sparsenicjade
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Warnings: references to the sexual abuse of minors, medical inacurracies like you wouldn't even believe

AN: unbeta'ed, because I cannot get my shit together right now. I used WebMD for my research and, honestly, only did a little. I probably got everything wrong. For my best girl in the world, egelantier, on her birthday.

***


At first, Parker thought it was nerves. She'd just landed her first job as a professional mountain climbing guide. Vin was hinting that he wanted to propose and she wasn't sure if the idea made her feel safe or panicked. Basically, there was a lot going on. The fact that she was unusually thirsty was probably a nervous tick, and her inability to stop drinking explained her correlated inability to stop going to the bathroom every fifteen seconds. Similarly, the way she seemed to want to sleep all the time was probably a stress reaction. She'd checked: fatigue was not an uncommon response to anxiety.

The thing with the eating, well, she'd always hoarded food. If she was starting to actually eat all the food she hoarded now, that was probably a healthy sign, a sign that she wasn't so afraid of the food disappearing.

Vin noticed, of course. They lived together, had for almost three years. He caught her in bed one night and said, "You feeling all right? You've seemed a little off."

She shrugged, and burrowed against him, liking the solid feel of his chest against her cheek. "Lots going on."

Vin stroked a hand through her hair. "That all?"

She yawned. Her eyelids felt heavy. Everything felt heavy. "Yeah. Yeah, that's all."

*


When she got to the point of being so tired her vision was blurring, she took up a coffee habit. It tasted gross—she had to put four packets of sugar to be able to stomach it—but it helped a little. She felt jittery under her skin more than awake, which made climbing harder, but it still gave her a jolt. And climbing was as natural as standing on the ground to her, had been as far back as she allowed herself to remember.

She fell asleep at a table at the restaurant where Eliot worked one night, and Vin said, "Parker—"

It wasn't that she didn't know it was possible there was something really wrong. It was more that she'd survived everything thrown at her until now, and their health insurance wasn't exactly first-tier. Not to mention Vin was busy with his graduate studies and she didn’t want him to have to take time off to care for her, or anything stupid like that. He totally would, too. If Parker was a climber, Vin was a mountain, sturdy and constant.

She cut him off, "I think I'm fighting something off. Just that cold that's been going around, or whatever."

As a rule, Vin took her at her word, so it wasn't surprising when he nodded. "You should still take a sick day. Just let it run its course."

Parker rarely lied to Vin, so it had been awhile since she'd felt the guilt accompanied with it. Sometimes she kind of wished Neal had left her to be the feral, half-mad kid she'd been on the streets. That kid had not given a shit about anyone or anything. She made herself smile. "I don't have any yet, but I'll see what I can do about getting a two days scheduled off in a row."

After moment, Vin nodded. "Okay. And if it gets worse—"

"I know, I know. Doctor."

"Promise me, Parker Burke."

Parker rolled her eyes. "You realize my word is worth, like, less than this meal, right?"

Vin said, "Eliot's comping this meal."

She just looked at him. He sighed, "Well, it would mean something to me."

Which was exactly why all she said was, "Yeah, okay."

Vin looked like he wanted to push, but he also knew when to back down with her. He ran a hand through his hair, which was getting too long, falling in his eyes. "Okay."

*


On the one hand, Parker had vaguely noticed that she'd been cinching her harness tighter, but she'd thought it was just give in the material. If she didn't get a belt soon, though, she was going to be walking around pantless and that had never happened before.

It was a little strange, really, given how she'd been eating pretty much everything in sight for a while. There'd been a moment where she'd panicked, thinking she was pregnant, but peeing on a few sticks had negated that fear.

She almost broke on the day she got halfway to a summit and found her canteen empty, almost called Peter and told him she wasn't feeling good. She made herself shower once she got home, tipping her head back to drink the water straight from the faucet. She dressed in the pajamas she had with a tie string and reheated the chilis rellenos from the night before. There wasn't much left, but she'd find something else if she was still hungry when she got done.

Her phone rang mid-bite, Neal's ring. She picked it up and said, "Hey."

