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something good can work (and it can work for you)

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“Um. Hardison?”

“Yeees?” he says, a little too engrossed with the innards of a cooking laser spread out over their dining room table to look up right that moment. He knows where Parker is, in any case—behind him, a little to his left, between him and the breakfast bar in their apartment.

When she doesn’t say anything right away, Hardison disentangles one hand from the equipment and reaches back, waiting to see if she’ll take it. She does, and instead of the clasp-and-swing of a happy-Parker-handhold her grip is tight, just around his fingers. “Um.”

All thoughts of lasers disappear from his head, as effectively as if they’d been zapped with, well, a laser. “Whoa, hey, you okay? You—you want me to turn around?” He very badly wants to turn around, but sometimes Parker has to say things when she’s standing behind him, or above him, or one room over, and he doesn’t mind, he really doesn’t, but if it’s not one of those times he would really like to see what’s making his girlfriend’s voice shake like that, thank you.

He hears a swish like the flick of her ponytail and then a quick, nervous laugh. “Sorry, you can’t see me shake my head. See, um. Could we.” She has both hands wrapped tightly around his fingers now, and he tries to give them a reassuring squeeze. “Could we go to the air duct?”

“Yeah, sure,” he nods, because she can see that, “Want me to keep my eyes closed on the way?”

“Yes,” she whispers after a moment, and he feels her press his hand to her face in gratitude as he shuts his eyes. “I won’t let you fall, okay?”

He smiles and lets her turn him, guide his other hand to her shoulder so she can lead. “I know you won’t.”

The air duct is a sort of blanket-fort/cubby-hole in the ceiling, regularly vacuumed of nasty ass dust bugs and properly ventilated so they don’t asphyxiate and die in their sleep. Parker likes their king-sized bed most of the time, but every so often when they first started cohabitating she would creep away in the middle of the night to climb into the ceiling over the kitchen. She said it made her feel safe. Hardison had very carefully asked if she needed to feel safe by herself, or if it was okay for him to drag a Dalek-patterned duvet up there and join her. She’d given him a look that said he was being stupid, and hauled him into the ceiling by the collar of his favorite shirt.

The Dalek blanket lives up there now, along with two pillows, a handful of carabineers, and a stash of gummy frogs. Still, most of their nights are spent on the bed, if for no other reason than there’s more room for hanky-panky on it.

Maybe Hardison has to cheat a little to make it up the ladder in one piece, but he doesn’t try to look at Parker before she’s ready, not even when they’re settled together in the air duct with her head resting on his arm, her hands still holding his close in the space between their bodies, toying with the tips of his fingers.

“Alec,” Parker says, and has to stop to take a steadying breath. “Okay, you can look now, I guess.”

A helpless smile pulls at the corners of his mouth just seeing her there, just like every morning when they wake up together. “Hey, baby,” he says, kind of hopelessly ridiculously in crazy love with this woman.

“Hey,” she says, jittery, looking down at their hands.

He tips their heads together. “Whatever it is, it’s okay. We’ll figure it out.” Her lips twist, uncertain, and that’s not right, that’s not right at all. Hardison feels something in his belly swoop. “Hey, hey, if it was the part where I asked you what was wrong and then got distracted by the gadgets I am so sorry, I, I, sometimes I just get carried away with the new toys but I’mma do better, I’mma pay you more attention, I promise—“

“Hardison,” she says to shut him up, and it’s so much like the way Eliot says his name it sends a weird jolt up his spine. “No, it’s. I mean, it was a little bit that, but I get distracted too, it’s okay. It’s just.” She shuts her eyes, forehead scrunched up tight. “I miss Eliot.”

“…Eliot…Spencer?” Hardison asks carefully, feeling a little like he’s missed a step walking up a flight of stairs. “The guy we saw at the brewery, like, half an hour ago?”

Parker blinks her blue eyes open, looking lost. She nods, little jerky movement of her head against his arm. “Yeah. Him.”

“Can you…explain a little more?” Hardison tries. Sometimes that helps, when Parker throws words at the situation until they stick and make sense to lesser mortals.

But she just shrugs, mouth twisting worse, eyelashes damp at the edges. “Not really?” she says, and her voice almost cracks. “Sorry, I don’t. I thought you might know why. He’s still there, and we’re there, but ever since you and I—well, we’re a ‘we,’ but our ‘we’ used to be bigger, it used to be an ‘us.’ Suddenly Eliot’s a ‘them’ and that doesn’t seem fair, he never got a say and I don’t know, if feels like he might think he’s not in the family anymore, because Sophie’s got Nate and I’ve got you but Eliot—I don’t want him to leave.”

“Hey, hey, hey,” Hardison says, drawing her closer even though they’re already tangled up in each other. “Eliot’s family. He’s always going to be family.” And then, because he can’t help the sharp penny-drop feeling in his chest, “Did he say anything about leaving?”

“No. But that doesn’t mean anything. People leave when they don’t feel wanted.”

Hardison tightens his grip automatically, has to remind himself not to cling. “You sure this is about Eliot feeling wanted?” he makes himself ask. “And not you?” He doesn’t know what he’ll do if she answers yes; probably steal an entire museum for her, bungee jump off the sun.

“No,” she says, sounding indignant, propping herself up a little to frown down at his totally-not-panicking face. “It’s about Eliot. I know you want me.” She gives him a smack of a kiss that leaves his mouth tingling, but when she settles down again it feels like they fit a little better, like something loosened in Hardison that he hadn’t really noticed knotting up.

“You don’t miss him?” Parker asks after a moment, back to playing with Hardison’s fingers, looking at the ceiling less than a foot above her face.

