If there was one thing Eliot knew about love it was that it wasn't meant for him. His life was too messy and dangerous. Love couldn't last in his line of work. Aimee had been the only person he'd truly loved and that hadn't survived his early lifestyle. He couldn't imagine trying to be with someone after everything he'd done. He could never truly be himself with them. Not like he could with his team. Sure, they didn't know everything he'd done, but they knew enough, and they respected him enough not to ask the details that he preferred to leave buried. But they knew everything else. They knew that he'd done terrible things and they still wanted him around. They knew his weaknesses and they never used them against him. They knew his love of food and they catered to that. Hell they practically gave him a restaurant. He cared about his team and he was happy for them. Happy they had found their happiness.
First there was Nate and Sophie. They had each other and they were perfect together. Sure, they had their moments and it took them a while to get there but they were meant for each other, there was no denying that. Eliot couldn't have been happier when Nate finally took that leap and proposed to Sophie.
Then there was Hardison and parker. Two sides of a very different coin that had somehow managed to glue themselves to each other. It was like if you took a normal shiny quarter and glued it to one of those lottery coins you won at the arcade. That was Hardison and Parker. And yet somehow it worked. It had been slow going at first, what with Parker's insecurities and trust issues, but Hardison was patient. Hardison was always patient, with everyone.
Eliot understood why Parker fell for Hardison, it was easy to do. He was a great looking guy for starters. But more than that he was smart and caring and patient and loyal. Things that the whole team needed. Especially Eliot. Loyalty wasn't something he was used to. In his line of work, he was on his own. Nobody was coming back for him. But Hardison never left him behind. He always made sure Eliot had a way out of any situation. And if he saw Eliot struggling, he didn't push him to talk the way the others might. He would offer and then drop it if Eliot wasn't in the mood. Their playful banter also calmed his nerves. Hardison picked that up early on. 'For morale' he'd called it on one particularly nerve-wracking case. Eliot had been thankful for the chatter in his ear. Ever since, Hardison's voice had become a welcome comfort, though Eliot would never tell the hacker.
It had taken Eliot a bit longer to see what Hardison saw in Parker. She was frustrating. Distant and confusing. But when she finally started to let the team in, Eliot saw it. She was just as broken as he was. Her quirks weren't to piss him off, they were remnants of a broken girl trying to put the pieces back together. They were her ways of surviving before she had the team. Now he saw her quirks and couldn't help but smile. She was learning to ask for help and it elated Eliot when she came to him because she always came to him first. They were similar like that. It had taken time for Parker to see that, but Eliot understood her in ways the others couldn't. When Sophie tried to change her viewpoint or when Hardison tried to cheer her up, she would go to Eliot who would just let her be upset, until she was ready to be cheered up or given advice. Eliot let her know it was okay to not be okay, and she made him feel the same way.
He would do anything for Hardison and Parker and they for him. This is how Eliot had found himself in love despite knowing it wasn't meant for him.
It took Eliot far too long to realize that he'd fallen for the couple. And he couldn't do anything about it. He'd sworn to protect them, and he wouldn't go back on that just because he'd screwed up and gotten too close. Hardison and Parker were happy, he would never do anything to jeopardize that, but he could never leave them either, so he learned to deal with it. He suffered in silence. No one got hurt that way. At least no one that mattered.
It had been three weeks since Sophie and Nate had split, leaving Eliot alone with Hardison and Parker. Things had been fine. It took some getting used to, but the three of them worked well together. However, today changed things for Eliot in a way he never saw coming.
Love was a difficult thing for all of them. It always had been. Especially Parker. Despite having been dating Hardison for over a year, not once had she said she loved him and out of respect for not pressuring her, Hardison had refrained from saying it to her. Eliot knew this because Hardison had specifically told him how badly he wanted to tell Parker, but he wanted her to be the one to say it first. This had been months ago now.
As Eliot set a plate of chicken parmesan on the table, the apartment door flung open to Parker holding up two bottles of wine.
