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The Thorn In His Paw Job

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Eliot opened the door and stepped inside; Sophie followed him, looking around. "Oh Nate, this is lovely," she said, every word dripping with insincerity. The small motel room was cheap, with furnishing from the sixties, and was the only thing left available in town.

"I don't control the weather," Nate told her, walking into the motel room, pushing past her and dumping his bag on the bed. Parker moved towards the connecting door to the next room and pulled it open.

"At least we got two rooms," Hardison pointed out, giving the single, king-sized bed a nod. "Otherwise it'd be five of us on that."

"You'd sleep in the bathtub," Eliot growled at him.

"Me? Why not Parker? She'd actually fit in a bathtub." Hardison dropped his bag on the bed as well, shooting him a dirty look as Nate picked it up again and shoved it back at him.

"I like bathtubs," Parker said, poking her head back in from the other room. "They don't float." She disappeared from view again, and the other four exchanged a long look.

"All right, we're stuck here until the state patrol opens the highway. Be glad we're not...." Nate trailed off as he tried to think of some way this could be worse. Stuck in a 15-room motel in a small town in Michigan with a weather forecast that said they could be snowed in through the end of the week -- things were already pretty bad.

His crew was going to go nuts and get into all kinds of trouble, holed up with nothing to do. He realized Sophie and Eliot were looking at him expectantly, clearly waiting to hear what could be worse.

Nate shrugged. "The motel could be full of cops?"

Sophie rolled her eyes. "Then at least we'd have some entertainment," she pointed out.

Hardison walked back into their room from where he'd followed Parker. With a thumb over his shoulder, he said, "This one's got two beds. How we gonna do this?"

Nate opened his mouth to point out it made perfect sense for him and Eliot to have the king bed -- and room to themselves -- when Sophie broke in. "That would leave two of us sharing a queen bed. No, Parker and I should take this room and leave you three in there."

"I'm sorry, what?" Nate asked, trying to follow the part of the conversation they hadn't even had and mostly failing.

She shrugged. "Well, a queen-sized bed is only sixty inches wide. We'd be on top of each other." With a smile, she said, "You and Eliot won't mind, but Parker and I would prefer a little space."

"Parker's barely ten inches wide herself," Eliot pointed out. "That leaves you with fifty inches of bed."

Sophie gave him a look. "Have you ever slept with her?" Eliot's eyes widened in what looked almost like fear, moreso than the expected denial. Sophie ignored him and continued, "That girl sprawls until she can take up an entire room all on her own. And she kicks."

"I don't kick," Parker responded as she came into the room. Without warning, she leapt into the air and landed in the middle of the king bed. She rolled onto her back and smiled at the ceiling. "I like this one. It's comfortable."

"See?" Sophie said, triumphantly.

"Hold up, hold up," Hardison said. "That leaves me sharing a room with these two."

"So?" Sophie dropped her bag on the dresser and pulled out a drawer to begin unpacking. Nate looked from her to Parker, still sprawled over the entire king-sized bed, then looked at Eliot.

"Looks like we're sharing a room with Hardison."

"Do I get a say in this?" Hardison demanded as Eliot walked past him into the other room.

"You can always sleep in the car," Eliot told him.

"I might," Hardison said, giving Eliot then Nate a clear warning. "If I hear the slightest noise coming from the other bed, I am sleeping in the car. And ruining both y'all's credit ratings."

Eliot looked over his shoulder and laughed. "We can be quiet."

Hardison blinked. "What do you mean? What-- have you two... Eliot! Damn it, I'm serious, I don't wanna hear y'all getting up to no funky business when I'm sleeping in the next bed."

"There's always the bathtub in the girls' room," Nate told him, as he followed Eliot into their room.

