Title: The Princess Job
Genre: Family, Friendship, Cuteness (is that a genre? No? Too bad, I'm making it a genre)
Word Count: 8,971
Rating: PG for mild swearing
Warnings: Eliot torture, but not the usual kind. Some vague references to the Miracle Job, the Ho Ho Ho Job, the Runway Job, the Nigerian Job, the Stork Job, and the Order 23 Job.
Summary: After Eliot's sister and niece come to visit, the team can't get a hold of him. During their investigation of his absence, they find something they never expected.
Nate stepped quietly into the hallway at the top of the stairs, Sophie, Hardison, and Parker close behind him. Without realizing it, each one of them was attempting to move silently. A sound drifted to them from the last door at the end of the hall. They all recognized it as coming from Eliot. Still trying to remain stealthy, the team quickened their pace. Hardison stepped on a loose floorboard and it squeaked loudly in protest, causing the whole team to freeze. The rest turned to glare at the cringing hacker. They stood still for a long moment; the only sound they heard was the pounding of their own hearts. When it seemed safe to do so they continued down the hall.
After what seemed like an eternity, they finally reached the door at the end of the hallway. It was open just a crack, light and more sounds came from the opening. Nate grabbed the doorknob and looked back at his team. Breathlessly the others nodded. He pushed open the door, slowly at first then all the way in one mighty swing.
Sophie gasped in shock and Parker made a choking noise. Nate and Hardison stared, jaws dropping, at the sight in front of them. Never in their wildest imagination had they ever pictured Eliot like this.
Earlier that day
"Are you sure she needs all this stuff?" Eliot asked as he placed the child-sized plastic kitchen set in the middle of his living room. He glanced over at the miniature table and chairs, dozens of Disney princess stickers staring back at him. "You're only going to be here for a couple days."
"'Need'? No. 'Want' is more like it. She's proud of these things and she wants to show them off to her uncle," Emma explained, dropping a box filled with stuffed animals onto the little table. She glanced up at her older brother, who was still gazing at the stickers with a slightly uncomfortable look on his face. "You'll be fine, Eliot. You're good with kids."
He snorted. "You obviously didn't see me play a mall Santa."
She gave him a confused look. "Wha
You know what? Never mind, I don't want to know." When Eliot continued to look strained she encouraged, "Just ask what she wants to do, you'll be fine."
Eliot nodded in agreement and smiled at his younger sister. She was a petite woman and a little on the plump side. Her round face had soft, kind features framed by light brown hair which fell well below her shoulders. The faded blue jeans and the pink floral shirt she wore fit loosely on her. There was a distinctly motherly feel about her that made people feel comfortable.
At that moment a tiny girl with sandy blond hair dashed into the room clutching a brown teddy bear in a pink tutu. She wore a matching pink princess dress over blue jeans. Her bright blue eyes looked adoringly at her favorite, and only, uncle. "Do you like my teddy, Uncle Elli?" she inquired.
"It's a very nice teddy, Adalee. I like it a lot," he answered, kneeling down so they were at the same level. She smiled broadly, revealing a missing front tooth. "What do you want to do today?"
"Let's have a princess tea party!" she exclaimed, squeezing the stuffed bear to her chest.
Eliot twitched, that did not sound good. "Are you sure you don't want to go to the park? It's a very nice park."
Adalee shook her head. "I want a tea party," she repeated. Her smile faltered and she asked, "You don't want to have a tea party with me?"
Without even looking at her Eliot knew his sister was glaring at him; he could feel her eyes burning into the back of his head. "No, no, no, of course I want to have a tea party with you. I just wanted you to know there's a nice park nearby, in case you wanted to go at some point." He inwardly cringed at the lie, though he reasoned it was not entirely a lie because he did want her to know there was a park they could go to. Of course he wanted her to know there was a park nearby so they could go there instead of stay and have a tea party. A park he could manage, a tea party he was not so sure about.
Her bright smile returned and she threw her arms around him in a hug. The hard plastic eye of her teddy bear smacked into the side of Eliot's face but he ignored it and returned the hug. It hit him suddenly just how much he missed seeing his family; it had been many, many months since the last time he had visited them and Adalee was taller than he remembered.
"Uncle Elli, are you ok?" Adalee asked, her voice partially muffled from a combination of her teddy and his shoulder.
"I'm fine," he replied, hastily letting her go. He realized he had gotten lost in his thoughts and held her longer than necessary. Clearing his throat he inquired, "So, what do we need for this tea party?"
"Princess tea party," she corrected.
"'Princess tea party'," he repeated.
"First," Emma cut in, "you have to move all this stuff up stairs. Collin and Isaac are at father-son camp, you're watching Adie, I'm taking 'me' time and watching
" She looked around the room. "Eliot, where's your TV?"
"I don't have one," he answered as he stood up. His sister looked at him in a confused horror. They stared at each other for a long moment without saying anything.
Emma took a deep breath and grimaced slightly. "Fine. I'm reading a book, you're going up stairs." She strode over to her suitcase and pulled out a tattered romance novel.
Sighing, Eliot placed the small chairs on top of the table before picking the whole set up. Adalee scooped up a glittering pink plastic container labeled "Tea Party" and started following Eliot up the stairs.
"Adie, hold on a second, I have something for you," Emma said, still kneeling next to her suitcase.
