They were in the middle of a job, so the fact Eliot's muscles were aching didn't really register for the first couple of days. He was always sore when he spent seven hours a day lugging boxes and crap from the truck to the warehouse Nate had them setting up in, only to take a break from lugging boxes to fight off six wanna-be tough guys who thought they'd found an easy mark. He left them running away, noses bleeding and arms hanging limp, and spent the rest of the evening shifting crap around until it was the way Nate wanted it for his fake business front.
Why he had to be the only person on the crew willing to move heavy shit, Eliot didn't know. Hardison certainly should have been down here, helping, instead of tagging along beside Parker, helping her blend in or whatever. Eliot racked it up to a reason to avoid doing any real work and didn't waste his breath grumbling about it. Afterwards, he'd grabbed some Tiger Balm and rubbed the menthol into his arms and shoulders, then didn't give it another thought until two days later.
At that point he'd spent the day walking around behind Sophie, not doing anything more strenuous than growl at anyone who approached the gorgeous woman, wondering if she was somebody famous and should they maybe get an autograph just in case. The sunglasses he wore let him case the entire room, but by lunch the only interesting thing he'd seen was Parker going over the side of the building, head-first.
That had only been interesting because he'd been listening to her and Hardison over the earbuds, and she'd been halfway through explaining the lyrics of Little Bunny Foo Foo as a method of teaching children to become criminals, as she'd appeared upside-down outside the window of the fourteenth floor.
Eliot had had a very brief moment when his heart stopped and he'd had to suppress the urge to run over and catch her. He'd squelched it before moving a finger and only exchanged a brief glance with Sophie. The look in her eyes was one of sympathetic commiseration; all Eliot had been able to do was shrug a tiny bit. There was a lot wrong with Parker, and she was the craziest person he'd ever met -- and not always in a good way. But he'd come far enough he could admit that he honestly wouldn't want it any other way.
Most of the time. This crew was insane and dysfunctional, but they were the best at what they did and Eliot appreciated being part of it -- even if Parker did confuse the hell out of him on a regular basis.
He managed to put thoughts of Parker out of his mind by the time Sophie led them back to the suite of hotel rooms that served as their base of operations, and Eliot carefully sat down in the chair farthest from Hardison's set-up, where Nate was standing, looking over Hardison's shoulder at the computer screens. He listened absently as Sophie gave her report, and Eliot rubbed again at his left shoulder. His muscles were still aching. He hadn't torn anything, he knew that much; he'd sprained and strained and ripped enough muscle in his day to be intimately familiar with the differences. There was a brief and quickly-squashed thought that maybe he was just getting old, and he wasn't healing as fast as he used to.
It was true that his body took a little longer to heal than it did when he was nineteen, but there was no reason to think old age had crept up on him in the space of two weeks. He brushed the thoughts from his face as Nate turned, and dropped his hand into his lap and waited expectantly.
"We'll need you to play bodyguard at dinner tonight. If Sophie can make contact with Brandon, then we can work him over, see if we can get an introduction to his father. If not," Nate shrugged. "You get to stand around glaring at people while Parker and Hardison rebuild a roof."
Hardison's head popped up. "Wait, what? Parker and Hardison do-- I thought Eliot was doing that tomorrow?"
Nate shook his head. "We need to get Sophie into the party tomorrow, which means she and her bodyguard will be in attendance." He smiled at Hardison, clapping him on the shoulder.
Eliot gave Hardison a sneer. "Sucks to be you, doesn't it? Just don't stand anywhere near Parker when she's holding a hammer."
"I won't be.. why am I.. I better not -- Nate! I don't know anything about building a roof!" Hardison continued to protest as Nate turned and walked back towards the table where he'd spread out the blueprints.
Parker, meanwhile, just clapped. "I like roofs. Roofs are my second-favorite place ever."
Eliot sighed. "We know, Parker. We know." He watched as she bounced over to stand beside Hardison, asking about hammers and roofs and which harness she should bring to test the soundness of the structure. He resisted the urge to rub his shoulder again as they argued over the differences in building a fake roof that nobody was going to be jumping off of, and wasting your time not building a roof properly. His head was aching and he was glad to be faced with spending a day doing nothing but be on his feet.
