Parker isn't a words person. Either she can't muster them at all, or they come out of her mouth all wrong, tangled like strings.
She knows that Nate wants to talk on the way back home. Or at least, he thinks that she should want to talk.
Parker shakes her head and he asks, "Are you sure?" When she shakes her head again he says awkwardly, "I was- we were all… you know we were proud of you today." Then he laughs. "But don't run off again. Not on your own." Nate normally catches himself when he starts to act like he cares, like they're his kids instead of his team. He starts and then stops, unless he decides he needs the desperate measures. Parker doesn't think this is an emergency, but she's been wrong before. He's watching her closely.
She touches his elbow where it is bent at the steering wheel, and turns away to look out the window.
Nate was mad at Archie. Parker could see that. But Parker isn't angry. She had the option of families – lots of them – and it just never worked out. They wanted something different. Not her. Archie hadn't wanted her as family, so he didn't try and change her into something else. He just made her a better thief. The person she is now wouldn't swap one for the other. Parker isn't sure what that says about her.
What Nate doesn't understand is that he would have done the same thing, if he had met her before all this. Sure, he might have called social workers or the cops, but he wouldn't have taken her home. Not when he still had Sam and Maggie. She wouldn't have fitted into his life back then, and he would have tried to fix her broken pieces into something else. Something not her. And she had tried that already. Those places, just as much as Archie, had taught her why it was better to work alone.
Beside her in the car, Nate frowns. He prods at the radio until it starts playing something he likes. It's old music – Hardison would probably laugh – but Parker finds it soothing. It has a slow, familiar beat; she hums along. Nate says, "You like this?"
"Mm hmm," she agrees. Music to rob museums to, classic in all the right ways.
Nate smiles and turns it up a little louder. He taps his fingers on the steering wheel and Parker curls up on the seat. She's tired now.
She wants to tell Nate that it's okay. That he isn't Archie but it's not all the way different. Hadn't she gone running when one of Nate's real family was in trouble? Didn't she answer when Nate called? It's just that Nate and Archie value different things. Archie likes shiny things and Nate likes broken people. He is one, after all, just like her.
Nate hadn't given her a family any more than she had given him one. They had just started building something, slowly. It's not done yet. But Nate had brought them all together and he came to get her today. She loves him, though it's nothing she has words for. They're alike in that way too.
The car stops and Nate shakes her shoulder gently as though he thinks she's sleeping. He pushes her hair back. He never touches them like that. She thinks he must really be worried. Or jealous of Archie, which is Sophie's theory, though Parker doesn't understand that. She knows how to love them both. Maybe no one ever taught Nate how to do that. Maybe Parker should tell him.
Parker wants to tell him that he doesn't need to be a father to her and he doesn't need to fix her. She's content to let him try and explain law and psychology and why her own plans don't work out quite right yet. He doesn't need to be everything because he brought her to the others first, and between the five of them things work out okay. He doesn't need to say it because she wouldn't either. But he sings beside her in the car and he brings the others to get her when she's stuck. She can manage everything else all by herself, she always has.
So anyway that's what she would say to Nate, if she were good with words.
What Parker says is, "I still think I could beat the Steranko. You know, if I had you guys on back-up, so Hardison wasn't coming in after the activation, and Eliot had a little more time for planning, and Sophie could get together a better cover story together cause really, she was going in blind and she likes details, I mean her aliases have aliases, you know? So if-."
"Parker," Nate interrupts.
"But you would still need me," she says, talking past him. "Inside the vault. That's okay. It's allowed to go both ways."
Nate leans back from her and opens the door. He doesn't get out for a long minute and when he does he walks away. He walks to her side of the car and opens that door too. He sighs. "Let's go inside and you can tell me what you're thinking."
Parker wouldn't go quite that far, but she skips inside ahead of Nate anyway. Her head is full of ideas she doesn't have words for yet, just the click of a lock coming open and the soft hum of the alarm system that won't see her coming. There's bound to be someone else using that same model to protect something nasty. If they figure out how to break into it now, it'll save planning time later. Parker turns over 'Steranko' in her mouth a few times. "Steranko. Ste- ranko. Ran koh. Stuh rank oh." She laughs. "It just sounds so weird." She looks back at Nate, who has reverted to his normal expression when watching her. Parker blinks. "What?"
Nate shakes his head. "I really don't know what to make of you some days."
That's okay, Parker thinks, because now I do.