Title: Five Times Hardison Caught Eliot Red Handed
Word Count: ~4,500
Summary: Written for jendavis for Leverage sesa 2011. Eliot's usually quick on his feet and can get away scot free. There were five times, though, where he wasn't so lucky.
Author's Note: As always, a huge thanks to rusting_roses for the beta.
Five Times Hardison Caught Eliot Red Handed
It was the mannequins that got him every time.
They all had their own quirks and odd hobbies, Eliot could appreciate that. Parker had taken to collecting cactuses in the recent months (and no, he wasn't in the mood to recount the time he had had the misfortune of sitting on one that she had misplaced). Sophie had her shoe collection and Nate, well; he didn't know exactly what Nate got up to in his spare time, as the man usually kept his cards close to his chest.
Of all of them, it was Hardison and those damn mannequins that drove him nuts. He could accept the World of Worlds or War or whatever the hell it was these days that Alec played – all Eliot knew was that there were gnomes and some sort of hairy people – but the mannequins were where he drew the line.
The first time he'd wandered into the room was when his boyfriend had sent him to get a spare external hard drive to back up some project he was working on. The hallway had a lot of doors, ones that led to each of their own offices and then some storage rooms. He'd wandered into one of those spare rooms and flipped on the lights to be confronted by his attacker. Before he'd realized what he was doing he'd tripped one and pushed them to the ground, frantically wondering how the hell they'd even gotten in. He'd grabbed the wrist of another and gone to flip him when the arm detached.
"Eliot man, what are you doing?"
He spun around, disconnected arm held out like a bludgeon. He was breathing hard and managed to stop himself just inches above Hardison's skull. "Hardison! How many times have I told you not to sneak up on me, man?"
"Forgive me for assuming you could find my drive without assaulting my collection."
Eliot slowly rose from his crouch and handed the arm over to Hardison, taking a moment to look around. The room was crammed wall to wall with things he didn't recognize. There were a few cardboard cut outs arranged along one wall and what looked like plastic space craft hung suspended from the ceiling. "Collection of what, junk?"
"Hey man, not cool!" Hardison bent down to haul the mannequin back up to its feet. "This is a costume actually worn by Captain Kirk in Star Trek!" He busied himself examining it closely. "I swear, if you damaged it in any way, I'm going to have your head!"
Eliot sneered, a dangerous glint in his eye. "I'd like to see you try."
Hardison looked up, gulping. "Fine, maybe not that. Really man, this stuff is valuable, you gotta be more careful."
Hardison had herded Eliot out of the room, shutting it behind him all the while shaking his head and muttering under his breath.
It happened twice more in the span of a month. The second time he'd been a bit tipsy, they'd been drinking in celebration after a con. He'd been trying to wander into his office to grab his phone before heading to the bedroom when he'd gone into Hardison's mannequin city again. He'd accidently decapitated one of them that time. Hardison had given him suspicious glances all the next day, but Eliot had never fessed up to it. Not that he felt guilty for it. Hardison had a whole room full of the freaky things, like a forest of plastic people. If you asked Eliot, the world was better off without them.
The third time he actually wandered in of his own accord. He had come to know a lot about his teammates, and Eliot's inability to understand Hardison's interest in collecting sci-fi trinkets and the mannequins that came with them was like an itch under his skin that he just couldn't reach. The first time he'd tried entering to get a proper look around Hardison had chased him out of there within moments, even though Eliot had been sure to wait until Hardison wasn't around. To this day, Eliot had no idea how Hardison had known; Eliot had checked the room thoroughly for any of Hardison's hardware. . This time, he steeled himself and took the time to pause at the various props – the fake guns and costumes and other doodads he couldn't entirely puzzle out.
It was there that Alec caught him. The man had snuck up on him, leaning against the doorframe with a smirk on his face and a raised phone in his hand. Eliot blinked as the camera flash blinded him. "You wear it well."
Eliot yanked the helmet off his head and dropped it back onto the mannequin's head. He could feel his face turning a bright scarlet as he scrambled for an excuse. "I was just-"
His boyfriend raised a hand to silence him, chuckling. The man's dark eyes were glittering with sly humor, looking warm even in the shadows, and Eliot felt the hot flush crawl up even further, this time for a completely inexplicable reason. "Don't let me interrupt you. You modeling a Darth Vader helmet, it makes great blackmail material."
