A/N: Yay for reviewage! I know I've kind been dragging my heels on ths story, so I am all kinds of grateful for my reviews - thanks, lovely peops! So, I decided the extra team members might just be the outside view Eliot & Parker need to get them together...
(For disclaimer, etc. - see chapter 1)
"You know what they're talking about, right?" said Hardison, looking sideways at Eliot.
He didn't have to ask who the hacker was talking about, it was already clear. Nate had disappeared a few minutes ago then Sophie followed. It was perfectly obvious why.
"You think she can talk him out of it?" asked Eliot.
He would like to believe that Nate wouldn't walk a path he had once taken himself, but these were crazy circumstances. Victor Dubenich was the man that brought this team together, the one who first screwed them over too. Most importantly, he was the one who led to the demise of Nate's father. Eliot had killed a man for less, but he didn't want to see his friend do the same. He really hoped Sophie could talk a good enough game this time around. Truth was, Eliot wasn't sure if she could, and the look on Hardison's face suggested he didn't know either.
Of course, it could just be that the hacker was already regretting starting a conversation with his so-called friend. Eliot was well aware things were still not right between the two of them, and he knew why. As if it wasn't bad enough when Hardison was accusing his bro and his ex-girlfriend of having an affair when it wasn't true. At this point, well, they still hadn't really done much of anything, and Parker wasn't even dating Hardison anymore, but Eliot knew the rules. Dating your best friend's ex, it just wasn't done, even if you did find yourself falling in love. Now certainly wasn't the time to be trying to figure out such things, but it seemed he wasn't going to get a choice in the matter.
"Hey, are we cool, man?" Eliot checked, glancing at Parker across the cave, in deep conversation with Archie now. "I mean, we gotta be a team on this, all of us together."
"You think I'm not bein' part of the team?" asked Hardison, stopping with the untangling of his electronics to stare at his friend. "Hey, I'm getting along with Chaos for this! I can sure as hell get along with you, brah!"
Eliot smiled slightly at that, nodded once to prove he heard and understood him. He used that word a lot. Brah and bro, all meaning brother. They were like brothers, him and Hardison, they drove each other crazy but deep down they always loved each other, even if they never used the words at all. Eliot dating Parker was going to break that relationship, it was what the hitter was trying to avoid. It was why he kept on telling Parker that they couldn't happen. Of course, she was as stubborn and determined as he was, and the way she walked in today and told him they were getting together whether he liked it or not, well, Eliot knew he could only fight her off so long. Yes, he wanted her, and he loved her, on levels that he doubted he could ever explain. This was what it felt like to be caught between a rock and a hard place, he reckoned, and though for once it wasn't the literal kind, it seemed it was going to hurt all the more somehow.
"So, this is gonna work," said Eliot, half-statement, half-question as he hefted a bag of ice and shells.
"It surely will," Hardison grinned, very proud of the plan he had helped put together to bring the Bellington Dam to its knees. "See once these little critters get into the system, they have to shut it down. No way to get 'em out, and its a violation to flush them into the water system."
Eliot nodded along with that. It made sense, though it was strange to think such a little thing could mess up such big plans. The hitter caught his eyes wandering to Parker at the very thought. Yeah, she was just a little thing too, but she was messing with his head, whether she meant to or not.
"'Course, this whole plan depends on some folks I don't necessarily trust," said Hardison then, eyes trained first on Chaos and then more so on Quinn.
The other hacker was hammering away at his keyboard though his eyes did keep on wandering to Parker's lithe form, whilst the alternate hitter was stripped down to a vest, performing an impressive amount of chin ups on a scaffold type structure in the far corner.
"Hey, we have to trust 'em," said Eliot definitely. "I know it ain't easy, but for the money they're bein' paid, they'll do as they're told," he told Hardison. "Besides, I promised Quinn a favour, that's enough to hold his attention even if the money doesn't."
"Yeah, I had to do the same with Chaos," the hacker rolled his eyes.
He opened his mouth to continue but then closed it without. Chaos was interested in Parker, and whilst he knew the little thief wouldn't give him the time of day, Hardison still bristled at the idea of Colin Mason trying his chances. Chances were good Parker would tase him, or maybe Archie would beat him down with his cane. Still, this wasn't a conversation Hardison much wanted to have with Eliot right now. It was still too awkward.
Eliot and Parker had been talking in the back of the van after they hit Latimer's place. Hardison knew, but he couldn't tell what they were saying. Honestly, he'd tried to block it out, just hoping they were patching things up as friends and nothing more. He was the one to throw the wrench in whatever relationship they had before, and Hardison was not proud of that. His paranoia still wouldn't quit, he continued to wonder if there was more there between hitter and thief than they would admit, but he tried to squash those feelings down. They all had a job to do here, a very serious one. All the internal workings of the team would have to wait until Jimmy Ford was avenged, however long that took.
"I like this," Parker smiled, standing back from the fake cake that she and Archie had carefully constructed.
"Well, you always did have a soft spot for anything with sugar," her mentor sighed as if exasperated by the very fact of it.
"No, not the icing!" she rolled her eyes, bumping his arm because she was pretty sure he knew that already and was teasing her. "I like working like this, with you. I missed you," she admitted shyly.
Parker wasn't usually like this, all girly and sweet in this particular way. Well, Archie thought, she never had been like this, but things had obviously changed. A few years ago when she was his protegee and nothing more, Parker didn't have feelings, emotions, or needs. She lived for the heist, the beauty of the con, and that was all. Now she had friends and family, they had taught her to be well-rounded and fully formed. Parker was her own person, the person Archie knew he should've helped her become himself. Ford had been right about that, as Spencer had been right to look at Archie as if he wanted to punish him for his behaviour. That was what he deserved. What Parker deserved was her own happy ending, something she feared going after at first.
