Author's Notes: Beware of spoilers for Episode 5.9, The Rundown Job. I loved the episode and couldn't get this little bit out of my head. I own very little and nothing at all in connection with Leverage.

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Eliot: "You scared?"

Hardison: "Damn right."

Eliot: "I'm not. I got the best thief and the smartest guy I know chasing this guy. Hey, listen to me. You're the smartest guy I've ever known, Hardison. I need that brain to get me to him. 'Cause you know if I lay my hands on him, it's done. Get me to him." – The Rundown Job.

Sometime after the events of The Rundown Job, Eliot and Hardison confront what it means to trust and what it sometimes costs.

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When he met Hardison's eyes, he was surprised by how calm the hacker looked. Utter confidence. He completely believed Eliot could get him out of this. Only Eliot didn't see how he was going to do it. The con was shot all to hell, the comms were down, he didn't know the status of the rest of the team and a large man was holding a large knife to the throat of his hacker.

"What the hell, Hardison?" asked Eliot, not moving his head, but carefully marking the location of the four men slowly closing in on him.

"You know how it is, man, doing my thing and doing it damn well, didn't see Gigantor here sneaking up on me like a little bi…", Hardison broke off as the knife at his throat moved, drawing blood.

"Shut up, Hardison."

"Why? I ain't scared. 'Cause you're the bravest guy I have ever known, Eliot." Alec's dark eyes held Eliot's without wavering. "I need those hands to get me out of this. I know you've got my back." Something warm and distinctly unfamiliar welled up in Eliot at Hardison's words, but it burst into flame as the first guy made his move. Four guys didn't even really slow Eliot down, they were paid muscle: sloppy, swaggering amateurs. As the last one hit the pavement, the hitter turned to the man holding Hardison.

"Let him go," rumbled Eliot.

"You got it," answered the goon and then he did something Eliot wasn't ready for. He stabbed the knife into Alec's back, pulled it out and then shoved Hardison forward. He jumped into the car and was gone before Hardison has finished collapsing to the ground.

"Hardison!" Eliot ran to Hardison's side, ripping off his outer shirt and pressing it to the hole in the hacker's back before rolling him over. "Hardison! Come on, man, open your eyes and look at me." Alec peered at Eliot for a moment and then squeezed his eyes shut again.

"Damn, Eliot, this shit hurts." Eliot pulled out his cell and called 911, giving their location quickly. He knew he should call the team, but this was bad, he could tell by the blood already soaking through his shirt.

"Wuss, it's just a little scratch."

"I know, right? It's not…", Eliot tightened his grip as Hardison arched away from the pressure.

"Stop it, Hardison. Be still." Alec lay back and looked up at Eliot, panting through clenched teeth.

"It's not…like I got shot…and brushed it off like a…stubbed toe they way you…you do, you big freak."

"I take getting shot very lightly." Hardison laughed lightly before it turned into a cough and ended in a grimace of pain. "Just…shut up will ya? Help's on the way."

"The team?"

"Ambulance. I'll call the team when the paramedics get here."

"Paramedics…must be bad…don't do hospitals." Eliot kept his face schooled into a business scowl for Hardison's benefit, but he didn't like the wet, labored sound of Alec's breathing. Eliot propped Hardison a bit more, hoping to make breathing a little easier. Hardison groaned softly in pain, but relaxed readily into the hitter's grip.

"It's not that bad."

"Liar," murmured Hardison, his eyes sliding shut.

"Hey! No way, Hardison, you open your eyes right now!"

"Scared?" The question was soft, and Hardison kept his eyes shut.

"What? Of course not."

"Me neither."

"Dammit, Hardison," growled Eliot, tightening his grip on the younger man. "Stop talking and open your damn eyes."

"So…demanding…"coughed Hardison, but he pulled his lids apart and looked up at the hitter with so much trust Eliot felt his throat tighten.

"You keep them open or I will make you go fishing for a whole week." Hardison smiled lightly, but his eyes closed again. "Without a phone or a tablet or even a damn radio, do you hear me, Hardison? Hardison?!" Eliot gave Hardison a gentle shake, but the hacker didn't open his eyes. He felt for Alec's neck and was rewarded with a pulse, weak but there, just as the ambulance pulled up.

Eliot didn't realize he was growling until the paramedic held up her hands.

"I just want to help your friend, okay? Let me look at him." Eliot forced his arms to relax, to turn over his friend to the paramedics.

Eliot was no stranger to blood, to pain, to death. They had been his companions for most of his life. He'd lost associates, teammates, and friends. But standing in that street with Hardison's blood covering his hands and his shirt, he wasn't used to the emotions storming through him and making it hard to breathe. He forced them down, wiped off his hands, and pulled out his phone.

"Nate. Yeah, no…Nate, stop. It's Hardison. It's bad."

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Eliot paced the hall and tried to stop looking at the clock on the wall. It hadn't been more than 10 minutes since they'd arrived at the hospital and he'd been escorted to the waiting area. He looked up when heard the familiar voices of the rest of his team and Parker ran to him.

"Where is he?"

"We've been here a few minutes. They're probably on their way up to surgery," answered Eliot.

"What happened?" asked Parker, looking at him with barely concealed panic.

"Parker, wait," murmured Nate. "Let's get out of the middle of everything." The older man led them all to a corner where they could talk without being overheard. "Okay, Eliot, fill us in." Eliot ran a hand through his hair.

