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The Symbology of Orange Juice

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Parker was sitting at Eliot's breakfast bar eating left-over mashed potatoes out of a bowl. Eliot shuffled past, still half in the haze of sleep, and poked at the coffee maker a few times. Hardison had bought it, and it was computerized and sleek and flashed blue LED lights and beeped in code, and it was the exact candy-apple red of the pickup truck he'd coveted when he was fourteen. When Hardison wasn't around, which didn't happen often these days, he made coffee in an old aluminum percolator and ignored the grounds in the bottom of his cup.

"I could make you something," Eliot said.

"This is good," Parker answered, and gave him a look like maybe he was the one who was a little left of centre this morning.

He glared back at her, and she winked. She was fucking with him, he was 99% convinced she was fucking with him, and she stole leftovers out of his fridge for the sole purpose of driving him—

"Oh, no—no, no, no. You are not here, you are an apparition or a halucination, because that security system is an unbeatable, Alec Hardison special—cannot be jacked by any electronics, circumvented by any thief, not even you, and therefore, you are not here." Hardison sat down beside Parker and ostentatiously turned his back.

Eliot's security system, that he hadn't asked for and didn't need, could not keep out the man who'd built it.

Parker ignored Hardison's display, and glanced up at Eliot.

Eliot winked. He'd accidentally stumbled on the old elevator shaft when he'd been doing the chainsaw massacre on Nate's place, and he knew exactly how Parker was getting in without tripping Hardison's security.

"Maybe I'm a hologram," Parker said.

Alec spun around on his stool. "Solid form like in The Next Generation, which always raised questions about conservation of matter that they never answered, which is just typical of the franchise as a whole—I mean, you know what I'm saying—or the more traditional wave your hand through type, which is cheesy effects, but does make a statement about the importance of the physical body to—"

"She's not a hologram," Eliot said.

Hardison scowled at him, and Eliot produced a plate of eggs, bacon, grits and the horrible damn fake-ass syrup that Alec liked to pour over it all.

"Juice?" Hardison said.

"Your legs broke?" Eliot answered.

"Do not get snippy with me, Spencer. You're the one who went all Les Nessman and taped off the kitchen. I"—Hardison placed his hand on his chest, all over-dramatized, wounded pride—"am merely playing along with your paranoid attachment to your kitchen equipment."

"You used my knives—my knives, man, my knives—for some, some—I don't even know what—"

"I needed a sharp blade! Do you know how important proper removal of the wire sheathing is?"

"Try the damn tool box!" Eliot stomped over and plunked a glass down in front of Alec. "Here's your damn juice."

"Thank you," Alec said in a voice as sugar sweet and fake as the syrup. He took a deep drink; Eliot always squeezed the oranges by hand and strained the pulp, because Hardison was weird about that, and he saw the little smile of appreciation that Alec tried to hide.

"You know, if you two just had sex, you wouldn't have to express your desire and your fear of intimacy through theatrical bickering," Parker said.

"You're cleaning that up," Eliot said to Hardison, pointing at the orange juice he'd just sprayed the counter with.

"I think Parker should clean that up," Alec said, and glared at her.

"I didn't do it, why should I?" she said. She picked up a piece of bacon out of her bowl and bit half of it off and smiled sweetly.

Hardison raised his eyebrows and looked down at his plate. His bacon-free plate. He looked up at Parker, opened his mouth, and Eliot said, "You know, if you two just had sex, Parker wouldn't need to tell you she likes you by sneaking in here and stealing your food."

Hardison turned his glare on Eliot. "Says the man who makes fake leftovers to leave in the fridge every night."

"You do?" Parker said gleefully, just as he tried to deny it.

Alec nodded solemnly and pointed at him. "He is full of unexpressed feelings that he sublimates into mashed potatoes."

"You are?" She was smiling even wider now, and Alec was grinning at him, so he decided the counter by the stove needed wiping again. "So why don't we all have sex then?" she said.

Eliot vigorously scrubbed the clean counter. It was a ridiculous idea; that kind of thing never worked in real life, not that Eliot even wanted to try it, not really, and Nate would never approve, and Hardison would never—

"Okay," Alec said.

Eliot tossed the cloth into the sink. At least he could stop making mashed potatoes and squeezing orange juice every night.