Summary: There are a lot of things Eliot has seen and done that he'd like to protect his friends from. When one of those things surfaces, he calls on the Winchesters for help.
A/N: Written for the leverageland big bang challenge. Thank you to telaryn for the beta!
Eliot isn’t a fan of bars or clubs with loud, thumping music that leaves you with a headache. They’re not his idea of a good time – he doesn’t see the fun in having to stand squashed in by people you don’t know and then fight to reach the bar to get a drink. Comfort aside, they’re also dangerous for people like him – it’s too easy for someone to sidle up against you and that’s it, the quick slide of a knife between your ribs, and you’re done for. It’s why he prefers the quiet bars, the ones that never get full and usually have soft rock music playing in the background. The kind of bar he grew up with in his hometown.
He finds The Roadhouse when he’s in his early twenties, travelling from one army base to another with a buddy of his. The jeep they’re travelling in breaks down after just three hours of driving and when they try to hitch a ride there’s only room for one in the truck that pulls to the side for them. They flip a coin and Eliot loses.
He’s been walking for over two hours in blistering heat that would have made him sick if he hadn’t already completed a tour in even worse conditions when he spots the bar. It looks a little rundown, as though there’s never enough money around to keep it completely up to scratch - just like every other bar Eliot’s always preferred. Today, though, it doesn’t matter what it looks like on the outside: it’s a bar, which means there’s shade, a seat and a beer waiting for him on the inside.
In the doorway, he stops for a moment and just takes in the cool air that greets him. It’s a stark contrast from outside, and he goes from feeling way too hot to just feeling plain tired. The dark lighting of the place doesn’t help – it’s the type of bar someone who didn’t have his survival instincts could easily fall asleep in. There’s only one other customer, over at a table in the corner with piles of paper spread out in front of her, and one man behind the bar.
“You look beat,” the guy standing behind the bar says to him as he slides into a stool. “Beer or something stronger?”
“Just a beer’ll do – and a phone, if you have one?”
“Over there in the corner, but rest a while first – you look like you’ll keel over if you stand up right now.” The man sets a bottle down in front of Eliot, tilting his head curiously. “You got a name?”
“Eliot. Damn car broke down in the middle of nowhere and I’ve not had any luck hitching.”
“That explains the sunburn – you’ll want to put something on that. I’m Bill, by the way, owner of this place. We have rooms, if you need somewhere until you can get picked up and taken to wherever you’re headed.”
“Thanks. I’ll see what they say when I call into base.”
“Then consider that beer on the house – and the room, too, if you need it.”
“That’s not going to help us make money,” the woman sitting at the table calls out, not harshly but firmly. Not a customer after all, then.
“He’s probably not got a dime to spare, either,” Bill replies, and then smiles, “that’s my wife over there – Ellen. Hell of a woman.”
“You must be a lucky man,” says Eliot.
“I am. Give me a sec – I’m going to go talk to my wife.”
Now that he’s been given a break from polite conversation, Eliot takes a long, hard pull from his drink and almost sighs in relief as the cool beer relieves his parched throat. He really should have called tails and bagged himself a ride, instead of continuing on with the streak of bad luck that seems to be following him around.
He drinks his beer slower after that, tuning out Bill and Ellen as they speak to one another – Bill’s made a generous offer, but Eliot isn’t surprise that Ellen is reserved about it; with business as quiet as it seems to be, one freebie could be enough to put a place like this into the red.
“Hey.” Ellen sits down on the stool next to him. “Listen, don’t take it personally but if you need a room, you’re going to have to pay something. Half-price, though.”
“That sounds more than fair. Thank you.”
“Bill tells me you’re a soldier. How’s that going for you?”
Eliot snorts. “Served one tour, now I’m heading to a new base to get ready to serve another.”
“Now that’s not a proper answer.” Ellen smiles knowingly. “But I won’t press you for one. We get lots of folk passing through here who want to keep their secrets to themselves.”
It’s certainly that kind of joint, but Eliot looks around, sceptical of the lots of folk.
Ellen laughs. “Boy, it’s 10 am in the morning – give it a couple hours and this place will be busier, mostly with people just like you.”
He’s about to reply when the door bursts open with so much force that it smacks back against the wall. Both he and Ellen turn to see a man walking quickly towards Bill, and the newcomer’s fist flies before anyone else can make a move. Eliot’s always had quick reflexes, though, so he’s across the bar before the guy can land another punch, and he’s pushing him back and then regretting packing his gun away instead of carrying it when there’s a revolver shoved in his face.
“It’s okay,” Ellen says, “damn, everyone calm down. Whatever’s happened, we’re all friends here.”
The stranger shakes his head. “Not all of us. That’s not your husband.”
