Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.
Leverage Inc. 3.0 was quiet for once, the pub closed for business, and the team out of the state on a con. Nate slowly rummaged through the cellar to find a bottle of decent alcohol not made by Hardison, appreciating the quiet solitude. He figured he was owed at least a whiskey for being shot, again. At least the guy had been a terrible shot and gotten his leg and not kneecap.
Finally finding a decent whiskey bottle, he moved with minute steps up from the cellar to HQ. Sophie had insisted on taking lead, and Nate was too drugged up on morphine to put up too much of a fight. Even though the baddie was right up his alley, selling expired medication to children and parents who didn’t have any other options. The alcohol burned on the way down, but it also numbed both the pain and the withdrawal symptoms, making it a much more effective painkiller than the pills the doctor had prescribed. He made his way to the recliner in front of the computer screens, setting the whiskey on the table and grabbing the master tablet. He fiddled with the screen before pulling up the ear comms frequency.
“-it Hardison, how do you not know he had a pet python?!” Eliot’s voice came through, growling with a slight panting underpinning it, probably trying to figure out how to get out of there.
“Hey Eliot, I’m sorry, but they don’t put that stuff in magazines and interviews. None of his emails turned up a snake, and from the looks of it, it is illegal to own in the country so he smuggled it in anyways.”
“Sleep with an eye open Hardison.”
“Boys focus! The mark is getting away Hardison, stop him. Parker is heading towards you Eliot.” came Sophie’s calm voice.
“ETA 60 seconds” Parker said.
Nate smirked as he took another sip. As much as he loved being mastermind and being in control, it was just as entertaining see his team move in harmony, even with the small fights. They had come so far in these five years.
He muted the comms and dimmed the room lights before pushing the recliner back, kicking his good foot a little to get more comfortable. The jazz playlist started up in the background, a soft background noise that made Nate sink further into the recliner.
He had barely started dozing when he felt his phone buzzing in his pocket. Groaning, he thought to ignore it, but it persisted. Twisting to get to it without moving his bad leg, he winced as pain shot up regardless. Unlocking his screen showed a missed call from Maggie. Nate furrowed his brow, trying to figure out why his wife … ex-wife would be calling him as her dial tone rang again. He swiped to accept the call.
“Nate?” came his ex-wife’s voice through the phone’s tiny speakers.
“Maggie. You called?”
“Yeah, I - It’s kind of silly.” Maggie began, her voice wavering a little and making Nate sit up. His bad leg twitched, making him wince, but he just clenched his jaw.
“Maggie, what’s wrong?”
“No, no, nothing is wrong, I just at my mom’s house. We were cleaning out the attic, and I found some of our old home videos.” Maggie said, the last words making Nate freeze.
“Yeah, my dad still had a DVR player, so I played them. God, it feels impossible to think it’s been over five years without him.”
“Hmm” was all Nate said, voice still stuck in his throat.
“If you want, turn on the video on your phone, and I can play one of them for you?”
Nate nodded and switched the call to video mode even as his heart started racing out of its chest. Maggie's face came into view, tear tracks subtly visible. She sniffed before saying "Hi."
"This is one of my favorites." Was all she said before turning her phone around. In the TV, a young Maggie held a newborn Sam in her arms, the baby smiling widely. He remembered the day vividly, it had been the first time that she had gotten to hold Sam after the delivery.
Nate heard himself make a hurt noise, tears blurring his vision before taking a breath to compose himself. Maggie echoed sympathetically before pressing play.
In the video, Maggie was playing with Sam, holding his kicking feet in her hand and blowing raspberries into his tummy. Sam reached for her, giggles sounding like bells surrounding the new family.
The scene changed, showing a much younger Nate (healthier, happier, sober) with Sam in their backyard. He was playing with a 6 six-month old Sam, holding him aloft before bringing him closer to the ground. He then spins with Sam, making him laugh louder.
The scene shifted again, now it's a tired Maggie sitting in a rocking chair gently stroking Sam's head. Nate remembers Sam having a particularly bad bout of cholic during the time he filmed this particular memory. They had gone to the doctor, given all the medicines, done everything Maggie’s parents told them to do, but none of it had worked for long. Maggie was rocking the chair, the movement calming Sam who was still whimpering. She started humming a familiar tune before singing an old nursery rhyme:
Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.
It was an old rhyme but it always put Sam to sleep, just like in the video,by the last line the boy was down for the day.
The video was paused there, the grip on the phone shaky as Maggie cried in the background.
