It’s a heavier burden than you might think, to carry someone else’s war. War is war, and the only comforting thing about it is that nothing ever changes. There is a mundanity to humanity, a predictable pattern of how they choose to do each other harm. Eliot’s war is fought on multiple fronts and dug down into the trenches of his scars and echoes when his cellphone rings in the night. Blood in the gold of Parker’s hair. Charred bomb fragments slit through a Doctor Who t-shirt. Guns are mundane and people are mundane but sometimes--
--sometimes, all you can do is fall and not need to feel the tripwire pull tight.
(It’d be her hands about it, anyway, him at her back, not wanting to look at the way the ground falls out from under his feet but doing it anyway, because it’s necessary, because he needs to know you’re okay. You don’t even remember how it feels to have solid ground beneath you. You don’t even remember when you fell.)
It’s a selfish drive, the one that makes him teach them how to fight. Parker was already pretty good, Hardison with enough of the bad side of town in him to make him unpredictable and good in the moment, if not in its aftermath. It’s sensible, it’s survival instinct, it’s even better than a good idea, but it sure ain’t survival instinct that makes him encourage Parker to wrap those killer thighs around his neck and slam him to the floor so hard he sees stars.
(She’s the perfect shape for Krav Maga, and sometimes he touches the bruises she leaves on his throat, after, and just manages not to shiver.)
Hardison he teaches to box, and then how to knife-fight. His aim with a gun is shit, and yeah, Eliot can make it better, but he doesn’t like guns for himself or for his boy, because when you get in close combat a gun is worse than useless and there’s no situation where he wants either of them defenceless. He pulls Hardison in and pushes him away, kicks at his ankles and fights the dirtiest he can (which is very--) drags Hardison’s hand up his own thigh and says, “Here. In here. They bleed out in minutes. If I’m dead, or out, you go for here or the carotid, and you run like hell. You hear me?”
“What about me?” says a little voice in his ear, and he’s never quite worked out how she does that, or how it never makes him tense, how his body knows before even he does that she’s not the enemy, and he smothers his grin as Parker jumps, lithe, into a piggyback, her thighs a glorious weight against the inside of his arms, says, “You, darlin’, will be just fine.”
“Make me a sandwich,” Parker says, so he does.
“Cut the damn wire,” says Hardison, so he does.
“Jump,” says Parker, says Hardison, and he never needs to ask, “How high?”
He lets himself look at them, because he knows that they’re letting him, even if he’s less sure that they like it. She does backbends and smiles at Hardison like he’s the safe she cracked in 0.6 seconds, and Hardison tells her, entirely sincere, that she’s hotter than Princess Leia. Eliot’s a lot smarter than most people give him credit for-- and if anything’s ever weaponized him, it’s this, the Kentucky drawl he wears like a mask and his brain the steel inside the (boxing) glove, and they never see him coming, he hates it and he loves it and milks it for all it’s worth, because the world isn’t fair so if he can’t make it fairer he’ll drag it down and then back up by the scruff of it’s neck. He knows what he sounds like and he knows what he looks like and it’s the greatest con he’s ever pulled, making his marks believe it every time.
(If he regrets it was so easy, he’s a man of the world and he knows that the world’s fucked-up, so he’s learnt not to let it hurt, not to let it burn that all it takes is an ain’t and suddenly their secrets spill in front of him like a busted oil tanker. A conman doesn’t regret the oil that makes the con go slicker, even if the oil is the shit he can’t scrub out and nothing to be ashamed of, even if the world doesn’t seem to know that, regardless of how smart he is, deep down.)
But, yeah, he’s a lot smarter than most people ever notice, never mind credit, but he can’t fathom this game, this game that’s almost in his ballpark-- he knows how and when to touch, but he knows, too, that he loves them in a way he shouldn’t and that you don’t ask to touch when you aren’t certain, when this is a war you’ll lose and they’ll be the casualties.
He watches them and they let him watch and no one would ever call Eliot Spencer a coward, but he’s realised for the first time that maybe the reason he’s always been so brave is that he’s never had so much to lose.
“Why don’t you ever ask for anything?” says Parker, slipping next to him on the couch, stripped out of her mastermind suit -- McQueen, Hardison swore up and down it’s the only label he’d ever let Parker wear again for as long as she lived -- and in an old t-shirt of Hardison’s and a pair of boxers Eliot could swear belong to him.
“I ask for shit all the time,” says Eliot, turning the page of his book and carefully not looking at her, “Y’all just never listen to me.”
“Oh,” says Parker, cocking her head, “Not that. Parker, don’t touch that! Parker, you can’t put bananas in the freezer! Parker, why is my Glock on the ceiling?”
“I do not sound like that,” hisses Eliot, but he kinda does, if he’s honest with himself. She’s got a good growl going.
“You do,” says Parker, serenely, “But I mean more like, ‘Parker, I want you to sit on my face in ten minutes, okay?’”
“I have never--” says Eliot, and Parker giggles, says, “And I thought Hardison over-thought everything. Krav Maga, oh my God. Hardison! Come in here! Eliot’s gonna stop being dumb!”
“I find that difficult to believe,” says Hardison, leaning on the doorframe, “He try gettin’ you to sit on his face again for ‘self-defence’ or some shit?”
