It’s her job, now, to notice things. She has to work at it, because people aren’t easy; you can’t take them apart and fit them back together, can’t jimmy a lock or press a new key. Nate and Sophie have been (“Busy,” Nate had said; “Finding ourselves . You know, figuring out who we really are,” Sophie had said) – gone, thinks Parker, they’ve been gone for ten months and fourteen days and she’s starting to feel like she’s good at this.
And it’s not just noticing things, but knowing things. Not that she can always put it in words, but they’re there, in the back of her head. She knows how many heartbeats it takes for Eliot take out that guard; how many breaths it takes Hardison to pull that drive and put in the dummy; how many orders of pizza and Chinese the prep will take.
She thinks she knows what Hardison means when he looks at her with his eyes all soft; thinks she knows what Eliot means when he bites out “dammit, Hardison”; thinks she knows what either of them means when, after a job, Hardison tells them that he’s ordered dinner, or Eliot comes back to the loft and starts chopping things in the kitchen. She’s pretty sure that what Hardison is saying is I love you, and that Eliot’s saying—maybe not I love you, but maybe I’m so glad we’re alive, or I’m so glad you’re ok.
It doesn’t quite fit, though, because she knows what it looks like when people are happy, and Eliot—Eliot, she realizes, never looks like that, never quite looks like what she’d expect happy to look like.
She asks Hardison one night, after Eliot's come over and made supper and done the dishes and then gone home. “Do you ever see Eliot smile?" she says, and Hardison looks at her for a minute like her face is a foreign language.
"Yeah," he says slowly, "sure. He smiles all the time. I mean, Eliot smiles are kinda—” He does a thing with his face, somewhere between a grimace and a smile, and Parker sighs.
"Yeah," she says, "like that. He smiles like it hurts him."
Hardison shrugs. "My nana taught me two things about faces," he says. "One, if you keep making that face, it's gonna stay like that. And two, if you don't use the muscles, they eventually stop working." He sounds more serious now, and Parker wishes that he’d look at her instead of out the window. "Eliot didn't have a lot to smile about for a long time, you know? He might just—have a hard time with it, now.”
She wrinkles her face in annoyance and flops down onto the bed, and they don't talk about it anymore. Not that she stops thinking about it, though, turning it over and over in her head like if she just gets the angle right, it’ll make start to make sense.
It takes almost three weeks before she sees it, but when she does, it feels like something cracks inside her a little bit.
Later that night, after Eliot's gone home, she corners Hardison. "I saw Eliot smile!" she says, but Hardison doesn't respond the way she'd expected, and she wonders if she’s reading this all wrong, too. His face creases up, and he looks sad. Parker scowls. "He smiled,” she says, and she knows that she sounds defensive, but can’t seem to help herself. “He smiled smiled, like Christmas and birthday parties.”
Hardison shakes his head. “You can’t just—”
"It was at you," Parker says, interrupting, and the tiny appeal to Hardison's vanity works, because he grins.
"Of course it was at me," he says, "I'm amazing. Even I have to smile at my genius sometimes."
Parker laughs a little bit and agrees, because she knows that sometimes Hardison needs to be reassured that he’s doing a good job and, just as important, that they know he’s doing a good job. Then she says, "It wasn't at your genius, though. It was just—at you."
"What?" He sounds almost affronted, even though Parker’s pretty sure it’s just for show. "Of course it was at my genius. I’m a genius all the damn —”
"You were on the sofa," says Parker, pointedly, because Hardison's time on the sofa that evening had been an hour-long sprawl of annoyance and exhaustion, and if she hadn't seen it, she wouldn't have believed that any of them could've smiled right then.
“It was one of the times that you were quiet, but he just—was watching you, and he smiled."
“Smiled like—" Hardison does his wince face again, and Parker shakes her head.
"No. Really smiled," she says, folding herself forward into a stretch so that she doesn't have to look at Hardison while she thinks. "Smiled like—" she trails off, not sure how to explain it.
"Like Christmas and fireworks," Hardison says, echoing her.
Neither of them says anything, and she stretches absently, digging her fingers into the carpet.
"Hardison," she says several minutes later, not pulling out of the lazy backbend she's doing on the floor, "do you think Eliot is sad?"
