Chapter 1: Show and Tell
Neal is practically bouncing on the balls of his feet when he comes into work that morning. Peter casts him a suspicious look and Neal knows his attitude must be driving him insane.
“Hello Neal,” Peter says, meeting the conman at the coffee pot.
“Peter,” Neal greets with a boyish smile and not elaborating further. Peter casts him a sidelong glance, his body poised, like he’s dying to interrogate Neal but is trying to restrain himself. Neal decides, just this once, to take pity on the man. It’ll earn him trust and goodwill in the long run.
“My father’s coming to the office today,” he says. Peter’s eyebrows shoot up.
“I thought he wasn’t in the picture,” Peter says. Neal shakes his head.
“Not my biological father.”
Peter looks even more confused. Neal knows it’s not in his file. Adam had made sure of that, made sure that Neal Caffrey is a solid identity that protects both Neal and the rest of the family. Adam steps off the elevator not too long after that, his timing as impeccable as always.
“There he is now,” Neal says. Adam’s wearing a baggy sweater with his worn jeans, so Neal knows he’s Adam Pierson today. They kids all know who he really is, but they’d been taught to call him Adam, even in their heads, with Methos just another identity, because it was easier not to slip up that way. He’s also touched his hair with grey and drawn subtle crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes so that he looks old enough to have had custody of Neal.
“He looks like an unconventional father-figure,” Peter says. Neal grins unreservedly.
“You have no idea,” Neal tells him.
When he’d been sixteen and realising precisely how good he was at copying other people’s work, Adam had taken one look at his latest piece and told him only an idiot would sign it. After that, Neal had changed the NC he usually used to an NA; Neal Adamson. Neal was just arrogant enough to want to sign it, but Adam had deemed that good enough.
“You’re looking good,” Adam tells him, smiling, and tapping the brim of Neal’s hat, knocking it into his eyes. Neal laughs, righting it.
“You look exactly the same.”
Adam shrugs, but there’s a conspiratorial look in his eyes.
“So, you going to show me around or not?” Adam asks, but he’s looking directly at Peter as he says it.
“Adam, this is Agent Peter Burke,” Neal says. “Peter, Adam Pierson.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Peter says. Adam’s smile is genial, but there’s a sharpness to the edges of it.
Neal suddenly gets the idea that this is a very bad idea.
Chapter 2: Back into the Fold
Eliot hasn’t been home in years, not since leaving the military. He couldn’t face Adam. Not that Adam would have turned him away, but Eliot couldn’t bear his calm acceptance in the face of the things he’s done. Then he’d gone and made it even worse by joining Moreau. Now he’s free and clear and nothing’s changed.
Nothing, that is, until he opens his hotel room door one day and Adam is lounging in the chair in the corner of the room. Adam looks the same as the day they met. Adam looks almost the same age as him.
“Adam,” Eliot greets, shifting his stance to get ready for a threat though he knows the threat Adam provides isn’t physical. Adam’s far too good at manipulation to rely on physical threats.
“Eliot,” Adam says, not moving from his seat.
“Something I can do for you?” Eliot asks, moving cautiously into the room. He still keeps the bed between them.
“Tony’s graduating from the academy next week and Ben and Alec’s birthday’s next month,” Adam says.
“I know,” Eliot says.
Adam might be keeping track of him, but he’s been keeping track of them, too. He might have cut himself out of their lives, but that didn’t mean they weren’t still family. There’s a faint smile on his face, though, at the idea that Tony’s graduating from the academy. He’s always been the black sheep of the family, inclined as he was to going into law enforcement.
“Alright then,” Adam says easily, standing up. Eliot holds his ground even though all he wants to do is put space between them.
On his way out, Adam pats Eliot on the shoulder but Eliot doesn’t respond. When the door closes, Eliot spends a long moment staring at nothing. Finally, he sits on the edge of the bed, head hanging, and wonders how difficult it will be to book a flight under his alias and if the twins are still interested in chemistry, or at least the explosive side of it.
Chapter 3: Broken Dreams
The first thing Tony’s aware of when he comes round after the surgery is a stabbing pain radiating from his knee and it’s all he needs to know his athletic career is over. There won’t be any football or basketball in his future and that means the scholarship’s gone, too.
The second thing Tony becomes aware of is the hand on his arm and the chatter of subdued voices. He pries open his eyes to see Adam at his side and the others arrayed around the room. Parker seems to have a death grip on Faith’s hand and Neal’s sticking close to her side. The twins are curled up in the same chair in the corner.
“Hey kid,” Adam says, patting his arm.
“Adam,” Tony says, choking on the name, knowing that everything he’s feeling is openly displayed on his face. He’s never reacted well to medication.
“Come on, kids,” Faith says, rising to her feet. “Let’s go get some ice cream while Adam and Tony have a talk.”
“Is Tony in trouble?” Parker asks, turning wide eyes to him and Tony struggles to blink back tears.
“Tony’s not in trouble,” Adam assures her with a warm smile. “It’s like your nightmares.”
Tony knows Parker doesn't really like anyone near her after one of her nightmares, not even Neal, but thankfully they're rare these days. Almost non-existent. Parker nods, turning to look at Faith.
“Can we get some warm milk, too?” she asks and Faith smiles down at her.
“Of course we can.”
It doesn’t take long for the kids to go and Tony’s both relieved and a little afraid at their leaving. He’s never disappointed Adam before. He's worked his ass off so he wouldn’t ever, because Adam’s done a lot for him, done everything that’s ever meant anything to Tony, and he doesn’t know how Adam will react.
“How are you feeling?” Adam asks and his hand hasn’t left Tony’s arm. He’s had broken bones and sprains before and either Adam or Eliot had always been by his side each hospital visit. But this is different somehow. It’s nice, Tony decides.
“Alright,” Tony says. Adam nods, but it’s his ‘I’m going to pretend to agree even though I know better’ nod. Tony’s never been able to fool Adam, who just looks at him steadily until Tony feels tears well in his eyes and spill over before he can even think to control himself. “I lost it all.”
Adam just hands him a tissue and brushes a hand through his hair and that just makes Tony cry harder. Then Adam’s arms are around him and Tony’s clinging to him like there’s nothing else in the world that’s stable. Adam doesn’t give him platitudes or false promises, just holds him and rubs circles over his back until Tony finally settles down.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” Tony says when Adam finally releases him.
“You could take a semester off to heal,” Adam tells him. “After that... well, I have it on good authority that Ohio State offers a scholarship for injured athletes.”
“Since when?” Tony asks, frowning.
“It’s fairly recent,” Adam says and he looks smug. Tony has no idea when he had time to organise it, and there’s a part of him that’s angry, because he’d wanted to do this on his own, to prove that he could stand on his own. There’s also a part that’s just extremely grateful that he isn’t doing this on his own.
“Thanks,” Tony says softly, settling back onto the bed.
“Get some rest,” Adam tells him, patting his arm again. “We’ll be in town until you’re ready to decide what you want to do.”
Adam has to take the kids back to the hotel to sleep eventually, but Faith volunteers to stay a little longer. Tony tries to imagine how he’d do this without his family there, but it’s such a bleak thought that he shakes it immediately. It’s bad enough Eliot’s disappeared on them.
Faith flicks the foot of his uninjured leg and gives him a look like she knows what he’s thinking about. He and Faith were the only ones to really know Eliot. Eliot hadn’t been able to come back from the Army all that often and each time he’d been more distant until he just hadn’t returned at all. Neal and Parker had only really lived with him a few months and Alec and Ben hadn’t met him at all.
He finds a smile for her and she smiles back for a moment before wiping her expression and acting like she’s too cool for touching moments with her brother. He grabs one of the pillows at his head and throws it at her. She catches it easily.
“Sure that’s a fight you want to start?” she asks him, grinning.
“Give me a tranquiliser gun, a taser and a head start and I’m sure I could take you,” he boasts.
“Sure,” she says, chin tilted arrogantly. “As soon as you’re finished sitting on your lazy ass.”
He laughs, more relief and appreciation that he has this than actual humour, and knows that he can get through the next few weeks.
Methos is dividing his attention between the drone of the television – kept low in deference to those with enhanced senses – and writing in his journal, when he finds out that SHIELD has been both destroyed and exposed.
He’s more than happy to let the superheroes and agents fend for themselves. It’s what they’re trained for and they’re either capable of it or they’re not, it’s not his problem. But there is one thing that is his concern.
“Have you heard from Clint?” Methos asks Alec, because Clint’s closest to him, especially since Loki. If anyone understands brainwashing, it’s the kids from Manticore. Alec shakes his head.
Methos always worries about all his kids, because none of them are exactly in safe professions. Clint, however, is one of the ones who worries him most, since he doesn’t check in. Methos tells himself if he could go back to before he started taking in all of them, he wouldn’t put himself through all the hassle, but he doesn’t bother believing it, not even as he’s thinking it.
“I’ll get Parker’s boy to filter the information and make arrangements, you call in the others,” Methos tells Alec. Most of the kids have left, though they all still have their own rooms for when they stay, but Alec and Ben tend to stick close to home.
Less than twelve hours later, they’re in a rather dismal compound somewhere in Eastern Europe.
