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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.  Also, apologies for another lengthy delay in posting.  I fail at the internet.  Grr.
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


Tues., April 15, 2014 04:08 EDT (GMT-4)

"It's me. You still up?"

The door opened a moment later, and Alec was frozen to the spot by two blight blue lights.

They flickered when Eliot blinked at him. Alec had forgotten all about the contacts Eliot wore, and was saved from saying something inevitable about it when Eliot grabbed his arm and pulled him inside. The overhead light came on an instant later, and that electric blue was still obvious, but Alec could read Eliot's face now. Already, the apprehensive scowl was fading as Eliot regarded him, though it didn't go away completely. He still might've been worried that Alec was going to fall asleep standing up. As reasons for concern went, it didn't even rate.

"What's going on?"

"The cot sucked," Alec replied, though it had been less about the cot and more about its location. Even once he'd finally shut the monitors off, he'd been able to read the hub's system's activity through the door that he hadn't been able to bring himself to close. He'd left himself a good view of the last tower in the aisle. The seven points of steady green up on top meant that the internal systems were running smoothly, and the constantly scattering blue LEDs below meant that the crypto was randomizing properly. Though the server routing emergency alerts was on the other side of the stack, he'd been able to see the red flashes of the alert system reflecting off the legs of two chairs by the empty conference table.

It had just been too damned depressing, the hints of crises firing out into an empty basement, with nobody there to see them, no resources to send, and no clear lines to send them with. He'd even been expecting as much when he'd bricked the Chicago hub and gave the burn order. He just hadn't spared a thought that he wouldn't know how to sleep, afterwards.

He was too tired, standing in Eliot's room, watching him retreat to the bathroom, to explain all that, though he knew he should probably try saying something.

"Don't gotta mess with them on my account," he said, too loudly and suddenly, as Eliot finished washing his hands before reaching for the case that contained his contacts.

"Kinda do," Eliot shrugged, leaning in towards the mirror and inserting the first lens, his words muffled. "You'll never get any sleep, otherwise."

He didn't argue, because he had hacked the reservation systems of the three hotels within walking distance just because of flickering lights in the dark. But when Eliot came back into the room with brown, lens-darkened eyes, Alec thought that maybe he would've been just fine without them. Bright steady blue wasn't never anything to worry about, anyway.

Eliot was kicking his boots off, and Alec had suddenly been standing here long enough that the implications of here were starting to sink in. They'd meant to scatter for a very good reason.

"You were really easy to find," he said, the instant before the fact that he'd been the one looking set in. He hadn't quite latched onto the next thought in the progression- that if he'd managed it so easily, someone else might not be far behind- when Eliot forestalled it all with a glance as he removed his socks.

"That's cause I told you where to look." Straightening, Eliot gestured at Alec's feet. "We're fine, Hardison. It's all good. Get your shoes off."

---

Tues., April 15, 2014 16:05 EDT (GMT-4)

The drive-thru coffee Eliot had picked up earlier wasn't good for much more than warming his hands, but he drank it anyway, glaring out the window at the cafe across the street. He was convinced, without particular reason, that the coffee served there was far superior to the thin, watery crap he'd been mainlining all day, but actually going in would've increased the odds of someone recognizing him.

Security monitors at fast food restaurants were probably the least-watched screens in the entire country, and the girl at the drive-thru window had barely glanced at Eliot's face, which would've been ideal had the coffee she'd handed over been good for anything more than warming his hands.

His phone beeped; Tara was on the move again, heading nine blocks west of her current location, which meant it would be better if Eliot had immediate access to the freeway, but didn't go too far. Sterling, Parker and Apollo were all due to remain where they were for at least another half hour.

He really hadn't done much all day besides check the map on his phone to make sure he had clear, fast routes get to everyone, should the need arise. Sterling had reported in this morning, announcing that Tara, Parker, and himself were all cleared for outside contact, but that warrants had been issued for Eliot, Hardison, and Apollo. Hardison hadn't left the hub all day. Apollo had Parker backing him up if shit went sideways, and Eliot himself had dozens of escape routes ready if anything came his way.

Hardison had sounded like Miranda, when he'd checked in later, advising Eliot to prioritize Tara and Sterling's protection.

Eliot hadn't disagreed, but he'd laughed. "Figures. They're the only ones that don't have people looking for them."