"Are- Are there more?" Nate choked out. The few scenes had triggered so many memories, and now he felt greedy.
"Yeah a box full. I didn't even realize mom had taken them from the house till now."
"I... Could I have them? I'm sure Hardison could find a way to copy them to the cloud or something..." Nate said, more hesitant and vulnerable than Maggie had heard in a long time.
"Oh Nate, of course. I'm going to put together all the tapes and send them by mail. You want me to send them to the pub or the apartment?” Maggie said, wiping her cheeks of the tears and putting on her “work” face. Nate remembered how after Sam died, Maggie had tried to drown in work like he had drowned in alcohol. The house was too quiet for them both.
"Pub would make more sense."
"Ok, I'll let you know."
"Maggie?" Nate called out, voice barely audible.
"We'll talk soon Nate." was all Maggie said before hanging up the phone.
The room was quiet without the call to fill in the silence, leaving Nate to lose himself in his thoughts.
That night, Nate lay in bed, trying in vain to sleep but the video kept replaying in his head. Each memory in that video kept replaying. As a father, Sam would always be the best thing that had ever happened to Nate. But he wasn’t so oblivious to not realize how much having Leverage Inc had saved him. How his team had saved him. He could remember the feel of Sam’s baby soft hair, the almost sunshine quality to his person, the warmth he brought to Nate’s life. A tear slipped out unnoticed, the mastermind trying to recall the feeling of holding his son in his arms when he was alive, not in that damn operating bed in the hospital, connected to all those moniters as the doctor’s failed to save him. He also couldn't get the rhyme out of his head and the more he went over it in his head, the more he thought of how it could apply to the people he knew.
He himself was born on Thursday, so ‘Thursday's child has far to go’. When he was younger he thought it was about travelling. And he had travelled with IYS Insurance, all over the world. Chasing thieves, fritters, stolen art. He had visited every continent, visited over 30 countries. But now. Now he thought it could mean him. His ...alcohol problem. His repentance. His guilt. When he had been in seminary school, the head priest had always said that guilt meant he was mortal. No man was without fault.
Sterling was also born on a Thursday. Sterling had travelled as far as head had, but with fewer demons in his ear. The obvious answer now would be Sterling's ambition, climbing from head of security to Interpol, albeit off their cons. Sterling had also changed, though Nate didn’t know how much could be credited to them. Where before working for the man, he had been a good friend, had liked Sam, always brought him birthday gifts and even taken care of him a few times when Nate and Maggie wanted a day to themselves. Something had changed that left his friend more reserved, and when Sam died, Sterling had been ...robotical. He had offered the same condolences as the rest of their acquaintances. Nate knew that underneath all that selfishness, his friend still cared, but Sterling had stayed with IYS. He knew they denied Sam his treatment and still he stayed. No fight, nothing. Nate didn’t know when he would be ready to forgive him for that.
Maggie was born on Saturday, and was undoubtedly a hard worker. As an art curator, Nate remembered how at the start she was often underestimated as a woman and without the pedigree other curators had. But she was ceaseless, pulling all-nighters to get her projects done. Nate first saw Maggie at an art exhibition he had been sent to on behalf of IYS, a beautiful woman so far above his league who nonetheless spent the evening explaining all the details to him. Telling him of her dream of working as an art curator at an exhibition like this. He felt a stronger bond to her than he had to anyone in a long while, and asked for out for a dinner the next night. They had only been together for nine months but he knew that he wanted to spend his life with Maggie. It was just another two years before Sam was born, and it seemed like the universe was making up for the terrible hand it had dealt him for his childhood. If only he had known it was all going to be ripped away, … would he have changed anything? Maggie was perfect at motherhood too, adapting to her new role with ease and joy, glowing with happiness. As a mother, no one could find flaw in her.
Sam was born on Sunday. “The child who is born on the Sabbath Day Is bonny and blithe and good and gay." The perfect child. Sunday, the day that somehow made the child every parent's dream: beautiful and happy, compassionate and carefree. Of course these days the “gay” portion was changed or omitted, but honestly, Nate didn't care about that. Sam had been all those qualities, beautiful and always happy, never letting anyone or anything bring him down. Even in the hospital, Sam was always cracking jokes to get his parents to laugh and smile, he hated seeing his parents argue or worry. He was carefree, he focused on his schoolwork but didn’t worry. And compassionate. The words he said to Dubenich and Latimer were still true, Sam would probably be ashamed of what he was doing now. He hated the idea of hurting anyone. Some days, Nate could admit to himself the guilt that drove him to drink was rooted in this self-blame. Too bad those days were too few and far in between.
