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Play It Again

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Oliver would like to say it's a quiet night, but he rarely has quiet nights anymore. The bar is crowded, packed full, and the noise the crowd makes fills the space with a dull roar.

He likes being on the second floor, looking down at the crowd, especially this late, with the lights dimmed and the music blaring. People look different when you look at them from a different angle. A flash of neon green hair, an outstretched arm, a bright laugh that lifts itself over the rest of the din.

He leans against the railing, feeling the cool, sturdy metal underneath his elbows. He should go down there, make a few rounds, make sure everything is running smoothly. It's a Thursday night, so there's not as much to do, but Oliver would much rather be careful than sorry.

It would be easy to say that he bought Oliphaunt on a whim -- that's the story Oliver tells his parents, anyway -- but it was a calculated move, deliberate and careful. Oliver had wanted to go legit, and it seemed like a good way to settle down, try something new. He'd heard about this place going under, from friend of a friend on the grapevine, and Seattle was as good a city as any. He closed up his old shop in Mountain View and moved up north, determined to do something else with his life, something that didn't revolve around computers. It hadn't been easy, at first, but he'd had the money to spare, and he was willing to put in the hours, and now it's paying off.

He climbs his way down the stairs, dodging a few shoulders and elbows as people head upstairs. Oliver doesn't mind. It's better to have too many people show up rather than the alternative.

One of the bartenders calls him over. It's Gavin, who's a little too friendly and a little too flirty and flamboyantly gay in a way that Oliver never quite managed to pull off himself.

"Hey, boss," he says, when Oliver is finally in earshot. He grins, bright in a way that would make Oliver think he's interested, but that's just the way he is with everyone.

Oliver smiles back. That smile is infectious, even if it doesn't mean anything. "Yeah, Gavin? What's up?"

Gavin leans in close, clearly excited by some new gossip. "There's this guy who's been asking for you." He smirks and nods towards the end of the bar.

From here, Oliver can't get a good look at who Gavin is referring to. The man is looking away from him, and in this lighting, all Oliver can get a sense of is his dark hair and neat haircut and an expensive suit. "Thanks," Oliver says.

For a moment, he wonders if the law has decided to catch up to him, if he left one too many digital fingerprints behind in the dark web. His hacking days are years gone now, but every once in a while, a glimmer will pop up in the oddest places. He's been working on keeping his paranoia in check for a while. It destroyed his relationship with his last boyfriend, Dan, before it ever got anywhere serious, what with Dan being a cop and all, but at least they managed to come out of that trainwreck still good friends. Dan still has that one table he always sits at when visiting Oliphaunt. Oliver makes sure that they always have a case of his favorite microbrew behind the counter.

But most likely this guy just wants something mundane: a bachelor party that wants to rent out the whole place for the night, a local event that wants to put posters up on the walls, a new brewery that wants to get him to stock their product. Oliver's life is hardly boring, but it's a completely new kind of interesting that he trafficks in these days.

He slides his way past the crowd of people trying to wave Gavin down. On his way, Oliver accidentally bumps into a smiling woman with a nose ring. She takes it well, waving off his apologies, but when Oliver turns around again, the man in the suit has disappeared from his spot.

Oliver frowns, scanning the crowd to see if he can pick the man out again.

But it turns out he doesn't have to.

"Hey, Oliver," a voice says from behind Oliver's shoulder. "Can I buy you a drink?"

Oliver spins. There's the man, all right. Well-dressed, beautiful, with one eyebrow raised. Exactly the way Oliver remembers him, right down to the cut of his beard. "Connor Walsh," Oliver says. He feels something seize in his chest, a tight, hard knot in the center.

"It's been a while," Connor says. He's smiling as he says it, like they're friends, like they parted on good terms five years ago.

"Not long enough," Oliver says. He doesn't want Connor here. It's too easy to see him and think of the good days, Connor loose-limbed and sex-sated and sprawled all over Oliver's bedsheets, and too easy to forget about the bad days, when Connor would shut down and refuse to talk to Oliver about anything at all.

Connor turns, his eyes sliding away from Oliver's face and towards some of the wall decorations so that Oliver can only see about half his expression. But Oliver doesn't miss the way the smile slips off his face. "You know," Connor says, "it's customary to say, 'it's nice to see you again.'"

"I'd say it if it were true," Oliver says, keeping his voice steady and cold, even as he has to shout to be heard over the surrounding noise. He hadn't prepared himself for this, hadn't had time to build his defenses, and it leaves him reeling. Connor is from a lifetime ago, two lifetimes ago even, all the things that Oliver left behind when he left Philadelphia. "What are you doing here, Connor?"

"He's here on my behalf," another voice chimes in. Oliver blinks, only to notice Annalise Keating standing just past Connor's shoulder, watching the two of them with a cool, appraising stare. "I'm glad to have the chance to finally meet you, Mr. Hampton."

