A/N: Written for the "fake relationship" square for Trope Bingo.
"You're telling me we have to keep this up for two weeks." She glanced at Hobbs in the seat next to her and frowned. Owen or Deckard would've been an easier option, or Letty, but their names had never come up. It seemed her choice was Hobbs or some guy she'd never met, so she'd taken the lesser of two arseholes. "Sounds great..."
Mr. Nobody nodded and set three photos down in front of them. "We've already put together a cover story. Passports, photo albums, favourite restaurants. You two met in Auckland—"
"Thanks, Nobody," Luke said, sliding the photos back towards him. Despite the distance, the doubles didn't remotely look like them. If they needed photos to pass as a couple, they would be the kind that could hold up to his own scrutiny. "I'm sure we'll do fine on our own."
"Well, we have already arranged everything."
"I don't even know where Auckland is," Elizabeth said. It was a lie — who grew up with rugby fans and didn't know of the New Zealand All Blacks? — but a lie that would hopefully get him off her back. The more someone nagged or tried to coerce her, the more she wound up pushing back; it was a reflex.
And for once, part of her was actually willing to do this mission; perhaps that same part was even hoping she'd enjoy it. It had been a while since she'd stretched her legs and focused on something other than circuits and wires. The rest of her just wanted to get it over and done with so she could return to work and see her family.
"I think between the two of us," Elizabeth said, "we can figure something out."
"Okay. You two have fun then." He started walking toward the door, hands by his sides and sunglasses folded and hooked over his breast pocket. The vaguely pleased look on his face said this was possibly the exact outcome Mr. Nobody had been hoping for. "Don't hesitate to call if you need anything, Luke."
Luke nodded, grabbed one of the photos and rolled his eyes. If he'd seen them beforehand, he would've realised they were being baited long before the topic had arisen. "Okay."
Elizabeth let out a sigh of relief once Nobody exited the glass-panelled conference room. She slumped in her chair, propped her feet up on the table and groaned. "I guess we'd better start getting to know each other then."
"Let's keep it simple. We met in a hotel bar in Moscow. I couldn't speak a word of the language and you were... you."
"Charming, bored and alone."
Hobbs snorted in derision. Charming wasn't exactly a word he would ever have associated with her. In a vague way, Shaw was amiable yet infuriating, but not charming. "An accountant on her lunch break."
"That's fine." If he'd said mistress or something along those lines, she might have knocked him on his arse and made sure that word never left his mouth again. Hobbs didn't know the type of woman she was — and he likely never would — but that was a line she couldn't cross.
"How long till we got together?"
"Two months, three at most." Luke didn't rush into relationships; it was a thing with him. Hell, he'd never so much as batted an eyelid at the smiling moms who came to Sam's soccer matches. "I worked on an international trade deal with the hotel owner."
The anger in her voice was clear, and for once Elizabeth didn't manage to hold it back. "No."
"You're not posing as a trafficker."
"Whoa." Luke held up his hands as if to stop her. Where the hell had that come from? "I never said anything about human trafficking."
"International trade," she made air quotes, "with the hotel owner?" There was venom in her voice, anger derived from frustration and helplessness burning in her eyes. "What else am I meant to think you're talking about?"
"It was a bad choice of words. I meant something along the lines of helping them procure high quality materials. Someone who makes sure guests get their thirty thousand dollar fish eggs and shit-flavoured coffee beans."
Oh. That kind of thing. When he'd said 'international trade', her mind had immediately gone to the worst possible meaning. It was a horrendous and persistent dark side of the business industry she abhorred. Albeit she'd never seen it with her own eyes but there'd been whispers here and there, rumours and the like.
Elizabeth focused on the glass panel opposite them, slowly lowered her feet and sat up straight. She sighed, rubbed her neck uneasily and avoided making eye contact with him. Good one, idiot. Just bite his head off before it's even begun. "You can figure the details out and I'll memorise them later. It's probably better if..."
"Hey." Luke gripped her shoulder and squeezed it. He hoped she took it for reassurance and not something else. "We're playing a married couple, not a pair of criminals. You don't have to worry about whatever skeletons you have coming out of the closet. Hell, there'll even be a white picket fence with our name on it."
There was no way they'd be able to pass as a couple if she misread every single word that came out of his mouth. Nor could he afford to tiptoe around her every time he so much as said a single word. A piece of him should've known she'd snap at that — the rest had underestimated just how criminally-oriented her head presently was. Clearly they had to get to know each other and fast, else the lines between 'Luke Hobbs' and 'Elizabeth Shaw' a.k.a 'James and Natalie Cole' began to blur.