He doesn’t say anything, and she wonders if he’s fallen asleep. She walks her hands towards her feet, then kicks her legs back and over her head and back to the floor, finally coming upright. Hardison's lying on the bed, his hands behind his head, looking thoughtful but not asleep.
“Alec?" she asks.
“I dunno, babe," Hardison says. "I think that Eliot—I think that Eliot's had a hard time of things, and if he's sad, he's probably entitled to be sad.”
Parker frowns, in part because that wasn't the answer she wanted, but partly because she doesn't think that it was quite the question that she was asking, either.
"Do you think we can make him happy?" she asks, and that's not quite the question she wants to ask, either, but it feels closer.
Hardison rolls onto his side and opens his arms, and she bounces onto the bed and goes limp, letting him pull her towards him. She doesn't ask again, because she's pretty sure that Hardison is trying to buy himself time, and she doesn't want to interrupt whatever he's thinking about, so she wiggles against the pillows and uses her toes to pull up the blankets.
“I think he has to want us to make him happy," Hardison says at last, "and I’m not sure that he does."
Her stomach drops. "Oh," she says.
“We could try, though," Hardison offers. "I don't—you know, I don't like him sad any more than you do."
"I know you don’t," Parker says, already trying to map the idea of happiness onto Eliot. "Do you think that blowjobs would make Eliot happy? They make you happy.”
Hardison sputters for a second, and then seems to realize that she's serious. "Is that—um. Is that a thing—you and Eliot, is —"
"Come on," Parker says, because she’s known this part for a while, watching Hardison watch Eliot with soft eyes. It might be a thing that could make everyone happy, she thinks. “Like you've never thought of it?"
Hardison shivers, a little, and she wouldn't feel it if he weren't pressed against her. She reaches out and turns out the light, because some things are easier to say in the dark.
“Yeah," Hardison says, eventually. "I've thought about it. I’d be into it. But—but I don't think that you can just give Eliot a blowjob and make him happy, even though your blowjobs are, obviously, amazing, and you are—"
Parker rolls over and kisses him.
"Ok," she says. "Ok. We'll work up to blowjobs."
“You want some practice?" Hardison asks in a fake sexy voice, but Parker laughs, and yeah, turns out she kinda does.
She spends three days trying to think of things that might make Eliot happy. Hardison mostly watches her, occasionally pointing out when items on her list are impractical.
“I don't think we can just get Eliot a dog, babe," he says. "That's kind of a lot of responsibility, a lot of work. I don't think we can put that on Eliot without being sure he wants it."
Parker sulks and crosses DOG off her list.
She writes CAT? on the next line and slides it to Hardison, who shakes his head. She crosses off cat.
COOKIES is the next thing she writes down, and she looks at Hardison.
“We'd have to make the cookies," he cautions. "Pretty sure that store-bought cookies would make Eliot the opposite of happy."
Parker grins. "I can make cookies," she says, and grabs the laptop to show him the recipe she'd found.
They make the cookies, and also make a giant mess. When they’re done, Parker does the dishes (badly) while Hardison showers, because he’s somehow managed to get flour in his ear, and that’s disgusting.
The kitchen isn't clean, quite, but it's presentable by the time Eliot gets there.
He looks around suspiciously. "Someone break in and use your kitchen?" he asks.
She shakes her head and finds, abruptly, that she's got no idea how to present this. Thankfully, Hardison chooses that moment to come out of the bedroom, showered and dressed.
“Hey, Eliot," he says, and grins somewhere between I love you and ha, take that. He grins like it's a challenge. "We made you cookies."
Parker’s watching, really closely, but Eliot only does his half smile, the one that looks like hurting.
"They as bad as your beer?" Eliot asks, and Hardison claps a hand to his chest and drops to the floor like he's been shot.
“You wound me, man," says Hardison, and Eliot rolls his eyes, but, watching Hardison sprawl on the floor, smiles. The moment that Hardison's head starts to move, the smile disappears, but Parker saw it. She knows she did.
“Here," she says, and hands him a cookie.
Hardison pops up off the floor as Eliot takes a bite and smiles his normal smile, the growly one. "They're pretty good," he allows.
