush Parker’s question under the rug for fear of making Eliot upset. But after a second Eliot bursts out laughing suddenly. After a moment of Eliot laughing and Hardison looking if possible even more mortified he explains.

“Man you shoulda seen the look on your face, you looked ready to combust. Man hell no I’m not straight, ‘figured that out a long time ago.” Eliot says it with an easy smile but they know it took him a long time and lots of work to say it so easily. Parker beems triumphantly
“I told you!” Hardison looks truely betrayed.
“How was I supposed to know? It’s not like you’re going around saying it all the time.” Eliot shrugs, because ya know, that’s fair.
“—How long’ve you known? If you don’t mind me asking.” Hardison says, Eliot shrugs again before answering.
“I’ve known I liked guys since I started liking girls, took me a while to accept it, and I never told anybody until after I got outta the military, and then I didn’t really go around sayin it. Just told the occasional one night stand when it came up, never really told anyone else—until now.” Eliot looks a little surprised at the realization but he also looks, happy.
“I’m pan.” His eyes light up and he gives a little smile, it’s the first time he’s really come out since he came out to himself. Hardison and Parker smile
“I’m bi.” Hardison says and Eliot smiles and nods.
“And I’m undecided, really whatever works, but I know I’m demi.” Parker says, they both nod.
“And I guess we’re all poly now.” says Hardison, they all smile at each other and to themselves, all terribly nervous and happier than ever. After a few minutes of quiet happiness and excitement something occurs to Parker.

“Eliot! Are you okay?” He looks a little startled and confused with his brows drawn together. Parker clarifies
“Your side, we felt...something? While you were gone. We won’t ask how it happened but I wanna make sure you’re okay.” Parker is ready for Eliot’s automatic response before it even comes.
“I’m fine, Parker.” she looks skeptical and raises her eyebrow to an almost comical level, Hardison looks a little concerned but waits for Parker to step in. She almost matches Eliot in stubbornness. After a minute of Parker continuing to raise her eyebrow inhumanly high Eliot just sighs and looks at the floor as he lifts up his shirt.

Hardison tries not to gasp when he sees the state of Eliot’s torso. There are scars, old and new, decorating the entirety of Eliot’s exposed skin. There are a few small ones on his abdomen and some that continue down his waistline. There are the tops of ugly white lines peaking out above his hip bones and Hardison is almost overwhelmed by conflicting emotion. He tries to keep it together like Parker as he looks to the most recent one, a still healing and pinkish-purple line going from below Eliot’s chest and slightly around his side under his arm. It doesn’t look...bad. Just, scary how close it was to….I mean it looks like it’s healing fine but still.

Parker sighs as she pulls away.
“It looks to be healing okay but that doesn’t mean you’re fine Eliot. It looks like it was deep, did you go to a hospital?” Eliot looks a little exasperated as he pulls his shirt back down as he tries to cover the softness in his eyes and relax his shoulders.
“No.” is the only answer he gives. Parker sighs. None of them like hospitals, but sometimes it annoys them when the others don’t go when they need to.

“Damn Eliot” Hardison doesn’t mean to, it just kind of slips out. Eliot’s head whips around as he glares at Hardison
“What.” he snaps. Hardison puts up his hands to show Eliot he doesn’t mean any harm.
“I—” Hardison waves his hands around a little, not knowing how to verbalize his thoughts.
“—can I? Hug you?” Hardison finally stutters out, it’s always good to ask. Eliot looks taken aback and completely caught off guard.
“Um. Sure?” Eliot sounds like he cannot conceptualize human affection but he agrees nonetheless. Hardison moves forward and wraps Eliot in a light hug, making sure he can pull away whenever he wants, Parker jumps in on the moment by flinging herself around both of them and squeeze them both so hard they let out a collective wheeze. They don’t mind.

They all sit together in a tight pile for a few minutes, all in need of some comfort. After a minute Hardison quietly says:
“I’m glad you’re home, man.”
“Yeah, me too” Eliot replies quietly and they all squeeze a little harder.

They all reluctantly pull apart after about five minutes, not quite as long of a hug as Hardison had planned but he guesses that if they’re really doing this that he’ll have plenty more opportunities to hug them both in the near future.

