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The Severed Head Job.

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Eliot woke up soaking in blood. "Fuck," he groaned, clutching his chest.

The blood was congealed. He must have been shot in the heart; that always took time to heal. And--

He jerked to the left. Nate was sitting at the desk, watching him. They were in Lucille.

He swallowed and leaned back on his hands. "I guess you want an explanation," Eliot said.

Nate took a pull from his flask. "I would appreciate it."

Eliot rubbed his forehead. He always got such a headache when he died. "Any hope of a shower and a change of clothes?"

Nate got up and opened the rear door. "The river work?"

Eliot winced at the thought of the cold water. "Yeah, guess so." He sat up, and the tarp came with him. Wait--a body bag, not a tarp. "The fuck happened? Did anyone else see me die?"

"No," Nate said. "Just me and the man who shot you. You spotted him, but not before he took his shot; I saw you fall, and forgive me, I thought you were dead. It was--" He gestured to his chest. "Straight through the heart."

"I was dead. No hard feelings," Eliot said.

"I'm going to process that later," Nate said. "As you were clearly dead, I stayed hidden to get details to avenge your death."

"Appreciate it," Eliot said.

"He packaged you up like this and started to load you into a car. So I ran him over with Lucille and grabbed you."

"Good. He was a lousy no-good cheater," Eliot said. He stood, trying not to get any blood on Lucille, and started stripping his clothes into the body bag.

"So," Nate said. "Do you know a certain woman, thief and grifter, about five-ten, naturally black hair that she often wears platinum blond, face like a model?"

Eliot smirked. "Amanda. She's a pistol."

"She fakes her death very, very effectively. She fooled me twice. I actually saw her in the morgue that second time. The ozone smell, it's very distinctive, but I could never work out the con. Then I smelled the same thing on you, so I took us out here to shake the secret out of you. But you were actually dead."

"Yeah. I was actually dead. So was she." He wriggled out of his boots

"How?"

Eliot shrugged. "It's just how we are."

"That's a very unsatisfying answer to a fifteen-year-long mystery," Nate said.

"Hell, we've been wondering what we are for thousands of years, think how we feel," Eliot said. He dropped his pants in the body bag. "Any soap?"

Nate checked the drawers and found a wrapped hotel bar. He shrugged and handed it to Eliot. "Apparently, yes."

"Parker comes prepared." Eliot took a deep breath and waded into the water. He hissed at the cold biting at his skin, shivered hard, and thought warm thoughts. He felt Nate staring at his back. "There's no mark," he said, turning around to face Nate. "It heals up instantly."

Nate tossed him a rag. "So, you can come back from the dead."

Eliot scrubbed hard, taking off the blood glob by glob. "Yep."

"That's a useful skill."

"It is," Eliot agreed.

"Explains a few things."

"Probably," Eliot said.

*

Nate found rocks and tossed Eliot's blood-soaked clothes and body bag into the deepest part of the river. Eliot looked for something to wear.

Hardison had what some considered clothing in the van: some sweatpants and a t-shirt with cartoon characters on it. Eliot put the pants on, but stared at the shirt for a long minute, debating modesty versus looking like a damn fool.

"You're taking this well," Eliot said as Nate returned to the van.

"Repression now, flipping out later. What's the next step?" Nate asked.

Eliot finally sighed and put on the shirt. "Any idea of a name on the guy who shot me?"

"Nobody I recognize. Muscle. White, military haircut."

Eliot nodded. "Then step one is we take Lucille and drive to Seacouver. Our team isn't prepared for the hidden world, not even close, so we need outside help. Don't argue," he said to Nate.

"I'm not," Nate said. "I trust you. If you're willing to ask for help, this must be serious."

"It is. There's a guy up there, he doesn't know me but I know him. He's kind of like the police for people like me. He regulates people who cheat at fights. That's what that guy was doing," he explained. "Softening me up for a fight. It's like a ritual duel, you're not supposed to have extra people involved. This guy, he hates cheats, he hates bad guys, he hates all of that, and he's extremely fucking dangerous. He could pick his teeth with me," he said, thinking of the last time he saw MacLeod fight; thinking that had been in the early nineties, in the middle of the spate of violence that some people thought would end their kind for good. It hadn't, quite, but there were a lot fewer of them around now.

"Wow," Nate said.

"I'm not being modest, I'm being real. He would destroy me. His teacher killed the Kurgan and he's better than his teacher. The Kurgan was--" He started to explain.

"Like I said, I trust you. We'll stop for clothes on the way. That...doesn't suit you," Nate said, shaking his head.

Which made him think of something. "You said you hit him with the van?" Eliot went to the front of the van and checked the grille. It was bent in pretty good, and there was what looked like a pocket lining caught in it. Eliot plucked it out. "Step point five: we get this to Hardison and Parker," Eliot said.

