A/N - This was intended to be a fluffy little roadtrip fic… but kind of ended up an Eliot character study of sorts. It's still way more fluff than sadness, though,
"Why aren't we flying, again?"
Eliot glares at Hardison through the rearview mirror of the Wrangler.
"What?" Hardison asks, his voice just a little too high to believe his innocence.
Eliot continues to glare. Hardison resolutely maintains eye contact, turning the whole thing into a more than a little ridiculous staring contest.
"Stop it," Parker says, settling into the passenger seat and closing the door.
Eliot ignores her but it only take a few moments for Hardison to give in and look away from Eliot to smile at her.
"Hey, mama," he says, friendly grin fading into a smaller, sweet smile. Just for her.
"Hey," she replies, expression unchanged, but voice a bit lower, just this side of soft.
Eliot suddenly feels like he's intruding, and he clears his throat to break the moment.
"We aren't 'not flying'" he says, "I'm driving because I like driving and we don't have to be in Orlando for a few days."
"I just didn't want to listen to Nate and Sophie bicker the whole time," Parker offers, shrugging.
"And you," Eliot says, "You didn't want to fly without Parker, so that better be the last complaint I hear on this trip."
"Ain't my momma," Hardison mutters under his breath, but he sits back and buckles up, anyway.
"We got everything?" Eliot asks, shifting the car into drive.
"I'm all set," Hardison replies.
Parker nods and shrugs, "I think so. I can steal anything I forget. Except my gear. But that's in the trunk, I tripled checked. You know… maybe I should check aga…"
"No," Eliot says, sighing, "I'm sure it's there, let's just get going."
"Fine," Parker says, pouting, "But if my A-20-15-74 Infinity rig clasp is missing, you're getting me a new one."
Eliot grins without looking over. "I know a guy."
"Course you do," Hardison says, not even bothering to mutter, "I don't even know what that is, and you know where to get a new one."
"Didn't you bring a gameboy or something?" Eliot snarks back.
Hardison scoffs, "It's a PSP, for your information. Gameboy, my ass."
"Oh, I'll gameboy your ass, alright," Eliot grumbles, pulling out onto the street.
"That…" Hardison says slowly, "sounds really really wrong, man."
"And pretty gay," Parker adds, nonchalantly, "Are you gay for Hardison, Eliot?"
"Oh, for the love of…fuckin' hell…no. No, Parker, I am not gay for Hardison."
Eliot's headache can be seen from space, he's sure of it.
"Good," Parker says, "Because you can't have him."
The 'he's mine' is left unsaid, but Hardison hears it anyway, and suddenly finds the prospect of 24 hours in a car with Eliot not so bad after all.
Eliot just rolls his eyes and cranks up the radio, letting The Eagles drown out his co-worker's voices.
By the third hour they're halfway through Connecticut, and Hardison is fast asleep, curled up impossibly small for his tall frame in the back seat. The radio is on low, some indistinct classic rock station, but it's just background noise. The weather is unseasonably warm for New England in April, and the windows are down just enough to let the breeze in. It whips Parker's long blonde hair away from her face, where she tilts it towards the window, watching the trees go by. They're quiet, only speaking occasionally to comment on something or another, but it's a good silence. The sun hits high noon and a church bell chimes from somewhere around them. They share a smile at being shaken from their respective thoughts, and continue on their way.
The sixth hour brings them to New York, almost to the city, and with it, the need for a food and bathroom break. Eliot shoots down Parker's suggestion of Burger King instantly, and Hardison's Denny's idea almost as fast. They finally end up at a dingy looking 50's themed diner, which Hardison is pretty sure has actually had the same staff since the 50's.
"It's cute," Parker says, pointing out the old-fashioned juke box and shiny red booths.
Hardison grudgingly agrees, once he notices that the interior of the diner is much nicer and cleaner than the exterior would suggest.
