Ian Blackpoole? Vampire.
That rotten mayor, Brad Culpepper? Vampire.
Damien Moreau? The one vampire to rule them all. Don’t ask Eliot what that makes him when he’s worked for the man for three years; he’s well aware.
Sterling? Not a vampire, to Eliot’s bitter disappointment. Also very much not the Prince of Hell. As Eliot finds out after he takes the man aside for ‘a quick word’ right after they have dealt with that horse business.
‘Not that I don’t appreciate a little refreshment,’ Sterling says with that rage-inducing smirk of his, even though the smugness is made a little less effective because of the way he is silently dripping on the concrete stable floor. ‘But do you care to tell me what that was for?’
Eliot glares, steps back and lowers the flask of holy water. ‘Just checkin’.’
Sterling stops wiping his brow with his handkerchief and tilts his head, giving Eliot a look that’s far too shrewd for his liking. ‘Cautious, Mr. Spencer. Or paranoid?’
Eliot shrugs. ‘Bit of both.’
The stable is quiet, aside from the rustling of the horses in their stables munching their hay. The air is heavy with the scent of straw, horse dung and leather and if Eliot closes his eyes, he might as well be back at his grandpa’s farm in Oklahoma instead of a racing stable in Kentucky.
‘Good,’ Sterling says. He tucks the handkerchief back in his pocket and fishes out a slightly soggy business card. ‘Nathan Ford’s going to need a bit of both. Call us if you ever need to.’
The business card doesn’t mention a name, just the address of a rundown hotel in downtown LA.
The Hyperion Hotel
1481 Hyperion Avenue
Los Angeles, CA
Followed by a phone number that consists of twelve digits.
After Sterling has left him standing in a cloud of hay and dust, Eliot stares at it for a long, long moment before turning around and feeding it to the nearest horse.
Some would say it started with Lindsey. The scruffy little cousin with the raging temper who always got himself involved in business that got way too big way too quickly (a trait that seems to run in their family, for some reason). And while part of that is true, it’s not the truth.
Because while Eliot has listened, more often than he’d like and certainly more often than he’d care to remember, to Lindsey nagging his ear of about law firms and greater goods and things that go bump in the night don’t tell anyone I told you El or they’d come after you I swear, the truth?
The real truth?
Li’l Lin told him nothing he didn’t know already.
Because you meet all kinds of people, and non-people, in a warzone. And especially when you then leave the out-in-the-open warzone to go working in the shadows because guess what: that’s their favorite spot too.
He fills his first flask while on patrol in Serbia, halfway through his first tour, stopping in a village that consists of three decrepit hovels and a church to take a little holy water out of the cracked marble font next to the door. He’s not even done before the door opens and a wizened little guy ambles out, wearing black robes and a beard almost as long as he is tall.
Eliot stops, caught red-handed with his flask in hand.
The man stares.
Eliot carefully, slowly, puts his flask away. Then, with large and exaggerated movements, crosses himself.
The man nods. Crosses himself quickly, a flash of fingers before he stills again.
Eliot nods back.
The man ambles away and Eliot turns back to his truck. That night, he distributes the contents of the flask over several small liquor bottles and puts them in a duffel bag, along with some painstakingly sharpened wooden sticks.
It’s not much. But it’s a start.
Because all his life, Eliot’s personal policy has been ‘live and let live’. And that might have shifted to ‘live and let die’ or even ‘live and make dead’, but he absolutely has to and will draw the line at ‘un-live and make un-dead’.
(Moreau is the exception that proves he should’ve stuck to this rule).
Lindsey is gone now. And Eliot should feel bad but really, when you bite of more than you can chew, it’s nobody else’s fault if you choke.
He does make sure to avoid LA for a couple of months, though. Just in case, to avoid any mix-ups.
But not for long, as it’s only three months later and he’s in a dive bar somewhere in Chicago when a short, stocky man hoists himself up on the stool next to him and tells him he’s here to offer Eliot a job.
