Alec Hardison age_of_the_geek
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From the Apartment Above Lukes to Calumet Heights, Chicago, Tuesday Evening
Hardison pressed the End Call button on his phone and then flung it onto the couch. It landed so hard it bounced back up and crashed to the floor. Whatever. He had like a million others and, honestly, the sound of something breaking was welcome. He followed that up with a sharp punch to the wall, trying to vent his fury out through violence.

Ouch. Nope. Okay, bad idea. The sound of something breaking was only okay if it wasn't his fingers.

On the bright side, the pain took sharp the edge off his anger, leaving him clear-headed enough to think. Okay, Nana and a bunch of her friends had gotten swindled out of their pensions. She was still financially secure, of course, not that she knew it. Hardison had long ago set up various accounts and trusts for her. But the same couldn't be said for her friends--and she didn't know she wasn't in any financial trouble yet, because he couldn't explain to her about all her money without answering some uncomfortable questions about where it all came from.

Step one: let the crew know they had a new job. Stat. Sorry, vacation, but Nana took priority. Step two: dig up all the information about Deon Walker and his shady operation and make up an info briefing. Step three: use that information in Chicago to nail Walker's ass to the ground. Step four--

Actually, wait. Step one was going to be 'get some ice for his hand.' Everything else came after that.

So the phone throwing wasn't too much of a surprise. Hardison tended to flail when he got upset, and small electronics could easily go flying.

The wall punch on the other hand?

Eliot went and grabbed an ice pack from the freezer -- he made sure he had plenty of those around anywhere he might be staying as a general rule -- and held it out for Hardison. "You know, I got a heavy bag at my place that'll work way better for that sort of thing," he said. "You can even punch it more'n once without breaking your hand."

"Why are you punching things? You need your hands to hack!"

Clearly, something was very wrong.

"Oh, I'mma hack somethin' all right," Hardison growled, taking the ice pack from Eliot with a curt nod of thanks and holding it to his injured knuckles. "His name is Deon Walker an' I ain't gonna use a computer to do it."

He took a step backwards to he could see both his partners as he explained, "This sunovabitch conned my Nana an' a buncha her friends. She says he made off with most of her pension fund. She went from thinkin' she'll be enjoyin' a comfortable retirement to worryin' she'll have to sell the house."

She was wrong, of course, but the possibility still hit very close to home. If Hardison hadn't been exactly who he was with the skillsets he had, she'd probably be right.

Eliot took a beat to take that in, then nodded. "So when we leavin', then?"

If Hardison tried to object -- not that Eliot expected him to, but sometimes it was different when it was family -- Eliot would just point out that he could hold the man down for Hardison when it was time to beat the living crap out of him.

"And how did your Nana get sucked into this?" Parker was glaring and already scrolling through her phone, looking for flights. "I'll help dangle him off a cliff. Or a building, lots of tall buildings in Chicago."

And this was why he loved them. Because if left to his own devices, Hardison's threat would have boiled down to something like, 'I'm going tie him to a chair and...and...and do something suitably violent!'

As it was, he was flinging himself down on the couch and reaching for his laptop. Ice gotten, now onto step two. Except...except it was hard to shift immediately into work mode. "She cried, man. On the phone with me. Cried. I don't think she's cried since she buried her husband an' yet I had her snifflin' in my ear." She'd tried not to let him hear, hadn't wanted to make him worry any more than she had to, but Hardison was perceptive enough to know. "This man stole from my Nana, swindled all her friends, an' then made her cry."

Eliot rested his hand on Hardison's shoulder. "And lucky for her and her friends, she raised the kind of guy who can do something about it."

Oh. Hardison needed comfort. As well as revenge. Parker settled in next to him, frowning, then perching her chin on his shoulder. "You're a good grandson. Son. Person. Your Nana knows you'll help." That was good, right?

Hardison slung an arm around Parker's waist and raised a hand up to cover Eliot's. "Yeah," he said. "I guess so. It's just--it shouldn'ta been her, you know? I mean, it shouldn't ever be anybody--" by which he meant people who couldn't afford it or deserve it, of course "--but it definitely shouldn'ta been her. An' when we're done with this Walker guy, it won't ever be anyone again."



"We'll make sure of it," Eliot said.

There were men and women around the world who would shit themselves to hear Eliot Spencer use that tone. It wasn't one he used lightly, these days.

Parker was squeezing Hardison now; probably too hard, but that phrase of, it definitely shouldn'ta been her kind of made her want to hit something right now. "If you want to run this one, we'll do what you say. But if you want me to make him suffer and expose him to public mockery and get him arrested and maybe stabbed, we can do that too. Whatever you and your Nana want."

