Eliot woke slowly, one benefit of being between jobs for long enough relax into vacation-mode. It took him a couple of seconds to remember where he'd fallen asleep; he opened his eyes and recognized the bedroom even as memory kicked in. Carefully he scooted backwards, extricating himself from the tangle of blankets and arms and legs. Parker immediately moved into the spot he'd vacated, never waking as she settled into the warmth he'd left behind. Behind her, Alec barely twitched; Eliot smiled as he walked silently from the room.
A quick stop at the bathroom, then he headed towards the kitchen. He knew he wouldn't find much, even though Parker's kitchen was better than Alec's by a long shot. Hardison's kitchen meant soda, energy bars, and a freezer stuffed with things that could be eaten with one hand in front of a computer. Parker at least would have decent food -- cereal, if nothing else, though sometimes there would be a few muffin mixes stuffed in the cupboards.
He hadn't got to the point where he was buying them groceries. As often as he found himself sleeping at either of their places, they hadn't yet gone from friends with benefits to something which meant exchanging keys and leaving clothes in their closets and buying food you wanted to eat because it was practically your kitchen as much as anyone else's.
Not that they needed to exchange keys, Eliot told himself with a laugh. Parker had been letting herself in since the day after Eliot had moved into his new place, and he was pretty sure Alec didn't secure his apartment with anything as banal as a bolt-action lock.
He wondered what the equivalent would be for them, if not exchanging keys. He considered it as he headed into the kitchen and began the search through Parker's cabinets and fridge. Keys were about saying a person was invited over whenever, and both Parker and Alec had proven they were fine with invading his privacy at the drop of a hat even before they'd started sleeping together. Giving them keys seemed redundant, and possibly even insulting. Luckily it wasn't a problem he had to solve, since whatever relationship they had, it wasn't that serious.
In the cupboard closest to the fridge he found the expected nine boxes of cereal: eight different kinds of brightly-colored sugar cereal, and one box of unfrosted mini-wheats. He'd never understood that one; Parker never ate it, but there was always a box of them in her kitchen. A quick check of the fridge found some leftover pizza from a couple nights before; snagging the box, he figured he wasn't going to do much better. He paused in mid-motion towards the counter, peeking into the box. Pineapple and meatballs. Eliot nodded; it was the pizza from two nights ago and not something more mysterious left over from weeks before.
As he ate a slice, he checked the coffee maker and looked for a can of coffee that wasn't decaf. None of them drank decaf, but Parker liked to keep things hidden in the coffee grounds. He'd found a My Little Pony in one once, and a plastic golden ring in another. Eliot stopped touching the cans of decaf after he'd found a pair of green army men tied together with tiny paper handcuffs. He found the regular coffee on the top shelf and began making a pot while he ate a slice of cold pizza.
As it brewed he wondered again about what they could exchange, if not keys. He didn't understand why he kept thinking about it since the question hardly mattered. Neither of the other two had even made a move that said they were interested in this being something more than casual. He and Alec still dated other people occasionally, and he was willing to bet that Parker's coffee date with Angelina a few weeks back had been more 'date' and less 'coffee'. Eliot decided that if the question ever became an issue, by then he'd probably have a better idea of what would work instead of giving them keys to his place. For now he should be more concerned with the fact he really did want to go grocery shopping and stock Parker's and Alec's kitchens with food a person could actually eat.
But he was willing to call that self-defense, and not a sign of bigger things.
When the coffee was made he poured himself a mug full, helped himself to a second slice of pizza, then turned around to realize that a) Parker was watching from the doorway and b) neither of them was wearing any clothing.
"Do you want coffee or morning sex?"
Eliot blinked. "Why can't I have both?"
"You'll spill the coffee, and it's hot -- unless you like that sort of thing?" She frowned at him. "Alec was showing me some internet porn, and there was this one where they used hot wax--"
"That's all right," Eliot interrupted. "Wasn't what I meant." He waved the coffee mug at her, ready to explain it wouldn't take him long to finish it -- then he just set it on the counter and put the half-eaten slice back in the box. Parker jumped at him from where she'd been standing, and it was only from long practice that Eliot caught her without doing either of them the sort of injury that would make 'morning sex' untenable.
Five minutes after they'd started slamming into the wall, Eliot heard Alec ask, "What kind of people are even awake at this hour?"
Parker glanced over her shoulder. "There's coffee!"
