A/N - Okay, so here's the last part. (FINALLY!) Hopefully you're not too terribly disappointed. Sadly, I could not work in details of Eliot's past as some of you requested, because it kept seeming forced and out of place. Sorry. Maybe in a different story, as I'm certainly not lacking in the plot bunny department. (They keep multiplying!) Umm, the end might be considered a little sappy, but a lot of people asked for a happy ending to the story and that's kind of a new concept for me. Oh, and I hope I was articulate enough that you guys can get the 'steal-Eliot' plot in here. It makes sense in my head, but as you guys aren't in my head (lucky you) I can't be sure it was clear enough… Anyways, without further ado, here's the last bit. Oh, and PLEASE review. I'll go into withdrawal without them. Seriously. It's not pretty. ;) Just one more thing - thanks to everyone who reviewed before, and I'm sorry if I missed replying to you personally, my computer was being weird for a bit. But thank you so SO much, because you guys rock! =)
Family - Chapter Four
It was a brilliant plan, in Parker's opinion. And fun, too. She'd never stolen a person before. Well, there was that one time, with that midget in Uruguay, but really she'd only borrowed him, so that shouldn't count. And besides, he was nowhere near as wily as Eliot.
Eliot. She really missed him. It was odd, the way you never noticed how important something was until you no longer had it. She didn't know how important Eliot was to her, until he wasn't there. Then it was almost like there was this vacuum, where he was before, this hideous echoing emptiness where he should have been. She wondered if she'd miss the others that much, if they were to disappear for so long too. She wasn't sure.
She wasn't too sure about anything anymore. She had been sure that she hadn't needed anybody, needed a team, a family. That she'd forget their names the moment the charade came to an end. But then it did, and she couldn't even forget the sound of their footsteps or the smell of their soap, let alone their names. And then she had been so sure that Eliot would come back. That she just had to talk to him, to make him understand that they wanted him back, not his muscle, or his strange talents, but him, because he was family, and that's how families were supposed to be. She was so sure that if she could just make him believe that then he would come back. Come home.
But Nate said Eliot wasn't coming back. And Sophie was all quiet and Hardison was all sulky, and she was the only one who was sure of it, and what if she was wrong again? What if what she was sure of wasn't true at all?
What if Eliot really wasn't coming back?
Well, that was unacceptable. Obviously. She didn't understand why if everybody was so sure he wasn't coming back on his own than they were just standing around moping. How did that help? They'd all looked at her like she'd grown an extra head that was spouting inappropriate jokes when she'd suggested stealing him.
Sometimes, they were so weird.
Luckily, they eventually saw reason and agreed that stealing Eliot would be the best course of action. And then of course, Nate came up with a plan, and she even got to help with it, because Nate had never actually stolen (or "borrowed") a person before. And it really was a brilliant plan.
So they left their offices (Parker diligently feeding Eliot's plant for him, bologna, because that seemed to be what the little carnivore liked best, much to Hardison's chagrin) and headed off to "The Town That Civilization Forgot", as Hardison liked to call it, which was the place currently holding their Retrieval Specialist. It was ridiculously easy, pulling a con in such a small town, as no one had the big-city paranoia (Sophie called it "shrewdness", but Parker was sticking to paranoia) that was bred in places like LA and Chicago. So when Parker towed away Eliot's heap of a truck, (really, the man was a millionaire, he couldn't afford something better?) from outside the old bar, and Sophie distracted the guy with the bad toupee at the impound lot while Hardison set everything up, nobody so much as blinked in their direction.
Parker giggled gleefully, and ignored Hardison's voice over the coms asking what was so funny. It was like a giant game of mousetrap.
She watched as Eliot approached, the hapless little mouse, looking haggard and angry. His tan was a shade darker, and his rustic-looking shirt was gaping open at the collar, and that white Stetson was still perched upon his long unruly hair. She drank it all in, like a man in the desert dying of thirst, or Nate with an aged bottle of bourbon, focusing on all the little details that she hadn't bothered to notice before, when she thought she'd never miss him. She knew better now, and promised not to make the same mistake twice.
"Parker? Parker. Hey. You see him yet?"
A voice buzzed in her ear, and it took her a moment to recognize Hardison again.
"Yeah, he's on his way."
She forced her feet to move before Eliot could spot her, and went around to join the others. She quickly opened the door to their truck and popped inside, settling herself between Sophie and Hardison, and watched the scene unfurl.
Eliot was not happy. Very, very not happy. Downright pissed, she'd say, if the way he was clenching and unclenching his fists was anything to go by. They were watching the security feed that Hardison had up on his laptop, and even though it didn't have any audio, Parker could almost hear the gruff irritated quality to his voice as he spoke in a carefully controlled manner to the bored-looking toupee man, who finally muttered something and waved in the general direction of the back of the small building. For a brief moment, Parker thought Eliot looked like he was debating punching the guy, but then the fists unclenched again, and he walked in the direction the guy had indicated.
