Link to art: http://chef-geekier.livejournal.com/4561
Title: Where There Ain't No Rain or Snow(A Place Called Home) pt2
Beta(s): Non-LJ friend
Disclaimer They are not mine. Don't sue me!
Characters/Pairings: Hardison/Ashley, Parker/Hardison, Sophie/Nate, Eliot, Sterling
Genre: Het, Drama, Romance
Warnings/spoilers: Not really. Highly AU.
Word Count: 10,625
Summary: Written for chef_geekier's fabulous art.(http://chef-geekier.livejournal.com/4561
High school AU. When Hardison is placed in Nate & Sophie's foster care, he is determined to just make it until his 18th birthday, when he can escape the system. But against his better judgement, he finds himself caught up in life and love, and foster siblings who might just think they're detectives...
Putting up the hidden cameras is easier than Hardison expected. He made them himself; they’re discreet but good quality, and almost completely undetectable without an electronic sweeper. Wednesday gives them nothing interesting to watch, but Eliot and Parker are determined.
“We just have to make him lose his cool,” Parker insists.
They start small. Doors slammed a little too hard, voices raised a little too loud. The kitchen faucet left dripping, shoes strategically placed in optimum tripping locations.
“He’s pretty anal,” Eliot explains. “Everything has to be just right. He won’t be able to hold out very long before he explodes. And then the cameras will catch it all.”
“We just have to hope he says something incriminating,” Parker adds, smirking.
“So, we have to create a dysfunctional atmosphere?” Hardison asks, nodding along.
“Exactly,” Eliot says.
“Here he comes!” Parker says, shoving Hardison to the couch and climbing into his lap before he can protest.
Eliot snickers and moves to lie on the floor, propping his feet upon the couch in a tangle with Hardison and Parker’s. He trains his eyes to the TV, as if he’s not aware Sterling is mere footsteps away.
Meanwhile, Parker is invading Hardison’s personal space more and more by the second.
“We’ll show him dysfunctional,” she whispers, before pressing her lips to Hardison’s.
He flails at first, but gets with the program quickly as she presses against him and coaxes open his lips with her tongue. Fighting the urge to buck, he just wraps his arms around her waist and hangs on, only dimly aware of Sterling walking into the room.
“What the hell is going on here?” Sterling exclaims, as he takes in the sight of the tangled teenagers.
Hardison tries to speak, but Parker just grips his neck tighter and goes right on kissing him.
“Just a little… family bonding,” Eliot says, sitting up slowly and giving Sterling a faux-innocent smile.
“You’re all sick,” Sterling says, practically spitting the words.
“Aw, don’t say that, Uncle Jamie,” Eliot drawls, standing slowly. “After all, our parents want you here. And you’re doing all this out of the goodness of your heart, right?”
Sterling gapes for a moment, but then does something unexpected. He laughs.
Eliot tenses, wary of his reaction.
“You said it yourself,” Sterling says, smirking, “they aren’t your parents. And in a few more days, they won’t even be your foster parents anymore.”
Eliot’s moving before he can even consider it, fully intending on punching Sterling right in his smug face. Sterling has the decency to look surprised as Eliot comes flying at him. Before he can break Sterling’s face, however, he’s being stopped by Hardison and Parker. Parker steps in front of him and wraps her arms around his neck, while Hardison grabs him by the shoulders and hold him back as he struggles.
“Let me go!” he yells, bandana slipping off his hair as he tries to pull away from Parker and Hardison.
“Calm down,” Parker whispers into his ear, “He wins if you don’t calm down.”
He finally calms, allowing Parker and Hardison to pull him back a few feet.
Sterling looks like he wants to say something else, but he’s apparently smarter than they’ve given him credit for, because he remains quiet, before making a hasty retreat to the kitchen.
They stand together for a few moments, letting their heartbeats return to normal.
Finally, Eliot shoves Parker away and heads for the stairs.
“Don’t bother me,” he says, before running up the stairs and into his room, slamming the door shut behind him.
Hardison stares after him, dazed, even as it all finally clicks into place.
“He thinks they’re going to kick him out, doesn’t he?” he asks Parker, who shrugs.
“He’ll be eighteen,” she says, “there’s no reason for them to keep him after that.”
Hardison doesn’t even know what to say, or how to begin to respond to that.
“They love him,” he says, finally, “and they love you. They aren’t just going to kick him out because they don’t get a government check anymore. Nate and Sophie are good people.”
Parker doesn’t say anything; she just looks away from him.
“Neither of you were in good places before, were you?” Hardison asks, “I mean, I know that no foster home is perfect, but you two had it bad.”
She refuses to turn back to him, focusing on the wall to the right.
