How The Pieces Come Together

Fandom:  Leverage; NCIS: Los Angeles; The Losers; Sons Of Anarchy
Pairings: Eliot/Parker; Parker/Alec Hardison; Nathan Ford/Sophie Devereaux; Jake Jensen/Cougar
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 18,367
Summary: They’ve met before when he had “a flag on his shoulder and God in his heart”, before he became Eliot Spencer. Set after The Last Dam Job. When Captain Bonnano needed help, he called the best ‘bad guys’ he knew.
Warnings: Implied/Referenced Rape/Non-con; Prostitution; Graphic depictions of violence.

How The Pieces Come Together PDF

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Parker sat cross-legged on her bed, Bunny providing a warm spot against her side as she looked at the folders strewn across the comforter. It was something she’d started after they blew up the office in Los Angeles … Collecting pieces of information about the people who somehow insinuated themselves into her life.

After they’d scattered, it had taken her weeks to process all the unfamiliar emotions that job had forced through her slim body. The adrenaline rush of cracking the moving armored car mixed with fear when Sterling was inside. The elation when she’d run to Sophie and they’d plunged from the roof, back to anger at seeing Eliot and Hardison cut and bruised while Nate and Sophie walked away fairly unscathed.

She had railed and shouted, raided Sophie’s storage unit, planned jobs and run rooftops to try and purge herself of the roller coaster inside her brain, but nothing stopped it until she’d looked down into the art gallery and saw … Sophie standing in the middle of the room. A hot rage scorched her brain until it was all she could do to not throw her electronic measure at the grifter. Joy coursed through her veins when she looked across the mezzanine and saw Eliot flip Hardison as he tried to make a run for the elevator.

Burying her nose in Eliot’s shoulder as Nate drove away from the museum calmed her, but then the retrieval specialist had been able to do that since their first job together. Even when he called her crazy he seemed to know exactly what she was doing and where she was going to land. When she’d jumped off the balcony at that sleazy contractor’s, Retzing’s house, he’d been right there. She hadn’t even known she was going to be right there.

That had convinced her Eliot was psychic, but none of the pieces of information she had ferreted out said he was psychic. Maybe it was a secret superpower that only she knew about.

A soft chime from her phone pulled her mind back to the present. It was almost time for Eliot. Ever since the job with the dust bunnies—dust men—the one where they tortured him and beat up Hardison, he wasn’t sleeping much, and would make the rounds of all their places usually ending in his office/training room meditating.

After handing Hardison off the Nate, she’d gone back and collected all their files that Mr. Conrad from the CIA had given Zilgram. The stuff she read she’d already known except Eliot’s. By the time she finished reading what wasn’t redacted, she had Bunny clenched to her chest and her face was wet.

Parker truly understood what Eliot meant on the mountain when he’d told her they do the things the others can’t … Won’t. The pictures in her mind clicked like an old-fashioned camera … She’d been broken young by people, who should have had her best interests at heart, and taught her to be ‘normal’ … A regular person, but she’d never missed what she’d never had. Now she was learning regular people stuff from thieves and grifters.

Eliot had all the regular people stuff … A real family, but had been conned and lied to by people who took advantage of his protective instincts and turned him into a nameless, faceless asset. She sometimes wondered as she watched him make magic with his knives if he missed what he’d lost.

Running nimble fingers over the folder, her face lit up in a happy, if slightly crazed expression. She was glad that interrogator had been afraid. Eliot never lied. He told everyone he was a bad man … It’s just that he was their bad man so that was okay.

~}}}~~~>

When they stood on the dam’s spillway, and Nate said he had to make some big changes, none of them thought he meant moving back to the west coast … Well maybe Eliot’s psychic power told him, but the rest of them had been surprised.

Sophie’s eyes widened as she stood in the middle of the controlled chaos that was Eliot organizing their move.

“Portland? How’d you pick Portland?” She asked.

“Threw a dart.” Eliot snarked as he wheeled another pile of boxes into the truck.

In the two months since Jimmy Ford’s death and the demise of Latimer and Dubenich, Nate and Eliot had made several trips to Portland, Oregon looking for a new base of operations. Six weeks ago Nate had returned alone. Parker’s blood ran cold when she didn’t see Eliot. She’d waited until Sophie and Hardison were distracted before cornering the mastermind.

“Nate?” She hissed as she tugged on his coat sleeve.

“Parker  I…” He cut off what he was about to say when he saw the worried confusion in the dark blue eyes. “What?” He tried to hold on to his patience while she danced from foot to foot.

“Um … Eliot …”

“… Is overseeing the work that needs done to our new home.”

“You sure? That Mr. Conrad was practically drooling when he saw Eliot, and Eliot got scary quiet.”

“Why don’t you call him?”

Her face lit up as she skipped out the door of the hotel suite. When Hardison looked up at the sound of the door closing, Nate shrugged and went back to the files he’d been reading.

~}}}~~~>

Hardison looked up in time to see the backside of Parker go out the door. He knew his girl was worried about Eliot, but couldn’t find a reason why. Hacking Parker wasn’t like hacking some database. The girl had too many randoms for him to fathom, and the others on the team would just give him pitying looks if he asked … Except for Eliot who’d give him that damn smirk and say,

“What can I tell ya, man? She’s nuts.”

But there was something between the retrieval specialist and the thief that Parker made look as though it was them against the world, and the world was lacking because of it. The hacker didn’t know whether to be jealous or confront them. He just knew if he confronted them they would both look at him like he was the crazy one. So with the downtime they had thanks to Dubenich and Latimer, Hardison would do what he always did when he couldn’t chart something in his head, he chart it on paper and see where it went.

Raiding the mini-bar for a fresh orange soda, digging through the cabinets of the kitchenette, Alec emptied his armload of snacks that barely passed Eliot’s glare test. To do a proper chart, he needed more information on Eliot. The files Zilgram got from Mr. Conrad should have what he needed. If he had Eliot’s known aliases, he could send out his little webcrawlers to gather information while he tried to logic out Parker’s relationship with Mr. Punchy.

Going to the hidden directory where he kept everything on the team from the aliases he built to every tidbit he could find about them, he was shocked to find Eliot and Parker’s CIA files gone. He checked his thumb and USB drives, even checked where he’d hidden the hard copies, but everything was gone. First he was pissed then a fissure of fear ran down his spine.

He checked the entire system for breaches or any sign of a footprint that someone had been in his system. There was nothing, no failed password attempts, not a trace of anyone but him having been in his servers. He could see Eliot’s files having some kind of virus that deleted the file, but why would Parker’s be missing?

He soon forgot about dissecting Parker and Eliot’s relationship in the frenzy of looking for a needle in an electronic haystack.

~}}}~~~>

Eliot looked around satisfied at what he saw. The new offices of Leverage Associates were ready for the occupants. The smile that lit the rugged face was known to cause parents to lock up their sons and daughters, but the reason for this smile didn’t have a thing to do with Eliot being on the prowl, but with the fact that the team would soon be on his turf.

The still grieving Nate had been easy to convince that this location was perfect for their new offices, pointing out the easily defensible position of the building, self-sufficiency because of the small hydro-electric plant in the basement, and brick façade with limited entry from the ground. Nate had been suspiciously compliant until Eliot realized he was just doing what he thought was expected of him. After touring the antiquated warehouse, the enforcer headed to the airport.

He stopped at the ‘Departures’ door. Nate seemed to snap out of his stupor when Eliot opened the car door and pulled him out of the seat.

“Wha …? Eliot, why are we at the airport?”

Slapping a ticket in Nate’s hand and pulling his bag out of the backseat, Eliot shoved him toward the door.

“Go back to Boston, Nate. Let Sophie take care of you. I’ll call when it’s time to move.” Eliot cajoled softly.

“But …”

“I got this, Nate. Jimmy Ford wasn’t father of the year, but he was still your dad and you need time to deal with his death.”

“I’m …”

“If you say you’re fine I will knock you out, tell them you’re drunk and dump you in your seat.” Eliot threatened through gritted teeth.

“Fine.” Nate shouldered his bag and stepped up on the curb.

Eliot shut the door and leaned against the fender of the SUV, arms crossed over his chest.

“Seriously?”

Pale eyes narrowed.

“You’re going to …” Nate stopped when Eliot nodded.

“You’ve got just enough time to get through security and get to your gate.” Eliot prodded verbally.

“How? Never mind.” Nate spun around and headed through the doors.

On the way back to Portland’s original warehouse district, Eliot stopped at an Internet café and sent a message.

~}}}~~~>

On an uncharted island located in international waters off the Mexican coast an email was opened. A half-naked bespectacled blond ran across the sand.

“Clay! Cougs!” Jake Jensen shouted as he ran toward their living quarters.

His shout brought everyone’s attention to him, including those whose names he called. He slid to a stop in front of his CO.

“Why are you shouting to wake the dead, Jake?” Clay growled at the grinning man.

“Going to the mainland.” The tech held a piece of paper out.

With a sigh, Clay handed the paper to his sniper who smiled when he read it.

“Get your shopping lists together people. Cougar and Jensen are taking a trip to Portland.” Clay shouted across the compound.

He looked back down at the paper the sniper had given back.

Send the kid and his nanny. W. Lobo

There were coordinates, which no doubt would take them to the exact spot Eliot wanted them. Clay shook his head as he walked back to suite he shared with Aisha wondering how his former weapons specialist was getting along, and why he would need Jake.

It didn’t take long for the two men to prep their jet boat and collect shopping lists from everyone. Who knew it took so much stuff when you had kids. It was late afternoon when they pulled away from the dock. They’d stay in international waters until they got up the coast of Oregon before heading into Chinook Astoria and down the Williamette to Portland.

Cougar piloted the boat while Jake worked to merge the group’s lists down to a more manageable one. The monotony of his task let Cougar’s mind wander back to the young man with flat pale eyes that had been transferred out of The Losers a couple weeks after Cougar had been transferred in. He remembered the Colonel bitching about the spooks snapping up his best people, and everyone but Roque and Pooch staying out of his way as though they understood the source of Clay’s ill humor.

Clay had stood on the dock looking at the boat then back at the compound as though demanding to be taken along, but Aisha had called his name and with bent shoulders, he’d turned back to their compound.

Three hours before sunrise, Cougar shut down the engines, settled on the palette they’d rigged under the shelter, curling around Jensen he dropped into a light doze knowing the sunrise would wake him.

~}}}~~~>

Pulling up to the dock, Cougar shut down the engines as Jake scanned the river bank. The sniper had been scanning both banks for some time and saw nothing to indicate danger or their host. Still not seeing anyone, the blond kept watch while Cougar secured the boat and collected their gear. Both men’s hearts stopped when a voice that was more growl than words sounded behind them.

“Y’all’s gettin’ soft.”

“Lobo?” Cougar asked as he turned slowly ready to reach for his weapon if needed.

A wide eyed Jake watched the man in shadows closely.

“Cougar.” Eliot gave the sniper a smirk.

“Ass.” Jake muttered before he clamped his jaw shut.

Pale eyes flickered to him and back to Cougar.

“Slippin’ in the nanny department.”

Dark eyes rolled in exasperation.

“It’s a behavior we’re working on.”

“Must be a geek thing.” Eliot turned away. “Grab yer gear and come on … Supper’s almost ready.”

A shower and the best meal they’d had in forever, and they settled around a conference table covered in blueprints.

