Eliot met Leon and James the first week he and the crew moved to New Orleans, at the Farmer’s market closest to their base. They didn’t have much, just some beans, a couple cabbages, and of course tomatoes, everyone had tomatoes, there were tomatoes rolling across the parking lot and practically sprouting out of people’s ears. It was a sweltering hot tomato summer, and Eliot was resigning himself to creating some kind of tomato-forward burger for his food trucks.
He must have lingered for too long, staring at their tomatoes, because one of them waved him over.
“Taste this,” the one who Eliot would know as Leon, said, holding out a tomato slice.
Eliot quirked half a smile because a long time ago now Toby, the chef who trained him and set him on the path that led him here, also held out a tomato for him, in a dark kitchen one night when all Eliot had was a knife and a target.
So he took the tomato and—the burst of flavor shocked him, again, like it had then. He’s had good tomatoes since Toby, ok, but the pleasure of a good tomato is always a sweet, sweet surprise.
The one Eliot would come to know as James laughed. “I knew it, I knew it—that’s a good tomato, right?”
So Eliot asked them all the things—type of tomato, growing conditions, uses in various recipes.
“Come over to the farm, sometime. We’ll show you what we got.”
So Eliot came over to the farm, and then he came back, and pretty soon he was—not a regular, but he liked helping them out in harvest season, or with the spring tilling sometimes. It was clean, honest work, outside, and didn’t require any skill, just movement.
After the train job, though, of course, James and Leon fold not only Eliot but Parker and Breanna and Sophie and Hardison, too, when they can get him, into their Sunday afternoon cookouts and harvest bonfire potlucks and winter vegetable showdowns and Chili cookoffs. Parker comes when she’s not otherwise occupied, Breanna sometimes brings Emily. Harry Wilson stops by sometimes to continue to test the soil, and when they finally get him seated bore them all to the point of tears with an involved discussion of taxes that Leon somehow keeps up with.
Eliot likes it when it’s just Parker and Hardison, though, just the three of them, like it used to be. He can show Hardison the seeds germinating in the greenhouse, and ask him about new watering systems, new timers they might work into the system. He likes putting all kinds of food on Parker’s plate, seeing what she’ll like, what he can tweak for her at home.
He knows Leon and James are watching him. The first time Parker and Hardison came over, Breanna and Sophie were there too, and there was enough commotion that it felt natural, but then there was a dinner in February, out in the barn, all butternut squashes and winter berries and last season’s apples in an apple caramel pie, when it was just the three of them and Leon and James.
And then it’s really apparent that Leon and James are watching him.
Watching him casually rub Hardison’s neck—he was up all night peering into the screen, ok, his shoulders are tight—or spinning Parker around in a little twirl because the old radio is on and has started playing a song she likes, or popping up to get them more food, or prompting them to talk about their projects; Parker’s latest trip to bungee jump into another large gorge, Hardison’s work helping refugees from Syria, Parker’s successful attempt to get a new thief from Ukraine to join their eastern European team.
Hardison and Parker love Leon and James, too, that’s the thing. Hardison and Leon have this like, culture war thing they go back and forth, “you remember this? you remember this? ah, I bet you didn’t—you did?” thing about their families and family’s families. Stuff he and Parker can’t always connect with Hardison about. And James has like, five thousand hats and boas and sparkly jackets for Parker to try on, for Parker to play with, plus a set of creepy dolls he inherited from his Aunt that Parker has got personalities for, and all three of them can talk about New Orleans gossip for days. Who lived in the purple house originally, did you know that Leon used to be in a jazz band, is it true Ms. Poppa Titty who performs at Mags’ used to be a state senator?
Later, cleaning up, they ask how long the three of them have been together. Parker says ten years, Hardison says 12, and Eliot points to the two of them— ”They’ve been together since 2011. Going strong. We’ve been working jobs as a team since ’08, and Parker took the lead in 2012 and in 2013 opened up twelve new crews internationally, I mean she’s a powerhouse. Hardison just started his international relief NGO, and I’m so proud of him, he’s really doing incredible work.”
Hardison and Parker coo, “Aw man, we’re proud of you, too,” and he waves them off, like he always does, and he clenches down when Parker slings her arms around both of them, like she always does, and he rolls his eyes when Hardison says, “Man, you doing so good, I don’t know why you make faces like that. I don’t know anyone who cares about each individual as much as you—” like he always does.
Leon and James look at each other, but smooth whatever it is over quickly, thank them again for their help saving the farm.
