Ready or Not

It was two, maybe three days after Jim Kerrity's crew went down for the diamond heist that Alec heard Eliot shouting up the stairs for the third time in ten minutes.

"What?" He frowned. The cable was catching on something inside the wall, a stud or a nail or something. "I said it was going to take a few- I have to feed the wires down through-"

"Built-in surround sound can wait," Eliot was coming up the stairs, brushing drywall dust out of his hair. "Nate says we've got a job."

"Seriously?" There goes our week off.

"Yeah," Eliot started unbuttoning his shirt until he caught Alec eyeing the show, and rolled his eyes. "I told him we'd be there in half an hour."

Alec set the cable spool on the floor next to the bed and stood up, waving his hands. "Then you'd better get changed, huh?"


Alec looked over Nate's notes as he got his computer running. Shipping numbers, a few scribbled dates that didn't make any sense, yet. Over on the couch, Eliot was shoving Parker's leg out of the way as he moved to sit down.

If anyone else was distracted by the sudden reminder of the space Sophie wasn't filling, nobody mentioned it, but Eliot was twisting impatiently, looking over his shoulder.

"Hey, Nate? How long's this one going to take?"

Nate, it seemed, was more obviously unsettled. He spoke quickly, decisively enough that even Alec could see that Nate's thoughts were churning. "Ah, two days, but it's an easy one. Our client, Greg Monroe, manages the InterTran yard manager down at the docks. Long story short, he found out that there were black market weapons shipping through his yard. Last month, he went down to gather evidence so that he could bring it up the chain, and got caught in the crossfire. His right hip is completely shattered and it's going to take a year or so just to get him walking again. Meanwhile, the company's suspended him without pay, and are denying him medical benefits until it's proved that he had nothing to do with the smuggling. He was already close to the wire financially in the first place, but now the bills are piling up."

Parker nodded. "Okay, so he needs money fast."

"He needs his name cleared more," Nate corrected her, his tone nearly too sharp for what he was saying, but nobody commented on it. Alec wondered if everyone else heard Sophie's voice in their head, lecturing Nate on his manners, or discussing going after gunrunners more casually than most people choose where to grab lunch.

Eliot was nodding, though. "Does Monroe have any idea what, exactly, they're smuggling? Who the players are?"

"No clue, but they sounded eastern European."

"There's a shipment coming in from Athens tomorrow night," Alec confirmed, pulling up the dockyard records. "From same shipping company that would've been docked when Monroe got shot. Give me a sec, here, to figure it out."

Five minutes was enough to prove that Monroe had been on the right track. "Yeah, it looks like- oh, man these guys are idiots- yeah. They've got so much screwed up paperwork that it's amazing the company hasn't been shut down for that alone, but it looks like the owner's a big player in the union."

"Right, what's his deal?"

"Okay. Carl Heyer, the owner, looks like he set these deals up just barely off the books, and he's the one who made the call on Monroe's termination. Oh, and even better? He laid everyone else off last week, and is staffing the entire yard with temps."

"So?" Parker was shaking her head. "What's that mean?"

"It means," Nate coughed, "That Heyer knew his regular guys were likely to suspect something was up, and would get in the way. So he cleared them out, almost the entire workforce-"

"Over a hundred people," Alec interrupted without breaking Nate's stride.

"And replaced them with people who weren't going to be around long enough to ask questions."

"Yeah, in this economy, it's getting easier to find help that won't ask too many questions, and even easier to turn over the entire workforce. Easier still to hire on a few guys to take care of the actual product once it they've arrives."

"This deal's gotta be huge," Eliot said.

"Right. So, we need to make sure Heyer goes down in a big enough way that he's buried in lawsuits so deeply that all the union pull in the world won't save his ass, while making sure Monroe gets his money and nobody gets the guns. And the deal is going down in about thirty-six hours," Nate said, standing up. "So. Let's go steal the black market."


Nate was at the restaurant with Heyer, posing as a prospective client who was illuminating the various ways in which Heyer might cut out a few of his middlemen by dealing directly with a very interested buyer.

"Who's the buyer?"

"As far as you're concerned, I am." Over the comms, Nate's voice sounded only slightly more gravelly than it had been, lately, but the southern accent was deliberate. "And while I know you're relatively new to the business, I assume you've gathered that my backers, for obvious reasons, would like to remain quiet during our initial transactions."

"Initial transactions?" Heyer sounded dubious, and Alec held his breath, waiting for him to bail. But Nate had already seen it coming. He'd probably planned to make him hesitate.