Behind him, Eliot and Faith fight back to back and Methos can hear Ben’s whoop of wild laughter some distance away. The others are arrayed elsewhere in the compound while Methos pushes further in. Finally, Methos pushes open a door, cutting down the guard who leaps at him, and takes in Clint’s bloody and bruised appearance.
“They made me, I’m not sure how,” Clint says as Methos unties his hands.
Clint doesn’t say anything, just nods wearily, and Methos figures he’s realised at least that much on his own.
“Come on,” Methos says, pulling Clint to him like the man still so rarely allows. It’s a testament to how done over Clint really is that he leans on Methos at all. “Let’s go home.”
Clint exhales like some part of him has been holding its breath for a long time.
“Yeah,” he says finally. “Home.”
Three days later, Methos sets a cup of Kusmi Anastasia tea, next to Clint’s black coffee, on a tray and carries it to the attic. He doesn’t pause at the murmur of voices as he pushes open the door and isn’t surprised to see Natasha lying on top of the blankets, curled against Clint’s side. The skylight Methos had installed not long after Clint claimed the room as his own, bathes the room in unobstructed light.
Clint smiles at Methos tiredly when he sets the tray at his bedside and Methos knows they’ve probably been up most of the night, talking to each other on a wavelength very few others share. Natasha watches him with wary acceptance, but it’s an improvement over the blatant mistrust she’d had in the beginning.
“Everyone’s sticking around for a few more days, just until things settle a bit, but I’ll keep them out of your hair for as long as I can,” Methos tells them, more for Natasha’s benefit than Clint’s.
“Thanks, Dad,” Clint says and Methos pats his arm briefly before stepping back to give them their space.
“Adam,” Natasha says, taking the tea Clint hands to her. Methos waits for her to speak. It always takes longer when she’s being honest. “Thank you.”
It’s not about the tea or keeping the kids, and they’ll always be his kids even if most of them are technically adults, in check. Clint rolls his eyes, but lets the moment pass. Natasha sips at her tea, a sign of trust that she’ll accept anything from him she hasn’t seen prepared, and her eyes twinkle just a little when she recognises the taste. He nods.
According to the Kusmi Tea website: Anastasia is “inspired by the story of the Grand Duchess Anastasia, daughter of the Romanov dynasty’s Czar Nicholas II, this exclusive Earl Grey blend exemplifies Kusmi’s famous Russian taste with its combination of black tea, bergamot, lemon and orange blossom. Kept secret since its creation, Anastasia is one of the iconic recipes created by Pavel Kousmichoff.”
Chapter 5: Back into the Fold 2
Eliot waits until the day of Tony’s graduation from the academy when he can’t put the decision off any more. As much as he feels he doesn’t deserve them, he can’t cut himself off from his family entirely. Ignoring Adam’s clear invitation would be drawing an irrevocable line between them. Keeping a distant eye on them wasn’t enough anymore.
He’d gleaned as much as he could from emails Tony sends him – frequently, even if Eliot never replies – and from third parties, when he can. He knows about the new additions to the family; the twins, Neal’s friend Blair and a new boy called Clint.
If nothing else, he owes it to Tony. He hasn’t done a very good job of sticking by Tony, but Tony has never let him down. Tony, who has been his truest friend and brother.
So, Eliot finds himself up on a new doorstep, but still home, listening to the sounds of people celebrating inside. He isn’t sure how long he stands there, not knocking, before someone opens the door anyway. A boy, on the cusp of adolescence, stands there, staring at him. Either Ben or Alec, Eliot doesn't know them well enough from pictures to tell them apart.
“Dad!” the boy yells. “He’s here!”
There is a thundering of footsteps and then the entranceway is crowded with children of various ages, staring at him with varying expressions of wariness and curiosity. Eliot takes half a step back before he realises what he’s doing and holds firm.
Adam keeps to the back of the group, though he nods at Eliot. At his side, Faith looks at Eliot for a long moment before she smiles faintly at him. There’s something like empathy in her eyes and Eliot knows, from Tony and police reports, that she killed a man and now she has to live with that. He copies her smile but, like hers, it fades quickly.
Clint, the newest kid, watches him, suspicious and protective in equal measure. Eliot knows exactly how that feels; the need to keep this new, wonderful thing secure and the wariness of anything that might threaten it. It sends an awful stab to his heart to realise he’s that threat now.
Then Tony elbows his way to the front of the group, wraps an arm around Eliot’s shoulders and draws him into the house. He looks so smart in his new uniform and Eliot’s so proud of him, but it just reiterates that he doesn’t have a place here. Adam makes all their lives better, Eliot doesn’t. Not with all he's done and the trouble he brings.
“I’m so glad you came,” Tony tells him, pulling him into a tight hug that Eliot returns.
“I could hardly leave you to this lot,” Eliot says softly, attempting a smile.
“That’s Faith’s job, these days,” Tony says, bumping his shoulder. Eliot lets the feeling of home wash over him and tries to ignore the doubts that niggle at the back of his mind and the weight of his family’s expectations, for good or ill.
Chapter 6: Be All You Can Be
“Adam says you’re thinking about joining the army,” Eliot tells Jo.
She looks up at him and her jaw clenches stubbornly. Biologically, she comes from a long line of military and, even if she’d taken up ballet not long after joining the family, it’s still a difficult legacy to leave behind. It doesn’t help that she and Tony are the only ones who have really gone straight.
He takes a seat next to her on the porch steps and watches Alec and Ben wrestle on the lawn for a long moment. He’s glad the twins have stuck around; it makes them all feel a little better about taking off to parts unknown.
“I’m not going to tell you not to do it,” he says and she looks at him in surprise. It’s no secret his own experience wasn’t all that great in the end. “It’s a worthy ambition.”
She looks down at her feet and fiddles with her laces.
“I know we’re not exactly conventional...” she begins. Eliot nods, knowing she’s always felt torn between loyalties to her biological family and her adoptive family. Unlike the rest of them, she’d had a strong bond with her first family.
“Hey, Tony’s a cop and Blair’s a student,” he tries. “And Sasha’s technically training to be an FBI agent.”
Jo rolls her eyes at him.
“Sasha’s a double agent and considering how many of us there are, those aren’t exactly good odds.”
Eliot shrugs. It’s a good point.
“That’s not going to make anyone any less proud of you.”
“I know,” she says softly.
“Come on,” he says, patting her knee and then rising to his feet. “We’re going for a two mile run.”
“You’re kidding,” she says, standing up and following him into the house. “You’re kidding, right?”
“I’ve got a whole week in town to make you army fit.”
He grins when she groans behind him.
Chapter 7: Crash and Burn
“So, this is Seattle,” Alec said. He glanced at Ben who shrugged, clearly not seeing what was so exciting about the city. Alec figured it didn’t look nearly as much fun as Sunnydale had been or Cleveland was during their occasional visits to Faith.
“Who do you think is here?” Ben asked. This time it was Alec who shrugged.
“It’ll be nice to see one of us again,” Alec said. “It’s been a long time.”
“We don’t need them,” Ben said, tone aggressively defensive the way it always was when someone implied Adam wasn’t enough for them. Alec wrapped an arm around Ben’s shoulders as they walked down the street.
“Maybe not,” Alec agreed easily. “But it’ll still be nice to see them, catch up a little, flee for our lives.”
Ben snorted, relaxing a little, as much as he ever did surrounded by people who weren’t his family.
“Like the family would ever let them take us.”
Alec grinned, imagining the wrath of the family if Manticore did ever actually get hold of them. Besides, Faith had all her Slayer friends and Clint had joined SHIELD. Alec considered if it would be possible to down Manticore anyway. He’d been concerned about them so little since Adam took them in that it hadn’t actually occurred to him. But there were plenty of other transgenics out there who never got an Adam of their own.
“I’m calling Clint and Faith,” Alec told him. Ben looked at him curiously. “We’ve got plans to make.”
Alec and Ben were at Crash, a bar they’d found three days into their stay in Seattle, when they heard the news of Manticore’s takedown. The TV screen above the bar went static for a moment before a pair of eyes showed up on screen. Alec thought they looked vaguely familiar.
“Looks like Tony,” Ben murmured and Alec nodded, realising that’s what seemed so familiar. The picture was washed of colour, but Alec was almost positive if it hadn’t been the eyes would be the same shade of green as Tony’s.
Ben nodded, gaze focused on the screen.
“A group called Manticore has been exposed and taken down,” the distorted voice continued. “This group was performing illegal experiments on children and conducting unsanctioned operations on US soil.”
Eyes Only went on to detail who’d been in control of the facility and responsible for the project. Whatever came after, Manticore would have little power or authority to go after the other transgenics. Alec was also sure that Faith, and to a lesser extent Clint, would ensure that the transgenics were relocated safely.
He and Ben high-fived each other.
“I’ll go get us another round,” Alec said, standing up and clapping Ben on the shoulder. He was stopped on his way to the bar by an attractive woman approximately his age.
“Ben?” she asked. Alec shook his head.
“Sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy,” Alec told her. He would have flirted, but he didn’t know how she knew about Ben and if she was a threat, he’d rather have his brother at his back.
“Max?” Ben asked, coming up behind Alec.
“Ben!” she said and pulled him into a hug. “Have you heard about Manticore?”
Ben nodded but didn’t elaborate. It had been almost a decade, who knew what side this Max was on these days.
“Come on,” she said, looping her arm in Ben’s and dragging him toward the bar. “Let me get you a drink. The other one, too.”