A month later James asks Eliot over to the farm to get dirty spreading fertilizer and planting a new wind buffer along the north eastern field. There’s a new guy joining them this time, Rick, and they settle into the work quickly enough, get more done then just the two of them would have. Ricks’ easy going, a quiet kind of guy. James talks the most; there’s some problem with the county board of agriculture, a committee that’s dragging their feet on much needed zoning restrictions. Eliot lets it wash over him, keeping his ear out for anything he might actually be able to help with but it’s all regular committee stuff, regular life where some people get what they want, some people don’t, but life moves on, regardless.
They take an early supper, just an easy broccoli casserole, and Leon asks Rick about his folks, of course. It takes Eliot a couple minutes of Rick’s complicated answer to think there’s something he’s not working out. Rick is talking about Maya and Annie, and Eliot thinks Annie is their kid, but everyone laughs when he asks what grade Annie’s in.
“Oh, hah, no, no. Annie’s my partner.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, jeez, what a gaffe, I’m sorry. Your daughter is Maya, sorry.”
James chuckles, Leon gets up to get more beers, and Rick smiles again, folding his arms on the table in front of him. “No, No. Maya’s in her forties, same as Annie and I. We’re together. Have been for a while.”
Eliot nods. “Oh. Right, right.”
“You should meet them, sometime. You said you’re in security? They met when Maya was doing security tech for Amazon and Annie was doing web development. Their teams worked together and— well it wasn’t love at first sight, but, you know.” He shrugs a shoulder.
James says, “Bring em’ over sometime, Rick. Eliot can make that chili he won with last year—you haven’t had it yet. We haven’t seen them in ages. I need to check how gray Annie’s gotten.” He’s teasing, and Rick laughs.
“Oh, don’t even start, she will kick your ass if you point out gray hairs, it’s not worth it, I promise—” and he’s laughing again. “But yeah, God, we haven’t all been here in years. Eliot, you in? It’ll probably be just a lot of work talk. Maybe you and Maya can swap stories.”
Eliot nods. “Yeah, yeah, always good to meet good people. I—I do work in security. My—business partner, my friend, he—he works more in cyber stuff than I do. And my—Parker—other friend, she works in project management, she kind of runs things, and I have to hear all about it, you know. So I could probably hold a conversation.”
“Bring them, too, we’ll have a party.”
Eliot shifts, uncomfortable, not sure what he’d be exactly agreeing to. “Oh—they’re in the middle of South America right now, actually, they’re on a job for a client down there and a little bit of a vacation, I think, so. Just me. Just me.”
James, Leon and Rick nods. They make a plan for another dinner on Friday, and somehow, inexplicably, it seems that Eliot will be cooking for it.
The dinner goes well. Eliot’s chili is a hit, as predicted. Maya and Annie are laid back and spend most of the evening teasing James about this that or the other. Annie and James were in school together, and spend a lot of time regaling the group with stories everyone but Eliot knows, so they get to retell them with great fanfare. The time Barry Mcgrugle shat himself on the school field trip, “He asked me to pull his finger! I pulled his finger and then it was diarrhea everywhere! What was I—He asked me to pull his finger—” or Stacy Donovan forming a Mensa group and getting the group—including James and Annie—to do a play about a fox where they all just screamed like foxes for five minutes straight.
They’re onto dessert and Leon slides them into a conversation about how Annie and Maya met—in Amazon, working on a project where the security team and the web dev team worked together, and Annie and Maya just clicked—and then Leon turns to Rick. “And you weren’t working in Amazon at all, right?”
“Right, they were together for years.” Rick nods.
“We were together for years,” Annie says. “We moved from Colorado—we both quit Amazon at the same time because I could not take the hours and Maya was—”
Maya waves her hand and pulls her face in. “I was not doing well. I had an ulcer the size of a cantaloupe—”
“The size of a cantaloupe; I was so worried about her—”
“So we moved back to my hometown, a little city in Iowa, and got jobs at the university there, doing basically the same thing we were doing with Amazon, but you know—"
Rick leans forward a little. “And I was in Alumni Fundraising and on the staff basketball team and Maya joined the team; that's how we met initially—”
“And we started getting dinner with him and some of the others on the team, places around town, they wanted to show us their favorite spots.” Maya says.
Annie nods. “But Rick was funny, yeah, we thought he was funny. And even though Iowa is flat, Rick knew some places to hike with actual hills, I cannot tell you how desperate I was for some hills.”
“Iowa has hills—” Rick says.
Annie rolls her eyes. “Not like Colorado, come on—”
Rick waves her off. “It’s a landscape, ok, it’s a landscape, you just have to love it for what it is.”
