Eliot gets Hardison's attention by throwing a Nerf football at his head. The hacker whirls around on the couch, eyes wide. "Eliot!"
Eliot crosses his arms and grins. "Alec."
Hardison lets out a bemused huff. "Unbelievable," he says, smiling up at Eliot. "Baby, you are damn lucky I love your stubborn, uncommunicative ass."
Eliot smiles back and lets the truth of that statement fill him with quiet certainty. "Yeah, I am. Listen, what's security like at the Tanner Building?"
"Lemme check." Hardison grabs his keyboard and switches one of the screens in front of him from dudes running around on brooms to a computer display. After a minute of rapid typing, he leans against the couch cushions and snorts. "A joke," he says.
Eliot nods. That's what he found, but he's no Hardison, and it's good to have professional confirmation. "Do me a favor?" When Hardison nods, he says, "I need that building clear from two this Saturday afternoon 'til two Sunday morning. Alarms disabled, personnel cleared, get me full access to all levels. If you have time." Of course he has time. Eliot's had their calendars memorized for months.
"No problem," Hardison says. He's already turned back his game, but Eliot's not worried. Hardison is on top of it.
Eliot pulls the invoice from his shirt pocket and flips it to Hardison. "Reroute this delivery to that building, too. Only thing in or out all day."
"Sure." Hardison studies the invoice. "Side gig?" There's no judgment in his tone, just curiosity. Nate very much disapproved of his team members taking jobs on the side. Now that it's the three of them, they've lightened up.
Eliot rests his hand on the side of Hardison's neck and presses gently. "More of a…favor to a friend," he says.
Hardison leans into the touch, eyelids fluttering closed briefly. "I'll make it happen," he promises.
Eliot kisses the top of Hardison's head. "Appreciate it," he says.
(During the job for Vance was when Eliot realized he was in this all the way, forever. Not Leverage, though he was committed to that, too. But he worked with Parker and Hardison: he fell into Hardison's deep eyes and said he was the smartest man Eliot knew; he took a bullet to give Parker time to get a bomb off a train. And it became so damned clear to him that he was pledging himself, first and foremost, to this man and this woman who retaught him every day what it meant to be a family.
He'd seen no need to keep the revelation to himself. Not with words, because words were mostly pointless and easily abused. But he cooked their favorite foods and touched them whenever they passed and protected them with an increased ferocity that managed to surprise even him.
And they got it. He knows they did. No matter what Parker had to say on the subject later.)
Parker is in the bedroom, hanging upside down from one of the rigs she's set up around the apartment. She's chained to one of the poles by her ankles and is attempting to free herself using only her teeth. Eliot loves her so much it's absurd. "Hey, darlin'."
"Eliot! Good. I could probably use a spotter for this part."
Eliot stands under Parker, hands ready to catch her at the first sign of trouble. "You got anything goin' on this weekend?" (He knows she doesn't.)
Parker hums and shrugs as best she can upside down. "Don't think so." She twists, and her torso sways alarmingly.
Eliot rests his hands on her shoulders until she stops swinging. "Remember my friends Kate and Justine?"
"The jazz musicians?" Parker makes a little gagging face that pulls up Eliot's widest smile.
"They got another crooked record exec holding their demo CD hostage in hopes of some…concessions they ain't willing to make."
Parker's disgust turns into real rage. "You mean sex concessions, right? Want me to kill him?"
"Naw, he's taken care of. Actually, he's been taken care of a little too well, and now onea his creditors has the demo. You willin' to run down Saturday and grab it back?"
In a series of lightning-fast moves Eliot can only track from years of practice, Parker unlocks her ankles and flips off the bar. She lands neatly in Eliot's arms, her back to his chest. He grabs her hips, and she twists to give him a messy, uncoordinated, glorious kiss. "Sure," she says, slipping his grip. "Sounds fun." She bounds out of the room with a wave, and he hears her call, "Hey, Alec, wanna climb something tall?"
(As soon as Nate and Sophie walked out of the brewpub, Parker shook her head and said, "I can't believe they're really gone."
Hardison snorted. "They're not. That was a cool exit and all, but they both got too much stuff here not to come back for it."
"Oh." Parker looked unexpectedly crestfallen. "Like, right now?"
"Probably not," Eliot said. "Tomorrow, maybe. Why?"
"No, I just thought this was the part where the three of us have sex. Was I wrong?"