“So we’re really doing this? All of us, together?” Parker asks, voice even and hopeful. Hardison and Eliot both smile.
“Yeah Parker, we’re doing this.” Eliot says with a small smile and a light in his eyes, Hardison grins and pumps the air with his fist, too excited for words.

“We’ll talk more about it later, but for now I’m just happy we’re all here, together.” Hardison says, Parker and Eliot nod in agreement. They’re really doing this, for real. It’s still so new and fragile, but they’re all willing to give it a shot, and that’s what matters.

Chapter Text

After Eliot leaves that apartment with directions to go to the brewpub the next afternoon to welcome Sophie and Nate to Portland, Parker and Hardison get back to work on the new case.

Eliot walks in and is a little blown away. The office is beautiful and laid out so that most of it is visible from any vantage point with the open floor plan and glass walls. He also doesn’t miss the punching bag set up in one of the corners he knows they put in just for him.

When Hardison says he bought the whole brewpub Eliot’s a little taken aback, he knows this is some kind of gesture directed at him, they know how much he loves to cook and he’s honestly a little overwhelmed. This place isn’t just a new place for the team, it’s a new beginning for them, this place is designed to accommodate all three of them, high ceilings for Parker, tech for Hardison, and the punching bag and restaurant for him. This is honestly more than he could have asked for. Time to distract from emotions with sarcasm Eliot thinks as he argues with Hardison about how he’s too much of a fool to be responsible for a restaurant and brewing.

Hardison just looks confused and knows that Eliot will be taking over most of the planning of the restaurant because they know he'd never let their business fail, and they both secretly know he loves to be a chef. Watching them bicker over "thief juice" just reminds Eliot what he’s getting himself into, and he couldn’t be happier.

This is their space, their beginning, their new home.

~~~

“Why are you okay with this? You seem perfectly happy to be in this town.” Sophie asks Parker.
“We’re here.” Parker replies simply.
“Yeah I know we’re here get used to it.”
“No, we’re here, us.”
“Oh, that’s sweet.” Sophie remarks.
“Yeah, me and my money, Hardison and Eliot, Nate and you.” Parker continues, she’s here with her boys and her money, why wouldn’t she be happy? This is all she needs.

Hardison and Eliot spend the rest of the job bickering like an old married couple and Parker couldn’t be happier. It’s all falling into place.

The job goes well, they’re all back together and enjoying the reason they all started working this job to begin with. They end it by forcing Nate and Sophie to try their “thief juice” while Eliot makes them something actually fit for consumption. Eliot takes a sip and then spits it back into the glass looking disgusted.
“Ay, I saw that” says a truly offended Hardison
“Are you kidding me with this, you can’t sell this to people.” Eliot can’t believe this. Ridiculous.

~~~

 

The job is going well, Eliot is in place to encroach on the hockey enforcer’s territory. He gets in a fight on the ice with a member of the opposing team that calls him “pretty boy” it’s nothing personal, but if he hits him a little harder than needed who’s to say.

Later in the parking lot Craig ambushes Eliot to tell him to stay out of his way, Eliot refuses to fight him because they’re there to help him not get injured, but Eliot takes a few hits in the process. Parker and Hardison hear the fight go down over coms but they don’t feel anything, which is odd, because if Eliot is taking hits they should be able to feel it.

Hardison turns to Parker with a questioning look on his face, she seems to know exactly what he was going to ask and she answers simply.

“He doesn’t register it as pain.” Parker says it plain enough, but Hardison sees a touch of sadness in her eyes. He doesn’t register it as pain, he doesn’t register it at all. He’s felt so much pain like that that he doesn’t even bother to notice it. So much so that even they don’t feel it through the bond. Damn it Eliot, this opens up a whole other can of worms. Sad, sad worms.

They hear the conversation through the coms.

“I don’t care what happens to me, but until you have a family, I would never expect you to understand.” Craig spits at Eliot, he takes a second to reply. Don’t tell him anything about the team, military, that’s a safe bet.

“Yeah you’re right. I got no family. Not like you mean. But I had brothers, had a lot of ‘em, I didn’t know all their names—I knew their faces, and I knew their rank—and I did things, that I didn’t wanna do because they counted on me. Bad things, for good reasons. You know what I learned? Bad choices are bad choices, doesn’t matter why you made ‘em—and they tear you apart from the inside out. And you don’t, even, notice.” Hardison and Parker’s hearts give a sympathetic ache in response to the pain in Eliot’s voice. Gods they just wish he’d talk to them.

