Eliot was the caretaker. He definitely considered that his role in the team, even if he wouldn’t express it that way to anyone, not even you. He had no problem calling himself a hitter, a protector, the muscle, but caretaker was different. A caretaker was something that people strived to be, a noble aspiration. Not something that he would allow himself to dream of being, because in his mind, he was stained. Dirty. Corrupted. Unredeemable.
If you asked Parker or Hardison, and you had, they would tell you that Eliot took care of the team. There were the obvious ways, he made sure you were all safe on cons, he cooked most of the proper meals you all ate and when someone did manage to get themselves injured, he had a vast knowledge of first aid. There were also the less obvious ways.
He knew when Parker was having a bad sensory day and he would bring her tomato soup and make sure it was just a little bit warm. No sharp textures, strong flavors, or temperature changes to worry about. He had spent a while trying different foods to see what she would eat when she pulled into herself and spent hours holed up in the corner of the living room picking and relocking a few padlocks. Eventually he struck on the soup.
When Hardison had been glued to his desk for far too many hours doing recon or prep work for an upcoming job, Eliot would casually walk across the room, turn on whatever sports team was playing that evening and begin yelling at the refs for the calls they made. Eventually, Hardison drifted over and sat on the other end of the couch. You’d seen Eliot wordlessly pass him a beer; both of their eyes locked on the action on the screen.
He took care of you differently, but no less perceptively. He could read you like a book, knew when you were tired or stressed or angry, sometimes before you could put the name on the emotion. You’d wondered for a while how he knew and asked him one night when you were both half asleep, curled together in the darkness.
“I watch you,” he admitted, arm tightening briefly around your middle. “I always did, I just, liked it. And so, I learned your patterns.”
He also had learned what to do when you got into any of those moods, particularly after a complex grift when you were just overtaxed mentally and didn’t want to be around people. Parker called it being “peopled out” and you thought that was a perfectly apt description.
When you just needed some alone time to recharge, Eliot settled you in the room you claimed above the brew pub with snacks and a drink and a fully charged laptop with Netflix cued up to something mindless that you could zone out to for a few hours. He checked on you from time to time, but never pushed you to engage or come out until you brought it up first.
At first, you’d thought it was because he was older than the rest of you, but though that was true, it wasn’t why he acted like he did. He’d been the same with Nate and Sophie before they retired, and he looked after the brew pub staff as well.
It was just in his nature to watch over the ones he cared about, and sometimes that came with a side of putting himself in harm’s way to accomplish it.
The job had gone wrong, which wasn’t exactly new. You had been wondering if someone broke a mirror or walked under a ladder recently. But this level of wrong was new and resulted in you standing across from the mark in an abandoned warehouse where you’d agreed to meet and give him a fake bill of sale to a company that didn’t exist in exchange for a ridiculous sum of money that you could then use to frame him for bribing a local judge.
It was a good plan and it had been going fine, until the mark’s accountant brought up an irregularity in the paperwork that Hardison had crafted to make your imaginary company look legitimate. He’d smelled something fishy and pulled a gun on you as you tried your best to sweet talk your way out of the situation while you listened to Eliot’s furious voice in your ear arguing with Hardison as he made his way towards you.
“I swear, I’ll kill you, if anything happens, I swear,” Eliot growled through the comms and you wanted to tell him that it wasn’t Hardison’s fault, how could he have known that the regulations for specifically produce hauling companies had been updated in the month prior. You’d all agreed a relatively obscure and undervalued industry would be best for convincing the mark that he was getting a good deal.
You wanted to tell him, but you couldn’t. Instead, you focused on convincing the man in front of you to put the gun away.
“Now really, Mr. Cottrell, I don’t know what you mean but if you would let me call my accountant, I’m sure we can get this straightened out.”
“No,” He twitched and shook his head. He’d been jumpy from the start, but you thought that you could get him to where you all wanted him. “No, I’m going to handle this right now, you’ve been playing me and I was going to give your three million dollars, God I’m such an idiot!” He smacked himself in the forehead and you took a hesitant step to the side, but he raised the pistol again and snapped “No, don’t move. Tell me again, start from the beginning.”
He wanted you to talk about a company that didn’t exist. Well, you’d read the information that Hardison fabricated backwards and forwards and began spitting words as fast as they would come to your brain.
“We started in 2007 as a small family run transport company, my father wanted-“
“Liar!” Cottrell snapped and let out a small hysterical bubble of laughter.
