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Parker doesn’t have manners; she has mannerisms, some of them disturbing, some of them endearing, most of them strange.

Sophie and Nate have disappeared again -- none of them want to know where to -- and the job basically ended at sunset the third day after it started. They’re all starving, but they aren’t exactly close to anything, and when Eliot spots the sign announcing a Golden Corral up ahead, he jerks the car in that direction, barely hearing Hardison’s protests.

“What’s Golden Corral?” Parker asks in her chirpy little voice, which should be illegal at this hour, after the job they just pulled and the sleep they didn’t get for two days.

“It’s a horrible den of ptomaine poisoning and botulism,” Hardison says, but he gets out of the car when Eliot does, heading toward it in weary defeat.

“It’s an all you can eat buffet,” Eliot tells Parker. “Sometimes they’re decent, sometimes they’re awful. It’s a crap shoot.”

“So you just get a plate and eat as much as you want. Like if I had one olive, it would be the same price as a whole chocolate pie?” Parker asks.

“Exactly,” Eliot says.

Parker looks intrigued.

Eliot and Hardison both have plates and are sitting across from each other when Parker sits down between them. She has one of the glasses that are supposed to be free for water, full of what Eliot thinks is root beer. He thinks about pointing it out, but then doesn’t. Either she already knows and will look at him like he’s a moron, or she’ll just be confused at the fact that they have different glasses for water.

For a man who professes to hate the place, Hardison’s plate is heaped high.

Eliot tends not to like his food to touch (though he will never, ever tell either of his companions that fact), and only has chicken fried steak and a baked potato on his plate. He cuts himself a bite of steak and is pleasantly surprised. “Chicken Fried Steak is good,” he notes, mostly still in defense of his choice of restaurants. He cuts another bite, and notices that Parker doesn’t have a plate at all.

“Aren’t you hungry?” he asks her, and, from somewhere, she suddenly produces a wickedly shiny little knife with the kind of intricately carved hilt that you only see in museums, gemstones and all.

“I’ve never had Chicken Fried Steak,” she says, spears the bite off of Eliot’s plate, looks at it curiously, and then dips the knife with delicate precision into her mouth and starts to chew.

“Where did you even get that?” Hardison asks. He turns to Eliot. “Where did she even get that?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” Eliot snaps, irritated, because he always knows where a weapon comes from, except when Parker is involved. She messes up his radar or something.

“Parker, you’re supposed to get your own plate,” Hardison tries to tell her. “So you can put whatever you want to eat on it.”

Parker uses her knife-of-doubtless-incalculable-monetary-value to slit Eliot’s baked potato down the middle, carefully cross-cuts the top, and folds the potato with the blade until it looks soft and fluffy inside. Eliot watches her do this with something like fatalism. If Parker has decided she wants his food, he’s already screwed.

She licks the knife and tips the blade up against the saucer of Eliot’s coffee, and then reaches into her shirt.

The table becomes very still.

Her hand comes out with two square single serving packages of butter, which she then opens and squeeze-drizzle-drips over Eliot’s baked potato.

“You keep butter in your bra?” Hardison asks, sounding dazed.

“Only when I think I might need it,” Parker says. “I like it best when it’s already melted.” She slips her knife into Eliot’s potato and helps herself.

“I have a dinner roll,” Hardison says -- Eliot looks at him, trying to convey that he’s insane with his eyebrows. Parker brightens and reaches under the table, comes up with another serving of butter. She slices Hardison’s dinner roll in half like she’s dropping a tomato onto a Ginsu knife, and squeezes butter onto both halves.

“It doesn’t melt as well under my thigh,” she says apologetically, and spreads the unmelted bits of butter evenly across Hardison’s roll with her razor-sharp death blade.

Hardison swallows audibly.

“What’s that?” she asks, pointing at something on Hardison’s plate.

“Uh, sauteed mushrooms,” Hardison says, and they both watch as Parker snags one with the tip of her blade and pops it into her mouth.

“Make them use more garlic next time,” Parker says, and spears another mushroom.

“Parker,” Spencer says, and breathes deeply. “The point is to get your own plate and try anything you think you might like.”

“Why would I do that?” she asks. “You both bought plates, and you have plenty of food, and if you want to, you can go get more, right?”

“Right,” Hardison agrees, looking at Eliot, both of them clearly starting to see what is happening here.

“Why should I buy a plate when I can steal yours. Besides, trying new things is supposed to be good for me. Well, Sophie says. Anyway, I’m not going to eat anywhere near as much as you two are, so the house still wins.”

She stabs three corn nibblets off Hardison’s plate.

Eliot is quasi-fascinated her ability to eat with a knife that sharp while simultaneously holding a conversation with them. A twisted and bizarre conversation, but still.

**

Alec and Eliot are watching the completely pirated and untraceable new Captain America movie when Parker appears, as she does, without sound or knocking or asking, just BAMF! like Nightcrawler, suddenly behind the couch.

“Jesus Fuck, Parker!” Eliot shouts, already on his feet, one foot up on the arm of the couch as though about to leap into a flying kick (one of the nice things about hanging out with Eliot: little risk of home invasion).

“Hi, Parker,” Alec says, taking his chance to play it cool and pretend that she didn’t scare him half to death, too. Eliot shoots him a hard look. “What’s up?”

“I’m bored,” she complains, and rolls forward over the back of the couch to land neatly between Alec and where Eliot is settling back down. She somehow makes it look like it’s done by a twelve year old at the same time that it looks like it was done by a ballet dancer. “I haven’t stolen anything in a week. If Nate doesn’t find us a client soon, I’m going to Belize to steal...mm-mmph,” she says, finishing with Eliot’s hand over her mouth.

“What have we told you,” Eliot says sternly. Parker sighs and rolls her eyes.

“Plausible deniability,” she whines.

The sad thing is, Parker has a cute little whine, like a puppy that really doesn’t understand what it’s doing wrong, and Alec hates to hear it.