“What? What are you-”
And that’s how Eliot meets John Winchester.
“Is that Nate on the phone?” Parker asks as she walks into the room. “I need to ask him something.”
Eliot shakes his head. “Sorry. It was, but we just hung up. I think he’s free if you want to call him back.”
“It can wait until later. Hardison wants to show us both something – that’s why I came to find you.”
Eliot nods and follows Parker through to the room they use for their briefings. It hasn’t changed much since five became three and Parker took over the mastermind role, but it has comfier seats now, something which Eliot is glad for as they wait for Hardison to set up. The hacker’s usually ready for them, but he seems to be struggling with something.
“We can come back,” offers Parker, “if you still have things to prepare.”
“No.” Hardison glances up at them. “No, I just wanted to be sure of this.”
“One of the marks I’ve been researching for us – Olivia Heaton. I, um, looked into all the usual things and something odd showed up on a few of the surveillance photos.”
“Okay,” says Parker, “is it something we can use?”
“I honestly have no idea. I don’t even have an idea what this is. At first I thought it was just a tech problem, or some sort of camera flare, but I’ve looked closer and I don’t think it is anymore.”
Eliot stares at the photo as Hardison brings it up on the screen. Olivia on a night out, walking along a busy street, and Hardison’s right – her eyes are not what they should be. Worse still, they’re something he’s seen before.
He’s never actively went looking for hunts, or for evidence of the paranormal – hell, he’s seen enough human monsters to want to avoid looking for the more traditional kind – but he’s done favours for people sometimes, and he’s gone into places where fighting a different kind of being was impossible to escape. What he has always done, though, is try and keep that knowledge and the people he cares about far, far away from each other.
“What do you think, Eliot?” asks Parker.
“I’m not sure,” he says. Shapeshifter, he thinks. “It just looks like a camera flare to me. I mean, what else could it be?” It’s the first time he’s lied to them in a long time, and he forces himself to meet their eyes. “Is this seriously what you called us in here for, Hardison? We’re busy people, you know.”
Hardison takes a step forward, gesturing wildly with his arms. “You seriously aren’t freaked out by this? Look at her eyes.”
“You’ve been playing too many of those computer games,” he says, steadfastly not looking back at the photo, “and operating on too little sleep. That’s all.”
Eliot leaves Hardison and Parker examining the photo – because Parker’s intrigued by Hardison’s claims – and goes outside away from the bugs and cameras Hardison has set up all around the building for their own safety. A few years ago, his first course of action for this sort of thing would have been to call The Roadhouse and get Ellen to send a hunter for the job. But The Roadhouse is gone, and so are Ellen, and Jo, and Ash.
John’s dead, too, and that means Eliot no longer has any direct contacts in the hunting world, just people he vaguely knows – and he doesn’t trust a vague acquaintance with Parker and Hardison; they’re too important. That leaves him with one option: a number John gave him once, on a promise he’d only use it if it was unavoidable.
He calls the number.
Meeting Winchesters in bars is apparently something of a tradition. He’s not entirely sure whether it’s a healthy one as he walks inside the place they told him and spots the brothers sitting at the bar. He’s seen them before, of course, but they don’t know that. He walks towards them slowly to give them time to notice him.
“I’m Dean, this is Sam.”
“We spoke on the phone ,” says Sam, holding out a hand to shake, “good to meet you.”
“I’d like to agree,” he says, “but this is one of those unusual circumstances kind of things.”
Sam nods. “You said you thought there was a – something we’d be interested in in town?”
“I think there’s been one in town for a long time. Let’s get a table and talk.”
They sit down in the corner of the bar. Eliot watches the brothers carefully as he explains the situation. Dean’s like John – leather jacket, tough outer shell – but so is Sam, in his mannerisms and his questions. It puts Eliot at ease somewhat, because he can tell they’re good people – and more importantly for his purposes, good at what they do.
“I’ve got a question,” Dean asks, once Eliot’s finished explaining, “how do you know this thing’s a shapeshifter? Have you come up against one before?”
That’s the question Eliot had really hoped Dean wouldn’t ask, because if he tells the truth it might push the brothers away. “I saw one once,” he says, the truth but not the whole of it.
“Missouri.” He avoids specifics, because he can’t tell them it was St Louis, can’t tell them he once tailed them for John and stood by and watched because John had made him promise not to intervene until the very last moment. “Look, can you help or not? If not, I’ll handle it on my own but-”
Dean interrupts. “You were friends with our Dad?”
“I was. He was a good buddy of mine. We met at The Roadhouse.”
“Okay, we’ll help. Three hunters are better than one.”
Eliot nods. “Especially because I’m not actually a hunter. Thanks – I appreciate this.”
“Hey,” says Dean, “it’s what we do. You got somewhere we can use as a base or not?”
