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Right in Front of You

Title: Right in Front of You
Fandom: Leverage
Series: Jukebox Musical
Pairings: Hardison/Parker, pre Eliot/Hardison
Rating/Warnings: Minor angst, introspection
Word Count: 4535
Disclaimer: If I owned it, the soundtrack would be Kane.
Summary: Parker does some thinking about what she really wants.


It's not that Parker doesn't love Hardison because she does; she loves her entire team so much it terrifies her and the hacker most of all.

The thief may not understand him sometimes but she's not exactly normal either and Hardison takes her just the way she is. He finds her gems to steal when she gets antsy, puts hooks for rappelling in all of the team’s hideouts and doesn't get offended when she starts giggling during sex. Well, at least not after she explains that it's nothing personal, she just finds dicks hilarious.

So even though it took Parker a long time to decide that she wanted to try out this whole relationship thing with the hacker, she's the happiest that she's been for a long time. She has money, friends, a family, sex when she wants it, cuddling when she doesn't, and really, life is good.

Which makes it even harder to explain the niggling feeling that something's not quite right.

It's not her money or her diamonds; she checks and those are as safe as a master thief can make them. It's not her equipment either since Parker tests all her rigs twice a month to see if she needs to make repairs. Even her teammates are acting normal as far as she can tell. The thief’s not quite as sure about that one since reading people, even her people, still isn't Parker's strong suit, particularly when her own emotions are involved.

However, while she'd like to ask Sophie for a second opinion, the grifter is busy making Nate admit he loves her – at least, Parker thinks that was her plan. That relationship seems rather complicated but if she understood these sorts of things, the thief wouldn't need Sophie's help.

So with Plan A foiled and Plan B – hope that niggling feeling goes away – showing no signs of succeeding, Parker turns to plan C instead.

“Eliot, do me and Hardison seem right?” she asks, hopping up on the kitchen counter one night while the hitter’s making dinner at his apartment and the rest of the team has gone out to buy drinks. “I mean, do we seem happy?”

“What kind of question is that?” Eliot retorts after one long beat of silence, his voice shakier than she's heard in a long time. He doesn't even nudge Parker off the counter the way he usually does and he's frowning when he turns to meet her eyes. “Don't you know if you're happy? It's your life; I can't tell you how to live it now.”

“Well, sure, I think I'm happy. I love our team and I love Hardison and everything is good. But I've never done this before and I want to know if you think differently.”

At this the hitter laughs, his odd frown transmuting into a grin instead. “I'm not exactly an expert on long-term relationships, Parker. Being part of this team is the most time I've spent with any one group of people in almost fifteen years. But if it makes you feel better; yes, you both seem happy. I can't say that your relationship is normal but as long as it works for you, there's nothing wrong with that. Now... try this.”

The spoon of sauce that Eliot holds out for her tastes just as good as always and so the thief just has to steal some for her cereal. Parker grabs a whole cupful before the hitter manages to stop her and the ensuing rant about the proper uses of marinara ends all talk of relationships for now. However, when the thief thinks about that conversation later, she decides that Eliot knows more about love than he thinks. Because Parker is happy, this she doesn't doubt, and it would be silly to let some nameless worry ruin everything.

After all, she's Parker. She stole Prince William's wedding diamond and the only black pearl tiara in the world; she should be able to handle an adult relationship.

So she does. The thief throws herself into being an awesome girlfriend with the same abandon that she throws herself off buildings and if she still gets the feeling that something isn't right from time to time, no one said she has to listen to the voices in her head. Parker silences her doubts with money, cons, and stolen kisses, and when Nate begins to train her as his replacement, she's too busy to worry about her love life anymore.

She may not be able to dismiss her doubts entirely but she can ignore them and Mastermind Parker doesn't hold with any nonsense when there's work to be done. Well, maybe a dab of nonsense since Hardison and Eliot aren't really happy unless they're sniping at each other and she doesn't want to be the kind of leader who ignores her friends.

That's not her sort of mastermind and with Nate and Sophie leaving, the remaining three will need to trust each other implicitly in order to survive. And that, she finally realizes, is where the problem lies.