"What do we tell them?"

"He tried to kill me and I'm bringing in a specialized hitter to assist. It's the truth. Beyond that...I don't know. I'll think about it." He looked up at Nate. "I've told people before. Had people find out before. Most people don't take it this well."

"I trust you," Nate said.

"You keep saying that."

"It's keeping me sane," Nate said.

*

Hardison collapsed on the couch and laughed for a good five minutes at seeing Eliot in his goofy-ass clothes. "If I didn't need your brain working I'd break your face," Eliot told him.

Hardison kicked his legs in the air and kept laughing. Parker took the scrap of cloth and stared at it intently. "I will find your secrets," Parker said to it.

Eliot changed into real clothes, grabbed his go bag, and started driving north to Seacouver. Nate took shotgun, even though it was his car, flask in hand. "Go on and start asking," Eliot said.

"Are vampires real?" Nate asked. Eliot laughed. "I'm just trying to define the outlines of reality here," Nate said.

"Never met one," Eliot said. "Werewolves either. Or Bigfoot."

"Magic?"

"Maybe. Probably, for a few people. I've seen some things."

"Really?"

"Yeah. And something keeps me alive. I don't know what else to call it."

"Magic. How about that. You know anyone who can--?"

"No."

"It would be useful."

"Yeah, it would. I don't know any wizards."

"Too bad," Nate said. "So what do you call yourselves?"

"People," Eliot said.

"Come on. Everyone has a name for themselves."

"Immortals."

Nate glanced at him. "Okay. How immortal is immortal?"

"Well, I'm three hundred and sixty-six years old," Eliot said, staring straight ahead. He saw Nate blink very, very hard in his peripheral vision.

"Huh."

"Yeah. I was born in 1646, same year as Leibniz, you know, the mathematician? I didn't know it at the time, of course. My brother told me later. I died the first time because--you'll appreciate this--the police tried to arrest my ma on suspicion of selling poudre de succession. Arsenic. I objected and they broke a rib into my lung and I died. But Pop sneaked my ma out the back and they didn't get her."

"Poudre de succession? You're French-Canadian?" Nate said.

"I'm--no! I'm from Normandy, loud and proud!"

"Ah," Nate said. "No, of course. I understand. There's a certain linguistic drift over three hundred years."

"Yeah. It drifted away from me, the native speaker!" Eliot said.

"Huh," Nate said.

"Of course we did move to Canada after that," Eliot said.

"Hm."

"Like a bunch of other Normans at the time. And that's the kind of French we brought over. So French Canadians sound like me. Shut up."

"I didn't say anything," Nate said. "So your father is like you? It runs in the family?"

"I'm adopted. Pop took me off the parish when I was a kid. I don't know what we are," Eliot said. "Nobody does. Personally I think we're aliens."

"Aliens."

"Yeah. Aliens. We don't know where we come from, we just show up as babies. I think we're dropped on Earth by aliens in spaceships, and I thought this before I met Hardison, so stop laughing! It's a reasonable conclusion!"

"I'm not laughing," Nate lied, as he stifled a laugh. "Aliens, huh."

"None of us can have kids! We have to come from somewhere! So either we sprout from the ground or we get dropped from the sky!"

That took the smile off Nate's face. "You can't have kids?"

"No!" He caught his breath, looking at Nate's stricken expression. "I never knocked anyone up, not in 350 years of trying, and I've never heard of any woman of ours getting pregnant. The immortal women I've known don't even bleed. We don't make more of ourselves. I guess we could be mushrooms, growing out of the ground, but aliens makes more sense."

"I'm sorry for laughing," Nate said.

Eliot nodded and looked at the road.

"Who are we going to see?" Nate asked.

"Duncan MacLeod. Last I checked--and I keep track of him like I'd watch a loose tiger--he owns a building in Seacouver, lives in the top floor, has a dojo on a lower floor. He'll know I'm approaching as soon as I'm within fifty feet, so we need to make it extremely clear that we're here to talk and not to attack. Because my people fight each other all the time."

"The ritual duels."

"Yeah. It's called the Game. And because of the Game, most of us carry swords at all times. He'll be armed."

"Swords."

"Gotta take off someone's head, a sword is the best way. And cutting off a head is how you win the Game," Eliot said. "I usually don't bother."

"No, I think I would have noticed you wearing a scabbard."

"Mm," Eliot said. He pulled his coat open to expose the machete handle. "I said usually."

"Ah." Nate blinked hard at him until he let the coat fall closed again.

"I think MacLeod probably won't have a problem with me. But if you're walking into a bear cave, you bring a bear gun."

