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[personal profile] jendavis
Title: Date of Expiration
Fandom/Pairing: Leverage/Global Frequency fusion, with eventual Eliot Spencer/Alec Hardison.
Rating: R (eventually)
A/N: Here's wikipedia's rundown on Warren Ellis's Global Frequency. While knowledge of the story is helpful, and I heartily recommend the graphic novels, it isn't absolutely necessary.
Summary: The Global Frequency existed to save humanity from itself, and there was always another crisis coming. It was job security of a sort, if you managed to survive the bioenhanced supersoldiers, alien neuroprogramming, physicists who should know better, and the bureaucracy.

Previous chapters: AO3 // DW // LJ



Mon., April 14, 2014 11:21 EDT (GMT-4)

"You're on the-"

"Global Frequency, I know, man. Only saw you like ten minutes ago."

"Are you always this grumpy when you're scoping out abandoned factories?"

"Only when we're going off a tip from a con man."

"Hey now, Miranda's an excellent judge of character. And if you're seriously telling me you're worried about your odds going up against Colin Freakin' Mason, I'm never going to be able to look you in the eye again."

"Ain't worried about the hacker. More concerned with his employers."

"Eh, I'll give you that one. How's it look in there? Got the bugs swept out yet?"

"There aren't any."

"Seriously?"

"Either that or you sent me out here with a piece of junk that doesn't work."

"Excuse me? Piece of junk?"

"You heard me. What's your ETA?"

"Just stashed the wheels. Checkin' the traffic cams. No sign of him yet."

"You think he's a no show?"

"I think he's...hang on. Yeah. Okay, I got Ford's car pulling up to the gate. Chaos is riding shotgun. You in position?"

"Just waitin' on you, man. All set down here."

"All right. I'm switching to comms and setting Zero on monitors. See you in a few."

---

Zero had come on the line to monitor the operation, and she'd been multitasking while they waited, on a call with another agent 227. Eliot didn't know what 227's game was, but they kept using words like news cycle and network bleed and congress, but even though 324 came up only once, Eliot's attention kept catching on the words Big Wheel and retaliation.

Something was brewing, he'd known as much, but it wasn't a crisis yet. He was getting impatient, anyway. He'd already run through his usual waiting routines, taken inventory, and now he couldn't stop noticing the slight grinding in his elbow. It wasn't enough to be a potential problem, but it was irritating, like missing a spot shaving. He could already tell it was going to be a pain in the ass getting to it, but he still had another set of synthskins at the hotel, and this would be as good a reason as any to change them out.

"They're coming in," Hardison said, after what had started to feel like hours, as the door next to the loading dock opened, Zero ended her call.

"Oh, this is going to go well," a reedy voice complained as sunlight blazed into the mostly dark warehouse. He tapped his comm three times to signal Zero that they were now in play.

Mason was shaking his head, squinting into the darkness. He had his back to Ford, but the unease was plain on his face, though his tone was sarcastic. "Don't you think this is just a little obvious?"

"My business partners are as interested in privacy as you are." Ford's voice echoed as he shut the door behind him. The room was again plunged into shadow. Eliot tapped his earpiece, signaling the others, and watched as Nate made himself comfortable leaning against one of the rusting conveyor belts. "They should be here soon. Feel free to take a look around while we wait."

Eliot set his jaw. Though he'd assumed he'd have to move once they arrived, and has picked his hiding spot to allow for it, it was an irritation he'd hoped to avoid.

Only Chaos wasn't going very far. Either he trusted Ford, which was unlikely given his body language, or Ford's suggestion was having some sort of reverse-psychological effect. Chaos seemed content to poke at the bits of machinery and glance around at the far corners of the room as they waited.
Chaos had the look of a guy who'd been in decent shape, once, before slumping into adulthood. His lankiness was a little rounded at the edges, but his eyes were sharp, distrustful, and arrogant as hell.

"If your associates don't show, soon, I'm out of here," Chaos eventually said, and even from over here, it sounded like an empty threat. "Got better things to do than wait around all damned day."

"Payout like this, you're gonna want to hear them out."

"All right," Zero said. "Aleph, dear, it's time for your grand entrance."

Hardison'd had the car running for a few minutes, already, and now, listening carefully, Eliot could hear it coming up the block. It didn't attract Ford's or Mason's attention until it was pulling up right outside the loading dock, but then again, it wasn't supposed to.

"324," Hardison said, "Everything's all good?"

Eliot tapped his earpiece twice for yes, still wary of the warehouse's acoustics. With this much metal and concrete, it was hard to tell which noises would be amplified rather than muffled. His eyes never left Mason, though he was probably the least threatening guy he'd ever staked out. It was Ford, honestly, that had him concerned. While Hardison and Zero had seemed content to point out that he had no good reason to screw them over, the fact remained that he didn't have any good reasons to help, either.

