Parker always hated fairy tales. She read them as a child because she had no other choice, shoved in a corner and told to stay quiet as a mouse. Her foster parents didn't want her. They wanted some perfect princess like the girls in those story books.
But those girls were boring. Parker didn't want to be some stupid princess, not when they just got cursed and kidnapped all the time. She felt bad for the dragons who were killed by knights in armor and always lost their hoards of treasure, and the princes at the finish barely even registered.
Knights were supposed to be the heroes, but Parker didn't like them. Heroes were stiff and righteous and Parker never wanted to be held down by anything. She's the dragon, not the princess. She's a thief with wings to fly.
But then she meets the others, her own strange madcap band. Just a job at first until someone takes her money and things just spiral after that. They're not heroes, not exactly, but determined to save damsels nonetheless. Parker has fun with the stealing and the planning and the watching and she gets swept along with Nate's crusade almost by accident.
It's a gradual change, the slow realization that money isn't always the most important thing. Sometimes it's the people: the kids that no one wanted and the folks that no one sees. Suddenly Parker is the rescuer and she quite likes the feeling. She likes the way their clients smile after a job well done. There's still money – so much money – and the thief has no intention of becoming some useless princess. But maybe, Parker thinks, maybe she can be a knight instead.
Her team-mates are knights already, drunk though Nate may be. He's still riding to the rescue and fighting against giants, taking on all challengers to see his quest complete.
Their fearless leader is a cynic, but softhearted underneath. Sophie calls him a martyr, usually when she's irritated, though Parker isn't quite sure what the other woman means. Nate is not the one who thinks wrongs can be righted – if anything, that's Hardison – and Parker is fascinated by her team-mate's certainty. He's innocent in some ways, not naive but ever hopeful, and even Eliot's sheer grumpiness cannot snuff that sunshine out. Hardison knows life isn't fair but he believes it can be better anyway.
Parker takes a long time to realize that he loves her. The hacker is a hero and heroes are supposed to marry princesses. No one loves thieves or dragons and a man like Hardison deserves another knight at least.
The thief's first instinct is to run when she finally understands. But she does care about him – she would miss him terribly – and the hacker says that he will give her all the time she needs. He's prepared to wait until she figures out her feelings and his patience lets her breathe.
Parker thinks she wants to love him; she thinks she might in her own way. But for the two of them to be together, she has to be a white knight; she needs to be a hero just like him.
The thief tries her hardest. She tries to be a better person but it does not come naturally. Parker isn't normal – she doesn't know how to be normal – and she's afraid that Hardison will give up on her eventually. He's going to realize that Parker's just not worth it; she's going to mess up and lose her family.
Everything comes to a head up on the mountain. She and Eliot are trapped in the ice with the body of their client's husband and the thief is determined to bring the dead man home. This is her big moment, her chance to prove she's really worthy, and when the rope snaps, the thief just can't accept that it's impossible.
“This is what we're supposed to do! We're supposed to bring him back to his wife! Nate would do it. Sophie and Hardison would do it!” she shouts at Eliot. “They would do the right thing. I want to do the right thing!”
Parker is sobbing now, tears freezing on her cheeks. The weight of her own failure is too much for her to bear. Because she's not sure that she can do this; she's not sure she can be better. Parker will always be this damaged thing instead.
Eliot just waits her out. He doesn't try to touch her and that's good, she'd probably punch him. But his solid presence is somehow comforting.
“It's good that it was us.” the hitter says, breaking his silence when her crying starts to ease.
“Because we'd leave him,” she snaps back, the words bitter on her tongue. But Eliot doesn't flinch or take her anger personally.
“Because they would keep trying and they'd freeze to death right here,” he answers quietly. Eliot doesn't sugarcoat the situation; he doesn't try to lie. And maybe that's why the thief believes him when he tells her it's all right.
Eliot looks Parker in the eye and tells her that she doesn't have to change. She can be a hero by making the hard choices, by choosing to protect the ones she loves from pain. The thief may not be a white knight, but she can be a grey one, one who has the strength to walk away. It still hurts to leave the body. But that's the only option where they make it back alive.
So Parker sucks it up. She wipes away her tears and climbs after Eliot. They're running out of time to help their client but the thief works better under pressure and the dead man's phone is all the evidence Nate needs. She sends it down the mountain with a man who wants to kill her, trusting in her team to make it right.
But when she and Eliot arrive back at the base camp, she discovers that her messenger brought much more than that. He brought a dead man with him and as she watches a ghost tell his wife how much he loves her, she can only wonder why she's been so afraid.
Because it's not about being worthy. It's not about knights or heroes or any fairy tale.
Maybe love is just two people who want to make each other happy, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Maybe it's that simple and if Hardison still wants her, she thinks she might be ready to try pretzels after all.