Hardison takes the time to think about it, because Parker deserves it—and hell, Eliot too. If Hardison’s been missing Eliot and not noticing…that’s a problem. This whole case Hardison had felt hyper, easily distracted, easily excited, pinging around the room. He’d kind of thought it was just the gadgets, but, well. He gets to play with new toys all the time. Now he’s wondering if it was because he’d been feeling kind of…unanchored. Like a balloon someone let go of without tying off.

But Parker wasn’t the one to let him go. No, he gets that, gets that he’s ultimately responsible for his own shit, but—but he suddenly remembers the moment his Nana sat him down after his first week staying with her, when she told him he didn’t have to keep showing off for her, she liked him plenty fine and social service folks would have to pry him from her gnarly old fingers before he got sent somewhere new.

So maybe…maybe his subconscious has been quicker on the uptake than the rest of him.

Hardison realizes he’s nodding. “Yeah,” he says, and it sounds even truer when he says it. Scary true—his chest is doing an uncomfortable clenching thing he hadn’t known chests could really do. “Yeah, I… We need more Eliot time. Off cases.”

Her smile is still the best thing in the whole damn world, and a close second is both arms full of Parker in an air duct.

“Okay,” she says, resting her head on his chest again. “Thank you.” She lets out a gusty sigh, mutters, “Feeling things is exhausting,” as she drags her knuckles over her eyes. “It was better before Eliot reminded me how.”

“Was it really?” Hardison asks, nudging her chin up to look at him.

She chews her lip, but only for a second. “No.”

“It’s all good,” he promises, kissing her forehead and then the tip of her nose because he knows she calls it bunny kissing in her head. “We’ll make sure Eliot knows we still love him.”

She hums as she settles. “Good.”


Operation Love Meme is put into operation after a quick nap and a snuggle, right about the time Parker’s stomach grumbles loud enough to wake them both up. “Here,” Hardison says, handing her a bag of gummy frogs, “brain food while we come up with a plan.”

“FOOD,” she yelps, half a frog already caught between her teeth.

Hardison almost falls off the ladder, but he makes a graceful recovery. “Uh, what?”

“Food,” she says again, waving the bag of candy amphibians in his face. “Eliot feels feelings through food! So we should make him some.”

“Damn,” Hardison says, a little dazed.

Her eyes narrow warningly. “No lasers.”

“No, I mean—what, girl, I could whip up some laser food in a spiffy, but I meant ‘damn’ as in ‘damn that’s a good idea.’ Come here.” He loops an arm around her shoulders and nuzzles a kiss into her hair just because. “No lasers,” he promises.

Eliot does sound kind of grouchy when he answers the phone, or it could just be Eliot-normal, it’s hard to tell sometimes. “What?”

“Hey, uh, yo,” Hardison says, feeling strangely nervous, heart thump-whumping out of whack. “So me and Parker were thinking—you should come over! For dinner. Which—“

“Which we’re making!” Parker jumps in helpfully, legs swinging where she’s sitting on the counter.

“Yes, which, we are making,” Hardison says with a sweeping gesture that Eliot can’t see, given he’s on speakerphone.

There’s a pause, and Hardison can’t tell if it’s a good pause or not. “When you say ‘we’re making dinner,’” Eliot finally says, “do you really mean ‘Hey you should come over and cook dinner for us so we don’t burn down the apartment?’”

His tone is hop-skip-and-a-jumping around his dammit-Hardison growl, but Hardison personally feels it isn’t Eliot’s best work. It’s lacking a little something. Eliot…Eliot really just sounds tired.

“Hey, no, man,” Hardison says, bracing his hands on the counter either side of the phone. “Seriously, we know you’ve been cooking up a storm lately, figured it was time someone threw a little TLC your way.”

It sounds a little awkward but it’s already out of his mouth, and Parker gives him a big thumbs up so he decides not to worry about it. Especially not after Eliot’s answer is, “What—what is that, TLC, some sort of a spice?”

“What? No, it’s—it’s Tender Love and—“ Hardison pinches the bridge of his nose. “I can’t believe— Just come over, okay?”

“We miss you!” Parker says, too loud and too close to the phone. So much for covert ops, but that wasn’t likely to work on Eliot in the long run anyway.

...What do you need me to bring?” Eliot asks after another strange pause, and there’s something still so off in it that some part of Hardison twangs.

“Bring yo ass,” he says, too fast, too crazy.

“Just bring yourself,” Parker says, half over him, that fake-happy she does when she’s nervous. “We’ve got the rest!”

“Oh…kay, okay, fine,” Eliot says, but he sounds more resigned than enthusiastically looking forward to a good meal. “I’ll be over, maybe twenty minutes with traffic.”

“Good,” Hardison says, “Greatness. Awesome. Cool.”

“What are you making?”

“Food,” Parker says. Nice save, Hardison mouths at her, because his mind had drawn a complete and utter blank.

“That’s…neat. Alright, see you in a bit.”

He hangs up before Hardison has to think of another word that isn’t ‘good,’ ‘greatness,’ ‘awesome,’ or ‘cool,’ so that’s probably for the best. Parker gives him a high five.

“Operation part one of the thing is a success!”

“Y-yes,” Hardison says, “Go team. Um. What are we cooking him?”

Parker’s smile vanishes. “Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh.” Hardison drags his suddenly sweaty hands across his jeans. “What are the odds he’ll notice if we order takeout from a fancy restaurant and then make a mess in the kitchen like we really made everything here?”

“Zero odds. Zee-ro.”

“Right. …But it’s worth a try, hang on, I’mma call—“

“No, Hardison,” she says, grabbing his arm before he can get the phone to his ear. “We can’t. We said we’d cook for him. We can’t lie to Eliot.”