‘Victor Dubenich,’ the man says. He’s not a vampire; by now, Eliot can spot them a mile off and this one is disgustingly human. ‘And Mr. Spencer, I need your help.’
‘I’m not really in the helpin’ people business, pal.’
‘Oh, I know. I know. But you wouldn’t have to do it for free, of course. And it’s gonna be a good team, I promise. You won’t have to break a sweat for this.’
Strike two. ‘I don’t do teams.’
‘Not even for 500 grand? One night’s work, 500 grand. That’s got to be one of the better offers, isn’t it?’
‘… Who do you got?’
‘Just look at the file.’
A simple manila folder is handed to him, containing two mugshots he doesn’t recognize and a driver’s license photo he does. ‘You’ve got Nate Ford on this?’
The man tries a smug grin; it comes out more on the constipated side, with a hint of cross-eyedness. ‘I do.’
Eliot ponders for all of five seconds. ‘Alright. I’m in.’
And that’s another start.
Nate Ford is human. Depressingly so. Also, way too eager to drown himself in a bottle to be on the lookout for immortal un-life, so that is one thing Eliot does not have to worry about.
Instead, he worries about a lot of other things.
‘Nate, it’s three in the morning, you’re supposed to convince our mark tomorrow to sign away 51% of his company and you’re still at the office. Go. Home.’
Nate directs a bleary-eyed stare at Eliot, who is hovering in the doorway. ‘Wha?’
Eliot sighs. ‘If I call you a cab, will you promise to take it home and not head for the nearest bar instead?’
Nate shrugs, and Eliot figures that’s the best response he’s going to get.
Nate gets better, though. However marginally, and however slowly, he does get better. It helps that after a year or so, they get to take down Ian Blackpoole (and take Sterling down a peg with him, that’s a nice cherry on top of the conning cake), but that’s not the only thing that helps Nate climb out of the bottle and back into some semblance of society.
If your society consists of grifters, thieves and swindlers, that is.
Speaking of which…
Eliot has no fucking clue what Sophie is. He’s pretty sure she’s not human, because no human on earth could pull off the disguises he sees her use on a regular basis. Seriously. She only has to put on a pair of glasses and put her hair in a ponytail, and he’s seen even Nate walk straight past her while on a con (and he wasn’t even drunk that time).
She’s no vampire either, he realizes immediately when she takes Dubenich outside for a conversation in broad daylight. Not that that means anything; there are plenty of creatures, both good and bad, that have no issue with sunlight. So he keeps an eye on her, especially when he notices the way her eyes land on Nate because there are also many creatures that prey on not-too-sober men.
He breathes a little easier when it becomes clear that Sophie, whatever she is, is not too enamored with not-too-sober men and puts a little distance between herself and Nate. And he breathes a lot easier when they take the church job and he sees all four of his new team members enter said church without bursting into flame or falling to the floor writhing and screaming in unbearable agony.
That doesn’t mean he’s not curious, though. So, a couple of nights after that church business, he manages to corner Sophie while she’s walking into her office (and the fact that they’ve all got offices now is something Eliot still can’t quite wrap his mind around).
‘Run out of patience?’ Sophie asks, meeting his gaze with a tinkling little laugh. ‘I wondered.’
Eliot doesn’t bother with niceties. ‘What are you?’
In response, Sophie waves him into a chair before taking up her seat behind her desk. Another hand wave, and her hair that was hanging loose over her shoulders, curls and coils itself into a thick braid which she flics onto her back. Eliot watches, a small frown on his face, as she closes her eyes and smiles and for one second, the entire room seems to light up with the power of that smile alone.
Eliot is pretty sure he can hear music, faint, in the distance. He’s also pretty sure he can’t.
‘Sophie. Level with me here.’
The light goes out. The music stops, and was never there. Sophie opens her eyes and pouts. ‘Oh, alright. My grandmother came to earth from the realm of the fae, fell in love with a human and decided to stay. How about that?’
‘You’re part fae.’
‘If you want to look at it like that, yes. I prefer to think of it as me having… a couple of extras. A little glamour, the ability to nudge people in the direction you want them to go, all very useful things. In our line of work.’
