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Not Quite Plan M

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Nate was always aware that one of them could get caught by the people they're conning, who could then turn out to be smarter than they thought, leaving the person in the hands of hostile, angry people without any way to communicate with the rest of the team.

He isn't particularly surprised when that person turns out to be Hardison.

He's a little surprised, though, at the way Parker goes pale and fidgety and quiet when they realize they’ve lost all contact. Eliot's growl he expects, but the punch through the wall as he swears long and low — that catches Nate a little off guard, too.

Tara, arguably the one most culpable for the plan's failure and Hardison's capture, claims not to see the point of a rescue attempt when they don't even know where the hacker has been taken. She also claims not to see the point of staying together when the team's losing players in such a fashion; on her way out of Dodge she promises to tell Sophie all about it, should they bump into each other.

"Besides," she tosses over her shoulder, pausing at the door, "you know he's probably dead already."

Eliot looks like he's thinking about punching her, as well, and Nate is still debating whether he should stop him or not, when Parker makes a low noise without apparently being aware of it, and instead of spreading violence Eliot crosses the room in an instant and wraps his arms around her like he does it all the time.

"They wouldn't kill him without learning everything they can about us first," Nate counters, glaring at Tara, who really is just about the exact opposite of a team player.

"Alec breaks so easy, though," whispers Parker, and Nate's startled to see her start to shake.

"Only for us," Eliot murmurs back.

Nate decides he's not going to try and figure out what that is about.

"We will get him back," adds Eliot, at his fiercest, and Nate suspects that he himself is not even being included as a part of that we.

Tara laughs. "You guys are insane," she says. Then she's gone.

"Not nice," whispers Parker, and Eliot replies, "Worst step-mom ever."

Nate stares at them for a second, before he can make himself pull out his phone.

Sophie answers on the third ring. She sounds breathless and distracted.

"Hello? Nate?"

"Are you still in London?" he asks flatly. Not giving her time to answer, he adds, "We really, really need you to not be in London right now."

He hears her breath catch for an instant. "Who is it?" she demands, and suddenly there are noises on the other end of the line, like she's moving in a hurry. "Nathan, which one?"

"Hardison," he says, keeping his voice level. The name sounds wrong, now. "Alec."

"Dead?" Sophie asks, and he thinks she's holding her breath but there are traffic noises in the background now, so he can't be positive.

"We don't know. Some Bruneians were... cleverer than I thought. They've had him for almost an hour."

Parker flinches. Nate wishes he didn't notice.

"Oh, fuck," Sophie breathes, summing it up rather eloquently.

"Come back," says Nate, hoping it's enough. If it isn't, he'll beg, if he has to, because he wants her there whether they get Hardison back or not, whole or in pieces — but right at this specific moment he mostly needs to get Parker looking less like she's going to go stab the mark with a meat fork and Eliot less like he's about to go rip apart all of Brunei with his bare hands.

"I'm in New York," declares Sophie, and Nate feels almost drunk with relief. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Thank God," Nate says, meaning it completely, and hangs up.

By the time Sophie storms through the door with her work face already on, Nate has a plan, which is fortunate because Eliot is only a few minutes away from being willing to solve their problem by just killing every last Bruneian, in Boston or out, and Parker's been ready to help him do it for more than an hour.

"If he's dead," Eliot snarls, a moment before they leave, "then so are they."

It's an announcement, not a threat.

"Slowly," Parker supplies grimly.

Sophie stares at them.

Nate just moves faster.

Because Nate doesn't make the same mistake twice, the plan works; Sophie gets the mark with the unpronounceable name to inadvertently tell her where they're holding Hardision, Parker does some second story work (most of which Nate is pretty sure is physically impossible) to get inside and find out which room and how much security, Eliot gets rid of the chauffeur and takes the wheel of the limo Sophie's boozing the mark in, while Nate slips into the back with Sophie and distracts the mark a little more so he doesn't notice they've changed course. When they get there, the mark decides a gun in the back is sufficient reason not to alert his goons — and Eliot deviates from the plan and starts kicking down doors. Parker's waiting to help him.

