She was fussier than normal. Hardison gently swayed, bounced, rocked, and let her cry it out as many times as those damned books, blogs, and his Nana suggested. Nothing worked. His frustrations hadn’t been this high since they first got Nya. I guess all those bogus TV personalities, pseudo-counselors, and “supervisors” got it right – for once. She knew what was up and missed her daddy.
Glancing at an analog clock perched next to her makeshift changing table, Alec groaned. He hadn’t seen 12:27am in forever unless his daughter allowed him – i.e. screamed for him to wake up.
In those early, naïve, extra-crazy days, Hardison and Eliot found that their stay up-late-sleep-in-late routine (Well, Eliot tended to stay up and wake up early. That man needed some melatonin or 5-HTP or a tranquilizer) was a joke once they accepted responsibility. It took some time but, thank all the heavenly beings for that glorious moment when she cooled out and accepted that her parents wanted - needed her more than she would ever know. Hardison fondly remembered those nights where infomercials were a soothing balm. Regardless of what Eliot said, the Square Copper Pan and Oxy-Clean were sound investments.
It took close to a month before she settled into a sleep schedule. Staying up into the extremely wee hours of the night curiously felt like they were welcoming the future to come. When that moment where her sleep became more predictable, Eliot and Alec felt their lives forming: She will calm down. She will grow up. She will accept that she’s never leaving.
Before the fight, lil’ Nya was out by 8:20p. Now, she fought sleep, hard. She was fitful even before taking a nap. She outright hated him or so Alec thought. Walking around his room at his Nana’s place, Hardison silently pleaded for her slumber. Another ten minutes and he had to accept the fact that she needed to hear him.
Crap! Fuck and Lord kill me now.
“Alright, girl. You miss daddy? I’ll play it.” Hardison quickly pulled up the audio file on his phone while gently bouncing his daughter.
A guitar strummed. Correction: The guitar started . Chills hit him as he sat down in a small chair while acid filled his stomach. He hated dread.
“Well I know they say all goods things
Must come to some kinda of ending
We were so damn good, I guess we never stood a chance.”
Hardison chastised himself as tears filmed his eyes. This is the exact reason why country music sucks.
Maybe that was just it. They were too good to be true. They are…were…are so damn good together. Alec and Eliot. Eliot and Alec. They were a duo unlike the rest. Eliot cooked while Alec cleaned (most of the time). Alec folded while Eliot fluffed. Eliot brooded while Alec hoped. They were synchronous in the team but their best work was at home. It was precise and fluid and messy. There was a simplicity they had worked out that made space for those small imperfections that building a life with someone created. Those were the best moments.
“Gonna find what you've been missin'
When that highways tired a-listenin'
You'll see I'm not that easy to forget.”
Nya’s head swiveled to the door, expecting her other dad. She, then, quickly turned towards his phone, reaching out to it. Hardison pressed his lips to his girl’s forehead as he stood. He was foolish and impulsive bringing this lovely young girl into their lives with a father who was a damn penitent do-gooder. Correcting his wrongs seemed more important to Eliot than Nya. How could Alec or Eliot do this to her? How could Alec do this to himself?
“I know. Me too. But we have to stay strong.” He held her outstretched hand, bringing it to his chest.
He hated him. Alec absolutely hated Eliot right now. If he could easily let them go, then what else was the hitter willing to sacrifice? No one, if you asked Alec. Like it or not, he learned to trust Eliot and trust him with his past. He deferred to the ex-military man when lives were at stake. He thought he knew that Eliot was his partner in crime – partner in this family…hell, his partner, period.
“When a new moon shines through your window
Or you hear a sad song on the radio
Then you don't know why but you just start to cry. "
Been there, done that. He could admit it. He wasn’t some ignorant man who denied his feelings. He missed Eliot something fierce. And now he had another strike against Eliot. Maybe he should have stuck it out with Parker.
“Or you’re driving round on a sunny day
And outta nowhere comes the pouring rain
Then a memory hits you right out of the blue
That's just me,
Thinking of you”
Gently rocking, Alec’s mind raced towards the next lyrics.
“I'm not gonna try to stop you (Why not? Thought you were too good?)
Don't mean that I don't want to
If I know you, you've already made up your mind (Sighing, the hacker did accept that he could be stubborn…sometimes.)
To go on and go with your re-believing
Put a million miles between us
But you still feel me like I'm right there at your side.”
Groaning, Alec sent silent hatred towards his partner. His little girl eyes began to flutter and fight. Cupping his hand behind her head, he nudged her to his shoulder.
Hell, he couldn’t hate Eliot. He loved him no matter what. They loved him no matter what. Those two men together were amazing and perfection and the exact right amount of crazy. Why did he have to go and put himself in danger?
“And I'm thinkin' about the road you’re on
I'm thinkin' about you coming home
I'm wondering if you got your radio on
“When you find your way to another town
And someone tries to lay it down
And feelin' hits you right out of the blue
It’s just me
Thinking of you
That's just me
Thinking of you.”
Humming along to the song, Hardison held his daughter close. And, as suspected, she needed to hear her father’s voice because she was out like a light. He eased her into the bassinet that his Nana stated was stronger than the Hoover Dam. Though he tested it with the weight of some nieces and nephews, the father in Hardison was still vaguely hesitant to use that rickety piece of death. Tiptoeing out, Hardison cracked the door open. As he entered the hallway, he found all three sisters and Nana watching him.
This was the first night, in close to a decade, where the whole family was in his childhood home. Of course, they would find a way to be here in the late-ass hours of the night!