"Consider this a trial run. Like any other job, the more experienced you are, the more your expertise is worth. Now. I will tell you this much…" As Nate continued, feeding out details here and there, spinning the story, Alec finished hacking the surveillance feeds from inside the van.

"Of course, to show that I'm working in good faith, I've brought with me a deposit," Nate said, and the deal was sealed moments later. The hard part was over with.

Parker and Eliot, along with the paperwork Alec had provided, had been down the yard with the night shift since eleven. Nate was in place with Heyer. They had the second truck prepped, all it would take was for a little duplication of orders when the time came. Alec had visual on the water and on the parking lot. The freighter was still an hour or so from docking, and it didn't sound like Nate and Heyer were even en route, yet.

It was irresponsible, really, the Navy's tendency towards subcontracting out with companies who subcontracted out with other companies, down the line until what looked like the entire contents of the U.S.S. Whatever's next re-supply were left moldering in a dockyard warehouse. It probably wasn't as irresponsible as trading out black market weapons for engine parts and motors, but very soon, that wasn't going to be Alec Hardison's problem any more.


The fuse burned fairly slowly as the job started to go to hell. The first spark was Nate's voice, sounding mildly surprised on the line.

"What's this?" he asked Heyer. "Thought we'd be driving. Though, boat's faster. I like that."

"Guys," Alec repeated. "Hey-"

"We heard," Eliot coughed. "It's fine. We're not taking them on the approach, anyhow."

"Yeah, but for all we know they could be rowin' up here in a goddamned canoe. Ain't no tracking it, not with all the noise."

"What noise?" Parker shouted over the sound of heavy machinery.

"There are over fifty ships and small vessels in the area. Sorry, man, we're going to need eyes on the water."

"I've got it," Parker said. "There's an access point just past the crane."

A while later, the other shoe dropped. This time it was Eliot's voice on the line.

"Okay, the trucks are set up, but we might have a problem. There's a storm coming in and they're getting uneasy about too many freighters too close together, so they're going to ferry everything out on smaller boats. It's not going to be a walk-on."

"That's fine, just go with it." Nate's voice was quiet, but vibrating. "We're just pulling in."


The problem wasn't that Eliot was going to be unloading high-powered rifles and shoulder launchers. Or that the storm that was starting to blow in, rain was beginning to pelt the water, and the waves were getting rough. It wasn’t even that Parker was hanging by her ankles from a crossbeam on the underside of the dock- from the sounds of it, she was having a blast.

The problem was that as the dealers' boat pulled up and the engine cut out, the first man on the catwalk was Nicolas Obrovic. The same Nicolas Obrovic who'd been using war orphans as a cover for his gunrunning operations in Belgrade.


Alec couldn't see much over the security feed. Up in the yard, the lights were glaring, bright as any stadium night game, but out past the edge, two stories below, on the catwalk where the deal was actually taking place, only the barest light was getting through.

It was probably what saved their asses. Nate had disguised himself fairly well, his accent rough and southern and the fake beard- the same one that had seemed so stupid hours before- seemed to be doing its trick. Heyer and Nate inspected the first crate, found it to their liking, and gave the signal for Eliot, Parker, and the seven other workmen to start carting the other crates off the boat and onto the grid-work elevator that would haul it up to the yard.

When the elevator was filled with the first half of the shipment, Parker joined the four who'd been directed to load it onto one of the yard trucks. The first one, of course, was ready and waiting to be loaded.

The second, parked right next to the first, was already filled with stolen Naval goods, including several radio transmitters that were already online and ready to announce themselves when Nate gave the command.


Alec was finally breathing again. It shouldn't have, but it looked like their first part of the plan was working. They only had about two-dozen crates left to go, and Obrovic hadn't noticed a thing. Alec was beginning to revise his opinion of shadowy, rainy dockyards. They were actually pretty good places to engage in dubious business.

And they'd closed the deal.

"I've got my money," Obrovic suddenly said, and his tone alone was enough to revise Alec's revisions. "So I am in a very good mood. Things could be worse."

Of course, Heyer had to ask. "What do you mean?"

"It means, Mister Ford," Obrovic pulled the gun out of his pocket, "that you could have lost much more, today."

"You're taking our boat? Who the hell is Ford?" Heyer's voice was panicked, probably thinking of the hundred grand Nate had given him, which he thought was still on board. Right now, everyone on the pier was looking at the gun. Nobody saw Parker disappearing up into the supports on the other side of Heyer's boat.