As the young girl went to stand next to her mother, Eliot paused for a second, noticing a slightly mischievous tone in his sister's voice, but he shrugged and continued on his way. He grunted as he nearly lost the box of stuffed animals at the top of the stairs but managed to steady it just in time.
Two days ago, when he had first gotten the call from his sister saying that Isaac, his nephew, was going to a father-son camp with his father, Collin, he had cleared the exercise equipment out of the room at the end of the hall to make space for them and moved in some blow-up mattresses. Now he headed for that room, dodging the loose floorboard in the middle of the hallway. Once in the mostly-empty room he set his burden down with another grunt.
He glared at the princess stickers, a feeling of dread beginning to rise in the pit of his stomach. How was he supposed to have a tea party, a princess tea party in fact? Taking on cleaver wielding Triads, playing a nerdy computer technician, stealing priceless works of art, those he knew how to do. But he had no clue about a princess tea party. What if he couldn't do it? The last thing he wanted was to disappoint his niece. An image of him in a tutu similar to the one on Adalee's bear flashed into his mind and he shuddered. He added "looking like a complete idiot" to his list of things he didn't want to do.
A loud squeak came from the loose floorboard and brought Eliot out of his brooding. Quickly masking his glower with a smile, he began setting the chairs on the floor. Adalee skipped into the room, her teddy, pink container, and a new grey package cradled in her arms. She dropped all three onto the table as soon as Eliot pulled off the box of stuffed animals. He turned his back to set the box in a corner, then turned back to see Adie unrolling the gray package, revealing a wide variety of makeup.
"Whatcha got there, Adie?" Eliot asked.
"Mommy's makeup. She said I can borrow it," Adalee explained, pulling out the most colorful eye shadows she could find.
Eliot frowned as he looked at the kit; it was far more than his sister usually wore. An ounce of suspicion crept into his mind. Though he didn't see his sister very often, he knew her well enough to know she wouldn't let her five-year-old daughter wear makeup. "Your mom lets you wear that stuff?"
She giggled. "No. She says I'm too young."
"You're old so you can wear it!" She giggled even harder now.
" He could overlook the fact she called him "old"; he doubted she meant the statement as an insult even though it could be taken that way. He was caught on the bit about the makeup being meant for him.
"You have to wear it for the princess tea party!"
"R-Really?" he asked weakly.
She nodded vigorously. "It's very important." She took his hand and led him to one of the small plastic chairs. "Sit. I'll do your makeup," she announced.
He took a deep breath but complied. Not for the first time that day he wished that his niece wasn't quite so girly, but, like the other times, he banished the thought. He loved his niece the way she was and he would do whatever it took to make her happy, even if it meant wearing makeup.
"Now, first we start with eye liner," Adalee said, sounding like she was teaching a class. She took a moment to decide between three different colors, finally selecting a navy blue pencil. Pulling off the cap, she clutched the eyeliner in her fist like a knife. "Close your eyes."
Eliot stared at the eyeliner and, more specifically, the way Adalee held it in her clenched fist. He could deal with getting a makeover, just so long as he was able to keep his eyes. "How's this Adie? I'll do the eyeliner, you can do everything else."
The young girl considered this for a moment then finally agreed to his terms. Handing him the eyeliner she reached around on the table before coming back with a pocket mirror, which she held up for him.
Taking yet another deep breath, Eliot leaned forward to get a good look in the mirror. As he brought the blue tipped pencil to his eyes all he could hear was Hardison's voice echoing in his head: Guyliner, guyliner, guyliner! Mentally smothering Hardison with a throw pillow, Eliot applied the makeup under the close supervision of Adalee. "Is that good?" he asked when he had lightly traced around his eyes.
Adalee pursed her lips and crossed her arms over her chest thoughtfully. "You need a little more on the bottom," she commented.
Eliot made her correction and she announced that this stage of his makeover was complete. After much consideration she decided on two eye shadow colors: Violet and sparkling aqua-blue. She also selected a brush that was slightly too big for the job. The result left Eliot with a vibrant raccoon mask. Upon seeing the next item Adalee selected, the concern for his eyes' safety returned; she held a tube of mascara. He was about to ask if he could apply it himself, but she beat him too it.
"You can put this on," she said, handing him the tube.
"Thanks," he replied. As she looked for the mirror he quickly read the label on the mascara. It said "Maximizes volume and length for beautiful eyes." Great, he thought sarcastically.
"No, no, you need the bottom ones too," Adalee scolded when Eliot started to put the mascara away after only applying it to his top eyelashes.
"Right," he said humbly and did as she said.
Next came a large quantity of bright pink blush and a pinkish orange lipstick, neither of which were applied with much accuracy. Finally finished, Adalee took a step back, placing her hands on her hips, and studied her handy work. Nodding in satisfaction she presented the mirror so that Eliot could also admire his new look.
It took all of his self control not to flinch at his reflection. He looked like a clown, no, not even a proper clown. He looked like a very, very drunk clown tried to do his own makeup in a broken mirror in the dark.
"Looks great!" he exclaimed, using all of this extensive skills at lying to make his voice sound sincere. It was worth all the humiliation to see Adalee's face light up in a huge smile. "Now are we ready for the tea party?"
"No, first we have fix your hair," she informed him, unzipping a pocket in the makeup bag.