Turning his thoughts to his team, he went through the verse again. Sophie was most likely a Monday's child, one of the most beautiful women he had ever met. Not just in physical terms, though she was stunning, but in the way she had every eye in the room turn to her when she walked in. And how she managed to blend into the wall when she wanted to be hidden. Watching her grift sometimes, he was staggered by her presence. Or Tuesday also fit her. In a con, her manipulation of marks was as graceful as ballet in its effortlessness. When you were the full focus of Sophie Deveraux, it was impossible not to feel rooted to the spot. A spiderwoman spinning a web so beautiful you didn’t realize you were dinner until she had you trapped.
Hardison was the easiest to place, he could only be Friday. Loving and giving, despite being a hacker and having the potential to bring the world to his knees, Hardison never hurt the innocent. With the team, even in their very first con, he was the first to trust. He went above and beyond what Nate asked him on cons, not that Nate ever verbally appreciated his efforts. The most empathetic of the team, there had been a couple cons Nate had vowed never to do because they sometimes led to bloodshed, and he would never put his team in danger like that. Hardison was a refreshing breath of pure determination and belief that good would win over evil, without the experience of age Nate and Sophie had, or the jadedness of Eliot or Parker. Nate feared what this job, this world of shadows would do to the young man. Feared what would happen to him when a con went bad.
Eliot and Parker were harder to place.
Eliot was attractive per Monday's dictum if the plethora of women who flirted with him was taken into account, fought and moved fluidly with Tuesday's grace. His scars showed Wednesday's woe, and he had travelled far both literally and as a person, far from the Fort Knox he had been when he joined the team. But even from the start, he expressed his love and affection through giving, taking on the role of cook, making them eat healthy, taking care that they were unhurt in any way. He definitely worked hard, putting his body in harm's way every time to ensure the others weren't collateral damage. He wasn't Sunday though. Not careless. Compassionate but practical, he had too much blood on his hands to be Sunday. Be like Sam.
Parker though. Parker was Parker. She had Monday’s beauty, and Tuesday’s grace, both of which she treated with a carelessness only found in those for whom those qualities were unimportant. She had been even more closed off than Eliot when she first met the team, but who could blame her? An entire life spent alone, Archie becoming her mentor and then abandoning her to the world, a life as a criminal was all she knew. Wednesday was the day that was most apt for her, but it hurt Nate to think that the brilliant young woman he cared for as a daughter would never stop suffering. He tried to dismiss the thought but it kept coming back to haunt him. A ghost that did not let him sleep.
The con was successful despite the rocky middle, the scumbag CEO having been handed over to an eager FBI duo via Parker as her FBI persona. The team returned in high spirits, and Eliot decided to make a special celebratory feast.
Nate's mood didn't go unnoticed, each member seeing the line of tension in their friend and leader that left him looking lost. Lost like the day when Jimmy died. Sad like whenever he talked about Sam.
Sophie decided to wait until Nate retired alone to his office, following him while the younger trio made themselves scarce. When she walked in, he was holding something in his hands, but since his back was to her, she couldn't see the object clearly.
"What is that?" She asked, keeping her voice low to not startle him.
She failed though, as Nate jumped and fumbled with the box in his hands. Though once he stopped Sophie saw the box was actually a VCR tape.
"Wow, I haven't seen one of those since the 90s."
"Nate." Sophie said, raising an eyebrow as she stood in the doorway to the office.
Nate opened his mouth before closing again. He could strategize 26 different ways to take down bad guys, each more impossible than the last, but faced with opening himself up to other he floundered. Seeing Sophie's expectant look, Nate knew she wasn't going to let him go too easily. Sighing in defeat, he moved back to his chair and sat. Sophie approached the table slowly and pulled out one of the chairs to sit opposite him.
Nate pulled out the tape and put it on the table between them, letting Sophie read the label: Sam, year 1.
She took in a sharp breath but didn't say anything.
"Funny thing is, you have filled some of the hole he left behind. The others, they are ..." Nate trailed, but Sophie knew what he meant. The others were the closest they would have to an actual family. To call “their kids”.
"Different is good."
Nate scoffed, wincing as he hobbled over to the small liquor cabinet he kept in the office. He pulled out the whiskey bottle from before and brought it to the table, along with 2 glasses. Sophie ran her hands over the handwriting, neat and curly. Maggie's then.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.”
