They’ve got a problem.
Several, actually, with varying levels of importance. Each one has been carefully considered and ranked on a scale of lowest to highest priority. If anyone asked Parker exactly how she came up with the ranking system she has going on in her head, they’d probably say her priorities are a little off. There’s a lot of things going on, some pretty pressing things, and the majority in this situation would probably rank the same specific thing as most urgent. While she would like to agree, at the current moment it’s placed slightly lower than that at medium-high on her list.
Debris hits the window with a loud thwack. Parker doesn’t startle, doesn’t even open her eyes; everything is loud and has been for two whole days. So far, the hurricane that’s raging outside has not torn the roof from their hotel or smashed through the window. Their room is dry and comfortable, which is more than she can say for the outside world with the torrential rain and the strong wind that sounds like a freight train and that she definitely saw lift a car off the ground when she was watching the news last night.
Hurricane Lori is problem number one. Nothing can really be done about it, though. You can’t solve a hurricane, and since it’s outside and Parker is inside, she’s considering it virtually a non-issue at this point. Hurricane Lori is low priority.
A cell phone chimes and Parker does open her eyes. Across the room, sitting on a gray cushioned chair upside down (from her perspective, at least; she’s thrown herself backwards off the edge of the bed and has her head nearly touching the floor) is Eliot, who pulls his phone out of his pocket. He opens up a text, reads it, glances in her direction and sees her already looking.
“Shipp,” he says.
“Cops moving?” she asks.
“Mhm, gatherin’ in the conference room,” he replies, pushing himself to a standing position with a grunt.
Parker puts her hands down to the floor, lifts her legs up and over her head and backbends off the bed. “Let’s go then,” she says, heading toward the door, earning her another grunt in response as he follows.
The cops are problem number two. Being trapped by a hurricane in a hotel with a dozen cops is definitely not on the list of situations Parker would love to find herself in at all ever, but when those cops are suspected to be corrupt and are casing the place for some yet-unknown reason, that’s a whole different ball game. She and Eliot came to figure out whatever it is they’re up to and put a stop to it. Obviously, checking the weather forecast was not part of the planning they put into this, but involving marshal Maria Shipp was. As Maria’s a cop herself, Parker figured teaming up could prove useful, and it turned out the band of sketchy cops was already on her radar, so she quickly agreed to help. The cops are bad news. The cops are why they’re here.
The cops are currently sitting at that medium-high level spot on Parker’s list.
Eliot peels off toward the elevator as Parker make her way down the stairs from the second floor to the hotel lobby. With a quick scan, she spots Maria casually strolling in through the opposite hallway where her room is. When the elevator door opens and Eliot steps out, she pulls her hoodie over her head and makes a beeline for the marshal, bumping into her with a casual “Oops, so sorry!” as she passes her a comm. Parker keeps going as she puts in her own.
“Conference room C,” Maria says in her ear.
“C for cops,” Eliot says, and Parker knows without turning around that he and Maria are falling into step. “Must be smart if they can spell.”
“Mmm, offensive,” Maria replies playfully, “but clever.”
Is it, though? Parker continues down the hall and turns left when it splits off. With a quick look around to check that the coast it clear, she heads directly for the vent tucked behind a decorative stand. She moves it out a bit, pries the vent grille off easily (the screws she loosened yesterday when she needed to go in and map out the building and do a little surveillance), backs herself in and pulls the stand back in place and the grille back on.
Ahhhh….vents. The cool metal that surrounds her feels like home. Parker wiggles in place and releases a happy little sigh.
“Let us know when you’re in position, Park.”
Oh, right. She makes a little affirmative sound as she backs out of her corner.
It doesn’t take her long to crawl her way there. The hotel really isn’t that big, and honestly, the conference rooms could probably be classified as small meeting rooms if anything. One is hardly big enough to squeeze that many cops in at once, but these guys are making it work. She hears their voices overlapping each other as she nears.
“I’m in,” she says lowly when she can see them through the slats.
“Alright, good,” Maria says. “We’ll search Hudson’s room for anything of interest, you hold your position and listen for anything useful. Warn us when they’re leaving.”
She doesn’t really need to be reminded of her role here, but she sees no value in sassing the marshal for being bossy; that’ll get them nowhere. And if they want to continue using her then, well, Parker can suck it up and let her be the boss. For now, at least.
One voice rises above the others, attempting to quiet the rest of them. It’s Hudson, Parker thinks as she moves forward a little to get to the next grate for a different vantage point and, yep, that’s him. Hudson’s the leader of this outfit.
“I’m not sure what’s so damn hard about this,” he sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “We have the blueprints, it’s not like there’re some secret passageways hidden in this dump, it’s just that none of you can be bothered to look hard enough.”
Hudson also appears to be kind of an asshole. More of an asshole than any other crooked cop she’s run into.
“We are, sir,” another guy replies. “There’s only so much space we can cover without arousing suspicion.”
“Who the hell’s around to get suspicious? Look outside, McGill, nobody cares about what we’re doing! Most everyone who’s here is holing up in their rooms.”
“Well, um,” the same guy, McGill, starts, “can’t go searching their rooms if there’re people there.”