“Hang out with us,” he says, ignoring Eliot, who doesn’t look like he objects, just like he’s surprised. “We’ll watch a movie and you can play Spymaster on my account later.”

Parker perks up immediately, and they re-start the movie, and even then, have to stop it every now and again to explain why people are doing stupid things. At one point while Alec is trying to tell her why the Winter Soldier can’t just steal Captain America’s shield, and then have both the super robot arm and the impervious shield, thus becoming more or less invincible, she steals his drink out of his hand and sips at it. Then she frowns -- and there it goes, he’s lost her attention, and any further explanation will have to be started from the beginning -- and looks down at the bottle in her hand.

“You drink this?” she asks, looking more curious than actually revolted, or at least maybe only a little revolted. “This tastes like the last flavor of gummy bears you leave in the bag.”

“Hey!” Alec says, and steals his bottle back.

At the same time that Parker whirls on Eliot, he hands her his bottle. As per usual, she doesn’t seem to understand that a thank you would be in order, and she just takes a drink. Which she promptly spits back into the bottle. Eliot watches this with dismay, but without any real surprise.

“What… what…?” Parker demands, and Alec is kind of pleased that at least he didn’t get the full measure of disgust.

“Voodoo Maple Donut beer,” Eliot says. “I’m actually kind of surprised you don’t like it.”

“Maple Donut what?” she asks, looking personally betrayed, and turns back to Alec, who doesn’t resist when she steals his soda back to wash the taste of Eliot’s foul brew from her mouth.

Eliot sighs and stands up to dump the rest of the bottle -- Alec quietly and only to himself, admits that he probably wouldn’t dump anything Parker spit in -- and calls out, “Do you want something, Parker?”

“No,” she says.

“We have regular beer,” Eliot says patiently.

“No,” she says again, sulking now.

Eliot sighs, clinks the top off of something, and returns to the couch. He offers it to Parker. Parker gives him her narrow-eyed, suspicious look, but she takes it and has a cautious sip. Then she beams at Eliot, and passes him back the bottle.

For the rest of the night, she sips lightly at Alec’s last-gummy-bear flavored soda, like she doesn’t want him to feel slighted, but mostly sticks to whatever Eliot’s drinking.

Alec is doing a shoddy job cleaning up after they both leave, and he picks up Eliot’s bottle.

“Heh,” Alec says, amused at both of them.

It turns out to be rootbeer.

**

“What?” they both say at the same time, looking at the covered dish that Parker is presenting them with. She somehow manages to get inside, even though Eliot and Hardison are both standing in front of the door, and they follow her into the living room. She slips the toe of one boot up under the ledge under the coffee table, and Eliot barely has time to save the drinks before she’s lifted it enough to send everything else sliding off onto the floor.

She sits down and lays the platter down on the surface she decluttered. “I said: I took a cooking class tonight,” she says.

Hardison is wincing at the combination of take out chinese, remote controls, video game controllers, and computer magazines all now in a pile next to his coffee table.

“Was that…” Eliot tries. “Fun?” Then he kind of wants to sock himself in the eye at the way Parker looks at him, like she has no notion of what that word means in conjunction with a cooking class. Either that, or give her a hug. It’s a weird urge he’s been dealing with since she started kind of growing on him, her weirdness balancing about equally between terrifying and adorable.

Not that he’ll ever do it. She’d probably stab him.

“Anyway,” she says. “It serves three to four, so I brought it here.”

She uncovers the dish. The smell that wafts out is improbably enticing.

Hardison apparently thinks so, too; he’s walking around the table as though mesmerised. It’s some kind of fish dish, with sauteed vegetables in a variety of shapes and sizes.

“Well, come sit down,” Parker demands, and they both do.

Eliot exchanges a glance with Hardison, and finds that at least they are equally ashamed at being so easily bossed around.

“Hey, you know, I’ve got a dining room table; we don’t have to eat sitting on the floor,” Hardison suggests carefully.

“We’re already here,” Parker says, looking puzzled, and pulls a familiar looking knife out of nowhere. Seriously, Eliot was looking right at her. There was nowhere for that knife to come from. She begins slicing the fish -- it’s a fish steak, either tuna or swordfish, Eliot thinks -- into bite sized pieces.

Apparently neither of them are going to sack up and tell her they had chinese less than two hours ago.

 

“Forks,” Hardison says a little frantically, and Parker gives him that puzzled look.

“I’ve got a knife right here,” she points out.

Hardison shoots Eliot an easy-to-read look expressing panic and requesting backup on the forks. “And plates,” Eliot says lamely. Hardison looks exasperated.

Parker laughs. “There isn’t any room on this table for plates,” she says.

Eliot, because he doesn’t know how to recover the situation, says, “It smells really good, Parker.” She beams at him.

“You get to try first,” she tells him, clearly conveying this as a favor, and although it really does smell good, Eliot isn’t sure he wants this particular favor.

Parker deftly tweaks the knife so that it’s spearing a manageable sized bite that includes both fish and vegetables, and offers the hilt to Eliot.

Eliot is vastly relieved.

He can eat with a knife, even a sharp ninja voodoo knife, but he’s not sure he has the ability to try to eat off a knife that Parker is holding.

He slides the bite into his mouth, careful with his tongue, and feels his eyes widen with surprise. It’s not just good, it’s excellent, the fish fresh and firm and well seasoned, the vegetables a crisp compliment.

Parker doesn’t seem to need to hear him say it. She just looks smug, and says, “Hardison’s turn.”

Eliot has misgivings, but he passes the knife to Hardison.

“I’m just going to…” Hardison says, and Eliot can almost hear him saying ‘get a fork’ in his head, but Parker is watching him with pleased expectancy, and Hardison kind of wilts a little. It turns out, though, that Hardison has both more spine and more honesty in him than Eliot had suspected, because he tells Parker (gently), “I can’t eat with this, Parker. I’m not like you and Eliot, with the weapon savvy and perfect grace and in control of every part of your body at all times. I’m not exactly a klutz, but this thing is razor sharp. I’ll cut off my whole lip or something.”