Maya waves them both down, as if this is a common argument. “Anyway-- we didn’t have any friends, you know, my high school friends weren’t really around, my folks were there but you don’t want to have dinner with your folks every weekend.”
“Yeah. And then.”
Eliot realizes he’s really not breathing. He’s breathing. He starts breathing, ok. He takes a swig of beer to give them some privacy, they’re looking at each other, their hands have found each other on the table, and it’s very—well it’s very private.
And then they’re looking across at him, smiling; the private moment is over.
Eliot nods. “That sounds— I’m happy for you.”
That’s not quite right. He has a question. He feels the question inside of him, welling up, and Parker must be rubbing off on him because he just asks it, just out of the blue, doesn’t dissect the question first, isn’t even sure what the question will be until it’s out there, in the air, hanging there. “How did you—“ He’s looking at Rick. “How did you even. They were a couple. That--how did you know they were open to you at all? Couples can have friends and it doesn’t mean—” Now he’s mad at himself for the question, now he can see where it is, what it is.
Rick nods, almost too enthusiastic. “Yeah, God, what a miserable time. They were—I guess we had been talking and they mentioned past boyfriends, so I knew they were bisexual, yeah, but it’s still weird for a straight guy to perv on couple of women like that; God I thought I was so gross.”
He pauses, and Annie, who’s closest to him, puts her hand on his upper arm, his shoulder, just a little soothing rub.
“I—it was like---I was alone. I hadn’t been with anyone in a while. And here was this couple who seemed so tight. They were in love, they were harmonious, they didn’t seem to have major arguments. So I thought—that’s what I want, you know?”
“Yeah,” Eliot says, nodding. “You want to be with someone solid. I get that.”
“Yeah,” Rick nods again. “It was like I was outside, my face pressed against the window, looking at this perfect couple. And I couldn’t look away, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t—no one else was as good as they were, but they were taken.”
“But it wasn’t a window,” Maya says, finally. “It was a door. We kept—we liked him. We talked about it. I was having feelings, Annie was—you were having feelings. We kept saying, ‘I wonder if Rick is free,’ and ‘Do you think Rick will want to come over?’ and ‘What will Rick think about this?’”
“Yeah.” Annie laughs. “We bought you an electric bike for you for Christmas because you mentioned it just once—”
Maya says, “We had all your favorite foods in the fridge, just in case you came over, we—”
“He was living in a no-pet apartment so we went to the shelter with him to pick out a dog so he would come over and see the dog, we could say, ‘the dog misses you, come over.’"
“Annie even joined the basketball team because she felt left out—”
“I joined the basketball team, can you believe it?”
Rick clears his throat. “So it wasn’t a window, it was a door. And I just—I just had to open the door.”
Annie and Maya are looking at him. Annie says, “And you did.”
Annie asks, “What did you say?”
Rick shrugs, shakes his head. “I was so nervous I don’t remember what I said. It was all a blur.”
Maya waves a hand out a little. “You said—‘I don’t know if you want a third, but I think I would be the third, if you wanted it.”
Annie says, quiet, almost too quiet to hear, “You just had to unlock the door. We were waiting for you.”
Rick smiles, ruefully. “I’m bad with locks. It took me ages to do it.”
There’s movement from the other side of the table, Leon’s handing James a tissue. Eliot had forgotten they were there.
Leon says, as James dabs at his eyes, “Eliot’s great with locks. He’s gotten that old rusted one to the barn unstuck several times.”
Eliot inhales, sharply, pulls on his beer, suddenly back on firmer ground. “Oh, that’s not so bad. It just needs a little WD-40 every once in a while. My--Parker can undo any lock she wants. She can hear the tumblers clicking into place. Course, some of these new-fangled locks are electric. For that you need a remote keypad and sometimes an RFID scanner. My—Friend Hardison showed me how. Not so bad when you got the hang of it." He’s babbling, he’s going on about locks, real locks, and he’s half aware that he’s inside a metaphor but it’s true, they are good at those things, and so what, he’s not going to lie and say they’re bad with locks. He’s the one who needed help learning to pick locks. He’s the one that just smashes at things, takes a crowbar to get in where he doesn’t belong to take things that aren’t his.
“Sounds like you have great—friends,” Annie says, leaning forward a little. “Sounds like they’ve taught you how to get into any door you need.”