“Parker,” he says, moving to hug her, tucking her head under his chin, “Nate and Sophie are not getting rid of Eliot. Or you. Or even me. I don’t know who hurt you so bad, but they are never going to hurt you again. Eliot and I won’t let them. Ever. Do you hear me?”
She shakes in his arms, so he just holds on tighter, pretending for her sake that he doesn’t know she’s crying.
The next two days go by quickly, much to everybody’s relief. The still haven’t been able to catch Sterling doing anything overtly shady, but Parker is holding out hope for a last minute miracle.
It’s around nine at night when Hardison sees something on the stream from the camera in Nate’s study.
He texts Eliot and Parker to come to his room as soon as they can without raising suspicion, and they show up within two minutes.
“What is it?” Eliot asks, peering at Hardison’s computer.
“I’m not sure,” Hardison says, “But look, he’s at Nate’s desk, fiddling with it.”
“Nobody is allowed in there,” Parker says, frowning.
“What is he looking for?” Eliot says, wondering out loud.
They watch in anticipation as Sterling moves suddenly, dropping to his knees in front of the desk. When he stands back up, he’s clutching what looks like a piece of paper to his chest. He puts the desk back in order before leaving the room, tucking the paper into his jacket.
“We need to call Nate,” Hardison says.
Eliot nods. “Can you email that video to him?”
“On it,” Hardison says, fingers flying over the keys.
“Hey,” Eliot says into the phone when Nate picks up, “You need to see something.”
Parker drops into Hardison’s lap and kisses him soundly.
“I knew you could do it,” she says.
“I have a girlfriend,” Hardison says, quietly, avoiding her gaze.
“It was just a kiss,” Parker says, shrugging, “Won’t happen again.”
“See you soon,” Eliot says as he ends the call, effectively breaking Parker and Hardison’s moment.
“They’ll be home in a few hours,” he says, raising his eyebrows as Parker climbs off Hardison’s lap.
Hardison just shrugs and shakes his head. His life is bizarre.
It all goes down surprisingly fast in the morning. Nate confronts Sterling, who admits to everything in exchange for the police not being involved. He’s gone within twenty minutes of the confrontation, hopefully for good.
“What did he try to steal, anyway?” Parker asks, once everything is calmed down.
Nate hands her the piece of paper. She looks at it in confusion.
“It’s just a sketch of some flowers,” she says, “I don’t get it.”
“James believed it to be a lost Van Gogh sketch,” Sophie explains. That desk is very old, and has a lot of history.”
“Believed it to be?” Hardison asks, “It’s not real?”
“It’s a wonderful imitation,” Nate says, “I paid good money for it, after all.”
“Where’s the real sketch, then?” Eliot asks, looking at Nate with something akin to awe.
“Some things are better left unknown,” Nate replies, eyes twinkling with mischief. “But it’s safe.”
The grandfather clock chimes Midnight before anybody can protest, filling the room with the sound.
“Ooh!” Sophie exclaims, “It’s officially your birthday, Eliot. Happy Birthday!”
They all chorus happy birthday to the increasingly red-faced Eliot. He mumbles out thank you’s and even lets Parker and Sophie hug him.
“This is definitely the most exciting birthday so far, ever,” Eliot admits, “Catching a would-be thief in the act is hard to beat.”
“Well, we’ll just have to try harder next year,” Sophie says, laughing.
Eliot looks up before he can stop himself, letting hope show on his face freely for just a moment.
“Next year?” he asks, talking around the constricting in his throat.
“Maybe we’ll get you a car,” Nate muses, “Depending on how your first year of college goes, of course.”
“You’re stuck with us, darling,” Sophie says, hugging him again, “If you want to be, of course.”
Eliot laughs. It’s all so ridiculous. Months of anxiety for nothing.
“What kind of car?” he asks Nate, instead, “and who said anything about college?”
“Oh, you’re going to college…” Nate says.
Hardison shakes his head fondly at the pair before heading to the kitchen to get a drink. He’s only somewhat surprised when Parker follows him.
He hasn’t even reached the refrigerator before she’s in his space again; kissing him like her life depends on it.
“It wasn’t nothing,” she says, eyes shining.
“I’m not sorry,” she says, “But I understand.”
And with that, she’s gone, gliding away with her dancer’s grace.
Hardison watches after her before leaning against the fridge, thudding his head back with a dull thump.
Life goes on after that, almost too seamlessly. Hardison is glad for the fact, mostly. But sometimes he still thinks it’s too easy, too good to be true. There’s always that part of him that is waiting for the other shoe to drop. That’s waiting for Nate and Sophie to figure out that he’s no good, that he isn’t worth keeping, after all.
He doesn’t voice these fears, and most of the time he manages to push them back enough that he doesn’t even think about them. He smiles and laughs and fights with Eliot over stupid things. All in all, life is pretty good. Even when it hurts.