She wasn't wrong.
So when she told Nate that the three of them hadn't been together when Nate proposed to Sophie, well, even by her own measure it was only just true. By Eliot's measure it was a big, stupid lie. Hardison kept his mouth shut, because somewhere along the line he'd accepted that he was easily breakable.)
The veal is braising by 3:30. The cake is in the oven by 5. The eggplant's under the broiler; the cab sauv's breathing; everything's right with the world.
At quarter to 6, Eliot sets the table. At quarter past he starts transporting covered dishes to the roof from the commercial kitchen on five. He takes the back service elevator to the top floor and accesses the roof through a hatch in the northwest corner. At 6:45, he puts in his earbud and brings the champagne in its bucket--the last piece--up via the passenger elevator and faces the primary roof access door. He could try any number of incorrect security codes to trigger the alarm, but this is a special night for all of them to enjoy, so he kicks the door in.
His earbud squawks instantly. "Eliot!" Hardison yells, making Eliot wince. "Eliot, man, talk to me!"
"I'm okay," he promises, jogging up the stairs and forcing himself to sound out of breath. "'M havin' trouble with the alarms, though. Could ya--"
"On it, man. You sit tight and let me take care a ya."
Eliot starts counting.
He's reached eight when Hardison swears. "Baby, I do not know what's going on here. I cut all these alarms, I swear."
"I know," Eliot says easily.
"But there's something--I can't access it from here. I'm gonna have to come to you and kill it manually."
"Okay." Eliot pauses, gives himself time for some fake calculations. "You got 15 before the cops take an interest."
"I'll be there in ten," Hardison promises.
While Hardison scrambles and swears, Eliot sets down the champagne bucket, removes his earbud, and pulls out his phone.
Parker answers on the third ring. "Eliot, do you ever think about kleptocracy? I mean, like, really think about it?"
"Pretty much every day, baby girl. You get the CDs?"
"Yup. It was boring. That creditor chick didn't have any security. So I took them, and I didn't even burn them, though they're full of jazz and it would've been a service to the world."
Eliot snorts. "Thank you, Parker. Means a lot to Kate and Justine. You hungry?"
"I could eat."
"Be on the roof of the Tanner Building in 15. Got somethin' special for you. Bring the CDs."
"You won't make me listen to them, will you?"
He chuckles. "You won't even see 'em."
"Awesome! Hey, I hear Alec running around inside. Should I help him first?"
"Naw, leave him be. He's workin' on a different thing."
"Okay. D'you know which way the wind's blowing right now?"
Eliot does know. Speed, too. He pretends not to. Parker likes figuring this stuff out for herself.
(The first time they had sex, roughly ten minutes after Sophie and Nate walked out the door, Eliot took a knee to the small of his back; Alec fell off the bed twice; and Parker literally had to hold Alec's head down to finish getting her off, because he and Eliot kept distracting each other. But everyone was smiling, and Alec's hands fit perfectly around Eliot's ass, and Eliot could not get enough of the way Parker gasped his name when he did something she liked. Also, he came so hard he couldn't move for five minutes. They'd made a good choice.)
Parker arrives first. Eliot hears the distinctive thunk of a grappling hook catching on the ledge, then Parker arrives from who-knows-where, flipping smoothly over the edge of the building and onto the roof. She detaches herself from her harness as she makes her way across the roof, scowling at the still-blaring alarm. "Can we turn that off?" she yells.
Eliot shakes his head. "Alec's on his way to fix it."
Parker's scowl deepens, but she lets Eliot kiss her anyway.
Hardison shows up four minutes later, wide-eyed and out of breath, and Eliot forces himself not to think about how recklessly he must've driven to get here so quickly. "All right," he wheezes, waving weakly at Parker, "where's the control box for this damn thing?"
Eliot shows him, and he disarms and silences it in under thirty seconds. "That thing is weird," he mutters as he closes the panel. "It's not connected to the whole building, y'know that?"
Eliot shrugs and leads Hardison toward the table he's set up near the roof's edge. "Yeah, separate alarm for the roof. Think a couple a Abergil's guys used to do business up here when they were in town." This is true. It's just not why the roof is currently wired to a separate alarm system.
