Warnings: Parker being dense, Eliot being uncommunicative, lurve, mushy stuff
Author: Lily Zen
Notes: For fic_promptly. Leverage, Eliot/Parker, his first stumbling attempts to sweep her off her feet.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Parker was puzzled.
Eliot was going out of his way to accommodate her for awhile.
She didn't really understand it.
If he was in the kitchen making himself something to eat, he started to make her something as well. When they were on jobs, he looked out for her. If they were sitting in McRory's he would make more of an effort to converse with her, even though she could tell by the thinning of his lips when he was getting annoyed with her and the convoluted or sometimes seemingly random jumps her mind made. That happened less though.
Eliot stopped calling her weird, which was weird in itself. Somewhere along the way she had come to rely on his gruff comments as a way of gauging the mood of a situation. Parker wasn't always good with subtleties and social niceties. She was getting better at it—being around people on a regular basis was helping, and Sophie and Hardison were usually pretty good about explaining things that tended to fly over Parker's head—but she still struggled sometimes to relate to the inner workings of others. After deliberately turning herself away from those delicate mysteries for so many years, it was going to take more than just two or three to change her ways. Eliot's behavior was a good measuring stick for Parker. When Eliot was saying things like 'you're weird,' and making fun of Hardison, everything was alright. It was when Eliot grew quiet or gentle that she worried, because then she knew that something was about to go wrong or already had.
So when Eliot began to get quieter around her, speaking to her in a low, soothing voice like she was a spooked horse he was trying to calm, Parker began to worry. Since she knew that there was nothing wrong with her, she assumed that the problem was with Eliot. She became solicitous of him, finding more and more excuses to be by his side. That would offer further opportunity to analyze him and attempt to discover the source of Eliot's problem.
Eliot wasn't one for over-sharing, much like Parker. They had that in common, the tendency to be tight-lipped about their lives. Therefore when her hovering began to only elicit even odder behavior from Eliot—he began doing strange things like pulling out chairs for her or holding the door, and sometimes they would go on walks together or jogging in the park, and he would brush up against her in a way that was so subtle she almost wrote it off as an accident if it weren't for the frequency with which he did it. Eliot was always in control of his body. His life and theirs depended on it. There was no way he would be so clumsy as to touch her if he didn't mean to.
Utilizing the internet, Parker determined that maybe Eliot was "touch-starved," and she began to make physical gestures toward him, clapping him on the back or brushing his shoulder as she walked by. Once she hugged him instead of saying 'thank you' when he presented her with a Greek pizza one evening for supper. After a moment of surprise, his arms slipped around her waist and held tight. She felt his breath on her neck, and something warm and liquid began to spread through her limbs, a strange sense of weakness and exhilaration like she was looking over the edge of a building about to jump. Parker jumped back like she'd been burned and retreated to another room, shaken by the moment.
After that she thought maybe she ought to take a less 'hands on' approach to the matter. Waiting until he was out one night, Parker slipped past the alarm on his apartment and quickly peeked through his things, looking for any sort of clue about Eliot's strange behavior. Maybe he was sick, or maybe someone he knew was sick, or maybe he'd called a psychic hotline and been told that he was going to get sick.
She was sick with worry.
Dejected and having come up with nothing of interest save for some lyrics to a love song that Eliot was writing, Parker slumped back to her apartment.
She'd thought about consulting Hardison or Sophie, but they gave her blank looks when she asked about Eliot's strange behavior. It seemed that the only person whom he was treating any differently was her. When she asked Sophie why that was, the grifter had smiled secretively and shrugged, making some noncommittal answer as she walked away. That irritated Parker, and so she had staunchly refused to ask any more questions of anyone. Going to Nate was absolutely out of the question. He'd give her that look, the one she hated that was some combination of pity and condescension like he was thinking, 'Oh, Parker, that silly little girl doesn't know anything.'
She was tired of being treated like she didn't know anything; she knew plenty of things, she just didn't know about people.
The next day Eliot sat next to her while she was flipping through television channels. He put his arm over the back of the couch, almost around her shoulders.
Parker tensed, wondering at the invasion of her personal space. Eliot tended to avoid unnecessary touches, like herself. Then she remembered about the thing called "touch starvation" from the internet, and with a mental shrug she scooted closer to Eliot, resting her head on his shoulder. It couldn't hurt, and who knew? Maybe she was actually doing something right.
They watched TV for a little, neither of them saying a word. When a commercial break came on, Eliot let out a long, controlled breath through his nose. It ruffled her hair a little, and that was how she knew he was watching her. "Parker," he began slowly in his new tone of voice reserved specifically for her, quiet and low, a little rough. She felt a shiver dance down her spine, but it wasn't unpleasant. It wasn't the kind of shiver that indicated danger, it was…something else. "Did you break into my apartment?"