"Understandable. But most of the time you don't carry?"

"No. Most of the time, I just take the other guy's sword." He arched his fingers like claws on the steering wheel.

"I can see that," Nate said thoughtfully.

"We're rare but not that rare," Eliot continued. "The food safety inspector is one of us. And that young guy who comes in and talks to me about history is actually over a hundred years old. When we talk about World War 2, we're gossiping about people we know."

"So he's not hitting on you? I owe Hardison a twenty."

"He's also hitting on me," Eliot acknowledged.

"I'll make sure to collect, then," Nate said. "And the food safety inspector? Is that why she looked so tense?"

"Exactly," Eliot said. "She clocked me as soon as she walked in and you never can know how things will go down."

"So most of your people are quiet, normal types…" Nate's voice showed his doubt.

"Damien Moreau is one of us," Eliot said.

"Ah," Nate said.

Eliot looked at the road, knuckles white on the wheel. "Most of us are monsters," he said softly.

*

They rolled into Seacouver around seven. "Should we eat first?" Nate asked.

"No. If this is a fight, I want to be fast. If it's not a fight, we invite him to dinner to talk." Eliot looked at Google Maps and took a left.

There it was. It looked pretty much like he expected, a normal building with the vague feel of a castle. Smallish windows, impenetrable glass brick on the ground floor rather than window glass. A roof door and a one-way path to a neighboring building, he was willing to bet.

Eliot parked in front. He felt the buzz much sooner than he expected; he straightened up and started looking for MacLeod. He felt Nate's eyes on him. "He's stronger than he was last time," Eliot said.

"How can you tell?"

"Kinda--radar. Like that. I can just tell." He exhaled and tossed Nate the keys. "Fuck it. Be ready to run. Let's go."

"Let's go steal an immortal," Nate said. Eliot shook his head.

MacLeod opened his front door and eyed Eliot. He was a big man, but without showy muscle; he was dressed in good-quality clothing with plenty of freedom of movement. He was functional, a fighter with nothing to prove. His dark hair was short and his dark eyes were guarded. He didn't speak as Eliot approached.

"I'm Ely Travers," Eliot said. He kept his hands visible as he walked slowly closer. "These days I go by Eliot Spencer. This is Nathan Ford, my friend and employer. Earlier today, in Portland, Oregon, I was shot on the street by an unknown man. He exposed my nature to my colleague, who was not previously aware of our existence. He broke our rules. I am begging assistance in tracking this man and whoever he works with." Jesus, he felt like he was talking to the President. Actually, it had been less stressful when he had talked to the President. Roosevelt had been a hoot.

MacLeod didn't move out of his door, but didn't draw. "I don't know you. Why come to me?"

"This is your home territory. I know you and your reputation, so I'm betting he does too. If he's willing to cheat to take me down, I'm sure you're on the list."

MacLeod paused, obviously evaluating him. Finally he moved. "You'd better come upstairs. We're making dinner, are you hungry?"

Eliot relaxed. "Starving. Getting shot takes it out of you."

The dojo was inside, past an inner door. Eliot noticed the practice swords on the walls. MacLeod escorted them through the dojo and into an open cage elevator. "What are you doing these days?" MacLeod asked.

"I'm a retrieval specialist," Eliot said.

MacLeod raised his eyebrows. "Is that the new word for thief?"

Nate cleared his throat. "Not exactly. You may be aware of the recent exposure of the Global Air Transport scandal. Eliot retrieved the evidence in that case and in many other matters."

"Hm." They reached the top floor and MacLeod opened the cage. "A pair of Robin Hoods are joining us for dinner," he called out. He stepped into a large loft apartment. An enormous bed was placed across from the elevator, with a spiral staircase beside it, a carved wardrobe to the left, and a dining table and chairs to the right. The staircase must lead to the roof.

"How fun!" A woman popped into view from the right.

"Amanda," Eliot said. He started to smile.

Her face froze. She drew her sword, and Eliot backed into Nate automatically, pushing him into the elevator and putting his body between Nate and the two Immortals. "The breakup wasn't that bad, was it?" Eliot said, trying for light and failing.

"Oh, the breakup was great. I'd still be booty calling you if you hadn't gone on to work for Damien Moreau," Amanda said, her voice dropping dangerously. "He's Moreau's right hand man, Duncan."

MacLeod drew his sword as well. "What are you really doing here?"

"We'll go," Eliot said.

"Point of order." Nate squirmed under Eliot's arm and popped up in front of him. Eliot grabbed the back of his shirt. "He used to work for Moreau. Now he works for me. Nathan Ford, formerly of IYS. We met in Florence six years ago."

Amanda tilted her head. "You took my Manet," she said.