Parker’s brow furrows as Hardison tries to explain, and she turns to look at Eliot. Eliot shrugs a little, but says, “It takes most people practice.” It didn’t really take Eliot any practice; he sincerely doubts it took Parker any, either.

Parker turns back to Hardison and holds out her hand for the knife.

Hardison gives it back to her with obvious relief and Eliot can see from here the visions of forks dancing in Hardison’s head, but he’s is pretty sure that’s not actually what’s going to happen.

“Okay, first,” Parker says, “you don’t take big bites.” She slides a sliver of fish onto the blade, smaller than the one she gave Eliot, and then spears just a single head of asparagus. “If you take big bites, the blade gets caught between the food and your tongue or your cheek. So, always about half what you’d take if you were using a fork, until you have practice.”

Hardison’s look of understanding at what is happening is simultaneously horrifying and amusing.

“Then, always use your dominant hand.” She looks at Hardison. She hands him the knife expectantly, and Hardison takes it helplessly in his dominant hand. “Okay, then the trick is to tip the food off the blade into your mouth, or if it’s stuck to the blade, to lay the flat of the blade on your tongue and ease the food off of it.”

She looks at him, still all expectant.

Eliot adds. “When you get the food in your mouth, pull the blade back slowly, keep it off your tongue, slide it over the tops of your bottom teeth, a scraping motion, but don’t actually scrape, and pull it straight out. Never turn it. Always keep the blade flat.”

“You guys don’t always keep the blade flat,” Hardison says, staring at his small bite of food with trepidation, but Eliot thinks he’s actually going to do it, and that thought leads to the fact that Parker will be so pleased, and that thought leads to the idea that Eliot will be pleased that she’s pleased, so he just stops that line of thinking entirely.

“We have lots of practice,” Parker says. “Don’t worry, we’ll teach you how to do that another time. This time, just do what I said and what Eliot said.”

Hardison looks at Eliot, who merely looks back. He has nothing helpful to add, and isn’t really willing to urge Hardison either way.

Hardison eases the knife between parted lips, not making the beginners mistake of opening his mouth too wide, and closes them around the shiny, shiny silver of the blade. Eliot sees Hardison’s jaw work just slightly, a tiny flex, and then Hardison is drawing the knife out of his mouth slowly, keeping it flat, Eliot doesn’t hear a scrape, and then the blade is free and Hardison looks a little shocked.

Then he actually chews the food in his mouth, and starts to grin. “I cannot believe you cooked this, girl,” he tells Parker, and she preens visibly.

She takes the knife and manipulates a bite onto it and pops it into her mouth, and her eyes actually widen a little as she chews.

“Sophie was right,” Parker says, sounding a little awed. “I should try new things.”

They eat, Hardison with great care, until they can’t eat anymore, and Hardison doesn’t cut himself once. Parker gives him an enthusiastic shake by the back of his neck that is her version of the bro hug.

The whole thing is weirdly intimate, but Eliot can’t seem to bring himself to mind that much. He can tell by Hardison’s face that he’s feeling the same thing, but Parker doesn’t seem to sense anything odd at all.

**

The cupcake job is actually a lot more complicated than it sounds, although it’s short, which is nice for a change. Alec and Eliot are sitting on a bench outside the cooking school where most of the job took place, waiting, Alec thinks, for Parker, though neither of them will admit it.

Nate and Sophie have come and gone, as usual, like no one knows that whatever it is they’re doing is happening, even if they don’t know what that thing exactly is. Alec isn’t sure that Nate and Sophie are even sure of what it is.

Parker shows up, and again, Alec thinks they both knew she would, because she sits down between them in a space that’s pretty much exactly the right size for her, that he thinks they left open on purpose.

She’s holding three cupcakes in one hand with easy balance, and Alec perks up. There were a lot of cupcakes involved in this job, but he hasn’t gotten to eat a single one of them, and how is that fair?

Parker hands one to Eliot and one to Alec and keeps one for herself.

The first thing she does is lick a swipe of frosting off the top of her cupcake with the tip of her tongue, and then sit back, musing. “Amaretto,” she declares. Then, without any kind of hesitation, she leans over and does the same thing to Alec’s cupcake, like she’s completely unaware that you don’t lick another person’s food.

Maybe she is.

“Oooh, you got the lavender ice,” she says, turning to grin at him, looking pleased on his behalf.

Eliot actually holds his cupcake out for her, and she draws a line in the frosting with her tongue -- Alec has to look away -- and this time it takes her a few seconds before she says, “Probably the tequila lime, though the frosting for that is enough like the honey-cayenne that I wouldn’t want to bet, you know, a limb on it.”

She turns back to her own cupcake and starts peeling the paper off.

Alec and Eliot exchange a look, and it’s a speaking look, the kind that really means something, but even so, there’s so much in it, Alec isn’t sure how much of it they’re actually receiving or conveying.

Is she doing this on purpose?

Naw, man, she’s just Parker.

Maybe once or twice, but…

She does seem kind of fixated…

Is this how she takes care of people?

Who knows how her mind works, really.

Should we do something about it?

Like what?

They turn back to their cupcakes and start peeling off the paper.

Alec’s is good, definitely a hint of lavender with the fresh flavor of mint that makes it sound like it shouldn’t be tasty, but somehow still works. He’s considering that when Parker leans in and takes a bite of his cupcake -- more like a nibble -- and makes a considering sound.

“More lavender,” she says, and offers Alec her cupcake.

Alec isn’t sure he could have resisted even if he really wanted to; her amaretto cupcake does not just taste like amaretto, but like it actually might be alcoholic.

“Damn,” Alec says appreciatively, and Parker grins.

