The man staring him down wasn’t really what he was expecting. But then… he didn’t really know what he had been expecting, if he was honest with himself. The last couple of weeks that had brought him here were hazy at best.
Brain going a mile a minute, looping in on itself, tracking to the flag folded and boxed under his bed, flashing to the face he’d long since resigned himself he’d never see again (and wasn’t that a kick in the teeth? He’d gotten little more than a second of a view and all of a sudden he was twenty-one again, watching his best friend walk away, he was twenty-three again, watching his world fall out from under him as boots marched up Dad’s driveway), scrambling along to the tripping run as he’d chased a ghost down the street, sliding to a dead stop as that face disappeared into the back of a car and faded into traffic as if he’d never existed.
He hadn’t really been able to process right then, standing on that street corner with his heart in his throat and a name on his lips.
He’d spent more than a week telling himself he hadn’t seen what he knew he had. Another week in a bar to make it stick. Which never worked - he knew it never worked but… he’d had to try. The very idea that for the last decade he’d held onto a lie…
Dragging himself out of that pit hadn’t been easy. Hell, he’s still not sure if he did drag his ass out of that pit - didn’t know if he wasn’t still living it, about to wake up from a drunken stupor in his own home with a cold knot in his stomach.
But he had - somehow - and he’d set himself to searching. For anything, everything that he could. Not that he got very far (he could admit that. He’d picked up a few tricks over the years, to keep himself hidden, keep himself straight, but he was no hacker), and he was pretty sure he’d found more conspiracy theorists than he’d consciously been aware existed.
Then she’d shown up. Beautiful woman, dark haired and red lipped, with a dangerous smile and a lilting voice that he had a feeling could drip honey or poison at the blink of an eye. Assuming, of course, one could tell the difference. He didn’t trust her from the second she’d deigned to slide into the booth across from him - from the moment he’d clocked her heading his way. Not that he showed it - he may not have the greatest handle on people sometimes, but keeping under their radar? He had that down - shooting her a lopsided grin and tapping the brim of his hat up away from his brow.
“Well don’t you look like you’re from somewhere interestin’.” A delicately arched eyebrow was his only response. He just grinned, tipping his bottle back, never letting his eyes stray. She looked… amused. Possibly. She could also be planning on where to dump his body for all he knew. Maybe both.
He’s pretty sure she hadn’t been fooled for a second. But she didn’t call him out on it - not directly, though he couldn’t shake the feeling that she spent most of the brief conversation laughing at him. Just placed a card in front of him - a name that was vaguely familiar, an address that wasn’t - and told him, in a clipped, thick accent, to continue his search there. She’d left with another razor thin smile, parting the crowd in her wake.
The card stayed where she’d left it most of that night, him nursing drink after drink, staring it down. The name… he’d heard it before. Couldn’t place it. Not with his head getting heavier and heavier. Last call sent him out into the chilled night - tail end of what passed for winter here trying to hold on to the flat stretch of land around him - clutching the card and swearing he’d remember in the morning.
Oddly enough, he did. Almost cracked his head on the end table shooting awake and tangling himself in the covers. Shelley. Army buddy. Pretty sure he even met him when they came stateside for a week, though he couldn’t place a face to save his life. And then the sun reminded him that it existed and the pounding in his head drove away most functional thought for a couple hours.
The address hadn’t been close. Hadn’t been far per se - he’d driven a helluva lot farther on shorter notice when his Dad wanted a job scoped out before the surveyors could get there - but it was looking to be a trip at the least.
Well. Dad wouldn’t miss him for a couple days. Pretty sure he saw him wandering into one of the darker places he hadn’t managed to stumble into yet. And he could take a yelling match when he got back anyway. So, decision made, little voice in the back of his head telling him he was wrong steadfastly ignored, bag packed and thrown in the back of his truck, he chewed up road and did his best not to hope. Too much, anyway.
