Nate’s the one who asks Eliot about it. In retrospect, this was a poor decision.
Eliot likes Nate fine, even when the others don’t. He gets it, the self-destructive thing. He’s been there (not with booze, but close enough for government work). He gets the way you have to feel about yourself to think drunk-and-sloppy is better than thinking your way through your own shit. He gets it. He understands.
That doesn’t stop him from standing up and walking away when Nate asks the question.
It takes three tries before Nate realizes that one, it’s not his place to ask Eliot about his sex life, and two, Sophie would have been a better choice. So he asks Sophie to ask Eliot, and she laughs in his face. “Do you really think I’m going to ask him who he’s sleeping with?”
“Not that, I just need to know if there are, you know, interpersonal, ah, issues, you know, that might need to be, ehh, addressed. Someday. Like if they break up, and I don’t know and I do something stupid and make the team self-destruct, you know?”
She stares at him with the blank face that means she’s incredibly angry and not going to tell him so. He manages to swallow a grin at recognizing the expression. “I’ll let him know about your concerns, then. But fair warning, if he’d punched you I’d have applauded. Thrown him a bloody party, maybe.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get that now. Thanks, Soph.”
Sophie doesn’t ask Eliot anything. She nods at the other two, looks at him. “If you need to talk, or if something happens,” and she ends her sentence there.
He doesn’t meet her eyes, just moves one shoulder. She walks away. “They’re good,” she mumbles at Nate as she walks by. “Keep your nose out of it, will you?”
Sometimes in the morning there are teeth, bared and bloody like he’s taken a punch, and he won’t tell either of them why. He knows their stories, and neither of them need any extra dark in it. He’ll keep that to himself, thanks, to the ring and the window planters and the track. He’ll keep it there, and in his head, and he won’t let it come to bed because bed — this is Hardison’s voice in his head talking now — should be a good place, not a bad one. And he’s right, so it is. The blood and the dark and the teeth and the pictures in the head, they all stay somewhere else. Well, as best he can. Sometimes things happen, is the point, and sometimes they don’t stay hidden.
Hardison sees it, once, the ripped lip from the night, and opens his mouth to say something. But she stirs, snorts, snaps her eyes open and he keeps it shut and they go on with the day like nothing happened. At some point Hardison says something about how allergies are a bitch, how they can cause nosebleeds while you sleep, and that pacifies her. Eliot doesn’t say thanks, but he does buy him something disgusting and processed to snack on, so there’s that.
People aren’t like knives. Or, well, he thought they were. Context means everything, and he knows that. And you add in the sharp-edges part of it, the dangerous-but-useful and the beautiful-and-deadly and lookee there, you got yourself embroiled in a team of thieves and a…he doesn’t even have a word. Threesome sounds stupid, and he doesn’t care to use the French phrase (it’s a long story), and anyway he doesn’t like labels, okay. Knives, though, the point is that knives have a specific purpose and they are built and made for it. People aren’t, don’t. People are complicated. Knives are simple. This situation, these two people in his bed and in his brain and more often than not jabbering in his ear, too, no. Not simple.
He never intended for this to start, is the thing. Parker and Hardison were goo-goo for each other, everybody knew it. So what if he didn’t like labels, so what if he got a little fond of the kid and the girl, so what? He was an adult, he’d take care of it, it’d go away eventually. Until it didn’t. Until Parker smiled hello and he nearly melted, until Hardison got taken and he nearly killed a few people. Until they were sitting in the apartment alone, nursing some beers, and he caught them both looking. Until bed, and what came after, and the rest of it.
Talking about it isn’t important. They worked it out, it works, it’s good. It’s great, actually, but he tries not to think that. Everything that’s ever been great in his life has disappeared except the team, and even that seems to implode every few months and need a reset. So he doesn’t bring it up, that he sleeps better with them than he ever has, that he aches when they’re scared or hurt or in danger, that if he had his way he’d lock them in a steel cage and kill anyone who tried to touch them. That’s not what they need, so it stays in his head.
Bed is for good things, not for the violence inside him. Sometimes he thinks bed isn’t for him, either, because of all the shit, but they pull him back, hold him there. And so in those moments, he’s trapped, he’s stuck, he’s terrified and loving it.
