Notes: Warning for some mild Eliot torture.

Children's Hour

How they got there wasn't important.

They weren't Nate and Sophie. Information about the job and how far south it had gone wouldn't help them con their way out of a cell or away from the watchful eyes of men who knew what they could do.

Or thought they did.

Somewhere out there Nate and Sophie were probably doing everything to get them out but for the moment it was just Parker, Eliot, and Hardison alone in a cell they couldn't con their way out of.

They'd woken up slowly, knocked out for transport in a way they'd concern themselves with later. The only thing about it that mattered at the moment was Eliot looked like he'd been taken down the hard way, the purpling bruise on his face and the time it took for his eyes to open and focus testifying to a concussion.

So hitting their way out was probably not option number one, as far as Hardison could see.

His own head throbbed, but the post drug kind. It took him a long moment to get himself grounded enough to turn his head away from where it had been since he'd opened his eyes and saw Eliot to see if Parker was on his other side.

Panic was seeping in along with reality but for the moment Hardison fought it. He had to keep a level head, especially if Eliot was down for the count.

He always said he wanted to lead a crew. This wasn't exactly what he had in mind but he'd take lead if he had to.

Parker was still, her eyes just barely open but likely an attempt to hide her consciousness until she was completely ready to move. The thick iron collar around her neck and the chain that connected it to the wall all three of them were leaning against registered right around the time Hardison registered the feeling of iron against his own neck. He'd check in a minute but he was pretty sure they wouldn't leave someone as dangerous as Eliot unrestrained either.

He took a breath and tried to take stock of the rest of his body. His shoulders hurt from being wrenched the wrong way and his hands were asleep. Attempts to wiggle his fingers almost failed entirely but Hardison was relatively sure they were still attached. His arms had just been wrenched back and up and cuffed there so his hands were somewhere around his shoulder blades.

Parker's too. He hoped Eliot's weren't, the man had dislocated a shoulder three times that Hardison knew of. This couldn't be good for him.

Of course he doubted their captors had Eliot's long term health in mind.

At least it made whippings unlikely.

He fought down a hysteric noise as he registered that thought and clamped down on the thought of being tortured. They wouldn't be. They just needed to get out of here first.

Slowly Hardison looked away from Parker, glancing around the room. The floor, walls, and ceiling were concrete. There were no windows. A single door stood across from them and a single light fixture hung from the ceiling.

And a chair in the middle of the room bolted to the floor.

It didn't look like there were any cameras, which was something positive.

"Everyone okay?" Eliot asked, sounding calm and not slurring his words.

Typical Eliot.

"Despite being chained to a wall, perfect." Hardison answered.

Parker's voice was disturbingly disappointed when she said. "I can't get enough leverage to dislocate my thumbs from this position."

…typical Parker.

At least no one was losing their cool yet.

"what next?" Hardison asked.

Eliot let out a breath. "Look for something around us we could use as a lock pick." He didn't sound optimistic.

Which proved to be right. Nothing of use was within easy reach of them.

"Mayb-" Hardison started after their search had proved futile.

"Quiet," Eliot said, interrupting Hardison while climbing to his feet. "Someone's coming."

A few tense heartbeats later the door swung open and Hardison would have to ask Eliot how he knew later.

Assuming they made it out of this alive.

"Good evening," The man said with the smarmy smile that made him look like a wanna be Bond Villain.

Actually that was kind of a good description for the rest of him. Short, doughy, beedy little eyes. Like a rat and the Pillsbury dough boy's bastard son.

And no, Hardison wasn't trying to distract himself from the way the Rat-Man had settled his hands on the back of the chair like a predator as a mook wheeled a cloth covered cart into the room behind him.

"Now, I want to know why you three are here. Who sent you. Who you're working for. I want to know everything about you." He paused as Eliot leaned back against the wall. "You seem awfully calm mister..."

"Spencer." Eliot shrugged. "Just the hired muscle," He said. "Don't know anything. No reason for you to bother me."

