Parker and Hardison knew Eliot had finally settled when he disappeared for a couple of days and returned with a carefully packed crate of herb plants in decorative pots and a small fireproof safe full of photographs.
Well, technically they knew he'd really settled when he unpacked the photographs and hung them up in the kitchen. (By this time Parker had already accidentally killed the paprika plant.)
"Who's that?" she asked, sitting on the counter, watching Eliot carefully hang a photograph of a beautiful, dangerous-looking woman next to the refrigerator (far from the heat and splatters of the stove).
"Granny Peggy," Eliot said, and gave no extra information, as if the name itself was sufficient.
"Your grandma?" Parker asked.
"Sorta how Hardison's Nana is," Eliot said.
"I hear my name?" Hardison yelled from the other room.
"Come look, Eliot's Sharing Things," Parker called. Hardison's head popped into the kitchen.
"Look, that's his Granny Peggy," Parker pointed.
Hardison stared at Eliot. "You are Peggy Carter's grandson?" he asked.
"No! We just called her that. Also how the hell do you know who Peggy Carter is?" Eliot said, at the same time Parker squeaked, "I thought Peggy Carter was a myth!"
Eliot stared at both of them. Hardison looked down and gaped when he saw the next framed photo from the little pile.
"That's Captain America and Peggy Carter!"
"She's famous. She's like the patron saint of women who do things they're not supposed to do," Parker said.
"...what," Eliot managed.
"You knew Peggy Carter?" Hardison asked, holding up the photo, which showed Peggy with her arms linked in the elbows of two men, one tall and fair-haired, the other shorter and darker, all three in uniform.
"Granny Peggy used to babysit me in summers," Eliot said. "That's her with my grandpop."
"Your grandpop," Hardison said, showing him the photo. "Your grandpop?"
"That's him on the right. He was a sniper. Never got to know him, he died in the war."
"Yeah, 'cause your grandpop was BUCKY FUCKING BARNES?"
Eliot shrugged. "He got an Italian girl in trouble and died before he could make it right. Granny Peggy made sure she and the baby came back to America with her. The baby was my pop."
Parker studied the picture. "You sorta look like him."
"Yeah, that's what Granny Peggy said. Mostly when I was in trouble," Eliot said. "Now can we drop this or what?"
"Can I have this?" Hardison asked.
"No! Why do you want it?"
"Can I scan it in? Archival-quality. Won't damage it, I promise," Hardison said. Eliot scowled.
"Don't put it on Readit," he said.
"Reddit," Hardison sighed.
The day the news broke that Bucky Barnes was alive -- and apparently a terrorist? -- Hardison came and got Eliot out of the kitchen at the brewpub.
"You should see this," he said, bringing up all the admittedly sketchy intel he'd been able to gather in the half hour since the story broke. Eliot watched the footage, arms crossed.
"It ain't him," he said finally.
"Uh...I'm pretty sure it is."
"No, that -- " Eliot brushed it off with a flick of his hand. "Yes, obviously that's him," he said, pointing at the image of a man on a motorcycle, being pursued by a guy in a skintight cat costume which Hardison wouldn't admit he knew a little bit about. "The bomber. Ain't him."
"How can you tell?"
"He's walking wrong. Sure, he's definitely had training, but not American military training circa 1941. It's a very distinctive walk," Eliot said.
"So he's definitely alive," Hardison said.
"But that's not him?"
"And...do we have feelings about this?" Hardison prompted. Eliot looked at him drily.
"Never knew him. He doesn't know I exist. Fellas going after him, probably best if it stays that way," Eliot said. "Could bring a whole country's worth of trouble down on us, otherwise."
Hardison gave it a beat, then said, "But he looks like he needs help."
Eliot was silent, thoughtful.
"We could steal us a war veteran," Hardison prompted.
"That's Captain America," Eliot said, pointing to one screen. "That's Iron Man, that's Black Widow, that's a guy I have literally only heard of in myths," he added, pointing to the guy chasing Barnes. "We ain't gods, Hardison. We gotta keep out of this one."
"But -- "
"I got chili that need stirring," Eliot announced, and left for the kitchen before Hardison could object.
About a month later, a princess showed up on their doorstep.
"My girl!" Hardison roared, enveloping the young woman in a hug. Parker hung back, confused, and Eliot stood patiently, the way he usually did when he wasn't sure what was going on. "How you been? I saw your work. You wrecked like a third of Korea."
"Not even like a quarter!" she said. "You can't prove it was me."
