Disclaimer: Not mine, and so on. (Also, a blink-quick borrow from Star Trek TNG, 3.05 The Bonding. Hardison, people.)
Notes: Yay! Last one! As with the rest, I hope this works well enough on its own, especially if you're forewarned that it's about the aftermath of Parker's death in the relationships of the team. It's set after Sophie leaves, before Tara is part of the team. This one basically wraps it up, and is probably the most hopeful. If anyone's wondering where they all go from here, I'm pretty sure Eliot buys a ranch and some horses and calls his first filly Parker. That's if they retire. I don't know, I'm not going to write it. Also, hooray for Parker not hanging around dead in my head any more!
edit: I couldn't think of the appropriate Americanism for "fed up", so I used that, until an American friend suggested "sick and tired". It's not perfect, but "fed up" was bugging me, so I changed it. Not that it matters, but there you go.
Concrit: Always welcome.
Small, slim, compact, sexy. Crazy powerful, when you thought about it. Far more than most people ever understood.
Hardison worked his thumb absently over the grooves of the flash drive, staring at the envelope it came from. His teeth creaked with the force of his jaw muscles working.
Her handwriting. His name.
Just what the hell was he supposed to do with that?
It had just been sitting there, in her drawer, for who knew how long. He hadn't gone near her stuff, not since that afternoon when he'd listened over coms to paramedics telling Nate like a stab in the heart that there was nothing they could do.
Nobody else had sorted through her belongings, either. Well, there'd been the total, unremitting destruction of the man whose muscle had gunned her down to plan and execute, and before that, the funeral, and before that, finding Sophie to bring back ... no one had wanted to clear out what she'd left behind. It had been easy to be too busy. And, now, it was too easy to be apart.
Which was why he was standing here, alone in Nate's apartment with the only real remnants of Parker on the whole earth. Shot. Killed. It wouldn't seem to stop ringing in his ears, no matter what he did. She was gone. Forever. And he was stuck in this excruciating numb aftermath. Alone.
He'd thought revenge would ... would help. Would change something, make him who he was again. Hell, that's what they did, wasn't it? Make people whole through revenge. Hadn't it worked for Nate, when they'd taken Blackpoole down? Had it worked? Had they ever really helped anyone?
He shook his head, bursting with questions too large to contain. He'd never conceived of this agony of shattered worlds; only now did he get Nate's ongoing helpless implosion of the last few years. If we felt any loss as keenly we felt the death of one close to us, human history would be a lot less bloody...
He looked around bleakly. Nate and Sophie were out somewhere. Talking, maybe. Maybe not. He couldn't tell what was going on with them at this point. There had been times in the last few weeks he'd wanted to scream at them. Screw people being like locks, and taking time and waiting for the click; he'd waited for that freaking click, and now Parker was dead. He didn't want no damn click with anyone else, and now he'd never have it. Never have her, never hold that beautiful shiny bundle of crazy and amazing in his arms for real.
His fists squeezed, angry and aching, and the crumpling of paper reminded him of what he was holding. He looked down at it again, somehow surprised to still be here, now, holding this. He took the envelope and carefully smoothed it, staring at the scrawl.
She'd stored something on a drive. And then put it in an envelope. And then written his name on it. And then stuck it in the back of a drawer that no one but her would open.
This was Parker. There could be anything on this.
When had she done it? And why?
There was literally only one way to find out.
Abruptly, without really letting himself think about it, he sank onto the too-empty couch and jammed the drive into his laptop. After a second, the window popped up.
A single video file.
Labelled "FOR HARDISON".
His heart was a superball in his chest, pumping adrenaline until his joints tingled. Slowly, hardly remembering how to breathe, he selected and opened it.
The camera caught a moment of her frowning down in concentration, and he felt his breath catch and his heart break. Then she looked up and her perfect face filled his universe, scowling at the camera. "If you're anyone but Hardison, and I'm not dead, I'll spike you in the eyeball."
