Lessons Learned When You're Not Looking

Summary: Tag for 3x07, The Gone-Fishin Job. Parker tries to express, in her own Parker way, her relief that Hardison isn t dead. Hardison remains... patient. Parker/Hardison
Characters: Hardison, Parker, Sophie, Eliot
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Up to 3x07
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Leverage are the property of their respective owners. No profit is, in anyway, being made from this story.

"Don't you ever die on me again!" She says and punches him hard in the arm.

"Okay, first of all: ow." Hardison says, trying to extricate himself from Parker's bear hug as delicately as possible. Not that he doesn't enjoy being in her arms, per se, but between that punch and her tight grip he may start to lose consciousness soon. "Second of all: who died?"

"You did." She says, huffing and crossing her arms over her chest.

Hardison is honestly not sure whether to laugh or hug her again.

Just over Parker's shoulder he can see Eliot snickering. And Sophie keeps tossing him glances from the bar that only a mind reader could interpret. Man, he loves these people, but they are so totally going to be the death of him.

"I'm standing right in front of you, Parker." Her argues. "No one died."

Parker huffs again, blowing her bangs up off her forehead. "Okay. Well. Just don t ever do it again." She scolds.

Hardison has to bite back a grin. He knows what this is now, and he's going to enjoy it for as long as it lasts. This is the Parker version of an "I missed you" or an "I was worried to death about you" or, even, an "I love you." He's never certain which of the three she really means at any given time, but that part doesn't really matter to him. He knows it's one of them, and anyone of them is more than enough for him.

"Okay, why don't we settle." He says, patient. "And go have a drink with Sophie to celebrate all this lack of dead people, alright?"

Parker purses her lips and does this little face like she's sort of pushing herself into a situation she's not familiar with, but to him kind of looks like she's pretending she's a bunny rabbit. With Parker, it's possible that that's exactly what she doing, actually.

"Yeah, okay." She says in a blunt rush, and heads over to Sophie at the bar before he can even blink.

Hardison likes to imagine that any guy other than him would be offended right now. He likes to tell himself this story in his head about how maybe other guys would put up with her quirks, but he's the only one who outright adores them.

Sometimes, late at night and alone, he admits to himself that this could just be his fantastic imagination. He's got an overactive one, there's no doubt, and so maybe there are hundreds of other guys in the world who would be this patient with Parker, and who would fall in love with her for a third time (number one: when they first met, number two: everyday afterwards, still ongoing) when they realize that she's the one who taught them this skill. Patience.

Or, you know, maybe it's just him.

Hardison joins Parker and Sophie at the bar and pointedly ignores Eliot in the background throwing darts with his eyes closed and smirking. And he reminds himself that the fact that Parker could teach him anything about anything without him even knowing it until after the fact is just further proof that she's the infamous "one."

Never in his life did Hardison manage to learn something that wasn't self-taught. Then here this girl comes and suddenly he's a brand new man, practically overnight, without once picking up a book or hopping onto a website to do it. It's surreal.

He reaches the girls just as Parker finishes some long tirade that ends with, "So don't worry. Hardison's buying."

"I'm what now?" He blinks at her, flabbergasted as to how she got to this conclusion.

"You're buying." She says, like it's obvious, turning on her stool to face him. He can feel her left knee brush up against his right and then stay there.

Hardison glances at Sophie, but she just gives him her usual "don't ask me" shrug, and then casually (she thinks casually, but Hardison is sure everyone in a ten foot radius notices) slinks away from the bar to leave them alone.

Damn Sophie and her "subtlety."

"Alright." He nods. "Apparently I'm buying."

Parker grins and claps her hands together. Then flags down the bartender.

Exactly two light beers later, Hardison gets distracted by the basketball game on the TV and doesn't even notice that Parker is staring at him until she puts her face right up to his, her nose mashing slightly against his cheek, and really gives him the patented Parker stare.

