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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.


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.