She saw it before she left, the tiny seed in fertile soil. Yet, now that she's back with the team, she can see what's already sprouted, can watch it grow further. It's always easier to see things more clearly after a prolonged absence. This applies to more than the relationship between Parker and Hardison, but she carefully pushes ithat/i thought to the side. She'd much rather continue observing the other pair. Lord knows, she's had many opportunities to do so over the last two months.
Logically, they should have scattered after Nate was arrested, but it felt too much like abandoning him, of leaving a man behind. They chose instead to return to the same building, figuring it would be the last place Sterling would look. When they'd reunited in Boston, the first time, Hardison had buried his purchase of the building under dozens of shell companies. With the floor above Nate's condo empty and the secret staircase Eliot had built between the two, they settle there, each claiming their own bit of territory.
They keep a rather low profile, spending most of their time indoors, brainstorming on how to get Nate out. Hardison has spent hours on his computer, monitoring Nate as he is shuffled about the system, doing whatever he could for their mastermind. She'd insisted that he get Nate into a prison with a rehab program, but, other than that, she doesn't really want to think about it. Eliot knows people who knows people and the word was spread to treat Nate as untouchable. Now, they have the rough outline of a plan and they've divvied up tasks amongst them. Her chief responsibility will be convincing Nate to cooperate, damn his notion of honor, but for now, she is supposed to be sorting through dossiers on the employees of the prison. However, as she rests her head on the corner of the couch, she ignores the papers strewn about her lap to concentrate on the show before her.
Hardison is tucked away in his little computer corner, eyes flying across multiple screens, fingers clacking away like gunfire. A half-empty bottle of orange soda is close at hand and stray gummy frogs litter the desk. Parker is sprawled across the floor, on her stomach, examining the blueprints for the prison basement. A cereal bowl is holding down one corner of the blueprint, a book on Glenn Reader safes (a gift from Hardison) weighs down another. She has steadily committed the plans for the prison to memory. Her knees are bent, her legs kicking through the air. She comes close, a time or two, to thwacking Hardison, but her foot always just stops before contact. Parker is always aware of where he is.
He makes a little noise in the back of his throat as something beeps and, without looking, he reaches for her foot, shaking it lightly. Parker rolls up on her knees, pivoting look at the screen, her hand grasping the seat of the chair, inches away from Hardison's hip. The pull between Parker and Hardison has always been strong, but now it seems positively gravitational. These almost touches, they shouldn't seem so intimate, but she feels like she's intruding.
Collecting her papers with loud rustles, she gathers her things and heads up to her own bedroom. She really ought to work through these dossiers. Eliot will be expecting a sit-rep when he gets back from reconnaissance. She looks back once to see Parker pointing at something on the screen and Hardison smiling fondly down at her. There's a pang in her heart, but she firmly ignores it as she trudges up the stairs.
Sometimes they get tired of staring at these walls, so they sneak out for dinner. They never pick the same place twice and today they end up at a diner, the air choked with grease. She swears she can feel her arteries hardening with every breath she takes. It was Hardison's turn to pick and God forbid they eat somewhere with a real tablecloth. Parker slides in one side and Hardison sits next to her, leaving she and Eliot to share the other side. They exchange commiserating looks as they gingerly pick up their menus.
After they place their orders with a waitress who continually snaps her gum, Hardison and Eliot bicker over something infantile while Parker entertains herself by doodling on the back of her place mat. She rolls her drink between her palms, feeling the coolness of the condensation. In another time, another place, Nate's shoulder would be pressed against hers, a desperate face staring across from the other side of the booth. Shaking her head, she turns her gaze to the other patrons, doing cold reads in a bid for distraction. Her attention is drawn back to the table at the clatter of plates, the rich aromas reminding her how hungry she is. Surprisingly, her egg white omelet is very good and Eliot is making satisfied noises as he eats his burger. Hardison opted for meatloaf and Parker has mac & cheese. A plate of fries drenched in cheese sits between them.
They are quiet as they eat and she beings to notice the odd synchronicity of their movements. Hardison makes a vague gesture while chewing and Parker slides the ketchup towards him. Parker flaps her fingers in the air and Hardison passes her a napkin. They take a sip of their drink at the same time and their forks clink as they play fight over a fry. She shoots a look at Eliot and he raises an eyebrow at her. Through it all, she can just make out the cracked red vinyl of the booth, a faint border between their bodies.
When they are ready to leave (Parker insists on a milkshake to go), Hardison gets up with the check, heading for the register. Parker pops out and falls in step beside him. Their arms are swinging in sync, fingers almost but not quite brushing. Eliot disappears into the night and she lingers for a moment, watching the couple at counter, wondering how many times she's seen them like this before. It's almost poetic. One will lead and the other follows, never more than a breath apart.
As the days roll by, Parker makes an idle comment or two, just enough for her to know that the other woman realizes something's going on. She's not quite sure what's happened to Parker in the past, but she gathers it was unpleasant. It makes the rapport Hardison has with her even more remarkable. He's coaxing her, slowly but surely. Still, he's grown as well, becoming a little more confident, more sure of himself. This is a man who has decided what he wants.
In the beginning of their isolation, Eliot would take Parker out for bungie jumping, rock climbing, anything to get the adrenaline out of her system before she drove them all crazy. After one such trip, Hardison was gone when they returned and Parker was visibly agitated. He came back two hours later with the computer program he wanted, smelling vaguely of flowers. Parker narrowed her eyes at him and he returned the gaze coolly. Parker ended up disappearing for the rest of the afternoon, but trips with Eliot taper off and movie night becomes a more frequent occurance.
She is fussing around in the kitchen, looking for a tin of Eliot's cookies. She opens the corner cabinet and finds herself staring at shelves full of coffee. It's not like this should be a surprise. They didn't really change much, preferring to leave everything as if Nate would be walking through the door at any moment. It's a shock, though, and she gasps softly before pushing the door shut. She spins to lean on the counter and finds herself staring at the back of Parker's & Hardison's heads. Something with robots talking over black & white movies is playing on the screens. She can hear the soft murmur of their voices, watches as Hardison throws a long arm on the sofa behind Parker. Parker wriggles a little and then...is Parker resting her head on Hardison's shoulder? She bites her lower lip in surprise. Wanting a closer look, she crosses over to the living room.
The coffee table is covered with junk food and a large bowl of popcorn rests in Parker's lap. She moves to grab a bit of chocolate and realizes Parker's head is actually leaning against the back of the sofa, her hair spilling across Hardison's shoulder. It only looks like they're touching. She would never have thought it was possible for two people to be so close and yet remain separate. Then, as she watches, Hardison's fingers graze Parker's shoulder and Parker scoots down into the couch, until she's almost tucked beneath his arm. The feeling of intrusion returns and she rips open the chocolate with a loud crinkle as she stalks towards the window.
Staring out blindly at the view, she is flooded with the feelings she's been repressing over all these weeks. She is ashamed to realize that she is utterly resentful of Parker at this moment. Why couldn't her relationship with Nate be equally drama-free, why couldn't it be allowed to develop, to grow naturally? She indulges in a pity party for a few minutes, but she's never been one to sulk when action can be taken. She moves over to the whiteboard to look at their plan again, as Parker's light giggle floats in the air, mixing with Hardison's deeper chuckle, and she knows what she has to do, what the next step should be.
Hurrying through the door to the left of the TV, taking the secret staircase two steps at a time, she hunts through the rooms until she finds Eliot. He's training in his workout room, the salty tang of sweat greeting her as she bursts through the doorway. He completes the kata before facing her with a quizzical expression. Slightly out of breath, she asks,
"Eliot, can you make kielbasa?"