"I'm sorry I..." Elizabeth stood up, slipped her thin grey jacket on and shoved her hands in the pockets. She needed out of this glass aquarium, needed to clear her head and get away from those fake photos on the table. Especially the one that had her face on someone else's body, with fake-Luke's arms around her waist; fake-Luke's smile saying this was one of the happiest moments in his life. "I need some air. I'm going for a run."
Yeah, he'd gathered that. The music was starting — now it was time for them to get in sync. "You get one lap, fifteen minutes, at a sprint. If you're not back here by the time I've gotten us something to eat, I'll come looking."
Fifteen minutes? That wasn't much time at all. She couldn't help but glance up at Hobbs when he stood and moved between her and the door. Elizabeth saw the serious look in his eyes, the grim line of his lips. The look that said if she pushed her luck with him, he really would come and find her.
"You now have fourteen minutes and fifty-two seconds."
Son of a! Elizabeth shoved past him and took off running for the nearest door that led outside. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Hobbs exit the box as well and make for the stairwell that led to the warehouse kitchen.
"Fourteen minutes and seventeen seconds!"
Was he counting in his head, or had she somehow not noticed him fiddling with his watch? Elizabeth pushed the door open and stepped out into the weak warmth of the desert air. She secured the bottom half of her jacket so it wouldn't flap, stretched her legs slightly and broke into an easy jog that quickly gave way to a hard sprint.
"Just how many meals a day do you eat, fat boy?" Deckard asked. When the door to the kitchen had opened, he'd been surprised to find it was Hobbs instead of Owen or their sister. Given the three of them were all the snack-inclined type that liked having trail mix or protein bars on hand, it wasn't unusual to find one or all of them fixing something in the kitchen at any hour of the day.
"Five." A high intensity job required calories, and muscle required meat. Luke was careful about what he put in his body, yet he still enjoyed what he ate. "What kind of food does your sister like?"
"Beth?" Deckard's brow pinched in confusion. Why was Hobbs asking about...
"Yeah. Your sister who I just pissed off." The 'again' went unspoken as Luke glanced down at his watch. "I got thirteen minutes till she comes back from her run."
"This is because of a job, isn't it? Nobody's been approaching me with vague questions for several days about you and her."
He nodded. "It's undercover work. Fake marriage, nice house, the whole nine yards. What does she eat?"
"Anything that's not tied down."
Well that wasn't the answer he'd been hoping for. Luke frowned and pulled open the fridge, staring at container upon container of pre-cooked food and dated leftovers. They were in a high stress environment and their situation was about to completely change. The last thing Luke wanted was to discover Shaw had an aversion to good food.
"You do understand we barely know each other. We might be family but our time together was limited when her and H—" Deckard caught himself just as the first letter of Hattie's name came out. He mentally scolded himself for almost slipping up and revealing the other secret they'd all been keeping under wraps. Their other sister's existence was closely guarded knowledge that, given her job, most people didn't need to know. "I was already in the military by the time she came along. You'd be better off asking Owen."
Goddamn it. Luke grabbed out two containers of pre-sliced vegetables, one of cooked rice, found a half-used jar of black bean sauce, and two of the steaks he'd left to defrost overnight in a container with his name on it. He hadn't thought about the very real implications of them living in the same house till now. They'd more than likely eat together, share the same bathroom, and very possibly sleep in the same bedroom.
Luke was, for the second time in his life, about to become a married man, and his new wife was as much a stranger to him as any woman he'd been set up with on a blind date.
Jesus H. Christ, why had he allowed himself to be talked into this?
The large chopping board was fetched from the second drawer, then Hobbs pulled a knife from the block and gave it the once over before getting to work. Stir-fry would have to do. If Shaw didn't like it, she could cook her own meals. Luke wasn't going to play the role of her housekeeper and he certainly wouldn't be her personal chef.
As the sliced meat hit the pan, his watch beeped in warning. Five minutes. Shaw was probably slowing to a crawl by now, if she hadn't already. He didn't want to think about the ramifications of her collapsing, or how Owen and Deckard would react to the news he'd indirectly killed their sister. While his watch ticked down, Luke wiped his face dry with a paper towel and fetched two bowls from the oven. If they weren't warmed beforehand, the condensation would pool at the bottom. The last thing he wanted was watery food.
