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I fall into you

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Their first night without Hardison, Parker waits until almost midnight before removing the false back from the closet in her new room, opening the trap door and dropping the knotted rope down to land with a soft bump on the floor of the closet in the room below.

 

A moment passes, she stays still and quiet until she hears a soft rustling sound, permission without words, then lowers herself down to emerge from the row of hanging shirts like she’s coming out of Narnia. There’s a single lamp glowing from the bedside table, casting the rest of the room in shadow and illuminating the only thing that matters. Eliot, sitting up in bed, glasses on, book on his knee.

 

He looks at her, then shifts a little to one side, moving his book to his other hand to draw her in with an arm around her shoulders when she slides in next to him.

 

“Hey,” she whispers, just to hear him echo back, “Hey yourself.”

 

He turns a few more pages while she rests there with him, temple to temple, the rise and fall of his belly under her hand a reassuring metronome to tell her that not everything has changed. She’s drifting off when she realizes he’s stopped reading, and without opening her eyes she asks, “Are you asleep?”

 

“No. Are you?”

 

“Not yet.” She shifts, slides down a little so her head can rest on his shoulder. “Are you okay?”

 

He takes a minute to answer, and then exhales deeply before he does. “I’m less okay than I thought I’d be.”

 

She nods. She’d thought that’s what was happening. This last week he kept himself so busy taking care of her and Hardison, and Sophie too, she thought he might be doing the thing were he forgets that he’s also a person he needs to take care of. And now that Hardison, the biggest and brightest one of the three of them, is suddenly not here to take up space and make the world okay with his smile, she can just bet there’s a lot of empty space inside of Eliot for things to start rattling around and claiming his attention and hurting his heart.

 

“For better or worse,” she says, their old mantra none of them’s actually said out loud in years, “we change together.”

 

“Yeah.” Eliot’s voice hardly comes out at all, mostly just a rumble in his chest. “And somehow this feels both better and worse.”

 

“And I never thought ‘together’ would mean one of us going away.”

 

He squeezes her shoulder, opens his palm to stroke down her arm and back up, radiating the gentleness at the core of him that doesn’t have to fight so hard to get out, not like it used to.

 

“You think we should have gone with him? Should go with him?” Eliot asks finally.

 

She shakes her head, rolling it on his shoulder so she can look up at him, sees his face from a Picasso-like angle, loves him all the more for how he lets her see him from every which-way.

 

“We can’t do everything,” she tells him, and when he frowns she adds, “Could you stop doing this? Leverage work?”

 

“No.”

 

“No,” she agrees. “Me neither. And we couldn’t do both, not even Hardison could do both and he’s smarter than both of us.”

 

“Don’t get distracted by the side gig...” he murmurs it so low, it’s like she’s not actually meant to hear it, like he’s talking to himself. She waits. Can feel the decision brewing inside of him. After a minute he sits up, shifts her so he can look her in the eye. “I encouraged him to go,” is what he says, no preamble, but with a whole world of other meaning packed in there, like he’s confessing to something terrible.

 

“I know.”

 

“You... Did he tell you?”

 

“He didn’t have to. I know you saw it coming. I did too, I just...hoped I was wrong. And then hoped I was wrong about hoping I was wrong, because even if I am a mean and selfish person, I don’t want to be a mean and selfish person.”

 

“Parker. You’re not a mean person.”

 

“But I am selfish.”

 

Eliot shrugs. “So’m I. We got something good and we don’t want to lose it. I think that’s just...human.”

 

Parker snorts. “Great, that really makes me feel better.”

 

He rolls his eyes at her and they sit in quiet for a minute, searching each other’s faces.

 

“Do you want to have sex?” she asks abruptly.

 

He tilts his head, considering, then says, “No, not tonight.”

 

“Okay.” She swings herself up and around to settle in his lap with her knees on either side of his legs. She likes how he looks like this, chin tipped up to meet her eyes, hair falling soft around his face. He sets his book aside and rests his hands on her hips while she takes off his glasses and puts them carefully in their case on his bedside table, then settles herself more comfortably, taking his face between her hands and kissing his lips, soft and slow, their mouths saying hello to each other like old friends.

 

He slides his hands up under her shirt at the back, palm smoothing up her spine and then fingertips bumping back down, pausing at the scar he blames himself for, rubbing gently with his thumb like he always does. She scratches her fingers back through his hair, chasing that satisfied hum as he lets her distract him from the past, brings his hands down somewhere safer, wrapped around her waist instead.