"How's our favorite sister?"

Parker rolled her eyes, refusing to acknowledge the small burn of warmth that still flared up in her stomach every time one of them called her that. She opened her mouth to say she wasn't feeling great, to say she missed Neal, but Neal was finally, finally in a place where he didn't have to take care of all of them. That wasn't his job anymore and he deserved for it not to be. "Still climbing mountains and stealing shit."

"That's my girl."

*


When her stomach started aching, she made an appointment with a physician. She didn't tell anyone. She could get herself there, and she didn't want the others freaking out or anything. Unfortunately, she was a new patient, so her appointment was about a month out. They promised to call her if anyone canceled. To her surprise, she found herself wishing someone would.

As hungry as she'd been before, the thought of food had become incredibly unappealing. She made herself eat; she wasn't stupid. It occurred to her, when everything started coming back up, that maybe she should go to the emergency room, but her deductible was $3000, and she wasn't sure how they'd come up with that. She wasn't asking Peter and Elizabeth. They'd taken her in and fed her and kept her safe and they did not deserve her mooching off of them as an adult.

A month wasn't that long, not really. She could make it.

*


Parker woke up to someone shaking her. She blinked up, trying to figure out what was going on. The person was very blurry and she was tired. Nothing made sense. He said, "Parker? Parks, what're you doing here?"

She frowned. "Live here."

The person—Eliot, right—said, "No, Parks, you live across the hall. I think you have a fever."

Eliot was safe. He would keep her safe. She wasn't sure how she knew that. She missed Elizabeth. And Neal and Gee and Bob and Brendon and everyone. She said, "I wanna go home," and felt moisture trail down her face.

"Vin's at school, Parks. I'll call him, but—"

She wanted Vin, too, now that she was aware of him again, but she shook her head. "Neal. An' 'lizabeth. An—"

"Okay, okay, I promise. But you're not breathing right and it's freaking me out, so we're gonna wait at a hospital."

There was some reason she wasn't supposed to go to the hospital, but she couldn't remember what it was. Her stomach really hurt. "Don' feel good."

Dizziness swamped her and then she was in the air, everything was moving, and Eliot was saying, "We're gonna fix you right up."

*


She didn't really remember how they got to the hospital or if they'd waited to be seen. When Parker woke up, all that immediately came to mind was the pain and her own fear. She took a couple of deep breaths. Fear was always the worst enemy. She heard Vin ask, "Hey, hey darlin', you awake?"

Parker forced her eyes open. "Don'. Like. Pet. Names."

Every word was a chore, but her stomach no longer hurt. Vin brought a cup with a plastic straw to her lips. She took a few sips and was surprised to find it was enough. Vin set it back down and said, "Not to, ah, make this about me, but you can't do that again, Parker. You were on the edge of a coma. Your family and mine are having a damned convention at the Residence Inn two blocks over because the doctors weren't certain you wouldn't slip into one.

"And I know we don't do the whole talking-about-feelings thing, but I love you. I really love you, and I've had more than enough loss for one life time. So next time I start noticing that you are so much as sunburned, and want to get it checked out, that's how we're gonna roll."

Parker blinked. That was a lot of words for Vin. She reached out and poked at him until he gave him her hand. She wove her fingers into his. "I didn't—what happened?"

"You developed type I diabetes and ignored all the symptoms until it nearly killed you."

Oh. "I didn't mean to. I made an appointment. With a doctor." She was starting to get tired again, words not coming easily.

He brought her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss against it. "Go back to sleep. We'll talk later."

*


Vin had not been lying about the convention. Not only were Chris, Mary, Elizabeth, and Peter there, Neal, Gee, Mikey, Bob, Brendon, Spencer, and Ryan had all managed to show up. Eliot shrugged and said, "You mentioned wanting them."

Neal, standing next to her and carding his hand through her hair, said, "We had to tell Tony to stay home and keep the others from coming. We thought it might be a bit much. But I'd expect visitors over the next couple of weeks, is all I'm saying."