They eat half of the cookies, and watch another movie, and Eliot eventually makes them pizza with dough (ok, the dough, and cheese, and pepperoni, and mushrooms, and peppers, and onions, and some sort of fancy ham) that he'd brought over.
Parker spends more time watching Eliot and Hardison than watching the movie, but doesn't come up with much else.
When the movie's over, the pizza's gone, and the dishes are done—because Eliot always does the dishes—Eliot goes to leave, and Parker follows him to the door, not sure if she wants to say something or just —
“What?" he asks as he shrugs into his jacket.
She shakes her head, and then makes a split-second decision. She takes a step forward, careful not to get too close too fast, and kisses his cheek.
"Thank you for supper." Her voice sounds weirdly formal, even to her, and Eliot blushes and turns away, and she figures she should give him that. "Night, Eliot," she says, and walks back to into the living room. “Hey," she says, because she's not quite willing to give that much, "quick, bring up the security cameras in the hall."
They watch as Eliot steps away from their door, and his face is a smile that Parker's never seen before, one that makes her feel soft and warm inside.
“See?" Parker says, and Hardison gapes a little.
Eliot stops at the stairwell, shakes his head and shoves his hair back, and by the time they can see his face again, he looks further away than ever.
“What'd you do?" Hardison asks, suspiciously.
Parker tells him, and tells him, too, about Eliot's dopey grin at Hardison's stupid drama about the beer, and Hardison stares at the monitors for long minutes, even after Eliot's gotten into his car and left.
They go to bed not long after Eliot leaves, and in the dark, where it's safe, they talk about it.
“He liked the cookies," Hardison says, and Parker shakes her head against the pillow, knowing he can’t see her.
“I don't think so," she says. Hardison makes a sad sound, and she picks up, quickly. "Not that he didn't like the cookies, but he smiled at you, not the cookies."
“Oh," says Hardison softly, and then, “he smiled at you, too. In the hall.”
“We should try again," Parker says. "To be sure."
And Hardison nods, in the dark, his head moving against her shoulder where he's pressed against her, warm and thick with sleep.
“Ok, babe," he says, and Parker is quiet while he falls asleep, quiet listening to his soft breathing and feeling the warm wetness of his breath against her neck, quiet thinking about Eliot's smile that looks like sadness, and the smile in the hall that looked like something else entirely.
They don't see Eliot the next day, despite a steady stream of texts. (From them: want 2 watch a movie? where is the butter? eliot did you take the cookies home? nevermind I found the cookies. why didn't you take the cookies? wanna get pizza? are we out of fruit smacks? hey is the gym open at nite; from Eliot: busy today. Butter’s in the fridge behind the soda and under the crème fraiche. I took a cookie home. No one needs that many cookies. You had pizza yesterday eat something else. Cereal isn't a meal Parker. You don't go to the gym. Don't break into my gym!)
They don't see him the day after that, either, despite almost no texts. (From them: new client tomorrow! and also ELIOT WHY DIDNT YOU TELL ME ABOUT CHOCOLATE PIE with an attached image of a chocolate Hostess hand pie; from Eliot: I’ll be there. Parker, don't EAT that, I’ll make you a damn pie, but that isn't pie.)
When he shows up for the client meeting, he looks rougher than usual, beanie pulled so low that his eyes are shadowed—which is probably for the best, Parker thinks, because they're also kinda bloodshot and swollen.
“You ok, man?" Hardison asks as Eliot makes himself a cup of tea.
“'m fine," Eliot grumbles, and then disappears into the other room.
While Hardison talks about the latest client, Parker watches Eliot. Watches his eyes on Hardison, watches the way his face relaxes, just a little, when he thinks no one's watching. Parker's always watching, though. Literally, a little bit; she tilted one of the security cams to point at where Eliot sits so that she can watch him on her phone while Hardison talks.
He doesn't smile during the briefing, though, not even his normal smile that's not a smile. He doesn’t smile when they go downstairs and meet with the client. After the meeting, he trudges upstairs with them and settles in on the sofa, cracking into a beer without a word.
It's obvious something's bothering him, but she's not sure how to get him to say what. Instead of trying, she suggests movies and takeout, which he agrees to, but only if they order from the Thai place.
“And when I say order," he clarifies, "I mean you let me order. For all of us. What'd you even eat yesterday?"
