Chapter 1: Super
There is something off about this case.
Hell, there is something off about this town. Since the moment they got here, Hardison has been on edge. He can’t put his finger on it as to why; maybe it’s the sheer dreariness of the empty shop windows and derelict houses surrounding the town’s square, maybe it’s the fact that this once bustling town now stands mostly empty, or maybe it’s just the weather. Cloudy and grey, with a wind that doesn’t know how to behave and that comes gusting out of unexpected directions at the most inopportune moments.
And his electronics aren’t working. They keep fritzing on him, keep popping up weird error messages when he has already checked and double checked and triple checked everything.
A flash, a spark and then the battery he uses to power his laptop in the back of Lucille dies, with an ominous rattle that gives Hardison the heebies and also the jeebies, because he has never heard one of his batteries make a noise like that. And that is just the last straw.
‘Parker, please. Let’s just get out. Michaels isn’t gonna show up here, let’s just head back to the Brewpub and figure out a new plan.’
‘No! Hardison, I told you. We’re at Plan C already, we got to wait him out here or we lose him. Forever.’
Hardison heaves a sigh and goes to revive his battery. Again.
Until a muffled curse sounds through his earbud, at about the same time he hears a car pull up into the street where Lucille is parked. He turns back to his monitors to see a sleek black oldtimer go by, the roaring of the engine shaking the equipment in his van. He can’t make out the driver’s face, but he doesn’t need to, because now there are running footsteps, more swearing and the backdoor of Lucille being ripped open to let in Eliot Spencer, tumbling into the cramped space at full speed while barking at Parker to get her ass in here now because they are leaving. Now, Parker.
This time, Parker doesn’t argue. She appears not a minute later, looking pouty but also frowning in concern because the last time Eliot pulled them out of a job like this, it was because one of Moreau’s old cronies had gotten wind of them and had decided to cook up a nice little revenge scheme for the fact that he was now very much indefinitely unemployed.
That had been a close call. But as they are tearing out of Nowheresfuck, VA, with Parker behind the wheel, Eliot not taking his eyes off the rearview mirror and Hardison clinging to his seatbelt for dear life, nothing seems to follow them. There are no bullets flying, no unmarked vans chasing them, just a lonely stretch of road behind them as they leave the ghost town in the dust.
‘You wanna tell me what that was about?’ Hardison finally asks, when Parker has brought Lucille down to a slightly more legal speed.
‘Winchesters,’ is all Eliot growls back. Which is a huge help. Not.
‘What’s a Winchester?’ Parker asks, taking her eyes off the road to look at Eliot. She looks curious rather than worried by now.
Eliot seems to have relaxed as well. At least he breathes out and quirks his mouth into something that is not quite a smile. ‘Winchesters are… they’re bad news.’
‘I thought we were bad news,’ Hardison mutters and Eliot almost laughs. ‘Yeah, well. I ain’t touchin’ them with a ten foot pole, so take that as you will. If Michaels ever shows up there, he’s gonna have a far bigger problem than Parker’s Plan C. And trust me. We do not want to be there when that happens.’
Trusting Eliot is what has kept them alive for all these years, so Hardison isn’t going to argue now. He just has one more question, and then he’ll be happy to get their asses back to the Brewpub.
‘How’d you know it was them?’ Because his monitors hadn’t picked up any faces, and he knows for a fact that Eliot had been deep inside one of the empty buildings when that Mystery Machine had rolled into town.
Eliot glares at him and huffs. ‘They’ve got a very distinctive car.’
Chapter 2: Who
‘What’s up, babe?’
‘Do you know that show you like? Surgeon Why?’
Hardison rolls his eyes, trying not to laugh. ‘… Parker, I know you actually know this, so I ain’t gonna bite. Yes, I know that show I like and the sooner you are done rifling through Mr. Baker’s file cabinets, the sooner I can get home to continue the marathon I got going on. So, you know, happy as I always am to talk about my favorite alien show, could we please just focus for a little moment? Please?’
‘Yeah well, I would,’ Parker hisses, ‘but I’ve just heard a very strange noise and now there’s a blue phone box sitting outside Mr. Baker’s office that wasn’t there before.’
