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I was in the middle before I knew I had begun

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Eliot sighed as he looked down at his espresso machine. Third time that month the damn thing had broken, and with his current lack of income so there was no way he could buy a new one. He could just buy a French press, but he’d finally gotten used to regularly being able to have a good quality Americano, and honestly the taste had become kind of soothing, richer and smoother than what he’d had for the years he’d been away. Well, he thought, Tara was always pushing him to get out of his apartment and do something that wasn’t cooking or hitting things. Besides, how hard could it be to find a coffee shop? He could always count it as his weekly outing for his next meeting. Eliot looked at the machine one more time, before sighing and reaching for his jacket.

A tiny bell went off as Eliot opened the door to the coffee shop. Fifth one he’d been to that morning, and he was starting to get a little frustrated. Would it kill Portland to have a normal coffee shop? If this one was trying to sell bananas for three bucks apiece again, he was giving up for the day. He was pretty sure he remembered how to make Turkish coffee anyways.

“Hi” came a chirrupy voice, interrupting his thoughts. “Are you here for coffee?” The blonde stared expectantly from her perch on the counter, butterflying her knees up and down in a cross-legged position. There was a large board behind her that was divided down the middle with colored tape; each side had ‘lasers’ and ‘no lasers’ written in chalk respectively.

“Uh.” Said Eliot in consternation, staring at her. He was pretty sure this wasn’t normal, even for Portland.

“Dammit, woman.” Came a voice from the back. “What have I told you about greeting customers?” A tall man walked up to the countered, gesturing widely in a way that Eliot thought was supposed to indicate his disapproval of the whole perching situation, though that could just be wishful thinking on his part. He was wearing a nametag that just said ‘Hardison.’

“That it should be the opposite of the ‘ground is lava’ game?” She replied, wholly unconcerned. “Which I still don’t understand how to win. Where’s the goal?”

“Parker, we’ve talked about this, for most people….No, y’know what? Never mind it’s cool.” He turned to Eliot expectantly. “So, what can I get for you?”

Eliot looked at the man, before glancing at what he guessed could generously be called the menu, “What the hell does ‘lasers’ mean?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Isn’t it cool? It’s this new technology man, it’s gonna completely revolutionize the food industry, I’m talking edible origami, water that tastes like croissants. The future is here baby.” He grinned proudly at Eliot.

“Right.” Eliot said. He looked at the girl, Parker, he guessed? She was still sitting on the counter, now humming quietly to herself and shoving what was frankly an enormous pastry in her mouth. When she saw him looking, she gave what he thought was a smile, although it was hard to tell around the mouthful she’d just taken. He turned back to the man, who was now grinning at the girl. “Right,” he said again.

At this point Eliot was pretty sure he just wanted to get his caffeine, before going to the gym where he could punch things until he forgot this entire damned day.
“Do you have Americanos?” he asked without much hope.

“Do we have Americanos? Man, we have got the best damn Americanos in the city. My own special recipe, you’re gonna love it.” The man, Hardison, said excitedly, already in motion. “Parker, get the, get the thing.”

“On it.” She replied, swinging herself up to a shelf on the other side of the room, where what looked like beakers were lined up. Grabbing one, she quickly made her way over to the man, who was doing everything short of cackling as he whipped up some…thing, using instruments that Eliot knew had no business being anywhere near his coffee.

Pouring it into a to go cup, he placed it on the counter in a flourish. “Voila,” he pronounced. “And since you're basically our first customer, it’s on the house.” Both of them beamed excitedly at him.

“Right.” Eliot said a third time. He stared at his cup. He was pretty sure he’d never seen an Americano quite that color before. He opened his mouth, looked at them, and closed it again. “Um, thanks,” he finally said.

“You’re welcome!” The girl beamed at him. “Come back soon with money!”

They continued to stand there as he walked out, almost like they were sending him off. He glanced back through the window once he was outside and a safe distance, just in time to catch them giving each other high fives about something.

* * * * *

He still had no idea why he’d gone back to that place. The man and woman were both clearly crazy, and the coffee had been absolutely terrible. His welfare had come in, and the first thing he’d done is buy a little stovetop espresso maker. Not as fancy as his old one maybe, but you could get the same results with just a little extra finesse. There was literally no reason, no redeeming factors about that coffee shop, to return. Nevertheless, Eliot found himself walking back less than a week later.