‘Sure,’ Eliot says. ‘But just to be clear: you know what I’ll do if I find you used your extras on me, right?’
Sophie’s laugh is like the chime of a silver bell. ‘Oh, I would not dream of it. By the way, Eliot, just a suggestion: silver stinks. You might want to get rid of your little trinket if you don’t want to announce your presence to every creature in a fifty foot radius.’
Eliot’s hand reaches up, inside his shirt and pulls out a little silver cross. ‘You mean this?’
Sophie doesn’t even flinch. ‘It’s a good instinct,’ she says with another smile that’s probably meant to make Eliot all warm and fuzzy, but just raises up the hairs in his neck. ‘But stick to wood. Or iron. They’ll work just as fine.’
So, Eliot has one human, one human with extras and a brand new wooden cross on a leather strap around his neck to keep him safe. Current score: not doing too bad. And since that church job, he has to assume the other two are, if not human, then mostly harmless as well.
After that job in Serbia, he asks Sophie about Parker, because he has heard the legends and stories of changeling children and well. She would know. But Sophie just gave him a sad look and a small little headshake, and Eliot felt his insides grow cold.
‘That’s all human work,’ Sophie said, the bitter tone of her voice a perfect echo for the bile rising in Eliot’s throat. ‘That wasn’t them. I could tell if it was them and Parker… Parker’s all human. Although not necessarily the better off for it.’
Whatever happened to Parker, it happened through normal, run-of-the-mill human scumbaggery and/or incompetence. Eliot just wished he could still be shocked by such a fact. But he isn’t, hasn’t been for a long time, and so, he keeps his eye on her, notices Sophie, Hardison and even Nate do the same and tries not to smile when he skittishness disappears and the true weirdness raises its head.
‘Parker, why are you in my kitchen, eating my cornflakes?’
Parker pouts and shrugs. No mean feat, given that she’s swinging upside down over Eliot’s stovetop, a bowl of fruit loops precariously held in one hand. ‘I got hungry.’
Eliot pinches the bridge of his nose to hide his groan. ‘Parker.’
Parker, people don’t… normal people don’t break in to their friends’ apartment at four in the mornin’ just because they’re hungry. I got reflexes, Parker, what if I’d punched you?’
Parker pauses, spoon hanging out of her mouth as she frowns. ‘We’re friends?’
And there’s no real comeback from that, Eliot realizes with a sigh. ‘Alright. Get down here and I’ll make you somethin’ proper ‘cause that stuff will do nothing but rot your teeth. Come here, sit down. How do you feel about eggs and tomatoes, hm?’
Free range eggs, home grown tomatoes and homemade bread are apparently all that’s needed to win Parker’s heart and undying devotion. And all that’s needed to make her come back, at least once a week, for more.
Eliot doesn’t mind. He doesn’t sleep much at night anyway. And the conversations with Parker are many things, but they are never ever boring.
‘You know, I was at the Boston Museum of Arts tonight,’ Parker manages around a mouthful of egg. ‘They’ve got this new exhibit. It looked shiny.’
Eliot pauses and swallows his own bite of toast. ‘You looking for a side job?’ he asks, keeping his voice casual. ‘Alright. Just make sure to call if you need backup.’
Parker shakes her head, her blonde ponytail swishing over the fabric of her shirt. ‘I was just looking. But then there was something weird.’
Eliot sits back and says nothing, just waits for Parker to continue.
‘Because the owner… Okay, I was there, in the vents and you know how museums are always empty at night except for the guards and the shiny things and everything?’
‘But this time I was looking at the shiny things and then the owner of the shiny things came in. With the museum director. At three in the morning. Who goes to a museum at three in the morning to look at all the stuff?’
‘You did, Parker.’
‘Yes, but I’m me.’
Eliot decides that’s fair. ‘What’d they do?’
Parker shrugs and takes another bite of egg. ‘That’s the weird thing. They just walked around and the owner… I think he’s from Europe somewhere, he sounded funny, he just pointed at his stuff and talked about it. A lot.’
