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Nate felt jealousy rise like bile in his throat as Eliot smiled and thanked the waitress for his beer. Acting more like a jilted lover than mastermind to a crew of thieves, he kicked the enforcer's ankle to divert his attention back on him and Tara.
"What? I can't have a friend?"
"You want a friend, join a softball team." Nate snapped.
Tara looked confused and Eliot growled at the nonsensical comment as they continued to read through stacks of files.
Looking up when the bell over the door rang, Nate's eyes went wide.
"Eliot, I'm going to ask you not to do anything violent."
"What? … What are you talking about? You know I only use violence as … As a … As a … As an appropriate response."
"Hello, Nate." Sterling said.
So began a series of jobs that kept the team on the brink of exhaustion until everyone but Nate climbed into a helicopter at the docks that Eliot diverted to land in a field outside the city. Once the pilot lifted off, the shifter-mage walked into a barn hidden behind an illusion.
When they stopped at the end the long dirt drive to park in front of a historic farm house near Annapolis, Maryland, even Parker was exhausted beyond complaint. Eliot shooed everyone to second floor carrying bags he pulled out of the back of the SUV.
"Make yourselves at home. I'm going to fix something to eat and we'll worry about everything else tomorrow."
Sophie started to speak, but a glare from Eliot closed her mouth with a snap and sent her scurrying up the stairs. After their case with the phony psychic Dalton Rand, also a Reynard, Eliot had a gut full of the clan of talents, and his glare dared Sophie to complain about his hijacking of her plan. Parker's near meltdown had Eliot providing support for both the thief and hacker. How those two had become pack was still puzzling the retrieval specialist, but they were, and there was no way a Reynard was going to do further damage to his little pack of three.
Eliot sighed heavily as he put the finishing touches on dinner. He slipped the salad in the fridge to chill while his lasagna baked. He'd bought the historic Maryland farm with money from the Dubenich job and set it up as a getaway for members of the Old Races. The 150 acre farm was bordered by Ridout Creek and the Chesapeake Bay, and perfect for all forms of shifters. The cottages on the property had shielded work rooms so mages could practice without fear of hurting themselves or their neighbors all overseen by friends of Walter Black Dog, his adopted grandfather. Sheena and Davin LaFae had been wonderful caretakers and always seemed to know when Eliot was going to need the property clear of visitors. Now was no exception. He'd checked the area when he parked the SUV in the garage and found the only fresh scents to be the LaFaes.
With nothing left to do except wait for dinner to bake, the retrieval specialist tracked Parker's progress through the house as she checked it out.
"Are ya going to introduce us to your pack, Elyat?" Sheena's Irish lilt came from the connecting door to their quarters, which had once been the out kitchen.
"Will you and Davin join us for dinner?"
"Sure'n we will. Davin'd never pass up a chance to eat your vittels."
"Then I'll introduce you." Eliot looked up at the pale woman. "Parker …"
"Aye 'n the lass be one of us. We felt her when ya came through wards at the front gate."
"She only knows what Black Dog and I have taught her …" Eliot paused.
Concerned, Sheena stepped further into the kitchen. "Elyat?"
"She … Uh … No wings." Eliot's voice was quiet.
"A halfling, ya think."
"No. She's always thought she was human … Broken, but human."
"Ah. Perhaps that will change hanging about with another Old One." The Fae teased.
"Don't you have a mate to bother?"
"Not at the moment, but you'll do."
Eliot thumped his head down on the counter.
"Why are you hitting your head on the counter and who's she?" Parker watched Sheena out of the corner of her eye as she skittered around behind Eliot.
"Parker … Sheena … Sheena … Parker. Sheena and her husband, Davin are the farm's caretakers."
Still eyeing Sheena, Parker bent down to Eliot's ear.
"She's like us." She stated in a stage whisper.
"Sheena and Davin are Fae."
Dark blue eyes glittered with curiosity/hope/suspicion as they looked Sheena over.
"Can they teach me stuff?"
"Better than me or Grandfather."
"Grandfather's stories are probably better." Parker defended the Elder.
Eliot's head still rested on the counter top.
"Davin quit lurking."
A wiry red head standing at six foot tall stepped out of the shadows of the connecting door and to his wife's side.
"Parker this is Davin, who'd be a lesser man if not for Sheena kicking his ass on a regular basis."
"Hey now. I just be a gentleman to me lady wife." Davin blushed.
"Go tell Sophie and Hardison supper's ready." Eliot encouraged his thief.
Parker skirted the LaFaes as she left the kitchen. Eliot slipped off his stool and pulled the salad out of the refrigerator and slammed the bowl on the counter as Parker's bellow accosted his sensitive hearing.
"ELIOT SAYS SUPPER'S READY!"
She yelled from the foot of the stairs.
"She must be feeling ta home if she's not being quiet." Davin remarked.