Perhaps predictably, Parker leans in to nibble on Eliot’s cupcake, smiling a little. “Huh, it was the honey-cayenne,” which seems to be a good thing.

She offers her cupcake to Eliot, who shoots a glance at Alec, but tilts his head down to take a bite of anyway. “It tastes like shots,” Eliot says approvingly, and grins a little at Parker.

Then Parker leans backward deliberately, and for a second Alec wants to pretend not to get it -- Eliot, he sees, actually doesn’t get it for a second -- and the fact that they are even in this situation is just absurd.

There’s no way to explain to Parker that it’s not okay to lick other people’s food, because truthfully, neither of them care if she does it. They can’t explain it’s not okay to bite other people’s food without asking, same reasoning.

And they definitely can’t explain that it’s okay to taste test your friend-who-is-a-girl’s cupcake, and vice versa, but is not the same kind of okay to do with your friend-who-is-a-straight-guy.

Not that Alec is too hung up on being straight, he’s at least some kind of bent, but still, it’s not something guys really do. And Eliot, who is completely straight as far as Alec knows, may be even less likely than Alec to want to share cupcakes. Although maybe that’s unfair to Eliot. Alec has never known him to be a bigot.

Alec is still kind of thinking this when Eliot visibly gets what Parker is waiting for them to do, and then, as though it’s not a thing at all, holds his cupcake out to Alec. Alec leans across Parker’s legs and takes a bite, and he wouldn’t have guessed honey-cayenne would be a favorite of his, but he’s pretty sure it’s the best of all three of them.

“You got the winner,” Alec says, but still holds out his cupcake for Eliot to try, and Eliot takes a neat bite, not even getting crumbs in Parker’s lap, which he’s leaning over, and then leans back with a thoughtful look.

“I don’t know, the flowers kind of make it work.”

Parker is smiling smugly. “There are forty other kinds in there, you know,” she says.

Alec and Eliot exchange a look.

“Well, why the hell not?” Alec says -- and feels like there are whole layers of meaning behind the phrase -- and they all get up and make their way back inside the cooking school.

**

Hardison’s refrigerator is always a crap shoot. Half of is always full of the horrible orange soda he’s addicted to, and the rest is usually leftover containers. Though Hardison can actually cook. Eliot has eaten food Hardison has prepared several times. He’s actually pretty good at it.

And Eliot can cook. But he has to have something to work with, and he can’t do much with three day old lo mein, a box of baking soda, and thirty twenty ounce bottles of orange soda.

He ponders going to the grocery store. They’re planning a Halo 4 tournament -- something that is entirely Hardison’s fault, as Eliot had never touched a console gaming system in his life until two weeks ago, but which Eliot turns out to be sort of instinctively good at -- but Hardison is totally focused on his laptop at the moment, either working on something for their next job, or hacking his way into something he could go to jail for. It’s a toss up.

Hardison probably wouldn’t even notice he’d gone.

On a whim -- and it really is a whim, because Hardison’s fridge may be a crap shoot, but his freezer is always either completely empty or filled with things that only college students eat -- Eliot checks the freezer, and sees that there is ice cream.

He frowns a little. There is never ice cream.

The door to the loft opens and Parker comes inside, without a knock -- which they’ve come to expect -- but also without any kind of commentary. She glances over Hardison’s shoulder for a few seconds, and then loses interest and comes to stand next to Eliot.

“What’s Neapolitan?” she asks. And then, “Why does Hardison have ice cream?” Eliot feels a little vindicated that Parker is also aware that Hardison never has ice cream.

“It’s a kind of ice cream with three flavors in the box,” Eliot tells her. “And I don’t know.”

Parker frowns a little. “Three flavors like toffee chocolate caramel? Or the ones with the bunny feet?” she asks.

“No,” Eliot explains, and tips the box toward her so she can see the picture on the front. “Three regular flavors, chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, all in the same box, but separated into stripes.”

She cocks her head a little, looking vaguely intrigued. “So you just pick the flavor you want?” she asks.

“You can do that. Or mix the flavors up. Or mix just two flavors up.” He doesn’t look at Hardison. “It’s the kind of ice cream old people buy.”

Hardison, without looking away from what he’s doing, says, “It seemed oddly appropriate.”

The sad thing is, Eliot does not need this reasoning explained to him.

“I want to try it,” Parker says, and turns away from Eliot -- who removes the carton from the freezer and works on getting it open; it’s one of the old style box cartons, with a cardboard flap that holds it closed -- to rummage in Hardison’s drawers until she comes up with three spoons.

Eliot is a little surprised by this, but not too surprised. Parker defies explanation on her best days.

She nudges Hardison hard on her way to the couch, and Hardison grumbles, but gets up to join them, Parker firmly in the middle. She’s holding the ice cream in a hand covered with an oven mitt.

Eliot understands the why behind this, without being able to stop himself from being charmed.

“So, how is this done,” Parker asks, gazing at the ice cream as if it contains the mysteries of the universe. “Who gets to pick first, and if you get tired of your flavor can you switch out?”

“It’s a big box, Parker,” Hardison says. “We don’t have to pick, we can just share.”

“But how do you know which ice cream is your ice cream?” Parker wants to know. “Is it alphabetical? Does it have anything to do with skin tone?” She glances at Eliot and then down at her own arm, presumably to see which one of them is more white or pink.

“It’s all for everyone,” Eliot tries.

Parker’s brows scrunch together. “Then why is it separated into colors?”

“So you can have a bite of whatever flavor you want,” Hardison says patiently, then dips his spoon into the chocolate and drags it along to get some of the vanilla as well, and pops the bite into his mouth.

Parker jerks the box away from him abruptly, and then sort of cradles it in her oven-mitted hand. With the curved tip of her spoon, she somehow manages to create a perfectly straight line dividing the chocolate and vanilla so that they’re separate again.

“There has to be a reason they’re all separate,” she says.