God help him, they were going to be stuck here for the rest of the week. He made a bet with himself as to how many minutes it would be before one of them got into trouble.

~~~

His laptop kept Hardison out of trouble -- that was to say, it kept him from causing the sort of trouble that would land them in the local slammer for the duration of their stay. Parker kept out of trouble by agreeing to return anything she took -- not right away, but she promised she'd have it back before the roads were cleared. Fortunately, as Nate had suspected, the lack of anything really interesting to steal kept her bored and in the motel rooms watching movies and bugging the rest of them for explanations.

Eliot had grabbed a dozen paperbacks on their first trip to the store and was apparently content to spend the entire week doing nothing but reading and practicing tai chi in the limited space available in the tiny motel room. Meanwhile Sophie was trotting out one of her covers, making the rounds of other stranded travelers and practicing her hooks, gathering stray tidbits to incorporate into roles she might play in the future. She was bored as well, but determined to make some use of her time.

As long as she didn't decide the wealthy widower in room 4 needed to get married again and leave all his money to his new wife, Nate figured things would be fine. As for himself, he let Hardison set him up at an online game site, and was now playing three games of chess and two of backgammon. The trouble was that no one else seemed to be snowed in with nothing to do, so waiting for his turn to come around left him pacing the floor, answering Parker's questions about why the woman in the movie didn't just kill her cheating husband, and -- to his own growing horror -- surfing Youtube.

Since he could start a new chess game whenever his other games languished, he thought maybe he would be OK. Between chess and worrying for his team, he was fairly well distracted during the day and Eliot distracted him pretty well at night. The first night Hardison had taken out his headphones and worn them to bed, giving them both a warning look.

But he was worried about how long Parker would be content with the television -- and what she might come up with to entertain herself. Honestly, though, as the second day wore on he grew even more worried about Eliot.

~~~

"Read one of your books," Hardison griped as Eliot paced behind him. "Go beat up a snowman."

"Ooh, can we?" Parker asked.

"It's too cold," Eliot growled. He didn't stop pacing, giving Nate a desperate look when he caught the other man's eye. Nate started to frown at him -- when it hit him.

God, he was an idiot. He went over to Eliot, doing the math in his head. They'd been on the job for two weeks before getting stuck here and the job had kept all of them more or less together the entire time. Before they'd left for the job, Nate recalled it had been at least a week since the last time Eliot had told him he needed a few days alone.

He got his hand on Eliot's arm, and Eliot looked at him, fear and hope warring in his eyes. Nate had no idea what he could say -- what they could do that wasn't what Eliot had already refused to do. He saw the realization hit Eliot that Nate had nothing to offer, and he growled, yanking his arm out of Nate's grip and going back to pacing. He banged into Hardison's chair as he went by, causing Hardison to snap at him.

"Watch it!"

Eliot just growled back and kept pacing. Hardison stood up, facing Eliot, and Nate hurried to put himself in-between them. "It's really too early to go crazy from cabinfever," he said. "And it's definitely too early to start tearing each other apart from nerves."

"Tell him that," Hardison said. "I'm perfectly fine."

"Yeah, you're used to sitting on your ass for days at a time," Eliot said.

"And it's a good thing," Hardison countered. "Because unlike some people, I'm getting shit done."

"Yeah, you're playing up levels on your Warcrack thing," Eliot returned. "Big whoop."

Nate had to hide a grin; Hardison didn't even bother. "Big whoop? Did you seriously just say 'big whoop'? If you can't even--"

Eliot suddenly lunged, leaving his arms at his sides so Nate knew it wasn't a real threat -- knew it after he'd reacted by moving forward to catch him, hold Eliot back from attacking Hardison. Hardison just stepped back, lifting his hands in a fake warding gesture. "Oh no, he's gonna eat me," Hardison said.

The way Eliot growled told Nate that they really weren't going to make it five more days. "Eliot...." he began, and his lover cut him off.

"No."

Nate pulled back a little, looking him in the eye -- and saw how Eliot was trembling, felt him bump against Nate almost rhythmically as if his body was asking for what his mind wouldn't allow. Nate put his hand on Eliot's head, brushing his hand down through the other man's hair, trying to calm him down. There was a low, soft growl in the back of Eliot's throat that didn't quite match the refusal in his eyes.

"What's going on?" Sophie asked from behind them.

"Eliot's having a freakout," Hardison said, but his tone wasn't mocking.

Ignoring the others, Nate tried to hold Eliot's gaze. "You need to--"

"No!" Eliot's nostrils flared, and Nate felt the tension build sharply as Eliot held himself tight -- but still he bumped gently against Nate's body, over and over.

