The Worth A Thousand Words Job

After the events of the Evil-Fake-Psychic-Who-Should-Be-Shot Job, Hardison tries to do something nice for Parker.

A/N: Episode tag to The Future Job. No overt pairings, but intended to be pre-Parker/Hardison romance, with some Eliot friendship thrown in. I love Hardison, but I find it hard to hear his voice in my head so I hope I did him justice.

"Hey, Parker? Girl, you up here?" Hardison stepped gingerly out of the service stairs doorway, and glanced around. Liiiitle too close to the edge here...he sidestepped away from the waist-high wall encircling the roof. He might own the building, but that didn't mean he had any business bein' out on the roof! He glanced around and caught sight of Parker perched ON the corner of that narrow little wall, like some sort of platinum-haired gargoyle, staring out at the city. A gorgeous platinum-haired gargoyle...focus Alec! he tried to tell himself, only it sounded more like a gravelly damnit Hardison! in his head. He had been spending way too much time with these people.

"Parker?" But she probably couldn't hear him over the wind. He didn't want to get any closer to the edge, waist-high or not, but he stepped toward her nonetheless, trying to make as much noise as he could. He had no idea if she had brought any cutlery up here with her. She must have heard him though, because she brought an arm up, wiping hastily at her eyes, but didn't look at him.

"Can I come closer? Promise you won't push me off the roof?"

She sniffled, then said with fake brightness, "'Course I won't silly! You're not wearing a harness!" He bit the bullet and stepped right up to the wall next to her, and he mostly successfully avoided looking over the edge. She turned to face him, but her smile was half-hearted and her eyes suspiciously red. She made no move to get off the wall. Man, he wished Sophie was here. She would have made everything alright with just a couple of words, and he wouldn't have had to come up here at all.

"Eliot says dinner's almost ready, time for you to come in."

"Not really hungry." She turned back toward the city with a wistful gaze, and Hardison had a sudden image of her stretching out massive wings and just taking off, riding the thermals over the city, into the night. He shook his head. Maybe he should cut back on the fantasy games...Still, Parker's expression right now looked as if that might be just what she wanted as well.

Hardison thought he knew what was bothering her. "We got that bastard today, we got him good. Makin' him pay for what he did for the rest of his life, it's better than dismembering him, don't you think?" And wasn't it a little creepy just how willing Eliot had been to do that?

"Sometimes, if I try really really hard, I can almost remember what he looked like." It sounded like Parker was talking more to herself than him, as if she had forgotten he was there, and when he glanced over, her eyes were squeezed tightly shut, a few tears escaping out the corners.

"Girl, don't you have a picture of him?" But she didn't answer.

"What was his name?" Again, no answer. If Parker wanted to pretend not to have heard him, he didn't want to press. He never had any biological siblings, but he had lost a few foster siblings along the way. Nana did her very best, but she couldn't save them all. Biological parents would get them back, or they'd run away, no matter how good things at Nana's were. Some just had...problems. He thought he might have just the slightest inkling of how Parker felt...and she didn't want to talk about it right now. He got that.

"Hey, you know Eliot. If I don't bring you back down there, he'll come up himself. After he dismembers me! Come on, he's makin' that ravioli you like...and a chocolate cake," Now when she turned to him, her smile was a little more genuine, and it warmed his heart.

The next morning, Hardison let himself into Nate's apartment early. Despite what Eliot might think of him, he did sometimes get a good night's sleep. Well, OK, he didn't sleep well last night. But it wasn't because he was playing online games. He kept thinking about what Parker said, how she didn't remember what her brother looked like. Nana had always kept pictures of every foster child, even the lost ones. Hardison remembered them all, because of that. He was one of the lucky ones, he'd lived with Nana almost his whole life. And he embraced every other child that came through her house as a brother or sister, no matter how long they stayed. He couldn't imagine ever forgetting what any of them looked like.

Nate had scheduled a late-morning briefing, but he'd be asleep for hours yet. Eliot was probably already up and doing something Eliot-ish...growin' food or hittin' people or lurkin' somewhere. He'd be in later, in time to make breakfast. Parker would swing in though a window or somethin' just in time to eat...Tara would come in at the scheduled meeting time. No one would ever invite her, and she would never just show up for their family meals.

So, he figured he probably had several hours of quiet time to work. He could have stayed home to do this, but he felt more comfortable working here. It was more...homey. But he would not think of it as a second home, nope, no way, not after what happened to the LA offices.

