A/n: Well this idea has been eating at me for awhile. I might turn it into the basis for a chapter fic if it's well received or even if I just feel like it.

A/n the second: Eliot/Hardison very pre slash if you look at it the right way.

New and Improved A/n: Edited Feb 2nd 2010 so the mistakes will no longer melt your eyes.


Things Not Said


They'd all been surprised when Eliot had spoken up during the planning stage of the next part of the con. Well, they hadn't been surprised that he'd spoken up. It had been the why. He'd questioned the role he was playing. None of them could really remember Eliot having a problem with doing anything Nate asked him to do. Nate was the boss and for someone who had worked alone Eliot seemed pretty comfortable with following orders. Hardison had to admit he'd complained far more than Eliot over these past few months when he knew Eliot got the most dangerous end of the stick.

So it was little surprise that the room went quiet and all eyes turned to Eliot as he said. "Hardison'd be better for the convict."

"Is that some crack about…" Hardison started but there was something. He wasn't sure what, other than that hanging around this group seemed to be making him too damn perceptive for his own good.

"Can't." Nate said, typical hangover eloquence stunning them all. They were going to have to do something, but another can of worms for another day.

"Falcony's a bigot." Sophie supplied. "We'll have a hard enough time getting him to talk to you." Hardison normally would of taken this opportunity but there it was again. That look, not so obvious but like the one Eliot got when he realized the backup he was taking out has backup with backup and he *may* want to get out while the goings good. "Is there a problem?"

Eliot grinned humorlessly, that dangerous glint in his eyes that used to make Hardison flinch a little inside. "Problem? Jus'ta little one. We're going to be on a bus ta a high security prison, already not my favorite idea, surrounded by the worst kinda thug. Say somthin' happens? What are you all gonna do? I ain't gonna be much help trussed up too tight ta move half a foot."

There was a moment of silence and even Hardison had to admit the dude had a point. He was their muscle in a fight, the rest of them could but they were more used to conning there way out of a situation. That probably wouldn't work too well with half crazy killers. Like the rest of the crew he shot a sidelong look to Nate, but he already had a role in this con. Two risked too much.

"We'll be really careful." Parker said, by way of attempted reassurance.

"Too risky." Eliot said again, getting strangely flustered by all this. "Too many variables. At the end of it it's still you, Sophie and Hardison on a bus with twenty guys who'd like nothing more 'en to get in one more kill and no defenses but a couple guards who might turn on ya'."

"They've done transfers like this before Eliot." Sophie said. "Now won't you calm down. It's sweet of you to worry but…"

She didn't have time to finish. Eliot was gone.

Hardison followed quickly, trying not to consider why the others let him be the sensitive guy. Eliot was back in his office, cleaning one of the many knives he seemed able to produce from just about any place in the building. "Yo man. What was that?" Hardison asked stepping in and jumping half a foot back when said knife went thunking into the doorframe. Eliot was in a dangerous mood it seemed. That wasn't really good. "If I come in again are you gonna throw the next one at me?" He asked.

Eliot gave a sound, somewhere between a sigh and a growl that Hardison took as permission to enter. He closed the door behind him, having a feeling that whatever was messing up inside Eliot's head was more likely to be talked about if it wasn't a public forum.

"Like Soph' said, it's nice to know you care but are you okay man? I never thought I'd see you bail like that."

Eliot didn't reply, reaching for another knife which made Hardison regret closing the door until it was clear Eliot was just going to clean it. The silence stretched on a long moment, trust and… fear? Pride?… being weighed against each other as the long haired man cleaned the blades.

Hardison nearly missed the response. It came soft, nearly too soft to be heard. "I don't like handcuffs."

Hardison found himself joking it off, something it the way it was said wasn't something he wanted to touch or think about. "What? Bad experience with a dominatrix?" His laughter died sharply when the knuckles clenched around the knife's handle. "Sorry man. Uncool." He found himself taking a breath, half considering for a second if he wanted to be asking this. "What's wrong with them? You were handcuffed just like the rest of us back during the first job. Didn't seem to take it too badly. Never figured you'd have a phobia for somthin' like that."

The sardonic grin was back. "Those weren't cuffs. Those were toys." He said simply. "An' I'm not afraid. Just don't like 'em." He stood up, walking over to the window looking out into the night and if Hardison did say so himself he was pulling off a mighty fine handsome brood this evening. If the situation didn't feel so dark he might have been tempted to make some batman reference.

His mind told him he wasn't thinking about what he should. Didn't want to think about what he should. Didn't want to process the idea that this was beginning to put together in his rather perceptive mind.

The next sentence came out so softly Hardison was almost sure he'd imagined it. "It reminds me of times..." Eliot turned back to Hardison sharply enough to make the geek jump a little. "What's worst case scenario in your line?" He asked. "If you were working alone and everythin' that could go wrong went wrong?"

Surprised by the question, but having had it nearly happen a couple of times he had an answer painfully ready. "I'd get a virus, my entire system would get compromised, I'd have to make a fast getaway and start a whole new identity/server/accounts everything. Well that's excluding death."

"Let's keep it." Eliot commented. "You want to know worst case in my line?"

"Death?" Hardison hazarded. It seemed an obvious choice considering the weaponry he'd seen everyone packing.

"Second worst case."

"What's the first?"