"They're not gonna care," Nate began. Eliot had steadfastly refused to tell the others, and had only ever told Nate -- never, ever shown him. He'd always accepted his lover's need for privacy, even if he truly didn't understand it. "You can take this room, Hardison and I will move--"

"It isn't that simple," Eliot began, but there was defeat in his voice. Eliot dropped his head to Nate's shoulder and Nate felt him take a deep breath. "It isn't...."

Nate didn't push, just rubbed one hand through Eliot's hair, petting him. He looked over at Hardison who was staring, confused. Knowing it was time -- probably well past time -- Nate explained. "Eliot's a werecat."

There was a sudden squeal of delight from Parker. She clapped her hands and bounded over, and as Eliot lifted his head to glare at her, she ran her fingers through his hair, petting him as if he'd already changed.

Eliot shot a pleading look at Nate, who just smiled and shook his head. He wasn't going to offer any help if his teammate was going to be supportive and accepting.

"What.. type are you?" Sophie asked, her voice hesitant. Nate had never asked her if she knew about weres, but it didn't surprise him to learn that she did.

Eliot glanced from Nate to Sophie, shooting another glare over to Parker, which had no effect on making her stop petting him. He jerked his head away and Parker smiled. "Good kitty!" Eliot bared his teeth and Parker giggled.

After a moment, Eliot sighed. He shot another look at Nate, one which Nate couldn't decide meant he was in sleeping-on-the-couch trouble, or if Eliot was going to be dangling Parker from a roof, later. Though for Parker dangling would be a good thing, so maybe it was Nate on the couch. To Sophie, Eliot just said, "My family.. I'm from a pride of lions."

"Hot damn!" Hardison said. "I mean, I never really knew if that shit was for real -- you find all sorts of way out things on the internet. But I knew, I always knew--"

Eliot cut him off. "There's just one thing."

The rest of the team quieted, and looked at him. Eliot stared at the floor, periodically pulling his head away from Parker's hand, who simply waited for him to settle again before resuming her petting.

"My grandfather, he pissed off this priestess. She cursed him.. and every male from his line."

"This is why you never let me see you when you were changed?" Nate asked. Eliot nodded.

"You turn into a giant pink lion or something?" asked Hardison.

"No!" Eliot glared at him, glared at Parker again. "Will you stop that?"

"I like cats!" Parker replied, and she scratched her nails behind Eliot's ear.

Nate had to hold back a laugh at the way Eliot's eyes shivered closed before he yanked himself completely away from her and Nate, out of reach. Nate let him go, stepping back to give him more space. If they were going to have a lion in the room, things were going to get a lot more crowded.

But if it meant Eliot would finally calm down, Nate didn't mind a little crowding.

"So, what's the problem?" Sophie asked.

Eliot just sighed. He stood still, but Nate saw how his hand twitched towards his jacket. "You need to change, Eliot," he said gently. "It's been three weeks."

"More than," Eliot growled back. Then he sighed again, and pulled off his jacket in one swift motion. The look on his face was embarrassment -- then Nate realized it wasn't.

It was shame.

He started to move forward, but Eliot was stripping, now, not saying a word as the rest of the team stared at him. When he was down to just his jeans and underwear, he paused and glanced up at them all. "If any of you says one fucking word about this--"

"We've seen you naked before, man," Hardison replied. "We know how big it is."

Eliot flinched in surprise, then gave Hardison a sneer. But the last of the tension melted away and Eliot pulled off his jeans and shorts together. Nate let himself appreciate the view for a moment -- then Eliot's skin seemed to melt and contract.. and he changed.

Nate stared. Parker pounced and scooped Eliot up into her arms, cooing over the lion cub that had been standing in the pool of Eliot's clothes. Eliot tried to wriggle free but Parker kept her grip on him, shifting her hands every time it seemed Eliot would get loose.

"You're a baby lion?" Hardison exclaimed.

"Oh, you're adorable," said Sophie, and Nate understood exactly why Eliot had never wanted to do this.

