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baby, you owe me one

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When Eliot hears the thud from the living room, he’s less concerned and more just annoyed.

It’s the very distinctive sound of a person climbing in through the window, which isn’t normally a great sign unless it’s Parker, which it’s not. But their lack of stealth suggests they aren’t that good at their job, whether that’s burglary or murder, so they should be easy to deal with. It’s just that Eliot’s already in bed and comfortable and doesn’t want to deal with the possibility of having to explain to Mrs. McAllister, his overly inquisitive neighbor across the hall, why he’s dragging an unconscious person into the stairwell at one in the morning.

He grabs a knife from his nightstand and swings his legs out of bed with a sigh.

By the time he gets to the living room, the intruder’s waiting on the couch, nose in a recipe book.

‘Hey, Eliot,’ Quinn says brightly. He’s in one of his customary suits, and winces a little as he turns to face Eliot, for reasons Eliot’s sure will become apparent.

Scowling, he sets the knife down on the side table and goes to slam the window shut. ‘You’re letting all the heat out.’

‘Sorry,’ Quinn says, turning a page and not sounding that sorry at all.

‘You couldn’t’ve just pressed the buzzer?’

‘You might not have heard the buzzer,’ Quinn points out, and then, when Eliot makes an offended noise, concedes, ‘Fine, maybe you’d have heard the buzzer, but you definitely heard me falling through your window.’ He looks up from the book. ‘Reaction time was a little slow, though.’

‘That why you’re here?’ Eliot asks. ‘To test my reaction times?’

‘No.’ Quinn sets the open book face down on the coffee table. ‘I’m here ’cause I’ve got a cracked rib and I need a place to crash. Hey, fun coincidence: same rib you broke, actually. Anyway, what’s for breakfast?’

‘What’s for—it’s the middle of the night!’

‘Not in Reykjavík.’

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Eliot sits down at the other end of the couch. ‘So… it’s kinda late, and I wanna make sure I’m following: you had a job in—Reykjavík?’

‘Correct.’

‘In Iceland. In Europe.’

‘That very same Reykjavík, yes,’ Quinn says seriously.

‘A continent and an ocean away.’

The deadpan expression cracks a little, one corner of Quinn’s mouth twitching. ‘You really are as smart as they say.’

‘Where you broke a rib,’ Eliot continues. ‘And then you flew to Portland, scaled the building, broke into my apartment… and now you’re on my couch demanding breakfast?’

Quinn nods. ‘And probably semi-urgent medical attention; the painkillers I took wore off a couple hours ago.’

Eliot looks at him for a long moment and then sighs, standing. ‘I’ll get you an ice pack.’

‘And I could go for some of these Belgian waffles,’ Quinn calls after him.

‘Yeah, keep dreaming,’ Eliot calls back.

Half an hour later, Quinn squirts an unholy amount of whipped cream on two crisp waffles and says, ‘So the favor.’

‘Sure,’ Eliot says. He’d gathered pretty quickly that Quinn had come to collect, and as strange as it is for him to travel this far, Eliot’s not complaining and he’s definitely not about to ask questions. He’s getting an easy ride here, as favors go.

‘I figure this is two you owe me,’ Quinn says, adjusting the ice pack he’s got pressed to his ribs. ‘Do you have any more strawberries?’

What?’

‘Strawberries,’ Quinn repeats, plucking one off his plate. ‘These ones.’

‘You ain’t stealing any more of my food until you tell me how the hell you figure I owe you for this.’

‘I exposed a gaping hole in your apartment’s security—you’re welcome—and you got to cook, which is like your favorite thing.’

Eliot blinks at him. ‘That’s—that’s not how it works.’

After Quinn clears out a few days later, though, he does add a second, more heavy-duty lock to the window, so he supposes he should thank the man.

 

***

 

‘What the hell?’ Eliot says into his intercom. The buzzer’s been going consistently—literally just one endless, obnoxious buzz—for about a minute.