That night the aches suddenly made sense. The fever hit as he was starting the first move of his t'ai chi chuan. He paused briefly, cataloguing the rise of the fever and the aches still in his muscles and he took a moment to gauge just how hard the flu was going to hit. There was no reason to think it was going to be bad; it wasn't like he was sitting in an jail cell or marching across the plains in Mongolia. Between the regular meals and as much sleep as he ever got anyhow, he decided it was no big deal and continued through his evening workout.
The next day he was following Sophie around, glowering at people and grunting whenever spoken to, playing the bodyguard role to the hilt and all he wanted to do was go back to the hotel and crawl into bed and stay there until the hotel burned down. He caught himself, remembering that with Parker and Nate around, there was every chance the hotel really would burn down either by accident or design. He amended his wishful thinking that, really, he'd be content to lie down anyplace as long as it meant he wouldn't have to move for awhile.
At the moment Sophie was in Brandon's office and Eliot was waiting just outside. There was nobody around and he could hear Sophie talking clearly through the partially open door. He could tell from her tone that everything was going exactly the way she wanted. Eliot looked around; there was absolutely no one in sight. The outer office had no security cameras for Hardison to hack into, there were no windows for a sniper to take potshots through. It would be absolutely and completely safe for him to sit down and close his eyes, just for a moment.
He didn't, and he had to be honest -- he was pretty sure if he closed his eyes he'd fall asleep. He tried to compromise by leaning against the wall, letting it take some of his weight, but even as he settled against it he could feel his eyes drooping and his legs tremble. Eliot forced himself to stand upright, pushed away from the wall and made himself pace in short, careful steps across the length of the office. He'd been through worse, and God knew he'd be through worse again, but all he wanted was to curl up someplace warm and put his head down for five minutes. Maybe a month.
When Sophie exited the office, Brandon on her heels with a winning smile and a light caress of her shoulder, Eliot was standing upright, facing the door, sunglasses on. He glowered at Brandon for effect and took up position ahead of Sophie as they exited the room. He let her bright chatter wash over him, listening to Brandon's responses and hearing all the right phrases they'd been hoping to hear. Daddy was going to be thrilled, that was for certain. Eliot let himself smirk, just a little, with Brandon safely behind him and unable to see.
Downstairs, Eliot waited as Sophie made her good-byes, setting up their next meeting for tomorrow, then he held open the car door for her and made his way around to the driver's side, accidently bumping into Brandon along the way, knocking the idiot backwards. Eliot ignored him and got behind the wheel, as Nate began detailing their next steps in their ears.
Sitting down made it a hundred times worse, but Eliot kept his eyes open and his attention on the road through sheer force of will. He'd need to force down a couple mugs of coffee, or find a drugstore and grab some caffeine pills and start choking those down by the fistful. He got them back to the hotel and led Sophie upstairs, not dropping the bodyguard act until they'd got behind the door, just in case Brandon was having them followed.
Nate and the others were in the outer room, Hardison in front of a laptop and Parker reaching towards the keyboard and getting her hand slapped away. Eliot decided he didn't want to know, and glanced over at the coffee maker. Someone had made a pot, but they'd also drunk most of it already. He decided he didn't need to make any right that moment; he shouldn't have to go back out again for a little while, at least. He went over to the chair near the window where the curtains were firmly drawn closed, and sat down. He felt his entire body shaking, and he tilted his head back as he finally closed his eyes. He heard Nate saying his name, but Eliot told himself he wasn't going to answer, not just yet. Not until he'd had a few moments to rest.
When he opened his eyes there was a blanket over him and the room was darkened. His head was muzzy and his neck hurt as he tried to lift his head and look around. Hardison was across the room still typing away and Nate was at the dining room table with Sophie, their heads bent together as they talked. Eliot rolled his head to one side trying to loosen his neck as he tried to figure out what the hell and he saw Parker perched on the edge of the couch, watching him.
Even as he growled at her, intending to ask what she was doing, she leapt to her feet. "He's awake! We can move him now." She came forward, picking up his arm and looking very stern at him. "Nate said you'd break something if we touched you when you were asleep. Like an arm. One of ours. Can you stand up?"
