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Leverage Fic: The One Week Job (1/3)

December 27th, 2015 (02:20 pm)
energetic

feeling: energetic

Title: The One Week Job

Disclaimer: I do not own Leverage.

A/N: Fill for my comfort food/feeding someone square in hc_bingo. Unbeta’ed.

Summary: One week, Hardison thought to himself. It might just be the longest week of his life.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

“You have got to be kidding me.”

It was the only thing he could think to say.

Hell, it was the only thing worth saying.

Because they’d done some crazy-ass stuff over the last five years, but this?

This?

“It’s not so bad,” Eliot huffed, walking past him with his pack slung high over his shoulder. He actually sounded like he meant it, because of course he did.

“Not so bad?” Hardison asked, still staring, totally dumbfounded. Part of him hoped that was a very bad dream. “There is literally one building as far as the eye can see. One building.

Eliot grunted in indifference, untying something from their snowmobile.

Yeah, their snowmobile.

That was fun, in concept, if you were a mountain man or a kid growing up on a farm in the middle of Nebraska.

Hardison, for the record, was neither.

“You were fine when we were at base camp that one time,” Eliot reminded him.

“Fine? I do not think I was fine,” Hardison said. “I believe I told you my nipple fell off.”

Eliot, in true Eliot-form, glared at him, as though he hadn’t been the one to bring up that topic of conversation in the first place. “And I told you not to tell me stuff like that.”

“And I wouldn’t,” Hardison said, because Eliot was terrifying, but Hardison had spent five years building up his immunity to that. And whatever self-control he might have had was now frozen, too, along with his nipples. “If you all would stop picking jobs on mountains. Seriously, people. Mountains.

Straightening up, Eliot leveled him with a look. “This job isn’t on the mountain,” he said, as if trying to be a reasonable human being. “We’re taking down a corrupt oil man who is not only destroying swaths of natural arctic habitat, but he’s also swindling his own employees to do it. This is a guy who doesn’t care where his oil goes, and could be responsible for the deaths of thousands.”

The fact that it was all true, didn’t make Hardison’s point any less relevant.

Or pressing.

“I’m not saying he’s a good guy or nothing--” Hardison started.

“Then what?” Eliot snapped, his cheeks red and chapped from the cold despite the oversized parka he had pulled tight over his head. “Then what are you saying?”

Hardison gestured widely with his gloved hand, still utterly flabbergasted. “I’m saying,” he said, slowly and emphatically because surely, even Eliot had to understand this. “That we are going to be living in a hut with a power generator we aren’t sure works with electronic equipment that dates back to the 90s, man. There’s no wireless, no cell reception, and our only exit is a damn snowmobile. Not to mention the fact that there’s no one around for miles. If we die, no one will ever find us.”

That last point was his most dramatic, though it admittedly wasn’t the most distressing to him.

“The oil camp is no more than two miles just over that hill,” Eliot said, nodding to one of the countless snow covered mounds in the vicinity. It, like all the rest, was covered with trees.

And snow.

Lots and lots of snow.

“Oh, so we’re close to the bad guys, great,” Hardison said, refusing -- absolutely refusing -- to be mollified at a time like this. “I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to help us when we get eaten by bears.”

Eliot rolled his eyes, starting up toward the small house, though house seemed like a generous description to Hardison. It was a shack. It was a damn shack.

“It’s only a week,” Eliot told him, as if he didn’t know.

As if he didn’t know.

“That’s my point, man!” Hardison called after him. “A week out here? A week freezing without Internet access?”

Eliot didn’t look back as he made his way to the door and let himself inside.

Hardison sighed, feeling even more dejected. It was bad enough to feel this dramatic, but to have no one appreciate it? When it should be appreciated?

He was in the damn Arctic, after all.

Hardison looked around again, at the mountains, at the trees, at the snow. His other nipple was well and truly going to freeze right off.

He shook his head bitterly. “You have got to be kidding me.

Except this was a poor ass joke, and no one was laughing.

Though, Hardison reflected with some solace, there was no one around.

-o-

Begrudgingly, Hardison made his way inside. It felt a bit like he was giving in, but between a matter of principle and a matter of staying warm, Hardison was, in fact, a practical man.

And one who liked to feel his toes.

