When the young woman is done with her story, she looks up from her hands with wide, hopeful eyes, searching the faces in front of her for a reaction. There's three of them crammed into the booth across from her in the dimly lit pub, that's surprisingly empty save for the four of them.
"So what you're telling us," the pretty blonde woman in charge says, "is that there is an underground cave full of gold and gems stolen from your family and others… and all you want us to get back is a golden lamp?"
"It's not golden," she find herself explaining, "brass, maybe."
The guy sitting to the blonde's left, a few years older than her and the other man with them, narrows his pale blue eyes at her sharply, assessing, but says nothing.
"I just really need it back," she says, "you can take anything else you want, if you can manage to get it past the security. I only care about the lamp."
Before she can continue, the other man, tall and black, with a handsome face and kind eyes, speaks up. But not to her. He turns his head towards his partners, disbelief obvious across his face.
"Have you two seriously never seen Aladdin? Cave of wonders? Giant collapsing sand lion of death?! No?"
"I've seen Aladdin!" the other man protests, just as the woman is saying something about how she's never gotten to repel in a magic cave before.
"I can assure you that there's nothing magical about the cave," she offers.
"That's too bad," the blonde says, frowning slightly. "We could really use a flying carpet around here."
"There might be a kind-of working jet pack or two in the cave," she says, "I mean, I know it's not a flying carpet, but…"
She trails off as she takes in the delighted expression on the woman's face.
"We'll do it," she says, grinning widely.
"Parker," the older man says quietly, "this isn't exactly our usual type of job."
"But, Eliot," she says, glee still apparent on her face, "Jet. Pack."
"Can't argue that," the other man says, looking around Parker to show Eliot his own grin.
"What's so special about this lamp anyway, Miss…?" Eliot asks her, frowning when he realizes they never did make introductions.
"Smith," she replies, "Jenny Smith. Jennifer, really, but most people call me Jenny."
"Jennifer Smith, the tall man repeats, eyebrows raised in doubt, "the only name more obviously fake would have been Jane Doe."
"It wasn't always my name," she allows, shrugging, "but my name isn't important."
"Just the lamp," Eliot says again, "that you won't tell us anything about."
"It belonged to someone that I loved very much," Jenny says, "and I want it back. I have more money than I'll ever need, but I have nothing left of him, and I can't stand that the only thing left out there is in the hand of the people who took him from me."
Her voice cracks towards the end of the sentence, and she turns her head away sharply, willing the tears that are threatening to spill down her face to stay put.
"Hey," the tall man says, voice unexpectedly soft, "we'll get it back, ok? I promise."
"Hardison," Eliot groans and sighs in a long-suffering way.
"Sorry," Hardison says, shooting Eliot a glare.
He turns his attention back to Jenny, taking her hands in his across the table, the dark color a contrast even against her own warm brown skin.
"They told me that I have to stop promising clients things I can't guarantee," he explains.
Jenny nods, not trusting her voice just yet.
"But I can promise you that we'll try our best," he adds, releasing her hands and settling back against the booth.
"Our best is really good," Parker adds, almost absently, as if it's obvious.
And it is, Jenny supposes, otherwise she never would have heard about a band of former thieves turned Robin Hood's with a startling large success rate.
"OK", she says, regaining her composure and looking at the three of them with a wry smile. "How do you feel about Arizona?"
"I still think we're going into this with not nearly enough information," Eliot points out as they're driving into the middle of the freaking desert in the middle of the night.
"Definitely," Parker agrees, "she's absolutely hiding something."
"Definitely" Hardison agrees from the backseat of the borrowed Jeep, as he fiddles with the new and improved earpieces that won't get ruined by sand or the fact that they'll be deep underground.
"And we're just… ok with that?" Eliot asks, already shaking his head because he knows the answer.
"I just think she needs our help," Hardison says, shrugging. "We can get paid, and make a sad widow feel better. Win/win in my opinion."
"She never said they were married," Parker points out, staring out the window at the endless sandy terrain.
