alinaandalion: (santana10)
Title:  The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most
Author:  alinaandalion
Rating:  M/NC-17
Spoilers:  Through the end of Season 3.
Characters:  Nate, Sophie, Eliot, Hardison, Parker, Maggie, and Tara.  And some various minor original characters.
Pairings:  Nate/Sophie, Parker/Hardison, Sophie/Tara, and mentions of past Nate/Maggie and Eliot/Aimee
Summary:  The team takes on a job that leads to double-crosses and choices they never expected. They all find out you never leave the past behind and it can change the present.
Notes:  This is a nonlinear story.  I've laid out the basic premise of the con in the first chapter and will give all vital information as the story progresses.  This was originally intended for this year's Leverage Big Bang, but my muse decided to take a six month long vacation, so that didn't work out.  I liked the idea too much to let it go, so here it is.  As a warning, there is explicit language and sexual themes.

Chapter One:  do you laugh in the face of danger?

She thinks later as Javier Cruz is leading her into his hotel suite, his three constant bodyguards right behind them, that maybe agreeing to come here alone is a bad idea. She can feel her skin tingling, hot pinpricks that make her body feel heavier than normal. She knows that it's only the cocaine, though, and as long as Eliot isn't with her, she has to keep her wits about her.

The sight of Tara lounging on one of the cream couches nearly blows that plan to hell.

She sees Tara tense up for just a moment before relaxing again, her blue eyes lighting up with curiosity.

Thankfully Javier is quick to make introductions since Sophie has lost the ability to make her tongue form words.

"Michelle, this is Annie Kroy. Miss Kroy, this is my girlfriend, Michelle Taylor. She has been very helpful with our more influential clients."

"I'm sure she is," Sophie replies, making sure the rough Cockney accent bleeds into her voice.

"Is that Tara?" Hardison's voice in her ear almost startles her out of character; it's been too long since she's done a line, and the effects are hitting her hard.

She shifts so that the video camera installed into her large brooch can catch a better shot of Tara. She sways on her feet and decides that she needs to sit down. Immediately. She drops a little ungracefully onto the couch beside Tara.

Javier prepares a few lines, and Sophie watches his deft movements. Her mouth is too dry.

"Okay, Soph, stick to the plan."

Nate might have meant for his statement to be calming, but his voice, pitched low and tense with worry, only speeds up her heartbeat and makes her blood thrum in her veins. The familiar scent of Tara's faintly citrus perfume isn't helping her, either.

She presses her fingers to her forehead for a moment because she needs to think, and the room is tilting a little as the heat in her body rises.

Tara pulls out a hundred dollar bill and brandishes it with a smirk before rolling it up. "Only way to enjoy the best coke to be had."

Sophie dimly registers the faint Southern accent. She watches Tara bend to the table and snort the white powder up through the green paper. Javier does the same at the opposite end of the table. Tara leans back into the couch and holds the rolled-up bill out to Sophie.

Sophie shakes her head. "No thanks. We did a few lines at the club."

Tara shrugs and moves back to the table. Her left nostril is slightly red from the line she just did. Sophie's hand strokes through Tara's dark gold tresses, and Tara hums in the back of her throat in response. When she finishes the second line, she tosses the bill onto the table and relaxes into the couch cushions. Sophie wraps an arm around Tara's waist and leans in close.

"Are you rolling?" Tara's whisper tickles her ear.

Sophie smiles even as she looks down at her trembling fingers. "Yes."

Even though she's halfway out of her mind with the high, Sophie can feel Javier watching them. She cranes her neck to catch his gaze, shivering at the hungry predator lurking in his dark eyes.

He smiles at her. "Do you like her?"

Sophie curls her lips into an answering grin. "I think I do."

