Eliot tripped over the small wooden stool sitting in the middle of his kitchen -- again -- and cursed Hardison for the hundredth time. He'd moved that same stool into the storage closet at least a dozen times these past few weeks. Why in Sam Hill did Hardison continue moving it out here? He definitely didn't need it to get into any high cabinets, not with his height. So why?
And he knew damn well it was Hardison, too; there wasn't anyone else who would've left it out. All of the pub staff knew better and Parker was so scarily particular about equipment, she'd never leave something like that in the middle of the room. So that left Hardison as the culprit.
With a muttered curse, Eliot moved the stool out of the way -- again -- and turned the espresso machine on.
He was in the middle of grinding the beans down to the perfect refined size when Hardison ambled downstairs, half asleep and with his Star Wars pajamas on inside out.
"Mornin'," he mumbled as he shuffled past Eliot and headed straight for the industrial sized refrigerator on the other side of the room.
Eliot didn't say a word, just tracked his movements with watchful eyes.
Hardison opened the fridge door and blinked at the bright light from inside. His eyes darted around the interior for a minute and then he started shuffling things around, clearly looking for something specific.
"I know I put three of them in here yesterday," he said to himself, moving a tub of coleslaw to the side before straightening up and turning towards Eliot. "Hey, man, have you seen my soda?"
"Do I look like I've seen your soda?" Eliot grumbled, finishing with the coffee beans.
Hardison held his hands up defensively in front of him and, for a moment, Eliot almost felt bad for snapping at him. Until he remembered the stool, and then he glared at him again.
"Okay, okay. No need to get hostile," Hardison said, taking a step back from the fridge. "It's cool. I'll just go get another bottle from the storage closet."
"Yeah, and while you're at it, why don't you try and remember that that's where the stool goes, too," Eliot said to his retreating back.
Hardison stopped and turned around, giving Eliot a puzzled look.
"I'm sorry," he said, "Did you just say stool?"
"Yeah, I said stool," Eliot practically growled. "The same damned stool you've been leavin' out in the middle of my kitchen each night. The same stool I've been trippin' over every danged mornin'."
Hardison shot him a puzzled look but Eliot missed it because now that he had the coffee beans ready, he couldn't find the tamper for the espresso machine, and what good was the machine without the tamper?. He swore he'd left it out on the counter last night, right next to the portafilter so he wouldn't have to go fumbling for either of them in the morning. But now it was nowhere to be found.
"Now where is my danged tamper?" he asked the room at large, rummaging around in the nearest drawer.
Hardison came back from the storage closet, gleefully holding a bag of gummies and shook his head at Eliot's question.
"Don't know, don't wanna know, unless it's hidden away with my Orange Squeeze, which is gone again. At least I still have these, my sweet little chewy friends," he cooed, taking a big bite out of one of the gummies.
Eliot frowned. "You're disgusting."
Hardison grinned at him. "You're just jealous you don't have a stash hidden away somewhere."
"Yeah, Hardison, it's seven a.m. and that's exactly what I'm thinking," he said in disgust as he finally found the tamper neatly put away in the gadget drawer. He yanked it out and got the espresso brewing.
Parker was still in what passed as pajamas for her - but was in reality an oversized tee and a pair of stolen boxers - when she made her way downstairs a few minutes later.
"Good morning," she mumbled as she walked past him towards Hardison.
"Yeah? What's so good about it?" Eliot asked, taking a sip of his espresso.
"Ignore him. He's just a big, old grumpy bear this morning," Hardison said. He held the bag of gummies out to her and she immediately reached over and snagged a few, much to Eliot's chagrin.
Blowing his hair out of the way, he gestured them towards the table in the corner.
"Sit. Both of you," he ordered. "You need to eat somethin' more nutritious than gummies to start your day. I'm making waffles."
"With nutella and whipped cream?" Parker asked hopefully.
Eliot sighed. "With peach compote. I'm gonna get some fruits and vegetables into you if it kills me. I don't know how the two of you didn't die from scurvy or somethin' before I came along."