Eliot grinned and pressed her into the wall again, and when Alec came over and proved that he'd already snuck into the bathroom to brush his teeth, Eliot stopped thinking about pizza and front door keys all together.
A couple weeks later Eliot had managed to avoid stocking any groceries in anyone's kitchen except his own. He had told Alec that if he didn't start having something edible for breakfast, then Eliot wasn't going to stay the night any more, not until he knew he wouldn't starve the next morning. That had led to the inevitable round of cock-sucking jokes which had taken four whole days to die down.
Eliot hadn't sucked Alec's cock at all during those four days either, just to make his point.
As he walked into the bar that night, he knew they were all feeling the inevitable itch of needing a job soon. It wasn't bad enough that Parker was booking tickets to Europe to steal "something small for practice" -- the last time she'd wanted to steal the actual David -- but Eliot knew they were close. Fortunately, Nate was even better than Eliot about reading the signs, and Eliot had faith that he would get something lined up for them before long.
As Eliot looked around the early-evening crowd, he spotted Parker and Sophie sitting in a booth, both of them watching the bar with amused expressions. Eliot looked and saw Alec, leaning against the bar's counter and smiling at someone he couldn't see. He caught a brief glimpse of a woman's hand, light brown skin and no jewelry, and the edge of a bright green and blue jacket sleeve. From the way Alec was smiling triumphantly, it was clear that whoever it was, she wasn't shooting Alec down for his lame pick-up lines.
Eliot watched as Alec said something, apparently eliciting a laugh from his new friend from the way he smiled, charming and triumphant. Eliot was torn between joining Parker to watch the entertainment, or going over to mess with Alec by stealing her away from him. He was half a step towards the booth with the girls when he caught sight of the woman's face Alec was talking to. Hitting on.
Before he knew it, he was across the bar and had Alec's shirt in his hand at the collar, twisting his wrist to choke him with the fabric. Alec blinked at him, more or less calmly. "Is there a problem?" he asked.
Eliot growled. "There is no fucking way."
Alec's eyebrows furled as his surprise gave way to genuine confusion. "Man, you have to warn a guy before you get all exclusive and shit," he began, but Eliot shook his head. Alec just continued, "This from somebody who went home with two waitresses last month. Did Parker or I say a word? No, we did not. Because we--" Eliot turned his hand a little, pressing his knuckle into Alec's windpipe. It didn't cut off any airflow, but it made his point. Alec stopped talking, but continued looking seriously confused.
"You know, I think I'm old enough to decide for myself who I want to flirt with," came a frosty voice over Eliot's shoulder.
Eliot just turned to glare at her, not letting go of Alec's shirt. Alec made a pointed choking-noise, but Eliot knew if he could make noise then he could breathe, and didn't let go. "You will never be old enough to date him," Eliot told her, ignoring the offended-choking noise Alec was now making. He pointed at Alec and said, "He thinks Hot Pockets are food."
Teresa's eyebrows went up in surprise. She looked faintly amused and not genuinely angry with him, and Eliot found himself noticing that she looked so much older than the last time he'd seen her, only seven months before. She'd still looked like a girl, then, but suddenly now she looked like a young woman. Twenty-one years old, he reminded himself. Not that it meant she was allowed to date, not if Eliot had a thing to say about it.
After a moment she turned to Alec, wrinkling her nose. It made her look twelve -- which didn't help Eliot remember why he shouldn't kill Alec. Alec raised a hand, then pointed at where Eliot was still gripping his shirt and made a wheezing noise. Eliot didn't let go.
"Thanks a lot, man," Alec said, his voice clear enough to completely belie his accusations that Eliot was choking him to death. "I was doing pretty well before you came over and decided to 'help.'" Alec raised his hands and made air-quotes, which almost made Eliot twist harder. Then he gave Teresa the sort of charming smile that definitely made Eliot want to strangle him, and said, "I was about to ask her to dinner at this wonderful sushi place I know about down on Fourth Street, then maybe we'd head back to my place--"
His words were cut off as Eliot tightened his grip, cutting off Alec's air-flow for real. He pulled Alec towards him, ready to rip his head off. Alec pawed at Eliot's fist, and Eliot tried to tell himself there was a reason why he didn't really want to choke him out.
"Daddy, let him go," Teresa said, sighing.
Alec's eyes bugged out and he gaped at Teresa. Eliot didn't let go of Alec's shirt, didn't stop glaring at him like he wanted to tear important things off Alec's body. He felt a light tug on his elbow, but didn't glance back at Teresa.