‘You said to press the buzzer next time,’ comes Quinn’s voice.

‘Did we talk about a next time?’ Eliot wonders, but pushes the button to open the door to the building.

‘Dislocation?’ he asks, the moment he sees the sling Quinn’s hastily constructed from his suit jacket.

Quinn hitches his uninjured shoulder. ‘Security guard I ran into on my last job got a little overexcited.’

Eliot sighs. ‘Go sit down.’

He heads off to grab a proper sling and the good painkillers and some ice, and comes back to find Quinn not sitting but browsing his bookshelf, which is mostly cookbooks and action paperbacks, because Eliot likes to make notes in the margins about which parts are especially unrealistic and how he’d pull them off instead. They’re nonsense, but good for generating outside-the-box thinking.

‘You know, you could use a little variety here,’ Quinn says. ‘Want me to recommend you some good romance novels?’

Eliot ignores him and nods at his shoulder. ‘Tell me you didn’t cross eight time zones this time.’

‘Don’t worry, I was in the city,’ Quinn says, plopping down on the couch. ‘I was thinking about dropping in and letting you cook for me anyway, but—’

‘Try and tell me I’ll owe you a third favor for this and I’ll dislocate your other arm,’ Eliot threatens.

‘Hm. Does this mean you’re agreeing you owe the second favor?’ Quinn asks.

‘No. Hold still.’

‘So I was thinking Italian might be good tonight,’ Quinn says, looking up at the ceiling as Eliot carefully removes the jacket and takes hold of his arm. ‘I was in Naples a couple weeks ago, and I gotta say, they have some pretty decent pizza.’

‘I’m not making you pizza,’ Eliot says flatly. ‘If you want pizza you can order a damn pizza.’

Quinn nods. ‘That’s fair. Probably wouldn’t be the same, anyway.’

‘Hey.’ Eliot frowns. ‘I learned how to make pizza from an Italian guy whose family had handed down the recipe for five generations, okay? Five. I make a great pizza.’

‘Huh,’ Quinn says, studiously examining the somehow immaculately manicured nails of the hand Eliot isn’t holding on to. ‘Guess it’s a shame I’ll never know.’

Grumpily, Eliot relocates Quinn’s shoulder and distracts him from the pain by running through topping options.

 

***

 

‘Well, Mavis,’ a familiar voice is saying as Eliot opens his front door to head out to the brewpub one morning. ‘I think based on the evidence you laid out I have to agree with you that Winnifred is cheating at bridge, but getting her kicked out of the club just isn’t the way I’d deal with it. Now if it were me—’

‘Quinn,’ Eliot says through his teeth to the man almost definitely about to advise his elderly neighbor commit homicide or at least bodily harm of some description.

Quinn turns and gives Eliot a winning smile. ‘Oh, hey, pal.’

‘Hello, Eliot, dear,’ says Mrs. McAllister. ‘I hope you don’t mind me keeping your friend.’

‘Not at all, ma’am,’ Eliot says. ‘I actually didn’t know my friend was gonna be dropping by today—Quinn, what’re you doing here?’

‘Oh, y’know,’ Quinn says. His tone is casual, but the look he’s giving Eliot is not. ‘Just looking for someplace quiet. Very busy out there. Lotta people I don’t care for.’

‘I understand perfectly what you mean,’ Mrs. McAllister says, putting a hand on Quinn’s arm. ‘It’s so busy out there all the time, and sometimes the queues at the grocery store are just horrendous.’

‘Absolutely,’ says Quinn. ‘So relatable. Well, Eliot and I are going to catch up, but thank you for the tea and the wonderful conversation.’

‘Come back any time!’ Mrs. McAllister calls, before Eliot hustles Quinn into his apartment and slams the door.

‘Who’s after you?’ he asks immediately.

