Prompt: Eliot sweet talking Nana into sharing her secret family recipes so he can get more vegetables into both Hardison and Parker.
The carrot cake was the final straw.
Eliot knew his partners had terrible diets, okay? It was impossible for anyone to miss that, the way Hardison would just fill up any empty space in any fridge with orange soda, or Parker would get more cereal than was physically possible to store in the cupboard until there was at least one box permanently sitting on the table. He was well aware, and he'd been taking steps for a while to deal with matters.
He bought Hardison a fridge of his own - a mini fridge - and just poured out any soda he found anywhere else. He impressed upon Parker that just this shelf was for cereal and solemnly swore to her that he would never let it get beyond half-empty before filling it again. In the meantime, he filled the rest of his kitchen with actual ingredients, and always had a bowl of fruit out so they would have something healthy as an easy-to-grab snack. He didn't put anything Parker liked hidden on a high shelf, because she'd find that fun; just small decoy portions while he kept most of his chocolate inside an old Wheat Thins box at the back of the cracker shelf. Speaking of chips, if he opened the bag of a good brand, then Hardison would gravitate toward it once he'd finished his Cheetos instead of going out to buy more, so that was just a matter of letting him buy one bag and then watching the level and timing when to get the other stuff out.
They both ate meat well enough, though Hardison liked to put in requests for absolutely sacrilegious misuses of various cuts; when Eliot humored him and actually destroyed his fish or brisket or whatever else as requested, he actually did seem to enjoy it, which was... very wrong, and disappointing, but at least the food was still going in his body. Parker quite liked some types of pasta now, and she seemed to enjoy when he put effort into plating things up nicely, but she was still a work in progress on any actual mealtime like a family (or a date. Not that Eliot hadn't had to eat on the run plenty of times before, but - he'd had to. You don't walk in to a table set for multiple healthy, delicious, innovative courses he'd been cooking for hours and then just grab bites as you wander around the room! He'd had wine out! Norah Jones playing softly in the background! No candles because he wasn't an idiot, but it was clearly a romantic meal! What the hell kind of untrained toddler behavior-).
Breakfast was easy, since they both liked eggs and there were a lot of ways to go from there. Breakfast potatoes were a hit too, and bacon, and they'd even eat oatmeal if he smothered it in sugar so that was something. For lunch, Hardison at least appreciated a good sandwich. Granted, usually only a stolen one because he didn't like to make any kind of food at all that didn't come out of a plastic package with microwave instructions on the side (and that had been an argument for the ages, the microwave one. Frankly most things could be heated better on a pan or in an oven, and those that were meant for the microwave were usually mass-produced garbage Hardison really didn't need in his diet, but he disagreed vehemently and in the end that was one battle Eliot had definitively lost), but once Eliot caught on, he just started making double whatever he ate. Parker scoffed at the idea of lunch, for some reason, claiming that a granola bar or a brownie would get her through till dinner, but if he packed a lunchbox to look interesting and then gave it to her, she'd usually eat it. He just stocked up on bento boxes and made various kinds of colorful and/or childish looking foods and they came back mostly empty so that was good enough.
(Hardison claimed to have gotten jealous about it. Eliot was pretty certain he was making fun of him, so obviously he said he'd be caught dead before packing a lunch for him. He was a grown man and could do it himself.
"She's a grown woman!" he complained, pointing at Parker, who was sitting perched on the back of an armchair nibbling away at her kraken bento - black noodle limbs, gyoza face, and grabbing a little egg scuba diver. "Sh-she should have to - this is discrimination!"
"Stay away from my octopus," she squinted menacingly. When Hardison just glared mulishly back, she hugged the food closer to her chest. "It's not for you, this is my little dead man."
She popped the egg into her mouth and chewed, never breaking eye contact.