They rush to the bathrooms as soon as they come into sight, and meet back at the hostess booth, where a kindly looking older woman with a sky-high grey up-do greets them.
"Welcome to Dottie's, I'm Dottie, help yourself to any open booth. I'll go get you kids some chocolate milkshakes."
She slips back into the kitchen faster than they would give someone in at least her sixties credit, leaving Parker to stare up at Hardison in wonder.
"How did she know I wanted a chocolate milkshake?"
Eliot just snickers and says nothing, heading to the booth in the corner, with a full view of the place.
Hardison fights a smirk at her unintentional hilarity, and just shrugs.
"No idea. Come on, I bet they have great fries."
Parker grins. She does love fries.
The milkshakes are delicious. Parker moans almost obscenely as she sucks the last of it through her straw, and Hardison coughs to cover his embarrassing interest at the sight. Dottie returns at the moment, thankfully, three burger plates balanced expertly on the tray on her arm.
"We didn't even order yet…" Parker says, more curious than offended.
"You'll love it, doll, trust me," Dottie says with a bright red lipstick smile.
"Smells good," Hardison agrees, nudging Parker with his shoulder.
"Thanks, Dottie," Eliot says as she lays out the plates and silverware.
"Don't mention it, sweets," she says, reaching to pinch Eliot's cheek like one would do to a small child.
Hardison catches his breath, already imagining the newspaper headline: "Long-Haired Vagrant Murders Beloved Town Icon in Diner Misunderstanding."
When Eliot doesn't immediately launch, Hardison breathes a little easier. A moment later, he has to suppress all out laughter when Eliot just blushes and drops his gaze to his plate.
Dottie heads back to the kitchen, and Eliot snaps his eyes to Hardison in an instant, daring him to say a word.
Hardison may be a lot of things, but he's not an idiot, and he keeps quiet. Parker, already a quarter of the way into her burger, doesn't even notice the exchange.
They're almost done when an excited female voice squeals across the room.
Hardison and Parker look around in confusion, as they don't know anybody there. Eliot, however, looks visibly surprised as the girl practically skips to them.
"Candi, hey," Eliot says, slipping into some kind of cautioned familiarity they're not used to hearing in his voice.
Hardison gets a good long look at Candi as she stands there with her hands on her hips in the universal "where HAVE you been, Mister?" gesture. She's certainly pretty, with big brown eyes and a sweet face, albeit with way too much makeup. She's tiny, even slighter than Parker, and several inches shorter, but her assets leave no doubt that she is, in fact, all grown up.
"Get over here and hug me, jackass!" she demands, clenching one hand around the leather of Eliot's jacket.
To Hardison and Parker's surprise, Eliot stands without fuss, wrapping the girl in a brief but tight hug. It looks as if Candi is barely restraining herself from actually jumping into Eliot's arms, and Hardison is feeling more and more uncomfortable by the moment.
Candi, however, seems unconcerned as she shoves Eliot slightly back into the booth and slips in beside him, across from Parker.
"Hi!" she greets them with pep not unlike Parker's cover during that pharmaceutical job. "I'm Candi."
"This is Hardison and Parker," Eliot introduces them with a wave, "Colleagues of mine."
"Ohhh," Candi says, conspiring grin on her face, "So you guys are like spies, too?"
Parker laughs out loud but Hardison shushes her before answering.
"Something like that, yeah. How about you? How do you know Eliot?"
Candi's bright expression sobers for a moment as she remembers, but she forces it back into place as she answers.
"He helped my family out of a bad situation five years ago. We owe him everything."
"I told you then," Eliot scowls, "You don't owe me anything. I owed your daddy a favor, is all. I was just returning it."
"Don't listen to him," Candi says to the others. "He saved my life. And my mother's." She laughs. "I wanted to marry him by the end of it all. My mom had to pull me off his arm when he was leaving."
"It's true," Eliot says, laughing as well, "She was even tinier then, if you can believe it, barely above my waist, even at thirteen."
