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Eliot knew about the things that went bump in the night. More than just the mercenaries and former special forces who he dealt with on a daily basis. The rumours had started when he was in the army and they were stationed in the ass end of nowhere chasing whatever the hell it was Uncle Sam had sent them after. They were given very specific apprehension instructions. Some of the people Eliot served with took those instructions, followed them to the letter and never thought about them again. Eliot followed them and then couldn’t forget them.
He didn’t get specifics about what they’d been after until he left the Army and struck out on his own. It had been some minor demon making trouble. Apparently the military had an entire task force to deal with such things but they’d been occupied by a pissed off ice monster attacking along the Alaska/Canadian border. Who knew?
Working for Damien Moreau had filled any remaining gaps in his knowledge. He had various books that were marked as belonging to Silas University for Eliot to read. Damien then sent him to track down a few of those nasties. Eliot did it because he thought they were monsters. Nothing good could come of their existence. He’d been wrong.
But it was because of that history that Eliot had been ready to veto the idea of going to the Silas campus when Parker suggested it. Because of course Parker knew about Silas freaking University. Apparently she’d done a few jobs there. Eliot had very carefully not reacted to that news. She was a thief. What the hell could she have stolen from Silas that wouldn’t have put an instant curse on her? Worse, what if this meant that death really was following her around and all the times she jumped off buildings, the Grim Reaper was rolling the dice and Parker just had exceptionally good odds.
Hardison was the deciding vote. Apparently the thought of a sentient computer program was too much to pass up. Judging by the look on Hardison’s face, if Eliot and Parker didn’t go with him, he’d end up there on his own. Which is what led them here: standing in another room as Laura explained to her friends that she’d gotten outside reinforcements. The girls argued for a few minutes before Laura called them into the room for introductions.
Eliot made sure he didn’t turn his back on Carmilla. He knew a vampire when he saw one. She raised a dark eyebrow at him and turned the page in her book. Eliot tried really hard not to notice what it was she was reading despite the fact that that book shouldn’t even exist. And he wanted to read it so bad. Did the sixteenth century monks really have to burn the entire collected works of Lotar the Dim? O Henry had not been the father of the detective mystery.
“Did you know about this?” asked the tall one. Danny? She was pointing at Carmilla with accusation in her posture but Eliot thought it all looked like show.
Carmilla shrugged but never looked up from her book.
“Hey, now,” interrupted Hardison. “We’re here to help. That’s what we do.”
“Hardison has a program that scrubs the internet looking for people who might need help,” piped up Laura. Her face was turned slightly toward the webcam sitting on top of her computer and Eliot didn’t roll his eyes that she was still recording but only barely. Hardison had made them watch all of her videos to date and she’d already gotten in trouble for this shit before. “Look, I know it sounds suspicious, but we could use the help, guys. We’re clearly out of our depth here.”
Carmilla put her book down but Eliot was pretty sure she’d been aware of everything the group said. “As much as I hate to admit it,” she said and looked over the three of them again. Parker stopped trying to surreptitiously touch Perry’s hair as she realised someone’s attention was on her. “We could use their help. We know the Alchemy Club is involved in this, but they know us. All of us.”
“So what are you guys going to do?” asked LaFontaine. She’d been watching all of the proceedings with a distrustful glare and standing just enough in front of Perry to block the other girl from view.
“Easy,” said Parker. “We’re going to steal the Alchemy Club.”
The declaration shut everyone up, at least, as they all stared at Parker. She beamed back at them all and it made the crazy that much more obvious. That woman would be the death of him yet.
Eliot left Parker and Hardison hashing out the plan with Laura and LaFontaine and followed Perry down the hall to the kitchen. The house they were squatting in really did have an amazing kitchen. The layout was very distinctively eighteenth century but all of the appliances were state of the art. It was his dream kitchen made manifest and he never wanted to leave.
