What Else Would You Have Me Be?

Chapter 16


Eliot fixed the garnishes on the order for table seventeen and sent it off with the waiter, casting his eyes around the room before getting back to table 23's steaks. Though he had Parker on comms, and could see most of the dining area from back here, the bar was around the corner, out of sight.

He still had a few minutes before it all went down, and in between the head chef's barking orders, he reviewed his resources at hand. Everything in the dining area looked breakable, but there were plenty of knives back here, along with a mallet. There was a torch over by the dessert counter in case things needed to get theatrical.

All he needed now was Larson, and Parker was working on it.

"Our table's ready," she muttered, and he watched, chopping peppers as she and McSweeten followed the hostess from the bar to table eighteen. Within moments, Sally Branson, their waitress, was taking their drink orders.

"Hang on," he muttered, watching Branson carefully as she came back towards the kitchen. She didn't seem nervous, wasn't even glancing at the phone. "She doesn't recognize Parker," he muttered.

"Wish he didn't," Parker grumbled under her breath before smiling widely at McSweeten.

"Well, we're on. Okay, don't look..." For the past fifteen minutes Sophie had been giving her pointers like That was a joke, you're supposed to laugh… okay, maybe not quite so much- you're scaring him and no, don't mention arson. At least now they were finally changing gears, it had been beyond distracting. "Okay, ask him about the case."

"So," Parker said to McSweeten. "Have you been able to find anything more on the Santiago case?"

Branson smiled at Eliot as she filled the water glasses to take back to the table. She'd taken to him well enough since he'd been introduced as the new line cook, but the restaurant was busy, there was no time for talking. It was just as well. As far as Eliot was concerned, he'd do his job, the others could do theirs, and the less the restaurant staff knew, the better.

"We think we found the man bankrolling the operation," McSweeten replied, quickly enough, probably as eager to escape the hellish small-talk gridlock they'd been stuck in since he'd arrived. "We're looking at a guy named Dennis Retzing. The guys are going over it right now, but you know how FBI techs are. It'll be a while, but- and this is really exciting- we think he was bankrolling at least two people."

His timing couldn't have been more perfect if Sophie'd been feeding him lines, though Branson was still trying, as she set the glasses down, to decide if she'd overheard correctly.

Her voice wavered nervously as she recited the specials and asked them if they had any questions. When they shook their heads, she didn't go far. She moved to the nearest empty table, straightening out place settings that didn't need straightening.

"She's listening," Eliot confirmed. The light in the dining room was just bright enough that he couldn't see outside; he didn't know if the others could see what was happening from their post in the ramp across the street.

"So what do you think is going to happen with the people Retzing paid off?"

"Well, we're closing in fast. If this goes down how I think it will, and I have a tendency to be right about these things," Eliot grit his teeth at McSweeten's boasting and sent the salmon fillets out for table seven. "Odds are, between the cash and the knife used in the Santiago case, one is going to feel the pressure, cut out the other, and run. If he hasn't already."

Branson was standing with her back to Parker and McSweeten, but Eliot could see that she'd gone deathly pale. She hurried back towards the kitchen, ducking into the office before the manager could see that she wasn't on the floor.

"She's getting' on the phone," Eliot informed the others before catching the chef's eye and nodding towards the bathroom. He stopped outside the office door once he rounded the corner and found her leaning over the desk, her back to him. It was almost too easy.

"Already tracing it," Hardison replied, and the call was patched into their earpieces.

"Hey, it's me," she said, when Larson answered. "I'm at work. We've got a problem. There are two FBI agents here, and they know about Retzing and the knife." Her tone changed, and it was clear that she was thinking about the other details she'd overheard. "They know everything."

"Good girl," Eliot heard Sophie mutter, followed by Hardison's questioning grunt. Nate fielded it.

"She's holding out on Larson. Needs him to sort it out, but she's starting to question him. Good."

Larson sounded dubious. "Who are they?"

"It's not like they flashed their badges. I didn't get their names. Hang on," she groused, reaching over to bring up the reservations screen on the computer. "Oh."

