"So, our clients' money is basically already gone, which means that, if we want for them to get anything back from this, we'll have to, well, steal from the McCarthy's." Nathan claps his hands together, looking a little too smug, and yet, unsure. He scratches the back of his head, trying to work out a plan that would work for everyone- the clients, owners of a shop in the city who were forced to pay protection money they couldn't really afford, and his crew.
Everyone stare in stern silence at the screens in the meeting room in the back of the brewpub, but no one dare to say a word. Their looks speak volumes, and besides, that conversation has already happened way too many times already, and they all know that Nathan doesn't really need a repeat performance- once he makes up his mind, he'll go through with whatever he promised he would do.
Crushed by the unsettling silence, only Becks finds the courage to rise her hand to speak. She feels a little like she was a schoolgirl, dealing with an overbearing professor who no one has the courage to stand up against because they all know it would all been useless, as he would never change his mind, firm and granitic in his positions.
"I'm sorry, but, are we talking about that McCarthy family, right? The, Irish mob family? From that mob, right? The real mob. Not just rumors. Career criminals, bloodthirsty, vengeful, lethal and who don't really have trouble taking away whoever does them wrong?" At her side, Eliot, crosses his arms, bites his lips before he could say something he would eventually regret- things he has already said enough times in the past and that Nathan doesn't want to hear again anyway – and just nods, showing the fakest smile to his girlfriend. "Ok. So, just out of curiosity, is it something you do on a regular basis? Because when I signed up for this, nobody told me anything about the mob."
"Mob, mafia, triad, cartels, the government…you sure you want the full list, sweetheart?" Eliot looks at her as to beg for mercy, asks for pardon, and Becks sighs, resigned, knowing that it's too late to walk away- and that Nate would just try to change her mind if she went and repeated who they are dealing with, exactly.
Nathan just shrugs, proud and smug and satisfied with himself- too much for his own good. "All right, we know they are planning to steal something. So, we steal it back, sell it to the highest bidder and get our clients their money back, framing the McCarthy's in the process. All clear?"
The plan makes perfect sense- although it sounds much more like a rough draft than an actual plan to begin with.
Becks sighs, resigned, with the distinct feeling in the back of her head that things will definitely go very, very badly before getting better, and that whatever Nathan is up to, things will get out of hand. Definitely.
"Guys, I think we may have a problem. I don't think we really got what the bad guys were stealing at all." Parker says through the comms, as, back at the base, Nathan and Hardison are watching at the screens with a city map and checking surveillance, not really wanting to get busted by anyone, nor the McCarthy's or the police.
"Parker, can you still get it, or is it too big to carry?" Nathan checks his watch, musing. "Because you only have another few minutes before the guards get back, and I don't want to blow Eliot's cover yet, if possible- we may still need him inside the organization."
Inside the car, as she waits for the master thief to get back from her number so that they could flee, Becks almost sees Parker shrugs with nonchalance. The scanner warns her of a nearby robbery in process, that could make them end up straight into the waiting arms of a small army of cops.
"Parker, grab whatever that McCarthy bastard stole and shove it into that damn duffel bag of yours in the next two minutes, or besides the McCarthy's, we'll be swamped with cops here, and I think we all know I'm way too delicate to end up in jail. Do you have any idea what they do in jail to the likes of me? nothing niece, that's what. Not to mention that we seem to have made enemies of all the major criminal organizations in the whole word without my knowledge!"
"All right, if you say so…" Parker simply replies.
In the background, Hardison and Eliot argue, about how dramatic, and just like Hardison, Becks sounds when she rants about not wanting to end up in jail, how it's so not true and, anyway, we both know she is the smart one in your couple.
When Eliot orders Hardison to take it back, Becks, in the car, lifts an eyebrow, and remembers her boyfriend that, if he wants to repeat what he just told, he should really go and get the couch ready.
"So, we are dying of curiosity here. What was it? What did you steal from McCarthy? Jewels? Money? Art? A batch of drugs? C'mon, Parker, show us already!" Jumping existed as a kid, Sophie rubs her hands, conspiratorially, while Parker looks at the duffel bag on the table mischievously, like she knew a secret nobody else did.
"I don't know. It kind of feels wrong to keep calling this an it, but, you know, it's just that the colors were neutral, and you said we were in an hurry, so I really didn't have any time to check it out…"
Becks swallows, eyes as big as saucer, already foreshadowing impending doom, imagining that this was the moment she was talking about when she mentioned the expression things getting out of hands/going badly. " Parker… what was is that you needed checking out?" She says, despite fearing asking the question to begin with.
Slowly, Parker opens the zipper further, and pulls the flaps of the duffel bag apart, revealing what she had hidden inside.
"Is that…" Eliot starts, eyes wide open. "Parker, tell me that's a very realistic doll and not…" Eliot hasn't yet finished the sentence that the newborn baby erupts into an incessant crying.
Yep. Definitely a real baby.
"There's been no report of a missing baby matching the description of our baby in the whole state." Hardison massages his forehead as he looks between the screens and the box where they made a make-shift cradle.
