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A Lifetime in Ten Days

Title: A Lifetime in Ten Days
Fandom: Leverage
Pairings: Eliot/Hardison
Rating: R for semi-explicit sex
Warnings: Character death, violence, angst
Word Count: 4696
Disclaimer: If I owned it, there would be more gay sex
Summary: On the first day, Eliot jumps in after Hardison and Moreau shoots them both.  On the second day, Eliot freaks out.


On the first day, Eliot jumps into the pool after Hardison and Moreau shoots them both.

---

On the second day, Eliot freaks out. Because he wakes up in bed, gasping with the memory of bullets tearing through his body and Hardison bleeding out in front of him.

Eliot couldn't save him; he couldn't protect the hacker even though that was his only reason for being there and he should have known that Moreau wouldn't trust them so easily. But for the moment the hitter’s guilt is secondary to his panicked pat down, hands searching for wounds that are not there.

Instead his skin is as smooth and unbroken as it’s ever been, all his scars long familiar, and Eliot doesn’t know what the fuck is going on. His memory is too vivid to be a nightmare, the details too specific and too sharp, but this isn’t one of those weird science fiction shows that Hardison likes so much. Normal people don’t come back to life and they definitely don’t live the future, which means that someone must have drugged Eliot last night.

The hitter has run across a couple things over the years that could cause this kind of lucid dreaming and there’s probably another dozen out there that he doesn’t know about. So someone must have wanted him suggestible; someone wanted to send a message or a warning before their next job went down.

Moreau is out since the team would already be dead if he had made them, but there are plenty of other people who might want the hitter shaken, starting with Nate’s damn Italian. That woman is currently at the top of Eliot’s list because she dropped by the bar late last evening to send the team off on their rescue mission and she seems like the type to enjoy messing with his head. A few drops in the hitter’s glass when he was distracted would explain what just happened and he repeats this explanation until the rushing in his ears finally goes away.

Just a bad trip, nothing more. Time to put your game face on, he says firmly, promising himself that the Italian will learn exactly what he thinks of her trickery on the next time that they meet.

But then Eliot's phone rings at precisely 8:47 and step by step his dream comes true. Step by step everything happens as he remembers until the hitter finds himself jumping after Hardison again.

---

On the third day, Eliot gets his shit together.

Sure he appears to be caught in a crazy time loop that resets each time he dies, but the hitter can work with that. It may be insane, impossible, and all around unpleasant, but his job had always required adaptability and Eliot is damn good at what he does.

So when Nate goes over the plan for the third time, or at least the third time that he’s heard it, Eliot just grits his teeth and doesn’t say anything. There’s no point in objecting to the risks they’re taking when he’s the one who keeps fucking up, even if he has trouble believing that Nate was actually sober when he came up with this insanity. But crazy is what they do and Eliot is prepared now, as prepared as he can be for the sound of one of his teammates drowning, and he doesn’t allow himself to flinch when Hardison hits the pool.

Instead the hitter bargains as if his story were true, counting down the minutes until his teammate will be gone for good. Eliot knows that he can't give in too quickly or Moreau will get suspicious, but he also knows that Hardison will be panicking like crazy and that will reduce the time he has. Maybe he should have warned the other man, but Eliot had no way to explain how he knew what was coming and the hacker’s reactions needed to be genuine.

Admittedly the hitter is a little worried that Hardison will blow it once Moreau’s new right hand finally fishes him out of the water, but his friend is actually a decent actor when he stops trying so hard and he plays his role to a tee. In fact, the hacker keeps it together until the two of them have left the building and then he rounds on Eliot furiously.

The hitter has never seen the other man this angry and he hates it all the more because he knows that every harsh word is justified. But to Eliot’s surprise, Hardison seems less angry about the danger to his own life than he is about the secrets that the older man had kept.

So now Eliot feels like he's damaged something, broken a fragile trust that he hadn't registered before it was gone again and that’s just one more thing that Moreau has destroyed. Although, if the hitter is being honest with himself, this one he managed to screw up on his own. Because he’s had months to tell his team the truth about his past and every time an opportunity came up in conversation, he chose cowardice instead. Eliot didn't want to tell them and he has justified his silence with the hope that things would never come to this.