Alec rolled his eyes but followed them both. It wasn’t long before they were subsumed into a group possibly even more quirky than their family.
Chapter 8: Rebuilding
It's been seven years since Eliot's come home, seven years since Adam gave him a push and Tony and Faith welcomed him back. Eliot will never be able to express his gratitude to Adam for giving them back to him.
The others are a little more complicated. He’s part of the family, that’s undeniable, but it’s still not the same as it used to be. None of them let people in easily, and they each have their own reasons for that, so Eliot can't exactly blame them, but it doesn't make things easy. He’s lost something with the rest of them; comfort and dependability, faith, trust maybe. It’s intangible and he’s not sure what to do about it.
So bumping into Parker on a job that's supposed to be quick, easy and profitable – and he knew better by now, he really did – was never the plan. He knows she's had lessons on flexibility and gymnastics from Faith and the twins, and whatever extracurriculars she could get Adam to indulge her in, but it's still a surprise to see her in action. There's part of him that doesn't believe she isn't enhanced like their siblings even though he knows better.
He doesn't get a chance to really catch up with her until after they've been blown up, escaped custody, recruited Sophie and holed up at Hardison's apartment.
“Hey,” he says, brushing aside the sting of Nate's 'you and I are not friends'. She stares at him, unspeaking and unblinking, but he knows that's just her way. “I didn't know you were in town.”
“Was I supposed to tell you?” she asks, genuinely confused and it takes him a moment, like it always does, to remember how to talk with her.
“No,” he says and her expression clears. He tries to think of something to say, but comes up blank.
“Good. Because you didn't tell us where you were for ages,” she tells him, looking caught between hurt and accusing. She's not like normal people, none of them are, but she's a lot better at recognising what she's feeling than she used to be.
She doesn't know about Moreau, though, none of them do except Adam, and maybe that's why it's been so difficult trying to rebuild the bridges he'd burned. They don't know why he left and he can't bring himself to explain, to lose even more of their trust and respect.
“I know,” he says softly. “I'm sorry.”
She's back to staring at him again and he wonders if he should just cut his losses.
“Things made sense,” she says suddenly. “It all fitted together and it was safe and it all made sense. And then it didn't because there was a piece missing and nothing fitted right and we all had learn how to make sense again.”
“I'm sorry,” he says again, knowing it's useless.
“It's better now,” she tells him, eyes wide and earnest. “Adam doesn't have to frown when he watches the news and Tony doesn't have to try to stand on his own any more and Faith doesn't have to spend all her time worrying about what the rest of us are up to.”
“Good,” he says and she smiles faintly at him. “Good.”
“And we've got Oz now, too.”
He grins back, knowing that no one could have predicted how well Parker and Oz get on together.
“To payback,” he says, tapping his beer bottle against her glass.
Chapter 9: Proven Innocent
“Adam,” Neal says, relief flooding through him, when the man in question enters the room.
“Neal,” Adam says without inflection. Neal’s smile wavers a little but doesn’t fade entirely. Adam sighs and takes a seat opposite him. They look at each other across the plain metal table and Neal becomes acutely aware of his orange jumpsuit. “So you got yourself caught?”
Neal hates disappointing Adam. It doesn’t happen often; Adam seems to have almost unlimited patience with them. Neal figures it comes from being really, really old.
“They don’t have anything on me,” Neal tells him. “It’s all circumstantial.”
He takes risks, that’s just who he is, but Adam’s taught him to be cautious, too. Neal usually learns quickly, but he has to admit, that’s a lesson that took him a while. Mostly because he hadn’t wanted to, he’d thought he could keep ahead of anyone.
“So what do you want to do?” Adam asks, expression still impassive and Neal looks away from him, letting his hair cover his face.
“Dad,” Neal says. “I can't go to prison.”
He's terrified of going to prison, of what might happen to him. He's good at negotiating social situations, turning them to his advantage, but he's never even thought about how to negotiate a prison. Immediately, Adam reaches across the table and grips his hands tightly. Neal looks back at him, relieved to see a softer expression. Adam's smile seems at once both wry and affectionate.
“You’re all lucky I can’t age prematurely.”
Neal knows, at least to a fair estimate, how often they’ve all gotten in trouble over the years. He smiles at Adam, not quite his full grin, but close enough.
At his trial, Neal refuses to let Tony testify as a character witness. He's just become a detective and his father's reputation makes it difficult enough, even though Tony hasn't seen him in years, without Neal adding his own as well.
It's enough to have Adam sitting behind him and Kate just next to him. Adam's not all that fond of her, Neal's not sure why, but he appreciates having them there. Parker's also somewhere at the back of the room. He only catches sight of her occasionally.
Neal's lawyer, someone from Wolfram and Hart, freaks Neal out a little with how ruthless he can be. Especially after Adam warned him not to sign anything Adam himself hasn't looked over. But the guy gets the job done. He's already torn several witnesses to shreds, metaphorically at least. He wouldn't put literally past the lawyer either.
“So you contend that my client signed the allegedly forged bonds?” the lawyer asks the art expert who nods.
“Each bond contained a recognisable signature that is not present in the originals.”
Adam always said his desire to walk the edge is going to get him into trouble and there's only so much he can curb it, but he's not too worried. Not when Adam drummed into Neal's head early whatever need for caution he possibly could.
“What was the signature on the bonds?”
“N.A,” the expert says.
“And my client's initials?”
“N.C. but the agents seemed sure it had some further meaning,” the expert insists. The lawyer's smile is sharp.
“That will be all.”
Neal isn't all that surprised when, three days later, they find him innocent.
“You were lucky,” Adam tells him.
“Or just good,” Neal shoots back with his best charming smile. Adam is unaffected.
Instead, he slides a newspaper across the kitchen table to Neal. The headline reads “Faith lost in prominent businessman”. Neal sighs. He's seen this story. It details how his forgeries of the previously unforgeable bonds meant that investors had lost confidence in Atlantic Incorporated and the company was failing. He was sure it was a result of his public trial and that things would settle down once insurance covered the losses.
“Notoriety is one thing,” Adam tells him. “But this isn't the kind of attention you want.”
“I'm barely a footnote in the article.”
“That is not the point. You need to avoid this sort of thing all together.”
“So, what? You want me to give it all up?” Neal asks, incredulous. Most of them don't exactly walk a fair and just path and he rankles at the hypocrisy.
“I want you to anticipate the consequences of your actions,” Adam tells him seriously. “I want you not to make enemies you aren't sure you can handle.”
“He's just a businessman,” Neal says. Tony's got mobsters who hate his guts; Alec and Ben have entire government agencies after them and, if he steps a foot out of line, so will Sasha; Eliot's wanted in several countries; and Faith is a Slayer, the whole supernatural world seems to have a grudge against her.
“Don't underestimate his desperation. He's losing almost everything that means something to him.”
Neal's silent at that. Even though it's a distant memory these days, he remembers what desperation can do to someone.
“You're right,” he says softly.
He realises he needs to change the way he does things, that it wouldn't hurt to consider who might be collateral damage and whether the risk exceeds the reward. It'll be difficult, he knows, but he thinks it'll be worth it. He wonders what Kate will think of his shift in purpose.
Gibbs prides himself on knowing all the important details about his people. It’s why he and DiNozzo get on so well. Whatever secrets DiNozzo might be keeping from him personally, were available in either his background check or his personnel file.
Which is why Gibbs is annoyed for not keeping in mind rule eight.
He’d assumed from Tony’s bragging and the lack of any personal stories, that Tony had no close female acquaintances. His personnel file didn’t indicate any strong female presences in his life since the death of his mother.
So it’s a surprise when two people, one a dark-haired woman in leather and the other a scrawny blond man in a suit, come down from the Director’s office and the woman catches Tony’s eye and they grin at each other.
“You haven’t been by in a while,” the woman says before hugging Tony. He returns the embrace just as tightly.
“Been busy,” Tony tells her, not even bothering to conceal his eye roll in Gibbs’s direction. Gibbs would assume she’s exactly Tony’s type, but Tony’s hands don’t wander and there’s no flirtatious quirk to his mouth. “And neither have you.”
He seems far more comfortable with her than Gibbs would imagine Tony would be with any of his one-night, or rarer two-night, stands. Gibbs’s curiosity itches at him to solve this mystery.
“Busy,” she echoes with a jerk of her head to the blond man, who takes a moment to shake Tony’s hand and exchange pleasantries. They clearly know each other, but Tony is decidedly cooler with the man than the woman.
“So who’s with Adam these days?” Tony asks and it’s another name Gibbs isn’t familiar with but seems to mean something to Tony.
“The twins, I think, and Sasha whenever he needs downtime.”
“And whatever other strays he’s picked up along the way.”
They grin at each other at what must be an inside joke. Gibbs decides he’s let this play out long enough.
“DiNozzo, you don’t have enough work, I can find something for you to do,” he barks and Tony straightens to attention immediately.
“No, Boss,” Tony says, then leans down to press a kiss to the woman’s forehead. “Look after yourself.”
“I can still kick your ass,” she says, swatting at his arm playfully.
“Give me a tranquiliser gun, a taser and a head start,” he retorts as she turns to go. It has the tone of a long running joke. Her only response is laughter.
