The bad thing about finding people, like when Elliot found Dani, is that you can never unfind them. Bury them with false expectations or let them fade away with lost memories, but that moment between not knowing and knowing is forever gone.
He was walking down the street when he found her. The whole Hungarian goth pretense had been dropped and now he walked instead looking every bit the wandering artist, with faded baggy jeans and paint spattered white t-shirt, a heavy messenger bag slung over his shoulder and filled with a few random sketch books he'd picked up at the local convenient store.
She was running away from some street thugs. Her worn sneakers pounded on the pavement and her breath soured in her longs. Her hair was a bit longer and spikier than currently fashionable, and even though she looked every bit the starving fourteen-year old waif, her desperate steps were a bit faster than you'd expect. Almost as though she were half flying.
Dani ducked around a corner, smacked into Elliot, and sent the boy sprawling. His bag emptied on the pavement, brand new sketch books scattering. She scrambled to her feet and dove behind a trash can, finally able to phase out of sight now that no one was looking. Not when their attention was focused on Elliot.
"Where'd she go!?" the largest of the angry kids demanded, hauling Elliot up to his feet. "Where'd the little brat go!"
"Th-that way!" Elliot stammered and pointed down the street. "I swear! Short kid, black hair, red sweatshirt! She went that way!"
Dani peaked around the trash can and saw Elliot get dumped in a crumpled heap while the group ran off. She waited until the sound of footsteps faded away before crawling out from behind her impromptu hiding spot. "You okay?"
The boy gathered himself up and Dani was mildly surprised to see that his eyes were a bright, electric green. "Yeah, no thanks to you."
"Sorry." She shuffled her feet for a moment. "I didn't mean to run into you like that." A bright smile crossed her face and she offered Elliot his messenger bag. "Thank you for sending them off like that."
His angry look melted a bit as he took the bag. "Well, yeah. I guess. What's their deal with you anyway?"
"Um..." She offered him a sheepish grin. "I kinda said some not so nice things about them when they ratted me out for sneaking into the movie theater." Dani glared off to the side. "Not like they got in by paying either," she muttered. "Anyway! My name's Dani with an I."
"Elliot," he replied automatically. His lips curved into an odd half-smile and he studied her with a bit more care. "I knew a Danny with a Y, once. From Casper High. You could pass for his little sister."
Dani felt the blood drain from her face. "Fenton, right?" she said with a weak laugh. "Cousin, actually. Distant, distant cousin. Just a random quirk of genetics we look so much alike. Kinda funny, really. I'll just be going then!" she said and darted past Elliot.
A hand gripped her arm just above the elbow and pulled her back. "Hang on, okay? Geeze. I was just saying, that's all." Another smile, this one smoother and more polished than the last. "The way I see it, Dani with an I, you owe me."
She jerked her arm free. "Oh, yeah?" she challenged.
"Yeah," Elliot said. "I mean, a wandering guy and all, just completely out of the blue, saves a little cutey like you. That's worth a date, right?"
Dani had to fight back a snort of laughter. "You're kidding, right?"
"Nope. How's a Nasty Burger sound?"
The growl of hunger from her gut insisted that sounded very, very good. She blushed. "I guess. But you're paying!"
"Oh, yeah?" Elliot echoed with a grin.
Dani shrugged and managed a grin back. "Hey, you asked."
They set off down the street at an easy pace. Dani kept her hands shoved into the pocket of her sweatshirt, occasionally reaching up to brush a lock of hair from in front of her eyes. "Do you do this a lot?" she asked at last. "Ask out random girls?"
"Only the cute ones," Elliot replied smoothly. He held took her hand as they crossed the street. "So are you from around here?"
"Might say that," Dani mumbled. She looked away and followed blindly across the street, letting Elliot lead. Two years counted as being from around somewhere, right? Even if you were... constructed... several states away? She shook her head. "I moved here. Two years ago."
"Just a couple more blocks. Me, too. Sorta." Elliot smiled. "You can let go of my hand now, Dani with an I."
She blinked and yanked her hand free. "How do you 'sorta' move somewhere for two years?" Dani said. She tried to rub away the faint tingle of his touch left on her wrist.
"Moved away and moved back not too long ago. My dad's work drags us everywhere. I don't get a chance to finish out semesters at the same school that often." He laughed, but only halfway. "We never moved back somewhere before." Elliot looked more sick than enthusiastic about the prospect.
"Well, that's good. You get to see old friends again, right?"
"Right..." he replied weakly. "Hey, look, there it is!" Elliot pointed a couple blocks ahead to the restaurant.
Dani all but dragged him the rest of the way.
A few minutes in line later, they were sitting down at a booth, Dani happily chomping down on her second Super Deluxe Nasty Burger. She reached across the booth to Elliot's pile of french fries. "Those are getting cold, can I have a couple?"
"Sure..." he said faintly, still a bit shocked to watch her put away that much food that quickly. He was careful to keep his fingers out of the way as she reached over and snatched a couple.
"So if your dad's job keeps you moving so much," Dani mumbled around a mouthful of food, "what brings you back to Amity Park?"
"New job. I might actually get to finish my sophomore year here." He leaned back into the booth. "How come I haven't seen you around before?"
Dani looked up from her burger, focusing fully on Elliot. "I wasn't really into the whole 'goth' thing, Gregor," she teased. "Going for the artist look now?" He caught her gaze for one long moment and Dani was afraid she'd crossed a line. Her burger seemed dry and her mouth full of cotton. She took a drink of her soda. Glanced out the window. Blotted her palms on her shorts. Anything but look at the boy sitting across from her.
"Yeah. The goth thing. Wondered how long that would take to bite me on the ass." She glanced up and saw him dip a cold fry into the ketchup smeared across his wrapper. "I guess I kinda deserve that jab."
"Sorry," Dani mumbled, looking this time down at her lap. She looked up, watched him. His hair was darker now, a dirty dishwater blond instead of the pristine white Sam had described. The clothes weren't as white or as black either, faded and worn instead. But his eyes were the same bright, electric green. "Can we try again?" she asked.
Elliot almost managed a smile. "I'd like that. I'm Elliot Adams. Nice to meet you, Dani with an I."
The good thing about finding people, like when Elliot found Dani, is that sometimes you can find them again. And sometimes, you can even find yourself.