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Odd One Out

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Alec and Parker happened first. Alec didn't think of it that way at the time, as the first step towards something else; he thought of it as a happy ending, the culmination of years of gentle back-and-forth between the two of them. Parker had needed time, and Alec had been more than happy to give it to her, but that meant that when they finally moved from friendship to kissing and touching and what Parker called "dating" (and what Alec called "jumping off of buildings that are way too tall"), it felt like the grand conclusion of a drawn-out romance. Not that Alec had ever read the novels with the Fabio covers that his Nana always kept on her nightstand, but if he had, he'd say it felt like the last pages of one of those stories, guy and girl finally get together, maybe some surprisingly weird sex stuff, the end.

He was all set to live happily ever after with Parker, doing cons, hacking, grifting, stealing, taking down bad guys, hanging from terrifying heights just so that he could be close to the big bright grin she got when she defied gravity. Normal couple stuff.

But then, he wasn't the only one Parker hung off of buildings with, and she wasn't the only one grifting next to him, standing on his left side, playing his FBI partner or his bag man or his foreign investor. Even though Eliot's Italian accent was even worse than Parker's. Like Super Mario but growlier.

*

And Alec doesn't think he should beat himself up too much for not noticing it right away, the him-and-Eliot thing. Eliot's always been – well, it'd probably earn him a narrowed glare and a threat of dismemberment if he said handsy in front of Eliot, but that's what it is. Eliot's always been handsy, no two ways about it. In the early years it was a hard shove when Eliot was annoyed with him, or a grumpy punch to the arm when Eliot was happy with him, or sometimes a rough elbow slung around his neck, only for a few seconds and only in moments of triumph.

Alec remembers the first time Eliot did that, though he doesn't remember what job they'd just completed. He remembers the heat of Eliot beside him, remembers how Eliot rose up on tiptoes to equalize their heights, how he sort of shook Alec with his arm, the kinetic energy shifting from Eliot's body into his. He remembers ducking his head to make it easier for Eliot to reach; he remembers grinning like a goddamn fool, unable to help himself, even after Eliot stepped away a few seconds later.

But more recently, and especially since Nate and Sophie left, Alec's been feeling the echoes of Eliot's hands all over his body, all the time: Eliot's fingers pressed against the back of his neck, Eliot's tight grip on his wrist, Eliot's hands poking his ribs and ruffling against his hair. Eliot's strong arms hugging him tight, even on days when he hasn't just come back from the dead. When Alec's on the computer, Eliot will stand behind him with a hand on his shoulder. When they're out grifting together, Eliot will put a hand on his bicep and lean up to whisper in his ear. When Alec's up in Eliot's business in the pub kitchen, Eliot will put hands in the small of his back or between his shoulderblades and push him – surprisingly gently – out of his way.

When Alec looks back on it later, it makes perfect sense: Eliot's always led with his body, always been the physical to Alec's cerebral, the strong right arm to Alec's quick mind and Parker's bird's-eye view. Alec doesn't even know if he was aware he was doing it, if he knew how much and how often he squeezed Alec's wrist in warning or threw an arm over Alec's shoulders in camaraderie. It's hard to imagine Eliot ever being unconscious of what his body's doing or where his hands are, but that's what it feels like. It feels like, when he's around Alec, Eliot no longer keeps himself under his usual careful, wary control.

*

Eliot doesn't touch Parker the same way, of course – maybe in Eliot's mind, there's something innocent and bro-ish about the way he touches Alec, something that wouldn't be innocent with Parker. Or maybe he knows what Alec knows, that you have to start by being no more than carefully adjacent to Parker until she moves towards you in her own time. When Parker hugs Eliot, or perches on the arm of his chair, or braces her hands against his shoulders and jumps up into a piggyback ride, there's a particular smile that Eliot always gets, like he's being given something he doesn't deserve. He hugs her back, but not for too long, and he lets her perch next to him, but never leans into it. When she jumps on his back he puts his hands under her knees – never her thighs – and runs where she tells him to run, grumbling that he ain't a horse and obviously loving every damn minute of it.

Eliot's been teaching Parker to fight for years now, but Alec's never seen him touch her more than he needs to, a gentle nudge to the shoulder to adjust her stance, a tap to the elbow to remind her to bring her guard up.

Alec's surprised how much it makes him hurt, in those moments, to see Eliot and Parker together – not out of jealousy, which is its own kind of surprise, but out of compassion for Eliot. Whenever Parker touches him, or stops touching him, Eliot's expression is the same: the smallest ghost of a grateful smile that tells way too much about how little trust Eliot's used to getting by on.

*

"We should talk about Eliot," Alec says, at the same time Parker says, "We should have sex in a hammock."

"Okay, you first," Alec says, because as long as the hammock isn't strung from the top of the Empire State Building, it's an intriguing idea. Alec is sweaty and fucked-out, his thighs are sore, and he's not sure he could even get into a hammock right now, but he can imagine a future in which hammock sex would be tempting. Parker's weird sex ideas have a proven track record at this point.

Parker snuggles against him, her hand trailing over his abs in that way that would make him shiver if his entire energy reserve wasn't entirely depleted. Captain, we just don't have the power. "That was my whole idea. Sex in a hammock. We'd have to buy a hammock."

"You're the mastermind," Alec says, kissing the top of her head.

"Not my most complicated plan," Parker admits. "Why do we have to talk about Eliot? Is something wrong? Is he sad? Is he broken?"

Alec blinks, because he hasn't conceptualized it quite like that before. Is he sad. "I – maybe? I don't think he's broken, but . . . "

"He's sad?" Parker looks up at him. "How do you know?"

He thinks about how Eliot touches him, how Eliot lets Parker touch him. He knows he would feel lonely, if he were the one looking in from outside. "He's – do you think he feels left out?" Alec does his best to approach it delicately.

"Because he's not having sex with us?" Parker doesn't really do delicate.

Alec sighs. "Yeah. I guess. Because we're together and that makes him the odd one out. Before that he was hanging out with you and me and Nate and Sophie. Dunno if that was worse or better."

Parker sits up suddenly, then bounces out of bed; she's always energized after sex, and can only do cuddles for short periods of time. She's naked and her thighs are still shining wet, her hair tangled and matted at the back, her breasts little teardrop shapes as she stretches slowly. There's a bruise on her right hip from God knows what, fucking or falling or contorting her body into the shape of an air vent, and tiny rough climber's scars along her hands and forearms. Alec loves her like he's never loved anyone else in his whole life.

"I'll have sex with Eliot if it'll make him feel better," Parker says, before jumping up lightly to grab the bar mounted above the bathroom door. She does a few easy chin-ups while Alec watches, rolling on his side to get the full view of her arms as they flex, her knees as they bend.

"Uh, I'm not sure that's really why he's sad."

She pauses mid-chin-up, holding herself easily above the bar without the slightest tremble to indicate the kind of control and strength that takes. Alec's girl is badass. "So, you mean, you should have sex with Eliot?"

"No, woman, no, I meant – uh. I was just thinking we should include him more? Invite him over? I don't think it's the sex, I think it's more than that."

Parker's thighs glisten in the light as she pulls herself up and then lowers herself down again, up and down, up and down. Alec can smell her, sweat and musk and the smell of her come, and if he didn't feel like overcooked ramen at the moment he'd get up and see if he could fuck her while she did chin-ups.

"What, like – romance?" Parker asks. It does seem kind of silly out loud, but that's pretty much what Alec meant. The closeness and the movie nights and the touching and . . . yeah. Romance.

"You said it, not me."

"It's what you meant." Parker swivels and twists in mid-air until she's hanging from the bar by her knees, looking at Alec upside-down. She does a few slow sit-ups, pulling herself up until her head touches her knees. Alec wishes his asshole high school friends could see the amazingly sexy acrobat thief Alec's ended up with, except he'd also beat them senseless if they ever looked at her the way they'd looked at Lara Croft posters. Or he'd send Eliot to beat them senseless, whatever.

"You want us to date Eliot," Parker says, on an exhalation of breath.

"No," Alec says carefully. "No, it's not the same as dating, it's just more friendship stuff."

"You want to take him out for dinner and watch movies together and play games and give him hugs," Parker says, which is a painfully accurate picture of what Alec had in mind.

"Right, yeah," he grumbles, pulling the sheets up to his neck and peering up at her while she flexes.

"That's dating. You want us to date Eliot."

"I – it's not – " Alec sighs. He thinks about it for a long moment, watching Parker casually defying gravity. How the two of them could be the three of them, how Eliot could want to be more than just their partner. It would make them feel balanced, maybe, whole.

"Yeah," he says, dry-mouthed. "I want us to date Eliot." It's not what he meant to say when he brought it up, but it's true enough, now that Parker's dug down to it. Sometimes he wonders if she learned a little too much from Nate. And Sophie, for that matter. "Is that – I mean, I know it's not. Normal. We don't have to, I just thought."

Parker doesn't break rhythm as he stutters, but she does offer him a reassuring upside-down smile on the next downward arc. "I thought your Nana said that normal's whatever works for you."

Alec laughs in spite of himself. "Yeah."

Parker shifts again, so fast that Alec can't even see how she does it, and throws herself into an elegant somersaulting dismount. Her bare heels thud solidly onto the wood floor.

"Do you want to have sex with Eliot?" Her face is that neutral Parker-face, the one that still scares him a little because he never knows what response she's hoping for. He's getting better at this, though, so when he opens his mouth he answers honestly.

"Yes." It should be a terrifying thing to admit, but one of the great benefits of dating Parker is that she doesn't really have a base of comparison for what's weird, or else she doesn't care. She takes everything in stride, and at face-value, and it means that Alec isn't afraid to admit to his girlfriend that he wants to have sex with a dude.

She nods. "Me too," she says, and Alec lets out the breath he'd been holding. She grins at him. "You first, though. You're better at people things. And romantic things. You talk to him. Or have sex with him, or whatever." Then she turns to walk toward the shower.

"What? How is that my job? Parker!"

She laughs as she closes the shower door behind her.

"I know you did not just pawn that job off on me," he grumbles, mostly to himself. In the shower, Parker's still laughing.

As he lies in bed, still cooling off, he sits with the idea, and it starts to become more real. Touching Eliot back – or watching Eliot touch Parker back – is no longer just a stray fantasy. He thinks about it, for the first time, as something possible in the world, and as he does, his stomach does a few flips that could probably rival Parker's acrobatics.

They'll just start with hanging out more, he thinks, and maybe more hugs, or more touching, easing Eliot into the idea. He dozes off reassuring himself that it'll probably be weeks before he has to actually decide whether or not to have sex with Eliot.

*

He has sex with Eliot two days later.

It starts innocently enough.

"Hey man, Eliot! Hey man, you wanna . . . hang out?" It's possible that Alec has never sounded less casual than he does right now, so of course Eliot picks up on it. He gives Alec the suspicious side-eye, which on Eliot is really a sight to behold.

"Sure?" he says, as if he's concerned that Alec's trying to lure him into a trap.

"It's not a trap or anything," Alec says. Why Parker was so sure that he was good at people is beyond him. They're already sitting together in the pub, waiting around for Parker to figure out their next move on the job, so it's possible that part of Eliot's hesitance comes from the fact that they're already hanging out.

"Good to know," Eliot says, and now he's laughing at him. Okay, not the most suave Alec's ever been. Time to deflect.

"I got a new beer I want you to try," he says. Eliot rolls his eyes.

"Is it going to destroy my palate like last time?"

"Naw, man, I been working on it." He gets up and has Amy pull him two pints. When he sits back down, he spins his chair around so that he can rest his arms on the back, rest his head on his arms. It's a defensive move, and from the way Eliot glances at him he probably knows that, but with any luck he probably just thinks Alec's nervous about the beer.

"I'm only doing this because of that time you took a bullet for me," Eliot says.

Alec raises his eyebrows. "I never took a bullet for you."

"Gonna have to, then," Eliot grins, and takes a sip. He holds it in his mouth for a moment, considering.

"Hey, you didn't spit it out immediately! That's progress, right there!" Alec crows.

Eliot swallows laboriously. "Just cuz a man swallows don't mean anything. Could be I'm being polite." He winks, or at least does that Eliot thing where he twitches half his face to communicate a wink. Eliot is bad at winking. Alec finds it improbably adorable, this one physical feat that Eliot can't accomplish.

"I like a guy who swallows," he says, because Eliot started it and who in the hell is he to leave that gauntlet just lying there?

Eliot laughs, looks down at his beer. "Parker know that?" he asks, and takes another sip, though whether it's because he likes the beer or because he wants to defuse this awkward conversation Alec has no idea.

This is where, under normal circumstances, Alec would deflect, take their banter to some less homoerotic place, and let Eliot touch his arm or his shoulder in the way that bros do.

"She does, actually," Alec says, dead serious, and letting those words out of his mouth makes him feel dizzy, tight in the chest, sick to his stomach, but at least he did it. It's not his worst coming out experience ever, anyway. It ranks well above coming out to his Nana, if well below the first time he sauntered into a gay club, age eighteen, wearing mostly mesh.

Eliot just grunts in reply, staring at his beer. "This is still pretty bad beer," he mutters, after a minute. "But it's getting better."

"Maybe eventually I'll make something worthy of your precious chili," Alec says softly, allowing him to change the subject. His heart sinks a little, but he smiles at Eliot anyway. Could be his Romancing the Eliot project is doomed before it ever begins.

"Keep telling yourself that," Eliot chuckles, but he takes another sip.

When they finish Alec tells him to come upstairs, if only because he'd still like to make it clear that Eliot's welcome for hangouts. To his surprise, Eliot doesn't make some excuse and bolt, or – what Alec actually thought would happen – make for the first hot chick at the bar. Instead he follows Alec up the stairs, a little too close behind him, breathing down his neck which shouldn't even be possible given the stairs and their height difference, and then when they get in the door Eliot pushes him against the wall and holds him still.

"How would Parker feel about you hitting on me awkwardly?" he asks, his face right up against Alec's face. His eyes are blue, Alec always forgets how blue his eyes are. He smells like the beer. It's a Belgian-style triple, and it's very good. In Alec's opinion.

"She told me to do it." Alec considers. "The hitting on you part, I mean, not the awkward part. That was all me."

"Huh," Eliot says. He looks a little surprised. "And you always do everything Parker tells you to do?"

"Don't you?" Alec shoots back. He doesn't know whether he should be getting angry or turned on; Eliot's proximity to him is making his nerves jangle and clatter in confusion. His breathing is getting faster.

"I do," Eliot admits, and lets go of Alec's shoulders. He takes half a step back, smiles, and drops to his knees.

"Uh," Alec says, as Eliot shakes his hair out of his face, undoes Alec's pants, and wraps his hand around Alec's dick, all in the space of about five seconds.

"Don't actually come in my mouth," Eliot cautions, before bending his head and sucking Alec's dick. Alec only has half a second to feel cheated – that's not at all what Eliot was suggesting with all that flirty talk about swallowing – before he's overwhelmed by the sheer reality of the situation, Eliot's head bent, Eliot's lips wrapped around his cock. Alec wasn't hard when Eliot undid his pants, but he's sure getting there now, with the wet heat of Eliot's mouth all around him and the sensation of his rough, callused hand gripping the base while he mouths the head.

"Jesus," Alec says, and rests his hands tentatively on Eliot's shoulders, squeezing lightly. Eliot makes a little happy humming noise that Alec can feel vibrating up his cock, and it's enough to ratchet him up from half-hard to full-on desperation.

Eliot, it turns out, sucks cock like he does everything else, like it's a competition he aims to win, and he's being graded on technique and time to completion. Fast and efficient, with no motion wasted. His tongue rubs hard just under the head, and his hand pumps in a quick rhythm, and his red lips form a tight hot ring, pulling up and down, up and down, until Alec has to hold himself back to keep from fucking Eliot's mouth.

Maybe Eliot notices Alec shifting and wanting to thrust, because the next thing he knows Eliot's using his free hand to pin Alec to the wall, holding his hip hard enough that Alec's sure there'll be bruises tomorrow. He gulps in air, trying to keep up with everything Eliot's doing to him, and stays where he's put. Eliot's saliva starts dripping down Alec's cock, but Eliot doesn't even hesitate, just uses it for lubrication on his hand and starts bobbing his head faster, clearly not caring about the obscene wet sucking noises he's started making.

