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Freefall

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Alec woke up shouting.

He’d kicked the covers off, again, and almost fallen over the edge of the bed. Which was good, good; the first couple nights, he’d woken up rigid in the dead center of his nice big king-sized bed, as if he couldn’t move, as if there were nowhere for him to go.

He’d been waking up yelling every night since they pulled him out of that coffin.

Alec rolled off the bed, stumbled into the bathroom, turned on the light and splashed cold water over his face, blinking against the harsh light when he looked himself in the face in the mirror.

“Seriously, bro,” he said to his reflection, “get some damned therapy if you’re gonna keep this up, okay?”

He sighed and pressed his face against the mirror. And then he went back to bed and tried to go back to sleep.

*

“You look awful,” Parker said when Hardison kicked Nate’s door closed behind him, a laptop under one arm and a giant coffee cup held in the other hand. (The one problem with orange soda—which Alec knew all too well—was that usually it was non-caffeinated.)

“Thanks,” Alec said, putting first the coffee down and then the laptop. “Thanks a lot. You’re a very cheering person, Parker, you know that?”

Parker continued frowning at him over the counter, her bowl of cereal forgotten. “Have you been sleeping? You don’t look like you’ve been sleeping,” she continued. “That’s bad, Hardison. You need your rest.”

“Yeah,” Elliot smirked as he came into the apartment/office, two bags of groceries not even bothering to attempt to fill his arms. “You’re not like me, need lots of beauty rest.”

“I am getting plenty of beauty rest, people,” Alec said to the room at large as he opened his laptop and turned it on. “Plenty. No complaints here.”

Sophie and Nate joined them—pretending like they hadn’t both just come from Nate’s shower, seriously, who did they think they were kidding?—and Elliot sprawled on the couch next to Hardison for the briefing, and Parker sat down in one of the chairs and stared frowningly at Alec the entire time except when she had to pronounce on some security schematics. And he tried to ignore her, he really did, but she was Parker and he’d kinda gotten used to not ignoring her, and probably under other circumstances he would have enjoyed the fact that she couldn’t take her eyes off him, but these were not those other circumstances and he was glad when they were finally done with their briefing and Sophie started shooing them out so she and Nate could finish whatever the hell they’d been doing in that shower.

Alec didn’t particularly want to think about it. Kinda like thinking about your parents, or, hell, Nana and some guy and—oh no, oh hell no, shutting the brain off now.

Parker grabbed Alec’s wrist just as he snapped his laptop shut and he looked up at her, startled and a little slow to react. He heard Elliot snort behind them in the kitchen, slamming the fridge door shut, but Alec didn’t turn to look at the other man. He couldn’t look away from Parker’s narrowed, serious eyes.

“Get some sleep,” Parker ordered. “You’re no good to us with slow reaction times.”

Alec blinked a lot. “Right,” he said at last. “No good. Need sleep. Got it.”

Parker nodded once, looked down at her hand holding his arm, blushed a fiery red—which Hardison was totally filing away for later, not that he was going to tell her that, no matter how gleeful he was gonna be five minutes from now when he was alone and she was out of the room—let go of him, and fled out the fire escape.

Elliot snorted again, and Alec turned to glare at him.

“Oh please,” Elliot said. “Don’t even bother, Hardison.” He stalked around the couch and got right in Alec’s personal space. “She was right about you needing your beauty sleep, though,” he said. “Seriously, dude, do something about those bags under your eyes.”

“There are no bags under my eyes,” Hardison called out to Elliot’s retreating back, and the retrieval specialist just flipped a hand back at him without bothering to turn around as he walked out of Nate’s apartment. “No bags,” Hardison added in a mutter to himself as he picked up his laptop and started for the door. “No bags at all, nosiree.”

“Is it the coffin still?” Nate asked, and Alec almost dropped his laptop.

“Frakking hell, Nate,” Alec breathed, juggling laptop and doorknob and heart rate. Nate took pity on him and grabbed the computer before Alec lost it completely. “Didn’t anybody ever tell you only Elliot’s allowed to sneak up on people like that?”