"Not helping Fairy Boy." Eliot reached in the oven for the pan of lasagna.
"Go wash ya lout." Sheena shoved Davin as she moved to help Eliot plate supper.
"You have wings." A voice from the back stairs startled Sheena from her breakfast preparations.
"As ucht Dé! (My God)" The Fae woman exclaimed.
"Why isn't Eliot cooking breakfast? How come I don't have wings? Eliot and Grandfather said I'm Fae."
"Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, Girl, slow down. Give a body a chance to answer, won't ya."
Parker rummaged through the pantry.
"Ha! No matter where we land, Eliot always has my fortune cookies." The thief crowed.
"Aye and Elyat be takin' care of his family." Sheena went back to her mixing.
"Have you ever met his sister?" Parker munched happily as she unrolled the paper fortune.
"Aye. She lives in Scotland with her husband and children."
"What's she do?"
She's the Chief Financial Officer of the Clan Eliot, and married to the Laird of the Clan who's also The Gwydion."
"Eliot has a clan … In Scotland?"
Parker munched thoughtfully for a minute.
"Oh. Grandfather told me about The Gwydion. That's the person that passes judgment on rogue members of the Old Races."
"The Gwydion sits at the head of a council that oversees the laws of our kind. Elyat is the Council's chief enforcer."
"Is that where he goes when he has a job away from us?"
"Now I wouldn't be knowin' all Himself's business, and if I did it wouldn't be for me to say." Sheena reprimanded the thief.
"Parker, are you pestering Sheena?"
"The girl's no bother, me boyo. Be takin' your sweaty self to the shower and get back down here for a proper breakfast. I can count the ribs on you and your wolf." Sheena scolded.
"Yes ma'am." Eliot gave the Fae a teasing wink before narrowing his eyes at Parker who smirked as she broke another fortune cookie and pulled out the paper before popping it in her mouth.
Relaxing on the patio after breakfast, Hardison looked up from his tablet.
"So when to we start planning to get Nate out of jail?" He looked at Eliot.
"We don't." Eliot growled.
"WHAT!?" They all started talking at once.
"Nate worked a deal with Sterling for our freedom so until we hear from Nate that he's tired of playing the martyr for the good of the family, we have a nice bay side vacation before returning to Boston, preferably after Sterling crawls back under his rock."
"What do you suggest we do in the meantime?" Sophie asked.
"You can go see Nate on visiting days, Hardison can scramble the audio, and Parker and I will look for jobs the four of us can do without Nate's elaborate contortions."
"But what about Nate?" The hacker asked.
"Nate will stay until he thinks he's done his penance then find some over the top way to get out." Eliot shrugged.
Parker scrunched her face and looked out the top of her eyes like she was trying to follow Eliot's thoughts.
"It's a Jesuit-Catholic guilt thing, Parker. Don't give yourself a stroke trying figure it out, and what are you doing?"
"Trying to see if I have wings."
"You don't have wings …" Hardison looked confused. "Why would you have wings?"
"Because I'm supposed to, Silly. Fae have wings." She stated like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Fae! Whatchumean Fae?" Hardison's voice rose with his surprise. "You mean like Eliot …" He snapped his mouth closed.
"Like Eliot what?" Sophie asked.
She knew Eliot was a mage, but if there was something else, then she definitely wanted to know. Any little tidbit of information that could get her back into Nate's bed with or without Eliot would be good.
"I can hear you thinking. Sophie so you can just stop and back up. Nate and I aren't together anymore so there's no competition. What Hardison tried so eloquently not to say is that I'm from a VERY old line ... Just like you're a Reynard, Parker is a Fae and Nate and Hardison are human."
"What Reynard? Sophie's a French fox?" Parker asked.
"No, he means Sophie's from a clan of talents. Their talent is charisma. They're grifters, politicians, preachers, and other people that use their charisma to get what they want." Hardison answered.
"What about Tara?" Parker glared at Sophie.
"Not a Reynard, just a human with a face and body that makes people stupid and the training to exploit it." Eliot added his glare to Parker's.
"What?" Sophie shrugged. "She owed me a huge favor."
"A favor." Hardison blinked owlishly. "We put up with her … Her …" He looked at Parker and Eliot.
"Shenanigans." Eliot offered.
"Thank you. Shenanigans, to repay her debt to you."
Giving her an eye roll and a snort of disbelief, Eliot left the room ... Parker and Hardison still eyeing her like a bug on a pin.
"What?" She asked, and was rewarded with Hardison shaking his head as he pulled Parker out of the room after Eliot.
With Eliot's admission that he and Nate were no longer together, she needed to start planning on getting back into the mastermind's bed.