The sudden sunlight when the door opened made it hard, even with what was left of his optical enhancements, to make out Hardison's face, and it wasn't until Hardison made it halfway across the room before Mason reacted.

Eliot had been ready to move ever since he'd gotten here, he was just waiting for the trigger. If Mason was planning on doing anything stupid, he'd be getting to it right about now.

"Fucking Hardison. Of fucking course."

"Hello, Colin."

Apparently, Mason's best idea was to stare in outraged resignation.

"I see you two know each other, then," Ford said, stepping back towards the door. "That's my cue. Have a nice day."

Mason would probably be arguing with Ford, were his attention not so focused on Hardison. Neither of them watched Ford leave. Already, though, the confusion on Mason's face was clearing, leaving only the indignation.

"Don't crowd him, Aleph," Miranda warned. "Give him space."

Eliot watched as Hardison backed up a few steps. "Chaos, man. We need to talk."

"Apparently so," Mason crossed his arms, having apparently decided to hear him out. "Didn't know Ford was one of yours."

Hardison shrugged, not confirming or denying it.

"You know he ain't why we're talking. He just got us in the same room, is all."

"As him how well he knows Ford," Zero suggested, and Hardison followed her orders.

"Well enough that I'd let him offer me a job. Half the cash up front and a streamlined exit out of town."

"Yeah, but why were you still in town?"

Mason shrugged.

"The job's not done yet," Hardison's eyes widened in realization. "It's not, is it?"

Again, Mason's silence was as good as an admission, but it wasn't at all useful. He was nervous, that much was obvious, and he was probably wishing he'd made a better examination of the warehouse when Ford had given him the chance, but his searching glances were furtive and fleeting. He wasn't going to give Hardison the satisfaction of letting himself get caught searching for an escape route.

Not that there were any of any practical use.

"What do you want, Hardison?"

"I want to know who you're working for," Hardison crossed his arms. "Sooner rather than later."

Mason was scoffing even before Hardison had finished speaking, but he was starting to grin. "Yeah, right. That was stupid, Hardison."

"What?"

"You admitted you didn't know. Which means you've got no idea what you're up against."

Hardison rolled his eyes. "And you do?"

"Yes." Mason crossed his arms, smirking with intent, now. "Which means I've got a lot more leverage than you do."

That was as much as a cue as Eliot could hope for, but he held himself still, waiting to see if Mason would continue. It was Zero's voice in his ear that moved him forward.

"324? If you wouldn't mind stepping in? I don't know how much of their chattering I can listen to."

Eliot tapped an affirmative into earpiece, and stepped carefully from his post, slipping around the shelves at the edge of the room, eyes on Mason the entire time. Him catching sight of Eliot wasn't an immediate threat, but taking him by surprise wouldn't hurt.

As he stepped out behind Mason, though, Eliot noticed a certain unease. It wasn't anything that was happening in front of him- it was all in his head, apropos of nothing. Even with Zero's orders, he found himself waiting for something more.

Something like a shock to the brain that never came.

Hardison was glancing in his direction, however, and Mason was turning, and yeah, his eyes flashed in worry, but the smirk wasn't falling from his face.

"Nice try," Mason said, dismissing Eliot with a slight shrug before turning around again. "If he was half the threat you want me to think he was, you wouldn't be standing in here with him."

"Might not be getting mainlined kill commands any more," Eliot wondered, for a moment, whether or not he was tempting fate, but he didn't let on. "Then again, I don't need them. And I'm more than willing to kick your ass if you don't start telling us something useful."

"No offense, but the people I'm working for are a lot more powerful than you."

Hardison's smirk was pitying, and it was stupidly distracting, the way his eyes lit up in evil glee as he boasted. "You ever hear about anyone going up against us and winning?"

And then it was Mason's turn to smirk. "Not yet. But tell you what. You drive me to the airport, I'll give you a name. Deal?"

Eliot took a step towards him, measured and slow. "You really want to be making deals right now?"

Mason rolled his eyes at him. Knocking them back into his head would've been supremely satisfying. "Not as much as you guys want me to want to."

Zero was silent on the line, and Eliot glanced at Hardison to find the irritation set back into his features.

"Yeah," he said eventually. "It's a deal."

---

Leaving Chaos under Eliot's supervision, Alec went out to get the truck from where he'd stashed it, taking the opportunity to check in with Miranda.

"He's toying with us. He knew we were coming."

"No shit. He literally sent us an invitation. You think it's a trap?"

"You think?" Eliot's sarcasm was followed by a curt "what're you looking at," presumably directed at Chaos.