Tara shifts beside her, and Sophie planes her hand downward, past the silk of Tara's dress until her palm finds bare skin. She turns her head, and Tara pulls her into a kiss; Sophie moans involuntarily against her soft lips. She can hear Nate in her ear, but she doesn't stop. It's all making her blood sing: the coke, Tara's hand on the small of her back, Tara's fingers tangled in her hair, Nate barking orders through the earbud, Tara's tongue pushing into her mouth. Tara's lips drift to Sophie's neck, and Sophie lets her head fall back.

"Turn it off," Tara murmurs against Sophie's skin.

Nate responds even though Tara can't hear him. "No. We need to keep track of you, Sophie. What if something goes wrong?"

Sophie groans and buries her head into Tara's neck so she can answer him. "Do it, Nate. You don't want to listen to this."

"Actually, some of us do." She can hear the smirk in Eliot's voice. Damn him.

Tara's fingers slide under Sophie's dress, pressing lightly at the edge of her underwear. Sophie doesn't even try to hold back the moan that rolls past her lips.

"What's going on in there?" Parker asks, and Sophie can almost see the inquisitive look on her face.

"Okay, yeah, you've got thirty minutes," Hardison tells her. "So, I don't know, good luck."

Then her comm goes silent. She misses them for a short second, but then Tara brushes her fingers against her clit, and Sophie's mind goes blank. She fumbles with the zipper of Tara's dress, searching for smooth skin. She remembers now how good this rhythm feels, so different from the dynamics of the team and whatever her relationship with Nate is at the moment. She peels the dress from Tara's chest and cups one breast in her hand as the teases the other with her mouth. Tara's thumb is rubbing gentle circles on her clit, and Sophie bucks her hips at the sensation, her back arching as she closes her teeth around a nipple and flicks her tongue against the tip.

Tara groans and pushes Sophie's underwear to the side. She slides two fingers into Sophie, and Sophie spreads her legs further apart. The angle is bad, but there's enough heat and friction as Tara curls her fingers that it doesn't really matter. It would be easier if one of them lay down, but Sophie's learned that giving up control in any arena is dangerous, and she has Tara pressed against the arm of the couch.

Sophie pushes Tara's dress up her slender hips and rips off her underwear. Tara's fingers move in and out of Sophie in a slow, deliberate rhythm, her thumb occasionally brushing against Sophie's clit. Sophie wastes no time and pushes two fingers of her own into Tara, curling them forward, then adding a third. Tara rocks her hips forward into Sophie's hand, her pupils blown wide; Sophie's sure that her eyes match.

Tara pumps her fingers faster. Her thumb circles Sophie's nerves with a tight pressure. Sophie paces herself to Tara, even as she feels her orgasm building. Her muscles go rigid as the sensation gathers, then she comes so fast and hard that she almost collapses to the side. Tara's hand grabs her arm, holds her in place even as her muscles clench around Sophie's fingers.

The room is spinning around Sophie now, bright stars of white dancing on the edges of her vision. She pulls her hand back and licks it clean, her eyes locking onto Tara's. She breathes, long and slow.

Playing Annie Kroy feels like slipping into a magnificent pair of designer heels; it's glorious and completely satisfying, but it can hurt like hell at the same time. She often feels that she uses the worst parts of herself to be Annie. Parts she would like to forget.

It's an identity she creates while working with Tara. They're in London, technically supposed to be laying low after a near-disastrous job in Portugal, and they're bored. They have money to burn, but that isn't the point. The itch to pull a con is always there.

They plan for two weeks. The point of this con isn't to steal money or art. It's something new: stealing and trading information. It requires them to play different sides; it makes the con all the more dangerous.

It turns out that infiltrating the London mob isn't all that hard. Annie Kroy is an instant favorite with her quick tongue and ruthless tactics. It takes less than a month for her to become connected with those highest up in the organization, and the wealth of the secrets she plunders is astronomical. It feels like a big game, up until the moment that she is standing in front of an unarmed man, her gun pressed against his forehead and her finger poised on the trigger.