Eliot's tone made Hardison clutch his hand more tightly. He knew that tone of voice and knew that Eliot would be happier not using it again. He was warmed that Eliot would use it for his Nana--and a little concerned how much he was tempted by it. He hadn't been this furious since that fake psychic had manipulated Parker.

"I don't--I don't wanna run it," Hardison said. "I don't want nothin' to go wrong. I can't--I'm not a mastermind. Not like you are. I'll mess it up, I'll oversell it an' make it too complicated, an' I won't be sharp enough or ruthless enough to do what's gotta be done. No, babe, please, you do it?"

"Whatever you and your nana need, man," Eliot said, giving Hardison's shoulder a little squeeze.

They'd probably hate it if he killed the guy. But Eliot was going to keep the option open. No one fucked with his people. Or their families.

"Okay." Parker pressed her forehead to the side of his skull. "Okay. I will." Options were already ticking over in her head, the simplest to the most ruthless, and everything in between. "It'll be good. I swear. And I'll make it so your Nana and her friends are there at the end, too." She squeezed him again, then said in a muffled voice, "It's not your fault. You know that, right?"

"I just keep thinkin' that maybe I shoulda told her, been more honest with her," Hardison said, holding onto them both tightly, even as he hung his head. "Told her she ain't gotta worry about money so she didn't get tempted by stuff like this. Explained to her the basic cons that folks like to target old women with. Somethin'."

So, yeah, he heard you, Parker, he just couldn't get his gut to believe it.

He also wanted to have Eliot come sit down and wrap his arms around him, too, but he wasn't sure how to ask. If he should. He hadn't immediately told Eliot that the promise implicit in his 'whatever' wouldn't be necessary. Which told Eliot he was thinking about taking him up on it, didn't it? How must that make him feel?

"I don't know how you and your Nana work," Parker said, because she could kind of understand what Hardison meant, but... see, this was where honest people made no sense to her. "But we'll fix it for her." She chanced a look at Eliot. "Without having to do anything anyone will be mad about." Not that she'd *mind* if Eliot did. But making it so he wasn't feeling like he had to, that seemed important.

One of these days Eliot would get it through to the two of them that he didn't mind killing. Not if it was for them. Obligation didn't even enter into it.

"Only fault here is on the con man," he said, giving Hardison's shoulder one last squeeze, then bending down on a whim to press a kiss to the top of his head. "I'll call Portalocity. You two can get started on the details and plans."

Hardison nodded, stroking his fingers over the inside of Eliot's wrist in silent affection before reaching for his laptop again. "Thank you both. Thank you both so much."

For being willing to help. For being able to help. For being with him right now in every way they were.


The taxi from the airport dropped them off in front of an unassuming white house on Luella Avenue, not far from Trinity Hospital. Hardison had his own place in Chicago, of course, and his own car, both under a pseudonym stolen from Mister What, and neither of which would do him any good for awhile. His car was in longterm storage across the city and he had no reasonable explanation for the existence of an apartment that was still furnished and rented and yet had sat empty for years, without even a sublet. In the end, it had been easier to agree to stay with his Nana in her place than try to argue with her about where they were staying.

He could con a bunch of thieving Russians so well that they'd kidnapped him, but put him on the phone with the woman who'd raised him and he was barely able to fib about the weather.

"We'll be able to get the car in a few hours," he said, hoisting his duffel bag full of electronics over his shoulder. That was all his bag contained; his clothes had been split between Parker and Eliot's bags to make room for more gadgets. "Someone at the storage place is gonna drive it over. Had to tell Nana that I was borrowin' it from an old friend. Otherwise she'd've insisted we drive hers an' she needs that for her shift at Trinity's." He was babbling, he didn't need to tell his crew why using Nana's car for their work was a terrible idea. It was just nerves. Not about the job--please, they could take down scum like Walker in their sleep--but bringing two of people he loved most in this world to his childhood home to meet the third. Nothing much had changed in the few years since he'd been gone. He tried to see it with strangers' eyes.

The same blue station wagon Nana'd bought the year before he'd graduated high school sat in the driveway that could use a good resurfacing. The house had a two-car garage, but it had been converted into a playroom back in the 90s, a few years before Hardison had come to live here. The lawn was a little shaggy, more clover and weeds than grass, but still green. Hardison wondered whose job it was now to mow it. The outside of the house was in good condition; Nana had 'won a contest' for discounted siding a few years back and the contractor had 'known a guy' who did roofing was was willing to shingle the roof for a fraction of the usual cost. It had still run Nana a few thousand dollars to get all the work done, but there was no cover story in the world that could make her believe she could get it done for less. Hardison knew that for a fact--he'd asked Sophie to help him come up with one and even she'd been stumped.

Which made Nana getting conned all the more surprising.

"So, uhh, yeah," he said, swinging open the gate to lead them up to the front door. "This is the place. Home sweet home."

