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The Beast Is My Burden

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Parker knew something was wrong, really wrong, when Eliot stopped eating. He still cooked, at least--it would have been catastrophically bad if Eliot ever stopped cooking--but he no longer ate. Pushed his meal around his plate at dinner, though Eliot always insisted on their finishing their plates--respect the food, he growled. Didn’t even taste it while he cooked, relying only on his own knowledge to tell if the spices were right or wrong. She knew because she watched him. She always watched her boyfriends, careful, studying. People were hard, and she wanted to get this right. So when Eliot got--weird, or weird for Eliot, at any rate--she noticed.

She didn’t say anything. Eliot always clammed up at personal questions, and she knew if he wanted them to know he would have told them. She kept an eye on him though, surreptitiously checking to see if whatever was wrong had spread to the rest of Eliot.

The changes were obvious once she started looking. He didn’t sit in his usual chair during their briefing, grumbling about the sunlight hurting his eyes, and lurked in the shadowiest corner of the room, When Hardison bitched at Eliot to stop his pacing, he sat down in the chair furthest from the window.

His food was different too, apart from his not eating it. It wasn’t that it didn’t taste good, or right--even without tasting his food Eliot was a miracle in the kitchen--but what he made changed. Hardison asked for spaghetti and Eliot bitched about that, growled his scorn of the dish when Parker knew spaghetti was one of Eliot’s favorite meals to make.

There were little things too, how he started to always wear a hood up outside, or squinted a little too much in the sunlight, and the way that his fighting somehow got better, impossibly, quicker and more perfect. He stopped letting her pester him when he shaved (“Sometimes a man needs his privacy, Parker”) and when he came out of the bathroom there were little unshaven patches for no reason Parker could surmise. He shied away from her touch too, just a little before he made himself relax--or at any rate, give the appearance of relaxing.

So Parker worried and observed, and then she asked Hardison.

“Do you know what’s wrong with Eliot?”

“You noticed too, huh?”

“He stopped eating,” she answered simply.

He sighed. “I dunno, babe. Give him time, maybe he’ll tell us.”

So she kept watching, and waiting, and almost couldn’t bear it. Eliot had always been Eliot, and now he was not-Eliot pretending to still be Eliot--which proved him to be Eliot in the most Eliot way possible, because Eliot would always protect them, even if she’d rather know the truth. When the panic overwhelmed her she called Sophie.

“Parker? Parker, it’s 4 in the morning!”

“Eliot stopped eating.”

“Eliot stopped eating?”

“He won’t even taste his food when he cooks!” Her voice choked.

“Okay, Parker, deep breaths. I’m sure there’s some explanation for this, okay?”

Parker exhaled long and slow.

“Good. Take deep breaths, and when you can, tell me everything.”

She breathed, and felt her heart settle for all she was still strung-out and anxious.

“He stopped eating. He wouldn’t make spaghetti, and he squints too much in sunlight and grimaces, and he wears hoodies up all the time now, and he doesn’t like touching me anymore and his shaving is weird and his fighting changed. Got better somehow. Hardison says we should give him some time, but I can just feel that something is wrong, really wrong--”

“Parker, breathe, all right? Ignore Hardison. He means well, but if Eliot doesn’t want to tell you something, he isn’t going to tell you unless you ask him. Just be straightforward about it. Now, go get some sleep, okay?”

“Okay.”

She didn’t sleep though, didn’t return to their bed, just huddled on the kitchen floor breathing her fear deep and slow until Eliot, the early riser, came out of the bedroom an hour later.

“Parker? Why are you up so early?” He knelt on the floor. “What’s wrong?”

She laughed, sharp and bitter. “That’s what I’m supposed to ask you!”

“Hey, come here,” he said, and she crawled to him, clinging to him, letting his presence ground her.

“You stopped eating,” she said, and it was an accusation.

He sighed, and kissed her hair. “Is that what this is?”

“Eliot, you stopped eating.”

“I know, darling, I know. And I’m gonna tell you, okay? Just not now. I can’t.

“No, Eliot, now,” and her voice was pain.

“Parker,” he sighed. “This ain’t something that I can tell you easy. I’m not sure of it myself. But I promise I’m fine, darling. You’ve been watching me, right? Do I look sick to you?”

“No,” she whispered.

“This ain’t a threat to you or Hardison, and it ain’t a threat to us. I’m not going anywhere. Come back to bed, okay?”