Everything still felt a little fuzzy around the edges. Parker mumbled, "Miss you. Home."

"Yeah, baby girl," Elizabeth said, coming around to where she could press a kiss to Parker's forehead, "we miss you, too."

*


She was allowed to go home once they were certain her sugar and insulin levels were steady and she was fully cognizant. A nurse came in and taught her how to check her own blood sugar, administer insulin to herself, and what kinds of things she should and shouldn't eat. The nurse gave her a pamphlet, but Parker had already seen Neal, Vin, Eliot, and Elizabeth all reading different books on diabetes, so she was pretty sure she'd be learning all about it.

Vin had gone back to class at her insistence. Elizabeth and Peter put her in their rental car and got her back to her apartment. They tucked her into bed. Neal was there, waiting, and she curled into his side. "Gee?"

"Peter and El tasked him and Bob with grocery shopping. They have a list and very explicit directions."

Parker chuckled a little. Spencer poked his head in the door and asked, "How would you feel about a bookend?"

When they were kids, they'd done it all the time, sleeping in each other's space, one against the next, the middle the coveted spot, the most protection against the cold. Parker mumbled, "C'mere," and managed to stay awake just long enough to feel him at her back.

*


Ryan, Brendon, Spencer, and Bob spent that evening with Parker, mostly just telling her about the amusing stuff they got up to these days. They left the next morning, Gee and Mikey following later in the day. Gee looked upset to be going. He said, "I could find another job."

Parker laughed and hugged him. "Go home, dip."

She told Neal, Elizabeth, and Peter, "You probably should, too."

Neal said, "Yeah, not yet."

He looked a little shaky. She knew she'd get her way if she tried hard enough. She didn't push.

*


Parker woke in the middle of the night, thirsty, and pulled herself out of bed. Vin asked, "Parker?"

"Getting some water, go back to sleep."

When she got to the kitchen, Eliot, Neal, Elizabeth, and Peter were all sitting around the table, chatting. Elizabeth looked up and said, "Hey dopey. You need something?"

"Water," Parker said. "But I've got it."

She poured herself a glass and sat in Eliot's lap. He didn't make a sound, just curled an arm around her to keep her upright. She asked, "Talking about me?"

"You've been on our minds a little lately," Eliot told her, sounding distinctly unimpressed.

Parker sighed. "I really did make a doctor's appointment. I thought I was just, I dunno, off."

There was a tense silence for a moment before Peter broke it. "Here's the thing, kiddo: what you went through as a kid? The way you made it because you didn't pay too much attention to your own discomfort? That's not how you have to live anymore, it's not even how you should live."

"And it kind of feels like failure on our parts that you don't seem to know that," Elizabeth added softly.

Parker took a sip of water. "You blame the others, too?"

Peter frowned. She said, "Because you should, y'know. They were there all the years you were. Longer."

"They're not your parents," Peter said. She could hear the uncertainty in his voice and hated herself just a little for putting it there. She looked over at Neal.

Neal rubbed a hand over his face. "And the two of you got a whole lot more than any sane person should be expected to handle. You can't fix everything, guys. The fact that we're all functional adults is something of a miracle."

"What he said," Parker said. Eliot grunted in agreement.

Peter shook his head. "But we want more for you."

Parker wasn't sure if that was supposed to be that way, but she loved them for it, all the same. "Thanks for coming."

"You don't need to thank us," Elizabeth said, sounding a little sad.

"Yeah, well." Parker shrugged. "I don't like taking important things for granted.

*


Elizabeth and Peter left a couple of days after that, although not without some insistence on Parker's part. It was nice, having them take care of her, but she had a life and they had lives and everyone needed to get back to theirs.

Neal, however, said, "I'm staying an extra few days," in the tone of voice he got when he was laying down the law for the kids. Parker sometimes still argued with that tone, just to get a rise out of him, but she knew she wasn't going to win. He was actually staying with Eliot and Ezra, and since Ezra and Neal were pretty much brain twins in a lot of ways, Parker suspected it wasn't just about her.

