Four

"Are you trying to say that he knows Parker?" Nate asked from where he stood opposite of Hardison, who was still feeling a bit loopy from the combination of blood-loss and painkillers. Eliot had already relayed his part of the story (a conversation with Grant, the ambush in the kitchen, finding Hardison), and now they'd moved onto the Hacker's.

"Trying?" the young man just about slurred. "No, I'm saying that this guy knows her," he replied, confirming, for the first time, Nate's suspicions that Parker's crash was more than just an accident. "Tell Parker that Grant says 'hi'," Hardison explained, repeating the smug message that the conman had given him. This not-doctor Grant had all but confessed to his participation in the crash and, in the process, had admitted that he knew Parker was alive, albeit unwell, at the local hospital. It was with an unsettling turn of his stomach that Nate realized that he'd left Sophie and Parker behind, completely unprotected. He was almost tempted to rush back to the hospital himself but (with motives that weren't entirely selfless), decided that Eliot was clearly the better option instead. Besides, he thought, as he turned to face the resident Hacker, he still had quite a few questions that needed answering. "Eliot," he said over his shoulder, hands fisted tight in the folds of his elbows.

"Yeah," said the man in question, already shrugging on the jacket in preparation to step out into the chilly autumn air, "I'm goin'."

Nate stared hard at the young man in front of him. "You should have told me about this in the first place," he hissed as he began to pace. "Do you have any idea the kind of danger Sophie and Sa…Parker could be in right now?" he growled, his slip up frustrating him all the more. Get a grip, he told himself, but the parallels were just too obvious, and he kept flashing back to that moment. It was all that he saw when he looked into Parker's room, heard those stupid machines whir and beep; his son's pale and fragile body, just barely clinging to life by the skin of his teeth, and it made Nate's chest constrict and ache every time he looked at the second-youngest member of his team and noted the similarities. *

"I know, okay?" Hardison said sharply, the conversation quite effectively rallying him back into lucidity. He was feeling bad enough about his apparent failure without Nate digging salt into the wounds. He flexed his shoulder a little, testing the bullet wound as Cora packed up her medical bag.

"While you two work this out, I'm going to grab some things for Sophie and Parker. They have overnight bags upstairs, right?" the red-head asked Nate, who offered a curt nod in reply. She didn't even wait for his confirmation before she headed for the door, eager to be as far away from this confrontation as possible.

The Mastermind opened his mouth as soon as the door shut behind the young woman, but Hardison didn't even let him get a word out. "Look, I get it, okay? I messed up. If I'd stopped Grant, if I'd just stopped her from storming out…" he cut himself off, choking up a little. The guilt he was feeling colored his face with a frown and watery eyes, and silence filled the room as Nate abruptly stopped pacing as he realized, quite suddenly, how harsh he was being with the Hacker. What had happened to Parker was in no way Hardison's fault. As much as he hated to admit it, it was the climber's resemblance to his late son that was really getting to his head.

Heaving a deep sigh, Nate ran a hand through his dark curls as he settled down in a stray chair. "This…wasn't your fault, Hardison. Any one of us could have stopped her from leaving; could have just…apologized for giving her up to Sophie." As if that in itself wasn't bad enough to begin with (and God help him if he ever even hinted at something like that in the Grifter's presence). "I'm sorry for blaming you, it's just that…"

"Yeah," Alec agreed, as if knowing what the team leader was going to say. "You're not exactly being very subtle, boss-man." The young man considered offering some poor platitudes and crappy apologies and, "I understand," except that Hardison didn't actually understand what Nate was going through; something that he was fairly thankful for. He never wanted to experience Nate's loss, especially if it meant losing Parker to Grant, who was (let's face it) bat shit crazy. He opened his mouth to say more, but the shrill ring of Nate's phone broke the silence before he could get a word out.

"It's Eliot," was all the older man said, before he answered. "What is it?" he asked, hearing the crackle of the radio in the background, a news report filtering in over the speakers in the Hitter's truck.

"Check the news," was Eliot's gruff reply, and Nate immediately hurried through the doors that led into the bar, Hardison on his heels. There weren't very many customers around, as it was nearing the morning hours, but those who still lingered grumbled and groaned when Nate reached up and changed the channel to the local news. A female news anchor was reporting, staring resolutely into the camera as she stood in front of a familiar warehouse, which was lit up orange and yellow in a blaze of beautiful flames.

Hardison shifted in surprise just behind him, oblivious to the many eyes that were drawn to the stick wound in his shoulder. He leaned forward to grip the bar for a little stability, head swimming for a whole new reason as his eyes stuck on the television screen. "That's…"

The phone glued to Nate's ear buzzed as Sophie caught onto call waiting.

"Two other fires have been reported in other parts of town, all as a result of explosions. One of the locations was a comic book shop that was, thankfully, closed down for the night. The other was a vacated loft, but several injuries were reported. Authorities aren't sure of the intent behind the explosions, as no one was killed, but they suspect that it might be the work of an arsonist or, God forbid, a terrorist…"

Nate glanced back at Hardison as the young man asked, "The loft—is that…?"