"I'm back," She announced in a tone that told Eliot she had clearly been drinking.
Eliot frowned at the blonde. She'd been gone for thirty minutes, and the store was fifteen minutes away. How had she had time to get drunk?
"Are you drunk?" Hardison asked, voicing Eliot's thoughts from where he was setting out a salad Eliot had made up to go with the chicken.
"I had a couple as I passed through the bar downstairs, so not nearly enough, but just enough to say that...I love you," She beamed proudly, practically slamming the wine bottles down on the table as if in a declaration.
Eliot's stomach dropped.
Hardison's face lit up. "I love you too, babe," he grinned widely as he scooped her up into a hug.
Eliot felt out of place. Like he was spying on a personal moment, which he technically was, but there was nowhere to escape. They were blocking his way out of the kitchen.
When Hardison set Parker down, she looked relieved. "That was so much easier than I thought it would be."
Hardison couldn't stop smiling.
She turned to Eliot as she slid her hand into Hardison's, "Of course, we love you too, Eliot," She offered with a gentle smile.
Eliot's jaw clenched and a lump formed in his throat. He was probably only the second person in the world Parker had ever said that to, but he knew she didn't mean it in the same way.
He forced a smile that he knew didn't reach his eyes, before forcing himself to turn back to the stove.
He missed the way Parker's face fell as he turned away.
Eliot tossed the towel over his shoulder and leaned over the bar where Hardison and Parker were sitting. Eliot had spent the last few hours in the kitchen of the brewpub, they'd finished up a con early and he had felt like cooking off some frustration. It helped him unwind sometimes when the cons were particularly messy.
"You guys want anything special? I'll whip something up?" Eliot asked, his eyes raking over the two people in front of him.
Parker smiled, "I'm okay. Thank you."
Before Hardison had a chance to answer, a thick southern accent cut in.
"I thought that was you I saw. My compliments to the chef."
Eliot instantly tensed, which didn't go unnoticed by his team.
Hardison and Parker looked over to see a man with piercing blue eyes and light brown hair, he built like an ox and he stood in a similar way Eliot did. Had they worked together?
"Benny," Eliot said the name with a stiff smile, like it was someone he was supposed to be happy to see but couldn't quite fake it.
"Lookin' good Spencer," Benny's eyes raked over Eliot in a way that made both Hardison and Parker take notice.
"You're awfully far north," Eliot skirted the obvious flirtation, careful to avoid looking at his teammates.
"Just passin' through brother. Heard this place had the best grub around. Funny seein' you back there," Benny gestured to the kitchen as he sat down on a barstool, which made Eliot frown.
"Glad you enjoyed the food. It was good seeing you," Eliot tossed the towel onto the counter before sliding around the bar.
Benny was back on his feet in a second.
"Hold on now. You're just gonna run off?" Benny caught Eliot's wrist.
Hardison braced for the reaction. Eliot didn't like to be touched.
However, the lack of reaction surprised Hardison more.
"What do you really want, Benny?" Eliot sighed. He could never resist Benny. Those blue eyes, the way Benny knew how to touch him.
"I really just wanted a bite to eat but...well seein' you is a nice surprise," Benny flashed a charming grin.
Eliot narrowed his eyes, "You wanna catch up?" his tone was less accusing and more assessing.
"If that's what you wanna call it," Benny grinned.
Eliot clenched his jaw. "Last time we 'caught up' you almost got me killed."
"That was my bad. I didn't know I was bein' hunted," Benny's face looked mildly guilty."Come on, darlin' for old times sake," Benny's thumb caressed where he was still holding Eliot's wrist.
Normally Eliot would have given in, but he allowed his eyes to skirt towards where Parker was glaring daggers at Benny, and Hardison looked concerned.
"Sorry, Benny, I think our catching up days are over," Eliot pulled from Benny's grasp and pushed through the door to head up stairs.
He wouldn't normally turn down a night with Benny, but he knew that his feelings for Hardison and Parker made it hard for him to enjoy his one-night stands. He didn't need Benny asking questions and he would.
