I try to be generous to Tara in this story. I do. I don't want to hate her after just one episode but...but...god, why couldn't she have stuck with being the lawyer? I liked the lawyer. Her big reveal scene just made her seem full of herself.

This was just a little something I first started when there was nothing going on in class. It mutated, as such things often do.


They could really be so childish sometimes.

They were three of the most respected, infamous, and feared people in the entire world. Throughout their comparatively short lives, they'd killed and ruined hundreds of people. Two shorts years ago, the idea of being part of a team might have made them cringe in disgust or laugh with derision.

And now…

He couldn't imagine a more tightly knit trio, now. They often got together socially multiple times in any given week, and the sight of the three of them celebrating or commiserating together at the bar after every job was a sight he'd come to depend on. It was…reassuring. It was reassuring to see the continued unity and harmony among the team he'd brought together.

Hardison had once been the sort of guy to use and discard people like candy wrappers, once he'd wrung all he could out of them. Now, he depended on the team; used his prodigious technological knowledge to keep them hidden and free. Eliot had once been infamous for his practice of fighting with deadly skill for the highest bidder. Now, he turned his killing instincts towards anyone and everyone who might dare hurt the team. Parker had once blown up her foster parent's house. Now, she was feeling depressed because there was no one to sit next to her on the couch.

The changes in the three of them were startling and wonderful. Nate took comfort in the fact that he had helped make these three criminals what they were now. He'd helped make them better. They were a well-oiled machine, and they cared about one another.

And so…he supposed it was only natural that the new grifter…"Tara Cole"…would be met with a little enmity, a little mistrust. He'd worked hard enough to get the three of them socialized with one another. Unfortunately, that had resulted in the unexpected side effect of making them deeply suspicious and deeply unresponsive to anyone who might "intrude". The thought of an outsider had made them draw even closer together, a protective huddle from which any newcomers could be safely held back.

It was such a childish response that Nate couldn't stop himself from shaking his head in annoyance. It didn't…shouldn't…make a difference. The girl had only come to them as a favor to Sophie. He was confident that she would do her best for them, but Eliot, Hardison, and Parker were reacting like some stranger had stumbled into their secret clubhouse.

Even so….he had to give blame where blame was due. He had never yet seen anyone earn the flat dislike of Eliot, Hardison, and Parker all at once in less than five minutes. She had treated Parker like a child. She had proved Hardison a fool. She had unrepentantly broken Eliot's cardinal rule – "never con your team."

Of course, Nate was excused from any blame. It was an unspoken rule that it wasn't his fault that Tara was in their lives, now. Not his fault. Not Sophie's fault, either. Sophie had only been trying to arrange things so that the team would be able to get by in her absence.

Sophie. Sophie was the reason Eliot, Hardison, and Parker were so unhappy at the moment, but Sophie was also the reason why they would not directly act against Tara. Sophie was the reason why they would support Tara in the group, no matter how much they disliked her. They would work with her, communicate with her, and help her if she got in over her head. They could do their best to keep the team together until Sophie came back.

And they needed a grifter; they all acknowledged that. No one could properly "deal" with people during a job the way an experienced grifter could. Eliot got by on some sort of natural charm. Hardison got by because he was good at bluffing so hard and so fast that his victims didn't have time to think. Nate got by using a few tricks he remembered from dealing with troublesome clients back in his insurance days. And Parker…just got by. He really couldn't figure out how. But none of that would be enough, against someone used to being conned. They needed someone who knew what she was doing.

But they didn't care about her. That was the problem. They didn't care about Tara like they cared about one another and like Nate. Parker might support Tara, but she would never trust her with her life or with her gear like she had trusted Sophie. If it was a choice between saving Tara or saving Hardison and Parker, Eliot wouldn't think twice. Hardison would make sure Tara's ID badge was as good as they came, but when he was watching the cameras, he would keep his gaze on Eliot, Parker, or Nate longer than he would on Tara…and, on a dangerous case, a few seconds could be deadly.

All unconscious actions fueled by their dislike of her but not actually caused by it. If they slipped up and she got hurt, he wouldn't be able to accuse them. They wouldn't even been aware that they'd done anything wrong.

Fortunately…or possibly not…Tara didn't really seem to want to be included. She was never really around, unless it was for a job. If she happened to be at the bar at the same time as Hardison, Eliot, and Parker, she took care to get her own table and there was never any eye contact. Hardison did make her pay, when he had made express concessions for Eliot and Parker (but not Nate, because he reasoned that Nate could use all the support he could get), but any grifter worth Sophie's notice would never be strapped for cash. So, while Eliot, Hardison, and Parker went out of their way to exclude her, Tara herself went out of her way to avoid them.

Nathan sighed as he watched from his own table in the pub, sighed as he watched Eliot, Hardison, and Parker grouped at the bar and Tara smoothly chattering away with a man at her booth in the corner. At a word from him they'd snap to attention, ready to help someone in need who was lucky enough to find them. But there was no cohesion, anymore. No Sophie to connect him to Eliot, Hardison, and Parker, the link between mastermind and masterwork. No Sophie for Eliot, Hardison, and Parker to connect to. Just Tara, who angered and passively threatened the rest of his team.

Nate suddenly found that his phone was in his hand. He couldn't remember pulling it out. And he wasn't calling Sophie. No. He wasn't calling Sophie.

But maybe he could just send her a text message? A status report on how Tara was adjusting to the rest of the team? She might be anxious about her friend, after all. Maybe just a text message. She'd be under no obligation to reply to a text message. She could ignore it, if she wanted to.

"Texting" was something Nathan had never mastered with the ease with which he'd mastered other things, but he managed to send a brief, clumsy message to Sophie. Tara adjusting fine team misses you. He pressed "send", stuck the phone back in his pocket, and looked up in time to see Eliot, Parker, and Hardison exchanging glowers with Tara across the room. As he watched, Parker slipped an arm around the shoulders of each man, pulled them in closer, and whispered something. Eliot covered his mouth in an attempt not to smile. Hardison didn't even make the attempt. Smugly, three-against-one, his team turned back to their drinks. Tara, looking only slightly perturbed, returned to her flirting.

They really could be so childish sometimes.

It wasn't until much, much later that he checked his phone again, and so it wasn't until much, much later that he saw the little message at the bottom of his screen.

Message not delivered. Number could not be found.

Nathan Ford sighed, but found that he wasn't very surprised. Sophie had said that she'd wanted to be left alone, after all. It was their damn fault for coming to depend on her so much.

But he thought.

He thought about Eliot, Hardison, and Parker, and how he seemed to have become completely unable to think of them as a separate unit when they weren't on a job.

He thought about Tara, who seemed to have no desire to become a part of the team the way the three of them had with him.

He thought about the harmony that had suddenly vanished from his carefully constructed team of oftentimes childish criminal heroes, and realized with a feeling of dread that it was going to be a very long few months.