Author's Note: as I promised, this is fluffier! Well… Most of it is fluff. Thanks to all who reviewed! I appreciate the feedback. Please keep it coming! It makes me write faster – see, two updates in two days! Also, this chapter ends the Season Two installment. My friend still has season three, so the next update probably won't be for another week or so. PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
"I bet you're not even a lawyer," Parker hisses with an icy glare. The stun gun in her pocket itches to be used.
"Aw," the new woman coos. "Sophie was right. You are adorable."
"Excuse me," the thief barks.
"Don't…" For a moment, just for a split second, Eliot almost outs their entire relationship. It's on the tip of his tongue as he feels Parker bristle next to him; his gut reaction is to protect her, even against harmful words. With his arms crossed firmly over his chest, his statement is interrupted by the mastermind's acceptance of this new woman into their crew. The fact that this Tara character is Sophie's doing doesn't make it any better.
Hours later, she swings back and forth from the trapeze setup, her knees hooked over the bar. A taser twirls in her hands. He would be surprised at her grace in managing to spin something in perfect circles like a baton twirler while simultaneously hanging upside down, but then again, it's her. "Darlin', where'd ya get that damn thing anyway?"
"Maybe I can use the stun gun on Tara."
"As much as I don't like it, we gotta give her a chance. Sophie sent her."
"Does that make it better?"
"Nope." His reply pops the 'p' as his hair shakes loosely around his face. "No it doesn't. That does mean, though, that there are rules."
"I hate rules." Her petulant whine brings a smile to his face as he chuckles.
"We don't tase teammates. Like we don't tase cops," he starts. It doesn't matter that his occupation revolves solely around hitting people. He only likes to hit people who deserve it; a cop doing his job does not qualify in the deserve-it category.
"Oh, hush. You don't like hitting cops, so I tased him." Her twisted logic sounds almost sweet, except for the whole taking-down-a-police-officer-with-a-stun-gun thing. She smiles brightly at him upside down because even though he shakes his head in mock annoyance, she knows she won this round.
Secret Twenty-Three: he thinks he might be starting to lose his mind because she is starting to make more and more sense. Of course, he doesn't tell her this.
"I'm just saying get him on board. He doesn't know what's good for him, and even if he does, he doesn't do anything about it. He just lets it walk straight out the door and…"
"Like all the way to Europe," Eliot finishes for her.
"Just do it for me, huh? So I don't have to worry about you," Sophie finishes with an exasperated look. She knows her team, her family, has trouble accepting new people. She also knows that if she can get Eliot on board, Parker and Hardison will follow. Thus, the grifter focuses her attention on convincing the hitter… That is until Nate walks in with Tara, and Sophie ends the video chat abruptly.
Then, of course, because nothing ever is a simple grift, Russell Pan is actually a ringleader for the Triad. On a side note, Eliot is mildly impressed that Tara can hold her own in a fight against a nimble Triad member wielding a cleaver like it isn't… well… like it isn't a cleaver. He makes a mental note to tell Sophie that she made a good choice after all.
The mental note gets a bit sidetracked at the prospect of seeing Parker walk the runway. Despite the situation, with Tara being held as collateral and Nate trying to wing a con on an international Chinese gang, he can't help but tease his blonde just a little.
He smirks that dangerous little grin when they realize the only way she's getting behind stage is to be a model. It's one of his fantasies being played out for him. Part of his brain reminds him that he is on a damn job and he can't do anything about said fantasy at the moment regardless. He briefly contemplates stealing whatever she chooses to wear to pass as a model in addition to the files they are supposed to swipe. Parker flips through the clothes on the rack, desperately trying to find some garment that won't obstruct her movement too much.
"No. No. No!" Eliot sighs, frustration building, because the show starts in less than three minutes.
"How about this?"
"It's a shirt, Parker." Even as he says it, he imagines ripping it off of her, and damn, he needs to get his testosterone under control because they are in the middle of a con. It's not his fault that he has always had a thing for models, right? He's a red-blooded male, and his girlfriend is about to put on some ridiculously short something or other and prance up and down a runway exuding confidence. Parts of his body want to perk up and pay attention, and it's a struggle, a serious struggle, to tamp down the urge.
