“This question reads, ‘Hello, strange men that exist in my friend’s phone. Your advice is very bad,’” Justin says.
“Hey!” says Travis.
Justin continues: “‘Which is saying something since I noticed, and I’m not good at people stuff.’”
“Oof,” Travis says with an audible wince.
“Nice way to start off asking for our advice: assuming we’re not real people and then insulting the very thing we make our livings off of,” Griffin says.
“Well, they’re not wrong,” Travis says.
“About which part?” Griffin asks. “Us not being real or us giving bad advice, because I don’t know about you, but—ow—I just pinched myself—ow—look, I did it again, and hey what’d’you know? It hurts. I’m not in the Matrix; I’m just regular flesh and blood—”
“The bad advice part, obviously,” Travis says. “Our opening is literally our dad giving a disclaimer about our advice. But what if—hear me out now—we are in the Matrix. We wouldn’t know! That’s the whole point, Griffin! You’re not supposed to know—”
“AHEM,” Justin says loudly, and then makes increasingly violent-sounding throat-clearing noises. “If I might continue?”
“Well I don’t want to sit here and be insulted all day, ‘cause that just makes me feel sad and it makes my tummy angry,” Griffin says. “And you know what happens when my tummy decides to throw a party in my pants! My bowels get in on the action and then I’m the one stuck with all the clean up!”
“That was a rhetorical question,” Justin says. “Look, I’m just gonna start over. ‘Hello, strange men that exist in my boyfriend’s phone. Your advice is very bad, which is saying something since I noticed, and I’m not good at people stuff. But you make him happy, so you must be doing something right. My boyfriend—at least I think he’s my boyfriend; we’ve never talked about it—likes our other friend. You know, like likes him. How do I tell him it’s okay to go out with our other friend? I don’t want him to think I’m breaking up with him, and also I think I might like like our friend too. How do I convince the both of them that I think we should all be together? We’re really close friends. You could even say we’re thick as thieves. I’d ask Sophie, but she’s on vacation.’” Justin pauses. “And it...is not signed.”
“Wow,” Griffin says, with feeling. “That was...that was....”
“Man,” Justin says, “I do not envy their love life. Also, what’re you doing, writing into a podcast that your boyfriend listens to? You want us to break the news to him?”
“Man, I think I’m breaking into hives just thinking about this social situation,” Griffin says.
“They’re talking about polyamory,” Travis says, cutting between them. “It’s totally normal—well, not heteronormative, but you know what I mean. Just go for it, man! Or lady. Or—y’know, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to assume your gender identity.”
“How would you even—” Justin says incredulously. “Like, hi honey, I think we need to talk. No no, I’m not breaking up with you. But you know how you totally have a crush on our friend? No, there’s no need to be alarmed! I have one too. A crush. On our friend. The friend we both have. Do you want him to be our third?”
“Yes!” Travis says.
“Man, I was so nervous asking Rachel out. I can’t imagine navigating this kind of personal situation. Like. I was just sweating buckets. I could’ve washed away the city of Chicago with my sweat. And my piss. Because I peed myself. Juuuuuuuust a little. Yep, I was nervous and excited—thanks, bladder, you really did me a solid there,” Griffin says.
“You mean a liquid,” Travis says.
“Yes, Travis. Thank you for clarifying my figure of speech. I did not shit my pants that day. Just peed myself a little.”
“You know,” Justin interjects. “I think the most important thing to keep in mind here is that people are like horses.”
“Justin,” Griffin says. “I know there are whole sub communities of people who believe that—from furries to horse play to bronies—“
A recording of Sting saying, “TORONTO!” plays, cutting Griffin off; it is quickly followed by a recording of Sting saying, “SHUT UP AND LISTEN.”
“As I was saying,” Justin says with a huff. “I’m making a very beautiful point here, while giving you a dose of our signature equine humor.”
“And we love you for it,” Travis says.
“Thank you, Travis,” Justin says. “People are like horses in that we are stronger together. Friendship, love—that’s how we get through life. And if you and your boyfriend dating your other friend makes y’all happy, then go for it. Be honest. Be genuine. The words have gotta come from you. From your heart. Trust your heart.”
For a moment, there’s complete silence, and then:
“Wow,” Griffin says. “Juice, that was—that was—”
“Beautiful,” Travis finishes for him. “Shit. Did you just give actual advice on our joke advice podcast?”
“I think he did,” Griffin said wonderingly.
“Is this what it feels like to be actually helpful?” Travis asks.
“Quick, someone make a fart joke and restore the balance,” Justin says.
“I already told you about a time I peed myself; what more do you want from me? C’mon, Juice.”
“Yeah,” Travis says. “C’mon, Juice!”
* * *
Parker growls angrily, rips out her earbuds, and flings her phone onto the couch. “Useless!” she mutters. “Completely useless!”
“Parker,” shouts Hardison from the next room. “Parker!”
“Oh, crap,” Parker says. She grabs the grappling gun sitting next to her and shoots at the high doorway, hook landing on the frame.
“Parker!” Hardison shouts again, and then lets out a very shrill shriek as Parker swings in and lands next to him. “Dammit, woman, don’t do that!”
