Alec Hardison was just thirteen when he finally managed to whine, beg, cajole, persuade, and convince Nana to buy a (slightly used) computer. He'd played a lot with the computers at school, checked out all the books he could at the library on computer languages and hardware and programming, and when he finally lugged the new heavy monitor and CPU into the house, electrical and connecting cords trailing all over the place behind him and causing a major fire hazard in his bedroom when he got it all set up, he was thrilled.
It was the 1990s and it was dial-up, but damn if he wasn't almost into the twenty-first century.
Alec grew up on sci-fi. Nana introduced him to Star Trek (both original recipe and TNG) as soon as he showed up on her doorstep; he already had Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy memorized by the time he was eleven (the prose was a lot easier than Tolkien's works) and was working on the rest of that "trilogy"; he'd seen reruns of Battlestar Galactica and reenacted whole scenes from the original Star Wars trilogy (his friends never, ever let him play Han Solo); and PBS with "Sesame Street" and Doctor Who had been a staple in Nana's household even before he appeared. She even read tie-in novels, some of them anyway, and to Hardison it was all just perfectly normal.
Okay, most other kids in his class weren't trying to learn Vulcan
or how to knit a really long scarf, but whatever, Hardison was still totally popular with the other kids.
At least some of the other guys in his class were into comic books and RPGs. Some of the girls, too, though they didn't talk to him much, and he thought it might be even harder for them to fit in than him.
Alec bumped into online fandom pretty much by accident. He doesn't remember to this day how he stumbled across the X-Men forum he found, but suddenly there was this whole world of people out there talking about shows he watched and books he read and movies he saw, and it seemed an awful lot cooler to be a geek than it used to be. There were bboards and listservs and Usenet groups for Blade Runner and Tron and the Sandman and other stuff too, and this was really freaking cool.
The first time Alec read a slash fic—Kirk/Spock, and it was one of the first fics he'd ever read, and he'd only scrolled down because he was curious and didn't get the terminology yet, and daaaamn that was graphic—he backed out of the post fast. "Oh hell no," he said to the computer monitor. "Seriously? Seriously?"
"Are you talking to that piece of machinery now, boy?" Nana said from the living room. "Why don't you go outside?"
So Alec went outside because he really didn't want to think about what he'd just read.
He ended up reading more slash fic later, once he got over his initial shock. He was a teenage boy with raging hormones; he read het fic too, and gender swap, and hell, even the wing fic—though mpreg sketched him out—and it all made him uncomfortable and maybe kinda horny. It weirded him out that he found Kirk/Spock a turn-on; it weirded him out even more that it was more of a turn-on when McCoy became involved. (We are not even gonna talk about the Chekov/Sulu/Uhura fic he found
or might have written himself, when he was still writing fic.)
Also, he did not have a crush on Benjamin Sisko. It was all just some father complex wishful-thinking…thing.
Some days, it was kinda a relief that Susan Ivanova existed. At least he could admit in mixed company to crushing on her.
Hardison ended up accidentally instigating a minor flame war in X-Files fandom between Scully/Mulder and Mulder/Krycek fans. He really, really didn't mean to do that.
The Highlander incident the next year, though? Yeah, he meant that one.
"Heyyy," Alec said every morning to Ivory before study hall, giving her his best closed-lips smile (braces did not do anything for his looks). She always smiled back, and he still had no fricking clue how to move beyond that opening gambit to a conversation that would end with him smoothly asking her out to a showing of Armageddon Friday night.
The thing was, Alec could talk to any adult, and he could talk to any little kid. Didn't matter how crabby the adult or shy the kid, he could get them to come out of their shell. But when it came to kids his own age? Talking to girls especially, without sounding like a total dweeb, when they were cute and nice and didn't make fun of him for liking Justice League comics? Yeah, Alec hated it when he went all normal teenager-ish.