“Only if you come too.”

He scooped her up in his arms and carried her into the bedroom, laying down beside her and holding her until her ragged breathing calmed and she slowly fell asleep, nestled against Hardison.

 

Breakfast was made the next morning as always, her and Hardison waking to kitchen smells and kitchen noise. Eliot had strident objections to gummy frogs and fortune cookies for breakfast. It almost felt normal again, until Eliot sat their plates before them with no pretense of making one for himself. Parker gave him a look, and he shrugged. “No point in wasting food.”

They didn’t have any job they were on, and pretty soon after breakfast Eliot made excuses for some errand he needed to run and disappeared.

“He doesn’t want to tell us.”

Hardison gave a wry grin. “Since when has Eliot ever wanted to tell us anything important?”

“Sophie said I should just ask him outright, that he’d never tell us on his own, but he still wouldn’t tell me. So I guess we’ll just have to figure it out ourselves. Consider this a briefing.”

“Whoa, okay, babe. Aren’t I supposed to run those?”

“Hmm.” Her eyes narrowed. “Yes, well you don’t have all the evidence yet. Now listen!”

She shoved Hardison onto the couch and dragged their whiteboard over.

“So far I see only one possible solution.” She wrote a word big on the board and circled it. “Vampires.”

“You think Eliot’s a vampire?”

“It’s the only explanation.” She started ticking off evidence on her fingers. “One, he stopped eating. Two and three, he doesn’t like sunlight and wears a hood up all the time now. Four, he wouldn’t make spaghetti; five, he had patchy spots after he shaved; and six, he stiffens when I touch him. Seven; his fighting got better. Faster.”

“Come on, how does-- does spaghetti and shaving have anything to do with him being a vampire?”

“Spaghetti has garlic. Everyone knows vampires hate garlic. And he couldn’t shave very well if he couldn’t look in the mirror, could he, hmm?”

“You’ve thought about this a lot, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, because I’m worried. And Sophie told me it’s important to pay attention to my emotions. I don’t know why you’re not worried.”

“Parker, I am worried. But I trust Eliot. I know he can take care of himself, and ourselves, and--and two dozen puppies in a dust storm if he wanted to! He’ll tell us when he’s ready to.”

“Well, then why wouldn’t he tell me last night?”

“Probably because he’s not ready yet! How long has it been since he stopped eating?”

“Three days.”

“See, that’s nothing. Eliot’s probably used to not eating that long, off getting chased through the jungle by crazy terrorists or some such. Give him at least a week, okay? Eliot’s gone for the day, so how ‘bout we just have some fun on our own, whatever you want.”

“I guess. There was this one building I wanted to jump off…”

Alec groaned. “I walked right into that, didn’t I?”

 

Jumping off of only one building wasn’t enough to calm Parker’s nerves, while Alec’s nerves couldn’t handle more than the one, and he excused himself as soon as she suggested a rooftop tour of the city, mentioning some work he wanted to do for the client meeting tomorrow. Parker knew better, but she didn’t say anything, just kissed him before dropping him back off at the offices and careening off through the mid-day traffic.

To be fair, he did work some on the job, digging a little deeper into the financials before giving it up and settling in to spend some time seeing what was new on the internet since his adrenaline-fueled absence. He was just starting his fourth, blissedly calm cat video when Eliot came in, kicking off his boots and flinging a coat onto the chair before heading to the kitchen--not typical Eliot behavior; he was the neatest of all of them. Hardison gave him a couple minutes before heading in--Eliot valued control above all, and clearly needed some time to regain it--making sure to scuff his feet enough so Eliot knew he was coming, just in case.

He sidled into the kitchen (rule one of dealing with upset Eliot: leave all exits available) and leaned up against the counter. “Hey, man, what’s up?”

He was answered only by the slow, precise turning of the pages of a cookbook--Eliot’s first cookbook, the one Toby had given him.

“Look, man, if you don’t want to talk to us that’s okay. But, uh, Parker, she’s real worked up, she’s out flinging herself off every building in the city to feel better, and, well, I kinda thought you were okay telling us things, and it’s fine if you’re not, but I want you to know that you can talk to us, and that...that we’re here for you, whether you like it or not, and, and--”

Eliot spoke with gritted teeth. “I’m fine, Hardison.”

“Aw, man, now that’s just a straight up lie, I thought we were past that. All right, you don’t want to talk, that’s cool. Let me know if you need something, alright?”