He sat frozen. Hysterical laughter seemed the only option, but he didn't have the heart for it. She tied him in knots, always had, without ever even trying.
She eyeballed the camera furiously for another second, then flashed a grin full of mischief. She leaned in closer, whispering conspiratorially, "Hardison, if you're watching this, I'm already dead." She gave him a look of elfin delight, and laughed.
He felt his chest squeeze in on itself. This was not cool. And not funny.
"Always wanted to say that," she continued brightly, relaxing back, and the angle revealed that she was lounging on the desk. She brought one knee up and looped her arms around it, shrugging carelessly. "Although I guess you already know, if you're watching this. So, really, it's like me haunting you, for real." Her giggle was the most beautiful and most devastating thing he'd ever heard. "Maybe not as well as Sophie, but since she wasn't really dead, she had an advantage."
She wiggled her fingers in a way that was impossibly cute and not at all spooky, making "woo-oo" sounds, and laughed again. Then, in dreamy tone, she said, "I wonder how it happened ..." and, yes, thank you, he was now officially creeped out.
"Did I guess right? We were talking about it this afternoon. I wonder if you'll remember, whenever you are, but you and me were talking about how we'd all eventually die... Well, Eliot mostly. But us too."
And the mention of that name practically vaulted Hardison off the couch, unable to stay still. He was the one who ought to be dead, who let her be shot and held her while she died. The day they wrapped up their revenge, he'd lit out and off their collective radars, and if he stayed that way it was just fine.
He paced fitfully until her next words recalled his attention to the screen.
"So, I was thinking about it, you know?" She tilted her head. "Being dead. I mean, I'm dead, for you now, aren't I?" She looked down at her hands and arms curiously. "I'm really ... dead." She seemed to get caught in that notion, flexing her fingers slowly.
He stood arrested by the absorbtion on her face as she contemplated that. This was very possibly torture, but if it was all he could have of her, he'd take it.
She was squinting through outspread fingers, held at arm's length, when she caught sight of the camera through them and visibly recalled her original purpose. "Anyway. I was thinking about it. See, if I'm dead, then I'm ... gone. There's nothing left of me. Nothing ... real." She trailed off with a forlorn little-girl look that tangled up like barbed wire in his guts.
She cleared her throat softly and regathered herself. "There's my money, I guess. And the rigs." She paused and shook her head, then said firmly, "But that's not who I am. And then I thought about you guys."
She looked up, uncertainty and hope captured in a shy smile that was without precedent in his memory of Parker expressions. "We're more than a team. Aren't we? I think ... I think we're what family should be like."
Her smile turned wry, flickering with something of her usual brazen exterior. "I don't know, I don't get families. But I do know that ... it's like you're all a part of me now. If I lost any of you, it would feel like part of me was missing. So I think ... I'm a part of you guys, too. Which means you're all that's left of me. The parts of me that are parts of you."
He sank slowly back onto the couch, blinking tears back furiously. He needed to be able to see her face.
She frowned, pulling her sleeves over her hands and playing with them absently as she thought through this. "But ... we don't lose very well. When we lose something ... we all get angry and sick of each other, and ... I'm afraid."
Her voice was trembling a little.
Blinking didn't help anymore.
"I'm afraid the team will fall apart, and then everyone will lose everyone. And if that happens ... then all that's left of me will be in pieces."
She cleared her throat again, running her hand in its sleeve quickly across her eyes and nose. "I don't mind dying, Hardison. Not that much. But I don't want to be broken up in pieces. Please don't let that happen. Don't let me..." She took a deep breath, and the look of faith she gave him branded him clear to his bones. "Keep the team together, for me, Hardison. Keep me together."
He tried to say something, like "okay," but it came out as a gurgle. His head dropped and his hand blindly found the screen, pressing desperately against her image.
After a long moment, he looked up, startled, when she suddenly said, "Oh! One more thing."
Her mercurial pixie smile was back, undimmed. "There's someone you have to look after for me. His name is Bunny..."