Chapter 1: The one where Jamie meets Parker
The first time Jamie met Parker, they weren’t even breaking into anything cool. They were breaking into a dumpster. And really, what kind of snooty asshole restaurant locked their dumpsters? But the pizza place with the unlocked dumpsters had chased them away with a broom and some pretty creatively violent threats, and they were not keen to test their luck to see if those threats were idle or not.
So there they were, phone balancing on the edge of the dumpster, using the stolen wifi from inside (and really, what the hell kind of a password was ‘AVeryDistinctivePassword’) to stream a youtube video on how to open a padlock with a safety pin. It was not at all as easy as the guy in the voice-over was making it seem, and they weren’t sure if it was because people on youtube were full of crap or because their fingers were freezing and they weren’t doing it right.
“Try jiggling it up a little more,” a voice from above them said.
The tiny flailing ‘gah’ they shouted out was entirely justified, in Jamie’s opinion. Because when they looked up, there was a whole-ass woman, clad in black, hanging off the side of the building in some kind of climbing harness. She was holding onto a rope, just casually dangling there, one toe perched against the building like it was nothing.
“Hardison put the lock on there to keep the raccoons out,” she explained. “I told him it was mean, since raccoons are thieves and if they can get into the dumpster they should be allowed to eat what they find, but he was all ‘it’s unhygienic’ and Eliot was all ‘raccoons carry diseases’.” She let go of the rope to do finger quotes and somehow didn’t seem fazed that this left her hanging upside down. Her pony tail brushed the tip of Jamie’s phone, which was still trumpeting about how easy that was in a self-congratulatory tone.
“I wonder if I could teach them how to pick a lock,” the woman said, before turning their way. “Do you think raccoons are smart enough for that? They have tiny little human hands.” She wriggled her fingers in front of her face in what was presumably an approximation of a raccoon’s creepy little man-hands.
“Not with this youtube video,” Jamie sulked.
“He’s explaining it all wrong,” the upside-down lady stated. “Try jiggling it up more, like I said.”
They tried, because what did they have to lose? There was some kind of criminal hanging upside down above them like a friendly neighbourhood Spiderman, if Spiderman went around encouraging crime instead of fighting it. The lady kept giving tips while they worked, and then the padlock clicked open.
“Good job!” The woman gave them a thumbs up, before pressing a button on her harness and zipping upwards. She disappeared over the edge of the roof silently in what looked like a complicated flip.
It occurred to Jamie later that maybe they should have asked what the woman was doing there, or warned the owners there was a lady on the roof of their building dressed in all-black with some pretty professional looking climbing gear. But really, they were breaking into a dumpster, they weren’t really one to talk. Spidercrimelady was free to do whatever the hell she wanted. Especially because the dumpster netted them some premium leftovers.
The next time they snuck into the alley, the padlock had been replaced by a better one, but the dumpster also has a step-by-step infographic on how to get it open. Taped next to it was a sign in blocky capital letters that read ‘IF YOU ARE HUNGRY, PLEASE KNOCK ON THE RED DOOR’. Scrawled under it in a ballpoint pen it read ‘unless you’re a raccoon’.
As tempted as they were, they decide to try the pizza place instead. This place was just too weird.
Chapter 2: The one where Jamie gets adopted
The second time Jamie met Parker, they’d gotten better at this whole crime thing. They’d even gone back to the Weird Dumpster a couple of times to try out their skills. The locks kept getting more difficult, and it felt like some kind of insane social experiment. Jamie half expected a camera crew to pop up at any second, or maybe some people with lab coats and clip boards, but somehow the alley was always quiet when they were there. No more weird ladies hanging from ropes, nobody ever coming in to fill the dumpsters while they were concentrated on the fiddly bits.
The sign about knocking on the door if they were hungry was still there, marker letters slowly blurring and washing away from the rain. They never did, and they pretended not to notice anything weird about how there were always perfectly packaged Styrofoam boxes of leftovers conspicuously on top of the actual garbage bags.
The point was, between the Weird Dumpster and some forays into the more shady corners of the internet, they were actually pretty good at being a petty criminal. They’d managed to break into a nice abandoned office building that nobody else had been able to get into, so they’d had somewhere safe to sleep. They were still working out how to steal electricity off the wires in the wall, but once they had that, they would be golden.
They’d also started working on pickpocketing. It was easier than shoplifting, given the amount of clerks that followed them through the store even before they lost access to clean clothes and a place to regularly wash themselves.
It all felt very Oliver Twist, especially when they found an old mannequin in an alley and put a coat with bells on it to practice. They tried to only target people who looked like they could afford to lose some stuff. Business people in fancy suits, college bros with flashy watches who bragged about the new car their parents bought them, ladies who looked like they were one minor inconvenience away from demanding to speak to a manager.
The best places to work were places with lots of people where a slightly unwashed teenager wouldn’t stand out, and with minimal security. Train stations platforms, parks near schools and universities, especially around lunch time. They were in one of those now, one close enough to a university that another teenager in an oversized hoodie with a backpack blended right in, but also close to some big office buildings for premium lunch hour foot traffic.
Their loot so far was three wallets, a granola bar, and a rose gold iPhone they could probably sell at the shady pawn shop that always smelled vaguely like funions. They were just weighing the options of trying to relieve a Karen from the contents of her purse while she shouted at some teenagers for daring to be goth in public, or to give up and go to the library to take a nap in the children’s section before Drag Queen Story Time.
Drag Queen Story Time and a nap won out, and they made their way to out of the park and down the street as casually as they could. Nope, no stolen goods here, just a regular teen of indeterminable age going to some kind of educational building. They fished the granola bar out of their pocket and were just about to enjoy their freshly stolen breakfast, when a black van pulled up beside them and they were bodily yanked inside.
Now, here was the thing. They watched John Mulaney just as much as the next Gen Z’er. They knew that being taken to a secondary location was a very bad thing. So when the long-haired dude with the scary eyes closed the door and the van started driving, they had just enough time to think ‘this is how I die’ before they started screaming.
As they took a breath to keep screaming, a voice next to them casually remarked: “Hey, well done on that last lift.”
Which was confusing enough to make them stop screaming for a moment, at least, trailing off in a confused ‘ah?’
It was the lady from the Weird Dumpster. She was pretty recognisable, even when she wasn’t upside-down and wearing all black. Instead, she was in some kind of preppy office outfit, with a pencil skirt and her hair up in a strict looking bun.
“The phone? Really smooth lift, and good thinking taking the battery out right away to keep the owner from tracking it.”
“Please don’t hand me over to the cops,” they begged, because maybe implanting that idea in their heads was better than what they were actually thinking, which was ‘please don’t kill me and dump the body somewhere for the urban coyotes to eat’.
The blonde frowned, tilting her head. “Why would we do that?” she asked, confused. Genuinely confused, not ‘super villain taunting the hero’ confused. Jamie considered pointing out the obvious, about stealing being illegal, but this was a lady who walked them through picking a lock on a dumpster and was apparently cool with kidnapping a minor, so…
“We’re running out of time,” one of her henchmen growled. He, in comparison, looked at least mildly uncomfortable with the whole minor-kidnapping thing, which was good. Jamie fixed their best scared-teary-puppy-dog-eyes on him, and his glare turned more into a flinch.
“Okay,” the woman said. “So, well done on those lifts, really, and I can give you a few pointers later, but we really need something from the second wallet you stole.”
“Wait, what?” That was not what they’d been expecting.
“I was about to lift it, but you got there before me,” the woman beamed. “And you put it straight into your backpack, which was very inconvenient, so I figured we could just steal you instead of your bag, because you deserve to keep everything you stole.”
This woman was insane. Like, crazy criminal insane. Yet at the same time very fair-minded about other people’s labour, or in this case, thievery. It wasn’t like Jamie had the high ground here, in any case, since they had apparently been at the park to do the same thing.
“We’re coming up to the parking garage,” the guy in the driver’s seat warned.
“So-we-really-need-that-green-security-card-in-the-second-wallet,” the blonde lady said.
“We’ll give you fifty bucks for it,” driver-guy added. Like they just needed some monetary incentive, and not, you know, a promise to not be murdered. But, well, if these weirdo criminals wanted to pay them fifty bucks on top of not murdering them, Jamie wasn’t going to say no. Assuming they were being honest, of course, which kidnapping notwithstanding they kind of seemed to be.
They fumbled with their backpack, and the scary guy with the hair moved back a little to give them space. Ms Crime helpfully pointed out which wallet she meant, and they fished out a green, official looking security pass, which she grabbed and quickly passed to the driver. He leaned out the window and something beeped, and they drove into an underground parking garage.
As soon as the van was parked, Hair Guy pulled the door open and he and Crime Lady hopped out. She smoothed down her skirt, nodded, and strode off towards the staircase. Hair Guy gave them one last glower before pulling shut the van door and presumably following.
As Jamie was deciding whether or not they could make a run for it – they hadn’t heard the click of a lock, and while this place did seem to have some kind of security, that was probably mostly to stop people from getting in, right? – the driver climbed out of his seat and unhinged a part of the van wall, which turned out to make a little desk.