Their last evening at the farm, Eliot escaped the excitement in the house that was Sophie and Hardison packing. Dressed for a run, there was a blur then a silver pelted wolf loped into the darkness. The house was quiet by the time the wolf returned to human form, but Eliot took a last few minutes to open his senses to the countryside before he turned them down to the levels needed to survive in the city.
He wasn't surprised when Parker climbed in his lap a few minutes later. The thief had spent the majority of their downtime with Sheena and Davin learning all she could about being Fae. She continued to gripe about her lack of wings.
"I'm more not normal than even I knew." She muttered into his shirt.
What she said was the truth so Eliot simply hummed his agreement and ran a comforting hand up and down the length of her spine.
"Think I'll ever be Fae enough to get wings?"
"You've always been Fae enough, Parker. It'll happen when it's time. You're still a youngling and different types of Fae mature at different rates. Could be talking with Grandfather and being around Sheena and Davin will get things moving."
"Okay." Parker said brightly as she bounced off Eliot's lap. "Are you sleeping tonight or howling at the moon?" She teased as she skipped toward the house.
"Why you ..."
Eliot rolled off the chaise and hit the ground in wolf form growling playfully as he chased after the slim blonde.
Stepping from the shadows, Davin pulled his mate close.
"The two younglings be good for Elyat." Sheena mused. "They keep him out his head."
"Aye, Lass. We've done good work with youngster." Davin pressed a kiss to her temple.
"It's good to have a youngling around again. They're so few these days." Sheena's tone was wistful.
"Are ya longin' for a bairn of your own?" Davin's brogue deepened at the thought.
"Once we have Elyat settled we'll … Discuss it." Sheena gave him a sly smile as they melted back into the shadows.
When they got Nate out of jail, it left them at the mercy of 'The Italian' and her Star Chamber bosses. Since she kept the authorities off their trail, Eliot let her play out her hand. Feeling the pressure of his six month deadline for bringing down Damien Moreau, the mastermind began to push. He pushed them over lines they'd never before crossed. It seemed admitting he was a thief opened a door behind which Nate had locked all the nastiness he'd learned at his father's knee. Being in jail opened all those doors and Nate drowned his Jesuit guilt in Irish whiskey while channeling Jimmy Ford.
There were many nights Eliot glared Nate into submission when injuries and exhaustion had them all reeling while Nate heard the clock ticking like the Sword of Damocles over his head. Running through the woods handcuffed to a whining Hardison pushed Eliot's temper to the limits.
"I don't know why you don't just shift into one of your little furry friends and get us out of these cuffs." The hacker moaned.
"Bespelled handcuffs, Hardison." Eliot growled as the power in the handcuffs blocked his magic.
"Bespelled! What'cha mean bespelled?"
"There has to be ways to keep the Old Races locked up or restrained. Sure you can cast a spell, but that takes a lot of work and energy when you can just put a spell on handcuffs and prison cells."
"Can't you un-bespell them?"
"This ain't one of your little geek games on your little box. It'd take at least two hours without people shooting at me." Eliot snapped as he gave a hard tug.
By the end of the day Hugh Whitman and his paramilitary group were rounded up as they nursed breaks and bruises, courtesy of Eliot and Alec, along with being arrested by the FBI. Sitting in the hacker's condo staring at the virtual fishing game, Hardison crowed as he landed another virtual fish.
"I thought since you can do magic, you couldn't be tied up and stuff."
"There's always a way to catch someone … Keep them captive … There's also ways to get around them with time and talent, but if you're short on time you have to work with what available. Bespelled cuffs keep me from shifting or using magic, but I can still pick the lock or cut the chain same as you would." Eliot growled in frustration at the television screen.
"But you didn't shift after we cut the chain."
"Still had the cuff on … Dammit." Eliot tossed down the fake fishing pole. "That's not fishing." He pulled a beer out of the cooler. "It just an added skill set, Hardison. Being one of the Old Races doesn't make you invincible or omnipotent ... Just different."
"So when we plan a job …"
"Don't plan it with the thought of a Fae and a shifter/mage ... You plan it like always ... Five humans doing a job."
"Then if we need the extra skill sets it's there. What does Parker being Fae mean?"
"Nothing right now." Eliot pulled a cheese plate out of the refrigerator. "It might not mean anything in the long run except an extra long lifespan. She's a kid in Fae terms … Still finding herself. Different clans have different talents, and since we don't know her clan …"
Silence reigned while Alec rummaged through the pantry looking for his snack stash. Eliot was enjoying the organic goat cheese that had just arrived from Firefly Farms. He was savoring the way his microbrew complimented the cheese and crackers when dishes clattered in the kitchen.
"I'm gonna die first." The hacker lamented.
"You and Parker are like The Highlander, and I'm gonna get old and die."
"Not going to lie to you, Man, the Old Races are long lived, but who knows what's going to happen tomorrow."
"Easy for you to say. How old are you?" Alec asked.
