Hardison woke up on a hard concrete floor with the mother of all headaches dancing the mambo in his head, and his hands cuffed in front of him. He groaned and rolled onto his side, gingerly pushing himself up until he was sitting upright. It didn’t help his headache any, but it made him feel a little better about his situation to at least not be lying on the floor.
The last thing he remembered was placing the bug in their mark’s car before heading back to the rendezvous point to meet up with Parker and–
He whirled around, heart in his throat, and nearly heaved a sob of relief when he saw Parker next to him, unharmed. He squeezed his eyes shut, letting the wave of relief run its course until he no longer felt like he’d sprinted an entire damn marathon.
She was staring at him when he opened them again, closer than she was before, sitting crossed-legged in front of him with her lips pressed tightly together. Her cuffs, Hardison noted, were already discarded on the floor by her knee.
There was no sign of Eliot, which was either a very good sign or a very bad one. Knowing how hard the man was to sneak up on or take down, Hardison chose to believe it was a good thing until proven otherwise.
“Did they get Eliot?” he asked.
Parker shook her head, her eyes lighting up. “I heard them talking when they thought I was unconscious. They were only after the two of us.”
Hardison stifled the urge to laugh. These idiots had no clue the smackdown that they were in for.
He glanced around the room they were being held in. It was clean, with gray walls, a gray floor, and a tiny boarded up window near the ceiling. The single door in and out looked like it could withstand a nuclear blast and still stay standing. Damn.
He held out his wrists. “You wanna help me with these?”
Parker shook her head. “They took my lock picks.” Her frown turned petulant. “Even the backup backup ones! Who even looks for backup backup lock picks!”
“These guys, apparently.” A thought occurred to him and his blood turned cold. “Means they knew what to look for. Means they know who we are.”
A dark look settled over Parker’s face. “Yeah. That was my first thought too. I was kind of hoping you’d disagree.”
“Sorry to disappoint.” That was not a pretty thought, and Hardison distracted himself for a moment with a more pressing question. “So how’d you get out of your cuffs?”
Parker’s smile was a much needed ray of sunshine. “I don’t need lock picks to break out of cuffs, silly!”
Not that he ever doubted it, but yeah, Parker was the coolest person he knew. Not that Eliot wasn’t cool too, but Parker was just…Parker was Parker.
Unfortunately, it still left him wearing handcuffs and trapped in a locked room by who the hell knew. Hardison brought his hands to his head to stave off the worsening headache the thought brought on, but it was kind of hard to rub at his temples without crushing his nose in the process. He ended up pressing the palms of hands against his eyes instead. Not nearly as satisfying, but at least it blocked out the bright fluorescent lights searing into his brain.
“Man, I hate being tased. Like having a hangover but without the fun.”
“It’s much more fun being the taser rather than the tasee.” Parker wrinkled her nose, which shouldn’t have been as cute as it was under the circumstances. “Is that even a word?”
“If I had the internet, I’d look it up for you. Hell, if I had the internet I’d unlock that door remotely, hunt down this entire operation, steal all their money, and we’d be out of here by now.” He looked over at Parker. “You did try the door, right?”
That earned him a look that might’ve even made his Nana flinch. Well, probably not, his Nana was one tough lady, but maybe, and that’s what counted.
“And the window. That was the first thing I did.” She ran a hand through her loose hair. “Second, actually. After I checked on you.”
It shouldn’t have been romantic or sweet. Hell, this whole situation was as far from sexy as an unsexy situation could get. But that didn’t stop the rush of warmth from racing through him at the words. How the hell did he get so lucky to have Parker as his friend and his girl? He smiled at her, and it was part happiness and part reassurance that they were going to make it out of this. Just like they always did.
Still, he’d feel a lot better if Eliot was there with them. For morale. And to bust some heads in.
The thought barely crossed his mind before he felt stupid for thinking it. Of course he didn’t want Eliot captured with them. Worst case scenario, he didn’t want Eliot going down with them and best case Eliot and his punchy hands were their ace in the hole. The question of how their hitter would find them without Hardison on tech was a question he didn’t want to examine too closely. But then again, Eliot had been some sort of badass in the retrieval business long before he met Hardison, so maybe he should give the guy some credit. And in any case, Parker was pretty scary in her own right, and Hardison was a computer genius. Take away the computer and he was still a damn genius. Between the two of them, whoever had taken them didn’t stand a chance.
He slapped his hands against the floor, ready to get this party started. “Alright, so what’s the plan?”
Parker grinned back at him, springing to her feet in one motion. “Get out and take them down.” She reached out a hand and pulled Hardison to his feet. “Not necessarily in that order.”
And oh yeah, it was so on.
The third time Eliot skirted the perimeter of the warehouse, he knew exactly what he needed to do.
Unthinking, he raised his hand to check the comm in his ear, only to freeze halfway there. The gaping silence where his friends should be was the whole reason he was out here in the first place, hiding in the dark and planning how to best get past an entire facility of military-trained security.
So yeah, there was no point in checking comms. There wasn’t gonna be any answer.
His poor judgement hung over him like a black fog, haunting him with every second that passed since he’d lost contact early in the day. The con was still in the early phases, dammit, it wasn’t supposed to be dangerous yet.
He’d been chatting up the mark’s secretary, laying the groundwork for the next phase, when Hardison had shouted and Parker had yelped. Eliot had dropped everything and ran even before the line had cut off entirely. By the time he reached each of their last known locations, they’d been gone. He could still feel that moment of dizzying panic, seeing their earbuds and cell phones lying discarded on the ground.
No matter how hard he concentrated, he couldn’t shake the sick, twisting feeling in his gut for letting them split up. It was his job to protect them, not to let them go running off on their own to get nabbed.
With no way to track them electronically, he’d been forced to go about it the old fashioned way.
The warehouse he’d traced them to loomed like a dark smear against a black cloudy sky, a crack of light appearing here and there between the boarded up windows on the top floor. Three sets of guards patrolled the perimeter, all armed and moving in an erratic pattern that had cost him precious time deciphering.
He could practically hear Hardison’s voice squawking in his head. Traced! What the hell do mean, traced? You beat the ever-loving crap out of that guy with your meaty man fists. In no world does that mean traced, you hear?
Eliot gritted his teeth. Great, even with comms down, Hardison was still being annoying in his head. It was harder than it should’ve been to push him away, and wasn’t that just freaking typical.
Now wasn’t time for distractions. There was too much at stake to treat this like anything other than just another job.
He fingered the earbud one last time, but didn’t remove it. Taking it out felt wrong somehow.
Moving silently past the first rotation of guards, he cut around the corner of the building and ducked into the blind spot he’d identified in his initial reconnaissance of the area. Face first into the cold concrete wall, he started counting down. His next move had to be timed just right or this little rescue mission was over before it started.
Or you could just taze them, came a mocking voice in his head.
Eliot rolled his eyes at a Parker that wasn’t there to see him. Girl was a lot of things, but subtle wasn’t one of them. He ignored her and kept counting.
His mental countdown reached zero, and with a quick indrawn breath, he braced himself and jumped as high as he could while still maintaining noise discipline. His fingertips brushed the thin ledge set into the wall above him and he scrambled to keep hold of it, heart lurching in his chest when he almost slipped. But he managed to haul himself up to balance on top of it just as a pair of guards passed underneath.
He felt painfully exposed out in the open like that. It made his skin itch, but he’d run the patrol patterns backwards and forwards and it was the only way. If there was any forgiveness in the world, he’d go unseen for the next twenty seconds. He held his breath as the time ticked over. There was no forgiveness for men like him, no mercy, but this wasn’t about him. It was about Parker and Hardison, and maybe that would be enough.
