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Well Worn, Well Loved

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Parker had the clothes she liked. Fitted, functional, hemmed and burned where necessary to keep fibers from falling and frays from catching. Few pieces had life to them, even fewer she wore regularly.

Soft scarves that could hang loose around her neck and still be warm, that would fall right off long before they caught and snared. Over-sized jackets that she’d lifted from stores on her way down the street after jobs when she needed to duck into crowds to hide, and then never gotten rid of. A truly astounding number of hats - some functional, some just for fun. Hair ties and scrunchies that worked as snaps for distracted hands, as distracting blots of color and glitter, that had interesting textures that were fun to wind around her fingers.

She noticed when Eliot took the bright orange tie for his hair. She didn't think he did though. It was one of the simpler ones. Stretch cotton worn thin, the color dulling. She didn’t say anything about it, since it ended up right back in the drawer in the bathroom the next day.

She doesn’t say anything when she notices the tie-dyed pink scrunchie in his hair a week later, the one that crinkles loudly if you crunch it in your hand, that she stole specifically for that noise. And only because it took her way too long to notice it, and by the time she does, he’s in whirlwind mode in the kitchen, and the scrunchie is not nearly as important as making sure no one interrupts him while cooking her favorite meal.

She doesn’t know what it is yet, actually. But it smells amazing, and she can already tell it’s going to be her new favorite. Everything smells spicy and warm and Eliot’s relaxed enough to smile at her when he taps her hand away from sneaking a taste and he’s trying not to laugh at Hardison’s yelling coming from the living room (he’s currently in the middle of a raid, and they both know better than to get in his way with that. He’ll be at dinner, and that’s all that matters).

(Her favorite meals are rarely just about the food.)

After that, Parker figures, if she wasn’t going to call him out for it the first two times, the times after that weren’t worth it. So, Eliot stealing her hair ties was just a thing that happened. And a couple times, sure, she’d paused, tried to pick apart how she felt about it.

Those were hers after all. She’d picked them for a reason, she’d kept the ones she liked, her collection was one of the few things that tended to follow her from drop to drop.

But, when nothing pinged, when she didn’t feel a possessive curl in her stomach, and instead just wanted to smile every time she saw him with another one. Well, she figured, if it wasn’t wrong, don’t fix it.

(She moved the gold one though. That one, and only that one, had hit something weird in her chest. She’d moved it to another drawer. And she knew Eliot saw it. But he never touched it.)

Seeing Hardison in her scarves was another thing though.

That, she did mention. And he’d blinked, picked at the one he was wearing - the bright red one, still new enough to be missing a couple of the shiny spots a few of her older ones had, from where she’d rubbed the cloth between her fingers - and then given her a sheepish smile, unwinding and offering it over immediately.

No yelling that she was being unreasonable, no demanding she share. She was about eighty percent sure he was opening his mouth to apologize too. Which was as close to certain as she could get about some expressions, so she figured she was right. So she just shook her head.

“Green and polka dot ones are special.” He’d paused, eyeing her for a long moment, before giving one of his slow, soft smiles that made her stomach twist up in interesting knots, grounding and comforting. He got it.

True to his word, he never touched the green or polka dot ones. But, just like Eliot with the hair-ties, the scarves started popping up more and more. He’d fidget with the tassels on some of them. Duck his chin into the big fluffy ones, looking ridiculous and young and happy.

(And maybe the scarves weren't so different from the hair-ties after all.)

She wasn’t feeling possessive, like she thought she might. The scarves were hers, sure. But seeing Hardison in her stuff was… nice. Anyone who knew them would know that those were hers - just like anyone who saw Eliot’s hair-ties would know those were hers.

And that, that realization made her pause for a moment. She could say something about two anonymous people visibly marking themselves like that. She knows Sophie probably would - picking them apart and putting them back together like a puzzle. For Parker though, all she really got out of it, what she kept close, was that happy, bubbly feeling that came with realizing this meant they were going to stay.

Hardison probably spent more on clothes than Nate, Parker, and Eliot combined (no one could beat Sophie, that was just a fact). Even if it wasn’t his money most of the time, it was still pretty impressive. And it wasn’t like he went for expensive stuff (on purpose). But, he liked comfy clothes. He liked silly shirts that he could afford to buy because they made him laugh. He liked nice shoes that actually fit and didn’t pinch his toes or scrape his heels. He liked pants that weren’t too short or had to be held up by worn out belts. He liked being able to pick, and choose, and remake himself with costumes in the short term, trends in the long term, liked the freedom that came with trying a look and keeping what he liked from it and tossing what he didn’t.