“Eliot,” you muttered under your breath into your com.
“I’m coming,” he replied, slightly out of breath. But you believed him, he always came when you needed him, always.
“Tell me the truth!” Cottrell snapped, “who the hell are you!”
“My name is Eliza Lightwood, my family runs Lightwood Transport, I don’t know what you want me to say!” You replied, the panic creeping into your voice not at all an act. But Eliot would come, you had no doubt. So why were you nervous?
“I want the truth!” Cottrell spat and ran a hand over his face. Just as he did so, Eliot appeared out from behind a stack of pallets and shouted “get down” as he launched himself at Cottrell.
You dropped to the ground and heard a gunshot and squeezed your eyes shut praying that Eliot was alright. You didn’t register the pain in your shoulder as more than a distant sensation for at least a minute, and then it began to grow, eating at the edge of your consciousness, consuming all the thoughts in its path until the only thing you registered was pain.
You felt the concrete under your legs, back and head, but the only sensation was the fire in your shoulder, like a cut dipped in alcohol magnified a thousand times. You tried to move, and the pain ratcheted up several notches and you cried out, involuntarily bringing your other hand up to cradle the spot that felt like it was burning. When you felt something warm and wet on your fingers, the pieces fell into place in your mind.
The gunshot, the pain in your shoulder, the fact that Eliot hadn’t made a sound outside of his typical harsh breathing and grunting while he handled a situation.
“I’m hit,” you muttered aloud in amazement. You’d never been shot before. Punched, smacked, stabbed with a pen knife in the side once, but never shot. What were you supposed to do for a gunshot? Pressure made the most sense, you pressed on the area and let out a squeak as the pain intensified. How were you meant to put pressure on the wound like this?
You opened your eyes to see Eliot standing over Cottrell out cold, with some nasty looking welts and bruises on his face. Eliot had the gun in his hand, and he was shaking. He typically dismantled guns and tossed them away as soon as he could, but he wasn’t. He had his hand on the grip, finger twitching between the trigger guard and the trigger itself.
A tiny “help” escaped your lips and his eyes snapped to you so fast you didn’t see the movement.
“Get her out of there,” Parker’s voice came in through comms steady and emotionless. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, you knew that. When she got like that it was because she didn’t know how to process, she was scared.
Then Eliot was next to you, you weren’t sure if it was your perception clouding or if he was super humanly fast.
“Don’t worry sweetheart,” he soothed and slid one arm under your knees and the other under your arms.
You shrieked when he moved your arm to lift you and felt him shudder as the sound washed over him.
“I know, I’m sorry, we’re going to get you safe, taken care of,” he assured you. “Hardison, get the van outside now!”
“Already here man, come on, I’m getting into the traffic light system, we have green lights all the way to the nearest hospital.”
“We can’t,” you murmured, fighting back another shriek as Eliot stood with you and jostled you a bit. “Hospitals ask too many questions.”
“She’s right man,” Eliot agreed reluctantly, “they’d call the cops in 10 seconds if we show up like this.”
“Can you handle it?” Parker asked, assessing the situation with enough detachment to be rational.
“If it went out the back, yeah,” Eliot replied grimly.
“And if it didn’t?” Parker asked.
He didn’t answer right away and leaned down to rest his lips on top of your head, “Yeah. I know how. I don’t, I don’t know if I can.” He admitted and you closed your eyes tightly against the sudden bright light of the afternoon sun.
“You can,” you whispered, not caring if anyone else heard but him, and grimaced as you jostled yourself again. “You can handle it.”
“Get her in the back and we can figure it out from there.” Parker directed and you heard the sound of the van doors being thrown open, and then it was darker again against the inside of your eyelids.
“Gonna put you down sweetheart,” Eliot told you and you felt the grooved flooring of the van against your butt and legs. The doors closed again, and Eliot smacked the divider panel “Drive.” He called to the front.
You were sitting up and when you opened your eyes, you saw Parker kneeling on the ground across from you. She held out a folded-up bandana that looked like one of Eliot’s and you blinked, not realizing what she wanted you to do.
“We have to slow the bleeding,” Eliot’s voice behind you made you realize that the thing you were leaning against was not in fact a wall, but your boyfriend.
“Lean forward a little,” he directed gently, a hand on your uninjured side guiding. You did and bit your lip hard as the pain radiated from the injury down your arm. “It’s out, you’ve got an exit wound back here,” he confirmed and laid you back against his chest again, taking the bandana from Parker and pressing it your shoulder hard without warning. You yelped and he held you with his other arm, resting his cheek against yours for a minute and letting out slow controlled breaths.