"When I lost contact with everyone, I went to find Hardison. They'd already got him. I dropped four of them, but…the last one stabbed Hardison in the back." Nate and Sophie traded looks, but Parker was staring at something near Eliot's hip. Then he realized it was his hand. His hands still had Hardison's blood clinging to them.

"Parker…" began Eliot, but Parker shook her head and ran down the hallway.

"She'll be back," said Sophie. "When she's ready."

"I know," said Eliot.

"Do we know why the comms went down?" asked Nate.

"Hardison might have, but he never got a chance to tell me," answered Eliot.

"Alright, we are going to base here, put everything on hold until we hear about Hardison." Eliot nodded and broke away, needing to be away from all the talking and the weight and the…he clenched his fists against the tight, stickiness of blood. He needed to scrub his hands.

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Eliot didn't look up when Nate sat beside him and Nate didn't have to ask, Eliot could feel all the questions the older man had.

"He couldn't look at me without a little bit of fear after that whole Moreau incident. At the pool," began Eliot after a moment of silence. "It wasn't just that he didn't fully trust me, he was a little afraid of me. Part of me kind of enjoyed it, you know? It was easier to keep him in line. And I think he finally figured out that I played the situation the way I had to and I knew he was safe enough. He lost the fear, cranked up that smart mouth and never looked back. But then I realized somewhere along the line, that he trusted me again. Not just trusted me, but had complete faith I'd pull him out of whatever mess he got into and that was…"

"Terrifying," finished Nate. "It is a daunting thing, to be trusted and relied upon. None of us were very good at that for a long time."

"It's too much. Too heavy."

"No. You are not just a tool to be used, Eliot. You have a heart, deny it all you like. Sentiment can be strength, if you let it."

"Like in D.C. with the flu scare," came a voice from above them. Both men looked up in time to see Parker drop from the AC duct, looking dusty and tired, but calmer. She sat down on the floor in front of Eliot. "Hardison was ready to bail, right? He was freaking out. He stayed for you."

"What? He stayed to do the job."

"Because you asked him to," insisted Parker. "Because you said you needed him. He was willing to do that for you. You not being scared made it easier for him to not be scared."

"I couldn't…" Eliot cleared his rough voice and tried again. "I couldn't keep him safe. He trusted me and I couldn't."

"I know you tried," said Parker softly. "We try and maybe we screw up and maybe it just wasn't enough, but we keep going. That's what families do. Right?" She looked up at him with pleading eyes. She needed her family to be okay, for him to be okay.

"Yeah. That's what families do."

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Eliot's eyes took in all of the tiny signals coming off of Hardison as he worked the heavy bag. Weeks later and the hacker almost looked completely healed. He barely favored his left side anymore, wasn't as hesitant to reach for things or swing with his left. He didn't get as winded as he used to. He looked good, all things considered. But they hadn't really talked about that day, it was damaging Eliot's calm, and it must have been showing.

"El, get in here and hold this thing." Eliot stood from leaning against the doorframe and entered the small gym area that he and Eliot had put together in the basement of the pub. He braced the bag and watched Hardison really get into his punches. Alec's eyes flitted from the bag to the hitter and back again.

"How do I look?"

"Fine."

"Bullshit," retorted Hardison, shoving the bag into Eliot. "If it was 'fine', you'd be critiquing the hell out of my punch, my stance, my footwork and what I'm wearing." The hacker ripped off the gloves and started unwrapping his hands. "So why don't you friggin' tell me what isn't fine."

"You need to keep your left up," said Eliot and turned to go back upstairs.

"Dammit, Eliot, talk to me!"

"What do you want me to say?" yelled Eliot, turning around.

"Anything that's real!" The answer seemed to startle Hardison as it came out. He shook his head and softened his voice. "It wasn't your fault, you know." Eliot dropped his eyes to the floor for a long moment and when he met Hardison's gaze, his eyes were hard.

"You trusted me to protect you and I couldn't do it. That's on me. Are we done now?" Hardison's jaw dropped.

"No, man…no. I have eyes, you know. I knew we were screwed, it was just a matter of how screwed. I trusted you to get me out of that mess alive. You did. We're all still kickin' and I consider that a win." When Eliot didn't say anything, Hardison stepped up the hitter, never dropping his gaze. "I didn't say what I said about trusting you to try to…I don't know, hurt you. I didn't mean for it to mess you up. I just wanted you to know that I need you, too."

"Trying to make me brave."

"What?"

"Something Parker said. You being brave would help me be brave." Hardison snorted a laugh.

"God love that girl, but she's a little cray cray. I'm perfectly happy to leave all that laugh-in-the-face-of-mortal-peril crap up to you…'cept you don't actually laugh, you just sort of growl at it…" Hardison cut off as Eliot suddenly wrapped him in a strong hug, one hand firmly on the back of his neck.

"Never again," murmured Eliot into Hardison's shoulder. "I wish I could promise you that…"

"But you can't," responded Alec, returning the hug with all his strength. "S'okay. I know." After a moment, something occurred to Hardison and he pulled away to look Eliot in the eye. "Hey, what happened to the guy who stabbed me?" Eliot turned to walk upstairs.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Eliot." The hitter stopped walking, but didn't turn.

"What did I tell you in D.C.?" Hardison thought for a moment.

"That when you got your hands on them, it was done." Eliot glanced over his shoulder.

"It's done." Hardison nodded. "Now get upstairs, dinner's ready." Alec couldn't help the grin that broke over his face as he followed Eliot up the stairs.