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His Heart Could Handle That

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Hardison stared at the screen, unsure of what exactly he was seeing. Parker had been suspended from the side of the building, right where she was supposed to be. He'd turned his head for one minute to check on the fax for Sophie. One minute. Not even that. When he turned back around, there was only a frayed rope to mark the place where his teammate should have been.

"Parker?" He waited for a few seconds, not expecting to hear anything. This was a set up. She was messing with him and she'd eventually come back on the radio with a laugh and a Fooled you, Hardison. You're so easy to mess with. and he'd try to laugh but would have to swallow a few times to get the panic out of his throat. When she didn't come on after the space of four heartbeats (he felt every single one in his gut where his heart most definitely should not have been), he tried again. "Parker? This isn't funny, Parker. Answer me. Where are you?"

Still nothing. They were only in the very beginning stages of this job so there should have been any need to run from any bad guys. They didn't even know they were coming for them yet. this was just the first pass through to double check the information they'd gotten from their newest client. It was a simple matter of going in through the skylight as soon as the subject left for the meeting he was supposed to be at in the next ten minutes. The only reason Hardison even had Parker on the screen was because he was trying out the new hack he'd just installed in the company's security feed.

Eliot's voice was irritated when he clicked in. "Quit your squawking, Hardison."

Even if it made him into the butt of yet another joke, Hardison decided that someone needed to do something. Since Eliot was the only other one currently on site, it would have to be him. "It's Parker. Something happened. There's just her rope and it looks like you broke. If this is a joke that you and Parker are both in on, it's not funny."

"Nothing that I know about."

Nate came to stand behind him. Thankfully he was quiet because Hardison wasn't sure that he could have answered any questions as he threw caution to the wind and started to riffle through the different camera angles to find one that would show him the rest of the building. Even though he wouldn't have admitted it out loud, he was trying to find a view of street below where he had a sick feeling that he'd find Parker's splattered remains. The very thought was making him wish he'd eaten a few less french fries at lunch.

There were conversations going on around him, both in his headset and between Nate and Sophie but he wasn't listening to any of them. He was intent on his job of finding Parker, wherever she might be. After finding the different feeds of the streets surrounding the tall building, he was able to breath better because there was no huddled mass of broken Parker. Still, that didn't help him any.

"Hardison!"

He flinched as Eliot's voice reverberated around his head. "What? I'm kinda busy right now."

"I've got Parker. You can quit muttering death threats to anyone and everyone who's ever come near her."

He didn't remember saying anything but he must have because Nate lay a heavy hand on his shoulder, assuring him that everything was going to be okay. As much as he appreciated the gesture and understood that it was in response to what he appeared to be saying, there was also a part of him that was angry. Angry at Nate for asking her to keep doing these kinds of things that put her into danger time and time again. Angry at Sophie for trying to sound comforting but only succeeding at impatient. Angry at Eliot for being there for Parker when she needed help. Angry at Parker for getting into trouble. But most of all, angry at himself for caring so much that he felt like his heart might stop beating if Parker didn't get out of this spot of trouble.

Time sped up but he seemed to slow down. When Eliot kicked in the door and carried in a unconscious Parker, all he could do was stare at them without doing anything to help. It was painful to see Parker's head bobbing along with Eliot's footsteps. Any moment, she was going to sit up and grin, bringing them all in on the joke. He'd chide her and she'd tell him to lighten up. It had played out so many times that he could see it clearly in his mind, as if it was really happening instead of what he was seeing here.

He only seemed to wake up from his stupor when Eliot came back in the room. "You going to come in and see Parker or sit out here and drink your orange soda all day?"

"I just... I never thought... I mean, man, that's what she does. She climbs up and down buildings. She should have been fine."

"Freak accident. Nothing she could have done about it. Girl kept her head about her, though. It could have been worse. A lot worse. She thinks on her feet, though. You should know that."

Hardison hung his head as he fought with his emotions. Now was not the time to get overcome. Not in front of Eliot. The guy had only just stopped giving him grief for that one time he'd made the mistake of wiping the tear from the corner of his eye after watching that darn coffee commercial. Things like that always got to him but then Eliot had realized what was happening and had taken every opportunity to raze him about it. This was about Parker, though. Not about some kid coming home from college at Christmas.

Another heavy hand on his shoulder, as if a single touch was going to make him feel better. It just made him feel uncomfortable. "Come on, buddy. You need to get away from the computer and go see Parker. It'll help you to see that she's going to be fine after a bit of a rest."

"Bit of a rest? She fell from a building today."

Eliot knelt down so that he could make eye contact with his friend. "No, she hung from the side of a building today."

"But she was... she was...." Hardison tried to remember what exactly he'd seen when Eliot had come in carrying the dead weight of the girl. She had most definitely been unconscious.

"I found her holding on by her fingertips at a fifth floor window that didn't open nearly wide enough. When I pulled her in, she hit her head. It's just a light concussion. Nothing to worr-"

Hardison didn't give him a chance to finish his sentence. Instead, he pulled him into a tight embrace, his tears absorbed into the flannel shirt that smelled uniquely of Eliot, even when he wasn't wearing it. "Thank you. I... Those words aren't big enough to tell you how grateful I-"

"Hey. None of that kind of talk. You're using big words." Eliot's words were clipped but his tone was soft, almost empathetic, as he pounded Hardison on the back. "She's going to be fine. It's you I'm worried about right now."

"Don't worry about me," Hardison whispered as he continued to hide his face in Eliot's shoulder.

Eliot's laugh rumbled through his body. "Easier said than done. You want to know what Parker's first words were when she finally regained consciousness? Tell Hardison I'm okay. He'll worry. Of course, after that she pledged her undying love to me and asked for a chili cheese dog but her first thoughts were for you."

"Guess I should pledge my undying love to you, too. That way we're even."

When Eliot grabbed his shoulders and pushed him away, Hardison went without protest but he refused to look up. Even when Eliot put a finger under his chin and tried to push his head up, he refused so that the other man turned the gesture into a caress. "She's okay. You're okay. I'm okay. We're all okay. Tomorrow we'll wake up and do this all over again. It's what we do. It's what we love."

The last statement made Hardison look up to make sure he was hearing correctly. For a moment he thought he'd heard... but that was crazy. Eliot hadn't just used the L word because that would be more than Hardison could bear at the moment and Eliot would know that. He would know that the word would crack his heart wide open.

"Come on. Let's go see Parker."

Hardison let Eliot lead him from the room only because he suddenly wanted to be in the room with the two people who made his heart expand. Maybe Eliot would drop the L word again. That would certainly make for an interesting conversation. His heart could handle that.