He's not anyone important, but his fumbling during a business deal has resulted in a raid by the Scotland Yard that has landed two very powerful men in jail. Mob law dictates that he has to die, and Annie happens to be there at the moment. She can't refuse.

She has never killed anyone before; Tara has, and she never talks about it. But it doesn't feel all that hard. He's begging for mercy, and all it sounds like is a lot of noise so she decides to make it stop.

It's an interesting thing to see a bullet go through someone's head. Some blood splatters on her coat because she is standing too close; she hopes it comes out later. It is her favorite coat.

She doesn't remember going back to her apartment, but she's aware of Tara's hands undressing her, guiding her to the shower, and Tara's voice asking shaky questions that she can't answer because she can't make out the words. The water pours over her body, almost hot enough to scald; Tara washes her hair, scrubs her skin until she feels boneless and in limbo.

She doesn't speak until much later when she's wrapped up in thick blankets and Tara is combing the tangles out of her hair.

"I killed someone today."

"I know."

She looks across the room and sees her coat lying at the door where Tara took it from her. She really hopes that blood will come out. It is her favorite coat, after all.

Parker fiddles with the padlock in her hands until Eliot jerks it away with an irritated growl. She just rolls her eyes and turns to Hardison to find new entertainment.

"I'm bored. We should do something."

Hardison shakes his head as he keeps typing at lightning speed. "Not much to do, mama, as long as we're stuck in this room."

"Can't I go outside?" She knows that she's whining, but this is the second day of their lockdown, and she feels like she might explode into little pieces if she doesn't do something.

Anything, really, even if that means shopping with Sophie.

Eliot answers her first. "No. Nate was very clear: we have to stay inside and out of sight. Much rather be anywhere else."

"Aw, you don't like spending time with us?"

Parker's lips twitch with amusement because Hardison is now focused on one of their favorite activities: Eliot-baiting.

"I've never been a big fan of forced play-dates." Eliot smirks. "Or babysitting."

"Aw, man, why you gotta be that way?" Hardison puts his hand over his heart and adopts a pained expression. "That just hurts me right here."

She accompanies him with puppy-dog eyes that she directs toward Eliot. Eliot tosses the padlock in their direction; Hardison flinches even though she catches it easily. She waits, grinning.

"Fine, I'll play Monopoly with you," Eliot finally says.

She bounces excitedly in her chair as Eliot trudges into the next room to get the game and Hardison closes his computer. And when they start playing, she tries to pretend that a little bubble of happiness isn't sitting inside her chest, so tight and bright that it hurts to breathe, because they just give her the little car, hide that horrible horse statue, and play by her rules, which includes leaving all the money in the bank and only being able to use what they each can steal.

She does smile when she lifts the entire bundle of orange $500 fake bills. And, she might also swipe Eliot's wallet later on; Hardison's, too, because she likes having a complete set.

Nate waits for the others to get situated in their seats, his hands clutching to his glass half-filled with whiskey. Sophie's eyes bore into him, heavy with disappointment and accusation; he ignores her.

"Hardison, run it."

The television screens come to life with pictures. Hardison moves to the front of the room. Nate drains his glass and sets it aside.

"Okay, our client is here on behalf of her brother. He was killed two months ago by some guys in this Mexican drug cartel." Hardison gestures at the screens as he speaks, pointing out the victim and the offenders.

Eliot frowns. "Why doesn't she just go to the police if she knows who did it? It's an open-and-shut case."

"Except for the fact that those responsible ran back to Mexico," Nate interjects. "She doesn't know why he was killed. As far as we know, he wasn't caught up in this drug cartel. They just killed him."

"But, why?" Sophie shakes her head. "That's a completely unnecessary risk."

"It doesn't matter."

"It could, Nate."

He groans and turns to look at Hardison. "We'll figure it out. Hardison, go on."

Hardison nods and presses a button on his clicker. A picture appears at the forefront. "This is Javier Cruz. He's in charge of the cartel. But, they don't just shuffle drugs into the U.S. They help illegal immigrants get across the border as well. Now, until recently, Moreau was giving them a nice chunk of change."