"Eliot, Eliot, oh, fuck," Alec groans. Eliot's hand tightens momentarily, and his eyes flick up to meet Alec's gaze, so Alec says it again, "Eliot," long and drawn-out.

Eliot's eyes fall closed, like it does it for him to hear Alec say his name while he sucks Alec's cock, and if that's the case then this could be the beginning of a beautiful symbiotic relationship. Even if it's not quite the dating scenario that he had in mind.

It's not long before he feels his body start to tense, his balls drawing up, the old familiar rush of feeling roaring over his skin. "Gonna come," he says, squeezing Eliot's shoulders a little harder. Eliot backs right off and finishes him with his hand, pumping fast and hard, watching as Alec's come dribbles down his fist.

"Nice," he says, and Alec can't even tell if he's being sarcastic.

"Yeah," he breathes, mostly because he can't think of a lot of other words at the moment. A blowjob from Eliot, it turns out, is not unlike a roller-coaster ride, and Alec feels upside down and shaken and exhilarated all at once.

"Wanna fuck you," Eliot says, coming gracefully to his feet again and wiping his hand on his jeans. Then he just waits, unmoving and unanxious, for Alec to respond to that assertion.

"There's lube and stuff in the bedroom," he says eventually.

Eliot nods. "Cool." He strips off his clothes casually as he goes, for all the world as if he lives here and they've fucked a hundred times before. Alec holds up his pants and hobbles after him.

It seems like no time at all before he's naked, with Eliot naked on top of him, pinning him easily and fucking him open with long, slow, steady thrusts. Alec spreads his legs and pushes back, urging Eliot deeper, wanting more of the feeling of being filled up and taken. Eliot, unsurprisingly, has stamina: he takes his time, fucking in an easy rhythm until Alec is groaning, scrabbling at the sheets, riding high on every thrust. He feels surrounded by Eliot: Eliot's cock moving inside him, Eliot's thighs against his own, Eliot's strong hands holding on to his hips, rubbing over his spine, sliding against his shoulder blades. He realizes that Eliot's smell is all around him, too, something intensely familiar that he's never really noticed before.

"You come like this?" Eliot asks, and God bless, at least his breath sounds short, like he's starting to lose it too. Alec doesn't want to be the only one.

"Not without a little help," Alec pants. Eliot, obligingly, reaches around and palms his dick. Nothing fancy, just a firm grip and a stroke or two, and Alec feels a full-body shudder move through him right before he comes, his thighs starting to shake as the roar of pleasure fills his head and takes him over.

He registers Eliot grunting behind him, and feels him speed up, fucking fast and hard, so that Alec has to blink and brace his arms more firmly against the bed to keep from being pushed down onto his belly. He moves with Eliot instead, forward and back, yielding, letting Eliot set the pace.

"Knew you'd be good," Eliot's saying. He sounds rough, wrecked, like he does sometimes after a fight, breathing hard. "Knew you'd take it like this. I knew it."

Alec only has a moment to wonder how long Eliot's been thinking about fucking him before Eliot's hand squeezes his shoulder way too hard and Eliot's thrusts shudder to a stop. The noise that Eliot makes is something that Alec is gonna have to remember, because it's wild, primal, a sound of pure animal pleasure that makes Alec wish he could get it up again.

Half a minute later, Eliot's pulling out, smacking his ass, and getting up off the bed. Alec rolls over and watches him. He already knew that Eliot was good to look at; he's even seen him naked a couple of times, here and there, when the circumstances of the con meant they had to change together or share a communal shower. But there's something about this image of him – sweaty, tousled, his dick soft against his leg, his scars shining in the soft warm light of the bedroom lamp – that makes Alec want to grab him up and hold him. He's suddenly cognizant that this small, hard, tough body contains everything that Eliot is. The idea is overwhelming.

"That was great, man, thanks," Eliot says, pulling his shirt back on. "You okay? You need anything?"

"I'm great," Alec says, because he does feel great, fucked out and lazy, his whole body tingling with pleasant aches.

"Cool. I'm gonna run upstairs to my place and grab a shower, but I'll see you in the pub after that?"

Alec figures he ought to shower too, and then they should to get back in position in case Parker has news for them sometime soon. "Yeah, sure," he says.

Eliot nods, and smiles, the big soft grin that he usually only gets when he's cooking, or about to hit people. The sight of it makes Alec feel like the bottom's dropped out of his stomach, or maybe like the floor's dropped out from underneath him, and he's falling, helpless.

He smiles back; he couldn't help it if he wanted to. But Eliot's smile gets shuttered then, just a normal tight Eliot half-smile, and he turns away without another word.

Once the door has closed behind him, Alec flings his arm over his eyes and lets himself take a few shuddering breaths.

"Well fuck," he says.

*

"So, kind of a shortage of hugs and kisses and board games," Parker summarizes, when Alec relates the story to her that night. She's lying on top of him, not fucking him but just rubbing up against him in the way she likes, skin to skin friction until she gets herself all riled up and needs to get off. Her cheeks are flushed red and her hair is falling messily into her eyes as she braces herself against Alec's thighs, his chest, his arms. She slides down and pushes their bodies together, her nipples dragging against his chest, his cock pressed up against her belly, her arms and thighs and feet all pressing against his skin, a whole body Parker-blanket. Alec's never been with anyone else who did this in bed, but it's not really much of a surprise that Parker's unique, or that she takes the things she wants without apologizing for them.

"Yeah," he says. His ass still hurts from earlier, because it has been a long damn time since anyone's fucked him like that, and his cock is getting hard but he's far from the kind of desperate he'd normally be with Parker all over him like this. "I'm no use to you, woman, Eliot rode me hard and left me ruined."

"I think I can find some use," Parker replies cheerfully, taking his hand and putting it against her labia. She squirms down onto his fingers, and he slips them inside gently, rubbing against her here, too, giving her friction everywhere. Parker likes his hands, he knows, likes his long fingers and his broad palms. It makes him hot to think about that, sometimes: that Parker's covetous gaze falls on him, on his body, as if he were a diamond or a piece of art, something beautiful that she wants to keep.

"You're amazing," Alec breathes, because she is and he can't help but say it. "God, you're so gorgeous, baby." He maneuvers until he can get his thumb on her clit, stroking her inside and outside all at once.

"You wanna fuck me?" she asks, smiling. Alec thinks about it; they don't do that very often, and he's hard enough for it, but it's good to feel Parker writhing on top of him, using his hand and taking her pleasure, at least for now.

"Want you to come on my fingers," he says softly.

"No problem," Parker huffs, laughing. Her whole body keeps sliding against him, her shins against his knees, her breasts against his chest. He uses his other hand to steady her, holding on to her waist as she thrusts against him.

Parker bends and kisses his throat gently. Alec tilts his head back to let her.

"Tell me about Eliot," she murmurs, against his skin. "Tell me what it was like."

Alec blinks, because no one's ever asked him to talk them off with stories of other people he's fucked. Stories of other people he fucked earlier that day, even. He hesitates for a moment, trying to figure out how to describe the way it'd been with Eliot.

"He was . . . controlled," Alec says eventually. "He sucked me off fast, and then when he fucked me it was like – like he had all the time in the world." He works her slow, loving the soft wet slide of her against his fingertips, the hard rough clench of her around his knuckles. "But he set the pace, either way."

"Mmmm," Parker says. "What did it feel like? When he fucked you."

Alec feels hot all over, lust or embarrassment or some combination of the two. He's never put these kinds of things into words before. "It was amazing," he says. She nods at him to go on. "It felt – he filled me up, and held me in place, and just. Y'know. Took me."

"Yeah," Parker says. "Slow and hard, right?"

"Yeah," Alec agrees. Parker's clit is slippery and soft under his thumb. She's wet, too, leaking all over his wrist. He wants to put his mouth on her, taste her, but right now she wants his mouth doing something else.

"More," she groans, and brings one of her hands down to join Alec's, both of them working her together now, fingers tangling and brushing.

"He fucked me till I couldn't – it was like I was outside of time, I don't know, like all I could feel was his body on top of me, and inside me, and all around me."

"I want to see that. Eliot fucking you." Parker's breath is coming in short hard gasps. Her fingers speed up, and he follows her lead, thrusting faster, dragging his fingers against the rough giving surface of her g-spot.

"You want Eliot to fuck you like that?" Alec asks. He honestly doesn't know if Parker would want that or not; she usually doesn't like that much penetration.

"Hmmm, maybe," she breathes. "I've never done it up the ass before."

That wasn't quite what Alec meant, but the image of Parker taking it up the ass from Eliot makes his heart catch in his throat. He imagines Parker in the same position he was in, fucked slow and hard until she's groaning and clutching at the sheets, and Eliot behind her, all control, grinning as he fucks into her.

"We can do it, if you want," he offers. "For practice."

She leans down and kisses him briefly, her mouth open and wet. "Yeah. Good idea, babe," she grins.

"I'd want to watch. If you fucked Eliot," Alec says. Parker's fingers speed up at that, so he follows her lead and speeds up too, twisting inside of her. "I'd want to see you two together."

"I like being watched," Parker breathes. Then her breath stutters into a moan, and she turns her head, her eyes falling closed. "Just like that, just like that, oh!"

Alec repeats the slow, twisting thrust of his fingers, does it again and again as Parker writhes on top of him, the short fingernails of her free hand finding purchase in his skin.

"I'd watch Eliot fuck you just like he fucked me," Alec whispers in her ear. "I'd watch the two of you together and I'd love every minute of it, I'd have to get myself off just looking at you."

"Ungh." Parker's thighs are trembling, her left hand clenching at Alec's arm, her come spilling hot and wet over their entwined fingers. She's messy and sweaty, her eyes closed tight and her mouth fallen open, and she's so beautiful that Alec almost can't stand it.

When she's done she blinks down at him and smiles sleepily. "Now I think we should sixty-nine," she says. Alec laughs.

"Sounds good," he says, and shuffles around on the bed to make room.

*

"Parker wants to fuck you," Alec tells Eliot, the next time they're waiting in the van together, because he looks out for his baby, and also because he really does want to watch. If he'd known that Eliot was this easy he'd have asked him to join them months ago.

Eliot carefully swallows the mouthful of bottled water that he almost lost when Alec spoke. "What?" he asks.

"Parker. She wants to fuck you." Alec grins.

"And you're telling me this because . . . ?"

"She asked me to. She says I'm better with people than she is."

"That is a sad fucking standard of comparison right there," Eliot says.

"Nonetheless."

Eliot gives him the side-eye. "And you're okay with that?"

Alec shrugs. "I'm not the boss of Parker."

"Huh," Eliot says. "Really."

Alec lets the silence build up, keeping his eye on the cameras. It's not likely that the mark will be leaving for another half hour, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared.

After a while Eliot coughs and speaks again. "So you two – I thought you were doing the, you know, dating, love, all that stuff. That thing."

"We are. We both like you, though. No reason we couldn't – " Alec looks up from the screen, because his Nana always told him to look up from the screen when he has something important to say. "No reason we couldn't all three of us do that thing."

Eliot raises an eyebrow. "Ah."

"Ah?"

Eliot shrugs. "Casual sex is one thing, man. Dating, romance, all that, is another thing."

"Ah." Alec tries not to show his disappointment. When he brought this up with Parker, he didn't really envision the two of them having a casual sex relationship with Eliot. That wasn't the goal. And it feels almost insulting that Eliot might want to fuck him, or fuck Parker, or hell – fuck both of them at once – but not care enough to want to date them.

He frowns and chides himself for the thought; Eliot obviously cares for them plenty, and it's ungrateful to pretend he doesn't.

But still.

Eliot nudges him with his thigh. His thick, well-muscled, very-useful-for-fucking-you-till-you-scream thigh. "You okay, man?"

"Yeah, yeah," Alec says. "I never really had a casual sex thing before." He didn't mean to say it, and he regrets it the moment it passes his lips, but now that it's out he tries to commit to it, raising his head and meeting Eliot's eyes. Eliot looks surprised.

"You never had sex with someone you didn't love before?" Eliot scrunches his face up in confusion. The end of the sentence, before me, hangs in the air between them. This probably isn't the best time to tell Eliot that he does, well, kind of, sort of, in an increasingly overwhelming way, love him.

"Sure, man, one-night stands. And, uh. You know." He darts his gaze away from Eliot's.

"Hired help?" Eliot grins.

Alec sighs. "Yeah."

"Well hey," Eliot says, reaching out to run his knuckles gently under Alec's chin. "You ain't even gotta pay me." Then he leans in and kisses him softly on the mouth. It's awkward, like Eliot's not sure exactly what he's doing, but earnest, too.

Alec kisses back, and lets himself caress Eliot's temple, once, with tentative fingertips.

*

Parker liked Hardison from the start. She kissed him for a job, early on, because she wanted to, and because it seemed like a good idea to test out his lips. She approved of his lips, it turned out. His lips were very soft and pliable. She had sex with him a couple years later, to test out his . . . everything else, and his everything else had been pretty great too. He even listened when she told him what she wanted in bed, a quality Parker mostly associates with the girls she's had sex with, not the boys. So it turned out that Hardison was sweet, and nice to her, and great at his own kind of thieving, and really coming along in his belay work, and good to have sex with, and of course he had nice lips, and so she decided to start dating him. She hadn't ever dated anyone for very long before that, but she didn't think it would be that hard, and it wasn't, and he kept listening to her when she told him what she wanted, and kept being okay with it when she warned him that she wasn't normal.

She likes dating him, now, especially since dating – she didn't know this before – can involve a lot of races and bets and jumping off of tall buildings and strange creative kinds of sex. Alec comes with her to do the things she likes. She learns how to do the things he likes, too, video games and science fiction, just because it feels good to watch him smile at her when she beats him at one of the fighting games. He has a nice smile, maybe because he has nice lips and also nice teeth, or maybe because Parker loves him a lot.

The idea of spending their lives together was starting to seem almost approachable, because if she could spend her life with someone stealing, grifting, traveling all over the world, taking down bad guys, and accumulating cash, then it felt like something fun to look forward to and not something horrifying to weigh her down. And if that someone could be Alec, that would be perfect, because he never weighs her down; instead, when she's around him, she feels lighter, like she gets untethered from gravity, like the warmth of his smile when he looks at her could make her float right up to the ceiling.

But then Alec's not the only one who smiles at her, and he's not the only one who jumps off of buildings with her, and even if Eliot is freakishly heavy for his size – because he's made of muscles, or has stones in his shoes or something, Parker presumes – he does make a pretty good climbing buddy, there on Parker's left, keeping her steady.

*

Eliot feeds her, which is how she figures it out. Eliot tells her that he expresses his feelings through his food, and then he proceeds to feed her all the time, but Parker doesn't put those two things together right away. Of course, that's partially because Eliot's always been the one to feed them, all of them: they'd only been together as a team for a couple of months when Eliot started his tradition of cooking everyone an elaborate meal after a job, so that they could all celebrate together. Parker figures that's one kind of food-feeling for Eliot, relief-camaraderie-elation-love, the feeling that Eliot likes to share with the whole team. And Eliot is usually the one to get food for them during jobs as well, even if it's just microwave popcorn or takeout, and Parker figures that's another kind of food-feeling, worry-care-protection-anticipation, the feeling that Eliot can't help but express when they're in danger, waiting to see if they'll win.

But Eliot feeds her, specifically, calling her into the kitchen and holding out a spoon for her so she can taste whatever he's working on; letting her climb up on the counter when he's chopping vegetables, holding out some bell pepper for her to take from his fingers; showing up at her door when she's sick or grumpy, holding out a pot of soup for her to curl herself around.

They don't talk much, her and Eliot, but she eats his food, and tells him how it makes her feel – his food makes her feel sharp, or up, or falling, or covered – and she touches him, when she can, jumping up into a piggyback ride or perching on the arm of his chair, to let him know that she trusts him back. It's not like what she feels with Alec, that spinning nauseating amazing floating sensation that comes just from being around Alec, but it's deeper, maybe, something more like eating homemade soup and being warmed from the inside out.

*

Of course Parker notices when Eliot starts touching Alec more, not least because she's recently started touching Alec more and knows what it feels like to be able to. Eliot has his hands on Alec's shoulders, on his arms, on his back – appropriate, non-sexual touches, Sophie taught her – but he does it so often that Parker wonders why. She's never been good at men, though, how men are with each other, how they interact: a combination of lack of practice and lack of interest. She has feelings about Alec, though, and she has other feelings about Eliot, and because of those feelings she notices how they interact, and cares about how they are with one another.

