Chapter 1: That's the Man He Was, Have You Heard Enough?
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The man staring him down wasn’t really what he was expecting. But then… he didn’t really know what he had been expecting, if he was honest with himself. The last couple of weeks that had brought him here were hazy at best.
Brain going a mile a minute, looping in on itself, tracking to the flag folded and boxed under his bed, flashing to the face he’d long since resigned himself he’d never see again (and wasn’t that a kick in the teeth? He’d gotten little more than a second of a view and all of a sudden he was twenty-one again, watching his best friend walk away, he was twenty-three again, watching his world fall out from under him as boots marched up Dad’s driveway), scrambling along to the tripping run as he’d chased a ghost down the street, sliding to a dead stop as that face disappeared into the back of a car and faded into traffic as if he’d never existed.
He hadn’t really been able to process right then, standing on that street corner with his heart in his throat and a name on his lips.
He’d spent more than a week telling himself he hadn’t seen what he knew he had. Another week in a bar to make it stick. Which never worked - he knew it never worked but… he’d had to try. The very idea that for the last decade he’d held onto a lie…
Dragging himself out of that pit hadn’t been easy. Hell, he’s still not sure if he did drag his ass out of that pit - didn’t know if he wasn’t still living it, about to wake up from a drunken stupor in his own home with a cold knot in his stomach.
But he had - somehow - and he’d set himself to searching. For anything, everything that he could. Not that he got very far (he could admit that. He’d picked up a few tricks over the years, to keep himself hidden, keep himself straight, but he was no hacker), and he was pretty sure he’d found more conspiracy theorists than he’d consciously been aware existed.
Then she’d shown up. Beautiful woman, dark haired and red lipped, with a dangerous smile and a lilting voice that he had a feeling could drip honey or poison at the blink of an eye. Assuming, of course, one could tell the difference. He didn’t trust her from the second she’d deigned to slide into the booth across from him - from the moment he’d clocked her heading his way. Not that he showed it - he may not have the greatest handle on people sometimes, but keeping under their radar? He had that down - shooting her a lopsided grin and tapping the brim of his hat up away from his brow.
“Well don’t you look like you’re from somewhere interestin’.” A delicately arched eyebrow was his only response. He just grinned, tipping his bottle back, never letting his eyes stray. She looked… amused. Possibly. She could also be planning on where to dump his body for all he knew. Maybe both.
He’s pretty sure she hadn’t been fooled for a second. But she didn’t call him out on it - not directly, though he couldn’t shake the feeling that she spent most of the brief conversation laughing at him. Just placed a card in front of him - a name that was vaguely familiar, an address that wasn’t - and told him, in a clipped, thick accent, to continue his search there. She’d left with another razor thin smile, parting the crowd in her wake.
The card stayed where she’d left it most of that night, him nursing drink after drink, staring it down. The name… he’d heard it before. Couldn’t place it. Not with his head getting heavier and heavier. Last call sent him out into the chilled night - tail end of what passed for winter here trying to hold on to the flat stretch of land around him - clutching the card and swearing he’d remember in the morning.
Oddly enough, he did. Almost cracked his head on the end table shooting awake and tangling himself in the covers. Shelley. Army buddy. Pretty sure he even met him when they came stateside for a week, though he couldn’t place a face to save his life. And then the sun reminded him that it existed and the pounding in his head drove away most functional thought for a couple hours.
The address hadn’t been close. Hadn’t been far per se - he’d driven a helluva lot farther on shorter notice when his Dad wanted a job scoped out before the surveyors could get there - but it was looking to be a trip at the least.
Well. Dad wouldn’t miss him for a couple days. Pretty sure he saw him wandering into one of the darker places he hadn’t managed to stumble into yet. And he could take a yelling match when he got back anyway. So, decision made, little voice in the back of his head telling him he was wrong steadfastly ignored, bag packed and thrown in the back of his truck, he chewed up road and did his best not to hope. Too much, anyway.
Shelley’s place wasn’t hard to find. Smaller town, bland apartment building with water stains down the brick, rusted out rails just waiting to give way, but clean hallways with only every other light threatening to flicker out. Knocking on the door didn’t get an immediate response - good or bad, he wasn’t sure. A second knock and he thought he heard a boot scuff on tile. Maybe. Drilling sites weren’t doing anything for his hearing honestly. But the door opened a crack in the next moment.
Same dark eyes. Same cropped hair. Same stupid grin after a couple moments of intense staring. The door opened up wide, “Well I’ll be damned, Stone!” Well. At least he remembered him - for all that he was pretty sure they’d only met that one time. “The hell’re you doing here?” He was set to shoot a smile in return, fall right into telling him what the hell was going on when his senses actually kicked in. A grin just a shade too sharp, eyes going over him a little too intently, a tense hand on the door, another hidden behind the frame.
He raised his hands with an easy grin. Under the radar. Easy. “Got told you could help me find somethin’.” Shelley eyed him over for another long moment before leaning out enough to check the halls for a breath, and hauling him into the apartment. Jacob let himself be moved easily. Best not to resist the ex-military guy that had decided he wasn’t a threat.
Door locked, a gun he hadn’t noticed (great) tucked back into a holster under his jacket, Shelley turned on him with a curious look. “Told by who?”
“You know, didn’t think to ask her name.” No thank you. He hadn’t questioned how she’d known where to find him, what he was looking for, or why she was helping him - and that would definitely come back to bite him in the ass later but you know what - “She just gave me your address, said you could help, and left.”
Shelley didn’t look all that convinced, but his hand did leave the doorknob finally. “...You know, never thought you’d be the one come knockin’ on my door.” A shark’s grin and Jacob’s heart was in his throat again.
“Expectin’ someone else?” Less teeth in the next smile, a gentler look that threw Jacob for a bit of a loop.
Shelley had been unable to actively tell him much. A confirmation that last he heard, Jacob was right. He didn’t have the resources to find him but… he knew some people who might. Who’d help rather than promise him something they couldn’t deliver. When Jacob had pressed, Shelley had just thrown out a comment about a freelance gig he’d taken with them. (“They’re good people Jake -...Jacob, right. - and trust me. They’re the ones you want.”)
He didn’t ask about the freelance gig the same way he didn’t ask about the woman.
So. Here he was. In Boston. In a bar. Staring down an older man in a rumpled suit, who was subtly nursing a coffee mug full of whiskey - pretty good at hiding it too. But… - and listening to him ramble. And he was rambling. He’d reached that point almost within five minutes of sitting down.
A woman had joined them about ten minutes ago but besides a quick introduction - “Sophie, this is…” “Stone, Jacob Stone.” A small smile and a wave to continue - hadn’t interrupted.
The silence that finally collapsed into his headlong rush of a speech threatened to swallow him whole. He hadn’t planned any of that, hadn’t even thought about what or how he’d ask in the last month if there was even a chance… And that lack of, well, thought, was catching up with him now.
He was alive. He was alive.
Oh. Oh God.
He wouldn’t break down like his lungs and mind wanted to. Not in public. But it was a damn close thing. Had his breath coming in short and his eyes stinging for a moment too long to hide. The man (Ford, right?) and Sophie, bless them, didn’t say a word. Sophie even reached out just long enough to gently squeeze his arm. Not too familiar, but careful, comforting for a brief moment before she backed off. All he could take at the moment, if he was honest with himself.
“Mr. Stone, when did you last see him? Before last month.”
Jacob frowned, pretty sure that had fallen out somewhere in that rant. Took a deep breath. But that’s what it’d been. A rant. Information, Ford needed information.
“Right ah… would’ve been fourteen years ago? He came back stateside for a week…” he couldn’t hide the small smile at the memory if he tried, only for it to crumple in the next breath. “Got a knock at the door a month later. Didn’t know he’d put me down… ‘stead of his old man.”
“And you’re sure you saw him?”
“Saw him. Tracked down an old army buddy of his.” Doesn’t matter how at this point. Not really. Shelley was tense enough. “He gave me you. Said if anyone’d help, it’d be you.”
“And what, exactly, do you want from this?” And there’s that loop again. If he could stay balanced for five minutes that’d be great. But he took the moment Ford gave him, feeling out how to word this request, how to ask this stranger to help, to help fill the hole that had opened up under his feet and just didn’t want to close.
“Help me find my brother. Help me bring him home.”
“Absolutely not.” Quinn was not going to back down on this, dammit. This was not a job they were taking, and he was putting his foot down.
Which did absolutely shit all, but still.
When he’d signed on to this… whatever it was. He still didn’t know, two years of being unable to shake them notwithstanding. Came around often enough to pull whatever hairbrained scheme Ford had cooked up - left Dayan in his place when he couldn’t quite make it - and usually left just as quickly. Usually. Since Nate-Ford. Since Ford had bailed on them, and then they’d bailed him out, and then they’d been blackmailed into the stupidest fucking idea he’d ever heard, he’d been finding himself ending up here a lot more often.
But that wasn’t what he was addressing here.
When he’d signed onto this crew, it had been understood, he thought, that he knew his game. Was one of the best, frankly. If he was saying “no,” they should listen. He’d said “no” only once before and… wait. They hadn’t listened then either. And that was only a month ago. (See, been blackmailed. His perfectly legitimate suggestion to get the ever loving hell out of dodge had been promptly ignored then too). What the hell.
“I don’t know what that guy told you,” bullshit. His hearing was just fine, “but who he’s looking for doesn’t need to be found.”
He could admit to himself that seeing Stone walk into the bar had been a trip for a moment. He’d been off the stool and halfway to him by the time it kicked in that the man was wrong. Too soft in the eyes, hair too short and neat, walk completely off kilter. The man wasn’t a hitter, wasn’t coming for his- the. Wasn’t coming for the crew. At least, not like he’d thought.
He could’ve done without the brief flashback to the spectacularly broken ribs he’d gotten from the man’s doppelganger, thanks. He’d let Sophie and Ford handle the man, keeping an eye on the group but staying out of the way. Hardison called it lurking. He called it doing his job.
And no one was listening. Well, Parker was, from her perch on the arm chair, but he had a feeling that was just because he was the loudest moving thing in the room right now. There was a 50-50 shot she was also ignoring him and instead mentally working out the kinks in her newest rig. ...Maybe 30-70.
“He’s just looking for his brother. I fail to see how that’s that big of a problem. Not our usual job no but… I mean, the poor man came this far. Least we can do is dig around.” Sophie called over from the kitchen.
Which. Yeah. Brother. Explained the deja vu at least. And ruled out doppelgangers.
How the hell had they missed a brother? He’d never heard a word. Not a rumor, not a suggestion, at any point of a brother. Far as he knew, every hitter was pretty sure the man had no family to speak of. He hadn’t gone as far as to believe some of the more outlandish reasonings behind that fact (aliens? Really? What were they, geeks?), even when he’d been a little too green to know how to pick the good rumors from the bad - pick out the miniscule detail that’d save his ass in a fight, and ignore the ones that’d get his ass shot for repeating - but even he hadn’t thought much past the general idea of a loner.
Shaking his head, he had a whole ‘nother rant ready to go before Hardison cleared his throat. And cue why everyone should’ve just listened to Quinn in the first place.
“...So. What’s the chance we get blackmailed into hunting down Moreau - still need to have an actual conversation ‘bout that, Nate - the same month his right hand gun’s brother comes outta nowhere - and I do mean nowhere. Man’s from Nowheresville, Oklahoma, seriously, the hell is out there - and asks us for help?”
Hardison’s screen transferred to the ones set up along the wall, a face too rough, too hard to be Stone’s popping up on one side, blacked out files, security footage, and warrants popping up on the other.
“Aha. Thought Eliot Spencer sounded familiar.” Ford was already thinking, Quinn could see. Gears turning away in his head as bloodshot yet sharp eyes watched the grainy footage of Spencer covering Moreau’s back into a plane, all careful movement and decisive control where Stone had been loose and wrong. “...Think we found our in.”
