A/N: Thanks for the tireless support, Symbiotic 3 And goddammit how did this grow from a tiny scene into a nearly-5k fic? Somehow I will blame you for this, even if it's my own plot bunny's fault.
Take, Take, Take
She's gotta be doing it on purpose.
Eliot does a double take when Parker slinks into the center of the suite that they've got rented out for this leg of the con. Hardison is going to be presenting the rundown for today's excursion and the update that's come with getting the target to move to this new location - two countries over with a delicious extradition potential hanging right over Nate's head. But Eliot's focus isn't on the neatly organized audio visual presentation that Hardison's been prepping or Sophie's notes freely offered on how to really sell the duplicitous insurance agent that Eliot's supposed to be playing.
His eyes are tracking Parker instead, watching as her hand moves up to cover her mouth and the yawn there. The movement makes her jacket shift and, yep, he spies a familiar graphic tee peeking out between the teeth of the zipper.
If she makes eye contact with him, it's only for a split second. Then she's draping herself over the back of the low couch, one hand propping up her head and the other carding through the printouts that Hardison has also provided. How on earth had he managed those in the past twelve hours? They only landed just last night.
Eliot draws up one of the chairs from the kitchen settee. He regrets it within the first five minutes of the rundown, especially when he can't stop glancing at the space still available on the couch. He wouldn't normally have avoided sitting by any of the others; they spent far too much time with one another to get antsy about personal space. But then again typically the rest of the crew wasn't swanning around in his own damn clothes.
Parker is a thief. That's her thing, her identity, her whole weird deal wrapped up in a shiny bow because no other term does it justice or covers the sticky bits that come with it. Of course she's decided to take his shirt. It shouldn't bother Eliot - it doesn't - but there's still something that's keeping him from crossing the square footage from the uncomfortable chair to the couch in front of her.
He makes it through the rest of the briefing by keeping his eyes solely on the television screen and his mind off of the blonde woman who doesn't seem to notice - or maybe just doesn't care - that she's stolen his thoughts along with the tee.
The next time it's during a job and, frankly, that's just rude. He's supposed to be the one sweeping into the room in the FBI jacket. And, yeah, it might just be the homemade ones that Hardison makes for the team as needed, but it was the one sized up for him. He can tell because it's notably baggy on her shoulders. Parker has the sleeves cuffed when she brings up the badge that was also printed for his alias. Her thumb is on the photo in what should be a conspicuous fashion. He can see it through the camera feed in Lucille.
It works regardless because Parker's a master at sleight of hand especially against the three morons they're taking down this time. Eliot won't tell Nate but he's kind of glad that he didn't have to make the full sprint across the warehouse to get to the van, change, and head back for the turnaround. He will however sulk when, after regrouping at McRory's, Parker doesn't give up the jacket.
No amount of subtle exchanged glances has an effect on Parker. She remains unphased, working her way through her glass of wine; she's been mirroring Sophie's drink choices lately. The month before was Hardison's lagers, not that Eliot's noticed. Parker let's Eliot's pointed looks wash over her like water off a duck's back.
He really shouldn't expect anything else from Parker, but there are lines that shouldn't get crossed. Like a man's fake wardrobe of disguises. Which aren't even his, really, because they've swapped stuff between them before depending on who needs to play what role but really this time it was supposed to have been his .
Eliot fumes behind his beer bottle. All the while Parker's lips quirk into a wry smile each time they exchange glances.
Dammit, she has to know, doesn't she?
Genuinely there is a mixup at baggage claim this time. Just the two of them had been sent ahead of the rest of the team for scouting purposes - a common enough occurrence since Parker and Eliot are more than comfortable with the long days and slow chug of surveillance work - which means that right now Eliot has no buffer between himself and a very put upon Parker.
"I had some really nice picks in that suitcase!" Parker maligns as they finally get their pre-arranged rental car. "And my third favorite rig."
Eliot spares a glance at her as he climbs into the driver's seat. After four hours on one of the bumpiest commercial flights he's dealt with in a while, he isn't risking letting Parker take the wheel and further push his nausea tolerance. "You brought a rig for recon? You know that they scan bags now," he says, genuinely baffled.
Parker scoffs like he's missing something. "Like I'm going to leave Boston without any climbing gear. C'mon. What is this, amateur hour?"
The suitcase she has swapped with has another woman's wardrobe, a horrible assortment of hippie-dippie dresses and far too many pairs of flip flops that Eliot can hardly believe were let on the plane without setting off some kind of alert for noxious fumes. At least it has a name and an address on it for Hardison to track down and hopefully get a courier or whatever to get Parker's stuff back. They can divert at some point to retrieve it themselves, but there's still the tiny matter of the con they need to run on the wannabe oil baron here. The Gulf of Mexico isn't going to be able to save itself from illegal petroleum runoff that made up the majority of said oil baron's corner-cutting schemes.
