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No Big Deal

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When Eliot texts you that he and Hardison are on the way to pick up Parker for lunch, and asks if you’re free, you respond with a spot to meet in ten minutes without even thinking much about it. The timing gives you just enough time to wrap up and arrange your next appointment, then you step out of the building in an upbeat mood that almost instantly evaporates at the sight of Eliot standing there next to Alec with a look of mingled dismay and concern on his face.

‘Uh. Hey,’ you try, going to give him a kiss, but he actually shies away from you and looks openly hurt, which is an absolute first – including in front of the hacker – that leaves you gawking at him. ‘El, what’s wrong?’

‘You didn’t tell me you were in therapy,’ he blurts.

‘Oh look my silent – uh – ringing buzz thing’s going off – I gotta take this guys, it’s my nana, you know…’

You barely even register Hardison’s less-than-graceful exit to a polite distance out of earshot, totally befuddled by Eliot’s anguished expression. Yes, you have just come out of a very clearly signposted building and he knows you sure as hell don’t work there, but why does he look like he just found out you cheated on him or something?

‘What do you mean, I didn’t tell you? I don’t tell you when I get dentist’s appointments either!’

‘That’s different. But this is-‘ he constructs one of those awkward one-shouldered not-quite-shrugs he does when he’s genuinely unsure what to say ‘-I mean, you’re in therapy and you never even mentioned…’

‘I… honestly didn’t think to?’ You’re totally at sea now. ‘It’s not a big deal, El. In fact it’s apparently really common for people with significant others in dangerous professions to have regular sessions.’ Oh! Perhaps he’s worried about secrecy for the team. ‘And don’t worry, as far as they know you’re just in private security, which I guess isn’t technically lying even-‘

‘You’re in therapy ‘cause of me?’ he exclaims, eyes going wide in open horror, as though you’d just accused him of whacking you with a crowbar. ‘Why did – why didn’t you say-‘

Oh, lord. This isn’t helping anything. Taking his arm, you tow him away from the entrance of the building – the fact that he dumbfoundedly lets you tells you more about his mental state than anything he might say – into a quieter spot on a side street. Then you face him and risk flashing a smile.

‘El, it’s okay. My therapist works with a bunch of wives – and husbands – of cops, and military, firefighters, even a couple of coast guard. It’s really no big deal.’

‘Then why didn’t you tell me?’ he asks, brokenly, and god damn but you hate that wounded look he does when he’s about to go into terminal self-recrimination mode. ‘I thought – I wanted you to – to feel like you could tell me anything.’

‘I can! I do!’ Now you feel downright rotten, and stupidly remiss. ‘It never occurred to me to bring it up, El, because it really is just like going to the dentist, it’s not a huge thing. Just because I worry, you know I do that anyway, when you’re on jobs and especially out of the country, when you can’t contact me because you’re working, and this is just something I do to help with that. Doctor Ellis is great, she’s got me using a bunch of techniques to better handle the anxiety so I don’t just sit and fret-‘

‘Me being on jobs worries you enough you go to therapy?’

Blinking, you take a deep breath and try to retune your brain to Radio Eliot, remembering his distinctly small-town upbringing and military background, all things that doubtless line up to the idea of Therapy, capital T and all, only ever being a gigantic mental health enterprise with huge potential ramifications.

‘El, listen to me.’ You take his hands in yours and give him a squeeze. ‘It’s not a big deal. Yes, I worry. You know I worry – I tell you that all the damn time – but it’s not like I’m having full-on panic attacks or going catatonic. I do all kinds of stuff to help me when I worry, and one of those things is going to therapy. I know,’ you add firmly when he opens his mouth, ‘You’re probably thinking it’s always some huge thing with padded jackets or people weeping and wailing on a couch because they can barely function, but that’s because you got that kind of pap force-fed to you in the military and the PMCs and probably whatever passes for hitter culture, not to mention your old man back in the day, I get the impression he was pretty old fashioned about what makes a man and all that crap. Lots of people go to therapy, Eliot. It’s just a way to boost your emotional and mental health. No different to going to the gym. Or the dentist. It’s not just for vets with PTSD or schizophrenics who hear voices or whatever other extreme stereotype springs into your head when you think about it.’

He drops his gaze, but you can see the light grind of his jaw and the tick-over of thought behind his eyes and know he’s giving it proper consideration now; the knee-jerk reaction is fading as his intellect engages properly. That makes you hide a smile – he is smart, smarter than most people realise, including himself, and his ability to rapidly reprocess and adjust his thinking is just one of the ways that manifests.

It’s one of the things you love most about him, in fact.

You give him a tight hug, burrowing your face into his shoulder, and hold it until his arms encircle you and he returns the pressure.

‘Sorry,’ he mumbles into your ear after a few moments. ‘I just – you scared me. I thought… hell, I don’t even know what I thought.’

‘It’s okay.’ Tilting your chin up, you give him a kiss and this time he leans into it with an appreciative little hum. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t think to let you know. It really is just like going to the gym or the dentist, at least in my mind… I really should’ve realised it might freak you out.’

‘If me being on jobs worries you that much-‘

‘Knowing you’re putting yourself in danger is always going to worry me, El, but I’d never ask you to stop doing it,’ you assure him with another quick kiss. ‘Besides, I’ve got all these good techniques now for handling the worry and adjusting mindset to focus on the good stuff like how proud you make me with what you do. Plus I’ve made a ton of waiting room buddies, too – cop wives and army wives and this lady who’s engaged to a guy who works on an oil rig, if you can believe it-‘

‘But all with the private security cover, right?’ he asks, this time with a tiny smile.

‘Of course. You’re a private security consultant for some firm or other and I don’t know a lot of the details but then I’m only your girlfriend, not your fiancé or your wife or something so that’s totally believable and saves on turning casual conversation into a full-on grift.’

Only my girlfriend, huh?’ The more familiar teasing snap is back in his tone now, and he must have recovered because he’s borderline smirking at you as he loops an arm around your waist to walk you back to the main road. ‘Might have to do something about that, sweetheart.’

‘Meaning what, exactly?’ you ask laughingly.

‘I’ll let you know. C’mon, Hardison must be running out of imaginary conversations to have with his nana on that imaginary phone call by now.’ A quick squeeze, and he pecks you on the forehead. ‘And I owe you lunch.’

‘Is that your way of bribing me so I don’t tell Alec you freaked out and got all nervous midwestern small-town boy on me just now?’

‘If that’s what it takes then you bet your sweet ass it is, darlin.’

‘If it’s a bribe lunch then I want somewhere with cake.’

‘Sweetheart, considering we’re also meeting Parker, on what planet would we be going to lunch somewhere that don’t have cake…?’