The day before she'd scheduled herself to go back to work for half-days—she was getting used to the insulin schedule, to watching what she popped in her mouth (it went against her instinct to be picky about food, but she was managing)—Neal said, "C'mon, Ez loaned me his car. Field trip."

"Where're we going?" she asked.

"You'll see when we get there."

Parker hesitated. "Why don't you just offer me candy to get in your van?"

She felt bad a second after she said it, especially when Neal blinked a few times before forcing himself to smile. "Wouldn't want to fuck up your blood sugar."

"I didn't mean that. You know I didn't. I just—"

"Don't like surprises," Neal finished for her. "Yeah. But you can trust me."

Parker still forgot things like that sometimes. She usually did it with Vin, who'd get distant for a few days, then come back to her. She was learning to do better. He was, too. She often thought their damaged edges fit well together. "I know."

She let Neal drive them up into the New Hampshire country-side, more farmland than anything. He stopped at a ranch and Parker said, "Neal, I am not riding a horse."

"You're going to ride with me; I'll be right there for you to cling to."

She nearly stomped. "No."

"Parker, you climb mountains for a living and have never met a zipline, parasail, skydive, base or bungee jump you weren't in love with."

"Harnesses and parachutes don't have a mind of their own." And maybe she wasn't the best person to trust with her own life, always, but at least she knew herself. Also, it was different. That moment of freefall, those seconds with nothing but her and the wind made her feel like nobody could ever catch her, hurt her, again.

The thing was, she'd never been tied up in her life. She'd been locked in an attic a couple of times, but she'd never been particularly afraid of the dark and she'd forced herself to think of it as an adventure, to explore the space and learn new things. But her need to be free couldn't be traced to ropes or doors or anything except the two times in her childhood she'd been held down, a hand over her mouth, her abuser telling her this was what happened to bad girls whose mommies didn't want them. It was the only time in her life, even through the hunger and fear and loneliness, she had genuinely believed she would die: if not from the pain, then from the look in his eyes as he was hurting her.

"Hey," Neal said.

She shook her head, forcing herself back into the present. "I like flying. Not falling."

"Parks." Neal's smile wobbled. "I would never let you fall."

She knew that, she did. "Okay, but if you break me, you're the one who gets to tell El and Peter."

"Motivation enough to keep you in one piece," he smirked.

She followed him toward the stables. He murmured, "Let me show you my way of flying."

It was something Parker had never really shared with the others, but it felt right. She nodded sharply. "Yeah, okay."

*


Neal brought her back in one piece, with hair that was more tangled than it had ever been after a jump, and the feeling of having been given something more than just air and space. Vin looked up when she came in the room and said, "No way."

Neal laughed. Vin shook his head. "No way did you get her on a horse."

"Guess she just likes me better." Neal shrugged and went to go pour them glasses of water.

Vin looked at her for a moment, something soft and uncertain in his eyes. She said, "So. You can teach me to do that without having to hold onto someone, right?"

Vin nodded. "But I might keep the knowledge to myself for a bit."

Parker's stomach burned just a little at the suggestion in his tone. She laughed. "My brother is in the next room over, perv."

Vin just grinned, all teeth and wicked intentions.

*


Neal left the next day, but not before he'd managed to instigate a plan between Eliot and Ezra to open up a diabetic-friendly café. Parker didn't really think there was a huge audience for that kind of thing in New Hampshire, but she hadn't seen Ezra so excited…well, maybe ever.

They spent the morning eating all of Eliot's Parker-Perfect Pancakes, as he had evidently coined them. They were really good. Parker was starting to think he could maybe get away with tricking people into eating healthy things.

Vin skipped his first class to stay with them, play a few terrible—amazing—rounds of Telestrations. Neal sucked at the game by dint of being actually good at art, but the rest of them made up for it. At one point, when the five of them were laughing so hard Parker could hardly breathe, she realized just how easy it was to draw in air around the four of them.

Eventually, she was able to wipe the tears from her eyes and see each of them clearly. She tucked the feeling of the moment tightly into her chest and asked, "'Nother round?"


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile