Super-long AN: Every year for my birthday, I write a collection of one-shots as a present to myself, one for each year that I've lived. Each year, I have a theme. For example, for my twentieth birthday, the theme was "Twenty Questions." For my twenty-first, it was alcohol (the drinking age where I live is twenty-one), and last year, it was bullets/guns (for .22 caliber bullets). This year, the theme is "Twenty-Three Chromosomes" (family, genes, etc). Also, the last three years have been all Supernatural, or Supernatural crossovers. This year, it will be all Leverage, or Leverage crossovers. In addition, there will be more crossovers this year than there were in previous years. I'm obsessed with crossovers. Overall, I use more than just Leverage and one other fandom, but they all include Leverage somewhere in the mix, so I'm posting this in the Leverage category. (If this is wrong, admins, please let me know before deleting it, and I will gladly put the story in whatever category you deem is correct.)

Last thing: I will be updating this daily until my birthday (you'll know it when I get to #23). (Readers of my "McDonald Boys" stories, please note that I am breaking my New Year's resolution with this fic. I hadn't up until now. [Go me!] I don't have every story written in the collection yet, even though I was supposed to have them all done before I started posting the thing. Whoooops. *guilty* But hey, it's a challenge...which I'm a little worried about this year, to tell the truth...)

Collection Summary: Birthday challenge for myself to write one story about family/genes/etc. for every birthday. Updated daily.

RE title: I know it's 23 pairs of chromosomes, but that just sounds weird. *shrugs*

Edit 9/13: I ended up with about three or four different verses, so make sure you read the story summaries. Otherwise, you'll be very confused.

Story Summary: Picking pockets on the way home comes as naturally to Parker as climbing and jumping off of tall buildings. Parker accidentally "bumps into" her birth mom.


Family Circus

One day, on the way home from the office like so many other Bostonians, Parker bumps into someone...and takes her wallet. It's normal for her, an instinctive habit that no amount of yelling or therapy has ever fixed, and that years of training have honed into skills almost supernatural.

Picking pockets comes as naturally to Parker as climbing and jumping off of tall buildings. Hands dipping in and out of jackets and purses, she flits and flutters from person to person, taking wallets and phones, and even sometimes switching one person's for another just for fun.

That particular day, however, she took the wrong person's wallet. Or perhaps it was the right person and Fate just felt like being funny that day.

She bumps into the woman and gleefully examines her bounty when she's a few steps away.

She freezes. No, she thinks, looking at the name on the driver's license, that's not how it works. That's not how it works.

She stands there for what seems like enough time to crack three safes, just staring at the tiny photograph on the card. So that's what she looks like now.

Growing up, she had stolen her own files enough times to recognize the name (and besides, that's one name she'll never truly forget), and once she'd had the means to do so, she had, like the proverbial curious cat, looked up the woman who had given birth to her. The girl who had given birth to her.

Natalie Fletcher.

She had been fifteen years old, although she'd claimed to be older at the hospital where she'd given birth to the daughter she gave up for adoption, a baby girl who eventually grew up to be one of the best thieves in the world.

Parker stands in the middle of the sidewalk and stares at the name and the blurry photograph. The rushing crowd parts around her like the water around a rock in the middle of a raging river.

She tucks the ID back into the clear plastic insert in the worn leather wallet and weaves her way back to the woman, her mother, her real mother. As she slips the wallet back into the woman's purse, a hand darts out and grabs her wrist in an iron grip.

"What do you think you're doing?" Natalie Fletcher says. The wind blows wisps of her blond hair into her face.

Parker gasps, words lost as she stares into her mother's face. Even though she is fifteen years older, Natalie is more beautiful than she is, she can't help thinking. Her features are softer, unlike Parker's own sharp looks, and her lips are fuller, her cheeks rounder. But her eyes. They're alike, the two of them. Broken.

Startled, the older woman's grip loosens enough for Parker to slip out and take off at a run.

"Hey!"

For an almost fifty-year-old, she's fast and very much in shape. Feeling Natalie start to catch up to her, Parker darts into an alleyway and shoots a line up to the roof.

Natalie runs into the alley as Parker zooms straight up, her own blond hair trailing behind her. Parker chances a look down at her mother's face as she jumps up onto the roof.

Wonder and confusion battle for dominance (even she can tell that), but there's also a touch of hope and...longing? She's not Sophie, but she thinks that that's maybe what it is. She's felt that expression so often on her own face.

Two days later, Parker sits on a roof and shivers.

The others had noticed that something was up with her, and had reacted in their own characteristic ways. Sophie had made them both a "nice cup of tea" and had sat her down for some "girl talk." Hardison had chattered and babbled and had invented a new x-ray app for her phone. Eliot had grunted something about her "jus' bein' crazy like always" and whipped up her favorite dessert, just for her. And Nate had watched them all over the rim of his glass of whiskey, with that expression that makes him look like a tricky fox or a sly snake.

She looks down at the photograph in her hand. It's a different one from the one on the ID that she'd returned to the wallet. She had taken this one from a different pocket.

