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Right Round

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Right Round
or: The Lengths That I Will Go To
A Love Story in 100 parts.

One

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and slams a hand down on the alarm blaring in his ear. His phone is flashing with a text from Hardison.

"still on 4 movies 2morrow?" it says, and Eliot shoots back a quick, "yeah, dinner requests?"

While he waits for a response -- it'll be hours still until either Parker or Hardison are awake -- he goes and takes a shower. He jerks off to thoughts of Hardison blowing him in Lucille while Parker watches, her hand working between her legs. It feels dirty and wrong, thinking about them like that, but sometimes he can't help it, can't help picturing the way it looks when they kiss in front of him, the way they must look when they come together at night, the way it might feel if they let him follow them into the bedroom one night instead of going out the front door.

(After, after he finds them, he wonders if this is when it happened. If he was busy jerking off when he should have been protecting them. If he was busy distracting himself with fantasies that would never happen when Hardison was shot. He wonders if Parker had cried or gone cold inside, wonders if it happened the other way around. Tells himself he would've been able to save them if he hadn't been busy being a creep.)

When they still haven't texted him back by noon, he sends another text, "getting groceries now, last chance," and heads to the store. They never have any food at their apartment, and he's always trying to get them to eat something that's not full of sugar, or dyed neon colors, or come out of the frozen food aisle.

(And after, he thinks that maybe this is when it happened. When he was standing in the fruit aisle trying to pick out the juiciest apples for Parker, or maybe when he was debating over throwing some citrus seltzers in the cart just to hear Hardison complain that they weren't real soda.)

When he finally shows up after a day of puttering around and working out (and had that been when? Had he been training his body to better protect them instead of actually protecting them like he should have been?), when he finally shows up the door is ajar.

He quietly puts down the two bags of groceries he's carrying, quietly nudges the door open until it bumps against something that gives, just the tiniest bit, under the pressure of the door before it starts pushing the object across the floor. Everything is quiet, but the skin on the back of his neck is prickling and there's a slow denial building in him, a slow string of "no"s echoing in the back of his mind.

Parker's leg is blocking the door. She's on her stomach, surrounded by a pool of tacky, drying blood, her arm outstretched like she'd been trying to crawl toward someone, trying to get to someone. He doesn't want to look, but he forces himself anyway, following the line of her arm, her hand, to where Hardison is sitting, slumped against the wall, a tiny hole in the center of his forehead.

The wall behind him is drenched in reds.

Eliot backs up. He picks up the groceries he left in the hall. He goes back down to his car. It's not that he can't feel anything, not quite. It's not that he's in shock; he knows what shock feels like and it's not this. It's that the feeling of no is so all-encompassing, so invasive, filling all the nooks and crannies of his consciousness, that there's no room for anything else. It's only 6PM.

He drives. No one follows him, but he still swings the wrong way up some one way streets and takes sharp corners, just in case. It's automatic, being on the run. They could've got him at any time during the day, and hadn’t, but that didn't mean they wouldn't. He isn't sure he cares either way.

When he can't drive anymore, when his chest is so tight it feels like he can't breathe, he stops at a seedy motel and pays cash for a room for the night. There's a liquor store across the street, where he gets a bottle of whiskey. Back in the room, he pours a glass full of it. He needs to call Nate and Sophie. He needs to keep running. Instead, he starts to call in favors.

By 10 he has a promise that he'll have a name by tomorrow morning, and his vision is wavering. He can't tell if it's the alcohol or tears.

By 11, the bottle of whiskey is empty and his face is wet and he doesn't know why.

By midnight, he's passed out in bed. He still hasn't called Nate and Sophie.

Two

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and slams a hand down on the alarm blaring in his ear. His phone is flashing with a text from Hardison.

"still on 4 movies 2morrow?" it says, and he shoots back a quick, "yeah, dinner requests?"

Then he remembers.

He doesn't have a hangover, so he must still be drunk. He's okay with that, because he knows that once he's not drunk anymore, the numb feeling is going to go away. And he- he doesn't want that feeling to go away. It might be too late for that, though; he recognizes the feeling growing in his stomach as rage, rage that someone would be using Hardison's phone to fuck with him, rage that he couldn't protect them, rage that he's alive and they aren't.

He texts back a, "who the fuck is this?" and gets up, going to the kitchen -- when had he come back to his apartment? Why had he come back to his apartment? -- and pulling out a bottle of fancy scotch Nate had given him as a gift a long time ago.