"What it says on the label, Bubba." Eliot settled back in his chair. "You going to let that stop you?"
"I am the baby of the family." He smirked. "Think I'll stick around just to hear you keep saying, 'Dammit, Hardison.'"
"Wouldn't have it any other way." They clicked their beer and soda bottles together.
Cora had just cleared their lunch dishes off the table when Sophie returned to her seat. Seeing the pinched expression, Parker watched Eliot's shoulders pull up around his ears before he forced himself to relax. They'd learned the hard way when Sophie looked stressed one of them usually ended up hurt and it was usually Eliot.
"Moreau's auctioning off something call Ram's Horn ... It's invitation only."
"We need an in." Nate muttered. "Eliot … Hardison … Figure out how we can get an invitation to that auction."
"Sophie, who can get in to Department of Defense projects."
"The President, The Joint Chiefs, Congress, Senate …"
"Perfect. Sophie, you and Parker are with me. Let's go people." Nate rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
Parker studied the file they had stolen from the DOD while they waited for Eliot and Hardison. A chill ran across her shoulders causing the thief to look up. Hardison barreled through the park looking angrier than she'd ever seen him. He hadn't looked that mad when they blew up the office in Los Angeles. Eliot followed at a more sedate pace, but he was pulled in on himself giving no clue as to why Hardison had steam coming out his ears.
"We're in." Eliot's tone was brusque.
"What you do you mean we're in?" Nate frowned.
"Tell them what you did, Eliot. You risked my life." Hardison said from between clenched teeth.
The look Parker saw Eliot throw at the hacker said Hardison was exaggerating, but the younger man didn't back down.
"We're in. Moreau's gonna give me the details of the auction tomorrow."
"You? Why is he giving you the details?" Sophie sounded incredulous.
"I said we're in! Just make the plan." Eliot took a step back to stand outside the group.
"Hey. Eliot worked with Moreau back in the day. A lot. Tell." Hardison flounced down on the park bench next to Parker and snatched the tablet.
"We've been chasing Moreau for six months and you didn't tell us?" Nate stepped toward Eliot thinking to intimidate the alpha shifter.
"Because I was trying to ..."
"Because what?" Nate took another step.
"... Figure a way around this without ..."
"So, what, you're protecting him, or ..."
Finally tired of taking a browbeating from the mastermind for protecting the weakest members of his family, Eliot stepped into Nate's space a let a fraction of his alpha disposition uncoil. "I'm protecting you! Okay? Last time I checked, that's my job."
Not used to seeing the alpha side of Eliot's personality, Nate backed up and considered this next words carefully. He couldn't afford to alienate a man of Eliot's talents.
Parker watched her teammates carefully. She knew she wasn't normal, but seeing the humans' reaction to Eliot, the young Fae realized Eliot didn't fit with them either. Parker's attention returned to Eliot when Hardison flinched away from the enforcer and closer to her. She brought her attention back to what Eliot was saying.
"... And I'll never be clean of that." Eliot was pale and had shoved his hands in his pockets.
"What did you do?" Parker asked innocently.
"Don't ask me that, Parker. Because if you ask me, I'm gonna tell you. So please, don't ask me."
The expression in Eliot's eyes reminded Parker of one she sometimes saw in the mirror so she blinked back the tears that had pooled in her eyes for his pain, gave him a small nod, and an even smaller grin.
Used to having Hardison behind the scenes monitoring everyone's comms, Parker felt a bit disoriented with the team split between going after Ram's Horn and the auction. She was accustomed to part of her brain constantly readjusting her plans according to what she was hearing from her team mates. Jumping from the bridge to train refocused her attention on the job at hand. It was up to her and Hardison to stop the EMP bomb. This was her playing field so she settled her whining hacker and put her quick mind to work.
The beautiful explosion and the excitement of their escape prompted the thief to admit her feelings for Hardison. When they climbed back in the SUV, Hardison was smiling so hard the car practically floated to where they dumped the bright blue vehicle, and took a roundabout path back to their hotel with Hardison controlling the cameras around the building.
The adrenaline had long worn off before Nate called for them to meet at the airport. Darkness had fallen by the time they made it to the hangar, and their anxiety levels rose when they saw the blue and red lights painting the hangar walls. Parker and Hardison exchanged a look then picked up their pace. Nate hadn't mentioned Eliot when he called and no one had heard from the retrieval specialist since they'd left for the auction.
They relaxed when they saw Eliot helping the paramedics load The Italian into the ambulance. Tapping on the closed doors, they watched Eliot turn away to speak to Nate. The mastermind's expression was dark as he nodded to the enforcer. Next thing the thief knew, they were scattered across the cabin on the red-eye flight to Boston, and Eliot disappeared before they were out of the jet way.
The next morning, Parker shoved Hardison out of the way of the refrigerator door. Pulling out a bottle of juice she leaned against the door.
