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What, was "Rudy" on cable last night?

. . . Yes.

Hardison intent-face
Eliot Spencer vdistinctive
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Calumet Heights, Chicago, Illinois, Saturday afternoon, FT
"Yo, here they come," Hardison said, watching the new Benz pull into the overgrown, abandoned lot they'd chosen as their meetup. "Where we're just gonna hand over all that money an' let him get back in his car. Because, yup. That's a thing that we're doin'."

In case Eliot had missed the last fifteen minutes of bitching, Hardison was not best pleased with this.

"Shut up, Hardison," Eliot grumbled. "You know I can't watch all of your Nana's friends all the time."

"Or we coulda just called the cops," Hardison muttered, knowing very well that would have been a terrible idea. "There are enough witnesses that they coulda pressed charges..."

Only to have Walker post bail and send his merry band of thugs after them, bringing the conversation right back to Eliot's point about not being able to watch all of Nana's friends all the time. Ugh.

Had Hardison mentioned he hated this guy yet?

Eliot turned to reassure Hardison -- again -- that this wasn't over, then stiffened when the car came to a stop several yards away from them. "There he is. You ready for this?"

Seeing Walker in the flesh for the first time wasn't doing a damn thing to change Hardison's opinion, either. Heyes, looking much worse the wear for his extended introduction to Eliot's fist as Hardison was pleased to note, got out of the car first, looking around to make sure they were alone. This time, Heyes wasn't even hiding the gun; it was out and he was keeping it pointed at the both of them, prudently staying away from Eliot. He also checked to make sure that they had, indeed, brought a briefcase. Deon had demanded cash, not funds transferred back into an account that had already proved vulnerable.

Then Deon exited the car, looking pleasant and unruffled, a small smile on his handsome face. "Ah, gentlemen," he said, waving at them like they were all old friends. "Glad to see you could make it. Just thinking of the damage I'd have to do to all those poor old ladies almost put me off my brunch." His white teeth practically glinted in the sun. "Almost."

"Walker," Eliot said, then looked over at his bodyman with a slightly wicked grin. "Heyes. Ya got somethin' right about. . . ." He circled his hand around his own face. "Here."

Like a black eye or two.

Heyes grunted, taking an angry step forward. Walker stopped him with a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. "Mr. Tyrol," he called. "Nice to see you again in slightly less formal circumstances." His eyes flicked over to Hardison. "And you must be Celeste's boy. She was so proud of you, you know. All she talked about while we were meeting was about how she was doing this so you wouldn't have to worry about her in the future. Such a sweet lady, isn't she? Not too bright, though, falling for one of the oldest scams in the book."

"Then how stupid must you be?" Hardison asked, his knuckles white on the briefcase. How dare Walker talk about his Nana this way? How dare he? "Considerin' the one we fooled you with is even older? My Nana got tricked cause she's honest. What's your excuse?"

"And just how does she feel about that?" Deon called, even as his eyes narrowed. "Does Celeste know that her precious son pulls cons the same way I do?"

"There ain't nothin' 'the same' about how we operate, Walker," Eliot growled. "If you were more'n a two bit criminal, you mighta noticed that by now."

Deon's eyebrows raised. "That's a lot of talk, considering I'm the one about to drive out of here with all my cash," he said, the tiniest bit of irritation threading his tone. "You're here because you don't have another choice, remember? Whatever your original plan was, it went out the window when your cover got blown. I'm the winner here. Me."

Heyes gestured at Hardison with his gun, beckoning him over. "This is the way it's gonna work" he called. "You, Tyrol or whoever, you're gonna keep your crazy ass over there where I can see it. You, boy, you're gonna bring the briefcase over here to the car, open it up, and show Mr. Walker what's inside. If a single dollar bill is missing, or if there's something in there that shouldn't be, well, things are gonna stop being quite as civilized. You hear me?"

A muscle in Hardison's jaw tic'd at that 'boy', but he forced himself to nod. "You're awful free with names an' demands an' stuff," he noted. "How do you know we ain't wearin' wires an' every little word ain't bein' picked up by several law enforcement operatives as we speak?"

"Well, first, I'm gonna hope you love your Nana more than that, cause it sure would be a shame to have to go back and pay her a visit if we find out you didn't listen after we told you this went down," Heyes said. His smile was slimy. "On the other hand, I didn't appreciate that frame to the face, so maybe it wouldn't be much of a shame at all."

"And ultimately pointless," Walker said, sounding bored. "How stupid do you think we are, exactly? One of the first things I invested in when I started this profession was a disruptor for audio and digital devices. If someone is listening, all they're getting is static. Best of luck prosecuting with that."

His shark smile returned; a showing of teeth under flat, emotionless eyes. "Your time would be better buying flowers for your Nana for when Heyes was done with her."

Yeah, Hardison was grinding his teeth now; it could be heard over the comms in their ears. Which were still broadcasting, of course. Not that Hardison had been worried that anything he'd built was likely to be taken out by some tiny disruptor from Radio Shack or whatever.