‘Did he have anything interesting to say?’ Eliot asks. He is still sitting back, but his eggs and toast are congealing on the table, forgotten, and his brow is furrowed. This is shaping up to be a weird and possibly dangerous story indeed.
‘Not really,’ Parker says, breaking off another piece of toast and using it to scoop up some runoff. ‘Mostly old history stuff. ‘Oooh, I got that from my grandmother. Look, I took that from Tsar whatsisface when we fought him at that one place. I’ve had that for two hundred years don’t let it get stolen.’
The funny voices and atrocious Eastern European accent do nothing to steady Eliot’s rapidly mounting sense of dread. Quite the opposite, in fact. ‘And the director? What’d he say?’
‘Oh, you know,’ Parker shrugs again. ‘Ooohed and aaahed and didn’t really do anything else. But that’s not the weirdest thing.’
The apartment is dark, with only one light switched on and all the blinds closed. Eliot’s made that a kind of personal policy very early on, and he has never been more glad of it than now. There’s no sound, other than their conversation, Parker’s quiet munching and the faint rumbling of the dishwasher in the kitchen, but otherwise, things are quiet. Calm.
Internally, Eliot heaves a very heavy sigh. Outwardly, he remains very, very calm. ‘What’s the weirdest thing, Parker?’
Despite being in what is quite possibly the safest place on earth, Parker still looks around before she turns back to Eliot. She swallows and when she puts down the piece of toast she tore off but did not eat, Eliot notices her hand is trembling and he realizes with a jolt that Parker did not just come here tonight for a midnight snack or the joy of his company.
‘Parker,’ he says, as gently as he can manage. ‘What happened?’
‘He knew I was there.’
The words are soft and they sound almost offended. ‘When he said… when he said don’t let them get stolen, he turned around and, and, he looked at me. At the vent where I was. And he knew I was there. But that’s not possible because I’m me and I didn’t set of any alarms and there weren’t even any guards who could’ve spotted me but he knew I was there.’
Vampires have an exceptional sense of smell and incredible hearing. They can hear blood pulse through a vein from yards away and they can smell a stinky mortal human from miles away, even (or especially) if that mortal human takes the precaution never to use scented products.
Eliot pauses for a long moment, then sits back and nods. ‘Anyone follow you here?’ he asks and look at that, the matter-of-fact, down-to-business attitude seems to be working. Parker blows out a breath, shoulders sagging as she starts fiddling with her toast again. ‘Don’t think so,’ she mutters. ‘Didn’t think anyone could. But, you know. Not sure.’
‘Alright then,’ Eliot says. He gets up and starts clearing away the plates, scooping up the remnants of Parker’s sadly deceased piece of bread to humanely dispose of it into the trash. ‘You wanna stay here tonight?’
There’s no reply. But when he comes back from the kitchen having left the plates in the sink to soak, Parker is already conked out on the couch, burrowed into one of Eliot’s plaids so that only her hair is sticking out at the top. A soft snore drifts through the air, barely audible from deep in the folds of fabric.
Eliot stares at the scene for a long moment before turning off the one light and retreating to his bedroom. His emergency duffel bag is at the bottom of his wardrobe, right where it’s supposed to be. His other emergency duffel bag is under his bed, and that is the one he grabs before he opens the window, quietly steps onto the fire escape outside and disappears into the night.
‘Daaaaaamn,’ is the first thing Hardison says when he spots him the next morning. ‘Holy shit, El, what’s the other guy look like? Assumin’ the other guy’s not you, ‘cause man, you look like you went up against Sasquatch, Bigfoot and the Chupacabra all at once. And you lost. Big time.’
Eliot tries to glare but that’s a little hard with just the one good eye. ‘Shut up, Hardison.’
‘You know, he’s not wrong,’ Nate chimes in from the kitchen. ‘If you ah, if you need ice packs, they’re in the freezer. And can we then please focus on the case at hand, please? Multilevel marketing scheme, wrecking a low income neighborhood with their ‘nutritious supplements?’