Kate looks up from collecting evidence when she hears someone say “Tony, Tony, Tony” in such quick succession that the name is barely recognisable. A moment later a blond is launching herself at Tony so that he stumbles back a step before he's able to recover from the surprise attack, catching her under the knees so they don’t collapse in a tangle of limbs.
“Nice to see you, too,” Tony says, gently settling her back on the ground.
“Come on, we have something to tell you,” the blond says, taking his hand and tugging lightly on it. Kate's a little annoyed when it looks like Tony's going to follow her.
“We're in the middle of a case, Tony,” Kate says, gesturing broadly at the crime scene. The blond gives her a dirty look and leans closer to Tony.
“I don't like her,” she says in something not a whisper.
Kate stiffens, especially when Tony doesn't quite manage to stifle his amusement.
“I'll just be a moment,” Tony says, giving Kate a faintly apologetic look. The blond tugs on his hand again and this time Tony allows himself to be led away.
“Gibbs won't be pleased,” Kate says, glaring at his back.
Tony hesitates a moment before shrugging.
“Eliot knows something about your thing,” the blond says with a vague gesture encompassing both Kate and the scene as they walk away. “But it has to be quick. Nate's got us on a tight schedule.”
Kate's even more annoyed when, later, Tony's able to provide the vital clue that cracks the case.
When Tim comes into work to see Tony chatting with a beautiful dark-haired woman in an army dress uniform, he can't help but remember the stories he's heard about Tony. Though Kate had mentioned a blond and scuttlebutt a woman in leather; neither of which seem to fit this poised Ranger.
“How long are you in town?” Tony asks, leaning forward at his desk. A woman in leather and a perky blond, McGee can understand, but he'd never thought a strong military woman would be Tony's type.
“Just passing through,” she says. “I have to sign some paperwork for my new assignment.”
“Where are you being stationed now? Somewhere closer to home?”
“Classified,” she says with a smug little quirk of his mouth.
“Oh yeah? What do you bet Sasha, Clint or Parker's little boyfriend could find out in the less than a day?” Tony asks, smiling his wide, teasing smile that Tim has learned to dread.
“No bet,” she replies quickly. “I bet Sasha and Clint already know, anyway.”
“There is that.”
She doesn't seem like one of Tony's frequent dates, not with how familiar they are with each other and the easy references to people Tim's never heard of. There's also the fact that she's at the office and he's never seen any of the dates he was beginning to believe were at least partly fabricated.
“You're looking better,” she says, after a moment, expression shifting to concern. Tim can't help but agree, remembering how he'd looked coming back early from the having the plague. How he'd looked coming back to the office with Kate's blood staining his collar even though someone had tried to clean it from his face. For a moment, Tony looks annoyed and then he sighs.
“I tried to get back in time, but being deployed...”
“I know,” he says and this time he smiles reassuringly. “The many, many phone calls made up for that.”
“Well, if I can't pester you into looking after yourself, who will?”
“I can give you at least half a dozen names,” Tony tells her, looking greatly put-upon.
“Only if they know what's going on with you,” she says. “I really do need to get going, though.”
She leans forward and kisses his cheek lightly in a purely affectionate gesture.
“If you don't call me, I'll have the twins hold you down and make you.”
“Yes ma'am,” Tony says with a grin and a salute. A moment later the woman is heading toward the elevator.
“Something I can help you with, McGee?” Tony asks, giving him a long look and he feels a little guilty for eavesdropping.
“No, Tony,” Tim says, barely restraining the urge to call him sir.
Ziva is still trying to work out the team dynamics and how she fits into them when she comes home one night to a red-haired woman sitting calmly in her living room.
“Ziva David,” the woman says, looking up impassively. She seems entirely too comfortable in Ziva's space.
“Who are you?” Ziva asks, hand itching to reach for her gun, but she's not about to make a move like that without knowing what this woman is capable of.
“Who I am is unimportant,” the woman says. “Who I represent is.”
“And who do you represent?”
“People with an investment in Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo's welfare.”
“Tony?” Ziva asks, incredulous, because nothing in his dossier indicated anything like this.
“A mutual acquaintance of ours is concerned about the situation that seems to be presenting itself.”
That was frustratingly vague.
“Why didn't this mutual acquaintance of yours come in person?”
“He's currently busy.”
“What situation?” Ziva asks, changing tack and hoping to get the woman to reveal more information.
“The reports coming in about your team have not impressed us,” the woman tells her. Ziva isn't sure what sort of reports they mean, but she can well imagine some that might be less than complimentary. The woman doesn't elaborate, but she doesn't need to.
“I have no idea what you mean,” Ziva says. The other woman simply raises an eyebrow. Ziva keeps her expression neutral.
“Something else you might want to keep in mind,” the woman tells her, rising to her feet. “Tony's friends are far more willing to be ruthless than he is, especially on his behalf.”
A year later, when SHIELD is exposed, Ziva realises exactly how lucky she is.
Clint and Natasha are totally using SHIELD resources to keep track of the family.
Chapter 11: Fangirling
The first time Clint comes home after Loki and the invasion of New York, the others welcome him back like nothing’s changed. Of course, it’s not the first apocalypse they’ve lived through. Or even the first time one of them was almost on the wrong side of it.
He spends most of the evening telling them all about the Avengers. Tony makes comments about Natasha he only gets away with because she likes him. The twins wonder if they could take on Thor. Faith wonders if she could take on the Hulk. Oz thinks Stark is cool. Jo might be special forces, but subtle she is not.
“I saw the footage,” Jo says when she finds him alone in the kitchen. “That was some impressive fighting.”
Clint grunts noncommittally.
“So, what was it like fighting with... everyone?” Jo asks, leaning against the counter and not quite meeting Clint’s gaze. Clint carefully hides his smile, remembering that somewhere in her closet with all the ballet shoes and leotards there had been Captain America pyjamas.
“Well, I’ve fought with Natasha before. We’ve always worked well together. Thor and Stark were an interesting experience. Big on the diving into the thick of things. And Hulk, well he’s not big on tactics, but he sure can cut a swathe,” Clint says, deliberately keeping the information he knows she wants from her.
“And Captain America?” Jo asks even though she knows he’s toying with her, a faint blush on her cheeks that she would stridently deny if he mentioned it. Clint carefully hides a smile as he pulls her into a one-armed hug and ruffles her neat hair. She pushes him away from her with only a little effort.
“He lives up to his reputation,” Clint says. Because Natasha had trusted him but she’s biased and they owe each other too much. Steve hadn’t needed to trust him, had had no reason to, but he’d given him that chance. It meant everything to Clint to have the chance to undo some of the damage he’d done.
“Really?” Jo asks. Clint nods, letting her see his expression and the serious set to his features, because just about everyone in the family has been let down by someone they trusted, by a role model, and he gets that this means more than just a crush she had when she was a teenager.
“Yeah,” Clint tells her softly, lightly knocking her shoulder. “Next time I see him, I’ll ask if he can sign your Captain America underwear,” he says as he turns to walk out, grinning as he goes. He instinctively ducks the spoon she throws at his head.
Chapter 12: Say What
Five times the Leverage team (including Maggie) met one of Parker or Eliot's siblings (often without realising it).
Sophie is still learning the team and their individual quirks and qualities. They’re new to each other and, as much as she likes to pretend otherwise, at times they can be difficult to read. So, it’s a surprise when they’re in the middle of a con and a tall, young man with pale blue eyes and perfectly styled dark hair slips his arm into Eliot’s and draws in close. It’s even more of a surprise when Eliot lets him.
The young man leans in close, intimate, and Sophie has to admire his skill when any curious onlookers slide their gaze away from the scene. Eliot angles his body toward the man, even though his face, shaded from onlookers, is lined with unease at what the young man tells him.
Then the young man ducks his head, angling it so that to onlookers it looks like they’re kissing, even though his expression is a mocking grin. Eliot rolls his eyes but keeps his position for a moment before he slowly pulls away, looking for all the world like a reluctant lover. Sophie’s quite impressed. She hadn’t thought that his ability to inhabit a role was quite that good.
Eliot meets Sophie’s eye and jerks his head toward the exit. She nods subtly and weaves her way easily through the throng of people surrounding them. Eliot meets her moments later.
“What was that?” she asks.
“FBI’s got their hand in the case,” is all Eliot says. She knows he’s a man of few words, and usually she can read what she needs from him, but sometimes he’s just intensely frustrating.
“Who was that?” she asks, even though she’s not really expecting an answer.
“Neal Caffrey,” Eliot tells her and she’s surprised twice over that Eliot answered her at all and that Eliot knows Neal Caffrey. Eliot’s not known for his elegant cons and Caffrey’s not known for his violence. She wonders how their paths crossed.
Eliot starts walking towards the elevators and she follows, knowing that he’s not going to answer anything further.
Tara’s just starting to become part of the team; a hard-won feat that she’s really quite proud of, no matter how much she says they need her help more than she needs theirs. She’s starting to really like them, too, as crazy as they all seem. And they all do seem utterly insane in their own ways.
They’re between cases, hanging out at the bar, to early or late for Nate depending on when he quit drinking the night before or the early hours of that morning. Hardison is upstairs playing with some or other gadget and Eliot is off doing whatever it is Eliot does in his free time.
She immediately notices the tall, good-looking man in the doorway the same way she notices any tall, good-looking man who might put a crimp in her plans, enjoyable as that may occasionally be. Parker follows her gaze and rises to her feet, immediately running and leaping at the man.