He glanced at Eliot. "We sure about this?" he asked in an undertone. "I'm really likin' the idea of punchin' him in his stupid face until he goes down."

And then maybe still punching. It took a lot to get Hardison mad, but Walker was checking every box on the way to Fury Town.

You think I don't?" Eliot glowered at Heyes and Walker, body tensed for any sudden moves.

Any excuses.

"Do it, Hardison. Let's get this over with."

Setting his jaw, Hardison walked slowly forward, holding the briefcase of cash up in the air. "A'ight," he said, all sullenness. "Fine, whatever, I'm headin' over. Got all your money right here. Though I'm interested in knowin' how I'm s'posed to trust that you ain't gonna go after my Nana after you get what you want."

"Aww, what? You don't trust me to be a man of my word?" Deon laughed. "Short answer? You don't. But you do know that if you don't cooperate, I will go after her, so I think it's in everyone's best interest that you just do as you're told."

"Put the briefcase on the hood of the car and open it," Heyes ordered. "Then step aside. Anything funny happens, and I shoot you, then your boy there, and then I go after your grandma. We clear?"

"Crystal," Hardison grit out. There were so many smartass comments he wanted to make there, but he didn't trust himself to say more than the bare minimum, couldn't afford to antagonize Heyes or Walker.

He did as he was told, put the briefcase down on the hoot, and snapped it open. Half a million dollars sat in tidy little stacks: all the money they'd conned out of Walker. All the money that was supposed to go to his Nana and her friends, to keep them secure during their retirements. It had taken a great deal of time and finesse to get the much cash together in just a few hours.

It was everything to them. And nothing at all, not if it would buy his Nana's safety from Walker and his thugs.

"It's all here," he said again. "Feel free to look it over, count it, make sure I didn't set up some kinda secret trap in there that only goes off in the presence of douchebags. Whatever." He stepped aside, next to Walker, while Heyes crowded in to check the briefcase over.

And looked at Eliot.

Eliot caught his look, glanced over to Heyes and his gun, and gave a very small nod.

He had your back, Hardison. Heyes wasn't going to get in your way.

This was going to be so entirely worth it.

"Yo, Walker," he said, seeing how Deon's eyes were affixed to the money in the briefcase. Excellent. He'd been waiting to do this since they'd arrived.

In Chicago.

Drawing on every lesson Eliot had ever given him about throwing a punch, Hardison pulled his fist back and let fly.

It felt so good when it smashed into Deon Walker's perfect, handsome face. Whatever happened to him after this didn't matter. He'd gotten to punch him and it was so worth it.

Heyes didn't have time to do more than blink before Eliot's elbow was catching him in the nose, knocking his head back and forcing him to raise up his gun hand -- which Eliot had his hands on a split second later, wrenching the gun out of his grip, popping the magazine, and ejecting the round from the chamber in one slick, extremely well-practiced move.

Really, pulling a gun. Absolutely amateur move.

Which kept Hardison from getting shot, which he greatly appreciated. It did not, however, stop him from getting punched by Deon. For all of his fancy clothes and smarm, Deon Walker was no stranger to fighting. His fist slammed into the side of Hardison's head, sending him to the ground.

"You really want a piece of this?!" Deon bellowed, giving Hardison a quick kick for good measure. Hardison curled up in a ball around the front tire, trying to protect his head. "How stupid do you have to be to keep. Testing. Me!"

Oh hell no.

Eliot slammed into Deon, one fist cracking against Deon's temple, the other arm wrapping around Deon's shoulders to spin him around and send him careening back into the hood of the car. The briefcase with the money went flying, but Eliot didn't seem to even notice. He was too busy pinning Deon into place, his forearm pressed tight up against Deon's throat.

"You do not touch Hardison," he said, pressing tighter with every word. "Or Nana. Or any of her friends. Ever. Again."

Deon didn't have a berserk button the way Eliot did, but Deon was his employer. And he really wasn't fond of Eliot and the beating he'd received last night or the broken nose he had right now. He didn't have time to go for his gun so he settled for lunging at Eliot, hands outstretched to grapple him off.

Eliot snapped his free fist up and back to meet Heyes' broken nose without even looking back.

Guess who wasn't playing games anymore.

That would be Eliot Spencer, for $100, Alex?

Heyes went down, eyes rolling up into the back of his head. Hardison tried to laugh at the noise he made when he hit the ground, but his side still throbbed from where Deon kicked him.

"My boyfriend's back an' there's gonna be trouble..." he sang quietly as he picked himself up, using the side of the car as leverage. "You know," he said to Eliot, hunching over slightly because it had only been a day since the last time someone had kicked his ass, "this is usually the time when I tell you to ease up. Maybe let him catch a breath. But I ain't really feelin' it this time."

Eliot raised an eyebrow at him, not sure how much of that was his usual bravado and how much was --

The man had threatened Hardison's family. The only one he'd had for a very long time. Eliot was pretty sure it wasn't bravado.

"That so?" he said, looking back down at Deon and baring his teeth. "'Cause that wouldn't be a problem, on my end."

The man had threatened their family.