The reply is quick, which is a mistake, because Hardison would never be up this early. "hardison," it says.

"this isn't fucking funny," he texts back, wishing he could track phones like Hardison could, getting the location in the blink of an eye, so he could find out who had it and kill them slow.

After a minute, the phone starts ringing. Eliot answers it with a vicious stab of his finger and snarls, "I'm gonna find you, and I'm gonna make you wish you'd never-"

"Whoa, whoa," Hardison's voice said. "What crawled up your ass and died?"

Eliot's throat closes.

"Hardison?" he croaks out. Oh god, it had been a dream. Just a very, very realistic dream. Please let it have been a dream, please. He didn’t have any good karma to call upon, but they did, and if the universe had even the faintest sliver of kindness left in it, it would be just a dream

"You okay, man?" Hardison asks, and Eliot laughs, a little shrill.

"Yeah, yeah, I just- Long night, that's all. It's good to hear your voice." He's pulling on clothes while he talks, rushing through getting dressed so he can go make sure they're really all right.

"O... kay," Hardison says. "You're kinda worrying me here."

"Want to go get breakfast?" Eliot says. He needs to see them, needs to make sure that it was just a dream, that even though it feels like a memory, it was just a dream and they're okay. "My treat."

Hardison is silent for a moment, and then sighs. "Yeah, sure. I'll wake up Parker. Meet you at the diner?"

He rushes, but Hardison and Parker still get to the diner before him. As he pulls in, he can see them walking up the sidewalk, hand in hand. Something inside him uncurls.

Then he sees the black SUV, slowing by the curb. He slams the truck into park.

Then he sees the window of the black SUV rolling down a fraction, sees the glint of metal in the sunlight. He's running, and shouting; Parker and Hardison stop in surprise, turn toward him, and he's not going to be in time.

He sees Hardison drop before he hears the report from the gun. Parker is running, running toward Eliot when she crumples, red spreading across her chest.

No no no no no. No. This is not happening. This is another dream and he just needs to wake up. He needs to wake up, wake up, wake up. The SUV is already pulling away and he hits the ground hard beside Parker, the concrete sidewalk cutting up his palms. She's already dead.

He runs, ends up at a different seedy motel. He calls in his favors with a sick sense of deja vu. He drinks the whiskey, from a different liquor store that looks just the same on the inside. He throws up twice. He collapses on the bed and doesn't think about how he'd just abandoned them- their bodies to the city morgue. Doesn't think about how he won't even be able to go in and claim them, because their fingerprints will-

Their fingerprints will-

Three

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and slams a hand down on the alarm blaring in his ear. His phone is flashing with a text from Hardison.

"still on 4 movies 2morrow?" it says, and his heart starts to pound.

It should be Friday. It should be Friday and his hands should be cut up and he should have a hangover or still be drunk and he shouldn't be in his bed in his apartment and Parker and Hardison are dead and it should be Friday.

The little date on his phone keeps telling him it's Thursday.

He calls Hardison. When Hardison answers, he can't help the shuddering sigh of relief that escapes him.

"Stay there," he says, and, "something fucked up is going on," and, "I think you're being watched."

He thinks about Groundhog Day.

He thinks about Parker, in a sticky pool of her own blood.

He thinks about Hardison, crumpling to the concrete before Eliot can get to him.

He thinks, thank you, and tears out of the apartment.

He finds the men outside their apartment easily enough now that he knows he's looking for something, kills two of them with quick twists of the neck, but before he can interrogate the third, the asshole’s out of his reach and gasping into the radio, "Move in, now."

He races for their apartment, takes the stairs three at a time, when he gets there, the apartment is trashed and Parker and Hardison are missing. This is -- only slightly better.

He finds their bodies three hours later.

He doesn't bother running this time, just heads back to his apartment and gets drunk, and before he falls asleep, he thinks, please.

Four

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and slams a hand down on the alarm blaring in his ear. His phone is flashing with a text from Hardison.

"still on 4 movies 2morrow?" it says, and he shoots out of bed, pulling on clothes and rushing out without locking his door behind him.

The numbness he feels every time he watches them die is starting to fade, starting to be replaced by bone-deep fear and grief as he sees them crumple, this time between the door and the van. He takes off in the direction the shots have come, not caring about the bullets that pit the ground as he runs.

The bullets stop, and he catches the glint of a gun in a window down the street. By the time he gets up to the sniper nest, it's empty. He punches the wall, hearing the bones in his hand crack but not feeling it. He can't feel anything, so he punches the wall again.