“We’re going to get you through this, I promise, you believe me?” He asked softly and you closed your eyes again, trying with limited success to match the breaths he took.
“Y-yeah,” you stuttered out. “You keep your promises.”
“I do.” He agreed. “You’re breathing alright, so it didn’t hit a lung, you’ve been alert and conscious all this time, so it didn’t hit a major blood vessel. Can you move your arm?” He asked fingers resting on the wrist of your injured arm, feather light.
“Hurts,” you groaned back, leaning your head back against his shoulder as the van hit a bump and you all jostled uncomfortably.
“Yeah, it’s gonna,” He agreed, “but if you can move it, even if it hurts, you probably didn’t break a bone. Let’s just hope it didn’t fragment and…” He broke off suddenly as though unaware he was speaking aloud. He was behaving so unlike Eliot; it would have been odd if you weren’t so focused on the pain. Though as he got more engrossed in the act of assessing your injuries and caring for what he could, he seemed to calm somewhat more into the usual clinical and task oriented persona he had on jobs. “Try and move your arm, just a little, lift it to here,” He held his hand a little above yours and with a hiss and a grunt through gritted teeth you managed to get your hand to brush his palm and he caught your wrist again allowing you to go slack with a small sigh of relief.
“Ok, you’ll need an x ray and some antibiotics, I know a guy.” He talked more to himself than to you it seemed.
“She’s gonna be ok?” Parker’s voice was small but sounded a little hopeful. You felt Eliot nod behind you.
“Yeah, I think so.” He replied. “let’s just get home.”
You opened your eyes and looked up at him for the first time. He had a cut above his eye that was slowly oozing blood and he looked pale.
“You’re hurt,” you said and brought up your good arm to touch his cheek gently.
He snorted, “Yeah, I’m hurt, sure.” But he rested his cheek against your hand and softly turned so that his lips were resting on your palm, leaving a kiss there he brought up the arm that wasn’t holding the bandana to your wound. He cupped his hand over yours and as you watched he closed his eyes, and you could feel his lips moving under both of your hands.
After a minute he opened his eyes again and smiled.
Parker was still there, looking concerned, but calmer, knowing that you weren’t going to die, so you didn’t bring it up, but he looked almost like he’d been praying.
The drive back to home base was long and you got drowsy on the way. More than once, Eliot had to shake your good arm softly to keep you from slipping into dreamland.
“Gotta stay awake sweetheart, you can sleep once we get you patched up, I promise,” he murmured to you, brushing back your matted hair.
You’d been wearing a blazer and a soft blouse that you considered keeping in your own wardrobe for the con, but they were both blood soaked now and completely unsalvageable.
“Good thing I went with pants instead of the skirt huh,” you replied with an attempted smile and Eliot grinned in response, running his fingers over the back of your palm.
“Yeah, good thing.” He answered back with a rush of exhaled breath.
“I trust you,” you said to him again, “I know you’ll take care of me. That’s what you do.”
Later, when the van arrived back at the house that you all were staying in for the con, some poor Air B&B that didn’t deserve your blood dripped all over it, Eliot carried you into the bathroom, even though you assured him your legs were fine and you could walk.
“You’ve been bleeding for an hour; I’m not going to have you fall and crack your head open too,” he insisted.
You passed Hardison who couldn’t meet your eyes and you knew you’d have a talk with him later about blaming himself.
Parker followed you into the bathroom with the requisite medical supplies that Eliot listed.
“Should I stay?” She asked, and Eliot shook his head, “I can handle it, through and through is easier, you, should go tell Hardison that I was too rough on him. I’ll talk to him later but…” He broke off and Parker nodded, ducking in to give him an affectionate kiss on the cheek.
“Tell him it’s not his fault,” you added from your spot resting on the edge of the bathtub.
Parker nodded and gave you a small smile as she left.
“I shouldn’t have yelled at him like that,” Eliot said after she closed the door. “I wasn’t mad at him, I was mad at me, I was too far away and I should have-“
“Hey, not now. You did what you needed to do and I’m alright.” You assured him, hissing a bit as the bandana shifted and you started to press it harder into the spot on your shoulder.
“You got shot.” Eliot deadpanned. “What about that is ‘alright?’”