"Which means they're our MVP's. Nothing personal. One of them gets blown, we're done, man." Seven hours of uninterrupted sleep hadn't done him any good at all, apparently. He'd sounded frayed and stressed out.

"I hear ya," Eliot had said. He'd stopped himself from saying more, from asking anything. He was on the job, and his job was to focus on Tara and Sterling, Apollo and Tara. Hardison was fine.

Still. It was easy enough to work in the hub's location into his planning.

Eliot recalculated his routes as he drove, double checked them when he parked. Under current traffic conditions, and without making himself obvious, he could get to Tara in three minutes. It would take him five minutes to get to Sterling, and six to get to Parker and Apollo. He could still be back at the hub in four, three and a half if he pushed it.

He'd felt better when he'd only been a minute out. Hardison might not have left the hub all day, but he was in front of those damned computers, doing god-knows-what. One wrong keystroke and the place would be swarming with feds. Eliot was surveilling from the ground, which meant surface streets and rush hour between here and there.

If Eliot had been on the other side, if he'd been tasked with bringing the Aleph of the GF in, he'd use a helicopter. Land it on the damned roof, or the street out front. And, having his location, it wouldn't take long to find away around the security measures. There was always a back way in.

The Aleph would've gotten a warning out, ordered everyone to vanish and not look back, and if he was lucky, he'd have set the self-destruct. He would've known that his exits were closing in, so he'd go down, if he could, rather than up. And Eliot would be ready for it, skidding down the fire escape down to street level before ripping up the grate laid into the sidewalk. He'd be down in the sub-street maintenance tunnels before the helicopter's blades were even done spinning.

He'd have the Aleph in a kill box, corner him, subdue him if he fought. He'd look at his face and see nothing there, because he wouldn't be Hardison, who grinned easily and buried his face in the pillows when he slept, he'd be the Aleph, the target he'd been handed, and if the Aleph tripped, banged himself up maybe, on the stairs, smacked his elbow or hit his head, Eliot would have to read it as an evasive maneuver, and he'd respond appropriately.

The Aleph, under the circumstances, would only be conscious because it took less effort to get him up the stairs, and that would be Eliot's only concern. Aleph acquired, he'd report in as they boarded the helicopter. Awaiting further instruction. And Eliot would hand him off, later, to whoever wanted him, and wouldn't care, and in a week, he'd be hard-pressed to remember the Alephs face, because he'd never really seen it.

Hardison wasn't just the Aleph, and Eliot wasn't just the enemy, but these thoughts were Eliot's job. According to the map, there was another grate at the other end of the block, down by the taxi queue; it would be a straight, following the tunnels along 4th, and if it came down to it, he'd be able to meet Hardison halfway. Even on foot, he'd be there in three minutes at the most.

When the taxi parked at the curb pulled away, Eliot moved the truck up the block, parking next to the grate, and tried to remember the last time he'd worried about someone without actually being instructed to do so.

Putting the truck in park, ignoring the glare from the cabbie he'd cut off, he just couldn't manage it.

---

Tues., April 15, 2014 22:40 EDT (GMT-4)

Parker, with Apollo's assistance- Alec wasn't going to call it supervision- had brought back two heavy bags of takeout, and it had taken a while, once everyone arrived, to get dished up and settled in. The General Tso's was decent enough- a little too sweet, but it'd do. Nobody else seemed to be complaining, except for Eliot, who was glaring ruefully at the dumpling he'd speared on the end of his chopstick.

"Next time, I'm getting the food."

Apollo pointed his own chopsticks back at him. "Don't you live on batteries, or something?"

The rest of the table went suddenly quiet; Parker was the only one not pretending that she wasn't watching for Eliot's reaction. Whether everyone was waiting for someone to laugh, or get punched, or what, Alec didn't know. It occurred to him a few seconds too late that Sophie wasn't here to rein it all in.

That was his job now. "Or," he suggested, awkwardly, "if anyone wanted to, we could, you know, actually start talking about what we managed to accomplish today." It was the closest approximation of his tenth grade history teacher he could manage. He could order people into a burning building, but directing people's social cues just wasn't turning out to be his thing.