She winced, and then reluctantly nodded. Subconsciously, she tried to make herself a smaller target for his ire, shrinking a little in her seat.
"Why?" was all he wanted to know.
"I—you—" Parker stuttered, "Shit. What gave it away?"
He chuckled, somehow unsurprised that her first concern would be related to her skills as a thief. "You touched my music. It was moved half an inch to the left. You sat on the couch and read it, didn't you? I could smell your shampoo on the back cushion."
She groaned. "You smelled me? Jesus, what are you, part Bloodhound?"
Eliot laughed again, and his chest moved underneath her ear. The vibrations traveled into her and seemed to echo in all the hollow cavities inside of her. It made her smile a little because she felt warm then and not alone. It was to a lesser degree the strange sensation that had stolen over her when she had hugged Eliot the week before.
"So why?" he prompted her once more.
Parker sighed and reached out, fiddling with the button closing up the pocket on the left side of his chambray shirt. "Don't be mad," she began in a small voice, "You've been acting weird. I…I thought something was wrong. I wanted to find out what it was so then…so then I could help you with it because I know that you would never ask for help because you're like me that way, and so I figured if I just knew what was wrong and fixed it then it would save us an awkward and frustrating conversation. Only that didn't happen, did it? I'm sorry."
With an answering sigh, Eliot reached up and cupped her hand in his, cradling it over his chest. She could feel his heart beating, and it was a little faster than it should have been, or at least she thought so. Still, its steady thumping made her feel good in a way that she couldn't quite describe. Parker pushed the wondering away, leaving it where she relegated all the things that she didn't understand about people, herself included.
"Parker," Eliot's voice was so soothing like the steady ticking of the metronome in his chest, "I'm not mad. I'm sorry I've been acting weird. I didn't mean to freak you out, darlin."
"Then…then why won't you tell me what's wrong? Why are you different?" A wave of brashness washed through her, prompting her to pipe up her worst fear. "Don't you like me anymore? Did I do something? If…if you tell me what it is, I can fix it. I know I'm not always good at that, but I'll try really hard because—"
Eliot laid a fingertip over her lips. He began to blur, and Parker blinked, trying to clear up her vision. To her surprise she felt wetness slide over her eyelids and begin to course down her face. "Ssh, darlin, don't be upset. Nothing's wrong. I still like you. Hell, Parker, I like you more than I like anybody, so please don't cry. That just breaks my heart into a million pieces."
'But,' she wanted to say, 'I can still feel it beating. It's steady and sure. It doesn't feel broken.' Parker knew that wasn't what he meant though. It was a figurative expression, not a literal translation of what was happening. It was a statement about his emotions, those ephemeral concepts that Parker still struggled so much to understand. She had been shut down for so long that even in that moment when it felt like some invisible hand had reached in her chest and was seizing her lungs, and she felt something horribleawfulbadbadbad sadscary intimidating, she wasn't sure what to call it. "You like me more than anybody?" she heard herself asked, and her voice came out so soft and weak she barely recognized it as her own.
His arm curled around her, crushing her to his chest. She smelled him then, subtle cologne or maybe it was aftershave or just the scent of his deodorant. Whatever it was it held a hint of spice and musk, and something that reminded her of gingerbread cookies. His hair was even softer, herbal and clean. Somewhere underneath that was just him, sweat and gruff affection that somehow was sweet, like cedar and sweetgrass. All of it enveloped her, just like his arms, wrapping her up in an evanescent blanket of Eliot. She wanted to stay there, safe, protected, cherished.
"The most," Eliot agreed, and he sounded a little choked.
She looked up, once again anxious, just in time so that she caught Eliot's lips with hers in a gossamer kiss. Light exploded within her. A star was born. A lightbulb went on, and she breathed 'oh!' Her tone was euphoric as all of the sudden everything made sense. All the puzzle pieces clicked into place, and she understood. She knew why Eliot was acting so strangely, knew why she was so concerned; she knew what the feeling was that swamped her whenever she was near him was called, what it did, what it meant. She finally got it, and it felt so good and so right and natural and thrilling and frightening and overwhelming that she just had to tell him only there were no words to explain it! And so she cradled his neck in her free hand, and kissed him again, harder, enthusiastically, longingly; hoping that she was saying it all right, that he understood.
He heard her message, and replied with one of his own, tongue dragging along her lower lip, and she opened for him, ready, willing, and so damn excited to keep having this conversation. They understood each other. There was no need for words.