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She's gonna die. This is it, and she's certain that she won't get out. This ain't like the other (by now, what seems like countless) times that they've had close scrapes, because she's down, stupidly, unforgivingly; it's her own fault, and she's hit her head hard and her mind is reeling and she's already tried to get up like three times but for some reason, she can't get her legs under her and the stupid floor won't stay where it belongs, rising up to meet her every time so she keeps hitting the nearest wall instead.

Panic, hot and breath-stealing, is boiling in her stomach. She's too young to die, and she's still got things to do, things to see!

Shaking all over, she tries once more, pushes herself up on all fours, fumbles for her backpack as she does so and almost gags because of the sudden onset of nausea that the motion is causing.

Dizzily, she falls onto her side, and there's that frickin' wall again. With a groan, she closes her eyes, doing her best to collect herself, but it ain't no good. Everything's spinning, and the wall's moving too.

She can't stop the tears that are brimming in her eyes now, because it just ain't fair. She can already hear someone running towards her; that's bad, really bad. She's no coward though, no matter what Jamal frickin' Anderson claimed in fourth grade when she refused to touch the snake during their day trip to the exotic animals exhibition at the zoo. Snakes just ain't her thing, okay?

Feeling a wave of helpless anger, she braces herself; mental images of Alec, of Nana, of Sophie and Mr. Wilson and Parker and Eliot cross her mind in quick succession, and she desperately wishes she could have said goodbye. Her heart hurts even worse than her head right now, making the tears spill over.

The footsteps have now reached her, and as she squints, she can see a set of legs; quickly, she closes her eyes. Okay, maybe she is a coward after all, but then again, this is so much worse than snakes.

There's no shot though, only a voice, urgent but gentle as it says her name, and the relief is so profound it makes her cry for real: it's Eliot, and he's reaching for her and steadies her.

Breanna grabs his arms and never wants to let go again.

“Hey, kid. What happened?” Eliot asks, still urgent because they've got no time to lose, yet still gentle.

“Fell. H- h- hit my h-h-head,” Breanna sobs, but already it's easier to breathe because Eliot's a solid presence and he's calm despite everything, which is immensely reassuring.

“Did you black out?”

“Not really.”

“So you did black out.”

“Jus'... for a few seconds or so. Like- like blinking.”

“Hm. Think you can get up?”

“No. Tried. S-sorry.”

“Okay. It's okay, honey. I got you. I'mma pick you up, yeah?”

Breanna starts to nod but quickly aborts the motion because of the dizziness and everything. Eliot takes her backpack and slings it over one shoulder, then he carefully lifts her up, one arm behind her back, one underneath her knees; even though the motion still increases the nausea, Breanna immediately feels safe.

She leans her head against Eliot's shoulder and closes her eyes; maybe she ain't gonna die today after all.

Later, Breanna has a very hazy recollection of how they got out. She only really comes to herself again in the hospital, when a doctor shines an annoying light in her eyes and starts asking lots of questions.

While she's still blinking owlishly at the woman in front of her, someone else answers the questions which she's still trying to figure out how to reply to; a guy. Eliot, her currently rather addled brain provides after a moment. Oh yeah, he got her out. She remembers his warmth, the feeling of his shirt against her cheek and his already familiar scent, the overall impression of how strong he was, all of which somehow made things alright.

He now tells the doctor that she did black out for a few seconds and vomited once.

Really? Breanna frowns, unaware that she's doing so. She can't remember throwing up. On second thought though, there is a nasty taste in her mouth.

It turns out that her concussion is bad enough for the doctor to want to keep her overnight for observation. At this point, she just wants to lie down and sleep in order to forget the still lingering queasiness and the really bad headache she's got going on; she pulls faces as the nurse takes her to get settled in a room, but she complies, partly because she doesn't have much of a choice.

She does reach for Eliot though before leaving the room, and he gives her a small smile: “I'mma be right here, kid,” he says, and that's all she needed to hear.

By the time she's lying in a bed, thankfully in a room of her own, she feels exhausted. When Eliot comes in, she's close to dozing off.

“Hey,” he says softly. “How're you doing?”

“This sucks,” she mutters. Eliot regards her, then he reaches for her hand: “Yeah, it does. Get some rest, 'kay?”

“Hm.” Breanna closes her eyes.

Eliot can't quite bring himself to let go of her or step away from the bed. The kid's usually so shrewd and self-confident, it rattled him a great deal to see her scared and crying earlier; she was shaking badly when he picked her up, and this vulnerability is something he has rarely seen in her before. Granted, she was confused because of her head, but the fear was real, and it reminded him of how young she still is. Seeing her crying... it tugged right at Eliot's heart.