And oh, some day Quinn was going to knock Ford on his ass. If Sophie could slap him, Quinn deserved one punch, right?
Thanks for reading! Kudos, comments and/or critiques would be loved, but honestly, just hope you liked it! I'll update as soon as I can!
(Work and chapter title from How Did You Love and What a Shame by Shinedown, respectively)
Chapter 2: Everybody Loves to See a Fall Unfold
Thank you so much for the kudos and comments on the last chapter! I'm glad people are enjoying this so far! And I'm sorry about the delay - school decided to remind me that I do not, actually, have free time. But! I got two more weeks before I'm out for the summer (and halfway through my masters whoo!) so I'll be able to get updates out a lot quicker hopefully!
Anyway, hope you enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“So, doppel-whatevers like Quinn said? Clones? Oooh, is he like Sophie?” Parker asked, dropping on the couch, somehow in Hardison’s space enough to cause the couch cushion to jostle and yet far enough away to actually avoid hitting him with her sprawling frame that quickly curled up around a bowl of cereal anyway.
A quick glance sideways - with how fast she was inhaling whatever sugar monstrosity she’d managed to find recently, none of it was going to get on his laptop, so he left it alone. “Nah, brothers, like he said.” Impossible to miss, once he’d actually gotten a look at their newest client yesterday. The guy was carrying a bit more weight, sure, hair a bit cleaner cut, and overall didn’t radiate general murdery-ness like the figure he’d so far only managed to catch on the stray security camera - take away all that, they might as well be twins, despite the three years between them.
In between Nate’s announcement of their new ‘in’ - which, in the quiet of his own mind Hardison still snorted at - and laying one of the largest, most generalized nets he could, given the general lack of overall information, he’d done his best to dig as much as he could up on the brothers. Call him paranoid - no, wait, look at his crew and then lay off ‘cause his level of paranoia was the only well adjusted one, thank you - but the last twenty-four hours had set him off kilter.
What he’d found hadn’t exactly calmed the nagging voice at the back of his head that something was off, but it did help him settle down into a comfortable, more familiar rhythm of information gathering rather than his initial headlong rush. Which was probably what Parker had picked up on when she’d decided to relocate to the couch.
“Quinn’s watching the camera again.” She piped in, distracting him briefly from the keyboard and screen in front of him. Sure enough, Quinn was perched on the armchair by the couch, watching the bottom left screen that had a view of downstairs, ostensibly pointed towards the front door. Jacob Stone was still perched at the curve of the bar, scuffed white cowboy hat - which, that didn’t stick out, at all, really - pulled low. He’d shown up that morning, parked himself there and hadn’t moved since as far as Hardison could tell.
That was probably another reason Hardison hadn’t been entirely comfortable with Stone’s arrival. Quinn was twitchy, sure; too much energy - which, yes, coming from Hardison was weird, whatever - generally flitting from place to place and sniping his way through whatever problems he ran into. But ever since his aborted quick-step from the bar - thanks for that heart attack by the way, Quinn; he’d only seen it over the camera, registering that if Quinn was already in fight-or-flight then he should probably be getting the hell outta dodge, and taking a long couple of moments to realize that their normally light footed hitter had just. Stopped. - but whatever, since that fun moment, the hitter had been quiet. Well, no, he’d put up a bit of a fight before Nate had shut him up with his usual “lalalanotlistening” routine he pulled when he was planning but still , since then , the hitter had been quiet.
Now. Generally, Hardison could admit, his survival instinct was perhaps a little thin in certain areas. He could admit that - to himself - because he could also admit that he was pretty damn good about getting himself out of whatever trouble he tumbled into thanks to his too fast mouth and too quick hands. Generally.
But even he could see that bothering Quinn at this precise moment was not a good idea.
Didn’t mean he didn’t want to. Not by a long shot. The guy may throw quips and threats like they were frikken confetti, but Hardison also knew he wouldn’t really do anything about it. At least. He was pretty sure. Like, 90 percent sure. Which was more than enough for him to poke the proverbial bear with a stick sometimes.
But now… Nope. Staying out of that.
He didn’t catch Parker leaning over to poke Quinn in the shoulder - more like a sharp jab than a poke really. Girl didn’t do things halfway - until it was far too late to catch her. Not that he wouldn’t been able to. But perhaps by trying he could maybe avoid the man’s wrath. Maybe.
As it was, he watched Quinn snap out a hand to smack her’s away - too slow, but only just - turning on both of them with a scowl and a snapped “What?”
Hardison frowned, pushing his laptop to his knees to get it out of his immediate sight. He’d known Quinn was on edge, but still…
“The hell’s wrong with you today anyway?” Okay, not the most tactful, but it got him to stop glaring at a perpetually unconcerned Parker anyway, who’d already turned back to her cereal. Quinn snorted, slouching back in the armchair in a way that reminded Hardison way too much of a petulant teenager. Still had enough self-preservation to bite back a snort at least.
“He’s” a hand flailed towards the screen “weird, ‘s all.”
“Clone weird?” Parker chirped, interest back on the conversation almost as fast as it was gone when Quinn immediately shook his head.
Before Hardison could ask why though, Quinn shoved himself up with a huff and left. Where to, Hardison had no idea - which, okay, not completely correct, but Quinn hadn’t found the latest tracker that at this point, was pretty much strictly to annoy the man, but still - but he let it go, turning back to the screens, eyeing the bottom left one in particular.
What he’d found on Stone hadn’t raised any red flags. Eyebrows, sure, but nothing screamed “betrayal,” “fire, explosions, run,” or even a general “holy hell.” Maybe he was going about this the wrong way. If a quick chat could settle the last of his nerves, he could turn all of his attention to finding Moreau and Spencer like Nate had asked him to - wait, back up. Nate hadn’t asked. It had been heavily implied in his hand-wavey “let’s get this hairbrained show on the road” motion, which was close enough.
“Hey Parker?” He smiled when she turned with a muffled questioning “mmph” after showing another spoonful of - was that neon pink? - cereal in her mouth. “Wanna go talk to a clone?”
He saved his laptop from the resultant splash as she bounced off the couch, but only just.
Two Years Ago
“Ah, Mr. Spencer? Eliot Spencer?” Eliot shot a sideways glance at the newcomer, a quick look giving him enough to turn back to his drink without a word. He was already too tired for this, and this hadn’t even started. He could leave right now, he supposed. But at that point, his only real options were the musty motel he’d crawled out of a couple hours ago after another night and some change of no sleep, or another bar down the street. Neither seemed all that appealing.
The man seemed to take the silence as the acquiescence it certainly wasn’t.
“I’ve got a job for you.” Eliot quirked an eyebrow, taking another look at the man. And going back to his drink, an unimpressed as before.
Guys like him (stressed, cocky, with soft suits and even softer hands) didn’t come to places like this (dingy, hazy, muffled) to hire guys like Eliot. They called, stressed anonymity, spouting numbers and names if they absolutely had to talk to the muscle themselves instead of hiring a go between. But, then again, if the guy already knew him enough to track him down here - which, guess his options didn’t include that motel anymore then. He’d have to find another place to bed down tonight - then he already had to be a shade too desperate and impatient to work a web of contacts. “Simple, but I can pay.” his tone suggested a lot and... well, looking good so far. “Snatch and grab - I just need you to watch their backs.” And its gone.
“I work alone.” Or so he’d decided in the last couple of months. He’d attempted, when he’d first fallen out; accepting any job that took him away, always away. Never quite far enough though. And he was tired of swiping guns out of friendly hands when Damien’s men, without fail, tracked him down again.
So, alone it was.
“300 thousand.” Eliot could admit that had him pausing for a breath, before he shook his head. As much as he needed that money - and he really, really did, as much as it pained him to acknowledge that - that kind of price tag was just begging for attention. Attention he couldn’t, at this exact point, really afford.
300k could buy him a couple months. Hotels, plane tickets, bribes… he could get away on that pretty easily. For a time. But something like that - and if his cut was that much, what was the total price tag on this thing anyway? - would also bring a devil knocking at his door that he didn’t want to face so soon.
The jolt of adrenaline he was expecting at the idea - the one that kept him on his toes, kept him going, kept him running - didn’t come.
And that. Oh that turned his stomach cold.
He was tired. The idea of doing all of this again, and again, over the next couple of months - dodging the hounds at his heels for just a second more...
“Sorry.” Possibly. Possibly not. “I can give you a couple names, but I’m not interested.” True to his word, he scratched out two names and the last known burner numbers he knew for them (which, wouldn’t Quinn be delighted that he still had that, whoops) on a napkin before dropping a handful of bills on the counter and pushing himself through the crowd.
What tipped him off when he spilled out onto the street, he didn’t really question. Had followed that prickling at the back of his neck too many times to safety to let himself question it now. Hands shoved in his pocket, a careful look around, and an easy pace in the exact opposite direction.
Fat lot of good that did him when the car pulled up by the curb. This time of night, this part of town, it was the only one on the street. He could’ve avoided it - ducked down the alley to his left, disappeared into the oily shadows at a sprint, gotten enough distance to breathe, or slid into the twenty-four hour convenience store he’d just passed and out the back door, disappearing until the morning crowds could hide his way out.
His feet dragged to a stop even as the car beside him took a couple seconds to do the same.
“Eliot, my friend.” When the cold knot in his stomach didn’t do so much as twitch at the too-slick slide of Damien’s voice, Eliot just sighed, shoulders losing a tension he’d clung to these past couple of months. “Come, we have so much to discuss.”
Months. Months of running. Could turn into years. A long, final stretch that he’d likely never see the end of if he was already dragging his feet. Not that he had much of a chance of seeing the end of anything if he got in that car.
Well. Better the devil you know.
He got in the car without a word.
Eliot groaned softly into the empty quiet of the too clean apartment when he collapsed on the too new couch. His ribs ached, his eyes burned. A quick check told him nothing he didn’t already know. Spending a night in a drunk tank sucked when he was a kid, and it sure as hell sucked now.
And wasn’t that just great anyway. He’d managed to carve out a handful of days to get back to Portland, and the first thing his twitchy ass did was pick a fight with the first smarmy brat that looked a little too much like Chapman. He hadn’t even been able to get a drink yet.
He knew better. He knew he knew better, even as he’d pulled a jab back enough to bruise instead of break, and gotten an elbow to the cheek for the trouble.
The only blessing of this whole mess, was that Damien wouldn’t be looking for him the next couple of days - and neither would Chapman. For all intents and purposes, he was here on a job. One way below his paygrade, sure, but that just made Chapman all the more happy to dole it out. One of Damien’s clients was a local, had requested extra security for one of his shipments. He’d managed to time it with a day or two on either end, spouting off some bullshit about getting the lay of the land that Chapman had seen right through - and didn’t that leash just fucking chafe - but that Damien had waved ahead without a blink - Chapman’s face at that had almost been worth it. Almost.
He had a night now after the stupidity of last night, and one in a couple days to himself. Mornings too if he kept it low-key enough, which he could, and would. If Toby didn’t kick his ass right back out for being a mess anyway.
So I'm still trying to get character voices right - any suggestions/comments on that front (or on anything really) would be most welcome!
(chapter title from Nobody Praying For Me by Seether for no other reason than that's what I was listening to when I finished this)
Chapter 3: You're Built to Balance on Two Feet
Okay so, this is rougher and shorter than I'd like, but I got hit with a massive block and I'd like to just get this out 'cause its finally at a spot that I can roll it into the next chapter pretty easily.
Thank you all so much for the comments and kudos! I can't tell you what it means to me that this fic is getting any kind of attention (I really want this to go well peeps - first writing project in years! I'm still nervous about it!)
Anyway, hope you enjoy! The next chapter is roughed out, and should be up hopefully with some speed!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sometimes, Parker felt too loud. Not her words, not the scuff of her foot on the wood or carpet or tile. She knew those were quiet.
