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Wanting and Having

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It’s Hardison’s scarves that really get to Eliot at first. They don’t make sense. Eliot’s clothes make sense. Eliot wears his clothes long and loose for maximum movement, and to put some cloth between him and a gun or a knife. Parker’s clothes make sense. Parker wears her clothes all-covering and close-fitting, stretchy so that they move with her, tight so that there’s no stray fabric to catch on pulleys or cables. IIn Eliot’s line of work wearing a scarf would be like handing the other guy a garotte, and in Parker’s it’s a built-in choking hazard, but Hardison just gets to wander around with three feet of pointless scarf loosely looped over his t-shirt. It makes Eliot so mad. He had this recurring fantasy of wrapping his hands in Hardison’s scarf-ends and pulling him close. Not in a violent way, no, just - stepping closer. Putting his hands in that scarf and pulling Hardison in.

He stops hard there. He tries to stop hard there, at least. All that… all that is not a place he goes anymore, since Moreau. All that is not a thing he thinks about. Just - Eliot pulling Hardison close. That’s where the thought ends, at close.

He’s been up in Hardison’s space before, just by accident, just in the course of the job, and the guy’s fitter than he should be, given the geek lifestyle he lives. He must have a chin-up bar in the van, and he’s kind of - tall, and he always feels warm under Eliot’s hand. He’s kind of a big guy, actually, tall enough that he has to duck his head in tunnels, but he doesn’t act like he needs to take up space, not like Eliot’s used to taking up space. Eliot stands with his shoulders out and fists balled and elbows angled, making it clear who in the room is the muscle, and Hardison just kind of leans, comfortable.

There are a couple different reasons that Eliot’s used to stepping up in someone’s face, and mostly they involve threats or offers that Eliot’s not real keen on making with Hardison. So he doesn’t get close. But he has that image, that image of taking ahold of Hardison’s stupid scarf-ends and tugging him in, of putting his fingers through Hardison’s beltloops and pulling their hips together. Hell, sometimes he just wants to put his hand on the small of Hardison’s back and rest it there. He tells himself that he can be aware of an urge without acting on it. If he acted on all his urges he’d be a very different kind of guy. And shitty at his job.

The scarves keep pissing him off, though.

-

So here’s the thing, which he will be goddamn flayed before he will mention to any of the team: the one of the things you don’t get, if you’re hired muscle, is a reputation for taking it up the ass. Yeah, yeah, Eliot figures Sophie could write a book on the psychosexual dynamics of the criminal underworld, but the fact is that that criminal underworld is full of old-country rules and ex-con chest-pounding and military guys who make a real serious distinction between two buddies trading handjobs and being the kind of guy who likes to get fucked like a girl. It’s not that Eliot agrees with those rules on an abstract level. It’s just that those are the rules. He’s hired muscle, not rough trade. You blur that line once and it stays blurred.

It’s not that Eliot is particularly opposed to women. He loved Aimee in a trainwreck sort of way where everything was confused together. He was too young to know which way was up or what he wanted, sure. She’d meant home and he’d meant to have that home with her. It had not even occurred to him to consider anything different.

He can still pick up girls. When he needs to, when he thinks someone might be catching on.
If Eliot’s got anything going for him, it’s excellent control over his body and a near total mastery of his reflex reactions. He can make a woman come; he even likes it, on an intellectual level. He likes being good at things. He likes using his hands to do something nice.

The rest of the time he gets what he wants, and there isn’t anything nice or intellectual about it.

His reputation is kind of ruined after Moreau, though, because Moreau is a level of vicious that makes vipers look merely misunderstood but Moreau is also a pretty man in a slim-cut suit with perfectly-manicured fingernails. You don’t let it be known that a guy like that used to fuck you, and Moreau loved to let everyone know that he was fucking Eliot. Moreau liked running people, he liked knowing what made somebody tick, and somebody like Eliot, something like that was way too good a button not to push. Eliot still has no fucking clue if Moreau actually derived more sexual satisfaction from fucking Eliot over a table than he does from shoving a random lackey into pools and and watching them struggle, or, say, defrauding a government. Maybe it all gets him off. Probably it all gets him off in the exact same way.

Eliot hates dealing with doctors but he’s gotten himself tested like six times, since Moreau, because Moreau is the kind of guy who would give somebody hepatitis just to be an asshole. Eliot knows it’s far enough out that he’s probably fine - but he still keeps going in, different places under different names, and sometimes he wakes up at night and thinks like ice down his back what if Moreau’s running the doctors? It’s not - it’s not a logical concern. It’s just the kind of thing Moreau would think of, and that’s the problem with having dealt with Moreau, for the rest of your goddamn life you’re stuck with him in your head. Think of some terrible shit you could do to someone, and then make it worse, and then make it ten times worse, and that’s what trying to anticipate Moreau is like. Trying to plan around Moreau puts stuff in Eliot’s head that he’d rather not have there.

Anyway, that’s part of the reason why the story is always “I used to date a stewardess” or “I used to date a nurse”, and it’s usually pretty seriously used to and it’s always stewardesses or nurses, it’s never the rest of it, it’s never Brad in the service or Paolo when he was working for Vance or, you know. Casual things, here and there, but they happened.

Of course none of the team know about Moreau, anyway. Other hitters do, though. Hitters talk. Maybe hitters are just more likely to run with a crew. Maybe they care more about their reputation. Probably, Eliot reasons, it’s because a thief isn’t usually getting thrown against other thieves, but a hitter’s job is always hitting other hitters, pretty much. You either let your reputation do your work before the punching starts or you’re letting your reputation work against you.

So maybe Eliot goes a little harder, does a little extra when he has an audience. Not that he’s showing off, but he’s sure sending a message with every punch. Sure, someone put him down once. Put him down with his legs spread; he can see in the back of their eyes that some of them know.

He makes sure that everyone knows that that was the last time. He might be a deviant, but that was a deviation from his standard operating procedures. No one’s going to see him like that ever again.

It’s not enough; nothing could be enough to undo the knowledge that lurks in the back of the eyes of the hitters who come at him. He hopes maybe at least it adds a crazy little something. Oh, that’s Eliot, he’s been had, legs spread six ways til Sunday and he will also take your kneecaps if you try anything.

Of course, this only works if the deviancy was a deviation.

