Shift shift shift, floorboards creaking, weight from foot to foot. Parker is learning, see. She doesn’t even have to turn around to know that Hardison is embarrassed. “What did you do?” she says, still not turning around, because she wants to see how much more she can learn from him without looking.
“Nothing,” Hardison says. Shift shift shift. Parker waits. It isn’t nothing. “Well, okay, I got you something.”
A present! Parker turns around, chin on her hands on the back of the seat. “Did you steal me something?”
She was right. Hardison was ducking his head and making his smile small like he was trying to hide it. Definitely embarrassed. “Nah. Bought it. Hey, don’t look so disappointed. You know I don’t go stealing things without you!”
“I like it when you tell me stories about how you stole things. It’s not as good as being there, but I like it.”
Hardison takes a wrapped package from his backpack. He leans toward her, slowly, like he’s ready to jump back if she tells him no. She likes how important her no is to him, but she wishes he’d really believe what she said about kissing being okay now. So she leans forward fast, meets him halfway, presses their lips together. She reaches over the back of the seat and takes the package while they’re still kissing. She feels the shape of Hardison’s lips change as he smiles against her mouth.
Parker sinks down into the chair with her present. Hardison comes around to watch her open it. She wonders what he gets from her face when he watches her like that. Rip, tear, ragged paper edges, open.
It’s a vibrator. Slim, squiggly, gunmetal gray, like a lockpick. She’s confused for a moment, then she hears Sophie’s voice: He likes having sex with you. He wants to make you feel good.
“Thanks!” she says. “I don’t really like vibrators. They make me feel like my skin is going to buzz right off.” Hardison’s eyes widen and the corners of his mouth turn down and that’s hurt. She adds, quickly, “But I like using them on other people!”
Hardison’s face goes in all directions and now she’s not sure what she’s seeing anymore. “Um. Does that even work on dudes?”
Parker thinks about it. Alice White made Peggy from the jury very, very happy with a vibrator. She thinks Parker could do the same thing with Hardison. Men and women aren’t nearly as different as most people seem to think they are. “I don’t know. Wanna find out?”
“Uh.” He smiles a little, but he also looks nervous. “Okay, sure.”
“Take off your clothes,” says Parker.
“Right now? We’re doing this right – “ Parker takes her own shirt off, hoping he’ll get the right idea. “Yeah, okay. Yeah, we’re doing this.”
Hardison gets out of his clothes and Parker gets the vibrator out of its packaging. She hits the on button and oh yes, batteries are included. Hardison stares at it until she turns it back off.
Parker walks a circle around him, holding the vibrator, trying to think of a good spot to start. She stops in front of him and pulls his head down for a kiss. She keeps going until he makes those little hmm noises, so she knows he’s distracted, then she turns the vibrator on and presses it to his nipple.
The hmm gets higher-pitched, louder, and she pulls back because she’s not sure what that means without his face. “Was that a good noise or a bad noise?”
“That was a good but weird noise.” Hardison smiles and takes the back of her head in a huge hand. “Do it again.”
They kiss, and Parker vibrates one nipple or the other, hearing his deep smooth voice change with different settings and pressure. She wants to experiment with him, like she plays with a lock, listening for the tumblers falling into place. She imagines bringing it on a job, pressing it to his nipple through his shirt to see if he can still focus on his computer screen. If Eliot saw, he’d bat her hand away and tell them to save it for private time, but he’d be smiling, just a little. How does she know he’d be smiling? She giggles a little through the kiss.
Hardison pulls away. He’s grinning. “What are you laughing about?”
“Thinking about what would happen if I brought this on a job and poked you with it.”
“Eliot would facepalm so hard he’d leave permanent marks on his hand. He’d never let that one go.”
“I think he’d like it.” Hardison’s eyes widen when she says that, and his cock stiffens up some. Hmm. Interesting. She wonders what that means. “He’s happy that we started dating. And he likes sexy things, and has no sense of boundaries.”
“You’re one to talk.”
