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Title: The Wreck of '86 (Anything Could Happen)
Author: ishilde
Giftee: mizzy2k
Characters/Pairing: Alec Hardison, Nate Ford, Sophie Devereaux, Parker, Eliot Spencer, Tony Stark, Natasha Romanov, Clint Barton, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, Justin Hammer, Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan (Pairings: very vaguely implied N/S, S/T, P/H)
Word Count: 9480
Spoilers: Spoilers for Iron Man 2
Warnings: None
Disclaimer: I don’t own leverage or the Avengers or Nate and Tony would be drinking each other under the table to everybody else’s disappointed cries by now.
Summary: Nate has a secret past, and when Hardison gets caught out on the job the team find out something about their Mastermind that they never would have been able to guess.
Notes: It turned into a monster. That’s all I have to say.

“Eliot, don’t you realise where we are?” A sigh comes through the intercom, but even the threat of the Hitter’s exasperation can’t stop Hardison from twitching with excitement.

“We’re at a party for jumped up nerds in monkey suits.” Eliot replies. Somewhere, Parker snorts, and Hardison shoots a glare towards the ceiling. She’ll probably catch it.

“We’re at Stark Expo, Eliot. The. Stark. Expo. The largest collection of the most current technology organised by someone who is probably the smartest person on the planet and at least partially responsible for the Av-”

“We know, Hardison.” Nate’s voice cuts in, clearly frustrated. His tone is clipped, and Hardison bites his lip. “We were all at the briefing, and you gave us more than enough detail the first time. Just, try not to get too over excited, okay? You’ll blow our cover.”

Hardison rolls his eyes. Nate’s right, theoretically, but the man’s been short-tempered ever since they decided this event would be the best time to strike their target, and Alec feels like he’s been taking the brunt of his frustration. Just because Nate’s only recently getting the hang of Google, doesn’t mean he has to hate on the one event Hardison’s dreamed of getting into since the first time he touched a computer.

“Right, right.” Hardison hums in agreement. “You’ve got to give me some leeway though, right? Because I’m a tech guy, and I’m playing a tech guy, and this the ultimate tech event, and I mean the ultimate event. We’re always excitable when it comes to true beauty, no matter how far up the corporate ladder you go. Besides, the honest-to-god Avengers are going to be here soon, and most of the room is going to go crazy when they see them. I’d stick out like a SEGA if I didn’t react.”

Or you’d look like a sane human being.” Eliot huffs, overcompensating. “The Avengers are nothing special.”

“Don’t you lie to me, Ninja-Geek. I’ve seen your –” Something metal grazes against Hardison’s shoulder. He gasps, hand clutching at his chest.

“Holy crap, Iron Patriot just bumped into me.”

“Wasn’t that War Machine?” Parker asks; he knew she was watching him. Hardison shakes his head.

“They changed it to Iron Patriot during the Mandarin fiasco. Don’t you think it’s cooler?” A hand lands on Hardison’s shoulder, and he hears a reply that’s decidedly not coming from the intercom.

“No, I really don’t. Why does everybody keep saying that? Also, I’m going to take this, if you don’t mind. If you do mind - I’m guessing you do, it looks terribly important - I’m still going to take it, but maybe we can negotiate an exchange.”

Hardison swallows as nimble fingers pluck the communicator from his ear, and turns around to come nose to nose with a smirking man in his mid-forties, hair stylishly dishevelled.

Do not squeak. Do not squeak. Do not squeak.

“You’re – Tony. Stark.” Hardison squeaks. “Uh. Mr. Stark. Sir?”

“The one and only…” The Tony Stark remarks drily, eyebrows raising in question. “Are you really just another crazy stalker? ‘Cause I’d been kind of hoping for a conspiracy, or a terrorist plot, or something. At least some kind of explosion; got to keep things lively or they’ll think I’m getting old…”

“I’m. I’m, uh…” Hardison digs his nails into his palm, trying to regain his composure and conjure a cover story. The transition is swift – he’s got experience and he’s not about to let something like meeting his idol blow the plan, after all – but he’s only got a twenty percent chance that Stark (Iron Man) didn’t catch it. There’s a threat beneath the quips, and instead of rising, Hardison forces himself to deflate, laughing sheepishly and palming the back of his neck. “That’s…exactly what I am. S – Sorry to disappoint.”