“Uh-oh, that’s always dangerous with you.”
Nate scoffed as he downed his drink in one gulp, the burn helping him get the next words out.
“I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.”
“What?” Sophie had known Nate for a over a decade and she couldn’t recall ever hearing him sound so defeated. So old. Their ages were starting to show. And though she was surprised by the fact that Nate actually verbalised it, she didn’t delude herself into thinking it was a new thought. She was good at what she did, if she weren’t confident in her grifting, her marks would never bite her hook. Still, she had spent more time thinking of an after. After the team. After grifting. What would she do with herself? In some ways, this way of life was the only one she knew. She thought back to that conversation she had had with Eliot about which member of the crew would adapt to “civilian” life easiest. Nate’s words brought up the anxiety that was rare to show it’s head nowadays, despite plagueing her in her youth because of her indecisiveness.
“Sophie, you said it yourself, luck seems to bend itself to my machinations. But no one is so lucky as to guarantee every con will be a success. I have gotten us in the spotlight of too many powerful men, and by luck we have not suffered any big consequences.” Nate said, voice tinged with a foreign desperation.
“You were imprisoned. I pretended to die. Twice. Hardison was buried alive-” Sophie tried to reason.
“That’s exactly what I mean! We have gotten out of all those with our wits and by the skin of our teeth, but I-” Nate looked away from Sophie, staring at the coffee stain on the floor. “I don’t want to hurt them anymore.”
“Nate. You haven’t hurt them.” The man was a drunk and a hypocrite constantly telling them not to get too emotionally involved in a case when he put his heart and soul on the line for every one of them, especially those involving children.
“No? You said it yourself, if I hadn’t gotten you involved in my revenge -”
“We’d be worse off for it.” Sophie couldn’t picture a life without the team anymore, but she pictured her past even less. As fun as those cons may have been to pull off, there was no one to celebrate with, no one who it helped except her. Just proving her skills to herself and to others. Didn’t the saying go that it’s lonliest at the top? She had friends and acquaintances, other conmen who knew her through infamy. But she hadn’t had something like this team. She had sworn never to return to her family, cutting off all ties lest she be unable to let them go. But she knew her words applied to the whole team. They had been the best at their jobs individually when they met, but now they were even better because they learned from each other. They found people to feel safe with.
“Stop interrupting me.” Why couldn’t Sophie see that for all that he might have helped them, and as much as it was inarguable that they had saved him, he wasn’t their future. He had to step down so that they could reach their full potential. Why could she see that?
“Stop saying stupid things then Nate. It is beneath you.” was all the grifter said as she took her glass and walked back to the debriefing area towards the monitors, heels softly clicking against the wooden floor.
Outside HQ, Parker and Hardison were helping Eliot put away the dishes from dinner. Or more accurately, Parker was lazily drying a plate while looking off into the distance, and Hardison was fiddling with his master tablet. Eliot growled lightly as he plucked the plate from Parker’s hands, ignoring her indignant protest, “You were taking too long.”
Eliot grunted in acknowledgement.
“What do you think Nate and Sophie are talking about?”
“How the hell should I know?”
“Nate seems upset.”
“I’m going to go in.” Parker said suddenly as she straighted up and jumped off the counter she had been sitting on, dashing towards to the offices.
“No!” and “Babe, wait!” rang out simultaneously from the hitter and hacker as they jumped in front of her and blocked the path.
“What? We are all wondering why Nate was upset. Why can’t I ask what is up?”
“Parker, girl, you know Nate doesn’t talk to us freely on a good day, do you think that he is going to just tell you what is bugging him if you go ask him?” Hardison tried to reason as he rubbed Parker’s shoulders.
Eliot stood behind him with his arms crossed. “We have to give him time Parker. Let the man come to us. God knows trying to get him to be honest can be like pulling teeth off of a horse.”
Parker looked like she wanted to argue but then conceded when she realized the guys were probably right. She was going to get to the bottom of this though. She hated leaving puzzles unsolved.
It happened as the team finished the mission debrief. Nate was looking through the com recordings, visualizing the con in his head. Sophie was beside him, quiet but a solid pillar of support. Hardison and Eliot were arguing again about the python, much to Sophie's silent bemusement. Parker had gone to get popcorn for the movie they always played after a debrief. It was Sophie’s turn to choose, so either romantic comedy or Victorian drama. Snore.