He turned back to Eliot to complain some more, but apparently that was only an attempt to fake her out, because he tried to grab the gyoza barehanded and she screeched, flinging her chopsticks at his face before fleeing across the room. Noodles got everywhere, Hardison had two little round bruises on his cheek the next morning, and somehow Eliot wound up packing everyone lunches every morning after that, and putting notes on them to label who each one went to.
He did not put sappy notes instead the boxes. He wasn't their parent, okay. The notes inside the lunch were only ever reminders they needed for the con, like Parker's character's peanut allergy and how she needed to have the attack exactly two minutes after the mark joined her at the break table, or for Hardison to lock Lucille II behind him because even if he could track down someone who took off in her, he really shouldn't have to again.)
Anyway, Eliot had something of a system down at this point. It wasn't perfect, but it was workable for the most part. The one exception was vegetables, which they both hated. He'd tried to hide them several times, but they often picked them out or he just couldn't stand to puree broccoli into a little garnish/dip just because his girlfriend and boyfriend were both giant babies about actually eating them whole. He had to eat the food too, and he enjoyed himself some veggies like any sane person would. They ate the ones hidden in their lunches almost half of the time, and sometimes other varieties, so he tried not to focus on that too much. Baby steps, he thought. First regular meals at all, then vegetables later.
But the carrot cake.
That was just too much.
It was cake. It was covered in cream cheese frosting. Carrot cake wasn't anything but decadent, at least not the way Eliot made it for Hardison's birthday. It was sweet, had just the right texture from the roasted pecans, the perfect hint of cinnamon and ginger. Not a complicated dish by any means, but pretty well near perfect, in Eliot's no goddamn need to be humble opinion.
Hardison scrunched up his nose.
"Oh," he said, not accepting the large slice Eliot tried to give him. "Eliot, I'm hoping this is a joke and you have my Red Velvet in the fridge?"
Parker let him hand her the plate, ate a bite, spat it out, then just started eating straight frosting off all the sides.
Eliot could feel his hands twitching. He very carefully set down the knife.
"What's wrong with my cake?" he asked. Gave them the benefit of the doubt, and tried a bite: delicious.
"I mean... it's a carrot cake," Hardison said delicately, as though Eliot had made some kind of mistake and he felt a little bad pointing it out to him.
"I like the frosting," Parker interjected, and Eliot glanced over to her. She'd moved on from her own plate and was just scraping fingerfuls of frosting directly off the top of the cake. His cake. His cake for Hardison's birthday, his beautiful cake -
"Babe, we love you but you gotta know vegetables don't have any place in a dessert, that's just wrong. C'mon, you really didn't make me something else? Really?"
"THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU TWO?!" Eliot bellowed and stormed out of the apartment. He took the cake with him.
He brought it to Sophie and Nate, since they were in town and they weren't insane like some people he knew.
"People you've, uh, chosen to dedicate the rest of your life to," Nate pointed out around a mouthful. "I mean, you knew what they were like."
"Oh, hush, Nate, don't you get it? They've hurt Eliot's feelings," Sophie explained. She ate another bite, hummed approvingly, then waved her fork around to emphasize her words: "For Eliot, food is life. He wants them to lead long and healthy lives, he wants to live with them and show his love for them and keep them safe, and they just rejected that. It's not all about the vegetables, y'know?"
Eliot was never sure whether he loved Sophie best or least of all.
"It's definitely all about the vegetables," he said, crossing his arms. The pair of them exchanged a look and then smiled at him warmly, like he'd just done something cute.
"Fine! Forget it," he snarled, pushing himself roughly to his feet.
Behind him, Nate grunted the distinctive grunt of someone receiving a pointy elbow to the side, then cleared his throat.
"Okay, okay - wait! Wait, all right, I might have one idea." When he turned back, Nate was rubbing thoughtfully at his chin. "You've tried featuring the veggies, right, and hiding them. I'm sure you've lectured them both to death about why they should be eating more vegetables, but that's not going to work on them, is it, because there's no connection there. Ad novitam is only going to get you so far, you need the, the personal touch, a little ad misericordiam if you will."