So yeah. That’s one of about a million reasons why it couldn’t be Hardison. Moreau at least was a stone-cold killer; it would be the death knell if he let the nerd in the van be the one to fuck him. And he is starting to lose the illusion that if they got their pants off he’d want Hardison to do anything but fuck him, pin him down under those gangly limbs and fucking give it to him. He’s been thinking about it in the shower lately more than he wants to. It makes it kind of hard to be around Hardison, and Hardison is not good at picking up on stay-out-of-my-airspace signals, Hardison gets right up close, Hardison talks and talks and talks while Eliot is trying to concentrate. Hardison hugs. It’s annoying. Eliot keeps having to specify that Hardison should keep his long legs and broad shoulders and eminently grabbable ass over there, on the other side of the van. The whole thing’s giving Eliot a goddamn headache.

Some part of Eliot really likes that about the guy, that Hardison’s so up in his own head that he doesn’t bother to notice that Eliot’s a terrifying person. The part of Eliot that’s into that should probably be taken out and shot for poor basic judgment.

---

Eliot is managing it until he’s not. It’s been too long with no goddamn distractions and Hardison up in his business if he so much tries to piss on his own. How is he supposed to go out and find someone to really use him up, wring him out, when he has to be back at Hardison’s to go fake fishing or watch some fantasy space thing? And Hardison’s hands. The fingers are long and Hardison uses them to make a point, to smooth out papers, to bring down empires. Hardison uses them to push his way into Eliot’s space and Eliot backs up and lets him. Until one time is one time too many and Eliot snaps and says “Yes or no, Hardison.” He licks his lips and waits.

Hardison blinks up at him from his swivelchair and says “Eliot, I have no idea what you are talking about right now,” so Eliot steps in a little closer, close enough to stand between Hardison’s legs, close enough that when he bends he can feel Hardison’s breath on his jaw. His arms are on either side of Hardison’s head against the console, and he puts all the significance he can into saying “Yes. Or no.”

Hardison spoils the mood by going “Ohhhhh,” like he’s figured out the answer to a Jeopardy question, but then his eyes flash and his mouth quirks in that little grin he gets when Parker is about to do something crazy, and he says, “Yes, absolutely, yes, man” and Eliot slithers to his knees and mouths at Hardison’s cock through his pants, unceremonious, grabbing at him in a way that ends with Hardison straddling his face on the floor of the van, fucking his mouth long and slow in a way that makes Eliot struggle for air, in a way that makes Eliot’s eyes water, in a way that Eliot’s so desperate to keep going that his hands are probably leaving bruises on Hardison’s bare hips and he feels like he’s about to jizz in his pants, untouched.

It’s unsavory as hell. It’s unsavory as hell and Hardison makes a cut-off little gasp like a little choking sound when he comes, collapsing down on his elbows in a way where Eliot can barely breathe. Eliot’s been doing a decent job of keeping his feelings about this to himself right up until then but when Hardison starts coming Eliot forces his palm down against his cock through his pants, once, twice, hard enough to hurt, and then he’s coming too.

“Fuck,” Hardison says, rolling off him, panting, “Fuck,” and Eliot blinks up at the ceiling and says, “Yeah.”

“Should I,” Hardison says, gesturing towards his crotch, and Eliot says, “Nah, man,” and Hardison’s brows drew together, but he says “Okay.”

The next time Eliot gets Hardison to put his hand in Eliot’s hair, and the next time after that he gets Hardison to pull Eliot’s hair, and fuck it, two weeks from then he brings a bottle of lube and a roll of condoms to Hardison’s apartment, straddles him on the couch and sinks down on Hardison’s cock -- he’s never been the kind of guy that needed a lot of warm-up, there, he’s pretty much always good to go, and he tries not to goddamn think about the last person who’d been impressed by that. He mostly succeeds, because Hardison’s mouth hangs open, soft, like he’s surprised that any part of Eliot could feel so good to him. Eliot usually isn’t into a lot of extraneous touching, but the way Hardison’s hands trace back and forth on Eliot’s thighs, the way his hips move as Eliot rides him, the little sounds he makes in the back of his throat - it’s good. It’s exactly the kind of thing Eliot has been trying not to want, that fierce, sparking feeling, the weird joy that lights up in his chest when Hardison finally, finally puts his hands on Eliot’s hips and rocks up into him, gently at first, like he actually thinks Eliot is breakable, like he actually thinks he has to be careful with Eliot’s body, and then rougher when Eliot puts one hand on his shoulder and growls “fucking give it to me, Hardison.”

Hardison meets Eliot’s eyes and grins, that crazy little Hardison grin like they’re getting away with something, like he’s getting off on the sounds Eliot tries not to make when Hardison thrust. It’s hard to stay quiet, every thrust just right, just - perfectly where he wants it and Hardison has finally stopped holding back. And then Hardison wraps his hand around Eliot’s cock and Eliot’s eyes snap open in surprise just as he comes all over Hardison’s chest and also part of the couch, clenching hard around Hardison’s cock, and Hardison thrusts one, two, three times and then he comes ame too, back arching so hard he nearly falls off the sofa.

There hasn’t been a lot of kissing, Eliot had kind of leaned back every time Hardison tried and Hardison had eventually given up, but Eliot is boneless and shaky and doesn’t think to flinch away when Hardison leans up and kisses him on the freaking cheek, nose brushing against him all tender, and then sort of rolls out from under him to lay on the floor, panting.

Of course the next thing that Hardison says is “So what are we doing here, man?” because Hardison is a born silence-ruiner.

Eliot shrugs, and then because Hardison probably can’t see him from the floor, says “Dunno.”

“Is this just, like.” Hardison waves his hand in what he probably imagines is some kind of kung fu move. “Mission adrenaline or something?”

Eliot flops down on his back on the couch, stares at the ceiling for a while, and then says “Maybe.”

Hardison glances over at him, and then looks back at the ceiling. “Okay,” he says, finally. “I’m down for that.”

---

It’s good, is the thing, once Eliot tells himself to get the fuck over himself and just enjoy the fact that someone wants to fuck him again, someone who kind of knows the score, too, someone who isn’t going to be upset if he’s suddenly unavailable for work reasons. It is good, Hardison’s as capable of being nerdy and obsessive about sex as he is about anything else and so by god if he’s going to shove Eliot up against the shower wall and fuck his ass with two lubed-up fingers until Eliot’s knees were shaking and he’s begging for it, there is going to be dedication involved. There is going to be attention to detail.

Eliot’s kind of more accustomed to a time-limited, get-it-done approach, and it’s also annoying to have Hardison acting like a blowjob is a perfectable science, but it’s good. And Hardison doesn’t get weird about it; if anything, he’s a little more physically easy around Eliot. Though that’s its own whole thing because just because they’re fucking doesn’t mean Eliot wants Hardison up in his space the rest of the time. This is not a thing people need to know about, for christ’s sake. It’s not a thing they need to be guessing.