“You have, on more than one occasion,” Nate said. “I ignore you.”

“Yeah,” Hardison sighed, “I know you do.”

“Is it the coffin thing?” Nate repeated, setting the laptop down on the counter by the front door. Alec eyed him warily and wished he’d had the orange soda instead of the coffee after all; he was all jittery and skipping attention right now, and you only ever wanted to be at your best when Nathan Ford had his attention fixed solely on you.

Where the hell was Sophie anyway? Probably getting the shower ready. Dammit.

“Hardison,” Nate barked.

“Yes! Yes, fine, alright, it’s still the coffin thing, okay?” Alec jumped and yelled and wished he had some kind of off-switch on his mouth. His mouth got him in more trouble than anything, dammit, why—

Nate was nodding. He was calm enough Alec figured he’d had at least a couple scotches already; that might work in Hardison’s favor. The older man clapped Alec on the shoulder.

“Get over it, Hardison,” he said. “You’re alive. Don’t stay buried down there in the dirt.”

“It’s not like I want to,” Alec pointed out and really, really hoped he wasn’t whining. “Y’all know that, right? This is, like, shock or PTSD or something. It’s allowed. It’s totally legit. Totally.”

“Hey, you had one of your worst nightmares actually happen to you,” Nate said, “it’s absolutely legitimate.”

“Thanks,” said Hardison. “I think.”

“But we don’t have time for it,” Nate went on. “We’ve got a job to do and we need you at your best. React later, when you have time.”

“Yeah,” Hardison said and waved a hand. “I’ll tell my body to get right on that.”

Nate clapped him on the shoulder again. “Good,” he said. “Go home, get some sleep. Okay?”

Alec sighed. “Yeah, sure, fine,” he said, and Nate nodded and headed upstairs to join Sophie. “Easy enough for you all to say,” Alec went on under his breath, “you’re not the ones with severe claustrophobia, an unhealthy fear of dying, and way too many intimate memories of being buried alive.”

All night marathon of Warehouse 13, here we come.

*

Alec woke up to somebody slipping into bed with him.

It was probably better than waking up shouting, but he still ended up spluttering and flailing a bit, until Parker put a finger to his lips and shushed him and then turned around so she could spoon up against him.

“What the hell, Parker—” Alec wondered why the hell he was protesting. This had been one of his nicer, more far-fetched fantasies, after all.

“I thought,” Parker said, and stopped.

“You thought?” Hardison prompted after a long moment, when it became apparent she wasn’t going to continue.

“I thought this might help,” she said in a small voice. “I’m really crappy at singing, or I would sing you a lullaby, but since you’re supposed to be sleeping now and not talking, I thought—”

Alec wrapped his arms around her and she stilled. But she didn’t bolt, didn’t slip out of his grasp and run away, and this was already going better than how two-thirds of his fantasies ended with Parker showing up at his window—all the more realistic fantasies—so he decided to risk pressing a kiss to the top of her head.

“Thank you,” he said, and felt her nod under him. She pushed against his arms a little, testing, and he loosened his grasp, just a little, in response. She sighed at that and, apparently, instantly fell asleep.

He didn’t follow suit, not immediately. He’d been dreaming again, the same dream that had been bothering him for a week, walls and darkness pressing in all around, oxygen disappearing. If Parker hadn’t shown up when she did, he probably would have woken in a few minutes anyway. Shouting.

He carefully didn’t hug her closer, though he wanted to. But he breathed in the scent of her hair and closed his eyes and fell back to sleep more quickly and more easily than he’d managed all week.

*

Parker was gone when he woke up the next morning, and then they were deep in the middle of their new job and too busy to sleep anyway for two days straight, and then it was all over, bad guys humiliated and penniless, good guys taking home a whopping great check and the knowledge that the bastards would never hurt anybody else ever again. They all still got a kick out of that feeling, the feeling of doing good, and they all had long since given up being weirded out by that feeling. They stopped for a celebratory drink at McRory’s, or maybe three, and then scattered to their respective homes and hideaways.