Parker was waiting in front of the microwave oven when she saw the piece of crumpled paper. It was behind the trashcan so somebody probably thought it went in. Bending to throw it in, she instead brought it up when she saw her name in Nate's handwriting. Glancing to see no one was around, she unfolded the paper and put it on the counter, running her forearm over it to make it less crumpled. Once done, she looked at the list on the paper.
- Hardison - Friday
- Sophie - Monday or Tuesday?
- Eliot - Any day but Sunday?
- Parker - Wednesday, any day but Sunday?
Parker frowned at the paper, was this supposed to be relevant to a con? Why did the words next to her name seem unsteady? Could this be why Nate might be upset? Parker felt her shoulders tense, she hated uncertainty when it came to her team.
The microwave beeped, pulling her out of her thoughts. Folding the paper, determined to get answers, she took the popcorn and some butter into the living room. The movie was already pulled up, Mamma Mia. Hadn't they already seen this?
Apparently they had, if Eliot and Hardison arguing with Sophie was any indication, this was not going to be a fun movie. Probably no explosions. Bummer, Parker's favorite movies had explosions. Quickly setting the food on the table, the thief sneaked next to Nate, avoiding drawing attention. Once satisfied the others were distracted, Parker pulled out the paper and unfolded it in front of the mastermind. Close proximity meant Parker felt Nate freeze.
"What is this?" Parker asked quietly.
Nate opened his mouth and closed it. He was more hesitant than Parker ever remembered seeing the older man, a reaction that drew the attention of the other three people in the room.
"Just some random thought I had Parker. Nothing important."
"I don't believe you."
"Parker..." Nate said defensively.
"What is it? If it's not important, then why won't you tell me?" Parker badgered. She knew that her questions weren’t always welcome and she could be blunt, but why did Nate want to tell her?
"Because it isn't fair." came the reply from the mastermind.
Parker blinked. She was more confused than ever about what was happening. Nate saw her confusion and their audience and sighed.
"Sophie, would you mind bringing the tape?"
"Are you sure?" Sophie said quickly, clearly not expecting that response.
"No. But I don't think I have a choice either." Sophie bit her lip as she looked at the team before moving to Nate’s ‘office’ to retrive said tape.
"When you were on the con, Maggie called me and sent me these videos she found of Sam. And um, in one of the videos, Maggie is singing a nursery rhyme. And that nursery rhyme made me think of how it applied to you. The team. That's what the list is."
"How could a nursery rhyme applies to us?"
"Have you ever heard of one called Monday’s child?"
Parker looked at him confusion, tilting her head to the side as she tried to recall such a rhyme. But before she could say no, Eliot spoke softly behind her.
"Monday's child is fair of face, Tuesday's child is full of grace, Wednesday's child is full of woe, Thursday's child has far to go, Friday's child is loving and giving, Saturday's child works hard for a living, And the child that is born on the Sabbath day is bonny and blithe, and good and gay."
The team looked at him as he finished, but the hitter had his eyes closed, facing towards the rafters. Sensing their gaze, he simply said "My mom loved that rhyme."
He did't expand, and the others didn't expect him to, Eliot rarely talked of his family, and even less about his mother.
"It is usually called a prophetic rhyme Parker, essentially grouping all people born on a day of the week and assuming they all share some characteristics," Sophie explained as she returned with the tape, placing it gently on the counter in front of Nate as she retook her seat beside him.
"It's wack," Hardison said, and looked back incredulously when the others glared at him, "What? A stupid rhyme predicts your entire personality and how you will grow up to be? Only white people could come up with something like that."
Parker who had been quiet piped up, "So, what's the list, the days you think fit us best?"
Nate avoided her eyes, shoulders tight. The mastermind who had stood without fear in front of countless people who could have killed them all without batting an eyelid, stood tense and looking ready to bolt. But Parker didn't look away, so Nate clenched his jaw and sat more fully on the stood, straightening to look her in the face.
"I came across the line again, I couldn't sleep. The list, it's just scribbles."
"No it's not."
"It's not though! I want to know what it means."
"It's ok Hardison, she is right." Nate interrupted. Taking a deep breath and gather his thoughts, Nate extended his hand, asking for the list back. Parker gave it to him, watched him straighten the paper and trace his writing.
