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What, was "Rudy" on cable last night?

. . . Yes.

Eliot Spencer vdistinctive
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75 Godiva Street, Sunday night
After their adventure at Chilly Boulder, Eliot was kind of thinking that the kids would crash out nice and early.

Look, he'd never really had to interact with children longer than several hours at a time before, okay?

Anyway, once he'd gotten them home, let them make dinner, and attempted to explain without breaking anyone's heart why he had a separate house from Hardison and Parker and no televisions, he'd finally gotten everyone to sit down together on the couch for story time. Ada wriggled her way right into his lap, while Joey stuck herself under his arm, and Spike grabbed Val and squeezed in on Eliot's other side. Parker perched on the arm of the couch with a bowl of cereal, and Hardison took the chair, looking smug.

Sure, a political thriller was an odd choice for reading to children aged 8-12, but they seemed to be enjoying it, judging by the (entirely accurate) critical commentary they offered about the main character's actions.

It took until nearly midnight, but finally all three of the kids fell asleep, firmly trapping Eliot on the couch. Not that he noticed. He'd fallen asleep a good half an hour before they did.


"You've been doin' great, babe," Hardison said, pulling her into a hug after she was done with pictures. "You really comforted Ada yesterday. Alex thinks you hang the moon an' even Joey thinks you're cool. None of us were prepared for this, but you still handled it better'n Eliot."

She hadn't made anyone cry, for example!

Parker hugged him hard for that, keeping her voice really low. "I don't ... I don't want a baby. I think. Ever." Then in barely above a whisper, "But maybe, maybe one of them?"

or two?

There was no way to get three.

And looking at Joey's face, relaxed in sleep, actually made Hardison regret that Eliot and Sophie hadn't happened, at least a little bit.

Of course, he still hadn't figured out how Ada'd happened, either. The scenario she'd described just didn't make sense.

"Maybe we can keep an eye out for Alex in Tahoe, if we ever get a job there?" Hardison suggestion. "I mean, I know none of us ain't ready for them, not for real, but...we did good. Them. The other us's. Whatever. Not even what they pulled today, at the store, but look at 'em all. They're happy an' healthy an' they're real good kids." He kept his arms wrapped around her, but loosely so she wouldn't feel caged. "An' at least for two of them kids, you're a big part of that. Just as much as me an' Eliot."

"But I couldn't..." She shook her head, then buried in back in his shoulder. "I couldn't do it without you."

Meal times and sleep times and keeping them safe and teaching them normal and all that.

"And Eliot. But. He's all." A gesture to indicate his current state of weirdness, and Parker made a face. "Even though he's always good with kids."

"Kids are like a con, babe," Hardison said, touching her face with gentle fingers. "There's lotsa runnin' an' yellin' an' changin' things on the fly, but hopefully when everythin's over, lives've been changed for the better. An' sure, you can do it on your own, but it's easier with a team. You couldn't do it without me, but think of all the things I can't do without you."

He shook his head. "You ain't 'normal', Parker. You ain't never gonna be 'normal'." There were times when he really wanted to hit Archie Leach with his own cane. "But kids don't care about normal. They care about bein' loved and respected and taken care of. Maybe you won't be perfect about the last one, but the first two? You ain't got anything to worry about there."

That was a fact. She proved it every day with him, didn't she?

"As for Eliot...he's got some things he's gotta work through. He's gonna have to work through 'em to make this work--" he indicated the three of them, "--never mind makin' that." He nodded towards the sleeping kids.

They were so easy to like, was the thing. Ada who was so much like Eliot and Hardison, and Joey who was like that mash-up she'd wished to see, and Alex... Alex was like her, but better. Maybe that's why people had kids. To make better versions of themselves?

It was going to be hard letting them go. But Parker was not thinking about that.

"How do I help?"

With the kids, with Eliot, with Hardison? "I'm just making it up, Hardison. Aren't there supposed to be..." Not rules, but. Something? Ways? Plans?

"Girl, if you think I have any idea what I'm doin', you're outta your mind. Ain't no parent ever does, or so says my Nana. If there was some kinda playbook for raisin' 'em, maybe people would be better at it."

He tried not to sound bitter about that.

"With the kids, you're doin' fine. Just talk to them, maybe. Get to know 'em. Remember, they already know an' love you so it ain't gonna be hard." Translation: they weren't going to think she was strange. She was just being Aunt Parker. "As for Eliot, we're just gonna have to give him time. Space, sometimes, when he needs it. He's on the hook, be we ain't reeled him in yet."

"Okay. I can be patient." Parker nodded, then hugged him again, so so glad they were together for this. "You're really good at looking like you know what you're doing. And I can listen to the kids. I want to know how other-you taught Gracie all that stuff. And Josie with all the names." She really was a mini-Sophie. A mini-Sophie's-real-name.

She smiled a little, thinking of Eliot. "People are fiddly. And Eliot, Eliot's... a Steranko."

"I just bought lotsa ranks of Bluff in character creation," Hardison teased. "Min-maxed for Charisma. So just remember that the next time you're laughin' at me when I fall off a damn building. I wasn't built for doin' all that!"

Parker, in case you needed reminding, your boyfriend was a complete geek.

"If Eliot's a Steranko, what am I?"

Possibly a child's piggybank with the lid left off.

"You're... you're a Salamander." Parker put her arms around him, grinning. "Beautiful and elegant, firm and solid and safe. Even after you've solved it a hundred times, you want to open it up again, because it's so much fun."

Hardison beamed at her. "That sounds pretty good to me," he said. Then nodded at the sleeping family. "We should probably get some rest, too. They're gonna be up and about at who knows tomorrow. Wanna head back to our place or crash here?"

He'd rather stay, but he wanted to give Parker the choice.

"Can we stay here?" Parker looked a little uncertain. "Only, what if they wake up, and I promised Joey we'd go cliff-diving...."

Really, it was an excellent idea.

"Course we can stay. If Eliot gets grumpy about it, we'll remind him it was that or leave him alone with all three of 'em," Hardison pointed out. "Let's go steal more of his blankets and make a nest on his floor."

Sorry, but there was no way Hardison was going to be able to curl his lanky frame up on a loveseat.

"And make sure you get Eliot's okay before you go."

Like hell he was going to be able to talk Parker out of cliff-jumping, even with a twelve-year-old. He was gonna foist that one off onto Eliot and gladly.