"I'll go first," Tara raised her hand, gesturing her pause as she sipped her beer. "I met with Representative MacAllen, managed to get the conversation turned just enough that I had a good reason to stop in over at the DHS, but no particular orders, so I met with some of my friends in the General Council office." Tara made an unimpressed face. "Well, I say friends... I don't think Laura Monroe has any. But anyway, long story short, not only do I have access to Miranda, I'm actually heading with her defense."

"Well at least something's goin' our way," Alec said, though he was already wondering what the catch was. Eliot saved him the trouble of asking.

"You serious?"

"Don't get excited. Monroe put me on the case because she thinks I owe her one and will throw Miranda under the bus accordingly. By the time I was preparing to leave, she'd all but stated that I was to drag it out and make it look good, give the prosecution enough time to blast Miranda's image across every media venue the world's got before ensuring that the conviction happens quietly and smoothly."

"Charming," Sterling shook his head, then tilted it to the side. "But admittedly useful."

"Wait," Parker interrupted, surprised. "You're a lawyer?"

Tara shrugged. "I was two classes short of my JD when the agency recruited me. There's a lot to be said for school loan forgiveness and a guaranteed job after graduation. I signed the contract, worked the training into the last of my coursework, then went to work for them."

Eliot frowned in confusion, getting them back on track. "So why drag it all out?"

"They've been prepping for this for a year and a half now. They want to be sure that public opinion is on their side before they're through with her." Tara made a good point, but more importantly, it was ringing off all the right sorts of bells- there was a connection in there somewhere, close, Alec just had to find it. He could just make out Sterling's fingers, drumming on the tabletop on the edge of his field of vision as Tara continued. "I mean, if Miranda comes out of it a martyr, they'll have to go through something like this all over again, and the more deeply it works its way into the public consciousness, the harder it's going to be to eradicate. Long term, they're just setting themselves up to lose."

"Or gain something else." Sterling snapped his fingers, leaning forward suddenly and hitting on it the same moment Alec did, but muttering anyway. "Liquidation of international holdings prior to-"

"-the buyout. Yeah. Got it."

"What are you-"

"Give me a second." He'd found more than one reference to the program, but he hadn't taken it seriously.

"Okay, we've got something. There's this guy who's been trying to get a relay system together. Channels all radio, phone and internet traffic through a filter. Think of the worst offshoot of the PATRIOT act on steroids, or an invasive GF without the protections. Every communication an agency could want, right at their fingertips, as long as they buy his system."

"Why didn't you just say so right off the bat?" Eliot rolled his eyes, because apparently, he wasn't the sort of guy to go easy on someone just because they'd fallen into bed together. It was a bigger relief than Alec would've realized.

Sterling fielded the question, inadvertently buying Alec some time to stop thinking about how easily the weight of Eliot's arm had anchored him down until he'd fallen asleep. "Because on its own, it's no different than a hundred different prospective tech startups that people come up with on any given day."

"That sounds ominous," Tara said.

"Well," Apollo snorted. "It's not like they're all hip to direct TK interfacing."

"And you're not either, because it doesn't exist," Alec smirked, "and because parallel universes are only hypothetical, as are portals, as are beings from that dimension named Steven who come through and accidentally recalibrate the brains of 428 Welsh schoolkids."

Parker snorted, but Eliot was frowning, glancing between her and Apollo and dodging Alec completely. He didn't seem to like being out of the loop, but right now wasn't the time to explain. "The program's missing some major parameters," Alec continued, before realizing he'd skipped ahead. "We spent all day chasing down the details behind Miranda's arrest; the usual established chain of command type stuff. Prospective research and business deals that haven't been made yet only showed up on the edges, so I wasn't focusing on it."

Eliot's expression eased slightly, and it was suddenly much easier to continue. "The good news, for us, is that most of the people looking to land a contract don't have any idea of the actual threats they need to be responding to. Aliens showing up, or physicists ripping holes in the universe. Catching stuff like that isn't built into their systems, because the designers never seem to know much more than military coups, terrorist cells, outbreak mitigation, the usual thing. Except for this guy." He brought up the photo, bounced it to the main screen. "Victor Dubenich."

"Who's he?" Apollo leaned forward; this wasn't meaning anything at all to him.

Parker straightened in her chair, glaring accusingly at the screen. "Big Wheel."

