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The Long Con

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1 The Cupcake Wars Job

“What the fuck is going on here?”

Eliot isn’t entirely sure he actually wants to hear the answer, but it’s like he can’t help himself as he glances around what he is pretty certain used to be their kitchen, with a kind of fascinated, bloodcurdling sense of horror.

“What does it look like?” Parker quips, not even looking up from the giant mixing bowl she’s holding against her chest, the tips of her loose hair dangerously close to the content of the bowl.

“It looks like you were trying to set up a meth lab and it exploded on you,” he says dryly, and he wonders what it says about his life that he actually has first-hand experience of what an exploded meth lab looks like.

“Pfft, I know how to cook meth,” Parker replies, sounding mildly offended, and Eliot thinks it might be an even better indicator of his life that he is not the tiniest bit surprised.

“Maybe that’s what you should have gone with, then,” he says, as he takes in the bright orange, sticky substance that seems to cover pretty much every surface in the room, including Parker’s face.

“I’m making cupcakes,” she declares, ignoring his jibe airily, and keeps poking the indeterminable mass in the plastic bowl suspiciously with her spatula. Eliot can’t really blame her – the blob looks kind of like it might be sentient.

“I thought we’d had that conversation already,” he says, as calmly as he can manage, and tells himself that shouting is not going to help. “I thought we’d determined that you and the stove are not allowed to interact anymore after that incident with the television and the bird.”

Even thinking about that conversation still gives him headaches: it involved a lot of grumbling and yelling on his side, and defensive pouting on Parker’s side, and at least twenty minutes of crawling around on the kitchen floor in an attempt to salvage what was left of his favorite cast-iron skillet.

Parker frowns, eyebrows drawn together, and Eliot hopes that the pouty face is not going to make an appearance today, because Parker’s pouty face is almost impossible to resist.

To his relief, the pouty face stays hidden, but her shoulders slump, and she drops the mixing bowl on the counter with a defeated sigh, without even paying attention to where it lands.

“Hardison’s birthday is tomorrow,” she says, as if that explains everything. And the thing is, it kind of does. Despite the daily craziness that rules their lives, Hardison remains weirdly attached to certain cultural traditions, the kind of things that normal people do, people who haven’t been raised by wolves, or survived on maggots and bugs for a month in the Brazilian jungle; people who don’t think that written laws are mostly just an invitation to break them.

Birthdays are one of those things. Eliot couldn’t care less about his birthday and will do everything in his power to make sure that no one ever finds out the actual date, but he knows that birthdays matter to Hardison, and so he’s had a test copy of that new video game the guy hasn’t been shutting up about hidden in the back of his closet for days, and made sure that he’s got all the ingredients he needs for a nice steak dinner and tiramisu.

Vaguely, he had also been thinking about a cake, but it looks like Parker already got that covered – even if right now that mostly means Parker is covered in cake.

“Fine,” he grumbles, and tells himself that it’s only about making sure Parker doesn’t destroy the kitchen any further than she already has, not about the way her face lights up at his answer, not about the smile he knows Hardison is going to give them tomorrow when he gets to blow out the candles on an actual chocolate cake.

“Fine, let’s do this,” he says, rubbing his hands, “but I’ve got the lead on this one, you hear me? You do what I say.”

“Yessir,” Parker grins, and salutes him sloppily with the spatula. A blob of batter flies past his head and lands on the door of the microwave, then starts slowly dripping down to the floor.

“Oops,” Parker giggles, and Eliot wonders if he’s finally losing his mind when he realizes that he actually has to fight down the sudden urge to smile back.

 

2 The Blood, Sweat & Tears Job

“I can’t,” Hardison says, shaking his head, and he knows what he must sound like: panicked, breathless, terrified. He hates it, hates how much his hands are trembling, hates that it’s him right here and now instead of Parker. But he is, and she’s not, and it’s too much, he can’t –

“Yes, you can,” Eliot rasps, and Hardison feels guilt pressing down heavily on his chest, because he can actually hear Eliot slightly slurring his words, and he can only imagine how much pain Eliot must be in to allow himself that kind of tell.

“You have to, man,” Eliot continues and holds out the needle with his uninjured hand. His face is ashen, a drop of sweat running down his forehead, and Hardison absent-mindedly thinks about reaching out with a finger to wipe it away, carefully, gently.

“I would do it myself, but it’s kind of hard to reach,” Eliot says, almost apologetically, as if Hardison cannot see that it would be impossible for him to reach that far up on his shoulder, even if the cut wasn’t on his right arm and he wouldn't have to work with his left.