"I am not telling them it makes me sad when they don't eat their greens," Eliot said firmly.
"But it does," Sophie said lightly. She met his glare with a soft smile, and popped another bite of cake into her mouth.
"N- Well, no, obviously, but you've got to think it through, Eliot. Step away from the situation. How can you imbue the food itself with emotion? Not for you -" Nate spoke a little louder as Eliot started to answer, "you're not our mark here. What kind of food, with vegetables, is going make them feel an emotional connection?"
Eliot subsided, frowning down at his own plate. That... was actually a pretty good point.
"Hm, my favorite is still that little restaurant in Paris, with the exquisite quiche. But, I suppose hard-scrambled eggs are a bit of a guilty pleasure," Sophie mused. "Mum was never any good at cooking."
"You too?" Nate turned to her. "Yeah, my dad could set water on fire. I remember eating from my meal plan at college - the cafeteria, mind you - thinking how good the food was in comparison."
The solution clicked into place. (Of course it did, they'd practically hand-fed it to him.)
Eliot stood up and grabbed his coat.
"Oh, are you leaving?" Sophie asked.
"Yeah," he said, and turned back to smirk at them. "I'm gonna go steal Hardison's childhood."
Once upon a time, Eliot had been a retrieval specialist. You name it, he got it back. Sometimes it was actually a they or even a them, on occasion. He'd committed arson for a pair of scissors, had gathered up a scattered set of Fabergé eggs from seven different countries and two different mafias, had traveled more than once through airport security with a live frog in his pants. The business was a strange one, but he'd been the best at it. And in the years since he left, his life hadn't exactly gotten less weird; Leverage saw to that.
Breaking into an old woman's home and stealing a book of recipes would be easier than taking candy from a baby. Of course, Hardison made sure to keep his Nana safe, and from everything he'd heard she could certainly take care of herself, but still it wouldn't be any great challenge for Eliot to just break in and take what he wanted. He could do it and leave without her ever knowing he'd even been there.
He rang the doorbell, and gave her his best smile when it swung open.
"Hello ma'am, I'm Eliot. Can I come in?"
(This was Hardison's Nana, he'd never do wrong by her like that. Anyway, it wouldn't even work. For this he needed her direct input.)
Nana was a short, soft-looking woman. Her hair was pushed back with a purple headband, and she wore loose comfortable pants and a clearly old t-shirt covered in child-sized paint handprints. She exuded a sort of maternal air that had Eliot relaxing into the visit almost despite himself. They'd only ever spoken on the phone, and he'd admittedly felt a little awkward about his plan due to that detail alone. He knew Hardison would love for them to meet her, but it just hadn't happened yet - honestly, Eliot had been reluctant before, worried that she would find him wanting, and he'd always been relieved that no plans had crystallized into anything solid.
Certainly, despite welcoming him in and getting them all set up on the couch with home-made lemonades, it was clear she felt suspicious. A few minutes in, she dropped the small talk altogether to pin Eliot with a steely glare.
"I'm fairly certain Alec wanted to be here when we met so he could brag some more about how hot his partners are," she said, making Eliot flush. "And I'm just as certain nothing has happened to him, or it wouldn't be you here to tell me, so that just leaves me confused."
She raised an eyebrow, letting him take his time responding.
He looked down at his lap. Ran a hand through his hair, feeling... not less confident that he'd get those recipes by the end of this visit, but certainly more bashful about it.
"Uh. Yes ma'am," he said. Quickly corrected himself, remembering her insistence over the phone, "uh, Nana. See, he doesn't actually... know I'm here..."
"I'd guessed as much," she said wryly.
"Right. Um, I actually wanted to ask you something. There's something I want to do for him - well, for them - but I need your help to do it right."
She stared him down a moment longer. Then her eyes widened, and she sat back in her seat with a little gasp, hand over her heart.