"Parker's new place? Yes," he replied, tossing the remote to the bartender, before he led his teammate towards the stairs, rather than the back room. They nearly ran into Cora on the stairs, who offered to put the bags in Nate's car, and looked decidedly relieved to see that the two criminals were no longer fighting.

"You knew." It wasn't a question. "All this time, and she didn't even tell me that she'd moved." His chest ached a little bit at the thought that his almost-girlfriend still didn't trust him enough to let him know where she lived.

"Hardison," Nate replied, and he sounded exhausted at the very idea that he was even having this conversation. "She didn't tell us, either. The only reason that we know is because we went out of our way to find out."

"We?" and, yes, that was disbelief coloring his tone. "Who else knows?"

Eliot grumbled over the phone, offering a vocal confirmation of his participation in Nate's little scheme to discover the thief's current living arrangement, and it suddenly occurred to the Mastermind that he should probably contact Sophie and calm her down; no doubt she was panicking over whatever she'd seen on the news.

"Eliot, get to the hospital, stay there until I get over there, and, uh, tell Sophie to relax," he told the Hitter, who immediately began to voice his objection.

"Wait a minute…" Nate hung up before the southerner could finish his sentence, and pushed open the door to his apartment, heading straight over to the tech equipment. He gathered the ear buds from off the electronic dashboard, and stuffed two in his pocket, before placing one in his ear, and handing the last to Hardison. "Start your toys up," he advised the Hacker, gesturing to the big screen that hung on the far wall, across from the couch. While Hardison did that, Nate headed for the door.

"Wait, whoa, Nate," Hardison said in dismay, hurriedly trailing after the other man.

"No," the Mastermind said immediately. "You need to stay here and do…what you do." When the Hacker tried to object, Nate cut him off, just as he had with Eliot. "Alec, if we're going to find out what's going on, I'm going to need you here to guide us," he said firmly.

Hardison looked angry, like he could see the logic in Nate's request, but he still wanted to argue. "Okay," he replied simply, stalking back over to the dashboard without so much as a "goodbye," while his boss headed out the door.

By the time Eliot arrived at the hospital, Sophie was basically simmering in her rage. Nate had not picked up or returned her calls, and (if she had anything to say about it) he would not be living long enough to regret his actions. When Eliot stepped through the rotating doors at the front entrance, the first words out of Sophie's mouth were, "Where is he?" and for a brief moment, the Hitter saw his life flash before his eyes. Of course, then he remembered that he had taken down people three times Sophie's size, and that there was actually very little this woman could do to hurt him (much).

"Uh, he said to relax, and, um, that he'd be by soon to talk to you," he said quickly, before effectively distracting her with a duffle bag full of her crap from the apartment. "I'm just gonna…take this stuff up to Parker's room." The actress didn't have anything to say to that. Instead, she planted herself on one of the uncomfortable lobby chairs and waited.

Eliot headed straight up to the thief's room, and he tensed at the sight that greeted him.

It took Nate another fifteen minutes to reach the hospital, and his immediate reply upon facing down a furious Sophie was, "We'll talk about this in the car."

"You are in soooo much trouble," she said stiffly, angrily, and followed him closely to the elevator, dragging her bag along.

"I know, I'm sorry," the brainiac replied, leaning back against the wall of the elevator as he let the last few days catch up with him. He reached for Sophie, tugging her into his side in a hug that she was quick to return, and he pressed his lips to her forehead. Her stiff posture relaxed into his side, sensing his need for comfort, but she didn't give him long to relax. So, when she stepped away from the circle of his arms, her expression was one that demanded answers. "I promise we'll talk soon, but first I need to get this ear bud to Eliot, so that we can keep in contact."

"Keep in contact?" the Grifter inquired. "Where, exactly, are we going?"

Nate pushed away from the wall of the elevator as the doors slid open. "We are going to go do what we do best," he replied easily, "get a little lev-" Before he could finish his sentence, a scream echoed down the hall, accompanied by an almighty crash; one that tore through the quiet atmosphere of the hospital.

When the pair rushed forward to investigate, they were met with chaos.

Note: Sooooooo, long time no see. Anyway, about the timeline... Parker spent two days in the hospital before the people there managed to track down a contact for her, the contact being Nate. The team spent two days at the hospital, one waiting to hear about the results of her surgery, and the other just waiting for her to wake up. On the night of the fourth day, Hardison and Eliot went to track down Grant, which they succeeded in doing, unfortunately. We're now in the early morning hours of the fifth day. Hardison is at the apartment above the bar, and the others are at the hospital. So, yeah, sorry about the year-long delay. I'm going to try to do better, I promise. Next chapter things are going to be a little difference; you guys are going to get a look at how things are going on the other side of the fence.

*Beth Riesgraf actually has 8 years on Aldis Hodge. She's 33, and he's 25.