"Damn it, Hardison, stop calling it our baby! It's…. it's creepy!" Eliot hisses between clenched teeth, making Hardison rolls his eyes.
"Well, and you stop calling the baby an it! You'll give him a complex. He is a boy, he doesn't have a name, so why can't we just go with our baby for now? Maybe we should call him Junior- you know, if you try really hard, he kind of has your eyes." Hardison glances mischievous at his long time comrade in arms, smiling like a naughty boy. "Unless you don't want to, because, deep down, you are afraid of responsibility? Something Becks should know about?"
The aforementioned woman rolls her eyes, as Eliot mockingly (sort of) slaps the hacker in the back of the head, almost starting an argument that would last days, best case scenario- it's been years and Eliot is still pissed that Hardison wouldn't admit he ate his sandwich, after all. "Guys, don't you think that normal people would try to stay away from trouble when the mob is concerned? The parents of this kid are probably waiting for instructions and they may not even know yet that their kid disappeared again." They turns to look at the baby, giggling with his toothless grin as he holds a purple dinosaur puppet gently provided by Parker.
(They really don't want to know how and why Parker has a purple puppet dinosaur. Not at all.)
"She is right. If we look for the standard channels, we may never know who Junior truly is." Hardison sighs, saddened, remembering all too well what it feels like growing up without real parents- even if his Nana was the best person in the world. Maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there crying out for this child, desperate, not knowing what happened of him. "Meanwhile, what do we do?"
"We are not putting Junior in foster care." Parker muses, sad and determined, her mind going back to her earliest memories, the struggle of a family home, of wanting her just for the money and never for the love. "We need to give him baby things. Clothes, diapers, toys… oh, we could train him to be a stealing hacking crazy scientist ninja, he could be the beginning of the next generation of Leverage International!"
"We are not keeping Junior… the baby!" Becks hisses and opens her arms wide looking at Eliot who reprimands her with just a glance, as she was to say, don't blame me, it's their fault. "But, Parker is right. If we turn the baby over to social services, even if they were to find his parents, if they hadn't reported the child missing they would hardly get him back. We need to keep digging and meanwhile, we need to get some stuff for the baby."
Hands on his hips, Eliot turns to face his girlfriend, ready to lecture her, read her the riot act and see if at least she would see the light of reason. "Do you honestly think that nobody would notice that there's suddenly a screaming toddler here?"
"Oh, please. I'll do my best interpretation of the overly-worried sister, tell them that Maddie had to go to Britain with Daniel because his mother is oh, so sick, and they thought that Daniel Junior was just too small to flight, so they entrusted him with us."
"You." He mumbles. "I don't want any part in any of this, all right? You want to keep the baby for now? You look after him. And we're not rising him, and we are not calling him Eliot Junior!" He shouts quietly as he makes to leave, avoiding slamming the doors just because they are now automated.
"That's okay, he'll come around," Backs shrugs. "Meanwhile, see if you can hack into some baby registry here in town. It's time for Parker and I to do a little shopping at the expenses of some posh rich guy."
Over exited at the idea of stealing (although she would have preferred the regular kind of stealing- evading security systems, lasers, avoiding motions sensors, alarms, climbing up some building and maybe through some ventilation grilles), Parker jumps on the spot like a little girl on a sugar high.
While swiping the credit card of the rich posh idiot, making it looks like that the purchases were related to the baby list of Stewart Michael Joseph Arlington the third, two strong, muscular, sun-kissed arms grab the majority of the purchases from the check register, avoiding most of the effort to the two women- and taking care of not breaking anything, studying the purchases with care as they really mattered and they were truly his.
"I'll load this stuff on the car, honey. You take your time." Eliot says smiling, after giving her a quick, chaste kiss on the neck (she was right, he has come around and decided to keep the baby for a while). He even gave cleaned himself up nicely, he even fixed his hair (like when he pretends to be a scientist of some kind) and put on a pair of glasses. And he is wearing a proper shirt, for once, not jeans or flannel.
"Your husband is really handsome, you know? And you are so lucky, not many dads bother to go shopping with their wives for their babies. As if they were just ours!"
Becks blushes, mumbling a strangled than you, unable to deny or change the mind of the saleswoman, while Parker laughs, all excited, acting as if they were truly considering keeping the child forever, and rising him as the baby of the four of them.
Eliot wakes up in the middle of the night, finding the spot next to his in bed cold already. He grunts, lightly annoyed, and, barefoot, he walks the halls and corridors of his place of living looking for his girlfriend; before seeing her, though, he sports Hardison, still busy at the screens as he eats a brioche and drinks cold coffee on the kitchen island.
"Still looking for the baby's family?" He asks, leaning against the door, running an hand through his messy hair. Between mouthfuls of food, Hardison tries to speak, and nods, making Eliot rolls his eyes- manners, those strangers. "Have you seen Becks?"
Quickly, the hacker swallows his food, almost chocking. "Junior was crying. She carried him in the living room." Eliot nods, not even saying goodbye, and huffing he makes his way to the living room, as Hardison still calls it- there's a couch, and there are screens, but it's for jobs, mostly, still, he guesses the name could fit - where Junior is peacefully sleeping in his brand new crib, Becks melancholy watching over the baby, sitting on the couch, head bent, a distant look, a bit lost and sad.
