Eliot sat up straight when the lights went out throughout the apartment. The heating turned off with a clunk and he was left with the bright afterimage of the TV burning in his eyes. After a tense moment of silence, listening for anything out of the ordinary, he settled back against the couch.
After clearly, clearly waiting for Eliot to offer to do it, Hardison finally said, “I’ll go check the fusebox.”
If it had been the fuse box, it wouldn’t have been the first time a fuse had blown because Hardison was running too much shit off one outlet, and Eliot categorically refused to be the one to go down to the basement to reset it anymore. The room was completely dark, though, not even the glow of streetlights outside offering any light.
“Don’t bother,” Eliot said, staring out the window across the dark city once his eyes had adjusted to the dark somewhat. He could see more stars now than he’d seen in a long, long time. “Power’s out everywhere.”
It had been movie night, up until the power went out, and it was the middle of February. Portland was in the middle of a rare day-long snowstorm, and the window ledges were covered in three inches of white, fluffy snow. Where Eliot was sitting, he had been able to feel a draft from one of the windows.
He’d made a mental note to fix it for them when he had a chance, knowing that they would never get around to calling someone to do it. By the time the snow was tapering off, they were halfway through the second movie and the draft was getting colder, cold enough that he was putting effort into not shivering. He had been idly considering pulling the blanket down off the back of the couch, but he had to get going as soon as the movie was over, and it wouldn’t be a good idea to get too comfortable.
Plus, he’d have had to leave the popcorn unguarded, and Parker was a popcorn hoarder.
Speaking of Parker, he jumped and cursed, covering his eyes when a bright light switched on, pointed at his face.
“Sorry, sorry!” she said, and angled the flashlight down. He hadn’t even heard her get up to get it, and that kind of made him nervous, deep down. Like he was getting too used to them being in his space.
A softer glow lit up Hardison’s face from the phone he was hunching over. “Twitter says power’s out all over the city.”
Eliot had known that already, just from looking out the window, but still cursed inwardly at the confirmation, because that mean this apartment had no power, either. He kept the heat down when he wasn't home, just out of habit, and when he got back it was going to be freezing.
Parker, who’d moved into the draft from the window, shivered a little, and stepped closer to where Eliot was sitting. He handed her the blanket from the back of the couch without thinking about it, automatically holding out the soft cotton so she wouldn’t be cold.
“The weather says it’s getting down to negative numbers tonight,” Hardison, looking up from his phone only for the briefest moment. “We might hit a record low.”
Eliot cursed inwardly some more. He’d lived through worse with much less cover than an apartment with lots of blankets for the bed, but it wasn’t going to be a pleasant night.
He heard Parker asking why it was going to be so cold, while he was wondering if it was worth it to go get a hotel room for the night or if that was ridiculous for a single night of cold weather, and said, “Polar vortex.”
He could feel them looking at him, and glared back, even though he was pretty sure they couldn’t see his face.
“What?” he asked. “It’s a very distinctive cold.”
He needed to go back to his apartment, needed to get up and leave, because movie night was obviously over, and there wasn’t much they could do together in the dark. (He tried not to think about the few things they could get up to, tried not to think about the hot slide of flesh on flesh and the slick feel of- He didn't think about that, didn't think about crawling into bed with his two best friends and-) He tried not to overstay his welcome when he came over just to visit, not wanting to ever give them a reason to throw him out.
“Eliot should stay here tonight,” Parker said. He could hear the frown in her voice.
“Eliot can hear you, you know,” he grumbled.
“Your apartment is always freezing,” she said, and that was just straight-up not true.
“Yeah, man,” Hardison said. “We’ve got extra blankets, you can take the couch. Your place is gonna be a freezer by the time you get back to it.”
Eliot told himself that he’d literally spent weeks locked in a cell, where he'd had nothing but a ratty blanket to cover him during some of the harshest winters in the desert. Reminded himself of nights so cold that the bars on the window frosted over and his breath hung in the air like smoke.
His apartment wouldn’t be that bad.
Except they were both looking at him, he could feel their eyes on them, and he knew that they were both worried, in their own way, and, well, if it would make them feel better...
“Fine,” he said.
“Eliot,” Parker hissed, and he nearly jumped out of his skin. “Are you awake?”
He forced his teeth to stop chattering so he sounded normal and not like he was wondering if his toes were going to be frost bitten by the morning. “Yeah,” he said.
