A/N: It's been quite some time. I apologize for that. Not quite happy with this chapter, but hopefully everyone enjoys.
The dots were no longer as confusing as they were before.
In fact, it was becoming so enrapturing that she forgot all about her small tiff with Griffin.
She already had the first letter to her little puzzle, gaining the second was just as simple. Parker multiplied out seventeen dots by four more dots and got a total of sixty eight. "Erbium," she whispered to herself after she looked it up on the back of her spread out t-shirt. Parker scribbled out its shortened version Er and moved on. Pretty soon, as time ticked on, she'd scribbled down the few worked out letters that she had. The first cluster of dots had been detangled so to speak. All that was left was fitting them together.
Parker threaded her eyebrows together as she looked at the string of letters she equated the dots to.
D. Er. Ac. D. M. Eu. N Ta. Er. Li. Li. N. O. T. Ac. La. Es.
The puzzlement was written all over her and she knew it. The letters seemed right. The formation seemed right. Everything seemed right…except it made no sense. At least not yet.
A loud slap sent her jolting from her comfortable position on the floor. Parker's head whipped around in the direction of the sound and it was only when she connected the noise to Griffin, did her heart begin to slow down its thunderous putter.
"I found it. I found him."
Parker propped her elbows up on the trunk and rubbed her fatigued eyes. "Who's him? What'd you find?"
Griffin swiveled around in his chair to look at Parker after what had been a substantial amount of time spent staring at a lightened screen. Out of his own break through, he checked his grumpiness at the door, at least for the split minute it was going to take to tell Parker what'd he had found.
"Alaster Fleming. A guy Paladins have been dying to get their soddy little hands on and quite literally I might add."
"Wait a minute, back up. Alaster Fleming?"
Griffin sighed at the annoyance of having to explain. His grumpiness was back. "Alaster Fleming, a guy fighting the good fight along with us Jumpers and the organization your father was in, The Network, only he's not." Before Parker could formulate a question, Griffin continued on. "Doesn't want to associate himself with any of it. Neither Jumpers nor The Network. He's a lone wolf, you might say."
"But he's helping you guys right," asked Parker.
"I swear you don't listen at all. I just said that." Griffin rolled his eyes and stood from his chair stretching. He proceeded to flick through stacks of papers on his desk in search of one that could be used to write on.
"Where'd you get that information from, if I can ask?"
"Doesn't matter," Griffin snipped.
Parker eyed his computer warily and then noticed the slight bruising on the knuckles of his right hand. Never ask questions that you really don't want to know the answer to. Her mother had said that and something told her to just let it go. Griffin probably wouldn't have told her anyway. Timidly almost, she walked to his scrambling side and watched his hands search for paper, the bruising was colored reddish with hints of purple. Parker wanted to know if it hurt at all, but he did not act as if it did, so she didn't interrupt him with the question.
It was important to him this discovery, she could tell. For a minute her eyes wandered from his hands to look at him. There was a fire in his blue eyes, his lips were set in a firm down turned line and his brow was creased. Always there seemed to be stress written somewhere on his face. Parker's eyes drifted back to his hands. For some odd reason she wanted to still them with her own, hold them for only a second, only so he could tell her where to go from there. Only so…was what she told herself.
"What do we do then?"
Griffin snatched up a blank sheet of paper before sending her a look that she was getting to know all too well. Before he even opened his mouth, Parker knew what he was going to say.
"I dunno, but I can tell you what we won't be doing. We won't be paying Mr. Fleming a visit and we won't be pokin' him for information."
Skimming over that fact that Griffin was lacing his voice in sarcasm, Parker raised what she thought to be an excellently relevant question. "How will we get to Mr. Alaster Fleming when he obviously didn't want to be found meaning there must be safe guards, right?"
"Don't worry about it." Griffin sat back down at his computer and placing the paper aside, began typing furiously. Parker stood for a heated minute, just staring at Griffin's busy form. She felt it wasn't fair that he got to dictate what she could and could not partake in. Sure, she remembered to agreeing to do as he said, but it had only been a promise made out of fear. Yes, Parker was still afraid, and yes she still relied on Griffin, but she had questions that needed answering and she felt that she couldn't just sit on the sidelines.
Parker let out a frustrated sigh. "How come I can't come with you?" Her forehead showed the lines of distress. She crossed her arms as she waited for what she hoped would be a reasonable answer.
"You'll just get in the way," Griffin answered with a mumble. He wasn't putting forth his best efforts when it came to listening to her. He behaved in a way that told her his decision was final and the topic wasn't of too much importance.
