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for better or worse (we change together)

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The moment Parker saw the stranger standing by the elevator, a dozen alarm bells went off in her head. She froze, making Hardison nearly walk into her as he entered behind her. He sidestepped and continued up towards the elevator—still talking about Star Wars or something—and after a second or two she followed him. It took her a moment to realize that while half of the alarm bells were telling her to get the fuck out of there, the other half were telling her to look closer. Look closer at what? At his long hair and his stiff military posture? How he stood facing the elevator, yet was still able to see the door? At the not so subtle way he watched them as they approached, tensed and ready to spring into action at a moments notice? At the cane he carried in his left hand, or the scars that crossed his face? At the way he was almost leaning away from them? Or how his bag was deliberately put up as a barrier between him and the rest of the world?

The stranger gave them a once over, catching Parker while she stared at him. He narrowed his eyes, drawing himself up straighter even as he grimaced when he put more weight on his right leg. Hardison flashed one of his patented ‘don’t mind me’ smiles, and she watched as the tension slowly melted out of his posture. The elevator dinged, catching her off guard for just a moment. Parker got on and immediately put herself in a corner of the elevator, and wasn’t surprised when the stranger mirrored her. Hardison reached out to press the button for the sixth floor, only to pause when he saw that the button was already lit up.

“Are you the guy moving into 615?” Hardison asked the stranger.

“Uh, yeah.” He replied hesitantly.

“Cool! My name’s Alec Hardison,” Hardison said, reaching out to shake the strangers hand, “but everyone just calls me Hardison. I live in 614.” Parker watched as the look in the strangers eyes went from suspicion to almost bafflement—which Parker understood, that was a common response to meeting Hardison.

“Eliot.” He replied, reaching out and shaking Hardison’s hand once. Eliot’s eyes darted over to Parker, and she swore there was something… off about them. Belatedly she realized he was probably waiting for her to introduce herself.

“‘m Parker.” She blurted suddenly. Eliot gave her a small nod and what she’s pretty sure was supposed to be a calming smile.

“Yeah, I heard Nate talking sometime last week about someone moving into that place, it’s been empty since Hurley moved out like four months ago, and the other day there were a bunch of guys moving furniture and stuff in. It’s nice that you got your furniture already though, man when I moved in here…” Hardison continued to talk, with Eliot only interjecting occasionally, which gave Parker more time to examine him. He wasn’t that tall, only a couple inches taller than Parker was, but with a solidness in his frame that wasn’t present in her or Hardison. As the elevator continued to move upwards—at an annoyingly slow pace, seriously, why did anyone ever use them?—Eliot glanced over at her a few more times, allowing her a better look at his scars. There was one long one, running from his temple all the way through his left eye, accompanied by a couple other smaller ones, including one that disappeared into the collar of his shirt. With a start, Parker realized that his left eye was made of glass. The elevator dinged, finally making it to the sxith floor, and Parker was out of the doors before either of the others even registered they had opened.

“Uh, see ya later man!” Hardison called over his shoulder as he followed her down the hall. Parker didn’t like elevators. Too many people in too small a space with no real way to get out. She always wanted to be out of them as soon as possible. The door to her apartment, 613, clicked open and Parker realized she had used her lockpicks, a habit she had been trying to break recently only because it made other people look at her weird.

“Hey Parker,” she glanced over at Hardison to see him looking at her with concern in his dark brown eyes, “you good?” She pasted on a smile and gave him a quick nod before disappearing inside her apartment. The door shut behind her and she made sure all the locks were set before she sagged against the door, blowing out a breath she hadn’t even been realizing she was holding. Parker didn’t like change. She just… didn’t. As much as she liked wandering, she also liked having someplace she could come back to that she knew would be the same. Eliot seemed like a nice guy—or she thought he did—but still. In the hall, Parker heard as Eliot’s uneven gait approached, and she lightly stepped away from the door, heading towards the window. She needed to be up someplace high to clear her head.

The door shut behind Eliot and he doubled checked the lock. There was only one deadbolt? That wasn’t very secure. He then to turned to look at the rest of the apartment. It was a simple place. A small entryway with some coat hooks on his left and a closet on his right. Past that there was a small kitchen to his left that could maybe fit four people if they really squeezed, with a small counter separating it from what might be called a living room if you were being generous. Eliot set both of his bags by the door and limped forward to see a beat up sofa and a coffee table already there. Three stools were pushed up against the counter, and past that there was a darkened hallway that presumably led to the bedroom and the bathroom. The walls were a weird off-white color, covered in mysterious stains, only one of which he was certain was coffee. The rest of the walls were blank, and Eliot resolved to get something to put up so they weren’t so… depressing to look at.

He was eternally grateful to Toby for helping him set up a moving company to get him furniture, as well as for offering him a job at his culinary institute, even if it was just filling in when other teachers couldn’t be there. It was pretty much all he was qualified to do, as his experience with cooking came almost entirely from helping his mama in the kitchen when he was younger, and one Home Ec class in high school. Eliot went up to peer out the window, and he had to admit, he liked Portland a hell of a lot better than D.C. already. He had been in the states almost four months now, staying at the dingy little apartment that he shared with Shelley. Which had been… nice, but when your whole friendship with someone was based around going out and doing things, it was awkward when one of you suddenly couldn’t anymore. Also, having a friends with benefits situation with your roommate was a bad idea, no matter what anyone else said.

When Toby told him he could have a job if he made it to Portland, he jumped at the chance. D.C. was too loud and crowded, with a million people that all wanted to stick their nose in others business, as well as too many politicians. Portland was chock full of weird people, so no one looked twice at a guy with a glass eye and a limp. Eliot shook his head and grabbed his bags, lugging them into the bedroom. He didn’t have much, mainly clothes and sheets and other essentials. Shelley was going to send him his books and some other things later, so he had just packed what he would need immediately. He had never owned much, a product of his parents drilling into his head only to buy things he really needed and then joining the army, so he knew how to pack light. Even though he didn’t bring much with him, Eliot barely managed to put sheets on the bed before he was collapsing on top of it in exhaustion. He stared up at the ceiling for a while, trying to avoid thinking about how much his life had changed.

He hated it. Hated feeling helpless, feeling weak. He couldn’t even finish putting away his goddamn clothes before he was exhausted and his leg was cramping like there was no tomorrow. Granted, the pressure changes that went with flying did a number on his leg and his already messed up hearing, and his left ear still hadn’t popped, but he still hated it.

Just then his stomach growled loudly, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten since early that morning. Eliot cursed and slowly got up, grabbing his cane before he limped into the kitchen. Damn he really felt like an old man sometimes. He opened the fridge only to be greeted with empty shelves. Eliot frowned, he didn’t particularly want to get take out, but he really didn’t want to go to the store, so take out it was. He remembered seeing a good looking pizza place somewhere nearby. If only he could remember what it was called…