Eliot, who happens to know that the reason has to do with the colors of the Italian flag, before America had produced its own bastardized version of it, decides not to try to confuse her with this information.

Instead he says, “They only look separate.”

Parker frowns at him.

“Really, they’re all together in the same box, because they all taste good, and you can eat it any way you want to. It just gives you the option of having some of one flavor or two flavors or all three. You can have them one at a time, or you can mix them together. They all taste good mixed together, Parker.”

Eliot catches Hardison looking at him thoughtfully from the other side of Parker, and ducks his head away, feeling like he might blush without being able to tell exactly why.

“Do they taste best mixed together?” Parker wants to know.

“Everybody has their own opinion about how it tastes best,” Hardison says. “Try it and see.”

Parker is now regarding the ice cream with a combination of puzzlement and suspicion, but dips her spoon into the strawberry ice cream and licks it clean.

By some unspoken covenant, Eliot and Hardison have decided to let Parker have her way with the ice cream before they attempt to have any themselves.

Parker takes a bite of just vanilla, and then a bite of just chocolate.

Then, looking so adorably serious that it constricts Eliot’s chest just a little in a way that he carefully ignores, she scoops some chocolate with some strawberry onto her spoon. She considers the bite for several seconds before putting it in her mouth.

Her eyes go a little wide with surprised pleasure.

Hardison, Eliot sees, is giving her a look of indulgent affection.

Then she has to try each combo of two, announcing, after she has, that they all taste good mixed with another flavor. Then she just looks at the box.

“Come on, Parker,” Hardison says gently. “You’ll like it, I promise.”

She gives Hardison a crazy sort of helpless trusting look that Eliot isn’t sure he’s ever seen on her face, but she runs her spoon through all three flavors and holds it up to look at it. She seems determined as she spoons the bite into her mouth.

She beams, though, and Eliot finds himself looking at Hardison again, and he’s pretty sure they both have the same kind of look on their faces: pleased and fond and amused.

But that’s before she refuses to share the rest of the box.

“Why would I?” she asks. “It’s obviously made to be how I like it.”

“Parker, it’s how everyone likes it,” Eliot says. “That’s why they put it all together. So everyone has some they like.”

“If you two eat out of it, the flavors will be all out of balance,” she tries to explain.

Hardison appears to consider this for a moment. “Then you should just tell us which flavors to eat so that it stays in balance,” he says. He’s not smiling, but the corners of his eyes are crinkled up like he is.

Parker looks at Eliot, a question.

Eliot nods his agreement, not laughing at Parker both because she’d punch him, and because something about this makes it feel wrong to laugh at Parker over. She’s always strange, but sometimes it’s like this, a haunting kind of strange that makes Eliot want to go back in time and hurt whomever hadn’t given her Neapolitan ice cream.

Parker, looking satisfied, leans back against the couch and tells them which flavors they’re allowed to have in each bite.

Every so often, she uses her spoon to make sure there are lines between the flavors, but eventually, especially as it softens and starts to melt into each other, she doesn’t try quite as hard.

**

A week or so after the ice cream incident, during which Alec and Eliot haven’t seen Parker at all, Hardison says, “Have you noticed…” and then isn’t sure how he wants to finish that sentence.

Eliot says, “Yes,” anyway, without looking away from the TV screen.

“It’s not that it’s not good,” Hardison says.

“I know,” Eliot says, eyes on the screen, and Hardison is pretty sure that Eliot does know, even if he doesn’t seem to want to talk about it.

Alec isn’t really that guy, though, the guy that isn’t willing to talk about it, and he thinks maybe they need to talk about it, if only so they can decide that it’s best not to do anything about things the way they are, which is what he’s pretty sure Eliot is going to argue in favor of.

“She doesn’t fit anywhere else,” Hardison says.

Eliot turns to give him a hard look. “She fits with the team,” he says, his tone a little more insistent than is strictly necessary.

“You know that’s not what I mean,” Hardison says.

Eliot looks back at the TV screen.

“Should we…” Alec begins, and Eliot says, “No!”

A few minutes pass in silence.

Alec eventually says, “But I…”

And then Eliot is kissing Alec, laying him out easily along the couch with his bulk, and Alec is kissing him back and thinking with some surprise at how not surprised he is. He tugs the elastic band out of Eliot’s hair and buries his hands in it, and Eliot has one hand on the back of Alec’s neck and the other cupping his jaw.

Eliot pulls back after a few long, heated minutes in which they’ve both hardened in their jeans and can both feel it.

“She is… fragile sometimes,” Eliot says seriously. “If it’s something you want, I’ll make myself scarce and wish you luck, and I’ll tell you I’ll beat you down if you make her more… fragile, but I don’t want any part of anything that might do that to her.”

“Man, I would never…” Alec says, but Eliot smiles a little tightly.

“But that’s the thing, with Parker,” he says, his voice rough. “There’s no way to know, there’s no aspect ratio to compare her with, she’s too much herself for us to know what we might do without meaning to.”

Alec can’t even argue that, though he really wishes he could find a way to that might make sense. He drags Eliot back down by the hair again, and Eliot doesn’t seem to have any compunctions about continuing to bite at one another’s mouths and grind against each other, in spite of the fact that they both know that it’s not quite what they want, or not all of what they want.

So Parker’s appearance is awkwardly timed, but somehow weirdly predictable. She leans over the back of the couch to look at them, and says, “Are we doing this now, or are just you doing this?”

She doesn’t seem to care what the answer is, except that she’s being very still, her eyes curious where they touch on Eliot’s tousled hair and Alec’s swollen lips.

“Do you want to do this, Parker?” Eliot asks, hoarsely, and Alec can hear something in his voice that means that he’ll say yes, in spite of his misgivings.

“Can I be in the middle?” she asks seriously. “Not always, we can take turns, but I like being in the middle.”