Hardison felt like the world had turned on it's head. Eliot was supposed to be jumping to their defense not…

"You wouldn't happen to be Eliot Spencer would you?" The Rat Man asked and there was a flash of not quite hidden surprise on Eliot's face, he looked a little more nervous. Odd for him to be emoting even this little bit. "Ah. You are. Mistake to tell me your name." The man shook his finger, tisking Eliot. "You see I know your rep. You are a hard man Mr. Spencer. You don't work under or with anyone. No… I don't think you're just here as hired muscle."

And the world snapped back into it's proper place and Hardison felt his stomach twist as he recognized what had happened.

Jumping to their defense would have made Parker and Hardison an obvious weak point. Pretending to know nothing and that arrogant disregard had brought the Rat Man's attention to him in a way that made him the target.

"I think you're the head of this operation. No?"

Eliot looked over at them and glared meaningfully. "I… I am," Hardison said, forcing his eyes to stay on Eliot, trying to look afraid but not oversell it. As much as he didn't want the man to hurt Eliot Hardison knew of the three of them Eliot was most likely able to take whatever came next and still be able to function.

And he'd never forgive himself if either of them got hurt.

Nate's voice drifted through Hardison's head as he repeated. "I'm in charge." Fear, there in his voice. He was afraid Eliot would hurt him if he argued. That was his motivation.

Sophie cooed praise in his head and it calmed him to think of her.

The Rat Man looked at him and to Parker, still on the ground and still, before shaking his head. "I think not." He nodded to Eliot and two men emerged from the door behind him. "I think you and I should have a conversation."

Eliot went quietly, limping slightly as they pulled off his shirt and forced him to the chair. The little shake of his head as he turned to sit and the way he leaned back afterwards like the movement had made the world spin was worrying.

Maybe he should have tried to take Eliot's place. Getting out of here dragging Eliot would be difficult and if he was conscious but hurt too badly to move quick there'd probably be an argument when Eliot tried to make them leave him behind.

Once Eliot was in the chair and restrained with leather straps the Rat Man retrieved a tray of what looked like short, thick, acupuncture needles.

Eliot's eyes narrowed and his face went grim.

"Ah… I see you recognize my little toys." The Rat Man said, running his fingers across them almost lovingly. "Well then you know what comes next."

He carefully picked one up and two of the goons held Eliot against the chair as he drove the needle into the flesh near Eliot's shoulder and left it there.

It… didn't actually look that bad. Hardison had been kind of imagining them being driven under Eliot's nails or into his eyes or other nightmarish things but it was kind of relievingly anticlimactic.

Then the Rat man pulled out a lighter and Hardison briefly worried about fire and burns and…

The Rat Man lit the end of the little needle.

Eliot's face was one of someone bracing themselves for…

Hardison didn't know what but he was worried.

The little flame at the end of the needle seemed to go out.

"Now for the boring part," The Rat Man said, twirling the lighter in his fingers. "Though…" He glanced toward the wall where Parker and Hardison were sitting. "I suppose they could entertain me…"

"I thought you wanted a chat," Eliot growled, something fierce and strangely majestic about him as he sat there; his bruised and scared torso bare but moving with deceptively even breaths, the little needle with a small well of blood around it's base, his chin up and eyes defiant.

The Rat Man turned back to Eliot and grinned. "Alright. Let's chat. All four of us. Why don't you explain to your team mates what's about to happen."

Eliot looked from the Rat Man to them and opened his mouth.

"And no lying. If you try to make this easier for them I'll know that they mean something special to you."

Eliot's jaw tensed before he stated. "The needle's hollow. The compounds inside is smolders and melts when heated, becoming a slow acting localized poison."

Suddenly there was a small crack and a shower of sparks as the top end of the needle split. Eliot didn't flinch as small embers landed on his skin.

"And the needles sometimes melt and explode when heated," He drawled.

There was an inch of needle inside Eliot.

Hardison swallowed.