He wasn't in the apartment five seconds before Hardison and Parker came through behind him.
"Uh, Eliot, who was that?" Hardison asked carefully.
"An ex, sort of," Eliot had never told them about Benny.
"Sort of?" Parker pressed.
"We met in the Army. He was the first..." Eliot huffed out in annoyance.
"Hey, if you don't want to talk about it, you don't have to," Hardison offered gently.
This annoyed Eliot. He knew it shouldn't. Hardison was doing what Hardison did best. Being patient. "The first guy I was ever with," Eliot snapped. "He never let things get serious between us though. Wouldn't let me get attached. We ran into each other here and there after and that's it. That's all there is to it." There it was, out in the open now.
Hardison and Parker watched as Eliot yanked open the fridge angrily and snatched a beer from it.
"You always get a little attached to your first though," Hardison said quietly.
Eliot froze with the bottle to his lips.
"It was a long time ago. I'm over it," Eliot growled. It was true, he had gotten a little bit attached but Benny had kept him at a distance, which Eliot had hated at the time. Now though, he appreciated it. He only wished he'd done the same to Hardison and Parker.
"Well his loss," Parker shrugged. "We've got you now. And we love you."
Eliot gripped the beer bottle tightly in his hand. That was only the second time she had said that to him.
"She's right," Hardison agreed, his tone just as gentle as before.
Eliot wanted to disappear. He loved them too, just not in the same way.
"I'm going to bed," Eliot poured out the rest of the beer leaving behind a frustrated Parker and a sympathetic Hardison.
Eliot wasn't really nervous about this particular con, but he knew that Parker was. She had to grift and while she had gotten decent at it, it still wasn't her favorite thing to do.
"Hey, you've got this," Hardison spoke into Parker and Eliot's ear as Eliot led Parker into the lavish ballroom as she tried not to fidget with her too small dress. "Eliot's right beside you. He's not gonna let anything happen."
Parker glanced over at Eliot who only gave a wink, hoping that would calm her nerves.
"Mrs. Hale, how good of you to join us," a gentleman in an expensive suit took Parker's hand and kissed the back.
She faked a smile, "I assume Mr. Moore won't keep me waiting."
Eliot wished he could tell Parker how well she was doing but it would blow his cover.
"Good job, baby, you got this in the bag. Just like that and we'll have him," Hardison's voice sounded in their ears.
Eliot had to hold back a smile as he followed Parker down the hall. He counted the men on his way, eyeing the weapons each one was holding as he went. Three in the hall outside the ballroom. One outside the door. Each with a single nine mill pistol. Easy enough.
Inside was their mark.
"Henchmen stay outside," The man said eyeing Eliot.
Eliot's jaw clenched. No way was he leaving Parker in here alone. He scanned the room. Two men, each with the same pistol and then, Marcus Moore, their mark. He could take them.
"Then yours have to leave to," Parker crossed her arms as she glanced at the two men on either side of the room.
Good girl. Eliot thought.
"Parker, what are you doing? Do not leave Eliot's side. Eliot do not let her leave your side," Hardison's worried voice came through the comms. Eliot couldn't blame him. He didn't like it either.
"Very well," Marcus nodded to the two men.
"Mrs. Hale are you sure that's a wise-" Before Eliot could finish, Parker turned to him with a look he knew well. It said to trust her.
"I said out," She ordered in her con voice.
Eliot glanced at Marcus and then back to Parker, "Yes Ma'am."
"What are you doing Eliot? You cannot leave her alone in there with him," Hardison's voice had raised an octave.
"Trust her, alright? She can handle this," Eliot whisper hissed as he stepped out into the hall.
"I trust her. It's Moore I don't trust," Hardison's voice hadn't lowered.
Eliot stood by the door, ready to make a move in case things went south.
They listened as Parker flirted with Marcus and worked her con. Eliot wished Sophie were here to see her.
"I really should be going," Parker spoke, and Eliot could hear the relieved sigh Hardison let out.