“Pie," Parker says guiltily.
“Technically we also ate cookies," says Hardison, and Eliot sighs heavily.
“It's Hardison's turn to pay for takeout," Parker says. Hardison groans, and Eliot nods and grabs the menu.
Parker perches on the sofa behind him, draping her legs over his shoulders and looking at the menu over his head
“Stop it," he grumbles, but doesn't move to push her off, and she checks her phone again, moving carefully, so he doesn't feel it. He's almost smiling, and she watches his face as she settles her chin over his head, fits the curve of his skull against her throat, and the almost smile spreads.
“What're you in the mood for?" he asks softly, and he sounds normal enough that if she weren't watching his face, she'd think that he looked—like he usually looks, somewhere between grumpy and sad.
“I dunno," she says. "I trust you."
And that, apparently, is what makes him smile, and she stares at the screen, feeling unexpectedly exposed in front of herself.
Hardison comes in from the kitchen, an assortment of beverages in hand. "Hey," he says, and Eliot jerks back, fast enough that Parker almost unbalances, and when she flicks her eyes to the screen, the smile has already disappeared.
“What're we having?" Hardison asks, flinging himself onto the sofa next to Eliot. He slings one hand back, behind Eliot, pinching Parker's butt, then leans in on Eliot, looking at the menu.
“I said I was ordering.” Eliot’s bristling a little, and Hardison smiles easily, placatingly.
"Yeah, I know," he says. "I'm just asking if you've done it yet.”
Eliot shrugs, and Parker takes the hint and swings her legs off of his shoulders, shoves Hardison's arm back into his own space, and drops herself onto the arm of the sofa, carefully not touching Eliot.
“I ain't done yet," says Eliot, sounding frustrated, and stands up.
Parker watches as he walks to the kitchen and leans against the counter, then drops backwards onto the sofa, putting her head on Hardison's leg.
“Hey, babe," he says.
Behind them, Eliot's on the line with the restaurant, ordering what Parker already knows is going to be far more food than three people can actually eat in an evening.
“He smiled again," she says quietly, and shows Hardison her phone, scrolling back so he can see.
“Wait, you put him on—Parker, I’m not sure —"
She shakes her head. "I have to know," she says, and she wishes she could make him understand. Hardison pulls a face, but Eliot's on his way back to the sofa, and they have to let it go.
“Food'll be here in forty minutes," Eliot says, dropping into a chair.
“Come back," says Parker, because the cameras won't get his face in the chair; he has to be on the sofa, where he usually is. She picks up her legs like a bridge, and Eliot shakes his head but relocates, pulling her legs down onto his lap when he sits.
“Better?" he asks, and he sounds grumpy about it, but she's pretty sure that he doesn't mind, not really.
They stay like that until the food comes, talking about nothing. Parker checks her phone, occasionally, despite Hardison's frowns, and watches as Eliot's face relaxes by slow degrees.
When the food shows up, Hardison goes to pay, and Parker forces herself upright, because despite being comfortable eating noodles and whatever else Eliot's ordered while reclining, both Hardison and Eliot seem to find it inexplicably offensive of her, so she doesn't do it when they're around anymore.
"All right!" Hardison says, dropping the ridiculous quantity of food on the coffee table.
Parker's the last to finish eating, halfway through the movie, and the number of dirty plates, it doesn't look like there's a whole lot less food now then there'd been an hour ago.
"I'll put it away," she offers, because it’s easier to check her phone in the kitchen, and she’s pretty sure that she’s seen this movie before, anyhow.
Hardison looks at her suspiciously, but she shoves him, gently, making him bump Eliot, and he stays there, slumped a little bit, shouldered up against Eliot.
She tucks the food into the fridge wherever it fits, knowing that Eliot and Hardison are just going to rearrange it later anyhow—Eliot so that it fits with his system, and Hardison because his need to have an entire shelf of orange soda trumps his need to have things like leftovers. Parker doesn't care what the inside of the fridge is like as long as neither of them is complaining about it.
Her phone feels warm and heavy in her pocket, reminding her of what she could be doing. She checks it again, leaning on the counter, and watches their faces on the screen, the backs of their heads over the screen of the phone. Eliot has moved a little, and his arm is almost, almost around Hardison's shoulders, but carefully only touching the sofa, not Hardison.
