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one equal temper

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“Q.”

“Thought I told you to stop calling me that,” Oliver says. He looks up from his hacking long enough to grin at Connor from behind his computer screen. “Welcome back, Agent Walsh.”

Connor swipes an unfinished prototype from Oliver’s desk and settles in a chair to wait. “New toy?” Connor asks, tilting the gun this way and that, every molecule of his being demanding Oliver’s attention even as he’s attempting the opposite. He bumps his knee up against Oliver’s every couple of seconds. Connor’s not very good at being ignored.

“Uh, yeah,” Oliver says, and then trails off to spend the next ten seconds squinting at his screen.

“Oliver.”

“Oh, um, yes. The thing.” Oliver starts again, holding his hand out for the gun to avoid the amused tilt of Connor’s lips. Something pings on the computer behind him but Oliver ignores it. The metal feels warm in his hands as he holds the prototype at an angle for Connor’s convenience. “There’s something wrong with the trigger mechanism. See this here? The firing pin’s not in the right place or something, or at least that’s what the memo says --”

“Aren’t you in IT?” Connor interrupts.

“I know!” Oliver says, and Connor has to lean back to avoid being pistol-whipped. “That’s what I keep telling Engineering but they keep sending these things up anyway.”

Connor lifts a brow. “So you’re making firearms now.”

“Oh no,” Oliver laughs. “I’m using them as paperweights.”

Connor’s eyes crinkle in amusement. Something in Oliver’s chest twists into a tight knot.

 


 

Turns out Connor brought take-out, and he leaves all of it by Oliver’s desk before disappearing into Annalise Keating’s office. Oliver waits twenty minutes out of courtesy before he digs in. Keating’s debriefings are notoriously thorough.

Connor shows up again just as the office lights go off, as Oliver’s divvying up the fortune cookies in the dim glow of his desk lamp and computer screens. Connor leans over Oliver to grab one to nibble on.

“How’d it go?” Oliver asks.

“Love is right around the corner,” Connor reads, rolling his eyes. He crushes the fortune into a tiny ball and flicks it at Oliver. “It went fine. Got a new mission. I start tomorrow.”

Oliver frowns. “Don’t you get at least three days of downtime before the next mission?”

Connor shrugs and reaches for the container of fried rice by Oliver’s elbow. Connor looks smaller like this, curled up in an office chair with dark smudges under his eyes, picking at his food in the half-darkness of Oliver’s workspace. The food’s stone cold by now but Connor doesn’t seem to care.

Oliver reads his own fortune and throws that away too.

 


 

Agent Walsh’s M.O. is 70% honeypot trap and sheer stubborn focus on completing the mission. He’s good. In fact, he's better than good -- he’s Keating Five good.

And Oliver’s… well. He’s the guy who provides the gear, who occasionally does some hacking should the op require it. Nowhere near the cool part of the operation. If you’re looking for someone to make the idea of espionage unsexy in a post-Daniel Craig Bond world, Oliver’s definitely your guy. Even so, Oliver's an optimist -- IT offers a much better survival rate than field agent, plus the dental benefits are great.

“There.” Oliver checks the transmitter in Connor’s watch one last time and steps back with a nod, watching as Connor fiddles with his cuffs and smooths out the lines of his suit, all clean, sharp edges and dangerous cunning. Oliver finds it hard to reconcile this version of Connor with the Connor who buys take-out for no reason, who stifles yawns and sits cross-legged in Oliver’s chair, who eats more than his fair share of fortune cookies and then denies doing it afterwards.

“Sure you don’t want to bring a gun?” Oliver asks. “I could get one for you.”

Connor smirks and looks at Oliver in that ridiculous Connor way -- head slightly tilted, eyelashes sweeping long and dark over his cheeks. Oliver would be more furious with himself for coughing and averting his gaze but better men -- and the occasional woman -- have had their lives ruined by that same look. Literally.

“Worried?” Connor asks, laughter in his voice.

“Uh, yes?” Oliver says.

Connor drops his cufflink.

“Oh,” Connor says, as Oliver immediately goes to retrieve the cufflink from under a desk. Tom Ford suits aren’t made for crawling around on the floor with. Connor offers Oliver his right wrist when Oliver finally comes back with the damn thing. He’s quiet while Oliver gets his cuffs done up properly, fingers clumsy on the edges of Connor’s sleeve.