Sophie does, though, ask Parker about it. Because Parker is…different? Special? Odd? Something. She asks quietly, softly.
Parker shakes her head. “No, it’s…they don’t make me do anything. Or even ask me to, I mean, it’s good. It’s…we’re good. Don’t worry,” she grins suddenly, razor-sharp and knowing. “We’re smart, and Eliot’s strong. We’ll be fine.”
That’s that for Sophie. She’d worried that Parker was being coerced, or that there was a power imbalance (she’s very sensitive to people taking advantage of their thief, her thief, the little sister she never had — not that she didn’t have a little sister, but her little sister hadn’t spoken to her in twelve years, so the phrase was apt enough). In retrospect, that had been a silly worry. Parker was a lot of things, but easily controlled was not one of them.
She’d watched, then, as Parker curled up on the couch next to Hardison, who was jabbering on about the next client. Eliot, in the chair beside them, didn’t meet her eyes, didn’t change his facial expression. He did, however, make marginally less fuss than normal when informed he was going to be recon on the next job. There was always that.
She knows she’s wrong. Not wrong like incorrect, wrong like messed-up, like should-probably-be-somewhere-with-padded-walls-and-pills, like maybe-should-disappear-permanently. She’s not good at forgetting that, not for very long. And she’s not like the boys, she’s not good at people. Flying (falling with style, Hardison says with a grin and a tone that she knows means she’s supposed to laugh so she does but she doesn’t know why it’s funny), the click-click-clonk of a tumbler falling into place, the zing and catch of her body when she hits the end of the line, yes. She can do those. But the way people are, that’s difficult. They’re not like locks — they should be like locks. Locks make sense, locks are real and touchable, you can look at a lock and know what you need to do to get it to do what you want. Not people.
People leave or die or do both. People hurt or touch or do both. People do a lot of things and most of them are not good and even the people who do good things do bad ones, too, and where does that leave her?
She comes home once to the boys doing their thing. They don’t notice her (they tried to, pointed themselves at a good angle to hear the elevator and the keys in the door, but she had a bad day so bedroom window it is). They keep kissing. It’s not a problem. She likes kissing, but she likes watching them more than being involved. Watching is good. Watching lets her see them without having to touch or be touched. Sometimes touching is good, but not often, and never unless she asks for it, so they do what they do.
Until she giggles a little; it’s not her fault! kissing is funny sometimes, and the way Eliot has to pull Hardison’s head down to him because he’s so short, and they whirl and look half-embarrassed and it’s funny. Hardison grins, though, and Eliot lowers his eyebrows to try and look intimidating, and then they have dinner and watch TV, her sprawled over the two of them on the couch. Easy. Simple.
Bed is the different place. She doesn’t like to sleep alone, she likes to be held then, and sleeping between them is the second-safest place in the world she can think of to sleep. Second-safest and most comfortable, anyway. Bed’s for sleeping and watching the boys, and sometimes, if she feels like it, joining in. They’re always surprised, happy, when that happens. She likes when they smile at her. She wishes she liked sex and sex things more, but they’re happy to have her watch, have her smirk, have her sleep between them and make them laugh and be herself.
Someday, though, she knows it’s going to break. People leave, or die, or both. Usually it’s her doing. But for now, there’s bed, and the boys kissing, and the chance to jump off buildings and onto elevators and make people happy sometimes. That’s enough for now, probably. Plenty of time for things to turn ugly later.
Nate is the one who talks to Hardison, because Nate’s always understood him better. He sees in Hardison some echo of himself: not the tech thing, not the nerd thing, but the cunning, the planning, the control issues. Turns out he was wrong about the third thing.
“Nah, man, it’s not like that. It’s fine, don’t worry.” His head’s buried in the guts of some old video game, trying to rig it up to do something complicated that no one else really understands.
“I’m just, you know, concerned. About liabilities, weaknesses, you know.” Nate swills the last ounce of bourbon in the glass. “You get kidnapped a lot, is the thing, and that makes them vulnerable, and—”
Hardison’s back stiffens. “You think I don’t know that? You think we haven’t discussed it?” He turns to face Nate, a cold blank expression on his face. “You think you’re not just as compromised when it’s Sophie in danger? Or a kid, any kid, pick a kid?”