"I won't get in the way," Parker said firmly. "If this Alaster Flemming can tell us something important, I think I have the right to know."
"And if he tells me something, then I'll let you know." The silence that followed let Griffin know just how upset Parker was about his decision. He didn't want to turn around and see her pair of hazel eyes staring at him with whatever emotion she was feeling at the moment. He didn't want to deal with Parker, didn't want to have a discussion on the pros and cons of what getting her involved even further in this would mean. Griffin didn't talk things over, he wasn't used to it. Whatever needed to be done, he did.
Parker used a voice she rarely displayed, which was harsh and borderline whiney. "This isn't fair Griffin!"
"You don't need to be involved in everything that I do."
"I'm not trying to be involved in everything that you do. Just this. It shouldn't even be dangerous."
"This is why you aren't coming!" Griffin rose once more from his seat and faced Parker with all the seriousness in the world present in his eyes. "You're too damn innocent. Ya don't even know how fast things can go south, even when it's supposed to be simple."
Parker frowned further and tried not to shrink under Griffin's angry and frustrated glare.
"Have you forgotten the little fiasco that happened at your house just that fast?"
Parker breathed deeply to stave off the anger that was uncoiling in the pit of her stomach. "That's an unfair thing to say Griffin and you know it."
At that time, where the air was thick between the arguing pair Jack chose to make his appearance, jumping between the two with a hefty stack of DVD cases in hand. Feeling the awkwardness around him, Jack looked between the two and raised his brow questioningly. He shifted on his feet, juggling what was in his hands before he decided he didn't care what he'd walked in on.
"Interrupting something am I?" Thrusting the stack of DVDs into Parker's arms and breaking the annoyed glare off she and Griffin were having he said, "Well too bad. Those are for you little bit."
Parker fumbled a little to keep all the DVDs from spilling out of her grasp. She looked at Jack, momentarily forgetting about her argument with Griffin. Before she could even ask why Jack had dumped an arm full of movies onto her, he answered her.
"They're for you. Thought you could use a break from everything." Jack ran a hand over his slickly gelled up Mohawk and the effect the action had made the hairs being pushed back spring up immediately. Griffin had told him certain things that Parker had left out in her version of the tale before he took her back with him that night. It felt like a rare moment the two of them shared what with the no arguments or snide remarks. Everything that the two of them had been going through, Jack was now informed and up to date on, and now because of the newly collected knowledge, Parker had been getting even more sympathy filled eyes from him.
Parker glanced at the first movie on top of her stack. Thirteen Going on Thirty. She had more of a chance of getting Griffin to let her tag along than of him letting her borrow his DVD player for watching the aforementioned chick flick. Of course, she appreciated Jack's thoughtfulness.
"Thanks," she said as she set all of the movies down on top of a case of Pepsi on the floor.
"Steal those did you?" Griffin sent a smirk Jack's way before he turned his attention back to the computer and took up a pen.
Jack feigned offence. He walked over towards a pile of papers on a table and began going through them nonchalantly. "Steal? Well I'll have you know that…OKAY, so what," he gave up without much effort. "I stole the damn movies," he pointed a finger in Griffin's direction. "The ass of a manager deserved it. Dude had his goony employees follow me around the store. Heard him call me a punk of a loser."
"So your response was to nick all the movies you could get your hands on and then claim them as presents for that one?" Griffin jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Parker.
Jack nodded, "Pretty much yeah."
"Figures," Griffin scoffed.
"Hey, I could've done a helluva lot worse you know!"
Parker looked at the hefty stack of movies before looking at Jack. "You stole them?" There was a bit of disbelief in the question she posed.
Jack thought it better to deflect the attention away from him and the small escapade he'd dove himself into that day, but before he could let out a change of subject, Griffin cut into his window of opportunity.
"See right there, prime example of why you need to stay put."
"What," Parker asked loudly. What they'd been arguing about before came up fresh again, like it'd never been put to the side for the second of interruption that Jack provided.
"You're too bloody soft, you are." Griffin swiveled a bit in his chair almost amused with bringing everything back to light, but knowing Griffin not quite. There was always a seriousness to be had when it came to him.
"Oh I'm soft?
"Yes, you are," Griffin stated as a matter of fact.
"I'm soft," Parker repeated, this time not as a question, but as a statement laced with offense. Offense that was highly justified when considering all the things she had been through in a short span of time. Parker was almost to the point of steaming at Griffin.
"Yeah, yes you are," Griffin's voice shouted over lapping Parker's own tone. She was beginning to get on his nerves in an unbearable way. He looked up at the ceiling before his computer made a bleeping noise drawing his attention to it.