"Dude, no, you're never gonna get past that boss fighting like that," Alec watched his friend Jon on the Nintendo, his fingers itching to grab the controls and show him how you really won a game. But it was Jon's Nintendo, and he was totally cool about sharing it, and Alec was kinda afraid to touch Jon. Because Jon had curly hair and pretty blue eyes and there was no way in hell Hardison could say anything about that to anyone, including Jon, when some guys were still playing smear the queer any chance they got when the dandelions were in season.
Sometimes, on some forums, Alec started posing as a girl. Or, no, not even that; he just didn't announce his gender in any way, and other posters just assumed he was a girl. It felt daring and risky, testing the waters, and for a little while he liked the freedom it gave him, liked that he could talk about different things and talk in different ways without getting kicked out or called names. But it felt too much like a lie, and he didn't really think he felt at all like a girl, and these anonymous people were still his friends, and he stopped doing that after a while.
He was who he was, he realized. And perhaps more importantly, even if he didn't always feel a need to announce it, he didn't feel a need to change it either.
College, at least, was different. College had LGBT groups and gamer groups and sci-fi groups and anime watch-alongs on Saturday nights with the big screen tv downstairs in the student union. Skirt-wearing guys and tuxedo-wearing girls, and LARPers in fabulously goth clothes of all shades of black were hanging out on Sunday afternoons, and if he wanted to get his geek on and his bi on, it was okay.
He told Nana the first time he seriously dated a guy, all stammering and heart racing. She put her hand on his cheek and said, "I hope you're using condoms," and he shut his eyes in relief and answered, "Nana? Don't take this the wrong way, but that's just wrong, coming out of your mouth," and he knew they were cool.
John Crichton, Hardison realized somewhere deep in the middle of the second season of Farscape, had chemistry with everyone. Including Moya, which, seriously? Who the hell could do that, other than the Doctor with the TARDIS?
Of course, Hardison secretly wished Ben Browder had chemistry with him, but Alec was kinda avoiding cons and interacting with actors right now, due to that unfortunate incident a year or two ago involving Christopher Gorham.
(He sent him a music CD later, of classic ballroom dance songs, anonymously, as an apology, and he hoped to hell the man never figured out who it came from.)
Yeah, Crichton might have had chemistry with everyone, but more of Hardison's fantasies focused on Aeryn Sun and Chiana. Usually together. Sometimes with added Princess Leia.
Hardison purchased himself a van with funds he had mysteriously "found" through some internet connections he could not admit to in front of most people, including Nana.
"Why do you have a van?" she asked him the next time he came around to visit her.
"Because every good spy, sleuth, cop, and villain has a van," Alec told her, slinging an arm around her broad shoulders and kissing the top of her head. "From Mr. T to Robert E. Hobbes. It's cool, Nana, don't worry about it."
It was good to be mobile, anyway. Who needed jet packs and flying cars when wireless existed? Hardison totally loved the twenty-first century.
After yet another bout of intense meaningful discussion, trolling, and bitching over gender and sexuality issues in fandom—one of these days, Hardison would get around to creating that live-action flow chart detailing how fandom discussions deteriorated every. single. damn. time. they happened, complete with flamey crash-and-burn effects—he started reading the classics of gender and queer theory. From Alfred Kinsey to Michel Foucault to Judith Butler to Alison Bechdel, he made excellent use of the university library and ILL as well as his usual Internet searches. He didn't want to be one of those assholes who pissed off a lot of women and a lot of LGBT types, and he figured maybe it would be good to get some kind of perspective on his own habits and inclinations because by this point in his life? He knew he wasn't going through some teenage phase. Most of what he read made his head hurt, and he spent practically an hour once just dissecting one sentence in Butler, but it all gave him a helluva lot to think about.
(Bechdel was his favorite, he had to admit. She had pictures.)
"I'm sorry about the ongoing patriarchic hegemony, Nana," he told her over Sunday dinner one week. "I'll really try not to subscribe to those heteronormative masculine roles anymore, okay?"
"Honey, what are you talking about?" Nana sighed. "And what are you reading this time?"
Alec picked up a forkful of homemade enchilada. "Nothin'," he muttered, embarrassed and, he was beginning to suspect, perpetually confused both by humanity and by his Nana. "Did you watch Dark Angel last week? What d'you think of Original Cindy's ex-girlfriend?"