Alec thinks of all the ways that she’s always in the middle, and is pretty sure he gets what she’s saying, and it has nothing to do with being in the actual middle. She just wants to be in as much as they are. She wants her fair share.

“You can be anywhere you want,” Alec says, his own voice at least as rough as Eliot’s. “Any time you want to be. Or all the time.”

She grins a little. “I don’t think the couch is big enough for me to be in the middle.”

“I have a bed,” Alec says dumbly, but she looks completely happy with that answer, and Eliot is already levering himself off of Alec, and then offering him a hand up, which Alec unexpectedly discovers he needs, due to the fact that he’s wedged awkwardly into his jeans, and either Eliot had kissed him weak-kneed, or the idea of what they’re about to do in general is responsible. Parker puts a steadying hand on his shoulder, her lips a little quirked, like she finds him particularly adorable at the moment.

He’s pretty sure he looks at her that way a lot, so he doesn’t begrudge it.

He makes it around the end of the couch and almost runs directly into Eliot, who is fixated on Parker, who has stopped to undress right where she is. Alec stops to watch to, because why wouldn’t you, and discovers that Eliot’s still got ahold of his hand when Parker’s blouse drops to the floor and Eliot nearly breaks all his fingers.

Alec doesn’t have the presence of mind to really object, though, while presented with Parker’s perfect, bare upper body, all that smooth skin with what Alec knows is an amazing amount of muscle concealed beneath it, and her small, firm breasts, the nipples pink and already pebbled hard, and the sweet curve of her hips and the dip of her belly button.

She glances up at them, and smiles for a few seconds, and then scowls. “Everybody should be shirtless,” she demands, and Alec nearly catches an elbow in the face as Eliot jerks his t-shirt up over his head. Alex curses today being the day he’d chosen a button-down shirt, and fumbles at the top, and then fumbles a little more when Eliot catches him by the hips and turns Alec to face him, working on Alec’s buttons from the bottom up. They meet in the middle and Alec shrugs out of his shirt, with an absent, “Thanks, man,” that seems to amuse Eliot.

“You should kiss again,” Parker says, leaning over the back of the couch a little in a way that she has no idea is alluring, but it is, everything about it is, especially the curve of her lips and the brightness of her eyes, which have almost nothing overtly sexual to them, Alec has seen her look this way a hundred times, and hopes to see it a hundred more, because it’s just Parker being happy, uncomplicatedly happy, and he hears Eliot’s breath rush out of him, as though hit by something unexpectedly.

He’d like to point out that Alec had tried to tell Eliot, but Alec feels a little breathless about it, too, so he’ll be the bigger man and let it go. He will also turn and lean down -- and find that he likes doing it, Eliot is so badass that it’s easy to forget Alec has four inches on him -- and catch Eliot’s lips with his. They’re both ultra aware of their audience, and for a few seconds the kiss is careful, almost oddly neutral, and then Alec gets a good whiff of Eliot’s hair, which always smells amazing, and Eliot’s hands land on Alec’s hips, and they’re kissing again, almost exactly like before, as in, they don’t seem to be able to do it without grinding up against each other, and without at least one of Alec’s hands in Eliot’s hair.

Parker manages to slip in between them where there hadn’t been any space, but the adjustment happens easily, one of Eliot’s hands landing on her hip, one of Alec’s testing out the feel of her hair, finer than Eliot’s, not as sleek, Eliot clearly has the best hair, but Parker’s hair still smells great, she smells great all over, and she shivers in between them in a way that appears to make both of them press her between them more tightly.

“My turn,” she half-asks, half-orders, and Eliot uses the hand on her hip to turn her toward Alec, who she was mostly facing anyway, but Alec still has the urge to thank him. He glances at Eliot, who is smirking like he knows, and contemplates glaring, but bends down, dipping low because Parker is a tiny little girl, and he feels her rise up to her toes to meet him, and she tastes like tart sugar, like she’s been eating jolly ranchers (or gummy bears), and he has no idea how she likes to be kissed, so just lets his body lead, sliding his tongue along her lower lip until she makes a sweet sound and opens her mouth, her tongue immediately darting out to explore Alec’s mouth. Alec encourages this exploration, nipping a little at her tongue and feeling her teeth catch at his lips, which she bites at gently until she seems sure that he likes it, and then not quite so gently, though she sucks gently at the bites afterward.

She turns in his arms, not entirely unexpectedly -- she is like this, she is quicksilver, she is Parker -- and Alec isn’t the only one interested in putting his hands in Eliot’s hair. She pushes both hands into it and tips her head, and Alec watches from above her shoulder as Eliot slides his tongue into her mouth, his dark lashes fluttering against his cheeks. Alec slides his hands down the skin of her back, and she arches her back encouragingly (he knows it’s encouragingly, he can just tell), and he kisses the side of her neck and slips a hand up between the two of them to cup her breast, a little fascinated by the fact that he can feel her nipple against his palm and Eliot’s smaller, but just as firm, nipple against the backs of his fingers.

They both moan, and Alec has whatever the erotic equivalent is of a seizure, all his pleasure centers lit up at once at the way they sound and feel and smell.

“Bedroom,” he tells them, noting that Parker’s hair smells like lavender today -- she changes shampoo frequently, she says, because smelling the same way all the time is boring, although Alec would argue that Eliot’s hair smells good all the time and he never changes shampoo -- and Parker twists around to kiss Alec again, this time on his collarbone, maybe just because she can. “Remember,” Alec says, “I’m less coordinated than you two. If I try to do this standing up, we may have to call the game for injuries.”

Eliot chuckles, and Parker gives him an indulgent look. “Okay, but take off your pants,” she says, and then steps away a little to unhook the skirt she’s wearing, just letting it slide onto the floor. Confronted by her ‘girlie’ underwear (Alec knows this is her ‘girlie’ underwear because she had complained that Sophie had made her replace all her underwear with girlie underwear), Alec has to take a second, because maybe he’s been thinking about this for a while now, but he’s never put any real thought into imagining this moment, and the pale rose panties with the line of lace at the hip deserve a moment.

