Eliot froze, bent over the pool table in the backroom of their bar. There was something in the air. A particular brand of trouble. He could sense it.
“You going to shoot or what?”
Paying Hardison no mind, Eliot listened, squinted, waited. Parker-brand trouble. That’s what it was. And it was getting closer.
“Come on, afraid I’m going to beat your ass?”
Without looking Eliot took his shot, walking away from the table before the balls stopped rolling. One dropped into the pocket, then another. And then a third, while Hardison shouted “Oh, come on!” behind him.
“Shhh!” Eliot held a hand up as he set his pool stick up. “Something’s wrong.”
Hardison, to his credit, went from joking around to serious in about one nanobyte flat. Or whatever computer geek unit of measurement he would use. He came up behind Eliot, body tense. Absently Eliot reached back and ran a hand down his arm in reassurance.
“Not that kind of trouble. Parker-trouble.”
“Is that supposed to be reassuring?”
The main door to the brewpub opened with a bang. Hardison jumped, but Eliot had been expecting that and held him in place. Parker was loud enough that they could both hear her stomping through the bar, footsteps growing closer and closer, her destination clear.
The door to the backroom slammed open with a second bang, and in strode Parker. In her arms was a box, and in that box was “Puppies!”
Eliot groaned. He squeezed Hardison’s arm once in some sort of commiseration, then let go.
“Parker, where the hell did you get puppies?” he asked.
Hardison squeaked in dismay. “No, no. No. I already know where this is going. No. Get them away.” He sneezed dramatically. “Don’t you know I’m allergic?”
Parker was advancing on Eliot with her box full of puppies, eyes big and sad. She set them on the pool table before plucking one from the box and rubbing it against her face. They looked like a rottie-shepherd mix of some sort, to Eliot’s eyes.
“I found them behind this bank I was casing-“
“Parker,” both Eliot and Hardison chastised in unison. She rolled her eyes and set the puppy gently back in the box with his siblings.
“Just to keep in practice, not to do anything for reals,” she promised. “Anyway, there was a note and they’re all alone and sad and orphans.”
Eliot groaned and rubbed his hand over his face. “Parker, you can’t just-“
"But they're orphans!" Parker leaned in and looked significantly between Eliot and Hardison. "Orphans," she repeated. Her head jerked down in what appeared to be an attempt to nod at herself.
Elliot's eyes narrowed. "You know, you’ve played that card just the wrong side of too much for it to work anymore."
Hardison sneezed. "Yeah. I mean..." He hastily backtracked when Parker sent him a sharp look. "I mean, I agree with you, I mean, I would, but-" he sneezed emphatically before gesturing at himself, expression not even close to convincingly apologetic. "Like I said: I'm allergic."
"No you're not."
Hardison turned to Eliot, betrayed. "Yes I am. Who says I'm not?"
"I know all your allergies. Everyone's on the team." Eliot uncrossed one arm from his chest so he could point at Hardison. "You're allergic to penicillin, pollen, and grass," he pointed at Parker, "and you're allergic to strawberries and cats."
Hardison blinked and turned to Parker. "You can't be allergic to strawberries. I buy them for you all the time."
Parker grinned, not meeting Hardison's eyes. "Well yeah. Because they're so good."
Hardison's mouth dropped open. "What- no more strawberries!"
Parker pouted before glaring at Eliot. "Thanks a lot."
Eliot laughed and shook his head. "You shouldn't be eating them."
Parker jabbed a finger at Hardison. “See? No reason for us not to keep them!”
This was a losing battle. Eliot already knew that. He was kind of an expert at figuring out which fights he could win and which he couldn’t, and getting the hell out of dodge in the rare case that it was the latter. And this? This was definitely an unwinnable fight. Since he couldn’t run, that meant he would have to negotiate.
Not to mention, okay, hell. They were pretty cute, and looked like they’d grow up well. He wouldn’t mind having a dog around again, especially since he was putting down roots. He missed the companionship and the loyalty of something that didn’t talk back (Hardison). Or bite (Parker).
"We can keep one.”