And Eliot touches Alec a lot. In a way he doesn't touch her. She can't decide what it means, though she thinks about it often, and even considers calling Sophie to ask her about it.

So when Alec starts talking about Eliot, about dating him, or even having sex with him, Parker says they should, in part because she wants to figure out what Eliot means by it when he sets his palm against Alec's waist and guides him, gently, towards a door or down a hallway. She wants to know what the pressure of Eliot's fingertips means when applied to Alec's body, whether it's like her fingertips on a vault, or like Alec's fingertips on his keyboard, trying to find a way inside.

*

"I told Eliot that you want to have sex with him," Alec says, looking her directly in the eye. "So now he knows that."

"Cool," Parker says. She doesn't actually expect anything to come of it; Eliot's never touched her the way he touched Alec. Also, past experience shows that Eliot is usually kind of nasty around women he's interested in, and he's never been like that with her. She likes not having to listen to cheesy come-ons, or look at Eliot's weird flirting smile (it's weird) but she also assumes that means that Eliot doesn't want to go down on her and fuck her ass like he did to Alec, so that's somewhat disappointing.

That's why it's a surprise when Eliot kisses her in an air duct, when the two of them are pressed up together and waiting for Alec to give them the all-clear. They're only a couple of inches apart to begin with, so Eliot doesn't have far to go when he leans in and kisses her, open-mouthed and so brief that it's not really a kiss at all, just a pressing of his mouth to hers for a half a second. Parker feels threads of panic start to unspool inside her, running through her body and her muscles before she can even get a chance to stop them.

But Eliot stops as soon as he starts.

"Sorry," he says, immediately. "Sorry, I'm sorry, Parker, I – I didn't mean to do that." His eyes are wide, because he's more afraid than he ever is when fighting ten guys or staring down the barrel of a gun, which makes Parker feel not afraid at all. Eliot presses himself against the far wall of the air duct, making her escape routes clear and easy, and that helps too. She takes a deep breath and tells the panic to go away. It doesn't listen to her, not completely, but after a moment the threads start to wind themselves back up to where they came from.

"I'm not going to stab you with anything," she assures him, once she's sure of that herself. Eliot breathes out in relief. She considers the situation: she could make a run for it, ducking out of the air duct and letting Eliot finish this part of the job alone, or she could tell him to go and let her finish the job alone. Or she could just lie here uncomfortably. Or she could try kissing him back, and see if it feels good when it's not unexpected.

"Actually," she says, deciding, "that's a good idea. Making out will pass the time."

With that, she budges up and kisses him, putting her whole body into it: her tongue in his mouth, her breasts against his chest, her thighs sliding up against his. They're about the same height, which is kind of nice; she's gotten used to rubbing up against Alec, who's got six inches on her easy and sometimes that makes the body-math hard.

Eliot doesn't respond right away, but then he does respond and it's nice, his mouth hot under hers, his hands coming up to stroke tentatively at her shoulders and biceps. He has good lips too, she decides, though they're not as good as Alec's. His hands are great, though, strong and rough where they rub against the soft skin of her arms. She would like to have those hands between her thighs, working her until she's wet and desperate.

They make out like that for a while, and once Parker feels sure about it, like she's not going to freak out at all, she takes his hand and puts it on her breast before putting her own hands down his pants a little. He slides his thumb over her nipple as she scratches at the trail of hair on his belly.

"Jesus, Parker, that's going to – you have to stop if you want me to be ready for Hardison's signal."

"Or I could get you off," she says, not moving her hand any further down his pants. "We've probably got a few minutes. I bet you'd be more comfortable." Parker had only had sex with a few guys before Alec, and only two of them were the kind of guys who had penises, so it's only in the last year that she's been discovering them, how fun they are, how easy it is to get someone off if they have one. Not that she doesn't miss sex with people who don't have penises, but penises are kind of cool.

Eliot snorts. "With jizz in my pants, sure, that's a pleasant sensation to accompany a fistfight."

"That one time you fought a guy with a live lobster in your pants," Parker points out. "It couldn't be worse."

Eliot laughs, a quiet huffing breath against her shoulder, and then he kisses her jawline. "That's a very unsexy memory, Parker, thank you. That'll work nicely."

"Does that mean we're not making out anymore?" she asks, disappointed. Eliot showed real promise for a while there.

"We could, uh, make out later," Eliot mumbles. Parker smiles at him.

"Okay!" she says. "But next time, no surprises."

He nods. "I promise. I'm sorry I surprised you."

Parker kisses his forehead lightly. "Hey Hardison, where are you? Can we wriggle out of this air duct anytime soon?"

Over the comms, Alec coughs self-consciously. "Truth be told, I've been ready for a few minutes now, just wanted to give you both time to get your freak on."

"Goddamn it," Eliot says, though Parker can't really tell if he's mad or embarrassed or what.

"If you don't want me to hear what yall get up to, don't make out in an air duct during a mission," Alec says. Parker laughs.

"He's right. Anyway, we should go. Later it'd be nice if we had sex, though." Kicking open the vent cover, Parker flips out easily into the mark's inner office, and starts thinking up scenarios for the next part of the con. She's dimly aware of Eliot, behind her, crawling out carefully and going through the desk drawers. He passes her a file for consideration, but doesn't touch her at all. When the mark's personal security guys come barging in, per her plan, Eliot beats them up without even getting winded.

"Not much of a challenge, huh," Parker asks absently, paging through some hard copy files she found on the desk.

"I've had better," Eliot agrees, smiling at her sidelong. "Next time, make it more interesting."

She grins at him. "You got it."

*

Later that night, when she and Alec are sitting around playing video games, just when she's decided that Eliot isn't going to show, he knocks on their door. Parker opens it and finds him standing, shifting from foot to foot, holding a pot of something in his hands. It smells amazing, and Parker hopes she gets to eat it.

"That smells amazing," she says. "I hope I get to eat it."

"I made it for you," Eliot says quietly. Parker gets herself a spoon. When Eliot removes the cover from the dish, she smells meat – something rich and fatty – and . . . peaches, maybe? She peeks inside.

"Duck breast, corn polenta, grilled peaches," Eliot explains. He sounds self-conscious about it. Parker digs down into the dish with her spoon and gets a little of everything. When she puts it in her mouth, she can taste what Eliot means by it: something about home and safety, about feeling solid and grounded like the ripening corn, but something nervous and excited, too, fresh and delicate like the first, easily-bruised peaches of summer.

"It tastes like you," she says simply. She watches him, then, as he ducks his head.

"What's Eliot taste like?" Alec asks. He's still on the couch, but kneeling backwards on it, looking over at Parker and Eliot in the kitchen. Eliot jumps as if he'd forgotten Alec was there.

"Like summertime, and all the things you miss and can't get back again," Parker says. "Also corn."

Eliot and Alec both laugh at that, but their laughs are different.

"You two want me to clear out? Give you some space?" Alec asks. His eyes are still on them. He looks interested, but distant.

"I – you can stay if you want," Eliot drawls. Parker doesn't know if he's saying that because he really wants Alec to stay, or if it's something else.

"Are you saying that because you really want Alec to stay?" she asks. Eliot frowns.

"What do you want?" he asks.

Parker thinks about it. This is the kind of question she's getting better at thinking about. And it's not that she doesn't trust Eliot, but just in case something goes wrong, it would be good if Alec were there. Plus Alec said he wanted to watch.

"I'd like him to stay," she says. "If you're okay with it."

"That's fine," Eliot says. He licks his lips and doesn't look either of them in the eye.

"Can I have more of the duck?" Parker asks.

Eliot gestures her towards it. She takes another bite. "So good," she moans, around a mouthful of it. "Hardison, you gotta come and try this."

"Eliot made it for you, babe," Alec says.

"It's okay," Eliot says. "Come on over."

Alec pushes himself up off the couch and saunters over to them. Parker gets some duck and stuff on the spoon and holds it out. It's a little awkward, him trying to bend down enough and her trying to reach up enough, but eventually they manage to get the spoon in his mouth, laughing.

"Okay, that's amazing," Alec says, a few seconds later, still chewing.

When Parker looks, she sees that Eliot's leaning back against the counter, with his hands in his pockets and an easy smile on his face. He does that, Parker knows, removes himself from the scene, blends into the background. Really he's a very unassuming ex-killer for hire.

"Is this the part where I kiss you?" Parker asks him. She puts down the spoon and walks up to Eliot. At first she tries her sexy walk, the one that Sophie taught her, but she thinks she might be doing it wrong so she gives up and just uses her regular walk. Eliot won't care, she doesn't think.

"Fine by me," Eliot says easily, but his face looks weird, like he's sad, or maybe nervous. Parker cups his face in one hand and kisses him. When she pulls back he looks a little different, less weird, so she kisses him again. His mouth is wide and his kisses are soft.

"Yall take your time, I'll just finish this off," Alec says, taking another bite of the duck. Parker pulls away from Eliot's mouth.

"What?" she says. "No!" She grabs the spoon away from him, and he smiles.

"This might seem like a strange idea, but we could get plates and sit down to eat it," Eliot says.

"That does kind of seem like a strange idea," Parker agrees. She hops up on the counter with her spoon in hand and pulls the dish onto her lap. "We're all sharing spit anyway."

Eliot blinks at her, then sighs. Alec laughs and hops up next to her.

"Good thinking, babe," he says, and holds out his hand. She finishes her bite and hands him the spoon. Looking over at Eliot, she pats the counter on her other side. Eliot levers himself onto it slowly. When Alec gives her the spoon back, she uses it to scoop up some duck and hold it in front of Eliot's mouth. She likes the way Eliot's mouth drops open for her, the way he lets her slide the spoon in without thinking too much about it.

"You're pretty," Parker says quietly. "Especially when you eat."

Eliot takes the spoon out of her hand and uses it to offer her a bite of duck and peaches. "Backatcha, darlin," he says, and Parker opens for him just like he opened for her. She can't help but close her eyes as she chews, all the different flavors sliding and sparking against her taste buds.

When she opens them again, Eliot's still holding the spoon, but this time he's leaning across Parker's lap to offer it to Alec, who leans forward and takes it in his mouth. The sight of it makes Parker recommit to her goal of watching the two of them have sex sometime.

They go on like that, passing the one spoon around, feeding themselves and sometimes each other, until the dish is all but licked clean. Parker thinks about licking it clean, whether doing that would be sexy to Eliot, but then she decides that it's too risky. She'll try it another time, maybe. Or maybe she'll ask Alec about what foods are sexy to lick. She thinks there's a list, and she's not sure if corn is on it. Alec is really good at answering those kinds of questions.

When she puts the spoon down in the dish, she turns again to Eliot and kisses him. Their lips are a little slick from the duck. It feels good, the same way it feels good to kiss Alec, familiar and warm.

"You can touch me," Parker says, and then kisses him again. Eliot brings his hands up slowly and runs them firmly along her sides, down to her hip bones, up high enough that his thumbs just brush the undersides of her breasts. She feels the dish on her lap about to slide and clatter to the floor, is just wondering whether to stick out a foot to save it or not, but then Alec jumps in and takes it from her. Parker smiles, because she likes it when a plan comes together, and moves so that she's straddling Eliot's lap, her knees against the countertop, her thighs pressed to his.

"You wanna take this to the bedroom?" Eliot murmurs, between kisses. Parker smiles against his mouth.

"You got something against having sex on the kitchen counter?"

"Uh," Eliot says. "Kinda."

She hears Alec cough, and looks up to see him leaning casually against the far counter.

"Remember all the stuff you wanted to do, babe," he says. Parker smiles.

"Oh, right!" she says. "Thanks."

Eliot's hands come around slowly to her back, start rubbing up and down. "You had plans, huh," he says.

"Yeah, but it depends on you. What do you like?"

Eliot draws his hands around her torso to thumb her nipples. His touch is firm and confident; she pushes forward against it. "I'd sure like to get my mouth on you."

Across the room, Alec's breath hitches, and Parker thinks, yes, that will do very nicely.

"Alec? Is Eliot good with his mouth? You're the one with experience."

"Well, if I were trying to rate it on a ten-point scale, I'd – "

"Seriously, Hardison?" Eliot growls. His mouth is on her neck, and Parker learns, for the first time, what one of Eliot's growls feels like against her skin. It rumbles, almost tickles.

"He's very good with his mouth," Alec says, a laugh in his voice. "And kind of scary. But good." There's a pause, during which Eliot mouths his way up to her ear. "I'd love to watch him eat you out."

Parker shivers, grabs a fistful of Eliot's blue plaid button-up, and pulls.

That's how they end up in the bedroom, Eliot on his knees on the floor, naked to the waist, with Parker draping her legs up over his shoulders. His body shifts beneath her, and she realizes that this motion, and every motion he makes, is completely and perfectly familiar. She already knows how Eliot moves – she has to, since she plans on it, counts on it for their cons – and she already knows his scars, and the lines of muscle and bone that define his arms and his shoulders. She knows the thickness of his neck, which bends towards her, and the strength of his fingers, which rest against her inner thighs. She's sat on his shoulders, before, and hugged his middle, before, and so it feels not too new to spread her legs around him and urge him down until his lips meet her body. Eliot usually has something between heavy stubble and an actual beard, but he doesn't feel prickly at all, and Parker realizes that he shaved for her, maybe in anticipation of getting to do this. The idea sends a thrill through her, amplifying the sensation of Eliot's gentle, exploratory licking and sucking.

"Damn that looks good," Alec murmurs. He's sitting on the little sofa in the corner of the room, fully clothed, elbows resting on his knees as he leans forward to watch. Parker lifts her head, and can't help smiling at him.

"Hi," she says.

"Hi," he says back, and his smile is just as big and goofy as Parker's smile feels from the inside. It feels good to see it, like Alec is here to be her anchor if she needs it. "You let me know if you want me to clear out, now."

Eliot doesn't say anything, but he grunts his assent, the sound of it pressing up against Parker's labia. She nods swiftly. "I like it when you watch," she says to Alec.

"I know, babe," Alec grins.

Parker laughs at that, sharp and loud enough that it startles Eliot, making him jump and pull his head up from between her legs.

"Sorry," she says, reaching down to pet his hair. She's always wanted to pet his hair.

"It's alright," Eliot says. "Just startled me is all."

He bends his head to begin again, but Parker stops him by tightening her hand in his hair, just a little.

"You like this? Going down on me?"

Eliot blinks. "I – yeah, Parker, I like it." He sounds like he wants to sound annoyed by the question, but doesn't think it's polite in this situation. Parker doesn't let him go just yet.

"Does it get you hard?"

Now Eliot stills, seeing the shape of the game, and returning her heated gaze with an intense look of his own. He licks his lips. "Yeah," he says, simply.

"Show me. Unzip your pants." She lets go of his hair so that he can move again, and he shuffles back on his knees, holding her gaze, and unbuttons, then unzips, his jeans.

"Anything else?" he asks, his usual slow half-grin stealing onto his face. Parker laughs again, and this time he doesn't jump.

"Push them down. I want to watch you get hard."

Eliot pushes his jeans and underwear down to his knees, exposing his cock – half-hard, bobbing up, circumcised and left-leaning just like Alec said.

"You look so pretty like that," Parker breathes, and this statement seems to take Eliot by surprise. She doesn't know why it should; he's beautiful to begin with, and on his knees with his jeans bunched around his thighs he looks debauched and gorgeous. There's a trail of hair leading down his belly to his dick that Parker wants to touch.

"The view's nice from back here, too," Alec puts in. His eyes dip down as he makes a show of ogling Eliot's ass. Where Alec can't see, Eliot smiles a little, self-satisfied and vain. Parker wonders if Eliot likes to be penetrated. She can imagine what it would look like, Alec fucking his ass, and she wants to see it in real life.

"Glad you're all enjoying yourselves," Eliot says, rolling his eyes, but Parker can see the light blush on his ears. "Can I go back to getting you off?"

"Yes, please," Parker grins. Eliot shuffles forward on his knees, profoundly silly even though he's all deadly and athletic. Alec giggles, and Parker does too. To her surprise, rather than scowling, Eliot laughs a little as well, a soft chuckle right before his hot breath is skating over her skin again.