In the interim though there's the issue of Parker much preferring to burn the gauzy things rather than consider putting them on. It's not a guise for a con, so there isn't much use in trying to convince Parker that a - presumably - clean dress was better than no clean clothes at all.
Of course, there also is a nice, efficiently packed suitcase with a week's worth of clothes plus two spare sets. Because Eliot packs the same way Nate plans, with backups and redundancies. There's never been a time where he has regretted having a spare shirt to change into.
That is, until he comes out of the shower - airplane travel has a way of making anyone feel disgusting after doing nothing but sit for four hours - and Parker is sprawled out on top of the bed in what is decidedly not a gauzy dress nor her own travelling outfit.
"Do you mind?" Eliot blurts out before he can remind himself that of course she doesn't.
Parker looks up from her catalogue with a perfectly innocent expression. It's even more infuriating, especially how Eliot can't wrangle into order his thoughts on exactly why this sets his blood to boil. "What?" she bandies blithely in reply.
"That's- those are my clothes. My shirt and- are those my jogging pants? Jesus, Parker, where're your clothes?" He hadn't noticed until now the pants which were the nice, comfortable ones that he packed to sleep in whenever he had to share a room with someone else.
She still is unaffected by his obviously bothered reaction. "Housekeeping," she replies initially. Then, finally, her expression twists and betrays some kind of emotion other than bemusement. She fiddles with the corner of the page she's flipping, creasing the edge and smoothing it out in little motions. "Figured they'll probably get 'em back to me later tomorrow and by the next day the others'll be here with another suitcase. Assuming that one doesn't get lost, too."
There's a logic to her plan that Eliot can somewhat appreciate. He'd appreciate it more if she had bothered to ask permission first before picking through his luggage for something to wear. It's more personal than a homemade alphabet soup agency jacket. That's crossing another line. Not that Parker has ever cared for lines or rules or Eliot's nice, comfortable arms length approach to things.
Parker squints, her focus now on something other than Eliot. "If that one goes missing, then I'll know it's the airport security guys who are pinching my stuff. And they'll regret it," she muses darkly.
Eliot decides to put a pin in the Great Airport Baggage Conspiracy - honestly, it's not the craziest one she's come up with - and is instead left backpedalling away from his irritable mood. Maybe he is overreacting from travel day bullshit.
"Anyways," Parker adds brightly, her mood shifting effortlessly, "it's not like I'm going to stretch anything out. I can get these washed tomorrow, too. Presto, problem solved."
She turns her attention back to her catalogue. Eliot chooses to puzzle over what it is that Parker would be browsing while he fishes through his suspiciously untouched appearing luggage for the rest of his toiletries. When he retrieves his toothbrush and passes again by the bed he notices the tell-tell branding for Squire it clicks. She's reading a security catalogue. Of course.
Leaning against the doorframe between the bathroom and bedroom, Eliot tries one final time to get Parker to see some kind of reason. He waves his hand with the toothpaste to catch her eye. "You know I wear those to sleep in," he says pointedly.
"So?" Parker replies.
"I'm not sleepin' in jeans because your stupid luggage got taken," Eliot answers.
Parker lifts one shoulder and her head dips back down to her magazine. "Then don't wear jeans. I don't mind."
It's a damn good thing that he didn't have a mouthful of toothpaste. Eliot sputters, pulls himself together, and slams the bathroom door behind him again because he doesn't know what he's going to say now, but it sure wouldn't be what his momma taught him to.
Nature decides to throw Eliot his next curveball. It's not enough to live with the normal, inexplicable moments of theft. The universe has to continue to give her practical, almost logical excuses to continue with it.
Parker's tough. She can put up with Hardison's geek chatter without resorting to breaking keyboards or- alright, alright. Even Eliot can't make that dig at the hacker because it undersells Parker's own, genuine strength. There is no understating a woman who can hang by fingertips for longer than some people can stand on a hot Miami streetcorner.
Eliot would kill to be in Miami right now. Even thinking about the sun only highlights its absence at current. The wind whips in bursts that cut to the core. There isn't a storm on the air right now, but this morning was freezing rain that left slick ice in patches.
Up on the rooftop had to have been worse, Eliot tells himself. And where else would a sticky fingered thief end up when comms go down and their retrieval strategy is kicked in the teeth? Parker has the smoking gun - an actual gun this time which delighted her initially - for the scumbag of the week. The rest of the team has been scrambling to regain control of the situation over the long, quiet afternoon.