It must’ve been, because there were no flashlights that swept over him, no shouts of alarm to indicate he’d been made. Once he’d judged the pair of guards below him were out of immediate range, he dropped down into a low crouch, stalking the two of them as they made their way around the side of the building. They were good—ex-Special Forces most likely– but he was better, and slipped behind them unseen. This was the most dangerous part of his plan. One wrong move, or one unlucky glance back and he’d be blown. The entire place would know he was here and his chances of getting to Parker and Hardison would be shot.
He could hear his heart beat steady in his ears as they made their way between the smaller storage sheds and towards the main loading dock. He moved on silent feet, ever sense on alert for the tiniest noise that might give him away.
When he recognized the turnoff he’d studied from the blueprints he’d nabbed earlier, he ducked into it, letting the pair of guards he’d been shadowing go on without him. Almost there.
The heavyset bruiser standing sentry by the side loading dock dropped with equal soundlessness, going limp in Eliot’s arms courtesy of his forearm and biceps cutting off the blood flow to the man’s brain.
…Seven, eight nine... The numbers ticked over in Eliot’s head. They’d be in brain damage territory soon enough; he needed to let go. A tiny voice in the back of his mind growled at that – this man had Parker and Hardison; he didn’t deserve Eliot’s mercy.
It was only the thought of the looks on his friends’ faces when they’d seen what he’d done in their service that finally stayed his hand. He let the guard go, alive and unharmed. But not before swiping the man’s access card.
Once he was inside, a quick glance down the bare hallway showed two cameras, one mounted at the center of the passageway, and one at the corner where the path forked in two. Eliot pressed himself against the doorway, considered the size of the building and the rotation and number of guards he’d already seen.
All of it added up to one conclusion. Eliot filed it away for later, something to think on once he reached his target.
He pressed onwards.
There was no way out of the room.
Hardison paced another circle around the edge, hoping for a spark. A spark of an idea, a spark of genius, hell a spark of anything would be welcome right about now. But there was nothing to work with. No new idea, no brilliant plan, just a big, fat old nothing. The cuffs on his wrists rattled with each step he took, grating further on his nerves.
As frustrating as it was, their move right now was to wait for their invisible opponent to put the ball in motion.
The door was completely smooth from the inside. Even if Parker had her tools, there was no lock to pick. And though Hardison enjoyed the view while Parker shimmied up the corner of the room to double-check on the small window, that too was a bust. The bars on the stupid thing were welded on too tight to budge, and spaced too close together for even her to get through. And even if they weren’t, the window was boarded up from the outside. Talk about over kill for your over kill.
Forcing himself to stop before he made himself dizzy, he ran through it again. He felt like a hamster on one of those damn wheels that Miss Lacy had in class back in the first grade. He’d always thought it was a bit sadistic, and now he sympathized for the rat-thing way more than he was personally comfortable with.
He looked up towards the ceiling and sighed. “I tell you, I’m about two seconds from pulling my hair out.”
Parker jumped down from the window. “You don’t have any hair.”
“Hey, I got hair.” Hardison ran both hands over his head. It was stylishly buzzed, thank you, but hair was hair. “Damn fine hair. And anyways, it was a metaphor. Met-a-phor, you hear?”
Parker laughed, skipping up to him. “You could pull on my hair.” She paused, looking up at him. “Do you think that’s why Eliot grew his hair long again? So he can pull at it?”
“We can ask him when we see him.”
Looking satisfied, Parker nodded and went back to her investigation of the room.
Hardison slumped against the door, letting the back of his head fall against the cold metal. He had at least four different ideas for how to get out of here, but three of them involved electronics that he didn’t have, and the other required a dog whistle and spool of bubble wrap. That wasn’t looking likely either.
Being kidnapped sucked.
“Being kidnapped sucks,” Parker said from where she was now balanced on her hands in the center of the room. “I’m bored.”
Hardison didn’t bother pointing out that being bored probably wasn’t the normal reaction to a kidnapping. Nothing about Parker was normal, anyway. It was part of what made her her, and why he loved her so damn much. Instead, he looked up the ceiling and said, “Me, too, mama.”
Parker flipped over back to her feet, and the smile lighting up her face was the only warning Hardison got that one of her crazy ideas was on the horizon. “Let’s make it a game,” she said.
He knew better than to ask but his Nana always said he had more curiosity than sense. “A game?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Parker said, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “We both know Eliot’s coming for us. If we get free before he rescues us, then he has to do anything we ask. But if he has to get us out, then we’ll do something for him.”
Hardison didn’t point out that they in fact did not know Eliot was coming for them. All they had was some overheard conversation to suggest Eliot hadn’t been abducted, too. For all they knew he could be in the room next to them growling at the wall. Or back at the brew pub, slinging back beers and enjoying the silence, which okay, probably wasn’t the case, but still. Or Eliot could be–
He squeezed his eyes shut and didn’t let himself finish the thought. Oh hell no, he was not going there. Eliot was fine. Dude was probably punching people and having a grand ole’ time.
Distraction it was, then.
Assuming Eliot was doing his thing in a tiny fury of rage, the smart thing to do would be to gently explain to Parker how both parties really needed to be present to agree to a wager. Especially one that included Eliot Spencer and do anything we want in the same breath. Hardison bit his lip as his damn fool brain supplied him with a rush of images that particular combination of phrases brought. Yeah, as distractions went, this was a good one.
“Parker baby, we talked about this remember.” Hardison pushed off against the wall to stand in front of her. “It’s not our choice to make.”
“He never asks for anything. Even Nate said so.” It was a familiar argument, and every time they had it Hardison got closer and closer to giving in. Because it made sense, and hell, he saw the way Eliot looked at them sometimes when he didn’t think they were looking. It was the same way they both looked at him when his back was turned.
“Somehow, I don’t think Nate was talking about that.” At least, he hoped not. He loved the man like a father, but some things were best kept between two people. Or three, as the case may be.
“He’s never going to ask, Hardison. We need to steal him.” Parker paused and smiled. “It’s what we do.”
“Now’s really not the time, babe,” Hardison said, looking around at the room they were imprisoned in. “Any anyway, we steal things, not people.”
“I bet Eliot used to steal people,” Parker said.
How Parker could make a joke about that was anyone’s guess, but her and Eliot had done the whole we’re-not-like-everyone-else-and-that’s-okay talk about their pasts, so Hardison chose not to dwell on it. Instead he looped his hands over her head to rest his forearms on her shoulders, “How ‘bout this, we get out of here and we’ll talk to him, ‘kay? We’ll tell him and he can decide.”
She leaned up on her toes and kissed him lightly on the lips. “Okay.” And damn, did he have the best girlfriend, or did he have the best girlfriend? “But if he does that thing where he growls and cooks a lot and doesn’t talk about it, then can we steal him?”
“Yeah girl, then we can steal him.”
She leaned into him and wrapped her arms around his waist. Before he could think any further on it, the door to their cell opened and half a dozen guards stepped in.
They looked at each other and nodded once before disentangling and stepping apart. Parker, he noticed, had already slipped the cuffs back on her wrists. Where the hell she’d been keeping them was anyone’s guess, but he was half convinced Parker was at least a little bit magic, so he wasn’t really that surprised.
Hardison smiled wide at the group of guards. “Take me to your leader,” he said.
Damn, he’d always wanted to say that.
There were five men between Eliot and the door to the main security room.
For a moment they all just froze as Eliot strode around the corner. Then Eliot lunged, barreling towards them at full speed. One of the men reached for the radio at his waist.
Eliot went for him first, grabbing the guy’s hand before he could reach and using the momentum to swing the surprised man into the two guards directly beside him. His other arm lashed out mid-swing, striking the throat of the fourth before he could get a warning off to his buddies. Catching his balance, Eliot ran after the last guard who’d been smart enough to put some space between them to call for reinforcements.
“This is Jones in sector 1C, I need—”
Eliot grabbed the guy’s wrist, thumb digging into the pressure point until he dropped the radio. Eliot caught it in mid-air and said, “—to take a piss. Um, yeah. This shift is lasting forever.”