“What?” Parker says innocently, stealing one of his Cheetos and popping it in her mouth. It makes a satisfying crunch! sound when she chomps down on it.
“Did you…did you write into one of my favorite podcasts about our love life?”
“Uh,” Parker says. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“They said we were, and I quote, ‘Thick as thieves.’ They referenced Sophie,” he says, throwing his hands in the air. “Why didn’t you just tell me?” he says gently.
Parker lets out the breath she was holding. “You know me,” she says, looking down at her hands. “I’m not…good…at this stuff. So…I…you know.” She shrugs.
“Hey,” Hardison says, gently, as he nudges her shoulder with his. “I’m glad you said something. It means a lot.”
“So…” Parker starts and then hesitates. “What do you think? About Eliot?”
“I tell you once that I think Eliot’s hair is pretty,” Hardison says with mock indignation.
Parker glances up at him, and her little smile grows into a wide, happy one. “You said that you wondered if Eliot likes having his hair pulled.”
“Excuse you, I was drunk!” he says, landing hard on the last word.
“You sure about that, Alec?” she asks teasingly, and then the smile drops off her face.
Hardison opens his mouth to speak, but his answer is drowned out by Eliot’s deafening roar from the kitchen, as he yells Parker’s name. Parker and Hardison look at each other, with matching Oh shit! expressions on their faces. Eliot storms into the room. “Did you write into Hardison’s nerd talk show about you and Hardison’s love life?” he demands.
“They’re called podcasts, Eliot,” Hardison interjects. “C’mon, man, join us in the Twenty-First Century.”
“What’re you doing listening to the imaginary men in Hardison’s phone?” Parker asks.
“Parker,” both Eliot and Hardison snap.
“What?” she says, looking nonplussed.
“They’re not imaginary,” Hardison says.
“They’re just voices on the interwebs,” Parker says with a shrug.
“They’re not—look, I know you know how the internet works. We went over it last week,” Hardison says.”
“More importantly,” Eliot says, exasperated, cutting between the two of them. “We are supposed to be keep a low profile. A low profile. You know what that means? That means not attracting people’s attention! That means not directly contacting some talk show!”
“Okay,” Hardison says, “now I know the both of you are just doing this to me on purpose.”
“Eliot,” Parker says. “It’s okay. I used one of Hardison’s top secret, super secure, IP scrubbing thing-a-ma-jiggy. No one’s gonna know. Besides, I didn’t use our names.”
“You used Sophie’s!” Eliot insists, pointing a finger at her.
“Did I?” Parker asks.
Eliot starts pacing in front of them. “And who is the third you were talking about?” he demands, as he stops and turns to face them. “Why don’t I know them? Are they safe?”
“Eliot,” Parker says softly.
He resumes his pacing. “Have you run a background check? Are they in our line of work? Do they even know what we do?”
“Eliot,” Hardison says.
“How do you know they’re not a plant, or, or a spy from a rival crew? Or hired to take a hit out on you? Dammit, how am I supposed to protect you if you don’t even tell me about them? If you don’t even let me vet them?”
“ELIOT!” Parker and Hardison both shout.
“What?” he snaps, turning to face them.
Hardison looks at Parker and gestures for her to go ahead.
“What?” Eliot says again. “What’re you not telling me?”
“It’s you,” Parker says, her lips quirking into a little half smile.
“What?” Eliot sputters. “What now?”
“You,” Hardison says. “You’re the one we’re talking about. We want you to be our third.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes we do,” Hardison says. “C’mon, man, don’t act like you’re surprised. It’s always been you.”
“I’m not—” Eliot stops and brushes his bangs out of his face. “You can’t—”
“You’re the only one we want,” Parker says. Eliot looks bewildered, lost. She stands and goes to him, drawn to him like a magnet, the connection between them undeniable.
“I’m not—” Eliot says, and then stops, unable to finish the thought.
Parker hugs him as if she trying to hold him together, and maybe she is. Maybe that’s what they’re doing, the three of them; maybe that’s why their bond is so strong. They’re all warped in their own way, a bunch of broken parts that learned how to pretend to be whole. “Hardison thinks your hair is pretty,” she says into his neck.
“Dammit, Hardison,” Eliot says, but it comes out more like an endearment than an indictment. He brushes at his eyes angrily. Hardison stands and embraces them, both of them holding Eliot as he shakes apart.
“We can’t do this without you,” Hardison says, his voice a little froggy. “Any of it. Parker and I, we’re good, but you—we wouldn’t survive without you. Not anymore.”
“You got that right,” Eliot grumbles.
“Who did you think it was?” Parker asks, her voice muffled beneath the two of them. “Alice’s friend Peggy?”
“You are Alice,” Hardison and Eliot groan, an old familiar refrain.
Parker tilts her head and kisses Eliot softly, and his lips part, letting the kiss deepen. Hardison draw his fingers through Eliot’s hair and tugs, making Eliot groan as arousal builds in him. Pulling away, Parker says smugly, “Told you that Eliot likes having his hair pulled.”
“Dammit, Hardison,” Eliot says, but there’s no heat behind it—just desire. Just love.