Something Eliot said earlier is still bothering Hardison. “What the hell’re you—you don’t have to do this man, you can walk away.” Eliot had said it to Craig like he really couldn’t comprehend why he would stay when he could just walk away when he could. It makes me think Eliot would have given anything to be able to just walk away, maybe that’s why he’s being so hard on Marco, because he can’t see that he doesn’t have to do this. Maybe it makes Eliot feel a little envious, that he could just leave if he wanted to. Maybe he’s just reading too much into this, but, the way Eliot said it is still bothering him.

After the game Parker and Hardison head back to their apartment above the offices, they tried to invite Eliot to watch the movie with them but he denied with some excuse about being tired after the game. He didn’t look like he was doing very good, and that worries Parker.

She brings it up to Hardison and he tells her his feelings about earlier. They know Eliot has his problems that he thinks he has to deal with on his own but they wish he would realize he doesn’t have to be alone anymore. Parker tells Hardison when she’s having an off day and he can usually do something to help, sometimes just talking about how she’s feeling can help. She wishes Eliot would come around and realize it too, he will, with time. She knows, but it’s hard to be patient when they see him keep things that are clearly bothering him to himself when she knows they could help.

She has a nice time anyway, and her and Hardison are fine on their own but they can’t help but feel like something is missing. Someone. After the job’s over they’ll talk to him, sometimes he just needs a little push.

~~~

The next day when they finish the job Nate and Sophie go off to wherever they’re staying and leave Eliot, Hardison and Parker to talk. Hardison tries to casually suggest that they all head back to the brewpub and to their surprise Eliot agrees happily. Parker has her plotting face on and they make it to their apartment without incident.

Hardison begins to head up the stairs to his and Parkers apartment and Eliot hesitates but continues to follow them. They reach the top of the metal step and walk across the small bridgewalk to the door. They enter and Eliot sees that they also have an open floor plan, it leads into a comfortable looking sitting room with a couch, two chairs, a coffee table and TV. There is a bar on the other side of the living room facing the unusually large and professional looking kitchen along with an island dividing it from the hallway. Down the hall Eliot can see a few rooms, he assumes some kind of tech office for Hardison, and bedrooms. He doesn’t let himself wonder if there is an extra room for him.

Hardison gestures to the couch and chairs and they all take their seats, Eliot deciding on one of the chairs and Parker climbing onto the back of the other one, Hardison electing to sit in the middle of the couch. Eliot looks expectant and Hardison shifts uncomfortably, it’s Parker that keeps them on point.

“We want to talk to you. —let you know you can talk to us. About anything that’s bothering you. And we don’t wanna push you but, sometimes we can tell there’s something wrong and— talking can help.” Parker sounds unsure but absolutely determined to get her point across.
“Communication is the key to any good relationship.” Hardison ads helpful, Eliot looks stuck.
“You don’t have to tell us anything, but, if there’s something bothering you, we’re both here for you now.” continues Parker, Hardison nods along, Eliot still looks unsure.
“Just spit it out man, we won’t judge.” Hardison says, Eliot hunches his shoulders.
“Fine! I just…What I said to Marco the other day it just, reminded me of something. From the past. And I wasn’t specific, but I meant what I said. I did things I didn’t want to do because they were counting on me and—” Eliot’s voice cracks
“—I couldn’t always do what they needed me to do and, I got people killed.” Eliot’s shoulders begin to shake, and he clenches his hands together. Parker and Hardison wait for him to continue, giving him all the space he needs to get this out.

“I—there was this mission. I was already a freelance contractor at that point but, it was my black ops commander organizing it, and I couldn’t exactly say no. So I did the mission, it was with a team. Seven other guys, a lieutenant, and the man in charge. When I met the team, there was this kid. He couldn’t’ve been more than 21 and—I knew him from my blacks ops days. I didn’t want him to end up—like me. So, I tried to tell him to get out while he could, but, he just wouldn’t listen. And, the mission was to take out a diplomat that was in Moreau’s pocket. This was before I had met Moreau, but I still knew he was dangerous. I knew this kid wouldn’t be able to hold his own against Moreau’s guys and he just wouldn’t leave. So I decided to go through with the mission so I could stay and try’n protect the kid.” Eliot shrugs, defeated. They both know there was more to the story and they wait for him to keep going, knowing how hard this is for him to say.
“The mission—” his voice stops, he clears his throat