"Hey, I grew!" Candi protests, "I'm five foot two, now!"
Eliot just rolls his eyes and ruffles her hair.
"I still think you should've taken me with you," Candi says, smirking so he knows it's not a real concern.
"You're a child," Eliot replies, looking to Hardison and Parker for support.
Parker just watches the exchange with amusement, while Hardison is torn between mocking Eliot for having what appears to be a pseudo little sister, and not wanting his entrails spilled out in a retro diner.
"Not anymore," Candi says, and there's no mistaking the interest in her voice.
"Oooh," Parker says, unable to contain herself, "She wants to have SEX with you!"
Hardison chokes on his soda as Candi flushes bright red. Eliot sighs deeply.
"Yes, thank you for the excellent observation, Parker."
"We talked about appropriate and non-appropriate situations, remember?" Hardison asks Parker, staring at her meaningfully.
"Sorry," Parker says to Candi, "But don't feel bad. A lot of women want to have sex with Eliot. I can't figure out why, though."
"Hardison…" Eliot says, his headache returning.
"Hey, girl," Hardison says to Parker, "why don't we let Eliot and Candi catch up? Let's go play with the crane game or something."
"I can beat that in 5.3 seconds," Parker replies, eyes lighting up with delight, "But I bet I can break my record!"
They go off to the front of the diner, leaving Eliot and Candi to talk. Candi slips out of the booth, sitting back down where Hardison was, facing Eliot.
The atmosphere is calmer now, that Candi has gotten over her initial excitement, and subsequent embarrassment. She has grown up, Eliot notes, as he gets a good look at her. Under the bright pink lip-gloss and neon eye-shadow is the baby face he remembers, but it's less youthful roundness, more cheekbones and delicate features. Her eyes are the same, though, big and wide and deep brown, framed with thick lashes, far too similar to a baby doe for her own good. He knows she'll have men on their knees as soon as she figures it out.
"Just gonna stare at me?" she asks, catching him in the act.
"Maybe," he retorts, sticking his tongue out at her in defiance. "It's just weird that you grew up."
"Everyone grows up, Eliot," she says, rolling her eyes.
He looks at her fondly, and reaches over to poke her button nose. "Don't rush it, kiddo. Enjoy being young."
She mimes biting his finger as he pulls it away, and he laughs, remember a similar exchange five years as they said goodbye.
Candi's face softens, no doubt remembering the same thing.
"I waited for a letter," she confesses, looking torn between embarrassment and annoyance. "After a while, I started hoping for a postcard. After a few years, I just prayed I never saw your face on the news."
"It wasn't safe to be in contact then," Eliot explains, "I'm sorry. It was risky enough sending..."
He trails off, realizing what he was about to say, but Candi just laughs.
"I know about the money. Mom was so shocked that it just kinda slipped out one day. Because of that money, we got to keep the house, and great-aunt Dottie got to keep this place. You don't even know how many people you helped. Hell, mom had a hard enough time keeping the whole thing a secret from Dottie."
"How's your momma, anyway?" Eliot asks, changing the subject that makes his throat clench uncomfortably.
"She's real good," Candi says, "Kind of a wreck about me going off to college in the fall. Umass Boston, can you believe that?"
Eliot laughs outright, then, head thrown back with it.
"Yes…" Candi says, looking slightly concerned.
"Well," Eliot says, "I'll have to show you around. And threaten any assholes who try to get in your pants."
"Wait, what?" Candi says, bouncing in her seat, "You're in Boston now? Oh my god! Mom's gonna love this! Ooh! I can visit you all the time! And ooh, I bet you can get me a fake ID, right? And hey… maybe I want to let some of them in my pants! No hurting them unless I say so!"
"Maybe not all the time," Eliot laughs, "But you can definitely visit. And fuck no; I'm not getting you a fake ID. You're a good girl. Who isn't going to let douchebags impregnate her."
