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Rattlesnake Smile

Title: Rattlesnake Smile
Fandom: Leverage
Series: Jukebox Musical
Pairings: minor established Eliot/Hardison
Warnings: Violence.  Like a lot of violence.  People die in this one because Eliot does not kid around.
Word Count: 5200
Disclaimer: If I owned it, the soundtrack would be Kane.
Summary: Quinn has never been afraid of Eliot Spencer until someone kidnaps Hardison.


When Quinn takes his first job as a hitter, Eliot Spencer is already a legend. He's the sort of myth that seasoned hitters talk about over shots of alcohol, whispering behind their hands as though the mention of his name could make the man appear.

They’re afraid of him and they’re in awe of him and like many other ambitious young hitters, Quinn wants to take him down. While Spencer’s reputation has to be at least sixty percent exaggeration since no one is that good, the person who kills him would still be able to name his price on any job he likes. That person would be an instant legend and Quinn could use some more notoriety.

So when James Sterling offers the hitter a great deal of money to take Spencer on, he accepts without a second’s hesitation. Eliot Spencer may be the hitter version of the Boogeyman, but Quinn has never lacked for confidence.

He's always been the fastest man in the room and when he finally confronts Spencer, this proves true again. Quinn takes the other man by surprise and puts him on the floor, each blow landing before the hitter can react. One, two, three punches and a knee follow in quick succession and this assault leaves Spencer crawling on the ground.

Honestly, it’s pitiful and Quinn is almost disappointed not to get a better fight. He thought Moreau’s Bloody Hound would land one blow at least and he’s going to have to embellish the story when he spreads this win around. However, just as the hitter is preparing to finish Spencer off, the other man pushes himself back to his feet. No matter how many times Quinn knocks him down, Spencer refuses to stay there; he takes Quinn's hits and just keeps on fighting anyway.

With every blow, the hitter's frustration builds until he finally shouts, “Why won't you stay down?”

Instead of answering the question, Spencer just starts laughing. He laughs like Quinn’s irritation is the funniest thing he’s ever seen and the longer this goes on, the more the hitter can feel control of their fight slipping through his fingers. Because that is not the laugh of a man who thinks he’s losing and Quinn takes an involuntary step back when Spencer gives him a toothy grin.

Twenty minutes later, Quinn wakes up on the floor with an aching head and a new respect for Spencer’s skills. The other hitter may not be as fast as he is, but he’s clearly just as skilled as all the stories claim. Spencer took Quinn out with pin-point precision and if he had to lose, at least he'd lost to the best. There's nothing shameful about getting defeated by a legend; if anything, the hitter gets major bragging rights for landing any hits at all.

So Quinn picks himself up and goes about his business. If he listens to the rumors about Spencer with a bit more interest now, no one else needs to know. Quinn is hardly the only person paying attention since the other hitter's legend just keeps getting more elaborate – his new team linked to everything from diamond heists to the overthrow of governments. Strangest of all, there are rumors that Spencer and company are doing it for free, which is enough to make Quinn doubt the buzz he hears.

However, legend or not, Spencer is the last thing on the hitter’s mind when a job goes bad two years later. Being tied to a chair has never been his favorite way to start the morning and the angry Russians glaring at him do not help. Quinn isn’t worried about dying – these guys want to hurt him before they kill him and that should give him time to escape. Time that will be bought with agony.

So Quinn is just bracing himself for the first punch when someone kicks down the door. Eliot Spencer has appeared out of the blue – and with pretty damn good timing – when Quinn didn’t think the other man even knew his name. But apparently Spencer does. He knows Quinn’s name and he wants to hire him, his offer stated plainly while the Russians stare gobsmacked.

Since watching Spencer’s team in action is something Quinn would actually have paid for, his answer is a most definite yes and twenty-four hours later, he’s fighting the urge to ask Sophie Devereaux for her autograph. Quinn hides his admiration well but the grifter is as elegant as she is sexy and he's always been a fan.

She's amazing and – in person – clearly as bugfuck crazy as the rest of Spencer's team. The insanity of these people is matched only by their skill and compared to them, the other hitter actually seems normal. Spencer is the only sane man in a crowd of lunatics and their dynamic is unlike anything that Quinn has ever seen, less of a team and more of a completely dysfunctional family.

