A/N: This story takes place somewhere early in Season 4. The exact time isn't important; I just envisioned it as occuring after the "pretzels" comment in The Big Bang Job, and before the events of The Grave Danger Job. There is Parker/Hardison here, but nothing too pretzel-y. Just the kind of gooey early relationship stuff you might see in an episode. Rating for minor blood and Eliot's temper.
Inspired by Episode 5X14: The Toy Job:
Sophie glances around the bar. "I think we should give each other some trust for Christmas."
"What like the little exercise where you fall back and someone catches you?"
"No, not like that..."
"Good. Because I did that once and I dropped the person and they had to get stitches."
The Sewing Circle Job
"Hey, El, m'man...uh..." Hardison cleared his throat carefully. It wouldn't do to give into a fit of coughing right now. "Hang on a minute." He tucked the speaker end of his phone tight against his shirt and hissed to get Parker's attention. "No babe, use the window crank, not your glass cutter!"
Of course he shouldn't have underestimated Eliot's canine-like hearing, he realized as he returned the phone to his ear and heard a familiar growl, full of suspicion. "Glass cutter for what? You doin' another solo job, 'Ice Man'? 'Cause I really ain't gonna come rescue your ass this time!"
"No no, Parker and me were just...hangin' out...and I asked her to open a window, that's all!" In the brief moment of time Eliot took to process the likelihood of this explanation, and damn but he could process faster than the fastest computers sometimes, Hardison gestured wildly with the phone held in his right hand.
Finally, Parker noticed his frantic waving and pointing, and snatched up the baking sheet from the counter with one hand. With the other, she gestured sharply to Hardison's phone, before stomping out of the kitchen. He realized he may have left Eliot hanging a little too long, and the man was already on a razor-thin temper. Hardison returned the phone to his ear. "Yeah, El?"
"I said why did you call?" It was extraordinary how many levels Eliot could ratchet a simple growl up or down...and right now, it was heading deep and dangerous.
"What, cain't a man call his bro and ask how he's doin' after a long stressful day?" Hardison grimaced at his own stupidity. That was going to set off the man's spidey-senses to no end!
Sure enough, Eliot's growl dropped another notch as he replied. "If yer askin' how my mood is since I didn't get to beat up anyone today I'd say 'not good.' Are you volunteerin'?"
"Just tell him!" Parker stage-whispered, quite suddenly, in Hardison's left ear and he jumped, nearly dropping the phone. A heart-attack was just the thing he needed to top off this lovely day. Eliot wasn't the only one who had suffered. There had been barely anything that needed hacking! Who kept so many hard copies anymore in this digital age? And on top of that, not a goon in sight. This had been a truly boring job. His Nana coulda pulled it off one-handed. Hardison sighed, and readjusted his grip on the phone.
"Oh...uh...well. I thought, maybe you might wanna come over and watch the game...you know, just hang out. We could...well, you...you could make nachos..." Hardison stopped, trying again not to cough. That would be such a giveaway. At least the open window now created a cross breeze in the apartment.
"'The game.' D'ya even know what game is on, Hardison? 'Cause I thought ya didn't like hockey."
"Well no, not really...but Parker does and..."
"You really want me to come over there and be a third wheel between you and Parker." This was delivered in Eliot's flat voice. The one where he thought you were so dense that he wouldn't even bother turning his reply into a teaching moment.
"Oh, just give me that!" Parker deftly yanked the phone out of Hardison's grip and before he could react, she had succinctly ratted him out. "Hardison's head's bleeding and he won't let me stitch it. Will you come over?"
She pressed the phone back to his ear so he had no opportunity to miss Eliot's reply, which began with a split second of profound planet-annihilating-black-hole silence, followed by a patented Eliot-curse, and crowned with "apply pressure, siddown, and don't move 'til I get there."
Hardison dropped into a kitchen chair, hand not holding the kitchen towel pressed against the back of his head dangling between his knees. He was sooooo dead.
Hardison wondered sometimes if Eliot had a secret rocketship or something because he always seemed to arrive just in time whenever anyone needed him. Sure enough, he entered through the apartment door less than seven minutes later.