"You can have mine," Obrovic shouted from the deck as they began to move away.

"What's going on?" Eliot's frustration sounded faint. Alec had done what he could to deal with the interference from the engines. "We've still got a ton of-"

The explosion cut him off sharply.



One of the security cameras had been knocked down into the water by the blast, but the other wasn't showing him he wanted to see, anyhow.

"Guys? What's-" stupid question, he'd seen it.

But Eliot should've been bitching about the question, and he was quiet, silent, there was nothing-

"Look out! Nate!" Parker called out, just as Heyer lunged at him over shredded wood and metal, the two stumbling to what remained of the splintered catwalk. He saw Parker jumping down to help, but a moment later, Alec lost all visual.

There wasn't much he could do from here- the explosion had already attracted attention up in the yard, there'd be people coming down to, one way or another, handle it. Several of them were already at the top of the stairs.

Alec was pretty sure he was destroying a few thousand dollars worth of equipment as he thrust himself back from the console, but he wasn't thinking about that. He wasn't thinking about Parker and Nate being discovered by dozens of Heyer's employees. He was thinking what they'd have to do to avoid them, and his hands were already grabbing the oxygen tank as he stumbled out of the van.

Goosebumps rose up on his skin as he pulled off his extra sweatshirt and emptied his pockets before slamming the van shut and slipping back along the warehouse to the other side of the yard. Once he had the tank strapped on and the mask around his neck, he broke into a run.

Emergency lights were coming on all along the edges, and somewhere an alarm was sounding, but it didn't matter if anyone saw him- all that mattered was that no-one was between him and the edge of the pier.

He didn't want to, but he had to look down to find his footing, and as soon as he had his mask on and the mouthpiece within reach, he began to climb down the struts. It was slippery, rough going. There was a sudden unexpected cold spot in his ear as he scrabbled for a hold- his comm unit falling out.

He couldn't think about falling, not right now.

It was worse, the closer to the water he got. There'd probably been debris there before the explosion- old rebar, garbage, chunks of rock and a few barrels. The wet metal struts were cold, freezing his hands. He was starting to loose his grip.

His foot slipped on something once it hit the water, but all he could do at that point was slide the mouthpiece into place, clear his mask, take a breath, and launch himself into the goddamned ocean.


He refused to think about the burning wreckage being shoved away by the waves, not yet, because underneath the surface was just as dangerous. He couldn't see more than a foot in front of his face. More debris, more twisted metal he couldn't recognize, fuck a body, still warm but unfamiliar drifting into his shoulder as he passed. As long as he stayed near the surface and kept the burning, bright spot at his one o'clock, and the much longer streak of searchlights to his left, he'd make it to the catwalk.

Sounds were magnified, underwater. It was all crashing and rushing and the creaking of metal, and the worst of it was coming from where Nate was trying to regain his footing, trying to protect Parker who just couldn't reach the first support strut.

Alec swam as hard as he could, he hated doing it, but he had to go low to avoid the worst of the waves. If they did it right, managed to go off towards the left, they'd miss the sharp metal whatever that was that they didn't even know was there.

Ripping the mouthpiece out, as he surfaced, he shoved himself forward and shouted as loudly as he could manage.

"Dive! To your left! I got you!" He saw Parker turn her head, scanning, and man, it was great when she grinned. She stepped carefully down, back onto the catwalk and stepped close to Nate. She shouted something that Alec couldn't make out, and it didn't look like Nate was getting it either.

Just as Alec slipped under the water, ready to go after them the moment they went under, he saw Parker shake her head, once, and shove Nate in first.


Parker had been smart, she hadn't let go of Nate's sleeve, so it was relatively easy to get them both back up to the surface, underneath the catwalk, under the dock, and across to the nearest ladder.

"Okay," He said. "Go up this, you should come up on the east side of the warehouse, and the van should be right there."

Parker frowned. "What about you?"

"Goin' after Eliot."

Nate was attempting to blink the shell-shocked expression off his face, but, still staring at the wreckage, it wasn't doing much good as he waved his hand at the boat. "But it's- he- hang on-"

The didn't have time for this. "Nate. This ain't the time to argue. I need you two to get the van, get out of here and wait for us," Alec decided. "Fan Pier Plaza. Park near the water."


Maybe it was the force of the blast itself, or maybe it was the waves caused by the falling catwalk. Maybe it was just what happened when a boat's moorings were cut in a busy harbor during a storm, but the burning boat was drifting away from the pier, starting to get swept away with the current.

