I don't own anything. This is ayleecambell's gift for the leveragexchange on lj.
part one of two.
It sort of sneaks up on him, halfway through the train ride to Niagara Falls, during an innocuous moment when Parker casually props her feet up on an empty seat, her calf brushing his in the cramped space. He stumbles a bit, halfway through a sentence, and she turns to him, face blank, questioning him without expression. He can see a bit of mascara right below her eyebrow where she'd smudged it while putting it on, and there are crumbs from the muffin she was eating earlier on her collar, and it occurs to Eliot that this is a really inconvenient time to realize that he's attracted to her.
Strange. Usually his timing's better.
It's not like he hasn't pondered the thought before; usually upon meeting a woman his first impression is largely based on whether or not he'd like to sleep with her, but he hadn't allowed himself to cross that line with Sophie or Parker before. Not to mention that they were both technically already spoken for, the phrase 'don't fuck where you eat' (or something like that) came to mind, and Eliot's a professional, if nothing else.
It's a little disconcerting, but he turns his head and deliberately rakes his eyes down her body, testing himself. Notices her shoulders, her breasts, her hips, her thighs. Her feet, resting on the bench, one shoe dangling off the edges of her toes. He revels momentarily in the slow burn that stirs in his abdomen before deliberately turning away, pushing the heat down viciously. Then he glares down at the fake wedding ring on his hand and sighs inwardly. Really inconvenient.
Beside him, Parker slumps down a little farther in her seat, her shoe finally succumbing to gravity and clattering onto the floor. Eyelids drooping, she lets her head fall against the back of her seat and elbows him. "Stop checking me out," she mumbles grumpily.
Eliot raises an eyebrow at her and fights valiantly against the sudden and inexplicable urge to smile. "Don't flatter yourself."
"I wasn't flattering anybody." Her eyes slip closed, but not before she shoots him a sly look beneath messy eyelashes. "And you know you think I'm funny."
"Sure, but not on purpose." Her elbow makes a beeline for his solar plexus again and then he does laugh despite himself. "Hey, behave yourself."
"Behave your face," she says, and he laughs again.
One thing he remembers about his youth – Aimee used to leave him notes all the time, little post-its or torn up notebook paper stuck to the fridge with brightly colored, dollar store magnets. She used to stick them in other places too – in his sock drawer, tucked into his shirt pocket, on the dashboard of his truck. They never said much of anything, they were just small comments, useless and romantic – and maybe that was the point, but all he can recall now is how much they irritated him. As if she was trying to force herself into every area of his life, like she was trying to ensure her place in his thoughts every minute of the day, even (or especially) the times when she wasn't physically present.
He supposes that it's the sort of thing a normal person would miss, or regret, or something like that. He doesn't. He wonders if that says something important about him. (Probably.)
Parker doesn't leave him notes. She leaves him trinkets. A novelty dagger on his desk, a broken, antique watch in his drawer, a lighter with an etching of a wolf carved onto the side on his dashboard. It's not irritating, but it's not…well, he doesn't know what it is. He supposes half the stuff she leaves lying around is stolen; she's like a bird in the way she obsessively lifts odds and ends from her surroundings, tucking them away into her pockets unobtrusively. He noticed her doing it from the first time he'd met her, and in the beginning he'd figured that her little gifts were random thoughtlessness, maybe, or some weird quirk of generosity she extended to everyone on the team. But no, it's just him. Just every once in awhile, just little things. Just.
Irritating definitely isn't the word to describe it, he figures. It's not the word to describe her, either. The word he wants is a bit like irritating, only not, and lurks just beyond the reach of his consciousness, licking at the edges of his mind, never quite connecting. A bit, just, like she does.
Eliot's never been to Niagara Falls before, he never really had a reason to, and it's not like he gets paid vacation or anything. Or that he'd go on vacation if he did. Nevertheless, he's not impressed. (Then again, as Parker helpfully points out, it takes a whole hell of a lot to impress him. Which, he concedes, is mostly true.)