It's a con that does it. Of course it’s a con that does it – Mastermind Parker may be different from Thief Parker in a lot of ways, but she still loves B&E. Stealing is her life and all of her most important decisions have been made with thieving on her mind.

Today the mastermind’s team is infiltrating yet another dishonest corporation, this one refusing to recall contaminated corn even after four kids died. But the theft is an easy in and out and Parker’s on her way to the exit with the smoking gun in her pocket – or rather the smoking document – when Hardison mutters, “Uh, guys. I’ve got company.”

There weren't supposed to be any guards near the servers and the mastermind's first thought is, Damn it. Where did our reconnaissance go wrong? Her second thought doesn't have time to form completely before Eliot is responding on the comms.

“Go. I got this,” the hitter says and Parker doesn't hesitate before obeying his command.

She heads for the air ducts, climbing back up to the roof to the sound of Eliot decimating Panzela Corp's security. It's a familiar sound, one that she finds almost comforting, and it's only later, when the mastermind is waiting for her boys to join her, that Parker realizes this obedience was odd.

She didn't go because she trusted Eliot, though she trusts both men with her life. She didn't go because Eliot is their hitter and this kind of rescue is his job. Parker left Hardison to Eliot because she believes, deep in her chest where she keeps the stuff that really matters; she believes that Eliot will never leave the other man behind. She'll never have to go back as long as the hitter is there to do it for her and she hadn't understood how much she relies on that knowledge until now.

Eliot would die for Hardison and as much as she cares about the hacker, Parker doesn't know if she can say the same. The mastermind doesn't know if she's capable of that kind of devotion when her first instinct will always be to run and yet, isn't she the one who's supposed to be in love?

The weirdest part is that her trust in Eliot feels natural, like a well-worn combination clicking into place. This isn't new for all that it's unexpected and indeed, when her teammates finally join her, they're acting just like they usually do. They're joking and laughing with each other even as Eliot checks Hardison for injuries and the hacker pokes his bruises in return. It's familiar and comforting and completely normal – but Parker suddenly sees it differently.

She had missed something. The thief had been blind and the mastermind too busy to notice what was happening right before her eyes. But now it seems so obvious; the clues piling up like diamonds as she watches her teammates interact.

It’s in every touch and every glance and every subtle tone of voice and Parker has to wonder if this is how Nate always sees the world. Maybe a good mastermind has to understand everything about their targets and teammates both in order to succeed.

Because Eliot may love Parker like a sister, but he's in love with Hardison. He's been in love with Hardison for a long, long time based on the way he’s acting now.

What Parker doesn't understand even after a week of observation is why the hitter has kept quiet all this time, particularly since some of the things that her boyfriend’s said while sleep-deprived make her pretty certain that the hacker wouldn’t mind.

So she asks, cornering Eliot in the kitchen a few days later when he's trying out a new recipe. This is the best time for awkward conversations since the hitter would have to be angrier than she’s ever seen him in order to leave his food to burn and no matter how tightly he grips his knives, she knows she’s safe from him.

However, Parker still waits until Eliot has finished chopping carrots before plopping down at the kitchen table and saying, “How long have you been in love with Hardison?”

The hitter stiffens sharply enough that Parker's glad she waited, though his voice is calm when he replies. “What makes you think I love him? Do I really seem like the kind of guy who’d pine for anyone?”

To tell the truth, he doesn’t, which is part of why it took her so long to notice this. But where Thief Parker might have allowed Eliot to persuade her that she’s mistaken, Mastermind Parker is the one in charge right now. So she just pins the hitter with her best no-nonsense stare and says, “I'm the new Nate. It's my job to notice things.”

For a second she thinks that Eliot’s actually going to lie about it but then his shoulders relax and he turns to lean against the counter with a sigh. “I guess you are, aren’t you? Though I’m pretty sure Nate never had a clue. If you must know, it’s been about five years now. But it doesn’t matter and it’s none of your damn business anyway.”

“But… why didn't you say something before I started dating Hardison?”

“Because it doesn't matter,” Eliot retorts, his voice dropping into the rumbling growl that he always gets when he's annoyed. “Hardison was head over heels for you by the time I admitted how much I cared about him and I ain't the sort to break up other people's happiness.”