“There’s four warehouses in this block, all belonging to me. They’re laid out the same with different functions on the lower floors. I want them all outfitted like a geek’s wet dream.” Blue/grey eyes landed on Jensen.

“Brick walls might cause a problem.” The tech started only to stop abruptly when he looked at the long-haired man.

“You’re here to make them not a problem.” Eliot’s growl caused Cougar to start to come off his chair.

“It might cost.”

“Also not a problem. Since you need to stay out of sight, make a list, I’ll fill it.” With those words, the long-haired man left the table.

“I thought you were a hard ass.” Jensen looked up into dark eyes.

The sniper looked at the figure retreating toward the kitchen.

“Being the best means you’re usually someone’s bitch.” The softly accented voice trailed off.

~}}}~~~>

When Eliot packed Jensen, Cougar and what seemed like a mountain of supplies onto the boat five weeks later, all that was left to do was get on a plane, and retrieve the team. Shelley had brought his truck, Challenger and motorcycles to the west coast, leaving him free to worry about getting everyone else’s ‘stuff’ to Portland. He looked for Hardison and Sophie to be the worst culprits. He had just enough time to clean the suite the boys were using before he had to be at the airport.

He’d just settled into the cab when his phone rang.

“What?”

If the driver would have looked in the mirror, he’d have seen the stern face soften.

“I’m fine, Parker.”

He rolled his eyes as she spoke.

“I’m glad you’ve got the freezer empty.” An indignant squawk came through the phone. “It’s that much less to pack.”

Eliot could picture the frown between her brows as she deciphered what he was saying.

“I’m on my way to airport, Parker. You better have everything packed or I’m leavin’ it.” He gave a mock growl.

He pulled the phone back as she shrieked. “GOTTA GO!”

Pocketing the phone, he looked up to see the driver watching him in the rear view mirror.

“Wife?”

“What!? No.” Eliot threw the man a disgruntled look. “Annoying co-worker.”

The man gave him a look of disbelief before turning his attention back to the road.

~}}}~~~>

“Parker!” Sophie exclaimed as the blonde nearly ran her down as headed for the door. “Where are you going in such a rush?”

“We gotta pack Eliot’s coming to get us.” She hurried out the door.

Sophie looked at Nate and Hardison.

“Did you know he was coming today?”

Both men shook their heads.

“The only thing he said was he’d be back when everything was ready.” Nate offered.

The rest of the day was spent in a flurry of packing and gathering what they were moving to the west coast. They had shipped boxes of things they didn’t use often to the new address, but there was still a lot to do.

Nate and Hardison had spent most of the day packing their servers, and had sat down to a room service dinner when the door opened. Both men looked up expecting Parker or Sophie, but continued to stare when Eliot walked through the door.

“What? I got something on my face?” Eliot’s tone was sharp.

“Naw, man.” Hardison was the first to come to life. “Just surprised that you found us. We’ve been moving every few days just in case.”

Eliot turned his glare up a notch. “Hardison, what did I do before this crew?”

“Hit people, shoot people, hurt people, made people bleed …” Hardison rambled as he turned back to his dinner.

Nate caught the quick flash of hurt and anger that crossed Eliot’s face before it disappeared behind his customary glare as he stalked over to settle in the corner farthest from them. Nate was still watching Eliot when Hardison gave an indignant squawk.

“OW! Woman, what’s your malfunction?” He shouted at Parker.

“He retrieved stuff.” Parker corrected as she stole the dessert off the table.

“HEY! That was mine.” The hacker whined. “I know what Eliot used to do. I read the file.”

Parker took a bite and set it back on the table.

“Not as good as yours.” She smiled widely at Eliot.

“No one’s is as good as mine, Sweetheart.” He smiled warmly at the blonde before his usual expression dropped back in place.

Jealousy and awe flashed through the men eating dinner at the way their hitter turned the charm on and off like a faucet. Placated, Parker perched on a chair by Alec as the men finished their dinner pelting Eliot with questions about their new home.

~}}}~~~>

Eliot slid from the suite as soon as everyone’s attention was diverted to going over their lists. He was usually as quick as Sophie with picking up nonverbal clues from people, but he could not figure out what he’d done to get Hardison’s shorts in a knot.

Ever since Parker had started leading Hardison on their merry little chase, the hacker had gotten extremely prickly about the thief. That Parker had little concept of personal space or privacy or the fragility of the egos of young geniuses with issues was not Eliot’s fault. That he was bearing the brunt of the hacker’s insecurities because he was under the impression that Eliot wouldn’t retaliate was not making this a good time for the retrieval specialist.

Eliot pictured many painful training sessions in Hardison’s future as he settled in for a few hours sleep.

~}}}~~~>

Lucille and the truck they’d leased for the move were nearly loaded by the time the others made an appearance. First Hardison was flustered that Eliot had gained access to the storage unit he’d secured, then preened that a technophobe like Eliot had learned something from him.

“I gave him the code.” Nate snapped. “Can we focus so we can get finished?”

Ignoring the men, Parker and Sophie moved to help Eliot. When they were out of earshot, Parker pulled Eliot to a stop.

“Nate didn’t give you the code did he?”

Eliot shrugged off the question as he moved lockers of Parker’s equipment onto the truck.

“I knew it.” She hissed in a stage whisper as she started rolling Sophie’s trunks to the truck.

They had everything loaded by noon and after a quick lunch at a nearby diner, Nate and Sophie climbed into Nate’s car while Parker and Hardison took Lucille and Eliot the truck.

Nate’s car and Lucille remained in close proximity to each other, the heavy truck falling behind on the hills, which was fine with Eliot they didn’t need to cross America looking like a convoy.

Around midnight, he pulled into the truck stop outside Joliet, Illinois, filled the fuel tanks and found a quiet spot in the back row of the parking lot to get a few hours sleep.

Too controlled to give himself away when he was jerked awake by his nightmare, Eliot sat up slowly, body stiff from sleeping on the truck’s bench seat. Grabbing his pack and fuel receipt, he felt better after a hot shower and breakfast. The sun had just breached the horizon when he started the second leg of his trip.

~}}}~~~>

Stepping into the parking lot of the Fairfield Inn, Nate and Alec looked around for any signs of Eliot. They were hoping to pawn Parker off on him today.

The thief had spent the day before going back and forth between vehicles, and as much as Alec Hardison cared about Parker, he wasn’t sure he could spend another day in an enclosed space with her. Even now she was demolishing the hotel’s continental breakfast bar.

Seeing no sign of their large truck, the hacker had already fired up his Notebook when Nate turned to him.

“Where?”

“Iowa.”

They groaned at the thought of entertaining the high energy thief for two more days without Eliot’s calming influence.

They’d stopped in North Platte, Nebraska for the night, Sophie twitchy until they made it through Lincoln.

“We could have had Eliot tow your car and flown to Portland.” Sophie complained.

Even her patience was wearing thin.

“What did you do to piss off Eliot?” Her tone was testy.

“Me? Nothing. I think Hardison’s jealous boyfriend act was getting old. He’s fine while we’re on a job, then he gets all jealous when it’s back to real life.”

“Ah. On the job, he’s the damsel in distress being saved by Parker and Eliot, so he tries to assert control and pisses everyone off?”

“Something like that.” Nate grinned before pulling her in for a quick kiss.

“Eliot driving out ahead keeps us from looking like a gypsy caravan and gives Hardison exactly what he wanted … Time alone with Parker.”

“Yep.”

Sophie put her arm through Nate’s as they strolled into the hotel lobby.

“Oh dear.” Sophie looked up. “Maybe they have a gym where she can work off a little of that energy.”

Rolling his eyes, Nate checked them into the suite Hardison booked from their last fuel stop.

~}}}~~~>

Lying back on the queen size bed, Eliot breathed deeply letting go the tensions of the past few days. The time he’d spent prepping the warehouses had kept his hands busy as his mind dealt with all the shit dredged up during the job with the Dustman and the CIA. The time Cougar and Jake had been with him had been companionable. The work and Cougar keeping the young man’s high energy contained was a much needed distraction. The silence after they left had been a balm to his psyche battered by immersion into a culture that could have been his fate if not for his iron will and stubborn determination to not get lost in the morass of memories from too many missions and too many bodies. The explosions, guns and worry that Nate wouldn’t nosedive them all into something Eliot couldn’t get them out of after his father’s death, the desire to put a bullet in Dubenich’s brain so Nate wouldn’t. Sophie’s horror at his actions, Quinn’s silent support left his nerves so raw that the time alone had given him the space he needed to stuff all his demons back in their boxes.

Another reason he was running out ahead was the mess he’d left in the space he claimed for himself. Like most people in his profession, he constantly moved from place to place. Now he found he’d accumulated things, and not just the trappings of his profession. There were odds and ends from clients, jobs, Parker, bless her twisted little heart … So he was sorting through it all. Among the foot lockers and bins he’d collected from the dozen storage units he had around the country, he’d found a lock box that it’d taken him some time to open.

It was in a unit he’d rented after he’d been transferred to General Atherton’s black ops command. The key was long gone the lock rusted, and by the time he’d cleaned and lubricated the tumblers enough to pick the lock, his anxiety of what he’d thought important enough to keep all these years was running pretty high.

Inside the lock box was the last vestiges of the man who died on his last mission for Atherton. The first time he’d thought about that mission in years was when Hardison had played ‘The Ice Man’, and they’d dressed Parker like a Barbie doll. The last time he’d thought of it was when he’d seen Archie Leach. Now those files were scattered across his loft, and he needed to get it all locked away before the team, especially Parker and Hardison saw them.

Neither Parker nor Leach seemed to remember him and he wanted to keep it that way.

~}}}~~~>

~ July 2000 ~

“Hey Sarge, General’s asking for you!”

The guy sitting next to him nudged him with his elbow.

“That’s you.” He snickered.

With a glare he stood and headed for the door. The promotion had come after their last mission, and with the ink barely dry in his file, it looked like they were throwing him into the fire.

There were four other men in the office when he stepped through the door.

“Close the door, Sargeant.” Atherton ordered. “At ease … Sit.” He tossed a file toward each man. “One of the raids we recently conducted,” he looked pointedly at his newest Sergeant, “garnered us intel we’ve been working six months to get.”

Atherton watched the frowns appear on the handsome faces in front of him, all except one that held its usual icy glare. The intelligence behind those eyes worried him, but he had several agencies after him to let them have the Sargeant. He was beginning to think it might be a good idea.

“You men were selected for two reasons. Your pretty boy faces and you’re part or full blood Indian … Excuse me, Native American.” Now they were all glaring.

He raised a hand to stop their objections.

“Our arms dealer is using his wife’s ‘debut’ of her newest line of clothes to smuggle a shipment of weapons to one of the more violent drug cartels we’ve been battling. This is our chance to cut the head off two snakes at the same time. Now the ‘theme’ of this fashion spectacle is Cowboys and Indians.” He rolled his eyes. “We’ve already got you booked, and your ‘agent’ will have your gear if and when the shipment appears. Try to keep collateral damage to a minimum … This woman apparently has enough clout to get the use of top end everything including enough diamond jewelry to cover the defense budget all shipped to an abandoned airstrip … Here.”

Eliot looked through the folder and rolled his blue eyes at the location … Lake Tahoe … Could this get anymore cliché. This had all the earmarks of a glorious disaster, but he could see no way to get out of the mission.