“—It went south, they ambushed us, and there were more of his men than we planned for. It was a massacre. My unit. All of them died and I couldn’t--I couldn’t protect any of them. I failed them. I couldn't do my job well enough-” Eliot lets out a shaky sigh
“—I made it out. I took out the men and I took out the target...28 men died that day. And I’m responsible for every one of ‘em, one way or another.” Hardison looks easy to protest but Eliot holds up a slightly shaking hand to stop him.
“No, Hardison—it was my fault, I could’ve done more, I could’ve said no to the mission, I could’ve prepared them more, I just—I made a mistake...for good reasons, but it was still a bad decision, and it lead to the worst five years of my life and—” Eliot lets his head fall forward and his shoulders cave. He lets out a shaky sob and brings his hands to his face.

Parker slowly moves off the back of the other chair towards the couch, making sure to make the noise she never does so that Eliot knows she’s moving. She moves towards Eliot and holds out her hand to him, he takes it without looking up and she gently pulls him to sit in the middle of the couch. He sits down with a heavy thud and slumps forward with his hair in his face as if to hide his tears from them. Parker sits down on the opposite and of the couch. Eliot sighs, he feels a little better with them on each side, just the presence of other people make him feel more at ease, these people in particular.

“That’s how I met Moreau. He saw my “potential” and decided he was better with me than against me. He offered me a job and...he phrased it like it was a choice, but, he would’ve killed me if I had said no, Moreau isn’t the kind of guy that you could say no to. So, I took the job, sometimes...I wish I had just let him kill me then and there--but— that’s not what happened, so there’s no use thinking about that now.” Eliot trails off, Parker and Hardison are stunned into silence. How does someone even respond to that? Eliot basically just told us his tragic backstory (at least a piece of it) and it was terrible. What should we even say?

“I’m glad he didn’t.—kill you, we never would’ve got to meet you. You never would’ve gotten to help people.” Parker says
“I suppose you’re right. So much bad happened after that but—these last few years? These’ve been the best years of my life, we help people, I have a team, I—I have a family. I have the two of you, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I know that. I just, sometimes think that because of the things I’ve done, the things that’ve happened to me that—you two will realize you don’t want me. That I’m too damaged or fucked up to be happy or deserve a happy ending. You two don’t know the kinds of disgusting things I’ve done—” Eliot’s voice breaks and a tear slides down his face as he ducks his head. Parker places a carefully comforting hand on his shoulder, he jumps slightly but relaxes minutely under her hand, Hardison does the same.

“Eliot, we will never. ever. blame, or judge you for anything that you’ve done. You have been through so much, and none of it is your fault. We know that. You’re the one who still thinks you don’t deserve a happy ending, we will always see you as our grumpy nature loving, food obsessed soulmate, never anything else, regardless of the things you still blame yourself for. You’ll always be just our Eliot. No matter what else you tell us, we’ll never see you as anything less.” Hardison says it with tears in his eyes, Eliot looks up into his eyes, searching, he can’t find any lie or even uncertainty, and knowing that Hardison is telling the truth is almost too much.

“I—I really want to believe you. But how can you know for sure? You don’t know what I’ve done, what’s been done to me, how can you say that, for sure?” Eliot looks at him with tears in his eyes and Hardison makes his choice.

“Then tell us. What you’ve done. What’s been done to you. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make you realize that we’re not going anywhere. Whatever you feel like we need to know for you to let us be there for you, tell us. We’re here, and we’ll listen. And I promise we’ll still be there in the end.” Hardison tells him while he’s looking Eliot right in the eyes, Eliot has to look away because the sheer determination and love in his eyes is too much to accept all at once like that. And the fact that Parker is squeezing his shoulder in agreement is the only thing that keeps Eliot from spiraling internally and getting in his own way for telling them this.

“I did say—not to ask me, because I’d tell you...and I will.” Eliot says, and they both just look on in loving patience as they wait for him to spill his guts with them at 2 in the morning.

Hell of a second relationship conversation.