Nate'll send up smoke signals if he needs to, but at this point the crew knows how one another thinks. They can handle whatever misappropriation of municipal resources will end up getting this block's power restored sooner than the rest. That's going to be Sophie's angle and Hardison's focus. Nate has his eyes on the mark still. Eliot diverts from his original task of shepherding the disgruntled, oh-so-under-appreciated executive assistant around to find the stairwell that would have been Parker's first escape route. Well, maybe second. There's also a central A/C shaft that would have taken her up to the roof as well.
Either way, Eliot is not contorting himself into tetris pieces when he has lifted said assistant's credentials. If the team isn't burned already, they will be shortly when the mark gets out of Sophie's web of distractions and misdirection and finds his wall safe cracked.
When the door takes two whacks with Eliot's shoulder, that sour feeling of concern redoubles in his gut. He hopes it had been frozen from this morning still, not that the roof's been cold enough to freeze again since Parker's unsuccessful evacuation. The building's in the shade. It's hard to tell. Eliot's not exactly going to get into the details when he does find Parker.
She has tucked herself out of the worst of the wind. She's so small, all wrapped up in long limbs and skintight clothing that works well to keep from errant fabric getting picked up by motion sensors. Not so good at retaining body heat for hours on end.
Parker isn't oblivious, though her reaction is sluggish for her. There's a flash of metal, and if Eliot was a different man he might have been amused at the sight of Parker wielding the unloaded revolver as a last ditch defense. But it's not funny. It's a little sad and it's a gun and she should have been able to rely on her team to get her out of danger well before the sun had started to go down.
Slowly the revolver comes down, and Parker's shaking shoulders tick down a notch. "F-f-f-finally," she tosses out snarkily, like she isn't blue in the lips and this is just another moment to banter her way through.
Eliot waggles the keycard badge and they swap. Even before he has the gun stowed, he's prodding her back into the building proper. The stairwell winds all the way into the basement garage where Eliot can use his cover to get the both of them through the very confused guard stand to where they've stashed Lucille.
There's a rush of Hardison rambling that washes over them from the moment the back door opens. It's straightforward and expected. All Eliot has to do is grunt and "mmhm" at in the appropriate moments. He turns over the engine and opens up the vents to flood the van with as much heat as can be coaxed out of the vehicle. "Up here, Parker," Eliot calls. He wants to leave Hardison to his work of getting back in contact with Sophie and Nate.
Parker slides into the passenger seat, turning herself once more into a bundle of lycra and shivers. She closes her eyes when, slowly, the front end warms. Her voice which had been strong despite her blue lips and shuddering shoulders wavers slightly now. "Can I steal your coat?" she asks. Maybe she's whispering so that Hardison doesn't hear her ask for it or maybe she's about to drop into a hyperthermia induced nap. Either way, Eliot slips out of the coat and drapes it over her.
He's not letting her get away without a comment though. That would just be making it too easy. "You're asking this time?" he teases. "I would have thought that you'd have concocted a way to lift it on the way down the stairs."
Parker lifts an eyebrow as she wraps herself in the coat. The zipper goes up to her nose and the fur-lined hood nearly covers her eyes. Eliot can see they're open now, if narrow and catlike as only Parker can convey.
"Thought about it. Decided it would have been too easy," Parker replies with bravado that Eliot can't tell if it's genuine or put upon. Both are equally likely with Parker.
Between the heat and the coat, Eliot can see there's color returning to Parker's pale skin. Or at least the blue is fading from her lips and her nail beds.
"Ahh," Eliot says. "So you're looking for a challenge next. Getting bored lifting things from my luggage and laundry?" He's pretty sure that the hoodie she was wearing at this morning's briefing was the grey one he lost going to the laundromat with her earlier in the month.
He catches the twinkle in her eyes before they slide lazily shut. Parker tucks her knees up underneath the coat, too - damn boneless contortionist - and leans against the window to position herself directly into the heat vent's output. "Keep your eyes open, country boy," she murmurs.
Oh, that hasn't been a problem.
"How long exactly is your building gonna take to fix the water line?" Eliot probably should have asked before today, but, well. He didn't. That's a point which will not leave this apartment and will especially not be paraded in front of Sophie or - christ - Nate . They would have all their pseudo psychologist fun at that, wondering why Eliot let Parker crash on his couch and steal his utilities without having an end date in mind.
Eliot's hope right now is that they won't get a job in the next two to three days and he can avoid the issue altogether. Besides, he has bigger things to deal with. Like the fact that Parker has apparently built up a small mountain of laundry prior to said water line break. She is currently on duffle bag number two. Eliot's not sure if his water bill can take it if a third shows up. These aren't gym bag sized either. He'd seen smaller duffles used by Rangers for a month's deployment.