And by "entered" what Hardison really meant was "burst into the apartment like a one-man SWAT team." Eliot's gaze swept the room, took in Parker's smiling face and his own pained grimace, then he visibly relaxed.
"Man, I got neighbors! You want 'em calling the cops? Don't you think Parker woulda told you over the phone if there were any psycho ninjas holding us hostage?" His head was really starting to throb, and the blood was sticking the kitchen towel to his wound. Every movement was agony.
Eliot glanced again at Parker's sunbeam smile. "Maybe, maybe not. Depends on what the most pressing concern woulda been at the time." He glared at the stove next, from which smoke still issued in a thin wisp. "Why is your kitchen on fire?"
Parker, apparently impervious to Eliot's mood swings, piped up. "We were making pretzels!"
At that, Eliot waved his hand, a suddenly pained and slightly disgusted look on his face. "STOP, Parker! Second thought, I don't need or want to know what you two were doin'...
Hardison, offended on Parker's behalf as well as his own rushed to clarify..."What? No, man...pretzels. You know, twisty baked bread dough?" He tried to make a twisting motion, but it didn't translate well one-handed. Didn't Eliot care that his brains may be seeping out of his head?
Eliot stared at Hardison dubiously, but at Parker's completely innocent nod of agreement, he reluctantly conceded. "Why is your head bleeding?"
"Because he's an idiot."
Eliot, seemingly content to wait forever while Hardison bled out here in his own kitchen turned toward her with a smirk. "I'm aware of that sweetheart. What'd he do this time?"
If Hardison hadn't been so busy cataloging all kinds of possible brain injuries he might have sustained, he would have taken more time to be offended. And why was Eliot taking Parker's side, anyway?
"Well, he said he was going do a 'trust fall'" her delicate, dangerous hands made air quotes "except I didn't know what a trust fall was. Now, I do."
Eliot took a deep and steadying breath; he seemed to be struggling with his patience. But he had all the time in the world while Hardison was obviously at death's door! "Hardison. Explain."
"Well...I acquired this original concept art of one of the ships in the Wrath Of Khan...the Reliant...c'mon man! The original, o-rig-in-al, concept art! Of the Reliant!" And, hoping Eliot would for once acknowledge the beauty of a vintage Starfleet ship, pointed to the painting, leaning against the wall. But the Wrath Of Eliot didn't even twitch, if anything his glare deepened further. He now had that cross-between-a-bulldog-and-coiled-rattlesnake-with-shorter-temper-than-both look. Maybe it was the head injury, but Hardison briefly wondered when he had started attributing names to Eliot's moods.
"Okay, okay. Plebeian. So I wanted to hang it over the breakfast counter..."
"I offered to do it but it's his new baby." Parker interrupted, glaring at him.
"It's just...it's delicate, babe...it's a one-of-a-kind original...it's a little heavy for you..." He glanced at Eliot, hoping for some sort of sympathy, but Eliot was stone-cold still.
"You just didn't trust me!"
"Of course I trust you! That's what I was trying to show you!"
"No, you were showing me what a demented lawn flamingo looks like when it falls over!" And Hardison knew he was in real deep trouble because she didn't even giggle-snort when she said that. He had no idea how lawn flamingos could be demented, or even what that had to do with anything, anyway.
Eliot had remained stone-faced through the entire exchange, but now he bowed his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. "You called me over here because the two of you had a spat? That's whatcha call Sophie for!"
"No, I'm...I'm bleedin'...and you fix things like that..."
"But you didn't trust me to fix you!" Hardison realized then that Parker's glare could be a helluva lot more terrifying than Eliot's sometimes.
Feeling like the subject really needed to be changed right about now, Hardison spoke up again. "Eliot? C'mon man, there's a lot of blood here..."
Parker, her words biting with all the gentleness of a school of piranhas, offered a delightful bit of information then: "That's because head wounds bleed a lot. It's usually not dangerous."
Eliot nodded at that, still looking as though he had a migraine. But there was no way his head could hurt any worse than the marching band in Hardison's skull.
Hardison gingerly shifted his hold on the towel, and cursed himself for sounding like he was five years old again and going to Nana with a scraped knee. "Are...are you going to check my head?"