---

Eliot pushes Hardison at Parker. Hardison wants her, in a way that’s so painfully sincere and respectful. Hardison wants to do things to Parker like hold her hand and get things down from tall shelves, honest and simple things that could be held up under the light of day and not found wanting.

He can see the way she looks at him, tentative, mistrustful. Like wanting Hardison is the worst thing that can happen.

Eliot can relate.

He wants things from Hardison too, but none of them are nice and polite. So.

Parker wants Hardison back. It’s so fucking familiar, the way she dances up to Hardison, then back, then closer, feinting, like she’s edging up to a jump she’s not sure she should take. Eliot spent so long with Hardison in his space waiting for Hardison to use the hold he had on Eliot to hurt him, just like Parker’s waiting for the grab, the capture that’s not coming.

He has this urge to invite her into his bedroom -- his own turf that he can defend and Hardison’s never minded, and say, look at the way he kisses me: behind Eliot’s ear, on his forehead, on the palm of his hand, respecting the unspoken line in the sand that Eliot’s drawn and still finding a way to be tender. If you let him, he wants to say to her, he could be the best thing you’ve ever done.

But that’s not something you can say to someone else. Trust isn’t transferable. Eliot can’t go, look, see, this is how he is, this is how he’ll treat you. It crosses too many lines, it’s not Parker’s business, it’s too much. Anyway, Hardison’s different with her, softer. He wants different things from her than he wants from Eliot.

Hardison doesn’t know how to read her. He keeps complaining to Eliot about mixed signals -- ‘I’d follow her play, man, you know I would, if I just knew what it was’ -- and all Eliot can do is roll his eyes. The mix is the signal.

So Eliot sits, and watches, and smiles at Hardison when he shakes himself out of his post-orgasmic daze to wax poetical on how adorable it was when Parker filches the stuff out of people’s pockets just to leave the trinkets lying around the apartment like the trail of a demented Hansel and Gretel.

Eliot smiles and Hardison looks up at him strangely, eyebrows doing a small dance. “Is it,” Hardison pauses, unsure, “weird for me to talk about this?”

Eliot raises an eyebrow. “Why would it be weird?” Eliot can actually think of a few reasons, one being that men don’t really talk like this. Not the men Eliot knows. One time a drunk corporal had said, “I miss my wife,” three months into an 8-month deployment at one of the more rustic Forward Operating Bases, country redacted. The squad had laughed and made him do shots until Eliot was pretty sure he’d puked out all of his feelings along with his small intestine. Eliot doesn’t say any of that though, he just asks the question and watches Hardison’s breath rise and fall.

“Right,” Hardison says finally, “it’s not weird for you. Cause we’re just bros.” and Eliot smacks down the part of himself that wants to hear wistfulness in Hardison’s voice.

---

It’s not just that he thinks that Hardison would be good for Parker. Hardison having a thing for Parker, with the attendant strange dance it makes them do, is kinda useful for Eliot. It’s misdirection of the most basic kind.

They’re in Calais, as much as Calais is a place as opposed to a collection of cheap liquor stores designed to be traps for overbearing British customers desperately trying to insist they’re not part of Europe. Aside from the spectacle, Calais’ port is a vibrant destination for hitters en route or between jobs, so Eliot puts in a command performance at a particular bar, plunking down on a stool and nursing a beer.

He turns to face the room, cataloguing the faces he recognises, which is basically everyone. He wouldn’t say he’s at home here, but there’s something like that, in the way home can both comfort and irritate the hell out of you. Any one of these men might try to kill him tomorrow. Tonight they’re drinking together. That says something about Eliot’s life, but he’s not sure what.

Eliot idly raises his glass to a man or two in acknowledgment, but mostly he just sips and watches the people come in and out. Which is why he immediately clocks it when Hardison saunters in and makes a beeline for Eliot’s location.

Eliot stiffens. He can’t help it. He can see Hardison through their eyes - a gangly nerd with good cheekbones. Pretty, in the right light. Beautiful in most lights. Out of the corner of his eye he can see that bastard Nels smirking at him and Eliot thinks the evening is going to end in a fight.

Then Parker walks in and Hardison brightens up all over and Eliot can see the room recalculating, the significance of Hardison’s presence in Eliot’s space immediately changing: the nerd is here with the nerd’s girl. Eliot’s just an overprotective third wheel.

With Parker there, it could be any night with the three of them anywhere. Hardison orders Parker a ridiculously sweet drink and drinks most of it; Parker tries to teach Hardison some basic slight of hand and he’s hilariously bad at it.

“Seriously, man? You have to be trying to be this incompetent,” Eliot says after Hardison drops a bar peanut out of his shirt sleeve for the third time.

Hardison’s eyes gleam. “Oh really? Let’s see you do better.”

Eliot says nothing, just keeps solid eye contact while he palms the peanut smoothly and flips his hands to reveal that they’re empty.

Hardison squawks and grabs at his hands, flipping them back and forth. Eliot smiles before he remembers where they are and flips his smile into a scowl, snatching his hands back.

Hardison’s eyes widen for a second, mouth opening to ask, but then Parker says, “You should really try it with a bigger object.” Eliot looks down to realise that the phone she’s holding out doesn’t belong to any of them, and then it’s some fast talking to get them out of the bar without earning the enmity of a type of man who keeps a literal list of them what done him wrong.

But they do get out of the bar, all limbs intact, and stumble back to their hotel. Well, Hardison stumbles and Eliot reaches out a steadying hand. He lets his hand linger, feeling the heat of Hardison through the rough layers of his clothes. He knows the shape and texture of the skin underneath, and the discreet little touch of his hand on Alec’s shoulder is enough to have Eliot thinking all kinds of thoughts. Everything Hardison does has been giving Eliot all kinds of thoughts, lately. Hardison’s eyes burn and Eliot knows he’s picking up on the crackle of electricity in the air between them, the way it makes Eliot’s blood sing.

They let Parker skip ahead, and Eliot’s barely closed the door to Hardison’s room before he’s slamming Hardison against it and wrestling with his belt. Hardison lets him struggle with his goddamn padlocked belt for a second before placing a hand in the center of Eliot’s chest, holding Eliot in place with the mere suggestion of pressure and the look in his eyes.

Hardison walks him backwards until Eliot’s knees hit the back of the bed and he’s falling and Hardison is crawling between his legs to suck a kiss into the side of Eliot’s neck and Eliot lets his head tip back. Eliot thinks about the careful line he’s walking, about what it might cost him. About how it’s worth it because he gets to have this for a while.

