“Oooh, you should get that for my birthday!---Eliot. I mean, for Eliot.” Eliot feels the tiny muscles in his ears perk at the sound of his name, like the hairs on the back of his neck raising, but for a very different kind of danger.
“An’ why should I get it for you-slash-Eliot?” comes Hardison’s inevitable question. It’s flavored with just a pinch of wariness that tells Eliot their girlfriend is requesting something that will absolutely absolutely burn his kitchen down and using him as an excuse. He pulls himself away from the sous vide device he’d been eyeing, to replace the one Hardison “borrowed” last month for reasons Eliot still isn’t entirely clear on, but is certain he won’t be getting it back in one piece.
He should have come to the kitchen supply store alone, rather than risk Parker falling in love with every pointy object she can find, while Hardison gets way too excited about overpriced over-developed tech garbage, but lately more and more practical “should haves” kept getting shot down with other completely practical reasons like Hardison’s ability to reach the undented box on the higher shelf (shirt rising just enough to reveal a sliver of skin) and Parker sliding her cold hands into his to warm them up as she pointed at the magnetic knife strips. Completely practical reasons.
Currently, Parker is in love with a miniature blowtorch.
Eliot’s pretty certain she’s got several industrial ones already, but this one’s claiming to be extremely lightweight and for some reason one of the images on the box shows a little girl using a silicone basting brush to ice cupcakes with the blowtorch sitting next to her. He’s got plenty of questions about that picture, both in general, and in the ideas it’s gonna give Parker, so he almost misses Hardison’s innocent, “Hey, when is your birthday?” as he turns to face Eliot.
* * * * *
So first off, Alec Hardison knows when his boyfriend’s birthday is. Okay, he’s pretty sure he knows. He’s a goddamn hacker, and a genius, and also he once heard Aimee call Eliot up and shout it through the phone loud enough that the customers downstairs in the brewpub probably heard it too. So it’s hardly his fault, that when he digs at El just a lil’ bit for not telling him and Parker, and Eliot, the most stubborn and infuriating man Alec’s ever met, flat out denies it with a straight face, he takes it as the challenge it is.
Parker seems mostly indifferent to the snap-bicker-pop that follows. He’s never managed to discover her actual birthday, though he has noted down every time she’s used “it’s my birthday” to get something she wants. (Last year: 22 times, which averages out to about twice per month.) And sure, he’s down with that; girl can have as many birthdays as she damn well pleases. That’s not nearly as frustrating as Eliot refusing to acknowledge even one.
They celebrate Hardison’s birthday every year---he made sure they knew about it and they make sure something about the day is special, even if they’re on a job. It’s nice; gives him the warm and fuzzies, and that’s exactly the type of argument he ends up yelling at Eliot who repeatedly and shamelessly denies wanting warm and fuzzies, even though he obviously does, considering the cuddle octopus he turns into when he’s sleep deprived or Parker’s stolen all the blankets, again .
And look, if Eliot had come out and said he didn’t like birthdays than that would be something completely different. There were plenty of things Alec didn’t like, that other people got way too enthusiastic about, but he’d even offered Eliot a birthday fishing trip, minus the racist militia assholes they’d run into last time El had the idea, and the man had the nerve to turn him down because “it ain’t my birthday.”
“Is it tomorrow?” He’d very clearly heard Aimee, Eliot couldn’t deny that.
“We miss it? It was yesterday?”
“Dammit, Hardison, it ain’t yesterday either. Jus’ drop it will ya?”
If there’s ever a way to guarantee Hardison will not drop something, that was it.
Eventually he learns that Aimee wasn’t even calling about Eliot’s birthday, just excited at the rough but successful birth of a new foal. She sent pictures to El’s phone. This does not deter Hardison in the slightest, but he begins to vary his tactics, interspersing long periods of silence on the topic with short, intense bouts of pestering.
Eventually, Eliot will give in.
* * * * *
Parker finds Eliot in the kitchen, playing with intestines, which means he’s hiding from Hardison and pretending not to. She’s not much of a fan of the gory mess either, but it doesn’t make her gag and flee the room yelling, like it did Hardison, and the end result is always delicious. Plus, there’s a neatly wrapped box--with a bow!--sitting on the counter, and Eliot jerks his head at it.
