Chapter 1: The one where Jamie meets Parker
The first time Jamie met Parker, they weren’t even breaking into anything cool. They were breaking into a dumpster. And really, what kind of snooty asshole restaurant locked their dumpsters? But the pizza place with the unlocked dumpsters had chased them away with a broom and some pretty creatively violent threats, and they were not keen to test their luck to see if those threats were idle or not.
So there they were, phone balancing on the edge of the dumpster, using the stolen wifi from inside (and really, what the hell kind of a password was ‘AVeryDistinctivePassword’) to stream a youtube video on how to open a padlock with a safety pin. It was not at all as easy as the guy in the voice-over was making it seem, and they weren’t sure if it was because people on youtube were full of crap or because their fingers were freezing and they weren’t doing it right.
“Try jiggling it up a little more,” a voice from above them said.
The tiny flailing ‘gah’ they shouted out was entirely justified, in Jamie’s opinion. Because when they looked up, there was a whole-ass woman, clad in black, hanging off the side of the building in some kind of climbing harness. She was holding onto a rope, just casually dangling there, one toe perched against the building like it was nothing.
“Hardison put the lock on there to keep the raccoons out,” she explained. “I told him it was mean, since raccoons are thieves and if they can get into the dumpster they should be allowed to eat what they find, but he was all ‘it’s unhygienic’ and Eliot was all ‘raccoons carry diseases’.” She let go of the rope to do finger quotes and somehow didn’t seem fazed that this left her hanging upside down. Her pony tail brushed the tip of Jamie’s phone, which was still trumpeting about how easy that was in a self-congratulatory tone.
“I wonder if I could teach them how to pick a lock,” the woman said, before turning their way. “Do you think raccoons are smart enough for that? They have tiny little human hands.” She wriggled her fingers in front of her face in what was presumably an approximation of a raccoon’s creepy little man-hands.
“Not with this youtube video,” Jamie sulked.
“He’s explaining it all wrong,” the upside-down lady stated. “Try jiggling it up more, like I said.”
They tried, because what did they have to lose? There was some kind of criminal hanging upside down above them like a friendly neighbourhood Spiderman, if Spiderman went around encouraging crime instead of fighting it. The lady kept giving tips while they worked, and then the padlock clicked open.
“Good job!” The woman gave them a thumbs up, before pressing a button on her harness and zipping upwards. She disappeared over the edge of the roof silently in what looked like a complicated flip.
It occurred to Jamie later that maybe they should have asked what the woman was doing there, or warned the owners there was a lady on the roof of their building dressed in all-black with some pretty professional looking climbing gear. But really, they were breaking into a dumpster, they weren’t really one to talk. Spidercrimelady was free to do whatever the hell she wanted. Especially because the dumpster netted them some premium leftovers.
The next time they snuck into the alley, the padlock had been replaced by a better one, but the dumpster also has a step-by-step infographic on how to get it open. Taped next to it was a sign in blocky capital letters that read ‘IF YOU ARE HUNGRY, PLEASE KNOCK ON THE RED DOOR’. Scrawled under it in a ballpoint pen it read ‘unless you’re a raccoon’.
As tempted as they were, they decide to try the pizza place instead. This place was just too weird.
Chapter 2: The one where Jamie gets adopted
The second time Jamie met Parker, they’d gotten better at this whole crime thing. They’d even gone back to the Weird Dumpster a couple of times to try out their skills. The locks kept getting more difficult, and it felt like some kind of insane social experiment. Jamie half expected a camera crew to pop up at any second, or maybe some people with lab coats and clip boards, but somehow the alley was always quiet when they were there. No more weird ladies hanging from ropes, nobody ever coming in to fill the dumpsters while they were concentrated on the fiddly bits.
The sign about knocking on the door if they were hungry was still there, marker letters slowly blurring and washing away from the rain. They never did, and they pretended not to notice anything weird about how there were always perfectly packaged Styrofoam boxes of leftovers conspicuously on top of the actual garbage bags.
The point was, between the Weird Dumpster and some forays into the more shady corners of the internet, they were actually pretty good at being a petty criminal. They’d managed to break into a nice abandoned office building that nobody else had been able to get into, so they’d had somewhere safe to sleep. They were still working out how to steal electricity off the wires in the wall, but once they had that, they would be golden.
They’d also started working on pickpocketing. It was easier than shoplifting, given the amount of clerks that followed them through the store even before they lost access to clean clothes and a place to regularly wash themselves.
It all felt very Oliver Twist, especially when they found an old mannequin in an alley and put a coat with bells on it to practice. They tried to only target people who looked like they could afford to lose some stuff. Business people in fancy suits, college bros with flashy watches who bragged about the new car their parents bought them, ladies who looked like they were one minor inconvenience away from demanding to speak to a manager.
The best places to work were places with lots of people where a slightly unwashed teenager wouldn’t stand out, and with minimal security. Train stations platforms, parks near schools and universities, especially around lunch time. They were in one of those now, one close enough to a university that another teenager in an oversized hoodie with a backpack blended right in, but also close to some big office buildings for premium lunch hour foot traffic.
Their loot so far was three wallets, a granola bar, and a rose gold iPhone they could probably sell at the shady pawn shop that always smelled vaguely like funions. They were just weighing the options of trying to relieve a Karen from the contents of her purse while she shouted at some teenagers for daring to be goth in public, or to give up and go to the library to take a nap in the children’s section before Drag Queen Story Time.
Drag Queen Story Time and a nap won out, and they made their way to out of the park and down the street as casually as they could. Nope, no stolen goods here, just a regular teen of indeterminable age going to some kind of educational building. They fished the granola bar out of their pocket and were just about to enjoy their freshly stolen breakfast, when a black van pulled up beside them and they were bodily yanked inside.
Now, here was the thing. They watched John Mulaney just as much as the next Gen Z’er. They knew that being taken to a secondary location was a very bad thing. So when the long-haired dude with the scary eyes closed the door and the van started driving, they had just enough time to think ‘this is how I die’ before they started screaming.
As they took a breath to keep screaming, a voice next to them casually remarked: “Hey, well done on that last lift.”
Which was confusing enough to make them stop screaming for a moment, at least, trailing off in a confused ‘ah?’
It was the lady from the Weird Dumpster. She was pretty recognisable, even when she wasn’t upside-down and wearing all black. Instead, she was in some kind of preppy office outfit, with a pencil skirt and her hair up in a strict looking bun.
“The phone? Really smooth lift, and good thinking taking the battery out right away to keep the owner from tracking it.”
“Please don’t hand me over to the cops,” they begged, because maybe implanting that idea in their heads was better than what they were actually thinking, which was ‘please don’t kill me and dump the body somewhere for the urban coyotes to eat’.
The blonde frowned, tilting her head. “Why would we do that?” she asked, confused. Genuinely confused, not ‘super villain taunting the hero’ confused. Jamie considered pointing out the obvious, about stealing being illegal, but this was a lady who walked them through picking a lock on a dumpster and was apparently cool with kidnapping a minor, so…
“We’re running out of time,” one of her henchmen growled. He, in comparison, looked at least mildly uncomfortable with the whole minor-kidnapping thing, which was good. Jamie fixed their best scared-teary-puppy-dog-eyes on him, and his glare turned more into a flinch.
“Okay,” the woman said. “So, well done on those lifts, really, and I can give you a few pointers later, but we really need something from the second wallet you stole.”
“Wait, what?” That was not what they’d been expecting.
“I was about to lift it, but you got there before me,” the woman beamed. “And you put it straight into your backpack, which was very inconvenient, so I figured we could just steal you instead of your bag, because you deserve to keep everything you stole.”
This woman was insane. Like, crazy criminal insane. Yet at the same time very fair-minded about other people’s labour, or in this case, thievery. It wasn’t like Jamie had the high ground here, in any case, since they had apparently been at the park to do the same thing.
“We’re coming up to the parking garage,” the guy in the driver’s seat warned.
“So-we-really-need-that-green-security-card-in-the-second-wallet,” the blonde lady said.
“We’ll give you fifty bucks for it,” driver-guy added. Like they just needed some monetary incentive, and not, you know, a promise to not be murdered. But, well, if these weirdo criminals wanted to pay them fifty bucks on top of not murdering them, Jamie wasn’t going to say no. Assuming they were being honest, of course, which kidnapping notwithstanding they kind of seemed to be.
They fumbled with their backpack, and the scary guy with the hair moved back a little to give them space. Ms Crime helpfully pointed out which wallet she meant, and they fished out a green, official looking security pass, which she grabbed and quickly passed to the driver. He leaned out the window and something beeped, and they drove into an underground parking garage.
As soon as the van was parked, Hair Guy pulled the door open and he and Crime Lady hopped out. She smoothed down her skirt, nodded, and strode off towards the staircase. Hair Guy gave them one last glower before pulling shut the van door and presumably following.
As Jamie was deciding whether or not they could make a run for it – they hadn’t heard the click of a lock, and while this place did seem to have some kind of security, that was probably mostly to stop people from getting in, right? – the driver climbed out of his seat and unhinged a part of the van wall, which turned out to make a little desk.
“Sorry, this is a bit of a time-sensitive issue,” he said, pushing open a laptop. He grabbed an orange soda out of some kind of magic compartment and offered it to them. Clearly he’d never heard of ‘don’t take anything from strangers, especially if that stranger dragged you off the street and into his creepy-ass van’ rule. They shook their head, and he shrugged, turning back to the laptop. “Okay, you’ve got about thirteen minutes. That pass should get you to the upper floors, and then just use the device I gave you to get into his office.”
“Am I about to be an accessory to a hit?” Jamie asked, peering over the guy’s shoulder. His screen was filled with a bunch of security camera footage, along with a map of some kind with two little dots on it. Out of the three kidnappers, this one seemed the least scary. Honestly, they were pretty sure they could take him. Especially now that they looked around and saw all kinds of things that could be used to bludgeon someone in a pinch. “Is it the CEO? Because he raised the price of insulin by six hundred per cent, I would be okay with that.”
“Not a hit, but we’re gonna make sure he can never do that again,” the guy said, typing some stuff into a little window at the bottom of his screen. “How do you know where you are, anyway? You were in the back of a van with no windows and I drove like, a crazy route to get here.”
“The green of the security card is the same green as the OmniCare logo and it’s known for having hella security ever since the outcry over the price hikes,” they pointed out. Everyone knew that. The guy glanced over his shoulder, a little incredulous. “What? It’s a very specific shade of green.”
For some reason, the guy thought that was funny, and he scooted his chair aside a little so they could see better. “See, OmniCare isn’t just doing legal-but-morally-corrupt price hikes, they’ve also been doctoring trials so they can push cheaper to make drugs through FDA approval. Cheaper drugs that either don’t work as well, or don’t work at all.”
“And you’re not murdering him?” Jamie asked, now kind of disappointed.
“Nah, better,” the guy said, looking incredibly smug. He pointed at one of the video feeds, where Crime Lady and Hair Guy were walking down the corridor, looking like important but boring office people and not thieves and kidnappers. “See, Martins keeps the real trial files in what he thinks is a hidden, state of the art safe in his office.”
“Ha,” a voice coming from the computer said. “A DeKlein 4200, that’s not even top of the line. He’s too cheap to get a better one.”
“Let’s hurry this up, we’ve got seven minutes,” a growly voice added.
“So you’re going to steal the files and leak them to the press?” Jamie asked. There was no camera in the CEO’s office, but the growly henchman was lingering in the hallway as Crime Lady probably busted the safe open with her magic crime powers.
“We’re going to steal the files, scan them, and throw them up on the screen in the middle of his live televised PowerPoint presentation of a new drug, before playing the audio of him admitting what he did and telling his accomplice how they’ll never get caught over the speakers.” Computer Guy looked pleased, leaning back in his seat. “Also, tipping off the FBI.”
“Brutal, public, highly meme-able.” Jamie considered it for a moment. “I like it.”
“Glad you approve,” Computer Guy said. He tapped some more on the laptop and a view came up from the security camera’s apparently down the street from the offices. “Okay, time to head out, Van Whitt is on his way back and they’re going to sound the alarm when they find out his security pass is missing.”
On the video feed in the corner, Crime Lady popped out of the office, grinning gleefully at the other guy before schooling her face and walking away with an arm full of files, cool as you please. With some clicks of the mouse, they followed her and the muscle back through the building on the security cameras. They climbed back into the van, Hair Guy up front and Crime Lady in the back.
They drove out of the parking garage, Computer Guy monitoring the footage, and Jamie looking over his shoulder, gripping the back of the chair. They were invested now, dammit. Hair Guy swiped out of the building’s parking garage just seconds before the guy whose wallet Jamie had stolen arrived at security. They let out a sigh they didn’t know they were holding. All this spy stuff was a lot more intense in real life than on TV.
They drove away at a normal, don’t-mind-me pace, and ended up back near the park. Which was very considerate for a bunch of kidnappers, really.
“Thanks,” Crime Lady said, beaming at them. Definitely not getting murdered, then.
“Glad to be an accomplice,” Jamie said, because what else did you say when you accidentally help take down an evil corporation like some kind of vigilante superhero. They just wanted enough money to be able to eat and maybe get a winter coat before it reached freezing temperatures. Crime Lady looked even more pleased, like they’d passed some kind of test.
“Hey,” they added, looking at the hacker guy. “When is that press conference? I’m gonna stream the shit out of that.” They’d be the first to grab screencaps, their tumblr would get so many hits. They were already thinking of puns and ways to meme it. Maybe a riff off that Gru meme with the whiteboard.
“Today at four thirty,” he answered. They could stick around the library a bit longer than usual to steal the wifi and go to the funion pawn shop tomorrow.
There was a pause. All three of the vigilante criminals were staring at them now. The ‘probably going to get murdered’ dial in the back of Jamie’s mind was slowly creeping back up to red.
“You promised me fifty bucks,” they reminded the Computer Guy, eyeing the door.
“Do you one better,” Hair Guy said. “How about a room and three square meals a day?”
“And snacks!” Crime Lady added quickly. “Eliot makes the best snacks.” Her henchman managed to both roll his eyes and look incredibly pleased at the same time. Well, that must be Eliot, then.
“Do I have to point out that you kidnapped me?” Jamie asked. “I mean, I’m pretty sure ‘don’t go anywhere with strangers’ is a normal rule, but it counts double for criminals who drag you off the street into a creepy van.”
“Lucille is not creepy!” Computer Guy spluttered. “She is a hybrid!”
“Dammit, Hardison, that’s not the point,” Eliot growled. Somehow he was less scary cursing out Computer Guy – Hardison – than he had been before. The two men looked like they were about to start squabbling, but Crime Lady took a breath, and they piped down. She was clearly the one in charge.
“I can teach you how to lift better, and pick more locks, and safes, and break into museums,” she said, before seeming to shake herself from pitching what was essentially ‘A Whole New World: Crime Edition’. “You’d have your own room with a lock and food and nobody would make you do anything you don’t want to do and you’d be safe, especially since construction in the building you’ve been staying in is going to start up again soon. The project was taken over by another company.”
“How did you know about that?” Jamie snapped, bewildered. If she was right, they they’d have to clear out and find another place to stay. A place that didn’t try to send a well-meaning social worker after them. Or try to misgender them. Or pose a risk to their safety. They pushed down the panic. There were other abandoned buildings. They would be fine.
“Did you… did you not see what I just did?” Hardison waved at the laptop, still open and showing at least 5 different camera angles, both inside and outside OmniCare. “Parker was worried about you when you didn’t come back to pick the lock for five days. The back exit of the bank across from your building has a security camera. Which hasn’t been showing you sneaking in or out for the last four weeks, you’re welcome.”
That was both incredibly violating and somehow kind of sweet. It should probably worry them that they’d been so easy to find, except for the fact that this dude was obviously some kind of master hacker. And he hadn’t actually done anything with the information, just… kept them safe, that was a pretty solid point in these guy’s favour.
Parker, Crime Lady, held out a crisp fifty, along with what looked like a business card. Probably from the Brew Pub with the weird dumpster, unless criminals had their own cards now. Maybe they did at a superhero level. “You don’t have to,” she said. “You can take your time to think it over. But come and try Eliot’s chilli, and look at the room. It’s really good chilli.”
They took a breath. What did they have to lose, really? They could at least get a free meal out of it, in a public place. If they wanted to kill them, honestly, they would have already done it. Instead they’d shown Jamie exactly what they were doing. That had to be a security risk. They took the fifty dollars, and the business card.
“Can you teach me to break into a museum to steal back stolen artefacts to return them to their countries of origin?” they asked, because why the hell not. Go big or go home, right?
The grins they got in return were delighted, and a little terrifying.
Chapter 3: The one where Jamie learns stuff
Living with three criminals was kind of weirdly not weird. Sure, there were discussions on how to best break into the national reserve, but they were during the rather wholesome homemade family dinners that Eliot insisted on at least once a week.
Sure, the Vermeer in the living room turned out to in fact not be a replica, but right next to it there was a framed Star Wars JediStormPilot commission by one of Hardison’s favourite artists on tumblr.
Sure, Parker sometimes disappeared for a few days to break into the office building of a corrupt CEO or a diamond exhibition, but she always texted stuff like ‘DO YOUR HOMEWORK’ and ‘remember to sneak some tuna out for the raccoons when eliot and hardison are distracted’. Parker’s texts were always either in all caps, or with no capitalisation at all. If there was a system behind it, Jamie had yet to figure it out.
The crew didn’t really try to hide their life of crime, was the thing. And that just made it normal. They let Jamie sit in on job briefings, so long as they pretended to do their homework so everyone had plausible deniability. Which never lasted very long, because how could you not ask what the hell ‘The Barbershop Quartet’ was, and keep asking questions when the answer was ‘it’s like The Russian Doll but with trumpets’. They were pretty much going to get their GED with a minor in con artistry at this point.
Parker, of course, was the most down with what Hardison had started calling their ‘Bastards Degree’. Besides the lock picking (which had graduated to handcuffs, and then safes), she taught them about security systems, and motion sensors, and how to steal a car. She’d offered to teach Jamie how to drive, but the ‘NO’ that had come out of Hardison and Eliot’s mouths was so loud it had echoed through the Leverage International offices.
Hardison taught them how to drive instead. In a normal car, not in Lucille. He was also teaching them coding, which could technically land them ‘one of those nice normal people jobs, if that’s what you want’ but was really just a solid base so they could move on to hacking later. He also taught them how to create and use a power surge to bypass a security system, and how to remotely take over security cameras and loop the footage so no guard would notice.
Eliot was the toughest nut to crack. Sure, he taught them stuff. He taught them all about cooking, and growing your own food, and why Hardison’s brews were shit without ever letting them try said brews. He taught them self-defence, but mostly how to get free and do enough damage to get out of a situation. Not the kind of ass-kicking Jamie had seen him do on the security cameras that one time Hardison had forgotten they were in the room during a job and he’d put it on the big screen.
When Jamie had stopped their lesson to point that out, it had been derailed because Eliot had to ‘Dammit Hardison’ and be all shouty for fifteen minutes. Most of it was apparently about keeping Jamie out of those aspects of the job until they were older, and the other part was apparently that Hardison shouldn’t have been ogling Eliot when he was supposed to be doing his own part of the con. (Which was silly, Hardison was an excellent multi-tasker and quite regularly ogled both Parker and Eliot while working or playing videogames.)
When Eliot was done shouting, he’d sat down next to them, his whole posture softening and becoming a lot less scary. It was impressive, how he did that. “My job as a hitter means taking a lot of punishment,” Eliot told them, painfully sincere. And yeah, Jamie had seen Eliot on the couch with an ice-pack or fresh bandages a few too many times already. “I teach you this stuff so you never have to be in a situation where you have to do what I do.”
Which was really sweet, but they still really wanted to learn that flying punch thing. That looked badass.
Chapter 4: The one with the rules
Just because they were criminals, didn’t mean there weren’t rules. The Brew Pub meticulously followed all the health and safety rules. Which made sense, since the staff always said Chef Spencer was way scarier than Gordon Ramsey. And because Hardison really liked to buy state of the art gadgets. Eliot still made them all sweep and mop the place regularly, but every Tuesday evening after closing, someone got to shout ‘RELEASE THE ROOMBAS’ and they sat on the stools at the bar and watched them go at it. One had a knife taped to it, and Jamie made sure to sit up and salute it when it passed.
There were also just the rules of living together. Boring, regular, no crime rules. If you finish the last of something in the fridge, write it down on the grocery list. If you finish the last of Hardison’s orange soda, prepare for a lot of complaining. No feet on the coffee table if Eliot was around. Don’t get into a discussion about the best Yoda unless you want to sit through Hardison’s two hour long PowerPoint presentation (again). No jazz.
When Parker had shown them around, she’d made a special point to mention the lock on their bedroom door, which, yeah, could be picked, but they had a Rule about Not Doing That To People’s Bedrooms or Bathrooms. But she also mentioned offhand that the best and easiest security was probably a rubber door stop like the ones in the maintenance closet downstairs at the brew pub, second shelf from the bottom on the left next to the lightbulbs.
There were rules that probably had to do with crime, like not to bother the team when they were talking to someone in the back booth with their Serious Faces on. Don’t talk to cops or anyone flashing a badge. If you see a guy named Sterling, tell him to fuck off and go get Eliot. No posting pictures of the Brew Pub’s back rooms or living space online. No pictures of Eliot online anywhere. Don’t touch Hardison’s computers. Don’t touch Eliot’s knives. Do not touch Parker’s rigs. You don’t con your team.
There were very specific rules to stealing. Stealing the remote was a national pass time, unless it was during the latest episode of Doctor Who or during the playoffs. Stealing clothes seemed to be mostly a Parker thing, though Jamie kept their mouth shut that weekend Hardison went to see his Nana and Eliot’s zip-up hoodie seemed a bit too long and a little too tight around the biceps to be his.
Stealing cereal: fine, but write it down on the grocery list if it’s running out. Stealing the cereal box that was actually full of cash: rude. Stealing food from the fridge: ‘it’s not stealing, you’re welcome to anything in the fridge, you live here too, kid’. Stealing Eliot’s sandwiches when you were Hardison, though? Prepare to die.
And then there were the rules that Jamie had decided upon for themselves. Like, don’t talk to Parker in metaphors, because you might just end up with her enthusiastically stealing you a pair of really expensive sneakers when what you were really just trying to convey was that feeling of discomfort of having grown up not-middle class and not-white and not-cis and not-straight in a predominately white, middle-class, cishet environment. (They kept the shoes, though. They looked awesome.)
Also, pretend not to notice when Eliot kisses both Hardison and Parker good morning, because he will get oddly flustered and stop doing it.
Jamie figured it was some kind of strange PDA hang-up, or maybe the whole ‘if I pretend I’m grumpy nobody will notice how totally in love I am’ thing, which wasn’t fooling anyone. Luckily, Parker and Hardison saw through his nonsense as well and only kissed him more obnoxiously when he shied away those first few weeks, until he, to quote Hardison ‘stopped being weird about it in front of the kid’.
There was the general awareness that ‘if you see a kid in trouble, all three of the adults are going to get side-tracked and try to fix it’. Which was kind of how they ended up living with them, Jamie guessed, so who were they to judge? With Hardison, things were usually pretty easy. You just had to hang back while he either talked to the kid, or keep him from walking into a lamppost while he did some hacker magic on his phone.
With Eliot, they usually ended up as a lookout so he could threaten whatever adult was bothering the kid in peace. With Parker, it was 50/50 of trying to help her do what she thought was right, or trying to talk her out of giving a seven year old girl a taser to use on the neighbourhood bullies. But it usually ended up alright.
Then there was the rule that if you wake up in the middle of the night to screams, don’t bother Hardison the next morning. Those mornings where Hardison sat huddled over his phone at the kitchen island, nursing his coffee in silence. The morning where the curtains were all pulled wide open, and if at all habitable, the windows and doors would be open too, as if the room, even with its super high ceilings, was somehow claustrophobic.
And while Parker and Eliot usually did their own things in the morning, on those mornings they were always nearby. Never exactly touchy-feely close, but one of them was usually within Hardison’s line of sight at all times, pretending not to watch him.
Jamie knew better than to ask. They also knew, from Eliot’s casual mentions of gulags and fighting guys with names like ‘The Butcher of Kiev’ and from Parker’s horrifying stories that she thought were funny childhood anecdotes that the other two probably also had nightmares, they were just quieter about it. Which was a pretty good survival mechanism, Jamie had learned in their first few weeks on the street, back when they bounced between shelters and below bridges. There was safety in numbers, but also danger. Don’t attract attention. Ever.