"Not anymore," Eliot interjected, sitting up. "The way I remember it, about a month before they officially collapsed, he let the others buy out his stake in the company."

"That's right. And he did so publicly enough that Big Wheel took a massive PR hit. Weren't for that, we might not've been able to take 'em- well, not out, but down quite so many pegs." Alec brought up the article the NYT had run on the story and bounced it to the screen while he dug a little deeper, crawling through Sterling's files.

Eliot was apparently the first to finish reading; he gestured at the screen, looking around the table for answers. "So. Hold up. Was Dubenich pulling the rug out from under Big Wheel on purpose?"

"Remains to be seen, I suppose," Sterling shrugged in reply.

"Everything points to his philosophical differences with the company's MO." Alec put some of the more pertinent information he'd found up on the screen. "They were putting all their eggs in one basket with the R&D for heavy weaponry and cybernetics, and the way he saw it, the only thing that could come of it was another arms race. He thought they needed to be spending more energy on dealing with their information infrastructures. He wasn't wrong there, by the way. If Big Wheel had put a little more effort in, we might not've been able to push them down as far as we did."

Apollo leaned back in the chair. "Don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but how does all this make him our guy?"

"He made eighteen mil off of his stake in Big Wheel. Eighteen million," Eliot repeated, apparently for Parker's benefit.

"And then he used it to start up a company that did focus on information. Over the past eighteen months, he's been getting his ducks in a row with his lawyers, and getting his patents and infrastructure into place."

"So?" Apollo looked back from the screen, not quite frowning. "That doesn't seem like anything new."

"Exactly," Alec nodded. "His system is not only mean, sprawling, and surprisingly accurate with regards to the parameters it can handle, but we've seen it before."

"Where?"

"Right here."

Apollo's eyes widened in recognition, but Parker scowled. "I don't get it."

"It's ours," Tara realized.

"Exactly. Well. Not exactly. Going off his memos with R&D, it looks like it's still missing a few pieces, but he's close."

"I don't mean to be the bad guy, here, but what's so terrible about that? I mean, shutting us down and arresting Miranda aside, he's trying to do the exact same thing we are."

"He's setting himself up to make a small fortune off a contract with the Federal Government. Again. And while there's nothing illegal about that..." Sterling trailed off, glancing at Alec in hopes that he could explain it better.

"As it stands, The Feds have no control over the Frequency. We've got global reach, and global resources, and that scares the hell out of them. But. As long as we're the only game in town, and one which they don't have to pay for, they're not going to go looking to spend the cash. Take the Frequency out of play, though, and the story changes."

Tara had been quiet for a while, listening. "So, big picture. What does it matter if the Feds buy in?"

"Let's say Congress had oversight of GF operations. They're going to have to prioritize national interests, which, yay, good for those of us living here, but it'll be at the expense of every other nation on the planet. The Frequency is accountable to the entire world. We're only able to do what we do because of that. If Congress took over our operations tomorrow, I can guarantee you that we'd lose at least half of our Agents due to international law, and another 25 percent because of the personal allegiances that would come into play. We'd be cut off at the legs."

"Well, right now, we're cut off at the head," Eliot grumbled, thrusting his shoulders back in a stretch. "So what're we going to do about it?"

"Easy," Parker grinned. "We get Miranda the hell out of there."

"She's probably safer in there than she is out here," Eliot replied. "They already have her. Means there's no need to go looking for her."

Tara and Sterling were nodding in reluctant agreement, but Parker definitely looked put out. "We just spent all day figuring out seven different ways of getting her out!"

"That's good, 'cause we're still going to get in. Only thing that's changed is the size and direction of the thing we're going to be slipping past the guards." He tapped at his ear. "We need her back in the loop before we start planning phase two."

Parker sat back in her chair. "What's phase two?"

"We're going to take him out, " Alec hooked a thumb over his shoulder, pointing at Dubenich. "For real, this time."

Tues., April 15, 2014 23:18 EDT (GMT-4)

Eliot wasn't sure if this was how Hardison had planned on it going, but it was impressive, the way the Apollo, Parker and Tara seemed to manage having five different arguments between themselves at once. He turned his attention instead to the desk across the room, where Sterling and Hardison were still engrossed by the files they'd managed to access. Eliot wasn't a fan of the way Sterling was hovering, but there wasn't really anything for it. When he'd gone over, earlier, to see what they were talking about, he hadn't even been able to catch the gist. He'd caught something about transfer rates, but they'd been talking about data, not money, and it had only gotten more confusing from there.