There's nothing.

Six

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and slams a hand down on the alarm blaring in his ear. His phone is flashing with a text from Hardison.

He's starting to get a rhythm down, now, roll out of bed and into old clothes as soon as it hits that it's still Thursday. Get over there as fast as possible. Watch them die, every time.

Eleven

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and slams a hand down on the alarm blaring in his ear. His phone is flashing with a text from-

He makes it to them in record time, the streets bizarrely empty. He wishes he could figure out what causes the changes, if it's something he can control.

"You think you're stuck in a time loop," Hardison says when Eliot explains how he knows there are gunmen waiting to mow them down.

"Like on one of your stupid shows," Eliot says, keeping his voice low as he peers over the window ledge. He can the shadows of at least three people lying in wait in the alley below. They'll have to find another way out.

Hardison's hand is suddenly pressed to his forehead, and Eliot jerks away, overbalancing and nearly falling over.

"I can't tell if you have a fever or not," Hardison says, frowning at his hands.

"A fe- I'm not sick, Hardison," Eliot growls, moving to the other window. There are dark shapes moving just beyond the shade of the tree line, the sun in his eyes too much to make them out, but he thought he caught the length of a rifle in one of their hands. It’s not subtle, so they must have-

"Okay," Hardison says, placatingly. "Okay."

Parker is watching Eliot, her eyes scared. He's going to get them out of it this time.

He doesn't get them out of it.

Twelve

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and slams a hand down on the alarm blaring in his ear. His phone is flashing with a text from-

The streets are packed with cars and he doesn't make it in time, even though he abandons the car and runs the last mile. He hears the gunshot before he hits the stairwell, pounds up them anyway. They're both dead.

He finds their bodies or watches them die, over and over and over again. He's Sisyphus, rolling that boulder up a hill again and again. His ability to compartmentalize things is starting to shatter. Each day he prays that he wakes up and it's still Thursday.

He wonders if, if he had been there the first day, this would be happening, or if he'd have been able to keep them alive that day, or if he would have died with them. It's getting harder to force himself out of bed in the mornings and he keeps failing at his job. The one thing he has to do in life is keep them alive, and instead they keep dying, and nothing he is doing is working and every time he wakes up and it's still Thursday he feels like he can't breathe.

He doesn't try to tell Hardison about the time loop again, even though Hardison could probably figure out why it was happening and maybe put a stop to it. He doesn't want to put a stop to it until he's sure that he can save them every time, sure that the loops won't stop and he'll be trapped in a universe where there's no-

Where there's no-

He takes another swallow of the whiskey.

Twenty-Three

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and slams a hand down on the alarm blaring in his ear. His phone-

They make it almost to the state line, just ahead of the car chasing them, when a bullet tears through a tire and their car skids out of control and over a guardrail.

Eliot drags himself out of the wreckage, feels for a pulse on Hardison and can't find one.

Parker's a couple feet from the car, slumped on the ground. Tears are slipping down her face while she tries to hold her guts in.

"It's okay," Eliot says, stroking her hair and refusing to look away, even as the car that had been following them screams past. "It's okay." He bends down and presses a kiss against her forehead. "Let go."

Her eyes slip closed and her hands fall away from her stomach.

Thirty-One

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and slams a hand down on the alarm blaring in his ear.

He knows he's never going to get out of this. That he's probably been killed in the dead of the night and this is Hell. So he presses a quick kiss to Hardison's lips when he opens the door and slips past him with a "Sorry," glad that at least he knows now, knows that Hardison's lips are chapped and warm. He won't have to wonder anymore, and won't have to- to wonder if maybe one day they'd- because Hardison had just stood there, didn't respond, because Hardison wasn't into guys and Eliot knew that, but he'd had to do it anyway.

But Hardison's got his sleeve, is reeling him back in, is kissing him more firmly, with tongue, and he tastes vaguely of artificial orange. When he breaks away and Eliot opens his eyes, Parker's watching them and grinning.

"You have no idea," Hardison says, "how long I've been wanting to do that."

"My turn?" Parker says hopefully, and hops down off the back of the couch when Eliot holds a hand out to her. She presses her body against him, twines her arms around his neck, and he feels like he’s going to pass out from the sheer heady pleasure of getting to do this. Of getting to press his lips against hers, of letting her lick her way into his mouth, and when she finally steps back, he can feel himself smiling foolishly at her, at them both.