Eliot is in fact very good with his mouth, and good in an entirely different way than Alec is; he's slower, more controlled, less greedy, though no less wholehearted about it. He wraps his lips around her clit, and presses the flat of his tongue thick and soft and wriggling against her inner labia, and before very long at all she's starting to feel the rush of pleasure as it slips and slides along her nerve endings. She props herself up on her elbows and sees him reach down for his cock with his left hand. He pumps himself hard, with a rough twist at the end, and it looks like it feels good.

"You can go harder," she says, out of breath. Eliot makes a sound, a low sound in his throat that isn't a growl or a moan but that's somewhere in between. He sucks her clit, hard like she asked, so that Parker has to dig her fingers into the sheets and push with her hips, push up against Eliot to get more of that sensation.

"She likes a finger up against her hole," Alec says quietly. "Not inside, but just up against it. Little circles."

"Yeah," Parker agrees, because she does like that, even if she and Alec have never talked about it before.

Eliot's hand trails up her thigh, fingertips stroking over her outer lips before pressing inside. He puts his broad, callused thumb up against her hole and starts rimming it, slow and steady, careful and controlled to match the motion of his mouth and tongue.

"Just like that," Parker breathes. "Oh, Eliot, just like that."

Beneath her, Eliot makes a noise, a satisfied little grunt in the back of his throat. Parker doesn't have to look up to know that Alec's grinning when he speaks next.

"And I get the feeling Eliot likes hearing his name when he's going down on someone," he drawls.

Looking down, Parker buries her hands in Eliot's hair and pushes it up and away from his face. He glances up at her, which is enough for her to be able to steal his gaze and hold on to it.

"Eliot," she says, and doesn't miss the soft pleasure in his eyes when she says his name. He goes a little faster, and she groans. "Oh, that feels so good. Eliot. I'm really close."

Eliot hums in response and speeds up a little, thumb and mouth and tongue all working in concert. As Parker falls back on to the bed, she notices that he's still stroking himself, too, and as her orgasm rushes through her top to bottom and front to back, singing everywhere along her skin and making her float, weightless, she laughs to think that he's just as dexterous in the bedroom as anywhere else.

She feels his lips leave her body, though his hand stays where it is. "You want to go again?" he asks, slow seductive grin on his wet face. Parker nods.

"Put your tongue in me," she says, and a moment later Eliot does, pushing down on her clit with his thumb at the same time, and it's enough to shake another, smaller orgasm out of her, this one sharp and short like carbonated citrus. She can't help the little squeal she hears herself let out as she comes, Eliot's touch just this side of overstimulation.

"Okay, stop, stop," she pants. "Whooooo wow stop." Eliot sits back on his ankles, self-satisfied expression on his face, cock still hard against his belly. "Looks like you're overdue for your turn," Parker says.

"Well, if you insist," Eliot says, standing and shucking off his pants. He crawls up the bed next to her, and she reaches over to take his dick in her hand.

"Could use some lube, huh," she says.

A moment later, Alec appears above them, holding out the pump bottle of lube like a waiter at a fancy restaurant, and both Parker and Eliot crack up laughing. Parker doesn't miss how hard Alec is in his pants, or the light sheen of sweat on his face, but he just winks at her and retires back to the couch without asking for anything. He's letting Parker and Eliot have their time together, and Parker loves him for it.

Once she's got her hand properly slick, she starts stroking Eliot's cock again, long hard strokes like the ones he was giving himself.

"I'm not that into being fucked," she says, to forestall him in case that's what he's angling for. She figures the ass thing is probably better done some other day. "But I'm sure we can find something you'd like."

Eliot nods, then cries out on her next stroke. "Christ, Parker, you've got strong hands."

"You like it that way, though, right? Hard and tight." She does it again, to illustrate her point, and Eliot's eyes close as he thrusts forward into her hand.

"Yeah, I like it," Eliot says. He sounds a little spacey, which Parker hopes is a good sign.

"Is that how you like to get fucked, too?" she asks, and she can hear Alec shifting around behind her at the question. Still stroking with her right hand, she slips her left hand down and presses her slippery fingers against Eliot's asshole. Eliot doesn't reply, just grunts and writhes on the bed next to her.

"You know, Alec would really like to fuck you," she continues, pushing a little to get two fingers into him, liking the tight clench of him around her.

Eliot huffs out a laugh. His dick is hard and leaking, and she knows he must be close. "I bet he would." He spreads his legs a little, giving her better access.

"You gonna let him fuck you? You gonna let me?" she pushes in deep and then pulls back again, rocking her fingers back and forth, opening him up and fucking him in earnest.

"Anything you want," Eliot says, gasping. Parker has only heard him out of breath a few times before, when he's gone up against really good fighters. It makes her feel good, powerful, to have done this to him.

A moment later, as she starts fucking him harder and faster, Eliot gasps out, "Parker, Jesus, I'm gonna come – "

Parker grins. She bends her head and takes his dick in her mouth, still pumping and squeezing hard with her hand on the base, and fucks her fingers up into him, and it only takes a few long slow sucks with her lips tight around his cock before he's arching, and coming, and shaking beneath her.

When he's done, she gestures frantically towards the bedside table, and Alec – bless his little heart – is right there a second later with an empty water glass. Parker spits into it gratefully.

"Yulch," she says, sticking out her tongue and shaking her head quickly. Then she glances down at Eliot and grins; he looks exhausted and fucked-out, sweaty and lovely in their bed. She kind of wants to keep him.

"I kind of want to keep you," she says. Eliot flinches at this, the way he never does when he's punched, and Parker thinks she's said the wrong thing. Eliot sits up in the bed and scrubs his hands over his face.

"I'm not that into being kept," Eliot says softly, echoing what she said earlier. Parker sits back on her heels and gives him some space.

"Sorry," Parker says.

"She didn't mean it like that," Alec says quickly, from the corner. It's his guilty voice, which as a professional thief he should really not have. Parker squints at him briefly, but he doesn't say what he feels guilty about.

"We were thinking that you might want to – you know. Date us. It works pretty good for Alec and me." Parker doesn't feel the same way about Eliot that she feels about Alec, but that's probably normal; you can feel a lot of different ways about people, even if all the ways are good.

Eliot pulls his hands away from his face. Parker is surprised by the anger there, completely unlike Eliot's usual grumpiness or surliness. "It doesn't work for me," he says. "And, what, is this some kind of pity fuck or something? You figure I've got nothing better to do, so you decide to rope me in on your relationship like some kind of charity event?"

Parker's never heard Eliot mad like this before, mad in a way where he isn't growling or yelling or punching anything, just resigned and sad. It makes her sad to think that they might have made him sad in their effort to make him less sad.

It occurs to her that they never actually asked him if he was sad in the first place.

"Sorry," she says again. Tentatively, she reaches out and puts a hand on his shin. After a second she takes it away again.

"I'm sorry, Eliot," Alec says. "I should've told Parker what you said about casual sex. Eliot said he doesn't want to date anyone, Parker." Alec is chewing his lip. Eliot's watching him, and watching Parker, obviously evaluating them carefully.

"Oh," Parker says. "But do you want to have casual sex with us again? Together or individually?"

Eliot sighs. "Yeah," he admits. He doesn't sound happy at the prospect of awesome threeway sexy times, though.

Parker frowns. "I guess I don't see how it's different."

At this Eliot quirks his eyebrows ruefully. "Yeah, I'm having some trouble myself, actually," he says. Then he stands up and starts putting his pants on. It seems like a bad sign.

"Hey, man, we don't want to pressure you into anything. We can keep it simple," Alec says, putting a hand on Eliot's arm as he passes by the couch on his way to pick up his discarded shirt. Eliot shrugs away from the touch, as if instinctively, and Parker thinks she sees a flash of hurt on Alec's face before he covers it up.

"Sorry." Alec keeps his hands on his thighs, like he knows he'll touch Eliot again if he doesn't keep himself in check.

For a few seconds, Eliot doesn't say anything, just stands there, half-naked, indecisive, obviously torn. Eventually, he moves to pick up his shirt and shrug it on over his shoulders.

"Look," he says, "I know you mean well, but I'm starting to think that this was a mistake. I wanted to fuck you both, and I thought maybe I – but yeah. Mistake." He glances plaintively back at Parker, then looks at Alec again. "I – you know I'd do anything for either of you."

"It's too much, to add this on to that," Parker guesses, and Eliot grimaces, then sighs.

"Yeah, maybe. I don't know. I'm gonna go shower. Think about it."

"Let's talk later," Alec says, because he and Parker both know from experience that talking isn't exactly Eliot's strong suit. But she's also pretty sure that neither of them is going to want to push him this time if he doesn't want to talk.

Once they hear the door to the apartment close behind him, Parker sighs. "Maybe he'll go cook out his feelings and then feel better about it," she says. "Do you think he'll ever want to date us?"

Alec frowns. "I'm starting to think we got everything backwards, babe," he says. "I just hope Eliot doesn't take himself on a six month sabbatical to get away from us."

Parker thinks about this. "I don't think he would. Not without talking to us first," she says. "We're family."

Alec nods and walks over to the bed to sit next to her. He's still fully-clothed, and though he's not as hard as he was when she and Eliot were in the middle of things, he's still got an obvious bulge in his pants. Parker runs the heel of her hand over it idly.

"You want a sad blowjob, baby?" she asks. Alec chuckles.

"Kinda? Is that okay?"

She nods and unzips his pants. She can't imagine having that kind of restraint, being able to sit on the other side of the room and watch Eliot and Alec fuck without joining in. "Yeah," she says, "It'll distract us."

He kisses her on the temple. "Thanks, Parker." He doesn't say anything for a minute, while Parker takes out his cock and strokes him with her hand, getting him ready for her mouth. "I bet Eliot will come around," he says.

Parker's not sure that's true, so she just says, "Shhhh," quellingly, and sucks him.

*

Eliot noticed Hardison's interest in him, sure – the assessing looks, the long slow once-overs when Eliot was wearing a particularly tight shirt. Maybe Hardison thought he was being subtle about it, but Eliot's used to watching people watching him, and he knows when he's being checked out.

He wanted to look back – even early on, when he found Hardison nothing more than annoying and annoyingly useful, he would've liked to look back, because Hardison is tall and built and exactly the kind of guy Eliot likes to fuck – but he figured it wasn't worth it. Wasn't worth the time, the entanglement, the inevitable dramatic fallout. Even later, when he knew Alec better, he would still have liked to look back, and take in Alec's lithe body, the surprising strength of his arms, the way the dark hair above his lip draws attention to his full lips and wide smile. He would like to look, but he's not going to, and so he keeps it simple: touches Hardison's shoulder or arm instead and doesn't even think about letting those touches linger.

*

With Parker, it was different, because Eliot honestly had no sexual desire for Parker at first. She wasn't really his type – somehow managing to be butch despite being small and pretty – and plus he was sure she was all-out crazy. So he spent years never even thinking about it, and in that time he and Parker became friends, maybe because Parker wasn't crazy after all, or maybe because Eliot was crazy too. In a way, that was better than fucking. Eliot hasn't had a lot of friendships with women in his life, and he likes the way that Parker understands him, even when he can't tell her what it is he needs her to understand. Parker's good at listening, and good at being quiet, and Eliot likes the kind of quiet that they forge between them, steadier and stronger as the years go by.

So when he finally did start feeling like he wanted to fuck her – when her strong legs caught his attention as she did wire acrobatics, when her throat thrown back in laughter made his body heat up – he didn't notice at first, layered as the feeling was over years of already liking Parker, already associating her physical presence with brotherhood, safety, family. When he found himself, one day, wanting to lean in and kiss her, and recognized the urge for what it was, the shock was enough to make him forget to breathe for a moment. Blooming up inside of him, suddenly obvious and fully-grown, came this desire for Parker, for her body to touch his, and he honestly couldn't think what to do about it for a few long seconds.

He tamped it down, of course. By then, Parker and Hardison were already a couple, dating and monogamous and all that stuff, and Eliot wasn't going to be the dick who got in the way of that. Or made it more complicated with his bullshit. Parker probably deserves someone more like Hardison, he thinks, someone who can love her properly. Once he knows himself, knows his own mind, he keeps from touching her in any way he doesn't have to, and tries hard not to enjoy it when Parker, unselfconscious, exuberant, friendly, touches him first.

*

In the shower, washing the taste of Parker's come from his mouth, Eliot wonders what the hell he was thinking. You don't shit where you eat, he remembers Moreau whispering in his ear, when Eliot had given a once-over to a beautiful woman associate of his, the head of an international money laundering operation in Seoul. Not that Eliot had ever trusted anything that snake told him, but he'd already known it to be good advice from his time in the Army, where he'd had camaraderie and trust with his brothers and sisters in arms and fucked townies in the local bars on a strict one-performance-only basis. He'd always liked that, about the Army, the way you were supposed to feel intense loyalty and devotion to people, especially the men, but you weren't supposed to want to date them or fuck them. When he became a soldier for hire, he'd kept to the same system, minus the camaraderie and trust, fucking whoever and moving on the next day. So when Moreau had looked at him looking at Mrs Yoon and whispered in his ear, Eliot had just nodded and looked at the wall instead.

But for some boneheaded reason Eliot had thought that it could work with Alec and Parker, that they could have each other for the love stuff and he could have the sex and the trust and the loyalty all in one place. He hadn't made a mistake like that since he was a kid, and too stupid to know how the world worked.

He won't make the same mistake again.

He gets out of the shower, towels off, and throws on a pair of jeans before heading into his kitchen, where the pots and pans are still sitting there dirty with remnants of the duck and polenta in them. What does he expect, anyway, cooking for people and then fucking them? It's not surprising that Parker got the wrong idea. He sets to cleaning up, and by the time all the surfaces are sparkling again and the last knife is in place on the magnetic board, his head feels clear.

Parker and Alec will let him keep being their teammate, he figures. It'd take more than ill-advised sex to mess that up, he's sure of it. And that's the important thing, the thing he can't lose. Sex is cheap, but crew is rare. Eliot gets some stuff out of the fridge and starts experimenting with a new dry rub, thinking it's more than time he found something he can do to the pub's pork tenderloin to make it stand up to Alec's Belgian Triple.

Neither of them bother him at all till two days later, when Parker sends him a text.

can u come down 4 a briefing? new client!

Eliot goes, hair tied back and combat boots on, ready to work, and when he gets there Parker and Alec give him nervous smiles.

"Hey," Eliot says, in his lowest, growliest voice. It hasn't really intimidated either of them in years, but it makes him feel better.

"Hey," Alec says. Parker nods at him from her position on top of the desk. Her legs are swinging against the sides of it, maybe because she's nervous, maybe not.

"So who's the new client?" Eliot asks.

They tell him about the AIDS researcher who can't get her medicines to the people who need it, and they show him a corporate CEO whose favorite methods for increasing profit are the ones that take money from the poorest, most vulnerable people, both here in the States and abroad. Eliot looks up into his smirking face on the cover of Fortune and is more than ready to punch it.

"Hoffman also employs some pretty serious muscle," Parker says, when she's outlined the basics of the con she's planning. Hardison clicks through to the next slide in the presentation, and Eliot raises his eyebrows and lets out a low whistle when he sees the faces that come up on the screen. He hasn't fought any of these folks before personally, but they've all got reputations at the international level.

"Yeah, no kidding," Eliot says, looking from Vankowitz to Bankole to that chick from the Libyan thing and then back to Vankowitz again. "I hope you don't want me to fight all these people at once."

Parker smiles at him. "Would sequentially be ok?"

Eliot licks his lips. She did promise to get him something more challenging. "I could maybe handle that," he grins.

Parker nods, and Alec's tentative smile widens, and Eliot can see what they're trying to do but it kinda feels good that they're trying to do it, so he doesn't say anything. He figured it would be like this. He knew it would be like this. He knew they wouldn't cut ties or be mad or try to tell him he's broken. He knew it. But it feels good to be sure.

"When do we start?" he asks. "Bearing in mind that I am not gonna be the one transporting the monkey."

*

Eliot ends up transporting the monkey, but only between Berlin and Frankfurt. He doesn't even mind too much.