He hesitated outside the shop, noticing the décor for the first time. There was no indication that it was any kind of shop other than a small sign that just said ‘coffee,’ and appeared to have been bedazzled and was hammered directly on the door. Honestly, it was a miracle he’d found it in the first place, he supposed his caffeine-deprived brain had just seen ‘coffee’ and gone straight for it.

Eliot sighed. Was he really so deprived of human contact that he was coming back to this shop? Sadly, that encounter last week was probably the most connected he’d felt to other people in a while, he admitted reluctantly, if only to himself. Tara didn’t count (according to her) even though they talked at least once a week, since she wasn’t physically there, and he had fallen out of touch with his family a long time ago.

Steeling himself, he opened the door and went in. Eliot was immediately accosted with an incredibly strong smell of, was that cabbage?

The man from before looked up from his contraption on the counter with a slight frown that quickly morphed into a grin at the sight of Eliot.
“Parker!” he shouts, “It’s that man, the one with hair.”

“Ooh!” came a voice from somewhere above them, “Don’t let him leave, I’ll be there as soon as….” Her voice trailed off, followed by a few bangs and then silence.

“So,” he said bouncing a little up and down in a way that Eliot did not think was adorable, “You liked the coffee so much that you decided you just had to come back for more? Ain’t no shame, no shame.”

Eliot stared at him in slight disbelief. “That was the worst coffee I have ever had. Including the time with the blood.”

“Including the, what now?” the man said, with a confused frown.

“The blood! Is that a good flavor for coffee?” the blonde asked, plopping down on the counter again.

Eliot started slightly, he hadn’t even seen her come in. Then her words sunk in.

Both of them stared at her, a little taken aback. “No, babe, no, blood is not a good flavor for coffee.” He said to her. “Right?” he asked, turning to Eliot.

“What, no,” Eliot frowned back, completely nonplussed by the situation. “That was a negative example. Why….”

They all stared at each other. “More importantly, I can’t believe you didn't like my coffee, that is a result of culinary genius.” The man said, affronted.

“No, that. Whatever that was, it was not coffee.”

“It wasn’t?” Parker frowned

“Now that is just hurtful man, saying that about my coffee. Like you can do better.” The man said, still clearly offended.

Eliot breathed out slowly, in a controlled way, there was no reason to get involved, he shouldn’t have even come back in the first place, the best thing to do would be to just- “Move,” Eliot bit out.

“What?” the man said. The woman was watching interestedly from her perch, eyes darting back and forth between them.

“Move,” he said again. The man continued to gape at him, so Eliot rolled his eyes and just pushed past him (still gently, he needed to be gentle with these people). He stalked over to the espresso machine, and angrily began the process of making coffee,

“I still don’t know how the hell you managed to make whatever it was you gave me, but that wasn’t coffee. Making espresso is an art. Your coffee should always be freshly ground, and for lattes the milk should be 2% for both foam and flavor. Milk should be steamed in a metal pitcher at an angle until it reaches 150ºF, for a balance between lightness and body.” As he talked, he went through the process, movements deft. “You need to tamp the coffee down evenly for your espresso, and each shot should only take 30 seconds to avoid bitterness while keeping flavor.” Pulling the shots into two cups, Eliot placed them gently on the counter. He poured the steamed milk carefully, using a spoon to regulate the foam, tipping the cup so it created a leaf on top.

Putting his tools to the side, he pushed the two lattes in front of them, ignoring the looks on their faces.

“Dammit,” Eliot said. “This is how you make coffee.”

 

* * * * *

After his demonstration and subsequent dozens of taste tests (in which he learned that he should really, really not give the girl any more caffeine than necessary. Which really, is none at all) the man offered him a job on the spot. Eliot promptly declined. With his weekly meetings at the VA (even if he didn’t always feel that he belonged there, but that’s a whole ‘nother story) and the amount of stuff he was still working through, he wasn’t sure a job was really what he needed.

