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The Severed Head Job.

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Eliot woke up soaking in blood. "Fuck," he groaned, clutching his chest.

The blood was congealed. He must have been shot in the heart; that always took time to heal. And--

He jerked to the left. Nate was sitting at the desk, watching him. They were in Lucille.

He swallowed and leaned back on his hands. "I guess you want an explanation," Eliot said.

Nate took a pull from his flask. "I would appreciate it."

Eliot rubbed his forehead. He always got such a headache when he died. "Any hope of a shower and a change of clothes?"

Nate got up and opened the rear door. "The river work?"

Eliot winced at the thought of the cold water. "Yeah, guess so." He sat up, and the tarp came with him. Wait--a body bag, not a tarp. "The fuck happened? Did anyone else see me die?"

"No," Nate said. "Just me and the man who shot you. You spotted him, but not before he took his shot; I saw you fall, and forgive me, I thought you were dead. It was--" He gestured to his chest. "Straight through the heart."

"I was dead. No hard feelings," Eliot said.

"I'm going to process that later," Nate said. "As you were clearly dead, I stayed hidden to get details to avenge your death."

"Appreciate it," Eliot said.

"He packaged you up like this and started to load you into a car. So I ran him over with Lucille and grabbed you."

"Good. He was a lousy no-good cheater," Eliot said. He stood, trying not to get any blood on Lucille, and started stripping his clothes into the body bag.

"So," Nate said. "Do you know a certain woman, thief and grifter, about five-ten, naturally black hair that she often wears platinum blond, face like a model?"

Eliot smirked. "Amanda. She's a pistol."

"She fakes her death very, very effectively. She fooled me twice. I actually saw her in the morgue that second time. The ozone smell, it's very distinctive, but I could never work out the con. Then I smelled the same thing on you, so I took us out here to shake the secret out of you. But you were actually dead."

"Yeah. I was actually dead. So was she." He wriggled out of his boots

"How?"

Eliot shrugged. "It's just how we are."

"That's a very unsatisfying answer to a fifteen-year-long mystery," Nate said.

"Hell, we've been wondering what we are for thousands of years, think how we feel," Eliot said. He dropped his pants in the body bag. "Any soap?"

Nate checked the drawers and found a wrapped hotel bar. He shrugged and handed it to Eliot. "Apparently, yes."

"Parker comes prepared." Eliot took a deep breath and waded into the water. He hissed at the cold biting at his skin, shivered hard, and thought warm thoughts. He felt Nate staring at his back. "There's no mark," he said, turning around to face Nate. "It heals up instantly."

Nate tossed him a rag. "So, you can come back from the dead."

Eliot scrubbed hard, taking off the blood glob by glob. "Yep."

"That's a useful skill."

"It is," Eliot agreed.

"Explains a few things."

"Probably," Eliot said.

*

Nate found rocks and tossed Eliot's blood-soaked clothes and body bag into the deepest part of the river. Eliot looked for something to wear.

Hardison had what some considered clothing in the van: some sweatpants and a t-shirt with cartoon characters on it. Eliot put the pants on, but stared at the shirt for a long minute, debating modesty versus looking like a damn fool.

"You're taking this well," Eliot said as Nate returned to the van.

"Repression now, flipping out later. What's the next step?" Nate asked.

Eliot finally sighed and put on the shirt. "Any idea of a name on the guy who shot me?"

"Nobody I recognize. Muscle. White, military haircut."

Eliot nodded. "Then step one is we take Lucille and drive to Seacouver. Our team isn't prepared for the hidden world, not even close, so we need outside help. Don't argue," he said to Nate.

"I'm not," Nate said. "I trust you. If you're willing to ask for help, this must be serious."

"It is. There's a guy up there, he doesn't know me but I know him. He's kind of like the police for people like me. He regulates people who cheat at fights. That's what that guy was doing," he explained. "Softening me up for a fight. It's like a ritual duel, you're not supposed to have extra people involved. This guy, he hates cheats, he hates bad guys, he hates all of that, and he's extremely fucking dangerous. He could pick his teeth with me," he said, thinking of the last time he saw MacLeod fight; thinking that had been in the early nineties, in the middle of the spate of violence that some people thought would end their kind for good. It hadn't, quite, but there were a lot fewer of them around now.

"Wow," Nate said.

"I'm not being modest, I'm being real. He would destroy me. His teacher killed the Kurgan and he's better than his teacher. The Kurgan was--" He started to explain.

"Like I said, I trust you. We'll stop for clothes on the way. That...doesn't suit you," Nate said, shaking his head.

Which made him think of something. "You said you hit him with the van?" Eliot went to the front of the van and checked the grille. It was bent in pretty good, and there was what looked like a pocket lining caught in it. Eliot plucked it out. "Step point five: we get this to Hardison and Parker," Eliot said.

"What do we tell them?"

"He tried to kill me and I'm bringing in a specialized hitter to assist. It's the truth. Beyond that...I don't know. I'll think about it." He looked up at Nate. "I've told people before. Had people find out before. Most people don't take it this well."

"I trust you," Nate said.

"You keep saying that."