The waterfall itself is intimidating, he guesses, but mostly for the unexpected sound of it, a dull roaring that invades his senses. After a while though, he grows accustomed to its presence and it fades into the background, tolerable static, a soundtrack to his movements and interaction. Kinda like whenever Hardison talks.
They check into their hotel and are shown to the honeymoon suite. It's not much, either; the nicer accommodations are all on the other side of town, too far away from where they need to be. But they've both had worse. Eliot sometimes wonders that if, as filthy rich as she is, Parker will ever realize the options available to her. She never seems to notice a difference between five star hotels and Super Eights.
Here, she seems all too happy just to have running hot water, at any rate. The train ride had been long, and she practically skips into the bathroom, forgetting to close the door as she wrenches the shower on and sheds her clothes. Eliot huffs and shuts the door with his heel, wondering if she's taunting him. Maybe, maybe not. He can never tell.
The con – if you could really call it that – they're trying to pull is a long shot, so he's already feeling uncooperative, and now he can hear her singing off-key through the thin door and the lady at the front desk hadn't stopped cooing at them the entire time she'd checked them in, so Eliot collapses into an overstuffed armchair and surrenders to his bad mood. In his opinion, what they're doing is a waste of time and money, but nobody really wants his opinion on things that don't pertain to guns or hitting people, he's discovered.
The client, another friend of Sophie's, had been honeymooning at a hotel in the same general area in Niagara Falls when her husband had been kidnapped. Or rather – she claimed he'd been kidnapped.
It was a…peculiar story, to say the least. The newly-dubbed and distraught Mrs. Owen Gellar had insisted firmly and tearfully that her husband had been taken away in the middle of the night, on their third day there.
"We went to bed and everything was normal, and then I woke up in the middle of the night and there were these two men, practically dragging him through the door," she'd explained. "I was so scared, I pretended to still be asleep. Then I didn't see him for another two days."
"Did you see their faces?" Nate had pressed. "Or did they contact you for a ransom?"
"No, nothing. I went to the police, but they said he had to be missing for 48 hours before I could file a report…and then right before that passed, I found Owen in our hotel room, passed out on the floor." She'd taken a moment to collect herself, voice warbling violently. "I took him to the hospital and they told me that he…that he had overdosed on h-heroin. But it's ridiculous, Owen has never done drugs in his life – he doesn't even smoke!"
She'd gone on to explain that when she'd attempted to pay the hotel bill with his credit card, she'd been informed that it'd been maxed out. Their checking and savings accounts had also been wiped clean.
"My mother had to wire me money to pay for the room and for a plane ticket back home," she'd said. "We're completely broke. Owen's brother is paying for a rehab program for him, but he was fired from his job…" she'd sniffled, shaking her head ruefully. "He's a pediatrician. He depends on his reputation. There's no one in the world who would hire him now, and we don't have any money to open up a practice."
It's ambiguous, which Eliot isn't very comfortable with. On one hand, narcotics like heroin are perfect when you want to keep someone out of it enough and cover your tracks at the same time, since the blame will most likely be placed on the victim in the aftermath. If it is someone's master plan, it's certainly a smart one, especially by targeting the husbands and not the wives, and by being careful enough to return the victims just before the deadline for filing missing person reports. On the other hand, though, Eliot isn't exactly confident in Mrs. Gellar's adamant insistence that Owen just "wasn't the druggie type."
But Nate had been convinced of the veracity of her story in the end. Hardison had worked his magic and had come up with ten other similar cases reported in the last year, in various vacationing spots around the country. All the couples had been on their honeymoons or vacations when the husbands had disappeared for just under two days, only to resurface with their bank accounts wiped clean and a serious drug habit. The incidents were also grouped together in such a way to suggest that whoever was doing it – if it truly was a conspiracy and not Hardison being overly paranoid – would target three couples in a certain area a month or so apart before moving on.