A week later, he was glad it was July. The only thing between him and Mother Nature was a couple feathers and a Pendleton blanket covering the tender parts of his anatomy. Their arms dealer had yet to make an appearance though his wife had left her fingerprints on all the male models, and a couple of the female.

Heading to the dressing rooms to put clothes on for the next part of the shoot, he walked past an argument between and older man and the security guard for the jewelry.

“I am so terribly sorry,” the older man seemed to be pleading, “my daughter, though she looks like an adult is a little simple minded. She saw the pretty jewelry and became fascinated. I humbly apologize for any trouble she may have caused.”

“Simple minded?” The guard let go the blonde’s arm with a shove toward her father. “Shorten her leash or I’ll have her and you banned from this event.” The guard growled.

“I understand. Thank you for your kindness, Sir.” He took his daughter by the arm and walked away.

Still watching the pair, he saw no lack of intelligence … Though there was a hint of insanity in the deep blue eyes. The girl began reciting details as they walked. So jewels thieves then. Nothing to do with his mission, but he made a note of their faces, and went in search of some clothes that would cover his nether regions.

~}}}~~~>

Parker looked around feeling eyes on her, but not seeing who was staring. She pulled her attention back to Archie and the guard, but apparently her spacing out, looking for the eyes … Sold the security guard on her being a simpleton that liked shiny things. A tug on her arm, and they were walking across the room. As she gave Archie a recitation of what she’d seen in regards to security on the jewels, she could feel the eyes again She looked up … Straight into the stare of a pale eyed wolf who winked at her before turning away.

She brushed her bangs out of her eyes, but the wolf was gone.

“Parker? Are you paying attention?” Archie’s cultured voice cut through the confusion making static in her brain.

“What? Yeah. Paying attention. Anyway …” She continued with her report pushing away thoughts of wolves and eyes like blue topaz.

~}}}~~~>

When they weren’t being photographed with little or no clothing, the four Delta Force soldiers wandered the area looking for signs of things or people that didn’t belong. Nothing … There was nothing that even hinted at not being what it was supposed to be.

It was the last day when a wave of excitement ran through the models and support people as the crowd parted to allow the passage of the designer and her husband, Damien Moreau.

Blue/grey eyes narrowed as they took the measure of the man. The suit cost more than he got paid in six months, watch and cufflinks expensive but understated … Everything perfect, but he saw the man behind the trappings of wealth. The eyes scanning the room … The contempt in his expression for the fawning sycophants around him … The casual cruelty to the people around him, and the black suited men that were never very far away.

He looked away, not wanting Moreau to see the other predator in the room, but as his head turned he saw the blonde waif he’d heard called Parker sliding through the crowd. Wallets, watches and necklaces were disappearing into nimble little fingers as she moved closer to the king and queen of the event.

Inwardly chastising himself for getting involved, he moved to intercept the skinny blonde. He grabbed her wrist just as fingers moved toward the platinum Rolex.

“Yer late. Yer supposed to be in hair and makeup, Sweetheart.” He tugged the wide-eyed blonde away from the arms dealer and his wife.

“You have a death wish, Girl?” He hissed as he pulled her across the room.

Spotting the older man who claimed to be her father, he shoved the girl in his arms.

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll clear out …” He looked around the room at the swarm of activity, “Now.” He added a glare to emphasize his words.

“Thank you, young man. I think you may be right in your assessment.” Giving the room a last glance, he wrapped an arm around the girl’s waist. “Come along, Parker.”

“But …”

“No, your young man’s right. It’s time we returned home.”

Watching until they drove away, he moved to where the others from the squad were waiting for their orders.

“Not long now.” He murmured just as the assistant that Moreau had been verbally kicking came to get them for their next session.

Standing from where he’d been posing with an artfully debauched red-head, he could hear the whir of the camera motor so made sure the couch and the red-head hid the parts that made this art and not porn. Not liking the feeling he was getting, he looked up into the face of the man they were here to capture. The heat coming from those eyes should have set the couch on fire. Snatching his robe from the photographer’s assistant, he took his time giving Moreau just enough of a peek to be an accidental tease before stalking off to the dressing rooms.

“Sarge, we got trucks comin’ in supposedly to haul all these sets and stuff back to the city.” Jake Tall Bear filled him in as he was pulling on his clothes.

“Do we hear anything?” He asked their ‘agent’ since he had the most freedom of movement.

“Some grumbling from one of the black suits about missin’ out on one of the models ‘cause he has to work tonight.”

“That’s a start. Tonight we watch from the perimeter. Bring the guns in on the trucks from the set company, and in the confusion of breakin’ down, the shipment gets exchanged.”

The launch party was being touted a huge success for Katya Moreau’s fashion line, but now the guests and buyers were beginning to depart. At the now empty camper trailers the models had been using as living quarters, the black ops crew geared up.

“I’ll stay in close and call you if it looks like the exchange is goin’ down.”

With a grunt of acknowledgement the squad scattered.

Things stayed quiet until two things happened … He saw the first crate of RPGs come off one truck and get loaded on another, and a slim shadow slipped from the office where a safe full of jewelry was being stored until it was picked up in the morning.

Watching the activity at the loading dock, she didn’t see the security guard coming back from the men’s room. He’d just activated his mic to call his men when everything went to hell.

“HEY!” The security guard shouted, alerting the men on the dock.

The blonde’s head snapped around to assess her situation. With few places to hide, she shot for the shadows hoping to disappear into the dark. Gunfire erupted from the dock, taking out the guard, and spraying his general vicinity. He reached from behind the crate where he was hiding and pulled the girl out of the line of fire.

~}}}~~~>

Parker cringed when she heard the guard yell. Archie would be so disappointed if she got caught. Looking for cover, she turned into the shadows. Her black clothes should give her the chance to work her way back to the door. She knew she was royally screwed when the guys on the dock started shooting, but before she got very far something grabbed her out of the dark.

Panicked, she froze as she was pulled close to a heavily armed body.

“Dammit, girl. I thought I told you to leave.” He growled in her ear.

Parker opened her eyes and looked straight into the glowing eyes of her wolf. She relaxed and let him pull her deeper into the shadows of the large crate. She looked around the other side to see the guard lying in a pool of blood.

“FIND THEM!” Someone yelled.

“Come on.” The wolf growled through gritted teeth as he pulled her deeper into the building.

They paused to get their bearings, the man protecting her slung his rifle around his back and pulled his knife, which he used to kill the guard that had been set inside the door. Eyes wide and heart fluttering in her throat she watched him wipe his knife on the bad guy’s pants before moving toward the door.

Opening the door a crack, they were driven back by machine gun fire.

He touched his throat. “Could us a little help on the west side, guys.”

“On the way, Gunney.”

They moved for cover away from the door, the wolf putting her behind him as footsteps came closer. Parker held her breath as two men walked by close enough to touch when lights snapped on and voices yelled.

“FEDERAL AGENTS!!! EVERYONE DROP YOUR WEAPONS!!!”

She looked at her protector and saw his eyes narrow then widen.

“Fuck!”

He moved like quicksilver as he stripped off his rifle and pistol then grabbed her and rolled them up like an armadillo behind a concrete half wall. The hangar lit up with fireworks before everything went black.

She didn’t know how long she’d been unconscious, but it must not have been very long because feet were running and people were still yelling. She squirmed out from under the heavy bulk of the man who’d shielded her. He was breathing, but it sounded funny … Kind of wet. She didn’t want to leave him, but if they caught her there’d be no escape. She didn’t have Archie’s ability to talk her way out of things so she did the only sensible thing … She whispered an apology to her wolf as she propped him up so he could breathe easier then slipped out the hole that had been blown in the wall.

~}}}~~~>

Fighting to open his eyes, he panicked when he couldn’t breathe. He tried to reach for whatever was choking him, but found he couldn’t move. Taking control of his panic, his eyes did a quick scan. Restraints on his wrists, a breathing tube in his throat … He relaxed knowing his panicked heart rate would have someone rushing in any minute.

Looking around the room, he concluded he was somewhere private because this didn’t look like any hospital he’d ever seen. He must have been taken by friendlies because if he was found by Moreau’s people they’d have left him to die. His next thought was for his squad and the little blonde, Parker … He wondered if …

His thoughts were interrupted by two women entering the room.

“Good of you to join us Mr. Spencer. Give us just a moment, and if everything checks out we’ll pull that nasty tube out of your throat.” The older woman soothed.

*Spencer. Who was Spencer?*

Not knowing his circumstances, he kept quiet and let them work. Watching the doctor check his wounds and the nurse change the bandages, he knew he was lucky to be alive. He wondered briefly about the skinny blonde, and hoped she’d gotten away in one piece. Finally left alone with a cup of ice chips and the promise of dinner, he felt his eye lids grow heavy. Just about to tip over into sleep, the creak of leather and the scrape of a shoe on tile shot adrenaline through his veins though he kept his body relaxed and his eyes mere slits. The person stopped at his bedside reading his chart.

He opened his eyes and saw a diminutive woman with a page boy hair cut and horn rimmed glasses.

“Welcome back to the land of the living, Mr. Spencer.”

Opening his mouth to correct her, she raised her hand to stop him.

“There was an unfortunate casualty during the raid on the gunrunners. A Gunnery Sergeant was killed by what was determined to be friendly fire from his own teammates. The body was destroyed in the fire that ensued when the gunrunners fired an RPG into the building.”

Exhausted from his injuries and recent foray into consciousness, his natural snark came forward.

“Does Mr. Spencer have a first name?”

“Eliot.”

“What does Eliot Spencer do?” He sighed tiredly.

“Works for me because there were some issues with his previous employer.”

“Fu…” He cut himself off remembering the older woman, and his mama raised him not to curse in front of his elders. “If I work for you I should at least know your name.”

“Henrietta Lange, but MY people call me Hetty.”

“So … Hetty … When can I get out of here?”

A flash of headlights pulled his attention back to the present as a combination of fatigue and hunger had him looking for someplace to take a break.

The last time Eliot thought about the fiasco that got him away from Atherton before the General had him killed for the information he’d collected about his treasonous dealings was when he’d been standing on the roof for the first time with Parker and Hardison and the wind had carried Parker’s scent to him waking the memory of a skinny blonde thief and her ‘father’.

Being only three hours from his destination, Eliot decided to push on knowing the others would probably stop around Twin Falls, Idaho, and arrive in Portland a day behind him.

~}}}~~~>

The original architects of the warehouse had been very clever. They’d built a building inside a building leaving a space between the inner and outer walls to allow movement around without going through. He’d built several safes throughout ‘his’ building using the façade of the brick passage ways to disguise them. He didn’t know if it would keep Parker out, but it would slow her down. There were the usual safety deposit boxes and storage units scattered around, but he’d consolidated most of his bolt holes to the western half of the country.

By the time Lucille and the black Mercedes pulled up to the warehouses, all that was left on the big truck was things that required two people to move.

Eliot knew exactly where everyone was as he moved toward the kitchen to put the finishing touches on his lasagna before putting it in the oven. He figured it would be done about the same time the team got settled and came looking for food. He’d stepped away from the oven when a blur registered in his peripheral vision it allowed him just enough time to bring up his arms before Parker was hanging on him like a sock monkey. Hardison was only a step or two behind and sandwiched the blonde between them.