So no bothering Hardison if you heard screaming, but also no bothering Parker when she got that blank look on her face and disappeared into the rafters. No bothering Eliot when his shoulders were all tense and he chopped things with more force than necessary.
They all had their own stuff to deal with. Jamie was pretty sure the grown-ups had their own unspoken rules, when it came to each other, and to them. But it seemed to work. They all worked.
Chapter 5: The one where Jamie gets paid
“What’s this?” they asked. It was very obviously a cheque, but it was a cheque made out to Jamie Danvers. Jamie knew that, master hacker and all, Hardison knew their deadname. And their last name. He’d never said a word or treated them any differently, but he had to know. He probably also knew their GPA, every place they’d ever lived, and even their embarrassing old tumblr handles from when they were twelve.
“Eliot said you’ve been helping out in the kitchen,” Hardison said. “So it’s your paycheck.”
Really, they only hung around the kitchen because Bobbi from the late shift had mentioned that if you were around after hours Chef Spencer would make you taste-test whatever he was working on for the new menu. And when Eliot pointed at you with a knife and shouted that he needed someone to dice onions, you just… grabbed a cutting board and started dicing onions. And yeah, they’d taken over washing dishes Friday night, but that was only because Raoul’s babysitter called that his kid was sick and he had to get home as soon as possible.
“I don’t… That’s not…” It was weird. They’d been thrown out, disowned on the spot, for their identity. For asking their parents if they could please call them Jamie now, and use their pronouns. And now here they were, in a place that accepted them, where nobody questioned their name, and they were arguing… what? That the name Hardison had put down was wrong. “I don’t have a checking account in that name,” they lamely finished.
“Yeah you do,” Hardison said brightly, pulling out an envelope. “Also a passport, library card, and five different state IDs. Eliot made me promise to wait with the drivers licence until you pass your exam, but…” He stopped when he saw their face scrunch up in a valiant effort not to cry.
Their Oregon state ID smiled up at them, the name Jamie Danvers proudly displayed. The picture was a recent one, their curly hair cropped short. They were wearing the raccoons-with-sunglasses sweatshirt Parker had brought back for them on her latest thief-trip. Jamie had no idea how Hardison had taken a picture, since they certainly hadn’t posed for one, but sometimes it was better not to question these things. They wiped the teardrops off the little plastic card with their thumb, trying to swallow down their emotions.
“Shit, is it the last name?” Hardison said. “It’s just that you said Captain Marvel was your favourite, and it’s safer to use one not connected to…”
“It’s perfect.” They weren’t a Williams anymore, anyway. Their parents had made that very clear. “Thank you.” They flung themselves across the table to give Hardison a hug around his waist. He flailed for a moment before bringing his arms down. Man, Parker was right, Hardison really did give good hugs. They both politely ignored the sniffles the other was making, until the door slammed open and Parker and Eliot came in, loaded with grocery bags.
“Good news, we found tiny little marshmallows shaped like…” Parker stopped in her tracks, not moving an inch when Eliot slammed into her from behind and started cursing. “Why are you crying?” she asked, concerned. Feelings weren’t her strong suit, but she tried. Jamie pulled away, rubbing at their eyes with their sleeve.
“Hardison got me a library card,” they said. Parker frowned, then nodded and beamed.
“Great rooftop,” she said. “Easy security system.”
Behind her, Eliot rolled his eyes, but as he passed by, he squeezed their shoulder. “Welcome aboard, Danvers.”
Chapter 6: The one where Jamie gets Stuff
Slowly, their room had started to fill up. When Parker had first shown it to them, it had been kind of bland and neutral, with Solid But Plain Wooden Furniture and not much else. A bed. A bedside table. A dresser. The only thing that had given the room any character at all was a knit blanket at the foot of the bed, which Parker said Hardison’s Nana had made.
The lock on the door was kind of Level 3 Weird Dumpster, so when Hardison later gave them the tour to the Brew Pub, they did follow Parker’s advice and stuffed one of the doorstops from the stock room into their hoodie pocket. Jamie was pretty sure that Hardison had just pretended not to notice, which was very nice of him.
They hadn’t had much to go and get from the building they had been squatting in, really. They put the old mannequin and the pickpocket practice coat lurking behind the door of the CEO’s office for shits and giggles. They’d squished up the sleeping bag and shoved it into their backpack. Then they cleared out the wrappers and empty bottles and stuff that showed someone had been living there, and grabbed the big plastic bag with the few articles of clothes and sanitary items they’d managed to buy with the pickpocket money they hadn’t spent on food.
They’d come to Portland with next to nothing. They’d had a go-bag ready before their conversation with their parents. They weren’t stupid, they’d known it was a possibility that they’d get tossed out. They just… hadn’t thought their dad would block them from even going upstairs to get it. Hell, they’d been lucky to shove their feet into their sneakers before being kicked out of the door with just their phone and a hoodie.
So when they started earning money at the brew pub, their first order of business had been to build up more of a wardrobe than a pack of ValueMore underwear and socks, three t-shirts, an old denim jacket from the thrift store, their hoodie, and some busted up sneakers. You walked a lot when you were homeless.
At first they’d thought Hardison was doing something weird to their paycheques, out of pity. He’d tried to suggest taking them shopping once, and had quickly backed off when they’d panicked and shut it down hard. Just the idea of standing in a dressing room with Hardison helpfully waiting outside made their gut churn. But the paycheques were way too high for the work they did and it smelled a lot like charity.
They’d casually brought it up with Bobbi when there was a lull in her shift once, and she’d smiled and said that Alec Hardison did not believe in tipping as an excuse to not pay people a living wage. Everyone at the Brew Pub was paid well above minimum wage, and tips were just that, tips. It was part of what the servers called the ‘Customer Is Not Always Right And If They Hassle You Just Tell Them To Fuck Off’ policy. Of course, telling customers to fuck off was vaguely discouraged, but apparently the one time it had happened and there had been a complaint, Hardison had reviewed the footage and sent Chef Spencer out to remove the diners with a little more than just strong language.
So they’d taken the money, and bought some new clothes. They still mostly went to the thrift store. Firstly because Eliot seemed to have some kind of grudge against ValueMore and they didn’t want to get on his bad side. But also because Portland was Hella Weird and you could find all kinds of amazing stuff there. Slowly the dresser filled with jeans and leggings and flannels and shirts with dinosaurs and ugly sweaters and what was probably the softest purple cardigan in the entire world. They found some ass-kicking boots and some cool sunglasses, a warm beanie and some decent leather gloves that Parker declared ‘good enough for home break ins’.
They kept the knit blanket, of course, which made Hardison look all soft and gooey. But the first time they went to wash their sheets, they found a little surprise. They carefully walked downstairs, where Hardison and Eliot were watching some kind of sportsball on the big screen, and Parker was dangling overhead, working on knotting something complicated.
“Hey guys?” they asked as casually as they could, stopping at the bottom stair, well out of reach. “Is there a reason there’s a knife taped to the bottom of my bed?” They held the knife gingerly between two fingers, sharp end down. Three pairs of eyes shot to them, and Eliot jumped up to take the knife away. They were kind of glad of it, really.
“That room used to be Eliot’s, before he got it through his thick skull that he was supposed to move into our bedroom,” Hardison said slowly, eyeing the knife. “Wait, does this mean you have a knife taped to the bottom of our bed as well?”
“Do you mind if I just… quickly go up to your room to fix something?” Eliot asked, standing up and doing whatever he could to avoid eye contact with Hardison. Above them all, Parker cackled.
“THERE’S MORE?” Jamie and Hardison asked, pretty much in synch.
“Just one,” Eliot said. “Or… two, actually, if you count the board that can be pulled out of the bedframe.” He hurried up the stairs, Jamie following because they couldn’t wait to see where the other Surprise Knife had been hiding.
From downstairs, they heard Hardison yell: “Eliot? Eliot, you never answered the question. Dammit Eliot!”
A few weeks after all the surprise knives had been removed and Eliot had given them a quick tutorial on all the ways to use the Solid But Plain furniture to beat someone into oblivion, Jamie got to help Hardison forge some money in what Eliot called his Nerd Cave. It was literally just a room full of gadgets and stuff he used to make what the team needed for cons. There was a sewing machine in one corner next to a thing that made official looking signs, a whole table full of electronics and what looked like a disembowelled toaster, a bunch of craft supplies, and of course, The Printers.
“So explain again to me while we are making intentionally shitty fake money?” they asked. First Hardison had walked them through the steps of a proper forgery, and then he’d pointed out all the things they were not going to do, or do wrong. Hardison was bent over his laptop, trying to decide if photoshopping Lin-Manuel Miranda onto the bills was one step too far or not.
“We’re gonna steal the real money the Congressman embezzled,” he explained. He was using some kind of face-melding software to make up the difference between Money Hamilton and Musical Hamilton. “And replace it with this. That way, the white nationalist terrorists he’s giving the money to will quickly see it’s fake and create enough of a kerfuffle for me to record all the evidence we need until Agent McSweeten arrives.”
And yeah, it was super weird that Parker and Hardison were friends with a literal FBI agent. That didn’t mean Jamie had stopped petitioning Hardison to make them an FBI agent as well. Or at least a CI. They’d promised to revisit the idea when Jamie was older, mostly because Eliot was getting that ‘my team is about to do something stupid and dangerous’ twitch around his eye.
“So this printer does fake money, and that one does official documents and the Brewpub stuff, and the one that smells funny in the corner made a fake medieval diary once,” they summed up. “What do those two do?”
“The small one is a regular office printer that mostly prints out briefings because Eliot likes them on paper,” Hardison said, rolling his eyes like that was some kind of adorable quirk he had to put up with. “The big one is great for high end posters and faking magazine covers, depending on what paper you put in it.” He grinned. “Wanna try?”
Which was how they ended up with a blown up version of the Lin-Manuel Miranda Dollar Bill, a bunch of Catradora posters, and a fake magazine cover pronouncing them the new star in an upcoming Marvel movie. (Also: 10 ways to drive security systems wild!)
With a basic wardrobe complete and a now permanent twice-weekly shift as a dishwasher and cleaning up after hours, Jamie started accumulating more Stuff. They put aside money just in case one day Parker, Hardison, and Eliot ever decided they were more trouble than they were worth, money for stuff they needed, and what was leftover was fun money. So slowly, their room filled up with Stuff.
They went to the comic book store with Hardison and ended up picking up some comics and a cute Captain Marvel bobblehead. They bought some art supplies. They got themselves a few plants, and had to Google what the hell a spider plant did to satisfy Parker’s question. Apparently ‘look cute’ and ‘purify the air’ were boring answers.
Their best finds, however, came from the thrift stores. The spider plant was repotted into a ceramic pot shaped like a baby’s head that made Parker laugh when she saw it and Hardison mutter something about joy and rage. The cacti found homes in some mugs with either very bad puns or swearing on them. They brought home a hot pink lava lamp, and one of those talking fish that Hardison helped them reprogram. For the longest time, it just shouted a compilation of Eliot’s best ‘dammit Hardison’s at you when you pressed the button.
Then one day, Parker decided to come along to the thrift store. Halfway through scouring the clothing racks she’d disappeared, only to pop up again carrying a painting of Princess Leia and a Mogwai riding on the back of a unicorn. The frame was ornate and spray painted gold. It was beautiful, and terrible.
“You need this,” she said.
They snapped out of their reverie. “I do need this.”
“It’s too big to lift easily,” Parker cautioned. “Unless you distract them.”
“Parker, it is fifteen dollars, I am willing to pay fifteen dollars simply for the satisfaction of seeing Hardison lose his damn mind over it.” Or the pained look on Eliot’s face. Parker looked thoughtful, like the idea of actually buying something was new and odd. And honestly, it probably was. But stealing from a charity thrift store was a lot different than stealing from a rich asshole who got even richer by exploiting his workers, and Jamie wasn’t about to make trouble for the people who worked here.
They left the thrift store with a plaid scarf, some suspenders, the most hideous and beautiful painting in the world, and a mug with a raccoon on it.
They were right. Eliot’s face was totally worth the fifteen dollars. He still helped them hang it up, though, talking Jamie through the use of power tools and holding the ladder steady for them. He grumbled something about how they’d learned how to drill open a safe before learning how to hang up a painting, but it was good natured. When they hopped down to look at their masterpiece, they noticed Eliot looking around their room. It wasn’t that messy, they thought, but Eliot was kind of a neat freak.
“What?” they asked carefully.
“Nothing,” the guy shrugged, looking suspiciously misty eyed. “Just glad you’ve made this place your own.”
Chapter 7: The one with Jamie's first job
They got their GED. And while it sucked to not get a real high-school graduation like they’d always thought they would have, the little ceremony Hardison put together (complete with intentionally shitty powerpoint, hat and tassel, and forcing Eliot to bake a monstrosity of a cake) was pretty fun.
They’d said no to his offer to throw them a prom, though. They’d seen the plans for those on a whiteboard in the corner of the office and had very quickly roped Amy and Bobbi into persuading the bosses that fake-prom was a bad idea and an HR disaster. Among the things on the board were a frankly terrible playlist, much better than average punch, and apparently plans for Parker to drop from the ceiling to remind people to ‘leave room for Jesus’.
They passed their driving test, and afterwards Eliot took them to an abandoned lot and taught them some defensive driving techniques. Then he got out and Parker taught them what she called ‘driving techniques’ but mostly consisted of her shouting ‘faster’ while they tried to go through an obstacle course. By the time they got out they were a little dizzy and kind of nauseous, but then Hardison presented them with seven different drivers licences, which made it all worth it.
Hardison had started to let them help during jobs, watching the security cameras. They got their own ear bud, which they sometimes had to turn off because they hadn’t exactly mastered the art of not giggle-snorting through the more ridiculous parts of the cons. Hardison’s Vaguely Swiss Accent was atrocious, okay?
They started helping put together the briefings, learning more about reading bank statements, finding offshore accounts and how the stock market worked than any college Econ course would teach them. They also remotely hacked their first lock, letting Parker into a building she probably didn’t really need help getting into, but it still earned them a high five in Lucille and a ‘good job’ whispered over the comms.
After that, Parker started taking them on field trips. Like breaking into the library. And then Stark’s Vaccuum Museum. And then the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. And then some rich person’s house, which had felt weird, but when Parker showed them the dude’s twitter account they had no problem casing the joint and stealing all his valuables. And breaking his creepy nazi memorabilia.
Eliot ramped up their training, dragging them out of bed in the morning to take them on a run. It was awful at first, but after him describing Hardison being chased around an impound lot by a bunch of very large dogs, Jamie had to admit that maybe Eliot had a point. So they ran to a nearby gym, and Eliot taught them more ways to beat someone up so they stayed down. And they did not speak of the freshly baked goods and hot chocolate Eliot always bought for them on the run back.
There were even more field trips, getting more serious as time went on. Parker was a very hands-on teacher, but always gave them time to try and figure stuff out for themselves first. After a while, she only dramatically cleared her throat whenever they overlooked something.
A selfie with the tyrannosaurus at the Natural History Museum they had to pinkie swear to never ever put on Instagram. Breaking into a skyscraper just to jump off it. Getting into a vault at a bank to steal a painting and returning it to the Jewish family it was stolen from during the war. They managed a perfect break in into their latest mark’s office, Parker simply coming along in case there was trouble. They switched out the client’s stolen designs with a file that would instead 3D-print a rather obscene garden gnome statue, and got out without a hitch.
Hardison and Eliot both gave them a fist bump when they got back to Lucille, Eliot adding in a manly ‘I’m not going to say anything because if I do it will be incredibly sappy and you’ll roast me’ shoulder squeeze. Parker grinned, looking proud, and announced that the next job, they could go in on their own.
When they got back to the brew pub, Eliot half-asked, half-ordered them upstairs. They went, Hardison giving them a half-hearted shrug, Parker looking confused. They immediately took out the laptop Hardison had given them and hacked into the downstairs cameras. It wasn’t really hard, considering they were on the same closed system, but Hardison still gave a proud wink at the nearest camera before putting down his phone and joining in the conversation.
Or, well, shouting match. After a few months of surveillance in Lucille working on their lip reading, and the vague strains of Concerned Eliot Noises coming from downstairs, it wasn’t hard to piece together Eliot thought it was way too soon to send them in anywhere alone. The word ‘still a minor’ and ‘dangerous’ seemed to be used a lot. Parker was probably reminding him her first solo break in had been much younger than sixteen-and-seven-months, which probably didn’t really help matters.
Hardison was probably doing that thing where he acknowledged your feelings but then bludgeoned your opinion to death with facts. Facts like how Parker would never let Jamie do something they weren’t ready for, or how she’d never risk a job. Or how undoubtedly, all three of them would be in Lucille just in case things went sideways, and Eliot could storm in and do his Big Tough Punchy Man Thing if necessary.
Finally, Parker seemed to cut Eliot off mid-rant and he threw his hands up storming back towards the kitchen. Jamie made sure to shut the laptop and slide it across the coffee table before Hardison and Parker came in, earning them a ‘who are you kidding’ eyebrow quirk.
“So, Eliot’s gonna stay in the kitchen for a while and do some Angry Cooking,” Hardison said casually, grabbing an orange soda from the fridge and handing them a Mountain Dew.
“How angry are we talking?” Jamie asked. “Like, bread angry, or schnitzels angry?” They mimed kneading dough and pounding meat with a hammer violently. They wondered what Parker would be able to taste in the food if he served it to them. Last time, she refused to touch the bread he’d made when he’d been mad at Hardison for saying that ‘all mustard was basically the same anyway’.
“It’s not that he doesn’t trust you,” Hardison began.
“I know,” they cut him off. It was sweet of him to try and make them feel better, though. “He only gets shouty because he cares. And the last time he made schnitzels was when you oversold the con and almost got murdered by that creepy human trafficker.” Hardison looked sheepish, and Parker nodded. At the time, Eliot had dashed from Lucille and Parker had turned around and produced a bag of M&Ms out of nowhere for them to eat while they listened to Eliot beat up an entire room full of thugs. Jamie knew better now than to ask Eliot to teach them any of the moves that made grown men scream like that.
“What did you say to him, anyway?” they asked Parker.
“That I’m the mastermind,” she replied, shrugging, like that said it all. And yeah, it pretty much did. Jamie had always known Parker was The Boss, even though they felt kind of bad for categorising Eliot and Hardison as her henchmen early on. But it was the truth. Parker was the one who came up with the plan, who made the calls, and ultimately, who had the final say. She’d listen to other opinions, which was apparently a vast improvement of whoever had been Head Batman at Leverage before, but in the end, if she made the call, Hardison and Eliot (and Jamie) listened.
Eliot didn’t come up from the kitchen for a very long time. Which either meant he was very upset, or that his Angry Cooking turned into Distracted By A New Idea For The Menu Cooking. Eventually, Jamie gave up and went to bed, because some people needed more than ninety minutes a night.
They hadn’t really expected Eliot to drag them out of bed at six the next morning. They’d been kind of expecting to sleep in, grab a bowl of cereal, and have an awkward conversation sometime in the afternoon, possibly on the roof where Eliot grew his food. It was where he did a lot of his brooding when he didn’t want to terrify the kitchen staff.
But there he was, like usual, pretending to be a drill sergeant and urging them to get up with way more amusement than was really fair. They stumbled out of bed, put on their running clothes and shoes, and met him at the door, also like usual. Were they just going to not talk about it? Eliot was running a bit faster than usual, so maybe this was some kind of subtle punishment. Or, knowing Eliot, some kind of drive to make them better so they would kick more ass and be safe.
Three blocks in, Eliot had not slowed down his pace, and Jamie was trying to think of zombies chasing them so they would have the motivation to keep up. Then, Eliot started talking, perfectly even, like he wasn’t speeding through the streets fast enough to outrun at least an unmotivated guard dog.
“Listen kid, about last night,” he started, staring straight ahead because talking about feelings without eye contact was less intense and also good for not running into a lamppost. “It’s not that I think you can’t do it. You’ve been doing great. Parker’s really proud. We’re all very proud.” Which would have been heart-warming. Really. Except for some reason, he picked up the pace even more as he said it, and the warm glowy feeling was quickly replaced by an overheated, dear-god-why feeling.
“Is this you punishing me, trying to have a heartfelt conversation while forcing me into a sprint?” they asked, before he could go on to listing all the reasons he’d absolutely flattened some poor pieces of meat the night before. They barely got the words out between pants. Eliot looked surprised, then slowed down until Jamie could collapse against mailbox, catching their breath. After a moment and a look from Eliot, they dutifully started their stretches and took Proper Breaths.
Eliot continued on like he hadn’t even been running, stretching out his hamstrings and shit casually. “I’m just worried. A lot can go wrong on these kind of jobs. Even Parker runs into unexpected trouble sometimes.”
“I know.” They were pretty sure pointing out all the things Hardison and Parker had said last night would just annoy him further. An annoyed Eliot was a grumpy Eliot, and grumpy Eliot was the worst sparring partner. “But I trust Parker, and I know I’ll have you three as backup if I need it.” They saw Eliot’s face soften a little at that, even though he tried to pretend it hadn’t touched him. Good. No grumpy sparring Eliot.
“C’mon,” he said, starting to jog in place until they stopped stretching and set off again. “We’re going to practice disarming and evading again, just in case.”
It actually took a few more jobs for Jamie’s solo break in. One of them required grifting their way in, and for some reason nobody thought it was a great idea for a sixteen year old to go to a black tie event at the embassy to break into a safe there. The other one wasn’t so much a break-in as a ‘walk in, punch people until they tell you where they hid the baby they kidnapped, walk out’. Jamie very graciously let Eliot handle that one.
Then, finally, there was a job that Parker said they could do. An old-fashioned, cover-of-darkness, get in, plug in the doodad Hardison gave them, wait until it does its thing, get out type of job. They all piled into Lucille, then parked where Hardison had said was out of range of any cameras. The office building suddenly looked very foreboding in the dark.
“Do you have your comm?”Hardison asked, even though he could see on his screen it was working, if he’d bothered to look. Instead, he was way too focussed on Jamie. It was a little bit unnerving. They also had a button cam, probably a concession to make Eliot feel better. Seeing Hardison’s Concerned Face echoed on the screen at his elbow was weird and trippy.
“Do you have your tools?” Parker asked. They lifted their button down shirt and folded over the top of their jeggings to show the special sewn in pocket that had their lock picks and the USB Hardison had given them.
“Do you-” Eliot started, and they held up a hand to cut him off.
“Guys, chill,” they said, rolling their eyes. “I got this.” They tried to ignore the little voice in their head that said they did not have this at all. Come on, Jamie, pull it together. Conceal, don’t feel. If they caved and admitted that they’d really, really prefer Parker to come with them, Eliot wouldn’t let them do any solo jobs until they were in their twenties, probably.
They got out of the van, squared their shoulders, and strode off in what they hoped was a confident way. Channel your inner Winter Soldier. They did not look back, mostly because they didn’t want Parker to see the sheer panic on their face right now. They were not going to let Parker down. They were going to crush this, prove Eliot wrong, and make Hardison 3D-print them a tiny trophy when they got home, or something.
They’d gone over the break-in with Parker like seventy times, they knew all the steps, they had all the contingencies drilled into them. Or, well, jump-scared into them. For the last week, Parker would pop up out of nowhere to shout ‘WHAT IF YOU SEE A WIRE RUNNING ALONG THE BACK DOOR’ and expected them to answer immediately. Which was probably a good thing, because they were able to quickly disarm the alarm on the service entrance, muttering under their breath to answer the Parker In Their Head, while the Parker In The Van stayed silent as a mouse.
They had the blueprints of this place memorized, and knew the quickest way to the mark’s office. They diligently checked for any surprise cameras, sneaked through the offices, crouched down to pick the lock on the office door (not their best time, but at least their hands stopped shaking), and slipped inside.
They booted up the computer and plugged in the little USB-drive Hardison gave them. Crouched awkwardly behind the desk to stay out of sight just in case, they watched the code do its thing, first decrypting the passwords and then ransacking the guy’s files and servers. “Are you kidding me,” they whispered furiously. Eliot immediately made a concerned noise on the comms. “This dude’s computer password is ‘123password’,” they quickly explained, before he came in here fists blazing.
“Now that’s just insulting,” Hardison agreed, as the code finished and ended at the bottom with a little thumbs up emoji Hardison probably spent an extra half hour coding just for Jamie.