"Missed you too, kiddo," Archie admitted after a silence that had gone on too long. "But you don't need me anymore, not usually," he smiled down at her. "You have your own family here, your own happiness if you want it."
Parker nodded along to his words, agreeing that he was right. She was quite determined that she and Eliot had to at least try being closer and see what happened. Sure, it had ended pretty messy with Hardison, but truth be told, she never felt this way about her hacker friend. Kissing him was nice, spending time was fun, but with Eliot it was different. The making out was exciting and safe at the same time, like stealing a diamond and knowing she could never be caught. Nothing ever felt like that before, never. Besides, Eliot seemed to understand her, even when he was calling her crazy or saying there was something wrong with her. Despite all that, he had taught her self-defence, patched her up when she was hurt. He took care of her when she was sick, and was usually the first one to laugh at her jokes. They just fit, they made sense, and life without Eliot would completely suck for Parker. It wouldn't be great without Hardison either, or Sophie, or Nate, but somehow it just felt different. Maybe life would be easier if she could explain it. Unfortunately, Parker really couldn't.
Looking at the empty open space of the cave hide-out, Parker made a snap decision and threw herself into it. She kicked, flipped, and spun her way across the floor, until she literally hit an obstacle in her path. Parker came upright and found herself in the arms of completely the wrong hitter.
"Well, aren't you more forward than I thought?" Quinn smirked at her.
His hands were summarily knocked from her body and Parker backed up a step, frowning hard. She didn't really know what to make of Quinn. She would like to trust him on the strength of Eliot's judgement, but it didn't come easy. This was a man that had once played for the other side, for Sterling no less. He had beaten Eliot into submission, broken ribs and cracked teeth, Parker recalled. Now they were on the same team, some kind of healthy hitter respect existing between Quinn and Eliot. She continued to frown as she thought it over.
"People don't touch me," she shook her head definitely. "Not unless they like to get stabbed."
She said it in some low and hopefully scary voice. Honestly, Parker was channelling Eliot's own threatening tone as best she could. She wasn't sure it came out right when Quinn failed to quake in his boots. He was still smiling at her.
"I heard that," he nodded once, very deliberately putting his arms behind his back, hands clasped. "Of course, I also heard that the stabbing is dependant on who's doing the touching," he smirked dangerously as he took a step forward and Parker instictively leaned back away from him. "I guess I'm just the wrong man for the job," he said softly in her ear.
Parker shuddered and continued to feel shaky long after Quinn had gone away from her personal space. He knew. Eliot must've talked to him about what was happening between them. Maybe it made sense, with Quinn being outside of their 'family'. Sure, he was on their team right now but... Parker started when her brain suddenly connected the dots. She smiled widely at her realisation. Eliot was thinking about her and what they'd done, the potential of something more happening between them. That was enough for her for now, she thought, checking her path was clear and going for another set of impressive flips and turns. Nobody got in her way this time.
"I'll be honest, I wasn't sure if it was a good idea having you in on this job," said Sophie smoothly as she walked by Archie. "But you were very impressive in playing your part," she smiled.
"Thank you, my dear," the old gentlemen smiled, grabbing Sophie's hand as she tried to slip by and kissing her knuckles with a wink.
The grifter giggled like a school girl and crossed the room with a sashay in her step. Eliot chuckled and shook his head. He hoped he had that kind of nerve when he was as old as Archie. He felt like telling the old guy so but resisted the urge. It was better not to socialise with the so-called gentleman thief.
"You are quite the conundrum, young man," said Archie then, apparently unaware of Eliot's deliberate attempt not to make small-talk here. "Your reputation, which most definitely proceeds you, is of a cold-blooded killer, and yet..."
"And yet?" the hitter prompted, meeting Archie's eyes and putting on his best rattlesnake smile - the old guy never flinched.
"You don't fool me, Spencer," he smirked right back at him. "I have no doubt you were the monster from campfire tales once upon a time, but this team has changed you, just as it changed my Parker," he said definitely.
"Everybody changes, little pieces here and there," said Eliot, lips twitching with so much he wanted to say but couldn't find the words. "I... I cant ever be the kind of man she deserves. I'll always be that monster, deep inside."
"And you don't think some sort of wild animal isn't living inside of Parker too?" asked Archie with a significant look, his voice lowering as he stepped in closer to Eliot. "When I found her, she was emotionless, practically feral. I'm sure she never deliberately hurt anybody, she was never that girl, but make no mistake, Parker was a broken soul, barely a person. Perhaps that's why the two of you have made such a connection."
Eliot didn't quite know what to make of what he was being told. Sure, he knew a little of what Parker had been like before. When she first joined the team, she was a little unhinged, for lack of a better term. Since they all started working together, she became more 'normal' but not so much that she stopped being her. Parker was still Parker, and though he had buried the monster deep and tried to find himself again, Eliot was still Eliot too. They were new versions of the same two people they had been before, and they had learnt to be these new people together.
"Don't make the mistake I did, son," said Archie, patting Eliot on the shoulder even as the hitter's eyes remained fixed on Parker across the room. "Don't let anything or anyone matter more than she does."
Parker turned her head, clearly feeling eyes on her. She met Eliot's gaze and was a little surprised to see him smiling at her in a strange soft way. Still she returned the look a moment before turning away again. Maybe things were going better than she thought. She hadn't an idea that Hardison had seen the look that passed between his two friends, or that he had been listening in on the talk Eliot and Archie had either. The old man wasn't entirely au fait with the earbud technology yet and left the damn thing in his ear and switched on. Oh yeah, Hardison heard every word, he just didn't know what to make of it right now
To Be Continued...