"You know this isn't going to be normal?" The thief raised her eyebrows at the hacker.
"I'm aware. You're a Fae, and then there's whatever's going on with you and Eliot."
With a sly smile, Parker shoved past Hardison toward the couch.
"What if it's whatever's going on with you, me and Eliot?" She whispered as she flitted past the flabbergasted Hardison.
Shaking himself like a wet dog, Hardison followed her to where Parker grabbed her phone.
"I love the brother ... I don't think ..." He answered weakly.
Parker held up her hand as her call connected.
"Grandfather, did he get there?"
"He didn't come to me, Girl." The old Guardian answered.
"We have to wait for him this time."
"Take care, and tell Hardison to take a breath before he passes out." The Guardian chuckled as he cut the call.
"Parker?" Hardison asked.
"I can't find Eliot."
Gathering her in in his arms, the hacker held her loosely.
"That just means he didn't go far." Alec crooned. "He always gives you a clue when he's going to be gone for a while."
Curling into the younger man's chest, Parker nodded. "Yeah." She said trying to reassure herself.
Eliot was a jumble of emotions. Anger, uncertainty, the nightmare of the gun battle in the warehouse, the smells, the sounds, Hardison and Sophie's censure, Nate's challenge … The only quiet spot in the chaos inside his head was Parker's quiet acceptance. Her unquestioning belief in him was all that was holding his alpha wolf at bay. So he ran.
The rangers that worked at the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge knew him so allowed him access to the wildest parts of the Refuge. It was where he went to exorcise his demons when he couldn't get to Grandfather. The pull toward Scotland rode him hard. Though he'd cut the familial bond with his sister, time spent with his Clan, especially the children, their trust and innocence ... Their belief in their Uncle Elyat soothed the raw places in his soul.
Then there was Parker. The girl needed to be around other Fae. She needed time to sort out her Court and Talent. Where there was Parker there was Hardison. The human hacker had wheedled his way into Eliot's heart as sure as Parker, but the boy was as skittish as a Moors pony so as much as the alpha in Eliot wanted to dominate the pair, the best he could do at the moment was ride herd on the team and try not grab Nate and shake him until his brain rattled.
His body finally gave in to his exhaustion, and the pale colored wolf found an outcropping hidden from view. A nearby stream, gave him a place to stretch out, bring down his body temperature and rinse the mud from his fur. His thoughts remained chaotic, the nightmare images of Moreau and the shootout with his men at the warehouse were pushed to the background as the mage/shifter began to feel Parker's anxiety over his disappearance. Shaking the water free from his fur, he started the trip back to Boston.
Worn down physically and emotionally, Eliot couldn't wait to leave San Lorenzo. The plan was for the team to scatter for six weeks to allow Hardison and The Italian to clean up the messes left dangling from bringing down Damien Moreau.
Two weeks after he split from the group at Logan Airport, Eliot was finalizing his travel plans to Scotland when his phone spit out Hardison's ringtone. Answering, Eliot is surprised by the breathlessness in the hacker's voice.
"Man, you have got to get here. Oxygen deprivation has put Nate on the crazy train, and I am freezing off my man bits."
"What are talking about, Hoss? We were supposed to scatter for six weeks." Anger made the retrieval specialist's voice bitter.
"I know, E … I know, but some mountain climber's widow came to Nate with a way to take down John Drexel. You know how he gets a hard on for Tony Stark wannabes."
"Tony … Never mind. You're such a Philistine … Never read a comic book in your life." The hacker muttered. "I'm sending your travel information ... Now. We're on Mt. Kibari in Alaska. Bring your warmest fur. It has not stopped snowing or blowing in two days."
"Dammit." Eliot growled.
"I tried … Parker tried, hell even Sophie tried when Nate called her in the middle of some audition, but nothin' doin'. I guess he figures all that Irish whiskey acts like anti-freeze."
"Fine. I'll be there as soon as I can 'cause only the Gods know what Nate will concoct if we don't slow him down. He'll end up getting y'all killed."
"Just get here man, I'm already half a Popsicle."
There was no more thoughts of returning to his ancestral home for as soon as they were off the mountain, Nate took off on a tear and the jobs didn't slow down until Eliot was badly beaten protecting young Molly Connell from her Russian kidnappers.
Eliot grinned to himself at the dark expressions on Parker and Hardison's faces when his friend, 'Nurse' Gail came for him. Shifting wouldn't take care of his deeper wounds, and he was too exhausted to expend the magical energy to heal himself, so he called Gail. Her magical talent lay in the healing arts, and she was a trusted friend. A part of him hoped they cared enough for him to ask about the beautiful mage, but when they didn't call out to him, he let Gail pass enough energy through her hug to get him to her car.
