What Else Would You Have Me Be?

Chapter 8

What's black, white, and red all over?

Give up?


Alec didn't want to look down, didn't want to see, but as he stared around, trying to find something else to focus on, he found nothing that made sense. A flurry of movement, arms tugging at him, people shouting. Eliot, lost behind bodies, no way to tell if Donovan had managed to take him out as well and it was all buried under the pain of moving, of not moving and just trying to breathe.

He couldn't even tell which of the guards was trying to apply pressure to the wound- he thought it was McTeague, calling for a medic, but in between the shouts he thought he was beginning to hear the sounds of fighting, of Eliot's he started it, loud in his year, and a you gotta let me- I've was a medic in the army.

Alec remembered, vaguely, a long time ago, when a doctor he hadn't known was Eliot had nearly stabbed a hole in his throat. He'd been lying on a much nicer floor than this.

Then Eliot was there, in his ear and in his face, telling him to stay calm, not panic, only it was a little too late for that, now, wasn't it, and did he really know what he was doing? And where was the doctor?

Shit, there wasn't one, not until later.

"Nurses are on their way, gonna get you up to the infirmary. Just need to slow down, stay calm." Eliot was shoving him back to the ground, pressing his hand over the wound and making it scream. "Sorry, I know it hurts, man, but the harder you breathe, the more you'll bleed. You're fine, okay? I've seen worse, just focus on anything but what you're feeling right now, concentrate on… my voice, you got that?"

Alec took a shuddering breath and decided to focus on the fact that this was probably the first time he'd ever heard Eliot babbling.

"Name's Gremminger, we met this morning. What's your name again?" Eliot asked, as much to warn him to stay in character as anything else.

"Aaron," he managed, after thinking about it for a moment. "Washington."

"Right, nice to meet you again. Medics are on their way," he promised, but the worried look he shot towards the building wasn't encouraging. "You hurt anywhere else?"


"Okay," Eliot cocked his head towards the guard- Sanchez, Hardison remembered, from over in Tent City.

"You see who did this to you?"

"No. Came from the side, I was distracted. Couldn't-" Alec broke off. He hadn't seen anything, he'd thought the threat had been in front of him, not sneaking up from the side, and he'd barely talked to anyone else, there wasn't any reason-

-Donovan had an accomplice. Stupid, not to think about it before now, he had to warn Eliot but there were more people here, now, the nurse from the infirmary, and a few others, pushing Eliot aside to take over, shoving him onto a field gurney, forcing him to lay down as it began to sway when they stood.

They were moving fast, and he lifted his head, trying to see Eliot, but couldn't make him out.

He dropped his head back, hand again on the wound- fuck, he could still feel it bleeding- and just tried to keep breathing.


Eliot was only dimly aware of Nate's voice in his ear, but couldn't make his mouth move to answer. Not that he was given much of a chance, between the guards grabbing him again and dragging him forcefully after Hardison. Once they were inside, though, they took a hard left, down through the block and down the stairs.

It wasn't like he hadn't known this was coming. But he hadn't thought he'd be going down there with Hardison's blood on his hands.


"Don't care if you didn't start it," Miller said, before Eliot had even had a chance to argue, "but you're here anyway for the next 24 at least. After that, it depends on what we find on the cameras, so don't bother bitching, and strip down."

Eliot nodded, feeling numb, and did as he was told, careful not to jostle the earpiece as he pulled the shirt over his head.

He didn't have enough surprise left over to notice that, after wiping his bloody hands on the uniform and handing it over, Miller made no move to get him a fresh change of clothes.

A few minutes later, Miller was shutting the door- heavy steel, with only a window and a tray slot- and Eliot was alone in his own headspace for the first time in what felt like years.

It didn't last long. He'd just eased himself down against the far wall when he realized that he was still on comms, that everyone was talking at once. He let the noise wash over him as he took in the fixtures- a low wattage bulb, too high to reach, and a bucket in the corner that didn't look to have been cleaned properly since the last guy was in here. There was a drain in the middle of the floor, and stains on the walls that he didn't want to contemplate.

"Damn it, Eliot! What the fuck happened?" The words sounded twice as harsh coming from Sophie's panicked voice.

He closed his eyes, not wanting to see anything, any more. Not even his own hands, clenched on his knees.

