Summary: There's a conspiracy Harry is shut out of, and cryptic code Hardison's sent to Breanna, which is weird enough. But then Harry and Breanna find themselves faced with his past self.
Notes: Written for Brachylagus_fandom
The voices coming from one of the upstairs rooms was unusual. Briefings happened downstairs. Secret meetings weren't anything Harry had come across before now.
He tiptoed closer and heard Hardison saying, "I have to tell you, in case I don't come back."
That worried Harry. He hadn't known Hardison was around and now he was going off to do something dangerous. From the words he would have assumed Hardison was speaking to Parker, except he was sure he'd heard Sophie's voice.
He was still weighing up whether to eavesdrop when the door opened. He jumped back as Parker stepped out, arms folded. The occupants of the room had gone quiet. He couldn't see them, as Parker stood in the small gap, hiding the room from view.
"Is everything okay?" he asked slowly.
"Everything is okay." But that was one of her fake smiles.
He couldn't imagine it was, not if Hardison was going someplace he might not return from. "Can I help?"
"No." She shook her head slow but hard.
"Parker!" Eliot called out from inside the room.
So they were all in the room. And he was left out because, what, he wasn't a member of the original crew? That had never come up before. Well, except for the 'Let's go steal a…' thing, which everyone refused to explain. But this felt more important.
"Oh, Breanna was looking for you. Downstairs."
Hardison was going somewhere and not telling Breanna? Something was going on. And Parker was definitely getting rid of him. Perhaps he could go downstairs, see if Breanna was even there, then sneak back up. Staying here certainly wasn't going to get him anywhere. "Okay." He gave a small, fake smile of his own. "I'll be going then."
He took a few slow steps in the direction of the stairs and glanced back, but she was still there, watching him. He shook his head and picked up the pace.
Downstairs he found Breanna sitting at the bar, chin on her hands, staring at her laptop screen. She didn't even look up as she sat beside her. That was not the attitude of someone who wanted to speak with him. Why were the others so keen for him not to know what was going on in that room?
"Everything all right?" he asked he approached her.
She sighed. "Alec sent me this." She gestured towards the screen. He knew it was code, but none of it meant anything to him. "But his message was cryptic, like really cryptic, even for him, and I don't know what this is or what it does."
"Why don't you ask him? He's upstairs." He pointed in the direction of the room he was in.
"He is?" She glanced at the stairs, frowning. "I didn't know he was back."
That was really strange. "Neither did I," he said slowly. "But something is going on upstairs with the others that they don't want me to know about."
"Huh." She looked thoughtful. "I wonder if this is related."
If it was, there was nothing useful he could do. He was back to his original plan of sneaking back upstairs. As she turned back to her laptop he said, "I'll leave you to it." He patted her shoulder at the same time as she reached out a finger to the keyboard.
His vision went blank and it felt like the room was spinning. He sank back onto the bar stool, but found it had become a hard, wooden bench. He could hear people talking, although none of the voices were familiar.
As the room came to a gentle stop he risked opening his eyes. He found the place was very familiar: it was a courtroom he'd spent a lot of time in. In fact, he was here now, at the front of the room. Only younger.
"What?" he said out loud. It was instinct that kept his voice to a whisper.
"What just happened?" The whispered voice from beside him was familiar. He turned to see Breanna, who looked exactly the same as she had a few seconds ago. But there was only one of her in the room.
"I don't know. I was hoping you did." He worried for a second that he was leaning too hard on Breanna to provide answers. Except that was a worry for another time when he knew what was going on.
"We're clearly in the past. Unless that's someone pretending to be you." She inclined her head in his other self's direction, just as the younger Harry spoke to protest the other side's line of questioning.
"That's me." No one could fake him so well they'd fool himself. Besides, why would they want to?
The session ended for lunch at that point, which meant they could go someplace they wouldn't be overheard.
As everyone in the gallery stood to leave, Harry and Breanna with them, the younger Harry opened his briefcase and took his cellphone from it.
"Look at that antique phone," Breanna breathed.
Harry shook his head, but he was smiling.
