Parker’s cell phone rang in the middle of the break down for a new job, startling everyone, but especially Parker. She’d set that ringtone for only three people and since the set date for check-in was still three months away, that meant trouble. She walked away from Nate and the others without an explanation and went up to Nate’s bedroom for privacy.
“Hello?” she answered cautiously.
There was silence for a moment then a woman she didn’t know hesitantly asked, “Is this Petra?”
Parker scowled and started to panic. She hadn’t gone by her given name since…a very long time ago. Instinct said to end the call, but this woman was calling from her brother’s phone and using a name no one should know. “Who are you? How did you get this number? Where did you hear that name?” she demanded hotly.
“My name is Penelope Stamp and I’m calling on behalf of Bloom. He was going to talk to you himself, but…well, he needs a minute. This is very awkward,” Penelope finished wryly.
Parker ignored that last bit and asked, “Is Bloom okay? Where’s Stephen?”
She heard a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the phone and stilled. “What happened?”
Penelope took another breath and said softly, “Stephen’s dead.”
She’d thought the day Neal went to prison was one of the worst of her life. It paled in comparison to what she was hearing now. This was the phone call Parker had never wanted to get and it brought back memories she’d left buried for years.
The four of them had been through the system enough to know that Diamond Dog was going to be trouble- their own personal Fagin- but they had nowhere else to go. They forged bonds against a common enemy that would last a lifetime. Nicolai, Stephen, and Bloom immediately closed ranks around Petra; figuring their new guardian would take an unhealthy interest in the little blonde. Diamond Dog did take an interest, but only to hone her skills as a thief. Nicolai, Petra, and Stephen realized too late that Bloom was the one who paid the price for Petra’s safety. Once they did, though, they made it their mission to get out from under Double D’s thumb and make their own way in the world.
One night, as they finalized their plans, Petra said out of the blue, “I’m changing my name to Parker.”
The three boys looked at her. Stephen scoffed. “Why would you want to change your name? And why Parker?”
Petra got that stubborn look that never boded well for any of them. “Because, doofus, the system knows me as Petra Rossavich. I don’t want them to be able to track me and I sure don’t want Double D to find me. And I like the name Parker. Like Cher and Prince. If one name is good enough for them then it’s good enough for me.” She narrowed her eyes and silently dared Stephen to make fun of her.
He surprised her by nodding seriously. “I see your point. I might have to think about changing my name, too.”
“I like being Bloom,” Bloom said softly.
The newly dubbed Parker gave him an awkward hug and assured him, “Then that’s who you should be. Someone’s got to stay the same or we may never find each other again.”
He gave her a crooked smile and Parker smiled back. She didn’t have the people skills the other three had, but they liked her anyway. That worked for her.
Nicolai looked thoughtful and she nudged his leg with her foot. When he focused on her she knew he was re-inventing himself as they spoke. “Who’re you gonna be, Nicky?”
“I kinda like the name Neal,” he answered with a shrug.
They all nodded and Stephen asked, “Neal what?”
Nicolai shrugged. “Don’t know yet, but I’m sure you’ll know my name before too long.”
“Caffrey,” Bloom offered shyly.
Nicolai looked at him. “Why Caffrey?”
Bloom shrugged. “Neal Caffrey sounds kinda suave, don’t you think? You’re addicted to Cary Grant movies and the Rat Pack. Neal Caffrey sounds old school. It’s also about as far from Nicolai Vetrov as you can get.”
“He has a point,” Parker agreed.
Stephen just shrugged when Neal looked to him for his opinion. Nicolai grinned at his friends. “Neal Caffrey it is, then.”
Parker, Neal Caffrey, and the Brothers Bloom.
The world had no idea what was about to hit it. Diamond Dog may have been a pedophile, a thug, and an all around bastard, but he’d been a good teacher and they’d all learned their craft well. All four of them knew they’d go far in their respective cons and heists.
“We’ll keep in touch, right?” Bloom asked fretfully. He hated sounding needy, but Pet- no, Parker- and…Neal were as much family now as Stephen even if they weren’t blood related. And family was important to him.