“McGill, I swear to god—”
“Instead of checking places we clearly don’t have access to right now,” another voice interrupts hurriedly, “let’s work on getting into the basement. Door to it is locked, but locked doors don’t have to stay that way.”
“Now there’s somebody using their brain,” Hudson says pointedly, and Parker can see him throwing a look over in the direction of someone else. Probably that McGill guy.
Hudson continues on then, but Maria’s voice in her ear distracts her from listening.
“Ohhh, now look at this.”
“Just our man’s notebook full of secrets,” she replies, and Parker hears pages flipping and then disappointment in Maria’s voice as she continues, “which the bastard wrote in in code.”
“So that’s out, then?” Eliot asks.
Parker frowns. If only Hardison were around; Hardison’s excellent at cracking codes.
“Please,” she says, “like I don’t know how to figure out a code.”
A beat, then, “You’ve got people for that don’t you?” Parker can picture Eliot’s raised eyebrow when he says it.
“I do, in fact, have people for that,” Maria replies, and Parker can hear the flirtatious smile in her voice. “We’ll see if I can get ahold of those people in this weather, but give me a few hours and I’ll get back to you.”
“—sleep a couple hours and we’ll get to work,” Hudson says.
“Oh, they’re wrapping up now,” Parker says quickly as Hudson opens the door and he and his men move to file out of the room.
“Well, that’s our cue, I suppose,” Maria says. “I’ll give you this.” She must have given him the comm back and started walking, because as she continues, her voice is a little quieter. “And I guess I’ll be seeing you in a few hours.”
“Or sooner,” she amends very, very casually.
Parker waits until all the men have left the conference room, then moves on herself. Instead of going back the way she came in, she decides to take the long way and climb up through the vents to get to their room on the second floor. Once she reaches it, she hovers quietly by the grate and looks out to see Eliot sitting on the edge of the bed as he uses the remote to flip through channels on the muted TV. After a moment, he gets up and heads to the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. Parker climbs out of the vent then, and as she lands, Eliot’s phone that he left on the dresser beside her dings twice in quick succession. Parker looks down to find two messages from Maria.
Kind of lonely in these hotel rooms.
Wish I had someone to ride. Out the storm with me.
Doubtful that any part of the text was accidental, Parker tsks as she moves across the room to the chair Eliot sat in earlier and plops herself down.
Maria Shipp is very bold.
Maria Shipp is kind of bossy.
Maria Shipp is not on the list of problems.
The toilet in the bathroom flushes, the faucet runs, and then Eliot steps out again. He spares her the briefest of glances before his gaze flits away to look at the floor as he goes to get his phone. Parker squirms a little.
“Everything alright on your end?” she asks as he picks it up.
“Was just—” He cuts off as his phone lights up, and she watches as his eyes go wide and his mouth drops just a little before he schools both and taps at the screen a few times and pockets the phone again as he splutters. “Uh, fine,” he manages awkwardly, not looking at her as he stands there looking uncomfortable.
She wasn’t exactly asking about the search, but she doesn’t press him, unsure how to proceed. Silence stretches on between them for much too long before Eliot moves to go sit on the edge of the bed again. He picks up the remote, puts it down, and then scoots back and falls backwards to lay down with a heavy sigh. Then silence again.
Silence is what she and Eliot are good at. Over the years, they’ve learned to communicate in silence better than they can out loud. Even way back when Leverage first formed, they could sit in silence for long stretches of time and have it feel more companionable than speaking. Now, Parker can’t help but squirm again. Silence with Eliot has never felt so awkward and heavy.
This is problem number three. This is the problem that has to be fixed right the hell now.
If Hardison were here, he’d say Eliot’s acting squirrely. “E, what up, baby? Kinda squirrely today.” It’s apt, and started the moment she asked him to contact the marshal for help. Can barely maintain eye contact with her, will hardly speak except to stumble through a sentence or two, keeps himself at a distance and has what seems to be a permanent unease in his expression. In other words, squirrely.
There’s no reason to be. Obviously, Maria seems to have him in her sights, but Parker doesn’t blame her for that. Lots of people want Eliot. Always have. It hasn’t mattered much to him since the three of them became partners all those years ago. Clearly, he didn’t want those people.
There’s only one conclusion Parker can come up with that would make it different with Maria now, what would put that unease in his features.
Unsure what she’s going to do, she stands and makes her way over to the bed. Standing there at his feet, she can see he’s got his eyes closed, but there’s a crease between his eyebrows that makes it clear he’s definitely not trying to peacefully drift to sleep.
“You’re hoverin’,” he mumbles.
It doesn’t not sound like an invitation, so she crawls on the bed and over to where his head rests, sitting down with her legs crossed. She waits. And waits. Eventually, Eliot opens his eyes to stare at the ceiling, and after a long moment of just that, hoists himself up to a sitting position, still not facing her. It’s good enough, though, for the moment.
“Something’s weird,” she says.
Eliot chuckles shortly. “Whole thing’s weird,” he mumbles with a sweeping gesture around the room.
“Not the cops, Eliot,” she replies, watching the side of his face intently. “I mean, yes, they are, but that’s not what I’m talking about right now.”