"I'm not sure I can say the same just yet," Oliver says. She's shorter than Oliver expected her to be. Oliver watched her on TV during the long never-ending hoopla of the Sam Keating trial, and he's obviously heard plenty of stories from Connor. Her presence has always loomed large in Oliver's mind. It's so odd to finally see her in person. "Why don't we all go back to my office? I get the feeling that this isn't a social call."

---

Oliver's office is small, barely big enough for one other person. All he has in it is an IKEA desk, a laptop docking station, a couple of chairs, and a pale overhead light. It's not like he has a lot of business dealings that he can't take care of at his lawyer's offices.

Still, the three of them manage to squeeze in just fine. Oliver settles on sitting behind his desk, mostly because it makes him feel more in control of the situation. Professor Keating sits in the only other chair, facing him. Connor stays standing, fading into a corner of the room like he's had some practice with it. It's quieter up here, but the walls are thin enough that the music can still be heard, faintly, through the walls.

"Professor Keating," Oliver starts. "I can't say any of this was expected."

"I know this is rather unorthodox, Mr. Hampton," she says, jumping straight into business, "but I have a special request I'd like to make of you." The intensity of her gaze makes Oliver want to hide in a small hole somewhere. No wonder Connor was always so eager to bend over backwards to please her.

"Okay," he says, keeping his voice steady. "I'm listening."

She continues, "I need the services of a hacker who can break into a Strasser-protected system. From what I understand, that used to be your specialty."

Oliver tries to keep a neutral expression on his face, but he was never cut out for lying or lawyering. He can handle high stakes behind a keyboard, but he doesn't know how to do any of this while in person. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Keating doesn't react at all to Oliver's statement. "Just be aware that my client is willing to pay generously for your services. I remember your work from the days you used to freelance in Philadelphia, and it was always exemplary."

Oliver swallows, hard. "I don't think I remember ever working for you. I'm sorry, but you must have mistaken me for someone else."

She just smiles, nodding at him. "If you change your mind, please let me know." She stands up, straightening out her jacket before she turns to face Connor. "Mr. Walsh, I'll see you back at the hotel."

And with that, she leaves the room, closing the door behind her with a gentle click.

Now that she's gone, Connor takes a moment to emerge from the shadows. Oliver half-expects him to look triumphant, every bit the slick, confident lawyer that he must be by now. But Connor just looks blank, his expression tightly controlled. His tongue darts out to lick his lips. Oliver wishes he didn't find it so distracting. It's been five years. He should be over this by now. Connor should be nothing more than a distant memory.

Oliver takes a moment to collect himself before he can face Connor head on. When he finally gets feeling back in his fingers, he turns on Connor. "Was this your idea?" Oliver hisses. "How convenient that the two of you show up in my town and just so happen to need my help." Maybe it's not fair, but life isn't fair for dropping ancient history on Oliver's head and expecting to deal with any of it rationally.

Connor takes a deep breath. "We wouldn't be here if it wasn't important. You're really-- we need the best for this. Just-- hear us out. Please." It's familiar, deja vu; Connor pulled the same line when he needed traffic records a few days after his drug-induced freakout at Oliver's doorstep. Oliver had been feeling a little sympathetic then. Oliver is not feeling any sort of sympathy now.

"No," Oliver says, summoning up his old anger. "I told you last time that I never wanted to see you again, and I meant it." He points towards the door. "Get out."

Connor holds up his hands, surrendering, his expression turning dark, steely. "Okay," he says, but he still takes out a business card and tosses it onto Oliver's desk. "Call me if you change your mind."

"You're not going to have to worry about that," Oliver says. He stands up so he can slam the door shut behind Connor's retreating back. It feels good, probably better than it should.

---

"Man," Dan says, as Oliver slides into the booth to sit across from him. "You wouldn't believe how much of the station is freaking out right now."

Lunch is always a mellow affair, relative to the hustle and bustle of the nights. It's never really empty, though. There's a steady stream of people who come through: startup kids in their t-shirts and jeans, business marketing types with their slick black suits with their cell phones attached to their ears, police officers from the precinct down the street, in varying degrees of uniform -- the gay ones anyway.

That's how Oliver met Dan in the first place, when he'd come in with his cop buddies during the evening rush and then stick around after everyone left, flirting with Oliver at every chance he could get. It had been the first time Oliver had ever dated another Asian guy, but it turned out that they were far more different than alike. Dan's the kind of guy who speaks Mandarin fluently and throws a huge Lunar New Year party every year for all of his closest Asian friends, and Oliver can barely say five words in Tagalog when trying to talk to his cousins and can't even remember the names of the other Asian kids who were in his high school classes. Their kind of-maybe relationship that lasted a few months before thoroughly falling apart. It was fine. They turned out to work much better as friends anyway.

"What's there to freak out about?" Oliver asks. He takes a bite out of his sandwich.

Dan just leans over and grins. "You know I can't talk to you about active cases, but one of our suspects apparently decided to get Annalise Keating to represent her -- you know, that hotshot defense lawyer from Philadelphia who was accused of axing her murderer husband a few years back?"