"Now we can start the princess tea party!" Adalee announced, placing a plastic tiara on her head.
Eliot, perched on the tiny plastic chair, looked at the dozen stuffed animals clustered around the small table and tried to ignore the plastic jewel studded hair barrettes that dug into his scalp. There were a handful of them placed at random throughout his hair, as well as half a dozen small beaded scrunchies creating thin ponytails all over his head. He straightened the pink blanket that was wrapped around his shoulders like a cape.
"Hey, darlin'," Eliot began.
"No, no, Uncle Elli, at the princess tea party you have to call me 'my lady'," she interrupted in a whisper, leaning towards him and pointing subtly at her tiara. She of course didn't want others to think badly of him for not knowing the rules of the party.
"Oh. My apologies, m'lady," he tried again, giving a little bow in his niece's direction, "I was wondering if you'd like me to go get some food."
Adalee sighed and patted Eliot's hand. "We have food, Uncle Elli," she explained in a voice that adults use to explain things to young children. "See?" She pointed to the purple plastic platter in the center of the table. It was empty.
Eliot forced a grin. "Right, of course. Silly me." Inwardly he thought, After that makeover, at least I should get some food. Real food.
"Here," Adalee said, placing a small plate of the same purple in front of him. He nodded his head in thanks and stared down at the dish while the young girl laid dishes in front of the other table guests. "Would you please pour the tea, Uncle Elli?" she asked in a regal voice then leaned in close and whispered, not so regally, "It's a great honor."
This time Eliot's smile was completely genuine. "I'd love to." He picked up the tea pot as Adalee set matching tea cups around the table. As he poured the "tea", Adalee explained how she had worked around the fact that she didn't have enough tea cups and plates for each of the tea party members.
"Bernie," she began, pointing at a large stuffed basset hound, "gets his own cup since he's so big. Mr. and Mrs. Bubbles," she pointed at two identical stuffed puffer fish, "share since they're married
Eliot listened with rapt attention, not wanting to miss a single detail. When she had finished her commentary he felt confident that he remembered each of the stuffed animals' names and why they were sharing or not sharing a tea cup. He could also recall how Cyflops, the one eyed walrus, had lost his eye and the short story of how Nora the fairy princess was turned into a blue sheep by the river people.
"I'm going to make a toast!" Adalee announced, standing up and raising her tea cup in the air.
Out of the corner of his eye Eliot noticed that Bernie's head was drooping towards the floor while the rest of the toys seemed to be focused on Adalee. He reached over and turned the stuffed dog's head so his attention was focused on the little princess.
"I would like to thank Uncle Elli for letting me and my mommy visit and for coming to my princess tea party. We've all really had a lot of fun so far." She nodded at her collection of stuffed animals. "We usually don't invite other people to our tea parties. To my Uncle Elli! Cheers!"
Eliot clinked his tea cup with Adalee's, then with all the stuffed animals, before pretending to take a sip. He glanced over at his niece and a contented smile touched his face. In that moment he decided no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how silly, he would do his very best to play his role in this tea party. There was no way he would let her down.
"I'd like to say a few words too, if you don't mind, m' lady," Eliot said, bowing a little in his niece's direction. She inclined her head so he raised his glass, took a deep breath, and began, "I'd just like to say that it's such an honor to be invited to this tea party. It's not often that I get invited to a tea party, and it's even less often that I get invited by the prettiest princess in the land." He smiled warmly at her and she grinned back. "Cheers!" They repeated the tea cup clinking and pretend sipping ritual.
As Adalee began passing around imaginary pastries, Eliot went to take another pretend sip from his cup, but a small hand on his arm stopped him. Once again his niece was leaning toward him with her "you're-so-silly" expression.
"You need to hold your pinky out when you drink."
Eliot was about to argue that, no, he didn't necessarily need to hold his pinky out, but thought better of it. There would be no real point in arguing so, obediently, he stuck his pinky out and took another sip of his imaginary tea.
After nearly half an hour, Eliot found that he was actually enjoying himself. He had almost forgotten that he was wearing enough make up to put a deranged clown to shame and that his right leg was going to sleep because of the uncomfortable position he was forced to keep on that tiny chair. It even escaped his mind that he had left his phone on top of the dresser in his room, something he almost never did. All of these things were irrelevant because he was having fun at Adalee's princess tea party.
Going into this, Eliot hadn't been sure what to expect. He had guessed they would have some sort of conversation, probably about something silly. That was about the only thing he got right. However, the majority of their speech was used to give voice to Adalee's stuffed animals.
He reached for one of the identical stuffed puffer fish; the only set of toys they hadn't played with. Using a horrible impression of a women's high-pitched Southern voice he said, "How'd you do, m'lady? Isn't this a mighty fine tea party?"
Adalee started giggling at him and Eliot wondered with of the seemingly hundreds of princess tea party rules he'd just broken.
"What?" he asked with a touch of anxiety.
"That's Mr. Bubbles, not Mrs. Bubbles," she explained.
"Wha- How do you tell them apart?"
Her face brightened as she began to tell him the difference between the two fish. "Well, when I first brought them home from the aqu-r-ium I put them down on the couch. I turned around to tell Daddy something, and guess what happened?"
"Uhh, what happened?"