"So where did you learn about these lovely things?" The Rat Man asked cheerfully.

Eliot kept his face set, eyes on the wall above Hardison, as he answered. "Crime Lord in Russia."

"Ah… a student of Nishka." And seriously there was a Russian crime lord named Nishka who liked torturing people?

In any other situation Hardison just might have geeked out over this except from the look on Eliot's face it was far from a pleasant memory and shit…

There was another mini explosion close enough to Eliot's skin Hardison could tell it had burned him and Eliot's jaw tensed like the poison was already in his system.

There was silence as the Rat Man just watched Eliot's reaction for a few minutes as it burned the rest of the way.

Then the man nodded. "Very good. Very very good." He went back for the tray. "Let's go for three this time, shall we? And you must tell me more about Nishka. I've always been curious."

Hardison heard just the tiniest scraped of metal and concrete. He pulled his eyes away from Eliot, unable to watch as the Rat Man drove three of the little things into Eliot. Parker had moved as close to him as the chain allowed and Hardison quickly closed the distance. With their neck strained slightly towards the anchors their shoulders could just barely touch.

It helped Hardison not loose his cool a few minutes later when Eliot's description of how he got caught by Nishka was interrupted by as stutter as another needle burst close to his skin.

By the time the rat man retrieved a pair of pliers and started pulling out the leftover metal stubs there were twelve of them stuck in various places on Eliot and the man's breathing was labored as he struggled to maintain an even rythym. His eyes were closed and he'd managed only a few sentences of the story he'd been telling during the final set.

It was disturbing to see Eliot so visibly battling pain.

"This has been fun and informative," The Rat man said. "But I believe during our next session I'll have to see how your co-patriots enjoy my toys."

Hardison felt his stomach drop.

The guards undid the straps holding Eliot to the chair and started to drag him to his fe-

Quick as a rattler Eliot lashed out, knocking one of the guards holding him back and into the Rat man who stumbled into and knocked over the cart, spilling it's contents across the floor. He turned onto the other guard, kicking him back before making a break for the door.

Two guards appeared outside of it and the first guard all but tackled Eliot, knocking the hitter to the ground hard. He scrambled to get his hands under him only for the guards to kick him hard in the ribs, causing him to go down again, a hand coming up to cover his mouth like he was going to be sick.

Hardison's hopes fell and his stomach twisted as the guard continued to kick. A sickening crack made his stomach roll and he wasn't even aware his breaths were coming sharper and desperate like his own rib had been broken until Parker's shoulder pressed against his.

"Hardison." Parker's voice in his ear. He turned to her and she held his gaze, keeping him looking at her and not at the brutality being visited on Eliot. He had to block it out or risk losing his…

The blows stopped and they looked back, seeing Eliot dragged back over and chained up like the rest of them. The scattered tools and devices from the cart were collected and the guards and Rat Man withdrew.

The moment the door was shut Hardison moved as close to Eliot as he could. The downed hitter wasn't moving from where he lay on the floor, new bruises quickly rising against the older ones. "Eliot? Eliot! Please don't be dead."

There was a murmmer that wasn't quite words that escaped the hitter. It was proof of life. Hopefully.

"You okay? How ma…" Hardison's voice failed as Eliot slowly turned his head toward him and bared his teeth.

He had one of the needles clenched between his teeth. He must have grabbed it off the floor when he'd been taken down.

It was thin enough, and maybe strong enough, to pick the most basic of locks.

"Bromance or not, I could kiss you," Hardison muttered because how else do you respond to that?

"You'll probably have to," Parker said behind him. "If anyone can pick a lock with that it's me and he can't hand it to me."

Considering their current captivity the only part of him that would be able to get the needle from Eliot was his mouth.

Well he'd done worse for plenty of other cons.

The biggest concern was Eliot being able to get over closer to him and high enough so he could be close enough to Hardison to make the trade off. "You okay to move?" Hardison asked Eliot, who nodded.