Yeah man, real smooth. Eliot tossed the radio aside, shushing his inner Hardison. Thankfully, the real thing wasn’t there to see that gem of a grifting failure. He’d never hear the end of it otherwise.
With the hand still around the guard’s wrist, he lashed out, effectively making the man punch himself in the face. He chuckled as the guy went down. That move was never not funny.
Surveying the room, he made sure the rest of the guards were knocked out before lifting the ID card from the closest one’s jacket and swiping open the door to the security control room. As expected, there was a bank of monitors watching every corner of the warehouse.
Also as expected, there was a man sitting at the controls. Not your normal computer geek, he saw immediately. This guy was as combat ready as the rest of them, and the instant the door clicked closed he had a gun pointed right at Eliot’s chest. “Freeze. Hands on your head, now.”
Eliot raised his hands as instructed. Then he looked around the room and whistled. “So I guess this ain’t the men’s room, huh?” He took a few cautious steps forward. The guy didn’t twitch, but he also didn’t shoot, and that was all the information Eliot needed. He continued talking, “Because the guy down the hall said it was the third door on the right after it curved left.” Shrugging was a bit awkward with his hands still on his head, but he thought he pulled it off alright. “Think he was lyin’?”
A twitch in the guard’s eye was enough for Eliot to know the game was up. He dropped his hands and dived out of the way as the gun fired, deafeningly loud in the small space. The guard leveled the gun again, but Eliot was faster, springing to his feet and slapping his arm out of the way. A harsh twist tore the weapon from his grasp.
The guard—no more than a kid, really— watched him warily as Eliot popped the clip out and waved it around. “Your first mistake was not shooting me the moment I walked on in here. If you’re real lucky, it won’t be the last one you ever make.” Spotting the cuffs on the guy’s belt, he gave a sharp smile. “Now son, we can either do this easy way or the hard way.”
Why did they always have to choose the hard way, he asked himself less than a minute later as he busied himself flipping through each of the security cameras, scanning for any hint of where Hardison and Parker were being held. Assuming they were even still in the building. There was one last alternative he kept under tight lock and key. He couldn’t do what needed doing and worry about them at the same time.
In the corner of the room, one very pissed off and tied up guard watched him work. Eliot ignored him. He was under no illusions that his little ploy with the radio earlier had worked. These guys were pros and any breach in protocol would trigger a response. And that was before the gunshot likely alerted everyone in the building that something was up.
They knew he was here now.
A flash of dark skin and blonde hair caught his attention and Eliot zoomed in on that particular camera until it filled the entire monitor. It was a live feed, he noted. Parker and Hardison were being escorted down a wide passageway by a group of heavily armed men all pointing guns at them.
The rage settled into a calm ball in the pit of his stomach as he pinpointed their location.
He pushed back from the desk and smiled, barely noticing when the tied up guard shrank away from him.
Hardison knew he should be worried about being frogmached down a hallway with a mini arsenal of automatic weapons pointed at him by some very pissed off looking dudes. And he was; really he was. But the part of his brain that should have been doing some very unmanly soiling of his pants was too busy goggling over their captor.
The stupid blond hair. The creepy white dentist smile. The way the man practically flounced with smugness when he walked. Now, the second Harry Potter book wasn’t one of Hardison’s favorites, but he could appreciate art when he saw it. And damn if the man wasn’t the most perfect Gilderoy Lockhart he’d ever seen. It was taking every ounce of his self-control not to ask if he’d gotten lost on the way to Diagon Alley. Or to ask where his wand was. With any luck, the man would be as inept as his lookalike.
The Lockhart clone had introduced himself as “Johnston Keens, Esquire,” in a steady drawl that Hardison would’ve normally found kind of nice, but in this case made him feel like something slimy was clinging to his skin. Douchebag McDouchehart, as Hardison mentally dubbed him, was dressed in a suit that cost more than some of Hardison’s computers, and a watch to match.
So, pompous and rich. Their favorite combination to take down.
They hadn’t been harmed yet and so he took a calculated guess that whatever Douchehart wanted them for, he wanted them alive. “Hey man,” Hardison called out as they were led down another of the seemingly endless wide hallways to who the hell knew where. “Shouldn’t you be, you know, monologuing at us or something? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure we’re at that part now.”
“Also, we’re bored,” Parker chimed in beside him.
Rather than replying, he made a gesture, and one of the refrigerator-sized guards shoved the barrel of his gun into Hardison’s back.
“Okay, man, I can take a hint. Shutting up now.”
“The evil speech part’s my favorite,” Parker added, undaunted. She leaned over to fake whisper at Hardison, “I like poking holes in their plans. It’s so easy.” The cuffs around her wrists rattled as she nudged at his shoulder.
Hardison was beginning to understand why Eliot hated guns so much. Damn things were annoying as hell. And even worse than having them pointed at him or being poked with them, was seeing Parker struck across the back of the head with one. Oh, this wizard wannabe and his little gun-toting entourage were going down. Only a quick shake of Parker’s head, a clear indication of Not now, kept him from leaping at a guy who looked like he ate steroids for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Maybe dessert, too.
The gun shoved in his face wasn’t a half-bad deterrent, either. It wasn’t his first time looking down the barrel of a gun, but the remembrance of mind numbing, pants-wetting terror hadn’t faded with time. And anyone who said there wasn’t pants-wetting terror was either crazy or lying.
“Ow,” Parker muttered, making an aborted movement to rub at her head. She stumbled, losing her footing and falling into one of the other guards surrounding them.
“You okay,” Hardison asked, as they continued down the hallway.
Parker nodded, though the corners of her mouth were drawn tight in pain. “Yeah,” she said. Her eyes flashed with mischief as she continued, “Good thing they hit like little babies.”
Another guard, also kitchen appliance sized but with an acne problem, raised a hand and Hardison tensed, ready to throw himself at the man and consequences be damned, when Keens raised a hand. The guard immediately fell back into line.
“Impressive,” he said, and it took Hardison a moment to realize the douchebag was addressing them. Good. He was getting bored of being ignored. Douchehart continued, “But then, that’s to be expected from anyone who keeps company with Eliot Spencer.”
Hardison’s blood ran cold. Beside him, he felt Parker go still.
One of goon squad prodded them in the back and they resumed walking.
“You see, it’s not either of you two I’m interested in.”
Hardison’s heart did a backflip. No good ever came out of speeches like that.
“There is a set of very important documents I need retrieved from a lot of very well trained men with guns. Sadly, my own men have been unable to accommodate.”
Hardison could see where this was going clear as day and he didn’t like it one little bit.
A loud snort broke the silence. “Eliot would never work for you.” Parker’s eyes went dark and scary, and Hardison readied himself for whatever was coming.
“He wouldn’t even agree to meet with my representative,” Keens agreed. “And yet according to my head of security, he’s here in my building at this very moment of his own will. I’m sure he’ll be much more receptive to my requests with you two in my custody.” He turned to the tall guard to his right. “Lock down the building.”
The guard nodded and spoke a command into his radio.
Hardison looked over at Parker to see she was already looking back at him. She gave a tiny nod that he returned.
They continued their way down the hallway. Just when he thought the immediate danger had passed, he heard a muffled gunshot ring out. He dove to shield Parker, heart pounding in his throat as his worst nightmare played out in front of him. But Parker was already in motion herself and they both hit the ground together, clutching at each other as they rolled out of the way.
Which was when he realized the shot had come from somewhere else entirely.
Eliot was closing in.
They worry he hadn’t allowed himself to feel intensified until it might’ve knocked him over if he hadn’t already been on the floor. He glanced at Parker, seeing the same uneasiness mirrored in her eyes. Their elation that Eliot was alright, that Eliot was here was overshadowed by Keen’s words.
This entire ploy was a trap for Eliot.
Parker sprang to her feet and kneed one of the guards in the crotch, her cuffs already discarded on the floor. “You guys are in so much trouble!”