---

Parker has gotten in the habit of stealing any sugar packets she sees, abandoning their dried out husks in Eliot’s pockets and leaving a thin trail of granules over everything Eliot owns. The first time he gets caught out in a drizzle the sugar all melts and it takes him the rest of the week to stop sticking to his keys and his wallet.

His annoyance doesn’t stop him from baking her a cake on her birthday. Well, one of her birthdays. He picks her favourite alias and goes with the date on that set of documents. Hardison puts it in Nathan’s old safe in the office because it’ll be a better present if she has to pick a lock to get it. And then Parker takes the whole cake home and no one else gets any, which Hardison, again, thinks is fucking adorable.

Eliot starts to back off of Hardison. He sees them getting closer and he tries to get out of the way. Eliot will take what he can get but there’s a line between taking something and taking away something. So when he sees the way they’re dancing and thinks it’ll be soon, not just inevitable someday but soon, Eliot starts to keep out of Hardison’s bed.

He steers clear til Hardison comes and finds him. Hardison keeps coming to find him. Hardison will grab his wrist or he’ll wrap his hand around the nape of Eliot’s neck in some dark parking lot and Eliot will shiver. He’ll try to back Eliot into the wall of the van - like Hardison could back Eliot up if Eliot wasn’t purposefully giving way. And then Hardison will kiss him.

There was a point a couple months back where Eliot gave up on not kissing Hardison. He told himself it was because Hardison wanted it - every re-directed and off-kilter brush of lips showed how much Hardison wanted it. Eventually he couldn’t take it anymore, all the missed almost-kisses, and just grabbed Hardison’s face with both hands and kissed him square on the mouth, muffling Hardison’s sound of pleasure and surprise. So they’re fuckbuddies that kiss now -- but it’s fine, it’s not a thing. It’s a brief mashing of mouths and some biting before Hardison scrabbles at Eliot’s fly and gets his hand on his dick, so that’s okay, it’s not crossing the line too far. Maybe it’s just what Hardison needs to get going, and it’s kissing, it’s not, like, magic. It’s not like Eliot is leading him on. Eliot knows the damn score.

---

Maybe, Eliot thinks, it would have been worth it. To stay, or to...something.

The thing about last times is that you don’t know they’re last times. Until someone says ‘That was it,’ they’re just the latest time.

Damien Moreau has been responsible for a lot of Eliot’s last times.

---

Damien is back and all he has to do is curl his fingers and Eliot stumbles forward as easily as if Damien was tugging on his leash. It burns him, knowing just how little he’d gotten away. All of Eliot’s cover is stripped away to reveal the marks of his ownership for everyone to see. Eliot doesn’t think he’ll ever forget the look on Parker’s face when Hardison makes him explain who Damien is to him, like the crushing weight of Hardison’s horror and disapproval isn’t enough on its own.

Eliot tastes acid in the back of his throat. He should never have forgotten that it wasn’t what Moreau did to you that would kill you. It was what Moreau turned you into. His blood might test clean there’s something worse and sicker deeper inside him. It’s poison. It’s all poison, the worst kind. Pure insidious moral rot. The hellfire Eliot was raised to believe in, smoldering away all this time.

It’s eating him up from the inside, working its way to burn through the outside world.

And Eliot thinks, good and channels every bit of it into violence, ripping through a warehouse of Damien’s men like a chemical fire. If Damien wants to drag him back down to hell then Eliot will burn Damien’s whole kingdom as he goes. He will salt the fucking earth.

---

Ruffling the ears of a puppy in San Lorenzo, Eliot thinks he may have been a little dramatic.

He hadn’t really counted on his crew -- rookie mistake, discounting the people in the room, that’s how he got stabbed in Bogota -- and their stubbornness. It’s not the blaze of glory Eliot had planned, but they also don’t let him fade away, pulling Eliot in when he wants to keep his filthy hands clear.

He tries to steer clear of Hardison, which becomes impossible when Hardison bounds up to him, eyes shinier than the puppy’s, to tell him that he and Parker are ‘together’ together.

Hardison even makes the damn air quotes.

Eliot has to hug him then, Hardison’s joy is infectious and this is the best damn news. Hardison deserves happiness, Parker deserves it too and if Damien had to come back for them to get it then Eliot would take that bargain a thousand times.

Doesn’t hurt that Damien ends up in a tiny cell. Ha ha, motherfucker.

---

Life, somehow, goes on.

They take clients, help them out, move on, repeat.

Parker and Eliot get stranded on a mountainside together. Must be Thursday.

They set up camp and he throws his open sleeping bag over her on instinct, because he’s got more mass than she does and it’s cold out. She hums in appreciation and rolls inwards, keeping well clear of the wall of the tent, which should help with condensation.

There’s no sign of the scared little bird that she used to be; the person who would have pressed herself as far away from him as possible, glaring daggers, survival be damned, which is good because they need to conserve the heat until Hardison and Nate and Sophie can rescue them.

She’s a sleep-kicker, Eliot learns sometime between the gloaming and false dawn. That’s fine because he wasn’t really trying to sleep anyway. Eliot’s too aware that their time is limited to let himself relax, eyes straining for first light, because if Hardison hasn’t found them by then they have to be up and moving by sunrise, not a second after.

She knees him in the stomach in her sleep - he oofs, but not loud enough to wake her -- and then squirms down under his chin, face pressed into his shoulder. He debates throwing an arm over her -- maybe it’d keep her from further sleep attacks, which can only help, but then, he’s seen her wake into a panic before, so he just holds still, and the next time he wakes all the way from his doze he can see her hazily in the grey of the early sun. She’s got one hand wrapped around the collar of his henley, holding on like he’s a climbing rope and the gap between her brows is perfectly smoothed out and soft. He wonders how Hardison deals with this, if he pulls her in against his chest, his biceps curling around her shoulders, settling her nerves against his heartbeat. Or maybe he’d curl around her, bracketing her back but leaving her hands free to flail out, a wild thing with no fences. He bets however he does it it feels real warm and solid. Hardison’s a block of a man for all that he walks small, but in bed he can’t hide it.

---

Three nights they sleep like that, curled into each other, breath hot between them. Eliot is tired. He falls into a real sleep, lulled by the rhythm of Parker’s breathing and --

There are chopper blades on the horizon, that’s the first thing that wakes him, and then Hardison’s voice in the comm. “Aww, that’s cute,” Hardison says, through the crackle, “y’all like puppies in a box in there,” and Eliot thinks Hardison’s voice is the most beautiful sound he’s ever heard. That's gotta be the hypoxia, he tells himself. He’s not allowed to think anything about Hardison being beautiful anymore. Stupid, he thinks again even as he’s lunging up and reaching for his gear because they’ve been stuck in this godforsaken wilderness for four days now and Hardison’s apparently finally stolen them a ride.