‘Little misunderstanding with the Russian mafia,’ Quinn says, heading straight into the kitchen and opening the fridge. ‘You should really offer to buy that sweet old lady’s groceries for her.’

‘And you shouldn’t bring the Russian mafia to that sweet old lady’s door,’ Eliot retorts. ‘What are you doing talking to my neighbor?’

‘Hey, she’s the one who talked to me.’

‘Yeah, she does that,’ Eliot admits, then glares at him. ‘Just so you know, I ain’t wild about you bringing the Russian mafia to my door, either.’

‘Relax,’ Quinn says, as he peruses Eliot’s fridge contents. ‘It’s just a precaution; pretty sure I shook them at the Washington border.’

‘Oh, well. Long as you put a whole seven miles between you and whoever wants to shoot you, I guess we’ll all be fine,’ Eliot snipes.

Quinn emerges from the fridge with a Tupperware, which he opens and peers into. ‘What is this? Some kind of stew?’

‘It’s ratatouille, and sure, help yourself.’

‘Thanks,’ Quinn says, either missing or ignoring the sarcasm. ‘Not a huge fan of eggplant, though, so…’ He trails off, looking at Eliot expectantly.

‘What?’ Eliot asks. He folds his arms. ‘I am not making you something else. We got a new job starting today. Order something in. Or, hell, go to the store yourself.’

‘Hello?’ Quinn closes the Tupperware and puts it back in the fridge. ‘Did you forget the part where the Russian mafia’s on my ass? Pretty much defeats the purpose of laying low if I’m gonna head out to brunch. But you know what, it’s fine. You got stuff in your kitchen; I’ll just make something.’ Eliot twitches as Quinn continues blithely, ‘You’re not one of those people who gets precious about which knife to use for which kind of food, are you? I mean, a knife’s a knife; they all cut through things, right? I’m sure I’ll figure it out.’

‘You will not,’ Eliot says, already digging out his phone to let the team know he’ll be late.

 

***

 

Exactly how Quinn got into his apartment this time is beyond Eliot, but that’s the least of his concerns right now.

‘Quinn,’ he says urgently, trying to tamp down his panic as he runs through every drug he knows of that could conceivably cause Quinn’s symptoms. ‘Look at me, man, c’mon. You got any idea what you’ve been dosed with?’

‘Shhhhhhhhhh.’ Quinn presumably goes to put a finger to Eliot’s lips, though he misses and ends up just kind of prodding at his face instead. ‘There’s no need to yell.’

‘I ain’t yelling,’ Eliot snaps, and then softens his voice when Quinn closes his eyes, brow furrowed. ‘I’m sorry. I ain’t yelling at you. I just wanna know what you’ve taken.’

‘I couldn’t take it,’ Quinn complains.

‘What? What couldn’t you take?’ Eliot asks.

‘The gold.’ He sighs. ‘The…the golden statue thing with the…’ He waves a hand. ‘It was never there. Damn client double crossing me. Always the ones you don’t see coming, huh?’

‘Who was the client?’ Eliot tries, figuring that’ll at least be a start. Even if he doesn’t know the client himself, he can have Hardison dig into them, maybe learn something about their methods.

Quinn huffs in irritation, flopping sideways into a cushion. ‘I don’t wanna talk about work.’

‘Okay,’ Eliot says. ‘Okay. We just gotta talk about work for two minutes, okay, and then we can—’

‘Nope.’ This time Quinn’s aim is better, despite the fact that his face is pressed into the couch; Eliot finds himself silenced, Quinn’s finger against his mouth. ‘You fail a job.’ Quinn mumbles. ‘You go to a bar, and you have…margaritas. And then you come over to your friend’s and you hope he has some good leftovers. I don’t even like eggplant but that rattle—rata—that eggplant thing you made was great.’

‘I knew you’d eaten it,’ Eliot says, concern leaching out of him and making way for relief and annoyance at the dawning realization that Quinn has not been drugged but is in fact just really, fantastically drunk. ‘Okay. You sure you haven’t had anything other than alcohol?’