She pulled Hardison to his feet and they ran.
Hardison didn’t need to look behind him to know the refrigerator crew was in hot pursuit. But they’d both been paying attention to the maze of hallways and knew there was a stairwell near the cell they’d been held in. Hardison didn’t need to be a mind reader to know that’s where they were headed now. They rounded the last corner, skidding to a halt by the heavy metal door with the sign for Stairs still clearly labeled. It was always so refreshing when the bad guys had their evil lair neatly labeled and up to code.
The door was locked, which wasn’t so convenient.
It might have been a damn tragedy, except Hardison was more than just a pretty face. With a grin, he produced the keycard he swiped from one of the guards during the scuffle, and tossed it over to Parker.
She beamed at him, eyes dancing, and reached into her own pocket, coming up with a tiny set of keys. Handcuff keys, he realized as she tossed them to him in return. So that’s what she was grabbing when she fake stumbled into that guy.
Did he mention he had the best girlfriend?
Parker swiped the card and the security panel beeped and turned green. Just as she opened the door, Hardison was grabbed from behind and jerked backward.
He threw an elbow at his attacker but the only good it did was that he was grabbed harder. And now his elbow hurt. A massive arm wrapped around his throat, and he choked, arms flailing behind him as he tried to dislodge the guy. From the corner of his eye he saw Parker dodging a guard of her own. She was holding him off, but once the rest of them showed up they were so screwed.
The lack of air was starting to make him dizzy. Through the haze of his vision, he saw Parker duck between her guard’s legs and kick right him in the crotch. If he wasn’t busy trying not to die he would’ve winced in sympathy. And cheered her on.
In one smooth motion, she launched herself off the floor and onto the back of the guard holding Hardison. Whatever the dude expected, it definitely wasn’t some tiny girl throwing herself onto his back. The arm around Hardison neck loosened enough for him to drag in a desperate breath.
He blinked away the dark spots in his vision just in time to see the rest of guards rush into their hallway, guns at the read.
And then blinked again as the first one ended up flat on his back on the floor, clotheslined by a strong arm shooting out from the door to the stairwell. The arm was followed by a short, built figure that radiated menace.
Hardison let out a mental whoop even as he struggled against the grip on his throat. Luckily, the dude was distracted enough by his coworker going down that Hardison got in a good kick to his shins, ducking under the arm around his throat and managing to struggle free. Parker took it from there, knocking the guard out with a brutal jab of her elbow against his head.
Eliot made short work of the rest, and damn wasn’t that a sight for sore eyes. In what felt like no time at all, they were the only ones left standing in the hallway.
With a shout of glee, Parker launched herself into Eliot’s arms. Eliot swooped her up, and Hardison caught a flash of pure distilled relief on their hitter’s face.
“Damn are you a sight for sore eyes,” Hardison said. He reached forward to clasp Eliot’s hand, and was almost jerked off his feet as Parker pulled him into their embrace. For a moment, Eliot’s massive arm tightened around him, but just as quickly it was over.
Eliot released them, looking them both over. “You two alright?”
Parker nodded. “It’s a trap, Eliot. That guy that grabbed us wants you.”
“Yeah, I figured as much. It was way too easy to get in here.” Eliot took one look and their worried faces and gave them a reassuring smile. “You think this is the worst someone’s ever tried to pull on me when I turned down a job?”
Hardison didn’t want to think too closely on what that had meant for Eliot back in the day.
They made their way through the still-open door and down the stairs to the ground floor. And then had another problem entirely when the keycard wouldn’t work anymore. They went up a level to try it there, but it was the same. Hardison swiped the card, but the security reader flashed an angry red.
They were trapped in the building.
They were alive.
It was one thing to see them on a monitor in a security room, it was a whole other to be here with them in person, seeing them living and breathing and unharmed with his own eyes. For the first time since he’d discovered them missing, Eliot felt the band around his chest loosen.
Now they just needed to get out of here.
The door in front of them was solid metal. There’d be no breaking it down, even with the fire ax that hung on the wall beside it. Eliot paced around the landing area. Short of waiting for the next round of guards to come for them and taking them down, he was all out of ideas. He looked over at Parker, who was busy inspecting the locking mechanism. From the way she was biting at her lip, it wasn’t looking good.
Hardison was muttering nonsense to himself, so Eliot slapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. “Stop talking geek. What do you need?”
“If I had terminal server access I’d have us out of here before you can say ‘I’m a damn genius.’”
An idea hit him then, and Eliot nearly laughed aloud. Reaching into his pocket, he tossed Hardison his phone with a lazy underhand, the one he’d taken off the guard at the control station. “I’m a damn genius.”
Hardison rolled his eyes. “I meant something that’s connected to the netw—” he glanced down at the phone in his hands, his eyes lighting up as he realized what he held. His fingers swiped at the screen in a series of complex motions and he let out an impressed whistle. “This is a remote access control to the entire building’s security system.”
Eliot shrugged. Truth was, he hadn’t known that for sure when he swiped it. He didn’t even have any luck getting the damn thing to work. There was some kind of lock on it and though Hardison had been teaching him some computer stuff, this was well beyond him. The fact that it could access the building was a calculated guess, but hell if he was letting Hardison know that.
Instead, he leaned back and hooked is hands in his pockets, flashing his most irritating smile. “Like I said, I’m a damn genius.”
With a groan, Hardison switched his attention back to the phone. “Not what I meant, man, not what I meant. Why you always gotta do that?” But he was already typing at lightning speed as he said it, head ducked and eyes squinting at the tiny display screen as his fingers flew across the keypad.
He obviously had none of the trouble Eliot had with accessing the device, and despite himself, he couldn’t help but be impressed.
Hardison shook his head as he kept typing, oblivious to Eliot’s thoughts. “Eliot, my man, if I didn’t have to get busy saving our asses, I could kiss you.”
Eliot ignored the nonsense rambling. It wasn’t like Hardison actually meant it.
“Now I just got to override the—”
A beep sounded as the light on the door flickered from red to green, and Hardison pumped his fist in the air with a whoop. “We are in, baby! Damn I’m good.”
Parker kissed him on the cheek and grabbed his hand. “So we’re not gonna die? Cool. Are we running now?”
“No dying today, babe. And yeah, we’re running.”
They both looked to Eliot, who was already in motion between them and the door. From the building plans he’d seen, this should open up at the end of a long hallway. There was no telling what was on the other side.
He opened it, and only had a split second to react as three guards raised their guns at him. They were only about fifteen feet away, and Hardison and Parker were behind him, directly in the line of fire if he dodged. So he did the only thing he could do.
He threw himself at the men.
As he’d hoped, the shock of having someone lunge towards the guns instead of away startled the three just enough to give Eliot the time he needed. He grabbed the barrel of the closest gun, held by a short, stocky man with a flat nose, and twisted it wide just as the man squeezed the trigger. A scream echoed off the walls and the guard immediately to the right of them dropped, bright red pooling between his fingers as he clutched his leg. Not sparing a moment of sympathy, Eliot shoved the stocky guard backwards straight into the last guard, a blond with a buzz cut that looked like he’d come straight from the service.
They all tumbled to the ground, Eliot cushioned by the two men underneath him. From the corner of his eye he saw Hardison kicking at the injured guard still on the ground. Kicking at the gun the guy had tried to pull, he amended, watching in relief as the weapon went skidding across the concrete floors out of reach.
A hit to his stomach knocked the breath out of him and brought him back to the fight at hand. He had to trust that Hardison had it under control. A quick headbutt and the first guard was knocked out, the gun falling to the floor from his limp hands. The guy’s nose was probably broken, but it was already pretty ugly so he figured he did the guy a favor. The blond guard, pinned by the weight of two people, went down just as quickly under Eliot’s fists. He quickly disarmed both guns, shook his hair out of his eyes, and assessed the situation.