A dark shape crept closer to him, and then Parker was sitting on the arm of the couch at his feet. The moon was hanging low and fat in the sky, reflecting enough light off the snow that he could see her shivering, see little puffs of breath when she exhaled.
“Parker,” he growled, “go back to bed. It’s freezing.”
“I know,” she said,” and you’re all alone out here.”
“I’m fine,” he said, short with her because it was god damn cold and she should have been in bed with Hardison where it was probably warm and comfortable from shared body heat, not out here in bare feet, sitting in the way of the draft again and freezing with him.
“There’s enough room in our bed for one more,” she told him, and he forced himself to think of dusty desert jails, of nights sleeping rough after he left the army but before he hooked up with Moreau, of being in the mountains with not enough gear and not enough time. This was nothing compared to that.
“I’m fine,” he said again, and, “Go back to bed,” and he closed his eyes and pretended she wasn’t there.
“Eliot,” she said, her voice soft and sad.
“She’s just gonna stay there until you come to bed,” Hardison yelled from the bedroom. “Trust me. It’s easier to give in now.”
What Eliot should have done was get up and go home. His truck had a heater, and if it got too cold he could just... sleep in the truck with the engine running for a while.
So he sighed, and got up with all his blankets, and let Parker drag him into the bedroom.
She got in on one side of Hardison, and he yelped, “Damn, your feet are cold! Get them off me. I’m serious.”
Eliot spread the blankets out over them both and got in the other side, leaving as much space between him and Hardison as he could, enough that the blankets created two little cocoons, one for Parker and Hardison, and one for him.
He was still shivering ten minutes later, because it turned out you couldn’t warm up a blanket cocoon when you got no body heat to begin with.
“Eliot,” Hardison whispered.
He pretended to be asleep, selfishly wanting to enjoy a few more moments in their bed before they kicked him out for keeping him up.
“Eliot,” Hardison whispered again, reaching out under the blanket and touching his arm, his hand gloriously warm.
“I can go back to the couch if I’m keeping you up,” Eliot said, trying not to turn into the warmth. He was stronger than that; he wasn’t gonna make things weird between the two of them by snuggling up to Hardison and sticking his numb feet between Parker’s calves and tucking his head under-
“C’mon over here,” Hardison said, “It’s warmer.”
“I’m fine,” Eliot whispered, and felt bad when Hardison flinched back. He wasn’t going to apologize, though. He just wanted them to leave him alone so he could maybe stop shivering long enough to fall asleep and stop trying to get him to-
“Oh,” Hardison said, sounding disappointed, and then, “Parker, switch sides with me.”
They shifted and squirmed under the covers, and suddenly Parker was leaning over him, grabbing his hand with fingers that felt like they were branding him. She pulled, until he was forced to roll toward them as she was saying, “Stop making Hardison sad.”
The heat of their bodies was seeping through him and as the shivers stopped, he felt almost drunk on their closeness, dropping his forehead onto Parker’s shoulder and sighing a little, letting her tangle their legs together and put her arm over him.
He could almost, almost admit how much he wanted this, in the quiet, cold dark.
Hardison had an arm wrapped around Parker, but was carefully not touching him. As he drifted off, he tried not to be disappointed by that.
At some point, Parker woke him up, crawling over him to get out of bed. He sleepily made a noise at the loss of heat and slid in closer to Hardison, tucking an arm around him and drifting back to sleep. He didn’t wake up when Parker came back.
The sun was up when he finally opened his eyes again, and Parker’s breath was hot against the back of his neck. Hardison had an arm flung around his middle, and he felt so fucking cozy and warm and safe that he couldn’t stand it.
“Hardison,” he said, harsher than he meant to be, and Hardison’s eyes snapped open. He froze for half a second before before he was recoiling and apologizing and moving back to give Eliot as much space as possible. “I gotta get up,” Eliot said, forcing his pulse to slow down as Hardison let him slide out of bed. He couldn't let himself forget his place, couldn't let himself pretend he belonged there.
He tried not to look back at the two of them in bed as he headed to the bathroom, plumes of breath leading his way, but he wasn’t quite that strong. Hardison was watching him, Parker already sprawled half across him, and he looked away when he caught Eliot’s gaze.
In the bathroom, Eliot gripped the edges of the sink hard enough his knuckles were white, hard enough that the broken finger that healed wrong ached, and stared at himself in the mirror.
He told himself that he was going to go home.
He told himself that they deserved better than him, they deserved each other, and it wasn’t his place to fuck that up.