He walked over to where Parker was still holding him and took him out of her arms. Eliot started to pounce free, clearly thinking Nate had come to rescue him. Instead Nate held him up, rear feet dangling in the air, huge blue eyes staring at him.

His tiny ears swiveled back and, as Eliot drew his lips back in an angry growl, Nate could see that he wasn't even old enough to have lost his milk teeth. Nate grinned. Eliot glared and let loose what was, no doubt, meant to be a fierce lion's roar. It came out as a muffled sort of squeaky meow, and Eliot snapped his jaw closed, looking thoroughly embarrassed.

Nate settled Eliot against his chest, hugging him tightly, then finally took pity on him and dropped him to the floor. Eliot landed gracefully, giving them all a very feline look of disdain, then sat down and began washing his front paw.

A wadded ball of paper hit him in the nose and bounced onto the floor. Eliot looked up at Parker, his expression clearly saying "Are you kidding me?" He went back to inspecting his paw as if no, he wasn't a lion cub, he was just himself and would they leave him alone now.

Parker was on her knees near the connecting doorway and as she moved her hand, the wad of paper jerked. Nate realized she'd attached the paper to some string and was about to tell her to give Eliot a chance to adjust to everyone knowing what he was when she tugged again and Eliot's head snapped to attention. He held completely still as he stared at the paper, motionless except for the flicking of the tip of his tail.

Nate didn't dare breathe. A moment later the paper wad moved again. Eliot slowly sank to the floor.. then he pounced.

He chased the wad of paper all over the room, following as Parker made the the paper ball bounce and skitter across the floor. She yanked it into the air and Eliot followed, leaping and grabbing onto the paper, tugging it down and grabbing it in his jaws. Nate pulled himself onto the bed to watch, without getting in the way. He glanced over and saw Sophie holding something tiny. It took him a moment to recognise it as a buttonhole camera, beside her Hardison was typing rapidly away at his laptop. Recording the video, Nate realized, and he gave them a nod.

He looked back in time to see Eliot yanking the paper wad from side to side then suddenly sit up, paper in his mouth. He looked over at Nate, eyes blinking slowly, settling into a dignified stance that looked flatly ridiculous with a wad of paper in his mouth. Eliot bounced over to where Parker was crouched, holding up the paper and pawing the air with one foot.

The string had come loose, Nate saw, and Parker took the paper and examined it carefully. "I know what will work better," she said, and vanished into the other room with the tiny lion cub pouncing on her heels.

Nate looked over at Sophie and Hardison. "Suddenly, I'm not feeling bored."

Hardison grinned. "Already set up to put it on Youtube, man. Just have to edit Parker's face a little so nobody can recognize her."

"He's going to kill you, you know," Nate reminded them.

Hardison scoffed. "He should have thought of that before he told that waitress that I was a eunuch."

Sophie's eyes popped, then she laughed. Hardison pouted. "And she believed him, too! I was all set to go prove myself to her and instead she takes off with some construction worker with barely three brain cells to rub together."

Nate saw Parker coming back in, a much larger wad of paper in her hands. She'd folded it in a sort of origami technique and was tying string around the middle of it. Looking closer, Nate thought it looked like fishing line from her kit. Sturdier than thread, he realized approvingly.

Eliot had followed her, but came to a stop in the doorway, as if seeing them had reminded him that he wasn't supposed to be acting like a cat.

Kitten. An adorable lion cub. Nate scooted off the bed and crawled over, sitting on the floor beside him. Eliot looked at him distrustfully, but didn't bat his hand away when Nate rubbed behind his ears. "The exercise will do you some good," Nate began. It was only part of why Eliot had been going so stir crazy; forced inactivity wasn't something he was suited for. Granted, Nate hadn't expected him to be able to run around. He'd been expecting a full-grown cat of some sort, but this was actually perfect.

He leaned over and gave Eliot a kiss on the top of his head, and Eliot gave him a disgusted look. He growled and took a swipe at Nate's arm, then lunged free to leap onto the wad of paper Parker was pulling across the floor.

Nate smiled. A grumpy lion cub was a lot easier to deal with than a grumpy human-Eliot.