Hardison tended to flirt indiscriminately online. He was a bit better at it over chat and through discussion forums than he was in person, though he'd also grown leaps and bounds in the in-person flirting department. He hooked up with people he'd met online; he hooked up with people he met at cons. Women—but men too, and people who didn't quite want to identify with anything so binary. He never stayed with anybody long; nobody ever quite seemed to fit right, but it more often than not seemed to be a mutual walking away. He could finally admit he'd had a crush on Spock for a long time. And others. Lots of others.
"There's a whole rainbow of possibilities out there, brother," he finally typed out in an RPG forum one day when somebody was griping about the gay agenda, with a side heaping of race-fail. He hit the keys so hard he was pretty sure that already-loose e was going to fly off the keyboard. "Why don't you shut up or taste that rainbow yourself?"
Black, geek, and queer. Some days, it was hard to take on all that damned labeling, and other days all the labeling in the world really didn't matter because he was who he was, and that was okay, and he had a feeling he was really lucky he'd figured that out so early in life.
Teal'c was kind of a hero for Alec, up there with Ben Sisko and Alexander Scott and Vaughan Rice and Nyota Uhura. There just weren't enough black characters in science-fiction and its ilk.
Granted, none of them ever seemed to show the least interest in a character of their own sex and/or gender, but Hardison would take what he could get.
He sometimes wondered about that military-brother-bond-thing going on between Teal'c and Jack O'Neill, though.
It was the trios that got Hardison, in the end. Not the buddy duos that were a dime a dozen, showing up everywhere from the classic Illya-and-Napoloen or Ben'n'Polly to the newer Frasier-and-Ray or Sam-and-Dean-Winchester, but the trios, the groups. Like Angel-Spike-Drusilla, or Elijah-Jakita-Drums, or the veritable scientist orgy that was Stargate: Atlantis, or even the now-classic Harry-Ron-Hermione. The dynamic fascinated him.
Alec Hardison was at heart a social being. The more people, the merrier.
When he saw the Firefly pilot—the real pilot—he kinda wished he was the strawberry in Kaylee's hand.
He also kinda wished he had a captain like Mal Reynolds to follow around—he could totally be the witty pilot with a beautiful wife!—but Hardison, no matter how rich his fantasy life, also knew some fantasies would never come true.
Cameron Mitchell did not have chemistry with everything that moved, which was something of a relief to Alec. Vala Mal Doran, however, might have, and Alec may or may not have started plotting elaborate fantasies in which she, Carter, and Daniel all ended up in a classic "aliens made them do it" scenario.
Or at the very least, tied up together while wearing leather.
When Jack Harkness showed up on Hardison's computer screen, he thought that finally somebody had almost gotten it right. But Jack, pansexual being that he was, still didn't quite fit what Hardison thought and felt about his own identity, which seemed to encompass both less and more than what Cap'n Jack's identity did.
But, really? Hardison sure as hell wasn't going to complain about the man being on his computer screen.
"You want me to do what?" Alec said to Nathan Ford when the former insurance investigator showed up on his doorstep, drunk and disheveled. "With who?"
So Ford explained again.
"Uh-uh," Alec crossed his arms and shook his head. "No way, man. I wouldn't trust those guys to tell me the time. Even if they had a beryllium clock."
Hardison didn't really remember afterward how Ford persuaded him to join the crew, though it probably involved the expected tidy payout. And then, he found himself working with these people and totally digging the group vibe and, "Seriously, fiction is not supposed to become fact," he muttered as he worked the international stock markets. "Mal Reynolds is not a real person."
"What?" Parker said over comms. "What are you talking about? Who's Mal Reynolds? Are we going to have to work with somebody else?"
"Guys," Nathan sounded distracted, "guys, could you please keep off the comms—"
"What?" Hardison's fingers actually paused, hovering over the keyboard. "No, no, Mal's a fictional character, see—"
"I auditioned for that show, I think," Sophie said. "They wanted a crazy person, didn't they? I do a fabulous crazy—"
"Shut up," Elliot told them all, and Hardison totally, totally wanted to stay with this crew.