"Maybe they weren't," he says, "but that was the feeling I got from it."
"Me, too," Eliot agrees.
"I just really want the jet pack," Parker says.
"Lies," Hardison teases, leaning forward to press a kiss into Parker's cheek. "You want the sad widow to feel better, too."
"Shut up," she says, leaning into the kiss, bringing a hand up to cup Hardison's face briefly, trailing her fingers across his cheekbone like she's done a million times by now.
It never stops making him smile though, and Hardison presses a kiss into her palm before settling back into his seat.
"Nate never would have done this job, is all I'm saying," Eliot says, ignoring the sap going on next to him.
"Well I'm in charge now, bucko, so more driving and less doubting!" Parker says, reaching over to ruffle Eliot's hair.
"What have I told you about calling me bucko?" Eliot growls, swatting away her hand.
"That it was culturally insensitive and 'not even a real goddamn word, Parker'?" she replies, smirking.
"Actually," Hardison says without looking up, "I think his exact words were "don't."
"See?" Eliot says, jerking his head towards Hardison. "At least someone around here listens to me."
"I listen!" Parker protests. "I just sometimes forget what I've heard when what I want to say is funnier."
Hardison cracks up at that, nearly dropping the equipment but saving the box of earbuds at the last second.
"I really need some new friends," Eliot sighs, but they all know there's no heat behind it.
They drive on.
"This is supposed to be it," Eliot says, looking down at the GPS device in his hand. "These are the coordinates Jenny gave us."
"I just see sand," Parker says, squinting against the sudden swirl of sand around them. "Was it this windy a minute ago?"
"I swear, if Jafar shows up, I'm out," Hardison says. "I'm not drowning in sand. That is not how I die!"
"This isn't Aladdin," Eliot says, "I don't know why I keep having to tell you that."
"I'm just saying, the similarities are strong!" Hardison argues.
"That cactus doesn't look right," Parker interrupts, pointed out the plant a few feet from them.
"It looks like a cactus," Hardison says, but he walks towards it anyway, Parker hot on his trail and Eliot a few cautious steps behind.
"Look how strangely it's worn out," Parker says, gesturing carefully towards the sharp bits on the plant.
"It's only in a few specific spots," Hardison agrees, counting out four distinctly worn bumps across the front.
"Like a keypad," Eliot says.
"Can you hack it?" Parker asks Hardison, who is already waving a small electronic device around it.
"As much as I'd like to say I can hack a cactus, it's not giving off any sort of electronic signal. It must be manual."
"Or," Eliot says, "it's just a cactus and we've lost our damn minds."
"Possible," Hardison agrees.
"We're not crazy," Parker argues, "the situation is crazy. There's a difference."
Hardison takes a moment to be proud of her personal growth, but keeps it to himself for now, it can wait until the job is done.
"I think it's just a lock," Parker continues, shining a small flashlight over the plant, looking for the way in. "I don't think it's even a real cactus."
Before they can stop her, she's reaching out and poking her finger onto one of the sharp barbs, hissing in pain as it pierces her skin. But even as the blood starts to drip from her finger, she's grinning.
"That's definitely metal, not plant," she says, sucking her finger into her mouth to staunch the bleeding.
"Give me that, woman," Hardison says, tugging Parkers hand from her mouth. He pulls an alcohol wipe from one of the pockets of his cargo pants and wipes off the blood, before wrapping a bandaid around the cut.
"It wasn't even that bad," Parker says, rolling her eyes.
"Better safe than tetanus-y," Hardison says, shoving the trash into yet another pocket to be disposed of later.
"Where'd Eliot go?" Parker asks suddenly, realizing he's wandered off during their little moment.
The bright lights of the jeep answer the question for her, and they jump out of the way as they realize what Eliot is doing.
The military strength vehicle slams directly into the fake cactus, snapping it clean off its base. For a long moment there's just silence, and then Eliot turns off the Jeep and jumps out.