“Look,” Perry was saying. “I’m sure you’re very good at your jobs, but do you really understand what’s going on here?” Eliot recalled her frazzled face when she yelled at the others to just “be normal” and thought the question was more a cry for help.
“Probably more than you,” said Eliot. Perry glared at him and he backtracked a bit. “Nothing against you, hun. Just, there was a time in my life that this kind of stuff was my life. Demons and monsters and vampires. Granted, I never had a pissed off angler fish trying to get out of a tiny hole.”
She gave him a skeptical look. “But not anymore?”
“I had a difference of opinion with my employer,” Eliot fudged. “What are you making?” he asked, pushing past the awkward silence. “It smells beautiful.”
“Brownies. I bake when I’m nervous.”
Eliot noticed the carefully covered plates of pie and cake, blondies and fudge and understood completely. “Yeah? Smells like they’re almost done.”
Perry’s eyes found the clock behind the stove and she declared they needed two more minutes exactly. She moved to a large sink Eliot had seen something soaking in and poked at it. “Do you know how to get giant snot out of cotton?” she asked. Her face said that she was falling back on a conversation she was comfortable with but her eyes told Eliot that she couldn’t quite ignore the new twists to the question.
“Baking soda and vinegar,” Eliot said without thinking. “If it’s really crusty, you might need to add a little lime juice and salt.”
Perry froze. She hadn’t expected Eliot to actually know. “Lime juice?”
Eliot nodded. “Lime juice. Lemon juice just makes it greasier for some reason.” She still didn’t seem impressed. “Make you a deal: I’ll help you get this out if you let me taste one of your brownies.” It took Perry a few minutes, but she finally nodded her agreement.
Hardison nearly shit himself when JP first showed up on the screen to introduce himself. The little guy was all proper and dignified and like Laura’s own personal assistant and Hardison wanted to poke him like the Pillsbury dough boy and see if he made a sound. But he didn’t. And Eliot wasn’t even there to see it which was a damn shame because he should get a celebratory blow job or something for that. Hand job at least.
Laura caught his attention when she showed him the school archives she’d been trying to crack for the last four days with no success and this is where Hardison did his magic.
“Now that is a thing of beauty,” he declared. “How old even is this thing?” he muttered. “The security system was DOS-based (and who the hell even used DOS anymore?) and so old as to seem uncrackable. Actually, he was pretty sure they were using some old DARPA security protocols that had last been employed against the damn Soviets. But older was oddly effective against younger hackers. It was child’s play to him.
Laura watched it all with fascination and Hardison didn’t even notice that he was explaining what he was doing to her until Carmilla made a comment. Laura glared at the vampire and then told him to continue. Hardison took enough time to glance over to where Parker and LaFontaine were deep in discussion before giving Carmilla his best “look” and going on. He ignored the way Carmilla chuckled under her breath.
When they got through the last of the firewalls, he and Laura both lapsed into silence as they started to go through the files. A lot of it was bureaucratic nonsense but there were a few things that looked like the administration and the Alchemy Club were working together. He started collecting the files together to show Parker and Eliot.
He was about to show Laura some other cool tricks when his nose distracted him.
“I smell brownies,” he declared.
Laura laughed at him. “Perry bakes the best brownies.”
As if on cue, Perry and Eliot came back in. Perry was carrying a plate of brownies and Eliot had his sleeves rolled up and was wiping his hands on a towel. The bastard looked smug and Hardison knew he’d already had one. Not fair. He forgot all about that when he took a bite. It was like a little bite of chocolately puff heaven. And then it was gone. He stared at his hands like they’d betrayed him by not automatically refilling with brownie goodness.
A look around the room revealed everyone had paused for brownie and the room was silent but for a bit of chewing. Not that you really needed to chew much. It was like they had melted in his mouth and become like a gooey liquid gold. Eliot came up beside him and held out another half a brownie and he was really considering kissing the man right here and now. He knew Eliot didn’t like PDA while they were on a job (“Dammit, Hardison, that’s just asking for trouble!”), but no one was paying attention.
