I don't own Leverage. Or the 5 Things meme.
She is shades of deception, layers upon layers of trickery. You picked up on that right away, which why you knew, out of all of them, she was the most dangerous. There is something liquid about the way she moves, the way she talks and reveals pieces of her personality that catches your attention, raises your guard. You've been doing this long enough and efficiently enough that you know women like that are not to be trusted.
The team is still hesitant to put her in a position to deal with marks directly. Pressure, she can handle, they think, but acting is something different. You beg to differ.
Hardison is against this particular idea from the beginning, mostly out of completely obvious reasons. But Sophie needs to be the primary (always needs to be the primary), to reel in Grayson Kneels III, aka The Mark, with guileless hope and a rough Boston accent. And since his esteemed Mr. Kneels is proficient in covering up mistreatment of his illegal Mexican workers – but hopeless against a pretty blonde – it's too perfect to pass up. Powerful men don't have many weaknesses. When you find one, you go for the jugular.
"I knew this was a bad idea." Hardison's jealousy bores you. "Parker can't act her way out of a high school play. How is she supposed to convince this guy to come home with her?"
"It really isn't that hard," Sophie replies, although she's watching their surveillance of the restaurant nervously. "He doesn't have to fall in love with her, he just has to want to sleep with her." She smiles wryly and shoots you a look. "And that's pretty much guaranteed. All she needs is boobs."
"Exactly the problem," Hardison grumbles.
"Would you relax?" you say. "You're giving me a migraine."
"Relax, my ass. This is a B-A-D idea. You heard it here first."
"Hush!" Sophie shushes.
"I find your candor very refreshing," the mark is saying. Hardison snorts. "Most women I meet these days are so preoccupied with seduction." You see him lean across the table on the grainy video. "Wine, dinners, lingerie – it all seems so very fake after awhile."
"Oh, Gawd," comments Sophie. "Parker, don't stab him."
"Oh, I don't like lingerie," Parker says, and the hair on your arms rises straight up. "Actually, I don't wear underwear at all. I find it," she pauses, "constricting."
"…damn," breathes Hardison.
You can't stand mobsters.
"You fookin' set us up, din' ya?" Three guns, two men, surprised you on the way out of the ballroom – stupid mistake on your part, you'll get a mouthful from Hardison later. The runt in the back won't use it, easy to disarm. The thug spitting in Parker's face is the wild card.
"Dammit." Parker turns to him with a pout. "I really don't wanna ruin my pretty dress."
"I'll buy you a new one," you assure her.
Big guy grabs her arm. "You listen to me, you lil' bitch – "
You don't wait any longer. A well-placed kick to his gut sends Mr. Foul Mouth to the ground. After a split second's consideration, you keep your concentration on him, moving aside to let Parker handle the little guy.
"You kiss your mama with that mouth?" Al Pacino lifts his head just in time for you to punch it. "I hope not."
It's over quickly, and see, this is why you've never understood the concept of organized crime – without their guns, teamsters are third-graders with bad teeth.
Guns disarmed, you look over to see the other attacker face up on the pavement, mouth open and bloody and several of his teeth scattered around his head. Parker stands above the unconscious body, skirt ripped up to her thigh, and empties the chamber of his pistol with a metallic clink.
"Next time," she says, tossing it over her shoulder, "I get the big one."
Parker has ex-boyfriends. Lots of them. And one of them shows up. In the middle of a con. Because, as you've learned, that's how ex-boyfriends work, with awkward and horrendous timing.
But considering this particular ex-boyfriend happens to be a former White House press secretary, it's a little more awkward than usual.
"You dated a politician?" Nate asks incredulously. "A Republican politician?"
"He had an inferiority complex." Parker shrugs. "I like to be on top."
Hardison slaps two twenties into your hand twenty minutes later.
You catch her flipping through a children's book on horses one day in the office. Her eyes are clenched tightly closed.
"How old are you, exactly?"
She throws the book at you. "It was Nate's idea," she says. "Conquering my fear."
"I thought you already did that."