Still…he frowned at the man who was looking a little hurt by his abrupt refusal. “I’m just…workin through some stuff right now. Don’t think a job would help with all that.” He winced slightly at how vague that sounded. “Um, veteran stuff,” slipped out. Dammit. Eliot looked up from where he’d been staring at his coffee to find the man nodding at him, seemingly unsurprised or bothered by his statement.

“No, man I get that, like you do you and all that. But like, this shop could maybe really use some TLC. You’ve pretty much been our only customer in two weeks.”

“What?” He said frowning, a bit startled “What do you mean I’ve been your only customer?”

“Look, Parker and I don’t really know that much about running a coffee shop. And I get that I’m ahead of my time so people don’t understand the genius of my concoctions and all but-” “Hardsion,” Parker interrupted, cutting off what seemed to be the beginning of a rant.

“Right. So, for various reasons, we haven’t actually had many customers yet. And I’m just sayin’ man, you seem to know what you’re doing. Those lattes were amazing, I have no idea how you did that.” His eyes glazed over a bit, recalling, “Mm, lattes.”

Eliot was starting to feel a little embarrassed, “So? I already told you I don’t want a job.”
Hardison, tripping over his words a little, quickly added “No, no I hear you, just. How’s about you just come in a few mornings to get us up and running? I hate to admit it, but we could use a little direction to get this place going.”

Still, Eliot hesitated. He’d only just gotten used to being back, well as much as he probably could anyways, and the idea of introducing yet another change, well honestly it scared him a little. He was struggling so hard just to not spiral, and he was worried that anything new might be the trigger to send him down completely.

“You should help us,” said Parker, staring at him intently. Eliot’s eyes snapped to hers, having gotten lost in his thoughts for a second. “You should,” she insisted again, still staring him right in the eyes. He glanced away, unable to bear the directness of her gaze, and ended up looking at Hardison instead, who was standing there patiently waiting, albeit with a hopeful look on his face.

Eliot opened his mouth to refuse again, but “Okay,” slipped out instead. Wait, what?

The man let out a whoop of excitement, holding up his hand for the woman to high-five, “Tag team it babe, good job.” Parker smiled in satisfaction, looking pleased with herself. Turning back to Eliot, he grinned, holding out his hand to shake, “I’m Hardison, and blondie over there is Parker.”

“Eliot,” he responded, slightly overwhelmed and completely unsure how to deal with the man’s enthusiasm or any of his recent life choices.

“Welcome to the team brother,” Hardison beamed back, “Now, I’ve been thinking that what this place really needs is some more tech-y stuff-” He started expounded on the ways in which he was going to bring in customers, gesturing wildly while Parker nodded along. What the hell had he gotten himself in to?

 

* * * *

The first few days of working were a little awkward; it had been years since Eliot did anything close to what might be seen as a ‘normal’ job, and he was still feeling a little wary about spending that much time with other people after nearly a month of minimal contact with anyone but Tara. However it quickly became apparent that Hardison had not been exaggerating when he said they didn’t know how to run a coffee shop. How is it, Eliot wondered, that I’ve managed to find the two people in this city that are even less normal than me? He eyed them from where he was putting up an actual sign in front of the shop, with hours and a nice obvious ‘Open!’ to replace that weird bedazzled one they’d had. Although actually, he thought distractedly, it had been kind of unique, and much more sparkly than he thought rhinestones were. But yeah, he wasn’t sure at this point that either of them had any idea of what ‘normal’ was. Why were they even working at a coffee shop? Eliot fixed the sign in place and stood up, considering it. He glanced inside to see Parker waving happily at him, and felt his lips quirk up in a smile. She and Hardison appeared to be trying to put up the new board he’d had them make, with actual drink options and food items, though Hardison had insisted on leaving a section for his ‘laser creations’ as he’d called it. They seemed to be arguing more than actually getting the work done, but well that’s what I’m here for, he mused. He might as well make the most of this situation he’d found himself in. In fact, he thought still smiling, this might turn out to be one of the best decisions of his life.

* * * * *

“Dammit, Hardison. What the hell kind of flavor is this supposed to be?” Eliot growled out, choking slightly as swallowed the mouthful of coffee he’d just taken. A week in to working here and he still had no idea what was going through their minds at any given time. He’d managed to get the café into good enough shape that they had started to attract a steady stream of customers, but Hardison and Parker were as uncontrollable as ever.