Which means, if Eliot and Parker can convince the mystery kidnappers to make them their next target, they could possibly figure out who they are and how to take them down. It also means that if they can't, then whoever it is would be moving on to another area, and the chances of finding them would be slim to none.
All of it adds up to a blind, deaf shot in the dark. Eliot had been chosen as the one to play the husband target for obvious reasons, and Parker to be his "wife" so she could tail his captors if they showed up. Their plan is significantly flawed due to the fact that they have no idea who it is, since none of the wives in the reports Hardison'd found had seen anything out of the ordinary, and Mrs. Gellar had only caught the barest glimpse of the two men. Which again, tells them nothing substantial – it's unlikely that there are only two people involved, and furthermore the two that had been seen could've been hired guns as a further precaution. The only thing they have to go on is a list of places and things that the Gellars had done on their trip prior to his disappearance, and the numerous tricks in Parker and Eliot's arsenal to portray themselves as easy targets.
Eliot usually prides himself on doing very well with long shots. Usually.
Parker ends up staying in the shower for nearly an hour before exploding from the bathroom clad in a damp towel, jumping over his feet gracefully in her frantic beeline towards the television.
"Jesus, what?" He's not surprised, he's just irritated.
Fiddling with the remote, Parker arranges herself on the bed, cross-legged and dripping wet. "Jeopardy's on," she says and he notices that her shoulders are still wet, sparkling in the light. "Duh."
Their first day as newlyweds doesn't go well.
They go out to breakfast at a buffet-style place and Parker eats so many pancakes that the waitress charges them for an extra meal. She then tricks him into letting her drive and ends up in a fender bender with a hotheaded former football player who keeps them in the parking lot for an hour and a half while he calls every lawyer in the tri-state area, yelling at the top of his lungs into his Blackberry. Then to top the morning off, they go mini-golfing and Eliot is so very annoyed with his existence at that point that he stops trying around hole four, and they spend the next hour bickering about sportsmanship and smoking cigarettes in family-oriented establishments. They get kicked out after she throws her club at him.
"You know you guys are supposed to be married, right?" Hardison grouses in their ears. "And not like, fucked up married, like happy Sandra Bullock movie married. The self-loathing and hating each others guts doesn't come till later."
"Who's Sandra Bullock?" Parker asks.
"It doesn't matter," Sophie says quickly, before anyone can comment. "Parker, Eliot, you're newlyweds. You're in love. Stop fighting."
"People in love fight," Eliot replies, just to be contrary. Also to stop Sophie from a possible speech on functional romantic relationships.
"Not on their honeymoon, they don't!" Sophie sounds on edge, teetering on the brink of losing her middle-of-a-con confidence.
Nate cuts in, cool as always. "Just get along. Do whatever you have to. Pretend you're with people you like."
Parker frowns. "I like Eliot," she says bewilderedly. "I let him win at mini-golf, didn't I?"
"For God's sake," is the Sophie-flavored muttered reply.
"How about whenever you feel the urge to kill each other, you just make out instead?" Hardison offers helpfully. "That always worked with Spike and Buffy."
"Spike and Buffy?" Parker repeats, looking rather lost. "Are they friends with Sandra Bullock?"
Eliot sighs a sigh of the aggrieved and practically pushes her into the car. "Just shut up, we have to go to the fucking magic show."
By the time they finally get back to their hotel room, Parker is on her fourth Big Gulp or so, and is so hyped up on caffeine she's practically shaking, bouncing around the room and alternately pleading Eliot for either the mini-bar key or to let her out to go steal something. It's either give in to one or knock her unconscious, and even though Eliot knows at least seven ways to do that without causing permanent injury, he does have to sleep in the same bed with her, and he's a man who thinks ahead.
He decides on option C and pushes the furniture out of the way, pulling her out onto the empty floor to make a valiant attempt to teach her tai chi.