With every job, Nate seemed to be pushing them to be faster, more creative, and sometimes with Eliot and Parker ... More ruthless. Hardison's being buried alive had pushed Parker over the line where she barely let the hacker out of her sight. Eliot drew them into a cocoon of magical protection, and for three days the trio was never far from one another. Then Parker had gone roof hopping and Hardison had spent the night with World of Warcraft, and Eliot's bubble had burst into reality.
The enforcer pulled back into himself and let the two couples evolve. Hardison's disregard for the trauma Eliot suffered in the Dustmen's psychological experiments drove home the fact he was the odd man out. He didn't relax again until they brought their counterparts in to help take down Latimer and Dubenich. Quinn was a fellow shifter, a beta to Eliot's alpha ... Who helped ease his self-imposed isolation. If Eliot had pulled the trigger on Dubenich, he knew Quinn would help clean up the body and never question his actions. Shame Sophie hadn't stayed inside until the deed was done. The sharp look Eliot gave her backed the Reynard woman up, and warned her to never step in the middle of his business again. It was Eliot's job to protect his team despite their tender sensibilities.
Watching Latimer and Dubenich go over the edge of the dam loosened the knot of anxiety that had settled under Eliot's ribs. It would be a while if ever before the team would have to worry about the two men. By then the team would be scattered and settled in new lives.
Parker watched the two most important men in her life. The weird feeling she got in her chest she felt when she was around them was new and disconcerting, but after Sophie explained about her pesky emotions that were connected to sex and love, the thief had a better handle on what was happening.
She thought things were going rather well between the three of them until Alec got buried by the crooked morticians causing a meltdown on her part. When Eliot had hugged their hacker, too, all was right in the world from Parker's crooked perspective until Eliot started backing away. Her hand itched to smack Hardison hard when he got caught up in the college boy--Dustmen con and complained about his lack of sleep while his fraternity brothers tortured Eliot. The hacker had tried to apologize, but Eliot had waved it away and disappeared. Parker hadn't discovered where he went, but there was a lot of places in Oregon for a shape shifter to disappear.
Catching Eliot watching when she wasn't aware made her wonder what he was seeing. It made her wonder if she was finally getting her wings, but Eliot was the only one who could see them, and why couldn't she see them, if that was the case. Mostly it the was the sad look in his eyes when he watched her that made Parker worry that one day she'd come into The Brew Pub to find him gone.
Alec Hardison had never been so content. He had his computers, his Nana was in good health … Still going strong, and he fell deeper in love with Parker every day. It took Parker throwing his 'homework' in his face to make him realize how deeply he'd gone native. It was a heady feeling being one of the 'cool kids', but hearing Eliot's teeth chattering from the cold was the slap in the face that got him back on track. When Eliot pulled back from everyone, Alec wracked his brain how to make it up to the enforcer.
Hardison had begged Parker to help him get back in Eliot's good graces, but she'd given him an incredulous glare.
"Are you nuts? I really like you, and the sex is really good, but I'm not getting in the middle of you guys. He's just starting to teach me the good stuff."
"Woman, we're supposed to be a team."
"Yeah. A team of you, me, and Eliot 'cause Nate is getting ready to fly and Sophie will go with him." The hacker blinked at Parker. "What? Nate's not drinking as much, and Sophie's been making cow eyes at him ever since San Lorenzo."
"Don't sweat it. You just have to get back on Eliot's good side … Speaking of which, he's making lunch. See ya."
Hardison continued to gape as Parker skipped out into the restaurant. He was so screwed.
Everyone thought Hardison was aggravated because he had to work with Chaos, but Parker gave him a knowing look even as she introduced 'her young man' to Archie. When Archie claimed her as his daughter, Parker was so excited she could have flown to Portland without an airplane.
Alec pulled Parker to the side once Archie was settled.
"Have you heard from Eliot?"
"Was he supposed to call me?"
"He left to find Quinn and hasn't come back yet."
"Did you find something that says we should be worried?"
"No, but …"
"Eliot's fine … He's never late … So why are you worried?" Dark blue eyes narrowed speculatively.
"Eliot should have been here by now … Like you said, he's never late."
"He and Quinn have a lot in common. He's a Hitter and a shifter …" Parker twirled across the cavern.
"Woman, quit. Quinn worked for Sterling." Hardison started after the thief until he heard Chaos' nasal whining cut through the room.
When he looked up he saw Quinn and Eliot standing shoulder to shoulder.
"How do you put up with this?" Quinn asked.
"They grow on you." Eliot grumbled as he glared at the mouthy hacker that wasn't 'his' mouthy hacker.
"So does fungus." Quinn quipped.
"Speaking of fungus, I make this great …"
Eliot's voice trailed off as the two retrieval specialists disappeared around the corner.
"Eliot cooks for him?" Hardison sounded indignant.
With a shrug, Parker snatched the hacker's gummy frogs as she went to find Archie.