"Lucky jumped up on the couch and bit Mr. Bubble's fin off!" She smacked her hand on the table to emphasize what her little dog had done. "Daddy saved his fin and Mommy sewed it back on, but now he has a scar, just like you. See?" Now that she pointed it out, Eliot could see the hand stitching that held the blue fin to the shiny yellow body of the fish. He grinned a little as he remembered his niece and nephew's fascination with this vast collection of scars. Of course he made up stories about most of them, not really wanting them to know that most of them were consequences of his criminal activities.
"Here, you take Mrs. Bubbles, you do a good job with her talking," Adalee instructed, taking the battle-scarred fish from Eliot's hands and giving him the flawless toy. She cleared her throat and did her best to sound like a man as she said, "Howdy there, Mrs. Bubbles, are you having fun at this princess tea party?"
"I'm havin' bunches of fun, Mr. Bubbles. This here is the best princess tea party I've ever been to." As he finished the last sentence, his fake female voice faded into his normal tones and he smiled.
"You're funny, Uncle Elli!" Adalee laughed and it didn't take long for Eliot to join in.
"I'm glad you think so." Eliot continued to chuckle when it appeared his niece had come down with a giggle fit. In fact, he was so focused on laughing that he missed the squeaking of the loose floorboard in the hallway. Finally getting himself under control, he took another imaginary sip of tea.
He began to pull the little plastic cup away from his lips, pinky raised daintily in the air, when the door suddenly flew open. A deer-in-the-headlights look crossed his face as he saw his team crowded in the doorway wearing shocked expressions.
Time seemed to stand still. Eliot was horrified that his team, the people he worked with and who trusted him to keep them safe, were seeing him like this. The team was having trouble comprehending just what they were looking at; this couldn't be their Eliot, could it? Adalee was trying to figure out who these people were who barged into her tea party.
Hardison was the first to snap out of the shocked silence. He quickly whipped out his phone and took a picture of the hitter. The hacker grinned; he would be able to hold this over Eliot's head for forever.
That galvanized Eliot into action; he stood up abruptly, bumping the table and causing his chair to fall over. "Da-rrgt Hardison!" He caught himself before he swore in front of his niece, not wanting to teach her bad habits and knowing his sister would tan his hide if he had. It took a lot of effort and he wasn't completely successful, but he managed to choke down his anger before he demanded, "What are you guys doing here?"
"You didn't answer your phone, your sister let us in. Is that
huh." Nate was still trying to wrap his head around Eliot's appearance so he was a little distracted.
"Is that mascara?" Parker blurted out, pushing between Hardison and Nate.
"Out!" Eliot started moving around the table, shooing his team out. He stopped and leaned down to tell Adalee, "I'll be right back, honey, I have to go deal with these rude people."
"Ok," she answered, a little disappointedly.
Hardison was quick to get back out the door, Parker and Nate followed him. Sophie, however, stayed next to the door and faced the glaring hitter. "I think I'll stay and keep her company while you go deal with
with Nate." She tried to bite down the giggles threatening to overcome her as she looked at him. Grinning, she stepped around Eliot and moved to the little table.
Shaking his head, Eliot stalked after the other members of his team. They would pay for this.
"Is it alright if I join you?" the grifter asked.
"Yeah," Adalee answered, a little shyly. This lady seemed nice, but it didn't look like Uncle Elli liked her. "What's your name?"
"Sophie. What's yours?"
"Adalee. Do you work with my Uncle Elli?"
Sophie choked down another giggle and briefly covered her mouth with her hand at the word "Elli". "Hmm, yes I do work with your uncle Elli." Oh, this is going to be so much fun! Sophie thought with excitement.
"What do you do?"
"I'm an actress." It wasn't really a lie, more of an incomplete truth, and explaining what a grifter was to a five year old didn't sound all that appealing. Plus she doubted Eliot would be happy with her if she had.
"Cool," the little girl replied, smiling a little. She was starting to warm up this lady. "Do you want some tea?"
"That would be lovely!" Sophie watched as Adalee poured the imaginary tea in both their glasses, then they clinked their cups together and simultaneously took a sip. "Mmm, this tea is very good, Adalee! What flavor is it?"
Adie stared at her in confusion; she had never heard that there were different types of teas. "There's more than one?"
"Oh yes, there are hundreds of different flavors. One of my favorites is blueberry, but this isn't blueberry is it?"
" Adalee considered what sort of tea she would like, not ever having tasted tea before. Finally she reached a decision, "Chocolate and peanut butter birthday cake!" That was her favorite mix of ice cream, so it had to be a great flavor for tea.
Sophie smiled and took another sip. "It's very good, I'm going to have to add it to my favorite flavors list." This caused Adalee to grin broadly. "Tell me, how was your uncle Elli doing at the tea party?"
"Princess tea party," the little girl corrected.
"Oh, princess tea party." Even better.
Eliot, meanwhile, was not having such a pleasant conversation. "You want to do a job, right now?" He was more than a little angry at the team; first they had barged in and interrupted his niece's tea party, then they made fun of him for trying to make his niece happy, now they wanted to drag him off to do some job without any warning. This is not going to happen, he told himself.
"No, not a job, just a briefing. The window of opportunity doesn't open on this job until next week, but it's going to take a lot of preparation," Nate explained. He was finally able to ignore the hitter's appearance enough to talk business, though Parker sporadically peering over his shoulders was a little distracting.