Hardison makes himself push the air out of his lungs, hoping to get rid of some of his jitters. He can’t remember a time he was this nervous that didn’t involve guns or one of Parker’s dates, to be honest. Like that time they went swimming with tigers. Hahaha.

“No, you’re right, of course you’re right. Do we even have food in this house?”

“We have food,” she says as she hops down from the counter to pace, “just not Eliot food. We have poptarts and hot pockets. Maybe eggos? We could put scrambled eggs on eggos and that’s technically cooking because we used a pan!”

“Yes. No. We should. Hang on.” There’s a niggling thought at the back of his mind, TLC and food, Hardison is pretty sure they have—bread, yes, score. Cheese! Real cheese, not in slices! Fancy cheese! Which they bought by accident last week when Hardison grabbed the wrong thing, but it’s still good, smells amazing actually, smoky and warm and cheese-like. And they have butter for the eggos, which means—“Grilled cheese! We can do this!”

“And soup,” Parker says, half-buried in their highest cupboard, scattered cereal boxes in all the rainbow colors tumbling out behind her. “I think we still have—yes?”

She returns with two slightly battered cup-o-noodles and a hopeful grin.

“It’ll have to do,” he says, and lets her hop onto his back so they can waddle to the stove together.


Eliot knocks when he shows up. Knocks and waits to be let in, which is weird and unsettling and makes Parker make a face. Hardison leaves her to watch the soup (lovingly pried from its Styrofoam home and left to steep in an actual pot, so maybe it won’t be totally obvious).

“Hey, man,” Hardison says, and drags Eliot into a hand-clasp-chest-bump bro hug before he can think about it too much. Eliot looks startled but goes with it; Hardison will take what he can get. “You don’t have to wait out here like a stranger, just walk on in!”

“Hardison, you’re with Parker now,” Eliot growls, like Hardison doesn’t know. “I didn’t want to—barge in.”

He brushes on by, and Hardison notices for the first time that he’s carrying bags but he doesn’t let it distract him. “Oh, dude, you know, don’t worry about it, we won’t do no big coupley displays of affection, make you all uncomfortable up in your business, seriously I thought I told you not to bring anything.”

“You don’t show up empty-handed to dinner at somebody’s house, okay, you just don’t.”

Eliot hasn’t looked him in the eye yet. It’s starting to freak him out. “Hey hey,” Hardison says, nabbing a bag just to slow Eliot down. “We’re not ‘somebody.’ We’re family.” Best start in on the message of the day early, in case—and it looks like—Eliot needs it whacked into his thick skull. “But thank you for the stuff,” he says, sincerely grateful too, because his Nana raised him right.

Eliot looks kinda wary, still skittish, like he thinks there’s a trick in there somewhere. Hardison shows him his best guileless face, just in time for Parker to tackle Eliot from behind.

“HI,” she says, arms looped around his neck, and Eliot just manages to keep them both from toppling over when he hooks his free hand under her knee. He gives Hardison a look, like Eliot thinks he’s done something wrong, and Hardison can’t even keep the grin off his face long enough to be reassuring.

“What do we have here?” Hardison says to himself as he wanders into the kitchen, letting Eliot follow with Parker still on his back. “Ooo, alcohol. Nice.” He de-bags an unlabeled brown glass jug that Eliot has told him (many times) are called “growlers” (Hardison calls them “Eliots”). “Is this one of ours?”

“It’s a test batch. Yeah, the, uh, Winterfest, I think. Parker, what are you doing?”

She’s tucked her chin over his shoulder, nuzzling his head by the looks of it. But what she says is, “Smelling your hair.” She takes a long breath in. “It’s nice.”

Eliot looks a little betrayed, though Hardison has no idea why.

“And the other bag?” Hardison says, holding out his hand for it.

“Dessert,” Eliot grumbles, hitching Parker a little higher since it seems she has no plans of going anywhere.

“Hot damn, you brought us lava cake. I love you,” Hardison croons into the bag.

When he glances up, Eliot looks a little pink in the face, like maybe Parker’s getting heavy, or Hardison is giving him an ulcer by being awesome. In any case, Hardison has to make a flying leap across the kitchen to save the grilled cheese from burning.

“Really?” Eliot says, eyebrows up in his hairline. “You’re calling that dinner?”

Parker flicks his ear. “Rude.”

“Fancy cheese,” Hardison defends. “Comfort food.”

Eliot actually looks a little ashamed—which wasn’t the point of tonight at all—and Parker hops down to the floor to get a look at him. “Sorry,” Eliot says, dragging a hand over his face. “Sorry, it’s just—been cooking non-stop for days, takes a lot out of me.”

“I know, right?” Parker says, “Feeling feelings is tough work.”

She pats the side of his face, and then—on impulse, looks like—kisses him there, a brief, sweet peck on his cheekbone, high-up where it hasn’t been bruised. Eliot freezes, but Parker’s already bouncing away with a grin on her face, hollering, “I get to pick the movie!” as she dashes from the kitchen.

“She seems…chipper,” Eliot says after a moment, sidling up to the oven with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders high.

“Yeah, buddy. I think her trip to the museum did her good,” Hardison says, tapping at the sandwiches to check their cheese consistency. “Though I told her she’s allowed to look at the art in the daytime, she doesn’t have to break in.”

“Well, it’s Parker, you know?” Eliot sounds kind of agitated. When does Eliot not sound agitated? “Most of the fun is knowing she can do it, could steal it if she wanted to.”

“I know,” Hardison says gently. He’s got the feeling Eliot is trying to tell him something, and this time he even has an idea of what that might be. “Listen,” he says, quiet and non-threatening, just how Eliot likes, “I really appreciate you being there for Parker when I…wasn’t. I dropped the ball, and I’m just really grateful you were there to…pick it up.”