Ashley breaks up with him on a Friday afternoon. Her eyes are shiny when she does it, and he’s torn between consoling her, and crying his own tears.
“I love you,” he says, taking her hands in his.
They were leaning against her car in the school parking lot, like they have a million times before. But now, instead of resting in his arms, she’s standing in front of him, fighting to keep eye contact.
“I know,” she says, “I…” her voice cracks, and she looks so crestfallen that Hardison can’t help but pull her into a hug, holding her tight.
“I love you, too,” she whispers against his neck, “I know you love me. But you love her more.”
Hardison pulls back, surprised.
“What?” he says, “Who?”
Ashley laughs bitterly, and it catches him off guard. He doesn’t think he’s ever heard her sound bitter before. It makes his stomach twist in unpleasant knots.
“You try to hide it,” she says, and she’s back to looking sad again. “But you can’t. When you see her, you… it’s like nothing else matters. Like nothing else in the world exists besides her. I can’t compete with that.”
Hardison looks away, ashamed. He’s been repressing his feelings for Parker since he met her. Even more since that time she kissed him in the kitchen a few months ago. He thought he’d been doing a good job.
“I didn’t mean to,” he says, finally, looking back at Ashley.
“Oh, baby,” Ashley says, “I know you didn’t. You’re the nicest guy I know.”
“Then why?” he asks, “I thought we were happy together. I really do love you. You’re my best friend.”
She smiles at that, even if it’s a little shaky.
“We were,” she says, running a thumb across his cheek. “But I’ll never be her, and as much as I love you, I deserve to be the girl that someone looks at the way that you look at her.”
Hardison is silent for a moment that seems to stretch on forever, before he finally looks at her again and gives her a sad smile.
“You’re amazing, you know that?” he says, still grasping her hand.
She laughs in surprise, even as the tears break. She lets him pull her into another hug, and holds on for all she’s worth.
“I’m going to miss you, so much,” she says.
Hardison just squeezes tighter.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
It’s strange at first, adjusting to life without Ashley in it. Mostly because she’s still there in almost every class. She switches seats with a mousy guy named Eric that Hardison nods politely too, but never really talks with. But it’s still hard. He finds himself wanting to text her in the morning, or call her at night, to share some stupid story about Eliot, or to grumble about Sophie’s latest family activity plan. But he can’t, and that’s the worst part of it all. He hasn’t just lost a girlfriend; he’s lost his best friend.
It does get better, eventually. He promised her he wasn’t going anywhere, and he doesn’t. She’s the one who pulls away. But after a few weeks, she stops avoiding his gaze at all costs. She even says hello once in a while, after a month.
Finally, after two long months, Hardison stops her after class, standing in front of her locker so she can’t just ignore him.
“Hey,” she says, and he’s glad to hear no animosity or awkwardness in her tone.
“Can we please be friends again?” he asks, cutting to the chase, “I miss you, Ash.”
She rolls her eyes, but smiles anyway.
“Yeah, yeah,” she says, “I guess I kind of miss you, too.”
Hardison grins and holds out his fist to her.
“A fist bump?” she asks, laughing, “Really?”
“Come on,” he says, “You know you want to.”
“Whatever,” she says, but she bumps her fist to his, anyway. “This is still going to be weird, you know. At least for a while.”
Hardison nods and shrugs. “Weird is good, I like weird. Go team weird!”
Ashley groans and shakes her head.
“Alright. Now get out of my way, I need my books.”
Hardison slides over, accidentally knocking into a tiny freshman girl with giant glasses. She scrambles away, flushing red.
Ashley laughs so hard, her knees buckle and she slides to the ground, clutching her books to her chest as she shakes.
Hardison just sighs and heads to class, leaving Ashley to her laughter.
Late May comes quickly, bringing with it a heat wave that falls inconveniently on the weekend of Eliot’s graduation. They’re camped out on the school’s field, the hot metal of the chairs almost burning through their clothes. Nate’s wearing a nice suit that he looks miserable in and Sophie’s in a red sundress, wielding an honest to god paper fan. Parker, inexplicably, allowed Sophie to make her wear a pretty blue dress, but the hoodie she throws over it, ruins the effect.
For Sophie, at least. Hardison is mesmerized by the sight. She still has the hoodie she stole from him; he’s never had the heart to take it back. It’s long on her, covering all but a slight strip of the dress. It’s almost as if all she’s wearing is his sweatshirt, and he shudders pleasantly at the thought, before mentally admonishing himself.
After all, Parker has known for months that he and Ashley were broken up, but she seems to have decided to pretend the whole thing between them never happened. How, Hardison doesn’t know. If she feels even a fraction of the tension between them that he does, she should be going insane. But, no. Parker seems completely unaffected, and it’s driving him mad. She catches him staring at her and looks back at him questioningly. He just smiles and shrugs, looking away quickly.