“Sorry, this is a bit of a time-sensitive issue,” he said, pushing open a laptop. He grabbed an orange soda out of some kind of magic compartment and offered it to them. Clearly he’d never heard of ‘don’t take anything from strangers, especially if that stranger dragged you off the street and into his creepy-ass van’ rule. They shook their head, and he shrugged, turning back to the laptop. “Okay, you’ve got about thirteen minutes. That pass should get you to the upper floors, and then just use the device I gave you to get into his office.”
“Am I about to be an accessory to a hit?” Jamie asked, peering over the guy’s shoulder. His screen was filled with a bunch of security camera footage, along with a map of some kind with two little dots on it. Out of the three kidnappers, this one seemed the least scary. Honestly, they were pretty sure they could take him. Especially now that they looked around and saw all kinds of things that could be used to bludgeon someone in a pinch. “Is it the CEO? Because he raised the price of insulin by six hundred per cent, I would be okay with that.”
“Not a hit, but we’re gonna make sure he can never do that again,” the guy said, typing some stuff into a little window at the bottom of his screen. “How do you know where you are, anyway? You were in the back of a van with no windows and I drove like, a crazy route to get here.”
“The green of the security card is the same green as the OmniCare logo and it’s known for having hella security ever since the outcry over the price hikes,” they pointed out. Everyone knew that. The guy glanced over his shoulder, a little incredulous. “What? It’s a very specific shade of green.”
For some reason, the guy thought that was funny, and he scooted his chair aside a little so they could see better. “See, OmniCare isn’t just doing legal-but-morally-corrupt price hikes, they’ve also been doctoring trials so they can push cheaper to make drugs through FDA approval. Cheaper drugs that either don’t work as well, or don’t work at all.”
“And you’re not murdering him?” Jamie asked, now kind of disappointed.
“Nah, better,” the guy said, looking incredibly smug. He pointed at one of the video feeds, where Crime Lady and Hair Guy were walking down the corridor, looking like important but boring office people and not thieves and kidnappers. “See, Martins keeps the real trial files in what he thinks is a hidden, state of the art safe in his office.”
“Ha,” a voice coming from the computer said. “A DeKlein 4200, that’s not even top of the line. He’s too cheap to get a better one.”
“Let’s hurry this up, we’ve got seven minutes,” a growly voice added.
“So you’re going to steal the files and leak them to the press?” Jamie asked. There was no camera in the CEO’s office, but the growly henchman was lingering in the hallway as Crime Lady probably busted the safe open with her magic crime powers.
“We’re going to steal the files, scan them, and throw them up on the screen in the middle of his live televised PowerPoint presentation of a new drug, before playing the audio of him admitting what he did and telling his accomplice how they’ll never get caught over the speakers.” Computer Guy looked pleased, leaning back in his seat. “Also, tipping off the FBI.”
“Brutal, public, highly meme-able.” Jamie considered it for a moment. “I like it.”
“Glad you approve,” Computer Guy said. He tapped some more on the laptop and a view came up from the security camera’s apparently down the street from the offices. “Okay, time to head out, Van Whitt is on his way back and they’re going to sound the alarm when they find out his security pass is missing.”
On the video feed in the corner, Crime Lady popped out of the office, grinning gleefully at the other guy before schooling her face and walking away with an arm full of files, cool as you please. With some clicks of the mouse, they followed her and the muscle back through the building on the security cameras. They climbed back into the van, Hair Guy up front and Crime Lady in the back.
They drove out of the parking garage, Computer Guy monitoring the footage, and Jamie looking over his shoulder, gripping the back of the chair. They were invested now, dammit. Hair Guy swiped out of the building’s parking garage just seconds before the guy whose wallet Jamie had stolen arrived at security. They let out a sigh they didn’t know they were holding. All this spy stuff was a lot more intense in real life than on TV.
They drove away at a normal, don’t-mind-me pace, and ended up back near the park. Which was very considerate for a bunch of kidnappers, really.
“Thanks,” Crime Lady said, beaming at them. Definitely not getting murdered, then.
“Glad to be an accomplice,” Jamie said, because what else did you say when you accidentally help take down an evil corporation like some kind of vigilante superhero. They just wanted enough money to be able to eat and maybe get a winter coat before it reached freezing temperatures. Crime Lady looked even more pleased, like they’d passed some kind of test.
“Hey,” they added, looking at the hacker guy. “When is that press conference? I’m gonna stream the shit out of that.” They’d be the first to grab screencaps, their tumblr would get so many hits. They were already thinking of puns and ways to meme it. Maybe a riff off that Gru meme with the whiteboard.
“Today at four thirty,” he answered. They could stick around the library a bit longer than usual to steal the wifi and go to the funion pawn shop tomorrow.
There was a pause. All three of the vigilante criminals were staring at them now. The ‘probably going to get murdered’ dial in the back of Jamie’s mind was slowly creeping back up to red.
“You promised me fifty bucks,” they reminded the Computer Guy, eyeing the door.
“Do you one better,” Hair Guy said. “How about a room and three square meals a day?”
“And snacks!” Crime Lady added quickly. “Eliot makes the best snacks.” Her henchman managed to both roll his eyes and look incredibly pleased at the same time. Well, that must be Eliot, then.
“Do I have to point out that you kidnapped me?” Jamie asked. “I mean, I’m pretty sure ‘don’t go anywhere with strangers’ is a normal rule, but it counts double for criminals who drag you off the street into a creepy van.”
“Lucille is not creepy!” Computer Guy spluttered. “She is a hybrid!”
“Dammit, Hardison, that’s not the point,” Eliot growled. Somehow he was less scary cursing out Computer Guy – Hardison – than he had been before. The two men looked like they were about to start squabbling, but Crime Lady took a breath, and they piped down. She was clearly the one in charge.
“I can teach you how to lift better, and pick more locks, and safes, and break into museums,” she said, before seeming to shake herself from pitching what was essentially ‘A Whole New World: Crime Edition’. “You’d have your own room with a lock and food and nobody would make you do anything you don’t want to do and you’d be safe, especially since construction in the building you’ve been staying in is going to start up again soon. The project was taken over by another company.”
“How did you know about that?” Jamie snapped, bewildered. If she was right, they they’d have to clear out and find another place to stay. A place that didn’t try to send a well-meaning social worker after them. Or try to misgender them. Or pose a risk to their safety. They pushed down the panic. There were other abandoned buildings. They would be fine.
“Did you… did you not see what I just did?” Hardison waved at the laptop, still open and showing at least 5 different camera angles, both inside and outside OmniCare. “Parker was worried about you when you didn’t come back to pick the lock for five days. The back exit of the bank across from your building has a security camera. Which hasn’t been showing you sneaking in or out for the last four weeks, you’re welcome.”
That was both incredibly violating and somehow kind of sweet. It should probably worry them that they’d been so easy to find, except for the fact that this dude was obviously some kind of master hacker. And he hadn’t actually done anything with the information, just… kept them safe, that was a pretty solid point in these guy’s favour.
Parker, Crime Lady, held out a crisp fifty, along with what looked like a business card. Probably from the Brew Pub with the weird dumpster, unless criminals had their own cards now. Maybe they did at a superhero level. “You don’t have to,” she said. “You can take your time to think it over. But come and try Eliot’s chilli, and look at the room. It’s really good chilli.”
They took a breath. What did they have to lose, really? They could at least get a free meal out of it, in a public place. If they wanted to kill them, honestly, they would have already done it. Instead they’d shown Jamie exactly what they were doing. That had to be a security risk. They took the fifty dollars, and the business card.
“Can you teach me to break into a museum to steal back stolen artefacts to return them to their countries of origin?” they asked, because why the hell not. Go big or go home, right?
The grins they got in return were delighted, and a little terrifying.
Chapter 3: The one where Jamie learns stuff
Living with three criminals was kind of weirdly not weird. Sure, there were discussions on how to best break into the national reserve, but they were during the rather wholesome homemade family dinners that Eliot insisted on at least once a week.
Sure, the Vermeer in the living room turned out to in fact not be a replica, but right next to it there was a framed Star Wars JediStormPilot commission by one of Hardison’s favourite artists on tumblr.
Sure, Parker sometimes disappeared for a few days to break into the office building of a corrupt CEO or a diamond exhibition, but she always texted stuff like ‘DO YOUR HOMEWORK’ and ‘remember to sneak some tuna out for the raccoons when eliot and hardison are distracted’. Parker’s texts were always either in all caps, or with no capitalisation at all. If there was a system behind it, Jamie had yet to figure it out.
The crew didn’t really try to hide their life of crime, was the thing. And that just made it normal. They let Jamie sit in on job briefings, so long as they pretended to do their homework so everyone had plausible deniability. Which never lasted very long, because how could you not ask what the hell ‘The Barbershop Quartet’ was, and keep asking questions when the answer was ‘it’s like The Russian Doll but with trumpets’. They were pretty much going to get their GED with a minor in con artistry at this point.
Parker, of course, was the most down with what Hardison had started calling their ‘Bastards Degree’. Besides the lock picking (which had graduated to handcuffs, and then safes), she taught them about security systems, and motion sensors, and how to steal a car. She’d offered to teach Jamie how to drive, but the ‘NO’ that had come out of Hardison and Eliot’s mouths was so loud it had echoed through the Leverage International offices.