“Don’t even think about it,” grumbled Eliot like the mind reader he was. “Just eat your damn brownie.” So he did.
“You got the recipe, right?” asked Parker. She appeared like a damn ghost on Eliot’s other side. Hardison would have laughed at Eliot pretending not to jump but he was too occupied with brownie.
Parker found the house’s secret passages almost immediately. They were pretty obvious. She’d expected it to be like the house from the murder mystery job. She’d liked the passages in that house. They’d been just tight enough that she’d felt safe but given her enough room that she could do the odd cartwheel without slamming her feet into the roof. These passages were so much better.
She could actually use the passages to get above some of the rooms. Crawlspaces outside of vents. Genius. She was building these into her house when she retired. She checked the room where she and the boys were staying first and found Hardison aggravating Eliot like normal. Eliot glanced around once while she was there like he knew they weren’t alone but didn’t actually go hunting for her. He probably knew it was her.
Next she found Carmilla curled up with a book. The vampire glanced up. “Move along, little bird,” she said. She sounded a lot like Eliot. Parker did. Watching people read was boring anyway. Next she found Laura doing another update to her blog. Or vlog. Whatever. Hardison would know. Then there was LaFontaine and Perry.
When they’d first watched the videos, Hardison had said that they were obviously dating. Eliot had told him that he didn’t know that and they were kids anyway so, “what the hell, Hardison?” Parker smiled at the memory but it faded as she listened.
“Well do you know what makes you feel more like a boy?” Perry was asking. “Or a girl? I mean, should I not do something? Or do something more?”
“That’s not how it works, Per. I just don’t usually feel like one or the other. It has nothing to do with you or anything you do.”
“And you’re okay with it?”
“Yeah. I’m still just me. Why is that so hard to understand?”
“I worry about you. What if people start bullying you?”
LaFontaine turned really quiet when she said, “people have been bullying me all my life, Per. There’s nothing you can do to change that.”
Perry sighed and stared at LaFontaine for a long minute before leaving. Parker watched LaFontaine and felt sad. LaFontaine was just staring at the computer screen and Parker wanted to help but didn’t know how. The screen beeped and LaFontaine looked up with a frown.
“Who’s there? I know you’re there!”
Parker stuck part of her head out from behind the tapestry covering the entrance to the passages. “Hey,” she said.
LaFontaine glanced back the way Perry had gone before getting up to investigate where Parker was hiding. “What is that?”
“Secret passage,” said Parker. “Wanna check it out?”
Parker smiled and beckoned her new friend inside. They walked in silence for a few turns before LaFontaine finally spoke again.
“So how much of that did you hear?”
“A bit. Sorry I was snooping.”
“It’s okay.” They were silent again. “So how did you find these? We’ve been here for almost a week and I never realised they were here.”
Parker smiled. Now they were talking about something she knew. “Old houses like these usually have them. They’re old servants tunnels. Pretty cool, huh?”
“Yeah. I wonder how many of the other buildings have them. I wonder if the Bio building has them.”
“Bio doesn’t have passages, but the vents there are pretty awesome.”
LaFontaine gave her a funny look. “You’ve been to the Bio building? When?”
“A few years ago. I stole some specimen jar. I really liked it and almost didn’t give it to the client.”
“Wait. You mean the centaur eye that went missing eight years ago? That was you?”
Parker shrugged. “It was pretty cool.”
“Yeah it was! I was so mad I didn’t get to see it. I mean, they were wasting it just letting it sit in the jar like that! Who did you steal it for? Please tell me they were going to do more than just let it sit there!”
“Maybe.” Parker shrugged again. “I don’t really keep track of stuff after I steal it. Is that what you’re going to do? Study stuff?” Parker wasn’t very good at normal people jobs or how they got them.
“I don’t know. I kinda wanted to stay here and work in the labs, but I don’t even know if Silas will be here long enough for me to graduate.”