"Of course I can stand up," Eliot snapped at her, but he quickly discovered as he got to his feet that that was just about all he could do. He growled again, glaring at her as she pulled his arm across her shoulders. "I don't need your help!"
Parker frowned at him. "You're really grumpy when you're sick."
"He's grumpy all the time," Hardison said as he came over, making a move to take Eliot's other arm and hesitating as Eliot glowered at him. Eliot tried to pull his arm away from Parker but she wasn't letting go and Eliot was suddenly afraid of tumbling them both the the floor. He was already wobbling and Hardison wasn't moving out of the way so much as he was letting Eliot run into him. Eliot glared again and Hardison sighed. "He is extra cranky, though, isn't he?"
"What the fuck are you doing, Parker?" Eliot snapped as she tried to lead him forward, not letting go of his arm.
"We're putting you to bed," she replied.
"I don't need to go to bed," Eliot told her, but he couldn't get his arm loose and he knew he was stronger than her. His entire body felt ten times heavier than normal and his knees were suddenly shaking and Hardison was grabbing his other arm and hauling it over his shoulders. "What the fuck," Eliot demanded, but with the pair of them holding him up, suddenly all he could feel was that he was tired and his entire body ached and his fever had spiked again.
They'd halfway maneuvered him towards the bedroom door, and Eliot tugged at his arms again. "I can walk," he pointed out, but neither of them were listening and it was probably easier to just let them drag him around and as soon as they let him go, he'd just refuse to lie down and they could get on with the job.
The blankets were already pulled back and Hardison took all of Eliot's weight for a moment, then Eliot was tilting towards the bed and he barely had a chance to catch himself before he was lying down and somebody was pulling his feet up onto the bed. He growled as Parker began unlacing his boots.
"I'm not a child, I don't need you to undress me!" Eliot pulled his foot away. But his head was on the pillow and it was cool, and soft, and keeping his eyes open was really starting to get impossible. He felt a hand on his arm and he tried to push it away. It was persistent, though, rolling him back and Parker was getting his other boot off now and Eliot snarled at Hardison who was pushing him onto his back. The blankets were being pulled up and his feet tucked in underneath and opening his eyes was like pushing through ten sacks of wet concrete.
He growled, irritated that they hadn't even bothered to ask him if he was really sick and if he wanted to be treated like an invalid, then it was dark and he was lying down and he found that he really couldn't make his body move. He heard the door snick shut, then he didn't hear a thing until the next morning when he finally opened his eyes.
He felt worse, of course, because the flu sucked. He was shivering and he could feel his fever burning through his skin, and his body ached all the way from his eyes to his toes. He heard someone come into the room and cracked his eyes open in time to see Parker sit down on the edge of the bed, holding a glass of orange juice and setting a plate on the nightstand.
Eliot asked her what she was doing, but it mostly came out as a growl. She smiled brightly and held out the glass. "Juice! And toast. Sophie said if you wanted more to let her know but that you probably wouldn't want more. Do you want more? I put butter on the toast because Hardison said you never put jam on your toast, or peanut butter, which is just weird." Parker made a face at him.
Eliot shoved his elbows back and levered himself somewhat upright. "Give me the damn juice, Parker." He took the glass and, as soon as the cold juice hit his throat, he found himself emptying it in one long drink. Parker took it and vanished; before Eliot could manage to eat the first piece of toast she came back with the glass refilled.
He felt like he was back in any number of jails, being fed under the watchful eye of the warden. Some of his guards had been crazy as Parker, in fact, and Eliot shivered as he drank the second glass of juice in three swallows.
"Do you want more?"
Eliot shook his head and forced himself to eat the second piece of toast. He had every intention of bitching about being put to bed yesterday and being brought breakfast, and being treated like he couldn't take care of himself. But as Parker took the empty glass from his hand and he leaned back, his eyes slipped closed and it was really too much effort to talk. He'd bitch at them all later, and he let Parker tug the blankets back over his shoulder and he rolled onto his side and fell back to sleep.