"The song is meant to be interpreted as each child having their day's particular characteristic traits as a big part of themselves, not their end all, be all. Monday is very straightforward, it's about beauty. Sophie's grifts rely on just herself and her words, her acting. She doesn't use tools like the rest of you. She captures people with her face, her beauty, be it physically or in her acting". Sophie's cheeks blushed a little, the blunt praise uncharacteristic of Nate.
"Tuesday is about grace, but that doesn't just mean moving gracefully, it can also mean how one interacts with people, how one moves through life and it's struggles. You do that exceptionally beautifully Parker, whether you realize it or not. Watching you work is like watching a dance performed by the most trained dancer. Eliot is trained in multiple martial art forms, watching his move it’s hard to feel like you are watching a dance. Or even how he moves in the kitchen." Nate said, a small chuckle as he saw his hitter look uncharacteristically abashed.
"Thursday is the day I was born. So was Sterling. I used to think it meant that we would travel a lot. And we did, but somehow, it think it actually means something bigger."
"It means finding yourself Nate. That's what you are afraid to say isn't it?" Sophie asked gently, placing a comforting hand over the man's clenched fists. "It means moving past the grief and anger, finding yourself, remaking yourself, or at least not letting the past kill you."
Nate looked at Sophie, too dumbstuck to say anything, feeling as though the grifter had read his mind. Sophie just smiled softly, running a hand over his cheek.
Nate shook his head to focus, and continued. "Friday is about happiness, about people who manage to find the best in every situation, the optimists who endure whatever the world throws at them."
"You think that applies to me?" Hardison asked quietly.
"I can't think of a person in my life it applies more to Alec." Nate said, voice tinged with a fierceness the team had never heard before. Combined with the use of Hardison's first name, the hacker was shocked at the steel in Nate's voice. "You haven't had an easy life, none of us have, but you never let that dim you. Your optimism is sometimes your biggest flaw, aside from cockiness, because you believe that even the worst bad guys can be saved. You do so much for us, and I know I never say anything or thank you, but you are the heart of this crew. You built Leverage. You built us our home each time we move, and I can afford to be reckless because I know you will be thinking up backup plans as fast as I issue the ones that inevitably go wrong."
Taking a pause to let his words sink in, Nate gulped down the last bit of alcohol in his glass. “Saturday is about working hard for a living, means exactly what it says. Maggie was born on a Saturday, and she works harder than anyone I can think of. Whether in her actual job, or as a mother to Sam, or … as a support for me, Maggie has never backed down from something even when others said she should because it wasn’t worth the effort.”
“What about me and Eliot?”
“What about you and Eliot?”
“How come we don’t have specific days? And what’s Wednesday?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Parker! Girl…” Hardison scolded, shocked at the cursing. Nate and Eliot cursed the most in the team, Sophie only doing so in really tight spots. Parker never cursed, but Hardison that was more from self-discipline than not liking them as was his case.
“No, let him finish explaining properly, no cryptic messages for once.” Parker practically ordered, making the hacker back down.
“Wednesday is living a life of woe, a life where for every good thing that happens, two worse things happen.”
“Why do you have Wednesday written by my name?”
“I wrote any day but Sunday.”
“You wrote Wednesday first before crossing it out and saying any day but Sunday.” Parker corrected.
Nate sighed, knowing he couldn’t avoid answering that question forever. How could he telll her ‘Parker, you are an orphan abused by the foster care system, abandoned time and again by those you called friends, up until you met the team. Your life has been full of woe until you met us.’ How could he look at the girl who had become his protege and though he’d never admit it, daughter, ‘Trauma leaves it's scars, and Parker would never be "normal". That she would always be haunted by her past, even after she moved on, just because of how her past made her look at the world. She had changed so much in the last few years, it had truly been a privilige to watch’.
“Because you haven’t had the easiest life Parker. I will give you that none of have had good lives, people who have good lives don’t turn to crime for a living. But the rest of us, to a degree we had a choice. I had a choice to tell Dubenich to go find his mastermind elsewhere. Sophie didn’t need to turn into a grifter, she could have found her calling as something else. Hardison’s skill would have been of invaluable use to the government-”
“Nate, I would never in my right mind work for the government.” Hardison said, disgust clear in his tone at the word government, causing Eliot to glare at him.