"Did she say 'daddy'?" Alec's voice was raspy, and Eliot knew that half an inch more and he'd have cut off his air supply cut completely.
Eliot could see the wheels in Alec's brain beginning to work -- and could see them spinning in completely the wrong direction. Carefully, he ground out, "Teresa is my daughter."
With a shocked expression, Alec looked from Eliot to Teresa, then back, then suddenly his eyes went wide. Eliot knew Teresa didn't look much like him; she'd inherited her mother's features and deep brown eyes, only the lighter tone of her skin really said that Eliot was her father. It had been easier to see when she was five and wearing long braids; her hair was shaved short, now, though Eliot could still picture her with half a dozen pink and yellow barrettes the likes of which had littered the bathroom for years.
Apparently Alec could see enough similarity, as he stammered, "And I just said that I wanted to have sex with-- aack."
Eliot felt Teresa tug at his arm, more urgently this time. By now Sophie and Parker had walked up, stopping a few feet behind Alec and watching the scene with equal expressions of interest and concern. They clearly hadn't decided yet whether to interrupt, though Sophie was looking sincerely worried. Alec just looked at Eliot and pleaded, "Please kill me quickly. You know how I am about pain."
"If you even look at her I will tear your arms off and feed them to an alligator."
Alec nodded quickly, and Eliot finally let him go. He did somewhat feel badly as Alec rubbed at his throat in genuine discomfort, but the blind rage that had hit him was only now subsiding, and he figured he'd wait until he could think clearly again before finding a way to apologize.
He turned back to Teresa who had her arms folded and was glaring at him.
"You know, maybe I want to go out with him."
Eliot started to growl at her, then stopped and just looked surprised. "You'd date somebody I was sleeping with?"
Teresa's eyes went wide, and the resulting "Eew!" made her sound like she was twelve years old all over again.
After that, it didn't take long for them to assemble upstairs in Nate's apartment. Sophie and Parker hadn't said a word, just followed them up with Parker grabbing Alec by the arm and shooting Eliot dirty looks. Eliot didn't tell her Alec didn't need protecting anymore -- because it would be a lie, if Alec changed his mind about flirting with Teresa. Even if he was certain Teresa would turn him down, he didn't think he could stand by and watch calmly while Alec, or anyone, tried to hit on his little girl.
Even if she wasn't quite so little, any more. Twenty-one years old, and running her own cafe back home. He'd given her the cash to start it up a couple years ago, and as far as he knew she'd been doing fine ever since. Of course, her unexpected arrival made him wonder if that was still the case. Before he could question her in private, he had to deal with the stares he was getting from the others. He rubbed his head, wondering what he was supposed to do about this when Nate wandered in from his office to stare at them all gathered in his living room.
"Do we have a client?" he asked, glancing at Teresa and giving her an encouraging smile.
"No, we have a what the fuck," Alec said. He pointed at Teresa. "Did you know Eliot has a daughter?"
After that, the only thing Eliot could do was explain. He'd waited until everyone sat down -- facing him like a firing squad, and from experience he'd say that rifles were easier. Teresa was just watching him with a grin, not offering to leap in and help deflect the bullets.
Eliot tried to think of a way to explain, realized there were a lot of ways he could lie his way out of it if Teresa hadn't been sitting right there, knowing the truth. He didn't like the idea of lying, anyhow, but he had no idea what to say.
Finally Nate spoke. "You know, I never found anything in your records about a daughter."
Relieved to have someplace to start, Eliot said, "Maddy never wrote my name on the birth certificate. Small town, everyone knew I was her father. When she--" He paused and glanced at Teresa, but she looked calm enough, like she'd long since made her peace with her mother. Eliot continued. "When Teresa was a year old her momma got into some trouble. I took her in. My folks helped me with her until I graduated high school, then...." He shrugged. "Weren't many jobs available so I joined the army and they took over raising her."
"Trouble? What sort--" Sophie began, then stopped with an apologetic look towards Teresa.
Teresa leaned forward, and answered, "She went to jail. Drugs, mostly. She died when I was three."
Eliot watched her as she spoke, saw the way she held her hands loose, the way her face showed none of the bitter anger she'd fought with growing up. Maybe she really had come to terms with things and wasn't just still faking it the way she'd done as a kid pretending she didn't miss having a momma around.