"Hey! Hey now." Jack threw his hands out to bring to a halt the small explosion he saw between the two. He rolled his neck and closed his eyes trying to summon up some peace. "Parker's right."
Griffin's next words sounded strangely detached and uninterested when he very well should have been at Jack's declaration of which side he was on. He was done with the clickety clacks of the keyboard and was now hunched over the piece of paper he'd dug up. Every other second he was glancing between it and the computer screen. "Oh and how is Parker…right?"
Parker stared at the sudden cooled change in Griffin. She hadn't known him for very long, but she felt as if he were only indulging them, not at all interested anymore in the argument. His tenor wasn't quite enthusiastic. His posture appeared tense, anxious almost, back rigid. And just that fast she had figured out what he was doing.
Parker let the argument fall away like dust in the wind as her eyes zeroed in on one of the computer screens before Griffin. Lightly but quickly, she stepped over to Griffin, invading his personal space to the point where she was almost standing on his feet. The teenager's eyes narrowed at the screen and as she read what was before her, her mouth dropped in disbelief.
"Security details? Blueprints? An address," she shook her head. "It can't be that easy."
Griffin frowned. Finding the whereabouts of Alaster Flemming simply couldn't be as straightforward as locating the right Paladin and doing god knows what to him to obtain the information. And he thought as much when he first laid eyes on the address. As complicated as the situation was, it just couldn't be that easy and it never was usually. It typically took much more digging, much more hunting down various Paladins, extracting information from them in different ways of threat.
Was it possible that the Paladins where slipping with encrypting their information? The disk Griffin found on the Paladin was first thought to be hard to crack, but maybe he was just getting that much better at sifting through their bullshit.
Griffin's eyes skirted from the computer monitor to shoot her a look of borderline disgust. He wanted to tell her to back away, he wanted to relay to her a multitude of things that weren't exactly friendly because she was testing his nerves, but Griffin was well aware that whatever he would say would have no effect whatsoever on the girl before him. So he permitted her to get close and bug him, just as long as she understood that there was no going with him.
"What can't be that easy?" And right along with Parker Jack followed, saddling up to the other side of Griffin and leaning in to get a closer look of what was on the computer screen.
Griffin held back the curse he wished to let loose and instead said, "Nothing is ever easy." He gave up on keeping new information to himself.
"So when are we heading out?" Parker asked the question innocently. Full well she knew that Griffin hadn't wanted her to play side kick to his super hero, but she didn't care. With everything finally developing, she felt like things were actually getting somewhere.
"I've already told you, I'm going alone." With the newly acquired address in his hand, Griffin went for his jacket that was haphazardly strewn across the shabby couch. Parker watched as he pulled his arms into the sleeves and then tucked the address into his pocket. She couldn't believe he expected her to wait around for him like a good little lackey. She wanted to find out what everything meant just as much as Griffin did, if not more. The answer to why her parents' had been murdered and her life thrown into chaos could be right there. So close but yet so far away.
Parker cleared her throat and looked to Jack. "Could you give us a minute?"
Jack looked between Griffin who had not stopped getting ready to leave and Parker who looked to be battling a variety of emotions. Jack was no stranger to what he saw. Anger, frustration and heart break appeared as clear as anything on Parker's face. Whether or not to leave them to themselves Jack was not so sure. It was Parker's gentle voice that had him making up his mind.
"Please?" Her voice was gentle and pleading.
Jack extended a curt nod and before Parker could blink, he was gone.
"Parker!" Griffin's voice over took her own in volume. "We had an agreement. An agreement. Does that mean anything to you, sweetheart? You're supposed to be following my lead! Instead you're questioning my every step."
Parker shook her head, "I'm not questioning your every step. In fact, I haven't done that at all. I'm just asking to be included."
Griffin scoffed. Going over to his small work bench, he violently threw open one of the drawers and riffled through it. "Be included? How? Hate to inform you of this, but you're a dog's dinner." Griffin pulled out a small flash light. Sticking it in the pocket of his jeans he turned to Parker with a steely glare set.
Presumably, a dog's dinner had been some sort of insult and Parker gathered as much. She brushed it off. Insults weren't important to her at the moment. Getting Griffin to see her point was.
"What if the bastard's turned sides? Hm?"
"Why would he-"
Griffin waved off the question he knew she'd throw his way and interrupted. "Say Paladins have gotten to him. Threatened him in some way and forced him to see things their way? You don't know what you're walking into. You think I found ol' Alaster's address that easy because lady luck decided to go soft?" Griffin slammed the drawer closed, turning away from Parker, unable to look her way. "No. That shitty disk was planted on the bastard Paladin. Had to have been. They made it easy so this could go one of two ways. Either Flemming wanted to be found or Paladins have him and pressed him into setting a lure."