Hardison keeps his eyes downcast. “It’s just, ever since New York – I was there, hid in the subway, watched the news after – I mean, you Avengers are so cool, man, and my sister, she got a waitressing gig here. I begged her to let me in, please don’t fire her, I just wanted to see you guys on stage. I – “ Stark holds up a hand, and Hardison quiets. It’s embarrassingly easy to gush.

“Hmmm.” Stark eyes Hardison thoughtfully. Alec bounces on his toes. He doesn’t have to try all that hard to look star struck and uncomfortable. Stark claps his hands together.

“Alright, then! Follow.” Stark jerks his head and begins working his way through the crowd. Hardison stumbles after him, confused.

“You – You’re escorting me out personally, sir?” he asks, persona up.

“Out? No, no, I’m escorting you in. You get this far through my own security screening system, might as well get some kind of reward, don’t you think? That’s how we train a genius.”

“Reward?” Hardison swallows. Stark seems a little too happy to have just found someone infiltrating his event. He’d expected the man to take offense and lock him up. At the very least, throw him out. Now he’s just confused.

“Yeah. You get to meet your heroes. Honestly, keep up, I’d been hoping you were smart.” Stark moves quickly, heading towards a door in the corner of the main stage, and Hardison almost loses him twice. He sends a nervous glance towards the intercom, still intact between Stark’s fingertips, and wonders why his dream had to come true right now; it was more of a nightmare.


Hardison finds himself shouldered ‘politely’ onto a plush leather couch. The four other inhabitants of the room look up on his entry.

The Avengers are staring at me.

Hardison swallows thickly.

“Who’s this?” Captain America – ‘call me Steve’, he insists in every interview – asks, looking between Stark and Alec. Hardison feels conflicted; the man looks like a cross between a hit man and a labrador, and he doesn’t know whether to be terrified of the hero, or ask for a hug.

“I don’t know.” Tony responds bluntly, and Hardison catches Steve rolling his eyes with a sharp intake of breath. In the far corner, Hawkeye – they never did release his name – snorts, and Hardison wonders if this kind of thing is a frequent occurrence for them. Tony sounds flippant, and he’s smiling like he’s trying to piss someone off. “Says he’s a fanboy, didn’t catch his name.”

“And you just decided to bring him here with you?” Steve sighs, exasperated, before turning to Hardison with some semblance of a polite smile. “What is your name?”

Think ComicCon.

“J – Joseph Miller.” Hardison provides, faking bashful. “I’m not – Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m in the same room as the Avengers – but I don’t really get – what’s happening here?”

“You tell me.” A man, curly haired with a mildly amused expression asks, and all eyes turn back to Stark. Stark grins, and it’s all teeth.

“Here’s the thing: he’s a fanboy with an earpiece. That raises alarms all by itself – what kind of innocent geek needs back up? But what interests me most is that it’s not your run of the mill Bluetooth phone extension. Oh, no. It’s a state of the art, custom adapted earpiece; the technology’s almost on par with my own.” Hardison flushes with pride, thankful that it’s mostly hidden by his complexion, and quickly rethinks his story.

“I need a job, okay?” He interrupts. “I just wanted to show you some of my ideas, see if I could get a place in your R&D department. You never advertise, and I can’t get past the receptionist. The earpiece is a prototype – it’s not even connected to anything.”

“That’s a damn good story, Joseph Miller.” Hawkeye is peering over a StarkPad, frowning, and the Black Widow -  even more beautiful and deadly in person, and Hardison really needs to get out – moves to join him.  “You’re going to have to work in an identical twin, though, ‘cause SHIELD intel has your face pinned to the identity of one Alec Hardison, Leverage, Inc. You aware that there’s an expert hacker who’s stolen your features and is playing Robin Hood with a group of con artists?”

Hardison coughs. “No, sir, I wasn’t. You should probably go stop him.”

Stark barks out a laugh. “I like him! He’s got some nerve.” He spins and catches Hawkeye’s eye, indignant. “Wait, SHIELD intel? How come I don’t know about this Leverage organisation?”

“They aren’t really considered a threat. Hell, they’ve even managed to take down some people on our watch list before. The data’s probably not marked as important enough for you to pay attention to it.”

“Hey.” Hardison protests, and Hawkeye raises an eyebrow. The game was up, anyway. “I think we’re better than that.”

