A/N: As promised, here is Parker's view of the events from last chapter. I upped the rating for this because it went a bit darker than I originally intended so I am issuing a WARNING for brief, non-graphic implication of some unsavory events. There are also a few spoilers for some later episodes, for things only Parker knows now, but the team learns about later. Specifically: The Future Job and The Inside Job, maybe a teeny bit of The Boost Job, but haven't we all seen every episode by now?
The Finding Trust Job (2)
Parker was starting to like her four coworkers at Leverage Consulting and Associates almost as much as she liked Archie, which was about as much as Parker liked anyone. What was more, she kinda-sorta trusted them, too. Which was weird, because Parker really didn't trust anyone but herself. And maybe Archie. She had learned, among other things, that people almost never did anything for someone else without wanting something in return.
So far, these four people didn't seem to want anything from her beyond her doing her part of the jobs. She had a pretty steady income of lovely money from their "alternative revenue stream," and she didn't have to be quiet and unnoticed around them to feel safe. Hardison and Sophie liked when she talked with them, and even if she didn't really talk about normal-people things, they made her feel a little normal. Eliot liked quiet, but he would tell her things straight if she asked, and she had figured out pretty quickly that most of his growling was only for show. Sometimes he would say there was something wrong with her, but there was never any malice in his words. Nate she wasn't too sure about yet, but he was drunk most of the time so she didn't talk to him much anyway. None of them ever tried to make her be not-Parker.
But maybe she was beginning to trust these people a little too much, because she let Eliot take her completely by surprise. When she heard Nate writing away her precious, beautiful money, Parker didn't really think she just acted. She didn't even know what she had planned to do, she just had to save her money. Save their money...OK, save the client's money. Whoever's money it was, Nate was just giving it away!
She had run out in the hallway only to get Nate's attention, she had no intent to ruin the plan...and then it happened. Strong arms suddenly wrapped around her and she was lifted bodily off the ground. Before she could try to fight it, she was overcome with a flood of memories, not one of them remotely good. When the arms finally set her down and let go, she pulled away from them but found herself blocked by the intersection of two walls. She pressed herself into the corner they formed and tried to get her breathing under control, remind herself where she really was.
She wanted to get as far away from those constricting arms as possible, but their owner was blocking her only escape. Their owner...it wasn't some stranger bigger than herself who would take her away or do something unthinkable...it was Eliot, Eliot who had never hurt her, who even when in a bad mood was a solid steady presence, trustworthy and safe.
But she didn't feel safe right now, and Eliot didn't look like himself. Eliot looked shocked and stricken and a little sad and all kinds of other not-Eliot words. And she couldn't look at him because it was Eliot but it also wasn't and not-Eliot looked like he wanted to apologize or hug her or something and she couldn't handle that right now.
Eliot had stepped backward like he wanted to give her space, but she startled again when Hardison poked his head out of the MRI room they had stolen. She liked Hardison, he didn't ever scare her or try to take away her control. But he was one more person, and she didn't need another person near her right now, she needed two fewer people. She thought he started to say something, but then Eliot moved again and not-Eliot was all calm and gentle when he spoke, "Parker, l..." and it was too much. So she ran.
In the shelter of the hospital ventilation system, Parker curled around herself and listened to the quiet echo of her own breathing. She shuddered as the memories came unbidden and a few tears managed to leak out through her tightly-closed eyelids. She knew in her heart Eliot hadn't meant to scare her or hurt her, but Parker didn't like being forced to go where she didn't want to, and especially when she had no control over it whatsoever. People who were bigger and stronger than her thought that gave them the right to do what they wanted with her.
A lot of people might be surprised, but Parker could vaguely remember a time long ago when she was happy. Normal-people happy. When she had a real mother and father who loved her, and a baby brother who adored her. But that had ended one thundery night with a knock on the door and a rain-drenched policeman I'm sorry and a babysitter pointing at her and tiny Mattie What do I do with them? and Parker was never normal-people happy again.
The images came like flashes of lightning; the babysitter leaving, will I still get paid? a strange woman arriving neighbors said no other family, no emergency contacts listed and then you and Mattie are going to come with me now and is there anything you want to bring with you? Parker, who wasn't Parker then but would always be Parker now, had only clutched her Bunny under one arm and held Mattie's hand tightly and refused to move. If they weren't home when Mommy and Daddy got back, they would be worried. She had been a quiet child to begin with, but now she couldn't find any words at all to convey that worry to this woman. But it didn't matter anyway, because the policeman had eventually just picked her up, and the woman had picked up Mattie and that was the first time Parker was carried where she didn't want to go.