Nate gets tense and follows them in with the mark still at gunpoint, leaving Sophie behind at the car with strict instructions to get out if things start going even worse, so he’s right there when Parker finally gets to Hardison — ankles tied to the legs of his chair and hands bound behind his back, stripped to the waist with huge bruises already blooming across his torso — and at this point he hardly feels any surprise at all when she takes his bruised face carefully in her hands and kisses him even before she frees him.

Eliot's just put down the last of the guards as Parker, in the middle of untying Hardison's hands, makes an angry noise and exclaims, "His fingers. They broke all his fingers."

Nate, thinking with horror of Hardison being unable to type, almost misses seeing Eliot go perfectly still for an instant. Then he pulls the mark away from Nate and knocks him to his hands and knees, face like stone. Very, very angry stone.

"Mistake," Eliot growls, and begins to methodically crush underneath his boots all the bones in the mark's hands.

Nate looks past them to where Parker is trying to heave Hardison upright while he watches Eliot impassively, and doesn't stop him. He goes around and helps Parker.

They don't discuss it, but they leave Eliot in Hardison's cell with the mark and wait for him at the car. They spread Hardison carefully across the longest seat in the limo, Sophie making appalled faces and trying to find something for a pillow before realizing that Parker is sliding in next to Hardison and cradling his head in her lap.

"The nearest hospital is fifteen minutes away," Sophie says, instead, pointing to the GPS unit in the front of the limo. "I already pulled up the fastest route."

"I'll drive," replies Nate, getting out their fake IDs, as Eliot emerges from the building. "Get in."

Nobody asks about the mark. Nate's pretty sure that Sophie doesn't want to know, and Parker's just afraid of hearing that he isn't dead.

Sophie takes the seat nearest Hardison and immediately starts staring when Eliot simply hits his knees on the floor next to the hacker and leans into Parker's lap to kiss him firmly, fingers of one hand curling possessively around Hardison's neck and the steady beat of his pulse. Hardison kisses him back weakly, even though he whimpers in pain the whole time.

Nate decides he's just going to stop being surprised by anything the three youngest members of their team do. Period.

When Eliot pulls back, his other hand hovers just over Hardison's mangled ones for a moment. Eventually he settles it low on Hardison's stomach, and turns his head toward the front of limo to glower at the back of Nate's head.

"Plan M is never an option, Nate," he declares. "I do not like Plan M."

"No," agrees Nate, meeting Eliot's eyes in the rearview mirror. "I know."

"Alec doesn't get caught by scary guys who hurt people," Parker snaps. "Ever again."

"I'll factor that in from now on," promises Nate, wondering if he even wants to to think about how many people will end up dead if Hardison ever does get captured again. He decides he doesn't. Eliot liberated Croatia, after all. Stealing his hacker back from anybody stupid enough to take him after this is probably small potatoes in comparison.

"Good," say Parker and Eliot in unison, their tones exactly the same.

"Eliot, man?" Hardison interrupts, the first he's spoken since they found him.

Eliot's head whips back around so fast it probably would have given Bruce Lee whiplash. "Yeah, Hardison?"

Hardison tries to smile, failing miserably but not letting that stop him. "You know this means you're finally gonna have to play World of Warcraft, right?" Eliot looks confused, and Hardison adds, "I can't just leave my guys alone until my hands heal. You're gonna have to play for me."

Eliot stares at him for a minute, and Parker snickers, then he sighs and mutters, "Nobody ever gets to break your fingers again but me, understand?"

Which Nate is pretty sure is Eliot for I love you.

"You'd start with my toes, anyway," replies Hardison, sounding nearly happy, so Nate figures that's his way of saying I love you too.

Not to be left out, Parker announces, "When we get to the hospital, I'm going to steal you the really awesome kind of pain killers."

"You're better than the internet, baby," replies Hardison, and his smile almost works for a second.

Sophie makes a little choked noise. Nate glances at her, surprised to see tears on her face.


"My name is Natalie," she says unsteadily, hiccuping a little. "And I'm not going back to London."

"Thank you Jesus," Hardison blurts. "No more divorce."

Nate focuses on driving, smiling widely because — apart from his plan falling apart and Hardison getting caught and beat up, and how he was forced to discover that Hardison is probably the safest hacker in the history of computers, as well as some weird things he could have done without knowing — today is pretty much the best day in a very, very long time.