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All My Dying Days

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The first time Eliot Spencer died was about a month after his deployment. An IED went off under the convoy and he had a moment of terror and noise and sudden, sharp pain. And then he was standing on the base, confused and inexplicably unhurt, three hours before the convoy's departure. He tried to warn people, but no one would listen to a wet-behind-the-ears rookie claiming to know the future. The convoy took the exact same route, but this time he was able to jump clear of the van as the bomb went off. It hurt like hell, but he survived.

And thus began the pattern.

A bullet to the chest and a gaping hole through his lungs resulted in him waking up in the middle of the night before the firefight. A sniper shot he barely had time to register had him jolting back only about five minutes, but those five minutes were enough for him to know to duck behind cover.

He wondered if the speed with which he died changed how much time he got back in the reset, as he was starting to think of those moments, but then a knife wound to the leg that left him slowly bleeding out only sent him back an hour, to right before the fight that had killed him. There was no pattern he could see to the timings, but he started taking more risks and so the resets came again and again.

He would die. And then he would reset back to an earlier point in time, usually a few hours before but sometimes only minutes. Never more than a day. And he would live again the moments leading up to his death and do things differently this time. He didn't tell anyone. He didn't trust anyone with this secret, afraid that the wrong people might decide to put his abilities to the test through painful, even lethal methods.

He got a reputation for being the person who could walk into a dangerous situation and come out the other side alive and victorious. They didn't know that it might have taken him three or four attempts to get it right.

He started getting sent on more dangerous missions and so he had to put his ability to the test more and more. Sometimes he was able to save his friends as well, but the resets didn't happen when they died, only when he did, so he didn't always get the chance. He watched friends fall, not understanding why he was different, why he was given this ability to try again and again while they bleed out in the hot sand.

When he was captured, he tried to use his ability to escape. He deliberately fought against his captors, provoked them into killing him, hoping he would reset to back before he fell into their clutches, but he could never reset back far enough. Always, he reset back to his cell or to the middle of one of the brutal beatings.

He had to try and escape through more conventional means, knowing that if it all went wrong, at least he'd be able to try again. And again. And again. He mapped out that facility one lethal gunshot at a time. He tried different escape routes, tested guard weakness, worked out the patterns of their movements as he died over and over trying to escape that hell. Escaping that prison should have been a million to one chance, someone commented afterwards. He didn't know if it had taken him a million attempts to get it right. He'd lost count after the first couple of hundred.

The experience messed him up. He had lived the hours of his escape over and over, until his entire existence was simply death, an endless parade of blood and pain. He was a god of death made manifest, unkillable, a lethal force that would always win because he could not be stopped by anyone. Somewhere in the middle of it, he stopped feeling anything for the people he killed in his repeated attempts. They didn't matter. They would be there again to die the next time again. He stopped feeling sorrow for the deaths, theirs or his, and then he stopped feeling anything at all.

After his honourable discharge, he couldn't escape the death. This was what he was good at, what he was made to do. He existed to kill and to die and to kill again. Was it any wonder he ended up with the likes of Moreau? Death became a game to him, one in which he always had an ace up his sleeve. He could get hurt, sure, but at the end of the day he always knew who was going to come out of it alive. Moreau paid him well but he didn't really enjoy the life his skills bought him. He didn't really enjoy anything.

Not until he met Toby. He nearly laughed when Toby told him that, "Food was life," because he didn't see that anyone could know more about life and death than he did, certainly not some nobody chef. But Toby showed him about food anywhere, encouraged him in the act of creation, reminded him that his existence wasn't just about ending life, showed him that it could be about providing something that gave life as well. In that little kitchen, learning to put a knife to a new purpose, he started to feel again.

He died three times trying to leave Moreau. One of those times, Moreau shot him himself. He was more careful after that, managing to phrase his resignation as though this was more of a sabbatical. He wasn't going to sell Moreau out or start working for his enemies. He just needed some time to get his head straight, to regain his focus. They parted amicably, with Moreau promising that there was always room at his side for someone of Eliot's talents.

He took freelance jobs for a bit, working to retrieve stolen objects rather than acting as a bruiser and assassin. He died a lot less, but he still found himself facing dangerous people. The sort of people who could afford to hire expert thieves to steal priceless gems tended to be able to afford expensive security as well. Sometimes Eliot found himself staring down a roomful of heavily armed men trying to retrieve a baseball card or whatever trinket had been stolen this week. It took him four deaths before he managed to get out of that bar alive. Still, the job involved less dying and a lot less killing.

He decided he'd had enough of guns for a lifetime and swore off using them, trusting his in other skills and his mysterious gift to let him end up on top of any situation. And in between jobs, he practiced cooking. He honed that skill and allowed others to see a little piece of him sometimes in a shared meal.