At least it hadn't gone down, yet.

The water was just as bad as before, harder to keep his bearings now the blaze on the ship had gone out. He didn't want to think about why that was. For every wave that tried to drag him out, another was there to send him crashing back. He felt his ankle crack sharply against something hard, the grimace that ensued was more dangerous, cold salt water crashing in against his teeth, choking his throat.

There was a lull between waves, and he surfaced to cough, take a breath.

He couldn't see the fire anymore. Twisting as he treaded water, he tried to catch sight of it, but it was gone. It had gone under.

The pier's lights were behind him, and the current feeding out to sea was already pushing him to his left again.

It was all down to a guess, now, and some hasty, panicked calculations.

Swimming was his only ambition, the only thing he could think about. It kept him from counting the minutes since the explosion, kept him from wondering if the minutes even mattered.

This far out, he mostly had to go by feel. He'd cleared most of the shoreline debris a while ago, but with every piece of debris, every rush of bubbles pushing up around him, more frequent now, he started to wonder if maybe-

Suddenly, the surface above blazed brightly, passing over and back. One of the nearby ships, or maybe even the dockyard, had managed to get their searchlight on, scanning the area.

Just as it passed again, trailing of to the left, he saw a dark shape that didn't make sense.

He let the current carry him closer, moving more quickly now that he wasn't fighting it. And suddenly, he was there. The fractured splintering mess of metal before him had, up until very recently, been the hull of Obrovic's boat.

It looked like it was still sinking, and in the subsurface darkness, there was no way of telling if it had reached the bottom yet. It didn't look at all stable, and Alec was suddenly acutely aware of the fact that he had no idea how deep the water was, this far out.

Each pulse of the waves sent more bubbles and garbage out through the huge gap that shouldn't have been there. He wasn't sure, but he thought he could see through the hull and out the other side. The boat was a lot larger than it had appeared from the surveillance feed, and the damage was huge.

He tried not to think what it meant that he didn't see Eliot's body floating around in the vicinity. Didn't know if he hoped that he'd been thrown far clear of the wreckage any more than he hoped he was still inside. Because he was pretty sure Eliot, finding himself in a sinking boat, would have done something about it. If he could.

Grabbing hold of whatever would give him leverage, he moved too slowly around, towards the deck, realizing that most of the other side had been blown out as well, but there was something glowing, faintly greenish, he could see it from here. Moving towards it, he found that it was marked emergency, and that it was still sealed.

More miraculously, it opened when he swiveled the catch, reaching in, feeling for anything there was to find. A plastic case, something he couldn't make sense of or deal with. A moment later, a cylinder.

It was a flashlight, and someone, somewhere, had been smart enough to stock one that was waterproof. The beam that came out of it was startling, but it was little more than a stream of dim light pointing through the dirty water.

He wasn't going to be able to see much with this. But he was a lot closer than anyone else. He had to look.

Checking his tank- somehow, he still had about forty minutes left, he wedged the flashlight into the nylon first aid kit's opening, and used the kit as a paddle as he moved back around again, down and around and through the open side.

He didn't think eels set up shop in shipwrecks when they were still sinking- didn't even know if they lived in Boston Harbor, but it was easier than thinking about what was actually terrifying, down here.

It might as well have been a hundred years old, but for the paper that hadn't disintegrated, here and there, or the colors that were still so clear, not yet obliterated by rust. In the too-narrow beam of light that moved as he swam, it looked like the boat was still exploding.

He'd ignored as much of the creaking as he'd been able to, up until now, but for all he knew, it was all the warning he'd get before the boat fell off some ledge into an underwater trench, dragging him down with it until the pressure crushed his lungs in his chest.

There were noises in here, too. Cracks, bumps, taps, the slow explosion playing itself out,
knocking some metal box against the side of the hull.

The debris became a lot more dangerous looking, a lot heavier. Pipes, metal, crates that were splitting along the seams, casually spilling clips and grenades to the floor below.

The he saw it, a boot, connected to a leg, and it was moving. He didn't waste time in checking, just launched himself forward, ready to grab hold-

-when he realized that there wasn't much to hold on to, above the knee.

There was no telling where the rest of the body was. But he couldn't remember what Eliot had been wearing, either.

Don't think about it. Don't fucking think.

You're not done yet.

Deeper- another five or six feet, and he felt everything shift around him as the boat buffeted, tossed, creaked and cracked dangerously as he was thrown into a wall or a ceiling or a floor, a sudden pocket of air being released against him strong enough to knock his mask out of place, and there was that leg, again, drifting past as he tried to regain his bearings.

