Characters/Pairing: Eliot/Parker; Sophie; Hardison; Original characters
Word Count: 4,649/9,452
Spoilers: Between Seasons 2 and 3
Disclaimer: I don't own them. They belong only to themselves, and the people that created them. This is a figment of my imagination--fiction. No money made. Any mistakes are mine.
Summary: Hardison declares his feelings, so does Parker, but a job to stop industrial espionage will bring changes to the Leverage team.
Notes: Written for Leverage Exchange 2012 AO3
She first noticed it when they took down the dirty fight promoter in Nebraska. When she looked at Eliot's battered face, and into those dead winter eyes-her stomach felt like she'd swallowed a boulder.
Eliot barely let the nice doctor take care of his cuts before he took his ice pack and headed to the van. He seemed his usual self the next day when they gave the gym keys to the Howorths, but Parker's curiosity had been pricked and she didn't like feeling that rock lying in her stomach.
The feeling stopped eventually, so she pestered the retrieval specialist until he taught her to fight. He taught her how to compensate for her smaller size and when to fight and when to run. It made her feel good that he trusted her judgment as to whether or not she could handle an opponent.
Vanquishing Blackpoole seemed to have cauterized the bleeding in Nate's soul so when they came together for Sophie's really bad musical debut, it felt like they'd never been apart. The only thing that felt out of place was Hardison acting like he wanted to go steady.
Parker had never been on a real date, and the last time someone flirted with her, she'd stabbed him with a fork. She knew she could pretend to be normal, and if not for Archie she would probably be dead or in jail. The old thief hadn't tried to change her, he just taught her how to be a better thief, and to rely only herself. The one thing Archie had failed to teach her was how to interact with people, and be sociable. He'd taught her to be invisible, so skills like flirting had fallen by the wayside while she learned to crack safes and exploit weaknesses in security systems.
One thing she had decided while they'd been apart was that she didn't want to pretend with the team. They knew she was crazy just like they knew you didn't startle Eliot, drink the last orange soda, mess with Sophie's tea, or talk about Sam. She'd have to ask Sophie how to tell Hardison in a nice way that she'd rather watch Eliot cook than go to some fancy restaurant where they smiled fake smiles when they served your food. When Eliot smiled at her she knew it was real.
She ignored Hardison's flirting, and forgot about it all together as she watched Sophie lying in that coffin. When the grifter decided to leave it was like Sophie really died and Parker didn't know how to handle the barrage of emotions. Apollo had distracted her with their little competition, but when she saw their female hitter salivating on Eliot, her fingers itched for something pointy.
Parker walked toward the bar for a refill when she noticed Eliot showing Dayan a scar from a bullet wound. Dayan bragging she'd been a sniper at the same time Eliot had been shot had her moving toward their booth until she'd caught Eliot's eye and he'd given a little shake of his head. With a pout she smacked the woman in the head with her elbow then gave her a saccharin smile of apology as she continued walking.
They ran. Everything was in sync. She'd never had a partner work with her so seamlessly, plus he always kept himself between her and anything that would hurt her. Getting back to Nate's condo to find Tara Cole sitting smugly waiting for them filled her with anger at Sophie for thinking this blonde person could replace her.
She got that rock in the stomach feeling again when Tara constantly turned to Eliot for approval as though she'd zeroed in on the retrieval specialist as being the one that was holding them together in Sophia's absence. Then Nate started drinking, and the three of them did turn to their enforcer to protect them from Nate's self-destructive tendencies.
Always watchful of the actions of people around her, there was nothing in Tara or Eliot's demeanor that said Eliot had given in to Tara's flirtations or manipulations. The hitter continued to eye her with suspicion as she attempted to twist them into accepting her.
Tara had finally stopped beating herself against the sharp rocks of Eliot's distrust when she followed his plan for getting Maggie and Nate back from the kidnapper. Sterling took the credit for retrieving the Faberge egg, and they proved once again that Maggie sucked at picking boyfriends.
Then it got hard, and Parker started to drown under a mountain of unfamiliar emotions. Dalton Rand knowing about her brother and the accident that killed him had her rattled until Tara and Eliot explained Rand was a con man not a psychic.
Eliot's growl was a purr to her ears because he was prepared to kill the phony psychic for making her cry. She had just come to grips with all that mess when they were suddenly up to their asses in guns, Sterling, The FBI, and she wanted to drop Tara off a building for what they thought was her betrayal-Then Sophie was there, but Nate was shot and had conned them like Sophie had with the two Davids. Then Nate was yelling at Sterling as Eliot forced them to get on the helicopter while Nate collapsed bleeding before they took him to jail.
