What Else Would You Have Me Be?

Chapter 9

Eliot was going to kill Donovan the moment he got out of here. The moment Donovan gave up the name of Hardison's attacker, he was done for. It wasn't like it would be the first time Eliot had killed someone. This year, even.

He wondered what time it was. Someone should've been on the line by now.

And as if hearing him, someone was. A click, the faint low buzz in the background, the drag as the earpiece was inserted, and then, "Eliot?"

"Hardison?" Eliot grinned in relief, since it wasn't as if anyone could see him. "You're okay?"

"Gonna be in here for another week or so. Then a few more weeks at home in bed. Bored, but in one piece." He sounded tired; his voice was a bit slurred. "Think they're even going to let me keep my kidney."

It took a moment for the relief to sink in. "I'm glad to hear it. Look. I'm sorry I didn't figure on Donovan-"

"It's cool," Hardison cut him off, quietly. He sounded distracted. They're probably pumping the good stuff into him. "Listen. Sophie brought be an earpiece last night. I figure Nate will be on the line in a while, but. Look. About the warehouse. Nate filled me in."

"Yeah?" Eliot held his breath. He hadn't expected for Nate to get to it so quickly. He wasn't ready for this.

"And we're cool."

"Just like that?" He knew better than to press, but judging by the lengthy pause before Hardison answered, Eliot wasn't the only one wondering.

"It's enough to work with," Hardison eventually decided, and really. It was more than Eliot had been expecting, and a lot more than he probably deserved. But he didn't tell Hardison any of that, didn't thank him, either. Instead, he glanced down at the note in his hand and changed the subject.

"You know, Donovan sent me a note. He thinks you're dead."

"Well, that answers one thing. He doesn't know that we're hooked up on comms." There was a rustling on the line. "Speaking of which, Nate's here." Eliot could hear him coming online. "Did the note say anything else?"

"Only that bad things happen to people who screw over law abiding citizens."

"Interesting wording," Nate muttered. "Hey Eliot. So. The note. It's sounding like a revenge thing."

"Yeah, but for what? Taking out Moreau?"

"I don't know," Nate replied, speaking as if the admission pained him. "Eliot, any insights?"

It was hard not to hear the accusation in the question, harder to ignore the fact that Hardison was on the line. There was no way of knowing if their tentative truce would stand up to this.

But if he'd spoken up before about Moreau, maybe there wouldn't have been a need for such a truce in the first place.

"Moreau's not the kind of guy you avenge. He doesn't attract that kind of loyalty, it's why he got so far. Right now, there's probably a power grab going on, lots of fighting to take over his interests. It doesn't make sense for them to come after the people who created it. I'm guessing that most who know him are relieved, more than anything."

Out in the corridor, he could hear a door grinding open and footsteps. Two guards, it sounded like McTeague and Miller, and they were coming his way.

"What do you mean?" Hardison asked.

There were a lot of things he could say, here, and he shied from most of them. "People didn't work for him because they liked him, they worked for him because he didn't give them a choice. Can't talk. Guards're here."


Alec didn't like the fact that Eliot had gone off comms, and he wasn't liking the looks of this any better.

"Nate, man," he knew he sounded weak, close to whining, but he had to know just what Nate thought he was doing, manhandling Alec's laptop like that. "What're you doing?"

"Working. Go back to sleep."

He didn't mean to- odds were, the moment he looked away, Nate would manage to destroy his entire system- but the hospital was quiet, the sky creeping in through the blinds still dark, and Alec's eyelids were too heavy, anyhow.


Eliot's pacing, wall to door to back again, impatient and frustrated. It's getting harder to see him, the darkness closing in, the room sinking in space, and eventually, he'll be gone. This place, it runs on a program, he can stop it happening if he can find the right chunk of code, stop this from happening, but he's just not seeing it. Nate and Parker are talking in his ear, telling him to hurry up, Sophie's heels are clicking on the tile floor behind him, and he just needs another minute, he's got this, he can do this-

Maybe it was the drugs, or the fact that he'd fallen asleep on comms, but Alec's heart pounding in his chest jettisoned him into sharp awareness. He felt for his earpiece, digging it out with uncoordinated fingers quickly, before he could hear anything on the line.

He didn't want to know if he talked in his sleep.


It wasn't until after Dr. Presley was finished with him- which had seemed to take hours- and he'd drunk his breakfast, that Alec finally found out what Nate was up to.

It was a good thing they still had him on the drip. Nate was still leaning over his laptop, no doubt still banjaxing the drive into oblivion, but the morphine was making it a lot harder to care. Nate must've been expecting the question, because before Alec could say anything at all, he was turning the computer around, showing him the screen.