It’s just that there’s blood, so much blood, and every time Hardison presses his discarded t-shirt against the wound, it comes away heavier, dripping, soaked. There is blood everywhere, on his hands, his shoes, the concrete floor. And despite all the blood, he can see, if he looks closely enough, the stark white of Eliot’s upper arm bone, laid bare by the machete that had easily sliced through Eliot's denim jacket, through the fabric of his shirt and his flesh, and who would have thought that that the Yoga apparel industry would hire such unenlightened violent types.

“Hardison,” Eliot says sharply, angrily, drawing his attention back to his face, and “Alec,” he says, with an edge of despair in his voice, and oh, that is worse than the anger, so much worse.

“There is no one else here,” Eliot says urgently, his eyes intense and too bright, “and if you don’t stitch me up, I’m going to bleed out here within the next hour, and I won’t be able to get you out of this mess if I’m dead, so –“

“Okay,” Hardison blurts, swallowing down the nausea rising in his guts, because there is no way, no way Eliot is going to die tonight, he’s going to make sure of that, and if it means forcing a needle through the raw flesh in Eliot’s arm without even a drop of liquor to soothe the sting, that’s what he’s going to do.

“Okay,” he repeats, and tries to keep his voice calm and his fingers steady as he takes the needle from Eliot’s hand.

He realizes just how worried Eliot must have been when the man exhales deeply and sags a little against the wall, as if he'd tried to hold himself upright with all his strength solely for Hardison's sake. It’s that thought that gives Hardison the final push he needs.

“Let’s do this,” he says, and starts unwinding the thread. “I need to warn you, though,” he says lightly, as if he’s not terrified inside, as if doesn’t want to drop everything and run screaming.

“I have honestly no idea what I’m doing here.”

He expects Eliot to look apprehensive at that, outright worried even perhaps, and god, he should be; but instead, Eliot laughs, an unexpected quiet chuckle, amused and fond.

“I’ll show you,” he says, sounding confident and not worried at all, and goes very still when Alec puts his hands on him.

 

3 The Royal Pain Job

“Parker, Jesus, put that down!”

Parker glances up from the small metal object she’s been playing with, and finds Eliot staring at her with wide eyes. He seems horrified, but if the light isn’t tricking her, he’s also blushing a little, and isn’t that an interesting look on him.

She looks back down at the curious object, turning it back and forth in her hands. The ball-shaped cap at the end comes off when she tugs, so she pulls it out and lifts the tube to her eye like a telescope, squinting a little to find out if she can see anything when she looks through.

“Parker,” Eliot says, in a strangely dangerous voice, and she moves the tube away from her face so she can actually see his eyes. She’s not entirely sure what he’s so upset about, because she’s examined the object closely, and it’s neither explosive nor poisonous, from what she can tell. It’s not even really sharp enough to stab someone’s eye out with the pointy end.

“Where did you even find that?” Hardison asks, and she shrugs as she spins the metal tube between her fingers like a throwing knife. She figures she could probably knock someone out with it if she threw it hard enough, but the design seems pointlessly complicated for that purpose.

“It was in the mark’s nightstand,” she says, “I found it when I was looking for the keys to the safe.” She pouts. “Because someone had to spoil my fun and told me not to crack it.”

She leans over to poke Eliot in the shoulder with the metal stick, and he flinches away as if she tried to electrocute him before she can even make contact.

“So what is this?” she asks, genuinely curious, because there needs to be more to it than meets the eye if it freaks Eliot out that much.

Eliot stares at her as if he cannot quite remember what he’s even doing here – not quite angry, just exasperated, which is pretty much his default in their company, and Parker has long given up feeling insulted by that look. It helps that she knows she will always be able to take him in a staring contest, so she simply keeps her eyes trained on him without blinking, and she can tell the exact moment he gives in.

“It’s a prince’s wand,” he says, and he makes it sound like it actually hurts to force out the word.

“A what?” Parker asks, because this means precisely nothing to her.

“Dude,” Hardison says, and judging from his puzzled look, he doesn’t understand any more than she does. “This ain’t a fairy tale. Speak English, man, if you expect us to understand you.”

Eliot groans and rubs a hand across his face. “Jesus Christ,” he says. “It’s a prince’s wand, that’s what they are called. It’s – it’s a sex thing,” he adds, and if there was a slight blush on his cheeks before, now he’s flushing furiously, up to the tips of his ears.

“A sex thing?” Parker asks, intrigued. It’s not quite as interesting as a weapon, but if she can’t use it to knock someone out, she supposes sex is kind of the next best thing.

