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Some time ago, [livejournal.com profile] laceymcbain gave me a prompt involving somebody being protective, somebody being competent, and possibly a little banter. This is… kind of that? Only not? Sorry. On the plus side, there may yet be all of those things in the sequels that are looking sort of inevitable.

Fandom: Leverage
Pairing: None, exactly. There is a definite Hardison/Eliot directionality here, though.
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: 1x12 The First David Job
Warnings: Implications of past torture, non-graphic
Notes: Beta’d by the awesome [livejournal.com profile] ileliberte. This picks up from the second-to-last scene of the First David Job, and assumes that a little time passed between it and the last scene. Specifically, one night.

Summary: Eliot, he can twist around like a Rubik’s cube in his head, something to puzzle over without getting too invested in.


There’s a lot Alec’s not thinking about tonight.

He’s not thinking about the day just passed, when he metaphorically salted and literally burned what he’s spent months building.

He’s not thinking about tomorrow, when he’ll cut the rest of it loose, too.

Doesn’t mean he’s not thinking at all. He’s never been able to manage that – not sober, not drunk, not pre-, post- or mid-coital. It’s all about the channeling, deciding which path is fine, which one’s full of fucking dragons and shouldn’t be touched with a goddamn flamethrower.

The thoughts he’s allowing right now look a little like this: What the smirk on the kid behind the desk of this little bitty motel meant when he booked Alec into a room next to Eliot’s; whether the vending machine outside has Coke or Pepsi; how to remember not to bite his cheek because that cut’s not about to heal if he keeps that up; what the Tokyo stock exchange is doing at this hour; how his DVR is full enough that he’s going to have to choose between Psych and Eureka soon; whether Sophie is in Parker’s or Nate’s room right now (either one’s a possibility, and so’s neither).

That’s the background hum. What he’s got playing in the forefront of his head is this: He’s the normal one.

It’s damn bizarre, realizing that you’re standing in for the well-adjusted world. He’s a scifi geek, a kid raised in the system, and the best damn hacker you’ll never meet. He’s not wanted anywhere, because nobody can prove he’s done a single thing, but there are whole countries where he’s not-wanted a hell of a lot. (It’s not like he liked Iceland all that much anyway.)

It says something that the people he spends the most time with these days make him look downright ordinary.

They’ve all got something, every last one of them.

Parker’s got Parker. That’s pretty much enough. He likes her too much to really want to push too hard, though, so mostly he leaves it alone. Tries to let her come to him, tries to keep thinking she will.

Nate’s got his past and his booze, and Sophie’s got Nate. One look at her looking at him tells you that. They both come across as the normal kind of warped until you get to the parts where Nate goddamn napalms everything in his path when the stars are right and Sophie’s jones for a statue shoots her loyalty in the head in a back alley.

Then there’s Eliot. Eliot’s different. Nate and Sophie are simple enough to figure out, Parker’s complicated in ways Alec doesn’t want to mess with, but Eliot he can twist around like a Rubik’s cube in his head, something to puzzle over without getting too invested in.

It makes him fine to think about tonight.

Alec’s Eliot thoughts go like this: If Alec had to pick one of them to tag as Most Likely to Be Not Quite Human, it’s Eliot by a landslide. There’s something freakishly Chuck Norris about the guy, like he took a level in badass somewhere around kindergarten and never got around to remembering normal. Nobody’s invulnerable, Alec knows that, but it’s hard to prove it with Eliot. Nothing ever seems to stick. He’s seen the guy take a punch, he’s seen him bleed, even, but it’s always had that look behind it. That c'mon back smirk, like getting popped was all part of his plan and now it’s his game.

Where it gets interesting, though, is that if Alec had to pick one of them who could walk away and be a regular, nine-to-five, picket fence type, that’d be Eliot, too. Not pretending – they can all do that – but really meaning it. Eliot’s domestic like none of the rest of them. The crazy ninja skills are mostly balanced out by the guy who likes horses and hockey and Earl Grey, the one who brings microbrews and nachos to the office when they watch games.

(Brought. It’s brought.)

Eliot #2 is a dick sometimes in his own right, but in a cut-you-off-in-traffic, leave-dirty-socks-on-the-floor way. He doesn’t go on jobs with them. That’s Eliot #1, and he’s just… untouchable. Best word Alec’s got for it. He’s never seen Eliot drunk or hurt or bone-weary, not either Eliot.

And that’s what Alec’s thinking when he opens the damn door of what’s – surprise! – their connecting bathroom and covers two out of three.

(When are you gonna learn to knock? Nana used to say. Alec’s never been good at staying out of places he shouldn’t be.)

As it is, he has half a glance of Eliot and his blank face and the knowledge that Alec’s slid straight over all lines of guy code to drive him right back out of the room again before conscious thought has shaken itself awake. He’s got the door most of the way back to shut and a hand up over his eyes in full don’t know nothing, didn’t see nothing mode when two things stop him.

The first is the realization that it’s actually true, because Eliot’s got all his clothes present and accounted for and he’s pretty much just standing by the sink doing nothing.

The second is Eliot’s quiet, “Wait.”

The kid at the desk and the soda machine and Sophie’s musical chairs room assignment all shut up for a minute.

It’s surprise alone that gets Alec back through the doorway. Eliot just stands there a second, hands braced on the sink counter and head down. Finally, a muscle in his jaw moves like he’s grinding his teeth and he says, “I could use a hand, if you got a minute.”

There’s a whole scattering of bad jokes that dogpile in Alec’s mind, and it’s a mark of just how damn tired he is that they’re beat to his tongue by the thought that Eliot looks wrong.

“What do you need?” he says instead.

Eliot flicks his eyes over him and back. “‘S easier to wrap ribs with some help.”