"I'm sorry," Sophie said quietly, glancing at Eliot, no doubt wondering what sort of relationship he'd had with her.
There was really no need to get into it. He'd fucked her twice at Friday night barn-parties and the second time she'd ended up pregnant. Eliot had offered to pay for an abortion but at the time she'd wanted the baby. It had been afterwards, when reality hit, that she'd changed her mind; Eliot considered it almost a blessing that she'd gotten arrested and given him the chance to take Teresa.
He felt the silence growing awkward; the others no doubt with more questions to be answered, but not yet willing to ask them. He decided to change the subject and turned at his daughter.
"What brings you to Boston?"
She looked surprised. "I can't just come visit?"
He might have fallen for it if he hadn't heard that innocent tone since the time she could speak. No, daddy, I didn't bring the calf into the kitchen. I don't know who got mud on the ceiling. What crumpled fender?
He narrowed his eyes at her. After a couple minutes she answered. "Since I was six years old, you've never lived in any one place. Now suddenly you've had the same address for over a year, and you've been working with the same team for two. I wanted to meet the people who managed this."
There was a moment, then Parker said, "It's Nate's fault. He broke us."
Nate started to protest, but Alec said, "Hey, we were badass thieves before we hooked up with you."
"I think the word you're looking for is domesticated," Nate replied, sounded insulted.
Teresa, meanwhile, was giving Eliot a knowing look. She nodded her head towards Alec. "And should I be getting to know him?"
There was a moment when Eliot knew he had lost whatever pretense of control on the situation he might have laid claim to. It was when Parker piped up, "And me. He's sleeping with both of us." Then Parker looked at Teresa and grinned eagerly. "Your necklace is lock-picks."
Teresa held the necklace out for her to see. "Dad gave them to me when I was fourteen. Said if I could learn to use them, I could sneak out the front door instead of my bedroom window."
Eliot saw the look on Nate's face and explained, "The oak tree she was climbing down was rotten. I was afraid a limb would break and she'd fall and bust her head wide open." Then he shrugged. "Her grandpa's the one who taught her how to hot-wire my truck."
"You went overseas with the only set of keys!" Teresa said.
"On purpose, so you wouldn't drive it! I knew your grandpa could hot-wire it if he needed it; I didn't expect him to teach you." But he wasn't the only one who'd been wrapped around his little girl's finger. Sometimes it had only been her grandma able to hold down the law in that household.
"I have a set of lock-picks," Parker said to Teresa. "Wanna see?"
Sometime later he found himself in the kitchen with Nate. Teresa and Parker were still bonding like giggling teenagers -- it had only taken one slumber party for Eliot to decide they could only happen when he was on another continent. Eliot grabbed himself a beer from the fridge and decided now was as good a time as any to have the conversation neither he nor Nate wanted to have. He looked at Nate and waited to see if the other man would speak first.
It didn't take too long. Nate waved a hand towards the sound of Teresa, laughing. "You never said...anything."
Carefully, Eliot said, "I didn't think you were up for swapping kid stories."
For a moment Nate looked surprised, like he hadn't expected that sort of kindness from Eliot. Or maybe, Eliot realized, Nate just hadn't expected it from anyone. "You're right, I probably wasn't. Don't know that I would be now," he confessed. "Just...I never expected this."
"Hell, I was fourteen. I didn't expect it either." Eliot thought about it, changing his mind twice before reaching into his pocket and pulling out his phone. He'd taken a picture of a photo on one of his trips home, carefully cropping out most of his own face so nobody who saw it could make the connection. He pulled the picture up and showed it to Nate. "That was a couple days after I brought her home to stay with us."
The photo was of him, a gangly, scared teenager holding a one year old baby. He remembered the photo being taken -- he'd been sitting up all night holding her as she'd cried for her momma, but in the morning she'd finally calmed down. In the photo, her hands clinging to his shirt and she was looking up at him with her eyes wide with trust and love. The sort of thing that had scared him right down to his bones.
Nate held Eliot's phone, staring at the photo for a long time. Finally, he smiled. Before he could say anything there was whispering nearby and Teresa saying, "No, wait. Let me do this." Then Teresa came over and said, in that tone, "Daddy?"
Eliot reached into his pockets and pulled out his keys and his wallet, and handed them over, still watching Nate. Teresa took both from his hand, gave him a kiss on the cheek, then there was more giggling from her and Parker and a soft exclamation of approval from Alec.
"Don't you even want to know what she wants them for?" Nate asked.