"Already? We're alone and business is over, what do you say we make time for pleasure?"
Eliot bristled, ready to make his move.
"Eliot," Hardison's tone was frantic.
"I'm afraid that offer's not on the table," Parker spoke, her tone still in con mode.
"I'm putting it on there," Marcus wasn't giving up, but Eliot was waiting for Parker to give a signal.
"Eliot," Hardison snapped.
"Well I've just taken it off. Is that going to be a problem? If so, I can take all the offers off the table. I'm sure there's business to be had elsewhere."
"Eliot, what are you waiting for?" Hardison's tone was getting more annoyed, but Eliot ignored him. He would respect Parker's decision and trust her.
"You play hardball, I respect that. I'll see that the money is in the account right away," Marcus' tone lost it's flirty edge.
"Pleasure doing business with you Mr. Moore," Parker said just before the doors opened and she stepped through.
Eliot led the way out and back into the ballroom.
"We should linger, otherwise it'll be suspicious," Parker said grabbing a glass of champagne off a nearby tray.
"Don't ever do that shit again," Hardison huffed into their ears, but his tone was more relieved than angry.
"You worry too much," Parker responded, but a fond smile played on her lips. She tipped back the rest of the champagne and put her hand out to Eliot. "Dance with me."
Eliot obliged with no complaint. He slid his hand around her waist and tried to ignore the guilt of how much he enjoyed holding her close.
"Thank you," She spoke in his ear as they danced close.
"For what?" Eliot frowned.
"Not barging in."
"When you kicked me out you asked me to trust you. I saw it in your eyes," Eliot gave a slight shrug.
"And you did. You always do trust me. It's why I love you," She laid her head on Eliot's shoulder then.
Eliot frowned and tried to ignore the way his stomach knotted. It was why he loved her too, just not in the same way.
Protecting his team was what Eliot did, period. That was the whole point of his job. Sure, there were times when he would hack something, or grift or pick a lock, but it wasn't his job. His job was to make sure his team was safe, and he prided himself on that. There was the occasional close call, but he always did his job. However, right now Hardison was face to face with two guys with a gun and Eliot was nowhere near him.
Eliot's heart was slamming heavily in his chest as he raced down the hallways towards Hardison's location.
"I'm just sayin' there's gotta be another way we can handle this. Ya know what I mean? Like proper gentlemen. Cause ya'll got guns and I don't. That ain't fair. That's all I'm sayin'," Hardison's rambling in Eliot's ear was normally a comfort but right now he was taunting men that had a gun to his head.
"Dammit Hardison, shut up," Eliot growled.
"Eliot, he's still on the fourth floor but they're on the move," Parker's voice spoke up then, sounding just as worried as Eliot felt.
Guilt coursed through Eliot. It was his fault Hardison wasn't safe. He shouldn't have left his side. He should have cleared the floors above them before planting the file in the office.
"Hey, why you gotta be so rough for? I'm sensitive. I bruise easy," Hardison's voice continued.
"Okay they're heading west down the hallway," Parker spoke up again from her spot in the security room. She had picked the lock as soon as she heard they had Hardison.
Eliot ran up the stairs two at a time, thinking of nothing but getting to Hardison.
"They took him in a room, but I can't see the number. The camera angle is wrong," Parker huffed.
"Room four oh two, good choice. No superstitious numbers in that one," Hardison continued to talk as if he wasn't giving his location.
"Four oh two, got it. Hardison, I'm almost there," Eliot pushed himself to run faster. He had to hurry.
"Who do you work for?" A voice that wasn't familiar spoke loud enough for Eliot to hear.
"Work for? I work for the boss, who do you work f-" Hardison's words were cut off and a loud smack pierced through the comms.
Eliot let out a growl. He knew that sound. It was the sound of a pistol hitting the side of someone's face. It was a very distinct sound.
Eliot shoved through the doors, finally reaching the fourth floor.
"Who do you work for?"
"I don't know what your talking abou-" Another smack.