An hour later despite being thoroughly fueled by gummy frogs and orange soda, Hardison was already losing hope. He had no name, no date, no location...nothin' to go on. All he really knew was it was an accident, bicycle versus car, and her brother was "young." It was depressing, just how many kids died in bicycle accidents every year. He thumped his head on the table. He had filtered by race and gender, but couldn't think of any other way to narrow his search.

"His name was probably Matthew. Parker called him 'Mattie.'" As soon as Hardison got his heart out of his throat and back down where it belonged, he spun around to face a smirking Eliot, who held an armload of grocery bags.

"What are you doin' man, lurkin' around givin' people heart attacks. You're as bad as Parker!"

Eliot put the groceries down on Nate's counter. "No, I'm not. She woulda dropped down on you from the ceiling like some giant spider from one of your movies." There was amusement in Eliot's voice. But Hardison reflexively peered up into Nate's rafters. He hadn't considered that possibility.

"Wait...How do you know what her brother's name was? She didn't tell us much of anything." But he started filtering his results for young accident victims named Matthew, who had been in the foster care system. Still not much to go on...Foster records in this country were a mess.

Eliot paused in putting away the groceries, as if he was afraid he had revealed too much. "After that job at the rehab center when I stayed at the offices with her for a few days, she had a nightmare, said his name."

"You knew about her brother? Why didn't you ever say anything?"

"Because, Hardison, it wasn't her intention to tell me. And it wasn't my secret to reveal." Eliot lapsed into an irritable silence, but after a while he continued. "What are you looking for anyway? We don't need the details of Parker's life if she doesn't want to share them."

"When I brought her down for dinner last night, she told me she didn't remember what he looked like. That's all she would say, but I thought...maybe I could find a picture. It's just...I have barely anything to go on."

After another long silence, Eliot offered, "Try narrowing the location down to the northeast, stick with the big cities. Parker is definitely NOT a country girl. She's about the same age as you, so what, twenty-four, twenty-five?" Eliot returned to his side, watching the computer screen as Hardison typed.

"The average age for a kid to start riding a bike is around five years old, and the average age gap between siblings is about three years..." Eliot crossed his arms, brow furrowed in thought. "Rand said they were both 'very young' so my guess is the accident happened not long after she started teachin' him."

"OK, good, good, we can work with this, how do you even know these things?...If he was five, then she was eight. If she's twenty-four now, she was eight in nineteen ninety-four. Add a few years on either side, focus on the big northeastern cities...male caucasian, first name Matthew, bicycle versus car..." He sighed. It was still a long list.

"Rule out intoxicated drivers. Rand picked up on Parker's feelings of guilt, he would have noticed if she placed any of the blame on the driver. She feels it all." And Hardison felt that rage again at Rand. Despite what he told Parker on the roof last night, right now he kind of wished they had let Eliot take care of it after all. The list shortened a bit more, and Hardison ran the cross reference again against foster records. That resulted in a much more manageable list.

"Now, you gotta figure out which one is Parker's, and find a picture of him." Eliot finally pulled up a chair.

"That one I know. If he was five, he was hopefully in kindergarten. Even foster kids get school photos." He started running the names against school records and companies that contracted with them for official photos. And damn, these were some of the easiest hacks he had done in a long time. Didn't make them quick, though, and he found himself in an awkward silence staring at his screens with Eliot breathing over his shoulder.

Eliot must be a mind-reader because he suddenly growled out "What, Hardison? Why are you so bothered I knew about her brother? It wasn't like we had some heart to heart over the revelation."

"Man, it's're the one who stayed with her when she was sick then, an' she's always so comfortable with you..."

Eliot laughed suddenly, a real good-humored laugh. "Don't tell me you're jealous man! I stayed with her then because you wouldn't have handled the vomiting very well, and she's no more comfortable with me than she is with any other member of the team. Or did you forget she picks you to jump off buildings with? Or that you're the one she spends most of her free time with? And no, our sparring sessions don't count. I'm talking about down time."

Hardison suddenly felt extremely foolish. He kind of wished he had stayed home to do this search after all. But then, he'd probably still be stuck. Eliot continued, more seriously this time. "I'm going to tell you this once Hardison. One. Time. Only. I have no interest in pursuing Parker that way. And if you had half a brain, you'd see she's got eyes for you, she just doesn't know it yet, or what to do about it. You gotta be patient man but if you're careful, you can pull this off."

