Hardison watched as Eliot limped into the pub. Good thing it was Monday and the pub closed early; the state their hitter was in would cause stares. Blood streaked his face and clothes but he headed for the kitchen first anyway. And thank all that's holy that Nate and Sophie are off starting their new life. Nate would be ready to go straight into the after job briefing. Sophie would be mad at him for not making Eliot go to the hospital.
"Eliot, don't you think you should take care of that?" He motioned to the wound on the hitter's side.
The older man grabbed a beer and took a long swallow. "It's fine."
"Fine? How can you say that? You're bleeding. You need to let one of us help you with that."
Parker poked at one of the bruises. "Yeah. You've got a nasty stab wound there."
Eliot growled. "Stop it, Parker. I told you it's fine. I can do it. It'll be fine."
"But you can't-"
The office door slammed behind Eliot and the lock clicked, leaving the other two separated from the injured man.
Hardison pounded on the door. "Eliot! There's no point locking us out. We just want to help. I get your whole tough guy act. You think you have to act like Superman so we'll feel safe."
He met silence. "Fine. You know what? You wanna play it strong and silent…Parker and I are going to a movie."
When Eliot said nothing, Hardison wrapped his arm around the thief and steered her toward the door.
"But, should we leave him alone?" Parker said. "He took quite a few hits and did get stabbed."
"He'll be almost completely healed in a day or two anyway." Hardison met Parker's concerned gaze. "Honestly, momma. He heals faster than anyone I've ever seen. It's just not natural I tell you."
A quick kiss on the cheek convinced her to snake her arm around his waist and leave the pub with him.
Eliot listened to the hacker and thief giggle as they headed away from the door to the office. The squelching sound of his shirt filled the room as he peeled it away from his wound. The fabric hit the floor with a wet splat. Any minor cuts, scrapes or bruises could wait. The wound in his side needed to be dealt with first.
Settled at the worktable, he pulled out his ever present first aid kit. The sting of the antiseptic provided an almost a welcome distraction from the conversation he overheard. He had always thought that the team had an unwanted curiosity about his abilities and penchant for quick healing.
Already, he knew the injury would be nearly healed in a couple of days. Much faster than any normal human being could expect recovery. One of the perks of being a werewolf. Close inspection showed that the edges were already showing signs of repairing themselves. Confident he could get by with only two stitches-three at the most-he set about readying his needle.
Ten minutes later he bandaged the new stitch work and dry swallowed two aspirin. Aspirin was the strongest thing he could allow himself. A drug-addled hitter was a worthless hitter.
Back out in the main area of the pub, his thoughts turned back to the thief and hacker. Everytime a job went south and he took more of a pounding than usual, Parker and Hardison looked at him like he was superhuman. Sometimes the looks on their faces was a mixture of awe and fear. Maybe they were afraid of him. Afraid of the amount of punishment he could take.
It annoyed him to no end that they would be afraid of him. Running his hands through his hair to stop the shake in them, he decided another beer was in order and grabbed a bottle from the kitchen.
The glass felt cool in his hand as he studied some of the more minor cuts on his left hand. A cut on his knuckles was almost closing in front of his eyes. His team had no way of knowing how right they were. Maybe there was no human part of him left. His skin felt itchy and tight with the need to shift and run. He hadn't been human in a long time. Not since the experiments that had made him the first successful lab created lycanthrope.
After checking to make sure everything was taken care of in the pub, he exited through the back door and got into his Dodge. The engine roared to life with the promise of speed and power. It wasn't exactly the same as running -he felt the smirk tug at the corners of his mouth - but it was pretty damn close.
It was Wednesday afternoon when Eliot plated his, Parker's and Hardison's lunch and placed it on the table. "Food's up."
"Just a sec." Hardison didn't even look up from his computer.
"Now, Hardison. It's best if you eat it while it's warm. C'mon."
A raised index finger was his answer. "Just another…one more minute."
Eliot wiped his hands on the dish towel over his shoulder. "Fine. Go ahead and play your little geek games while the food gets cold." He used the spatula in his hand as a pointer. "You don't appreciate what I do around here. It isn't easy to prepare these meals for you guys. And you don't have the decency to come in here and eat. Parker! Soup's on. Unless you're like Hardison and would rather eat ice cold food."
