It’s Eliot who notices it first, a flash of blonde hair out of the corner of his eye. He’s used to noticing the people around him. He’s used to keeping count of every person in his eyeline, no matter how many people are in the room.
And this blonde woman should not be there. She should not be there when he has to force his way into a safe, but there she is. All in black, legs crossed on the desk beside him, ponytail swishing. “God.” She rolls her eyes. “A blowtorch. How crude.”
He glances over to her, but like a mirage, once he’s focused, she’s gone.
Two days later, Eliot’s about to deck a security guard when another woman shows up. Brunette hair and a lovely accent. “She’s gay,” the woman says. “Seduction won’t work no matter how hard you try, so you’ll have to find a different thing you both have in common.”
Eliot looks down and sees the tiny pin on her blouse. A pink ribbon.
“There you go,” the woman says. All he has to do is tell her a story about a sick little sister, and he has her eating out of the palm of his hand. Then the woman is gone.
And then he shifts. It’s a quick blink. One moment he’s in standing on a street corner, and then next he’s in a chokehold. Instinct kicks in. He throws back an elbow and it meets flesh. One hit, two hit, three hits later, and there are two bodies on the floor.
Eliot shifts. In the center of the circle, panting heavily, stands a tall black man. “What the hell–”
But then Eliot is gone again.
“It’s a sophisticated scheme,” the man with the bottle of Jack tells him. Eliot has already knocked two men two the ground, but there are more coming, and the fight isn’t over yet.
“You get someone’s credit information and start opening credit cards in their name. Then, you catfish some poor idiot and say you’re adding them to your credit card account. You get the idiot to buy you things for you on your card. Everything’s good until the credit card company gets wind of the fraud and shuts everything down, but by then you’ve cleaned everything up and moved on to greener pastures.”
“Dude,” Eliot growls, “I’m just here to get a necklace back.”
The man shrugs. “Was it insured?”
Eliot finishes slamming a goon’s head into the nearest table. “What does that matter?”
The man shrugs, and then he’s gone.
Parker doesn’t even really bat an eye. She kinda actually likes her new friends. Sure, the smelly guy with the weird hair is a bit odd, but he’s helpful in his own way. He can see the big pieces when she’s too distracted with the shiny things. He’s the one who figures out a fence is going to betray her long before she would have.
Then there’s the one who calls her “girl” all the time. He drags the word out too, like it’s prettier than one of the glittery diamonds she nicks. She likes him. She likes how he smiles at her, how he lingers in her presence a little longer even after he’s helped her figure out the code for a 15 digit lock.
The punchy guy, well, he took a little more time to warm up to. She’s not really a fan of fist fights. She’d rather hide. But when a security guard finds her and she can see the guy pulling his hair back into a ponytail, she smiles a little.
“Go for the eyes,” he tells her, holding up two bent fingers and pushing them forward in the air. She does, and it’s kind of satisfying.
“Oh dear,” the lady says to her every time she shows up. “No no no you mustn’t…” and then she goes on to tell Parker exactly how she’s not talking right. Parker kind of appreciates that. She’s not so great with the words thing. People are hard. Locks are easy.
Except these four people. They haven’t been hard. They’ve been like locks with easy combinations. Parker feels like she kind of knows them. Like the locks she picks again and again. She knows how all their inner workings are.
And that’s really nice.
Okay so the blonde is gorgeous. The blonde is gorgeous and the British lady is really good at talking her way out of problems. Hardison isn’t really sure what the point is with the dude who shows up to yammer on and on about cons and how Hardison might get himself caught if he does one thing or another. But even when he’s very clearly drunk, he’s still been helpful a few times.
So has the gun who is always hitting people. He’s gotten Hardison out of more than one scrape because Hardison has never done guns, will never do guns, and really really really doesn’t like being in the same room with people who want to hurt him.
And yeah, his knuckles really really hurt—his whole body hurts, actually— after the fighter helps him out of a few bad situations, but it’s better that than losing a pinkie. Or a toe.
So yeah, Hardison is okay with the people in his head.
Nate needs another fucking drink.
Sophie comes to see them all sort of like children. One is angry, one is hurting, one is lost, and one is alone. She’s the one who realizes they need to be brought together. She’s the one who realizes they are the solution to all of their problems. She is the one who sits beside a drunken Nate and helps him set out asprin and water for the morning. She is the one who sits quietly with a silent Parker as she picks lock after lock and studies countless blueprints.
She is the one who stands in an empty, threadbare apartment with Eliot when he cooks himself an extravagant dinner only he will eat.
She is the one who sees the late nights where Harrison binges on bad TV and orange soda.
She is the one who realizes that these people, whose pain she feels as if it is her own, all need each other.
Like she, when she’s tired of her fake names and her Rolodex of personalities, just needs them.
Living with her loneliness, her isolation, is like suffering under a terrible weight.