Hardison's eyes are glued to the television, but Eliot's eyes are closed, his face unexpectedly relaxed. Something hurts inside of her, hurts for—she doesn't even know, and she pushes the feeling away, staring at the phone, at Eliot's thumb rubbing over the nap of the sofa's fabric.
She watches them for a long time, long enough that she's missed most of the second half of the movie, long enough that she's not sure how to go back in, anymore, because she doesn't want them to move, because they look—they look soft, she thinks, soft like a perfect landing, like the sudden feel of earth under your feet, and the sky's not whistling anymore.
And she's someone who appreciates that, the whistle of sky and the tumble of wind, but she doesn't think that they are. It feels like she should know this already, and she worries that Hardison and Eliot are people who need to know that there's somewhere to land, that there's an open field and no trees. Know that the line's going to catch before they hit. It's not anything she's ever thought about before, and she spends the rest of the movie in the kitchen, thinking about belay ropes and climbing harnesses and parachutes; thinking about Eliot moving to break her fall when she's gone out a window; thinking about Hardison slipping a parachute in her pack, counting on it to save her. She thinks about places to land.
By the time the movie ends, she's been staring at their faces for thirty minutes, Eliot's face gone slack with sleep, and Hardison halfway asleep on Eliot's shoulder. She wants to keep them there, to tell Hardison not to move, but doesn't know how to do it without waking Eliot, so she comes back into the room and gestures Hardison to shh.
Eliot's breathing is slow and heavy, and he must’ve been more tired than she’d thought, because he doesn’t even blink when she slowly hauls Hardison off of him. Together, they carefully move him, despite his mumbled, half-awake protest, until he's on his side, tuck a pillow under his head, and cover him with a blanket—and then another blanket, because the house gets cold at night.
She writes the note on the back of the takeout receipt in careful, block letters: stay, it says. She leaves it on the table, where he'll have to see it, just in case. Hardison's in bed and most of the way out before she even gets into the bedroom, and she lies next to him, pulling his arm over her waist, and watches Eliot sleeping on her phone. The volume’s up a little, just in case. Because if he leaves, she wants to know, wants to be able to—stop him, she thinks. She wants to make him stay.
It's later, later enough that she’s asleep, too, when she hears a noise. She's out of it enough that it takes her a moment to realize what it is, to realize that the noise is Eliot, and she looks at her phone in confusion, because he's still on the sofa. He makes the noise again, and it finally registers that he's asleep, making noises in his sleep, and she slips out of bed, pausing to look at Hardison, still sleeping, his arm still stretched out to drape over her waist.
She kisses his forehead, softly, and he mumbles something unintelligible, and Parker sneaks out the door, down the hall and through the kitchen. When she looks at her phone again, to check, Eliot is still asleep, but his face is pulled too tight over his forehead and too hard at his eyes. She leaves the phone on the kitchen counter and goes into the living room, quietly, not sure what —
Eliot makes a noise again, a desperate, keening noise, and Parker jumps over the sofa and lands on her knees in front of it, dropping her down to face level with Eliot.
"Eliot" she whispers, and she knows him enough to block the instinctive swing, crashing her forearm against his and stopping his fist. His eyes are open wide, and he's staring at her in something not far from horror, his fist still in the air, his forearm still pressed against hers.
"Parker," he chokes out, and she nods. "Don't—" he says, and stops.
“I know," she says, sliding her arm down until it's her hand on his arm, then pushes, gently, until he puts his arm down to his side. “I'm sorry.” She tucks his hair back, leaves her hand against his cheek.
“Sorry," he says, starting to sit up, and she shakes her head and pushes him back down.
“Don't," she says, and he shakes his head wildly.
“No," he says, “No, I gotta—"
"It was a dream," she says, and it feels like something's burning in her chest.
Eliot stares at her, his eyes still wild and feral. “Did I —" he starts, and looks at the arm she's tucked between them, his arm with her hand on it, pressed against her stomach.
“No," she says. "I'm fine. It's—after the movie, you were asleep, and —"
“Ok," Eliot says, like the words are being punched out of him, and Parker hears the echo of the noise he'd made, hears the rush of wind. “You're on the floor," he says after a moment, and she nods.