“I need a favor.”
Eliot doesn’t really care about shiny wrapping paper and the idea of presents, so it’s clear he means business. She rips open the wrapping paper and grins at the blowtorch hiding beneath it. “Are you going to teach me how to set cupcakes on fire?”
“Pretty sure you’re capable of that already,” Eliot grumbles. “I’ll teach ya how to make creme brulee.”
“That’s the one that’s like breaking ice, but with sugar?” He nods, pleased she knows that and she feels the pit of her stomach warm. “What’s the favor?” she asks, not bothering to point out that Eliot doesn’t need to bribe her to do favors. He doesn’t, but now she has an Eliot-sanctioned blowtorch and Eliot still has his pride, so it’s a fair exchange.
“Find us a job so Hardison will quit ridin’ my ass about the birthday thing.”
“Just about the birthday thing?” She’s learned that clarification is important. “All other ass-riding still good?”
Eliot turns as red as the innards in front of him. “Y-yeah,” he coughed, “just about the birthday thing.”
“Good. So when’s your birthday?”
* * * * *
“What the hell is taking him so long?” Hardison sweeps another glance around the restaurant, cute place, little too chintzy for his liking, whatever the hell chintzy means, this place is walking that edge. Still, Eliot chose it, so it must have hidden depths.
Parker’s also scanning the restaurant, but she isn’t looking at the decor, her eyes continually returning to the door leading to the kitchen. “Who?”
“Uhh, our boyfriend? Stocky guy, great hair, constantly experiencing a high level of frustration?”
“Oh! Eliot. He went to the “bathroom”.” Parker’s recent adoption of finger quotes as part of her vocabulary keeps Hardison on his toes, trying to interpret her meaning. Like now. Eliot had said he was going to the bathroom. Eliot had not come back. This was generally cause for concern. Parker does not seem concerned.
“That was ten minutes ago!”
“14 minutes, 45 seconds...46...47...”
“Weirds me out when you do that,” he tells her, but he can’t stop the grin from spreading.
“You like when I do that.” She smirks in response. “You say I’m like Doctor How.”
“Who, Parker. Doctor Who. Cause they a Time Lord.” He tilts his head to the side. “Actually, we get you a cute lil’ boater hat…”
“Oooh! Is this for costume sex?!”
Their waitress, just approaching their table, stops short, smiling the smile of someone whose night has just been made, and turns on her heel, marching in the other direction. Hardison chokes on his water, then recovers as he considers the possibilities. “Sure thing, Fred.”
“Nevermind,” he says, making a note to dig out the extremely long, striped scarf Nana had knitted him way back when. Oh, so many possibilities... “Where’s Eliot? This is s’posed to be his birthday treat.”
“You’re the one that wanted to celebrate. I still don’t get what the big deal is.”
“It’s a person’s entrance into the world. It’s special!”
She looks at him over the top of her menu. It’s upside down. “You’re being ejected from somewhere safe and warm and dark.”
That seems like a road best left untraveled for the moment, unless they really want to scare the waitress off and never get to order. Not that he intends to order without Eliot. Whole point of this is Eliot getting to do his nerdy foodie thing. For his birthday. Which he finally admitted to having.
“Do you know why he chose this place?” he asks instead.
Parker’s eyes shift back and forth furtively, before sighing. “I chose it.”
“He asked me to.” She tilts her head. “Told me to.”
“But he’s suppos--This is ‘cause of the bet, ain’t it. I won! Fair and square.”
“Is it really winning if you bet someone you can guess their birthday and then just list all the days in the year till they scream yes?”
It seems like the kind of tactic Parker would normally support, honestly.
“...Yes?” He considers. “He just picked a random day to make me shut up, didn’t he.”
She shrugs, an eloquent explanation of well, duh, it’s Eliot.
“ Damn . Okay, so why here? It’s not just that you like telling people Eliot makes pasta better than they do, ‘cause chefs tend not to like that.”
