Nate watched Eliot sleep from his vaguely uncomfortable. His hands itched to smooth dark hair, touch the creased forehead. If it was Hardison lying there, broken and surrounded by machines, he would have done it. Hardison, however, wouldn't have attempted to break his hand on contact, only to hurt himself more.
Eliot had literally taken the fall for them. Now he was lying broken in a hospital bed under an assumed name. He was Scott Nathanson, and Nate was his brother Brian Nathanson. It was a sign of how bad off Eliot was that he'd only managed a grunt when he'd heard his temporary name. Hardison had been disappointed.
"Go home, Nate," Eliot rasped, startling the man.
Who, instead of leaving, stood and came closer to where Eliot was lying. "You should be asleep."
"Been tortured with better."
Silence fell between them, then Nate said, "Does that mean you were awake when the others were here?"
"Aware of them. Not exactly awake."
Silence again. "So, uh…your cover is good for as long as you need to stay here, but of course we're hoping you get out sooner than later. We'll take some lower profile jobs until you're fully recovered--"
"Call this number," he rattled off a phone number then made Nate repeat back to him until he could do it perfectly, twice in a row. "Ask for Buffy."
"Eliot, we can afford not to take a few jobs for a while. Get some downtime. Let Hardison work on his background profiles. Parker can get some harness work in. Sophie can admire some local art and practice not stealing it. It'll be good for the team."
"What about clients? They need us."
"Fine, I'll call. But only if you promise to get some actual sleep."
"I'll even make sure they send you a pretty nurse for the sponge bath."
Eliot began to smile, then winced. This time Nate did give into the urge to touch his friend, his "brother" and gently closed his hand around Eliot's left bicep -- one of the few areas not broken, bruised or otherwise cut.
Nate sighed. "Yeah, yeah. I'll call."
Hardison took the slip of paper from Nate's hand. "What's this?"
"Someone Eliot wants us to call."
Sophie, sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea and a book, sat up to look over the back of the sofa. "He woke up?"
Nate moved to stand closer to her. "Apparently he was never very deeply asleep. He said he knew that you were all there but wasn't strong enough, I guess, to really wake up."
Frowning, Sophie said, "I wish that were a good thing, but I'm certain the doctors wouldn't drug him without cause! He should have been out like a light!"
"According to Eliot, he suffered worse under torture."
Both Hardison and Sophie winced. Hardison buried his head in his screens while Sophie sighed.
"Hey…hey Nate. I got something." Hardison gestured for him to come closer.
"Why are we interested in a Hellmouth?" Parker said over Hardison's shoulder.
Which had Hardison nearly falling out of his chair. "Woman! What did I say about that?"
"We've never talked about Hellmouths before," she said, shaking her head as she moved away. "Boys. So weird. Right Sophie?" she said as she jumped on the sofa, knees first.
"Hardison," Nate said, "what did you find?"
"Uh, that number Eliot gave you? It's for a school."
"Yeah, in Cleveland."
"Everyone's favorite." Hardison looked over his shoulder at Nate. "You still wanna call them?"
Nate pinched the bridge of his nose. "I promised Eliot that I would."
"All right man." Then a second later, "It's dialing."
Parker shook her head. "Even I know dialing a Hellmouth is a bad idea."
Just then the line picked up. A young sounding feminine voice said, "The Joyce Summers School for Gifted and Talented Young Women." Nate hit the speaker button as she was speaking. "How can I help you?"
"Hi, uh, I'm looking for someone named…Buffy?"
"Uh, why are you looking for someone named Buffy?"
"Actually it's Eliot Spencer who's looking for her."
"Uh, okay. Gimme a sec, 'kay?"
"Yeah, su--" but they were listening to hold music before Nate could finish agreeing.
The team shared a look between them. Nate indicated that Hardison should mute their end of the call. "Well, Parker, it looks like you're right about this being a Hellmouth. This is possibly the worst hold music ever."
A satisfied smirk crossed the young woman's face as the line was picked up again. "Hey Eliot. How did you get my number?"
Hardison indicated that he had taken their end off mute. "You'll have to ask him the next time you see him."
She sounded defensive when she said, "And who's this?"
"Nathan Ford, his, uh…coworker."
"Coworker? Eliot didn't really seem like the coworker kinda guy when I met him."
"Okay, more like teammate."
The woman snorted. "Yeah, okay, mabes. And what exactly do you do?"
Around him, the team grinned. "We provide…leverage."
"Oh-kay. And what does that have to do with me?"
"Eliot's been put out of commission. He suggested that we call you?"
"Me? And what part did Eliot play in this game of leverage?"
Seeing Nate hesitate, Hardison muted the line. "Took a quick look at them. Not only do they not have government ties, like no police, no IRS, nothing, it's like the gov'ment has a big red N-O-Do-Not-Go sign written all over them. Plus, you know El wouldn't do anything to put the rest'a us in danger. Man, he literally, like literally, just took a fall for us yesterday. It was him or me and Sophie and Parker. He wouldn't recommend someone he thought would leave us out there."
"Hey, you still there?"
Hardison quickly unmuted the line, nodding to Nate.
"Yeah, I'm here. Just had to consult with my team."
"There are more of you?"
"Four. Five including Eliot."
"Okay, Team Of Five. What would I be doing for you that Eliot already does for you that he can't do for you anymore."
Parker silently snickered in the background, Sophie giving her the eye.
"Eliot is our hitter. So you would be, too."
Nearly all of the teams' eyebrows went up. Parker shuddered.
"I'm assuming bad guys,” Buffy added.
"We specialize in taking out bad guys."
"Tempting! Take me off speaker and let’s talk."
Once again, the team shared a look between them. "It's a team, Ms. Summers--"
"Buffy. We're a team. And while I do have the final say, we quite literally trust Eliot with our lives. If anyone is going to take his place we have to be able to trust you, too."
"Eh…I guess I can dig. Alright, where'm I going and how soon do you need me and what's the weather like so I can properly plan my wardrobe."
Now Sophie was grinning. "I trust her."
"This job comes with a shopping bestie? Oh, I am so there!"
Nate blinked slowly, shook himself then turned to Hardison. "Well then. Hardison, get our new hitter on a flight out to Boston."
"We'll see you when you get here, Buffy."
"Oh all right. Later new-team!"
Sophie, leaning over the back of the sofa said, "Let’s go steal ourselves a backup hitter?"