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The 15-Day Rule

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The thing about Portland? It rains. And even when it's not raining, it's cloudy. Two hundred and twenty-two cloudy days a year, on average. There's a local joke about the moss blossom being the state flower. No one laughs.

Hardison didn't notice it til the second year they were living in Portland, but the weather starts getting to people after a while, even people who have interesting and intellectually challenging jobs like scamming bad guys and retrieving people's money. He keeps a log of good days and bad days, and sure enough, there's a pattern:

Somewhere around the twentieth straight day without sun, Parker starts getting sad. She mopes around the apartment, poking moodily at random objects, and it's harder to get her to laugh. At the same time, Eliot goes into the kitchen at the pub and doesn't come out until half the staff are in tears. He's a perfectionist at the best of times, but on day twenty, his patience is shot to hell and nothing they do is good enough for him.

In Hardison's oh-so-scientific opinion, day twenty sucks.

It isn't even the dimness. Hardison tries changing all their light bulbs to full-spectrum, but it doesn't change the numbers.

After the third day twenty in a winter that feels like someone put a lid on the world – Hardison knows he has to do something. Waiting it out is making everyone miserable. He'd just fix the weather, but actual weather control is still a few years outside his skillset, so it'll have to be something else. Something that feels like happiness and sunshine.

It's hard to plan a surprise in a household full of grifters and sneaks, but Hardison does his best. He buys a couple of crates of high-end down comforters in silk (for Parker) and flannel (for Eliot) and high-end microfiber (yes, Hardison's predictable, but have you ever felt one of those? They're, like, softer than clouds, and his taste is impeccable). He has the crates shipped to a warehouse in Longview, relabeled as server parts, and dropped off with a delivery of real hardware.

And then he lets Eliot find them anyway.

“What the hell are these?”

“Blankets,” Hardison says, shoving them back in the box like he's trying to hide them. “I get cold sometimes, man. It's winter.”

“You can't get cold here,” Eliot argues, voice still grumpy and gray. “It barely gets below fifty degrees all year, that's not cold.”

“Whatever,” Hardison tells him, yanking the boxes closed. “Don't you have cooks to harass today or something?”

“They're chefs,” Eliot snarls, but he's already headed out of the apartment.

Then it's just a matter of getting up before anyone else the next morning – hey, it happens sometimes! – and turning their entire living room into a giant blanket fort.

Hardison closes the blinds and stretches comforters across the open spaces, closing it in. He grabs all the cushions off the couch and arranges them in a pile in the middle, adds a couple of extra blankets for comfort, and sets up some flaps to get in and out without having to see the world.

It's perfect.

By the time Eliot and Parker drag out of bed, there's a thermos of hot chocolate and a camping lantern set up in the fort. Eliot blinks at the structure a couple of times, mutters about sight lines and defensibility – and then grabs a book from the bedside table and crawls in. Hardison brings his tablet, and Parker curls up between them, taking turns reading over their shoulders.

It doesn't make the sun come back, but it helps. So do the inevitable pillow fights. (To no one's surprise, Parker fights dirty. Eliot still wins.)

After that, Hardison programs it into their phones. (Okay, he programs it into his and Parker's phones. Eliot's a little touchy about Hardison adding things to his calendar, even though it was only that one time...) He calls it the 15-Day Rule.

The Rule goes like this: After fourteen cloudy days in a row, there is a Mandatory Blanket Fort Day.

Before the end of the month, they've already broken it.

They've been on this job a week, scoping out the target and infiltrating the administrative staff at his office. They have at least four more days before they can finish. There should've been a Mandatory Blanket Fort Day on day six, considering the weather. But Hardison just closed the reminder on his phone without bringing it up – the frame of mind you need for grifting doesn't really fit under a blanket; you can't be all soft and fuzzy when people could be shooting at you, either.

There's just no way to make a blanket fort work under those circumstances, and Hardison can't do anything more than glower briefly at the cloud cover and get back to work.

So he's not thinking about it when Eliot sneaks out of a sales-staff meeting to slide into the van next to him and Parker. Eliot has something balled up in his hands; he shoves part of it at Hardison, who takes it automatically. The rest goes to Parker. It's soft.

“What's this?” she asks. It's cloth, and it unfolds. “Are these sleeves?”

“Just put it on,” Eliot says, a little impatient. He glances out the window to make sure he wasn't followed. “Both of you.”

“Why am I putting this on?” Hardison's already moving to do so, figuring out after a minute that it's a hoodie; gray plush microfiber with no apparent logo and no connection to the con that he can see. When he doesn't pull the hood up fast enough, Eliot does it for him.

“There,” Eliot says, the corner of his mouth tipping up in a smile.

Parker's already petting hers, an answering smile breaking across her face.

“I'm asking again --”

“It's in case you get cold,” Eliot says softly, watching until Hardison gets it. He pulls his collar aside to show them the flannel undershirt he's wearing beneath his salesman suit.

And Hardison knows it's just a little thing, just silly. But it's them. And it feels like sunshine and happiness and everything right with the world.