There's a tiny pop and the crackle of glass spiderwebbing with lines, and she falls to the floor before taking another step. Eliot automatically traces the trajectory back, sees the bullet hole in the window, sees Hardison running to Parker's side and yelling at him to call 911, sees another hole appear in the window and Hardison slumps over her, blood pooling in a slowly growing circle around both of them.

It turns out knowing what they both taste like doesn't make it hurt less.

Thirty-Two

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and slams a hand down on the alarm blaring in his ear.

He doesn't get out of bed.

Thirty-Three

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and slams a hand down on the-

He finds the ringleader watching on security cams from a van down the street, drags him out and beats the shit out of him, even though it doesn't make him feel better, doesn't make anything come alive inside of him again. He spends Thursday #33 in jail.

Forty

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and slams a hand-

He gets them to his apartment, where they're ambushed. Something he's ready for. He's got the last guy on the floor and is punching him in the face over and over and over again, blood flecking his shirt, his panting harsh in his ears, they're dead they're dead they're dead running over and over through his head to the rhythm of his fists. The guy's face is nothing more than a bloody pulp when he feels someone's hand on his arm and he twists around from where he's kneeling over the body -- and it's a body now, not a person, and probably has been for a while -- but it's just Parker. Parker pulling him away while Hardison watches with wide eyes. Parker telling him it's okay, that he got them, he saved them, he can stop now.

He rips away from her, and hurls himself into the bathroom, panting harshly in the silence, his stomach twisted up in knots. He scrubs his hands until they're raw and bleeding, wipes the blood spatter off his face. They're still alive, and he knows that was the last one. They're still alive, and they've seen what he can do, what he is. They're still alive and they'll be gone when he opens the bathroom door and he's okay with that because they're still alive.

He sinks down to the floor and shakes.

Forty-One

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and-

He does the exact same thing as the morning before, takes them to his apartment by the exact same route, shakes off the same tails faster, now that he knows which cars they are. And when he gets there, they’ve managed to make it before the ambush is set up, so they go through the door ahead of him and the building blows up. He's thrown clear, burned but still alive.

Forty-Two

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the-

He rationalizes that this is only affecting him, he's the one who's controlling this somehow, so if he's not around, then they'll likely continue to live because sure, the reset heals small injuries and burns, but can it heal this? He wishes he'd had time to kiss one of them today, but between the running and the killing and the hiding there wasn't time. He eats the gun he got off one of the hired muscle while they're in the other room. He hopes they understand.

Fifty

Eliot wakes up and wakes up and wakes up and sometimes they die and he goes to bed terrified that he'll wake up and it will be Friday. Sometimes they live and he goes to bed terrified that he'll wake up and it won't be Friday.

They're hiding behind a row of boxes in a warehouse, about to make a run for the back door.

"For luck," Hardison whispers, leaning forward to meet Parker in the middle, kissing her firmly. Eliot doesn't look away, doesn't give them the privacy they deserve.

When they break apart, there must still be something on his face, some great and terrible longing, because Hardison smiles kindly and leans across to kiss him.

"For luck," he whispers.

"For luck," Eliot repeats back, his lips tingling.

None of them make it.

Fifty-Two

The first time they fuck him, it's in the back of Lucille, him and Hardison trading quick hand jobs and then Eliot getting Parker off with his fingers.

They get a motel and pull him into bed with them. He thinks about protesting, but he's always been easy for them, always willing to go along with whatever they need.

It doesn't end up mattering, because Hardison crashes almost immediately. Parker stays up, carefully watching Eliot from too close until he snaps, "What?" at her.

"You look tired," she says, and he feels something in him break.

"Yeah," he says. "You should get some sleep before we have to move again."

She nods and curls up next to Hardison, not touching but fitting against his side perfectly anyway.

Eliot stays up that night, in their bed, refusing to fall asleep, refusing to stop watching them. Maybe if he just keeps his eyes on them, they'll-

Fifty-Three

He wakes up and he's alone.

Sixty

"What do you want from me?" he screams at the sky, Hardison's body floating in the river below him. Nothing answers.

Eighty-Four

Sometimes they live, and even fewer times they fuck, but most of the time he's not good enough and they die and their blood is caked on his hands even though he can't see it. Even though it's invisible, he's never going to be able to get it off.

They live, and he tortures the ring leader, drawing out his death as long as possible, a satisfied warmth filling him as the man screams and begs for Eliot to kill him. When he looks up, Parker and Hardison are both pale, standing over him, and he shrinks away from them. For the first time, they live and he falls asleep and hopes it's still Thursday when he wakes up.