Just. Parker. Parker was too loud. Or maybe that wasn’t the right word. It probably wasn’t. But she didn’t feel like searching for another word, and it’s not like anyone was going to ask her anytime soon, so she let it be.
So. Sometimes she felt too loud. And it was a 50/50 shot being around other people would help. Sometimes, her loudness could mingle with others and become white noise and she could focus just fine. Sometimes, everything became the too-sharp jangle of a screechy violin - no, not a violin, not anymore. Hardison proved that that could sound as sweet-sharp as clinking locks - ...an alarm then. Yeah. Like those new fire alarms that played five different tones over each other, all meant to catch attention and make people want to leave and did anyone know how loud that got in the vents? Did anyone think of that?
At the start of a con? Parker could definitely say she almost never felt loud - she used to, when this was all new, and she was surrounded by undisciplined thieves with their too quick faces and too sharp edges.
She didn’t feel quiet, but she did feel not loud. Settled maybe. She’d heard Sophie describe her falling into whatever role Nate asked of her as settling into a skin.
She wondered how that would feel sometimes, slipping into her skin, all soft flesh and gross insides, only to remember that Sophie probably didn’t mean it like that.
But that was entirely not the point right now. The point was that she was settled - reacting quickly to Nate’s ‘go’ as they all converged on customs, rolling through Hardison’s rundown on Keller and exactly what brought them there (though she never quite got all of that - didn’t they cover this before? She was pretty sure they’d covered all of this three hours ago back at the bar).
Ready to lift a wallet and a briefcase - taking the need to the actually find a better briefcase double when Quinn called it out as he trailed after Keller and the bodyguard.
And then Spencer walked in. She almost missed him honestly. He moved easily through the crowd, flashing a badge - what type she didn’t know, just that it was gold and badge-like and that was generally bad for people like her - and the TSA agents and security guards let him through, the badge ending up clipped on his belt.
He looked… different, up close. Not that she wasn’t expecting that of course - but she’d only had how Jacob moved (they were clo-... brothers. There had to be some similarities right?) and grainy security footage to go off of before. Add in Quinn’s muttering and grumbling, and she’d pictured someone… stiffer. More out of his skin at least. She’d seen other hitters, other guards, who got a little punch-happy, trigger-happy, just in general not-nice-happy - they were jerky, jumpy, always ready to move and strike at, say, a squeak of metal from a vent that definitely shouldn’t have made any sound.
The security footage had shown a man like that. All hard edges, quick looks, and fast hands. Spencer here though… He wasn’t soft, but he was moving easily, heading straight for Keller with a confidence that got people out of his way - except a security guard he pulled in to have a word with.
Again. She’d almost missed him.
“Spencer’s here.” She snapped, cutting off Nate - she was certain he wasn’t saying anything actually important to the job anyway. His voice had ‘Sophie-talk’ all over it. She caught Quinn’s jerk and stumble as he abruptly dropped to tie his shoe, dropping out of Spencer’s immediate line of sight. Hardison took a moment to actually react, caught up having to act like everything was just fine for a couple in his line before she saw him studiously Not Looking in Spencer’s direction. He didn't look panicked, not quite yet, but he was getting there, expression hard as his thumbs flew over his phone, no doubt pulling up whatever he had on where Spencer was supposed to be.
“Nate, I swear to God, he was not supposed to be here. Nothing flagged, and last time we checked, he was still with Moreau.” Right. In Germany, or at least, there recently. They hadn’t actually managed to get a lock on Moreau's location anytime he was actually there (and she knew that was driving Hardison up a wall), but his computers had gotten pretty good at following his trail.
And then Parker’s attention was snapped back to Spencer as a little girl made her way over to him - no, to the security guard he was still talking with. She was too far away to hear anything, but the guard looked confused, and Spencer looked downright pained and guys like that don’t talk to kids like her and this is going to be bad and they need to get over there - he dropped down to her level just as Parker was pushing through the crowd, Nate and Quinn in her ear either telling her to wait or something like that.
The smile stopped her. Spencer smiled, and from this distance she could hear him responding in another language - Arabic? Maybe? - before taking a look at her ticket and offering her a hand. The little girl took it without hesitation and let herself be led over to a group of TSA agents.
She’d had barely a chance to relax, catching the tail end of the worried look Hardison shot her and he finished processing Keller but pushing it away as something she couldn’t approach right now - middle of a job, middle of a mess, Nate was about to get them out, she was sure of it.
A couple things happened at once. The alarms went off - not as annoying as those fire alarms but pretty damn close, and they set her teeth on edge even though she knew they weren’t for her - the little girl was being carted away for - a quick look - smuggling, they were yelling about a statue, Nate was in her ear talking about how the TSA agents were going after the wrong smuggler, Spencer had a handful of seconds to look confused, then startled, then pissed - and oh, there was the guy from the security footage - before he went still. Staring into the crowd.
And then Quinn was cursing over the comms and Parker followed Spencer’s gaze right to their hitter.
She was loud again, even as everything went into salvage mode, the sounds around her fading into white noise. She shoved a luggage cart into Spencer’s side as she was passing, ducking into the crowd with a startled curse chasing her heels; Quinn, out of the corner of her eye, pulled his pilot’s hat down low and made his way out of the terminal as fast as he could without drawing more attention; Hardison begged off on break; and Nate talked Sophie down from going after the little girl, saying something about her family that he must’ve spotted while everything else was crashing down.
The last minute call to clone Keller’s phone almost came too late, but a turn on her heel and she’d lost her hat, her staff shirt wrapped around her waist, disappearing her into the crowd past the gate long enough to sidle up to Keller for all of a moment, only to do it again just before he left the airport to return the phone.
He felt sick. No one had said a word about the kids. The smuggling? Sure. That’s why he was here in the first place. Damien needed Keller for a job coming up - or his contacts, at the very least. They’d lost Kadjic, and while Keller dealt mainly in art and artifacts, he had to know plenty who didn’t. Eliot was supposed to keep an eye on Keller - losing Kadjic out of nowhere had set Moreau… not on edge, not really, but he was slower to trust his network with the bigger plans - see if he could actually manage what Damien needed. Being given as extra security for a couple meetings in that time was apparently a bonus.
He’d been told to meet them at the airport in Boston - why there and not in London he had no idea, though he was pretty sure it was just Chapman fucking with him again, petty little shit.
And he should’ve looked. He had enough contacts around he could’ve gotten information on what Keller was doing in Boston today, anything he might be moving in and how. But he hadn’t. And now that little girl was stuck with fucking ICE, confused and scared and likely to be stuck there for months and no one deserved that, and he’d basically served her up on a silver platter.
And then on top of that mess, there had been a moment in noise - right before a luggage cart had winged him, which, what the hell - that he’d thought he’d seen Quinn. Sure, it had been awhile since he’d last seen the guy (five years now?) but he wasn’t about to start doubting his own eyes.
So. Quinn in a pilot uniform that was definitely not his.
Jet lag wasn’t a thing he believed in, but he couldn’t deny that his mind was going too many ways at once after a flight from Berlin to Boston, and another to London in less than twelve hours. The hell was Quinn doing there like that, how quickly could he get someone into that holding cell to get that little girl - fuck, he hadn’t gotten her name before she was scooped up and swept away - what was Keller going on about…
Right. Auction he had to go to. His own head of security had been shooting Eliot a side-eye basically since they’d met in Boston, and he was pretty sure the man had twitched when it became clear Eliot was going to be tailing the entire way. Eliot couldn’t even blame him - he got twitchy when Damien switched security without warning. Though more because of the possibility of a knife to the back than because he hadn’t had a chance to vet them thoroughly. That was Chapman’s job now anyway.
He’d backed off as much as he could. Sure, he’d been offered as extra security, but if Keller’s men wanted to keep things local and keep him out of it, he wasn’t going to put up much of a fight. He was here to watch, not hold their goddamn hands through their normal routine anyway. And if his men couldn’t handle a normal day’s fuck ups, they shouldn’t be working for Damien anyhow.
Thanks for reading! The next chapter is going to be mostly - if not all - Eliot, and from there, POV is gonna swing between Hardison, Eliot and Parker for the rest of the story (maybe a Sophie or Nate in there if I think its needed but that's a big if).
(chapter title from The Crow by Dessa because, again, that's what I was listening to when this wrapped up)
Chapter 4: Now I Hate Your Ways, 'Cause They're Just Like Mine
Thank you for the comments and kudos everyone! I know I haven't really responded to the comments (like, at all, I'm a mess, sorry), but they really mean the world to me and I just honestly don't know how to respond well half the time! But I do read all of them, and the encouragement for this fic is just... amazing, so honestly, thank you!
This chapter highlights how long its been since I actually attempted true dialogue and I apologize. I like how it turned out though? So hopefully you do too!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sometimes, Eliot really hated being taken for dumb muscle. Sure, he actively encouraged that mistake more often than not - people tended to look over and through him, ignoring him just long enough for him to use it to his advantage. And the look of surprise he normally managed to get was one of life’s simple pleasures sometimes.
But honestly. If he was as out of it as he played half the time, who in their right mind would trust him with their security? Or, briefly there, for retrieving whatever valuables they’d… lost. Sure, let’s go with lost. How could they expect him to make it past guards, security systems, law enforcement, at the very least, plus the occasional forgery and competitor? Just muscle had its place in the world - he wouldn’t begrudge anyone working with what they’ve got - but come on.
So, sometimes, it grated on his nerves, rubbed at his edges like sandpaper, especially when he had no choice but to grin and bear it - pretend he didn’t notice the (really not) subtle digs, voices pitched too high and too drawn out as people talked around him, or pitched too low to avoid explanations he’d surely need. In short, an afternoon spent tailing Keller at Claridge’s, having to keep his mouth shut and just be an intimidating face behind the man was a bad day. Not quite as bad as the day before - boredom would never measure up to fantastically fucking up - but still.
He was tired. Not quite angry - that honestly took either time or an unpleasant surprise these days - but definitely edgy.
He was too professional - too tired, too out of it - to let it affect how he interacted with Keller’s men at the end of the day, but something must have shown on his face, because they left him alone after a quick rundown of the plan for the next morning. And he was left with a night to himself since he still wasn’t a trusted member of the team. Fine by him.
He didn’t go out looking for a drink. Not that that intention did him much good - he still ended up tucked into a booth near the door of an out of the way bar. Close enough to a handful of tourist hotspots that an American wouldn’t stand out, far enough down a backway that he could expect to be left alone.
Of course, his luck hadn’t been that good in years.
He’d clocked her coming in, of course. It would be a cold day in hell when Eliot couldn’t keep a low-key count of the comings and goings of wherever he was. ...Or it’d be a bar fight. Those tended to get a little muddled if he was in the center of it. Short of noticing that she was a little more refined than what one could expect for a place like this, and that she’d made her way to the bar without any kind of trip to her step, he’d put her out of his mind. He just wanted to nurse his weak beer and brood in peace. He had so few indulgences these days, was it too much to ask?
Apparently, he thought, as the woman slid smoothly into the seat across from him. He couldn’t be bothered to drudge up a smile for her, but he did incline his head at least. Not quite polite, and he’s pretty sure his momma would smack him upside the head if he didn’t manage at least the absolute basics (though, honestly, what was one more drop in the bucket).
She was, maybe, a couple years older than him, with a striking face framed by soft brown strands escaping a, probably, previously immaculate bun. A sharp smile, in a tasteful dark red. He had a feeling chunky pearls would compliment her look far more than the… restrained? garnets currently glittering at her throat, almost a perfect match for her smile.
He frowned slightly, hiding it as best he could behind his drink. He’d either seen her before for an idea like that or he was getting into the rambly stage of exhaustion. Eliot couldn’t quite tell which was better (or worse as the case may be).