"What's this one called again?" she asks, arranging her hand in what vaguely looks like an inverted peace sign.
"That's called disturbing," he says, and corrects her form. "Keep your neck stiff and relax your waist. And your shoulders." She does so, a look of intent concentration on her face. "Keep your mouth closed, but your jaw open, like you do when you're not thinking about it, your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Don't clench your hands."
She frowns, darting a look at him from the corner of her eye. "They have mouth and tongue rules, too?"
"They have rules for everything." He adjusts her hips, moves her right leg slightly and slaps her shin. "Your legs should be solid; keep your weight on your right foot. Your middle should be flexible, and your upper body should be light."
Parker sighs and rolls her neck around on her shoulders before moving back into the frozen position. "I don't know what any of that is supposed to mean."
"It's all about balance," he says. "Heavy and light, full and empty. When your muscles are tense, they're full, when they're not, they're empty. It's about controlling which parts of your body are full and empty at the right times."
"And this helps you fight?" she murmurs, moving her arms to mimic his, breathing slow and deep.
"Intent," he replies, following the curve of her forearms with his eyes, "not force. It's half the battle."
He can visibly see her relaxing, the rabid energy she'd exuded during the day draining out bit by bit. The attentiveness on her face is almost breathtaking in its earnestness, and fuck, he's in trouble. "Keep talking."
"It's internal," he continues, moving her arms easily into another position. In the back of his mind he's wincing because he's really not doing this right, just moving her around like a mannequin really, and somewhere in Beijing an old man is cussing him out. "It's about coordination. Soft ways to make the body soft. Control and discipline." He's thinking of China, of pan fried noodles and spice and clothes that never really fit, and moves her again, rotating her hips and pushing her shoulders back with wide sweeps of his hands. "The idea is not to use violent force to fend off an attack but to use soft resistance. You follow the motion of a strike through, redirecting it until it's exhausted, preventing injury to either side. Yin and yang."
"That sounds boring," she says.
"Surprisingly," he counters, "fighting is very boring."
"Well yeah, if all it's about is this mushy soft resistance stuff." She drops her arms and turns halfway, almost facing him. "And you know, I've seen you fight plenty of times and nothing about it seemed soft to me."
"Maybe you weren't paying close enough attention," he responds.
"Or maybe," she says, "you're just not doing it right."
"Hmm." He raises an eyebrow and kicks at her leg, moving her back into position. "Doubtful."
"Pfft – "
"Five elements," he cuts in abruptly. "Fire, water, metal, earth, wood." With each word he moves another limb, moving her through the forms carelessly. "Earth is nourished by fire, metal created by earth. Metal dissolves to feed water, water nourishes wood, wood feeds fire."
"Right," she bites out, distracted. "Water, wood, fire. Yeah."
"There's more." He slides his hands up to her shoulders, tilts his head back, tries to remember. "Uh – fire tempers metal. Water quenches fire, metal cuts wood. Wood restrains earth…earth holds back water."
"What does it mean?"
"It means that everything in the world," he pauses, adjusts her neck, "is tempered and fed by something else. For every check there's a balance, and none of them can survive without the others."
She's quiet for a moment, breathing deeply, concentrating on tensing her muscles. "Like rock, paper, scissors," she says finally.
Eliot stops. "What?"
"Like rock, paper, scissors," she says. "You know, rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, paper beats rock. Whichever one you choose, there's always one that you can beat, and one that can beat you."
"That's…" he trails off, feeling an urge to laugh, or maybe that's just a migraine. "…kind of brilliant."
"Yeah," she says nonchalantly. She turns around suddenly, breasts pressed against his chest and hips aligned just right. Leaning in, her mouth quirks upward in a smile that goes straight to his gut. "Thanks for the lesson," she murmurs, caving in her shoulders so that they brush the sides of his arms. Then as quickly as she was there, she's gone, galloping back toward the bed. "So which side do you want?"