The ceremony drags on, seemingly for hours in the oppressive heat. But finally, they call Eliot’s name, and Hardison finds himself cheering loudly, a rush of pride for his pseudo-brother coursing through him. Eliot glares at him from the stage as he accepts his diploma, but Hardison knows that’s just his way.
“Can you help me for a minute, El?” Sophie asks, leading him away from Hardison and Parker after the ceremony.
Eliot shrugs and follows her, leaving Parker and Hardison to grin at each other over the shared secret.
“I still can’t believe they actually got him a car,” Parker says, huffing, “They still won’t even let me drive their cars.”
“To be fair, you still won’t observe speed limits,” Hardison replies.
Parker just sticks her tongue out at him.
Hardison laughs. “Come on,” he says, let’s go home to the air conditioning, I have Sophie’s keys.”
Parker nods and they start walking across the wide field toward the parking lot. Parker tolerates her high heels for all of thirty seconds before kicking them off angrily and leaving them on the ground. Hardison just shakes his head and scoops them up, holding them in one hand and reaching for her sweatshirt with the other.
“Slow down, woman, jeez!”
She does, reluctantly. They reach the parking lot, and Parker immediately squeaks and hops back onto the grass, the hot cement scorching her feet.
“Here,” Hardison says, trying to hand her back her shoes, but she shakes her head.
“Giddy up!” she says instead, looking up at him with doe eyes.
“Fine,” Hardison sighs with faux-hardship, crouching slightly so she can hop on his back. It’s a short walk to the car, anyway.
“You know,” he says, “You’re nearly seventeen. Don’t you think that’s too old for piggyback rides?”
“Don’t you think you’re too old for video games?” Parker counters, pinching him on the arm for good measure.
He stumbles slightly, but catches himself before she can slip from his back.
“I’m gonna drop you if you keep pinching me,” he warns.
Parker just leans forward and kisses him on the cheek.
“No you won’t,” she says, and he can hear the smile in her voice.
And he knows she’s right. Hardison takes a deep breath and decides that it’s now or never. Surprising them both, he spins Parker around, until she’s facing him, legs wrapped around his waist.
“You’re stronger than you look,” Parker says, and she looks appropriately impressed.
Hardison grins, somewhat bashfully. “I’ve been working out with Eliot,” he says, shrugging.
He knows he won’t be able to hold them both upright for very long, but it’s worth it while it lasts.
Endless words stream through his head; so many different options that he just can’t decide what to say. How to say it.
Parker makes it easy, and decides for him, kissing him soundly.
It feels like lighting through his veins, in the best possible way. He can hardly breathe.
When Parker finally pulls away to breath, Hardison lets his knees buckle at last, dropping them both to the grass. Parker simply holds on, letting him sit comfortable before readjusting herself on his lap, legs wrapped around him.
Hardison runs his hands up those perfect legs of hers, just because he can.
Parker laughs and clasps her hands behind his neck.
“People will see,” she says, even if she doesn’t particularly mind the idea.
Hardison blinks at that; he’d forgotten about the people.
“What took you so long?” he asks.
“I didn’t want to disappoint you,” Parker confesses, looking away, a flush on her cheeks.
Hardison can’t believe his ears.
“How could you ever disappoint me? You’re perfect.”
Parker laughs loudly at that, giving him an incredulous look.
“I’m antisocial, I steal things, and I’m more than a little crazy,” she says. “Ashley was perfect.”
“For somebody else,” Hardison says. “You aren’t antisocial, you just choose your friends carefully. And you only steal things you know we’ll let you have. And you’re many things; beautiful, smart, imaginative, but you are not crazy.”
Parker ducks her head at the compliments, but Hardison tilts it back up so he’s looking in her eyes.
“Maybe you’re not perfect,” he admits, “but nobody is. You’re perfect for me. That’s all that matters.”
“I’m scared,” she admits, “I hate being scared. It makes you weak.”
“No. It makes you strong,” Hardison replies, “Because here you are, taking a chance on me, even though you’re scared. You are strong and brave and perfect. And you can’t convince me otherwise.”
“We sound like Dawson’s Creek,” Parker laughs, rolling her eyes at the absurdity.
Hardison scoffs. “Here I am, pouring out my soul, and you mock me. I’m wounded, woman, wounded!”
Parker just pushes him down on the warm grass and covers his body with her own.
“I don’t wanna wait…” she sings, before kissing him again.
Hardison laughs too hard to kiss her back, and she collapses against his chest with matching giggles.
“Let’s go home,” she says, when they finally regain their composure. “Nate and Sophie are taking Eliot out to dinner. They won’t be back for a few hours.”
Hardison grins, grasping Parker’s hand in his own as they stand up and run for the car.
Life is good.THE END