“It’s done, on my way back,” Jamie whispered. They pulled out the doohickey and tucked it back into their waistband, shut down the computer, wiped any prints, did a quick scan to see if nothing was out of place and put the chair back where they found it. But just as they were silently pulling the door closed behind them, a flashlight hit their face.
“Hey!” A voice called out. “What are you doing in there?”
Unfortunately, all of Parker’s scenarios hadn’t covered ‘what do you do if a security guard pops up right in front of your damn nose, with his hand hovering over what may be a gun, but is hopefully just a taser’. Eliot’s had, but unfortunately, Jamie was not in a range to do any of the cool moves he had taught them, even if they could fucking remember any of them at this point. Their head seemed to be full of static, eyes fixed on the maybe-gun-maybe-taser. They had to do something. Right now.
On comms, they could hear Eliot cursing and the door to Lucille sliding open. Somehow, that was what snapped them out of their freak out. They were not going to let Eliot say ‘I told you so’.
“Don’t!” they all but shouted. The guard with the flashlight frowned at them. The sound footsteps on gravel in their ear stopped, though, so they kept going, with only a slightly awkward pause. “Tell anyone I’m here after hours, please, sir. I know interns aren’t supposed to be here this late, but fucking Chad didn’t tell me about my part of the project until he was half out the door, and if I don’t have these numbers on the boss’ desk by tomorrow morning, I can kiss my recommendation goodbye.”
The flashlight wavered, the hand hovering over the probably-hopefully-a-taser lowering. Now that they weren’t being blinded, they could see that the security guard was an older looking black guy, who didn’t seem too happy at the idea of shooting-slash-tasering anyone if he didn’t have to. Especially when that someone appeared to be a baby-faced intern. Hopefully the dark grey button down and the black pants would vaguely help with this notion. That could pass for intern-business wear, right? They held their hands up in a pleading gesture, which also helpfully showed they were unarmed.
“I can’t lose this internship,” they went on, pushing all their frantic terror at the thought of getting shot into their voice. “I went through like four interview rounds to get a spot, and then fucking Chad shows up a week after everyone else because his daddy is some kind of big shot manager, and they’re only hiring two of us for the summer programme.” Bless you Hardison and your ridiculously thorough researching skills. “I can’t lose out to Chad, sir. He doesn’t even know how to use the copier!”
Apparently, the night guard had some experience with the Chads of the world, because he chuckled. The hand fell away from what they now saw was a taser. “I won’t tell if you won’t tell, young lady.” He gave them an almost grandfatherly wink. “Are you almost done? You really shouldn’t be up here all alone.”
“I was just on my way out,” they said, which wasn’t even a lie. “I just needed to find where Chad hid the key to the office to lock it. I’m very sorry for the inconvenience.”
“Nonsense,” the security guard said, and actually took the key ring off his belt to lock the office for them, before herding them to the elevator. “But next time, be sure to let the day shift know you’re staying late. Just tell them that Earl said it’s okay. My shift starts at ten.”
Earl brought them down to the front entrance, telling them all about his granddaughter, who had just started high school, and was smart as a whip, and hoped to get an internship here one day as well. He disabled the security system and opened the locked doors for them, peering out anxiously. “Would you like me to walk you to your car, dear?” he asked.
“That’s alright.” Jamie smiled. “I’m parked right around the corner under a streetlight, but thank you.”
“Don’t you let that Chad boy win,” Earl said. “What was your name again?”
Shit. They were already one step out the door, but of course it couldn’t be that easy. They couldn’t very well say Jamie, Hardison had drilled that much into them. They weren’t burning that name, ever. Besides, Earl was probably expecting a girl’s name. “Nell,” they told him. “Nell Caffrey. Thanks again, Earl!”
They waved and jogged around the corner to where they said their car was. As soon as they were out of sight of the cameras, they sprinted towards Lucille, muttering ‘shit, shit, shit’. The other end of the earbud was mostly silent, except for the noise of Hardison furiously typing, probably to make a Nell Caffrey to slip into the intern database.
When they got to the van, Parker slid the door open, and they hopped inside. Eliot was behind the wheel and started driving as soon as they were settled in. Right. Get away from the scene of the crime ASAP. Especially since they got their dumb ass caught.
“Listen,” they started before anyone could say anything. “I know I fucked up and Hardison has to put Nell Caffrey into the database and I should have-”
“You didn’t fuck up,” Eliot said, throwing an angry glance over his shoulder. “We did.” Oh shit, here it came. The ‘we sent you in before you were ready, you’re crime-grounded until you’re twenty-five’ speech.
“We were so caught up in watching you that we forgot to keep an eye on the security guard.” Parker admitted. It was true that earlier surveillance had proven that Earl rarely if ever did rounds at night. But still, someone should have probably been staked out to keep an eye on the front entrance and the security guard.
“But I was caught off guard and I didn’t, you know, judo-throw Earl across the desks while disarming him,” Jamie said, feeling embarrassed. All those hours in the gym with Eliot and they had just started babbling about internships and copiers instead.
“You were out of range, he would have tasered you,” Eliot said.
“You did great.” Parker cut them off. “We’ve been so busy training you to be a thief and a hacker and a hitter that we didn’t realise you were a natural grifter!” She beamed at Jamie. “You did a good job, distracting him and playing into his expectations, and you made your way out without raising any suspicions.”
Hardison looked up from his laptop to share their usual victory fist bump. Slap, punch, explosion. “You made him lock the door of the office you just broke into for you,” he pointed out.
Oh. Oh, they did do that, didn’t they? They’d been so caught up in trying to make the whole internship thing believable, they hadn’t even thought about how that was kind of a power move. “I just figured, he probably wouldn’t shoot an intern,” they muttered.
“You did good,” Eliot echoed from the front seat. Out of nowhere, a container of cookies dropped onto their lap. Of course Eliot had made them victory cookies beforehand, even though he’d been against the whole thing in the first place. “Eat these, they should help with the adrenaline crash.” Parker passed them a Gatorade, and they noticed their hands were shaking a little, again. Apparently, nerves and adrenaline were not that different. They shoved one of the cookies into their mouth before washing it down with a big gulp from the bottle.
“Hey,” they asked Hardison, as they fumbled the USB out of the secret pocket and handed it over. “Do you think we can send Earl some thank you donuts?” Or would that be rude? He didn’t know he’d just aided and abetted a felony, after all. Would it be some kind of mean gloat, when the news broke that the crooked CEO was being ousted because his shady dealings had been leaked? Or would he just think the nice intern had sent a thank you?
“We can definitely do that,” Hardison agreed.
After that, it was business as usual. Or well, what counted as usual for Leverage. Jamie had been wired after the break in, which according to Parker was pretty normal. Hardison had taken pity on them and had stayed up with them, playing about a dozen rounds of Mario Kart until he was yawning. They’d sent him off to join Eliot and Parker, played a bunch of other games, before more or less passing out on the couch and sleeping through the day.
They woke up at four in the afternoon tucked in under a blanket that hadn’t been there before. Hardison was sitting at the kitchen table, monitoring everything while Parker and Eliot did the next part of the con. They sleepily wandered over, grabbing their ear piece off the table and shoving it into their ear to hear what was going on. Hardison pointed over at the fridge, where apparently Eliot had left a sandwich for when they woke up. It had a little folded note propped on to that said: JAMIE (eat this and I’ll break both your legs, Hardison) in Eliot’s blocky handwriting.
They blearily listened to the mark taking the bait, offering to buy out Parker’s fake company so they could make millions together while destroying the lives of ordinary people, same old, same old. Hardison confirmed on comms that the money had gone to the right account, and the last phase of the con was a go. Hardison was already busy ensuring the paper trail lead where they wanted it to go and that the stuff Jamie had stolen was going to the right places to completely ruin the evil CEO.
They finished their sandwich and hurried to their room to change. They wouldn’t admit it out loud, but they maybe kind of had an outfit picked out and ready for this day. One that they had probably put too much thought into. But come on, it wasn’t every day that they got their first ‘Gloat At The Bad Guy From a Distance But In Plain View Just As He Realises He’s Been Played’.
So they washed their face, pushed their short hair into some semblance of order, and slid on the black skinny jeans and purple button down that may have been put aside perfectly pressed for just this occasion. They topped it off with their asskicking boots and suspenders, and then stood in front of the vintage floor length mirror they had propped in the corner. They crossed their arms and squared their shoulders a little, looking smug. Yeah, that would do it.
They thumped down the stairs with Hardison and got in Lucille, and he drove them to the offices. They had just enough time to pick a Supreme Gloating Spot, before Parker skipped around the corner, followed by Eliot. She skidded to a halt and pretty much bashed her shoulder into Hardison’s, who grinned and pressed a kiss to her temple. Eliot and Hardison shared their little secret handshake before he swooped in and pressed a kiss to Eliot’s temple as well. After a perfunctory grumble, Eliot took up a place at the end of the line, bookending Jamie and ruffling their hair as a hello.
“Here he comes,” Parker said, and they all watched as the mark was dragged out the front door of the offices by police, surrounded by angry co-conspirators telling him to shut up. When he looked up, and saw them standing there, he started shouting even louder. Jamie had seen it before, a few times, from the safety of Lucille or even watching Hardison’s computers from the Leverage offices, but standing there looking smug was almost as much of a rush as when they’d handed over the USB to Hardison last night.
Jamie wanted to say that the warm glow of getting a dirtbag in trouble and exposing his creepy predatory schemes so they could never do it again was the best part, but that would be a lie. The best part was probably when he bashed his head against the top of the squad car because he was frantically trying to gesture at them while shouting ‘they’re the real criminals’.
Yeah, they could get used to this.
Life after their first real job was pretty normal, even though sometimes they were hit with a wave of smug satisfaction. Bobbi and Raoul teased them about having a secret crush, since they were smiling so much. Jamie didn’t exactly correct that rumour, because they couldn’t very well explain ‘I broke into this guy’s office and now he’s behind bars for fucking over poor people’. Still, sometimes they got to share a knowing look with Eliot in the kitchen and that was enough.
At least, life went back to normal until they checked if their Brewpub salary was in yet. For some reason, their first thought was to wipe their phone with their sleeve, as if the numbers on the screen were some kind of smudge or dust. Then they tried shaking it. The numbers stayed the same. So they wandered over to where Hardison was working, photoshopping what appeared to be Eliot and Parker getting married at a Las Vegas Elvis Themed Drive Thru Wedding Venue. Jamie assumed it was for a future job, but who knew. The man had some weird hobbies.
“Hmm?” He did not look up, instead focussing on adding an extra inch to Parker’s already dangerously high-looking hair.
“Why am I suddenly rich enough to buy a yacht?”
That did get his attention. He looked up, beaming that sunshine smile of his. “That’s your Leverage money.”
“Is this that alternate revenue stream everyone keeps going on about?” they asked. Honestly, Jamie had thought that was just something they told clients. Because ‘we’re criminals with incredible caches of stolen goods and ill-gotten money across the globe from our lives of crime, we just do this for fun’ would probably scare people off.
“I… may have made some investments for you,” Hardison said, in the least convincing humble-brag ever. He was nearly wriggling out of his seat with excitement and glee.
“Some investments?” Jamie echoed, unbelieving. There was a deposit for five hundred thousand dollars in their bank account. As well as the wages for their Brewpub hours, of course, because Hardison was never late with those. “Wait, why the hell have I been washing dishes all week if I had this in my bank account?”
“Because Eliot will give you his ‘I’m not mad, I’m disappointed’ look if you don’t?” Hardison pointed out. Which, dammit Hardison, he was right. Instead of admitting that, though, Jamie stood up to grab their bag and shove their feet into their shoes. “Wait, where are you going?” Hardison sounded vaguely concerned as they headed over to the door.
“To get one of those extra-large Oreo cupcakes from the hipster bakery I told myself I couldn’t afford!” Jamie called out. Which they were going to do. While also clearing their head and having a mild freak out, probably. It would be rude to do so in front of Hardison, because you didn’t make the dude who just casually wired you 500k feel bad about it. But they kind of needed to freak out.
On some level, Jamie had known that the team was rich. Parker talked about her money like it was a bff she sometimes hung out with (and this being Parker, who knew, maybe she did). Hardison, of course, owned a brewpub that really couldn’t be operating at a profit with the prices they asked for food and the expenses they made. And Eliot, while he wasn’t flashy, did have the best and highest quality of the stuff he found important. That knife set he had was probably worth more than everything Jamie owned put together.
Also, there was the fact that they’d taken in a homeless teenager without apparently blinking at the costs. Jamie knew they were extremely lucky in many ways, and that never having to worry about asking for something they needed was one of them.
It’s not like they were ever really poor-poor, before. Just that kind of two income household where one or two minor setbacks could completely wipe out any savings type of poor. The kind of poor where they never went hungry, really, but asking for brand name shoes was out of the question. Hell, asking for brand name cereal was a joke. The kind of poor where you pretended ValueMore orange juice was just as good as the stuff you saw in commercials on TV.
Then of course, they’d had their stint of homelessness, which had been its own kind of nightmare. They had been hungry then. And cold. And then somehow, they’d ended up in this fucked up little criminal found family straight out of their favourite ‘everyone lives together in Avengers Tower’ fanfiction.
But they’d never really expected money like that of their own. Honestly, they hadn’t really thought that far ahead at all. Not for a long while. Their parents had kind of proven that nothing in life was certain, and you couldn’t really rely on anyone but yourself. Long term plans and goals had been on the back burner as they focussed on the basics: food, shelter, not getting caught by CPS. And then, on life at the Brewpub, learning everything they could, while making a little money on the side and putting some away just in case.
On some level, Jamie knew that Parker, Hardison, and Eliot wouldn’t throw them out. And not even just in a ‘they know too much’ kind of way. They cared, and they accepted Jamie for who they were. Even the angry, spiteful parts of them. Jamie also knew that if they asked, the team would bankroll any college or university education they wanted, even if the end goal was a Normal Person Job. They already took some online classes, but that was more because breaking into museums with Parker was more fun with some art history knowledge under their belt.
They didn’t think they wanted a normal job anymore, though. They enjoyed the whole School Of Crime thing they had going on. They enjoyed learning things that felt a little dangerous, a little forbidden, and a whole lot cool. And they really, really enjoyed watching rich, powerful assholes face consequences for once in their entire lives.
And apparently, that came with more than just getting to participate in The Gloat. That came with a casual 500k in their bank account on a Friday afternoon.
They wouldn’t have to worry about being kicked out anymore. Sure, they were still underage, but with that much money, surely they could find a motel to stay at with someone who could be bribed to look the other way. They didn’t have to worry about medical bills, or buying new shoes, or hell, technically they could probably buy a house with that money.
So why the hell were they freaking out so much? It wasn’t like this was ‘get the hell out of our house’ money. It was ‘hey you’re part of our little criminal Avengers Team and here’s your cut’ money. It was just… a lot of zeroes. They pondered it over, checking and rechecking their bank account on the way.
After going to the Overpriced Hipster Bakery and buying one of everything they had ever seen in the window and told themselves they couldn’t afford, they stopped by Parker’s favourite donut place and did the same. By the time they’d made their way back to the brew pub, they had consumed one large Vegan Oreo Cupcake, a pumpkin spice iced coffee, a maple cream pastry, and an oatmeal cookie the size of their head. They were actually vaguely nauseous, and they weren’t sure if that was because of the pastries, or because it had just sunken in how much money five hundred thousand dollars was.
That was how Eliot found them, sitting at the table, staring at their phone, surrounded by baked goods. They couldn’t even muster up the worry about his probably upcoming rant about bringing that much sugar into the house. They just pushed a not-overly-sweet carrot cupcake with perfect cream cheese frosting in his direction. He stared at it, suspicious, before swiping his finger through the frosting, tasting, and nodding in approval.
“Did you break one of Parker’s rigs?” he asked, sitting down next to them and gently peeling the adorably bunny-themed paper away from the cupcake. Which was a fair assumption, because a table full of mostly chocolate-y goodness did kind of scream peace offering slash please-don’t-kill-me directed at Parker. Maybe they should put some of this stuff away before she got back.
Instead of answering, they passed Eliot their phone. The obscenely large number on their bank account app hadn’t changed.
“Dammit, Hardison,” Eliot shouted out in the direction of Hardison’s office.
“Did… did Hardison add too many zeroes?” Jamie asked, cautiously. That might explain it. Maybe they had like, all of the Leverage International slush fund sitting in their bank account.
Hardison made his way down the hall to them, scoffing at the remark. “Excuse me? Did I add too many zeroes? You think I’d make that kind of typo? I am extremely good at what I do, I’ll have you kn-oooh, donuts!” He dove for one of those donuts, with crunched up Oreos on top, and bit into it. Eliot scowled.
“You don’t just throw five hundred thousand dollars at a teenager without warning and expect it to go well,” he scolded the hacker, who was more focussed on catching the crumbs from his donut than the very angry hitter in front of him. “It’s irresponsible! No offense, kid,” he added, voice immediately softening when he spoke to Jamie.
Jamie shrugged and waved at the table full of baked goods. “I mean, clearly you’re right,” they agreed.
“I see no problem with this,” Hardison said, taking another bite of the donut, his other hand already reaching out for one of the cookies. Eliot smacked the back of his hand, before grabbing his wrist and pulling him close, their noses almost touching.
“You are going to sit down,” Eliot… well, menaced, basically. “And you are going to walk them through setting up some safe off-shore accounts and savings.” He gave Jamie an encouraging smile. “We’ll talk about drop boxes with Parker later.”
So Hardison grabbed his laptop and sits down with them. “Sorry, I thought it would be a fun surprise,” he apologised, slightly sheepish. “Parker agreed with me.” Which should have been his first inkling that maybe he should rethink that plan, because Parker and money had a weird, weird relationship.
“It’s five hundred thousand dollars, Hardison,” Jamie said. “A fun surprise is like, a nice crisp hundred dollar bill in the tip jar. Five hundred thousand dollars is me worrying I need to get an accountant and a will.” At Hardison’s face, they squinted. “Hardison, do I already have a will?”
“Technically, everyone at Leverage Inc. does,” he said, awkwardly rubbing the back of his head like he only just realised that drafting someone a will without their knowledge was incredibly creepy. “Eliot insisted. All your money would go to your favourite charities. Also, you don’t need an accountant, I fix literally everyone’s taxes.”
His eyes glazed over a little as he stared into the distance, and suddenly Jamie realised that all those late nights he spent on his computer working on aliases made a lot more sense. They’d heard the story about how Hardison’s aliases were so good they got jury duty. They couldn’t imagine what tax season was like, even if he was just hacking into the IRS to pretend all their aliases had done and paid their taxes correctly.
They spent the rest of the afternoon setting up different bank accounts in non-extradition types of countries. Most of the money was put into an account in San Lorenzo. Probably just so Jamie would stop freaking out about the big number on their ‘normal person’ bank account. A nice chunk was directed to their savings account, which made all their previous attempts at saving look cute but pathetic. Still, Hardison commended them for it. They didn’t have the heart to tell him that was their ‘in case you guys kick me out’ fund.
They got their first shell corporation. Enby Enterprises had a spectacularly vague entry in the chamber of commerce and a tasteful logo with a yellow, white, purple and black colour scheme. At Jamie’s request Hardison wrote them a program that would automatically deposit the same amount as their Brewpub paycheque from Enby Enterprises to their account every month.
A bunch of money was earmarked for Eliot and Parker’s Drop Box Lecture later on, Hardison explained, and then the last twenty thousand, he refused to do anything with. “That’s your fun money,” he said.
“Hardison ,” Jamie ground out, sounding more like Eliot every passing second. “I can’t just have twenty thousand dollars to throw around.”
“Why not?” Hardison asked. “Not every job is going to pay out this much. It’s really only when we go after the really big companies, there are plenty of sleazebags who don’t work at Fortune 500 companies.” And honestly, the thought of getting another payout like this hadn’t even registered yet. Hardison saw the look on their face and laughed, promising them that next time there wouldn’t be a surprise yacht worth of money in their regular account, but that they’d sit down together and go over everything, until Jamie had the hang of it.
So, what did you do with a sudden windfall and the promise of lots more coming from doing something you would probably do for free because the criminals that housed you gave you free food and a bed and a normal job already? Clearly, going crazy and buying one of everything that sounded good at two different bakeries wasn’t a sustainable option.
Instead, they took out their phone, ignored the urge to check their banking app again, and started to make a list. They still wanted to put money aside for emergencies. They’d make themselves a college fund, and a retirement fund or a 401k or something mature like that. Maybe invest money in some green initiatives or something. They should probably start saving for a house, or several. Maybe even in different countries, like they were Tony Stark or something. Or like the mysterious Sophie and Nate the team kept talking about.
They had a feeling that after the Dropbox Lecture, Parker would probably give them a ‘buying random real estate to throw people off your trail is smart and living in a giant empty warehouse with a thousand creepy dolls is a valid life choice’ lecture. She didn’t really live at the warehouse anymore. Jamie was pretty sure she mostly kept it because Hardison and Eliot wouldn’t allow her to move the army of Baby Joy-Rages into the apartment. And so she’d have somewhere to set up the laser obstacle course she’d been having Jamie practice with. But the secret base thing was probably a good idea.
They made a list of their favourite charities that they could set up recurring monthly donations to. Then they went through their social media and made a list of their favourite artists and creators with online shops, commissions, patreons, and donation buttons. They added a subheading about checking individual fundraising pages for people struggling as well. There was a blogger that did a round-up every week, they could use that as a jumping off point.
And then, at the bottom of the list, they added a little section called ‘charity trolling’. With great power comes great responsibility, Hardison liked to echo, and they also knew that drawing too much attention to themselves was a big no-no. But they couldn’t just not use their newfound riches to both do good in the world and get some quality laughs in. So they decided to knock off an item every few months or so, just to be chill about it. Also, so they could have the time to enjoy their nonsense to the fullest.
Some of their first ideas were pretty simple. There was that zoo that allowed you to name a cockroach after someone you hated, so they could get the team one named Sterling. Jamie was sure they’d get a kick out of that. Number two was e-mailing the local animal shelter how much they would have to donate for a promise to name the next extremely grumpy looking stray that came in Eliot.
There were the old classics, like donating vaccines in name of anti-vaxxers and to LGBTQ charities in name of phobic politicians. Donating to a fund to buy former hate church buildings to make them into community centres for the things they hated most.
Then they wrote down some more out-there ideas, that would require a little more research. A memorial bench at the park where Hardison had once fallen into the duck pond because he’d been too busy arguing with Jamie about which Doctor was the best Doctor to look where he was going. (They may have not warned him about it because he had been So Wrong he deserved it.) A scholarship for Eliot’s friend’s cooking school called the ‘Mr. Punchy Scholarship for Excellence’. They wondered how much it would cost to get a raccoon rehabilitation centre named after Parker’s favourite dumpster raccoons, Hardy Junior and Professor Trashmouth.
With their list done for now, they looked at all the small ways they could make a big difference in the world. And suddenly, the idea of all that money wasn’t so daunting anymore.
Chapter 9: The one where Jamie buys presents
The Christmas chapter was getting way too long, so I chopped it in half.
Content warning: This chapter goes a little deeper into Jamie's shitty transphobic family of origin.
Parker was intense about Christmas. Like, really intense. The kind of intense that meant that she started mentioning it just after Halloween. Apparently there was a Rule about No Christmas Before Halloween, which Jamie approved of. Spooky season deserved its moment, especially since Hardison had helped them put together a kick-ass Captain Marvel cosplay for the occassion. They got to hand out candy at the Brewpub for the local kids and various shelters and youth centres the pub had partnered with to provide a safe Halloween. It was pretty awesome.
The Christmas music started pretty soon after that. Parker made them pinkie swear not to tell Eliot about it though, because he got extra grumpy about hearing Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Or, really, after Thanksgiving, but Parker had long ago decided that was fair game. The tree went up a few days after Thanksgiving, which was apparently late, but they’d all been on a job during Black Friday conning a shady property developer who wanted to shut down the local animal shelter.
The tree was very… Parker. Which was to say, it was cheerful and bright and larger than life and you weren’t quite sure how it got inside. Also, it was covered with stolen goods. Sure, there were some normal-people ornaments in there, in red and green and gold. There was the odd Yoda and C3PO ornament. There was a cute little wooden guitar that was probably there for Eliot. But there was more actual literal gold on the tree than there had any right to be.
They had a great afternoon pointing at random pieces of jewellery and going ‘and that one?’ and letting Parker tell them how they stole it and what the security system was like. They googled the names to learn more about the history, since Parker’s general explanations of the actual origin of the gems were usually along the lines of ‘it belonged to some dead rich person and then some other rich person bought it’ before diving back into the Important Stuff, which meant the security systems.