He told himself that those were the eyes of a man who fucked up everything he touched, and fuckups like that didn't get to crawl into bed with their best friends just because it was a little cold and the power was still out.
He told himself all those things and still ended up hovering in their bedroom doorway. Parker muttered sleepily, one of her arms flung across the spot where he would be laying, like she was reaching for something that wasn’t there.
He might’ve hovered there forever, torn between leaving and saying, had Hardison not said, “You’re like my nana’s cat. Either come in or get out.”
Eliot knew he should take the “get out” option, but the bed had been so warm, and he had felt so- He wanted to chase that feeling and was just selfish enough to allow himself to do it. So he sighed, his shoulders slumping in defeat, and slid back into bed, carefully moving Parker’s arm so he wouldn't be using it as a pillow.
“I’m gonna go make some hot chocolate, anyway,” Hardison said, sliding out of bed and pulling on another sweatshirt.
As soon as he was gone, Parker rolled over and swiftly punched Eliot in the arm, hard.
“Ow,” he said. “What the hell, Parker?”
“Stop making him sad,” she hissed and went to punch him again for good measure, but he caught her fist before she could.
“I’m not making anyone said,” he growled. “Knock it off.”
“Sometimes,” she said, glaring at him, “Sometimes I think you’re even worse at- at being people than I am.”
“Y’ain’t bad at being people, Parker,” he said, sighing a little. He should get up and be the one making them hot chocolate. He’d bet he was a hell of a lot more used to the cold than Hardison was, and it didn’t feel right, being in bed with Parker without him there.
Parker was just watching him mulishly, and he knew she wasn’t going to give this up.
“I’m gonna go make sure Hardison doesn’t burn the house down lighting the stove,” he finally said, and slid out of bed. His feet hadn’t even had a chance to get warm yet.
Hardison was warming his hands over a pot of warming milk when Eliot got to the kitchen. He looked up questioningly, and Eliot just shrugged. “Go back to bed, I can do this. Parker’s convinced I’m making you said, and I need a break.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Hardison said mildly, still warming one hand and stirring chocolate into the milk with the other.
“I’m not worr-” Eliot started, pissed off, and then stopped, because that wasn’t a, “You’re not.” Something uncomfortable was burrowing under his skin. “I’m making you sad?” he asked, his voice just short of incredulous.
“I said don’t worry about it,” Hardison said again, watching the chocolate melt.
Eliot crossed his arms and tried to look intimidating. Hardison glanced over at him, and a small smile flickered across his face, and Eliot knew, Eliot fucking knew he should have just gone home last night.
He was supposed to take care of them, not be the one hurting them, and he hated all this feelings shit. So he hipchecked Hardison out of the way, plucking the spoon from his grip, and took over the stirring. The chocolate was almost all melted, and he watched as Hardison reached up to get down mugs, watched the line of skin the movement revealed as the shirts he was wearing rode up, caught himself watching and resolutely looked away.
“Look,” he said to the pan of melted chocolate. “I don’t know what I’m doing that’s not right, but if you tell me, I’ll stop.”
“You can’t change who you are,” Hardison said.
Eliot was used to taking punches, used to rolling with them and coming up swinging. Just because this was verbal didn't make it any less a punch that he should have been able to roll with, so he didn’t expect the flare of hurt that came with that. Didn’t expect it to feel like he’d been stabbed somewhere vital. His knuckles were white, clenched around the spoon. He needed to leave. He couldn’t stand the way Hardison said that, like there was nothing wrong with him, but something Hardison wished were different.
And there were so, so many things wrong with Eliot. So many things. And so many things that he wished were different about himself, and he’d thought that working with this team would help change him, help make him a better man, and he’d thought that it had been, but maybe...
Hardison handed him two mugs and told him to go give one to Parker, and Eliot was going to leave. As soon as he gave Parker her drink he was going to go back to his cold, empty apartment.
Instead, as soon as he was in the bedroom and handing the mug over to Parker, he found himself asking, “Why am I making Hardison sad?” so quietly he wasn’t sure if Parker could even hear him. Sure, Hardison thought he couldn’t change, but he would change anything for them. Anything.
He was glad when Parker’s voice was just as quiet as his was, so Hardison didn’t hear them talking about him. “He thinks you don’t want him, which is stupid because you check out his butt all the time.”
He choked on his drink.
“I’m sorry,” he said, fast and quiet. “I don’t- You know I’d never-”
Parker was frowning at him while he tried to force the right words out, tried to tell her that he would never, ever try to come between them, and that he checked out her ass just as much, and that he was sorry, he was so sorry that he couldn’t keep his eyes to himself and please don’t be mad at him, please.