"I recovered the client's Manet, yes."

"No, it was mine. It was a gift from Duncan, in fact. They had no right to seize it and auction it off, even if I was presumed dead, but back to the point, Damien Moreau," Amanda said, looking past Nate at Eliot.

"If you check the news, you'll see he was jailed in San Lorenzo in 2010. Eliot was instrumental. He's no longer that man," Nate said.

MacLeod put his phone to his ear without taking his eyes off Eliot or lowering his weapon. "Adam. What's the current location of Damien Moreau? It's important." He paused. "Thanks." He put the phone down. "Damien Moreau killed himself in prison a week ago. He was buried at sea. So he's not in fact--"

"Christ almighty--" Eliot interrupted him. He grabbed his own phone and hit the group dial, cursing until Parker answered. "Parker! Shut the pub, bar the door, turn on the alarms, it's Moreau, he's back, we're coming back right now."

"Someone sent us a package," Parker said, sounding tense and small. "I don't understand it. It's a sword."

His heart hammered in his chest. He looked at Nate. "He took Pop," Eliot said. "He couldn't get me, so he got my father."

Nate shoved him into the elevator, closed the cage and hit the down arrow. "Lovely to meet you again! We'll catch up at a better time!" he called as the motor bore them downwards.

Chapter Text

They sprinted to the car, Nate taking the driver's seat. "Eat," he said as they peeled out. "I know you keep food in your bag. You need to eat it. We're not stopping and I think you're in shock."

Eliot ate. His stomach was cold and his hands were tingling.

"What is Moreau's end goal?" Nate asked.

"Cut my head off," Eliot said.

"And everything he's doing is cheating. Dishonorable."

"Right."

"In your culture...if one party cheats...how far can you cheat in return and remain honorable?" Nate asked.

"Enough to square up the fight," Eliot said. "Get me in a room with him alone. I'll tear his fucking head off with my teeth."

"So that's the end goal for us," Nate said. He hit the gas harder.

Eliot kept eating, finally registering that it was a bag of pepitas and raisins. Protein and complex carbs. He was ravenous. He was terrified. Moreau had his father, his teacher.

He called his brother. "Allo?" Zakariyya said.

"Bubba," Eliot said.

"Ely? I haven't heard from you in...what's wrong?"

"What ain't wrong? I'm still me, bubba."

"And I still love you, little brother."

Eliot's throat closed. He hadn't seen Zak in...a long time. A very long time. "Dad's in trouble," Eliot said roughly. "It's my fault."

"What kind of trouble? Can I help?"

"Big trouble. No, you're out of practice, and I've got people. I just wanted you to know in case something happens."

Zak sighed. "God be with you," he said. "Call me when it's over."

"God be with you, brother."

Eliot hung up and sat back in the car seat, exhaling. Nate held the car above a hundred, his face taut with concentration. "My brother's an accountant," he told Nate.

"How much of what you've told me about yourself is true?" Nate asked.

"Everything but my age. My pop owns a hardware store in Oklahoma. I was a soldier, then I was a real bad man, and now I'm trying to do better. It's all true. I just never said what I did before my driver's license says I was born."

"Easier to lie if you're telling the truth," Nate mused.

Eliot nodded sharply.

"Tell me everything about Moreau. And Amanda. And MacLeod." Nate grimaced. "Start at the beginning and don't stop talking until Portland."

"Can't make bricks without straw," Eliot muttered.

"Exactly. Tell me about your father. Why did he take your father? You don't get along."

"Right now we don't get along, and it's because he's right, I fucked up. Look--all right. I was left as a naked baby screaming on the church steps," Eliot said. "None of us know where we come from, but I just thought I was a regular orphan for the first thirty years. Pop took me off the hands of the parish and trained me up as a blacksmith. He adopted me, he didn't have any kids of his own, his wife treated me like her own son, I thought I was set. Then some bitch of a baker's wife accused Ma of black magic. Said Ma sold poison and aborted babies. The sheriff came to get her and I objected, and the sheriff knocked me against the anvil and I died. The first death, for us, it fixes us in time. We stop aging. We're part of the hidden world then. I woke up in the country somewhere and Pop was telling me that neither of us is a demon, and it...took me a while to believe him. So we ran, and Ma got the flux and died somewhere in Spain, and we met up with my big brother barefoot, in rags, starving but we couldn't die. I thought--you ever eat a rat?"

"No," Nate said.

"We ate rats. Prove to me we ain't cursed," Eliot said, remembering, lapsing into French with the force of memory. "Prove to me we ain't in hell."

Nate was silent, steering them down the highway, focused like a laser.

