This is the last day of this challenge. I wanted today's text to be special, given the theme, but it turned out to be quiet and simple and in harmony with the rest of the series, I think.
I missed seven days, so I may come back and do them one day, or maybe not. I'm fairly happy that I managed to get this far and write 23 texts, that spanned pretty much the whole AU, and that all are on themes close to my heart.
If you've read and enjoyed it, please don't hesitate to let me know! I want to publish the next chapter of Every Chance We Get soon, and then hopefully keep posting at a better rhythm that I have so far, but in the meantime I would really love to hear your thoughts.
"I like how you turned out," Hardison says to Parker, when they've only known each other for a couple of months.
The phrase sticks with Parker for a long time. She mouths it to herself sometimes, when she's alone in a vent. It's so incongruous to her, it seems impossible that someone would really think that about her.
She grows to know Hardison well enough to be sure that he meant it. But she still doesn't understand why. She's everything a parent would never want their child to become: she's a thief, she doesn't know how to make friends, people run away from her. Sometimes literally. She's not normal.
But she progressively gets it. First, Hardison is hardly normal either. When they meet, Parker doesn't know enough normal to notice, but he doesn't fit perfectly with regular people either. None of the crew does. Maybe Nate and Sophie can seamlessly integrate into society, but they live mostly outside it.
They don't just not treat her like a freak, they also don't treat her like a child. They don't try to make her change who she is, but Sophie and Eliot will teach her new things if she asks. Nate grooms her to be a good mastermind, but after his failed first tries early on, he doesn't try to make her into something she's not.
That's new, to Parker. Everyone in her life has always treated her like she was somehow broken, until she came to believe it.
It's in the little things. Hardison always asks before touching her, and he waits for her to write or sign or use pictograms when spoken words won't get past her mouth. He's just as patient with Eliot, and the grumbles and bad mood that hide the moments when he's tired or in pain. He rarely shows it, but he's always attentive to their comfort.
Eliot hugs her, tight, when her skin is crawling and she wants to crawl into a small space. He's warm and soft and much better than a vent. He cooks food that she can eat, even when he makes a face and tell her it's not good for her health.
In return, Parker subtly changes all her flaps so that they make noise that Eliot can hear. She listens to him talk about the best way to cut tomatoes, even though he won't even let her near his kitchen knives. She snuggles up close to Hardison and comforts him when he dreams of drowning, or being buried alive, even if she doesn't know the right words.
For years though, their little crew is like an island. They fit well enough together, but they don't have anyone else. Parker still doesn't fit in with normal people if she's not wearing her Alice White mask. She knows that won't change, and maybe that's okay. Maybe she can have Hardison and Eliot and Nate and Sophie and it's enough.
Nate and Sophie leave, though they're still in contact, and they occasionally come back for a job or two, but for Parker, it's a plunge into the unknown. The crew she's grown so comfortable with is gone.
It takes adjustment. Eliot has as much of a hard time as she does with change, and Hardison's confidence needs building up. But they make it. Better than that, they thrive. Their little team of three does things that they never even dreamed of, and they complete each other, like a perfect fit. There's still no one else in their lives, though people come and go, Quinn, Amy, Peggy and even Hardison's Nana. But Parker is never completely herself with them.
She doesn't truly realize what's changed until she meets Jake and Cassandra. They're just like Parker was years ago, at first, when Hardison said that to her. "I like how you turned out." They're lost souls suddenly thrown into a place where there are people ready to accept them for who they are.
She watches them grow into it. She keeps her distance, a bit, because Jake is Eliot's brother and they have a lot of unresolved issues, that they need to work out without her in the way. Cassandra, despite her bubbling, exuberant personality, keeps everyone at bay. But Parker notices the little changes, the way that Jake is more and more comfortable talking about history, the way Cassandra stims with more confidence, when she realizes no one is going to "quiet hands" her.
She watches them, and she wants nothing more than to help, help Eliot build them a space where they can thrive, like Nate and Sophie and Hardison did for her. And she understands. These are two people who society thinks of as failures, as defective. People who didn't turn into who they were supposed to be, because that ideal was not a mold they could fit in.
They just needed to be accepted and loved.
"I like how you turned out."
She likes how they're turning out, too. There's no need to be normal to be worthy. And if they find a place where they can grow, people like her can bloom into something beautiful.
She understands that, now. She's even starting to like how she turned out.