For a month afterward they moved from safe house to safe house until they were sure Sterling kept his end of the bargain when he promised Nate to leave them alone in exchange for his testimony.
Tired of Alec's incessant whining about connections or the lack thereof, they finally went back to Nate's condo where Eliot swept for bad guys, Hardison swept for electronic bugs, and Leverage Consultants was back in business.
Eliot sat beside Sophie in the back booth of McRory's. He knew the couple sitting across from them by reputation, but had never worked with them.
David and Emily Ambrose were master thieves specializing in corporate espionage. They had accepted what was to be their final job before retiring to raise a family, but Emily had gotten pregnant and health issues had them scrambling to cover the job.
"When we decided to go legit, we wanted to do the whole picket fence gig. I'd get a job and Em would be a stay at home mom…" they both snickered before David continued. "So I get this cherry job as head of security with this research and development company-a private think tank. I'm going through old files, casing out the company when the old man disappears, and things start getting strange so I take the files home so I can get Emily's take on it."
He handed Eliot a thumb drive as Emily picked up the narrative.
"There's nothing missing, but there's stuff going on with a couple big projects the brains are working on that's slowing them down. Stuff anyone could figure out. When David took his findings to his boss, who's just as big a brain as the others, he tells David to handle it."
"So what exactly do you want us to do?" Sophie asked. "We help people that have nowhere else to go."
Eliot and David exchange a look.
"They want us to take their place." Eliot prompted the grifter.
"We don't have anywhere else to go." Emily said. "You're the only crew we can find that can do what we do. Kit's a great guy, but his dad handled all the day to day stuff, which allowed Kit and his people to do what they do."
"If we can't get Jonas back or figure out what it is they're trying to get their hands on, Carson Enterprises could lose everything." David finished.
"Fine." Sophie stood signaling the meeting was over. "We'll look over the information and let you know." If she was surprised when Eliot remained at the table, she didn't let it show. "I'll see you at the office." She told Eliot pointedly.
David started to stand when a strong grip on his arm forced him to stay in the booth. He glared at Eliot, whose return glare drew a gasp from Emily.
"What really happened to this Jonas fella?" Eliot growled. "I'm not lettin' my team go in half blind because you're holdin' an ace."
"We don't know. He just disappeared one day."
"Is this a K and R or mid-life crisis?"
"Only Kit knows and he's not saying."
Eliot eyed the older man. He leaned across the table his eyes narrowing.
"You got about two seconds to come off with whatever you're holdin' or I send you out the door nursin' more than a bruised ego." He growled quietly.
"How'd you…? Nevermind." He slid another flash drive under Eliot's hand.
The enforcer palmed the small USB drive and leaned back.
"That's all the information I have on all the people and companies that have been panting after the ideas that come out of Carson Enterprises."
"Don't try that again. I've been conned by the best and you're nowhere near as good as they were. Now what aliases were you going to use, and who was tryin' to hire you?"
"Daniel and Ellen Boothe had just received an email from Marcus Rostov. Near as we could find out, Rostov is a 'fixer' in an expensive suit. His clients don't want to get their hands dirty-that's why they hire Rostov." David slid a folder to Eliot then he and Emily quickly left the booth. "That's everything we have including the back story on the aliases." Anxious to get away from the man who could see way too much for their comfort, they were out the door before Eliot finished reading.
Shaking his head at the contents of the file, he headed upstairs, where he tossed the second drive to Hardison.
"Things got more complicated."
All eyes turned to Eliot.
"David thinks one of these outfits is holding the kid's father using his continued safety as leverage."
Hardison plugged in. While they were waiting for him to finish, Sophie went through a stack of magazines, freshening her knowledge of who was doing who-wearing what, while Parker made repairs and modifications on several of her harnesses. Eliot was setting lunch on the table when the hacker came up for air. He held up his remote to start his presentation.
"After lunch." Eliot's tone brooked no argument.
When the kitchen was put to rights, and everyone settled, Hardison once more picked up the remote.
"Carson Enterprises was started by Jonas Carson as a place where a group of his inventive genius friends could work in a protected, free thinking environment. Everything about this guy is above board. No skeletons in any closets, pays his bills, his taxes and made a boat load of money for him and his friends. His son, Kit Carson," the hacker paused at Parker's bark of laughter, "yes, that's his real name, turned out to be a prodigy. He started playing with his dad's think tank cronies when he was twelve. Then about a month after David Ambrose goes to work as head of security, Jonas Carson goes missing. Before you ask, Ambrose is clean in this-they really are getting out of the business. There's no money missing from any accounts, weird charges on his credit cards or anything else to indicate that he left voluntarily."