 

He kisses the corner of her mouth lightly, then her chin, then her throat, his stubble tickling and scraping and making her giggle.

 

His lips buzz against her skin when he speaks. “I’m starting to think maybe we need to tell Sophie.”

 

She breaks away, tucks her chin to look down at him, surprise like a big umbrella covering her from a whole bunch of other emotions that start falling down. “Tell Sophie? About us?”

 

“Yeah. Before she figures it out on her own.” One of Eliot’s hands rubs at the top of her thigh. He’s nervous. “Or thinks she figures it out and it gets messy.”

 

“Oh.” She blinks. “Cuz she’d think I was cheating on Hardison?” When Eliot nods, Parker snorts and shakes her head. “Normal people are so weird.”

 

“Did you just call Sophie Devereaux ‘normal’?”

 

“You know what I mean,” Parker says, waving a hand impatiently. She looks over towards the window, a shiny black portal to the outside world, reflecting back the lamplight. “Are you okay with that? I thought you weren’t okay with that.”

 

“I’m not,” he says, which snaps her eyes back to him.

 

“What’s the order of badness?” She asks curiously. “Is the danger thing on top now?”

 

“The danger thing is always on top, sweetheart.” He touches her chin, traces along her jawline. “The rest of it…I don’t care anymore. I don’t.”

 

Six or seven years ago, when she’d cornered him and not let him leave until he explained the three reasons he didn’t want them telling anyone, he’d put the danger thing on top then, too, and Parker had left it at that, though she was privately convinced he was lying to her. Not on purpose; he was lying to himself too. She was pretty sure the bisexual thing was at the top, back then. The threesome thing maybe on the bottom, with the danger thing the gross and sticky glue holding the whole stupid sandwich together.

 

If Moreau had even suspected that Hardison was my friend he wouldn’t have thrown him in the pool, he’d’a started on his fingers one by one, then his ribs, til I got chatty.

 

They haven’t talked about it since, not so openly anyway, and she finds she’s not actually surprised that she believes him, now, that he doesn’t care about the rest. He doesn’t lie to himself much these days.

 

“I’m glad the rest of it doesn’t bother you anymore.” She looks down at him, cocks her head and lets her face do the thing that usually makes Eliot say something like, Do not tell me what crazy thing you’re planning right now, Parker. She sees his eyes narrow and says, all musing, “Maybe Hardison can finally book that skywriting plane?”

 

“Do not,” he’s already speaking before she finishes, commanding finger raised to punctuate his words. “Do not let him do that, you hear me?”

 

Parker laughs with her head thrown back, feels his steadying hands back on her waist, picturing a summer-blue sky emblazoned with Parker and Hardison love Eliot 4ever the way Hardison had promised on the fifth anniversary of the first time he let them kiss him.

 

“Okay,” she says, dropping her eyes to his, smiling at him. “We won’t embarrass you.”

 

“Good,” he grumbles, frowning for show, then cups her face in his big hands and kisses her slow. “I ain’t embarrassed,” he murmurs without opening his eyes. “But that doesn’t mean… Just ‘cause I don’t care don’t mean other people won’t care. Our crews, people we work with…it’s weird enough to make people talk even if they don’t mean to and people gossiping about us, it just ain’t safe.”

 

Parker scowls but it’s half-hearted. She’s found these last few years that she just doesn’t have the energy she used to for the whole push-pull of normalcy. “The only people who think it’s weird are the people who haven’t tried it.”

 

Eliot’s lips twitch in a little smile. “Tried what, a long-term threesome? Yeah that’s most of the world, sweetheart.”

 

“No,” she tugs sharp on the front of his shirt. “That’s not what I mean. I mean…I mean loving who they love. Without being afraid.”

 

“Yeah…” Eliot sighs, tucks her hair behind her ear, calluses catching on the strands. “I think that’s most of the world, too.”

 

She leans into his touch, sighing as his fingers stroke along her the muscles in her neck, releasing tension in their wake. “We’re really lucky, huh.”

 

“Really lucky,” he echoes, then, “C’mere.”