Eliot takes another swig of beer, he’s almost out. “I dunno. I’m always—I’m more of the smashing type, you know? I break things, and I’m always dirty, always got blood or dirt on me—it’s why I like coming here, getting dirty’s a requirement!” he laughs, drains his beer, and stands. He picks up a couple finished plates to take into the kitchen when he goes. “Anyone want another while I’m up?”
So he’s in the kitchen, getting more beers, rinsing the dishes and putting them in the dishwasher. Leon comes in with the rest of the pie to cover and put in the fridge. Eliot rinses a dish, shakes it off, and places it carefully in the correct tines, neatly in line with the other plates in there.
“Thanks,” Leon says, and Eliot can hear the crinkle and rip of tinfoil. “You know, you might get covered in dirt when you’re out here with us but you always manage to clean up, too. It’s not like you’re some kind of monster tracking mud everywhere you go.”
Eliot flinches a little. Leon shrugs. “Just think about it, ok?”
And then the pie is in the fridge, Leon’s back out in the dining room, and Eliot can hear them murmuring in there while he’s still in the kitchen, alone.
Hardison and Parker come back from South America, Parker looking a little pinker than normal, Hardison looking jetlagged, and Eliot thinks Hardison’s been looking tired a lot, lately, with his new position and being away from home. He knows Hardison can hack it, but.
And maybe it’s because he’s feeling a little raw, lately, or maybe they’re all tired, but when Parker rummages in her bag and pulls out a shirt with a pro-wrestling icon on it, Timmy Two Stone who was only on for a season in the mid eighties but Eliot remembers—when she pulls it out and says, “Look, the people down there are crazy for this guy, you would have loved it. And we ate something yummy but I’m never going to be able to reproduce it. You should come with us, next time.” Eliot thanks her, of course, but he also—he also blinks a little.
“You guys needed time for just you,” he says.
She rolls her eyes. “You’re part of the us, you know. We don’t need a break from you.”
And when Hardison says, the next day, “Hey I heard from the new chef at your brewpub in Portland,” Eliot says, “Your pub, Hardison, your pub,” like he always does.
Hardison rubs his hand over his face and says, “We got it for you, man. We got it for you,” like he always does.
And Eliot thinks, oh, like an electric bike. They got me an electric bike brew pub.
In the moment he just—he doesn’t say anything and Hardison cricks his neck back and forth—just like Eliot cricks his neck, and now that Eliot’s looking for it all of them seem to use the same movements, the same phrases. Did Parker always say “y’all” like that? Did Hardison always screw his eyebrows that way when he’s upset? Did he always use so many hand gestures the way Parker does?
It’s bewildering and it hurts, too, and Eliot picks up a woman at a bar because what else is he supposed to do? What else? They’re the perfect couple and he’s on the outside.
But the next morning when he comes back nothing is better. He feels the same.
They have a job, and Hardison leaves, and then comes back, and there’s an extended period of time when he’s back. Eliot should go on another road trip to check in on his food trucks, but he keeps putting it off. He'll go when Hardison leaves again—but when Hardison leaves he’ll need to support Parker, so he should leave now. He should go attend to his trucks while she has support from Hardison at home and doesn’t need him.
He doesn’t leave.
Leon and James don’t ask him about it, and he doesn’t see Annie and Maya again, but Rick, sometimes. They’re always cordial, but Eliot doesn’t go out of his way to hang out with the guy. It’s weird. He’s a guy with two partners. It’s weird. Right? It’s weird.
He goes on a date with someone from his dating app but he just can’t muster any enthusiasm for this woman. She’s not weird enough. She’s not smart enough. She likes football and beer and suddenly he doesn’t like that she doesn't have her own things, he’s annoyed.
He doesn’t even kiss her goodnight, just a nice hug, and then he’s stalking away, into the night, back home.
He stomps through the courtyard—no one’s around, they’re probably all asleep or out or doing whatever—and he stomps up the stairs to the little family room with the tv.
Parker and Hardison are in there, both perched on the edge of their sofa seats, leaning forward, hands tight on the controllers. From this angle Eliot can see some kind of game with magic and elves and fighting. They have that look in their eyes, that glint, the same look that they get when the job is almost at the end, the mark is tying the last knot himself, and they can all smell the blood in the water, they all know the end is near if they just push a little further, just go a little faster. It’s the look they all get. He gets it, too.
And he just loves them. He just loves them, there’s nothing else about it.
His throat is all clogged feeling, so he clears it, and he didn’t mean for the sound to be so loud, but they both whip over to look at him where he’s standing, and they still have that look on their faces, like he’s their target, like they’re waiting to pounce on him.