"Parker..." Eliot let go of his nose and straightened, not even bothering to address him. "...did he lose consciousness?"
"Did he vomit?"
"Has he been confused...more than normal?"
"Hey!" That was just undignified, man!
"Did you check his pupils?"
"Yup. They're exactly the same. Like, exactly. Creepy."
Finally Eliot turned toward Hardison. "You'll be fine." Then he addressed Parker again. "Okay sweetheart, I left the first aid kit in the hallway. Mind gettin' it?" And it was very much not fair how Eliot's voice went all soft and fond when he talked to her, as if it wasn't her fault Hardison was in this mess!
As Parker turned to leave, Eliot walked around behind Hardison's chair and gently started to peel back the towel. "Are ya really that stupid, man?" He actually didn't sound quite as pissed-off anymore, though. "You really should remember by now that Parker doesn't know some things the rest of us do. And anyway, you have like twice the weight and muscle mass she does!"
"Yup, he's heavy! I did sort of catch him anyway, but then the smoke alarm went off and that's why his head hit the table and not the floor." Parker had returned with the kit and set it on the table beside him.
"And I told him I could fix him but he doesn't believe me." She was standing close and Hardison sincerely hoped she wasn't in possession of a fork at the moment.
"Why would I? I only ever see Eliot stitch up gaping holes in people." And he shuddered at the memory of Nate's gunshot wound, even though he had studiously avoided looking at it at the time. "Who have you ever practiced on?"
Hardison was seated facing away from the sink, but he could hear Eliot washing his hands. "Me. Parker, go ahead and hang that picture up. Hardison isn't going to be using any stepladders until we're sure he's not concussed." Parker disappeared from his sightline, and Hardison heard the sink running again. Moments later, Eliot was gently wiping around the wound with a warm damp cloth.
As if reading Hardison's mind, because he seemed able to do that a lot, Eliot offered an explanation. "She asked me once if she could help...so I showed her what to do. Was a helluva lot easier than tryin' to stitch unreachable places by myself."
Hardison felt there was a lot more to the story than that but he really didn't want to think about just which of Eliot's many injuries over the years he had used as a teaching moment for Parker. And really, he was too busy considering the revelation itself.
"We've offered...you've never let us help you before..." Hardison tried to ignore the stinging as Eliot numbed the area around the wound.
"Not exactly. I don't let you help because you don't handle blood well." Hardison wanted to be indignant at that, but...it was true; he preferred to avoid the bleeding and pain and...ick.
Eliot paused a moment to prepare a needle and let the numbing agent take effect. "Sophie fusses too much. And Nate...well, sometimes Nate's hands shake."
There was nothing Hardison could say to that, so in an effort to distract himself from what he knew would be a painless but no less unpleasant tugging at the skin on the back of his head, he attempted to work his mind around the thought that Eliot would trust Parker to perform surgery on him.
Eliot often got a little battered on jobs, but there were some evenings, when they returned to Nate's apartment, that he would skulk off to the downstairs bathroom and shut himself in for an hour or so. Those were the nights that, knowing they wouldn't be getting an Eliot-special for dinner, the others would sort through and argue over which menu on Eliot's short list of approved restaurants to order takeout from. Thinking back on it, Parker hadn't been present for those arguments in quite a long time, but she would silently reappear in time to eat: coincidently, right about the time Eliot would reappear.
Hardison had long ago given up feeling jealous about the time Parker spent with Eliot. He was glad Eliot had taught her to defend herself, even if Hardison ended up being the practice dummy a little too often. And there were some things that, as much as he may wish it, Hardison would never be able to understand about Parker's past, and her motivations. And if being in Eliot's company could help her with that...well, Hardison was grateful for it. He trusted his best friend and his sweet girl and besides, there were some important things she did share with him, even if she didn't realize it.
Hardison thought it had started somewhere around that job with her "father," but he couldn't be entirely sure. He had woken up one night, he didn't even remember why, and had gone out to his living room only to see Parker curled up, fast asleep on his couch. The biggest shock hadn't been her mere presence there, but the fact she was actually asleep. He had never seen her sleep before. Catnaps, yeah, in Lucille or less commonly at Nate's apartment. He had carefully retreated, same as if he had stumbled upon a sleeping lioness. In the morning she had been gone, not a trace.