The second time, Parker had blood on her hands. Quite literally, because she had been huddled over Mattie's broken bleeding body as he slipped away. The man who lifted and carried her away then had been a neighbor, a kindly old man though she didn't care about that at the time, because her foster parents were too busy comforting their real kids. And it was her fault anyway, because that bicycle had belonged to their real son and she should have known better.
The third time, which was not just one time, had been a foster brother, an older boy. Why are you crying? I thought you liked being tickled?
The fourth time it was the policemen who dragged her out of the bait car when she refused to leave it. Damn that Kelly, he ran and just left her to get caught! That ended with her in Juvie which was almost but not quite as bad as the first three times. Or the next.
The fifth time she was out of Juvie, had escaped the foster system, and was providing for herself with the proceeds from Archie's tutelage. Archie never invited her home, but that was OK because she had a home. A scummy little apartment in a run-down old building but it was hers and it kept her underage self off the radar. She had a taser, a gift from Archie, but you can't use a taser when your arms are pinned from behind and she didn't want to think about the fifth time in the alley behind her building in the dark, or the smell of fetid breath anymore.
Now, in the vent shaft, Parker gradually succeeded in pushing the memories back where they belonged, deep down into her sad and angry place and her tears slowed. She uncurled and crawled to the nearest vent access and peeked out through the slotted cover. She saw Eliot down below. Of course he would have followed her, he took the well-being of the team very seriously and he would want to be sure she was OK. But she wasn't OK right now, and she couldn't face not-Eliot. Almost as if he felt her thinking about him, he glanced in her direction but she knew he couldn't see her, and he wasn't likely to check the vents. She crawled through them all the time for jobs, but she didn't think the others knew she found them comforting. No one could sneak up on you in a vent shaft. And after how she had reacted to being restrained, Parker thought Eliot would assume she had gone somewhere high and open.
Parker felt a bit more in control of herself now, and she could think more clearly. When she had gone back to Nate in the park after that first job with the Nigerians, what she had told him was true: she didn't know how to stop doing her one thing. But since then, she had been learning other things. Normal-people things. And even if he hadn't intended it, Parker was learning new things about planning elaborate jobs from watching Nate. And she was learning things about normal people behavior from Sophie, and things about computers and friendship and having fun from Hardison. Maybe she could learn something from Eliot, too.
Decision made, Parker waited for Eliot to turn the corner out of sight then popped the vent hatch and, ignoring the startled gasps of visitors and patients in the hallway, dropped out of the shaft and exited the hospital.
She made it back to the hotel suite before the rest of the team. With Eliot off searching for her, the others had to handle cleanup and disposal of their stolen corpse. No one was very happy by the time they returned, and it didn't take long for the fight over the money to erupt. Eliot kept glancing at her like he wanted to say something, but she avoided looking at him. At least he wasn't entirely not-Eliot anymore, because not-Eliot wouldn't have growled at and threatened Nate.
She knew her avoidance of Eliot during the remainder of the job bothered him, but what she wanted to talk to him about needed to be done alone, and they weren't ever alone enough. So she kept avoiding him because he would have tried to apologize and that would be not-Eliot again and she didn't want that right now.
Hardison knew something was wrong. He kept trying to ask her what had happened back in that hallway, but she said she was fine, even though she knew he didn't believe her. He didn't push her too hard though, and he didn't seem to mind if she used him as a buffer between Eliot and herself. He at least respected it when she didn't want to talk. Unlike Sophie who could be so suffocating sometimes! She just knew something was wrong with Parker and she tried several times to get her alone just to "chat." Parker wasn't stupid, she knew Sophie was trying to grift answers from her but Parker didn't want Sophie to fix this so she just ignored Sophie, too.
Back at the offices, with the debriefing finished, Parker decided she couldn't put this off any longer, she needed to talk to Eliot. She had successfully avoided him for the remainder of the job and on the flight home. But now they were planning a new job and Parker wanted to clear the air. This next job would be dicey. It would require Eliot running interference for her and handling a lot of guards while she did her thing. Parker was afraid Eliot would refuse to take the job if he thought she no longer trusted him to keep her safe. Trust was everything to Eliot, and he knew Parker didn't give her trust easily.