So he closes his eyes, looks at the floor, and says the only thing he knows how to say. “Look. I don’t know if you’re looking for a third. But if you are, I—I think I could be. I think I would be a good third. I think I—I think I’d like to be your third.”
When he opens his eyes he looks at the TV—oh right, he’s asking to play their stupid elf game. Team bonding. That’s all this is. Hardison has paused the game, and Parker’s getting up.
She walks towards him slow, like either she’s a wild animal, wary but curious, or like he’s the wild animal that she doesn’t want to spook. He doesn’t know why she’s wary of spooking him, he’s just standing here, asking to play the stupid elf game, that’s what he’s doing, asking to play the elf game.
“You want in?” she says, her eyes pinning him, too much eye contact, she used to not use enough and now sometimes she uses too much.
“If you’ll have me,” he says, which doesn’t mean anything, Hardison’s always trying to get him to join their weird quest things. There’s one with dragons, he thinks.
But Hardison is there, then, next to her, their shoulders touching, and Eliot can’t see the TV anymore, the elf game. It’s just all Hardison’s massive chest. God, Eliot is way too old for this, they definitely won’t want him.
“To be clear,” Hardison says. “You want a piece of this.” He flares his hand towards himself for a long moment, and then moves the hand to Parker, and then back to himself, quicker, fluid, and Eliot’s just watching his hand, and then Eliot’s nodding.
Eliot’s nodding. This is disastrous. Now they’re going to think he’s trying to—what did Rick say—Perv on them, he’s perving on them, he’s a perv—He says, quickly, “I know I’m no good at this—” he gestures—the TV, the room, everything—“I know, I know I’m too old, I know this is weird, I can--.”
But Hardison’s hand is moving, it’s coming up, and then Hardison’s fingers are sweeping a piece of hair back behind Eliot’s ear, and touching his cheek, soft, and Eliot stops talking because this is new and he’s a live wire, if he moves he’ll explode, or panic, or something. He just locks down, instead. Hardison is looking at him—he’s so incredibly beautiful, and he has this expression—hopeful, maybe, the glint is gone and there’s just the look—the look he gives Parker sometimes. Hardison is looking at Eliot the way he looks at Parker. He’s not Parker; Eliot thinks he should say something about that.
There’s movement to his other side, and then Parker’s got his face in her hands, moving him. He’s used to her positioning him, touching him, wrenching him this way and that so he moves his head where she wants it, and then she kisses him, gently, no tongue, just soft. He inhales through his nose. His hands come back on-line, and they move to her waist, to hold on to something, they find her shirt, her jacket, and then the left one finds Hardison’s shirt, just the bottom, and grabs on.
Parker pulls back and Eliot wraps his right hand up around her hand still on his face because it’s there, ready to be held. But there’s a larger hand sliding over his cheek and back around his neck, the back of his head, holding him, and he looks over at Hardison.
Hardison leans in and kisses Eliot on the cheek.
And then Eliot realizes what’s happening. They’re kissing him. And Hardison is afraid that Eliot doesn’t want him like Parker, and that’s just—that’s just—no, Hardison is wrong, that’s not how this works. Eliot flashes one hand out to wrap around Hardison’s neck and surges up to meet Hardison where he is and kisses him, too hard, on the mouth. He drops backwards a little, waits. Hardison smiles and chases him back down and this time there is tongue, there’s Hardison opening him up and Eliot’s whole body lights up, pulses of fire whispering through his veins, his cock is heavy and he wants more, and more.
Hardison steps back and this time Parker’s there, and there’s nothing chaste about it, and he’s just drowning in feeling, again, he can barely remember to breath she’s so tight against him.
When she finishes with him Hardison presses his forehead against his, wraps his stupidly long arm around Eliot’s whole torso. “Eliot,” he says, jagged, whispering. “We thought—”
“We thought you didn’t love us.”
Eliot wraps his arm around her waist so her head is pressed against theirs, too. “How could I not love you, of course I—I just—I just didn’t know—I’m sorry.”
He’s so sorry. He wasted time. He’s wasted so much god damned time.
“It’s ok,” Hardison presses a kiss to Eliot’s forehead, and then to his hair, and then to his cheekbone, like he can’t stop kissing him. Parker moves just her head down to snuggle into Eliot’s shoulder and neck, sometimes placing kisses herself, but mostly inhaling—she’s smelling him, Eliot realizes.