She crosses her arms and pouts. "Yeah, until some idiot decided to watch Black Beauty on his iPod." She shudders. "Stupid Hardison and his evil creatures of death."
Your heart hurts a little at that, so you grab her wrist. "Oh, come on."
"What." She stands up and doesn't move, pulling back against your pressure on her hand. You give her a look and she turns pale white. "Oh God, no. No, no, no."
"You'll like it once you try it."
"No, I won't!" she says, voice panicky. "Eliot, seriously. No. Seriously, no. No, no. No." She shuts her eyes and shakes her head swiftly, ponytail whipping the edges of her face.
"It's like nothing else in the world." She's such a little thing, it's nothing to push her along. "If you like jumping off of buildings, you'll like riding a goddamn horse."
"Just because you're a cowboy doesn't mean everyone has to be," Parker spits at him, but lets him drag her out of the building.
A few hours later, she's sitting in a saddle in front of you, gripping the edges of it maniacally. Any tenser and you think her spine might snap.
You kick off at a slow walk and she shrieks and tries to turn around and grab your waist. "Oh my fucking God, it's moving. It's moving! – where's it taking us?"
You don't whether to laugh or give up. "Stop wiggling, you're gonna fall off." She turns pale and freezes, and then you do laugh. "Just sit up. Come on."
She rights herself in the seat cautiously, eyeing the ground nervously. "Do horses get mad?" she asks.
"Not if don't get mad at them," you answer. "Sit back a little. Relax. They can smell fear."
"Really?" she squeaks.
"No," you snort. You place a palm on her stomach and lean her back into your chest, feeling her relax marginally in response. "Here. Take the reins. I'll drive, you steer."
She grabs them hesitantly. "This is like the worst idea you've ever had."
"There's a guy in New Orleans with a bum leg who'd disagree with you, there." Hands on her waist, you kick the horse into a trot. She jumps, but you steady her with your palms. You can feel her body heat seeping through your clothes, and it's not unpleasant. "See? It's not horrible."
She nods, still nervously. "Not…horrible," she agrees.
You work up to galloping by the next hour. She doesn't thank you, but she doesn't shave your head like she'd threatened to, either.
It's not the first time Parker's gone off the grid (although she's been getting better at Nate's insistence) but it is the first time that the target – big diamond, worth big money – has disappeared with her. The plan had been to steal the real gem and replace it with a fake in order to ultimately leave the mark with no cash and a fake stone – but as you've learned by now, nothing ever goes smoothly, especially so when you're trying to be the good guys.
"She can't have taken it," Hardison says. "She wanted to help them just as much as we did. You saw the way she was comforting Mrs. Richmond."
"Well, we've got no diamond, no Parker and more importantly, not even a fake diamond for Bolten to sell to us," Sophie shoots back. "What are we supposed to think?"
"We're supposed," Nate cuts in, "to not jump to conclusions until we have all the facts. Hardison, get online. Do your thing, find her. Sophie, Bolten's expecting you in an hour."
"Nate – "
"We stick to the plan until I tell you otherwise," Nate says authoritatively. "And the plan is to get Bolten to sell us the diamond." He raises an eyebrow. "Go."
Your job in this phase of the operation is simple – be on hand in case things go bad, which they frequently do. But your phone rings as you're halfway through pulling on yet another waiter's uniform and you know it's gotta be her.
"Don't say my name," she says immediately.
"Duh," you reply. "Where the hell are you?"
"38th Street." She sounds out of breath, voice hoarse – she's been gagged at some point. In the background of the call, you hear muffled voices – two men, early thirties. "An office, but I think they're gonna move me soon. I'm in the closet right now, I lifted a cell phone off one of them." She gives off a little moan. "They've got the diamond."
"There's two of them?" She makes a noise of acquiesce. "They threaten the others?"
"Snipers," she hisses. "They showed me video of Sophie and Nate. They were here earlier – one man, one woman, highly trained. I think Bolten hired them. If they find out I alerted you, they'll – "
"Okay." You think quickly. "Whatever they want you to do, go along with it. I'll be there soon."