Shelley’s place wasn’t hard to find. Smaller town, bland apartment building with water stains down the brick, rusted out rails just waiting to give way, but clean hallways with only every other light threatening to flicker out. Knocking on the door didn’t get an immediate response - good or bad, he wasn’t sure. A second knock and he thought he heard a boot scuff on tile. Maybe. Drilling sites weren’t doing anything for his hearing honestly. But the door opened a crack in the next moment.
Same dark eyes. Same cropped hair. Same stupid grin after a couple moments of intense staring. The door opened up wide, “Well I’ll be damned, Stone!” Well. At least he remembered him - for all that he was pretty sure they’d only met that one time. “The hell’re you doing here?” He was set to shoot a smile in return, fall right into telling him what the hell was going on when his senses actually kicked in. A grin just a shade too sharp, eyes going over him a little too intently, a tense hand on the door, another hidden behind the frame.
He raised his hands with an easy grin. Under the radar. Easy. “Got told you could help me find somethin’.” Shelley eyed him over for another long moment before leaning out enough to check the halls for a breath, and hauling him into the apartment. Jacob let himself be moved easily. Best not to resist the ex-military guy that had decided he wasn’t a threat.
Door locked, a gun he hadn’t noticed (great) tucked back into a holster under his jacket, Shelley turned on him with a curious look. “Told by who?”
“You know, didn’t think to ask her name.” No thank you. He hadn’t questioned how she’d known where to find him, what he was looking for, or why she was helping him - and that would definitely come back to bite him in the ass later but you know what - “She just gave me your address, said you could help, and left.”
Shelley didn’t look all that convinced, but his hand did leave the doorknob finally. “...You know, never thought you’d be the one come knockin’ on my door.” A shark’s grin and Jacob’s heart was in his throat again.
“Expectin’ someone else?” Less teeth in the next smile, a gentler look that threw Jacob for a bit of a loop.
Shelley had been unable to actively tell him much. A confirmation that last he heard, Jacob was right. He didn’t have the resources to find him but… he knew some people who might. Who’d help rather than promise him something they couldn’t deliver. When Jacob had pressed, Shelley had just thrown out a comment about a freelance gig he’d taken with them. (“They’re good people Jake -...Jacob, right. - and trust me. They’re the ones you want.”)
He didn’t ask about the freelance gig the same way he didn’t ask about the woman.
So. Here he was. In Boston. In a bar. Staring down an older man in a rumpled suit, who was subtly nursing a coffee mug full of whiskey - pretty good at hiding it too. But… - and listening to him ramble. And he was rambling. He’d reached that point almost within five minutes of sitting down.
A woman had joined them about ten minutes ago but besides a quick introduction - “Sophie, this is…” “Stone, Jacob Stone.” A small smile and a wave to continue - hadn’t interrupted.
The silence that finally collapsed into his headlong rush of a speech threatened to swallow him whole. He hadn’t planned any of that, hadn’t even thought about what or how he’d ask in the last month if there was even a chance… And that lack of, well, thought, was catching up with him now.
He was alive. He was alive.
Oh. Oh God.
He wouldn’t break down like his lungs and mind wanted to. Not in public. But it was a damn close thing. Had his breath coming in short and his eyes stinging for a moment too long to hide. The man (Ford, right?) and Sophie, bless them, didn’t say a word. Sophie even reached out just long enough to gently squeeze his arm. Not too familiar, but careful, comforting for a brief moment before she backed off. All he could take at the moment, if he was honest with himself.
“Mr. Stone, when did you last see him? Before last month.”
Jacob frowned, pretty sure that had fallen out somewhere in that rant. Took a deep breath. But that’s what it’d been. A rant. Information, Ford needed information.
“Right ah… would’ve been fourteen years ago? He came back stateside for a week…” he couldn’t hide the small smile at the memory if he tried, only for it to crumple in the next breath. “Got a knock at the door a month later. Didn’t know he’d put me down… ‘stead of his old man.”
“And you’re sure you saw him?”
“Saw him. Tracked down an old army buddy of his.” Doesn’t matter how at this point. Not really. Shelley was tense enough. “He gave me you. Said if anyone’d help, it’d be you.”