Halfway through the morning Hardison woke him and forced another glass of juice on him; Eliot growled and bitched and glowered as hard as he could, but the glass was heavy and Hardison never quite let go of it as Eliot drank the juice down. Eliot bitched him out as Hardison nudged him to lay back down, but he was asleep before his head hit the pillow and Eliot was going to hold that against him forever, just as soon as he could stay awake for more than ten seconds.
It was dark when he opened his eyes, and he had no idea if it was night or day or how long he'd been asleep. He tried to roll onto his back and he felt like he'd been dragged behind a truck through the streets of Koszalin and left in a drainage ditch to bleed out. At least that time he'd been able to find his way back to the mansion and set fire to the place as he grabbed the small statuette he'd been sent after.
This time he had a feeling Nate would stop him if he tried to even light a match. He wasn't sure he was the one who was supposed to set fire to the hotel, though, and he tried to remember Nate's plans for the job.
"Come on, drink some more juice, then you can burn down whatever you want."
Eliot opened his eyes and saw Nate sitting beside the bed. He was holding something in his hand; Eliot focused on it and saw a glass of orange juice. "You know I hate that stuff, right?"
Nate shrugged. "It's this or water, or coffee. At least the juice is good for you." Nate reached over and pulled at Eliot's shoulder, lifting him forward enough to drink. Eliot did, feeling hot and thirsty even as he drank. When the glass was empty, Nate eased him down again.
Eliot narrowed his eyes. "Burn what down?"
Nate just looked at him, the shadows falling across his face so Eliot couldn't see his eyes. Softly, he said, "You've been talking in your sleep. Your fever's been pretty high. I sent the others out to tail Brandon."
He didn't say anything more, and Eliot could only guess at the sort of things he might have been saying. He felt his chest tighten, then he coughed, and suddenly couldn't stop. Nate just sat quietly until he subsided, then asked, "Do you want anything?"
Eliot shook his head. "Go back to sleep, I guess. If you need me to--"
"I need you to lay down and get some sleep," Nate interrupted. Eliot hesitated, then figured he wasn't up for the argument that would follow if he insisted he could do the damn job if Nate needed him to. As soon as he could get out of bed, they wouldn't be able to keep him from getting back to work -- but he had to admit that getting out of bed right at the moment was going to be a problem.
So he closed his eyes and never even heard when Nate finally left the room.
He was shivering, and cold, and sweating, and his head was pounding and his eyes ached and whatever they wanted he didn't think he was going to be able to keep it from them. He flinched away as a hand touched his arm, and something heavy was holding his legs down as he tried to kick out.
Something cold and wet touched his face, and it felt good -- which confused him, because what the hell did they want and why were they wiping his forehead like that? He lashed out, trying to grab his captor's arm, and a small hand took his own and held it, gently. Fingers rubbed his wrist and he wasn't being held down, just held, and he could hear words murmuring over and over in a soft accent. He knew it, felt like maybe he should know where he was, then another voice behind the first and Eliot tensed, ready to fight his way free and he heard the first voice telling him again, he was safe, he was free, no one knew where he was.
Eliot found himself relaxing, because maybe he did know that voice, and maybe he trusted it. When he stopped trying to fight he felt someone touch his arm lightly, not holding him down or forcing him away but just easing his arm back underneath a blanket and as he lay still the damp cloth wiped his forehead again and he could see something of a face, smiling down at him. Eliot felt himself smile back, because some part of him knew her, and some part of him trusted her, and whatever had happened and where ever he was, he was safe, and he was free, and they weren't going to find him here.
When he woke up and found himself wrapped in Hardison's arms Eliot scowled. "Get off me." Then he growled again because he hadn't just mumbled it and he had definitely not whined and if Hardison was choosing to wriggle closer, then Eliot was going to.... He let out a breath and tried to get his hand onto Hardison's chest to shove him back, even if it did feel good to finally not be shivering from cold and burning hot, for a change. His brain understood the value of body heat, but he still didn't exactly want Hardison to be the one providing it. He got as far as moving his hand a few inches, then rested it against Hardison's waist. He felt Hardison nudge him closer and Eliot made a mental note that he could easily just kill them all, later.