 

~~~

Later that afternoon Hardison and Parker came back from a run to the local diner for food. They were both laden with bags and the second they stepped into the room Eliot was on them. On their feet, rather, since he was still in lion form. Nate hadn't asked him how long he needed to stay, and he certainly wasn't going to remind Eliot that he might want to turn back into human form. He could barely remember the last time he'd seen Eliot so relaxed and happy, playing with complete abandon.

Of course Nate knew he hadn't yet realized the others kept recording him. Earlier, while Eliot had napped in the middle of their bed, Nate had watched the video Hardison had uploaded. He didn't know how Eliot would feel about the video getting quite so many hits so quickly, nor how he would feel about being called adorable by hundreds of strangers. Eliot might indeed kill them all in their sleep, but Nate thought it was probably worth it.

"Chill out, Eliot," Hardison was saying, trying to make his way to the table without being tripped up. As soon as they got the bags set down, Eliot jumped onto a seat and got his paw on a bag. Parker pulled that one out of his reach, but Eliot knocked over another, and in a flash he was across the room, a wrapped burger in his mouth.

"If that's my burger with no onions, you're a dead man!" Hardison told him. Eliot ignored him, tugging the wrapper free and shoving his nose into the food.

Nate brought over the fries Hardison had bought him and set them down on a towel. Eliot ignored him as he tried to get the towel underneath his burger; a second later the patty was gone, down in one gulp, the bread and lettuce left scattered on the floor. Eliot sprang to his feet and charged the table again.

He scrambled up onto Parker's lap and was half onto the table when Hardison got a hand in his face. "Eat your fries; I only got one for everybody."

Eliot tried to get around him, then stopped and looked up at Hardison. Nate watched as his big blue eyes got bigger -- and possibly bluer.

"No," Hardison said.

Eliot put his chin down on his paws, looking up at Hardison. Parker pulled the patty out of her burger and dropped it in front of Eliot, who gulped it down in two bites. Then he went back to looking at Hardison, pleadingly.

"I'd give you some of mine," Sophie said, sympathetically. "But my salad doesn't have any meat in it. I don't suppose you like croutons?"

Eliot wrinkled his nose at her then resumed his cute pitiful me expression, aimed directly at Hardison. Nate went over to his own dinner, unwrapping his burger and tearing the patty in half. "You know cats are meat eaters," he told Hardison. He tossed the half-patty to Eliot who gulped it down -- then stared at Hardison some more.

"I guess we should have gotten more burgers," Parker said, happily eating her own burger which she'd rebuilt with fries in place of the patty.

Hardison glared at Eliot. "You're not getting mine." He gave Nate a more apologetic look, though, and said, "Maybe we should have gone down to the grocery store and got something from the meat counter."

Eliot gave a meowy-yip of agreement, apparently not caring that it made the rest of the team make 'aw' noises at him. Parker rubbed his head as he sat in her lap, then she gave Hardison a pitiful look as well.

Hardison rolled his eyes. Then he resolutely took a huge bite out of his burger.

Eliot watched him chew and mewed, softly. It was the most heart-breaking sound Nate had ever heard. Hardison kept chewing. Eliot scooted back a bit, getting a better angle for resting his head on the tabletop, then raised his eyebrows at Hardison and simply watched.

He looked like a starving kitten who didn't expect to ever be given food and was resigned to watching someone else eat. Nate would have gladly given Eliot the rest of his own burger, except, really, Hardison had brought this on himself.

"Poor Eliot," Parker said. "Do you want a fry?" She held one out to him, and Eliot took it in his mouth, then dropped it to the table and batted it around, desolately.

"Do you really think I'm gonna fall for this?" Hardison demanded.

Eliot didn't even glance at him, instead he batted the fry again, then took it and slowly began to nibble at it, licking it unenthusiastically. He kept his eyes down, away from Hardison, and even though Nate knew perfectly well Eliot was playing him, he wanted to grab Eliot up and take him, right then, to the grocery store and let him eat his fill from the meat department.

"He's really quite good," Sophie whispered and Nate nodded.

"I am not watching, I don't care." Hardison took another bite of his burger and Eliot continued to slowly nibble on and play with his french fry. There was a thump under the table. "Ow!" Hardison glared at Parker, who glared back. Hardison picked up his cup and took a long slurp, staring back at her defiantly.

When he set the cup down, Eliot reached over and pawed at it, knocking it over before Hardison could rescue it. As milkshake spilled across the table, Eliot leapt to his feet and began lapping it up quickly.

"Good kitty," Parker said, petting him.

"I hate you," Hardison said, as he finished his burger with nobody paying him any attention.

~~

The following morning Nate had woken to find Eliot pressed up against him in human form. He'd gone to sleep with a lion cub curled up against his side and Hardison whispering that he'd head out to the grocery store in the morning. Eliot was the first out of bed, however, and without even rudely waking Hardison as Nate might have expected, he simply dressed and headed for the door. He'd said he needed some air, wanted to walk around a bit and see what he could learn about the roads opening. He hadn't mentioned anything about the day before, and Nate had let him go.