If she didn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and if he wasn’t as on edge, he could easily see himself giving her a soft smile in return and seeing where the night led.
As it was, if she wanted to watch him brood for a little while before she got bored, it wasn’t much of a bother to him.
She quirked an eyebrow at him after a moment, and he had the distinct impression she might be laughing at him.
“Well someone’s in an awful mood tonight - not even going to offer to buy a lady a drink?” She asked, a soft accent colored with amusement rolling off her tongue. Soft enough to be natural, easy enough to be thoughtless. Eliot raised an eyebrow of his own - and yep, she was definitely laughing at him - taking a drink of his own beer before answering.
“Sorry darlin’, not feeling up to being that generous tonight. I’m sure you can find plenty more than willing though.” She snorted. Delicately. Somehow. He’d never quite figured out how people did that.
“Oh, I’m sure. But there’s only one I’m interested in. Doesn’t that count for something?” He paused - barely a breath, and he can maybe convince himself she didn’t catch it. Two options then, if she was stuck on him. Directness, which he could respect (and, frankly, looked for in his partners, if he was being honest), or business.
“It might, if I was any fun to be around tonight. Sorry to say…” He trailed off, rolling a shoulder and ducking his head with a small smile. Tired and bashful tended to end in nicer let downs than curt and growly.
“Don’t play coy, dear, it doesn’t suit you.” He snorted. Significantly less delicately. But he granted her a warmer smile - he could respect a callout on his bullshit occasionally. “You’re one of Keller’s men, correct?”
He had seen her before, at Claridge’s that afternoon. He hadn’t been at his best, hadn’t catalogued everyone with the detail he normally prided himself on, as he’d trailed behind Keller ( like a heeled dog , his mind unhelpfully supplied, which he just as unhelpfully suggested to fuck off ). It hadn’t been his problem after all.
You know, for all that his stomach dropped at the idea of being drawn up in whatever mess Keller was getting himself into, it was somewhat of a relief that his opinions on pearls was not actually that advanced.
She was clearly waiting on an answer - an affirmative, if her expectant smile was anything to go by - and so, being the petty asshole he apparently occasionally let himself be (blaming a particular someone for that), he stayed quiet, just watching her over his beer.
He had to give her credit though, as the silence drew out. She seemed well prepared to match him for stubbornness. Pretty sure the only way this ended was with him talking, or him leaving.
“...Sure.” He made it ten minutes. What can he say. The sooner she got whatever it was she was after, the sooner he could go back to brooding in peace. She had the good grace to keep her amusement at least somewhat to herself.
“Oh, don’t look so put out. I’m not asking after anything he’d disapprove of.” She ignored his snort, “Just wanted your opinion on something before I wasted my time. I have so little of it to spare after all.” Her raised eyebrow was probably supposed to cow him a bit, get more of his attention.
“Oh, from darling to ma’am in half an hour. Should I be offended?” She grinned and, he’d be damned, he had a hard time not returning it.
“ Ma’am. I’m afraid whatever Mr. Keller does with his business isn’t passed by me. Might want to try the angry looking guy he generally has following him around. Sure you saw him today. Reddish hair, attempt at facial hair? He’d know more than me.”
“Oh? No opinion on your boss’ plans?” He grinned, big and bright and too much teeth.
“Sorry darlin’. Not a one.” Finishing his drink, he pushed himself to his feet, slipping over to the bar to drop a handful of bills for a tip on the counter and heading out the door.
It wasn’t until he was a good block down the street that he realized he’d missed yet another name. Scrubbing a hand down his face with a growl, he knew he had to clear his head, and do it soon. He wasn’t normally this sloppy, this… forgetful. He may not like it (and he fucking didn’t, rest assured, as much good as that did him), but he had a job to do dammit.
A night to brood. One more night. And tomorrow he’d be back to himself. He had to be.
“Well, there’s a pretty good chance we can take Keller down around him just fine. Possible chance he’ll even let us if he catches on.”
“But… he could still decide to pull his head out of his ass and become more of a problem for us than any of Keller’s men.”
“So we’re where we were three hours ago.”
“Pretty much.” Sophie, for her part, at least sounded disappointed. Nate just sounded frustrated. Hardison was only half listening to either of them. They’d been talking around Sophie’s introduction to one Eliot Spencer for the last half hour, and hadn’t come up with much more than ‘back to square one. Almost.’
Hardison didn’t quite buy it, if he was honest.
Spencer had been, from what he heard over Sophie’s comm, a standard mark for her, if a little too tired to really play along. Hadn’t really clammed up until she’d started asking after Keller. And even then, he hadn’t shut down or gotten defensive so much as deflected. And ran. So. No love lost there. He wasn’t loyal to Keller, and whatever Moreau had sent him for didn’t require him to pretend to be.
And if he wasn’t loyal, they could use that. Which he knew Nate would conclude eventually, as soon as he stopped turning it over and over in his mind, worrying at any and all possible directions that conclusion could lead them.
He was more than happy to leave him to it, while he manned the surveillance. Not too hard, considering where they were - London wasn’t his favorite city, but the sheer amount of surveillance systems at his disposal out here did actually make a decent argument sometimes. Eliot had left the bar, had a bit of a Moment about a block out of the way, and then made his way to Keller’s hotel without another stop. He, nor Keller, nor Keller’s men had left since.
Finally. People staying where they were supposed to.
Thanks for reading!
(chapter title from Firefly by Breaking Benjamin)
Chapter 5: Sitting In My Window Like a Prophet
We interrupt your regularly scheduled con with a short break, we'll be back after this.
(i.e., looking back at it days later, I didn't like where Hardison's piece left off last chapter, so have this short chapter to make up for it)
Thank you so much for the comments and kudos last chapter! The attention this fic is getting still just completely blows me away and I'm so happy people are enjoying it!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“So...why can’t we just go talk to him? Sophie did her,” Parker made a vague handwave that still somehow managed to encompass the idea of ‘Sophie’ - it was pretty impressive - from her perch on the window sill, “you said he’s not for Keller, so why can’t we talk to him and just get him over now?” She’d been sitting there for the last hour, leaving Hardison to his computers, trying to tie up what ends he could, pick apart what they’d found, and try to find anything that would help Nate’s run at Keller tomorrow.
He, honestly hadn’t found much more than what he’d picked up in that - awful, tiny, filing cabinet infested - office, so her question after an hour of silence (long for her, but if she’d been working this question over, that was probably why) was welcome.
Honestly, Hardison had been asking himself the same question, even before Sophie did her thing. So, he offered the explanation he’d been giving himself, “Just because he’s not going up to bat for Keller, doesn’t mean he wouldn’t for Moreau.” She gave him an odd look.
“...which is why we talk to him? If he’s with Moreau, we can’t use him at all. Better to know now right?”
A very good point. He frowned, pushing back from his current set up at the table, giving her question the moment it deserved. Parker turned back to the window to wait, watching the city sleep - which is definitely what they should be doing, but reliable sleep on cons was always a crapshoot.
Why hadn’t they approached Spencer? He knew Nate had been playing with the idea awhile back, when he first became a whole other angle to their Moreau problem. But at that point, they hadn’t been able to reliably find him away from Moreau. Sure, Hardison had been able to track down a couple people he was almost certain would know how to get into contact with him - but all of them were people on his ‘to-watch’ list so…
And then there’d been the mugshot in Portland. By the time it tripped his net though, it had been a few days and Hardison hadn’t been able to determine if he was still in the city or not. He’d still deleted the record - an impulse he hadn’t really looked into too much. He had a copy of it stored on a hard drive back home. If he felt like being petty if this all blew up, he could put it right back.
And back to the question at hand. When they couldn’t find an immediate avenue to get ahold of Spencer, Nate had seemingly dropped it. And then Spencer had popped up in Boston with no warning.
...And yet. This would be the perfect time to approach him wouldn’t it? Moreau was somewhere in Germany last he checked (and you can bet your ass Hardison had tightened that search as much as he could as soon as Spencer had shown up), they had pretty decent confirmation Spencer wouldn’t care about them taking Keller down - and, if he had indeed made Quinn at the airport, he hadn’t said a word about it to anyone, as far as they could tell.
He could really only come up with one reason - big as it was.
“We try to talk to him now, and we guessed wrong, he could tip off Moreau.” Parker glanced back at him, tilting her head, playing that over for a moment.
“Well, yeah, but he could do that anytime we talk to him. And we’re gonna have to at some point. Nate keeps calling him our ‘in.’ That only works if he helps right? We tip him off now, he doesn’t know who we are.” The so we can disappear went unsaid but understood nonetheless.
And again, she had a good point.
But… “He tips off Moreau now, Moreau could tip off Keller.” That, at least, seemed to satisfy her, for now. He wondered how much of this conversation actually changed whatever plan was going on in her head - only to realize a moment later it really didn’t matter. As long as he was there to point her away from pitfalls - like the one just mentioned - he was of a mind to let her run with whatever she wanted to do. It tended to turn out alright, and she was getting pretty good at running things past Nate at the very least. Generally when she was halfway through free fall, but still.
And besides, if she still wanted to talk to Spencer, after they took down Keller, he couldn’t think of another reason they shouldn’t, so whatever plan she cooked up couldn’t be all bad.
In fact. If the fallout from this job was controlled, they could maybe catch Spencer before he disappeared back to Moreau’s lair… He was turning back to the computer before he’d fully processed that. If he could narrow down the best ways out of London for Spencer, with the list of aliases he had (it was a still growing list too. Man got around apparently), assuming he would jump ship back to Moreau as soon as Keller went down in a blaze…
If they could get a tracker on him, this would be a lot easier.
“Hey, Parker?” He waited for a noise from her, only to squawk slightly when said noise - a hum of a question - came from right by his ear. He only just managed to avoid smacking her when his arms flew up to guard… his head? His something anyway. She didn’t move an inch, just blinking at him. He liked to think he could read her well enough to see the giggle she was valiantly (for her) trying to bite back.
She still giggled at him, in the end. But he did appreciate the effort.
“Think you can -” he paused at her Look, grinning, “right, will you tag Spencer tomorrow morning?” Nate and Sophie wouldn’t be going back to Claridge’s until that afternoon, but Parker had already been seen there as an employee, however briefly. It’d be nothing for her to slip back in, earlier, and tail Keller long enough to get a tracker or two on Spencer.
She grinned at him, holding out her hand, only to snort when he just shook his head and hooked a thumb over his shoulder at the kitchen counter, which had been taken over by bags of their gear - rigs, ropes, backup hard drives, comms, practice locks, backup lock picks, and a long list of disposable but useful bits and pieces they might need here and there. Hardison honestly forgot half the time what all was in there, trusting his past self to have packed them as needed. He was pretty sure Quinn’s go-bag was in there somewhere too, slowly being crushed under the weight of everything else. He should know better by now, honestly. Counter-space closest to the door gets overtaken immediately - if he doesn’t want his stuff lost to the mess, he should’ve put it somewhere else.
She skipped off to go dig out the trackers while he sent off a message to Nate - a quick ‘Parker’s at Claridge’s tomorrow, eye on Spencer’ - but didn’t expect a response back really, given the hour, and that Nate generally let him run the background of their cons without much fuss. Well. Much fuss anymore.
They’d never really talked about it - Nate backing off from that specific angle of micromanaging (Hardison wasn’t sure the man could, physically, not micromanage at least something, so that was a feat in and of itself) - which annoyed Hardison plenty when he got too much of a chance to think about it. If he was feeling generous though, the constant asking of the impossible and ‘should have asked three days ago but we’re asking now’ without a shred of doubt about his ability to do it could be ego-boosting.
Mostly it was just exhausting. Fun in the moment, sure - he could create some awesome things, and getting the chance to stretch his genius outside of computers occasionally? Really, really cool - but exhausting after the fact.
This job hadn’t called for anything like that yet, thankfully. With any luck, Spencer would be the one and only hiccup.
