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Kathy paused outside of Luke's for a moment, composed her expression, and started humming the most cheerful pop song she could think of. Only then did she enter, beelining for the back counter with a chipper wave for the busboy. She'd been out for a run and now she was looking forward to a giant smoothie packed to the brim with fruit. Honestly, she wanted a giant steak topped with another steak, but she still couldn't bring herself to eat meat.

The 'I'm just dandy!' facade broke when she saw Eliot within, replaced by a genuine smile. "Hey," she said, making her way over to him. "What's up? Been awhile since I've seen you."

Her erratic hours hadn't exactly made it easy to slip back into a regular training schedule.

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Eliot

Eliot had been quietly sinking deeper into an anxious funk since he got the phone call from Trudy earlier, but there was no way he could see Kathy smile like that and not give her one in return.

"Hey, darlin'. Didn't want you feelin' crowded."


Kathy

"I understand," Kathy said, nodding at the busboy so he'd know she still wanted her usual. "Sometimes I feel like just being on the island means that everyone is too close and practically choking me. Like being under a microscope. Then other times I have to remind myself that people care and want me around."

Her voice remained casual, though she'd started playing with a napkin and tearing it into long strips required a great deal of her focus. "It would be awesome if there were any rhyme or reason to why I feel that way or when, but..." She shrugged. "Nothing. Just crazy, I guess."


Eliot

"Let me guess," Eliot said. "You figure it's been, what, two months? So you should be fine?" He shook his head. "Sorry, darlin', crazy's gonna be what you get for a little while yet."


Kathy

"Ugh." Kathy scowled down at the counter for a few seconds. "Emotions are stupid. Why hasn't Hardison created a program that lets us fix them with a touch of a button yet?"

Incredibly reasonable thing to ask for, Kathy, good job.


Eliot

"Because he's not a cartoon supervillain," Eliot said. "Look, I'm glad I ran into you. Not just 'cause it's been a little while."


Kathy

"For a crew of criminals, you lot have a lot of morals and concern for ethics," Kathy accused, giving him a fond glance over her shoulder.

That smile faded as she noted his expression. "Eliot, are you okay? What's wrong?"


Eliot

"I'm fine, darlin'." Kathy may or may not have noticed that when Eliot said he was fine he was anything but. "The team and I are just goin' away for the weekend or so. Didn't want you tryin' to find us and not bein' able to."


Kathy

Kathy pursed her lips at him. Because, funny enough, she had noticed the fine/not-fine connection. "On a job?"

Except usually when the crew had a job, they seemed a lot more excited. Eliot just looked down.


Eliot

"Not so much, no," Eliot admitted. "Parker and Sparkle are headed up to Toronto. Hardison and I are headin' for Oklahoma."


Kathy

"Oklahoma..." Kathy's brow furrowed. "Isn't that where you're from?"

She didn't think Eliot ever went home. And Sparkle shouldn't be going home, at least, she didn't think so. "Is everything okay? For you? For Sparkle?"


Eliot

"Sparkle's just fine. He's going to find his sister. Parker'll keep him out of trouble." He wasn't foolish enough to think that she wouldn't notice him leaving himself out there, so with a sigh, he continued. "And I'm finally gonna go talk to my father."


Kathy

"Oh," Kathy said, before leaning over to give Eliot a warm hug. She didn't know much about Eliot's relationship with his dad, but anything that warranted saying it like that, while wearing an expression like that couldn't be a good thing. "Decided it was time?"


Eliot

Eliot just hugged her back for a moment, pressing his cheek against her hair. "It's now or never. Apparently he's checked himself into hospice care."


Kathy

"Oh," Kathy said again and squeezed him tighter and tried to think of something useful to say. "I'm so sorry, Eliot."

That...was not it. Trite at best, really. But she meant it. Losing your dad, even when the relationship was fraught and difficult, hurt. It hurt a hell of a lot. Maybe even more, because there were all the feelings of guilt and regret to deal with, too.

This was something she thought about a lot.


Eliot

"Thanks, darlin'." In some situations, trite was the best you got. "But you don't have to worry 'bout me. You just take care of yourself."


Kathy

"I spend a lot of time thinking about me lately," Kathy told him. She was going to let go when he did and not before. "I can spare some thoughts for you."

She tried to think of something--anything!--she could do to help out.

"Oh! When did you want to bring Val by?" she asked, looking up at him, cheerful expression firmly on her face. Eliot needed reassurance now, not more reasons to worry about her. "I'll watch her while you're gone, no worries. It's been awhile since I got to have puppy cuddles anyway."


Eliot

Eliot grimaced and glanced away. "Actually, I already asked Kanan to look after her. She and his pup Stance have kinda bonded."


Kathy

"You did? Oh."