Hardison taught them how to drive instead. In a normal car, not in Lucille. He was also teaching them coding, which could technically land them ‘one of those nice normal people jobs, if that’s what you want’ but was really just a solid base so they could move on to hacking later. He also taught them how to create and use a power surge to bypass a security system, and how to remotely take over security cameras and loop the footage so no guard would notice.
Eliot was the toughest nut to crack. Sure, he taught them stuff. He taught them all about cooking, and growing your own food, and why Hardison’s brews were shit without ever letting them try said brews. He taught them self-defence, but mostly how to get free and do enough damage to get out of a situation. Not the kind of ass-kicking Jamie had seen him do on the security cameras that one time Hardison had forgotten they were in the room during a job and he’d put it on the big screen.
When Jamie had stopped their lesson to point that out, it had been derailed because Eliot had to ‘Dammit Hardison’ and be all shouty for fifteen minutes. Most of it was apparently about keeping Jamie out of those aspects of the job until they were older, and the other part was apparently that Hardison shouldn’t have been ogling Eliot when he was supposed to be doing his own part of the con. (Which was silly, Hardison was an excellent multi-tasker and quite regularly ogled both Parker and Eliot while working or playing videogames.)
When Eliot was done shouting, he’d sat down next to them, his whole posture softening and becoming a lot less scary. It was impressive, how he did that. “My job as a hitter means taking a lot of punishment,” Eliot told them, painfully sincere. And yeah, Jamie had seen Eliot on the couch with an ice-pack or fresh bandages a few too many times already. “I teach you this stuff so you never have to be in a situation where you have to do what I do.”
Which was really sweet, but they still really wanted to learn that flying punch thing. That looked badass.
Chapter 4: The one where there are rules
Just because they were criminals, didn’t mean there weren’t rules. The Brew Pub meticulously followed all the health and safety rules. Which made sense, since the staff always said Chef Spencer was way scarier than Gordon Ramsey. And because Hardison really liked to buy state of the art gadgets. Eliot still made them all sweep and mop the place regularly, but every Tuesday evening after closing, someone got to shout ‘RELEASE THE ROOMBAS’ and they sat on the stools at the bar and watched them go at it. One had a knife taped to it, and Jamie made sure to sit up and salute it when it passed.
There were also just the rules of living together. Boring, regular, no crime rules. If you finish the last of something in the fridge, write it down on the grocery list. If you finish the last of Hardison’s orange soda, prepare for a lot of complaining. No feet on the coffee table if Eliot was around. Don’t get into a discussion about the best Yoda unless you want to sit through Hardison’s two hour long PowerPoint presentation (again). No jazz.
When Parker had shown them around, she’d made a special point to mention the lock on their bedroom door, which, yeah, could be picked, but they had a Rule about Not Doing That To People’s Bedrooms or Bathrooms. But she also mentioned offhand that the best and easiest security was probably a rubber door stop like the ones in the maintenance closet downstairs at the brew pub, second shelf from the bottom on the left next to the lightbulbs.
There were rules that probably had to do with crime, like not to bother the team when they were talking to someone in the back booth with their Serious Faces on. Don’t talk to cops or anyone flashing a badge. If you see a guy named Sterling, tell him to fuck off and go get Eliot. No posting pictures of the Brew Pub’s back rooms or living space online. No pictures of Eliot online anywhere. Don’t touch Hardison’s computers. Don’t touch Eliot’s knives. Do not touch Parker’s rigs. You don’t con your team.
There were very specific rules to stealing. Stealing the remote was a national pass time, unless it was during the latest episode of Doctor Who or during the playoffs. Stealing clothes seemed to be mostly a Parker thing, though Jamie kept their mouth shut that weekend Hardison went to see his Nana and Eliot’s zip-up hoodie seemed a bit too long and a little too tight around the biceps to be his.
Stealing cereal: fine, but write it down on the grocery list if it’s running out. Stealing the cereal box that was actually full of cash: rude. Stealing food from the fridge: ‘it’s not stealing, you’re welcome to anything in the fridge, you live here too, kid’. Stealing Eliot’s sandwiches when you were Hardison, though? Prepare to die.
And then there were the rules that Jamie had decided upon for themselves. Like, don’t talk to Parker in metaphors, because you might just end up with her enthusiastically stealing you a pair of really expensive sneakers when what you were really just trying to convey was that feeling of discomfort of having grown up not-middle class and not-white and not-cis and not-straight in a predominately white, middle-class, cishet environment. (They kept the shoes, though. They looked awesome.)
Also, pretend not to notice when Eliot kisses both Hardison and Parker good morning, because he will get oddly flustered and stop doing it.
Jamie figured it was some kind of strange PDA hang-up, or maybe the whole ‘if I pretend I’m grumpy nobody will notice how totally in love I am’ thing, which wasn’t fooling anyone. Luckily, Parker and Hardison saw through his nonsense as well and only kissed him more obnoxiously when he shied away those first few weeks, until he, to quote Hardison ‘stopped being weird about it in front of the kid’.
There was the general awareness that ‘if you see a kid in trouble, all three of the adults are going to get side-tracked and try to fix it’. Which was kind of how they ended up living with them, Jamie guessed, so who were they to judge? With Hardison, things were usually pretty easy. You just had to hang back while he either talked to the kid, or keep him from walking into a lamppost while he did some hacker magic on his phone.
With Eliot, they usually ended up as a lookout so he could threaten whatever adult was bothering the kid in peace. With Parker, it was 50/50 of trying to help her do what she thought was right, or trying to talk her out of giving a seven year old girl a taser to use on the neighbourhood bullies. But it usually ended up alright.
Then there was the rule that if you wake up in the middle of the night to screams, don’t bother Hardison the next morning. Those mornings where Hardison sat huddled over his phone at the kitchen island, nursing his coffee in silence. The morning where the curtains were all pulled wide open, and if at all habitable, the windows and doors would be open too, as if the room, even with its super high ceilings, was somehow claustrophobic.
And while Parker and Eliot usually did their own things in the morning, on those mornings they were always nearby. Never exactly touchy-feely close, but one of them was usually within Hardison’s line of sight at all times, pretending not to watch him.
Jamie knew better than to ask. They also knew, from Eliot’s casual mentions of gulags and fighting guys with names like ‘The Butcher of Kiev’ and from Parker’s horrifying stories that she thought were funny childhood anecdotes that the other two probably also had nightmares, they were just quieter about it. Which was a pretty good survival mechanism, Jamie had learned in their first few weeks on the street, back when they bounced between shelters and below bridges. There was safety in numbers, but also danger. Don’t attract attention. Ever.
So no bothering Hardison if you heard screaming, but also no bothering Parker when she got that blank look on her face and disappeared into the rafters. No bothering Eliot when his shoulders were all tense and he chopped things with more force than necessary.
They all had their own stuff to deal with. Jamie was pretty sure the grown-ups had their own unspoken rules, when it came to each other, and to them. But it seemed to work. They all worked.
Chapter 5: The one where Jamie gets paid
“What’s this?” they asked. It was very obviously a cheque, but it was a cheque made out to Jamie Danvers. Jamie knew that, master hacker and all, Hardison knew their deadname. And their last name. He’d never said a word or treated them any differently, but he had to know. He probably also knew their GPA, every place they’d ever lived, and even their embarrassing old tumblr handles from when they were twelve.
“Eliot said you’ve been helping out in the kitchen,” Hardison said. “So it’s your paycheck.”
Really, they only hung around the kitchen because Bobbi from the late shift had mentioned that if you were around after hours Chef Spencer would make you taste-test whatever he was working on for the new menu. And when Eliot pointed at you with a knife and shouted that he needed someone to dice onions, you just… grabbed a cutting board and started dicing onions. And yeah, they’d taken over washing dishes Friday night, but that was only because Raoul’s babysitter called that his kid was sick and he had to get home as soon as possible.
“I don’t… That’s not…” It was weird. They’d been thrown out, disowned on the spot, for their identity. For asking their parents if they could please call them Jamie now, and use their pronouns. And now here they were, in a place that accepted them, where nobody questioned their name, and they were arguing… what? That the name Hardison had put down was wrong. “I don’t have a checking account in that name,” they lamely finished.
“Yeah you do,” Hardison said brightly, pulling out an envelope. “Also a passport, library card, and five different state IDs. Eliot made me promise to wait with the drivers licence until you pass your exam, but…” He stopped when he saw their face scrunch up in a valiant effort not to cry.
Their Oregon state ID smiled up at them, the name Jamie Danvers proudly displayed. The picture was a recent one, their curly hair cropped short. They were wearing the raccoons-with-sunglasses sweatshirt Parker had brought back for them on her latest thief-trip. Jamie had no idea how Hardison had taken a picture, since they certainly hadn’t posed for one, but sometimes it was better not to question these things. They wiped the teardrops off the little plastic card with their thumb, trying to swallow down their emotions.