"Oh, Eliot," she said warmly, leaning forward again to grab his hand and hold it between hers, "Oh, sweet boy, of course he'll say yes. You should hear the way he talks about you, Alec's been head over heels for years. I may not have met Parker personally, but I'm sure she will too. You don't have anything to worry about, trust me on that."
"What?" he croaked. "I... w-what?"
His voice broke in his throat. He wanted to yank away but he felt frozen in place. He didn't understand how she'd - okay, no, he could easily see how she would draw the wrong conclusions from this situation, but they were the wrong conclusions! He'd never even considered marriage since Aimee, let alone proposing to Parker and Hardison. It wasn't like a three-way marriage was even legal, and even if it were he would never. It was too much - not too much commitment, he'd already promised the rest of his life to them both, but still too much, somehow. He'd never dare.
"I know Alec doesn't think too much of the institution in general," Nana said, waving a dismissive hand, "but if you do he'll understand that. He might not need it but he won't say no if you ask, hon. I can promise you that."
Eliot meant to deny the very idea. Instead what came out of his mouth was a shaky:
"...Are you sure?"
Hardison's Nana - his Nana too, she insisted, even after Eliot finally managed to clear up the misunderstanding - was truly a gem of a woman. He could see so much of who Hardison had turned out to be in her kindness, her cleverness, her sense of humor. She'd broken out the picture albums for him, and had even kindly let him keep one photo of a gaptoothed little Alec in a horrible bowl cut, grinning proudly and brandishing a blue ribbon next to his science project. To Eliot's complete lack of surprise, he'd won every year with zero competition from his peers.
(He told her that he wanted the picture to make fun of Hardison with. It was true, but she still just patted him on the shoulder and told him to keep it. Didn't say a word when he tucked it into his wallet with unnecessary care.)
They talked for a long time. She gave him a journal to copy directly from her personal recipe book, a lovely clothbound thing spattered with grease and burnt at one edge, smelling of spices and old paper; clearly well used. She told him it was passed down from her mother, who'd put in lots of her mother's recipes. Eliot took notes as she talked him through every one. He had a good memory but he didn't want to miss a thing, and her recipes as written were bare bones. He could cook a delicious meal from them easily enough, but it wouldn't have her heart in it, not like what he wanted to make.
Just talking could only do so much, and eventually they found themselves in the kitchen, demonstrating techniques and favored spice blends. It was nice, just in and of itself. Eliot rarely got to talk shop with other cooks, and it had been a long time since he'd eaten anything home-made by someone else. Nana never went to school for this stuff, but clearly her long years of experience carried their own weight, because she knew what she was talking about.
It was late in the night by the time Eliot left her house, feeling himself flush to his ears as she kissed him on the cheek before waving until he'd driven away. And this after wrapping him up in a tight, warm hug just inside the front door.
"Alec's done well for himself," she said, and winked. "Now, next time I want you to bring that young lady of yours as well, you hear me? Make that a promise."
"I will," he said.
It was nearly three AM by the time he got home. Parker crashed out of the dark the second he stepped inside, clinging to him as he caught her midair.
"You made Hardison sad on his birthday," she told him sternly, and headbutted him hard on the temple. As he winced, she pressed her nose down against his shoulder and took a long sniff. "You smell like lemons."
"You made me sad on Hardison's birthday," Eliot sighed. "I mean, mad."
"Doesn't matter, you made him sad so I'm not sorry," she said, and snuggled close.
Eliot carried her through the apartment, avoiding bumping into any furniture through the ease of experience, and into the bedroom. Hardison was sprawled across the mattress, fast asleep with a frown.
Setting Parker down, Eliot got undressed and climbed into the bed. He scooted behind Hardison, leaning up on an elbow to swipe a gentle thumb over the furrow between his brows. It came back, so he wiped at it again, and kissed Alec's shoulder when he huffed a little and his face relaxed. Eliot kissed him one more time, then lay down behind him with an arm draped over his side.
