The shrill ringing of his phone woke him from the best sleep he had managed in three weeks. Groaning, he rolled over to snatch it off the side table. He forced his eyes to focus on the caller ID. He let his head fall back to the pillow as he answered.
"Parker," he growled. "This had better be good."
For a long moment, she did not say anything. He could hear her breathing, but just as he was about to growl at her again, he caught a different sound. Very, very faintly, he could hear a hitch in her breathing, almost as though she were trying to hide it. Even as she spoke, he sat up, now wide awake.
"Eliot…" she said, being cut off by a small gasp.
Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he propped the phone between his ear and shoulder as he grabbed whatever clothing was handy. He snatched up his keys and earpiece as he slammed out of his house. She still had not managed more than his name.
"Come on, sweetheart, talk to me," he coaxed. "Where are you?"
"I…I'm not…I'm not sure," replied the thief. "Eliot, everything looks really weird."
"Okay, try to stay out of sight. Do you have your earpiece?"
"Yeah," she answered, sniffling. "Should I call Hardison?"
"No," replied the hitter. "Let me do that. You just keep out of sight and stay on the phone. Don't hang up, Parker."
"All right, but hurry? Things…this doesn't look right."
The hitch in that last whisper had him gritting his teeth. He reached up and flicked on his own earpiece as he held the phone to the side.
"Hardison!" he barked.
From the small device, he could hear the sound of crashing glass.
"Whoa, hey, man, not cool!"
Rolling his eyes at the hacker's annoyance, he climbed into his jeep and started the engine.
"Not now, Hardison," Eliot snarled. "I need you to trace Parker for me."
"What? Why?" asked Hardison.
"Just do it!"
"I'm doin' it, I'm doin' it!" came the rejoinder.
Another voice broke into the conversation.
"Eliot, what's going on?"
Nate, the team's leader and mastermind, had apparently been awake and connected as well.
"Got no idea," he replied. "Parker called and she's both confused and upset. I'm tryin' to get to her and see what's up."
"Do you need any backup?" Nate asked calmly.
"Not yet. Let me get a look at things before we go barreling in."
"All right," answered his boss. "Stay on line though. If you get any inkling you need help, you contact us."
"Understood," Eliot agreed.
"Got her!" exclaimed Hardison. "She's in the alley near The Publick House. It's down on…"
"Yeah," interrupted the hitter. "I know where it is. I'll check it out and get back to you."
As he started racing towards Main Street, he moved the phone back into place. He could hear Parker muttering to herself about melting walls and shooting stars. Frowning, he inched the speedometer up a notch.
"Yeah? Eliot? Where are you?"
"I'm comin', sweetheart. You doin' okay?"
"Umm, I don't think so," replied the tiny blonde. "I'm feeling really sleepy."
"No," he said, veering around a couple of cars. "No sleeping. I need you to stay awake, darlin'. You can sleep later. Right now, I need you to talk with me."
She grumbled and he heard some shifting sounds as she moved around for several long minutes.
"What do I talk about?" she finally asked, the words slightly elongated.
His eyes narrowed as he took in how her words were beginning to slur. Whatever had happened, he needed to get her focused.
"Walk me through how you'd break into the American Art Museum at the Smithsonian."
"Oh!" she said, sounding more awake and excited. "I love the Smithsonian!"
"Yeah, I know," he grinned as her animated voice came over the phone. "Come on now, walk me through it."
She began talking, taking him step by step through the process of breaking into the museum. Every so often, he would pop a question at her, and she would backtrack to explain something. Keeping her mind moving and thinking seemed to help her fight off the worst effects of whatever it was that had fogged her wits.
Although the maps would say it should take a little over thirty minutes to get from his house to the bar, he covered the distance in just under twenty. Pulling his jeep into the alley, he jumped out. He gave the alley a searching glance, and, given it was Parker, he looked up. Sure enough, she sat on the edge of the fire escape, two stories up.
The little blonde waved at him and nearly toppled off her perch. More than anything else that had happened, that worried him. Injured, drunk, exhausted…Parker did not lose her equilibrium. Instead of having her come down as he had planned, he climbed up to get a look at her. With just the first glimpse, he spotted the red mark on her left cheek. However, he was more concerned by her eyes. The pupils were dilated and unfocused. She grinned at him as he crouched down on her left.
"You still want to break into the Smithsonian?" she asked, leaning her head on his bicep and blinking slowly.
He forced a chuckle even as he reached to take her pulse. It was too slow.
"Nah, darlin'" he replied. "I think we'll pass on that tonight. Do you remember where you were when you started feelin' funny?"
She frowned and her brow wrinkled in concentration. As she thought, he gave her a once over for any other injuries. As she reached up to tug on her hair with her right hand, he saw the dried blood. His hand darted out to grab hers. That drew her attention and she looked down at her hand in bemusement.
"Eliot, did I hit someone?" asked the thief in a small voice.
"Looks like it, sweetheart," he said. "Don't worry about it though. From what I can see, he deserved it."
"Oh, that's okay, then."
A corner of his mouth crinkled up in amusement as he examined her hand. The knuckles bore some minor scrapes, but that was it. Taking her chin in his hand he turned her head to look at the red mark. It bore a small scratch along the cheek bone, probably from a ring. Grinding his teeth, he forced himself to remain calm and gentle. There was no point in scaring her.