Hardison's eyes bulge and he kind of waves his whole upper body around. "Are y--are you shittin' me, man? You brought us to Israeli mafia territory? That is so not cool. Like, all the not cool. I don't know 'bout y'all, but I am not equipped for getting Uzi-ed tonight."
"Alec, relax." Eliot sighs and steers Hardison toward his seat. "Used to do business here. We're fine."
"You and me need to have a talk about your definition of 'fine,' my man," Hardison tells him. Then he undercuts the ire he's trying to project by pulling Eliot into a lingering kiss. When they separate, Hardison looks down, taking in the table, with Parker seated comfortably at it, knees drawn up under her chin, sleek in her all-black building-scaling gear, for the first time. "What's this?" he asks.
"Dinner!" Parker replied brightly. She tilts up her face. "Got one of those kisses for me?"
"All the time, Mama." Hardison bends low and kisses her sweetly, fingertips grazing the curve of her jaw.
Eliot's mouth softens into something like a smile as he watches. Warm contentment settles in his bones. He knows this is how it ends for guys like him. Happiness is a dangerous trait in his trade. But he's figured out his justifications and made his peace. He doesn't have to be the heaviest heavy in the room anymore. He just has to be sharp enough to protect Parker and Hardison.
Hardison pulls away from Parker and sinks into the chair beside her. Eliot watches his bright eyes study the tablecloth, the cheerily flickering light of the centerpiece candelabra, the delicate swirling pattern on the china, which matches the gleaming silverware. Hardison's gaze moves to the champagne bucket and back to Eliot, cataloging his carefully tied-back hair and clean, wrinkle-free blue dress shirt and jeans. "Eliot, what's going on?" he asks.
Eliot smiles slyly and slides into the third chair. "A guy can't do something nice for his guy and girl?"
"Can do," Hardison agrees, and his eyes hold a knowing sparkle that makes Eliot want to rip all his damn clothes off, "but you don't. I just gotta find your angle."
Eliot keeps his face blank as he reaches for the first serving dish. "You're welcome to try."
Then Hardison gets a taste of the tomato-basil coulis Eliot's drizzled over the stuffed mushrooms, and Eliot sees the moment all calculation of angles flies clean out of his head for the rest of the meal.
Eliot can't keep the smile off his face while Parker and Hardison eat their cake. They eat more off each other's plates than their own, Hardison convinced Parker's piece has more frosting than his, Parker certain the best things in life are stolen. They make incursions toward Eliot's plate, and he guards it fiercely, as much because they expect it as because he gives a damn about protecting his cake.
"So," Hardison says as his fork clatters to his empty dessert plate, "if there was a point to this, you might wanna make it now, before the sugar rush wears off."
"Asshole, don't rush me," Eliot mutters, but he pushes his plate aside and stretches his hand toward Parker. "You got that box, sweetheart?"
Parker crosses her arms. "You promised no jazz."
He smiles gently. "No jazz. I just need the box."
Eyes narrowed, Parker reaches under the table and comes up with a small, rectangular cardboard box. It looks like it could hold three or four CDs. But when Eliot pulls off the top--carefully, with his heart in his throat, because he's sure, but he can't be sure--another box sits nestled inside, a small, velvet rectangle slightly larger than a traditional ring box.
There's a moment of shocked stillness. Then Parker leans forward, body vibrating in anticipation. Hardison flops backward, rubbing a shaking hand over his mouth. "Eliot--" Eliot doesn't hear which of them says it. He's not sure it matters.
Eliot leans forward and rests his elbows on the tabletop. His heart hammers in his chest, and he feels high on the risk. Even if it all crashes and burns, he's taken the leap, and it feels better than he imagined. "Look," he says, "I'm not big on words. Never saw the point, really. But sometimes you make the effort."
Hardison nods knowingly. "Tanzania."
Eliot offers him a sad smile. "A man gets to thinking." He rubs his cheek. "You two--the jobs, the pub, the...whatever the hell we're callin' this--" He waves a hand between the three of them. "That's it, you know? It's everything. And after Tanzania, and everything that went wrong at that goat farm, it can't hurt for people to know we're lookin' out for each other. That messing with one of us puts 'em in shit with all of us. Make a statement, kinda." Eliot holds his breath and flips up the top of the box.
The rings line up in the box, nestled in burgundy velvet. The shimmering candlelight glints off of them, giving them a secretive look at once promising and threatening. A promise to each other. A threat to anyone who'd cross them.