Parker’s upright, too, rolled up to a crouch and pulling her pants on over her thermals, barely blinking even though Eliot would have sworn she was out like a light and she tilts her head up and says “Hardison, where are you?”

Hardison says “About three miles out, but I got you on the satellite infrared.”

Eliot breathes in the cold, clear air of the mountain and feels like he’s waking from more than a good night’s sleep.

There’s a gust of freezing-cold air as Parker unzips the tent, still kind of hopping into one boot, which is not what you do in these temperatures, but fuck if Eliot’s going to stop her. He gets his parka on and starts breaking down the tent while she guides the helicopter in for a landing, which involves a lot of waving and yelling and Hardison turning out not to be the best at landing helicopters, even with a copilot. Eliot just sighs and earmarks some hush money to keep this guy from ranting in the helicopter pilot dive bar about the idiot Americans.

Hardison struts out of the chopper, a conquering hero in his little down vest even though it’s Parker and Eliot who have been hiking for four days above the tree line. Parker tackles him, rolls him over in the snow and kisses him all over his pleased face, and Eliot says “Goddammit, Parker, we’re burning fuel,” and the helicopter pilot nods emphatically. Eliot makes eye contact and the pilot rolls his eyes, inviting Eliot to a solidarity he doesn’t really feel. Eliot rolls his eyes back and knocks a thousand dollars off of his hush money estimate.

Then Eliot goes to give Hardison a hand-up, though, and then Hardison says “thanks for keeping my girl warm, man,” all false sincerity and wicked grin and Eliot does his scariest, scariest glare and punches his shoulder -- not hard -- and lets Parker scoop them both up and into the chopper.

---

So there’s another thing about being a hitter who fucks dudes, and an ex-military one at that: Eliot’s pretty used to having had sex with his coworkers, emphasis on the past tense there. You never knew when someone was going to bail out of an arrangement, decide that wasn’t the kind of thing they did anymore. Put you in some situation where you’re trapped in the same humvee for eighteen hours and you cannot show with word or expression that you’d had someone’s cock down your throat, for his sake or yours.

There’s an upside to that: he knows that you don’t have to let it be distracting, having touched all over someone else’s body and then trying to cover them in a fight. Hell, it’s almost the same thing, or it comes from a similar place, knowing exactly how your hand fits against their shoulder and keeping track of them in your head when everything’s gunshots and smoke.

The swaggering crotch-pulling type of mercenary always act like you can’t keep your head together when there’s a woman on your crew. Eliot supposes they like a bright line between sex and that other more urgent kind of knowing. He knows the bodies of the men he’s fought with more intimately than he knows his own, felt every inch of their skin, reached up inside of them to pinch an artery closed. Knowing someone like that isn’t just wet meat. It’s knowing how their minds work, knowing what they want. When he was an honorable man he’d held the dreams of his men like ropes under his hands, used them to pull them along and keep them alive.

Fucking is nothing after all that, barely an intimacy at all. Sometimes it feels like a dim shadow.

So it’s not - it’s not distracting when he has to work with Hardison. The working is fine.

It’s --

Ok, of course Parker still has her own place -- she’ll probably always have about seven places somewhere and if he’s lucky he’ll know about two or three of them, but she’s been sleeping at Hardison’s for weeks, now. Eliot can tell because Hardison has the harassed look of a dude who’s getting sleep-punched for eight hours a night. Other clues come up when Eliot runs over to Hardison’s in the early morning. Eliot comes by to use the kitchen or run through the menus for the week. Recently, he’s pretty likely to run into Parker, sleepy-eyed and tangle-haired and braless, raiding the pie case in the restaurant.

He marks off yesterday’s pies for her, because she can go through a whole lemon meringue with a spoon, and she stubbornly ignores his pie classifications and he growls “Parker” and she grins and licks a bit of meringue off the tip of the spoon, and he throws his hands up and stomps off upstairs. Or he’ll come into the office and she’ll be working out, up in the rig, tangling her long legs into the ropes and hitching herself upwards in that way that makes her biceps stand out in her arms, easy, like she met gravity once and decided she just didn’t feel like dealing with it. If he’s in the office he sees Hardison in his boxers more than is probably good for him, too, wandering downstairs to get soda out of the work fridge. Bending over in his underwear to stare sleepily into the back recesses like there’ll be a pizza he forgot back there.

Eliot kind of misses the days when he’d assumed that Hardison wore Star Wars boxers to bed. Or maybe, like, matching pajamas with robots on them, that would be about right, but no, Hardison wears nice underwear - of course he does, he can afford it - and it clings to his ass when he bends and the long muscles in his thighs stand out and Eliot doesn’t look at him. Eliot maybe makes them pancakes, those mornings, because he doesn’t want to know what the two of them eat when the pub kitchen’s closed and he’s not around. He’s seen their cupboards and he really wishes Hardison hadn’t told Parker you could buy caffeinated cereal on the internet.

He just knows too much. He knows so much he can’t fit it into any of his boxes, won’t stay neat and tidy and he’s got eyes, course he does, so he can’t help seeing things. And he remembers things and so maybe when he sees something he remembers something and then it’s more than a memory, it’s a fucking visceral longing that threatens to stab into his chest and carve out the meat of him.

He knows how the air smells after Hardison showers when Parker’s flopped down on the couch beside him in a long t-shirt and a towel and bare feet. He hears the way she laughs low and pleased when Hardison scoops her in against his side, just from the feel of his hands on her skin. He sees that and it calls up his own memories of Hardison’s hands gripping Eliot by the hips as Eliot rode him on the console in the van.

He can’t not think about it.

For instance, now, when Parker and Hardison get grabby on the couch and Parker wriggles closer under Hardison’s hands and her breath hitches, high in her throat, it’s like he can feel it from two sides. He knows what it is to have Hardison pull that sound from him and he can’t -- he can’t let that distract him. That’s Parker’s sound now. It doesn’t help him to know that Hardison’s so happy. That Parker’s getting what he can’t have.

They’re not trying to be gross, probably - well, sometimes they are, but not early in the morning, early in the morning Parker puts her feet on Hardison’s thigh and Hardison ruffles Parker’s hair when he gets up to get the milk. They’re easy with each other, they’re dating dating, they’re together. They’ve relaxed.

He’s not sure if he was ever that easy with someone - not Aimee, when he’d loved her enough to fight with her and thought that made it real enough. He thought easy meant not-worth-it, he thought the fighting meant he and Aimee had something real. His parents had fought like that. He’d figured love was loud and a little bit vicious.