Right now, though, Hardison seemed to be hitting his limit, glaring up like he was at Sterling, batting his pointing finger out of the way. "I see it, man, okay? Just chill." It was as good an opening as any.

"You guys find anything?"

"Dubenich and his R&D department are having issues," Sterling began, but Hardison didn't take advantage of the segue he'd been given; whether or not he'd even heard it was anyone's guess. His fingers were flying over the keyboard with renewed vigor as he worked out what looked to be some sort of advanced math. He was shaking his head before he'd even stopped.

"That's an understatement," Hardison finally blinked up over his shoulder, then turned to face the room. Apparently he had heard. "See, they hit a snag with their scrubbing and relay protocol. Long story short, it means that, compared to ours, his system takes eight times longer to identify and flag a crisis. We average seven to twelve minutes, unless someone's on the ground, calling it in sooner."

"How easy is it to fix?"

"Super easy, if you're using our system., but he's not. He's been copying the Frequency systems as best he can, but since he's never gotten his hands on our code, he's just stringing it together from what he's seen and heard at a distance. Reinventing the wheel. Don't get me wrong, he's good. But he's missing one piece, and unless he rebuilds nine or twelve different subsystems first, he's not going to be able to see how to fix it."

Hardison yawned; he looked beat to hell. It was probably the only reason they were being spared the excruciating geek spiral he should've been rushing into.

"So what's that mean for us?"

Sterling gave Hardison an assessing look before taking Apollo's question. "It means we have an in. We've got something he needs, which is a rather lovely spot to find ourselves in."

If this was going where Eliot thought it was, he was going to be pissed. "So, what. You're thinking of bargaining with him?"

"No," Hardison's eyes had fallen shut. He opened them now, smiling. "Just selling him what he needs."

For a moment, Eliot was sure that the responsibility of being the first to argue would fall to him, but Tara pushed back from the table.

"You can't be serious," she said. "We should be taking him out, not proposing a merger."

"You're not wrong." Hardison stood up, stretching his back. "Even if Dubenich would be willing to make a deal, he's gotta know that making one with us would lead to too many questions he probably doesn't want to answer."

"So how do you propose we pull it off?"

"We don't," Hardison broke off; suddenly, he and Sterling were having an entire conversation using only their eyes. After a moment, Hardison nodded, as if Sterling had only confirmed something he'd already known. "We're going to need someone they don't know."

Eliot hadn't actually thought she'd been listening, she'd been so quiet, but Parker was the first to ask. "Any idea who?"

Hardison's eyes slipped briefly towards Eliot, who definitely didn't like the flash of wary apology he saw there. "Ford."

Eliot stared as he processed it, and managed not to sputter. "You serious? He's a-"

"Con man with a Robin Hood streak," Hardison finished for him, raising his hands to forestall further argument. "Miranda trusted him. It's enough for me."

""He's also, apparently, an informant for the feds. You sure trusting him's the right play?" Eliot grimaced apologetically. This, what he was doing right now, was probably exactly why the GF gave agents finalized orders instead of invitations to strategic planning sessions. Ford had helped out once; it didn't make him a vetted, trustworthy ally. AS Eliot looked around the table, he realized that his reluctance was starting to bleed. Tara was scowling at Hardison as if her own disagreement was merely moments away; Parker and Apollo were sharing wary glances. Only Sterling seemed untroubled by the suggestion. Then again, he hadn't met the man.

"I'm sure enough to not waste any time looking for somebody else." Hardison shrugged, and the movement of tendons under the skin of his shoulder caught Eliot's eye. He'd sunk his teeth in, right there, less than an hour ago, and judging by his face, Hardison had tracked the source of his distraction back to the source. Standing up, he came back to the conference table, grabbing Eliot's shoulder and squeezing briefly as he passed. "Hey. We've all seen worse, all right?"

Eliot got it, he did. They were low on options and giving the group a reason to splinter would do more damage than actually winning the argument. Besides, he didn't need the pep talk, especially not with all the others here, and it was best to divest Hardison of the impression that he did.

"Yeah, but. Ford? The guy's a jackass."




TBC...

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