Alec blinks, and says, “Yeah. Yeah, I can do that. But wouldn’t you rather have somebody who –“

“Nate’s good and passed out by now, and I’m not going up to the roof to get Parker.”

Alec lets Sophie’s absence go. “Okay. Just… just give me a second. You have…?”

“Duffle bag.”

Alec ducks out and grabs it, and by the time he’s back Eliot’s standing up straight and his shirt’s unbuttoned and on the counter.

Eliot grabs the hem of his undershirt in his hands, and Alec has just enough time to think, Hey, wait, I can – before Eliot pulls it up and over in one quick move, like ripping off a band-aid. Alec doesn’t know whether to clap or roll his eyes, ‘cause that’s just overkill in the true grit stakes, there.

Eliot makes this sound, though, this close-mouthed, cut-off, hoarse sound, and mostly Alec just winces.

Eliot’s got bruises, purple and red islands marking out territory down his left side and one big dark swath down his right. Alec’s got an Ace bandage and no idea what the hell he should be doing with it.

“How do you want me to…?”

“Just keep it tight and smooth as you can. Let you know if you’re doing it wrong.”

Alec has really got to get a handle on that part of his brain that thinks tension and really shitty innuendo should be BFFs. As it stands, he settles for swallowing back a laugh that leans more toward deranged anyway and pinning the end of the wrap to Eliot’s chest with one hand.

He sobers a second later when he clues in that Eliot’s not flinching away, but he’s not breathing real deep either. The first strip of wrapping goes down a little tighter than he thinks it ought to, but Eliot doesn’t call him on it, so maybe not.

“How many’d they have waiting for you?” he asks offhand, wanting a distraction. They sent six guys for him; he’s wondering where they got a small army on short notice for Eliot.

“One.” Eliot snorts, and winces.

Alec freezes. “One guy? Seriously?”

It’s just hitting him that that wasn’t all that nice when Eliot rolls his eyes and says, “Yeah, one guy. Sometimes one guy who knows you’re coming is worse’n a handful who don’t.”

It’s something Alec knew, on the surface. Simple. But. There’s an implication here, and Alec can’t miss it. He’s good with if/thens. Comes with learning to write code early.

Eliot got his ass kicked by one guy who was ready. That guy must have gone head to head with him, kept the fight close enough to fair for Eliot to take him down.

Alec’s not a big fan of luck.

He goes back to wrapping with a neutral hmm, and focuses on what he’s doing a little more.

It’s the lines that he notices first. They’re faint, just thin tracks on Eliot’s belly where the light hits skin that’s just different enough from the rest. If it weren’t for the bruises setting up contrast, they might blend right in.

What gets him, though, is how even they are. Deliberate.

There’s this ragged patch over Eliot’s left shoulder blade, and maybe Alec hasn’t seen many up close before, but he’s pretty sure that’s what gets left behind when you get shot. A jagged line skates over three ribs and bends around to the front. Alec follows it with the next repetition of bandage, covers most of it up on the way.

Three round, smooth marks on his lower back, a streak of raised skin above his left elbow, the dark curve of a burn riding just over one hip… Eliot’s got scars all over, and they’re kind of like trophies, but they’re also kind of like evidence. Testimony for the defense: Not enough. Not always.

Alec is suddenly and deeply uncomfortable. The man in front of him is quiet and worn, and Alec’s well inside the usual do-not-cross line. This is domestic Eliot dressed up in the other guy’s injuries, paying on sins he doesn’t own. Clark Kent wearing Superman’s bruises, if that weren’t a shitty and impossible metaphor.

Alec’s halfway to voicing something incoherent and stupid when he glances at Eliot’s face. Or where Eliot’s face would be, if he weren’t turned away and paying more attention to the wall than the uglyass paisley print deserves. Alec’s got a good view of the long stretch of Eliot’s neck instead, the hair that’s pulled loose to hang over his eyes, and the tight angle of his jaw. No marks there, he notices.

Eliot, it occurs to him, is embarrassed.

The room’s too quiet, no sound but their breathing and the faint swish of a shower down the hall. It would be easy to say something, to cut the tension with a ramble on anything at all, but Alec knows himself. His mouth would walk him right into trouble and out of whatever fragile moment this is where they’re both just standing still.

In the end, he finishes off the last wrap and tacks it in place, bites his cheek and winces when it burns again. His hands skitter around for a second, awkward with nowhere to be, and he waves at the door. “I’ll just…”

Eliot picks his shirt up off the sink counter and folds it in perfect military lines. “Yeah.”

“Shout if you need anything,” Alec says, knowing Eliot won’t.

“Hey, Hardison.”

He looks up, and Eliot’s eyes are steady and serious in the mirror.

“Thanks.”

He nods, a little more solemnly than he intends to. “No problem.”

Alec walks himself out and pulls the door shut behind him this time, lays down on the bed he’s got staked out for the night and tries to sort his head back into the quiet shape he needs.

It’s fine. Just, Eliot’s a little more Die Hard than Terminator. Still a scary son of a bitch when he wants to be.

But.

He doesn’t want this knowledge. Eliot’s not a safe topic anymore, just one more thing he doesn’t want to be thinking about, and his mental boxes are full enough.

Doesn’t matter. Tomorrow, they’re going their separate ways, all of them. Six months, Nate says, and then they’ll talk it over.

And then maybe. Maybe.

He rolls over, and doesn’t wonder who’ll do the bandaging next time.










Post-it notes:

1.    Compression wraps are considered a no-no in treating fractured ribs these days, due to the risk of pneumonia from a lack of deep breathing. I took some liberties with medical fact here because I figure that a) Eliot would have had enough broken ribs to know the score and b) he’d favor a quick fix that lets him limp through just long enough until he caves and allows himself the time to recover.
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