Chapter 3 - Moreau
Eliot was smirking at him, one eyebrow quirked as he watched the thoughts chase across the face of the man he'd just come to realize he thought of as a little brother, blood be damned. An extremely annoying little brother who was smarter than anyone he'd ever met. It was fun to watch the confusion about where the door had come from. That was exactly why he'd opened it while Hardison was getting the kit. He knew it would mess with him.
"Come on, let's do this upstairs." He held a small cooler tote with several beers tucked away inside in one hand and a bowl in the other. A clean towel was thrown over his shoulder. Somewhere he'd found a t-shirt to put on.
"Upstairs? There's an upstairs?" Alec squeaked.
"Kind of. Come on, I'll show you." Eliot turned and started up, Hardison on his heels. They stepped out and stopped at the sight of the sun just beginning to peek out above the horizon. They had a 360-degree view and it was stunning. Alec wandered around, tapping on the glass surround, immediately knowing it was bulletproof. Everywhere he looked, there were plants. Some were vegetables, some were fruit. Knowing Eliot, he wasn't surprised. What did surprise him, was the number of flowering plants that had no value other than how beautiful they were. The older man let him wander, watching him with a half-smile on his face.
When Alec had made a full circuit and was standing back next to him, he turned and led the way into the center of the garden. There he'd set up a nice seating arrangement. An outdoor couch and two chairs with comfortable cushions, their colors blending in with the foliage that surrounded them. Two outdoor heaters so he could spend some time out there in the colder weather, keep his plants going a bit longer. In the center was a table that he put the tote down on. He rearranged the two chairs, so they were facing each other and sat down in one. Alec sat in the other, handing Eliot the duffle bag. There was no way he was going rummaging around in that, making a mess of the hitter's careful arrangements. He watched as his friend began to pull out what they'd need.
"Oh, I didn't think, we need water. I'll go back down and get it."
"You don't need to go downstairs, there's water up here."
"There is? Where?" He hadn't seen it, but then he hadn't scoured every square inch of this amazing space. He should have realized there had to be a water supply up here to keep the plants this lush.
"Southwest corner, there's a spigot." He handed Hardison the bowl. "Go ahead and fill this about half full. I'll have everything ready when you get back." He really didn't need the hacker's help. He'd taken care of much worse on his own, but he'd heard something in the other man's voice. He wanted to help, maybe needed to, in order to put the recent events behind him, even though Eliot knew how much blood bothered him. It had made him realize it was a genuine offer and so he had, grudgingly, agreed. He'd probably have to redo it all after the other man left, but if it made him feel better, Eliot was willing to go along with it. The man in question returned with the water to find everything he needed neatly laid out on the table.
Sitting back down, he laid the towel across his knees and pulled Eliot's right hand onto it. He picked up a piece of cloth, dunked it in the bowl, wrung it out and began to gently wipe away the dried blood. The stubborn idiot had made hamburger out of his fists. He swallowed against the threatening bile and to take his mind off what he was seeing, he began doing the thing he was second best at. Talk.
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want, but I'm going to ask." He felt the sudden tension in the hand he held, although it didn't pull back. That gave him the confidence to go on. "You know the kind of man Moreau is, it led to you leaving him and agreeing to help us bring him down. Why did you start to work for him in the first place?"
There was silence and he was sure he wasn't going to get an answer. He'd just about given up when Eliot's deep voice spoke softly. "He wasn't always a monster. Don't get me wrong, he was a criminal and he was ruthless, but not always the heartless bastard you know today."
"What changed?" Alec rinsed out the cloth in the bowl, a bit sickened when the water started turning pink.
Instead of an answer, he got a question. "Did you notice all the beautiful women he surrounds himself with?"
Hardison snorted. "Hard not to."
"Did you also notice he wears a wedding ring?"
Shocked, he stopped his ministrations and looked up at Eliot. The man was staring off into the distance, his face shuttered. "Moreau's married? He's married? Like, with a wife?" No, he hadn't noticed the wedding ring, he'd been far more worried about Eliot and his hidden connection to the man they were trying to take down.
"He was." There was so much sadness in those two words.
"Her name was Georgiana, Georgie for short. She was beautiful inside and out. Moreau swept her off her feet. Convinced her she was the love of his life. The only problem with that was, Damian Moreau is incapable of loving anyone but himself. She quickly found out she was just another one of his possessions and what he possessed, he kept." The way he talked about her, made Alec's heart ache.
Gently rubbing at the dried blood again to give himself something to do, he asked quietly. "You loved her, didn't you?" He looked up as he said it and saw an indescribable wave of pain cross Eliot's face.
He closed his eyes and whispered his reply. "Yes." In Memphis, he'd told Kaye Lynn that he'd been in love once and how it had ended. He hadn't been able to admit it had been twice and that the second one had been ripped away from him.
"Did she…did she care for you too?" The only answer he got this time was a nod.
"Eliot, what happened to her? Did Moreau hurt her because of you?"
"No, we were careful. I convinced him that I thought of her as a little sister, even to the point of being annoyed when she wanted me to help her with something, take her somewhere. And I made sure there were plenty of other women. Eventually, I was the only one he would trust with her when she had to go somewhere. We were able to steal a little time here and there. We started to make plans to disappear together. Change our names, go somewhere remote, drop off the grid. Maybe…maybe start a family." He stopped there, unable to continue when his throat closed up on him.
"Did Moreau find out about you two?" Hardison asked again.
A mirthless laugh met that question. "If he had, you and I would never have met. They would never have found my body."
"Then what did happen?"
