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The Hardest Job

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"I think we should have kids," Parker announced the day after Nate and Sophie got married. "We can adopt now."

Hardison and Eliot took her seriously.

"Our jobs are dangerous," Eliot pointed out. "We could be killed, go to prison, or have to flee the country. A lot." But underneath his dour words, it was clear Eliot was trying to talk himself out of the idea: an unmistakable yearning had flashed across his face as soon as she'd brought it up.

Hardison didn't miss a beat, following up Eliot's objection. "Do you really think we're qualified to take care of little humans looking at us for how to tackle life's eternal questions? And learning how to pick pockets?"

"Yes," Parker said, definitively. "If it was just me, no way. Or me and one other person, not likely. But there are five of us. We make a good team. Not just a team, a family. We cover for each other," she finished, like she had fully and completely explained herself and the rest was obvious.

Nate doubted it. "I don't think so. I think we've got enough to handle just with what we've got. And whoever heard of five people raising a kid, anyway?"

Sophie raised a brow. "Several religious groups do it all the time, darling. Not quite like us, admittedly, but then again, who would?"

Eliot nodded. "I think we'd make better parents than a lot of people out there."

"There's a lot of kids out there could use a home this good, even an unconventional one," Hardison agreed, in sync with Eliot. It was always cool when that happened. He offered a fistbump to Eliot, who scowled at the inappropriate distraction before his fist flashed out, at three times normal speed.

Hardison tried really hard not to flinch.

Sophie took a deep breath. "I think it's a wonderful idea. And a terrifying one. To be quite honest, I am so mixed up inside now I can't tell what I'm feeling, much less what would be the best. Perhaps we could all sleep on the idea, talk about it again later?"

Nate didn't look good. "Sleeping, fine, whatever. But no kids, I can tell you that much right now. I don't want kids." And with that, he left the room, heading to his apartment within their building.

The next morning, however, there was adoption and foster care paperwork spread across the briefing table, and posted to the wall were dozens of pictures and bios of children, all ages and from all over the world.

Most of the team was poring over the intel, or trying not to look as though they had been, prior to Nate walking in; Parker was happily tacking more pictures up on a corner of wall that was still bare.

It was a small corner.

"No," said Nate. "Not happening, you people are all nuts. Been there once, not going again."

"You're the only one who has, man," Hardison pointed out. "Far as I know, the rest of us are offspring-free and clear." He glanced around at the others to confirm.

Eliot looked away, muttered, "Pretty sure it wasn't mine," and clammed up.

Sophie was looking as shaken as Sophie ever looked. "Not... exactly. I adopted out three before I had my tubes tied. In my own way, I was just as ill-suited to single motherhood as Parker."

Nate jerked his head around to stare at Sophie. He hadn't known. Briefly, his face showed curiousity, the impulse to find those three children of his new wife.

Parker interrupted. "I miscarried when I was fifteen." They all stared for a moment.

Hardison put his head in his hands. "Okay, so I guess it's just me who has never even remotely considered the possibility of parenthood."

"Look," Nate said. He sighed heavily and dropped into a chair. Apparently he wasn't getting out of this without serious talking. "I just... I don't think I can go through it again. What happened when my son died. It's too much." The soul-crushing agony of not being able to save his son would always be with him, and it was a cold comfort, no comfort at all, to know that the lack of money that had seemed so insurmountable a problem then would, today, take him perhaps an hour or two to arrange.

Nothing he could ever do would bring back Sam.

Parker's face got weird and resolute, setting off alarm bells for those who knew her well, which was all of them. "I need to tell you something," she said, abrupt.

"Is it about what happened when you were fifteen?" Eliot asked, his low voice gentle.

She furrowed her brow at him like he was crazy. "No. And if you interrupt I might not be able to," she admitted. "So don't."

Eliot nodded, Hardison mimed zipping his lips, and Sophie set a hand out casually within reaching distance.

"My brother was on his bike in the road. A car was coming," she began with a deep breath. They had heard that much before, even if it hadn't been her choice to share it then. "There was time. He froze, because he was afraid." Her words were almost toneless, sounding rehearsed. Or as though this was how she told the story to herself.

Her voice dropped to nearly a whisper. "I was close enough." she wanted to look around at her team, see their faces, but her gaze was fixed at the floor, "But I froze," she rasped out, jerkily, "Because I was afraid."

Sophie couldn't stay silent anymore, and with a small cry reached out and embraced Parker. Parker turned her face into Sophie's shoulder and shook, quietly, while Hardison rubbed helpless circles on her back and Eliot produced a box of tissues from somewhere. Nate couldn't think of a single thing to say.

This was why Parker never seemed to have a normal fear response like everyone else's; she had been training herself out of it since she was a child. So that she wouldn't ever again do nothing because of fear. Every time she threw herself off a building, every time she opened her mouth and said the last thing anyone thought she should say, she was ingraining into herself one simple rule: she who hesitates is lost.

It went without saying that Parker had never before talked to anyone about this.

After a few minutes she collected herself and sat up. Eliot brought steaming cups of tea from the kitchen and passed them around.

"Parker, you are the bravest person I know," Hardison declared. "Ain't nobody else could do the shit you do." He put an arm around her, gently, protectively.

Parker took her cup of tea from Eliot and laced her fingers into Hardison's. She looked up, looked Nate in the eye. "The scariest thing in the world to me is having somebody else to fail."

Nate couldn't breathe for a long, indescribable moment. That was his fear, exactly, but now it somehow seemed like a small and insignificant one, in a way it hadn't before. He couldn't look at Parker, at everything she'd done in the time she'd been with the team, and keep letting his private fear rule his life.

He couldn't not look Parker in the eyes, either.

"We'll need a plan," he said, finally. His heart couldn't seem to decide whether to stop entirely or rabbit-pound out of control, so it kept on beating like it normally did. "If we're going to steal a baby —steal a procreation…," he tried, looking for the right words, sounding ridiculous.

Sophie kissed him. "If we're going to be parents," she corrected him. "If we're going to grow a whole new person from the ground up."

"That," Nate agreed. "If we're going to do that."

They'd somehow formed themselves into a perfect five-sided shape, during the discussion, as the team always seemed to, for the really important ones. Nobody wanted to break it.

Instead, one by one, they started to smile.