He flipped a new set of slides.
"Kit Carson, child prodigy, MIT graduate at sixteen, for all intents and purposes a young version of the absent-minded professor. He's almost as brilliant as me, but unlike myself, not very grounded in the real world. He's been able to hold things together at the company with the help of David and his father's assistant. If anyone knows anything about where Jonas went they're not saying."
"What about any of the other employees? Is there anything in the information on the second drive?" Eliot asked.
"The employees at Carson are so clean I nearly got a cavity, with the exception of one or two. The second drive has files on companies Carson did business with over the years and companies that have tried to poach the brain trust, hack, buy or steal plans before they get them under licensing or patent."
Hardison tossed folders on the counter.
"Here's all I could find about Carson's customers and competitors, and any information I could find on Rostov. If I had to make a guess, I'd say Carson's geeks were working on something big, and Rostov's been hired by one of them."
Before Hardison could continue, his computer dinged. He typed for several minutes before a new picture and information flashed on the plasma screens.
"The answer to the question, who hired Rostov, is…AA Andret. An investment group of obscenely rich trust funds, old family names, and diplomatic immunity to hide behind." The hacker frowned.
Silence reigned in the room for several minutes as they digested the information. It was Eliot that broke the quiet.
"Parker and I will take Rostov and Andret. Hardison set us up with the aliases Ambrose already established with Rostov. Sophie I want you to use David to get into Carson-get Hardison plugged into their system-we'll do the same. I want Hardison having information Ambrose hasn't thought of so we're not blindsided."
"But…" Hardison started.
"But what?" Eliot growled.
"Parker and I usually do the couple thing." He pouted.
"Where are you? High school? Remember the last time you were face-to-face with Russians? What do you know about kidnap and retrieval? You have a plan for gettin' Carson out if you find him? Can you get yourself, Carson and Parker out without gettin' them all killed?" Eliot barked at the younger man.
Sophie started to step forward as Hardison went pale, but a glare from Eliot stopped her. The hacker had to learn.
"This is a job, not a date." With a growl Eliot grabbed his phone and walked into the workroom to call David.
Confused Parker looked between Sophie and Hardison. Hardison's expression was sheepish while Sophie's was indulgent with a touch of pity.
"What was Eliot talking about?" Parker asked.
Hardison quickly busied himself on the other side of the room while Sophie steered the thief toward the kitchen.
"Hardison was making noises like a jealous boyfriend, and Eliot was reminding him that we're working a job."
"Why would Hardison sound like a jealous boyfriend?" She frowned.
"Because he has feelings for you, and your part of the con requires you to pose as Eliot's wife."
"Hardison has to stop that." She insisted.
"It's not simple to just stop caring about someone." Sophie tried to keep her tone patient and soft.
"He's not supposed to care that way because we pretend to be boyfriend and girlfriend…I mean I like Alec because we're a family. Nate said so, and it's weird and we're a really messed up family, but Hardison's like a geeky younger brother that doesn't always get it, but he tries 'cause that's what you do when you're family…and…"
Sophie held her hand up to stop the torrent of words, and looked past Parker to see the pained look on Hardison's face.
"It's alright, Parker. We can't always help who we love."
"You mean like you and Nate?" She asked bluntly.
Sophie winced. "Yes, exactly."
The grifter caught dark blue eye watching the door to the workroom. When she spoke she made sure her voice wouldn't carry. Eliot always seemed hear and see things you didn't want him seeing and hearing.
"Parker, do you have feelings for Eliot?"
Her eyes went wide then she ducked her head.
"He won't say anything." She whispered.
"Hardison. He doesn't want to upset Hardison." She moved closer so they were almost touching. "Eliot's like Nate, except the drunk part, and the creepy part. He knows everything before you do." Her eyes twinkled with mischief. "He smells good, too-Eliot not Nate."
Sophie just stared at the thief. She'd really been away too long. She'd forgotten the sharp minds Parker and Eliot hid behind their masks. She'd fallen into Nate's mindset: Hitter, Hacker, Grifter, Thief, and mentally chastised herself for pigeon-holing them.
"I'll just tell Eliot Hardison knows I like him like a brother, not like a boyfriend then Eliot can be my boyfriend."
"I wish it were that simple."
"It's not?" Parker was back to being confused. "Why not?"