“You’ve gotten shot, Nate got shot twice, pretty sure he and Sophie shot each other that one time,” you replied eyebrows lifted. The pain certainly hadn’t faded in the last hour. But it hadn’t gotten worse, and you were adjusting to it a bit now. Enough to hold a conversation at least.
“It’s not the same,” He replied and shook his head. His hair was slipping from the band that held it back, but he didn’t move to resituate it. Instead, he picked up an alcohol wipe and glanced over at you hesitantly.
“Maybe Parker should-“ he started but you grabbed the packet from his hand and tore it open with your teeth and shook the little folded wipe out into your palm.
“Tell me what to do.” You said and refused to break his gaze.
“You can’t, oh Jesus,” he groaned in frustration. “Just, hang on a sec, I have to get your shirt off first.”
You wanted to say something snarky back, maybe something like ‘well if you wanted to get my shirt off there were easier ways,’ but once he reached for your arm and tried to maneuver it a bit so he could get the shears all the way up your sleeve, the words died in your throat. Instead, what came out was a sharp gasp and a squeak.
Eliot had a task now, you’d vetoed Parker’s help, so he was all you had, and now that he’d accepted that, he wasn’t going to stop until the task was done.
“I’m sorry, I know it hurts like a motherfucker, I know sweetheart. This is the worst of it, this first part. It will ache and moving sucks for a while after, but this pain like you’re on fire, it doesn’t last, I promise.” He spoke under his breath and moved you as little as possible as he cut up the side of the pretty blouse and up the sleeve to get everything cleared away from your shoulder.
“But it hurts now,” you replied and shuddered out a sob that you’d been holding in for an hour. It hurt to cry, it hurt to move, it just hurt.
“I’ve got you; we’re going to get through this, you’re going to be ok, you hear me?” Eliot asked and he dropped the sheers and held you again as you let out a little of the pain you’d been holding back. He was shaking too, just a little bit, just a slight tremor under his skin, and you were startled by that.
Eliot Spencer as a rule, didn’t shake. He was your rock, all of you, the team seemed to revolve around his steadiness in times when things got particularly dicey.
“El, you alright?” You asked thickly. “You’re shaking,” you said, and it felt almost like you were exposing him when you said it out loud. “And in the van, were, were you praying?”
He looked down and nodded, “yeah, something I’d picked up from a buddy in the service a while back. It a gratitude prayer, that you were going to be ok.” He paused and sighed, “look can we just, get through the next part, and I’ll tell you anything after we get you patched up for today, ok?”
“Deal.” You replied and wiped your good hand across your eyes. “Now, if I remember correctly, this part sucks,” you said and held up the alcohol wipe.
“Yeah. And, fair warning, it sucks a lot more when there’s a hole through your shoulder.” Eliot had the decency not to lie to you. “You can do it, or I can,” he added and held out his hand, offering.
You knew how much it took for him to offer to be the one who inflicted more pain on you, necessary as it may be. The urge to care, the need to protect overcame even the revulsion of hurting a loved one.
“I don’t think I would be able to do it right and then we’d have to get another one anyway and it would suck and it’s probably better if you just do it.” You rambled out in one breath and turned your head to the other side clamping your eyes shut.
You expected the next sensation to be a different burning on your bullet wound, but instead you felt calloused fingers turn your chin and when you followed the movement you were surprised to feel soft lips on yours. Instinctively you kissed him back, and after a minute the fear of the wipe was all but gone and you relaxed a bit.
That’s when the sting came, and you wrenched back with a sudden shout and a curse that was short lived as you let out a hiss of breath again.
“That,” you said on your next breath, “fucking, sucks.” And you let your head rest back against the wall on the edge of the tub.
“Yeah, it’s no one’s favorite part of battlefield medicine, but super helpful for not having gross and painful infections later.” Eliot assured you, and you saw that he was smiling a little. The worst part over, and he hadn’t been struck by lightning, and you didn’t hate him.
“You know I love you,” you said after a minute of breathing until the burn faded back to just torn flesh and muscle. “But next time you need something cleaned out, I get the damned wipe.”
“Fair is fair,” He agreed and gestured at the cut on his eyebrow. “Got a candidate for you if you like.”
“Nope, not big enough, I’m saving my freebee for a good one.” You shook your head and risked a glance down at the injury, abruptly pulling back up when it made your head swim.
Strong hands were on you in an instant, and helped you slide down onto the tile floor and rest your good side against the bathtub. “Careful,” he warned, “Sometimes it gets a little surreal when you see your own injury, like I said, we don’t need any head trauma today. You good for a second, I have to dig the bandages out?”