Parker frowned. “Why? Because of the angler fish? Silas has been through worse. The last time I was here, I found this basement library that had all these books about all the times people have tried to take over the school. They’ve tried to use the angler fish guy like four times.”
LaFontaine stopped and grabbed Parker’s arm. Parker didn’t know how genderfluid worked, but she didn’t stab LaFontaine which was pretty good progress. “You found what? You have to show me. Where was it?”
“In a sub basement under the History building. But you can only get there through an old wine cellar.”
“I can get in some pretty tight spaces. I’ll manage. Let’s go!”
They were almost to the History building when Parker noticed their extra companion. Did Carmilla not want LaFontaine to know the vampire was coming too? Or maybe Carmilla didn't want Parker to know? But that was silly. Parker always knew when someone was following her. Even when that someone was currently in feline form.
"Do you think Eliot is hitting on Per?" LaFontaine suddenly asked, breaking the comfortable silence they'd fallen into.
Parker frowned. "She's not the bad guy. Why would Eliot hit on her?"
"Wait. Does Eliot normally hit on the bad guys."
Parker scoffed. "Of course. He's the hitter; it's what he does." She'd thought LaFontaine was pretty smart but now Parker wasn't so sure.
"Oh, no. No. I mean, is he trying to seduce her?"
"Oh. Well why didn't you just say? And no. Eliot is with us. He just flirts to make people like him so he doesn't have to hit them."
LaFontaine didn't seem convinced but Parker couldn't help that. It was the truth. As much as Eliot flirted with everything that moved sometimes and Hardison was close behind him, neither of her boys had any interest in going outside of their threesome. Which was good because Parker may be new to this whole relationship thing but she knew already that losing it wouldn't end with her in a stable place.
"Really?" LaFontaine asked again. Maybe there was some credence to the idea of her and Perry dating. Or maybe they were at that just before place where none of it made sense but you just wanted to hold your boys tight and never let go. Or girl. Whatever.
"Really," said Carmilla as she finally took her human form and seamlessly entered their conversation. LaFontaine squeaked and Parker suppressed the urge to make her do that again. She was always intrigued by all the funny sounds other people made and why they made them. Carmilla gave LaFontaine a sideways look while the other girl (person?) glared. "Easy there, tiger."
"Dammit, Carmilla. Can't you make a sound or something when you do that? Anyway, I thought you were staying with Laura."
"She's a big girl. Besides, I wanted to see this library,"
Parker glanced back as they came to the cellar entrance. "You didn't know about it?"
"Why would I?"
Parker shrugged. "There are some pictures of you. I assumed it belonged to your mom."
Carmilla went by still and quiet and Parker's predator instincts told her to stay still too. LaFontaine watched the two of them with a worried look but Parker couldn't tell what she was more afraid for: Carmilla's reaction or Parker's counter. Parker wasn't worried, but she liked Carmilla and didn't want the charm she'd carried since the last time she was here to hurt the vampire. That would be really awkward to explain.
Carmilla finally eased her posture and shook her head. The move threw her hair over her eyes and hid the darker cast from LaFontaine anyway. Parker had seen it immediately. Note to self: don't talk about the old Dean aka Carmilla's mom.
"No. She never mentioned it," Carmilla said, her voice gone quiet.
"Wait," injected LaFontaine. "If you were here eight years ago," she pointed to Parker. "Then how did you two not meet?"
Carmilla paused for a beat more before moving to open the cellar. It was locked, but that wasn't an issue. "I was away," she said.
Parker followed Carmilla into the cellar and then pointed to one of the shelves. Carmilla glanced around it for half a moment before finding the latch and revealing the small gap that was barely a third the width of a normal hallway.
"You weren't kidding about tight, were you?" asked LaFontaine.
Parker shrugged. "I've been in tighter." She didn't mention that she'd been much younger and much smaller at the time.
They fell into silence as the three made their way in. Carmilla gave it a single contemptuous look before returning to her cat form while Parker moved with relative ease. She had to coach LaFontaine about controlling her breathing but otherwise they made it through unscathed.