"It's keeping me sane," Nate said.

*

Hardison collapsed on the couch and laughed for a good five minutes at seeing Eliot in his goofy-ass clothes. "If I didn't need your brain working I'd break your face," Eliot told him.

Hardison kicked his legs in the air and kept laughing. Parker took the scrap of cloth and stared at it intently. "I will find your secrets," Parker said to it.

Eliot changed into real clothes, grabbed his go bag, and started driving north to Seacouver. Nate took shotgun, even though it was his car, flask in hand. "Go on and start asking," Eliot said.

"Are vampires real?" Nate asked. Eliot laughed. "I'm just trying to define the outlines of reality here," Nate said.

"Never met one," Eliot said. "Werewolves either. Or Bigfoot."

"Magic?"

"Maybe. Probably, for a few people. I've seen some things."

"Really?"

"Yeah. And something keeps me alive. I don't know what else to call it."

"Magic. How about that. You know anyone who can--?"

"No."

"It would be useful."

"Yeah, it would. I don't know any wizards."

"Too bad," Nate said. "So what do you call yourselves?"

"People," Eliot said.

"Come on. Everyone has a name for themselves."

"Immortals."

Nate glanced at him. "Okay. How immortal is immortal?"

"Well, I'm three hundred and sixty-six years old," Eliot said, staring straight ahead. He saw Nate blink very, very hard in his peripheral vision.

"Huh."

"Yeah. I was born in 1646, same year as Leibniz, you know, the mathematician? I didn't know it at the time, of course. My brother told me later. I died the first time because--you'll appreciate this--the police tried to arrest my ma on suspicion of selling poudre de succession. Arsenic. I objected and they broke a rib into my lung and I died. But Pop sneaked my ma out the back and they didn't get her."

"Poudre de succession? You're French-Canadian?" Nate said.

"I'm--no! I'm from Normandy, loud and proud!"

"Ah," Nate said. "No, of course. I understand. There's a certain linguistic drift over three hundred years."

"Yeah. It drifted away from me, the native speaker!" Eliot said.

"Huh," Nate said.

"Of course we did move to Canada after that," Eliot said.

"Hm."

"Like a bunch of other Normans at the time. And that's the kind of French we brought over. So French Canadians sound like me. Shut up."

"I didn't say anything," Nate said. "So your father is like you? It runs in the family?"

"I'm adopted. Pop took me off the parish when I was a kid. I don't know what we are," Eliot said. "Nobody does. Personally I think we're aliens."

"Aliens."

"Yeah. Aliens. We don't know where we come from, we just show up as babies. I think we're dropped on Earth by aliens in spaceships, and I thought this before I met Hardison, so stop laughing! It's a reasonable conclusion!"

"I'm not laughing," Nate lied, as he stifled a laugh. "Aliens, huh."

"None of us can have kids! We have to come from somewhere! So either we sprout from the ground or we get dropped from the sky!"

That took the smile off Nate's face. "You can't have kids?"

"No!" He caught his breath, looking at Nate's stricken expression. "I never knocked anyone up, not in 350 years of trying, and I've never heard of any woman of ours getting pregnant. The immortal women I've known don't even bleed. We don't make more of ourselves. I guess we could be mushrooms, growing out of the ground, but aliens makes more sense."

"I'm sorry for laughing," Nate said.

Eliot nodded and looked at the road.

"Who are we going to see?" Nate asked.

"Duncan MacLeod. Last I checked--and I keep track of him like I'd watch a loose tiger--he owns a building in Seacouver, lives in the top floor, has a dojo on a lower floor. He'll know I'm approaching as soon as I'm within fifty feet, so we need to make it extremely clear that we're here to talk and not to attack. Because my people fight each other all the time."

"The ritual duels."

"Yeah. It's called the Game. And because of the Game, most of us carry swords at all times. He'll be armed."

"Swords."

"Gotta take off someone's head, a sword is the best way. And cutting off a head is how you win the Game," Eliot said. "I usually don't bother."

"No, I think I would have noticed you wearing a scabbard."

"Mm," Eliot said. He pulled his coat open to expose the machete handle. "I said usually."

"Ah." Nate blinked hard at him until he let the coat fall closed again.

"I think MacLeod probably won't have a problem with me. But if you're walking into a bear cave, you bring a bear gun."

"Understandable. But most of the time you don't carry?"

"No. Most of the time, I just take the other guy's sword." He arched his fingers like claws on the steering wheel.

"I can see that," Nate said thoughtfully.

"We're rare but not that rare," Eliot continued. "The food safety inspector is one of us. And that young guy who comes in and talks to me about history is actually over a hundred years old. When we talk about World War 2, we're gossiping about people we know."

"So he's not hitting on you? I owe Hardison a twenty."

"He's also hitting on me," Eliot acknowledged.

"I'll make sure to collect, then," Nate said. "And the food safety inspector? Is that why she looked so tense?"

"Exactly," Eliot said. "She clocked me as soon as she walked in and you never can know how things will go down."

"So most of your people are quiet, normal types…" Nate's voice showed his doubt.

"Damien Moreau is one of us," Eliot said.