"Hardison," Eliot growled, stalking forward as he went to snatch the phone away and delete the photos.
The hacker danced backwards, laughing brightly. "Oh, no you don't. This is precious. I've already uploaded it to the web. Now you cooperate and I won't send that link to all of your crazy fans from the Studio Job. They've been asking after you recently…"
"You wouldn't," Eliot grumbled. Hardison had to be bluffing.
Hardison had that mischievous glint to his eyes, however, just daring Eliot to challenge him. Eliot sighed. The man was dead serious. "What do I have to do?" he asked, resigning himself to his fate. Stupid mannequins and costumes and everything. Never mind that it was his own damn curiosity that had gotten him into this mess – it was Hardison's fault at the root, for being interested in such geeky, if interesting and strange, things.
In the end, what he had to do was a fate far worse than death. Part of him still thought that releasing the photos to the fan girls would've been less painful than stalking along after Hardison at one of his geek conventions in full Darth Vader regalia. They made quite the pair, him as Darth Vader and Alec dressed as a Storm Trooper. At least the helmet hid his face and the heat that rose in his cheeks every two steps when another fan girl or five stopped them for photos. It was a day he hoped to never relive in his worst nightmares.
When Hardison came out of that cursed room the following week, sputtering for words with the remains of his beloved mannequins in his arms (may they rest in many pieces, although Eliot had been careful to set aside the clothing before enacting his revenge), Eliot just barely kept a straight face.
Sunday meant grocery shopping. Usually Eliot handled it on his own. He was the one doing the cooking, so it made the most sense that he would pick out the ingredients that would live up to expectations. This Sunday, however, he wasn't alone.
Sophie and Nate had gone to meet a potential client, leaving him to manage Hardison and Parker. Hardison was absent at the moment, having gone to the electronics store down the street to pick up a few parts (so he claimed) or simply look around (more likely). Either way, it would keep Hardison busy; Parker alone he could probably manage easily enough so long as he didn't have Hardison complicating matters.
He was planning to make his beer battered fish recipe, which Sophie claimed reminded her of the best fish and chips of England. He had gone to the meat section to pick out the fish he wanted, leaving Parker with a list of other items he needed rounded up from around the store.
With it being just around noon, the store was relatively busy. The woman in front of him had gone back and forth with the butcher for five minutes over how her meat had been cut too thick. Eventually they called up help from the back and he actually got the trout he needed.
Parker was waiting at the checkout line when he finished, fingers tapping against her leg impatiently. He swore the thief could hardly stand still for even a second.
"You found everything?" he asked.
She nodded absent-mindedly, eyes following customers as they wandered down the aisles. "I'm gonna go wait outside. You good here?" she asked.
With a reciprocating nod from Eliot, she was off. As he waited in line, he took the opportunity to examine everything that Parker had picked out. Most of it appeared to be there, plus a few other items. He spotted celery, dog food, and denture cream…none of which had been on the list. He shrugged. Who was he to judge Parker's crazy whims? Most of the time, it was simply easier not to bother asking.
Sorting through the cart to make room for the fish, he also found a shopping list scrawled in a hand distinctly not his own. He peered at it for a moment, failing to match up the handwriting with either Hardison's surprisingly neat scrawl, Sophie's elegant looping letters, Nate's chicken scratch or even Parker's own cramped writing.
Parker and her itchy fingers. The thief had probably lifted it off some poor unsuspecting victim. He shook his head.
"You ruffian!" a voice came from behind him.
Eliot turned just in time to take acane to the arm. "You scoundrel!" the little old woman rebuked him again, pulling back from another swing.
"I'm sorry Miss, there seems to be some sort of misunderstanding here," he responded, working to keep the growl out of his voice and suppress the instinct to defend himself. This little old woman couldn't hurt him, not really, but no one wanted to be smacked with a wooden stick, no matter how weak the strikes.
She glared at him over her thick rimmed glasses. "I'll tell you what I'm not misunderstanding. You stole my cart! Give it back!"
He stepped aside, pulling the trout out of the cart as he did so, lest he need to spend another twenty minutes in line in the meat section. With a huff and a muttered comment about the lack of decency in the younger crowd, the woman wandered away.