With a growl, Eliot tried to disengage himself from the pair only to look over and see Sophie and Nate grinning like they just conned the Queen out of the crown jewels.

“We really missed you.” Parker shook him by the shoulders.

“I’m about to waste away to nothing.” Hardison complained as he headed for the beverage cooler entranced at variety along with his customary orange soda. “Once you’ve had Hotpockets ala Eliot, the ones in the store just aren’t the same.”

“Food’ll be ready in an hour, there’re four suites upstairs. Then someone can help me get the big stuff off the truck.”

He was setting the table when Parker reappeared.

“Where do you stay?”

“Not here.”

“No kidding.” She snapped.

“I’m not far.” He looked up and saw her frowning at him. “Shouldn’t you be helping Hardison unload the van?”

She frowned at the change in subject, but couldn’t deny the truth of his words.

“I don’t think he likes me very much right now.”

Eliot arched an eyebrow at her confused tone.

“He kept trying to make me ride with Nate and Sophie. Have you seen the backseat in Nate’s car? It’s not big enough for Bunny, let alone both of us.”

“I’m sure he’ll get over now that you’re not cooped up in the van together.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Ask Hardison. I have to finish supper.” He grinned as the blonde trotted across the building to the garage area.

“Man, it’s gonna take me a month to even think about this place gettin’ into the 21st century.” Hardison complained as he unloaded Lucille. “How am I supposed to do my kung fu …?”

Everyone could still hear his complaints as the elevator dropped into the basement. Eliot was out the door just as they heard the next yell.

“YEAH BABY!!! ELIOT GOT ME A NEW BATCAVE!!”

~}}}~~~>

“You know Hardison’ll never come out of the basement again?” Nate cracked as he handed the enforcer a beer before sitting in one of the lounge chairs along the new front porch.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” He saluted Nate with his bottle. “You get settled.”

“Nice suites.” He watched Eliot closely. “Where’s yours?”

“Not far.”

Nate sighed into his scotch. Though Eliot never gave any indication he felt like an outsider, the mastermind wondered if he and Sophie and Hardison and Parker coming together romantically made him feel excluded. For a time Nate had thought there was something between Eliot and Sophie, the grifter constantly looked to Eliot for backup and approval, but when he’d come back from prison she’d been right there, and Eliot seemed to take a step back.

“Eliot?”

He rolled his eyes before looking out over the river.

“You take the river view or Sophie?”

Surprised by the question, Nate answered truthfully. “Technically it’s Sophie’s, but I’ll be spending a lot of time there. Parker took the other one on the riverside.” He took a breath to try again. “Eliot, I’m sorry about bringing you to the attention of your old bosses.”

“Conrad was never my boss.” Eliot’s tone was flat hoping Nate would let the subject drop.

No such luck.

“But he said …”

“We’d come to his attention. It won’t be a problem. I can get his attention to be mostly somewhere else.”

Nate felt panic rising.

“Did they reactivate you?”

Eliot clamped down on the words that were trying to escape. He’d volunteered to go into the study. He knew there was a chance he’d be found out. It had been shear machismo on his part to not let the kid have his way when he’d grabbed the tazer. That and he really hated electrical shocks … They seemed to be SOP with every bad guy these days.

“It’s been handled … For a price.” Eliot kept his tone even. “I’m flyin’ out tomorrow.”

“You’ll be back?” The tone was hopeful.

“Couple days … Couple weeks at the most.”

“But …”

“It’ll take that long for Hardison to get everything set-up, and everyone to get settled.”He gave Nate a hard glare. “Settle in, settle down, relax, and don’t take any jobs until I get back.”

“There’s at least two weeks worth of work to get this place in shape.” Sophie offered from the doorway.

Eliot stood.

“Sensible woman. You should listen to her more.” He brushed past the grifter. “I gotta pack.”

“Is he upset about that whole CIA thing?” Sophie asked as she settled in the chair Eliot vacated.

“Says not, but he’s leaving to do an outside job.”

“How does he seem?”

“Like Eliot.” Nate shrugged as he went in search of a refill.

Sophie blinked wide eyed at Nate. If she thought it would help, she’d slap him again. This move was causing them all to go through changes … Sort through the things they’d collected over the years, and re-assess who they were as they remained together as friends and as a family.

Taking a sip of her tea, she used her people reading skills to honestly assess her odd little family. While Parker and Hardison were cute at the moment, their mental and emotional maturity was rapidly catching up with their chronological ages.

Parker’s world view would always be bent, cracked and twisted, but Sophie feared the eight year age difference between the hacker and thief would soon become a stressor.

Hardison had visions of running his own crew, and Sophie imaged he would want Parker at his side, but by the time he would be ready, she feared Parker would be thinking of slowing down as the abuse of her chosen profession began to wear on her body. He’d be revving up while she was slowing down, shifting her focus to protégés, maybe babies, and doing a little masterminding of her own.

That shook Sophie out of her thoughts as the evening turned cooler. She did not just imagine The Leverage School of Hitters, Hackers, Grifters, Thieves, and Masterminds. They were all so much more than those titles, but it would make for an interesting retirement.

Shaking her head as she went back inside, she was either exhausted from the trip or had inhaled too much fresh air. Tomorrow she’d start whipping this place into shape.

~}}}~~~>

This was so much better than his fantasies. Looking around at everything Eliot had installed, Alec Hardison began to re-think his opinion of his friend. When he paid attention, he’d see the intelligence behind those pale eyes, but usually all he saw was the Hitter.

As he set up his servers, he couldn’t get over how everything was perfect. The room he was in was one of the old tunnels liked they’d used for the dam job, but it was under their warehouse. The hidden hatch was triggered by a biometric reader so only the team would be able to access the server room, giving them a secondary escape route should they need it, allowing them to blow the server room and cover their escape. It was so James Bond as to be practically orgasmic to the hacker.

He wondered where Parker was hiding. He wanted to show off all his toys, and maybe brag a little about everything Eliot had obviously learned from him in the past four years. His fingers practically itched for his babies to come on-line. Looking for anything that would keep him in his lair, he finally admitted he was going to have to exit to the real world, and get to work setting up the office space topside.

He was almost disappointed to find little left to do in the part of the warehouse designated as ‘office’ other than get the wireless network up and running. All the equipment was top of the line and ready to go. He was beginning to think Eliot may have another hacker he was seeing besides himself. He felt his gut tighten. Surely Eliot wouldn’t have allowed Chaos into his new inner sanctum. Even he wouldn’t be that callous. If not Chaos, he wondered who.

That thought was quickly replaced with thoughts of Parker. Sophie and Nate were rearranging furniture, but he didn’t see Parker or Eliot anywhere. He was just about to pull up his GPS on the pair when a war whoop sounded from Parker as she landed on top of the elevator cage.

“This place is SO cool.” She crowed as she unhooked and jumped down. “There’s three other buildings in the complex.”

The others drew close.

“Yeah I know?” Nate answered. “Eliot said the owner probably wouldn’t mind letting them all go if the price was right.”

“Yeah. This one is the protected from sight by the others, and there’s a big iron gate over on the main street side.”

“Big gate?”

“Yeah. Like a big truck could drive through, but they’re tall and heavy.”

Everyone exchanged looks.

“Was it there when you were here?” Sophie asked.

“No, but Eliot’s been working on this for a couple months.” Nate’s voice carried that ‘I have a puzzle to solve’ tone. “Hardison, you up and running enough to check out our new home?”

“Sure. The way Eliot’s got this place wired he’s either totally lied about being a technophobe, or he’s been seein’ another hacker. Either way I’m devastated by it.” He laid a forearm dramatically across his forehead.

“I choose the hacker.” Parker chimed in. “Eliot knows all the best people.”

Hardison was still sputtering when Eliot walked in the room.

“What!?” He growled.

“You cheated on me.” Hardison whined.

“You’ve been hangin’ out with Parker too long, yer startin’ to talk as crazy as her.”

“Eliot who owned these buildings?” Nate asked.

“No one you need to know.”

“I can’t believe you went behind my back with another hacker. I feel so violated.” Hardison was sounding like a cuckold spouse.

“Yeah. Well I can think of two others just off the top of my head besides Chaos.” Eliot growled.

“Now that’s just hurtful. What do you mean TWO others.”

“The Vulture and one so reclusive he lives on an uncharted island in international waters. I don’t understand what it is with geeks and their weird names.”

That broke Hardison paralysis.

“You know The Vulture? I can’t believe you think The Vulture’s better ‘n me.”

“Didn’t say she was better, but she’s not always runnin’ off on some geek spiral … Besides this place is wired to be every hacker’s jerk-off fantasy so ….” Eliot shrugged and threw up his hands. Hardison’s whining was starting to wear thin.

The hacker held his hands up in a placating gesture.

“Yer right. It   Is … Er … Ummm … What you said, and I am very appreciative that I didn’t have to do all this work myself.” He ducked his head in embarrassment. “I’ll just go … You know …” He took off for the office space.

Shaking his head, Eliot got what he needed before returning to his loft.

~}}}~~~>

Eliot had been gone three days when Hardison yelled from their office.

“Guys! Come take a look at this.” There was amusement in his voice.

Thinking there was some hint of what Eliot was doing, they hurried over. Instead they found pictures of a heavily muscled naked man with feathers in his hair, holding a blanket in front of his ‘man bits’ as Hardison narrated.

“Hardison where did you get these?” Sophie asked almost drooling.

“They popped up when the media started digging into Moreau’s background after he was arrested. His wife was some high dollar designer, and these are from the debut of the very last year she had anything on the market. There was some kinda of raid with arms dealers, and all kinds of government agencies. A couple of the good guys got killed by friendly fire, bad guys were shootin’ RPGs, and General Atherton retired right after it happened.”

He turned back to the screens.

“That sure does look like Eliot.” He grinned maniacally. “Just wait ‘til he gets back.”

Parker’s eyes were wide as she recognized the man that had saved her life. She’d been so scared. She’d thought he was dead when she couldn’t wake him up, and when she heard voices shouting to make sure he was dead, she’d ran.

“That’s not Eliot.” She blurted out.

“What?!” The other three said in unison.

“You tellin’ me you’ve seen Eliot naked.” Hardison squeaked.

Parker might not know a lot about relationships, but she knew NOT to answer that question. So she rolled her eyes and stated the obvious.

“Eliot would never be that bulky. You can’t move the way he does when you look like that.” Eliot wouldn’t look like that, but a Navy SEAL could. “Plus Eliot’s got tattoos on his legs.”

Hardison relaxed as he listened to Parker’s reasons.

“They sure look a lot alike.” He muttered.

“You seriously think Eliot would pose like that?” Sophie asked as she continued to appreciate the fine definition of the young man’s muscles.

“Sophie?” Nate asked as the grifter continued to stare.

“What? I’m just saying …” She gave him that smile that made parts of him ooze and other parts come to attention.

“I’d get rid of those before Eliot gets back.” Nate pointed at the screen.

The hacker started to protest then remembered the training the enforcer put them through. He would have bruises on his bruises if he got on Eliot’s bad side right before one of their sessions.

A week later, they found Eliot in the kitchen cooking breakfast seeming none the worse for wear. After breakfast they sat down in front of the plasma screens with a stack of files. Picking one they were back in the business of providing leverage.