‘You mean sugar, artificial colorants and more sugar,’ Hardison says with an eye roll, turning towards the screens. ‘Check this out.’
The screen comes to life with pictures of bottles and pills, next to an ingredient list that hurts Eliot in his very soul because Hardison was not kidding.
And with that, it’s business as usual. But Eliot does not miss the grateful look Parker shoots him across the briefing table, just as he does not miss Sophie’s knowing one.
‘Bit of a shame you haven’t got that healer thing the Slayers have, isn’t it?’ Sophie mutters when they leave to go bring down yet another evil corporation.
Eliot shrugs and immediately winces because bad idea. ‘I manage.’
They all have their hobbies.
Parker cases museums and jumps off buildings when they’re not on a case. Hardison hacks the CIA servers, plays his stupid wizard and warlock games and sends magazines with dirty pictures to politicians he doesn’t like. Nate broods and drinks and solves crosswords with a vengeance when there are no villains to take down and Sophie keeps auditioning for productions with varying degrees of success.
And Eliot hunts creatures of the night. They all have their hobbies.
And when you hunt creatures of the night, sooner or later, you’re gonna run into the Winchesters.
Eliot has heard of them before, of course. He didn’t really know what to make of the stories, and the rumors, and the half-heard whispers and now, after he has met them a couple of times, he still isn’t sure.
He likes Sam well enough. A bit on the annoyingly tall side and a bit prone to overthinking things, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders and he’s not half as simple as he looks. He is the one that told Eliot about the benefits of rock salt outside of the kitchen, which is why there’s now a jar of pink Himalayan salt in the secret emergency duffel bag as well, next to the holy water and the sharp wooden sticks.
(In return, Eliot provided Sam with a list of not-terrible diners in and around Oklahoma. Life on the road is fine, but clogged arteries are no joke. There’s already plenty of other ways to die, no need to add another one.)
But Sam is also the one that told Eliot about all the other things that go bump in the night and about how it’s been their life’s work to fight those things. And while Eliot is a warrior to the bone and he, like no other, understands what it’s like to wage war against something far bigger than yourself with no hope for anything but a pyrrhic victory at best…
… he is damn glad he can sit most of this one out. He’ll stick to fighting human monsters, thank you very much. Only stabbing the occasional bloodsucker when they come within range or when they look at Parker funny.
He knows it’s not very noble of him. He knows others might have expected him to jump into that sweet 1967 Chevy Impala, with his duffel and the clothes on his back and nothing else, and join Team Free Will, fighting against monsters and demons and angels and, from what Sam told him, even God himself at some point.
But Eliot is many things, but he also has a healthy sense of self-preservation and only a (very) short list of things he would be willingly walk into the mouth of hell for. (There’s five items on that list. Six if you include Tony’s homemade pasta Alfredo, which, frankly, you should).
He likes Sam and Dean Winchester well enough. Likes talking to them, drinking with them, losing at cards to them. But he’s not going to destroy himself body and soul for them and they’ve no right to expect it of him.
Besides. One long look at Dean Winchester is enough to know the man is a broken mess, and that’s coming from someone who knows. Eliot knows a self-destructive spiral when he sees one, and he’s kind of got his hands full with one of those already.
‘What, are you too good to drink with me?’ the Irish loan shark says and screw the wire-in-a-bottle job because the entire bar around Eliot is grinding to a screeching halt. Nate tries to deny it, tries to be glib and play it off, but the loan shark isn’t having it. ‘I'm not betting again, if you have the advantage of me, Jimmy boy,’ he says and how did Nate even let him get this far.
Eliot looks across the room towards Nate. Over the comms, he can hear Parker and Hardison hold their breaths. Tara, who is an excellent grifter but not what they need right now, stops as well, suspicion in her voice as she demands to know what the problem is.
Nate replies something with a grin so broad and false it has to hurt. Eliot doesn’t hear what he says and it doesn’t matter, because then Nate picks up the glass of whisky and takes a sip.
‘Not good,’ comes Hardison’s voice over the comms. Eliot sighs and bites back his reply to Tara’s question: that there’s about 99 problems with this con, and the fact that the loan shark is actually a vampire is only one of them.