When he opened his eyes and felt almost human again, he was alone in the room. There was a glass of water on the nightstand and a folded piece of paper, which said simply 'the ball.' Eliot looked at his watch and discovered it was Friday -- he'd been in bed for nearly five days, and they'd clearly gotten to the end run of the job. The final party where Sophie would be escorted by Brandon, and all the pieces would fall into place and Brandon's father and his entire blackmailing operation would come tumbling down.
Eliot drained the glass of water and discovered he had the energy to stumble out of bed and totter to the bathroom. He wasn't pleased to discover that was about all he had the energy for, and he headed back towards the bed. He stopped, taking note of how the sheets were twisted and stained with sweat. He definitely didn't have the energy to change the sheets, but the idea of laying back down on them didn't appeal.
He staggered into the other room instead and headed for the couch. There was a blanket draped across the arm and it looked like someone had been sleeping there. A long look around the room told him that several people had been camped out -- despite the fact they'd secured three hotel rooms besides this one and the others should have been sleeping in the other rooms.
He made his way through the debris of take-out food containers and pillows, which made the room look like the scene of a slumber party. He flopped down onto the couch and pulled the blanket over himself and spotted a half-open box of pizza. He could see a slice or two inside and thought about it carefully before deciding that he really, really didn't want to eat cold pizza.
Eliot's stomach seemed perfectly content to eat nothing, though he knew he probably needed to try. Two pieces of toast in five days was probably a big part of why he felt so drained of energy, but he couldn't summon the desire to do anything about it. Instead he laid down on the couch, pulling his feet up under the blanket, and went back to sleep.
The smell of soup woke him, and the soft voices of Parker and Sophie talking about whether there was any point in stealing a painting that was as ugly as 'Dora Maar with Cat'. Eliot looked over, discovered he was still on the couch and that someone had cleaned the place up. He then discovered that Nate was holding out a mug of soup, and Eliot pushed himself upright.
A sniff told him it was miso, and a glance showed him there was nothing in it but a few bits of shallot. He smiled, feeling grateful that he didn't have to endure actually chewing anything. Nate returned it with a half-smile of his own before moving away.
As Eliot sipped the broth, he looked around. Sophie and Parker were still arguing the merits of money versus aesthetics plus money, Nate was gathering up bits of paper and files left over from the job. Hardison was sitting at his laptop, doing what Eliot had no way of guessing. As the broth eased down his throat he felt the warmth and the salt seeping into every crevice. It was good miso, clearly not rehydrated though Eliot had no idea where Nate would have found it. He wasn't sure it mattered, though, as he continued to sit there silently and drink it.
"Nate, can we steal the Picasso collection?" Parker asked.
"Which one?" was all Nate asked, not looking over.
"Lucerne," Sophie said. "I want to prove my point to Parker that you can steal things that aren't hideous and still be stealing just as much money as if you went by price tag alone."
Parker frowned at Sophie, clearly not buying her argument. Nate didn't look at them, just continued clearing up, and said, "We're not going to steal any Picassos. Having the paintings in your hands isn't going to help you argue over which is better."
"But it would be fun," Sophie replied.
Nate looked at her then, giving them both a brief smile. "No."
"Please?" Parker asked, clasping her hands together. "What if we promise to find a bad guy in Lucerne and frame him for it?"
Nate paused, thinking it over. Hardison said, "I can get us tickets to Lucerne, leaving tomorrow." He glanced over his shoulder. "Do you want me to rent us a car or should we steal one when we get there?"
Nate sighed, then shook his head, and Eliot just continued drinking his soup. When the mug was empty and no one had agreed whether or not they were going to Switzerland, Eliot leaned his head back against the couch and closed his eyes.
When he opened them again he was covered with a blanket and the lights were off, and only Hardison remained in the room, sitting at his laptop with his back to Eliot.
Eliot thought about it for a very long minute, then he shifted around, pulling his feet up, and laid down, scrunching the pillow under his head. As he fell asleep he felt what might have almost been a hand ghosting down the side of his face, but before he could open his eyes to see if he was right, he was sound asleep.