“We’ll figure out a way,” Parker said decisively.
Neal nodded his solemn agreement and Stephen shoved his brother in the shoulder. “Like I’m gonna leave you on your own, goof.” Bloom looked sheepish, but pleased.
Parker pulled out her pocket knife and before any of the boys could stop her she cut her palm and chirped, “Blood pact!” The other three groaned, but obligingly cut their palms and sealed the promise to always find a way to find each other.
The methods changed over the years: PO Boxes, newspaper ads, drops at a specific location, and then came the wonderful invention of the cell phone. That made things so much easier.
The sound of Bloom’s thick voice brought Parker back to the present.
He never had been able to give up calling her that. Hell, he still called Neal ‘Nicky’. She kind of loved that about him even as it irritated her to be reminded of who she used to be. Parker swallowed. “I’m here, brother mine. What happened?”
“Diamond Dog.” There was a wealth of information in those two words, a story that she knew she needed to hear, but now wasn’t the right time.
“He’s a dead man,” she stated flatly.
“I can’t ask you-“ Bloom started and Parker cut him off.
“You don’t have to. I’ll take care of it, Bloom. Just tell me if you want in on it or not. Have you talked to Neal?”
“I- I think I have to. I owe it to him, you know?”
Parker nodded even though he couldn’t see her. “I know.”
“I haven’t talked to Nicky yet. With his situation…” Bloom trailed off, but Parker understood. Being at the beck and call of the FBI and having to wear a tracking anklet made life a little tricky, but Parker was good at tricky.
“I’ll talk to him,” she promised. “It’s time to put the Dog down for good and you know he’ll want to be there.”
“Thank you,” Bloom said simply.
“I’ll call you soon and get the full story,” Parker said. They said their goodbyes and she turned off her phone.
She stood there in Nate’s bedroom, eyes closed, and let herself remember Stephen Bloom. He was an ass to everyone unless he was running a con. He was slightly less ass-like if he really liked you, but that was reserved for a select few. She’d always been closer to Neal and Bloom, but knew that Stephen would be there if she’d ever needed him. Now he was gone and her world felt a little hollow.
“Parker?” She turned slowly and met Alec’s concerned brown eyes. Nate, Sophie, and Eliot flanked him. “Everything okay?” he asked.
She stared at them for a long moment, weighing the pros and cons of introducing her new family to her old one, and made a decision. They were all good at tricky, too, and she really couldn’t do this on her own. “No. My brother was murdered. I want the man responsible to pay.”
Sophie made a soft sound of sympathy and moved to hug Parker. She stood stiffly for a moment then relaxed and returned the embrace. Parker met Nate’s eyes over Sophie’s shoulder and read the question in them. She moved back from Sophie and said, “He’s not my real brother, not actual family, but he is, you know?”
Alec nodded in understanding. “Foster?”
Parker nodded. It figured that he would get it. Parker sank down onto Nate’s bed and the rest of the team found places to get comfortable. It made a weird kind of sense to her that they were going over this in such a personal space instead of downstairs where they planned their jobs. Made it feel more like family. It made it easier to talk to them.
“There were four of us. It was the last placement before we all decided to take ourselves out of the system. I guess we recognized kindred spirits or something and we actually let ourselves get close. We were family. Unfortunately our guardian recognized what we were, too. He was our Fagin. Took us to Europe to teach us. Nicky, Stephen, and Bloom all tried to protect me, but it was Bloom that needed it. The things Double D did to him…” a tear rolled down her cheek, but Parker didn’t wipe it away.
“Wait,” Sophie said, holding up a hand. “Are you talking about The Brothers Bloom and Diamond Dog?”
Parker blinked at her, barely registering Eliot’s growl, and willed the memories of late nights spent holding Bloom as he cried while Neal and Stephen tried to fix him up away. “You know them?”
Sophie nodded, tears welling as she realized what Parker was telling them. “I…mentored them for a while after they left that mongrel. They’re natural born geniuses at the long con. Is,” she took a stuttering breath, but managed to get the question out. “Is Bloom dead?”