Working with them is strange and fun and mildly infuriating, but even when Quinn wants to punch both hackers in the face, he can understand the draw. It's been a long time since he trusted anyone as much as Spencer trusts his teammates to always have his back.

By the time the job is finished, Quinn has decided several things. First, he doesn’t want a team like this. While it's nice to have a first-rate hacker at his beck and call, Quinn prefers to work with people that he can leave behind. He doesn’t have any interest in other people’s feelings, especially not when those feelings are tying Spencer’s hands.

However, despite this, Quinn has also decided that Spencer will never be soft no matter who he’s working for. He may have more morals than he used to, but that doesn’t make him toothless and Quinn wouldn't want to get on his bad side even now.

He's not afraid of Spencer. But he honestly doesn't know which of them would walk away and he prefers much better odds.

So the hitter means it when he tells the other man to call him if he ever needs some help again. Quinn would like to see these crazy fools in action one more time before Spencer quits the game for good. And he will quit, Quinn doesn’t doubt it. You don't see old hitters very often – it's either quit or die – and Spencer's teammates would clearly prefer him to survive.

---

Quinn gets the call three years later. It's 2am in San Francisco and he's just come off a plane from China. There's a stolen Ming in his suitcase, a diamond in his pocket and he's sore as hell from fighting triad goons, but he still picks up the phone when he sees a number that he doesn't recognize.

It's Parker. The thief gives him an address in Portland and the promise of double last time's payout if he's there by dawn. She doesn't even haggle and if Quinn hadn't been so jet-lagged, he definitely would have realized that something was very wrong. The hitter had realized that Parker loved money roughly two minutes into their first conversation – creepy, that’s what it was – and the thief should have offered him a much lower price to start.

But Quinn is jet-lagged so he just drops off the Ming, repacks his kit, and grabs a plane to Portland without doing more than wondering what could be going on.

Once he arrives in Oregon, Quinn rents a car and drives to the address that Parker gave him. It's a brew pub of all things and the sign on the door says that it's closed for business now. But when the hitter knocks, Parker suddenly appears behind him, unlocking the door and pulling him inside.

The thief leads him through the pub and into a back room, which is clearly the team's current headquarters when Quinn looks around. Though the hitter only glances at the wall of screens for a few seconds before his attention is caught by something far more dangerous. Because Eliot Spencer is pacing around the room like a caged panther. His face is pulled back in a snarl and Quinn feels a shiver of unease when the other man turns to him and growls, “Good. You're here. I hope you brought a gun.”

“I'm sorry, but what exactly am I doing here?” the hitter asks. He’s starting to wonder if he should have told Parker no instead.

Quinn's never been afraid of Spencer, but the expression on the other man's face has him slightly worried now. The last time Quinn saw an expression like that, someone tried to rip his throat out with a pencil and that isn't exactly a pleasant memory. However, before he can decide whether or not to treat Spencer as a threat, the hitter goes back to pacing and Quinn can't deny that he's a tiny bit relieved.

“I called you because of this,” Parker says. She presses a button and one of the screens along the wall flickers into life, revealing an image of the team's hacker strapped tightly to a chair.

Hardman? Harddon? What is his damn name? You think I'd remember since he never once shut up. Even as Quinn struggles to recall the other man's name, his eyes catalog every detail of the ransom video. It has to be a ransom or a warning given the ropes and the livid bruise splashed across the hacker's cheek, and this job just became far more interesting. Hardison! That's it.

“Hey, babe,” the hacker says up on the screen. “I guess that midnight soda run wasn't such a great idea after all. But these guys were ninja and you know I do my best fighting on the Wii. None of this three or five on one, stuffed into the trunk of a car BS...”

Hardison trails off, looking at something out of sight and grimacing.

“Sorry, sorry. I'm not supposed to get off topic. Though give me a controller and I'd whoop all you all's asses. That's a fact. But anyway, they want the book – the little black book of sin and infamy. Bring it to Washington Park at 9:30 Wednesday morning and leave it in the amphitheater underneath the fourth tier of bleachers. If you don't they'll-”

He falters then, blinking rapidly as he tries to get himself under control. Although...