It was just barely inside the beam of light when Alec saw it bend at the knee, saw the other leg follow suit a second later. It seemed to be going sideways, but as he followed the movement, he heard a splash to his left, only-

Only his left was up and he couldn't see what was there, but there was someone and maybe it was-

And he caught a wild drift of hair disappearing as it broke the surface above him, and he raced after it.

Alec's head knocked against something just above as he felt the air against his face, suddenly making his teeth chatter, though he'd been frozen for years, but it didn't matter, because looking back at him, squinting and trying hard to focus, was Eliot.


"Eliot," Alec said, but then Eliot was shaking his head as if trying to clear it. He coughed, and Alec noticed that the wet strand stuck to Eliot's forehead was blood, thinly oozing, not hair. Eliot flinched away and back when Alec brought his fingers close enough to examine.

"Eliot, it's me. Alec. Hardison. Got a tank, we're gonna get the hell out of here, okay?"

"Alec?" Eliot shouted, but was squinting again, and it was only then that Alec had the idea of shining the flashlight somewhere other than Eliot's eyes. Grabbing hold of a stable-feeling piece of metal with one hand, he turned the beam on himself, briefly, before checking his meter.

"Okay," he said, thinking fast because if he stopped now to laugh, to grab Eliot and cheer, they'd both be dead, probably fairly soon. "In a second I'm gonna have you take a real deep breath and we're gonna go under. I'm going to show you where to grab on, we're gonna push out that way, and I'm going to pass over the regulator, you got it?" There was motion, barely visible in the darkness now that the light wasn't on Eliot, but it looked like a nod. He tried to calculate the minutes left in his head as he held out the rebreather. "Exhale, use the purge button if you need it, breathe. Every fifteen seconds, you hit me with it, okay?"

Eliot was scowling, shaking his head, gesturing at his ear. Right. The explosion.



Alec shone the flashlight on the regulator's readout, indicating the twenty-five minutes they had left, and pressed the regulator into Eliot's hand. He then pointed at Eliot, then back at himself, then back and forth again a few times, until he saw Eliot nod.

If Alec stopped to deal with the horrified expression on his face, neither of them would be making it out of here. Grabbing the hand that Eliot wasn't using to hang onto the railing he'd found, he tugged at it until it was holding on to the shoulder strap of the tank, and after a moment, Alec could feel the tug, the added weight.

Alec took a breath, waited for Eliot to do the same.

"On three," he said, more confidently than he felt. Holding up three fingers, he began counting them down.


Eliot was little more than a dead weight at his side, uncoordinated in the darkness, holding onto the tank's strap with one hand as he tried to keep up. His legs tangled with Alec's, more often than not, and every fifteen seconds, the little he was able to do with his hand was derailed by the need to deal with the regulator.

Alec had thought it would be easier when they got free of the boat. It wasn't.

Alec tried not to think about panic, about how people used more air when they were stressed, about how his tank would hold him for an hour on a casual shallow dive. He couldn't tell how deep they were- he hadn't grabbed the diving gauge, hadn't thought he'd need it, just hadn't thought- and it was awful, this disorientation. Not knowing where the surface was, not knowing if there was too much air in their lungs as they rose. Not knowing if Eliot was lucid enough to remember whatever dive training he may or may not have had. There was no way to pull over and stop, remind him to take smaller breaths as they rose. No way to warn him that his lungs might collapse if that last shift had sent them deeper.

Alec didn't know anything except that up seemed to be this way, and that they'd both be dead if he was wrong. He'd barely been able to tug them both left to avoid a metal drum that was slowly drifting in their path, not rising, not sinking. Useless as a landmark.

But it was starting to get lighter, and above, soon, he could see the ripples of the surface, glowing under the passing searchlights.

He'd been right, for all that he'd been turned around as the boat had tumbled, he'd gotten his bearings and they were going to make it. And he could hear it, faintly now, feel them vibrating distantly in the water. Engines. Signs of life.

Eliot could feel them too, he tugged on the strap, then tugged again more sharply, before reaching forward with the mouthpiece, going by feel with his eyes closed, holding it in place while Alec took a breath.

They found a rhythm, of sorts, Eliot handling the regulator while Alec pushed them upward, a little more slowly, now. It was hard to tell how much further they had to go, and getting caught by the searchlights seemed an unwise proposition.

