Alec Hardison was telling story after story, and hoping desperately that no one noticed how bad he felt. He had faced the facts long ago—telling stories aimed at entertaining the others, and occasionally making them laugh, was just what he did when coming off of the adrenaline rush after they had pulled a job. It was as much a part of his character as Eliot's growl or Parker's ability to just fade in and out of any scene at will. Hardison was glad it was dark in the van, so no one could see that one hand favored his ribs as he laughed at his own stories.
Eliot heard the strained quality of the other man's voice, though he was doing an admirable job of hiding it, and filed the information away for later. Obviously, Hardison wasn't wanting anyone else to notice, and that by itself, made him rise a notch in Eliot's estimation, but it was also slightly disturbing. Having spent time with the man in basements and other tight spaces, as well as a forest, and having heard him complain about everything from dust mites to skunk weed, Eliot had figured they would hear about Hardison's injuries all the way back to Nate's apartment. The fact that he didn't want to talk about it made Eliot wonder if there was something else going on there. There would be time enough to deal with that later, and truth be told, none of them wanted anything more than to get home, take care of business, and go to bed. This job had been exhausting for all of them, but especially for Eliot and Hardison, and they still had some loose ends to tie up tomorrow.
There was an audible sigh of relief as Sophie finally pulled the van into the parking garage behind Nate's apartment building, and they all got out and trooped inside, and upstairs to Nate's apartment. It was after midnight, and when Nate saw Parker gathering her personal belongings, he insisted on walking her back downstairs and seeing her safely to her car. While he was gone, Sophie headed to Nate's kitchen, where she started to wash up, and Hardison started looking like he was about to leave as well. Eliot winced inwardly at the stiffness of his gait, and without a word, he grasped the younger man's arm and steered him into the room which was attached to Nate's apartment when Hardison bought the place, and was mostly used for storage, but which Eliot had stocked with medical supplies and set up with a laundry sink and a cot, so he could treat various injuries that might require a bit more privacy than Nate's living room afforded.
He settled Hardison on the bunk and said, in a dangerously quiet voice that cracked like thunder, "Dammit Hardison, when were you planning to let somebody look at your injuries? You could have internal bleeding."
Hardison visibly deflated. He should have guessed that Eliot would know. He mumbled something in the general direction of Eliot's shoes, looking at the floor.
Eliot said, "Take off your shirt."
Hardison shook his head.
"Take it off or I'll cut it off."
Hardison tried, but after a moment he slumped back against the wall, hissing with pain. "I can't," he said, before his breath left him.
"Easy," Eliot said softly, hand on his friend's shoulder. "I need to see what's going on. Let me help?" Hardison nodded, and as Eliot prepared his supplies, he said, "I hope you aren't too attached to your clothes." Hardison shook his head, and with practiced ease, Eliot cut both shirt and sweater off of him, and gently began probing his ribs. When he was finished, he moved to the back, and his hands checked for bruised kidneys. When he found a particularly tender spot, Hardison cried out in pain, and Eliot winced inwardly again. Eliot knew the younger man would take his cues from Eliot, so he covered by growling, "Settle down. You act like you've never had bruised kidneys before."
That remark didn't have the intended effect, and a rather awkward silence settled between them, leaving Eliot casting around for something else to say, while Hardison stared at the floor again.
"You kicked ass today," Eliot tried, and when the hacker looked up at him with a rather dubious expression, he added, "I mean it."
"More like got my ass handed to me," the hacker said, with a trace of bitterness. Fighting had never been his strong suit, and Eliot's remark made him feel like the hitter was mocking him. Or maybe he was just cranky because he was in pain. Or both. He turned his head away.
"This was not your fault," Eliot said firmly. The hacker seemed to be listening, so he continued, "I meant it when I said you kicked ass. You fought well until they ganged up on you, and not many people could hold their own when it is three against one."
Eliot let out a short bark of a laugh. "It's my job, and I have specialized training. Yes, there were some parts of the fight that could have gone differently, but that doesn't mean you didn't fight well. I can teach you some things if you want to learn, but not tonight. Tonight, I need to check for a concussion, and then we need to get your ribs wrapped, and get some cranberry juice into you for your kidneys, and we'll get you something for the pain, and then you need to sleep. You can sleep in here, and I'll take Nate's couch." As he spoke, the hitter withdrew a penlight from his pocket, and shone it rapidly back and forth in Hardison's eyes. He blinked several times and turned his head away again.
"I know this one's no fun, but I'm almost finished. I need you to look at me, and hold still." Hardison did so, and after a moment, Eliot slipped the light back in his pocket, and treated his friend to a brief smile. "No concussion."
He gently lifted Hardison's arm above his hand, and began wrapping the elastic bandages around his friend's midsection, finally clipping them with the small metal clip that comes in the box. Reaching around behind him, he opened a small refrigerator that Hardison hadn't noticed before, and took out a bottle of unsweetened cranberry juice, which he opened and handed to Hardison.
"Drink up." Hardison took a swallow and made a face.
"Man, I can't drink this. It's bitter."
"Man up. Drink it. You need it." While he was talking, Eliot was rummaging in the first aid kit he had been using, and failing to find what he was looking for, he rose and moved to one of the cabinets on a side wall. He withdrew a syringe and began filling it with the contents of a small vial. As soon as Hardison had finished drinking a satisfactory amount of the cranberry juice, Eliot took it and put the top back on, and set it back in the fridge. Moving over beside Hardison again, he injected the younger man with the contents of the syringe, ignoring his protests because he knew this was what the hacker needed to get better, and then he stood watch over his friend until he faded off to sleep.
Eliot then cleaned the small office, for lack of a better term, and moved out into Nate's living room, to find Nate sitting at the breakfast bar, nursing a shot of whiskey, with a beer on the bar beside him.
"It's almost two in the morning, Nate. What are you still doing up?"
"I wanted to see how Hardison was doing."
"Those boys did a number on him, but he'll live."
Nate slid the beer over in front of Eliot and asked, "How are you?"
"What? Oh, I'm fine."
"Are you sure?"
"If you are thinking this whole experience with the interrogator is going to bother me, you can wipe that right on out of your head. I told ya, I'm fine."
Nate held up both hands, palms out, in a gesture of surrender, and said, "That's all I needed to hear. I'm off to bed. Goodnight, Eliot."