“I’ll be fine,” Connor says after a while, heartbeat thundering steadily under Oliver’s fingertips. “I always am. Trudeau’s an easy op; I know you’ve read the files. Even if they’re way above your clearance level.”

Oliver snorts. “Say that a little louder; Keating hasn’t come out of her office and fired me yet.”

Connor slants another look in Oliver’s direction. “I would never let that happen.”

Honeypot trap, Oliver repeats to himself. “Sure you won’t,” he tells Connor with a final pat on his wrist, and manages to only be a little bit patronising.

 


 

Connor’s transmitter goes dark eight hours into Operation Shooting Star.

 


 

It’s not a huge issue; most agents drop off the grid during missions. Agent Gibbins once went missing for a week before he managed to get his hands on a burner phone to check in with Rebecca. Agent Pratt and Aiden have a complicated rotation of safe houses and secure communication channels that they refuse to share with anyone else. Agent Castillo goes for days at a time without Frank on the comms with her. Agent Millstone is completely shit at keeping in contact at the best of times and it drives Bonnie completely insane.

They’re spies. These things happen.

So when the dot labeled ‘K001’ on Oliver’s screen blips out, all Oliver does -- and can do -- is take a sip of his coffee and keep the encrypted comms open for Connor.

 


 

That was one week ago.

 


 

By day nine, even Asher Millstone starts stealing sympathetic looks in Oliver’s direction. Oliver wants to scream.

 


 

By the time the eleventh day rolls around, Oliver hasn’t slept in over forty hours and still has zero intel to show for it. Hacking into Trudeau’s security systems only tells him that Connor isn’t there; the only other thing of note an unrelated suicide that occurred on Wednesday, on the 43rd floor of the building. Oliver skims through security footage of the shocked crowd for Connor and comes up empty.

Reporting all this to Keating rewards Oliver with the stoniest glare that’s ever been levelled at his existence. He fights the urge to cringe.

“Go home, Mr. Hampton,” Keating says.

Oliver stares at her. “Go home?” he parrots, not liking the hysterical note in his own voice one bit. “I’m supposed to go home and do nothing?”

“As opposed to staying here and doing nothing?” Keating says.

Oliver cringes for real this time.

Keating sighs, and for a single surreal moment, looks about as tired as Oliver feels. “Go home, Mr. Hampton. Take a shower, eat a hot meal and get some sleep. Stop making everyone nervous with your presence. Agent Walsh will report back in due time.”

 


 

Sam offers to drive Oliver home. The car ride is completely silent save for Oliver having to direct Sam to his apartment and Oliver is thankful for it.

His phone buzzes but it's just Agent Castillo texting to see if he’s okay. Oliver doesn’t remember ever giving her his number, but that’s what you get for working with spies.

Oliver texts back a half-hearted yeah and doesn’t look at his phone again.

 


 

Oliver's cover identity's choice of residence is a third-floor apartment a couple of blocks away from the House. It's the cosiest of the five decoy apartments he owns, with a kitchen and pantry Oliver actually stocks and uses regularly. Oliver put in all the security features he could think of and then invented more of his own because he had a Saturday afternoon off. He estimates his apartment to be slightly more secure than the Smithsonian.

So when he sees the pinprick of green light at the corner of the doorframe, he freezes. Someone managed to get past his set-up. Someone is in his apartment.

Oliver checks the hallway and draws his gun.

He nudges the door open and creeps into the darkness of his own home, backlit by the yellow glow of the hallway and carried solely by fear and caffeine and his laughably limited field experience. The kitchen is clear; nothing of value there anyway. Whoever had enough skill to break in would probably go straight for Oliver’s laptops and the concealed safe in the bedroom.

Oliver makes for the living room next and stops dead in his tracks, his breath catching painfully in his throat.

Agent Connor Walsh is curled up on his couch and fast asleep.

“What the fuck--”

Connor jerks awake, reaching into his suit jacket for a gun that isn’t there. Apart from the bedhead and wild look in his eyes Connor looks perfectly healthy and whole, and Oliver lets out a breath he hasn’t realised he’d been holding since Connor’s transmitter went dark almost two weeks ago.

“Connor, what the fuck.” Oliver clicks the safety on and holsters his beretta, hands shaking from the adrenaline. “It’s six am in the morning. You can’t just show up at my apartment after twelve days of being MIA -- do you have any idea what I almost--? How did you find out where I live anyway?”