Eliot seems to think so, too, because he actually puts his hand on her hip and runs his thumb along that line of lace, and that actually is almost more sexiness than Alec can handle at a time. Eliot’s hand looks huge around her hip, and then there’s just something about seeing Eliot touching Parker, which is how Alec had known all along that this whole thing would be okay. He sometimes doesn’t even like it when Sophie touches Parker (like there’s always some level of condescension there), but it’s always been okay with Eliot.

“Bedroom,” Eliot reminds Alec, and Alec sees that he’s already unbuttoned his jeans and is skinning them down one handed, nothing underneath but bare skin (color Alec not surprised), and it’s probably a good thing that Parker is blocking Alec’s view of everything but Eliot’s bare hip and thigh or he isn’t sure he’d be able to zip down his own jeans and shuffle them off, though he’s kind of glad he was barefoot, because Eliot’s wearing nothing but socks, and that’s always on the giggly side of sexy. Alec is wearing a pair of Samurai Champloo boxers, though, so he probably doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Hell, it’s not like he’d known today was going to be the day; he would have definitely worn his grown up underwear.

But Parker and Eliot are both giving him that indulgent smile now, which makes him kind of glad he hadn’t known. It’s not like they don’t know him. Parker puts her hand on his breastbone and runs just her fingertips down the length of his chest and belly, and he shivers fiercely.

She turns to look at Eliot, her gaze hooking for a moment on what Alec is sure is Eliot’s cock, though Alec still can’t see, and then she giggles. “You’re still wearing socks.”

Eliot grumbles something unintelligible, but stands on one foot to take off one sock and then the other. The rule must be whomever is naked first gets to set the terms, because when Parker says, “Underwear,” Eliot holds up a hand.

“Let me,” he says, and Parker rolls her eyes a little, but turns to face Eliot.

Eliot doesn’t make a big production of it, but Alec still understands why he wants to do it. Next time, Alec will make sure he gets to do it. This time, Eliot just hooks his thumbs into the waistband of Parkers panties and draws them slowly down her legs, going to one knee to take them down far enough for her to step out of. The whole thing is a little dizzying for Alec, because it means he finally gets a look at Eliot’s cock at the same time that he’s trying to look Parker’s perky little ass.

“Next time we take Alec to the bedroom as is, put him on the bed, and undress him there,” Eliot says, smiling, as he is trying to reach around Parker to slide his thumbs under the waistband of Alec’s boxers, and Alec unhelpfully hadn’t noticed while trying to watch them both being naked at once.

“See how helpful you are when you’re the only one left wearing clothes,” Alec mutters, but steps forward so Eliot can get them down, and then carefully steps out, because Eliot holds them for him, like a gentleman.

“Nice,” Eliot says, his gaze dipped down below Alec’s belly button, and Alec feels his cheeks heat and is unbearably pleased.

Parker takes both of their hands and leads them into the bedroom, and they let her pull them along because sometimes that’s what Parker needs to do. She stations them all beside the bed, and leans up to kiss Alec again, this time with most of her skin touching his, so that Alec kisses her fast and breathlessly, the head of his cock sliding along the curve of her hip, while he can feel Eliot’s hand brushing against his chest as he cups her breasts. Alec has to pull back to look down at that, it’s too blindingly hot not to see, and Parker’s mouth is red with kisses and a little open. She arches in Eliot’s hands with breathy sounds that are almost pants, and then lets out a little hiss of pleasure when Eliot rolls her nipples in his fingers.

Parker turns toward him, and Alec doesn’t blame her, and kisses him, a hand automatically twining in his hair (proving Alec’s theory), and Eliot makes a short, harsh sound that might be a groan. Alec steps in close enough to touch, because he could watch all night (and maybe he will next time), but he definitely would rather participate. He runs his hands down Parker’s hips and then cups her ass in both hands, and she’s got a great ass, muscular and soft at once. She presses back into his hands, and then one of her hands finds his cock, and Alec lets out surprised moan, and she pulls him even closer by his cock, pressing it along the small of her back and then reaching behind him to grab his ass, and pull him in tight.

Alec drops a kiss on her shoulder, his hips automatically and helplessly pressing his cock against the heat of her naked skin, one hand on her hip to hold himself up against her, the other unexpectedly on Eliot’s hip, which means she had drawn them both in, as tight as they could get to her.

Alec’s chest aches for a second, and he puts both arms around her and Eliot, and feels Eliot doing the same. One of Parker’s arms sneaks around Alec’s waist, and Alec and Eliot both step back a little when she turns to face the bed.

“Alec has the nicest mouth,” Parker says, “but Eliot has the nicest tongue.” She looks at Alec. “You should lay down.”

Alec glances at Eliot, who shrugs infinitesimally, and the clambers up onto the bed and turns around to lay on his back. Parker climbs up immediately behind him, turns to straddle him with her back to him, and reaches down for his cock.

“Hey! Whoa!” Alec says. “Condoms!”

“Clean,” Parker says, and looks back over her shoulder at him, both brows arched, which is unfair because she still has his cock in her hand, and his cock is happy to be there.

“Yeah, I’m clean, but…” he says, but Parker just looks at Eliot.

“I’m clean,” Eliot says. “That’s not the only issue, Parker.”

“IUD,” she says. And adds, brightly, “I don’t even get a period anymore, which is great. No one wants to have to stop in the bathroom when they’re stealing…”

Eliot has his hand over her mouth, but he’s smiling a little. “Okay, so are we all okay with no condoms?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Alec says, because the worst thing that could happen would be an unexpected pregnancy, and they are both stand up guys.

“I just want to start soon,” Parker says. “Alec’s very hard, and I’m very ready.” Her tone is plaintive.

Alec makes a wounded sort of sound that he’ll be embarrassed about at some later date.