"I know, but at least you can move in it. The clothes are totally impractical. OK? There's no range of motion, limited concealment options, and this reflective material would set off a motion detector a mile away."
"It's a fashion show. It's not Thieves-R-Us."
"Fine," she grumbles. "How about this?"
"The A-line drape of the empire waist is nice, but the neckline's a little weak if you ask me…" Parker balks at him and wonders why Sophie has been giving her fashion advice all these years, when clearly the man she lives with knows more than enough. "What! I dated a lot of models. Lot of private fashion shows, if you know what I mean."
"Yes. Yes." Her answers are clipped because why would she want to think about her boyfriend rolling around with some drop-dead gorgeous model?
"Though most of the dresses ended up on the ground," he chuckles when her jaw clenches.
"Yep, I get it. You're a guy."
"Means they were naked." His extra emphasis on that last part pushes her a smidgen too far and she snaps at him before walking away. It's an act that lifts the corners of his lips skyward in a smirk. He knows he probably shouldn't tease her during an actual con, but it's not like she's breaking into a complicated vault or anything. His rationalization lets him enjoy her irritation, as he knows it will turn into something delightfully sinful.
Secret Twenty-Four: apparently Eliot has dated a lot of models. That's news to Parker, but in retrospect, it isn't all that unexpected. He clarifies that dating never meant dating in the dinner-and-a-movie sense, but rather the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am version. Now, their sex life isn't vanilla in the least bit, but after being together so many years, it surprises her that there are fantasies that he hasn't shared. She makes it a personal goal to figure out just what makes him want to jump her bones.
"Look, man. It is 9 pm on a Friday night. All the banks are closed." Hardison says as he pulls another stack of books off the bookshelves. He bites his tongue and manages not to add that pulling this wire job in less than two hours when the usual time frame is three weeks is absolutely crazy, completely bat-crap crazy. The hacker manages to keep that little tidbit to himself, but only because all four of them have been sounding like broken records in a feeble attempt to get Nate to see reason.
"ATMS," Parker offers.
"Daily withdrawal limits. If y'all want me to do an electronic wire transfer of 100 grand between the Caymans and Madagascar, I can do that. If you're talking cash, you're out of luck. I'm sorry. Welcome to the future."
"Just use your little slimmer thing, man, and gank the ATMs." Eliot tries to sound tech-y, at least makes an attempt to pretend that he listens to Hardison when the geek goes on and on about this gadget or that doo-dad. Lets face it though, Eliot knows about as much about technology as Hardison knows about weapons, aka zilch.
"It's called a skimmer, but thank you for trying. And, no, I don't have that thing anymore. We're the good guys now. I haven't used that thing in months."
"Months," Parker asks because she can do the math. Hell, she's good at math, and she is positive they've been the good guys for a lot longer than a few months.
"We've been the good guys longer than that." Eliot voices Parker's inner logic without even knowing it. It makes her smile a little more than it should.
Through the comm link, Nate demands focus. Not that the three of them are particularly good at listening to the mastermind, especially not when the bickering gets started, but they all like to think that he's used to acting as the makeshift father for the ragtag team.
"Emergency fund," Hardison states because maybe he is just good enough to magically conjure up thousands of dollars in cash. At that, all three of them scramble. Eliot flips over a random piece of furniture, whipping a knife out of God-only-knows-where. Parker dumps out all her cereal boxes, not even concerned about the mess of sugary puffs scattered about the kitchen, while Hardison fights with the mockery that is the portrait of Old Nate. They come up with nine grand with which to play the mark.
Even as Eliot moves to take care of the muscle, he doesn't know how Nate is going to be able to pull this job off, so instead, he focuses on his role. "You remind me of my sister… Hmm, yeah, it's all in the wrist." He forgets how much fun it is to play darts, even if it's in the middle of the con. It helps that the Irish bodyguards are impressed because, hell, he's impressive. He knows it. He's a confident man…confident enough, apparently, to smack Parker's ass as she delivers their beers. There's satisfaction in knowing that if any other man touched her like that, she would whoop his ass. "There ya go, right? Feisty little thing," he exclaims, throwing another dart blindly at the board, not at all surprised when it hits dead center.