And he does. Eliot tells them about the things he did for Moreau, how the missions just kept getting worse and worse. About the mission that he just would not do and about what Moreau did to him as punishment. Parker’s breathing gets constricted and she squeezes his shoulder a little harder and Hardison definitely cries but Eliot continues. Eliot tells them about those weeks of hell and about how he wasn’t him after that. He tells them about the things he barely remembers doing in the years after that, about how the days and weeks and months just blended together in a haze, like he was underwater. About the days he does remember, about how Moreau hadn’t needed an excuse anymore to hurt him, about how he has gaping holes in his memory from those years and about how he hasn’t tried very hard to remember. He tells them that he still can’t tell what hazy memories are from the drugs and which are from the haze of heavy dissociation.

About the mission that finally broke the camel's back and gave him his chance to be free. That part is the hardest, Eliot isn’t sure he can physically speak the words until they’re spilling out of a mouth that doesn’t feel like his and a voice he barely recognises. Parker and Hardison are definitely crying, he feels his hand come away wet and he guesses he is crying too.

He tells them about the running and about why he doesn’t like guns, about slowly coming back to himself. About why no restraint can hold him and about why he stopped killing. Eliot tells them about why he hates drugs and has a resistance to most of them. He tells them about how determined he had been to never be controlled, to never be the victim again.

Eliot tells them about the nightmares he’s had ever since. He tells them that he’s had nightmares since before he can remember, but they were much worse after Moreau. He tells them how they’re a little better now, how he doesn’t think about unless something brings it back and throw it in his face. Eliot tells them about some of his triggers and why he has them, and about the ones he still doesn’t know why he has. He tells them about the people he’s killed since he joined the team, about how sorry he is that Hardison almost drowned in the pool. About how sorry he is that he didn’t tell them, sorry for all the years of pain he put them threw, sorry for doing the things he did, sorry for being a burden, sorry for being like this sorry for—

“Eliot stop apologizing. You have nothing to be sorry for.” Parker is holding his face in her hands and looking in his eyes while Hardison tells him to breathe, his lungs don’t seem to be cooperating and he takes several gasping breaths before he realizes he’s having a panic attack. It’s been a few years since he’s had one of these.

After Eliot gets his breathing under control Parker wraps him in a tight hug and he hugs back, desperate for the contact to his surprise, Hardison hesitates for a moment before Eliot grabs the front of his shirt and pulls him into the crushing hug. Eliot’s hands are shaking and his skin a little crawly but these two are doing an incredible job of keeping him right here in the moment.

Parker kisses him on the forehead and begins to run her fingers through his hair. Eliot begins to relax, he lets out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding and it turns into a happy tired sigh. Hardison lets him lean back on him while Parker continues to stroke his hair. They all sit together, just providing soft touches and comfort for who knows how long before Hardison speaks.

“Thank you.” He says to Eliot, his voice a little scratchy
“—For telling us. I know that was really hard for you to do and, I just wanted to thank you, for trusting us enough to tell us and for letting yourself do it. I want you to know that I still stand by what I said, you deserve to be happy and we are always going to be here for you. I do think of you differently now, but not in a bad way. I think of you as being that much more strong to still be here today, you survived, all that, and you’re still here, with us, today. I am so so sorry that that happened to you Eliot, but I am also so happy that you’re here, that I got to meet you, that you survived to be here with us now. I don’t think badly of you for it, I don’t judge anything that you did, because you survived it, and sometimes, that’s all you can do. I want you to know that it doesn’t have to define you, your past is your past, and that can affect you in the present, but it doesn’t have to define you. At least I don’t think it does, I want you to know that it’s okay to forgive yourself, and let yourself move on, it doesn't mean that it never happened, just that you don’t want it to define your present and future. You are so strong Eliot, to be here today, to tell us all of this. We will be there for you, now and always, and we want to be able to support you in every way we can.” Eliot is crying again, not exactly happy tears, but close to it. Tears of relief.

Eliot lets out a very watery “Thanks.” and Parker looks at them like they hang the stars in the sky. Eliot squeezes her hand and she squeezes back, smiling, small and fragile.

Hardison looks at the clock, it is now 5:47am and the sun is beginning to turn the sky a dark shade of blue. Parker has been almost asleep a few times while she was petting Eliot’s hair and he can tell they’re all exhausted, emotionally and physically.

“I’m very glad that we had this conversation but, it’s really late, maybe we should go to bed.” Hardison suggests, Parker nods in response, already half asleep, Eliot looks a little alarmed and Hardison realises the problem.