Quinn lifts his head, blinking at him in confusion. ‘Yeah? C’mon, Eliot. You’re getting slow.’

‘Well, usually when you show up it’s ’cause you’re hurt,’ Eliot mutters. ‘I was worried.’

‘Aw. That’s adorable.’

‘No, it’s not,’ Eliot objects, and latches on to an easy topic change. ‘Hey. Margaritas, seriously?’

‘Uh, margaritas are delicious,’ Quinn informs him. ‘And the bar down the street is doing a two-for-one deal. Grow up.’

Increasingly confident that the worst Quinn can expect from this is a very bad hangover, Eliot goes to get him some water. ‘You know if you’re that close by you don’t need to go to some bar. You, uh, you don’t need to be in some kinda trouble for us to hang out. I got alcohol here.’

‘And food,’ Quinn reminds him, pulling himself upright.

Eliot rolls his eyes. ‘Right. And food.’

Quinn takes the water, then grabs Eliot’s wrist before he can pull away. ‘Eliot.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Do you know your eyes are like… like a…’ Quinn gives him a dreamy smile, before continuing, ‘…like a lake on a summer’s day, or something?’

‘…That time you offered to recommend me some romance novels, you weren’t kidding, were you?’ Eliot realizes.

‘Offer still stands,’ Quinn says. ‘Is there food? And some pajamas, maybe?’

‘Fine,’ Eliot growls, more pretending at exasperation than really meaning it, and goes off to dig some out.

‘’S’this five favors you owe me now?’ Quinn asks later, sitting at the table in the cozy, fleecy tartan pajamas Hardison gifted Eliot and that definitely aren’t Eliot’s favorites, wolfing down scrambled eggs on toast.

‘No,’ Eliot says shortly, as he scrubs the skillet clean.

‘Elllllliot,’ Quinn sing-songs.

‘What?’ Eliot asks.

When he doesn’t say anything else, Eliot lets the skillet slide into the soapy water and turns to see him with his chin propped on his hand.

‘What?’ Eliot repeats.

‘You like this,’ Quinn says.

‘I like you wasted?’

‘You like taking care of people.’ Quinn tips himself back precariously far on two chair legs. ‘So you’re welcome for me letting you look after me.’

Eliot takes a second to process the sentence, then says, ‘I don’t like taking care of people.’

‘Please,’ Quinn says archly. ‘You love it. You do it for Parker and Hardison all the time. Have you told them how you feel about them yet?’

It’s not fair, Eliot reflects, for him to be ambushed from this many angles by a man drunk on irresponsibly cheap cocktails.

‘That’s—’ he stammers, ‘why would you th—I don’t—we’re not talking about this now,’ he concludes. ‘Or ever. Eat your eggs.’

‘Fine, we’ll talk about it next time,’ Quinn agrees, slamming all four legs of the chair back onto the floor.

‘We won’t.’

‘We will.’

‘We won’t,’ Eliot insists, taking solace in the fact that Quinn will have no interest whatsoever in discussing this while he’s sober. He hadn’t even realized Quinn had been listening when he talked about Parker and Hardison, let alone paying enough attention to draw any conclusions. Totally incorrect conclusions, but still. ‘I’m going to bed.’

Later, on his way to the bathroom, Eliot finds himself draping a blanket over Quinn where he’s sleeping on the couch. Or not sleeping, as it turns out.

‘I told you,’ Quinn whispers, triumphant.

‘Shut up,’ Eliot whispers back.

 

***

 

The unannounced visits from Quinn stop for a while around the same time Eliot stops pretending he doesn’t pretty much live at the brewpub and moves in with Parker and Hardison for real. He figures they’ve stopped for good, which is fine, because they’re annoying and inconvenient and not at all something that he enjoys or appreciates.