An hour later Nate glanced over to see Parker and Hardison hunched over the laptop and whispering. Nate was nearly out of his chair when he changed his mind. Did he care if they were plotting something? Either they were planning something to steal once they got out of Michigan, or they were planning an escape route by tunneling through the snow. He glanced at his computer screen and saw only one of his games was ready for him to take his turn.

"Do you two need any help?" he asked, but before they could answer, the front door of the motel room opened and Eliot stomped in. Behind him the wind was howling, blowing snow everywhere. He stepped aside and Sophie rushed in past him, then he shut the door and gave it a glare.

Sophie was grinning, and Nate raised an eyebrow. "Do I want to know?"

"Roger is such a sweet, lonely man," she said, and Nate could see the wedding bells in her future.

"Great," was all he said. "Eliot?"

Eliot glowered at him, thick wool cap pulled down nearly covering his eyes and his thick coat pulled tightly closed. "It's fucking cold out there."

"You're the one who wanted to go walk in it," Hardison pointed out.

Eliot gave the other man a glare, but said to Nate, "All the locals I talked to said they expect the roads'll be open by Friday. Maybe Saturday if it snows again." He looked behind him as if he could see the weather through the closed curtains. "Which they all say it'll probably do."

"Oh, god, I can't stay here that long," Sophie whined. "I really will have to marry Roger just for a change of scenery." She waved a hand at the wallpaper. "His room is decorated in green."

"I don't know what you want me to do about it," Nate said, seeing how, once again, they were all looking at him.

"There's a bank in town," Sophie began, and Nate held up his hand.

"No."

"We could at least plan a robbery," Sophie continued. "We wouldn't have to actually take anything.. or, well, we would, obviously, but we could put it right back! Later." She looked so earnest and sincere that Nate had to pause and ask himself if she really expected him to believe a word she was saying.

"And what's the stop the local authorities from questioning the five out-of-town visitors about it afterwards? It isn't like we could get away."

"Oh, but that's the beauty of it!" Sophie said. "We could steal the money and hide it somewhere, then come back for it later."

"We could hide it in the bank," Hardison said. "Find some air duct or something and tape it all up, recover the cash when the heat's died down."

"Not the air ducts," Parker put in. "They always check those. If the bank has a basement that would be better. We could put up a fake wall and hide the money behind it."

For a long moment Nate stared at his team, wondering just how he was supposed to talk them out of robbing a bank in the middle of a blizzard, where they were five of less than a dozen strangers stranded at the same motel. Even the dumbest cop would question them right away.

And while he didn't doubt their ability to con the local police into believing they had had nothing to do with it, it wasn't exactly the sort of thing that could remotely be considered 'staying out of trouble.' Granted, the longer they were stuck here, the better the chance that they'd get into even worse trouble, so it was entirely possible that planning a bank robbery would entertain them for a day or two.

Which meant his best course of action was to ignore them. If he didn't know about it, he couldn't testify. "I'm going to pretend I don't know any of you," he said simply, and looked at his computer screen and saw that a second game of his was now waiting for his turn. He studied the game for a moment, ignoring the happy noises Parker was making or the way Hardison was now talking about plaster and bricks.

He told himself he couldn't hear a thing; then he reached over and grabbed Hardison's headphones and plugged them in. He glanced up as Eliot, who'd finally shed his hat, coats, and gloves, crawled onto the bed behind him and curled up. He mouthed something about hating the cold and Nate just patted him on the leg.

Maybe, if things got worse, he could have Eliot tie the others up and lock them in the bathroom. He concentrated on his game, not paying much attention as Eliot shifted closer. When he glanced down a few minutes later, Eliot was fast asleep.

It was only when Nate opened his eyes that he realized he'd fallen asleep as well. He'd set his laptop aside and laid down, intending to just take advantage of the chance to cuddle Eliot. But as he woke, he knew he'd been asleep for at least an hour and that Eliot was gone.

Nate sat up and blinked. Hardison was sitting on the other bed, holding down Eliot who was on his back. Eliot had Hardison's forearm in his jaws, and his back feet were kicking at Hardison's arm and chest. Hardison was sort of scooting Eliot around on the mattress and making 'grr' sounds.

Apparently Eliot was comfortable changing in front of his teammates, now. Nate just smiled and headed blearily towards the bathroom.

When he came out, a small tan streak zoomed past his feet, then spun back around and zoomed out. He watched as Eliot made a circuit around the bed, past the television, into the bathroom and back, over and over, occasionally veering around the table before heading back the other way.

"Hardison, did you give him sugar?"

"Naw, man. Cats are just hyper. Especially kittens." He leaned over and gave Eliot a grin, which Eliot didn't seem to notice. He continued his circuit, back and forth and around; Nate sat down on the bed trying to stay out of the way. He watched as Eliot bounced off Hardison's chair, leaping onto the bed and running across it, then missed his leap to the other bed, back paw flailing. Tumbling to the floor, Eliot twisted around onto his feet and kept going as if nothing had happened.

He saw Hardison following him with the camera and shook his head. At some point Eliot was going to come to his senses and kill them all. Nate just opened his laptop and called up the chess website and ignored the way the table shook whenever Eliot misjudged his turn.