But now they have and the hitter can feel himself shutting down as Hardison tells the rest of the team about what happened and Parker turns shocked eyes on him. While Nate and Sophie are experienced enough to expect a certain amount of secrets from both friends and enemies, the younger two are not so jaded, making his betrayal all the more painful now.

However, the hitter has always been better at killing people than comforting their widows and he doesn't have the words to make things okay again. So he stays silent as Parker bombards him with questions, reduced to monosyllables until Nate moves their discussion back to the task at hand.

There's still a con to finish and if anyone deserves to be taken down, it’s Damien Moreau. The man may prefer to leave his dirty work to other people, but he's the spider standing in the heart of a thousand criminal webs and the blood on his hands would be enough to turn the Mississippi red.

So even if Eliot has lost his friends for good, he has to believe that this job is worth it. He has to believe that destroying Moreau’s empire would be worth the sacrifice.

Only this is not to be because the rest of the hitter's team is scattered after his revelation, their normal smooth interplay now stumbling on jagged edges and doing his own part isn't enough to save them from themselves. Eliot tries, god he tries, but he can hear Hardison and Parker shouting in panic through his ear bud even as he moves to cover Nate's escape.

He hears them shouting and he hears them fail, the discordance that he caused within their team dynamic throwing his friends off their game. The two of them move just those few seconds slower, their reach just that much less and when their voices are cut off by the sound of an explosion, Eliot lets five slugs take him in the chest.

---

On the fourth day, Eliot warns Hardison and everything goes to hell immediately. The hitter doesn't want a repeat of the previous day’s disaster and if trust is what it takes to keep his teammates alive, then he'll tell them everything.

So he pulls Hardison aside before they walk into Moreau's hotel and gives him the Spark Notes version of his history: a few jobs, a few crimes and the certainty that the other man will recognize his face. But even though the hacker takes Eliot's confession better than he'd expected – which means there’s only a tiny bit of yelling and three expressions that normal human faces aren't supposed to make – someone must have been listening.

It sounds paranoid, even more so since the hitter had actually checked for eavesdroppers before saying anything. But Moreau is definitely the type to bug the area around his hideouts and Eliot can’t think of any other explanation for what happens next. Because his former boss takes one look at his visitors and signals his men to take them down.

The hitter struggles madly, of course, but he’s outnumbered ten to one and once they grab Hardison, the fight is done.

“I've heard rumors that you'd gone soft, but I never believed them until now,” Moreau says once Eliot has surrendered with a growl, meeting the hitter’s glare with a deceptively mild smile as Chapman pins his arms behind his back. “But I guess even the best dogs can be neutered and declawed.”

“How did you- ?” Eliot chokes out, the words cut off sharply when Chapman tightens an arm across his throat. The hitter doesn't fear dying – he never did even before he was sure that he'd come back – but he needs to know what gave him away this time. Eliot needs to know what went wrong so that he can do it better because even Moreau usually requires some proof before he starts slaughtering potential clients right off the bat.

But maybe it was just bad luck because the only answer that the hitter receives is: “You may have worked for me, but you don't know all my secrets, Spencer. You should have remembered that,” before Moreau pulls a blade from underneath his jacket and slices Eliot's throat from ear to ear.

---

On the fifth day, Eliot leaves. For while he knows that running isn't the answer to his problem, strange though it may be, the hitter just can't do this anymore.

He always thought that he was strong but he’s died four times in the last four days and it’s starting to break him, though maybe it’s only the thought of Hardison bleeding out again that Eliot can’t stand. He’s always had a soft spot for the other man even if he's done his best to hide it and he can't handle another failure that ends in death right now. Not when the only way for Eliot to save the hacker is to shatter his trust instead.

So he packs a bag and offers his team a word of warning that Nate will never heed before heading out the door, and he's not sure whether or not to be disappointed when Hardison is the only one who follows him.

“Hey man, wait up,” the hacker calls as he jogs after Eliot, the other man slowing his pace so that he can catch up. “What's going on with you? I know you've been worried about the team going after Moreau but this is what we do, man, and I've got you to back me up if things get rough at the hotel.”

