A/N: After the serious AU and angsty tragedy of my last E/P fic, I think we all need something closer to canon and a little more fun, yes? Well, I sure do anyhow! lol This was originally going to be a one-shot, then I plotted it out to the end of Season 4 but didn't have time to write it at the time. Now I do, so here goes. As always, reviews would be very much appreciated!
(Disclaimer: All recognisable characters belong to John Rogers, Chris Downey, Dean Devlin, TNT, and other folks that aren't me)
Eliot was rarely startled. If it ever happened, it tended to be Parker who managed to pull off such a feat, sometimes deliberately and sometimes not so much. The thief was about to prove her ability all over again today, Eliot realised, when he stepped out of the shower. He turned around just in time to see Parker come scurrying in through the door like a frightened mouse.
"Parker! What the hell are you doin'?" he growled crossly, checking the towel across his hips was securely fastened there.
"I need to talk to you," she explained, re-locking the door and turning to put her back against it. "It's been three days and I really need to talk to you," she repeated desperately.
Eliot might've felt bad for her and asked what was wrong except he was much more focused on the fact he was all but naked and Parker just ambushed him. This was so far beyond normal and reasonable behaviour. It was also the very last time he decided to shower at the team apartment instead of going straight home!
"What's been three days?" he asked Parker out of curiousity that wouldn't quit. "And you've seen me every day on this damn job!"
"We needed to be alone!" she told him as if he were just that dumb. "We never are anymore."
"Why would we need to be?" Eliot wondered aloud, clearly frustrated as he flipped his wet hair off his face when it fell in his eyes. "And you picked the bathroom as a good spot for a conversation? I was in the shower, Parker!"
She looked across at him with eyes that switched from wide and innocent to admiring in a heartbeat. It actually seemed as if she genuinely hadn't noticed he was barely dressed and dripping water all over the place until Eliot pointed it out to her. That was mildly insulting, he thought, but on the whole probably a good thing. A moment later Parker shook her head free of any unbidden dirty thoughts and answered his question.
"You get mad when I show up at your place," she said in all innocence apparently - Eliot couldn't believe it.
"I get mad because you break in!" he told her, waving his arms in some gesture of frustration, before realising at least one hand should probably stay near the towel, just in case.
"We're getting off topic," Parker waved her hands as if to clear the air of any other subjects. "This is more important. I need to know how to dump a person without making them cry."
Eliot took a moment to guage her expression, which appeared to be perfectly serious. Even for Parker, this was a nutty question to be asking, and he told her just that a second later.
"You're crazy," he said definitely, reaching for her arm so he could usher her out of the bathroom.
Parker easily evaded him and continued on.
"I'm serious, Eliot!" she told him, getting in his face. "I mean, you date a lot of women and then you break up with them. They never seem heartbroken. In fact, we see them months later and they're smiling and pretty much wanting to have sex with you again!" she told him what he already knew and Eliot tried his best not to smirk since now clearly wasn't the time to be smug. "I need to know how that works."
He met Parker's eyes then, planning to say he was not having this conversation with her, especially not here and now in the bathroom. Unfortunately, in her gaze he saw pain and panic. Hell, he saw almost the exact same expression Hardison had been wearing three days ago when he was worried Parker might not want to be with him anymore. A knot tied itself up in Eliot's stomach and he hated it.
"Did something happen?" he asked the little blonde before him. "With Hardison?"
"No. Well, yes," Parker frowned some. "Not with Hardison but, near Hardison?" she tried to explain. "About him, I guess. I hate that this got so complicated!"
She turned away, practically pacing the tiny space between the two walls in front of Eliot. If a person could explode from frustration she probably would right now, and Eliot felt compelled to help her. Poor Parker, she did not get relationships or how to deal with people at all. She was better now than in the beginning, but still, this whole thing between her and Hardison was a minefield. Eliot didn't want to be crossing it, but they were his friends, as close as family to him even. He couldn't leave his bro hanging in the wind, and he certainly couldn't stand here and watch Parker suffer, that would be as impossible as moving mountains or taking flight.
"Hey, slow down, breathe," he encouraged her, catching her by the shoulders on her next pass and turning her towards him. "From the top, Parker. What is the real problem here?"
Taking a deep breath, as instructed, Parker blew it out slowly and then explained herself from the beginning.
"That night we went out, me and Peggy, plus Sophie and Tara. Well, we met that guy, Mattingly, and he... I think he liked me," she said with the strangest look on her face like she never thought it possible for a man to do that. "I mean, maybe he just liked that I was Parker and I have this thief reputation thing, I don't know, but that's not even the point," she breathed deep again. "It was fun with him. It was fun pulling a con with a person that gets the things I get," she admitted, looking up to meet Eliot's eyes and soft smile.
"Parker, there's nothing wrong with that," he promised her.