“Shit, is it the last name?” Hardison said. “It’s just that you said Captain Marvel was your favourite, and it’s safer to use one not connected to…”
“It’s perfect.” They weren’t a Williams anymore, anyway. Their parents had made that very clear. “Thank you.” They flung themselves across the table to give Hardison a hug around his waist. He flailed for a moment before bringing his arms down. Man, Parker was right, Hardison really did give good hugs. They both politely ignored the sniffles the other was making, until the door slammed open and Parker and Eliot came in, loaded with grocery bags.
“Good news, we found tiny little marshmallows shaped like…” Parker stopped in her tracks, not moving an inch when Eliot slammed into her from behind and started cursing. “Why are you crying?” she asked, concerned. Feelings weren’t her strong suit, but she tried. Jamie pulled away, rubbing at their eyes with their sleeve.
“Hardison got me a library card,” they said. Parker frowned, then nodded and beamed.
“Great rooftop,” she said. “Easy security system.”
Behind her, Eliot rolled his eyes, but as he passed by, he squeezed their shoulder. “Welcome aboard, Danvers.”
Chapter 6: The one where Jamie gets Stuff
Slowly, their room had started to fill up. When Parker had first shown it to them, it had been kind of bland and neutral, with Solid But Plain Wooden Furniture and not much else. A bed. A bedside table. A dresser. The only thing that had given the room any character at all was a knit blanket at the foot of the bed, which Parker said Hardison’s Nana had made.
The lock on the door was kind of Level 3 Weird Dumpster, so when Hardison later gave them the tour to the Brew Pub, they did follow Parker’s advice and stuffed one of the doorstops from the stock room into their hoodie pocket. Jamie was pretty sure that Hardison had just pretended not to notice, which was very nice of him.
They hadn’t had much to go and get from the building they had been squatting in, really. They put the old mannequin and the pickpocket practice coat lurking behind the door of the CEO’s office for shits and giggles. They’d squished up the sleeping bag and shoved it into their backpack. Then they cleared out the wrappers and empty bottles and stuff that showed someone had been living there, and grabbed the big plastic bag with the few articles of clothes and sanitary items they’d managed to buy with the pickpocket money they hadn’t spent on food.
They’d come to Portland with next to nothing. They’d had a go-bag ready before their conversation with their parents. They weren’t stupid, they’d known it was a possibility that they’d get tossed out. They just… hadn’t thought their dad would block them from even going upstairs to get it. Hell, they’d been lucky to shove their feet into their sneakers before being kicked out of the door with just their phone and a hoodie.
So when they started earning money at the brew pub, their first order of business had been to build up more of a wardrobe than a pack of ValueMore underwear and socks, three t-shirts, an old denim jacket from the thrift store, their hoodie, and some busted up sneakers. You walked a lot when you were homeless.
At first they’d thought Hardison was doing something weird to their paycheques, out of pity. He’d tried to suggest taking them shopping once, and had quickly backed off when they’d panicked and shut it down hard. Just the idea of standing in a dressing room with Hardison helpfully waiting outside made their gut churn. But the paycheques were way too high for the work they did and it smelled a lot like charity.
They’d casually brought it up with Bobbi when there was a lull in her shift once, and she’d smiled and said that Alec Hardison did not believe in tipping as an excuse to not pay people a living wage. Everyone at the Brew Pub was paid well above minimum wage, and tips were just that, tips. It was part of what the servers called the ‘Customer Is Not Always Right And If They Hassle You Just Tell Them To Fuck Off’ policy. Of course, telling customers to fuck off was vaguely discouraged, but apparently the one time it had happened and there had been a complaint, Hardison had reviewed the footage and sent Chef Spencer out to remove the diners with a little more than just strong language.
So they’d taken the money, and bought some new clothes. They still mostly went to the thrift store. Firstly because Eliot seemed to have some kind of grudge against ValueMore and they didn’t want to get on his bad side. But also because Portland was Hella Weird and you could find all kinds of amazing stuff there. Slowly the dresser filled with jeans and leggings and flannels and shirts with dinosaurs and ugly sweaters and what was probably the softest purple cardigan in the entire world. They found some ass-kicking boots and some cool sunglasses, a warm beanie and some decent leather gloves that Parker declared ‘good enough for home break ins’.
They kept the knit blanket, of course, which made Hardison look all soft and gooey. But the first time they went to wash their sheets, they found a little surprise. They carefully walked downstairs, where Hardison and Eliot were watching some kind of sportsball on the big screen, and Parker was dangling overhead, working on knotting something complicated.
“Hey guys?” they asked as casually as they could, stopping at the bottom stair, well out of reach. “Is there a reason there’s a knife taped to the bottom of my bed?” They held the knife gingerly between two fingers, sharp end down. Three pairs of eyes shot to them, and Eliot jumped up to take the knife away. They were kind of glad of it, really.
“That room used to be Eliot’s, before he got it through his thick skull that he was supposed to move into our bedroom,” Hardison said slowly, eyeing the knife. “Wait, does this mean you have a knife taped to the bottom of our bed as well?”
“Do you mind if I just… quickly go up to your room to fix something?” Eliot asked, standing up and doing whatever he could to avoid eye contact with Hardison. Above them all, Parker cackled.
“THERE’S MORE?” Jamie and Hardison asked, pretty much in synch.
“Just one,” Eliot said. “Or… two, actually, if you count the board that can be pulled out of the bedframe.” He hurried up the stairs, Jamie following because they couldn’t wait to see where the other Surprise Knife had been hiding.
From downstairs, they heard Hardison yell: “Eliot? Eliot, you never answered the question. Dammit Eliot!”
A few weeks after all the surprise knives had been removed and Eliot had given them a quick tutorial on all the ways to use the Solid But Plain furniture to beat someone into oblivion, Jamie got to help Hardison forge some money in what Eliot called his Nerd Cave. It was literally just a room full of gadgets and stuff he used to make what the team needed for cons. There was a sewing machine in one corner next to a thing that made official looking signs, a whole table full of electronics and what looked like a disembowelled toaster, a bunch of craft supplies, and of course, The Printers.
“So explain again to me while we are making intentionally shitty fake money?” they asked. First Hardison had walked them through the steps of a proper forgery, and then he’d pointed out all the things they were not going to do, or do wrong. Hardison was bent over his laptop, trying to decide if photoshopping Lin-Manuel Miranda onto the bills was one step too far or not.
“We’re gonna steal the real money the Congressman embezzled,” he explained. He was using some kind of face-melding software to make up the difference between Money Hamilton and Musical Hamilton. “And replace it with this. That way, the white nationalist terrorists he’s giving the money to will quickly see it’s fake and create enough of a kerfuffle for me to record all the evidence we need until Agent McSweeten arrives.”
And yeah, it was super weird that Parker and Hardison were friends with a literal FBI agent. That didn’t mean Jamie had stopped petitioning Hardison to make them an FBI agent as well. Or at least a CI. They’d promised to revisit the idea when Jamie was older, mostly because Eliot was getting that ‘my team is about to do something stupid and dangerous’ twitch around his eye.
“So this printer does fake money, and that one does official documents and the Brewpub stuff, and the one that smells funny in the corner made a fake medieval diary once,” they summed up. “What do those two do?”
“The small one is a regular office printer that mostly prints out briefings because Eliot likes them on paper,” Hardison said, rolling his eyes like that was some kind of adorable quirk he had to put up with. “The big one is great for high end posters and faking magazine covers, depending on what paper you put in it.” He grinned. “Wanna try?”
Which was how they ended up with a blown up version of the Lin-Manuel Miranda Dollar Bill, a bunch of Catradora posters, and a fake magazine cover pronouncing them the new star in an upcoming Marvel movie. (Also: 10 ways to drive security systems wild!)
With a basic wardrobe complete and a now permanent twice-weekly shift as a dishwasher and cleaning up after hours, Jamie started accumulating more Stuff. They put aside money just in case one day Parker, Hardison, and Eliot ever decided they were more trouble than they were worth, money for stuff they needed, and what was leftover was fun money. So slowly, their room filled up with Stuff.
They went to the comic book store with Hardison and ended up picking up some comics and a cute Captain Marvel bobblehead. They bought some art supplies. They got themselves a few plants, and had to Google what the hell a spider plant did to satisfy Parker’s question. Apparently ‘look cute’ and ‘purify the air’ were boring answers.
Their best finds, however, came from the thrift stores. The spider plant was repotted into a ceramic pot shaped like a baby’s head that made Parker laugh when she saw it and Hardison mutter something about joy and rage. The cacti found homes in some mugs with either very bad puns or swearing on them. They brought home a hot pink lava lamp, and one of those talking fish that Hardison helped them reprogram. For the longest time, it just shouted a compilation of Eliot’s best ‘dammit Hardison’s at you when you pressed the button.
Then one day, Parker decided to come along to the thrift store. Halfway through scouring the clothing racks she’d disappeared, only to pop up again carrying a painting of Princess Leia and a Mogwai riding on the back of a unicorn. The frame was ornate and spray painted gold. It was beautiful, and terrible.
“You need this,” she said.
They snapped out of their reverie. “I do need this.”
“It’s too big to lift easily,” Parker cautioned. “Unless you distract them.”