Few things took Eliot off guard these days. This was certainly one of them. He stood there for a minute, scratching his head and trying to figure out just what the hell had happened.
"Eliot," a voice came from behind.
He turned to face Hardison. "Stealing from the elderly? And here I thought you were a proper Southern gentleman."
Eliot shook his head, irritation still swimming in his veins as he glared at the few people who had stopped and were now staring at them. "It was Parker! Apparently shopping out of other people's carts has lost its charm. She had to step her game up or something."
Hardison walked right past him, laughing easily as he did so. "Sure it was man, sure it was. Now come on, let's get these groceries and get out of here. Preferably without lifting them out of some poor old lady's cart."
Parker eventually outgrew the cactus thing. A job they had worked to help a local animal shelter recoup stolen funds gave her a new obsession: furry animals of any size and shape. In the wake of her newfound interest in making sure the animal kingdom had a voice, the rest of her teammates found themselves attempting to keep said kingdom in one piece and out of their HQ. They had all tag teamed it at first, and it had worked pretty well. Hardison took her to visit the animals at the shelter on the weekends. Eliot had taken her to the zoo a couple of times. Nate made sure that Parker knew exactly what her donated funds were getting used for. Sophie took it upon herself to instruct Parker on the advantages and disadvantages of everything from veganism to the production of leather.
Eventually, though, with Christmas approaching, she had started clamoring about getting a pet. Eliot had shaken his head at the notion, siding firmly with Nate and Sophie on the 'over our dead bodies' side of the matter.
Hardison, on the other hand, had come home with a small pet carrier.
"Hardison," Eliot started with a sigh, "that better not be what I think it is."
The hacker set the carrier down on the table as he shed his coat.
"Not on the table!" In a moment Eliot had crossed the kitchen and moved it onto one of the chairs. "That just isn't sanitary."
"Hey dude, this is my house. When we do dinner at your place, you can complain all you want." Hardison went to hang up his coat, looking completely unconcerned with the dour looks Eliot was giving him. Hadn't they all agreed that they weren't going to allow Parker any animals? Not that Eliot didn't trust her with a pet of her own, but they were so busy, and led dangerous lives –it was simply for the best if Parker focused on keeping herself in one piece. Well, it was too late now.
"As long as I'm cooking, this may as well be my kitchen too. Now get it out of here before I choose to abandon you to gummy frogs and orange soda for dinner."
"I wouldn't mind that, you know," Hardison muttered as he picked the carrier back up.
As Eliot went back to tending his dish on the stove top, he responded. "That's the scary part."
Hardison had brought home a white thing that was more fluff than animal. Eliot could appreciate a good working animal, a horse to carry you around the farm or a dog to guard it. This kitten was neither of these things. In the first week alone it made a nasty habit of sleeping on, and consequently leaving its long fur all over, his dark colored shirts. The second week he caught it on the table lapping milk out of his cereal bowl.
They still had two weeks until Christmas.
Hardison spoiled it, calling it a little princess and cooing over how it would stand up and dance on its rear paws batting at a string held in the air. Eliot had drawn the line when it hopped up on the bed while they were in the middle of having sex. Hardison had called him heartless when he'd sat the cat down in the hallway and shut the door, locking it out. When it had started pawing at the door and whining, well, it had kind of killed the mood and Eliot had given up, kissing Hardison one last time, soft and thorough, before collapsing back on the bed. They'd dozed off next to one another soon after. With one week until Christmas, Eliot wasn't sure how much longer he could cohabitate with this creature.
That night he sat down to watch the latest MMA bout on Hardison's TV. The hacker had retired to his computer in his office to wage some sort of online pillaging. Raiding, that was what he had called it. The cat had a sixth sense about these things. Indeed, within minutes it had hopped up onto the couch and had curled up next to the hitter.
"No," he responded, firmly. "The shirts, fine. I'll sacrifice them, but my favorite jeans shall not be desecrated by fur." Eliot picked it up and set the cat on the ground, returning to the match. He worked really hard to ignore those big eyes staring up at him.