It happened a few more times and Hardison began to correlate her visitations with swings in the weather. Why she chose to live in a big old drafty warehouse when she could more than afford the most luxurious apartment or mansion available, he would never understand. But this was Parker, and so Hardison had taken to leaving a pillow and quilt on the couch when he went to bed. In the morning, the quilt and pillow would be stacked neatly, and no other sign of Parker.
On one particularly blizzard-y night, he had waited up. Sure enough, Parker let herself in, then stopped like a deer in the headlights when she saw him, lounged back on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, watching a movie. Not wanting to scare her off, all he did was set the popcorn down on the middle of the couch, and pick up a steaming mug of hot chocolate from the coffee table. A second mug sat at the other end of the table, by the vacant spot on the couch. After a moment, Parker silently slipped over to the couch and sat, and she drank her hot chocolate, and ate popcorn out of the bowl between them. And when the movie was over, all Hardison said was "You're always welcome here, you don't have to sneak around." Then he'd gone to bed.
They had already been spending time together here and there outside of jobs, but it was usually spent planning theoretical heists and climbing tall things and visiting museums to laugh at the security. Now though, they had movie nights. Not so many when the weather was nicer, but when it got chilly, he knew he could expect her to drop in. And it was all PG which was Perfectly Good to Hardison because if he knew nothing else about Parker, he knew he had to be careful with her. And he was perfectly fine with that, and he would wait until the end of the world for her if that's what it took.
"Wipe that dopey grin off your face man. Parker's done stitching your head."
Hardison thought he might have squeaked in a not-very-manly-way. "Parker?!"
"Yep, real neat job, too. The 'P' is only a little crooked..."
Eliot grabbed Hardison's wrist before he made the mistake of trying to poke at the stitches. "Relax man! I saw the burned pretzels twisted into the letters of your names, I was kiddin'! Thought you had a sense of humor."
Parker's hand appeared in his peripheral vision then, offering him a small mirror. He held it up, turned it until he caught the reflection of Parker holding a second mirror showing the stitching work. Dare he say that was an even tidier row than Eliot usually produced?
"Hey babe, that looks really nice. Guess I owe you an apology, huh?"
Parker moved around in front of him then and was smiling that slightly demented smile that both creeped him out, and made him feel strangely gooey inside. "It's okay, you're cute when you're terrified."
Eliot had washed up and was packing away the first aid kit. A sickly beeping sound from the corner of the kitchen drew Hardison's attention then and he decided to brave a question. "Hey El, did you...uh...happen to also teach Parker how to, um...throw knives?"
Eliot's hands stilled for just a beat.
"What if I did?" And though the man's words were neutral, Hardison thought it best not to pursue that matter further.
"Oh, nothing. It's cool man, it's cool." The smoke alarm, lying all akimbo in the corner on the floor, knife handle stuck right through its heart, gave one last dying beep, and was still.
"Alright Hardison, Tylenol for the headache and don't get the stitches wet." He zipped up the first aid kit.
At the same time, Parker perked up. "Hey! You should learn to do stitches, too. Then, if we're all hurt at the same time again, we can sew each other up...we can have a sewing circle!"
Parker had on one of those grins where you couldn't quite tell if she truly didn't get something, or was perfectly well aware of what she had said, but wanted to mess with their minds anyway. Probably the latter. "Uh...That's not really how that works, babe."
Eliot tactfully ignored Parker's proposal completely. "Parker, keep an eye on him tonight but I think he'll be fine. Hardison, you will let Parker look after those stitches and remove them when the time's right because if I have to come back over here during the playoffs, I will remove them with my katana. Got it?" Without waiting for an answer, Eliot turned for the door.
Parker grinned at Hardison again. "Ooh, movie night! I want to watch the movies with the dinosaurs eating people. I'll make popcorn!" Hardison swallowed two Tylenol and groaned. As much as he loved spending time with her, he wasn't sure if he could handle Parker's brand of care.
"Hey man, that one's on you. Shouldn't have introduced her to Jurassic Park. And the next time you two have relationship problems, call Sophie!" And Eliot left, shutting the door none too gently behind himself.