“You like it?” Hardison grinned. “I got the idea from the lady who runs the psychic place across the street. Lavender is supposed to be very soothing to those suffering stress or anxiety. She says it puts them in the right frame of mind for uh.” He trailed off, finally noticing the glare that Eliot was leveling at him. “What, you got something against lavender, man?”

“Whatever the hell this is, it ain’t lavender, that’s for damn sure. Did you use your lasers again? I told you to stop doing that! Why the hell are you putting lasers anywhere near coffee?”

“Are you insulting the lasers? Man, you just don't understand. Lasers are the future of culinary genius.”

 

* * * *

 

Eliot had been working at the coffee shop part time for a few weeks now, coming in mornings to handle the rush of lawyers and businessmen who work nearby during the week. He tried to spend weekends and afternoons away, but he found he had begun to linger even after the crowds dissipated, bickering with Hardison and trying to stop Parker from eating all their pastries. Parker had also started to call him at random whenever he wasn’t there, though he had no idea how she’d gotten his number. She seemed to think that all of the decisions made at the coffee shop also had to go through him, which well. Eliot didn’t really want to discourage that kind of thinking after the last time he came in to discover that Hardison had thought it was a good idea to add a laser at the cash register that people could use to order, which was just unnecessary, and had given Eliot a slight heart attack when it went too close to Parker’s face. (“Dammit, Hardison you’re going to blind someone with that thing!” “But c’mon man lasers! Who wouldn’t want to order with lasers? Parker babe back me up”) He found himself being drawn in more and more until he was at the shop most days, which if he was being honest, he didn’t mind nearly as much as he pretended to. Regardless, a man needs some time away from his crazy coworkers, so he’d put his foot down and declared he was taking the weekend off, and they were only to contact him if there was an emergency. A real emergency dammit, not another question about what was appropriate to do with cereal.

It was during one of those rare days off that he got another such phone call. Eliot glared at the phone while it ringed, letting it go until it stopped abruptly in what he imagined was an indignant manner.

“Aren’t you going to answer that?” Came an amused voice from across the table.

Eliot looked over to Tara, who was sipping her drink to hide a smile. “It’s probably just yet another inane question that they don’t actually need me for.”

Tara was only in town for the weekend, she’d finally managed to get a few days state-side but they were shipping her back out first thing Monday, which was why he’d begged off from the café. Dammit, he’d told them not to contact him!

“Would ‘they’ here be the coworkers I’ve been hearing so much about?” She asked, not even bothering to hide her amusement anymore.

“Yes,” Eliot said warily, he knew she was leading up to something, had known since she called him four days ago to tell him she would be in town that weekend, and that she was expecting him to show her around the city he’d definitely explored like she’d told him to. This had led to an afternoon of frantic googling to figure out what there actually was to do in Portland, before he’d given up and just asked Hardison for a list of local attractions.

“Hmm,” she smirked at him, “So-”

The phone began to ring again, cutting her off. Eliot was torn between glaring at her and glaring at the phone. He glanced at Tara to find her looking at him expectantly. There was no way she was gonna just let this go, he thought with a sigh. He closed his eyes for a second, regretting his life choices, before picking up the phone to answer it.

“This had better be an emergency, Parker.”

“Why weren’t you answering the phone?” came a tinny voice through the speaker.

“Wh-Parker, I told you I was busy this weekend.”

“No,” she said, and he could practically hear the frown in her voice as she spoke, could see the slight furrow of her brow she had when she was confused yet determined, “No, you said that you were taking the weekend off and that we weren’t supposed to contact you.”

Eliot sighed, “Parker, that means I’m busy. I do have a life outside of the coffee shop you know. And why the hell are you calling me if you knew I asked you not to?”

“You said not to call unless it was an emergency.”

“Is something wrong?” Eliot asked, sitting up a little straighter, frowning now.

“The coffee shop is lonely without you. Hardison keeps walking around mumbling to himself and moping-” “I am not moping woman!” came a shout that Eliot could just barely hear through the phone, “-and the coffee doesn’t taste right without you.”

Eliot let out another sigh, slumping back a little in relief, although he’d never admit it. “Parker that is not an emergency. When I come in Monday, we are going to make a list of what does and does not constitute an emergency, all right? Now like I said, I’m busy, so if there’s nothing wrong I should get back to that.”