“Do I make jokes about getting naked with models?”
“I wish you would.”
“I’ve never been naked with a model.”
The corner of Hardison’s smile curls up: a smirk. “I’m not sure Eliot has, either.”
“Maybe he has. He does that thing with his eyes that makes women smile at him.”
“What thing with his eyes?”
Parker takes off her bra. Hardison watches her like he’s trying to bring her closer with just his eyes instead of his arms. She says, “You know. The thing you’re doing right now.”
Hardison smiles wider. “Oh yeah. That thing.” He reaches out, and she lets him pull her in. They kiss. Parker opens her mouth for his tongue and sucks on it hard, just to feel him go nnnngh, his face buzzing with the sound of it. Hardison could kiss like this forever, but Parker is too impatient. She steps back and circles him again, thinking of the next place to press her vibrator.
She gives him a poke in the bellybutton with the vibrator on, and he makes a funny little squeak and jumps back a little. Parker laughs. She pokes the inside of his knee, which makes him yelp again. “Is this sexy time or ‘let’s poke Hardison’ time?”
“Both.” Parker falls to her knees, and hello there Hardison’s cock, she thinks, giving it a friendly kiss. Hardison makes this breathy laugh and Sophie’s voice tells her firmly that it’s the good kind of laugh, not the mean kind, so Parker leans her head against Hardison’s solid thigh, turns on the vibrator, and presses it to the smooth skin between his balls and his ass.
“GAH,” says Hardison. He stumbles backward and falls onto the chair so hard he almost knocks it over. Parker runs over to hold the chair steady.
“Whoa. Okay,” Hardison says, blinking a few times like he’s checking whether this really happened. “Maybe we should have tried that lying down.”
Parker starts to laugh.
“What are you laughing at?” Hardison says, but his eyes are smiling, so she knows he thinks it’s funny too.
“Just imagining what Eliot would do if he saw that,” she gasps out between giggles.
“Why do we keep bringing up Eliot during sex?”
“You started it.”
“No, you started it. You talked about using that thing on me during a job.”
“I could have used it on you in the van. Eliot didn’t have to be there.”
A silence falls; Hardison grins. “You’re right, though. He’d laugh his ass off at us.”
Parker rests her chin on Hardison’s thigh. “He’d say, ‘Dammit, Hardison! You let your girlfriend poke you in the crotch with some high-tech doohickey while you’re standing in the middle of the living room? What’s wrong with you?’”
“’You kids with your fancy gadgets,’” Hardison says, making his voice all gruff like Eliot’s, “‘I do sex the old-fashioned way, with just me and my big muscle-y body.’”
“You really think he’d be like that? I bet he’d use gadgets if someone asked him really nicely.” Parker tilts her head and says in a high voice, “‘Oh Eliot, your big muscle-y hand would look even better with a dildo in it!’”
Hardison’s voice drops. “You like dildos?”
“Yeah, as long as they don’t buzz. They come in different shapes and colors. It’s fun. I have a blue one with ridges on it.” She thinks about Eliot holding her dildo and giggles some more. It’s funny, but it’s also sexy, and she’s getting really excited to touch Hardison some more. “He’d say it looks like an alien’s penis.”
“’Of course you’d have a dildo that looks like an alien dick, Parker,’” Hardison says in his Eliot voice. “But yeah, he’d use it anyway. If a pretty face asked him to.” He reaches out and cups Parker’s cheek. “Why are we still talking about Eliot?”
“It makes sense. We’re doing sexy things, and Eliot is sexy.” Hardison’s eyebrows dip down in the middle, like he does when Parker wants to do something he’s worried will get her in trouble. Uh oh. “You said when we talked about rules that it’s okay to think sexy things about other people. Right?” Parker hopes she has that right. She committed all the rules to memory. She hasn’t done much dating, and she doesn’t want to mess this up. “You thought our mark from last week was hot. You were definitely thinking sexy things.”
