She knew the voice. She had a name for the voice, and a face for the name. They clicked together in her head as sharply as the tumblers in the lock had fallen apart at her fingertips seconds before, as she crouched on the back bumper of a moving armored truck.
She knew the situation. They'd been thwarted. Jim Sterling always meant trouble. He had it out for them. He'd tried before to catch them in the act, once and for all, and so far, they'd managed to thwart him right back.
Sterling didn't scare Parker.
But then, she'd never been trapped, alone, with him in the back of a moving armored truck.
She didn't wait for explanations. She didn't listen to the smug preamble that she saw dancing at the edges of his lips. She was made for action. Light and fast, that was how she survived. And she always had an exit plan. Well, almost always. She might have been, according to the others, unusual in a number of ways. Maybe she didn't know how to give or take a compliment, or make small talk, or be in other ways socially appropriate. But she knew how to survive, how to run, and how to keep herself safe. Though her methods had been labelled multiple times as "crazy."
She kicked the door back open and slid out onto the bumper. She took in the street hurtling backwards underneath her, the black car that had sped up behind the truck, the grass at the side of the rode, the metal railing that for some reason always accompanied the highways to separate them from the rest of the world. She took in the air rushing past her and the weight of her own body as she tipped to the side. She took in the sound of Sterling getting up behind her and the motion of someone leaning out of the car window. She took in the guns.
If Sterling had something in mind for her, he wouldn't hurt her. At least not much. And if he planned to hurt her, well, she could get away alive. She'd been through worse. Maybe.
She'd jumped plenty of times in her life before. Mostly down, though, not vertically. This would be interesting. Hopefully fun. No scream of joy and exhilaration accompanied her leap from the van. Tires screeched as she skimmed over the fence and tumbled into the grass. She used the momentum from her roll to start running, stumbling only a little, her lithe body used to quick turns and lightning-fast reactions.
They hadn't expected her to jump. No one would expect this small human to leap sideways out of a moving truck barreling down the freeway. Except for maybe Jim Sterling, because somehow they managed to catch her, and dragged her, clawing and kicking, back to the truck now parked at the side of the street.
She heard him talking on the phone. She stared out mutely, arms crossed, leaning against the back of the truck, back pressed against the metal that had moments ago supported her agile body as she picked the lock to steal the little naked man. She was surrounded by Sterling's cronies, the bad guys, dressed in black, of course, with nice hair, even after a thrilling chase. The kind that worked in offices, in those tall buildings she loved to rappel down. The kind of people who screwed you over again and again no matter how good you tried to be. Parker knew she wasn't good, never had been. She was messed up. "Parker" had become a synonym for "crazy" in the Leverage team. The worst part was that she still couldn't see where she kept messing up. Things that made sense to her made no sense at all to other people, and the things that simply would not click in her brain seemed obvious to those around her if she was reading their incredulous glances correctly. She didn't mind being crazy. But she did mind being shamed. It had been a while since any of her teammates had shamed her. But she knew she was different. Somehow. She couldn't place it, maybe never would. But it was there. She liked the team. They worked well together. They did good things and had fun doing them (at least she always had fun). And, to be fair, they all did crazy things once in a while. These people were nice to be around. And they asked for her help a lot. All the time. It made her feel important. Needed. Or, better than that, wanted.
She listened to the voice speaking into the phone. She knew who he was talking to. And who he was talking about. She knew her team was in trouble. It wasn't all about her. It was everyone. Everyone was hurt. And she couldn't help them. She couldn't steal them back.
It had taken awhile to feel like a team. Even longer to feel like more than that. She knew she was different, but she also knew she had a place to go where she felt safe, excited, and strong. She had a purpose and it was with these people.
She couldn't believe it was all over.
He said there was a deal. A trade. Her for the statue. Parker. For something Sophie had, that Parker didn't know she had. A secret. She was being traded for a secret. If there was one thing Sophie guarded more than her own life, it was her secrets. She wouldn't give it up. Sterling wasn't going to get what he wanted. She wondered why he thought this was a good idea.