~~~

"Oh thank God." Hardison sank to his knees in the middle of the living room. For a moment Nate thought he was going to kiss the floor.

"Get over it," Eliot growled. "You're not the one who was stuck in the backseat with Parker."

Hardison gave him an incredulous look. "What are you complaining about? You had plenty of leg room, at least. And how is sleeping in Parker's lap, being petted the whole drive home, a bad thing?"

Eliot gave him a sneer, then grinned. "It isn't. Man, I feel fantastic." He dropped his bag and tugged Nate close, giving him a very enthusiastic kiss.

"I can see that," Nate said when Eliot let him go.

"Can I play with Eliot?" Parker asked.

Nate laughed and shook his head. "I think I want to play with Eliot." He glanced over and saw Parker pouting, but Sophie patted her on the arm.

"Why don't we go steal something shiny? I feel all stiff from sitting in a motel room for a week."

Parker nodded, smiling widely. "Can we go back and rob that bank?"

Sophie shook her head. "Oh, no. I want to go somewhere warm and sunny."

"Oh! We could go steal the statue of Martineque. It's in Milan!" Parker said, and Sophie nodded.

"That sounds perfect. Hardison, do you want to come along?"

"Since my other choice seems to be sitting here with my headphones on... count me in."

Nate didn't even bother waving as they left, not really concerned if they did end up in Milan -- or an Italian prison. Eliot was pressed against him, licking his neck and purring.

Adorable enough in lion form, but in human form.. it was very, very nice.

As soon as he heard the door close, he gave Eliot's shirt a tug. Ten seconds later there were clothes scattered over the floor, and Eliot was leading him towards the stairs. The relaxed, happy smile on his lover's face was one he rarely saw, but something told him that he'd probably be seeing it a lot more from now on.

Unless Hardison was serious about his threat and got a dachshund puppy.
"If you bring in one of those stupid yappy things, I will eat it. I swear to you, Hardison, I will eat it."

"It'll be a present for Parker, which means you can't touch a tiny piece of fur on its head."

"She likes cats."

"I'll put a diamond collar on it. Then she'll love it."

Four hours in the car and Nate had already decided he was going to go back to the seminary.

the end