The book was still where Parker remembered it being: open on a table like someone was either in the middle of reading or writing it. Carmilla moved straight for it with only a bare glance at the three portraits hung on the wall with her face. There were a few others of other vampires but none were repeated like Carmilla. Parker supposed it said something about how much her mother really had cared.
"Can I take all of these back?" whispered LaFontaine. Parker didn't think the words were meant to be heard. Anyway, that was Carmilla's call.
The vampire barely soared the request a thought. "Not before we know if anyone will miss them. For now, we stick to just this one."
Parker pouted slightly when Carmilla grabbed the book and headed back the way they'd come. She'd always liked little rooms like this. The shelves hemmed the place in and there was only a small table and an overstuffed chair to fill the rest of the space. Oh well. She'd just have to come back before they finished this job.
Carmilla pointedly didn't think about what that little library meant. The place had clearly belonged to her mother. The familiar scent of lavender and death had been the obvious sign. But there were other little things. A cup of Mother's favourite tea down to just the dregs and a small collection of quills on the table with Mother's ink blend that she mixed herself because no one in this century could mix it right. The portraits.
She'd seen enough of the book to know that it was one of those tomes that was bound to a location and chronicled the events therein. She didn't even realise Silas had one. Made sense, though. She'd have to make a careful study of it before she let Laura delve into its secrets. There were some parts of her history that she would prefer to tell Laura about on her own terms.
She ignored LaFontaine and Parker as the three made their way back and only tuned back in when she saw Parker’s hitter watching them from the doorway. Carmilla suspected there was a little something extra in that one. She gave him a smart smile and let Parker take the lead as she told him all about the little library and the amazing book she’d found. Eliot took it all in while managing to keep an eye on Carmilla. Impressive especially when Parker circled the entire group like a magpie watching for shiny.
Laura appeared in the doorway, brought out by all the excitement. Carmilla was happy to be away from the damn camera. She loved Laura, there was no doubt, but her entire demeanour changed when she was in front of the thing and sometimes Carmilla just wanted Laura--not Laura the vlogger. Before long they had the whole gang and Carmilla stayed to the side in an effort to keep from saying something incredibly sarcastic. Laura gave her dirty looks when Carmilla offended her friends.
As she expected, they made their way into the room with the camera and Carmilla took up her usual position on the chaise to start flipping through the book. The book was written in High German covering the last few centuries and moving back through the Germanic languages of the time. It would be an excellent exercise in linguistics, if nothing else.
Eliot, Perry, Parker and LaFontaine spent a good time arguing over whether the trio should have made their little journey on their own. Carmilla’s name was thrown around as protector or something but no one addressed her specifically, so she kept reading. By the time Laura did turn to Carmilla, she’d found the section about the angler fish god and really...was the solution really that easy? Feed it and sing it a lullaby?
“You’re kidding,” said Laura after she told the group.
“Nope. Apparently the thing got stuck a long time back and struck up a bargain: we feed it and sing it back to sleep and the thing will hibernate.”
“That’s...actually kind of ingenious,” commented Hardison as he started typing on his laptop. Carmilla as pretty sure he was googling German lullabies.
“Well what does it eat?” asked Perry, ever the practical one. The wheels were already turning in the floor don’s head.
“Livestock, mostly. Although apparently it did develop a taste for sweets about a hundred and fifty years ago, so maybe we should try some of your brownies.”
“Oh, dear.” Perry looked toward the kitchen and Carmilla could swear she was doing the math for a batch times fifty. Maybe the chemistry department would help. “Does it say how much?” she asked.
“It looks like we need to find a couple dozen head of cattle and about ten pigs. Top it off with some pasties and we should be good.”
“Wait,” said Parker. “The Alchemy Club was gathering livestock. Maybe they’ve been trying to close the chasm all along.”
Carmilla wasn’t really sure what to think of that. Except that it meant she wouldn’t get to see this group steal the Alchemy Club. Pity.