Tears are his Kryptonite, always have been. Whenever Parker's crying (and that means real tears, not the ones she squeezes out in order to manipulate someone, at which she's surprisingly good), he'd do anything for her just to make it stop. Same goes for any of his loved ones, really, and Breanna has long since become one of those; she has a way of getting under people's skins that's equally effortless and charming.

Eliot'd rather bite off his own tongue than ever admit this to anyone, but he feels like she kinda is his kid, just as Parker is Sophie's.

He had resigned himself to the fact that he wasn't gonna have any kids of his own ages ago, and it's alright, considering how things turned out.

He wouldn't even have given it any further thought because things were going great and he knew he was knee-jerkingly lucky to have found a family and a home, but then along came Breanna, and even though she's Hardison's little sister so she'd technically be his sister-in-law if anything, he feels protective of her in a way that's new to him. Different from how he feels about Parker and Hardison and the others. Which probably also is the reason why he doesn't let her drink the hard stuff, or why he feels guilty for not being by her side earlier when things got out of hand.

So he stays where he is, his thumb gently stroking over Breanna's hand; she's still pale, and she's looking small in the ill-fitting hospital gown. There's no way he'd leave her now. In order to be allowed past the normal visiting hours, he actually pretended to be her dad; he realizes that they don't look that much alike, apart from the different skin colour, but since families come in all kinds of shapes these days, the nurse at admission apparently didn't see any reason to question this, especially when Eliot turned on his charme.

His phone buzzes; it's Parker, telling him that everything went fine after their extraction and that they're now back at HQ.

How's our girl? she then texts him, and Eliot feels something warm welling up in his chest.

Resting, he texts back. I'll stay with her.

OK, Parker replies. We'll come by in the morning. x

Eliot sends her the details, then puts away his phone. “You're gonna be alright, kid,” he says softly.

On the following morning, Breanna is somewhat bemused after the nurse has woken her up to check on her; she thinks that this happened a few times during the night, which might be a contributing factor to the lingering headache.

It's already light out and Breanna, even though she's still groggy, is awake now, so she looks around the room without moving unnecessarily.

Eliot's there, asleep in a chair right next to the bed; it doesn't look comfortable, the way he's sitting with his forehead in his palm, and Breanna is so touched that she doesn't know what to do with herself.

He didn't have to stay, after all, he could've just left her in the hands of the hospital staff and come back in the morning. Until now, she's only had two people in her life who'd have done the same for her, and that's Alec and their Nana. So this means she's family to Eliot and that she's important to him.

It's really not her fault that her eyes are getting moist again when she's thought this far. She sniffles, trying to get her emotions under control without really succeeding. A moment later, Eliot's standing by the bed, looking at her with obvious concern: “What's wrong, honey?”

And this only makes it worse, but in a good way. Sobbing, Breanna reaches for him: “'m- m f-f-fine,” she hiccups. “I- it's j-j-just...” She can't put in into words.

“Shhh,” Eliot sounds a little bewildered as he lets her pull him closer. Gently, he frees one of his hands from her death grip and strokes over her cheek with the back of his fingers: “Calm down, sweetheart. Deep breaths. Tell me what's going on.”

Yep. This kind of concern has only ever come from Nana or Alec (and Breanna realizes once more how much she misses him). She does her best to get a grip on herself: “Y-you s-s-stayed,” he eventually manages.

Eliot looks puzzled: “Course I did.”

“F-for me,” Breanna adds. “Y-you s-stayed f-for me.”

At this, Eliot's frown dissolves into something soft; he understands. And it makes his heart ache even more.

Lost kids, unwanted kids, kids who don't have a safe, stable home- there are too many of them. Just like Alec, Breanna has been lucky to end up at Nana's, because who knows where she'd be now otherwise. She's found her footing, even if it involved the occasional- well, more than occasional- illegal venture. But this here, this isn't Breanna Casey of Leverage International, who can hold her own and knows where she's standing. The is the little girl who didn't have a home for too long, who craved to belong to someone.

Eliot's hand is trembling ever so slightly as he gently cups her cheek now: “You're my kid,” he says, his voice brittle all of a sudden. “Our kid. I'll always stay for you. And if I can't for some reason, one of the others would.”

Breanna just looks at him, a grateful smile in her eyes, and cries. Dammit, Eliot's own eyes are getting moist as well.

They stay like that, silently, until Breanna's tears subside.