~}}}~~~>

“We can’t do it that week. Hardison has a geek thing that week.” The straw Parker was sucking on started to gurgle as it encountered the bottom of the empty cup.

“A geek thing?” Nate raised an eyebrow.

“CanSecWest Security Conference in Vancouver. It’s not a problem. I can do both.” Hardison assured them.

“Thought you already had reservations?” Parker looked confused as Alec tried to shush her.

“It’s fine, Mama. No worries here.” Hardison grinned at the others while they gave him a hard glare.

~}}}~~~>

Eliot could feel the ends of his ribs shifting as he carried Parker into the warehouse. He laid her on one of the sofas as Hardison rushed across the room. Eliot headed back for the door, Hardison following silently.

He’d stitched a gash on Parker’s back, bound her ankle and told Hardison to change the ice pack when needed. Sophie was a little bruised, nothing a hot bath and some mild painkillers wouldn’t solve. Nate had taken a blow to the temple that could have killed him if Eliot hadn’t yanked him out of the way and taken the brunt of the blow across his right side.

He cleaned the cut, shaved back just enough of Nate’s curls to stitch it shut. He got the mastermind settled in his and Sophie’s suite.

“Eliot, I can take care that he wakes up every few hours.” The grifter tried to gently prod their protector into taking care of his own wounds.

“It’s cracked ribs, Sophie. Not a lot I can do other than wash off everyone’s blood.”

“Then you should do that. Stay in the empty room instead of going back to your loft. You took quite a pounding getting us out.”

“I was gonna stay here anyway to keep an eye on everyone.”

“We’ll let Hardison take care of waking everyone on time. It’s the least he can do.” Sophie raised her voice to carry across the quad of suites.

Hardison would start to protest that it wasn’t his fault, until he saw their injuries, then he’d bite his lip, and do what he was told.

~}}}~~~>

He’d done everything perfectly. Done what the team needed and took in everything at the conference right up until he’d met Sally. Sally, who was bold, outlandish, and totally captivated him. When they’d parted ways for the evening with a promise to meet for breakfast, he’d turned his ear bud back on to hear Eliot cursing the day he was born, and promising a painful death when they got home.

He’d stopped by Sally’s room to explain he was being called home on an emergency, exchanged contact information then listening to the devil on his shoulder pulled her in for a hug and kiss that curled his toes.

“Thought you had a plane to catch?” Sally chuckled.

“What … Yeah I do.” He scrambled toward the elevators, her laugh following him down the hall.

He knew if there was no life threatening injuries, Eliot wouldn’t stop until he felt safe, so Hardison tossed his duffle in his room while the plasmas were coming to life. They’d been pulling a switch, the real thing for a replica. Fortunately for their client they’d made the switch when Parker had been spotted on her way out of the building. She ran into security because Hardison hadn’t been on the comm to let her know the guard was making his rounds.

In an effort to escape, Parker had taken a tumble down a set of stairs when the guard tried to shove her against the wall and she’d made a break for the steps. Eliot had taken down the guard and gotten Parker to the car. He left a trail of bodies through the building as he went back for Sophie and Nate.

The hacker got to work scrubbing security feeds. Since the mark didn’t know about the switch there was no police involvement for him to scrub from the system. Trying to buy time for Parker and Eliot, Nate had gotten belligerent when the mark had shoved Sophie into a table in his haste to get to security. Nate had punched the man as a means of slowing him down. The mark’s security detail had taken a baton to Nate just Eliot came through the door pulling the mastermind away from the blow that if it had connected could have possibly killed him.

Now here he was, cleaning up the mess that was made because he got distracted. On top of that he’d kissed a woman that wasn’t Parker. He’d enjoyed the company of the other computer geek. They had a lot in common, and he didn’t stutter and stammer with her the way he did with other women.

Damn, now he was in two pots of hot water. He’d gotten distracted and botched the job and the other with Parker. Though the girl was crazy, there would be no avoiding the coming fallout. She’d either stab him or fly off some roof or … Nope … No way she’s going to be okay with it.

He’d just finished cleaning everything up when Eliot brought Parker through the door.

Now she sat propped against her pillows looking at him with big hurt eyes. She needed him and he wasn’t there.

“Parker. I … I’m sorry … I didn’t … You know … It was …” He slumped down in the chair he’d pulled close to the bed.

“Was she pretty?”

“WHAT!?”

“I’ll bet she’s normal and understands everything you say.” Parker plucked at a loose thread on one of Bunny’s button eyes. “You said you’d have my back.” She continued in her small voice.

“Parker … I …”

“Eliot had my back. Nate and Sophie had my back, but you were distracted by your geek thingy.” She scrubbed her cheeks trying not to cry.

“I told you to make her comfortable, not make her pain worse.” The growl caused Hardison to jump and turn to face the threat as his deepest survival instinct said he was dead.

“Eliot, man, don’t sneak up on a person like that.” Hardison tried to make light, but the expression on the hitter’s face told the hacker there was no humor in the man.

“Go help Sophie with Nate, and try not to screw that up.”

He heard Eliot’s breath catch as he bent to check Parker’s ankle and shoulder before tucking the covers around her and settling tiredly in the chair. Feeling another stab of guilt, he headed for the suite across the way.

The next few days were quiet as everyone started to heal. Eliot and Sophie had met with the client to finish out the job while Hardison collected them a tidy sum on the mark’s stock before it took a dip when their newest product failed to produce.

He’d tried to make up with Parker by getting her share in cash, but she’d given him one of Sophie’s polite grifter smiles and thanked him before she’d turned her attention back to her sketch pad.

It was quiet around the warehouse until stitches were removed … Sprains, bruises, and strains healed. Hardison’s budding relationship with Sally continued to grow through their online communities and video chat. He deluded himself that they were merely friends, but as they started making plans to get together in person, collaborating on several projects, he could feel their friendship changing.

He also noticed that Parker had become quiet. She spent a lot of time with her sketch pad while she waited for her ankle to heal. Since Archie had acknowledged her as his daughter, she’d begun spending a lot of time on the phone with the retired master thief.

Watching her running along the rafters in the warehouse stopped the hacker’s heart, but got him to wondering if he’d developed feelings for her because they were constantly thrown together, never having time to be around other people … Real, normal people … Plus she kept him confused with her on again … Off again personality.

The prickly points of her personality had been dulled by spending time with Sophie and having her fighting skills expanded by Eliot. They had both changed since they’d begun their relationship and the cracks were starting to show as they grew. He could hear his Nana’s voice scolding him for not talking to Parker.

Everyone was finally recovered, and Alec was learning how hard it was balance a relationship outside the team with his work for the team, and to keep one hidden from the other.

Six weeks after their first disastrous job in their new city, Hardison finally got Parker to sit still long enough for them to talk. She sat perfectly still as he stammered through his explanation. When he finished, he was sweating, but felt like he’d shed a great weight.

Parker stared for several minutes, before standing.

“That’s what Sophie said you would say. Eliot wanted to punch you, but I told him it’s okay ‘cause you’re still family.”

“How did you …?”

Parker’s look was sly

“Remember Eliot’s hacker friend, The Vulture?” Hardison nodded as Parker grinned. “Her name is Sally.”

After dropping that bomb she bounced out the door with a dumbfounded hacker staring after her.

~}}}~~~>

The headaches from the concussion finally stopped, and Nate felt like he could focus again. The weeks of inactivity had helped them really settle into Portland though it seemed Hardison and Parker would be coming to an end as romantic partners.

Parker had come through the door from her and Eliot’s morning run, which meant their enforcer would be grabbing a shower before coming over to fix breakfast.

Nate shook his head as he sipped his coffee and read through files. They were becoming domesticated … As much as a bunch of crazy, anti-social thieves could be domesticated. The knot that rested inside his chest where Sam and Maggie used to live loosened a little more with each nugget he received from his crew. When Sophie had told him about Eliot being prepared to shoot Dubenich so Nate wouldn’t, he’d been able to take his first deep breath in years.

Breakfast demolished and the kitchen cleaned, they’d taken their usual places, the atmosphere in the warehouse calmer than it had been since Eliot had dragged them home battered and bleeding.

“Hardison, show us what you found on …”Nate stopped when his phone rang.

Frowning at the Caller ID, he answered. The frown deepened as he listened before handing the phone to Eliot. If the retrieval specialist was surprised to hear Captain Patrick Bonanno’s voice, he gave no indication as he made notes and asked a few questions.

“I’ll see what I can do.” He listened a few more minutes. “I can’t make any promises, and you’ll owe me one.”

He disconnected the call and tossed the pad at Hardison.

“Look that up.” His voice brooked no argument.

“Holly Oliverio. Her mother is the sister of Captain Patrick Bonanno. Holly and her fiancé Robert Drago, were on a cross-county driving vacation. Robert was found dead in their motel room on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada. Holly nor her body were found though the evidence seems to point to their attackers being a group of men riding motorcycles. The motel didn’t have a lot of security cameras …  This is the only image that had anything identifiable on it.”

Eliot cursed and dug in his pocket for a phone Hardison didn’t recognize. Before he dialed, he looked at Parker.

“Can you handle a bike?” Eyes wide, she nodded. “Leathers?” She shook her head no, a slightly crazed light coming back into her eyes.

“Blue or white?” She licked her lips.

“You pick.” They were going out the door as Eliot dialed.

Nate looked at Hardison who was already trying to capture the phone’s signal. He looked up and shook his head.

As Eliot moved across the courtyard his call connected.

“You’re not calling to complain about Conrad are you?”

“Already took care of Conrad. I need something else from you.” Eliot took a deep breath. “I need you to activate Gray Hanks.”

A gasp from the other side of the call was his answer. “Eliot …”

He cut off her protests. “I just need his reputation, not his skills set. I also need him to pick up a partner/lover who’s as crazy as him.”

“You have someone in mind?”

“I’ll send you a photo when we’re done. How soon can you have it ready?”

“Why don’t you pay me a visit in three days? Bring your friend.”

Parker was acquainting herself with Eliot’s blue Harley when he went up to his loft and booked two tickets to Los Angeles.

~}}}~~~>

He spent the rest of the afternoon refreshing Parker’s skills with the big bike while the others watched. They held their questions until after supper.

“What’s going on, Eliot?”

“If she’s still alive, I’m pretty sure I know where to find Holly.” He threaded his fingers through his hair.

“What are we waiting for?” Hardison asked. “Where do we need to go?”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Not that simple is our specialty, Eliot.” Sophie cajoled.

“Not this time. We’re talking about a very closed society, and too many strangers showing up at the same time raises too much suspicion. It’s a real small town.”

“What? Like a secret handshake boys club or something?” Hardison asked.

“No. Like an outlaw motorcycle club closed society.” He growled at the hacker

“How do you know that?” Nate challenged.

“I recognized an insignia on one of their jackets.”

“So what’s your ‘in’, Eliot?” Sophie asked.

Eliot ducked his head.

“I don’t need an ‘in’ I already am.”

“Eliot Spencer, outlaw biker?” Hardison sounded incredulous.

“No. They’ve never heard of Eliot Spencer. I have another niche with them, and no I’m not telling you who or what.” He got up from the table catching the smirk on the hacker’s face.

“Oh and Hardison, if you go looking I assure you you’ll find someone much nastier than me.” He glared before grabbing a beer and heading outside.

Parker paused before following Eliot.