And maybe Eliot had opened his eyes, maybe he'd felt Alec's excitement, maybe he'd just gotten distracted. But Alec counted sixteen…seventeen…eighteen… and realized that Eliot wasn't taking the regulator back, and it felt like his grip on the tank's strap was starting to loosen.


Alec caught Eliot's arm, flashed the light across to see Eliot's eyes, still closed, but he wasn't breathing, and it was impossible to tell what the fuck had gone wrong.


Alec kicked hard, enough to shift Eliot to his chest, and kept kicking, holding the flashlight in his mouth while he tried to see, tried to keep them going, moving, as he forced the mouthpiece into place, hoping he wasn't making things worse, and purged the water from the tube.

Finally, as if he'd just needed the reminder, Eliot finished the job, and Alec watched him breathe. A moment later, Eliot was dislodging the mouthpiece again, getting ready to pass it over, but Alec didn't need it anymore. They were at the surface.

Over Eliot's head, he could see the rescue boats heading towards the ship, but the two of them had crossed beyond the searchlight's reach. They hadn't been spotted, yet.

And Alec realized that he wasn't sure, now, what to do.

Eliot was knocking his fist against Alec's shoulder weakly, the mouthpiece still in his hand, and Alec shook his head, kicking to keep them afloat. "You okay? We've got to go up a bit before we can get out, I'm sorry."

There was no response. He'd forgotten that Eliot's hearing was…whatever it was.

Alec twisted in the water, moving to get a better grip on Eliot, but he wanted- needed- to ask Eliot if he was okay, make sure that he could make it all the way to the shore on the other side of the dockyard.

There just wasn't time. Alec was starting to get tired, it was taking too much effort now just to stay afloat, and though the waves up top were counteracting the current- to a degree- already they were drifting again.

Alec pointed at the shore and gestured at the regulator, then at Eliot, who got the message, putting it in and discharging the water, before tugging once on the strap.

They were moving again.

Eliot nodded, already beginning to kick, his free arm doing what it could.


The wind cut across Alec's skin, cold, but they were getting close, now, and this far into the harbor, the worst of the waves had already been broken. They were nearing the shore, but there was a ship heading past, towards the middle of the harbor, and it was big, moving fast. The tug on his shoulder told him that Eliot saw it, too, and carefully, they steered their course closer to the nearest support strut. Grabbing hold, they hunched their shoulders out the wake.

Alec could hear the sirens up on the land, and they all seemed to be moving down towards Heyer's dockyard. "Where are we?" Eliot shouted, ducking his head against Alec's shoulder as another wave crashed against him. He was coughing before it had even passed.

Alec twisted to look over his shoulder. "Five minutes, tops. Almost there." He then held up his fingers and pointed, and after a moment and another spray of water, Eliot nodded and took a deep breath.

The waters had calmed again, somewhat, and though the rain was still coming down, from here on out would be much easier

Alec brought the flashlight out again as they picked their way along the debris collected underneath the dock. It was slow going, until they reached a stairwell that ran up alongside, back up to the surface.

At this point, whatever they found at the top was better than the water, but Alec began to devise a story about college pranks as they clambered up out of the water.

Eliot was shaky, going up the stairs, his knuckles white against the railing. Alec probably wasn't faring much better, but he refused to contemplate it. He did, however, let them rest for a bit when they'd made it halfway, and rubbed Eliot's back as he tried to cough the rest of the water out of his lungs.

Another twenty steps and they found themselves at the edge of a dark parking lot. It didn't look familiar, but as they caught their breath, he forced himself to focus as he peered around to regain his bearings.

He couldn't have stopped the grin if he'd tried.

"Okay, you see over there?" He jostled Eliot, and pointed again at the van.

Eliot forced himself away from the railing, staggering into step against Alec as the wind came up to cut at them head on. Another stumble- impossible to tell who started it- and Alec was grabbing Eliot around the shoulders and pulling him alongside.

They were closer, now, Parker was already running towards them, silhouetted in the headlights as the van followed slowly behind.

"Are you guys okay?" She was soaking wet, but she was smiling, laughing as she opened the back of the van.

"We're fine," Alec called out, hoping like hell he wasn't lying.


Alec hadn't noticed, but Eliot didn't let go of the strap until Parker unlatched the tank to ease it off Alec's shoulders.

"You guys okay?" Up front, Nate was white as a sheet, his skin damp and clammy even though he'd clearly attempted to dry off.