*

Maybe a week after the German Monkey Job, Eliot's still trying to get his head on straight, but the three of them have gone back to a tentative working relationship. He didn't get any bones broken fighting Hoffman's security team – unless you count those two fingers, but that ain't much – and he's well on his way to perfecting the dry rub for the pork tenderloin. He picks a girl up at a bar and takes her home, and that goes a long way towards making him feel more like himself. He's careful to make sure Parker and Alec don't find out about it, though. It's is stupid, but he can't help himself.

All in all, Eliot thinks, he's dodged a bullet, and if he watches Parker's hands touching Alec's broad shoulders sometimes, or Alec's mouth where he bends to put his lips against Parker's ear, well, he'll get over it.

He's just to the point where he's starting to think that all is good in life when Parker goes and gets herself arrested.

"Pickpocketing?" Eliot says, incredulously, for the fifth time. "How in the hell does Parker, international jewel thief, get arrested in Portland for pickpocketing?"

Alec isn't looking at him, eyes glued to the screen, mouth set in a grim line, fingers moving fast. "What, did I get here before you? She didn't say when she called from jail! I don't know what in the hell Parker was doing."

"You're her boyfriend," Eliot says, and then immediately regrets saying it. The comment earns him a half-second of Alec's attention, his gaze flitting up from the screen to look at Eliot before he glances back down.

"You know what, I'm not even touching that," Alec says darkly. Eliot resumes his pacing, rubbing at the back of his head and gripping his hair tightly.

"What was Parker even doing pickpocketing, is what I mean," he says, a second later, a little less aggressive, clarifying but not apologizing. "Shouldn't she be robbing banks in her spare time at least?"

"She does like to keep her hand in," Alec mutters. "Okay, okay, I've got her. She didn't have any ID on her, and she gave them one of her clean aliases, good girl. One of us needs to get down there and be her lawyer."

"You should do it," Eliot says. He's too keyed up by the whole situation, a teammate in trouble and a problem he can't punch. He'll be no good grifting. Much as he would hate to admit it, Alec's always been a little better than he is at that part.

"Yeah, no, okay. What I meant to say was, you need to get down there and be her lawyer. I gotta hack into the Portland PD database and keep any nosy cops from figuring out who Parker really is and throwing her into a federal penitentiary for life for six hundred counts of grand larceny."

Alec gets steadily more emphatic as he speaks, so that by the time he gets to the end of his sentence he's practically yelling. Eliot narrows his eyes.

"You ain't gotta yell, Hardison, I'm just trying to help." Eliot's yelling too, which maybe doesn't help his message, but goddammit it's not his fault that Parker got herself picked up by some beat cop for lifting Rolexes.

Hardison takes a deep breath – visibly and pointedly takes a deep breath, which makes Eliot want to punch him, and then he speaks again, in a softer tone. "Okay. Will you please go and put on a suit and comb your hair and look like a lawyer while I beef up Parker's alias and prevent any pesky inter-agency cooperation."

Eliot hesitates, but nods once, and goes off to find a suit. Even if he has been grifting more this last year, since Sophie and Nate left, he doesn't get called on to play the suave businessman all that often and doesn't have as much practice at it. Rogues and scoundrels, construction workers and janitors, that's his usual niche. He tugs his cuffs into place and ties his tie carefully and tries to remember what Sophie taught him. Confidence. Grace. Disdain. It takes a little focus to change his usual lumbering don't-fuck-with-me walk into something classy, more so because all he really wants to do right now is show up at the police station and bust Parker out with his bare hands. But by the time he comes back down the stairs from his apartment, he feels like he can do it.

"Okay, point me at 'em," he says, walking through the double doors and into the briefing room. Alec looks up for at least two seconds this time, taking in his outfit, and nods.

"The alias Parker gave them is for a fake heiress from New York," Alec explains. "You're the lawyer that daddy sent to bail his little princess out and get rid of this whole mess."

"Uh huh. And if I get a hard-nose cop who doesn't want to play?"

Alec hands him a briefcase. From long experience, Eliot can tell when he hefts it that it's full of cash. "What is that, fifty thousand?"

Alec raises an eyebrow. "Not bad. Sixty. It's what I had lying around. And if that doesn't open all the doors you need, just bail her out and I'll erase all records of her ever being there."

"Cops'll still recognize her," Eliot says. They've always operated either by being in with the local cops or else being invisible to them. He doesn't like the idea of some cop taking an interest in Parker, not here in Portland where they have their home. But a bribe is way too risky for his taste too.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Alec says, and glances up at the ugly-ass painting of fake grandpa Nate on the wall. Eliot knows that Alec's got contingency plans for the three of them – Eliot's got a few of his own, designed for one person – but he'd rather not have to move if they don't have to. He was just getting the brew pub menu how he liked it.

Without looking up, Alec tosses him his earbud, and Eliot catches it. Once he's got it in his ear, Alec says, "Go get our girl. I got your back." As always, it's a little weird to hear his voice coming from two directions at once, out loud in the room but also warm and intimate in his ear. Eliot meets Alec's gaze and nods once, serious.

"Roger that," he says darkly, and turns to go.

"And try not to look like a mob hitman stuffed into a collared shirt," Alec adds, once Eliot is in the hallway. Eliot rolls his eyes up at the security camera, but adjusts his gait a little, taking a deep breath.

"Doing my best," he says.

*

Getting Parker out of jail isn't the hard part. Eliot's palms are sweating the whole time, and his New York accent doesn't sound quite right, and basically he's more nervous than he's been in years for this stupid trip to a stupid tiny hole in the wall police station where his mission couldn't be much simpler. He doesn't even have to start offering significant cash donations to the Portland Police Mounted Patrol or the Police Benevolent Association – a dodgy proposition anyway – since the cops seem more afraid of a lawsuit than they are interested in pressing charges against one bored rich girl pickpocket. They're just lucky it's Parker and not him, or God forbid Hardison.

"I'm sure Miss Rochester's father will be very pleased with this outcome," Eliot assures the Captain he'd bullied his way in to seeing. "I'll be sure to let him know how helpful the Portland Police have been."

The Captain shakes his hand. "It wasn't any trouble. The victim left after he got back the wallet that we recovered from Miss Rochester. We would've ended up dropping the charges anyway, more than likely."

"He left, huh," Eliot says, surprised, knowing full well that his accent is slipping and his grip is getting too tight. He lets go of the Captain's hand as soon as he realizes it, and clears his throat surreptitiously.

"Yeah. Not too unusual. People don't like the hassle. But your client is free to go."

When Eliot finally gets Parker on the right side of the smudged, grungy, bullet-proof glass, the look in her eyes is murderous. She holds up her hands, wiggling her fingertips. In the old days, they'd be ink-stained, but nowadays they use the electronic thingies for fingerprinting. Eliot gets her meaning anyway.

"I know. Hardison is on it."

She nods, but doesn't say anything, stalking fast and angry out the doors and into the parking lot; helpless, Eliot follows behind in her wake.

Halfway to the car he figures it's safe to talk, and clears his throat. "So, you gonna tell me how the world's greatest thief got rumbled by some beat cop, or . . . "

Parker whirls on him, her hair flying around her head, and pokes her finger into his chest. "I did not. Get caught. By a beat cop," she says, subsequent pokes emphasizing each part of the sentence.

Eliot blinks and slaps her hands away. "C'mon, Parker, you – "

"Eliot," she says, with finality. "I wasn't lifting anything. I got set up."

Then she's off again, walking the last twenty feet to the car, and Eliot's mind is already spinning with the implications.

"You take the undercarriage," Parker says darkly, as she pops the hood. He does, not caring about the grease stains he's gonna get on his fancy suit, and between them they find two trackers and three bugs.

"Take some pictures for me and then smash 'em," Hardison advises, when they get him on comms. "And get a fucking taxi home. As of right now, that car was never registered to any of us."

On the cab ride home, Eliot tries to remember, but he can't recall ever hearing Hardison swear over the comms before, not even times when he was in physical danger and Eliot wasn't around to save him. Eliot feels like swearing too, or like bringing his rage up to a high simmer like Parker is obviously doing as she sits silently on her side of the cab, but he holds it in. Someone'll be on the receiving end of it, he promises himself, before too long.

*

By the time they get home, Hardison's in what seems to be a much better mood.

"Hello, fellow thieves, fresh from an encounter with our local constabulary! I have prepared a Powerpoint presentation that I like to call People Who Might Want to Screw with Us." He clicks the button, and a title card bearing those words shows up on the big screen in a font somewhat sparklier than Alec's usual.

Parker sets her stuff on the bar and pulls up a stool, body still stiff with tension. "Whoever it is, they're good. I didn't even feel them plant the wallet on me."

"Did you get a good look at the person who you were supposed to have stolen something from?" Alec asks. "Either of you?"

Eliot shakes his head. "He was gone by the time I got there."

"I saw him across the square, when he was pointing me out to the cop. Baseball cap, facing away from me. Six-two, broad in the shoulder like hired muscle."

"So he might not even be the guy," Alec says. "You get anything else? Race? Hair color? Inseam?"

Parker shrugs. "Light-skinned, maybe white. Short brown hair under the cap, I think. Mostly I was running."

Alec makes a face at that, and seems to lose some of his forced cheerfulness. Good. It was starting to get on Eliot's nerves.

"You okay, babe?" Alec asks, and Eliot realizes, suddenly, that the experience of running from a cop on the street with a stolen wallet in her pocket could probably dredge up some bad memories for Parker. He feels like a dick for not asking her this himself, but then he reminds himself that they weren't exactly free to talk in the cab. And that he's not the one who's her boyfriend.

"Yeah, sure," she replies. "Made me feel young again." Parker gives him half a smile, the way you do when you want to reassure someone, and Alec throws an arm around her shoulders and squeezes briefly.

Eliot coughs, feeling a little awkward at this show of affection. He hopes Parker doesn't want a hug from him, too. "So, there's a frame-up?"

"Yeah," Alec says. "There's a frame-up. Someone's trying to use Parker to track the three of us down, or maybe get to Nate or Sophie through us. Now, I've hacked AFIS to substitute other prints for the prints they took from Parker, and matched the substitute prints to the alias we established for her in New York. This investigation shouldn't be connected to any previous crime scenes where certain young, irresponsible thieves left fingerprints."

Parker, her mouth a thin line, nods firmly.

"You still don't wear gloves enough," Eliot growls. "This is the kind of thing that makes my job harder. Hardison's too. Gotta be more careful."

"You looked cute in your suit today," Parker replies easily, not looking at him. "Thanks for coming and grifting me out."

Eliot sheds his grease-stained suit jacket and pulls his tie off over his head, throwing them both down onto the chair next to him. He can't think of anything to say back, so he stays quiet.

"Yeah, Eliot," Alec says. He presses the button on his remote control, and the screen fills with an image of a vaguely familiar businesswoman in a black suit. The text below says Angela Masterson - their first suspect, Eliot assumes. "Thanks." He shoots Eliot a glance, half gratitude and half nervous uncertainty.

"Well, let's clean up whatever mess we got into so I don't gotta do it again," Eliot says. He thinks again about his sweaty palms, about the idea of Parker locked up in a cage somewhere he and Alec couldn't get to her. It unsettles him more than it should.

"Yeah, Eliot's New York accent was kind of worse than Sophie's," Parker says, smiling. The uncertainty drains away from Alec's face, and Eliot rolls his eyes at both of them.

*

"I kept thinking, in jail, about which one of you would come to get me," Parker says, later, when they're buried deep in various suspects' personal histories and financials. Eliot's eyes are about to cross – this is usually Hardison's job, but they need all hands to figure out who they're dealing with as fast as possible.

"You know Hardison woulda done it, but he had to hack stuff," Eliot says, not meeting her eyes. The guy he's looking at right now was the third in command at Vesper Pharmaceuticals, a mousy little dude he'd hardly noticed at the time. Eliot can picture him trying the revenge-served-cold approach to getting back at them.

"Oh, of course," Parker says. "I meant, I wasn't sure you'd do it. I know you have a thing about walking into police stations."

"If you live outside the law, usually best not to submit yourself to it," Eliot agrees. He also doesn't like hitting cops, but he doesn't say that out loud. Parker probably knows, anyway. She notices things like that. He turns the page – at least Hardison was big enough to make them printouts and he doesn't have to squint at a screen – and frowns at what he thinks is a discrepancy.

Parker sighs, the way she does when she thinks he's being stupid, and at that Eliot looks up. "I'm saying, I know you took a risk to come and get me, and that it meant something to you, and – thank you," she finishes awkwardly.

"Oh," Eliot says. "Yeah. Okay."

"Good," Parker grumbles.

"I'd risk – " Eliot begins, then stops. Parker looks up at him, her gaze cool and assessing. "I'd risk anything for you. Both of you," he says. Then he coughs and adds, "So I just wish you'd take better care."

"I know you do," Parker says, smiling. "But my job is jumping off of very tall buildings. Hard to keep me safe."

"Don't I know it." Parker's gaze turns warm, then, and she smiles at him, and it feels like it used to before he started thinking with his dick and deciding it was a good idea to have sex with his partners. Like their old friendship, solid and steady. Eliot smiles back, relieved.

*

"Henry Peterson," Parker says, three days and a lot of take-out later, standing in front of a huge picture of the man. Her hair is held back by two pencils and falling in wisps around her face, her sweater has a huge coffee stain on the cuff, and she talks like she's got Peterson in her sights already. "That's our mark."

"Technically, we're his mark," Alec points out, which Eliot can't help but nod along with.

"The guy we couldn't get on the securities thing, right?" Eliot says.

"Yeah, we nailed the other three guys from that corporation but this one got away. Turns out he made something of a hobby out of us afterwards." Alec brings up the stuff he's found, all of Peterson's tracks across the internet. He's spent months researching the three of them, ever since they'd destroyed his livelihood and forced him to flee the state.

"He just knew our faces," Eliot says, frowning up at the screen. He barely remembers this dude, but he does remember the smirk he'd had, the self-satisfied little bastard.

"These days, that's enough. He hired private detectives, tracked us to Portland, found a couple of our aliases – don't worry, I've burned them," he adds hastily, when Parker spins to look at him, wide-eyed. "The pickpocketing thing was meant to get him back to our base of operations, flush us out."

"I don't suppose he fell for the idea that I'm really Trisha Rochester," Parker frowns.

"No way of knowing yet, but I'm guessing not," Alec says. "Anyway, it's gonna be hard to run a game on him when he already knows all our faces. Nate's and Sophie's too, he managed to scare up some old surveillance footage with all five of us."

"I thought you scrubbed all the surveillance footage after a job," Eliot said. He doesn't want to sound as angry as he does, and he shifts restlessly in place.

Alec doesn't take it personal, though, just shrugs. "Most of it. Can't always find or access everything, not without running another con to do it." He grins at Eliot, sidelong. "Life's a risk."

Eliot huffs.

"The other problem is that he's going to be on the lookout for a con," Parker says, her eyes never leaving the screen. "We can't just recruit Tara or Quinn or somebody. We need someone he already trusts."

She gets a little scary, sometimes, when she's this way – Mastermind Mode, Alec calls it, like something from a video game, but Eliot just thinks of it as her regular genius. In the moment, she gets caught up enough that she doesn't hide behind her usual goofy Parkerness, and they get to see the calculations that happen behind her eyes all the time.

"Right," Eliot murmurs, just loud enough to encourage her, just quiet enough to avoid breaking her concentration. Alec goes still, too, and doesn't say anything, giving her space to think.

"Now that he's made contact, he's going to expect us to strike back, to try to find him. Hardison, did you find traps in any of his online stuff? Things to – whatever, track you back?"

"Lots of them," Alec nods.

"And the car with the trackers and the surveillance. And the securities thing, it was a classic con at heart – make the client beg you to take their money."

Eliot nods, seeing it. "He's the kind who'll want us to come to him."

"Hardison, I want constant sweeps of every single thing that comes into this bar, especially us. Peterson's working with someone who can plant trackers on us without us noticing. And if they find the brew pub, we're in trouble."

"Easy enough to plant a tail on us," Eliot says. "No one followed us back from the station, but I'll put money it was because they were lazy, and looking for the car I showed up in."

Eliot wonders why he never checked whether Alec put his own name on the brew pub financials. Surely he didn't. But Eliot wonders, and wishes he'd thought to check for himself. Amy and the other staff all call him Alec, which is bad enough by itself.

"Sweeps for surveillance equipment in the bar and on us, limited exposure, and when we do go out, we go through the basement, cover our faces as much as possible. Until we're ready to take him down." Parker's face is set in a worried frown.