"Hey, ah. Hardison? You know how you've got JARVIS monitoring the Boston PD, tracking access logs for old investigations?"


"There's been a lot of action over the last few days, and it looks like it's mostly older cases. Is that unusual?

"Anything being added to the cases?" He pressed the button to raise himself up a bit, and gestured for Nate to move his leftover liquid breakfast away. A few moments later, his fingers found the keyboard for the first time in far too long. Ain't never leavin' you again, baby. Needing to see for himself, he backed out of the screen Nate had been on to check the update log file. There was a phone number here, a date there. Nothing that tied back to them, as far as he could see, and he told Nate.

"On any of them? Is that normal?"

"Ah, not really…unless…" He switched over to his notification history and tracked down, frowning. There was a pattern here, he could see it. He just wasn't seeing it.

Nate's hands were folded. He was forcing himself not to prod or interrupt, but they were both still wearing their earbuds.

Eliot, as it turned out, was back on the line again, and he had no such compunctions. "What's going on?"
He sounded irritated, the way he got sometimes at the end of a long job gone bad.

"Gimme a minute." Taking a breath, he forced himself to focus, scanning through the notifications. And then he saw it. "Aw, hell no." There were a lot of cases being reopened. Though not all of them had anything to do with their past jobs, which was a relief, it was an awful lot of attention in their general vicinity.

"What is it?"

He brought up the police department's website, got onto the intranet system using Officer Laurie Burke's login. "Quarterly reviews. They're going through and looking for any easy loose ends to bump their stats up before the deadline. It's how they compile data for promotions and raises, things like that."

"Huh," Nate sat back in his chair. "Who else would know about it, would know what they were looking for, and have access to the system?"

"Anyone in the PD, but that's useless. Doesn't mean anything, either. See, their security's weak, and the hack? It's easy, man. Wouldn't take a genius to get in there, and besides, that would probably be the easy part."

He heard Eliot snort, then cough, and quashed the urge to ask him if he was all right, but Eliot spoke first, anyway. "So what's the hard part?"

"Knowing what information is important, being able to pick out the relevant data from literally a hundred different files."

"Okay, so someone, out there, ah, they've got this figured out. Does that ring any bells?"

"Not really. They're smart, whoever they are, and resourceful, if they're the same person who sent Donovan in."

"Which means that they've got money," Nate picked up the trail. "So whatever we did to them didn't wipe them out." Alec lay back again, only just now realizing how painful his position had been. This is going to be a long few weeks. He thumbed the button on the morphine control.

"Okay." Nate was rubbing his hands together. "So as it stands, we've got a few of our Boston area jobs, in with the mix. We've got Santiago's case against Arlington. Now. Eliot's arrest wasn't planned, neither was you going in after him, but they got someone in to try and take you out. Means they're insanely quick on the uptake, and very responsive."

"Or just that they're hip to who we are and how we operate," Eliot added, and Alec was too out of it to know why Nate was staring at him like he was waiting for confirmation.

He considered it for a while. "The police reports on our cases, taken as a whole, might be enough to give someone an idea how we'll all behave."

Nate rose, and began to pace, back and forth. "Okay, so fine. Someone hires a bunch of hitters, sends them after us. Was Donovan one of the ones that you derailed coming into Boston?"

Alec brought up the Maricopa county inmate tracking system and compared it to the data he'd gathered on the other hitters. "Fuck. Yes."

"Right. So, he's thwarted, but either he or his accomplice knows where we're going next. How? What kind of data trail were we leaving?" Nate paced, then his face slackened in realization. "We all traveled on the same flight."

Doubtful. Alec shook his head. "Same flight, five different booking transactions backdated to different dates, five different aliases and credit accounts. Messy to track. I'm guessing they caught us from the other end, knew that we'd go after Arlington."

"That's even more complicated," Eliot cut in. "How would they figure it out?"

He had a point, though Alec wasn't going to admit it.

Nate, though, pressed the question. "Maybe Branson was tipped off, told to approach us for the Santiago case? Like Chaos did last winter?"

Just to be sure, Alec looked up Mason, Colin, inmate identification number 093428. "But. No. Ain't him. He's still locked up and not allowed anywhere near a computer."

"On paper, at least," Eliot reasoned.

Alec closed his eyes, wanting to go back to sleep. "I could check for any other hacks in the PD system, see if his rank-ass style's been showing up anywhere, but he'd need a better system than whatever's sitting in a prison computer lab."