"Eliot was in the boat," Alec cut himself off, shoving a crate of cables aside as he sat on the floor, next to Eliot, as the van began to move. "The explosion. His hearing," Alec tried to explain, but Nate was already nodding, glancing speculatively at Eliot, and getting turning out onto the road

Alec was shivering too much to think straight, he didn't know what to do when he realized Eliot's eyes were scrunched in pain, that he was holding his hands over his ears. Grabbing his wrist, he shouted his name. He wasn't sure how to feel about Eliot's answering wince, the way his eyes screwed even tighter.

"Think the blast happened outside the hull. I can hear," Eliot grit out, the sound of his own voice clearly painful. "Just. Ringing. Bad."

Alec didn't understand why they were pulling over so quickly, he was sure they hadn't been in the humid, warm van for more than a few minutes, trying to dry off with leftover costumes that he'd have to clean later.

Hospital. Good thinking.

Eliot's hair dragged icily against the skin of Alec's arm as he raised his head, wincing as he let Nate help him out of the van.

They were in the lot behind McRory's. Alec wanted to argue, wanted Nate to get back in and drive them to the emergency room, but Eliot was already heading for the door.

He sounded hoarse as he looked over at Alec; apparently, he hadn't needed to speak, anyway. "I don't need a hospital. Just…warm up."

The stairs weren't nearly as bad, this time around, but neither of them were moving at top speed. By the time they'd reached the top, Alec could hear the shower running inside, and Parker was wrapping her hair in a towel.

"Okay, guys," Nate was scratching his head awkwardly before nodding up towards his loft. He still hadn't shaken off the shock, and the fact that Eliot's hearing wasn't what it should be was probably making him even more anxious. But he was trying. "Ah. Water's actually a good temperature, so don't turn it up at first, okay?"

Another set of stairs- and stairs were really getting old now- and they were in Nate's bathroom, just the two of them again. It was tempting to let the steam do the job, but all this shivering was getting exhausting, and Eliot was leaning against the wall, eyes closed, when he clearly needed to be lying down. Preferably in a hospital bed.

On top of the hearing, Alec still didn't know if Eliot had a concussion. He was about to ask Eliot how he was doing the sound of Parker's voice made him jump.

"Nate said not to have sex in his bathroom! Get going!"

"We're on it," Eliot moaned, pushing himself away from the wall, his fingers clumsily trying to find the buttons on his shirt and mostly failing.

"Come on, you're not even in the shower yet!"

"You try peeling off soaked…" Eliot complained, trailing off as he lost interest, but a moment later, a sharp knife was slid underneath the door.

"Then don't," she said, already wandering off and muttering to herself. "Big babies."


The water felt like it was burning through his skin, and if Eliot's wincing was anything to go by, he wasn't the only one feeling it. Alec pulled Eliot close, because he needed to make sure Eliot's ears weren't bleeding, that the gash on his forehead- the one that he hadn't even noticed underneath the soaked hair, until now- wasn't fatal, and didn't want to give him the option to fight.

And mostly, because he really needed to get that heartbeat under his hands right now.

They stayed like that for a while.

"I'm so done with water," Eliot muttered drowsily, once he'd decided that Alec had seen enough. His hands were still cold on Alec's hips, but he wasn't going to complain, wasn't even going to flinch. "Just wanna pass out…so's I can wake up good and early and tear you a new one."

Alec would have argued, he really would have, but he was finally starting to warm up, the adrenaline had left him somewhere around that second set of stairs, and at this point, Eliot was probably holding him up as much as his own legs were. He really wasn't up for the fight.

He kept his voice quiet, ready to repeat himself if he had to. "How're you feeling?"

"Mildly concussed. Ringing's already going away. Not feeling dizzy or anything. Head hurts, but…" he raised his head to look at Alec, and sighed. "Ask me in the morning, okay?"

Eliot shook his head, braced himself, and ducked his head under the stream. When he'd had enough, he tossed his hair back, pulling Alec in again with him.


"It's just a small concussion," Eliot complained, sinking into the couch in a set of sweats that Parker had brought from somewhere.

"You'd know," Nate replied, pressing an icepack into his hand as he passed Alec a glass of brandy. Eliot would've grumbled had his eyes been open.

Alec shrugged. "So what happened?"

"Well. It looks like Obrovic was just as prepared as any arms dealer who knows how messed up the game can get. I'm guessing he initiated one of the weapons and triggered it via a remote detonator."

"AT-3 Sagger. Small anti-tank missile," Eliot shifted on the couch, attempting halfheartedly to sit up.