Looks like she was letting go first after all, taking a step back and bringing up her arms to cup her elbows. Her smile dwindled, too. She was thinking of the last time she'd gotten puppy cuddles.

She was willing to bet that was why Kanan was watching Val and not her. Eliot wouldn't have to worry about the possibility of getting an apologetic phone call because Kanan had eaten the dog.

"Th-that's good, I guess. That Val has a friend..." It was smart and logical and still hurt a whole hell of a lot.


Eliot

"Yeah. . . ." Eliot had expected a bit of disappointment there, but not Kathy totally withdrawing into herself. "You alright? I can tell Kanan you want to come over and take her for walks or somethin' while I'm gone."


Kathy

"I don't think I even know who Kanan is," Kathy said, trying to pull her smile on again. The result was on the anemic side. "It's okay. I get it. I'd've probably done the same in your shoes."


Eliot

Eliot frowned. "Kathy. Why do you think I'm havin' Kanan look after her insteada you?"


Kathy

Kathy mumbled something indistinct about Val and friends and responsibility.


Eliot

"Okay, can we try that again only at a volume old people can hear?"


Kathy

Kathy dragged her eyes back up to meet Eliot's, though her gaze skittered off to the side almost immediately. And she didn't even crack a smile at the 'old' comment.

"Just said that leaving Val with Kanan is the responsible choice, especially if she's made friends with his dog," she said, slightly louder.


Eliot

"I ain't -- this isn't because I don't think you're responsible, darlin'. Kanan's just returnin' a favor."


Kathy

"No," Kathy agreed bitterly. "It's not about whether or not I'm responsible."

She said it like there was another word Eliot was supposed to substitute in there instead.


Eliot

Eliot rubbed his hand down his face. "I got a hell of a lot on my mind right now, darlin', you're gonna have to throw me a bigger bone here."


Kathy

Right. His dad. Here Kathy was busy feeling sorry for herself when Eliot's dad was dying. God, she'd come back as such a selfish ass and she wasn't entirely sure why. Or how to fix it.

Well, she could try to mitigate it some here, at least.

Which was why Eliot was getting another hug. "Don't worry about it," she told him. "Don't worry about anything except your dad. That's what's important right now. And Val will be safe and have a lot of fun with Kanan and that's one fewer thing for you to fret over."


Eliot

Right. Okay. She was fine, see, he was reading too much into her reactions because his head was all full of . . .

Anyway. She was fine.

"Sure. You should come over after, we can catch up. And you can play with Val all you like."


Kathy

Right. She could come over and play with Val under supervision. That hurt--but it was also fair. Kathy literally had no one to blame but herself.

"I'll come over for dinner when you get back," she promised. "I'll try to bring Raven along, too, if I can get her off the couch."

As opposed to just sinking on there and joining her, which was sounding more and more tempting every day.


Eliot

"That'd be good. I know Hardison's worried about her, too."


Kathy

Kathy was a little worried, too, but saying so seemed almost...disloyal? It was weird. "We're both just trying to find our way towards adjusting," she said. "But adjusting can have a few more family dinners, I think."


Eliot

Eliot nodded. "That sounds like a plan," he said. "And if you need anything, you know you can call, right? Even when I'm not in town."


Kathy

"I know," Kathy said, though she would have to be in literal danger of her life before she'd call him while he was with his dying father. "If I ever really need you, you'll come running."

And that really did mean a lot to her. Kathy felt like she was walking on shifting ground a lot these days. Having a rock she could count on was a bigger deal than it sounded.


Eliot

"Even if you don't really need it," Eliot promised. "Just . . . might be a bit extra distracted this weekend."


Kathy

"This weekend is for you and your family," Kathy said, expression encouraging. "Not for random teenagers and existential angst. You take care of them this weekend, okay? And make sure you let someone take care of you."


Eliot

"Darlin', you're anything but random." Eliot one more quick squeeze. "And yeah, pretty sure that's why Hardison wanted to tag along."

It was undeniably why Hardison wanted to tag along. The only other thing that could get him out to Oklahoma would be a job.


Kathy

In fairness....Oklahoma.

"Then let him do what he does best," Kathy chided. "Instead of just being all stoic and manly about it. Don't worry about anything here, okay? Val will be fine in your absence. And so will everyone else. Let the world turn without you for once."


Eliot

Now now, people who hadn't been to Oklahoma probably shouldn't be casting aspersions on it.

"Yeah yeah." Eliot rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "Which one of us is supposed to be the mentor here, again?"


Kathy

"Then you only have yourself to blame," Kathy said primly. "I learned it from watching you."

[Preplayed with the lovely [livejournal.com profile] vdistinctive! FB, but NFI and OOC is love]
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