She stood in the doorway to Eliot's office and just watched him for a moment. Eliot looked distracted, tired, he was looking like not-Eliot again. Normally, she wouldn't bother with knocking. Normally, he would have noticed someone standing in his doorway. Maybe the real Eliot would come back if she knocked like he always growled at her to do.
When he glanced up, she saw something like relief in his eyes, and she took the seat he indicated across from him. Parker struggled to figure out how to put into words what she wanted to ask of Eliot. Nothing Sophie had taught so far her really covered this.
"Did you need something Parker?" Yeah, I need you to be the real Eliot again. Because maybe it wasn't a matter of two different Eliots, but two versions of the same Eliot. What she thought of as the real Eliot was the growly one, dangerous and safe at the same time. The other Eliot, the calm, gentle, caring Eliot, was someone he usually kept hidden. It bothered Parker to see it boldly on display, because it seemed a violation of his privacy, his need to be in control of himself. Her real Eliot was straightforward and concise, so Parker took a breath and blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "You know things, things about fighting. What should I have done?"
"Done? Parker, I think we need to talk about..." No no no, the real Eliot didn't do talking and feelings.
"When you picked me up. What should I have done to get away?" She looked up at him, trying to drive her point home.
But he still wasn't listening! "I'm sorry I grabbed you like that. I...I didn't know. I was afraid you'd blow the con." Real Eliot didn't do apologies, either.
She smiled a little, tried to remind him. "Blowing the con would have been Nate's fault, but you stopped me so it's OK."
And there was something of the real Eliot in his voice when he growled, "It's not OK, Parker! I scared you badly and I wish I hadn't. I should have noticed you didn't like being touched. Or taken by surprise like that. You're supposed to be able to trust me."
Parker looked away again. Sophie would have said Eliot put too much blame on himself for things. She would have used words like "guilt" and "self-recrimination" and "repentance" and "atonement," but none of that mattered to Parker right now. She just needed to make the real Eliot see that she wasn't scared of him, so he could stop being not-Eliot. "You didn't hurt me, and I wasn't really scared of you. I ran away because I needed to be alone for a while."
Eliot seemed to be considering that, and she let him think about it for a few minutes. Problem was, it gave her time to think too, and she didn't really want to think about that right now. She tried again. "Tell me what I should do next time...to get away." It came out as a whisper.
Parker had a good idea what Eliot might be thinking. He wanted to get all protective and tell her it would never happen again on his watch, but then he would realize he couldn't watch all of them all the time. So, he would agree to do the next best thing.
"OK Parker, I can tell you what you should have done, or I can teach you. But that would involve more touching. Would you be OK with that?" Finally!
"I'd be expecting it so, yeah. Will you teach me how to fight like you?" And there it was, that pinching of the bridge of his nose that sometimes came with there's something wrong with you. He didn't say it this time but the improvement was definitely there.
"I'll teach you some things so you can protect yourself if I'm not there." Parker let her smile show. She knew if she kept pressing him, Eliot would teach her everything he could. It was in his nature to be thorough like that.
Eliot, real Eliot, turned very serious then. "But there's a condition: If I am there and I'm tellin' you to run, givin' you an out, you GO. Got it? Don't stick around and fight. That's my job." And now Eliot was all the way back, all growly seriousness and protective instinct. And he'd just better remember that touchy-feely was SOPHIE'S job!
"OK then. We could practice in this gym I know, my buddy owns it..."
"No gym, too many people." That was one thing she couldn't handle yet. If she did have another flashback, despite her assurance that she'd be OK with the hands-on training, she trusted Eliot would know how to handle it. He understood now, he would give her space and time and he would be that solid steady presence. And his next words showed that he understood what she hadn't said.
"...or we'll use the big room here at the end of the hall, the one Hardison wanted for storage. I'll need a couple days to get some practice mats and things in, OK? I'll let you know."
Parker smiled again, mission accomplished! She bounced up to leave, then on impulse turned back to him. She reached down and hugged him, awkwardly but it was a real hug. And because she wanted to be sure he knew, she whispered, "I do trust you, Eliot." And before not-Eliot could try to make a comeback, she left.
A/N: That's the end of this episode tag, but I do have a few ideas for longer multi-chapter stories floating around...