Richard 'Ricochet' O'Connell was the scariest fucking centenarian that Hardison had ever met. Not, you understand, that he'd ever met all that many centenarians.
And it wasn't just because of his record. Which, seriously. How was the guy even human? His history read like the back of a series of pulp adventure novels. Orphaned in Egypt by American missionary parents; joined the French Foreign Legion for the usual lurid reasons; actually made it to the officers' ranks, which was pretty rare for someone not born speaking the language; survived when the entire rest of his garrison got slaughtered on a bogus mission into the desert; somehow snagged a Brit aristocrat's daughter; and that was only the first three decades. He'd actually been hanged once, full-on 'hung by the neck until dead', and survived to tell about it-- and that was during his first encounter with the woman he later married.
No-- at least half of the reason Hardison wanted to take back every single old guy joke he'd ever made was standing right there in the bar, dressed in button-fly jeans, a linen shirt rolled up at the cuffs, and actual brown leather suspenders. Rick O'Connell did not look his age, despite the antique wardrobe; he looked late sixties, maybe, or possibly early seventies if the light hit him just wrong and emphasized his crow's feet and smile lines. He still had a full head of thick white hair, a shrewd, piercing gaze, and shoulders broader than most guys half his age who weren't named John McClane. The only real concession he seemed to've made to the passage of time was the cane propped under his right hand and a certain amount of knobbiness in his wrists and knuckles.
It was no surprise, really, that the guy was related to Eliot.
"I'm sorry, you want us to do what?" Nate asked, raising his eyebrows at him.
'Call me Rick' cast a sidelong look at the barstool where Eliot was studiously playing with his beer bottle; Eliot sighed and shrugged his shoulders a little, conveying whole sentences without so much as saying a word.
Rick sighed, and shifted his grip on the cane. "Look, I know how it sounds," he said. "A three thousand year old dagger that can be used to raise the dead? I don't blame you for not believing. I didn't, the first time I ran into this stuff. But you'd better believe that this guy believes it's real; and that's why he's stolen it. Three days from now, when the stars are aligned just right, he's going to try to bring his dead girlfriend back, and believe me when I say you don't want to know what he's going to do to make sure it happens."
"...always the same story," Eliot muttered under his breath, shaking his head grimly. "How do you still get mixed up in this crazy shit?"
"I'm sorry, did you say something?" Rick cupped his left hand slightly around his ear and tilted it in Eliot's direction. "Because I could have sworn I just heard you curse at me, and I know your mother raised you better than that."
The look on Eliot's face had Hardison clearing his throat loudly to avoid bursting into laughter.
Nate gave Hardison a dirty look, then nodded at Rick and asked another question. "You said that prior to the theft, the dagger was under the protection of these-- Medjai? Not to sound skeptical, but-- they're actually in the same country, and I assume at least as knowledgeable as you are about its intended purposes. So why come to us? Why aren't they retrieving it?"
Rick's expression darkened; and wow, it was possible for him to remind Hardison of Eliot more than he did already. That scowl had to be genetic. "They've tried. But they're still very-- traditional in some ways, and Sirk has the local law enforcement on his side. There's no way they're getting past his security without being obvious about it, and probably causing a major incident. So they asked me to get involved."
"You mean they called you up and started in on that 'traveler from the West' bullshit again." Eliot growled.
Rick ignored him. "But since some people seem to think I'm too old to go out into the field anymore, I passed it along to the next most capable Medjai in the family. He tells me his team is the best. So, are you? Can you stop Sirk and get the dagger back before the deadline?"
Nate curled one hand around his coffee mug, and tapped at the hard surface of the bar with the fingers of the other. Then he nodded, and looked about ready to answer-- when the back door opened from the building's stairwell, and the attention of the entire group briefly swung to see who had arrived.
It was Sophie, cell phone held loosely in one hand and a look of perturbed concentration on her face. "Sorry I'm late," she told Nate as she slid onto the bar stool beside him, her attention still on the slim black device she was sliding into a pocket. "An-- old contact called, wanting me to do a job for him; I've told him I don't work without my team anymore, but he was extremely reluctant to take 'no' for an answer."
She didn't seem to have noticed Rick-- but he'd definitely noticed her; Hardison saw him do a distinct double-take at the sound of her voice, and he leaned slightly around Nate for a better look. "That can't be my favorite niece I hear?"
Sophie started, drawing in a sharp breath and clapping a hand to her chest; then she was off her stool in half a second, pressing Rick's free hand between her own almost before Hardison registered she'd moved. "Uncle Rick!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here? Is this about the call I just received from my grandfather? It's just like him to send you all this way to try and convince me not to do the responsible thing for once!"
Uncle? Hardison dragged his attention away from the second unexpected family encounter of the day to glance at Eliot, and found him staring at Sophie as though he'd never seen her before. He looked stunned, and just a little horrified, much to Hardison's bemusement.
Rick made an exasperated noise. "I told Jonathan I had it covered; he should never have called you in the first place. But he's making noises about being on his deathbed again, and cursing all bloody Americans; frankly," he briefly lowered his voice to an ostentatious whisper, "I think he's getting a little senile. Don't worry about it. I am a little surprised to see you visiting Eliot, though; I didn't think your mother had bothered to introduce her precious daughter to the disreputable branch of the family."
Now it was Sophie's turn to look like she'd been poleaxed; she gave Eliot an utterly indecipherable look, the likes of which Hardison hadn't seen since the snafu over the second David, then shook her head. "Visiting Eliot? Why would you think I was visiting Eliot? And what has he to do with the family?" She laid a casual hand on Nate's shoulder, as though the gesture were unconscious; Hardison had no doubt it was totally calculated, though.
"What has he to do...?" Rick blinked at her, taken aback. "You mean you don't know?"
"You have got to be kidding me," Eliot blurted suddenly, stepping back from his own stool.
"No way," Hardison said gleefully, unable to hold it in any longer as he glanced between them. "Unh-uh. You are not telling me these guys are cousins and didn't even know it!"
"I think he just did," Nate said, sounding a little stunned; but he had that 'Aha' look on his face, as though a long-perplexing set of puzzle pieces was finally fitting together. It looked distinctly smug on him-- though part of that might have come from that nonverbal claim from Sophie, too. 'Bout time.
"He's my what?" Sophie, again.
Rick glanced between her and Eliot-- then suddenly looked inexpressibly amused. "He's my great-grandson, so you do the math. Lord, if Evie could see this, she'd rip me up one side and down the other; you take as much after her as you do after Jonathan, you know. But Eliot's all O'Connell. If you've been working together very long, there have got to be some interesting stories."
Cousins. Second cousins once removed, if they wanted to get all technical about it. Sophie and Eliot. Hardison was never going to let them forget it. Wow. It was like finding out Parker was Nate's long-lost daughter, or something-- which, he frantically tried to wipe his mind of that thought. Better not tempt fate.
"You're not wrong about that," Eliot snorted.
Sophie still looked pale. "All the time I've spent trying to establish a life separate from the family legend...."
"And it was with you the whole time," Rick still looked amused. "Sorry, darlin'. You definitely got the Carnahan gene for luck."
She shook her head; then finally let herself laugh, too.
It was at that point that Parker breezed in the bar's front door, bright-cheeked and stamping snow off her shoes. Her brow furrowed a little as she took in the scene; then she gravitated straight to Hardison, sidling up next to him with a puzzled look.
"Okay, so what did I miss?" she whispered fiercely in his ear.
Hardison grinned so wide his cheeks started to hurt. "Oh, you are not going to believe this...."