Eliot takes a deep breath and thinks, balance. Balance, motherfucker. "Uh, left?"
He'd learned tai chi in China, but he'd learned Chinese in Germany. That was after his two-year vacation in Rikers, but before the time he'd played torture puppet to some pissed off terrorists in Iran, and somewhere in-between the third and forth times he'd been almost-maybe-but-not-quite caught by one Nathan Ford.
The point is, he can curse in Chinese quite fluently; he usually does it often in the middle of a fight. The words are short, blunt and incredibly convenient to push out between rushed huffs of breath, and Hardison doesn't ever understand what he's saying, so that's another a definite plus.
Parker speaks Chinese, not very well, but he still very nearly got beaten up by a Scandinavian counterfeiter one time when she casually asked him if he kissed his mother with that mouth in heavily accented Mandarin.
(The thing is: it wasn't American-accented, but English-accented. And she also speaks French, but with a Spanish accent, and what the hell is up with that, he wants to know.)
She still can't drive a stick shift, though. And it's not cute, it's just…annoying. (Really.)
In an effort to not experience a repeat of yesterday, they've decided to abandon the ear pieces today. Nate will bitch later, but Eliot's frayed endurance just does not have the fortitude for multiple voices in his head.
They leave late in the morning and spend a while walking around, acting overly happy. Parker's in an inordinately happy mood anyway, practically skipping down the sidewalk, ponytail bobbing behind her in a burst of blonde. She even jumps on his back at one point, laughing uproariously when he dumps her on the sidewalk unceremoniously.
They stop to eat lunch at one of the restaurants on the Gellars' list, and she makes an effort to flirt with him in front of the waitress, giggling loudly in a way that he's pretty sure Sophie taught her. She doodles on the napkin as they wait for their food, drawing little symbols with the waitress's red pen. It takes him five minutes to realize that she's drawing Lucky Charms marshmallows.
A thought strikes him at one point halfway through the meal, and he voices it before be can think of a reason not to. "What's your real name, anyway?"
Parker spears a green bean off his plate and pops it in her mouth, chewing thoughtfully. "Why do you want to know?" she finally asks.
"Shouldn't a man know certain things about his fake wife?" He watches as she starts to methodically pick the croutons out of her salad, piling them in little stacks on the tablecloth beside the plate. "Her first name is usually one of the very first requirements."
"Why don't you guess?" she challenges. "If you get it right I might tell you."
"You wouldn't want me to make it easy on you, would you?" She raises an eyebrow and he sighs, not wanting to admit she's right.
"Rebecca." She snorts into her iced tea. "Lisa? Joanne? Melissa? Cassie?"
"Are you like, naming off all your ex-girlfriends or something?"
Eliot clears his throat. "…no."
"I might give you a hint." She grins easily. "If you give me some incentive."
"Like what, exactly?" He watches the wind play with the ends of her hair, the wispy flaps of her blouse flying up to caress her neck. "If it involves theft, I'm not doing it."
She pouts a little. "Well, fine. Then teach me the shang thing."
"Fine." He spears a carrot and gestures with it pointedly. "Hint first."
"Okay." She takes a huge bite of salad and around romaine lettuce says, "Poets."
"Poets?" She nods. "That's my hint? Poets?"
"You were named after a poet, or you were named after a poem?"
"Po – et," she enunciates. "A poet. I dunno if I was named after one or if it's just a coincidence, though."
"All right," he says. "Emily?" She shakes her head. "Uh…Edna?" She laughs. "Yeah, I don't know any more poets."
She shrugs. "Not my problem."
He shakes his head and leans back in his chair. "Are you fucking with me?"
"Fucking with you? Me?" She sets down her fork, oddly serious. "No. Do you want me to?"
He frowns, unsure of himself and not very happy about it. "I'll get back to you on that one."