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Happy Meal

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Parker's waiting in an air duct. It's not a bad air duct, as air ducts go. It's roomy enough that she doesn't feel squeezed or make too much noise crawling through it. It's not one of those exposed industrial situations where there's enough support for the duct itself but not for a hundred pound thief who's got work to do. Parker doesn't mind the minimalist look for a place she's living in, but a little more structure helps when it's a place she's stealing from. She bides her time quietly, listening to the others on her earpiece. Sophie's charming the CEO, coaxing her offsite to make a deal with Nate while Eliot takes out the security guards around the glassed-in offices Parker needs to infiltrate. Hardison's already wreaking havoc in the server room in the guise of the person here to fix the mess he made of, as he put it, their whole situation.

"Wish somebody had told me there'd be eight guys down here, not three," Eliot says over the comms. "Maybe somebody who's been in and out of this building a bunch of times in the last couple of days, huh? Maybe somebody who could have paid a little more attention to the fact that they've majorly ramped up the security in the past week?" His rant is punctuated by a heavy thud.

"Hey, man, I've been basically just in and out of this one room," Hardison says. "You want to know how many blinking lights there are, I can count those for you. I can't count a bunch of dudes conjured up out of nowhere by some security company."

There's a lot of shouting coming through, and a lot of scuffling, but Parker can still hear Eliot over the noise. "You said you had all the security cameras!" Eliot snarls. "I thought you were watching!"

"And I am truly sorry about that, baby," Hardison says, "but I only have the two eyes and both of them are looking at the screen that's gonna make sure you don't have eight more dudes to deal with."

"I ain't anybody's damn baby," Eliot tells him.

"The universal baby," Parker says, quietly because her air duct echoes a little bit. "You're our universal baby, Eliot."

"Aww," Sophie says, and Parker thinks it's for them. Sophie's been talking the whole time and Parker's kind of tuned her out. It's a skill they've all had to learn over the years. It helps that Hardison's fine-tuned the earpieces so that he can turn Sophie down temporarily while she's working. "So sweet," Sophie continues.

Eliot just growls and fights some more.

"Sounds like somebody needs a Happy Meal," Hardison says. "Get your blood sugar up. Get you a little toy. Even a grumpy guy like you can't resist a Happy Meal. Tell you what, my treat."

"I don't need a damn Happy Meal!" Eliot grumbles. There is muffled strategic thumping that ends in a quiet crunching noise. Parker winces a little. It sounded like a really good punch. It is, as Eliot would say, a very distinctive sound. She'd guess that the recipient of it has a broken nose now. "I was gonna make gnocchi tomorrow, but guess what?"

"No-cchi?" Hardison guesses.

"You're damn right!" Eliot says. There's more thumping. At least he has someone to take his frustration out on.

"Cut the chatter," Nate says.

"Just sayin'," Hardison whispers. "It says Happy Meal right on the box. Makes you happy."

"Shut up about the stupid Happy Meal!" Eliot says.

"I agree," Nate says, but then Sophie walks in with their current mark and Nate has to address that situation instead.

"I was gonna buy you dinner," Hardison says. Parker hears Nate get quieter in her ear, but not so quiet he couldn't get their attention if he needed to. "Not feeling so generous now. Would have even given you my toy. Would have sprung for the six piece nuggets, too, 'cause you're special to me."

"Dammit, Hardison!" Eliot snarls. There's one last thud and then the fighting noises are gone. There's just Eliot, breathing hard.

"Who says no to a Happy Meal?" Parker asks.

"It's not the same since they got rid of the cookies," Eliot says. "If you really thought I was special, you'd buy me a damn Lunchable or something that comes with a real dessert."

Parker laughs in delight and has to muffle it in her sleeve. The office below her is supposed to be deserted, but sound travels oddly through air ducts. She likes it when Eliot plays along. He does it more and more these days. She thinks that's a sign of something good.

"I was gonna get you one of those fried pies too," Hardison says, sounding offended. "Or a McFlurry. Like I'd leave you without something sweet. I know better."

"Good," Eliot says, smug and satisfied like he usually is after a fight.

"Can I do my thing?" Parker asks.

"Oh, yeah," Eliot says. "Coast looks clear. I'll come in and keep an eye out, though."

"I turned off the security system ten minutes ago," Hardison tells them. "Just waiting for Eliot to do his thing."

"It didn't even take me ten minutes," Eliot argues.