It was really easy to get swept up in the enthusiasm. Especially when it was so funny to see Eliot at once grumpy about finding yet another decorative reindeer somewhere, and watching him cave under Parker’s puppy eyes each time she asked him to cook or bake her something Christmas related. Also, there were so many cookies around everywhere, it was awesome.
But then the commercials started up. On TV, on the radio station in Lucille, on their social media pages. On the damn streets and in shop windows and shouted over the intercom of the mall. All about how Christmas was a time for family, get the perfect present for your mom, go home for the holidays, blah blah blah. They’d never noticed just how prevalent it was until they started to try and avoid it.
Hardison had noticed them wincing at the radio and had started insisting on only playing his mixes and carefully curated spotify playlists in Lucille. But it was hard to get away from. Even when they were working at the brew pub, everyone was already discussing holiday plans and family and stuff like that. They tried to keep out of it, but apparently that just made them more noticeable than they’d have liked.
Bobbi, as one of the chefs who ran the kitchen when Eliot was gone, led a group she called the ‘Eff Xmas Squad’. It mostly consisted of people who either didn’t celebrate Christmas or desperately wanted an excuse to get out of celebrating Christmas. She’d offered Jamie a spot on the Squad during their shared lunch break, saying she didn’t really know their Situation, but the offer stood. (Apparently, some people thought Jamie was a far off cousin of Hardison’s who’d been sent to live with him Fresh Prince style, and others figured they were Chef Spencer’s illegitimate child. Nobody so far had put money on ‘Parker kidnapped them off the street’.)
“Family’s hard,” Bobbi had told them, in between enormous bites of a rather frightening looking sandwich. “If you want, I can kick up a fuss and say we absolutely need you those days. Raoul and the other dishwashers have already promised to back your play.”
“I’ll think about it,” they said, hedging their bets. They were pretty sure from, well, everything, that Christmas was a fami… a team affair. Something they were a hundred per cent invited to. Parker had already started pestering them about their favourite Christmas snacks, so she could pester Eliot into making them. Hardison had started acting shady and mysterious about some of the deliveries coming into the brew pub, so he was probably present shopping. Or it was some kind of sex thing. Jamie had made sure to steer very, very clear of the lilac boxes that sometimes came in the mail after reading the return address on one of them.
In any case, it was pretty obvious this was very much going to be a found-family affair. There had even been talk of the Mysterious Nate and Sophie coming to visit. Even Eliot had been excited about that, and he loved pretending he didn’t have feelings.
As nice as it was to have a happy, warm, cozy Christmas with the team instead of at some kind of group home for runaway LGBTQ kids or huddled alone in an abandoned office, some part of them longed for their old life, their old family. For the shitty wooden ornaments they’d painted as a kid. For Mom singing along to the same Christmas CD that she put on every year, and hanging up the lights with Dad, and their traditional buttermilk pancake breakfast on Christmas morning. For the big family dinner at Grandma’s house each year, and every few years they would fly to South Dakota to see Dad’s side of the family.
The urge to Facebook-stalk their family got really bad. They’d managed to avoid this during Thanksgiving, mostly because of the job they’d been on and by distracting themselves with all the delicious food Eliot was going to make. Still, it had taken herculean efforts not to meander down the path of social media stalking at stray thoughts like: at least Eliot’s turkey isn’t going to be bone-dry like aunt Nancy’s. They had taken extra vicious pleasure in all the things Eliot had made better, tastier. The things he had taught Jamie how to make, instead of closely guarding their shitty-ass secret recipes. (Don’t think about mom’s green bean casserole and how they would never ever get the recipe now, don’t, don’t.)
So they’d eaten themselves into a food coma and watched the Puppy Bowl with Parker and maybe taken the battery out of their phone and put it on the highest shelf in their room so they wouldn’t be tempted to see if their cousins had posted any holiday group shots on their Instagram like they did every year.
But that had only been like a few days. Nobody really cared as much about Thanksgiving as they did Christmas. There weren’t any shitty jingles about Thanksgiving Cheer and Spending Time With Grandma starting up in like, September. Not as many Very Special Seasonal Episodes on television all through the month of December. No little voice nagging in their ear that they could very easily hack into the family group chat now to see what, if anything, had been said about them attending or not attending this year.
They still sometimes checked their old e-mail, the one with their deadname in it. Usually when they were already feeling like shit. Sometimes it reminded them of how Parker liked to poke at Eliot’s bruises. Does this hurt? How about this? Has anyone from your old life e-mailed you? Does it hurt more if they have, or if they haven’t? They’d had to block certain aunts and uncles and one particular highly evangelical second cousin from flooding their inbox with hate. The same with the e-mails from random people from their churches, and some kind of freaky conversion therapy camp mailing list someone had signed them up for.
Hell, even the not-hateful e-mails were hard, sometimes. It’s not like their 13 year old cousin who sneakily mailed them from their school account telling them she hoped they were okay was doing anything hurtful. But it still hurt. It hurt not being able to answer for fear of their parents finding out. It hurt that she had to sneak around to contact Jamie because her mom was spending her evenings getting wine drunk and mailing them screeds about how they were going to burn in hell. It just hurt.
The e-mails from their parents were diverted into a special folder, so they wouldn’t have to look at them unless they wanted to. The last time they had, a few days after their first solo job, Eliot had found them in the kitchen at four in the morning working their way through Hardison’s not so well-hidden candy stash. He had taken one look at their face, and had turned to the stove to make hot chocolate immediately.
They had been pretty good at not doing it again, after that. Why ruin a good mood to read a mix of pleading to come home, guilt trips, and hateful vitriol and threats, sometimes all in the same e-mail? Especially when the alternative was jumping off a skyscraper with Parker or playing a zombie survival game with Hardison while Eliot heckled them from the other side of the sofa or hanging out in the Brewpub kitchen. Or taking down an evil advertising agency by convincing the head of marketing she was being haunted by one of her extremely expensive collectable vintage dolls.
Instead, they had thrown themselves into their new life with an almost vicious determination. Let their parents wonder if they were dead. Let them send e-mail after e-mail into the void without knowing if they were being read. They should have thought about that before throwing out their fifteen year old out without even a coat. Jamie was making 500k taking down evil corporations and rich scumbags, they were helping people, they were happy now.
And yet… sometimes they couldn’t help but stare at their phone, typing in the family hashtag their cousin Aliyah had made for Instagram. Or checking to see if their mom had posted anything on Facebook. Or opening their old e-mail and just staring, staring at the folder in the sidebar labelled ‘NOPE’, at the little number of unread e-mails behind it.
“Don’t do it,” Eliot told them, looking up from his book.
“Do what?” they asked, bristling. No matter what they joked about with Hardison, Eliot could not read minds, he had no idea what Jamie was or was not about to do.
“Whatever you’re about to do,” Eliot said, putting his bookmark between the pages and taking his reading glasses off. “You know you’re just gonna hurt yourself.” At their look, which was probably halfway between guilty and confused, he shrugged. “It’s a very distinctive expression.”
They stared at each other for a while, some kind of weird showdown between Eliot’s ‘Punishing Myself For Dumb Reasons is Kind of My Thing’ bullshit, and Jamie’s teenage ‘You Can’t Make Me Perform Self Care Even Though I Know You’re Right’ bullshit. In the end, Jamie gave up and threw their phone to the other end of the couch, curling up into a ball. It was unfair, they never won any kind of staring contest in this place.
“I just… what if they’re actually sorry?” they asked the half empty orange soda bottle on the table. It sounded hollow, even to their ears. Like the magic of Christmas would suddenly make them reconsider disowning their kid. Like something would be different after all the months they’d already been gone. Like there weren’t sixty-three unread e-mails proving them wrong, waiting for them in that little folder.
Eliot sighed and put his book down on the table, sitting on the edge of the couch next to them. “If you really want to check your e-mail, I’ll go make us some hot chocolate and dig out the chocolate chip cookies I’ve been hiding from Parker,” he offered. “Or, if you want me to check for you, I can do that.” Which was really sweet, but would probably end in Jamie having to call Parker as back-up to tase Eliot because he wanted to jump in his truck and drive down to their hometown to punch someone. “Or if you want to ask Hardison to lock you out of that e-mail for a while, he can do that.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” Jamie mumbled, dragging the quilt off the back of the couch to wallow in despair more comfortably. “At least until after the holidays.” They pulled the blanket over their head. “Christmas is hard.”
“I know,” Eliot said, and it sounded like he really did. Well, Eliot had his own estrangement stuff to deal with, of course. He’d told them as much last time they kind of had this conversation. “You know, if you want, we can just blow the whole thing off.”
Jamie sat up, pulling the blanket down in shock. “I can’t do that to Parker!” they exclaimed. She loved Christmas so much. She was so excited to celebrate with them, and build gingerbread houses, and steal new priceless jewels for the tree together, and watch Christmas movies. It would break her heart if they turned all that down. And, well, it wasn’t like robbing some safe in an oil exec’s mansion was going to give them wistful memories of past Christmasses.
“She’ll understand,” Eliot reassured them. And yeah, probably she would. Parker had her own things she avoided because of bad memories or because they made her skin crawl. But it would still make her sad if they just cancelled Christmas on Jamie’s behalf. Or if Jamie took a spot on the Eff Xmas Squad specifically to miss out on the team’s celebration.
“No, I want to,” they said. “I’m not going to let them take more from me than they already have. We’re going to have the most bomb-ass Christmas imaginable, and that’s that.”
Eliot laughed. “If you’re sure.”
“Parker and I are gonna steal the crown jewels to put on the tree,” Jamie solemnly told him.
“You may want to talk to Sophie about those before you go through the trouble. Stay under there,” Eliot said, flipping the blanket back over their head and ruffling where he guessed their head was at. “I’m gonna go unearth those cookies. No peeking.” Which was of course, in this house, an invitation to peek-as-long-as-you-don’t-get-caught.
As they casually pretended not to move but used the reflection from one of Hardison’s laptop screens to check out where Eliot was rummaging in the kitchen, Jamie decided they weren’t going to check their e-mail. They’d ask Hardison to lock them out of the account, at least until the new year. Instead, they were going to throw themselves into the found family they had.
They didn’t need their parents, they had something better. They had whatever the hell Parker, Hardison, and Eliot were. Mentors? Super chill adults who would never scold them for delinquent teen behaviour unless they weren’t doing it well enough? Grown-ups who accepted them for who they were and were generally interested in their well-being? Hell, they even had some kind of extended family coming over, if the mysterious Sophie and Nate actually showed up.
They’d get the best presents, and help Eliot cook the most delicious breakfast on Christmas morning, and steal the shiniest piece of jewellery for the tree with Parker. They were going to help Hardison put together awesome care packages for Nana’s foster kids, and donate the coolest toys to kids in need. They were going to bake all the cookies, and make some very un-xmas-like ones for the Eff Xmas Squad working the brewpub.
They were going to live their best, most fulfilling, most Insta-worthy life, and post none of it. Let them all wonder. Let their parents live with the awkward questions from distant relatives as to where they were. It was ‘living well is the best revenge’, but with more spite.
The problem with deciding they were going to find the best presents ever was trying to find the best presents ever. Sure, they were like, hella loaded by now, but that didn’t make shopping for the team any easier. What did you get a bunch of thieves with more money than a small country? Where in downtown did they have a Thieves R Us with the perfect gift for the discerning criminal? They had heard about the Christmas Hardison had bought Parker an honest to god motorcycle. How could they compete with that?
It wasn’t like Parker didn’t just go out and steal whatever she wanted for herself anyway. And sure, they could try and break into a museum alone and get her something, but she’d probably just be sad she didn’t get to come along. Hardison had every geeky collector’s item and gadget known to man. Eliot… well, Eliot lived for denying himself things that made him happy, apparently, but still, he had everything he needed.
On the other hand, they were pretty sure that if they made a macaroni-art picture frame and put in a photograph of the four of them, they could transform at least two if not all three of them into a blubbering mess on Christmas morning. So, they decided to split the difference, and go on Etsy. They got Hardison some cool soaps shaped like video game controllers, Parker a gold-plated raccoon tree ornament, and Eliot a fancy marble cutting board inscribed with the quote ‘knives are like people, it’s all about context’. They’d sat through that lecture a few times now. It was one of his favourites, besides the one about brewpub menus being the hardest to create, how food was life, and why Hardison’s beers were crap.
Then, because what was Christmas without a little bit of trolling, they headed to the thrift store. Parker was pretty easy. They got the most hideously ugly Christmas sweater they could find. It had lights and there was a button in the sleeve that when you pressed it, played a rather annoying beepy version of Jingle Bells. It was probably a fire hazard. She was going to love it just as much as the guys were going to hate it.
For Eliot, they also had an idea. It look a little hunting around, and a trip to the craft store, but eventually they had everything they needed. The hard part was finding times when everyone else was distracted to work on it. They’d finally found an afternoon when everyone was busy, so they snuck off to Hardison’s Nerd Cave, so they had room to work. It was pretty easy, once you got into the zone. Who knew putting tiny sparkly bits of plastic on something could be so zen?
“Is that a bedazzling set?” Hardison asked, leaning over their shoulder. They jumped and nearly bedazzled Hardison in the face for his troubles. Eliot would be proud, once he stopped scolding them for lacking situational awareness in the first place.
“It’s for Eliot’s present,” they admitted, making a shushing gesture. They were already halfway through the H of the large, sparkly YEEHAW that was going to grace on the front of the denim apron. Hardison put a hand over his mouth, stifling a laugh that might alert Parker or Eliot that something was up. “I kept the sparkles white instead of a bright colour for plausible deniability,” they explained.
“It’s perfect,” Hardison breathed. “He can’t say no to you. He’ll have to wear it.”
“That was the plan,” Jamie agreed, giving Hardison their most innocent smile. He beamed back, before horror slowly crept into his face. Hardison didn’t really know how to say no to them either.
“You don’t have a gift like that for me, do you?” he asked. Jamie’s smile widened, turning less innocent and more feral until Hardison made a hasty retreat.
Which of course left Hardison’s present. They brainstormed a little while they worked. It had to be something horrible, but still with enough plausible deniability that it could technically be something he liked, if he had terrible taste. Maybe some kind of ugly Yoda statue? But that would probably just annoy Eliot, not Hardison.
Besides, if Eliot had to wear a sparkly apron, Hardison needed something to absolutely offend his sense of style as well. Which would be hard, considering the absolutely atrocious outfits he sometimes insisted on wearing for a con. They cycled through all the fandoms they knew Hardison liked, nixing anything that could possibly be seen as too cool.
By the time they were finished with the A and had started on the W, they had the perfect idea. A few internet searches, an ask to a tumblr mutual who knew how to crochet and was taking commissions, and a large deposit later, and they had it sorted. Being rich was pretty great sometimes.
Not even Hardison’s love of Doctor Who could make him like the crochet Ood ski mask enough to happily wear it. But he still would, because he couldn’t say no to them.
After all, just because Jamie usually used their powers for good, didn’t mean they couldn’t also sometimes use their powers for evil a little. As a treat.
Chapter 10: The one where Jamie meets Nate and Sophie
December flew by with their new resolution to Live Their Best Criminal Vigilante Holiday Life. They got to play another intern, this time in broad daylight, to lift some security passes for Hardison to use to get into the server room. They tried every Christmas themed coffee and hot chocolate at every small business they could, setting up a rating system. They made extra spite-charity donations to causes they knew would piss off their bigoted relatives.
They broke into the home of a lady who ran an online anti-vax empire and along with stealing some evidence of tax fraud from her safe, they lifted a small gold necklace to put on the tree. Parker was so proud when they pulled it out that she screamed. She insisted it get a place of honour on the tree, balancing Jamie to stand on her shoulders so they could reach ‘the best spot’.
They ended up dragging the entire team, along with Bobbi and Amy, to the toy store to buy stuff for the foster care toy drive. It was worth the bribing (Bobbi), puppy eyes (Parker) and guilt-tripping (“who will pick out stuff for the jocks, Eliot?”) to see Amy and Parker discuss the relative softness and cuteness of several stuffed animals. Not to mention watching Eliot and Bobbi lose their damn minds over tiny felt food. They had of course lost Hardison to the Star Wars aisle thirty seconds in. But they left with something for everyone on the list and then some.
A few days before Christmas, they also finally got to meet the mysterious Sophie and Nate. Parker had been extra bouncy all day, which drove Eliot crazy, because she was wearing an elf hat with a little bell at the end. Hardison had been tidying up while pretending he wasn’t, and Eliot had dragged Jamie out of bed extra early to jog to some of his favourite suppliers to buy Fancy Ingredients. Jogging home with a backpack full of yams and asparagus was good practice for stealing, at least.
When Sophie and Nate finally did arrive in a flurry of hugs and ‘how have you been’s and ‘the brew pub looks great’, Jamie hung back. Which was probably a good thing, because the double take they did at actually seeing Nate and Sophie was probably not the best first impression.
“Why does that guy look like the portrait in the hallway?” they asked Parker under their breath.
“That’s Old Nate!” Parker said, before jingling over and catching Sophie in a hug.
“What?” they whispered, even more confused. The little plaque on the portrait clearly said ‘Harlan Leverage the Third’. He looked out over the hallway down to the Leverage office, sternly.
“Short version, I made it to troll Nate,” Hardison grinned. “Long version, I made it to troll Nate and we keep it around because it worked and still works.”
“It does not still work,” Younger-Harlan-Leverage-the-Third said, glaring over Hardison’s shoulder in the direction of the painting.
“It still works,” Eliot said, smirking.
“And you must be Jamie!” the classy British lady said, beaming at them. She gave their arm a little squeeze in some sort of very classy air-hug that was at once intimate and somehow did not cross any personal space boundaries. “We’ve heard so much about you.”
“And by that, she means that we get three different people calling us to brag about you every month,” Not-Harlan said, holding his hand out to shake.
“Even Eliot?” Jamie asked, grinning and shaking his hand.
“Especially Eliot,” Nate answered, smirking at Eliot, who looked flustered and quickly wandered off to the kitchen to ‘check on the roast’.
“Now, I want to hear all about this con you pulled last month with the werewolves,” Sophie said as they went to the living room. “Parker told me that was your idea. How did you come up with that?”
“Well, the mark was really into the paranormal already,” Jamie shrugged, remembering the dude’s search history. “So I just mainlined a six pack of Mountain Dew and watched all the Youtube videos in his search history and did some digging to figure out which one scared him the most.” Usually that kind of thing was Hardison’s job, but they had volunteered for that one. And if they maybe tried to punch Eliot when he wandered past at four am and checked in on how the research was going, well, at least he congratulated them on their form. And he didn’t make fun of their shriek.
“Also, I thought it would be funny to see Eliot in a werewolf costume,” they admitted, and most of the adults nodded sagely. Eliot rolled his eyes, but he had totally enjoyed chasing that asshole through the woods while howling so he could just shush.
They swapped stories back and forth. Even though Nate and Sophie were ‘retired’, they somehow kept finding situations where they just happened to have to go undercover to help someone, or they stumbled upon a crime, or got caught up in some other thief’s heist. And, once or twice, apparently, they just showed up to annoy Sterling in whatever investigation he was spearheading for funsies.
Jamie got Sophie to tell the story about the Crown Jewels, which lead to a fierce debate about pressurised glass cases over dinner. It was fun. Dinner ended with some incredibly fancy dessert Eliot pretended he just ‘happened to have all the ingredients for’ like they didn’t have a 20 minute detour on their morning jog just to get the very distinctive chocolate he wanted. Somehow, Sophie and Parker had gone on to list all the places they felt Jamie should still break into and steal something. Nate made some protesting noises that Sophie waved off.
“Don’t worry, Nate,” Parker said. “We’re the good guys now. We put everything back.”
“Usually,” Jamie added. At Nate’s raised eyebrow, they shrugged. “Some days you break into a museum to take selfies wearing the priceless jewels, some days you break into a rich creep’s house to steal some looted artefacts and send them back to their country of origin.” In a few years, they would go on a little world tour and visit the museums they sent the artefacts to. Possibly after hours, if Parker had anything to say about it.
“Jamie has a list,” Hardison added proudly. He and Eliot had helped them compile it. Eliot had vetoed a bunch due to them being too dangerous (though Parker always tacked on a ‘for now’ to the end of his sentence). Jamie knew better than to ask how Eliot knew that, but they also knew that once they finished all the Eliot-approved items on the list, he’d probably just growl and grumble and go with them to finish up the rest.
Jamie wasn’t sure what the calculating look Nate threw them meant. The team always said he was a Good Man, and Honest Man, but they never really elaborated on the reason why. He just looked like some old white guy. Jamie kind of figured that the team all had some self-esteem issues and didn’t realise they themselves were pretty damn Good already, no need to make a distinction.
Jamie decided they didn’t really care what Nate thought of them. Sure, they kind of wanted their proverbial Crime Grandparents to like them, but it wasn’t like, life or death. They’d already found their place here, and they were pretty sure nobody could take that away, if the team had anything to say about it.
Christmas was… nice. Weird, but nice. Hard, but nice. On Christmas Eve, they all watched Die Hard together, which was apparently an Eliot Spencer tradition. They ran downstairs with a big batch of totally-not-holiday-themed-cookies (UFOs and corgis, which were the least holiday themed cookie cutters Jamie could find in the kitchen) for the Eff Xmas Squad. They only cried a little after they went to bed that night.
The next morning, they woke up to find a Christmas sweater draped over the foot of their bed. It had a raccoon in a Santa hat peeking out from a garbage can, and it was perfect. Jamie had long since stopped locking their door and shoving the doorstop under it at night, and this was the first time anyone (probably Parker, they hadn’t heard a thing) had come in without permission. Except for that time with the spider, but Jamie had forgiven Eliot for bursting into their room with a knife, just as he had forgiven them for screaming bloody murder at a spider falling onto their book while they were reading in bed. Mostly because he found and removed the spider, like a hero.
They shrugged the sweater on along with some fresh plaid pyjama pants and festive socks and wandered downstairs to find Eliot already cooking. He was wearing a bandanna with little reindeer on it and an apron with a Santa print and did not look particularly happy about either, so Jamie’s sweater was probably not the only Early Morning Stealth Mission Parker went on. They wisely kept their mouth shut. Hardison had a BB-8 Holiday Sweater on that was very obviously voluntary. He was sitting at the island, trying to sneak things while Eliot glared at him until their combined puppy eyes won him over and he let them have at least some of the things piled high.
Breakfast was delicious and maybe slightly over the top. By the time they were going back to the kitchen for round two, Parker came home, dragging Nate and Sophie with her. Nate seemed to be another victim of Enforced Christmas Attire, as far as Jamie could tell. He didn’t really seem the type for a festive sparkly ornament tie, was all. Sophie had decided to beat Parker to the punch and wear something dark red and a pretty golden brooch, which was apparently festive enough that she wasn’t forced into an elf hat or something.
Parker had the grace to wait until Nate and Sophie both had a plate before saying: “Okay it’s present time now, yeah?” and herding everyone to the tree. There was a flurry of handing over gifts, half of which had very much not been under the tree last night when they had snuck theirs down at two in the morning. They’d been so worried about finding the perfect presents for everyone they hadn’t even considered that they might receive presents of their own.
Thankfully, they didn’t have to worry much. Apparently, the adults had decided on one Work Present each, and one Fun Present. Which made Jamie feel only slightly guilty at the fact that their second presents had been wholly to troll people. But hey, they were pretty sure Eliot’s annoyance would bring Holiday Cheer to Parker and Hardison, and vice versa.
Parker’s first present was delightfully Parker, a set of lock picks in a custom leather holder with a little gilded raccoon embossed on it. Hardison got them a better phone with a bunch of highly illegal homebrewed apps which would allow them to clone other people’s phones and more easily break into security systems. Eliot had gotten them a really cool looking knife, and gave them a stern look that it was only for practical use, like cooking and camping. They solemnly promised to only stab fruit with it until he taught them how to stab people.
After such a thoughtful display, they decided to swap out the troll present with giving them their real present first. Luckily Jamie had colour-coded the ribbons to know which was which. Hardison and Parker both loved theirs, and Eliot looked very touched and pretended to appreciate the craftsmanship so nobody would notice he was being a big softie. Which only made it better when he looked up and saw Hardison trying on his troll present.
“What the hell is that,” he asked, horrified at the crochet Ood ski mask covering Hardison’s face in tentacles.