“Parker, it is fifteen dollars, I am willing to pay fifteen dollars simply for the satisfaction of seeing Hardison lose his damn mind over it.” Or the pained look on Eliot’s face. Parker looked thoughtful, like the idea of actually buying something was new and odd. And honestly, it probably was. But stealing from a charity thrift store was a lot different than stealing from a rich asshole who got even richer by exploiting his workers, and Jamie wasn’t about to make trouble for the people who worked here.
They left the thrift store with a plaid scarf, some suspenders, the most hideous and beautiful painting in the world, and a mug with a raccoon on it.
They were right. Eliot’s face was totally worth the fifteen dollars. He still helped them hang it up, though, talking Jamie through the use of power tools and holding the ladder steady for them. He grumbled something about how they’d learned how to drill open a safe before learning how to hang up a painting, but it was good natured. When they hopped down to look at their masterpiece, they noticed Eliot looking around their room. It wasn’t that messy, they thought, but Eliot was kind of a neat freak.
“What?” they asked carefully.
“Nothing,” the guy shrugged, looking suspiciously misty eyed. “Just glad you’ve made this place your own.”
Chapter 7: The one with Jamie's first job
They got their GED. And while it sucked to not get a real high-school graduation like they’d always thought they would have, the little ceremony Hardison put together (complete with intentionally shitty powerpoint, hat and tassel, and forcing Eliot to bake a monstrosity of a cake) was pretty fun.
They’d said no to his offer to throw them a prom, though. They’d seen the plans for those on a whiteboard in the corner of the office and had very quickly roped Amy and Bobbi into persuading the bosses that fake-prom was a bad idea and an HR disaster. Among the things on the board were a frankly terrible playlist, much better than average punch, and apparently plans for Parker to drop from the ceiling to remind people to ‘leave room for Jesus’.
They passed their driving test, and afterwards Eliot took them to an abandoned lot and taught them some defensive driving techniques. Then he got out and Parker taught them what she called ‘driving techniques’ but mostly consisted of her shouting ‘faster’ while they tried to go through an obstacle course. By the time they got out they were a little dizzy and kind of nauseous, but then Hardison presented them with seven different drivers licences, which made it all worth it.
Hardison had started to let them help during jobs, watching the security cameras. They got their own ear bud, which they sometimes had to turn off because they hadn’t exactly mastered the art of not giggle-snorting through the more ridiculous parts of the cons. Hardison’s Vaguely Swiss Accent was atrocious, okay?
They started helping put together the briefings, learning more about reading bank statements, finding offshore accounts and how the stock market worked than any college Econ course would teach them. They also remotely hacked their first lock, letting Parker into a building she probably didn’t really need help getting into, but it still earned them a high five in Lucille and a ‘good job’ whispered over the comms.
After that, Parker started taking them on field trips. Like breaking into the library. And then Stark’s Vaccuum Museum. And then the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. And then some rich person’s house, which had felt weird, but when Parker showed them the dude’s twitter account they had no problem casing the joint and stealing all his valuables. And breaking his creepy nazi memorabilia.
Eliot ramped up their training, dragging them out of bed in the morning to take them on a run. It was awful at first, but after him describing Hardison being chased around an impound lot by a bunch of very large dogs, Jamie had to admit that maybe Eliot had a point. So they ran to a nearby gym, and Eliot taught them more ways to beat someone up so they stayed down. And they did not speak of the freshly baked goods and hot chocolate Eliot always bought for them on the run back.
There were even more field trips, getting more serious as time went on. Parker was a very hands-on teacher, but always gave them time to try and figure stuff out for themselves first. After a while, she only dramatically cleared her throat whenever they overlooked something.
A selfie with the tyrannosaurus at the Natural History Museum they had to pinkie swear to never ever put on Instagram. Breaking into a skyscraper just to jump off it. Getting into a vault at a bank to steal a painting and returning it to the Jewish family it was stolen from during the war. They managed a perfect break in into their latest mark’s office, Parker simply coming along in case there was trouble. They switched out the client’s stolen designs with a file that would instead 3D-print a rather obscene garden gnome statue, and got out without a hitch.
Hardison and Eliot both gave them a fist bump when they got back to Lucille, Eliot adding in a manly ‘I’m not going to say anything because if I do it will be incredibly sappy and you’ll roast me’ shoulder squeeze. Parker grinned, looking proud, and announced that the next job, they could go in on their own.
When they got back to the brew pub, Eliot half-asked, half-ordered them upstairs. They went, Hardison giving them a half-hearted shrug, Parker looking confused. They immediately took out the laptop Hardison had given them and hacked into the downstairs cameras. It wasn’t really hard, considering they were on the same closed system, but Hardison still gave a proud wink at the nearest camera before putting down his phone and joining in the conversation.
Or, well, shouting match. After a few months of surveillance in Lucille working on their lip reading, and the vague strains of Concerned Eliot Noises coming from downstairs, it wasn’t hard to piece together Eliot thought it was way too soon to send them in anywhere alone. The word ‘still a minor’ and ‘dangerous’ seemed to be used a lot. Parker was probably reminding him her first solo break in had been much younger than sixteen-and-seven-months, which probably didn’t really help matters.
Hardison was probably doing that thing where he acknowledged your feelings but then bludgeoned your opinion to death with facts. Facts like how Parker would never let Jamie do something they weren’t ready for, or how she’d never risk a job. Or how undoubtedly, all three of them would be in Lucille just in case things went sideways, and Eliot could storm in and do his Big Tough Punchy Man Thing if necessary.
Finally, Parker seemed to cut Eliot off mid-rant and he threw his hands up storming back towards the kitchen. Jamie made sure to shut the laptop and slide it across the coffee table before Hardison and Parker came in, earning them a ‘who are you kidding’ eyebrow quirk.
“So, Eliot’s gonna say in the kitchen for a while and do some Angry Cooking,” Hardison said casually, grabbing an orange soda from the fridge and handing them a Mountain Dew.
“How angry are we talking?” Jamie asked. “Like, bread angry, or schnitzels angry?” They mimed kneading dough and pounding meat with a hammer violently. They wondered what Parker would be able to taste in the food if he served it to them. Last time, she refused to touch the bread he’d made when he’d been mad at Hardison for saying that ‘all mustard was basically the same anyway’.
“It’s not that he doesn’t trust you,” Hardison began.
“I know,” they cut him off. It was sweet of him to try and make them feel better, though. “He only gets shouty because he cares. And the last time he made schnitzels was when you oversold the con and almost got murdered by that creepy human trafficker.” Hardison looked sheepish, and Parker nodded. At the time, Eliot had dashed from Lucille and Parker had turned around and produced a bag of M&Ms out of nowhere for them to eat while they listened to Eliot beat up an entire room full of thugs. Jamie knew better now than to ask Eliot to teach them any of the moves that made grown men scream like that.
“What did you say to him, anyway?” they asked Parker.
“That I’m the mastermind,” she replied, shrugging, like that said it all. And yeah, it pretty much did. Jamie had always known Parker was The Boss, even though they felt kind of bad for categorising Eliot and Hardison as her henchmen early on. But it was the truth. Parker was the one who came up with the plan, who made the calls, and ultimately, who had the final say. She’d listen to other opinions, which was apparently a vast improvement of whoever had been Head Batman at Leverage before, but in the end, if she made the call, Hardison and Eliot (and Jamie) listened.
Eliot didn’t come up from the kitchen for a very long time. Which either meant he was very upset, or that his Angry Cooking turned into Distracted By A New Idea For The Menu Cooking. Eventually, Jamie gave up and went to bed, because some people needed more than ninety minutes a night.
They hadn’t really expected Eliot to drag them out of bed at six the next morning. They’d been kind of expecting to sleep in, grab a bowl of cereal, and have an awkward conversation sometime in the afternoon, possibly on the roof where Eliot grew his food. It was where he did a lot of his brooding when he didn’t want to terrify the kitchen staff.
But there he was, like usual, pretending to be a drill sergeant and urging them to get up with way more amusement than was really fair. They stumbled out of bed, put on their running clothes and shoes, and met him at the door, also like usual. Were they just going to not talk about it? Eliot was running a bit faster than usual, so maybe this was some kind of subtle punishment. Or, knowing Eliot, some kind of drive to make them better so they would kick more ass and be safe.
Three blocks in, Eliot had not slowed down his pace, and Jamie was trying to think of zombies chasing them so they would have the motivation to keep up. Then, Eliot started talking, perfectly even, like he wasn’t speeding through the streets fast enough to outrun at least an unmotivated guard dog.
“Listen kid, about last night,” he started, staring straight ahead because talking about feelings without eye contact was less intense and also good for not running into a lamppost. “It’s not that I think you can’t do it. You’ve been doing great. Parker’s really proud. We’re all very proud.” Which would have been heart-warming. Really. Except for some reason, he picked up the pace even more as he said it, and the warm glowy feeling was quickly replaced by an overheated, dear-god-why feeling.
“Is this you punishing me, trying to have a heartfelt conversation while forcing me into a sprint?” they asked, before he could go on to listing all the reasons he’d absolutely flattened some poor pieces of meat the night before. They barely got the words out between pants. Eliot looked surprised, then slowed down until Jamie could collapse against mailbox, catching their breath. After a moment and a look from Eliot, they dutifully started their stretches and took Proper Breaths.
