It was not one of their better exits.
They got the mark to transfer the money to their client before they gave said mark the brush-off, left him irate and quickly maneuvering himself into prison –and that was about the point that Hardison, in premature celebration, spilled an entire two-liter of Orange Squeeze over the planetarium balcony’s rail instead of pouring it into Parker’s glass.
Sophie and Nate tried, really they did, but once the mark saw the young man he had been told was a painter in the presence of the cocktail waitress from that night that his ID and wallet and the photo of his granddaughter’s pet bunny had been stolen, well.
Discretion is the better part of valor, but running away is the best part of survival, especially when the mark is the crime czar of all of Oregon.
“You and I,” Eliot grows in the earbuds a second later, past a steady stream of punching and grunting, “Are going to have a long discussion about you reverting to a sippy cup.”
“Hey! This is not my fault!”
“Seriously? Seriously? If you’d just booked the tickets three hours earlier-”
Nate glowers at the road stretching ahead of them, his knuckles tight on the steering wheel. The rental car trundles slow in this spring snow. It has to, because the cars in front of it are going slow, and the cattle chutes -Jersey barriers, barricades, whatever you want to call them- prevent it from going offroad like Parker keeps poking him in the back of the skull to do and if she pokes him one more time…
“Children,” Sophie says in a voice that lets Nate know exactly where his calm went (hint: she stole it). “There is no way for Hardison to hack a freak snowstorm.”
Nate glances at the rearview. Both men are sulking now, arms crossed, pointedly looking out their windows as Parker –between them, either oblivious or indifferent to their tiff (frankly Nate suspects the latter)- grins.
“Who knows, maybe driving across country will be fun!”
“I still don’t get why we’re runnin’.”
Eliot’s snarling. Five hours later, and he’s still snarling. Sophie rubs her temples and thinks about happy things. Champagne. Purchasing truly obscene numbers of new shoes. Punching Eliot and living to talk about i-
Maybe she shouldn’t be thinking about that last one. But Nate, in the drivers seat next to her, is starting to go a little bit red around the eyes and if she squints just so she can see the steam…
“Because, Eliot,” Nate says, and there are tiny little cracks in the words, betraying just how close he is to stop or I will turn this car around and we’ll all go home. “You managed-” There’s a subtle growl –not even a growl, a suggestion of a growl- from the back seat, and Nate amends, “We managed to tick off the Russian Mob, and the Irish Mob, and the F.B.I back there. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be on home turf when we deal with that?”
For a second, Eliot looks placated –Sophie’s not sure, but she thinks it might be at the fact that Nate is planning on letting him punch things- but then Parker pokes Eliot in the ribs, hard. “Yeah, stop being such a grump.”
And Eliot explodes again.
Eliot barely manages to keep Nate from bashing his head on the steering wheel somewhere in Nebraska. One minute the mastermind’s talking normal, the next Eliot realizes that oh, hey, that cloud looks like a sheep is not a normal thought process from Nate. He turns in time to see Nate’s eyes roll back in his head, catches his shoulders-
And then the car’s swerving and shuddering and heading right for a corn field. Well, the corn field right behind the telephone pole. And the guardrail. And maybe kind-of a house.
There’s some yelling from the back seat, but Eliot doesn’t really pay attention to it. He’s been in a situation kind-of like this before, but last time he didn’t have to worry about the driver (since the driver was dead) or the other passengers (since they were kind-of dead too; it had not been a good taxi ride) and he could just bail.
This time, there’s a flurry of motion that he doesn’t really remember making, and the car grinds to a stop with the bumper crunching last year’s abandoned cornstalks. There’s some more yelling from the back seat, but this sounds more enthusiastic and relieved and when a hand reaches out and smacks against his shoulder he doesn’t smack back.
At least, not as hard as he could.
There are lots of things that they’re good with. Random collapses aren’t really one of them, so once they get the car out of the field it’s into the nearest town, out with the fake IDs, and right into the hospital.
The doctor gives them all a very skeptical look, and Hardison returns it, while Parker smiles perhaps a bit too brightly and Eliot drops Nate onto the stretcher. Well, acts like he’s going to drop him, but the second the others are distracted it becomes a far more careful movement.
The doctor doesn’t throw them all out after Eliot’s look.
“How long has it been since he slept?” The doctor asks.
Sophie and the others look at each other, trying to think. Portland had been a mess, between finding out about the Russians, and the Irish, and the F.B.I. and the whole mess with the planetarium, and then there had been that quite enjoyable first evening where neither of them slept –Sophie didn’t mention that part, but Eliot and Parker and Hardison all looked at her anyways, and she fought the urge to glare back at them.
“Um.” She says, rather eloquently, and the doctor’s look can only be described as disgusted.
“If he doesn’t wake up in ten hours, tell me. Other than that? Let him sleep.”
Parker didn’t mind the snoring, really. It was soothingly regular, and she could count them and predict that there would be four or five loud snores before Nate made that weird clicky noise that Eliot said was completely normal, and no it didn’t mean they had to go back to the doctor.
She did mind the irregular but nearly constant sneezing that started up in Ohio and kept going all through Pennsylvania. First Hardison said it was from the musty fields and then from flowering trees and then outside Albany he finally gave up and didn’t blame anything, his nose buried in a fistful of tissues.
Up front, Eliot smirked and rolled up the window.
The Irish were waiting when they got back to Boston – a veritable mob of them (O’Hares, Donnellys, a couple people Parker didn’t recognize from Nate’s do not go near these people lectures) gathered outside McRory’s. Eliot tried to make them (her, Hardison, Sophie) stay in the car with the still-groggy Nate, but the second his foot hit the curb they were out too, forming a line – grim, like Eliot’s mouth and the set of his shoulders.
One of O’Hare’s boys smirked, like a cat, when he stepped up. Eliot didn’t meet his eyes, his gaze flickering from person to person – counting the guns. Parker followed his example, counting the haircuts…
And then she smirked.
Because they definitely hadn’t brought enough.
Happiness means different things to different people.
To Hardison, it’s sitting in front of a bank of computers, one monitor showing his Tauren running around demolishing things, the other monitoring bank accounts and news stations, his eyes constantly flickering up to make sure they’re all still there.
To Eliot, it’s rampaging through the kitchen, ice-packs on the bruises, bandages on the split knuckles, knowing some O’Hare kid’s going to go back to his boss and tell stories about a dervish or a demon, not knowing that that same man can also make a mean omlet.
To Sophie, it’s lounging on the couch, Nate’s head resting against her thigh when his bright blue eyes flicker open and the most adorably confused look crosses his face. Weren’t we just in Nebraska…?
To Parker, though, it’s just being there, watching the people who will help her out of the snow.
(Eventually, she’ll ask Nate what made him happy. Once he’s actually awake. That way, she can be sure of the answer.)