He spent about five minutes standing in the doorway, wondering just what planet he’d landed on. The interior of the building looked even less appealing than the outside. The space seemed to consist of two rooms, one of which Hardison could only hope was actually a bathroom. The main space had a small kitchen and dining area adjacent to two twin beds and a dresser. On the other half of the cabin, there was a larger work area that was mostly covered with dust.

Eliot was doing something, rummaging around as if somehow he could make this place hospitable. There was a mechanical sound followed by a series of clanks before a motor starting humming and a puff of dust came out of the vent over Hardison head.

Making a face, he looked up at it. “Are we sure this thing is safe?” he asked, half hoping the answer was no so they could get back on their little snowmobile and get the hell out.

Eliot pulled a CO2 monitor from his pocket, holding it up. It beeped once at him, and Eliot nodded at it. “Acceptable levels, but we’ll keep checking.”

“Acceptable,” Hardison repeated, taking another step inward. “Funny how we’re stuck with acceptable while the rest of the team is back home in comfort. Probably using my computer set up and eating my gummy frogs.”

Eliot started unpacking their selection of dried goods -- the man did love his beans, apparently -- into the small cupboard about the kitchenette. “They’re working the job, just like us.”

“No,” Hardison said, making his way disdainfully to the work area. “Not like us. Because we are out in the middle of nowhere, and they, decidedly, are not.”

Eliot opened the fridge experimentally, putting his hand inside. “Sophie and Nate are already laying out the con,” he said. “Which is why we need to get this data for them. They can’t close any kind of deal until we know exactly what the mark’s production numbers are.”

Hardison poked with vague concern at the computer system. He recognized it -- but only because it was actually an antique. Vintage 90s processing hardware. They didn’t make it like this anymore.

Because it was terrible.

Poor processing speed, no storage space.

It was a hacker’s nightmare.

“I can run a con,” Hardison objected. “Convince a greedy oil man that he can make more money if he screws more people. Not that hard.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Eliot said, neatly stacking their cooking utensil on the counter. “But you’re the only one who can hack the lines to get the data.”

Hardison turned, eyebrows up. “Did you just admit that I could do something you couldn’t?”

“I’m just saying, we all have our part in this,” Eliot replied evenly, not acknowledging Hardison’s point. “Nate, Sophie and Parker will work the mark. They’ll have their hands full without us down there to make all the pieces come together.”

“And you?” Hardison asked. “What exactly is your purpose out here?”

Eliot stood, cocking an eyebrow at him in return. “Me?” he asked, as though it was completely obvious. “I’m here to make sure you don’t die.”

Hardison wrinkled his nose. “Nice, man,” he said, because if he was going to be miserable, then so was Eliot. It was only fair, as far as Hardison was concerned. “Nice. We don’t even need heat because the warmth of your love will keep me alive.”

Eliot’s face contorted angrily. “Shut up.”

“Hey, man, I get it,” he said. “If you wanted a weekend, just the two of us, all you had to do was ask.”

Shut up,” Eliot growled, moving to their supplies again.

“I feel the love, baby,” Hardison said, hand on his heart. “I feel the love.”

“Get the system up and running,” Eliot said tersely. “I’m going to finish unpacking the snowmobile.”

Eliot didn’t wait for a goodbye, but was out the door with a blast of cold. Hardison shivered, flexing his fingers as the door slammed shut behind the hitter.

“Seriously, man,” he said to himself as he blew into his hands. “Why would it ever have to be this cold?

-o-

Despite the fact that everything looked ancient, the cabin and its gear were surprisingly functional. With the generator going, they had heat and electricity. That wasn’t a lot probably, but after the long, miserable snowmobile ride here, heat and electricity was definitely a step in the right direction.

It was also the only step in any direction.

The cabin had actually been Hardison’s find. It was the only structure with any of the specifications they needed that was within any proximity of the oil camp. It had taken a lot of time to find it, but Hardison was damn good at his job, and he’d been quite proud of his discovery. Not only was it close to the oil camp, but it had served as a meteorological station, which meant it had plenty of computers and other equipment for long term observation. Better still, it had been mostly abandoned, meaning having access would be easy enough.

In short, it was perfect.

In theory.

Until Nate had told him to go there.

For a week.

Still wearing his coat, Hardison started up the equipment. Old as it was, it took nearly five minutes to boot. Still, once the operating system was up, Hardison was pleased to find it responsive and easy to use. The only advantage to not having a wireless connection was that there was no risk of being compromised. That did, however, mean that Hardison would have to go about this stuff the old fashioned way.