“I know," she says. "It's ok."
Parker shifts, because now that he's pointed it out, the floor is cold, and hard, and then she freezes, because Eliot flinches, pulling himself against the back of the sofa. "Eliot?" she asks.
“Sorry," he says, again, and she can't help herself.
“What were you dreaming about?” The question hangs in the dark. He doesn't respond, but seems to shiver, and Parker thinks, ok. “Come with me," she says quietly, and Eliot shakes his head but gets off the sofa, looking sadly at the blankets. She drapes one around his shoulders, and the other one around her own, because it's cold out here, and no wonder he'd had bad dreams if he was freezing to death in his sleep.
“I'll go," he says, softly, and Parker shakes her head.
“Just come with me," she says, and hands him the note she'd written earlier. She’s not sure what it’ll change, but it feels like it should count for something, that she’d known he was going to leave and told him not to. And it seems to, because he reads it, and nods, wordlessly. Then he follows her through the kitchen, and she can feel the moment he realizes where she's going and hesitates.
“Come on," she says, and he looks like he wants to say no, but nods and follows her. Eliot, she knows, almost never says no, not for real. Not to her; not to Hardison. Not when it matters.
Hardison is still asleep, and Parker spreads the blanket from around her shoulders across the bed, and then pulls off Eliot's and adds it to the pile.
“Take off your shoes," she whispers, and she thinks it's indicative of how tired Eliot is that he doesn't even protest, just toes off his shoes and looks at her blankly, like he’s waiting.
Parker grabs his hand and pulls him to the bed, then looks at him critically. She knows that you can sleep in jeans, but she doesn't know why anyone would want to, especially not when they're sleeping on Hardison's super-soft imported flannel sheets.
“Strip," she says, and Eliot baulks, pulling back. She almost sighs, because it had seemed like this part should be the easy part, but doesn’t, counting the even meter of inhale, exhale. “Just —" she says, and then gives up and unfastens his jeans herself, tugging them until they're low enough that he can step out of them, which he does, slowly, his eyes never leaving her face.
"Parker," he says, and it sounds like a warning.
She ignores it, because it’s Eliot, because she knows that he'd sooner kill himself than hurt her or Hardison. Because she knows that he's not good at taking things, even when they're offered. It’s easy to tug his flannel off of him, and then she taps his arms.
"Arms up," she whispers, and he does, awkwardly, like he doesn’t know what she’s going to do. When he’s down to his boxers, she scoots backwards across the bed, pulling him with her, pulling him onto the bed, and swings the blankets up over him.
He's still half sitting, stiff as a board, and Parker tugs on his arm, then, gently, on his hair. “Lie down," she says, and pulls his hair again, dragging his head down to the pillow.
“This ain't right," he says softly, the words slow and reluctant.
She wiggles so that Hardison's arm is over her again, tucked around her waist, his hand splayed across her belly, and then pulls Eliot back against her, fitting her knees into his, draping one of her arms over his torso.
“Parker," he says again, and it still sounds like a warning, but a different one; lower and quieter and closer to the bone.
“It is," she says, and she finds his hand and laces their fingers together. "Just stay," she says, and counts again, not holding her breath, waiting patiently for Eliot to say whatever he needs to say. His thumb rubs circles against her hand like it had against the sofa earlier, and she wonders if he'd thought about doing it to Hardison's shoulder, inches away from what he was touching.
"Eliot?" she whispers when he doesn't say anything.
“Ok," he says thickly, and doesn't offer anything else.
It takes Eliot a long time to settle, even in the warmth of the bed, even with Parker carefully counting, five in and five out, slowly, so that he could match his breathing to hers. Eventually, though, she feels the tension seep out of him, feels him go soft and pliant against her. She stays awake for a long time, listening to their breathing, listening to the soft rush of air.
Morning seems a long time away, and she's awake before the winter sun creeps around the blinds. Her skin feels too tight, like there's more of her than it can hold. They're still asleep, Eliot and Hardison, and she makes herself stay still, to remember how it feels, how the soft hss-whush of breath fills the room.