"Ew, Eliot," she says, wrinkling her nose, "I wouldn't have sex with a douchebag."
"Or…with… anybody?" she says, slowly.
"That's better," Eliot says, nodding sternly.
"So I guess Brandon from last year doesn't c…"
"Quiet!" Eliot demands, "I do not want to hear it. What's Brandon's last name?"
"NO," Candi says, "leave him alone."
Eliot huffs but settles down.
"Fine. But if I see you on facebook with a douchebag, I'm gonna kick his ass. Fair warning."
"I can accept that."
They're back on the road, only an hour off schedule, Hardison behind the wheel while Eliot stretches out in the back. They make it through New Jersey and into Maryland before Hardison breaks and asks Eliot about Candi.
"So," he says, in what he thinks is a neutral and conversational tone. Parker's snort of amusement tells him otherwise.
Eliot lifts his head up slightly from where he's lying and raises an eyebrow, which Hardison takes as a "go ahead, ask me about my mysterious and troubled past" gesture.
It's possible he's put too much thought into Eliot's facial expressions, but that's another thing entirely.
"She seems like a nice kid," Hardison says, eyes still on the road as they cruise through. By some miracle, there isn't much traffic at all.
Eliot grunts his agreement but says nothing else.
"Did you have sex with her?" Parker asks, in that tone where they can never tell if she's serious or not.
"She was a baby!" Eliot says, offended. He sits up fully to glare at Parker.
Parker is unfazed and stares back calmly as she explains.
"Not when you helped her, today when you two were alone."
"Seriously?" Hardison laughs, "They were only alone for like twenty minutes. And we were ten feet away. Not even Eliot can pull that off."
"Oh, I can pull… dammit, Hardison!" Eliot curses, cutting himself before turning his attention back to Parker.
"No, I did not have sex with her. Not now, not then, not ever."
"I was just asking, don't be so touchy," Parker says, smirking.
"Why do you have to egg him on?" Hardison asks, though Eliot can tell he's fighting his own laughter.
Parker shrugs, "It's fun."
"Anyway…" Hardison says, trailing off, "Come on, El, we're curious."
"I don't actually care," Parker feels the need to point out.
"Fine," Hardison says, "I'm curious."
Eliot scowls at them, for good measure, but answers anyway.
"I served with Candi's dad a long time ago. He came home in a body bag. So when his family found themselves in some trouble a few years back, I helped out. It's not that interesting."
"It was more than that," Parker says, turning her surprisingly sharp gaze on him, "Even I could tell that it was more than a job to you."
Eliot scowls again. "Stop being insightful, it's annoying."
"Bite me," Parker says, sticking out her tongue.
"Don't bite Parker," Hardison protests, half-heartedly, knowing they aren't listening to him anyway.
"I got pretty beat up," Eliot says, sighing. "I couldn't go to the hospital, I'd just come off a big job, it was too risky. Linda, Candi's mom, put me up in their spare room while my broken leg, and everything else, healed."
"How long?" Hardison asks.
"Two months," Eliot says, with a rueful smile, "It was stupid. I could walk with a crutch after two weeks, and the cast her doctor friend put on came off after a month. But they wouldn't let me leave. I guess I didn't really argue that much."
"Did you have sex with the mom?"
"PARKER!" Eliot and Hardison exclaim in unison.
She glares at them, "What?" she rolls her eyes at Hardison, "Like you weren't thinking it?"
"I wasn't… it didn't… this isn't about me!" Hardison replies, focusing intently on the road.
Eliot sighs again.
"No, I didn't have sex with her either. They just… they grew on me, alright? It was nice to be treated like a good man for a while."
He crosses his arms and looks pointedly out the window, effectively ending the conversation.
It's pitch black by the time they pull into a motel lot, somewhere in Virginia.
"I still say we should just keep driving," Eliot grumbles, even as he's yawning.
