Title: With Friends Like These
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Summary: Eureka, Leverage. Parker tilted her head a little, her plain blonde ponytail slipping over her shoulder as she studied Jack's face with narrowed eyes. 3000 words.
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Spoilers: Eureka vaguely Season 4; Leverage through 3.08 "The Boost Job".
Notes: For faithburke, for the xover_exchange. For the prompt, "Eureka/Leverage, Jack Carter & Parker".
Jack Carter signed the last dotted line in the pile of paperwork on his desk, then shoved the whole mess away from him and rubbed callused palms over his face. It had been a couple of days since the first signs of a breach in Eureka's fancy EM shield had lit up the alarms at Global Dynamics, and the cascade of errors and malfunctions in G.D.'s computers had continued, at random intervals, until early that morning. Between the kicked-anthill behavior of G.D.'s staff in response to the intrusion, and a spate of theft reports suddenly cropping up in town, he hadn't had any sleep in more than thirty-six hours.
No one was quite sure how the offending hacker had found a back door into Eureka's proprietary systems in the first place, but some quick work by the I.T. crew had managed to patch it closed again at last. The problem was, several secure files had been deleted in the meantime, from both the main servers and the backups- and they only knew about it because someone had thought to walk down to Records and pull the latest logs from the standalone computer that tracked the last-ditch dead-tree backups. The lists didn't match- and the missing documents had not only been erased from the servers, the related file boxes were also missing from the shelves in Section 3.
Someone had not only invaded Eureka electronically, but physically as well, and left no trace behind that Jack- or Jo, with all the resources of G.D.'s security office behind her- could uncover. Which was, of course, a clue in itself; one that left a sour taste on the back of Jack's tongue.
Clue two: the reason they hadn't known about the thefts until someone had done a physical check, was that none of the files were currently in active use; they had all been mothballed sometime in the last few months, put on standby until G.D.'s reduced crop of busy scientists had time to look at them. Clue three: all of the projects involved had previously been headed up by scientists no longer on G.D.'s payroll. Clue four: each of those scientists had been redacted under Eva Thorne's tenure.
Clue five- and this one was the real kicker: as far as Jack could tell, the things that had gone missing out in town? Each and every one had been the property of, or experimental equipment produced by, one of those very same redacted scientists. The specific records were of course missing with the rest of the files, but the five or six folks who'd called him had all remembered, when pressed, receiving the missing items from redistribution of proprietary gear left behind by former colleagues.
One scientist's work, he could have put down to someone's sneaky idea of revenge. Jack could even understand, if it hadn't made his professional life as Eureka's Sheriff so much more difficult; he hadn't approved of Ms. Thorne's approach to slimming down G.D.'s budget either, even if she had turned out to be a victim of one of the town's scientific mishaps herself. On this scale, though? It spoke of a team of outside professionals, a problem Eureka usually managed to avoid.
Jack had chased a lot of criminals in his years with the U.S. Marshals' Fugitive Retrieval Task Force, and the truly competent thief was a rarer creature than most TV shows suggested. They operated in a relatively small world, albeit one that saw a rather more violent, and frequent, turnover rate than most professions. He was pretty sure that if he picked up his phone and made a couple of calls, he could have a list of potential suspects who could have pulled the thefts off on his desk inside of a few hours. The problem was, he had no proof to work from. Not even so much as a fingerprint. And- well. Considering that he personally knew at least one of the likeliest thieves, he wasn't sure he actually wanted confirmation.
He heard the outer door of the Sheriff's office open and close, and sighed into his palms before sitting up straight in his chair again. He blinked, then opened his jaw wide to stretch his facial muscles, and picked up the glass on the corner of his desk for a quick sip of water. None of that would actually make him feel much more rested, but it would at least make him look more alert to whoever came in.
"Sheriff Carter? Visitor for you," Deputy Andy announced, preceding whoever it was into the main room. The android was smiling, as always, but there was a faint puzzled note in his unnaturally friendly voice.
"That's all right, I can announce myself," another, equally cheerful voice announced- and Jack felt his stomach sink right down to the floor. Outside professional. Had he called it or what?
"Good evening, Ms...?" he said, putting on a worn smile for the young blonde woman who followed Andy into the station.
"Hey, Jack," she replied, grinning back as she made her way over to his desk. "You know who I am, silly!"
Her path took her by several cabinets, Andy's desk, and the coat rack, and he made a mental note to check for anything missing after she left. He never saw her light-fingered little hands reach into anything; but then, he never did, and she lifted things like she breathed. She'd probably return most of it- she usually did- but she didn't always remember what she'd took.