In the glare of the streetlights, Eliot looked the house over, using it as an excuse to hang back by the curb instead of following Hardison directly up. Hardison wasn't the only one worried about this meeting, no. "It's nice," he said with feeling. He honestly hadn't expected a house in a northern city to have a yard at all, much less a green one (though he did notice that it was a bit over-grown). There were a few spots he could see that could use the work of a good handy man; he wondered if Nana would let him work on them if they had any downtime.

Or would that be weird? He honestly had no idea how to do the whole 'meet the parents' thing. He'd met Willie first, and no one else had even come close to being important enough that family entered into the picture.

Parker was leaning on the gate, maybe starting to swing a little. Because how often did you get to do that? And look, it was here. Ready to be swung on!

...And possibly the sheer normalness of this place had her spooked.

"She knows we're coming, right? I mean. We're not too late?"

"You kiddin'? It was all I could do to convince her not to pick us up at the airport," Hardison said. "If I know my Nana, she was pullin' somethin' outta the oven as we drove up an' she'll be flingin' open the door--"

"Well look who's here and looking just as fine as he can be!" The door was opened, warm, golden light spilling out into the night, and Nana stood on the porch, wreathed in smiles. "Alec, baby come here and give your old Nana some sugar 'fore I expire here on the spot!"

"Right on time," Hardison said, before leaning down to wrap his arms around his foster mother. "Hi Nana. Missed you."

He inhaled twice. Once, with his face buried in her hair to take in the familiar scent of her hair oil, and then again, lifting his head up to try to guess what she'd made for their arrival.

"Mmm. Nana, did you make monkeybread? Aww, hell yeah it's good to be home!"

Eliot didn't exactly slouch, but he still found himself rolling his shoulders back and standing up a little straighter as Nana came out of the house. The woman practically radiated maternal authority in a way Eliot hadn't encountered since his own mother died when he was a teen.

And, you know, he wanted to make a good first impression on the woman who was so important in Hardison's life. He knew her lack of approval wouldn't be a deal breaker -- intellectually, at least -- but he wasn't looking to make this harder on Hardison than it already was.

Oh noes. Hardison's Nana was more than kinda intimidating. Or a lot intimidating. Parker knew she should've gone with the diamonds.

Where did she put that hat in these boxes?

"Alec!" Nana let go of him, only to thump him in the ear. "What did I say about that kind of language in this house. You're going to make our guests think I didn't raise you with no manners at all!"

Standing next to Hardison, it was easy to see how tiny Nana truly was. She was nearly a foot shorter than he was, with no spare ounce of flesh on her, all wiry muscles from decades of hard work. But when she spoke, she seemed much bigger, with the authority and confidence of a woman used to being loved, yes, but also respected and obeyed.

"Now who do we have here?" Yes, of course she knew. Her Alec had been talking about these two for years. But there was a certain way of doing things and she was going to make sure they were done right.

And Hardison wouldn't dream of contradicting her or pointing out she very well knew who was who here. For one thing, he knew better. For another, well, it was the first time he was introducing his partners to his Nana. He wanted to do it right.

"Happy to," he said, all but bursting with pride. Taking her hand, he led her down the porch steps and over to the gate where they were still standing. "Nana, this is Parker, my girlfriend of three years."

"Parker, this is my Nana, Mrs. Celeste Tafiya."

"Parker!" Nana sounded absolutely delighted. "What a lovely name for a lovely young woman!" She elbowed Alec in the ribs. "Later, we are gonna have a talk, you and I, 'bout why you've been dating this girl for years now and I'm only meeting her now, but that's for later."

She looked like she wanted to wrap her arms around Parker and give her a hug the same way she had Alec, but decades of raising foster children and years of listening to her boy talk about the girl he was falling in love with meant she knew better. Instead, she held out her hands for Parker to take if she was so inclined.

"Honeychild, I am so happy to meet you! I've been looking forward to this for years."

Parker gave an awkward giggle before taking Nana's hands in hers, not quite sure what to do with them. She glanced at Hardison out of the corner of her eye for a hint, a sign, a clue.

"Thank you. You're a lot prettier than I expected. Hardison said lots of great things about you." She took a deep breath. "I got you a hat."

"A hat?" Nana also glanced at Alec. That wasn't something she expected. "That's very kind of you, Parker. I wasn't expecting y'all to come bearing gifts, though. It's enough that you came all this way to help a silly old woman and her problems."

Seeing Parker looking intimidated and uncomfortable, Eliot stepped forward, extending his hand. If he'd been wearing a hat, he'd've tipped it. "Parker's a bit nervous, ma'am," he explained. "Gifts are just her way of sayin' how nice it is to meet you, finally."