So he’s caught by genuine surprise when he gets home one day to find Quinn sitting on the couch, almost definitely messing up Hardison’s progress on some video game he’s been playing.

‘How’d you get in?’ he demands. The amount of protective measures Hardison has in place for this apartment would make world leaders fire their security details.

‘Hello to you, too,’ Quinn says, setting aside the controller.

Eliot comes over to hit pause on the game before Quinn’s avatar gets run through with a longsword. ‘Hardison’s gonna kill you if you send him back to the beginning of this thing.’

‘Actually, Alec told me to make myself comfortable,’ Quinn says.

That at least answers the question of how Quinn’s in here, though it poses several more. But for now Eliot gets right to the point.

‘I am not,’ he says, very firmly, ‘making you food.’

‘Oh, that’s fine,’ Quinn says.

‘We got barely any ingredients in, the store’s gonna be closed—’

‘I said it’s fine.’

Eliot frowns. ‘Yeah?’

‘Totally okay,’ Quinn says, nodding.

‘Right.’ Eliot pauses. ‘Well. Good.’ He eyes Quinn suspiciously for a moment and then half turns away. Then turns back. ‘Why’s it fine?’

‘Parker already fed me.’

Eliot stares at him. ‘Parker fed you.’

‘That’s right.’

‘Parker—’ Eliot breaks off, dragging a hand over his face. ‘Just so you know, I could make the best pasta sauce you ever tasted in your life in twenty minutes.’

‘Sure,’ Quinn says.

‘I’m not gonna,’ Eliot clarifies. ‘But I could.’

‘I believe you,’ Quinn says patiently. ‘It’s fine, though, because Parker made me a bowl of those Froot Loops and that was pretty good, too.’

‘She ma—all she had to do was open a box!’ Eliot splutters, affronted. ‘You call that making food?’

Quinn shrugs. ‘You say “potato”.’

Eliot’s resolve instantly evaporates. ‘I’m making the sauce. Making it. From scratch.’

‘If you insist,’ Quinn says, picking the controller back up again.

When they’re sitting down to eat twenty minutes later—all four of them, Parker and Hardison having returned as Eliot was chopping tomatoes and seething to himself—Quinn says, casually, ‘So settle an argument for us: Eliot owes me for this, right?’

‘Oh, yeah,’ Eliot scoffs. ‘According to Quinn, how it goes is he gets free food and first-aid and then I owe him for letting me take care of him.’

Hardison chews thoughtfully. ‘You do like taking care of people.’

Quinn points at him. ‘That’s what I said!’

‘You can’t force someone to do something and then say they owe you a favor!’ Eliot protests.

‘Oh,’ Hardison says, ‘so like, you couldn’t have just said, “No, I’m not making you food”?’

‘I did say that!’

‘I’m sorry,’ Hardison amends. ‘You couldn’t have just said, “No, I’m not making you food” and then not made food?’

‘I—’ Eliot starts, then glares at him across the table. ‘But that ain’t the point, okay; that ain’t the point—’

‘That seems like the point,’ says Parker.

‘—’cause it’s not like I was sitting around hoping for some asshole to come barging in demanding—’

‘Hey, you know how many times I told him he didn’t have to make me food and then he did anyway? Tonight I said I’d already had cereal—’

‘Because I was manipulated, okay, and cereal doesn’t count as a goddamn meal—’

‘Oh, yeah, that time I manipulated you into making me waffles at one in the morning—’

‘That’s exactly what you did!’

‘Cereal does too count as a meal!'

‘Gotta say, man, it kinda seems like you owe him one—’

‘Okay, seriously, Hardison? I can’t tell if you’re making fun of me or him.’

‘Obviously I’m making fun of you; how have you not learned this?’

‘All right. I do want to be clear that Eliot doesn’t owe me one—’

‘I know I don’t!’

‘—he owes me six. The original favor—’

‘Which I’m regretting offering; do you two understand he can make me do something dangerous, or embarrassing—’

‘You can make Eliot do something embarrassing?’