"Agreed," Miranda said. "Moving the venue is never a good sign. I'll alert airport security to be on the lookout for loiterers."

"You do that. I'll take the long way, buy them a little time to establish any behavioral patterns in the crowd before we get there. I'm using the spray, you might want to pass it on to the locals."

Reaching the truck, he dug the microtracker spray out of the back seat, stepping back from the mist to keep it off of him as best he could. As long as Chaos was in an airport, the GF would be able to use The DHS sniffers to track the particles that rubbed off on his clothing.

Chaos might have plans, but Alec was prepared.

---

"Washington," Chaos said, leaning into Eliot's window at the airport's drop-off zone, one hand on the roof.

"You got a first name?"

"That is the first. Last name, District of Freakin' Columbia. You might want to turn on the news once in a while, man. You're losing touch, Hardison." The smirk was back; he was obviously convinced that he'd won this round. It would be sitting a lot easier if Eliot knew otherwise, but neither Zero or Hardison were giving him a lead to follow, here. "I'll see you guys around, yeah?"

"Watching the news?" Eliot scowled once the window was up and Hardison had started steering carefully through the sea of cars and taxis. "The hell's he on about?"

"Oh, bugger," Zero sighed. "Bugger it all, I've got to go back to DC."

---

Mon., April 14, 2014 13:00 EDT (GMT-4)

Mason was in the wind, but not nearly as much as he thought he was. Hardison was monitoring his microtrackers through the airport and had confirmed that he'd gotten on a plane to Detroit, and Zero had called in some of the locals to take over surveillance, though Eliot doubted he'd lead them anywhere interesting. As for Boston, they were nearly done here. After stopping by the tool store for supplies, there was nothing to do besides pack, clean up, and arrange a flight back to Chicago.

They weren't flying out until seven, irritatingly enough, but it meant there was enough time to take care of his elbow, if anything else. He sat down on the edge of the bed and grabbed the bag from the store, pulling out the toothbrush, some degreaser, some clean, shed-free rags, and a small bottle of oil. The unopened packet of synthskins, he set aside for now.

"Has Zero checked in yet?" He could go to the bathroom to do this, but the light was terrible in here and he didn't think Hardison would care much, anyhow. He glanced up, though it wasn't until he pulled off his undershirt that he had his attention. The skin never looked right, since the bioenhancements just didn't have the same structure as bone. But when Eliot's fingers found the seam up by his shoulder to unhook it from the anchor, Hardison dropped the pretense and started watching in earnest.

"Uh, sorry," Hardison said, once he realized he'd gotten caught staring. "Just. How often do you gotta change that out?"

"Varies. Once or twice a week, if I'm wearin' it at all." The skin caught, as usual, on the charge pack mount behind his elbow. "Depends on what I get into. Elbow's starting to grind, so I'm gonna clean it out."

"That looks like it's pain in the ass."

You don't know the half of it. Eliot, nodded, working the skin down to his wrist, then pulled it off completely, leaving the glove intact.

"Ah, you want some help with that?"

"Hmm? Thanks, but I..." Eliot glanced up at him in confusion, then back down at his arm. "Actually, I'll let you know."

Five minutes later, he still couldn't see exactly what it was that had gotten lodged inside his elbow, but dust, towel fibers, and all sorts of things could find their way into the joint given half a chance. Usually, it would stick to the oil itself, easy enough to wipe off, but today it had worked its way into the joint at the back of his elbow, in right in between the secondary piston and the charge pack mount. It was a pain in the ass, one contortion after the next, to work the degreaser-soaked toothbrush in at any useful angle or pressure.

Hardison had been watching closely enough- a fact that had kept Eliot's head down and resolutely on task- to identify the issue. "I got an air can, but I"m guessing it'll only jam it in worse." He was already gesturing at the brush in Eliot's other hand. " Want me to-"

It wasn't a great idea. He could get it himself, eventually, but Eliot found himself shrugging instead.

"You mind?"

---

"Hey," Eliot grumbled, "watch it, would you?"

Finding a good angle to get at the joint just wasn't happening, and Alec found himself kneeling on the bed, trying to twist Eliot's arm in ways that for all of it's design, it just wasn't meant to go. Up close, and despite the fact that he knew exactly what Eliot was capable of, the tech looked dauntingly fragile.

"Says the man who uses a toothbrush to clean several million dollars' worth of prosthetic technology. Turn that way, would you?"

"Laroque tried setting me up with these stupid little sponge things. They looked like makeup applicators and didn't work for shit." Eliot brought his elbow up behind him his hand resting against the bed next to Alec's knee. Just close enough to touch, but it could've been an accident.