"Ah," Nate said.

Eliot looked at the road, knuckles white on the wheel. "Most of us are monsters," he said softly.

*

They rolled into Seacouver around seven. "Should we eat first?" Nate asked.

"No. If this is a fight, I want to be fast. If it's not a fight, we invite him to dinner to talk." Eliot looked at Google Maps and took a left.

There it was. It looked pretty much like he expected, a normal building with the vague feel of a castle. Smallish windows, impenetrable glass brick on the ground floor rather than window glass. A roof door and a one-way path to a neighboring building, he was willing to bet.

Eliot parked in front. He felt the buzz much sooner than he expected; he straightened up and started looking for MacLeod. He felt Nate's eyes on him. "He's stronger than he was last time," Eliot said.

"How can you tell?"

"Kinda--radar. Like that. I can just tell." He exhaled and tossed Nate the keys. "Fuck it. Be ready to run. Let's go."

"Let's go steal an immortal," Nate said. Eliot shook his head.

MacLeod opened his front door and eyed Eliot. He was a big man, but without showy muscle; he was dressed in good-quality clothing with plenty of freedom of movement. He was functional, a fighter with nothing to prove. His dark hair was short and his dark eyes were guarded. He didn't speak as Eliot approached.

"I'm Ely Travers," Eliot said. He kept his hands visible as he walked slowly closer. "These days I go by Eliot Spencer. This is Nathan Ford, my friend and employer. Earlier today, in Portland, Oregon, I was shot on the street by an unknown man. He exposed my nature to my colleague, who was not previously aware of our existence. He broke our rules. I am begging assistance in tracking this man and whoever he works with." Jesus, he felt like he was talking to the President. Actually, it had been less stressful when he had talked to the President. Roosevelt had been a hoot.

MacLeod didn't move out of his door, but didn't draw. "I don't know you. Why come to me?"

"This is your home territory. I know you and your reputation, so I'm betting he does too. If he's willing to cheat to take me down, I'm sure you're on the list."

MacLeod paused, obviously evaluating him. Finally he moved. "You'd better come upstairs. We're making dinner, are you hungry?"

Eliot relaxed. "Starving. Getting shot takes it out of you."

The dojo was inside, past an inner door. Eliot noticed the practice swords on the walls. MacLeod escorted them through the dojo and into an open cage elevator. "What are you doing these days?" MacLeod asked.

"I'm a retrieval specialist," Eliot said.

MacLeod raised his eyebrows. "Is that the new word for thief?"

Nate cleared his throat. "Not exactly. You may be aware of the recent exposure of the Global Air Transport scandal. Eliot retrieved the evidence in that case and in many other matters."

"Hm." They reached the top floor and MacLeod opened the cage. "A pair of Robin Hoods are joining us for dinner," he called out. He stepped into a large loft apartment. An enormous bed was placed across from the elevator, with a spiral staircase beside it, a carved wardrobe to the left, and a dining table and chairs to the right. The staircase must lead to the roof.

"How fun!" A woman popped into view from the right.

"Amanda," Eliot said. He started to smile.

Her face froze. She drew her sword, and Eliot backed into Nate automatically, pushing him into the elevator and putting his body between Nate and the two Immortals. "The breakup wasn't that bad, was it?" Eliot said, trying for light and failing.

"Oh, the breakup was great. I'd still be booty calling you if you hadn't gone on to work for Damien Moreau," Amanda said, her voice dropping dangerously. "He's Moreau's right hand man, Duncan."

MacLeod drew his sword as well. "What are you really doing here?"

"We'll go," Eliot said.

"Point of order." Nate squirmed under Eliot's arm and popped up in front of him. Eliot grabbed the back of his shirt. "He used to work for Moreau. Now he works for me. Nathan Ford, formerly of IYS. We met in Florence six years ago."

Amanda tilted her head. "You took my Manet," she said.

"I recovered the client's Manet, yes."

"No, it was mine. It was a gift from Duncan, in fact. They had no right to seize it and auction it off, even if I was presumed dead, but back to the point, Damien Moreau," Amanda said, looking past Nate at Eliot.

"If you check the news, you'll see he was jailed in San Lorenzo in 2010. Eliot was instrumental. He's no longer that man," Nate said.

MacLeod put his phone to his ear without taking his eyes off Eliot or lowering his weapon. "Adam. What's the current location of Damien Moreau? It's important." He paused. "Thanks." He put the phone down. "Damien Moreau killed himself in prison a week ago. He was buried at sea. So he's not in fact--"

"Christ almighty--" Eliot interrupted him. He grabbed his own phone and hit the group dial, cursing until Parker answered. "Parker! Shut the pub, bar the door, turn on the alarms, it's Moreau, he's back, we're coming back right now."

"Someone sent us a package," Parker said, sounding tense and small. "I don't understand it. It's a sword."

His heart hammered in his chest. He looked at Nate. "He took Pop," Eliot said. "He couldn't get me, so he got my father."

Nate shoved him into the elevator, closed the cage and hit the down arrow. "Lovely to meet you again! We'll catch up at a better time!" he called as the motor bore them downwards.