Alec went home alone but found Parker sitting on the back of his couch when he let himself in. The window through which she’d come was open; he wondered if she’d done that as a sign of trust or something. You never could tell with Parker.

“Shouldn’t you be at home?” he said.

“I don’t have a home,” Parker replied matter-of-factly as Hardison kicked off his shoes and sat down tiredly next to her feet. She’d also had the courtesy to take her shoes off. Damn, she was getting good at this.

“Then shouldn’t you be in bed in your warehouse or whatever it is?”

Parker wrinkled her nose. “I don’t live there anymore,” she said, “you guys found it.”

Hardison knew she didn’t live there anymore; he’d tracked her putting the place up for sale and finding another warehouse on the other side of town, but he wasn’t going to mention it to her. Besides, she probably knew he knew and was just trusting him not to tell her so she wouldn’t have to do it all over again.

Sometimes, having a non-conversation with Parker was even more dizzying than actually having one with her.

“Parker…”

“You still need to sleep,” she said insistently. “I’m just making sure you do that.”

“Do you feel responsible for me now or something?” Alec asked. “Because you—you talked me through that whole thing? Kept me alive?”

Parker started shaking her head, denying any role she might have had in keeping him sane and alive, and yeah, Hardison didn’t want to think about the fact that he had relied on Parker to keep him sane. “I didn’t do anything,” she said, “anyone could have—”

“Parker.” Hardison put a finger under her chin, lifted it so she would theoretically meet his eyes. She did, very briefly, before her gaze slid away over his shoulder again. “Anyone could have, maybe, but you did.”

She spooned against him again that night, and when he woke up in the middle of the night—just a normal waking up, not a dream-filled terror of staying asleep forever—she was still pressed up against him and still allowing him to have his arms wrapped around her. He breathed in her scent and fell back asleep.

He dreamt about the coffin again, but this time he heard Parker’s voice, telling him to breathe, talking him through it, and he didn’t need to wake himself up shouting.

*

Parker was Parker, skittish and elusive and impossible to track down. She showed up and slipped into his bed after he was already asleep at night, she left before he rolled out of bed in the morning, and she stopped showing up altogether after a few days of glorious sleep. He missed her presence and might have sniffed a couple times at the pillow she’d slept against, but he wasn’t going to say anything to her about it. He’d learned, over the past few years, how to speak Parker, and a lot of it meant not speaking at all.

He wasn’t thinking about reciprocity when she flipped out wearing the heavy boots to mimic Livingstone’s tread, wasn’t thinking about repayments and debts and gratitude. And Parker said she was crap at singing, hah, well, at least she hadn’t had to do it over the comms. Awkward.

He’d just wanted her to know she could trust him, trust him, no matter what happened. She’d gotten him through being buried alive, and he was damned well going to return the favor if he had to. Not that he hoped he’d have to. God, never.

He was glad he’d packed that parachute for her. He enjoyed watching her fly, free-fall; loved hearing her giddy and gleeful laughs and hollers as she went tumbling through the air. He envied her ability to soar like that. He could only do that in an IMAX theater.

“Can I go again?” she giggled when she closed the van door behind her, and Alec grinned.

*

“Come with me.” A few days later, and Parker appeared in Alec’s window, wearing her blacks and holding all her equipment ever, apparently. Hardison frowned at her, coming out of the Deep Space Nine trance he’d lulled himself into. He was doing a massive rewatch of the show, and it was their day off; he was on his fourth episode of the day already.

“Wha?” he therefore said, intelligently.

Parker held out a black-gloved hand. “Come with me,” she insisted.

“Uh, Parker?” Hardison’s eye strayed back to his computer screen, where Benjamin Sisiko was paused in the middle of remonstrating with Kira Nerys. “I’m pretty sure I would have heard by now if we were on another job, so I don’t know what you’re—”

Parker sighed impatiently, reached out, and snagged Hardison’s arm. “The hell, Parker—” he said and stumbled upright toward the window, almost knocking foreheads with the thief. She stilled instantly, and he held up his hands, asking for a moment, before smoothing down his shirt and adjusting his collar. He looked at her again. “Okay,” he said. “What the hell is going on?”