"Hey, everything all right?" He asks her, sitting next to her and wrapping her in his arms, stroking her hair with his lips, kiss after tender kiss.
"No. Not really." Now, she knows. She knows why Eliot was so opposed to keeping the child: not only did he not want them to get attached to Junior, but he didn't want to give her false hopes, to create dreams destined to be shattered the moment they clashed with the harsh reality.
(Junior isn't their kid, and they'll never be able to be parents, to this or any other kid. It's just not their life. Not for people like them, at least.)
"Darling..." He begins to say, but turning in his embrace, she shuts him up, placing two delicate fingers on his lips.
"Just hug me, please."
The little boy's name is Andrew Carlisle, they learn after some digging almost two weeks after stealing the little kid.
His father got sick when his mother was just a few months pregnant with him, his medical expenses weren't covered by his meager insurance (oldest story of the world- it crushes Nathan, and for days he barely says a word to them, and he acts his irrational old self) and to save his life, his wife got persuaded to borrow money from the McCarthy's resident loan sharks.
But the bills had kept coming in, the interest had built up, and after selling everything she and her husband owned, just when he was finally starting to feel a little better, the McCarthy's had demanded the immediate restitution of the entire sum. When the Carlisle family had been forced to admit that they had nothing left, the right hand of the big man in charge had laid his eyes on little Andrew, and saw an opportunity for a new venture. So, they had kidnapped little Andrew, in order to sell him to the highest bidder.
Luckily, Leverage Incorporated had stumbled upon the baby before it was too late- before he got lost, before he ended up in the hands of some lunatic who would hurt him, and now, little Andrew was back home with his parents, all the stuff his "aunties and uncles" had bought him, and his parents had received some pocket money to keep the business afloat, make sure that the baby's dad would receive all the necessary cures and that they would be taken care of for a very long time.
Letting it go of "their" baby had been bitter-sweet for all of them.
Nathan had been saddened, loosing (although in a different way) another baby boy, and Sophie had been there for him, his stone, his anchor in an ocean of chaos and desperation and memories that menaced to swallow him whole. Parker had been disappointed, after having dived into the role of the fairy godmother, really believing she had the first member of the next generation of thieves in her hands. Hardison had been glad to know that Andrew was beloved, and that his parents were desperate, but didn't know what to do, didn't know how to get him back. Eliot had been the tough guy (or at least, he had pretended to), he had mumbled something but it was crystal clear that after two weeks spent actually being a parent for the little guy that he was sorry to have to go back to being "just" an hitter. Becks, who Eliot had surprised so many nights watching over the baby, who had fed him, cuddled him, cradled him, whom she had hummed old lullabies to, had not said a single word.
But, with her teeth clenched, she had been unable to hold back her tears.
"You know I wouldn't hold you back if you decided to leave because that's what you want, don't you?"
Becks, sitting in the bed she had been sharing with Eliot for a long time, lifts her tired eyes from the book on which she has tried in vain to concentrate for hours. His smile is sad, but sincere, and like the first time he kissed her to give her strength, the woman knows that the only thing he wants for her is her well-being, her happiness.
She takes off her glasses and gently places the book on the bedside table - they are both passionate about order and precision, after all - and when Eliot approaches her, she ties her arms around his neck, running her fingers through his soft, rebellious long hair, letting them tickle her skin as she draws him to her and kisses him.
"Becks, honey, if you need time, space…" He tells her sweetly, while she snuggles up against his naked chest, letting herself be soothed by Eliot's regular heartbeat.
"I wasted ten years of my life chasing after you and now you think I'm going to let you go? Forget it, man. Now I'm going to be stuck with you for the rest of your days. Until death do us part, even without a ring."
He snickers as he caresses her back with languid and calm circular movements. "I knew there was a good reason why I love you, honey."
They stay in silence for the longest time, then, Becks kisses the spot just right above his heart- there's a scar there, from an old injury that had almost gotten him killed many years before, before he even joined Nathan and Co. "I didn't think that understanding that you want something and that you will never have it could hurt so much."
"You still have time to be a mother, if this is what you want…"
"I know," she answers, sighing. "But, you're the only person I'd like to have this with, Eliot, and I know you'll never settle down - no more than this, at least. And so will I, given our past and what we do. We help people, and we go against... practically the whole world, and that's what we've always been doing, our whole lives, one way or another. But we've been lucky, because Sophie has Nathan, Parker has Hardison, and you and me... we found each other. You are my family, and they are our family, and that's okay. That's enough for me. But, for a while I played the mother of a child who had the same eyes as you, and I think I'm going to need some time to feel better. To... to recover."
He agrees, without saying a word - Eliot can be of a few words when he wants to be, sometimes he doesn't even need to talk at all, especially with Becks.
She falls asleep, reassured by his pulse and breath, while Eliot runs his fingers through his partner's red hair and closes his eyes, trying to remove from the front of his mind the image of his beloved, dressed in white, holding a newborn baby with red hair and blue eyes.