"I want to sleep in a real bed," Hardison says, pulling his and Parker's duffel bags over his shoulder as he shuts the trunk.
"Didn't you ever go camp…never mind," Eliot says, snorting.
"Do you think they have chips?" Parker asks, unconcerned by the petty argument.
"What? I don't know, probably," Eliot asks, giving her his patented 'something wrong with you' look.
"Can we just!" Hardison says, gesturing towards the door.
"How many rooms?" The woman at the desks asks.
"Three," they say at once, all tired of hours in the car with each other.
"Oh," she says, staring at the computer screen, "It seems like we only have two rooms left. Two rooms, king sized beds. Will that be ok?"
"Fine," Eliot says, smirking, "One for me, one for them." He hands the woman a credit card with a wide grin, "It's on me."
"El…" Hardison says, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
"You and Parker are adults," Eliot says, calm as can be, "I'm sure you can share a nice big bed."
"It'll be fine," Parker agrees, leaning into Hardison's side for just a moment. "I don't mind sharing."
Before Hardison can reply, the woman is speaking again.
"Alright, Mr. Smith, you three are all set. Rooms 203 and 209. I hope you enjoy your stay. Y'all be sure to come down for your free continental breakfast before 10AM."
They accept the keys, real metal keys with surprising weight, and thank her before heading up the stairs.
Eliot kicks off his boots as he drops to the bed, stretching out just because he can. The bed is more comfortable than he expects for a cheap motel, and smells faintly of lavender. Getting undressed suddenly seems too arduous a task to take on, and he falls asleep before he can even get his jeans off, one hand still on his open belt buckle.
Hardison sits on the edge of the bed while Parker is in the bathroom, pretty sure he's moments away from a panic attack.
"Ok, Alec, breathe," he whispers to himself, "You can do this. It's cool, it's good, it's fine. You got this! Oh God, you don't got this."
He drops his head to his hands and takes another deep breath.
"It'll be fine," he says again, "So maybe you don't know exactly where you stand with Parker. Maybe you don't have labels, and maybe you only makeout during a con, and maybe… ok, this isn't helping. And now you're talking to yourself."
He wipes his sweaty palms on the thick flannel of this pajama pants and gives himself a mental shake. The bathroom door opens and he looks up. He can't help but smile at the sight.
Parker's wearing a blue and white pajama set, decorated with what looks like hopping bunnies. Just when he thinks she can't get any more adorable, she proves him wrong. He doesn't mind in the least.
"Tired," Parker says through a yawn, moving over to the other side of the bed and crawling under the covers.
"Yeah," Hardison agrees. He stands to turn off the overhead light, leaving only the small, wall-mounted lamp above the bed on.
He gets into the bed, closer to the edge than he needs to be, but still too tense to move any closer. He closes his eyes immediately and wills himself to go to sleep.
Unsurprisingly, it doesn't work.
The thing with him and Parker, he muses to himself, silently, is that almost everything between them is never said. It's an understanding that they have, even if he isn't always sure they're on the same page. They don't talk about it, and he doesn't push it, because he knows that she's worth waiting for, in every sense of the word. But it's still difficult. Because more than anything, he can feel her. It's palpable, and it's always there, the tension. He wants. Sure, he thinks, he'd love to make love with Parker, God knows he's dreamed of it. But even more than that, which is a considerable feat, he wants to love her, and know without doubt that she loves him back.
They're face to face, and even with his eyes closed, she's all he sees.
He can't help it; he reaches out to her, but catches himself at the last second, dropping his hand softly to the middle of the bed. Shaking his head at his own silliness, he tries to sleep again.
He feels her move, then, though he doesn't open his eyes. She reaches up and pulls the cord on the lamp, casting the room into pitch black. When she pulls away, however, she finds his hand and presses her palm to his.
Hardison grins in the dark and twines their fingers together. Sleep comes easy after that.