Oliver isn’t sure if it’s because he hasn’t eaten in ten hours or because his body hasn’t gotten the memo to quit it with the fight or flight response but his vision blurs alarmingly enough that he stops.

And breathes in.

Deep and slow and only a little bit raggedly.

He glares at Connor when he’s done. “You were alive and you didn’t check back in and I almost fucking shot you," he snaps.

Connor laughs. It's a strange, ugly sound. "Sorry about the door. I think I screwed up the wiring when I broke in,” he rasps, scrubbing at his eyes with the heel of his palms.

Oliver pinches the bridge of his nose, hard. Then he doubles back to lock the front door and grabs a beer from the fridge on his way back. He watches Connor take a long pull from the bottle (‘PBR? Really, Oliver?’ ‘Shut up, don’t be a bitch.”) and catalogues all the things that are wrong: the shadows under Connor’s eyes, the yellowing bruises down the side of his neck, the way Connor twitches under Oliver’s gaze like he’s about to crawl out of his own skin. “Connor,” Oliver says, after watching him for a whole minute. “Are you okay?”

Connor smiles at Oliver in a way that’s probably intended to mean ‘why wouldn’t I be?’.

It comes off a little manic.

Oliver sighs and makes him go take a shower.

 


 

By the time Oliver gets to bed the first rays of sunlight has begun shining through the blinds. Oliver draws the curtains with more force than is needed, plunging the room into complete darkness. Outside in the living room, Connor has bedded down on Oliver’s couch in borrowed clothes, his bare feet and shower-damp hair poking out from beneath the comforter. It’s more endearing than Oliver wants to admit.

Oliver has no idea what’s going on but he’s exhausted, crashing hard from the caffeine and adrenaline. And Connor is -- Connor is safe. Anything else can wait.

 


 

Oliver wakes up x amount of hours later to a dip in the mattress. He jerks awake right away, fumbling for his glasses on the nightstand. He finds Connor perched on the edge of his king-sized bed an arm’s length away, eyes glittering in the artificial darkness. Like something out of a fever dream.

“You hacked into Trudeau while I was gone, didn’t you.” Connor says, the manic edge in his voice finally gone.

Oliver nods slowly. “I had to look for you.”

“I wasn’t there,” Connor says, but that much Oliver already knew. “I used him,” Connor says, scratching at his neck, leaving faint red marks on top of already bruised skin. Oliver knows for sure now that the bruises are bite marks. Honeypot trap, his mind supplies helpfully. “I, uh, I used Pax to retrieve the information I needed --”

“Pax,” Oliver repeats slowly. Something about that name is pinging Oliver’s brain.

Connor nods like he’s trying to clear his head. “He had access to--”

Pax. Paxton.

It hits Oliver. “The suicide at Trudeau -- Paxton Curtis.”

Connor flinches like he’s been hit. “I got the intel,” he says, voice hollow, hands wound tight in Oliver’s bedsheets. “Mission accomplished, right?”

Jesus. Oliver curls his hand around Connor’s wrist and doesn’t say anything for a while.

“I didn’t mean for him to die,” Connor says, an eternity later.

“I know,” Oliver says. “I know you didn’t.” He starts to uncurl Connor’s fingers from around the bedsheets. He tugs Connor under the covers and Connor goes, pliant with exhaustion. Oliver wants to smudge away the shadows under Connor’s eyes with his thumb and curl up in bed with him. Oliver wants to know why Connor is here.

Oliver wants so many things.

“Go to sleep, Connor,” he says instead.

Connor turns onto his side and takes half of the covers with him as he goes.

“Sorry I didn’t check in with you,” Connor says.

Oliver stares at the soft hair curling at Connor’s nape. He wonders what it would be like to bury his fingers in it, to put his lips on Connor's jaw and follow the curve of it with his teeth. He wonders what it would be like to kiss Connor.

He makes himself turn away.

“That’s okay.”

 


 

Connor’s gone by the time Oliver wakes up. He’s not surprised.

 


 

Oliver goes into work the next day armed with a giant tumbler of coffee to fix his sleep schedule. He’s not in any hurry; Agent Castillo texted him a couple of hours ago that Connor finally checked in.

He returns to a memo informing him that Agent Walsh has requested to work alone on the next mission.

Oliver thinks that’s what Frank means when he talks about having ice in your veins.