“If things get-” Eliot can't even finish the statement, Hardison's blind trust too painful after everything he's seen. Because the hitter knows where that blind trust leads them, it leads to death and failure and a spray of bullets through the air, and his friend jerks back in surprise when Eliot starts to laugh. He laughs until he's gasping, tears pooling in the corners of his eyes, and Hardison looks ready to call the cops on him.

“Fuck, Hardison, you have no idea,” the hitter says finally, slumping down against the wall. “You have no fucking idea how badly this day will turn out.”

“Then tell me,” the other man replies and Eliot can see that he isn't going to back down. So he thinks, to hell with it, and tells him everything. Not that Hardison believes him at first and to be honest, Eliot would have worried if he had. But convincing him is far easier than it should be – seriously, has he been waiting for a time loop all his life? – or maybe it's just that the hitter has never been the type for elaborate pranks before.

The only one Eliot ever messes with is Parker so if he says that he's been living the same day over and over then Hardison has to believe him, no matter how nuts it sounds. “Besides, there’s plenty of pop culture precedent; I mean, Groundhog Day, 12:01, Run Lola Run and, of course, the sheer awesomeness that is Mystery Spot just to name a few.”

This incomprehensible list of things that Eliot's never heard of is exactly what Hardison reels off after the hitter finishes his story, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and promising, “I've got this, brother. We'll figure something out.”

It's obviously supposed to be comforting, but all Eliot can think about is the splash the other man makes every time he hits the water and somehow he knows that he has to sort this out himself. But this time around, the hitter is going to be selfish because the universe owes him that much for screwing with him like this. So Eliot reaches out and takes Hardison's face between his hands, pulling the hacker down to his level and kissing him for all he’s worth. He's wanted to do this for a while, but he would never have risked the team for it, particularly not when the other man's pining over Parker has been so obvious.

To be completely honest, the only reason Eliot kisses Hardison now is because he knows that another reset is coming and the hacker won't remember having punched him once they start again. But if he has to keep waking up on this same day until he can make this con successful, he wants to know whether the other man tastes as sweet as he’s always thought he would.

Eliot has caught Hardison mid-word and he takes complete advantage, teasing his tongue along the hacker’s lips before dipping it inside. He tastes like cinnamon, frosting and just a hint of that awful orange soda he likes so much to round the sweetness out.

In fact, the hitter quickly decides that this could become an addiction when Hardison melts against him, wrapping an arm around Eliot's neck and returning his kiss fervently. They sit there making out on the cold concrete until the hitter's scars start aching from the chill and he certainly never thought his day would start like this.

“What was that for?” Hardison asks when the other man finally pulls away, lips curling into a slightly smug smile at his breathlessness.

“Because I wanted to; I've wanted to for a while and I just couldn't miss my chance,” Eliot says, refusing to let reality encroach on him again. The hitter knows this is a bad idea for a whole slew of reasons but as long as Hardison keeps grinning at him with that goofy expression, he really doesn't care.

So he lets the hacker pull him to his car, the two of them managing to keep their hands to themselves until they reach Eliot’s apartment and stumble through the front door. But then all bets are off as Hardison shoves the hitter back against the wall, his mouth seeking out Eliot's as though missile-guided and he really wasn't expecting the other man to be so good at this.

Should have known all that talking would make his tongue talented, the hitter muses before Hardison takes his bottom lip between his teeth and steals away his ability to think.

After that it's all just flashes: the way that Hardison laughs when Eliot trips over his pants in eagerness and the hot curl of lust in his eyes; the feel of smooth skin beneath his palms as he bends down to take one of the hacker's nipples in his mouth, and the broken cry that Hardison lets out when he wraps one hand around his cock. Eliot will never forget this no matter how often the world resets around him; he'll never forget the way that the other man arches against him, hands scrabbling over Eliot's back to pull the hitter closer as a chorus of moans and encouragement falls from his lips.

Tight and hot and impossibly perfect, Eliot knows that he's ruined in an instant and he swallows his lover’s cries as he finally pushes into him. This is the only place he wants to be, the only thing he'll dream of and when it's all over, the hitter wraps an arm around Hardison's waist and pretends that this can last.