Eliot's anger surged through him. He would show no mercy to anyone who laid a hand on Hardison.
"Tell us and this can stop."
Hardison's lack of response worried Eliot. Hardison was rarely quiet.
"Oh no smart remarks now?" Another smack.
Eliot was seeing red by the time he reached the room Hardison was in.
"Eliot," Parker's voice was small, pleading.
Instead of answering, Eliot kicked open the door.
One man had Hardison on his knees with his hands behind him. While the other had his gun ready to strike again.
Eliot grabbed the man with the gun wrenching his arm behind him, forcing him to release the gun. Eliot whipped the guy in the face with it before releasing him and unloading it. He then turned to the other man who was now charging at him. He thrust the barrel of the gun into the man's throat causing him to immediately gasp out. Eliot then shoved he guys face into the nearby table as he fell unconscious, allowing him to turn his attention back to the first man. He threw a punch which Eliot caught. He twisted the man's fist forcing the man to his knees before taking the heel of his palm and shoving it into his nose. Blood spurted from the man's face as he fell over.
Eliot finally looked over to Hardison who had pulled himself off the floor.
"Come on," Eliot growled.
The two of them carefully stepped over the men and made their way to the elevator.
Neither one said a word as it slowly descended.
Parker met them at the back door with Lucille.
She threw her arms around Hardison who winced when she kissed his cheek. "I'm so glad you're okay."
Guilt washed over Eliot once again.
"We should get out of here," Hardison glanced back at the building. He would alter the security footage later.
Parker climbed back into the driver's seat while Eliot and Hardison climbed into the back.
"I should clean that cut," Eliot gestured to where the skin had split open at Hardison's eyebrow.
Hardison only nodded.
Eliot got out the first aid kit and worked carefully.
"I'm sorry," Eliot said as he applied rubbing alcohol to the cut.
"You should be, damn that stings," Hardison yelped pulling back.
Eliot glared, "It's a tiny sting," he huffed, yanking Hardison back into reach. "I mean about not being there."
Hardison pulled away again but this time so he could look at Eliot. "What do you mean? You were there."
"I was too late," Eliot snapped. "This never should have happened."
"Whoa, hey," Hardison grabbed Eliot's hand from where he was aggressively putting away the first aid materials. "This wasn't your fault."
"My job is to keep you and Parker safe. I failed," Eliot growled, slamming the first aid box closed.
Hardison's hand closed tighter around Eliot's. "I am safe. You saved me. You might not have prevented this," he pointed to the cut near his eye. "But you came, and you took care of me, just like you always do. I wasn't scared cause I knew you'd be there. You're always there when we need you. That's why I love you," Hardison gave Eliot's hand a squeeze before he released it.
Eliot clenched his hands into fists as Hardison turned to his computer to scrub the security footage. That was the first time Hardison had said that to him. Eliot closed his eyes. I love you too. He thought. Just not in the same way.
It was a lazy night in. Eliot had made dinner. Hardison had cleaned and Parker had put in a movie and made popcorn. Nights like this were Eliot's favorite and his least favorite. He loved spending time with Hardison and Parker, but he hated feeling like the third wheel. Though they were really good about not making him feel excluded. Right now, for instance Hardison's head was on Parker's lap and Eliot was sitting on the floor next to her. Hardison was explaining the order of the Star Wars movies to Eliot.
"Wait, number one?" Eliot frowned, he tried not to react as he felt fingers card through the back of his hair.
"Yeah, we watched three the other night, and then four, and now five. Next, we'll watch one, then two, then three," Hardison answered around a yawn.
Eliot tried not to lean into Parker's touch as she continued to run her fingers through his hair. He could fall asleep to the feeling of that.
"That's the dumbest thing ever," Eliot tried to growl, but he was too relaxed.
"It's confusing, I'll admit that," Hardison sat up, turning off the tv.
"Your hair is so soft," Parker hummed as she continued to drag her fingers through his brown strands.
"It looks soft," Hardison nodded.