"It's purple," Parker blurted, handing the hat over. Then added, "What he said." Thanks, Eliot! Whew. She shot Hardison a glance, and leaned a little into Eliot for a minute.

"And purple is my favorite color," Nana said, putting the hat on and smiling at them. "How do I look?"

You're beautiful, Nana, as always," Hardison said, dropping a kiss on her cheek.

And now for the last major introduction. He could do this. He could introduce Nana to their boyfriend-who-wasn't-fond-of-using-titles-like-boyfriend, thus coming out to her as both polyamorous and bisexual. Pansexual. Something.

He could do this!

"An' this, Nana, is Eliot Spencer. He's our--our--our--friend. This is our friend, Eliot. Who's our friend."

Or he could choke. Really hard.

Eliot had been punched in the gut more times than he could count. Most people needed to use actual fists to do it, though.

Yeah, he'd know that he might still end up the 'friend' on this trip. He knew Hardison wanted to tell his Nana the truth, but he also knew how scared Hardison was to do it, and he understood. He really did.

But did Hardison have to repeat it so many times?

"Very pleased to meet you, ma'am," he said, not showing any of the sting of Hardison's words beyond a slight tightening around the eyes, which he quickly covered with a genuine smile. This time he really did reach up as though to tip an imaginary hat. "Hardison's told us so much about you, I feel like I know you already."

Okay, that... was confusing. Also, disturbing. As nice as it was to be introduced to Nana and been greeted warmly, it was not expected that Eliot would be left out. But neither Hardison or Eliot had explained; was this one of those things she just didn't get? Probably.

"Best friend," Parker clarified. "For both of us. And coworker. And protector. And co-teacher. And we're really glad to be here... and we're going to fix things, we promise."

"Now I told Alec that y'all didn't need to come all this way and make a fuss over a foolish old woman you don't even know--"

That at least stopped Hardison from making big, sad, 'I'm sorry' eyes at Eliot.

"And I told you, Nana, that I wasn't gonna sit back an' let you get scammed without doin' somethin' about it. An' my--my crew feels the same way. We're not about to let someone like that get away with hurtin' folks. That's not how we roll."

We wouldn't stand by and watch it happen even to complete strangers," Eliot said. "Helpin' out family? That's no trouble at all."

"But he's stopped answering his emails and his phone's disconnected and his so-called office is just a set of empty rented rooms," Nana fussed. "He's just up and vanished with all that money!"

Parker's face brightened, and she squeezed Nana's hands, on more solid ground now. "And we want to hear alllll about it. 'Cause we? Are really good at finding people. And money. You just have to trust us on that. You're Hardison's Nana and whoever did this is going to regret their life choices forever and ever."

"Not just Alec's Nana," she declared stoutly. "Y'all gonna have to call me Nana, too. I wouldn't know how to respond if y'all were to call me Mrs. Tafiya or even Celeste! Besides, even if you weren't here to help me out, anyone as dear as y'all are to Alec is automatically family to me."

She smiled at them from under Parker's hat and reached for the bag closest to her, intending on picking it up and bringing it into the house. "Listen to me, jawing at you all on the sidewalk at this time of night when there's fresh monkeybread on the counter. Come on inside, have some lemonade and I'll tell you everything I know about this Mr. Walker and his scheme. And we can figure out where y'all are sleeping, too. I've turned the spare bedroom into a guest room--and Alec still has his, of course, but that's just a twin, so I'm not sure if he even wants to sleep there anymore..."

"I'm sure Parker and Eliot aren't interested in seeing my old room, Nana," Hardison said hastily, throwing them the panicked looks that suggested they probably did want to see it, if only to harass him for it later.

The grin Eliot flashed Hardison was ever so slightly evil. "Might be best if I take the twin and let Hardison and Parker have the guest room," he suggested, then fairly swooped up when Nana reached for the bag. "Would you like me to get that for you, ma'am? It'd be no trouble at all."

He knew better than to insist if she turned him down, but Eliot wasn't about to let a woman of Nana's age carry a bag for him without at least offering to do it himself.

"Naw, y'ain't gotta do that--" Hardison said quickly.

Grab the bag? Sleep in his old room? See his old room?

Any of the above?

"Now, now, Alec, that sounds like a great plan, unless you have another sleeping iteration in mind?" Nana asked, raising an eyebrow. "Your bed is still more comfortable than the couch. And thank you, darlin'," she added, letting Eliot take the bag. "I love seeing young men with manners."

Yes, Alec was getting a significant side-eye for that.

And with that, she was turning around and shuffling them all into the house, where comfort and the rich scent of monkeybread awaited them. Tomorrow they could begin working on the con. Tonight was for family.

[Phone call and resulting discussion available for broadcast, everything in Chicago is obviously NFB. Preplayed with the wonderful vdistinctive and whoisalicewhite]