He looked around; there was no sign of the blonde thief. "Seriously? Parker!"
A noise at the table behind him pulled his attention from the hacker. Parker sat at her spot at the table, harness still in place. He looked up and saw the rigging still attached to the ceiling. "What have I said about wearing the rigging at the table?"
Parker looked up at him with food packed in her cheeks. "You said no rigging at the table. Disrespectful to the food," she mumbled around a full mouth.
"No rigging at the table," he agreed.
Hardison rushed past him and claimed his seat. "Damn, Eliot. This smells delicious."
Eliot couldn't help but chuckle and shake his head as his two teammates devoured his meal. "Parker, rigging." He pointed to the harness she still wore and shook his head.
Hardison glanced over at her. "Better take that thing off, woman. Eliot's gonna have a fit if you don't."
"Yeah, yeah." Parker's grumbling grated on his nerves.
"Look, if you guys don't like my rules I can always stop cooking for you. Then you can eat take out or-" The ringing of his cell phone interrupted his rant. A quick glance at the screen showed it to be Vance.
He hadn't heard from Vance since that business with Udall in Washington. Something big must be happening if he was calling. Stepping away from the table, he answered the phone. "Vance. Long time."
"Hello, Spencer. No more gunshot wounds I trust?" He sounded amused.
"None lately. I know this isn't a social call. What's going on?"
"I really need to meet you face to face for this one." A hint of hesitation had crept into Vance's voice. Not a good sign.
"Is it so top secret that you can't tell me over the phone? Are you being monitored?" That fact made him uneasy. If Vance was being watched, whoever was watching him could find Eliot.
"Nothing like that. It's just…it's of a personal nature. I prefer to talk to you about it in person."
When the noise from the dinner table stopped, he glanced over his shoulder to see Parker and Hardison staring at him. With a low growl, he turned his back to them and lowered his voice. "What's this about?"
"Dr. Woolsey. He's back in business, Eliot."
Parker watched Eliot's back go ramrod straight as he listened to the caller. His upper body curled slightly around the phone to keep the conversation private.
"Are you sure? Has he been seen?" He was trying to keep his voice quiet, she could tell.
"Where and when?" He's going to meet someone? We just finished a job. He can't take another one so soon.
She looked to see if Hardison was going to say anything about it. He sat frozen in place, fork halfway between his plate and his mouth. "Um, Eliot? Don't you think…"
The look on Eliot's face when he turned stopped any argument Hardison had planned. Parker didn't like what she saw. She had been paying attention to Sophie during the talks they shared about grifting. Eliot was scared.
A light sheen of sweat beaded at his upper lip. He was staring at them but she felt it wasn't her or Hardison he was seeing. "Eliot?"
He pointed a finger at them to silence them. "Where and when?" His voice had an audible tremor in it. "I'll be there." He ended the call and shoved his phone in his pocket.
Hardison found his voice first. "Wait, man. Where are you going?"
Eliot jammed his arms into his coat. "I've got to go. I've got…a meeting." Turning toward the door, he stopped with his hand on the doorknob.
"We just came off a job. A rough one for you." Hardison just didn't know when to quit sometimes and crossed the room to grab the hitter's arm.
He spun around to face the hacker. "Back off, Hardison," he said as he jerked his arm free.
Springing to her feet, Parker rushed to put herself between them. "Sparky, please, you're still hurt. What's happening?"
The look in his eyes softened as he looked at her. "I can't…it's personal, Parker. I can't tell you. But I have to take care of this. I need you to trust me. Please."
Something in his voice -his eyes-made her lose her resolve to keep him there. "Fine. Be careful. You know we're here if you need us."
Eliot gave a curt nod and slipped out. The door closed, shutting them out.
Later that evening Eliot stood in the center of the park watching the sunset. So many years since he'd had a meeting like this. He sensed the other man behind him even before he heard the footsteps. "Vance."
The taller man joined Eliot in watching the skyline. "Spencer. Been a long time."
Eliot nodded but didn't look around. "Long time," he agreed. "You're sure he's back?"
"Positive. Same MO. Men going missing. Military type. The bodies aren't turning up though."
Eliot swallowed the lump in his throat. "How many?" His voice held an uncharacteristic croak.
Vance shoved his hands in his pockets and stood in front of Eliot. "Three this time. So far."