“I get to be me only scarier.” She grinned at them maniacally.

“I don’t care for the thought of that.” Sophie muttered.

“I think I saw this movie.” Nate shook his head.

“Wonder if Bonanno knows something we don’t?” Hardison frowned.

“Eliot is a retrieval specialist. Bonanno probably figured that included people.”

~}}}~~~>

At midnight eastern time, Eliot and Parker were sitting at the computer waiting for Bonanno to answer their call.

“Anything? He asked quickly.”

“Maybe. Plug in yer headset. Yer wife and kid don’t need to hear this.” Eliot advised.

Eliot waited until they were sure the connection was working before telling the State Police Captain his news.

“If we find her alive, and if we can get her out, it’s going to take a long time to get her back on a mental level. Being taken by bikers can be brutal.” Eliot told the anxious uncle. “They probably turned her out.”

Realizing what Eliot was saying, Bonanno nodded his understanding.

“We’ll keep you posted.”

“Eliot … Parker … Thank you.”

With a curt nod, Eliot signed off.

“Why did he thank us? We haven’t done anything.”

“For trying, for giving him some hope.”

“This is going to be hard.”

“Yeah.”

“Is Gray worse than Moreau’s Eliot?” Her voice was small like she thought a soft voice would lessen the pain.

“Not worse just different, but he likes his partner.” Eliot assured her with a tight grin.

“That’s okay then.”

“Go to bed, Parker. We’re going shopping tomorrow after we get to Los Angeles.”

“Hate shopping.” She pouted.

“You’ll like this shopping.” Eliot teased.

~}}}~~~>

The rental car’s engine ticked as it began to cool. Eliot took a minute to enjoy the look of wonder on Parker’s face as she stared at the Spanish style house that had been one of the first built in Beverly Hills.

“Don’t even think about it. This house has more countermeasures than Ft. Knox, and if you get past those there’s still some nasty surprises including the owner.”

“Seriously?” Parker pouted

“You don’t survive in the ‘Game’ as long as my friend without an extraordinary sense of paranoia.”

Eliot opened the car door knowing the security system would have cleared them by now. Opening the trunk, he turned his head to hide a smile as he watched the diminutive figure appear behind Parker.

“Where is your friend, I thought … Oh …” Parker grabbed Eliot’s arm, and in a stage whisper that made Eliot want to laugh out loud said …“She’s so cute. Can we keep her?”

Blue lights dancing in grey eyes, the retrieval specialist tried to keep a straight face as Hetty Lange crossed her arms in a perfect imitation of Eliot.

“Did you teach her that?” Parker practically bounced.

That was when Eliot cracked … He threw his head back and laughed. Parker stopped. She’d made Eliot laugh. Eliot never laughed. The sound was musical, mischievous, and playful. She looked back at the little woman, who was giving her a warm smile as her dark eyes watched Eliot.

Still chuckling, Eliot made introductions.

“Parker, this is my friend, Henrietta Lange, Hetty to most. Hetty this is Parker.”

“Pleased to meet one of Eliot’s friends.” Hetty gave a slight bow.

“Oh … Yeah … Me too.” Parker vibrated with excitement.

Smiling indulgently at the youngsters, Hetty turned towards the house.

“You have your usual room, Mr. Spencer. Put Parker in Mr. Shelley’s room then come to the library.”

“Yes, ‘m.” Eliot answered as they entered the cool interior of the house.

“No stealing.” He admonished the thief as he showed her to her room.

This gave Parker pause. Hetty had said they were friends, and Eliot told her not to steal so that must mean she was Eliot’s family. Sophie said you didn’t steal from family, though Sophie had conned them, but that was before they were a real family, and WOW what a cool room. Dropping her bag on the floor she climbed into the window seat.

“Knock when you’re ready to go downstairs.” Eliot said as he shook his head at Parker’s antics.

Eliot took time to wash up and change his shirt while he waited for Parker. He felt more relaxed than he had in … Well it’d been a long time, but this house always had that effect on him. A knock pulled him out of his thoughts.

He stepped into the hall.

“Ready to go shopping?”

“Do we have to? I’d rather go exploring.” Her expression was hopeful.

“We’ll see.”

They headed for the library.

When they stepped inside the double doors, Parker grabbed Eliot’s arm. Draped across the furniture were clothes. Parker wasn’t sure some of the scraps of cloth qualified as clothes, but as she ran her hands over the soft leather she missed Eliot handing Hetty an envelope.

“This is all mine?” Parker sounded incredulous

“Whatever fits you, my dear?” Hetty answered as she led Eliot over to the desk where afternoon tea sat waiting.

Hetty gasped when she turned to see Parker shimming out of her clothes.

“My word.” She breathed out.

“Usual.”He picked up the delicate cup to wet his dry mouth.

“Are you sure about this, Eliot? After Moreau …”

“Don’t go there, Hetty.” Eliot’s voice was hard. “Someone from or affiliated with SAMCRO saw a pretty girl, killed her fiancé, and took her. Her uncle is a Massachusetts State Police Captain.” He softened his voice. “I’m hoping Gray’s reputation will make everyone think twice before doin’ something stupid.”

He looked over to see Parker in a scrap of leather halter top and leather pants as he savored the exotic tea Hetty had prepared.

“He’s a good cop and a good man. Shelley even likes him.”

Hetty smiled. “Well if Mr. Shelley likes him.”

~}}}~~~>

It wasn’t until the plane was on its way back to Portland that Parker began to get nervous.

“Eliot?”

Eliot sighed. Parker learning to deal with her emotions was not only hard on the thief, but on the rest of them as well. The enforcer figured that was why Hardison had struck up a relationship with Sally. The hacker known as The Vulture was paranoid, but fairly normal.

“You’ll be fine, Parker. All you have to do is be yourself … Say and do all the things you did before …” He waved a hand in the air. “Before the team.”

“I can do that.” She practically sparkled.

“The only thing you have to remember is that you’re mine. If something starts to go down you, and some guy raises a hand to you, you don’t stand there and take it, you come for me. In the world we’re going into no one touches you unless I say.” Eliot reminded the independent blonde.

“So stay close to you?”

“Most of the time, but there’ll be times when everyone’s busy or distracted where nosy little cats can poke around without getting caught.” He arched an eyebrow at her.

“We don’t have to have sex in front of anyone to prove I’m yours or anything do we?” She wrinkled her nose.

He rolled his eyes though other parts of his anatomy jumped at the thought. With the same ruthlessness he controlled everything else, he subverted that tingle. That situation was complicated enough without him thinking with his libido. It’d be bad enough when they got to Charming.

~}}}~~~>

Three very unhappy people stood in the courtyard and watched the black and blue beasts rumble away. Armed with all the information Hardison could find on Holly and the current affairs of Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original, Eliot and Parker headed for Charming, California.

As the motorcycles headed south, the team was not idle. Hardison started digging into where Eliot and Parker had gone, but there was nothing. Eliot was better than the hacker had given him credit. No one on the team had been able to crack their aliases, and Hardison couldn’t find a crack that would allow him to follow them back to their maker. He’d even tried to verbally hack Parker, but the thief just wrinkled her nose and told him Eliot had really cool friends.

At Medford, Eliot pulled off the interstate and into one of the highway chain motels. He knew Parker was strong and had high endurance, but wrestling the big motorcycle was different that crawling through air ducts. They would both need to be on their game when they got to Charming, and if Holly was still alive, one more day would make little difference in the girl’s situation.

By the time the bikes were situated and their gear in the room, the thief was visibly dragging. Eliot sent her off to the shower while he called the pizza place recommended by the desk clerk.

“How come you got two beds?” Parker asked munching through a slice of pizza.

At Eliot’s cocked eyebrow, she tried again.

“Don’t you want to sleep with me?”

Pink tinged the high cheekbones.

“For our covers.” Parker sounded exasperated.

“When we get to Charming, Parker. We’ll stop in Sacramento, take time to get into character, then ride into town.”

“Oh.” She was quiet for a few minutes. “It’d be okay. I don’t think Hardison cares anymore since he’s got someone normal like Sally.”

Eliot heard a tinge of hurt in the blasé words. He wanted to just let the whole subject drop, but the protector in him couldn’t stand to hear the dejected tone without trying to fix it.

“Look. Compared to the rest of the team, Hardison is a teenager. Whatever it is you guys are doin’ is probably the first relationship the boy’s ever had with a real woman, and it’s given him the courage to spread his wings.” He held up his hand to stop her words. “I ain’t sayin’ it’s right. He has the attention span of a gnat and didn’t have much grasp of the real world until this little team came along. The rest of us have been old forever because of who we are and what we’ve done. Hardison … Well he’s a kid, and kids don’t always think past what makes them feel good. He may even flip flop between you and Sally, or whoever. Kids forget the rest of us have feelings, too.”

“You’re not real good at this pep talk thing.” Parker wiped her cheeks.

“You want me to tell you the truth, or make you feel good?” Eliot growled.

“Both?” She gave him a small smile.

“Seriously?” He rolled his eyes.

“Truth.” She whispered. “Like on the mountain.”

He nodded. “When we leave here tomorrow we will be Gray and Cassandra two scary, insane people on Harleys.”

Parker gave a giggle before ducking her head.

“Call me Cass?”

A finger lifted her chin.

“I’ll call ya anythin’ ya want, darlin’.” His purring voice caused a blush to rise on her cheeks, and giving her a wink he turned and sat on the other bed toeing off his boots before settling against the headboard with a book.

“Wow. No wonder you get sex all the time.” She blinked rapidly to break his spell.

~}}}~~~>

Seeing several bikes parked in front of the first bar they saw in Charming, Eliot signaled Parker to turn in. Watching Parker stretching out the kinks from their two day ride as he unstrapped his helmet, Eliot heard the several people step outside.

“That’s one limber ‘sweet butt’.” Eliot turned to see several men sporting SAMCRO colors staring at the blonde’s performance.

“If ya wanna keep usin’ those eyes, y’all be turnin’ their attention somewhere else.” Eliot growled.

Eyebrows rose as he felt Parker literally coil around his body. She’d shaken her hair out making a blonde nimbus around them as she rested her chin on Eliot’s shoulder.

“Find us some new playmates, Baby?” The glitter in the blue eyes was truly insane.

“Could be. They were just expressin’ their appreciation of your attributes.”

“Shame I don’t feel like company right now.” She pulled the zipper on his jacket down far enough for clever fingers to play over his chest. “The curly headed one looks like he might last awhile.”

She unwrapped from around Eliot to tug on his hand like a little girl.

“Feed me.” She cajoled.

Eliot looked back at the bikers.

“This dump got decent food?”

They just nodded as though frozen until the pair moved toward the door. A beefy hand caught Eliot by the arm. The retrieval specialist looked up at the face belonging to the hand. Before anyone could speak, Parker was talking in a loud whisper next to his ear.

“Is that a Viking?” She looked innocently at the men.

Eliot wanted to laugh, but instead just bared his teeth at the ‘Viking’.

“Kinda looks that way, darlin’.” He looked pointedly at the hand on his arm.

The hand moved as they backed away from the dead eyes and bared teeth.

“Not flying any colors there, Brother.” The curly headed man commented.

Parker giggled as Eliot glared like the man was stupid.

“Come on, Gray, I’m hungry.” She pouted as she pulled him toward the door.

