It's late, but Hardison and Parker are still awake, lying in bed and ruminating about the past days' events, when there's a knock on the door.
“Come in,” Hardison calls, and a moment later, Eliot all but barges in, wild-eyed and frowning: “Did you measure the others' heads too?”
Which is about the last thing Hardison expected to hear.
“No,” he replies carefully.
Eliot looks around the room: “So you measured only my head- when did you do that?”
“Remember when you were hit by that car during the job with the chop shop?”
“The- ,” Eliot says after a moment, sounding taken aback. “That's... what, eleven years ago! That job?”
“Yeah,” Parker now chimes in. “You were hit by the car and landed in the water, so we spent that night with you to make sure you were okay.”
Eliot averts his gaze; he's always so touched by stuff like that, making it hard for him to keep up appearances.
“And you were pretty out of it at one point,” Hardison now continues. “So we seized the opportunity.”
“Because you usually wake up when I so much as look at you.” Parker smiles. “It's your exceptional situational awareness, Breanna would say.” She sighs: “I thought it was really cute, and not only because you look so innocent in your sleep but also because it meant you trusted us.”
Eliot shakes his head, trying to stay focused on the issue at hand: “Eleven years ago,” he repeats slowly. “Long before we even moved to Portland. That's when you knew... that's when you wanted...”
He breaks off, apparently lost for words.
Hardison looks at him more closely: even in the dim light of the lamp on the nightstand, he can see that Eliot's eyes are gleaming in a telltale way.
“Course we did,” he says, nudging Parker until she lets him sit up, because somehow, it feels wrong to have this conversation while they're lying down and Eliot's by the door, looking as though he's still undecided whether he should rather flee.
“C'mere,” Hardison says, patting the mattress.
To his surprise, Eliot does, after a moment. He gingerly sits down at the end of the bed, not quite looking at them.
“We love you,” Parker says even while she crawls over to him and pecks him on the cheek. “I thought you knew that.”
“I do,” Eliot admits, blinking heavily, but Hardison can see that that's not the actual point.
Maybe they've been too subtle until now; maybe it's time to be more specific. He can feel his heart pounding at that, but Alec Hardison, though far from flawless, is not a coward.
So he takes a deep breath: “Eliot, man,” he says quietly. “The thing is: we love you love you.”
Eliot looks only more confused.
“As in the way we love each other,” Parker adds.
“Y-you love me.” Eliot sounds at a loss. “You love me love me.”
Parker claps her hands: “Now he's got it!”
“No,” Eliot objects, holding up a finger, “he doesn't. I don't got it. You love me? Both of you? And you've done so since...”
Hardison cocks his head: “Pretty much from the start. The case with the horses. You were so... shaken and concerned, it showed me a whole new side of you.”
“And you can ride.” Parker nods appreciatively, fanning herself. “That was hot! Though I didn't care for the murder horses.”
“Anyway,” Hardison says, “you obviously had some unfinished business there.”
“Oh yes.” Parker narrows her eyes. “I was so jealous of Aimee! Just like that marshal!” She shudders.
Eliot opens his mouth and closes it again.
“But,” he then says. “You two weren't even together back then.”
“It's crazy, right?” Hardison smiles complacently. “When we finally were, we realized that we were both in love with you too, only...”
“We never thought you'd reciprocate it,” Parker finishes the sentence for him. “You had all those nurses and stewardesses-”
“They're called flight attendants, Parker.”
“Whatever. I hated them.” She sounds belligerent.
For a moment, it's completely silent.
“And... now?” Eliot then asks, his voice small and brittle. They've rarely heard him like this.
Hardison and Parker exchange a glance.
“Nothing's changed,” Hardison says softly, a tender smile illuminating his face.
“That's not true,” Parker objects, “a lot has changed! But we did it together, and we've become a very strong unit.” Now she smiles as well. “A family.”
“Yeah,” Hardison holds out his fist for her to bump. “Our feelings for Eliot haven't changed, though.”
“No,” Parker concedes, turning back towards Eliot. “We still love you love you. Very much. We don't want to become robots without you.”
“Why didn't you say something...” Eliot mutters weakly, feeling woefully unprepared to deal with the robot business on top of everything else right now. “Maria Shipp...”
Parker regards him: “Because it wouldn't have been right to stand in the way if she had been... you know. The one. Even my puppets agreed on that.”
"And before that... all these years..."
"Well, you had all those flight attendants, and you seemed... okay with how things were."
Eliot swallows. He closes his eyes, nodding, an almost painful smile on his face.
Hardison's stomach drops, but then Eliot nods again, and he clears his throat and snuffles a few times (making Hardison wonder why this man has to be so adorable in everything he does), and then he fully turns around to face both of them: “Seems,” he says hoarsely, sounding somewhat nervous now, “seems like I was looking wrong.”
He swallows again. “You know, 'cause I was looking for the one. Maybe I shoulda been looking for... two people.”
Parker looks thunderous: “When Nate and Sophie left, you said you had found what you were looking for.”
Eliot's gaze flickers: “Yeah,” he says softly. “And I meant it. I just... I did feel very alone sometimes, but that just happened, you know? It's not like I did it on purpose.”
And just like that, Parker's features soften into something tender: “You felt lonely? Even with us?”
At that, Eliot averts his gaze once more: “Well... three people's always one third wheel when it comes to certain situations.”
“Ah.” Parker scoots even closer to him and puts her arms around him: “I'm sorry, our Eliot,” she mutters.
“Ain't nobody's fault,” Eliot replies. “Just the nature of the beast.”
Hardison regards him, full of affection: “So now you know,” he says softly. “That you don't got to look any further, if... if Parker and I should happen to be those two people you might be looking for.”
Eliot's expression, which was almost timid right now, slowly but steadily lights up, and he begins to smile. It's a beautiful sight.
“Now I know,” he murmurs, his eyes bright with unshed tears again.
Hardison scoots over and also puts his arms around Eliot, who returns their embrace with something akin to stunned relief.
“And... you're sure about this?,” he asks once they eventually pulled back, still holding on to each other with their hands on the others' arms.
“No, we're joking,” Parker says, then she rolls her eyes hard.
“'kay.” Eliot grins a little sheepishly.
“Wanna sleep here tonight?” Hardison asks. “No funny stuff, just... so we'll have you close.”
“Because we miss you when you're not,” Parker adds. “Close, I mean.”
“Yeah,” Eliot replies softly, once more touched by their open, straightforward affection.
Parker and Hardison know who he is and who he was. If they still want him, then he's a damn lucky bastard. For a long time, he didn't think he deserved happiness, or at least some form of contentedness; in the past few months, these doubts kept resurfacing.
Maybe he's been stupid all this time, but he didn't think that something like this, something that actually feels just right, was possible for someone like him. And one thing that is becoming clear to him now is that with Maria, it felt... complicated, and kind of tricky. It wouldn't have been right.
Funnily enough, it was her, of all people, who made him reconsider. Or maybe he's just weak, he doesn't know. He's so confused and giddy by this turn of events that he might not be able to think straight right now.
And for once, he's okay with that.