“What do you do with it?”

Eliot looks up at the ceiling as if he’s praying for strength.

“You put it in the urethra,” he says, keeping his eyes directed upward and definitely not on her face.

“The what?” Hardison asks, and Eliot actually winces.

“The – the peehole. Of the penis, the peehole, there, are you happy now?”

He throws up his hands angrily, and Hardison chokes on air.

“Huh,” Parker says thoughtfully, looking down at the tube in her hand. That sounds like a bit of a challenge, she thinks. That kind of sounds – interesting.

“The pee – really?” Hardison has recovered enough from his violent coughing fit to get the words out, but his voice sounds oddly strangled. Parker notices that he keeps his hands in front of his crotch protectively.

“And that’s supposed to feel good?”

“How the fuck should I know?” Eliot snaps at him, his blush deepening further.

“Hey, you are the one who knew exactly what we’re dealing with,” Hardison points out. “Forgive me if that sounds like you’ve got some personal experience.”

“Well I don’t,” Eliot growls, and his right hand curls up into a fist. “Can we please get out of here now?”

“Sure,” Parker says reassuringly, because Eliot looks like he’s pretty close to freaking out, and it’s always better to avoid that if they can. She returns his suspicious glare with a sunny smile and casually strolls towards the door, not waiting to see if Eliot and Hardison are following.

If she’s taken the time to quietly slip the metal wand into her pocket on the way out, well, the boys don’t really need to know.

Not quite yet, anyway.

 

4. The Hunger Games Job

“I thought you don’t like shooting,” Hardison says, and leans against a tree.

“I said I don’t like guns,” Eliot grunts and makes sure the target is set up straight before he turns. “This is not a gun.”

“I don’t see the big difference,” Hardison says stubbornly, and Eliot grits his teeth and wonders whether Hardison is trying to rile him up on purpose or whether it’s just one of those days.

“You will,” he finally says, and takes one of the training arrows out of the case.

Parker is shifting her weight from one foot to the other, looking appropriately excited as she takes the arrow and sets it against the string.

“Alright,” Eliot says. “Now line up.” She gives him a wink, then she turns serious from one moment to the next as she raises the bow against her shoulder.

“Never trigger the release before you are sure you know what you’re pointing at,” he says, stepping up next to her to follow her line of sight. “That could end badly, doesn’t matter if the bow is at full draw or not.” She nods earnestly without taking her gaze off the target, and he allows himself a satisfied smile.

“Now look through the sight,” he orders, “find the target, line up your shot, draw back. Take your elbow higher,” he adds, “try to keep the arm parallel to the ground.” He reaches out, puts two fingers underneath her forearm, pressing lightly. She doesn’t really need the support, but she also doesn’t shake him off when he carefully lifts her elbow just the tiniest bit higher.

“Hold,” he says and takes a step back to check her stance. She looks like a natural, like he knew she would, her body tight like her spine is a strung bow itself, her posture perfect, except …

He steps up behind her, trying not to jostle her arms, and sets his hands against her hipbones.

“There,” he murmurs, angling her hips, and she follows easily, her body languid underneath his fingers until she’s lined up perfectly, one straight line.

“Is that good?” she asks, and he nods against her hair.

“That’s great,” he says, and only then does he realize how close they are, and his hand on her hip suddenly feels too intimate, too dangerous. He steps back quickly and throws a furtive look towards Hardison, trying to see if he’s noticed.

Hardison definitely has noticed, Eliot decides, his heart already sinking, except he doesn’t seem jealous, or annoyed, or anything else he’s seen Hardison look like before. He’s got the strangest look on his face, a bit absent-minded, almost a smile, and Eliot can’t quite shake the sensory impression of that look, even as his eyes follow the arrow as Parker takes her shot, hitting the target, dangerously close to the bullseye, just one inch too far to the left.

 

5. The Foreign Tongues Job

“Medeni mjesec,” Eliot says.

“Madame Music,” Hardison repeats, still looking surprisingly cheerful, all things considered.

“Jesus, man,” Eliot groans, and runs a hand through his hair. “No, listen: Medeni mjesec.”

“Me-de-ne me-sec,” Hardison says, and Eliot takes a very deep breath and briefly closes his eyes.

“Better,” he says. “Not good enough. I’m going to say this again, very slowly, and you better fucking listen: Medeni mjesec,” he slowly repeats, carefully pronouncing every syllable.

Parker leans back on the table and swings her legs, shoves more popcorn into her mouth as Hardison botches the pronunciation once again.