It’s not the best analogy he’s ever come up with—doesn’t top the marshmallow/motorcycle metaphor of ’99—but it’ll have to do.

Eliot still looks like he’s spent the day listening to Nate tell him his relationship with alcohol is totally healthy—his eyelids droop a little, mouth quirked in a defeated smile. “Yeah, okay.”

“I’m just saying. Thank you.”

“But?” Eliot presses after a moment, reluctant, like he can’t help himself.

“But what?”

“Thank you but I’ve got this? Thank you but step off?”

“Thank you but nothing,” Hardison says, baffled. “Eliot. Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind.”

“Or forgotten!” Parker hollers from the living room. “Come on, I picked a movie! Our TLC is getting cold!”

“I do actually know what TLC is, you know,” Eliot mutters to as he helps Hardison juggle sandwiches and soup. “I just—got it confused with MSG and, yeah. Been cooking a lot.”

“It’s okay, man.” Hardison kind of wants to sling an arm around his shoulders, but his hands are full so he has to settle with knocking elbows with Eliot in a friendly way. He knows Eliot works at least twice as hard as the rest of the team more often than not—does the physically demanding shit Nate asks him to without so much as a peep; at least when Hardison does impossible things he lets himself bitch it out.

“We appreciate it,” Hardison says, and when Eliot blinks at him he feels kind of (really, okay, a lot) bad for not saying it sooner, more often. “The whole team does, you know. But yeah, me and Parker…”

He can’t figure out how to finish the sentence, but they’re in the living room anyway so he gives it up. “Hey, girl,” he says, handing her a sandwich, “What you got for us?”

This Means War.” She flicks the dvd case across the coffee table before he can see it, but he recognizes the title from the main menu playing on the 60-inch Hi-def flat-screen. “I heard there’s explosions and secret agents and stolen art. And maybe some romance stuff, I guess.”

“Sounds like a good call.”

It takes some wrangling, but Hardison manages to maneuver it so Eliot’s in the middle on the couch—Parker gives him a thumbs up behind Eliot’s back. It helps that Eliot is distracted by the fact that yeah, Hardison does actually own physical copies of media that appear to be bought legally.

“Compromise,” Hardison says.

“All pirating must be done while wearing an actual eye-patch,” Parker recites from the rule board they have tacked up in the kitchen. “And using a pirate voice. Otherwise it’s just false advertising.”

“Sometimes it’s just quicker to buy the damn things,” he admits, settling in close enough to Eliot to brush elbows, because it’s what Parker’s doing. It’s cozy. Eliot doesn’t seem to mind; he looks a little surprised, and then a little fake-huffy while he settles, but nothing that sets off any alarms.

The movie starts out explodey enough, even though Parker makes a pained noise at the opened briefcase of money blowing away—Hardison is feeling more empathy towards the dude that just fell off the building, but that could just be him. Then she and Eliot get in an argument about the parachute the other bad guy used to escape, whether it’s the best brand choice for inter-city hang-gliding, and it’s all going really well.


“This is ridiculous,” Parker says. Her head is resting on Eliot’s shoulder, and somehow it just felt natural for Hardison to stretch an arm along the back of the couch so he could rub at the back of her neck where she gets tensest. It means Eliot’s pressed up along Hardison’s side and Parker is kind of curled into his chest. Eliot keeps staring straight at the screen, so it can’t be that weird. The alcohol probably helps, and Hardison is pretty sure it’s the only reason Eliot’s allowed himself to rest the back of his head against Hardison’s inner-elbow.

“It’s a rom-com, Parker,” Eliot rumbles, “They tend to be.”

“No, I mean.” She frowns, takes a second, then says in a rush, “Why does she have to pick one guy to be with? Why can’t she pick both?”

Eliot flinches—or, no, it’s a laugh, but it looks like it hits him wrong and he winds up in a short coughing fit. Hardison catches him when he tips forward, his free hand absently rubbing against Eliot’s chest while he catches his breath.

“Holy—sorry, think the beer’s just hitting me,” Eliot says when he can breathe again. He doesn’t try to pull away but he doesn’t lean back into them, either, hunched over his knees with Parker’s hand on his back and Hardison’s hand on his chest and it should be weird, and it’s frighteningly weird how weird it isn’t. “You take it,” he tells Hardison, “She’s your girlfriend.”

It takes Hardison a second—or five, really, because his train of thought is officially derailed. Parker’s question. Why does she have to choose? Did Parker choose? Did she think it was unfair that she had to?

Parker’s eyes are big and blue and kind of sad, mouth quirked as she tips her head Eliot’s way like she’s asking, What are we going to do with this guy? Like she thinks they’re already on the same page about this.

“Take what?” Hardison says, nodding to show he gets it, he—he does. Probably. He just needs to buy a little time for his mind to catch up to Parker’s, as usual. “I’m on her side.”

Eliot sits up, shaking his head, scowling. “No, man, you can’t just—that’s not how the real world works.”

“Polygamy,” Hardison coughs, because he cannot believe some of the turns his life has taken, “Polygamy has been, like, around—“

“Yeah in original Mormonism! Or other way older, stranger religions where people were scarce on the ground and all of those were multiple wives situations, not—“

“I’m just saying,” Hardison says, hands up, backing off because—okay it’s too fast, Eliot’s obviously not on board, and Hardison’s head is still spinning, “in this very specific on-screen instance”—he gestures emphatically at the TV—“I could see it. The three of them would be a good fit.”

Parker looks confused about why he’s detoured the conversation, but he shakes his head just enough, a Not yet that he can see her understand. She nods and sits back, and he has no idea how he ever got so lucky. Asking for more seems like pushing their luck so hard.