"How my Pop explained it is we have an extra soul. He said, your first soul has gone and is in heaven because you were a good man in your first life. Now our second soul operates our body and the rules are different. Other people like us will try to take our souls away by killing us permanently, and the only way death is permanent is to lose our heads from our necks."

"So Moreau wants you out for good. But why not a grenade to the head in that alley? You were down for a while, he had plenty of time."

Eliot flexed his fingers. Nate waited him out, let him be silent, but Eliot knew he needed to know. "The more souls you take, the stronger the soul is, the more powerful you are. MacLeod--he was strong. I've never felt anything like him. He must have taken hundreds of souls."

"And you?"

Eliot paused. "Twenty-seven," he said. He swallowed. "And twenty-one of those were while I was with Moreau."

Nate made a small noise in his throat. He flicked his eyes to Eliot and back to the road. Miles passed in the grind of the wheels.

"You, ah. You feel all those people. It leaves a mark. Moreau thought we were better. That Nietzsche thing, you know, the power of the strong over the weak. He told me not to be weak. To kill." Eliot ran his hands through his hair, once, twice, again and again, trying to stop feeling Moreau's breath in his ear. "It was always a fair fight. Toward the end I didn't even carry a sword. I felt bad for them, being so weak, not like me."

Nate stayed silent, but extended his hand and took Eliot's shoulder, a warm pressure anchoring him in the present. Eliot focused on the feel of his firm, warm grip and erased Moreau's hiss from his ears.

"So," Nate said. "He doesn't just want to kill you, he wants to eat your soul. And he has to do that in person, himself, or it won't work?"

"It--yeah. Basically, yeah. He wouldn't let anyone else kill me. They might find out what I know about him."

"So he took your father, because of your three hundred year history, thinking you might trade yourself for him."

"Yeah," Eliot said.

"Don't do it," Nate said.

"I wasn't going to."

"You were thinking about it. Thinking your brother's kids need their grandfather, I'm sure."

Eliot glared at him.

"We'll get him back," Nate said.

*

They roared into town in record time. Nate had been silent for the rest of the trip, clearly planning. Eliot was just thinking of what he wanted to do to Damien Moreau.

Nate phoned ahead as they pulled in. "It's us, let us in."

Hardison met them at the door with earpieces. "San Lorenzo says Moreau is dead. You're sure?"

"I'm sure." He led Nate and Hardison through the bar into the briefing room and found the sword on the table, Sophie and Parker sitting over it looking tense. "Nobody else would know to send me Pop's sword," Eliot said. "Plenty of people hate me, and a few of them could find my dad, but none of them know me like that."

"Yeah, what's up with that? It's, like, a knight's sword," Hardison said.

"My family emigrated to the American Colonies in 1690 with that sword. It's not worth anything to anybody but us. So it's a sign that he's been in my dad's house, in the safe that holds everything precious. And it's a 14th century arming sword," Eliot said. His hand hovered over the scabbard. He can smell the oiled leather. "Every hundred years or so the scabbard falls apart. My brother made this one."

"Delivered by bike messenger, paid by one of Moreau's remaining shell companies," Hardison said.

"No note," Sophie said. "We don't know what he wants."

"Me with my head on a stick," Eliot said. His hand landed on the scabbard.

Hardison picked up the computer remote. "So we found three sets of prints on the sword and scabbard, one set unknown, one set this guy." He clicked the screen on, showing a driver's license photo of a bearded Moorish man.

"That's my older brother Zakariyya," Eliot said. "He's not a suspect."

"This brother is your brother?" Hardison said.

"We're both adopted," Eliot said.

"Uh huh. Mmhm. This redneck-ass motherfucker has a brother brother," Hardison said to Parker.

"I heard that," Eliot growled.

"I'm guessing the unknown set is your dad? Set three is this guy," Hardison said. He put up a picture of a man Eliot vaguely recognized. "Grand theft, assault, etc, I'm thinking he's a basic goon."

"He's ringing a bell, but I don't know his name. I think you're right," Eliot said. "Nobody alive has any real loyalty to Moreau. He would give this job to someone trusted if he had someone. It makes sense he's down to goons."

"So he has nobody, and we have us. The best of the best," Nate said. "Eliot, can you beat Moreau one on one?"

"With both legs broken," Eliot said.

"Then while you fight him, the rest of us will rescue your father," Nate said.

The rest of them waited.

"That's not a plan," Parker said after a moment.

"I'll fill in the details as they make themselves known. Until then, rest up. Especially you, Eliot, Parker. Hardison, Sophie, we'll trade off monitoring comms and security. Go," Nate said.

Eliot nodded and headed into the back. Hardison had some spare bedrooms. He slept there frequently. Parker followed him, and kept following him, rather than going to the room she shared with Hardison.