He tapped a thumb against his badge as a reminder that she was speaking to him in his official position today. "I'm sorry, I don't remember seeing your paperwork cross my desk," he said blandly, "and I learn every newcomer's name in Eureka sooner or later. Ms. Jones? Or Smith? Maybe White?"
She snorted at the last one: of course, she'd given him her most-frequently used cover name herself, and knew as well as he did that he hadn't seen any Alice White's on G.D.'s new hire list. She took it in good humor though, settling one hip on the edge of his desk and idly straightening the disarrayed stack of papers he'd nudged aside earlier.
"It's Special Agent Hagen today," she said brightly, "if anyone asks. I won't tell you who I was yesterday, though, or the day before; I don't want you to get in trouble."
"You're in my town. I'm already in trouble," he chided her. "I'm impressed, though; your credentials are getting better."
"Well, I am working with the best," she said airily, then wagged a finger at him. "And don't ask who. You know I won't tell."
"This the same someone you were working with the last time I ran into you?" he asked, curious now. He hadn't left Eureka much since he'd been posted to the town, but on one of his last visits to L.A. the year before he'd run into her in a bar he'd frequented off and on since he was old enough to drink. It hadn't been an accidental meeting; she'd been happier than he'd seen in her in a very long time, more open, more apt to say "we" than he ever remembered hearing from her before. Eager to let him know that he could stop worrying about her now, because she wasn't working alone any more.
"One of them," she replied. "There's five of us in all. Sometimes four. But usually five."
"Uh-huh. And if I checked the records yesterday, would I find five names I didn't recognize on the access list for..." He trailed off, then lifted the top sheet of paper from the stack he'd been working on earlier and turned it to show her. "Section 3, two labs in Section 4, and half a dozen off-site Global Dynamics locations?"
Parker glanced casually at the list, and hmm'ed to herself. "Missed a couple," she shrugged.
"Parker..." He set the list back down with a sigh, then massaged his forehead. "I thought you said you were working with good guys now."
"I am," she replied, pouting a little in his direction. "And I thought you were, too."
"I... what?" Jack blinked at her, then thought over his earlier list of clues again, and groaned. No wonder she was in town; and no wonder she was confronting him directly, badge or no badge. Even after nearly twenty years of off-and-on acquaintance, she still had issues with trust, and probably always would. "Don't tell me. The guys Thorne redacted...?"
"She ruined their careers, stole all their projects, and made them leave town without even giving them their two weeks' notice," Parker said, reciting the words as if reading off a cue card while she watched him with intent blue eyes. "We can't give them their jobs back, but..."
"You could give them their projects back." He winced. He understood the impulse, he really did, but there were reasons for the D.O.D.'s policy on scientific discoveries in Eureka. "Parker, you know most of that material is classified; that's why Global Dynamics keeps the files."
"It's theirs," she insisted. "Some of them worked here for years, and they can't even put the projects they spent all that time on on their resumes. How are they supposed to get new jobs with nothing to show for it?"
"I'm not saying she wasn't wrong to fire them like that," Jack said, holding his hands up placatingly. How to put this to her in a way that wouldn't immediately drive her back out of his office? "I should know, I had to deliver the news to more than half of them. But Parker, if you had any idea how many people have died due to some malfunctioning project or other just since I've come to town- If you give those scientists all the equipment that's disappeared in the last few days, people are going to get injured. The files, okay; the D.O.D. will have a fit, but if all that disappears is the files at least it'll be obvious when they start to work on them again, and the government can track them down or at least make sure they take proper precautions. But if they just take up where they left off in their basements or some academic laboratory somewhere..."
Parker tilted her head a little, her plain blonde ponytail slipping over her shoulder as she studied his face with narrowed eyes. "You really mean that," she said, consideringly. "You're not worried about the stuff; you're worried about people getting hurt."
He raised his eyebrows. "You don't need to sound so surprised," he told her.
She snorted at that, smirking at him again, but her eyes were clearer and less troubled. "Well, you have spent most of your career chasing people, not things. This is the first time you've had a place since you finished your degree and transferred to the Marshals when I was working with Archie. So maybe I was a little worried that things had changed."
Archie. No last name, never a last name, though Jack had long since figured out who the guy had to be. He wasn't sure whether he wanted to strangle the master thief for taking advantage of a lonely, homeless teen barely out of juvie, or thank him for giving her a purpose in life. Jack had still been a rookie cop, newly married, his wife pregnant with Zoe when he'd helped bust up a violent robbery only to find a twelve-year-old girl behind the wheel of a car, abandoned by the rest of her crew.