Then again, they are thieves. When have they ever backed down from something just because it seemed too risky to try? How many times have they pulled off the impossible twice before breakfast?

Eliot takes a lot longer to settle, plants his elbows on his knees and watches the movie for a bit leaning forward like that, like he’s just now realized how close they’re sitting on the couch. Hardison keeps his arm stretched along the back of the cushions because if he pulls it back now it’ll look even worse, like they really had been trying to get into Eliot’s pants without testing the waters first.

He gets a little distracted from the TV himself, taking in the tense line of Eliot’s shoulders, following the curve of his spine on down to where his shirt’s come untucked from the back of his jeans. There’s only really been one other guy who caught Hardison’s attention like Eliot does—and it’s, it’s a spark, a zing, realizing that Eliot does catch his attention, more than a partner in crime should—but that dude had been nothing more than a pretty face in the end (he confused Star Wars and Star Trek at a crucial moment and threw a serious wrench in the coitus; Hardison has never fully gotten over it). He hadn’t written off men after that, exactly, but he’d been waiting for the zing. And then came Parker, and he’d zinged so hard he nearly sprained something.

Eliot’s zing is a stealthy motherfucker, because of course it is. It sure as hell didn’t help that Eliot was probably doing his best to smother it, and because Eliot’s best is terrifying, poor little zing barely stood a chance.

Now that Hardison knows how to look it’s blipping loud and clear, in the splay of his knees keeping contact with their legs either side of him, in the way he starts to drop his head but doesn’t when Reese Witherspoon asks her BFF, “Do you think it’s possible to love two people equally?” and her friend sighs, sits back, and says, “Love? Yes. Be in love? No.”

“This movie is stupid,” Parker says, scowling hard enough Hardison gives her shoulder a soothing squeeze. “I think I could love two people equally, what’s the big deal?”

That warm, fluttery feeling in Hardison’s chest spreads out to his fingers, down to his toes, same as it always does when Parker says she loves him—only this time it feels richer, a little hotter, more like honey and bird wings all jumbled together under his skin.

“No, Parker, you can’t,” Eliot says, suddenly on his feet, voice a tired rasp. He’s not quite looking at her when he drags a hand through his hair, and Hardison oh-so-casually drops the volume on the TV. “Just think about it for a sec, okay? Think about the way you love Hardison, huh? Like you’d do anything in the world for him, like you feel sick when he’s in danger. That’s the type of love they’re talking about, that can’t be equaled.”

“Yeah,” Parker says as she draws herself up, “it can.”

“I wouldn’t argue with her, man,” Hardison offers with half a laugh, trying to bring some levity to this situation. “Parker knows her own heart.”

Eliot looks so off-balance—same guy who landed in a roll off a thirty foot drop—like Parker just yanked the rug from under his feet. His blue eyes tear away from Parker, land on Hardison. “How does this not bother you?” Eliot asks finally, each word deliberate, all of his guards up.

“What’s to bother me?” Hardison asks, hands out. “She didn’t tell me I was second in her affections. Just that there could be another guy wearing the gold medal with me. Plus,” he adds before Eliot can not-react, and Hardison lets his gaze fall a little lower, lets his eyelashes drop, “I understand how she feels.”

The actors on screen are throwing punches, demolishing tables as they fling each other around inside some restaurant, fighting over their girl, and Hardison never, ever wants to be in that position with Eliot. For many reasons, not just the fact that Eliot could break him with one toe.

“Look,” he says, because Eliot seems to be stuck and as soon as he’s unstuck Hardison has a feeling he’ll be out the door, “this is just an FYI. Me, Parker, comfort food, the team—none of it is going anywhere, no matter what your answer is.”

His voice is so low Hardison can barely hear it over the explosions in the background. “I don’t actually remember hearing a question.”

Parker bumps knees with Eliot when she and Hardison scooch to the edge of the couch in one unplanned, totally synchronized move. It feels good having Parker at his side in this; Hardison finds her left hand and holds on as she reaches out with her right towards Eliot.

“We’re asking you,” Parker says on a shaky exhale, “to be with us. Any way you want to be.”

Eliot looks down at her hand, those quick little fingers that can steal anything, pick any lock. And he takes it.

“You,” Eliot gets out, looks at Hardison, has to start again. “You too? Really?”

“Yeah,” Hardison says, touches Eliot’s free hand and isn’t surprised at how strong Eliot’s fingers are as they slide through his own, how tight they cling. “Hell yeah.”

“’Cause I know you,” Eliot says like he didn’t hear, “I know you’d steal the moon for her if you could.”

“Who says I can’t?” Hardison demands, but Parker rolls her eyes and elbows him. “No, listen, Eliot. Eliot.” He waits for Eliot to meet his eyes, see the truth in them. “I’d steal the moon for you too.”

“Christ,” Eliot mutters, and sinks down on his haunches, tipping forward against them both. It’s not quite a hug—no one is willing to let go of each other’s hands—and not yet a kiss, just resting their foreheads together until Parker lets Hardison go to start stroking Eliot’s hair. Hardison uses his free hand to tap the remote, turn the TV off. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass how it ends, anyway.

When he looks back, Parker’s hand is cupped to the curve of Eliot’s jaw, tilting his head up, and Eliot blinks slow, like he’s waking up or falling asleep, as Parker ducks down to kiss him.

Hardison waits for the lurch of jealousy—he’s braced for it, ready to talk his instincts out of anything stupid if he has to—but there’s nothing ugly in the rush of emotions he feels watching his best girl and his best guy moving their mouths together. He likes being able to watch Parker’s face and the pink flush on her cheeks, watch the way Eliot’s lips give under hers, the way they shake when he parts them on a gasp. The way Eliot is kneading Hardison’s hand in his, fingers bumping over Hardison’s knuckles and squeezing so tight.