“Is he blinking in Morse Code?” Quinn asks incredulously. “For that matter, you have the fucking Black Book? I thought that was a myth.”

“So are we,” Parker retorts a little sharply and the hitter thinks that he can see a hint of worry in her expression now that he knows to look. “Please just keep watching. We'll answer your questions when it's done.”

She starts the clip again and Quinn tries to focus even as his mind races wildly. He can't believe that Spencer and Parker are trusting him with this kind of secret and to his surprise, he doesn't want to let them down. So Quinn can freak out about the Black Book later. For now the priority is clearly Hardison.

“They want me to tell you what they'll do to me if you don't bring the book. But honestly, it's gross, and I know you can imagine much worse things yourself so I'm not gonna bother. They did say that they'll free me once they have the book but we all know you'd have to be stupid to believe those kinds of promis-”

The video cuts off there and Parker turns back to Quinn again, “We received this about an hour before I called you. We want you to help us get our hacker back.”

“Okay... I've got a couple contacts that track hostages and do retrievals but you're running under a pretty tight deadline. Do you know who has him?”

“Yakuza,” Spencer says flatly. “Ninja and a Wii means Yakuza. They've had a presence on this coast since the 90s but they should have known better than to mess with me and mine.”

“So what's the plan?”

“The plan? They kidnapped Hardison. I'm going to kill every single one of them and then build a sofa from their bones.”

---

Thankfully the actual plan is a bit more detailed once Parker lays it out. Their strategy is built around the information that Hardison managed to pass on because ninja and a Wii meant Yakuza, three or five on one had been a headcount, and the Morse Code translated to a set of coordinates.

Quinn has no idea how the hacker managed to learn that last piece of information but Hardison's teammates don't doubt his accuracy and at this point, magic would almost be an acceptable response. Honestly, magic seems like the most reasonable explanation for some of the things that Spencer's team has managed to pull off.

Of course, even with the hacker's information, the three of them are going into this situation much blinder than he'd like. But the feral look on Spencer's face doesn't invite further questions and Quinn can't back out now.

Honestly, the hitter doesn't want to. His curiosity is often stronger than his self-preservation and he wants to watch Eliot Spencer fall upon his enemies. He wants to watch the other man wreak destruction like a hammer sent from God.

So Quinn helps finalize their plan before crashing on the couch. He wakes up a couple hours later when Parker starts throwing handfuls of cornflakes at his head.

“It's time,” she tells him once he opens up his eyes. The hitter stretches with a groan, wincing a bit when bruised ribs protest. But he's fought with worse and he plans to shoot his enemies before they get close enough to punch him in the chest.

The trio packs their gear and then leaves through the side door of the pub. There are several vehicles parked in the back alley: two motorcycles, a bright orange Charger, what has to be Lucille number five, and a beat up old sedan. It's the last one that Spencer starts up now and while Quinn knows they're trying to be unobtrusive, he might have to ask for a spin in that Charger once this job is done.

Parker takes one of the motorcycles and roars off while the hitters drive in the other direction. The thief will be playing decoy while Quinn and Spencer rescue Hardison; they need to free the hacker before the Yakuza realize that they have no intention of giving in to their demands.

When the hitters arrive at Hardison's location, the Yakuza hideout turns out to be a nondescript warehouse, just one of many buildings by the riverside. But their trained eyes pick out all the little details, the subtle fortifications and hidden security that make the place a fortress underneath its plain facade. Attempting a siege would be suicidal, which is why Quinn and Spencer have a much different plan.

So the hitters park their car in a nearby alleyway and then find themselves a vantage point from which to watch the building. Parker should have reached Washington Park by now and hopefully they won't have long to wait. Indeed, the pair has been in place for less than five minutes when the building's door swings open.

“We've got movement,” Spencer says and Quinn snaps alert as two men march out. One of the Yakuza waves his arm and then the large dock door opens up as well. Seconds later, a black van hurtles onto the street and drives toward the park with tires squealing; whoever runs this gang must prefer style over substance because that was not remotely subtle. However, an open door is exactly what the hitters need and they start moving as soon as the van appears.