But them? It’s just as nice and sweet as he could ever have pictured back when he was helping Hardison get to this place, helping Parker see Hardison as someone safe.

He falls asleep on the couch, more than once, a beer open on the table but only half-drunk. He pretends not to wake up when somebody throws a blanket over him. He pretends to fall asleep in the first place, once or twice, and he can hear Hardison and Parker talking, low, up in Hardison’s room that is slowly becoming a “his ‘n hers” room.

He’s probably easier with Parker and Hardison than he ever was with anybody, honestly. He goes “I saw that,” when Parker’s foot creeps upward up Hardison’s leg or when Hardison pinches Parker’s ass on the way past her, but Parker just grins at him and takes another bite of pancake.

He likes being there, because after all, what if some shit happens in the night? They’ve pissed off some real powerful people, people with a hundred guys just like the guy Eliot used to be on retainer, and he trusts Parker to wake up and bodily haul Hardison out of there through the skylight if she has to, but it’s -- better that he’s there. Yeah. It’s better.

---

It was his mistake, fucking Hardison. But he’s fucked coworkers before, and surely there are more important things than whose dick he used to touch, even though it’s hard to think of any when Hardison lets out a deeply satisfied sigh when he takes his first bite of recently delivered pizza.

Eliot will get over it.

---

It occurs to him that he should stop going over until he can fuck it out of his system. If he gets enough ill-advised dudes with big hands and mean lips maybe he’ll forget the particular feel of one set of those.

But if it’s an ache being around them, being apart is a full-body bruise. He’s never felt home like he feels with those two and if he pulled back his scope on any of the sickening sweet scenes of them together he’d see the way there’s always his favourite beer in the fridge, and a space for him on the couch, and sports on the DVR. He sees the way they smile at him, genuine and welcoming and how could he ever want to be anywhere else?

If he could he’d make all the same goddamn choices again. And he’d smile the whole time.

---

Eliot thinks: this will fade.

He knows he’s goddamned lucky that somehow miraculously despite everything he’s ever done he is wanted. All of the hitches and lingering thoughts will get wiped away like sandcastles if they can just get their rhythm back. Eliot can be patient.

Parker won’t follow the damn script through.

They’re in another fucking shitty bar. Eliot just likes shitty bars, all right? He likes not having to pretend to be anything other than a series of knives tucked inside a human shell. In a place like this it’s okay for his smile to be a little too sharp, for his eyes to track everyone inside a little too intently.

Eliot comes to places like this to relax.

It should be easier now too, because Eliot isn’t hiding anything. The best way to keep a secret is if there’s nothing to keep, after all.

Except he can’t wind down because Parker is draping herself all over him.

Once she stopped keeping her distance, Parker got touchy with Eliot, in a real casual Parker sort of way. She treats him like a footrest and she pokes him in the shoulder and she drops things on him from a height to see him splutter. Parker is his job and his responsibility and she relaxes when he’s around. He values that.

But that’s in their headquarters, benevolently observed by the ugly portrait of Nate Sr. There’s a context there that is glaringly absent out here in this bar where he doesn’t recognise anyone but that doesn’t mean no one recognises him. He can’t bring himself to push her away though, even though he knows he should.

Hardison is on his other side, leaning into Eliot’s shoulder while he gestures with his beer, making a point to Parker about the physics of the load lifter in the movie Aliens and how good it would be for a job, curling around Eliot to face her better, bringing their bodies closer together. They’re talking like it almost doesn’t matter that Eliot’s there -- but Eliot is there.

Hardison making eyes at Parker makes Eliot look like a long-suffering friend. Hardison touching him casually? Laying a hand on his shoulder? Kicking his feet against his? That’s something different. Eliot could know, should know what it means, except Parker is right there too and Hardison is smiling at her over Eliot’s head and Parker is smiling right back. He’s pinned in the middle of them and it --

Eliot’s pulse is going jackhammer fast.

He doesn’t know what they look like to the shadowy men with the Russian prison tattoos in the corner. And if he doesn’t know, then he can’t predict what they’ll do. And if he can’t predict them, he can’t protect --

“--I don’t know, what do you think, Eliot?” Parker is poking him in the shoulder.

Eliot swallows. “What?”

Hardison makes a disgusted noise. “Pay attention, this is important.”

Eliot comes up with some excuse to head out early, ignoring Parker and Hardison’s significant looks at each other and at his unfinished beer.

He thinks he should explain, at least to Parker, but, how? It was easier before he saw the two of them together.

Eliot goes back to his safehouse and does his fifty pushups and checks his perimeter and punches his pillow a few times before settling down in his bed alone. It’s fine.

It’s all fine.

---

He slips into Parker and Hardison’s kitchen early in the morning, penitently carrying a carton of milk. He’d noticed they were low yesterday. He’d meant to get some for them on the way home. He can’t just leave them eating dry cereal out of the box.

He’s just going to duck in, leave the milk, and go. He tells himself that too. But of course when he turns back Parker is there, haloed in the light of the window.

He sees that first - how her hair lights up, how heartbreakingly pretty she is - and then the back of his brain also sees how her weight’s the balls of her feet, cagey, like a tiger ready to strike. Eliot very carefully does not startle, but he does allow himself one slow blink.

“Parker,” he acknowledges. A tiger tried to jump Eliot, once. He felt pretty guilty afterwards, because tigers are an endangered species.

“You didn’t come home last night.”

Her tone is mild but Eliot’s heart stops.

“I don’t live here.” He aims to match her tone - mild for mild, fact for fact - but there’s too much nervous rasp in his voice. Sophie would smack his knuckles for a tell like that.

Parker raises her chin at him.

He has an insane impulse to shout at her: Don’t you see this is weird? Do you even know how many times I’ve had your boyfriend’s dick in my mouth? He swallows it all down.

“I can’t be here,” Eliot says, too loud. He didn’t mean to say it.

“Why?” Parker asks, genuinely curious. Eliot, who has resisted advanced interrogation on three continents, has finally gotten control of his tongue and says nothing. “Because you and Alec used to have sex?”

Doesn’t that just take the proverbial wind out of Eliot’s sails. He shouldn’t have even been trying to sail in the first place. He’s from Oklahoma, it’s a landlocked fucking state.