"Did it work?" he asks.
And then the ground is opening up beneath them and they're falling down into darkness.
He's gonna go with yes, then.
The soldiers are on them before their eyes have even adjusted to the dark, at least ten or fifteen of them. Eliot knocks out a few of them while he gets his bearings, and locks eyes with Parker the moment he processes what he sees, knowing by her grin that she's on the same page.
"Blinders!" she calls out, and Eliot closes his eyes tightly as she reaches into the bag strapped across her bag.
She takes half a second to make sure Hardison is doing the same before tossing something onto the ground, and then everything is bright white and filled with screaming as the soldier goes down, their night vision goggles blinding them with the sudden intense light from the flash bomb Parkers threw.
"Run!" she says, and they do, running deeper into the cave, knowing the soldiers are only down temporarily.
Finally they reach a large door at the end of a hallway, armed with two guards with serious looking firearms at their sides.
"It's a vault," Parker says, and she sounds so damn delighted that the others can't help but grin with her, even as the guards take notice.
Thankfully, the soldiers' surprise buy them just enough time for Eliot to reach them, knocking the guns from their hands before they can so much as aim. They fight back, of course, but the steel door of the vault makes Eliot's job that much easier when all he really has to do is slam them against it a few times before they slump into unconsciousness on the floor.
He and Hardison drag the guards out of the way so Parker can get to the vault. She's got her ear to it already, hands smoothing over the cold metal as she listens. It's barely a minute before she's making a noise of triumph and spinning the wheel one last time as the vault creaks open.
"Easy peasey," she says, scoffing. "Amateurs."
They take a minute to move the unconscious guards in front of the open vault door to keep it open as long as possible for escape.
Hardison turns to rush after Parker and is nearly knocked to the ground as he runs right into her where she's frozen in place.
"What is i…. oh my god," Hardison says, taking in the room around him.
"Holy shit," Eliot says, finally taking a look around.
"Hardison," Parker says, voice shaking, and oh, he knows that tone well. It usually means he's about to be so very pleasantly exhausted.
"Focus, Parker," he says, "we need to find the lamp first."
"This is more money than I've ever seen," Parker whimpers, "ME, Hardison, more than I've ever seen! Do you understand how much money that is? And that's only counting the gold. The gems are so many million more, I can't even count it all right now."
"Baby," he says, wrapping an arm around her waist from behind, "we are really short on time right now. But if we get that lamp, we can steal everything else you want on the way out."
"And then have sex on a giant pile of gold," Parker says, turning around and bouncing in place. "There's so much gold, Alec. SO MUCH."
"I don't think that'd be very comfortable," Eliot interjects mildly, reminding them that hey, he's still here too.
"Shut up, Eliot," they say in unison, Hardison getting more and more distracted by the moment. Parker's just so warm and soft against him, fingers creeping up his shirt to scratch at his back lightly.
"GUYS," Eliot all but yell, "We're going to have twenty very pissed off guards on us very soon, get a fucking move on!"
"I'm trying!" Parker says, glaring.
Hardison just whimpers into her neck.
Finally though, Parker lets Eliot pull her away and they make their way deeper into the cave, searching across the piles of treasure for a brass lamp.
"I think I found it!" Hardison calls out, reaching out to grasp the tarnished lamp sitting at the bottom of a pile of rubies.
That is, of course, when all hell breaks loose.
The soldiers storm in, at least twenty of them, this time without night vision goggles, but with even more guns.
"Well, shit," Parker says, and yeah, Hardison thinks, that about sums it up.
He's desperately trying to think of a way out of this when the cave is suddenly filled with a howling wind, blowing out every single torch along the walls, cloaking them all in complete darkness.
The soldiers are still, afraid of shooting each other, but Parker has found her way to Hardison's side silently, tucking next to him and pressing a smile into his jaw.
"How are you smiling right now?" he asks her, whispering as loudly as he dares. She just presses a finger to his lips to tell him to hush and then taps his ear. He takes the hint and listens to the stillness around them.