Parker was beautiful. Not drop-dead gorgeous like Sophie, who manipulated her beauty and used it regularly as part of her cons, but beautiful because she didn't think about it, probably wasn't even aware of it, and wouldn't know how to use it if her own beauty slapped her over the head with a fish and then gave her pointers.
Also, he'd seen her jump over the side of a building, arms outstretched and blissed-out grin on her face, and it might just have taken all his willpower and self-control not to blurt out "I love you" right then and there.
Alec Hardison was smooth, dammit. Or at least, smoother than the teenaged boy who couldn't talk to girls unless they were on AOL.
"Pink? Really?" Parker said, the first time she saw one of Alec's favorite shirts, maybe in Florida during that snow job, maybe before that.
"What?" Hardison rolled his shoulders. "I'm comfortable in my masculinity."
Parker tilted her head at him and gave him an odd look, but since most of the looks Parker gave everyone were odd, he didn't let it worry him. Too much.
Later though, when she saw his Xena: Warrior Princess t-shirt, she gave him a high five. (He'd been lending her the DVDs.)
It was different with Elliot. Alec hadn't noticed anything changing—okay, he wasn't as intimidated as he used to maybe possibly be around the retrieval specialist, and yeah, Elliot still liked to mock him mercilessly and he liked to irritate the hell out of Elliot whenever he possibly could, mostly for the principle of the thing—but that was just normal, right?
Except that suddenly one day in the middle of the con, when Hardison was frantically downloading information from a company server and the bad guy's henchmen were about to download him, Elliot came roaring in the way he usually did, bashing heads left and right, and within, like, five seconds it was just the two of them left standing, Elliot growling and huffing in the middle of a pile of unconscious bloodied goons, and something in Hardison's head and heart clicked.
"Oh hell no," he said aloud, gaping at the other man.
"What?" Elliot spat something out on one of the henchmen. Hopefully not a tooth. Unless it had originally belonged to one of the goons.
Hardison quickly turned back to the computer to wrap up his end of the job. "Nothin', man, it's nothin'," he said, furiously typing.
"Hurry up," Elliot was still in Growly Mode, probably still caught up in all that leftover adrenaline and testosterone, and seriously, what the hell. Elliot was short. And muscley. Alec's types were broad, but he hadn't thought they were that broad. But then Elliot spoke again, and apparently, short-growly-muscley men also constituted one of Alec Hardison's types.
Elliot did have awfully pretty hair. "Nate and Sophie are waitin' on us."
"I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying," Hardison said. "It's all cool, I promise." He removed the flash drive and shut down his connections to the server. "Thanks," he added without quite being able to meet Elliot's eye.
"You're welcome." Elliot turned and led the way out, keeping alert in case more goons showed up.
Seriously? Alec argued with himself as he followed. You're gonna do this now? Seriously?
"Isn't that just inconvenient," he muttered out loud, and then he snapped his mouth shut when Elliot gave him a look.
"You don't fish off the company pier," was what Bobby Hobbes always said. (Fawkes probably has a half-dozen quotes on-hand on the same theme, doesn't he.)
"Rule number 12: never date your co-workers," were the words the NCIS team lived by.
There are probably a lot more variations to the theme, but who needs to go around quantifying them? Or possibly making an epic crossover music vid out of them in an attempt to remind one's self that this is a REALLY BAD IDEA?
"Dude," Elliot said as he swung into Nate's apartment with a bag of groceries, heading for the kitchen to cook dinner. He'd started doing it a lot more regularly; Nate had objected at first, of course, and given up, again, and they all agreed that at least this way Parker would eat something other than cereal and fortune cookies. "Are you talking to yourself now?"
"No," Alec said, snapping his laptop shut. He might have just posted a heavily-flocked entry to his Dreamwidth account (third-favorite sockpuppet; after all, he didn't want any of this traced back to RL him or BNF him in any way at all) about the distant possibility that he might in fact be considering trying to hook up with one or two of his "co-workers," but he sure as hell wasn't about to admit that to said co-worker.