"What is it?"

"The table's reserved under the name Ford."

"Okay. So who's with him?"

"She's blonde, light hair. That one's Parker, right?"

"Right," Larson said, nervously amused. "Okay, Sally. They don't recognize you either, but even if they did, they're just messing with us. They want us to panic. Right now, it's business as usual. I'll be there in a bit, and tonight, we'll be get out of here, leave them in our dust, and ride out free as anything. Until then, I need you to stay calm, okay?"


"Promise me."

"Okay." Branson sighed, straightening her shoulders, and Eliot ducked back into the hallway. "Love you."

"Love you too."

Eliot was in the bathroom by the time she exited the office, his hand going to his earpiece as he stared unseeingly at the mirror. "We ready?"


Alec finished up on the computer, straightened his tie. Nodding to Nate, he climbed out onto the street and dialed Parker's phone.

"Agent Hagen, she answered on the third ring. "It's my partner," she mouthed to McSweeten.

"Hi," Alec said. "I've got something you need to see. Where are you?"

"I'm at Kinkaid's, having dinner with Agent McSweeten, You remember him?"

"Business or pleasure?" He was approaching the restaurant, but hung back, across the street in case McSweeten looked out the window

"A little bit of both," she said, holding the phone away as she apologized ruefully to McSweeten for the interruption. "Can't it wait? We just got our food."

"Afraid not. I need to see you now. I'm actually just up the block; I'll be there in a few. Meet me in the bar, okay?"

"Oh, all right," Parker grumbled, hanging up. On comms, she could hear her apologizing again, and promising that it would only take a moment.

"Hey, that's fine, I know how it goes." McSweeten assured her, though it sounded like he was gnashing his teeth. "It'll be good to see Agent Thomas."

Alec gave it a minute before running across to the restaurant and going inside, heading straight for the bar. Parker, when she saw him, gave a wave, apologized again, and told McSweeten she'd be right back.

Neither of them looked in Branson's direction, she was serving the table next to Parker's, but he could feel her eyes burning into his back.

"So now what?" Parker asked, dropping out of character for the moment.

"I keep you distracted while we wait for Larson," Alec said, reaching into his pocket and unfolding a long document that he'd grabbed at random from the van, and they pretended to peruse it, leaning against the bar.

"I don't even know what this is," Parker grumbled, flipping to the next page.

"Not the point," Alec glanced up to the mirror behind the bar. McSweeten was trying not to watch them, toying with his food, and starting to look dejected. "You're on a date, and you're not happy to be doing this. Look back and pout at McSweeten for a second, keep him on the line."

"Whoa," Sophie giggled, "I guess I'm not needed any more, now that Hardison the Love Doctor has entered the building."

He didn't have to be on comms to hear Eliot's snort coming all the way from the kitchen, and was trying to come up with a rejoinder that wouldn't A: bite him in the ass immediately, or B: out both of them in the middle of a con. But he didn't get the chance. Larson's car was pulling into the alley alongside the restaurant, and Nate needed everyone on their toes.


Eliot kept his head down, one eye on the grill and one on the dining room.

Larson already had Parker and Hardison in his sights, but was ducking behind a corner, getting out of their line of sight and sitting down at an empty table just outside the kitchen instead. Branson immediately rushed over to talk to him.

"See? I told you they weren't FBI agents," he bragged. "You don't need to worry

Branson, keeping a low profile, handed him a menu, looking furious. "Not about them, anyhow."


"It's just," Branson was flustered, deciding again against bringing up the expected double-cross. "They know enough, they're going to-"

"Hey," Larson said. "It's fine. I mean, yeah, they probably do. But they can't use it. And I'll prove it to you."

"Okay, Parker, Hardison, you're clear, go now. Eliot? This might get heavy," Nate warned, as if Eliot needed to be told.

Hardison pretended that the noise in the bar was too much, and gestured towards the back door. Parker turned towards McSweeten, who looked up hopefully but nodded once when she held up a finger.

