Eliot was barely three steps into the room when he had to duck, knocking away the blindingly bright red and green thing that Parker was holding out towards him. As he got a better look, and saw the determined expression on her face he realised what it was. "Parker, I told you to stop that. Get that the hell away from me," he added, shoving aside the furry, neon-striped Santa hat she was holding -- and trying to put on his head.
"Man, you should just cheer up and let her enjoy herself," Hardison said, sitting on the couch with a keyboard on his lap, not even looking over from the five tv screens he had going. Working on something Eliot didn't recognise, but they were between jobs so Eliot figured he really didn't care.
"And I told you both, I'm not interested in looking stupid and dressing up like a damn elf." He glowered at Parker, then smirked at Hardison who glanced over at him. Hardison was wearing a more traditional red and white Santa hat on his head. Eliot wasn't surprised Hardison had given in -- he was the one dating Parker, after all, and it wasn't like Hardison hadn't worn stupider things than a hat for his weird conventions.
Parker was still standing there, glaring at him with her lip jutted out.
"I said no," Eliot repeated. They'd been having this argument since the Friday after Thanksgiving. He'd stayed out of the way when she'd decorated Nate's apartment, and said nothing when she'd added all the accessories to Hardison's van. Privately, Eliot thought the reindeer antlers on the windows was exactly what Hardison's van needed and would have agreed to help if she'd asked. But one look from her and Hardison had wilted, helping her deck out his beloved van in a growing series of monstrosities. When she'd decided that Eliot needed to join in the holiday spirit, he'd flat out refused. Parker, of course, hadn't conceded defeat.
Right now her latest crusade was to get him to wear something appropriate. He'd destroyed the sweaters with a knife -- while she'd still been holding them. He'd burned the light-up socks and candy cane underwear, and tossed each and every hat into the clothing donation bin in the grocery store's parking lot. This was hat number five, and he was sort of curious to see what she might try next. She'd already tried the bright pink and zebra-print option.
"You're going to ruin Christmas," Parker said, still holding the hat in both hands as if she was going to stick it on him if he just held still.
"I'm not going to ruin Christmas," Eliot snapped. "But there is no way I'm going to wear anything that has anything even remotely resembling something seasonal on it. At all." He folded his arms and glared, completely willing to spend the next three weeks staring her down.
Unfortunately, Parker just glared back, equally hard and equally determined to spend three weeks plus one day staring back -- hat in hands, ready for him to lose his concentration.
"Celebrate with Hardison," Eliot waved at the other man. "Go caroling with Sophie or something. I don't care -- Parker, I already said I'd make dinner," he added, suddenly realising that maybe she thought he'd forgotten, or hadn't really meant it. He'd agreed on dinner and, possibly more importantly, helping her bake and decorate cookies. "I don't need to dress weird for that."
"But you have to embrace the holiday spirit," she retorted, and the grim note in her voice said that she might be breaking into his apartment next and sedating him, stapling the hat to his head.
Well, trying to, but Eliot knew she had half a chance of succeeding if he didn't stay on his toes.
He growled, and she narrowed her eyes in reply. They stood there for a long moment, then he sighed and grabbed her by the wrist. "Come on, dammit," he said, and yanked her behind him and left the apartment. He heard Hardison's yelped question but ignored him, tugging Parker down the hall. Parker kept up easily, despite being held somewhat sideways by his grip on her wrist. He took her to the hallway access window and opened it, crawled out onto the fire-escape and began climbing. He let go of her wrist and she climbed up behind him -- hat still held firmly in her hand.
Finally he got onto the roof, half-wishing he'd grabbed his coat on the way out, but figured they wouldn't be here long. He headed along the roof, hearing Parker's footsteps behind him as he looked for the spot he knew would be best. Halfway along he found it, the other side of the building from Nate's place. He stopped at the parapet and looked out as Parker stepped up beside him. She looked out, then looked at him -- hand half-raised to plop the hat on his head.
Eliot pointed out at the city. From this vantage point, many of the buildings were shorter than theirs, and there were breaks in the skyline for the park and the streets scattered below. It had stopped snowing that afternoon, but the blanket of white still covered the rooftops and treetops, small bumps of snow formed on the top edges of signs and unused fire-escapes.
He thought about telling her about the trees his momma had decorated every year with ornaments collected and handed down, some as old as his grandmother. Or the way the house would always smell like pine and cinnamon, or how the cookie recipe he'd planned on using was his Aunt Grace's, perfected with the exactly-right amount of almond oil and peppermint.
He could have told her how his sister and her family had celebrated without him for over a decade, how he knew how dangerous it would be for him to set a trail to visit them, no matter how briefly.
What he did was look at the snow and listen to the city, the night air punctuated by fluffy-white puffs of their breaths. Then he glanced over at her. "I don't need all that stuff to remember what's important," he said quietly.
There was silence, then Parker said, "I never had Christmas until last year, when Nate gave us presents. I want to do it right." She looked at him, straight on, voice steady. "Now that I have a reason to."
Eliot nodded. "Nothing wrong with that. But if you keep trying to make me wear something 'seasonal' I'm going to drop you off this roof, and tell Hardison where you hid his present."
Parker's eyes narrowed. "You're bluffing."
Eliot grinned. "Top shelf, right hand closet, fifth floor of the Edison building--" He stopped when Parker clamped her hand over his mouth. She stood there for a moment, then slowly lowered her hand. She looked at the hat she was still holding, then suddenly let it fall, tumbling over the edge of the roof.
"Deal," she said, and held out her hand to shake on it. Eliot took her hand and they shook.
"Can we go back inside before my manly bits freeze?" Hardison called out, standing at the far edge of the roof by the fire escape. "Now that you two aren't going to kill each other -- unless you are, in which case can we do it downstairs indoors, where it's warm? And somebody better make me some hot cocoa to defrost my fingers. I'm going to need about five heated blankets, too, and some fuzzy slippers," he added as Eliot and Parker simply walked over and headed back down the fire-escape. "I think I need some marshmallows in my cocoa, and some sprinkles. And that.. what's that thing they stick in the cocoa? I need one of those." Hardison kept up his litany of demands as they climbed back inside the building When they got back to Nate's apartment, Hardison went back to his keyboard, muttering about frozen programs and re-doing precious coding.
Eliot headed to the kitchen, where he started to make two mugs of hot cocoa -- then he sighed at himself, then pulled out a third mug.