When he took off his jacket and laid on the bed (still clothed, in case they got a break overnight), she stretched out next to him. "So you're a foster kid too?"

"No," Eliot said. "I was adopted when I was just little. Didn't feel right bringing it up around you guys."

"And you have a brother." She curled up, pressing her forehead into his arm.

"Yeah. I haven't seen him in a long time."

Parker picked up her head and met his eyes. "We're going to rescue your dad."

Eliot touched her hand lightly. "I believe you."

"And then we're going to visit your brother."

"No."

"Yes," Parker said.

"No," Eliot said.

"Yes," Parker said, and they kept that up, alternating "no" with "yes", eyes closed, until Eliot drifted into uneasy sleep.

Chapter Text

Eliot awoke to the feeling of Presence in the predawn. He sat up in bed.

Parker was still beside him. She opened her eyes. "Someone's here," he said. She rolled out of bed with him.

Nate was napping on the couch, Hardison watching the monitors. "You know these guys?" Hardison asked. "I don't see the goon."

When Eliot scanned the monitors, he saw MacLeod. With a posse.

"It's the cavalry," Eliot said.

Hardison spun his chair around. "Do you sit around thinking up cool lines or does this just come natural?"

Eliot scowled at him. "That's the hitter from Seacouver that Nate and I went to see. He told me about Moreau."

"Friend?"

"I don't know. I'll talk to him. If he cuts my head off, he's not my friend." Eliot clapped Hardison on the shoulder, sending his chair spinning.

"You're not funny!" Hardison called after him.

"You just said I was!"

Parker eyed him as he crossed through the pub. "Don't let him cut your head off. You should take the sword."

"I don't--okay," Eliot said, because she was handing him the sword, and he had to take it or drop it. He slung the sword belt over his shoulder.

It was cold and foggy outside, the sky a pre-sunrise pearl gray. MacLeod, Amanda, and two men he didn't recognize were standing by their car.

Amanda crossed her arms and looked him up and down. "I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt," she said. "I like your dad. We're here to help him."

"Thank you," Eliot said. "This is--he doesn't carry this," he said, touching the sword hilt. "I don't know how they found it or what they did to him."

"Is your brother okay?" she asked.

"I called him last night. Seems to be."

"Zak got my money out of France a few years back. I owe him one. Do you think this would cancel the debt?"

"Probably," Eliot said.

"I want to believe in you. But Moreau...Ely, what were you thinking?" Amanda said.

Eliot shook his head, unable to keep eye contact. "Nothin' good. I'm trying to make up for it now. Doing the right thing. That's why we put Moreau away. We hurt him, at least, took his money, broke his power base, put him in the shadows. Help me square up the field and I'll finish the job."

MacLeod nodded. "May we come inside?"

Eliot waved them in, past the brewpub to the command room. One of the two unknown men, he noticed, was an immortal, and not a weak one; he looked Eliot over as he entered the building. The other man was a gray-haired mortal who walked with a cane and a stiff-legged gait.

Parker and Hardison perched in front of the security cameras. Sophie was setting out coffee as Nate made breakfast.

"Nate Ford, Sophie Devereaux, Alec Hardison, Parker," Eliot introduced. "This is Amanda, an old friend, and this is Duncan MacLeod. Nate and I were visiting him when I found out about my pop." He looked at the two unknown men and then at Amanda.

"My research team," MacLeod said. "Adam and Joe." Adam was the immortal. He had a big nose and no muscle to speak of.

Parker crouched on her chair, staring hard at Amanda. "Are you that Amanda?"

Amanda cocked her head and smiled slightly. "Are you that Parker?"

Parker pulled the hood of her sweatshirt over her face and curled into a ball. Hardison looked at her, wide-eyed. "Baby? Are you okay?"

"The Amazing Amanda! I don't know how to feel this much!" Parker said in a muffled scream. She looked up, peeking over her hands. "But I thought you'd be older?"

"You're sweet," Amanda said. Parker screamed into her hands.

"Amanda and I go back. How long has it been?" Eliot asked her. He remembered, of course. It had been 1926 or 27. She'd been driving through Kansas in a Model T with a handsome but mostly useless sidekick when the car had broken down. Eliot had been wandering on horseback when he came across the beautiful couple in distress. He'd fixed the car and she and her companion had been very, very appreciative. He'd been their driver for the next three heists. Looking back, it was the beginning of his end as an honest man.

They'd met again just before Eliot met Moreau. "You're different," Amanda had told him. "Where's my sweet cowboy?"

He'd kissed her and hadn't answered.

"Barcelona," Amanda said now. "I don't remember dates, I remember cities."

That was eleven years ago. So those were the terms, he could work with that. "Ten years?" Eliot said, phrasing it as a question. "You hired me for the sapphire heist."