When Eliot pulls back he looks shell-shocked, splayed open in a way Hardison hasn’t ever seen before. He looks like a guy who needs a minute, so Hardison gives him one.

Hardison loves kissing Parker, every way in or out of the book. Even Spiderman kissing, which they tried even though they bonked noses against chins and Hardison called her “Peter Parker” and she laughed so hard she snorted, which did not work out well upside down. Sometimes she steals kisses, quick here-and-gone smacks of lips between bites of cereal or on her way out the door.

But Hardison likes these kisses best, when her lips are already a little flushed and she’s grinning into his mouth because they stole an Eliot, and Eliot’s well on his way to stealing them back. She tastes a little bit like him, under her Parker flavors—like the beer she isn’t drinking and woodsmoke—and he can feel the way her skin is already a little tender from rubbing up on Eliot’s stubble.

Parker pulls back and smiles at him, wide enough to crinkle her nose. She’s his whole world, and his world just got bigger. He looks at Eliot.

If Eliot was a wishbone, he’d be one part eager longing and one part…whatever emotions mean backing out because he thinks he’s a homewrecker, even now. Hardison would bet on him snapping with the bigger half in their favor, but he doesn’t want to pull Eliot apart if he doesn’t have to.

“Up, c’mere,” he says, liking the way Eliot’s eyes go all dark at the roughness in his voice, “C’mon, Parker’s all bendy, give a guy a break.” Urging Eliot up off the floor doesn’t take more than the combined pull of him and Parker on their clasped hands, and he goes willingly, up until his knees hit the cushion of the couch, knees straddling Hardison’s thighs. He’s taller like this, which makes Hardison grin up at him, half-challenge and half-well-wouldya-lookit-you.

It works. Eliot kisses him hard and fast, almost a snarl, and Hardison drags his free hand to the nape of Eliot’s neck and hauls him closer. He can take it, take whatever Eliot wants to dish out. Parker can too, maybe even better than Hardison, but he’s no slacker—still one of the best goddamn thieves in the business.

“Gosh, your butt is nice,” Parker says. The words take their time filtering through Hardison’s brain; he’s just about cracked them when he hears a smack and Eliot lurches forward, narrowly avoiding bashing his face against Hardison’s. When he pulls back it’s with a languid arch of his back, a cat trying to prove it hasn’t just tripped down a flight of stairs (Hardison has seen the youtube videos, the resemblance is uncanny).

“Whoa there, darlin’,” Eliot drawls, his accent coming in husky and his eyelashes low.

She gives him a grin that’s not half as apologetic as it could be. “Sorry,” she says, and Hardison watches her rub a slow circle on Eliot’s rump before giving it a much lighter pat. Hardison wonders if it still stings, if Eliot has gone all pink beneath the denim.

“We don’t have to go…anywhere, what, further. Than this,” Hardison stumbles out, because he’s an idiot and somebody should. “If you need a breather, or, you know.”

“Do you need a breather?” Eliot asks, eyebrows arched.

“Me? No, I’m, I’m. I have air,” Hardison promises, and takes a few deep breaths to prove it. “Just. How do you want to do this?"

Eliot looks surprised for a split second, before he hides it again. Hardison would really like to see those masks go. “Dealer’s choice?” Eliot hums, idly shifting his weight on Hardison’s legs with his eyes on Parker, look on his face like a hungry guy staring at a buffet table.

“Took too long,” Parker announces. She stands, hauls Eliot upright and spins him around, drops him back in Hardison’s lap like a gift. A gift she’s unwrapping, dropping to her knees with a wicked glint in her eye as Eliot’s belt gives under her hands, zipper yanked open. Eliot gulps hard enough Hardison can feel it.

“Oh man,” Hardison says, crossing one arm over Eliot’s chest, the other around his middle; it pulls Eliot’s nice round ass flush against Hardison’s pelvis, and the very, very obvious tent Hardison’s pitched in favor of tonight’s proceedings—he’s kind of proud of it, less a tent and more the Taj Mahal—but just as important, Hardison’s giving Eliot something to brace against.

“Hold onto your butts,” he says in his best Samuel L Jackson voice ala the classic Jurassic Park.  

“What,” Eliot starts, half distracted annoyance, and then he almost chokes on his own tongue.

See, Hardison knows what Eliot’s going through right now. Parker is a black belt in blowjobs, brutally efficient, slamming all buttons simultaneously and stripping the blowee of all cognitive thought processes in less than a minute. She also has no gag reflex, swallows Eliot right to the root and hollows her cheeks, throat working, lips tight around the base of his cock. Damn, Hardison barely got to see it, but in the split second Parker pulls off—casually, like air is no real big thing—it looks slick and red, thick, too, almost as long as Hardison’s, all ruddy and has-to-be-borderline-painfully hard.

That’s a little bit his fault, Hardison knows, because he glimpsed the bulge when Eliot was on his feet, just from making out with them both. Parker gets the lion’s share of credit, obviously, and Hardison feels like he could fly apart at the seams with pride, the voice in his head always secretly cheering, That’s my girl! now joined by another shouting, That’s my guy!

Eliot looks wrecked already, head thrown back on Hardison’s shoulder, mouth open, wet, panting, all his masks cracking into dust. He’s clinging to Hardison’s arms around his torso, not even making aborted grabs at Parker’s head—he knows better, hell, he knows Parker. She had to show Hardison, too.

“No pulling,” she says, mouth free with a sinful pop as she takes his hand and pries it off Hardison’s arm while he’s still blinking. She puts his hand in her hair, more on the side of her face than not. “No pushing, let me know when you’re going to finish. You can move your hips.”