Eliot continued on like he hadn’t even been running, stretching out his hamstrings and shit casually. “I’m just worried. A lot can go wrong on these kind of jobs. Even Parker runs into unexpected trouble sometimes.”
“I know.” They were pretty sure pointing out all the things Hardison and Parker had said last night would just annoy him further. An annoyed Eliot was a grumpy Eliot, and grumpy Eliot was the worst sparring partner. “But I trust Parker, and I know I’ll have you three as backup if I need it.” They saw Eliot’s face soften a little at that, even though he tried to pretend it hadn’t touched him. Good. No grumpy sparring Eliot.
“C’mon,” he said, starting to jog in place until they stopped stretching and set off again. “We’re going to practice disarming and evading again, just in case.”
It actually took a few more jobs for Jamie’s solo break in. One of them required grifting their way in, and for some reason nobody thought it was a great idea for a sixteen year old to go to a black tie event at the embassy to break into a safe there. The other one wasn’t so much a break-in as a ‘walk in, punch people until they tell you where they hid the baby they kidnapped, walk out’. Jamie very graciously let Eliot handle that one.
Then, finally, there was a job that Parker said they could do. An old-fashioned, cover-of-darkness, get in, plug in the doodad Hardison gave them, wait until it does its thing, get out type of job. They all piled into Lucille, then parked where Hardison had said was out of range of any cameras. The office building suddenly looked very foreboding in the dark.
“Do you have your comm?”Hardison asked, even though he could see on his screen it was working, if he’d bothered to look. Instead, he was way too focussed on Jamie. It was a little bit unnerving. They also had a button cam, probably a concession to make Eliot feel better. Seeing Hardison’s Concerned Face echoed on the screen at his elbow was weird and trippy.
“Do you have your tools?” Parker asked. They lifted their button down shirt and folded over the top of their jeggings to show the special sewn in pocket that had their lock picks and the USB Hardison had given them.
“Do you-” Eliot started, and they held up a hand to cut him off.
“Guys, chill,” they said, rolling their eyes. “I got this.” They tried to ignore the little voice in their head that said they did not have this at all. Come on, Jamie, pull it together. Conceal, don’t feel. If they caved and admitted that they’d really, really prefer Parker to come with them, Eliot wouldn’t let them do any solo jobs until they were in their twenties, probably.
They got out of the van, squared their shoulders, and strode off in what they hoped was a confident way. Channel your inner Winter Soldier. They did not look back, mostly because they didn’t want Parker to see the sheer panic on their face right now. They were not going to let Parker down. They were going to crush this, prove Eliot wrong, and make Hardison 3D-print them a tiny trophy when they got home, or something.
They’d gone over the break-in with Parker like seventy times, they knew all the steps, they had all the contingencies drilled into them. Or, well, jump-scared into them. For the last week, Parker would pop up out of nowhere to shout ‘WHAT IF YOU SEE A WIRE RUNNING ALONG THE BACK DOOR’ and expected them to answer immediately. Which was probably a good thing, because they were able to quickly disarm the alarm on the service entrance, muttering under their breath to answer the Parker In Their Head, while the Parker In The Van stayed silent as a mouse.
They had the blueprints of this place memorized, and knew the quickest way to the mark’s office. They diligently checked for any surprise cameras, sneaked through the offices, crouched down to pick the lock on the office door (not their best time, but at least their hands stopped shaking), and slipped inside.
They booted up the computer and plugged in the little USB-drive Hardison gave them. Crouched awkwardly behind the desk to stay out of sight just in case, they watched the code do its thing, first decrypting the passwords and then ransacking the guy’s files and servers. “Are you kidding me,” they whispered furiously. Eliot immediately made a concerned noise on the comms. “This dude’s computer password is ‘123password’,” they quickly explained, before he came in here fists blazing.
“Now that’s just insulting,” Hardison agreed, as the code finished and ended at the bottom with a little thumbs up emoji Hardison probably spent an extra half hour coding just for Jamie.
“It’s done, on my way back,” Jamie whispered. They pulled out the doohickey and tucked it back into their waistband, shut down the computer, wiped any prints, did a quick scan to see if nothing was out of place and put the chair back where they found it. But just as they were silently pulling the door closed behind them, a flashlight hit their face.
“Hey!” A voice called out. “What are you doing in there?”
Unfortunately, all of Parker’s scenarios hadn’t covered ‘what do you do if a security guard pops up right in front of your damn nose, with his hand hovering over what may be a gun, but is hopefully just a taser’. Eliot’s had, but unfortunately, Jamie was not in a range to do any of the cool moves he had taught them, even if they could fucking remember any of them at this point. Their head seemed to be full of static, eyes fixed on the maybe-gun-maybe-taser. They had to do something. Right now.
On comms, they could hear Eliot cursing and the door to Lucille sliding open. Somehow, that was what snapped them out of their freak out. They were not going to let Eliot say ‘I told you so’.
“Don’t!” they all but shouted. The guard with the flashlight frowned at them. The sound footsteps on gravel in their ear stopped, though, so they kept going, with only a slightly awkward pause. “Tell anyone I’m here after hours, please, sir. I know interns aren’t supposed to be here this late, but fucking Chad didn’t tell me about my part of the project until he was half out the door, and if I don’t have these numbers on the boss’ desk by tomorrow morning, I can kiss my recommendation goodbye.”
The flashlight wavered, the hand hovering over the probably-hopefully-a-taser lowering. Now that they weren’t being blinded, they could see that the security guard was an older looking black guy, who didn’t seem too happy at the idea of shooting-slash-tasering anyone if he didn’t have to. Especially when that someone appeared to be a baby-faced intern. Hopefully the dark grey button down and the black pants would vaguely help with this notion. That could pass for intern-business wear, right? They held their hands up in a pleading gesture, which also helpfully showed they were unarmed.
“I can’t lose this internship,” they went on, pushing all their frantic terror at the thought of getting shot into their voice. “I went through like four interview rounds to get a spot, and then fucking Chad shows up a week after everyone else because his daddy is some kind of big shot manager, and they’re only hiring two of us for the summer programme.” Bless you Hardison and your ridiculously thorough researching skills. “I can’t lose out to Chad, sir. He doesn’t even know how to use the copier!”
Apparently, the night guard had some experience with the Chads of the world, because he chuckled. The hand fell away from what they now saw was a taser. “I won’t tell if you won’t tell, young lady.” He gave them an almost grandfatherly wink. “Are you almost done? You really shouldn’t be up here all alone.”
“I was just on my way out,” they said, which wasn’t even a lie. “I just needed to find where Chad hid the key to the office to lock it. I’m very sorry for the inconvenience.”
“Nonsense,” the security guard said, and actually took the key ring off his belt to lock the office for them, before herding them to the elevator. “But next time, be sure to let the day shift know you’re staying late. Just tell them that Earl said it’s okay. My shift starts at ten.”
Earl brought them down to the front entrance, telling them all about his granddaughter, who had just started high school, and was smart as a whip, and hoped to get an internship here one day as well. He disabled the security system and opened the locked doors for them, peering out anxiously. “Would you like me to walk you to your car, dear?” he asked.
“That’s alright.” Jamie smiled. “I’m parked right around the corner under a streetlight, but thank you.”
“Don’t you let that Chad boy win,” Earl said. “What was your name again?”
Shit. They were already one step out the door, but of course it couldn’t be that easy. They couldn’t very well say Jamie, Hardison had drilled that much into them. They weren’t burning that name, ever. Besides, Earl was probably expecting a girl’s name. “Nell,” they told him. “Nell Caffrey. Thanks again, Earl!”
They waved and jogged around the corner to where they said their car was. As soon as they were out of sight of the cameras, they sprinted towards Lucille, muttering ‘shit, shit, shit’. The other end of the earbud was mostly silent, except for the noise of Hardison furiously typing, probably to make a Nell Caffrey to slip into the intern database.
When they got to the van, Parker slid the door open, and they hopped inside. Eliot was behind the wheel and started driving as soon as they were settled in. Right. Get away from the scene of the crime ASAP. Especially since they got their dumb ass caught.
“Listen,” they started before anyone could say anything. “I know I fucked up and Hardison has to put Nell Caffrey into the database and I should have-”
“You didn’t fuck up,” Eliot said, throwing an angry glance over his shoulder. “We did.” Oh shit, here it came. The ‘we sent you in before you were ready, you’re crime-grounded until you’re twenty-five’ speech.
“We were so caught up in watching you that we forgot to keep an eye on the security guard.” Parker admitted. It was true that earlier surveillance had proven that Earl rarely if ever did rounds at night. But still, someone should have probably been staked out to keep an eye on the front entrance and the security guard.
“But I was caught off guard and I didn’t, you know, judo-throw Earl across the desks while disarming him,” Jamie said, feeling embarrassed. All those hours in the gym with Eliot and they had just started babbling about internships and copiers instead.
“You were out of range, he would have tasered you,” Eliot said.