He was still fairly messed up, but less so than he'd been before, that fateful day when Dubenich approached him about a job to retrieve stolen research. It wasn't the sort of job he normally took. He didn't like to work with others. He'd learned not to get close to anyone because his line of work was dangerous and they didn't have the advantage he had. Just because he might walk out of a dangerous situation alive didn't mean anyone else would. Being alone meant no one was at risk but him, which wasn't much of a risk at all, but the money was good and it was a one-job-only deal, so he figured there was no harm.

And before he knew it, somehow he ended up with a crew. Friends. A family.

He was surrounded by people he didn't want to lose and that scared him, because he knew that the work they did was dangerous. Any one of them might end up dead but only one of them would reset back and get to try again. But somehow, he didn't die anything like as often because his new family looked out for each other. They watched his back as much as he watched theirs and so, despite all of the risks they took on a nearly daily basis, it was some months before he actually died on a Leverage job. Even then, it was to someone he'd faced back in his days of working with Moreau. He fought the Butcher of Kiev in a mobster's kitchen and they were as evenly matched as they'd ever been.

The first fight, Eliot lost. Lethally. His own knife buried up to his neck. His reset only knocked him back a few seconds, but it was enough to get out of the way of the blow and kill the butcher himself.

He nearly left the crew after that job. His death and resurrection had scared him more than it had since the first time. It struck home to him how vulnerable the others were, how he was certain to lose them. He considered walking away because that was infinitely more bearable than watching them die while he had to live on. But if he left, who would stay to protect them? Wild, reckless Parker and overconfident, infuriating Hardison. Someone needed to look after them. To keep them safe.

So he stayed.

He died. Occasionally. He died going up against mobsters who were operated by bankers. He died a few times when the crew found themselves facing another crew whose skills matched against their own. Head to head against a sniper named Mikel, he found himself too evenly matched, dying only to snap back to that moment when they first came face to face, only to die all over again. He only stopped dying when he stopped trying to fight her.

He managed a good streak of staying alive until the crew took on a gang of car thieves who weren't afraid to shoot him. It took a few tries to get out of that situation alive when they turned on him. Somehow, the time when he got hit by a car and plummeted into the water was the time that didn't kill him and reset him back to the moment when they all pulled their guns on him. He wished once again that he could control his gift because it would have been really useful to reset to a point before he was surrounded by a lot of armed men.

Facing down Moreau again, of course he ended up dying. A lot. He died about a hundred times trying to get Nate and the Italian out of that warehouse before he even considered picking up the gun. Once he did bend to pick it up though, the next time he reset, it was a few seconds later than all the previous resets. He found himself resetting to the point where he had the gun in his hand. He wondered if his gift was trying to tell him something. If whatever power governed this ability was trying to tell him that he would need to use the gun to get out of here.

So he used it. And he died. And he used it again, and survived a few seconds or sometimes only fractions of a second more. He lost count of the number of resets, but by the last time, he knew where to shoot without having to even look half the time. He knew what angle to jump at, or when to slide across a slippery floor with just the right speed to avoid the path of the bullets. He knew when he could pause and stare down the gunmen without taking a lethal injury. By the last time, it was a choreographed dance, perfectly timed, and he made it through without a scratch, while all around him the corpses lay in bleeding or smoking heaps.

He stayed alive for a while after they took down Moreau. Then he came close, but not for the usual reasons. As he listened to Parker over the comms pleading with Hardison to stay alive because she needed him... Eliot knew how much he needed them too. He knew that if they didn't get to Hardison in time, he would take a knife to his own throat. He would force a reset. He'd never even considered that before, not really, but losing Hardison was utterly out of the question. If Hardison died, Eliot would die too, and hope it bought them enough time to find him the next time around.

He didn't have too in the end. They found the coffin and got Hardison out, but as he should there, holding Hardison in a crushing hug, Eliot knew that there was no way he was going to let either Hardison or Parker die. Probably not Nate or Sophie either. He'd seen way too many friends die and there were some losses he refused to face. If his friends died, he would use the gift he'd been given to bring them back. Whatever it took.

He had to put the resolve to the test a few months later, when Hardison fell from an office building. Eliot didn't hesitate. He threw himself head-first off the building after him, resetting back to before the fight had started, with enough notice to get to Hardison in time to haul him back to safety. No one threw Hardison off a roof. Except maybe him. Or Parker.

These people were his family. He would fight for them. He would die for them. He would use his gift to keep them safe, whatever it took.

When the day came that Nate and Sophie were ready to leave, Sophie asked him to keep Parker and Hardison safe.

"'Til my dying day," Eliot answered without hesitation. What Sophie didn't know was that he had had many dying days and that he would no doubt have many more, but he would spend every one of his dying days on this pair. If he had to die a million times over to keep them from dying even once, so be it. These two people mattered more to him than anyone else ever had and whatever power had blessed him, he would twist into blessing them. Every weapon he had in his arsenal, he would use to protect them.

All his dying days.