Eliot is exhausted. He's halfway between passing out and already asleep, and it is only by some form of divine intervention that he makes it to the couch in the first place to pass out completely, his body entirely done with him forcing it upright for much longer. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows that this is a little more exhaustion than he should have. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he rolls that knowledge up and shoves it into a small shelving compartment.
He wakes up with a throbbing head and aching nose and- yeah, he's sick. He sits up slowly, surveys his surroundings carefully. He turns his head gently, closes his eyes (and oh, that feels nice, he should sleep more), pushes a hand through his hair. He takes in a long breath through his nose (which is starting to feel slightly congested, but nothing he can't handle), and smells.... celery?
That can't be right.
Smelling celery would mean that someone was cooking, which would mean someone in the kitchen which-
Eliot is on his feet in an instant, ignoring the head rush from standing from the couch way too fast. He practically jogs to the kitchen (not a particularly nice feeling, he notes) and stands there in awe, startled at the sight before him. Standing at the stove, a massive pot before him and a phone tucked between his shoulder and ear, is Hardison.
Standing at the stove, calling his Nana, chatting away about soup and stock and comfort food is Alec Hardison, hacker extraordinaire, president of the Not Cooking Until Hell Freezes Over Club.
Standing before Eliot's stove, calling his Nana, using a pot he claims to think is "Too large for cooking in, man", is Alec Hardison.
Hey, Eliot, Hardison mouths. He jerks his chin towards a stool at the bar, in a sort of take-a-seat motion, and Eliot slides onto it. He sits there, half in a daze, as Hardison hangs up with his Nana. Finally, after what seems like an eternity but is probably closer to about thirty seconds, Hardison is done with his phone call, and turns to face Eliot.
Time travels funny when you count it by thumps of the pain in your head.
"What are you doin'," Eliot asks flatly, his elbows propped up on the tabletop.
"Soup," Hardison says. "I'm making soup, Eliot."
Eliot sighs, biting back the tired, mildly nasty response he wants to give.
"Hey, man, you don't look so good."
"Thanks," Eliot tells him.
"I'm just saying!" Alec picks his hands up in that sharpish defensive maneuver that Eliot knows rather too well.
"What's going in that?" he asks, gesturing at the pot, hoping to find out what, exactly, Alec is going to try to feed him, because there’s no way he’s making all that just for himself.
"Chicken! And some of the celery, and some carrots and when it's done," this last word pointedly directed at the ceiling, "there'll be potatoes, too, and probably some noodles."
"Sounds good," Eliot says, and Hardison nods, returning to his pot. They stay there for a long, long time- Eliot falls asleep, briefly, his head propped on his chin and his eyes too heavy to bother keeping open.
When he wakes up, Parker is poking his arm, right over a bruise that's still really, really tender.
"Hey," she whispers. "There's soup."
"Ow," he replies, and tugs his arm back. Looking down, he sees that there is soup, and looking more directly forward, he sees that Hardison is looking hopefully at him. He smiles, a little, lifts the spoon to his mouth, and takes a sip.
The first time it happens, Eliot only vaguely takes note of it. He's a little more concerned about taking care of the cuts covering his cheek and fingers than he is about the exact brand of non-stick gauze available or the color of the tube of antibiotic cream, and to be honest, he's more than a little exhausted.
So he goes about wrapping his knuckles up and smearing his fingertips with cream and Band-Aids (damn wire) and cleaning off his cheek, and puts the supplies back in the cabinet of the safe house in Denver, and doesn't really take too much stock of what, exactly, he used to wrap them.
The second time, though. The second time, he notices. Maybe it's because he's not just patching himself up (glass cut, abdomen; bruised left shoulder; split lip; torn knuckles) but Parker, too (burns on right and left forearms; metal scrapes across her thighs; bleeding toe). He notices that the package is smaller than those the American companies use- he notices that there is no English anywhere on the container.
He notices that this is the exact brand of antibiotic ointment that he cannot buy anywhere on this continent. He files that away for later examination- preferably, when Parker isn't sitting on his bathroom vanity, wearing a pair of Hardison's running shorts (that he doesn't actually use for running and that Eliot highly suspects were a gift from someone) and expecting him to fix her because that's what you do, Eliot.