The Yakuza by the door are dead in seconds. Spencer slits the first man's throat and then snaps the other's neck before either can react. Swift and silent, both Yakuza fall without a sound and Quinn drags the bodies inside before pulling the door shut. The hitters don't need some random passerby playing Good Samaritan.

Spencer doesn't wait and he's twenty steps ahead of Quinn by the time he turns around. The other man is fighting half a dozen Yakuza and Quinn just leaves him to it. The last thing he wants to do is interrupt Spencer's murderous rampage and they don't know each other well enough to fight in sync.

Instead Quinn guards the inner doorway, killing any Yakuza that walks in on them before the alarm can sound. The hitter is pretty sure that Spencer plans to murder every single person in this building but the longer they keep the element of surprise, the better their chances of keeping Hardison alive. As soon as the Yakuza realize what's going on, they'll use Spencer's hacker as a hostage if they have any brains at all.

Quinn almost expects an army even now but it seems the tech box in his pocket is working just as Parker advertised. The thief promised it would disrupt the warehouse cameras and this advantage works in the hitters' favor as they confront their enemies.

Well, to be honest, it's most Spencer fighting. Quinn has never seen the other hitter like this – he's never seen anyone fight so viciously. The professional hitter that Quinn faced five years ago has been replaced with a brutal death machine.

Spencer charges up the stairs as soon as the last Yakuza crumples and Quinn gives him a thirty second head start before following more warily. While Spencer is too worried about Hardison to be cautious, Parker worked his recklessness into her strategy.

That girl is one scary Mastermind. Scary but talented and her planning is the reason Quinn doesn't falter when Spencer’s voice echoes through his comm.

“We’re gonna need Plan B,” the other man says and the hitter pauses instantly. He drops back to set half a dozen charges around the warehouse, placing the explosives at structural weaknesses.

Once the last charge is in place, Quinn contacts Parker to make sure she knows what’s going on. He doesn’t bother with a play by play, just tells her: “You were right.”

“Damn. I'm heading back right now,” the thief replies. “Don't waste all your bullets before I get there because I’ve got six guys on my tail.”

“I'll do my best,” Quinn promises before signing off again.

Then the hitter inches up the stairs carefully. Plan B means trouble and when Quinn sneaks a peek over the edge of the landing, that's exactly what he sees. They didn’t have time to get the warehouse blueprints for their planning but this hallway is clearly meant to be a kill-zone and Spencer's reckless ass walked straight into it.

The corridor has no walls, just open windows all along each side, and every single one is filled with Yakuza. They've got a dozen different kinds of guns pointed right at Spencer and this rescue mission just because a clusterfuck.

“Did you honestly believe that we would not be ready for you?” a tinny voice blares from hidden speakers. “As soon as my cameras stopped working, I knew that you were here and I promise that you will not leave this place alive. Unless you give me what I want, you and your friends will die.”

“If you hurt either of my teammates, I will carve off your skin and feed it to you,” Spencer replies, his words all the more unsettling for the calmness of his voice.

“You are in no position to make threats, Mr. Eliot Spenc-”

Quinn moves when Spencer flicks his fingers sharply, interrupting the Yakuza’s monologue as he blows the explosives that he lay down below. The charges aren't big enough to do any serious damage but they shake the building and distract the Yakuza as they were meant to do. That split second of inattention is all that Spencer needs.

He dives forward and comes up firing, six quick shots emptying the closest window. The hitter leaps through the opening just as his enemies recover, a spray of bullets slamming into the floor where he had been.

Now the Yakuza on the left can't fire for fear of shooting their own people and Spencer is careful to keep his back against the wall as the Yakuza on the right charge forward with a roar. Quinn can't see the other hitter through the swarm, but he can see Spencer’s handiwork. Because every time Spencer moves, someone falls in a spray of blood and brain matter – knife and pistol wielded to devastating effect.