"That's our way in," Nate interrupts. "He's going to be looking for a new investor."

"And, which one of us will that be?" Sophie asks, her eyes still focused on the televisions.

Nate shrugs. "I'll do it, with Eliot as my bodyguard. You can be the roper."

"It's going to explode in your face," she replies, tilting her head to one side. "Your only character is 'Obnoxious American.' Two American men just show up, waving money around, they'll be suspicious."

Nate tries to quash his look of irritation. "Then what do you suggest?"

"I can go in. I've done this before. It was an excellent con Tara and I pulled a long time ago."

Parker frowns. "I thought you were an art thief. There's nothing really worth stealing in Mexico. Well, money, of course. And, maybe artifacts..."

"Tara isn't an art thief, though. She prefers money or information that can be sold. When we worked together, we pulled a variety of jobs." Sophie looks at him now. "It was also our most dangerous, and we conned the Russians once."

"She's right, Nate," Eliot says, frowning and crossing his arms over his chest. "These guys, they don't hesitate to kill. They don't play by the rules like the suits we normally take on, and they're nearly untouchable on their home turf."

"If you go in, Eliot will be your back-up," Nate tells Sophie. "The trick is getting Javier and his men to cross back into the U.S. so we can double-cross them."

Sophie sighs. "We'll need a long con. Minimum will be two weeks, but it will probably take longer."

Nate stands up and grabs his glass as he walks to his kitchen. "Okay. Everyone, go and pack. We'll leave in the morning. Hardison, I want all the information you can find on these guys."

"What do you think I do with all my time?" Hardison throws his hands up into the air. "I already done all that, man."

"Then go book our flight. Just, you know, not here." He jerks his head toward the door, then turns to the bottle of whiskey he left out earlier.

Hardison leaves, muttering something under his breath about a lack of gratitude. Parker skips out behind him, and Eliot follows after her. Nate sighs and pours a liberal amount of whiskey into his glass. He drinks it in one go and walks over to Sophie, who is still rooted in her chair.

"What are you doing?" He sinks into the seat beside her.

"Figuring out the best way to approach this."

"I thought I was the one who comes up with the plans."

She turns to look at him, and he almost flinches away when he catches sight of her narrowed eyes.

"I was talking about the identity I'm going to use."

He pushes away the twinge of guilt attempting to take up residence in his chest and says, "I need to know that you'll listen to me on this one."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm talking about your tendency to go off-script."

"Are you implying that I'm a loose cannon?"

"I just want to keep you safe."

He reaches out a hand to rest on her thigh, but she shifts away.

"And, I need you to trust me. I know what I'm walking into, and I can take care of myself." He really doesn't like the hard smile on her face. "People are afraid of Sophie Devereaux for a reason."

"You know, Soph, it's disturbing when you refer to yourself in the third person."

Her eyes flicker, and he catches a glimpse of vulnerability, but then it's gone, and she tosses her head in an imperious manner he doesn't quite believe.

"It's a part of an identity, and that's not always the same thing as me." She turns her shoulders away from him, a clear dismissal. "I don't expect you to understand."

He almost gets angry, but that will be playing right into her hands. He really needs a way to get control of the situation. And, there are other things that he wants.

He stands up and moves right behind her, his arms stealing around her waist. He dips his head down and kisses her neck, his teeth pressing into her skin. She doesn't respond, and he's not in the mood for patience. He cups one of her breasts in a rough hand, stroking and pulling through the fabric until he feels her nipple harden under his fingers. He's hard now, his erection straining against his pants and pressing into her hip.

She moves suddenly, and her chair crashes to the ground. She turns to face him, fingers tugging at the collar of his shirt, and pulls him into a kiss. He pushes his tongue through her parted lips and lifts her dress over her hips. She steps away from him, face flushed, and bends over the conference table. He grins, one hand unbuttoning his pants and the other pushing her skirt up and out of his way.