"Seriously?" Eliot exclaimed in frustration.
"It'll just take an hour, two tops," the mastermind added, trying to get the younger man to calm down.
What?" He practically shouted the last word at Hardison, who stood off to the side, unable to control his laughter any longer.
"I'm sorry, it's just hard to take you seriously when you look like a homeless clown!"
"Yeah? How 'bout when the homeless clown puts your head through the drywall, will you take him seriously then?"
"Man, you need some anger management or somethin'. And stop talking about yourself in the third person, it's creepy."
" Eliot took a threatening step towards the hacker.
Nate was quick to step in between his squabbling team members before things could get any worse. "Why don't we just, you know, take a step back and calm down. I'll make the briefing as fast as possible and then you can get back to your, your
Princess tea party, Eliot snarled to himself. "Fine. I'll meet you guys there; just get out of my house." Parker made a disappointed whimper but followed Hardison to the stairs while Nate went to collect Sophie. As the pair walked past, Sophie grinned in amusement at the frustrated hitter. "Nate!" Eliot called and waited for the mastermind to stop, "If this thing goes over two hours I'm leaving and you'll have to fill me in later."
"Fair enough." With that Nate joined Sophie at the top of the stairs.
Eliot heard Sophie say, "Before we get to the office I need to make one quick stop to get..." but the rest of her sentence was lost as she made it to the bottom of the stairs. Whatever she had said didn't really matter to him; he was figuring out how to tell his niece he had to abandon her for a while right in the middle of their princess tea party. Taking a deep breath he reluctantly headed back to explain the situation to Adalee. He found her rearranging the stuffed animals around the table and as he walked in she smiled brightly at him. Her smile faltered as she saw the serious expression on her uncle's face.
"Do you have to go?" she asked sadly.
Sighing, Eliot knelt down next to her. "Yeah, I got to go for a little bit. I promise I'll be back in three hours, tops." The news made Adalee visibly unhappy, causing Eliot to cringe.
"Ok," she mumbled, looking down at her teddy bear.
"Hey." Eliot gently touched her shoulder. "I'm really sorry about this, Adie, I'll make it up to you as soon as I get back. You have my word." He relaxed slightly when she smiled, albeit weakly, though he still felt like a complete failure. "Before you know it I'll be back." With that he kissed the top of her head then marched to his bathroom to scrub the makeup off of his face.
The cold water he splashed across his face did nothing to cool down the simmering anger inside him. They had come into his house, ruined his niece's tea party, and made fun of him. Now he had to drop everything he was doing to attend a briefing for a job that they couldn't even start for another week. Hardison had that stupid picture of him in this stupid make up on his stupid phone. Damn it Hardison! He splashed more handfuls of water across his face, grabbed the hand towel next to the sink, and rubbed vigorously. The towel came away smeared with many colors of makeup, as was his face. Glancing up at his reflection in the mirror he snarled; washing only seemed to make the makeup worse. He repeated the washing process, this time adding soap to the mix. How did they even get in my
"Your sister let us in," that was what Nate had said. Why would she do that? he asked himself angrily. After he dried his face off again his reflection showed most of the makeup was gone. He also found that his sister was leaning on the doorframe behind him with a rather emotionless expression.
"What the hell did you let them in for?" Eliot demanded, more harshly than he had meant too. He began furiously to remove the barrettes and scrunchies from his hair.
Emma's face darkened. "I let them in," she began slowly, "because you weren't answering their calls and they were worried. That tends to happen, you know. People who, who care about you get worried when you won't pick up your phone, especially when they don't know if you're ok or not or where you are!"
Eliot glanced up at the mirror for a moment before staring back down at the sink, but it was long enough to see that his sister was on the verge of tears. She wasn't talking about the team anymore, this was way more personal than that. This was obviously something that had been bothering her for a long time and not without reason. He had been horrible at keeping in contact with her since shortly after he started his life of crime. Though not all of the reasons were his fault, most of them were. After he had joined Nate's team he had gotten a bit better but he knew he wasn't doing as well as he could. All the frustration he felt toward her vanished and he sighed deeply.
Turning around he looked apologetically at his sister. "Point taken. I'm sorry, Emma, I promise to do better about that." He gave her a small smile, which she returned.
"You'd better; I know where you live now." They laughed at this and what was left of the tension between them melted.
"You still didn't have to let them come in, you could've come and gotten me," he mentioned, though he was no longer annoyed.
"Think of it as payback for not calling," she replied, ginning with a good humored vindictiveness.
Rolling his eyes Eliot turned back to the mirror to double check that the makeup was gone. "I have to go now, but I'll be back as soon as I can."
"You said something about a park, right?" Emma inquired, trying to think of what would take Adie's mind off the fact that Eliot had to bail on her.
"Yeah, just head down this street and make a left. It's real nice." He turned to leave but Emma stopped him.
"Hold on," she said, reaching up and removing one last scrunchie which Eliot had missed. He smiled his appreciation and exited the bathroom, grabbing his phone before heading out.
Eliot could hear Hardison laughing through the closed door. Though he really didn't want to, he knew he had to go in; he had to get this over with. He also had to find a way to get that picture away from Hardison or he'd never live it down. Taking a deep breath he opened the door.
The first thing he noticed was that awful picture of him, face plastered with makeup and a horror-filled surprised expression, while Adalee gazed curiously at the intruders. It was stretched across the TV screens, mocking him.