"Hey, now!" He called after her. "No respect 'round here at all." Hardison grinned as he pulled another package out of his computer bag.
Then frowned when he turned to see Chaos grinning.
"Sure I can't have Parker dressed up like Uhura from the Star Trek reboot?"
"You do know Parker's insane, right?"
"I like living dangerously."
"You do know Archie's the closest thing she has to a daddy?"
"That old man?"
"You know Eliot will pull your lungs out your nose."
"What do you need me to use my chaos fu to get around the trap they set for you?" Chaos' voice was quiet.
Hardison sighed and sat down at his computer, and wondered what Eliot and Quinn were doing.
"Your sister was asking about you." Quinn tossed his duffle on the bed.
"How're the kids?"
"Wanting to know when their Uncle Elyat's coming to visit."
"It won't be long, now 'til I have time."
"Just you?" Quinn's grin was mischievous.
"Probably." Eliot turned away from the beta shifter.
"Moreau came back to bite me in the ass."
"Heard about that. Nice piece of work, but nasty business."
"Parker's the only one that got it, but she'll go with Hardison."
"The boy finally pulled his head out of his ass?"
"Yeah, but I'm lower than a snake's belly in his eyes."
"Let me know when you're going to be there, and I'll drop by for a run." Quinn offered a backhanded support to the alpha.
Quinn turned to respond but the older man had slipped from the room.
It was deep in the night and the cavern was quiet when Parker went looking for Hardison. The thief found her hacker still pecking at his computer.
"You sleeping tonight?" She trailed her fingertips over his shoulders.
"What? ... Oh … Yeah … Just clearing up some lose ends." He answered absentmindedly.
"I think you've cleaned up enough." She tugged his collar.
Alec started to argue until he saw her expression. He gave an irritated huff, but pushed back from the table. He tucked the blonde under his arm and let her lead the way to where they were sleeping. Hardison felt his body winding down as strolled through the tunnels. He paused at the first room, but Parker kept moving causing a tug on his belt. Turning his head to scold her, he saw something out of the corner or his eye. Focusing he saw a sable colored wolf wrapped around their silver wolf.
"Is doing what he always does." Parker tug on his belt was starting to make things uncomfortable for the hacker. "Time to sleep ... Everything else can wait."
Hardison was still sputtering his indignation when they disappeared into an empty room.
"You'll protect them?" Sophie whispered in Eliot's ear as she hugged the retrieval specialist.
Eliot pulled back and gave the Reynard a wistful smile. "With my dying breath."
Sophie dropped his hands and moved to Nate's side.
"Keep in touch." Nate pushed out past the lump in his throat.
"Always." Hardison beamed at the mastermind.
Hardison and Eliot stepped closer to Parker as Nate and Sophie sent them tearful smiles on their way out the door.
"What's first on the agenda now that we're on our own?" Hardison asked as he tried to hide his tears.
"I've got the supper shift then an early flight." Eliot said as he moved toward the stairs.
"You're leaving?" Parker sounded shaky.
"We got no jobs on the books, we need to find a new place 'cause Portland is blown, and Hardison has only begun to geek out over the Black Book so I'm going to see Grandfather then my sister."
"You're right. I don't like Sterling knowing where we live." Parker perked up.
"Keep after Geek Boy to pack things up. Let Amy run The Pub." He suggested as they watched Hardison mumbling at his computer.
Standing at the trunk of Hardison's car outside Departures door, the trio had an awkward moment until Parker pulled Eliot into a tight hug before shyly kissing his cheek.
"Stay safe." He whispered when she pulled back.
"Can you?" Her eyes flickered to the side and back.
"Starting to … They're going to be beautiful."
Before Eliot could step away, long arms pulled him in for a hug.
"It won't take long to close shop, and I just know Clan Eliot will have the most kickass Internet connection in Scotland."
"Try to stay out of trouble." Eliot admonished.
"Why's Parker smiling like that?" The hacker asked. "It's a little scary ... Even to me."
Eliot gave the younger man one last hug.
"Her wings are becoming visible."
Hardison looked at the blonde Fae trying to see. When he turned back Eliot was gone.
Parker stood in the room behind The Brew Pub that no longer looked like her home, but looked like any other restaurant office. All their equipment and Alec's computers had been shipped to Eliot's house outside of Annapolis, Maryland. It was almost time to head to airport, but they wanted to take one last look. There was a lot of good memories here, but Hardison stuck his head in the door, and the blonde realized it wasn't the place that made the memories. With a manic grin, she bounced over to join the hacker for the next leg of their adventure.
The couple stretched out the kinks from the international flight into Edinburgh. Traveling first class made it better, but for two people used to being active it was still hard. They stayed quiet until they cleared customs. As their phones connected, the screens lit up with missed calls and messages. Inside the car that was waiting in short term parking, Hardison dove into the messages. Parker got them on the road to Liddesale, but felt a stab of panic when she saw Alec's face take on a gray pallor.