Then, of course, it isn't nearly enough that this con is impossible to pull off in two hours and the clock is ticking. Nate knocks back a drink, his first in way too long, at the mark's insistence. It's key to the con, he rationalizes, even as he hears his team's grumbles. Eliot looks remarkably disappointed; starting the deadly cycle yet again, Nate takes another drink because they've still got a job to do.
"What's Nate thinking," Parker asks when she sidles up next to Eliot.
"Nate, you've got ten seconds," Hardison shouts in his ears. "Place the damn bet!"
"Don't be cocky," Tara chides. With the bet placed and the marker for the bar in Nate's possession, the hacker lets out a loud, resounding whoop. Eliot barely resists the urge to clap a hand over his ear at the sudden noise. "I didn't realize you were quite into basketball."
"Ba-basketball? Woman, we just pulled off the wire in the time it takes to get a pizza delivered. This is a big win. Big. They're gonna talk about this one."
It might be a big win; that's true, but Nate won't let it go. Their drunken mastermind is calling the shots. The plan is outrageous, absolutely so. He wants to gamble with the loan shark's money.
"Just tell me somethin'," Eliot insists before he and Parker rush off to steal from the Irish mob. "Let me ask you one more question. Would you even consider trying this if you were sober?"
Secret Twenty-Five: it's not verbalized; it doesn't have to be. Eliot and Parker don't know what they're going to do if this drinking habit turns into the downward spiral that it was months ago. Eliot isn't sure the mastermind will survive it with Sophie continents away, and Parker doesn't know if the family will endure in one piece. Either way, they share a feeling that things just might get ugly.
"Eliot, I'm gonna ask you not to do anything violent." Nate states slowly, enunciating each word clearly. The hitter's back is towards the door, so he is unaware of the man who just walked in, prompting Nate's speech.
"What? What are you talkin' about? I only use violence as a- as a- as an appropriate response." He truly doesn't understand what Nate is talking about. The mastermind knows better than most on the team just what Eliot is capable of and the moral lines he has drawn to prevent him from falling all the way down into cold-blooded-killer territory.
"Hello Nate," Sterling greets smugly. Apparently, that qualifies, and within the span of a breath, Eliot is on the insurance man, throwing him on a table. A list of grievances flips like a slideshow through his mind, empowering the hitter and proving that it really is an appropriate response.
Basically, Eliot hates Sterling almost as much as he hates Dubenitch. Parker hates the British insurance agent too for very similar reasons and can't wipe the smile off her face. Hardison subtly pays off the bartender not to call the cops at the ruckus created by the hitter's particular display of violence.
Secret Twenty-Six: she knows just how much Eliot is enjoying pounding his fists into the other man. That's not to say Eliot loves the violence. He embraces it, controls it, as part of his persona because that's his training. Getting to utilize said training on someone who truly deserves it (read: Sterling), now that is an act Eliot doesn't feel guilty finding pleasure in.
This job, with this damn supposed-psychic, churns up everything she has kept so well hidden, even from him. Hell, it even manages to bring to light some of his secrets. It's different though for her. What he shares is with her, his girlfriend, a woman who he explicitly trusts. Her secrets get laid to rest on TV in front of room full of strangers.
"What's wrong," Nate inquires, leaning over to whisper into her ear, as they sit in the audience and wait for Rand's show to start.
"I just don't like psychics, OK? They freak me out." Eliot agrees; he doesn't say anything, but he is with her 100% on that front. He finds it strange when Sophie can pick up details in tells he swears he doesn't have, but to have a stranger do it is a much deeper level of emotional invasion. The fidgeting draws the fake psychic's attention. Eliot growls a warning to the man on stage regardless of the fact that Rand can't actually hear said noise to be intimidated into compliance.
"I think I'm getting an energy right now. It's definitely family. Is it your father? No. No, it's a sibling. Brother… You were both very young. It was an accident. I see a road. I see a car, but your brother's not in the car. He's in the street." Parker looks like she's about to cry, and Eliot resists every urge in his body to snap the man in half and haul his girl into his arms. "Wheels… I see wheels. A skateboard? No, a bicycle. Was he riding a bicycle when he was struck? He's been gone a long time from you now… He's sorry that he had to leave you. He knows that you feel responsible, but he wants you to know it was an accident. You taught him to ride that bike, didn't you?"