“It’s my new winter gear,” Hardison said, cradling his little crochet Ood-brain in his hands. “I’m gonna wear it if you ever try to take me camping when it’s cold out again.” Which was a pretty great deterrent, if the look on Eliot’s face was anything to go by.
The other troll gifts were also amazing. Parker immediately swapped out her one sweater for Jamie’s more horrifying one. And everyone did their best to keep a straight face at Eliot’s denim bedazzled YEEHAW apron. Well, everyone except Hardison, who wasn’t even trying to hide his grin behind his tentacles.
“How practical,” Sophie commented, using all her grifter powers to actually sound complementary and not like she was laughing at Eliot’s glower. “And it goes with your eyes, Eliot.”
“Don’t you like it?” Jamie asked, putting all their sad puppy eyes into it. They’d been getting a lot of practice at perfecting their ‘are they about to cry’ lip wobble with their Lost Intern spiel. “I made it just for you, since we’re always cooking together.” It was like pushing all of Eliot’s buttons at the same time, and it had the desired effect about two seconds later when he broke with a ‘dammit Danvers’ before putting on the apron for them to see. They shared a high five with Hardison before everyone went on swapping gifts.
Jamie got Nate and Sophie tickets to the best amateur theatre show in town. It seemed like a good present for both ‘an old married couple’ and ‘an actress who can’t act but insists she can and the dude who heart-eyes her no matter how bad she is’, which was how Hardison had described Sophie and Nate once.
“How’d you figure that out?” Hardison asked them when Sophie beamed in delight, probably hoping for some kind of algorithm or calculation they did with the awesome research skills he’d been teaching them.
“I asked the cashier with the retro glasses at the Overpriced Hipster Bakery,” they confessed. “She looked like she had strong opinions about that kind of thing.” Hardison nodded appreciatively. Knowing where to find great sources was its own kind of research.
Nate and Sophie got them a book on post-impressionist paintings, which looked very fancy and was very pretty. The fancy glossy cover and thick pages were kind of undermined by the jagged edges of different pieces of paper sticking out of the top of the book, like some kind of funky hedgehog.
“Hardison mentioned you liked Van Gogh,” Nate said.
“And the sticky notes?” Jamie asked, going through the book. There was nothing written on there, but they were in different shades, from pink to dark red.
“The pink ones are in locations that are the easiest to break into,” Sophie beamed. “The bordeaux are the hardest.” Parker immediately stole the book and started checking the dark red ones, listing off the ones she had broken into, before flipping through the pink ones to decide which one Jamie should do first.
The grown-ups exchanged a few more presents, including some incredible looking chocolates Jamie was sure they would never be able to steal off Parker, not even with Hardison and Eliot’s help. Then, Parker beamed and handed them what looked to be a cheerfully, expertly wrapped brick. “For your room!” they said.
It was a bar of gold. An honest to god bar of actual gold, like in a cartoon.
“Parker, that’s not what we meant when we said to also get them something ‘fun’,” Eliot sighed.
“Gold is fun,” Parker frowned, confused.
“It’s the perfect Funko Pop stand,” Jamie reassured her. “I love it.”
“Mine next,” Hardison sang, handing over a rather huge box. “I made it myself.” Jamie carefully unwrapped and opened the box, staring down at the work of art in it.
“It lights up,” Hardison added proudly.
“It’s perfect,” Jamie said, lifting the perfect replica of She-Ra’s sword above their head in The Pose. They held back the urge to shout ‘For the Honour Of Grayskull!’ only because they were trying not to be too big a nerd in front of Nate and Sophie. They did find the little button on the side and the sword, beaming when it lit up. This was going to be the best night light ever. And also probably get them banned from Comic Con.
“My turn,” Eliot said, before handing them a plain brown envelope. He looked too smug for it to be something lame like a coupon for cooking lessons or something like that. Though Jamie wouldn’t put it past him to have pre-empted their knife-stabbing comments and for it to be knife fighting lessons. What was actually in there made them forget all about being cool around Sophie and Nate. Or keeping their cool at all.
“YOU GOT ME HAMILTON TICKETS?” they shrieked, jumping up onto the sofa, and then just jumping up and down because Eliot got them Hamilton tickets.
“I thought we could all go together,” Eliot said, smiling like he didn’t regularly shut down the entire prep team from doing a mildly off-key rendition of the entire first act. Something about paying customers and noise pollution and blah blah, no I will not let Hardison sound proof the entire kitchen so you can all sing, get back to work.
“Man, you were on my case not to spend too much and then you pull this?” Hardison complained, not the least bit phased at the jumping next to him. There were enough tickets for the four of them, which must have cost a fortune. Not to mention they’d have to go to New York and find somewhere to stay. Hardison was probably going to turn it into a hacking assignment to see if they could score a penthouse somewhere, but they so did not care, they were going to see Hamilton.
“I told you not to spend too much on nonsense, this is different,” Eliot defended. Then he smirked. “Besides, I got a discount because I once dated…” He shut up when Parker thwapped him in the face with a festive pillow. Jamie agreed they didn’t really care who Eliot dated. Unless it was Lin-Manuel Miranda, maybe. No, that was still weird and gross to think about.
They flopped down on the couch next to Hardison, carefully putting down the tickets and cradling the sword on their lap. “It’s not nonsense,” they corrected Eliot. “How else am I going to protect Etheria?” They couldn’t see Hardison, but they could tell from the way Eliot went all heart-eyes that Hardison was probably smiling his sunshine smile, so it was all good.
They finished exchanging gifts, with Jamie very studiously pretending to be picking out the perfect cookie when Hardison opened a box and turned very red. Parker looked sheepish, muttering a ‘whoops, that was supposed to be for the other pile’. Sophie laughed and Nate looked like he wished there was something stronger than hot chocolate in his mug. Which, honestly, mood.
After presents, Eliot waved them into the kitchen to play sous-chef, but he put on the sparkly YEEHAW apron, so Jamie was fine with it. They took at least seven pictures before Eliot started glaring at them so bad they put their phone away and actually started helping.
The rest of the day was pretty much out of a Hallmark movie. Well, a slightly off Hallmark movie with more crime. They watched a Christmas Zombie Musical together while binging Eliot’s cookies. They went through the art book Sophie and Nate got them and made Hardison pull up the schematics to one of the museums. Jamie got to spend the afternoon watching several adult criminals bicker about how they’d all broken into that museum before and their way was best, which was more entertaining than regular family bickering by a long shot.
Dinner was amazing, with a mix of fancy ‘Eliot is showing off’ dishes and traditional dishes. There was a very distinctive lack of green bean casserole, and Eliot gave them a little nod when they mouthed ‘thank you’ at him from across the table. They got to have some of Hardison’s homemade ‘alcohol free wine’ at dinner, which was really just very fancily bottled extremely sweet grape juice. Nate, who did not do alcohol, decided that water in a fancy glass was a much better choice than that assault on his taste buds. He wasn’t wrong, and Jamie practiced their sleight of hand to discretely get rid of the wine without actually having to, you know, drink it.
The evening was spent with more Christmas movies, more cookies, and more stories about crime. It was pretty awesome.
Somehow, at the end of the night, they ended up lying next to Parker on the floor with their head under the tree, staring up at the lights and the priceless decorations that could probably buy a small country and/or send all of them to jail for a thousand years.
“This was the best Christmas ever,” they told her.
Parker turned to them and smiled her mastermind grin. It was the same one she got right before the Gloat, when the bad guy realised they’d been had. “Good,” she said, before turning back to the tree.
Well, Jamie figured, if anyone could pull of successfully stealing Christmas, it was Parker.
Chapter 11: The one with the Crime Aunt and Uncle
Sophie and Nate decided to stick around for a while, which was fair, considering the fancy dishes Eliot was cooking. Jamie was pretty sure they would have found an excuse to stay longer too for free food as good as that. They weren’t around all the time, apparently Sophie had met up with some of her former acting students, and who knew what Nate did in his spare time.
Well, apparently, sometimes he found clients, because he showed up one afternoon with a tear-streaked woman and allowed Hardison to gently herd her into the Back Booth where the team usually held their client meetings. Hardison and Nate talked to the lady for a while, before he waved at them to go find Parker. Jamie found her upstairs doing a yoga pose that made her look more like an Escher painting than a human. They tilted their head, but somehow that made it look even worse.
“Time to put your mastermind face on,” they said. “Nate found you a client.”
They tried not to laugh when Nate was rather unceremoniously kicked out of the booth so Parker could do her thing. Instead of pointing out that he looked more like Harlan Leverage The Third when he pouted, Jamie slid him some fancy bar-pretzels and took pity on him. They asked him how he’d even found her, letting him tell them the story. That perked him up a little. And Nate was a pretty good storyteller. Not as funny as Hardison, but not all facts, like Parker.
Maybe Crime Grandparents was the wrong term for Sophie and Nate. Maybe they were more like a Crime Aunt and Uncle. Like a Wine Aunt, but with more breaking the law. Sophie was full of good advice about both fashion and life, as well as highly illegal things. And Nate was like the weird uncle who only needed a little prodding to go off into an explanation on how to find a man’s weak spots and destroy him. Or insurance. Sometimes both at the same time.
After the client had been escorted home by Nate, a solemn promise from Parker that they would Fix It, Parker vanished into the rafters. She did that sometimes, when she needed to think. Hardison texted Sophie if she could come over in an hour or two, and he didn’t even need to add ‘Eliot will make snacks’ to get a yes. Jamie went to grab their laptop to help Hardison gather the information he needed to make his kick-ass PowerPoint.
And if Hardison was a little more intense and a little more on their ass than usual, well, Jamie wasn’t going to mention it. They got it, kind of. Nate and Sophie had left and left Leverage in the team’s hands, and they wanted to show them how well they were doing. Because casually taking down OmniCare with a random kidnapped teenager in the back of the van on a Thursday was apparently not enough to show that. Never mind what they’d been up to since Jamie had joined them.
So they let Hardison tell them how to do stuff he literally taught them months ago, and they didn’t say anything when he didn’t add in the sound effects he usually did to annoy Eliot and make Jamie laugh. Sophie and Nate showed up and took what Jamie assumed was their former places at the desk, and Hardison and Parker went up to the front in front of the screen.
It was weird, the way Parker, Hardison, and Eliot looked kind of nervous around Nate and Sophie during the brief. It unnerved Jamie. Parker didn’t get nervous. She was the Boss. So if they maybe sat furthest away from Nate and asked some prompting and distracting questions they might already know the answer to so Parker would go into Explaining The Con mode, well, they didn’t think anyone noticed. Except perhaps Sophie, who only gave them an approving little nod when Parker shifted back into Boss mode.
Nate insisted he was out of the game, and he was, pretty much. Sophie only had to elbow him once during Hardison’s brief. Mostly, he just looked proud of Parker. Sometimes a little baffled at the shorthand the team had apparently developed after he’d left, or like he didn’t agree with her plan, but he kept his mouth shut. Sophie mostly just smiled at the team, especially when Parker asked her to play a part, if she wanted to. Which she did. Nate may be out of the game, but apparently Sophie didn’t mind dipping her toe back in at all.
Jamie was relegated to Lucille for this one, as no fake interns were needed. Not unless something went so wrong they had to send someone in, but not wrong enough that that someone had to be Eliot, ready to bash some heads in. Instead, they watched the security monitors so Hardison could focus on the hacking. He usually didn’t have a problem doing both at once, but with such a time-sensitive job, they were running on very little information. Besides, Jamie got a front row seat to watching everything unfold, which was always fun.
Parker was sitting outside on a bench dressed as the most obnoxious Starbucks drinking Yoga Mom she could be, the powerful transmitter they needed to fuck with the evil company’s system in an expensive looking stroller next to her. Jamie knew better than to ask where she got it. Instead, they focussed on going through the security footage, making sure the guards weren’t suspicious or coming Sophie’s way. And maybe also watching Sophie do her thing.
It was interesting, hearing a real grifter at work. Sure, the others grifted when it was required, but it wasn’t their thing. Parker usually relied on being just slightly obnoxious and weird to unnerve people into going with whatever she wanted them to do or not taking her as a threat. Which was funny as hell to watch from Lucille, but Jamie worried that one day she was going to run into a jaded Millennial who just straight up accepted her bullshit and wasn’t fazed. Hardison always oversold the bit when he was trying to play someone he thought was cooler than himself. Eliot usually dumbed himself down, or flattened himself in some way. It worked for him, usually, and if it didn’t he could usually punch his way out, at least. But it wasn’t stuff Jamie could use themselves.
Sophie, though… Sophie had layers. Sophie let the mark fill in the gaps, knew exactly what gaps to leave open for them to fill in. It was like watching some kind of k-pop music video, perfectly choreographed and executed. Sophie just was, all confidence, like how could you ever doubt she was anything but a Duchess, or a representative of a powerful overseas firm, or an analyst sent from the home office to check on their faulty system.
The way she picked up on tiny hints and incorporated what Hardison was looking up mid-sentence was just mind boggling. She never faltered for a second.
For all Parker had insisted Jamie was a natural grifter, it certainly didn’t feel that way when looking at Sophie working. Jamie had never been a theatre kid. It never felt like they were ‘becoming the part’ or whatever it was theatre kids did to make themselves believable. Hell, their ‘lost intern’ grift wasn’t actually that hard. There was no projecting of confidence needed. Projecting a vague sense of unease honestly wasn’t that hard when they weren’t actually supposed to be where they were, never mind in the damn building to begin with.
Suddenly they desperately wanted Sophie to teach them everything she knew. They had no idea how, because the idea of practicing grifting on the team or people from the brew pub felt iffy, but they were sure there was a way. Hell, if Parker could teach them how to crack open a safe by first teaching them to steal that safe from a safe supply shop, they were pretty sure Sophie could teach them how to project something other than ‘slightly confused intern with a clipboard’ vibes.
They just couldn’t figure out how to ask. Sophie was classy. And not just the ‘oh her accent is British so she must be classy’ but actually classy. The kind of adult that was a little scary to talk to, not because they’d dismiss what you had to say, but because they might take you seriously. On the other hand, Sophie was also used to Parker, so maybe they didn’t have to live up to some kind of obscure fanciness mark.
Still, Jamie figured they probably could have done better than blurting out ‘TEACH ME YOUR WAYS’ when Sophie came back to where they had parked Lucille, a couple of blocks away from the mark’s office.
Sophie, however, just smoothed down her skirt and looked very pleased with herself. “Darling, I thought you’d never ask.”
Chapter 12: The one with the Grifting Training Montage
Working with Sophie was different than working with Parker. Parker was all about doing, trying, leaping before you felt ready. Or, well, before Jamie felt ready. Working with Sophie was a lot more practice and introspection. And not the kind of Buzzfeed Quiz Make The Perfect Breakfast And We’ll Tell You What Marvel Character You Are introspection. The Dr. Phil If He Actually Had A Degree kind of introspection. Which wasn’t always fun, but Sophie made sure to never push them too hard and always gave them space to think about or process shit. Jamie understood now why Parker liked her so much.
She also, if she felt Jamie clamming up, switched gears and worked on other stuff with them. Like accents. Apparently they were ‘not as bad as Hardison’, which was pretty lukewarm praise at best, and a backhanded compliment at worst. Jamie had heard Hardison on comm when he was grifting, okay? They took it upon themselves to seek out different youtubers from all over the world to try and get a handle on their accents so they could at least work their way up to ‘almost as good as Parker’.
Another fun thing was different ways to hold your body and walk. Ways to blend in, ways to make a mark think you were harmless or nervous (and thus easy to control, when really you’d be the one controlling the situation). But also ways to seem larger than life, the way Sophie could sometimes become when pretending to be someone fancy or powerful.
They had ‘nervous and harmless’ down already. Just think ‘intern’. Sophie gave them some tips on micro expressions, and little habits people did when they were nervous. Projecting confidence was harder. They’d spent so long trying not to be noticed and stand out, first living with their parents and at school, then on the streets, and then playing burglar with Parker, that taking up space consciously, attracting attention, just felt weird.
They’d tried different things. Basic posture stuff, which helped some. Channelling Eliot, which was a hilarious afternoon. Sophie was an amazing grifter, but apparently even Jamie’s exaggerated Eliot Scowl and ‘dammit Hardison’ were too much for her to keep a straight face. They tried different footwear and listening to music. Jamie practiced when they went to fetch things in the freezer for work at the Brew Pub. In the end, they didn’t have the heart to tell Sophie that the thing that finally made it click was the tumblr post Hardison sent them about squaring your shoulders and walking like you’ve been sent to murder Captain America.
They worked on small grifts first. Calling up customer service with a sob story to get rates reduced. Since they didn’t actually have any rates, considering Hardison had hacked their phone into oblivion and they had free access to pretty much every site, service and app known to man, they’d had to get a little more creative. They hoped that the new waitress didn’t notice or didn’t mind the fact that her student loan interest payments were suddenly drastically lower than before.
Normally, Sophie explained over dessert one night, they’d take a beginning grifter to a bar. It was an easy place to find marks, and to practice your grifting. Bars were transient and plentiful. Unless you were a regular, nobody really cared or noticed if you weren’t who you said you were the night before. “But, given the circumstances…” Sophie trailed off with a vague hand gesture that everyone probably thought meant ‘given that you are sixteen’ but according to Sophie’s micro expressions clearly meant ‘given that Eliot would throw a fit about that’.
Jamie couldn’t hold back a laugh when Hardison offered to make them an adult ID in the same breath that Eliot said he’d kill him if he made Jamie an adult ID. Sophie raised an eyebrow to indicate ‘case in point’, while Parker asked Nate in an undertone why you’d need a fake ID to drink. Couldn’t you just steal the booze?
Instead of a bar, Sophie took them to the mall, showing them how to spot an easy mark. It was a whole new way of looking at the world. Different from when Parker had taken them to that exact same mall to spot who would be easy to pickpocket. Apparently there was some overlap, but not all. You just had to find the right incentives, the right story, to get someone hooked. Sure, the mother with the stroller was more wary of hands near her newborn, but give her a story about children that tugged on her heartstrings and she’d be eating out of the palm of your hand.
Some things could be leveraged to their advantage, like their age. Nobody suspected a sweetly smiling teenager to be conning someone into giving up their information, especially not in a casual conversation. Sometimes, though, they needed to point out some uncomfortable truths to Sophie that she probably didn’t think of right away.
“I can’t,” they explained, holding the bag of expensive perfume Sophie had… acquired from the store somehow.
“It’s alright, just try,” Sophie said, encouraging. “If you can’t get money, I’ll accept store credit as a success as well. The key is to get them to say yes to something against their policy with the techniques I taught you.” Which was really sweet, except for the fact that this wasn’t nerves speaking so much as a very painful awareness of their limitations. And not the limitations of their grifting skills.
“Sophie,” Jamie said quietly. “I am too black for this assignment.” They took a shaky breath. It was different in the city than in the small town they grew up in, but they were still a mixed kid in a very white part of the country. “They follow me around that store even when I am not doing anything illegal.”
The short hair and baggy thrift store clothes probably weren’t doing them any favours, either. Apparently only high-femme rich white girls were allowed to smell nice, or something. “I know high end perfume shops are totally your jam, but trying to exchange stolen goods with a cashier who already thinks I’m a criminal just for existing is a sure fire way to get mall security called.”
They could totally outrun a mall cop, but that didn’t mean they wanted to. They liked this mall. It was a great place to practice their pickpocketing, and there was an awesome frozen yoghurt place at the food court.
“Besides, I’m kind of underdressed,” they said to try and change the subject away from the unending crush of racism in America, pulling at their oversized galaxy-print hoodie. It had a cat with sunglasses on it, and the pockets were perfect for shoving stolen wallets in. They’d gotten so used to dressing like a thief, they hadn’t thought of dressing like a grifter.
Sophie, of course, saw right through their little attempt. She was looking at Jamie, and they almost didn’t want to meet her eyes. But her face wasn’t full of pity, or that weird uncomfortable look some people got when a teenager pointed out their lived experience with racism. It was more calculating.
“Thank you for telling me, Jamie,” she said. “You’re absolutely right that the world sees and treats you differently. There are ways to use that to your advantage, of course, but that’s a discussion we should probably have with Hardison.” She tapped her lips. “And perhaps I can make some calls to a couple of… colleagues who have more insight on the manner.”
Of course Sophie had a whole network of badass grifting friends. Or maybe frenemies. That was so cool. For now, Jamie suggested another store, one that had been trying to painfully reshape their image as diverse and accepting after a small scandal in the media a year before. They pulled up the article on their phone to show to Sophie, and she smiled proudly.
Being a grifter was different from being a thief. Sometimes it just felt unnecessarily complicated. Like the time Sophie had taken them to a hotel to con the person at the front desk into letting them into a room they hadn’t booked. One obnoxious Southern accent and a complicated story about a stepfather and family vacation and room numbers later, they had the guy so flustered, he wasn’t paying attention to anything other than his computer, trying to find what room they were supposedly staying in.
Honestly, they thought they’d been pretty clever when they lifted the skeleton key right off the loop of his belt while he wasn’t paying attention. On their comms, though, Sophie tutted in disapproval.
“What,” Jamie whispered under their breath. “It worked, didn’t it?” Out loud, they said: “Maybe it’s just under my stepdad’s name, Johnson? And mama wonders why I don’t want to take on his name ‘so we can all be a faaaamily ’. No thank you, y’know?” They waggled their eyebrows and then made a grossed out face. The concierge looked even more uncomfortable. Maybe this whole ‘make everything so awkward they go along just to get you out of their hair’ type of grifting was pretty fun after all.
“That’s not what you’re here to do,” Sophie said. “Put it back.”
They casually turned their head, pretending to push a curl out of their eyes but really just rolling them at Sophie where she was sitting reading a magazine on one of the couches in the lobby. She could read micro expressions, so that message should be pretty clear.
“I mean, who knows how long the marriage will last anyway, what with his drinking and her flirting,” they continued, turning back to the front desk. “Did you know I’ve had four stepdaddies already? At least the last one had a cool last name.” They slipped the key back onto his belt. “But he did have that weird clown feti-”
“We do have a room booked for a Mr Johnston,” the concierge interrupted them desperately.
“That’s it!” they beamed. “Must have heard it wrong at the wedding, I’ve only known the guy for two months, and all.” They received a key card for the room and flounced off to the elevators, meeting Sophie there. They got onto an empty one together, and they held out the card between their fingers, smug.
Sophie plucked it from their hand and tucked it away somewhere. Like with Parker and Eliot, Jamie hadn’t been able to successfully lift something off Sophie without her noticing. Yet. Never give up. They pouted. “Oh come on, we’re not even going in to steal the candy from the minibar?”
“If you can convince Housekeeping to let you into one of the rooms, you can raid that mini bar.”
Today was a stage day. Jamie was coming to hate stage days. It was when Sophie pulled her strings with the local theatre community to find them an empty stage, so they could ‘dig deep’. Because apparently a giant empty room full of empty chairs which looked vaguely creepy with only half the lights on would do that better than, say, the comfy couch at the Brewpub. Personally, Jamie just though Sophie liked the drama of it all.
They were working on motivation, on how to make your character believable. Especially when conning a powerful mark like the ones Leverage went up against regularly, the ones who hurt people to get what they wanted, they expected you to want something yourself. Their entire worldview was based on power exchanges and power struggles.
“Why do I need motivation to be a waiter,” Jamie groused. “It’s not like they’re going to look at me longer than a second or two, and then I can lift their wallet and walk off.”
“Unless they do look at you for longer than a second,” Sophie said. “I’d rather not have another fork-stabbing, window-jumping incident.” And yeah, Parker had totally told them about that one, when she’d commended Jamie on getting some expert advice.
“It’s about feeling confident in what you’re playing,” Sophie went on. “Maybe you’re ‘just a waiter’, but that waiter might need that job to pay rent, or to afford tuition, so their reaction to rude behaviour will be different than if you were a rich socialite.”
Okay, maybe she had a point. They just didn’t think it had to be that deep. Everyone knew how waiters were supposed to behave, right?
“When you play your ‘Lost Intern’, what are you thinking about?” Sophie asked. “What is that character’s motivation? Hardison said you pulled it off perfectly the first time. You gave them a backstory, a reason why they were there that was plausible enough the security guard locked the door you just picked behind you and offered to walk you to your car.”
“I was just rambling so he wouldn’t shoot me,” Jamie admitted. “It just kind of… happened.”
“You gave Nell Caffrey motivation,” Sophie insisted. “You gave them a life, an enemy, emotions. You made them a real person, and you embodied that person fully.”
