Parker knows things about Eliot. Secret things. Things the others don’t know.
She knows, for instance, that Gail isn’t a nurse. Or a hooker. Or Eliot’s date. She’s his neighbor. Parker knows that Gail waters Eliot’s garden for him when he’s out of town, and that sometimes Eliot fixes Gail’s car for her when it breaks down. As far as Parker’s been able to tell, their entire relationship consists of doing small, tedious favors for each other. Parker has never allowed any of her neighbors see her face before, but she imagines this is probably what it would be like if she ever did and the thought makes her skin crawl.
She also knows the only reason Eliot called Gail is because he couldn’t drive himself home and he was too proud to ask any of the team for help. Parker gets that. She doesn’t like asking for help, either. She knows Eliot doesn’t want the rest of them to know when he’s weak. He likes them to think he’s invincible so they won’t try to coddle him when they’re on a job. (Coddling your hitter is a terrific way to get everyone killed.) Parker respects that about Eliot.
But she also knows at least one of his ribs is cracked and there’s still broken glass in his right hand that he couldn’t get out himself because he’s right-handed and also because his vision is blurred because he has a concussion. She found all these things out by watching him and by poking him and prodding him a few times in the bar. Everyone thinks she’s just being crazy old Parker messing with Eliot, but really she’s gauging the extent of his injuries. She’s gotten really good at reading his reactions to her nudges and she knows that tonight his injuries are a lot worse than usual.
So after Eliot leaves she only stays and talks to Hardison for a few minutes before making an excuse to say goodnight. On her way out the door she waves goodbye to Nate and Sophie and something about the way they look at her makes her wonder if they know where she’s going. It seems unlikely, but she can never be sure with those two. They’re nearly impossible for Parker to read and they both seem keep a lot of secrets. (Even more than Parker does.)
When she gets to Eliot’s house the lights are on inside but all the blinds are drawn. There’s a light on in Gail’s house, too, and Parker can see her moving around her living room through the sheer fabric panels on the windows. She doesn’t know how Eliot explained his injuries to Gail, but she’s certain that whatever he told her was a lie. Eliot and Gail are only sort-of-friends, not close enough for Eliot to trust her with the truth. Parker watches Gail for a minute, then hops the fence into Eliot’s backyard and lets herself in the back door. (4.3 seconds to pick the lock, which is .2 seconds longer than it took the last time.)
Eliot’s standing at the kitchen sink trying to pick the rest of the glass out of his knuckles and he doesn’t even look surprised to see her because this isn’t the first time she’s done this. Parker doesn’t say anything, she just takes the tweezers away from him and starts removing shards of glass from his bloodied hand. When she’s done she cleans the wound and bandages it with fresh gauze. “Go sit down,” she tells him. “I’ll bring you an ice pack and some Tylenol.”
He limps over to the couch and collapses on it without complaining or arguing, which says a lot about how much pain he must be in because normally Eliot likes to complain and argue. She finds the Tylenol in the cabinet where he keeps his vitamins, pours him a glass of water from the Brita pitcher in the fridge, and gets an ice pack out of the freezer. Eliot has a lot of ice packs in his freezer, of all shapes and sizes, but Parker knows which one he likes to use on his face and takes him that one.
He swallows the Tylenol and then leans his head back so he can rest the ice pack against his bruised cheek with his arm propped on the back of the couch. Parker picks up the TV remote and flips to the guide, looking for something Eliot will want to watch. The only sports on this time of night are baseball (which he still doesn’t like to watch, even if he liked it when he was actually playing it) and curling (which he once said was one of the dumbest games ever invented). “Rudy’s on again,” she says, scrolling through the movie channels. “You want to watch that?”
“No,” he grunts, which surprises her because he loves Rudy. Parker shrugs and scrolls down to the cooking channels.
“How about Nigella?” she asks. (She knows Eliot thinks Nigella Lawson is hot and she can’t say she disagrees.)
“Fine,” he says.
She settles onto the couch beside him (on his left side, because she knows his broken rib is on his right) and pulls her feet up underneath her (after slipping off her shoes because she knows he doesn’t like it when she puts her shoes on his upholstery). She’ll stay the whole night with him tonight because concussions are supposed to be monitored and someone should be with him in case his condition changes. She won’t ever tell the others that she did it, or how badly he was really hurt today, because she knows he wouldn’t want them to know. She doesn’t mind doing these things for Eliot, because it’s Eliot. She understands him in a way that no one else does. And he seems to understand her, too, in a weird way that neither of them ever talks about. Parker’s not used to understanding people or having them understand her, but she’s kind of starting to like it.
After a few minutes Eliot tosses the ice pack onto the coffee table and lifts his head so he can watch Nigella make a chocolate pear pudding. “Will you make me one of those sometime?” Parker asks.
“Yeah, right,” Eliot says. He sounds irritated, but Parker can tell he’s secretly pleased. He likes cooking for them and likes it even more when they show an interest in his cooking. (And chocolate pear pudding does sound pretty good, especially if she can get him to leave out the pears.)
She scoots closer to him and rests her head on his shoulder. The heat rising from his skin warms her cheek and he’s close enough that she can hear the sound of his breathing. Each breath is slow and careful and hitches a little around his cracked rib, but he already sounds better than he did at the bar, when his breathing sounded labored and shallow.
“Hey, Parker,” he says quietly.
She lifts her head and looks at him, afraid she’s done something wrong. “What?”
His mouth isn’t smiling but his eyes are soft and crinkly, the way they get when he’s happy but doesn’t want to admit it. “Thanks,” he says.
Parker leans back into his shoulder and smiles to herself. “You’re welcome, Eliot.”