He fucks her right there, hard and fast. She moans and presses back against him. She comes first with him buried deep inside her and his fingers on her clit. He orgasms a few strokes later, falling forward on top of her and effectively pinning her in place.

She leaves without speaking to him, and he goes back to his whiskey. Trade one vice for another, and it will all equal out eventually. He's wearing a grim smile. Not that he knows what he's doing with her. Not that he can even guess at what she wants anymore. Since San Lorenzo, they fuck, and it's an unspoken rule that they just don't talk about it. He sips his drink, savoring the taste of the sharp liquid, erasing the traces of her lips.

Nate can think of at least ten different things he would rather be doing than running down a street in Damascus after an irritating and infuriating grifter with dark hair and eyes that has given him the slip twice already. He's hoping he can cut her off at the next street.

Luck is on his side today, and he rounds the corner to see the woman standing with her back to the alley wall. She looks far too composed for his tastes, so he loosens his gun in his holster and keeps his eyes trained on her hands.

She just smiles. "I don't think we've had the pleasure of exchanging names. I'm Sophie Devereaux."

It figures that she's British, and he can feel the automatic pull towards her, the desire to let go of his weapon and maybe reach out to touch her. He fights against it; he knows better.

"Nathan Ford. You've taken something that doesn't belong to you."

She smiles mischievously and slips a statuette from her coat pocket. "Is this what you're looking for?"

He nods his head slowly. She just tilts her head to the side and replaces it in her pocket.

"I'm sorry. I have a very eager buyer waiting for me to deliver this to him. I always fulfill my promises."

"There's a first time for everything."

"Are you going to throw clichés at me until I get bored and just give the statue to you?"

He grins in spite of himself, and he thinks she moves because it seems like her coat is suddenly revealing more of her body than before, but he can't be certain. Whatever he may have thought before, he does know now that he's up against a master.

He steps forward, drawing his gun and pointing it at her. She straightens her spine but does not move. His eyes never leave hers; he reaches into her pocket and withdraws the statuette. She arches her neck, and her breath skims across his cheek in quick, warm bursts. Up close, he notices how beautiful she actually is and he can smell her perfume. He dips his head as she tilts her head back to look up at him, and his lips brush against the corner of her mouth.

Her mouth curves into a smile. "Well, Mr. Ford, I might just have to let you catch me more often."

He flinches away from her at the sound of her voice, running a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be." She doesn't make a move in his direction but he again feels that need to shift back into her orbit.

"I'm married." That statement really needs more force behind it; as it is, it sounds like an excuse rather than an actual reason.

This time, she does start to walk to him; her hips sway and he watches her like a man who has wandered the desert for days and has just seen a mirage of an oasis. "That doesn't mean an…arrangement can't be reached."

"As lovely as you are, Miss Devereaux, I am happily married." He smirks as he reaches for his handcuffs. "And, you are a thief."

She echoes his twisted smile and murmurs, "That I am."

Before he can pull out the cuffs or his gun, she's gone. He considers chasing after her, but he still has the statuette, which is what he was sent after. So, he decides to call it a day, and he tries to dismiss the woman from his mind. However, she flits along the edges of his thoughts even after he returns home to Maggie; and if Sophie does appear in his dreams on occasion, he decides he can live with that. After all, he loves his wife and his job.

Eliot wonders at times like these why he thinks his job is a good idea. Sure, it pays well and uses all of the skills the U.S. military so considerately honed, but it can be a real pain in the ass. Like now.

It's supposed to be a simple job. Moreau needs an item of particular value retrieved from a client. Eliot is known for his skills at getting into tough areas and bringing back what is asked of him. It makes sense that Moreau drops him in the middle of a war-torn country. What Eliot didn't count on is the battle currently raging right in front of him.