"If you break her heart—"
"You'll kill me?" Hobbs laughed. Now where had he heard that before? Almost every father warned the boy who was picking up his daughter for prom with that line. "Or will she do it herself?"
"Walk away," Deckard finished. "You said this is a mission. Emotional involvement will only make things worse for the both of you."
"I'm not going to get emotionally involved." Wasn't he? He'd done jobs like this before, although they rarely ever involved a partner. Usually the targets took one look at him with his muscles and tatts, an overgrown beard, denim or leather jacket, and decided the chance of him being a Fed were slim to none.
His watch beeped again once Luke started dividing the now-steaming brown rice. Two minutes. The rest of their food was sizzling away, smelling more like manna from heaven than something he'd thrown together on a whim. "You mind passing me that tray?"
"You'll have to show me the wedding photos when this is all over," Deckard said. He pushed the wooden tray across the table without pause. "I guess I should say 'break a leg', or not. You might need your legs intact when she tries killing you after the second night."
Hobbs finished plating up and began making his way downstairs. "That's not funny."
"Enjoy your freedom while it lasts, Hobbs!"
Outside, Elizabeth peered through the gap in the door and wondered if her fifteen minutes were up yet. She hadn't seen hide nor hair of Hobbs, but he had to be in there somewhere. She breathed raggedly, her heart pounding against her ribs as if it were a trapped animal attempting to escape. Her leg muscles burned with exhaustion, trembling as she kept herself upright through sheer determination.
Hobbs had given her fifteen minutes to clear her head and get her shit together. She'd allowed herself five. Five minutes of running to realise she needed to get a wrangle on herself, to psych herself up before she returned to that glass box.
The other nine minutes had been spent sprinting, trying to burn the anger out of herself. Hobbs deserved common decency, not antagonism. He wasn't some wanker acting tough and baiting her into a fight. And if she jumped down his throat every time he said so much as 'boo', this mission would end before it began.
As she watched for any sign of him, a watch beeped faintly somewhere. Whether it was Hobbs' watch or not, she wasn't going to take any chances. Elizabeth pushed the door open with her shoulder, legs almost reduced to jelly, and staggered towards the conference room. Sweat clung to her face and dampened her shirt in patches, her mouth was dry and her head pounded from the fading adrenaline rush.
"Shaw!" Luke signalled her from one of the empty work benches. Two chairs sat at either end of the bench, steaming bowls of beef and rice positioned opposite one another as well. "How about that food?"
"Mm." Elizabeth nodded, dragging herself across the warehouse floor towards him before she flopped down in one of the cushioned desk chairs. Her lungs still burned and her leg muscles began to twitch and spasm as she sank into the seat. "About before..."
"It's over. No harm done. Let's eat lunch then get to working on some photos."
Photos? Right. Photos of herself, and him. Of them together. Now the gravity of the situation was beginning to sink in. This was nothing more than a façade but everything about it had to appear real. If anything came across as fake, the mission would likely be compromised.
"I'm sorry I nearly ripped your head off."
Luke shrugged then began to eat. There was nothing more to be said on the subject. After all, if she thought losing her temper and snapping at him was bad, what would she think when she saw the dent he'd made after her brother's apparent death?
And how would she react if he told her about what he'd done to Hernan Reyes?
With that small weight off her shoulders, Elizabeth shifted her attention to her food and ate in silence. She took her bowl to the kitchen and washed it in silence. She didn't say another word for as long as it took Hobbs to find an SLR camera and a tripod to sit it on.
Pretend he's her, Elizabeth told herself. There had to be an easier way than psyching herself up. A more organic and natural way that lent itself to believability. Something that could override the bottomless well of conflicting emotions she felt towards Hobbs. You were in love with your old boyfriend once. And her. Remember what that felt like.
Luke shifted uncomfortably on the couch, gaze fixed on the camera that was silently ticking down. Had prepping for undercover work ever been this difficult before? Hobbs couldn't remember the last time he'd found himself in such an awkward position. There was still half a foot of space between them, both struggling not to be overly physical with the other, and her spine was so rigid Luke could've sworn someone had struck Elizabeth with a taser.
"I think this would be easier if we did solo shots to start with." Luke stood, scraped together what was left of his professionalism, and picked the camera up. "Any preferences?"
"Preferences for what?"
He sighed, adjusted the zoom, took a few steps back so it wouldn't appear as if he were looming over her. "Best sides? Angles?"