"Parker, do you remember where you were?" he asked again.
She shook her head, eyelids growing even heavier. She had fought so hard against whatever was in her system until he could get to her. Now he could see her visibly letting go, relaxing since he was here to take care of things. Sometimes he felt extraordinarily humbled by the trust the team put in him, most especially this little one. Shaking her just a bit, he smiled at her annoyed grimace.
"Not yet, darlin'. I need you to stay awake until we get to the jeep."
Helping her down the two flights, he maneuvered her over to the passenger side and got her buckled in. As he climbed into the driver's seat, he turned his earpiece back on.
"We're here Eliot. How's Parker?" Nate's steady voice centered him a bit more. It still struck him as a bit disturbing that he had so much faith in this guy. It was not the blind faith of a kid, but it came damn close. Maybe it was the hopeful faith of a teenager who knows his dad is flawed, but hopes he can still make everything right.
"Good news is she's basically okay."
"What's the bad news?"
He growled, but reined it in as she shifted next to him. He glanced over to confirm that she was still asleep.
"Eliot?" Nate asked again.
"Sorry. Bad news is someone slipped our girl a drug. From everything she said and what I've seen, I'm going with Rohypnol."
He could almost feel Nate going still even as Hardison flared up. When Nate got really mad, not just annoyed, the temperature of the room would noticeably drop.
"Damn it, man! That shit's not cool!" Hardison's voice crackled in his ear.
"Yeah, no kidding. Turn it down a notch before I turn this thing off."
"Hey, man, I'm just sayin'…"
"Enough," interrupted Nate. "Eliot, bring her here so Sophie and I can get a look at her. Does she remember who or where?"
"No. She doesn't remember much at all. And don't worry Dad; I'm almost to the office now. I called to see if Hardison could try and retrace her steps."
"I'll get on that," said Hardison.
"See you in a few," Eliot stated and continued driving. He left the earpiece on this time so he could hear the conversation taking place. He heard Nate call Sophie and listened as Hardison muttered to himself as he hacked into various security databases.
As he pulled into the office parking lot, Sophie's car came barreling in behind him. The grifter parked haphazardly and hurried over to the passenger side of his jeep.
"How is she?" asked the Englishwoman in concern. She placed a graceful hand to the side of the thief's face. At her touch, Parker roused and met her eyes with a slightly dopey smile.
"Hi, mom," said the blonde cheekily. Sophie raised an eyebrow, but smiled.
"I beg your pardon?" she asked as he came around to their side.
"Well," Parker shrugged. "Eliot called Nate 'Dad', so I figured that made you 'Mom'."
The brunette slanted him a look from the corner of her eye and he grimaced. He would never hear the end of this.
"Humph. If I'm the mother, how did I manage three such reprobates for children? Come on now, love, up you go."
Between the two of them, Sophie and Eliot got her out of the car. However, her muscles had given up the fight and she could not quite manage to stand. So Eliot scooped her up and carried her to the elevator and up to Nate's apartment. As they entered, Nate strode over to get a look at her. Mimicking Sophie, he placed a hand on her face and she gave a soft laugh.
"Yep," she huffed. "He's definitely the dad."
Hardison snorted from his place at the dining room table. Nate blinked and then shrugged. Giving her a fond smile, he gestured towards the living area.
"Hello to you, too, baby girl. Put her on the couch. She can rest there and we can keep an eye on her."
Eliot nodded and moved to lay her down. She tried to get comfortable, but began to sit back up with a frown.
"I can't see from here."
Eliot rolled his eyes and gave Nate a look. Nate nodded.
"Hardison, can you move that in here?"
"Yeah, sure man. Just a minute."
"There," Eliot said, sitting at the end of the couch. "Now you'll be able to see, okay?"
"Okay," she sighed, moving around until she could lean against him. "I don't want to lie down."
He rolled his eyes, but shifted around so his arm lay across the back of the couch and she could curl into his side.
"Hey, Eliot?" she asked, yawning as her eyes grew heavy once more.
"If Nate's the Dad, and Sophie's the Mom, who are we?"
He chuckled at her childlike tone. Sophie gave a light laugh while Nate smiled.
"That's easy," Sophie answered for him. "Eliot's the eldest, Hardison is the middle child, and you're the baby."
They all gave small smiles as Parker's face scrunched up trying to think through her haze. The situation was not funny, and they had definite plans for whoever had drugged her, but her expressions did lighten the mood. Finally she snuggled even further into his side.
"Always did want a big brother," she mumbled as she dozed off.
As her breath evened out, the others took their seats. Hardison continued to mutter as he did his stuff, but one glare from Eliot caused him to keep it under his breath. Nate and Sophie sat on the loveseat; Nate kept his gaze drifting from one face to another as Sophie sipped a cup of tea, with her eyes fixed on Parker.
Parker trembled and everyone froze. Eliot rubbed his hand up and down her arm slowly, letting her drift back to sleep. The drug had to be working its way through her system. He exchanged a dark look with Nate as Hardison determinedly turned back to his computer and Sophie's lips folded in anger. Whoever this guy was? He had picked the wrong family.