He doesn't know what they're fighting about. Doesn't really care, either. They're just in the way, damn it, and he has a job to do. It wouldn't normally be a problem. But, Moreau has him on a deadline, and if Eliot doesn't make it back on time, he might as well cut and run now. He might be Moreau's favorite at the moment, but that doesn't mean Moreau will be any more lenient with him than the others.

So, he's stuck, and he needs to make a decision fast before he wastes too much time. He can go around this conflict, but it will take an entire day out of the time he has left. It's a risk he can't afford because he's taken long enough to even get this far, and he has no idea how difficult this retrieval will be.

Fucking insurgents. Thinking that spilling more blood will make things better. They'll just prop up a new dictator and be back in this same position in ten years or less. Idiots. All of them. But he doesn't want to get involved. He had enough of fighting other people's wars when he was in the Army, and he has no intentions of doing that here. He just doesn't really care.

He finds shelter because the fight is moving in his direction. A man is shot right in front of him, and Eliot goes for the gun out of instinct. He hasn't used one in a few years; it's one of the perks of working for Moreau. He gets to choose how he carries on with his work, and as long as he delivers, Moreau doesn't complain. It's a shitty gun. It'll do, though. The basic principle is still the same: point and shoot and people die.

He fires on the men without discrimination. As far as he's concerned, they all can die. They only stand for one of two things: greed or idealism. He's fought in a lot of different places with all different kinds of men, and when it comes down to the wire, it's always about one of those two things. That's what men are willing to die for. Their own gain or ideas that can't even exist in reality.

In his opinion, that's a poor trade for life. Especially the lives of those caught in the crossfire.

He doesn't know if it's because he hasn't done this in too long; he doesn't know if he's just stopped caring enough to actually see who he's shooting (killing) at. He does know that it's his bullet that rips through the body of a twelve-year-old boy who shouldn't be out there holding a gun. He does see the fear on the boy's face; he hears the grunt of pain and the thud of the boy's body when it hits the ground. He does feel the icy hand of regret clench around his soul and the distinct knowledge that this is only one in the long line of deaths he's left in his wake.

It takes him a moment to shake it off and keep moving. A sprint behind some buildings takes him past the village borders, and he's on the other side of the fight that is pushing deeper into the village. He considers going back. There are some things that become so ingrained that they become instincts. But, he has a job to do. Moreau will be waiting, and if he wants to keep his job, he needs to keep moving so he can go back. After all, he kind of likes the life he has right now. There is no reason to give it up for these people. It won't matter.

Sophie stumbles into her hotel room, knowing she might as well be walking into a war zone. She still hasn't shaken her high, so she has no chance of even being prepared. She hates fighting from a disadvantage.

"What the hell was that?" She can feel the tension and anger rolling off of Nate, and all she wants to do is push him onto the bed and fuck him.

Cocaine makes her way too horny.

She shakes her head, tries to gather her thoughts. "Just keeping in character. I wasn't expecting for her to be there."

"How is that part of the job? Would you have just fucked anyone who was there?"

"Don't be ridiculous. Tara is different."

Her legs are too weak to hold her body up any longer, so she makes it to the bed and collapses on it. Her heels slip from her feet, and she grins up at him; damn, but he's sexy when he's angry.

He runs his hands through his already wild hair and asks in a low voice, "What do you mean by 'different'? What secrets are you keeping from me?"

"A lot." She leans forward, thinking about maybe pulling her skirt higher up her leg.

"Sophie, stop it. I need you to understand that you could have messed this up. I knew this would be a mistake."

"I didn't do anything wrong."

"Oh, no? You fucked Tara, of all people, in front of the mark! What the hell would you call that?"

She narrows her eyes because she has not botched this, and she knows why he's really angry; not that she's going to bring it up.

"If you must know, Tara used that same identity when we pulled our con on the Fuentes cartel. It will all work out in the end."

"You don't know that."

"No, I don't know. Just like you don't know everything."

"This isn't about being in control."

"Isn't it? Why don't you tell me what you're really angry about?"