"Hey, what's wrong?" She asked quietly.
"It's Eliot." The hacker stared at his phone.
"Hardison! What about Eliot?" She demanded.
"There was an attack … He … There was … It's bad." He looked over at Parker. "Remember … Remember when we stole the orphanage? He warned us about the Chechens and you stabbed that gun runner, Petrovic?"
Parker nodded, but her eyes got big as her attention went between Hardison and the road.
"Petrovic and Irina did an enemy of my enemy con with the Chechens. When they found out Eliot was in Scotland, they tried to take his niece and nephew to hold for ransom. It was a blood bath of mages and shifters had not seen in decades as they collected a few rogues that wanted to take down The Gwydion in the confusion."
Silence filled the car as they completed the trip to the modern Hermitage. Quinn met them at the door, bandages on his forehead and arms, the shifter was holding his ribs.
"Eliot's been moved to his house."
"Is he okay?" Parker asked.
"No, but there's nothing else they can do at the clinic and Eliot didn't want to take a space that someone else could use. Seamus and Rhiannon held the house while we hunted the grounds. There were some others at the refuge that helped, but the family took the brunt. I gotta tell you ... When Eliot and Rhiannon team up it's awesome and damn scary."
Quinn drove giving Parker and Hardison time to look over the churned up ground and people cleaning up property damage and moving bodies. They saw a man with dark red hair towering over people in uniforms walking across the grounds.
"That's Seamus, The Gywdion."
"Two alphas in the same place works?" Parker asked.
Quinn gave Hardison a wink. "Nice wings." He said to Parker.
"What? … I mean … Really?"
"Your people really don't have wings, but they create these illusions because people expect Fae to have wings."
"Why?" Parker asked.
"Preconceived notions." Quinn shrugged as he pulled up to a house that looked like it was centuries old. They pulled their bags out of the back and followed the enforcer into the house.
"Hey Spencer, I found your strays." Quinn called out.
"Thanks, Man. How's clean-up going?"
"Seamus is handling the cops, and your sister's cracking the whip on everyone else. So take a breather. We got away with no casualties because you took out their mage." Quinn gave Eliot a hard glare.
Eliot frowned when Parker poked his back.
"Parker! Stop!" Eliot growled.
Parker poked again ... His ribs this time. She was having trouble finding a place that didn't have a bandage. "Quinn sees my wings." She poked the one she saw under his shirt.
Hardison sat down on the other side of Eliot.
"You weren't supposed to get in trouble without us."
"We're supposed to have each others back. Nate said so." Parker poked again.
Quinn smiled as he started to slipped out the door. He could leave Eliot now that the family was there to help him heal ... Or so he thought until Eliot frowned at the beta.
"Later, Brother." Garnered Quinn another frown. Looked like Eliot was more serious than he thought. He was going to have to give serious thoughts to where he wanted his relationship with the alpha to go.
"Where's the bed?" Hardison asked.
"No. Your bed." Parker corrected.
"I found it!" The hacker called from up the stairs.
"Let's go." Parker tugged Eliot off the couch.
"Jet lag … Sleep now … Yell later."
Careful of the places with bandages under his t-shirt and sweats, Parker maneuvered the cranky hitter up the steps. Hardison had the bed turned down, and was pulling their sleep clothes out of their bags. The younger couple got Eliot wedged between them and pinned to the mattress before they dropped off to sleep.
"There's no food in the house." Hardison complained the next morning.
The hacker and thief had stripped the retrieval specialist and gently cared for his wounds. He allowed their ministrations until Hardison started to get antsy.
"There's plenty of food in the house, but we can go up to the big house for breakfast." Eliot gave him a light slap on the back of the head.
"Let's go." Parker jumped up on Hardison's back and wrapped her legs around his waist.
"Woman." The younger man complained even as he grinned.
They walked to the main house at Eliot's pace where they met Seamus and Rhiannon for the first time. The Laird and his Lady made them feel at home to the point where Parker was checking out the nooks and crannies of the manor house while waiting for Cook to announce breakfast. Maeve and her older brother, Eirnin were thrilled to see their Uncle Elyat. When they'd been banned from seeing him after the battle, they feared the worse.
Parker nearly floated to the breakfast table when Maeve called her 'Aunt Parker', and after breakfast they all stood at the patio wall watching the ground crew continue the clean-up. Parker sat on the wall while Eliot stretched out on a chaise, and Hardison sat beside her, arm wrapped around her waist. She felt Hardison's hand fluttering close to her back.
"They're beautiful." She heard his awe filled whisper.
Parker's smile lit her face like the sun. She finally had it all. A purpose, a family that loved her, and her wings.
~ Fini ~