She at least brought her own detergent. He can recognize the scent each time that she pops the washer open to swap loads over. That fact he also plans to keep entirely to himself.
He can hear her now opening and closing the machines as another round goes through. This started when the sun was still up. Now the stars are twinkling in the window as Eliot finishes chopping fresh parsley. It's the final flourish of tonight's dinner. He would have cooked regardless of Parker being here, but it may have been something a little less time consuming.
May have been. He is a bit of a sucker for the grin Parker gets when he makes fresh pasta.
Parker's head peeks out through the doorway to the utility room. "Did you say something?" she asks.
"About three minutes ago, yeah," Eliot replies with a shake of his head. Parker frowns before she disappears again behind the wall.
"Remind me what it was?"
The parsley gets added to the rest of the serving bowl of mouth-watering - if Eliot does say so himself - pasta and gooey carbonara sauce. The cutting board goes into the suds in the sink to be dealt with after eating. Everything else has been washed and is sitting in the drying rack, neat as you please. If he knows Parker, they'll be tucked away into the cabinets by the time he gets up in the morning. She's a neater houseguest than the others, surprisingly.
He takes the serving bowl to the table and whistles to signal it's finally ready. "What's your time… frame…" Eliot says. He immediately trails off because Parker has availed herself of not just his water, his washer, and his shower but apparently also has taken full advantage of his wardrobe.
Should he be surprised at this point? He wouldn't have thought so but Parker still has managed to do so. It would be a stronger man than he to not be caught off guard by a woman strolling through his apartment in a camisole and boxer shorts that Eliot knew he had just folded and put away yesterday. " Parker! " Eliot barks. She clambors onto the chair by the setting he's laid out on the table, utterly unphased.
"What?" she replies.
He gestures with the serving fork that he's still holding, ignoring for now the cheese that flicks off with the motion. "Making yourself right at home?" Eliot fumes. He knows she's either going to not get the sarcasm or selectively ignore it. Yep, there's the smug little arch of her eyebrow going now.
Parker picks up her plate and waves it in response. "Sure, but I'll be happier with a full stomach."
He puts down the serving fork with a clatter. He still hasn't sat down himself, too flabbergasted by the Parker of it all. "You really don't- Why are- Those are mine, Parker !" Eliot manages to get out. She merrily takes the fork and starts piling his carefully prepared cheese, pasta, and chicken onto her plate.
"The tank top's mine still," Parker retorts. "But I forgot I didn't have anything to change into for bottoms when I got out of the shower." She wrinkles her nose and, lord, Eliot should n't find that adorable when he is still trying to get it through her head to stop taking his clothes. At this point, however, he is beginning to suspect that the more he pushes the more that Parker will dig in her heels.
Just like with the hotel, she offers something resembling an olive branch. "I'll wash 'em tomorrow once my stuff's dry," Parker says before plunging into her first bite. Eliot concedes to at least sit down and fork over his own serving. And it's not just because his ego is partially mollified by the happy noise that Parker lets out on tasting everything.
He opens his mouth to tell her that's not the point and what comes out is, "But then they'll smell like you." His brain kicks back into control before this turns from messy into horrifying and Eliot adds, "Not that you smell bad."
There are times when Parker doesn't quite see things in the same way as the rest of the world. This is not one of them. She grins in that cat-that-caught-the-canary fashion which any person with half a brain cell would be wary of. "You don't smell too bad yourself. Why do you think I keep taking your stuff?" Parker teases. Her teasing comes with a whack with the back of her hand that - yep - lands somehow on the last straggler bruise healing from this week's con.
That's a rhetorical question loaded with subtext which Eliot should not touch with anything less than a ten-foot pole. But it's also one that has been on his mind for way too long at this point. He could reply with another sharp retort. He could let it lie. He could even go back to trying to make his own damn point about Parker needing to stop, please.
"Why don't you tell me?" he asks simply. It's been a long game of cat and mouse, and he's getting a little tired of being batted around.
Parker's smirk brightens by inches, and she threads another mouthful of pasta onto her fork. She isn't going to answer him just yet. Well. He'll just have to get it out of her another way.
The plan was to make sure that everyone would be able to handle themselves in the event that Eliot was indisposed. He doesn't like to think about that kind of situation; but it's happened before and Eliot is not one to just cross his fingers and pray for good luck, always.