That was why Eliot had brought food, blankets and survival supplies.

Hardison, on the other hand, had brought thumb drives.

And a lot of them.

It would be nearly impossible to compress the data, and since he had no intention of coming out here more than once, he needed to download everything.

Long, slow and tedious.

Hardison was usually okay with that sort of thing but every time he took his fingers out of his gloves, they started to freeze again, and that was with the heat going and after Eliot had started a fire.

The sacrifices Hardison made.

“Okay,” he said, scrolling through the system to get a grasp for exactly how primitive it was. “I think I can reconfigure the OS to do what we need, but we still need access to their data. Usually, we can hack things, but this far out--”

“No wireless connection,” Eliot said, not missing a beat from where he was still unpacking across the room. “You got the right wires?”

“It ain’t rocket science, and all we need is a simple splice,” Hardison said. “We just have to get to their junction box.”

Eliot gave him a long look, because he was about to ask a question he already knew the answer to. “We?”

“That was the royal we,” Hardison said, entirely unapologetic. He wouldn’t be able to hack anything if his fingers were frozen off. “You can get to the junction box and do the splice.”

“You’re not afraid I’ll mess up your wires?” Eliot asked.

“I’m more afraid of being eaten by wolves,” Hardison said. “So I think you’ll do just fine.”

“Fine,” Eliot said shortly, reaching for the bag of wires and tools. “Just try not to burn the house down while I’m gone.”

“Honestly, that sounds kind of nice right about now,” Hardison called after Eliot as he headed toward the door. “A nice, toasty fire.”

“Just don’t die, okay?” Eliot said with a scowl as he opened the door.

“That is generally my goal in life,” Hardison said. “But if you were really concerned, maybe next time don’t take me out into the barren wilderness.”

Eliot didn’t say anything as he slammed the door behind him again.

“And you think I’m joking,” he said to himself, shaking his head as he started typing again. “And you all think I’m joking.

-o-

It took Eliot the better part of the afternoon before he finished laying the lines and trudging back through the snow. By the time he returned, Hardison was already automating the copy and paste functions, starting the meticulous splicing process that would give them virtual copies of every file this asshole had.

Starting, being the operative word.

It was going to take forever.

Hardison had copied exactly two files when Eliot burst back through the door.

“Whoa, hey, man!” Hardison said, drawing his coat closed tighter with the gust of arctic air. “Shut that thing!”

Eliot obeyed, though Hardison suspected it had little to do with his order. Instead, Eliot clomped his boots heavily, brushing the snow crusted on his eyebrows away.

Hardison observed, debating just how snarky he should get. “A little cold out there, huh?”

Eliot looked at him hard. “It’s two miles, on inclines, in the snow,” he reported.

“You didn’t take the snowmobile?” Hardison asked.

Eliot unzipped his coat, slipping off his soaked gloves. “Need to save fuel,” he said. “Plus, we can’t tip them off.”

“I guess, but it looks so cold, man,” Hardison said. “And I was just starting to feel warm.”

“Did it work?” Eliot said gruffly.

“Making me cold?” Hardison asked.

“The wires,” Eliot said in exasperation. “Did the wires work?”

“Oh, yeah,” Hardison said, nodding to the screen. “Starting the backup process now.”

“Good,” Eliot said, throwing off his hood and shaking more snow out of his hair. “Maybe we’ll get lucky for once and this thing will go okay.”

“Lucky?” Hardison asked with an incredulous snort. “Did you just call the two of us stranded in the arctic lucky?

“We’re not stranded,” Eliot snapped.

“But we are in the arctic,” Hardison said.

“Part of the job, man,” Eliot countered. “And we’ve had worse.”

“If you’re counting the time you nearly let me drown in a pool while I sucked air out of a chair, then maybe--

“Damn it, Hardison!” Eliot mumbled, moving his way to the fireplace.

“What? I was agreeing with you,” Hardison said.

Eliot threw another log angrily onto the fireplace. “Just--” he started and stopped himself before turning his icy glare back to Hardison. “Just shut up and work.”

-o-

Working, that was no problem.

Shutting up, on the other hand.

Well, that was always a problem.

But the thing was, with just the two of them, it was actually not too bad. Hardison brought some music, and while he continued to process the data, Eliot started making dinner while they both hummed in the background. Before long, Hardison had one full flash drive and Eliot had something sizzling on the stove and they were both singing out loud, harmonizing to perfection.