But it can’t and Moreau's assassins find them less than two hours later just as Eliot knew they would.

---

On the sixth day, Eliot tries to forget the way that Hardison moved under him. As much as he will treasure the memory, it can’t happen again even if the other man is willing – and he must be willing since the hitter is the only one who’s changed.

But there is no future for the two of them; there can be no future because Eliot is Eliot and there will always be another ghost from his past chasing him. There will always be another person who wants to kill him and one of these days, someone will succeed. So Hardison is better off with Parker, the hacker and the thief can have a happy life together and Eliot just hopes that he’ll survive long enough to see his friends settled down.

Well, as settled as people like them ever get since the hitter is sure that Parker will be breaking into safes even when she's old enough to have a walker and Hardison will be there with his computer to back up her escape.

So Eliot just bites his tongue and follows the hacker into Moreau's hotel one more time. As long as he doesn't warn Hardison, nothing changes about this encounter and the hitter knows that he won’t risk Moreau finding out again. Eliot needs Moreau to trust him at his word – or at least as much as he trusts anyone – before this con can move forward and the hitter can deal with his teammates hating him as long as they survive.

But Eliot has also learned the lesson of his silence because this team cannot function with his betrayal as an anchor on its neck. So he tries to explain without explaining and he thinks that this time his friends might understand. At least enough to keep them breathing and that's all he wants by now.

The hitter just wants this day to be over; he wants to be free of this strange magic even if it means having the threat of true death hanging over him again. Because Eliot has always known that death was chasing him and after some of the things he's done, the thought of being caught is more relief than anything. He just needs to make sure that his team is safe before the reaper takes him and if that requires him to increase his body count then that's exactly what the hitter plans to do.

He's going to Hell anyway; a few more lives won't make a difference now. Besides, Moreau's minions are the worst kind of men – he should know, he used to be one – and yet, when the time comes, Eliot can't make himself pick up the gun.

The hitter has never made it this far before; he came close on his third run but died in the first hail of bullets, and he knows that their enemies aren't going down without a fight. Eliot will have to kill every last one of them if Nate and the Italian are going to survive this, but he doesn't want to be that person anymore. He can't be that person with the memory of Hardison's trusting smile staring up at him.

So Eliot hesitates too long, paralyzed by indecision until Chapman gets off a lucky shot.

---

On the seventh day, the hitter answers Parker’s question and tells his team about the worst thing he's ever done. Eliot tells them in excruciating detail, making no attempt to lessen the guilt upon his shoulders or the blood upon his hands.

To be honest, Eliot isn’t sure why he decides to break his long-held silence, sharing things that he's never told to anyone. Because as much as people always claim that relationships are built on honesty, some truths can only break things further and this one will do nothing to repair the trust that he's put on fragile ground.

But maybe the hitter just wants to know if his team will reject him; here, where the consequences need not be permanent. Maybe Eliot just wants to know whether their strange family will survive if he does what's necessary in that warehouse because if this day has taught him anything, it's that secrets do not always stay buried where they belong.

So the hitter talks until he's run out of confessions and then he falls silent, staring at the ground until he feels a soft touch on his arm. It's Sophie, her eyes filled with not fear but pity and somehow that's worse by far.

They are all looking at him with pity and too much understanding, forgiveness that Eliot does not deserve right now. Because the man that he had been was a monster and the hitter has no misconceptions about his own innocence. But maybe that's his answer – his team will forgive him if he trusts them; they will forgive him and so this is one truth that can never pass his lips again.

Some people are not meant for absolution and he hadn't known how much he was counting on their hatred until it failed to come. But at least Eliot knows his way forward now, it's guns and blood and slaughter such as he had hoped would never cross his path again.

However, some things should not be forgotten so the hitter takes a moment to fix his teammates' expressions in his memory. He needs to remember why he can never tell them and he adds their forgiveness to the burden on his shoulders before stepping in front of the semi that has just turned down the street.

---

On the eighth day, Eliot remembers that some things are much harder than they look in the movies and gunfights rarely go as planned.