“Parker’s rules of blowjobs,” Hardison murmurs on a laugh against Eliot’s nape.

“Nnngh,” Eliot responds. His hips stutter up a split second later, almost involuntary by the sound of Eliot’s bitten-back groan, but Parker just hums around him, eyes all crinkled up and happy in the corners.

“C’mon, baby, she asked you to,” Hardison coaxes, nuzzling up Eliot’s neck to say it against his ear. He’d be a liar if he said part of him doesn’t expect to be headbutted for the pet name, and his pants would be on fire if he said he isn’t getting off on Eliot’s aborted wiggling, the halting jerk of his hips fighting not to thrust into Parker’s mouth and shoving back against Hardison instead. One day—hopefully a soon day—they need to try this with Hardison actually inside Eliot instead of uncomfortably dry humping his ass.

“Hang on a sec,” Hardison says as a few brain cells fight through the lusty fog in his head. “Hang on, arch up, babe, go on, just like that.” Parker helps once she figures out his goal; she sucks Eliot until his hips strain up, catches his ass in her hands and helps him balance while Hardison makes swift work of his own belt and jeans, shoves them and his underwear down to his knees to tangle with Eliot’s. He lets his hands roam up Eliot’s sides as he guides him back down, pushes Eliot’s shirt up to his armpits and then off. Eliot barely lets go of Parker long enough to fling it away.

“Would you look at that,” Hardison whistles, low, not even sure what he’s saying except—Eliot’s all muscle and strength, chest and stomach heaving for air under the glide of Hardison’s hand as he finally, finally settles back, Hardison’s bare cock against his ass. The noise that comes out of Hardison’s mouth is less manly moan and more horny squeak, but holy fuck does he not care.

“You like that?” Eliot asks, looping his free arm around the back of Hardison’s neck.

Hardison’s indignant demand to know how Eliot can form words with his cock in Parker’s mouth is derailed—both by the sight of Parker pulling her shirt up over her head and Eliot’s whole-body sinful grind. He nods too quick against Eliot’s shoulder, has to set his teeth against the flesh there when Parker goes, “I want to see,” and reaches to shift Hardison’s dick down until he’s rocking between her hand and Eliot’s crease, his sticky cockhead nudging Eliot’s balls.

“Better,” she grins, and unclasps her bra with one hand. Hardison is pretty sure she’s magic.

It throws him a second that the hungry growl he hears isn’t coming from him—or at least, not just him, because Hardison knows the clench of his own suddenly dry throat. But he also knows the rumble under his hands, and he’s willing to bet Eliot’s look is just as appreciative. Parker’s breasts are marvels, pale and peaked with soft pink nipples Hardison would gladly worship for hours if she’d let him. She smirks at them both, catches them in her hands and gives her nipples a pinch.

“Boys,” she mutters happily, still smiling when she gets Eliot back in her mouth.

Hardison sees what she’s done there, because he’s not blind or an idiot—her bare chest is now pillowed against Eliot’s suddenly shaking thighs, and Hardison can’t help a jerk of his own hips, even though there’s nowhere for him to move. It’s all Eliot—sinking up into Parker and back onto Hardison, caught between them.

Parker’s hand on the underside of Hardison’s cock gives him that much more friction, but it’s dry, almost too much—he catches her by the wrist and pulls it to his mouth, leaning over Eliot’s shoulder to lick it wet. It’s a shock, but it shouldn’t be, when Eliot’s tongue joins him lapping at her palm, and Parker shivers, lets out a well-pleased moan as Hardison’s cheek bumps against Eliot’s, all rough stubble and flushed skin. Parker has to pull her hand away, and for a second they both follow with a mindless synchronized whine.

Hardison can hear her thinking Boys, but his own thoughts are obliterated by her slick hand closing around him, the wet pop of her mouth pulling up and off of Eliot. “Are you gonna come all over him?” she asks, faintest rasp in her voice as she stares right at Hardison. “Huh? Go on, do it—I can lick him clean.”

“Jesus—“ He thought he wasn’t there yet, had a bit to go before he was right on the edge, but Parker doesn’t do things by half, and Eliot’s rolling his hips like the filthiest lap dance, growling, “Come on, you heard her, Hardison, all over me—“

Hardison isn’t proud that what does it is Eliot’s growl of his name, but being proud is the furthest thought from his mind—not with the way he’s coming hard enough to see galaxies, the almost-too-tight clench of his balls and the sloppy jerk of his cock trapped between Parker’s skin and Eliot’s, soaking her wrist and his crease. Everything honest to god goes a little fuzzy at the edges, and when it drags back into focus Eliot’s hand is awkwardly grasping the back of his neck, and Parker’s spunk-free hand is petting his calf.

Eliot is quivering all over, every inch of him, precome blurting from the tip of his cock to drool down against his belly. “How…?” Hardison mumbles, barely English and dazed, and Eliot shudders out a laugh.

“Holding on by my fingernails, man,” he says, dragging said nails across Hardison’s nape. “Didn’t want you to miss it.”

Hardison has to kiss him for that, even if it’s a bad angle. Eliot breaks away with a hiss when Parker snugs his balls up in her hand, holding them out of the way to lick behind them and that’s all she wrote—Eliot starts coming without a hand on him, dick jerking against nothing and ass rubbing almost painfully against Hardison’s oversensitive cock but he doesn’t care, catches Eliot’s second spurt in his palm and works it over the shaft, gentling him through the rest of it.

“Oh my god,” Eliot groans out, “Oh my fucking god.”

“That was a good one,” Parker admires, tugging Hardison’s messy hand away to get a look.