‘Seconded on the strange noise,’ the growly voice of Eliot adds. ‘Don’t have eyes on the hallway, so can’t confirm the phone box. Parker, you need me in there?’
Silence. Then the clatter of, say, a chair hitting the inside wall of a van, followed by the slamming of a door and running footsteps coming closer at incredible speed.
‘Eliot, stay in position,’ Parker orders after a brief pause. ‘I think Hardison’s got this.’
There is a blue phone box standing in the drab office hallway. Even after blinking twice, three times, and then another couple of dozen times, just to make sure, Hardison can see it standing there, clear as day and as real as a Monday morning hangover.
‘Holy shit,’ he mutters under his breath as he inches closer, ‘holy holy holy holy holy holy holy holy holy…’
The phone box door swings open and reveals, not exactly the interior that Hardison knows and loves, but not exactly a normal phone box interior either. For instance, said interior is a lot bigger than it should be, given the dimensions on the outside. A lot bigger.
‘Holy holy holy holy holy holy holy…’
A man steps out of the phone box and into the hallway and Hardison stops. He is tall, though not as tall as Hardison, skinny as a reed with a shock of red hair spilling over his shoulders. He is wearing dark blue cargo pants with a gazillion pockets, a grubby lab coat with about the same number of burn marks and holes over a checkered red shirt and… combat boots.
The boots catch Hardison so off guard that he completely forgets to be awestruck and starts laughing. ‘Since when are you wearing combat boots?’
The man frowns. ‘Well, first off,’ he says in an offended grumble, ‘they are stylish. And there’s really nothing else to keep you grounded when you’re hopping galaxies, you know?’ He catches Hardison’s incredulous look and rolls his eyes. ‘Okay, so I had them lying around. I’m still figuring this incarnation out, alright? After a couple of… hang on. What do you mean by you?’
Hardison is too giddy to reply, but the man (no. Hardison’s pretty sure this is the actual real life friggin’ Doctor) seems to get it because he groans: ‘Oh no. Please tell me they haven’t started that blasted TV series up again. After I went through all that trouble to get it axed, please tell me they didn’t revive it.’
‘Sorry man,’ Hardison says in a high voice, trying to swallow down the giddiness. ‘You’ve been on the air again since 2005. Thirteen years and counting. Thirteenth incarnation of you, too.’
‘Thirteen, hm,’ the man (Doctor) says, tapping his chin. ‘That was a good run. I think.’
‘It is,’ Hardison agrees. ‘Eleven you was a bit of a mess, though.’
‘O jeez, don’t remind me,’ the Doctor groans. ‘Ten incarnations later and I still keep finding that blasted fez everywhere.’
Hardison makes a face in sympathy. Before he can comment on that ‘ten incarnations later’, however, the Doctor looks at him. ‘Say, you don’t want to come with me, do you? I happen to be short a companion again, so, you know. If you wanted to see all of time and space, etcetera etcetera?’
Two things register through the haze of what the actual fuck that is fogging Hardison’s brain in that moment.
The first is the bitten of gasp and the sudden, deafening silence over the comms. He can almost hear Eliot and Parker holding their breaths, waiting for his answer and that unexpectedly hurts.
The second thing that registers is the echo of the sentence I happen to be short a companion again. Because that suddenly reminds him how rarely the Doctor’s companions ever get to live happily ever after touring the galaxy for a bit. Hardison’s life is not exactly boring now, but at least out here, there’s nothing that Eliot can’t punch to keep them all in one piece.
‘What happened to your last companion?’ he asks slowly, after a long moment of silence.
The Doctor shrugs. ‘She’s fine. I think. I mean, she’s stuck in an alternate dimension where America doesn’t exist, so she’s probably better off than here. No offense.’
‘None taken,’ Hardison mutters. ‘And nah. Thanks for the offer, but I think I’m good where I am.’
Another shrug. ‘Well, if you’re sure,’ the Doctor says lightly before stepping back into his phone box. The door slams shut and the light on top starts to glow, a hoarse humming filling the air before it stops again.