And he didn’t need the voice at the back of his mind yelling at him that he’d just jinxed it, thank you very much.
Thanks for reading!
(chapter title from The Crow by Dessa, again)
Chapter 6: We Are the Second, You're Minutes Behind
Thank you so much for the comments and kudos on the last chapter! (And on the work as a whole!) I know you're probably sick of me saying this already, but still, the fact that people are liking this fic blows my mind. I hope I can keep giving you peeps an interesting story!
So, this chapter's a little longer than normal (not by much, but still), but I've been struggling with it for the last two weeks. Hopefully things have smoothed out (I think they have, but I might've been staring at it too long sooo...), and I hope you enjoy it!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Eliot still didn’t like Claridge’s. At all. The people were still high and mighty, the staff were stuck between being rude, bumping into him and ignoring him, and being as done with everyone’s shit as he was, and Ennis had tried to get him to wait in the car. He could forgive the staff part - they had to deal with these people on a regular basis. They got a pass - but the other two were grinding on his nerves.
Not that he let it show. He was a goddamn professional. And if Ennis wanted to keep a couple steps of distance between them after he glared a little bit, that was his prerogative.
The day promised to be as dull and drawn out as the last one - phone calls as Keller looked over items going to auction, hushed conversations that everyone else pretended not to notice as a handful of deals were ironed out - when Jensen showed up.
Eliot hadn’t actually given the man much attention. He was propped outside the door to the bathroom, waiting for Keller and Ennis to come back out, and outside of determining that the man had no weapons and no training (or, at least, minimal training. Maybe), and looked about two steps from being a literal walking mess, he wasn’t worth his time. Since the man had given Eliot the same courtesy of apparently not caring about his presence, they’d remained silent.
He fell into step behind Keller when he came back out, half-listening to the man rattle off more business plans that didn’t concern him when the stranger stood. A brief, tense moment to figure out what the man’s intentions were before he settled his weight back on the balls of his feet. Still no danger. Still not his job.
A couple moments later, Eliot had to reassess his previous judgement. The man - Jensen. Tom Jensen - may have looked a mess, but the smarmy slickness he had about him once he started talking had Eliot on edge. It was a little too… put on. He couldn’t tell if it was because the man was lying or if he was just too close to Keller’s type of man.
Couldn’t say he had much sympathy when Ennis put a fist in his gut.
And then, just before everything could completely devolve, she walked in, pearls and all. He wondered if he looked as unimpressed as he felt. Probably. But since she didn’t spare him a glance, it really didn’t matter.
(And if the dog comment set his teeth on edge, well. Only Ennis noticed. And he didn’t look too pleased about it either.)
Charlotte Prentice. The name he hadn’t managed to get last night.
Keller’s shift in focus was odd though - he’d spent the last two days treating everyone as either an employee or a burden. Never outright impolite, just… distant in a way Eliot associated with the people that ran in Damien’s circles. Too convinced of their own impenetrability, their own safety-nets, to care much about causing a fuss, one way or another, with anyone outside their work.
She had the same way about her, and he was more than a little relieved he’d dodged that bullet last night.
He did have to give her a bit of credit though. She emanated self-assurance and managed to haul Keller in in under five minutes. Presumably, that’s what she’d been meaning to ask him about last night, though he’s not entirely sure why she’d bothered to try. She clearly knew what she was doing - or at least had enough confidence to think she did. Probably enough to get her out of it if it all turned on her, like Jensen seemed to think it would, if his fidgeting and concerned looks were anything to go by.
He wasn’t invited into Porter’s. Sitting in the car with Ennis and other two wasn’t exactly his idea of a great day, but... Better than another day at Claridge’s, so, he’d take what he could get.
A message from Chapman tipped him off before Keller rejoined them. Apparently, Damien wasn’t willing to let the Kadjic thing lie as low as he’d thought. Or he just wanted to see if Keller could move on a dime like he needed. He’d done worse for less, so Eliot didn’t put much thought into it.
Either way, he was stuck on shipment duty tomorrow - a detail slipped in at some point while Keller filled Ennis in on just what Prentice was offering him. She was sending another man of her’s to lead them to a storage unit, where they’d clear it out and be on their way back to Boston by the evening.
Keller hadn’t lost any enthusiasm (what little the man let show anyway), but he’d definitely lost a bit of shine on her at some point during their meeting. Not enough to abandon what she was offering, but enough that a double-cross didn’t break his stride in the least.
He stayed in his hotel room that night, after refining details with Keller’s men for the next day. Both Jensen and Prentice were just… odd. And he couldn’t tell if it was just how these people were (you’d think he’d be able to tell. He was around them all damn day), or if something else was going on. Keller had obviously smelled a rat if he’d gone from kissing Prentice’s hand to robbing her blind in twenty four hours.
And the looks Jensen had been throwing her during their first conversation weren’t really something Eliot could let go of either. All of his instincts were pointing to this ending badly - he just couldn’t put his finger on why . He knew Jensen was a con man (like Keller had said, con or cop). Prentice was most likely in on it. ...Scratch that, she was definitely in on it. Jensen had been looking to her for cues, and too confused by what went down that first meeting to be the one calling the shots.
But they weren’t taking anything from Keller. Offering him some title, sure. But the money he’d be paying for the (apparently) all important antique would go to the auction house. What shipping he could provide them was going to turn around and bite them in the ass come morning when they cleared out the storage unit.
He just. Didn’t get it.
And this wasn’t his job, dammit.
(Maybe if he said it enough times, his brain would give it a rest.)
He still thought this was a bad idea. He’d managed to avoid being in Spencer’s sight lines this entire time, but when Hardison - in between ranting about glue, nail dryers, and vague explanations about why the jacuzzi was now a health hazard - had informed them that Spencer was going with Keller’s men to meet him, courtesy of the tracker Parker had slipped into his jacket, there really hadn’t been a way around it.
They were expecting to meet Sophie’s man. Hardison was busy hacking history (as he so eloquently put it. Quinn was pretty certain the man hadn’t slept since Sophie had given him his shopping list though), and Nate was needed at Claridge’s with Sophie. Which left him. And about a 50-50 chance of this going all to hell.
There was a pretty good chance, even if Spencer brought up that he definitely recognized him, that it wouldn’t do anything. He was a contract hitter. So what if ‘Charlotte Prentice’ had hired him? That was kind of in his job description. There was also the chance Spencer would smell a rat, blow his cover and bolt back to Keller or Moreau. Quinn liked to think he had a better idea of what Spencer would do, given their run-ins over the years, but…
There was a reason he’d been so quick to jump when Stone had entered the pub. Spencer wasn’t someone you fucked with, even indirectly. You didn’t last that long under Moreau by being good. You survived by being the best.
Regardless, Quinn was here. Four men total, with Spencer hanging around the back. He watched the man shift his weight after getting a good look at him, but when nothing else came of it, Quinn plastered on a smile, “Hey, guys. How’s it going?” And no response. Maybe a snort from Spencer. Maybe a cough.
“So, I’m under orders to inspect your facility before we can move anything. Boss’ orders, you know?” The leader of their little group stepped up, arms crossed over his chest. Given that Quinn was supposed to be guileless in all of this - Sophie’s suggestion - he was probably supposed to be intimidated.
“I see where you’re coming from. And I respect your work.” Another plastered smile - hey, he knew what worked for him, okay? - “But we’ve only got two jobs today. One is to accompany you to your lady’s storage bin and empty it of its contents. The second is to take it back with us. We won’t be needing your accompaniment on that second leg.”
“...Right. Give me a sec to call that in, yeah?” Smiling and holding up a finger to ask for a moment, he pulled out his phone, putting it over his comm. “Ford, these guys want me to lead them straight to Sophie’s empty storage unit. The hell am I supposed to do with them?”
“Okay… stall. Stall. Yeah, uh, London city tour. Try not to rile them up too badly.” His voice was low in his ear - they were already at Claridge’s then. Auction was probably about to start.
“Stall? You want me to stall them? Look, I can take the three Keller sent just fine - three and Spencer is pushing it.” He knew his limits. He could take Spencer in a one on one fight (most likely. They hadn’t actually gone toe to toe in years, but he knew what he was capable of, thank you very much), but with three extras, who’d at least had some kind of training given the way they were holding themselves, that might prove a little difficult to pull off smoothly.
Ford, as usual, brushed it off. He’d either be fine, or he wouldn’t. And he hadn’t not been fine yet.
And another smile. Time to get this show on the road then.
Spencer was definitely laughing at him. Not that he’d managed to catch him at it yet. He was good at hiding it with a cough or behind the pop of a pothole. But Quinn knew. Just like he knew the other guy was about to blow a fuse - which was way too entertaining by the way.
He could hear the state of the auction buzzing away in his ear, only tuning in every once in awhile to make sure nothing had gone catastrophically wrong (as opposed to disastrously wrong, which was completely normal. See: Spencer), focusing mainly on making this ‘London city tour’ as obnoxious and possibly traffic-ticket worthy as possible.
They didn’t get pulled over before he had to bite the bullet and actually take them to the storage facility, which was a shame.
Their front man getting a call - after hearing Sophie in his ear apparently lose control of Keller - as he was patting his pockets down for the key he knew was tucked into his left coat pocket wasn’t unexpected. Completely unpleasant, but not unexpected. The gun in his face was also unpleasant, despite the assurances that his company was actually enjoyed for the afternoon. Sad part was, he wasn’t entirely sure the man was being sarcastic or not.
He barely had a chance to notice Spencer’s head cocking to one side as he considered something… before he was snapping out a fist into the closest man’s temple.
Then, he didn’t get much of a chance to keep looking as he dealt with the gun. He was close enough to knock it out of the way. Follow up with an elbow to the face. Gut punch to the guy coming at him from the side. Back to the leader - who was still trying to bring the gun up to actually do some damage before Quinn knocked it out of his hand.
He wasn’t a fan of putting people down while working with Ford and the rest - they tended to get a little antsy about it, and Quinn could admit, few of their cons actually called for it - but having a gun in your face can make things a little… blurry on that hard line.
Apparently, he didn’t need to worry about it. Spencer was there with a chokehold around the leader’s neck, giving him the chance to focus on the last man. Knee, gut, palm strike up to the chin and his head banging off the metal door and he was out.
He heard Spencer drop his man - and he probably should have been more on guard; hell, he’d been ready to just about bolt an hour ago from meeting the man at the truck - tried to turn to ask what the hell he was doing. And got a face full of metal door for his trouble, his arm twisted up high behind his back and a heavy hand fisted in his hair to keep his temple from glancing off the door too hard. Nice of him, at least.
He could throw him off - his foot was on the outside of Spencer’s, perfect place for a throw at the very least, not to mention the handful of other ways he could straight up force Spencer off him - but, he didn’t. Not at the moment.
The gun was on the floor, cartridge gone, chambered round rolling off to who knows where. Spencer wasn’t beating him into the metal - yet - and… well. Ford wanted him as an ally. Might as well give him a chance to speak first.
It seemed Quinn not fighting back threw Spencer for enough of a loop that he let him go after a few tense moments. He backed up, out of easy reach, staying between Quinn and the door.
“...Well. Nice to see you again Spencer.” He grinned as he turned around. Not quite stooping to dusting himself off, but it was a close call. Spencer, for his part, just watched him, one eyebrow raised in a remarkably similar way to Sophie. Great.
The man was as disheveled as Quinn had seen him yet. Hair that had been pulled back tight escaping to frame his face, sport coat rumpled, dark circles under his eyes… and he looked in no hurry to fix any of it.
“...We just gonna stare at each other all day?” he asked after a moment. Spencer snorted - and he knew he’d heard him laughing in the truck. Sounded just like that too - glancing around at the unconscious bodies around them.