“She has a chart for orgasms,” Hardison says in Eliot’s ear, not sure how much the guy is processing after coming his brains out like that.

“Twelve out of ten,” Eliot says through his recovering gasps. “Hell, fourteen.”

Parker laughs as she shimmies out of her pants and—fuck—soaked panties. “Which one of you wants to eat me out?”

Hardison’s brain spits sparks, like it always does when she’s blunt about what she wants (which is always, it’s fantastic). He eagerly starts sitting up, but Eliot’s dead weight brings him up short. “Well,” he coughs, gaze darting between Eliot’s heavy-lidded eyes and Parker’s heated, smiling ones, “I mean, you’re the guest.”

“I want to watch you do it,” Eliot says in his quietest rasp, which has only been used in their worst situations before now. Now he’s smiling, wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and Hardison has to kiss him, moves his mouth against Eliot’s and hopes he conveys, You know where these lips are going next? That’s right, on Parker.

Eliot rolls off with a groan, half-pained, and Hardison slips off the couch to kneel on the same pillow Parker snuck down for herself. She’s wet down her thighs as she drops on the couch, long legs draping comfortably over Hardison’s shoulders as he settles, gives her a good long lick that leaves her flavor bursting on his tongue. All Parker. He wonders if she’ll taste different once Eliot’s come inside her, after they get him tested—god, Hardison hopes Eliot sticks around long enough to get him tested, this is something Hardison needs to know for science.

It only takes a few licks to her clit to bring her off the first time, she’s that close; Hardison works a finger into her just in time for her to clench down on it, and he lifts his head up to give her a moment to recover before he starts on round two—the things she’s done for them tonight, she deserves at three in the next ten minutes, and Hardison aims to please.

He’s not the only one. Eliot has kicked free of his jeans and slid one arm behind Parker’s back, drawing her snug against his side so she can tilt her head for a kiss. One rough scarred hand is rubbing idle circles on her hip; the other is cupping her left breast, rolling her nipple between his thumb and forefinger.

Hardison can feel her muscles jump against his finger, and she makes a noise, tugs him closer with the cross of her ankles behind his back—he doesn’t need telling twice. Two fingers now, then three, and he focuses on working them in as deep as she wants them with her slick coiling down his wrist. He licks one side of her clit, the other, front-to-back then the other way, listening for Parker’s hiccupping keens.

Her thighs are pressed so close to his ears he almost misses Eliot’s low rumble, “Look at him lovin’ on you.”

Hardison risks a glance up; Parker’s lashes are dark against the flush of her cheeks as she grins. “Yeah,” she says, hand gripping restlessly in Eliot’s hair, “Yeah, he does. You do, too. Easy to feel it like this.” She looks so pleased with herself.

Eliot ducks his head down to Parker’s breast before Hardison can get a read on his face, lapping at her nipple before taking it in his mouth, and Parker’s second orgasm shudders through her, drenching Hardison’s face and clutching his fingers in a vise. He doesn’t dare give her a rest now, triples his efforts, works his fingers in and out in growing increments until she’s bucking against his hand. Hardison’s tongue runs over something flat, sharp with sweat—Eliot’s fingers come to join him at her clit, rubbing over and around as Hardison licks between.

Orgasm three makes her yelp, chest heaving against Eliot’s mouth. Aftershocks roll in until Hardison’s fingers ache, her legs gone limp against his shoulders as she shakes apart.

“No more,” she pants out, wriggling away from even the gentlest lick. Eliot trails his slick fingers up her tummy to draw a lazy circle around the breast he hadn’t got the chance to reach, as Hardison eases his own hand free. Parker has to pull her quivery legs toward her with Eliot’s help, sliding back a little on the couch. Good thing the fabric is easily cleaned; they’ve all left one hell of a wet spot.

Hardison pulls his shirt off and uses it to wipe his face; he probably still smells like noodle soup and Parker’s musk, but that’s something he can live with for the time being. He drags himself up enough to fall into the spot on Eliot’s left, bracketing him in again, a very naked parody of their position earlier this evening.

“That was way better than a movie,” Parker announces, curling up against Eliot’s side to rest her head on his shoulder. Her hair is fluffed up, half-tangled; she looks beautiful.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Hardison feels compelled to point out as he stretches his arm along the back of the sofa, “Fewer explosions.”

“Enough,” Parker counters, eyes sliding shut. She strokes her hand down Eliot’s scarred chest, then loops her arm around his waist. “Will you stay?”

Eliot looks at Hardison, but Hardison feels suddenly shy, heat in his face he hopes Eliot can’t see as he drops his gaze down. He doesn’t know when he put a hand on Eliot’s thigh but he can’t move it now, watches his dumb thumb make hopeless circles on his skin.

“Yeah,” Eliot says, his tone barely above a whisper, but when Hardison looks he’s smiling, sweet and fond. “Yeah, I’ll stay.”

“Woohoo,” Parker cheers, already half-asleep by the sound of it, moving easily with Eliot’s chuckles.

Hardison tightens his grip and lets his cheek rest against (almost) the top of Eliot’s head, because he figures now is about the only time he’s going to get away with it. Well, he has time to find out if that’s true.

“Tell me one thing,” Eliot says, voice a new kind of rasp that Hardison is mighty pleased to find means ‘well-fucked.’ “How’d you know?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Hardison tells him, soothing. “You had a zing.”

“Oh,” Eliot says like he’s turning it over in his head. Then he settles down a little snugger, slotting their bodies together until they fit. “I bet it was a very distinctive zing.”

It’s almost a question, so Parker answers, “Of course it was,” while Hardison grins until his face hurts.

“We’re going to need a bigger air duct.”