Eliot watched until they made it out the back door and into the alley, making sure Larson and Branson hadn't seen them, before slipping out through the kitchen and across the bar to follow. Larson's car was in the alley, and Nate was bringing the van around to park it in. The trap was in place, now they just had to bait it.

"Okay," he slid the van's door open and helped Sophie- who'd gone with a red wig that suited her surprisingly well- out onto the ground. Inside, Nate was still monitoring the bugs and cameras they'd installed throughout the restaurant.

"McSweeten's heading for the restroom, Branson's just realizing that Parker and Hardison are missing, and I think the chef's looking for you," he smirked over his shoulder. "He looks livid."

"Let him fire me," Eliot shot back. "We good?"

Sophie straightened her dress and headed out of the alley. "We're very good."

Eliot leaned into the open door of the van to watch her progress inside the restaurant. She was in through the door and stopping at the hostess station, gesturing towards the alley.

"I'm not sure if it's anything," she said, her American accent thin and reedy as she gestured to her left, "but I think something is going on in the alley. Some people are arguing with each other, I thought I heard them say something about a trap?"

The hostess- Eliot couldn't remember her name, and spared a thought to wonder if this entire thing with Hardison had flipped some internal switch that killed his radar for impressive curves- nodded, and sent one of the waiters to retrieve the manager, but the bait was already on the hook. There was no way to be certain, from here, if Larson could hear exactly what was being said, but Sophie was expressive enough with her gestures that he was already on his feet.

"Okay. Sally," he leaned in towards Branson, speaking quietly. "You need to get out of here."

"My shift-"

"You're not coming back here after tonight. You won't need to. There's just something I've got to take care of first. Your car's in the parking lot?"


"Okay. Sally. The cash, the accounts, they're all in the safe at the hotel. You know the combination? Good. Clean it out, get to the park, and wait for me. I'll be there in a bit, and we'll blow this town, go wherever you want to go."

Branson finally smiled. It looked like her lapse in trust might have been temporary after all. "Okay, Love you."

"Love you too," Larson said, kissing her on the forehead before heading towards the back of the restaurant.


Eliot had backed off into the shadows, and could see the entire alley from here. The door was up and to his right, just past the dumpsters. Larson's was just in front of him, and the new van- they'd had to borrow it from the Sheriff's Department, since the only rental agency in town wasn't likely to rent to them any time soon- parked behind. Parker and Hardison were standing between the restaurant door and the van.

"Okay. Be ready," Nate was saying. "He's coming out."

The door was opening, and Hardison spun around to look, as if he hadn't been waiting for it.

"Alexander Larson," he shouted. "You're under arrest-"

"Oh, come off it," Larson stepped forward, all bravado and scorn. "You're not real agents. You can't arrest anyone." He pulled out a gun.

Of course he pulled out a fucking gun. Trying to decide where best to point it, though, he hadn't noticed the hand that had stopped the door from being shut behind him, hadn't heard McSweeten stepping out after him.

"Actually, we do have the authority." He had his badge out already, holding it up like he'd been waiting for an excuse to use it. Story of his career, Hardison caught himself thinking.

"Right." Some of the confidence fell from Larson's face as he examined the badge, but he'd committed, already, to his course of action. "Fine. Let's say that you are." He spun, swinging the gun around to Parker, finally choosing his target. "It only means that they're playing you."

McSweeten, Hardison and Parker answered in unified disbelief. "What?"

"All this time, I'd think I'd know by now if they were," McSweeten shook his head in amusement. His hand dropped to his side, fingers twitching. From the angle, there was no way that Larson could have noticed, but Eliot did. It was the exact gesture he'd made a few times before, when his hand had been going for a gun, only to come up empty.

Good, Eliot decided, after a moment's consideration. At least there weren't going to be any surprises.

"Hey, man. Good to see you," Hardison muttered to McSweeten, taking a deliberate step back, his eyes going honestly wide as Larson brought the gun back to aim at him again. That was the signal.

Larson was reading Hardison's body language correctly. He stepped forward, following Hardison, keeping him under control. It also had the effect of angling his body so that he couldn't see Eliot stepping out from behind the dumpster. Parker was staring at McSweeten, honestly worried, but mostly keeping him from glancing over his shoulder.