"Parker, come here, you gotta -- " Hardison hustled the young woman over to Parker. "This is Princess Shuri of Wakanda. She's almost as good a gamer as me."
"Excuse you?" Shuri looked at him sidelong.
"You'll get there, I got faith in you," Hardison assured her. Shuri shoved him.
"I don't know what this means," Parker said.
"Oh, see, we ran in the same guild for a while," Hardison said. "She's a hacker, it's cool."
Eliot made a rumbling noise, suddenly, uncomfortable and menacing in equal parts. Everyone looked at him.
"Wakanda," he said, pointing at her. "The Black Panther."
"Ye-e-es. Is he slow?" she asked Hardison.
"He was chasing James Barnes," Eliot continued. "If you're looking for him, he ain't here, so you can leave."
"Hey, what the hell?" Hardison asked. "You don't get to tell her to leave just like that. She's here as a friend."
"Is she?" Eliot asked, not taking his eyes off her. "How many Dora Milaje came with you?"
"How do you know about the Dora Milaje?" she asked.
"I been some places and I seen some things," Eliot said. "I'm telling you James Barnes ain't here and we don't want any trouble with Wakanda."
"Well, that's very wise of you," she said. "But it's not entirely correct."
A shadow detached itself from the darkness in the alley, so stealthy even Eliot looked surprised.
"She's not looking for me," James Barnes said. "We're looking for you."
"Before she died, Peggy Carter told Steve about you," Barnes said, when they were indoors, settled around a table in the apartment above the brewpub. Eliot was leaning on the kitchen island, where he could see the doorway and windows and still keep an eye on the strangers in his home. "He told me. Kind of a relief, really, to be told something I wasn't already expected to know."
"We ain't gotta be anything to each other," Eliot said. "You don't know me. I know you from books."
"Alec," Shuri said. "Would you and Parker like to show me something that is somewhere not in this room?"
"Uh-huh," Parker said.
"Yeah, uh we got, something, over there..." Hardison agreed. Eliot rubbed the bridge of his nose, but he let them leave.
"It's been a long year," Barnes said, when they were gone.
"Yeah, Hardison follows your Google alerts," Eliot sighed. "I thought it was smarter not to get involved."
"In the part where two separate armies and a billionaire in a flying tank were after me? Good call," Barnes said, and Eliot snorted.
"I got people to protect."
"I know how that is."
"I knew it wasn't you who did the bombing though. Fella didn't walk right."
"It's pretty distinctive, right?"
"That's what I said!"
Barnes grinned at him and took out a knife, and Eliot tensed, right up until he used the back of it to scratch an itch on his shoulder blade. It was something Hardison had actually yelled at Eliot for doing while they were out at dinner once.
He seemed to realize what he was doing, and quietly tucked the knife away.
"All that in mind, I hear things too," Barnes said. "Seems like the apple didn't fall far from the tree."
"Well, troublemakin' skipped a generation, but I never backed down from a good fight," Eliot admitted. "The hair's a good look on us," he added.
"Wanted to see you for myself," Barnes said. "I thought I'd say something to make up for not being around."
"Well, you, uh. Died," Eliot pointed out. "Can't really blame you on that one."
"Guess not." Barnes looked like he wished he still had the knife, if only for something to do. "Your friends seem...resourceful."
"We do all right."
"Truth is, I haven't got much left. Can't go home, home isn't really anywhere anymore. Can't hardly trust my own mind most days. Got nothing to offer."
"Wasn't asking for anything," Eliot pointed out. There was a long silence. "Nice to see you, though."
"Don't do this to pop, he won't take it well."
"Yeah, you seemed like you'd understand better," Barnes agreed.
"Your royal friends get you an email address yet?"
Barnes looked uncomfortable.
"It's evilkermit at wakanda dot gov," he said. "I don't know what it means and I'm not sure I want to."
"Well, it's easy to remember," Eliot said. "So we could write. If you wanted."
"If you want to."
"It will be weird."
"Nothing in my life isn't," Barnes said. He stood up, offering his hand across the table. Eliot pushed away from the kitchen island and shook it. A whole world of meaning passed between them and he wasn't sure he understood any of it, but then Barnes walked silently to the nearest door, pulled it open, and caught Shuri and Parker both eavesdropping on the other side.
"I didn't want you to kill him," Parker said to Barnes immediately.
"I just like the drama," Shuri added. Barnes shot Eliot a look.
"I'll email you," Eliot said.