So, yeah. Maybe he had a lot of clothes. In his defense, for all he spent on himself, he tried to send as much, if not more (it was always more), in donations to whatever charity drive he could. He remembered picking through church-backed yard sales, hoping to find something, anything he’d be proud to wear, that Nana could afford. Remembered being happy when anything fit , especially when his height shot up in his teens. So, he did what he could and let himself enjoy where he’d ended up in life.

Long, long story short, that was all to say that for the three closets the three of them shared? His stuff took up two-thirds of the one actually designated for clothes. (Parker’s rigs took up another whole one, and the third was a mix of Eliot and Parker’s clothes. The last third of the original clothes closet was piled high with sewing and crafting stuff that the other two still teased him about.)

Even longer story short, he had so many clothes that had piled up, he didn’t always... remember what he had. So, it took him a little while to notice.

The bright blue Tardis shirt stood out in a way that he’d be far more ashamed if he hadn’t noticed though. It was big on Parker, probably looking bigger since she normally didn’t do baggy clothes.

He honestly didn’t think much about it beyond noticing that it looked good, knowing there was a small, goofy smile on his face for a moment, and knowing that it just got bigger and goofier when she turned to ask him something about what they were watching. It slipped from his mind, quick as anything.

Looking back on it later, he wondered, briefly, if that had been all the permission Parker had needed to just start raiding his closet on a regular basis, or, if she had already been doing it and he’d just finally caught a clue. He certainly wasn’t complaining, either way. Parker looked good in his shirts, and, even better, she looked comfortable and relaxed, and he wouldn’t trade that for the world.

The results were the same each time he noticed her in one of his shirts: love-struck smiles, butterflies in his stomach, maybe an embarrassed flush here and there when she dug out some of the more ridiculous shirts. (The pink llama on a cloud in front of a rainbow shirt had been a mistake. He could own up to that. It had seemed like a good idea when he’d been on about two hours of sleep in a 48 hour binge though.) Maybe a less embarrassed, more interested flush when she decided to use his attention to her advantage. Mostly butterflies and sappy smiles though.

So, Parker stealing his shirts was a regular thing.

Then Eliot started doing it, and he might’ve done an honest double take that first time.

Hardison’s pretty sure it wasn’t on purpose is the thing - Eliot had taken a rough fall on the job the night before, and, after making sure he didn’t have a concussion, they’d bundled him off to bed, where he’d stayed passed the hell out into the afternoon the next day. Which told Hardison and Parker the fall took more out of him than he’d let on, even without a knock to the head. And when he’d shuffled into the living room, he’d been groggy and mellow and sleep-rumbled in a way they both loved but would never point out, lest he get embarrassed and stop. He’d been wearing his own sweats, and a simple navy shirt.

Hell, the only reason Hardison caught it so fast was that he’d literally tossed that shirt on the dresser the night before, and, on closer inspection, it just. Didn’t fit right. Hardison was taller than Eliot, sure, and maybe just the slightest bit wider in the shoulders. But Eliot was stockier, more filled out, with a weight to him that always caught Hardison off guard during those moments when it became clear that Eliot was smaller than him. He just carried himself like he was bigger, like he was stronger, like he was this immovable object between Hardison and Parker and the world.

...And that got just a bit sappy. (True though.) And the point was that while the shirt fit Eliot’s shoulders, it most certainly did not fit his chest. Or his biceps. That poor shirt was straining.

And Hardison saw absolutely no reason to save it. If it was going to be stretched out, then so be it. It had been sacrificed for a noble cause.

When Eliot later changed into one of his tanks, he’d thought that’d be the end of it.

Which meant, of course it wasn’t. It never reached the same levels as Parker’s thievery - but there were patterns Hardison picked out, eventually, with both of them.

Parker stole his clothes regularly, sure, but was far more likely to do so when they’d just come off a con - when she was bubbly and happy and wanted to lounge around the apartment, enjoying the tail end of the victory high they’d all gotten.

Eliot never went for the ridiculous shirts. Always the plain ones, and, more often than not, the ones Hardison left lying around the floor or the dresser. And always, always when he was half-asleep, muggy and relaxed in a way no one else got to see.

He’d shot Nate a warning look, the one time it’d looked like he’d wanted to ask Parker about the nyan-cat shirt that Hardison had been wearing just last week. His people, his partners, taking his clothes was a sign, he felt, that they were getting comfortable in their shared space, settling down and letting themselves go, just a little bit, and like hell he was going to let Nate poke and prod at that and scare them off.