He finishes putting the ointment on her forearms and carefully pulls down a box of non-stick gauze pads- which, he notes, are also suspiciously high on his list of hard-to-acquire medical supplies.
"Mm? You done?"
"No," Eliot growls. "Stay still, please." She's started squirming again- Parker, he's learned, does not stay still for very long.
"Oh." She stills, for a moment, and Eliot capitalizes on that, wrapping the adhesive tape around her arms quickly. He steps back for a second, assesses what injury he wants to deal with next.
"I can-," she starts, and he knows where that's going, but she asked for his help, so now he's helping, goddamnit.
"Where did you get this?" He holds up the ointment and the gauze.
"Oh, you noticed! Happy... ehm... you're welcome."
He leaves it at that.
(He's not entirely sure he wants to know.)
It has been a long damn day. A really, really long damn day. His head hurts (a lot), and he's tired (a little), and he doesn't feel like he's anywhere in his body.
Just two more hours. Two. More. Hours. That's it.
He takes a deep breath in. This is going to be a very long two hours.
He smiles charmingly, letting the little eye-crinkle happen and leaning his body into the table in a way he knows to be disarming. Nobody approaches him.
Parker wanders over to him.
"You eye bags are showing," she whispers.
"Thank you for that," he hisses back.
And off she goes again, flitting around the party like some sort of thief-butterfly.
He makes it a whole five minutes before Hardison's voice filters in his ear.
"You're not looking so good, man."
"I. Know. Hardison. I know."
"Ohhh-kay," he says, and Eliot can hear the backpedal starting, can tell that Hardison feels the edge to his voice. "I'm just sayin', you know, if you-"
"Fine, Hardison. I am fine."
"Alright, okay man. Okay."
"Are you sure, El, cause you-"
"Hardison. Shut. Up."
"Right, right, yeah man, okay."
Eliot is right- it's a very, very long two hours.
When they get home, he's about ready to tuck up into a ball on the floor and sleep for about 30 years, but something keeps him from immediately doing so. In part, this something is an instinct. In part, it is a Parker suddenly plastered to his front like there is nothing else she should be doing right now.
"Parker," he grunts out, voice slightly strained. He's staggering a little, trying to support her while also not toppling, and then suddenly, there's a support at his back and he's much more stable. Parker is still holding onto him.
"Parker," he starts again, this time with a more solid tone to his voice. "What are you-"
He stops, because now there are arms wrapped around his torso from behind, and it's only because there's a quick one-two shift of weight behind him that he recognizes as belonging to Hardison that he doesn’t immediately move to fight the person behind him, pressing against his back.
"Hardison," he growls out, well and truly baffled and thoroughly unamused.
"It's an Eliot sandwich," Parker says by way of explanation, which is really no explanation at all, but by her tone of voice, he isn't getting out of it anytime soon, so he takes a deep breath in, lets it out, closes his eyes, and lets his limbs go a little limp, relaxing and letting them take some of his weight, easing back onto their bodies.
Hardison is sick.
Not just "Oh a light cold, I'll be fine" sick, but "if I were anyone else, we'd already be in a doctor's office" sick.
Eliot is sick of Hardison being sick.
It's been three weeks now, and this has progressed from a mild, unconcerning annoyance to knocking their hacker flat out.
He's done everything he can to keep Hardison from reinfecting himself, but somehow, every time that he starts getting better, the bug comes right back.
At this point, Eliot's cleaned and heavily disinfected almost everything in the apartment- everything except Hardison's equipment.
And, well, Eliot has no qualms about cleaning the stuff, even if he hates using it.