Eighty-Six

Hardison is dead and Parker is dying, her head in Eliot’s lap, slowly bleeding out across the floor. She reaches up a trembling hand and touches his cheek, her fingers smearing the wetness there, saying something too quiet for him to hear.

"What's that, darlin'?" he asks, bending down, and she says again, "It's okay. It's not your fault."

Ninety

He's getting used to it, getting used to the feeling of loss and constant grief that makes him want to sit in the dark and sob into his drink, no matter how much it makes him think he's turning into Nate. He's getting used to waking up on Thursday and failing, most days, to do what he'd promised he'd do. Failing to protect them.

One Hundred

It's Thursday 100, he thinks, and Parker's pulling him gently off a guy. He doesn't look down to see what he's done to him. Just dully lets Parker buckle him into the truck, watches as she slides in and Hardison slides in the other side. They leave plenty of space around him in the middle, and it feels like an ocean. It doesn't matter that they've seen what he's really capable of, because tomorrow will be another Thursday and they won't remember.

"I love you guys," he says suddenly, the words catching in his throat and tearing out, rough. His eyes are burning, and he scrubs at them with bloody hands.

"I'd do anything to keep you safe," he says. "Anything."

He flinches when Hardison's hand comes up, forces himself to still against his automatic reflex.
Hardison's thumb rubs gently at a spot on Eliot’s face, and crusted dried blood flakes into Eliot's lap. "We know," Hardison murmurs.

Parker keeps glancing over at him, but is silent as she drives.

After a while, she pulls up to a cheap motor lodge, goes into the main office and returns with a key, which she pushes into Hardison's hand. That's okay, Eliot thinks. That's okay, he can sleep in the truck.

But they pull him out after them and he lands on unsteady legs. He feels dazed, and everything is fuzzy.

They hustle him inside and into the bathroom, take his bloody clothes and push him into the shower before leaving him alone. It takes a long time for the water to run clear.

Long after his fingers have pruned, when he can't stand the way the water sliding down his body starts to feel like blood, he gets out and dries off. They left him his go bag. He pulls on clothes and opens the door.

They're sitting together on the bed, and he doesn't know what they want.

It doesn't matter, because tomorrow will be Thursday. Every day will be Thursday until whatever is doing this spits him out, a mangled, bloody mess of a person.

"C'mere," Hardison says, and Eliot goes. They kiss him, and start to undress him.

Oh, he thinks. Oh.

And he thinks, They know who I am. They know what I am.

And he thinks, They're still here.

And he starts to think that maybe, maybe if it's ever Friday, maybe they still will be.

After they have sex, he falls asleep between the two of them in a pocket of warmth, letting his thoughts slow down until he's not thinking of anything at all. And he waits for Thursday.

One

Eliot wakes up, his face pressed into the pillow, and slams a hand down on the alarm blaring in his ear. He doesn't open his eyes. "I can't do this again," he says into the pillow, shakily. He can feel his sanity crumbling away every time he fails this test.

"What?" a voice asks, and he snaps his head to the side. Parker is lying there, staring at him, her eyes troubled.

"I-" he says, and then, "What day is it?"

"Friday," says a voice on the other side of him, and Hardison is awake, leaning over him and hooking his chin over his shoulder. "Why are we up this early?"

And Eliot, Eliot is so relieved, so fucking relieved that he doesn't care that yesterday they watched him torture a man to death. He doesn't care that they might never want to speak to him again, that last night might have been a pity fuck or something, because last night was last night.

He realizes that he's sobbing, huge, racking sobs, and Parker is staring at him with horror and Hardison is hanging onto him tight, like if he presses all the broken pieces of Eliot back into place hard enough they'll stay there.

He tries to stop and can't because it's finally, finally Friday and they're fucking alive and he tries to stop because Parker is asking Hardison in a scared voice, "What do we do?" and Hardison is just saying, "I don't know, I don't know what's wrong," and Eliot can't.

Eventually, though, he does, and he tells them, in fits and starts, what happened the past hundred days of his life, and by the time he's done Parker's knuckles are white where she's gripping his wrist and he can feel bones grinding together, and Hardison is looking so fucking horrified and sad that he can't stand it.

"I can go, if you want. I don't gotta stay," he says when the story winds down, but Hardison tightens his arms around him, and Parker's grabbing his arm with her other hand and hissing, "We are never letting go of you again."

And that-

That's fine by Eliot.

THE END