"Yeah?" There was a joke there, if he could focus enough to find it. Eliot's chest had been distracting enough, but the feeling of Eliot's shoulder, under his hand, was even worse. The skin curving over his shoulder was smooth, with three jagged, raw scars radiating out from the embedded metal, and if he stopped to examine it too closely, they'd never be done. He managed to work the brush in, working carefully. "So, just wondering. Can you feel this?"

Eliot nodded, the muscles of his shoulder flexing with the movement; the feeling of the metal joining flesh underneath his hand was suddenly fascinating. "You see how the rods have those raised lines?"

"Yeah?" Upon closer examination, he found that he could make out hair-thin ridges criss-crossing over the metal. They were so faint that when brushed the pad of his finger along the main rod, he could barely feel them. Eliot, though, glanced down, startled, then away again as he went still.

"Electrical receptors. Work like nerves."

"How well do they work? Compared to your other arm, I mean."

"I dunno. Feels different, but I'm used to it."

Eliot's shoulders remained tense, and his hair had fallen into his face, so Alec got back to work, focusing on the metal and not the skin, not the fact that his hand was close enough to Eliot's throat that he could feel his pulse under his ring finger.

"Okay," he eventually said, when he thought he might've gotten it, and pulled back up to give Eliot some space. "How's that?"

Eliot extended his arm experimentally, rotating his wrist and bending it again, still not meeting his eyes. Across the room, Alec could just make out their reflection in the mirror, sitting on the bed like this, his hand still on Eliot's shoulder. He glanced away, maybe a bit too suddenly when his eyes met Eliot's.

"Better, thanks."

Eliot hadn't asked, but Alec was already opening the package of shop rags, blotting off the extra degreaser. The metal underneath his fingers was familiar, now, and it was ridiculous to think that it would break so easily. "Still good?" His heart had climbed into his throat. It was hard to get the words out.

"Huh?" Eliot blinked, handing him the bottle of oil wordlessly, and the gesture felt charged, somehow. It might've merely been a figment of Alec's imagination, but Eliot was staring at him, now.

He was watching him work, and wasn't shrugging him off, and he was starting to relax, incrementally.

Alec couldn't breathe, dripping the lube- no, the oil- carefully into the joint, watching it slick itself down into the workings. He tried to think of something to say- he'd wanted to ask about the charge pack and the cartridge clip, but he just couldn't think, couldn't form the questions..

Eliot's hand twitched against Alec's calf, and it didn't feel like flesh at all, but it did feel an awful lot like an answer.

He looked up to confirm, his heart choking him completely now. Eliot didn't look like he was breathing, either.

He didn't know where to start, how to phrase it. He only managed one word as he squeezed Eliot's shoulder. "Yeah?"

Eliot flexed his hand again, his fingers pressing more firmly against Hardison's leg. His mouth twitched a smile.

"Yeah."

---

Hardison was wide-eyed and nervous, finally moving his hand from Eliot's shoulder- he'd never particularly liked being touched there, the metal was too hard to ignore- to curve around his neck, fingers scratching up into his hair. His eyes only closed when Eliot turned his head those last few degrees and kissed him.

As the kiss deepened, neither of them moved, both too aware of their precarious position on the bed. He had a grip on Hardison's thigh, now, but not tight enough to bruise. He grabbed Hardison's bicep, pulled him in a bit closer, but not enough to send them sprawling. Not enough to jar either of them into realizing what a stupid idea this might turn out to be. There were fingers were carding through his hair, wrapping around to his ear, rubbing at the back of his neck. Despite the thrill of Hardison's fingers trailing unflinchingly over the receptors- it was intense, having someone work them so unflinchingly, and it was transmitting down into his core- the light touch felt like he was waiting for some kind of permission. Eliot shifted slightly, because if Hardison wasn't actually as into this as he was, there was no reason to let him know how hard he'd gotten. It took him a few moments to get himself under control enough to break off.

"You don't gotta be so careful."

"Ain't planning on undoing all my work," Hardison replied, smirking like he was bolder than he was, though his hand was stroking down Eliot's back and hooking into his waistband. It was what he said next, though, that nearly off-lined him completely. "Believe me, the gloves will come off when your skin's back on."

Just like that. Like the fact that his skin not being on wasn't even on his radar.

Like maybe it wouldn't turn out to be a deal-breaker.

He'd already wanted to kiss Hardison, and then some. For a while, anyway, because Hardison was always one on the line who said exactly what Eliot needed to hear. He fed him his intel, he found him his exits. And even now that he had first-hand evidence of what Eliot actually was, he wasn't looking for the door.

He did pull away, though, just enough to pass him the synthskin, and he came back when Eliot pulled, his mouth crashing easily against his own.


Chapter 20
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