“Your kid.” Her voice is soft as she tastes the words on her tongue. “I like it.”

The ache in Eliot's heart begins to lessen; a smile lightens up his features. Breanna can see that he's tired, probably only napped for short intervals what with everything that was going on in a hospital around the clock, but his smile is warm and affectionate.

“Thanks,” she whispers.

Eliot leans over and kisses her on the forehead: “Ditto.”

They take Breanna home that day; she's on strict bed rest for a while, and since the doctor also prescribed cognitive rest, which means no TV, reading or computers whatsoever, she's quickly bored out of her skull.

Eliot, when he isn't keeping her company, makes all of her favourite things for her and Parker offers foot massages (which is kinda weird but very sweet). Everyone keeps dropping by several times a day to check on her and Alec calls her frequently, so despite being annoyed by it all, Breanna once more is rather touched by the combined effort of the group.

She knows that Alec, after learning what happened, had yelled at Eliot for five minutes over the phone. Eliot had listened to it all with his head ducked, but then he had yelled back, and that had gone back and forth for twenty minutes until Parker, rolling her eyes, had snatched the phone from Eliot and yelled at them both until they relented.

“Now kiss and make up!” she ordered once everyone had calmed down.

“Babe, really?”

“We're on the phone,” Eliot hissed.

“I don't care,” Parker put her chin up. “I wanna hear kisses, else I'll throw the phone into the shredder.”

“Dammit, Parker!”

“I still don't hear anything!”

Alright! Hardison, you first.”

Subsequently, there had been kissy noises and the phone had survived. It was probably wise that Eliot didn't know how everyone else, who happened to be in Breanna's room, had listened in via Parker's earpiece and one of Breanna's blue tooth speakers. Or that there'd actually been a round of applause and wolf whistles once Parker had gotten her way.

Also unbeknownst to Eliot, Parker called Hardison later that day.

“You shouldn't have been so hard on him,” she said. “He was busy taking care of the security guys who'd otherwise have gotten to me.”

“I know, mama,” Hardison replied softly. “It's just... I'm so far away, it's even harder to hear about these things when there's nothing I can do.”

For a while, they were silent, just missing one another really loudly without losing a word about it.

“No need to worry about us though,” Parker then said. “We're fine. Sophie and Mr. Wilson are probably gonna be a thing soon-” she paused while Hardison cheered, “and Eliot's kinda adopted Breanna.”

“Ha,” Hardison couldn't refrain from saying, “because he feels guilty! I knew it!”

No,” Parker said sternly. “It's been going on for much longer. You know how cute Eliot is when he thinks we don't notice something that he's doing. So he's still convinced he's being subtle about it.”

“Long as Breanna knows,” Hardison muttered.

“Yeah, I think she does.” Parker smiled. “It's a good thing they got going on. No need to be jealous.”

Hardison huffed: “As if!”

But Parker could see that he was secretly pleased though. “I wish you were here,” she said longingly.

“Me too, babe. Three more weeks, then I'm coming home for a fortnight.”

Parker sighed: “I can't wait.”

“Here you go.” Eliot places the tray over Breanna's lap: “Tagliatelle with artichokes and Ricotta. And for desert: Crostata al Limone.”

He doesn't mention that he had the cheese flown in from Italy because there's just no decent Ricotta to be had in the states.

It doesn't matter: Breanna beams at him, obviously happy that he remembered her favourite Italian dish and the cake she loves ever since a job in Tuscany. “Thanks,” she breathes.

Eliot sits down as she reaches for the cutlery: “How's the headache?”

“Still there, but not as bad as in the morning.”

He nods, glad to hear it. He's had enough concussions to know how it feels.

“I'mma take you for your check-up tomorrow,” he then tells her.

Breanna can't answer because she's got her mouth full.

“This is so good!” she says once she can manage. “Though I'm still not a fan of the hospital treatment.”

Eliot smiles. “Couple a days, and you can probably get up,” he says.

Right then, Parker comes in with a piece of cake in her hand: “Eliot, I love this cake! It's making me feel all summer-y. It's like sunshine that you can eat!”

The lemons and oranges have actually come all the way from Italy as well.

Eliot mutters something about how one can't eat sunshine, but he's obviously pleased.

“Food is love,” Parker continues, unfazed. “Isn't that what you said?”

Life,” Eliot corrects her, actually blushing so he frowns furiously to make up for it. “Food is life, Parker!”

“Yeah, well,” Parker shrugs. “I think both of them are true in your case.” She glances at Breanna and winks, then she wanders out of the room again.