"Hardison got stabbed during the fight. Donovan's got an accomplice, I think. I'm in the SHU, Hardison's up in the infirmary, and that's all I know."

Nobody replied, and as far as Eliot was concerned, they were done talking. Before anyone could prove otherwise, he dug out his earpiece- his hands were starting to shake, now that the adrenaline was wearing off- and tossed it into the corner.


Alec was conscious for most of the ride over, but things got choppy. Flashes here and there, the ambulance ceiling, a corridor, bright lights, people leaning over him. Nate and Sophie's voices out in the hallway, there for a minute and gone, maybe imagined. He tried reaching up to his ear, but his hand was clumsy, already being maneuvered down again by one of the nurses. He hadn't even realized his earbud had fallen out.

They were here, it meant they knew what was going on, and it either meant that Eliot was okay, or that there wasn't anything they could do for him, but it was probably the former.

Alec closed his eyes, let the doctor believe he was listening to his repeated orders to try and relax. He dropped out of it again a few moments later, dimly aware that he still hurt, badly.


This is insane.

Over the past year, there'd been three separate occasions in which Eliot could have killed Moreau, but he'd held back. Told himself he wasn't that man anymore. He'd promised himself that he'd tell the team, give them a head start on taking him down.

But he'd kept quiet. He'd known what telling everyone would've entailed. They would've asked what else he knew, and how he'd learned it. They would've wanted to know everything.

The first time he nearly got Hardison killed, they asked, but they hadn't pressed.

Maybe they should've. Maybe he should've just told Parker what she'd wanted to know. Explained exactly the levels he'd stooped to and the thousand reasons they shouldn't have trusted him in the first place. Maybe Hardison wouldn't have gotten killed twice in as many months.

You don't know that he's dead.

He stared at the earpiece. It would be so easy to find out. The team was probably on it. They'd have information, they'd know. But Eliot wasn't stupid. He'd gotten Hardison hurt. Again. He wasn't their friend right now.

The only way to know that they were still on the same channel, that anyone was still even listening, would be to put the damned thing back in and hope. And if he was going to go that far, he'd have to be ready to fucking speak, and whatever he said? If this was going to be the last communiqué, it needed to be worth hearing, something they could use. If he couldn't be their friend any more, he could at least be their ally.

Eliot closed his eyes. There wasn't anything useful down here. He needed to think.

In the yard, he'd been focused on Donovan, waiting for him to make his move. He'd been keeping an eye on the periphery, but not as much as he would've been if he hadn't memorized it so well. Everything had looked exactly like it always did, the clusters of inmates, the guards talking through the fence, the pickup game getting set up in the middle of the yard.

It hadn't gotten confusing until Donovan attacked, and his attack had been off, sloppy. Too much motion, too little effect. Even if he'd managed to take Eliot out, there would've been no way he would've gotten away with it. And the guy was good, the planning that had gone into it was too strong to be the lead-in for such a weak end game.

And of course he'd had an accomplice. Only. No. Wait. Hang on.

Hardison was the one who'd gotten hit. Not Eliot.

He picked up the earpiece.



"Damn it, Eliot," Nate answered, exasperated, but there. "Where have you been?"

"Absolutely nowhere. What's going on? How's Hardison?"

"He's in surgery. They had to transfer him over to Maryvale Hospital, the jail's clinic is too understaffed and under-stocked to, ah… Anyway, they're going to be at it for a few more hours."

"Do you- I didn't- " Eliot broke off, took a breath and started again. "Did they say what happened?"

"Yeah, he, ah. The knife hit a renal artery, and apart from the blood loss, they're worried about his kidney."

Fuck. "Is he stable?" He felt his heart ricochet off his ribcage in the silence that answered.

"They're working on it," Nate eventually admitted, but then his voice hardened. "Right now, we've got to talk. I need some answers. Parker? Sophie?" Neither of them said anything, but Eliot could hear two earpieces being removed and a little less noise on the line.

"Nate, I-"

"What the fuck happened?"

"Donovan made his move in the yard. I was fighting him when someone in the crowd went for Hardison."

"Any idea who the accomplice was?"

"Yeah. It was Donovan." When Nate didn't respond, Eliot continued. "It didn't make any sense. He got himself thrown in here on charges that wouldn't stick more than a few days."

"Right, so he could get out when the job was done. Same as Hardison."