No one said a word as he led him downstairs and into the living room. “What ya’ll want? Dawn…Kelly, go home. Only Nana and Nicole should be here.”
“Nope.” Kelly said as she guided him to the couch. Nicole pulled him close while Dawn tucked a blanket around him.
His Nana leaned against the back of the couch, pressing her forehead against his temple. “I wasn’t going to question you, love, but where’s Eliot?”
“He chose work over us.”
A cacophony of displeasure and disdain focused towards the hitter colored the cool, quiet air.
“Right?” He said in agreeance with this reaction.
The one woman he would dare (will always) call his mother, moved to her favorite recliner while his sisters crowded around him on the couch and armrest. “Wrong.”
Everyone instantly went silent as the matriarch spoke her verdict.
“Baby, the man I met was a man with a purpose – scratch that. The Eliot I met, spoke with, and deemed worth of any of our time, was a man paying a penance.”
Nicole, his youngest foster sister by three weeks, pressed against his shoulder, her hand wrapped around his. “What are you talking about?”
Hardison didn’t want to hear her thoughts because his mama, his Nana always knew.
“I don’t know his whole history. Alec, you won’t tell me and I’m more than sure that he won’t. But my late husband worked in the military. I’m sure that Clifton did half of what Eliot does, which is half of what he and you tell me. Ya’ll know math. That means everyone in this room knows about a quarter of what he does, right?”
Hardison mumbled something.
“Clifton and Eliot are two men who sacrifice for their country, their families, their loved ones and friends. It ain’t easy, lovebug, but it’s the truth. What happened that got you and my grandbaby here?”
His eldest sister, Kelly, complained, “And that matters, how? Eliot left Nya and Alec. I thought he was something but -”
“Girl, shut up.” His Nana said abruptly.
Alec scoffed which turned into a cough. “That’s what I thought, baby brother.” Kelly playfully shoved him.
Cough-laughing one last time, Alec shared the lie of a life the two lovers agreed upon. “His government assignments are dangerous. I know I can do tech support from home but I don’t want Nya without her daddy before she knows what a daddy is.”
(Thank the heavens above that Hardison was able to create a BPD/NSA/FBI operative alias for his partner. Well, maybe, ex-partner.)
“She already knows that. What I want to know is that damn song.” Dawn slipped into the adjourning chair after giving him a kiss on the forehead.
“Uh, don’t you all need to be home?”
Nana yawned deeply. “This is everyone’s home. We are where we are supposed to be. Spill.”
Sighing loudly and deeply, Hardison placed his head in his hands. “He keeps taking dangerous jobs. Most of them I don’t know about until days before he goes. I understand that there’s clearances and such (he hated to lie about those silly inconveniences but it was a necessity) but he’s got a daughter. He puts so much of himself in these jobs. What if he doesn’t come home? It’s one thing if I alone mourn him but, putting Ny’ through that? Raising her without her dad…I’m not doing that to her. He needs to be more thoughtful.”
His loving family attempt to speak for him but his bossy-know-it-all Nicole stated. “And he should be here. That girl needs him.”
“Chil’,” his Nana sighed, “talk about what you know. That man is protecting this country. He is protecting this world so that Ny-Ny has a safe place to grow up in. I don’t give one damn that you’re struggling and sad. That’s the sacrifice you made being with a military man.”
She’s not far off in that assumption.
“Baby boy, this isn’t ideal. He should be here with Nya. Actually, you all should be in your own homes with my other grandkids.”
“Hold on now. You said we could be here!” Hardison exclaimed. Though he knew everyone was kidding, the fight was soothing in some strange, nostalgic way.
“Boy, shut up!” She chuckled. “Who was the one who stayed the course and adopted her?”
“Right. Him. Love, he’s providing for Nya. He’s righting the outside world while you right her immediate world. You both should have talked about that and you shouldn’t have run on his last morning before shipping off.”
Nana held her hand up. “I said what I said and I’m done. Besides, his voice is too much.”
The room erupted in laughter.
“Damn, that’s one sexy white boy.” Nicole stated.
“Black folks and country don’t always mix but…fuck.” Kelly cursed.
“Please tell me there’s more!” He always loved Dawn.
Hardison chuckled. “That song was created for a sting.”
“What sting needs sexy country white boy singing?”
“Kel’!” Alec laughed.
Nana shifted in her chair. “She is right. That man,” She fanned herself.
Alec loved his hodge-podge of a family. “This guy’s enterprise was financing another person’s homegrown terrorist group (He had to beef up the story. Why tell them that the ‘NSA’ agent was a two-bit producer in some backwater town?). Eliot was an informant who made himself available as another venture to sell to the lower men on the totem pole of money laundering. Long story short, Eliot had to sell a song. I didn’t know he could sing that well.”
“Just like you can still play violin like a beast?” Dawn nudged him.
“Yeah.” Hardison smiled fondly. “I miss him.”
“As you should.” Said Nana.
“Nya misses him.”
“As she should.” Kelly, Dawn, and Nicole echoed.
“I’ll figure it out later.” Hardison yawned deeply. It was after 1:30a. “I need sleep.”
“All my loves do. More importantly, I do.” His foster mom pushed herself out of her chair. She headed up the stairs. “Love you all.”
Kelly and Dawn left to go liberate some ice cream while Nicole trudged behind Nana. They all shared ‘love you-s’ and ‘talk soon-s’ as everyone went their respective ways. Later, as Alec laid alone, he hoped that Eliot was safe.