"Maybe later," Nate decided, finally taking pity on him and swiveling the table to the side. Alec forced his eyes open again just as Sophie opened the door. She smiled at Alec, but spoke to Nate.

"Have you heard from Parker?"

"She's already in play," Nate patted his pockets, nodding to himself. "I'm heading out to meet her."

Alec wanted to know what they were talking about, but he was riding the wave and fading out. Sophie brushed a hand along his arm, settling herself into the chair. He'd ask her when he woke up.


Eliot hated being locked down. Fighting back would've been pointless- there'd been no sense busting heads only to get boxed in two floors up- so all he'd been able to do was force himself not to fight. He'd deflected a few hits, here and there, when Miller got too close, but he'd been careful not to push back to the point where they'd have an excuse.

McTeague clearly hadn't been as comfortable with it. He'd held back, guarding the door, watching Miller's back, but not stepping in. He'd just been doing his job. This was just a talking- to. A reminder.

And Miller hadn't been all that good at his job, anyway. Sophie could've done more damage. Eliot had come out of it with just a few bruises, a scrape on his elbow from being dragged against the wall, and a definite understanding. Yes, Sir, no fighting in the yard, no, Sir, the words of a hundred cons don't mean shit, yes, Sir, I understand if there's any connection found to the stabbing it will be brought up during sentencing.

He hadn't even bothered to remind them that usually, a trial came first.

But he did wonder why they were bothering to look into it.


Alec woke up to find Parker grinning at him, too many colors up in the room behind her, and an ache deep in his side.

"Finally. I've got some bad news and some I-don't-know news," she said, once Alec blinked a few times and the shapes slotted themselves into order. There were balloons on his nightstand, along with a stuffed lavender bear that was the most mortifying thing he'd ever seen, though the six pack of orange soda it was leaning against took a bit of the edge off the sting.

Nate was leaning against the wall, arms crossed and smirking as he watched Sophie, who was bent over something in her lap. Her back was to Alec, she was trying to hide whatever it was she was doing.


"In a minute," she muttered.

Nate stepped forward, like he'd been waiting to ask. "So what's the I don't know news?"

"I got into the evidence lockup at the jail. Super easy. The shiv," she gestured at Alec's side, "was really basic, just some glass and masking tape wrapped around to make a handle. I didn't take it out of the bag, but the paperwork said that it had been processed. No fingerprints"


"And the tape was wrapped around the handle. You ever try taping anything to anything without getting your fingers stuck?" She looked around, frowning when nobody answered. "Believe me, if they wanted to, they could've found prints. So they're in there, under a few layers of tape. If we replace it with a replica, we'll be able to find out who the prints belong to."

There was a knock on the door, and one of the nurses- Emily, her name was- came in, and everyone left so he could be checked over in peace, palming their earbuds as they left.


Alec had forgotten that Eliot was still on the line. He'd been silent through the exam, though the teasing sounded a big forced. "Hey Hardison, you done with your sponge bath yet?"

Emily was just leaving, so it was a moment before he could reply. "That's rich, coming from a guy wearing pink underwear." It hadn't sounded so awkward in his head. Eliot wouldn't have let him live it down, had he been here, but he couldn't see Alec's face over the comms.

"What can I say, gotta make my own entertainment in here."

As the others came back in, sliding their earbuds back into place, he could see the flowers Parker was now carrying. They looked a little beaten around the edges, and one side of the bouquet was flattened. Sophie followed, and under the coat she had draped over her arm, he could see a piece of wood sticking out.

"What's that?" Alec pointed, ignoring Nate's sudden grin and Parker's cross expression.

Caught, Sophie rolled her eyes, sighing, and pulled out what looked like a wooden stake. It was a cross, filed down at one point. Either she'd been called as the new Slayer, or it was meant to be driven into the ground.

"Parker didn't know about the hospital gift shop," she explained. "She went to the store, and, well…"

"I asked, and that's what the guy gave me," Parker argued, then relented. "Though there may have been a communication breakdown. Besides. Flowers are flowers, right?"

"These are flowers for a grave, Parker," Sophie sighed. "A tad bit morbid, under the circumstances, don't you think?"

Parker frowned, that deep frustrated one she got when she knew she'd messed up and was starting to feel like an alien, just as Sophie realized that she'd maybe gone a bit too far. Alec interrupted before she could apologize.

"Hey now," he took the flowers from Parker and set them in front of the soda, since Emily had tutted at the sight of it. "Any time you wanna buy me flowers, Parker, it's cool. Don't matter what kind."