"Exactly. So why throw all that away for a blitz attack in broad daylight, with so many witnesses, just to take someone out who isn't your target?"

"Oh," Nate said.

"Donovan was a distraction. He was the accomplice, I was the collateral, and Hardison was the target."

"And you don't know who it was, or why they did it."

"No idea. I'm sorry."

He wasn't expecting Nate to answer right away.

"Ah, okay," Nate began. "I'll be there Sunday, and I'll see if I can get down to see you then, but. Look. I'll phone the girls in a minute, get them back on comms, but there's something I need to know, first. Before it went down. Did you have any idea that Hardison was at risk?"

"No," Eliot sighed. "And I should've thought of it, I mean, with all that set-up, they could've made it a lot harder for anyone to figure Donovan out, but they didn't. I just didn't see it. I'm sorry."

"We focused on Donovan because they wanted us focused on Donovan," Nate summarized, but Eliot knew better than to think that they were done talking.

"Nate. Before. Back at the pool, Hardison nearly drowned because-" He hadn't made it to the apology, yet, when Nate cut him off.

"Eliot, I know you wouldn't have let it come to that. You would've broken cover first, done what you had to. Same as you did in the warehouse."

The warehouse. It was becoming a euphemism.

"Yeah. About that," Eliot leaned his head against the concrete wall, closed his eyes, saw the muzzle flash and the feeling of slick concrete sliding under his knees, the gunfire impossibly loud, the gun's weight too easily remembered in his hands. "The warehouse. What I did. I'm why Hardison's quitting the team, aren't I?"

"From what he said, he knows that it burned down, and that you and I aren't telling him everything. So I'm as much to blame on that front as you are, but..."

"Alright." Eliot sighed, yanking at his hair. "Look. When he comes out of it, you can tell him. I know what I said, before, but. There's no reason the team has to lose him just because you're covering for me. You got that?"

And this was where Nate was supposed to say something along the lines of don't worry about it. I've got a plan. We'll figure it out. Instead, there was a brief pause. "You sure?"

It wasn't the first lie he'd ever told, but after that, honesty was suddenly easier. "Yeah. And tell him I'm sorry I didn't have his back."

"Soon as he's up for it, I'll let him know."


If another medical professional saw fit to waste his time telling him that he was going to be fine, Alec was going to scream. He just wanted them gone already, but finally, it looked like they were satisfied that he fully understood the call button and the bed controls and the fact that he was going to be in here for a while, and asked him what he'd been waiting to hear.

"Are you feeling up to a few visitors?"

"God, yes."


Sophie was clearly still worried, and Nate wasn't looking thrilled to be here or anything, but more importantly, he looked furious. It was more of a relief than Alec would've thought, and it was the perfect excuse to cut Sophie's worrying off, derail it into something useful.

Nate was one step ahead of him, as usual. "Did you see who stabbed you?"

Alec shook his head. "Distracted. Eliot. He okay? Lost my comm."

"He's fine, they've got him in isolation right now, but he's got a new theory."


"Eliot was never the target. Too much setup for such obvious collateral damage."

"Crap. What did we miss?"

"I have no idea. Eliot's in isolation and you're out of play, so it's going to be Sophie and I spreading the word that's our main in, for now, at least for the next few days."

"Few days?"

"Soon as you're up to it, I'm going to need you online."

"You're going to have to get a computer past Nurse Ratched first."

Sophie raised a mildly affronted eyebrow, as if insulted by the meager challenge, but then she grinned. "I think we'll manage." It was surprising, how much better that made Alec feel. Which Nate had to go and spoil not thirty seconds later.

"Ah, yeah. Sophie? You mind giving us the room, just for a minute?"

Sophie nodded. She'd clearly known this was coming, at least. As for Alec, he could feel the coil of unease winding up through the painkillers.

"Look, ah. I wasn't entirely open with you before. You wanted to know what happened back at the warehouse." Nate sighed, hands in his pockets, rocking on his heels as he studied Alec. "We'd gone there looking for the auction, but we found our Italian friend instead. That much you knew." Alec nodded, still holding his breath. "Thing is, she wasn't the only one there. There were about fifteen guys, all armed, and all prepared. It was a trap. They'd gone back around us and set up a kill box, and the only way out of there was." Nate winced, not wanting to say what he was obviously thinking. "He didn't want to do it. But he knew it was the only way out of there. One of them had gotten too close, Eliot managed to disarm him, and then, well. He did his job. They fired first, if it counts for anything. He did what he did to get us out alive."