“Hey there, Magpie,” the man says with a boyish smile that Tara decides makes him look much younger than he must actually be and she thinks he’d make a good conman.
“I have a present for you,” he tells Parker and she drops down immediately and begins slipping her hands into his pockets until he squirms away, laughing. That’s when Tara notices the badge at his side. She sighs. Though it is a little surprising that he’s that friendly with Parker, who doesn’t tend to trust or like the good guys. He fishes a flash drive out of his pocket and hands it to Parker.
“All the information your boy needs to find a good target.”
Parker grabs the drive, looking a little disappointed. Tara can’t say she blames the girl. The way to a woman’s heart is not a gift someone else would get more enjoyment from.
“From a case?”
“Lawyer got him off on a procedural technicality,” the man says, frowning briefly. His dissatisfaction with the legal process might explain something about his relationship with Parker. Not much though.
“We also got you something else,” the man says, pulling out a small device, which Parker snatches from his hands, the drive already secreted on her person.
“The latest in taser technology. With a few modifications thanks to Alec and Clint. I think even Sasha made a suggestion or two.”
Parker grins maniacally as the device snaps with electricity and Tara resists the urge to take a step back. The man doesn’t seem too concerned.
“What’s the rule?” he asks and Parker sighs, stopping the charge and lowering the weapon.
“Violence is difficult to conceal and should only be used as a last resort,” Parker recites dutifully and the man nods seriously before they grin at each other and add together “Unless it’s against MacLeod or Angelus.”
Tara has no idea who MacLeod and Angelus are, but she almost feels sorry for them. Though she has the feeling that by some measure they deserve it.
“Keep safe,” the man says, pressing a kiss to the top of Parker’s head which she leans into in a way Tara hasn’t seen her lean into anyone else, not even Hardison, even though it’s clear that she likes him. "And keep Eliot safe."
“You too,” she tells him accusingly. All he does is shrug sheepishly and Tara has a feeling there’s a long story there that she’s never going to hear. For a moment she wishes this was her team, not just hers in Sophie’s absence, but she never allows herself to dwell on things she can’t change.
She never does learn his name.
Maggie knows better than to underestimate Eliot. At least she thinks she does. She thought she learned her lesson in Russia after being kidnapped. But the last thing she expects to see, especially when she’s monitoring the transport of a collection on loan to Cascade university, is Eliot show up.
“Eliot,” she greets before wondering if she should be using his name. Her eyes cut to his even shorter companion with equally long hair, although that seems to be where the similarities end. The other man cuts off in mid-sentence, wildly gesticulating hands falling to his side. He looks at Eliot and then back at her.
“Maggie,” Eliot greets softly, polite as always except it seems when James Sterling is involved.
“You two know each other?” the other man asks, curious, but Maggie’s hesitant about how much she can say since she doesn’t want to give him away if he and the team are involved in something. On the other hand, the man he’s with looks more like a new age hippy than a criminal.
“Maggie, this is Blair Sandburg. Blair, Nate’s ex-wife Maggie Collins,” Eliot says and Maggie can’t help but blink for a long moment. Blair Sandburg is the connection at the university who’s supposed to be taking over the collection. And he knows people like Eliot Spencer. Despite how much she might now respect him, Maggie isn’t unaware of Eliot’s inherent danger.
“Nate’s the mastermind of your operation, right?” Blair asks and Maggie’s a little relieved that his familiarity seems only passing.
“Something like that,” Eliot says.
“So he likes to think,” Maggie says at the same time. They share a look. Nate is clever and she’s never met anyone with a tactical mind like his, but he’s not without his flaws, not even this new version of him.
“How do you know each other?” Maggie can’t help but ask. Blair looks to Eliot to take the lead, but he does it without a thought, without any awkwardness, and Maggie has to re-evaluate how long she suspects they’ve known each other.
“Blair wanted my help making sure nothing happens with the collection,” Eliot says without really answering her question. Blair smiles at her, warm and friendly, and gestures inside.
“Speaking of, we should probably start to get that unloaded,” he says. Maggie lets them steer the conversation away from themselves because men like Spencer like their secrets and guard them closely. And there are things she doesn’t really need to know if she wants to sleep at night.
Hardison doesn't think he'll ever stop being surprised and amazed and in awe of Parker, but there are some occasions where he's sometimes just a little more so. Hardison is working late, as he sometimes does, and Parker disappeared somewhere after their movie evening, as she sometimes does, when the door opens and he hears her talking a mile a minute to someone about their team.
"Cool," a decidedly masculine and unfamiliar voice says and Hardison turns around to see Parker standing arm-in-arm with a short but attractive man in a way she's only just starting to be comfortable with him. She's also smiling brightly.
"Hello," he says pointedly. Parker abandons the strange man and bounds over to Hardison's side
"This is Hardison," she says, like it's significant, like it has special emphasis, and he relaxes a little.
"Oz," the man says, reaching out to shake hands. He has a good handshake, firm but not intimidating. In fact, there's nothing explicitly intimidating about him even though he has this air about him that Hardison can’t quite explain.
"Nice to meet you," he says and then, barely a breath later, "how do you know each other?"
"Eliot brought him home once and we kept him," Parker says. Hardison pauses a moment, trying to translate that from Parker-ese, but nothing happens. He looks at Oz who shrugs, not disputing the statement.
"Eliot brought him home?" is what Hardison decides is the most important part of Parker's statement to unpack.
"A while after Moreau, Eliot showed up with Oz," Parker tells him again, moving to pat Oz on the head, which Oz takes with remarkably little impatience or annoyance. Hardison isn’t sure if the guy actually has emotions. And there's even more to that statement than Hardison even knows how to deal with.
"About 10 years ago, I met Eliot while traveling through Asia," Oz says.
"10 years?" Hardison says faintly, turning to look at Parker who seems confused by his confusion. "You've known Eliot 10 years?"
At least ten years, because that’s when Eliot brought Oz with him, to a place Parker already considered home. But it makes a weird kind of sense. They had been a little awkward on that first job, but they'd quickly fallen into a sibling-like relationship that Hardison realises isn't so much 'like' as he’d originally thought.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asks, but he realises the answer to that too. None of them talk about the past, not unless it's recent and related to the job, usually not even then, and it’s a little difficult to fault Parker for that, Eliot even less so since he doesn’t really do the talking thing at all. "So you're all siblings? How many siblings do you have?" he asks because he's not turning down an opportunity to learn more about Parker.
Parker and Oz look at each other and start listing off names, more names than Hardison can keep track of, before they finally trail off and shrug. Hardison is unaccountably reminded of his Nana and her foster home. There were kids in and out of the home all the time, but somehow they were all counted as family.
"Is that the latest upgrade?" Oz asks, already sitting down at the computer. Hardison cringes and goes to rescue his precious before he realises Oz actually knows what he’s doing. Then he catches a line of code Oz is adding to one of his programs.
"You're Badwolf, aren’t you?"
Oz just hums noncommittally and Hardison drops into a seat beside him, adding his own code. Parker grins at them both.
Nate’s been pushing the team for days on their latest con. He knows the guy’s guilty, they all do, but Parker and Eliot are growing more and more reluctant as they go on. Their bad guy has connections that make even Nate hesitate, but it’s nothing they haven’t gone up against before. No worse than the mob, or Moreau, or Interpol itself.
So, he’s not exactly surprised to return to their office at the pub to find two men there. It’s not something he’s prepared for exactly, but he knows how to run with a situation. He takes his time hanging up his coat and pouring himself a drink. The two men wait patiently, though the man with the nose waits a little more so than the one with some of the most ridiculous eyelashes Nate’s ever seen on a man. Neither looks particularly threatening, but Nate knows better than to trust appearances.
Sophie and Hardison follow his lead, but Parker and Eliot look relaxed for the first time since this con began. Eliot nods in their direction and Parker smiles at them. That seems to be all Hardison needs to join the other two. Nate is caught between the sting of betrayal he feels and knowing that the three youngest members of their team have drawn together and will be just fine without him and Sophie.
“Your man has been dealt with,” the one with the nose and the sharp eyes says. He’s definitely the one in charge from the way everyone in the room but Sophie looks to him. The other one might be carrying a gun, obvious from the bulge in his jacket, but this man is the more dangerous.
"He has?" Nate asks, because he hasn't heard anything in line with that.
"In a few days he will likely disappear. He might show up the victim of some kind of accident, but more than likely there won't be any trail at all," the man tells him. There is something about him that makes Nate believe him.
"That's convenient," Nate says.
"It really wasn't," the man tells him with an ironic quirk of his mouth. "In future, do try to avoid shady global syndicates or consortiums."
The other man shoots the first a sidelong glance as though he can't quite believe what he had said. The first man's smirk only widens. They, the whole case really, are a puzzle Nate is itching to solve though he's sure it wouldn't be healthy for him if he did. The only thing that keeps him from being willing to pursue it regardless is that he'd only drag the team down with him.
The two men stand then, their message delivered and go to leave, stopping only long enough pass a note to Parker and share a look with Eliot. The note disappears before Nate's eye can follow it.
"Eliot and I are going to dinner," Parker announces before any of them could ask any questions.
"Don't try to track us," Eliot adds, warning evident in his tone, and then they too were gone.