Alec starts pushing buttons, but he also says, "That's just defense, Parker."

Parker hmmms in her throat and her eyes flit back and forth over the evidence on the screen. "We need an in. He's looking for us, and he's looking for anyone he doesn't already know."

"What's he doing since the securities thing?" Eliot watches as Alec flicks from screen to screen, sifting through information faster than Eliot ever could.

"He's just gone back to his old business." Alec throws a sidelong grin at Parker. "Diamonds."

"Really," Parker breathes. "Working with De Beers again?"

"Nope, Merrison's."

"Which means he's getting back in touch with people in an industry he hasn't worked in for a while," Parker says.

"Bringing up his list of contacts," Alec says, and the screen changes. They all pore over the names for a minute, and then Eliot feels a sinking feeling in his chest as he realizes how this is going to play out.

"He was with De Beers for which years, Hardison?" he asks. Alec types and brings up the info.

"2005 to 2007," he says.

Eliot purses his lips.

"Eliot," Parker says warningly, "out with it!"

"I know the person who ran security at De Beers at that time," he says. "For the whole corporation. Peterson'll know her."

Parker narrows her eyes. "How do you know Francine Harris?"

Eliot narrows his eyes back. "How do you know Francine Harris?"

"I used to steal her diamonds!"

"Huh," Eliot says. "That might make this, uh, complicated." It's the last thing in the world he wants, bringing her in to pass judgment on his crew, letting his crew eyeball her and pass judgment in turn. She's one of the few people he's ever kept with long-term, and especially after his disastrous attempts at sex with Parker and Alec, he's protective of that. Francine's cool and professional and kind enough, but it still makes Eliot feel sick inside, like worlds are colliding, like his life might be slipping from his control.

"She on our side now?" Alec asks. "Or do we have to con her?"

Eliot grimaces. "She's an independent contractor," he says delicately, "and I have the feeling she'll be all too glad to be able to get back at her old boss. He screwed her over for promotion a bunch of times to keep her working under him."

"And she won't have a problem with us?" Alec asks. Eliot can't help a little smile, then, as he shakes his head.

"No," he says, but then Parker's looking at him, and she's got her incisive genius face on again, and he freezes in panic.

"Because . . . " she says, leadingly.

"Because," Eliot says, "Because, uh, because she – because I – "

Parker's sudden evil grin is terrifying. "Because she's your sex friend."

Alec's eyes go wide. Eliot frowns. There it is, the beginning of the collision, and Eliot gropes desperately for a way to stop it.

"Let's never use those words to describe anyone ever again," he temporizes.

"But she is your – you know," Alec says, gesturing futilely with his hands. If he finds his way to a jack-off motion Eliot really will punch him. "Orgasm buddy."

"Holy God, that's worse," Eliot groans. "And yes, okay? She's – a friend."

Alec keeps looking shocked, though Eliot can't really guess why, but Parker just nods, satisfied. Eliot's got years of training that keeps him from shifting from foot to foot or straight up leaving the room, but that's what he wants to do: get the fuck out of there, and maybe erase the last five minutes of conversation from everyone's brains.

"Okay. So you go recruit Harris, bribe her with sex if you have to, and we've got the makings of a con."

Eliot thinks about saying Parker, I'm not bribing people with sex!, but he knows it's just gonna lead to another six rounds of who's on first and he wants this talking part over with, so instead he just grunts angrily and finally does get the hell out of the room. Behind him, he hears Alec speak again, in a tone way too amused for Eliot's current mood.

"Girl, how come you never give me the assignment where I have to bribe someone with sex?"

Parker's laugh is wholehearted, appealing. "That's the new Plan M," she says, "emergencies only," and then Alec laughs with her, and Eliot keeps walking.

*

Francine is, unfortunately for Eliot, all too eager to get on board with the plan.

"Hell yeah, I remember that dickwad," she says, when Eliot calls her, laughing into the phone. "I'm in LA, but I'll grab a flight up first thing tomorrow morning."

"Thanks, Frannie," Eliot says. "And, uh, listen, about the people I'm working with – there might be some," he grimaces, "interpersonal issues."

"You're fucking them, too?" Her tone is light and easy, accepting, but the question makes Eliot bristle anyway. He frowns, even though Francine can't see it.

"I – no. I mean, I did, but – " He cuts himself off, unwilling to go on stammering and unable to find the right words to explain himself. There's a long pause in the conversation. Eliot presses his lips together, trying to think of a way to fix it.

Parker was right. Alec really is the only one of them any good at all with people. And Alec's not that good with people.

"Okay, you know what?" Francine says after a moment, not unkindly. "In retrospect, I don't know why I asked that, because I do not care and do not want to know. Is your team going to be professional?"

Eliot thinks about Alec's creepy way of crooning love songs to his computers and Parker's tendency to drop down from the ceiling and land on him in a sneak attack and the way they'd both worked together to surprise him, on his last birthday, with a robot training dummy for him to practice-fight against. It isn't much of an opponent, but Eliot does secretly like all the trash-talk phrases that they programmed into it.

"Yes," he says firmly.

"Then we'll be fine," Francine says. "See you soon."

The line goes dead. Eliot considers pretending that he's still talking to her so that he can stay in the back office and avoid talking to Alec and Parker some more.

He's not sure he's good enough at grifting yet to do it to his own crew, though. And besides, you don't grift your own crew. And besides, he's not a coward. He walks back out to the main room, where Parker and Alec are still . . . whatever. Canoodling. Their heads are bent together and there's a slow grin on Parker's face that he's seen before, when she rolled him on his back and wrapped her hand around his dick.

"Francine says she'll hop a flight tomorrow morning," Eliot says, maybe a little too loudly. Alec and Parker look up. Eliot braces for whatever it is that they've got to say to him.

"Good," Parker says. "Then we have tonight to hash out the details." She hands Eliot his glasses, which he always neglects to wear when they're doing close work, so that he usually gets a headache. He scowls and takes them, then sits down next to Alec.

Alec, wordlessly, hands him a laptop, the one that he set up just for Eliot, with the touchscreen and the voice-activation so that Eliot doesn't have to mess around with the keyboard or the touchpad too much; he's never been much good with computers, and sometimes his fingers ache where they've been broken before. Alec told him, when he gave it to him, that he used samples of Eliot's voice from the comms to teach it what he sounds like. Eliot sometimes yells at it to open his recipes when his hands are wrist-deep in dough.

"All right, let's get started," Parker says. "First off, we'll need to get the key off the bank manager."

"Hey, guys," Eliot says, staring into his laptop screen. He's gripping the side of it kind of hard, he realizes; he lets go before the thin material starts to crack. "Thanks for. You know. Not being weird. About Francine."

Alec and Parker glance at each other, and Parker maybe makes some kind of complicated facial expression at Alec.

"Hey, man, it's us who should be apologizing," Alec says. "We were – " he pauses and licks his lips. "I was trying to put something I wanted on you, and that ain't right. We didn't want to pressure you into anything you weren't into."

Parker nods. "We were going too fast. Or too far. Maybe in the wrong direction?"

Alec gives them a tentative half-smile. "I think maybe we were on the wrong line?"

There's a pause, then, as they wait for Eliot to pick up the thread of the conversation. He wouldn't have thought, back six years ago, that these two could have this much patience between them. He's grateful. Grateful enough to try to find the right words to give them.

"I don't do the romance thing," he says. "Took me a long time to figure it out."

He lets them absorb this, then adds, "The way you two are with each other, it's not for me. Sex is different, but." He finishes with a shrug. He can't really remember the last time he had to explain this. Usually everyone knows from looking at him that he's not a long-term deal.

"So, you're . . . aromantic?" Alec hazards, after a moment, when it's clear that Eliot's done talking.

"Whatever," Eliot mutters, poking at his touchscreen, taking care to be gentle with it. "Labels are dumb. It is what it is."

"Check," Alec says.

"You're our partner," Parker says firmly. "Sorry for treating you like you were our husband."

For a second Eliot almost doesn't hear the word, it's so foreign to his ear, to the way he would think about his relationship with them. When he finally understands what she's saying, it hits him like a shock, like a blow to the solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him. Parker sees his surprise, and her frown deepens.

"Partner's what I want," he says, eventually. "Don't ever want to lose that." The other two are just looking at him, so he coughs. "Um, so, is Parker gonna go and lift the bank manager's key, or what?"

"I think Hardison can do it," Parker says, and Eliot feels his shoulders relax as she follows him kindly to the new topic. "He's been practicing his lifts."

"I been practicing my lifts," Alec agrees.

"Oh Lord help us," Eliot mutters, but he knows he's smiling, and he can't help it.

*

Francine gets in the next day, flawless in a red dress, pearls, and killer heels. She's five eleven barefoot, even without counting the inch or so of height she gets from her short afro, but she's always liked towering over Eliot. He leans up to kiss her cheek, and she leans down.

"Francine, this is Alec Hardison and Parker," Eliot says, gesturing at the two of them. "My, uh." He hesitates.

"We're Eliot's partners," Alec fills in smoothly, offering his hand. Eliot catches his eye for a second and nods gratefully.

"Nice to meet you," Francine says, shaking hands with both of them. Alec and Parker manage to say stuff that sounds professional and doesn't embarrass Eliot at all, so it's already going better than he thought.

"Don't I know you from somewhere?" Francine asks Parker, narrowing her eyes and slowing down their handshake.

"South Africa, 2006," Parker says. "I'm surprised you remember me at all. Most people don't."

Francine's eyes light up with recognition, and she grips Parker's hand a little firmer, pulls her in closer. "Of course. That was the biggest loss De Beers ever took." She lets Parker's hand fall, then, but doesn't take her eyes off of her. "Stealing the diamonds before they'd been evaluated, so that we couldn't claim the theft with the insurance company. Smart."

Parker shrugs easily. "I used to do that sometimes. It's like an extra bonus theft. Plus there was this insurance guy who was kinda on my trail at the time, and I didn't want to get him involved."

Eliot and Alec both smile at that.

"Well, at least I know you have experience being devious and vengeful," Francine says cheerfully. "That should come in handy."

"So, Ms Harris, you're ready to get Henry Peterson thrown in jail?" Parker asks. Francine smiles her shark-tooth grin, the one that she sometimes gives Eliot when she goes down on him. He can't help but grin himself, a little.

"Oh, more than ready. And you can call me Francine."

*

It takes a couple of days to get Francine onboard with the con, gather the necessary supplies, and wait for the timing to work out for the various moving parts. Once everything's in place, they all get hotel rooms at a place across town – just in case, they want to avoid bringing any attention to the brew pub or to the staff – and get Francine ready for her "accidental run-in" with Peterson. This involves, in part, strapping her into one of Parker's harnesses, which Parker is doing with an unusual level of tenderness and violence.

"Is he going to remember you?" Eliot asks, as Parker tugs hard on a strap. He's increasingly worried that her cover story won't work.

Francine raises her eyebrows and glances over at Hardison, who shrugs back at her. "I was the only black woman working for Corporate for three years," she says mildly. "He'll remember my name, definitely. Though it's possible you could've just hired an actor to play me and it'd all be the same to Peterson."

"We could actually do that if you want to back out," Hardison suggests. "I bet it'd work, and then you wouldn't be staking your professional reputation. Even we don't usually work under our real names."

Francine rolls her eyes. "That's sweet, but I'm in. And trust me, this is more likely to enhance my professional reputation than harm it, if it gets out. Or did Eliot not tell you that I'm an independent contractor in security these days?"

"We don't really know what that means," Parker replies, her mouth near Francine's ear as she attaches the back straps and pulls them tight over Francine's fancy suit. "But it sounds really cool."

"It's pretty cool," Francine agrees. She glances back, making eye contact with Parker and giving her a slow smile. "All set?"

Parker smiles back. "Yup. You're ready to jump. So long as you don't mind trusting your life to a thief who used to steal your diamonds and evade your security personnel."

"Well, life's a risk," Francine says, sounding way too much like Hardison. Parker grips one of her harness straps, then, and they go, walking just a little too close together. Eliot frowns, not sure what to make of that.

*

The first week goes without a hitch, with Francine inserting herself pretty smoothly into Peterson's affairs once his current head of security suddenly and mysteriously gets a better offer and quits on the spot. Eliot's doing some low-key grifting stuff to support the backend of the con, janitors and delivery men, but he hasn't gotten to punch anyone all week, so he finds himself antsy, on-edge, spoiling for some activity. His schedule and Francine's don't coincide at first, but finally there's a day when she's back from the office before ten pm and he's not busy backing Parker up in her nighttime recon work.

"You free tonight?" he asks her, when she gets back in at a healthy seven-thirty. He bumps his hip with hers as they walk, and she smiles down at him.

"Come by my hotel room at nine," she tells him.

When he gets there, she doesn't waste any time getting them both naked on her bed. He knows just how she likes to be touched, his mouth at the base of her throat, his fingertips against the underside of her breasts, and she laughs as he relearns all her hot spots. They haven't seen each other more than a few times, since the Leverage team moved out of LA, but she still feels familiar against him: the weight of her on top of him, the scrape of her teeth against his earlobe, the way her feet curl around his legs. After some rolling around and kissing, she gets him on his back, pushes down hard on his shoulders, and slides up his body so that her knees hit the bed on either side of his hips.

"Missed you, Spencer," she says breathily. There's a sheen of sweat on her face and neck. Eliot leans up and licks her, that same notch between her collarbones that she likes so much.

She groans. "You gonna fuck me or what?"

Eliot gets a condom on and then shifts his hips up just as Francine shifts hers down, the two of them moving together in a perfect, practiced rhythm.

"There it is," Eliot grunts out, "just like that." Francine makes a hum of approval and clenches around him, keeping her grip on his shoulders tight, the way she knows he likes it.

They know each other well enough that they can keep going for a long time, speeding up together, slowing down together, their bodies arching and tangling and thrusting together. Francine moans and comes, gripping his hair in her fist as she does it, telling him he better not stop. He laughs and keeps going, loving every moment, every stroke into her body, every toothy grin she flashes him as he hits just the right spot. They shift so that Eliot's on top for a while, and then on to their sides, Eliot pulling out for a moment so that he can fuck Francine from behind. She drags his hand to her clit, and he mouths her neck, and when he finally comes it feels amazing, comfortable and easy, nothing at all like the tender, careful newness he had with Alec and Parker.

"Hmmm," Francine says appreciatively, when she's lying on her back, nipples still tight, legs spread and arms raised over her head. "Fabulous."

"Yup," Eliot says, catching his breath. He can smell her perfume on his skin, and her sweat, too, the scent of her mixing up to cover him completely. "You want anything?"

"Water," she says. She watches him while he gets up to get it, and shifts over to make space for him on the bed when he comes back. He's always loved this part, with her, the way she would let him stay and bask without any expectation. Cuddling has always kind of weirded him out – made him feel claustrophobic, trapped – but this, lying side by side and glorying in the sex you just had, this is one of Eliot's favorite things.

"So how's life, Spencer?" she asks, after a long drink. "You seem more relaxed than usual."

Eliot huffs out a breath. "Fine. Took down that Bonneville guy a couple months ago, you remember him?"

"The illegal arms guy? Yeah, I remember. That's good work."

"Yeah." He glances over at her. "What's new with you?"

She makes a facial expression that he can't quite read, then says, "Nothing big. I've been working in enriched uranium lately."

"Securing, or . . . ?"

She snorts. "Preventing its theft by people who want to make bombs out of it, securing its use and safety for people who want to make power stations out of it. Your team ain't gotta come after me, I'm on the right side of justice these days."

He grins; he likes how her accent slips, sometimes, after sex. He can't quite pin it down – North Carolina, maybe – and it's nowhere near his own home, but he likes the sound of it anyhow. "Just be sure to keep your nose clean," he says. She winks at him.

"Never would've thought you'd become a lawman," she says.

They have a little silence, then, as the sweat cools. Francine takes another drink of her water. This is normally when Eliot would put his pants back on.

"I, uh. Been working just with these two lately. Parker and Hardison."

"Uh-huh," Francine says slowly.

"It's been – you know. It's been good, I guess. I never – " he breaks off, then, because Francine is laughing loudly, her whole body shaking with it. "What?" he growls.

"Eliot, honey," she says, "I am not wading into whatever hot non-relationship mess you've gotten yourself into. I am sorry, because you're a great acquaintance and a hot piece of ass and I love fucking you, but this is not what our arrangement is about."