“It’s a smuggling front.”
“Independent players, were happy being low-key for a while, but recently moved into trafficking rare animals and sometimes people.”
A resounding crash echoes from the kitchen.
The other customers glance up in fear, as the waitress steps into the middle of the room. “Hey folks, sounds like our kitchen staff is having a disagreement. Sorry for the inconvenience, but I’d suggest you leave. There are a lot of um, sharp things getting waved around. Don’t worry about your bills. Thanks!”
Parker lays a hand over Hardison’s, keeping him in his seat as everyone else hurries out. She nods at the waitress, who gave her a quick, relieved smile and disappeared into the women’s bathroom. “That’s our client. She got concerned at what her bosses were up to, but had no proof for the cops.”
“You gave Eliot a job for his not-birthday?”
“Planted one of your little cameras in the kitchen, if you want to watch the replay later.” She grinned and he returned a slow smile.
“Girl, for someone who doesn’t always get people…”
“Pssh. You and Eliot aren’t people .”
Eliot bangs his way through the kitchen door, bearing trays above his head. One holds an entire roasted chicken, the other three glasses of wine. Behind him, Hardison briefly catches a glimpse of prone figures.
“Hope the skin turned out okay, dunno why they thought fightin’ me while I had a blowtorch in my hand was a good idea, so the heat application might have been a bit uneven. Grab the wine, would you, Hardison?”
“Uh, sure?” He rescues the wine from the second tray and Eliot drops them on a separate table and himself into a chair.
“Figured a Syrah would go well. Sophie’d argue Pinot for chicken, but I think the richer flavor profile works well.” He shrugs. “Not that I’ve had a Crèvecoeur chicken before.”
“A what now?” Hardison eyes the oddly dark skin of the bird. Maybe Eliot had overdone the blowtorch. Parker’s eyeing it in fascination, probably considering new, disturbing possibilities for her new toy.
“It’s supposed to look like that,” Eliot tells him, as if he can read Hardison’s mind, which wouldn’t be all that much of an issue, really. “Freezer’s full of rare breeds of chicken. This one was in the oven.”
“You beat up a bunch of guys and stole a chicken?”
“It was gonna burn, figured why let it go to waste?” Eliot raises his wine glass and Hardison rushes to follow suit, almost, but not quite splashing wine across the table. Parker meets them in the middle.
“Happy Birthday, Eliot,” she choruses with Hardison, and Eliot huffs, slightly pink, and doesn’t growl at all.
* * * * *
“Why didn’t you just tell me you didn’t like birthdays?” They’re walking home, or rather he and Eliot are walking, Parker, he’s pretty sure, has just disappeared up a tree.
“I didn’t like ‘em.”
“And you were bein’ annoyin’.”
“To be fair, your definition of ‘annoying’ covers a broad spectrum. You know I’m just gonna call this your birthday now, even if it ain’t.”
“I know. That’s why I chose it.”
“After I made you!” says the tree above them. A couple of twigs fall in Eliot’s hair and Hardison picks them out, using the opportunity to pause for a moment, fingers disappearing in Eliot’s curls.
“I thought you just picked a random day to shut me up?” He says it teasingly, aware that any moment Eliot might snap and pull away.
But he doesn’t. He meets Hardison’s eyes, steady and sure.
“Nah, I picked the day I took the job.” Above them, he can hear Parker rustling, descending through the tree to hear Eliot’s explanation.
“Our first job?”
“Yeah.” He pauses, eyes dropping, and Hardison can feel just slightest pull away before Eliot continues. “Been awhile since I felt like celebratin’ what I’d become, which always seemed kinda the point of a birthday. But lookin’ back, that day seemed...fitting.”
Somewhere, lodged in his throat, are the billion words he needs to tell this prickly dumbass how stupid that idea is, and how important he is, and all the plans Hardison’s already making for his birthday next year, but Parker drops, upside down, hanging by her knees from the branch above them, and kisses Eliot, swift and sweet.
Their girl’s got the right idea, as usual, Hardison thinks, as he bends to do the same.