"Family," Hardison scoffs and he disappears with his computer, leaving Sophie and Nate to stare at each other.
The family in order of appearance: Neal Caffrey, Tony DiNozzo, Blair Sandburg, Oz Osbourne, Methos and Alex Krycek.
Chapter 13: The Calling
Blair in the hospital after his encounter with Alex.
Blair nodded when Jim said he couldn't take the trip with him, smiled blithely and wondered if the cold water of the fountain, if the nothingness of dying, had seeped into his bones.
It was a relief when Adam, Neal, Tony and Faith entered the hospital room. Jim was immediately on his feet at the influx of strangers, even if Jim had met one or two of his foster siblings or smelled even more of them on him. Of course, given who or what some of his siblings were, Blair had kept a distance between them and Jim. Some weren't human and Jim would be able to sense that. Most of the rest were criminals and Jim wouldn't have been able to let that go either.
"Adam," Blair greeted with a tired smile, which settled Jim but not by much.
"I saw your chart," Adam said, ignoring Jim and resting a hand on Blair's arm, subtly taking his pulse at the same time and verifying Blair's health for himself. Neal came to stand on the other side of the bed. Jim shifted to stand at the foot of the bed so he could act quickly should any of them prove to be a threat. Faith stood near the door, Tony beside her, and her gaze sweeping over Jim, assessing him, before landing on Blair. She gave him a small smile which he couldn't help but return.
"You lot end up in the hospital far too often," she told him, tone half amused, half older sister.
"At least I won't be the only one with everyone worrying about my lungs," Tony said with a grin which caused Blair to groan. He wasn't looking forward to the next holiday together with everyone hovering over him. He couldn't quite bring himself to wish a near death experience on one of the others between now and then. Unfortunately, he was sure, given his foster siblings habits, that there would be one anyway. Statistics were against them.
"This is my foster family," Blair told Jim. "When I wasn't with Naomi, I grew up with them."
Adam patted Blair's arm and Blair instinctively leaned toward him, the one adult in Blair's childhood that he'd been able to always rely on. His solid cornerstone.
"Blair's told us all about you," Neal said, reaching out to shake Jim's hand. Blair knew Jim was probably cateloguing Neal with his senses. Blair was just glad that the siblings who had come were the ones walking the right side of the law, even if Neal was only relatively recently of that persuasion. Jim grunted in reply, not warming to them at all.
"We're glad you're recovering well," Adam told him, though he could tell Adam knew there was something else going on. Suddenly, Blair wanted to tell him everything that happened. If anyone could possibly understand, it would be Adam. Tears began to pool in his eyes and he gripped Adam's hand tightly. Blair was only vaguely aware of Tony and Neal having a quiet word with Jim before they all left the room. Blair was sure Jim would still be keeping an ear on what was going on.
"I died," Blair said when they were ostensibly alone. Adam's hand ran soothingly over his curly hair, but he didn't say anything. Blair wondered how much he himself dared say. "I experienced something."
Blair tried to gather the words to explain, but the experience was still just something that had happened to him. It hadn't had time to settle inside him and become part of him yet.
"Every culture in the world has lore about near death experiences," Blair said, falling back on his anthropological knowledge to explain what he couldn't. Adam nodded and, Blair knew he already knew that, but Adam didn't look anything but patiently interested in what he was saying.
"I thought it meant something," Blair said and there were tears again. He blinked them away furiously and dug the heels of his hands into his eyes. Adam didn't tell him it was going to be okay or that he wasn't alone. He didn't even tell him he wasn't the first person to go through something like that. Instead, he said,
"I can't tell you how true any of it is, but I can tell you that they almost universally agree that an experience like that can be a positive and transformative one."
"I thought it was," Blair said, remembering the wolf and the panther, and the feeling of life and meaning and wholeness when they'd collided.
"What changed?" Adam asked.
Jim, Blair thought. Jim's discomfit with what they'd experienced and what it might mean. He couldn't say that, not when Jim might be listening. He didn't want Jim to feel guilt for something he couldn't help and Blair knew how uncomfortable he was with the spiritual side of things. He also didn't want to pretend nothing had happened.
Adam hummed noncommitally in that way that could have meant he understood exactly what Blair refused to say or that he was just pretending until it became clear and it seemed as though he'd known all along.
"Oz would probably appreciate hearing from you," Adam told him.
Blair smiled properly at him for the first time, wondering why he hadn't thought of that himself. Although, he had died, so he figured he could cut himself some slack. Oz had been exploring the spiritual for years and was in touch with his inner wolf. Probably not in the way Blair wanted to be, but he would be a useful touchstone when Blair explored his own spirituality. It would have been preferable to do it with Jim, but that wasn't an option. Not yet, at least, but hopefully Jim would come around eventually.
"I'm glad you came," Blair told him, already feeling better about everything.
"Always," Adam said, patting his arm. Blair relaxed into the pillows, secure in the knowledge he wasn't alone.
Chapter 14: Second Time Around
Jo returned to her own time with the knowledge that there might be some small changes, but the hope that there wouldn't be any. Of course, she hadn't known about Old Spice, as Carter called him, then. None of them had.
So she'd come back to a strange house full of photographs and memories she didn't recognise. There were photographs of her as a teenager in a ballet leotard right next to her in dress blues on completion of her Ranger training. In each picture she was surrounded by people who seemed to be supporting her regardless of what she did. For one brief, desperate and awful moment, she wished that they had been hers, not her alternate's.
She heard a phone ringing and followed the sound into her bedroom. On her bedside cupboard was a phone she didn't remember buying, but that seemed to be the theme of the day. On the display was the name Tony, but she didn't know anyone by that name. She let it ring until voicemail kicked in. Finally, when it was silent, she picked it up and scrolled through her contacts. There were very few she recognised, besides townsfolk. Her brothers weren't there either.
She scrolled down until she reached a number listed under 'Dad'. It wasn't her father's usual number, but that might be one of the small changes. She pressed the button to call.
"Dad?" she asked.
"Hi, Jo," an unfamiliar, vaguely British voice said. There was a loud metallic clang. "I'm a little busy at the moment, can I call you back in a minute."
"Sure," she forced herself to say.
"Are you alright?" he asked, concerned but still distracted. She heard someone cry out in the background and pulled the phone away from her ear to stare at it as though she could see through it. Who the hell was she calling family these days. There was another sound of metal striking metal.
"I'm fine," she said. "We can talk later."
"If you're sure," he said, a little dubious but not having the time to deal with it at the moment.
"I am," she told him. There was another clang and the sound of someone apologising and pleading. The man said a quick goodbye and disconnected. Jo sat there a moment, staring at her phone before she opened the top drawer of her bedside cupboard, dropped her phone in and slammed the drawer closed. She frowned and pulled it open again, staring at a card depicting the Virgin Mary.
It was old and well-worn, something she, or at least this other version of her, had had for a very long time. Without being entirely sure why, Jo slipped it into her wallet.
Jack turned on his police lights when a motorbike sped past him well over the speed limit. Moments later a second one followed. He sped up to keep pace with them, but they far outstripped him with reflexes and stunts that defied human capabilities. Just as he was about to lose them, they pulled over and he pulled up behind them. Cautiously, he climbed out of the car and approached them, hand on the butt of his gun.
"You're letting yourself go, Maybury," one of the men said, pulling his helmet off. His short-cropped blond hair was flattened in places by the helmet, but his smile was charming and irrepressible. He also spoke with a familiarity that made Jack uncomfortable.
So far, the only people they'd encountered since coming back from 1947 had been townsfolk who were mostly the same, even if their personal histories were altered. This was someone he'd never met before and he had no idea how to even begin to act.
"You were 20 over the speed limit," he said, leaning on his law enforcement experience.
"Only 20?" the man said, grin not faltering. Jack was reminded of Zane and just knew this man was trouble personified. He glanced at the other man who still hadn't removed his helmet, but he was watching them impassively. At least Jack assumed it was impassively. He turned back to the first man.
"License and registration," Jack told them pulling out his pad and pen and beginning to write out a ticket.
"Is that really necessary?" the man asked, grin not faltering. Jack gave him a flat look. "Do the photos of that time with the gender-bending ray really need to find their way to Zoe?" he asked.
Jack hesitated, wondering at once if that was true and, if it was, whether he'd really follow through. Given the unrepentant grin, Jack had a feeling the man wouldn't even hesitate.
"Experimental gene therapy, not gender-bending ray," the second man said, finally pulling his helmet off. The first shrugged, unconcerned.
"Oh god," Jack despaired. "There's two of you."
He looked from one identical face to the other. The first man's grin turned smug. The second man's was slightly feral. Like an even more deranged Taggert.
"Careful," the first said. "Your alternate timeline is showing."
Jack felt his jaw drop and struggled a moment to regain his composure.
"Catch you around, Maybury," the first man said. The second simply saluted him and they both put their hemlets back on and rode off.
Jack knew he was going to have to tell Alison and probably Henry, too. At the very least. It was bad enough Old Spice had followed them back. They didn't need random strangers showing up, knowing things they really shouldn't and causing trouble.
But first, he needed coffee.
Vincent smiled at him as Jack slid onto the seat at the counter.