“My apartment – it’s secure.”
“Then let’s get started.”
Sam and Dean work as efficiently as any team Eliot’s ever been a part of, gathering information in a way that would make Hardison proud and organising it in Eliot’s apartment in a way that tells Eliot the two of them know exactly what they’re doing. Like their father, they’re some of the best in their business.
“Here,” Eliot says, setting down two cups of coffee in front of them, “thought you could use this. You travelled all day, right?”
“Thanks, man.” Sam grins. “We did and this is great.”
“No problem. What can I do to help?”
They spend the next couple of hours sorting through information on Olivia. Eliot knows it would be quicker if they brought Hardison in, who already knew the woman back to front, but he’s not going to let that happen. There’s a reason he’s never mentioned this part of his past to them, and it’s a good one.
“So, you ever work with our dad?” Dean sits back in his chair, rubbing at his eyes.
“A couple times.” Eliot smiles at the memory. “The first time we met I helped him perform an exorcism to save William Harvelle.”
“You knew Jo’s father?”
“Yeah. A good man - did a lot for me before I went overseas again. And Ellen -” he trails off. Ellen had been a good woman, a good friend who could have been something more if things had have been different.
Eliot turns in sync with Sam and Dean to see Parker climbing in through the window. “The stairs would have been safer, Parker,” he growls, signalling to the Winchesters that they can put their guns away.
“The window is totally safe,” she says. “Who are your friends?”
“Just that. Friends. Listen, go and see Hardison, let me spend some time with these two.”
“They aren’t your friends.” Parker pulls a soda out of the fridge. “If they were, they’d have known you well enough to know not to bring guns into your apartment. This is about Olivia Heaton, isn’t it?”
“Stay out of this, Parker.”
“No. That isn’t how we work.”
Eliot sighs, and glances at Sam and Dean. “We’re going to step outside for a sec, okay?”
“Sure thing – and hey,” Dean nods towards Parker, “this is your call.”
“Thanks.” He starts walking and gestures for Parker to follow. Standing outside his apartment, he tries to work out what he’s going to say.
“What’s happening, Eliot?” asks Parker. “We’re your family – you can tell us if there’s a problem.”
“You remember when we did that alien job?”
“Sophie in a harness, you playing that guy – yeah. What about it?”
“I wasn’t exactly joking when I said you never know when you might have to fight an alien, or something like it, anyway.”
“Olivia Heaton isn’t Olivia Heaton. In fact, we’re pretty sure the real Olivia Heaton died long ago. The mark we’re targeting – the one who hurt all those people? Shapeshifter.”
Parker gasps, and leans back against the wall. She’s quiet for a moment, and then she licks her lips. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
“You think Hardison would ever sleep again if he knew? Besides, not many people would believe me with no evidence.”
“We’re not many people.”
“I know,” he says, “and that’s why I have to keep you both safe.”
“How do we kill it?”
“And that’s why I knew keeping you safe would be hard to do if you found out – because I knew you would ask that question.”
“We’ll keep Hardison out of it,” she says, “get it sorted out and as far as he’ll know somebody killed Olivia Heaton before we got the chance to con her.”
“Is that what you want to do?”
“Yes. How do we kill it?”
Eliot nods. “I’ll get Sam and Dean.”
The late Olivia Heaton’s house is a big, beautiful place with hardwood floors and a modern, spacious kitchen that Eliot would really love the chance to cook in. There’s no time to stop and appreciate it when they break in through the back door, though, because there’s a shapeshifter in the house and they need to do something about it.
“Maybe it isn’t in,” says Dean, when no-one comes running at the sound of breaking glass.
“She should be.” Eliot pulls the gun he’s carrying out of his jacket. It’s loaded with silver bullets but he doesn’t feel any better about the weight in his hand. “Tuesday afternoons are her day off, always spent at home – we checked and double-checked that fact.”
Parker nudges up behind him. “Yeah, but she could have an appointment or something.”
“Yeah,” says Sam, “or maybe it’s waiting for us to go to it, somewhere easily defendable.”
Dean nods. “We should split up. Sammy, with me – we’ll check upstairs. Eliot, Parker – you look around down here. Be careful, these things can be fast.”
“We’ll be okay,” says Eliot. “You two be careful, too.”
“We always are.”
Eliot knows for a fact that that isn’t true, but he doesn’t argue with them. Instead, he waits for them to head out before turning to Parker. “I think we should just work our way through the rooms systematically – check she’s not in them, look for any information that might help us find the shifter or see what it wants with a position in government.”
“Sounds good to me,” says Parker, “are you sure those bullets will kill this thing?”
“I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Silver bullets work.”
“That definitely makes me feel better.”
“Glad to hear it. What did you tell Hardison you were doing today?”