"Feel," Parker grabbed Hardison's hand and forced his fingers onto Eliot's scalp.
Eliot closed his eyes and tried not to hum in satisfaction. He knew he needed to push them away. Snap at them. Keep them at a distance, but he was tired and selfish.
"Oh it is soft," Hardison's fingers brushed along the nape of his neck and Eliot couldn't help the content sigh that escaped his lips.
"Well I'm tired, goodnight, Hardison, I love you," Parker said, pressing a kiss to Hardison's cheek.
"Goodnight, baby, I love you too."
"Goodnight, Eliot. I love you," Parker ran her fingers through Eliot's hair one last time.
"Goodnight, Eliot. I love you too," Hardison spoke close to his ear, his fingers brushing along Eliot's nape as he stood.
Eliot was suddenly wide awake. He turned to see the couple hand in hand walking into their room. His stomach churned. They had no idea what they were doing to him. He knew they loved him, and he loved them, just not in the same way.
Eliot knew military bases, he knew how they worked so when it came time for someone to go in and get the file they needed, Eliot wasn't about to let Parker or Hardison be the one to do it. He had managed to get himself inside easily enough, however Hardison had run into a problem with their security and now he couldn't get into the room he needed.
"Dammit Hardison, I need a higher level badge," Eliot growled as he tried again to use the badge he'd managed to lift from one of the higher ranking officers.
"Higher level? You took that from-"
"I know who I took it from Hardison and I'm telling you it's not working," Eliot cut him off. They didn't have time for this. It wouldn't take long before his cover got blown if he wasn't careful. He might have been dressed like one of them, but it wasn't hard to tell that he wasn't one of them.
"It's triple encrypted, you need a keycode," Hardison sighed into the comms.
"So hack it," Eliot snapped.
"I am trying, do you know how hard it is to do that? Parker where are you going? Parker," Hardison's voice in his ear distracted Eliot from the sound of incoming boots.
"What is Parker doing? Parker stay in the van," Eliot ordered to no avail.
"I'm going in through the ventilation shaft. I can fit," Parker answered.
"No," Eliot growled. As he turned, he saw two men turn the corner. "Shit."
"Hey, you're not authorized to be down here," one man shouted.
Eliot bolted down the hall a few paces and swiped his keycard on one of the doors. He was thankful when it opened. Before he could get inside, strong arms wrapped around him from behind.
Eliot twisted, slamming the man into the door and kicking the other man back into the far wall at the same time. The keycard in his hand slipped from his grasp in the mix but he couldn't worry about that right now as he and the man wrapped around him stumbled into the room he'd just opened.
The door shut with a heavy slam behind them.
Eliot struggled against the man's grasp, but he was too strong.
"I'm in the room," Parker's voice said into Eliot's ear.
"Eliot, where are you?" Hardison asked next.
"Busted," Eliot answered gruffly as he kicked at the wall, which triggered some lock somewhere by the sound, in an attempt to throw his body weight against the other man. He didn't release him. Eliot threw his head back and the man finally let him go.
"Uh Eliot, what did you do? You set off some alarm," Hardison's voice sounded concerned in Eliot's ear.
"So shut it off," Eliot growled as he turned to face the man that had attacked him.
"No, like it's a silent alarm, like a trigger or something, I can't figure out what it is."
Eliot threw a punch and found it landed easier than it should have. The man fell over, out cold.
"I got the folder," Parker announced excitedly.
Eliot shook his head; he was suddenly feeling a little dizzy. He reached down and snatched the keycard from the man on the floor and turned to the door.
"Good. Hardison, it wasn't an alarm I tripped," Eliot slid the keycard.
"What was it?"
"Carbon monoxide gas," Eliot sighed out when the card reader blinked red. The card was invalid. He was trapped.
"What? How the hell do you know that?" Hardison's tone raised an octave.
"The room is locked tight. The air vents are one way only and my opponent went down way too easy. Not to mention all the symptoms I'm currently having," Eliot growled out, gripping at the wall to keep from falling over.