“I’m ok, I’ll just watch your ass instead, that doesn’t make me woozy.” You replied with a smirk.
Eliot didn’t say anything to that, but he did stand and deliberately face away from you while he sifted through the first aid box that Parker had brought in from the van.
You took several deep breaths to try and relax a bit as he sifted through the medical contents and found that the pain, while still bad, wasn’t unbearable anymore.
“Why doesn’t it hurt as bad now?” You asked wincing as you shifted on the floor.
Eliot answered without turning around, “well it doesn’t really, but the longer you feel one thing the duller your reaction to it is. It’s perception, not sensation.”
You worked that one through in your mind and smiled, “you’re smarter than you get credit for.” You told him as he finally turned with 2 sterile bandages and a few rolls of gauze in his arms.
“I’m more than just a pretty face,” he agreed and crouched down next to you, pulling one of the bandages out of his pile. “It’ll be easier to do the back first, it’s always messier coming out than going in.”
You bit your lip and fought the urge to make a sexual reference mostly because you didn’t want to hurt yourself laughing and nodded shifting away from the wall so he could access the back of your shoulder.
He spent a few minutes setting the bandage across your back and then shifted to the side enough to see both front and back.
“You doing ok?” he asked once he was set to work affixing the bandage to your front wound. It was big enough that he wasn’t working directly on the wound, but you still flinched whenever there was contact too close.
“I’ve been better,” you replied, “just hurts.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” he repeated, and his fingers stilled on your skin, and you heard him taking a few breaths before continuing.
“Thank you,” you said in a soft voice. “If you weren’t there, I’d probably be dead. Cottrell was twitchy from the start, we should have made sure he was roped in before we arranged the meet, but I didn’t expect him to be the type to pull a gun.”
The hands on your back stopped again and one snaked around your good side holding you. He rested his chin on your good shoulder and didn’t speak for a minute.
“I’m sorry that I wasn’t soon enough,” Eliot whispered at last. “I’m supposed to be protecting you, I promised Nate and Sophie, I promised myself that I’d keep you all safe.”
“You did. El, weren’t you listening? If you weren’t there this hole wouldn’t be in my shoulder, it would be somewhere a lot worse. You said drop, I dropped, the gun went off, it wasn’t anyone’s fault except Cottrell.”
“I wanted to kill him,” Eliot admitted. “When I saw you there, when I realized what he’d done. I had the gun, it wasn’t even hard to get from him, guns make people stupid. I didn’t know how bad it was and all I could think was that if you died, he would die too.”
“You aren’t that man anymore; you haven’t been for years.” You reasoned.
“That’s not true,” he replied simply, “I killed Moreau’s men back when you first joined up. It doesn’t ever leave you; you know. You tell yourself that you’ve changed, and you aren’t that person who did those things, and if you’re really convincing, and the people around you believe it, then you start to believe it yourself.” His hand ran along your jaw tenderly, “and then something happens to tempt you back, and it’s so easy to think that it’s justified, that you’re doing the right thing this time, and if you can justify that, then what else can you justify?”
“But you didn’t do it,” you told him sincerely and he smiled sadly.
“No, I didn’t. Not this time.”
He didn’t talk much outside of checking in on you as he finished dressing your injury and then grabbed his phone from the counter where he’d dropped it when he’d deposited you on the bathtub lip.
You rested against the porcelain and listened as he called in a favor to get someone out to check on you more thoroughly.
“Through and through, by my best guess, no major damage to bones, missed nerves,” He paused while the person on the other end spoke, “Yeah, lucky,” he replied and glanced down at you. “Tomorrow at the office, back door. Sure, and the usual fee? No problem. Thanks Andy, I really mean it. See you then.” And he hung up.
“So, you just know people everywhere huh?” You asked and he sank down to sit across from you, resting back against the vanity.
“I’ve worked a lot of jobs in a lot of places,” was all the explanation you got, and you wondered who Andy was and how he knew Eliot.
You had a lot of questions, but the answers were less important than the things you already knew to be true.
Eliot took care of you, all of you, in a lot of different ways.
You were never worried when he was there.
You loved him and he loved you.
Everything else was secondary to that.
“So, am I gonna get a bad ass scar from this or what?” you asked as he carefully washed his hands again.
“With any luck,” he said and glanced at you in the mirror.
“I don’t need luck. I have you.”
Now all that was left was to make him believe it too.