Eliot blinked slowly at the window, idly tracking the smears of light that painted the glass in streaks of white, gold and red—flashes of green as the stop light down the street changed. He couldn’t pick out where the sky started and where the dark of the night overtook everything else—too many buildings in the way—but what he was pretty sure was the sky looked heavy. Rain and wind in the morning most likely then, but for now, everything was quiet. Not quite still, not in a city, but at—he raised his head to get a bleary look at the clock on the nightstand—three in the morning, it got as close as it ever did.
He knew he should probably be questioning why he was awake. One breath he’d been sleeping soundly, stretched out in a too-big, too-empty, but plenty warm and comfortable bed, and the next he’d been staring out the window—holding still, counting breaths until he was sure he hadn’t heard anything that shouldn’t be there.
But, honestly, there were really only two options, if he hadn’t heard anything threatening. One, his body just wasn’t getting any more sleep tonight. It did that sometimes, even without the help of nightmares or bad days—he’d get two, three hours of sleep (maybe), and then he’d be up, bright eyed in not necessarily the best way, but ready to go. Or, two, which is the one he was betting on since his head was still heavy on the pillow, eyes still bleary, he’d heard—yep, there it was again. A soft, truly heartbroken sounding whine from the hallway.
Eliot groaned softly, burying his face in the pillow for a moment.
(That wasn’t fair, but Eliot wasn’t taking it back. The dog ever only whined like that when she was missing someone something fierce. And he couldn’t even blame her. He missed them too after all. And some petty part of himself pointed out that he probably missed them more right now, since he was the one with an empty bed, but whatever.)
There was another whine, this one a lot closer to the bedroom door. Subtle creature, she was not.
Eliot was tempted to ignore her. He’d been very clear when they’d gotten the dog that she was not going to be allowed in the bedroom. Full stop. He didn’t want dog hair on the bed, didn’t want to share the bed with a small wiggly body that would move too much for his hair-trigger senses, didn’t want dog-breath in his face first thing in the morning…
Didn’t even matter that he, technically, was the one who’d...brought her home. His condition for keeping her was simple: no dogs in the bedroom.
(Okay, there were many, many other conditions, but that was the only important one.)
And, most days, she did okay with that rule. Him, Hardison and Parker would wander off to bed, and she’d curl up in her own in the living room, only popping up again when someone shuffled out in the morning.
That tended to go out the window when Hardison or Parker were gone for any stretch of time. Then, she followed the other two around until the door was straight up shut (gently) in her face. Then she’d whine a bit, maybe scratch at the door...but she always gave up eventually.
And now? Now both Hardison and Parker were gone. Had been for six days. Parker was visiting Sophie and Nate in...Spain? …He knows that’s where they were meeting anyway. No guarantee they were staying there the entire trip. Especially since he’s pretty sure ‘visiting’ was code for ‘helping with a job’. And Hardison was visiting his Nana for the week—something about putting off a non-holiday trip for too long, vague threats of a little old lady showing up at the apartment if he didn’t go, yadda yadda, Eliot was welcome to come with him, yadda yadda, even vaguer mutterings about a grown ass man being scared of meeting a sweet old lady (he wasn’t scared . There was just no way in hell he was meeting someone as important to Hardison as his Nana without Parker there as a bit of a buffer). Both were due back tomorrow.
So. It had been just him and the dog this week.
And she’d been fine . The first two days. Then it had seemed to sink in that she was stuck with Eliot, and Eliot alone, for the foreseeable future. And so, every night since then, she’d spent longer and longer whining and scratching at the door.
You know, he was beginning to think that he was her least favorite.
Which was hardly fair since, again, he was the one who brought her home.
...Not intentionally, mind you. It had been a completely unintended result of a weekend out with his friends, celebrating an army buddy’s retirement. Long, long, long story short, guy had been talking about getting a dog—an ESA, fully trained, licensed, the whole shebang. Eliot had actually been helping him look around for awhile and everything, and by that weekend, they’d found a good program, all set for him to start working with that next week.
Apparently he’d only mentioned the ‘dog’ part to his family though. Who thought they’d surprise him. Cue an overeager 14 year old grandkid presenting a wiggling, happy mutt—and that’s what she was too: short brown and black fur, stubby tail, ears that couldn’t quite stand up, Eliot was betting some kind of terrier in there but that was all he could say for sure—to a very confused group of vets.
Damage control saw Eliot offering to take the dog because...well, it wouldn’t be fair to send the mutt back, but his friend could really only handle one dog (already trained for what he needed). And the kid and his mom clearly weren’t prepared to actually deal with a dog. And Eliot was the only one with, as far as they knew, a settled job since the rest of them were still active duty. And if it all went to shit, Eliot also knew more settled people than they did combined who could take the dog off his hands if he ended up not being able to care for her.
And, perhaps, most importantly. He’d driven out for the retirement party. Everyone else had flown.
(It had absolutely nothing to do with big brown eyes, too big ears, and a stumpy tail wagging so fast it was a blur. Absolutely nothing.)
So that was how they’d gotten Sterling.
(He’d spent that entire trip home, with the dog in the passenger seat wondering how Hardison and Parker were going to take the news. Worked himself into a damn tizzy over it actually. For absolutely no reason. He’d literally walked in, the dog had shot past him, and when he’d actually had a moment to put his bag down, she’d already wiggled her way into Hardison’s lap and he was clearly already smitten, while Parker was off to the side, watching with big eyes and an even bigger smile. The only details that had had to be worked out from there was whether Amy would be willing to dog-sit on short notice sometimes, and what to name her.