Hardison looks away. He’s shifting his weight in the chair from one buttcheek to the other, shift shift shift. Embarrassed again. “Oh, uh, well yeah, he was…”
“Oh. I meant the other one, the tall lady with the hair. But you’re right, he was hot too.”
“Wait, Parker, hang on, you know I’m not gay, right?”
“I never thought you were. Actually, I heard a girl say this word when we went to the university for that job last month, and I looked it up on that Urban Dictionary website you told me about, and I thought it was really cool. Pansexual. It means you find people sexy and it doesn’t matter what gender they are. Are you pansexual too?”
Parker feels the tension in Hardison’s thigh loosen up. No more shifting. Good. He shouldn’t be embarrassed. “Yeah. I guess. Something like that.”
Parker smiles and kisses his knee. “Cool. I’ve wanted to tell someone about that word ever since I found it but I couldn’t decide on a good time. Now we both have it.” She strokes his other leg with her fingertips. “So. Sexy things. Other people. That’s okay?”
“That’s what we said. Though I’m not sure the rules really covered Eliot.”
“I think we have to talk about the rules again. But can it not be now? I was getting excited about the sexy talk. Weren’t you?”
“Um.” His legs are tense again. Hardison is embarrassed. Parker doesn’t get it. They’ve already settled that they’re both pansexual, so what’s the big deal? Maybe he just needs to get back in the mood.
“Okay. Just listen. You can tell me stop. I just want to try.” Parker grips his legs, positions him so he’s sitting in the chair with his legs open wide. His cock is pointing straight ahead instead of up. She’ll see what she can do about that.
Parker nuzzles the inside of Hardison’s thigh with her cheek and looks up at him. She makes her eyes wide, like Eliot’s get sometimes when he watches her and Hardison. She says softly, “Imagine Eliot right here, just like this.”
Hardison’s eyes widen. His mouth falls open. His cock twitches, like it’s nodding its head yes. Cocks are funny like that. She gives it a fond kiss, and watches it swell up bigger. “He’d use a vibrator, if we asked him to.” Parker picks up the vibrator from where she dropped it on the floor. She turns it on and rubs circles in the same place behind his balls. She can feel his muscles shiver under her cheek, and he slides down a little on the chair. “Though we might have to tell him how to use it. You know him, though. He learns fast.”
Hardison starts to talk, his voice cracking a little. “I’d have to teach him how to make you come. Since I know how, and he doesn’t. I’d tell him how you – ah – like to ride my hand until it’s sore.”
“Mmm. Eliot has really strong hands. I’d love to take one between my legs and see what he does.” She dials up the vibration, and licks off the drop of precome shining at the tip of his cock. “I bet he gets really growly when he’s turned on. ‘Come here, Parker, let me fuck you with my hand,’” she says, making her voice go gravelly.
“I – I think he gets turned on watching us spar,” Hardison says. “When he’s teaching us how to fight. He watches us wrestle on the ground and gets that half-smile on his face – unh.” Parker is moving her hand up and down his cock. It’s a reward, because now she’s thinking about testing out her new takedown on Hardison, the way she straddled him on the floor, and the spark in Eliot’s eyes, so hot and blue, and she feels heavy between her legs, like Eliot’s hand is there already, thick and callused and gentle. Unless she asks him not to be.
Hardison’s face is so bright she can barely look at it, shining with everything he feels, and suddenly Parker needs friction on her clit so bad she could scream. She gets up, draws one last circle around Hardison’s nipple with the vibrator, then turns it off and puts it down. She hooks her thumbs in her waistband, and her pants and underwear hit the floor too. She clamps her legs around Hardison’s long thigh and closes her hand around his cock again. He leans forward, because she’s rocking her clit hard against him now, and he likes to hear her gasp.