"Okay," she rolled her eyes as Alec grinned and waggled his eyebrows. Back on the same page, everything was cool.

"Get a room, you two," Eliot muttered on the line, and Parker looked around, confused, again.

"We've got one, Eliot." As if he were the biggest idiot she'd ever met.

"No, Parker. He meant like. Get a room. You know. For knockin' boots?"

"Oh." Her nose wrinkled in distaste. Blech."

"Thanks, Parker."


"Okay, kids, if you're done?" Nate was smiling, though clearly eager to get back to business. "The shiv," Nate said, once the door was closed. "Everyone with access to that building has prints on file, it'll be easy enough to track. What's the bad news?"

Parker shook herself, getting back on track. "An old, torn up evidence bag was packed inside along with the shiv. It's the same one used in the stabbing that Santiago is being framed for."


As the others talked, Eliot tried to think up a connection between Santiago and Hardison. His brain, though, was more interested between the connection between Hardison and Parker. It wasn't letting him forget that stupid plummeting feeling when Parker'd said that they already had a room. Yeah, she'd been confused, and disavowed- very clearly- any interest in Hardison ten seconds later, but-

Fuck it.

There wasn't anyone in here, now. And he knew what he'd been thinking when he'd made the sponge bath dig.

Nobody was going to be able to straighten out Afghanistan, true, but more soldiers would've died if he hadn't slipped in, and he had liberated Croatia.

And now he was sitting here, wearing pink underwear under his uniform, thinking about water running over Hardison's shoulder blades and sulking because Parker had brought him flowers.

He was losing his fucking mind. He needed to get the hell out of here.


Sophie took her earpiece out when Tara called, but she was back online a few minutes later.

"How's it coming along?"

"How's what coming?"

Eliot had been about to ask the same question, but Hardison had gotten there first. The irritation in his voice was distractingly calming. At least he wasn't the only one getting left out of the loop.

"Oh, right! You don't. You guys weren't there," Nate muttered. "Tara's been down at the courthouse, petitioning to have Eliot moved to another facility."

"Yes, but-" Sophie was cut off by Parker.

"And I'm driving the truck!"

"Yes," Nate said, sounding a bit wary. "Though there will be guards in back, but the important thing is that it would get you out of Maricopa County's jurisdiction, where nobody recognizes Sophie or myself, and we can take it from there."

It was almost the best news Eliot had heard all day, until Sophie cut in.

"That's the thing, Nate. It's not going well. She still might be able to make a case based on the safety concerns, but so far, there's no record of Eliot having been injured."

Eliot grimaced. Sophie was right. A few bruises and scrapes didn't count. He'd have to go pick a much worse fight and lose, before this was out. Throwing fights was harder than winning them.

Sophie continued. "And since she's also bringing up the bias within the system, what with the county being the one who framed him. They're telling Tara that they won't move on it since his role in the stabbing is as yet unknown, and that there has been no proof of her claims regarding the bias. Chicken, meet egg. On top of that, the judges and attorneys she's managed to speak to are getting used to seeing her."

Parker sounded confused. "So?"

"In a long con of this sort, the worst thing you can do is to let your marks start thinking of you as ineffective."

"So she hasn't gotten it through yet?" Nate asked.


"Good. Tell her to back off."

This was not what Eliot had wanted to hear.

"Aw, hell no," Hardison sputtered, before Eliot could argue. "We need to get on this, Nate. You do realize that he might still have a target on his back, right? We can't just leave him in there waiting for red tape that might not get cut."

"It's not that bad," Parker reasoned. "I was in and out in fifteen minutes."

"No offense, Parker," Nate replied, "but you had a map, and prep time, and were in the administrative wing, not locked in a windowless room in the basement."

"Fine. Give me a day, and I'll have him out."

There was a pause, and Hardison's voice sounded hopeful as he again said exactly what Eliot wanted to say. "You can do that?"

There was a pause. Parker was probably nodding, maybe shrugging, and maybe that would be enough to sway it. Eliot really wished he was in the room, could see their faces.

"So what're we going to do?" Hardison asked, warily.

"Nate, man, I gotta say," Eliot cut in. "If I stay in here much longer, I'm going to go crazy."

"Good. Because that's exactly what we need. Hardison? You're going to lie there and work on getting better, and if you're good I'll have you on some light administrative, ah. Hacking. Eliot? You're going to go insane-"

"Soon as I get out of here, Nate, I swear-"

"-and become psychic."


Chapter 8 ~~~~~~~~  Back to Leverage ~~~~~~~~            



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