“You did great.” Parker cut them off. “We’ve been so busy training you to be a thief and a hacker and a hitter that we didn’t realise you were a natural grifter!” She beamed at Jamie. “You did a good job, distracting him and playing into his expectations, and you made your way out without raising any suspicions.”
Hardison looked up from his laptop to share their usual victory fist bump. Slap, punch, explosion. “You made him lock the door of the office you just broke into for you,” he pointed out.
Oh. Oh, they did do that, didn’t they? They’d been so caught up in trying to make the whole internship thing believable, they hadn’t even thought about how that was kind of a power move. “I just figured, he probably wouldn’t shoot an intern,” they muttered.
“You did good,” Eliot echoed from the front seat. Out of nowhere, a container of cookies dropped onto their lap. Of course Eliot had made them victory cookies beforehand, even though he’d been against the whole thing in the first place. “Eat these, they should help with the adrenaline crash.” Parker passed them a Gatorade, and they noticed their hands were shaking a little, again. Apparently, nerves and adrenaline were not that different. They shoved one of the cookies into their mouth before washing it down with a big gulp from the bottle.
“Hey,” they asked Hardison, as they fumbled the USB out of the secret pocket and handed it over. “Do you think we can send Earl some thank you donuts?” Or would that be rude? He didn’t know he’d just aided and abetted a felony, after all. Would it be some kind of mean gloat, when the news broke that the crooked CEO was being ousted because his shady dealings had been leaked? Or would he just think the nice intern had sent a thank you?
“We can definitely do that,” Hardison agreed.
After that, it was business as usual. Or well, what counted as usual for Leverage. Jamie had been wired after the break in, which according to Parker was pretty normal. Hardison had taken pity on them and had stayed up with them, playing about a dozen rounds of Mario Kart until he was yawning. They’d sent him off to join Eliot and Parker, played a bunch of other games, before more or less passing out on the couch and sleeping through the day.
They woke up at four in the afternoon tucked in under a blanket that hadn’t been there before. Hardison was sitting at the kitchen table, monitoring everything while Parker and Eliot did the next part of the con. They sleepily wandered over, grabbing their ear piece off the table and shoving it into their ear to hear what was going on. Hardison pointed over at the fridge, where apparently Eliot had left a sandwich for when they woke up. It had a little folded note propped on to that said: JAMIE (eat this and I’ll break both your legs, Hardison) in Eliot’s blocky handwriting.
They blearily listened to the mark taking the bait, offering to buy out Parker’s fake company so they could make millions together while destroying the lives of ordinary people, same old, same old. Hardison confirmed on comms that the money had gone to the right account, and the last phase of the con was a go. Hardison was already busy ensuring the paper trail lead where they wanted it to go and that the stuff Jamie had stolen was going to the right places to completely ruin the evil CEO.
They finished their sandwich and hurried to their room to change. They wouldn’t admit it out loud, but they maybe kind of had an outfit picked out and ready for this day. One that they had probably put too much thought into. But come on, it wasn’t every day that they got their first ‘Gloat At The Bad Guy From a Distance But In Plain View Just As He Realises He’s Been Played’.
So they washed their face, pushed their short hair into some semblance of order, and slid on the black skinny jeans and purple button down that may have been put aside perfectly pressed for just this occasion. They topped it off with their asskicking boots and suspenders, and then stood in front of the vintage floor length mirror they had propped in the corner. They crossed their arms and squared their shoulders a little, looking smug. Yeah, that would do it.
They thumped down the stairs with Hardison and got in Lucille, and he drove them to the offices. They had just enough time to pick a Supreme Gloating Spot, before Parker skipped around the corner, followed by Eliot. She skidded to a halt and pretty much bashed her shoulder into Hardison’s, who grinned and pressed a kiss to her temple. Eliot and Hardison shared their little secret handshake before he swooped in and pressed a kiss to Eliot’s temple as well. After a perfunctory grumble, Eliot took up a place at the end of the line, bookending Jamie and ruffling their hair as a hello.
“Here he comes,” Parker said, and they all watched as the mark was dragged out the front door of the offices by police, surrounded by angry co-conspirators telling him to shut up. When he looked up, and saw them standing there, he started shouting even louder. Jamie had seen it before, a few times, from the safety of Lucille or even watching Hardison’s computers from the Leverage offices, but standing there looking smug was almost as much of a rush as when they’d handed over the USB to Hardison last night.
Jamie wanted to say that the warm glow of getting a dirtbag in trouble and exposing his creepy predatory schemes so they could never do it again was the best part, but that would be a lie. The best part was probably when he bashed his head against the top of the squad car because he was frantically trying to gesture at them while shouting ‘they’re the real criminals’.
Yeah, they could get used to this.
Life after their first real job was pretty normal, even though sometimes they were hit with a wave of smug satisfaction. Bobbi and Raoul teased them about having a secret crush, since they were smiling so much. Jamie didn’t exactly correct that rumour, because they couldn’t very well explain ‘I broke into this guy’s office and now he’s behind bars for fucking over poor people’. Still, sometimes they got to share a knowing look with Eliot in the kitchen and that was enough.
At least, life went back to normal until they checked if their Brewpub salary was in yet. For some reason, their first thought was to wipe their phone with their sleeve, as if the numbers on the screen were some kind of smudge or dust. Then they tried shaking it. The numbers stayed the same. So they wandered over to where Hardison was working, photoshopping what appeared to be Eliot and Parker getting married at a Las Vegas Elvis Themed Drive Thru Wedding Venue. Jamie assumed it was for a future job, but who knew. The man had some weird hobbies.
“Hmm?” He did not look up, instead focussing on adding an extra inch to Parker’s already dangerously high-looking hair.
“Why am I suddenly rich enough to buy a yacht?”
That did get his attention. He looked up, beaming that sunshine smile of his. “That’s your Leverage money.”
“Is this that alternate revenue stream everyone keeps going on about?” they asked. Honestly, Jamie had thought that was just something they told clients. Because ‘we’re criminals with incredible caches of stolen goods and ill-gotten money across the globe from our lives of crime, we just do this for fun’ would probably scare people off.
“I… may have made some investments for you,” Hardison said, in the least convincing humble-brag ever. He was nearly wriggling out of his seat with excitement and glee.
“Some investments?” Jamie echoed, unbelieving. There was a deposit for five hundred thousand dollars in their bank account. As well as the wages for their Brewpub hours, of course, because Hardison was never late with those. “Wait, why the hell have I been washing dishes all week if I had this in my bank account?”
“Because Eliot will give you his ‘I’m not mad, I’m disappointed’ look if you don’t?” Hardison pointed out. Which, dammit Hardison, he was right. Instead of admitting that, though, Jamie stood up to grab their bag and shove their feet into their shoes. “Wait, where are you going?” Hardison sounded vaguely concerned as they headed over to the door.
“To get one of those extra-large Oreo cupcakes from the hipster bakery I told myself I couldn’t afford!” Jamie called out. Which they were going to do. While also clearing their head and having a mild freak out, probably. It would be rude to do so in front of Hardison, because you didn’t make the dude who just casually wired you 500k feel bad about it. But they kind of needed to freak out.
On some level, Jamie had known that the team was rich. Parker talked about her money like it was a bff she sometimes hung out with (and this being Parker, who knew, maybe she did). Hardison, of course, owned a brewpub that really couldn’t be operating at a profit with the prices they asked for food and the expenses they made. And Eliot, while he wasn’t flashy, did have the best and highest quality of the stuff he found important. That knife set he had was probably worth more than everything Jamie owned put together.
Also, there was the fact that they’d taken in a homeless teenager without apparently blinking at the costs. Jamie knew they were extremely lucky in many ways, and that never having to worry about asking for something they needed was one of them.
It’s not like they were ever really poor-poor, before. Just that kind of two income household where one or two minor setbacks could completely wipe out any savings type of poor. The kind of poor where they never went hungry, really, but asking of brand name shoes was out of the question. Hell, asking for brand name cereal was a joke. The kind of poor where you pretended ValueMore orange juice was just as good as the stuff you saw in commercials on TV.
Then of course, they’d had their stint of homelessness, which had been its own kind of nightmare. They had been hungry then. And cold. And then somehow, they’d ended up in this fucked up little criminal found family straight out of their favourite ‘everyone lives together in Avengers Tower’ fanfiction.
But they’d never really expected money like that of their own. Honestly, they hadn’t really thought that far ahead at all. Not for a long while. Their parents had kind of proven that nothing in life was certain, and you couldn’t really rely on anyone but yourself. Long term plans and goals had been on the back burner as they focussed on the basics: food, shelter, not getting caught by CPS. And then, on life at the Brewpub, learning everything they could, while making a little money on the side and putting some away just in case.
On some level, Jamie knew that Parker, Hardison, and Eliot wouldn’t throw them out. And not even just in a ‘they know too much’ kind of way. They cared, and they accepted Jamie for who they were. Even the angry, spiteful parts of them. Jamie also knew that if they asked, the team would bankroll any college or university education they wanted, even if the end goal was a Normal Person Job. They already took some online classes, but that was more because breaking into museums with Parker was more fun with some art history knowledge under their belt.