When dinner was served, Hardison was surprised to find out just how flavorful beans could be, and even without orange soda, he found that he couldn’t complain.

The fire crackled through the evening, and Eliot read a book while Hardison monitored the work. Hardison drummed his fingers on the desk, and Eliot tapped his foot in rhythm, and Hardison only thought about home once or twice.

That was remarkable, sure.

But what was more remarkable?

Was Eliot.

Singing, bobbing his head along, talking.

There was very little growling throughout the course of the evening, and Hardison realized something rather suddenly.

“You’re enjoying this,” he said.

Eliot looked at him, brow wrinkled. “What?”

“This,” Hardison said, nodding between them. “You’re enjoying this case.”

“It’s just another case--”

Hardison shook his head, because Eliot was being good natured. Eliot was being mellow. Eliot was being...happy?

That made sense, at least.

Because Eliot being happy could coincide with hell freezing over.

“Uh uh,” he said. “You like that we got to get away. Just like that stupid gone fishing job.”

“Where we didn’t actually go fishing, by the way,” Eliot said.

“But this is the same thing, right?” Hardison asked. “Great outdoors. Nature lover.”

“It’s not exactly about nature--”

“Becoming one with the snow or something other white person bull--”

Eliot sighed, long suffering but strangely patient. “It’s good to disconnect,” he said. “Life, especially ours, it’s busy. Chaotic.”

“Busy is good,” Hardison said. “Keeps your mind sharp.”

“Stimulation is good,” Eliot agreed. “But overstimulation will deaden your senses just as fast. Sometimes you just need to get away from the distractions. Place like this, things are simple. Simple is good.”

“No, simple is boring, man,” Hardison said.

“Simple lets you remember what matters,” Eliot said. He shrugged. “Good meal, good conversation. Warm bed. What more do you need?”

Hardison considered this, eyebrows up. “Well, an Internet connection for one.”

It was a joke.

Mostly.

It was also one line too many.

Truth be told, it was a lot more than Hardison had expected to get, but Hardison wasn’t the type who knew how to stop. Not when he was ahead; not when he was behind. It was how he’d convinced a Russian that he was a diamond smuggler with flash and slang alone.

“I should let you get eat by wolves, you know that?” Eliot huffed at him, opening his book viciously again, almost bending the spine in half out of spite.

“I was just saying!” Hardison objected in his defense.

“Yeah, yeah,” Eliot muttered. “You’re always just saying.

“What?” Hardison said.

“Nothing!”

“No, what?”

“Nothing!” Eliot hissed. “Just do your work, man. One week is all. We just have to make it one week.”

One week, Hardison thought to himself as he started the next drive.

It might just be the longest week of his life.

-o-

Eliot went to bed early, which was sort of disappointing. This was a man who claimed to sleep only ninety minutes a day, and yet he was out like a light by 11 PM. Whether or not this had something to do with Hardison was undetermined.

For his part, Hardison slept on and off at the computer, dozing while kicked back as the computer whirred at him. He could have pulled an all nighter, but this was a one week job.

And one week without sleep?

Would be too long.

Besides, it was boring as hell. Most of the time, when he did jobs back home, he could multitask. But here? He had no Internet, no games, and just one iPod.

Plus, he was sort of scared that if he woke Eliot, the other man might just kill him.

So sleep.

Sleep was better.

-o-

Hardison must have fallen into some type of REM sleep before dawn, because when he woke up, his neck was stiff and the computer was blinking at him because his latest drive was out of memory space. Sitting up, Hardison groaned, rolling his shoulders as he reached for the next drive.

When it was in, he looked around. The curtains were pulled back and sunlight was streaming in. Surprisingly, Eliot was nowhere in sight. His bed was neatly made and his things impeccably packed.

“Figures,” Hardison muttered to himself, turning back to his computer.

Five minute later, there was a gust of cold air as Eliot opened the front door again, traipsing in noisily.

Glancing back, Hardison rocked in his seat a little. “You thought it’d be fun to go for a morning walk?”

“Perimeter check,” Eliot said, starting to undo his gear. “There’s a good chance our friends over the hill will notice we’re here.”

“Because they like to go on morning walks, too?” Hardison asked.

“Because there’s smoke coming out of the chimney,” Eliot reported, pouring himself a cup of steaming water. “Because when you live out this far long enough, you start to notice things that are different.”