Eliot pointedly doesn't meet Breanna's gaze for a while.

Once she's done, he takes away the tray and comes back to ask if there's anything else she needs.

“I'm bored,” she says, only barely able to keep the whine out of her tone. “I wanna watch Harry Potter! It's a ritual, I do it every year! I had just finished The Prisoner of Azkaban before the last job.”

“You can't watch anything,” Eliot said.

“Only the first half, please?”


“But I'm BORED, in capital letters!”

“How about,” Eliot sounds hesitant, “I read you the book. Hardison's got all of 'em.”

Breanna immediately perks up: “Would you do that?”

He shrugs: “Yeah. No problem.” He can clean up in the kitchen afterwards.

Ten minutes later finds Eliot sitting in a chair by Breanna's bed, reading: “... villagers of Little Hangleton still called it 'the Riddle House', even though it had been years since the Riddle family had lived there. It stood on a hill...”

Breanna is listening with a content expression on her face. So is Parker, who is up in the vents again.

Eliot reads for about half an hour, which is how long it takes for Breanna to doze off. He marks the page and puts the book down on her nightstand, then he gets up; with one last glance at the sleeping figure, he leaves the room.

Parker watches him with a proud smile.

In the kitchen, everything's clean and tidy. Puzzled, Eliot looks at Sophie, who's just helping herself to some coffee: “Oh, that was entirely our Mr. Wilson's doing,” she says with a small smile. “He ate three slices of that heavenly cake you made. Probably felt guilty afterwards.”

Eliot huffs a small laugh: “He should. It's for Breanna.” To be fair: since he knows about these people's sweet teeth, he admittedly made two cakes, to be on the safe side.

“How is she?” Sophie now asks. She was out shopping and hasn't yet been in to see Breanna today.

“Getting there,” Eliot says, making himself some coffee as well. “Patience ain't her strong suit though.”

Like father, like daughter, Sophie thinks, but she knows better than to say it out loud. Instead, she settles for a rather innocuous “Well, that makes two of you.”

Even with his back turned towards her, she can see the small smile in the corners of his mouth.

By the time Hardison comes home, Breanna is back on her feet. Her brother hugs her until she claims to be suffocating, then he holds her at arm's length and looks her over: “M-hm,” he says approvingly.

Breanna shoves him away: “Stop fussing,” she says.

Excuse you- I ain't fussing! I'm just making sure you're still in one piece, baby sis!”

At that, she rolls her eyes, even though that still sends tiny spikes of discomfort through her skull.

“She's fine,” Eliot says softly. Hardison, with one last, lingering glance, lets go of Breanna and turns towards him; for a moment, Eliot doesn't know what to expect and braces himself for more recriminations, but only seconds later, Hardison's engulfed him in a bear hug and holds on to him tightly: “Thanks, babe,” he mutters into Eliot's skin. “For taking such good care of her.”

Eliot doesn't find it in him to reply mockingly, as he usually would have; he's too relieved, and he missed Hardison too much for that. Right now, his arms around him are all he needs, anything else is gonna have to take a back seat.

“See?” Parker, who's now wrapping herself around the both of them, says very softly, though Breanna can hear it nevertheless. “Everything 's fine.”

That night, they all watch a movie together (Harry Potter, though Hardison feels obligated to point out that the books are way better). Hardison's sitting between Parker and Eliot, and Breanna is sitting next to him. Sophie and Mr. Wilson are sharing the loveseat.

Breanna looks around during the movie a few times, glad that the whole family is back together. Even if Eliot keeps grumbling things under his breath; after she was doing better, he kept reading the book by himself because he wanted to see how it ended. Afterwards, Breanna talked him into beginning with the first one because it made much more sense, after all, and now he's on the third, and that's why he's got opinions on the movie. A few times, Hardison even holds out his fist for him to bump because he agrees.

With a grin, Breanna leans back against the couch and rests her head on Eliot's shoulder. He's wearing the same shirt he did on the night which she thought was gonna be her last, and she likes the feeling of the fabric and how she can smell Eliot's scent.

Home, safety, love: this is all she ever wanted as a kid, and now she's finally got it, and it's awesome.

She glances at Alec, who meets her gaze after a moment as if he sensed it, and wordlessly holds out his hand towards her, which she takes and keeps in hers; Eliot doesn't seem to mind, on the contrary. In her peripheral vision, she can see a soft smile on his face, despite the fact that he was complaining about the absence of Peeves just moments earlier.

With a contented sigh, Breanna snuggles in a little closer. Parker was right: all is well.