They saw the two smaller men exchange a look when the curly headed one pulled out his phone as the door closed behind them.

They chose a table where their backs were protected while Parker continued her amorous, but insane routine. She made comments about the women working in the club including their own waitress. When they finished Eliot threw some money on the table. Parker hopped on his back and wrapped her legs around his middle as he moved through the bar like her weight was nothing.

“We’ll check the other places. Maybe they’ll bring out something you like after dark.” He assured her.

Her face lit up as she gave him a loud smacking kiss on the cheek.

“You’re the best boyfriend ever.” She crowed. “Always finding me pretty toys to play with.”

They continued their show for a few minutes in the parking lot, Parker straddling Eliot’s lap as he straddled his bike acting like they’re about to have sex in the parking lot.

“Enough, darlin’ before I can’t ride.” Eliot whispered in her ear.

“Why …? Oh.” Eyes wide, midnight blue stared into to stormy grey. “I did that?” Her voice was full of wonder.

Eliot growled as she squirmed off his lap.

“Sorry.” She whispered as she sported a sly smile for their audience and climbed on her own ride.

At the motel, Eliot gave the desk clerk a leer and asked for his most sound proof room. Blushing profusely, the clerk gave them the room on the end promising not put anyone next door. Eliot slipped him an extra fifty for his ‘consideration’.

After a shower to wash off the road, they sprawled on the king sized bed, Eliot with the yellow pages and Parker with an iPad searching for likely places to find Holly if SAMCRO had turned her out.

“For a small town there sure are a lot of bars.” Parker quipped.

“Our best bet will be to start with the older places.” He pointed to an ad. “I remember this place from the last time I was here. The founder of SAMCRO owned it.”

“Gray’s been here before?” Parker sucked in a breath.

Eliot started to swing his legs off the bed, but Parker stopped him.

“Is that why the little ninja was worried?”

Eliot mouth curved up at Parker’s description of Hetty.

“Gray did some work for John Teller as part of a bigger op.”

“Were you blown?” Parker’s face was serious.

“No. When I came out of that op, I went into a new one to collect intel on Damien Moreau.” His tone was flat.

“Oh.” The word was practically whispered.

Parker moved closer. With a grim smile, Eliot pulled her against his side and let her comfort him in her clumsy fashion. It didn’t take long for them slip into a doze.

When they woke, they changed clothes and headed out to troll the bars for Holly.

~}}}~~~>

Two days later, frustration was becoming a constant companion. The bikers were naturally suspicious of the two strangers not wearing club colors, and none of the bars had turned up Holly.

The club members that remembered Gray gave him a wide berth since he’d worked for John, and not the present leader, Clay. Gemma and Jax had not been around to give the outlaws direction on how to act around the obviously crazy couple.

They’d even called Hardison and asked him to check for any dead Jane Does in the area. Once they had the information, the conversation became stilted as the thief and hacker tried to talk.

Eliot cringed at the frustration in Parker’s voice as she ended the call.

“This is too hard!”

When she launched herself at him he had no choice but to catch her. He sat down on the end of the bed and quietly held her until she let go. She rubbed her cheek against his.

“Thanks for not saying all those stupid things people say.” She climbed off his lap to get ready for the night’s activities.

Eliot nearly swallowed his tongue when the bathroom door opened and Parker walked out. There was a lot more pale skin showing than was covered, her jeans cut so low they’d barely keep her from being arrested for public nudity. Seeing more than one brawl in his future, he settled his leather jacket and followed TROUBLE out the door.

~}}}~~~>

When they staggered through the door of their room, they had one Holly Oliverio between them. The girl didn’t look happy that the two nutcases had ‘bought’ her services for the whole night, but anything that got her away from Tig’s attention was good.

Holly had seen the couple when they came in the bar. They’d ordered food, but the blonde woman had been restless and moved through the customers like a dance. She’d taken off her leather jacket, to show she was wearing less than Holly herself, but the men had kept their hands to themselves unsure of the temper of the long-haired man that had come in with her.

The blonde was still flitting around the bar like a deranged dragonfly when a low growl caused everyone to stop talking.

“Cass! Git yer ass over here.”

With a happy grin, the blonde skipped to the table dumping watches, wallets, guns, and knives on the table. Holly shook her head. The woman wasn’t wearing enough material to hide all that stuff.

“That was fun! Oooo food.” She’d pounced on her plate like she hadn’t eaten for a week while the other customers started checking their pockets.

Bobby, Tig and Opie headed across the room followed by everyone else who’d lost something to the woman’s clever fingers. Jax stood behind the bar watching.

“Help you fellas?” The long haired man smirked.

“You can control your woman!” Tig growled as he snatched his gun and wallet off the table.

“Ain’t like she walked out with yer stuff.” He motioned to the items on the table.

Everyone else collected their things off the table while the blonde plowed through her food, her man sipping his beer mostly ignoring the three SAMCRO members.

“Somethin’ else you fellas needed?” Eliot looked up. “Yer startin’ to annoy me.”

“I don’t know who you think you are …” Tig’s posturing ended when faster than the eye could follow the 6’ 4” Opie was on the ground barely conscious.

An undignified squawk from Bobby and he was twitching on the floor, the blonde standing over him grinning insanely holding a small tazer.

Before Tig could open his mouth again, Jax walked around him and held out his hand.

“Gray, man, took me a minute, but I thought that was you.”

Eliot shook the younger man’s hand.

“Sorry ta hear ‘bout yer dad, Kid.” Eliot grinned as Parker slid under his left arm.

Jax’s voice dropped low once everyone turned back to their own business. Holly moved closer trying not to be noticed, but the slightly crazed eyes of the blonde chick caught her as she moved.

“You here on business?” Holly caught the end of Jax’s question.

“Naw, kid. Cass and I are on vacation. She’s lookin’ for a playmate.”

“Not enough for her, old man?” Jax leered.

“I got all that covered, but the girl’s twenty pounds of crazy in a five pound bag so I indulge her.” Eliot slapped Jax on the shoulder.

“Seein’ anything you like?” Jax signaled for a round of drinks as he settled at their table.

“Any of them?” Parker’s face lit up like it was Christmas.

Eliot nodded. “After our last job, you earned it, Baby.” His voice was indulgent. “Don’t be stickin’ yer fingers where they don’t belong.”

That earned him a pout as she danced through the room again.

The others had retreated to the bar to lick their wounds and sulk as they watched Jax treat the stranger like an old friend.

Holly had tried to retreat into the dark corners of the bar, but the blonde had found her and pulled her across the room. Damn the woman was strong.

“Can I have this one, Gray?” Parker shoved the girl in front of her. “I like red hair.” She petted Holly’s hair before she sniffed her. “She smells good, too—like the desert.”

“I said whatever you wanted, Sweetheart.” Eliot looked at Jax as he pulled a stack of bills out of his inside pocket and tossed them on the table. “That should cover the girl’s time until Cass here gets tired of playing.”

Jax looked at Holly. “Behave yourself.”

Holly paled at Jax’s tone, but only ducked her head.

“You can ride with me!” The blonde grabbed her coat. “Let’s get your stuff.”

Now here she was. She didn’t know if her life had just gotten better or worse. The blonde shoved her toward the bed.

“Get comfortable. We’re going to have a while to wait.”

“Wait for what?” Holly shivered at the change in the blonde.

“It’s safe to leave.” The man, Gray, said as he left the shades open just enough to watch outside.

“Leave?” Now she was really confused.

“Yeah. Your uncle called us to find you.”

“Uncle?”

Cass looked at Gray. “Did she get hit in the head?”

“Shock.” He muttered.

“Uncle Bonnano.” Cass said slowly.

“Uncle Pat sent you?” She sounded disbelieving.

“We’re old friends.” Gray continued to watch. “You should get some rest.”

“You’re not going to …”

“What?! No!” Gray frowned.

Holly wilted with relief.

“Don’t mind him, he growls a lot.” Parker handed her one of Eliot’s flannel shirts.

Holly was surprised to be shaken awake. She would have sworn she’d never sleep again. Gray came back in the room.

“The bikes are loaded, and I think we’ve waited long enough. We’re gonna have to push the bikes away from the motel so we don’t alert anyone. Parker, you’re in charge of getting Holly out of town. Once we’re on the move you don’t turn back for any reason. Give me your phone.”

Confused Parker did as he asked. She was enthralled as he manipulated the phone as easily as Hardison. Eliot looked up as he handed her the phone.

“Not a word.” He growled. “If we get separated, someone, probably Shelley, will meet you there, take the bike, and give you a car. Wait one hour, if I’m not there by the end of the hour, head for home, make only necessary stops. Memorize that in case you’re caught. I don’t want anyone getting that information.”

Eliot’s curse was low as he looked out the window.

“What?” Parker asked.

“Three Sons just pulled up to the motel office. I know Jax warned ‘em off … Stupid.” Eliot stepped back from the window even though no one could see in the room with the lights off.

Recalculating their plans, he squared his shoulders.

“Here’s what we’re going to do …”

Grabbing the ice bucket he left the room. As soon as the three bikers followed Eliot into the breezeway with the vending machines, Parker and Holly started pushing the blue Harley away from the motel.

By the time they got to where traffic would cover the distinct rumble of the bike, both women were showing signs of fatigue. Parker took her time firing the bike … Stalling … Waiting for Eliot to show. Torn between leaving and waiting, she heard Eliot’s voice in her head reminding her that they did the things the others couldn’t … Or wouldn’t. The right thing was for her to get Holly to the rendezvous, and hope Eliot made it before they left.

“What about Gray?” Holly asked.

“He’ll meet us. He has to make sure we’re not followed.”

Holly shivered at the thought of being caught. Parker felt the girl shudder, and caught the scent of her fear. Mind made up, she kicked the bike in gear and pulled into traffic.

~}}}~~~>

Though he acted like he hadn’t noticed them, Eliot knew exactly where the three bikers were located as he moved toward the ice machine. Glad the motel hadn’t switched to the disposable plastic ones, he hefted the metal ice bucket into position in case the boys were in the mood for more than a friendly chat. He flipped open the door on the ice machine before turning to his visitors.

“Boys.” His grin was all teeth and no smile.

“Jax tells us you did some work for his old man.” Tig challenged.

“Yeah.” Eliot’s shrug projected his lack of concern about what the three men thought about him.

“Says you’re some kinda bad ass.”

“It’s been said.” He began to fill the small metal bucket. A smirk crossed the rugged face as he looked Tig up and down. “Feelin’ a mite inadequate? That the reason for this little visit with yer … Boys?” His tone gave the word ‘boys’ an innuendo that rankled the homophobic bikers.

Eliot turned toward the men, his errand finished.

“If y’all don’t mind, I got two really hot women waitin’ for me and I don’t want ‘em coolin’ off.” He gave the men a leer as he moved to push past.

“Come on Tig, leave the man be.” Opie urged. “Jax …”

“Fuck Jax! This man disrespected me, and …” Tig started

“And what?” Eliot sneered. “You rounded up a couple chuckle heads to come down here to teach me a lesson? Wasn’t gettin’ yer ass kicked once tonight enough?”

Eliot was already on the balls of his feet when Tig charged. The ice bucket applied to his temple had him unconscious before his body hit the concrete. Shock held the other two in place.

“You boys gonna do what the boss said, or you wantin’ a lesson, too?” He arched an inquiring eyebrow.