When Hardison and Parker make it down to breakfast, they find themselves face to face with what Hardison can only assume is one of Eliot's favorite days ever.
Sure enough, Eliot is in the breakfast room, grinning and flirting unabashedly, accent stronger than either of them has ever heard.
"Who are all these girls?" Parker asks, eyeing the college-aged, far too preppy, scantily clad, girls that appear to have taken over the hotel.
"We're the college volleyball champions!" a perky redhead answers, as she skips by with a muffin.
Hardison is too baffled to say a word, but he inches closer to Parker automatically. They may be attractive, but this many perky females in one small space makes him nervous.
"I didn't know that was a thing," Parker whispers to him, "That's a thing?"
"Apparently," he replies, eyeing the coffee pot that seems miles away through the throng of blonde and tan.
"Come on," Parker says, grabbing Hardison's hand, "there's a waffle maker!"
The waffles are actually delicious, and they eat across from Eliot, ignoring the chattering around them.
They drag Eliot out, almost literally, around noon, and head for the car.
"How do you just keep finding college girls that want you?" Hardison asks, half mocking, half genuinely curious.
Eliot just smirks.
"Nasty," Hardison says, "You could be their father!"
Eliot grins, "Oh, they can call me daddy if they want."
"Didn't you say Candi was going to college in the fall?" Parker asks, in such an innocent tone that it must be anything but.
Eliot's face freezes mid-grin, quickly turning into an expression of horror. Without another word, he opens the drivers' side door and slumps behind the wheel, slamming the door shut after him.
Parker and Hardison exchange a look before having a quick rock-paper-scissors game that decides who gets stuck sitting next to the grumpy Eliot.
"You have a tell," Parker says when she wins.
"Eliot told you what it was, didn't he?"
Hardison just rolls his eyes and heads for the passenger side door. Parker crawls into the back and stretches out as best she can, still snickering.
Eliot drives all the way through North Carolina without a word, a feat that impresses even Hardison, as the drive is several hours. They stop at a gas station when they cross over into South Carolina, much to Parker's delight.
Eliot fills up the tank while Hardison waits for the bathroom. Parker, bag of chips in hand, comes to stand by him, leaning against the car.
"You buy those?" Eliot asks.
Parker just continues munching, ignoring the question.
"That's what I thought," Eliot says, but he's almost smiling.
"Why are you so angry?" Parker asks, giving him an assessing look, "Even more than usual."
Eliot quirks a brow and gives her a glare. "What did I say about being insightful?"
"What did I say about biting me?" Parker counters.
"Don't think Hardison would like that very much," Eliot can't help but tease.
The gauge clicks and Eliot takes the moment to gather his thoughts, putting away the pump and screwing the gas cover back onto the car.
"I wanted to drive," he says at last, leaning back against the car beside Parker. "Alone."
Parker nods. "Why didn't you just say something?"
Eliot laughs, dryly. "You're a good distraction," he says, "The constant aggravation keeps me from thinking too much."
"Thinking about what?" Parker asks, giving him her best version of Sophie's 'concerned' look. It's not terribly convincing, but he appreciates the effort.
"Just… thinking," Eliot replies, shrugging.
"I don't understand," Parker says, frowning.
"Most days," Eliot goes on, "It's easy to live in the moment. We do good, you know?"
"But I'm not a good man," he says, frowning briefly, "at least; I wasn't, for a really long time."
Parker moves closer, just a bit, until their sides are barely touching as they lean against the car. She doesn't say anything, doesn't try to convince Eliot otherwise, even if she feels it. Eliot has always appreciated that about her, she doesn't waste breath on empty words.
"You all drive me crazy, you know that," Eliot says, growling slightly, "I'm not sure if you and Hardison or Nate and Sophie are worse."
They pause to think for a moment before answering in unison.
"Nate and Sophie."
Eliot laughs at that, before turning slightly to actually look at Parker as he makes an admission.