Rather than going around the bed to the free space on Hardison's other side, Parker crammed herself onto the mattress right behind Eliot, pushing him further into Hardison and determinedly spooning him.
He craned his neck up to look at her in the dark. She met his gaze solemnly and squeezed tighter, slipping a leg between his.
Eliot fell asleep warm, entangled in the two loves of his life.
He woke stinking hot, still entangled but a lot less happy about it. This happened every time he slept in the middle; he didn't know why he kept letting it happen. Every single time he'd wake abruptly, heart thrumming in an instinctive alert to something wrong... Only to realize that something was just Parker drooling on his ear, or Hardison's morning breath in his face, and (every time) both their limbs all wrapped up around him and each other in a very sweet, sweaty, and constricting mess.
The first few times he'd suffered through it, unwilling to wake them. Still basking in the fact that he was here, that he got to be a part of this. But Hardison slept like the dead, and Parker had the ability to wake up and go back to sleep pretty much indefinitely, so Eliot had no compunctions about shoving them aside anymore. He also knew that the other two were night owls who would happily sleep in to eight or even ten if left undisturbed. Eliot woke habitually at five regardless of how late he'd been up, maybe six at the latest; morning snuggles just really weren't practical.
He wriggled free, clambering over Parker and catching her when the bed dipped and she nearly fell to the floor. Her eyes shot open, clocked him, then dropped shut as she went right back to sleep. He left them there and went to go take a shower, then wandered into the kitchen, grabbing up his new cookbook from his jacket pocket on the way.
Eliot was operating on only a couple hours of sleep; Nana didn't exactly live next door, and he was frankly lucky he'd got out the cake relatively early in the afternoon, to be able to catch her awake at all. It wasn't like he'd ruined Hardison's whole birthday, just that last part they'd set aside for the three of them. They had already hung out with Nate and Sophie in the morning, and Hardison had a long phone call with Nana even before that. Parker had even given Hardison her present: a little statuette originally from a museum in Delhi if Eliot wasn't mistaken. It was some god or something, but bore a striking resemblance to an Ewok, a detail she'd correctly guessed Hardison would love. He'd been planning on giving his present after the cake, at which point they were going to, on Hardison's specific request, have a very normal and boring date at home. There had been a lot of jobs lately, so that must have tied into his desire for domesticity - that and 'birthday rights' to force them to watch all his nerd movies and lose at various video games.
They hadn't planned anything for today either, so it wasn't like those plans couldn't still happen... And in fact yesterday hadn't even been Hardison's real birthday, just the replacement day they'd agreed to celebrate on when a con ran through the actual day. But in the cold light of day he felt a lot more stupid about taking a vegetable-related risk on Hardison's cake, and then reacting stupidly when they didn't like it. To be fair, he hadn't considered it a risk at all, hadn't even been thinking of his ongoing quest to feed them better so much as the fact that carrot cakes were good and he knew Hardison liked cream cheese frosting - but still. Sophie may have hit the nail on the head, but it was still a stupid and immature nail to let get in the way like he'd done.
He had to at least try to make it up to him.
Accordingly, the breakfast casserole Eliot put together was about as far removed from a healthy meal as any non-dessert in Nana's cookbook. A baked blueberry French toast creation with lots of sugar, it actually was more of a dessert than anything else. It also took hours in the fridge, but that was alright; not the first time Eliot getting up so much earlier came in handy.
He took the time that it spent in the fridge to clean the apartment. He got out his gift to Hardison, swept and mopped and watered all the plants. Did some laundry, meditated a bit. Pretty much just puttered around for hours, steadily feeling worse and worse about his outburst the day before. Parker had been accepting if not forgiving, and didn't need an explanation; Hardison might not feel the same. Eliot didn't expect him to; he was the one clearly in the wrong. He really couldn't regret the outcome of meeting Nana and getting her recipes, but it should have been on any other day.
He managed to time the casserole just to when the other two got up; just as Eliot pulled it from the oven, Parker wandered into the room.