And just in time to save both his dignity and Eliot's, his computer pinged with the final search results. He had a screen full of five-year-old Matthews, but they both focused in on the same boy at the same time. "Damn, that one looks just like Parker." Hardison couldn't quite pinpoint it, but something about one blonde-haired, brown-eyed boy reminded him so much of their teammate that it tugged at his heart. There was something of Parker in his grin, something that lay under her craziness, something real and authentic. This was him.

And suddenly, he wasn't sure this was such a good idea. "Why didn't she ever search for a picture of him herself? I mean, if she had wanted one..."

"You know, Parker doesn't think much about technology beyond security systems and getting into vaults. Anything more than that, she knows as much as I do. It probably just never occurred to her." Eliot leaned forward to read the boy's name. "Matthew Sparks. Huh." He seemed suddenly thoughtful...or bemused. Hardison knew what he was thinking, but no way was he going to mention that nickname out loud. Not if he valued his typing fingers!

"You were right about the accident," he pulled up the official police report for the death of one Matthew Sparks, "police completely cleared the driver. He was not intoxicated or distracted. Kid just rolled right out in front of him, no way he coulda prevented it. Shame, I thought maybe we could have..." Got our brand of revenge on him he was going to say, but he was interrupted.

"He's probably still torn up about it," Eliot sounded as though his thoughts were miles away, "doing that kinda thing, killin' a kid, even accidently it..." He stopped abruptly. "The picture's a nice gesture, Hardison." Then he was gone, back to the kitchen. And the apartment was suddenly filled with the banging of pots and pans, and the thumping of knives chopping vegetables and Nate stumbling down the stairs and...Parker coming in through the front door? Huh. Hardison closed his searches and brought up the research for the next job.

Later, in the privacy of his own apartment, with the blinds drawn and his back to a wall under a ceiling with no rafters and no vents because he half-suspected Parker knew where he lived, Hardison brought the picture of Matthew Sparks back up on his computer. He had been debating with himself all day whether he should continue his search. He was definitely going to frame the picture for Parker, Eliot's comment had reassured him that it was the right thing to do.

What he was hesitating on now was what else he could do with this information. He had a last name, now. A real name for Parker. As much as he agreed with Eliot's other comment, that they didn't need to know any more about Parker than she was willing to share, curiosity won out. And, though he had to squash Nana's voice saying clearly in his mind that curiosity killed the cat, he ran a search for Matthew's birth records. And that gave him Matthew's parents' names, and that gave him Parker's birth records and, oh, that was a beautiful name.

But even as he read it, he realized what Eliot had meant earlier, about secrets. Parker's real name was not his secret to reveal. No, he never would, but he would work to get Parker to trust him enough that maybe, one day, she would tell him because she wanted to. And if she never did well, that was OK too. There was only one more thing he needed to do.

If Parker didn't have a picture of her brother, she probably didn't have one of her parents, either. But he wasn't sure if that would be a good idea. He didn't know the circumstances of her entering the foster system, and her parents could be pieces of human filth for all Hardison knew. But a search of their names brought up another accident report. This one somehow more disturbing than the last. Rainy night, drunk driver, head-on collision, no survivors. No relatives or friends who could, or would, take in a five-year-old girl and her two-year-old brother. Hardison did the math; three years they managed to stay together in the foster system. He knew that didn't always happen. And how his heart ached as he wished they could have been some of Nana's kids.

Before he could dwell too long on things that couldn't be changed, Hardison closed out the police report and ran one final search-n-hack; pulling a professional photo out of a online portfolio. It was Parker's parents, on their wedding day, and they looked so beautifully happy, and he could see the best parts of both children in their parent's features, and he longed again for what Parker never had.

He sent the photos to his top-of-the-line professional photo printer, and deleted all his search history for Matthew and Parker.

The next day, he took the prints to a professional framer, wrapped them carefully in padding and paper, wrote Parker on the parcel, and, quite stealthily if he was to be honest with himself, slipped it into Parker's bag before she left Nate's apartment for the day.

The morning after that, when Parker cornered him out of the blue, eyes red-rimmed and raw, he did NOT breathe a sigh of relief that she hugged the stuffing out of him rather than insert various cutlery into his chest.


A/N: I have seen one website that has Parker's brother listed as "Nick" with no reference, and I cannot for the life of me figure out where in the series he was ever named. Since I named him Matthew for my stories long before I saw this blurb, I'm sticking with it unless someone can point out where in the series "Nick" appears. The nightmare and sick Parker that Eliot mentions is from my current story The Building Blocks Job. Thank you for reading and please review!