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Pecking Order

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Eliot is the oldest child.

He’s not blind to his father’s sins. He knows exactly what sort of person his father is. He tries to protect Hardison and Parker from it, because for all that they protest about Nate they still admire him, they admire him so much, and Eliot—Eliot knows what it is to see your heroes fall and he can’t watch that… that crestfallen look appear in their eyes. He loves Hardison and Parker, loves them like a drowning man loves a lighthouse, a buoy, and he would kill any man who’d let them down the way he knows Nate is capable of letting them down.

So he… manages. He’s the mature one. He’s not a damn kid anymore. He doesn’t need coddling. When Nate tries one of his tricks, Eliot sees through it and he calls him out on it because dammit someone has to. He prepares, prepares for the day that Nate will fall. He covers up Nate’s faults, watches for his weaknesses. And he tells himself that it’s okay. Who wants to be a child, anyway.

And he’ll never, ever admit it, but dammit, he loves Nate too. Even if he hates that he loves him. Even if he wishes Nate didn’t get to that damn soft spot. Even if he wishes… he could be the kid again, just, just a few times. He hates Nate’s tests, and Nate’s games, and sometimes, dammit, he just wishes that Nate would give him that proud look that he gives Parker and Hardison.

But Nate doesn’t give him that look, because Eliot is the oldest, and the oldest can handle things. Eliot can handle things. The oldest doesn’t need the I love you or the I’m proud of you said out loud, because surely the oldest knows it already, right? And if Nate did look at him all proud, Eliot wouldn’t trust it anyway.

Because he’s the oldest child. He knows better.

 


 

Hardison is the middle child.

No recognition, no praise, just do as you’re told, Hardison, he gets it, really, Nate takes him for granted, and honestly, it’s fine, man, it’s cool, y’know? He can handle it. Foster kid, black kid, geek kid, yeah, he knows all about being overlooked.

Would it kill Nate, though, would it actually give him a coronary so that he keels over, would it kill him to say ‘good job Hardison’? Just once? Parker gets praised up one side and down the other and gets her hand held. Eliot’s trusted implicitly. But Hardison’s in the middle and so he’s neither trusted nor praised and it sucks, okay? It really sucks.

He doesn’t—he doesn’t know Nate, not like Eliot does. But he doesn’t trust Nate, not like Parker does. He feels like he got stuck somewhere in between. Forgotten and forgetting, an odd boxing dance where they’re in the ring but neither of them are throwing a punch.

Okay, if he’s thinking in a fight metaphor then he’s seriously been dating Eliot for too long.

Nate’s affection he doesn’t doubt, not exactly, but Nate’s attention? Yeah, he sure as hell doubts that. Nate just seems to assume that Hardison’s fine, yup, because Hardison grew up with a kind of family, Hardison didn’t get tortured in the Middle East, Hardison didn’t get into a dubiously consensual relationship with a fucking dictator, Hardison didn’t blow up his father’s house on his eleventh birthday, Hardison’s normal, Hardison’s just a snarky kid with an authority problem, right? Hardison’s real. fucking. fine.

And the catch is he really is fine, most of the time. He knows he hasn’t gone through what Eliot’s gone through. He knows his brain isn’t wired like Parker’s. And he will never, ever judge or look down on them. He loves them. He’ll be as patient as they need. Like when Parker watches The Omen with Amy and Eliot walks in and hears the name Damien and turns right back around and walks out and doesn’t come home for hours. Or when people are doing normal people stuff and Parker doesn’t Get It and she knows she doesn’t Get It and she gets all tense and small and goes to hide in the air ducts. Hardison will be patient because Hardison really, truly is fine.

But Nate can’t, shouldn’t, assume that. He should check up on Hardison too. He should appreciate Hardison too.

But Hardison’s tried that, tried to get it through Nate’s stupid thick skull, and he gives up.

He’s the middle child. And this is how it goes.

 


 

Parker is the youngest.

She’s the baby and she knows that the boys think she’s a bit spoiled, a bit indulged, and well, maybe she is, but. What’s the harm in it? It’s not easy in her position. All of Nate’s hopes hang on the youngest, on her, his last chance, his biggest hope.

The boys spoil her too of course. Kisses and presents (she knows Eliot picked out that plant for her) and snuggles, praise and indulgence, her boys are so good to her. But it’s not the same, being in love is family but it’s a different kind of family than the five of them. HardisonParkerEliot is different than HardisonNate and ParkerNate and EliotNate, and she wishes the boys saw that for all Nate gives her his attention he also gives her all his expectations and she isn’t sure she can carry the weight of those.

She never asked to be more than she is. She never asked to take up the mantle. But here she is, like the youngest daughter in all the fairy tales she never understood growing up, the one who has to be sent on the quest for the golden egg or something, and they don’t understand that every time Nate looks at her with pride all she can think is that it’s conditional. That if she screws up that pride will go, and in its place will be disappointment. “I thought you were better than this.”

On the one hand, she wants Nate to treat her like a grown up. Not like the baby. But on the other hand, can she stay the baby a little bit longer so that she doesn’t have to be grown up and have all those expectations like weighted boots on her feet? Nate isn’t Hardison, he isn’t Eliot. Hardison gives her weighted boots and makes sure she can still fly. Eliot understands not to give her weighted boots in the first place. But Nate just gives them to her and tells her she’ll be fine and expects her to figure it out and if he gave her a parachute he hid it in a locked safe he never told her about and what is she even supposed to do with that?

She's either an adult too fast or a child for too long and there doesn't seem to be a middle ground and there must be, she knows better than anyone how to balance on a wire but she can't find the wire and so she just ends up falling.

It’s not that she envies Hardison, who gets ignored and taken for granted. It’s not that she wants to be Eliot, who doesn’t get to be a child at all. She doesn’t want to swap.

She just doesn’t want to be the youngest.