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Ninety minutes a night was an exaggeration, sure.

The thing about insomnia was that it wasn't predictable. Did Eliot only need ninety minutes of sleep a night? Debatable. But he'd worked out all the ways he could push through on that little. There was a raw raggedness to going without sleep that was just part of the baseline of how he functioned. It didn't really make a difference, what had to be done had to be done. How he was feeling had nothing to do with it.

When nights were long and his choices were lying awake in bed remembering faces and names and moments where he'd brought terror into someone's life, or just getting up and doing something - running, hitting the gym, tending his garden - every time he'd much rather be up and moving.

Then there were the nights when he was tired through to the bone in a way that made his muscles twitch and twinge, his whole body feel like every cell was vibrating rapidly, and his brain couldn't even focus on the horrors. Some nights when he'd pushed his body too far and old injuries flared. Some when he didn't know what he'd done to set it off, but the pain came anyway. Those nights it was lights down low and slow stretches, working each joint to negotiate a sweet moment of respite from the agony.

It wasn't like he couldn't handle pain. But there were times when all the pains were too much. An old leg injury had him writing his name in the air with his foot, bending the ankle to point and flex in turn, and all the other PT moves he could manage without the pain making him cry. Other times it was his shoulders and neck nagging about dislocations, soft tissue injuries while he stared at the ceiling and tried to count his breaths.

He'd told the team ninety minutes. It was bravado. Bragging that he was tougher, that he could handle what life threw at him. That he didn't waste time sleeping. Like some kind of Chuck Norris joke.

Maybe the first year they'd believed him.

He got to know the team, the team got to know him. It wasn't anything he'd planned. One show only, they'd said. Then they came back for more and more.

It was in Boston that the tea thing started. Sure, Sophie used tea to fuck with Eliot. One day she'd trust the team enough not to test her skill against them every now and then. But also, she was pretty serious about teaching him how to make a good cup of tea. What temperature the water had to be not to scald white or green teas, how long to steep lapsang souchong. It was interesting. It was different when she pressed a little canister into his hands and told him it was a tisane for restful nights.

Eliot wasn't sure how much good it did, but on the nights when he was thinking too much, the ritual of preparing and pouring a cup, and the warmth of the drink in his hands took his mind a measure away from the blood-dark thoughts.

Nate offered whiskey, which had its nights too, and a steadying hand on his shoulder (and never ever asked him to talk about any of it.)

Parker noticed the aches. It wasn't like Eliot enjoyed the way she jabbed and poked at him when he was hurt, but it was like she was learning his body. Sometimes she'd show up, out of nowhere, on a night when all his joints were screaming bloody murder, and work through stretches with him, uncompromising until his body was eased all over. If either of them could take it, she might massage his shoulders and neck. She had a hell of a grip, but they both had to feel like touching or being touched, so it wasn't every time.

Hardison. Hardison just showed up in his space, kept giving him hugs like he was a feral cat that needed to be socialized to humans. It was in Portland that Hardison apparently decided that if Eliot wasn't going to sleep, then he was going to do it wedged between Parker (all elbows and light snores) and Hardison himself, on their king sized bed. There might be tea. There might be whiskey. There might be a hard workout or a soft warm down. But eventually Hardison was going to come find him and bitch at him until Eliot dragged his ass to bed.

Ninety minutes a night had been an exaggeration. Eliot still envied the soft, easy sleep that came to other people. But the nights weren't the same impossibly steep hill to climb any more, and when he talked to his team he didn't brag. He just said, "I don't sleep so good," and that was all.