Eliot shifts in his sleep, and she fights the urge to hold his hand tighter, like she might keep him from slipping away with the subtle pressure of her fingertips. She's careful, though, and doesn't move more than she has to, because she suspects that Eliot will leave as soon as he realizes where he is, and she wants to put it off as long as possible.
Hardison’s starting to wake up, pressed against her back, and she wishes she could tell him not to move, not to get up, because she feels like she's at the edge of a cliff and waiting for—
Eliot rolls over, fast and unexpected, and she teeters on the edge, but he settles quickly, pulling her closer, and Hardison's teeth graze the back of her neck.
“That's a nice look," he says consideringly, and she can feel him shift his weight onto his elbow so he can look down their bodies, and the wind catches in her hair. It’s a long way down.
Eliot's skin is warm on hers where her camisole has rucked up, and she stretches subtly, pushing her muscles as far as she can without moving her body. Hardison doesn’t notice—he's still pressed against her back, still smoothing his hand over her hip, even though she knows that she's closer to him than she was a heartbeat ago. Eliot notices, though, or his body does, because he responds almost in kind, the slow ripple of his muscles as his hips hitch slightly towards her.
He rocks his body against hers, gently, and she's not teetering anymore, but is falling, dropping without a chute, because she knows that movement, knows what —
Eliot makes a soft, appreciative sound, and Hardison huffs against the back of her neck.
“Guess we know how Eliot wakes up, huh?" he says, and he sounds amused, sounds—turned on, Parker thinks.
“He's asleep," she hisses, and Hardison's hand slides over her hip, and she watches as it slides on to Eliot's hip, pulls him closer to Parker.
“I don’t think he’s gonna be asleep for long," says Hardison, and Eliot's hips stutter forward again, pressing against Parker's, snug against her. Her arm is still over his waist, and she can feel the muscles in his back flex as he moves, slightly, and his eyes flutter open.
She's pretty sure that Eliot wakes up like this often enough that she doesn't have to block him, but she's careful anyhow, watching him, waiting for him to flip from being asleep to awake enough to realize where he is. It's only a heartbeat before it happens, and in the brief moment before his eyes go wide, he smiles sleepily at them, and it's like watching something else entirely, something so unlike him that she’s caught off guard.
Then his eyes fly open, and he pulls back, already apologizing. Eliot looks like he might be sick.
“Did I—I —" His eyes land heavily on Parker, taking in her shirt bunched under her breasts, the strap sliding off her shoulder, and he rolls away as she shakes her head.
"No," Hardison says.
"Nothing,” Parker agrees. “You were on the sofa, and we told you to come in here, and that was—"
Eliot's on his knees next to the bed, and his breathing sounds wrong, like panic, and it hurts more than she'd expected, landing on the rocks.
“I thought —" Eliot says, and stops himself. He stands up, looming over the bed, looking as trapped as she’s ever seen him. "Ok," he says, and his eyes flicker over them and back to the wall. "I mean. Good. I don't wanna make you—you know, I don't wanna fuck things up," he says, too fast, and Parker wonders what the rest of the first sentence was: don't wanna make you—what, she thinks.
“You didn't make us do anything," says Hardison, and it sounds equal parts reassuring and—not reassuring, somehow.
“It was nice," Parker offers, and then, less sure that this is a thing that she can offer, she says, "you looked happy."
It’s immediately clear that she’s said the wrong thing, that this wasn’t how the conversation was supposed to go. Eliot looks at her blankly for a long moment, then shakes his head.
“Sorry," he says again, and before Parker can come up with a reason for him to stay, he's disappeared into the bathroom, taking half the blankets with him.
“I'm not sure that helped things," says Hardison, watching the closed bathroom door, and Parker shrugs, turning it over in her head, still feeling the ghost of the warm, safe feeling she'd woken up with, the unexpected spike of arousal when Eliot's body had pressed against hers.
“It could have," she says, but the words taste metallic on her tongue.
By the time Eliot comes out of the bathroom, smelling like Parker's shampoo and Hardison's deodorant, she has a theory.
“You better not have used all the hot water," Hardison says as he disappears into the bathroom, and Eliot makes a noise that makes Parker suspect that he showered in cold water to avoid exactly that.
She follows Eliot into the kitchen, dragging one of the blankets with her like a cape. He moves around the apartment like he fits there, like he belongs there, and Parker perches on the counter, watching him in silence for long minutes.