It was actually fairly easy to slip in and bring the back of his elbow down on Larson's arm, another easy move, too, to disarm him, send the gun skittering across the ground.

This is where it should have ended. But that wasn't the plan.


Alec hadn't been surprised when Nate called the backup plan into play, and he was closest, anyway.

He went for the gun as Parker dodged back behind the vehicles, catching it when he slid it towards her underneath Larson's car. He could just make out her actions as she removed the clip, emptied the magazine and cleared the chamber before coming to her feet again. Seconds later, from underneath the van this time, the gun slid back out from between the tires.

Eliot was pretending not to notice it, and McSweeten honestly didn't. He was too focused on the fight, hovering on the sidelines and waiting for his chance, but they were moving too fast, too wildly, for him to jump in.

Eliot was gaining the upper hand, though, and Larson, predictably, was searching out anything, any weapon within reach. He zeroed in on the gun after a few moments, and obviously wanted it badly enough that when he managed to dislodge Eliot, it was with enough force that Alec doubted Eliot had simply allowed him to do so.

Eliot backed off when he noticed the gun, brushing hair and grit off of his face and pretending to be slightly punch-drunk.

And this was where it was going to get tricky. Because McSweeten was moving in, and Alec needed to get there first.

"Come on, Larson," Alec teased. "You know this can't end well for you. Stop resisting."

"I'm not resisting anything, Hardison."

"Seriously?" Alec rolled his eyes and shouted at Parker, deliberately overconfident. "Remind me to find out how my cover got burned. Think we might have a leak in the department." He turned back to Larson and smirked, hands going into his pockets. "Hell, I bet that thing ain't even loaded-"

The impact, when Larson shot him, sent him flying into the van.


Hardison had taken a shot to the chest.

He'd known it was coming.

But it wasn't helping. Hardison was lying on the ground, not moving as the blood spread out over his shirt, and suddenly, Eliot couldn't track anything else.

He launched himself again at Larson, punching him in the face, feeling the crush of cartilage under his knuckles, before throwing him against the dumpster.

Larson stumbled, but still had enough control to drag Eliot down with him as he bounced off the dumpster, getting Eliot with enough force in the chest that the wind was knocked out of him, that he had to grapple to get a hold on Larson again.

Eliot was pinned under Larson's weight, and the arm barred over his throat was distracting, but he managed to get a hand up, grab Larson's jaw, and was pulling and pushing and twisting, hard.

If he jerked to the left, he could break his jaw, easily. If he went far and fast enough, he could snap his neck like this.

He could, if he wanted to. And honestly, he kind of did.

But Hardison would never look at him square again. None of them would.

It just wasn't worth it.

And anyway, there were other bodies here, now, grabbing his arms, wrenching them back. His left hand was ground into the concrete.

"Knock it off," McSweeten was ordering, putting weight on Eliot's bad shoulder as Larson was finally shifted off of him. When Eliot managed to get a look, it was hard to tell if it was Nate's efforts that had caused it, or if the gun McSweeten was pointing in Larson's direction had been the motivation.

Nate was back again, and Eliot forced himself to stop fighting, to sop trying to move at all. Above him, Nate and McSweeten exchanged a look before McSweeten relented, getting up again, his full attention now on Larson.

Nate was shaking his head, and he nodded off to the side. "Look, okay? Just look. And listen."

He could see Hardison in the back of the open van. Parker holding her hand over his chest, and Sophie was sliding the door shut before rushing around to the driver's seat.

As soon as her door was shut, she sighed. "Okay, Hardison. You can take off the blood packs, clean yourself up. And hold on to something back there, this has to look good."

"Eliot?" Hardison's voice was aware and concerned, and mostly a complete relief.

"I'm fine," Eliot replied, brushing his hands on his knees and standing up.

"He's an idiot, is what he is," Nate grumbled.

And yeah, he deserved that. He'd known how plan M worked for years. He'd taped the blood packs onto Hardison's vest himself, he'd just-

"At least you sold the part, right?" Nate quirked a brow at him, but his attention was already shifting away.