Hardison freezes and glances at her out of the corner of his eye. "Can I help you with something?"

She puckers her lips and makes her "thinking" face. Then straightens up so that he now has enough room to turn and face her.

"I don't think I was clear before." She says, decisive.

"Okay. Clarify away, Mama."

She thinks on it a bit more, than nods her head once. Hesitates. Nods her head once more. And then says: "I am glad you are not dead."

Hardison smirks. "That makes two of us."

"Yeah, but I'm... gladder." She says, her eyebrows going up in that way they do whenever she's saying something true but, to her, confusing.

"It's not a contest." He laughs. He takes another drink of his beer. "And even if it was, I think I might win that one."

She frowns at him. Growls a little under her breath. Then launches herself forward off of her bar stool and mauls him for the second time that night.

Hardison doesn't mind it so much this time, though. For one, she's not holding him so hard this time that he can t breathe. For another, she's slowly maneuvering her head, millimeter by cautious millimeter, down his neck so that, instead of her chin digging into his shoulder, suddenly her face is there, and he can feel her eyelashes fluttering over his skin, and her warm breath through the collar of his T-shirt, and her lips not exactly kissing but definitely pressed against his collar bone.

Sweet Mary mother of Jesus. It's possible he just passed out for a second there.

"No. I win this one." She whispers into his neck. And he's almost positive she doesn't mean for it to be seductive but all the same he has to cross his legs and start thinking very hard about Freddy Krueger, the Patriot Act and the fact that "Dr. Who" is on hiatus.

When Parker pulls away, far too soon for his liking, he clears his throat and feigns (completely unsuccessfully, he knows) that everything is good in the hood. Oh he is way too cool for school right now, people. Really.

Parker looks like she's about to start laughing at him.

Instead, she sucks in her lips to stop herself, turns, and flags down the bartender once more. She doesn't ask for another beer, though. She just takes in a deep breath, shoves a small empty bowl across the countertop at the guy, and says: "I'm out of pretzels."

The bartender gives her a strange look (he must be new or something) and then refills the dish. Parker sits back and happily munches away.

Hardison can only stare at her, legs still crossed, breath still held (though he didn't even know until now that he was holding it) and suddenly certain that he still smells like Skunk Weed and Rednecks, despite the four showers he's taken since he got back.

"Going through those things pretty fast, huh?" He says, trying for casual but nearly choking.

Parker freezes, one hand in midair on its way to her mouth, pretzel snug between her thumb and index finger.

"I don't like it when there aren't any left." She finally says, but she puts her hand down instead of eating the pretzel. "Whenever I run out it's like... What if there's no more? What if that was it and I missed my chance and there are no more pretzels ever again?" She starts to panic at the end there, but then immediately calms, like a kid who can t focus on one emotion long enough to know what it is.

All Hardison can think is: Okay. If this pretzel thing wasn't a metaphor before, it totally is now.

But before he can say anything smart or comforting back to her, Parker leans in close, her face near his chest, and whispers: "I keep a box of them next to the cereal upstairs."

She pulls back and winks at him. Like this is all part of some game. A con that they're both in on.

Hardison grins.

Once upon a time he might've had to fake this part. Pretend that, yes, he really is in on it with her and he totally understands whatever the hell that wink just meant even though he doesn't.

He knows better now. She taught him as much, actually, well before he could ever realize she was doing it. He doesn't need to pretend. This isn't a game or a con, no matter how much she sometimes acts like it is. Oh no. He knows, now, how to pick out the truth in all of these misdirects.

Parker hoards pretzels. Parker is even "gladder" than he is that he's still alive.

Oh yes. Hardison knows what this is now, and he s going to enjoy it for as long as it lasts. This is the Parker version of an "I missed you" or an "I was worried to death about you" or, even (yes maybe, just maybe, even) an "I love you."

He's never certain which of the three she really means at any given time, but that part doesn't matter to him. Not anymore. He knows it's one of them. And anyone of them is more than enough for him.