“Or at a corporation like any of the ones we take down. Eliot -”
“Can speak for himself. Parker, when I enlisted, when I went to fight, I did it with the flag on my shoulders, I thought I was doing the right thing. Doing the things I did for the government, I would be the last person to tell you about clean hands. I knew I could never come back to normal civilian life, not when I saw so many innocents die and so many monsters thrive. I know I don’t talk about Moreau, but he found me at the lowest point in my life and gave me a purpose when I thought I had none. Each step of the way, it has been my choice though. My choice to join the army, my choice to follow the orders I was given, my choice to leave, my choice to accept Moreau’s offer. My choice to stick to this team.” Eliot finished, looking straight at Parker. He knew that he would never clear the red from his ledger, but this team had helped him make up somewhat for his mistakes. He was not ashamed of his past, guilty yes, but not ashamed.
“What are you trying to say? That I didn’t have a choice? I could have chosen not to become a thief?” Parker said, walls higher than the team had seen since they started working together. When Hardison moved to touch her, Parker crossed her arms and took a step back, making Hardison drop his arm.
“No, that’s not it babe-” Hardison started but Parker interrupted him.
“I want to hear it from Nate.” Turning to face the mastermind, Parker puffed up her chest, grim determination etched in her face. She knew she wouldn’t like what the man had to say, but this conversation had gone on too long for her to pretend it had never happaned.
“Parker …” Sophie tried to cajole but Nate touched her arm to stop her. Parker was right. He had made this bed of thorns and he needed to lay in it.
“Parker, I just felt like more than any of the other days, the other traits, the one that has shaped your life has been Wednesday. Woe. A life without a family, living alone for so many years. You aren’t normal, and there is nothing wrong with how you are, but you can’t tell me it isn’t because of what happened to you growing up.”
“So you are saying I will always have a miserable life?” Parker said, voice cold and body language screaming “do not touch”.
“No of course not-” Nate tried to say but Parker turned on her heel and rushed out the door, moving to fast for the others to react in time. Eliot cursed before dashing behind her, but by the time he reached the entrance of the pub, she had already disappeared around a corner. Hardison pulled up the GPS to show her location, Parker had not taken off the earbud she had upgraded, and he followed her as she raced towards the tallest building in their neighborhood with access to the roof.
“I’ll go get her Nate said as he hauled himself to his feet.”
“Nate you can barely walk…”Sophie protested.
“Sophie this is my fault, which means I have to fix it. Hardison please send me her final location.”
“Nate the place is like four blocks away, you’ll never get there on that foot. Let me give you a ride till the building at least”. Eliot said as he entered.
Nate knew he wouldn’t be able to argue against that, so he just nodded and followed the hitter towards his car. Eliot didn’t say anything during the short car ride, but Nate knew he was just itching to. When they parked in front of a tall residential building, Nate moved to open the door. But before he did that, he turned towards his hitter. “Eliot I know you have never held a great opinion of me, and I have no idea how this is all going to play out, but I am going to ask you for a favor.”
Eliot just kept looking at him, not letting his face give anything away.
“You have never needed anything from me, and I don’t know what being a part of this team has given you. But I know that my time to leave is approaching, and come what may, I need you to promise me that as long as the three of you are together, you will protect them. And not just their bodies.”
Eliot shifted his gaze to the main entrace of the building before returning to look at his leader. “You are right Nate that I don’t think you are always right. For a mastermind, your life is a chaos you don’t seem to be able to, or more importantly, willing to fix. But I trust you, despite all your mistakes you always pull us through. You put yourself in harm’s way or take the fall for us when your con goes wrong. We all trust you. And that favor you asked is a vow I made to myself a while back. I don’t break my vows.”
Nate gave his hitter a once over before nodding once and exiting the car. He hobbled into the building and towards the elevators, pressing the topmost button. The elevator opened on the landing of the penthouse floor, with an exit sign showing the fire exits and stairwells. Heading toward it, Nate braced himself on the wall as he slowly made his way up the short set of stairs. At the top, the door opened silently, though Nate had to lean his weight on it to get it to budge.
Parker was sitting on the edge of the building, feet dangling in the air. Her head was tilted towards the sky, eyes closed, and she gave no reaction that she heard Nate approach. He started walking heavier to not startle her, and was thankful when Parker didn’t bolt at the sight of him.
“You are wrong.” Parker said when he got to the edge, leaving against the short sill and sitting heavily on the floor, leaning against the wall.
“I probably am.” he conceded.
“Why would you say I can never be happy?” Her voice was quiet, child-like in its trepidation.
“That wasn’t exactly what I said.”
“No but it’s what you meant.”
“Now you are just putting words in my mouth.”
“What do you want Nate?” Parker sounded almost defeated, shoulders hunched as she braced her arms on her thighs.