"And you got me out of the country under the nose of Interpol," Amanda said. "So let's save your dad. Adam thinks he found something."

The beaky immortal startled when she said his name. "Oh! Yes, possibly." He came forward with a set of printouts. "We did some looking into his legitimate holdings and found a building that was damaged in a recent earthquake, condemned, but not yet rebuilt. Perfect for shady transactions."

Hardison gestured. "Give. Give me." He plugged in the address. "Zoned industrial, that means security cameras, that means come to daddy. Eliot, what's your dad look like?"

"He'll be the old guy trying to beat up the people holding him," Eliot said. "He's short, around 5' 6"; he's had a mustache for as long as I can remember. And he's medium brown, if the cameras have that much resolution."

Hardison gave him a look. "Your daddy is black? Your brother is black? Eliot, is there something you need to tell me?"

"He's Latin. We're adopted. Focus," Eliot said, swatting the back of Hardison's head.

"I'm just saying, rainbow family out of nowhere, a man would like to know these things about his country-ass colleague," Hardison muttered, but he was pulling footage, locating cameras, scanning faces, so Eliot didn't hit him again.

"You ever hear of Tulsa? Black Wall Street? Oklahoma was never lily white," Eliot said. "Ten percent African American, six percent Native. I don't like you because you're annoying, not because you're black."

"You love me," Hardison said absently. "Okay, I got a big SUV coming in.... Oh, man, don't look. Don't look, Eliot, this is terrible."

Eliot watched as his pop was pulled out of the back of a truck and manhandled into the building. He grinned as his pop smashed the heel of his hand into one guy's nose. "He's tough as nails," Eliot said. "Who do you think taught me to throw a punch?"

"6:47 p.m., that's half an hour before we got the sword."

"Five hours after the attempt on Eliot," Nate said. "With travel time from Oklahoma, they must have had a team in place already. This took money."

Eliot nodded. "Big operation, not bare-bones."

"I need to talk to you about the capabilities of your team," Nate said to MacLeod. "Let's adjourn to the conference room…" He touched Eliot's shoulder as he left the room.

Eliot looked at the surveillance footage. "Can you find Moreau in there? His entrance? Anything he's brought into the building?"

"Yeah," Hardison said, fingers flying over the keys, and in no time he had isolated shots of everything that had been brought inside the building. Food delivery, water delivery, that was to be expected. Bags of ammunition and possible explosives. Other things were less expected. When Hardison finally found Moreau, he was carrying a very fine katana. "Swords," Hardison said. "The hell is going on with swords all of the sudden?"

"I'm more intrigued by the dovecote," Adam said, pointing at another screen.

"The whatwhat?" Hardison said.

"Dovecote."

"Pigeon coop," Eliot said. "They'll be fancy pigeons. He's bringing in stuff I taught him, because he doesn't just want to fight me. He wants to fight me like a John Woo movie."

"You taught him the sword?" Adam said to him. Eliot nodded, knowing Adam was asking if Moreau was his student.

Moreau had still been mortal when Eliot killed him. It had been a long, drawn out hunt, crossing three continents and an active volcano by the end. He'd almost been sorry to snipe him at the crest of the volcano.

By the time Eliot caught up to verify the kill, though, he could feel the power gathering and the aura begin to stir. He could have cut the man's head off before he rose, and how often did he wish he had?

But he let Moreau stand back up. He didn't know why. He didn't understand the man he'd been then. He let Moreau stand up and then… "You ever have the kind of relationship that would be less intense if you were just fucking?" Eliot said.

"Yes," Hardison said.

"Yes," Adam said.

"Yes," Sophie said.

"God, yes," Joe said.

"No," Parker said. She looked around at the rest of them.

"That was me and Moreau. Just got...too close, too weird, too intense. And I taught him to fight with a sword, and I got him into fancy pigeons--look, it's been a thing since the middle ages. Since Rome. He taught me to appreciate wine and--anyway, so he wants to pour some fancy-pants wine and let some pigeons fly around and fight me with a sword. That's what he wants, so that gives us an opening. You get that, Nate?"

"Yeah," Nate said. "Sounds like a Crocodile Smile. It's risky for you."

"I'm not worried about me," Eliot said.

"I'm worried about you!" Hardison said.

"This is about me facing my past misdeeds and you need to butt out," Eliot said, pointing in his face.

"Okay. Crocodile Smile, Eliot as bait. Moreau knows about us; he doesn't know about them. We have a backup thief, a backup general," Nate said, waving to Amanda and Joe, "a backup hitter, and a backup geek," indicating MacLeod and Adam. "So we can think of it as… double bait?"