“You too Eliot, don’t you think for a minute that we’re going to have that feelings jam with you and then just send you home, naw man come nap with us we’re all exhausted.” Hardison says as he gestures down the hallway, Eliot looks almost ready to protest for about half a second before he decides a warm bed sounds very nice and follows them down the hallway.

Eliot discovers that there is indeed an office as well as two other bedrooms in addition to another Big Bedroom. The bed is bigger than any king sized bed Eliot’s ever seen and it looks suspiciously like it was built to accommodate three people with some room to spare. Parker walks in and flops dramatically onto the bed. Hardison takes off his socks and shuffles over to the edge of the bed. Eliot gives him an odd look.

“What? Only heathens sleep in socks. Which side of the bed do you wanna sleep on?” Eliot sighs tiredly.
“Um...the far side, I don’t wanna roll over and punch someone in my sleep like I might in the middle.” Eliot closes his eyes as he rubs his face and gracelessly waves his arm at them bed as he goes to lay down by the wall. Parker scoots to the middle and Hardison lays down as well. After about five minutes of awkward silence Parker decides to give Eliot a bear hug and pull him closer to their pile of warmth because he’d just lay over there alone for the rest of the night as if the whole point of a big bed wasn’t to cuddle.

After a few minutes Eliot is very relaxed and thinks he might actually be able to fall asleep in under an hour for the first time in years.

The last thought he has before he falls asleep is I’m glad I made it to meet them too.

Chapter Text

Parker wakes with a start. A quick look around reveals what woke her, Eliot is mumbling in his sleep. It is absolutely unintelligible, but the tone of his voice, body posture, and scrunch in his brows tells her it’s nothing good. After a few moments he sits straight up in bed with a few words on his lips as he jolts from unconsciousness.

“Get off!” though somewhat slurred with sleep the words are heard quite clearly, and the panic in his eyes and his rapid breathing reveal a lot about the contents of his dream.

Parker doesn’t want to alarm Eliot any further but Alec is beginning to stir and she knows she should try to calm him down a little before Hardison wakes up and lets his ungracefully tired words make anything worse. Eliot looks around for a few seconds before seemingly coming back to himself with a broken sigh. He wipes his hands over his face and takes a few deep breaths before he looks up to see her staring. They share a few moments of silence before something seems to occur to him.

“I’m sorry.” Parker arches a brow
“—for waking you…” Eliot trails off, Hardison rolls over and sleepily assesses the situation.
“—and him” Eliot nods in Hardison’s direction, Parker’s eyes go soft and Hardison smiles sleepily
“‘S’okay m’man, don’t worry ‘bout it.” Hardison mumbles as he clumsily waves a hand in the air before letting it flop onto the bed, Parker grimaces, and Eliot looks vaguely torn between looking genuinely sorry and wanting to smile.
“It’s okay Eliot, we can’t help when we have nightmares or what we do when we have them. You’re not the only one who has them and I understand feeling bad because of nightmares, but you don’t also need to feel bad for having them.” Parker tries to explain, she thinks she did an okay job because Eliot nods along.

“I know I just—I don’t know...feel, bad? For bothering you two with it? I’m used to just dealing with it myself but having other people there, it’s different. And I don’t quite know how to handle it yet…” Eliot looks conflicted but she’s glad he’s talking.
“Well, start with what you need. Do you want to talk about it? About something else? Do you want to go back to sleep? Or get up and do something? How do you want to deal with it, because we’re here to help. I’m not new to handling nightmares either, and Hardison is always there to help me when he can after I have one, and I’m there for him when he gets one. You have us now, how can we help?” Eliot looks conflicted, but he answers after a moment of hesitation nonetheless.

“I just...I want to go back to sleep, I don’t know if I can is the thing.” Parker nods and Eliot sees the determination in her face. She lifts up one arm and makes grabbing motions with her hands, it’s a little comical, but some of Eliot’s tension melts away at the gesture. He knows he can easily say no to the contact, but laying down in a safe pair of arms sounds pretty damn good right now, so he scoots closer and allows himself to relax as best he can into the embrace. Parker begins to thread her fingers through his hair and he melts into the feeling. Even if he doesn’t fall asleep, the contact and the warmth help to keep him in the moment, so just existing without sleep would be okay too.

After a while of enjoying the soft comfort of his soulmates Eliot is able, for the first time in a very long time, fall asleep after a nightmare—and he couldn't be more grateful.

