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After the excitement of yesterday, no one had felt like broaching the topic of Leverage and how Nana felt about it. Instead, they'd gone home, helped clean up the remains of the attack, and then settled down to eat the best damn dinner Nana had cooked in her entire life. Saturday had melted away in a blur of warmth and love and family, with Nana relating embarrassing stories of Hardison's childhood, and Parker and Eliot relating embarrassing stories about his adulthood.

It was such a good time that Hardison was sometimes able to forget the secrets and discussions hanging between them.

But nothing good can stay and soon it was Sunday, just a little while before they had to return to the island. And, as much as he hated the idea, Hardison knew that he needed to speak up about things now--if he was going to speak of them at all.

Parker was only clinging a little bit. Okay, maybe more than a little. "You'll call us? So we know how everything goes? And send us photos of Walker's face when they hand down the sentence? ... maybe we'll come back for that." She absently stuck a flower in Nana's hair. "I kinda wish you could come with us. Do you want to come with us?"

Nana wrapped Parker in a warm hug, the kind only mothers who love very, very deeply can provide. The kind of hug that offers care and love and confidence, that smell of baked goods and soft powder, and promise, just for a moment, that everything is right with the world. "That's kind of you offer, sugar, but y'all are adults with your own lives. You don't need old Nana pokin' her nose into everything. I'll visit, though, and y'all are always welcome here. You know that."

"We appreciate that, Nana." Eliot leaned in to give her a peck on the cheek. "Now you're sure there's nothin' else you'd like me to do around here before we go? The door on the bathroom's still stickin' a little. . . ."

"Keep showin' me up," Hardison said, though his heart wasn't in the banter. There was still a lot that lay unsaid between him and Nana and he wasn't sure how to broach the subject. Any of them. "Cause, you know, fixin' the whole picture window by yourself wasn't enough."

"You were very helpful, too, bringing him tools, Alec," Nana assured him, a faint smile around her mouth that didn't reach her eyes.

She took a deep breath. "Actually, before y'all head out, there is something you could do for me. I'd like to hear more about what y'all do. If you don't mind, I mean." She shook her head at Alec, and then at Parker and Eliot, too, face softening. "You said a lot the other night. A lot that I wasn't quite ready to hear. But I am now. At least, if you're willing to tell me."

Parker's smile curled up, reaching her eyes and dissipating the last of the tension she'd had around Nana since the fight with Walker's thugs.

"Sometimes, bad things happen to good people who don't have money, or power, or friends in high places. Not like companies and legal skeezes do. And sometimes, bad guys are the only good guys people get."

"We use our, uh. Particular skills to make sure that the honest, hard workin' people don't get the shaft." Eliot shrugged. "And since most of the law is set up by and for the rich folks, that usually means breakin' the law a little."

Or, you know, a lot. Blatantly. And at every opportunity.

And also straining credulity.

"Folks with problems come to us an' ask for help," Hardison said, taking up the thread of the explanation. "We do what we can to make sure that they get justice or whatever else they need an' that the real criminals go to jail. We've rescued folks that've been kidnapped, kept food manufacturers from sellin' tainted food, gotten people's houses an' reputations back..."

Stopped bombs, prevented biological warfare, saved war orphans, retrieved missing paintings...

Nana listened, her expression serene and giving away nothing. "But these skills had to come from somewhere, didn't they?" she asked.

"Surviving," Parker said, referring to what she and Nana had talked about before. "Foster homes. Being on the street. Archie." She paused and added, "And it's just fun so any time I can learn something new, and I stole the Hope Diamond for practice. But I put it back. So that's good, right?" She looked at the guys. "Nate kinda broke us of doing it just for ourselves."

Eliot nodded. "You learn things to survive, then you get good at them, so you keep doin' it. And we were the best." He looked at Parker and Hardison. "Now we're even better."

"That may be true for the two of you," Nana said slowly, "but what about you, Alec? Did you learn these things to survive, too?"

Hardison exhaled a harsh breath, dropping his head for a moment before answering. "Nah, Nana. I didn't. You know that. You provided me with everythin' I needed growin' up. An'...part of why I ended up gettin' into hackin' was so that I could repay you. Payin' off your mortgage. Payin' off medical bills. Makin' sure Sasha got the money for college an' Touriq could afford the medical equipment he needed that wasn't covered by the insurance. All that stuff."