“See!” says Parker, grinning from ear to ear, and Eliot wants to die. He wants the ground to open and suffocate him.
“Dude, you ever try askin’ for anything in your whole life?” says Hardison, and Parker giggles again and--
--and, sometimes, you’ve been shuffling the cards so long you don’t even notice when you’ve already got a winning hand.
She smiles, and he smiles back, and he’d do anything, anything, to make them--
--and Eliot’s fingers tighten on the handle of the gun and with a sick hot rush, this equation has shrunk down to a few life-destroying variables, and pulling the trigger, suddenly, it ain’t so hard.
“Jesus,” says Eliot. He doesn’t know how to say anything else. He might never say anything else for as long as he lives.
Parker laughs and Hardison laughs with her, her back arching and his mouth between her legs, her hair brushing Eliot’s stomach and the heat of her body electric on top of him, and Hardison’s eyebrow raised in gentle mockery in Eliot’s direction.
“Ain’t you gonna kiss her, man, come on, I know you want to, it ain’t subtle,” says Hardison, and Parker turns her head, the line of her neck pulling taut, and when Eliot fists a hand in her hair, it’s shaking.
“I-- I want--” he says, and doesn’t know how to, can’t, finish, because he wants everything, can’t make an itinerary because it all seems so urgent, because he’s terrified that this will be the last and only time and he’s scared, he’s scared all the time because only fools rush in, but he’s never scared like this, like his whole world’s about to shatter in front of him, like someone’s burnt a Picasso in his trashcan and the cops are already on their way and no amount of restoration will ever see it fixed.
“Whoa, hey,” says Hardison, “Okay, calm down, Eliot, it’s all fine, you don’t have to do anythin’ you don’t wanna do.”
“Kiss me,” says Parker, pushing herself up the bed with a single heel, her back arching so far that her breath is on Eliot’s neck, so he kisses her, feels around on the bed for Hardison’s hand, because he’s easy for these two, has been since the day he met them, and it’s time he stopped pretending otherwise.
“You take orders from her?”, says a man whose nose Eliot is going to enjoy breaking, but he just replies, “Yeah. You gotta problem with that?”
“That crazy bitch shouldn’t be giving anyone orders,” says the man whose arm is already snapped in five places, he just doesn’t know it yet, and Eliot grins the worst one in his arsenal, says, “You oughta try on this thought exercise for size, man: if she’s so crazy, whatta about me, the man who follows her willingly?”
“That’s hot,” says Hardison, in his earpiece, and when Eliot shifts his stance, ever so slightly, Parker starts to giggle, heady and high and giddy, and if he said it didn’t make his grin worse, he’d be a liar born.
He goes down on Parker for hours, sometimes makes her take him down first, the bruises on his face and ribcage barely beginning to show as he swipes at her clit, gets real good at breathing through his nose. (As if he wasn’t already.) He tells them both to hold him down, and they think he’s kidding, right up until they realise he’s not, whines tightly in the back of his throat and comes all over himself with Parker’s hands around his wrists and Hardison a heavier weight than you’d expect bracketed over his waist. Parker throws herself all over him, uses him like a climbing frame, laughs every time he catches her and slips a hand inside her panties in one smooth move. Hardison ‘sorts out your goddamn fugly wardrobe, man’, and then rips it all off him, lets Eliot roll him over and draws out the false sense of victory for as long as he can, delights in learning how to make Eliot come first and thus making him too breathless to complain. Together they’re a laughing touchy-feely hurricane, and every time it’s different but exactly the same. Hardison holds Eliot down while Parker rides him like the cowboy he’s always been, Hardison whispering filth in his ear and Parker’s face a glimpse at the divine. Hardison fucks him on the kitchen floor just ‘cause it makes Eliot furious, and Eliot’s a good lay when he’s mad; Eliot fucks him in the shower and Parker takes pictures, muttering about chiaroscuro with a hand between her legs.
It’s terrifying, it’s the biggest risk he’s ever taken, he never wants it to stop.
“Til your dyin’ day, huh?” says Hardison, and Eliot’s never heard Parker laugh so hard as when he, in reply, has the (bad) grace to blush up to his ears.
But the thing is--
--the thing is, it ain’t someone else’s war no more. If you love something, you fight for it, and this is the hardest Eliot Spencer’s ever fought. He never asked for this, but Eliot’s borne a lot shit he’s never asked for, and most of it wasn’t the good kind, so he thinks this one he’ll take and force himself not to wonder how a not-so-good ol’ Kentucky boy got so lucky. He didn’t ask for this and he kidded himself, for a while, that he didn’t want it, either. He knows better now, knows that he clipped his tripwire the day they met, sometime after ‘twenty pounds of crazy in a five pound bag’, but not so long before ‘that’s what I’m for.’
“You said ‘somebody kiss this man so I don’t have to’,” Hardison reminds him, not-so-gently, and yeah, okay, maybe he sublimated a lot.
But what matters is that he kissed him, and that he kissed her, and not the time it took for him to realise that he ought to. What matters is that he’s going to die with them, for them, and that there is no universe he can imagine or desire where he wants anything other than exactly that. He’s a card shark and a conman and a bad, bad dude, but you know what--
--he can be the good guy for these two, he thinks, given enough time.