Like most bad ideas, this one fell out of Hardison's mouth while the three of them were sprawled in bed together, Eliot in the middle and so exhausted he could barely focus his eyes, never mind make decisions.
"You know, it's gonna be three years that we've been together. We need to do something."
"Sure," Eliot mumbled, smiling as Parker rubbed his scalp in the perfect spot.
"I was thinking we could base jump and steal something," said Parker, struggling up onto an elbow.
Eliot playfully pushed her back down. "You're always thinking that."
"It's gotta be meaningful," insisted Hardison. "Not something you'd do on any random Tuesday."
"I got some ideas, some good ones," said Eliot, rubbing a hand on Hardison's thigh, his smirk leaving little room for misinterpretation. "You ain't gonna like 'em though. Not at first at least. But if past experience is any guide, you'll come around."
Parker giggled, clearly remembering the same hotel room in Prague that Eliot was.
"That sounds good too, but I was thinking something more timeless…" Hardison's voice trailed off before he snapped his fingers and announced, "Like tattoos."
"Matching tattoos?" said Parker.
"Maybe, yeah, if we can all agree on something."
"No." Eliot kept his voice flat and his body motionless. Hardison would never know the landmine that he was standing on, as long as the fool didn't push too hard.
"What's wrong with tattoos?" asked Hardison.
"In our line of work, the last thing you want is an identifying mark. I know guys who've had birthmarks removed, painfully and at great expense. Why would you go and mark yourself on purpose?"
"You know, I always did think it was weird that you spent all that time in the military and didn't have a single tattoo to show for it," said Parker, idly twisting a lock of Eliot's hair.
"That's right. Cost me a bundle, took forever, and hurt like hell to get them removed. All seven of them. But after my second job as a retrieval specialist, I knew it had to be done."
"It doesn't have to be a sleeve, man. Just a small one. Some place discrete," said Hardison, his voice edging dangerously close into begging territory. Funny that tone had driven Eliot wild not 15 minutes ago was not making his punching hand itch to feel Hardison's face.
Eliot shook his head and got out of bed, causing Hardison and Parker to tumble into the spot he vacated. Eliot scooped up his jeans and walked out of the room.
"No tattoos, final answer," he said over his shoulder when he got to the doorway. He pretended he didn't hear Hardison's confident whisper that he would change his mind after he saw the design.
For three days, Eliot heard nothing else about the dumb tattoos and assumed that Hardison had decided to be smart for once and forget about the damn idea. His hopes were dashed when he came home from surveillance to find Hardison and Parker sitting on the couch, Hardison's laptop covered with a cloth napkin, expectant and excited looks on both their faces.
"That better not be one of my mama's linen napkins," said Eliot as he paused to pull off his work boots.
"Nah man, of course it's not, you think I'm that stupid," said Hardison in a strained tone that Eliot know that yeah, he was that stupid. But before Eliot could get close enough to confirm the hacker's alleged stupidity, Hardison pulled off the napkin and Parker magically disappeared it.
"Tah-dah!" they chorused, out of tune and time, Parker a half-beat ahead in her awkward way.
Eliot came closer and looked at the screen, which had what looked at first like a standard monogram. When he looked closer, he could see that each letter was formed by joining together tiny drawings. The H was made of circuit boards, the E was all fists, and the P was made of locks and safes. The H was blocky, the E was solid, and the P, somehow, was wispy and delicate. Eliot might not know much about graphics, but even he could see that this was first-class design work.
"What do you think?" asked Hardison.
"It's pretty good work," replied Eliot, sounding as noncommittal and unimpressed as possible. Boy didn't need a swelled head, after all.
"Pretty good work?" Hardison echoed, incredulous.
"I think it's pretty. I can't wait to get mine," said Parker.
"Oh yeah, you planning on having these printed on t-shirts or something?" asked Eliot, knowing full well what they intended.
"No, man, this is our design. For the tattoo. What do you think?"
Eliot looked at Hardison, all earnest and hopeful. He'd never admit it to anyone, but hurting Hardison sucked. But it had to be done.
"What? Just no? What about if we got it really small, some place no one would ever see, like on the bottom of our feet?"
Eliot laughed. "You have any idea how much that would hurt. You can't take that much pain. Parker probably could, but you, no chance."
Hardison sat up straighter. "I could so. C'mon, let's go. Let's get them done now. I'll show you."
Eliot sat down and crossed his arms. "Fine, you go first - get it done up in the arch of the foot. Then I'll be happy to get one in the same place."
Hardison squirmed. "In the arch? I don't know about that. I got very delicate arches, man. One bad move and the whole thing could come down like a house of cards."
"I'll do it," said Parker. "If I can do it, you can do it. We'll get tequila first. Tequila makes everything better."
Hardison hung his head, and Eliot stood up. "I'll be in the shower, if either of you want to join me."
On their anniversary, they decided to placate Parker and go base jumping in Yosemite, despite Hardison's fear of heights and Eliot's reluctance to take what he considered stupid risks. They were on top of El Capitan, with Parker checking their gear, when suddenly she stopped and slapped her forehead.
"I nearly forgot!" she said with a rueful grin and a roll of her eyes, like she couldn't believe she could be so silly.
"Forgot what?" asked Eliot, trepidation in his tone.
"I don't like to hear the word 'forgot' when safety equipment is involved," said Hardison, taking a few steps backward.
Parker fumbled in a pocket and came out with a sheet of paper that had what looked like green stickers on it.
"Hells no. You really think we're gonna drop acid before we jump off a perfectly good mountain?" asked Hardison.
"It's not acid, silly," said Parker, holding the sheet up for closer inspection. "They're tattoos. Temporary tattoos."
Eliot could see now that they were small lepruachans and shamrocks. Parker took each man's hand in turn and gently applied a small green shamrock to the inner wrist before applying one on her own wrist. Eliot studied it closely, then looked at Hardison, who was grinning.
"I hope we last longer than this thing does, especially with this jump," he said, veering dangerously close to the mushy sentiment that the threesome usually tried to avoid.
"Don't be a baby. Either of you. Eliot, you can scrape this off if you don't' want to be identified. And Hardison, no one packs a parachute better than I do."
Eliot looked at Hardison, then at Parker. He didn't know why she could always talk them into doing risky things but Hardison never could. He supposed they each had their role to play, but sometimes, as they had discovered, mixing up roles was a good thing.
"I'll make a deal with you. We survive this stupid idea, then Hardison, you get your stupid idea. We'll get the damn tattoos." Eliot held out his hand, smiling when Hardison's hand crashed down on his.
"You heard the man, let's go. We got tattoos to get," said Hardison. The trio approached the edge of the cliff cautiously, then jumped.