“I want a chance to explain myself. Properly.”
Nate sighed. Parker was never an easy book to read. “Parker, it is a stupid nursery rhyme, like Hardison said. It doesn’t actually mean anything that you are matched to any particular day.”
“Then why would you say or even think what you did?” now came the petulance, and though it wasn’t the time, Nate couldn’t help but think of how Parker’s tone was so similar to Sam’s when Nate had to tell him he was going to be travelling for a few days.
“Because I am an old man Parker. Because I look at the world and I feel tired. Tired at the corruption. At the fact that we could take down a 100 bad guys tomorrow, and by the next day there will be another 100 in their place. I am a drunk who likes to critizise everyone but will never look at myself long enough to correct any of my flaws.” Parker looked at him, guards still up. “Parker, I am sorry, I never meant for any of this to happen. Like I said, I was drunk and sad. It is not an excuse. But this is me asking for forgiveness.”
Parker was quiet for some time, processing the speech before hesitantly asking “Do you think it is true though? That my life will be filled with woe?”
“Parker, when you have a child who becomes sick, and the doctor tells you all the things they will never do again, and it is a long list, you stop giving a crap what the rest of the world thinks. And when that child dies, … I can only say that I wouldn’t have cared if the world had burned to the ground. I thought I would never find a way back to sobriety. And I did. In you. In Sophie. In Hardison and Eliot. You all gave me something to hold on, hope I hadn’t felt since Sam’s death. So I don’t know how to answer your question with a 100% guarantee. What I can say is that you are an absolutely magnificent young woman. Who someone like me can only have the honour of seeing blossom. I don’t want you to have a life of woe. And that’s the nice thing about prophecies. They never mean exactly what they say. And they rarely are fulfilled to the tee. I think you will lead an incredible life, and as long as you have the four of us, I promise, we will make sure you are never alone again.” Nate felt winded, maybe all the alcohol had removed more of his filters than normal. But it had felt good to say those things out loud. Both here and back at HQ.
Parker finally unfolded herself, letting the tension melt as she gave him a small smile.
Nate smiled. “Cross my heart.”
The smile grew wider, calming the anxiety in Nate’s stomach.
“Now if it isn’t too much to ask, could you help me down the stairs? My leg feels like it is about to fall off.” Parker giggled as she helped Nate by placing an arm under his shoulder, taking some of his weight. The two thiefs slowly made their way out of the building and into Eliot’s car, who had stayed there waiting for them to come out. Eliot had just needed a nod from Parker to know that everything was back to normal. Or the process had at least started. The drive back to HQ was similarly quiet, but the tension was gone, all three feeling more at ease.
Back in HQ, Hardison and Sophie were waiting for them outside the pub and greeted them with hugs, managing to pull Eliot in for a group hug.
“Everything good girl?” Hardison asked his partner when they separated.
Parker just nodded and shifted to wrap her arms around his torso, snuggling closer when he returned the hug.
“What did you say to her?” Sophie asked in a quiet voice as she watched the young couple.
“The truth. That I am an old man who isn’t always in his right mind. That the rhyme is just a rhyme, and we make our own destiny.” Nate said.
Sophie smiled, proud of the older man for reflecting on himself. He had been so closed off for so long, afraid to face his demons but it seemed he was ready to do so now. “Does this mean you will believe me when I say you aren’t the worst thing to happen to us?”
“I never said worst Sophie. I am still scared I will make a mistake I can’t correct, but I have trusted my gut and you all so far, so I am going to keep doing that.”
“I’ll take it.” Sophie said, gently bumping his hip. Turning towards the trio that had somehow started a tickle fight she said “Oi, you three, inside, we have a movie to start.”
The crew moved back to the debriefing room, feeling closer than ever before. Well, at least until Sophie started the movie, at which point Hardison and Eliot resumed their argument, making Parker laugh. Nate watched the scene with his own smile, happy that his family was whole and stronger than ever despite his giant blunder.
He traced the letters on the tape lable, hwo had one small videotape caused so much trouble? But it had worked out for the best in the end. As it always tended to. Nate knew he was going to be leaving soon, he was gettin tired of fighting these battles, and if the universe granted him one last favor, Sophie would be joining him. Parker was almost ready, she was still a little vulnerable from having had her psyche so openly attacked and analysed, but Nate thought it also helped hear it from someone else.
They would be fine.
No, they would be incredible. Screw that rhyme, they were each and every one of them bigger than any one line or characteristic.