Parker is looking over the side of the building. Ten stories down traffic beeps and growls along the street, and pedestrians weave among the cars like busy insects. Up here the buzz of doing and being is muted, far away. It's gray afternoon in the street canyons below. Up here the red and gold of the low sun casts long shadows across the roof, except where light catches on the rise of glass dome in front of her, the multiple panes sparkling like the eye of a giant insect. Parker sits with her back against the parapet, resting her hands on the backpack containing her rigging and tools. She settles in to wait for dark and Hardison's signal to go. If she concentrates, she can hear something faintly through the comm in her ear. She imagines it's Hardison's breathing, strong and steady. She breathes in.
"We're in the pipe, 5 by 5," Hardison says, his screen showing Eliot moving through the corridor, eyes flicking to doors' signs as he passes them with swift and silent footsteps. Eliot's dressed to be invisible in a logo-ed cap and navy zip-front jacket, breast pocket bearing the same logo, open over a blue shirt and nondescript beige pants in a hardy fabric that stretches neatly across his ass.
Hardison's focus is partly on Eliot's pants and mostly on his other monitor screens. All clear.
When Eliot arrives at the door he wants, it's electronically locked.
"Got it, got it."
At the faint click, Eliot eases the door open and is inside. Hardison switches from the corridor monitor. It's an office, wood paneled and expensively carpeted. The desk is wide and made of endangered trees, smooth, traced with faint, geometric patterns, bare but for a black intercom or phone, telecommunications anyway, Eliot thinks dismissively. He's got his own line to whatever he needs. He sits at the desk and follows Hardison's instructions. He finds and depresses a button flush to the edge of the desk. A panel separates from the desktop as the faint lines become edges; a screen and sleek keyboard rise. Hardison's words are in his ear and his fingers pick across the keys. He doesn't bother to check the screen. Hardison will tell him if anything is wrong. Behind him, he can feel shifts in the air that mean hidden panels are sliding open.
"Lock and load," Hardison says, as he takes control of the console. "It should be on the top left shelf."
"Should be," Eliot grumbles, running his hands over bare, dust-free shelves.
Hardison runs through the monitors again.
Nate and Sophie are coming through the lobby doors with Mr Gus Tidwell, a tall man with an air of being harassed by life. Sophie is carrying a glossy folder labeled Secure Systems America. Nate wears slick black sunglasses and a dangerous suit, eggplant black. Hardison signals them to slow down.
"Just look at this lobby," Sophie says, sweeping her hand across the ten story high space, the triangle panes of the domed glass roof, the wide stairs curving up floor by floor. "It's too open, too much glass, the lines of sight are unobstructed." She's making it up, but her delivery is confident and Tidwell is looking about him with a frown.
"Mr Tidwell — Gus — Secure Systems would review all your holdings, every building," Sophie continues. "Fort Knox would be an open door once we finished with you, comparatively."
Nate is nodding as they reach the lift bank. "When we finish with you, a fly won't be able to get in or out without your knowledge.
"Just give us the opportunity to present our work to you," Sophie's hand flickers to her throat and smoothes her collar. "Let us show you what we can do."
Tidwell's eyes dip down, following her hand. "Let's go to my office," he says as the elevator doors open onto the third floor.
Up on the roof, Parker unzips her bag and pulls out a hammer.
"There's nothing here," Eliot says over comms.
"I know left. There's nothing there."
"Then check the rest."
"I am checking. There's nothing on any of these shelves. You haven't opened the right panels."
"They are the only panels."
"Well, the cupboard is bare, Old Mother Hubbard."
Parker, crouched by the dome, clips the line to her harness.
"They're coming out of the walls," Hardison says, "Let's book."
Eliot's already turning as the door opens, he takes two steps, leaps and is sliding across the desk. Tidwell is shouting as he reaches for Eliot and snags the sleeve of Eliot's jacket. Sophie stumbles into Tidwell as if knocked by Eliot, apologizing and shifting him away from the door and Eliot is through. Eliot's ahead of them as they chase him along the corridor and gaining as he makes it to the tenth floor balcony that edges the lobby.
Something glitters, falling past Eliot as he leaps up onto the railing then he's wrapped in Parker, her legs tight around his chest, his arms gripping her thighs as they fall. Nate, Sophie and Tidwell are at the railing in time to see them separate, hit the lobby floor rolling and sprint out the foyer doors, leaving the rappelling cable swinging over a glass-scattered floor. Looking up, they see the cable exit through an empty triangular pane in the glass dome.
"Mr Tidwell," Sophie says, "That won't happen when we are in charge."
Hardison is watching Sophie and Nate shake Tidwell's hand from four camera angles when Parker and Eliot return to HQ. "Took your time," he says, swinging around on his chair. "What have you got for me?"
"The shelves were empty."
Hardison snaps his fingers and holds up his hand. Eliot fishes in his back pocket and draws out a metallic gray USB drive. "Recess under the shelves, smart ass."
Eliot tosses the USB key to Hardison but Parker is too swift and snatches it from the air. "It's not time for that," she says, tossing the drive onto a side table, "it's time for sex."
"It's —," says Hardison.
"What?" says Eliot.
"You," she says to Hardison, "watch his ass. You," she grabs Eliot's shirt and walks him over to Hardison, "trust him. I like you. Are you in?" She looks up at them both, smiling and perky and strange, but also the third of their team, reliable and crazy.
Hardison's skin is prickling, Eliot on one side of him and Parker on the other. Not touching, not yet touching. He closes his eyes, he can't look, and touches them, Parker's shoulder, Eliot's back. The whole world is still and there is no sound at all. Parker steps closer, so she can reach Hardison, touch him with her free hand and complete the circuit. Eliot's arm goes down around and draws Parker close. She comes up on her toes, pulls down his head and kisses Hardison.
Parker is snuggled under Hardison's arm, her nose touching his ribs and her breath warm and shallow. Eliot is on Hardison's other side, splayed on his front, one arm slung over Hardison's belly, his face turned away, his improbable hair fanned across the sheet, dark at the roots with well-earned sweat. The muscles in his shoulder and back are bunched and curved, hardly seeming comfortable yet his long back is relaxed, and he snores a low, quiet rumble. Hardison runs his fingers through Parker's hair and lets it drop, soft and ticklish, gleaming against his skin. He breathes in and out, slowly, and closes his eyes.