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Why Eliot Does Not Snack on the Job

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No one is ever allowed to find out about this.

“God damn it,” says Eliot, and twists around to punch the front of the machine.

The glass doesn't break, of course. Eliot can recognize bullet-proof glass when he sees it. Who the fuck puts bullet-proof glass on a vending machine, anyway?

Eliot isn't even supposed to be in this stupid building. He was hired to make... inquiries with a man who may or may not know where the client's daughter has been taken. (Based on her facebook posts, Eliot is of the private opinion that the girl ran away, and good for her. Clients never want to hear that, though).

Turns out, the guy – Frederick Smith – is a workaholic. Working at 3am, jesus. Eliot hadn't seen any harm in breaking in, but the guy must have just left, because his office was empty.

Eliot also didn't see any harm in catching a quick snack on the way out. Except the pretzels got caught, and so he tried to reach in to pull it down, and that's how he's here, hand caught in a vending machine in the middle of a cramped hallway.

His reputation is going to plummet if he gets caught by the cops because of a vending machine.

So Eliot tries everything. He spends a few careful minutes testing the give of the machine, picking and prodding at screws and likely-looking latches. Everything within reach, anyway – he can only rise to a half-crouch with his arm caught. He contemplates breaking his arm. Hasn't had to do that since the last time he was kidnapped, but it seems like a stupid thing to do when his life isn't in danger - just his dignity.

Then, from above, he hears a snicker.

Eliot jolts around.

There's a woman staring at him from the ceiling, lying high in the vents just a few feet down the hall. She's opened the grating so he has a clear view of blond hair falling around her face, and around an impish grin. Eliot watches as she eels out onto the floor.

She's wearing a black catsuit, too. She strides over to him and leans around, looking the machine up and down.

She snickers again.

“Quit that,” Eliot snarls.

“You're not a very good thief,” she tells him. Eliot jerks his arm furiously, but he remains stuck.

Wearing a tiny grin, the woman starts to walk away.

“Wait - ”

The woman pauses, spinning around to grin at him.

Eliot scowls. “Get me outta here,” he finally grounds out.

She stands next to him again. “Why?” she asks. “What's in it for me?”

“What do you want?”

The blonde rocks back and forth on her heels, considering this. “I have a friend named Peggy,” she says at last, a complete non-sequitor. “We were having a chat the other day – I was like, 'hey! We should go skydiving!' and she was like, 'no, that might be scary,' and I was like, 'it's okay because we'd have parachutes', but then she - “

Eliot thunks his head back against the machine.

“ - and anyway,” she concludes, “Peggy told me that I should get a guy to skydive with me, because that's like, a date-thing.” Eliot suspects something was lost in translation. Or 'Peggy' was scrambling for excuses. “And, you're a guy!”

“...You want me to go skydiving with you?” Eliot clarifies.

“And coffee.”

“What?”

“Normal people get coffee together,” says the woman, as though this is something she read in a book. “Get me coffee.”

“Fine!” Eliot says. He feels weirdly disoriented, caught in a vending machine, at 3am, making a date with a crazy girl who came out of the ceiling. He needs a vacation. “Can I know your name, lady, before you start blackmailing me into dates?”

“I'm Parker,” she says. “Or Alice, but Alice is only me when I need to lie about stuff.”

“Right.” He sighs. “We can buy a coffee as soon as I'm out, okay? So hurry up.”

Parker gives an odd giggle-snort. “I can't remember the last time I bought something!” She leans back on her heels, thinking. “Okay! Let me find a phone.”

Eliot opens his mouth to protest, but she's already gone.

So he sits uselessly next to the vending machine, glowering. The lights flicker briefly. NEW MARSHMALLOW BARS, screams a sticker on the machine's side. HAVE S'MORE!

Eliot shudders.

There's no sign of Parker's return until suddenly she's just there, at his side.

How the hell.

“I called a vending machine guy and opened the front doors,” she says. “He'll be here in a few minutes.”

She pokes his side. Eliot swats her away.

She pokes him again.

It's a long, long twenty minutes before they hear footsteps.

“Well, that's embarrassing,” says the guy who comes striding down the hall. “Man, how'd you even do that?” Without waiting for a reply, he adds, “I'm Alec Hardison, and I'll be your savior today. Thanks are accepted in the form of money and gummy worms.”

Hardison sets a small case on the floor and opens it. Something about the way the guy pokes through his tool-kit makes Eliot narrow his eyes. Hardison seems comfortable with the tools, but he doesn't know where they are.

Like he hasn't done this before.

“You don't work with vending machines,” Eliot concludes.

“What, you don't think I can get you out of this?”

“That's not what I said.”

Parker spins on her heel, watching the guy narrowly. She might be crazy, but apparently she's invested in their coffee-slash-skydiving date, because she says, “I have a taser.”

Hardison rears back, suddenly alarmed. “What, no, I'm not – okay, I don't usually work with vending machines. It's a, uh, a temp thing, and - “

“What's this?” Parker interrupts. She holds up a weird little gadget with a USB connector on one end.

Hardison yelps, patting his pockets. “How the hell did you get that, girl?”

Parker just watches him narrowly.

“Okay! Okay. I replaced the vending machine guy 'cuz I needed to download some info from the office servers.” Hardison deflates, defeated.

“Oh. Okay.”

Parker hands over the gadget. Hardison boggles.

“Can someone get me out of this?” Eliot bursts, shoving his shoulder against the machine. His wrist hurts.

“Right, right. Sorry, man.”

So the hacker-turned-vending-tech fiddles with some tools, muttering to himself. Suddenly, Parker brightens.

“You should come on a date with us!”

“What?” Hardison pauses.

“What?” Eliot demands. Why is everyone so easily distracted?

“You said you would give me a coffee-date, for helping you,” Parker reasons. “Hardison is helping too.”

“Uh,” says Hardison, leaning away and watching Eliot warily. “Don't punch me, man, you look like you're going to punch me, and I ain't getting you away from that machine if - “

“Just hurry up,” Eliot snaps, kicking against the opposite wall. This does not seem to reassure the hacker.

Only if you'll do the date,” Parker scolds. “You promised.”

“Fine! Whatever.” Professional torturers could take lessons from these two.

“Not that I'm against any of this,” Hardison says, carefully approaching again, as though Eliot were a feral animal, “'Cuz ya'll are both some beautiful, beautiful people... But, uh, do I get a choice in this?”

“No,” says Parker.

“...Fair enough,” Hardison decides. Finally he takes out a screwdriver, twisters it into something on the side of the machine, and the front swings forward. He pulls apart another section on the inside, and suddenly Eliot can move his arm. “For future reference, man, you probably could have picked that with a key or something.”

Something occurs to Eliot. Isn't Parker a thief?

He turns his head slowly.

“I always wanted to see how normal people open that,” she says, disappointed. “Same as me - that's kind of boring.”

Eliot makes a wordless sound of rage.

“...So,” says Hardison. “When are we getting that coffee?”