Eliot blinks.

"Seriously," she says, rolling over, "how many times, in the years we've known each other, have I come to you with my issues with Marcus?"

"Marcus is your husband!"

"Yeah, exactly." She holds up a hand before he can object to that. "I know, I know, you're not the kind who's gonna be anybody's husband. But you've been with these people for longer than anyone else you've teamed up with since I've known you. It's gonna be as messy as marital issues, multiplied by two for the two people involved, multiplied by – " she looks him over – "point three for the gay stuff. That about right?"

Eliot falls back into the mattress, defeated. "I got no problem being – being queer," he says, defensively.

"Uh-huh. Well, you've got some kind of problem, and it's not my problem, so I suggest you figure it out. I'm happy to fuck you through it, though, you're a good lay when you're frustrated."

"You're a class act, Francine," Eliot says, laughing a little.

"This, I already knew."

"You need to get some sleep? I know the boss has been running you ragged," he says, teasing. He runs a hand slowly up her thigh, fingertips not quite touching the crease where her leg meets her body.

"Hmm, don't think I'm all that sleepy yet," Francine says, smiling, pulling him to her again.

*

The next day is the big day, when Francine – in her new capacity as Peterson's security specialist at Merrison's – is planning to sound the alarm and inform Peterson that three thieves – Caucasian female, five-seven, African-American male, six-one, Caucasian male, five-seven – are attempting to gain access to his Portland satellite office.

The three of them are waiting in the van for her to make her move, and it's pretty quiet, though a kind of quiet that Eliot likes. He pores over the building blueprints, checking that he's got the exits memorized. It occurs to him that he wouldn't even have seen half of these exits, a few years ago. Now he sees the ones where Parker can belay him down the side of a building, or where Alec can bypass a simple electronic keycard lock, not just the ones he can break through with his body or a charm his way past with a smile.

"Have a nice time with Francine last night?" Parker's body is suddenly sitting next to his, her shoulder bumping up against his, and Eliot doesn't jump but he is a little startled. He'll never know how she can move that quietly and go that unnoticed, even by him, even in a small space like the back of a van.

Eliot blinks at the question, then takes a long breath through his nose to counteract the claustrophobia it makes him feel. "How do you know where I go at night?"

She makes a half a frown. "Enhanced security precautions due to the Peterson thing. Our earbud trackers are sending Hardison a report on our whereabouts every three hours. Remember?"

He does remember, and relaxes a little. "It's not really a normal kind of question to ask, Parker," he says.

"You used to always brag about your sex partners," she notes.

"Yeah," Eliot says, and it escapes his mouth on an unexpected laugh, "before you were one of them!"

This makes Parker laugh too, and she bumps his shoulder again, in that bro way that she's always had with him.

"You know, Alec is kind of a romantic." Eliot does know that, but can't conceive of a way to reply to it. People like Alec always want something from Eliot that Eliot can't give, and Eliot figures he wants something that people like Alec can't give, and it doesn't seem to him like there's any use talking about it. He glances up to see if Alec is listening to this conversation, but he's at the other end of the van, headphones on, intent on his computer screen.

"He grew up with all that stuff in movies, you know, falling in love, getting married, having kids, getting dogs for the kids, getting houses for the kids and the dogs, getting jobs for the houses," Parker continues, her map of American domesticity only slightly askew.

He nods stiffly. He likes kids a lot, actually, and dogs for that matter, though he never figured on being settled down long enough to have either one.

"What's your point, Parker," he asks, maybe a little too sharp. Parker punches him on the arm, hard enough to make him feel obligated to pretend to flinch.

"My point is, I didn't want to – it was really hard to start dating him, because I was worried he was going to want all those things instead of wanting, um." She pauses, chews her lip. Eliot cocks his head.

"Instead of wanting you?" he tries. He can see the shape of what Parker's getting at, now, though he's not sure he likes where it's going. He wonders what kind of stuff she grew up with, what images of family make more sense to her.

"Yeah," she sighs. "So, Alec's a romantic, and I like being romantic with him, but our romantic doesn't mean all those things, the dogs and kids and houses things. It means other things. And I like being – you know. Friends. With you. And I like that it doesn't mean romance like it does with Alec, and that it means other things instead."

Oh, Eliot thinks. This again. "Okay, Parker," he says. "I, uh, like being your friend too."

She rolls her eyes. "Of course you do. My point is: whatever it is you want from me, or from Alec, you should ask us for it. If you want it to stay like this, where we're friends – " she pauses, and frowns. "Family," she corrects herself. "If you want us to stay family like this, that's okay. That's good. But if you want something else, you should ask. Normal is what works for you, that's what Alec's Nana says."

He swallows, taking in her words. "Sex is just – fun, to me, Parker. It's not something I need from you guys. And it makes things messy."

"I like my fun kind of messy," she shrugs. "But I talked to Alec about it this morning, and he says we could be like Francine to you. Sex friends."

Eliot buries his face in his hands. "I really wish you'd stop using that term," he says, muffled. When he looks up, Parker is smiling.

"Then you have to give me something else to call it," she says.

"So you could promise, as my – sex friends – that you wouldn't go and fall in love with me?"

He means it as a rhetorical question, but Parker takes it seriously. "Wellllll," she says, "I probably could. You're like a brother to me. A brother that I want to have sex with," she adds hastily, as if she's worried about offending him.

Eliot manfully doesn't say anything in reply to this. It's real easy for a conversation with Parker to get off track if you start chasing every rabbit.

"With Alec, though, it's tricky, because I'm pretty sure he fell in love with you a couple years ago."

Eliot feels some panic at this idea, that Hardison might secretly love him, but he can't quite pin down if it's the love part that's freaking him out or if it's that point-three-for-the-gay-stuff thing that Francine had pointed out the night before.

"I don't – " he starts. He frowns to think that Francine might've been right. "I don't know what to do with that."

"What I mean is," Parker begins, then trails off. Eventually Eliot nudges her. "What I mean is," she says again, "Alec gets a picture in his head of what he thinks he wants, but then sometimes it's just – you know. A picture. And if you offer him something else, he might be happy to take it."

"He tell you to tell me this?" Eliot asks. Parker nods solemnly.

"He said I'm the only one of us who's any good with people," she says, then can't hold it and breaks out into giggles. Eliot snorts, unable to repress a smile.

"Actually," Parker says, more softly, as if to herself, "Alec is really good at love. He loves what's there, not what he wants to be there."

Eliot knows how slowly Alec took things with Parker – hell, Eliot even had to tell him to pick up the pace a little, at one point. Knows it was because Alec wanted to give Parker what she needed.

Parker slaps his thigh heartily.

"It's okay if you're a little freaked out. You don't have to decide anything right away." The way Parker says it, it has the tone of advice that's been given to her, which she has kept safe and is now passing on to him.

He frowns. "I've never had this kind of – whatever. Relationship, before." He tries to imagine what it might look like, having the same partnership, trust, friendship, loyalty, with occasional sex thrown in. He's never heard of anyone doing that, doesn't know if it's even possible.

"Me neither," Parker says. She shrugs, like this is inconsequential. "Maybe no one has. Maybe lots of people do."

Alec still has his headphones on, so Eliot licks his lips and confesses, apologetically, "And I've mostly only, uh, been with women." The truth is that he's had his share of back-alley fucks behind gay bars, and therefore the main distinction is that he knew the names of most of the women he's been with, but that's more than he's gonna lay on Parker right now. Or Alec, ever.

"Me too, till recently," Parker shrugs, surprising him. "I never thought I'd want to be with two dudes at once."

That kind of shuts Eliot up, which makes Parker grin at him. Standing up, she punches Eliot on the arm again, this time hard enough that he doesn't have to fake the flinch.

"Think about it, bro," she says.

*

Francine makes her play a few minutes later, and the rest of them move fast to get into position, Eliot slipping into the back seat of Peterson's car as he unlocks it, Parker taking off toward the Merrison's vault to set off the alarm, and Hardison getting the van on the road behind Peterson so he can mess with the traffic lights.

"Mr Peterson, I'm really not sure that your involvement is necessary," Francine is saying from her position in the passenger seat of Peterson's car. "I've already called the police on these three. You should let me handle this."

"Like hell," Peterson snarls, and hits the gas a little harder, which only makes him have to brake harder when he comes up against a yellow. Eliot's rolled forward against the back of the driver's seat but he keeps low, waiting for his moment and trying to stay out of sight.

"She's good," Hardison chuckles in his ear.

"Keep it going, Francine," Parker says, encouragingly. "Hardison, give them another sudden yellow."

Hardison does, and the car squeals to a halt a second time.

"I'm sure there's nothing at all to worry about," Francine says, soothingly, after she's let him sit with the red light for a moment. It's so condescendingly soothing that it kind of annoys Eliot, too, and he's in on the game. "I've got my security personnel handling this. The police will – "

The car takes off again, the engine growling as Peterson guns it down the next block.

"The police are morons," Peterson snarls, "and they'll do what I tell them to do. Show them a thief and they'll arrest one, that's all they're good for."

"Jesus, Francine, tell me you got that on tape," Parker mutters.

"Of course," Francine demurs, answering their question. Eliot grins, then braces as he feels the car's acceleration start to slow – Peterson's foot coming off the gas pedal.

"This might be it, Eliot," Hardison says. "Yellow light, and he's not braking."

"Mr Peterson, that's a red light – " Francine exclaims at the same time, maybe a little too loudly, so that she reminds Eliot of Sophie's old Shakespearian performances. Then it happens, Peterson putting his foot down on the gas instead of the brake, about to roar past the red light. Fast as he can, Eliot sits up, leans between the two front seats, and smiles at him.

"How's it going," he says. Peterson, bless his heart, turns to look at Eliot, with any luck just at the same time that the traffic camera snaps his picture.

"You – how – what!" Peterson manages, as Eliot ratchets his smile up from pleasant to scary as hell. He cracks his knuckles; Peterson's read up on him, done all kinds of duly diligent research, so Eliot figures he don't even need to threaten him out loud.

"Drive on and pull into the parking lot of your office building, just like you planned," he says. "No need to pull over on my account."

*

It's all smooth sailing from there – the cops who Francine called eventually find Parker's stolen diamonds in his personal safe ("a Glen Reader 2000," Parker snorts inelegantly, "I almost feel bad for him."), find all of his research on the unidentified thieves who did the job on his old firm, as well as surveillance camera evidence of Peterson consorting with said thieves ("well, I photoshopped Eliot's face a little so it won't ping facial recognition, but same difference," Hardison laughs) and take Francine's wide-eyed statement about the insurance fraud/diamond theft racket that she discovered after taking over as Peterson's head of security ("He wanted to cut me in on the deal, assumed I wouldn't report him because we had worked together before," Francine fumes at the nodding detective). That, combined with the work Hardison did on Peterson's bank records, set up a pretty compelling case.

"Ya frame our girl, ya get framed," Eliot smirks at him, as he stands, wide-eyed, in the parking lot of his office, blinking at the lights of the approaching police cars as they come down the highway, still unaware the shitstorm he's called down on himself. "I hope the cops are understanding about what you said in the car, though. They don't usually take that kind of thing too well."

"Harris," Peterson growls, getting his feet under him now and glaring at Eliot. Eliot gives him a fifteen percent chance of actually taking a swing at him, poor bastard. It'll look great on the parking lot security cameras if he does, though. "Harris, we are going to explain what happened to the police and then they are going to arrest this, this thug."

Francine grins, though Peterson doesn't see it, his attention still fixed on Eliot. "Are we?" she asks politely. "I'm not sure that we are. I think it's more likely that this thug is going to pay me handsomely and I'm going to watch you go down in flames for what you did to your ex-employees."

Peterson's head finally turns, his eyes flicking with disbelief to Francine's face. Her grin widens, and she folds her arms, allowing him a little time to process exactly how screwed over he really is.

"I – Francine, I gave you a job, we worked together – "

"You shat on my career," she corrects coldly. "So you could keep my skills to yourself. And I know I wasn't the only one. It's pathetic that you thought I would want to come back and work for you again. You deserve what you got."

Then he throws himself forward – not at Eliot, but at Francine, launching himself toward her and screaming incoherently, throwing a single, wild punch. Francine, eyebrows raised, simply steps out of the way to let him fall directly on his face, and then Eliot's on him, knee in his back, holding his wrists, delivering a punch or two for good measure. Peterson groans and collapses against the pavement; Eliot slips a zip tie around his wrists and doesn't worry too much about whether it's too tight.

"Looks like the deal you cut with a ring of international jewel thieves just went south," Eliot says into his ear. "Now I'm going to escape custody and leave you to take the heat for our operation."

Peterson growls in incoherent rage. Eliot smiles, satisfied.

"Eliot, you're gonna want to get out of there," Hardison warns in his ear. "Cops are right on top of you."

"I triggered the alarm on the diamond vault just before he left, so it should look like you were on the run with them," Parker adds. "You don't want to get picked up, Eliot."

Stepping outside of the view of the cameras, Francine shakes Eliot's hand, and he leans up to kiss her cheek. "See you next time, Spencer," she says, smiling. "Now get your ass in gear."

"You were pretty good at this," Eliot says, as he turns to run for the van and the door that Hardison's sliding open for him. "Call me if you ever want to do some more good for us."

She laughs. "Call me if you ever want to do a rotation as my bodyguard in the elite world of enriched uranium security management," she replies.

"I might," he yells over his shoulder, as he jumps through the door. It slides shut behind him, and the van's pulling quietly out of the parking lot just as a horde of cop cars start to pull in. Eliot watches out the back window as Francine, one hand pressed to her mouth, waves wildly at them in apparent distress.

"She's not bad. Could use a little work on her grifting," Alec says. "But not bad. We should work with her again."

Eliot has a feeling that Alec would be saying that even if Francine weren't good at it, just to make Eliot feel more comfortable, but he's proud of her anyway. He climbs into the front passenger seat and sits back. Over his earbud, Francine is telling quite the sob story to the cops, and doing a pretty masterful job of the whole thing.

"Yeah," he says, "we'll have to see if any of our current marks take us into the elite world of enriched uranium security management."

Alec nods and signals for a left turn, then pulls out carefully, driving them down a road that will lead them back to Parker and back home.

"I'm sure it could be managed. I know Parker's got a some CIA honcho in her sights, might overlap somewhere." Glancing over at Eliot, he frowns. "Put your seatbelt on, man, c'mon."

"You'd think you were my momma," Eliot grumbles, but puts on the seatbelt.

"Fine, you explain to the nice police officer who pulls us over exactly why we have a few million dollars in mostly illegal surveillance and hacking equipment in the back of a van," Alec grumbles back.

"See, this is why I'd like you two to fuck," Parker says, over the comms. Francine obviously hears her too, because Eliot hears a muffled giggle from her that she then has to pretend was a cough for the cop who's taking her statement.

Eliot grits his teeth. "Fucking doesn't solve all our problems, Parker," he says.

"Might solve this one," Alec offers, and when Eliot looks over at him, the wide grin on his face is irresistible. Eliot can't help but laugh a little himself.

"Yeah, okay, we'll see," he says, and good God Francine is going to have to fake like she has bronchitis at this rate. "And stop laughing, Francine, Jesus," he yells.

"Sorry, something in my throat," Francine apologizes to the detective. "What were you saying?"

*

He doesn't get back in bed with Alec and Parker. Instead he hangs out with them for movie nights, and trusts them to be his backup on their next couple jobs, and finds himself a couple of one-night stands in the brew pub. This time, he makes sure that both Alec and Parker find out about it afterwards: Alec rolls his eyes, and Parker tells him not to brag so much, and neither of them act jealous at all. Even if they feel jealous, Eliot can't tell.

He flinches in surprise, once, when Parker, improvising for a con, wraps her arm around his neck and calls him "my big brother, Spencer" and smacks a kiss against his temple. It makes him feel free to start a slapfight with her in front of the perfume technician, and to smile at her, just as big as he wants to, when she closes her eyes and hums at the smell of the ozone perfume.

"It's easy to tell that you two are close," the perfume technician says, smiling. "Thick as thieves. Your parents must've had trouble with you."

"Oh, we're troublemakers," Eliot says, and doesn't even have to look to his left to expect the sharp punch to the shoulder that Parker gives him.