Hardison’s guard was down. Parker was rifling through the unconscious man’s uniform and Eliot couldn’t say he was surprised when she came up with a grin and a taser. No one else was running at them, which was good, but they still needed to get the hell out in a hurry.
“This way,” Hardison called after him, glancing up from the phone and gesturing with his chin down the length of the hallway.
There were in the bowels of the loading area, drab concrete floors and walls lit by bright overhead fluorescents. The hallway had doors lining either side spaced about every thirty feet. Storage for incoming and outgoing items, most likely. Perfect places for an ambush, Eliot thought, keeping them in his peripheral vision as they made their way past.
“Make a right, two lefts, and down the stairs. That’ll take us to the loading dock.” Hardison barely looked up from the phone as he spoke.
Eliot led the way, Parker bringing up the rear.
It was surprisingly easy to escape the warehouse from there. Eliot and Parker knocked out the handful of remaining guards they encountered, while Hardison focused on opening the doors they needed opened and electronically locking the ones that would keep them from being followed. For all the place was supposed to be some kind of trap, whoever had sprung it seemed woefully underprepared for the three of them. Eliot shook his head as he knocked the last round of guards between them and their ride home. Good professionals were getting harder and harder to come by these days.
Back at the brew pub, safe behind the security system the three of them had built together, he could finally breathe easy. But it still wasn’t over. Someone had messed with his team, and Eliot was eager to show them all the ways that was a bad idea. Judging by the angry looks on both Hardison and Parker’s faces, they felt the same. By unspoken agreement, they made their way to the back room of the Brew Pub.
“We need to end this.” Parker spun around in her chair to look at them both. “What do we have on this guy Keens?” She continued.
Normally Eliot kept a fair distance from the two of them, but tonight he sat down right next to them, close enough to feel the heat of Hardison’s arm next to him.
Hardison didn’t look up from his computer as he spoke. “Guy mentioned some hard documents he wanted Eliot to retrieve.” His fingers flew across the keyboard. “The thing about paper is that unless you’re very, very paranoid, the information usually starts out on somebody’s computer nowadays. And as it turns out these guys aren’t nearly paranoid enough, and I’m very, very good at what I do.” He hit a button on the keyboard with a flourish and room’s central monitor lit up.
“Whoa.” Eliot sat back as pictures filled the screen. High definition photos mostly. Explicit, high definition photos. And a whole lot of skin. And damn, some of those things he didn’t even think were possible with so many people involved. Mentally, he filed that tidbit of information away for later. It never hurt to be prepared for anything, after all.
Hardison sputtered. “Seriously. Seriously?”
Even Parker had to stifle a laugh, biting down on her fist to muffle the noise. “Wow. He’s flexible for a lawyer,” she said, somewhat in awe.
“And she don’t mean morally flexible,” Hardison added.
Eliot groaned. “I keep telling you, man, enough with the bad jokes.”
“Bad? You wouldn’t know quality humor if it punched you in the face.”
“Oh, I’ll show you punched in the face.”
“He’s morally flexible, too,” Parker said, interrupting them. A couple years ago, Eliot would’ve taken her seriously, but now he could easily read the laughter dancing in her eyes.
“Alright, enough of this. All these naked people are making my brain hurt.” Hardison dove back into the keyboard and soon the pictures were replaced by a blank screen. A couple minutes later, he finished typing and leaned back in his seat, kicking his legs up onto the table and lacing his fingers behind his head.
“What’d you do?” Parker asked.
Eliot didn’t think it was possible, but Hardison’s grin got wider. “Uploaded the pictures to the home page of his corporate website. Well, first I obscured the faces of everyone who wasn’t him. Then I uploaded the pictures. And planted some news articles about his website’s new layout.”
Eliot laughed and held out his hand. Hardison slapped it twice and they ended with a fist bump as Parker let out a delighted hoot and climbed from her seat into Hardison’s lap. It nearly toppled his chair backwards and only Parker’s quick grab at the table saved them from being dumped onto the floor.
Eliot laughed so hard his sides hurt.
Maybe they were all too comfortable to leave, or maybe it was that none of them wanted to be apart after being forcibly separated, but it was hours since Hardison digitally shredded Keens to pieces and the three of them had only moved as far as the couch in their briefing room. Parker had her head in Hardison’s lap and her feet draped over Eliot’s legs. Eliot had grabbed a couple bottles of their summer cider from the bar area, the empties now lying scattered on the floor around them.
Parker nudged Hardison’s arm with a lazy shove. “So, who won the bet, do you think?”
Hardison startled, brow furrowing before something clicked and his eyes went wide.
Eliot didn’t miss the way they both suddenly avoided his eyes. “What bet?” he asked.
He didn’t know what to expect, but both of them blushing and stammering was not it. Hardison, maybe. But Parker? Not in a million years. What the hell was going on with those two? He watched as they had some kind of silent conversation with each other. He wasn’t exactly sure, but if he had to guess it was going along the lines of, You do it. No you do it. No you do it.
Finally, he had enough. “Why don’t both of you tell me?”
Parker sat up, leaving a rush of cold where her legs had been warm against his jeans. She leaned back against Hardison’s chest, and he wrapped an arm around her waist as she said, “The bet was whether you would rescue us first, or if we would rescue ourselves first.”
Which okay, was a little weird, but not that weird. Nothing that would cause the two of them to act like schoolkids found with their hands in the cookie jar. Except that maybe wasn’t the best metaphor, he realized, because he remembered that one time they’d been caught sneaking brownies straight from the oven, and their faces had looked exactly like that. Eliot hadn’t taken it well, and they’d been banned from his kitchen for two weeks. It hadn’t actually kept them away, but that was a whole other story.
He didn’t realize he was smiling until Hardison cleared his throat and said, “What? It ain’t that funny, man. We could totally rescue ourselves, right babe?” He nudged Parker, who nodded solemnly.
Eliot shook the dumb grin away, but didn’t correct Hardison. Whatever was going on with the two of them needed his full attention. He played along. “Well I think it’s pretty clear who won this one,” Eliot said.
“Me,” he finished, just in time with Parker and Hardison’s, “We did.”
“Excuse me?” Eliot asked. “You two were up to your necks in men with guns when I found you. You call that rescuing?”
“We were on our way out,” Hardison countered.
Parker nodded in agreement. “Yup. And then we saved you. That wizard creep had put the whole building in lockdown.”
Eliot was pretty sure the only wizards were in Hardison’s little videogame things, but he thought it best not to ask. Especially when Hardison made a face like someone had just released a new Warlocks and Wardrobes, or whatever.
“You’d have been stuck if it wasn’t for us,” Hardison added. “So unless you suddenly learned how to punch through walls, technically, we rescued you.”
“San Jose, 2004, with my bare hands.” Eliot crossed his arms and leaned back against the couch. And fine, they weren’t concrete and metal walls but whatever. The principle was the same.
Hardison shook his head. “Seriously, man?”
Eliot winked. “Seriously.”
Hardison gave him that look that seemed to be reserved for when he saw Eliot take town a roomful of guys, or do something he’d never seen before, and they grinned at each other.
Something was still missing though. “You two gonna share what you aren’t telling me, or you gonna keep avoiding the subject?”
And just like that, the easy atmosphere dropped away, replaced with a thrumming tension that Eliot could practically reach out and pluck like the strings of his guitar. At the other end of the couch, Parker and Hardison were practically vibrating with it.
Eliot sighed, feeling uneasy and not knowing why. The three of them were a unit, but Parker and Hardison were a couple. He knew enough not to expect to be a part of everything they did together, but something was tugging at him, telling him there was more to it this time.
There was something they wanted to tell him, that much was painfully obvious, but it was just as easy to see that whatever it was, they weren’t ready. Which was fine. Whatever it was, it was clearly none of his business and Eliot knew when to take a hint. Some things were just better off kept between two people.
Reluctantly, he pushed himself to his feet, the craziness of the day crashing into him all at once and reminding him how tired he was. Neither of them said anything as he crossed the room.