“It’s okay,” she finally whispered, while he was still stuck on half sentences and bitten-off words. “I don’t mind.”
He wanted to slump with relief, but his shoulders and neck were so tight with anxiety that he didn’t think he could unlock them even if he tried.
And Parker, Parker who has never known when to leave well enough alone, tilted her head at him and said, “You should kiss him. And me. And then, if you like it, we can have sex.”
He choked on his hot chocolate for the second time in ten minutes.
She wasn’t done, though. “Hardison said we shouldn’t bring it up, that we should let you come to us because you’re-” she made a hand motion that he couldn’t make sense of “-like I was, but you take too long.”
“Parker,” Eliot finally gasped, once the coughing subsided. “You can’t just say that.”
He was shivering, even as the hot chocolate warmed him, and he didn’t want to think about how Hardison must be feeling out on the cold linoleum, didn’t want to think about what Parker said they were offering him. Didn't want to think about being pressed between them, about Parker sliding her hands across his chest, about letting Hardison pin him to the bed and- His stomach clenched with want, and he reminded himself that that wasn't what he was for.
“You’re going to have to come over here if you want to kiss me,” she said, frowning. “I’m not getting out of bed until the heat’s back on.”
He should go.
He knew he should go.
He knew he shouldn’t even entertain this idea.
“I need to talk to Hardison,” he said instead, and retreated to the kitchen, where Hardison was leaning by the burner that was still on, cradling a mug in his hands and staring at the flame.
“Your girlfriend,” Eliot said carefully, “just invited me to a threesome.”
Hardison flinched a little, and looked up, saying, “Technically, she was probably asking you out.” Said, “Sorry.” Said, “We didn’t know you were-” and kind of waved a hand in the air, almost exactly the way Parker had done a moment before.
“Didn’t know I was what?” Eliot asked, putting the mug down and tucking his hands in his armpits, and then forcing himself to drop his arms because he wasn’t going to stand there looking defensive. He wasn’t.
“Straight,” Hardison said. “And, you know, uncomfortable with-” He made the same motion in the air.
“With what, Hardison?” Eliot growled. “Finish a damn sentence.”
“With the mildly homoerotic guy things,” Hardison said, and said, again, “Sorry," and "I’ll talk to Parker, so she won’t-”
“I’m not straight,” Eliot interrupted, his mouth going before he could think to stop it.
“Then the me thing, or the Black thing, or the whatever-the-hell thing,” Hardison said, beginning to look angry, like Eliot was the one being unreasonable here. And Eliot was getting fucking offended, because what, Hardison thought he was some redneck homophobic hick racist? “The point is,” Hardison was continuing, “I will talk to Parker so you don’t have to worry about either of us-”
“I thought you were supposed to be the smart one,” Eliot said, forcing himself to just act and not think about what he was doing until later. There was time for thinking later. He moved fast and grabbed Hardison by the back of the neck, crushing their mouths together for a moment, and then backing off a little, softening the kiss until they were mostly just standing there, breathing each other’s air.
“Okay,” Hardison said, “okay. Maybe I made some assumptions I shouldn’t’ve.”
“Yeah,” Eliot said, lips brushing against Hardison’s. “Yeah, and I’m fucking freezing, so can we please go make out with Parker for a while where it’s warm?”
“Yeah,” Hardison said. “Yeah, we can do that.”
“When you guys are done making out, bring me more hot chocolate,” Parker yelled from the bedroom.
Eliot pulled back from Hardison and grinned a little, his stomach swooping with something that might have been excitement or might have been nerves. He'd never let himself believe that this was something he could have, that they would ever look at him twice, never mind want to- what? Date him? Take him to movies and dinner and- And-
They changed together, and maybe he'd changed enough that this was something he could have. Maybe they saw something in him that was different enough from the fuckup who thought the only thing he was good for was his fists that they thought it was worth-
He wasn't going to think about that now, wasn't going to look this gift horse in the mouth because just the thought of getting to sleep with them once, never mind maybe be a part of their lives as something more was making his hands tremble with need. He couldn’t believe he was getting this, that they were offering up themselves to him like this.
“Hot chocolate can probably wait, you think?” Hardison said, grinning back at him and tangling their fingers together, squeezing gently like Eliot was something he needed to take care with, and tugged Eliot after him as he headed for the bedroom.