Which is why he is meeting Parker in the tiny, underutilized "multi-purpose exercise space" in the basement of his apartment. Each week - more or less - he has been helping her with hand to hand techniques to build on her skillset. At first they would go to an actual gym, but that had required explaining gym etiquette to Parker and explaining Parker to the very confused if enthusiastic front desk personnel that Eliot rented the room from. The apartment basement involves less interactions with the general public. Plus Eliot can make his own smoothies afterwards.
Parker shows up on time, too, which is something that Eliot feels Sophie could learn from. There is no such thing as fashionably late when in a combat situation, regardless of what the grifter thinks. Eliot is shoving the pointless Multiflex PRO something or other combination machine into the corner of the room like he does every time when Parker strolls in.
She's still got that grey hoodie. Eliot rolls his eyes rather than engage. If he asks for it back, Parker's going to… well, he isn't sure what she'll do but it won't be simple. He's happy enough as it is just putting up with watching her roll up the sleeves and stick her hands in her pockets while she waits for him. "Ready?" Parker asks, skipping right past the typical pleasantries. Yes, it's a nice day outside. No, they don't need to go over asking how they slept with the rain finally driving off the humidity.
"Was gonna ask you but I guess I don't need to," Eliot replies. He can't resist making one remark though just before they get started. "You're gonna melt wearing that though."
Parker plays with the zipper. "You're just trying to get this back," she retorts. So she definitely remembers that it was his originally. Eliot shakes his head and shrugs off his own flannel shirt. No point in sweating through that.
"How come you haven't tried to get it back?" Parker presses.
She slides into Eliot's personal space - a big no-no that they've gone over before in these exact training sessions. His intention is to twist her into a hold to prove that point, but his focus is somehow on that press of forefinger and thumb on the zipper tab, dragging the little metal device up and down in a motion that, for a slight of hand expert, is exceedingly deliberate.
Eliot had an answer earlier. A good, sensical one. He has to take a moment to pull it out from his muddled thoughts. "Seemed likely that you wouldn't take kindly to someone out-thieving you," he replies.
That earns him a smirk from Parker, apparently placated by his acknowledgment of her skills. She still hasn't moved, however, and Eliot really doesn't appreciate how she pushes the zipper up to her chin. "Some retrieval expert you are."
He's waiting for her to pivot and bounce away because she's Parker and she always has an exit ready. He doesn't expect her to lean in closer and taunt him further. "You're not even going to try?" Parker asks.
She lets her hands drop back to her pockets and keeps her chin lifted. Eliot would have to be oblivious to not get what she was taunting him to attempt. Which was exactly why he shouldn't go within spitting distance of that silver toothed line. It's a trap, the obvious course of action.
There's a horribly clever idea that comes to him instead. Like the other jackets, coats, and tees that Parker's stolen from him, the hoodie is baggy on Parker's wiry frame. "We're here to spar, Parker," Eliot replies dismissively.
If she's disappointed, she doesn't let on. She lets Eliot step away, and the pair circles one another as though this is just another day. After a handful of breaths, Parker makes the first move. She's back in his space trying to take advantage of the spot on his ribs that was sore last time. Her hits are stronger than when they started - something that Eliot takes pride in - and he loses track of his plan for the moments where he is deflecting and redirecting her.
Then it's just a matter of pushing back, taking advantage of Parker's next misstep, and getting one arm around her middle when she has to retreat. Getting a grip on the hem of the hoodie is tricky because it's not really a strategy Eliot's had to deploy before in a fight. He manages it nonetheless and when he tricks Parker into ducking down that is when Eliot can tug the whole article over her head.
Of course from there there's elbows and shoulders and a ponytail in the way, so it's really not a smooth operation. But Eliot's extracted Parker from the hoodie and walked them both to one of the walls to pin her for good measure.
This is all just good, friendly sparring so Eliot lets up the pressure to let Parker turn to face him again. Neither one of them should be breathing this heavily after one exchange. There's just something in the air that's got Eliot's blood pumping.
He has to run a hand through his hair to fix it and Parker does, too, but her hands - ever light fingered - are busy slipping through his belt loops to link them together. "That what you wanted?" he asks. Eliot's dropped the hoodie somewhere in the scuffle. It's suddenly a lot less important when he's got her here, now, in his arms.
Parker yanks him closer and Eliot might worry about whether he's going to get his belt back after she pilfers that next. Then again, her attention isn't so much on the belt as what it was securing. "Finally you're getting the idea," Parker replies.
It occurs to Eliot that for all his paying attention, he hadn't realized just what Parker was trying to get at.
Well. They were on the same page, now.
A/N: Blanket statement for my oneshots - Please do not ask if I am continuing these. They are single "chapter" fics which I am considering complete. Thank you. - DragonMaster65