Alec stared at the ceiling. It was surprisingly close to what he'd been thinking, but Nate's description of it, well. It was a different perspective, and he didn't even know where to begin. "I don't get it," he said, instead, because it was a lot easier than focusing on the fact that Eliot had killed so many people. "Why didn't you tell me before?"

"Eliot. He didn't want anyone to know, and I haven't asked, or anything, but all that, with Moreau, was already sending him for a loop."

He remembered the park, the way his toes squished wetly inside his shoes as Eliot tried to justify what he'd done, and then tried to explain away his history with Moreau. He remembered not buying it, mostly. But he'd almost forgotten about Eliot's face a few moments later, the manic look in his eyes. "Don 't ask me that, Parker." It had almost sounded like begging. "If you ask, I'll have to tell you." And despite what Alec had been thinking at the time, Sophie could lie that well, but Eliot? Maybe. Maybe not.

"So, yeah," Nate finished. "I guess what I'm saying is, do what you've got to, but." He shrugged, glancing up at the noise of footsteps passing by in the hall and looking anywhere but at Alec. "Anyhow. Now you know."

Alec closed his eyes. He didn't want to make any promises. "I'll think about it."

"One other thing," Nate said, from over by the door. "Whatever you decide, go easy on him. He knows he fucked up again," he gestured around the room. "You know. All this. He told me to tell you he's sorry. For what it's worth."

"He's not the one who stabbed me," Alec opened his eyes again, after a moment, when Nate didn't respond. He was just in time to see a flash of relieved recognition flit across Nate's face, though, like he'd caught on to something nobody else could see, yet.

After Nate left, Alec wondered about that for a very long time.


He thought about Hardison, lying in an emergency room bed, hopefully still breathing. They would've gotten the bleeding under control by now, right? Parker would be there waiting, red-eyed, nervous and about to explode, making herself small in a bedside chair, too freaked to actually approach the bed. Nate, grey-faced and sweating, twitching at the sound of the monitors, jumping at the sounds of the nurses in the hall. Sophie would be holding it together for all of them.

He thought about how easily he'd been mislead, distracted, and he thought about the three-strike rule.

Eliot had a long time to think, locked down in here. The walls were blank, the room was dark, and there wasn't much by way of distraction beyond the one meal that had been slipped through the slot.

Which was probably why he startled back to full awareness only a few hours later, hearing the tray slot open. The guard, Miller by the sounds of it, was speaking through the door. "Got something for you, Gremminger," just as the black and white stripes of the uniform were shoved through the slot, tumbling to the floor. They were followed by a new change of the horrid pink underwear a second later. When he picked them up to get dressed again, a slip of paper fell out.

One line. Block print. Probably Donovan's.

Your friend didn't have to die. But bad things happen to people who screw over law-abiding citizens. Consider the clothes a consolation prize, and the last kindness you're likely to see for a while.

Frozen, still crouched over the clothes, he stared at the note.

No. He would've heard. They would've said something if Hardison-

But they hadn't been on comms for a while, now. Something could've happened. A false start in the operating room. Infection setting in. Two weeks in the hospital suddenly becoming a few days in the morgue while dispassionate staff decided what to do with the body.

Sophie would be the one, probably, to call Hardison's family. Parker would be off the grid entirely, Nate in the bottom of a bottle somewhere. Maybe things had fallen apart even more than he'd suspected, maybe they were shutting him out completely. Deliberately.

"Hey, guys?" No response, and he tried to tell himself he hadn't been expecting one. "Guys?" It still fucking stung.

He dressed himself, needing the distraction, and began to pace. He needed to get the hell out of here, needed to find out what was going on. He wanted to get out, into Hardison's recovery room, just to see for himself, just in case there was a chance-

He needed to kill Donovan- he'd slipped this far already, no sense pretending any more, and he'd get to it the moment Donovan had told him everything, made himself disposable. He needed to do something.

You've already done enough already.

"Anyone there?"

Still no response. 


Chapter 7 ~~~~~~~~ Back to Leverage ~~~~~~~~ Chapter 9



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