Sure he had known this truth already – how could he not after all his years in the army? – but the hitter had always been skilled enough that he could roll with the punches and come out on top anyway. Only now he's out of practice and even though his gun is almost disturbingly familiar in his hand, that's not enough to win the day this time.

Because Eliot has forgotten how to watch someone’s brains splatter against the walls without flinching, his ghosts getting louder with every man he kills. He doesn't remember how to be merciless after spending so many years trying to find his way back from the darkness that's calling him right now.

Maybe I have gone soft after all, Eliot thinks as he ducks behind another crate and lets the latest spray of bullets pass him by. With the right plan of attack, the hitter knows that he can still survive this, but even though his streak of violence has never left him, he's tried so hard to tame it that giving in feels wrong.

But Eliot can do this for his team, his family. He must do this so he gathers himself to charge back into the fray. Yet the hitter can't overcome his hesitation so easily and this weakness is the difference between victory and bleeding out on the ground.

---

On the ninth day, Eliot shoots Moreau, planting a bullet right between the smug bastard's eyes. He's bleeding in half a dozen places, some bad enough to need stitches when this is over, but at least he was the last one standing when the gunfire stopped this time.

The hitter spent the morning preparing himself for the coming showdown, hardening his heart against the blood that must be spilled. Because his teammates are worth dying for and today Eliot decided that they're worth killing for as well. Indeed he's murdered a dozen men in the last ten minutes, taking them out one by one until only Chapman was left to threaten him. The other man got the drop on him and perhaps that would have been the end of it if Moreau's new dog hadn't been too interested in gloating to watch his opponent's hands.

Eliot doesn't know if he could have done it in cold blood even for his team, but when Chapman lifts his weapon, the hitter moves without a thought. He leaves the body on the floor with the others and then runs out of the warehouse to see Nate and Moreau squaring off.

Nate is trying to talk Moreau down but Eliot knows that there's only one fate for men like them and it is this certainty that guides his gun right now. Certainty and vengeance because the hitter has wanted to kill Moreau for half a decade and now he has his chance.

However, Eliot's ruthlessness does not go unpunished and he should have known that his former boss would not die so easily. Because the explosions begin only a few seconds after Moreau crumples, Eliot catching sight of a Dead Man Switch falling from the criminal's fingers before a wave of fire washes over him.

---

On the tenth day, Eliot finally gets it right. The hitter walks a careful balance between honesty and retribution, biting his tongue and enduring until the time is right.

He smiles at Moreau when he would rather rip his throat out and he bends his head to apologize for breaking his team's trust even though they have no idea what he's truly sorry for. He's sorry for what he's done in this lifetime and the ones that his friends do not remember just as he's sorry for what's still coming before this day is done.

Because, as it turns out, dodging bullets is much easier when he knows where his enemies will be standing and this time Eliot wins decisively. He slaughters Moreau's men one by one until there are none left to face him, Chapman the last to fall with half a clip of bullets in his chest.

Then he runs onto the tarmac to find the same scene that he remembers and the hitter has to remind himself that he wants to survive this more than he wants to see their target die. Indeed Eliot can still feel the echo of flames roaring across his skin and that more than Nate's shouted warning is what stays his hand.

At this point the hitter will do anything to escape the endless day that he’s been living and if violence cannot save him here, then Eliot will see if mercy can succeed in its stead. Moreau may not deserve forgiveness, but his team deserves to live and he will pay whatever price that takes.

Apparently that price is Moreau's escape to San Lorenzo and somehow it seems fitting that the hitter has to fail to win. Because the Devil knows his own and Moreau must have sold his soul years ago to escape the crushing weight of his sins. Yet even as Eliot curses the hand that the fates have dealt him, Nate lays a hand on his shoulder and promises that their team will make it right.

It's a crazy thing to promise; the words crazier still because the hitter is busy trying to save Nate's damn Italian, her blood staining his shirt crimson where he's pressed it to her side.

But while Nate's words are crazy, nothing about Eliot's team has ever been normal and if anyone can pry Moreau from his bolt hole, it's the five of them. That’s what they do after all, they bring criminals that no one else can touch to justice, and as long as they’re together, they’ll figure something out.


Finis