She giggles, but it's not a happy sound. "I knew I could count on you." The call ends abruptly and you swallow hard.
It doesn't take much effort to slip away from the others, distracted as they are and the difference between before and now is evident in the voicemail you leave for Nate as you lift a car from the parking lot and aim it downtown.
You find the building just as they're leaving. Parking far enough away to be unnoticed, you watch as they load her into the trunk of a Ford sedan (the insults never cease) blindfolded, gagged and bound. She doesn't struggle – good girl – so you don't see them harm her, but your blood boils in your veins anyway.
You tail them to a warehouse on the edge of town and watch again as they transfer her inside the building. You curse as you catch sight of at least two more men inside as the door opens. They disappear inside and your phone rings on cue.
"Eliot, don't do anything stupid," Nate orders.
"It's a warehouse on EP True," you tell him. "Get here if you can, but don't do anything out of the ordinary."
"Wait until we get there," he replies.
"What, so we can all be together to discover her body?" You shake your head. "No thanks."
Nate is silent for a moment. "Alright. Do what you have to do. Get her back here and we'll figure out how to end this as a team."
"I'll see you soon." You end the call and toss it in the backseat. You are a retrieval specialist, but the irony of this situation is that for all the various treasures and merchandise you've recovered (or "recovered") over the years, not one of them has ever been an actual person.
You enter the same way they did and take out the guard at the front quickly and quietly. He has a .22 and you keep it for insurance. You spot a catwalk – perfect – and you climb up for a bird's eye view.
There are four men total, dark-skinned and wearing matching dark clothing. They are all carrying semi-automatics. Voices float up to your ears and you recognize Hindi. A memory of a briefing from Hardison – John Bolten, their mark, an arms dealer who trades with terrorist groups from central India. Great.
Parker is tied to a chair in the back corner of the wide, open floor of the warehouse, still blindfolded. As you watch, one of the men approaches her and pulls off the cloth covering her eyes, yelling at her in his language.
"I don't speak Indian," Parker spits, glaring at him. You wince a second before the man's hand connects with her face.
"Where is diamond," the man demands, in broken English.
"You have diamond, stupid," Parker replies. "You stole it from me."
"Fake!" the man yells. "Fake! You know!" He gestures to another man, who steps forward with a cloth bag. Reaching inside, the first man pulls out a brilliant looking gem, which he promptly throws to the ground, pointing as it shatters into a million pieces. "Fake! Where is real diamond? You know."
"Oh yeah right, I know," Parker says. "I had no idea it was fake, otherwise I wouldn't have tried to steal it, you moron."
The man slaps her again and the impact sends her head reeling backward, the sickening sound of flesh meeting flesh reaching your ears all the way at the top of the catwalk. Losing patience, you make a split-second decision. Aiming for a chain hanging from the ceiling, you let loose a gunshot that hits the metal and sends sparks falling over the group. Heading back to the ladder that leads up the catwalk, you slide down to the ground in record speed as the men pull out guns and yell amongst each other in confusion and anger.
You take out the first two fairly easily. The other two spot you and start shooting, and you dive behind a shipping crate. Keeping quiet, you wait for them to come around the crate to find you and take one by surprise, disarming him and knocking him out quickly. The last one stares at the gun staring him in the face and runs for the door. You toss the gun aside and let him go – he's not what you came for.
Parker is unconscious, probably from the force of the last slap. You untie her and shake her awake, brushing the hair away to see the rapidly-forming bruise on her cheek.
"Hey," she says, and winces.
"Don't talk, darlin'," you tell her. "That's a nasty bruise you've got."
She nods and accepts your help to stand, her ankles weak from the bonds. You help her rub circulation back into her arms and legs and then get her out of there, not waiting around for whatever backup is on its way to arrive.
When you get her back to the hotel serving as the team's headquarters for the time being, Sophie is waiting for you. She gasps at the ugly wound on Parker's face and immediately sends you for ice. When you return to the room, both women are on the couch, and Sophie is wrapping Parker's knuckles in a warm washcloth.