"We must be the in past," she concluded. "No one would have a phone like that out of choice."
"What now?" he wondered, as they found themselves in a familiar hallway, the few other members of the public gallery having filed past them. They stopped by a wall, away from the entrance. Which had a lot less security than he was used to courthouses having.
"What case were you working on?"
He frowned at her.
She shrugged. "Time travel always happens for a reason, right?"
"Sure, in science fiction. But this is real life." Nothing he'd seen so far in his whole life was as strange as this.
She raised her eyebrows.
He sighed. "I don't know what case it was. I worked on hundreds. The little I heard in there was no different to any other."
She shook her head. "You really were an evil lawyer." Her tone was disappointed.
It was a tone he'd learned to ignore. Usually. But this time it gave him an idea. He turned to stare at the door to the now-empty courtroom. "I could stop being an evil lawyer," he said slowly, as the idea coalesced. "I could save so many people's lives. So many people from heartbreak."
"Because you're such a good lawyer that you're the only one who can win those cases?"
Breanna's question brought him back to reality. "No." He sighed. Whatever he did everything that had happened to all those people was still going to happen. "But at least I won't have done it."
"Okay, so what are you going do? What's your plan to stop yourself from being evil?" She raised her chin.
He considered that for a moment. Grace had tried, sort of. But even her divorcing him hadn't made a difference. And when he'd caught up with old friends and old mentors who he hadn't seen for years, he'd lied about what he was doing. Or at least not told the whole truth. Part of him had known it was wrong, but he'd focused on doing a good job and never stopped to consider the consequences.
But here, now, he was just getting started. He wasn't too late to be saved, if he could find the right words.
Breanna broke into his thoughts. "And you're not going to freak out at meeting yourself from the future?"
He would. Of course he would. But perhaps he could have enough time to sow the seeds of doubt.
"You know it won't work. Whatever you're thinking of trying."
He frowned over at her. He must be doing a better job of looking like he had a plan than he thought.
"It'll be a paradox. If you convince your past self not to be an evil lawyer then you'll never meet us and never time travel," she explained, gesturing towards two points in space to represent the present and past. "You'll never have the opportunity to speak to yourself and stop yourself from being an evil lawyer."
"That makes sense." Her logic was sound, but there must be a loophole somewhere.
"It means your plan can't possibly work," she said forcefully.
"Or the universe explodes?" he suggested, half-joking.
He was still sure that he'd find a loophole, given enough time. But while he thought he idly searched his pockets. His phone was in there and he had a signal. However, none of the numbers in there were people he could call now. Grace still had the same number, he thought, but what would he say to her? He put it away and continued searching.
Which was when he also found a slightly crumpled piece of paper he'd forgotten he was carrying around. He unfolded it and read the contents, even though he already knew what it said.
"You're wrong about the paradox." He took a deep breath. "When I was working with Maxwell I was having second thoughts about whether I was doing the right thing. He found a way not to pay his victims what they deserved, then I discovered that note in my briefcase. That's when I knew I had to do something.
He passed the note to Breanna. It simply said, 'You're on the wrong side.' "Isn't that your handwriting?"
She frowned at the note. "Yes, but I didn't write this."
"Not yet, you haven't. I think it was hidden in my briefcase for a long time before I found it."
"Oh!" Her eyes widened. "And it would be a paradox if we didn't slip this into your briefcase."
He nodded and smiled.
"How are we going to do that?"
That was the part of the plan he hadn't worked out yet. He'd only just figured out they needed to do it at all, give him a minute. "I don't leave it unattended. And I'm not about to hand it over to anyone."
If anyone could find a social hack on himself it was him. Except in this case he didn't think there was one.
"We need a distraction," she concluded. "But not the sort of distraction that's going to land us in jail," she added, looking around the courthouse.
"I'm at lunch, next door." Although he didn't remember the case, he remember this place well enough. He'd always gone to the cafe next door for lunch, even after it had been turned into a chain coffee shop. But it was less out of habit and more because it was easy.
"Let's go. You can think about your plan on the way."