“Is there something wrong with your ears?” Eliot growls, “How can you still not have gotten this?”

Hardison smiles innocently, raising his shoulders. “It’s not my fault that Croatian is so difficult,” he says.

Parker grins behind her hand as she stuffs her mouth with another fistful of popcorn. She’s pretty certain that Hardison could have gotten it right after about the second time he tried, but she’s got no intention of ratting him out.

Eliot is way too adorable when he’s impatient like this, and she’s enjoying the show far too much.

 

+1 The Blow Job

“This is a bad idea,” Eliot states. He doesn’t sound very certain, though, his voice shaking just the tiniest bit.

In fact, he hasn’t sounded certain of anything since Parker decided that Hardison’s attempts at talking about this like grown-ups, goddamnit, were not going anywhere, and has taken the hands-on approach by pushing Eliot against the brick wall of the meeting room as he was coming back from his run.

Hardison is starting to see the appeal of the hands-on approach.

“What is a bad idea?” Parker asks, sounding like she is genuinely curious, but also a little bit distracted – not surprising, seeing as she’s busy licking the sweat off Eliot’s neck.

Eliot shoots Hardison a helpless look over the top of Parker’s head. Hardison shrugs sympathetically – he knows what it feels like to be in the focus of Parker’s attention. He makes no move to rescue him, though, because he has been fantasizing about this exact image more times than he can count, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to ruin it now.

“This,” Eliot says, voice strangled as Parker starts nibbling at his collarbone. “This is not –“

“Oh,” Parker says with a slight delay, indulgent and a little bit disappointed. She draws back to look him in the eye. “Well, you can shower first if you want.”

“What? No!” Eliot exclaims, and takes the opening she gives him to shove her as far away as he can. Except when she lets go obediently, stepping back to give him space, he doesn’t seem to know where to go, so he stays where he is, chest heaving, hands clenched into fists. “A shower isn’t going to change anything,” he says, and now he sounds – still tense, still panicky, but also bone-tired underneath it all. Exhausted. Defeated.

“This is not how we work.”

Parker tilts her head thoughtfully, and for only a moment, she looks so sad – although for whom, Hardison isn’t sure. Then she smiles, brightly and confidently, and puts her flat hand on Eliot’s chest, right over his heart. Eliot freezes, and doesn’t shake her off.

“We could, though,” she says, and she sounds so sure. “If you want.”

Eliot doesn’t panic, but he looks like he’s seriously considering it, and Hardison decides that it’s time to step in. He approaches slowly, giving Eliot plenty of time to back away – because unlike Parker, Alec isn’t certain he’d be able to duck in time if Eliot decided to take a swing. But Eliot doesn’t move, simply watches him with eyes that are dark, and terrified, and full of some nameless emotion; and when Alec sets a hand against Eliot’s neck, his thumb resting against the pulse point, he realizes that Eliot is trembling, his heartbeat fast like a rabbit running for its life.

“Hey,” he says quietly, and leans in. He keeps the kiss light, almost chaste, but if he was worried Eliot would pull away, wouldn’t reciprocate, he’d be proven wrong: instead, Eliot opens up for him, a moan ripping from his chest as if he can’t help himself, and lets Hardison trace the outline of his lips with his tongue. Hardison keeps his hand where it is, his thumb stroking gently, and when he eventually ends the kiss, he doesn’t move away.

“Hey, man, relax,” he says, and noses at Eliot’s jaw. “Just relax, babe,” he says, and Eliot shivers and huffs, not quite a laughter, but Hardison will take what he can get.

“Easier said than done,” Eliot says, his voice hoarse, but he tilts his head, just the tiniest bit, to give Hardison better access to his neck.

“I’m not – ah – relaxing is not my strength.”

“Don’t worry,” Parker says lightly, "we can teach you." Hardison realizes that her hand isn't simply resting on Eliot’s chest anymore: instead, her fingers are sneaking inside his shirt, in the space between two buttons, and from the way Eliot’s breath speeds up, it looks like she’s found his right nipple.

“Okay,” Eliot says. He sounds like he’s on the verge of breaking, and they haven’t even really done anything yet. Hardison thinks they might have to take it slow; not too slow, though, he concedes as he sinks down to his knees and leans in to mouth at the heavy bulge in Eliot’s pants. Eliot twitches and makes a noise like he’s dying, but after a while, he slowly, carefully moves a hand to rest on Hardison’s head, not pushing him away, not holding him down, just steadily keeping him in place.

“Okay,” Eliot says, and draws a shuddering breath when Hardison reaches for his zipper.

“Alright, then. Teach me.”