Hardison was grinning at the screens, making minor adjustments to the color and contrast of the image. Parker and Sophie were watching from the couch, looking amused with the photo. Nate also watched Hardison's computer magic, though he did so from the kitchen where he nursed a glass of whiskey.
Finally the hacker noticed that Eliot had entered the room and his smile widened. "What do you think? I made things a little brighter and colorful, made sure your makeup stood out more, sharpened up the image a little bit."
Dozens of threats sprung to Eliot's mind; one of his personal favorites was "If you don't delete that picture I'll rip your arm off and beat you to death with it." He was about to give voice to the sentence, but he stopped himself; he had a better idea. Slowly he shuffled towards the hacker, a worried expression crossing his face.
"Look, Hardison, I really need you to get rid of that picture," he said quietly, without any of the anger Hardison had expected.
"Man, you just don't want evidence showing you in girly makeup," Hardison snapped back.
Eliot glanced down at the floor and shoved his hands into his jean's pockets. "I don't like that you've got a picture like that of me, but that's not the point. Do you have any idea what one of my enemies would do if they saw this?"
"Laugh their ass off?"
Frustration flashed over Eliot's face for a moment but he suppressed it quickly. He pointed at the screens, indicating the little girl. "If they saw this, saw her, they'd find her and use her to get to me. These are some really bad people who would use this and I
Well, I really need you to delete it so they can't hack us or break in or steal your phone and find it."
Hardison's face was a mask of concern. He'd never even thought there could be consequences to taking the picture, besides Eliot trying to kill him, and he was pretty sure Nate would have stopped that from happening. He didn't think he could live with himself if his picture caused something to happen to that little girl. The really shocking thing to him was how worried the hitter looked and sounded. "Ok man, I'll delete it, don't worry." He began the very thorough process of wiping the image from existence. "There, it's done. I deleted it from my phone, the computer, everything."
"Thanks man," Eliot said, lightly slapping Hardison's arm. As he turned to walk away he couldn't help the victorious grin which spread over his face. He nodded in satisfaction at the hacker's confused expression.
"I can't believe you just fell for that," Sophie commented to Hardison. Parker snorted with amusement as the hacker's look changed from confusion to exasperation. "Nice grifting skills, Eliot."
"Why thank you, Sophie," he replied smugly.
"Not cool man! Not cool!" Hardison protested loudly, trying in vain to recover the lost image. "You said she wouldn't be safe with a picture like this!"
"Nah man. I'm pretty sure my sister has a picture of us on her Facebook." He plopped down on the couch.
"You're not worried?" Parker interjected.
"No," Eliot answered, the smile leaving his face. "No one's going to try using them again, not after the last guy who gave it a shot."
Parker was about to ask what happened to the other guy, but the dark look on the hitter's face made her think better of it; knowing Eliot it would probably be a messy story he'd rather not share with them.
"Alright!" Nate announced when he saw Hardison open his mouth to complain. "Let's begin the briefing, Eliot has a tea party to get back to."
Princess tea party, Eliot corrected to himself, scowling at the mastermind. Everyone except Hardison turned their attention to the screen, he was glaring at the back of the hitter's head.
"Hardison, run it," Nate instructed as he moved next to the hacker. Hardison, however, was too busy wishing horrible things against Eliot to notice. "Hardison!" barked Nate, bringing the hacker's attention to the job at hand.
With one final dirty look at Eliot, Hardison began pulling up all the information he had found on their new mark, sulking all the while.
Eliot was trying to concentrate on the briefing, but Parker was making it very difficult. She had scooted right next to him on the couch when the meeting started and hadn't stopped staring at the side of his head since. He had done his best to ignore her but it was beginning to get really distracting. "What?" he snapped in a whisper.
"Can I braid your hair?" Parker asked in reply.
"Please?" She reached toward his hair but he swatted her hand away. Instead of being dissuaded, a playful smile crept onto her face and she tried again. Parker was bored with the briefing; she had the simple job of repelling down a forty story building and breaking into a high-tech vault. Easy stuff she could do in her sleep. She couldn't understand why the meeting was taking so long.
"Stop!" Eliot was a little louder than he had intended and it caused Nate to stop mid sentence.
"Parker! What are you doing?" the mastermind asked.
"Nothing," she answered, swiftly folding her hands in her lap and trying to look innocent.
Nate, however, was not fooled. "Am I going to have to separate you two?"
"Yes! Please!" Eliot responded, glaring at the thief.
"Sophie, could you sit in between them, please?" Nate inquired, motioning from where Sophie was sitting to the two squabbling teammates.
The grifter gave him an indigent look. "No! I'm not their mother!"
When Nate looked like he was about to argue Eliot jumped up and announced, "There! I'll just go sit somewhere else." He roughly dropped into the armchair opposite Sophie. "You've got one hour left before I leave."
"Then I expect we won't have any more interruptions," Nate said, looking pointedly at Parker. She had an expression that was a strange mix of a pout and a glare but she nodded her understanding.
The briefing ended half an hour later and as soon as it was over Eliot made a break for the door. Like Parker, he wasn't sure why the meeting had lasted so long and was more than a little annoyed. He was almost to the door when Sophie jumped up and called his name. Sighing loudly he waited for the grifter to catch up with him. She held a shoebox sized wooden box in her hands. "Sophie, I need to go."