Eliot also realizes he’s tilted his face up so that Hardison can keep going, turning this way and that. Hardison kisses his nose, each closed eyelid, the tip of his chin. Eliot thought he was murmuring something but finds that he’s just humming, humming in the deep part of his throat in response every time Hardison kisses his face, his hands. He isn’t the kind of person who does that, normally. Hardison’s kisses feel like skin and breath and he wants more of them, like a compulsion, like the way Parker can’t stop eating chocolates if you let her get started. Eliot’s mouth finds Hardison’s and his hand clutches at Hardison’s shoulder, and this kiss is slow like molasses, like his whole body is warm and melting into theirs.
It’s a strange thing, to be willing to be loved. To enjoy being loved.
Hardison pulls back, eventually, and Eliot whines a little until he stops himself. “Ok. Ok.” Hardison says. “Uh, what do you want, man? It’s probably a lot for you. We feel a lot for you and we don’t want to overwhelm you—”
Parker’s head whips up, almost hitting his jaw on the way. “Oh yeah, we don’t want to overwhelm you.”
“We could—“ Hardison gestures slightly to the couch and TV. “You could join us for—we’re getting creamed out there. We could use the help.”
Eliot looks at the TV and the couch. He can’t—his hands. One is around Parker’s torso, still, warm and feeling her diaphragm expand and contract as she breathes—he’s kind of obsessed with it—and his other hand is, apparently, caressing Hardison’s shoulder blade, shoulder and trapezius muscle, up and back, up and back, following the bones, the muscles, up and back onto Hardison’s shoulder. He can’t imagine his hands not where they are. That would be a travesty.
And he imagines them letting him go, and how cold he would feel. “Um. Just, um.” And he must look a little panicked, or maybe he tenses against them, pulls them both a little closer. “This is fine. I’m not—I’m fine. Just Just. Here is fine.”
“Mmm,” Hardison puts his forehead back against Eliot’s, and Parker rests hers against theirs, too. “We got you. We got you, baby, we got you.”
He lets himself relax, he lets himself kiss Parker again, and he opens his eyes to watch them kissing each other—they look relieved, and they keep their arms tight around him as they kiss which means Eliot remembers how much he loves that they love each other.
But eventually Parker has to step out; she’s probably gone past her quota of daily touching for him. Eliot lets her go but keeps hold of Hardison, and Hardison wraps around him even more, rubbing his hands along Eliot’s arms and back and through his hair. Parker leaves for a minute, then comes back and sort of pushes and guides them in their hug towards their bedroom.
When they get there Eliot realizes he’s being clingy, he doesn’t want to be clingy. He’s been ok all this time, he can step away from them for a half second to use the restroom and change into his sleep clothes.
And he does! He does step away. it’s a success, and also feels like all his limbs have been cut off. He’s shivering, cold, can’t warm up, he puts on two pairs of sweatpants and a thick sweatshirt because he’s so cold, and in his own bedroom he has a moment where he wonders if he hallucinated the whole thing, but then Hardison calls down the hall, “Baby, you wanna watch a movie?”
Hardison doesn’t call Parker ‘Baby’. He calls her ‘babe,’ or ‘girl,’ or ‘mama.’ Sometimes he calls Eliot ‘Baby’. Eliot’s bones sort of reverberate with the sound of it. Baby. Hardison calls him, ‘Baby.’
He pads back into their room and Hardison smiles. “You cold?”
Eliot frowns, grumbles. “It’s cold, I’m freezing. Parker what do you have the thermostat set to in here?”
She tilts her head back and forth, pulls down her pants down and he—he doesn’t have to look away. She’s in underwear. Her legs are magnificent. God. He knew her legs are magnificent—they’ve been swimming, before, and done quick changes before, and he knows, ok, but— “It’s what it’s always set to, 76.”
“I’m so cold.”
“Ok, ok, get in.” Hardison flips open the bed spread.
Eliot looks at the bed. It's easily larger than a king. Hardison's sitting in it and looks small.
“Jesus, Hardison, this bed is enormous. What do you guys do in here?” He’s imagining gymnastics or some kind of starfishing competition.
Hardison’s sitting up against the headboard, his face open and carefully neutral. “It’s an Alaskan king. I got it---we got it—we thought, if you ever wanted—”
Eliot blinks. Jesus.
“You—” He puts his hands on his hips. “You—Damnit, Hardison, You got this—how long ago, cause I remember packing this up from at least three houses ago and putting it on the goddamned moving truck for you, I remember, but I didn’t know it was because—you could have told me!”
Hardison lifts his eyes to the ceiling. “We did nothing but tell you! Eliot, I bought you a brewpub, won’t you fix the menu for me? Eliot, you’ve been to Paris before, come show us the sights so we don’t spend the whole time jumping off buildings. Eliot, play this game with us.”