There's a deceptive simplicity to them. Three interwoven bands—yellow gold, white gold, copper—rounded on the outside, flat on the inside, inscribed with the absurd yet fitting anagram Hardison had made of their initials once he knew all nine of them. Parker squeals and reaches toward the box. By chance it's Hardison's she grabs, and Hardison takes Eliot's, leaving Parker's in the box. They examine the rings in the dim candlelight, holding them toward the insufficient illumination of the floodlights on the next roof over. Parker runs Hardison's across her teeth; Hardison clinks Eliot's against his wine glass and listens to its vibrations. Eliot rolls his eyes and reminds himself that he's choosing this.
Eliot's thought long and hard about who he'd turn to first when this moment came, but with two rings out of the box, it's out of his control. Parker leans forward abruptly, fingers curling around his wrist. "Is this a proposal or a wedding?" she asks.
Eliot blinks. He hasn't entirely been thinking of it as either thing, though these are clearly wedding rings. He twists his wrist so he's holding Parker's hand. "Which'd you rather?"
"Baby," Hardison says gently, touching the back of Parker's other hand, "if it's a proposal, who the heck would we invite to a wedding?"
"Archie," Eliot says instantly, dinner souring in his gut as he realizes how tunnel-visioned he's been. "Your Nana." He swallows. "Nate and Sophie." He's bad at apologies, but he's got one on the tip of his tongue, because this seems like the time for it.
But Parker smiles and shakes her head. "Archie disapproves of the institution of marriage."
"Parker," Hardison says, incredulous, "we met his wife."
Parker shakes her head. "They call each other husband and wife for form's sake, but they're not married. He likes both of you. We should keep it that way."
Head spinning, Eliot turns to Hardison, who looks at the table, features drawn. "Nana, she--" He exhales sharply and flicks his glance at each of them in turn before looking away again. "She's always been supportive of me being bi, and she's mostly come around to the three of us. But, far as she's concerned, marriage is...marriage is different. Special. Set aside."
Eliot nods sympathetically and rubs Hardison's arm.
"That leaves Sophie and Nate," Parker says, "and I don't want to wait six months to be married to you guys." Six months. The end of their Nate-imposed year of silence.
Eliot grins at her. "Then I guess it's a wedding."
"Good." Parker nods decisively.
"No, not good," Hardison counters. "I'm not dressed to get married." He's wearing black jeans, a light gray hoodie over a darker gray t-shirt, and a black and white scarf. Eliot thinks he looks nearly perfect. Then again, Eliot thinks Hardison looks nearly perfect in damned near anything, and he's seen the guy in some weird get-ups.
Parker shares a long-suffering look with Eliot. "Alec, you're wearing hackery clothes. I'm wearing climbing building clothes. Eliot's wearing cheffing clothes. It seems kind of perfect to me."
Eliot nods and kisses Hardison's hand. Hardison scoffs, but his cheeks and ears darken. "All right, fine," he huffs, "but if it's our wedding, we all get to say something. Nonea this Eliot hogging the romantic moments shit."
Hardison and Parker look expectantly at Eliot. He takes a deep breath and lets the moment wash over him. A rooftop overlooking a city that's all but snuck up on them, two people who've done the same. The gentle hubbub of a Portland evening, the wash of pinks and golds across the western sky, the small but determined flame of a candle on a table. Everything in his life worth being proud of is condensed into this moment, this place. He grins and gestures at the ring in Hardison's hand. "A'right, hotshot," he says, winking at Parker. "That's mine. Show us what ya got."
(They will say the things that need saying and slide the rings onto each others' fingers. They will clean up before making their way home for what Parker will delightedly insist on calling "married people sex."
Sometime before dawn, Eliot will wake after two hours of sleep. Usually he'd get out of bed at this point: work out, inventory the brewpub, read the collected works of the nihilist philosophers--whatever can quiet his mind until the others wake up.
But on his wedding night he will push himself upright against the headboard and sit, for hours, watching this man and this woman who have become, perhaps, too much a part of him. Parker will lie on her back, head pillowed on Eliot's thigh. Alec will curl on his side, face smashed against Eliot's hip. They will each fling their left arm over Eliot's legs, seeking each other, fingers interlacing in sleep. Eliot will lay his own hand over theirs, and when their rings clink gently against each other, he will feel, perhaps for the first time ever, truly at peace.)