It’s not that we used to have sex per se, Eliot could start, it’s that there are expectations for how a guy like him and a guy like me are supposed to be, and none of them have any room for me taking Hardison’s dick up my ass and liking it. And that’s not the half of it. and it’s not just that I liked it, it’s that I wanted things from him, wanted him to be something other than a fuckbuddy, and that something could destroy me. Dammit Parker, don’t you see that we’re alike? And if you can have this then maybe I could have had that. And now I never can because I might be a monster but I’m not a bastard.

Eliot knows it was a miracle that he walked away the last time he let something get too real. He’s under no illusions that he’d be able to pull off that magic trick again. It cost him then too, in broken bones and sideways looks. And a reputation that can’t be washed away with water.

But even if he had Nate’s way with words, he couldn’t say any of that, so he settles for, “Well, yeah.”

Parker considers this for a second. “You didn’t have to stop it for my sake,” she says, and this time he can see that the casualness is fake. It’s all in the way she raises her right shoulder a quarter inch before she drops it down.

He blinks and reaches out to brush her hair off of her forehead. She leans into the touch, just a little. “Yeah, we did,” Eliot says, quiet and soft.

She thinks about it for a second -- that’s the thing about Parker, the wheels are always turning in that beautiful brain -- and then she says “Yeah, maybe.” She takes a step forward, close enough now that Eliot has to tip his chin down to keep looking at her. “You don’t have to stay stopped for my sake, though.” she says. “I don’t think.”

It’s exactly the kind of kind and generous and ultimately dumb thing that Parker says, and that makes his heart clench in his chest for her. “It wasn’t that kind of thing,” he says, dropping his hand to her shoulder. “Hardison didn’t -- It wasn’t, like. A real thing. Guys, you know, in the field. Blowing off steam.” His voice sounds a little weak to his ears and he thinks if Parker pushes him he’s going to crack open like an egg.

But she just lets her head fall forward to rest against Eliot’s sternum. Eliot brings his hands up gently against her shoulderblades, feeling the whipcord of muscle shifting beneath the pads of his fingers.

They stay like that til the sound of Hardison crashing down the stairs signals that he’s awake. Eliot clears his throat and Parker steps back, a bare shifting of cloth like a sigh.

---

Eliot and Hardison are in the van, waiting for Sophie’s signal. Eliot cracks open the tupperware he brought -- oat fig bars, new recipe. Wordlessly, he passes it over to Hardison who glares at it like it insulted his Nana.

Eliot shurgs and bites into one.

“Oh, is that how you’re going to play this?” Hardison says.

Eliot doesn’t say anything. As usual with Hardison, he doesn’t have to.

Hardison hasn’t looked away. “Fuck you,” he says evenly, “for telling Parker that I broke your heart.”

Eliot barks out a laugh. It surprises Eliot. It apparently pisses Hardison off worse. Eliot puts up a hand. “Relax, I didn’t tell her that.”

The crease between Hardison’s eyebrows relaxes a little. “Then why did --” Hardison stops, and stares at Eliot.

Eliot presses his lips together as hard as he can and lets his gaze flick over the inside of the van -- monitors, wheel, gearbox, console.

“Eliot, I,” Hardison says, tentatively reaching out a hand and, nope. Just - nope. Whatever Hardison’s going to say is not something Eliot can afford to hear.

Eliot is out of the van before he can think about it, blinking against the harsh light of the day.

---

He doesn’t have his comm but he can’t be fucked to do anything about that. He just heads back to the brewpub and gets comprehensively, decisively shitfaced. He keeps thinking about the way Hardison reached out his hand, how Parker stepped in close. Two people stupid enough to trust Eliot, and kind of stupid enough to love him, some days, and that leaves Eliot in a sweaty and painful position.

There’s nothing that Hardison could say that would fix it. That’s what’s got him. He can’t hear whatever it is. He doesn’t want a goddamn apology. He doesn’t want to hear Hardison confirm that it was never. Couldn’t ever have been.

And then there’s - even if. He’s thought about it, he’s gamed it out. Even if there was something he could have that wasn’t just plain stolen from Parker - Parker who he can admit two drinks in that he loves but will never love like that - even if there was something left there for Eliot, it could not happen.

Even in the jerk-off fantasy world of Eliot’s brain, he couldn’t have what he wanted. Leaving aside all reality -- reality being the world where Parker would be ok with him loving her boyfriend and loving her but not like that -- it still couldn’t happen.

At the end of the day, when they’re through with him, he’s going to need to be able to walk back into those shitty bars. He can’t have anything with them and have a future for himself.

There’s a difference between being hired and kept, and whatever he did with the two of them would obliterate that difference in the minds of the people he has to work with.

Somewhere closer to the bottom of the bottle, Eliot is able to have some real talk with himself. He was just going to turn you down easy, there was no need to be such a drama queen about it. Fortunately, he’s pickled the parts of his brain that feel embarrassed, so he’s just morose about it.

Which is when Sophie walks in.

She pauses in the doorway, posing in her heels and Eliot squints at her. “Really, Eliot,” she says, clucking her tongue, “your Nate impersonation could use some work.”

Eliot salutes her with his glass, two fingers extended, and giggles. What is she going on about, his Nate impersonation is amazing.

Sophie’s voice is stern. “You abandoned the job.”

Eliot feels a spike of guilt.

Sophie flips her hair, “Of course, everything went swimmingly, but really, Eliot, it’s not like you.”

Eliot holds the alcohol in his mouth to really feel the burn. He wants to ask, How do you know what I’m like? but if anyone knows them, it’s Sophie.

She takes a step closer, loosening her scarf as she does. “You don’t want to talk? That’s fine, you don’t need to talk.”

Eliot knows that tone, he has used that tone, usually right before the pliers come out. If his legs weren’t filled with scotch he’d be running at this time.

“It’s personal,” he says, words slurring as he tries to get them out quickly. “I won’t let it affect the job.”

“Again.” Sophie says, after a pregnant pause.

Eliot nods. “Yeah,” and nods a few times extra with the momentum.

Sophie pulls out the chair and sits down. “I don’t care. We’re past professional. We need to talk about this because it’s affecting you.”

Then she just sits and looks and -- Eliot hasn’t been sleeping. He can only doze on Hardison’s couch and he can barely sleep at all when he’s home alone.

“I assume,” Eliot says, speaking slowly, fighting against himself every step of the way, “You know what this is about.”

Sophie doesn’t nod, but she says, “You’re in love with them.” Each word has weight and each word falls like a goddamn punch. It’s the them that hits him right on the jaw, though. Them, like it’s so fucking easy, and Eliot feels something crumble inside. “It didn’t seem tactful to mention before.”