The amazing thing is, it all works out somehow. They make it through the wire con, they even make it through a couple of months without Sophie (even if they have to break Nate out of prison afterwards, but hey. It’s nothing Eliot hasn’t done before.)
They even go up against Damien Moreau. And make it out alive.
(Years later, decades later, when he’s older than he ever thought he’d be, Eliot still doesn’t know how the hell they managed that. But they did, they did manage it and the look of utter shock and betrayal on Damien’s face when Eliot finally, finally drove that long overdue stake through his heart keeps him warm at night for a long time after.)
But the other amazing thing?
The really amazing thing?
Is that no one in his team fucking notices.
It’s not that Eliot minds, per se. He’s actually quite happy no one has a clue. It makes it easier, in a way, to keep what they’re doing firmly on this side of the supernatural and not go mixing things up in a way that will only get people hurt. It means Nate won’t take even crazier risks and Hardison won’t go digging into things that he has no business digging into.
But sometimes. It’s just. Come on.
‘I hate being wait staff,’ Hardison mutters, standing in the corner of the elegant hotel lobby and glaring at the equally elegant guests. He is holding a platter of appetizers in one hand while furiously tapping on his phone with the other, trying to add Nate and Sophie to the guest list who are still waiting outside. ‘All rich white people on their high rich white people horse and don’t think I didn’t see you lookin’ at my appetizers like I was showing you some nasty-ass soggy white bread instead of this… Eliot, what was it again? The fancy garlic bread?’
‘Pain au beurre de fines herbes,’ Eliot growls. ‘And which rich white guy was that, exactly?’
‘… thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four…’
‘Excuse me,’ Nate interrupts. He sounds winded; Eliot assumes it’s because middle-aged alcoholism and climbing office staircases do not work all that well together. ‘What are you doing?’
The counting stops, and so does the mark. He stands one step above Nate and Eliot and turns around, giving them a bright and slightly awkward smile. ‘Just a tic,’ he says with a self-deprecating little giggle. ‘Counting steps. I’ve done it since I was a boy, and I’m afraid I never quite got rid of it. But we all have our things, don’t we?’
Nate shrugs. ‘Sure.’
The mark giggles again and turns back around. ‘Thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven…’
‘That’s odd,’ Parker says over the comms. ‘Guys, I’m standing in Ms. Ruby’s office right now and something’s missing.’
‘What’s missing, Parker?’ Eliot asks. He is posted outside the office building, ready to charge in if necessary even though they’re still only on recon at the moment.
‘That’s the thing,’ Parker says. She sounds annoyed, which means she’s unsure, which means this entire con could go belly-up from the start. ‘I don’t know. Sending you a picture now.’
A second later, a photo starts loading on Eliot’s screen. He frowns at it, because at first glance, there’s nothing that seems amiss. But Parker says something’s wrong and Eliot has never yet known her to be wrong, so he studies the image for a moment longer, deeper, until he hears Sophie give a soft ‘ah’.
‘Eliot?’ Sophie asks. ‘Look closely.’
‘I am looking closely, Sophie. I just don’t see…’
‘Eliot. She’s a young, hot, successful business executive with her own corner office at a Fortune 500 company. These people like… no, they love looking at themselves, and yet…’
‘Ah. Got it.’
And that’s the way things go. They steal, they grift, they con, they wreak vengeance and havoc wherever they can and all the while, Eliot keeps one eye out for any supernatural threats that might be interfering with the job at hand. It’s an arrangement that suits everybody just fine, just like the arrangements that are developing inside the team. It takes a while, it’s slow going, but eventually and at last, Parker and Hardison seem to have figured things out. As have Nate and Sophie.
There’s even a proposal. It's the first time Eliot hears Nate mention Sophie’s real real name and he would be lying if it didn’t hurt, in the best possible way, to see the man who five years ago was barely more than a broken shell held together by spite and whiskey, walk out the door with his head held high and the second love of his life on his arm.
