I don't own Leverage. The plot bunnies keep multiplying in my head and there isn't enough room so I had to get this out. :)

It started so small that it took forever for Hardison to notice. After his rant during that Dollars for Gold job, he thought things would just go back to being the same. He'd never have said how much it really hurt, the thought that he was unappreciated. But he cared so much about these people now that he could just have easily cut off his own hands rather than walk away.

The first time he noticed anything different was actually Eliot. Hardison had been working most of the day on research for their latest client, and it was two in the morning before he left Nate's apartment. His boss had long since gone to bed himself (alone, Sophie had stated she had some things to take care of at home). Hardison hadn't missed the look on Nate's face after she left. He wasn't sure why the man didn't just ask her to stay if he wanted her that much. But it wasn't Hardison's job to interfere. Besides, he wanted to get home at some point tonight.

So when he walked into his apartment that night (morning) at two am, all he wanted was a bowl of kraft dinner and a hot shower followed by ten hours of uninterrupted sleep. He could smell food before he got to the door. When he opened it, the smell of something delicious met him. He set his stuff down on a nearby chair and went into the kitchen. On the table was a note, proclaiming that his dinner was waiting in the oven and to turn it up to such and such a temperature for fifteen minutes before he ate it. The block writing was clearly Eliot's. It happened every time after that that he was at Nate's later than midnight.

The second person he noticed was Parker. In the midst of researching a client one day, he'd run out of gummi frogs. He'd complained about it; it was how he dealt with stress. He'd also made a point of saying that maybe if he wasn't so damn busy all the time he'd of had time to go buy some more. Or noticed that his supply was running out. He hadn't meant anything by it, other than to let off steam. But Parker had gotten her thinking look. Two days later he walked into Nate's apartment and went over to get his equipment from the closet he'd claimed as his. On the shelf were row upon row of gummi frogs. The writing above them was Parker's and said HARDISON'S GUMMI FROGS. DON'T EAT!

Then came the day when he went to the fridge for an orange squeeze and found his entire shelf restocked. Now, he knew that there had only been one bottle left in there, had told himself he was going to restock them when he went for the last one (Nate had eventually compromised with him and said that he could keep one shelf all for his orange squeeze but the rest had to be in the closet.) The only other person in the apartment had been Nate; Parker was thieving, Sophie was grifting and Eliot was punching people. Nate never said a word about restocking the fridge, but Hardison didn't need him to. He was (as Nate had admitted) very smart. He'd figured it out.

Finally the day came when he and Sophie were alone in Nate's apartment (his brain tried to make something dirty out of that thought and he threatened to stop playing World of Warcraft for an entire month; it worked). He was taking a break and watching Doctor Who. He wasn't sure which of them was more shocked when Sophie said that she liked Rose Tyler more than Donna Noble. He spent at least thirty seconds telling himself to get a friggin grip, so what if she watched Doctor Who, and then they began a rather heated debate over which of the companions they thought was the better. By the time he looked at the clock they'd been arguing amiably for an hour. He grumbled that she'd distracted him and he hadn't meant to take that long of a break, but she just smiled and said it was good for him. Later that night he was thinking it over and realised her statement about the companions, though put rather casually to him, was nonetheless probably the best way she could have gotten him to take a break. It only took him a couple more seconds to realise that she'd done the whole thing deliberately. He wondered if he should've been angry at her for conning him, but decided that she most likely couldn't help it; like him, she was a specialist. Grifting was what she did, and why use any other tool when that was the best one in her arsenal?

He spent most of his time over the next few days in thought over why people were doing things for him. Parker did them sporadically anyway, because it was the only way she knew to show affection. Eliot was a bit more difficult to puzzle out, but then Hardison figured that maybe Eliot just saw it as another form of protection, not letting him starve. Nate though... Hardison was lost. Ditto for Sophie. Both of them were good at hiding what they were really thinking and feeling.

"Hardison, leave that for a bit and come and eat." Sophie's voice broke into his concentration.

"Not yet, I have some more stuff to finish, I want to get it done while I'm in the zone," he replied casually. He wasn't sure how Nate could move so quietly, but one second he was over at the table and the next he was taking Hardison's computer out of his hands. "Hey," he protested. "I need that!" Nate didn't say anything, just took Hardison's gear and stacked it neatly on the end table and then pointed at the table where Sophie was setting out three plates. Hardison grumbled a bit about people with no manners but eventually sighed and went over and sat down. It was just the three of them tonight; Parker had 'training' (Hardison had been afraid to ask because then he'd just worry) and Eliot was out with some of his friends from the service that were home on leave.

"Why?" Hardison's comment was soft. Both Nate and Sophie looked at him.

"Well," Nate said, "technically that's actually a philosophically confounding question. Why has two answers, 'because' and 'why not' and I could go on for some time about both. But if you want it answered in some specific context I think we need a bit more info."

Hardison shrugged a bit and looked at his plate. "Why now? I've been complaining forever that you guys don't appreciate me and all of a sudden you guys get it? Why?"

Nate smiled. "Blame her." He indicated Sophie with his fork. Hardison looked at her. She met his eyes unflinching.

"We all take things for granted Hardison. All of us. Most times I'd be inclined to dismiss it as human nature and let it go. But when we start taking a person for granted then maybe it's time we changed how we see them. Nate could have done that gold job. His plan would have worked. But then we would have gone on taking you for granted, and that isn't right. You need to know that we value you. I can say it easily enough. But the others?" She pointed at Nate. He was staring at his food, and Hardison was a bit amused to see that he was blushing. "All of them, including him, have communication issues. You have them too, actually. So I sat them down and told them that they had two choices. Tell you how much they appreciate you, or show you." She went back to her meal.

"Besides," both Hardison and Sophie's eyes flew to Nate "I don't want you to be me." He looked up at Hardison and for once the pain and guilt was right there, full force. "You're a good person Hardison. You don't deserve to have the world beat that out of you. You don't deserve to be what I've become. You have no idea how badly you scared me when you refused to come to the table in favour of working. I've seen that behaviour before, in me. And it was a very bad sign."

"I'd be proud if I was like you." Hardison's comment was soft. Nate didn't reply, just turned his eyes back to his plate. Hardison could tell the man didn't believe him. He looked over at Sophie, lost. She just shook her head.

It took Hardison three more days of thinking before he cornered Sophie alone. "So The Hardison Job is finished," he said. "When do we start The Nate Job?" The smile she gave him was the brightest he'd ever seen from her.