She's gone before he can blink. Eliot tries to catch her when she runs out of the studio. Actually, he does catch her. In her panicked state, Parker plows into him in her desperate need to escape, but just as quickly as she collided with him, she is gone again.
They find her, thankfully, on the floor of Nate's apartment. Her face is red from emotional exertion, and her cheeks display clear evidence of tear tracks. Eliot agrees with Hardison more than ever; that damn psychic should be shot. Whatever con Rand is pulling on the clients, that is bad, but no one makes his thief cry. It's just not okay.
After explaining the cold reading, Tara poses the question they're all thinking. "So what do we do now?"
"Cut off his arms. And his head. Yeah. I wanna kill him. Can we make that happen?"
The words are out of his mouth before his brain catches up. As they fall from his lips, the words shock him; they shock her too. He hates killing people. He would worry about his soul if he didn't, but still, he made a promise he wouldn't kill anymore, not unless it was absolutely necessary. The protective instincts that are at the very core of his character clearly do not have that moral promise in mind, especially not when the woman he loves looks like emotional road kill.
Secret Twenty-Seven: Parker had a brother. That was her secret pulled from the darkest depths of her past, put on display for the world. What he doesn't know, what no one knows, is that Bunny, her poor tattered stuffed animal, is the only thing she has left of her little brother. No photos exist. Very few memories survived. The stuffed animal is the one thing that keeps her grounded despite past years of loneliness and constant traveling. She doubts she'll ever share that specific secret. It's too close to home. That secret is her home. Well it was. It was the closest thing she had to a home for as long as she can remember. Eliot, she thinks, he may be her home now. That's a secret she might share with him one day.
Secret Twenty-Eight: evidently he will still kill. Not for a price, never again for a price. But for her, he would move heaven and earth for her. That he already knew. He didn't realize though how many of his own morals, his own rules, he would break to keep her safe. He told her once about the promise he made to himself to never kill again, unless the situation left him no other option. Her surprise matches his at the offer. This secret is one he was even keeping from himself.
"Steal his team," Tara asks. "I don't think I even know what that means."
"It's not as bad as the time he wanted us to steal a kid or a mountain," Parker tells her as she looks out to survey the green baseball field.
"How are those even remotely similar?" The grifter looks between the team, trying to figure out at least some of the reasoning behind Parker's logic. Hardison just shrugs.
He watches the commercial on repeat for a good twenty minutes. It's pretty damn cool and looks legit, but he would never tell Hardison. The hacker does not need a more inflated ego. "So what language is that? Japanese?" He hums his response, pausing the video to locate her. Her legs dangle between the gaps in the spiral stair rail. "You know Japanese?" He hums again. "Cool. Didn't know that."
"Ya pick up a few things when you're an international hitter. I'm good with languages."
"But you're not good a baseball?"
His brow furrows in confusion for a second as he tries to find the relationship between languages and sports. "I said I didn't like it."
"Defense can't score. The players are just running in circles."
"Circles are better than lines."
This time he can't help it. "What," he asks, completely bewildered. Usually, he can follow her logic… Well, he can typically piece together bits of Parker reasoning and understand vaguely how she leapt from Point A to Point B. Now, though, he's just at a loss.
"Football players run in lines. Soccer players run in lines. Basketball players run in lines. Circles are better than lines." He has no rebuttal to that because if there is one thing he has learned over the years, it's the need to pick your battles. He'll fight her tooth-and-nail about why she needs to eat vegetables, but explaining why football isn't running in a line… that's just not an argument he will ever win. "So how are we supposed to do the con if you can't play baseball? Oh, do you have to wear the pants?"
"What," he asks again.
"The baseball uniform? Do you have to wear it?"
"Yeah, Parker, I'm on the team. I've gotta wear the uniform." The mischievous glint dancing in her eyes prompts him forward. Her teeth bite her bottom lip as her eyes blatantly check him out. "You like the uniform, darlin'?" She nods, a few strands of her blonde hair falling to cover her eyes. His fingers reach up to tuck the locks safely behind one of her ears before his hand slides into her hair, cupping the back of her head. The kiss, by all means, should be awkward since they're making out through an opening in the handrail for the spiral staircase, except it's not. They're too familiar with each other's bodies for a kiss to be strange, regardless of the location.