Shaking his head, Eliot explained, "If she breaks it, she fixes it before she gives it back. If I end up having to get her out of jail, she pays me back."
There was a scoff from Parker. "Oh, please. I can break us out of jail!"
Eliot took a long swig of his beer and tried very hard not to think about any of it. Then he asked Nate, "Think I can go to Morocco for awhile?"
Nate shook his head. "I suspect they'd find you."
Eliot nodded. Maybe if he ran away to Burbank. They wouldn't think to look for him there.
A few days later nobody had been thrown in jail (that he knew of, and Eliot was willing not to ask) and nothing had been broken beyond repair. Eliot had dropped his daughter off at the airport and went back to his place to find Parker and Alec standing in the living room waiting for him.
"You didn't tell us," Alec said quietly. "I get that we don't go around sharing secrets, but this is different."
"She told us you call her two or three times a month to find out how she's doing," Parker said. She was subdued in a way Eliot hardly ever saw anymore.
"Which means she's a part of your life," Alec said. "And you didn't tell us."
Eliot nodded, accepting the blame. "When I first the left army, I didn't tell anyone. No one to tell," he explained, knowing they understood. They'd all been loners, before, and the sort of people Eliot tended to know made it dangerous to go around talking about having a kid -- and potential hostage. He considered what he could say to explain why he'd never mentioned Teresa before, and all he could come up with was, "I'm sorry."
Alec and Parker just watched him, no doubt waiting to see if he was going to offer them anything more. But there wasn't anything else he could say. He'd screwed up, though at first he simply hadn't trusted any of them. Somewhere along the line he'd started learning to -- but in all honestly he hadn't even noticed how much until now.
Finally, Alec nodded. "There anything else? You got anymore kids out there somewhere?"
"No, no other kids."
"Do you secretly like dressing up as a nun?" Parker asked.
Eliot blinked at her, trying to decide if she was serious. She just stared back at him. Eliot scowled. "No. I don't like dressing up as a nun." He gave Alec a look, asking if she was crazy. "What sort of internet porn are you showing her?"
"Hey, I never looked at anything like that. Nuns are not sexy."
"I dressed up as a nun once," Parker said, pouting at him.
"And you were not sexy," Alec said.
"I bet I could dress up as a nun again and make you think it was sexy," she countered, grinning at the challenge.
Alec looked at Eliot. "Help?"
"I'm still angry at you for hitting on my daughter," Eliot reminded him.
"I didn't know! And that's my point," he said, scrambling for verbal footing. "You gonna tell us shit like this from now on?"
Eliot just asked, "Are you?"
Alec shrugged. "I don't have any secrets like that. If I did...yeah, I'd tell you two."
There was a pause and Eliot glanced from Alec to Parker. Eliot nodded, slowly, then Parker bit her lip. She jammed her hand into her pocket suddenly, then said, "I don't think we should date other people anymore." She handed something to Alec, then another to Eliot -- he looked in his hand and saw a key.
It was a padlock key, old and bronze and heavy. "It's to the trunk in my closet," Parker explained. "It has all my old climbing gear in it. Yours is the key to the bathroom," she told Alec. "I don't ever lock it. Sophie told me I should give you keys, but she didn't say which ones. Are these right?"
Eliot looked over at Alec and found the other man grinning. "This is perfect," Alec told her. He held up a finger and whipped out his PDA; typing into it for a moment, he then put it away and said, "I just emailed you two the password to my gaming inbox. Which I know neither of you understands, but it means you can get access to my Warcraft account."
"And we can go online and play you like a seven year old girl?" Eliot asked.
"Only if you don't care if I put ketchup on your omelets."
Eliot raised a finger. "You get one drop of ketchup near anything I cook and your head is on a platter."
Parker asked, "Will you make us fries?" When Alec tried to look smug, she told him, "I like honey on my fries. Or ranch dressing."
Alec made a disgusted face and Eliot just laughed at him. Parker looked at him expectantly, and asked, "What about your keys?"
Eliot smiled. "I'll take care of it tomorrow." He gave his two lovers his best 'fuck-me' smile. The heavy conversation was, he hoped, over and he wanted to move on to better things.
"Are you going to make cornflake waffles for us in the morning?" Parker asked.
"I'll make waffles in the morning," Eliot agreed. Then he just took each of them by the hand and led them to the bedroom.
The next morning he went to the grocery store and bought two of everything he wanted.