Which is just like the hitter really and Parker barely hesitates before offering, “I could learn to share?”

“Maybe. But I can't. I'm not wired that way,” is the firm reply. “Just leave it, Parker. You and Hardison are my friends and that's enough. That's plenty more than I ever thought I'd get.”

Eliot seems to mean it and the mastermind is pretty sure that he's never lied to her about anything that matters, but it still doesn't seem right to walk away now that she knows the truth. It doesn't seem right to leave it now that she finally understands. But Eliot must read the thought off her face because his eyes narrow before she can say anything.

“Don't you dare break up with Hardison for me,” the hitter growls. “If you don't actually love him anymore that's one thing, but I refuse to be the reason that you throw a damn good man away.”

He makes Parker promise, makes her swear on the Perth diamond that she won't do anything impulsive, and if the mastermind had still had any doubts about his feelings, this would have laid them all to rest. Because Eliot isn't worried about himself – he doesn't even ask her to keep his secret – he's only worried about Hardison and she knows that he loves the hacker in a way she doesn't think she ever will.

Parker's love is selfish; she has to remind herself to consider Hardison’s needs and desires and while he appreciates her efforts, they don't come naturally. The thief still thinks in I and me and my instead of we and our and us and that's not something she thinks will ever change. She doesn't know if she even wants to change it and the niggling feeling in the back of her mind suddenly makes a lot more sense.

Girlfriend Parker isn't Parker, Girlfriend Parker is a role that the mastermind's been playing and she doesn't know if she can do it anymore. She wants to run; she wants to throw Hardison at Eliot and run as fast as possible, steal a million dollars worth of jewelry to prove she's still a thief.

But Parker promised Eliot that she wouldn't do anything impulsive and she doesn't want to risk her family without cause. She loves her team and she loves her life for the most part and maybe everyone has these kinds of doubts. Maybe everyone wants their boyfriend and their best friend to start dating in order to simplify their lives.

Or maybe Parker just needs to figure out what she really wants. She has to decide whether Girlfriend Parker is someone she can live with for the remainder of her life. The mastermind has to decide which path will make her happiest regardless of what could happen between her teammates afterward.

Parker definitely loves Hardison but she isn't sure that she's in love with him the way that he deserves.

It takes the thief three months, two weeks, six days and four calls to Sophie before she finally makes her decision and then another week to find the courage to actually break up with Hardison. Because she doesn't want to hurt him – she never meant to hurt him – but she can't be his girlfriend anymore.

So that's what Parker tells the hacker, taking him out to dinner at a quiet family restaurant and doing the deed over a bottle of Champagne. Not exactly the most appropriate drink for the occasion but she couldn't exactly ask the waiter for the best break up wine. At least this one is tasty and Parker drinks rather more of it than she’d originally planned. But fiddling with her glass gives the thief something to do since she left her padlocks at the brew pub and being nervous always gives her twitchy hands.

Hardison actually takes it better than Parker expected once she finally says it – maybe because they're both well on their way to being drunk by then. So there's only five minutes of confusion, three minutes of denial, a tiny bit of shouting and one plaintive, “I thought you loved me too.”

“I do love you,” Parker tells him tearfully, half a bottle of Champagne making her more emotional than usual. “You're my family, my best friend, my brother I've had sex with... I think I lost that metaphor. But the important thing... the important thing is that I care about you; I just don't want to be your girlfriend anymore. Not like Eliot.”

“You're dumping me for Eliot?!” Hardison exclaims loud enough that the nearby tables turn to look. “Me and him are going to have words after this. And then he'll probably kick my ass. But first there will be words.”

“What? No! I don't want to be his girlfriend; he wants to be your girlfriend. Boyfriend? Sex friend,” Parker decides after testing the terminology. “I'm not supposed to say this but he's in love with you.”

“Huh. Really?” the hacker asks, momentarily distracted from his heartbreak by the thought. But then he shakes his head and focuses on the thief again. “How Eliot may or may not feel about me, while potentially terrifying, doesn't matter now. What matters is... is... are you sure? I mean... I like Girlfriend Parker.”