The door cracks open. The Doctor’s face pokes out, looking pleadingly at Hardison who is trying to convince his knees to wait just another moment before giving out completely.
‘You’re really sure? Like. I did say the bit about all of time and space, right?’
Even if Hardison had any last doubts or regrets, the grumbled ‘oh for fuck’s sake’ and the almost audible eye roll over his comms do a great job do a great job of dispelling them.
He grins. ‘I’m sure,’ he says, and watches how the door shuts again and the phone box disappears with a noise like a congested walrus. Then Parker announces over the comms that she’s got the file they came for and they should clear out now, and it’s back to work.
After all. You get the best view of time and space on a TV screen. Preferably while holding a grumpy hitter close on one side and a quicksilver thief on the other.
Hardison’s pretty sure there’s nothing in any galaxy that can top that feeling.
‘Man I swear if she went back to the Tower again to check out those crown jewels…’
It has taken him the better part of fifteen minutes, but Hardison has by now both put their flight on hold indefinitely (yes, it costs a pretty penny but he couldn’t care less at the moment) and built a rudimentary tracking system with whatever equipment he has available. In an airport. Again.
Because while he and Eliot were perfectly on time for their flight from Heathrow back to Portland, Parker is running late.
And Parker is never late.
‘Will you just stop bitching and let me work? Look, she’s probably fine, probably got distracted while trying to scale that Gherkin or something. If I thought there was someone after us for this con, you know I wouldn’t have…’
There’s a ding and a red dot labeled ‘Parker’ appears blinking on the screen. Hardison crows. ‘Gotcha!’
Then he sees where the red dot actually is, and he sobers immediately. ‘Uh-oh.’
Eliot stops and turns from where he’s stalking up and down their private lounge. ‘What do you mean ‘uh-oh’?’
Hardison grabs the screen and turns it around. Eliot takes one look and groans. ‘Oh shit.’
‘Good morning, Ms. Parker.’
The voice is oily, slick and smooth just like the man who opens the door and walks into the room. ‘I do apologize for the inconvenience, but I could quite frankly see no other way of getting your attention.’
Parker frowns. ‘You could have asked,’ she says. ‘Most of our clients just ask.’
The man does not reply. He merely gives a noncommittal hum before he starts arranging papers on his desk, seemingly forgetting about Parker for the moment.
Parker doesn’t mind. Any thief worth their salt knows how to evaluate their environment in under ten seconds, and she is no exception. This room is an office, but it’s a very posh office in a very posh and very tightly secured building. The carpet is plush and real Persian. The desk and furniture are real mahogany. The bust of Winston Churchill on the file cabinet to the side is made of real bronze and is probably heavy enough to smash the thick, sound and bulletproof windows that can only be opened from the inside. With a keypad.
This is not good.
Then she takes a good look at the man, and she likes what she sees there even less. A bespoke suit, meticulously creased. Thinning hair but groomed well with not a strand out of place. A bit on the pudgy side, but he moves lightly, almost effortlessly. A sharp, almost disdainful expression when he looks back up at her and now Parker knows what he is.
Backroom politician. And a dangerous one. But not half as dangerous as he thinks he is and that is what makes him dangerous.
‘Clients,’ the man says after fixing Parker with the same scrutinizing look she is throwing him. ‘Yes.’
That seems to be all. When nothing else is forthcoming, Parker rolls her eyes and holds out her hand. ‘Can I have my earbud back?’
At least she hopes the man has it. Because if he does, then it means Hardison knows where she is. If the man has destroyed her earbud, which she would have done, Hardison will also find her, but it might take him longer. And Parker does not want to be in this room any longer than she has to.
Thankfully, the man starts digging into his suit jacket and fishes out her earbud. ‘Ah, yes. Of course. Once again, my apologies.’
Now it’s Parker’s turn to hum noncommittally while she puts the comms in. ‘Hardison, position.’
The reply is immediate, the light note barely concealing the relief in Hardison’s voice. ‘Right outside, mama. You good?’
‘I’m good,’ Parker says, meeting the man’s stare inch for inch. ‘But I could do with some intel here.’