"What are you afraid of?" she asks, finally. He’s cracking the eggs for french toast, and he curses as one of the eggshells drops into the bowl.
“Lotsa things,” he says curtly, and whisks the egg with enough force to send spatters of it across the counter. “Not a lot of things I want to talk about at eight in the morning.”
Parker wipes up one of the spatters and puts it in her mouth, then immediately spits it out; it tastes like raw egg, not like breakfast. “I meant now,” she clarifies. “This morning.”
He whisks harder and shakes his head. “Nothing,” he says.
“Why'd you leave, then?" she says, because she's almost sure that this is what it is, and that means she can't just walk away when Eliot brushes her off.
He glares at her. "Go put some clothes on," he says. “It’s cold.” She doesn't move, and when he passes her a moment later on his way to the fridge, she tugs his flannel until he lets it slide off of his shoulders.
“Hey," he says, and it's not so much an argument as it is an acknowledgement, she thinks. When she shrugs into the shirt, it’s still warm, and it smells like Eliot, even after a night on the bedroom floor. He drops a couple pieces of bread into the eggs and walks over to lean on the counter next to her.
“It's not you," he says, "ok?"
Parker hesitates a moment before jumping. "Is it Hardison?" she asks, because they need to know if it is, need to know if—but Eliot's shaking his head, and she doesn't have to finish that thought.
“No," he says. She waits, trying to give him enough room to think. When he doesn't say anything, she pulls her cape blanket from the counter and tucks it over his shoulder, around her hips.
“What is it?" she asks, eventually. Eliot isn’t going to give her anything she doesn’t ask for. He shakes his head, though, and she offers the only thing she has left. “I've seen you smile," she says, and it feels like telling a secret, a secret she'd been carrying and had hardly noticed until it was gone. "When you think we're not looking."
“I'm sorry," says Eliot, and he sounds sorry, sad and sorry and like he's underwater.
“Why?" Parker asks again, and she can't keep the impatience out of her voice, because she doesn’t think she can take it if he says he’s sorry one more time.
Eliot shrugs out of the blanket and turns on the stove, watching the butter shimmer in the skillet. It takes long enough that she doesn't think he's going to answer, and she's not sure what to ask, anymore, what might get Eliot to answer her.
“Because," he says, finally, not looking at her, "the two of you—you’re not mine to smile at."
And the wind is in her hair, and her heart is in her throat, and the ground is a mile away and speeding towards her, and she says, "Yeah, we are."
“Don't." Eliot doesn’t look at her. "Not like—just don't. Please.”
Hardison steps into the room silently, wiggles Parker's phone at her, and she catches the message immediately: you're not the only one who can move a security cam. She slips off the counter and sneaks behind Eliot, letting him jump when she slips her hands against his hips, pinning him between her body and the stove, her front pressed against his back.
“Parker," he says, and Hardison says, "Eliot."
Parker doesn't say anything, can barely hear over the rushing in her ears, just presses her body against him and hopes he understands what's being offered. Eliot twitches when Hardison steps towards them, but he stays still, and Parker can feel what it takes, can feel him working to stay still.
“She's not wrong," Hardison says. She can feel Eliot's heart racing, feel the panic threading through him, and she presses her lips to his nape, dragging them gently over his skin. He shudders.
Eliot still has one hand on the burner control and one hand on the bowl, and Hardison covers both of Eliot's hands with his own, pulling him away from the stove, and Parker is suddenly, overwhelmingly grateful.
She can't see Eliot's face from here, but she can feel the hesitation when Hardison leans in and kisses him, then pulls away, waiting.
“We could be yours," she says. "If you'd—if you—"
“If you wanted us," Hardison says firmly. "And, you know, we'd get it if you don't, because—"
Eliot cuts him off, kissing him, kissing him like it’s like breathing and they’d die without it. Parker watches over Eliot's shoulder, her chin snugged against his neck, and it feels like falling. Like flying. When they pull apart, Eliot turns smoothly, slipping Parker between himself and Hardison, and then he’s kissing her, too, and Hardison’s arms are holding her and Eliot both, steady and safe, and they land so soft she doesn’t even feel the ground.