“More reasons not to live out this far,” Hardison said.

“Well, we seem to be okay for now,” Eliot said. “No signs that they’ve come closer to investigate, but I did hide my prints to their junction box, just in case.”

“In case they think that an Eskimo tried to hack them?” Hardison asked.

“In case they get suspicious,” Eliot said. “You really want to deal with bad guys trying to kill us while we’re out here?”

“I didn’t want to deal with anything out here,” Hardison pointed out. “But I got outvoted.”

“Just keep the data moving,” Eliot ordered.

Hardison turned back, bobbing in his chair. “As long as you keep us alive and warm,” he said. “Then we’ve got a deal.”

-o-

Alive apparently meant feeding him cereal and fruit.

Warm meant more logs on the fire.

Hardison had made those demands as a bare minimum, but apparently he had annoyed Eliot more than he intended. Because that was all he got.

He made the mistake of trying to take a shower, only to find out that their hot water heater? Didn’t actually heat water.

When he got dressed again, he bundled up in even more layers out of principle alone.

On the couch, Eliot had his book open with a smirk.

“You could have warned me about the water,” Hardison muttered.

“Yeah,” Eliot agreed with a malicious grin. “I could have.”

-o-

Hardison started sketching by mid morning, just to pass the time. By the time Eliot served lunch, Hardison had drawn out a fairly good rendition of the Mona Lisa, considering it was entirely in half-frozen ballpoint ink.

Lunch was beans.

Which was less tasty the second time around.

Hardison watched Eliot consume them greedily.

Pausing, Eliot said, “Problem?”

“Oh, where to begin?” Hardison asked, pushing the food around.

Eliot’s brow darkened. “Eat your food.”

Hardison put a forkful in his mouth. “Not like there’s anything else to do.”

-o-

In the afternoon, Eliot started to pace.

Hardison ignored it as long as he could, but since there was nothing else to do, it was impossible not to fixate.

“Man, what is wrong with you?” he asked finally.

“What?” Eliot asked. “Nothing.

“You’ve been checking out that window every two minutes,” Hardison said. “What gives?”

Eliot looked annoyed that he had noticed. “Just the clouds.”

Hardison stared at him. “With the snow and the cold, you’re upset about clouds?”

“Just -- look at them,” Eliot said, pointing out the window.

Hardison looked, sort of.

“Looks like snow, is all,” Eliot said.

“And that is surprising because….?”

Eliot sighed. “Just that the storms up here turn nasty real quick,” he said. “And we’re pretty good with supplies, but these things can blanket the mountain for days.

Hardison sat up a little straighter. “Days? Those clouds do know this is just a one-week job, right?”

Eliot’s face was pinched. “I’m going to go collect some more firewood.”

Hardison’s eyes widened. “It is just going to be a one-week job, right, Eliot?”

Eliot already had his coat on and was pulling on his gloves.

“Eliot?”

He reached for the axe -- which, when did they even get an axe? -- and gave Hardison a steady nod. “I’ll be back in an hour,” he said. “Do not come outside.”

Hardison’s eyes were bugging now, mouth gaping as Eliot went outside.

“I wasn’t planning on it, man,” he said when the door had shut. “But seriously. One week. It’s a one-week job, so you better tell those clouds to keep their stuff together for one week.

-o-

Then, of course, things got worse.

Hardison was trying to do his job, but it wasn’t exactly a hard job and ever since Eliot had mentioned those damn clouds, that was all Hardison could think about. Without meaning to, he was pacing in the same line as Eliot had, watching with increasing concern as the clouds continue to gather.

After several hours, snow started to fall.

And there was still no sign of Eliot.

Hardison looked nervously at the door.

Outside, it was freezing cold with lots of snow. There could be bears, wolves and duplicitous oil men who wanted to kill them. In theory, none of those things would be enough to take Eliot down.

But…

Hardison rocked on the balls of his feet anxiously.

But.

Do not come outside.

It had been a simple order.

Until Eliot had not come back inside.

He was just about to put on another layer of clothes and go out when suddenly the front door burst open.

Eliot’s stout figure was easy enough to recognize, and Hardison’s heart fluttered in relief. “Oh, thank God,” he said. “I was starting to get worried--”

Eliot closed the door behind him with effort as the wind sent in swirls of snow behind him.