‘You got it, babe. One sec, I got you.’ Muttering, the clicking of keys, a growl that Parker doesn’t understand but that sounds like Eliot who is sadly not allowed to beat anyone up and then: ‘OK, so you’re at the Diogenes Club, which is some kind of fancy pants lounge area for not so hard working old rich people and you’re talking to Mycroft Holmes, who is pretty much the definition of a shady government. Seriously. Hinky is this man’s middle name, so whatever he wants, we’re saying no. Right, Parker?’
‘O jeez,’ Parker mutters. ‘Hardison. Stand by. Eliot. Stand by. Understood?’
That makes the man (Mycroft) raise an eyebrow. ‘My, Ms. Parker. You seem to have your team on a very short leash. I commend you for that.’
Parker smiles a sweet, totally not genuine smile. ‘Where’s your brother?’
‘Parker, I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t desperate. Reconsider, please.’
‘Uhm… Parker, what’s going on?’
‘Hardison, Eliot, you got eyes on this?’
‘Yes, we do. And we see you repeatedly saying no to a very handsome British man, which we do appreciate, we really do. But could you tell us why, maybe?’
Parker sighs. ‘Sherlock Holmes. Mycroft Holmes’ little brother. You can take it from there, I don’t know the other guy.’
The ‘other guy’ (he is short, he looks rather unassuming and he is dressed for warmth rather than style, but he also gives off the same vibe Eliot does when he’s playing dumb on a con so Parker hasn’t taken her eyes off of him since the moment he stepped into the room) clears his throat. ‘John Watson. Pleasure.’
There’s a disbelieving sort of huff over the comms, even before the clicking of Hardison’s keys starts up again. ‘I know that guy,’ Eliot says and now Parker is definitely keeping both eyes on him. ‘He was in Afghanistan when I… never mind.’
A thoughtful pause and then Eliot says, a grin almost audible in his voice: ‘Hey, Parker. Ask him if he’s still only at three continents or if he’s made it to five by now. Li’l shit couldn’t stop bragging, not even when we… never mind.’
John Watson is watching her with a gaze that is far too shrewd for Parker’s liking. She quirks an eyebrow. ‘My friend wants to know how many continents you’re at,’ she says in a voice of spun sugar. ‘Still three?’
‘Who’s your friend?’ John Watson asks, oh so casually. But Parker didn’t miss the expression that flitted over his face, almost too fast to see.
Before Parker can come up with a suitable alias, however, the other man in the room huffs, getting impatient after being ignored for all of ten seconds. ‘John, please. You can catch up with your army buddies later. How about we get back to business?’
‘Sure,’ Parker says. ‘No.’
‘Sherlock, I am not helping you track down this stolen Vermeer. One, that’s kind of the opposite of what we do. Two, I think I already knows who has it and so do you, which is exactly why you kidnapped me. Three, you kidnapped me instead of asking nicely. Four, no. Goodbye.’
Sherlock rolls his eyes and huffs. ‘Fine. But can you at least ask her to give it back?’
The last part is almost shouted, but Parker is already out the door. The goons with guns don’t stop her.
They also don’t stop her when she stops just outside of the room, cocks her head as if she’s listening to something and then turns around. Sherlock is still in the room, still scowling, but the other man, John Watson, looks like he’s trying not to laugh.
That laugh softens to a smile when he sees Parker. ‘Yes?’
Parker smiles back. ‘Wahya says hi.’
And turns around and leaves before she sees John Watson’s eyes widen and his jaw drop, and before she hears the indignant whine of Sherlock demanding to know what a Wahya is.
‘So, we calling Sophie tonight?’ Hardison wants to know when they have finally, finally made it back to Heathrow again.
Parker leans back as far as the uncomfortable airport seat will let her, and closes her eyes. ‘Oh yes.’
Note: Wahya means 'wolf' in Cherokee and is (was?) the name of CK's pet wolf hound (bc of course the man has a pet wolf hound). I thought it was fitting as a kind of soldier nickname. See also This Amazing Piece of Work, which is where I got it from.