"I know, this'll only take a second. Now, your niece can only borrow this, but I think it'll help you make up for having to leave." She opened the box to reveal a diamond studded tiara resting on wine red velvet. "I wore it when I played the princess of Slovenia and the U.S. government gave me a big fat check and
Well, anyway, a pretty little princess like her needs a crown." She held the box out to the genuinely moved hitter.
He reached out and touched the box but didn't take it from her. For a moment he stuttered, trying to find the right words. "Thank you, Sophie," he said at last, appreciation filling his voice. He was truly surprised at the grifter's generosity. Finally he took the box from her and closed it.
"Don't mention it. You just get back to your tea party," she replied, smiling. He nodded and left the room without another word, but a big grin spread over his face.
Eliot swore at the red traffic light which seemed to refuse to turn green. It felt like he had been stuck there for an hour. He glared around at the other drivers, as if it was their fault the light wouldn't change.
Suddenly a thought struck him as he noticed some of the shops lining the street. Quickly he glanced at the clock, he still had enough time. When the light finally turned green he managed to change lanes in time to swing into the first store's driveway. He had some errands to run.
It was getting dark when Emma opened the door to let her brother in. His hands were full with a large box. Eliot was in the living room before his sister noticed what the box was for; it held a rather large flat-screen TV. Perched on top of that was a smaller box advertising a DVD player and atop that was a package for a universal remote control. She stared blankly at the objects as Eliot sat them down. "Di-Did you just buy a TV?"
"Yes ma'am," he replied, smiling softly at her.
"You said you wanted to watch TV. Unfortunately the," he hesitated, forgetting which TV provider he had signed up with, "TV company guy can't be here for a couple days, so you'll have to go get some DVDs, but at least it'll be here for next time." The last part sounded almost like a question; he wanted them to come, but he wasn't positive they would.
"Eliot, that's so
" Emma wasn't sure what to say; in one day her brother had gone from rarely ever calling and seemingly unsure about them being in his house, to buying an expensive looking TV for them and inviting them to come back. She smiled brightly at him and he knew they would visit again.
"You're back!" Adalee cried happily, darting into the room. Eliot knelt down just in time for her to reach him and throw her arms around his neck. He returned the embrace for a moment then let her go but remained at her eye level.
"I'm real sorry about having to leave like that, honey. Do you think we could finish the princess tea party?" he asked, brushing a few strands of hair behind her ear. She nodded enthusiastically at this. "Do you think it'd be ok if your mommy joined us?" Again she bobbed her head in excitement. "One more thing, I think it'll be easier to have the tea party down here at the big table, if that suits m'lady."
"That's fine. I'm gonna go get the makeup!" With that she dashed up the stairs.
Emma laughed as she saw Eliot's eye twitch at the mention of makeup. "Don't worry, I taught her a few things while you were gone."
As she said this Eliot noticed for the first time that she was wearing more makeup than when he had left; it was rather subtle but now that he saw it he couldn't believe he had missed it to start with. "Great!" he said with forced enthusiasm.
"Sit," Emma instructed, pointing at the couch, as Adalee bounced over. Eliot complied and she sat on the edge of the couch next to him.
Keeping her back to the two adults, Adalee unrolled the package and spun around, wielding the eyeliner in her fist again, causing Eliot to recoil slightly.
"Adie, Adie, Adie," Emma said swiftly, laying a hand over the girl's shoulder, "remember how I said to hold it?" When Adalee shook her head her mother glanced over at Eliot, who was looking uncomfortable. "Why don't you let me do this and you can watch, then next time you can do it?"
"Ok," the little girl replied reluctantly and relinquished the eyeliner. Curiosity got the better of her and she moved closer to get a better view.
Eliot looked nervous as his sister turned to face him, a grin threatening to break across her face.
"Oh don't look so worried, I'm not going to poke your eye out," she scolded, trying to keep the smirk out of her voice. The muscles in his neck tightened as she began his makeover and didn't stop until she had finished with the eyeliner. Next came the eye shadow and the mascara, and with each new element Emma's grin broadened. "You know," she began as she started applying some blush, "I've always wanted to give you a makeover."
"Ha ha," he replied sarcastically, "I just bought you a TV and you're still being mean to me." He directed the last part to Adalee, beseeching her for assistance. She just giggled at him.
"Think of it as payback for all the things you did to me when we were little."
"I know, I know, you're my big brother so it was your job. As you're little sister I'm obligated by family law to get revenge at any opportunity. Isn't that right, Adie?"
Adalee nodded in agreement and both she and her mother smirked at him. In that moment Eliot realized two things: One, that his niece was very similar to his sister in both personality and expressions, and two, that he was hopelessly outmatched against them.
"Time for the lipstick, right?" he asked meekly.
"Yep!" the two girls replied in unison.
Giving into the inevitable, Eliot allowed them to apply the lipstick without any sarcastic remarks or protests.
"You're done!" Adalee announced, holding up the small mirror.
At least it's not so messy this time, Eliot thought as he studied his reflection. He wore the same mismatched bright colors as last time; they were just applied with more precision than before. "Awesome!" he exclaimed, managing only a touch of sarcasm to enter his voice. His niece giggled while his sister grinned broadly.