The building may be small, but there were a lot of doors, most of which led to small storage rooms. (Hardison had almost gone apoplectic when he found out that all their records were still hard copies in rooms full of file cabinets as opposed to compressed onto a hard drive.) Eliot arrived at the door at the very back of the building, (which was supposed to lead to the impound lot behind the main offices) and Parker felt a quiver of excitement run through her.
The trap was set, and the mouse was approaching…
Eliot opened the door and stepped inside, never expecting that he had been played.
They had him.
Eliot looked around the room curiously, squinting in the darkness, taking a few halting steps forward, then spinning around quickly at the sound of metal against metal. It took a moment for him to realize that the door he had walked through was disappearing as a metal panel was sliding into place behind him, much too quickly for him to stop, thanks to some crafty wiring on Hardison's part. He was completely enveloped by the darkness for a moment, before a small light flickered on overhead. He quickly noted that the entire room was made of metal, and that while the ceiling was flat, the sides were indented in sharp waves. Suddenly, the floor lurched beneath his feet, tossing him off balance for a moment, as an engine rumbled to life. The whole enclosure vibrated a bit, swaying in motion, and bumping along every few seconds, and he realized where he was. Parker saw it, the minute he did, on Hardison's small computer screen, as his blue eyes widened just a bit, and his jaw set, and his fingers clenched by his side.
Apparently Nate noticed it too, as he quickly set about turning on the speaker system (again, another of Hardison's quick setups) which was wired into the space Eliot was currently occupying.
"Yes, Eliot, you are in a shipping container. On the back of an eighteen-wheel semi-truck. No, there is no way out, we checked and rechecked that, and no, we are not going to let you out. We decided that you were being just a little too stubborn, so we've been forced to do this the hard way."
"We're stealing you!" Parker piped in helpfully. "Like the little naked man, except without the laser beams and the guys with guns and Nate's ex wife. Oh, and you're clothed," she added, seemingly as an afterthought.
"Stealing me?" they heard him ask (because Hardison's surveillance system did have audio) in a voice that seemed oddly clear of any trace of incredulity.
That was something about Eliot. He had a habit of calling her out on her oddities, saying she was "twenty pounds of crazy in a five pound bag," and maybe that was why he always seemed the least shocked by her peculiarities. It was amusing, that he was most often the one saying that she wasn't normal, but who made her feel the most normal just by not making a big deal out of her being herself. She wondered if he knew that.
Sophie spoke next. "It was Parker's idea." Parker valiantly refrained from rolling her eyes, but surmised that he had already guessed as much. "We want you to come back, but you're being difficult. So we're taking you back. By force."
"Uh-huh… And once you get me back to the new offices, how exactly are you plannin' on keepin' me there?"
They were all silent for a good full minute or two before Harrison (who she greatly suspected considered silence a form of torture) spoke up.
"…Uh, yeah, we hadn't actually thought that far ahead."
Parker saw his smirk, as he settled himself on the floor with his back pressed against the wall of the container. "Mm-hm. Well. One of you better be gettin' my luggage outta my truck. Oh, and Sophie, I can tell that you're the one drivin' this rig, so try and watch out for the potholes, yeah?"
They were all stunned into silence for another long minute until Sophie asked haltingly "Your luggage?", and Hardison said "You mean…", and Parker cried triumphantly "I told you he was coming back!"
A few minutes later they pulled off the side of the road and hopped out of the truck, running around to the back to open the door and let Eliot out. They greeted him properly, and Hardison punched him on the shoulder, and Nate shook his hand, and Sophie gave him a quick hug, before they went back to the cab of the truck, making plans for getting them all back home in a more comfortable fashion. Parker stood there opposite Eliot for a moment, just looking at him, feeling bubbly inside over the fact that he was here, and they were going home.
"I told them you were coming back," she told him. "Nobody believed me, and they were all so sure you weren't, especially Nate, so then I started thinking that maybe I was wrong. But I wasn't. You were coming back."
She hadn't meant for the last part to sound so much like a question, but it did. She wondered if he'd answer it.
He took a deep breath, then looked away from her, out at the expanse of empty, dry land. Finally he said "Y'know, I've been left before. Too many times, too many people… I just kept gettin' left behind. But I've never really done the leavin'."
He was quiet again, and unlike Hardison, she held the silence, letting him find whatever he needed in it.
"Besides. I finally figured it out."
She tilted her head, looking at him questioningly, and she guessed he caught it in his peripheral, because he still wasn't looking at her, but he explained.
"We're a mosaic. A bunch of broken people, who don't quite match, stuck together to make one crazy, messed up, beautiful family. Why would I wanna leave that?"
He turned to look at her, and she threw herself into his arms again, hugging the breath out of him and wondering if he'd mind if she made it a daily ritual. Then she stepped back, and she smiled, and he smiled back.
And this time it did reach his eyes.