“Eliot, we’ll all change together, right?” Parker interjects. She deepens her voice and puts on some kind of southern accent. “Till my dying day, folks.”
Hardison nods and continues. “Eliot, here’s a key to our house, and actually, why don’t you just move in? Eliot, help me pick out vents for Parker to crawl around in. Eliot, you made this beautiful romantic dinner for us, why don’t you sit down and help us finish it? Hmm?”
Parker has lifted herself from a rope hanging down from the rafters into a hammock swaying gently above the right side of the bed. She uses it like a swing, with her legs hanging down. “We tried to tell you but—but no one should be forced to love anyone. It was your call.”
Eliot looks up at her and deflates. It’s always like this. He can be angry at Hardison for days and days and days but Parker? He can’t be angry with Parker longer than a few seconds.
Hardison lifts one hand up. “Come on, you’re cold.”
And he can’t move, all this time and he can’t move. So Hardison gets up on his knees, shuffles through the sheets to the edge of the bed where Eliot’s standing, arms crossed, still shivering. “Ok,” Hardison says, running his hands over Eliot’s arms. “Ok, Baby, it’s ok. I’m sorry you didn’t know. I’m so sorry you thought you were alone.”
“It’s not your—don’t be sorry, I was an idiot,” he says.
“You had a bad case of heteronormativity,” Parker calls from the hammock. She’s re-positioned herself so that she’s belly down, only her face peeking out.
“That’s right, Babe,” Hardison says. “And what do we do when we have a bad case of heteronormativity?”
“We kiss until the gay comes out to play.”
“What?” Eliot is overcome by how bizarre that entire sentence is. “You’re not gay when you’re together,” he tries.
“Oh, Baby,” Hardison has his hand up in Eliot’s hair, gently massaging the base of his skull. “I’m always gay for you two.”
“Me too,” Parker chirps.
“It doesn’t mean—It doesn’t mean it like that. It doesn’t work like that. It’s not like that.” Eliot is mumbling, his body loosening up under Hardison’s hands.
“Of course it works like that. It works however we want it to work. Come here with me.” Hardison pulls back and Eliot moves with him, like a rope pulled tight between them he can’t help but follow.
Hardison gets back to the head of the-- just enormous bed, miles of bed, Eliot’s amazed it fit into one room. He lays back and pulls Eliot in to tuck him into his side, and then with his other incredibly long arm flips the bed spread back over them.
Eliot is usually the one in Hardison’s position, with a woman tucked into his arm, but he’s not going to mess this up. His hand has found its way under Hardison’s shirt, along his belly, and Hardison is so warm, and smells like sweat and fabric and something spicy.
Eliot isn’t cold anymore, and Hardison chuckles a little in the middle of the movie—what, Star Wars again? -- when he overheats and has to take off all his layers until he’s just in his boxers, until they’re both in their boxers, skin to skin.
“I owe Rick a fruit basket,” he mumbles into Hardison’s skin, right before he falls asleep.
The next morning, Parker has joined them, has curled her own body around his so he’s bracketed, so he’s sandwiched in the middle. He extricates himself to pee and then carefully wriggles back into position so they don’t get cold. Normally he’d be out going for a run, or making breakfast, or starting a new project to keep the place in shape—paint or plaster or new caulking in the bathroom. That’s the deal—Hardison does incredible work to set them up, to get the tools they need, the costumes they need, the IDs and access they need; Parker manages their plans, their jobs, their cases; and Eliot maintains what they have so they can continue to enjoy it. He feeds; he fixes; he protects what they have. It’s honest work and he’s happy to do it, happy to have a place in the system.
And he—he does have a place. He does. It’s incredible. Wonder of wonders, miracles of miracles.
This morning when they get up and go downstairs, he’ll make them breakfast and he’ll get them to help him, he’ll touch them and kiss them when he wants to. He imagines feeding them bits of strawberry with his fingers, he imagines Hardison behind him, arm around his waist, he imagines trying to teach Parker how to use a frying pan to flip a pancake. She'll probably be good at it; her arms and hands are so dexterous.
Parker stirs, and blinks awake. She wraps her arm around his waist tighter—god, her arms—and whispers, “We didn’t finish the game last night, the quest. It was a big thing for him. He was really excited about it.”
“Oh, fuck, I ruined-- you were in the middle--”
“Shhhh.” She moves her hand over his mouth, and then back around his waist. “We’ll just have to show you how to do it, what we’re doing. There’s a whole,” she makes a vague hand motion, “strategy.”