“And those clouds, man,” Hardison said. “And you didn’t come back--

Eliot took another step, then stopped.

“And I thought you’d been eaten by wolves or something,” Hardison continued, rambling in relief. “And you scared the crap out of me--”

That was when Eliot’s eyes rolled up in his head and he crumpled to the ground.

Hardison’s entire body went ice cold.

And for the first time on this God-forsaken case, it had nothing to do with the weather outside.

-o-

For all the times and ways Eliot had taken the hits, Hardison couldn’t actually remember seeing him unconscious. There had been a few times that he’d gone silent over the comms, and a time or two when he’d shown up worse for wear, but out cold? Right there in front of him?

It didn’t happen.

Hardison wasn’t naive enough to think that Eliot was actually invincible or anything like that. It was just, well, he was pretty close to invincible.

So seeing him go down?

Was terrifying.

“Eliot,” he called out, moving forward quickly. He crouched low, reaching down to shake Eliot’s shoulder. “Eliot.

There was no response, and Hardison couldn’t tell anything through the thick layers of their clothes.

Frustrated, Hardison pulled off his own gloves before rolling Eliot hastily onto his back. From this position, he could see that Eliot’s eyes were closed and his face was pale. That was worrisome but pretty uninformative, all things considered.

Fingers shaking, Hardison fumbled around until he found the zipper on Eliot’s coat, pulling it quickly down and splaying the thick coat wide. Under that, he found a zip-up sweatshirt, which he also quickly undid before glaring at the button-up flannel shirt beneath that.

“No wonder you’re not cold!” Hardison objected. “You’ve got, like, five bazillion layers.”

The one time in his life Hardison would have liked a sarcastic reply, Eliot still gave him nothing.

Sighing heavily, Hardison reached up his fingers to press against Eliot’s neck. This seemed like the right thing to do, but Hardison had no idea what he was actually doing. The beat was easy enough to find, which Hardison figured was a good thing, but it still didn’t explain why Eliot was unconscious.

There were no obvious cuts or bruises on his face, and he was starting to unbutton the flannel shirt to see if there was something underneath that would explain it when Eliot finally stirred.

Just in time to see Hardison undo the last button.

Steely blue eyes stared at him. “Hardison, you better not be undressing me.”

Hardison huffed. “You went and passed out on me!”

Eliot grunted, pulling back a little as he tried to sit himself up. It looked like hard work, but when Hardison reached out to help, Eliot jerked away even harder. “I didn’t pass out.”

“Um, yes,” Hardison said. “Yes, you did.”

Scowling, Eliot glared. “So you thought you would take my clothes off?”

“I was trying to figure out why,” Hardison objected.

Eliot harrumphed, pulling his layers closed with one hand as he got slowly to his feet. “I’m fine.”

Hardison followed him, still a little concerned he was going to pass out again. “So you fainted for fun?”

Despite how certain he was trying to sound, Eliot was balanced somewhat precariously on his feet and it didn’t take an expert to see it. “I didn’t faint.

“Passed out, fainted, swooned,” Hardison said. “Take your pick.”

Eliot deepened his glare, but his shoulders slumped. From exhaustion or defeat, it didn’t matter. It was probably both. “I just had a bit of a run in with the other guys.”

“The other guys?” Hardison asked. “There’s no one out here for miles--”

Eliot looked at him.

“Oh,” Hardison said. “You mean the bad guys. Well, how small are we talking?”

Working his jaw for a moment, Eliot jutted his chin defensively. “They came up suddenly on their way out.”

“Their way out?” Hardison asked.

“They were trying to beat the storm,” Eliot explained. “Best I can tell, they took everyone with them.”

“That sounds like a smart option,” Hardison said. “They may be greedy bastards, but at least they’ve got common sense.”

“They lack employee integrity,” Eliot said. “Bailing at the first sign of trouble.”

“Again, not seeing how this works against them,” Hardison said. “But man, that still doesn’t explain why you disappeared all afternoon and face planted at my feet.”

Sighing, Eliot gingerly took off his coat and sweatshirt. As he worked the flannel off, Hardison saw the blood for the first time.

He reached out, grabbing Eliot’s arm with wide eyes. “Is that--”

Hissing, Eliot pulled it away. “It’s nothing.”

“I thought they didn’t see you!”

“They didn’t!” Eliot returned sharply.