"Yeah, I was still living in Philadelphia at the time," Oliver says. "It was all the local news would talk about." He keeps his own tangential involvement in the case quiet. Dan a sharp detective. He never did like how vague Oliver was about his past.

"Oh, right," Dan says. "I forgot those were your old stomping grounds." He shoots Oliver a studying look.

Oliver shrugs. "That sounds like a pretty big deal," he says. "Someone must be pretty desperate."

Dan takes a drink of his Coke Zero. "They almost always are," he says, "but this one in particular, she's even more of a nervous wreck than usual. I'm not surprised she's calling in the big guns."

It shouldn't pique Oliver's interest, but it does. "Can you at least tell me what she's being accused of? It's got to be big if you're pulling lawyers in from the other side of the country. Not exactly low profile stuff."

There's a moment's pause before Dan answers, and Oliver wonders if he's showed his hand. But Dan just rolls his eyes, shaking his head. "Aw, what the hell," he says. "We're going to be doing a press conference about it this afternoon." He scans the room before leaning over and lowering his voice. "The governor's son got knifed a few nights ago. He's in critical condition in the hospital. We picked up his girlfriend from the scene, says he raped her last week, and he was going to try it again."

Oliver lets out a low whistle. "That sounds ugly."

"No shit, right?" Dan says. "I'm glad it's not my case, because the press is already starting to have a field day with it, and there's not much we can do. We've got the weapon, the girl, and the vic all in the same place at the same time. She's not even denying she did it. The DA's gotta be getting some real pressure from above to make this a clean open-and-shut case."

"Except," Oliver says, "for a certain defense lawyer."

Dan shakes his head. "Yeah. Not that I blame her or anything. If it'd been one of my sisters, I'd have cut off his balls myself." Dan grew up in a large, tight-knit family, and Oliver grew up with as the second child of two workaholic parents. It was yet another gap that they never quite managed to bridge between the two of them.

"I guess I can look forward to seeing this case blasted all over the local news, huh?" Oliver asks. There's a pathetic part of him that will probably comb over the footage for glimpses of Connor, where there's the safe distance of a television screen between the two of them. Despite the bad blood of their second and final break up, Oliver is curious about what's happened to him. How have the last five years treated him? Is he happy? Has he found someone else? He's not desperate enough to stalk Connor's Facebook, but it is something that he finds himself thinking about from time to time.

Dan finishes off his salad and tosses his used napkin onto the table. He must still be on that diet he started while they were still dating. "I'd count on it," he says.

---

There is a big press conference to announce the case. Oliver watches it on the evening news while he's signing some checks for Tabitha, the general manager of Oliphaunt. She's a sharp woman who never quite grew out of her 'punk' phase, and she tends to stomp around the bar in her thick-soled combat boots with her hair dyed fire-red. Oliver hired her because she knows how to get people to do what she wants without having to be an asshole about it. He's convinced that she only accepted the job because she took pity on him.

"That's some fucked up shit," Tabitha says as the DA gives his statement to the press. They're both rubbernecking so they can get a good look at the TV. On screen, they're listing out the charge: aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

"Yeah, there's a lot of that out there," Oliver says. It's easy for his mind to slip back to some of the cases that he'd helped Connor out with, the murders and the assaults and the fraud. That was the part that Oliver never really liked, knowing that the reason he was working on the cases was there were real people who were hurting. The beauty of a good exploit is that it's just computers, just some ones and zeroes floating through wires. Of course, that didn't mean there weren't real humans on the other side of things. It just meant that Oliver didn't have to think about them.

Tabitha shakes her head as the new broadcast switches over to Keating's statement. She faces the cameras with the same cool, steely disregard that she used to ask Oliver for his help. It makes Oliver wonder if there's anything that fazes her, but then again, he'd probably have said the same about Connor until Connor showed up on his doorstep drugged out of his mind.

"Thank you for coming out today," Keating says. "My client, Naomi Sanders, has been repeatedly victimized. First, by the man she loved and trusted, and then by the criminal justice system that she believed would be able to protect her. The actions she took on the night of October 23 reflect the ways in which the system has failed her and the ways in which the system continues to fail her now."

When she steps back away from the microphone, Oliver catches a glimpse of Connor behind her. She turns to him and says something, too far away for the microphones to pick up, and Connor nods. There are dark circles underneath Connor's eyes, like he's been pulling an all-nighter. Another woman steps up to the two of them, says something else, and the three of them leave together.

The news feed cuts out after that, returning back to the anchors in the studio, ready to dispense some analysis, but Oliver doesn't want to hear it. He presses the power button on the remote, and the screen goes black.

"Well," Tabitha says, "now that we've had our daily dose of depressing, I still have these work order forms that won't sign themselves."

"Yeah," Oliver says, turning back to the papers in front of him, and he puts the case out of his mind.