“I know; I liked her too. But she's not who I am and I can't keep trying anymore.”

“So that's it then?”

“That's it. I'm sorry.”

“Damn. I need another drink.”

So he orders one and Parker orders another and they toast to break ups and friendships and being the best before getting kicked out when Hardison starts demanding karaoke to ease his broken heart. The restaurant's host is nice enough to call the pair a cab and after seven increasingly out of tune renditions of My Heart Will Go On, they stumble into the hacker’s apartment and pass out face first on the bed.

--

Parker wakes up first, her mouth full of cotton and her head still a little fuzzy from the alcohol. But as much as she'd like to go back to sleep, she's driven from the bed by a dire need to pee.

When she returns from the bathroom, Hardison has spread out across the bed, his mouth open as he snores prodigiously. He looks utterly ridiculous and yet somehow sexy, Parker really tempted to try for break up sex. But quick and fast seems like the kinder option since she doesn’t want to muddy up the waters now. Indeed, the mastermind is just debating the “note vs. no note” conundrum when the hacker stirs.

He turns over with a groan, squinting up at Parker and then throwing an arm across his face. “You broke up with me. That wasn't a dream.”

It's not a question but she answers it anyway, “I did. I'm sorry.”

Parker doesn't know what else to say since she has no plans to take it back, but Hardison just waves off her apology. “I'm too hungover to be angry at the moment and I'm sure I'll forgive you for this eventually. But I don't really want to talk about it now. Can you please just leave?”

The question stings more than it should considering that she's the one who dumped him but the mastermind can hardly refuse his request. So she heads home to change and take a shower, brushing her teeth for good measure because ewww. This is why she doesn't drink.

Then Parker grabs her wireless receiver and goes to stake out her ex-boyfriend's recovery, the bugs she planted in Hardison's apartment in preparation for their break up transmitting every sigh. After all, the thief has to make sure that he doesn't do anything stupid and she can't watch over him in person anymore – not until he gets around to the forgiveness part.

So she eavesdrops even though the first few hours are actually rather boring since the hacker just lies there on the bed, a few muffled groans the only sign he's still alive. In fact, Hardison might have stayed in his room all day if Eliot hadn't shown up 'round half past two.

“Hardison! Let me in! Hardison!” the hitter shouts, pounding on the door until the hacker opens it.

“Eliot? What gives? I'm hungover here.”

“Damn it, Hardison! You and Parker sent me twenty misspelled texts last night and you haven't been answering my calls. What the hell did you get up to and why wasn't I invited?”

“It wasn't all that fun. Parker broke up with me.”

“Aww shit, man. I'm sorry. You all right?”

“Don't worry, the team will be fine. She still wants to be friends and I'm less surprised than I should be so I'll get over it. Eventually. With a lot more alcohol.”

“Idiot! I'm not worried about the team; I'm worried about you,” Eliot replies with the mix of fondness and annoyance that he does so well. “If you're planning on drowning your sorrows in cheap wine again you should eat something first because your liver is going to give out otherwise. So just let me in and I'll make you lunch already; I know there's nothing in your kitchen but pop tarts and cheerios.”

Parker leaves then, content with the knowledge that the hacker's in good hands. Eliot won't let him get in too much trouble and he's always been the best of their team at being comforting.

The mastermind heads back to the Bridgeport Brew Pub to plan out their next con. She picked a slow month for their break up but she wants to be ready when Hardison decides that he'll talk to her again. After all, the hacker and the thief had the con long before they had a romance and running another job should help him remember that.

So Parker works on her plans until the brew pub closes, Eliot stopping by to talk around half past ten. He seems more tired than angry but the thief is still expecting more of a lecture than she gets when she asks after Hardison.

“I trust you thought about this and I said I wouldn’t tell you how to live your life,” the hitter says quietly. “But you’re gonna have to give him time. Hardison will be brokenhearted for a good long while and if you push too soon, you'll ruin everything. He'll come to you when he's ready to be friends again.”

Parker knows that Eliot's probably right and she has no true doubts about her decision, but she has to admit that it's a little lonely waiting for their hacker’s broken heart to mend. Suddenly she's spending whole days wandering the city or working at the pub, Eliot stopping by once in a while to put the fear of God into their cooks and give her updates on Hardison’s state of mind.