"Because…just because." Sophie sounded exasperated. "You have to let Hardison go to Eliot to commiserate over his broken heart. Eliot will take him out to some bar, where Hardison will proceed to 'drown' his sorrows over the girl that got away while Eliot is secretly glad you threw Hardison over. He'll feed Hardison hangover cures in the morning, and a week from now he'll be asking you out, or whatever it is you all do for courting rituals."
"Men are sure complicated." Parker grumbled as she gathered up her harnesses, sailed out the door.
Sophie chuckled softly. Eliot didn't stand a chance.
Parker was confused. Everything had played out as Sophie predicted except Eliot never asked her out. David had gotten Sophie established at Carson while Eliot had been waiting for word from Rostov.
She had barely finished reading the email from Rostov as Eliot began their part of the operation.
"Book the rooms around the one they reserved for us. I don't want any surprise visitors." He told Hardison. "Parker get your gear and clothes for working and for dress up. Hardison, did you get anything on the financials for Rostov or Andret?"
The thief had gotten better about knowing what clothes to wear, but was wishing for Sophie as she began packing harnesses and rope. Her 'work' clothes were packed, she was chewing a cuticle over what Eliot meant by 'dress up' when the office door opened to reveal an exasperated Sophie.
Sitting down with their after dinner drinks, Sophie briefed them on what she had learned.
"It seems various agencies have been courting Carson hard to come into the government think tank fold. Jonas had been quietly looking to move the operation off-shore ala a private island away from prying eyes and grasping fingers."
The information had Hardison typing furiously.
"He'd had several meetings with Rostov who was trying to steer him toward Andret with money and real estate that could be obtained for certain considerations."
"So we don't know if the government or Rostov has Jonas?" Eliot ran his hands through his hair in frustration.
"Wait a minute." Hardison admonished. "Here is the footage from cameras around the places Carson was for a few days before he disappeared."
Parker pointed out several people that seemed out of place at various times in the footage while Eliot noticed vehicles following the CEO.
"Damn." Eliot murmured.
"What?" Everyone turned their attention to how still the retrieval specialist had become while staring at the screen.
"I need to see the names connected with Rostov and Andret." Eliot turned on the hacker.
Quiet for once, Hardison handed him a folder. After reading several pages, Eliot threw the folder down and went into the work room. When he returned he was holding a black case and his EMT bag.
The others looked through the file while Eliot was gone, but could not find what had made the retrieval specialist edgy. Three sets of eyes widened when they saw the RFD chips in the black case.
"Eliot what in the world is going on?" Sophie asked.
"Until this is over I want everyone chipped. They don't turn on unless you activate them, and I need to put them where the mark won't show." He looked up into the confused eyes of his family. "We're either part of a very elaborate plan, or a very elaborate con aimed at us."
"Why would someone do that?" Parker asked.
"Because we are the very best at what we do. Remember Sophie's old partner, Marcus Starke? He said he'd heard Nate was running the nastiest crew this side of the Atlantic." Everyone nodded.
They were just getting back on track from the fallout of that job.
"I once did a job for a fella-rich…like obscenely, old money rich. He collected things…perfect things, weird things, unique things, and not just things-people, too. So he's either tryin' to collect Carson's company because of the brain trust, or he's tryin' to collect us."
"So how do we figure it out?" Hardison asked. "'Cause I'd rather you didn't chip me like the family poodle."
"How many layers did you check Rostov and Andret?"
"The standard…" The hacker trailed off as he grabbed a keyboard.
"Also check any camera feeds you can find so we can see if anyone followed David and Emily to McRory's."
"You don't think David and Emily are involved with this 'Keeper' fellow, do you. They seemed quite genuine in their desire to settle down since she's pregnant." Sophie talked as Eliot numbed the skin on the inside of her thigh then injected the chip with a pressurized hypo.
"I had Hardison check Emily's records at the OB/GYN. She really is having a high risk pregnancy. There's notes about wantin' to put her on bed rest." He sat back on his heels. "I don't want you or Hardison anywhere near Rostov. Parker and I will handle that end. If something happens you DON'T come after us."
"But…" Sophie started to protest.
"NO. You may be the best at what you do, but this man is at the very least a sociopath and at worst a psychopath in a Seville Row suit, and would chew you up and spit you out." Eliot softened his tone. "You play the part of Annie Croy very convincingly, sweetheart, but yer not her."
Eliot got everyone chipped, finishing with the shrilly complaining Hardison. He explained how to activate the chip before Hardison showed them what he and Parker found from the surveillance cameras.
"The Ambroses were not followed here, or anywhere else that I can tell. Whoever our MIB's are, they're not interested in those two. They follow Kit and Krista Newman. Now, Kit and Krista have got a 'thing' goin' on so that's probably why they're following her. They also have a tech guy, but he's hack. Nowhere near as talented as my genius self." New pictures filled the screen. "This is a shot of the people staying in the Presidential suite of the Taj Boston booked under Marcus Rostov. This is Rostov."