"Nasty right hook you've got," she says. "You probably broke this one's nose."
"Yeah," Parker says, and Sophie shushes her.
She takes the ice and wraps it in a towel, laying it against the other woman's face gently. "There we are. Better?" Parker nods.
Taking you aside, Sophie hands you a folder. "Hardison figured out who they are. Terrorist sect from India. Bolten shifted them on a deal a few months back. We think they stole the diamond for payback."
"It was a fake," you say. "That's why they took Parker."
"What?" Sophie asks, surprised. "The fake that Parker was supposed to – "
"No." Parker stands, pulling the ice away from her face. "My fake one broke." She waves Sophie off, who clenches her jaw and looks worriedly at the stark, dark bruise on Parker's face. "They jumped me before I even got to the diamond – my fake one fell out and smashed on the pavement." She shook her head. "The diamond they had was the one Bolten had in his vault."
"Which means Bolten's diamond is fake," Sophie says. "Why?"
"Trying to cheat you?" you wonder. "Maybe he thinks he can pull a fast one on us."
"Then why all the security?" Parker asks. "Why protect a fake diamond with state of the art equipment like the stuff Bolten had in his office?"
"Because he doesn't know it's fake," Sophie concludes. A small smirk appears on her face. "I think I know what happened."
"What?" you prompt.
"Bolten cheated the Richmonds out of that diamond," Parker says, before Sophie can. "And remember what Hardison dug up about Jack Richmond's brother? He used to be a jewel thief – that's how he knew about us and told his sister-in-law. He must've switched the Richmonds' diamond out for a fake before Bolten's people came and picked it up."
You nod, shaking your head. "A little insurance? In case we didn't do the job right?"
"Or because he wanted the haul for himself. But this means we know where the real diamond is," Sophie says. "And no one else does." She smirks wider. "Oh yeah. We can work with this."
"Great – "
Sophie cuts Parker off immediately. "'We' does not include you. You stay here and take lots of aspirin and rest. If we need you, we'll call you."
Parker pouts as best she can with a swelled up cheek. "I've had worse."
"I don't care." Sophie throws a bottle of Advil at her. "Nate's orders."
Now that they finally have the strongest advantage, the last leg of the con really does go smoothly. Maneuvering the players against each other, Bolten is left with an empty vault and angry Indian terrorists to answer to while the Richmond's nosy brother is headed to jail for insurance fraud, just in time for the Jack and Diana Richmond to recover the real diamond – a family heirloom and their last chance to pay off their overwhelming medical bills from Jack's battle with skin cancer. Another day, another bullet dodged, and if you're not sure why you go through so much trouble to stay on this team, every time a case closes you're definitely reminded.
Everyone breaks for the night as the Richmonds leave and you head to your own hotel room, figuring that Hardison or Nate will want to check on Parker. The minute you step through the door your senses kick into high gear, and you know you're not alone.
Turning around, Parker is sitting on your bed, and you relax a little. Then you remember that it's Parker, and you tense up again. "Hi."
"Did you guys save the day?"
"More or less." You take off your jacket and lay it on the desk chair – slowly, smoothly, calmly, no sudden movements. She's like a cougar or something and you don't want to spook her and get your neck ripped out. "How's your face?"
"Much better now." She lowers the soda can she's got pressed to her jaw and tilts her head for you. The bruising has gone down considerably, especially since it's only been about a day and a half since the wound was inflicted.
"I told you I've had worse." She sets the soda can on the nightstand and rises to her feet. "Hardison told me that at first, you guys thought I'd took off with the diamond."
"Uh huh," you say neutrally.
"Did you think that?" she asks. Her voice matches yours.
There is no reason to lie to her. "Not really."
"Because…" you watch as she steps closer to you, her movements feline and quiet. "I guess I just trust you."
"I guess," she repeats, and then grins. "Okay."
She looks you in the eye and takes her top off. "Okay," she says again, and her pants follow. You notice she hadn't been lying about underwear. "Okay, can I be on top?"
"Okay," you reply, reaching for her. "You can try."