“What game’re you playing? You don’t run straight cons - it’s not your style.” Which, fair. When Quinn wasn’t being tricked into some Mission Impossible shit, he had a long list of clients looking for your more standard hitter or retrieval specialist.
“Side gig I run every once in awhile. Got a crew that’s convinced they’re Robin Hood, but they ain’t got a good pair of hands between ‘em.” He ignored Hardison’s squawk of outrage at that. Spencer didn’t look any more convinced than he had before.
Ford's voice in his ear was quiet, though probably more to get the warning across than to avoid being overheard. He was pretty sure Ford and Sophie had already left Claridge's after Keller had dumped them. “Quinn, don’t give him too much. We still need to figure out his connection to Moreau…” Thanks Ford. Almost forgot about the guy they were actually after. The one that could probably wipe them all out with a snap of his fingers. Definitely forgot about that.
“...And your goal here was… what?” Spencer sounded annoyed, but not at Quinn, oddly enough. More like he was trying to figure something out and it just wasn’t fitting right.
“Long story.” And there’s that eyebrow again.
“Keller was using little kids to smuggle in antiques.” Spencer’s face did something complicated, running through a couple emotions that Quinn was fairly certain were varying shades of rage, before smoothing back out. “We - the crew - pulled a Mummy’s Tiara,” still a stupid name, “to bring him down, give his victims a bit of justice.” Spencer eyed him for a long moment, clearly working through something.
Since they were clearly being gentlemen here, he stayed quiet to let him.
“...That was you at the airport in Boston?” And not the question he expected, but he nodded anyway. No point in lying about that now. “The girl. Your crew planning on getting her out?” And it was his turn to be quiet for a moment.
“A'Yan? She’s what brought us to London, so, yeah. If I know my boss, we’ll have her out by tomorrow after we finish pulling Keller down.” Sooner, if the way Hardison was muttering in his ear about loopholes and how fast he could get charges cleared with Keller out of the way was anything to go by.
“Thirty-six hours. Before I get her out myself.” Not a threat. A promise. A dangerous one, but one nonetheless. Quinn nodded - what else could he do - and watched as Spencer walked away. Deliberately putting his back to him as he pulled out his phone to call someone. He was too far away by the time whoever it was picked up for Quinn to pick up the conversation, and in the next moment, he was around the corner and gone.
“...Hardison, you got him?” An affirmative, and he set about getting Keller’s men put together for his end of the wrap up before heading out to help Hardison and Parker clear out the hotel so they could get back to Boston sooner rather than later.
The whole conversation with Spencer had been… unexpected. Not entirely promising, but not a nail in their coffin either. He still didn’t think was going to pan out like Ford seemed to think it would, or Sophie seemed to want it to, but, it was, perhaps, not a completely lost cause.
Thank you for reading! I want to give an estimate on the next update as being in the next two weeks - but, I have another project starting soon that's more time restrained and a visit to my family a couple states away coming up, so I can't actually promise anything definite. There will be an honest attempt though!
(chapter title from "The Fortunate" by Cartel)
Chapter 7: This Doesn't Need to be the End
So uh. 100 kudos? 30 comments? Just... holy wow peeps. I cannot say thank you enough for giving this fic the time of day, let alone the response you have - just seriously. Thank you so much!
I didn't quite make it in the two week deadline I set in the last update, but I'm within 24 hours of it, which is like... a major accomplishment for me, so I'm proud.
Hope you enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Eliot was not panicking. Simple as that. He was on a plane to Berlin, seriously reconsidering his actions over the last couple of hours, and perhaps deciding whether the scene he would cause by banging his head against the wall a couple times would be worth it, but he wasn’t panicking. Panicking would suggest he regretted what he’d done, or thought some mess would come down on his head because of it.
Neither was true, and he knew that. Even if Keller’s men somehow managed to get word back to Damien about what he’d done, who’d believe them? His word versus theirs, and, sure, Damien kept a closer eye on him nowadays, but his word had always been - and always would be - worth more than some two-bit bodyguards’ who couldn’t keep their boss from a fall. So, nothing coming down on his head.
Regret… he couldn’t bring himself too. He’d gotten word to a couple contacts floating around Boston to keep an eye on A’Yan for him, see if Quinn was telling the truth. And if he was, then he couldn’t bring himself to regret a damn thing. …Except maybe that shot to the guy’s temple. That had been a little uncalled for. Maybe.
He couldn’t even say he regretted helping remove Keller from Damien’s employ. Man couldn’t catch a con wrapping around him in the span of two days, Damien didn’t need him running anything. And that had been his job right? To see if Keller could handle what Damien needed? And he clearly couldn’t. So he’d done his job.
And that sick feeling in the pit of his stomach could just pick any time to go away now.
He’d become a master of ignoring his gut reaction years ago - around the same time a dark car pulled up on a quiet street and he hadn’t disappeared. The key, at this point, was distraction. The next job, next flight, next fight… or, in this case, the last one.
Quinn. There was something he could focus on for a little while.
The hell was Quinn doing exactly? He hadn’t heard anything about the man settling down with a team permanently, let alone one that ran around acting out some weird Robin Hood fantasy (though, if Keller was any indication, a decent one at that). True, he’d been out of the more general muscle-for-hire circles for awhile - his intel could be anywhere between a few weeks to a couple months out of date - years, in some parts, if he was being honest.
A successful crew of con artists who managed to secure a hitter like Quinn, stay off his radar, and sweep one of Damien’s inner circle out in less than a week? He grimaced at his reflection in the window for a moment - they were either very lucky, or very good. And, judging by Prentice and Jensen (definitely not their names, but all he had to go on… that were polite anyway), it was most likely the latter.
All of this wouldn’t even matter if Keller was a one-off on their list. He couldn’t really find it in him to care all that much if people like Keller got taken for everything they had every once in awhile - hell, at one point in his life, he would’ve gone along with plans like that in a heartbeat; getting to see their faces as they realized everything they’d done was coming to bite them in the ass and helping out those caught in their wake, like A’Yan? He could admit to harboring that fantasy, once upon a time (try around the time he was enlisting. Maybe once or twice when he was between skillsets. Years ago is the point).
But that’s all it was. A fantasy. Good on them for making it real, he supposed, if that’s what they were actually going for. For all he knew, A’Yan was just as much an accident for them as she had been collateral damage for Keller - an unexpected tangle and nothing more. There just wasn’t enough information here to make that sort of judgement call either way.
And there was also the matter of if this was a targeted attack instead of convenient karma - if they’d gone after Keller to try to get to Damien… well, he’d just made it easier for them, hadn’t he? (And there was that sick, squirmy feeling in his stomach again.)
...Regardless, he needed more information. He’d be giving his contacts in Boston another call when the plane landed then.
“What were you thinking?” Nate sounded angry. But, he’d sounded angry for the last hour, so Parker wasn’t really fizzing around the edges from it anymore. She’d settled on the back of the couch, legs crossed, knee near Hardison’s shoulder, alternately watching him work through the last bit of clean-up on the con (and the map he had open in the corner with Spencer’s tracker still going strong) and watching Quinn and Nate pace around the room.
It was kind of funny, in a way. Neither man wanted to get in the other’s face (Sophie had put her foot down the last time that there were to be no more near fist fights in the apartment), but were too riled up to back down too, so anytime they entered the same space there was a bit of a hop-step as both tried to figure out who’s turn it was to be angry and hold the floor.
“Literally nothing I told him was wrong, or caught us out, so what the hell’s the problem?”
“Admitting to the con? We still don’t know if Spencer’s loyal to Moreau; if he puts him on alert, we could lose what little advantage we have!”
“And if I hadn’t given him something, you can bet your ass he’d have known I was lying, and that would’ve set him on edge! He’s not stupid Ford! You think ‘cause the man makes a living busting heads, he’s got nothing going on upstairs?” Quinn snorted when Nate opened his mouth to refute that, “Of course you do. That’s all you’re seeing right now, isn’t it? A stupid goon to tie into your plans or trick out of the way if you have to. That won’t work on this guy Ford. Hell, it probably wouldn’t work on anybody who’s been in this business half as long as he has.” He went back to pacing in front of the tvs, putting Nate solidly on the other side of the couch from him this time. “I had to give him something.” he repeated with a sigh that Parker had come to recognize meant he was done fighting for now, and would probably be walking out soon, “And with A’Yan walking free? He knows I’m not lying out my ass. Which is the only impression he has of you and Sophie.”
Parker tilted her head, fingers stilling from where they’d been tying and untying the fraying ends of an old piece of rope from one of her rigs, watching Quinn walk out (just like she’d thought he would) and picking through what he’d said. So that was why Nate had dropped talking to Spencer. It made sense, if his plan relied on the muscle they normally went up against; guys like that you turned at the last second or distracted away (normally with Quinn or Mikel acting as the distraction). You didn’t explain, and you didn’t seek out.
The look Hardison threw her said he’d figured that out too, and was even less impressed than Quinn was about it.
“...He’s got a point you know.” Sophie remarked, from her perch on the chair by the couch. She’d changed into an old soft shirt (which Parker just wanted to rub her face against honestly, it looked really soft) and leggings the second they’d made it back to the apartment. Parker couldn’t tell if it was to relax after the con or to get comfortable watching Quinn and Nate argue.
“Or he’s upset Spencer had a chance to take him out.” Nate grumbled, but Parker could tell he didn’t mean it. Quinn had a habit of pushing and pulling Nate into a fight (not that he didn’t go willingly) and then leaving before Nate could get to his point. It was a weird way of handling fights - and she had seen many ways - but she had to admit, watching Nate flail and deflate after a fight with Quinn was sometimes satisfying. When he was in the wrong anyway. Other times it was just frustrating, ‘cause both of them would just end up fighting again later, at stupid times, and sometimes about stupid things completely different from what they were originally fighting about. They’d gotten better about avoiding getting into it on the job, where it could set the entire team on edge at the exact wrong time, but still. It was the downtime mistimed fights that set Parker on edge, when she had nothing to concentrate on.
“Nate…” and there was that soft chiding tone Sophie only ever used with Nate. It made Parker feel… squirmy. Like watching adults whisper-argue when she was a kid. She startled slightly when Hardison leaned just a bit against her knee, one point of contact she could easily shift out of if she wanted to.
Not that she did. Instead, she took the opening (she wasn’t always the best with touch, when it was right, when it wasn’t, when she wanted it, when she didn’t. But she did now, and Hardison had made it clear he’d allow it), sliding down onto the couch proper and leaning against his side with a quick grateful smile - returned easily with a softer one on his part before he turned back to his computer - tuning Sophie and her squirmy-tone out as she tried to figure out if Nate was right.
Spencer had helped A’Yan at the airport. There had been a distinct difference between him there and him on the security feeds they’d watched before hand. He’d turned Sophie down when she’d tried to talk him into spilling on his boss (not that he knew that’s what she’d been after. But he didn’t even talk with her at all, which weirded Parker out. She was pretty sure Sophie had some kind of powers to get anyone talking to her, revealing all their secrets. It was weird seeing those powers fail sometimes). When push came to shove, he’d helped Quinn out with Keller’s men, after following Keller around without complaint. He hadn’t taken Quinn out, though it was clear when their hitter had told them about later that he’d had a good chance too. He’d accepted Quinn’s half-truth without question. But he’d also walked away before her or Hardison could get to him to talk. And, if Hardison’s tracker was right (which, it was. Hardison made it) he was back in Berlin, where they’d last tracked Moreau.
He wasn’t muscle for muscle’s sake, of that Parker was sure. So Nate was wrong about that part. But, Nate usually wasn’t completely wrong, which meant his reservations about Spencer’s loyalties to Moreau might actually be important. But…
“He helped Quinn. Without knowing anything about why Quinn was there, he helped him. And didn’t run right to Keller when Quinn spilled about the con.” Sophie and Nate blinked at her for a moment, visibly shifting conversations. Whoops - she probably should’ve tuned back into whatever they were talking about before she’d piped up. Oh well. “Even if he…” she paused, frowning slightly and fidgeting with the rope again, trying to pick out the right words, “even if he’s not with us right now,” so, still with Moreau, “he wouldn’t be against us.” Give him a chance.