However, while patience has never been her strong suit, the mastermind's newfound freedom helps reduce the sting. She can do whatever she wants now, anything she wants now without worrying. So she talks to Nate and Sophie and steals a score of fancy watches before checking in with Peggy and Apollo about their current jobs. She remembers why she doesn't cook with fire, spends three hours scrubbing scorch marks off the walls, and when she just can't take the curiosity anymore, she goes to spy on Hardison.

Which is what the thief is doing three weeks later when the hacker finally decides to ask the question that's been weighing on his mind.

“Parker said something strange when she broke up with me,” Hardison begins, waiting until Eliot grunts in acknowledgment before continuing. “She said you were in love with me.”

There's a long silence, long enough that Parker starts to worry that her bugs gave out. But then Eliot lets out a sigh and asks, “She did, did she? Now why do you think she'd say a thing like that?”

“Well, we were both pretty drunk. But I think she meant it...” There's another long pause as Hardison gathers his courage and then stammers in a rush, “I know she meant it and I want to know if she was right.”

“...Damn it. I knew I should've made her promise to keep her big mouth shut. But if you really want to know, I guess I owe you truth. Parker wasn't wrong, though she was spilling secrets that weren't hers to tell.”

The thief has never heard that tone in Eliot's voice before; it sounds almost like surrender but it can't be because the hitter doesn't give up without a fight. Only, Hardison must hear it too since his words are almost gentle when he speaks again.

“Why didn't you ever say something? Unless this is a recent sort of thing?”

“No, it ain't recent. Not by a long shot. But there was no reason to ruin a good situation when I'm not the kind of man that someone needs. Besides, you've been mooning after Parker forever so I always figured that was that. I'm fine being friends, Hardison, really. I've never let this thing of mine get in the way and I'm not about to start.”

“For such a smart man, you're a damn idiot,” the hacker replies, his exasperation clearly audible even through Parker's bugs. “You know what I thought of you on that first job we did together? I thought you were the hottest guy I'd ever seen and I would have jumped you by the elevator if I’d thought I had a chance. Hell, all that punching still gets me hot and bothered now.”

“What are you saying?”

“I'm saying that I didn't settle for Parker; I love her and I'm going to be depressed and angry for a while, but maybe we can see where this goes after that. I've been thinking about it and I'm pretty sure I'm half in love with you already so I want to give the two of us a chance.”

Now it's the hacker's turn to be hopeful, Parker able to picture his pleading eyes quite clearly and she can't entirely hold back a shriek of glee when Eliot gives in.

“All right. We can try. But don't say I didn't warn you if we crash and burn instead.”

“Don't be stupid. We'll be awesome. Now come on, the next Aves game starts in five minutes and I know you love to bitch about how much their goalie sucks.”

With that all talk of love is tabled for the moment and the conversation turns to hockey gibberish. But the seed's been planted and Parker can't wait to find out what will grow. Who needs a real live plant when she can watch her teammates and the thief is sure they're on the road to being truly happy now.

Indeed, the trio manages to hang out a few weeks later and have it feel almost normal, talking and joking with only a few seconds of strained silence here and there. They're still family despite the change in their dynamics and their jobs still go off brilliantly. If anything the cons are even smoother now that Parker can be the mastermind without worrying about how the girlfriend should be acting and she knows exactly how to use Eliot's protectiveness.

That relationship is still moving slowly but it's moving, even if the hitter keeps looking at Hardison like he's not sure this is real. He'll believe it eventually because their hacker is nothing if not persistent and Parker can already see how much stronger this will make their family.

Not to mention the other perks since not wanting to date her teammates doesn't make her blind and Eliot had a habit of staking his claim very publicly once the couple gets that far. He kisses like there's nothing in the world but Hardison and watching them makes Parker all misty-eyed. That’s the kind of love which makes people incandescent and she can’t ask anything more for her boys than to see their faces shine like diamonds in the sun.

She can't ask anything more for herself than these dear friends to be her family and the freedom to choose a different road to happiness.


End