There was a pocket of silence. Parker couldn't bring herself to say anything at the moment and Griffin held a grip on the counter top of his workbench. After a bit, he cleared his throat, "You're not ready."
"You've showed me how to defend myself," Parker argued. She wasn't ready to give up on the matter. Watching Griffin run a hand through his unkempt hair, she felt tendrils of sympathy for him. Parker was well aware that this was difficult for him. Arguing when he would have just went about with what needed to be done.
"You're not ready," he repeated. His voice was more firm than the last time he'd given an answer.
Parker, dropping her eyes, went to his side. The anger fell from her with each step. Her frustration cast aside on the back burner. All that was left was the sadness that was always present within her, and had always been since her parents' death.
"Griffin," she looked at him then, saying his name forgivingly and then stressing her next words to the boy with the amazing gift before her. "Griffin, I need this. I need to go with you. If I have a chance to make sense of wha-what happened to my parents I have to. I have to know. I can't wait for you to bring me the answers."
Griffin regarded Parker then. Her hazel eyes were brimming with unshed tears. He saw something in her that he always knew was in himself.
"I can't let you continue risking your life for me. I won't let you."
Something stirred within the robust and hardened young man. Something that was almost foreign yet wasn't.
"If it were your parents-" Parker swallowed, neither blinking for a fear of the present tears in her eyes, nor moving. It was a touchy subject she knew, to bring up his parents, but in that spectrum they shared a likeness. "If it were your parents you'd want to be right there too."
"It is my parents," Griffin corrected.
Parker nodded, tears fumbled from her eyes. Exactly what she did not want to happen. She placed her hand over Griffin's clenched calloused one. Immediately, Griffin loosened his grip on the counter, but he stopped himself from freeing his hand from under Parker's smaller, much softer one. It was unknown as to why he let her action be acceptable.
"I know. I know. So would you want to sit around and hope someone else brings you the answers you wanna know?"
Griffin sniffed and looked down at Parker's hand over his. He didn't offer up any words. He felt a lump in his throat. Imaginary he knew.
Parker felt the need to continue. "You and Jack… you guys are all I have for the moment. I can't…" she trailed off. Sniffing, she wiped at her eyes with an arm, a useless action because more took the place of the others she swept away. "It's pathetic," was the last thing she said before removing her hand from Griffin's and engulfing him in a hug. The warmth radiating from him was a comfort, yet it only caused her to produce more tears.
Griffin stood still as ever. Internally, he wondered what the hell was wrong with him. Where were his words of protest at her behavior? He should have been telling her how daft she was being. How she was proving his point of being not sound at all. He should have told her to take a number on wanting to have things go a certain way. He should have told her to try and thicken up her skin. Instead, he found his arms wrapped around her and his chin resting atop her brown curls.
Griffin saw in Parker how he had been when he'd first been put in the predicament of having his parents taken from him, a lost kid, just looking for things to be okay again. The sooner she realized that things would never be the same again, that there would be no going back to some sort of normal, the more hardened, cold and bitter she would become. He couldn't let that happen. Both Jack and himself had agreed to that. That would mean a win for Paladins.
"I can't lose you. I have to come. I have to."
When those words came muffled somewhat to his ears, he knew this situation had to find a resolution. This couldn't be it for Parker. Griffin sighed and grumbled something Parker didn't quite catch. She pulled away from him, wiped her tears and looked at him hopefully. "What?"
Griffin rolled his eyes. "I said you can come."
Parker nodded a tiny troubled smile on her face. Quickly, she reached on tip toes and planted a kiss on Griffin's cheek. The action took him aback and left Griffin flabbergasted and stunned for seconds. Parker moved around the lair, gathering things she might need. A small sample of the dotted code she had solved, the small knives she'd been practicing with. She placed those, four in total in the pockets of her jeans.
Finally recovering Griffin stumbled on choked out words, "B-but you follow my…my lead of course."
"Of course," Parker agreed.
"And you don't- don't get in my way!"
"Mhm," Parker replied.
He watched her move in a blur around the lair. Her curly mass of hair danced behind her as she gathered up things. He could see the slight tremble of her hands and the tears still building in her eyes. "Hurry up will ya, yeah?" The gruffness of what he said was only to appear fine when he was not. He had hoped that the rudeness of the command would stop the stirring within him.
It had not.