The rest of the day passed without incident. Parker met with a potential new client and Hardison did some background research on them while Eliot tailed the potential target, trying to get a feel for their operation and how they might best infiltrate it. All in all, it was a productive day and they all fell into bed, exhausted, well before midnight.
At around three or so, Eliot woke up, sweating and with his heart racing. He wasn't sure what exactly had woken him, but he was grateful to be awake all the same. He'd been having a nightmare about his time in black ops and had felt the same cold, dark dread that he always did anytime he even thought about that time in his life.
Sneaking a glance at Parker and Hardison, he found them curled around one another on the other side of the bed, still sleeping peacefully.
Not wanting to disturb them, he carefully slid from the bed, pulling on a henley and jeans before padding downstairs to the kitchen. There was no way he'd be able to get back to sleep at this point and there was no time like the present to try that new tenderloin recipe he'd been wanting to work on. Besides, cooking always managed to clear his head and he was definitely in need of that right now.
The first thing he did when he got downstairs was start up a pot of coffee. Then he got to work, finding a bottle of Jack Daniels behind the bar and digging out veal stock and shallots from deep within the fridge.
He was just setting the beef to roast in the oven when a set of stainless steel mixing bowls inexplicably tumbled out of a cabinet, making such a loud racket that Eliot - who was still a little skittish from his nightmare - jumped.
It was times like this that he wished Sophie, with her crazy but calming presence, was still around. Damn her and Nate for taking off to parts unknown without even a burner phone to call.
What he got to deal with instead were Parker and Hardison, stumbling downstairs, both more than half asleep.
Parker rubbed at her eyes. "What was that noise?"
"Yeah," Hardison chimed in, yawning. "I was dreaming about Carrie Fisher rescuing me from Chaos, dressed in that skimpy little slave costu-- Ow! What was that for?"
Parker narrowed her eyes at him. "You know what it was for."
"Hey, I cannot be held accountable for what dream me does," Hardison argued, heading for the refrigerator and yanking the door open. He blinked blearily inside and frowned. "I know I put a fresh bottle in here yesterday. I know I did."
"Are you talking about your danged soda again? Maybe you finished it," Eliot said, pushing a mug at him and gesturing towards the coffee machine. "Drink some coffee like a normal person."
Hardison ignored him and opened the door to the one of the overhead cabinets. "No seriously. Where did you hide it?"
"I told you, Hardison, I didn't do anything with your danged soda," Eliot grumbled.
"I'm gonna find it," Hardison said, opening another cabinet door. He stopped speaking abruptly, his jaw dropping open and his hand falling to his side. "Um, guys…:
"What, Hardison?" Eliot asked in exasperation.
He pointed shakily to the cabinet and Eliot pushed past him to see what he was looking at. His own jaw dropped when he saw the small miniature person sitting on a jar of mustard, guzzling a bottle of Hardison's Orange Squeeze, his feet propped up in the place normally reserved for the mixing bowls.
Alerted by the sudden bright kitchen lights shining into the cabinet, the diminutive creature turned and silently stared at them for nearly half a minute before unceremoniously dropping the empty bottle and ducking out of the cabinet and through what looked like a small door beneath the work counter.
"What the… Did I just see what I think I saw?" Eliot asked in disbelief.
"I don't know what you all think you saw," Hardison said, gaping. "But that sure as not looked like some kinda elfin being."
Eliot made a face. "Not an elf! Did that look like an elf to you? Elves are little things in red and green that help Santa--"
"I didn't say elf, I said elfin!" Hardison countered, glaring at him. "You know, like in Lord of the Rings, but smaller?"
They argued about it, bickering about what it could have possibly been until Parker calmly interrupted.
"It's a brownie," she said, grabbing a container of marshmallow fluff out of the cabinet and unscrewing the lid.
Both men stopped mid-sentence and turned as one to stare at her.
Hardison’s eyebrows shot up. "A what now?"
"Like the kids that sell cookies?" Eliot asked, completely baffled.
"Not that kind of brownie. The mystical kind," Parker said, rolling her eyes and dipping her finger into the jar of fluff. "Not to be confused with a hob. Which are like brownies but less nice."
"Parker. What exactly are you tryin' to tell us? That we have some mystical creature livin' here?"