It took what felt like a painfully long time for Eliot to roll over onto his side (and pause to let out a painful sound he couldn't quite seem to keep from escaping) and slowly maneuver himself onto his knees (shaking slightly and panting though Hardison knew Eliot well enough to pretend not to notice yet). But he did manage to get to his knees and shuffle over to Hardison.

There was a single awkward moment as they tried to figure out how to get their mouths close enough to make the trade and Hardison ended up bumping his teeth against Eliot's in an almost painfully familiar rehash of his first attempt at French kissing but eventually Hardison had the needle clenched between his teeth and Eliot sank back to the ground to catch his breath.

Careful, mindful of everything riding on the needle, Hardison shuffled over to where Parker was waiting for it. With much greater ease she took the needle from him and they maneuvered so she could get at the lock holding his collar closed.

Parker seemed much more at ease with this situation than any sane human being had a right to be.

Then again it was Parker. She wasn't sane and it was impossible to tell what she was feeling on a good day.

Eliot hadn't moved from the spot he'd dropped to. Hiding his worry Hardison said. "I reserve the right to tease you about not at least buying me dinner first." Hardison shot toward Eliot while trying to stand perfectly still.

"I…" Eliot started, his voice sounding breathy and failing, worrying Hardison further. He took a breath and tried again. "If we live through this I'll make you dinner and watch whatever damn movie you want."

"I'll hold you to that."

A pressure on his shoulder and he looked down. Parker was crossing her eyes to look at the needle in her mouth and Hardison figured she wanted him to take it. Carefully he did so and as soon as he mouth was free she said. "I got the lock undone, just need to open the clasp." Without further ado she went back to work. For a moment he felt her breath against his neck then the collar fell away.

The echo of metal hitting concrete seemed impossibly loud.

"Pick back now," Parker said, sharply. They had no idea if someone had heard that. "Your hands now."

With the collar gone Hardison could move close enough that she could free his hands. He rubbed as much feeling back into them as he could in a few seconds before taking the pick back and unlocking her collar and hands. They had no idea what timetable they were working on but the clock was running in their heads.

Eliot's eyes were glassy when they got to him, the wounds on his chest from the needles still bleeding sluggishly and it was clear they'd have to help him get out of there.

Parker unlocked Eliot's hands and neck and Hardison moved him to lie flat on the ground while she checked the door.

"No!" Parker said, soft but desperate. Hardison looked over to see what he'd feared.

The pick was too small for the door.

"It's okay," Hardison said, sitting down. "I think." He added more to himself. He pulled off his boot and mentally crossed his fingers as he checked.


The picks he kept hidden in his boots were still there. Seemed his theory that a lazy guard wouldn't check a hacker as thoroughly as they might a thief or a hitter was true.

"Will this wo-" Parker had already snatched the pick from his hand and opened the door.

"I'm going to go explore," Parker said. "Check the area."

Hardison carefully nodded. They had no idea what waited for them outside that door. If anyone could explore undetected it was Parker.

Barely opening the door a crack she slipped out.

A minute passed. Two. Eliot groaned and blinked, his eyes slowly focusing again.

"Hate to ask this man but can you stand?" Hardison didn't know if they'd be able to carry Eliot out of there.

"If you help me," Eliot responded. Hardison thought maybe he should make a joke about the great Eliot Fucking Spencer asking for help but… it felt like it would cheapen the moment.

Three minutes after Parker had left she reappeared and found Hardison struggling to help get Eliot to his feet. She confirmed that she thought she'd found an almost clear way.

"Almost?" Hardison asked.

Grimly Parker held up a gun she must have acquired somehow. Hardison wouldn't ask. Not even after this all was done. She'd done and would do what she needed to survive. For them to survive. "You keep him moving," She said. "I'll clear the way."

She opened the door and Hardison and Eliot followed her out.

How they got into that room wasn't important. How they got out from there wasn't either.

They were together, they were a team, and they had each other's back and if the last hour hadn't proven how much greater that made all of them little ever would.