He looked over to see Tara looking thoroughly amused, and let out a growl at her.

“Wait,” Parker said, definitely frowning now, “Are you with someone?”

“Yeah, so? I know people other than the two of you.” Eliot said, distracted by the, what, unhappiness? in Parker’s voice.

“Hardison!” Came the shout through the phone, right in Eliot’s ear, making him wince slightly. “Eliot’s with someone!” There was a series of noises that Eliot couldn't quite make out, something that sounded a bit like a crash.

“Jesus, Parker, what the hell,” he said, confused. He started slightly as a hand came in to his field of vision. Tara waved it slightly, before saying “Hand it over.” Eliot looked at her with some of his earlier wariness, barely noticing as the phone went dead silent in his hand. “Either hand it over, or we’ll be making a trip to this little coffee shop of yours this afternoon.” Eliot stared at her a second longer, trying to figure out her intentions, before giving in, “Fine,” he said, handing the phone over without another word.

Tara rewarded him with a smile, before turning her full attention to the phone in her hand. “Hello, Parker, is it? This is Tara, I’m with Eliot.” Her smile widened at whatever Parker said in reply, “No, no, we’re friends.” She listened intently to what Parker was saying, “Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.” Tara said, responding to a series of questions, “No we know each other from before. Well you’d have to ask him.” Tara glanced at Eliot, who was trying to hide his uneasiness at this entire situation, though he was probably failing miserably. Tara had always been able to read him like a book. “I see,” Tara said, turning her attention back to whatever conversation they were having. She paused, going entirely still as she listened to the other end. There was a second of silence, before she replied “Just keep in mind that Eliot is very important to me.” Whatever was said in response cause Tara to smile widely, glancing at Eliot one more time before saying cheerfully, “Say hi to Hardison for me!” Laughing, she hung up before handing the phone back to Eliot.

Eliot waited a beat, then asked, “Do I even want to know?”

“Nope!” she responded, still grinning. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out eventually though.” Her grin morphed into a small smile, softer but no less real. “I’m glad you're happy, even though this wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I said you should try to settle down.”

Eliot smiled back, “Yeah, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind either for my retirement, but well. It’s kind of hard to say no to those two.” He finished fondly, he could feel his whole face soften as he thought of them. He’d be worried about how quickly they had become a part of his life if they were anyone else, but there was something about Hardison and Parker that made it so easy and natural, a connection he hadn’t felt in years.

Tara and Eliot sat there smiling at each other for a minute. “So!” Tara said, “You ready to take me on that tour of the city?”

 

* * * * *

 

Eliot sighed as he opened the door to the shop, running his hands through his hair. The humidity had been ridiculous the past few week, and he was almost beginning to consider just chopping it all off; his hair was out of control. Then again, he liked the physical reminder that he was no longer in service. The change in silhouette was a good way of handling any the confusion he felt after a nightmare, a way to prove that he was no longer the man of that time and place (no matter if he still felt like he was still the same, some days). But then again, he thought as his hands got caught in a tangle, it might be worth it just for the blessed relief.

Stepping in, he frowned slightly as he realized it was just as hot in the café as it was outside. “Hardison!” he shouted, “Why the hell is the A/C not on?”

“Man, its been broken for like a week, have you not been listeni-” Hardison cut off abruptly as he walked into the room. “Urk” he choked out, staring at Eliot.

“What?” Eliot frowned, still preoccupied with trying to untangle his hands from his hair. Even his de-frizzing products hadn’t reduced the volume of his hair, the mass of curls was ridiculous.

“N-nothing,” Hardison replied, still staring at him.

Eliot looked at him skeptically, “Right. Well, get someone in here to fix the damn A/C. I am this close to chopping all my hair off.”

“No!” yelped Hardison, a little wild eyed. They stared at each other for a moment, Eliot in confusion, before Hardison yelled out “Parker! I need you woman!”

“What?” She asked as she dropped down, “Oooh.” She said as she caught sight of Eliot. “Y’ see babe? And he wants a haircut!” Hardison said indignantly.

Eliot just stared at them.

Parker frowned, “No.”