"Let me guess, it's a very distinctive sound?" Alec teased as Eliot gave up and sagged against him, jostling Alec's laptop in the process.

"The crates were labeled. It was one of the only ones left."

"Right, well." Nate glanced back to Alec when he heard the typing resume. "Obrovic got away on Heyer's boat, triggered the missile, and got away with Heyer's cash."

"We could give Monroe the deposit," Parker reluctantly offered.

"That depends," Nate shrugged. "Hardison?"

"Yeah, I'm looking at it. Harbor patrol picked up the boat as it was heading out to sea, turns out several ships had reported unsafe activity on the water even before ya'll got to the docks. Guess they don't like it when boats are zipping through the paths of billion dollar freighters."

"And the tracker I planted on Heyer's bag?"

"Still going strong, it's… Okay, it looks like it's on the rocks at the southern edge of Castle Island.

"That just means they dumped the bag after moving the money."

"They wouldn't have had the time," Alec grinned, sensing where this was going. "They knew they were going to get boarded, they were already running close to the shore. With all the hinky shit back at the yard, it wasn't going to take very long for anyone to figure it out. Long as they didn't have the cash on them, though, there'd be no ties."

"Right," Nate stood up, grinning again. "So where is Obrovic right now?"

"Still in holding," Alec confirmed, frowning as he glanced up. "Doesn't look like they're even done with booking. You know they'll probably be released soon, though."

But Nate was putting on his coat, and Parker was already halfway to the door.

"Mind if we borrow your laptop?"

"Be my guest." Alec slipped it into his bag and held it out. "Long as you don't plan on me leaving this couch."

"Ah, no, Parker and me, we've got this. You guys just, ah. Sit tight." Nate smirked. "Don't swim for at least half an hour. Don't get blown up. And don't have sex on my couch."

"Heartless, man," Alec muttered as he listened to the two of them pound down the stairs, though he knew he was too sore to even contemplate it, and Eliot was already dozing off.

As soon as the door latched shut, though, Eliot raised his head, confusion in his eyes. This time, at least, it was less about injuries and more about details. "Where'd you find the oxygen tank, anyway?"

Alec frowned. Seriously? "Had it in the van."

"Just sitting there. In case you had to go diving."

"Yeah, me, or someone." Alec shrugged. "You know this. I told you I had it, I told you a long time ago. You've sat back there, not six inches from it, a thousand times. You got to learn to respect the van, man."

"Nah, I really don't," Eliot smirked, quick, and sighed. "You, though. You I do. Even when you do stupid shit." It was as close to a thanks as Eliot ever got, but Alec knew better than to point it out.

"Stupid shit? I totally saved your ass."

"And it was stupid. I gotta ask. How much dive-time have you put in?"

"Couple dozen hours, maybe?"


"After we blew up the office, the Navy was rolling out this new navigation system on their Virginia class submarines, and-"

"Don't even," Eliot sat up rolling his eyes, but he froze –almost comically- when he caught Alec's expression. "You're not joking."

"Nope. Anyway, turns out they actually have divers patrolling the subs when they're docked, so I, ah, abandoned the project."


"They had harpoons, man."

Eliot shook his head, clearly not wanting to continue down that line of conversation. "Fine. So you've had some training. Enough to do what you did?"

"No, but as it turns out, I didn't need it."

"Turns out," Eliot mimicked, sinking back into the couch again, "you're very lucky."

"Fine by me. Got your ass out of there, didn't I?" When that didn't get a response, he twisted to get a better view of Eliot's face. "Hey."

Eliot wasn't blushing, but the discomfort was there all the same. "You shouldn't have had to."

"Yeah, well, people shouldn't go 'round blowing up boats." He wrapped an arm over Eliot's shoulder, leaned back into the couch until they were sprawled comfortably. "Ain't your fault either, okay?"

"Yeah, but. You could've… I would've gotten out of there, I was just getting my bearings when you showed up." Eliot sighed again, muttered quietly into Alec's collar. "Besides, all that? It's my job, not yours."

"Fine. Make you feel any better, we'll trade. I'll let you hack the next job, okay?"

Eliot snorted, holding him tight a moment before pushing himself up, resting his forearms on Alec's chest. "Fuck that," he said, and his grin was tired but it was there. As he leaned in, almost close enough to kiss, he explained. "My job's better."

Yeah, Alec decided, as Eliot's mouth opened against his own, alive, warm, and still breathing. It really sort of is.


The End.


~~~~~~~~ Back to Leverage ~~~~~~~~



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