She'd tugged at his heartstrings then, looking out at him from flat, shuttered eyes that had seen too much betrayal to respect society's rules; she still did, now, as awkward as ever but at least happy and successful. He tried to treat her like something of a mix between Zoe and Lexi on the rare occasions she looked him up, and tried to encourage her toward more productive pursuits, but never outright tried to stop her: he knew he'd never hear from her again if he did. He'd spent his life in law enforcement to make a difference, not to be everyone else's moral authority, however it might come off to the ego-mad crew up at Global Dynamics. And he thought he had made a little bit of difference, for Parker. She'd at least stopped floating around the edges of violent felonies, confining herself to property crime instead. And since she'd taken up with this latest group, she'd even mostly stopped that. He hadn't seen her description go out over the wires since he'd come to Eureka.
"No, Parker," he said, patiently. "I'm still the same Jack Carter as ever."
"Good." She nodded, sharply. "So why do you still work here if people do die in malfunctioning projects all the time, and people get laid off for no good reason, and your car keeps getting blown up?"
Jack glanced involuntarily toward the front window and a glimpse of the license plate that had made the transition from jeep to jeep to identical jeep several times since his arrival in town, then gave Parker a solemn look, knitting his fingers together where he rested them on the desk. "Because they save lives, too. They discover amazing things that will change the world eventually- just ask your hacker friend, whoever it was that got into our systems. The people here are smart, and motivated, and a little too in love with their science to always remember proper protection, but they are capable of incredible things when they work together, and they have the funding and the facilities to mostly keep the experiments contained and away from the general public while they're in the dangerous stages."
She nodded thoughtfully at that, then crossed her arms, tipping her chin up at him. "Plus, there's a woman, isn't there?" she observed.
"All right, all right. Plus, there's a woman," he admitted, ruefully. And how she knew that, he didn't want to know.
"So how's Zoe?" she asked brightly, switching the subject.
Felonious blonde girls both: he'd been tempted to introduce them a few times, but common sense had always won out. They'd each heard stories, though. He could never resist talking about his girls.
"Doing good. She's at Harvard now, early admission," Jack said. Then he swallowed, thinking about a few of the vaguely outlined stories Parker had told him in that bar in L.A. "So, are you planning to take down Global Dynamics, or are you here fishing for clues on where Eva Thorne went? Because if it's the former, I have a lot of friends up there, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to try to stop you."
"I know," she said. "I didn't think you'd really work here if they were all bad. Can you tell me where she went, though? Because that would be super. We haven't found her yet."
Jack shook his head. "No, she didn't say. She didn't even say what name she'd be using. She was here for the same reason you are, you know; she wanted justice for something that happened in this town."
"Then she should have come to us instead of causing all these problems," Parker replied, matter-of-factly. Then she blew out a breath. "Okay, I'll tell N- um, the boss that we'd better dump the equipment. Our hacker wasn't happy with some of it any way, he said it if it did what he thought it did it was way dangerous stuff, so... we'll make it look like the truck broke down, you can find it tomorrow."
"What... really?" Jack pushed back his chair and stood slowly, putting one hand to his back as he stretched out the kinks. "They'd agree to that? What have you told these guys about me, anyway?"
She gave him a lopsided grin. "Oh, not much. Just that you were the only person who visited me the whole time I was in juvie, and tried to give me the go-straight speech several times. That you were always nice to me, even after you recognized me fleeing the museum that one time when I was eighteen. And that you're the only person I still talk to from before Archie."
"That much, huh?" he said, touched at the warm- for Parker- description. Then he choked in surprise as she suddenly bounced around the desk and gave him an awkward hug. That was new; Parker wasn't a very touchy-feely person.
"Thank you," she said, almost under her breath. Then- "And, sorry! I can't let you follow me, and Hardison's hack on your deputy won't hold much longer."
"What?" Jack objected, alarmed, and started trying to pull away from her.
Then something pressed into his back, a flash of electricity lit up his spine, and the next thing he knew he was twitching on the floor.
"Damn it, Parker," he murmured, wearily, after he'd finally got control of his body back again. He climbed painfully to his feet, then eyed the corner of his desk where she'd been sitting; a law enforcement issue taser sat there innocuously, kept company by a pile of little valuables redistributed from elsewhere in the office. His badge sat atop the stack- and propped against it, a white business card bearing the legend "Leverage Consulting".
Jack sighed, then smiled at Parker's idea of an apology. It had never been boring, knowing her. But he'd never regretted the impulse to look her up again in state custody after her arrest either; so very young to already be so burdened. He'd thought about his own child, due in a few months, and wondered how some other father might treat her in the same situation, God forbid. And she'd eventually reached back, in her own unique way.
It was nice to know some relationships hadn't changed with the shifting timelines.
He slipped the business card into his wallet, then leaned against the desk and picked up the phone to call G.D.