Parker shook her head. “No. Stephen.”
Sophie closed her eyes and her tears spilled over. “What happened?”
“I don’t know the details. I- I couldn’t…and I don’t think Bloom…I don’t know. Bloom just told me that Stephen was dead and Diamond Dog did it.”
Sophie nodded and tried to compose herself. She pulled Parker into another hug and whispered in her ear, low enough that only Parker heard her, “You’re Petra, aren’t you?”
Parker froze. Bloom and Stephen had talked about her after they parted? Then she slowly relaxed and nodded minutely. If Sophie had had anything to do with helping Bloom get over what happened to him then Parker could handle her knowing her real name.
Nate spoke up then. “Parker, you said there were four of you. Who’s the other one?”
Parker pulled away from Sophie and met his gaze levelly. “He goes by the name Neal Caffrey.”
Nate choked on the sip of coffee he’d just taken. When he got his breath back, he wheezed, “You’re kidding.”
“No. Three of the best con men in the world are the closest thing I have to family. Well,” she looked down, not wanting to see their expressions, “until you guys.”
Sophie’s arm settled around her, offering silent comfort and support, and Parker let her head rest on Sophie’s shoulder. Sophie wasn’t usually so physically demonstrative with Parker; none of them were and she usually liked it that way. Diamond Dog had left a mark on her as well, even if he’d never actually done anything to her. But she was finding that she didn’t mind the contact right now. It was what it was meant to be: comforting.
“We’ve got your back, Parker,” Alec said earnestly. “Anything you need.”
She smiled at him wanly and he grinned at her in return.
Eliot hunkered down in front of them and took one of Parker’s hands into his. She looked at him and he asked roughly, “You want Diamond Dog to suffer or do you just want him dead?”
Eliot nodded once, “Alright then,” and squeezed her hand before standing.
Nate waved his hand. “Wait a minute. We’re the good guys, remember? We don’t kill people,” off Eliot’s look he amended, “anymore.”
“Ah,” Alec interrupted as he looked up from his handheld where he’d started a preliminary search, “I think we can make an exception in this case, Nate. This Diamond Dog is seriously bad news.”
“He’s a monster,” Parker said softly.
Eliot folded his arms across his chest and gave Nate a stubborn look, clearly siding with Parker. “I know his kind, Nate,” was all he said.
Nate looked at Sophie, hoping she would be the voice of reason, and she gave him a sad smile. “I agree with them, Nate. I’ve seen firsthand the effects of his work. He’s an animal and should be put down like one.”
Nate started to throw his hands up in the air, but remembered his coffee cup just in time. “I don’t know that I can be a party to cold-blooded murder.”
“Bloom was twelve the first time Double D took him,” Parker whispered.
Eliot swore and violently shoved a hand through his hair. Alec went pale and Sophie whimpered. Nate stared open-mouthed at Parker for a long moment then snapped his mouth shut. He nodded curtly. “What do you need from us?”
“I need to talk to Neal. He’ll want to be a part of this.”
Nate scrubbed a hand over his face. “Parker…Caffrey is tethered to the FBI in New York right now. There’s no way-“
“We’ll find a way,” she interrupted. “We always do. Neal is brilliant.”
“He got caught,” Nate pointed out.
Parker started to say something, but Sophie broke in, hoping to head off the row before it could really get started. “We lure Diamond Dog to New York then.”
Parker paused and her eyes went vague as she thought that through and decided that that might be the best option. Neal was the only one who couldn’t move freely and trash like Diamond Dog died in New York all the time. Neal was sure to have some ideas and Bloom probably would too once he was thinking straight again. “That might work. I need to make some phone calls,” she finally said.
She stood up and looked at her team, her family. “Thank you. I-“ she shook her head, “just, thank you.”
As she walked by Alec, he whispered, “We’re family, Parker. We’ll take care of our own.”
She squeezed his arm. “I know.”
Parker had a feeling that Neal and Bloom would fit in well with the Leverage team, but those thoughts were for another time.
She turned her phone on again and dialed her brother’s number from memory. “Neal? It’s Parker. I’ve got some bad news.”