Eliot held the small bundle up to his shoulder and smiled when he was rewarded with a gurgle. The baby's mother, a young widow, sat at a table with Nate and Sophie, who were explaining the details of the trust fund. Few jobs felt as good as this. The woman would be able to return to medical school without worrying about tuition bills, child care costs, or mortgage payments. The baby kicked his little legs, and Eliot bounced the baby gently while he spoke softly.
"You be good to your mama, now, you hear? She has a long road in front of her, and it ain't going to be easy for either of you, even with the money. But you'll always have us. I can teach you how to throw a punch, when the time comes. Nate'll teach you how to play chess. Sophie can teach you some manners. You'll be a computer whiz after spending a few hours with Hardison. And Parker, well, Parker can teach you some things that maybe we won't tell your mama about."
Eliot smiled and pulled the baby back to look into his eyes. Hard to believe that everyone starts out in the same place: small and helpless. His mama used to say that if you're lucky, you go out the same way, only bigger and wiser. Eliot was suddenly aware of a creeping sense of quiet and unease. Hardison would probably call it a 'disturbance in the force,' and Parker would roll her eyes and insist on spider senses. Eliot looked up and saw Hardison and Parker engaged in a heated, although whispered, conversation that included plenty of looks his way. Eliot's situational awareness had always been first-rate, honed by years of practice and necessity. But there was something different, something more, when it came to the two most important people in his life. He had a pretty good idea what was going on, and he reluctantly walked over to Sophie and handed over the baby.
Eliot stopped at the bar and got an orange soda for Hardison and an impossibly pink cocktail with a silly umbrella for Parker because he knew it would make her smile and the umbrella would give her something to do with her hands. These conversations always went better when Parker had something to do with her hands.
Eliot strode over to the table with more confidence and calm than he actually felt. Two tables away, he used his foot to hook a chair and drag it into the aisle. Then, he gave it a sturdy kick, grinning when it skidded into place between Hardison and Parker. The two startled, and Eliot eased himself into the newly arrived chair before they had a chance to say anything.
"Buy you a drink?" he asked as he slide the drinks over to them. Parker's eyes lit up, and she plucked the umbrella up in one graceful gesture.
"Thanks, man," said Hardison, before taking a long, deep pull from the bottle like he'd spent the last two days in a desert.
"So, what big conversation am I missing out on?" asked Eliot, leaning back in the chair.
"No big conversation," said Parker quickly, wide eyes turned to Hardison.
"Yeah, you weren't missing anything," he added, aiming for casual and missing by at least two country miles.
Eliot arched an eyebrow and looked at them, nearly counting the seconds in his head. They usually couldn't keep their mouths shut for more than seven seconds.
"That thing," said Parker with a vague wave toward Sophie. Three seconds.
"That thing," repeated Eliot, turning in the direction of the wave.
"Yes, that baby thing, how you were all cooing to it and making googly eyes."
"I was not making goggly eyes."
"You kinda were," said Hardison, practically hiding behind his orange soda.
"You want a baby, don't you?" said Parker, her gaze stubbornly fixed on the tiny umbrella that she was spinning between her thumb and forefinger.
Eliot spoke before he had a chance to censor himself. "Sometimes I think it'd be nice to settle down, have a family."
"Line of work we're in doesn't exactly make that practical," said Hardison.
"Some things would have to change," admitted Eliot, wondering if they could give up this life for something more domestic.
"I don't like change," said Parker, mouth drawn into a grim line.
"We'd need to settle somewhere, lay low, maybe just do small jobs. But I think it could work," said Hardison, always the one who fixated on the practical details. "It's a crazy idea, but it just might work. And hey, we might have twins. Boy twins would be great. We could name them Kirk and Jimmy."
"Jimmy like Jimmy Ford?" asked Parker. "But who's Kirk? We don't know any Kirks."
"Dammit Hardion, we are not naming twins after James T. Kirk."
Hardison grinned. "Those are classic names. Classic. What do you think, Parker?"
"That's kind of hippy, don't you think?" asked Eliot with a frown.
"I dunno, man, I think it's kind of pretty, for a girl. You do mean this name for a girl, right?"
"No, I mean butterfly. You know, but-ter-fly," said Parker, hinting at something with her eyes while making air quotes with her fingers.
"Interesting use of air quotes," said Hardison, still not getting it.
"The safe word, man," hiss-whispered Eliot.
"Can she, can you….I mean can the safe word be used in a conversation?" asked Hardison sounding genuinely befuddled.
Eliot looked at Parker and could see the discomfort and unease on her face. But it was more than that. She was afraid, practically terrified.
"Absolutely. Okay, Parker, don't worry about it. We can stop talking about this. Just step back for now, for as long as you need." Eliot's voice was soothing and calm.
Parker nodded, tension draining from her body. Hardison looked like he was still confused and needed to catch the clue bus.
"We're already a family," said Parker, eyes back on the small umbrella, finger worrying at a small rip in the paper bellows.
"Of course we are. And we know you don't like change," said Hardison, reaching out a hand to her over the table. Eliot put a hand on her knee, just behind the spot where he knew she was ticklish. Eliot felt like something was changing, something was slowly shifting and edging them, one small, awkward conversation at a time, toward a new place. He knew the progress would be slow, but, as his mama always said, ain't always about the destination, sometimes it's about the journey. And he felt more ready than ever to enjoy the journey with his two unlikely companions.