"As long as you don't start laying on the floor and try to take photos up my pants, I think they'll turn out fine." Elizabeth gave him an impatient look as if to say 'get on with it' and flopped back on the couch. She half-tilted toward him, staring up at an invisible point on his sternum, bent her legs, and tried to give an expression of utter boredom. "And if you did try something like that, I would have no qualms about smashing that stool into your face."
The amused look on his face turned into a shit-eating grin. Shaw was as serious as ever, and the look in her eyes betrayed the blank one on her face. Threats were all she doled out now. Luke had found himself a little disappointed by that fact, least of all by the sheer lack of attempts at handing his ass to him. Deckard's presence in the warehouse seemed to serve as active discouragement for her more violent tendencies. "I like old school photos better. So what's the story behind this one?"
"My husband is six-foot-four, well-built," her British accent seemed to fade slightly as she spoke, "and I'm thinking about all the ways I could fuck him into the couch he's sitting on."
Elizabeth smiled, glad that her brothers had yet to intrude on them. She was also thankful a certain Toretto was elsewhere in the building instead of standing there and watching them. If anyone else had heard her say that, she would never live it down. Hobbs was certainly the most attractive man in the building but not even God himself would get her to admit that aloud.
Hobbs quirked his eyebrow and took the photo without another moment wasted. He wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of knowing she'd almost caused him to drop the camera. Or that his heart had done its own spit-take. Jesus. She isn't serious, is she?
"Are you done? Pass the camera." She snapped her fingers and gestured for him to give it to her. "Come on, I want to see how stupid I look."
"You don't look stupid."
"You took one, I take one. That was the agreement."
"I know, but I didn't take the photo."
"What? Bullshit." Elizabeth sat up and swung her legs off the couch. That was the most blatant lie in the world. "I heard the click, Hobbs. Hand the camera over."
"That was the timer." She walked towards him and reached for the camera. Luke lifted it above his head with ease. If 'stupid' was how she described 'somewhat good-looking', he didn't want to know what she'd say when it came time for the wedding photos. "There is no photo."
Really? Elizabeth cocked her head to look up at him. Was Hobbs going to actually play the height game? "Now you're just making things worse for yourself."
She glanced down at his pelvis for a split second and lifted her knee. There were two ways to take a man down when they were taller than you. Only one of those ways was easy and involved minimal force.
"You try that and this mission will be over before it begins. I threw your brother through a wall once and I have no problem doing the same to you."
"Then just hand it over."
Luke one-handedly deleted the photo before lowering his arm and giving her the camera. "See?"
She thumbed through the controls, raised her eyebrows at the absence of any photos. Perhaps he'd been telling the... "Huh. No photo, but what's this?" Elizabeth quickly stepped back out of arm's reach and manoeuvred around the coffee table. Leave it up to Hobbs to not want to hand over control of the situation. The longer he had the camera, the less chances she had to do her part of the job. "Of course, he doesn't think to clear the recycling bin! Now it's my turn. Get on the couch, Hobbs."
Luke sat on the stool instead, looking somewhat sombre. While she'd been talking — he'd stopped listening once she had hold of the camera — the reality of his two week absence from the state of California had finally sunk in. "Go ahead and take the photo. We still need time to figure out the wedding shots."
She eyed him but let the discomfort slide. If he didn't like having his photo taken, why not simply say so? It wasn't as if she would judge him over it. Elizabeth sighed and nodded, adjusted the zoom and again stepped back. Hobbs was right, however reluctant she was to admit it. They had eight hours to finish mission prep then pack their bags before they were scheduled for an early morning drive to the airport. Even as they sat there talking, she knew there was still so much left to do and not enough time within which to do it.
"Was it the 'fucking my husband' comment that made you uncomfortable or is it just me?" She took the photo without another moment wasted then set the camera down on the couch. He could develop them later, or print them, whatever he wanted to do. "We'll be living together for two weeks, Fed. I just want to know if I should wash my underwear separately and sleep in the garage."
"No, it wasn't that." If only it had been. Her comment had certainly surprised him a little but it hadn't rattled him. Things like that were kind of par for the course in a fake marriage. "Being undercover means I can't see my daughter, or talk to her."
"You can always back out."
"I'm good." If he walked away now, his ego would never let him live it down. "It's like Nobody said, this thing's only for two weeks. Before we know it, it'll be over with and we'll be back here hunting Cipher."
"And I can't compromise the security of the mission, even for Sam."
"You're a former federal agent and I'm a convicted murderer. It's already compromised."