Hardison got it, if his encouraging nod and smile were anything to go by. She grinned brightly in return before looking back at Nate and Sophie. “Right?”
Sophie grinned back. Nate did not.
Something buzzed on the couch before Nate could actually respond with more than that dry look of his - Hardison’s phone. He blinked at it for a moment, frowning.
“So. Funny question for y’all. Has anyone talked to Mikel recently? Told her about… well, anything we’ve been up to?”
“No, I don’t think so. She said she’d be in…” Sophie trailed off, frowning slightly.
“Myanmar!” Parker chirped.
“Myanmar, right, for awhile.”
“Uh-huh. So, she’s downstairs. Quinn’s bailed for the foreseeable future it seems. Who wants to explain the very stupid - yes, Nate, it’s still stupid and ridiculous - blackmail plot we got tangled in while she was gone?”
“Ooh! Me, me!” Parker bounced from the couch, barely catching the “Parker, wait!”s at her back. Whatever. This was a fun story, and Mikel was awesome. If they wanted to tell the story, they’d just have to beat her downstairs.
Thanks for reading!
(chapter title from Ever the Same by Rob Thomas)
Also! Recentish update - come say hi on tumblr! Its mostly just reblogs of Leverage and the Librarians for now, but I hope to be getting more content up as I figure out this writing nonsense more.
Chapter 8: Got a Feeling Leaving Something Behind
I am going to thank you peeps every single time I swear. I've been having a stressful week, but coming back and seeing the little kudos and comments notifications without fail makes my day just that much brighter, so thank you so much!
I am going to admit this chapter isn't 100% where I want it to be. Not because I think it needs more, or that I wanted to say/set up something differently (it hit all those!), but just because there's a very specific way I want to write Mikel in her introduction, and Eliot as he reaches his stopping point. And I'm not 100% sure I hit those right.
I hope I did though, and I hope you enjoy it!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was always a fifty-fifty toss up how Mikel was going to come back to them. Half the time, Quinn would storm out in a fit after something Nate did, or he’d get restless and give them a jaunty salute and bolt out the door, and within a couple hours, Mikel would stride right in, no explanation for where she’d been or how she got there so fast. It had been a game, between Hardison and Parker for awhile there (and, still was, occasionally, when she’d been gone for awhile), trying to guess what had gone down since they’d last seen her and how she managed to look picture-perfect regardless.
The other half, she’d quietly appear at Nate’s next mission briefing, no warning, no one entirely sure who had called her, or if anyone had called her in the first place. Quinn would take a look at her, see if Nate needed both of them, and, if not, turn on his heel and go right back out the door.
They’d made it clear many, many times that they wouldn’t mind her sticking around more permanently - would love it in fact, and, despite Quinn’s grumbling about apparently being chopped liver, he’d joined in on trying to convince her - but it never quite stuck. She’d laugh with them, celebrate with them, gloat over the bad guy with them. There was no doubt she’d come running if they were in trouble and needed her, regardless of whatever job she was doing at the time. But she was always in the wind when it suited her, and by this point, suggesting she stay was more a way to get a smile out of her than a sincere attempt to convince her.
To not put too fine a point on it, Hardison was a big fan. Parker adored her. Nate was terrified of her. Sophie and her were never to be left alone if it could be helped, due to possible world domination.
...Okay, that last one was a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe. Possibly. Probably not. Hardison insisted on it, though whether it was just to get grins from both women was up for debate.
(It wasn’t an exaggeration and Hardison was absolutely certain of it.)
Hardison didn’t quite beat Parker downstairs, despite a truly epic flying leap down the stairs that was absolutely not him tripping and saving it at the last minute. By the time he managed to regain confidence in his vertical status, Parker was already parked at the bar with an amused looking Mikel, chattering a mile a minute.
And that was one of the big reasons Hardison really liked Mikel. Parker adored her, and she adored Parker back.
Sure, she had the whole ‘silent, intimidating hitter’ schtick down pat, but she didn’t mind in the least when Parker decided to talk, or when she didn’t. Hardison could provide a variety of reasons and theories why, ranging from both of their problems with showing ‘normal’ (he hated that word, truly) emotions to a shared dislike of social rules, to mutual respect for their given skills. Hardison was still reeling from the time they decided to see who could break into the local FBI office’s evidence lock up the fastest. They refused to tell anyone who’d won but the speed with which they’d gotten back was beyond impressive, and both had looked happier, and slightly more wild, than they had in a long time. The ensuing email meltdown that Hardison had tapped into from said office had been hysterical. As far as he could tell, they hadn’t actually taken anything, just rearranged it.
But, typically, Hardison just liked knowing they liked each other, and left it at that.
He settled on the barstool next to Parker with a nod and a wave to Mikel, trying to catch up to where she was in the story.
“-then Spencer’s clone walked in,” made it past the blackmailing Italian then, “and Quinn freaked out. Nate didn’t let us actually take him on as a client - I don’t think he actually told him that though - and then we went to London to steal a royal title, well, first an auction, then the royal title, and there was a mummy with jewelry in there. Spencer showed up, Hardison hacked history, Sophie might be royalty, she won’t tell us. Spencer ended up helping Quinn, which got Nate mad, though I don’t know why . Well, no I kinda do? We think Nate is thinking of Spencer like normal muscle, which is weird ‘cause he’s not and we know that. Quinn and Nate got in a fight, which is probably why he called you.”
...Well then. All relevant points hit at least. He grinned and offered a thumbs up when Parker turned back to check. He didn’t quite get why she did - she may not always get why certain details were important, but Hardison was pretty sure she’d never missed a detail in her life (he still remembered that notebook from when she played PA to that Attorney General okay). Maybe misinterpreted every once in awhile… that could be why, now that he was thinking about it. Huh.
“Don’t forget the part where we’re now planning on stealing a federal witness.” Sophie chimed in as she slipped by, stopping long enough to give Mikel a hug and a kiss on the cheek before she was gone.
Parker waved her hand at Sophie’s back. “Well yeah, but that wasn’t what’s been happening. That’s what’s next. ”
Hardison bit back a snort. Unsuccessfully, but there was an attempt. She had a point. And they were not working on that right now, okay. He’d found their guy, now it was Nate’s turn to come up with whatever weirdly, improbably successful plan they were going to follow. They had a day or two at least.
“...You know, I’ve met Spencer.” Mikel offered after a long moment. Hardison couldn’t blame her for taking that moment. There was a lot of stupid going around, figuring it all out would throw anyone for a loop, and she’d been dropped in with no warning.
“Met or met ?” He teased. She flashed him a grin that had way more teeth than it needed to, honestly. He just let his grin turn cheeky.
“ Met .” She replied with an amused huff.
“Does that mean you’ve had sex with him or tried to kill him?” Parker asked, supremely unconcerned by either option it seemed. Which, fair. It was Mikel, so it was far more likely to be the latter than the former, but still. There were exceptions.
Mikel just laughed, rough and low and real (which Hardison was pretty sure wasn’t heard all that often, which just made him smile again), shaking her head slightly. “Shot him. He’s lucky we were both young and jumpy. Went through his arm instead of his head. Haven’t met him since.”
“You’re not going to give us the lecture on how he’s dangerous and how this is a stupid idea too are you? That’s all Quinn did at first.” Hardison asked after it became clear neither woman was going to continue the conversation after that. He kind of felt bad for breaking the impromptu quiet-break, but he was curious. The reaction their other hitter had had was kind of hard to forget.
Mikel snorted into her glass. “Would that stop you?”
“Nope.” Parker chirped, and Hardison dipped his head towards her in agreement. Mikel mirrored the motion as a ‘there you go’ and he laughed and raised his hands in surrender.
This time, he let the silence settle-
“What’d you do in Myanmar?” Parker asked. Mikel blinked at her for a moment, then snorted out a laugh.
“That was boring. Japan though. I have pictures you’ll like.” So, not enough of a fight in Myanmar, she’d taken a job in Japan before coming here. And pictures meant that whatever job she was doing there, they didn’t need to know about, but it also ‘wasn’t something to worry about - look at the cute pictures.’ Hardison rolled his eyes. They’d long since given up telling Mikel they’d worry about her anyway. She was part of the team, of course they were going to worry.
Besides. The picture of Mikel pulling an unimpressed face in front of a darkened display case in what Hardison was pretty sure was a museum that was closed for the night was pretty good. Even if it didn’t fool him for a second - she knew, and just offered a small smile and a shrug before going back to showing pictures to Parker, both of them laughing over pitiful security and the like.
Nate upstairs brooding and planning (and away from the prime stock down here, thankfully), Sophie out flitting about and relaxing before getting back into con-mode, Mikel back home and laughing with Parker until both of them were giggling (and ignoring Mikel’s amused look when he caught himself smiling dopily at Parker’s giggles)… not a bad way to spend a night, honestly.
Eliot was having a bad night.
Which, par for the course honestly.
He’d gotten off the plane in Berlin and had been shepherded straight to Damien to explain what the hell had happened. One minute Damien had been getting ‘all clear’s from Keller, the next, Eliot had called him to say Keller was a loss, confirmed less than an hour later by Damien hearing Keller get arrested over the phone.
Chapman was chomping at the bit to pin it on Eliot. Eliot was just as intent on standing his ground.
They never actually fought, especially not around Damien, but damn if both weren’t masters of being passive-aggressive little shits by this point. He was pretty sure he’d actually enjoy it, if it weren’t for Damien standing right there, watching them bicker without actually talking to each other, with a look on his face that Eliot had a hard time describing as anything but amused.
It was childish is what it was. Eliot knew it. He knew Chapman knew it. They were like two kids, fighting for a busy parent’s limited attention sometimes.
...Well, no. Kids couldn’t pick their parents. Parental figures, sure, but parents, generally not. So him and Chapman were fighting for… someone’s attention. Someone they chose. Whatever. The metaphor didn’t work (except it did, and he didn’t want to think about that right now. Or ever. Even he had a limit on how much nausea he could handle).
Point was. Chapman couldn’t pin anything on him. Damien had shrugged it off after his ten minutes of being angry, switching deftly to business mode and already dismissing them with less than a flick of the wrist as he turned his attention to replacing Keller.
He wasn’t surprised when he got a clean up order before he’d even made it back to his hotel.
That had been yesterday.
Now, he was just coming in from the job - quick, messy, little more than a warning to someone moving in on Damien’s claims in the area. No one dead (not for lack of trying on their part), but pretty damn close.
Eliot couldn’t find it in himself to care much if it had tipped that way. The man was bluster and hype with a gun and a bad attitude - high on what power being a big fish in a small pond had gotten him and wanting more, any way he could get it.
He was one of any hundreds of Damiens and his like in the making.
There was a pretty good chance that if this lesson didn’t stick, he’d be sent back out to make the next one more effective. Which, fine. Men like that didn’t get a stay, and they weren’t the ones that kept him up at nights watching shadows. Often, anyway.
Men like that ( men like Damien ) always bit it in the end, running into someone bigger, faster, with better connections and less compulsions towards pity. ( So why hadn’t Damien? )
...He could pick that apart later ( later, later, later, it’s always later- ) but right now all he really wanted was a shower, a medkit, his bed, and for his hands to stop shaking so damn bad.
He wouldn’t be getting any of that just yet. Chapman was waiting for him when he got back, jerking his head for him to follow without a word.
Falling into step behind Chapman was as familiar as it was aggravating, but he kept his mouth shut. They slipped into one of Damien’s offices and Eliot had to fight back the urge to roll his eyes as he got what was going on, settling in behind Damien’s left shoulder as Chapman took the right. The man seated in the chair facing them - older, military through and through, in the stiff suit of someone who took themselves too seriously and was used to that whim being followed - had gone a couple shades paler when they entered.