Eliot paused with his hand on the doorknob, wondering if they would try and stop him.
A lump settled in his throat as the thought came to him that maybe this was the beginning of the end. The three of them worked well together, but so had the five of them, and that hadn’t stopped Nate and Sophie from leaving. Maybe this was the part where Parker and Hardison decided that they were ready to ride off into the sunset, just the two of them. Was that what they were talking about that spawned this whole thing about the bet?
Eliot had worked alone before, and he could work alone again. But the very idea of it made something clench tight and painful in his gut. The old him would have said he’d gone soft, but Eliot knew it was the opposite. These people – his family—they didn’t make him soft; they made him strong. He didn’t want to think too hard on what that would make him without them.
He took one last look at them holding hands on the couch. Whatever was going on, they looked just as trapped as he suddenly felt.
“I’ll see you two tomorrow,” he said, and left.
They didn’t call after him.
That night, Eliot tossed and turned more than usual, his dreams hounded by something just out of reach. It was almost a relief when a shift in the air pulled him from sleep.
He was moving before his eyes even opened, rolling off the bed and striking at the darkened shadow in his bedroom whose steps he’d been tracking even in unconsciousness. Except this time a familiar shout made him stumble back like he’d been burned.
“Hardison?” he asked, releasing his grip on his friend’s neck. “What the hell man, you tryin’ to get yourself killed?”
He shuffled over to the wall and hit the lights, closing his eyes as he flipped the switch so as not to be blinded by the rush of light. Hardison clearly hadn’t done the same, if the whiny yelp was any indication. A tiny creak coming from the direction of the window nearly made Eliot attack again, but he kept himself in check. If Hardison was here in the middle of the night, it meant only one thing.
A glance at the window confirmed it. Parker was half in and half out of the house, her hair tucked under the black cap she liked to wear during break-ins. He was too tired for the anger he knew he should be feeling about having his privacy invaded like this. Hell, it ain’t like he hadn’t thought about having them both in his bedroom before. And he’d been wearing distinctly less clothing in that particular fantasy.
And wasn’t that a thought he needed not to be having right now.
Rubbing at his temple, he pointed at the door with his free hand. “Out,” he said.
“No buts,” Eliot cut Parker off. “We’re gonna talk and we’re gonna do it while I’m wearing more than just underwear.” Not that it was anything they hadn’t seen before – they’d all been around each other in various states of undress while on the job – but this was different. This wasn’t a job.
Parker just stared and he could swear Hardison actually licked his lips. “Yeah, man, about that.”
“If we take our clothes off, too, will that make you feel better about your underwear?”
Eliot pinched the bridge of his nose. “That’s not how it works, Parker.” Except she was already taking off her top and judging by the large expanse of skin he caught before snapping his eyes shut and turning away, she wasn’t wearing a bra. He’d only caught a split second, but the sight of her small perky breasts and pink nipples seared itself into his brain.
Crap, Hardison was gonna kill him. Hell, he was gonna kill him.
It was the cardinal rule. Don’t perv on your best friend’s girl. Right up there with, Don’t perv on your best friend’s guy, which thankfully hadn’t been violated yet tonight.
Eliot bit the inside of his cheek and tried to think of the most disgusting thing his mind could conjure. His boxer briefs didn’t leave much to the imagination and if he didn’t think fast he was about to give his two friends an embarrassing eyeful.
Victor Dubenich naked did the trick, but left him feeling vaguely soiled and very, very nauseous.
He clenched his fists and let out a sad little huff of despair. He had warrants on his head in over six countries and had been held captive in more shitholes than most people had vacations, but that particular image was the one which was going to give him nightmares for the rest of his life.
“Babe, I think you broke Eliot.”
“Sorry, Eliot.” Parker actually did sound sorry, and Eliot could practically see her biting her lip as she reassessed her strategy, the same way she did when Plan A shifted to B or D or K on a con.
Something loosened in Eliot and a laugh broke through. “It’s alright, Parker.” Eyes still closed in case Parker hadn’t taken that as her hint to get dressed, he navigated blind towards his dresser and fished out a pair of sweatpants from their usual place neatly folded on the far left. “Why don’t you and Hardison meet me in the kitchen. I got some of those chili pepper chocolates you like.”
Keeping his head angled towards where he knew Hardison stood, he took a chance and opened his eyes. Hardison was fully clothed, thank god for small miracles. “There are some orange liqueur ones for you too, man.” he added. He’d been saving them for the next time they all had dinner at his place, but Eliot was willing to improvise.
He breathed a sigh of relief when they both left without further argument, or shedding of clothes.
Finally alone in his room, he sat on his bed and put his head in his hands. He wasn’t blind; he’d put the moves on enough people to see what was going on here, but what he couldn’t figure out was why.
Was this the bet from earlier? Who could talk Eliot into bed first? And rather than competing they decided on a joint assault? Despite himself, his heart clenched painfully in his chest. Sure, he slept with a lot of women, and he was pretty open about it. Not as open about the guys, but how he went about his business was his business. But that didn’t mean he wanted to be a notch on Hardison and Parker’s bedpost, so to speak. No matter how many times he might have thought about it in the safety of his own mind.
Then again, this might be his only shot. Even if it only happened once, the memories would last.
He grabbed a shirt from the dresser before thinking better about it and tossing it aside on the bed. Squaring his shoulders, he went to face his friends.
All the lights in the house were on but they were nowhere to be seen. They weren’t in the living room, spilling melted chocolate in the creases of his leather couch, nor were they perched at the bar in the kitchen, or at the large table in the dining room. Eliot was beginning to think he dreamt the whole thing up when a shout caught his attention.
“Eliot! Down here.”
Following Parker’s voice back into the kitchen, Eliot peeked around the large island that served as his workspace. And stared. Parker and Hardison were sitting on the floor, their backs against his oversized refrigerator. They were gonna smudge the stainless, he couldn’t help but think, before chasing the thought away. Several tiny boxes of fancy chocolates were scatted around them, their tops askew. Parker’s hat lay discarded at their feet.
Parker popped a finger in her mouth, licking it clean and eyeing him from head to toe. “Hi, Eliot.”
“Hi.” Eliot crouched down so that he was right in front of them. “What’s going on here?”
“We’ve seen the way you look at us,” Parker said. Hardison choked but she kept going. “Not just me. You look at Hardison like that, too.”
“Listen, man, what she means is—“
“I know what she means,” Eliot cut Hardison off, placing one hand over Parker’s knee and the other over Hardison’s. Lightly, he ran his thumbs back and forth, gentle stroking motions. “So this is the part where we spice things up a bit, is that it?”
They were both staring at him, and Eliot took advantage of the silence to lean in, turning his head so he whispering against the shell of Hardison’s ear, “That what this is about?”
Eliot hadn’t been planning to take it any further. A little teasing, a little seduction, just enough to make it real enough for them to reconsider what they were getting themselves into. What he hadn’t expected was for Hardison to turn his head and brush his mouth against his own, his tongue running lightly along Eliot’s bottom lip before kissing him for real.
Eliot’s eyes slipped closed without his permission as Parker ran a hand across his bare shoulders, her strong fingers kneading into the muscle there. They were barely touching and he felt surrounded by them, like he’d finally clicked into place. The reality of it was better than anything he’d ever thought about alone in his bed. Or the shower. Or the—
With a sucking breath, he pulled away from them both. This was a dangerous game he was playing and if he wasn’t careful he was going to forget that and be left picking up the pieces. Because this wasn’t reality. This wasn’t permanent. He’d done this kind of thing often enough to know how it worked.
One night only, no encores.
He pulled himself together and put on a smile that promised all sorts of bad things. “So, you two coming upstairs or what?”
Beside him, Parker stiffened and Hardison clenched his jaw shut. And alright, he’d had a lot of different reactions to that particular move over the years but this wasn’t usually one of them. He’d mis-stepped somewhere but for the life of him, he had no idea where.