“But that wasn’t really grifting,” Jamie said. It wasn’t what Sophie did. Watching Sophie, it was like she became a whole different person just with a flick of her hair and a different accent. She could be anyone. That was what they needed to learn. That was what was going to make them an asset for Leverage, make them able to rub elbows with rich assholes and crooked cops and shady politicians. Not deciding if waiter-Jamie was working their way through college or supporting their failed acting career or whatever.
“That’s just… me, slightly to the left. That’s what I’ve been doing for years, living up to the bullshit expectations of people around me on how I should look and act and be and just nodding along so they wouldn’t…” They stopped, realising they were yelling at Sophie in the middle of an empty theatre, which was totally uncool to do to someone just trying to help you, and also a little dramatic. Like all they needed was a spotlight to come on and they would break into some kind of sad musical song.
“Sorry,” they mumbled, flopping to sit down on the edge of the stage and dangling their legs off. Maybe they could just jump into the orchestra pit and end their suffering. Surely the trip to the ER would distract Sophie long enough to make it less awkward.
Before they could do anything drastic, Sophie sat down next to them, somehow still elegant and unruffled even in her fancy dress, even after being shouted at by an angry teenager. “I get it,” she said. At their look, she continued. “Not so much the gender part. But the expectations, the weight of doing what people felt I should, what I could and could not achieve because of who they perceived me to be. I get that.”
“But that’s exactly what grifting is,” Sophie continued. “It’s all about managing expectations. Setting them up for the mark and then going along with them, guiding them along by what you want them to assume, to see.”
Jamie mulled it over. That did make sense of what they’d seen Sophie do so far. “Even if you’re just a waiter?” they asked.
“Especially if you’re ‘just’ a waiter.” Sophie smiled, before getting up and holding out her hand. “Now, let’s try that again, shall we?”
They worked more on the gender stuff. Sophie never pushed them to present a certain way, but sometimes it was easier for a mark to assume Jamie fit into some kind of binary. They went over advantages and disadvantages of certain types of people assuming they were male, or female, or even ‘cisgender person clearly not conforming to the strict gender stereotypes the mark expects’.
Sophie had a way of making it part of the grift, more about getting away with something than being shoved into a box they didn’t belong in. Even if some of the roles made them feel itchy afterwards. Parker seemed to understand, and usually had some fortune cookies or chocolates waiting for them when they got out of the shower in their favourite oversized I-do-not-wish-to-be-perceived sweater.
It was mostly fun to get increasingly weird text messages from Sophie of what they were supposed to look like and raiding Hardison, Parker, or Eliot’s closet to match. They thought they’d managed ‘teen boy trying to look old enough to not get carded at the liquor store’ rather well, though ‘young professional woman who doesn’t know what business casual looks like’ was kind of a bust. Sophie was not amused they showed up in ripped black jeans and a t-shirt with swearing on it and a blazer, even though she did admit that was one way to not know what business casual looked like.
Today wasn’t so much a theatre-day, or even a grifting-lesson day, and more of a ‘Sophie was bored and Parker had texted the groupchat Eliot was making something fancy for dinner’ kind of day. Still, why waste a perfectly good opportunity to do some work, especially when the alternative was listening to Hardison try to explain why Eliot could totally be a Mandalorian for the third time that day.
“What’s your ideal… what do the kids call it these days?” she waved at Jamie’s… entire being. “Aesthetic?”
Jamie looked down at the oversized purple thrift store sweater they were wearing. It had a ridiculous amount of different cables on it, like someone’s granny had wanted to flex on all the other people in her knitting group. “Hostile ball of yarn,” they said. “Or maybe ‘hipster cryptid’.”
At Sophie’s frown, they tried again. “Cozy Goblincore?” Clearly that didn’t make any sense as well. They probably needed to translate it into something other than internet lingo. This must have been what Hardison felt all the time. No wonder he was so glad that someone else on the team finally spoke Meme now. “I want small children to be delighted at my cool dinosaur sweater and adults to be confused at how to address me and other queer people to think I’m friend-shaped.” They paused. “Also I like purple.”
Sophie took a moment to process that. “We can work with that.”
Which was how Jamie found themselves with a Fun New Homework Assignment, which was basically ‘pick a country in Europe and get their accent right, you’re about to become a teen star from that country set to make it big in America’. After a bit more prodding, they learned Sophie was going to take them to her favourite tailor for some ‘proper grifting attire’.
Jamie wasn’t sure if this was about the gender thing, or Sophie’s constant horror at Jamie’s thrift store fashion sense. Probably a little bit of both. And honestly, the stuff they did spend money on, from independent queer designers and cool little Etsy shops, wasn’t to Sophie’s taste either. Somehow, the fact that Jamie had paid a lot of money for that jacket that was covered in thousands of fluffy worms-on-a-string was worse.
They settled on Dutch, because nobody in America seemed to know what a Dutch accent sounded like anyway. And because they already followed some accounts by Dutch people anyway. Eliot helped them practice, muttering something about dating a Dutch lawyer and blabla, Jamie didn’t want to hear that stuff. They also made some stroopwafels, though, which was awesome.
There was no cryptic description of how to dress from Sophie on their phone the morning of their appointment, just a ‘dress like yourself’. Which, honestly she should have known better, because her face when they turned up in the Worm-Onna-String Coat and a Captain Marvel t-shirt was slightly dismayed. Jamie gave them a shit-eating grin. “What?” they asked, putting on their best Dutch accent. “You said dress like myself.”
They went inside, Sophie ushering them in with her own Obnoxious American Accent. Things were always fun when Sophie used her Obnoxious American Accent. “Hi, we have an appointment under Heart Talent Agency?” The woman at the front desk let them through to a very fancy elevator, but instead of going up, they went down, and down, and down.
“This place is very exclusive,” Sophie told them, just as the doors opened to a huge room with lots of highly polished wood and gold fixtures. There were floor to ceiling shelves with big bolts of fabric. A giant chandelier hung from the ceiling. In the back of their mind, Jamie imagined how gleeful Parker would be if they asked to go steal it together. They wouldn’t, because Sophie would probably kill them both, but still, it would be a very fun excursion. They’d never broken in somewhere underground before.
“Amelia,” a very well dressed gentleman said as he glided over, giving Sophie dramatic air kisses. He had slicked back grey hair and a watch that looked expensive enough that Jamie had to quiet their Inner Parker. “Welcome back, my dear. How was Europe? What did you bring us?”
“Richard, darling,” Sophie beamed. “How is business? I saw your suits at the Globes, stunning as always.” They both turned to Jamie, who suddenly felt very underdressed. “May I present to you my latest star, Florijn. They’re going to make it big here, just you wait.” She cocked her eyebrow at Jamie. “The wardrobe needs an update, though.”
Jamie looked down at their wrinkled jeans and scuffed boots sheepishly as Richard tut-tutted. “Let’s get you set up,” he said, and then did a little clapping gesture straight out of a 90s movie. From behind one of the big shelves, a tall woman with curly red hair appeared. She was wearing a gorgeously tailored suit, which amped up the whole ‘underdressed’ situation by like ten notches.
“Ms. Porter, please direct Ms. Heart and her client to a room and start a file,” the fancy boss waved his hand. The woman nodded, motioning them to follow her past a bunch of the shelves and into a room with a smaller, more easily stealable chandelier. There were a table and chairs, a large leather sofa, a changing room with curtain off to the side, and a little platform surrounded by mirrors.
“Is that a Georgie Molina?” Ms. Porter asked when the door was closed and they were out of earshot of her boss. Jamie beamed, waving the sleeve of their Worm Coat. At least someone here was a fan, so Sophie couldn’t make the coat ‘disappear’ under mysterious circumstances.
“Yes!” they said, before realising their accent wasn’t in place. Keep your head in the game, Danvers, this was a job. They tried to remind themselves of that while Ms. Porter lead them to the little platform and started to take their measurements. She kept a running commentary of what she was doing, highly professional even at the awkward parts like the inseam and the chest.
Once the measuring was over, Ms. Porter sat down at a little table with them to discuss what they were after. Thankfully, Sophie did most of the talking, because Jamie was completely lost at the terms being thrown around. From what they could tell, she was getting them a whole wardrobe full of suits: a basic tux, a red carpet look, a professional look, a casual brunch-suit, as if brunch wasn’t just Hardison and Jamie rolling out of bed too late to call it breakfast but still pestering Eliot into making waffles. At the rate Sophie was going, listing what they needed, they were going to have to get a storage unit to house all of these suits. Which, honestly, they should probably get anyway. All the cool criminals seemed to have one.
There was talk about feminine and masculine cuts, and androgynous styles, and a whole discussion about collars and lapel styles. Jamie kind of felt like they were at an exam they hadn’t studied for. Then they had to try on different styles. Ms. Porter would disappear and have hushed conversations with someone outside the door, who would hurry to get different styles of shirts and trousers and jackets. There were thick ties and skinny ties and bowties (“yes, I want a few bowties, bowties are cool!”) There was even a cravat once, which Jamie shot down immediately because they looked like a vampire in a bad teen horror movie.
“This one is great,” they said, twisting and turning in front of the mirror to check out the latest suit. It was lightweight and dark, with sharp edges that made them look a little dangerous. All they needed was a pair of black sunglasses. “I look like a secret agent. Can we get this one? It fits fine.” They turned around to Sophie, who did look approving.
“Not off the rack, darling!” she admonished lightly, in her obnoxious Rich Person accent. Ms. Porter smiled like they were just adorable as she swapped the jacket out for another, making a note on her tablet about the last one. “These are just to get a feel of what suits you.” She didn’t pause when Jamie snorted at the pun. “Then comes the customisation, and we’ll get everything tailored to precisely your standards.” Like they had standards when it came to suits other than ‘can I steal in this?’.
They tried on what seemed like a million more jackets, shirts, and trousers. Jamie was starting to think this place was underground so you couldn’t tell by the changing daylight how long you had been there. Like an Ikea, only fancier. Sophie explained how certain jackets, ties, fabric choices, or tailoring could make a suit read more feminine, and how others would read more masculine, while Ms. Porter showed them by swapping certain things out, or pinning things a certain way.
“A slightly shorter trouser and a pair of heels would immediately read as more feminine,” Ms. Porter suggested, bending to flip up the trousers.
“No heels,” Jamie said quickly. They couldn’t run in heels. Parker could, but Parker could also make her way down a 20 foot steam vent and backflip her way through an ‘impenetrable’ laser grid. “I, uh, don’t want to fall on my face and have it put all over the internet,” they added, which was probably a fair enough reason for a modern teen star.
When they finally sat down with the extensive notes on Ms. Porter’s tablet, Sophie quickly hammered out the ‘basics’, sometimes ordering the same type of suit twice with different tailoring or fabric so they could have something for different aliases. She let Jamie have a say as well, of course, letting them pick out their favourite shade of purple from a colour wheel with fancy names such as ‘aubergine’ and ‘mulberry’ for their perfect red carpet look. Or, probably more specifically, their ‘we’re breaking into a gala and Eliot and Parker already called dibs on being kitchen staff and waiter’ look.
Then, Sophie sat back and gave Jamie free reign to flex what they’d just learned. Ms. Porter caught on quick. After a few requests for wildly contradictory customisations (the broader lapel and shoulder, but in a fabric Sophie had just explained read as feminine), she started adding her own suggestions.
They ended up with a set of suits for every occasion that would be perfectly confusing to assholes who felt a need to know what was going on in their pants. They were particularly fond of the one from a fabric that Sophie complained looked more like her Grandmother’s old couch, in gold and green floral. When Ms. Porter suggested a nice fedora to go with it, with a band of the same fabric, of course Jamie said yes. They were going to beat Nate at his own game. Maybe Jimmy Papadokalis had a younger, better looking cousin.
Jamie couldn’t help but wince when they were done and they saw the total cost at the bottom of the tablet. Sure, it was an investment. Sure, it was quality work, and expert craftspeople deserved fair wages for their labour. And yeah, they were super-duper rich now. But that was a very, very big number. They were probably going to make a big donation to some charities when they got home, just to assuage their rich-person guilt.
It didn’t help when Sophie pulled out a Platinum credit card registered to Heart Talent Agency. “A business expense, darling,” she said when Jamie moved to make a protesting noise. Right, right, stay in character. No way a mildly successful Dutch teen star who hadn’t made it big yet was going to be able to afford all that up front. Jamie was pretty sure that Sophie had planned this so they couldn’t complain, which was very sneaky of her. They’d just have to get her back by buying her the best damn chocolates in all of Portland as a thank you. They had connections now, after so many early morning supply runs with Eliot.
Still, that didn’t stop Jamie from pulling Ms. Porter aside when Sophie was busy saying an elaborate goodbye to the owner. “Do you think it would be possible to get that secret agent suit in some fabric with tiny dinosaurs on it?” they whispered. “Without Ms. Heart knowing?”
Ms. Porter grinned at them. Even the most out-there suits they had created had been pretty tame compared to that request. “Of course,” she said. “Send me an e-mail, and I’ll source some fabric options for you and set you up with your own account.” She handed Jamie a business card, winking before rushing off when Richard barked her name again.
They got revenge on Sophie in three ways. First, they got her the most amazing chocolates in all of Portland, like they’d planned. Next, they’d donated a sizeable amount to the local children’s theatre program in her name, which earned her a little faux-golden plaque in the lobby, which nearly made her cry. Revenge was best served by supporting the community and making Sophie wave a hand at her eyes so she wouldn’t ruin her mascara, obviously.
Their best revenge, though, was when they went to pick up the suits. Most of the boxes would be shipped directly to a small storage unit Jamie had set up under their new alias while the suits were being made. A few still needed a final fitting, apparently, so they had to go back. Jamie stood on the little platform while Ms. Porter and an assistant did some final touches, hemming and pinning under Sophie’s watchful eye.
When the final suit was finished and either boxed up or sent back for alterations, Ms. Porter gave Jamie a nod towards the changing room. They went back, grinning when they found the suit hanging there waiting for them. It was perfect, a dark blue fabric with small white dinosaurs standing out starkly. They’d chosen a beautiful electric blue silk for the inside lining, and it had a secret pocket in there as well. Ms. Porter really was the absolute best.
When they casually walked out of the changing room, their street clothes in their backpack, Sophie frowned. She seemed to be going back over their last visit, trying to remember when dinosaurs had been part of the conversation, before noticing Jamie’s shit-eating grin.
“Oh you cheeky…” she started before catching herself.
“Thank you so much, Ms. Porter,” Jamie said, stressing their impeccable Dutch accent and shaking her hand. “It fits perfect. Do you mind if I wear this out?” They’d already paid for it. Hardison had been so proud when they’d set up their own foreign accounts under this alias, double so when they said they needed to do it to troll Sophie. Ms. Porter beamed and nodded, cheerfully ignoring Sophie’s glare. It only got worse when Richard complimented Jamie’s suit on the way out.
When they got back into the elevator, Jamie balancing a set of boxes to take to the car, Sophie let her Obnoxious American Accent drop.
“I’ve created a monster,” she sighed.
“Yeah, you really should have known better than to introduce someone with my taste to unlimited options,” Jamie agreed. In the golden shine of the elevator doors, they could see Sophie smile back at them, though, half amused and half proud.
They probably shouldn’t mention that Ms. Porter had already sent them a link to a Worm On A String Fabric for a custom shirt to go with their coat, then. They didn’t want to ruin the moment.
Yes, the floral suit was a nod to Aldis Hodge's 27th Screen Actors Guild Awards outfit. (Yes, my grandmother did have a couch with a very similar pattern.)
Chapter 13: The one where Jamie scrapbooks
The downside of being a superhero vigilante was the secret identity part. Not that they minded being part-time dishwasher and occasional-prep-cook Jamie Danvers. But they also liked being Badass Grifter Thief Vigilante Jamie Danvers, which nobody even knew about. They did all this cool stuff, took down all kinds of terrible people with the team, and they couldn’t even brag about it afterwards to their friends. Or tell Bobbi the funny story behind that news footage she was watching on her phone of a corrupt politician being escorted out of his office in clown shoes.
Sure, The Gloat was fun. It was always the best part of the job. But they wanted to after-gloat, too. They wondered if this was what comic book superheroes felt. At least 90s Peter Parker got to see his kick-ass photographs of himself in the paper. Jamie wasn’t even allowed to post theirs on a private Instagram. (Online, private is never fully private, Hardison had drilled into them.)
It just wasn’t the same, posting in the highly encrypted Leverage group chat. Everyone in there had already taken over a small country and made a guy’s nose bleed through the power of suggestion. At best they’d get a semi-condescending ‘well done’. Which they felt was an underwhelming response to literally convincing a dude they were his illegitimate grandchild through cold reading and a forty second Google search of his son’s social media profiles when they realised they were trapped in his office with no clean way out. (Dammit, Hardison!)
So instead, they were driven to this: misusing Hardison’s fancy printers to make the cutest crime-scrapbook ever. Like one of those conspiracy walls with all the string, but prettier. Look, they fell down the youtube journaling rabbit hole one evening and before they knew it they had an order of fancy brush pens, a big-ass scrapbook, and who knew how many different designs of washi tape and stickers on the way.
They started with a screenshot of the lock-picking tutorial on the night they first met Parker, and went from there. Hardison still had all the infographics they’d put on the side of the dumpster on his server, so they added those in as well, with some cute raccoon stickers.
Their training ‘field trips’ with Parker took up several pages. They even put in stills of the video they’d tried to make when Parker had shoved them off the side of a skyscraper. Their ‘oh my god I’m going to die’ face was pretty hilarious and deserved to be commemorated. Parker had commended them for not dropping the phone, saying they had Good Reflexes. They hadn’t argued, but they were pretty sure the only reason the phone hadn’t fallen was because of their desperate death grip on it.
It was fun, looking back and seeing how far they’d come. Sure, they didn’t whoop with glee when jumping off buildings now, but they didn’t scream in terror anymore. And they didn’t end up upside down like Hardison always did. And while they probably couldn’t break into a museum armed only with some tin foil and gummy frogs, with enough planning they could break into the Natural History Museum to hang out with the dinosaurs for a night.
“What are you doing?” Parker asked, peering over their shoulder as they very carefully drew little flames around the floor plans of the house belonging to a neo nazi they had broken into. Along with his valuables, they’d stolen all his creepy memorabilia to burn. That had been a good evening. They’d printed off the selfie of the four of them around the barrel, a separate little barbeque for toasting marshmallows next to it, since they didn’t want their s’mores tainted with hatred and genocide.
“Working on my crime scrapbook,” they replied, holding the picture next to three rolls of washi to see which one they liked best. What went well with ‘fuck you, nazi’? The one with the corgis at least complemented the orange glow of the fire.
“Because Hardison won’t let me post pictures of us breaking into the Met on tumblr?” Or on Instagram. Or on a billboard along the highway with a big flashing sign that said: I’m coming for your stolen artefacts, Museums.
“Of course not, that would be incriminating yourself,” Parker said. “You don’t leave around evidence for law enforcement to find,” she added, giving the scrapbook a significant look.
Jamie cocked an eyebrow at her. “You have literal vaults full of stolen artefacts and bucket loads of cash all over the world,” they pointed out. Parker considered that, then shrugged.
“But that’s money,” she stressed.
“I don’t care about money,” Jamie said, ignoring the loud, offended gasp from Parker. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s super nice to have, but it’s kind of secondary to the… the justice, you know.” Which sounded really Captain America of them, maybe they should tone that down a bit. “Okay, and the thrill of getting away with something.” The best part, of course, was when those two combined, which is why the end-of-con gloats were so important. Jamie knew Parker understood that much. She never missed The Gloat.
Parker was at least considering what they had to say, so they pressed on.
“This is kind of like your vault, but instead of stolen stuff, it’s memories of all the cool things we did,” they said, flipping back a page to show the selfie they took with Parker hanging off the Wells Fargo Center, 28 stories up. Parker’s smile was radiant next to their slightly more nervous one. It had been the first jump they’d done where Jamie had been able to bite back their scream. She’d also taught them how to cut through glass and they’d broken into a random office and rearranged the person’s office plants and pen cups.
“Aw,” Parker said, pulling the scrapbook closer. “That was fun. We should go back and see if they came to their senses and separate their blue and black pens now.”
“We totally should,” they agreed. They could bring googly eyes and little felt moustaches to put on the pots of the plants.
“I think I get it, now,” Parker said, after staring at the picture a while.
“I will hide it in a secure location when I’m done,” they promised.
“The best way to hide something like that is in plain sight,” Parker mentioned when she hopped off the desk. “Just make it look innocent. Or put a bunch of porny Avengers fanart on the cover, I’m pretty sure cops would leave that alone as well.” And without an explanation on how she knew about porny Avengers fanart, she bounced out of the room. Jamie considered going after her, before deciding they probably didn’t want to know.
From then on, Parker always made sure they stole something for Jamie’s scrapbook during a con or an outing. A pamphlet from the museum they broke into together, a business card from the evil golf course they took down, personalised stationary from the desk of the asshole CEO they were conning. She even made Hardison save some security camera screenshots of Jamie conning the shit out of security with their now down-to-pat Lost Intern Spiel.
And if maybe Jamie put a little journaling in an adorably small envelope about how it was nice to have a family that supported them and their hobbies, even if they maybe didn’t understand them, well… the cover now had a bunch of Avengers Porn on it now, so nobody would probably care to look.
Chapter 14: The one with the Leverage groupchat
The Leverage group chat was a mess.
It wasn’t just the fact that four different generations with wildly varying ways of communicating in one text-based message app was bound to have some weird communication issues. It wasn’t just that Eliot really hated the tiny buttons on his phone, or that Parker sometimes sent random gifs and nobody was every sure if they were in response to something or if she just thought they looked funny. It wasn’t even that someone should seriously sit Nate down and explain that a period at the end of a sentence meant something wildly different than what he thought in modern-day texting etiquette.
It was that their lives were so utterly bonkers.
Of course, Parker always sent the LETS GO STEAL… in the chat before they started a job. She gave zero explanations why they were stealing ‘a penguin’ or ‘tiktok teens’ or ‘a coffee shop’. Jamie wasn’t sure if Hardison filled Sophie and Nate in on a different thread, or if they just lived in confusion and then sometimes saw something on the news afterwards that made it all click. She also liked to send pictures of the tops of buildings, selfies of her hanging upside-down in elevator shafts with ridiculous filters when she was bored during a job, and snapshots of the dumpster raccoons, sometimes complete with drawn in speech bubbles.
Hardison sent memes that were older than Jamie sometimes. He also sent pictures of whatever stupid photoshop or video he made for the jobs, claiming they were so much work that someone should appreciate them. The one with Eliot in lederhosen got an immediate snarky response from both Sophie and Nate. Considering it was two in the morning in their time zone at that point, it was extra hilarious. Eliot grumbled about it for three days.
Eliot himself didn’t really type much. He’d gotten a bit better after Jamie had installed a larger keyboard on his phone that had predictive words at the top, but he still mostly kept to short responses and pictures of new Brewpub menu items. The only time he did take the time to painstakingly type something out was to complain about ‘Hardison’s latest atrocity’ whenever he came out with a new beer.
That didn’t mean he didn’t beam with pride whenever Parker, Hardison, or Jamie sent a quick photo of whatever he had been cooking into the chat. Especially if Sophie complained about how unfair it was when she and Nate were an ocean away.
Nate mostly sent articles about evil rich people like the chat was some kind of suggestion box, and sometimes articles about art thefts that Parker would respond to with ‘oh yeah that was probably ezekiel’ or ‘i told you we could have lifted that while we were there last month jamie’. Sophie sent very aesthetically pleasing pictures from whatever party they were crashing or villa they’d managed to commandeer.
Jamie was probably the most active in the chat. Well, they were a stereotypical teenager glued to their phone, so of course they were. And maybe because they sometimes fiercely missed their old family group chats. The one with all their local family, planning get-togethers and swapping recipes and egging Grandma on to diss some other church lady’s pecan pie. They missed the separate cousin chat on their mom’s side which was full of memes and song recommendations, and the one of dad’s side of the family that was mostly farm animal shenanigans. Missed that sense of connection, being part of something bigger.
They focussed on what they did have. Which, in Jamie’s case, meant a whole lot of sending pictures. Mostly of the break ins they did with Parker, wearing priceless jewels and crows, hanging the rigs just right so it looked like Parker was riding a T-Rex, doing the science experiments in the Children’s Science Museum with nobody else around.