Hardison clicks his tongue. "Like I said, sounds like low blood sugar to me. What do you think, Parker, should we take our boy out for a meal after this?"

Parker carefully unscrews the vent cover and wiggles out the opening. "You know, I think we should."

"Take me out to McDonald's," Eliot grumbles. "Like I ain't pulled your collective asses out of the fire again."

"Can't take you to Red Lobster," Hardison says. "You haven't earned it."

Eliot growls something wordless.

"Flirting over the comms," Sophie says. "How original." She must be out of the room. Parker needs to work fast. She starts picking the lock of the office that leads into the storeroom where they keep the deep secrets of the company. Tricky, hiding it in the office of someone who isn't even that important.

"I'll buy you a Happy Meal too," Hardison says. "I just figures you were too elegant for Mickey D's."

"We all enjoy a good nugget from time to time," Sophie says.

Parker smirks. Nate's probably getting more and more cranky about the fact that they're all still talking. And then she's in, and Eliot swings around the corner and grins at her, and this is the best job Parker's ever had, and the best friends.

"I'd give you my toy too," she tells Eliot.

"Very generous," he says, doing that thing where he pretends to scowl at her but she can see that he's trying not to smile. "Pick the damn lock and let's get the goods and get out of here."

"Got my back?" she asks.

"Yeah," he says, and a little smile sneaks through. "Always."

"And that's why you're our universal baby," Hardison says.

"Keep it up," Eliot says. "I was just thinking about making gnocchi anyway, even though you clearly don't deserve it."

"You big softie," Hardison says fondly.

"I'm in hell," Nate says.

"I hope you haven't said that to Celia," Sophie says.

"No, she's headed back your way," Nate tells her. "Get ready."

"Roger that," Sophie says.

"Just saying," Parker says, feeling the lock click open and making her way to the secret door Hardison found on the blueprints. There's a panel over it, but it's not hard to find the seam where it pops open. She crouches in front of this lock. It's more complicated, but nothing she can't handle. "Somebody wants to buy me a Happy Meal, I let them."

"So I should let your boyfriend buy me dinner," Eliot says, crossing his arms and shaking his hair out of his eyes as he scans for any intruders.

"Yeah," Parker says, glancing up at him. "You should."

Eliot looks at her like he wants to say something, then scowls again. "Just pop the lock."

"Yeah, yeah," she says, easing her picks through the mechanisms. They really should have invested in something higher security. Digital, with a rolling code, something that might have convinced her to bring Hardy along with her. She smiles at the thought of Hardy rolling along through the ducts on her sturdy little wheels.

"Why are you two so on this today?" Eliot asks her.

Parker shrugs. "You take care of us. We want to take care of you."

"With a Happy Meal," Eliot grumbles.

"It's a start," Parker says, and the tumblers fall into place. The door opens.

"Talk about it later," Hardison says. "Time to move."

They do move, like a well-oiled machine. Parker downloads the files onto the special drive and locks everything back up right and tight and Hardison guides them out through a back door so Eliot won't whine about the air ducts and Eliot doesn't have to punch anyone else. It's a good job, clean and simple, and in a few days they'll get to see Celia's face when she realizes everything's about to go wrong for her, and Parker likes that part best.

"Can't believe I don't rate higher than a Happy Meal," Eliot grumbles and he and Parker pile into the back of Lucille. Sophie's already in the front seat.

"I told you, baby, you got to earn those Cheddar Bay biscuits," Hardison says.

"This all sounds very complicated," Sophie says, "but, ah, Hardison...would you mind taking us through the drive through? All this talk about Happy Meals has me longing for a burger."

"Your wish is my command," Hardison says as he puts Lucille into gear.

They buy a Happy Meal, just for laughs, and some grown people food too. Parker finds some glue and sticks the toy firmly to the counter next to Hardison's screen. Eliot smiles at it when he thinks she's not looking, but she sees, and she knows, and she smiles too.

"Baby, you got any fries left back there?" Hardison asks, and she and Eliot both reach for the bag to pass it up. Eliot frowns and jerks his head at her.

"You baby," he says.

"Us baby," she tells him, and presses the bag into his hand, because he's closer anyway. He hands it to Hardison, his eyes on Parker.

"Thank you, thank you," Hardison says without looking back. Parker nods at Eliot.

"How do you make gnocchi anyway?" she asks.

"It takes a lot of work," he says, and spends the next few minutes explaining it while she just listens and grins and thinks about happy meals.