McSweeten had Larson pinned to the side of his car, already cuffed, and was reading him his rights. Larson, barely conscious, was clearly in no condition to object, and offered no resistance when the agent got him settled down on the ground.

"So," he said to Nate, stepping back and gesturing towards where the van had been. "Agent Thomas. He's going to be okay?"

"All our field agents are fully trained in emergency medical procedures, and Agent Hagen, is the best we've got. They've got their route cleared and are less than two minutes out from the emergency room."

McSweeten looked suitably impressed, and Nate stretched his neck to the side and back again before speaking again. "So. Listen. I would appreciate it if my department's part in tonight's activities were to go down silently. You've got enough on Larson for the firearms possession- and, say, firing it in public area- for the collar. Anything else you pull up on him will just be icing."

McSweeten, still watching Larson, was dubious. "So the fact he shot one of your agents counts for nothing?"

"Look," Nate said, with the manner of someone who's seen a thousand worse fights. "I know why you were here, and I know what Agent Hagen was doing. But she shouldn't have come here tonight, and she shouldn't have talked to you. She put the operation at risk, and if it gets out, it's eighteen months of work that's going down the tubes, along with her career."

McSweeten's eyes widened in horror, and Nate relented. "She's a good agent, though, very promising. She could go far, if she wanted to, and I think you know this. So I'm willing to overlook her little indiscretion. If this never happened, I can't fire her over it."

McSweeten considered, his eyes still on Larson, who was groaning as he rocked his head back against the car door. After a moment he gave Nate a sidelong glance. "She's not really with the FBI, is she? None of you are."

"Think of us as inter-agency liaisons," Nate replied, cryptically. "This country needs all sorts of protection, and the government needs grunts working quietly in the shadows, just as much as it needs the heroes working out in the open." He nodded, then, making sure McSweeten understood the compliment.

It seemed to do the trick. McSweeten took it and moved on. "So now what?"

"Now? We disappear. You take Larson in, and-" Nate's hand went up to his earpiece, which he didn't bother hiding from McSweeten, and listened as Tara, who'd tailed Branson, rattled off the location. "My advice? It seems his partner's just been seen driving into Margaret T. Hance Park. It's public land, and she looks like she may be in need of assistance. It's dark out, after all. No telling what kind of trouble she's gotten herself into."


Alec had managed to tear his stitches in the fight, so they really had wound up at the hospital, but right now, that wasn't what Alec was worrying about.

Eliot had nearly lost it back there.

Given that, it was actually nice to have the distraction of being sewn back together, even if he could still here the others on the line, already debriefing.

Because of that, he wasn't surprised to see them all waiting for him- Even Tara was here- when he finally came out into the waiting room. Nate and Tara were both on their phones, but they brightened considerably when he arrived.

Sophie kissed him on the cheek, and Parker wrapped him in an almost painful hug.

"Seriously? Not that I'm not glad to see you, but isn't this a little overkill? It ain't like I got shot."

Over Parker's shoulder, Eliot was glaring at him. "Yeah, well." He shrugged, not knowing where to go from there, and once Parker moved away, wrapped an arm around Alec's back quickly, just for a second. For morale. He looked twice as awkward when he pulled away, but Nate was coughing for their attention.

"Okay," he said. "Hardison? You're good?"

"Yeah. Where are we?"

"Larson and Branson have both been arrested. Seems like Branson's earlier misgivings are resurfacing, and McSweeten and Taggart are playing them off of each other like crazy. They'll probably have everything by midnight."

Tara was just ending her call. "I just talked to Santiago's lawyer, gave him the heads up on the situation. He's already going in to push for her release. And, well, he was already thinking lawsuit before I even mentioned it, so, yeah. We're good." She stood up, grabbing her purse and coming over to hug Hardison as well, before turning to the others. "So unless there's anything else?"

Sophie shook her head, but Nate looked skeptical.

"Aren't you supposed to be asking about your payment?"