He stops and then starts pacing the room; she can see that he's physically aching for a drink. She feels a twinge and wishes she could have another line; and, that may just be a problem. The team doesn't need two addicts.

"I'm not jealous." He says it slowly and stares her down, and all she can hear in her head is lies, lies, lies.

She stretches languidly. "Right."

He turns and slams his fist into the wall; she listens to the dull thump of flesh meeting the wall. She slides her feet along the carpet, savoring the feel of the soft fibers against her skin; standing, she walks toward him.

"You've never been able to lie to me." She doesn't touch him, not yet.

"And, I always know when you're lying, but you still do it." He faces her; she can't read his expression. It makes her nervous. "You never tell the truth."

"You're such a bastard!" It comes out as a hiss, but he doesn't flinch at the venom.

He grabs her and pulls her against him in a bruising kiss; she twists a hand in his hair and pushes back because this is not the way she wants to do things. He doesn't let her go, so she shoves him away, falling against the wall and clipping one of those stupid side tables. The vase sitting there slams first against the wall then falls to the floor; it shatters, and she remembers that Parker had liked it.

"Get out!" She's trembling with fury, and she still wants to fuck him.

She hates him, loathes him, wants to destroy him. He doesn't say anything; he just looks at her and leaves.

"Again." Eliot pushes him back.

Hardison stumbles and tries to regain his footing. "Man, you're going too fast. I can't do this. People like me, we ain't made to hit people and stuff."

"You can do this, and you will." Eliot raises his arms in a defensive stance and nods his head. "Come on. Try it again."

Hardison bounces on the balls of his feet, eyeing Eliot for any weaknesses; this might just be a training session, but Hardison has never been above playing dirty when it comes to proving physical prowess.

He moves in, feinting like Eliot showed him, and he manages to land a glancing blow on Eliot's chest before Eliot does something with his legs and Hardison ends up on his back.

"I told you," Hardison grumbles even as Eliot helps him up. "I ain't going to be able to get it."

"You're doing better."

"Liar. I just don't understand why you're making me do this."

"Parker and Sophie can defend themselves. I'm only one person. I ain't going to be around to save your ass every time."

"What about Nate?"

"I always make sure I'm around to save his ass. He's too drunk to be any good in a fight."

"And I'm too puny. We've covered this before: I'm a geek, you're a fighting god. Those don't mingle well."

Hardison grabs a towel and wipes the sweat off his face before grabbing a bottle of orange soda; Eliot snatches it away before he can even get it open.

"Hey, give that back." Hardison feels like a whiny kid, but he's tired and he really just wants to go home, take a long shower, and settle down for a few hours of WoW.

"Bad for you. Try some water." Eliot tosses a plastic bottle to him.

Hardison takes a sip and grimaces. "It has no flavor."

"It's water."

"Okay, let's go again." Eliot comes back over and resumes his stance.

Hardison shakes his head. "No way. I thought we were done."

"It's only been twenty minutes."

"It's been a freaking hour!"

"Just a few more times." Eliot beckons him forward. "I won't knock you down this time."

Hardison eyes him doubtfully. "Just no messing with the hands. Or the face. Can't hurt the moneymakers."

"I'm sure the world would be devastated."

"Come on, man, I'm serious."

"Trust me, I've got your back. This is just practice."

"Practice for what?" It's the question that's been burning in the back of his mind this whole time; the one he's actually wanted to ask since Eliot started training Parker, then Sophie.

"In case I'm not there."

Hardison sees the look on his face and has to keep from flinching; it's a look that speaks of swimming pools and running out of time and bounties and Moreau and fear and being out of control.

He blinks. "Okay. So, just try coming at you again?"

"Yeah. Don't be so obvious this time."

"Sure. That'll be easy."

He doesn't end up on the floor this time, but he does go around with a sore shoulder for the next week that Parker insists on poking; it's all cool, though, because he definitely got a good hit in.



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July 2012

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