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Understanding Sentiment

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Ezekiel was only vaguely surprised when he came downstairs to see Parker sitting at the table, playing with a small statuette from Peru. "What are you doing here?" he asked, rubbing away sleep-grit with his sleeve; she was still there when he opened his eyes again, unfortunately.

"I'm hungry," Parker replied, balancing the figurine atop the pepper grinder. "Eliot's in Japan, and Fake-Eliot makes food almost as good as his."

Ezekiel rolled his eyes. "His name is Jacob, Parker. People won't make breakfast for you if you don't use their names."

"Fine. Can we have pancakes?"

"Ask him," Ezekiel replied as he started up the French press, hearing it gurgle to life. He didn't even offer any to Parker. Anyone who gave her caffeine was responsible for cleaning the footprints off the ceiling.

To his credit, Jacob didn't even ask about Parker's appearance in their kitchen when he shuffled downstairs. "Good morning, Parker," he greeted as Ezekiel handed him a mug full to the brim with coffee. "There's apple juice in the fridge if you're thirsty."

"I know. Can we have pancakes?"

"We're out of mix, Parker, sorry. But we do have eggs. Would you like an omelet?"


Jacob smiled and planted a kiss atop Ezekiel's shock of dark hair. "Omelets it is. Will you check the mail?" he asked as he turned and started going through the fridge, taking ingredients out and setting them on the counter.

Ezekiel glanced at Parker, eyebrow arched; the blonde smiled and took the mail out of her hoodie, setting it on the table in front of him. He flipped to the puzzles page of the newspaper and started on the Sudoku. Parker filched out the comics. "Hey, did you take the Darya-ye Noor?" she asked.

"Nah. Told you, I'm not really in the game anymore, Parker," Ezekiel replied. He made the occasional exception for things that really were just too pretty to be kept in some stuffy old vault, but he did most of his thieving for the Library now.

"Not to interrupt the business talk, but breakfast is served," Jacob said. He set down their plates on the table and took his seat next to Ezekiel, who slid the crossword over to him.

"Thanks, Fake-Eliot Jacob," Parker replied; ignoring the slightly confused look from Jacob and the exasperated one from Ezekiel, she picked up her fork and started shoveling the omelet in. "I thought you might've just given it to someone else. I still don't get why you do that. I mean, why would you steal it if you're just gonna give it away? I don't give away anything I steal. I stole it so I can keep it."

Ezekiel shook his head with a smile; it wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation. "Yeah, but you also steal stuff to take down your marks, don't you?" he asked, taking a bite. Damn, Jacob made a good omelet. He didn't even mind the cowboy putting spinach in it, it was that good.

Parker shrugged. "I guess, but that's because people ask us to do that. But you don't have marks, you just take stuff and give it away to whoever. Nobody asks you to."

"The people I help don't even know where to begin to ask," he replied, which was true. How do you get back at Lady Luck? Or the entire system?

"But do you keep any of it? Like that one Botticelli or the Jacob Diamond?" she wondered.

Ezekiel nearly dropped his fork, and Jacob looked up from his crossword in surprise. Oh, bugger. He had jacked the diamond from India months ago because yeah, it had the same name as his boyfriend, and because he couldn't resist the humor of there being an actual Jacob stone. But he had never actually told the cowboy about it, and he kinda hadn't intended on ever telling him. He was still Ezekiel Jones, and Ezekiel Jones did not do sappy nonsense like that. Nope. Not at all.

"I mean, it's not even that big a diamond. It's only the fifth-largest. Nobody cares about the fifth anything. I mean, everybody knows who the astronaut guy is, but nobody knows the fifth guy who walked on the moon unless they Google it," Parker went on, oblivious of the warning glare that Ezekiel was shooting her. "And I don't care what Hardison and Eliot say, the moon landing was real. They can't steal the moon. I think Nate's a big liar."

Ezekiel wondered if kicking Parker in the shins would be worth dealing with Eliot Spencer. He was starting to think so. Eve would have his back, surely.

Parker licked up the last tiny pieces of egg on her plate and pushed back from the table. "Thanks for breakfast. It's almost as good as Eliot's. He puts that weird green stuff in it too because he says it's good for me. I'm gonna go see if I can find out who took the Darya-ye Noor." She got up and instead of going out the door, she climbed out the window and started shimmying up the drainpipe.

Ezekiel couldn't quite look at Jacob, not when his ears still felt hot. "Not a word," he muttered as he stood up and carried the empty plates to the sink, rinsing them off so he'd have something to do with his hands. He heard the chair scrape, and then warm hands slid around his waist.

"I'm going to take a shower, babe," Jacob murmured against his ear, then turned his head and planted a kiss on the side of Ezekiel's neck that lingered just a heartbeat too long to be entirely casual. He squeezed Ezekiel's waist tightly then slipped away, heading back upstairs; a moment later, the shower came on.

The thief huffed softly and cast a half-hearted glare at the window that Parker had made her escape out of. An idea began to form in his mind, and he grinned. He knew just what to do.

"Is she still mad?" Jacob asked.

Eliot scoffed. "Are you kidding? Of course she is," he replied, looking at the ornately-framed mirror propped up on the counter that held his brother's reflection. It was kinda weird to see, but it was also really cool. And nobody could hack a magic mirror, either. "Jones still hasn't said anything about it?" he asked.

"Not a damn word. It's not like him. He usually likes to brag."