“Not that we’re trying to make any choices for you man, you’re an independent young man, all that, but yeah. Listen to Parker.”

Hardison and Parker stared at him, eyes flicking up to his hair then back at his face. Eliot stared back.

“Fine,” Eliot sighed, “I won’t cut my hair. Though I don’t know why y’all care so much.”

“Oh thank you lord,” Hardison said. Parker merely nodded, looking satisfied.

Eliot eyed them, “I’m gonna stay in my apartment until you fix the A/C though” he said, flicking his hair out of his eyes and sighing when it just bounced right back in his face.

“Sure thing, man, we’ll get right on it.” Hardison said a little breathlessly. Even Parker’s eyes were looking a little glazed.

“Ok,” Eliot said, confused, “I’m just gonna…go then.”

“Uh-huh.” Hardison replied, still staring.

Shaking his head, Eliot left the café for the walk back to his place. The heat was apparently making everyone crazy.

* * * *

Eliot glanced towards the back, the two of them had been whispering to each other, heads bent together, for nearly thirty minutes. Every now and then one of them would glance at him, before quickly turning around and proceeding to ignore him. Eliot frowned as Parker once again peered at him, before whispering in Hardison’s ear, he was not jealous, dammit, and he definitely wasn’t hurt that they were apparently keeping things from him now. He’s almost sure they’re a couple, in spite of a general lack of PDA between them, so it was perfectly normal for them to want to talk about things without him. It’s not like he wants to be included in their discussion or their life, he gets that they need time away from him, and he doesn’t want to intrude or get in the way. But do they have to do it right in front of him?

Eliot glances at them one more time, before biting back a sigh. “I’m heading back”

“What?” Hardison says, sounding surprised. “You don’t usually leave for another two hours.” He continues, frowning slightly. Parker’s staring at him now too, mirroring the look on Hardison’s face.

“Yeah, well, I figure since you two are obviously busy, I might as well try and hit the gym today,” Eliot snapped, before wincing. That came out way harsher than he’d meant it to.

“What?” Hardison said again, this time in confusion.

“Don’t worry about it, I get that you need time alone, so I’ll just get out of your hair.” Eliot said, already grabbing his jacket.

“What.” Hardison said a third time.

Eliot winced at the expression of disbelief on his face, then risked a look at Parker, who seemed to almost look considering. Eliot looked down, it was always easier when he didn’t have to see their faces. “Sorry,” he bit out, and practically ran out the door before they could come up with a response. A few hours of punching things, even if it was only a punching bag, would clear his head of the confused jumble of feelings so he could go back to their easy camaraderie. Just a few hours to get rid of any pesky thoughts of ‘what ifs.’

 

* * * *

“Eliot.” Said Parker.

“What,” he replied flatly, nothing good ever came when she had that tone of voice.

“You should get coffee, to go.”

“What,” Eliot said again, this time with a slight frown. “I make all of the coffee here, why would I get it to go? Is this a ploy to regain access to the espresso machine? You’re still banned after that incident with the foam and the customer in the horse costume.”

Parker rolled her eyes, “Like I said, I still don’t get why he was so mad. I thought it was a huge improvement!”

“Parker,” Eliot growled.

“Just do it.” She replied, utterly un-phased. “Now go make a cup of coffee so we can put it in a to-go cup for you.”

“Wh-that doesn’t even make sense, why would-”

“Chop chop!” she said, poking him in the back in the direction of the espresso machine. “And make an Americano, those are your favorite.”

Eliot grumbled but started the process anyway, “Fine.” He said tersely. “Here, an Americano in a to go cup, now tell me what the hell is going-”

Hardison reached out and grabbed the cup, cutting him off mid-sentence.

“Now turn around, and don’t look!” Parker ordered, as she and Hardison bent together over the coffee cup and began to whisper pointedly at each other.

“Fine,” he sighed. Why the hell was he so enamored of these two? Well, he thought, a small, fond smile crossing his face, at least it’s never boring around here. He could at least admit it to himself that he enjoyed Parker’s schemes and Hardison’s experiments, as long as he didn’t have to eat the food that was created as a result, which. Huh.

