Author's Note: this is a follow-up to the 5th season episode "Hard Knocks." If you haven't seen it, this story may not make much sense.

Many thanks to aadler, who gave me a quick and thorough beta.


The Smart Thing

by izhilzha


The slim black ledger shines under the light of the single lamp. Stan pokes it with one finger. He should burn it. The smart thing to do would be to torch these pages, watch his name and debts reduce themselves to ash. Or he could drop it in the ocean . . . hell, the toilet would be more appropriate. Five seconds in liquid and even the lab won't be able to reconstruct this piece of his past.

He sits back in the chair and sighs. The smart thing might not be the right thing, here.

It felt like the smart thing, after all, to gamble on the sly (well, no, actually that part he always knew was stupid). It had felt smart to lie to Rico and Sonny, to use Holly of all people (babe, I'm sorry) as an excuse for his behavior. It had felt, if not smart, at least necessary to convince Kevin to throw the game. And he'd had to listen in on that suspect without a warrant.

He couldn't ask anyone to help him. This mess was his mess; he had to deal with it alone.

It was the only way things could be.

Sonny finding the ledger didn't change that. Neither did Sonny handing it over, putting the thing that should have ended Stan's career into Stan's own hands. Making it his move again.

That just added more weight to his shoulders.

It was what Sonny said after. "Hell, we're your partners."

Like there'd never been a doubt. Like Stan could have gone to them anytime, and they would've had his back.

He can almost hear Larry's voice, echoing Sonny's. Almost see the teasing grin that guy could never keep off his face. "Partners, you hear that? You dumbass, you don't get just one." He never said anything like that, but damn, it sounds like him.

Suddenly the smart thing seems like what he's been avoiding all along. Stan picks up the ledger, weighs its accusing ink in both hands. Fire or water, both are too good for him. He'll tuck this away somewhere safe, a reminder. He's got partners watching his back. He won't let them down again.


finis