And he flinches away, once, when Alec reaches over to him in the van, but Alec just chuckles as he opens the glove compartment. "Relax, man, I ain't gonna try to hold your hand," he says, and Eliot relaxes, and laughs.

"You promise?" he asks. "Forever?"

"For better or worse," Alec murmurs, his attention on the papers he's pulled from the glove. He's not even looking at Eliot, like it's not even a big deal, and Eliot's glad about that because he doesn't know what he'd do if Alec looked up and saw the happiness that must be written all over his goddamn face, the warm glow that must be lighting up his skin.

*

So when Parker shows up at his door, six-pack of beer in her hand, and tells him it's Alec's World of Warcraft night, he steps aside to let her in.

"You knocked," he says, because it seems worth mentioning.

"Yeah, I've been working on boundaries." She says the word like it's in German or something. Without asking, she rifles through his kitchen drawers to find the bottle-opener. "You wanna watch a movie or something? Or have sex?"

Eliot thinks about it, taking a long slow pull of the beer Parker hands him. "Sex sounds great," he says, after he swallows. "Maybe a movie after."

So Parker straddles him on his couch and rubs against him for a while with their pants still on, and he sucks her nipples and she pulls his hair and that's pretty great. Then he rolls them onto the floor and puts his mouth between her legs, and she shimmies around until she can do the same, and they suck each other off fast and hard, a little messy, because they still don't know each other that well, not like this.

"That was great," Parker says afterwards, a streak of his come still on her cheek. He wipes it away with the back of his hand. "Alec's so much taller, it always takes, like, pillow fort structural engineering for us to do that."

Eliot laughs, because he's experienced much the same with Francine.
"I'm happy to repeat the experience anytime," he says, trying to catch his breath. Parker gives blowjobs like she jumps off of buildings, with joy and abandon and no regard for normal safety limitations, and he's still reeling from it.

"Cool," Parker says, shimmying back into her pants and buttoning them. "So what movie do you want to watch?"

*

And when, a couple weeks later, Alec gets shot on a job – grazed, really, just a flesh wound, nothing to get excited about – Eliot shows up at their apartment with some chicken soup and says yes when they ask him to go to bed with them. It's not how he pictured it, letting Alec fuck his ass; Alec does it slow, and easy, sometimes barely moving inside of him, letting the sensations build up and up. Parker murmurs directions, strokes them, watches them, and it makes him feel pinned down and seen, but in a good way, like what they see in him is enough. He groans and comes with Parker's fist around his dick, Alec's dick stroking into him, and Alec follows not long after, buried inside of his body.

"That was the hottest thing," Parker says, eyes skimming over them voraciously, when they finally separate and fall back on the bed. Parker, squirming up next to them, lies back on a pillow and spreads her legs, trailing her fingers idly over her nipple. It's enough to make Eliot wish he could get hard again right away. "Now which one of you thinks you can give me the most orgasms in the shortest period of time?"

Still out of breath, Alec and Eliot do their double-highfive-fistpunch of bro-solidarity and pact-making, then crawl over to Parker.

"Eliot, you're up first," Parker says. "Alec, five minutes, time him."

*

Francine flies back up for a weekend, and she and Eliot have a marathon fuck-session that leaves them both wrung out and exhausted, eating take-out ravenously in bed before falling back into it, kissing with sore lips and scratching new wounds over the previous day's bitemarks. It's exactly what Eliot needed, a little break from Alec and Parker to reassure himself that he's not getting too dependent.

"So how's it going with your partners?" Francine asks, when there's finally some space between them. "You get that all worked out?"

Eliot squirms. "Why does this sound like you wanting to get involved in my hot non-relationship mess?" he asks.

"Heh. Call it professional curiosity," she says, and Eliot laughs.

"We're – we're good. We're getting good, anyway." Francine nods.

"I'm glad to hear that, for your sake," she says, "but I did mean it about professional curiosity – I think I've got you a client."

"Huh," Eliot says, grinning. "You liked it, huh? When we took Peterson down?"

"It's not the kind of high you forget quickly," Francine agrees. "But I'm not really looking to join your band of merry men. Just thought I could give you a referral every now and again."

"Okay," Eliot says. "Tell you what. Let's shower, go get Alec and Parker, and we'll all have dinner together. You can tell us what you've got in mind."

"Sounds like a plan," she says. Then she cocks her head a little, narrows her eyes. "You gonna cook, Spencer?"

"Sure," he says. He's finally got that dry-rub perfected, and it's time for a live audience. And he's sure, now, that none of his partners will mistake it for a romantic dinner. "I like feeding my people."

*

The hotel clerk glances at the three of them nervously. "One . . . king-sized bed? Are you sure?"

Eliot's jaw tightens, but Parker looks the clerk straight in the eyes. "It's okay," she says. "I'm a lesbian. Their virtue is safe with me."

The clerk looks, if anything, more uncomfortable, but now Eliot finds it funnier. He can hear Alec working hard not to laugh, which is a very distinctive choking/coughing/shuffling sound that Eliot's heard many times over the past six years, and it makes him want to laugh, too.

Later, as they walk towards the elevators, Alec's laughter comes out as a subdued chuckle, and he says, "Parker, you shouldn't mess with people like that. It is cruel."

Parker shrugs. "I'm just telling the truth. Not my fault if she can't handle it."

"It's true that our virtue is safe with you?" Eliot asks, disappointed. He hasn't fucked either of them in a while, the con proper doesn't start till tomorrow, and he was hoping his virtue would get more of a workout in that king-sized bed.

The elevator dings, and Parker steps in, looking around curiously. Eliot wonders when the last time was she rode inside one of these things instead of on top of it. He gets in behind her and Alec.

"No, that I'm a lesbian," Parker says.

"You . . . you're not a lesbian," Eliot says. It comes out harsher than he wanted, and he winces at his tone.

Parker looks at him the exact same way she looked at the clerk. "Yeah, I am. A lesbian with a boyfriend and a boy-sex-friend." She sighs. "Maybe I should get a girlfriend."

"It would probably help your street cred," Alec agrees gently. "Though you know I support you being a lesbian no matter what, honey pie."

"That's sweet," Parker says, and stands on her tiptoes to kiss him.

"Lesbians . . . don't kiss dudes," Eliot says helplessly. Parker shrugs.

"Who are you to say what lesbians do? Are you a lesbian?"

Alec crosses his arms and turns with Parker to stare at Eliot, as if inviting his response. Eliot scowls.

"No," he says.

"Then shut up. Just for that, I'm having lesbian sex with you later."

Alec and Eliot exchange a glance, uncertain. The elevator bings and opens on their floor. Parker starts walking away.

"Is that – is that a punishment or a reward?" Eliot calls. He and Alec jog to catch up with her.

Parker grins, the cat-satisfied half-grin she gets when she's figured out exactly how to bring poetic justice down on some asshole mark. It is, frankly, terrifying. Eliot is terrified.

"It's an educational experience," she says firmly.

Later, Parker fists him.

She uses both fists at once, which takes a long time to do, and by the time she's in him, pushed all up inside him and holding his body open with her arms, Eliot is crying, trying hard not to writhe against the sensation, overwhelmed by the pressure and the intensity of Parker's body shifting infinitesimally inside of his. He grips on to Alec's hands as tight as he can and he tries to remember how to breathe as Parker's fists wring his orgasm out of him, the slowest and longest of his life. Afterwards he's wet and shaking, empty inside where Parker has pulled gently out of him, and as she moves back on the bed he collapses down onto it, his muscles trembling with exhaustion.

"I think I might ask Francine if she wants to have lesbian sex with me," Parker is saying, when Eliot's brain starts working again. He thinks she got up and washed her hands in the middle there, but he can't be sure. "I think we have a little spark between us."

"You definitely have a spark," Alec agrees. "I think she wants to finally catch you."

Parker hums her approval. "Would that be cool with you, Eliot?"

"Uh-huh," Eliot manages. Parker and Francine together is definitely something he could get behind. Especially if they'd let him get behind them.

"Do you think Francine is a lesbian?" Parker asks. Eliot furrows his brow.

"No! She is not – jeez, Parker, how many lesbians do you think I'm having sex with?"

"Two?" Parker replies. "It's just a question. It's okay if you like lesbian sex. I'll have lesbian sex with you again if you like. Oh, or you could have gay sex with me, I've been thinking about that. Hardison and me have been practicing, you know, anal."

"We have," Alec agrees, a self-satisfied smile plastered all over his face.

"I don't – it's not – okay, listen. Francine is bisexual. You can ask her out if you like."

"Okay, cool!" Parker says.

"I am not a lesbian so you can't have lesbian sex with me, and you are not a dude so I can't have gay sex with you. But," he pauses, trying to get ahold of his train of thought again, "I will totally do you up the ass if you want."

"You know, this fetish for rules and categories explains a lot about you," Parker says. "All the sex I have is lesbian sex, because I'm a lesbian."

"I'd let it go, dude," Alec murmurs. Eliot shakes his head, trying to get his thoughts around Parker's logic.

"So what exactly makes gay sex gay, then?" Parker muses. "What if I dressed up in boys' clothes, and you fucked me then? I could tie up my hair, bind my breasts, all that. Would that be gay enough?"

Eliot's brain kind of shorts out at that, and he turns helplessly to look at Alec, who is shaking his head, wide-eyed with wonder. Parker is like some kind of sex miracle.

"Well, it can't hurt to try," Eliot says.

*

Sophie always knew that Hardison and Parker would end up together; she has a good sense for these sorts of things. So when she and Nate take a little time off their world tour to stop in at Portland for Christmas, she's more than pleased to see them snuggled up together, Parker wearing her Christmas elf hat, holding hands and as cute as ever.

"Hardison, when are you going to put a ring on this girl's finger?" Sophie exclaims, only half kidding.

"Just as soon as she tells me which one she wants me to steal for her," Alec replies easily. In the kitchen, Eliot laughs, full and open, and Sophie's a little surprised by that.

"I ain't running a con to get Parker the Hope Diamond," he calls, not looking up from the scallops he's sautéing.

"Please," Parker says, "Do you know how easy it is to steal stuff from the Smithsonian? That's not even romantic."

Nate pours himself a scotch and leans against the bar, considering this. "Parker, if you want something really romantic, it should be stolen from the Antwerp Diamond Center," he says, reasonably. Parker frowns.

"I already broke in there. In 2003," she says. Nate stands up straighter.

"That was – Parker, that was you?"

"Parker, weren't you twelve in 2003?" Sophie asks, exasperated.

"I was nineteen," Parker sighs, shaking her head. "Not doing my cleanest work, though."

"I'm sure it was a beautiful heist, babe," Alec says, and kisses her on the cheek. The two of them are really far too cute together, Sophie thinks.

"Even if you did probably leave your fingerprints behind," Eliot grumbles, which makes Parker and Alec laugh for some reason.

"Anyway," Eliot continues, "you want a difficult target, you go for the classics: Fort Knox." Eliot start bringing out the plates and bowls and setting them on the table.

Sophie takes Nate's arm to lead him over to the dining area, and they sit down together. Parker and Alec get up too, coming to the table just as Eliot arrives with the last plates, and the three of them arrange themselves with Eliot in the middle, Parker and Alec on his right and left hands. It makes Sophie furrow her brow a little bit; it's an odd choice, for a couple at a dinner, to not sit together. Not that Parker and Alec have ever been particularly normal.

"Fort Knox, really, man? That's so cheesy," Alec protests. "I'd be flat-out embarrassed to give my girl a gold band from something stolen from Fort Knox."

"Listen, Fort Knox has some of the best sharpshooters in the world patrolling its borders," Eliot argues. "Getting past those guys would be a real challenge."

Alec shakes his head and picks up the bowl of brussels sprouts, not taking any himself but handing them over to Eliot, who spoons out a bunch for himself and a bunch for Parker. Sophie glances over at Nate to see if he's seeing it, but Nate's obviously too caught up in the problem.

"The Dubai Gold Vault's a good one," Nate says, chewing thoughtfully. "Comes with an extra challenge since it's within the Commodities Center. Latest in high-tech security."

"Boring," Sophie says, elbowing Nate in the side. "Obviously the best one would be the Iranian Gold Reserve," she says, making eye contact with everyone around the table. Eliot smiles and nods, and Parker's eyes light up a little. "No one even knows where it is, so you'd need to start with an elaborate grift just to get the information on its location. And then once you did, who knows what else you'd have to beat. The thrill of the chase, the mystery – that's a romantic heist."

"Not bad," Alec says, nodding at her. "But you know, I've always wanted to do – "

"The New York Federal Reserve Vault," Eliot and Parker chorus in unison, speaking over him. Hardison turns to glare at them both.

"Oh, I'm sorry, do I talk about the New York Federal Reserve Vault too much?" he asks, placing a hand on his chest as if affronted. Under the table, Nate takes her hand and squeezes; she squeezes back. It's nice to be back with them, after so long away.

"It's got robot guards, we know," Parker sighs. "We'll break into it for a honeymoon, okay, how's that?"

"I am not going with you two on your honeymoon," Eliot protests. Parker rolls her eyes at him.

"Fine, we can do it without you," she says, reaching forward and tugging on a strand of Eliot's hair. To Sophie's surprise, Eliot grins, and then reaches out and tugs a strand of hers back. There's something about the way they do it, and Sophie can't quite put her finger on it, but she knows it means something.

"I'd like to see you try and get past the perimeter without someone to disarm the guards," he says, and it sounds like something he would've said in the old days, but the way he says it is different: lighter and easier.

"See, this is what I'm saying," Alec says, gesturing a little too emphatically with a serving spoon. Nate brushes sauce off of his cheek and smiles as Alec continues. "Eliot deals with the perimeter guards, you get us into the vault, I hack the robots. It's perfect for the three of us."

"Then we'll melt the gold down, make some gold bands, and sell the rest for cash," Parker says approvingly. "Eliot, will you be my best man?"

Sophie expects Eliot to roll his eyes or make a joke or make a threat, the way he always used to, but instead he just smiles at Parker. "Sure thing, darlin," he says.

"Hey," Alec protests. "I was gonna ask Eliot to be my best man."

"I'll be your best man too," Eliot says, shifting his smile over to Alec.

"Is that allowed?" Nate asks.

"Why not?" Parker says, beaming.

"Yeah, Nate," Eliot says, eyes twinkling. "We ain't gotta be slaves to rules and categories." At this, Parker pokes him in the arm.

Sophie can almost see the shape of it, now, the secret in the way the three of them are with each other. Whatever kind of relationship Parker and Alec have now, or will have in the future, Eliot is a part of it, in some way. Sophie can't quite tell what it is, whether they're just fucking or it's something else, but it's there, between them, among them, an energy that wasn't there before.

Eliot catches her staring, and she blinks in embarrassment as he glares. Then, suddenly, his face breaks into a grin, and he waggles his eyebrows at her. She can't help the expression of surprise that she can feel passing over her face.

"You two know I'm already best man to both of you," Eliot says, easily, and Sophie is reminded of what he told her when she and Nate left the last time: til my dying day, he had said, and he had meant it.

"It'd be hard to find a better one," Alec agrees.

"Well, if he's going to do all that work breaking into the federal reserve vault with you two," Sophie says slowly, testing out the theory, "Eliot should get a ring as well."

Alec looks up at her, perhaps just now noticing her noticing them, and after a moment of hesitation he smiles, soft and genuine. "I dunno. Eliot, do you want a ring?"

Eliot shrugs. "Maybe on my right hand," he says, biting into a brussels sprout. "We'll see."

Sophie feels Nate shift beside her at that, and she can tell, from the way his spine goes straighter and his hand stills for a moment on his fork, that he's finally taking in all the clues around him. She turns to him, and raises her eyebrows, and he gives her a little shrug. They all eat in silence for a while.

"Seems like you three really figured things out, while we were gone," Nate says, after a minute.

"We did," Eliot says, and Sophie would never have guessed, when she first met him, that she would ever see that soft, gentle smile on his face. She's glad for him, for all of them, that they were able to find each other.

"And we only had to bribe the cops that once," Parker puts in cheerfully.

"And Eliot only broke a couple of bones," Alec agrees, grinning.

"And we only involved one enriched uranium security expert," Parker says.

"And we were only a little implicated in an international jewel thief ring," Eliot says.

Sophie sighs. "I'll get the real story out of you three someday," she threatens. "See if I don't."