He tried not to feel the pressure of it all being up to him as they exited the courthouse and stood by the cafe window, checking out the interior. His younger self was sitting at a table in the middle of the room, eating. His briefcase was on the floor next to him, touching his foot so he'd know it was there. But he wouldn't notice it move if something else had his attention. He'd learned that much from Parker.
"You're going to have to do the distracting," he said. "I'd definitely have remembered meeting myself."
She folded her arms. "But I'm just another face in the crowd?"
"Evil lawyer, remember?" he said, using that as his get out of jail free card. In reality he met a lot of people and he didn't remember all of them. It was mostly the ones he'd wronged he remembered, more vividly by the day. Not that wanted to explain that all to Breanna. She was a good person who didn't need the sort of redemption he did.
She sighed, accepting his excuse. "Okay, what do I do?"
He gave her a surprised look.
"If anyone knows past you well it's you." She gestured towards the Harry inside the cafe. "What will make a good distraction?"
"I saw a cardboard book in his briefcase as he was closing it," he said, thinking out loud. "So my daughter's still a baby in this time."
"I have an idea," Breanna said, before he could connect the dots between Becky and a distraction. "Do you have any coins?"
He'd never gotten out of the habit of carrying money, just in case. As she handed back the note, he passed her a small pile of mostly quarters, with a few pennies mixed in.
"Be ready for my distraction," she said, closing her fingers over the money now in her hand.
He watched, glad his younger self had his back to the door, as Breanna walked past him and tripped, sending the money across the floor.
"Oh, no!" he heard, as he entered the cafe. "That's all I have. My baby daddy won't pay for his kids and we're going to be evicted and I just need to give them one good meal today."
Her faked distress was enough to make the whole cafe look round, but it was the younger Harry who acted first, slipping off his chair and onto the floor to help her pick the coins up. Breanna had managed to send them in different directions, across the cafe floor.
Seizing his chance, Harry tiptoed over, opened the briefcase and slid the note inside. He made sure it made its way into the lining, which currently had a small hole. He had to roll the note up to get it through. Which would account for it being crumpled when he discovered it.
By the time he finally considered getting a new briefcase - and quitting being an evil lawyer - the hole was big enough that he'd checked inside it. And found the note.
"Speak to the child support agency," his younger self said to Breanna. "They'll help you."
"Thank you." She smiled at Harry's younger self, as Harry slipped away before he could be noticed.
He waited outside, out of sight, wondering what had happened to the much younger him who had gotten into law to help people. He would have at least given his card to Breanna and considered taking her case pro bono, should she need a lawyer. Even becoming a father hadn't made him more sympathetic to young, struggling mothers. Sometimes he really hated his past self. He tended to try not to think about it too much and focus on the people he was helping now.
A minute later Breanna joined him. "You were a good guy, deep down." She opened her fist to reveal a $50 bill.
He smiled, relieved he hadn't been less of good person than he remembered. "I started off trying to do the right thing. But I headed down a slippery slope so slowly I didn't even realize I was on it." He took a deep breath. Saying it out loud made him want to stop himself even more. Even though they'd established it was impossible and gone with another plan.
Another deep breath. They were done here. "We should go home. Shouldn't there be a magic blue light or something?"
She gave him a look.
"That's how it works in the movies," he said in his defense. "I didn't know time travel was real."
She rolled her eyes, although he didn't think anyone could possibly have thought time travel was real. "All it needs is code. The program Alec sent me."
"So we need to run it again." But her laptop hadn't come with them - she hadn't had it with her when they'd arrived in the courtroom.
She shrugged and looked a little sheepish. "Left my phone on the bar."
"All right. So we need to do is to get in touch with Hardison in the future." He paced up and down the sidewalk while he thought. "If we wrote to him would he resist the temptation to open it until today?"
"Maybe," he replied. "Do you mean email?"
He shook his head. "No, I meant paper. Who keeps emails that long?"
"Really?" He stopped pacing.
She nodded. "He has a really good filing system."