Nate had just raised a hand in surrender, going back to his coffee without a word.

And then Nate did an honest to god spit-take when Eliot walked in in the llama shirt, completely relaxed and laid-back like absolutely nothing was wrong.

He caught the under the table high-five between Parker and Eliot, and honestly, he’d never been more in love.

Eliot’s relationship with clothes wasn’t really anything special. He had two modes - comfortable, never-ending layers or a very specific brand of southern charm he’d painstakingly worked out, over the years. Maybe a third, now, that Hardison and Parker liked to call Angry Chef when they thought he wasn’t listening. Since that also covered his work-out gear, he figured he’d let them have it. (And maybe, just maybe, he was trying out a fourth, where he could look nice, for his partners. Enjoy some expensive things he wouldn’t have looked twice at years ago. He’s working on it.)

The layers were his preferred if he had to go out. Worn out flannel and buttoned shirts, washed so many times they were threadbare and soft and smelled almost permanently of cheap, homey soap; jackets that were shiny with wear and tear at the elbows, but still fit just right over everything else; jeans that had had grass and mud washed out of them so many times the color was starting to go.

There were practical reasons, of course - buffers against knives, layers that could peel away if he got grabbed, (consistent protection against too sharp, too sudden, too cold wind), enough layers to make him look small in comparison, easy to look over and go unnoticed - but, honestly, he just liked them. He’d never really thought to question it.

He certainly didn’t have much of an emotional attachment to anything he owned. He could always break in new shirts, new jeans. Maybe he’d briefly mourn a lost jacket, but it wasn’t like he bought expensive things to begin with, so they were easy to replace. His whole system was easy really. Worn down with years of use and habit, and only recently starting to update a bit.

So of course, Hardison and Parker had to throw a monkey wrench in things.

He’d noticed Parker wearing Hardison’s shirts, of course. They were very distinctive (and distinctively distracting). He honestly hadn’t thought she’d then move on to stealing his shirts.

But, sure enough, there she was one morning, perched in her normal spot at the bar in the kitchen, waiting for him to start breakfast, dressed in shorts and one of his worn old flannels. He’d stopped in the hallway for a moment, blinking, waiting to see if there was any bit of discomfort with the knowledge that she’d had to dig through his clothes to get to that one, then shook his head and headed into the kitchen to make waffles. This was going to be a thing now, then, and he was okay with that. He trusted her, and, more immediately, he figured it was only fair since he was currently pulling his hair back with a blue-glitter hair-tie that he’d grabbed out of habit.

There were days when Parker stuck to her own clothes. Nights where she’d come home and go change into one of Hardison’s neon shirts. Mornings where she’d be up, bright and early, perched on the bar in one of Eliot’s more sedate tops. Eliot wouldn’t change it for the world.

He’s pretty sure Hardison slipped under his nose for a little while there, with his thieving. He didn’t go for Eliot’s shirts - too many of them just weren’t long enough for him - but. He apparently loved Eliot’s jackets. And since those were even more unremarkable, even more worn out than his shirts, it didn’t immediately click with him that the oversized army surplus jacket Hardison was wearing one day, as they camped out in Lucille, was his.

He’d been expecting, in that split second before the feeling actually hit, a reaction similar to what he’d had for Parker - something warm, that just fit and settled in right next to the feeling of early morning silences, content and easy. Instead, he got smacked with surge of ridiculous fondness that had taken his breath away, for just a moment. Just long enough for Hardison to catch the probably weird look on his face. Eliot had waved him off, scrubbing a hand down his face.

All because, looking closer, the jacket didn’t actually fit . It was one of the ones that was too big on him, even more than he normally allowed. It was one of the ones he saved for when they went north for awhile - large enough to go over extra layers, thick enough to keep the chill at bay. On Hardison, who only had a t-shirt on underneath, it just made him look young and bright and highlighted almost ridiculously that the jacket wasn’t his.

Eliot had stolen a lightning quick kiss on his way out of Lucille to get the con rolling - something he almost never did, since they needed to be focused and ready to move - and just enjoyed Hardison’s surprised squawk instead of answering where the hell that’d come from.

He knows Hardison figured it out anyway, later, when seeing him in one of Eliot’s jackets became as normal as mornings where Parker filched his shirts.

Instead of both becoming something settled and soft in the pit of his stomach, he just ended up trying to hide a lot of goofy, fond smiles because, looking at them both together? His clothes were too big, too worn out for his quick and young and oh so bright partners that they just looked ridiculous. About as ridiculous as they were for hanging out with his worn-out, worn-down self anyway. (And he never wanted them to stop.)