"Double teeth, surely," Sophie said.

"Alien crocodile. Two jaws," Hardison said, gesturing.

"I walk in the front door, give Moreau what he wants, meanwhile the known team pretends to find my pop and gets seen or caught on purpose as the away team finds my pop for real. He'll check me for an earpiece, so I'll go in blind. I trust you," Eliot said.

Nate met his eyes silently. Eliot nodded.

Chapter Text

Eliot walked up to the condemned building in a t-shirt, jeans, and steel-toed work boots. A goon met him, which was exactly what he expected.

A second goon patted him down. A third goon showed him to Damien.

Damien was sitting at a pristine mahogany desk in the middle of a half-demolished factory floor. Cages of long-tailed pigeons stood behind him. His katana laid bare across his desk. He was a littler man than Eliot remembered.

"My dear Eliot," Damien said. Eliot crossed his arms, looked at the ceiling, and tuned him out.

Blah blah. Blah. Blah blah blah. He didn't dare listen. He looked at Damien, after a moment, and watched his lips move. He looked over the room with soft eyes.

Blah blah blah, Damien said, and then his name. Then goons dragged Parker and Hardison into the room and Eliot snapped back into focus.

"You see, I have unearthed your confederates already. I know exactly how you operate," Damien said.

Eliot remained silent.

"Still nothing to say? You two? No? I recall that Sophie and Nate were more talkative. I would have your father write you a note, but I'm not sure if he can write with his left hand," Damien said.

Eliot didn't react. "Villain monologue," Hardison said to Parker.

"Will you say something if I take their heads?" Damien asked Eliot.

"What do you want me to say?" Eliot asked.

Damien flattened his hands on the desk. "You were my teacher. I will face you."

"Is that all? Fine. Let's go." Eliot hooked his thumbs in his belt loops.

"I have grown in strength and--"

"I said let's go," Eliot interrupted.

Damien scowled. He picked up the sword and looked at Hardison and Parker.

"I'm not going to let you hurt them."

"Thank you, boo," Hardison said, projecting his voice across the room. Eliot nodded to him.

"You're unarmed. What are you going to do?"

"What I usually do," Eliot said. He waited.

Damien eyed him. The advantage Eliot had is that Damien thought he knew him, and Eliot knew he didn't. He had changed under Damien's influence. Now he had changed back.

Damien threw him a sword. Eliot caught it and let it drop to the ground. "So, you know your crimes," Damien said.

"I do." He knew what Damien meant: betrayal. And he knew what he meant: murder. He'd rather face Damien naked than under Damien's terms.

"Elliot, don't be stupid," Parker said, but Damien was already swinging on him.

Eliot ignored the sword on the ground. He faked a punch high, kicked low, missed; ducked the sword, moved out of the way of the backhand, dodged the stab, and clawed the eyes, sending Damien flinching backwards with a curse. "You fight like a woman," Damien snapped.

"Thanks," Eliot said, and it gave him an idea; he feinted a grab for the sword but instead planted a knee and punched Damien in the balls with all his strength.

Possibly something broke under his knuckles. Definitely Damien made a high pitched sound and clutched the family jewels. Eliot stood and kicked him in the face, knocking him onto his back. He picked up Damien's sword.

Damien gasped for breath. "Kill me and you'll never find your father."

"Liar." Eliot swung the sword and cut off his head. He had time to regret it, just for a second, before the Quickening hit.

It felt like being electrocuted. It felt like too-rough sex, like Damien was fucking his brain with his memories and desires. He felt Damien's mind poking at him, melting into him, peppering up his blood with new power.

In the end, he was collapsed on his knees, heaving for breath, his hair over his face. He stared at his hands against the floor.

Was his still the same man? Was he part Damien now? He didn't know how to catalog himself, to pick apart his brain and find out what had changed…and he didn't have time, anyway, he had to find his father.

"What in the hell was that?" Hardison squeaked above him. "I mean, what was that? Was this the real Ghostbusters? Did you just summon Zuul? What the fuck, Eliot?"

"Ain't you told him anything, Ely?"

The voice--

Eliot looked up. "Pop," he said. His voice was hoarse.

His father was standing over him, MacLeod on one side and Amanda on the other, holding out his hand. He was as small and skinny as ever, his mustache gray and bristly as a broom, but when he pulled Eliot in for a hug, his arms were strong as iron.

"I'm sorry," Eliot whispered.

"You ain't responsible for every bastard in the world. I tried to tell you that, but you never fuckin' listened," his father said. "I need a beer. You need a beer?"

"Christ, yes," Eliot said.

"Where's your damn shirt? Fightin' with no shirt is how you lose a titty," his father said, and Eliot laughed, half crying, all relief.