That was impressive. Since that was something he was also interested in, he'd have to talk with Hardison about that sometime. Once they got back to the present.
"Can we send one from my phone?" He pulled it out, but he wasn't at all sure that anything would work on it in a time when smartphones hadn't been invented. Or weren't prevalent yet, he wasn't sure which it was.
"Maybe. Let me take a look."
He unlocked it and handed it over to Breanna, who angled herself to shade the screen. He twisted his neck so he could see what she was doing. Which was to use the 3G connection to create an email account.
Her thumbs flew over the screen as she typed an email, repeating several times the date Hardison was to read the email, then leaving a long vertical space, before she finally told him why. And then they watched for some time while it sent.
"I forgot how slow 3G is," she lamented.
"Fast enough to send an email," Hardison's voice came from behind them and they both jumped, before turning to face him.
"How long have you been here?" Harry asked.
"Long enough." He turned to Breanna. "Do you know how much trouble you can cause by connecting to 3G using a phone from the future?"
"Oh." Breanna made a face. "I didn't think about that."
"No, you didn't."
Harry took a step back, away from the fierceness of Hardison's expression. Maybe he should protect Breanna, but she didn't look threatened. She was probably used to her brother.
"Good thing I'm around to wipe the evidence." He held his phone up. "But of course I wouldn't need to be if you hadn't sent me that email, forcing me to send you that code. Do you know what a predestination paradox is?"
Harry shook his head, although neither of them were looking at him.
Breanna knew though. "It's when an event in the future causes something to happen in the past, which in turn causes that original event. Sorry?" she added, not sounding apologetic at all. "From my perspective you created the loop by sending me the code."
"Where did you get it from?" Harry asked, hoping to forestall that argument.
"Evil tech billionaire."
"Are there any good tech billionaires?" Harry wondered.
"This was all meant to happen." Breanna returned to the original argument. "If we hadn't time traveled, we wouldn't have put the note in Harry's briefcase that led to him stopping being an evil lawyer and joining the team."
Hardison sighed. "Got to keep everything on track."
"Or the universe will explode, right?" Although Harry said it in a jokey tone, Hardison still looked at him like he was an idiot.
"Ready to go home?" Hardison asked the two of them.
"So much," Breanna said. "The past is a crazy place. How did you manage without smartphones?"
"You know we're still in the 21st century?" Harry asked, but he was smiling.
"We've got to be touching," Hardison said, holding his phone up. "It needs electrical contact."
Harry would have asked why, but it wasn't like he'd have understood the answer. He reached out to put one hand on Hardison's left arm and the other on Breanna's right. Then Hardison pressed one finger to his phone.
Everything went black and Harry felt the same dizziness again. He listed to one side, found he was leaning against something and fell onto what he discovered was a bar stool, based on the feel. When his vision cleared he found himself back where he'd been before. Breanna was on the stool beside him and Hardison was on the other side of the bar.
"No more time travel." Hardison waved a finger at Breanna.
"Keeping that code locked up," she agreed.
Harry held his hands up. "Once in a lifetime was more than enough."
"You wipe it from every device," Hardison said to Breanna. "I'm going to save it somewhere offline, where it will be safe. And no, I won't be telling you where I'm going to put it."
He left, and Breanna returned to her laptop keyboard.
But Harry still wondered about that paradox he had to avoid. Hardison's expression earlier suggested the the consequences might not be as catastrophic as he thought.
"Say I did cause a paradox," he said to Breanna, who didn't stop typing, "what would happen, exactly?"
"It'll split into a parallel universe," she said in a glib tone.
"That doesn't sound too bad." The way she'd explained it he thought it would be something way worse than that.
"But I like this one." She stopped typing. "I mean it sucks, but a new one might have sucked more and I didn't want to take that risk. We'd probably never meet." She turned to look at him.
He smiled. "I'm glad I'm here to make you look good, if nothing else."
She smiled too.
Notes: I don't really know what would happen if you took a smartphone back in time to use the 3G (how would you pay for it?). But while researching I came across this Reddit thread and thought the potential consequences were more interesting than the practicalities.