Three minutes later the cat was back up on the sofa, curling up along his thigh and wedged firmly between the couch pillow and the warmth of Eliot's body. This time, he sighed. He took a swig of his beer. Damn the fucking cat, but it kept interrupting. Maybe it would just be easier to call it a draw and let it stay.
When he heated up some of the leftover spaghetti from last night the kitten perched on the end table, swishing its tail back and forth and staring at him expectantly. Well at least it had manners. Hardison had a habit of snatching food of his plate when he saw something that looked good, regardless of whether Eliot was willing to permit it. More than once Eliot had accidentally – and occasionally purposefully – stabbed Hardison with a fork. With a sigh, Eliot flicked the cat a bit of the meat sauce.
With the meal complete and the dishes put away, he sat back down and the cat eagerly jumped into his lap. She peered up at him, almost daring him to action. He sighed, scratching the cat behind the ear. "Maybe you aren't so bad after all." The cat purred in response.
"Well isn't that just precious," Hardison said from the doorway.
Eliot snapped his gaze up from the cat to his boyfriend. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough," he chuckled as he crossed the distance and dropped down on the sofa next to Eliot.
"She has one more week with us before she goes to Parker, I figured I could be nice and send her off proper," Eliot muttered as he stroked the cat.
"Oh, no," Hardison said, grinning wickedly. "After that little display we are most certainly keeping her. I'll take Parker to the shelter to pick out her own cat after the holiday. This one is ours." Reaching out, he scratched the kitten under the chin, the grin softening to something altogether sweet as Eliot watched.
Eliot thought about arguing, but recanted as he wrapped an arm around Hardison's shoulders, drawing him close. In a rare instant of unguarded affection, Eliot pressed a kiss to Hardison's temple, letting the hacker curl up against him. "Fine, but we're not naming her Fluffy." A man had to have some standards.
Cooking in Hardison's kitchen took a level of finesse and patience that Eliot was hard pressed to find sometimes. In his own kitchen, each implement had a spot in the kitchen, on a shelf or in a drawer, where he could always count on it to be. Hardison, on the other hand, was of the opinion that organization in the kitchen was a nice philosophy but not necessarily something he needed to follow as scripture. Dare move his keyboard an inch to the left while dusting and the hacker would give you an earful. Ask which drawer the spatula was in and he'd ramble off a list of five places you might check and hope to find it. It was somewhat maddening, really.
Eliot might've been able to manage if that was all it was, but then there was the refrigerator. It was a nice sized refrigerator, with eighteen and a half cubic feet of storage and multiple temperature settings that would keep all of the food at the proper temperature (and no, it didn't give you the right to laugh just because he could rattle off statistics like that just as easily as he could give you the horse power on each of his muscle cars). Well, it would be pretty spacious if it were in his kitchen. Hardison insisted on keeping three shelves completely packed with two-liters of orange soda and half of the freezer compartment was frozen meals, much to Eliot's disgust.
Eliot had tried to negotiate. He'd asked if they could cut that down to one shelf of the soda and leave the rest at room temperature under the sink, perhaps, restocking as necessary. The way Alec had reacted, going on about how the pop went flat if it wasn't refrigerated for the full duration of its natural life and other scientific mumbo-jumbo about the chemical composition needed a precarious equilibrium (that had been about the time he tuned out and started trying to figure out what football games were on that day), it was as if Eliot had committed a grave sin.
They'd coexisted in an uneasy peace for the past few months in regards to the state of the kitchen, Eliot cramming the ingredients for his meals into the drawers and stacking them precariously on top of one another on what shelf space he was granted in what amounted to a game of Jenga. The tipping point was when Eliot had gone to pull a few frozen meals out of the freezer to make room for his stir-fry leftovers. Hardison had told him not to bother the pre-made meals, but to simply throw some foil over the top and stash them in the flowerbox overhanging the street until Eliot wanted to defrost them. It was below freezing out there and they'd be fine, Hardison had assured him.
That had been last night. He had woken up a little after four that morning, when Hardison was usually in the deepest of sleeps, and snuck out of the bedroom quietly. What had passed in the next two hours had been a flurry of whipping the kitchen into shape; his frazzled mind slowly calming as he bleached, rearranged, washed, and otherwise made sense of the disaster zone. There would be rules from here on out, Eliot swore to himself, convinced that this kitchen would be a shining bastion of order. He even pulled out the label maker and put it to good use, if only so Hardison could actually remember where to put things back.
