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warm and bright

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"Road trip!" Hardison announced, his arms spread wide with enthusiasm. The brewpub door flew back with the force of his gesture and bounced off the wall, hitting his hand on the rebound.

"Dammit, Hardison, it's cold out there." Eliot was sitting at the bar, going over produce order sheets, and he transferred the full weight of that frustration to his scowl. He was wearing glasses, though, and there were two chewed-up pencil stubs pushed through his ponytail, which took a little of the menace away.

"Exactly." Hardison stepped fully inside and beamed at Eliot. "Which is why we should go somewhere else. It's done nothing but rain here for, like, a week."

Eliot looked thoughtful, and turned to stare out the window. Sure enough, it was streaked and spotted with rain, and the street outside was mostly puddle.

Parker popped up from one of the booths. "Let's go to Alaska!"

"No, Parker, we are not driving to Alaska." Eliot's voice was the same exasperated growl as always, but his eyes were soft behind the glasses. He abandoned the order forms and leaned back against the bar, watching his partners.

Hardison was a little more politic. "Alaska's a really long way, baby."

"Yes, but there'll be snow there! We need snow for Christmas!"

"Which is exactly why we're not going," Eliot muttered, mostly to himself.

"Leave it to me," Hardison said, over Eliot's grumbling. "I got it all planned out."

Eliot looked doubtful, but Parker bounced in her seat, beaming. The bell on her Santa hat jingled in time with her movements. "When do we leave?"

"Right after lunch, baby."


Hardison knew his partners well. He'd dug out their heavy mountain gear from that one job that actually was in Alaska, and thrown it all in the back of his SUV. He had snow chains, and boxes full of supplies pilfered from the brewpub kitchen, a hidden bag of gifts, and of course a few different gaming consoles and the bare minimum of laptops. He'd even thrown in Parker's climbing "go" bag, just in case. There was a steaming cup of Eliot's favorite coffee in the cupholder, and a pile of Moonstruck chocolates in the backseat.

"You know this is the worst idea ever," Eliot said, nodding at the pile of chocolate as he climbed into his seat. Parker had found the box of Christmas penguin truffles and was already biting the ears off bird #2.

"Naw." Hardison glanced at her in the rearview mirror, his smile fond. "It's gonna be great." He put the SUV in gear and pulled out into traffic. Doing so, he caught a glimpse of Eliot's face and had to stifle a laugh. It was 50% "Parker is not cute, I don't know what you're talking about," and 50% "all right Hardison, I'm trusting you on this but..." Hardison merged onto the Broadway Bridge. "It's gonna be great."


Three hours, two orange sodas, three cups of coffee, one bathroom break, and four boxes of Christmas truffles later, Hardison parked the SUV and killed the engine. They were in the foothills of Mt Hood, well above the snowline, and the setting sun had turned all the trees into towering silhouettes. Before them rose a stately log cabin, its windows warmly lit and its chimney puffing smoke. Every line and eave was trimmed with sparking lights and glowing icicles. Through a large front picture window, they could see a tree, trimmed in red garlands and topped with gold. The three of them sat in silence and stared, while the engine ticked and cooled in the chill night air.

Parker was the first to break the quiet. With a whoop, she threw open her door and dived into the nearest snowbank, scattering chocolate wrappers everywhere. Laughing, she surfaced and rolled over to make the season's first snow angel.

Eliot stirred next. He chuckled softly, watching as their girl sent snow flying with her movements. "She's gonna realize she's cold in about two minutes. I'd better head in and get some hot cocoa started." He unbuckled and began to step out, then hesitated. Hardison looked over to meet sincere blue eyes. "This was a good idea, Hardison. Thanks."

"I know, man," Hardison began, but Eliot was already halfway down the walk. Alec began to gather his things together, made a mental list of which bags should be brought in. He glanced back up just in time to see the first snowball catch Eliot clean upside the head.

Eliot's roar of "Parker!" shook the icicles on the eaves. A second missile flew, and then it was all-out war.

Hardison laughed to himself, and grabbed the first few bags. He found the package of marshmallows and held them aloft as he walked, to serve as a makeshift flag of truce. Looked like he was on hot cocoa duty, then. His partners' shrieks and guffaws of laugher followed him down the path and through the door, in from the cold once and for all.