‘Don’t encourage him, Parker!’

‘I don’t need encouragement, I just want it on record that you owe me—’

‘Everyone be quiet!’ Eliot shouts over the hubbub. ‘You’re all the worst. Who wants seconds?’

Parker’s hand shoots up. ‘I want waffles.’

‘I want Quinn to come for dinner more often,’ Hardison says, grinning.

 

***

 

‘No,’ Eliot’s saying into his phone, as he opens the door to the apartment, ‘trust me, he won’t go for that. Farrelly’s arrogant but he ain’t stupid. Hey, Quinn. No, Parker, listen, I think we gotta rethink here.’

‘Fine,’ Parker says. ‘We can talk about it later. Say hi to Quinn.’

When Eliot hangs up, he turns to the man reading in his usual spot on the couch. ‘Take it Parker and Hardison let you in?’

‘No,’ Quinn says, looking smug as he puts his book aside. ‘Alec gave me my own access code.’

Eliot pauses midway through shrugging out of his jacket. ‘Well, that’s a terrible idea.’

‘I know,’ Quinn says happily.

‘Kinda feel like I should remind ’em you broke my ribs the first time we met,’ Eliot says, hanging the jacket up and setting down his phone.

Quinn snorts. ‘Little late for that. So I’m thinking paella.’

‘You know it’s polite to ask how I’m doing, what I’ve been up to…’

Quinn gives him a bewildered look and points out, ‘You can tell me that while you’re making paella.’

Eliot comes to sit next to him so he can break the bad news. ‘I can’t make paella.’

‘You can’t?’ Quinn sounds as taken aback as if Eliot’s just announced he doesn’t know how to tie his shoelaces.

‘No, I mean—I can make paella, but not right now. I don’t have the stuff for it.’

‘Oh, that,’ Quinn says, visibly relieved. ‘Yeah, you do.’

‘No, I don’t.’

‘You do; I bought everything you need.’

Eliot’s eyebrows shoot up. ‘You did?’

‘I did.’

‘You got the right rice?

Quinn sighs. ‘Yeah, Eliot, I got the right rice.’

‘You got the saffron?’ Eliot challenges.

‘Check your spice rack,’ Quinn says, nodding in the direction of the kitchen.

Eliot eyes him appraisingly and then goes to make sure Quinn hasn’t moved anything he shouldn’t, returning with a jar of saffron a couple of minutes later.

‘This stuff looks good,’ he says, which is an understatement. He’s examined it and he’s pretty sure it’s the best money can buy.

‘Obviously it’s good,’ Quinn says, with some indignation.

‘And you—are you leaving this? You don’t want it back when I’m done cooking?’

He scoffs. ‘What the hell am I gonna do with a jar of saffron? Yeah, I’m leaving it. I mean, if you want it.’

‘Oh.’ Eliot blinks down at the jar in his hands, suddenly feeling kind of choked up. ‘Well, thank you. That’s—that’s really—I mean, I’ll use this.’

‘Yeah, well,’ Quinn says. ‘Figured, y’know. After all the…’ He makes a vague gesture that Eliot takes to mean all the home-cooked meals and the injury care and the not kicking me out when I pitch up out of nowhere to make insane demands on your valuable time. ‘I thought it’d be—nice—’ Quinn pauses, making a little moue of his mouth, as if the word tastes strange, ‘—to get you something.’

‘Can’t just say “thanks”, huh?’ Eliot asks fondly.

Quinn smirks. ‘Now, that’d be dangerously close to me saying I owe you one.’

‘Well, we can’t have that.’

‘No, we can’t,’ Quinn agrees.

For a moment they just look at each other, Eliot aware he’s smiling a little dopily and powerless to stop himself.

‘So the paella?’ Quinn prompts.

The moment abruptly passes. Eliot rolls his eyes. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll go get started.’