Parker frowned at Hardison. “That’s the same smile he uses when he picks up women in bars.”
“Or when he’s conning the mark,” Hardison added.
Whoa. This was going all kinds of wrong real fast. He was so sure he’d read the signs right. Hell, Hardison had kissed him back, he was definitely into it. Parker had taken her damn top off in his freaking bedroom. What the hell else could they be trying to tell him?
None of that mattered now though. He needed to set this right.
He put his hands out, sitting back on his heels to put some distance between them. “No one’s conning anyone,” he started. He ran a hand through his hair. “Listen, I just thought that…whatever—it doesn’t matter, I was wrong. Why don’t we just…take a few days.” He pushed himself to his feet so he was standing, smiling reassuringly at them. “We’ll take a few days off and you can call me when we’ve got a new job.”
Eliot felt like he was waiting for his own execution as they looked at each other.
Scratch that. Eliot had waited for his own execution before. More than once, actually. This was worse.
It was Hardison who broke first, a giant smile stretching across his face. He stood, pulling Parker up with him. “Eliot man, as adorable as you’re being right now, you got it all wrong.”
“We want sex,” Parker said. “With you,” she added, when Eliot didn’t immediately say anything.
Eliot felt his head spinning. Why couldn’t they just say what they meant, dammit. They came on to him and then got mad when he made a move and now they wanted sex? They needed to start making some sense or Eliot was going back to bed. Alone.
Something must have shown on his face, because Hardison slowly crept towards him and placed a hand on his shoulder. The warmth of his touch felt like an inferno against Eliot’s skin, but he didn’t shrug him off. He suddenly felt drained. Fighting bad guys he could handle, but whatever this was, it was exhausting.
“We want you,” Hardison said, softly.
He hadn’t noticed her approach, but suddenly Parker was on his other side, one hand slipping around his waist just above his sweatpants, and the other patting reassuringly at his stomach. It was the same thing she’d done when he’d been shot in D.C., and the memory helped to drain some of the tension out of him.
“You don’t need to con us,” Parker said. “We’ve already made up our minds.”
A seduction wasn’t a con but that was an argument he’d save for another day. He was starting to get what they were asking, but needed to hear it. “For tonight?” he asked.
She leaned up to kiss him on the cheek. When he didn’t pull away, she took the hand off his stomach and used it to tilt his head towards her.
She was smiling at him, head tilted and eyes soft, her hair askew from being tucked under the hat. “No, silly. Forever.”
Eliot let her guide him closer until they were kissing, soft and gentle and slow.
They broke apart to see Hardison beaming at them. “Yeah, man, what she said.”
He was looking at Eliot all happy and hopeful. So Eliot kissed him, too.
It wasn’t until they woke up tangled together in his sheets the next morning, rays of sunshine filtering in through the blinds and skin humming with fading pleasure, that he realized he still didn’t know what the bet was that started this whole thing.
Hardison laughed against his shoulder when he said as much, a pleasant rumble that reverberated through his chest. Parker giggled, rubbing his stomach and kissing his jawline.
“That ain’t an answer,” Eliot said, affecting a grumble that was more for show than anything.
Hardison rolled over so he was straddling Eliot’s waist. He grabbed Eliot’s wrists and pinned them above his head. Sure, the guy might be a computer geek but he was tall and he was heavy. With a little training he might actually be able to pin Eliot down. As it was, Eliot could easily break out of the hold.
He didn’t though. He let Hardison hold him against the mattress and waited.
“The bet was,” Hardison leaned down to bite at Eliot’s lip. “If Parker and I rescued ourselves before you did, you have to do anything we want.”
As he spoke, Parker scratched her fingers over Eliot’s throat and down his chest. Eliot shifted beneath her hands, encouraging her as she rolled one of his nipples between her fingers. Without warning, she pinched him, hard.
He arched off the bed, still held in place by Hardison. Dragging in a large breath, he got himself back on track and asked, “And if I got there first? That mean I get anything I want?”
Parker giggled and switched her attention to his other nipple, circling it with her fingers, pulling and teasing. Eliot tensed, anticipating the sharp bite of pain, but it never come. The waiting kept him on edge as Parker walked her hands across his skin. “Don’t be silly. That didn’t happen so it doesn’t matter.”
“Were you at the same warehouse as—“ Eliot gasped as Parker pinched him again, the pain going straight to his cock. His hips jerked and his back arched off the bed. Hardison ground down against him where he sat astride Eliot, fingernails digging into Eliot’s wrists as he tried to hold him steady.
Eliot got himself back under control before he broke the hold. Hardison’s grip loosed, and the tiny pinpricks receded into a gentle pressure.
Hardison moved again, rubbing against him in a steady rhythm that quickly got Eliot hard again. “We were there, and we saved your big strong ass from falling into a trap. So you just lay back and think of Oklahoma.”
Eliot groaned and rolled his eyes. “I can’t believe you just said that, man.”
“Parker, take his wrists.” Parker’s strong fingers replaced Hardison’s above his head and before Eliot could mention that Parker had about as much shot of holding him down as Hardison did, Hardison slithered down the length of his body and took Eliot’s cock into his mouth.
Eliot nearly shouted as he was engulfed in the heat of Hardison mouth. Shortly after, a pair of hands pressed his legs wider apart so that Hardison could settle between them. Warm lips slid over his length, toying with him. Eliot’s hips jerked as Hardison licked at the underside of his head, but then those hands were at his hips, pressing him down and keeping him from thrusting up for more. Hardison paused with Eliot still in his mouth, looking up at him and clearly enjoying his reaction, if the muffled chuckle that vibrated like electricity straight through Eliot’s cock was any indication.
“You’re ours now,” Parker whispered in his ear, and before Eliot had time to process that particular statement, she swung herself over his chest in one acrobatic motion without ever letting go of his wrists. It left her practically sitting on his face, and Eliot didn’t need instructions to know what she wanted him to do. He lifted his head off the bed as far as he was able, took one last look at her gorgeous breasts swaying above him, and eagerly buried his face between her legs. He teased her with his tongue, licking along her folds and up to her clit, before pressing his mouth onto her and sucking hard on the tiny nub.
A gasp above him and the clenching of her thighs around his head brought a smug grin to his face.
Before he could enjoy his victory, a wave of pleasure rocked him off his equilibrium. Hardison had let up when Parker took control, but now his lips were wrapped snug around the head of Eliot’s cock, tonguing at his slit and driving him crazy. A hand pressed between his legs, rubbing at the sensitive patch of skin behind his balls, and oh fuck, it should be illegal to feel this good.
Hardison continued to work him over, and it took all his concentration to focus on pleasing Parker. He moaned into the warmth of her, fighting to keep focus every time Hardison swallowed him down or teased him with hands and fingers. Somehow or other, they settled into a rhythm, rocking back and forth into each other as the bed rocked under their combined force.
Eliot barely noticed when Parker shifted both his wrists into one of hers. “You stay put,” she said, and he grunted an affirmation. She didn’t need to ask; it was her intent that kept him from breaking free in the first place.
He pushed he thought away, concentrating on more important things.
Like how Parker’s free hand joined his mouth between her legs to make tiny circles at her clit, and the tiny gasping noises she made as she rocked onto his face, and the smell of her that filled his nose and his mouth and his everything. His lungs burned as he focused all his efforts on pleasing her, foregoing coming up for air if it meant having her like this for as long as possible. He thrust his tongue as far inside her as he could get, working in time with the movements of her hand and the waves of heat building low in his stomach as Hardison pushed him closer to the edge. He could taste the tang of her slickness against his lips as he worked, feel it drip down his chin as he strained to lift his head up further and get deeper inside her.
“Oh holy hell, you should see the two of you,” Hardison’s voice was barely recognizable, raspy and broken, and fuck that shouldn’t have been as hot as it was.