And this is how, armed with a spray bottle and a soft cloth, Eliot ends up cleaning all of Hardison's computers that he can find, wiping them down with rubbing alcohol and anti-microbial cloths. It takes him a lot longer than he'd expected, truth be told, and when he next looks at a clock, he has to blink a couple of times to get it into his head that it is actually, somehow, 5pm. He stands from where he's been settled on the floor in the middle of what had, at the beginning, looked like someone had set off a really strong wind machine in an electronics shop. It looks less like a disaster zone, now that he's gotten through everything he could get his hands on (he couldn't get to Hardison's gaming computer- it’s somewhere in a bag, not accessible to the ‘general public’, and he couldn't get to Hardison's phone, mostly because he didn't feel like waking Hardison). It feels good, clean, safe, like taking a hit on a job or clearing a hallway- insurance that those he has a responsibility to are safe.
He rolls his head around, slowly and carefully, making sure not to go too fast, and then shakes out his leg a little to get rid of some of the pins-and-needles feeling that’s starting to form before placing the cloth and bottle on a table and heading into the kitchen to make dinner.
There's a light clinking sound behind him, and he knows without turning that it's Parker, here for dinner or Hardison or maybe both. Probably both.
"Hey," she whispers across the apartment.
"Hi," he says.
"He's asleep," she remarks, her voice now uncomfortably close.
"Pass me that knife, if you're gonna stand that close," he replies. She does. "He needs it."
Eliot doesn't want to know where that sentence is going, he really doesn't.
"Nate can keep it to himself until Hardison can stand," Eliot growls. There's a moment of silence.
"Do you need anything?"
"Sit down," he suggests. He can hear the sigh she gives him, and elects to ignore it in favor of turning back to his food. He clicks the fire on under the pot of stock that he's had on the stove since last night- Hardison's been burning through the stuff, and this is the third pot he's made this week. Eliot adds some rice, for variety, and also because goddamnit, Hardison needs something other than liquid, even if he insists that he could live on Eliot's soup.
Rice and broth in a pot, he turns to the fridge for something to cook for himself and Parker.
"Chicken or tuna," he asks, head still mostly in the fridge.
"Chicken," she declares, and Eliot grins a little. He's been wanting chicken and pasta for ages now, and it’s what his plan was before Parker showed up. Still, she's sometimes finicky about food when she can be, and he wants her to eat and enjoy it, not pick at it like a small bird until it’s in pieces or she just swallows without tasting.
He chops up the chicken and tosses it into a pan with some butter, and sets out a new pot for the noodles, and another pan for some sauce. He loses himself in the cooking, and the look on Parker's face when he puts down a plate in front of her is- well, he treasures it for a reason.
"Be right back," he says, and carefully ladles out some soup with rice for Hardison into a bowl, putting it into his favorite bowl cozy and rolling up a spoon and fork into a napkin. He walks into the living room, ready to wake Hardison if necessary, which- which it isn't, he realizes a little sadly. Hardison sleeping is a gift, and a rare one- it's the only time he's quiet, sure, but it's also the one of the only times he doesn't have concern etched on his face, like something can and will go wrong and blow up in their faces at any given moment. Eliot likes seeing him get moments of peace. (He doesn't want to think about that too hard, because thinking about it will make it real.)
He leaves the soup on the stool that's become Hardison's couch side table and switches out the empty bottle of Gatorade for a full one.
"How you feelin'?"
Hardison just makes a sort of groaning, whining noise, which is about what he's been doing all day, so Eliot presses the back of his hand to Hardison's forehead to make sure that his fever hasn't gone up, and lets it be. When he's satisfied that Hardison isn't getting too much sicker, at least not in the fever department, he leaves a couple of Tylenols on the stool and heads back to the kitchen where Parker is sitting, hunched over her plate of pasta and chicken, scarfing it down.
Parker looks up at him and beams. She nods, and starts trying to speak.
"Don't- Parker, please," Eliot says, and though she seems to have to think about this for a moment, she nods, and resumes eating instead of talking.
He makes his own plate up and sits across from her, and they eat together in more or less silence. Parker finishes way before Eliot, but for a long while just sits there, watching him, calmly observing him.
"What?" he asks, finally.
"You-," she pauses, thinking. "Thank you, Eliot."
"You're welcome," he says.
He doesn't think that's really what she meant, but he says it anyway, because he’s Eliot and she’s Parker, and that's how it is. She'll say what she means when she's ready, just as Eliot would. He's willing to wait for that.