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Eliot knows the rules of this type of thing. Sometimes, he thinks he’s the only one who does, or maybe Hardison and Parker just really do believe that rules exist primarily to be broken.

But he knows the rules. And the biggest, most important one is, don’t wreck what they have. Don’t get in the way. Do not be the one who messes this up for them. Don’t touch what isn’t yours to touch.

Of course, the first rule should be don’t fall in live with your two best friends, especially when they’re already together. But Eliot sailed right past that one, years ago, not even really realizing it at the time. So, that rule’s off the table, and now he’s just left with not ruining them with his unhealthy, corrupt desire.

So Eliot does what he has to do to get by, whatever he can without pushing between them.

He likes touching them. Likes the reassurance that they’re warm and alive. Just likes how it feels, honestly. Finds himself practically unable to go without it.

He teaches them to fight, grabs and holds, wrestling and escapes. Then he teaches them how to cook, deft hands always lingering a moment longer than they truly should while he corrects small movements. He clasps them on the back, holds on just a little too long, after jobs. And then there are the movie nights they keep inviting him to. He tries to maintain space, know where the line is, but it just feels so good to be close to them.

It’s enough. He’ll have to make it enough, because he’s not entitled to any more than this. Really, he shouldn’t want this much to begin with.

Only then they start to hug him. All the time, really, and a lot of those times for no reason he can easily discern. He never thought of Parker of all people as a particularly huggy person, but he seems to be some sort of exception. He can’t exactly say that he minds.

Soon enough, he’s hugging them back, and they’re holding hugs for a ridiculously long length of time. Parker, oddly enough, starts calling for group hugs, dragging Hardison and Eliot in.

Eliot like it. Eliot likes it a lot. And it’s almost enough. Enough to keep him satisfied, he tells himself firmly.

Really, what more could he want?

Parker and Hardison stare at the still of a group hug Hardison pulled off of today’s security feed.

“Time for the next part of the plan?” Hardison asks, grinning.

Parker nods. “Operation: Steal Eliot Spencer is a go,” she says seriously.

They both grin at each other, then look back at the picture of the hug.