He’s still not entirely pleased that he’d been outvoted for Sterling. Though, he supposed it was kind of fair since he’d suggested Buddy. And Tiki. Hardison had not found it nearly as funny as he had. And Parker had said something about reassociating Sterling’s name with something they actually liked as well as some vague future where the actual man’s face would be hilarious if he ever found out. Whatever, he called her dog, mutt, sweetheart, and sugar more often than he called her her actual name. Didn’t seem to matter to her.)
He’d brought her home.
And here she was whining because her two favorite people in the world had been gone for almost an entire week and she was stuck with Eliot and...he couldn’t even keep up the tirade in his head. He’d be whining too if that was his situation.
She whined at the door again, claws scraping tentatively at the door. Eliot groaned into the pillow again, weighing pros and cons in his head.
He wanted to ignore her. He did. Hardison and Parker would be back tomorrow, she’d get her favorite people back, everything would be fine.
She hadn’t been the reason he’d woken up, and stayed up, most of the week, even if she had been the reason he’d gotten up.
Sure, there hadn’t been any nightmares—no demons haunting his sleep and keeping him awake and frazzled—this week (not so every week, but true enough this one). But. Well.
Call it going soft or whatever, but he’d gotten used to...well, frankly, not sleeping alone.
He was getting spoiled with them, and he knew it. Thing was, he really, really did not care. He liked what they had—the challenge of the job, a place to call home, people to take care of (and, occasionally, let take care of him), the easy routine at the brewpub, the comforting rhythm to their apartment…
Fuck it. No one was here to see him getting as mopey as he ever did about the fact that the apartment was too quiet without Hardison’s ranting or excited shouts, the brewpub too boring without wondering when Parker was going to pop out of nowhere to try to steal food, his kitchen too cold (sappy as fuck, so what), because there wasn’t any point really in cooking for himself when he was too used to cooking for someone else now, his bed too...empty. Parker was a starfish in bed—all sharp elbows and bony knees—and Hardison was a blanket hog who radiated too much heat and had clung like a limpet and he missed them.
He was out of the bed before he could think any more about it.
One night wouldn’t hurt anyone. Especially if Hardison and Parker didn’t find out about it. He yanked open the door, looking down at those big, sad brown eyes, knowing he probably looked equally as pathetic.
“...yeah, yeah. Don’t get used to it mutt.” He muttered, stepping aside so she could barrel into the room and up onto the bed. Eliot rolled his eyes, told himself he wasn’t smiling, and shuffled back over, crawling back into bed as well. He probably wasn’t going to be getting back to sleep anytime soon, but at least now he had a partner in his moping.
She was too small to take up all the room he was used to ceding, but she did do an admirable job of somehow shoving him to the edge of the bed before she settled back down, curled up close to Eliot’s chest. She was out and snoring in the next minute. Some petty part of him was more than a little jealous, but he held still so as not to disturb the mutt’s rest. Wasn’t her fault he’d be watching the window for the rest of the night.
(And if the room maybe didn’t feel as empty, well. He’d had enough mopey shit for the night, thank you.)
Hardison wasn’t going to say he wasn’t surprised. He was. Very much so. By a couple things. The man and the dog, curled up together and passed the hell out, was definitely a surprise. But he was more surprised by the fact that he was currently standing at the end of the bed, snapping picture after picture, and Eliot hadn’t stirred once . Not through Hardison and Parker bowling into the apartment, not Parker digging through the kitchen, not Hardison wandering into the bedroom…
Eliot was out . And he only did that when he was completely and totally relaxed. Or hurt. (But he’d gotten better about telling them about that, and he hadn’t updated them on anything like that, so Hardison was willing to bet on the first one.) And Sterling, sweet mutt that she was, was tucked in close to the hitter’s chest, snoring softly and as dead to the world as Eliot was.
“Hardison, you seen Sterl-” Parker squeaked slightly when Hardison flailed in her general direction, making quick hand motions that were maybe in the general area of ‘quiet!’ She blinked at him for a moment, nose scrunching up in confusion before he pointed at the bed. Another blink. Then she was grinning. “You got pictures, right?” She whispered—not nearly as quiet as she definitely thought they were, but Hardison gave her points for trying.
He held up his phone with a matching grin to show that of course he had—and already sent to multiple hard drives, just in case Eliot found out, which he would, because he was Eliot and that man didn’t miss much.
They both glanced at the bed for a moment, then each other. Hardison quirked an eyebrow up. Parker tilted her head. Hardison shook his, and Parker snorted, gesturing vaguely.
Hardison rolled his eyes but changed quickly into some pajama pants while Parker filched one of his shirts and some of Eliot’s track shorts, and both of them gently piled into bed.
Eliot tensed immediately, only to grumble when Hardison put a hand on his shoulder and Parker pressed a kiss to his forehead. Hardison’s pretty sure the grumble wasn’t entirely kind either—Hardison’s pretty sure he heard a threat against the orange soda and chocolate stock in the kitchen, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d heard it, so he didn’t put too much stock in it—but he immediately settled back down between them. Hardison grinned and curled an arm around the man’s waist, pulling him against his chest while Parker stretched out in front of them, starfishing out in the empty stretch of bed (and if Eliot thought Hardison was going to let go of the fact that their thirty-five pound dog had pushed him to the edge of the bed, he had another thing coming), her foot pressing against Eliot’s shin and her hand curled in the dog’s fur.
It was good to be home.