Eliot’s body jerked as expert fingers replaced Hardison’s tongue, tugging and twisting and driving him out of his head. A finger swiped the tip of his cock and Eliot wasn’t surprised to feel it pushing at his entrance shortly after, slick with his own precome. Letting his eyes close, he relaxed into it, angling his hips to give Hardison better access as he pressed inside.
It was Eliot’s job to protect them, and he’d given them everything he had to give, but now, spread open between them in every way a man could be, he eagerly gave them the rest. Above him, he felt Parker start to shudder, and he longed to twist his hands free and touch her. Bury his fingers inside her and take her the rest of the way, grab at her hips and her breasts, and cup her face in his hands. He wanted to kiss her and swallow her moans as he she came. But she had told him to stay put and so he stayed, hands twisting in the bedsheets as he fought against himself to let her hold him down.
His neck was sore from straining and his tongue ached from overuse, but the discomfort only pressed him on. Black spots danced around the edges of his vision as he felt Parker gasp and thrust harder onto his face, but Eliot only opened his mouth wider against her, determined to give her as much as she needed. She gasped once and clenched hard around his face, and Eliot knew exactly what that meant. He kept licking at her through her orgasm and its aftershocks, determined to draw it out as long as he could. He felt dizzy from lack of air and his chest burned like a fire had been lit inside him, but still he stayed put as Parker rode high though the last waves of her pleasure, let her fuck his face until she was sated.
With a cry, she went limp on top of him scooting down just enough to free his mouth. Eliot gasped in air like a drowning man breaking the surface, blinking as the world came back into focus around him. Parker’s heavy breathing and the curtain of her hair greeted him as his awareness returned. They stayed that way, breathing the same air in time with each other. Then she gave a happy sigh and rolled off him to curl up at his side.
“Hey girl,” Hardison broke the silence, and Eliot had to hold back a whine as it meant Hardison stopped touching him.
Parker crawled along the length of the bed to kiss Hardison, long and lazy. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Eliot realized she must’ve let go of his wrists. He kept them above his head as he watched them kiss.
They broke apart and Eliot’s cock twitched as Hardison said, “I want to watch you watch him as he comes. Sound good, babe?”
Eliot suddenly felt exposed as they both raked their eyes over him—from his arms stretched over his head, to Parker’s slickness shining against his mouth and chin, and down to his legs spread indecently wide, drawing even more attention to the way his cock bobbed against his stomach.
He cleared his throat. “You two gonna talk all day or you gonna finish what you started?”
Parker smiled and crawled back up the bed to kiss Eliot at the same time Hardison lowered his mouth on Eliot’s cock. Eliot’s body snapped taught like a bowstring and it took everything he had to keep still under their combined assault. His hands fisted in bedsheets above him, and he nearly screamed when Hardison took him all the way down. Only Parker’s hands on his chest, stroking and scratching and pinching, kept him grounded.
“Fuck, Hardison,” he bit out. He was close, he just needed—
Parker raked a handful of nails sharply down his chest and Hardison crooked the finger he still had inside of Eliot, stroking him from within. It was enough to send him tumbling straight over the edge. His toes curled and his back arched and a flare of pain bloomed from his palms where he’d abandoned the bedsheets to clench his fists tight. It all swirled together until suddenly he was coming in Hardison’s mouth.
Fingers tightened on his hips as Hardison swallowed everything Eliot had to give. And hell, next time they’d have to find a different position because that was a sight he needed to see. As it was, he slumped against the bed, taking deep gulping breaths and watching in heavy silence as Hardison released his softening cock from his mouth and pressed a kiss to Eliot’s stomach.
It gave Eliot a perfect view of the fact that Hardison was the only one who hadn’t gotten off yet this morning. Eliot longed to do something about that, but his limbs felt so heavy that it was all he could do to stay awake. Still, he wasn’t raised to be selfish, and he’d damn well make sure Hardison ended the morning as blissed out and sated as Eliot felt right now.
He went to sit up, but froze as Parker placed a hand on his wrists, guiding them back over his head. She nipped at his lip. “Not yet,” she said. “Watch.”
Eliot considered arguing that he hadn’t actually lost a bet, nor had he ever even made a wager with them in the first place. But for reasons he didn’t want to think too much on, he didn’t. He stayed where they put him.
Seeing him settle back down, Parker beamed at him and leaned down for a kiss, and Eliot sure as hell wasn’t going to argue with that. And when she went over to Hardison and lowered herself onto him in one smooth motion, well, he wasn’t about to argue with that either.
Their arms wrapped tight around each other as they kissed, languid at first and then with increasing urgency as Parker sheathed herself on his cock again and again. She threw her head back in a shower of hair and with a gasp, Hardison buried his face in her neck, shuddering through his orgasm. Eliot saw his movements grow lazy and uncoordinated, dark eyes glazing over as he looked at Parker, and then past her to Eliot. He kept his gaze on Eliot as Parker reached down between her legs, her hand joining where Hardison was already rubbing at her clit.
“Alec,” she said, her voice breathy with need. She kissed Hardison, long and deep, and then looked back over her shoulder to stare directly at Eliot. Her eyes were shining with need and something else he didn’t quite want to name yet, and any other thoughts he had were cut off when she said in the same desperate tone, “Eliot. Here, now.” Her breath hitched as Hardison sped up his pace. “Please.”
Eliot didn’t think he’d ever moved so fast in his life, his bone deep lethargy forgotten in the face of her need. He draped himself over her back, sweeping her hair aside and peppering her back and neck with kisses. His other hand cupped one of her breasts, thumbing at her nipple as Hardison continued to tease at her clit.
Hardison licked at his lips, still full and swollen from sucking Eliot off. The urge to kiss him was damn near irresistible, a compulsion racing through him with every pounding beat of his heart. Eliot was so used to suppressing urges like that it took him a second to realize he didn’t have to.
There was a sense of wonder that hadn’t faded from last night as he leaned forward to place a kiss on Hardison’s mouth. It wasn’t even a sex thing; he wasn’t a teenager anymore and there was no way he was getting off again in the immediate future. But he wanted to kiss Hardison and he could. He did, and Hardison returned it enthusiastically. They broke apart as Parker began to tremble between them, Eliot’s hand dipping down to rub at her thighs and Hardison claiming her mouth in a bruising kiss as she jerked violently, entire body going taught as she came.
It was a damn sight to see.
When her body went soft and pliant in their arms, neither of them were expecting it, and they toppled onto the bed in a tangle of limbs and tired laughter. Parker hummed in contentment and settled herself more comfortably between them.
Curling more fully into Parker’s back, Eliot slung an arm over her to rest against Hardison’s skin. The surrealness of the situation struck him then, and a startled bark of laughter broke out of him. He’d just had sex with his two best friends – twice if he counted last night—and looking at them now in his bed, it felt like they’d always been there.
A thought struck him then. “About that bet,” he started, and both of them opened lazy eyes to look at him as he continued. “Seeing as it was a draw and all, I guess that means next time it’ll be me calling the shots.”
Hardison flashed him a grin over Parker’s head. “I don’t know, man, think you can handle it? You were pretty good at being told what to do.”
“Oh I’ll show you handling it,” Eliot said.
Parker cut in before the conversation could degrade into their usual bickering. “Sleep first, then pancakes.” She shifted to look at Eliot. “You’ll make them right? I like pancakes after sex but Hardison says that…”
Eliot blinked as her voice washed over him. Twenty-four hours ago they’d been running a con, business as usual, and now Parker was asking for post-sex pancakes while Hardison sputtered in the background. He didn’t know why life had deemed it fit to drop this kind of happiness into his lap after all the things he’d done, but damn if he wasn’t going to grab hold of it for as long as it lasted.
“Yeah, Parker,” he said, grabbing the discarded top sheet and dragging it over the three of them. “We can have pancakes.”
We can have anything you want, he didn’t say, but he was pretty sure they heard it anyway.