“You don’t have to—”
“No, we do. We’re very invested in getting you up to speed.”
Eliot’s breath is not even. “I want. I want to be up to speed.”
Parker wiggles closer in, and kisses his shoulder. "Mmm. Pancakes?"
Eliot smiles. "Yeah. Wanna help?"
"You never let me help," she is much more awake now.
"Well--Well I guess I want you in my space," he says.
Parker lifts herself up over him and pokes Hardison, hard, right in the nipple.
Hardison jerks awake with a sharp inhale. "Ow! Woman, What the fuck was that? Poke Eliot!"
"Hardison, you were right. Eliot is an Octopus and wants lots of touch. This is great. Keep hold of him for me so I can go to the bathroom and then make pancakes."
She sprints out of the bed and Hardison groans. "God, we gotta get down there before she burns the whole place down, come on." And he's tugging Eliot up, throwing his discarded sweatpants and sweatshirt from last night at him, and just as Eliot thinks they're going to straggle downstairs somewhat separate, Hardison hooks one arm around his shoulders and presses a kiss to the top of his head. "Sleeping with you was a dream, I can hardly ever get Parker to cuddle like that. Love it, Love it, Love you." He presses three more kisses to Eliot's head and on the last one Eliot lifts up and kisses him back, and it's comforting, at first, and then Eliot needs more, deeper, and his skin is all fireworks all along his arms and legs.
"We--we need to look into that," Hardison pants. "If I weren't so worried about the--"
"Does Parker--do you, does she--" Eliot doesn't know what to ask, has never known how to ask. Sometimes he's thought she doesn't.
"She does, that woman is a beast in bed, she will wear you out, I'm glad there are two of us now, it's going to be so good-- but also, Eliot," and Hardison is kissing his neck, "Do you know how hot you are? I just--I've wanted you for a long time, Baby."
Eliot presses closer in to him, gets his hands everywhere he can. He doesn't know what he wanted, when he wanted it. Later, maybe, he'll parse through. Wanting Hardison, wanting Parker, loving them, having to be apart from them-- it was all the same, all the time, all one.
Parker calls up the stairs, "Romance later! Pancakes now!"
Eliot can hear Breanna in the background, downstairs, saying, "romance? Romance? Who's romancing who?"
Eliot and Hardison break apart, laughing a little.
Later, Eliot will tell them the whole story, about Rick and Maya and Annie and the line he stole from Rick because he didn't have any others and didn't know what to do, and he'll ask them to help him pick out a Fruit basket. Hardison will say something like, "Fruit basket? we need to get them the whole goddamned grocery store." Later he'll nuzzle into Parker's hair a little as she lists out options, crazy, ridiculous options that would show their appreciation.
But for now he pulls away from Hardison, links their hands together so he doesn't get cold, and they go downstairs to make pancakes.
Breanna knows right away and makes a big fuss for five seconds until Emily calls. Sophie waves it off, "I told you, you meet your perfect people on the job," and Harry Wilson doesn't catch on for months, of course, which Parker has great fun with, until one day, blinking like a goddamned baby, he looks at Hardison's arm around Eliot and Eliot's arms around both Parker and Hardison and says, "You--you! You You You! You're all--You're all--" and then he makes a weird hand gesture that is both graphic and incomprehensible at the same time. Breanna shoots in from the side--she's had a bet going about how long it would take him to notice, and she's won big. They hand their money over with eye rolls.
And Eliot--Eliot is just so damn happy, and he doesn't have to convince anyone he is; they mention it frequently and with great glee. "Happy Eliot, the last of the seven dwarves," and "Eliot's whistling again," and "I don't even know if he can punch bad guys anymore without all that toxic hetero rage built up." The last one was Breanna and he promptly shooed her out of his kitchen.
It's incredible, being loved. Willing to be loved.
He gets Rick a fruit basket. Hardison gets Rick, Annie and Maya an all-expenses paid vacation to Greece and when they’re gone, he retrofits their house with all new fixtures, new roof, and new windows.
Right before they're due to come back, Parker slips in and leaves receipts, work orders and cards for all the companies and products that are now in the house in a neat little pile on the kitchen table. On top is a little envelope with a card in it that says,
“Rick, Annie, Maya,
We can’t thank you enough for your friendship; Eliot used Rick's line to open the door. If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to call. We’ve worked with your accountant to make donations in your names to your usual charities.
We look forward to seeing you at Leon and James’s farm.
Parker, Hardison and Eliot.”