One step. One kill. Spencer cuts through the Yakuza like a thresher, his enemies shouting curses as their trap dissolves. Indeed, the other hitter has the right side of the hallway well in hand, screams and cracking bones allowing Quinn to track his progress aurally.

The hitter isn’t crazy enough to wade into that slaughter, but he guards Spencer’s back as best he can. Quinn uses the Yakuza’s trap for his own purposes, shooting any man who tries to cross the hall. He stops the men on the left side of the kill zone from giving their comrades reinforcement and his pistol paints the floor red with their blood. When the Yakuza grow more cautious, Quinn starts picking them off through the window, but he’s forced to duck back around the corner of the landing when his enemies fire back.

However, before the Yakuza can mount a concentrated assault on his position, Spencer dives across the hall. The other hitter leaps from one window to the other and slams half a dozen men straight to the ground.

Soon the remaining Yakuza are far too occupied with Spencer to worry about Quinn and so the hitter moves into the hall. He glances right to make sure that side is clear and his gorge rises slightly at the carnage that he sees. The room is painted red with blood from floor to ceiling and some of the corpses hardly look like people anymore.

The gruesome scene calls to mind some gossip that Quinn had dismissed three years ago. Some of his colleagues had claimed that Moreau’s Bloody Hound had finally turned upon his master and sent him running for his life. Back then Quinn hadn’t thought Spencer was capable of that sort of death toll but clearly he was wrong and the hitter will probably have to start a few rumors of his own once this job is done.

For now, Quinn waits patiently as Spencer lays out the last Yakuza and then wipes his knife clean on his leg. The blade leaves a crimson streak across the fabric but with all the other stains the hitter’s pants have picked up recently, the mark is barely visible. Then Spencer sheathes his knife, reloads his pistol, and stalks toward the door at the far end of the hall.

It's locked, of course. But a few more explosives blow the door right off its hinges and Quinn seriously needs to get Parker's bomb recipe.

Spencer dives through the opening before the dust has settled, three quick shots echoing loudly in the room beyond. When Quinn follows, he finds the other hitter locked in a standoff with the leader of this clan.

The Yakuza boss must be in his fifties or sixties and with age comes wisdom. The man is smart enough to hide behind his hostage, Hardison’s arms twisted painfully and a gun pressed to his chin. When Quinn scans the room, he sees the boss’ bodyguards lying on the floor. Spencer shot each man straight through the head.

“Come any closer and I'll shoot him,” the Yakuza threatens, his eyes a little wild after the destruction of his clan.

“Shoot him and I'll rip your heart out,” Spencer growls back, his pistol steady in his hand.

The old man hasn't noticed Quinn yet. All his focus is on Spencer and that's understandable when the other man looks like some vengeful demon, blood-soaked and furious. But that fear is a weakness that the hitter can exploit.

So Quinn slips around Spencer, circling the Yakuza for a better vantage point. He can't risk shooting the boss; the shock might make him pull the trigger and blow Hardison's brains across the wall. Instead the hitter just sneaks up behind the Yakuza and taps him gently on the shoulder, “Hey, asshole. Look at me.”

The other man swings around to face Quinn and while he isn't stupid enough to release his hostage, turning his back on Spencer is stupidity enough. The hitter lunges forward in a blur of motion, grabbing the Yakuza's hand and yanking his gun away from Hardison. The boss pulls the trigger but it's too late; his bullet slams harmlessly into the ceiling and he doesn't get a second chance.

Spencer grabs Hardison, shoving the hacker behind him as he rips the old man's gun out of his hand. The clip goes flying in one direction and the pistol in another before the hitter advances on his enemy, intent on causing as much pain as possible.

The Yakuza puts up a decent fights considering his age but he can't hope to stand against Spencer's icy rage. For every blow he blocks, the hitter lands two punches and it doesn't take long before the boss is bruised and breathing hard.

Then Spencer kicks out the old man's kneecap and it's over. The Yakuza just collapses with a scream. He lies on the floor helplessly as the hitter stalks toward him, the other man's knife reappearing in his hand. Spencer seems prepared to make good on all his promises but he's barely sliced one bloody furrow down the Yakuza's chest when a soft voice stops him in his tracks.