Hardison squeaked in dismay. He’d end up liking the mutt, in the end. But in the meantime, Eliot made a note to make it up to him.
“One,” Eliot repeated as Parker started to cheer. “But I'm training it, and you two have to follow my instructions. We're can't have some mutt snapping at customers because you two messed up his training."
Eliot hesitated. "Girls don't always get along when their master's got a lady besides them."
Parker snorted. "I found them. If anyone's the master, it's me."
Eliot and Hardison exchanged a look. Silently, Hardison raised his eyebrows while a little smile crept across his face. She has a point, he was saying. Eliot snorted and looked away. He was right. If it wasn't the brewery, life or death situations, or concerning the electronic existence of their aliases, Parker pretty much gave the orders.
"Or her," Eliot conceded. "Deal?"
Parker jumped forward and dragged Eliot in for a series of sloppy kisses. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Eliot grumbled but accepted the love, because really, what else was he going to do? When Parker was done with him she turned to Hardison and gave him a more tender, thorough kiss. “And I promise I’ll take good care of it so it won’t bother you. You’ll hardly know it’s here,” she told him.
The puppies apparently took that as their cue to start yipping at the top of their tiny little lungs, a cacophony of noise. Hardison deflated, staring down the box of puppies even as he kept his arms around Parker.
“Nana always said all a dog was good for was making a mess…”
“And now you get to have one!” Parker pointed out with a grin. “After being deprived of one for your whole childhood!”
“Deprived nothing…” Hardison grumbled.
Leaning over, Eliot nudged his shoulder into Hardison’s and tried out one of his more charming smiles. Judging by the way Hardison’s expression almost immediately softened, that one still did the trick. “Hey: a dog’s good. Customer’s’ll love him, it’ll give the place a real personal sort of feel. And they’re great for protection. Better than an alarm you can hack or turn off.”
Hardison grunted as Parker let go of him and skipped back to the puppies. “Or her!” she reminded Eliot.
“Or her,” Eliot called after her.
“Thought you were supposed to be our guard dog,” Hardison grumbled as the two men watched Parker stuff her face inside the box of puppies with a delighted squeal.
A smile that was too genuine threatened to overwhelm Eliot, so he ducked his head and hid behind the soft fall of his hair until he had it under control. “Yeah, well. You always telling me how important backing-up is for computers. Now we got a back-up for guarding, too.”
Hardison sighed as he watched Parker set the box of puppies on the floor and dump them (gently) out. She threw herself down in them, giggling madly as each fought to love her the most. “Guess she’s happy…”
Taking Hardison by the hand, Eliot grinned as he led him down to the floor, to join Parker in her puppy romp. A female bounded up to Eliot, all sharp interest and big puppy paws. He regarded her, and she regarded him, before she yipped just as ferociously as her tiny puppy lungs could manage and jumped into his lap. He laughed as he batted her down from his chest, which she was trying valiantly to climb to get to his face. Beside him, Hardison grumbled a token protest before a similarly adorable pup hopped into his lap. It curled up and fell asleep almost immediately. Eliot watched in amusement as Hardison’s heart melted.
“Guess we can keep one…” he mumbled.
Leaning over, Eliot gave him a slow, deep kiss for his acquiescence. “Don’t worry: I’ll make sure it’s trained up right. No jumping on you or the furniture, get it housebroken in two months flat.”
Hardison petted the puppy in his lap as he signed. “Why do I get the feeling it’s gonna end up sleeping in our bed?”
Eliot snorted. “Crowded enough as it is.”
“It can sleep with me!” Parker announced, voice muffled by the two puppies on top of her head and the third sleeping on her throat.
Hardison sighed and leaned into Eliot, resting his head on his shoulder. “Damn it, woman,” he grumbled. But the complaint had almost no heat to it.
Turning into Hardison, Eliot murmured into his ear: “At least she didn’t come in asking for a baby.”
Hardison’s terrified spluttering kept Eliot laughing for a good twenty minutes afterwards. Parker wisely ignored them in favor of playing with her vicious litter.