Parker rests her forehead against Hardison’s, breathes in the air he breathes out, tries to keep the rhythm going on his cock while she burns inside with how good it all is. She tries to imagine what Eliot would do if he were here, but she can’t, because he would just do whatever he thought they wanted from him. “Eliot would do anything, you know,” she pants. “Anything we asked him to. Even just stand there and watch us like this – like he does when we spar – all turned on and hard, just watching and waiting – ah…”
And that’s it, right there, like tumblers clicking into place, the safe giving up its secrets with a sigh. Parker’s words take Hardison there, right into her imagination, like they have one brain. His eyes are closed and he’s smiling and he’s there with Eliot’s hot blue stare on him. “Yes, yes, he’d – yes,” and warmth spills into the curve of Parker’s hand. She can smell it in the damp air between them, all chlorine and wet metal.
“Ngh,” she says, rolling her hips, riding the full-body shudders of Hardison’s orgasm like they’re hers. She rests her hand on his other thigh, marking him with his own come, a shiny smear on his dark skin.
Hardison looks up at her through his eyelashes, biting down on a warm slow smile. “Hey, you,” he says. “Want me to take care of you? You want to do yourself? Or you had enough for now?”
Parker smiles back, because Hardison remembered her rule: it’s hard for her to have an orgasm, and even when she can it’s sometimes too much, so he always has to ask if she wants one, and how she wants to get there if she does. Her legs feel shaky and her head feels light. She doesn’t want to float away, not completely, so she says, “I think that’s enough for now,” and curls up tight against him on the seat.
Hardison kisses slow, gentle trails along Parker’s neck, which makes her feel relaxed, because she can still see his face and try to read it. It’s so shiny with happiness she has to turn her eyes away to be able to think.
“We’re going to have to talk about the rules again,” Parker says. “I think we have to make some Eliot rules.”
Hardison makes a hmm sound against her throat. “Like what?”
“The number one rule is that he’s a part of our relationship. Even if he doesn’t go on dates with us or cuddle us or have sex with us. He’s part of why we’re here, and how we found each other. We can’t forget that.” She looks back at Hardison’s face to try to see his thoughts. His cheek is up against her collarbone but his eyes look far away. He’s thinking about someone who isn’t here: Eliot. “I hear his voice in my head, you know. When we go on dates. He tells me how to dress so you’ll do that thing with your eyes, and how to flirt. He helps me. He always helps us.”
“What if we.” Hardison stops. “Does it even work? With three people?”
“Don’t ask me. I don’t even know how it works with two people. I’m still learning.”
“You’re doing great. Sometimes I think I might be learning from you.” He smiles and shakes his head. “I think I just did.”
“You learned something about dating from me?” Parker says. This is exciting. Maybe she can tell Sophie about it, if it’s not too private. Sophie would be proud that she’d taught Hardison about relationships. “What is it?”
“That I can love someone for years and not even realize it.”
Parker laughs. She laughs so hard she knocks her head against the arm of the chair. Good thing it’s cushioned. “What?” says Hardison. “What’s so funny?”
“You didn’t know you love Eliot?” She has to fight through the giggles to get the breath to talk again. “I thought everybody knew that!”
“Hey, that’s not fair! The things that man puts me through, I must be crazy falling in love with him! How was I supposed to know?”
“You could have asked me,” says Parker. “I know what it’s like when you’re in love with someone. I’m the expert.”
“You didn’t know until Sophie finally caved and told you.”
“And I learned. Right?”
“And I learned too,” Hardison says, his voice soft. He wraps his arm around her and gathers her in, and she lets herself relax into it, because last time they cuddled she decided all the touching was too much and he let her leave and he wasn’t even mad. “Don’t forget that. You’re not the only one who has to learn, when it comes to this kind of thing. I find something new every day. So don’t forget that.”
Parker won’t. The next time she sees Hardison’s or Eliot’s face locked off, and she doesn’t know how to open it, she’ll know she isn’t alone. Learning how to listen to Hardison, to press her ear against him and hear the right combination, is scary sometimes but mostly amazing. Parker presses her palm against the steady thrum of Hardison’s jugular, and wonders, with a fluttering excitement in her chest, what it might be like to unlock Eliot, together.