“So how did you--”

“They tore out of here fast,” Eliot said, shrugging out of the flannel and inspecting what looked like a five inch gash on his arm. “With all that fresh snow on the mountain, it set off an avalanche.”

Hardison stopped, eyes practically bugging now. “I think I would have heard an avalanche!”

“It was below the cabin,” Eliot said, making a face as he looked at the flayed skin on his arm. “And avalanche makes it sound bigger than it was. The hill we’re on, it’s not that big. Steep in parts, but it didn’t go on long enough to build up a lot of dangerous force.”

“Oh, so as long as it was a small avalanche,” Hardison said facetiously.

“Wouldn’t have been much of a problem except I was still holding the axe when I got caught up in it,” Eliot said, examining the fresh blood as it well between his fingers.

Hardison wrinkled his nose, trying not to look. Blood and him, they didn’t mix. There was a reason he preferred to do his dirty work at a keyboard. That was usually very un-bloody. “The axe?” he asked, hoping he misunderstood.

Eliot nodded. “Cut me on the way down,” he said. “Worst of it is that I lost track of it when I fell. It’s gone.”

“Oh, that’s the worst of it?” Hardison asked. “Because I was thinking the part where there was an avalanche and you’re bleeding everywhere might be the worst.”

“I may have hit my head, too,” Eliot said. “Lost some time there; can’t be sure.”

“So concussion, too,” Hardison added.

“But hiking back up in the snow -- that was what took me so long,” Eliot said. He nodded to the supplies by the kitchenette. “Could you?”

Hardison looked over blankly. “Could I what?”

“Get the first aid kit,” he said expectantly.

Hardison looked at the bags, then looked at Eliot. “Or we could get the keys to the damn snowmobile and take the cue of the bad guys and leave.

Eliot was holding the cut closed, furrowing his brows together in consternation at Hardison. “Our job isn’t done yet.”

“You got cut by an axe,” Hardison countered.

“It’s not even that deep,” Eliot said back.

“There’s blood, like, everywhere.

Eliot shrugged angrily. “It won’t even need stitches.”

“But it’s bleeding!


“Because you won’t get me a bandage!”

“Because you passed out!”

Eliot made a low, guttural sound in the back of his throat, moving past Hardison stiffly. The flash of movement looked impressive, but that didn’t last.

Two steps, and Eliot wavered.

Cursing, Hardison stepped forward, steadying Eliot before he had a chance to object. “You were saying?”

Blinking rapidly, Eliot took a few deep breaths. His pale cheeks flushed, but he did look a little chagrined.

A little.

Not enough.

“We clean it, we wrap it,” Eliot said, quieter now. Less demanding, but just as sure. “With the other camp cleared, out, we have no need to go out. You can get your work done and by the time the storm has cleared out, we’ll be ready to go back anyway.”

Hardison’s own anger drained. “If you pass out, man, I’m telling you,” he said. “All bets are off.”

Eliot looked at him, surprisingly still even with Hardison’s hand still on his arm. “You go out in this snow now, we’re both dead, guaranteed,” he said. “Even if we could see enough to navigate, we’d run out of gas and freeze to death before we got halfway back.”

Now that was a somber picture.

Hardison swallowed hard, hating this job a little more than he had before. “Fine,” he said, because there was nothing else he could say. “But if you pass out again--”

“I get it, I get it,” Eliot grumbled, moving to the kitchenette again. He reached for the pack, pulling out the first aid kit. He glanced back at Hardison. “I got this.”

Hardison eyed him, skeptical. “I can give you a hand.”

Eliot almost smiled. “And then you’d be passing out.”

“Hey, that is not -- I mean, not exactly--”

This time, Eliot did smile. “You do your job,” he said, even softer now. He held up the kit. “And I’ll do mine.”

He was trying hard to sound reasonable, but nothing about this week felt reasonable to Hardison. The damn snow and the antiquated equipment and being locked up in a room with Eliot. Now an avalanche and an axe wound and what the hell.

“Come on,” Eliot cajoled. “Trust me.”

Trust him.

Trust
him.

In a blizzard in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. With an axe-wound.

Trust.

Hardison blew out a breath, shaking his head. “This whole week is messed up,” he said, moving back to his work station. “When we get back, I’m giving Nate a big piece of my mind.”

Getting to work, he watched Eliot out of the corner of his eye as the other man cleaned and bandaged his wound one-handed.

Somehow he doubted a piece of his mind would be enough.