She looked at them in confusion. "Don't either of you know about brownies?"
"No, we do not. That's why we're askin'," Eliot said with more patience than he felt.
"They do stuff. Around the house. Or in this case, the pub."
"And…?" Hardison prompted, eyebrows raised.
"In exchange for food. They normally prefer honey, but as soon as this one tasted your Orange Squeeze, he didn't want anything else. Believe me, I tried."
"Are you saying… Girl, are you saying you gave it my soda? On purpose?"
"Sure. Why? Was I not supposed to?"
Hardison looked personally injured. "That's like… that's my lifesblood. And you gave it away."
Eliot sighed. "Hardison, I think you're missing the point here. We have a … brownie?" He looked to Parker, who nodded, and then continued. "A brownie living in the pub. We have to get rid of it."
Hardison nodded and pulled out his phone. Eliot shot him a incredulous look. "You carry your phone around even when you're in pajamas?"
Hardison sniffed. "You never know when you're going to need immediate access. For example, I can now give you the name of at least three dependable exterminators within a five mile radius of the pub."
Eliot grabbed for the phone. "Excellent! You think four a.m. is to early to call?"
"No." Parker said it softly but firmly, with that hard edge that both Eliot and Hardison had learned meant there was no arguing with her and you best just go along with whatever hairbrained idea she had.
"No?" Eliot asked, stopping mid-dial and raising an eyebrow.
"No," she repeated, louder this time. "He's not doing us any harm. And he's lived here longer than we have. This is technically his house. We're just… renting it."
"Renting?" Eliot sputtered. "Did you just say renting? Because I laid down more than five hundred grand in cash for this place." He stopped and turned to Hardison, looking for some solidarity. "Did you hear her? Sayin' we're just renting this place from a brownie?"
Hardison nodded. "I did. Parker, babe, I know you see things differently than most of us do, but we got us a creature living in our walls. We can't just let him stay there."
Parker cocked her head at him. "Why not?"
"Why…" He cleared his throat and started again, a little more gently this time. "He's living in the walls, Parker. The ones that the Board of Health regularly inspects. Do you know what happens if they find something during one of their inspections?"
"You do your hand-wavey computer magic and make the violation disappear," Parker said calmly. "Like you do for all kinds of things."
"Nevermind the Board of Health!" Eliot said, totally exasperated. "Aren't you at all disturbed by the fact that there's such a thing as a brownie to start with?"
Hardison shrugged and plucked his phone out of Eliot's hand, tapping something into it with rapid speed. "Little less disturbed now, to be honest. Wikipedia says they're harmless."
Eliot threw up his hands. "I can't believe you two! You're crazy!"
Parker came over and draped her arms around his middle, leaning her head against his shoulder. It was so rare that she initiated a hug that he felt most of his anger dissipate. Most, but not all.
"He doesn't mean us any harm. All we have to do is make sure we share some of our food with him," she said plaintively, hugging him tighter.
"That's it?" he grumbled, his arms gong around her despite his better senses telling him it was never that easy, especially not when it came to Parker.
"Well, that and maybe help him out with the ogre who lives next door and has been threatening him."
Eliot briefly closed his eyes and counted to ten. It didn't help much. "Parker."
"What?" she asked innocently, lifting her head off his shoulder.
It was on the tip of his tongue to say absolutely not, no way, but instead he found himself shaking his head. "Nothin'."
How were you supposed to argue with someone about such crazy nonsense? Besides, wasn't that what they did, helped the helpless and provided leverage in seemingly impossible situations? Even if the so called client was somehow not quite human?
"Does that mean we get to keep him?" Hardison asked, coming over and wrapping his arms around them, too.
Eliot sighed, knowing it was well and truly a lost cause now. There was no way he could say no to both of them. "Yes, Hardison, we can keep him."
Parker made a little happy squeaking noise and squeezed him around the middle again.
Eliot groaned, but hugged both her and Hardison back. Yes, they were crazy and more than a little off-kilter, but they were his. And if dealing with this brownie - and now apparently this ogre - was what needed doing, they'd do it. Together.