"Good morning, Sheriff," Vincent said, absently wiping down the counter as he approached. Jack wondered what the cloth did besides just being a cloth. Nothing in Eureka was just what it was. It probably had nano-something that attacked germs directly. He was going to keep his mental image of tiny armed robots fighting epic miniature battles against monsters to himself. He and the rest of Eureka never seemed to have the same sense of humour.
"The usual?" Vincent asked and Jack nodded. A moment later there was a Vinspresso in front of him and he closed his eyes, breathing in the aroma. When he opened them, he saw Vincent looking past him with a bright, friendly smile on his face, before it faded and Vincent paled a little.
Jack turned to see a short, but solidly built man swagger into the place like he had every reason to be there even if he was dressed more like Jack in his off time than any of the resident geniuses. He was also unmistakably dangerous and Vincent's reaction was not encouraging.
"How many in town?" Vincent asked faintly.
"Five," the man said, coming around the back of the counter and putting on an apron. Vincent didn't tense like he might have done with any one else.
"Oh dear," Vincent said and Jack saw the man quickly suppress a smile that reminded him a little too much of the quieter twin (or clone, or robot facsimile, you could never be too sure in Eureka) he'd met earlier.
"The twins," Vincent continued and Jack jerked at the parallel thought process. The man nodded and Vincent wrung his hands, still looking pale.
Jack desperately wanted to know what was going on but, given the reaction of the twin earlier, it seemed likely that this strange man knew him and the last thing Jack wanted to alert anyone to was his ignorance of the inconsistencies between universes.
"Adam?" Vincent asked, only marginally relaxing when the man nodded.
"And Faith," the man added and Vincent let out a sigh of relief.
Jack's dread and curiosity warred with equal fervor wanting to know the stories behind that reaction. He faked a call and fled before he could land in a time-space landmine.
Jack's claim of answering a call swiftly turned out to be true when he was summoned to a farm on the outskirts of town. Apparently someone or, given Jack's experience, more likely something was skulking around the forests that surrounded the farm. It took him almost an hour to get a proper trail on the culprit.
That was how he bumped into a beautiful woman with pale skin and dark hair.
"Long time, no see, Jackie-boy," she said without turning around. Jack was beginning to regret getting up that morning.
"Sure," he said with slight hesitation.
She turned to grin at him, her smile one of familiarity and he felt discomfit again. He'd lost track of the number of times that had happened that day. There was something quietly capable and vaguely dangerous that reminded him of Jo, and the twins and that man at Vincent's.
"Faith," she said and it took him a moment to realise it was her name.
"I know," she said and rolled her eyes. He simply nodded.
"Is there a particular reason you're skulking around or is this something I'd rather not know?" he asked.
"I caught wind of an escaped experiment," she told him. "Usually Taggert would be here with me, but he's gone walkabout."
He realised her explanation meant that, like the twins from earlier, she knew about the fact that he'd come from an alternate timeline and needed the clarification. He wasn't entirely sure how to broach the topic her.
“I saw the twins earlier,” he said, trying to sound like he hadn't met them for the first time that morning. She nodded.
“They're on the other side of town, tracking from their side.”
They walked in silence, following the trail of random destruction the creature had created. Sometimes, he could hear something crashing through the undergrowth in front of them.
“You seem very calm about all this,” he told her.
"Half my friends have experienced alternate timelines," she told him with an unconcerned shrug. That wasn't what he'd meant but, he decided, it was just as good a point as he'd been trying to make in a round about way
“Yes, but do they work for the DOD?"
"Not directly and never by choice."
He almost smiled at her prompt response. His own relationship with the DOD was complicated at best given how many times they'd tried to fire him and how little good their interference in the town had resulted in.
"We're of the opinion there are some things the government is better off not knowing," she said with the air of someone confiding in him, but also a hint of amusement that meant they'd probably had this conversation before. He grinned at her.
Three hours later, when Fargo had taken custody of the experiment that was some sort of beefed up wolf (the result of an experiment involving hormones and he wasn't sure he cared anymore), Jack was just hoping the day would end soon.
Jo didn't know what to do with the man who showed up on her doorstep, the man who had the same voice as the man who answered to 'Dad' on her phone, the man who looked to be her age. She was barely coming to terms with the fact that her entire family was gone.
"Hey Joey," the man said. He kept his distance, which she appreciated.
"Why are you here?"
"Faith's friends detected a disturbance in the force," he said with a crooked smile. "Well, actually, a shift in the space-time continuum creating an alternate universe."
She looked at him blankly. For all that he was in most of the pictures, unchanging, with another version of her, she had no cause to trust him or to believe that this wasn't an elaborate ploy to get them to confess. If the DOD ever found out that they were from an alternate history, they'd never see daylight again. She wouldn't see Zane, even if they'd never had a relationship here and he'd never proposed.
"I don't know what you mean," she told him.
"I know you probably don't yet want to confront what I represent," he told her shrewdly. "But there are things you should know."
Finally, Jo nodded. He was right, she couldn't afford to remain ignorant of the new timeline. None of them could, the five who'd returned to a different future, not if they wanted to remain undetected. She gestured him in, noticing the way he didn't need any direction or time to acquaint himself before he headed to the livingroom. This proof of his familiarity that she didn't feel herself left her feeling chilled and uncomfortable.
"Of your dozen or so siblings, the town can at least recognise all of them, but they are only familiar with less than half."
He took out a tablet and she could see the background was a group shot in which he stood in the middle of a group whose ages ranged considerably, but he waited before doing anything further. Part of her was glad he was giving her time to adjust to the changes, but a larger part rankled at the idea of being read so easily and treated as though she were fragile. As though judging her train of thought, he smirked faintly and swiped to the first picture.
"How many siblings are there?" she asked.
"Thirteen" he said and she wasn't sure she liked the way it sounded almost like a question. "Some of them are in town, but I've got them to agree to give you a little time, but since most of them are excellent liars," he sounded proud of that fact, "I think that'll only buy you a short time."
She stared at him, trying to comprehend having thirteen, at least thirteen, people in and out of her life all the time. She loved her family, but she almost never saw them, except at Christmas and sometimes not even then.
"Each of your siblings has their own enemies," he continued, as though he hadn't noticed her distraction, but somehow she knew he must have picked up on it. "But they tend not to go for family. Not anymore at least. Still, you should probably be aware just in case."
And so started the crash course in her adoptive family.
Jo stepped into the bunker when the door swished open and felt herself relax almost immediately with SARAH greeted her. Even if SARAH had been BRAD briefly, somehow the bunker always felt like a safe place. It was undoubtedly because of Jack, but she would die before telling him that.
"Apparently I have a different family," she told him.
"I think I met some of them," he said, handing her a beer. She took a long sip.
"My family is dead and I have an adoptive father about my age and more than a dozen siblings."
"They seem nice and supportive and..."
They smiled at each other and collapsed onto the couch together.
"Exactly," she said, sharing one of those moments of perfect understanding they occasionally had. "You know, there are thirteen of them."
"No," Jack said immediately. "No."
"Four is enough. Four is more than enough. There are not thirteen."
She smirked at him, wondering what had happened.
"It's like having a whole bunch of Zane and Taggert's love children running around," Jack told, an edge of a whine in his voice. "You know, before Zane became an upstanding citizen."
For the first time since it had all began, Jo laughed.
Chapter 15: 'Tis the Season
Parker brings Hardison home for the holidays.
A little belated, but oh well.
Hardison looked up at the large house, unable to feel anything but intimidated. When Parker had invited him home for Christmas he hadn't anticipated anything like this. Eliot and the other two he'd met, maybe a few others, but this… this was something else entirely. Especially when taking into account the number of cars parked outside. He swallowed hard.
“Come on,” Parker said, pulling at his hand. He followed along reluctantly, wondering what a family of Parkers would be like. Or a family of Eliots. The thought sent a shudder through him.
“Welcome home,” one of the men he'd met before said; the tall one with the large nose.
“Daddy!” she yelled, jumping into his arms. Hardison blinked at them. The man looked to be about their age and Hardison really didn't want to explore their family dynamics. “Where are my presents?”
“Under the tree where they always are,” the man said, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. Hardison shifted uncomfortable, wondering what he'd gotten himself into.
“Hardison, this is my dad,” she told him when she disengaged from the man.
“I'm older than I look,” the man said reading his expression, then held out a hand for Hardison to shake. “Adam.”
Hardison went through the motion of shaking his hand without really realising it. He wasn't sure what to make of that and decided to let it slide since he had other things to worry about, like trying not to make an utter fool of himself in front of Parker's probably crazy and undoubtedly dangerous family.
Parker pulled him further into the house and Hardison tried to swallow his dread. It looked like the perfect suburban house, but that just meant there was probably something terrible lurking beneath the surface. His fears felt justified when he was pulled into the living room, which opened out into a patio, and he was met with almost 20 faces staring at him. There were three kids running around on the lawn.
“Family, this is Alec,” Parker told them with a sweeping gesture. “Alec, this is family.”
“I can see that,” Hardison said faintly, letting Parker pull him to the couch. As they passed through the sea of people, Hardison sought out Eliot or Oz, but couldn't find the former and the latter was deep in conversation with the dark haired man that had accompanied Adam to confront them when Nate and Sophie had still been part of their team.
“Ground rules,” the pretty woman sitting next to him said, expression serious and eyes hard. “Under this roof, cops turn a blind eye as long crooks don't advertise. And you treat Adam with respect.”