"Ooh!" she said, and approached with a clear intent to stick her fingers directly into the hot food. Eliot intercepted her with a glare and a whap with his oven-mitt. She retaliated with a vicious pinch to the back of his hand and grabbed a blueberry off the top, tossing it into her mouth and wincing as she burnt herself chewing it.
"Quit that, it's Hardison's," he told her.
"Hardison!" Parker yelled in what appeared to be terror, because of course she would. "I need your help right now!"
He came tumbling into the room, still only half-dressed and clumsily wielding Parker's taser at the couch. When he saw only the two of them calmly watching him, he attempted to hide it behind his back.
"Oh hey, what's up everyone," he said nonchalantly. "Breakfast? Awesome. Smells like something Nana used to make."
Parker went over and kissed him as she stole the taser out of his hand. She held it up in front of his face.
"Mine," she scolded.
"Hey, I was ready to defend your life," Hardison said, mock-offended. "What, you want me to run into an ambush empty-handed? Come on, baby, look who you're talking to."
"If you'd let Eliot teach you MMA like me then -"
"Then what, you'd use it as an excuse to choke me out again? I know what you're after, I recognize that look in your eyes -"
"Hey, come'n eat." Eliot put two full plates of breakfast casserole down on the island. He braced himself, ready for Hardison to keep giving him the silent treatment or outright call him out on his behavior.
It didn't happen.
"Morning Eliot," he said as he came over to grab a stool. He leaned across the island; when Eliot was too surprised to meet him halfway, he rolled his eyes and reached out a hand to grab his face and pull it close enough for a quick kiss. Then he plopped down into his seat, inhaling deeply at his food. "Oh man, this smells exactly like Nana's Blueberry Thing, I loved that as a kid. How'd you know?"
Eliot slowly sank down from his tiptoes. His stomach hurt a little from being yanked up against the edge of the island, his lips still felt the impression of Hardison's. He... really didn't understand.
"Uh, Nana said you liked it best," he replied a little too woodenly. Neither of his partners seemed to notice.
"You been talkin' to her without me?" Hardison asked, before taking a bite and moaning. It wasn't a sex moan - Eliot knew what those sounded like - but it was damn near. "Did you turn into her? What the hell, this is it, this is the Blueberry Thing!"
Parker was at her own plate the moment Eliot said Nana; she was always fascinated by any mention of the woman, and would probably taze him for meeting her first. Right now, she was digging into her own plate, eyes closed.
Eliot cut himself a serving too and sat down to eat with them. He felt tentative, somehow, embarrassed.
"Yeah," he grunted. "Went to talk to her last night. Got some recipes."
The food was good. Sweet, warm, filling; clearly a comfort meal. He dug in.
When he looked up, Parker and Hardison were both staring at him. She opened her mouth, paused, and then fell silent with a glance to Hardison. He was staring at Eliot, mouth open.
"What the hell, hon?"
Eliot clenched his jaw. He knew what he should say. He'd spent all morning prepping himself to say it.
"...You never opened my present," he said instead.
Hardison squinted at him.
"Yeah, I wasn't gonna without you there," he said pointedly.
"Right, well, here," Eliot said and shoved it his direction before going back to his food. He could feel them staring at him but didn't lift his head, kept shoveling bite after bite into his mouth as he heard Hardison final tearing at the wrapping paper, grumbling incoherently to himself.
A moment later, the angry mumbles got louder when he opened the first box to reveal the second one.
By the time Hardison got down to the final layer, a small paper booklet six boxes in, Parker was snickering rudely and his muttering was about half swear-words. Eliot still didn't look up, kept waiting until Hardison actually read the gift.
(He'd thought it would be funny, obviously. He'd thought it would be hilarious, to watch Hardison getting more and more irritated by the wrapping paper. And he knew the gift itself wasn't anything much, but Eliot usually prided himself on being good at getting people things they didn't know they wanted, or didn't think they'd ever get. He knew it was childish and kind of stupid right from the jump, but money didn't really mean too much to Hardison, and he was confident he'd love this.