The screen showed a heavily built man, pale complexion with dark hair and eyes. The picture changed again to show a slim blond man with pale eyes who looked to be in his early 40's. Behind him walked a beautiful woman with similar coloring, two obvious bodyguards behind them.
"There's no record of these four people. Rostov handled check-in and keycards."
"Andre and Antoinette Richfield." Eliot provided. "The Keeper, his twisted sister, and Rostov's bodyguards."
"Eliot, you said you did a job for him…won't he recognize you? Parker asked.
"I dealt with a middle man like Rostov, so we never met, but I make it policy to know whose payin' the bill."
"Anyway. They're in the Presidential Suite. Rostov booked you a room on the second floor. It's at the end of the hall so your Mark Baker alias booked the adjoining room, and there is a connecting door." Hardison handed Parker a case with wireless cameras and mics. "You know what to do, little mama." His smile still held a touch of sadness, but it was genuine.
With a grin Parker grabbed the bag, while Eliot stood at the door with her gear. They left for the hotel to plant Hardison's electronics.
Hardison's gizmos in place, the pair went back to the office to change and pick up their ID's and luggage. Eliot handed Parker hers then took her left hand and slid a plain slim band on her ring finger. Her eyes never left his hands as he gently slid the ring in place then gave her hand a squeeze. Wide blue eyes flew from their hands to his face where she received a soft smile and a wink. He handed her a duplicate of her ring only larger. She trembled as she slid the ring into place. Hardison's voice broke the spell that held her pressed against Eliot. She felt warm lips on her temple before she was released to give her attention to Hardison.
"Daniel and Ellen Boothe-married ten years, met while working the same job, and have been together ever since." Alec pronounced.
"Hardison?" Sophie's voice interrupted. "This Krista Newman, what do we know about her? How long has she been at Carson?"
"Usual genius scientist stuff, and six months. Why?"
"She looks familiar to me. I'm going to call David-see what else you can find on her."
While everyone bustled around her, Parker stared at the thin silver band around her finger-it was really platinum, not silver… Parker's thoughts stopped along with her breath. If the others had been watching and seen the smile on her face, they'd have been worried.
Eliot was watching and saw that his girl understood exactly what he'd said with his actions. He continued to watch as she bounced over to close up her luggage before turning his attention back to Sophie and Hardison. If there was a wild card in the game he needed to know.
They took their time walking away from the registration desk, giving Eliot the opportunity to hear the clerk call Rostov to tell him they were on their way to their room.
Hardison's check on Krista Newman showed that the Richfield's were coming at the Carson men on two fronts. Sophie called to give David the new information.
Eliot wondered if Jonas was still alive since it seemed he was not cooperating with whoever was holding him. Could be they were waiting to see if the honey trap they'd set for Kit was successful before disposing of the elder Carson.
A knock on their door pulled Eliot from his thoughts. He opened the door to one of the Rostov's 'bodyguards' holding an envelope, which he shoved at Eliot and left.
"That was fast." Parker snickered at the bodyguard's actions.
"We've got an hour."Eliot said.
The door to the adjoining room opened to reveal Sophie and Hardison. The hacker had already scanned their room for bugs and had set up his own devices.
Knowing how paranoid Andre was about dealing with outsiders, Eliot and Parker would not be wearing their ear buds when they went to dinner, but they had Hardison's toys to cover them.
"Any sign of Rostov's tech guy or that their jammin' the signals?" Eliot asked as he pulled his hair back into a neat ponytail.
"Naw, I'm workin' through the hotel's Wi-fi and they can't mess with that without alertin' the whole hotel."
A noise from the adjoining doorway had both men looking up.
Eliot recovered his wits first and walked over to the women. Seeing Parker's nervousness, he lightly grasped her hand and kissed her knuckles.
"Darlin, you'll be the most beautiful thing in the room."
Parker blushed at his words before smoothing his lapel. Never looking back at the others, they left the room, Eliot's hand at the small of her back. It was like they had been together for years.
Hearing Hardison's sigh, Sophie turned her attention to the youngest of their group.
"If it's any consolation, it was inevitable." She patted his broad shoulder.
"What?! Why do you say that? I'm just as much a manly man as Eliot." He pouted
"Of course you are, but Parker's a wild thing, and Eliot understands wild things."
"That actually makes a weird kind of sense." Hardison murmured as he turned back to his computers.