“And what, exactly, do you want from this?” And there’s that loop again. If he could stay balanced for five minutes that’d be great. But he took the moment Ford gave him, feeling out how to word this request, how to ask this stranger to help, to help fill the hole that had opened up under his feet and just didn’t want to close.
“Help me find my brother. Help me bring him home.”
“Absolutely not.” Quinn was not going to back down on this, dammit. This was not a job they were taking, and he was putting his foot down.
Which did absolutely shit all, but still.
When he’d signed on to this… whatever it was. He still didn’t know, two years of being unable to shake them notwithstanding. Came around often enough to pull whatever hairbrained scheme Ford had cooked up - left Dayan in his place when he couldn’t quite make it - and usually left just as quickly. Usually. Since Nate-Ford. Since Ford had bailed on them, and then they’d bailed him out, and then they’d been blackmailed into the stupidest fucking idea he’d ever heard, he’d been finding himself ending up here a lot more often.
But that wasn’t what he was addressing here.
When he’d signed onto this crew, it had been understood, he thought, that he knew his game. Was one of the best, frankly. If he was saying “no,” they should listen. He’d said “no” only once before and… wait. They hadn’t listened then either. And that was only a month ago. (See, been blackmailed. His perfectly legitimate suggestion to get the ever loving hell out of dodge had been promptly ignored then too). What the hell.
“I don’t know what that guy told you,” bullshit. His hearing was just fine, “but who he’s looking for doesn’t need to be found.”
He could admit to himself that seeing Stone walk into the bar had been a trip for a moment. He’d been off the stool and halfway to him by the time it kicked in that the man was wrong. Too soft in the eyes, hair too short and neat, walk completely off kilter. The man wasn’t a hitter, wasn’t coming for his- the. Wasn’t coming for the crew. At least, not like he’d thought.
He could’ve done without the brief flashback to the spectacularly broken ribs he’d gotten from the man’s doppelganger, thanks. He’d let Sophie and Ford handle the man, keeping an eye on the group but staying out of the way. Hardison called it lurking. He called it doing his job.
And no one was listening. Well, Parker was, from her perch on the arm chair, but he had a feeling that was just because he was the loudest moving thing in the room right now. There was a 50-50 shot she was also ignoring him and instead mentally working out the kinks in her newest rig. ...Maybe 30-70.
“He’s just looking for his brother. I fail to see how that’s that big of a problem. Not our usual job no but… I mean, the poor man came this far. Least we can do is dig around.” Sophie called over from the kitchen.
Which. Yeah. Brother. Explained the deja vu at least. And ruled out doppelgangers.
How the hell had they missed a brother? He’d never heard a word. Not a rumor, not a suggestion, at any point of a brother. Far as he knew, every hitter was pretty sure the man had no family to speak of. He hadn’t gone as far as to believe some of the more outlandish reasonings behind that fact (aliens? Really? What were they, geeks?), even when he’d been a little too green to know how to pick the good rumors from the bad - pick out the miniscule detail that’d save his ass in a fight, and ignore the ones that’d get his ass shot for repeating - but even he hadn’t thought much past the general idea of a loner.
Shaking his head, he had a whole ‘nother rant ready to go before Hardison cleared his throat. And cue why everyone should’ve just listened to Quinn in the first place.
“...So. What’s the chance we get blackmailed into hunting down Moreau - still need to have an actual conversation ‘bout that, Nate - the same month his right hand gun’s brother comes outta nowhere - and I do mean nowhere. Man’s from Nowheresville, Oklahoma, seriously, the hell is out there - and asks us for help?”
Hardison’s screen transferred to the ones set up along the wall, a face too rough, too hard to be Stone’s popping up on one side, blacked out files, security footage, and warrants popping up on the other.
“Aha. Thought Eliot Spencer sounded familiar.” Ford was already thinking, Quinn could see. Gears turning away in his head as bloodshot yet sharp eyes watched the grainy footage of Spencer covering Moreau’s back into a plane, all careful movement and decisive control where Stone had been loose and wrong. “...Think we found our in.”
And oh, some day Quinn was going to knock Ford on his ass. If Sophie could slap him, Quinn deserved one punch, right?