“Tada!” Parker said,

Eliot turned around to pick up the cup. On one side, Parker had drawn what appeared to be a lion rather gruesomely tearing out the throat of a giraffe, while some kind of bird and, maybe a goat? were standing slightly behind.

“That’s great Parker,” Eliot said a little sarcastically, but still somewhat pleased that they had gone to so much trouble to surprise him with this.

“Turn it around, silly!” Parker said expectantly.

“All right, all right.” He turned it around, careful of the hot liquid, and froze when he saw the other side.

Parker, and Hardison he suspected, as this appeared somewhat normal, had drawn a large pink heart, with the words ‘Parker, Hardison, and Eliot 4ever’ written in a loopy cursive. The whole thing was dotted with smaller hearts, and at the very bottom was a simple ‘?’. Eliot gaped at it for another moment, then looked up.

Parker and Hardison were still staring at him, though now, he thought, with a little bit of nervousness.

“So,” Hardison began, “We’ve kind of been thinking about this for a while, but dude, you never seemed to pick up on any of the hints we’ve been dropping, and some of those were inspired man, so y’know, we thought….”

“We should be more direct.” Parker finished. “I thought we should just start kissing you, but Hardison said we should ask first, which I still thought was a bit silly.”

“Wh- babe do we need to have that talk again about how people are not the same as diamonds, and you can’t just take them whenever you want-”

“No, I know I just,” Parker said frustrated, “I just want Eliot to know.”

“I know babe, I know.” Hardison said back softly.
“So, uh, Eliot?”

Eliot stared at them a little wide eyed, “Y-you want this, with me?”

“Do you not want us?” Parker asked in a small voice.

“No, darlin’ of course I do. You know I’ll always want you, both of you I just.” Eliot frowned, struggling to voice the jumble inside him, the mess of want and fear and disbelief.

“It’s cool man, we get it,” Hardison said softly, “Just, c’mere?” Hardison reached out, gently plucking the cup out of Eliot’s hands to place it on the counter, before tugging him by the wrist over to where he and Parker stood. “Just let us know if this isn’t cool, ok?” Saying that, Hardison wrapped his arms around both their necks, pulling them in gently so that they all stood right up next to each other without actually embracing.

Eliot froze for a moment, before reaching around both of them with a choked off noise, pulling them in tight, gripping the backs of their shirts in a way he was sure was too tight. Hardison let out a noise of relief, tightening both his arms and burying one of his hands in Eliot’s hair. Parker seemed to take this as a signal, and proceeded to wrap her legs around Eliot who only staggered a little, hanging on tightly, and pulling Hardison in so he wrapped around the both of the them.

They stood there for what seemed like ages, just drinking in the sensation of being able to touch and in knowing that the others are right there. Eventually, Eliot said in a slightly hoarse voice, “Parker darlin’ you may barely weigh anything, but I’m startin’ to feel a little sore here.” Parker made a quiet noise of discontent, she had buried her face in Eliot’s neck, and one of his hands was gently playing with her hair, while the other was still wrapped around Hardison’s back. Hardison’s voice came quietly, “Move to the couch? I’m not quite ready to let go either, but I can admit sitting down would be a lot more comfortable.” Eliot nodded, forcing his hand to let go of Hardison’s shirt in order to hold up Parker more securely with both hands. Hardison let his forehead rest against Eliot’s for a second before he too let go, “C’mon, this way.” He said, gently guiding Eliot with a hand on his back.

Hardison led them into the back of the coffee shop, which Eliot had only glimpsed once or twice through the door even after all this time. Walking was a bit more hampered with Parker still hanging on like a limpet and Hardison’s seeming refusal to go completely without touching Eliot for even a second, but they somehow managed to get through the door and to the couch without too much effort.

Eliot collapsed onto the big L-shaped couch with Parker ending up in his lap, and Hardison quickly followed, pressing right up to Eliot’s side and tucking his head in Eliot’s neck.

Eliot felt a bone deep contentment begin to settle in, relaxing him in a way that he hadn’t felt since. Well, practically never. He felt his eyes begin to drift shut, knowing that the two people he was gonna pledge the rest of his life too were right here with him, and they were gonna stay. Just as he was about to fall asleep, a fragment of their earlier conversation drifted through his mind, and he frowned.

“Wait, what did you mean by diamonds?”