This picture is old, over thirty years old. A teenaged Natalie Fletcher, wearing a cotton hospital gown, holds a tiny baby in her arms. Strands of her golden hair are plastered to her forehead and she looks tired, but the expression in her face could never be mistaken for anything other than love.

Parker frowns at the picture. How can that be, when she'd gone and signed the papers giving her up so soon after it had been taken? But why had Natalie kept the old photograph all these years if it didn't mean something to her?

She's so confused. She wishes she could tell Sophie about it, but long years of hoarding the secrets of her past keep her from approaching the grifter.

So she does what she always does. She takes care of the problem herself.

She steps to the edge of the building and lowers herself to a twelfth floor window. She silently picks the lock and opens it enough to squeeze through. As she's closing the window, the light flickers on.

She whirls around with a gasp, eyes wide open. She steels herself for what's coming. The yelling, the anger, maybe even things being thrown at her. It wouldn't be the first time.

"It's you, isn't it?" Natalie says calmly, tying her robe around her. This reminds Parker that it's late, and you're not supposed to call on people unexpectedly, especially if it's three in the morning (she knows this thanks to a grumbled lesson from Eliot when she'd snuck into his apartment for cookies [not that it actually stopped her from doing it again]).

"What's me?" Parker asks stupidly. This was not the reaction she had anticipated.

"You're not here to steal anything," the woman says, coming closer. "I don't have anything worth stealing. You put my wallet back with all my IDs and credit cards. But you did take something else that has sentimental value to only two people in the world. So I guess the question is, did you find me on purpose? Or was it...the workings of chance and fate?" The corner of her mouth quirks up.

Parker stares. Definitely not the reaction she'd expected.

Natalie smiles softly. "You look like him," she says, "your father. He had quick hands, too."

Parker wrinkles her nose and wonders vaguely if that means what she thinks it's supposed to mean or if it means exactly what she thinks it means.

Natalie's smile widens. "He was a sleight of hand magician for a small travelling circus."

Oh. Parker hadn't known that. She hadn't known anything about her father, not even his name.

"And I," Natalie says, walking over to a table littered with framed pictures, "I was the trapeze artist." She picks up one of the frames and grins at Parker. "Does that surprise you?"

Parker shrugs. "I thought you were a gymnastics teacher."

"I am now. But before..." Natalie hands her the photograph. "That's all of us there. That's your father. LumiƩre the Amazing. Of course, he was really Rick Larson from Monrovia, California. And that's me. The Magnificent Natalia. More than a couple of us in the circus were kids who'd run away from home, but we had our share of fun before we got caught," she chuckles.

Parker runs her finger over the face of the boy Natalie claims is her father. There's a resemblance, a definite resemblance. The sharp angles of his nose and cheeks, the elfin quality of his features - that's her face staring back at her. A magician? So that's where her quick hands came from. And her mother had been a trapeze artist. That suddenly makes a whole lot of sense.

"I'm a thief," she blurts out.

Natalie laughs. "I figured when I felt your hand in my purse. And now when you climbed in through the window."

Parker tilts her head. "You don't mind?"

"What part of 'I ran away with the circus when I was a kid' don't you get?" Natalie says, in a way that Parker pinpoints as being sort of sad. "I'm sure you have your reasons. I had mine."

"You didn't want me."

Natalie sits down on the couch and takes her hand, pulling her down to sit beside her. "I did. I really did. But they brought my parents in and they didn't want me to keep you. I wanted you, but they made me sign the papers. And when I tried to find you later, I couldn't. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Parker looks at the hand holding hers. But...She can't think of anything other than but...

"I don't even know your name, sweetie." A hesitant hand reaches out and tucks an errant blond strand behind her ear. Instead of falling back down into the lap of the bathrobe, it lingers over her temple and cups gently around her cheek.

"Parker," she hears herself say, "Just Parker."

"I like that name," Natalie says. Parker turns to her. "It suits you. Whenever I thought of you before, I always called you Baby. Just Baby. And now I have a name to call you by."

Parker stares. Wanted. She was wanted. She'd been wanted, even before she was born, even after she'd been given up.

All her life, she'd felt like a burden until she'd taken herself off of everyone's hands and started raising herself. Even after Archie. He'd cared, in his own way, but only because of what she could do, and not who she was. Even the team. They like her because of her skills. If she wasn't the best thief in the world, she doubts they'd even look at her twice.

Or maybe not, the voice in her head says, maybe they'd still like me. Yeah, they'd still like me.

"So, Parker," Natalie says, interrupting her inner monologue, "Do you want something to drink? Milk and cookies?"

Parker perks up. "You have cookies?"

"Three a.m. cookies are the best," her mother says with a familiar impish grin. "Especially if you have someone to share them with."

They are the best. Even better than Eliot's. (Just don't tell him that because then he'll sulk and there will be no more almost-the-best cookies.)

Natalie is another one of Parker's many secrets. But maybe this is one that she can share with the others. This is one that she actually wants to share. After all, her mother is one of the very few people in Parker's life who didn't think that she was crazy for wanting to go jump off a building together at five in the morning. In fact, she even took her up on the offer.