Hardison stood there, breathing heavily, just looking at Deon. Looking at the man who had robbed his Nana, then sent men after her to kill her. Who threatened her as easily as breathing and over money. He tried to dredge up his normal well-springs of compassion, his belief that life was important and worth preserving as much as they possibly could.

He came up with nothing.

Looking into Eliot's eyes, he said, "Don't stop."

Eliot's eyes narrowed a little, but he just nodded and pressed down a little harder against Deon's windpipe.

He wasn't real tempted to make this fast.

"No." Parker's tone was whip-crack sharp over the comms, and she took a second to just breathe. "Eliot. No. Hardison. Stick to the plan."

Don't make her come down there, guys.

"Why?!" Hardison growled through clenched teeth. "We got him, we don't need a plan! He was gonna--"

Didn't Parker understand?! Didn't she care about what he'd done?! If Hardison had been with them, instead of up in his old room, Nana would have died!

Eliot let up on Deon's throat just enough to allow him a bit of air without letting him talk. He caught and held Hardison's gaze.

Your call.

"Guys. Killing him won't keep Nana safer." Parker breathed out. Breathed in. "It'll put you both at risk, and she'll hate that. I'm not saying he doesn't deserve it." She waited a moment, arguments already marshaled because, yes, she'd thought she might have to say this. Someday. Still didn't mean she liked it. "But we're better than this-- smarter than this. We can do it without killing him." She let out a breath. "And his other victims, they're here to see him go down. Please, please let that happen."

"I...I don't wanna be better than this," Hardison said, shoulders slumping. "I just wanna know he can never touch her again--can never hurt anyone again..."

But he was already turning away, shaking his head briefly at Eliot so he'd let him go. He couldn't look at Walker again. If he did, he couldn't swear he'd make the right call.

"I hate this," he said, sounding broken.

He had never once regretted choosing the righteous path, the path of forgiveness, the path he knew his Nana would approve of, but god was he regretting it today.

"You're gettin' off easy," Eliot growled, smacking Deon's head into the hood one more time for good measure before stepping back and brushing his hair back out of his face. "Hardison, you alright?"

"Thanks, guys." And please ignore all the visions of vengeance dancing in Parker's head. She hadn't even met Deon, and she wanted him dead. But not like this.

"Everything is ready when you are."

Deon lay gasping on the hood, breathing heavily, waiting for his vision to unfuzz. He'd missed the general conversation, turned deaf by the sound of his heartbeat in his ears, but it seemed like they were going to let him go. For now.


"Really?" he rasped out. "You're really going to let it end this way?"

"Be grateful!" Hardison snarled, his hands clenching into fists. "Be so damn grateful that the woman you robbed raised me to be a better man than you are, because I wouldn't even need him to finish you, way I feel right now. So just take your goddamn money an' go. An, I'm warnin' you, Walker. I ever catch a hint of you near my Nana, there ain't nothin' in the world that'll stop me from takin' you out. Nothin'."

He'd burn all his bridges if he had to. All of them.

Eliot didn't say a word, just crossed his arms over his chest and stared Deon down.

If Hardison weren't likely to find out, he'd be tempted to track Deon down on the side and finish him off anyway.

"Wait," Deon said, clearly not understanding. "You're really going to let me take the money and be on my way?"

Like, with the money?

"Lemme explain this to you real slow," Hardison said, mimicking Chaos's vocal inflections to sound as snide as possible. "You're slime. But you ain't stupid. Everythin' that happened here, between us? That's personal, men protectin' their family. But that--" he nodded to the briefcase. "That's business. You understand business. We still got the same deal we had before. You take your money, you leave me an' mine alone. Go set up shop somewhere else."

"We try to send you outta here with nothin', you got no reason to do the smart thing. We rough you up an' send you outta here with all your money?" He shrugged, feeling the burn in his bruised shoulder as he did. "Now you got two reasons to just keep walkin'. So be as smart as you think you are. Keep. Fuckin'. Walkin'."

Eliot grabbed the unconscious Heyes by the arm and dragged him to the passenger side door, yanked it open, and shoved the man in. Mostly without knocking him against anything else. Mostly.

"There. We even got you all packed up."

"I see," Deon said, flipping through the money in the briefcase again. It appeared to be all there and still missing any kind of tracking device. "Well, then gentlemen, it seems like we've come to an amicable arrangement. We'll chalk this up to emotions running high and I'll be on my way."

He tossed the briefcase into the backseat and opened the door to the driver's seat, taking a moment to adjust his shirt and smooth his hair.

"Pleasure doing business with you. Give my best to Celeste when you see her again, won't you?"

Hardison growled and lunged for him, but Walker just slammed the door shut, waggling his fingers at them as he turned on the ignition and peeled away.

"Promise me this is worth it, Parker!" Hardison bellowed into the comms. "Promise me!"

"Come to the church," she told him. "Both of you. You'll see."

Actions spoke louder than words, right? And all Deon's other victims had a lot to say too.

Including one in particular, and the assistance right behind her.

[preplayed with age_of_the_geek and whoisalicewhite. Violence within.]