I.

It all starts with a plate of iced Christmas cookies.

In retrospect, Eliot should have realized before the fact that the cookies might not last longer than a day in the offices. And that Parker would be the one to eat the majority.

Because, well...it's Parker, and just saying her name seems to explain even the weirdest things she does.

He doesn't get it.

But he does leave a plastic-wrapped plate of fresh cookies in her office the day before Christmas Eve.

II.

The next Christmas is somehow even more depressing than the first, and that is a feat in and of itself considering he spent the last one drinking beer at his place by himself (somehow he felt more alone then than in all the years earlier, despite the fact that he hasn't been back home for the holidays since he was twenty-years-old, and all the time after that, well, he didn't really have friends).

With Sophie gone, Tara in as the new grifter, and Nate back off the wagon, everything just seems bleak and a little pointless.

Somewhere in there, though, Parker gets it into her head that she damn well will be spending Christmas with all of them, with or without their cooperation. And that is how Eliot finds himself assisting Cora and Parker with stringing up decorations all around the bar.

"I can't reach the nail for the wreath," Cora huffs, straining on her toes and almost losing her balance.

Eliot grabs her by the elbow to steady her and examines the wreath, then the height of the nail. "I'll get a chair."

"Don't bother," Parker says from behind him, and he feels an immediate weight on his back and small hands grasping his shoulders.

Stiffening, he fights against the initial instinct to throw her off and rolls his eyes as Parker settles her body onto his shoulders, her feet hooking against his lower back. He does grip her thighs tightly in case she slips, but she pulls the wreath out of Cora's hands and places it carefully on the nail. She slides easily off his shoulders and down his back, and for a brief moment, all Eliot can think about is her warm slender body pressing against him, her breath skimming against his neck.

Then he remembers that this is fucking Parker, and he gives himself a mental shake.

"You can't just climb on people," he snaps out, glaring at Parker as she straightens the bow on the wreath.

She turns to him with wide, innocent eyes that he doesn't believe for a second and a slightly wicked smile playing with her lips. "It was easier."

"There's something wrong with you." He mumbles it half-heartedly, and when Cora dumps a huge bundle of tangled lights into his arms with instructions to go put these on the tree without so much as a please or thank you, he wonders again exactly how he got roped into this while Hardison escaped to play his stupid troll-fighting games.

(He almost forgets, but he leaves a bag of Christmas cookies hidden in Parker's favorite cereal. He finds a creepy Santa figurine waiting outside his door on Christmas morning.)

III.

"The point of having the holidays off is to spend time away from each other," Eliot explains again to an agitated Parker, who still hasn't changed out of her elf costume, beyond the fact that she added her reindeer antlers into the outfit that really should not look so damn good on her.

Parker shakes her head. "But Christmas is about spending time together."

"With family, Parker."

She looks at him, head cocked to the side like she really doesn't understand this point, and he sighs. Apparently pulling a job on freaking Christmas Eve has not deterred her at all, and with the addition of the unexpected snow, she has renewed her campaign to convince him to cook lunch for everyone tomorrow.

"But I thought..." She frowns down at her cup of hot chocolate. "Nate and Sophie gave us presents. Don't families do that stuff, too?"

Shit. It isn't fair, really, how she can do this sort of thing to him without even knowing it, and he can't help but give in, especially when he remembers that Parker didn't have anything like what Christmas should be when she was still a kid. Eliot glances over to where Hardison is playing gleefully with his new electronic thing, and Nate and Sophie look like they might be considering disappearing on the rest of them.

He traces his fingers over the hilt of his new katana and considers his options. Parker keeps on looking at him with pleading eyes.

Rolling his eyes, Eliot pulls out a bag of cookies he had made that morning and slides it across the table to her. "All right, fine. I'll make the damn Christmas dinner."

Parker beams at him, and before he can protest, she lunges across the table, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him. For a couple of seconds, he's not exactly sure what to do with his hands because this is Parker and he doesn't know what she wants from him. After that hesitation, though, when she frowns against his mouth and keeps pressing her lips to his, he pulls himself together and kisses her back, nipping at her bottom lip with his teeth.

She pulls away, her eyes bright and says, "Mistletoe."

He doesn't even bother looking up and just smirks at her. "You kiss everybody like that just 'cause you're under mistletoe?"

Shrugging, she opens the bag of cookies and takes one out, biting the head off a sugar-coated reindeer. "No."

IV.

The change isn't easy or fast, but somehow, Parker becomes his girlfriend. And then she moves in with him, one box at a time in between jobs.

When he takes her out to a snowy lot of evergreens to buy their first Christmas tree as a couple, Eliot can't help humming Christmas carols under his breath.

(He will swear later that it's only because Parker got them stuck in his head. She'll only grin and continue draping the tree with the loot she's collected over the years.

Somewhere in all this time, he feels like he's finally come home.)