He turns around, to the people he promised himself (oh, and also Sophie) he’d keep safe. Parker’s eyes are shining, big and blue and bright and Hardison is hugging her to his side just a little too tight while studiously looking at nothing in particular.
Eliot clears his throat. ‘So. What do we do now?’
The answer seems to be: ‘Let’s go steal Eliot.’
Eliot finds himself not really ready to object.
That is. Until he realizes that living in close (very close) proximity with two of the nosiest and most observant people on the planet might have one tiny little drawback.
It’s a realization that dawns on him when he’s just come back from a downtown farmers’ market and he is struggling to get himself and his purchases inside. He’s got three bags full of veggies, another bag full of fresh chicken and veal and several small baggies of new spice mixes he’s had his eye on for a couple of weeks now and he’s juggling all of these and his keys, trying not to drop any of it when he sees the table, which he had emptied specifically beforehand so he would have a space to put everything down, is somehow rather occupied again.
‘So, first of all,’ Hardison says from behind him while Eliot is too busy staring at the table. ‘Sorry for going through your stuff. But Parker was vacuuming underneath the bed and she found it and well. You know. She looked.’
Eliot says nothing. He just marches into the kitchen, puts down his groceries and turns back to the table, where his hunting gear is laid out with almost surgical precision.
It’s become quite an impressive collection, over the years. There are several flasks filled with holy water. An assortment of stakes from various kinds of wood, ranging from sturdy oak, hard as iron, to pine, which is softer but more flexible. About a dozen crosses, silver, wood and iron, all on their own leather strap in case he loses one of them. The jars of rock salt. Strings of garlic, although Eliot has never had any reason to actually use those. A pound of rice grains, something he has used before and which is the only reason he is still here. There’s also a can of hairspray with a lighter taped to the side, and he grins as that particular memory hits him. That was a fun night, although it was a bitch to get the stench of toasted vampire out of his hair afterwards.
Then he catches Parker and Hardison still staring at him from the other side of the room, and he sighs. ‘Any chance you’ll believe me if I tell you I was gonna be makin’ shish kebab tonight?’
They do not believe he was going to be making shish kebab.
Instead, they take the real story in their stride, which is even more worrying. Although not surprising, given the fact he is talking to Aleck Age of the Geek Hardison, and Parker, who is Parker.
‘So that guy. When I was at the Boston Museum of Arts, in the vents, and he knew I was there.’
Eliot nods. ‘Yup.’
Parker gives a thoughtful hum. ‘I thought it was weird. I checked the exhibit online after that, and they said it had closed and that the owner had passed away because of some freak accident.’
Eliot glances at the oaken stake. ‘Yup.’
The room is quiet for a moment, before Parker smiles and lightly bumps his shoulder. ‘Thank you.’
Eliot shrugs, but his face softens as he gently bumps her back. ‘’s what I do, Parker.’
‘Yeah, about what you do,’ Hardison says, glaring at the array of murder and death on the table. He’s fiddling with a rosary Eliot picked up a long time ago; it’s just cheap plastic in a nauseating shade of blue, but it’s got a cross on it and that’s what counted at the moment. ‘You wanna tell us again how long you’ve been doing what you do? Also, why you never told us and also what were the odds one of us woke up one day all staked out to with garlic for eyeballs? Or, or, all sucked dry and dusty because you killed momma and daddy vamp but you forgot about the baby vamps? Hm?’
‘I’m just saying, man! It’s great that you got your own private kit for hunting nasty bloodsuckers but you know, I’d have appreciated a little heads-up here. Like, how many marks actually had pointy teeth and a tendency to go poof in the daylight, you wanna tell me that?’
‘Hardison.’ Eliot sighs, then scrubs his face. ‘Alright, fair question. About… four.
Hardison deflates. ‘Oh. Okay. That’s actually not…’
‘Out of every ten.’
‘About four out of ten,’ Eliot repeats. ‘And no, they wouldn’t have come after you to suck you dry in your sleep because A, I made sure of that, alright, and B, unless you actually invited them in, they wouldn’t be able to come inside.’ He grins at Hardison’s sudden abashed look. ‘You said you knew vampires, man. You didn’t know that?’