It was worth it for the delighted reactions from Sophie and the often exasperated ones from Nate. Hardison complained that he wanted to come with them the next time they went to the science museum, and two days later Eliot sent a photo of the amazing mess Jamie and Hardison made trying to recreate one of the experiments in the kitchen. BETTER START RUNNING, the caption had read, which was all the warning they got before Eliot had found then and chased them around with a bunch of wet dish rags. Parker had filmed the whole fiasco from the rafters, and Jamie had to admit Nate and Sophie probably got a kick out of watching Eliot bean Jamie in the back of the head with a soggy sponge before tackling Hardison to the floor until he cried uncle and agreed to help clean up.
You know, normal family stuff.
They also had some private chats, of course. They planned outings and swapped funny tiktoks with Parker, shared nerdy links and memes with Hardison. They sent Eliot recipes so often they had created a shared pinterest board, where Eliot sorted recipes into subfolders of ‘not on your life, Danvers’ and ‘sure’. Apparently, just because they could make a giant Twix in the industrial kitchen downstairs, didn’t mean they should.
Sophie always answered messages as soon as she saw them. Even the one with a selfie of Jamie in their new Worm On A String printed button up shirt to match their coat. Jamie had a standing invitation to call at all hours if there was a Grifting Emergency, of course, but they usually stuck to texts. Though sometimes they would send a little voice message in a new accent they were working on, and they’d set up a time to video chat to go over some notes. They both pretended not to notice how Hardison was usually eavesdropping in the background. ‘He could use the help’ Sophie had texted them once during a session, keeping her phone out of sight and not breaking eye contact or pausing what she was saying, like a pro.
They mostly sent Nate pictures of Old Nate dressed up for the holidays. It had started with a bunch of cardboard photo booth props around Easter and kind of spiralled from there. They now had a running list of weird holidays to pester Nate about in their phone’s calendar. They’d had to get out their art supplies for National Batman Day. He always left them on read, but Sophie had ratted him out and said he chuckled at them.
Depending on the con, the group chat was either completely silent for days on end, or complete chaos. Hardison, on top of monitoring the security cameras, all their comm feeds, the company servers and the mark’s bank accounts somehow found the time to liveblog the experience. There’d be a running commentary on how sleazy the mark was, how awesome Parker was, how many guys Eliot had punched already (and, if there were no cameras, how many guys Hardison thought Eliot punched already based on the amount of different voices going ‘ouch’).
When Jamie was in the van with him or staked somewhere out of the way as a look out, they would riff off each other the entire time. Eliot found it incredibly annoying, but was just glad they kept ‘that me-me nonsense off the comms’. Which of course turned into a six day roasting of the way he’d pronounced meme.
Nate mostly kept his back-seat masterminding to himself, though sometimes he did ask which con they were running. If Parker had a feeling he was going to be a jerk about it, she let Jamie answer with made up ones. Their favourite time so far was ‘the Pomeranian Roundup, Eliot’s the circus master’, when both Hardison and Eliot had started to argue about in the chat, because the Pomeranian Roundup was the one with the magician, not the circus master. After half an hour of this, Nate had responded with ‘fine, don’t tell me’ and no period, which was apparently a sign that he was annoyed.
Someone really needed to go over proper texting etiquette with Nate.
There was an annoying beeping sound somewhere nearby. More annoying than that time Eliot and Parker had been doing recon and Jamie and Hardison had to resort to microwave popcorn. Only they’d been in the middle of a Mario Kart Death Match and they couldn’t just pause the game, so the microwave had been beeping at them in what seemed like an increasingly angry way. Like Eliot’s grumpiness had somehow been infused in the machine.
Jamie tried to get up to find whatever was beeping to turn it off, but their arms were so heavy. And they couldn’t really open their eyes. Which should have felt worrying, probably, but they also felt kind of like they were squished under a pile of sixteen duvets. Kind of heavy but also floaty. And fuzzy.
They tried to remember where they were. It wasn’t their room, it smelled weird. And their room didn’t have sixteen duvets. Though Jamie was sure if they asked, somehow they would miraculously appear on their bed. They’d learned not to say things like ‘man, I wish I had one of those’, because chances were either that it would casually appear in their room and Hardison would be pretending not to wait for their reaction, or Parker would drag them off somewhere to steal it.
Where had they been? Eliot had been lecturing about the perfect grilled cheese in the kitchen while Jamie and Parker sat at the breakfast bar. He’d already twapped Parker’s hand with the spatula twice as she tried to steal a half off the plate at his elbow, so clearly it was time for a decoy question that would make him so annoyed he’d turn to Jamie, leaving Parker open to make her move. Not something obviously meant to get his back up, like suggesting dipping them in ketchup, but maybe a question about blue cheese…
They tried to move their arm to turn off whatever alarm clock was going, but it felt too heavy to move. Had Hardison changed their ringtone as a prank again? They’d been getting better at getting back at him. Not by remote hacking, they weren’t that good yet, but the man should know better than to not check where his phone was every five minutes with a still-practicing pickpocket around. They’d asked Eliot to call him the other day just so they could both enjoy the look of horror on Hardison’s face as Never Gonna Give You Up blared out of his phone.
Something about Hardison. He’d been doing something. He’d come in with costumes and a lot of fanfare. Enough to distract Eliot, which meant Parker was able to snag the whole grilled cheese, which she graciously shared with Jamie.
“I have our costumes for the renaissance faire!” Hardison had trumpeted, looking proud.
“Who said anything about going to the renaissance faire with you?” Eliot growled, before noticing his Perfect Grilled Cheese had been stolen. “Dammit, Hardison.”
“It’s not for me,” Hardison said. “It’s for the McKinney Job. You know, the mark is using the Ren Faire as a cover to smuggle the diamonds and got Roger McKinney fired and banned for life for discovering it? We’d stand out like sore thumbs if we show up in regular clothes.” Eliot sighed, relenting. “Also it’s a little for me,” Hardison admitted happily, passing out the bags full of clothes and accessories.
“Did you know about this?” Eliot asked them, his face doing that thing where he tried to look grumpy but he was secretly interested because deep down he was just as much of a geek as the rest of them. Probably because he’d seen the sword scabbard that went with his costume.
“Hardison asked for my measurements, but I thought he was just getting a really early start on some kind of group Halloween costume,” Jamie admitted. They’d put a bid in for the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Hardison had sent back a string of emojis and a comment that he’d take it under advisement.
“Leather pants, really, Hardison?” Eliot had growled. He looked over the rest of his costume, a black tunic, white wig, and a giant-ass sword. Hardison looked unrepentant, smirking a little. Below the kitchen island, out of Eliot’s line of sight but very much in Jamie’s, Hardison and Parker shared a low-five.
“It’s trendy,” he explained. “You’ll fit right in.” Which was true. Jamie wondered how many ‘I’d toss a coin to that witcher’ jokes Eliot would be subjected to before he’d go full Dammit Hardison. Honestly, with the way Parker and Hardison were grinning, it might be before they actually got to the faire.
Parker had some kind of fancy dress with a corset, that made the guys smirk happily, and a lot of hidden and apparently historically correct pockets, which made Parker happy. Hardison had an obnoxiously poofy bard costume complete with big floppy hat with a feather and a lute. Jamie would have to text Sophie their prediction that Eliot was going to use it as a weapon at some point.
Their own bag was just a big mess of black, and they frowned until they found The Mask. It was pointy, it was creepy, it was perfect. “This is amazing,” they said, voice muffled by the point of their beak.
“I figured you’d like to be a plague doctor,” Hardison grinned. “I know what’s cool with the kids.” Through the tinted glass eyes of the mask, they saw Eliot roll his eyes. “Also, you’ve also got a ton of hidden pockets in those robes, including in the sleeves.”
The job had gone well. Parker was only marginally distracted by all the shiny rocks and trinkets (and endured a lecture from Jamie about Not Stealing From Small Business Owners surprisingly well). Eliot was maybe a little too popular with the ladies. Hardison had used his extremely mediocre lute playing and terrible medieval puns to herd the mark to where they wanted him to be through sheer annoyance. The absolutely amazing thing about the plague doctor mask, besides frightening small children, was that they got to silently laugh at the jokes without looking like a weirdo.
Except then it had all gone wrong. And… and something. Something had happened. There had been a crash, and a sharp pain, and Hardison’s frantic voice, and the sound of punching. And then some extremely non-medieval sights and sounds. They remembered being vaguely worried they’d gotten them all banned from future faires, because ambulances were Breaking The Fourth Wall. Even if the injury was very medieval.
“Hey, you’re awake,” they heard Eliot say. They felt someone squeeze their hand, gently, as they cracked open an eye. Eliot was sitting next to their bed, holding their hand through the railing. The railing of their hospital bed. Well, that explained the beeping. He’d lost his wig, but gained a few smudges that were either mud or blood on his face and neck.
He was also kind of fuzzy around the edges, which was probably because Jamie was on The Good Drugs. So that explained the sixteen duvets feeling.
“Hey,” Eliot repeated. “You remember what happened?”
“I got stabbed at the renaissance faire,” they said. It was even funnier when you said it out loud. “I mean, I always thought I would get shot, I never considered being stabbed. Being stabbed is way cooler, right?”
Eliot, either because he didn’t like guns or because he was humouring them, nodded. “Much cooler,” he agreed. He would probably know, people tried to stab and shoot him all the time. Probably even with a sword. Being stabbed with a sword was probably also cooler than being stabbed with a knife. They were killing it with this whole ‘cool nearly fatal wounds’ thing. Ha, killing it. They tried to make the joke to Eliot, but somewhere along the way, it got garbled up and they slid back into unconsciousness.
The second time they came to, they were a little more lucid. Eliot was slightly less fuzzy, and someone had given him a wet wipe, because most of the smudges were gone. They’d probably tried to make him leave to clean up before giving up when he went all growly and stubborn. Eliot was pretty predictable when it came to stuff like that.
“Hey kid,” he whispered, putting away his book. “How you feeling?”
“Like I got stabbed at the renaissance faire,” they replied, voice croaky. It was still funny, even the second time. Eliot moved to feed them some ice chips from a cup, which helped a little. “Where are Hardison and Parker?”
“At the police station,” Eliot said. At their alarmed look, he shook his head. “Giving their statements as your parents,” he clarified.
“My parents,” Jamie echoed. They weren’t sure if that was funny or horrifying.
“Your parents, Carl Danvers and Maria Danvers-Rambeau, yes,” Eliot said slowly, as if they needed to memorise it. They probably did, actually, in case anyone asked. Or he said it that slowly because they were stoned off their gourd. Or both. Both was good.
“Who does that make you, Nick Fury?”
Eliot frowned, fishing out the ID Hardison probably slipped him so if anyone asked he would be a blood relative and he could growl at the nurses and stay in Jamie’s room. He swore a ‘dammit, Hardison’ under his breath, showing Jamie the card. The world was still a little fuzzy, but they were pretty sure it said Nicholas F. Rambeau. Laughing kind of hurt, but it was worth it to see Eliot’s scowl deepen.
It must have set off some kind of alarm, because a nurse came to check on them almost immediately. Or maybe they figured laughing coming from a recovery room wasn’t a normal thing. They answered some questions, but their answers mostly came down to ‘I have no idea, because I’m high on morphine because I got stabbed at the Renaissance Faire’. For some reason, the nurses and doctor did not seem to think it was as funny as Jamie thought it was.
When the medical staff left, Eliot sat back down next to the bed again. “You should rest,” he said. “The cops are going to want to talk to you too, sooner or later.”
“What’s my alibi?” Jamie asked, frowning. They didn’t want to go to jail. Surely, Hardison had thought or something. Or at least, Parker would have made sure the diamonds were out of sight before the first responders arrived. They were pretty sure Eliot could take a cop in a fight, but they didn’t feel up to breaking out of the hospital just yet. The hospital had the morphine.
“To give your statement as the victim,” Eliot stressed. “You’re not in trouble. They already took statements at the scene from witnesses, including the guy who sells the swords, so just stick to what happened.”
Great. They’d done all these grifting lessons and then they had to tell the truth? What a waste of talent. “You’ll stay, right?” they asked, worried. They didn’t want to talk to law enforcement alone, victim or not. Hell, they didn’t want to be in this hospital alone, even if they did have the Good Drugs.
“I’ll stay,” Eliot reassured them. “I’m here until the end of visiting hours, and if Hardison hasn’t sweet-talked the staff into letting him stay in your room, Parker’s already stolen a nurse’s uniform, she can sneak in.”
And just knowing that either Hardison would oversell the bit and be best friends with the nurses before the day was over, or Parker would do something illegal was enough to calm Jamie down. They were safe. Their team had their back. So they let themself drift off back to sleep, or more likely, a morphine induced haze of unconsciousness.
“I’m just saying,” Hardison was just saying. “Why did you get a comment about how you must have had kids so young, and I didn’t? Do I look old enough to have fathered a teenager? Parker, do I have crow’s feet? Do I have wrinkles? Be honest.”
On the other side of the bed, Parker tried to comfort him: “I like your laugh lines.” Which was the opposite of helpful. Jamie opened their eyes at the sounds of betrayal and anguish coming from Hardison, because that was always funny to watch, only to come face to face with a – thankfully plush – raccoon sitting on their chest. It was very large, its cute embroidered eyes staring at them blankly.
“Errgh,” they managed in surprise.
“Oh good, you’re awake!” Parker beamed.
“But at what cost,” they croaked out. Apparently someone had lowered their dosage of painkillers, so the fuzzy good times were over. They weren’t sure they wanted to move, let alone try and sit up and push the raccoon of them. Thankfully, Parker found the bed-sitty-uppy-button and did it for them. The raccoon tumbled back into their lap.
“Should I ask?” they asked, making grabby hands at the water on the side table. Hardison leaned over to hand it to them, carefully. They winced, but managed to hold the up without spilling anything on themselves, or the raccoon.
“You get a stuffed animal when you go to the hospital,” Parker said, like it was some kind of rule. “That’s what I got when I sprained my knee, anyway.”
“Babe, you tore your ACL,” Hardison protested. Parker waved his concern away before carefully setting the raccoon upright in Jamie’s lap again.
“Does this mean Eliot has a whole closet stuffed full of teddy bears somewhere?” Jamie asked. The raccoon’s ears were very soft and pettable. It was very distracting. Or maybe that was the high dose of morphine they were still on.
“Nah, Eliot just refuses to go to the hospital,” Hardison chuckled. “Probably because else he’d have a whole closet full of teddy bears.”
“Besides,” Parker said. “They didn’t have any balloons at the gift shop that said ‘SORRY YOU GOT STABBED’.” She scoffed, like that was just an enormous oversight on the hospital’s part.
“They really should,” Jamie agreed. They should remember that for when they got home and see if they could abuse Hardison’s many printers and gadgets to make some. They could make a whole line for Eliot’s most common injuries. And maybe one for Hardison when the latest version of Lucille met its untimely but inevitable demise. “Thank you, I love him.”
Parker and Hardison filled them in on what they told the cops, and Jamie told them what they could remember from waking up. Hardison looked especially proud that Jamie had noticed the Nick Fury reference. The fact that it’d annoyed Eliot was a bonus, of course.
“So when do I get out of here?” They asked. They weren’t sure they wanted to yet. Being in the hospital was a bit terrifying, even though Eliot probably put the fear of god-or-Eliot into anyone trying to misgender them, but still. On the other hand, every time they moved it hurt. They didn’t even want to consider what it would feel like without the nice, steady drip of high grade medical drugs. Though probably Parker could steal some on the way out, if necessary.
“You’re here for another week or so at least, for observation, and a consult with the physical therapist,” Hardison said. “I’ve already got you booked in with the best one in Portland when we get back.” Of course he did. Hardison was a fretter and a planner, he needed something to do to keep his mind from spinning out of control. He’d probably also researched every stupid gadget in the world that claimed to make recovery easier for them, and read up on all the post-stabbing medication, dietary restrictions, and physical therapy exercises.
“No more jobs until you’re fully healed,” Parker said sternly and slightly hypocritically, since Amy had told them she once stopped a bunch of kidnappers on crutches.
“Oh shit, the job.” They’d completely forgotten about the job. Being stabbed was no excuse for not remembering, there were bad guys to take down and justice to dispense. They’d been so looking forward to the Gloat in their ridiculous Renaissance Faire costumes. “Did we get the mark?”
“We did,” Parker reassured them. “And his sidekick, the one that stabbed you.” Jamie hadn’t been too worried about that. The last thing they remembered was the sounds of Eliot punching the living daylights out of him. Honestly, it showed remarkable restraint that there was enough of him left to be brought into custody.
“Because the faire was travelling across state lines, it was an FBI case,” Hardison explained. “Which meant that we were able to rope in Agent McSweeten and make sure the mark will stay behind bars for a long time, with the testimonies and a boatload of evidence courtesy of special undercover agents Hagen and Thomas.” He looked smug, like he always did when he got one over on the FBI by being better at their job than they were.
“So basically, you only have to give your statement to the cops as the victim to add attempted murder onto the charges,” Parker assured them. “They’re already going to jail, you won’t have to testify in court or anything.” Which was good, because that was bound to be a disaster, no matter how good Hardison’s aliases were. Jamie knew they weren’t all there, but as far as they could tell they were both supposed to be related to Parker and Hardison – Carl and Maria Danvers – as well as not know them because they were undercover FBI agents. They were pretty sure they needed some kind of spread sheet or flow chart or something to keep everything straight.
“Now, Parker has to go bring the evidence to the Feds, but I’m going to be right here with you while you talk to the cops,” Hardison said. Jamie could see Parker chewing her lip, resettling the raccoon in Jamie’s lap once more. It was clear she didn’t want to leave them, even if she didn’t come out and say it.
“I’ll be fine,” Jamie told Parker. “Eliot told me I had to tell some version of the truth, so it’s not even like I’ll be grifting under the influence or anything. Besides, I have Hardison and Jeremy to keep me company.”
“Jeremy?” Hardison asked.
“Jeremy Ren-Faire,” Jamie clarified, waving the raccoon’s paw while Parker beamed and Hardison groaned at the terrible pun.
Giving a statement wasn’t so bad, Jamie decided. It was like grifting, only about stuff that actually happened. And also, the cop wasn’t trying to trip them up or catch them lying, they were just nodding and writing stuff down in a teeny, tiny notebook.
“This guy was running and pushing people out of the way, and people were shouting to stop him, so I figured he’d stolen a wallet or something,” Jamie told him. They left out the part about how Parker and Eliot had been the ones chasing him, because he took off with the diamonds in a double-double cross which had not been accounted for in plans one through twelve. “So I tried to stop him with a folding chair, WWE style.” Well, actually, Eliot Spencer style, but when Eliot hit people with a chair, they usually didn’t get back up again.
“How was I supposed to know he’d get up again, grab a sword from the booth next to him, and stab me with it?” they complained. They turned to look at Hardison. “Hey, do I get to keep the sword?”
“Technically the sword is evidence,” the officer said, looking uncomfortable. Jamie pouted. They felt like they should be allowed to have the sword, since their blood was on it and all.
“We’ll get you another one from the vendor,” Hardison promised them, not at all phased by the question. He also gave them a look which might mean ‘Parker will steal it out of evidence for you’. Probably. Well, Hardison was basically married to Parker and Eliot, he’d probably already worked out the contingencies. Jamie wondered how many of Eliot’s knives were ones he’d been stabbed with and just… kept, because they were Good Knives.
The cop cleared his throat, trying to get Jamie back on track. But what else was there to say? They got stabbed, the guy who did it was already in custody, the end. “And then I went ‘ouch’ and spent most of the time bleeding on the ground until the ambulance came,” they finished. They weren’t really all that sure what exactly had happened after being stabbed. They just remembered the sounds of Eliot absolutely destroying someone, and Parker and Hardison’s panicked faces in their field of vision as Parker kept pressure on the wound. “Do you need me to be more dramatic so he’ll get a longer sentence?” they offered.
“No, thank you, I think that’s all I need,” the officer said quickly, probably because he could tell Jamie was one hundred per cent serious. They’d worked with Sophie about crying on command. They could do it. But the dude scurried away before they could muster up the energy, which was probably for the best. They had a feeling if they started fake-crying, it would turn into real-crying pretty damn fast.
They made friends with the nurses. Nurse Grace admitted Jamie was her favourite patient, and not in a ‘I say that to all my patients’ way. Jamie asked if it was mostly because they were either unconscious or extremely chill due to high amounts of opioids, and she laughed but didn’t dispute it. It probably also had something to do with Hardison, Parker, and Eliot bringing copious amounts of delicious food in for the staff whenever they stopped by.
They also knew that if they needed a breather, Jamie would not only not rat them out, but also strategically place Jeremy Ren-Faire for them to hide behind. They were also not above faking pain or confusion to keep the nurses’ supervisor off their back. Nothing so bad that anyone went to get a doctor, but enough that nobody minded them sitting with the poor stabbing victim for a few minutes. So Nurse Grace totally hung out in their room when there wasn’t anything pressing she needed to do. Or when she wanted to fill out her charts in peace.
She was doing just that, Jamie half-heartedly scrolling through tiktok in bed. They’d had a physical therapy session earlier that day and it had exhausted them. Who knew everyday things like ‘walking’ and ‘bending’ could be so difficult after someone shoved a sharp metal object into your abdomen? Eliot had been with them for support, but they’d made sad puppy eyes at him until he went to grab some fancy lemon poppy seed muffins from a nearby bakery because hospital Jell-O was disgusting.
“Hey, quick question,” Nurse Grace looked up a few minutes after Eliot had left. “On behalf of like, eighty per cent of the Pediatric Nurses and a good few working the ER: is your uncle single?”
Jamie sighed. Of course Eliot had to be extra charming to the nurses while dropping off bribe-pastries at the front desk. He knew it annoyed the hell out of Hardison. The ER nurses though? They’d only seen Eliot when he came in with Jamie in the ambulance straight from the Renaissance Faire. “Was it the leather pants?”
Nurse Grace cocked her head, trying to follow Jamie’s morphine-induced logic. Okay, maybe they should have said part of that out loud. “Those probably helped. Also, possibly the fact that he was covered in blood and dirt from beating up a guy who stabbed a kid.”
“Wow,” Jamie said. “ER nurses are fucking feral.”
“They see some shit,” Nurse Grace nodded sagely, as if the paediatrics ward wasn’t insane as well. Jamie had only been there for a couple of days, and was asleep most of the time, but they’d still heard security escort out a mother screaming that she demanded her daughter get a room ‘without some gross sick kid in it’, seen a small child make a break for it in a stolen wheelchair, and heard way too much about the love life of Nurse Colby, who really should check if the patient was actually unconscious before gossiping with his fellow nurses.
“So?” Nurse Grace asked, hopeful.
“Oh,” Jamie said. “Sorry, he’s very much taken. Like, extremely taken. Don’t flirt back, he doesn’t need to be even more smug than he already is.”
“Shoot,” Nurse Grace pouted. “But noted.” She looked up at the sound of the front desk nurse laughing loudly and exaggeratedly, which she did every time Eliot leaned on the counter and smiled that annoying ‘charming southern boy’ smile. It wouldn’t be so annoying if Jamie didn’t know that his real smile, the one he reserved for Parker and Hardison, was so very different. “I should probably tell her he’s not single, shouldn’t I?”
“Probably,” Jamie agreed. “Also you should tell him to stop flirting and come bring the poor stabbing victim the baked goods he promised.”
Eliot appeared in the doorway a few minutes later, not looking in the slightest like he’d been properly scolded. But he passed Jamie a paper container with a muffin in it, and the melted white chocolate that was drizzled on top was still gooey, so that was good.
“So I talked to your doctor,” Eliot said, which probably translated to ‘I flirted with and-or bribed your doctor with pastries’. “And with any luck they should be discharging you this evening. Hardison’s making the arrangements to fly home now.” Knowing Hardison, that probably meant first class seats or some kind of private plane with one of those nap compartments so Jamie could lie down. Even though they’d been rocking this whole ‘sitting upright’ thing for a few days already.
“Great,” they said, picking apart their muffin because shoving as much of it as possible in their face was frowned upon and made conversation difficult. “I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed and not have someone check my vitals every couple of hours.” At least, they hoped not. If Eliot or Hardison tried, they were going to ask to borrow Parker’s taser.