"I was annoyed when you two tagged along, but then…"
"And then I wasn't," he says, brow furrowing, "which annoys me even more."
"So you're angry because… you aren't angry?" Parker asks, eyebrows still raised in disbelief.
"I've been…" Eliot pauses, practically pouting, "domesticated."
Parker laughs loudly at that, throwing her head back with the sound. Hardison chooses that moment to finally reappear and he looks understandably lost.
"What's so funny?" he asks, flitting between Parker's red face and Eliot's scowl.
"Eliot's a cat!" Parker announces, bounding to the other side of the car before Eliot can swat her.
"Ooook, then," Hardison says, deciding not to tempt the wrath-of-Eliot by asking him to elaborate while they still have 300 miles left to go.
"Road trips are boring," Parker says when they're halfway through South Carolina.
"Play the license plate game," Eliot says, in a tone that clearly says 'leave me alone, I'm driving.'"
"I don't know how," she replies, turning around to look at Hardison in the back, "How do I play that?"
Hardison looks up from his Ipad and smiles.
"It's a kid's game," he says, "You look around and see how many different states the license plates are from."
"Oh," Parker says, looking disappointed, "That's not very interesting."
She shoots Eliot a displeased look, which he resolutely ignores as he takes a sip of his coffee.
"You're forgetting who you're with," Hardison grins. "I'm sure Eliot and I can tell you more about those people than the states they came from."
"I'm not a part of this," Eliot says, dully.
"Show me!" Parker demands, as she unbuckles her seatbelt to turn around and face Hardison, ignoring the protests from both of the men.
"We get pulled over, you're flashing the cop," Eliot warns.
"Hell no, she isn't," Hardison argues.
"I'll just taze him," Parker shrugs, "or her."
Hardison sighs, "Don't get pulled over, Eliot."
"Show me!" Parker demands again.
"Ok, ok," Hardison says, picking out a grey sedan in front of them. He fiddles with the tablet and runs the license plate through a whir of processes that Parker only pretends to understand.
"Alright," Hardison begins, "The car is registered to one Mrs. Samantha Smith…"
"Suspicious," Eliot points out, before going back to ignoring them.
"Says mister 'I'm not a part of this,'" Hardison mocks before looking back at his screen. "Anyway. Samantha Smith, who doesn't have any other alias, by the way, is your basic homemaker. Two kids, accountant husband, awesome garden…"
"Boring," Parker interrupts, sighing.
"Give me a minute," Hardison says, fingers a blur over the screen, "Everyone's got something... there we go!" he says, triumphantly.
"What is it?" Parker asks, bouncing.
"Turns out little Mrs. Smith got picked up last year for cocaine possession. Outside of a, get this, exhibitionist sex club. In the outskirts of Savannah."
"Oooh," Parker says, "She looks so… normal."
They take a moment to peer into the car as best they can, noting the average woman with curly blonde hair and an honest to God cardigan.
"I'm not surprised," Eliot says, "She has a brooch. Anyone who wears brooches and is under 70 is into some kinky shit."
"Where do you even get this stuff?" Hardison asks in disbelief, but Parker just nods.
"I've always liked brooches," she says, absently, completely unaware of how both men's eyes dart to her with interest.
"Now, this guy," Eliot says, pointing out a middle aged man in a black convertible, "Used to be a big-wig at some company, but got laid off when the economy tanked. He used the money he siphoned from them when the rumors started to buy that car."
"You can't know that," Hardison says, rolling his eyes, but he types the information into his programs anyway, reading for a long minute.
"Son of a…" he says, "It's all true. The accounts under Roger Wellman, who the car is registered to, received a relatively small but consistent deposit over a six month span. He bought the car two months after he lost his job."
Eliot grins. "Also," he says, "he's cheating on his wife, and at the moment is getting sucked off by someone younger than his kids."