‘I did,’ Hardison mutters, dropping the rosary back on to the table. ‘Sure. I know vampires.’
‘Four out of ten?’ Parker asks. She lowers the liter bottle of holy water she has been inspecting to look at Eliot. ‘Really?’
Eliot shrugs. ‘Yeah. Apparently they like positions of power and well. When you take down people in positions of power…’
Parker nods sagely and goes back to making holy water rainbows on the table. Hardison shakes his head, still muttering darkly about how his Nana didn’t raise him to become some damn undead creature’s personal slurpee, and Eliot starts to breathe out because this is going better than expected.
‘I gotta look into this. If you say four out of every ten of our mark’s been a vampire, there’s gotta be loads more of them, we should try and…’
Eliot’s head snaps up. ‘No. Absolutely not.’
The room stops. The holy water bottle Parker is holding is set down with a thunk, the rosary Hardison picked up again hanging limp in his hand.
‘Why not?’ Parker asks. ‘If we can…’
It’s an honest question, he can tell. Parker genuinely wants to hear his reason and whatever he says, she will not sway him from it. Which is why Eliot does not grab all the stakes and the flasks and the garlic and the rock salt, to shove it back in his duffel bag and put it back under the bed and pretend this conversation never happened.
Instead he smiles again. Picks up one of the crosses on the table; it’s an old one, silver despite Sophie’s warning, and it’s tarnished almost to black. His thumb brushes the edges, familiar like the palm of his own hand. He’s had this cross for a very long time.
He looks at the cross and thinks of Lindsey. Of Sterling, who is so much more (annoyingly so) than an ex-insurance cop or Interpol agent. Of the address in downtown LA, the hotel he never bothered to check out.
Of two brothers saving the world and destroying themselves over it.
‘Eliot?’ Hardison asks. ‘Why are we not going after the vampires, exactly?’
Eliot looks up. ‘Because we already have a job,’ he says. ‘We picked this battle. And I promise, I’ll warn you if we run into one of them again, and then you will let me deal with it, but we… I won’t abandon this fight to start another one. I can’t.’
Outside, a car horn blares at some unseen traffic troubles. Next door, the bustle of a Brewpub nearing its rush hour grows louder and louder but inside the room that is the headquarters of Leverage International, it’s quiet.
Then Parker nods. ‘Alright. We’ll stick to the plan.’
‘No hunting season on the Cullens,’ Hardison agrees, which makes Parker give him a blank look and Eliot groan. But he also finally drops the rosary, turns to the paper bags now wilting on the kitchen counter and starts demanding what the hell’s going to be for dinner please Eliot let it be your Penne Chicken Parm, please, so.
That seems to be that.
Eliot can’t help it. When they’re sitting down for dinner (it is Chicken Parm, coincidentally) and the duffel bag and its contents have been packed away and put out of sight once again, he has to.
He just has to.
‘What do you mean you thought I was a reformed vampire who substituted blood for orange soda?’
Eliot says nothing, but takes a slow sip of beer while Hardison stares with eyes so wide they almost pop out of their sockets. ‘Eliot? Eliot, what do you… what do you mean you thought I was… Eliot? You didn’t really think that, Eliot, did you? Did you? Eliot? Eliot, is that why you always put garlic oil on the pizza crust even though I told you it gets all greasy and gross? Eliot? You don’t still think I’m a vampire, do you, Eliot? I mean, we’ve been to church together, right? Like, not to church but we’ve been in a church. Together. You saw me go into a church, Eliot, you don’t still think I’m a vampire, do you? Eliot?’
‘I think you’d look cool as a vampire.’
‘Woman.’ Hardison makes a strangled noise. ‘Not. Helping.’
Parker snorts and winks at Eliot, who quickly hides his grin in his beer.
They’ll be okay. As long as they remember which fight belongs to them, they’ll be okay.
The next time they see Sterling, Eliot lets Parker throw the holy water. He’s still human.