“Gathering equipment and things. He was pretty busy talking to that Charlie friend of his over Skype when I left anyway so he was distracted.”
“Right. Okay, let’s try the living room.”
Heaton isn’t in the living room, but there’s paper scattered all over the floor and some of it is covered in blood spatters that look old. Eliot curses at how disorganised it is – it’s going to take a long time to sort through the mess and find anything important. And then he spots the other mess on the floor and the chaotic jumble of paper pales in comparison.
“What is that?” asks Parker, as Eliot crouches down next to it, his back to her.
“Skin, I think. Shifters shed when they change into a new body, or if they’ve been wearing the current body too long it’ll shed and regrow again.”
“You know your facts, don’t you?”
“About shapeshifters? Yeah. I was close to a case involving one once.” He can hear Parker walking closer to him, but doesn’t turn around. “Are you okay? This can all be overwhelming.”
“Going to step away and put the knife down right now,” Dean’s voice commands as he enters the room.
Eliot turns and, sure enough, sees Parker standing over him with a knife. Or at least, something that looks like Parker. “You made a mistake.”
“You knew?” the thing, not-Parker, asks.
“You made a mistake,” he repeats, cocking his gun.
“What? How could I? I know all of her memories.”
“Maybe so. But Parker, the real Parker, would never have left Hardison out of this, let alone outright lie to him. Where is she?”
Not-Parker smirks, face twisting into an expression that Eliot has never seen on his friend. “Why should I tell you that?”
“Because if you tell me, I’ll let you walk out of here alive.”
“Liar. I have her memories, remember?”
“Okay, then,” he says, “tell me if I’m lying now. If you don’t tell me where she is, I promise you I’ll make sure your death is long and slow and full of more pain than you’ve ever felt in your life. Am I lying?”
“No,” not-Parker says, “you’re telling the truth. Your friend is fine – on her way to London to see Nate Ford. She left a message, of course, telling you both she’d call tonight, but I got to it first. She’s fine. Well, unless her plane crashed or she got hit by a bus or something.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Eliot says, and puts a bullet straight through the creature’s heart.
As soon as it’s done he hands the borrowed gun back to Sam. It’s hard to look at the shapeshifter dead on the floor, even though he knows it isn’t really Parker – it’s too much like the nightmares he sometimes gets, complete with himself being the one who puts the bullet there.
“Might have been a good idea to question the thing first,” Sam points out, “see what it wanted.”
Dean shakes his head. “Ah, leave him – either one of us would have done exactly the same in his position. Hey, look at the silver lining – this means your actual friend Parker has no clue anything’s going on. The secret’s still safe from them.”
“And it’s going to stay that way if I can help it. I guess we better clean up, huh?”
“We’ll move the skin and the body, make sure we’ve wiped our prints. Everything else, we leave – someone will come looking for her, see the struggle that’s taken place, and realise she’s gone missing.” Sam pulls a face when he looks at the skin on the floor. “That’s going to be a bitch to clean up.”
“I’ll do it,” Eliot offers, “believe it or not, I’ve had to clean up worse.”
“I don’t think I want to know,” says Dean, grinning at him. “You know, I can see why you and Dad got along.”
“And I can see how you two are his sons – he’d be proud.”
“You see much of your old man?”
“Not for a long time. Listen, I owe you one for helping me out with this. You ever need help with a hunt, or something else, you let me know – okay?”
“Thanks, man, will do.”
Awkward moment of honesty over with, they start to clean up. It’s a while since he’s had to clean up a crime scene that’s quite this messy. Eliot’s grateful when Sam and Dean deal with the body of not-Parker with respect and without any fuss. Anything else would have felt wrong.
When Eliot walks into the gastro pub after spending a good thirty minutes in the shower at his apartment and then walking through the rain instead of driving, just to increase that feeling of being washed clean, Hardison’s leaning against the counter talking into his cell phone.
“Oh hey, here he is now,” says Hardison, “Eliot, it’s Parker – she’s in London. Did you get a message from her?”
“No,” he says honestly, “is she okay?”
“She’s good, man – went to talk over a con with Nate and Sophie. You want to talk to her?”
He shakes his head, and sits down at one of the tables. “I’m good, Hardison, you carry on.”
Eliot listens to Hardison’s happy babble as he quizzes Parker about how Sophie and Nate are. The conversation continues and turns into talk about nothing much, the sort of banter they all share when they’re just hanging out or waiting around for a mark to show, and it hits him.
All of his friends are okay, and he’s made a connection with John Winchester’s sons, found a link to the past he’d been cut off from. He’s lost a friend in John, he’s lost Ellen and Jo and Ash, and he’ll never really get over that. But he has a family now that he doesn’t have to leave every couple months.