He was halfway through the fridge when he got caught, Hardison padding into the kitchen and rubbing at his eyes. Eliot paused from where he'd been sniffing a Tupperware bowl full of something that Hardison must've tried to make and forgotten to bury in an unmarked grave. How could someone just stick a pot so deeply in the fridge that they completely forgot it even existed? "Eliot, what are you doing up this early? Making us breakfast?" he asked with a slap happy grin. Mornings were not often kind to Hardison.
Eliot forcefully pressed the lid down on whatever he was holding. "Not this, unless we're looking for an early retirement into the next life," he said with a shudder. Tupperware and all he dropped it into the trashcan he'd pulled over to the fridge for just that purpose.
Alec walked up behind him, putting a warm hand on his shoulder as he surveyed the inside of the fridge for something to eat. The hand dropped away a moment later. "Eliot…What have you done? My soda! It's gone!"
"We are not prioritizing your ninety-nine cent soda over my stir frys, ever. They're out in the flower box for the moment." Eliot felt a brief surge of satisfaction at the thought; like hell was he putting perfectly good food in a flowerbox outside. He would simply relegate Hardison's chemical-ridden-heart-attacks-in-a-bottle to the outdoors. "You can pull that mini-fridge out of storage after breakfast and that can be just for your soda."
"B-but this is my house," Hardison argued weakly. "I get to decide these things."
"Well if you want a hot breakfast, lunch, or dinner that isn't right out of the microwave from here on out, this is going to be considered our kitchen."
His boyfriend grumbled at that, pondering.
"I was going to do omelets, but if you'd rather have scrambled eggs made in the microwave…"
"No!" Hardison replied passionately. There were a lot of Eliot's meals that the hacker liked; he might as well worship the omelets and refused to give them up, not even for the sanctity of his orange soda. "Okay, soda in the mini-fridge after breakfast, omelets now."
With that, the hacker retreated to the bar stool where he liked to let Eliot cook, occasionally sneaking a fork over to snatch a piece of bacon out of the pan on the rare occasions when he caught Eliot unaware.
The con they were running tomorrow had Eliot cast as an eccentric business man. In passing yesterday, they'd been going over costuming for this one. Sophie was still debating between four different dresses, much to everyone else's fond exasperation. Eliot had a suit in mind and figured himself set. Sophie, however, informed him that well-kempt hair just wasn't going to fly on this one. It was too orderly for an eccentric man. She had walked around his barstool a few times, examining him like a prize show dog. When she stopped with a click of her heels, a widening grin creeping across her face, he knew to be worried. "Curls! Oh Eliot, it'll be perfect. Why have we never done curls with you before?"
Well, it might be because he was liable to break the hand of the person who tried to get at his hair, but he refrained from muttering as much. It was Sophie, she meant well. When it came to fashion and the styling of their costumes, she also got her way. With a resigned sigh, he nodded slowly.
That didn't mean he was crazy enough to let Sophie within ten feet of him with a curling iron, or worse yet, Parker. Knowing the trouble the pair of them managed to get into, he was liable to emerge with an afro ala the 1970s.
He'd bend to Sophie's suggestion, but he'd do it in his own way. Curls were just too much, but he could do wavy hair, he supposed. It was a fair enough compromise. Styling his hair as he got out of the shower, he then retired to the kitchen table to read that morning's paper.
It was there that Hardison found him, mouth agape, as he returned from Nate's where he'd gone to calibrate their ear pieces for long range communication. "Eliot...the braided pigtails. What?" He blinked a few times as if waiting for reality to reassert itself. It would have been amusing, if Eliot wasn't slowly but surely turning red from embarrassment.
"Damn it Hardison! I thought you weren't going to be home for an hour," he said, leaping to his feet and diving for his skullcap on the bar and quickly pulling it down over his head to hide what he could. There were some things that his dignity just couldn't survive.
"I finished early…The braids?" Hardison asked again, staring blankly at Eliot's head.
So sue him if they were the best way for crimping hair. "It's-"
Hardison raised a hand, silencing him. "Know what, some things are just better left a mystery." With that said, his boyfriend tromped out of the room.