Eliot knew he was a mess to look at right now. Hair barely hanging onto the tie, a bruise blooming under his eye, hands bloody and bruised where he’d crossed them over his chest, arm still bleeding sluggishly from a shallow cut (why did they always have hidden knives? Was it required for two-bit thugs?). If he was being honest with himself - practice makes perfect, right? - his eyes were probably a little on the manic side too.
He knew the picture he painted standing beside an impeccable Moreau and Chapman. And, it seemed to have the effect Damien wanted, as he smiled that big, bright smile of his, turning his head enough to Eliot to talk without breaking eye contact with the other man.
“It seems our friend Vector has become a problem.” Vector… the name rang a bell, but not enough of one for Eliot to pull up why he would be a problem at this exact moment. Didn’t matter. He’d get the information later. “Take care of it.”
His grin was sharp, his nod quick to hide a blanch. Focus on the next job, the next flight, the next fight. He could do that.
He’d worry about everything else later. If he had to.
Oh look. His hands had stopped shaking.
Thank you so much for reading! Next chapter's back into a con as we slowly move through this monster. Hope to have it up soon!
(chapter title is from the Mirror and the Ripper by Volbeat)
Chapter 9: I'd Rather Be Dangerous
Okay! So, couple things. First of all, thank you so much for the feedback on the last chapter! I'm so glad you guys like Mikel - she's one of my favorite minor characters and I really wanted to do her justice!
Second, this chapter features return of my hatred for dialogue. Yay. More importantly, and thirdly, I do want to apologize for how long this chapter took, especially since it doesn't get as far into the con as I would like. However! I think it fills an important piece, and it sets up what I want it to, so it was necessary (and I honestly just like how it turned out).
Hope you enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Chapman catches him on his way out the next morning - dressed in another impeccable black-on-black suit, like the one he’d been wearing last night, that has Eliot feeling all the more run down and worn out in comparison - he’d barely managed to clean up last night before he’d collapsed into bed, and he’s pretty sure that shows all too well in the weak light of the early morning. Not that he’d ever admit it. The guy’s ego was already vying for second-place after Damien’s.
“What do you think, slug to the shoulder or one in the ribs?” Chapman asked, handing over a thin folder, sounding as carefree as he probably thought he looked. But it’d be a cold day in hell when the man fully relaxed around Eliot, and, if he took a small amount of glee in that, well.
“Planning your retirement?” Eliot shot back, knowing he sounded as relaxed as he actually was, because it’d also be a cold day in hell when he couldn’t take Chapman out at a moment’s notice, regardless of the situation.
“Taking bets on how you’re going to cock this one up.”
“Who suggested Keller again?”
“Just try to actually kill this one? Moreau doesn’t care how,” clearly, or he would’ve told Eliot directly. Which they both knew. “Vector hasn’t spilled yet,” but he’d have the chance to, Eliot saw, flipping through the file. He’d read it again on the plane over, but he enjoyed watching Chapman scowl out of the corner of his eye when it became clear he was only giving him half his attention.
Ex-hockey player (and that's why that name was familiar) turned investment manager, turned federal witness and then granted immunity for turning on a couple mob bosses. With the access he had to Damien’s accounts, going crying to the feds as soon as Damien did something he didn’t like would seem like a better and better idea the longer the offer of protection stayed on the table.
“Public?” he asked, cutting off whatever Chapman was going to say next. If it was actually important, he’d get it into the conversation anyway. His persistence was one of his most endearing qualities. Really.
“Doesn’t matter.” Actually free then. Eliot grimaced slightly, doing his best to hide it by focusing on the file again. He hated having free reign, even if it was easier. And no, he wasn’t going to look into that too closely right now. Absolutely not. “What, you need a hand to hold all of a sudden?” And of course he saw that.
“Haven’t needed one yet. Hey, Damien still talking about me training some of your new guys? Think I’ll have time when I get back. What’d they do to get him antsy anyway?” It’s the low hanging fruit, for all that it’s true, but Chapman raises to the bait beautifully anyway.
“He hasn’t said anything to me.” Indignant, worried, angry. His expression is a masterpiece really.
“Well, he wouldn’t, would he?” Snapping the folder shut isn’t as dramatic as he’d like - its too flimsy for that - but walking away feels good.
He tries to sleep on the plane. Knows he won’t - something about the deep thrum of the engines and being surrounded by a bunch of strangers has always keyed him up (go figure). So he has plenty of time to run over plans in his head on his way to Boston (and what the heck is with Boston lately anyway?)
Damien’s given him free reign over this - which is rare. Almost as rare as Damien using him as an actual assassin nowadays - he can pick any sniper he wants. Any gun for hire he wants. Eliot’s normally reserved for driving points home, if they reach that far.
(Eliot still doesn’t know if Damien made a conscious decision about that, when he came back, or if it just worked out that way. But Eliot’s grateful all the same, even if he’d never say it. He can do what Damien asks of him - it’s his job, it’s what he’s good at, he knows how to work under Damien’s eye, knows where things go and how things play out, but even he can admit, leading up to his lapse, the assassinations he’d been handed had been wearing him down.
Then again, now he’s paraded around, bruised and bloody, for all to see, rather than being the figure in the shadows at Damien’s beck and call. He’s not entirely sure which is better. He’s not entirely sure what it says about him that he kind of prefers things the way they are now, either.
Except he knows exactly what it says about him, and that cold pit in his stomach doesn’t shift, doesn’t twist, and he takes a cold, steady kind of comfort in that.)
But there is no point here. Vector hasn’t threatened Damien, and Damien hasn’t threatened Vector. This is cleaning house, plain and simple.
He could go the sniper route - easiest clean up (if he even bothers. Gloves and careful gun selection and it could look like a mob hit), quickest turn around. He doesn’t have to be in the same room.
But it’s also the easiest to fuck up, for someone else to get caught in the crossfire. He may be good with guns, but he hasn’t used to a rifle in years, and even then, he was never the best (good enough to be a problem, yes, but his eyesight failed him when it came to measuring up), which was fine. He was better at close range anyway.
Which meant recon. He needed to get Vector out of sight, even for just a moment. FBI handlers shouldn’t be too hard to slip, especially if he was as brash and cocky as the file suggested. Guys like that didn’t do well in protective custody.
Start of a plan in mind, Eliot forced himself to… well, not relax. Still too many people around. But he did zone out a bit, half his attention on the ground below, half on the people moving around him, not catching on anything in particular. Just, drifting for a bit. It was actually kind of nice.
Hardison would never admit it, but he kind of hated the the start of any of their cons. Well, no, that’s not right. It was fun, creating all their backgrounds, going through Nate’s plans and fitting himself into his role in any way he could. It was exciting, watching everything start, everything start molding to their Mastermind’s ideas.
But. He was also well aware that they rarely - if ever - had a plan go off without some kind of hitch. And after three years, it had become a game of waiting for the other shoe to drop. So the start of a con was a weird time - exhilarating and tense all in the same moment.
He had kind of gotten used to having more time before something went wrong though, so he wasn’t expecting it when Parker switched comms to their private channel, a little while after luring Vector to McRory’s.
Which. That was all kinds of painful to listen to, mostly because this was clearly not her game and while she covered it beautifully, Hardison could still hear the edge in her tone and could practically see her fidgeting. He’d been on Parker’s side when she’d asked if Sophie or Mikel wouldn’t have been the better option to play the carrot, as Nate put it. But, Nate, as usual, managed to logic his way out of it - Sophie was needed for the lawyer part, Mikel was… well. Mikel. She could, visibly, take Vector punch for punch, weight for weight, and while her grifting skills were remarkable, Parker was the better option for not scaring him off.
Turned out to be the right call when they’d spotted McSweeten at the airport, because while Hardison had FBI identities for him and Parker, Mikel didn’t have an established one yet - which isn’t to say he didn’t have one lined up for her. She just hadn’t used it yet (Hardison was determined to find a chance for her to, at some point. It would be awesome, if he had any say in the matter. And he kind of wanted to know if he could sneak one of the FBI’s most wanted in under their noses).
“Hardison, you can check the airport’s cameras, right?”
“Yeah…?” switching over to another monitor, he started looking for said cameras, flitting around until he found the footage from earlier of Nate and Parker, already mentally preparing for that metaphorical shoe to drop.
“Was that Spencer body-checking Vector?” And there that shoe goes. Look at it. Bye, it’s gone. He didn’t squawk. Kind of wanted to though. Sure, the tracker had gone offline a couple days ago - it had only been on the man’s jacket, he was surprised it lasted as long as it had - but still, there was no reason to suspect Vector would already have Moreau’s attention.
...Unless what he had on Moreau was actually, you know, important, like they were banking on, and then it made perfect sense. Federal witness with access to Moreau’s accounts? Any two-bit gunrunner could figure that was a bad idea. Dammit.
Sure enough, even though it took a couple tries to get the right angle, it was Spencer - dressed in at least two over-sized jackets that had seen much better days, hair tucked up under a beat-up ball cap, and enough bruising around his cheek to throw off basic facial recognition. He never once turned Nate and Parker’s way, which is probably the only reason Nate hadn’t noticed him. He’d have to ask later how Parker had.
“...and we’re on a private channel because?” He didn’t verbally confirm her suspicion - he knew she was right, she knew she was right, and if she dumped Vector to go hide in the bathroom, they only had a couple moments.
“I think Nate’s working Spencer wrong.” And if she was actually willing to voice it, they’d gone right past ‘wrong’ and into ‘alarm bells’ territory. “But I want to see what he does first.”
And Hardison didn’t like this. At all. Spencer was dangerous, for all that he wanted to help the man - and he honestly, earnestly did. The more they looked at Spencer and what had happened in London, the more the pieces didn’t fit quite right, the more Hardison wanted to side with Parker about how badly Nate was approaching it, caught up and hyper-focused as he was on Moreau and the plan at hand.
...and look at that, he’d just talked himself out of arguing. Sure, it didn’t sit right with him, keeping Nate out of the loop like this. But, if Parker had an idea, he was willing to run with it to the end (hoping and praying it didn’t come back to bite them too badly). On one condition -
“Sounds like you’ve got a plan. I’m gonna get Mikel in alright? You can tell Nate and Sophie.” Kept the ball in her court, but gave them an extra set of eyes, and, more importantly, an actual competent pair of fists should things go sideways.
When he hears the comm switch back over to the public channel, and the cringe-worthy return of Alice (she really has gotten better at grifting, Hardison can acknowledge that. But where Sophie slips into a role as easy as breathing, he can still hear Parker’s stiff delivery, even if Vector can’t), he knows she’s agreed. Which makes him feel better - Mikel being on the lookout for any hiccups is a weight off his back, and he trusts Parker to tell Nate and Sophie if things get out of hand. She may not be completely playing Nate’s game, but this was still a team, and she, out of all of them, sometimes clung the hardest to that.
Luckily, it didn’t take much longer to move Vector along, and soon enough he was snoring loud enough for the comms to pick up. Parker had done her part (technically, was still doing her part, but, like she’d said, she could do this part literally in her sleep).
It was his and Mikel’s turn. And this was going to be fun - he’d always wanted to drive a squad car.
Thank you for reading! The con itself is either going to take up the next chapter, or the next two - I haven't decided how to split it yet.
Also. Did I ever mention that this fic was supposed to be like 15k, max? And cover several more episodes (that have since been deemed unnecessary and clunky)? Yeah, I suck at estimating anything, clearly. But I like where it's ending up, I'm excited to keep moving along with it, and I hope you are too!
(title is pulled from Dangerous by Shinedown)
(Edit: Next chapter will be up in mid-December. Thank you so much for your comments and kudos in the meantime! I'm sorry for the radio silence!)