They sat through a final visit of Jamie’s doctor and physical therapist, before officially being given the go-ahead to get the hell out of there. Parker and Hardison came up to help them get all their stuff. It was a lot, especially considering they hadn’t packed that much to take on the job to begin with. The giant raccoon didn’t help, of course. Their new sword was already waiting downstairs in the car, Hardison assured them, since hospitals apparently frowned upon having giant weapons laying around the place. The vendor at the Renaissance Faire had even given Hardison a discount when he’d explained Jamie wanted something that resembled the one they’d been stabbed with.
Nurse Grace came to get them a wheelchair, which they honestly weren’t going to say no to after this morning’s physical therapy session. It was apparently hospital policy, she had to take them up until the doors. Parker pouted she wasn’t allowed to drive, but Jamie knew that was probably a recipe for her running and then pulling up her feet so they could zoom down the hall together at top speed. Instead, Jamie asked her to please carry Jeremy, which mollified her a little.
Eliot herded Parker away, hand in the small of her back while he was bickering with Hardison about buying a fifth plane ticket for Jeremy Ren-Faire. Their faces were very close, and Hardison had that shit-eating but totally in love grin on his face, the one he got when he’d tricked Eliot into ranting about something completely ridiculous.
Behind them, pushing the wheelchair, Nurse Grace let out an ‘oh’.
A knowing ‘oh’.
An italicized ‘oh’.
She leaned over a little, so Jamie could half-see her face. “Your uncle isn’t really your uncle, is he?” she asked in an undertone, looking at the trio in front of them. Parker had managed to balance the stuffed racoon on Eliot’s shoulders like a toddler and was keeping it in place with one hand, her other arm slung over Hardison’s shoulders while he laughed and Eliot grumbled.
“I did say extremely taken,” Jamie pointed out. Nurse Grace giggled all the way to the exit.
To see Jamie and Jeremy Ren-Faire in all their glory, check out this amazing commission I got from Buttercookie-art on tumblr.
Recovering from a stab wound was a lot more boring and a lot less sexy than the semi-medieval fantasy shows of the world made it out to be. They slept a lot. Took their pain meds. Surprised Hardison in the middle of his speech about how ‘I know they can make you loopy but you need to take them’ by taking their pain meds. Jamie understood that Parker and Eliot probably had very valid trauma-based reasons for their refusal to be compromised by the sweet relief of not feeling like they were horrifically injured, but Jamie would very much like to opt out of that particular lifestyle choice. They’d take watching tiktoks of cute dogs while slightly high on opioids over the stabbing pain in their side any day of the week. (Ha, stabbing, get it?)
They did their physical therapy. Parker was pre-emptively banned from helping, because according to her, you could walk off a twenty foot fall, so you could probably walk off a stab wound. Eliot was banned from being there after four days because while he himself would just walk off a stab wound, he hovered too much when Jamie tried to work through their exercises. Instead, Hardison and Jamie worked out a system where he basically played Animal Crossing and minded his own business unless he heard a thump or yelling, and after that, physical therapy was a lot less stressful.
The real problem was when they felt good enough to hobble around and be a person again, but they weren’t healed enough to go back to work. They’d had to fight to be granted a spot back in the kitchen, where they were relegated to peeling potatoes on a stool and being glowered at by most of the kitchen staff every time they tried to get up. Apparently, murderface just came with working in a kitchen long enough, who knew. Jamie always thought Eliot had picked that up during the more unsavoury parts of his past, but Bobbi and the sous-chef had glares that could easily rival his.
But there was only so many Sims they could play before it got boring. So they decided to take matters into their own hands and take on some of the more sofa-friendly aspects of the job. Hardison had made them promise not to hack anything with security that would track back while they were under the influence of their pain medication, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t hack into shitty anti-queer Instagram accounts to shut them down.
They helped Hardison do some of the busy work of keeping aliases up to date. And if maybe Eliot’s alias Cooper McCoy checked out a whole bunch of weird titles from the library that week, well, even semi-famous chefs were allowed weird hobbies. It wasn’t anything that would put him on any watch lists, but Hardison did raise his eyebrows at ‘A Prickly Affair: My Life With Hedgehogs’ and ‘Fifty Shades of Chicken’.
They helped find future clients. Some of them came to them through word-of-mouth, of course, but sometimes they needed to be found and nudged in the right direction. Hardison had some kind of complex algorithm he was perfecting, but a lot of it was still hands-on digging. They trawled through a lot of human misery, blog posts, and fundraising efforts to find clients that had been actively fucked over by a person, instead of just the system in general.
They also took on some… well, they didn’t want to call it jobs. It wasn’t really to the scale of taking down corrupt politicians, CEOs, or other unsavoury rich and powerful people. But sometimes people needed help with run of the mill assholes and jerks as well. Kind of like a Leverage Lite™.
The team seemed fine with them taking on small cases themselves, as long as Jamie kept everyone updated and asked for help if they needed it. Since most of their work was done from the couch, that wasn’t too big of a problem. Hardison sometimes joined them with his own work, though he complained that his back wasn’t what it used to be and he needed a Proper Chair to hack in. They snorted and whispered ‘okboomer’ under their breath. The pain in their side they got from laughing at his indignant noises was totally worth it.
They spent an afternoon hacking into a creep’s devices after he threatened one of Jamie’s discord buddies that he’d release her nudes because she broke up with him. In the process of wiping all of the pictures he had of her, they also wiped the rest of his hard drive, his minecraft world, thesis, and any online backups they could find. Of course, not before sending screenshots of the threats to his parents, grandparents, school administration, and the manager at his part time job.
They talked a guy through cracking a safe to get documents, bank cards, and electronics his abusive parents had stolen from him, so he could get the hell out of dodge and go live with his not-evil aunt. Luckily it was one of the easier models, one of the first ones Parker had taught them to crack. They were in the middle of explaining how to feel and hear the click without a stethoscope when she came in. She paused in Jamie’s peripheral vision, frozen as she listened to their advice, almost as if she didn’t want to distract them.
When the relieved and elated ‘I got it!’ came through from the other end of the phone, Jamie grinned and turned to look at her. She looked surprisingly misty-eyed for Parker’s sake, but gave them a quick thumbs up before disappearing. When she came home, she had Jamie’s favourite cupcakes from the Overpriced Hipster Bakery with her, decorated with little gold star shaped sprinkles.
Well, it wasn’t every day that your thief-in-training taught someone else to crack a safe. Today, a friend of a friend, tomorrow, the dumpster raccoons.
Some of their side-gigs required a little bit of help. Sure, with enough time and effort they probably could hack into the FBI by themselves, but this was a time sensitive issue. So they texted Hardison they had a hacker emergency. It was funny to see how quickly he came bounding up the stairs to them. They handed him an orange soda and already had the gummy frogs ready next to his laptop. When Hardison took the whole scene in, he cocked his head.
“Is there really an emergency, or were you just trying to get me out of going over the budget with an angry Eliot after I maybe kind of pissed him off because I told him to just buy cheap supermarket olive oil because nobody can taste the difference anyway?” Hardison asked.
“Both can be true,” Jamie hedged, because there was no way they were going to use precious hacking time messing around with the Brew Pub security system for something as boring as ‘listening to budget meetings’. “Actually, I need help hacking into the FBI. Some activists I follow online seem to be on a watch list for, you know, trying to stop cops murdering people in the streets, and I want to get them off of it. Or mess around with the information the FBI has so they raid a neo nazi’s house instead, I dunno.”
Hardison grinned and cracked open the orange soda before diving into explaining how to best hack the FBI servers. He could make anything sound interesting, so it was both fun and educational, and a great bonding experience.
Calling Parker for help was a little different. There weren’t that many ‘help I need to steal something right now’ types of situations Jamie found themselves in while recovering. But they did run into something on their weekly ‘yes Eliot I can walk to the Overpriced Hipster Bakery by myself, yes I will bring my cane, no you cannot ask Hardison to follow me on the CCTV, that’s creepy’ walk.
Honestly, you couldn’t really call ‘help this old lady’s cat is stuck at the top of a telephone pole and is too scared to come down’ a Leverage Lite™ Emergency, but it was still Helping People. Parker didn’t really ask questions once they explained what was up, just came, shimmied up the pole, stuffed the cat inside her jacket, gave it a firm talking to about no scratching, and slid back down. And watching the nice old lady pinch Parker’s cheek and tell her she was a good girl was almost as good as The Gloat.
When they figure out they need Eliot’s help, though, they took a different approach. Calling or texting Eliot they needed a hitter was a great way to send his protective skills into overdrive, and Jamie didn’t want him to burst into their room with a knife or something. Instead, they waited until he was distracted and already punching something to bring it up.
Eliot was one of those weirdoes who didn’t listen to music while he worked out, just did the whole Intense Broody Stare thing. It did mean Jamie didn’t have to worry about startling him, though, when they plopped into one of the wheelie chairs back-to-front and loudly rattled their way over from the briefing desk to where the punching bag hung. Eliot spared them an annoyed glance before going back to his routine.
“Okay so don’t freak out,” Jamie started, resting their arms on the back of the chair while they watched him. This was of course an amazing way to freak Eliot out, which was part of the fun. Even if he didn’t show it, Jamie knew he was probably on red alert now, going over the things Jamie might have broken or other ways they might have gotten into trouble. “I need your expertise.”
Eliot stopped punching, turning to them immediately. Jamie wheeled back a little. “What did you get yourself into?” Eliot growled. Which, rude, but probably fair. “Is someone bothering you? Give me a name and I’ll…”
“No, no, not like that,” Jamie said, before Eliot could go on to list things like ‘tear their femur out and beat them with it’. “I need you to stand around and look scary.”
Eliot frowned, crossing his arms and looking exactly like he should when Jamie asked for ‘stand around and look scary’. “Is this some kind of grifter thing?” he asked. “You know you’re not allowed to impersonate the mob until you’re at least twenty, we had a deal.”
“I’m not impersonating the mob,” Jamie rolled their eyes. Besides, they could think of way more fun grifts where Eliot played their scary bodyguard enforcer guy. “It’s to help a friend.”
Eliot frowned, but went back to punching. “What friend?”
“Her name is Catras-leather-jacket and she’s an art student in Seattle,” Jamie said. “Her final art exhibition is next Friday and she’s super scared her abusive dad is going to show up and make a scene. She cut him off a few months back and he’s been harassing her more and more ever since.”
“Her name is what?” Eliot asked. Oh, right, internet n00b. This conversation would be so much easier if it were Hardison. But Hardison, while tall and surprisingly muscular, was too much of a marshmallow to look scary and threatening enough to scare off an asshole like that. Maybe they should have asked Parker instead. She could be scary, she had a taser, and she would take any username at face value, which would bring maximum funniness to the introductions.
“It’s her tumblr username, we’re mutuals,” Jamie explained, deciding not to try and explain what mutual meant or the intricacies of tumblr usernames. “People generally shorten it to Catra or Cat.”
“And you just want to go meet some stranger you met on the internet?” Eliot groused. Which was patently unfair, Jamie knew exactly who Cat was. She posted so many selfies, and they’d been talking for years.
“If it makes you feel any better, Hardison can check her out before we go,” they soothed. That was less creepy than doing it themselves, they figured, and more likely to get Eliot to shut up about stranger danger.
Which of course led to Hardison inviting himself along on their little road trip. The man was nosy as hell and wasn’t going to let Eliot meet Jamie’s cool internet friend alone. Especially not after he heard her username and saw the kickass fanart she made in her spare time. He promised to stake out in Lucille during the actual art show, checking the local security cameras and the like to keep an eye out. Jamie wasn’t sure how much Cat’s sperm donor was actually a danger, and how much it would be for her peace of mind, but it couldn’t hurt, right?
“Jamie!” a voice across the room called. They didn’t really post selfies online, especially these days when they were, you know, a criminal vigilante who was technically a runaway, so they’d told Cat to look for someone in a blue dinosaur suit. They were pretty sure Cat was very relieved that they meant ‘a blue suit with dinosaurs on it’ and not some kind of onesie contraption. Though that wouldn’t have been the most ridiculous outfit in this gallery. Art students were weird.
“You gave your name to someone you met online?” Eliot grumbled. On comms, Hardison muttered something about how Eliot was one to talk, ‘Mister Who-Am-I-I’m-Eliot-Spencer’. By the way Eliot’s eye twitched, there was a story there.
“To be fair, at the time it wasn’t my legal name yet,” Jamie said. They’d known Cat for several years and a couple of fandoms at this point. Besides, Cat didn’t know their last name. They’d keep that to themselves, especially considering how much roasting they would get if she found out their last name was actually Danvers. With a username like higher-further-faster-gayer, that was a little too egotistical.
Cat looked just like her selfies, except with less star-freckle-filter. Her make-up game was strong, her hair was bright pink, and she was wearing a black dress with little silver stars on it, with black leggings and high heeled platform boots. She was a lot taller than Jamie had thought she’d be, and it wasn’t just the heels.
“I like your shoelaces,” they said, face serious.
“Thank you,” Cat responded, her face twitching somewhere between a smile and a grimace. “I stole them from the president.”
Behind them, Eliot made a confused noise. He had long since given up on the teenage lingo and memes the younger Brewpub members (and Hardison, on occasion) used. Unless he was deliberately getting it wrong to annoy Hardison and Jamie, of course. On comms, Hardison barked out a laugh.
“This is my foster dad, here to look menacing and kick ass if you need it,” Jamie said, waving at Eliot, who looked surprised for a second. Oh. Yeah, maybe they should have asked before throwing that out there. It was the story they’d used on their closest online friends, the ones who’d known they were going to come out to their parents. They’d kind of glossed over the whole homeless situation, internet safety posts drilled into them about not letting people know you were literally a vulnerable target nobody would miss. But when they’d found their place at the Brew Pub, with Leverage, they’d spun it as foster care, which sounded a lot more realistic than ‘I got kidnap-dopted by a bunch of criminals and now I study at Crime Hogwarts’.
“And look at some art if not,” Eliot said, smiling charmingly. “Eliot. It’s nice to meet you, Catra.”
“It’s actually Emily,” Cat said, grinning. “Since some of us don’t give out our names online.”
“Rude!” Jamie splutters, over the sound of Eliot and Hardison laughing. “I come here to offer you your very own bodyguard and you betray me like that? Dishonour on you, dishonour on your cow!”
Eliot’s face was scrunched up with that expression he got when he understood a nerdy reference but didn’t want to admit it.
They wandered around, looking at the art while Eliot cased the joint for emergency exits and other places to sneak in. Some of the art was really beautiful, some of it was just really weird, and some of it… “I can’t tell if this is really conceptual and smart or just ugly and pretentious,” they muttered into their comm when they were sure the artist was nowhere nearby.
“It can be both,” a voice next to them said. They looked up in surprise at Parker standing next to them, head cocked at the sculpture, looking pleased as punch. She was wearing an outfit that was just fancy enough to be taken as ‘family member who dressed up nice’ but not fancy enough to draw attention. Her hair was put up in a braided up-do, and her makeup was minimal, and she had nothing that would jangle or shimmer anywhere on her person.
“Parker,” Jamie said sweetly. “Please tell me you didn’t stow away in Lucille so you could crash my friend’s art show and steal something.”
“Of course not,” Parker said. “I rode my motorcycle here.” Which was very much not the part Jamie was focussed on.
“Swiper, no swiping,” they said sternly.
“Security-wise, it wouldn’t be hard. There’s not even an alarm on any of these artworks,” Parker continued. “The real challenge is all the people milling around, including art students who are super aware of who’s looking at their stuff. But if someone were to create a diversion, it would probably be pretty easy.”
“Parker, I swear to god…” Jamie began. They didn’t want to ruin this for Cat. The whole point if this trip was to prevent the art show from being ruined for Cat. Even if they didn’t steal from Cat, it would still be all anyone talked about, which would take the focus away from all the hard work and amazing accomplishments of the people here.
“Relax,” Parker patted their arm. “I just got bored at home. Besides, this one is too ugly and pretentious to steal.”
“That’s fair,” Jamie agreed, sighing in relief. “Let’s go look at something else, before whoever made this tries to talk to us.”
The art gallery was a lot more fun when you were not only judging the art on whether or not you liked it, but also on how easy it would be to steal and fence. They ended up back at Cat’s paintings, and Parker immediately declared that she liked them and they were worthy of stealing. Probably because Cat used gold leaf in her paintings.
Of course Cat just happened to get back from schmoozing with whoever art students schmoozed with at these kinds of things just as Parker was explaining the best way to get a canvas this size out of the building without anyone noticing.
“Whatcha doing?” she asked, grinning when Jamie flailed. So much for situational awareness. Of course, they didn’t really feel the need, with Eliot casing the place and Hardison in the van as back-up. No way anyone dangerous was getting in here tonight. But it was still sloppy work. This wasn’t just a social visit, dammit, they were working.
“I was just explaining to Jamie how to best…” Parker started, before Jamie cut her off.
“We were playing Art Thief, and trying to imagine how to best steal your painting,” Jamie said, shooting Parker a look.
“Hey, don’t steal my paintings until I’m in an actual gallery or museum,” Cat joked, clearly not knowing that saying that was like catnip to the literal thieves standing in front of her. “I could totally spin that controversy into something and get super famous.” Jamie tried to ignore the way Parker practically vibrated with excitement at the idea.
“Cat, this is my… Parker.” They stumbled a little. While Eliot exuded Big Dad Energy, Jamie had a feeling that casually referring to Parker as a parent might trip up some emotional landmines they didn’t really want to trigger for her.
Parker beamed and shook Cat’s hand. “I like your gold leaf,” she said. “Did you use any kind of sealant to keep it in place?”
“No, actually,” Cat said. “I like the idea of it shedding little flecks of gold every time it’s moved, you know. It goes well with the theme of…”
And if Hardison murmured into their ears that Cat’s dad was making his way down the street to the front door and Eliot slipped out, neither Jamie nor Parker reacted. Instead, they let Cat talk about her art, laughing when she admitted that that piece had been inspired by fanfiction, encouraging her to keep explaining the techniques she used to what was now a slightly larger audience than just the two of them.
Jamie had tuned out most of the conversation outside – you had to learn how, on the con, three or four other voices in your head making it hard to think if you didn’t develop real selective real soon. They didn’t want to have to bite down their anger, let it flicker on their face or change their body language even a little. Cat was extremely sensitive to that, after years of living with that man. They heard enough that they had to use every single one of Sophie’s lessons to keep a pleasant face and not go out there and kick the shit out of Cat’s dad themself. Thankfully, Eliot seemed to agree.
The sound of Cat talking, nerves slowly disappearing as she started to shine with pride, and the sounds of Eliot outside beating the ever-loving hell out of Cat’s father was a remix that rivalled Hardison’s, for sure. They were pretty sure they heard a dumpster being opened and something heavy tossed in.
“He has a bunch of paint thinner on him,” Eliot growled. “And a knife.”
Jamie tried not to think of all the ways that could have escalated if they hadn’t dragged the team with them to Seattle. They tried not to think of Cat’s beautiful paintings, cut to shreds, paint dripping onto the floor. Or worse, Cat herself in a similar state. She’d said her dad had been escalating and she’d been scared in the same breath as trying to downplay it all, and Jamie wondered how much worse than what she’d said it might actually be.
By the time they’d managed to scrub that horrifying mental image from their brain, the crowd had disappeared on to other students’ work, and the chatter in their ear had died down. This probably meant Eliot was done securing the dumpster, and Hardison had a nice bolo waiting for Cat’s dad for when they eventually let him out. Parker and Cat seemed to be discussing what museums and galleries she should get her art stolen from, which was adorable if you didn’t know that Parker was one hundred per cent serious.
The evening ended rather successfully, in that nobody came to disturb the student showcase, and Parker had managed to not steal any of the artworks, or anyone’s wallets. As people started to filter out, Cat plopped next to them on one of the uncomfortable High Design benches, letting out a deep breath.
“My face hurts from smiling politely,” she complained, and Jamie laughed. “Thanks for coming.”
“Thanks for inviting me,” Jamie said, cheerfully ignoring the fact that they’d basically invited themself, and Eliot, and then dragged two extra people along with them accidentally. Cat didn’t comment on their slight twisting of reality, but did give them a look like she knew exactly what they were trying to do and she wasn’t going to stand for it.
“I mean it,” she said. “I was so worried he’d show up, and just knowing there was a plan in place, someone in my corner, it kept me from freaking out.” She blew out a breath, rolling her eyes at herself. “And to think that I was worried about nothing.”
Out of the corner of their eye, they could see Eliot tense a little from where he was pretending to look at art with Parker.
“Yeah, well, about that,” they hedged, and Cat’s head snapped up, staring at them and then looking around for Eliot. He was looking their way now, and he gave Cat a reassuring smile. The fact that his face was intact and his knuckles were not probably said enough. “Eliot took care of it.”
They could see Cat start to freak out and catastrophize, and were still trying to think of a way to say ‘don’t worry, your dad is in a dumpster and probably won’t wake up for another six hours’ without making Eliot sound like a serial killer, when Hardison strolled up to them. Somewhere in between Jamie and Eliot going inside and now he’d changed into a fashionable v-neck and blazer, looking all the world like just another fancy arty type and not like he’d been sitting in a van for five hours.
“Don’t worry, he’s in a secure location,” Hardison said, which was much more comforting than ‘Eliot stacked some heavy shit on the lid of the dumpster he was in’. “He can’t get to you, and the police are coming to pick him up for violating the restraining order you have against him.” He left out the bit about how the cops would find him with the weapons and a system full of evidence of all the shitty, hinky shit he’d been doing to terrorise Cat, and any other shit Hardison had managed to uncover on the ride over.
“I don’t have a restraining order against him,” Cat said, confused. She’d been worried it would set him off more, she’d told Jamie. Instead she’d changed her number, shut down her social media, and moved to a shitty off-campus place only her mother had the address to.
“Sure you do,” Hardison said, smiling that ‘everything is easy when the internet bends to your will’ smile.
“Cat, this is my other foster dad,” Jamie cut in, before Hardison got a little too braggy and gave away a little too much. They enjoyed being a normal not-criminal on the internet, so sue them. “He works in security.”
“I thought you said your foster parents owned and ran a Brew Pub,” Cat managed, staring at Hardison like he was some kind of wizard. Which he kind of was, and not just in his latest D&D campaign.
Hardison shrugged, looking smug. “I’m gifted,” he said, while Eliot rolled his eyes exaggeratedly behind him. His phone gave a little beep and he pulled it out. “Your father is in custody, and he won’t be getting out for a while. Do you need a ride home?”
“No, thank you, I have to help clean up, and then there’s an after-party,” Cat said, still looking slightly awed and confused. Hardison just beamed, radiating calm. When he wasn’t trying to, he could be pretty damn cool.
“Alright. We’ll leave you to it, then. Great show!” he said, pulling Parker away from the small golden statue one of Cat’s classmates had made, while Eliot slapped her hand down when she reached for it. Thankfully, someone else was on team ‘no stealing from the art students’. Parker rolled her eyes and waved over her shoulder at Cat, before wrapping an arm around Eliot’s shoulder, demanding ice cream.
“So…” Jamie said, all of a sudden awkward. Meeting internet friends now that the crisis was averted and there was no con to focus on was weird. They half-wondered if Sophie had any tips for that. After all, she gave Parker advice on how to be normal.
“So,” Cat echoed. “Your foster parents are hot.” Which was the absolute last thing Jamie had been expecting to hear. They spluttered, unable to form a sentence.
“No,” they managed to choke out. “Do not.”
“Too late, I ship it,” Cat grinned, and all of a sudden everything clicked into place. It was just like online, sending terrible posts to each other with messages like ‘if I have to see this so do you’. “They’re my new OT3.”
And yeah, maybe Jamie hadn’t been as subtle as they could have been in the introductions. On the other hand, neither had Eliot, Parker, and Hardison. “Please stop,” they managed, because while yes, Cat was totally right about them being together and ridiculously in love, those were still Jamie’s not-really-foster-crime-parents. Gross.
“Nope,” Cat grinned, popping the p obnoxiously. “I’m writing a Coffee Shop AU in my head as we speak.”
“You’re the worst,” Jamie laughed. “If I get fan art of my foster parents, I’m coming back here just to yell at you.”
And if two months later Hardison found a printed out illustration of the three of them in a coffee shop where Lucille’s keys usually were, well, Jamie hoped that he’d be too delighted to get mad at them for stealing the van. After all, they had a lunch date to keep, and some yelling to do.
As of writing this, there are no tumblrs named catras-leather-jacket or higher-further-faster-gayer. (I know, I was surprised, too.) If there are in the future, insert a disclaimer here about how it's probably not run by a teenage vigilante criminal working for Leverage.