He continues staring straight ahead. “Okay,” he says simply, very obviously not asking what it is she wants to be talking about.
“Eliot,” she says after another silent moment.
“Look at me.”
Finally, he turns to do just that. It looks like it takes effort for him to hold her gaze at all, but still he does, and Parker sighs out a breath that feels like she’s been holding in for far too long.
“Eliot,” she starts, “why are we weird?”
It takes him a moment to answer, during which he opens his mouth to speak and then closes it again, but eventually he responds with “The marshal.”
“Right,” she says. “Are you upset with me for getting her involved?”
“No,” he assures her quickly, “ain’t upset with you in the least.”
That’s a relief. “Not with her, either,” she prompts. “Maria’s helpful. And very…friendly. To certain people.”
“Certain people,” he allows with a grimace.
“To you, I mean,” she says.
“Guess that’s fairly obvious,” he replies as he glances away again.
Parker gathers up the courage to ask: “How do you feel about that?”
A pause, then, “I don’t hate it.”
It’s a little sad, but not the worst thing to hear. “That’s okay,” she says. “If you’re interested, we wouldn’t mind.” Over the years, they’ve met lots of people in relationships like theirs, some with more than three people. Some between a group of people who were not all involved in the same measure with each other. Parker sees it kind of like tree branches. In their case, their branches are all touching, but in some other cases, one branch is connected to a complete separate branch, and doesn’t bend around the other ones. If Eliot wanted a Maria branch, that would be alright with her and Hardison, she thinks. They could share Eliot with her. Parker doesn’t think her branch would connect with Maria’s, though. Maria’s very pretty, but she can’t get past the cop thing.
Eliot’s gaze meets hers again, and his expression looks pained. “Parker, I don’t want that.”
Maria’s branch is clipped immediately. “You don’t want her?”
“I think…” He trails off, choosing his words carefully. “When we met the first time and she came on to me a little, I had a moment where I realized part of me wasn’t uninterested. Wasn’t serious about it, but I didn’t mind the attention from her.”
“Which made you feel uneasy,” she guesses.
“And guilty,” he confesses. “I have what I want. I have you and…and Hardison.” He looks down at her chest and reaches for her lock pendant on her necklace, rubs it with his thumb. “No matter how much it feels like I don’t have him right now.”
Parker feels her heart ache, and realizes that that’s the crux of the matter. Hardison’s not here. Hardison’s their anchor.
The thing about Eliot and herself is that their tree branches are connected because of Hardison. Had it not been for him, she doubts the two of them would ever have crossed the line from friends to romantic life partners. But by virtue of being in love with Hardison, their branches twisted around each other until they did connect, irreversibly. It doesn’t matter why they love, just that they do.
Parker doesn’t need Hardison to love Eliot at this point. The two of them can work on that level separately when the mood strikes just as much as Eliot and Hardison can. But right now, Hardison’s absence is indefinite. She’s been feeling untethered without their anchor, floating adrift, feeling like something is missing. And apparently, that’s where Eliot’s at, as well.
“He’ll come back,” she says quietly.
“Yeah,” he mumbles. “But Jesus…” He pulls on the pendant a little and Parker moves forward until her forehead rests against his own. “I miss him, Park.”
“Me too,” she sighs.
They stay that way for a few moments in silence, which no longer hangs oppressively between them. Parker feels a little lighter, despite the conversation. Outside, the wind howls and debris smacks their window again. She giggles.
“Poor Maria,” she says. “Alone in her room with no one to ride…out the storm with her.”
"Hey," Eliot grumbles as he pulls away. “You readin' my texts?”
“Not on purpose! Your phone was by the vent and went off when I climbed out.”
“Likely story,” he says, rolling his eyes good naturedly.
“It’s true,” she says and moves to sit in his lap, facing him. She gives him a quick kiss. “I promise,” she adds, running her fingers through his hair.
“Guess I’ll believe you,” he replies, and Parker enjoys the way he leans into the touch of her fingers, features softening a little as he glances at her lips. She can’t help but kiss him again.
“Poor, poor Maria,” she breathes when they part.
“Stop it,” he mumbles.
“Well, just think about it. She doesn’t get to sit in your lap, does she?” she asks, wiggling a little for emphasis.
“She does not,” he chuckles a he holds her a little closer.
She runs her hand through his hair again, pulling just so when she gets to the ends. “Doesn’t get to touch your hair.”
“No,” he sighs out, eyes closed in pleasure.
“Mhmm, and she doesn’t get to kiss you, either.”
“Nuh uh,” he says, lips parting slightly. He opens his eyes when no kiss comes, and Parker grins.
“And she won’t ever get to hear you purr,” she continues, which makes him frown.
“Told you a thousand times, I don’t—”
It’s with a little more heat that she smothers the rest of that protest with her lips to his own, following him down as he leans back against the covers with a little groan.
“Who gets to do all that, Eliot?” she whispers against his lips.
His phone chimes, and she leans back a little as he reaches into his pocket, turns it on silent, and tosses it away before replying “You.”
Parker hums. “Lucky me,” she says, and Eliot reaches up to capture her lips again.