-o-

Eliot worked quietly and efficiently, to the point where Hardison felt obliged to do the same. He nixed the music, and there was no beat to keep with the constant humming of the machines and the slow grind of the generator.

When Eliot finished bandaging his arm, he stoked the fire and then started in the kitchen. After several moments, Hardison realized what he was doing.

“Are you making dinner?” he asked.

Eliot looked back. “It is dinner time,” he said.

Hardison snorted, wishing the reason for his incredulity was obvious. To anyone else, it would be. But this was Eliot. “You cut yourself with an axe during an avalanche,” he said. “You don’t need to make dinner.”

Eliot shook his head, putting the pan on the small stove. “We have to eat, don’t we?”

Hardison rocked back in his chair. “Just doesn’t seem right. I should make the food tonight.”

Eliot pulled out a few ingredients from the cupboard. “You do your job,” he said steadily. “I do mine.”

The reply was caught in Hardison’s throat. Somehow, nothing seemed funny anymore.

“Besides,” Eliot said, glancing at Hardison again. “What makes you think I want to eat anything you make?”

“Hey!” Hardison objected. “I have culinary skills!”

“Frozen pizza doesn’t count,” Eliot said, getting out a can opener. “And I’m pretty sure you can’t get Chinese delivered this far out.”

“Oh, well I guess we better have beans again, right?” Hardison snipped.

“Hey, beans are high in fiber,” he said.

“And low on taste,” Hardison said.

“You ate three helpings last night!”

“Well, what else was I going to do?” Hardison asked.

“Ten bucks,” Eliot said.

“What?”

“Ten bucks I can make another meal with beans you like,” he said.

“Ten bucks?”

“Ten bucks,” Eliot said with a nod.

Hardison opened his mouth and closed it. “Okay, all right,” he said. “Ten bucks says you can’t make something new and exciting out of a can of beans.”

Eliot grinned wickedly. “You’re on.”

-o-

Thirty minutes later, dinner was steaming and served.

It wasn’t until Hardison sat down at the small table that he realized he hadn’t eaten since lunch.

His stomach rumbled.

Audibly.

Eliot’s smile was smug. “You want to pay up now or--?”

“Ah, shut up,” Hardison said, reaching for his fork. “And pass the damn salt.”

-o-

Three plates later, Hardison asked Eliot if he’d take an IOU.

Hardison admitting defeat seemed to be all Eliot wanted.

-o-

Hardison played his music quietly that night, tapping his foot gently while the files continued to copy. Outside, the wind howled, but Eliot kept the fire burning hot and bright. It was an amiable quiet, and though Hardison wasn’t about to admit it, he’d had worse nights.

Aside from the blizzard, the slow computer, the lack of wi-fi, and the injured hitter across the room, of course.

Hardison hummed to himself, watching Eliot read his book out of the corner of his eye. His head was bobbing, just a little.

Just enough.

Hardison smiled, turning the music up just a touch.

He’d definitely had worse.

-o-

It wasn’t even 10 when Eliot got up with a stretch. He made a point of going to his bed.

Hardison turned toward him. “You’re not going to be already, are you?”

He knew the answer to the question as soon as he asked the question. Eliot wasn’t being subtle, and Eliot was more than capable of being subtle. Besides, even in the wan light, it was easy to see that Eliot looked exhausted. Apparently, being in an avalanche took a toll on you, and Eliot looked like he should have been in bed hours ago.

Still, the older man offered a smile. “Just want to be ready for tomorrow.”

Hardison raised his eyebrows. “Another exciting day of doing nothing?

“You never know what will come up,” Eliot replied, pulling back the blankets on his bed. “You know, you should get some real sleep tonight, too. Not at the computer.”

“I want to get this done as soon as possible,” Hardison said.

“Snow doesn’t show signs of letting up,” Eliot pointed out. “This job’s going to be a week, whether we want it to or not.”

Hardison looked to the window where snow still blew up against it in continual swirls. He turned his eyes back to Eliot who was already settling down to sleep. “You sure you’re okay, man?”

Eliot made a small humming sound, nodding just slightly. “Tired’s all,” he said, letting his eyes start to close. “If you need anything….”

The offer would have carried more weight if Eliot hadn’t fallen asleep before finishing the statement.

In the new stillness, Hardison sighed. “One week job my ass,” he muttered, turning back to his computers. “Longest damn week of my life.”