 

He kisses her forever, hands all over her back, her ribs, up into her hair, gentle on her face and throat. She loves the way he touches her. Thinking back over all their years together it’s like an excavation of their okay-ness with each other and with themselves. He used to be so careful with her, too careful, he used to look to Hardison every single time before he even reached. Now he touches her even when they’re not about to have sex, now he asks for what he wants from her and has never once made her feel bad if she says No and he asks what she wants from him without assuming he already knows and the funny thing about that is, these days, he almost always knows. It makes the asking something special.

 

“Will you sleep here tonight?”

 

She nods, bows her forehead to his. He wraps his arms around her waist and just holds on, the two of them breathing together.

 

“Too many variables,” Parker says, long minutes later. “It’s not just Sophie, it’s Harry and Breanna, it’s working together again and being a team without Nate, it’s this new city and Hardison being gone. The chances of something going wrong are already high, higher than we’d ever risk for a job if it wasn’t about—”

 

“About getting Sophie back.”

 

“Yeah.” Parker presses her eyes shut tight, watching the sparks dance in the dark, wishing they would still be there when she opened her eyes, wishing she didn’t have to choose. “If we tell her and she’s weird about it, everything else could fall apart.”

 

He squeezes her and lets go so she can pull back and look down at him. The lamplight is washing out the blue of his eyes, pointing out the lines around them, the shadows. She doesn’t like it, it makes him look tired.

 

“You’re right,” he nods. “So we play it out. Don’t tell anyone anything yet.”

 

“See how it goes after a few jobs. Talk to Hardison.”

 

“And you and me work on being discreet.” Eliot scrunches up his face, gives his head a brisk shake and says, dry complaining edge to his tone but he doesn’t actually sound mad, “Man, I kinda got used to it being just the three of us.”

 

Their phones ping suddenly, loud in the quiet room, with texts from Hardison, first in unison — Just landed, meeting Pradeep in a sec, call you when I get set up. Love you. Kiss each other good night for me — then in stereo with longer personal messages for each of them. Parker reads hers, smiling, imagining him sitting on the plane and typing it out while everyone around him slept with the ocean stretching out deep and eternal way below.

 

“Come on,” she says when Eliot finishes reading. Sliding out of his lap and onto the bed beside him she lifts her phone, clicks into the camera.

 

“Come on, Park,” he grumbles. “I don’t do selfies.”

 

“Technically I’m doing the selfie, stop complaining.”

 

She waits til he leans in and presses his lips to her temple, snaps the photo and sends it to Hardison. Miss you. Beside her Eliot starts typing and a moment later sends, Make us proud out there man.

 

Parker pulls off her shirt and shimmies out of her pants, slipping under the covers while Eliot and Hardison keep texting. A couple minutes later Eliot puts his phone down and Parker rolls onto her side to watch him. She knows he’s probably never going to go back to sleeping naked, not with all the other people in the house and all the unknowns of this new base, this new city, but he does pull his shirt off over his head, and that plus his mussed-up hair makes her heart ache in that painful-happy way that used to scare her so much. She watches him until he clicks the light off.

 

“What?” He says, laying his head down on the pillow, but she just shakes her head, pulls the covers up to their chins and tucks one of her legs between his, snuggles in closer until he lifts an arm, wraps her up.

 

“This is nice,” he murmurs a minute later, voice vibrating through both of them. “But if I had to choose between this and you staying the whole night…”

 

“I know.” She breathes in, out, feeling out the edges of her own okay-ness. “I’m all right for a minute.”

 

He strokes up and down her arm with the backs of his fingers, humming low in his chest, an almost soundless lullaby.

 

She drifts, feels like she often does as she’s falling asleep, like she’s hiding in a small dark compartment on board an old-fashioned train, the sway of the car and the clack of the rails telling her she’s on her way and though the destination is a mystery, she’s safe for now.

 

There’s an old church half a mile away whose bell chimes the hour, twenty-four times a day, a minute early each time. She and Hardison have already placed bets on Eliot breaking in and either sabotaging or fixing it within the year. It strikes one and Eliot shifts, grumbling even though he’s even less awake than she is. She kisses his nose and then rolls out of his arms, finding the light blanket he’d left folded at the foot of the bed and cocooning herself in it, settling back down in easy reach but leaving only her foot peeking out and pressing against his shin.

 

Her breath syncs up with Eliot’s, deep and even, and she falls into the rhythm of him, lets it carry her off to sleep.