"Anyone end up like-"
"No. No… special cases like before. That I've seen. It's a miracle I could keep a lid on this. You know I can't send in regular troops for this one."
Eliot pulled his eyes from Vance's face and studied the sky. "I… I know." He forced a smile. "It's why you called me, right? Case like this."
The taller man sighed and rested a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I didn't want to involve you. There are those above me-"
Eliot cut him off with a nod. "I know. Not many survived." He shrugged. "Or have my skill set."
"True." Vance's hands went back in his pockets to steady them. "You gonna be okay?"
"Fine." He couldn't stop the wince when he heard the telling growl creep into his voice. "I'll be fine," he tried again.
The uniformed man tilted his head with a look of disbelief and reached into an inside coat pocket. "Here is all the information I have so far. I'll send more as I can. Will your team be involved in this one?"
Eliot shook his head. "No. No they won't know."
Vance watched him with narrowed eyes. "They don't know?"
"And they aren't going to."
"Don't you think they should…"
"No! Okay? No. They can't know what happened. I can't…" He looked away and swallowed the lump in his throat. "I don't want them to be afraid."
"After seeing them in Washington; seeing what they can do. How they interact with you. They'd never be afraid."
"I can't take that chance. You saw how they looked when I walked away with two gunshot wounds. Normal people don't do that."
Vance sighed as he looked over Eliot's shoulder. "You can't help what Woolsey did to you. It's not your fault that the experiments took in your case. But, you need to tell your team. They need to know."
"How do you tell your team that you were involved in a crazed doctor's experiment and that now…you're a…" He lowered his voice even though no one was around. "Werewolf?"
"They're more than a team and you know it. Hell, I can see that. You're family to them. You should talk to them."
Eliot shook his head. "If I tell them they'll want to help. I can't have them in that kind of danger. Who knows if he's been successful again."
Eliot let his gaze drift back to Vance's face.
"You don't think he's made it work again?" Vance looked doubtful.
"There haven't been any bodies this time."
"In that case, you should be careful. There could be others, Spencer. They could be fighting for him. And if you insist on being alone on this-"
"I do. That's the way it's gotta be." He turned to walk back to the car but paused. "Thank you for letting me know."
"You're welcome." His voice held a hint of hesitation when he added, "Park is pretty secluded this time of evening. Good time to blow off some steam. Maybe go for a walk... or a run."
The thought made the tension drain from Eliot's muscles. "Yeah. Maybe."
Eliot read the file Vance had given him, ignoring the late hour. Photos of the three missing men fanned out before him on the table. He tried not to look at them. Didn't want to see their eyes. He knew the look that would be there anyway. There was a time he had that same look.
The hard look born of determination, love of country and just a hint of anger. The doctor always picked men of that sort. He liked those best. Blindly following where their country led. Anything to make that flag fly higher. As for the anger, it was needed to make the procedure stick.
His laugh was bitter as he thought back. He'd had anger in spades. Guess that's how he survived the procedure when others didn't.
Not wanting to look at the pictures anymore, he turned them over. It was a shame really. Young guys, all of them.
Sleep threatened and he rubbed his eyes. But sleep wasn't an option. Sleep brought nightmares. The meeting with Vance earlier had brought back too many memories.
His neck cracked as he turned back to the files. Parker and Hardison had been told to stay out of this. No discussions. He knew they probably wouldn't listen. The only option was to leave for this one unannounced and to make sure they couldn't find him.
Sneaking out on his team wasn't something he wanted to do. Having either of them get involved with a man like Dr. Woolsey was out of the question. The team didn't know what he had done to Eliot and they weren't going to find out if he could help it. How do you tell your friends…your family Hello, my name is Eliot. And I can turn into a wolf at will and go for long runs in the park?
He couldn't wrap his mind around it either. There were days that he denied it. Thought it was some weird dream fueled by too many blows to the head only to feel the undeniable urge to shift and run. To feel the wind in his fur and be free.
One thing about being a wolf: it made the job of hitter easier. He still got hurt but healing time was significantly shorter than before. So, there was that.
The doctor was back doing his work and it was up to Eliot to stop it. He flipped through the file and looked at the picture of the camp the doctor currently operated out of. The old familiar feeling of adrenaline coursed along his veins as a thought occurred to him. No time like the present. A moment to grab his jacket and car keys; and he was out the door.