There was a very hard look in Eliot's eyes for a moment. "Capture." The one word sent a chill down Hardison's spine as he took a slight step back from what he knew to let himself see what they'd been so good at avoiding. Retrieval Specialists were just that, specialists. They were guys who specialized in fighting and were hired under the assumption fights would invariably occur. They generally picked up other skills but their focus was on fighting and the people who faced or hunted them knew what they were getting into and were extra careful.

More than any other line in the business that Hardison could think of Specialists were the ones who got caught because the nature of their job alone meant you could only go so long before you face someone who was just better, or were impossibly outnumbered, or just got unluckly. Didn't matter how good you were it was only a matter of time. That a lot would later escape and return to the business was as mind boggling to Hardison as doing it the first time around.

It was hard to think of Eliot that way. They'd gotten close and he wasn't too comfortable finding himself wondering what dark little holes Eliot had been locked up in. What some sonofa bitch had done to him to try to wrangle a little information or just cause Eliot pissed him off. They all knew it happened but somewhere in their minds that they didn't think about they disconnected the idea of a retrieval specialist being a prime victim to that painful pitfall of the business and their cooking, horseback riding, gentlemanly, hot tempered… Wow was today gonna stay in his mind a lot longer than was good for him. He was practically getting PSTD from just his imagination.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Okay, so he wasn't a psychologist and Eliot wasn't his idea of a poster child of anything remotely linked to instability, though his violent tendencies raised some question but… If he thought about it he's probably seen signs. This whole handcuff deal… Well duh. A man who has been tortured, Hardison was guessing at least a couple of times, isn't likely to take particularly well to being physically restrained. Hardison already got that Eliot really didn't like not being able to fight, the guy had refrained from taking pain meds to prevent his reaction time from taking a hit before, but just reading what little Eliot's body language gave away was screaming what it would do to Eliot's head even if he was to tough to show it.

"So we tell Nate and we make him figure out a new plan. Nate's plan guy, he'll have something." Hardison said, trying to fix this problem and guiltily trying to move on to somewhere he didn't have to think about this. "A plan where you can bust some heads, maybe beat a personal record. How many have you taken out at once anyway? Fifty? Sixty? What about with a hand tied behind your back?"

"Eighteen guys, escaping an abandoned secret police precinct turned crime lords offices for "unpleasant" business. Actually had both hands cuffed behind my back." Eliot said dryly. "You'd be amazed at what the need to get away from a couple guys with cold war era interrogation techniques can do for you."

Another idea Hardison wasn't entirely comfortable with having floating around his head. He was a tech guy. Until this gig he'd never been involved in a job where someone got hurt, and never someone he knew. "I'll have to try that someday, can't promise it'll be a good show. Not really macho man kinda guy here. The idea kinda makes me a little sqemish. You prob…" Not really a topic that should be discussed.

"Probably what?" There was danger on that voice.

"You know, tough. Cursin them an' there mama's and scaring the hell outta them with a stare better than any Chuck Noris movie."

"Movies" Eliot said somewhere between a growl and a puff of bitter laughter. "Movie ain't how it goes. Someon' takes a cattle prod ta ya chest, or down a bit farther? They're going to be hearing you in Moscow. Even someon' like me. I got one or two hits before I'm hollarin', couple more and I'll be screamin' bloody murder. I'd only get that long cause a bastard got me well acquainted. As acquainted to it as you get anyway. It's not something you help. Nothing to be ashamed of."

"Then why don't you just tell the others? Just go, 'sorry but I've had a few too many run in's with the business side of a car battery and if you don't mind lets have Hardison go play the convict on this.' They'll understand dude. You don't need us to hurt you too."

That apparently was the wrong thing to say. "That's why I don't tell people." Eliot said, throwing his defenses right back up. "It's ain'tta pitty party. It's a risk of the buis. I know each second there's some chance I'll end up back there. Even on these jobs the only thing I know for sure is that if someon' gets caught I'm gonna make sure that it's me and hope ya guys aren't so stupid ya get caught trying to bail me out. I'm not afraid, not hurting, not some head case." His voice had gotten harsher before he cooled it off slamming the knife point down into his desk. "I just don't like restraints. Put's me somewhere I don't want to be."

Hardison nodded, not truly understanding but getting enough to make him pause. They stare at each other for a long moment and for just that moment Hardison sees. He isn't sure if Eliot meant to or if Hardison is getting too damn perceptive but for a few brief moments Hardison sees behind that scowl and terrifying blue eyes somewhere inside that long haired man is terror coiled into a tightly contained ball. It's something he can't afford in his work, or maybe he could if he was willing to let it taint everything else to match.

Then the moments gone and Hardinson's not too sure what just happened or what any of it means or why suddenly he has this driving need to figure out some other plan. It's stronger than before, but something about that fear scared him. It's just like Eliot, even at the most vulnerable Hardison hopes to ever see the man there are new frightening things to find about Eliot. He likes that, though he's pretty sure it might be a sign Parker's insanity is rubbing off.

"I'm gonna go make a plan that involves you busting heads and possibly cooking something with lemon juice. Polish a knife or something." Eliot rolls his eyes but there is something unspoken there, the way his shoulders loosen slightly and those scared an callused fingers unwind from the knife stuck in his desk.

"Hardison." Eilot's voice stops him at the door.

"Secret's safe with me." He said, the power of the words Eliot hadn't said reminding Hardison of the power of things not thought or spoken about. He feels like he kinda is starting to understand that Eliot let them all make that disconnect. It's the only way they can act normal around him, only way for him to be able to disconnect too and live as close to a normal life as they ever lived.