She'd never been good at feelings.
Not about having them; no matter what anyone else thought, and she knew that they did (she was ten pounds of crazy in a five pound bag, after all), she always had plenty of feelings. But understanding them, expressing them, interpreting them—even as hopeless as she was, she had always been able to tell that everything she did was too much or too little, or just… wrong.
She'd gotten better at it, the last few years. It wasn't something she had intended but it had just happened, working with a team. Maybe in another five years she'd be so good that no one would be able to guess she'd never had a real friend until Hardison.
But sometimes, like now, it was worse than before, because now she knew that she should be doing something and she wanted to be doing something, but she still wasn't good enough to know what the right something was and the two people who could help her were the ones that needed it.
It had been different, easier, the time Hardison had been buried alive. Eliot had been able to help her then, and between the two of them they'd worked out that what he needed was for them to sit at his sides, close enough to be touching, while he worked out some feelings killing orcs on his computer screen.
She'd wondered why he didn't just go out and find some real orcs—Eliot always found real bad guys when he needed to punch someone—but they had both given her that incredulous look, and then Eliot had told her orcs weren't real.
Parked laughed at the memory. Of course orcs weren't real. Only elves were real, and they lived at the North Pole with Santa, not inside of the internet.
Santa's elves… Hmm. That could work. She still had the outfit.
It was worse this time, because she was on her own. Hardison had come way too close to being shot and Eliot had been tortured, and she didn't know how to be what they needed.
She was afraid she'd guessed wrong when she stepped barefoot into the living room. Hardison was flat on his back on the couch, a couple of pillows under his head and a throw blanket tucked around his legs. His laptop was too heavy to rest across his bruised torso but he was tapping away at his phone. When he saw her, he stopped. Eliot looked up from his brooding, and the both of them just sat on the couch and stared at her.
"Parker," Hardison said finally. "What are you—why are you—"
"You're an elf," Eliot said, but he smiled a little. It was working, then, she thought. That was good. "It ain't even winter yet, and you're a goddamned Christmas elf."
"Yeah," she said. "Hardison likes elves."
Eliot actually laughed this time, and she saw Hardison start to. He stopped himself and, wincing, pressed a hand to his ribs. "It's nothing," he said, when Eliot leaned forward to touch his arm. "I'm good. I'm cool. I got the drugs."
"You do like elves, don't you?" she prompted, because Eliot was still staring at her. "You always kill the orcs. Your pretend friends are the elves."
"No, I do," Hardison said, and now he was smiling too. "Not the kind of elf I would usually—but no, it's good. It works. I like the outfit."
"There's more than one kind of elf?"
"Parker," Eliot said, shaking his head. He was still smiling. "Take off the ears and come sit with us."
Parker liked the ears, really, but it was cramped on the couch with Hardison lying down and his feet practically in Eliot's lap. The antlers would be in Eliot's face, and he probably wasn't in the mood to be poked in the eye right now. Or ever. "Should I take the cape off too?"
"Ow." Hardison swallowed a laugh. "No, the cape—"
"The cape is good," Eliot said.
She sat in his lap and draped her legs across Hardison's. Hardison would rather kiss, but Eliot liked the hugging better. He pulled her against his chest and let a hand rest on Hardison's ankle. "This is good," he said. "Been a long and fucked up day."
"That it has been." Hardison closed his eyes. "Thanks for saving me, girl."
"Oh," she said. "It was kind of fun. Except for the part where you were almost shot in the face. I'm glad that didn't happen, but now I know why he—" She poked Eliot in the chest and smiled. "Likes it so much. I broke a chair over someone's head. And then I kicked him in the face."
Eliot nodded his approval.
"Hey, man, you all right?" Hardison nudged Eliot's thigh with his toes. "After what went down in there—"
"I'm fine," Eliot said through grit teeth, in a way that made Parker think even her old self would have seen right through him. "Look," he said a moment later. "What I need—what I really need is to just not talk about it. All right?"
"That's cool," Hardison said, and Parked nodded her agreement.
They all had things they didn't talk about, things that they liked to pretend had never happened. For Eliot, it was this. For her, it was her childhood. Hardison talked so much about that sometimes it was hard to remember there were things he kept secret, but they were there all the same. Parker knew that, and that was okay.
The three of them were good together that way. They could just sit here together in a tangle or arms and legs, not saying much of anything, and then later they'd carefully help Hardison up off of the couch and go to bed together. They'd lie down the way they always did now, Eliot in the middle because Hardison wasn't so good about not having room to move his arms and legs after the coffin incident and Parker squirmed around so much in her sleep that it just didn't work. And then in the morning, they would wake up together and start over.