"Oh, come on," Parker says, even as she's giving the car another look. "It is weird that he has the top up on a convertible when it's this nice out," she admits.
"That doesn't mean anything," Hardison insists, "he could just have the a.c. on."
"Pay attention to the car," Eliot says, "Watch how it moves. It's a very distinctive… way." He leans back and shifts the wheel slightly, one way, then the other. The car moves with it. Not enough to be overtly noticeable, unless it's being looked for. And now that they've seen it, they can't un-see it.
"Damn," Hardison says, shaking his head and calling out to the car, "Y'all nasty! And dangerous!"
Parker and Eliot laugh at that, and it's only a moment later that Hardison joins in.
The coast of Georgia is prettier than Parker had expected, and she demands that they stop for ice cream along the water. They find a little tourist place to stretch out their legs and Parker goes off to get ice cream. She returns only minutes later, three peach ice cream cones in her hands.
"Here," she says, handing Eliot his ice cream, and his wallet, back.
"Really?" he says, but it's more habit than actual annoyance.
Hardison just snorts and accepts his own ice cream.
They sit on worn pier and dangle their feet over the edge as they eat. The sun is a while from setting, yet, but the air is cool by the water, and it isn't long until Parker is shivering in her thin t-shirt. Rolling his eyes, Eliot gives her a little shove that sends her into Hardison. Surprised, the hacker steadies her with an arm around her shoulders. When she leans into him, he leaves it there, holding her as close as she lets him.
He doesn't need to look at Eliot to know the other man is smirking. But for once, he really doesn't mind.
They stay there until all they can taste is the salt in the air. And when they pile back into the car, it's with a quiet camaraderie that's both rare and surprising, but altogether welcome.
Parker sleeps on the last leg of their journey, lying down with the sun as it sets. Hardison convinces Eliot to let him drive the last few hours against the hitter's protests, knowing the other man needs to be more rested for the job, just in case.
They drive without talking for a long time, listening to the radio and occasionally humming along. Hardison laughs as a Hall & Oates song comes on, and he turns to find Eliot laughing, too. They share a look, both remembering the job at the bank.
"That was kind of fun," Eliot says, almost fondly.
Hardison snorts, "Yeah, besides Nate getting shot and all."
"Well yeah," Eliot rolls his eyes, "obviously."
"Seems like forever ago," Hardison muses; eyes landing on Parker's sleeping reflection in the mirror.
"Seems like yesterday," Eliot counters.
"That, too," Hardison agrees. "No regrets, though."
Eliot stalls on his response, tongue suddenly feeling too heavy for his mouth. But then he smiles, so minutely that Hardison almost doesn't catch it.
"A lot of regrets," Eliot says, "but not with y'all."
"Aww," Hardison can't help but tease, "you love us! You big teddy bear."
"I will break your face," Eliot says, sternly.
Hardison just laughs.
They drive on.
Nearly two days after they left, they arrive at the hotel in Orlando. Nate and Sophie get cursory greetings before they all head in to get a few more hours of sleep.
Later that day, they amble out of the van and ready themselves for the job. The giant gates welcome them as they instinctively huddle closer to each other, in the surrounding crowd.
"Everyone ready for this?" Sophie asks, smoothing out nonexistent wrinkles in her dress.
Eliot gestures to Hardison and Parker before nodding. "I spent two days in a car with them, I could use some violence."
"He's lying," Parker says, "He doesn't want to hurt us. Much."
"Mm-hm," Hardison agrees, tossing an arm over a suddenly growling Eliot's shoulders, "he loves us. Come on man, hug it out."
Eliot just sighs and slumps his shoulders in defeat, fighting the grin that threatens to appear.
"If you're done with… whatever this is," Nate says, slipping on his favorite sunglasses, "shall we?"
They all nod their assent and ready themselves for the rush of people.
"Good," Nate says, pausing dramatically for a moment, "Let's go steal Disney World!"