They didn’t think they wanted a normal job anymore, though. They enjoyed the whole School Of Crime thing they had going on. They enjoyed learning things that felt a little dangerous, a little forbidden, and a whole lot cool. And they really, really enjoyed watching rich, powerful assholes face consequences for once in their entire lives.
And apparently, that came with more than just getting to participate in The Gloat. That came with a casual 500k in their bank account on a Friday afternoon.
They wouldn’t have to worry about being kicked out anymore. Sure, they were still underage, but with that much money, surely they could find a motel to stay at with someone who could be bribed to look the other way. They didn’t have to worry about medical bills, or buying new shoes, or hell, technically they could probably buy a house with that money.
So why the hell were they freaking out so much? It wasn’t like this was ‘get the hell out of our house’ money. It was ‘hey you’re part of our little criminal Avengers Team and here’s your cut’ money. It was just… a lot of zeroes. They pondered it over, checking and rechecking their bank account on the way.
After going to the Overpriced Hipster Bakery and buying one of everything they had ever seen in the window and told themselves they couldn’t afford, they stopped by Parker’s favourite donut place and did the same. By the time they’d made their way back to the brew pub, they had consumed one large Vegan Oreo Cupcake, a pumpkin spice iced coffee, a maple cream pastry, and an oatmeal cookie the size of their head. They were actually vaguely nauseous, and they weren’t sure if that was because of the pastries, or because it had just sunken in how much money five hundred thousand dollars was.
That was how Eliot found them, sitting at the table, staring at their phone, surrounded by baked goods. They couldn’t even muster up the worry about his probably upcoming rant about bringing that much sugar into the house. They just pushed a not-overly-sweet carrot cupcake with perfect cream cheese frosting in his direction. He stared at it, suspicious, before swiping his finger through the frosting, tasting, and nodding in approval.
“Did you break one of Parker’s rigs?” he asked, sitting down next to them and gently peeling the adorably bunny-themed paper away from the cupcake. Which was a fair assumption, because a table full of mostly chocolate-y goodness did kind of scream peace offering slash please-don’t-kill-me directed at Parker. Maybe they should put some of this stuff away before she got back.
Instead of answering, they passed Eliot their phone. The obscenely large number on their bank account app hadn’t changed.
“Dammit, Hardison,” Eliot shouted out in the direction of Hardison’s office.
“Did… did Hardison add too many zeroes?” Jamie asked, cautiously. That might explain it. Maybe they had like, all of the Leverage International slush fund sitting in their bank account.
Hardison made his way down the hall to them, scoffing at the remark. “Excuse me? Did I add too many zeroes? You think I’d make that kind of typo? I am extremely good at what I do, I’ll have you kn-oooh, donuts!” He dove for one of those donuts, with crunched up Oreos on top, and bit into it. Eliot scowled.
“You don’t just throw five hundred thousand dollars at a teenager without warning and expect it to go well,” he scolded the hacker, who was more focussed on catching the crumbs from his donut than the very angry hitter in front of him. “It’s irresponsible! No offense, kid,” he added, voice immediately softening when he spoke to Jamie.
Jamie shrugged and waved at the table full of baked goods. “I mean, clearly you’re right,” they agreed.
“I see no problem with this,” Hardison said, taking another bite of the donut, his other hand already reaching out for one of the cookies. Eliot smacked the back of his hand, before grabbing his wrist and pulling him close, their noses almost touching.
“You are going to sit down,” Eliot… well, menaced, basically. “And you are going to walk them through setting up some safe off-shore accounts and savings.” He gave Jamie an encouraging smile. “We’ll talk about drop boxes with Parker later.”
So Hardison grabbed his laptop and sits down with them. “Sorry, I thought it would be a fun surprise,” he apologised, slightly sheepish. “Parker agreed with me.” Which should have been his first inkling that maybe he should rethink that plan, because Parker and money had a weird, weird relationship.
“It’s five hundred thousand dollars, Hardison,” Jamie said. “A fun surprise is like, a nice crisp hundred dollar bill in the tip jar. Five hundred thousand dollars is me worrying I need to get an accountant and a will.” At Hardison’s face, they squinted. “Hardison, do I already have a will?”
“Technically, everyone at Leverage Inc. does,” he said, awkwardly rubbing the back of his head like he only just realised that drafting someone a will without their knowledge was incredibly creepy. “Eliot insisted. All your money would go to your favourite charities. Also, you don’t need an accountant, I fix literally everyone’s taxes.”
His eyes glazed over a little as he stared into the distance, and suddenly Jamie realised that all those late nights he spent on his computer working on aliases made a lot more sense. They’d heard the story about how Hardison’s aliases were so good they got jury duty. They couldn’t imagine what tax season was like, even if he was just hacking into the IRS to pretend all their aliases had done and paid their taxes correctly.
They spent the rest of the afternoon setting up different bank accounts in non-extradition types of countries. Most of the money was put into an account in San Lorenzo. Probably just so Jamie would stop freaking out about the big number on their ‘normal person’ bank account. A nice chunk was directed to their savings account, which made all their previous attempts at saving look cute but pathetic. Still, Hardison commended them for it. They didn’t have the heart to tell him that was their ‘in case you guys kick me out’ fund.
They got their first shell corporation. Enby Enterprises had a spectacularly vague entry in the chamber of commerce and a tasteful logo with a yellow, white, purple and black colour scheme. At Jamie’s request Hardison wrote them a program that would automatically deposit the same amount as their Brewpub paycheque from Enby Enterprises to their account every month.
A bunch of money was earmarked for Eliot and Parker’s Drop Box Lecture later on, Hardison explained, and then the last twenty thousand, he refused to do anything with. “That’s your fun money,” he said.
“Hardison ,” Jamie ground out, sounding more like Eliot every passing second. “I can’t just have twenty thousand dollars to throw around.”
“Why not?” Hardison asked. “Not every job is going to pay out this much. It’s really only when we go after the really big companies, there are plenty of sleazebags who don’t work at Fortune 500 companies.” And honestly, the thought of getting another payout like this hadn’t even registered yet. Hardison saw the look on their face and laughed, promising them that next time there wouldn’t be a surprise yacht worth of money in their regular account, but that they’d sit down together and go over everything, until Jamie had the hang of it.
So, what did you do with a sudden windfall and the promise of lots more coming from doing something you would probably do for free because the criminals that housed you gave you free food and a bed and a normal job already? Clearly, going crazy and buying one of everything that sounded good at two different bakeries wasn’t a sustainable option.
Instead, they took out their phone, ignored the urge to check their banking app again, and started to make a list. They still wanted to put money aside for emergencies. They’d make themselves a college fund, and a retirement fund or a 401k or something mature like that. Maybe invest money in some green initiatives or something. They should probably start saving for a house, or several. Maybe even in different countries, like they were Tony Stark or something. Or like the mysterious Sophie and Nate the team kept talking about.
They had a feeling that after the Dropbox Lecture, Parker would probably give them a ‘buying random real estate to throw people off your trail is smart and living in a giant empty warehouse with a thousand creepy dolls is a valid life choice’ lecture. She didn’t really live at the warehouse anymore. Jamie was pretty sure she mostly kept it because Hardison and Eliot wouldn’t allow her to move the army of Baby Joy-Rages into the apartment. And so she’d have somewhere to set up the laser obstacle course she’d been having Jamie practice with. But the secret base thing was probably a good idea.
They made a list of their favourite charities that they could set up recurring monthly donations to. Then they went through their social media and made a list of their favourite artists and creators with online shops, commissions, patreons, and donation buttons. They added a subheading about checking individual fundraising pages for people struggling as well. There was a blogger that did a round-up every week, they could use that as a jumping off point.
And then, at the bottom of the list, they added a little section called ‘charity trolling’. With great power comes great responsibility, Hardison liked to echo, and they also knew that drawing too much attention to themselves was a big no-no. But they couldn’t just not use their newfound riches to both do good in the world and get some quality laughs in. So they decided to knock off an item every few months or so, just to be chill about it. Also, so they could have the time to enjoy their nonsense to the fullest.
Some of their first ideas were pretty simple. There was that zoo that allowed you to name a cockroach after someone you hated, so they could get the team one named Sterling. Jamie was sure they’d get a kick out of that. Number two was e-mailing the local animal shelter how much they would have to donate for a promise to name the next extremely grumpy looking stray that came in Eliot.
There were the old classics, like donating vaccines in name of anti-vaxxers and to LGBTQ charities in name of phobic politicians. Donating to a fund to buy former hate church buildings to make them into community centres for the things they hated most.
Then they wrote down some more out-there ideas, that would require a little more research. A memorial bench at the park where Hardison had once fallen into the duck pond because he’d been too busy arguing with Jamie about which Doctor was the best Doctor to look where he was going. (They may have not warned him about it because he had been So Wrong he deserved it.) A scholarship for Eliot’s friend’s cooking school called the ‘Mr. Punchy Scholarship for Excellence’. They wondered how much it would cost to get a raccoon rehabilitation centre named after Parker’s favourite dumpster raccoons, Hardy Junior and Professor Trashmouth.
With their list done for now, they looked at all the small ways they could make a big difference in the world. And suddenly, the idea of all that money wasn’t so daunting anymore.