The leader of the soldiers is trying to get his men in order, but then Hardison hears it. One by one, they drop to the ground as Eliot gets to them, a stolen pair of night goggles strapped on. Before long, they're all in a pile on the ground, alive but incapacitated.
Only then does Parker pull out a wide flashlight from her bag, illuminating the space around them.
Eliot is catching his breath, but looks otherwise minimally harmed.
"I'm still not entirely convinced you're human," Hardison says, eyeing the twitching pile of soldiers warily.
"I'm plenty human," Eliot drawls, as he starts shoving gold and gems into all the pockets of his cargo pants.
"Notice how he didn't say completely," Hardison mumbles to Parker, but she's already filling every pocket and pouch with as much treasure as she can. Rolling his eyes, Hardison does the same. "This is absolutely the most ridiculous job we've ever done, I just want that to be stated," he says. Parker just hums in agreement and keeps on stealing.
They get back to the tiny motel they set up camp at, and Eliot immediately rents another room for the night, knowing Parker and Hardison aren't going to be sleeping any time soon. When they both show up the next morning with dozens of gold coin shaped bruises dotting their skin, he just raises an eyebrow at them and smirk.
"Worth it," Hardison says, allowing for a single moment of douchey bro-ness, bumping his fist into Eliot's with a grin.
Jenny meets them in the office upstairs this time, away from the public altogether.
Hardison hands her the lamp and she nearly bursts into tears as she hugs it to her chest.
"I'll tell you the story now, if you want," she offers, settling down on one of the armchairs, tucking her feet beneath her.
"Why not?" Eliot says, settling down on the couch across from her, Parker and Hardison piling after him.
"Many years ago," she begins, "my husband was taken by one of our enemies. A very bad, and very powerful man. My family is wealthy, but even with all of our resources, we couldn't find him. No matter what we did, he was one step ahead of us, always moving my husband just out of our reach. The worst part was that he only did this to make me suffer, we would have given him all the money we have in a moment to have my love back. And he knew this, so he kept him locked away from us, until I'd exhausted every possibly avenue for finding him."
"Why did you think we could do it, then?" Parker asks.
"Years passed," Jenny says, "with nothing. We had no idea where he was, or if he was even still alive. But then I heard a rumor. Rumor of a treasure so vast that it was kept in an underground vault, filled to the brim with gold and silver and gems and ancient artifacts of immeasurable value. And then I heard his description, the man who stole all this treasure, and I knew. Dead eyes, that's the one thing they all said, all the rumors. His hair color changed, his clothes, even his age, but they eyes were always the same. Dark and dead inside. And I just knew."
"But how could you prove it?" Hardison says, and Jenny nods.
"Exactly. But then I heard your name. And I figured that even if I couldn't get revenge like I wanted, even if I couldn't get my husband back, maybe you could give me just enough leverage for some peace. And I knew you were the only chance I had left."
"I'm sorry we couldn't get him back," Eliot says, so earnestly that Jenny can't help the laugh that spills out of her.
"You did exactly that," she says, clutching the lamp tighter. "This man stole my husband and locked him away where I would never be able to reach him, and you three gave him back to me when I thought there was nothing left."
"There wasn't a jet pack!" Parker interjects suddenly, breaking the strange tension in the room.
"I am sorry about that," Jenny says, "and for lying to you. But it was only because I didn't know if I could trust you."
"There was no jet pack?" Parker asks, slumping dejectedly.
"I'm afraid not," Jenny says, but she's grinning, her big brown eyes sparkling with joy.
"I can show you something even better, though," she says, placing the lamp on the coffee table between them, her lips quirked into a crooked smile. "But before I do, I have just one question for you."
They stare at her in anticipation, leaning forward in unison as she rubs her palm quickly across the lamp.
"Well, what is it?" Parker asks, before gasping as the lamp starts shaking in place.
Jenny grins again. "Do you believe in magic?"