The hitter shrugged one shoulder as he scraped diced potatoes into a pot that would eventually be beef stew. He avoided prying into his brother's relationships as a rule, but apparently, Parker had managed to embarrass Jones in such a way that apparently the only decent way he could get back at her was to steal one of her diamond sets. Except he hadn't given it back yet, two months later, and Parker was not the kind who forgave and forgot, especially when it came to her diamonds. Nobody could pry the damn rocks out of Jones's hands either; Eliot would've gladly beat it out of him, but Jacob wouldn't hear a word of it. So, for now, the best they could do was keep the thieves apart and try not to mention the name Ezekiel Jones anywhere in Parker's hearing. Which really sucked, since they could hardly have their Game Night without both teams there to play.

"Remind me again what it was that Parker did to make Jones think this was the best way to go?" Eliot wondered as he started on the celery next.

"She didn't mean to, really, but Ezekiel hates being embarrassed. Especially when it's something...sentimental," Jacob replied, getting that soft-eyed little smile he got when he was talking about Jones. Eliot had put up with a lot on account of that smile. Quickly, he straightened his expression out into something more serious and said, "I promise, Eli, if I get him to spill the beans, you'll be the first one I call."

"Good. We're overdue for Game Night." Eliot pointed his knife at the mirror's surface. "I still need to get you back for that Trivial Pursuit thing from last time."

Jacob laughed brightly. "Oh, please, you're never gonna beat me at that game, so you might as well give up."


Jacob opened his mouth as if to say something else, then turned his head. "And speak of the devil, Ezekiel's here. He wants to talk to you."

The historian shifted aside, and then Jones appeared in the mirror's reflection. "Spencer."

"Jones," Eliot replied even as Jacob rolled his eyes in the background. "You ready to give Parker's collection back now?"

"Nope. Tell your hacker to check his inbox. And tell Parker I found a good use for her diamonds," Jones replied with a smirk, then disappeared out of the reflection before Eliot could cuss at him because did he seriously fence Parker's diamonds? Jesus, now she really was going to kill him.

Jacob shook his head, looking exasperated. "I have no idea what he's talking about. Do you think he really sold her diamonds?"

"He better hope not, for his sake," Eliot growled, then glanced into the other room where Hardison was sitting at his computers with Parker sulking next to him, holding her little robot in her lap like a cat. "Look, I'll go see what he's talking about, and I'll call you back later, 'kay?"

"Yep. Bye, Eli."

"Bye, Jay." The reflection rippled, then cleared, only Eliot's kitchen reflected back at him. So cool. Eliot set down his knife, wiped his hands off on a towel, and walked over to the hacker's computer table. "Hardison, have you gotten any new messages?" he asked. "Jones said he sent something to you." At the dark look Parker threw him, Eliot held up both hands. "I don't know why. He just said he found good use for your diamonds."

Parker was on her feet in a flash, almost climbing on Hardison's back. "My diamonds? Did he sell my diamonds?" she demanded, trying to reach over his shoulders to poke at the computer.

Hardison slapped her hands back. "Easy, easy, mama, chill! I got it, babe. Just let me look," he insisted, pulling the keyboard safely out of her reach with his longer arms. "Here. There's a file attachment from Jones, got your name on it." A few clicks, and then it came up on the screens.

Eliot cocked his head in bemusement. There were building plans, property deeds, and a bunch of documents, some he recognised, and some he didn't. He saw a few headers with 'DSS' and 'CPS' in them. "What is all this?" he asked.

Hardison had a vaguely surprised and impressed look on his face. "It's a kids' shelter, man," he replied. "It ain't part of the foster system or Social Services at all, though it looks like it is on paper." He started scanning through the various documents and looked more impressed with each one. "There's a whole system set up. Kids that get flagged as runaways, troublemakers, or undesirables, they get transferred here, and then the program eats itself so there's no record of the transfer so nobody comes looking for them. It's pretty slick, if I do say so myself."

Parker had gone very still, and her voice was soft. "Are the kids okay?"

"Absolutely. Check it out, babe, this place is like Wonderland. I would've given a medium-to-large body part to end up in a place like this before Nana found me," Hardison replied. "From what I can see, there's no red tape or anything, no government interference at all. It's almost like a shell company, except nobody's filtering money through it. There's just kids there."

"A safe place for them to go when nobody else wants them around," Eliot noted quietly.

Hardison pulled up the last attachment in the file. It was a photo of an enormous Second Empire style mansion that was tucked between two stands of tall green trees, with a long, winding driveway that led to a spiked iron-wrought fence. The sign above the gate had only one word on it: Parker's.

There was a note attached to the photo: Am I forgiven now? -J

Parker smiled and rested her chin on Hardison's shoulder. "Eliot, gimme your magic mirror."

He retrieved it from the kitchen and handed it to her. The surface of the mirror shimmered, and then Jones's face appeared in it. "I forgive you," Parker said immediately, smiling at him. "And I think I get it now, too. Will you come over for Game Night?"

"Wouldn't miss it for the world, Parker," Jones replied. The image cleared into a normal reflection.

Parker handed the mirror back to Eliot and octopus-wrapped herself around Hardison again. "I like him," she sighed, and Hardison nodded agreement.

Eliot folded his arms over his chest. "I think I'm starting to," he muttered begrudgingly. Damn punk.

Jacob waited until Ezekiel set the mirror back on the table before grabbing him by the waist and yanking the thief down into his lap. "Jonesy, you really are the most sentimental person I have ever met in my life," he murmured, peppering kisses over his neck and shoulder.

Ezekiel smiled and leant back against the other man. "Don't know what you're talking about."

"Someone exposed you for a sap, so in revenge, you steal their diamond collection...and use it to build a children's shelter named after them." The historian smirked and laid another kiss against his cheek. "Ezekiel Jones, softest thief in the world."

"Oh, shut up."