After his behavior last night, he wasn't so sure anymore. Immaturity took on a different tone right now.)
"'Eliot Tickets,'" he heard Hardison read off slowly, then - "no."
He glanced up sharply, but it'd been a sound of delight. Hardison's eyes were wide and he was flipping through the pages rapidly with an ever-widening grin.
"No nerd jokes for twenty-four hours, back massage, favorite food, favorite sex, get-out-of-scolding free, dessert for dinner, oh my god Comic-Con?! Get to play with your hair, get to pick your cover, computer lessons, videogames, sleeping in, what kind of goldmine is this -"
Parker leaned over his shoulder as he kept going, pointing out her favorites as they worked their way quickly through the rest of the little booklet. It wasn't horrendously long, but long enough: one ticket for every year. Twenty-eight in all.
Twenty-nine, including the piece of paper Eliot had slipped in front of the last page at seven-thirty this morning, before carefully re-wrapping every box.
"'One I'm sorry,'" Parker read out loud. She met Eliot's eyes as she asked, "Are you gonna use it?"
Hardison hummed thoughtfully, then picked it up to reveal the last page.
"No, I'mma save this for just the right time," he said, waving it in the air. He looked Eliot in the eye and smirked meaningfully. "You messed up, man, you didn't put an expiration date on any of these."
"Dammit," Eliot grumbled, like he'd just realized.
(It hadn't been a mistake.)
"Don't need that right now anyway," Hardison continued, tucking it back into the middle of the book. "This, on the other hand - this one I'm cashing in now."
Eliot took the little piece of paper Hardison ripped free. He sighed.
"Hell yes, now get in here - and no complaining, them's the rules you made your own self. You too, Parker, c'mere."
Eliot stood up and rounded the island, halting with a sigh just before reaching Hardison, who stood to meet him. He ripped the coupon in half.
"All right, here goes."
Tucking the pieces into his pocket, Eliot stepped forward into Hardison's outstretched arms, tucking himself in close and hugging him back tightly. A moment later, he felt Parker collide with them both, one arm over his shoulders and a leg around his hips. He sighed again, this time into Hardison's shoulder, and let himself sway when they did, a gentle rock back and forth.
He closed his eyes when they started to sting.
"Sorry," he mumbled into Hardison's shoulder after a long minute. "Shouldn'ta left."
"That does not count, Eliot," Hardison told him firmly, and didn't let go. "I did not use my coupon, I still got my coupon, you aren't getting out of anythin' with that you hear me?"
Parker snickered behind him.
"Not getting out of anything at all," she said, and squeezed tighter. "We've got you trapped."
(The next time he fed them vegetables, it was a Nana recipe and Hardison ate without complaint. Parker ate because she wanted to know what it felt like to be a little Hardison, and proclaimed the experience 'like one of my harnesses' which was obviously a very positive review.
The next time he fed them vegetables and it wasn't a Nana recipe, they exchanged a look and then each ate exactly half of their servings. The rest they snuck back onto Eliot's plate one bite at a time like he wouldn't notice. He let them get away with it and looked down at everyone's empty plates afterward with a weird content feeling relaxing his shoulders.
The next time he saw Nana, her words on Hardison's bragging proved embarrassingly correct. She and Parker got along like a house on fire, and if left alone too long would probably cause a house on fire, and Hardison just watched them with a giant grin like he didn't see the danger. Nana asked Eliot if he'd considered what they talked about last time right in front of them both, proving beyond all doubt that she shared Hardison's love of driving him goddamn crazy for fun.
The next carrot cake he made was for Sophie and Nate. He refused to call it a thank you, but she did and also asked him to make that little French quiche she'd talked about like she honestly expected "it had spinach, I think, something green anyway, it was very light, and some kind of unexpected spice too?" would be enough to go on. Nate was no help whatsoever.)