Eliot breathed in deeply, his breath hitching as he prepared to relive that time of his life. "I was out of town on a job for him. She wanted to attend a local craft fair in a little town by the villa where they lived. She went every year and spent a lot of Moreau's money there, buying things she really didn't need, things she would just give away. She was worried that they would miss that infusion of cash. It was a poor town and she cared about the people who lived in it. She talked him into letting her go with another one of his men."
He stopped, trying to get his emotions under control. Alec waited, sorry now that he'd started this conversation. Although his curiosity was killing him, he knew it was hurting his friend. He opened his mouth to tell him that that was enough, that they could just stop there, when Eliot spoke again. "One of his competitors hit them on the way back to his estate. The bodyguard was killed, and they took her."
"Did they try to use her against him?"
"They didn't even try." He replied quietly. "They just started to send pieces of her back every couple of days." Stunned, all Alec could think of was to squeeze the hand he was cleaning. He was almost shocked when it squeezed back. "Moreau went crazy trying to find her. Not out of love, but because someone had had the nerve to take what was his. Me? It burned something out of me. I became a machine, doing whatever he wanted. Then it happened. Her mutilated body was dumped in front of the local hospital in the dead of night. The coroner said she died of blood loss and trauma. Moreau stepped up his game and eventually figured out who had done it and why. A rival who didn't like the way Moreau was eating into his own business. It was supposed to be a warning to back off. He sent me after him and his men. After his family. It changed him and not for the better. I think he got a taste for it, like a big cat getting the taste of human flesh." Here he looked up and met Hardison's eyes square on, not even noticing the tears that had started again and were trailing down his cheeks, dripping unheeded into his lap. "No one got out of that compound alive."
He waited for the condemnation, for the look of horror and disgust. Prepared himself to watch his friend finally recoil from him and walk away. Instead, Alec reached out and awkwardly patted the other man's shoulder, surprised when his hand wasn't shrugged away. "I'm so sorry you had to go through that. I wish I had known you then. Maybe I could have helped you find her before it was too late."
"Did you hear what I said? My team and I killed every living thing in that place."
"They hurt you. They took something, someone, precious away from you. I don't condone it. I can't. But I can understand it. Me? I would have burned their worlds to the ground using my computer, along with anyone and everyone even remotely connected to them. I would have made it my mission to do it for the rest of their miserable lives. They would have lived but it would not have been an easy life. They'd only wish I had killed them." Eliot was shocked to hear the absolute conviction and blood lust in those words. Maybe they weren't as unalike as he thought.
"Age of the geek?"
"So, was that the thing you told Parker not to ask you about?"
"No. That was even worse. The world I was living in was sheathed in fog. Everything was gray and lifeless without her. I felt nothing. Until then. It woke me up from the nightmare of my life and I realized that what I had just done, if she'd lived to find out about it, would have destroyed her love for me. That was when I vowed never to use a gun again. That was when I walked away from Damian Moreau for good. I think he knew I wasn't going to be any good to him anymore, so he let me go." He confessed and realized for the first time that he'd broken his vow, not to hurt, but to save. To save the people he'd come to love more than anything in this world. He knew he would die for them, kill for them, pick up a gun for them and only for them.
He hoped Alec wouldn't ask. If he did, he'd do what he'd told Parker he would. He'd tell the whole sordid story. He was relieved when the other man didn't, asking instead.
"Would you do something like that now?"
"I can't promise I wouldn't. If something like that happened to one of you? I can't promise." He knew Hardison was referring to what he'd done after Georgie had been so brutally murdered, not the events that the other man understood he never wanted to recount.
"Well, I know you wouldn't. You've changed Eliot. You've become a better person. A scary one at times, but better. You're a good man now, one who helps people, not hurts them. Unless, of course, they're trying to hurt someone else. Then you go all ninja on their asses." He started to sooth antiseptic cream over the torn knuckles. Eliot watched him in a stupor, still not sure how to process that Alec Hardison, most squeamish of the squeamish, had just nonchalantly dismissed his confession and made one of his own. He didn't understand how he could be so mad at him a couple days ago and so trusting, so forgiving, now. He continued to watch as the younger man ineptly wound bandages around his knuckles and fingers. Yup, he'd have to redo them. Maybe, tomorrow. Maybe he'd leave them as is for a while, let them remind him that he had people in his life who cared about him, who wanted to help him.
Alec finished up and pulled the other hand into his lap, performing the same triage on it. They were both quiet, Eliot watching the long dark fingers work so gently, thinking hard. When it was done, the hacker stood up and stretched, cracking his back. He looked at his watch, stunned to find it was 6:30. He'd been here over two hours already.
"We never did have that beer." He said.
"Not too late." Eliot replied.
Alec hesitated, then sat back down, holding out a hand for the promised beer. The hitter reached into the cooler and pulled two out, handing one off. They sat in silence for a while, each contemplating what had just happened. Both raised their beer for a sip at the same time and their eyes met.
Smiling, Alec said. "To San Lorenzo." He tipped his beer towards Eliot. The other man tapped it with his.
"To San Lorenzo." He replied. He had a friend there, maybe he'd be willing to help. The man owed him for saving his life once, well one and a half times. Maybe the future wasn't the ash he thought it was. Maybe this would work. He looked at his friend, his brother, and made a decision. "Hardison?"
"No, I wouldn't do it again." He made it sound like a vow, which it was. A little over fourteen hours ago he'd broken a vow, but that one had only been to himself. This one? This one he would keep no matter what. You didn't break a vow to family.
"Didn't think you would, my brother."