"Will you help Adie bring her stuff down?" Emma asked her brother as she began putting the makeup away.
"Actually, could you do that? I've got to get a couple more things from my car."
Emma gave him a curious look but nodded. She suddenly snorted with amusement. "You're going out to the car like that?"
Eliot winced when he remembered the makeup. "It's dark out so I don't think anyone will notice." He sincerely hoped that was true, he was getting tired of other people seeing him like this.
"If you say so," she replied skeptically before herding Adalee up the stairs to get her things.
Luckily for Eliot, none of his neighbors were outside to spot his new look. He pulled out three boxes, including the wooden one Sophie had lent him, and two bouquets of flowers, which he tucked under his arm.
Inside he found the girls setting the stuffed animals around his dining room table. At the sight of the flowers their eyes widened with surprise.
"Are those for me?" Adalee asked excitedly, pointing at the flowers.
"Some of them are," Eliot replied, setting his burden on the table. Picking up a bouquet of yellow daisies and blue violets he knelt down. "These are for you," he said, handing his niece the flowers. She stared down at them in awe, a wide smile frozen on her face. Her mother came up behind her and lightly bumped her with her knee.
"What do you say, Adie?" she prompted.
"Thank you Uncle Elli!"
"You're very welcome." Eliot stood up, leaving his niece to gaze at her flowers, and picked up the other bouquet, this one made of red and yellow roses. "This one's for you," he said, handing it to his sister. "I'm sorry for being such a lousy brother and everything."
"Oh Eliot," she began, wrapping her arms around his neck, "you're not a lousy brother." He chuckled quietly in a way that said he didn't believe her, but he returned her embrace none the less. Suddenly Emma felt Adie poking her leg. She looked down at her daughter.
"What'd you say?" the little girl reminded.
The two adults laughed. "Thank you, Eliot," Emma finally replied, cradling her bundle of flowers. Before he could say anything she added, "What's in the other boxes?"
"Right!" Eliot took the wooden box, grinned excitedly at his sister, and knelt back down in front of Adalee. "Now, Sophie's letting you borrow this for tonight; it's not something you can keep, so you have to be careful with it." Adie stared, wide-eyed, first at him then at the box. Slowly he raised the lid, revealing the glittering tiara. Both the girls gasped in awe at the crown.
"Are those real?" Adie asked, pointing at the diamonds.
"Yes they are."
"Do I want to know how she got that?" Emma asked, knowing that her brother and his team's activities were less than legal.
"I'm actually not sure," he answered, a little concerned that his sister might take it away. His concern was unfounded however; Emma just shrugged and continued to admire the tiara. Returning his focus to his niece, Eliot inquired, "Do you promise to take good care of this?"
"Use your words, honey," Emma instructed.
"In that case
" Eliot lifted the crown out of its box and placed it gently atop her head. It was hard for Eliot to decide which was the brightest, the diamond studded tiara or his niece's smile. "Would m'lady like to know what's in the other boxes?"
"Yes!" She bounced with excitement and the tiara slid to one side. Eliot readjusted it with a gentle reminder to be careful before getting the other two boxes.
"This," he said, opening the first box, "is a tea set so we can have some real tea."
Adalee studied the porcelain teapot and matching tea cups, all with delicate purple flowers painted on them. "They're pretty!" she declared, lightly touching one of the cups. "What's in the other box?"
Eliot chuckled as he opened the lid of the pink cardboard box. "These are pastries."
Wide eyed, Adie gazed at the assortment of sugary treats, thrilled that she would actually get to eat some; usually her parents wouldn't let her have things like that, especially for dinner. Suddenly worried, she looked up at her mom to see if it was ok to eat the pastries. Her mom just smiled and nodded, though there was something a little strange about her smile, but it was enough for the little girl. "Let's eat them!" she decreed.
"Hold on there, we have to make the tea first," Eliot reminded her, picking up the tea set and standing.
"Why don't you set the tea cups around the table while your mommy and I get the tea ready?" he suggested.
"Ok!" With that she got straight to work carefully placing the tea cups in front of the waiting stuffed animals.
As Eliot moved to the kitchen to fill the pot with water, his sister came up behind him and said, "You do realize she's not going to sleep with all that sugar?"
He turned to face her, a grin on his face. "Yes ma'am, but I'm not the one who has to share a room with her." His sister glared and began to protest but he cut her off. "Think of it as revenge for giving her the makeup bag." Emma couldn't come up with a good response so she gave in; it wasn't like Adalee didn't get cake and cookies when she visited her other relatives. Besides, she reasoned, the sugar high shouldn't last too long. Hopefully.
"Fine, but if she's grumpy tomorrow, you get to deal with her."
"Fair enough," he replied with a chuckle, setting the pot down on the stove and searching for something to put the flowers in.
Before long the tea was ready and everyone was seated around the table. Eliot poured the drinks, they all clinked their glasses together, took a sip, and Adalee decided she didn't like tea. She was disappointed to learn there was no chocolate peanut butter birthday cake flavor, so she opted for juice instead. By royal decree she changed the name form "princess tea party" to "princess tea and juice party", to which she heard no objections. She was after all the princess so she could do things like that.
"Do you think we could do this tomorrow Uncle Elli?" the young girl asked, looking adoringly at him.
"If that's what you want," he answered, already looking forward to the next princess tea and juice party, makeup and all.