“Eliot,” Hardison murmurs as he reaches out toward Spencer. The hacker sways on his feet and when he falls, the other man is there to catch him instantly.

“I've got you, Alec. You're okay,” Spencer says, enclosing Hardison in his arms protectively. The hitter has suddenly become a completely different person – this gentleness completely at odds with the violence that he showed his enemies. Spencer just carved his way through an entire clan of Yakuza but his hacker doesn't fear him or the blood that stains his hands. Hardison just melts into the hitter's arms and the raw expression on Spencer's face when he leans down to kiss his hacker makes Quinn shifts uncomfortably.

I guess that explains some things, the hitter thinks, watching Spencer and his hacker from the corner of his eye. But even though Spencer seems to have lost all interest in revenge, this job isn't finished yet.

They can't afford to let any members of this clan survive – not when these Yakuza know about the Black Book. So Quinn will do what's necessary. If Spencer is too busy comforting his hacker then Quinn will do the cleanup. That's why Parker called him and he always does his job.

So the hitter pulls out his own knife and slits the boss' throat with one quick stroke before calling Parker on their comms.

“We've retrieved our prize. What's your status?” Quinn asks the thief.

“Inbound with our decoy book and five more guys on my tail. Can you take them or should I do a few laps around the block?”

“I'll be there. Bring them home,” the hitter tells her, sheathing his knife and heading toward the door. His shoes stick as he runs back through the bloodstained hallway and he slides into position seconds before Parker runs full tilt through the warehouse door.

The thief disappears into the rafters as five men follow on her heels. The Yakuza falter when they see the state of their headquarters: the burning embers left from Quinn's explosives and the corpses on the floor. But the hitter is already firing from his position on the stairs and while his aim isn't quite as good as Spencer's, his shots still manage to drop four Yakuza.

The fifth man dives for cover and before Quinn can go after him, Parker drops down from the ceiling above his hiding place. There's a flash of electricity and a sizzling scream, and then the thief reappears.

“Did you know that you can kill someone with a Taser if you override the interface?” Parker asks and Quinn has to hide a shudder at the cold smile on her face. She's just as bad as Spencer once she drops her happy mask and the bloodbath upstairs probably wouldn't bother her at all. “Where are my boys? Are they all right? Eliot better not have gotten shot while I was gone.”

“We're up here,” Spencer calls out from the top of the stairs. He's standing there with Hardison, the other man leaning on his shoulder heavily. The hacker must have taken some internal damage along with the more obvious bruises and Parker's eyes narrow at her teammate's wince of pain.

“I hope you hurt them badly. I hope you made them scream,” the thief snarls furiously.

“Don't worry, Parker. I made sure of that,” Spencer replies as he helps his hacker down the stairs. “But Alec needs his injuries treated as soon as possible so let's just burn this warehouse to the ground and get back home again. We don't need the sort of trouble that thirty murders would bring down.”

The other hitter says this as though massacring an entire clan of Yakuza is completely normal, just one more day on the job. But maybe this is normal when Spencer's teammates have been threatened or someone dares to lay a hand on Hardison. This thought stays with Quinn while the trio covers their tracks, staging the scene as a gang argument gone wrong.

Because the hitter has always assumed that love made people soft, that it created weakness where there was strength before. But clearly love has just made Spencer twice as dangerous. The other hitter was always a professional, deadly to his targets but not one to kill without due cause. However, this assault was personal. This was complete and total devastation with no regrets at all and he's never been afraid of Spencer until now.

This is going to be a legend, Quinn decides as he follows Spencer and his hacker to the car. He sits in the back seat and watches the warehouse burn merrily behind them, flames licking toward the sky. This has to be a legend so that everyone knows not to mess with Hardison. If Spencer did this over threats and bruises, I don't want to know what he'll do if his hacker ever dies. He'll probably burn the world in retribution, his mourning bathed in blood.

Quinn will tell this story as a legend and a warning, a lesson that some prizes are not worth dying for. Because anyone who wants to hurt Eliot Spencer’s teammates had better kill the hitter first.


End



Someone wrote me a sequel to this.  If you like your bloodshed with a bit more human, check it out: Sequel