Elliot was giving him a weird look-slash-glare, but then, he usually looked like that, so Hardison wasn't going to worry about it. Too much.
Also, Elliot made Hardison's favorite lasagna that night.
It all happened by accident, again. It was after Nate gave himself up to Sterling and the feds, after Sophie got them air-lifted out of the situation on the docks. They'd gone back to McRory's, the four of them, in shock. Sophie had stayed long enough to have a couple drinks and then disappeared again—possibly to cry, or go find out where Nate was being held so she could slap him again—and that had just left the three of them.
They had proceeded to get very, very drunk.
Alec had never seen either Parker or Elliot drunk before. Acting, maybe, but Parker tended not to imbibe copious amounts of alcohol all at once, and Elliot could hold his liquor and drink Legolas under the table. So it was a novel experience, and despite how things had turned out, Alec found he was enjoying himself.
That was probably the liquor talking.
"Have you ever been in a threesome?" he blurted out, very very late in the evening, or maybe very early in the morning. They had moved their drinking upstairs to Nate's apartment when Cora closed up the bar for the night. It was probably weird to be drinking in Nate's apartment, but his was cleaner than Hardison's, and they were in no fit state to go to Elliot's or Parker's.
They'd been talking about sex, so it wasn't completely out of the blue. Elliot had been regaling them with a story involving a Romanian drug runner and a pitbull, so it also wasn't like odd kinky stuff was out of the blue either. But it definitely put a crimp in the conversation. Elliot snapped his mouth shut with an audible click of teeth. Parker kinda tensed up next to Alec on the other side of the couch. Hardison wished he'd kept his trap closed, or at least stuck to drunk-tweeting.
"Have you?" Elliot asked, which surprised Hardison; he honestly would have expected the question to come from Parker.
"Yeah," Hardison said. "Once or twice."
"Not three times?" Parker asked, in that tone of voice that Hardison could never tell if he was supposed to take seriously or not.
"Not yet." And Alec kept his voice soft, and he didn't look at either of the other two.
"Sometimes," Parker said, and she was staring at her toes stretched out in front of her, and she had the most adorable toes, and Hardison was still really, really drunk even if all the awkwardness he'd caused had sobered him up a bit. "Sometimes it's better with three. Like, if you get bored, the other person can take over. It's like—it's like us, you know? We can all do a little bit of each other's stuff, but we're all best at what we do. Sometimes sex is like that too."
"Yeah," Elliot agreed, and Hardison almost dropped the nearly-empty bottle of rum he was holding. "Also, more limbs, more fun."
Hardison looked from one side of the couch to the other. Elliot and Parker blinked back at him from either side. "You had better not be dicking around with me, guys," he said. "I just lost Lucille, we all just lost Nate, and the rum is, in fact, almost gone. You had better not be dicking around with me."
Parker set down her beer bottle and, without looking up, hesitantly put her hand on Hardison's knee. Elliot slid in closer on Alec's other side, so close their thighs and arms were touching, and Hardison was suddenly very, very aware of everybody's body heat.
"We should probably get out of Nate's apartment and go to your place," Elliot said evenly.
"It would probably be rude to have sex here without inviting him to join in," Parker agreed.
"Oh," said Hardison.
The thing that Alec Hardison loves about fandom, about science-fiction and its fandoms in particular, is all the possibilities. A tiny teenage girl can kick ass; a black man can be captain of a starship; two women can love each other and nobody cares. There is a whole rainbow of choice out there that fandom constantly reminds him about, and he always makes a point to stop by Nana's grave when he's in the right area of the world because she was the one who first introduced him to IDIC, and a time and space machine bigger on the inside than the outside, and believing in six impossible things before breakfast, and things not necessarily being what they seemed, and the realization that people are people, and that is enough.
He might not get to see spaceships and restaurants at the end of the universe, but he's pretty happy being a geek in the twenty-first century.