~~~

The next morning Eliot doesn’t wake up first; which is extremely unusual, Parker knows, but she decides to let him sleep. Alec smiles softly when they both were able to leave the room without waking Eliot up, but Parker is a little concerned, this is extremely unusual for Eliot and he would usually have woken up.

“Are you sure he’s okay? I mean, he’d usually wake up whenever we did, or have been already up, but he’s not?” Parker asks.
“I know it’s weird for him, but it isn’t bad in in of itself. Maybe he hasn’t been getting good—or any—sleep recently, after what he told us last night I’m just glad he can sleep.” Alec replies, pouring himself a cup of coffee. Parker sips her own coffee and seems to consider. After a few minutes Parker breaks the soft silence.

“I just want him to know we still care. And that we don’t think less of him. That was a huge step for him, he trusts us Alec, and I just want to make sure that I don’t mess it up…” Parker says in a quiet voice.
“Parker, babe, I know how hard it is to navigate these kinds of emotional situations, and that everyone’s different, but I really think we’re going to be just fine.” Hardison gently pulls her into a soft hug.
“—I know this is still so new, and fragile, but...I don’t know, I just have a feeling everything’s going to work out. We’ve all got our issues, and I think that makes us specially suited to help eachother deal with it.” They both pull back and Alec gives Parker a reassuring smile, she meets his eyes and smiles back, nodding.

Eliot wanders out of the bedroom minutes later, fully dressed except for boots, looking unsure. Hardison sends him a smile and a “g'morning sleepy head” as he toasts Eliot with his coffee. Parker looks a little more concerned, only shown by a slight crease in her brows. Eliot is just standing in the hallway awkwardly. After a moment Alec gets fed up and decides to break the tension.

“Just help yourself to some coffee and sit down man, you don’t gotta look so concerned this early in the morning.” Hardison mumbles the last part into his coffee as he takes another sip. Eliot shifts to looking more annoyed.
“Dammit. Hardison! It’s 2 in the afternoon!” Eliot says as he rakes an annoyed hand through his admittedly adorable bed head as he moves towards the coffee pot.
“We got nowhere to be.” Hardison counters casually as he leans back in his chair, Eliot just sends him a glare and continues to pour himself a coffee.

Parker sits down on the bar/kitchen table, crossing her legs under her. Eliot moves to sit next to her and Alec, sitting in the middle seat with Hardison sitting at the end of the bar. For a few minutes they all sit in relative silence drinking their coffee and waking up. Eliot looks tense.

“Sorry about last night, I probably could’ve done that better.”
“No Eliot. You did fine and everything that you told us will stay between us and won’t affect how we think of you.” Parker’s gaze sofens,
“—I’m glad you told us, I know that was a big step for you, and I’m glad you trusted us enough to talk to us. It’s good to get stuff off your chest sometimes, and if you ever wanna in the future we’ll always be here to listen.” Parker takes a chance and slowly reaches out to take Eliot’s hand. He looks surprised but takes her hand and gives it a gentle squeeze.
“Thanks.” He sounds a little choked up but clears his throat.
“Do you guys have any eggs?” Eliot changes the subject, but he looks more relaxed.
“Um, maybe? There might be some in the fridge?” Hardison answers, Eliot moves to get up and looks in the fridge. He is not prepared for what he sees.

“What the hell Hardison?! Wha—there’s no food in here!?” Eliot turns around slightly brandishing a carton of eggs and gesturing to the mostly empty fridge half full of orange soda.
“There’s eggs.” Hardison says hopefully, Eliot only glares harder.
“You can’t live on orange soda and eggs man that’s just...wrong. How are you living? What do you even eat?”
“I usually just eat cereal for breakfast” Hardison says
“Same.” interjects Parker. Eliot looks truly distraught.
“You can’t just—guys. Come on.” He’s beyond words, so instead of continuing to berate the unhealthy eating habits of his—what? Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Partners? Partners—Eliot just turns to the stove and begins to cook. He makes some delicious omelettes out of the eggs and some surprisingly fresh spinach he finds stuffed into the back of the refrigerator.

They sit and enjoy a quiet happy breakfast and they all feel a little more comfortable in their own skin. This is happening, this a really happening. Hardison looks over at Eliot who is laughing at something Parker said and she is laughing back.

He smiles, this is really happening.