"But, really," he said, finally looking up at her, "I did it because it was fun. It was a challenge. In hackin', it doesn't matter who you are or who your daddy is. Don't matter how much your mom makes or the brand of clothes you wear. No one cares about the color of your skin or how cool you are or how many friends you got or whether your real parents gave you up cause they had to or just cause they didn't want you anymore. Don't care who you find attractive, or what names the kids at school call you. All that matters is how smart you are, how fast you can type, how good you are at workin' around problems an' pushin' the limits of what you can do." He licked his lips, laced his fingers together to keep people from seeing how they trembled.

"So...yeah, Nana. Maybe I did do it for survival after all."

Eliot raised his eyebrow when Hardison mentioned attraction. He tried to catch Hardison's eye and give him a little nod of encouragement without interrupting his flow.

He was really hoping they weren't going to leave with this still hanging over Hardison's head. It'd drive both him and Nana crazy if they did.

Parker was clutching Eliot like a teddy bear now. "We're all changing now, though. Together. We can be better. And different. And ..." She looked back at Hardison, biting her lip. She'd spilled one of his secrets this week already. That was her limit.

"Oh, baby..." Nana said, lip trembling. "I know things were hard for you..."

Hardison stood up, wrapping his arms around Nana and holding her tight. "It's a'ight, Nana. You gave me a good home to come back to an' a family that supports me. Things were tough, but I made it through. An' I can't say I regret a damn thing about it. I love who I am now. I love what I do. An' I love who I found."

He looked at Parker and Eliot and gave them a soft smile. "I ain't never targeted anyone who couldn't afford it. Never stepped on the little guy, never hurt nobody anywhere but their wallet. An' since joinin' Leverage, I only became better. Helpin' folks. Makin' the world a better place. I'm proud of what we've accomplished. Together."

Eliot nodded encouragingly again, raising his eyebrows and nodding towards Nana as if to say you can tell her, it's okay.

Hardison was even slowplaying coming out. It was amazing.

It was a rare gift!

Hardison read Eliot's look and nodded. Swallowing hard, he said. "That reminds me. Of, well, another lie I been tellin' you, Nana. Somethin' I don't wanna lie about anymore. Cause it's important. More important than even all this stuff about Leverage. That's just what I do. This is about who I am."

He missed Nana's sudden smile, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath to prepare himself. "Nana, I lied to you 'bout Eliot. He ain't our friend. Rather, he ain't just our friend. He's with us. An' important part of our relationship. He's our boyfriend, though we don't generally throw the term around. The three of us are together an' in love an' it's gonna be a forever thing."

Try not to freak out, Eliot.

Parker gave Eliot one more squeeze before she was over and hugging Hardison, grinning from behind his shoulder at Nana, who didn't look all that surprised. "That part just happened about six months ago. And we're trying not to break him."

Nana stayed quiet until her boy looked down at her, though she flashed a quick smile at Parker. "Alec. I love you. I have loved you since you walked in through my front door, all big eyes and big heart and a smile you had to remember how to share. Who you love and how you love them is never, ever gonna change that for me. I'm proud of the man you've grown into, proud of the things you've accomplished, and proud of the man and woman that you've chosen to share your life with." She reached up to cup his cheek; his eyes were wet and filled with a wild hope and fierce joy. "You're my son, the only one of all the children that have passed through this house that I ever adopted. I chose you, Alec, and nothing could ever make me regret that. You just gave me two more people to love and how could I ever not be happy for that?"

Hey, Eliot had gotten very good at controlling his commitment panic. Since Hardison loved to poke at it.

Also, he was too busy grinning proudly to panic too hard just now, anyway.

"Sorry that took him so long, Nana. He likes to play it slow, sometimes."

"Aww, man, hush," Hardison said, though wearing a brilliant smile. He was clinging to Nana, laughing a lot and crying just a little. "Nana, I love you, it means so much to me, to us, that you accept us an' I can't even--"

He was going to be stuttering a lot over this.

"We're just really glad we came and visited and got to help and that you're cool with all this and yay, now we can introduce you to Nate and Sophie and it won't be like we have to lie, that gets exhausting with family." Parker grinning at everyone, ultra-relieved. "And you won't have to worry about anything again either, everything is perfect." She paused. "Oh, and we have a dog to introduce you to, too. Megabyte."

"Once again: you can't just rename my dog."

Hardison laughed and dragged them both into the hug he was sharing with Nana. "See?" he said fondly. "Family."

[And over with! Thanks so much to my wonderful partners in crime, [ profile] whoisalicewhite and [ profile] vdistinctive. They were AMAZING, working with me on this since July. NFI, NFB, but OOC is lovely]


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August 2017


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