"Oh, I don't know. It seems a bit crass, given what I managed to get out of Branson's car when she was clearing out the safe. I mean, ten grand may be excessive, but I wasn't sure you'd gone enough, getting her to distrust Larson, so…" She grinned, extremely pleased with herself.

Nate finally smirked, rolled his eyes, and waved her off. "Just go, already. And thanks for everything."

Alec waved, as did Eliot, and Sophie volunteered herself and Parker to walk Tara out. It was obvious she was giving them space. And Alec, dread already pooling in his gut, could guess why.

As soon as they were gone, Nate turned to look at Eliot, considering him for a long moment. The expression on his face made Alec want to run to join Sophie and the others, but movement would only draw Nate's attention.

Eliot wasn't looking too thrilled about it either, but he was holding the stare, arms crossed defiantly.

Eventually Nate nodded to himself, having decided on an approach. "You good?"

"Yeah." Eliot frowned, apparently not expecting the question but knowing that wasn't the end of it. "I did my job, you know."

"Your job was to set McSweeten up to be the hero," he said, raising a hand when Eliot tried to cut in. "And yes, I know that, technically, it worked. But don't you think you went a bit, ah, overboard?"

Eliot shrugged, his scowl deepening. "Had to make sure it looked good."

Nate snorted. "Don't bullshit me, Eliot. You overreacted when your boyfriend got shot with a blank."

"I never liked Plan M," Alec muttered, mostly to distract himself from the elephant that just crashed into the room, but he only earned glares from both of them. "What?"

"Hardison," Nate sighed, but maybe it had been the right track to take, spreading Nate's irritation around a little. There was a smirk hovering around the edges of Eliot's mouth, though it was gone by the time Nate was frowning at him again.

"You could've killed Larson tonight," Nate eventually said.

"Yeah. But I didn't."

"Would you have, though? If we hadn't stepped in?"

"Yes." Eliot's lip curled humorlessly. "Seriously, Nate. If I'd meant to kill him, do you think you and McSweeten could've stopped me? If you were so worried I was gonna snap, you would've made sure Larson wasn't handcuffed on the ground six feet from where I was standing."

"So you're saying I should've protected him?" Nate smirked back, raising an eyebrow.

"I'm saying you shouldn't come down all high and mighty for telling me to stand down when I'd already stopped."

Nate, to his credit, thought about it for a minute before nodding, some of the anger leaving his face.

"Right," he said, his tone just verging on apologetic. "Well. It's been a crappy month. We're all on stand down for a few weeks, at least, so… next time?"

It was a peace offering, and Alec knew it. What mattered, though, was if Eliot did.

"You won't need to worry about it," he eventually decided, and though tensions were still running a big high, Alec heaved a sigh of relief.

"Okay, cool," he said, figuring that distraction had served them well so far. "Now do y'all need to hug it out, here, or can we bail on this tired-ass waiting room?"

Nate rolled his eyes before shaking his head and heading for the door, but Eliot caught Alec's arm before he could follow.

"I wasn't worried at all," Eliot said, though he seemed to have forgotten most of his earlier bravado.

"Of course you weren't," Alec agreed, tilting his head to get a better read on Eliot's face, becoming slowly certain that yet another shoe was about to drop. "So what's up?"

"Look. I know what I said to Nate, but I know I went overboard, and so." He frowned, looking a little apologetic. "I gotta ask. Are you still thinking about leaving?"

"No," Alec adjusted his grip on Eliot's arm, congratulating himself on not having to think about it, but Eliot still looked like he was waiting for something. "More like, wondering about where this is all going, I guess."

Eliot was trying to keep his sudden smirk from becoming a smile, still trying to play it cool. "Wherever you want."

"Alright, then. Back home. We go on a date. Friday night, and we do it up right. Normal even, no guns, no thugs, no nothing."

"Sounds good," Eliot laughed. "So. Dinner and a movie?"

Alec shrugged, kissed him real quick to seal the deal. "Yeah, well. It can't all be rest stops and emergency rooms."


Chapter 15 ~~~~~~~~ Back to Leverage ~~~~~~~~ Epilogue



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