"Do you have the uniform with you," she whispers breathlessly against his lips.
"As much as I love your train of thought, darlin', we're not havin' sex in Nate's apartment." At least he valiantly attempts to convince her they're not going to do that… He fights a losing battle, almost like the circles-and-lines argument, when she drags him into the downstairs bathroom and locks the door.
Secret Twenty-Nine: it's not that she dated a lot of baseball players because lets face it; Parker doesn't do relationships with people… or she didn't used to do relationships with people. Her fantasy revolves pretty much around Eliot in any form of a uniform, but sports uniforms seem to tickle her fancy more than anything else. Though as she pulls his sweatshirt over his head, she makes a mental note to find a cop's uniform too.
After being ushered onto the helicopter, she decides it sucks, everything about the current situation absolutely, fucking, sucks. Eliot glares out the window as they take off. The tension rolls off of him in waves. She wants to tuck herself under his arm, bury her face in his clothes, and just breathe in a scent that reminds her of home, happiness, and safety. The thing is while Sophie knows about their relationship, Hardison still doesn't. The hacker is her best friend, and he doesn't deserve to find out about their secret relationship on the same day Nate goes to jail and Sophie reappears seemingly out of thin air. It's a lot to digest in a day; she knows. She is sifting through all those emotions herself.
Everyone is wrapped in his or her own world, so really, no one notices when she shifts a few inches over, just slightly moving into the hitter's personal space. Well, Eliot notices and spares her a glance and a sad smile before turning back to the window. She thinks, for now, that's okay.
No one is quite in the mood to socialize when they land, and everyone temporarily goes their separate ways. When Eliot and Parker finally, finally, make it home, it's hard to prioritize. The left side of face is swollen. His clothing is stained with blood. She can't remember the last time she slept, and she desperately wants to shower. The deep grumbling in his stomach also reminds him that they both need some form of nourishment in the near future. Yet, he's too tired to figure out in what order any of that needs to be accomplished because he has his sights set onto falling into his bed, wrapping her in his arms, and sleeping for the next unspecified number of hours.
Parker has another idea because she stumbles into the kitchen. He expects to see her grab for the cereal boxes lined neatly along the edge of the counter, but instead, she reaches into the freezer for a few ice packs.
"Sit." Exhaustion laces her words, but her tone doesn't leave room for argument. Slumping against the barstool, he watches her collect washcloths, paper towels, and a med kit. She stands between his legs and gently, tenderly, uses warm water to clean away the blood marring his face and neck. A gash across his left eyebrow still oozes, and another laceration on his forehead requires a butterfly suture. Other than that, his nose is a little sore, and his body will bear a few bruises. Silently, she wraps two ice packs in paper towels before pressing them gingerly to his forehead and cheek.
"Stay." Again, her command leaves no tone for argument. After a squirt of hand sanitizer, she goes about making him a sandwich. It's nothing like his usual herb aioli masterpieces, but it's food and it'll do. They eat silently, too tired for conversation and not really knowing what words to say anyway. The occasional crunch of cereal fills the comfortable void. The dishes are forgotten in the sink because she can barely keep her eyes open to locate the dishwasher.
It's his turn to take over, ushering her to the bathroom. She grumbles at the thought of having to remain standing for even another moment; OCD-necessity for cleanliness be damned. "C'mon, darlin'. You know you don't want to get in bed without washin' up. You'll sleep better, and we both need the sleep."
"No more 90 minutes for you," she asks through a yawn.
"Yeah, darlin', I'm gonna need more than 90 minutes tonight."
"Good." The sound of rushing water drowns out her mumble.
"Hmm, and why is that?" His goal is to keep her talking, so she doesn't actually fall asleep in the shower. Given the way her eyelids flutter and fight to stay open, it's a serious possibility.
"Cause I get to wake up with you. It's my favorite part."
Secret Thirty: maybe it's the exhaustion talking or maybe it's the over emotional day, but she can't help but tell him how right it feels waking up in the morning next to him. She is a night owl by trade. She much prefers blending into the dark; she is a thief, after all. Despite her predilection for the night, her favorite moments are, and have always been, the mornings. Now that she has someone to share those sunrises with, she experiences a certain level of peace that always eluded her in the past. She thinks maybe, just maybe, it's a sign that everything will be okay.