"You don't understand!" she shook her head in response, going so far as to pull out from his grip and move away as far as the confines of the small bathroom would let her. "It was fun like it is with you. He reminded me of you! I mean you're tougher and hotter, probably even smarter, but he was like action guy, and I'm action girl, and Hardison... he wants to go see fighting robots, and take me to dinner, when I'd rather be stealing bags of cash and diffusing bombs," she explained, waving her arms like some psychotic windmill. "What I'm saying is, we're different. We're too different, and Sophie says opposites attract but me and Hardison... we're not opposite because we do have stuff in common, I just think maybe not enough."
Eliot had no idea what he was supposed to say to all of that, not least because his mind was pretty much stuck on the part where Craig Mattingly had reminded Parker of him. She spoke so highly of him in her little crazy-ass rant, about how much she enjoyed pulling cons with him at her side. She didn't miss Hardison on the job she and the girls fell into last week, she missed Eliot. That was wrong, obviously, but flattering at the same time. It was also not the point Parker needed him focused on right now, made clear by the way she looked at him then, hugging herself and looking terrified.
"I'm scared, Eliot," she admitted, if he couldn't already tell. "I'm scared that if I tell Hardison all this, he'll be hurt, and I don't want that."
Sitting down carefully on the edge of the tub, just because she had totally knocked the wind out of his sails with her confessions, Eliot was dumb-struck for a full minute. Working past the part where Parker just told him he was hot, smart, and the best partner in people-helping crime she could think of, he tried to concentrate on what she was actually asking for here. She needed advice and he was going to have to give it, though Eliot hadn't anymore clue where to begin that she did really.
"Parker, there's no easy way to break up with someone," he told her with a shake of his head, "but if you're not happy, sweetheart, then you just have to do it."
She sighed too heavily and came to sit down beside him, bumping his shoulder as she did so. Eliot checked the towel was still covering everything and leaned his elbows on his knees.
"Can't you do it?" Parker asked in earnest. "Can't you have one of your man-to-man talks and tell Hardison he doesn't want to date me?"
"No, Parker," Eliot smirked at her gall, even though the situation was so serious. "I mean, yeah, I could, but I'm not going to. This is your relationship, darlin'. You started it and you have to finish it, I mean, you do if you want it to be over."
This was bad and Eliot knew it. Hardison would be heart-broken if Parker ended things with him, but what he was telling her was true enough. Seemed to him it was breaking her heart to stay with the hacker, and that was no better. If she needed things to be done with the two of them, then it had to be. It was the only advice Eliot could give and that was that.
"I still want to be Hardison's friend but... but when I'm on a job with some other guy, I shouldn't be thinking how much fun it is compared to a date with him," said Parker thoughtfully. "Pretty sure I shouldn't be wishing you were there either," she smiled at him then.
Eliot meant to look away but couldn't quite do it.
"You really wished I was there?" he asked, still a little bowled over and strangely flattered by her insistence that of all men, she would rather have had him at her side than any other, including her boyfriend.
"Uh-huh," she nodded, looking desolate about it somehow. "That's wrong too, isn't it?"
"It's not wrong, it's just..." Eliot floundered for a proper answer and ultimately gave up as he pushed his unruly wet hair back one more time. "You just have to talk to Hardison."
"I know," Parker agreed, "but what do I say?"
"The truth?" the hitter suggested, adjusting his towel as he stood up, suddenly all too aware of how close they'd been sitting and his own state of undress again. "That you like him but just not the way he likes you. That you're sorry it can't work out, and then there's the killer line," he smiled sadly, "that you still wanna be friends."
Parker got to her feet too and looked between Eliot and the door.
"And he'll be okay with that?"
"No, probably not," he told her honestly as he always told her everything. "He loves you, Parker. It's gonna hurt hearin' you can't feel the same way, but if it's the truth then it's gotta be said, for both your sakes."
Parker nodded and scuffed her sneakers against the tile.
"I know, you're right. You're always right," she rolled her eyes as a burst of strangled laughter escaped her lips.
"Maybe not always," he replied too seriously, eyes on his own bare feet.
His gaze stayed off her even as Parker moved to leave, thanking him in a too quiet tone as she reached the door. Eliot had his back to the exit and was thinking about fixing his hair, getting dried off and dressed, when he realised Parker hadn't quite left yet. In a flurry of limbs she came rushing back, suddenly in front of him again. Eliot didn't get a chance to ask what she was doing when suddenly her lips were on his in a serious kiss. It was over as fast as it had begun, but the damage was already done. This was no peck on the cheek, no quick 'thank you' kiss, that was for damn sure.
"For the record, when you're not around, I always wish you were there," said Parker fast, and then she was gone, literally running out of the room, the door slamming shut in her wake.
Eliot turned a full circle in the now empty bathroom then shook his head. That woman was crazy and he hadn't a clue what really just happened here. Still, he'd wonder on it for at least the rest of today if not longer, the hitter already knew that much. Somehow he just knew the fall-out from what might've been a simple conversation was going to be messy as all hell, and he wasn't looking forward to it one little bit.
To Be Continued...