Parker looked deeply, deeply uncomfortable. “I wanted to give you a present,” she said.

Alec blinked. “A present,” he repeated. “Please don’t tell me it involves breaking it out of a ninety-eighth story office.”

Parker shook her head. “You’ll see,” she said and smiled. A quicksilver smile, quickly gone, but it was enough. Alec sighed. He was so screwed.

“Do I need to change or grab anything?” he asked.

Parker looked him over critically, then shook her head.

“Okay,” Alec said and started following her out of the window. “Energize.”

*

“Oh no,” said Hardison. “Oh hell no, woman. The hell? You think—you think I should be the one doing this?”

“Let me show you how to do it properly,” Parker insisted. “C’mon, Hardison, just watch.”

“Why?” Hardison took a step back from the woman standing with him on the roof of his very tall apartment building. “Seriously, Parker, why are we doing this?”

“Because you need to know how to do this,” Parker told him, “just in case. And because—”

“Yeah?”

“Because you can trust me.” She bit her lip and wouldn’t look at him, and she sounded the way she had on the phone that day when he was buried in the coffin, she sounded the way she had on the earbuds when she’d asked him to sing. Somewhere between happy and trusting and panicking, and Hardison totally got that at least. “I need you to know that. Okay?”

Alec blew out a breath and nodded assent. He didn’t speak again, except to ask the occasional, “Right here?” or “Is this right?” She did most of the talking, talking him through assembling and attaching his equipment properly, standing with him over the edge and talking him through the proper way to jump, drop, control his fall.

“Ready?” she asked.

His wires and harness felt more secure than they had any time previously he’d had to do this sort of thing. He was still breathing hard though, his palms all gross and sweaty, and he was really, really glad he’d remembered to apply deodorant this morning even though he hadn’t been planning to leave his apartment all day. He couldn’t do this. He could not do this. He was afraid of heights, for frak’s sake. He closed his eyes briefly then looked at Parker and nodded shakily.

“Ready,” he said.

She surprised him again—some day he thought he’d get over being surprised by her, someday the surprise would just feel like the natural state of things, but in the meantime she still constantly surprised him, every jolt and spark like new—by taking his hand and giving it a squeeze, despite the sweaty palms. Then she let go, closed her eyes, and jumped.

And Alec—he couldn’t close his eyes, no way in hell could he close his eyes for this—followed.

The whoosh of air, wind rushing against his face, and he was yelling—no, he was whooping because he was flying, he was flying, a glorious rush of controlled freefall. No boxes surrounding him, no computer monitors in front of him, no earth burying him. Just space, all around. His stomach flipped, adrenaline pumped, the fear threatened to crowd him out, but he was free, and the endorphin rush won out over the fear.

When he was pressed up against his own apartment ledge next to Parker, he was babbling over her uncontrollable laughter. “Is that how you always feel? Is that how you feel? Jesus, I don’t blame you, I can’t, oh my electronic gods I seriously don’t even--”

Parker leant against him, still laughing, her face all shiny and joyous the way it had been that day he’d packed her chute for her and given her the out she needed to escape the bad guys, and he couldn’t help himself, he really couldn’t. He kissed her. Not on the cheek this time, not on the forehead, dead on the mouth, and she stopped laughing but she didn’t pull back.

She leant into the kiss instead, one hand supporting herself against his window, one in the middle of his chest, and he was kissing Parker. Again. Only for real this time, not for the con, not for the job, and holy crap--

Parker broke it off, stepping back and grinning at him as sunnily as she probably had that day she’d blown up her foster parents’ house and tripped away to a life of crime and chaos. “Wanna do it again?” she asked and started pulling herself up the side of the building without waiting for an answer.

Alec leant against his window for a moment, in order to breathe and look out at the city spread out in front of him. It looked different even from how it looked on the other side of the glass, inside his home. Uncontained, vast, open. Shinier, somehow. More exciting.

He grinned, slowly, and then he looked up, shading his eyes to see how far Parker had gone.

“Wait for me!” he yelled.