“Oh, I didn’t say you weren’t good. It’s just that we like you.”

“For now.” The Black Widow interjects. “But I don’t trust Spencer.”

Hardison shrugs. “Understandable.”

“So, he’s a hacker?” Steve asks, bringing the focus back to why Hardison was there and making Alec curse inwardly. “Does he want to steal your research?”

“Hell, no!” Hardison counters, raising submissive palms in Stark’s direction. “I’ve got brains, thank you, and a sense of self preservation. This is my down time; I just wanted to see if I could get in.”

“Right.” Stark clearly isn’t buying it, which, damn, because he’d thought that that was a pretty good excuse. It’s what he would have been doing anyway, if their mark  hadn’t thrown them in this direction. “And the rest of your team came with you, why?” Tony gestures to the earpiece again, and the curly haired guy – Hardison’s just dying to know who he is, he doesn’t seem like your average super hero – approaches it curiously.

“Is that still live?” He asks, and Tony shrugs.

“Well, I haven’t done anything with it. Unless someone else can disable it remotely I’m going to guess so.” He replies, before raising the piece to his ear. “Hello? If there’s anyone there, I’ve got your friend. Joseph, or Alec, or whatever. We’re going to hang on to him unless you tell us what you’re doing here – and whether we can play.”

“Tony.” Steve warns.

“What? I hate most of the people who come here anyway, serves ‘em right if they’re asking to get conned.”

There’s a pause as Stark waits for a reply, the rest of the Avengers watching patiently. Hardison grits his teeth. No one is going to speak without Nate’s say-so, but they will have been listening to everything that’s happened, and it’s been long enough that their leader must have come up with a plan by now. His captors might have super powers, but there’s no chance they have a stronger tactician. He watches for a reaction, and hopes that he’ll be able to play along with whatever Nate throws out.

Stark’s brow creases, and his smug expression dips into a frown. Steve takes a step towards him, hand drifting towards Stark’s arm, but it’s aggressively shrugged off. Stark moves to stand in front of Hardison, gaze intense.

“When the hell did Nathan Ford become a conman?”

Hardison gapes. The Avengers gape (except the Black Widow, who raises one perfectly shaped eyebrow, expression unchanging).

“Friend of yours, Stark?” Hawkeye asks, tapping on his Pad, and Hardison knows he’s pulling up Nate’s details.

“Nathan Ford is  the man on the other end, right?” Steve frowns. “You know him? And he’s working with this guy in a team of con artists?”

“Not the last time I checked. Then again, there’s been more time since then than there should have been.” Stark replies. He looks uncomfortable. “We were – we had a thing. Colleagues, I guess. Friends. Ish.”

“Nathan Ford. Son of Jimmy Ford, wanted, now deceased.” Hawkeye reads aloud. Hardison winces – and so does Stark, at the same time. “Former employee of IYS Insurance, candidate for SHIELD recruitment.”

“What?” Hardison and Stark ask simultaneously. This mutual reaction thing is getting creepy. Hawkeye ignores  them both.

“Dropped off the radar following the death of his – “

Stark cuts Hawkeye off with a sharp gesture. “Skip to the conman part.” He snaps, and Hawkeye raises a hand in surrender.

“Okayy…re-emerged as responsible for the arrest of one Victor Dubenich. The case report suspected Ford’s involvement with four known criminals: Sophie Devereaux, the thief known only as ‘Parker’, Eliot Spencer and Alec Hardison.” Hawkeye nods his head towards Alec at that point, and he just shrugs in response. There’s no point trying to hide anything, now. “Those suspicions were confirmed five months later when an investigation into the company ‘Leverage Incorporated’ was launched by Ford’s old company IYS. Nearly two years later they manipulated a national election to take out Damien Moreau.”

“We’d been after him for years.” The Black Widow comments, and Hardison thinks that she might almost sound impressed. Stark still looks confused, fingers pressed to his temple.

“So, wait.” Stark turns to Hardison, his expression incredulous. “He just, what? Decided he was due a career change and shacked up with the people he’s spent years catching? That’s not Nate.” Hardison feels his hackles rising. Stark might be his hero, but he’s a stranger, and he’s making assumptions.

“It is now.” He replies tacitly. “Things happened; we were wronged. Nate saw what was good in us.”

“But why?

“Ask him yourself.” Hawkeye interjects, eyes on the ceiling. Two seconds later, a tile moves and a mess of black clothing and blonde hair tumbles to the floor. “Or…her?”

“Nate’s coming through the door.” Parker says, breathless as she stands. The Black Widow has a gun on her, but she ignores it, crossing straight to the couch and falling onto it next to Hardison. He beams. “Hey, Hardison. You really screwed up this time, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.” Hardison admits, still smiling.

Nate knocks before he enters, Sophie and Eliot close on his heels. Eliot’s on edge – ready to fight – and Hardison expects it took a lot of coercion from Nate to persuade him to just walk in here. Sophie seems concerned, but her hand is placed on the small of Nate’s back, supportive. Nate’s expression is grim in an awkward sort of way, and Hardison looks between his boss and Stark curiously. They stare at each other for a long time, and Parker begins nudging Alec’s foot.

“Friends – ish?” Nate asks Stark eventually – attempting to break the ice? “I’d hate to see what you made your actual friends do for you.”

Stark laughs at that, but it sounds strangled. His hands are twitching at his sides, and Hardison recognises that habit as one of his own: the desperate need to tinker when he’s stressed or guilty. Stark’s history with Nate clearly runs deeper than he had guessed.

“Yeah, well. Getting hit by a car is nothing.” Stark says, and his stance is more guarded than his flippant tone. “Just ask Pepper.”

“This is awkward.” A low voice murmurs, amused, in Hardison’s ear, and he jumps, turning to see that at some point, Hawkeye and the Black Widow had moved to behind the couch. The curly haired man is shuffling in their direction, too, and Eliot seems to have gotten the same idea. Steve and Sophie hover protectively behind Stark and Nate.

“Tell me about it.” Parker chimes in. “Nate went all grey faced when he heard who Hardison was talking to, and when he said he’d come, well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so reluctant to save someone.”

“Seriously?” Hardison asks, indignant, and Parker just shrugs. Hardison shakes his head and turns his attention back to the conversation in front of them.

“- when you made that wristband and insisted I be the one to try it out, and I almost blew my hand off?” Nate is saying. He’s smiling, and so is Stark, and Steve and Sophie look just as confused as Hardison feels, so he doesn’t think he missed too much by tuning out.

“Well, how would it have looked to the press if they found out? Imagine the headline: Stark Industries Heir In Lycra Tries To Stop Bank Robbery. All To Be Found Was A Finger.”

“And it would have been different for me?”

“Dad would have brought me back from the grave just to skin me for his disgraced reputation. At least yours would have said Stranger. They’d never have identified you.”

Nate makes to reply, but Sophie stops him with a delicate cough. Her expression is torn, and Hardison suspects she’s zoned in on the word that caught his attention.

“Excuse me, but I have to ask,” She says, lips pursed, “lycra?”

Stark blinks, caught out. He must have forgotten there were other people in the room. There’s a pause, heavy, and Stark searches unsuccessfully for a reply. Nate shifts, uncomfortable, and Hardison watches him suspiciously.

“Oh. My. God. He was the third Marauder!” Hawkeye near screeches. Beside him, the curly haired man and the Black Widow burst into laughter. Hardison thinks he might have accidentally transferred universes.

“Marauder?” Steve asks, and Hardison’s glad that someone did. Those who seem to understand are too occupied to reply, though. Stark and Nate look like they’re waiting for the ground to open, and Hardison watches his boss carefully.

Is he blushing?

“Bruce.” Steve says, firmly, and the curly haired man – he does have a name – straightens up a little, still snorting.

“Tony – oh God, this is hilarious – Tony thought, when he was younger, that the way to win his dad’s approval was to…well, be you.” Bruce explains, pointing at Steve, who looks shocked.

“You didn’t have to explain it like that.” Stark grumbles, glaring at Bruce.

“Oh, I did.” Bruce retorts, before continuing. “Anyway, he had a technology-induced-superhero gig in his teens. Nothing like Iron Man, though. It was pretty much three kids dressed like Captain America rescuing cats from trees and occasionally doing something significant – like the bank robbery.”

“We’d pretty much figured that one of the others involved was Rhodey, but we’d never been able to put a finger on the third.” Hawkeye adds, wiping imaginary tears from his eyes. “Never would have guessed it was Nate Ford!

Hardison turns, gobsmacked, to look at his boss. Nate’s eyes are glued to the floor, ignoring the soothing pats of Sophie’s hand on his back. Then again, Hardison doesn’t think that they’re all that effective when she’s holding back laughter the entire time.

“I didn’t dress like Captain America.” Nate says, almost petulant. Hardison’s brain short circuits.

“But there was…a costume? Lycra?” He asks. Beside him, Parker looks almost gleeful. Hardison thinks she might be waiting to ask if he still has it, and whether she can try it on.

“He was green.” Stark says, face set in a way that said he wouldn’t go down if he couldn’t drag someone else with him. “We called him Irish. That costume was really something – he designed it himself.”

“I did not.”

“Well, okay, Rhodey did, but you chose the colour scheme. And that stupid hat you were so in love with. It messed up your hair.”

Nate opens his mouth as though to argue, but closes it again quickly, looking defeated.

“Why’d you stop?” Eliot is stood next at the edge of the couch, arms folded. He’s taking this information very seriously, Hardison thinks. Nate’s probably just grateful that he didn’t ask about the hat.

“It just phased out.” He replies, sighing.

“Rhodey enlisted, my parents crashed a car and left me a company…No time, and it all felt a bit pointless, anyway.” Stark explains. “There were no heroes, back then, and we were doing a pretty shit job at pretending to be. I guess none of us could give it up for good, though, huh?” Stark eyes the rest of the team, as though he’d just noticed them. “This is Leverage?

“We do our bit.” Nate says, and there’s tension creeping back into his voice. They’re all wanted, and the Avengers still technically work for the government – Hardison doesn’t know if this friendship is really going to influence what happens to them.

“You do. It just…surprised me. I was keeping an eye on you, and then, Iron Man happened and you disappeared. For this? Don’t get me wrong, I think it sounds awesome, and so much fun, but not you. You were tied down, sorted.”

“I lost most of that.” Nate counters. “People change even without events like…what happened. You might have been fighting me, one day, if it wasn’t for this team.”

Hardison swallows. He knows how much Leverage has done for him, knows that their existence has done at least ten times that much for Nate, and that they’re never, ever supposed to talk about it. Still, the kind of meaning behind Nate’s words, it’s a relationship he only ever thought he’d have with his Nana. Family is such a strange word to use, but it fits.

“I’m sorry.” Stark says, face stretched into a grimace. “About Sam. I…I could maybe have – should have done something. Money, or, machines.” Sophie grabs Nate’s arm; Nate’s usual reaction to anyone who needs to apologise about Sam is less than pleasant, and if Stark could have done something…

“No.” Nate says, and his face isn’t the usual hardened mask he uses for talking about his son. “You couldn’t. It’s okay; Maggie told me you sent flowers. I knew you knew.”

“Three months late.” Stark says derisively. “I was too late.”

Nate…laughs? “I think kidnapping is a good enough excuse, Tony. You thought I was angry – is that why you didn’t get in touch?”

“You had every right to be. Pepper told me…you’d tried contacting me – you did think there was something I could do.”

“Not from Afghanistan.” Nate responds. “You’ve had your own shit, Tony. Don’t steal mine to add to your burden.”

“That’s me; angst hogger.” Stark smiles tiredly. Nate takes a step towards him, and Hardison pulls a face – he does not want to see them hug, that would be way above his daily capacity for weirdness. Instead, though, Stark brings his palm to the back of Nate’s neck, threading his fingers through the other man’s hair. Sophie snorts inelegantly, and Steve frowns. Hardison thinks that that gesture probably looked cuter on two fourteen year old boys.

“I don’t mean to intrude, but we really need to address the fact that they’ve infiltrated the building.” He points out. Stark and Nate snap into action, and Nate’s expression is business again. He needs to sell this.

“Justin Hammer,” Nate supplies, “has made a client of ours very, very desperate. We’re out of time for our original plan; if you’re willing, we could use a few extra hands.”

Stark crows at the name, before fixing Steve with what Hardison can only guess is the Stark equivalent of puppy eyes. They don’t seem that effective. Steve sighs.

“Go ahead.” He concedes reluctantly.

“We’re in.” Stark declares. “Let’s go somewhere you can me your data; The Avengers are going darkside.”