They were already on their way there by the time the call came.
There was a storm, not huge, but bigger than usual, and phone lines were dead, so Hardison was worried about his Nana. Of course the first thing he did was hack a satellite to check on her home, and thankfully it wasn’t one of the places flooding, although most of the streets leading to there were covered in trees and debris.
He figured that, if his Nana was truly in trouble, she would have used the sat phone he gave her, but it wouldn’t hurt to check.
Of course, he had barely formulated that thought in his head when Eliot and Parker showed up out of nowhere saying they were coming along, before he had even said anything. They knew him too well.
So they were already on their way there by the time the call came. From the sat phone, since nothing in the city was fixed yet.
He dropped his phone, but managed to catch it before it hit anything. He quickly told her they would be there soon to see into the problem, and then ended the call.
“What’s wrong?” Eliot asked him.
“Nana just told me that she suspects someone or a group of people is taking advantage of the chaos to move children from the foster system. She said she suspected some kids were going missing for a few weeks, but now it’s dozens from all over the city, and the police won’t look into it,” Hardison answered, trying to process the information while he did it.
After a long moment of silence, Parker asked, “Can we get there faster?”
That was not how Hardison planned on introducing Eliot and Parker to his Nana, but he had also planned on coming under better circumstances. Funny how things worked, he thought they were coming to help with one thing, and then a much bigger problem appeared in front of them.
He hugged his Nana was soon as she opened the door, asking without letting go, “Are you alright? Is everyone alright?”
“We’re good, Alec, you don’t have to worry about us. You should be worried about those children,” she answered.
Hardison nodded, moving away, but still keeping a hand fondly on his Nana’s arm.
“Are this the girlfriend and the boyfriend?” she asked, pointing at them.
“Yes, this is Parker and this is Eliot.”
“We are going to bring those children back,” Parker said.
“We won’t let them get away with this,” Eliot said.
Nana smiled at them. “Oh, I know that. Alec told me everything about both of you. I know you’ll get the children to safety. Come on inside, I have cookies, and I’ll tell you everything I know about the missing children.”
Aside from places that had generators, the whole city was dark, half of it didn’t have operational phone lines, and there were only a couple cell towers working, reserved just for emergencies. At least the official body count was still in the single digits, but the infrastructure damage would take at least another couple days before all essentials were fixed, maybe a week for the whole time to get back to normal.
There was no telling if those kids had a week, but they weren’t going to find out.
Hardison felt out of his element. The internet was out of the question, but they needed what was in those social service computers to figure out what was happening.
It was Parker’s idea to steal the computers and plug them in somewhere with power, and Eliot was the one to suggest on top of a police station, because unlike hospitals they didn’t need their generators to last all that much. Hardison would have protested to physically hacking computers on top of a police station, but they didn’t have enough time to argue, not when things were this serious.
If that storm hadn’t happened, they would have found those children already. Everything was harder now that he couldn’t do his thing, but they wouldn’t give up until those children were safe.
The same chaos that helped the kidnappers - human traffickers, as Hardison had discovered, working with two corrupt social workers to take away children - was now in their way.
Hardison hoped beyond hope that they hadn’t moved any of the children yet. It would be much easier to retrieve them if they were all in the same place. Especially if that place was locked in a couple of school buses that were cut off from going forward or back by a couple of big trees that fell on the street. Sometimes things were just lucky like that.
The bad guys even made it easier for them, by doing the rounds outside the buses while they waited for a way out, instead of staying inside with the children. Hardison didn’t even see what Eliot did to them, he and Parker had each a bus full of children to calm down, but he could hear enough to know that Eliot was making them regret their lives of crime.
He focused on his children instead of what Eliot was doing. There was no question that Eliot could take care of himself, and the children were terrified.
“Everything is going to be alright,” he said, counting the children with his eyes. Ninety, if Parker’s bus had eighty-seven, that meant that all the children were accounted for. “You’re safe now.”
He kept talking to them, trying to keep them calm until it was safe to take them back, and he prayed that Parker had all the other children.
“It was lucky that they were waiting to move the children in larger batches,” Eliot said, as they watched the social workers - the ones Hardison had vetted and knew that could be trusted - taking away the children, giving them blankets and hot cocoa.
“One hundred seventy-seven,” Parker said, “we would never have found them if the buses had left.”
Hardison put his arms around both of them, caressing their arms with his thumbs in a soothing manner. “But we found them, just in time. We have to thank Nana for the tip, by the time this was flagged, it would have been too late.”
They went back to tell Nana the good news, and stayed for dinner. Hardison tried not to look smug when his Nana cooked them a meal good enough to impress Eliot, despite not having gas or electricity, but he couldn’t help but smile when he noticed how much Nana had liked both Eliot and Parker.
This wasn’t the meeting that he had planned, but his family was together, and they saved all those innocent children, so maybe that was all that mattered.