Eliot’s run interrogations just like this. Get the target in an altered state, deny sleep, present a gentle but implacable presence. And it works. It works every time because on some level people want to talk. They want someone to hear them and understand. People are social animals, they wouldn’t be able to handle the close quarters of modern society if they weren’t and Eliot has been so, so alone with this. He’s got these feelings swimming right underneath his skin all of the time, all of them trying to burst out and make a break for it and he’s been using so much energy stopping them and -- he’s tired.

“Moreau used to love telling people he was fucking me. Because,” Eliot sloshes his glass a little, “because it was his way of saying he owned me.” He eyes Sophie but she just looked calmly back at him. He hates it, he wants to shatter her composure -- it wasn’t fair that he’s falling apart and she looks like she’d stepped out of the Burberry catalogue. “That doesn’t surprise you? That we were -- that he was --”

“I did think it was rather unusual that he let you walk out of his organisation, yes. And expecting you to continue working for him afterwards was also a little unorthodox.” She reaches out and hooks his glass out of her hand, lifting it to her lips and throwing back the contents. Her throat works a little and Eliot realises that she understands completely.

It makes sense. She’s a grifter, she has to know people, know their levers so she can get them to do what she wants. She could probably write books on the way people think about each other, the fucked up power dynamics people have. He doesn’t have to tell her that guys like Hardison -- indoorsy types with soft hands -- don’t fuck guys like Eliot. Or if they do, then guys like Eliot get a reputation. A reputation, that Eliot, in fact, has.

Eliot nods, in satisfaction. “So you see why it’s good then, that Hardison has Parker and I’ve got --” Eliot’s lips twist.

Sophie pours herself another finger. “I don’t see that, actually.”

Eliot glares and his eyes go a little more closed than he means them to.

“Congratulations, the thing you’re afraid of has already happened. Everyone knows you had a -- complicated dalliance -- with that man,” Sophie’s lips are pursed a little in distaste. Which is a fair reaction, it is gross and she should be disgusted. “You’ve already lived the consequences of it. You’re worried that people will look at you and see someone who sleeps with men? But you just told me they already do.”

Doesn’t Sophie see that it can always be worse? Sure, he survived it once, but that’s no guarantee of future success. The other guy only has to get lucky one time.

She put down the glass and places her hand on Eliot’s forearm, squeezing gently. “Moreau doesn’t seem like the type to leave loose ends. He was wrong about you, about the hold he had on you. But if he had to think that to let you go, then wasn’t it a good thing?”

Blood rushes in Eliot’s ears. He rips his arm out of Sophie’s grasp and lurches away from the table, trying to get distance. He wants to murder her. There was nothing good, nothing -- he needs to get space. How could she even say that? Moreau destroyed everything he touched and Eliot was no exception. It wasn’t a man that walked away from him and since then he’s kept his head down and limited his collateral damage and Sophie has the audacity to walk up to him and say that everything he did, everything he went through was a good thing?

Because what?

The woman has no sense of self-preservation. She walks towards him, hands spread. He takes a step back.

“Everything that brought you here is a gift for us who know you, Eliot. I wouldn’t be better off if you weren’t around.” She pauses for a second, flicking her hair, “In fact I’d almost certainly be dead.”

“That’s not...that wouldn’t have happened.”

Sophie just looks at him expectantly. “Why not?” She takes a step closer and Eliot lets out a shaky breath, doesn’t move. “If it wasn’t you, it wouldn’t have been anyone.”

That lands on Eliot like hailstones and he wobbles a little. He grabs the back of his chair to steady himself. He’s spent so long only thinking about the negatives he’s trying to mitigate, he doesn’t know how to start thinking of anything he’s been through in a neutral way.

Sophie looks almost hesitant for a second before she smoothes her face out into its normal serene lines. “It’s the same for Parker and Hardison. There’s no substitution for you, not even each other.”

“Why are you helping me?” It’s a whine. Eliot is definitely whining. And by helping Eliot means hurting because, ow.

“It’s just that I’m terribly self-involved,” she says, lightly, “And I’m trying to manage the affairs of those around me so as to minimise the amount of headache inducing pining and dramatics that I must endure.”

It’s meant to make him laugh but Eliot feels scraped out and it comes through in his voice. “So what, I just go up to them and say ‘hey co-worker, can I fuck your boyfriend and oh maybe move in while I’m at it?”

Sophie has her eyebrow delicately arched. “That’s one approach, definitely.” A pregnant pause where Eliot wishes it was easier to hate her. “I strongly advise sobering up first. The drunkenness is unappealing.”

Eliot opens his mouth and she puts up a finger. “I have been very forgiving of your foibles this evening so I suggest you choose your next words wisely.”

Eliot closes his mouth around the biting comment he wants to make about Nate and how someone should follow their own advice.

“Good boy,” Sophie says.

---

The next morning Eliot yearns for death. He used to be able to sleep it off no problem but he’s not twenty-two anymore.

Eliot shoves carbs and water and ibuprofen into his face until he feels halfway on the road towards human before he sacks up and makes his way over to Hardison’s. He thinks about waiting, but he knows he’s just going to lose his nerve.

When he gets there they’re both eating a disgusting mountain of cereal out of the same bowl and Eliot is struck dumb. These people need proper feeding, Eliot thinks, fond.

They both stare at him.

Eliot doesn’t say anything, the nerve he had gathered fizzling out.

“Should I go?” Parker asks, unsure. Parker should never sound unsure.

“No, it’s not --,” Eliot blurts out, eyes fixed on the cabinetry and nowhere else. “I need you to tell me that it’s ok.”

Parker is looking at him in confusion and fuck, of course she doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

She looks at Hardison and Eliot scrubs his eyes with the back of his arm furiously. Here they are with their secret glances and couple communication and who the fuck is Eliot really to be asking her - to be trying to get something on the edges of that, a little corner of it just for himself.

He drags in a breath and looks at Hardison expecting to see that glance mirrored, a little bubble of two, but he’s just looking dead at Eliot’s eyes, intent, searching.

“You want me?” He asks, and Eliot’s not sure why he’s a hacker when he’s got killer instincts like that, no mercy. But yes. He does want it. He wants evenings with them on the couch, and arguing over the last dumpling, and watching them nuzzle each other. And he wants, sometimes, for after the nuzzles are over to be able to take Hardison’s hand and walk him into a room that’s theirs and let Hardison press him down and have him and hold him afterwards for as long as he wants.

He wants all of that more than he’s scared to ask for it.

Eliot nods. It’s all he can manage and he knows it’s woefully inadequate. Eliot risks a furtive gaze at Parker and oh thank fuck, she’s smiling, and maybe bouncing a little?

“Eliot,” Hardison says, “I thought you’d never ask.”