“That last bit, that’s Eliot talking, not you.”
“Whatever, man. It’s not your business anyway.”
“Actually,” he’s getting angry now, losing the film of calm, “it is my business. This is my team, you know, and you’re my crew, and I don’t want anything to make us weaker, and—”
“So stop drinking, then.” Hardison’s impassive face is terrifying. “Stop drinking, make us live in separate apartments, don’t let us hang out or talk to each other or learn each others’ names. Otherwise it’s too late, and we’re all vulnerable whenever anything happens to any of us.”
“No, shut up. Listen. When Sophie gets hurt or trapped, when you get drunk, when Eliot takes on one too many guys, when Parker disappears, when I,” he waves a hand in the air, “whatever, we all screw up. We all do, and we all get scared and hurt when it happens. That’s what a team is. That’s what a family is. Sleeping together doesn’t make us any more or less, what’d you say, vulnerable. So back up and stay out of our business, unless you want us to get in yours.” He turns back to the game, buries his head again.
That’s the last time Nate brings it up. It’s not the last time Hardison does the chilling-monologue-of-doom, but it is the last time Nate is the sole cause of it.
“No, man, I’m telling you—”
“Shut up, Hardison.”
“No, listen, you—”
“Hardison, shut up.”
Eliot whirls, which should be really funny and kind of is, to face him. “Look, there’s not another way to say that sentence, so don’t make me repeat myself again, all right?”
Hardison clamps his mouth shut. It’s difficult, because there are all these words buzzing, but he does it. Swallows them down and follows the man, and gets a dislocated shoulder for his trouble (that, had he not shut up, they might be dead does cross his mind, but Eliot’s wheezing from broken ribs means he doesn’t have to hear it, so, good thing there).
Later, he whispers an apology to a passed-out Eliot. He’s good at apologies, good at words, the way neither of the other two are; see also: computers, British accents, movie references. But they’re improving on the references at least, like, Parker got that Kobayashi Maru thing, and Eliot made a Bonnie & Clyde joke the other day. Of course, he insinuated that Parker was Clyde and Hardison was Bonnie, but still.
See, because Eliot’s good at body language, good at being underestimated, good at, well, practically everything except talking about feelings. And also video games. Parker’s good at everything that doesn’t involve people, although she’s getting better and better and if that scares him a little bit, to think of a weakness-free Parker, well, he’s sleeping with the two most dangerous people he knows already. It’s not like he didn’t pick a risky path to begin with.
And that’s the good part. That’s the part he likes. The knife-edge of danger, the complications. It would never have been easy, even in an alternate universe where, like, he owned a computer store or something and Parker and Eliot were just normal people. It’d always have been complicated, always messy, always something they had to feel out for themselves every inch of the way. In this universe, though, the one where they were the good guys and the bad guys at the same time, it’s just…right. Somehow.
Eliot doesn’t like labels or people touching his things. Parker doesn’t like to be touched without warning or permission. Hardison doesn’t like dying, or pain, or getting left behind (and sometimes those dislikes conflict and he has to pick, and he always picks not being left behind, because it’s the worst of the three options). They’re a volatile combination, they’re like…He tries, sometimes, to think of a metaphor. They’re not like computers, where you can pick out and learn a command that will do whatever you want. They’re not viruses or worms, to be set loose on other people and used for your own ends. They’re not binary in any sense of the word.
What people are, though? Words. Stories. And things that don’t go into words. They’re the way Parker grins when she sees a good lock or a pretty angle on a jump. They’re the way Eliot’s shoulders settle when he sees a fight coming. They’re the sweet singing of knives through the air and the sound an alarm makes just after it shuts off and the sigh of a client when they win. They’re family, they’re friends, they’re lovers. People are people. He hopes that Parker and Eliot figure that out someday, stop thinking of themselves as weapons or warriors and start thinking of themselves as people. But it might not happen. And that’s okay.
Until then, there’s bed, where they’re safe. There’s everywhere else, where they’re not. And there’s him, keeping an eye on them, keeping them safe as best he can, making them laugh and argue and come and sleep. He’s here, and as long as he is, he thinks they will be, too.