"You can tell it's carbon monoxide from the symptoms your having?" Hardison asked his tone no less stressed.
"They're very distinctive symptoms," Eliot snapped back.
"Eliot, I'm coming," Parker's voice spoke up then.
"No, this gas will kill me in a matter of ten minutes in a room this size. The whole room will be void of oxygen. Take the file and go," Eliot demanded.
"What?" Hardison and Parker both demanded in unison.
"I can't get out of this room and Parker you'll only be trapped in here with me. It's not worth it. I'm not worth it," Eliot slumped against the wall. If he sunk down to the floor, he'd be closer to where the oxygen was.
"Eliot, no, I'm going to get you out, do you hear me. I'm going to get that door open," Hardison's voice was frantic and Eliot felt bad for making it that way.
"Eliot, you can't give up. Get close to the floor, oxygen is heavier than carbon monoxide, we're coming for you," Parker's tone was no less frantic.
Eliot felt himself smile, "Already there."
"Good, you just hold on, do you hear me, Eliot?" Parker's tone had turned almost annoyed.
"I'm sorry," Eliot leaned his head back against the cement wall. Of all the ways to go this wasn't how he imagined it.
"No, you do not get to apologize. You are getting out of this. You have to because I love you and Hardison loves you. We both love you, Eliot," Parker's tone was angry and Eliot could imagine the tears in her eyes.
He closed his and remembered the way Parker's fingers felt in his hair, and the way Hardison's felt on the nape of his neck.
"Do you hear me, Eliot?" Parker barked into her comm.
"I hear you," Eliot responded quietly. His vision was wavering even more now and his chest ached though he wasn't sure if it was from the lack of oxygen or from Parker's words.
"Dammit, Eliot, why don't you ever say it back?" Parker's tears were obvious in her voice now.
Eliot wanted to say it back wanted to tell them how much he loved them, but he couldn't. He couldn't tell them knowing that they meant it differently than he did. They may love him, but not in the same way.
"I'm sorry," Was the last thing Eliot managed to get out before his vision finally gave out, his lungs begging for fresh oxygen.
"Eliot, Parker is right above you. I got the gas to stop, but I can't get the door yet," Hardison spoke up next.
"Eliot?" Parker peered through the vent to see Eliot slumped on the floor against the door.
"Hardison, get that door open, now," Parker demanded kicking in the vent. She dropped down and kept low to the ground. She could feel the effects of the carbon monoxide already trying to take hold of her.
"I'm working on it."
"Eliot," Parker shook Eliot a few times, but the hitter didn't wake.
"I can't get him up through the grate, Hardison," Parker fought the dizziness tugging at her vision.
"You've got to wake him up," Hardison's tone was even more frantic. "There's triple encryption on this door and even if I do get it open, there are guards and a whole lot of trouble between you and the van and-"
"Hardison, just get the damn door open," Parker shouted as she wiped a stray tear that had managed to slip down her cheek.
"I'm working on it. I've almost got it, I just need this last sequence of numbers."
Parker smacked Eliot a couple of times but he still didn't budge.
"Oh what about smelling salts?" She dug into her bag and pulled out a small jar.
"You have smelling salts?" Hardison asked.
"You don't?" She countered.
"You knew you had those, and you still smacked him? And yeah I heard it."
"He didn't say it back," Parker growled as she shoved the salts under Eliot's nose.
The hitter finally stirred.
Parker let out a relieved sigh, "Hardison, tell me you've got that door open."
"Almoooost, and got it," Hardison announced cheerfully.
Parker swayed on her feet. The carbon monoxide was still thick in the room, making it hard for her to breath.
"Dammit Parker," Eliot pushed himself up off the floor just as the door clicked.
Parker pushed it open and inhaled the fresh air. Eliot followed suit.
"Okay, I set off alarms at the opposite end of the building, that gives you guys about three minutes to get to me," Hardison said just as alarms stared blaring from somewhere deep in the building.