“So what are you planning for me?” Eliot asks, but he’s already crawling up onto the bed, between Alec calves, facing her. He leans in and catches one of her nipples between his teeth, and she whines a little, her hand tightening on Alec’s cock. Alec bites back a whine of his own, and then takes her hips into his hands and tugs downward.

She’s slick already, and her body shudders and clenches around his cock when she slides onto him. She lets out an adorably chirpy sounding moan and her back arches beautifully as she takes him.

“You got room, man?” Alec asks, breathing hard already, because Parker is squirming on his cock, straining up against his hands where he’s trying to hold her down.

“Not if she’s really riding you,” Eliot says thoughtfully. “Can you get your knees up under you and just hold her still for me?”

“Alec!” Parker whines, and clenches around him agonizingly.

“Girl, just settle down for one minute while we figure out how to keep you in orgasms,” Alec says.

Eliot chuckles while Alec bends his knees and shifts to get them under him; Eliot helps take her weight, and then Alec is kneeling behind her, cock still buried in her cunt. He positions her firmly, and murmurs, “You be still.”

She whines out what probably would have been an objection, and then Eliot shifts forward and it shivers up an octave and becomes an obvious sound of pleasure. “Eliot!” she purrs, apparently delighted, and Alec grins.

He gives Eliot a few seconds, and then rocks up into her, short little thrusts, because he’s trying to keep her still for Eliot, but on the rough side, because she’s so wet he can feel her dripping down his cock, and she can clearly take it.

“Oh!” she says, and crumbles almost at once into an orgasm, and Alec and Eliot both have their hands on her hips, keeping her still while Alec fucks her through it and Eliot works her over with his mouth. She shudders around Alec’s cock, and Alec is maybe a little crazy with how tight and hot she feels coming around his shaft, and then Eliot’s tongue slips along the base of his cock.

“Oh, fuck!” Alec says, shocked, and thrusts up into Parker hard at the unexpected hotness of that.

“I’ve got her, go on,” Eliot says, and Alec sees that Eliot does have a firm grip on her hips, and so he slides his hands up to her breasts -- she coos out something that might or might not have been language -- and lets himself go a little.

“Alec!” Parker says, throaty this time, which is enough to make him sweat. “Can you… just angle a little… yes, there, yes!” And nothing will keep him from nailing that angle as she writhes around him, coming again, whining.

She trembles in his arms for a few seconds after, and then whispers, “I usually last longer. It’s been a long time, and…”

Alec laughs and kisses the side of her neck. “Girl, that’s why God gave you multiple orgasms. What’s going to be a damned tragedy is when I can’t stop fucking you and end up coming in about forty-five seconds.”

“Yeah?” she asks hopefully, and wiggles on his cock, with deliberate evil intent.

“Yeah,” Alec breathes, his hips snapping, not really kidding at all about the whole coming in under a minute thing.

“Come on,” Eliot says. “I’m going to fuck one of you in the very near future, so don’t hold off on my account.”

Alec can tell he’s smiling as he says it, and Parker shifts her weight and rocks her hips back as Alec is thrusting into her, and he has the presence of mind to let go of her breasts so as not to bruise her, catching her hips instead and dragging them back, holding her on him as he thrusts maybe a dozen more times, lines of fire crawling up his spine, and then Eliot’s tongue brushes against the base of his shaft again and he is just gone, his hips stutter twice, hard, and he cries out hoarsely as he comes.

Parker eases off of him and then turns around, on her hands and knees above him, and Alec feels Eliot catch his calves and lift them out flat, all thoughtful like. “Thanks,” she whispers, and dips down to kiss him fiercely, and Alec also feels it when her body jerks and Eliot growls out a low sound of appreciation. Parker whines into his mouth, and Alec’s hands are drawn to her breasts like magnets. He twists gently at her nipples and she moans, sliding slightly down his body so her mouth is pressed up against his neck, and then rocks up a little again as Eliot thrusts into her.

“Good?” Eliot wants to know, voice low and rough but sincere.

“Harder,” Parker demands, and Alec pinches her nipples a little harder at the same time that Eliot shoves into her cunt harder and she cries out, a high, helpless sound, and Alec can feel her shaking, her whole body tight with pleasure.

Eliot says, “Damn, oh damn,” and falls forward over her back, one hand braced next to Alec’s shoulder, and then is just fucking her hard and fast. She lets out a little wail, pushing back against him, and Alec twists her nipples just a little roughly, and she shivers against him, breathless and moaning high in her throat until Eliot rocks into her hard one more time, and then groans out his own orgasm, his brow dropped down to Parker’s shoulder, his hair so tousled that Alec has to remind himself that sex is not an excuse to groom Eliot, no matter how satisfying that might seem.

Then Parker goes boneless on top of Alec, and she’s heavier than she looks.

“Eliot, I swear to God, if you fall on top of us, when I get out of traction, I’ll burn all your flannel shirts,” Alec says.

Parker laughs and nuzzles her smile up against Alec’s neck, but Eliot rolls obediently rolls off to one side, still panting, though he’s smiling at the ceiling.

“Eliot’s the baby spoon,” Parker announces, and rolls off of Alec to shove Eliot on his side. She immediately spoons in behind him, and then looks over expectantly at Alec. “You’re the big spoon,” she says impatiently, and Alec rolls over to spoon her, and, by extension, Eliot.

He tries very hard not to laugh. “How you doing over there, baby spoon?”

“We’re taking turns being the baby spoon,” Eliot says grimly, but Alec can tell he’s having a hard time being grumpy. Alec himself would be the baby spoon until the end of time if it meant getting to touch one or both of them.

“Next Alec should suck Eliot,” Parker says drowsily. “He has the nicest mouth.”

“I don’t put out to people who are surly baby spoons, you might want to keep in mind,” Alec says, though he totally will, and by the way he snorts, Eliot knows it.