“Sure,” Hardison said, swallowing hard. At his easy agreement, the woman relaxed and smiled at him, her whole face lighting up and Hardison felt like his whole body breathed a sigh of relief. He might not have been able to read people like Nate and Sophie could, but he was definitely not going to mess with anyone in this group, especially not Adam.
“Faith,” she told him. He had the feeling he was going to struggle remembering everyone.
There was a knock at the door and someone went to answer it, Hardison wasn't sure who. And then a surprised and confused exclamation of “Tony!” A moment later a pretty, dark-haired woman and a tall, handsome man wearing leg-braces entered the room.
“Tony?” the newly arrived man asked. “I have a cousin Tony.”
“Hah!” said one of two identical men. “I knew it.”
“Alec,” the other identical man growled.
“Ben,” Alec said with a roll of his eyes.
“He's in the kitchen,” Faith told the man who apparently wasn't Tony. The man nodded, kissed the woman on the cheek, and headed back into the passageway.
Hardison twitched when the tall, burly man in the corner moved from where he'd been standing with his arm folded and looking extremely uncomfortable. He sneezed once and then again.
“Sandburg,” he yelled. “Why does half your family smell like animals?”
“Only three of them,” Sandburg yelled back from the kitchen. At least Hardison was assuming it was kitchen from the sound of pots and pans being moved around. Alec and Ben snickered at each other.
Hardison was in over his head. He had no idea what was going on in this house, just that he was in over his head. All he could hope was that Parker had some kind of plan to get him out alive. She seemed rather partial to that, it was likely.
It took Hardison a moment to realise that the man and woman posturing at the the short, bald man were actually Hawkeye and Black Widow. The little man squeaked.
“It's not kind to tease the funny little man, dear,” a woman said, slipping her hand into Hawkeye's and tugging him in the direction of the patio. “What sort of example are you setting for the kids.”
Black Widow didn't so much smile as construct a face that happened to resemble one and the little man squeaked again.
“Don't worry, Moz,” Neal Caffrey said. Since when did Parker and Eliot know Neal Caffrey and why hadn't they told him. “There's a strict no permanent damage rule in the house.”
“Yeah, and Adam may not have many rules, but you don't want to break the ones he does,” the man who had accompanied Adam to see them said.
“Or just don't get caught,” a tall man with tattoos and a grin said.
“None of us is quite that good, Steve,” Oz told him. Hardison wasn't sure which was more prevalent, his curiosity about Adam or his sense of self-preservation.
“Food's ready,” Eliot said, coming into to the room, wiping his hands on a kitchen towel and distracting Hardison from his thoughts.
“Great,” Faith said. “I'm starving.”
“You're always starving,” one of the twins told her.
“Like you can talk,” Faith said, nudging him as they exited the room.
“Is it always like this?” Hardison asked Parker as he hung back. Even Christmas with his Nana hadn't prepared him for this. They hadn't even got to the food yet.
“Like what?” Parker asked.
Chapter 16: The Right Fit
Neal takes Adam’s advice to heart. He can’t change who he is overnight, he’s not sure he can change at all, but he tries.
Things with Kate become difficult. Neal is surprised by this, though somehow he’s sure Adam and the rest of the family wouldn’t be; they’ve never quite warmed up to her. He tries to make things work anyhow, tries to twist and fit together his changes with the shape their relationship used to take. It’s no better than a patch job and as soon as he mends one fracture, another appears, until he can’t keep up with them any more.
One afternoon, Neal returns from a job that took a couple days longer than he anticipated to find her gone. Her clothes and toiletries are still there, a bitter reminder, but anything of sentimental value is gone. All she leaves is a bottle, an '82 Bordeaux. It feels like a goodbye that was a long time in coming.
Tony shows up at his door and they spend a weekend drinking and commiserating before Tony’s called in on a case. Neal packs up his apartment for a while, putting everything in storage since he’s not sure he wants to live in the space that was his and Kate’s, and heads for Washington State. He spends a month pretending to be an exchange student from England and crashing on Blair’s seriously uncomfortable couch.
Parker shows up then with the twins in tow, and Neal suspects that his siblings are tag-teaming him, but her suggestion of “Let’s do crime” and her bright grin are infectious and he can’t help but follow. They sweep across Europe while her team is on some kind of a break and Eliot is doing things he doesn’t want to guess at in a part of the world he’ll probably never go. It’s amazing how different it is, working with people who feel the same way he’s starting to. They don’t go after easy targets or ones who are innocent and there’s a weight off Neal’s shoulders that he never realised he was carrying.
By the time Neal makes his way back to New York, he’s feeling comfortable in his skin again even if the city does hold too many memories. Neal distracts himself with following up on Burke, the only agent that managed to get close and there's a certain fascination in that. It’s only because of Adam and his connections that the charges hadn’t stuck. Because even if he’s trying to change, he’s still Neal Caffrey and everything that entails, so Neal sends him cards at Christmas and Birthdays.
It’s not difficult to find out the case he’s working on, the Dutchman isn’t exactly subtle, and Neal amuses himself by sending an anonymous tip. He’s still surprised when, less than 24 hours later, Burke shows up at his hotel room, pushing his way in before Neal can slam the door in his face.
“I don’t trust you,” Burke tells him.
“Okay,” Neal says slowly, watching Burke cautiously. With the exception of Tony and Jo, or Clint since he’d gone straight and joined that not-so-secret mouthful of an agency, Neal doesn’t trust anyone working their side.
“But I think we can come to an arrangement,” Burke finally says, reluctance obvious but not entirely able to hide a hint of his desperation either. There's no other reason for Burke to seek him out.
“What sort of arrangement?” Neal asks, unable to hide a burgeoning smirk as he gestures for Burke to take a seat. If nothing else, Neal is intrigued by what could bring the agent to his door.
Chapter 17: This Means War
After watching Fast and the Furious 8, Luke Hobbs's daughter's team was clearly going to go up against Jensen's niece's.
It starts with two sides facing off against each other across a field; one clad in red, the other in pink. They glared across at each other, readying themselves for a clash. There was a tense silence broken by restless fidgeting.
“Dragons,” a strong voice called out and the girls in red moved in sync, stamping their feet and shouting. Jensen’s niece, Juniper, folded her arms and gave the other team an unimpressed look. At the end of the haka, she gave a sniff and turned away, her other team mates following her.
“Go Petunias!” Jensen yelled, half rising from his seat. Cougar rolled his eyes and tilted his hat down over his eyes while Jo slipped her arm in Jensen’s and held him in his seat.
“The game hasn’t even started yet,” Eliot muttered from the other side of Cougar as he slid down on the bleacher seat and pulled his hood up to cover his head. Cougar grunted next to him. Alec and Ben leaned forward, looking fascinated. As children, their martial training and superior abilities had made team sports a complicated prospect. Parker was draped over Hardison’s shoulder, watching him work on his phone. Methos and Jane, Jake’s sister and Juniper’s mother, sat to one side, watching the rest of them indulgently.
“I want a clean game,” the referee said, voice starting strong but beginning to waver toward the end as he glanced from the Red Dragons’ rather large coach to the stands where Jensen and his family was sitting.
Things devolved from there. As aggressively enthusiastic as the coach was, Jensen matched him shout for shout, eventually drawing the twins into his spiritedness. Methos pinched the bridge of his nose when even Jo gave up trying to keep Jensen in his seat, with the twins chiming in and egging him on.
“Come on, Sam,” the Dragons’ coach yelled. “These amateurs have nothing on you!”
“Who are you calling amateur!?” Jensen demanded, up and out of his seat before anyone could stop him as he stalked over to the coach. “No one calls my niece an amateur!”
He punctuated his shouting by jabbing his gun (“Who let him have his gun?” Eliot moaned) in the coach’s chest. The man looked entirely unimpressed and, clearly reaching the end of his rope, he reached out faster than any of them expected and grabbed the gun out of Jensen’s hands. The twins were at his sides in moments with Jo, Eliot and Cougar not far behind. None of them were paying any attention to the screaming and chaos their actions had elicited in the crowd.
“You take that back,” Jensen said with a pout as the man shifted to try to keep Cougar and Jo in sight as they’d drawn their own guns while Eliot and the twins circled him.
“Dad?” one of the girls from the Dragons team questioned, drawing closer but still keeping a healthy distance.
“I’ll just be a moment, Sam,” he said evenly.
“They’re so embarrassing,” Juniper said, coming to stand next to Sam.
“I know,” Sam agreed, rolling her eyes. “They take it way more seriously than we do.”
“Twizzler?” Juniper asked, offering one to Sam who accepted.
“Dad, Juniper’s coming over for a sleep over,” Sam suddenly decided and Juniper grinned, turning an expectant expression on the adults.
Jensen narrowed his eyes at the coach and the rest of the family really hoped he wasn’t going to disappoint Juniper. Nothing good ever happened when Juniper was disappointed.
“Okay, honey,” the coach said, making him rise in the family’s estimation to someone with at least a small amount of self-preservation.
“So,” Methos began from where he and Jane were still sitting on the bleachers, distraught parents cowering behind them. Hardison and Parker continued to sit a little further away, making sure no cell calls to the police could be made. “Did you have a chance to try out that new biscuit recipe?”
“Not yet,” she told him. “But it looks like I’ll have a chance this evening.”