Eliot grabbed Parker's hand and they bolted for the door where Hardison was waiting. Eliot tried not to hurl as he led the way.
Hardison managed to unlock each door as the reached it.
Once they were inside the van Eliot took the drivers side and played his part to get them off the base despite still feeling unwell from the exposure to the gas. Being still dressed as one of them, he was able to pull it off.
Eliot drove in silence to the apartment. The tension in the van was palpable. He wanted to ask but he could practically feel the looks Hardison and Parker were giving each other, whatever conversation they were trying to have they obviously didn't want him to be a part of it.
He parked the van and made his way inside, beelining for the bar. He needed a drink. His stomach was still uneasy from the gas, but he didn't care.
Eliot felt their presence behind him.
"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I know I fucked up."
"It wasn't your fault. We should have planned better," Hardison shook his head.
Eliot tipped back the shot of bourbon he'd poured himself.
"Parker, just say what you want to say," he sighed when the blonde didn't speak.
"You didn't say it back," her tone was unreadable. Not angry or sad. Both of which Eliot would have expected to be present.
Eliot tensed. He didn't want to have this conversation.
"Parker," Hardison's tone said to be gentle.
"Sophie said to give you time, so I did. It's been eight months since I told you for the first time. I know you feel the same way, I just don't understand why you won't say it back," Parker stepped forward but Hardison put a hand out, stopping her from crowding into Eliot's space too much.
Eliot turned around in his seat, his eyes landed on Parker. "If you know I feel the same way then why does it matter if I say it back?" Eliot asked, his tone not giving away his own emotions.
This only seemed to frustrate Parker further. Her jaw clenched and she looked to Hardison. "You're the patient one, not me."
Hardison gave her a sympathetic smile before turning to Eliot.
"Can you just give her a reason?" He asked with hopeful eyes.
Eliot sighed. He didn't want to hurt them, but he didn't want to upset them either. "Because if I say it, I won't mean it in the same way."
Parker's head snapped towards Eliot; her jaw dropped open.
Hardison looked like he'd been kicked. "Oh."
"Wait, what?" Parker frowned. "No that can't be right. Sophie and I talked about it. We were certain."
"Parker," Hardison put a hand on her shoulder.
"I'm sorry," Eliot dropped his head. This was a worse reaction than he'd expected.
"I told you this was a possibility," Hardison said before looking at Eliot with sad eyes. Eyes that Eliot hated being the cause of.
"I'm really sorry. I never intended for it to go this far. I-" Eliot cut himself off. A lump formed in his throat.
"But I was so sure that you felt the same way," Parker took a step back, looking as if she'd been slapped.
"Parker, I promise I would never come between you and Hardison, ever," Eliot stood up, reaching out for Parker and catching her wrist.
"Come between us?" Hardison frowned.
"That's what you're worried about right?" Eliot looked between his teammates. "My feelings for you both getting in the way?"
"Wait, your feelings for us both?" Hardison blinked as if trying to parse what language Eliot was speaking.
Suddenly Parker started laughing which caused Eliot to release her in confusion.
"He thinks we don't mean it in the same way," Parker said around a laugh.
"Yeah, that's what I said," Eliot was growing annoyed.
Suddenly Parker surged forward, her lips landed on Eliot's.
"Ooooh," Hardison nodded in understanding.
Eliot froze under Parker's touch.
"I love you, Eliot, the way I love Hardison," she smiled at him as she pulled away.
Eliot's heart was thudding heavily in his chest. Was this a dream? Was he hallucinating? How much carbon monoxide had he inhaled?
Before he could respond Hardison was pulling him into a kiss next. "I love you too Eliot, the way I love Parker, and the way Parker loves you," Hardison brushed his fingers along the nape of Eliot's neck.
Eliot couldn't help the smile that spread across his lips. "Oh." He'd been wrong. This whole time. They'd been trying to tell him and he just didn't see it. "I love you too, both of you."
It felt strange to say it out loud. But it was a wonderful feeling to know that whenever they would say it he could say it back and they would mean it in the same way.