Opie stared at Tig on the ground, but Chibs had a wild gleam in his eye as he reached behind him and came up with a wicked looking knife.

“Get ‘im over to the bikes,” Chibs suggested to the big man. “I want to chat awhile with our friend, here.”

Keeping to the shadows, the two predators circled. Eliot waited patiently for Chibs to make the first move knowing the more time the men spent here, the more time Parker had to get Holly out of town. Telegraphing his intention, Eliot was ready when the Scottish biker attacked.

Chibs was good, but he was better. Ten minutes after his first swipe at the strange biker, Chibs was sitting with his back to the ice machine cradling his broken wrist against his chest, his own knife embedded in his thigh. Eliot bent over in the man’s face.

“It’s a favor to Jax y’all’s not dead.” He hissed at the biker.

Straightening, he growled under his breath at the sting where Chibs knife had skimmed along his ribs. He walked back to where his bike sat by itself, threw his leg over, and ignoring the warm sticky feel of blood trickling down his side, he roared out of the parking lot noticing Opie on the phone as the big man ran toward the breezeway where he’d left the Scotsman.

An hour later he was lowering the kickstand on the bike at a gas station that hadn’t seen a customer since the Carter administration. He stepped off the bike while being careful to not pull his t-shirt loose from where it stuck to the dried blood on his side. He looked up to see Shelley watching him from the back of a trailer where he saw Parker’s bike.

“The girls make it okay?” He asked the younger man.

“In better shape than you.” He waited until Eliot pulled his gear out of the saddle bags before loading the bike on the trailer.

“I’m fine. Just need to get cleaned up.” He growled as he stepped around the end of the trailer and stopped at sight of the two women glaring at him.

“Holly?” He brushed past Hetty and Parker.

“Sleeping. The poor girl’s exhausted.” Hetty informed him as they watched him walk over to the car.

“We need to get movin’ while we still have a head start, though I don’t think those boys will look much past the Charming city limits. I rather we didn’t stay in California any longer than necessary.”

He knew Parker had moved to his left side, and though he sidestepped, it wasn’t far enough as she poked him in the side.

“Dammit Parker!” He ground out as his side complained at the abuse.

“You’re hurt.” She stated the obvious.

“I’m fine. Get Holly.”

“Not ‘til you let them fix you.”

“Parker …” He was interrupted before he could finish his thought.

“She’s right, man. You’re gonna be distracted if you have to move and you can’t ‘cause your shirt’s pulling open your side. That’ll hurt like a bitch.” Shelley’s grin was wide as he stepped aside to reveal Hetty.

“Mr. Spencer.”

Eliot hung his head.

“Fine.”

All their eyes went wide when Eliot pulled his shirts off breaking open a dozen other shallow cuts along with the long slice on his side.

Eliot’s growled. “Do I have to stitch it myself while you ladies swoon?” Had everyone jumping to their tasks.

Parker got Holly ready to travel while Shelley prepared the hauler and Hetty stitched what needed to be and left the rest to nature.

They said their goodbyes, Eliot bending low to speak to the slight woman. She patted his cheek and gave him an enigmatic smile.

“Don’t forget to come home once in a while, Mr. Spencer.” She scolded.

Twisting his head so his hair hid his blush, Eliot ushered his charges into the car.

Daylight found them back in the relative safety of Oregon, Holly stretched out on the backseat, and Parker sleeping with her head resting on his thigh. Eliot pondered the fine mess the two youngest had made, with Parker feeling abandoned by Hardison and turning to him for comfort, had the potential to get really messy. In Eliot’s mind the ideal scenario would be for him to just take them both to his bed, and though Hardison had pulled out his ‘I’m just this side of flaming’ persona on occasion for a con, Eliot wasn’t sure how the youngster would take to being in a threesome with another male.

“You’re thinking too loud.” Parker whispered.

“It’s your and Hardison’s fault I’m thinking about this at all, plus it keeps me awake.”

“I could drive.” She started to sit up, but flopped back down at Eliot’s glare.

“You driving … Not conducive to sleeping.”

Parker frowned, but handed him a bottle of water and some pills Eliot’s little boss had given her. Eliot looked at the pills in his hand.

“Take ‘em all back but the green one.” Parker started to get mulish. “I won’t take any if you don’t do as I asked.” He murmured in deference to Holly.

With a huff, she did as he asked.

~}}}~~~>

Holly had gone to the ladies’ room while Eliot paid their tab for breakfast. He was leaning against the porch post letting the early morning quiet soak into his bones. He didn’t move when Parker slipped under his arm. That the prickly little thief climbed over him like a playful kitten never ceased to amaze him. He looped and arm around her back.

“I like it. You could just knock him out, and we can drag him to bed.” Parker said conversationally.

Eliot jerked his attention back to the blonde.

“Like what? Knock who out?”

“Hardison.”

“What?!”

“That’s what you were thinking about so hard about in the car.” She continued on like this was a normal conversation.

“Yeah, but how did … Never mind.” He went back to watching the countryside, but pulled her closer to his uninjured side.

He was probably losing what little sanity he had left to think such things, but with her warm against him he really didn’t care.

“We get home and Bonanno comes and gets Holly, you dress up in a pretty dress and your pink diamond and I’ll take you some place special for helpin’ me with this retrieval.” He placed a brief kiss on her temple.

“You will?” The dark blue eyes went wide. “Will it make Hardison notice me again?”

“I don’t know, Parker. Is that what you want?” Eliot tried to keep his voice even at the thought she’d only go out with him to make the hacker jealous.

“I don’t know. Archie likes him.” She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder.

“Archie will like anyone you love, Parker.”

“He will?”

“He considers you his daughter, of course he will.”

“Oh … Oh …You mean like I’m his real little girl?”

He gave her one more squeeze before he straightened.

“Remember you know stuff about Archie no one else does. He picked you to teach his most secret stuff.”

He grinned at the flummoxed look on her face as Holly finally came out of the restaurant, and they got back on the road.

~}}}~~~>

They didn’t give the others warning they were on the way home wanting to give Holly a day or two to decompress before having to deal with her family. It was close to supper time when Eliot pulled the sedan into his garage.

“I know things are confusing right now, Holly, but we need to introduce you to the rest of the team and call your family before we can relax.” Eliot gently told the girl.

Walking between Parker and Eliot, she grabbed both their hands for support as they walked through the door of the main building.

Nate, Sophie and Hardison sat bickering over what to order from whom, so no one had been monitoring the cameras. The three travelers watched fascinated as they quibbled over the menus.

“Think you could order something extra for company?” Eliot’s rasp cut through the good natured quibbling.

“When did? … How did? …” Hardison stuttered.

“Why didn’t you call?” Nate and Sophie asked together.

Then they saw the dark head hiding behind Eliot and Parker. Sophie rushed forward.

“You must be Holly. Were so glad to see you’re alright. You must be exhausted. Do you want to call your family? Well of course you do …” Sophie stopped flat footed when Eliot blocked her from the girl.

“You wanna tone the mother hen a notch or two. It’s a little overwhelming.” Eliot frowned at the grifter.

Sophie was usually better at this.

“Sorry. We were just taken by surprise.” She backed off.

“That’s fine. Why don’t we start with food, and worry about everything else later.” Eliot’s voice dropped to a croon, calming everyone in the room.

Everyone settled, but Holly stayed close to Eliot and Parker, who put her between them on the couch and glared if anyone came too close. Eliot called Shelley to retrieve the car, and return his bikes then methodically destroyed the phone and put the pieces in his pocket while everyone else was occupied with the food.

After supper Eliot pulled out his ‘team’ phone and handed it to Holly.

“Uncle Pat?” She spoke tentatively into the phone.

They spoke for a time before a tearful Holly handed the phone to Eliot.

“Spencer. We’ll be there as soon as we can get a flight.” Bonanno’s voice was gruff

“You want I should have Hardison fix you up?”

“Can he?”

“Sure let me put you on speaker.”

“Eliot.”

The hitter paused with his finger over the button.

“Yeah.”

“Thank you.”

“The best retrieval I ever did.”

He put the phone on speaker.

~}}}~~~>

Things finally regained some semblance of normal. Holly was back east with her folks, Eliot had pulled the stitches out of his wounds that morning, and Parker had been leading Hardison on a merry chase since they got back.

Things had cooled between the hacker and Sally when The Vulture had tried to hack Hardison’s servers. Eliot had shrugged at the hacker’s indignation.

“She’s just being true to her nature.”

“What?!”

“Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly …”

“And hackers gotta hack!” Parker chimed in.

“You’d have done the same thing. She just did it first.”

He’d gone off waving his arms in the mother of all flails.

“I cannot believe you just said that to me. I’ll have you know I have integrity. I would never …” His voice trailed off as he went to track down Nate.

Eliot beckoned Parker with the crook of his finger.

“You ready to dress up for me tonight?” He purred.

Looking at Hardison’s retreating back, Parker made a decision.

“Yes.”

Parker was watching out her window when she saw the Challenger pull up in front of the building. She wanted to run down the steps she was so excited, but remembering her heels, she sedately rode the elevator down. Sophie gave her a wide smile when she stepped off the elevator. Nate and Hardison turned at the sound.

“Parker do you know …” Nate’s voice stopped when he saw the thief in the clothes she wore during The Iceman Job.

“Parker?” Hardison’s voice was small at the beauty in front of him.

Eliot came through the door and Parker’s face lit up like the sun.

“Ready?” He asked quietly.

At her nod, he pulled a beautiful Pashima shawl off his arm.

“It’s gotten chilly out.” He wrapped the shawl around her shoulders.

“For Me?” She asked breathlessly.

“To keep.” He held out his arm. “Now we’re ready.”

She ran her arm through his elbow and they walked out the door.

“Eliot’s taking Parker on a date?” Hardison sounded confused.

“His way of thanking her for helping with Holly’s retrieval.” Sophie ignored Nate’s warning look and gouged the hacker. “He and Parker have become quite close since you threw her over for that Sally person.”

“I didn’t … I did … But … It’s hard … And she … And it …” He stumbled to a stop and closed the lid on his computer.

“What? Parker’d sit on the shelf like a toy you could take down when there wasn’t anyone else?” The grifter asked.

“What?! No!” Hardison stopped.

That’s exactly what he’d done.

After that night the hacker started to watch them. Nothing seemed to have changed. They still trained, Parker stayed in her suite, but some mornings she would come in with Eliot and they hadn’t been for their run. He still growled, she still poked, and things seemed the same between them, but Parker was more social, and Eliot had a soft look in his eyes for the thief.

It took a couple weeks, but Hardison finally got tired of feeling like he was in limbo. On a day he knew they’d be sparring after their run, he made sure to be in the training area making use of Eliot’s weights.

They finally came in and flopped down on the mats sweating and panting. Knowing they were both long on endurance, Hardison wondered how far they had to run to actually get winded. Strengthening his resolve, he moved to stand over them, but before he could say anything he found himself flat on his back with two sets of very different blue eyes watching him. He tried to catch his breath while he waited for them to say something. He’d recovered his breath from being slammed to the mat when he looked up at Parker’s off-kilter smile. He looked over and saw Eliot settled into wait mode. Waiting for what he wasn’t sure until Parker drew his attention back to her.

“Alec Hardison, how do you feel about threesomes?”

He lost his breath again.

~ Fini ~

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