She'd been in situations like this before. Caught in the act. She was used to breaking free on her own. Even if she had been working with someone. It was every thief for themselves. If someone takes the fall, use their time to get away. Simple as that.
These people—this team—they seemed different, though. Somehow. She felt like they might try to see her again someday. She wondered if they would eventually look for her, and how long it might be before she saw them again. She wondered if she'd go to jail, maybe meet them all there. That would be funny. Even in her grim situation she stifled a smirk at the idea of the whole team in orange jumpsuits behind bars. She'd escaped jail before. It was kind of adorable how easy it was.
As they trudged up the stairs she tried to gauge the best exits of a roof she'd never seen before. If there were air ducts, getting into one would be to clumsy, and not even she was fast enough when surrounded by so many bad guys. The only other option would be to jump or climb down the side of the building. She didn't have any gear on her. They'd torn it from her, and she'd kicked and yelled worse than when they'd dragged her back to the truck. She'd never felt more naked than she did surrounded by enemies, danger, with none of her tools, none of her security, none of her lifelines. She'd watched with hollow eyes as they examined with uncaring hands every article she'd carried with her.
Any attempt at diving off the roof, then, would be a literal leap of faith. If she climbed down the side, she would likely be shot at and fall. If she jumped, she would either land miraculously and run for it, making a new life on her own, or the fall would end her. She wasn't entirely sure which was worse.
She squinted at the harsh squareness of the sunlight glancing of the sleek concrete roof. Sterling's men surrounded her. More waited at the bottom of the stairs. Sterling himself lead the way, his tread as smug as the smirk on his face. She didn't know why he was so happy. He wasn't going to get anything.
But Sophie was there.
She met Parker's eyes immediately. And it was Sophie's eyes, not the grifter eyes that had darted at her the last time they sat in a room together circling the materials of the con. They were the big round Sophie eyes scanning her and asking her if she was okay. Parker's mouth opened just a bit as if it wanted to say something, but she didn't know what it wanted to say, so nothing came out but her breath, harder now, now that she saw Sophie, because Sophie was there.
And she was talking about how to get Parker back. Get Parker back to her. Giving up the statue. It was practically dangling over the side of the building. The little naked man. And Sophie was negotiating. Finding a way to get Parker back safely.
When it was her turn to move Parker made smooth strides to the place Sophie asked her to be. She didn't take her eyes off Sophie. She stopped in the middle. "You know he's got guys at the bottom of the stairs, right?" This was Sophie. Sophie thought of everything. Always made sure the con worked. Wouldn't walk in unless she knew how to walk out. Just like Parker. So why was Sophie here, now, when they had no way to get out?
Sterling and his crew ran to retrieve the statue and Parker kept staring at Sophie, trying to figure her out, to understand. Why had she lied to them? Because she didn't care? And if she didn't care why was she here, now? Just when Parker thought she understood people, they did something to trip her up, like an unexpected turn in a lock as she fished her wire through.
"So how are you going to get us out of this?" If Sophie didn't know how to escape, if she didn't have an exit plan, if she hadn't figured out a way to get them out—that was it. Sophie thought of everything. If everything didn't work, there was no way.
"I have no idea how to get us off this roof." But she walked smoothly and confidently, and turned to Parker with a smile.
"And then I asked myself—what would Parker do?"
Sophie took off her jacket to reveal a harness wrapped securely around her, and spread out her arms to catch the wind on her fingertips. Her smile was steady and she kept her gaze on Parker as the thief smirked back.
She was taken back—briefly—to their very first job together, when she'd taken Sophie down the stairwell with her gear. Sophie's shocked face as she faced the daunting fall. Her shaking hands strapping herself into the harness. Her heart bumping against Parker's chest when she pulled her in and made the jump. Her muffled scream as Parker carried her down. She'd never really thought about it, but it must have taken a lot for Sophie—elusive, suspicious Sophie—to trust Parker, a practical stranger, in transporting her safely down what could have been a death drop.
Sophie was trusting Parker to get them down once again, and it was Parker's leap of faith that clinched the deal. She bounded into Sophie's arms, they wrapped themselves around each other, and then they plummeted down. Parker was screaming, of course, with glee.